Spoiled Riches

A Fantasy Short Story Written By Cameron Craig

Spoiled Riches

by Cameron Craig

Cameron Craig is a writer based in the Boston area. He wrote screenplays for nearly a decade before deciding to make the switch over to novels. When he’s not writing fiction, he can be found likely watching movies, playing video games or cheering on his hometown team the Tampa Bay Lightning.

More TTTV Stories by Cameron Craig

 

It’s called a cragbrute?” Kal asked, steering his horse along the dirt path. He led a group of three other riders through a snow covered ravine between two mountains. “Never heard of one before,” he said, adjusting the fur coverings on his iron pauldrons.

“That’s what Paek said,” called Ryuk from behind, adjusting his short sword sheathed around his goat hide armor, pulling his blanket draped over his shoulders tighter to protect from the snowfall.

“Next job you pick for us, please make sure it’s somewhere warm,” Finley said, wrapping himself in a blanket like Ryuk’s. “I’ll give you some of my share.”

Your teeth are clattering louder than your armor,” Darik teased. Darik always had fun poking at Finley. “What’s our payment anyway?” Darik asked, swiping the snow off his leather cap. “With this snow it better be more than the last one you picked.”

Twenty gold each,” Ryuk said. “It’s–”

Twenty?” Darik interrupted. “That’s a month’s work.”

The amount surprised Kal too. “Did Paek increase his rates? Or did you just get lucky finding this one?”

Paek said others were reluctant to take it upon finding out it’s a cragbrute,” Ryuk said.

Kal didn’t believe the rumors that the beast was cursed. Some told him cragbrutes were known to hoard riches. That rumor he hoped was true.

When we get back to Huyt’Nan, I’m going to a bathhouse to take the longest and hottest bath,” Finley said. “And I’ll feast like a king.”

Aye, so stop complaining,” Kal demanded.

When are we going to talk about my share?” Darik asked. “I have to buy all my poisons, darts and knives. You all don’t have to pay for anything.”

We told you,” Finley said, smiling, “once you can swing Kal’s axe we can talk about that.”

The axe on Kal’s back was nearly as big as Darik, its shaft as big as his arms. Darik rolled his eyes, scoffing.

We’re all equal. We all make the same pay,” Kal called from the front before motioning for the others to stop their horses. “We’ll do the rest on foot. We’re almost there.”

II

Kal dodged left, narrowly avoiding the cragbrute’s sharp claws. He counterattacked with a downward chop, striking the beast’s wrist, blood splattering on his snow covered armor. The bipedal beast puffed its chest and let out an ear-piercing howl from the pain. The howl sent the four to their knees, an agonizing pain ringing in their heads.

We need light!” Darik called out as he threw knives into the beast’s back from behind it. The cave was dark and nearly impossible to see in.

The beast lunged at Finley in the darkness. Kal couldn’t see it, but heard the beast strike Finley in the chest and send him into the darkness behind the group, crashing into the cave wall.

Finley!” Kal yelled.

I’m okay!” Finley yelled back from the darkness, groaning.

Ryuk drew his short sword which was covered in glyphs, markings etched onto the blade. He ran his palm along the blade and pointed the tip at the beast. A few streaks of fire conjured from the blade, spinning and whirling in the air and lighting the beast’s arm ablaze, illuminating the cave enough to fight.

The beast was nearly fifteen feet tall, with scale-like skin covered by a coarse brown fur. Its face had rock-like plating, strong enough to deflect any blade. The beast screamed and batted its arm to extinguish the fire as it climbed onto the ceiling of the cave using the large nails on its hands and feet. It swiped away at a few loose boulders that pummeled the ground, narrowly missing Ryuk.

Kal ran after the beast as it scaled the side wall. He swiped his axe and connected with the beast’s leg. The beast turned and swung at Kal, but Kal ducked its claws. He followed with a spinning hack that severed the beast’s left hand.

Ryuk ran at the beast and plunged his short sword into the beast’s back, running his hand along the hilt of the sword, causing an ethereal chain to manifest around the beast’s right wrist. Kyuk abandoned his sword, ran and grabbed the chain, pulling from behind. The beast was pinned on its knees, its arm chained to the floor, looking up at the ceiling.

From the shadows, Finley chopped downward at the beast’s exposed neck, decapitating it with his longsword. The beast’s head rolled along the floor as its body crumbled to the ground, shaking the cave.

Finley!” Kal said, helping Finley who fell to his knees.

I’m okay,” Finley said, catching his breath.

Ryuk retrieved his dagger from the beast’s back as Darik helped Finley sit down.

He got me good,” Finley said, looking over two thin horizontal slashes that pierced his bloody breastplate.

Ryuk grabbed supplies from one of their satchels resting against the cave wall. He formed a fire pit and used his sword ablaze to make a campfire.

Look at it,” Kal said, looking over the slain beast. “Maybe it is true. Maybe it was once a man.” Kal poked the beast’s black scale-like skin with his sword.

Where are the spoils?” Darik said, walking deeper into the cave, disappearing into the darkness.

Do you have any aid you can administer?” Kal asked Ryuk.

I only know some simple curative spells,” Ryuk said. “I don’t know how to treat wounds such as this,” he said, inspecting Finley’s chest.

I’ll be fine,” Finley said. “I’ve had worse.”

Sweet mother of magic,” Darik called out from the darkness. He ran back into the campfire’s light, holding a large golden urn. “There’s so much more. There’s at least ten of these.”

Do not touch that!” Ryuk said. “Put it back!”

What? Why? These have to be worth so much gold.”

They could be cursed!” Ryuk yelled. “I told you about this on the way here. You never listen!”

I thought the beast was cursed, not the spoils,” Kal input.

All of it could be,” Ryuk said. “We cannot take the chance. Just get what Paek told us to get and nothing more,” he instructed Darik.

Darik rolled his eyes and turned back around into the darkness.

Kal followed Darik. “By the sacred flame…” Kal mumbled in disbelief. Laying in the corner of the cave was at least a few year’s worth of wages in gold and jewelry. It was enough to make them all some of the richest men in Huyt’Nan overnight. Kal looked at Darik, who struggled to put the urn back, but finally did. Kal and Darik then rejoined Ryuk and Finley.

There’s more than we could have possibly imagined there,” Darik said.

You could take some,” Finley said, laughing. “You could sell it and split the share with us, that way if it is cursed only you get afflicted.”

Shut up,” Darik said, smiling.

Finley laughed again.

If you don’t want to end up like this beast then you won’t touch it,” Ryuk said. “Cragbrutes are allegedly cursed, transforming into this creature due to its greed. It was once a man. A man who came out to this cave to hoard his wealth. Hoarding wealth is a sin according to some Sunsworn scriptures.”

So others didn’t want this job because the beast was too powerful,” Kal said. “They didn’t want it because they didn’t want to be tempted by the riches?”

If what the rumors say are true,” Ryuk said.

Was it worth the chance? Even split four ways it was more gold than Kal had ever seen or hoped to obtain in his life. He bounced his leg as he sat next to the campfire. His forearm began to feel weird, like a slight burning beneath his linens.

Well, we aren’t leaving this cave tonight,” Ryuk said, standing by the entrance. A blizzard ravaged outside. “Let’s get our horses and bring them inside. We’ll sleep here for the night and wait out the storm. What do you say, Kal?”

The group looked toward Kal for his approval. “Very well,” he said, remaining seated at the fire.

Aye,” Finley said, mustering the strength to get to his feet. He walked to the cave entrance, touching his chest and grimacing.

Darik followed. “Kal?” Darik asked, turning around.

I’m coming,” Kal said, getting up from the fire. Once the others left the cave, Kal quickly rolled up the linens on his arm. A black burning smudge was smeared on his forearm. He rubbed it thinking it would alleviate the pain, but it didn’t. He lowered his sleeve and walked toward the cave entrance.

III

Kal awoke, the fire still crackling between the four of them. “Ugh,” he groaned, covering his nose. “It’s already beginning to smell,” he said to Darik and Ryuk who were already awake, eating some of their rations. Kal wafted his hand away from the cragbrute’s body.

Doesn’t seem to bother him,” Darik said, looking at Finley who was motionless beside the fire.

Kal got up from his sleeping bag and checked the cave entrance, the blizzard still flurrying. “We’ll probably have to stay for another night.”

Figured,” Ryuk said, annoyed. “I’m sorry I can’t predict the weather,” he said to Darik who shot him a gaze.

We should check on Finley’s injury too,” Kal said. “We need to dress it until we get back to Huyt’Nan.”

Should we wake him?” Darik asked. “Maybe sleep will do him good.”

Kal knelt down beside Finley, who laid on his side, and tried to roll him onto his back. Finley’s body gave little resistance, flopping over. “Finley…?”

No answer. Finley’s skin was pale, his mouth agape, dried blood covered his sleeping bag.

Finley!” Kal yelled, shaking Finley, but Finley’s body only moved limply.

What happened?” Ryuk asked.

No!” Kal yelled. “He was fine last night… how?”

Ryuk knelt down beside Kal and inspected Finley’s chest. “I don’t know. This wound wasn’t severe enough to kill him.”

Well it did!” Kal yelled, standing up, pacing with his hands on his hips. “How?!”

Ryuk moved his hand over Finley’s chest. “Are you sure the beast struck him?”

What?” Darik asked.

Did you see the beast strike him with its claws?” Ryuk asked Darik. “Kal, cut off one of the beast’s nails and bring it here.”

Kal obeyed, grabbing a small dagger from his sleeping bag.

It was too dark,” Darik said. “I didn’t see anything. I only heard it.”

Kal? You?”

No. It was too dark. It couldn’t be anything else. They were right there in front of me and then only barely in the darkness of the cave.” Kal gave Ryuk the beast’s nail.

Ryuk held it to Kal’s chest. The width of the nail was larger than the width of Finley’s gashes. Ryuk then ran his hand under Finley’s linens. He pulled his hands out, coated with a green liquid. “Poison.”

There was only one of them who used poison tipped blades. Ryuk and Kal backed away from Darik.

What are you looking at me for?” Darik said. “You think I did this?”

Where are your poisons?” Kal asked, slightly raising his dagger.

In my satchel. I did not strike Finley. Why would I kill him? Have you gone mad?”

You said before we got to the cave you wished for a higher cut of the payment because you have to buy your own poison,” Kal accused.

Yes! I did. That doesn’t mean I would kill Finley.”

It’s one less cut of pay you’d have to divide,” Ryuk said.

You too? You think I did this?”

Finley wanted to take the spoils too,” Ryuk said. “We can’t stop you from taking the riches. We can only advise you against taking them as they could be cursed. Killing him meant you’d get to take it all for yourself.”

And Finley wanted you to take it.”

He was joking!” Darik said defensively. “Why would I kill him for that? I’d never kill him. He was like a brother to me. He was like a brother to us. What made us special was that we were a team. Why would I… you…” Darik said to Kal, his tone now accusatory. “You want the spoils for yourself and you’re pinning this on me.”

That is not true!” Kal said. “The spoils are cursed. We aren’t taking them.”

Oh, but he wanted to take them. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that Finley died. It was one less share of the pay and the reward if they took the spoils.

Darik swiftly kicked out the fire, engulfing the entire cave in blackness instantly.

Kal moved backwards, trying to put his back to the wall, swinging his dagger in front of him thinking Darik could attack at any moment from anywhere.

Ryuk quickly fell to his knees and used his blade to relight the fire. When the room illuminated again, Darik was standing in the same spot, his hands up, surrendering.

I could have killed you both just now if I wanted,” Darik said. “Will that get you to trust me? The beast’s claws likely just barely pierced his armor, it’s why the cuts are so thin.”

It was a good point, but Kal didn’t trust Darik. But not because he was paranoid, but because he didn’t want to trust Darik. It would be one less person to split the spoils with if he could pin Darik and Ryuk against each other. And he believed Ryuk to be honest in his intentions of leaving the spoils.

Ryuk,” Kal said. “We’ll take turns sleeping. Never take your eye off Darik. He can’t be trusted.”

I’ll leave,” Darik said.

What? He’ll leave? That would work too.

Whatever those spoils are worth isn’t as much as my life.”

Leave if you wish,” Ryuk said. “I cannot be certain you killed Finley purposely, but I cannot take the chance. I will watch him first if you wish to sleep, Kal. I know you couldn’t have done it, you never left my sight.”

I’ll grab my satchel and I’ll leave,” Darik said.

Stay until the storm is over,” Ryuk pleaded. “I do not wish death upon you by venturing out into the blizzard. I just cannot trust you. I hope you understand my position.”

I can’t sleep knowing Kal could put his blade in my back. If that’s what you want then so be it. I’m leaving.” Darik slowly walked to his satchel resting against the corner of the cave wall. “Friendships forged by fire and blood, years of partnership all burnt to ash in an instant. I hope you know what you’re doing Ryuk,” he said, turning and walking out of the cave and into the blizzard.

IV

No. You did the right thing,” Kal advised, patting Ryuk on the shoulder, the fire flickering. “We could not know for sure whether he did or not. It was in our own best safety not to trust him.”

But it just doesn’t make any sense,” Ryuk mourned. “Finley was like a brother. They were best friends. We were best friends.”

Greed can make a man do unspeakable things.”

Do you really think he would have taken the spoils even if they were cursed?”

Kal thought of the look Darik gave him when they put the spoils back. “We couldn’t know for sure. You can’t blame yourself for doing what was smart for your own safety.”

None of us need gold. We aren’t rich, but we have enough of it. Would he truly ruin his source of income and friendships by taking it all? Risk the curse? He’d never kill one of our own.”

But the beast’s claws didn’t match Finley’s wound. Besides, where would a cragbrute get poison?”

Ryuk sighed. Kal was winning him over.

Gold reveals the worst of us,” Kal said. “What’s that quote from the old stories… ‘You cannot truly know the nature of a man until his life is at risk. The decision he makes will reveal his true self,’ or something like that.”

Maybe you’re right,” Ryuk said. “It’s a shame. We were a good team.”

And good friends,” Kal added.

Aye. Now let’s get some sleep. The blizzard should end soon. I want to sleep before the beast smells so bad it keeps me awake.”

Good call,” Kal said, sliding into his sleeping bag. “We’ll give Finley a proper burial when we leave.”

A warrior’s burial.”

Aye. He deserves it.”

V

Kal awoke. He turned over very slowly and as still as possible, trying not to wake Ryuk. “Ryuk,” he whispered.

Ryuk snored, laying on his side, his back toward Kal.

Kal slowly slid out of his sleeping bag, grabbing his dagger. He quickly mounted Ryuk, pressed the pummel of the dagger into the palm of his hand, and drove the dagger through Ryuk’s heart.

They were face to face, Ryuk gasping for breath, his eyes wide. Confused.

Sorry,” Kal said, pressing the dagger further into Ryuk’s chest, blood seeping from the stab wound.

Kal withdrew the blade, standing over Ryuk’s lifeless body. His forearm burned again. He raised his sleeve. His forearm now completely black, scales protruding and forming all over his arm, thick brown hair growing out of them.

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