My attempt at a short fantasy/adventure tale. In a sense this is a parody of dungeons and dragons, but don't let that put you off. The story takes place in the aftermath of a battle between two kingdoms. Squads of young adventurers are cleaning up in the wake of their defeated opponents. However, one such squad is being followed by something very nasty...

The Horde had been in fast retreat for well over a week. As the dark alliance withdrew back across the Ridge its opponents fell in hot pursuit. Union forces had been divided into units of three or four individuals –groups that were small enough for guerrilla warfare but capable of amalgamating into larger battalions should the need arise. Typically each member of a unit represented one particular guild. Certainly, this was the case for Steve’s party which had advanced further than most. Steve was a level six wizard while Harry was a knight, level five. George himself represented no guild; he was older than the others, enlisted for different reasons. They had travelled across the Ridge for two straight days now. In this time they had made very little contact with anyone, only the occasional straggling wolf or goblin –which they promptly dispatched.
But up above them were the Sentinels, summoned by the retreating horde as a desperate last resort. Silently, they glided through the sky. Unseen by anyone until it was too late.
The party travelled light; if hungry they would catch and skin a rabbit or scavenge supplies ditched by the fleeing enemy, there were plenty of both. Sleep was the only problem, up on the Ridge there was no cover from the elements and George struggled the most.
“Check it out!” He called pointing to a faint vestige of light against the dimming sky. “Reckon it’s an outpost?”  
“Maybe,” Harry answered as they passed a felled wolf. “If it is we may be in for some action.”
“Worth it for a warm bed.” George concluded. “The winds starting to pick up.”
A gale ripped through the sky above them. On it rode the Sentinels carrying with them the remnants of another unit. Unaware of this presence the trio continued towards the outpost now beginning to materialise properly out of the darkness: a tower extending up past the top of the ridge itself, around it a wire fence linked four surrounding, smaller towers. “It’s occupied,” Steve identified, running a hand up and down his staff. “But not by the horde, a unit’s there already!” Raising the staff he fired a bolt of blue and green into the sky like a firework. “Just so they know whose side we’re on!”
“They’ll see that will they?” George asked –ever the sceptic.
“If there’re any wizards there, and there will be, they’ll know were coming!”
Way up in the sky the Sentinels circled, looking down on the building the trio had already reached. They were forbidden to enter structures. If they did they would incur the wrath of entities that made even them look like kittens, entities that waited hungrily on the other side of the void. They tossed their still living prey amongst one another, playing as they schemed.  
George and his party were received by an archer, the only guild that dictated attire. Hurriedly he pulled them inside slamming the big metal door shut in their wake. “C’mon,” he said discarding pleasantries. “We’re upstairs!” He led them through a steel corridor that snaked round and round; it was lit only by the archer’s lantern and Steve’s staff.
Before long the corridor connected with what was presumably a storeroom, each wall was lined with grain sacks and ammunition crates. A big pile of cloth and wood burned at the centre in a controlled but unmanned fire. Around the fire sat the rest archer’s unit. First they saw the girl. Her figure was delicate, almost fragile, doing justice to her blonde, flamboyant hair. Looking past her Harry saw a boy whose stocky build suggested a weapon orientated guild. His eyes rose from the fire and connected with Harry’s but he soon looked away. Next to him Harry saw another boy, altogether leaner; his guild was harder to speculate.
“Hi.” The girl had risen from her place by the fire, crossed over and was now shaking hands with Harry. Her voice was soft, very soft. “I’m Michelle.”
“Steve,” the wizard said offering his hand. Michelle said nothing but smiled and accepted his hand. After her, Steve turned to the archer.
“Arthur.” He said taking his hand but quickly letting it go.
“So which guilds are you guys all from?” Harry asked.
“Well, I’m a wizard,” Michelle said. As she spoke she moved back towards the fire beckoning for them to follow. “Arthur, you can probably guess but Max –the stocky guy over there- is a knight. That other guy is Mark, he’s a wizard to –but he’s not as good as me!”
The wizard in question gave no response to this comment, his head remained bowed.
“Fair enough,” said Steve stepping over a crate and taking a seat beside Michelle. “I’m a wizard myself. What level are you Michelle, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Steve and Harry exchanged looks of surprise. Michelle blushed to herself. Even George, who had been hanging back, sat down in solid surprise. “How long have you guys been here?” He asked.
“Four days.” Arthur answered.
“Yeah,” Michelle nodded. “We got called into this outpost by this other unit in distress but they’d already been-”
“We busted some fucking skulls!” The other knight loudly announced.
“Yeah,” resumed Michelle nodding again. “There wasn’t much left of them when we arrived but I guess you could say we finished what they started.”
“Why you still here then?” George asked pulling out a bag of spoils.
Michelle looked round their group. “Surely one of you must practice magic?” Steve raised his hand. “You can’t be more than level six then.” He shook his head. “Then you can’t tell there’re Sentinels outside!”
Again Steve and Harry exchanged looks of surprise. The others in Michelle’s group let out hoots of laughter, it was the first time they had seemed at all responsive.
“You were dancing in death’s alley and didn’t even know it!” The archer cried.
“That’s fucking hilarious, for us –I mean.” The wizard exclaimed.
“You stupid, fucking twats!” Said knight shaking his head.
Michelle didn’t laugh she just looked at them in disbelief. “How could the Citadel send you guys out? That’s absolutely appalling!”
“That’d explain why we haven’t seen anyone out on the Ridge.” Harry said hoping to shift the conversation. “No one living anyway.”
“Would someone like to explain to me what a fucking Sentinel is?” George asked.
There were a few more chuckles from Michelle’s unit, but otherwise the question received virtually no acknowledgement. Michelle looked at George for a while in almost total disbelief. Then she turned to Steve and Harry.
“Actually, with you guys here we might be able to remedy our problem.” Michelle said scanning the trio for the most suitable candidate. Those in her group made to protest but she silenced them with an angry look. George was impressed, but he didn’t show it. Her eyes came to rest on Harry. “Me?” He asked. “Yeah,” she answered. “Yeah, you’d be good. C’mon.” As he got up and approached she turned to Steve. “Knight and a wizard is always a better combination. Why don’t you try working on a recall spell or something, Max can give you a hand.”
Steve looked at his counter-part who promptly shook his head. When he looked back towards the door the others were gone.
Michelle led the way to the top of the tower. As he followed Harry felt a mixture of anxiety and excitement: outside there were Sentinels while in here, with him, there was her! But what was she going to do with him?
As the corridor snaked upwards it became short and narrow. There was no other light so Michelle had set the end of her staff ablaze, the higher they climbed the less it carried and the closer to her Harry drew.
“You’re friend doesn’t like me does he.” She said not turning round.
“Who, George? I wouldn’t worry about him, miserable bastard!”
“He just seems so, unfriendly.” 
“Yeah, he’s like that to everyone. Maybe he’s a bit nicer to me and Steve but that’s because we saved his life!”
“Really, you rescued him from the goblins?”
“No. They were going to hang him back at the Citadel but we agreed to take him in our unit.”
“Oh, right; conscript rather than voluntary.”
Harry nodded. “To be fair, your friends aren’t the chattiest.”
Michelle seemed not to hear. They had arrived at the top of the tower, a small circular room with no windows. Harry gasped as Michelle took hold of his shoulders and led him to the centre of the room. “What are you going to do?” He asked.
“Magic works in accordance with feeling.” Michelle explained massaging his shoulders. “I know it, it sounds cheesy but if we’re to have any chance of getting past those Sentinels I need you to feel happy.”
“What do you mean?”
“An angry wizard is a dangerous wizard, a happy wizard is a safe wizard; one mood shapes attack, the other defence. But I’m a little better than that, being level twelve I can tap in the way those around me feel.”
That might explain the mood of your friends downstairs. Harry thought to himself.
“I need someone young and fresh. Someone whose feelings are easy to mould, how old are you by the way?”
“Sixteen.” He said –though she was making him feel about five.
“Well. The younger the better,” she said continuing to massage his shoulders. “How old is that miserable thief of yours?”
“George? He’s like twenty-eight or something.”
“I can’t believe the Citadel would send a couple of children out with someone like that.”
“He’s not much use to you then.”
“None whatever.” She said letting go of his shoulders. “Give me your sword.”
George was reluctant, it was a sign of his manhood, but Michelle slipped her arms round him and it was hers. “Good boy,” she said ruffling his hair. “You’ll hold the Sentinels off nicely until I think of something else!” Harry beamed and Michelle felt the power he generated intensify, she could keep him there for days if necessary.
Back in the storeroom what remained of the two units had segregated. Steve and George, having built a fire of their own, were now sat at the far end; George munched greedily at a bag of spoils whilst Steve tinkered away at his staff.
“What are you doing?” George asked, spraying himself with crumbs.
“Trying to connect with the Citadel.” Steve explained. “It’s kind of like an ejection seat.”
“That thing’ll take us back to the Citadel?”
“Might send a couple of us, if we’re lucky.”
“But if we retreat they’ll court-marshal us!”
“Not if we say there were Sentinels.”
“I’ve got a death sentence waiting for me anyway!”
“Not if we say there were Sentinels.” Steve repeated without looking up. George ate in silence until Steve asked him a question. “What’d you think of Michelle?”
“Not a lot.” George replied. Sensing this was the wrong response he held out the spoils in compensation. “Dude, seriously, have you been listening to the shit that’s been coming out her mouth?”
“She’s got a voice like a lullaby.”
“Ok,” said George sitting forward and taking back the bag of spoils. “Know what I really think? You’re in love!”
“Get stuffed!” Steve replied in a voice loud enough to turn the heads by the fire.
“You’re in love, but it’s artificial, fake.” George nodded to the others in the room. “Look at them, have a listen to what they’re saying.”
Steve knew what he meant. Something was going on. Across the room the Knight and Archer rose to their feet, their posture strange.
“What the-” George began but Steve signalled him to be quiet.
Silently, they watched as the pair walked from the store room.
The Sentinels had leads, three of them. Down below, the door of the fortress creaked open. They buzzed excitedly. Amidst the excitement, however, there was apprehension. As they used their powers to break into the fortress, something else very powerful was attempting to break out.
“Oh, you’re back,” Steve observed. “Where’s Harry?”
She didn’t say anything at first, only when George stood up and repeated the question that she spoke.
“Harry? He’s keeping us safe but don’t worry. We’re in more danger than he is.”
“You can feel it to huh?”
For the first time Michelle answered Steve directly: “Yeah, those guys have been getting worked on a while now.”
“But not just by those beasts outside.” George commented.
Michelle ignored him. She looked briefly around the room. “Where are Max and Arthur?”
Her question was answered by a succession of blood curdling screams. Steve and George exchanged looks and ran to barricade the door. Michelle raised her staff. They both fell to the ground. “Let them come.” She said. “I’m ready. Harry!”
Bright lights ripped through the doorway to the corridor. From his place on the ground George managed only a few fleeting glimpses. Immediately he threw himself behind a crate. He buried his head in his hands. The Sentinels were horrific. The Horde had been fools to summon them. But it wasn’t them that lay at the heart of his despair.
Steve had banged his staff furiously off the ground. “Work you fucker! Work!” Then he too glimpsed through the doorway. “What have you done to him?” He screamed at Michelle. “What the hell have you done to him?”
“He’s broken.” Michelle replied. Even she could not look directly through the doorway at what had once been a level six wizard.
“You’ve broken him so badly that nothing can break him anymore!”
Behind them the other wizard got to his feet. He paid no attention to the fight that was going on in the corridor. Indeed, he seemed not to notice anything at all. Steve watched as he moved over to the far wall of opposite side of the storeroom. “Have you broken him too?” Steve screamed at Michelle.
“I would have.” She answered. “But they got to him first.”
Steve watched the wizard, assessing his strange movements.
“George!” He screamed. “Keep down: he’s going to self-destruc”
The explosion ripped through the storeroom but it carried no blood, smoke or heat. The only indication that the wizard had ever been there at all was a big crack in the wall. Another Sentinel appeared where the wall had once been.
“Shit!” George cursed wrenching his head from his hands. “Steve, you got that transport spell or whatever the fuck it is?”
“That’ll carry one person, if it works at all.” Michelle interjected. George was sure he glimpsed a trace of unnerve in her eye.
Out in the corridor the fight was over. The remnants of the Sentinels silhouetted against the lights, which had again intensified.
The new Sentinel leapt onto the crate behind which George was hiding. Screaming he pulled himself back in the direction of another corner. All he could register was the flashing light that was now pushing into the storeroom, and the monster that was preparing to leap on him. And the absence of Steve.
“Steve! Where the hell did you go?” He screamed.
“He’s left you.” Michelle cried. The realisation of what she had created had dawned on her.  
George didn’t have time to feel angry. The Sentinel leapt at him. As it flew through the air, however, it was intercepted. George and Michelle screamed in horror as the two monsters locked in battle. The conflict was swift, the Sentinel promptly filleted. Michelle screamed as her creation advanced on her. It was the last thing George heard before he passed out.
It was the rising sun that woke him, its glare blasted through the new opening in the storeroom. The sunlight was accompanied by a thick reek. George realised this was his own urine. He remembered what had happened the pervious night; at present, however, the fear and apprehension was numb. He remembered the flashing lights, and what he had seen on the other side of them. Harry had disappeared that way. And he had taken Michelle with him.

Submitted: May 13, 2011

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