The Middle Men Ch.6


Author’s Note:

Hello, again. Since the next chapters are taking a little longer than I expected, I decided to release some now in order to hold you viewers over. This week will be chapter 6, and next Friday will be chapter 7 (which will be a decent stopping point until the next release).

Enjoy and comment.

—–

Once Chevy reverted back to normal, business resumed just the same. Though it was not exactly normal. True to Mac’s prediction, word quickly spread about the men’s daring, albeit clumsy, escapade into the Medusa’s lair. Though the gossip was not so much admirable as it was in awe at the sheer density of such an act. Nevertheless, many more inquiries from customers poured in. So much that they opened a whole new service in their shop; service requests for special mamono items. The feelings of the three men were mixed, however. On one hand, they were less than giddy, having to risk being pulverized by mamono for a single customer instead of bulk acquisitions. On the other hand, the payout was much better than selling more common mixing ingredients. Particularly when Mac paired the service with more of his creative “labor taxes”.

Today, the men were on the road, yet again.

“But I don’t want to become a stone garden ornament again” the apprehensive Chevy fussed about the not too distant future.

“No one’s asking you to” Luke patted his bald head. “That Medusa is long gone. We’ve got other things to do”

“Like what?”

“Like collecting some juicy paydays from customers who want the ‘super service'” Mac muttered through a grin.

“Well, okay. How fancy are the monsters that we’re looking for?”

“Nothing magical this time. Our only risk is getting pummeled, mangled, and eaten” Luke said with a slight wince.

“Oh, the usual stuff. For a second there, I was about to worry” Chevy gave a sigh of relief.

“Save it. Let’s get to work. What’s first on the itinerary?” Mac urged Luke to pull out his notebook of customer requests. Using the book of recorded monster encounters, they began planning.

—–

Not too far from the trail that led deep into the mountains, a Cyclops was clamoring her tools together. Without a husband to speak of, she spent her days silently enjoying her favorite hobby; forging weapons in her makeshift blacksmith shop and home. The peace of isolation didn’t offer much else for her to do.

Until today when she was approached by the chubby, balding man known as Chevy.

Perplexed by her unusual visitor, she stopped and peered at him approaching through her sharp, single eye at him. Chevy, much more alarmed than the Cyclops was, peered back. They locked eyes with no words being uttered. That is until the rope that was tied around the zoned-out Chevy’s waist was tugged with a few small but harsh jerks by someone off in the bushes.

“Oh, oh yeah, sorry” Chevy spoke up, remembering what he was supposed to say. “We’re looking for the blacksmith around these parts. Have you seen them?”

She squinted her eye a little at his ignorance. “That would be me who you’re looking for. What do you want, stranger?” the Cyclops answered.

Chevy flinched a bit at the revelation. “Is that so? Well, we want you to take a look at a knickknack with a nick in it”. While the Cyclops’ large, single eye was a sight to behold for Chevy, its glistening blue iris projected a warmth that helped to calm him. The same feeling went for her homemade, leather blacksmith ‘uniform’ with its short apron and immodest top. It conveniently left her toned belly, arms, shoulders, and thighs exposed.

Meanwhile, the Cyclops had already looked over Chevy. Given a little time, her thoughts might have turned licentious toward the sloven man. However, despite how lonely she could get, she made sure to prioritize her passion as a smithy before other night time hobbies.

“Fine. Let me have a look at it” she beckoned him over as she put on her heavy gloves.

“She said ‘okay’, guys!” Chevy called and tugged back on the rope.

The Cyclops watched two other unkempt men scurry out of the brush, both hauling a large weapon. Instantly, she recognized it as an Orc’s warhammer. She was quite adept at servicing such weapons, but there was a curiosity within her as to how such men had acquired it.

“I’ll do the talking. You two get the goods ready and wait for my signal” Mac whispered to Luke and Chevy who both confirmed with a wink.

After the men plopped the warhammer onto her work bench, the Cyclops surveyed the damage. It was pristine enough to shine in the morning light, with the exception of the jagged cuts donning up and down the edge.

“Here it is, ‘singlet'” commented Mac, keeping up a casual front.

“Hmm” the Cyclops hummed, using her inhuman strength to humiliate the men by effortlessly lifting the weapon up to inspect as if it were a mere fork. She noted how odd the cuts were. They were too random to be from a battle. “Looks to me like someone carved these marks with a rusty nail”

Mac paused. “…Weird” he shrugged with a crooked grin. “Anyway, can you smooth it out for us?”

“That shouldn’t be much trouble. I’ll have it ready for you in twenty minutes”. The three men recoiled a little back as she threw the weapon over her shoulder and walked toward her sharpening wheel. That kind of power was unthinkable where they came from, and survival instincts made them a tad dodgy.

As the Cyclops worked on the blade, Mac ran his mouth off about random topics to keep her focus off of the other two; all while keeping a close eye on how many cuts she had left to go. Timing was everything, and Mac planned on giving the signal near the end. Now that she was almost done, he readied his hand to signal his cohorts, only to find them preoccupied with rummaging through the Cyclops’ other crafted weapons. A quick toss of a wrench got them back on track.

“That should do it” she motioned him over, to which they all followed. Mac signaled to Chevy with a finger point. Chevy took out a couple of onions from his pockets and bit into them both. The Cyclops thought nothing of such slobbery behavior.

“Pretty good work, girl” said Mac.

“Hey, let me see” Chevy leaned down and knowingly shoved the bitten onions into her face, almost hitting her.

The eye-watering fumes of the onions hit her full force. And with her enlarged eye, it had triple the normal effect as her blue eye became a pool of tears that rapidly trailed down her cheeks. Her first reaction was to rub her cheeks, but she didn’t wish to besmirch her face in front of men with her filthy gloves. Even if her mind was not directly contemplating intimate thoughts, her mamono instincts resisted any interplay that might repel males.

But Luke was there to lend a hand.

“Whoops, you’ve got some nasty tears in your eye. Let me help you with that-” Luke hadn’t even finished his sentence before he smothered the Cyclops with a loincloth. He rubbed and rubbed from ear to ear, even in parts that her tears could never reach.

Though his actions may have soiled her face, she was nevertheless grateful for Luke’s intervention. Having him caress her face gave her a blush as it was pleasant, albeit boorish. Once free, she had to rub clarity back into her vision before she saw the men taking off, dragging the warhammer with them.

“Send me your bill! Ha!” she heard Mac laugh while carrying the warhammer with Chevy. Meanwhile, Luke shoved the cloth into a jar and sealed the lid tight.

The Cyclops sat in silent confusion as she watched them lumber away, completely at a loss for words at the strange turn of events. She felt a primal urge deep within her to chase after them, but two small coins in front of her had caught her eye. She hadn’t planned on charging any money for such a simple job. If she had dwelled on the thought, her feelings may have turned to affection. However, the men had slipped into the brush and out of sight before she could give it a second thought.

“Hmph. Strange men” she shrugged. With that, she returned to work.

Back on the wagon-train…

“Did you get it?” Chevy asked.

“Right here” Luke pulled out the jar.

“That sorcerer is going to pay good money for these Cyclops tears. Ingredients like those don’t come around too often” Mac tapped on it.

“All that’s left is wringing them out of the cloth” Luke said with a half-smile.

“We’ll worry about that later. But see? All we need is a little brain-power and we get the goods free of charge”

“Minus two bits” Chevy interjected.

Mac paused. “What do you mean?”

“Well, we couldn’t leave without paying her for sharpening that big tool. Could we?”

Mac groaned. Despite how many tid-bits their posse had stolen in their lives, Chevy still had a nine-year-old boy scout in him, that he just couldn’t erase. Mac turned toward the road and started the horses off. For once, he figured that it was useless to cuss Chevy out on this matter since he’d forget it within a week.

Anyway, let’s put some of that brain-power to other matters” Mac called for the itinerary again.

—–

The basking Alraune sighed with content as she soaked in the sun’s hot rays. In her many years, her flower had grown quite sizable, compared to others of her kind. So sizable, that her accumulated nectar produced a sweet aroma that could be smelled for almost half a mile radius by human or non-human. In addition, her years taught her to be wary of attacks by the roaming mamono of the forest who found her delicious nectar most irresistible. It was wise of her to nest her flower safely atop a tree instead of at ground level where most nectar thieves lurked. Even though she had yet to attract a male, she was confident that it was only a matter of time before one was lurred up to her.

On this day, a trio of hungry Soldier Beetles circled around the base of her tree. Their battle-focused, yet narrow minds had struggled to comprehend a conflict that was more than a head-to-head combat. Their only meaningful attempt at ascending the tree failed as their thick, black-plated bodies had proved too heavy for the branches before they could reach the Alraune’s perch, much to her amusement. Not even their wings provided help as they could do nothing but glide down, not fly up. Their groaning stomachs left the flustered Beetles staring and blinking their insect eyes up toward their unreachable goal.

“Tough luck, eh ‘bug-eyes’?” Mac’s voice caught the Soldier Beetles by surprise. “Well, it’s a good thing we happen to pass by. Because we might be of service to you”

Mac was putting on his salesman routine with Chevy and Luke nervously trailing. Chevy was pushing a wide wheelbarrow with him and trying to smile while Luke just hid behind him. Here they were approaching three wild mamono and all they had was Mac’s word that they were too hungry for nectar to want male flesh.

“…What?” the lancer Beetle spoke in a cold tone.

“I’m glad you asked. See, the gods burdened you ladies with a hefty backside, right? But that just so happens to not apply to us. Well, maybe it applies to my partner Chevy here, but anyway, my point is that we’ve got arms and legs and know how to use them. You follow me?” Mac spewed with his shit-eating grin.

“…No” the Beetles said in unison.

He sighed through a tightening smile. “Not too bright, huh? That’s another thing that you’ve got in common with them” Mac glanced at Chevy. “Listen, how about we climb up there and get you some nectar from that oversized blossom?”

The Beetles blinked and nodded in a mutual understanding. Unbenounced to the men, the stone-faced Beetles were quite thankful for their assistance, even if they lacked the social skills to show it. Had it not been for their growling stomachs, their thoughts would have questioned what the three strangers wanted in return. Possibly even turned to affectionate reproduction with the generous men.

From a certain point of view, Mac’s hunch about the Beetles was correct.

“…It is high up” the scissor Beetle informed them of the nearly fifty foot climb, unwavering in her monotone attitude.

“That’s just a chance we’ll have to take… Alright Luke get to climbing” Mac motioned to Luke.

“Hey, why do I get saddled with this kind of stuff?” Luke objected. They planned out how to get the nectar without being spotted by the Alraune, but the ever-scheming Mac was conveniently vague on who the task would fall on.

“He’s too fat and I’ve got to keep the high-sales pressure on them” he pulled Luke aside and whispered. “What’re you scared?”

“Not scared. I’m just contrite”

“Of what?” Mac said, barely comprehending such an educated word.

“That I spent more of my childhood reading books instead of playing outside” he swallowed as his gaze trailed up the monolith-like tree. Gym was never his strong subject.

“Come on. At least you’ll be far away from these dames, right?”

“Yeah, see if the Alraune doesn’t eat me, instead” he muttered.

Mac gave him a light shove. “Aw, get going. And don’t worry. There’s plenty of branches to break your fall before you hit the ground”

‘Among other things to break…’, Luke thought to himself as he began his ascent.

At first, the climb didn’t seem so bad, even for someone as un-athletic as Luke. One step at a time and one handhold at a time until he made it to the Alraune’s flower. Luke knew to keep his eyes up and not look down the whole journey up. Occasionally, he’d run into some birds or squirrels and after both parties frightened each other, he’d peel his hands off the bark and continue upwards.

Meanwhile, down below, Mac was working the Soldier Beetles.

“Hey, girls. That syrup is going to be raining down here any minute now. It’d be a shame if you got that sticky stuff all over your tools of war” he nudged the Lancer’s near six-foot weapon.

She blinked at him but didn’t say a word.

Mac huffed. “Look, what will the other Beetles think if you crawl back home with your weapons all sloppy? You don’t want to be embarrassed, do you?”

The Beetles all glanced at each other. “…No, sir” they all said in unison, starting to treat Mac as a sort of commander.

“Certainly not” he affirmed. “Well, just by accident my balding friend here just happens to have a wheelbarrow with him. Just throw those weapons on there and we’ll hold on to them while you eat”

The Beetles thought for a moment. “Very well” the Lancer Beetle replied.

“Good, good” Mac signaled Chevy toward them, pushing the wheelbarrow.

“Don’t crowd now. Plenty of room for all your goods” a more relaxed Chevy grinned at the Lancer. As she plopped it into the cart, Chevy bounced up from its hefty weight. “Geez, I didn’t know you were sickly…” he grunted sarcastically while rolling the increased load. The shapely human-like halves of the Soldier Beetles had wielded them with so little effort that carting them was harder than he anticipated. He was too surprised to be scared by their prowess.

Chevy went about collecting the other Beetles’ weapons; a giant lance, a scissors, and a giant shield. Each item added what felt like another full-grown hog to the wheelbarrow. Chevy’s smile dropped while his breathing intensified with each weapon added. The wheels got stuck in some mud and Chevy had to scurry for a moment to free the wheelbarrow.

“Nice work, ‘muscle-bound'” Mac patted Chevy on the back as he plodded his way over on his buckling knees, finally stopping near Mac.

Back up top, Luke had finally reached the top. He positioned himself under the dozing Alraune’s flower. Taking an oversized corkscrew, he proceeded to delicately drill a hole in the flower’s receptacle, under the ovary. No peduncle or stem were present on this tree flower, which made it easier for Luke to work. Without making enough noise to wake up the flower’s owner, Luke punctured through, sending sticky-sweet nectar seeping through like a faucet. It coated Luke’s hands and arms before he could move.

Oozing the long trip down toward the Earth, the nectar dribbled right onto the fast-talking Mac’s shoulder. By reflex, Mac looked up, only for the next wave of syrup to cake his face, halting his schmoozing to the Soldier Beetles with a retching gasp.

He stumbled away. “What’s going on here-?” he started until a Soldier Beetle rushed over and licked a nice chunk of nectar from Mac’s face. Then she turned her attention to feast on the sweet slop building up nearby, inadvertently ramming him with her thorax and sending him into Chevy’s arms. The other two joined her. The Beetle’s taste buds had long been wet for the delicious meal, which made it all the easier for her feeding instincts to surpass her mating instincts that she felt tingle when licking Mac’s face.

“Boy, that stuff smells mighty good” Chevy held Mac up.

“Just get me a towel, ‘fat-head'” Mac growled, too aggravated to care how tasty it was on his lips.

“It is mighty good!” Chevy licked his finger, then proceeded to clean up the rest of his hand with his tongue before getting a towel.

While Mac cleaned up, Luke started back down the tree. One step at a time, just like the journey up. But while climbing up had made it easy to not look down, climbing down had made it impossible to not notice. One glance down was all it took for him to realize just how high up he was, with vertigo not far behind. Step by step had worked, but single branches starting to look like three branches in his dizzying mind meant trouble.

At the thirty foot mark, Luke looked down once again. He spotted Mac and Chevy cheering him on, as well as Mac elbowing Chevy for some reason. If not for his discombobulated brain, Luke would have known that seeing them didn’t mean that it was time to let go and take a step…

“Quick! Get under him! Catch that ‘apple-head’!” Mac ordered Chevy. Seeing the glazed look on Luke’s face made it all too clear what was going down.

“I got him! I got him!” Chevy shuffled back and forth trying to stay underneath Luke as gravity bounced him back and forth from branch to branch. Unfortunately, Chevy’s final position was three feet off as Luke dropped right past him and crashed in the dirt.

“Fine life-saver you are. Get out of the way” Mac pushed Chevy aside to check on the groaning Luke. “You alright? How many fingers do you see?” he held up two fingers.

Luke was bruised, but far from broken. His groaning was more from the vertigo than any injuries. “…Four?” he grumbled.

“Eh, close enough. See? He’s dandy. Now come on, get the wheelbarrow and let’s get out of here” Mac ordered Chevy as he hoisted Luke onto his shoulder and trudged off into the bushes. Chevy was disappointed to not have Luke help him tow the hefty wheelbarrow all the way back back to the wagon.

The Soldier Beetles were too preoccupied with their sweet meal to realize that they’d be returning to their colony weaponless. In addition, the Alraune was too late to spot them once she awoke to the sound of Luke’s tree-tumble and decided to see what the commotion was all about. And she wasn’t happy about it.

At the wagon-train, Luke had shaken out the cobwebs and got to helping carry the weapons aboard. The timbers of the makeshift cabin shook at the force of each weapon dropping.

“What a load…” said Mac, after the last weapon was on board.

“Who’s going to buy something like that?”

“If any titans arise again, we could sell them as giant eating utensils” Chevy joked.

“Heh, or if we ever need a battering ram…” Mac mused.

“Well, if not, I could chisel it down and we could sell off the exoskeleton parts”

“By the way, did you think to bottle some of that flower juice up there?” asked Mac.

Luke face-palmed. “Darn the luck. If only I wasn’t hanging for dear life, I would have remembered” he scolded himself. But he figured that his fall would have broken the bottle anyway. And he knew that none of them wanted to go back and scoop up a few samples from the ravenous Beetles’ figurative dinner plates.

“Of course” Mac frowned.

Then came Chevy to the rescue. “Say, what about this?” he held up the towel that Mac had used to wipe his face off, which. It was stained with the golden nectar, as well as some of Mac’s hair. Chevy had been licking the delicious syrup off of it.

Mac lit up and snatched it. “Not bad, kid. You should try and use your brain more often. And wait a minute-” he looked down at Luke’s sleeves, which carried as much nectar as the towel. “You didn’t do too bad yourself. Get to bottling this stuff”

“Right-o” Luke lit up, as well, and fetched a jar. If he had to risk his life, he preferred to have more experimental ingredients to show for it. If he survived, that is.

—–

“Here comes another one” announced Luke, peering through a telescope at an approaching flying target.

The three were stationed atop a hill in the forest, facing the edge of a cliff about twenty feet higher than their position. There was an opening in the tree line above them, concealing them from view of anything that passed overhead while giving them a direct eyeline to the cliff edge. What was in plain sight was a bowl filled with nuts, berries, and apples carefully placed on the cliff edge next to a conspicuous red and yellow sign reading “Free Eats”. The smoke coming from the nearby torches only helped draw attention to the bowl.

“Ready, big guy?” Mac probed Chevy.

“All-ready” confirmed Chevy.

“Just give me the signal” he muttered to Luke whose hand was raised while surveying the cliff.

A lean, blue Harpy swooped down from the sky and landed on the cliff. Typical to her species, she was ignorant to the obvious trap and pranced over to the bait.

Luke’s hand dropped down, signaling to his partner. Then Mac lit the fuse on a refurbished cannon which had a rope trailing out of the muzzle. Several seconds later, it went off, firing out a net that the rope was attached to on one end. The other end just so happened to be tied around Chevy’s thick waist like an anchor. The net engulfed the face-stuffing Harpy and sent her into a tumble. Her panicked kicking and flailing only got her more entangled.

“Let’s nab her” nudged Mac to Luke.

With Chevy keeping her in place, Mac and Luke climbed up toward the trapped Harpy. Mac went about plucking some of her feathers off while Luke was tasked with clipping off her talons. It was easier said than done since they were pretty large. The Harpy’s screaming and thrashing didn’t help the men, either.

“Stay still, will ya? Just a few more-” Mac kept on plucking. “How’re you doing down there?”

“Aaaand done!” Luke clipped off her last talon.

Now that they had enough materials, they untangled her and began hooting and shouting to frighten her off. Once free, she yipped and shot to the sky like the spooked bird that she was. In her dim brain, she felt lucky to be alive, even though all she’d lost was a few feathers and talons, both of which would grow back.

“Ha! Gets them every time” Mac jeered. Though they had Harpy feathers at their shop, a ritzy client would not buy their pink Harpy feathers. ‘I only wear darker colors’, he said. It didn’t leave them much choice but to go wrangle up some variety.

“I guess they always take flight over fight” added Luke. This was the fourth Harpy that they’d ransacked. They may have all been different colors, but each time, it only took some loud sounds to frighten them off. Not too far evolved from regular birds, like the boys suspected. “How much longer until we can go home?”

“Yeah, I’m sick of being dead weight around here” Chevy interjected down below.

‘Going home won’t make you much more than that’ Mac thought to himself.

“Let’s see…” he looked over their jar of feathers. “I think one more color should to be enough”

“What say we get some beers on the way home?” Luke asked. Being in ‘danger’ all day left him needing something stiff to drink. And he wasn’t a drinker.

“No complaints here. Good day’s work is worth it”

“Hey! Here comes a big one!” Chevy shouted and pointed toward a target incoming from the sky. Without the telescope it was hard to tell, but it looked bigger than usual.

Both men were quick to scurry off the cliff and back into position. Mac reloaded and readied the cannon. Luke didn’t bother scoping it out with the telescope and waited to give Mac the signal once the target was in position.

Ordinarily, the target landed at the food bowl where Luke could get a clear view. This time, however, the target landed near the “Free Eats” sign. Even though it was just out of view, Luke recognized and was baffled at the sounds of the sign being torn to shreds. He didn’t have to wonder for too long since the target came into view.

It was not a mere Harpy…

“Oh jeepers…” Luke uttered just above a whisper, but didn’t give the signal. He tried to figure out if they should hide or run for their lives.

“What’s the matter? Can you see it?” Mac whispered, breaking Luke’s thoughts. Luke nodded.

Mac scowled. If Luke could see what it was, then what was the holdup? Still, Luke seeing it was good enough for Mac to fire the cannon.

A roar let out from the cliff as the net snagged them. It didn’t sound like a scrawny Harpy. Mac reacted by running to Luke’s position for a look.

Entangled in the net was a solidly-built, fur and feather covered Griffon. She was also quite enraged by her bindings. In her fury, she locked eyes with both men and growled. Luke wanted to crawl under the biggest rock he could find. Meanwhile, Mac’s greedy mind was too busy trying to figure out how to wrangle her, which left him wide eyed.

The angry Griffon spread her massive wings under the net…

“Somebody want to tell what’s going ooonnn-!?” Chevy asked before he was yanked clean off of his feet by the net-rope attached to the now airborne Griffon. Much more powerful than any Harpy, Chevy’s weight proved insufficient of an anchor and it wasn’t long before she was flying off, towing the screaming Chevy in the air behind her.

“Mac! She’s got me!” Chevy hollered into the distance.

“Hang on to her, kid!” Mac called after them. “What a payday, what a payday!”

The ever sales-minded Mac was fast to chase after them. The reluctant Luke didn’t have any choice but to tag along.

Despite her power, the Griffon still struggled to stay airborne through the net and Chevy’s dead weight. She hadn’t gone half a mile before she plunged into the trees, breaking through several branches and frightening off woodland animals and mamono, alike. Chevy took the same route.

Mac and Luke tracked down the spot where they spilled into the foliage. There was enough commotion going on to make it stand out. There, they found both the Griffon and Chevy hanging upside down from the branches. Still bound up with both struggling and grumbling. The Griffon growled even harder when they approached.

“Hey Mac! Hey Luke!” Chevy shouted when he saw them. “Do acorns fetch a good price? Because I’m loaded with them”. Chevy was also covered in twigs, leaves, and even a bird’s nest.

“Well, lookie here. A regular puppet show” Mac joked. “Go cut his strings”

Luke trekked over with a knife and got to work on the rope holding Chevy up. “Tough luck, pal. I guess you just weren’t a heavy enough anchor” said Luke.

“Really? No wonder I feel sort of light-headed” Chevy commented through a droll.

While Luke freed Chevy, who thumped on the ground when the rope was cut, Mac was busy looking over the Griffon. She seemed trapped good enough in the net to go to town on her. Now, it was just a matter of which part to ransack first? Her fur? Her feather? Her claws?

Mac went up to her and patted her head. “Don’t worry. We’ll be through with you before you can bat an eye”

The Griffon was pissed by this point. “I’ll bat you three pests up and down the whole forest!” she fumed and bit through the net that was holding her bird-like arms in place. Once they were free, she tore apart the rest of the net piece by piece. Before Mac could utter another quip, she was free. Now standing and glaring right in front of Mac, she dwarfed him. He even had to lean pretty far back to look up at the great beast who was well over a full head taller than him.

He gulped out an unsettled grin. While she had a more burly build, her still feminine features had given Mac the false impression that she wasn’t too much stronger than a human. He should have thought twice. “Heh, I guess you get more than enough exercise…” he peeped.

Her mood had not improved now that she was free.

She snarled at Mac, spooking him onto his butt where he crab-walked back toward his partners. They were about to run for their lives when the Griffon spoke up. “What’re you doing here!?” she scowled.

“Just a group of salesmen making a living. We need inventory to sell” Mac got up. Instead of running, Mac planned on talking his way out of this mess. Running was for when a plan failed.

“You looking to buy? You look like you could use a horse brush” Chevy chimed in, more chipper than expected.

Like Chevy, she was also covered in sticks and leaves. As it were, her presentation was something that she took pride in, so his bluntness did not amuse her. “Who do you think you are!? Nobody posts nonsense like that sign in my territory without my permission!”

“Cripes, didn’t know we needed a permit” Mac shrugged. “Do you take cash or raw meat?” Mac put on some of his negotiation skills, which was a thin cover for how prettified he really was.

Luke leaned in. “Our dinner yesterday was the last of our… spare raw meat” he whispered and stepped behind the biggest piece of raw meat left, Chevy.

“Yeah, it was pretty good, too. You would have loved it” Chevy remarked to the Griffon.

Mac froze in thought for a second. “You want us to catch a Harpy for you to eat?” he asked the Griffon.

“Are you kidding? She should cut down on her meat. What about a salad?” Luke tugged at Mac.

“Absolutely. A salad. It might fix her personality” gleaned Chevy.

Mac went along with them. “Yeah, go get her a big salad”

The ill-mannered Griffon had never negotiated for anything in her life, nor did she wish to now. Especially with such insolent morons. Between being entrapped in a net and them spewing such disrespect to her face, she was too peeved for her thoughts to become amorous. In fact, she was sickened at the mere thought of pouncing on these vermin for her first mating session. Instead, she just wanted them gone. So with a cold stare and gritted teeth, she growled, “Shut up! The lot of you! Now get out of here!”

“How far out?” Mac uttered as he got nervous seeing how their talking skills weren’t working.

“All the way out!” she bellowed. She considered beating them senseless and throwing them off of the cliff, but this would get them out of her sights faster.

Though it could hardly be called smooth, sweet talk on Mac’s part, they got their chance to get away squeaky clean. And Mac was glad of it.

He cleared his throat and put on a fake smile again. “You heard the landlady, boys. Let’s pack it up and leave her to her scratching posts” he motioned for them to hit the road.

“No need to growl at me twice” Luke followed close behind him.

As Mac and Luke scurried off, Chevy started to follow, but stopped for one last word. “Before we go, would you mind if we plucked some feathers and trimmed some of that hair off of those kitty cat legs of yours? We don’t have any at home”

The Griffon’s eyes popped out at the audacity. Now she was seething.

Mac swooped back over and grabbed Chevy. “Ah-heh, just pretend you didn’t hear that” the apologetic Mac schmoozed at the fuming Griffon. “Fine time to shave a monster’s fat, hairy ass!” he scolded Chevy and shoved him hard into the brush.

They were gone and on their way out before the Griffon reconsidered making mince meat out of their hides. Instead, she fretted over whether her butt really did look fat.

After that, they were ready to go home. They figured that staring down the eyes of a Griffon was a sign that it was mission accomplished. So much so that they were all dependent on a good strong drink calming their nerves before they returned to Truseve. A stop at the nearby tavern in Remwell was in order.

—–

Their quick ‘strong drink’ in Remwell lasted almost six hours. By that time, night had fallen.

Luke was bent over outside the tavern. He was never able to hold his alcohol, so he raced out into the alley out back and vomited before he even made it through his second glass. In the time that he’d finished his business, all Hell had broken loose back inside. Chairs getting thrown, glasses were being shattered, as well as fists and teeth started flying everywhere. A classic barroom brawl.

He didn’t dare step back inside, instead opting to just wait outside until it blew over. All the more convenient was how a chair landed outside for him to sit on. Luke did wonder how Mac and Chevy were fairing in the midst of all this chaos. Since it wasn’t the first time that any of them were caught up in a situation like this, he knew to be ready to pick up their pieces. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of Chevy in the twenty man fray; whether it be him getting slugged, whipped across the room, or running from a bigger adversary. Not much Luke could do but shout out to him to go for the exit.

When two enormous men came brawling out the door, Chevy came with them; helplessly tied up in between their ferocious, beefy arm grip on each other. As the fight took to the ground, Chevy was thrown out. Luke ran over.

“Hey, Chevy. You alright?” he patted his face back to his senses.

Still short of breath, Chevy resumed thrashing in place. “Come on, I don’t even want Suzie as a girlfriend! You can have her!” he fussed frantically to no one in particular.

“Hey, take it easy! It’s me!” Luke assured his agitated partner.

“Oh, hi Luke. Where’ve you been?” he calmed down instantly. When all was said and done, he had nothing more severe than a typical lump on the head. Nothing new for Chevy.

“In the safe zone. Did you start another riot?” Luke accused him.

“Whose side are you on, anyway? It wasn’t my fault this time. One thing led to another and then… I don’t know, something else happened” Chevy rubbed his head.

“Well, stay here until things quiet down”

In time, an Order patrol barged into the tavern to take control of the mess. Once the fight was thoroughly broken up, Luke and Chevy tried to locate Mac but couldn’t find him anywhere inside. Eventually, they searched outside.

“Did you find him?” Luke asked Chevy.

“Nothing yet” Chevy replied, eating a half eaten piece of cake that he found still sitting on a plate from the tavern. Luke’s expression tightened in disapproval at seeing Chevy munch down on the cake. “What? It was the last piece. And that guy wasn’t going to finish it”

Luke sighed. “Now where did he go?”

Chevy opened the lid of a large trash can outside the tavern and threw away the plate. He closed the lid and had almost walked away when he realized that the trash was moving inside the can.

“Here he is, Luke!” he called. Inside the can was a groggy Mac, just waking up from the sound of the two men rummaging about when he was bopped in the face by a dinner plate, courtesy of Chevy. “Sorry, Mac. I thought you were trash”

“Do I look like a garbage-picker to you? Help me out of here” Mac snarled. Luke also helped him out.

“What happened in there?” grilled Luke once Mac was on his feet.

“Last thing I remember was playing poker with a couple of drunks, and doing damn good for myself, too. Then some guy came crashing onto our table, right into the juicy pot. Once the yelling and riff-raff erupted, I went into ducking-and-crawling mode” Mac brushed the rubbish off his coat, with Chevy assisting.

“How’d you get out here?” added Chevy.

“Oh, I made a break for the front door and then… I think a flying bench got me and I spilled out through the window there” he pointed. “Then it all went black”

“No wonder. The lid closed shut on you with all this trash” Chevy picked a rolled-up paper amongst other garbage from inside Mac’s coat.

But before he tossed it away, Mac seized his hand. “Hey! That’s no trash! That was the jackpot”

“What do you mean?”

“Just a little something that I convinced that drunkard to throw into the pot during our game. I made sure to grab it before I ducked under the table” he grinned. To Mac, it made sense to take it. He had an above average hand, so he probably would have won, anyway.

“Why? What is it?”, said Luke, wondering why in the world he didn’t nab the rest of the pot before folding under the table.

Mac giggled in a playfully sinister tone. “A treasure map” he beamed as both Luke and Chevy then stood at full attention when Mac unrolled the scroll. “We’re in the money now, boys”

The three men deliberated all the way back to Truseve. The decision was unanimous; finders keepers for whoever got to the treasure first. Their mouths watered at imagining what could be inside. Maybe enough to move out of their old shop and into a real business location. Maybe even enough to set them up for good and never have to work another day in their lives.

The only real problem was that the treasure was buried far away in the Zipangu region which was located near the Mist Continent. That had to be almost a week’s travel, plus having to sail for a day or two. They knew that some adjustments were in order.

First off, they tied up all client matters. Second, they paid off their rent to Manwell for the next three weeks. Third, they gathered what lumber they had left, and then stole a sail from a retired seaman’s boat during the night.

Several days of preparation later, they were off. To face the vast task at hand, they brought along everything that might prove useful in their journey, as well as things that might not prove useful. But being the biggest journey of their lives, there was more apprehension than normal. Not to mention what dangerous mamono they’d run into. Their book of mamono encounters provided no tales from the mysterious Mist Continent, so they were riding blind.

But the risk was worth the reward. Or so they told each other.

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