Lyca stared at the Adventurer’s camp in front of her with wonder. It was quite impressive. She touched her Starhammer necklace as she noticed the slightly lopsided banner of Celestar. She noted how Adventurers closest to the banner walked with straighter posture and smiled slightly more. This was memetic magic at work: magic that affected the mind, in this case filling it with clarity of love, awe and devotion. This was the power of Celestar, the power of hope, shining even here, miles underground, so close to the Eldritch horrors of the Deep.
She noticed caltrops on the ground and the Ferrum shields surrounding the camp, made to resist dragonfire, angled to deflect the deadly heat. When she got to the gate, the guard looked her up and down with beady eyes. She smiled reassuringly.
The guard examined this latest newcomer. She was a small creature with sandy yellow fur, feline ears that were almost comically large, white antlers and earnest green spectacled eyes. Her fluffy tail brushed lightly against the ground. Her frilly dress was well-kept, not the usual attire for a dungeon inhabitant. He let her inside the camp with a nod. Just another eager adventurer looking for a job.
Lyca looked around the camp in awe as she passed through the gate, taking in the whirlwind of sights, sound and smells. A multitude of lanterns kept the camp lit almost as well as the world above. The sooty air smelled like burning lamp oil, sweat, and cooking food. She heard the shuffling and clanging of soldiers sparring, the distant bark of orders, the chatter of adventurers, and the ringing clamor of the armory forge. The camp thrummed with busy, purposeful activity.
Humans were an ingenious species, so wonderfully creative, clever and rational. Most races were limited to their naturally-occurring magics, but humans had mastered chemistry, physics and engineering. She had eagerly memorised many books on these subjects. Sadly, she knew she’d never have a chance to apply her knowledge, being a kobold bound to a dragon. At least her dragon wasn’t an ignorant brute like the ones living here in the depths of the earth.
She stared at her own tawney paw and sighed. She wished she’d been born a human, free to invent, to create, to dream. She caught sight of the biggest, shiniest human of all and beelined over to him. He would have her answers.
The Probability Knight noticed her immediately. “Hey! Where do you think you're going, little kitten?”
The Guild Secretary fixed Lyca with an unimpressed stare.
“To her ignoble death, no doubt. I don’t see an adventurer’s plate on her.”
Lyca stared up bravely at the massive, shiny knight with one large ear cocked.
“Do you have the Necronomicon?” she asked. Directness had gotten her quite far in life. Most powerful creatures, like this Knight, weren’t used to being addressed this way and could be surprised into forthrightness.
The Knight made a surprised sort of snorting noise within his helmet. Lyca merely waited, her wide green eyes betraying neither fear nor judgement. The Knight’s posture softened; this was such a nonthreatening little creature. Lyca sensed him relaxing and didn’t apply any more pressure; he was almost at the point of answering her.
The Guild Secretary frowned. Secretaries fielded all manner of questions from all sorts of shady characters, and she wasn’t as taken by this earnest looking little creature with her delicate paws clasped together.
“Now, why would a civilian be here, on level 555 of the catacombs asking about the Necronomicon?” she asked.
Lyca sighed, her voice flattening, as if reciting a tired old script.
“I am a mere humble Librarian Scout, an Emissary of the Library of Tundra the Enlightened. My Illustrious Mistress is on her way here as we speak. She seeks the book. It was stolen from her Library by a party of Adventurers.”
The Knight craned his head down to observe Lyca.
“Your book? Your library? Robbed by adventurers… so that’s where it was hiding all these years. A library!”
He whirled to face the Secretary and suddenly smashed his gauntleted fist into the table.
“A LIBRARY! THOSE IMBECILES DIDN’T THINK TO CHECK A LIBRARY!”
“Eek!” The Secretary lurched backwards, tripping on a chair.
The Knight’s head snapped back suddenly towards Lyca, fixing on her like a hawk fixing on a fieldmouse.
“Wait a minute. What sort of library has the power to contain memetic magics?”
Lyca gulped, tapping her polished brass name tag vigorously.
Servant of the Library
of White Dragon Tundra the Enlightened
The Knight stared at the nametag, quickly figuring things out.
“A Dragon… library? You’re a Kobold slave, serving a dragon… that hoards... books?”
He started to laugh and banged his fist again in a much less menacing way.
Lyca frowned. “It’s not a hoard. It’s a library. Every book and scroll is catalogued. There’s shelves and everything. We are a society of highly educa--”
“I see. I see,” the Knight said over her. “So the book came from this HOARD of yours. We will deal with this "library" in due time. Likely, it has other ...catastrophic artifacts.”
The Knight flipped a gilded folding device open. Tiny articulated mechanisms glittered. Lyca wanted very badly to know how it worked. Within it she could smell an artifact she knew: a magwave broadcasting crystal.
“Investigate Tundra the Dragon's hoard. Confiscate all dangerous artifacts,” the Knight dictated.
“Infoid Acknowledged,” the device chimed.
Lyca’s face flushed with worry at this. The broadcasting crystal allowed the Knight to send his intel over great distances. Her boldness had inadvertently endangered the Library! Perhaps the books would be better in human hands? Information should be available to all for free, not hoarded. Her Librarian tag burned at that thought.
On the other hand, the library's forbidden section had dangerous books. Books that talked and thought. Books that inserted bad ideas into your mind. Evil memetic magics, living songs that moved from mind to mind, able to create memeoids - zombies, vile thoughts piloting dead flesh. The Necronomicon was the worst offender of this sort, according to Mistress Tundra. Humans were brilliant but fragile: their fleshy bodies couldn’t withstand the magics that Mistress Tundra kept locked away.
“Thanks for that tidbit of info, kobold… librarian,” the probability Knight spoke through gritted teeth.
Lyca stood upright, her black and white dress fluttering.
“You can’t interact with forbidden memetic books!” she warned him. “Only a dragon can control them. They’re incredibly dangerous for everyone and should be kept safe in our Library! Just like the Necronomicon!”
“Safe?! A dragon isn’t an intelligent creature that can keep books safe,” The Knight explained, speaking as if to a slow child.
Lyca opened her mouth to protest and he spoke forcefully over her.
“Are you questioning the authority of the Imperial Magocracy Future Disaster Committee, expressed by me as its representative?” he asked in a low voice. “The Necronomicon is to be destroyed by us. Anyone obstructing the mission is to be executed immediately.”
The Knight snapped his fingers. Nearby adventurers raised bows and grasped the hilts of blades. Spells ignited on arms, rings, wands and staffs.
Lyca started to back away. Perhaps the big, shiny human was right. It would be best to destroy those vile, sentient books. Locking them away only encouraged fools to steal them. As long as they were allowed to exist, there was a chance they’d be freed to work their evil. Her librarian tag itched, demanding she follow through with her mission.
“Look, I can see that you humans don’t have the book, so I’m just going to go down and get it, okay?” she stated in her most gentle, non-threatening voice.
The Knight tapped something into his wrist mechanism, then looked back at Lyca. “Be my guest, kobold. Off you go.”
Lyca fled in an undignified fashion not befitting a Librarian. She didn’t want to agitate this nest of human ants any further. She had her answer: the dragon down below had the book.
Adventurers around the Knight frowned. The Guild Secretary looked at him in confusion.
“...aren't we going to execute the dragon thrall?”
The Knight’s voice radiated assuredness from behind his helmet.
“There’s no need to waste arrows on this one. Not yet. The watch told me that she will have the book in her hands very soon. Let her bring it, then. It's just a dumb dragon in there after all, and kobolds serve dragons. She has an advantage we lack.
“Hmm… Anyone here real good at being invisible? A rogue! I require master rogues.”
Twelve adventurers raised their hands.
“Good.” The knight waved his hand towards the tunnel. “Follow the library kobold. Avoid detection at all costs. Once she has the book, steal it from her. Don't screw this up, Celestar watches you!”
Running down into the dark, narrow neck of the tunnel, Lyca immediately tripped on a fallen stalagmite. Her glasses flew, clattering down into the darkness.
A tiny kobold stationed at the tunnel's entrance leapt up, tail twitching.
“Noises! Adventurers is coming!”
“Archers - fire! You - Drop the pointy rocks!” Error commanded her troops.
“Don't you mean stalagmites?” Agate raised her eyebrow at Error.
“Drop the flying rock thingies with pointy ends, idiot!” Error smacked Agate. “I ain't got time for specific geologies!”
Error’s mind, at this moment, had circled back to industrial-scale propagation of erotic monster materials, and she resented the distraction from this new, unseen invader.
“Right…” Agate nodded.
Arrows whooshed above Lyca and her invisible followers, clinking on walls. The few stalagmites that magically-drained Agate still held in the air fell down, failing to kill anyone. Only one adventurer got a rock shard flung into his face. He started to swear silently.
“I don't hear death screams,” Error frowned. “I think those assholes got good at dodging rocks.”
Lyca crept forward slowly on all fours, avoiding the fallen rocks. When she reached the end of the tunnel she stood up cautiously and peered out towards the hoard chamber. She felt a bit of draft on the back of her neck, which was to be expected given the tunnel composition, but for some reason the breeze smelled of lunchmeat.
An invisible rogue had snuck up behind Lyca intending to use her as a [meat] shield should things go wrong with the enemy kobolds. He was hunched into an unsteady, folded-over position in an attempt to hide his entire body behind the little furry kobold.
“Time to switch strategies,” Error said, considering a filthy sponge that she had found in her hoard. It wasn’t as shiny as most of her belongings, but even ugly things had their uses. She dangled the filthy sponge over the trench her minions had prepared.
“Sponge of absorption…” Error announced to her nearest minions.
Agate considered licking the sponge but thought better of it once the smell came her way.
“Absorbs whatever liquids it touches,” Error continued. “Usually these are fond of the blood of healthy humans. Apparently this sick bastard ate an entire sewer. Who's a disgusting, filthy parasite? Yes, you are,” she crooned to the sponge.
At that moment, Lyca stepped into the light of the hoard, presenting herself to the kobold army.
"Please don't shoot me!” she called out, taking slow steps forward. “I am a mere humble Librarian scout, Emissary of--"
The invisible rogue hiding behind Lyca struggled to keep up with her without letting his head poke up above hers, exposing him to any enemy projectiles. He crab-walked along, knees aching. He didn’t notice the slick, wet rocks that Lyca stepped over until he felt his foot slip. His ankle rolled with a crunch and his arms flew out to steady himself, hitting Lyca and knocking her forwards.
Error and her retinue fell silent as the stranger was launched towards them by an unseen force that propelled her head over heels right into the recently-dug trench. The stranger shrieked as she landed in a matted ball of lace and fur at the bottom with a significant thud and an expensive-sounding crunch. She groaned as she pushed her tail away from her eyes and uncurled, but was apparently unhurt.
The other rogues saw Lyca vanish over the edge and began to climb down swiftly after her.
Error sauntered up to the edge of the trench and stared down at this invader.
Lyca stared up at her through bent, empty frames, a bit of dirt in her well-groomed fur, her starched dress torn and rumpled.
“Eh? An outsider kobold?” Error mused, before she reached down and offered a hand to Lyca.
Lyca considered the hand, which had been holding the world’s filthiest sponge a second ago, and then reluctantly took it. The red kobold was stronger than she looked; she hauled Lyca up without much effort.
“You a spy of some sort?” Error asked, squinting at Lyca. “Hrm…. Definitely not an adventurer. I smell a dragon on you. Hold on a second.” Error turned away from the outsider and squeezed the sponge over the trench. A torrent of black waste roared out of the sponge, filling the trench in seconds. The invisible adventurers screamed as they drowned in sewage.
“Aha! Invisible sons of bitches!” Error shouted triumphantly. “Take that!”
She turned back to Lyca and grabbed her by her dress collar, smearing it with the residue from the sponge. Lyca winced and allowed Error to drag her into the hoard chamber towards the waiting kobold army.
“You best explain yourself, kobold spy…”
. . .
“....and they're dead,” the Probability Knight said, more resigned than incredulous.
He started to type a question into his watch and waited until the dials clicked into place, giving him further details.
“From... EXCREMENT?!” The tone of his voice resonated with concern. He looked with a look of bewilderment at the Secretary, as if she might have an explanation. She only returned his look with worry.
“I don't understand... they were perfectly good rogues... high-level, some of them,” he said in a rush, and the Secretary could sense him picking up momentum towards a rant. He’d never been prone to unprofessional moments before, but then again, his probability calculator had never betrayed him like this before.
“Did they walk straight into the dragon's ARSE?!” the Knight cried, lurching to his feet. He kicked a table over, sending everything on its surface flying.
“Idiots! The whole lot of you! I'm surrounded by useless incompetents!”
The Secretary flinched away from the heavy table as it crashed down. The Knight stood there silently, glaring at the mess. He was better lit by the nearest torch now that he was standing, and the Secretary noticed a few dried bits of dirt sticking to his helmet, usually kept immaculate.
The Knight whirled around and stalked out of the tent, leaving the Secretary alone with the heavy upended table. The bustle of camp noise filled the empty space where he’d been, but it couldn’t distract the Secretary from the misgivings she was beginning to have about this mission.
Support "Error's Game"
- Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.