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A note from NotGodot

Thanks to everyone who helped Gar make it to the Trending Fictions list! Wow!

Evil Overlord management tip: Sometimes you want the best and the brightest to fill a position within your organization, if for no other reason than you can’t do everything yourself. You just have to accept the fact that talent usually comes hand in hand with ambition, and plan accordingly.

But the vast majority of those who serve under your rule? They don’t have to be the best or the brightest. They can be bumbling fools. In fact, it’s often better if they are.

You don’t build a siege tower with rare and precious woods; the defenders of the city you’re assaulting are just going to do their damnedest to set fire to it, after all. You build cheap, you build fast, and you build in numbers.

And then you cram them full of minions too dumb or too loyal (same thing but adorable) to look at the situation and say ‘fuuuuuck this.’

A well-organized army of darkness is a beautiful, uplifting thing, where even the mentally challenged have an important role to play. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

 

~ ~ ~

 

I had some time to think as I descended the Divide (I’ve found that physical activity is often a great help when I’m wrestling with trying to find the solution to a thorny problem. You should try it yourself.) By the time I made it to the bottom I’d reached a few conclusions. First, Catapult was by far the more dangerous of the two, and I’d have to watch her very carefully, and that meant not just her boobs. Second, it would be a very bad idea to simply let them go. There would be grudges, followed by ambushes, like as not. Third, they had to know a lot more about the Debatable Lands than I did, and I needed to know what they knew.

Alright, maybe Nuk wouldn’t prove to be a font of wisdom, but I had to start somewhere.

Once I got to the bottom, both my captives were on the ground as instructed. Three other bodies were also lying around, two of them without much in the way of heads. Also there was a small armory of weapons littering the rocky clearing at the base of the trail up the Divide.

I just assumed that the woman had already got hold of and hidden one of the many weapons I’d had them throw down, probably a knife. I made sure not to get within stabbing distance.

“Nuk,” I said. “Did any of you assholes happen to have a rope?”

“Uh, no?”

“Then stand up, pull the pants off of one of your dead colleagues, and start cutting it into strips.”

“How do I-”

“You’re gonna need a knife, turd brain. There are plenty lying around. Honestly, do I have to explain everything? And you,” I said, turning my attention to the actually dangerous one, “You don’t need a knife, so get rid of the one you’re hiding.”

It was a guess, but it was a good one. She growled and carefully pulled a dirk out from under her washboard stomach, then tossed it a ways away.

Long story short, I made Nuk tie up the catapult at wrists and ankles, and then I tied him up the same, keeping the flame floating right in front of his dumb fat face the whole while. I let them sit, their backs against separate boulders. After that was done, I felt a whole lot better. I relaxed, if only slightly, and went and gathered up all the cutlery and dropped it onto a messy pile, well out of reach of the two. Then I started rifling through the pockets of the dead.

Mostly I found copper coins, with a few silver mixed in for fun. It was better than nothing. The first guy I’d flamed also had a silver ring with some kind of symbol carved into it that meant nothing to me, and that went into my purse as well. I’m not a jewelry person. Money situation sorted, I started trying on this and that bit of armor, and ended up with beard guy’s hauberk, Nuk’s grieves, and the catapult’s vambraces (I knew her name was Grim, or at least that Nuk thought her name was Grim, but she would forever in my mind be Catapult.) Then and only then, despite my rumbling stomach, did I raid their foodstuffs.

Once I got all that sorted, I sat down where both of them could see me, munching on some sort of dried meat that I pretended was beef.

“Right, well, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson today,” I said as I chewed.

“Yeah,” replied Catapult. “Don’t give an idiot a bow.”

“Make that two lessons. The one I was referring to, however, was not to judge a book by its cover. I learned that bandits can have bouncy breasts, for example, and you, Catapult, learned that however tough you are, and I will not argue that fact that you are, there’s always somebody out there who can ruin your day.” I leaned in a little and whispered, “Today it was me.”

Her face said she wanted to spit in mine, but the angle was all wrong.

“Wait, what did I learn?” Nuk asked after a moment.

“To wash your drawers more often, hopefully. Also that your bosom companion here has bosoms.” I tried to swallow. It didn’t want to go down, so I helped it with the contents of a wineskin. It wasn’t anything close to the best vintage, and I did not care in the slightest.

“Now what, turd blossom?” Catapult really had a way with words.

“Well, that depends on you. I have some questions, and if you answer them to my satisfaction, I’ll just walk away whistling and you can get on with your larcenous lives. Assuming you get yourselves untied before some monster wanders by and discovers a two-course meal just lying here. Sound good?”

Nuk said ‘yes’ at the exact same moment Catapult said ‘eat a bag of dicks’.

“Wonderful. First question: do you idiots make a lot of coin waiting for hapless travelers to wander down this godsforsaken trail? Because it seems like you wouldn’t, honestly.”

“Oh, we was waiting for-” began Nuk, and the Catapult said “Shut your fucking mouth, you cock-stain!” and he did.

“Nuk, please finish your thought. If she interrupts you again, I’ll gag her with your underpants.”

“We was waiting for the messenger,” Nuk continued, pointedly not looking at her. “You were just a bonus, like.”

“So you were going to rob a messenger.”

“No, its our job to escort him back to Titus.”

“Who’s Titus, then?”

“He runs Mudhelm. Most of it anyways.”

“Interesting,” I said, and it was. But I wanted to think on that a bit more. I turned to Catapult.

“Why were you wearing a mask? I mean, you’re not exactly a leper.”

“That’s none of your fucking business.”

“Maybe, but I’m the one who has all your clothes, and while you may be as tough as rawhide, your nipples say you’re still feeling a might chilled. I’d be more cooperative if I was you, truly.”

“I’m going to rip off your head and shit down your neck.”

“Because that’s the kind of conversational gambit that’ll convince me to let you go. Honestly, Catapult, try to think before you speak.”

“Wait, your name is Catapult?” interjected Nuk. “What else did you lie about, huh?”

She rolled her eyes and took a deep breath before replying, which I appreciated.

“Nuk, you are without a doubt the dumbest of dumb fucks. My name is Grim. And you should stop listening to this asshole, because once he’s done with us, he’s just gonna slit our throats. Or turn us into soot. Don’t give him anything he wants. Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

“Wow,” I said. “You really have trust issues.”

Her hands were tied, but she was perfectly capable of giving me the finger.

“Fine. I can see how your present situation might make you disinclined to be cooperative, even though you definitely brought it on yourselves. I guess it falls upon me to be the bigger person here.”

I got up and got the raggedy blanket from my pack and tossed it to her. She curled her lip at me. But she took it, and covered up as well as she could.

“What about me?” Nuk said.

“You tried to shoot me with an arrow, Nuk. No blanket for you.”

“Aw, man. I can’t feel my ass. My balls are getting numb, too.”

“Now, about the mask?” I asked her.

“Fuck it. I guess it doesn’t matter. Titus doesn’t allow women in his band.”

“So you became a catapult.”

“Something like that.”

“Thank you. Now tell me about this messenger.” I had the haziest beginnings of an idea, but I needed to hear more.

“His name is Twisted Ben, and he goes back and forth between Mudhelm and the capital on Titus’s business.”

My hazy idea dissipated as quickly as it had begun to form. I might have gotten away with pretending to be a random, unknown messenger, especially if I managed to mug the real one and take over his burden, as it were. But it sounded like the messenger was neither random nor unknown. I mean, with a moniker like Twisted Ben, you definitely had something about you that stood out, be it physical or mental.

Anyway, I’d have to enter Mudhelm as myself, unless I could mug the guy, take his stuff, and come up with a story about the substitution. Which honestly sounded like a lot of work for no clear purpose other than to meet in person the biggest bully in Mudhelm. Which, I mean, why?

Here’s a little wisdom about the art of planning: There’s a time, right at the start, where you can and should just throw out any old nonsense that happens to float through your brain. You never know what crazy idea might actually be genius. But that time should be short and the products of it thoroughly and harshly examined, because the vast majority of ideas are not, in fact, genius. They’re just your brain passing gas. Also, I know lots of folks get into the evil business because they’re attracted to the freedom of doing whatever you want whenever you want, but honestly, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Nobody, and I mean nobody is completely free from the consequences of stupid actions.

Don’t base a plan on a mental fart, is what I’m saying.

“So this fellow was due in from the capital?” I asked.

“I said so, didn’t I?”

I hadn’t overtaken anyone on the trail, so Twisted Ben must have started out after me. Which meant he very likely hadn’t got the chance to start out at all.

“I hate to break it to you,” I said, “but your messenger is probably never going to arrive.”

“Why, did you kill him too?”

Kind of. “The capital burned down. That’s where I’ve come from. There was practically nothing and no-one who survived.”

“What? How? Was it orcs?”

“I really couldn’t say. Anyway, I’m the one asking the questions, remember? What was the messenger carrying?”

“What messengers normally do, if I had to guess.”

“So you don’t know.”

“It’s not my job to know, fire boy. It’s my job to make sure Twisted Ben gets to Titus in one piece.”

“Yeah, well, I think you’re probably out of work now. Especially since numbnuts over there knows your secret.”

“And whose fucking fault is that?”

“The exact same numbnuts, actually. Or did you expect me to apologize for defending myself? Anyway, it’s not my fault you work for an idiot who thinks talent only comes with a cock attached. Make better employment choices.”

“You think Mudhelm is just full of opportunities, do you? Now I know you’ve never been there. Fucking wet-ear.”

I had no idea what a wet-ear was, but it didn’t sound like a complement.

I opened my mouth to argue some more, but then closed it. Not because I suddenly agreed with my breasty captive, but because I’d seen something move at the base of the cliff behind her. Or at least I thought I had. The sun was going down, and the light was a little tricky. I stood up and took a couple of steps forward and to the side, to get an unobstructed view.

At first I didn’t see anything. Then the thing moved again, a slow slither. It was longer than I thought should be reasonable, and its color matched the stone of the Divide exactly.

“Are there lots of snakes in the Debatable Lands, Catapult?” I asked, keeping my voice calm.

“What? What do you see? Does it blend in with the terrain?”

“Remarkably so.”

“Fuck. Fucking fuck! Untie me right now. Dumbfuck over there, too.”

“Now why would I do that?” I asked. But I was already getting a bad feeling. I summoned the flame into my palm.

"Because that’s not a snake, it’s a rock worm, and it will not fucking be out and about on its own.”

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About the author

NotGodot

Bio: Here, I'm Notogodot. In other places around the internet I'm Michael McClung, a writer and a general grump. I'm best known for the Amra Thetys fantasy series. I was born and raised in Texas, but have lived in Southeast Asia for almost two decades.

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