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Fantasy Fiction: Tales of Tobias - The Compromise
The Molark's Cave
The cave-mouth yawned wide before them like the maw of a huge beast waiting to be snapped shut upon its prey. The darkness within the recess was impenetrable and only the edges of the cave were visible, even with the torchlight flickering from a dozen torches nearby. Underfoot, stones skittered and indiscernible objects broke and snapped like bones but the men before the cave were calm and unhurried in their movements. Whatever it was within the darkness, at the foot of the mountain, held no fear for them.
“Who will enter this time, Tobias?”
Tobias followed the sound of the voice and saw Elistra standing there, hand on the pommel of her sword, youthful yet battle-scarred face bearing an expression that revealed her wish. Relent she would not, Tobias realized, even with her obvious disadvantage. He sighed and looked into her one remaining eye, its golden depths reflecting the dancing flames of the torches protruding from the ground to form a flaming barrier before the cave. The other eye reflected nothing. A milky white orb the centerpiece of a jagged scar that ran from her brow to her nose, partnered the intensely yellow eye now glaring at him, daring Tobias to refuse her again.
The men around them pretended not to notice the exchange and busied themselves setting up the deadly traps that would snare the beast should it venture outside, but Tobias knew they were watching and listening. He didn’t blame them. Elistra’s anger was legendary.
He chose his words carefully – this time. “Elistra, with one eye you’ll be open to attack at your blind spot, you know this don’t you?”
Elistra ignored the question and offered one of her own, the gentleness earlier evident in her voice now replaced with annoyance. “You would have me babysit these men – again?”
Gargan flinched visibly at the question, his boulder-like body halting in place as the words left her mouth and Tobias knew he was struggling to quell the urge to retort. The magicless ones were a proud race and Elistra’s words were severely testing Gargan’s limits.
Tobias didn’t react. Now was not the time for dispute. “Then you’ll accompany me, it’s that or nothing,” he said moving towards the cave entrance, his hands suddenly glowing with a cold blue light that bathed the ground around him, lending it the appearance of a frozen lake.
Elistra appeared at his side, her dagger clutched in one hand and sword in the other.
“You know I can do this, Tobias,” she said. “Why do you doubt me so?”
Tobias turned to look at her before answering, “I care about you, Elistra …,” he said, fumbling for the right words. “I won’t take chances with your life – you’re too valuable to me.”
Elistra turned to meet his eyes, the scowl melting away to be replaced with a smile that softened the fearsome effect of the scar covering her eye.
“As are you to me, Tobias,” she said, before turning towards the depths of the beckoning cave, the eerie sound of water dripping into a pool somewhere the only sound. “I want you to let me fight this one, to do the killing – you’ve done enough for now.”
Tobias knew he couldn’t convince her otherwise. He could see it in the set of her body, the way she stood proudly in her figure-hugging leather armor, her golden hued hair appearing white in the ghostly blue light of Tobias’ hands.
He motioned for her to lead the way then.
“Just remember, no acrobatics, no taunting and definitely no show-boating. This isn’t a mere human or troll we face here tonight, Elistra, it’s a Molark and ….”
“I know, I know, it’ll tear off my limbs and use them to pick its teeth,” Elistra said rolling her eye. “I’ll treat it with the respect it deserves, okay?”
Tobias nodded, satisfied but still wary. He’d be keeping a close eye on her.
“After you,” Tobias said, motioning to the cave entrance with a hand, the blue energy encapsulating it shimmering with the gesture.
Elistra wasted no time and set forth into the darkness confidently as if the outcome was already preordained.
Tobias glanced over his shoulder directly at Gargan who stood just outside the circle of flaming torches watching.
“We’ll be ready,” he said, his gravelly voice containing none of the apprehension Tobias felt.
Tobias nodded, and turned quickly, intent on staying as close to Elistra as possible. Since she refused to use her magical powers, the dagger and sword she carried would be her only weapons – along with her fearsome temper, as always.
The cave mouth was wide and easily accommodated the two of them but as they moved deeper into the barren, rocky interior, bones, armor, weapons and other remains littering the ground, he saw that the tunnel ahead was only big enough for one.
“Careful, Elistra,” Tobias whispered.
She answered with a curt grunt.
Elistra moved fast, the rock around them infused with the ghostly blue light of Tobias’ hands. He knew he could easily defeat a young Molark with his powers but this was no baby. It was an adult – and a female at that.
Another chamber ahead and their quarry awaited their arrival, it seemed, poised upon a stone ledge before them as a queen on her throne.
Tobias moved along the wall to the left whilst Elistra moved directly at the creature. Molarks were like the bears of the forests below the mountains, all claws and fangs and bristling fur except they were lither and twice the size. When they moved, you had to be fast otherwise it would be your head. Their bulbous black eyes like two pools of night would be the last thing you saw. The Molark moved, Elistra moved. Darting to the right, the creature dived at Elistra, claws reaching out almost a blur in the eerie blue light, but Elistra was ready and as the claws were about to pierce her body, the dagger and sword in her hands came together swiftly like pincers.
With a wet thud, the Molark fell to the rocky ground, its head rolling and bouncing against Elistra’s boot. Sheathing her weapons, Elistra turned and saw the look of relief written upon Tobias’ face. She grinned and raised an eyebrow at him.
“See, not so difficult now, was it?”
Tobias didn’t answer, nor did he hear the words. His attention was fully focused on the monstrous creature slithering into the cave from a dark recess a few feet behind Elistra.
Tobias leapt passed Elistra, formed a giant fireball in one hand and a raging sphere of wind in the other.
As the bloated dire spider scuttled towards him, its jaws clacking a death knell, Tobias smiled.
He couldn’t let Elistra have all the fun!