“I want to be Batgirl!”
“No!” I was adamant on this point. I had been adamant about it when Lana had found the book squirrelled against one side of the pack. Still adamant for the next few weeks, right up till yesterday when we reached Leftarch. Lana was not going to be named Batgirl.
Lana pouted, and almost stuck her tongue out. “Not fair. I even look like it.”
To be fair, she did. The young girl had light brown fur poking out of her red tunic, fur I knew covered every inch of her. So even in the noonday sun, she wore a red cloak with the hood up, covering the batlike ears, black eyes and upturned snout. If there was anyone to be called Batgirl, it was her.
But no, that was wrong. “You need your own name, Lana,” I explained. “Something that captures all of you, not just what you look like.”
Sela leaned against the tavern table. “Besides, it is in the books. You can’t use a name that’s in the books.”
“Yes it is!” Lana almost raised her voice, and stopped. We weren’t in our room in town. We were a floor below, in the taproom, trying to get some much needed water and stretching done. But even then, we didn’t want to draw too much attention to ourselves.
To Lana. We couldn’t draw any to her.
She huffed, and sat in her chair. “You pay too much attention to the books,” She muttered.
I shrugged. It was a criticism, but I didn’t care. The books had given us clarity, and they would stay. I needed them to help guide our path.
Sela’s hand trailed to the blade at her hilt. Sir Violet was probably whispering something in her ear. I could scream and she would just nod and turn away.
“What do the books say now?” Sela asked. “We have reached a metropolis. Do we save it?”
A metropolis. Leftarch was well over five thousand inhabitants strong. There was a city wall, three, four-story buildings, even a few banks. All surrounding a great arch that stretched far beyond the clouds, hence the name.
Names. Lana was right, we needed names. I was thinking the Green Witch for myself. But Sela would only grunt at any suggestions of mine. And Lana could not get away from Batgirl…
“The Green Witch is not a good name,” Sela said.
“How did you…it’s a fine name!” I hissed. “Green is my color.”
“I want to be Stryke,” Sela said. I could hear the y in it, and hated it. “Or Sir Violet suggested the Wielder.”
“No, no.” I said.
“Batgirl is sounding better, now, isn’t it?” Lana asked.
“No it isn’t!” I said. “We can’t just…”
The door banged open. A man stumbled forward, clutching his shoulder. It sparked lightning, striking the frame as he tumbled across the floor to the bar. He rolled onto his back, and coughed once.
“We’ve got elves.”
Elves? Sela tried to adjust herself, and sat down in a chair slowly. All three of us tried to both turn away and listen close as the man was helped to his feet.
“Elves?” the bartender handed the man a drink. The injured one leaned against the bar, and took a drink. “They know better than move this far into the plains.”
“Not these,” The man said. “Psychotics. Mad savages who don’t understand what territory means.”
“That sounds…” Sela kicked me under the table. My hands went up and I almost spilled my drink everywhere. Lana gave a little yip. We all shushed each other.
“Pointy-eared bastards,” The man muttered. “Was guarding a pilgrim party down the river, and they filled us full of arrows before anyone started screaming.”
“Ain’t right,” Someone muttered. “Mindless beasts, killing decent folks.”
I looked into my glass. Everyone knew that there were some elves that went wild, especially outside of what was Europe. They were skilled, dangerous, and hated anything that wasn’t elven.
Maybe we could help. Yes! The perfect opportunity to get some real good done. A chance to make a difference.
“Are we helping them?” Lana asked.
“We sure are.” I said.
Lana nodded, and got up. I grabbed her arm, eyes wide.
“What are you doing?”
“Talking with him?” Lana asked.
“Not yet!” this is something that required reverence. The best thing to do was slink away. Wait for the cover of darkness. What we really needed was to find a fabric shop and at least get masks. Domino-style was good, better was the other kind that covered the bottom half.
“Does getting rid of them pay?”
We turned to see a crossbowman lean against the bar. His weapon strapped to his hip, he looked the injured man over.
“Not much,” The first man muttered. “But this is about women and children.”
The newcomer nodded, and looked back to his table. Arrayed were five or six men. All were seedy-looking, and had never understood the meaning of the word bath. They looked way too cool not to take the job.
“We’re probably suckers, but let’s get you another drink.”
A cheer went through the bar. The two men walked back, and Sela glared in my direction.
“That was supposed to be us.” She said.
“That could have been us,” I said. It really should have been, it seemed right.
“And they were paying,” Sela said.
“That’s not important,” I muttered. Too loudly.
Sela took her drink and threw it in my face.
I stood up, sopping wet. “What was that for?”
“You looked in need of a wash,” Sela said. “So I thought I would help you out with my fifth water.”
Lana tried to burrow into her cloak more. Yup, this was going to turn into something. I could feel glances cast our way, especially at the drips falling down my face.
Sela didn’t seem insane right now. She wasn’t referring to Sir Violet at all, which meant that this was her usual bitchines rearing its ugly face.
“I understand that the days get hot.”
“Hot?” Sela reached for her money pouch. “I wish it were hotter, it’d justify me throwing you in the damn river.”
What was she talking about? So we were drinking water, we all were.
“But what I’d really like, at lunchtime, is something to eat.”
Ah. That made more sense. We hadn’t really done that eating thing for the last couple of days.
The bartender was casting glances in our direction. I really didn’t want to get kicked out. Our room was above the taproom, and there had gone the last of our coins. We couldn’t risk Lana to the mercy and tolerance of the streets.
No one, and not a single one of the books, really ever explained how you actually supported yourself being a superhero. Food just always seemed to be stocked. There was a bed to be slept in. and bills were more for work and a job. Quitting that job actually made being a superhero easier!
But now that doesn’t seem to be real.
I stood up, and motioned Lana and Sela out. Time to let the bartender have his table back. And maybe think.
“Do you have a plan?” Sela asked.
“Working on it.” I had been working on it ever since we stepped into Leftarch. We had done some good, really good stuff. We had foiled a mugging, stopped some goblins from harassing travelers, even broke up one of the bar fights two nights ago. That had earned us our last meal.
That was a thought. Muscle for the three of us. Stick together, we can get it cheap. Then by night…but muscle is needed mainly at night. No.
“Bank heist,” Lana muttered.
“We are not robbing a bank!” I said. Seriously, that came out of Lana’s mouth? I expected such a thought from Sela. Sela was practical to wondering why murdering someone wasn’t an efficient way to get attention. But Lana was sweet, kind, comforting.
She pointed down the block.
“I meant there’s a bank heist going on.”
A bank heist? Now?
I pumped my fist. Finally! “Excellent! Let’s go!” That probably wasn’t the best thing to think. But this was going to be the most exciting thing we will have done. Real heroism, and we were right in the thick of it!
There were a couple banks in Leftarch, but the closest was Cerl’s. Set right in the midst of the town square, just beyond the reach of the fountain and up their own marble steps. The columns stretched to a second story, it all was just so nice. It looked as classy as possible, holes in the plaster and thieves scattered about the front steps notwithstanding.
The thieves were all masked, pieces of cloth pulled over their mouths and noses. I knew it, that was what we needed to do, everybody does that in a pinch. A couple of dwarves, a human, an elf even, all led by a troll. Each of the five was armed either with sword or longbow, though the troll wielded a wand. They definitely knew what they were doing.
Lana pulled back her hood. “We’re stopping them, right?”
I nodded. We were, somehow we were going to do that. There wasn’t a militia here, and everyone was worried about the elves raiding. No one was coming to stop this but us.
Sela fingered the hilt of Sir Violet. “I suggest we kill them quickly, maybe enough strikes to cause quick bleeding,” She always got less lucid when violence was imminent.
“Try and keep bloodshed to a minimum, Sela,” I gripped my staff, and let the runes spark to life. “We’re here to be heroes, not butchers.”
Lana leaned against me. Eyes were wide, arms shivering, she couldn’t contain herself. “We’re going to have to fight.”
“No,” I hugged her close. “We, each of us, make the decision to fight, Lana. Never think it isn’t a choice. If you don’t want to, don’t. Fade back, we will be back here.”
Sela drew Sir Violet to full length. “They are getting away. I may die in horrible manner. Emelia would more likely survive.”
This was not helping the situation. Lana looked up to me. I didn’t know what else to say. Yes, please help us go do violence on strangers? No, be a young girl?
“How can I help?” She asked.
The Arch is truly an impressive structure. It stretches above the clouds, gracing us with a shadow that struck right across the square. I looked up at the buildings, and pulled the hood back up on Lana.
“Get up top,” I said. “On my signal, you’re going to fly down and scare them out of their wits.”
“Because I’m ugly?” she almost had to pout.
“Because you scream louder than nine cats set ablaze,” Sela said. Eeww, but yes.
Lana brightened at that, and latched to the building. Her claws tore into the soft plaster as she scaled up the side.
I shed my own green cloak as Sela dropped down to her duelist leathers. When I started out, I wanted flowing robes that gave an air of mystery. And a cape. After a week of traveling, I settled for a cloak when it got cold, but when we fought I wanted to be able to move. Witch or not didn’t matter when the arrows started flying. A fashionable white blouse with brown leggings with a green belt was more than enough for fashion.
Sela was always prepared for battle. She had earned her duelist clothes in her first tournament, and since she acquired Sir Violet had yet to scratch her reinforced clothes. She still hadn’t told me where she found such a blade. I don’t know if she wanted me to know.
“Tell me,” Sela drew Sir Violet, and looked down the purple blade. “Did you send Lana up so that she would never see a signal and stay out of the battle?”
“That is a terrible thing to say out loud,” I turned around the corner and started towards the thieves.
“Because it’s true?” Sela asked.
“Because she heard you,” I called back. The robbers looked at us, confused. Two girls, one armed and the other could be. One of the thieves, the elf, nocked an arrow and let it fly. Sela took two steps forward and sliced it out of the air.
She made her mark. Now it was my turn.
Concentrate. Let the magic flow within you. Let it build. Faster, stronger, just beyond your ability to control it. There, hold the reigns tight in your heart. Direct it towards the sky. Now let go.
My staff burst forth green light. It blinded everyone, the thieves crying out in surprise. The air ripped apart in a wave, sending everyone in the square flying. The fountain emptied in one blast of water.
The light fade out. My staff still smoked, green tendrils curling around my grip. I stared at the thieves, giving them my best menacing glare.
“You have something that doesn’t belong to you.”
That didn’t seem right. No banter, no dialogue. Not even a wordless glance between the five to question just what two women were doing. Instead, the arrows were loosed once more, and the other three charged ahead.
Sela spun out of the path of the arrows. She swept forward, Sir Violet meeting one of the dwarves’ axe. Sela must have enjoyed the simplicity of this all. Nothing more than the fight and the kill. Sela was weird.
I fired another blast. The second dwarf caught it in the chest, spinning to the ground.
The troll looked at me, and pointed with the wand. “Kill the mage first,” He growled. “She has power, but no martial prowess.”
The elf and human looked at me, both armed with bows. The elf loosed another arrow. Her partner charged, sword in hand. The troll and the dwarves focused on Sela.
Really, I was insulted. I sidestepped the projectile, twisted my hips, and slammed my staff into the side of the man. I actually did more than read in some dark corner. I work out!
Not enough, though. The man grunted, but didn’t crumble. He struck, and again. I parried once, ducked the other. Keep him in-between me and the elf. Step to the left, duck, what spell should I cast in this instance? I really need to figure out a better hands-on spell. That’s it!
The next blow that came hit my staff with the flat of the blade. I faked a grunt and let it fall. The man smiled in triumph. I lunged forward, arms outstretched to his face. I barked out a spell, and let sparks fly. Lightning coursed through my fingertips across his face. The swordsman spasmed in my grip, flying away to the ground. He lay there, twitching but alive.
I grabbed my staff and turned to the elf, expecting another arrow immediately after. None came. The elf was turned towards Sela, the archer’s mouth open in shock and fury. Turning to Sela I saw why.
There was one of the dwarves, skewered on Sir Violet. The other dwarf and the troll stared at Sela, unsure of what to do next. She stared at her blade, almost questioning whether or not she did in fact kill her victim.
After a moment of pondering she pulled the blade out. Her victim slumped to the ground, and continued to bleed. Sela assumed a fighting stance. “Sir Violet told me that I’m allowed to kill at least one more person,” She murmured. Sela pointed her blade at the troll. “You seem like the best choice.”
The troll raised his wand. “I’m going to enjoy dissolving you,” He said. The second dwarf stepped back, turned around and ran off.
“Coward,” The elf muttered. Her eyes flicked back to me, and narrowed. “Don’t even think about casting a spell. Skarg will melt your bitch friend if you so much as breathe wrong.”
I turned my head between the three. The elf had an arrow trained on me. Skarg, I guess, had his wand on Sela. Sela, for her part, just stared at the troll. She promised death.
“Sheriff!” A voice called out.
I leaped to one side. An arrow passed through where my head was a second ago. I looked up to see the elf turn and run in the same direction as the dwarf had.
The troll barked a curse. His wand spat a yellow gel from its tip, almost reaching for Sela. Our duelist friend spun on one toe, the acid biting the air around her. She took a step forward, and spun again, another glob whizzing past her head.
Skarg the troll pivoted to match Sela’s movements. They were in stalemate, until Sela miscalculated, or the troll ran out of energy to cast his spell. Or I stepped in.
I pointed my staff forward at him. A fireball could do it, might not even kill him…
Lana flew from the rooftop, screeching. Her voice scratched straight to my brain. I collapsed, screaming myself. Close the eyes, hands over my ears, let it cease. Lana would not stop. Her voice rang through my core, sending shivers down my spine.
And then it was done. I opened my eyes, and there was Lana. Standing right in front of me, staring at the man I had shocked. He was armed again, but confused. What was this creature right in front of him? And what was it doing?
He raised his sword to strike. Lana screeched again, oh no. it was even louder than last time! His sword clattered to the ground. Hands raised to his ears, he turned and sprinted away.
I curled up on the ground and just let myself fade away. Lana had stopped screeching, but my ears still throbbed. Was there bleeding? Hopefully not.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, pulling up. No, I shrugged closer together. Not right now. I wanted to just die for a while. It pulled back, insistent. Fine, I guess I was supposed to be around again. I sat up, leaned forward, and tried to get back to a conscious level.
A mustache looked at me. Thick, red, bristled. It was attached to a face that did not seem happy.
“What in the name of thirteen pantheons did you think you were doing?”
He was the sheriff. Without a doubt. He had the floppy hat, to the dusted vest, weather-beaten leggings and shined silver boots, and an expression that promised vengeance.
And a badge. The badge is what really sealed it.
“Sheriff,” I said. “Some of them got away, but we saw which way. Give us a second to breathe, and then…”
“What are you girls?” he asked. “And why do I have a slaughtered dwarf in front of the bank?”
Right. The dwarf. Sela stood next to her kill. She was cleaning Sir Violet, a vacant expression on her face. Did she know she had just killed someone? Or did she simply not care? This was getting out of hand.
“They were trying to rob the bank,” I said.
“Two dwarves,” I grimaced. “One dwarf now, a man, an elf, and a troll…”
“With a wand,” The sheriff finished. “One of the Arch gangs. Skarg, right?”
Skarg. Yes, that’s what his name was. Somehow he had escaped Sela, something I hadn’t thought possible.
“Skarg and his gang been running around for a while.” The sheriff walked towards the bank. He raised a hand, and lowered it. “A bank heist, in the middle of the day…didn’t think they were that open.”
The sheriff nodded to the dwarf. “They’ll be more careful. Or try to kill you.”
“They tried,” Sela murmured. “I persuaded them otherwise.”
“Course.” His hand trailed towards his vest. Probably a few wands tucked away in pockets. Sela’s eyes flicked down to his hand, and back up to his eyes. She’d skewer him on the spot, badge be damned. No, not on my watch.
“Sheriff,” I cut in between them, hands raised. “You said they’re one of the Arch gangs. That mean they have a hideout up there?”
“Could be,” The sheriff nodded towards the structure. “Been crumbling for decades, filled with all types. Not dumb enough to go in myself.
“But you three,” His eyes bored into my skull. Rage, absolute and foaming, all directed at me. “You three just run into a bank heist, determined to do what? Save the day?”
“We’re heroes,” Lana said. “We help people.”
“The bank’s insured,” The sheriff muttered. “And they pay a good amount of my salary to make sure the scum is brought in.”
“Not really doing your job then,” Sela looked up at the Arch. “Are you?”
The sheriff tapped her on the shoulder. How, what, he had been a good thirty feet away, and unarmed. But he was there, a wand in hand and pointed at her throat.
Sela stared, surprise evident on her face. Sir Violet was in her hand, but hung useless at her side. If she so much as twitched the sheriff could end her.
“I’m working on it,” The sheriff muttered. “Me. Not you three girls.”
He nodded to me. “I want y’all out of my town by tonight. No excuses, no questions.”
“We’re trying to help!” I said. “We’re trying to do good.”
“The money is gone, and the only person you managed to stop is the one that now needs a burial.” I almost collapsed at those words.
He was right. He was completely right.
The sheriff didn’t arrest us. Said we weren’t worth his time and energy. So that was a nice way to make us feel irrelevant. A real velvet way of kicking us out of town.
Sela and Lana watched as I packed our bags. There wasn’t much left, not anymore. There would be less, I think. Some clothes that might be sold. That could get us another meal, two if we weren’t too picky.
“Where to now?” Lana asked.
“I don’t know, Lan,” I said. “Maybe keep going west. There are bigger cities there. Or maybe even south, to the coast. There always seems to be work along the coast.”
“But what about the gangs?”
“What about them?”
“Skarg is still out there,” Sela said. “Him and his gang. They’re just sitting there, counting their ill-gotten gains.”
“That’s right,” I said. The bag was packed up. I lifted it up, tossed it over one shoulder. Not too bad.
“The sheriff is going to take care of it,” I said. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Because the sheriff has a bunch of wands and a quick draw like you can’t even match, Sela.” Why was this so difficult? The duelist couldn’t bother to pretend to care about anything else, only death and that dumb sword. We could do that anywhere.
“But they got away.” Lana looked at the Arch. “We could maybe stop them and…”
“We’re not heroes!” I screamed. “We’re a bunch of girls that can’t stop a bank heist.”
I glared at Sela. “At least not without a body count.”
“We killed before.”
“When it was necessary, not just because it was convenient.”
The duelist nodded. “I kill. I do, sir Violet does. There is a darkness within us, Mel. I don’t want to stop killing people. We won’t stop. With or without you we’re going to…”
Lana glared up at the both of us. “Teenagers. Twenty somethings. So dark, so stupid. You’re both just so dumb.”
She grabbed my bag. Lana shook it once. “We save people. That’s what we do. Because.”
Her reasons were naïve. Her methods were crude and without any substance. Yet they made sense.
Sela looked up towards the Arch. “Sir Violet knows where they went.”
Lana tossed the bag back on the bed.
“I want to be Batgirl.”
We needed masks.
The Arch used to be a marvel to behold, so it was said. A gateway to new lands. But when magic came into the world, it grew, changed. Its old foundations, wherever they had been, faded into the landscape and growing towns.
Rumor has it that the Arch had once been small enough to be in one city. I doubt it. Leftarch alone holds over a thousand people in its walls, and can barely get out from the monolith’s shadow.
That’s what we were climbing up.
Hidden within the Arch, somewhere, was Skarg and his gang. Shouldn’t be too hard? Even though it had grown, the Arch was still thin enough to jump from one side to the next. No real challenge to find them right?
The look on that troll’s face when we went screaming into the cavern on top of the world was worth every scrap we got to on the way up there.
The look was menacing, but that was a troll. He always looked menacing. With his jaw hanging open and eyes opened wide, he looked like he was ready to swallow me whole. But the small ‘huhs’ coming from his throat betrayed his surprise.
Lana stepped forward, a black domino mask over her eyes. “Evildoers beware! Darkling has arrived!”
It was a compromise. As was Lady Violet. But I was the Green Witch, and there wasn’t anything anyone was going to do about that!
“The Green Witch?”
And I was apparently thinking out loud. Staff was out, pointed straight at the elf. Sir Violet was within reach of Skarg. Darkling was giving her best menacing glare.
The gang, for their part, just stared ahead. A look of confusion was on everyone’s faces. The elf spoke up, and pointed at me.
“You got here?”
“Apparently,” Lady Violet (and yes, I had to think in their alter egos. Sela said she knew when I wasn’t) said.
“But, the vampire rats,” The man said.
“Scared of bats bigger than them,” Darkling said.
“The caverns of mutated mushrooms.”
“Nothing a simple spell could fix.”
“And the giant dwarf city!” Skarg finally growled for himself.
Yes, they were all there. And more, far beyond anything I could have imagined. There was a world within that Arch, quite possibly literally. I couldn’t believe we made it there in such fantastic time. But when Darkling led the way, we either talked it through, or flew. For some reason that just seemed to go faster.
The dwarf and man were not guarded. We were outnumbered, and I didn’t like our chances to get out without bloodshed. Skarg started, and raised his wand up in the air.
“Question?” After I nodded, he smiled. “I guess you’re here to kill us.”
“Take you in to the sheriff,” I clarified. “Killing is a last resort.”
Lady Violet cleared her throat. “From them anyways. Resist enough and I get a free pass.”
“Regardless, this seems a lot of work just for a simple bank heist,” The dwarf asked. “For this effort you probably could’ve done some protection for the local barons, or even protected the bank from us in the first place.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “We’re here now, and you’re not getting away.”
Skarg nodded. “No, we’re not, are we?”
It’s funny how battles go through your head, after they’re done. The movements go so quickly that you forget that they had purpose. Some blows, or spells in my case, fade away while others are just burned so clearly into your head forever. I could run that entire fight, though granted it wasn’t that long, over my mind, with only the basic details hazy.
That was how we recounted it to the Sheriff afterwards. The money was dropped off at the bank, despite Sela’s protests and even a half-hearted questioning by Lana. The bank would have known, and even if they didn’t, we would.
The sheriff was in his nightshirt. Just seeing that mustache bristle above a fluffy cotton gown, it made me realize how tired we all were. Lana leaned against me, Sela clutched sir Violet a little harder, and we all just sank into ourselves for a last bit of strength.
Our awesome masks did not fool him for a bit. But he didn’t ask what the heck we had been up to, or the ridiculous costumes we had on.
“Have you even had dinner?”
I tried to play it off. But Lana blurted out “not in a couple days,” before I could beg off hospitality. Thank the gods for Lana’s big mouth.
The sheriff moved to one side, and motioned us in. Sat us down at a table with a missing leg, and tore apart a loaf of bread. We tore into it, and had devoured the bread, a piece of jerky each and tall glasses of water before anyone spoke again.
“So where have you been?”
Sela tried to look casual as she scanned the room for more food. “Top of the Arch, dealing with Skarg and his gang.”
The sheriff laughed. “And how did that go?”
“Great,” I said. “They’re all tied up by the bank, hanging and disarmed.”
He stared at us for a while, not comprehending. We were going to have to get used to that.
“Why didn’t you lead with that?”
“You didn’t ask,” Lana said. “And we didn’t want to turn down such a great dinner.”
The sheriff sat on his bed. He was pensive, and conflicted, all the more impressively done in nightwear. I finished down to the last crumb, downed the glass, and handed it to him.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“I couldn’t come close to Skarg,” He murmured. “Those guys had a way up to the Arch, past all those traps and creatures. If I had a hundred men, I wouldn’t have made that climb.”
I shrugged. We all did.
“I could use deputies like you,” he said. He rushed over to his nightstand, and started to rummage through it. “I swear I had some made, but with Skarg and the Arch scaring everyone half to death I wouldn’t think…”
He threw his hands up. “I swear, there are deputy badges in this building. Or there will be, soon. And they’re yours, if you want.”
I smiled. Deputies. Paid, settled even. We’d be able to just eat for a while. Maybe need a job on the side, it wouldn’t pay enough…and what would we do if the sheriff told us to ignore something a little too powerful, or connected. My mind went there in a heartbeat.
It must have showed on my face. The sheriff nodded. “They’re there for you if you want them. Anything I can help you girls with?”
I nodded towards the Arch, and beyond. “Know what’s going on west?”
He snorted. “Nothing worth your time. It’s civilizing too quickly. The east is caught up in the Wastes or trading across the ocean. The north just wants to be left alone, and the south is caught up in too many messes.”
“Southwest it is then.” Civilized, chaotic. Maybe a hot meal on the way. Sela and Lana both agreed, and we stood up to make our goodbyes.
We left out the door, and the sheriff made his last attempt to stop us.
“Why are you doing this? No help, no pay, no gratitude. Why help people?”
“Because they need it.” Sela said. She was right.
copyright 2017 Jack Holder