Next Time on The Tiki Company

Torches lined the walls of the narrow passage, casting long, menacing shadows of the jagged and rocky outcrops along the floor. Suki Starfall prowled behind her companions, her breaths coming in ragged gasps as her hands grasped for the rock wall to support her trembling legs. Her Light spell was extinguished long ago to avoid attracting more unwanted attention. Between her rasping breaths and the crunching of her allies’ boots, she heard a clacking sound behind her. She whirled around, arm outstretched and her eyes glowing with arcane energy.

She was weak. She was drained. Reaching into her well of energy, she felt a migraine coming on as a pea-sized ball of fire hovered just beyond the tip of her finger. The footsteps ahead of her stopped and the sharp scraping of a sword being drawn reached her ears.

Suki held her breath, waiting. A long moment passed and the head of her longtime friend and companion—Holvic Ironbeard—bobbed into view just below her arm. His brow glistened with sweat as it furrowed in concentration. The torchlight gleamed off of the blade of his axe as the moment dragged on and eventually he grunted.

“No one there,” he growled, lowering his axe. “Let’s get a move on, lass. The sooner we get out of this hole the happier I’ll be.”

“I thought dwarves loved it underground?” Suki asked, dropping her arm to her side. Her voice was low and trembled with every word. She leaned against the cave wall, her bangs clinging to her forehead and her vision shifting in and out of focus.

“Aye, we do, but not when there are bandits from the nine circles of hell nipping at our heels.” Holvic hoisted his axe on his shoulder and gave Suki a sidelong glance. “Are you alright, lass?”

“Fine,” Suki replied in a wavering voice. “Just… just a little tired. And this heat…” She pushed herself off of the wall and turned to their leader. “Forgive me, Vogar, the desert heat doesn’t agree with me.”

Vogar nodded and stepped towards her. His once magnificent cape was tattered and burned throughout and his face was marred with soot and grime. He clasped a powerful and steady arm on Suki’s shoulder. “Worry not, my friend,” he said in his strong voice. It inspired courage and valour. With it, he had led them into fight after fight, each more perilous than the last. This time would be like no other. “We are all weary. These bandits have proven… troublesome.”

Holvic snorted and brushed past him. “Troublesome? Aye, that’s one word for ‘em. But I guess it’s fitting that the Bandit King has minions worthy of him, wouldn’t you agree?”

Vogar scowled, dropping his hand to his sword’s pommel. “They are the scum of the realms. Rapers, pillagers, murderers, and scoundrels. It matters not who their leader is; they are all the same.” He turned and with a resurgence of the bravery that carried Vogar and Suki through each conquest lead the way. “And by the light of Serenrae, we will wipe their filth from this world.”

“How many are there?” Suki asked, trudging along after her allies. Her legs felt like lead, and every sound made her glance over her shoulder. “It feels like their numbers are endless.”

“Then we kill their leader.” Vogar hesitated for only a moment at a crossroad before ducking down the left tunnel. “We kill the Bandit King.”

“And how do you propose we do that, laddie? Nobody’s ever seen the Bandit King and lived to tell the tale. We don’t even know what he looks like.”

“Scum like him like to make their presence known,” Vogar said in a voice that betrayed no uncertainty. “They are all vain, petty criminals and we shall carry his head out on a pike. Once he is dead, his followers will scatter to the winds like the cowards they are.”

“You make it sound so easy.” Holvic scoffed. “Face it, Vogar. We might have met our match with this group of ruffians. Maybe we should retreat and come back with a larger force?”

“No, this ends today. Ashen’s deserts will at last be free of this menace once and for all, and when it is the people can live their lives in peace and har—”

“Quiet!” Suki hissed, lunging forwards and crouching low to the ground. The scraping of metal against rock and the weighted breaths near her told her that Vogar had crouched down next to her.

“What is it?” He grumbled.

“Up ahead,” Suki answered simply. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tapped once more into her rapidly draining magic reserves. Her eyes opened, glowing blue in the dimly lit tunnel. “There’s someone waiting.”

“Has he seen us, lass?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “But he’s looking this way. Wait… there’s someone else with him.” She strained her ears and leaned forward. “I think… they’re laughing?”

“Laughing?” Vogar asked, shifting against the wall. “Laughing at what?”

The answer came in the form of an arrow shattering against the stone wall, startling Suki out of her spell and making Vogar jump to his feet. Before Suki could blink, Vogar’s sword was already in his hand and Holvic was muttering a prayer under his breath.

“Run!” Vogar shouted as a blinding light flew from Holvic’s fist and towards the two figures at the end of the tunnel. There was a resounding thrum and two bodies flew out of sight as Suki fell in line between Vogar and Holvic, their feet pounding against the floor as they fled their pursuers.

The tunnels all looked the same as they ran. The shouts of those behind them egged the company onwards, pushing past their exhaustion as adrenaline pumped through their veins. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Vogar knocked a wooden door clear off its hinges and they spilled out into a large chamber.

Suki’s breath caught at what lay before them.

Large, sand-worn pillars of stone stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Torches mounted in them and braziers burning with golden light lit the enormous room. Suki spun around as the others got to their feet, the size of the room making her feel small. But it wasn’t the room itself that made her hands tremble.


Lots of bandits.

Their unshaven faces scowled and sneered down at them from around the room. They seemed to be everywhere. They lined the walls, swords and spears drawn and menacing. They stood from rocky outcrops high up, arrows knocked and bow strings taut. Others—wizards, sorcerers, clerics, and druids—filled the gaps in-between. Their scowls were the worst and their animal companions growled and hissed, waiting eagerly for the chance to rip flesh from bone.

It was with a sinking realization that Suki took an instinctive step back. They were facing an army.

Vogar stood to attention, his sword drawn and the divine light of his god surrounding him. With an unwavering resolve, he readied his stance and focused his glare directly ahead of him. Holvic stood at his side, his eyes glancing around the room and his grip tightening around his axe.

Suki’s attention was at last drawn to one man standing apart from the rest. A blood red bandana was tied around his forehead and his face wore a sneer that could curdle milk. He stood tall and strong, seemingly towering over even Vogar and his very stature reeked of confidence. On his belt were two holstered pistols and a rifle was slung over his back. Behind him was a throne hewn from the cavern’s stone and embellished with jewels and furs.

The Bandit King took a step forward, and Suki blinked. Was it a trick of the light, or did his skin glisten in the light for a second like a lizard’s scales?

“Well, well, well,” the King started in a smooth voice weighted by an Almernaen accent. “So you are the rats running through my maze.”

“The only rat I see is standing before me, thief,” Vogar snarled. “I am Vogar Brimstone, paladin of Serenrae and wielder of justice and light.”

“Your gods have no domain here. This is my kingdom, and you will kneel before the king.”

“Never!” Vogar raised his sword and it shone in an righteous light. “You will kneel before the light of the gods! Even from here I can see your black heart, and by the light of Serenrae I shall rip it from your chest and cleanse the world of your vile filth!”

To most other villains, this sight would send them skulking away into the shadows or have them thrown on their hands and knees, begging for mercy. Power radiated from Vogar in waves, making Holvic smirk and calm Suki’s racing heart.

The Bandit King, however, threw back his head and laughed. His laughter echoed around the room, and soon, his army began to laugh as well. The din of their laughed filled the chamber and Vogar pointed his sword at the King’s heart.

“You meet your end here, Bandit King.”

“No, I think not,” the King said, eyes snapping back to Vogar. “You are tired and weak. You cling to the power of your gods, but even they cannot save you from me. I am the Bandit King! None shall stand before me in this world or the next!” He un-holstered both of his pistols and strode forward, meeting Vogar’s determined scowl with a gleeful grin. “But let’s test that, shall we? Strike me down, paladin! Show me the strength of Serenrae!”

“As you wish!” With a roar, Vogar charged, Suki and Holvic at his side. The Bandit King raised his arms.

There was a bang.

There was a flash.

And then there was darkness.

Suki swam into consciousness, her head throbbing. She tried to move only for a lance of pain to shoot from her side to her spine. A cursory glance down showed a bloody patch spreading over her robes.

“The might of your gods does not amount to much, does it?”

Suki’s eyes followed the voice and her throat tightened at what she saw. Lying bloody and broken on the floor was Holvic. His mouth was agape and his unseeing eyes met with Suki’s. She tried to scream in pain, loss, and anger, but only a garbled croak came out. Standing above Holvic’s corpse was the Bandit King. Vogar stood in front of him, his brow bleeding and the barrel of the King’s pistol jutted underneath his chin.

“Well, it didn’t do much for him at least.”

“You…” Vogar spat. “You will not get away with this. You will be put down and you will be crushed under the boot of the universe for your crimes.”

“I will be crushed?” The King chuckled darkly. “No, I will not be crushed. I will live, I will thrive, and I will rule! I am the Bandit King!” There was another crack and Vogar shouted out in pain, crumbling to his knees. The smoking barrel of the King’s other pistol was pointed at the back of the paladin’s head. “And you will kneel before me.”

“I will never kneel to the likes of you.”

“Then you will join your dwarf in death.”

The King pulled the trigger and this time, Suki screamed. Vogar’s limp body fell to the side and the King turned to her. He skulked towards her and Suki tried to scramble away. The dark faces of the other bandits surrounded her and it came as little surprise when she felt the hot streams of tears pouring down her face.

“You thought you could stand before me,” the King growled, handing the spent pistol to one of his underlings. “You thought you could kill me in my own kingdom!”

“N-no,” Suki gasped, feebly trying to back away. “Please…”

He stopped, towering above her. Again, in the flickering torchlight she thought she saw a lizard’s scales glint along his neck. He rolled his shoulders and reached for the rifle slung over his back. “You cannot slay me. None can slay the Bandit King.”

Suki whimpered and tried to lift her arm only for a heavy boot to pin it against the ground. She cried out in pain as she felt crippling pain shoot up her arm and felt the bones break under the King’s boot.

“I am the greatest bandit who ever lived!” He bellowed, his chest heaving and a mad glint in his eye.

“Please… someone help…”

“There is no help for those who challenge me! This land is mine, these people are mine, and everything here belongs to me!” He pointed his rifle at her.

“Please…” Suki shut her eyes, sobs wracking her beaten and battered form.

“I am the Bandit King! Let it be the last thing you know, girl!” She heard him give a deep laugh. “For I am the great bandit, Tokagero!”

There was a bang and a second of intense pain, and Suki Starfall knew no more.

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