THE VIRGIN SACRIFICE
Copyright © 2013
The Troll King was overly fond of treasure, and the throne he sat upon was a collection of his most prized precious gems and golden objects. The sparkly bits caught every bit of the light even in his cave home, but the effect was probably not as grand or pompous as he intended to make it. Through Jewel’s eyes, the throne appeared to be more like a pile of sparkly trash and didn’t look very comfortable to sit upon at all.
Jewel had an appreciation for pretty and expensive things as well as the next girl, but she would have chosen something a little more comfortable to sit upon if their positions were reversed. Of course, she really wouldn’t like to be here at all.
She hated being underground. It limited her options for escape and made her feel trapped.
The Troll King’s scaly minions dragged her here to face him, bound and gagged.
It was the only way they could get her to come without losing a body part or two to see him. When the trolls were within ten feet of his chair, they dropped her like a sack of potatoes and she fell awkwardly, scrambling to push up to her knees. She glared at him, imagining what it would be like to attack his person and do him bodily harm. The Troll King surrounded himself with an army of trolls and creatures with twisted forms and dirty bodies. But he was the most disgusting of all with his two-inch fanged teeth that poked out from his mouth. He had a shaggy beard that covered his neck, and the clothes he wore couldn’t have been washed in this century. The musty stench had an unmistakable edge to it that couldn’t possibly be natural. Part of it was being in the dark cave, lit only by torches, and it was always musty and damp in places like this.
But the bigger part of the bad smells in the small chamber came directly from him. She knew his kind had a natural aversion to soap and water. Trolls were dirty, filthy creatures that she’d always avoided given the opportunity.
“Well, well, well.” He grinned at her, sharing a yellowed, toothy, jagged smile. “What have we here? Is it dinner?”
A shiver travelled up her spine, and her eyes widened in fear. He better damn well be kidding.
“Nay, my liege. It is Jewel, the common thief you requested.” The shorter troll snorted through his piglike snout. His portly body ambled forward, and his head dipped down, honoring his leader.
“Interesting, I didn’t expect such a weak and skinny human.” The Troll King tapped his chin thoughtfully, and his lips twisted up in a thin, cruel smile, framed by two saber teeth on either side. The crown of thorns and weeds on his head seemed to catch the dim light and glowed as he tilted his head. “Release her gag so I can speak to her.”
“As you wish.” The taller of her two captors released her gag but didn’t touch her ropes that bound her wrists and ankles. After the fight she put up in town, he knew better. She would be happy to take another try at castrating him with his own knife for the way he treated her.
“Are you the Jewel of the Jaguar? The assassin and thief who stole the Fairy Queen’s book of spells?” One shaggy brow lifted high in morbid curiosity. His dark eyes sparkled in repressed glee.
Was that what this was all about? Curse her rotten luck for getting involved with anything to do in the magical realm. She ground her teeth with the memories. Ever since she pulled that spellbook heist off, she was getting all kinds of notoriety, and it didn’t matter that she had since returned the book. After that job, she gained a reputation that people expected her to live up to, and she seemed to gain some unwanted attention from some very unsavory characters.
She spat out the bad taste in her mouth and cleared her throat with a loud cough. Her mouth had become dry, and her tongue was thick from hours with the gag in her mouth. She said with venom in her voice, “Are you the Troll King Luther, whose stench precedes you?”
She really didn’t want anything to do with whatever his high and mighty self had dragged her butt down in this hole to do and wanted him to know exactly how she felt.
“Show our King some respect!” The troll on her left with the scar running across his eye kicked her in the side of her ribs. She doubled over in gut-wrenching pain. He chuckled cruelly when he saw her forced bow. “That’s better, thief.”
The troll to her right answered his question for her. “She’s the thief you wanted all right. I saw a fairy’s light in her room, protecting her while she slept. No human would have that without some trickery on their part, and the entire town talked of her legendary deeds.”
“Feisty. I like it. Maybe I won’t eat you for dinner.” The Troll King’s mouth gaped open in a threatening smile, and his intense gaze pierced her like a knife.
She frowned at the disgusting idea of having her flesh ripped off her bones by his sharp, sharklike teeth, and kept very quiet. Whatever his plans were, she knew instinctively she wouldn’t like it.
“As you may have heard, the dragons in this land have been hunting my people, killing my countrymen, and destroying many of the homes we have taken generations to build. It’s why we have to hide in these holes, and even now, they hunt us down like dogs.”
“Mmm, yes. Dragons are bloodthirsty creatures,” she agreed as if she faced down dragons everyday while keeping her gaze on the king, but worked at the knot at her ankles with her fingers. He was crazy if she thought she’d be going anywhere near a dragon. So this conversation was pointless as far as she was concerned.
“They killed my brother,” he said with venom in his voice.
“So you want revenge? I think you found the wrong woman. You were probably looking for a mercenary or a hired sword, not a thief like me. I don’t deal in the revenge field. I find it too bloody a sport. Someone almost always dies.” She wasn’t about to get involved in some war between trolls and dragons.
“Don’t toy with me. I know your skills, dear.” His façade was not very pretty, and while most of it repulsed her from the rough skin, to the wart on his chin, she had to admit his eyes were the most gorgeous color of green, sparkling like an emerald in the dim light.
“I’m a thief, not a warrior,” she spat.
Damn. Why didn’t she retire years ago? At her age, she should be living in the country married and with children. Instead she was here somewhere hundreds of feet below the surface in the Troll King’s court.
She needed a career change.
“So you only kill by necessity?” One shaggy brow shot up as if he discounted her last statement entirely.
“As a rule, I don’t like killing. But between you and me, I wouldn’t blink if the opportunity presented itself today.” She shrugged, sincerely hoping he couldn’t see her false bravery. She could handle her bow like a professional and shoot a dove at sixty paces right through the eye, but she still regretted the day she let those hunting skills transfer to a human. Murder for hire was a bad business to be in. She hated the blood and the guilt that weighed on her heart, and it was never worth a pile of gold that never melted away an ounce of her guilt. She preferred the life of a thief to that of an assassin.
“I am sure the opportunity will present itself once again.” His cocky assurance pissed her off. He not only wanted her to kill, but he wanted her to kill for him.
She didn’t like being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night any more than she liked him thinking she would agree to do anything for him just because he asked.
“I haven’t agreed to work for you yet. What’s the job?” Two more seconds and she would have her knots free on her wrists, too. Then it would be so long Troll King and hello sunlight. She was much faster than their short, ambling bodies, and she could easily outrun anyone who dared to pursue her.
“Stealing back my treasure and killing the two red dragons that guard it.” His eyes twinkled in mischief and delight. His long scraggly fingers grew white knuckles as he clutched the arm of his chair. He had experienced much grief by the dragons in this valley, and he looked as if he enjoyed the thought of their death a little too much. His mouth twisted up in a cruel smile.
She let a pause go by as if she was seriously considering his offer.
“So let me get this straight. You want me to slay two red fire dragons and steal a mountain of treasure they have hidden in their home?” She was no idiot. She knew the dragon colors meant something, and the red dragons were fire elemental dragons with magic that could kill her with one sweep of their claw. Red dragons were extremely temperamental and hot blooded. They also had a thing for collecting pretty shiny things, and their treasure chamber was likely to rival a miniature mountain range from centuries of collecting and hoarding. She doubted it was all the Troll King’s gold, and he was probably asking for more than his fair share of the treasure.
“Exactly,” the Troll King confirmed.
The silence was deafening. Everyone waited for her answer on the subject.
“Hmm. Sounds like a good way to die. What are you offering me to do this job?” she asked skeptically, not that she was actually considering such a ludicrous offer. She just needed to kill time to make her break for freedom. She had been working the knots on the ropes for some time now. She was nearly done.
“Your life…” He arched one eyebrow high for her. He was amused she would ask for anything in return as if everyone lived to serve him.
“Not good enough. You should call a professional dragon slayer. They could do this job for you with no problem, but I am not a dragon hunter or a killer.” She stood up, and the ropes dropped to the floor in a pile. Everyone on the small room seemed surprised, and she was able to take advantage of that lack of action. She sidestepped and stole the short blade from the soldier’s belt that was closest to her and warily walked away. “Thank you for the pleasure of meeting, your highness, but if you don’t mind, I will be leaving now.”
“Then I will just have to kill your brother.” His shaggy brows dropped to cover his glittering eyes. Anger lit up his features, and his cruel smile gave her no doubt he would do such a horrible thing.
“You’re bluffing.” She felt fear travel the length of her spine, sending chills across her body. He had one hell of a poker face if he was bluffing.
King Luther tilted his head back and snapped his fingers. The tall troll closest to Jewel hobbled over to him with hunched shoulders and pulled out a stick from his long cloak. The soldier presented his king with a walking cane. Jewel recognized it immediately and gasped. It was the one her father had carved for Timmy when he had come down with polio. He had customized it so her brother could use it as a crutch when he was young and a cane as he got older. The smooth lines of the tree were carved into a snake that seemed to crawl up the stick, and at the top was a dragon’s claw clutching a precious stone. She had brought him the piece of jade to use, and he had incorporated it as the crowning jewel.
The only way they could have gotten it was to take it from him by force, which meant they likely had Timmy as a prisoner somewhere as well. She had only been concerned with herself and had not thought about the possibility of the trolls taking any of her family as well in the tussle last night. She weighed her options, but she really didn’t have all that many. She was on their turf—which meant she played by their rules or not at all.
“Relax, my dear. Timmy’s safe as long as you agree to cooperate with us.” He grinned wide. Luther seemed to know he had all the trump cards in this game.
What choice did she have? Cooperation would mean her death. Not cooperating would mean Timmy’s death. They may as well be sticking her heart with a knife. It would have about the same results, as trapped as she was feeling now.
“If you touch so much as a hair on his chest, I swear by every madman that walks the halls of Oniseai prison, I will kill you.” Oniseai prison was built to keep all magical beings within the walls. If criminals managed to escape, they got caught up in a maze of ever-changing rooms and halls. Eventually they went mad.
Jewel pointed the dagger directly at Luther the Troll King, prepared to shove it deep into his heart. She knew the act would be suicide on her part. She was outnumbered, but his minions may leave her alone if she threatened their leader. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, waiting to see if he accepted her challenge.
He didn’t seem to care in the slightest that she pointed the toothpick weapon at him. “Interested in my job offer yet?”
She would love to kill him just for the pure pleasure, but it wasn’t going to do her or Timmy any good until she knew what they did to him and where they kept him. She needed to remain calm. It was always her temper which got her into trouble.
She relaxed her posture, knowing a fight would be futile now. Too much was at stake. While she didn’t give a rat’s ass about herself, her crippled brother couldn’t defend himself from the likes of these wicked creatures. She tucked the knife into her belt, for later. “All you want is the gold?”
He nodded, spittle spilling from his lips as he spoke. “I want all of it. Every last doubloon. Those two dragons stole what is rightfully mine, and I won’t rest until it is returned to me, but I can’t risk any of my men going with you.”
“Afraid they might die?” She folded her arms defiantly over her chest. He was sending her on a suicide mission. They both knew it. She was just acknowledging that sad fact. He didn’t want to risk his men because it was unlikely they would come back alive.
He shrugged as if he really didn’t give a damn. “You will have an easier time slipping in the cave and slitting their throats without a lot of men to slow you down.”
“Hmmph.” She snorted out through her nose. It may have gotten a laugh out of her if she thought there was a chance of his suggestion being a joke. “That’s a wagonload of bull crap, and you know it.”
“Tosh.” He gestured dismissively and spoke as if he were doing her a favor, “I will, however, give you whatever supplies you require for this journey.”
Jewel’s lips pursed tightly.
Luther was being generous to a fault for a stingy troll. Perhaps he would be just as generous with her wooden coffin when she was laid to rest in the cold hard ground from this little adventure he was sending her on.
“I will need a wagon to carry the gold.” Dragons were known hoarders. She couldn’t imagine carrying back everything in one trip. She tried to think about everything she might need, but one item she remembered from reading the book of spells she had stolen from the Fairy Court. It may come in handy when dealing with dragons. “I will also require food, and Dragon’s Bane.”
The Troll King Luther didn’t bat an eyelash at the last request, but then again he probably knew what the weed was for, unlike most humans. She learned about the toxin of the rare plant when she stole the book of spells from the Fairy Queen. She had managed to read a little of it before she returned the book. “Done.”
She forced her body to relax. This situation may just turn out okay in the end.
Jewel had no idea where Dragon’s Bane grew or how to get it, but she knew how to use it, and in a dangerous game like this one, that was what counted.