Nefarious Ambitions (Episode 3)

Warning: this story contains violence, strong language, mature themes. fantastic elements, savage beasts, dark magic, questionable humor and much more. Procede at your own risk!
Enjoy the story of Lissa, the Monster Slayer.

Capturing these children and bringing them to his hideout had been a piece of cake. But their constant whining drove him crazy. “Silence!” he commanded with a hoarse and sinister voice. Finally, their crying died down to a low whimpering.

Satisfied the figure stepped out on the balcony. He was wrapped into a dark cloak overseeing his loyal minions working tirelessly in the yard below. At this rate, his desire to become the biggest villain the world had ever seen would become a reality even faster than he had ever dared to dream off.

He folded his hands in anticipation. Soon his messenger would return. And then it was only a matter of time until every citizen of the Heartlands would tremble at the mere mention of his name. Slowly his cackling rose to a burst of manic laughter.

*

After dragging a dragon’s head across half the land- later joined by a unicorn’s carcass for a few miles, before they sold it to the highest bidder at an auction in Blackmouth-, Milton was relieved when they reached Northcross and finally cashed in on the bounty.

Milton had looked forward to getting a day or two off, even though he hated the place. Its proximity to the mountain range that separated the Heartland from the border region made it the very definition of a provincial backwater. But Lissa hadn’t left the wagon since their encounter with the unicorn. Her wounds must have been more severe than Milton had initially thought. So he assumed they would take it slow.

But he was wrong. Lissa was back on her feet just in time to order the troupe to keep movint to cross the Northern Heights as soon as possible. The borderlands was where they were supposed to be, being a monster slayer, a profession that was infinitely more lucrative and useful in a land swamped with dangerous beasts.

Of course, Milton had complained. And of course, nobody had cared. And so, the former student saw himself back on a deserted road through the Lonely Forest sooner than he had wished for. At least, he didn’t have to endure the stench of a rotting dragon any longer. And walking was a lot easier without the extra burden.

Milton had fallen behind, again, but caught up when their wagon came to an unexpected halt. He walked by and joined his companions ahead.

“What is that?”, asked Cam. The young blond woman was, as far as Milton had figured out, in charge of hunting and tracking and by extension, the groups’ provisions. Or something. Milton still didn’t understand who was part of the group and had which role to play in this strange ensemble. She pointed to a figure ahead, and Milton got what her confusion was about.

There was a skeleton. But not an unmoving decorative one like they had in his poetry club at university to create just the right dramatic atmosphere for their midnight readings. Back then, rumors had it, that it was a real one, but Milton had always had his doubts.

That one, though, was somehow moving. Helpless, it kept stumbling all over the place, tripping over stones and bumping into trees. Obviously, it tried to find its way to… somewhere. The skeleton didn’t seem to take notice of them at all.

But his experience made him confident enough to explain to Cam what they were looking at. “That’s a skeleton. You know, when people die and-”

“Thanks for stating the obvious, idiot.”, Cam barked back at him. “I know what a skeleton is. But why is it moving like that? Why is it moving at all?” Just then Milton understood and blushed.

“Dark magic. Probably wearing off already, but still…” Lissa furrowed her brow troubled. “Maybe that will shed some light on it.”, said Ox and pointed out the scroll that the thing was clasping between its bony fingers. “Let’s find out.” Lissa cracked her knuckles.

The skeleton never saw her coming. If it hadn’t been dead already, Milton would have pitied the poor creature as the slayer disposed of it quickly leaving only a collection of broken bones behind.

Lissa opened the scroll and read out loud: “ ’Unworthy peasants and future slaves, I, the most fearsome warlock of all time, have captured your children. When the moon shines full again, bring a worthy sacrifice to my greatness to the abandoned castle, and you shall get your offspring back. Follow my demands, and no harm befalls them. Refuse, and they will become sacrifices to my dark masters. Fear my name…’ The fuck I know whatever his name is. Can’t read that mess of a signature.”

She showed them the page with an undefinable scribbling at the end, and everybody tried to decipher it. But each of their attempts ended in failure.

“Well, at least there are directions attached.”, said Milton, who inspected the hand-drawn map at the end of the message. “Might be a trap.”, said Ox. “Certainly is. Warlocks are not to mess around with.” Lissa, who had more experience with them than she would have liked to, made a serious face. “Can’t leave the kids hanging, though.”, said Cam, scratching her chin. They agreed.

Fighting evil, rescuing the weak! The prospect of doing a hero’s deed excited Milton once again. He jumped ahead of the others and pointed in the direction the skeleton had come from. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

Lissa’s response was crystal clear.“ No, no, no. YOU stay here. We have no idea what to expect. It might as well be hell on earth.” But Milton kept insisting on tagging along.

“Fine. Whatever. I couldn’t care less if you’re eager to get killed.”, she gave in, rolling her eyes. “Then at least make yourself useful, grab a weapon and put on some armor.”

Indecisive, Milton was standing in front of the rich collection of weapons and armor they carried around in the cover wagon. What should he pick? A giant sword caught his eye first. Or the two-handed ax? Or better keep his distance with the strong warbow? Or maybe go a different route and choose the twin blades that fit his elegance better. Yes, he would pick the shiny, full plate armor to look like a knight.

Before he could decide on anything, Ox had put a long chain mail, a helmet and a club that looked like a bigger branch into his arms. “No discussions.”, said the giant man, sounding like a worried father. “But this is nothing but a stick!” – “Yeah, we’re probably facing more skeletons. Way more effective than any blade. And you won’t slice yourself open. And while you’re at it, grab that shield.”

Milton felt ridiculous when he tried on the outfit. The chain mail was hanging low, way past his knees. The smell of old sweat that came from the padding of the helmet disgusted him to his core. With every move, the rim of the helmet slipped down and blocked his sight.

Grumpy he held the club in one hand, the shield in the other. “I feel like a child playing pretend!”, he complained. But Ox gave him a thumbs up. “Good to go!”

Lissa had put on a light gambeson with chainmail underneath to ensure maximum maneuverability and protection to be prepared for whatever might await them. A mace was held in place by a loop on her belt. Next to it, the slayer fastened a sword sheath and slung an unpainted heater shield over her shoulder. They left the wagon in the care of the non-fighting group members and moved out.

“Let’s kick some warlock ass.”, said Lissa, before she sent Cam ahead to scout the way.

*

Finally, he had some peace and quiet. These hostages had freaked him out and made his planning impossible. Since he had them transferred to a lower level of his castle, things were looking up.

As a bonus, that also allowed him to take off the heavy cloak. He totally got that it was necessary to look sinister and dangerous, but it was just getting too hot under that damn thing. To cool down, he was pacing up and down the castle wall.

Ages ago, or at least it felt like that, he had sent out his minion with the message. Anytime now, he expected its return. Or, and that would be even better, a group of adventurers to show up on his doorstep.

Every villain needed to face off against wannabe heroes sooner or later. And he was already anxious to show off his skills. It would propel him forward to his ultimate goal. “World domination!… No, that doesn’t feel right. Infinite power? Unimaginable riches? Eternal youth?”, he kept babbling to himself, gesticulating wildly. There was simply too much to choose from. How was he supposed to know what to want?

Instantly, he froze when he heard voices approach from beyond the wall. His excitement grew when he realized that his adversaries had arrived. “Finally! Time to intimidate them with grand gestures.”

*

Surprisingly, there had been no traps along the way. But that made everyone worry even more. Except for Milton, who had tossed his helmet into the bushes when no one had looked. Cam had gone ahead to scout the area around the castle and rejoined them, as they approached the old, failing structure.

“Door is locked. But there’s a breach around the corner.” – “Who’s that?”, asked Ox and pointed up the walls. There was a frail figure that seemed to shout something at them, waving frantically. “What’s he saying?” Cam shrugged. “No clue. Another hostage, maybe?” Ox squinted and stroke his beard thoughtfully, trying to interpret the figures’ movements. “Sure looks like it…”, he mumbled.

Lissa shrugged to let the shield slip from her back and grabbed it before she took up her weapon. The mace looked way more intimidating than Milton’s club but also a lot heavier. “ No time to waste. Stay together.”

“Wait!”, shouted Milton louder than he had wanted to. All eyes were set on him when he fumbled in his pocket and triumphantly took out a golden hair clip with his family crest on it. That helmet had left his hair in a mess, and Milton intended to fix it before the action got started. To the annoyance of his teammates, he took his time to arrange his shoulder-length blond hair to a ponytail, making sure that only two wisps of hair were left to frame his face before he fixed it with the clip. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Sparing him any commentary, they settled for a collective sigh and moved through the breach in the wall. The small group entered the yard, only to immediately stop in their tracks. Milton knew he should have been scared. But somehow he wasn’t.

“What are they doing?”, asked Ox as perplex as Milton. There was a small army of skeletons all over the place. Some of them were performing tasks, but executing them terribly, like the one skeleton at the forge, pounding away with the wrong end of a hammer. Milton was quite sure that there wasn’t even a blank on the anvil.

Others added to the illusion of efficiency by patrolling in weird patterns across the yard unarmed. Like the one they had encountered in the woods, they ran into every obstacle imaginable. It was strange. “I… don’t… know… Stay alert.”, warned Lissa.

None of them reacted in any meaningful way as they started to break them apart and clear their way through the yard. By chance, one of the skeletons approached Milton, who backed off stumbling. But it tripped over a crate and fell. With his courage returning, Milton got a hit in with his club, leaving barely a scratch on the exposed bones.

Vigorously, he started to rain a constant barrage of blows on its skull, doing seemingly no damage at all. Milton didn’t care. He felt great. Empowered. All the while, the skeleton was flailing helplessly, not knowing what the hell was going on.

Slightly embarrassed by his companion, Ox cleared his throat, and Milton stopped. The team had already cleared out the whole yard, leaving disassembled and broken bones in their wake, and had moved on into the building ahead. The big man waved him on so he wouldn’t fall behind.

*

These adventurers had dealt with his disposable army of faceless minions quicker than he had imagined. But in the end, it was supposed to be like this. He threw his heavy cape over his frail body and grinned evilly.

The final confrontation. Heroes versus villain. The moment he had been working so hard for, it had finally arrived. He would prove his worth and climb up the ladder. Confident, he drew the hood over his head. And if things went sour, he still had an ace up his sleeve.

Just in time, he had finished his preparations as the group of heroes burst through the door, weapons drawn. Dramatically, as he had acted out so many times before in front of the mirror, he spread his arms and raised his voice. “Welcome to your end-”

“Get him!”, shouted the terrifying-looking woman, not losing any time. She had taken the head of the group and pointed her gruesome mace at him. The big guy and the wiry blond secured her flanks, and as a unit, they advanced.

Irritated, he twitched. “You will pay for your insolence!”, he shouted and pulled a glass sphere out of his pocket. Right as the group had reached the halfway point, he shattered it on the ground, and milky fog spread out quickly. It wreathed and turned, guided by an invisible hand until the mist had shrouded their bodies entirely, freezing them completely.

“Guys, what’s going on?”, asked the pretty blond boy that had stayed behind. That must be their leader, he thought. Vain and complacent, just like he had imagined his first victim. “Your friends have to take a time out. Forever!” He laughed. “Now, where was I?” He took a deep breath and allowed himself to regain his composure. It was his big moment, and it had to be perfect.

“Welcome to your end, heroes! You have fought-” “Hey, seriously, you can stop. I get it…” The young hero walked up to his companions and shook them. But due to the spell, they couldn’t even blink. “SILENCE!”, he lashed out.

Finally, the guy took notice of him. “Who are you anyway? And what do you want?”, he asked sheepishly. In all his preparation, he had never thought highly of those hero types. They were usually more muscle than brain, but that one took the cake, seemingly being none of it. “If you would listen, I was about to tell you just that.”

*

“Tobi?!” Milton couldn’t hold his laughter back. He had never met a practitioner of the dark arts before, but he was sure that no self-respecting warlock would ever call themselves Tobi. “So, Tobi… What-”, he snorted amused. It took him quite some self-discipline to keep talking. “Sorry. What do you want?”

Even though Milton couldn’t make out the warlocks face under that hood, he was sure that this Tobi guy was foaming with rage. “I wanted to lay my big plans out in front of you so you could witness my superior intellect before I would kill all of you. But now… Now I want to see you suffer!” Tobi screamed in a high pitch. He followed it up with a grim sounding spell.

Instantly, Milton stopped laughing as the accurately stacked bones to each of the warlock’s side started moving. Two giant dogs made entirely of bone had formed and howled in unison. Suddenly the situation looked a lot worse with the others taken out of the equation.

One of them jumped forward starting toward him. Milton hid behind his shield closing his eyes, readying himself for the impact. But it never came. Instead, he heard Cam’s voice. “Who’s a good boy?”

*

Not only had Tobi’s spell worn off, something he was sure wouldn’t ever happen, but they also had put his loyal bone guardians under their control. That blond woman must be a powerful witch. Tobi was certain. It was the only way how he could explain what he was witnessing.

One of his fearsome dogs had started to chew on his own thigh bone, while the other had thrown itself on its back, wagging its bony tail tirelessly as that woman scratched the part that had once been its belly. “I have underestimated you…”, Tobi growled.

They had left him no choice. He would have to unleash his most potent curse. And fast, because the terrifying woman was coming at him again.

“Aeterna…” What was the spell again? The words were right on the tip of his tongue but… he had forgotten them! Her grim look and brute weapon startled him to the core when she reached out to strike at his head. With no choices left, he spewed the first word that came to his mind. “Iuventus!” A weird tingling sensation filled his body as a big flash went off.

*

Milton was sure that Lissa had gotten to the bad guy. But then a flash of light had blinded him. It took a while before his sight came back.

Lissa was standing where she had been before, looking around. “Everybody okay?” The warlock’s cloak was lying on the floor in front of her but no sight of him. “Aye.”, answered Ox, stroking the braids of his beard skeptically. Cam affirmed. “Where is he?”, asked Milton the obvious question. “Don’t know. I should have hit him but… he straight up vanished.” Lissa went over to the window to check if he had bailed through there.

Ox joined her quick search of the place and stopped in front of a wardrobe. Its door was ajar suspiciously. “Hey, little guy. Don’t be afraid.”, he said and picked up the small child that had been hiding in there. The boy was crying and sobbing, flailing with his tiny fists before he gave up and buried his faith in the man’s shoulder. Ox comforted him and gave him a big hug. “It’s okay. The bad guy is gone.”

Lissa secured her weapon and shield. “Made a new friend, Cam, huh?” The dog pranced around her legs, showing surprising enthusiasm for a reanimated bone construct. “Can I keep him?” Cam asked somewhat coy. Lissa shrugged. “As long as he’s not causing any problems… Well, we’re done here. Let’s get the children to safety.” Smiling, Cam led the way back, but this time closely followed by her new undead companion.

*

Tobi had no clue what had gone wrong. Somehow his spell had backfired terribly and turned on himself. As a result, he shrank to the size of a child. And for good measure, he lost his voice. Fortunately, he managed to hide in the wardrobe before anybody had noticed. But the big guy had found him. On the inside, he was seething with anger, but he couldn’t form any words. So Tobi had cried the entire way when they took him and the other children back to the village.

Happy parents embraced their returning offspring when they arrived. Tobi had to watch them celebrate the accomplished heroes. Nobody even mentioned the evil genius that had been behind all of this. Of course, nobody was paying him any attention. Until the arrogant leader came over right before they departed.

“Don’t worry. Your parents will be here any time now. You did great.” Tobi grimaced when the hero patted his head patronizingly. He must have mistaken it for a smile because the guy smiled back and gave him a thumbs up.

Finally, his goal as a villain was clear to him. He, Tobi, would kill that obnoxious hero and make sure that no one would remember his name. Menacingly he shook his fist at the heavens, glaring evilly after them.

*

Milton felt amazing. Saving innocent children from the grasp of a sinister warlock, being celebrated like a hero and getting to say encouraging words to the youth, that was the stuff he could get behind. It warmed his heart when Milton looked back and saw the small boy with the flat nose and the crooked smile waving after him. He raised his hand to wave back. “What a day…”, he said to himself and sighted satisfied.


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