Lead vs Fantasy 5-1

5-1  A New Job,  A New Problem


Crawling out from the shade of her tent, Cauliflower stretched and enjoyed the brisk morning air.  Then she immediately stopped enjoying it and shivered.  She hurriedly retreated to grab her black jacket.  Then she once again stood in the open in the middle of camp.

Curiously, she traced the previous day’s path with her eyes and saw nothing remarkable.  Some grass and some dirt.  She felt like she should be able to see Narabesque’s walls towering over the horizon, even from here.  However, she couldn’t.  That was what an entire day of driving could do.  That and make her entire lower half fall asleep.  Her legs still felt a bit wrong.

After giving up on catching sight of the city, Cauliflower turned to what lay ahead.  The stony face of a mountain dominated her view. In the middle of it, sat a large rectangular frame built for sturdy, stone double doors.  Though, only one door still remained.  The other, either through attack or age, had fallen into three, fractured pieces.  At one time, both the doors and the doorway should’ve been covered in elaborately carved ornamentation.  Now, they were blank.  Nothing more than carefully hewn slabs of stone.

Staring into the darkness beyond the missing door, Cauliflower didn’t know if she was looking forward to spending the day exploring that.  She certainly would’ve preferred to spend a few more days in town before taking their next job.  They’d been working so much lately that she was making money faster than she could spend it.  That wasn’t like her.

Made her wonder why she was working at all, if she wasn’t in civilization long enough to enjoy the rewards.  On the other hand, she couldn’t consider quitting.  She enjoyed drinking, picking up guys, and betting on bar fights, but it all rang hollow if she didn’t spend enough time working between binges.  That was how it’d always been.  You recharge your fun batteries by shooting things.

“Are we heading in already?” the Newbie’s hesitant voice sounded from behind Cauliflower.

“Not yet,” Cauliflower answered, turning to face the young man.  Young was a relative term.  In reality, Cauliflower and the Newbie were probably about the same age.  However, Cauliflower couldn’t help thinking of him as a youngster.  Something about his little squirrely face.  “We have some business to take care of first.”

“What business?”  the Newbie asked, furrowing his brows.

“What’s the first thing you do in the morning?” Cauliflower asked happily.

The Newbie opened his mouth to say something.  Then he faltered and sheepishly looked away.

Cauliflower looked him over in confusion.  Then she smiled again and clasped a hand on his back as she jovially said, “I was talking about breakfast, you little perv!”

The Newbie’s eyes went wide and his whole face caught fire as he waved his hands and desperately declared, “I was thinking about going to the restroom.  When you wake up, that’s what you do.  Right?”

“Don’t pee while you’re eating, Newbie,” Cauliflower advised, thoroughly enjoying her own intentional density.  “That’s gross.”

The Newbie looked like he was about to burst into tears.  He kept frantically trying to defend himself as Cauliflower pushed him to the campfire they’d used the night before.

After a breakfast of warm beans and dried meat, Cauliflower took a seat on a rock and watched the rest of the team slowly wake up.  Once everyone was up and fed, the Captain emerged from his tent.  As always, he must’ve awoken hours before she had.  His eyes were clear and collected as he surveyed his zombified troops.

“Did everyone get a good rest?” The Captain asked in a voice loud enough to make the groggy half of the team flinch.

“Can we not be here anymore?” Champ asked, his voice lacking its usual energy.  “Sleeping here is like trying to sleep on a thousand…”  His voice trailed off and he spent several seconds staring expressionlessly at his feet.  Then he lamely finished, “Well, rocks.  Cause that’s what we’re sleeping on.”

“Don’t… complain…” Lotus admonished, more out of habit than anything else.

Seeing her half dead comrades, Cauliflower smiled.  It paid to be the scout.  She made sure the campsite was safe, so she got first dibs when setting her tent.  When Cauliflower’s eyes passed over the one who got last dibs, she furrowed her brows.  The only problem the Newbie had this morning was that he kept embarrassing himself.  It was strange.

“Why are you completely fine?” Cauliflower asked without much thought.

Before the Newbie could say anything, he already found himself the target of three accusatory glares.  Seeing this, he flinched and scrunched up his little squirrel face as he answered, “If monsters around the village were too active, we couldn’t go into the forest.  If that happened during winter, we couldn’t collect more firewood and we’d have to burn anything we’d use for bedding to stay warm.  So, if I have a sleeping bag, it’s pretty good.  No matter where I’m sleeping.”

“That… is a pathetic story,” Edge declared slowly.  “I should feel sorry for you, but I kinda just want to stab you right now.”

“And I thought I-“ Champ started

‘No!” Edge ordered, turning to point a finger at Champ.

“I thought you wanted me to make jokes….” Champ complained, still unable to put much energy in his words.

“Now is not the time,” Edge answered forcefully.

“If you aren’t feeling up to the job today, we can always get another night’s sleep first,” the Captain said with a devious smile.

“Nope, we’re going now!”  Edge yelled, throwing a hand into the air for a few seconds before letting it fall back to his side.  “I’m getting up and we’re going to go.”

After a few seconds of silence, Lotus turned towards Edge and said, “You’re not getting up.”

“No, I am,” Edge asserted emphatically.  “I’m standing right now.”

“You do know you’re not, right?” Cauliflower asked, looking down to where Edge was sitting on the ground, his back resting against a large rock.

“I’m basically standing up,” Edge grumbled.

“You haven’t moved,” Cauliflower observed.

“Ok, enough playing around,” the Captain summoned everyone’s attention with a clap of his hand.

“I wasn’t playing,” Edge declared.

“Does everyone know what we’re doing here?” the Captain asked, ignoring Edge.

“Does anyone know what we’re doing here?” Champ questioned with a smile.

“We’re looking for something,” the Captain said patiently.

“Something we don’t know what it is,” Knot observed gruffly from where he was seated behind Cauliflower.

“Something our client wants,”  the Captain responded.  As he was speaking, he seemed to realize how unconvincing the statement was, so he added, “Apparently we’ll know it when we see it.”

“Sounds like an excuse to screw us over,” Cauliflower interjected thoughtfully.  “That way, no matter what we bring ‘em, they can claim it wasn’t what they wanted.  Then they take what we bring and give us half the reward.”

“I know, right?  ’I want something.’  ‘What do you want?’  ‘Guess.’”  Champ turned back and forth as he acted out a play by himself.  Finally he threw his hands in the air and asked, “What are they, my wife?”

“You don’t have a wife,” Edge declared with exaggerated emphasis.  “Cause of penis.”

“Is that the reason why?” Lotus asked.

“Close enough,” Edge answered with a shrug.

“I don’t know why you always wait until after we’ve taken the job to start complaining,” the Captain complained bitterly.

“Cause you wouldn’t have listened to us, even if we did complain,” Champ volunteered.

“Yeah, and I sure as hell aren’t going to listen to you now,” the Captain responded with a roll of his eyes.  “You people have got to learn that we don’t vote here.  Your impassioned pleas mean nothing to me.”

Cauliflower smiled at the Captain’s last lie.  Then, after a few seconds, silence had officially fallen over the team.  Cauliflower cocked her head to the side and tried to think of something worth saying.

Before she could, however, the Captain seemed to have decided everyone had woken up enough.  He straightened up and started giving his orders.  “In all seriousness, we got this job through Evelyn.  The vagueness of the contract can only screw over the client, not us.  As long as we collect a few things that at least show we’ve been here, then the contract will be complete.”

The Captain’s face grew sterner and he swept his eyes across the team as he continued.  “That being said, we aren’t going to slack off just because we can.  We’re going to go in this place and search through as much as we can by the end of the day.   I hear it’s pretty small, not a full city.  So we should be able to clear most of it.  See what we can see, grab whatever’s interesting.  Then we’re back at camp before night’s completely fallen.  Everyone good?”

As the Captain was surveying the field of weakly nodding heads, his eyes landed on the Newbie.  Then he added, “Newbie, if you think you see something interesting, then ask someone else whether or not it is.  Also, don’t touch anything.”

“R-right,” the Newbie responded with a nod of his head.  Then he glanced over towards the entrance to the ruins and hesitantly asked, “Umm… will there be monsters in there?”

The Captain followed the Newbie’s gaze.  Then he shrugged.  “Can’t say.  Monsters inhabiting a dwarven ruin isn’t uncommon, but it isn’t common either.”

The Newbie nodded at the Captain and turned back to the black doorway.

Cauliflower remembered he’d just had his first fight in a cave.  She wondered how that went for him.  Maybe she should’ve asked.  Though, on further thought, she didn’t really care to.  The kid would stop being afraid of the dark eventually.  Either that or he’d die first.  Whatever.

“Gear up and then we head out,” the Captain spoke up as Cauliflower finished her reverie.  “We’re running out of daylight.”

With that final urging, everyone started to move.  Cauliflower followed suit.  She grabbed her gun and double checked her provisions.  After sneaking a couple more scraps of jerky into her pocket, she ran her hand along the binoculars which always hung atop her chest.  Then she moved forward to sortie with her teammates.

Once the whole team was assembled, the Captain said, “Knot and Cauliflower, take point.  Edge and I will head up the back.  Lotus and Champ, focus on looking for artifacts and make sure the Newbie doesn’t die.”

With their orders, everyone filed into position.  Then, standing shoulder to shoulder with Knot, Cauliflower squeezed through the open half of the doorway and stepped into the darkness.  Once surrounded by black, she paused to let her eyes adjust.  After a few seconds, she could make out the stone walls and floor around her.  However, her view wasn’t clear enough to spot unknown artifacts wherever they may be.

Cauliflower flicked on the flash light under the barrel of her rifle.  Beside her, Knot did the same.  With a flood of light, Cauliflower could finally get a clear view of her surroundings.  They were currently at the mouth of a short, stone passage big enough for four people to walk through easily.  Just as she’d seen before.

Much like the doors they’d entered through, the passage was sure to have been immaculately constructed.  A beautiful testament to the capacity of craftsmen.  Now, however, the brick work looked sloppy and weak.  The mortar had mostly decayed already and the stone bricks themselves were not faring well through the millennium of untended wear.

Once they both had a feel for the environment, Cauliflower and Knot moved farther into the passage.  The rest of the team filed in behind them and went through the same process they had.  Once everyone was inside, Cauliflower and Knot slowly pressed forward.

Every step they took let out a small crunch as the elderly stones reshaped themselves under their feet.  That certainly made hiding their presence difficult.  Cauliflower hadn’t felt anything yet, so she didn’t let it bother her.

After walking for about a minute, Cauliflower and Knot reached the end of the passage.  There, they found the remains of another set of double doors lying in pieces around them.  Beyond that was a room.  Perhaps grand hall would be more accurate.  The place was massive.  In the center was a stack of four flat, circular stones that drew Cauliflower’s attention.  It took her a few seconds to realize it used to be a fountain.

As Cauliflower and Knot stepped into the large, cylindrical room, they quickly scanned the walls with their flashlights.  They found a few different doors distributed evenly around, but they saw nothing exciting or worrying.  Emboldened by that, they moved towards the center of the room.

When Cauliflower reached the fountain, she scanned her eyes over the five doors they had not entered through.  Then she turned back to the Captain.  She didn’t want to be responsible for this kind of decision.  Not if they didn’t find anything, anyway.

Meeting Cauliflower’s gaze, the Captain asked, “Cauliflower, is there anything nearby?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Cauliflower answered with a shake of her head.  Her senses couldn’t guarantee anything, but 95% of the time, they were reliable.

The Captain nodded and turned to look around the room.  Then he said, “This room is big.  We’ll have to split into groups to search it.”

“Search?” Cauliflower asked with a frown.  “It’s empty.”

“We don’t know what we’re looking for.  We don’t know whether or not it’s easy to miss,” the Captain responded, still surveying the area.  “We’re going to be thurough with this, at least until we have something worth taking back.”

The Captain looked at Cauliflower pointedly, waiting for her agreement.  Obstinately, she turned away from him and looked at the fountain behind her.  The third tier was around her neck height.  Peering into it, she found nothing but dry stone.  She didn’t know what she was expecting, but she was a bit disappointed.

“We’ll split into three groups,” the Captain declared from behind Cauliflower.  “If the door we entered from is six o’clock, then Knot and Cauliflower will search from ten o’clock to two o’clock, Edge and I will search from two o’clock to six o’clock, and Champ, Lotus, and the Newbie will search from six o’clock to ten o’clock.”

“What does that…?” the Newbie started.  Then he seemed to falter as he got self-conscious.

“You don’t know how to read a clock face?” Champ asked.

“I do,” the Newbie responded quickly.  Then he seemed to realize something and nodded.  “Oh.  Right.  I got it now.”

“We’ll search for ten minutes.  Then move on,” the Captain declared as the Newbie fell silent.

Receiving their orders, the team let out some unenthusiastic agreement.  Then they set to work.  Cauliflower scanned her light back and forth along the floor.  She’d hoped to find something reflective.  As a rule, things that can reflect light are interesting.  At least when found in old ruins.

She had no luck, however.  In less than a minute. Her light had traversed their entire section and found nothing.  That done, she was left with the bad part.  She crouched down and started sifting through debris.

It was all over.  Small piles of stone fragments, shattered pottery, and rusted metal bits.  None of it was so large as to be called wreckage.  However, every pile was just big enough that it could be hiding something.  That meant a lot of aimless rummaging.  Not her favorite thing.  In ten minutes, her knees would be killing her and she’d still have a whole day of walking left.

Dwelling on that, Cauliflower searched through three empty piles of debris.  Then she was interrupted by an strangely loud clicking sound.  She screwed up her face in puzzlement, but before she could do anything else, she was sent rolling forward by a loud crash behind her.

When she’d recovered, she quickly searched for something to shoot at.  What she found, however, was what looked like a wrought iron fence.  Portcullis?  The black interlacing of iron bars had fallen to the floor, directly in front of the door they’d entered from.  On top of the fallen portcullis were two black chains which stretched upwards and disappeared into a slot in the ceiling.

“Is there anything nearby!?”  The Captain shouted as Edge moved to see if the portcullis would be moveable.

“Still nothing,” Cauliflower answered, looking into the slot the gate had fallen from.

“That’s… something,” the Captain’s voice calmed slightly.  “Did anyone step on anything?  Press any buttons?”

As the rest of the team                 claimed to have touched nothing, Cauliflower kept looking at the ceiling.  She hadn’t noticed it before, but now that she looked carefully there was something.  All across the ceiling, was one, large, black x  It barely stood out from the grey stone, but it was definitely there.

As the Newbie finally convinced everyone he wasn’t to blame, the rest of the team fell silent and Cauliflower spoke up.  “Guys… this is something, right?”

Hearing her, everyone followed her flashlight and caught sight of the black x.  Then there was another loud click and it started to fall.  As the cross-shaped portcullis hurdled towards the floor, Cauliflower reflexively took three steps back towards the wall.  At the same time, Lotus tackled the Newbie out of the way of one of the metal dividers.  Then the portcullis hit the ground with another loud crash at the overwhelming smell of dust.

After Cauliflower had made sure she still had her limbs. She turned to look at the new fence in front of her.  The iron network was too tight to fit though, but it looked climbable.  Then she followed the portcullis up and bit her lip.  Unlike the first, this one extended up all the way into the ceiling.

“This doesn’t look good,” Cauliflower whispered to herself.

Then she turned to look behind her.  When she saw Knot’s large body standing inside her little pie of room, she was a little reassured.  At least they were together.  Alone, but together.


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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 5-1

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 4-3 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 5-2 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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