Matt made his way to the appointed place to meet the queen. The castle stood in stark contrast against the shorter buildings in the coastal city. Gulls and hawks alike circled the towers stretching toward the lazily drifting clouds. A few of the local hawkers tried to approach him, but a gesture toward his large axe had them scurrying away with muttered apologies.
His recent encounter with Bethilda, or whatever her real name was, played over in his mind. He smirked thinking about how dumbfounded she’d looked after he’d sucker punched her. His only regret was that he couldn’t also find that bearded idiot from the lobby. If he ever had the pleasure of meeting that person again, whether virtually or in person, Matt planned on feeding the bearded man on his own teeth.
“Sir Orsbin,” a voice called out as Matt turned down a wide street toward the castle’s open gates. Matt turned to see a tall man with a wiry frame and gaunt face bow to him. “I am Lefitch, the steward.” The man gestured with his bony hands toward a smaller door set in the castle wall some thirty yards away from the main gate. “I will escort you,” Lefitch said.
Matt shrugged and followed the man through the doorway. A pair of guards stood inside near the base of a set of stairs, and a third guard sat at a small but stately desk with a pair of books and a single ledger.
“This is Luther Orsbin, the new executioner,” Lefitch said. The guard at the desk scribbled down the name and then gave a respectful nod. Lefitch turned to Matt. “The queen is expecting you, let’s not keep her waiting.”
Lefitch started up the stairs at a pace that almost required Matt to jog in order to keep up. They moved down a long hallway with doors on either side.
“Shouldn’t we be going into the main castle?” Matt asked.
Lefitch spoke over his shoulder without turning around. “It is bad luck for the queen to meet with an executioner in the royal courts.”
Matt frowned. “So, it’s better to meet her in a dark hallway?”
Lefitch stopped mid-step and glanced back at Matt with an arched silver brow. “Is this your first posting as an executioner?”
Matt wasn’t sure how to answer that, so he just stared back at Lefitch for a moment before faking a cough and turning his head.
Lefitch cleared his throat and resumed walking. “The queen will meet you in the council chambers adjacent to your... offices.” The tall man gestured toward the doors they passed. “The guards on this floor primarily patrol the walls and castle grounds, however, they also rotate through assignments within the dungeon. They can be called upon if you need to increase the guard for extremely dangerous prisoners, and they can help escort the condemned to the gallows as occasion may require.”
“How do I make those assignments?” Matt asked, thinking such an arrangement might come in handy against people like Shadowfingers 9,000 and Bethilda.
“Captain Mersiin, or Lieutenant Baars, will always be around in your offices. You would make the arrangements with them. They will authorize or deny your requests depending on staffing needs throughout the castle and city.”
Matt nodded. It struck him as funny that he was getting a clearer briefing on his virtual job than he had for his real world position.
“Now, originally we had no executions scheduled until tomorrow, but there have been a few... developments,” Lefitch explained. The wiry man stopped and turned around just as they reached a left turn in the hallway. “Two people attempted to steal their way into the palace vaults.”
“We execute burglars?” Matt asked.
“These two thieves also killed four guards in their escape attempt,” Lefitch clarified.
“Ah, yeah that makes sense.”
“As for the third, I believe you know her. A spry little gnome.”
Matt grinned. “Yeah, we met,” he said.
“Yes... I’m told you helped apprehend her.” Lefitch snorted and let out a half-chuckle before motioning to the end of the hallway. “Follow me.” Instead of turning left, he placed his hand on a gray stone and gave it a push. Metal gears clanked and clicked from inside the wall, and then a doorway opened to reveal a spiral staircase leading downward. “Over the years we’ve had our share of breakout attempts. We find that hidden passages help deter such troublemakers.”
The pair walked down the first few steps and then Lefitch stopped just long enough to pull on a chain hanging from the wall. The door above them closed, sealing the stairway in darkness. A moment later there was a warm, gentle glow of light as a magical orb hovered over Lefitch. They walked down what seemed to Matt to be at least four levels before they arrived at an iron-banded door. Lefitch unlocked it with a rather long key, and then moved into a short hallway and stopped at a door of iron bars.
Matt entered the man trap and realized that all the walls around the landing were also made of vertical iron bars. Several guards saluted the steward, then turned to Matt and gave deferential nods. Matt realized quickly that each of these guards were equipped with crossbows and more than ready to slaughter anyone unlucky enough to find their way down here without authorization.
Lefitch waited until the iron-banded door closed behind them. Matt heard the locks reengage automatically. The steward then opened the next door and ushered him in. “The guards here will keep you safe, and make sure no one leave unless you personally authorize it.”
Lefitch then led him into the first room on the left and held the door open. “When you meet the queen, bow at the waist, but do not try to kiss her hand. She doesn’t enjoy that sort of thing. Keep your head bowed reverently, and speak only after she has finished speaking. The last executioner made a habit of interrupting her, and she likes that less than thieves in the palace vaults, if you catch my meaning.” Lefitch arched his brow again and stared hard at Matt, who gave a silent nod in return.
Sounds fun. Matt entered the room and was greeted by three very large men dressed in full plate mail. Their swords were half drawn, as if the bodyguards expected him to cause trouble. Matt’s stomach fell as if trying to escape. Virtual or not, these men scared him, and he didn’t feel like testing how much pain they could dish out before his avatar expired.
“May I present Master Luther Orsbin, the new executioner,” Lefitch said from the doorway.
Two claps sounded from behind the wall of steel-plated muscle. The bodyguards parted to reveal a woman who appeared to be in her late twenties or perhaps early thirties. Her deep red dress complimented her black skin and dark eyes in a way that caused him to stare. She wore a golden necklace with a jade amulet, and held a small scroll in her left hand, but no rings on her fingers.
“I am pleased that you have finally arrived, Master Orsbin.” The queen smiled and locked eyes with him. The smile was warm, but there was something about her expression that unnerved him. There was a strength in this woman, a danger even, that he could feel emanating from her. He tried to think of a greeting to respond with, but found himself transfixed by her eyes and unable to think of anything other than the many ways the previous executioner might have met his end.
“Bow!” Lefitch whispered harshly.
Only then did Matt realize he’d been staring right at the queen. He quickly bowed at the waist and put his gaze to the floor. “It’s... it’s a pleasure to serve,” Matt said. Ugh. That was dumb! Matt heard Lefitch sigh and curse under his breath, but the queen didn’t order his immediate death, so he figured he was safe enough for now.
“Luther Orsbin...” Matt stood up straight, but kept his head inclined toward the floor. The queen took a few steps closer and eyed him from head to toe, narrowing her eyes a bit and wrinkling her nose. “The last executioner had wider shoulders,” she commented. “Turn around, let me get a full look at you.”
Matt turned around.
“Hm, a good strong back. That is a good sign.”
Yeesh. What am I, a horse?
“Do your quarters suit you?” the queen asked.
Matt turned back around to face her. “Yes, thank you,” Matt said.
The queen arched a brow and tilted her head to the side. “Your highness,” she said. “When speaking to me, you should address me as ‘your highness’ or ‘my queen,’ do you understand?”
Matt nodded quickly. “Yes, my queen.”
The queen smiled. “Better. Now, we have some urgent business to attend to.” She offered the small scroll.
Acquired: Writ of Execution
“I believe my steward has told you about the thieves we caught in the vaults today,” the queen began. “They killed several guards, and your first task is to execute them. However, unlike most executions, this will be a private affair. I don’t want the general citizenry to know that the castle was so easily infiltrated by a pair of hooligans. This must be done here in the dungeon. Are you prepared?”
Matt nodded. “Yes, my queen,” he said.
The queen clapped twice and the bodyguards shuffled back to form a living wall between him and the queen. From behind them he heard her call out, “Lefitch will escort you to the place where the condemned are being held. I will watch.” With that, she and her bodyguards disappeared through a door in the back of the room.
“Come, Master Orsbin,” Lefitch said. “We shouldn’t tarry.”
Matt equipped his executioner axe and followed Lefitch through a series of small rooms and hallways until they came into a large chamber. A dais with a wooden throne sat off to Matt’s left. The queen was already there with her bodyguards standing nearby. On the opposite end of the room was a ten by ten cell with three people standing inside. Two appeared to be elves, and the third was Bethilda Hornswaggle. The gnome narrowed her eyes on Matt and did her best to look intimidating.
Matt did his best to choke back his laughter. Though he understood she could be different the next time they met, for now she was just a gnome in shackles and fully gagged.
A pair of guards stood at the cell door, and another pair stood at a door on the far side of the chamber from Matt. The middle of the room sank into a circular depression with a drain in the middle of the private execution area.
“This chamber, when not being used for executions, also functions as an... interrogation room,” Lefitch said.
Matt frowned. That’s just the polite way of saying torture chamber. He readied his axe and moved across the dark tiles, eyeing the single hunk of thick wood that had a groove carved into one side and a wide wicker basket in front of it. Pretty straightforward setup.
The queen clapped twice. “Bring out the first prisoner.”
One of the guards opened the cell door. As Matt watched, he noticed there was some sort of exchange between the prisoner and guard. It was subtle, but he noticed a distinct nod. Something was not right here.
The cell door flung open wide and the first guard turned and hacked the second guard’s head off. The prisoner spread his hands, the false shackles falling to the ground with a clatter, and grabbed the dead guard’s crossbow. A moment later the guard at the far end of the room had a crossbow quarrel through his throat.
Two of the bodyguards rushed toward the cell.
The second prisoner discarded his fake shackles and sent a fireball out from the cell and struck Lefitch in the chest.
Matt stared wide-eyed, then caught site of Bethilda, who was just as surprised as he was, cowering in the back corner of the cell.
Matt then glanced to the queen who dodged an attack from her third bodyguard.
Instinct kicked in. He sprinted up the dais and swung his axe at the false bodyguard. He connected with the plate mail, but the HP bar barely moved. The large man then turned around, laughing as he lashed out at Matt. Matt ducked under the sword, then came in with a shoulder check that sent the bodyguard stumbling into the throne. Just as the large man clanked down into the seat, Matt came in with a heavy front kick that toppled the traitor over the back of the dais.
The man was quick to roll to all fours, but before he could stand, Matt was on him in an instant. The axe came down and bit cleanly at the exposed neck. The head rolled away and the rest of the corpse slumped to the ground.
Matt spun around to see the queen dodging a pair of fireballs thrown her way. She leapt behind Matt as the spells slammed into the stone wall nearby. Both of her other bodyguards were defeated. One had taken a fireball to the face, and the other had a sword in his neck and was falling to his knees before the traitorous guard.
“Traitors!” Lefitch cried out. The steward let out a blast of lightning that burned a hole clean through the guard that had set the prisoners free just as his jubilant face looked up from the impaled corpse of a bodyguard. A crossbow quarrel flew at the steward, catching him in the shoulder and dropping him. Using the distraction to his advantage, Matt wasted no time in rushing the crossbow wielding prisoner. Before the elf could reload the weapon, Matt chopped down, catching the elf in the face and exploding bone and gore as the HP bar appeared and then drained completely.
The magic wielding prisoner aimed a burning hand at Matt, and that’s when he knew he was in trouble. He was too far away to reach the man, and too close to effectively dodge. Not knowing how tough a level one executioner NPC was designed to be, Matt prepared to accept his first death.
I hope I can’t feel the fire burn me.
The fireball coalesced and hissed as it roared to its full size, but then it went wide and the prisoner stumbled to the side. Matt looked down to see Bethilda. She had run into the man from behind, and was now busy kicking him with her stubby legs.
The elf spun around, catching Bethilda in the chest with a solid kick that sent her sprawling to the ground and tumbling into the cell bars.
Matt charged in and gave a sidelong chop that caught the prisoner in the gut. The elf doubled over, his HP bar quickly draining as he sank to his knees. Matt ripped the weapon free and then finished the job by removing the prisoner’s head. He then put his axe away and went to Bethilda. Her HP bar was half gone, but she was alive.
“I’ll see if I can get you out of this,” Matt said. He reached down and removed her gag.
“What are you doing?!” Lefitch hollered.
Matt turned to see the steward was back on his feet, his good hand clutching at his wounded shoulder. “She is condemned to death.”
“She just helped us save the queen,” Matt countered. “I think leniency is in order.”
“Mercy is not yours to give!”
“No,” the queen’s voice rang out clearly. All three of them stopped and turned to see the queen walking toward them. Her composure had returned and she eyed Bethilda and Matt carefully. “It is mine to give.”
Matt stood up and bowed his head. “My queen, if I may speak,” Matt started.
She held up her hand. “Be silent.” Matt closed his mouth and contemplated his options. It didn’t seem smart to fight the queen and steward for Bethilda’s sake. They weren’t likely to win, and even if they did, where would he hide? He needed resources and protection for as long as it took him to figure a way out of this game.
“It’s okay,” Bethilda whispered. “Thanks for trying.”
“You would fight to protect me, despite being condemned to die?” the queen asked as she strode confidently toward the cell and gestured for Matt to move. “Why?”
Bethilda slowly stood up, keeping her head bowed, and shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
The queen smiled wider now and then looked to Matt. “Release her. Give her a pardon. She is free to go.”
“But my queen,” Lefitch started to protest.
The queen didn’t even glance toward Lefitch. “Do not mistake my mercy for weakness. If you should commit another crime worthy of execution, I will ensure it is a slow and painful death, am I clear?”
“Yes, my queen,” Bethilda said.
Matt bent down and took the keys from the traitorous guard, then released Bethilda from her shackles. “Think you can help me out of here?” he whispered.
Bethilda shook her head. “A shift is a shift. I don’t know of any glitches,” she responded quietly.
Matt sighed. “Well, a truce then?”
Bethilda smiled. “Truce.”
“Master Orsbin,” the queen began. “I will see to it that you receive a raise in your salary. You have already proven your worth. Also, you’ll want this. You’ll find the rest of your equipment in the footlocker in you quarters.”
Quest Complete: Speak to the Queen
Bio: I like to write. I've been writing sword and sorcery fantasy for a while now, but more recently I have begun working in the LitRPG genre because I have found it's a very fun and unique way to create stories. Hopefully those of you who read my work are also having fun-- if not, let me know. I'm always looking to improve my craft and make things that are better, so I welcome feedback.