Orkland Story

Posted: September 24, 1994 in Writing
Tags: ,

[Unfinished…just getting started, actually]

CHAPTER ONE : Rumble’s Cavern

Rumble was wiping a clumsy Ork’s ale from his bartop when the four Wizards entered his tavern. Rumble had retired from adventuring; he had made that particular decision while sitting under one of four huge trees that had been standing for hundreds of years in that same place; the same four trees now supported the corners of his bar, “Rumble’s Cavern”, and it was this establishment that was where the Chaos started.

Orkland is an interesting place, to say the least, with its politics and struggles and one-of-a-kind adventurers. The Orks are the most prolific race in Orkland, hence their choice of name for the Land, which has had many names, but is at the moment called Orkland. Rumble is a half-Ogre, and he’s been around for a while, his tavern being the main attraction of a little farming and ranching community called Gnatspit fifty miles or so north of the ocean and the small port of Gronk.

The mayor of Gnatspit is Gorbag Butthead, a grouchy old Ork who never loses his job because nobody else wants to do it. Gnatspit doesn’t really need a mayor; the town council — Rumble, Rump the general store owner, Taya the proprietor of the only other Inn, the Home of the Whopper, Berkeley, who is the marketplace organizer and a businessman, and Dog Arath the Necromancer — meets three or four times a year to discuss whatever needs to be discussed, with or without Butthead in attendance. Gnatspit usually takes good care of itself, and the council meetings usually turn into a heated game of money-knifey, for which the council members are paid an annual stipend of two gold pieces.

Rumble’s Cavern is the best damn bar in Orkland, and he hasn’t heard of many places that compare from the many travelers he serves. It is rumored that even Gruumsh himself in the guise of a powerful Ork stopped in once for a mug of Rumble’s home-brew. People come from far and wide to sample from the immense selection of Rumble’s bar stock, and Rumble is pretty good at remembering names and faces. But the four robed sorcerers reeking of strong magic were not familiar to him, and Rumble put away his mung rag on a hook under the bar and walked down its length to get their order.

“We are each prevented from finding them because of the strength of our power”

“Precisely; that is why we cannot locate the power. It locates us too easily and shields itself through deceptions in the time—space continuum.“

“Yes! Somehow the powers are able to sense the magnitude of the persons seeking them, and they react to the stronger powers because of the danger posed to them.”

“And they know each of us quite well. I had my hands on them if it wasn’t for that foolish Illithid.”

“Anything to drink?” Rumble asked. The four mages looked up at him suddenly like he was interrupting a spell.

“Wine list, please,” snapped one man, robed in cobalt blue. The others clamored for exotic drinks and then returned to their conversation. As he set about mixing and pouring, Rumble took the opportunity to study the magicians.

All of them were powerful—very powerful—possibly the most powerful wizards that had ever set foot in this bar in a few years, maybe since Mordenkainen teleported in three years ago. Rumble absentmindedly encouraged a large white and orange cat out of his way as he noted his stock of typical magic-user beverage infusions. But these four really stank of sorcery. All of them wore fancy and terrifying metal helmets that were common with the new breeds of Chaos Mages seen in the last fifteen years, and their hands glittered with rings. Every once in a while during their conversation, when an important point was made or someone’s emotion ran a little high, a gesture would accidentally throw sparks or streaks of lightning would crawl across their skin. The bar was crowded, and Rumble could hear that the wizards were the number one subject to talk about now. They were given a wide berth at the old oaken bar top.

Rumble returned to wiping glasses, and poured several beers that were requested of him. He had a funny feeling about the wizards. He trusted his feelings a lot of the time — that’s how good bartenders do it — and he felt like he felt when he was younger and adventuring right before he was about to fall in a pit trap. He looked around the bar, noticing that it was crowded for an afternoon; a Snotling birthday party, a table of grey—furred Bugbears drinking cheap port by the keg, a dice game involving a group of Orks, half-Orks, Gnolls, and Yuck-Mouth the Hill Giant, two handfuls of weary adventurers, ten or twelve taciturn Dwarves down from the Iron Hills mines for a mug of mead apiece, three Lizard-Men in one corner, a nine-foot Troll smoking a hookah in another, and the weekly Goblin farmer Bingo Club meeting. A typical assortment of patrons for the Cavern. Except for the four Wizards.. Their argument was starting to heat up; sparks were flying around their heads, and each Mage had his own telltale special effects.

“So be it!” spoke the tall crimson robed one apocalyptically, “We shall compete for the same prize!” He sprang to his feet and gestured his arms wide with an accompanying peal of thunder that stilled conversation.

A Magician in a shimmering green cowl stood next to face the others.

“Yes, we will vy for the possession of the Power my friends,” she said slowly from beneath her hood, her voice grating through her helm. “We shall play a mighty game of Chess, but our board will be the Land, it’s denizens our pawns.”

The third Wizard, with the blue apparel, leaned back against the bar and glowered. “Yes,” he mused aloud, “if we are too powerful, too noticeable, then maybe our distraction could allow for an ally to gain the Power for me.”

“Schmendrick, you pea—brained apprentice! The artifacts will be mine!” screamed the yellow robe, violet lightning rippling like muscles across his forearms. He glared at the blue Wizard, from whom steam was rising.

There was a tense moment of silence.

A scintillating aura of coloured light appeared, surprising even the bickering Mages. From the extradimensional gate stepped a tall Being whose eyes held whole universes in them. The gate snapped shut and silence once again fell upon the bar patrons.

“Samsara Kurak Dohnkala Orkastrophenemos,” spoke the new arrival ominously. The words of Power rolled around the bar like low thunder, rattling the shelves and making the wizards shrink away.

“The rules are understood,” continued the Starred One after a pause, “The scenario is thus: allies shall be chosen from the contents of this Tavern. There shall be no direct meddling with outcome. Creativity within legal bounds is acceptable. One hour of briefing until departure.”

The Magicians glowered at one another, not daring to speak. Finally, the silence was broken by a Snotling slurping at his Oatmeal lager a little too loudly.

The Yellow Mage chuckled nervously and began scanning the possibilities of the customers as if he was shopping for buffalo jerky over at Rump’s minimart.

“By Pherasma, are you serious?” the crimson one asked incredulously. Upon receiving no answer, he, too began looking about the crowded bar.

Several gnomes got up as to leave, but a word from the green Enchantress coated the big front doors with a wall of ice. The blue Wizard began walking about the tables of the common room, seeming to size up the members of each group. He stopped in front of the Bugbears, the leader of whom stood up with a mighty flail in his hand. They glared at each other. The wizard reached into his robe and brought out a bag about the size of a cow’s head and threw it into the middle of the table. Bright colors spilled from it in the form of beautifully cut precious stones, gems the size of eyeballs, teeth, and fingernails — more wealth than anyone had ever seen. Gasps and murmurs went through the patrons, awed and uncomfortable.

“Your tribe will be the given much power when you succeed for me. I choose you, Bugbear, and your comrades. With your might and my intelligence, we will triumph. Do you understand?”

The bugbear visibly restrained himself, and then growled something unintelligible as he met the eyes of the Wizard. Suddenly, one of the other Bugbears stood up and with a fluid motion, slid a green—stained dagger into his leader’s ribs, whispering something to him with an ear to ear grin. Over the twitching form of his former leader, the second Bugbear flashed the same grin at Blue and raised a clenched fist to him. A barked command from the new leader made the other humanoids at the table leap to their feet with the same gesture. The Wizard turned around, smiling broadly from beneath his helm and with steam rising from his gauntlets. The Bugbears greedily pawed through the loot.

The green Magician had risen and was watching the end of the bar, where the Dwarves were discussing their mistrust of magic in low tones while keeping their eyes on the Mages. The green Mage started moving towards them deliberately, and a stocky member of the Dwarves turned around to face her completely.

“We are not interested in being pawns for your petty desires, Wizard!” the Dwarf said. Agreement rose from the rest of the Dwarves, but the Green one was unfazed. Walking up to the Dwarf who had spoken, she regarded him thoughtfully. From under her robe, she took a short sword that gleamed with gems set in obvious Dwarven workmanship. She unsheathed the blade and held it up to the light. The metal shimmered and glowed softly with captured starlight; the mouths of the Dwarves simultaneously fell open and they looked at each other in wonder.

“Mithral!” said one in awe.

“One of my minions brought this back from the depths of the Thunder Mountain mines,” said Green casually, “He also found the previous owner of the sword. He was tacked to the wall rather rudely with a long black iron spear that I believe is property of the Vampire Demon Legions of Krull. It seems that he was not warrior enough to properly wield this.” She handed it over to the Dwarves.

“Moradin Soulforger!” stuttered Maldrik the Rabid, a Dwarf with a purple mohawk; he looked down at the clean Mithral blade. Next to him, a Dwarf in white and blue armor that marked him as a Paladin hefted the sword cautiously and looked across it to a red-bearded Dwarf in a tartan who caressed the flat of the weapon. The few Gnomes who were trying to leave discreetly stood on tip-toes to admire the work on the scabbard and hanger. They all looked at the Wizard.

“He was the only Dwarf to have seen an exposed lode of mineable Mithral in three hundred years. This information and the mate to this sword is the reward for your Clan. . .and your cooperation,” the Wizard finished and gauged the response in their faces, turning away with narrowed eyes and a short laugh that expressed satisfaction.

Yellow stood at the rail and stared through the bar. The Snotlings made sure he wasn’t looking at them, and turned around to look at his choice of allies: the gaming table of Yuck-Mouth the Hill Giant. An Ork stood up from the table and shouted: “Not me; I don’t do work for nasty Magicians!” He laughed and turned to his friends for support. They looked at him dumbly.

Yellow cocked his head to one side as if he were thinking. By some common thought, everybody moved away from the one who had spoken such rash words, and in a flick of the Magician’s wrist, the loud Ork burst into flames and disintegrated into a pile of hot ashes that crackled with little lightning bolts of unused power.

“Your reward is to keep your lives, imbeciles!” shrieked Yellow, “You will be my pawns, my playthings and do exactly as I tell you!” He giggled at his joke and turned to Rumble for another drink. The humanoids at the table of Yuck-Mouth the Hill Giant said nothing and trembled. The Hill Giant nodded to the ocher Mage.

The red robed Magician swept the room with his gaze. He had been talking to himself under his breath, but had seemed to come to a decision. Now he rose and headed for a table against the wall to the left of one of the great river-rock and roots fireplaces. A motley assortment of people complimented this table. The other Wizards looked at each other, half amused, half questioning. Red leaned over and spoke quietly to the occupants.

“Support me in this endeavor, and I will make sure your time is well paid for.”

The characters exchanged wary looks. An Elf in a white blouse with an eye patch covering his left orbit cautiously half-stood.

“Begging your pardon, Squire, but us, here, were not real well acquainted with each other —we’re not really welcome elsewhere in the Cavern.”

He paused and smiled sheepishly, “I guess you could say we’re just drinking together for today.” He looked around across the planks of the circle; several toons cautiously murmured their agreement.

There was a few chuckles from the bar where the other Sorcerers were. Red looked over his shoulder and then turned back to the table. “The reward I offer, for I do not want to coerce anyone to join my cause, is quite enticing.”

“What’s the bribe, Wizard?” asked a ragged but regal redheaded scholar in a splendiferous and travel-stained blue robe.

Two muscular humans of equal size and features, garbed in the well-worn mid-armor of lived-in plate mail began arguing about the implied bonuses of this engagement. They were quickly shushed by the rest of the circle; an earnest Priest held up one hand inquiringly.

Leaning into the circle, the Red Wizard said quietly: “I will grant each of you a Wish.”

Gasps went around the table, and decisions were quickly made.

“Got nothing to do for the next few weeks”

“The Tribes of Benjammin shall benefit from this!”

“Always wanted a ninth level magic spell spent on me.”

“We can retake Cheese Island!”

“Oh, I don’t know what I would wish for.”

“Everybody else is doing it.”

“As long as you pay for the bar tab tonight, Wizard.”

“Excellent,” glowered the red Mage. He started to return to his seat at the bar, when a question came from the Bugbears, in gutteral Common, accentuated by a wicked handaxe whistling through the air and embedding itself in the bar by the Wizards.

“We shall win this Game for Blue. What is Game?”

The Wizards looked at each other, and Green stood up to answer. She sipped a rosy fluid from a delicate glass, moistening her tongue, and said carefully and clearly: “Find us —or rather, find me—the Hand and Eye of Vecna, the Arch–Lich.”

CHAPTER TWO : A Hasty Explanation

They were whisked away to an extra–dimensional meeting room by the Crimson Sorcerer. A round wooden table which would seat about twenty occupied the majority of the room. Hard wooden chairs surrounded it, and mugs and pitchers of ale and wine were placed on the table by unseen servants in ghostly tuxedoes. Several of those assembled immediately seized their mugs and filled them. There seemed to be eleven of them present, not including the Red Wizard.

“Allow me to properly introduce myself,” said the Wizard formally, “I am Shadrach, though I have many other names. I am at your service.”

Shadrach surveyed the company.

“I am deeply apologetic for interrupting your sojourn at Rumble’s fine establishment; however, I believe that this quest will be rewarding. I am a Man of my word and you each shall receive the reward I have promised you upon delivery of the Powers.”

“Do we have any choice in this matter?” questioned a bright-haired Gnome in silvered chain mail, “I have other responsibilities and my own life to engineer. And Tyr isn’t used to long uncompensated journeys.” With a casual gesture, a wolf wreathed in blue planar fire emerged from somewhere and sniffed the air behind her. She fed him a round of pepperoni from her sleeve.

“As I have said briefly,” smoothly interrupted the Wizard, “I do not want to force anyone to follow me. The reward stands: a Wish for each participant. You all here are free to make your own decisions. I just ask that you hear me out. And I am covering your bar tab tonight.” He looked pointedly at the Elf whose request this was in the tavern. “Does anyone want to return immediately?”

“Well,” replied a foppishly attired rogue, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have another drink on you.” The gentleman looked over at the Elf meaningfully.

“Now, where was I?” Shadrach started again, “The Hand and Eye of Vecna—a name, by the way, you probably shouldn’t casually repeat aloud—are the only remaining pieces of Vecna’s corporeal form. Vecna, when he was alive, was possibly the most powerful Sorcerer that the multiverse has ever known. His downfall was his pursuit of power, and though he lived for many times the life span of a normal man, he quested for immortality—and he found it, unfortunately. It was Vecna who broke the Law of Death and forever changed the fabric of all that we know.”

“Vecna was an extremely malevolent being. Upon graduating to Lichdom, for that is what he became, his dissatisfaction became his drive for a perfection of his own immortality. He sought greater and greater magicks, became more and more powerful, and was finally destroyed for his evil ways. A group of great heroes, gathered from far and wide, sought him out in his tower and with the assistance of several Deities, destroyed him. Yet the evil of Vecna ran deep, far deeper than mortals could comprehend, and even those Deities were not aware of the depravity of his heart. His tower had been reduced to crumbled stone, his workshops set afire, his minions routed, and Vecna himself had been burned alive, chained to the wall of his study when the tower fell. We had believed him gone forever in our foolish pride.” Shadrach fell silent, thinking to himself with faraway eyes.

“You were there,” stated a Dwarf with a feathered helm and a robe with embroidered magickal symbols, “You were one of the heroes sent to destroy him.”

The Red Wizard looked up with a raised eyebrow. “Yes, I was one of the ‘heroes’. Perhaps you can see my interest in this quest?”

“But that was before the Apocalypse!” sputtered the eyepatched Elf who had spoken for the table in the bar, “That . . . that was before the retreat of the Elder races before the Age of Man!”

“Yes,” replied Shadrach, “Roughly nine thousand years ago.” Startled expressions registered on every face.

“You’ve been alive for that long?” asked a woman from the depths of a deep purple cloak.

“Yes,” said the Wizard again, “Not always alive in your sense of living, but I am that old. Don’t let that get around; I still wish I was young like you folks.” He grinned wryly. “But I do have some excellent fireside tales.”

“After the destruction of Vecna, there was much cause for rejoicing. He felt that he was above the laws of mortals and Gods, and his power allowed for him to commit many horrible atrocities. As I have sorely regretted, our pride blinded us to certain signs that we should have taken heed of. One of his highest disciples returned to find his master ruined—but not quite dead. Acerak—one of Vecna’s favorite students—found a charred and broken master in the sundered ruins of his tower. He was given a grisly task which forever damned him to the same path that Vecna had chosen. Vecna could not mend the damage done to his mind or his body, but his right hand and his left eye were still functional. Acerak cut them from Vecna and hid them away from those who would prevent creatures like this from existing. And the force of evil that was Vecna’s will was transferred to these two dread items. With the Hand and the Eye, it is possible to be as powerful as Vecna once was—if you possess the strength to override his will.”

“So you’re saying that if I had Vecna’s hand, and I waved it around in the air and said a few magick words I could level a mountain?” questioned a thickly muscled Black Man suspiciously..

“Not exactly,” said the Wizard, turning to him, “First you would have to cut off your own right hand and place Vecna’s on the stump while the blood freshly flows.”

He turned back to the rest of the group. The Barbarian grimaced.

“And if you pluck out your left eye and replace it with Vecna’s, you may obtain the power of that artifact as well. Either one by itself is probably as powerful as I am; both of them together, united and in one host is tantamount to restoring Vecna to his former power.”

Shudders ran around the table, and other questions died as quickly as they were going to be spoken.

“It has happened before, but the mind of the host usually goes insane immediately, and that tends to upset Vecna a great amount, for it is difficult to work through the mind of a lunatic. However, the Wizards whom you all have seen tonight, including myself, are all strong enough magickally to resist going mad under the weight of the power of the Hand and the Eye. Whether any of us can resist Vecna’s will is a wholly separate question.”

“Then why do you want these artifacts?” asked a horrified young man in a forest green cloak over his leather armour.

“I must prevent the Hand and Eye from falling into the clutches of those who believe that Vecna’s power can be theirs to control. It simply cannot be done. I am quite a bit older than my comrade Wizards — by about two or three thousand years, and I know that I do not have the strength myself. None of them met Vecna personally,” Shadrach ended chillingly.

An enigmatic knight in black armour spoke slowly. “So you want these artifacts yourself. What do you intend to do with them?”

“I intend to destroy them once and for all.”

“And your Wizard friendsss?” hissed a Lizard–Woman wearing a blood red cloak and a silver circlet.

Shadrach sighed heavily. “Schmendrick—the blue robed one—is the only other one with any true idea of Vecna’s power. The yellow Wizard is Abednigo, extremely powerful and probably half–mad. The green Sorceress is Meeshak; her power is not solely magickal—she also is a High Priestess.”

“Of whom,” politely asked the Dwarf, leaning a bit forwards.

“Don’t ask,” replied Shadrach meaningfully.

“The Stargazer, who has set the rules, is older than I. It is the most powerful Wizard I’ve ever heard of . . . or met. It says it is mortal; I don’t believe a word of it. Most likely, it is some Deity that won’t reveal his name. It is no use asking it. That entity keeps all of us powerful Wizards relatively in line. It makes the rules and makes sure they’re followed, and it won’t be involved to any extent that you need to know of.”

A red haired Man in a chainmail shirt stood up. “Now wait just a minute. You’re asking us to find these . . . body parts for you and you can’t find them yourself? I’m sorry, but this seems a little out of my league. I trust my swords and my ability with them, but I’m not cut out for dealing with Liches and Wizards.”

“You are a part of this now, sir,” spoke the Dwarf, “I see your destiny is tied as tightly as the rest of ours.”

“Who are you?” cried the Man with the red hair angrily, “I don’t know any of you. All I wanted was a beer on my way through Gnatspit!”

The little Dwarf drew himself up to his full four feet. “I am Ravenhelm Steelsight and I have been gifted with second sight by the Lord of the Winds!” he said proudly, “You are angered because of your own confusion, for your master and mentor, Ranger Jack Bong, has disappeared and you believe that your training in the knowledge of the forests and hills is incomplete.”

The red haired man gaped at the Dwarf, then sank slowly into his chair. “Forgive me, wise Dwarf,” he muttered, eyes cast to the tabletop, “You speak truly of a matter which has troubled me. How did you know this? Your eyes see my heart more clearly than my own.”

“Not exactly, sir,” said the Dwarf with a little embarrassment, “I have no eyes. I am blind.” There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, then the Elven Knight cleared his throat.

“While we are introducing ourselves,” he spoke, “I am Acroyear, a Holy Knight from Ooth–Nargai, beyond the Wall of Sleep. This, to my left, is Brutikus, my friend and man–at–arms.”

“I am a Barbarian,” retorted the thuggish Black Man, “I just do what I do best.” He flexed his arms meaningfully.

The long red–haired Man seemed to recover his poise. “I am Cormac Mac Cain,” he said, “And I was studying to be a woodlands ranger. But, as Mister Steelsight has mentioned, I am without a mentor; perhaps my mettle is to be tested here.”

“Before there isss any sssusspicion, I would enjoy to introduce mysself,” said the Lizard—woman, “I am Ssithiss, a practicer of Magick and an adventurer — like yoursselvess, not a monsster as ssome might think.”

“I welcome your presence, Ssithiss,” replied Shadrach glaring at the subtle exchange of looks around the table, “Magick is hard to come by; your talents will be appreciated, I’m sure.”

“Not as much as my blade,” whispered a Man in a foppish wide brimmed felt hat to the woman in the purple cloak.

“Who might you be then, misster?” Ssithiss pointed across the table with a clawed finger.

“I?” questioned the Man with the hat with mock surprise, “You are not aware of who I am? Well then, it is my duty to inform you that I am the Baron Karza of Somalsturania. I will not bore you with my many titles and awards. It could take hours.”

“Somalsturania?” asked the Elf to his left, “Blimey, I’ve never heard of Somalsturania.”

“It is beyond the Palantir Ocean, my friend,” replied the Baron smugly.

“I’ve been across the Palantir Ocean my friend,” snorted the Elf, “I’m Paulo Hasselhoff, the Buccaneer, and I’ve spent my whole bloody life sailing across the Palantir Ocean.” Paulo glared at the Baron with his one good eye; the other was covered with a black velvet eyepatch. The Baron paled and coughed several times. The Knight in black mail brought his chair back down to all four legs from where he had been leaning back.

“I am known as The Wraith,” he said softly, “I have lost my name with most else that was precious to me. I pledge my sword to you, Wizard Shadrach. A Wish may be useful in my quest to restore my own honor.”

“How have you lost your honor, sir,” spoke Acroyear, “If you take no offense at my asking.”

“My father was a Paladin of great renown,” stated The Wraith, “I am his third and last son; a bastard, and one that he cannot publicly recognize. Nor would he want to.”

“Why?” asked Brutikus bluntly.

The Wraith paused, then removed his crimson plumed helm. “As you can see, I am not wholly human, like my father and my brothers. I am half Ork.”
“Ha! You think you got problems, Wraith!” spat the woman in the purple robe, pulling her hood back. Her hair was pure white and her skin was ebony. She looked Elven. Acroyear sprang from his chair. Paulo looked at her with dismay.

“A Drow!?” the Buccaneer said, disbelieving.

“Yes, a Drow,” she said with distaste, “And I don’t particularly care to be one, since my fellow Dark Elves have seen fit to exile me to the surface. It’s taken quite a while to adjust to all this sunlight, but it’ll take a while longer for everybody else to adjust to me.”

“So you are a Drow Elf,” mused the Oriental Man, stroking his finely trimmed Fu Manchu, “I have not ever had the opportunity to enjoy the company of a Drow. My name is Abu Dabu Dabu Day, and I am a Wu Jen — that is, in the Common speech, a magician. I am pleased to meet you.” He extended his hand to her; she shook it with a surprised expression.

“I am Kerith Moniskoi Tar’at Velikuna.”

“You may call me Abu.”

“You may call me Roo.” She blushed suddenly, as red as a Dark Elf can get, and smiled at the floor. Acroyear slowly sat back down in his chair.

“I guess I’m the last one to introduce myself,” said the young man in green and leather nervously. He took a deep breath. “I’m Lentos . . . Lentos of the Vines is my full name, and I don’t even drink. I just stopped into Rumble’s Cavern to hide from Bootlick the Ork and his thugs. They call me a wuss because I learn from the old man of the forest and they’ve kicked my butt a few too many times. I don’t really know if I should be here. I’m not a great Warrior or a Wizard or a Priest; I’m just a treehugger — at least, that’s what Bootlick and his brothers call me . . .” He trailed off and looked at the assembled group. Shadrach regarded him for a long minute with a keen eye, then turned to the Dwarf.

Without pause, Ravenhelm drew a small bag from a pouch on his belt and removed two small objects from it. Climbing up on his chair, the Dwarf shook them in his right hand, and cast them on the table in front of the young man. The two bone dice rolled to a stop; both had settled showing sixes.

“Twelve,” Ravenhelm intoned cryptically.

“That even accounts for the Wizard,” assented The Wraith, who nodded to the Dwarf.

“Welcome Lentos,” said Shadrach, then raising his voice slightly,

“Welcome all, comrades. The Game has started, and shall not end until all of Orkland be torn apart if need be. You must regain the Hand and the Eye for the sake of your own lives, for these artifacts are of great evil and power. Those who choose to sit by idly are truly placing their lives in the hands of others. I will not be accompanying you, for that is forbidden by rule; you may call my full name if you are in need of advice, but again, I cannot interfere directly upon your behalf. The other Wizards will try to waylay you indirectly — they cannot throw a fireball at you, but they surely can summon monsters to get in your way. These are the things that I will be guarding you against. Meeshak, Abednigo, Schmendrick, and I will most likely cancel each other’s effects out in regards to your progress, but do not underestimate the Dwarves, the Humanoids, or the Bugbears. Each of those groups have extensive families, which if they haven’t thought of it themselves, their respective Wizards will surely remind them of. Your advantage is that you are most likely smarter with your widely varied group, but be prepared to be dismayed at the sight of what looks like their numbers multiplying. If anyone owes you favors, now might be the time to cash those chips in. Don’t think that every Ork, Dwarf and Bugbear you meet can be assumed to be the enemy. Ravenhelm, you’re a Dwarf; what is your opinion on the Dwarves in the tavern tonight?”

“They are members of the Medina Clan, Sir Wizard.”

“What does that mean?” said Shadrach testily, “You’re ruining my buildup.”

“They are Chaos Dwarves: they aren’t worth the untanned hide of a Kobald, sir.”

“As you can see by this example,” the Red Wizard continued, “Not everyone is going to be an enemy. But then again, don’t take too many chances being overly trusting. The Hand and the Eye are awake and sentient; they can sense someone of my power and shield itself from detection. But for persons of your nature—in their terms, weak–willed and controllable—they will not be so difficult to find. But they have been hidden for the last three hundred years or so. Hidden well for them to stay put for so long. The only lead that I have is several days ride to the south, in Underhill Dungeon. The journal of the lunatic priest who last had anything vaguely to do with them only says “the last of the Guardians rests there” and that he fears for their rediscovery.”

Shadrach looked at a ghostly hourglass that appeared in front of him; the sand was almost all in the lower half.

“Drink up and toast to our success,” he said encouragingly as everyone was refilled by the hovering tuxedoes, “In a few moments, you’ll all be back at the comfort of Rumble’s Cavern. However, you’ll be sure to have a few more enemies than when you last left. I’ve conveniently teleported your weapons to your chairs. Good luck, and pray to your respective Deities frequently.”

“Wait a minute, Wizard!” spluttered Cormac, “Don’t you have any sort of a plan?”

As the room faded out, Shadrach’s voice came hauntingly through the sudden dimming of light.

“Back door . . . !”

CHAPTER THREE : Leaving in a Hurry

“No fighting in my bar,” Rumble said loudly, thumping the countertop with a huge axe for emphasis. The Bugbears were grinning at the Dwarves and thumbing their curved wicked–looking weapons.

“If I have to come around this counter to prevent any fighting, Wizards,” Rumble pointed at the four Magicians accusingly, “It’ll be the first time in three years. And I know who I’ll hold responsible.”

“Shut up you misbegotten oaf,” snarled the Yellow Mage disparagingly.
“Alright, punk,” growled Rumble, “I want you outta here if you’re going to be disrespectful.”

“Punk! “ shrieked the Yellow Mage, “Oh, that you will be sorry for! Do you have any idea who you are so casually dealing with? I’ll level your pitiful tavern.” Rumble ignored him as he continued to rave and turned to the tall starry—eyed man.

“Ptah, could you keep your monkey under control?” The name rumbled through the tavern and all heads turned to look at the bar. Deities were rumoured to frequent Rumble’s Cavern, but for most, this was the first time they had actually witnessed one. The ebony–skinned God turned to Boratus, who was gaping at Rumble.

“Rule one five three point three: no fighting in the establishment known as Rumble’s Cavern in Orkland,” Ptah’s eyes flashed, illuminating the Mage’s skeleton for a split—second; Boratus shook, then sank heavily to his barstool.

“You know what?” Rumble casually lifted the Deity’s crystal goblet and walked a little ways down the bar, “I believe I have a little of that Moonshine left from the shindig that Corellian threw here a few years ago, friend.”

Ptah smiled and put his elbows back on the bartop.

Nobody knows who threw the first axe, but it hit one of the Bugbears square in the jaw, and he fell off the bench with a loud thump. Rumble turned around quickly and started yelling, but the Chaos had started.

“Now!” shouted Acroyear, pulling his bare sword out from under the table. Brutikus stood immediately and picked up an innocent halfling, throwing him out of the way roughly.

“This way,” Brutikus shouldered a path through to the bar, followed by Paulo and Ssithiss. Abu and Roo were unceremonially shoved along by the Wraith. Everyone else at the table followed quickly. Reaching the bar where Rumble was brandishing his axe at the confusion in within his walls, the Baron doffed his hat and caught his attention.

“The back door, please, my friend.” Rumble turned and brained an Ork with a poised throwing knife, then pointed to the end of the bar where a stack of kegs rested.

“Get outta my bar, Karza,” shouted Rumble, “And take as many people with you as you can.”

“Thank you, sir Rumble,” the Baron bowed slightly, avoiding a panicked Kobald, “Would it be too much to ask for a Barrelton Ale — to go?” Acroyear grabbed Karza and pulled him over the bar.

Roo was kneeling in front of a massive oaken door in the shelter of the stacked kegs, poking several pieces of metal around in the lock.

“Let me try my way,” said The Wraith, putting a hand on her shoulder. Roo scrambled to her feet and shrank against the wall as he put his mailed foot against the door several times. The portal gave way with a sound of splintering wood, and the cool evening air poured in.

“Is everyone here?” panted Cormac. There was blood on his sword.

“I count eleven,” said Abu, “And I don’t think Shadrach was planning for us to wait.”

“Let’s get going then!” said Paulo, looking over his shoulder.

“Where to?” asked Cormac, wiping his swords on the grass.

“Is there a 7—11 in the neighbor hood?” joked the Baron, “I need a cigarette.”

“There’s Rump’s general store,” piped up Lentos.

“Lead on then, ” said Abu gently, “And let us not tarry.”

The sounds of the commotion in Rumble’s Tavern were lost in the darkness that was just beginning to envelop the town of Gnatspit.

CHAPTER FOUR: Getting the ^@#*&#&! out of Gnatspit

Rump had just finished counting his cashbox when he heard the pounding on the store’s thick front door.

“‘Closed at dark’ is what the sign says, dammit,” he grumbled. When the pounding didn’t stop, he tucked the strongbox under a pile of leather armor scraps and put away his glasses. “Alright, alright already!”

There were plenty of people outside, he noticed after he had opened the door.

“Can I help y’all?” he inquired.

“It’ll be worth your while to remain open a little late tonight, Rump,” said the Baron as he shouldered his way past Rump carrying three jingling black leather sacks.

“Karza!” spat Rump, turning to follow Karza’s quickly moving floppy brimmed hat back to the Camping aisle. Halfway through the store he gave up and yelled again. “Alright, you chucklehead, but I’m open for another fifteen minutes, d’you hear me, Karza!?”

“Pardon me sir,” Rump jumped, for Acroyear was standing at his elbow, “I’d like to apologize, but this is an emergency. We must leave town immediately.”

“Oh, trust me,” said Rump, looking the Knight up and down, “I’ve heard that one before. Just pay for everything. Karza does this to me once or twice a month anyways.” Rump turned and went to his counter, where he leaned his elbows.

“Fan out and get anything that absolutely necessary,” directed Acroyear.

“But pack it light, people!” warned Cormac, looking through a shelf of fish hooks and nails.

“Where’d the Baron get his money?” asked Ravenhelm.

“He said he had to get something from his horse in the stable on the way out of Rumble’s Cavern,” Lentos piped up, his eyes bright with excitement.

Brutikus set a pair of lean packs up on the counter to his right and leaned over to the boy: “The ‘Baron’ does not have a horse.”

Standing in the doorway, Roo called into the store, “Make it quick!”

“Working on it,” replied Karza, pocketing a number of small items.

“Make it quicker.”

“Working on it!” growled Karza.

Ssithiss joined Roo on the shadowy porch and looked across the empty marketplace…

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