The Villain-to-be Quits While He’s Ahead

Written in response to: Start your story with a character quitting their job, or getting fired.... view prompt

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Adventure Fantasy Funny

Everything started earlier that morning. The new recruit skipped onto the stone floor of the meeting room, her cheeks ruddy and her eyes bright.

“Ashun!” Sakahn called out to her. “You’ve got some nerve showing your face here again.”

“Same for you,” said the girl. She took a seat at the other end of the table, facing the head where Ernescel was sitting. It made his eyebrow twitch. The table was a lovely one, and he’d won it from a raid on a dragon’s treasure hoard himself.

The premonition he had received from the old wizard rang in his mind. This girl, Ashun, was destined to overthrow him. Not only that, Ernescel thought gritting his teeth, she was destined to make him hated by his own band of bandits, his own – friends!

Speaking of which, his friends has all already taken their usual places at the table. Sakhan Jevild, a tall muscular man with a burnished caramel complexion sat to the right of Ernescel, his large claymore resting against the edge of the table, instead of the sword rack where it should have been.

Beside Sakhan sat Vikrir Woodendoom, who had his muscular but long, pulled-candy-like arms folded and was dozing off. Ernescel had figured from the beginning that the man was asleep – he usually was such a loudmouth.

“She passed our test,” Pargar said from the opposite seat. They blew smoke from their pipe, and slowly began to remove their feet from the table. “By our own code, that means she should be here.”

Ernescel already regretted making that addition to the code. Six was enough for a gang of bandits, for crying out loud! No matter how much past-him had wanted a new recruit to replace Vikrir, present-him wanted all the more to kick this outsider out.

“Colour me impressed, Ashun.” Pargar leaned forward. Their black bangs drifted across their face as they smiled mysteriously. “You’re the first one to pass that test in upwards of five years.”

Ernescel huffed. Right. Of course. Before Ashun, the last one had been Pargar. No doubt they would take interest in her, so self-absorbed in their backstory they were.

Suddenly, Ernescel caught a shivering movement in the corner of his eye. He reached into his leather pouch and pulled out a little fluffy ball. He rolled it over to the second-last seat on his left. “He Die, take this.”

He Die, already teary-eyed, accepted gratefully. Ernescel smiled. Though he loved all of his team members, if anyone asked, he would say He Die was ‘the good one’. Ernescel had bought this ‘stress ball’ from a market somewhere in the West. Silently, the largest bandit in the team squeezed the stress ball and kept his gaze on the table.

The moment Ernescel turned back to the rest of his teammates, his breath was cut short. They had all left their original seats (except for He Die) to surround Ashun’s place at the end of the table. Even Vikrir had woken up to participate.

“Huh? You’re telling me you already got your first sword?” the loud-mouthed archer exclaimed. “Sakhan didn’t even get his first sword until he’d cleared at least three dungeons!”

“With my fists.” Sakhan coughed. “It’s not a good measurement of ability.”

For a moment, Ernescel thought the man was displeased with this challenge to his standing as the strongest swordsman in the band, but then he noticed his eyes were sparkling. Ernescel scoffed in disgust.

“Hey Ernie,” Sakhan said, turning his dark handsome eyes to look at Ernescel. “Looks like your premonition or whatever was wrong. The girl’s got talent. She’ll be good for us.”

Ernescel did not reply. Everything was fine. Maybe Ashun really did have talent. Maybe the wizard had lied to him. A vision of the old fart’s sneering face popped up behind his eyelids, and Ernescel resolved to keep his eyes open and staring resolutely at the table.

“Um . . . He Die?” Ashun’s young voice rang out in the cavern.

Ernescel gritted his teeth at how everyone quieted down immediately so they could hear her. “I bought this for you.”

In her hand, another stress ball. And it was pink. He Die’s favourite colour.

“That’s it. I’ve had it!” Ernescel slammed his gloved hand down on the table.

The others froze. Heads slowly turned to look at him. “C-Chief?”

“Go ahead and start this plot if you want. I’m not letting you make me the final boss!”

Sakhan straightened, from where he had been leaning over the table to talk to Ashun. Arched brows drew together as he searched Ernescel’s expression. “What do you mean?”

Ernescel rose from his seat, sending his cloak of crow feathers fluttering behind him. He already had his inventory packed for such an occasion – all nice in his leather pouch and the sack of items he kept on a strap round his shoulder.

“I’m saying – “ and at this, he pointed at his cheek with his index finger “ – that I’m not letting this cute face go to waste playing the villain role.”

Ernescel cast a wind spell at the door, blowing it wide open.

“So long!”  

The bandits’ den was located high in the mountains, inside a cavern Ernescel had picked out himself. He looked down at its gate now. Breeze buffeted his hair, casting strands of blond all around him. Before the thundering footsteps could approach, Ernescel took a leap, a jump and begun to surf down the mountain trail on a wooden board.

The sky was a bright blue yawn above his head, the ground a sleeping green giant. Ernescel balanced himself in good surfing form, hands spread out and his feet twisting to direct the board around a stone, a twig or a wheel left behind by some cart or other.

Briefly, he looked back and nearly bit his tongue. The entire bandit band, including Thomas the dragon summon, was chasing him down the mountain. Shouldn’t the shock of their beloved leader leaving them have kept them frozen to the ground for a couple of minutes longer? Ernescel decided it didn’t matter. A quick wind spell propelled him faster along the roughening terrain.

Ernescel Boneleaf knew a wide variety of spells, mostly concentrated in the area of wind and fire. He had picked up fire spells to complement Pargar’s use of them. When they thieved from nearby orcs or on rich nobles coming from the cities, he would use his magic to boost Pargar’s skills.

With one last leap, the board landed him safely on the opposite bank of a river, and into the territory of the Thunderstorm Forest.

He had made it, he thought, smirking. The thought briefly crossed him that smirking was exactly what the villain would do in this situation, but he found he could not help himself. He looked at the dark hollow between the jagged, lightning-bolt shaped tree trunks, the thick canopy of leaves and tucked the surfboard under one arm, preparing to enter.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder.

“Argh!” Ernescel nearly tumbled to the dirt in shock. Behind him stood Tuih Suan, Pargar’s fellow mage.

Her shy brown eyes flickered between Ernescel and the forest entrance.

“Um. I teleported here with my portal magic. Is everything alright, sir? You know we dug a latrine at the hideout last week, so you don’t have to run all the way to town if you need to – “

“Teleport back!”

“E-eh? But Sakhan said –“

Ernescel got into stance for a running start. “I don’t care what he said, didn’t you hear? I’m taking off!”

With that, he was on the go again.

The inside of the Thunderstorm Forest was dark and gloomy. He felt a cold chilly breeze against his face as he ran. It was the perfect place for him to lose the others.

Before he had the chance to gloat, however, there was a rumbling on his left flank. A jet of white light shot out from the bushes, with a force that sent him stumbling backwards. Ernescel shielded his eyes. He looked up to see the face of the old wizard.

The wizard’s full, barely wrinkled face grinned at him. “Ernescel, my boy!”

He rested his long iron staff on the ground. “Whatever do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m getting out of this mess!”

“What mess?”

“Becoming a villain, like you said I would.” Unwilling to waste more time, Ernescel got to his feet and charged past the wizard. When he glanced to his side, however, he found that he was keeping pace with him, despite the weight of his long purple robes.

They arrived at a small clearing in the forest. In the middle of it was the broken blackened stump of a tree struck by lightning.

“Now, now,” the wizard said, as they stopped to catch their breath.

“What has you becoming the villain got to do with any of this? It seems like you’re overreacting a little.”

“Overreacting?” Ernescel gritted his teeth. “You just told me my entire life was going to crumble before my eyes if I stayed there.”

“Come, think about it. What’s so bad about being a villain? You’d still be the same man, fundamentally. Don’t tell me you’ve ever thought of yourself as a hero?”

“No, of course not. I’m a bandit, we all are.” Ernescel clamped his jaw shut, averting the wizard’s all-too-cheerful gaze.

The old wizard grinned. “You may find your fate more difficult to escape than you thought.”

He gestured to the large shadow that was creeping up, covering the gap in the forest canopy. “Thomas!” It was the dragon summon. The sound of his mighty wings flapping filled the air like a drum.

Curse the old man, he thought. He was just trying to stall Ernescel and make his prophecy come true. After all, wasn’t that how wizards made their money? But the wizard had a solemn look on his face, as he pointed due north. “Go in that direction. It may take longer, but you’ll find the inhabitants of Fool’s Hope to provide good coverage. They ask no questions, and give no answers.”

Ernescel stumbled, his hands covering his ears to protect himself from the sound of the dragon’s cries. But as he left, he glanced over his shoulder.

He saw the wizard wave goodbye.

Ernescel exited the thick forest with sweat soaking his clothes. He had discarded the crow feather cloak a long time ago, and now was just wearing his brown tunic and belts. He collapsed onto the grass, supporting himself with both hands. A ring resounded in the air, and he forced himself to his feet, prepared for what was about to happen.

Tuih Suan’s dark portal appeared again, and this time, two figures hopped out instead of one.

“You’re . . . You’re the new kid.”

“Yeah. Sakhan asked me to come get you!” Ashun said. She held a small blade in her hands. Her spiky black hair was buffeted by the wind.

“Sakhan did?” Ernescel grimaced. If his old friend wanted him to come back, he wouldn’t have sent some new recruit after him, would he? He didn’t know.

Ashun was in battle stance, clearly prepared to use force to get him back. At this stage, Ernescel could still defeat her easily.

Instead of doing that, however, Ernescel begun to charge a particular breed of wind magic he’d reserved for this sort of occasion. It parted Tuih Suan and Ashun, sending them flying in opposite directions. Ernescel dashed through the path it had created.

 As he ran, he realized he was hearing a few more portals open. It was a hollow, haunted-house type of sound, signature of Tuih Suan’s dark magic.

“Hold it right there, Chief!” Vikrir’s voice was loud and shrill. With his back turned, Ernescel couldn’t tell if Vikrir was preparing to fire an arrow at him or not. The thought made him nervous. The sweat on his temple turned cold.

The kid was a good shot, no matter how stupid he tended to be.

He couldn’t risk the chance of being hit, so Ernescel decided to use his summon. Bianca was a grass summon, a giant reptile he could count on who roamed the biomes surrounding their home mountains. He withdrew the emerald ring he kept in his pouch and raised it to the heavens.

A torrent of magic left his body as the summon was called. Bianca’s plated back erupted upwards from under his feet, as she burst from the plains surface and begun carrying him in the direction of Fool’s Hope. Sitting on the ridge of her spine, Ernescel looked over his shoulder to see Thomas in the distance, his red wings slowly fading away into the azure of the sky . . .

Fool’s Hope drew up close. A hint of doubt struck Ernescel’s heart. Something about the small ramshackle buildings felt off. Still, he dismounted and sent the summon back.

The town was silent. No one was there at the gates. Had the wizard lied to him? Ernescel could hear his boots crunching against the well-worn paths through empty houses. Suddenly, there was a loud ear-splitting screech.

A dragon. It didn’t sound like Thomas. Their summon was only a youngling and wouldn’t have acquired that mature timbre yet. A few more similar cries followed.

Before long, Ernescel realized that the town must have evacuated due to a dragon invasion. “How? When?” he wondered out loud to himself, as he began to race through the streets. By the state of the buildings, all scorched on the roofs, he figured it must have at least been a few days. Perhaps no one in Fool’s Hope had been able to get the word out, least of all to a gang of slap-happy bandits up in the mountains, who would just as likely loot the abandoned buildings as lend their swords and magic to driving the creatures away.

Ernescel looked up and found himself face to face with the enormous bronze toenail of a dragon. It was digging into the ground, making cracks in the cobblestone. Even while craning his neck, he couldn’t see past the dragon’s collarbone.

Quickly, he drew his sword. It wouldn't do much good against a creature of this size and level of defense - the creature's scales seemed impossibly thick, glazed with gold in the sun. Still, having the weapon in his hand made him forget everything else. For instance, that he was destined to become a villain if the others caught up with him.

Right now the only thing on his mind was to get out alive.

He used wind magic to float himself onto one of the wooden roofs of the houses. The altitude helped with perceiving his target, but still the dragon’s head was so high in the air, he could only guess its position based on the jagged narrow shadow it cast on the ground.

Red glowed. A crackle in his hands. Ernescel charged and released the fire spell high up in the direction of that shadow. It hit. The creature roared.

Temporarily blinded, it began to thrash and struggle against the narrowness of the town streets, smashing into an alcove.

Ernescel took the opportunity to start running again. If he could turn back the way he came, it would be a shorter distance than crossing over to the other side of town, even if the other bandits caught him that way.

However, the dragon recovered too quickly. With a gnashing of teeth, it darted for Ernescel – he yelped, making a desperate leap forward, and then rolled off the roof. The ground hit him hard, but Ernescel got up, kept running.

He was tired. He’d been doing nothing but run since the morning. And he couldn’t stop now.

Ernescel found some strength in him to pull a net trap he’d been keeping in his inventory for a week and hurl it behind him. A laugh tore out of his throat when he heard the dragon’s roar of frustration. He was nearing the village gates now. Sooner or later, the coast would be clear.

Sooner or later, he’d run into his friends again . . .

To his right, the grey flash of a beard.

“Old man? Why are you here?!”

“Why not?” the old wizard said. His face was flushed, as though he’d been doing some running himself.

“Was this part of the plan?” Ernescel shouted over the sound of the destruction behind them. “Did my villainous descent involve dragons?”

The wizard laughed. “Even I can’t prophesy everything, my friend.”

Ernescel found himself laughing back.

He could see the shadow of Thomas, which bloated in the middle at the dragon summon’s large cushy belly.

Vikrir was running towards him, long limbs flailing about. A small spiky silhouette on the horizon showed Ashun was quickly catching up. Tuih Suan used her portal magic to teleport herself just a few strides away from Ernescel. Her face broke into a smile, seeing that they’d managed to find him at last.

Before Thomas could land, Pargar had leapt off, using their staff to cushion their fall. He Die scrambled off after the summon did land.

Ernescel sank down to the ground and sat with his legs stretched out in front of him, panting.

He saw Sakhan dismount the dragon summon and stop on the fresh grass, looking around. When he saw Ernescel sitting there, he ran forward. “Ernie!”

“Sorry guys. Looks like your hero’s journey is happening after all.”

“So . . so you’re not leaving?” He Die leaned over him, eyes wide.

Ernescel smiled, shaking his head.

“Curse you, man, I thought you were dead!” Sakhan put his hands on his hips. But his eyes were bright. “Want to go dragon hunting?”

“Let’s,” Ernescel said. He leapt to his feet. The seven of them, wizard included, began running in the direction of the town, over the green plains, and through the gates.

September 02, 2021 08:32

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