Chapter 118: Good vibrations
Hidden around the corner, Loudmouth and Friend Jacob watch Strongleap and the female Hoplite leap to attention. Next, the Grand Chief comes down the spiralling staircase with some difficulty due to his massive size.
The Grand Chief had to be eating like a god. The thought alone makes Loudmouth’s mouth water.
At the bottom of the stairs, the Grand Chief puffs up his chest and stretches himself out to his full height, striking an imposing figure in his royal purple leathers. His look is finished by a cape of white fur of unknown origin, a purple crystal embedded between his brows, and a slightly too small, bejewelled crown held in place by rolls of subdermal forehead fat.
Simply put, he looks like the pinnacle of refinement, and everything Loudmouth could ever hope to be.
“Lead the way,” the Grand Chief croaks coldly at a person out of Loudmouth’s sight,
“Ack! Yes, Chief!” the person responds. It takes a moment for Loudmouth to register the subservient voice as that of the captain of the guard.
They hop away, the dull thumps fading quickly in the distance.
<Shit,> Friend Jacob sends as they pull back from the corner. <He left his guards. I knew it wasn’t going to be this easy.>
Loudmouth pats him on the shoulder. “There there,” he whispers. “No worry. Friend Jacob will think of something.”
Friend Jacob’s lips curl up on one side again. <Thanks for the vote of confidence, Loudmouth, but I don’t think there’s much to think about.> Friend Jacob quietly draws his sword and shield, before rolling his shoulders a few times. <There’s no more time for elaborate schemes, so I’m going to need you to distract one of them, keep him from crying out in alarm, while I dispatch the other. Can you do that?>
Loudmouth freezes. “Friend Jacob wants to k-kill Strongleap and... other guard? Why Friend Jacob not just, give them wine again, or something?”
Loudmouth was by no means Strongleaps biggest fan, but he was still a Hoig.
Friend Jacob’s eyes widen, and he stops his warmup. <Shit, you know one of them? Look, I’m sorry Loudmouth, but I didn’t bring any more wine. Even if I had, we wouldn’t have had time to wait for them to drink it. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it now.>
“But, kill?” Loudmouth asks, beginning to panic. “Can’t Friend Jacob, just, knock them out?”
Friend Jacob lowers his arms and turns to face Loudmouth fully. <I don’t think... I mean, sure, it’s possible—they’re Hoplites; they’re not even wearing helmets—but I’m not exactly carrying the right equipment to... No, I won’t make excuses. Look, going into a fight without the intention to kill, that’s not something you should try unless you’re way stronger or more competent than your opponent. To be honest, I’m confident I could do if it were just one, but then the other one would sound the alarm unless you could take them down at the same time. Do you see yourself doing that?>
Friend Jacob’s words tumbled through Loudmouth’s head in a confused mess. They all sounded very convincing, but in the end... “Loudmouth came here to prevent deaths, not cause them!”
Friend Jacob stared at him for a long moment, then let out a quiet sigh. <Shit. They’re your people—you even know one of them. Of course you don’t want to kill them. I respect that. Fine, no killing. We’ll have to think out of the box, and be quick about it. Maybe we can make use of the chaos somehow—>
Friend Jacob stops and perks up at the sound of distant whooping, followed by a series of clangs and loud laughter.
<Okay, I have an idea, and since time is running out as we speak, I’m not second-guessing it. Here’s what we do...>
Loudmouth excitedly hops after Flatface and Bulging-Eyes, back to the spiralling staircase. It was not exactly hard to convince them that those were the best stairs to slide down, since they are in fact the tallest set of stairs in the castle.
They burst into the room, full of laughter, Flatface almost tripping over his feet, which just sets Bulging-Eyes off again.
Strongleap reflexively levels his two-pronged spear, but relaxes when he sees who came in. “So racket came from Flatface and Bulging-Eyes? Why all the noise?”
“We slide down stairs on shields,” Flatface croaks proudly. “We go down this one next!”
“Absolutely not,” the female Hoplite croaks. “Nobody going up there.”
“Nooooo,” Bulging-Eyes croaks hopping up towards her and pokes her in the chest with a knobbly finger. “Don’t be boooooring! Is fun, join us!”
Loudmouth frowns. He can tell the female Hoplite was Yang, and he doesn’t like how close they are now standing. He doesn’t want them joining, he wants to go sliding down the stairs with Bulging-Eyes. Preferably just the two of—
<Okay, they’re plenty distracted. I’m going to take out the female Hoplite, you get the male.>
Loudmouth’s eyes widen. Right! That’s what they are doing.
Loudmouth and Friend Jacob move surreptitiously around the Hoplites as they argue with the increasingly belligerent, drunk guards. Behind Strongleap, Loudmouth removes Bulging-Eye’s club that he’d picked up earlier from his gullet, and waits.
Loudmouth is mostly sure that’s the signal, so he winds up and clobbers Strongleap on the back of the head.
Strongleap staggers forward a step, and turns around dazed. “Wha—”
Cheering, Flatface hefts his shield with two hands and brings it down on Strongleap’s stupid head.
This time it sticks, and Strongleap goes down.
When Loudmouth turns to look, he finds that Friend Jacob has accomplished the same on the female Hoplite, with the pommel of his sword.
It’s quiet for a moment as Bulging-Eyes gapes at them. Then she cheers loudly and starts hopping up and down. “Wow, Tinyhead so strong,” she croaks, eyeing Friend Jacob appreciatively, before ducking in for a kiss.
Friend Jacob barely dodges her gorgeous wide lips with his tiny little mouth, and they land wetly on his cheek.
Flatface is already starting up the stairs. “Let’s go let’s go let’s go!”
Bulging-Eyes shoots Friend Jacob another smouldering look before hopping after him.
“Hey!” Loudmouth croaks unhappily as she passes him. “Loudmouth strong too! Where is Loudmouth’s kiss?”
To his utter surprise, Bulging-Eyes stops next to him, gives him a once over, shrugs, and plants one on him.
The next thing he knows, he’s sitting on his ass on the floor, and Bulging-Eye giggles as she hops off.
Loudmouth blinks and glances up.
<Come on, we’ve gotta move! We need to grab that crystal and get out of here before the Grand Chief gets back!>
The spike of fear at the mention of the Grand Chief is enough to shake Loudmouth out of his lip-induced stupor, and he quickly hops up and after Friend Jacob.
The spiralling staircase leads up and round, up and round, till Loudmouth gets dizzy. Friend Jacob pulls Loudmouth aside just in time, when Flatface comes barrelling down the stair headfirst, swiftly followed by a squealing Bulging-Eyes.
“Hurry up, slowpokes,” she croaks in passing.
“Yeah, we right behind you!” Loudmouth answers.
At the top of the stairs, however, Friend Jacob makes no move to unstrap his shield from his back, instead barging right through the large double doors leading into the Grand Chief’s private room.
Loudmouth cautiously follows him inside, feeling like he’s doing something very naughty.
All thoughts of wrong and right disappear, however, as his eyes bug out at the luxuries in front of him.
The Grand Chief’s bed is a massive pile of some kind of shredded fibre, and he actually has a private pond up here! Loudmouth licks his lips at the delicacies on display, all kinds of fruits, fish, and meats. There’s even a stack of purple dirak eggs on display, a stack!
Friend Jacob let’s out a low whistle. <Living large. All right, let’s keep moving. This must lead up to the crystals.>
He yanks open a door, revealing another set of stairs. However, a small wire attached to the top of the door is pulled along as he does, and a bell chimes somewhere in the tower.
Friend Jacob freezes in his tracks. <Shit! Shit shit shit, stupid Chiefs and their stupid boobytraps! Screw it, no turning back now, we’re getting that crystal.>
He starts running up the stairs, alternating his legs in that funny way monkeys do. Loudmouth whips out his tongue and snags a single piece of meat before bounding after him.
The room above the Grand Chief’s private chambers is, if possible, even more opulent. The walls and ceiling are set with crystals in all colours and sizes.
Well, six colours and two sizes, but still, it looks amazing.
Not all of the crystals are embedded in stone, thankfully. The rest are sorted by colour, piled up in large wooden chests. Friend Jacob is rummaging through one that contains a ton of sickly-green crystals.
“Come on come on come on...” he mutters out loud. “Ugh, these are all Minor Crystals, where are the Major ones?”
Loudmouth blinks and glances around. A large armoire catches his eye. “Friend Jacob!” he croaks, pointing at it.
Friend Jacob glances at it, and immediately runs over. He pauses for a moment with his hand on the handle, and glances around for something. “Screw it,” Loudmouth hears him mutter, before he yanks it open.
Inside is a collection of large crystals.
“Yes!” Friend Jacob cries out, grabbing a sickly green one. “All right, let’s grab as many as we—ehm, didn’t you bring a bag, Loudmouth?”
Loudmouth freezes from piling crystals into his right cheek, to pull the bag out of his left cheek. “Loudmouth just wanted to taste them?”
Shaking his head, Friend Jacob gingerly takes the slimy bag and holds it open for Loudmouth. “Sure you did. We can’t have you accidentally swallowing one, so spit ’em out.”
Loudmouth obediently bends over and deposits the contents of his gullet into the bag. Like this, he’s unable to control what comes out very well; even his club appears! He can only hope Friend Jacob doesn’t spot the fish-heads he’d been holding onto for a snack.
“Well well well,” a deep, familiar voice croaks from behind Loudmouth. “What do we have here?”
Loudmouth swallows heavily—thankfully with no more dangerous stuff in his mouth—and turns around.
Don’t be Grand Chief, don’t be Grand—ah, is Grand Chief.
Friend Jacob swears, drops the bag, and with a flash of yellow, flies straight for the Grand Chief, sword first.
The Grand Chief steps aside, lifts up one leg, and Friend Jacob goes tumbling over. He glances at Loudmouth, before croaking dismissively. “Kill that one.”
Two unfamiliar Hoplites jump forward, brandishing their spears.
With trembling fingers, Loudmouth grabs his club from the bag, then backs up slowly towards the armoire as the two Hoplites advance on him.
Behind them, lightning crackles between the Grand Chief’s fingers, before it’s whipped out.
Friend Jacob convulses and cries out when the lines of white hit him. Most likely from pain, Loudmouth reckons.
He has a sneaking suspicion he’s next.
One of the Hoplite’s jabs his spear forward, and with a shriek, Loudmouth attempts to bat it out of the way.
He succeeds in deflecting the blow, and for a moment, courage surges up within him.
Then the other Hoplite rams his spear into Loudmouth’s chest with such force that it snaps off.
“Ah,” the Hoplite croaks unhappily, “just my luck.”
Loudmouth stares at him incredulously as blood bubbles up in his windpipe. He coughs, and some of the green goop is launched into the bastard’s face.
“Eww!” the Hoplite croaks, stumbling off blindly only to trip and roll down the staircase, much to the other Hoplite’s amusement.
Loudmouth falls onto his butt. He wipes the blood off his lip with shaking fingers and studies it in disbelief.
The Hoplite whose jab Loudmouth had parried gives him a once over before dismissing him and turning back to the entertainment.
Loudmouth looks down at the broken shaft sticking out of his chest and can’t disagree.
He knows, with sudden clarity, that he’s dying.
So, this is all it takes to kill the mighty Loudmouth? Pathetic.
So much for being a hero. So much for protecting his Friends, for once. He was never even going to see most of them again.
Friend Emma, who with a simple pat on the head, makes him feel like he can run through a brick wall. Friend Kaitlynn, whose smile would melt any heart. Friend Dave, who explained things so patiently, and makes Loudmouth feel included. Friend Alec who makes the funniest faces and the most beautiful art. And finally, Friend Jacob, who had seemed cold and wary at first, but had proven himself the truest Friend of all, coming with Loudmouth on his dangerous mission with no regards for his own safety.
A scream draws Loudmouth’s attention, and he winces as Friend Jacob crumples onto the floor. More lightning crashes down, making him writhe in agony.
Grand Chief chuckles. “Quite resistant to Electric Energy, this Hoig-like monkey. Why is that, I wonder? Can’t be Tolerance, the monkey’s clearly Yang. Oh well, guess that just means it dies a little more slowly. Body will hang from gate soon enough, serve as warning to other worthless, honourless little thieves.”
Loudmouth trembles as fury bubbles up inside him. Honourless? Friend Jacob, honourless? Worse, Grand Chief killing him, right in front of Loudmouth?
And what is Loudmouth doing? Lying here bleeding to death like the loser he’d always been? Pathetic. Pathetic!
A surge of emotion washes over Loudmouth. He stumbles to his feet, grasps the broken spear in his chest, and pulls it out with a sharp tug. The pain flares up, but he thinks of Friend Emma—the most stubborn, toughest being Loudmouth had ever met—and bites down on it, not letting out a peep.
The lazy Hoplite in front of him doesn’t notice until the broken spear sinks into his back, and goes down with a quiet gasp of pain.
That’s more like it.
Loudmouth takes a step forward when a wave of dizziness washes over him. He looks down to see the green goop flowing even faster out of the hole in his chest.
His stomach sinks. If only he were strong, like his Friends. If only he was like that magnificent, five-headed lizard thing Friend Alec had painted, that could breathe Astreum and Toxic Energy and just shrug off wounds by ordering his Lavi to march.
Loudmouth blinks as he feels the Lavi running through his body react briefly at the thought.
Another brief tingle. Something is definitely going on here. Loudmouth thinks back to the many hours he watches Friend Alec paint and wash and repaint. The feeling his work sought to convey shines clearly throughout Loudmouth’s memories, but how can he actually make his body do what he wants it to do? How can he get it to listen to his words?
‘Give it Meaning,’ he hears Friend Dave say in his memories.
His Lavi swirls, but then settles back down, and Loudmouth takes a stumbling step as dizziness washes over him. Ah, this really hard, and Loudmouth so sleepy... maybe Loudmouth first take little nap, then try again—
Friend Jacob screams as another bolt of lightning runs through his body. Loudmouth snaps back to the present.
No... no nap, Loudmouth going to be Hero! So Lavi, MARCH!
All of a sudden, the Lavi in his body explodes into action. The wound in his chest itches as it begins to close up and his head clears like a pantry visited by Chief Deathglare.
Now, that was more like it!
Clenching his fists, Loudmouth looks up at his Friend being tortured by the hulking figure of the enormous Grand Chief, and his courage shrivels up again.
If Friend Jacob can’t take him, Loudmouth really doesn’t stand a chance, so perhaps Loudmouth should grab crystal and make a run for it, help Friend Dave instead...
No, damnit. Loudmouth was thinking like a loser again. Friend Kaitlynn would never back down for fear of her own life, she always put others above herself.
Grand Chief hums after letting loose another salvo of bolts. “Monkey seems to be reaching limit. Time to finish this off with. Monkey should be honoured, few ever receive full power blast.” Having said that, the Grand Chief lifts his hands up above his head and begins to form a ball of lightning. Friend Jacob groans weakly.
Loudmouth glances around for inspiration. If Grand Chief was too powerful, Loudmouth would just have to be smart, like Friend Jacob.
His eyes fall on the armoire behind him and a large red crystal therein.
Ah! Vibration and Electric Energy no mix, they suppress, so maybe this’ll help!
Pleased with his own brilliance, Loudmouth grabs the vibrating crystal and chucks it at the ball of lightning growing over the Grand Chief’s head without another thought.
Truth be told, the result isn’t quite what he expected.
Oh Loudmouth, you beautiful green bastard. How you've grown.
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