5th Place – Eli Jansen

INFILTRATION
A Fantasy Tale

by Eli Jansen

Chapter One: Desperate Times

“Stop that Drow!” the Shaman snarled with his gravely Orcish voice.

Two of the three escorters of this Orc Shaman, dressed in thin dark plate mail armor and holding well-crafted spears the size of themselves dashed after me.

I’m generally quick footed so they were not gaining. I turned into an alleyway bumping into a merchant apple cart, knocking the entire display to the dirt road. I then realized my mistake. It was a dead end. The two escorters ran and cornered me into the alley. They were in an offensive position and I was aware they would attack.

Seeing my moment, I jumped atop one of the escorters’ heads, making a loud clunk due to his helmet, and jumped to a roof. I began to crawl to the top of it when a splitting pain reached my thigh. The other escorter had jabbed my thigh with his spear. I slapped myself to stay in focus and continued my now slowed sprint.

I ran across the town of Raven Crown, jumping from roof to roof. I had lost the guards. I slid off the side of a roof and landed in a pile of hay just like a pillow. I reached into my bag and pulled out the lockbox I had just stolen. “Jackpot.” I mumbled to myself. I pulled out my thief’s tool set and pulled a lockpick. I worked with the advanced lock, breaking two lockpicks until I finally heard a click.

The box opened and revealed an amazing sight. Gold coins, gems, jewelry, diamonds. I tried not to scream out in joy as I put it back in my bag. I put up my hood and bandana, now unrecognizable.

Hello, I’m Durzo Dresden, Thief Extraordinaire. I am a dark elf. The most hated species on planet Artemis. I’m thought of as a disgrace. The 1% of elves. I’ve been beaten, abandoned, enslaved, all because of my species. They think us dark elves as good for nothing thieves and murderers. So why should I be anything else?

I walked toward the Almondwood Tavern and Inn. Opening the door, the joy and loudness of the room cut off. The silence was broken by the whispers among tables. Some remarks offensive, some confused. I walked toward the bar.

“Single room,” I said as I set three silver coins on the counter.

“We don’t serve your kind here, punk. Scram.” The dwarvish woman said, irritated.

I set 5 gold coins on the table and say “Single room, please”.

She quickly swept the money off the counter towards herself. “Two floors up, second to the right” she said surprised as she held out a key.

I gave an unamused grin and sarcastically said “Thanks”. I began to walk up to my room. I entered. It was a decently small room. It had a small bed, a nightstand, and a desk with an inkwell and quill pre-prepared. I sat down on the bed and took out the box. I grinned to myself as I set it on my bedside table. It was getting late, the town torches were beginning to be lit.

Feeling tired after a long successful day, I pinched the candle on my bedside table that gave a light aura of light showering the entire room. The room went dark and I got under my covers. This was the first time I’d slept in a bed in a while. I shut my eyes with a warm feeling inside. I wished for it to last forever, but that’s not how my life ever goes.

Chapter Two: Imprisonment

The next morning, the sky still dim, I was awoken by a loud knocking on my door

“It’s the Raven Crown knights!” a deep voice shouted “Come out if you enjoy living!”

I cursed to myself, sliding the lockbox into my bag over my shoulder. I got a running start and crashed through my window. It was a 10 ft drop but I didn’t lose focus. I ended my jump with a roll and ran through the dark road. The road in front of the inn was quite thin and the buildings were high above the ground without alleyways. I almost reached the open part of town when I noticed the Raven Crown Knights lined up on the exit. I tried to turn around but there was more. I was trapped.

“You are hereby declared guilty for 2 counts on murder and-” the judge paused, shocked, “563 counts of theft.”

I stayed silent on my knees, despite my desire to grin. If they only knew the real total.

“75 years imprisonment.”

A helmetless knight with a dragon tattoo on the side of his bald head walked toward me and put me in chains. I was then escorted out of the building and into and barred carriage. It was filthy, with vomit stains and scratches all over the interior.

The Knight got in the front of the carriage and shouted “Yah!”. His horses instantly began trotting down the dirt road.

I traveled in that stinking carriage for 2 hours, the endless buildings surrounding me. I ended up by a tall looming building made entirely of stone and metal. I was rolled by the entrance and connected to a line of identical, equally disgusting carriages. Some of them held as many as 7 criminals. Some just one.

The knight spoke “Welcome to the Raven Crown Prison, enjoy your stay, blah blah blah. Get out of my carriage, filth”.

I walked out of the carriage practically falling to the ground. Another, less armored knight in chainmail, holding a quarterstaff dragged me to the entrance silently. I was put in line side to side with other criminals around the outer edge of the central square of the prison as a tall slim man stepped up on a short pedestal in front of us.

“You pieces of filth are here because you betrayed the laws of our great town.” he said “The laws that keep us at peace. I don’t know what you did, but now you will never be able to again.” He said, “Welcome to my prison! You can call me Warden. You shall now be partnered with your cellmate.”

About twenty-five guards began walking into the crowd and getting the prisoners. A guard walked up to me, manhandling a black-haired half demon with purple horns and light stubble.

Slightly grinning, he chuckled. “Hey, roomie”.

The guard slapped him in the back of the head as he grabbed me by my shoulder and began walking into the prison with us.

We walked for around 5 minutes until we were pushed into a cell. It had a bucket full of…droppings, A bunk bed without mattresses, and a desk.

The half demon looked at me “How’s it going?” he said in a chill tone.

I responded confused “Uhhh. What do you mean? I’m in prison!” I got up from the dirty floor of the cell and sat down on the bottom bunk of the bed, making a loud squeak.

“Just trying to lighten the mood.” he said. “So, what’s your name” he said.

“Durzo Dresden” I replied unenthusiastically.

“I’m Zendariaticlasis, but you can call me Z” he said. “What are you in for?”.

“Five hundred sixty-three counts of theft, two counts of murder” I responded.

“Whoa, nice! I have four counts murder and impersonating a priest.” he said.

“What did you do as the priest?” I asked.

“Killed four people!” he chuckled.

I laughed in response.

He stood up and jumped up to the top bunk. “It’s getting late, let’s get some shut eye, there is plenty of prison to enjoy tomorrow” he said sarcastically.

I found myself sleeping quickly.

The next morning, the same guard that had escorted us here rang a bell loudly next to our cell. “Wake up maggots! Breakfast!” he shouted.

All the cell doors opened in unison and prisoners began flooding out of their cells, eyes drooping.

I shook Z awake, who was clearly a heavy sleeper, and followed the crowd.

We all entered the cafeteria, A humongous room with around 75 long wooden tables. The far end was a buffet style row of food. A long line formed by it.

When it came to my turn I was served by a Dwarvish man. I held out my tray and he simply slapped a glob of chunky grey mush. I sat by Z, who had rushed past me and already got his food.

He quickly scarfed down the mush as if it was the best thing in the world. “Hey…are you gonna finish that?” he asked.

I chuckled “Knock yourself out.” I slid my tray to him and he quickly finished it as well.

“Man, this prison has the best slop I’ve ever tasted!” he said.

“Okay?” I said confused.

“Okay.” He quieted his voice “How would you respond if I said I could break us out of this joint, Get back on our feet”.

“Wait, seriously?” I said surprised.

He responded “I’ve broken out hundreds of times. It’s easy as a shapeshifter. “

“Wait, you’re a shapeshifter?” I said. “How did You afford that Grimoire?”.

“Borrowed it” he responded.

“In which you mean stole it.” I said.

He lightly laughed “No, I actually borrowed it. My friend had one and lent it to me.” he said. He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Here is the plan.”

Chapter Three: Escape

A week had passed. It was night. It was time to get out of this place. I had my hairpin. We were ready. I began picking at the lock. It wasn’t very advanced, but I almost snapped the pin at one point. Luckily, I managed to pick the lock. The cell door slowly swung open making a creak.

Both me and Z cringed but nobody had heard.

Z turned into a black house cat and went up to the door.

I took the lead and began walking, Z following silently. I made my way down the stairway into the main lounge. I checked if the coast was clear and went through the arch that led to the main hall. I approached the door marked GUARDS ONLY. I pulled out the hair clip again and tried to pick the lock. It snapped.

A guard began walking towards our direction.

I moved into a dark corner, my grey skin blending in with the shadows and Z on my shoulder. The guard walked away, not noticing us.

I whispered to Z “No luck, I guess we’re stuck here.”

He responded “Don’t talk that way.” He transformed into what I assumed to be a gnat. He flew under the door. The door opened, Z in his normal form standing inside. “Get in” Z said.

I walked into the room and closed the door behind me. A light appeared in the room.

Z was holding a lit candle, covering one side with his hand. It revealed the contents of the room. It was crowded with clothes, weapons, jewelry, and even a few prosthetic limbs.

We dug around and eventually found our belongings. I found my daggers, my clothes, my bag, my money pouch, everything. I turned to Z and saw him wearing very different garments.

He had long purple robes with large golden letters saying RH on the top right corner. He was holding a metal bow with a purple gem attached to the center and a quiver loosely hanging from his shoulder.

I put on my gear and I was set. I began to walk to the door when I heard a loud slam. I turned and saw Z, who had accidentally knocked down a shelf full of swords. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt but it made a lot of noise. I heard guards talk amongst themselves confused.

“Did you hear that?” a guard said.

“Hear what?” said the other.

“Just follow me!” the guard said annoyed.

Z’s defeated face brightened up suddenly. “Hide. I got this!” he said.

I hid inside the clothing rack.

Z took the form of a wounded guard, with a large gash on his thigh and shoulder. He crawled out the door and spoke out “Help!”.

The two guards instantly ran over, not seeing his face.

“What happened?” said one of the guards.

 “I was checking the confiscation room, and the shelf of swords fell on me!” Z said, sounding exactly as if he was telling the truth.

“We’re going to get you help. Uh, who are you?” the guard said.

“Uhh, I’m…” Z stuttered. Z then kicked the guard in the face and turned back to normal.

I then ran out of the room and shanked the grounded guard in the neck. He was out cold.

The other guard decided to book it and run to get help.

Z drew his bow and shot the guard clean through his head. The arrow swiveled and wobbled as it glided to the ground in front of the guard. “Bullseye!” Z said enthusiastically.

Now realizing stealth was out of the picture, we began to run to the exit.

More guards noticed us and we soon had 6 guards on our tail. We made it to a barred exit gate which had a sizable lock.

I pulled my thieves tools from my bag and began working on the lock. Z had downed 2 guards by the time I unlocked the gate. I helped Z take out the rest, slitting their throats with my daggers. The gate swung open, the red sunrise engulfing the horizon. I took a large inhale and exhale. We were free.

Chapter Four: The Raging Hooligans

We have been traveling discreetly down the hilly rocky terrain of Raven Crown for three days now. Z had told me he knew a place where we would be safe from the knights. I had asked where but he always simply said “To my friend’s house”. Z has been hunting us food for the past few days, so there was no dent in my stomach.

Eventually, late into the afternoon a small cottage style house appeared over the horizon.

Z happily said “Were here!”.

“How could all three of us live in this place?” I responded curiously.

“You’ll see.” he said.

I nodded as he began to jog over to the building. I followed in a slower pace.

He knocked a strange pattern on the door of the cottage. Knock Knock… Knock… Knock Knock Knock.

The door opened, revealing a well-dressed man, wearing black and white clothes and holding a metal cane painted gold.

“Zendariaticlasis! My man!” the man said in his smooth laid-back voice. “Where have you been?”.

Z laughed. “Prison.”

“Oh, classic Z- and who is this?” he looked to me.

“It’s my friend Durzo. He helped me out of prison” Z said.

“Hey.” I said.

“Okay then come in!”.

I walked into the house. It was rather small. It had a bench by a fireplace, a small kitchen in the corner and a door I assumed to lead to a bedroom.

Z went straight for the door and swung it open.

It released an army of hollers and yells.

Z began casually walking down the staircase that the door led to.

Curiously, I peeked around the corner and was amazed by what I saw.

There were at least seventy-five people. All of them were poorly dressed, some covered in dirt and smudge.

The man walked behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Welcome to the Den of the Raging Hooligans, I’ll show you around.”

I followed him down the steps and into the large basement. It was chaos. There were beer bottles flying through the air, People yelling, and people tackling each other. Z was sitting at a table in the corner of the room, talking to a couple of people.

I continued to follow the man.

“Hello, I’m Jacob, the head of the Raging Hooligans Faction.” he explained. “A faction full of thieves, outlaws, assassins and even a few lawyers! Our members are split into groups or parties and sent on missions. There are C rank parties, who deal with small robberies and easy assassination. There are B ranks who deal with more difficult robberies and assassination. And finally S parties. They go on major heists and go up against difficult monsters. Your friend Z is in an S ranked party.” he said.

“Whoa, so Z is set. What’s the pay?” I asked. “Its 75% of what you steal.” he answered. “Since you came in so unexpected, I’ll put you with Z’s party. He has a couple other people in his party that you should meet.”.

“Okay!” I said excitedly. I followed Jacob through a maze-like trail of hallways until he eventually came up to a door. It said on a sign next to the handle, Rank S room 1.

“This is your room. Go in if you like”.

I walked into the rather large room. On the far left, there was a giant shelf full of grimoires. From portal magic to fire magic. Next to the bed is a neatly made bed with a red bedspread. Next around the center of the back wall, is a wall of swords, some long, some short. Next to the rack is a heavily beaten straw dummy, with gashes all over its body. Across from it is a messy white bed, covered in alcohol stains. In the far corner is a mattress on the floor. It has an oversized purple comforter strewn across it. A large target is bolted to the wall next to it, with a large hole on the bullseye.

“You’ll get used to living here. You can bring in all the belongings you need.” Jacob said. He walked away.

I exited the room, almost getting lost, making my way back to the main room.

Z waved over to me, signaling me to come over to him.

I walked towards him, almost being trampled. I made it to his booth and sat down.

Sitting across from me were two people. A short, silver-haired half elven girl wearing red robes and a wooden staff strapped to her back. Sitting next to was a tall, dark skinned human wearing a white cloth bandana on his eyes and plate mail armor. He had a sword on the side of his belt.

“Hey Durzo, these are the members of my party. I assume Jacob told you about parties, right?” Z said. “Yes, I have. Jacob also said I’m in your party!” I said.

Everyone around the table looked shocked.

“Wait, seriously?” Z asked.

“Yeah.” I responded.

“Well then! Introduce yourself, guys!” Z said excitedly.

The human male cleared his throat “I’m Alexander. I’m good with a sword.” Alexander said.

“You can do better than that!” Z said.

Alexander sighed. “I’m blind. I am good at shrugging off blows. I’m not very interesting.” Alexander said.

“That’s the best I’m getting from you I guess.” Z said disappointedly as he looked to the half elven girl. “I’m Crystal. I’m a fire mage who collects grimoires. My magic spans from fire bolt to Kamikaze.” Crystal said.

“Wow, that’s some high-level magic.” I said “I assume you lent that shapeshifting grimoire to Z”.

“Yes, but now he’s repaying a debt to me. That’s an expensive grimoire!”

Z raised his scaly clawed arm into the air.

A short, well-dressed hobbit with a large moustache quickly ran to our booth holding a notepad and quill.

“Heavy beer, red wine, and milk.” Z said “What do you want Dresden?” Z asked.

“Medium ale, I guess. Thanks.” I responded.

The hobbit scratched the order down on his notepad and walked into a backroom.

A few moments later the hobbit, now holding a tray full of an assortment of drinks walked back to our table. “Here you go.” the hobbit said with a grin as he held out the tray.

Alexander grabbed his beer, Crystal her milk, Z his wine, and me my ale.

We just hung out and talked the rest of that evening.

Chapter Five: Infiltration

Six months later. “So” Jacob said “I have a very important mission for you.”

“Okay, spit it out” Z said as he grinned.

“There’s this wizard. He wants some ancient dark totem from an Orc shaman. Of course. this would be difficult because the shaman is heavily favored by King Dremorr. I need you to go to the shaman’s temple, capture the totem, and escape with your lives. Got that?” Jacob said.

“Sounds good to me.” Z said. “You guys?”

We all nodded in agreement.

“Great, you start tomorrow night” Jacob said.

The day went by quickly, us training in our room as we usually did. The next day, we got on our horses and rode further into Raven Crown. After a couple hours of riding, we ended up at a tall cathedral like building. We tied our horses up and gathered around in an alleyway.

“Okay, so this is a heist. Any plans?” I asked.

“I have just the thing.” Crystal said as she pulled out a green grimoire. I’ve been waiting to use this. Follow me.” She pulled her hood up and began to sneak to the back of the building.

We followed her, clearly confused. We reached the back of the building.

Crystal pulled out a blue gem from her cloak and set it on the ground. She held out the grimoire and opened it to a middle page. The book let off a light green glow as the blue gem started turning black. The ground beneath the gem slightly sunk as Crystal quickly picked it up. “This is a repulsive spell.” Crystal whispered “All terrain gets pushed away from it.”

We nodded in affirmation.

Crystal walked to the stone wall and held the gem to it. The wall around the gem slowly separated the stones, as if they were melting apart. Eventually, a hole that could be crawled through was formed. “There we go.” she whispered with a light grin.

We all crawled through one by one and ended up in a long corridor.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a heavily armored man, wearing spiked black platemail and a thick helmet. He was looking to his feet, clearly not paying attention to his surroundings.

I pulled the party a small amount down the stairs as I looked up at the corridor. The guard just reached my line of sight when a tall figure dashed past me. Alexander had cleanly cleaved off the guard’s head with the side of his blade. Strangely, no blood appeared. There was only a strange grey mist emitting from the severed neck.

Not wasting time to think, Z walked over quietly and rolled the body out the gap we came from. Z returned and Crystal gave a signal to head down the stairs.

The further we went it became darker and darker. Eventually, the void was broken by light flickering torchlight. The steps ended and led to a short hall full of lit torches. At the end of the hall was an arch that entered into a large open room. In the center of the room stood a short pillar with an item atop it. It was a black totem, showing an average human figure but with red eyes. We all figured that was the totem we were looking for.

Alexander slowly walked in the lead, clearly nervous. He made it halfway to the totem until a hiss occurred. Alexander looked in the direction of the noise as a giant spider like creature jumped off a wall and tackled Alexander to the floor. The spider’s massive fangs dripped with green venom as it prepared to sink its teeth into Alexander’s neck.

Quickly, Crystal pulled out her usual red grimoire, turned to a page, then pointed at the spider. “Fire Blast!” she yelled as a small spark appeared from her fingertip, then engulfed into a huge laser – like flame that hit the spider directly in the side. The monster was hit a few meters away from Alexander, staggered.

Alexander made it to his feet and prepared his weapon. It was time for a fight.

Z readied his bow as he shot the spider in one of its many eyes.

The monster was clearly hurt, but shrugged it off.

Crystal began shooting fire bolt after fire bolt, barely hurting this monstrosity but still having an effect.

I ran in, heading for the legs of the monster. I quickly pulled out me dagger as a dropped to a slide, cutting across its lower leg. The beast gave a sharp gurgle as it focused its attention on me. It tuned one eighty degrees to look at me. Seeing me on the ground, the beast charged its fangs down to my head. I swiftly rolled out of the way of the blow and back rolled onto my feet.

Alexander ran in and gashed the spider in the abdomen.

The spider hissed as it rose from the ground. It had shot a web and connected it to the ceiling of the large room. The spider began spitting venom at everyone, missing almost all its shots. One hit Alexander in the shoulder, and one his Z in the calf.

Z took the form of a vulture and flew up to the web of the spider. With his sharp talons, he cut the web. The spider fell onto its face. It got up to its feet, now surrounded by everyone in the party. The spider swept its leg, knocking me off my feet, then bit Alexander in the side. The spider was repulsed and stepped back as he hurt itself greatly in the process. It had bitten down on Alexander’s thick plate mail, which greatly hurt it.

Crystal ended her constant barrage of flame when she put away the red book. From her hand bag, she pulled a small brown book. She opened it to the last page and held out the book. “Rock Spike!” she yelled. The ground shook as a huge sharp spike of stone emerged from the floor under the spider. It pierced directly through the creature, immobilizing it.

I then got to my feet and climbed on top of the helpless monster. I struck down on its neck with my dagger, and it was down.

Z ran to the center of the room and snatched the totem. “We did it!” Z said celebratorily.

“Yeah, I think we did.” I said with a wheeze as I slid off the creature.

“Let’s get out of here.” Alexander spoke.

“Agreed” Crystal exclaimed.

We all began to walk back up the stairs into the main hall we came from. When we made it there, a large crowd of guards had piled up. Alexander barely parried an attack from a sword as we began to book it. We all ran cluelessly through the corridor. We made it to a large wide door at the end of the corridor, with a small sliver of light coming from the crack.

Z ran up and kicked down the door. We were on the run. We quickly headed to the alley and mounted our horses. We began riding back to our base with a small parade of guards on their own horses on our tail.

Crystal and Z began fending them off.

So this is my life now. Infiltrate, kill, steal, run away? Same as my old one, but somehow better. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Anything could happen. But I know one thing, I like it like this!