Nothing good comes from waking up on the floor of a dungeon covered in frog slime. As I discovered though there is something even worse, and that’s waking up on the floor of a dungeon covered in frog slime and surrounded by your cat, your best friend, and the pieces of a magic broom who are also covered in frog slime. The presence of the Miser King and his guards more or less escaped my attention for a moment as I took in the fact that we’d all been captured.
“This is a fine beginning,” the Miser King said as he looked us all over. “Though a bit premature. We won’t be able to harvest the final offerings for a week still.”
His voice still had the deep rumble of stones grinding together but it didn’t make sense to be coming out of his body. I’d expected him to be a huge, barrel chested guy, maybe seven feet tall or so. Instead, the man that stood before us was rail thin and hobbled over. His skin was shrunken in, making his face something of a living skull and his arms were little more than boney twigs jutting from his shoulders. Despite his appearance though I felt like being near him left me submerged under a great ocean. I could barely breathe and the idea of moving closer to him was unthinkable.
“We’ll keep them in the Larder till then,” one of the guards said. I looked up and bit back a scream. The guard was even less human than the King was. All black fur on his face and glossy skin along his bat-winged arms. The long, ripple-fanged spear the guard carried only caught my attention when I tried to look away from his beady, red eyes. It was a good thing I couldn’t run, because it was an extremely appealing idea but I knew I’d never make it.
“That’s a possibility,” the Miser King said, bending down to get a better look at me.
I tried to glare back at him, but I don’t think I managed to do much more than pout weakly. He was seriously scary and too real for me to laugh off like I’d been tempted to laugh off the giant frog or whatever it was that captured me.
“What’s your name child?” he said.
“I’m not going to tell you!” I spit out before my inability to lie made me spill information I didn’t want to.
“Hmm, you’re very new to this aren’t you?” he asked. “Perhaps with a little training though?”
“Let us go!” I said. I knew he wouldn’t, but I had to say something or I’d answer his questions and I definitely didn’t want to start doing that.
“I smell apples on you?” the Miser King asked. He shook his head at the scent like I’d skipped showering after gym class. For a week.
“That’s toad puke!” I said. I don’t know if coming up with fast responses was just taking my mind off it, but the more I snapped back at him, the less weighty his presence felt on me.
“No, it’s definitely Apples.” He ground his teeth and tiny sparks danced between them. “That’s unfortunate.”
“Should we dispose of them my lord?” the bat faced guard asked.
The Miser King didn’t answer him right away. Instead he narrowed his eyes and glared at me. His glare was a proper, intimidating glare too, not like the wimpy one I managed. I was able to meet it for about two seconds before I had to look away and hope that he wasn’t going to have us all killed. Alternating currents of cold terror and hot shame ran up and down my spine as I waited to find out the answer.
I wanted to do something, to fight back somehow. I wanted to crawl into a little corner and escape. I couldn’t do either one though, so I just tried to keep from passing out. I owed it to my friends to do at least that much.
“No, bring them to the Larder as you planned,” the Miser King said. “Leave three patrols here too.”
“To secure the prisoners?” the bat-faced guard asked.
“No. Only one patrol for the prisoners. The other two are to watch for the people who will come for them,” the Miser King said. “There’s not much power in these little ones but they may prove useful as bait for a trap.”
“Understood lord,” the guard said.
I released a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.
“The rest of you are still with me,” the Miser King said. “We need to be at the Lava Altar before midnight for the first sacrifice and this little digression has cost us valuable time.”
Without argument or question the other guards followed the Miser King out of the dark and musty stone room that we were in. The bat-faced guard stayed behind and brought down a set of iron manacles from the wall.
As he approached me, the others began to stir from their toad-slime induced slumber as well.
“Give me your wrists,” the guard said.
“Why?” I asked. I was stalling for time, though I had no idea what I was going to do with it.
“Because you’re going to the Larder and you’ll like traveling like this better than the alternative,” the guard said.
“What’s the alternative?” I asked.
“I bite you,” he said and flashed a mouth full of sharp teeth with two very long fangs in his upper jaw. I put my wrists forward without further protest.
“What’s the Larder?” I asked. “Isn’t that a place for food?”
“That’s what you are,” the guard said. “Food for the Lord of the Bleak Harvest. I wouldn’t let it worry you though.”
“How can I not be worried about being food?” I asked.
“It’s a better deal than I got,” the guard said. “As long as you’re food, the King can’t hurt you or put the whammy on you. If he did it wouldn’t be showing the proper respect to the Lord of the Bleak Harvest.”
“So I’m safe then?” I asked.
“Well, no, but nothing bad’s going to happen to you while you’re in the Larder.”
“And when we get out of there?” I asked.
“You’ll probably want to enjoy the time from now till then,” the guard said.