The Semi-Circles of Hell
“A little to the right,” whispered Mahani.
Like ferrets in a wheel, Glig, Mahani, and Chael rolled their wooden cage slowly toward the pile of scrap and plunder left unattended 120 feet away.
“A little to the right!” whispered Mahani again.
“It’s a cage, okay? We can’t exactly steer it,” whispered back Chael.
“You’re faster than us! You should be in the middle.”
“In the middle? Wow. Hear that, Glig? She’d actually let us stand next to each other.” Chael tried to gasp in mock horror, choked and was now stifling a series of coughs.
Mahani rolled her eyes, “If you just— “
“Breep,” cut in Glig, knowing that wasn’t the problem, trying to keep the two of them from bickering.
“What?” she asked, “Well, why are we going left, then?”
“Because the cage is smaller on that end than this end,” Chael said, still trying to clear their throat.
“Breep,” concurred Glig.
“Well, we’re going to miss the scrap pile,” whispered Mahani.
“Miss it?” muttered Chael dryly, “By the time we get to it we’ll have circled right back where we started.”
Glig looked across the gravel yard, then at both ends of the rolling cage. “Breep.”
“Wait. What?” whispered Mahani.
“Right,” whispered Chael, “Good plan.”
“Wait. Are you kidding?” hissed Mahani, “That’s a terrible plan! Glig, I’m sorry but that’s a terrible plan. It’s not even a plan. We didn’t plan for this.”
“You can’t plan for this,” said Chael, speeding up. “It’s like, uh, cooking. You gotta improvise.”
“Breep.” agreed Glig, picking up his own pace.
“You both know what a recipe is, right?” Mahani muttered under her breath.
They rolled the cage along its leftward arc until they had finished nearly an entire half-circle. Then they slowed to a stop, tipped the cage back upright, tipped it back down again in the other direction, and continued on in another leftward arc. Then once that second arc was complete, they did it again. It was the very definition of the roundabout way, but eventually, through a series of semi-circles, they neared the scrap pile.
“This is taking way too long,” huffed Mahani, sweating.
“It’s not taking too long.”
“This is the definition of the roundabout way.”
“We’re almost there,” whispered Chael.
“They’re gonna look over here eventually.”
“They’re still busy fighting. Plus the sun is blocking us.”
Glig looked out through the passing bars toward the bickering throng of kobolds. The argument was building, getting louder, reaching a boiling point. Some sort of proposal was being made. Their fates being dissected, weighed, argued passionately —
Glig lurched forward. The cage had snagged on something. The half-burried blade of a rusted plow, only ten feet short of the scrap pile.
“See? See?? We should have just rolled ourselves down off the Jabber. It would have been quicker.” Mahani whispered, yanking on the bars stuck firmly around the plow.
Chael snorted. “It’s 500 acres of open gravel!” They said, trying to roll the cage off the plow.
“Well, we’d have to cross it eventually anyways, right?”
They shook their head, “Yeah, but the perimeter is lined in ballista towers, pillboxes, and death traps. We’d be sitting ducks. Sitting, caged, ducks. We need tools. Weapons. Whatever we can find.” Chael scanned the gravel around them.
“I wish you could find that mantle,” muttered Mahani, sweating, searching the gravel now, too.
“Breep!” said Glig, pointing to an old carpenter’s hammer lying a couple meters away.
“Perfect! Thanks.” Chael leaned out as far as they could through the bars, their long fingers just grazing the hammer’s handle. “And I didn’t lose my mantle,” they replied, grunting, “I turned it down.”
“Yeah?” asked Mahani, watching them strain to reach the hammer, “And how do you feel about that right now?”
Sweat dripped off Chael’s chin. “Peachy.” They stuggled against the bars, gaining a half-inch, getting the faintest grip on the hammer with the end of their finger. “Just… peachy.”
A kobold screamed. The scrapmaster was running towards them. The sound of arguing changed to barked orders. Crossbow bolts thudded all around them. Glig and Mahani dove to take cover behind the solid end of the cage. Chael was still trying for the hammer.
“Breep!” shouted Glig, watching a crossbow bolt miss Chael’s head by an inch and bury itself into an old wagon wheel.
“I almost have it! Just — ”
A spear jabbed Chael’s shoulder. The scrapmaster. Chael screamed. Twisted. Grabbed the spear by the shaft and yanked, pulling the tiny kobold toward them. The kobold scrambled to get away but Chael had it well within reach of their long arms and huge fists. Glig watched in horror as the birdman held the kobold down and struck them again and again, not stopping even as a clutter of angry, well-armed kobolds swarmed around the cage.
“Breep!” yelled Glig.
“Chael stop!” yelled Mahani.
Chael stopped. They looked around at the kobold throng surrounding them, crossbows torqued, spears glistening, bowstrings taught and creaking. Reluctantly, they released the scrapmaster, black eyes shining as the pathetic kobold dragged itself away.
Glig watched Chael back into the middle of the cage, keeping their fists clenched, even as the kobolds dragged the cage back away from the scrap pile, looped long chains through the bars, and anchored it down with a dozen long metal stakes. They kept them clenched even as the kobolds finished their discussion, came to an agreement, and started sharpening spears and knives, oiling manacles, and untangling nets.
“Breep?” asked Glig, struggling to make out even a single syllable of the kobold language.
“They’re getting ready to move us.” said Mahani, gravely.
“Breep?” asked Glig, already knowing the answer.
“Underground,” said Mahani, expressionless.
“We’re not going underground.” said Chael, under their breath.
“Yes, we are.” argued Mahani. “That’s what they’re saying. I speak some kobold, well I speak some draconic and that’s what kobolds basically spea— “
“We’re not going,” said Chael again, looking around to see if they were being watched.
Mahani scoffed, “Oh, you have another non-plan to get us out of here? Find your mantel? Maybe some other trick up your sleeve we should know about?”
“No mantle.” Chael looked down at their bare arms and smiled, “No sleeves.” Glig watched as the birdman then slowly opened one of their large, clenched fists. “But I do have some tricks.” Sitting in the palm of their hand was the kobold scrapmaster’s keyring.
Mahani let out a surprised laugh.
Chael smiled, then looked over at their other fist, already opening, already revealing the wrinkled, shimmering cloth of the summoner’s glove.
“And I’m not the only one.”
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