by Hamilton Kohl
Kalm looked at his two-headed axe lying in front of him on the boardroom table and wished that he hadn’t left his shield at his desk. Armor was out of the question, his helm and chainmail sat uselessly in the trunk of his car in the darkest depths of parking level thirty-three, section D.
“-but who is saying that we need to hire consultants?” The vice-queen’s voice cut through him like a shard of ice killing any further thoughts of his forgotten armaments. You could always hear it in her voice first. The practiced fake charm slithered away to reveal the more suitable growl that lurked underneath.
An idiot coin counter from treasury made the mistake of opening his trap. “You did, ma’am, at the last meeting you said that-”
“I did not say to bring in consultants. We don’t have the budget for that.”
Then it crept into her expression. The thin lacquered lips of her smile disappeared and folded in on themselves until only a thin line of blood red marked the place where she devoured the souls of her staff. Or so he had heard.
“I would never have agreed to consultants.”
Kalm kept his own mouth shut but looked sideways at his manager Heckler, the only other dwarf in the room. They had both been in the meeting where she agreed to bring in consultants and it was indeed her bloody idea.
Heckler hadn’t brought a shield either, but a stout war hammer etched with dwarven rune work leaned against the arm of his chair. “You’re right, it’s not in the budget and consultants aren’t needed.” Kalm hated watching a dwarf capitulate to an elf, but being a dwarf with the company wasn’t easy. Elves did not care for anyone shorter than themselves, and everyone was shorter as far as the vice-queen was concerned.
“Good. No one should be looking outside the organization without my consent.”
Her glare slid to Heckler as she turned her full attention to the dwarves. For a moment, Kalm didn’t envy his manager at all. Three full stacks of coin could not be worth the dread of reporting directly to the demon elf.
“The Rune department was supposed to have the new office up and running by month’s end. My people can’t get their work done if you don’t have the runes completed. Why is it not up?”
Heckler looked over to Kalm and smiled before throwing him under the cart. “Kalm, maybe you could outline where we are with this project?” The bastard deflected well, even without a shield.
Kalm straightened the silk tie around his beard and prepared to enter the melee. “Well, we are currently-”
“I don’t care where we are-I want to know where we aren’t,” she spat.
He leaned with his elbows on the table and looked the point-eared witch directly in the eyes. “We’ve finished rolling out the basic rune structure and we are waiting for-”
“But why aren’t you done?” she demanded.
“For a project of this scope we need a lead time of thirty days. The enchantment group came to us with only two week’s notice, at that point-”
“Why do you need thirty days?”
“That’s the protocol for requests involving-”
“Who says that’s the protocol?”
“You did!” Kalm’s already thin patience began to crack.
“I think I would know if I’d made that decision.”
Kalm’s lip curled underneath his mustache, and for a moment he was glad his axe was on the table and not in his hand.
“You still haven’t explained why you need thirty days.” She was not going to let it go.
Heckler joined the battle again. “Thirty days has always been the lead time for a large scale project.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty days, or a hundred days. We can’t communicate with the other offices if your people haven’t done their jobs!” The she-elf stared at them both and waited for an answer.
The dwarves stared back and waited for a question.
“Well?” she asked.
“Well, what?” Heckler said.
“When will you have the runes ready?”
“Two – more – weeks.” Heckler’s beard puffed out as he spoke each word.
“Two more weeks! But why?” Her voice rose into a familiar angry whine that made Kalm’s stomach tighten.
“Because it takes thirty days to roll out a new office!” Heckler shouted.
“What do you mean ‘but why’?”
“Why do you need two more weeks?” she asked again.
“Because we are already two weeks into the project, and it will take two more! Heckler turned red under his beard. “That’s a total of about thirty bloody days, which is the policy that you set!”
“I don’t care. I want it up by the end of this week!”
“You can’t be serious.” Heckler said.
“Of course I’m serious.”
“It can’t be done without bringing in-”
“No consultants!” Her chair slammed into the wall behind her as she stood.
Kalm, not easily startled, flinched as the other dwarf threw back his own chair and glared up at the elf. The war hammer began to fall to the floor and Heckler reached out and caught it by the haft before his weapon could drop.
The room froze. The thin red line, the place where she drank happiness, blossomed back into a grin as the vice-queen looked down at the hammer in the dwarf’s hand.
“Are you challenging me dwarf?”
The seconds uncoiled and stretched until they seemed like minutes. Heckler stood with his fist wrapped around the war hammer, caught in the elf’s web like a fly waiting to be devoured, the only choice left was to yield or to struggle. It wasn’t a hard decision for a dwarf.
Heckler feinted with the hammer and then slammed his empty shield hand into her gut. He laughed as she folded in two and careened into the wall beside her chair.
“Still want it done in a week, witch?” He roared.
The vice-queen stood and smoothed her robes. “Dwarves; all muscle, no brains.” Her hand flicked towards Heckler and flames shot out towards him.
The dwarf slammed the butt of his war hammer down and the runes etched into the head crackled to life. The fire licked around him with no more heat than a smithy’s forge. “Vice-king Heckler has a nice ring to it, don’t you think elf?”
“You had one ale too many at lunch if you think that will ever happen, Shorty. I’d sooner bow to a gnome.”
“I don’t care if you’re bent or broken elf. Do you know what my first decree will be?” Heckler spun the hammer above his head in a great arc and sent it swinging at the vice-queen’s head.
She smiled as the weapon crashed against the air in front of her as though it had kissed an anvil. “Oh please tell me vice-gnome Heckler, what will you do?”
The dwarf brought the ancient maul down repeatedly until the vice-queen’s shield shattered. He held the hammer up to her nose. “I will replace your entire bloody department with consultants!”
She grabbed the hammer’s face in her hand and with a word of power wrenched it from Heckler’s grasp. “I thought I had made myself very clear about the use of consultants.” The hammer sailed back out of her hand on a gust of wind and smashed into the dwarf’s chest.
Heckler fell to the floor along with the remains of his career. The vice-queen stood over him like a spider inspecting the small thing that had tried to escape her web. “The only thing you’ll be doing is filling out your workers’ comp forms.”
Kalm slid from the chair. His battle rage simmered, fueled by the grunting and wheezing coming from the floor. The runes on his axe glowed faintly on the table; it beckoned to him, promising to unleash its power if only Kalm would call it to war.
She turned to him, unconcerned that he was on his feet. “Now Kalm, I believe you are a senior member of the rune department?” Her eyes flashed cold for a moment before her soul drinking, happiness swallowing, red line of a mouth crawled back across her face and twisted itself into a mockery of a smile. “Perhaps you could oversee the department while Heckler is on leave?”
Kalm sized up the elf wondering if she was spent, if a swift swing of his blade would finish what the other dwarf had started. He walked to the table and picked up his two-headed axe in one hand and when she didn’t flinch, he gave her a curt nod barely noticeable beneath his beard.
“And when will the runes be ready?”
The acting manager of the rune department stared back at the vice-queen and straightened the silk tie around his beard with one hand, and with the other cleaved the axe into the boardroom table. He smiled when the idiot coin counter jumped and let out a yelp.
“Two – more – weeks,” he said.
“Fine,” the elf glared back. “But no consultants.”
A veteran of many boardroom campaigns and skirmishes, Hamilton Kohl spends his days writing while chained to his office cubicle. At night, and most weekends, he enjoys a slight reprieve from the tyranny of corporate overlords to spend time with his wife and children where they live just outside of Toronto, Canada.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? This story had me believing in the characters throughout.
I could picture this the whole way through. Really enjoyed it.