Jenny was sitting with the rest of her team. Next to her was Tin, tricked out in full chainmail armour. Around his neck was a thick gold chain, hanging from which was a big shiny key. Subtle.
Jenny’s outfit was leather but with chainmail inserts covering vital organs. The two of them almost looked colour coordinated. Were they a couple now? It wouldn’t surprise me. Alpha males tend to attract pretty girls. The natural order of things.
The whole party was seriously tanked up, armour-wise. Straps and belts and shiny bits of metal everywhere. It wasn’t like the stuff we’d seen in Madame Robidoo’s Emporium, this was all high end, top of the line gear. I hate to admit it, but they looked pretty cool.
I casually checked them out for a couple of minutes before realising they were all staring back at me. Awkward!
I have a habit of not saying anything when I run into people I know because of some uncomfortable experiences in my past. There have been a number of times when I’ve been out shopping and bumped into someone I went to school with. Five years of my life in the same classroom, maybe even sitting in adjacent desks, and when I say hello to them… nothing. They have no idea who I am.
Big deal, right? I didn’t make a big impression on them, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s still embarrassing, so I tend to keep my mouth shut and let them speak first, if they want. They usually don’t.
“Why is there a price on your head?” asked Jenny.
The guards shuffled out of the way so I wasn’t hidden behind them. They seemed surprised a good-looking girl had spoken to me and I think they wanted to see if it was a fluke or if it would happen again.
“It’s a misunderstanding. That’s why I’m here, to clear things up with the King.”
“And the others? Are they okay?” She gave me a very serious look, like was expecting me to say I’d got them all killed.
“They’re fine. Still alive with limbs attached and everything. Hard to believe, I know. They’re probably enjoying a nice lunch about now. Bastards. I don’t suppose there’s any food around here?”
Dag laughed. He was the big, black dude with the muscles. He had even more muscles now than the last time I’d seen him. His armour had no sleeves to make sure everyone could see how ripped he was. “I can’t believe you dorks are still going.” He guffawed some more.
“We’re not the ones who called ourselves The Avengers,” I said. “Pretty sure that makes you the dorks.”
“Fuck you,” said Dag, suddenly turning off the smile. “We don’t care what you think, we just like the name.”
“Yep,” I said. “That’s exactly what a dork would say.”
Dag stood up, hand on the hilt of what I’d say was the biggest sword I’d ever seen. It was normal length, but at least three times as wide.
The soldiers all around me immediately closed ranks and drew their weapons, which gave Dag pause for thought. He sat back down. It was great having bodyguards.
“If you’ve done nothing wrong,” said Tin, “what’s with the armed guards, Colin?”
He remembered my name, which was surprising. I probably shouldn’t have felt so pleased about it. After all, he was still a massive douche.
“Oh, I’m not a prisoner.” I nudged the short soldier who had been trying to use me as a human shield on the way over. “Tell him.”
The soldier had a ‘who me?’ look on his face, but he did as I asked. “We’re his security detail. Make sure nobody messes with him.”
“See? They just want to make sure no one tries to claim the ten grand before the King can withdraw the bounty. It’s a lot of money.”
Dag sucked his teeth. “Ten grand? That’s chump change, bruv.”
Had they really made more than that? Killing beasts couldn’t have netted them that kind of profit, could it?
A long silence followed. I should have just left it there, but I guess I felt cocky because I had a wall of soldiers between me and them.
“I hope this isn’t going to take all day. How long have you guys been here?”
“You don’t just see the King immediately,” said Tin dismissively. “We’ve been here all morning and we have this.” He held up the key hanging around his neck. “It’s a Key to the City. It allows you an audience with the King, and the chance to ask him for a favour.”
If smug had a face, it wouldn’t be much different to Tin’s right then.
“Very nice,” I said. “I’ve got one just like it.”
He scoffed. “Sure you do.”
“What favour are you going to ask him?” I didn’t really care, but they clearly had something big in mind and I can’t deny I was curious.
“That’s none of your beeswax,” said Dag.
“No, it’s fine,” said Tin. “No harm in telling him how the other half live. We’re going to ask him for some land. We’ve got enough money to build ourselves a nice little castle. You’ll have to come visit. Bring the rest of the losers with you.”
They must have made a huge amount of money if they were going to build a castle. If this was a game, I’d be convinced they’d found a hack. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by their ambition. Your own castle is pretty good going after only a few weeks.
“Whereabouts do you think you’ll build it?” I was genuinely interested. How do you even go about building a castle. Did architects even exist here?
“There’s only one really big area still unclaimed,” said Tin. “The marshlands up north. It’s more or less deserted, only a few froggies. We’ll clear them all out in a couple of days.”
Should I have cared? The frogmen didn’t mean anything to me. They lived and died the same as everything else in this world. The strong defeat the weak—the natural order at work again. So why did a chill run down my spine as Tin told me his plans? Why did I suddenly want to take out my sword and stab the fucker in his stupid smug face?
“What’s that look supposed to be?” said Tin.
“Oh ho, he’s jealous” said Dag. “Don’t worry, bruv, you’ll get your own place too, one day. Maybe a nice shed, eh?” He roared with laughter.
Was I jealous? No. I was fucking livid. And I had no idea why. It had nothing to do with me. Not my problem. If this lot didn’t kill the frogmen, some other group would. Of course, they probably wouldn’t systematically slaughter them until not one was left alive. I looked at Jenny, wanting to know if she was part of this quest for mass extermination. She turned her head and refused to look me in the eye.
I looked at the other three in the group. A shifty guy whose name I couldn’t remember, an attractive girl with amazing breasts (not being sexist, just observant), and a girl who would have been the pretty one if she wasn’t in a group with the other two. They didn’t look like bloodthirsty killers, but they did look the type who would do what they were told to stay in the group.
“You should sit down, mate,” said Dag. “They probably won’t get round to seeing you till the end of the week.” He laughed again, turning his smile up to full wattage.
The door opened and Laffi returned. “The King will see you now,” he said to me.
Their faces fell with surprise, but I wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. I could have left them with some witty putdown, a sharp dig about how the King considered me more important than them, but I was too pissed off. At them for being such a bunch of evil dicks, and at myself for not being able to ignore the thought in my head. The thought telling me I had to do something.
I followed Laffi through the doors.