Z. F. SIGURDSON - TREASURE HUNT
Z. F. Sigurdson is a young Canadian writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba with a Honours B.A. in Political Studies. He has a deep passion for books, film and music. His writing attempts to blur the boundaries between science-fiction, fantasy and horror, as well as discuss political and social issues.
Underneath the Rocky Mountains is a labyrinth of tunnels, halls, and caverns, making up a metropolis the size of Tokyo and New York City combined. They were originally built by Dwarves that came to the New World with the Vikings, but unlike the Vikings, they stayed and built a colonial empire.
In the early twentieth century, an influenza pandemic cleared out huge swaths of the Underground Empire. This gave other races and factions the opportunity to take over. The most dominant faction was a tribe of goblins who evolved into the current Goblin Cartels led by the Goblin King. They maintains political and military control over the central metropolis of the Underground. Now millions of people call the Underground home.
. . . . . . . . .
Gunda walked down the streets of one of Underground’s lower ghettos. Her face was hidden by a helmet and V-shaped visor, and her shoulders ached from wearing her gorget and booster pack, along with her weapons and ammo around her wide hips.
The only reason she kept the helmet on was to keep back the smell. The endless labyrinth of tunnels, streets, halls, and stairways that made up the Underground always reeked of refuse, sewage and sometimes blood. The stone roof was a hundred feet above her right now, but the street was narrow with rickety apartment complexes. She was heading to the building squashed between two complexes. A black lopsided hut, with an oversized neon sign of a sexy witch on a broom with a long pipe, read Elphaba’s Joint.
Gunda knocked on the wooden door; a slide opened and closed. She could hear faint music.
The door opened and a big green monster welcomed her in. The orc had wide shoulders and a potbelly, but his arms were like tree-trunks.
She walked down a dark lobby that glowed with star-lights and down a similar flight of stairs. The bubbly electronic music got louder. A pair of orcs stood guard at another double-doors. Now she pulled off her helmet. She was a strong jawed girl with ebony skin and a bush of wavy hair. “Goddamn clubs,” she grumbled. She didn’t want any trouble, just wanted to get this done and go.
Through the doors it was dark, except for glow sticks, staticky TVs and strobes. The place was booming with people jumping and dancing. Crowds were around the bar three bodies deep. Orcish bouncers walking around, pulling out troublemakers. One night stands along the edge of the rave, only a couple layers of fabric from trading an STI.
She elbowed her way through the crowd, her lack of height being a disadvantage. On the average girl her age, she was about half-a-foot shorter, but far sturdier and with the strength to match.
She fought her way to the bar. The bartender, a black guy probably suffering from vampirism, gave out drinks while hypnotising weak minded girls with devastating purple eyes.
When he finally took notice of Gunda his eyes went wide. He nodded to her and led her to a door behind the bar. On the other side of the door was a red hallway with paintings of naked women of half a dozen species. Candle chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
The bartender gestured to the door at the end of the hall.
Passing through the door Gunda saw was a candlelit lounge with a private bar, blue seating and old tapestries. Probably from the Europe. Probably stolen.
There were scantily clad girls at the bar or on plush loungers, smoking. The bartender was another pale faced vampire with entrapping eyes. There was also a couch and chairs around an oaken table. On the couch was a fat goblin smoking from a long tube attached to a puffing machine in the shape of a gargoyle. He wore a rich suit with pointed red shoes, and far too much jewelry. Bulbous rings of every colour and make, jammed on short fat fingers. His green skin was wrinkled and sweaty, his ears drooped down like wind socks on a quiet day.
He looked at Gunda, taking a long studying puff, then gave a fanged smiled, “Ah my dear! You arrived. We were worried you had lost your way. Please come sit. We were just about to start. Would you like a beverage?”
She shook her head and took a seat on a cushy chair that was comically oversized for her, but could probably handle an ogre or a very large orc. She held her helmet in her lap. The bluish-chrome steel reflecting the candles.
On her right was an immensely muscled man in his 60s, his huge arms lined with blue tattoos. On her left was a smirking goblin in purple.
The fat goblin looked at each in turn and smiled, “Well, now that all the pieces are set -- let’s get started.” He snapped his thick fingers. A girl stepped forward, passing him a glass of wine.
“The job is simple. Deep in the catacombs is a relic that will be worth more than a pretty piece of loot. We don’t know what it’s called, or where it is. You all know what the catacombs are?”
Gunda shook her head, she had only been in the Underground for a few months since she emigrated from Nidavellir. The old man scoffed, “Amateur.”
She got up, a lethal look in her eyes. The old man got up too. His eyes changed colours rapidly. A Sorcerer? Only magic users have eyes like that.
“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa,” said the fat goblin, raising his hands, “Let’s keep this civil. Please.” They glared but sat. “The catacombs, my dear, are the oldest foundations of the underground. When the dwergs came to North America in the early eleventh century, they stayed and built an empire in the mountains. This I’m sure you know, given your heritage.”
She nodded, my mother’s a dwarf, and my father’s a human from Ethiopia. She wouldn’t tell any of them. Never get feelings mixed in a job. Her size and build hinted at dwarven blood, nothing more. I don’t need my mom’s legacy. I don’t need her approval. I just need her weapons. She put her bitterness aside and listened.
“The oldest tunnels and mines are the catacombs. A lot of flooded mines and such. There are, however, artefacts. We just don’t know where much of it is, and given the danger, it’s not worth it. Until today. A contact has been so kind as to give us information on the location. You three will go to the contact, get the information, go into the catacombs and each will be given a portion of the relic’s value.”
“How much?” asked Gunda, her Scandinavian accent becoming noticeable.
“Ten percent each.”
“That is horseshit!” she yelled, “If we are doing all the work we deserve at least thirty percent.”
“Hush up!” growled the old man.
The fat goblin laughed, sipping his wine, “Doesn’t matter what you think you deserve. I have the data, and I’m the one in charge. Got that, honey?”
“Don’t call me honey!”
He scoffed, “I’ll call you whatever I want. I’m Tribune Vobo Skarni and this is my neighbourhood. I’m the one in charge! Now you’re gonna do the job, or you’re gonna get thrown out!”
“I’m gonna do this job, but you’re gonna give me thirty percent.”
“Why the hell would I do that?”
In a flash she pulled something out of her belt. All the girls pulled out oversized handguns and machine pistols from under their stools or behind their chairs. The bartender hissed, white teeth becoming fangs.
Gunda held a metal orb with glowing blue buttons, it made a whirling sound. She was on her feet, “This is a custom plasma grenade. So unless you want a mini-supernova in your face, you are gonna offer me thirty percent.”
“Fifteen.” Vobo remained calm, everyone around him was shaking and sweating.
“Twenty.” She thumbed the switch on the grenade.
“Fine. Fine!” conceded the goblin. “Twenty for each of you.”
Gunda turned off the grenade and put it away. The well-dressed goblin on her left turned and winked, “Thank you, darlin’.”
Don’t call me my darlin.
The old man grunted in agreement.
“Now can we get back to business?” complained Vobo. The women around lowered their weapons. The vampire relaxed and went back to pouring drinks.
He continued, “The contact is at this address.” He pushed a slip of paper over the table. Gunda picked it up, instantly she knew she had no idea where it was and passed it to the slim goblin. He grinned, He knows where. Thank the gods.
Vobo continued, “He is a bit of an eccentric, He…” the fat goblin went pale, he stared at something behind them with a look of horror.
Before Gunda could turn around; a gunshot fired, blasting a hole in Vobo’s chest. Out of habit she slipped on her helmet as she jumped to her feet.
A tall figure in the doorway stepped forward, wearing silver and black battle fatigues with a steel gorget and spaulders. His face was hidden by the blank face--place and a big X painted on the face. A massive smoking handcannon held in his gloved fist.
The room erupted in chaos. The girls raised their weapons and started firing. The vampire rushed forward in a blur. The intruder in the doorway caught the vampire by the neck. The vampire struggled before he was thrown across the room, impaled on a trophy deer’s head.
He raised his handgun and fired with machine-like accuracy. Killing a girl with a single shot to the head or heart. Blood splattering the elegant wallpaper.
Through the chaos, the old man next to Gunda kicked his chair into the attacker, sending the chair flying like a rocket. How is he that strong? The intruder dropped his gun and caught the chair, the force sliding him back into the hallway.
The remaining girls fired continuously down the hall. Tearing through the chair, the walls, everywhere. Screams coming from the side rooms. The huge chair was almost a pile of mush when the girls stopped. They lowered their weapons, hoping it was over. Most of them were trembling in their scanty outfits and stilettoes. Gunda kept her handgun aimed. Vobo was dead. The old man cracked his knuckles, his eyes were changing back and forth from blue to gold. It was silent. Wood chips and stuffing hazing the air.
Something clanged against the floor and rolled.
Gunda ducked just in time. The deafening ring stung her ears. It was far worse for the goblin, who was on the floor, holding down his ears.
The intruder vaulted over the chair and grabbed one of the girls. He spun her around and fired her weapon into three others, never missing. He tossed one girl aside and dodged another, grabbing her by the leg and whipping her into another. He’s flawless, Gunda was awestruck by the grace of his attack.
“Let’s get out of here!” someone screamed over the noise. The ringing subsided and the goblin was tugging her arm, “We have to leave! I have a car out front.”
“Through him?” she yelled.
“No! Through here!” the old man kicked the wall next to the door. A hole exploded open into the next room, a red bedroom with four naked people huddling in the corner, bongs and bags of pills scattered around.
The intruder zeroed in on the last girl who fell to her knees, begging for mercy. He kicked her in the head, the force snapping her neck. His masked turned up to the three remaining.
“Wall it is,” Gunda raised her handgun and started firing as she ran.
The goblin was out first, then the old man, with Gunda who covered them. The intruder was a blur. She missed every time.
What the hell!
He jumped for his handgun and fired!
She was thrown back, No! No! Not this way! Please gods. Not this way! MOM! Her heart was running a million miles a second. That’s when she realized she was okay, the wind was knocked out of her, her chest throbbing, but she felt ok. She looked down and saw the bullet lodged in her gorget.
She tried getting up, head spinning, vision cloudy. She saw a dark form step from behind a wall, precise movements and stomping steps.
She gasped for air through her visor and saw the intruder aiming his handgun. She didn’t think, just reacted. She slammed her hand against a button on her belt. Her booster-pack roared on and blasted her away, straight through one wall, then another, then another. Something clipped her boot and she went spinning into a crowd of people. Her foot screamed in pain. Better not be broken.
She sat up, surrounded by a crowd of screaming people. She rubbed her neck. It was taken the force of the walls, but the gorget helped. The strobe lights messing with her vision; the deep electronic base pulsing through her body. She saw the old man and goblin standing in the hole she just made, starring at her, gobsmacked.
The side door blasted open. The silhouette of a man dropping an empty magazine and slamming a fresh one into a raise weapon. Gunda couldn’t see his face but she knew he wouldn’t miss this time.
The old man slammed a chunk of rebar into the intruder - sending him reeling. A high-pitched ringing from rebar against armor. The goblin rushed to Gunda and helped her up. As soon as she stood, pain shot up her foot. “God fucking dammit!”
The goblin was shorter than her and she was heavy but he managed to help her limp towards the door.
The crowd was screaming and flooding towards the door. The bouncers tried to maintain order but got shoved off. The music was still deafeningly loud. High pitched sirens interrupted deep echoing bass drops.
Gunda and the goblin tried to shove their way to the door, but it was useless; there was just too many people. Another crash. The intruder and old man were grappling on the crowded dance floor now, struggling over a metal bar.
The intruder jabbed the old man in the shoulder, making him lose grip on the bar. The intruder spun, taking the rebar and flipping it around, now ready to stab it through the old man.
It stopped. A mere inch from the man’s heart. He held out his hands, as if to push something. His eyes flashing gold. Gunda’s heart was racing, so he really is a sorcerer.
The old man smiled and waved his arms in a circular pattern then pushed again. The rebar went flying, taking the attacker with it. He crashed into the bar, drinks staining his fatigues. Sparks poured from his ear-pieces. He flailed around, waving his arms, screeching.
The old man held out his arm and the rebar came flying back. He caught it. Then whipped it back at his opponent. At the same time the intruder slammed a button on his mask. A greenish haze gathered around him. The rebar ricocheted off, planting itself into the ceiling.
The old man pulled something out of his pocket. He threw a handful of caltrops and pushed with his other hand. They shot out like bullets. They bounced off the hazy field, getting stuck in the walls, shattering glasses and stabbing people in the crowd.
“Oh fuck this!” growled the old man, he looked at Gunda, “Get that car ready! I’m right behind you.”
Oh fuck this indeed... That must be a magnetic shield. Metal veers away from him. She punched the person next to her and reached into her back holster. She drew out a short stubby blaster and flicked on the switch. Lights glowing, she shot into the air, a ball of glowing blue energy splattering the ceiling. The crowd shrieked, clearing enough room for Gunda, the goblin and the old man to shove their way through.
The goblin pulled out a small device, it chirped just loud enough to be heard.
Climbing those steps was brutal on Gunda’s foot, but she had to.
“Get out of the way!” yelled to the old man, shoving party-goers. They slammed out of the door. Gunda socked a guy in the face to make him move.
They got onto the street. The noise attracted curious eyes from the apartments leaning in over the club.
“My car is over there!” the goblin pointed to a slick neon purple vehicle with a domed roof and a gargoyle hood ornament.
“The hell is that?” groaned the old man, helping Gunda up.
The goblin rushed over, trying to get the keys in, “Borrowed it form my Centurion.”
As he fumbled for the keys, Gunda glanced back at the crowd of screaming people. They rushed past. Then she saw that blank mask rise through the crowd.
“Open that damn car!” roared the old man.
“I’m trying!” he said as he dropped the keys.
The masked man raised his handgun, aiming right for them. Gunda already raised her blaster and growled, “Stop this!” The ball of glowing blue fire ignored his green aura. His gun was blasted from his hand. The second shot blasted the attacker in the shoulder, tearing off his armor and burning the skin. He dropped to one knee and roared with a synthetic voice.
“Get in!” screamed the goblin.
Gunda kept her gun aimed as she entered the back seat. I still hate clubs. They sped off down the narrow road.
. . . . . . . .
“What the hell was that?!” yelled Gunda as she tore off her helmet and boot. Her foot was bright purple.
“The Enforcer,” grumbled the old man.
The goblin was silent, he was sweating. They turned down the road onto a main highway in the underground. It was a giant freeway carrying them over the low areas and towards the central metropolis. The Underground w awash with lights, noise, and odor.
“The Enforcer. One of the Goblin King’s prized bounty hunters. What I want to know is why a King’s assassin was in a slum down here?” the old man looked at Gunda’s foot. “You will be fine. Just a sprain.”
“Thanks. That’s comforting,” she adjusted her position. Then checked her weapon. Low power, no issues.
“What is that?” asked the old man.
“Didn’t think mercenaries wasted their time on those, too hard to maintain.”
She holstered the blaster, “Well, when your mother is the one who invented them, you tend to know how they work. Worked a lot better than those parlor tricks you were doing.”
The old man laughed, “Ha! Parlor tricks seemed good enough to save your ass. Just as much as your shiny boom-stick saved mine.”
Gunda couldn’t help but smile.
“So where do you want me to drop you guys off?” said the goblin, as he turned down a neon flashing street.
“No!” both Gunda and the old man said in sync.
“We are going after that loot. Now that Vobo is dead, we can split the take three ways,” barked Gunda.
“You’re serious? With the Enforcer!?” the goblin gripped the wheel tighter.
“If you don’t want to take part fine!” the old man gritted his teeth, “Just drop us off at the contact. Two ways is easier, makes a nice even number.”
The goblin pulled over and slammed on the breaks, “Even with the Enforcer chasing after you?”
“How do we even know he’ll come after us now?” said Gunda.
The goblin paused, “I don’t know.”
“Can’t you call him off? You’re a member of the cartels right?”
“You think someone of my rank can ask the King for anything? I’m just a gang associate, I just run some finances for my Centurion.”
The old man snorted, “Bastardo.”
The goblin growled, showing his tiny pointed teeth, “MY NAME is Zester! I may be ranked a Bastardo, but I’m still a goblin and a member of the RedClan. Better than a washed up Senator like you.”
The old man’s eyes flashed with colour again. The chains on Zester’s belt pulled directly towards the old man. Gunda felt her armor and helmet being pulled towards him.
“I may be passed my prime, but any sorcerer can still kill a goblin without breaking a sweat.”
The goblin flicked his wrist and a gold coloured contraption slid out of his striped sleeve. He pointed a mini-shotgun into the man’s face, “This’ll still kill you, Senator.”
“Let’s just calm down!” said Gunda, “We all want the money. Let’s not kill each other until after we sold the treasure. My name is Gunda.”
“Not a very Dwarven name?” teased the old man. “Senator Backus.”
“Senator?” asked Gunda.
“Cartel word for Hitman. Give him the Ceasar’s treatment, they used to say. We need the artefact’s location.”
Zester shrugged and put the car in gear, “Where is the contact?”
Backus smiled, “Near Black Wall.”
The Zester’s ears drooped, “You got to be kidding me…”
“What’s Black Wall?” asked Gunda.
“Really?” barked Backus, “How long have you lived in the Underground?”
“You gotta be fucking kidding me… how the hell did Vobo pick you for this job?”
She growled, “My mum is Bryhild BrightRoar…”
Zester gawked, “Holy shit! Minister of Science of Nidavellir? No wonder Vobo got ya, you’re a walking armory.”
“Yes, Yes. My mama is very brilliant and I reap the benefits! Can we just go to… wherever we’re going?”
“You’ll see,” grinned Backus.
Gunda frowned, “What if the Enforcer finds us again?”
Backus ignored the question as they drove down the freeway.
. . . . . . . . .
Hours later as the city lights flew past on the ride there, Gunda thought about her mother. They never looked much alike. Gunda took so much after her father, who was a human from Ethiopia. They raised her together in privilege in Nidavellir’s capital. Everyone always expected Gunda to continue mummy’s work, but Gunda hated labs and academics. She liked to fight, to play sports. She wasn’t one to sit down and read textbooks for days on end. Doesn’t mean she didn’t learn how to maintain some of her mother’s inventions. She just lacked the know-how and creativity to take the next step. She just didn’t care enough. That’s what hurt mum the most…
So when the shipment of technology needed a familial escort, it was finally an escape to the New World.
“We’re here,” said Zester. Snapping Gunda back to attention.
They got out of the vehicle. Gunda’s foot was already feeling better; she was a fast healer. Benefits of being a hybrid. They were on a cobblestone street flanked by gothic mansions. Gardens of glowing white and blue plants and ivy climbing up the mansions. Oil lampposts bathing everything in blue light. In the distance she saw a huge stone wall, at least three hundred feet high with battlements and turrets. Beyond she saw only darkness.
“What is this place?” she asked as she limped with her helmet in the crook of her arm.
“The edge of the Black,” said Zester “That over there is northern most district of the Underground. There is no light, no power, just darkness. Some call it the entrance to hell itself.”
“And what do you think?” asked Gunda.
“I’ve never had a reason to be up here. I don’t know what’s beyond that wall, all I know is that if Vampires struggle enough to garrison that wall with the best weapons money can buy; it must be pretty hellish.”
“Can we just get on with this?” said Backus, “The contact is just up here.”
Down the road Gunda noticed curtains in windows opening and silhouettes of people starring out. She couldn’t see them but she felt their red gaze, like the sun beating down on her.
They turned down another street towards a smaller secluded mansion with a high fence. Zester pressed the button at the gate.
“Hello?” chirped a male voice, “Who goes there?”
“Here for the job.”
“AH YES! Vobo sent his message this morning. I hope the dear green fellow is alright.”
“He’s dead,” grunted Gunda.
“Oh that poor wee fellow. Please come in and tell me this tale of woe.” The gate buzzed open. The mansion was smaller than the others but just as exquisite with balconies, gargoyles and pillars of black marble. The garden was full of trees and shrubs dazzling in bioluminescence.
Zester’s ears perked up, he stared into the bushes. “What’s that?”
In a flash of red light and metal something flashed and hit Gunda to the ground. Her chest heaved. Her ears rung from a mechanical roar. “Get this FUCKING thing off of me!”
Backus ran over and tackled it. He got his massive hands around it and pulled it in two, spraying sparks. He had what looks like both halves of a metal dog with a three-hinged jaw of serrated teeth.
“Oh dear! I’m so sorry!” yelled a voice, “I forgot to turn them off!” A young man with a brown hair in a bun came running down the steps.
Backus tossed the metal monstrosity away, “The hell is this?!”
The young man wore a quilted housecoat, with a puffed up collar and bowtie. His chin was hairy, but not quite a beard. “They’re my security Automatas. I do apologize, genuinely I do. Please come inside, my dears. I’ll have tea and a meal for you.”
Gunda brushed herself off, “Food sounds good.”
Backus glared, “We don’t have time.”
“Fuck you. I’m starving; you wouldn’t even let us stop at a bloody drive-through on the way here.”
The young man smiled, “Good! We are having curry tonight!”
Upon entering the home, Gunda was awestruck by the extravagance of the landing. Huge marble staircases, crystal chandeliers, immense paintings of pale men in red armor and gruff rebels with muskets. An elegant woman came down the steps. She was naked, her body chrome, and her eyes glowed a metallic blue.
“What is that? A Natalie-600?” asked Zester.
Their host smiled, revealing broken but very sharp white teeth, “Excellent eye. I prefer Automatas over paid servers. Keeps things more organized, if a little expensive.”
“Who are you?” asked Gunda.
“Oh! How rude of me! My name is Simone Zbaraski. I’m a historian.”
His smile grew wider, “Come with me.” Gunda let him take her by the hand and followed him down a hallway lined with marble busts. They entered a library. Glass boxes with artefacts, more marble busts and portraits. Gunda looked up and saw that the library went up two other floors. Automata drones hovered on spinning wings, checking books, cataloguing documents.
Zester and Backus sat down at a long table as the Natalie-600 brought plates of steaming food and goblets of wine.
Simone waved Gunda over to a painting of another bearded man with a musket and axe, wearing animal skins and a pauldron hammered into a wolf’s head. “This is my ancestor, Alexsius Zbaraski. A leader in a lycan community during the 1700s. I’m a historian of the Vampire-Wolffolk conflict. It’s the longest conflict in history. Millennia old. It goes beyond war between political or cultural factions. It’s in the biology, both are apex predators fighting for the same resource: human victims. Lycanthropy developed in Greece, probably before second millennium BC. But Vampirism is older and has followed humans since their inception, no one knows where or how. A scholar named Phillipa Et Tuscana theorized that vampires were originally a blood disease that mutated due to Veil Radiation. You know what that is?”
Gunda shook her head. Why am I letting him jabber on like this?
“It’s magic,” barked Backus. “Veil Radiation is the egg-heads word for Magic.”
Simone laughed, “So says a magician. Senator Backus Steelbone, you’ve had work in this district correct?” Backus nodded grimly. “Your reputation as a metallurgist is astounding. You invented the Osteo-Cladding, correct?”
Gunda raised an eyebrow to Backus.
The old man held out his arms, he ran his finger over the tattoos. “Each of these parallels metal I had put inside me. My magic allows me to manipulate metals using magnetic fields. When I’m touching the metal it’s a lot easier on me. When I’m not in contact with it, it drains too much energy. So I got the idea, if I have metal inside me, I can manipulate the fields within me to make me stronger, tougher and faster.” He flexed his arms.
“Brilliant!” said Simone.
“Insane,” said Gunda.
Backus laughed, “It’s funny how close those seem sometimes. And look who’s talking! You carrying around a gun that fires mini-supernovas and a backpack that sends you flying through the air at breakneck speed. That’s new tech, brand spanking new. I know high-lords that won’t touch that for fear of it biting them in the ass.”
Gunda shrugged, “The less people who use it. The less likely they will figure out how to counter it.”
“Or the more likely, someone will want to kill you for the tech.”
“That’s always a risk dwarves have been willing to take.”
Zester finally spoke, looking up from his meal, “But you’re only half-dwarf.”
Gunda glared at him. Simone laughed, “Oh another hybrid! My dear, I know what it’s like. Not really having anyone like you no matter where you go.”
“No you don’t.”
“Oh don’t I? I’m a half-wolf living in the third biggest vampire community in North America. Pretty sure my mother was killed by my father’s clan when I was a pup. Did your parent’s at least raise you together?”
Gunda frowned, she didn’t answer.
Simone frowned, “I’m so sorry my dear. That was uncalled for. Please, let me show you some more of my work while your compatriots eat. Oh! I forgot to get you food! Natalie!”
An electronic voice chirped from down the hall, “Yes master.”
“Please, some food for the lady.”
“It’s already at the table sir.”
Simone clapped, “Oh yes, how airheaded of me! Please, eat my dear.” Gunda did. It was good, hot and spicy; just like her dad’s cooking.
“Before you two young loves get too invested,” growled Backus, “Can we please discuss the information we came for. The loot in the catacombs!”
Simone frowned, “Soon enough, we have plenty of time. I’m the only one who knows about the artefact.”
“Then why don’t you share.”
“What’s the rush, dear Senator?”
Backus stood up, “The rush is I want the goddamn money!”
“Senator, please. Sit down. We have time.”
The electric voice chirped on again, “Master, you have another guest.”
Simone smiled at Backus. He tapped a keyboard on the table, a screen rising from the oak. “Bring up the camera feed.”
Gunda brushed her thick hair away to see. On the screen stood a man in battle fatigues, wearing armor and a mask with an X painted on. “Shit.”
“Friend of yours?” said Simone.
“He’s back,” said Gunda. “What do we do?”
Backus got up, he put his hands on the table. His eyes began to flash between colours. He picked up the goblet “I think it’s time for the information.” He crumped the goblet like paper and molded it into a pyramid and aimed it at Simone.
“Oh course…” Simone tapped a few keys. On the screen they saw the Enforcer kick open the gate.
There was a thunk on the table. The goblin had a massive gold 50. Cal handgun in his spindly fingers. “Now, please.”
Gunda watched the screen. Half a dozen of those security Automations darted out of the gardens straight for the Enforcer. He pulled his handgun and in a flurry of motion shot each Automata before it got to him.
Simone’s hands shook as he typed away, “Aha! Here’s the little bliter.” He turned the screen around. “The artefact is from the old dwarven empire. From the first settlers who came in the 10th century to the new world. It’s a rune stone, old, very old. It is of incredible cultural significance to the dwarven people.”
On the screen they saw the Enforcer go up the steps, he raised his gun to the camera and the screen went black.
“Where is it?” said Zester, he cocked his gun.
“My god! Put the goddamn gun down!” yelled Gunda.
“When we have the information, honey,” growled Backus and the metal spun in his hand on its own.
“Don’t call me honey!” Gunda felt her hand going to her blaster.
“I won’t have you ruin the chance of getting to that artefact.” There was a crash in the distance. “Coordinates now!”
Simone put a slip of paper in Gunda’s hand. “There! Now can we all relax. We need to get out of here-“ BAM! A gunshot went straight through his shoulder. Sending him sprawling on the floor. The Enforcer had kicked down the door but it was Zester’s gun that was smoking.
Backus turned and shot the bit of metal at the Enforcer. It lodged in his armor; he skidded back. Zester spun around and fired. The Enforced activated that haze again and the bullets veered off course.
Gunda pulled her blaster, but wasn’t fast enough. The Enforcer dropped the shield and fired. The blaster went flying and hit a book shelf. There was a pool of blood on the ground, but no Simone. Where’d he go? Backus threw the table at the Enforcer, food splattering everywhere.
“I got him!” yelled Backus, “Take him out!”
Gunda whipped her helmet on and slammed the button on her belt. She flew through the air in a controlled arch. After landing on the next level of the library she pulled her second last plasma grenade. She dropped it over the ledge, “Backus RUN!”
He saw the glint of chrome metal and jumped over an artefact cabinet. Zester dived behind a bookshelf. The Enforcer’s blank mask looked up. He twirled his handcannon and batted the grenade hitting a Home Run. It exploded in the air. A blinding blue ball of liquid fire exploded and imploded. “NO! Shit!” yelled Gunda.
The service Automatas instantly went to work protecting the books.
The Enforcer threw the table at Backus, who caught it. He ran up the slant and pounced onto the next level near Gunda. It happened so fast. He grabbed her booster pack as she tried to turn and slammed her against the railing. Breaking something in her pack.
“Get the car!” she heard Backus yell.
Gunda tried to twist out of the Enforcer’s grip, but he pinned her against the railing. He slammed a fist into her face. Over and over and over again. Her visor cracked, her head banged against the railing. Her vision was going red and fuzzy. She tried to block with her arm. Can’t last much longer.
She fell to the floor, dizzy. She pulled off her useless helmet. She spat blood on the floor. She looked up; Backus was fighting the Enforcer.
Gunda rubbed her eyes and stumbled to her feet.
Backus kicked and punched the Enforcer with his sorcerer’s strength, blows landing so hard that the air popped. The Enforcer was knocked farther and farther each time. Backus yelled, “Dirty fucker wanking Metal-faced whoreson!” Gunda met his eyes, “Get out of here! I’m right behind you.” He slammed the Enforcer’s head into a pillar, which probably would have shattered a naked skull.
“Run!” yelled Backus, as he grabbed a Greatsword off a hook on the wall. He raised the sword to finish it.
The Enforcer dodged. The sword planted itself into the floor. The Enforcer head-butted Backus in the chin followed by upper-cut to the jaw. Which sent him reeling and dazed. The Enforcer pulled the sword out of the floor. In the same arch he raised it over Backus.
Gunda screamed in protest, she felt her belt for a weapon. Anything? Anything at all! Her fingers wrapped around the last Plasma Grenade.
The Enforcer raised the sword.
Gunda pressed the button, the grenade whirled.
The Enforcer brought the sword down.
Gunda slammed into him.
The sword missed Backus’s head, it slammed into his left shoulder carving deep into his flesh. The gash spurted blood, the arm hung by a few cords of meat and tendon. Backus screamed. Gunda and The Enforcer tumbled into a wall.
When the Enforcer got up he growled with a synthetic voice. Gunda smirked. The Enforcer noticed the beeping coming from his belt. Gunda rolled behind the bookshelf. She covered her ears, although it didn’t help much. The explosion shook the room.
Around the corner a hole was blown into the outside street. The Enforcer was gone. Fucker better be dead.
She slid next to Backus. His fat face cold and white. He’s in shock. With his blood flooding over the carpet, she started dragging him by his good arm. He groaned. He’s not gonna make it with all that bleeding.
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her close. “What is it? What do you need me to do!” she asked.
His fat fingers peeled her gorget off her chest and threw it onto his shoulder. He padded it down, it wrapped itself like bandages, closing off the wound. “Help me, dammit.”
She hoisted him onto her shoulder. They hobbled out of hole in the wall and landed in a bush. Zester honked from the street, “Let’s go! C’mon humies!”
She shoved Backus into the back seat. He was still bleeding badly. Vampires poked their heads from their windows to see what had happened. They sped down the road.
“We need to get him to a hospital,” said Gunda.
“No!” yelled Zester, “No goddamn clinic. Cartels will know where we are and so will that fucking tinhead. We need a safehouse.”
Gunda sighed, “Gods dammit, we can go to my place. Third level of the main metropolis district, 908 Grimgor Street.”
“That’s over two hours away.”
“Got any better ideas?”
Zester nodded as he sped down the exit to the freeway, “I might know someone in a nearby housing complex.”
Backus barked, “Then fucking get there! God dammit, that fucker better be dead. You shoved a grenade in his pocket, right?”
Gunda nodded, “Just about. Hooked it to his belt.”
Backus’s mouth hung open, “Then he’s probably still out there. If you don’t see the splat on the wall, never assume the fuckers gone.”
“Duly noted. Now let me try and fix you up.” She rummaged through the glove box for bandages, but just found a gold plated Uzi and plenty of ammo. He’s just gonna have to wait.
. . . . . . . . .
They pulled up to a housing complex at the edge of the main underground metropolis. The streets were packed with crowds, with the night shifts switching to the day shift. Gunda noticed how tired she was. Zester parked and ran up to the apartment intercom. He gave the thumbs up.
Gunda grabbed Backus and helped him limp up the steps, then up the rickety elevator, and down the hall, which he bled all over. They were rushed into an apartment by an older woman. It was a small apartment, low lighting, old furniture. They put Backus on the kitchen counter. The couch was a mess. Zester kept watch with his Uzi.
Gunda started working the hunks of metal off his shoulder, “We need to stitch this up. Otherwise he could lose the arm.”
“Just take it off. Arm’s useless now,” grunted Backus.
It must be shock, she thought. “We can save it, we just-”
“Take it off! I don’t have time for months of recovery! Take it off!”
She looked into his flashing eyes. He was serious. She nodded, “I need an axe.”
The woman nodded and brought a fireman’s axe and mallet. Gunda tore off the last of the metal and pressed a towel over it. “Now heat the axe and knife. Need it red hot!”
The women nodded, “Jesus, sweetie, were you taught medicine in a cave?” she held the blades over her gas stove.
Backus growled, he grabbed Gunda’s arm, “Make it clean. I need it a clean cut.”
“What are you talking about?”
He coughed, “You’ll see. Keep it clean. Burn it until it’s clean.”
“It’s gonna hurt like a mother fucker.”
He forced a smile, “I’ve fucked enough mothers to know. Gimme liquor and something to bite on.”
Gunda nodded. She ran and found a bottle of whisky, which he downed in a few gulps. Then she stuffed a towel in his mouth. The woman passed her the bright red axe, “Going to have to clean the carpet.”
She put the edge to the strings holding the dead arm to the shoulder. The blade hissed against the flesh. The woman held down his legs, Zester held down the other arm. Gunda hammered the axe down to free the arm. The searing smell of flesh stuffed her nostrils. She heard Backus’ scream of pain and saw the seep of hot blood and steam.
She tossed the axe aside. There’s so much blood. She took the hot knife and burned the rest of his shoulder until it stopped bleeding. Until it was a black scab of burnt flesh. Backus had long pass out. Once it was done Gunda looked at how bloody her hands were. Oh my god.
The woman touched her arm, “Go take a shower sweetie, I’ll finish up here.”
Gunda nodded, her adrenaline was falling quickly. I think I’m gonna throw up. She stumbled into the bathroom and puked violently into the toilet. Curry is not as good going up as it was going down. Once she regained composure, she peeled her armor and clothing off. Her ebony skin was covered in bruises and Backus’s blood. Her underwear was stuck from the sweat.
She took a long shower, losing track of the time, was probably in for over an hour. The steam was murder on her hair, but it just felt so damn good. Just a blur of steam and hot water. Soap washing the blood away. I can’t do this. It ain’t worth it. When there was a knock at the door, she shut off the water. “Gunda, we need to talk,” said Zester. “Backus is waking up.”
“Be right there!”
She got dressed as quickly as possible. Her bones ached a lot less. Backus was sitting up on a chair, noticeably smaller with one less muscled arm. He smiled when he saw Gunda. There was another whiskey bottle in his hand. Zester stood with his arms crossed.
Then the memory of him shooting Simone flashed in her brain. A rage exploded in her breast. She grabbed him by the collar, “Why the fuck did you shoot the hybrid.”
It took Zester a second to remember, “Oh, he was taking too long.”
“Shitty reason, asshole.”
“Enough!” yelled Backus. He took a swig from the bottle. “It was fucking stupid to do that Zester, but it’s done. Now we need to talk about what we’re gonna do next.”
Gunda raised an eyebrow, He must be delusional. “This isn’t worth it. None of it. We should all just go home and lay low.”
“Not a chance. I need that goddamn cash.”
“Why!? No money is worth this much blood.” Nobody can be this greedy. Can they?
Backus glared, “It is when you have this.” He pulled up his shirt to reveal a knot of cancerous tendons over his ribs and chest. It was bleached white and unnatural. “You know what this is?”
Gunda fought back a gag, “its Magesblyte. Probably lethal at this point.”
“What?” chirped a voice, the woman was washing the floor.
Backus smiled kindly at her, “Magesblyte is the cost of using too much magic at once, something I’ve made a career of doing.” He glared at Gunda. “Doctors gave me four months a year ago. My only hope is a rare surgery that costs more than a pretty penny. I need this cash ‘cause either way I’m dead. That’s why I can’t waste time getting my arm reattached.”
Gunda looked at Zester, “Why the hell are you still here?”
Zester crossed his arms, “Because, the cartels need it.”
“What are you talking about? The Cartels are the richest faction in the Underground! Why do they need the artefact?”
“Because darling, I was told that this loot is important for the political scene of the underground. And now I know why… ever since a bunch of goblins took over the Underground there has been terror attacks Nd protests trying to overthrow the cartels to bring back the Dwarvish Empire. Plenty of moderates would settle for recognition and representation in the cartels. This runestone will begin a process of reconciliation for the dwarves and goblins.”
“Then why the hell is the Enforcer coming after us?”
Zester scoffed, “Because there are plenty of goblins who would just kill every dwerg out there, even you just cause you’re half. A lot of people don’t give a damn about winning hearts and minds or making friends. I’m pretty sure someone high up in the cartels sent him to wreck this plan. Me and Backus got actual reasons for getting this artefact. You’re the one that came here as a mercenary.”
She went red, “So what? If it means that much to you then you two can risk your necks.”
“We can’t do it without you,” said Backus. “You’re the only one who’s been able to hurt the Enforcer.”
She shrugged, “Not my problem.” She headed out the door.
Someone grabbed her arm, she was about to sock the person, but it was the woman who helped them. She was in her fifties, short, but not as short as Gunda. Wide glasses and a mess of grey-blonde hair.
“What do you want?” said Gunda.
“Listen sweetie, I know you don’t see much worth in this, but they need you. A lot. I won’t pretend I know the details. Forty years under Cartel rule teaches you to not ask too many questions. But from what I saw, you are a girl who is willing to do the hard things when people need you to. That kind of selflessness is rare in this world.”
The woman smiled, “Hon, it’s your choice, but I know you didn’t join this just for a paycheck.”
The pale cheeky face of her mother passed through Gunda’s mind. Her rosy cheeks covered in soot. She was such a smart, kind mum. And I left her… because I was scared I couldn’t measure up. She sighed.
She opened the door. Backus and Zester looked at her. She took a breath, “Ok, you bastards. If we do this, I need a few things from my place.” She pulled the slip of paper she got from Simone. “Then we can head into the catacombs.”
. . . . . . . .
Gunda opened the door to her apartment. It was a suite at the top of a housing block. She leased it from a goblin when she first moved to the Underground. She went straight to the second bedroom, which she had transformed into a workshop.
She made it a habit to always have spares ready to go. So a replacement booster pack, helmet, armor, plasma-blaster, and grenades was easy. She spent the better part of an hour welding lights to the rim of the T-visor on her helmet and the plasma-blaster.
Then she grabbed a unique piece she had built from her mum’s designs. An EMP grenade, a smooth disk with a green button with a frowning face. Then a large combat knife that she hung on her front
She glanced at a picture sitting on her desk. A tall grinning black man had his arm around a short-stocky white woman with braided brown hair. They were always so happy… then I left. She stared at it for a long time. Mom’s bright blue eyes. Dad’s deep brown eyes. They were so different in every possible way. They never fought. They always complemented each other. She defended dad from everyone who didn’t understand him. He kept her centered. Grounded. I’m a goddamn coward. Gunda wiped her eyes. Maybe after this I can at least feel that I measure up.
Gunda put her helmet on. The new T-visor highlighted the world around her with better clarity. She took the elevator down to the parkade. Zester and Backus leaned against the car. They had their own errand to run.
And I can see why.
Where his stump had been, Backus now had a huge coppery coloured arm. He waved with all the dexterity of a normal arm.
“How the hell did you get that?” asked Gunda.
He flexed the arm, “Oh just some junk metal here and there. Once I got some wires inserted into the arm it became as good as new. Plus I can do this.” His metal hand crunched itself into a crude blade, then into a claw, then back into a hand.
They piled in and headed south to the entrance of the catacombs.
. . . . . . . .
Zester drove through tunnels, over bridges, and down ramps. Deeper and deeper into the Underground. The lights from the metropolis vanished, street lights became less and less common, and there were fewer and fewer cars until the only light was the vehicles’s high beams against the cobble stone walls
Then they came to a gate that was too narrow for the car. They got out. Gunda flicked on the lights on her helmet and her blaster. She kicked open the door; there was nothing but a flight of stairs.
“This is the closest entrance we could find,” said Zester. He held a flashlight and stared at a phone, with the blue glow lighting his green face as he climbed down the steps. Backus followed, then Gunda.
Over the next few hours they went deeper into the tunnels. The walls were cold and made from rough stones. Then the tunnels were just carved into the bedrock. Deeper and deeper. Their beams of light snapping at every rat or gust of air. They checked every corner they passed. Gunda’s ears began to pop.
Zester noticed her counting under her breath, “You okay?”
She froze, “Yeah. Fine. How deep are we?”
“Deep enough, this way.” Zester turned a corner down a long smooth tunnel.
“Ears popping?” asked Backus. Gunda nodded. “Mine have been for over an hour. Must be nice to be a Dwerg-hybrid.”
“Better to be full Dwerg. Or just a goblin,” joked Zester.
Gunda glared through her helmet, “Yeah, whatever.” She remembered how some kids at school made fun of her for being a hybrid. There were dwarves, humans, even an elf, but being a hybrid and a second generation immigrant, the combination was too bizarre not to torment.
They turned down another tunnel. Zester stopped, his ears perked up. He whispered, “Shit. Hide.”
The hid around a corner. Gunda shut off her lights. There was a rumbling, the whole tunnel shook. Dust poured from the ceiling. It went on for almost five minutes.
When it went quiet they continued through the tunnels.
“What was that?” asked Gunda as she got her lights back on. She jumped. The whole wall was made of skulls
“Wyrms, serpents, who knows,” said Zester. “Always something down here. I was more worried about running into Rat-men.”
“Cartels are really hated down here. Anyone with green-skin gets shredded if they can catch em.” He checked the map. “Another turn.”
Gunda heard the sound of rushing water. They entered a wide tunnel with a river of clear rushing water. Zester led them down the tunnel which opened into a huge cavernous hall. The river made a waterfall down the stairs, which leaked into two moats at each side of the hall. Huge pillars held up the vaulted ceiling. Erosion and time had melted carvings and murals into messes of rock and stone. At the far end of the hall was a huge stone throne.
They crossed the hall, checking every shadow and corner. Zester ran up to the throne and brushed the dust off the wall. “It’s here!” he called. He took a knife and pried out a slab of marble the size of a textbook. It was covered in old runes and boarded with knot-work. Zester was giddy, “We found it!”
Backus smiled, “That was far easier than I thought it would be.”
Gunda craned her head to see closer, “Yeah.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Zester.
Gunda couldn’t react, she just screamed. Zester flicked his wrist-shotgun out and fired point-blank at both Backus and Her. She flew back into a pillar. THAT GODDAMN FUCKING LITTLE GREEN FUCKING BASTARD!! She coughed, her visor was cracked, forcing her to take it off. Again.
“God fucking dammit,” her shoulder was bleeding. Her gorget took most of the hit, but it fucking hurt like a bitch. She looked up, her vision a little blurry. She saw Zester vanish through the entrance. Then she saw Backus laying on the ground. His fat gut was a mess of blood.
She crawled over to him, “Backus! Backus! C’mon old man!” she pressed her hands over the wound, but it was such a mess that she couldn’t stop the bleeding. “Talk to me you old bastard!”
He looked up, “Shit.”
Gunda looked at the entrance. A tall figure with a blank mask stood at the top of the waterfall. She jumped over to her blaster that she had dropped. Gunshots ricocheted around her. The Enforcer was sprinting and firing. His aim was off.
Gunda grabbed the pistol-grip and fired. The glowing blue fireball hurtled towards the Enforcer, but he was too fast. She fired again and again. He didn’t bother with the shield, wouldn’t help anyways.
He ducked behind a pillar. She got up, firing into the pillar. Orbs of blue firing blasting chunks away. The pillar crumbled. The Enforcer jumped to the side, firing his handcannon. Gunda slammed the button on her hip and shot into the air. This booster pack left huge fiery trails behind her as she shot at him. She grabbed onto a crack near the top of a pillar and continued to fire. He ran behind the pillars.
The blaster beeped loudly, the slide read: Low Power. 4 Shots Remaining. “Shit!”
Used too many shots too quickly.
She flew across the hall to get the angle on the Enforcer. He fired at her, but she was flying too fast. She slowed as she almost hit the wall and fired twice. The first missed. The second grazed his thigh, burning the clothing. He dropped to his knees. He raised the gun and fired.
The bullet grazed her arm. She screamed and she shot herself towards him. She fired the last two rounds in quick succession. Again, the first missed, but the second exploded over his blank-faced helmet. Half the mask melted and sparks poured from his electronics. He roared with a mechanical scream.
She flew past, and ducked behind a pillar on the ground. The blaster was empty, and she didn’t have refills. I knew I forgot something. Idiot! Peering around the corner she saw the Enforcer stumbling around, waving his arms searching. Is… Is he blind? Well, blind with a damaged helmet. What is he? Her armor banged against the pillar. His half-melted mask shot in her direction and unloaded into the pillar. Well I know he can hear.
Gunda jumped behind another pillar as he searched for her. What is he? Human? He’s too fast, too strong, he fights too perfectly. Could he be a robot? A lot of the new machines are getting more and more advanced. Maybe the Goblin King got himself something really advanced.
She ducked behind another pillar. If he is a machine. She pulled the EMP grenade. Then this’ll stop him. She knew she needed to attach it to him for it to work, otherwise he’d roll away once he heard the clank. She checked her reserves on her booster pack. Fuck, only enough for another a minute of full burn.
She was never a gambler, but this bet might be worth it. She fired up the boosters. She flew around the pillar and aimed right for the Enforcer. He turned just to be grabbed by Gunda by the waist. They blasted through the air, banging against walls. They slammed through a damaged pillar, causing it to break and collapse a portion of the hall. She slipped the grenade in his back pocket. Not the belt this time.
He roared. He slammed his fists into her back and head. Then he pulled his knife and stabbed her booster pack over and over again. She lost control of her velocity. They crashed into the throne and tumbled down the steps.
When the Enforcer looked up, Gunda grinned. The EMP went off and in a ripple in the air the Enforcer went haywire. He screamed as his armor began to shut down. He collapsed.
“About fucking time. Good riddance.” She saw the trail of blood that led to Backus leaning against a pillar. “Backus!” she dropped her booster pack and ran over. “Backus! Talk to me! Goddammit old man! Talk to me!” she pressed her hands over the wound but it was a complete mess. His whole torso was a mess of meat and blood. He’s not gonna make it. Gotta get him help.
She tried to get him on to her shoulder, but he just swore, “Just fuck it. Fuck it…” He looked at Gunda, his dark eyes watery. He spat up blood, “Just go after Zester, kill the traitor, and get the money. You deserve it.”
She wiped her face, “No I fucking don’t. I’m gonna get you out of here, you’re gonna get that surgery.”
“There is no surgery.”
She paused, “What do you mean?”
“Just shut up and listen. There is no surgery. I only said it…” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a photo. It was stained but the image came through. “Fucking hell, I said it to make people think I wasn’t soft. Take my share and give it to them. My nieces.” It was a photo of Backus, slightly younger, his black moustache curled, with two young girls on his shoulders.
“Good. Now let an old man die in peace. Kill that little green fu- Look out!” He shoved Gunda aside. His metal arm shot out in a blur. When Gunda looked up the Enforcer had a metal spear through his shoulder, but had planted his knife in Backus’ chest.
Gunda yelled and tackled the Enforcer. They tumbled, yelling and scraping. She reached for her knife, but he was too fast. He punched her in the face. She felt hot blood over her lips. He twisted the knife from her hand. He raised it for a final kill.
Not you don’t. She slammed her forehead into his mask. Dwarven bones, bitch. He dropped the blade. She punched the wound in his shoulder. His strength faltered for a moment. Screaming at the burn in her body, she twisted to the side and wrapped her legs around his arm. Smashing him into the ground. Locked in, she twisted the arm until something popped. He roared. She took the knife and stabbed him twice in the chest.
She pinned him down and stabbed the knife into his shoulder. Her body was running on heightened adrenalin and rage. “I’m gonna see your goddam face.” She took the knife and put the blade to the edge of his melted mask. She wedged it open as he screamed. The mechanical scream became more and more human.
She almost gagged at what was underneath.
The helmet housed a grey, shriveled face, covered in cancerous sores. The left eyes had split into two, probably from radiation. Wires from the mask fed straight into sockets around his face. His scarred lips cracked open in a bloodied gurgle to reveal a long pointed tongue, wriggling like a worm.
“You are one ugly motherfucker,” she gagged. She punched him. “Who sent you!”
His voice was a chocked laugh, “The King.”
“Why’d he send you?!”
“To stop the goblin.”
“Why?” she held the knife to his throat.
“Hehe, the king needs peace.” His lizard tongue licked his lips. “Sent me to make peace, when other goblins would make war.” Zester lied about which side he was on.
“Then why come after me and Backus if you just needed Zester!”
“Cause it was funny!” he laughed.
If the king needs monsters like this to keep the peace, I’m done with this goddamn country. She kicked him in the face and left. He can bleed out.
. . . . . . . .
Zester ran through the tunnels, soaking wet. I got it! I got it! Holy shit, I can’t believe I got it! He was giddy. Finally got it. He knew the plan from his clan. Get the artefact to the clan, kill anyone who gets in your way, kill anyone that was involved, then we are going to destroy it on camera. Once it goes viral the dwarves will riot and the king will finally be forced to kill them all.
He was laughing. He was hysterical as he ran through the black tunnels. His flashlight bobbed as he ran. The beam of light illuminated the skulls that covered the walls. He knew he couldn’t sprint the whole way, he was just so happy.
This is for all my brothers that those fucking stunted midgets have killed all these years.
He fell to his knees, laughing. He held the runestone to his chest. The slab of marble covered in icons. He turned it over, “If a people sees a goddamn rock as a political point to riot and kill over, then they don’t deserve the king’s peace.” He got up and kept running.
Something hit him square in the chest. He was staring at the dark ceiling. His world was spinning. He spat a glob of purple-red blood. “What the…” he grabbed his flashlight and looked up.
Gunda stood over him, shaking her bruised knuckles. He raised his wrist-shotgun, but she knew that was coming. She grabbed his wrist and twisted it until it popped. He screamed. He reached for his .50 cal, but she kicked him into the wall. He wrenched on the floor. He looked up at her, the flashlight shining up at her. Her black skin was slicked with sweat and blood.
Zester’s heart pounded. Should have confirmed the kill… Stupid.
He knew that was a mistake he was about to regret. “How’d you find me?” he asked.
“You laugh too loudly… and you really think I was stupid enough not to remember how we came down here? I remembered every fucking turn we took.” She looked at his dripping clothes. “And you hid in the goddamn river. Gave me plenty of time to kill the Enforcer.”
Zester’s eyes went wide, “You… You killed him? How!”
“A big gun and a thick head. Now come here!” she grabbed him by the collar and threw him against the wall. His little green body was like a doll in her thick hands.
She punched him in the face, breaking his long-hooked nose. He screamed from the pain. She grabbed his throat and lifted him. Zester coughed and yelled, “Help! Help!” he struggled to breathe.
“No one’s gonna help you ya little traitor,” she sneered. “I just wanna know why you did it. Gimme your reason. I know you wanted that war with the dwarves, that’s obvious enough, but why?” she dropped him.
Zester knew he was about to die, Fuck it, “Because your kind doesn’t deserve these halls. You lost it because dwarves are cowards and hypocrites. All those stunted gits that want rights and representation in the cartels are cowards. If they deserved their rights, they would have taken them for themselves.” She shone the light in his eyes as he screamed his piece
“I can respect a goblin who stabs me in the back and takes my titles! I can’t respect someone that begs me to treat them better because it’s Just, they are just too fucking scared to do what needs to be done. Then some honest Dwerg with a grudge bombs my brothers or clanmates, and the others say ‘Oh it was a radical. We aren’t like them. Give us our rights!’ bah!” he spat. “Just sick of those bearded gits, if they want war. I’ll give em war. And it’ll start when I smash that stone on live TV.” He paused. “That good enough for ya! You bitch! You half-breed stunt!”
She gave him a flat look, “Good enough for me. Enjoy finding your way back.” She stomped his leg. There was a snap and a spike of burning pain. “God fucking dammit! You goddamn half-breed bitch!” she took his light and the stone and walked into the distance.
He screamed as she turned around a corner, leaving him in the dark. “The cartels will shred you! My brothers will skin you alive! Sell what’s left to a troll for dinner and a show! You will never leave these tunnels! You will never see the sun again! You-!”
He heard something near him. A clicking, a chittering really. He reached around for his .50 cal. He scrambled around with a busted wrist and broken leg. The pain coursing through his body. Zester of RedClan will not die here. Not in the dark. I will be there when they slaughter the dwarves, I swear by the old green gods. He felt the pistol grip. He felt a rush of security. I can do this.
He raised the gun and fired into total darkness. The flash revealed a tunnel with dozens for four-foot tall rats. Diseased fur, puss-sores, long yellow teeth, beady black-eyes that reflected the flash. He heard their claws scratch the stone floor and he knew.
He fired again when he felt the first one grab him.
. . . . . . . . .
Gunda took a cab to Black Wall. She wore her hair in a bun. Her face was clean and she even wore relatively normal clothing: no armor. It had been two weeks since she brought the runestone to the Goblin King. She could retire now if she wanted to, even with sending half the reward to Backus’ nieces.
Now that she had the luxury of time and peace of mind she could appreciate the aristocratic elegance of Black Wall. The mansions frozen in time for a populace who were immortal. She walked up to the box of one mansion with a huge hole in its wall. She pressed the button, mostly out of politeness. The gate was still damaged.
Simone came to the gate in pajamas with a cup of Joe. He raised an eyebrow, “Gonna blow up my house again?”
Gunda smiled, “Sorry about that. I brought you something.”
“Then come along my dear. The library is out of the question, but the solar is undamaged.” They passed the Natalie-600 sweeping up rubble into a waste-basket. Upstairs was a dome-shaped room with walls made of lights that made it feel like they weren’t underground. Simone sat in a puffy chair surrounded by tropical plants. Gunda sat opposite. An automata brought her a glass of water.
Simone took a long sip of coffee, “So what’s your gift?”
“Not my gift. It’s from the king.” She put a slip of paper on the glass table between them. “They said it should cover the damages.”
“They -- the king’s court. I found the stone, they gave me a check, thanked me for my service and said we’d be in contact.”
He nodded, “Thank you. I’ll put it to good use.” There was a long pause. “So what’s your plan now?”
Gunda had been avoiding that question over the past week while she recovered. “I don’t know. I have enough money to retire now. I have respect and even admiration from major players in the Underground. Me? A goddamn fresh-off-the-boat half-breed. I’m even being taken to lunch by a goblin Boss to discuss job opportunities. But now “I’m just…”
“Bored? Hollow? Hungry for more?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Kind of.”
Simone smiled, “Well my lady, if I could be so bold, now might be a good time to take stock of your life before you commit to this path of being a cartel associate. Take a break. Remember where you come from. That’s my motto.”
A photo on her desk flashed in her mind. “Yes, I think so.”
Simone smiled, he raised the coffee cup to her, “Well, here’s to your long and profitable career as a Bastardo of the Goblin Cartels, my dear.”
Gunda left shortly after. She promised to visit when she could. She called for another cab. As she waited, she sat on a bench flanked by glowing blue trees. Pale red-eyed children in nineteen-twenties clothing ran up the dark street playing with a hoop.
She smiled and pulled out her phone. She sighed before dialing the number, “Hey mum, its Gunda. Yeah... Your daughter. Heh, hey listen, I think I’m gonna come home for a bit. I really miss you guys.”
. . . The End . . .