Brothers in Arms

Madam Genocide. The monster who slaughtered my parents. I would like nothing more than to gut her like a pig.

I rose to my feet to call out a challenge. Hero or not, they all bleed the same. I felt a firm hand over my mouth, dragging me back down below the table.

“Shh. Do you want to die the same as Brent?” asked Hodrick, holding me so firmly that I couldn’t reply.

Around us there was a clamour of action, as Brothers rushed to respond to this new development. I saw three goblins charge Ethe’Loriel, vengeance intent in their eyes. She dodged and parried with inhuman speed, then skewered each with a series of sharp ripostes. Others ran for the far end of the hall and the secret exit.

I took a breath. Hodrick’s hand stank of beer, but he was right. I slowly shook my head, and he let me go. Running was the only option.

With her short frame crouched under the table, Fulmina whispered across to us, “Not yet. We have to wait until she’s distracted.”

The fastest runners approached the hidden exit door at the far side of the hall. It was concealed beneath a tapestry portrait of Brother Heinrich, who smiled down on them. Ethe’Loriel muttered an incantation, snapped her lithe fingers and the whole far side of the hall burst into flames. The wooden benches burned red hot and several dozen Brothers were charred alive. The tapestry burned, exposing the secret exit, but to reach it we’d have to cross fifty yards of burning flame.

Ethe’Loriel walked calmly toward the stragglers, picking them off with jolts of flame from her fingers. The stench was horrendous. Fulmina, Hodrick and I stayed cowering beneath the table as Madam Genocide approached us. She seemed unaware of our presence, cackling away as she slaughtered bandits, thugs and goons alike, repelling any who tried to fight with the practised ease of a killer.

“Burn, burn, burn! The inferior races will be cleansed with holy fire!” she shouted above the roar of the flames as she slaughtered my family for the second time, throwing flames indiscriminately at anything that moved. It took all my will to stay under cover, Hodrick pulling firmly on my shirt.

By now, there was nobody left trying to fight, their bodies laying scattered at Ethe’Loriel’s feet. Every few seconds a straggler would burst from cover in a dash for the door, only to be met with a blast of fire in their back. Madam Genocide started to hum a tune, with the chirpy melody of an old elvish hymn.

With the Brotherhood’s fight exhausted, she started to idly flip through the belongings of the dead as she passed, grabbing coins or gems from pockets and flipping them into her sack trolley. As she approached us, she pulled a dwarf from under a bench, slipped her sword through his face, then reached a hand into his mouth to wrench out his gold teeth, to be added to her pile of loot. That seemed to be our fate, unless we too could conjure a miracle.

“I’ll distract her, and you make for the main entrance,” whispered Fulmina. “I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve.”

“But you’ll die for sure!” I exclaimed, before modulating my voice and continuing, “You’re an accountant, not a fighter.”

“It’s the only way. I’ve had a good life, thanks to the Brotherhood. Time to pay my debts,” replied Fulmina, as she fished in her handbag for a scroll. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to do this.”

“It’s the only way,” agreed Hodrick. “Been a pleasure working with you.”

Fulmina muttered the scroll’s incantation, and stepped out from beneath the table. As she did so, she flickered, and then took the form of a ferocious dragon, snapping her teeth at Ethe’Loriel. Hodrick and I rushed under the tables and benches, from cover to cover toward the intruder, hoping to get past and through to freedom.

“You, who have profaned the union hall have brought forth my wrath. I am the union queen, and I shall destroy you, scab!” announced Fulmina in a booming voice. A glance across from beneath the benches showed that she was now a scaly red dragon, fifteen feet long and half as wide. I pulled Hodrick along by his arm as we crouched low and rushed past Ethe’Loriel, concealed by a bench to her left.

If she was truly a dragon, maybe she could defeat Madam Genocide once and for all? Heroes have been slain by dragons before. I suppressed the urge to cheer her on and instead motioned Hodrick to go faster, as he stumbled on drunk legs.

“An unlikely story,” mocked Ethe’Loriel as she turned and faced up to Fulmina, her sweet voice dripping with disdain. “You’re nothing more than a yapping puppy dog, a mongrel who doesn’t know her place.”

Ethe’Loriel swept forward, jabbing her sword at Fulmina. Fulmina’s dragon flickered, as Madam Genocide’s sword went straight through. Fulmina jumped backwards, spurring Ethe’Loriel away from us, as Hodrick and I stood and sprinted for the door.

“Don’t make me engulf you in flames, scab!” bellowed Fulmina. “I’m fuelled by all the workers you’ve killed today, hot as lava, and I’ll do it. Back off!”

“Do your worst, vermin,” offered Ethe’Loriel and raised her hands in mock surrender. A moment passed, and she continued, “But you can’t. You are no dragon, merely a filthy beast using stolen powers which are rightfully elvish.”

As I pulled open the door to the outside, I glanced back to see Madam Genocide laughing as she skewered Fulmina through the chest, the false dragon still flickering around them, but offering no resistance. She had paid with her life, but we were free of the carnage. I took a deep breath of fresh air as I slammed the door shut behind Hodrick, panting.

The air tasted of fire and death.

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