“Why did you join the Order?”

Rafe pushed a branch out of his way, and stepped further down the ravine.

Greta ducked under an outcropping of rock and hurried to keep up with him. “Look, you can keep trying to ignore me, but I am going to keep asking questions.”

“And writing the answers in reports for your little spy training?” Rafe snorted. “No thanks.”

“But we are supposed to be working together!” Greta said. She leapt over a bush. “Two acolytes of the Order, striving for good. And I wanted to know why you would join an Order without borders.”

Rafe kept moving in silence.

“A half-dwarf, half-elf. The two fae races who really don’t like each other, and have strong traditions and roots in community. Growing up one foot in either side must not have been easy. And then you find out that neither would let you fight to defend a country. You tried hiring on to mercenary groups, but your nationalism and pride kept showing up in interviews, and the captains would question your ability to fight against either race.”

Rafe stopped, and looked at her. “Please, will you shut up?”

Greta smiled, and moved on ahead of him. “I knew I was right. You’re a fighter, Rafe Cauley. You want to be out there, defending the weak. And the Order was the best chance you had to actually do that.”

Rafe nodded, and kept moving onwards.

“Am I supposed to analyze you now?”

Greta shrugged. “Being a spy was my best option for advancement. I’m not a leader, or a fighter. And there are more than enough researchers in an Order dedicated to mortal intelligence. I look fairly useless.

“But nobody suspects a gnome.” Greta smiled. “We’re always just there. In the background, doing background things. I figured being a spy could really work to my strengths and talents.”

“And the reason you joined the Order?”

Greta stopped at the edge of a stream, and looked at the cave they sought. It yawned open, a gaping mouth that promised death and destruction.

“The gods are petty, they are cruel, and they must be held in check.” She nodded to the cave. “The Scourge proved that the gods cannot be trusted.”

A believer. Rafe could appreciate that, but it might make her unstable. This mission needed to be over yesterday and this spy fanatic gone from his life.

He stepped up to the cave. “What did they say we were supposed to do once we got here?”

“Generally the Scourge tries to tempt us to break it free,” Greta said. “The Order just wants us to make sure that the thing is still here, still contained.”

She leaned into the cave. “Hello? Is the Scourge of Darrenfell still there?”

No response. Greta pulled out an amulet from her pocket, holding it up. It glowed a soft silver, a low sound emanating from it.

The gnome frowned, and put it back.

“What does that mean?”

“The Order gave me that amulet to check if the Scourge is there. A bright white light would have said yes, black no. Silver is…I’m not sure.”

“Which means?”

Greta stepped behind Rafe. “We go check, soldier guy.”

“Damn it.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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