Archive for November, 1998

The Return of Bombaata Sulako

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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He climbed out of the pit unrecognizable, mud caking his features and dripping from his clothes. His eyes, however, burned with green sparkles that almost burned the leaves from the great tree spread out in dangerous majesty above his crouched form. The flying halflings that harassed him on his way to his very-near death cowered in their cosy little aerial hobbit-holes and trembled. Nobody had spent that much time in the bowels of the Tree and came out sane; the Tree had been there much longer than Waterdeep and the surrounding counties. It had been rumoured to exist in many civilizations; even Halister had only used it to dispose of unfortunate creatures who played with too many knobs in his accursed macho trap dungeon Undermountain, which drew many weak and pitiful adventurers full of themselves and their future glory.
Looking around, he wiped sweat from his brow, leaving a grey-brown streak of mud on his arm. His limbs trembled from the exertion of successfully climbing the 100 foot shaft with a broken arm and several broken ribs. He drew a stiletto for its comforting presence in his hand and cautiously left the Tree. The Tree, awed, let him go.

* * * * *

“You need proper attire to enter this establishment, sir.” The burly doorman tried to say politely to the bedraggled person.
“Durnin is expecting me,” he said sarcastically.
“I don’t think so, punk.”
It was over in a flash of twin stilettos and two geysers of blood that fountained from the doorman’s neck. The mud covered man dragged the doorkeeper into a nearby alley, glaring at the few casual passers-by who dared to glance at him.
A few moments later, with a newer blouse and vest and the majority of the dirt wiped from his features, he threw open the door of the tavern and walked in.
A gasp of astonishment silenced the majority of the establishment’s patrons. The dagger-wielder walked to the bartop and asked for Durnin. While waiting he glowered at a group of half-orc barbarians who stared right back at him.
“I need an advance, Durnin,” spoke the stranger. Durnin looked at him questioningly for a moment and then walked down towards his cashbox. He returned with a small leather bag that clinked pleasently.
“500 is all I’ll give you, you bloody mutant.” snarled Durnin, “Now get out of my place before I throw you out myself!” They stared at each other for a long moment, then the muddy-booted one turned and strode towards the door. Durnin spat after him.
“Don’t come back, Bombatta Sulako.”

* * * * *

The half-orcs were waiting for him as he left.
“We’re going to ask nicely for your new purse, moron,” said the smallest of the five, stepping forwards and holding out one hand. The other was on a wicked scimitar loosely sheathed in his belt.
“And if I give it to you, I live,” said Bombatta tiredly, “Yes, yes I know. I’m part pig myself; I understand, I’ve even done it before. But you have no class, no style, no flair. No redeeming quality. Understand?” The half-orc shook his head and glanced at his comrades, who stood there waiting for a signal of some sort. Bombatta buried three thrown daggers into the chest of the first before he had a chance to turn back around to face him. The others gaped at their bleeding comrade, who had fallen on his rump and uttered a small sound of surprise before littering the street with his corpse. Bombatta walked forwards and gestured at the dead half-orc.
“Similar fates await you,” he said simply. They tried to run. He didn’t let them get too far. Bombatta paid a small child a platinum piece to remove their bodies from the middle of the street.

* * * * *

The ship’s sails were tattered and ripped as it worked its way slowly into the harbor of Nazbo on the eastern coast of Orcland. It was listing heavily to starboard and seemed to have a skeletal crew. Several of the lifeboats were missing. Bombatta was thrown into the bay a half mile out and forced at musketpoint to swim the remainder of the way to his homeland.
As he climed up the piling of the pier, a pair of goblins threw their makeshift fishingpoles into the water and ran as fast as they could into the town. A group of citizens had gathered in the town square as a wet and angry Bombatta Sulako strode towards them with a stiletto in each hand and shouted at the top of his lungs.
“I have returned! You cannot kill me!”

[An unfinished start to some sort of crazy adventure]

The sky tore open violently and green lightning splayed skeletal fingers across the black clouds which hung like shrouds over the dark city. A vast peal of thunder which bulldozed across the landscape of concussed concrete and broken stone caused most to clutch their young nearer and pray to nameless gods beyond the sunless sky. In the brooding temple whose obsidian walls were rumoured to be mortared together with the souls of curious cats, the chanting of cowled priests echoed in a cacophony of insane voices pronouncing mantras strange to their tongues. Nothing stirred but the wind, which tore through the streets as if it were searching for its own sanity.

Bowing low and sweeping the limb of a freshly dismembered Elf across a huge intricately carved disk set into the floor, a heavily armored priest stirred the heavy vapor of hanging incense into whorls of mustard-colored smoke. The sonorous drone of the hundreds of faithful surrounding the raised platform was punctuated by shrieks of horrible ecstacy that sounded as if they were being torn from the lungs that uttered them. Open to the sky that still crawled with eerie claws of lightning, the grooves and patterns of the altar seemed to undulate under the weight of the blood that coursed over it, libations spilled to an entity who was not to be named. The priest was bone-tired, but ululated praise in a hoarse voice, aware that she was being watched hawkishly for any sign of weariness. Again she repeated the syllables that she had learned in the stygian depths of the Temple through a tiny door that confined misshapen creatures that had never seen the light of day; again she made the joint-cracking motions that nearly dislocated her spine under the weight of her ceremonial armor. Flinging the appendage behind her to be devoured by the horde of mindless worshipers, she threw her helmet back and screamed from her soul at the thunder-ripped sky above her. The blood on the altar began to boil, and then, from the five-pointed star set into the middle, proceeded to turn a tarry black.

From the shadows of broken architecture high above the slimy mosaicked floor of the Temple, a hooded figure stood at the edge of a crumbling floor and watched the woman howl. Pleasure twisted skeletal features into a rictus grin as shivers travelled through the figure at the sound. Looking past the tops of ruined columns and unfazed by the dizzying height, the figure traced a symbol of Power in the air with the twisted tip of an old staff. In a voice that spoke of the spaces under children’s beds and half-open closet doors, Tarkarthiss M’ang, the self-proclaimed most powerful man in Orkland, began to whisper: “The Book!”

The priestess, hearing his words on a ragged gust of wind staggered, then spun around to face the grovelling assembly. “The Book!” she shouted; the mantra changed to reflect this new instruction. Blackened blood ran freely from the altar, stickying the marble of the platform and steaming with nauseous fumes. The faithful began to chant the word, half retching through the stench of the cloying incense and scorched blood. The fires of the braziers at the four corners of the platform whipped chaotically as the wind combed it into streamers of orange flame. At a motion unseen by those on the floor, Tarkarthiss sent the hanging symbol plummeting into the center of the altar.

An avalanche of thunder tore the sky open, and a bolt of greenish lightning as wide as an elephant impacted the altar, shaking huge chunks of rubble from the ceiling. The cries of the faithful were drowned in the hideous sound of worlds juxtaposing for an instant, a noise like a gigantic ribcage being ripped wide. The braziers, flung from the platform, sprayed burning oil over those present; the blood caught fire and burned with a green flame, engulfing the priestess, who laughed maniacally as she screamed. The lightning struck again, sending tentacles of green electricity scything through the crowded worshipers. Glowing with a white-hot intensity, the center of the altar blinded those who dared to look at it. Tarkarthiss grinned wider, and brought one hand up to shield his sunken eye sockets from the third and final impact that was expected.

The agonized screams of the cultists were cut short by a terrible crack of thunder that sounded from the altar as the bolt struck, sending fist-sized fragments of stone everywhere. Struck deaf, the wailing of the dying was cut short by their bodies melting as a wave of energy pulsed through the Temple, bringing down more of the ruined structure; the nearby mountains trembled in their efforts to produce a riochet echo that slowly died into a low electrical hum of pure Power. Stray branches of the green electricity rippled over a gaping hole where the altar once rested; only the white star remained intact. Materializing from thin air, hovering over the five-pointed symbol, a Book came into existence. Bound in a leathery substance that looked moist, it nearly breathed. A huge lock kept the contents shut. Tarkathiss stepped nearer the edge of the perch and inhaled deeply in satisfaction.

A stray bolt of lightning fell from the sky and hit the white star, winking it out, and something inhuman seized the Book with large-clawed hands. Tarkathiss, taken aback, cast aside his hood, revealing the fireballs that were his eyes in his grey skull, and gaped at the intruder that had suddenly appeared in the middle of his Temple.

“Guys!” gasped the Froggacuda, “I got it! I’ve got the Necronomicon!”

The Humongous and the Frogs

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
Tags: , ,

He crouched below the newly refurbished drawbridge and carefully stroked a frog’s head between the eyes. The frog couldn’t smile, but if he could, he would be. Every day, the Humongous visited the clan of frogs outside the Moathouse, a moderately famous inn, tavern and brewery rolled into one renovated keep a little bit north of the small town of Opar. The Humongous was not the brightest person in the land, but he was fiercely loyal, and had recently become much more responsible and good-hearted after he had helped thwart the nefarious plans of several terrible entities from other planes of existence. He had always been strong in body, and for many years would take care of problems by smashing them into flinders or by picking them up and throwing them far away. But lately, his friends, especially the great magician Borkum, had noticed that the Humongous was much more thoughtful than he used to be, and had odd habits, like shaping his fists into mace heads or turning into a bull and running around in the fields. The Humongous had discovered the power of positive thinking in his mind, and was becoming more in tune every day. It wasn’t like Borkum’s spells, or the priestess Lillith’s belief and faith. Instead it just required a lot of concentration and an idea of what your body can do. The Humongous was just that: humongous, and there was nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it. Plus he drank a lot of milk.

Today, though, the Humongous was sitting under the drawbridge minding his own business when someone called him a troll as a rider stopped on the drawbridge. The frogs sat in the mud as he stood up and peeked over the edge of the oaken span that laid over the moat to see who had called him a troll. A man in fine livery sat upon a great white stallion. He had a sword and shield buckled to his saddle and had about him an air of great importance that could easily be mistaken for arrogance. A train of some fifteen men-at-arms and retainers followed him closely.

“You there. Go tell the leafeater that his oldest brother has arrived,” demanded the knight. The Humongous immediately realized that it was Renault, his elf friend Robin’s sibling. He hauled himself up and tracked mud into the courtyard.

“Robin!” announced the Humongous in a loud voice, “Your brother is here to see you!”

His bellowing rang through the keep; several people came out to help with the visitors and to see what the racket was about. The Humongous slipped back into the moat in the confusion that followed, ignoring the heated argument that ensued between Robin and Renault as soon as they exchanged pleasantries.

The frogs had waited for him. He couldn’t talk to them like he could talk to another person, but sometimes, if he concentrated really hard, he could share thoughts with the little green amphibians. He went back to stroking one behind its eyes.

After enduring a couple of minutes of noise and dust in the shade under the drawbridge, the Humongous picked up five or six of the smallest frogs and started to walk around the keep in the moat. The rest of the frogs followed him, hopping and croaking. The cacophony faded as they went around the base of Borkum’s tower, and they came upon a dead frog in the silence. Another frog leaped over to the corpse, which was laying upside down and had been savaged open by some terrible teeth. The frog looked at the Humongous.

Carefully putting the other frogs down, he carefully picked up the frog and looked at it sadly. For a moment, he looked as if he had lost his best friend; then, he closed his eyes under his velvet mask and concentrated on sending blood to his senses. He felt them immediately warm to the presence of more blood, and he gingerly smelled the frog’s body. Odors assailed his heightened sense of smell, but there was no mistaking the musky odor of a predator. Something had expanded its hunting grounds too close to the Moathouse, and had unfortunately killed one of the Humongous’ friends.

“Stay here little green buddies,” warned the Humongous. The frogs blinked their eyes at him. He climbed out of the moat, and with a look around, set off into the swampy woods on the trail of the Beast.

It was getting darker in the already dark mucky forest, but the Humongous was still searching for the Beast. He had followed it to the outskirts of Opar and then lost the trail when the forest petered out into the rolling hills of grazing land used by the farmers’ livestock. He couldn’t see very well anymore under the overhanging broad-leafed limbs, so he decided to go into Opar for a tall cold mug of milk before starting back along the road to the Moathouse.

Sitting in the small tavern, he thought about the Beast. Whatever it was, it wasn’t too big, about the size of a medium dog. The Humongous had at first thought it was a hunting dog that he would have to chastise, but the Beast didn’t act like a dog at all. The trail went straight through the forest with no stopping for exploration or marking trees at all, which was unlike a dog. Even the Humongous marked a tree on the way to Opar.

A yelp of pain and surprise came from across the room. The Humongous turned to see a dirty little kid with his hands over his eyes with a magical glowing copper piece on the table in front of him. The piece looked well worn and vaguely familiar; he felt his belt pouch and sure enough, the coin that Borkum had given him was gone and the pouch had a neat little slit in the bottom of it. The Humongous hunched off of the barstool and went and got his copper piece. He patted the kid on the head as he fetched his coin.

“You know you should ask before taking something that isn’t yours,” said the Humongous. The kid snarled at him and tried to bite his arm, but the Humongous gently pushed him away. “Now that isn’t very nice.”

“My father will get you!” he shouted. Punching the Humongous in the eye he slipped under the table and dashed out of the door.

“Damn gypsies came in last week from down south,” volunteered the bartender, a fat old man with a cleft chin, “They’re nothing but trouble. Always cavorting around big bonfires and then disappearing into the woods a little north of here.”

The Humongous gladly took the wet towel from the bartender and pressed it to his eye. It didn’t really hurt, but he didn’t want it to swell up any because then he would have to explain how he had gotten it, and then Robin would laugh at him.

“Where are they staying? It’s dark and there is a Beast about,” he asked the bartender, “I should make sure that nice little boy gets home safely.”

“Why, they’re up beyond the big boulder at the north west edge of town.”

As the Humongous left town, night fell, and it was quite dark by the time he had passed the big boulder. It actually was put there on the outskirts of Opar by the Humongous himself. It was a grave marker for a dead friend of his whose name he never learned, but who was really good with cattle. He paused to pick up a big rock which was next to the boulder, and picked out a blue candle stub. Putting the rock back, he lit the candle and placed it on top of the rock. After a moment of silence and reflection, he started up the hill towards a flickering fire he saw illuminating the trees a few hundred yards away.

Coming to the top of the rise, the Humongous stopped and dropped to all fours. Crawling to the edge of the little bowl, he peered down into a semicircle of three wagons. Around fifteen men, women and children were playing tambourines and flutes and dancing around a fire. They were having a lot of fun, as gypsies do, and the Humongous almost wanted to join them. He was good at dancing and singing himself, but then he thought better of it. He was not so charismatic as Robin, who would know what to do, and sometimes he scared people. He remembered that he had scared Renault earlier today, because he had mistaken him for a troll. The Humongous watched for a moment longer, then he crawled away back down the hill.

Walking down the road back to the Moathouse, he promised himself he would get up early and follow the trail again. The Humongous looked around to make sure he wouldn’t frighten anyone, and changed into a bull. He had always like cows, and one day, after studying hard, he found he could become a lot more like a bull than he had thought: his hands and feet became hooves and short brown and white hair grew out of his skin. His neck thickened just a little bit, and two horns sprung out of the sides of his head. All in all, you could still tell it was the Humongous, because it was an extremely ugly bull, but it served his purpose, and he ran off down the rutted road into the forest.

A while later, he thought he heard some rustling in the bushes, so he stopped to see what it was.

“Maybe the Beast is around again tonight,” he thought. Slowly, several animals slunk out of the underbrush all around him. There were five or six foxes with nice red fur and white stripes on their tails, a pair of big grey wolves, and three spotted skunks. They surrounded the bull that was the Humongous and began nipping at his flanks when he wasn’t looking. After a couple of solid bites, he began to get upset. And what was worse, his natural talent for being empathetic with animals wasn’t working right now.
Blood ran down his back leg where a wolf had bitten him. The Humongous had had enough, and when one of the skunks cockily came too close, he lunged forwards and pinned it to the ground on his horns.

The rest of the animals stopped and looked horrified. The skunk squealed and twisted on the horns, gnawing at the Humongous when he could reach him. The Humongous shook his head violently and flung the body down the road. As it flew through the air, it unbelievably transformed into the body of a naked person. The bull was so surprised, he changed back into the Humongous. He looked around at the animals, who stared back at him.

All at once, the foxes started darting in and out of his legs, making it hard for him to keep his footing and the wolves leapt at his chest. He took a deep breath and concentrated on the space right where he was; he had found that he could stay in the same place if he wanted to by thinking really hard about being immobile. The wolves were expecting to knock him down, but they slammed into the Humongous as if he were a wall.

The Humongous grabbed a fox by its tail and received a vicious bite for his troubles. The next fox just got punched. Ribs broke in its small body and it crawled away to the side of the road by the skunks. Another fox was kicked into the treetops. One of the wolves was sneaking up on him on his left; he could hear him growling softly with his heightened senses. The muscles on the Humongous’ chest bulged with adrenaline. The wolf in front of him leaped at him and took a bite out of his chest. The Humongous shot his arm out three times its normal length, by concentrating on his flesh and bones, and stuffed the wolf head first into a hollow tree trunk. The remaining foxes were gnawing on his legs, and he leaned down and punched each one twice on the top of their heads, knocking them unconscious. The skunks looked at him warily with their beady eyes, and the last wolf snarled at him.
“You scoundrel! Picking on my child,” said the wolf, “I will chew you into hamburger!”

The Humongous stopped at looked at the wolf. He’d never seen a talking wolf. It circled him once and jumped at his throat. The Humongous gathered all of the strength he could find and caught the wolf in midair. Then he squeezed and squeezed until he heard bones cracking. The wolf meanwhile had kept his word and had chewed on the Humongous’ arm before passing out and changing into the form of a bearded man; one of the gypsies he had seen dancing around the fire earlier in the night. He set the body on the ground. The man still breathed, though raggedly, and had blood leaking out of his mouth.

“I didn’t pick on anyone. I’m the one who gets picked on,” said the Humongous to the animals. Then he laid his hands on the gypsy and straightened his chest out. The wounds closed up and looked a little better, while the same wounds appeared on the Humongous, only much milder. The man groaned and writhed a little. The Humongous stood up from beside the gypsy and walked past the animals down the road. He stopped to look at the form of the kid who had pickpocketed him earlier and tried to borrow his magic coin. Come to think about it, he did look a little like a skunk. Even his dark hair was sort of spotted. The animals melted into the woods, dragging the ones who couldn’t move, and the Humongous walked back to the Moathouse.

When he got there, he climbed under the drawbridge and made a croaking sound that the frogs had taught him. Within a few minutes, a hundred or so frogs had gathered, heard his story, and made the Humongous a little medal of swamp grass and rocks, which he still wears to this day.

K’t’inga Komo Val ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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**note: this was written by Jason DeRoche

Khan K’t’inga Komo Val – Savior of Klin ‘Zhai

Little need be said about the deeds and character of such a fabled warrior. He holds his honor, and that of his friends, to be more valuble that anything else, including his own life. He will aid those in need, unless they have brought dishonor upon themselves or their family. Bandits, pirates, and all those who bring chaos to civilized lands are the most evil and his hated enemies. Mercy for such is not in K’t’inga’s nature. Unlawful influences must be purged from society to allow it to flourish. These are the teachings of Marduk, god of storms, lightning, and the city of Klin ‘Zhai, and cities in general.

Honor is not merely words spoken to satisfy ritual, or to be polite. It is something that every man must feel in his bones. K’t’inga is distraught that his people have fallen into decadence. Wealth and finacial success are the badges of honor his people recognize now. Honor can be gained in any profession, if one puts his best effort into reaching the pinnacle of that trade, but his people have forgotten the honor to be gained as warriors. Klin ‘Zhai was all but defenseless against the Camarones and the evil priests and followers of Pyrae and Iuz. Perhaps now that he has been made General of the army of Klin ‘Zhai, he can lead by example, molding his soldiers into true warriors.

His past has some mystery, but not about one thing. He is half-orc, and as such is considered by most in human, elf, and dwarf societies to be the scum of the earth. Untrustworthy, uncivilized, and a foul reminder of what was done to some poor woman. This is the legacy he was brought up with. The Komo Val home, an estate a day’s ride from Klin ‘Zhai, was raided by an unusually large band of desert orcs. The harsh conditions in the Sakaran desert usually prohibit such large war bands, so the Komo Val estate was unprepared for an attack in such numbers. Sheik Z’gavsta Komo Val was riding back to his home when he saw the attack in progress. His House was of the old ways, though it had declined in influence, and he and his honor guard immediately rushed to repulse the attack. Fortunately, they arrived before the orcs had secured the estate and begun their usual slaughter. Only the few guards and a few servants who resisted were killed, though two of the Sheik’s wives were violated. [No! I won’t walk you down to your car!] One of his younger wives, K’neska, soon showed the signs of a child within. The Sheik could not be certain whether it was his or the beast that violated his home who was the father, so he waited anxiously for the birth. In many lands a half-orc child is killed when born, and it would not occasion much comment if Z’gavsta had disposed of the child when the bony ridges on its forhead were evident. But the little beast seemed more human than orc, and the Sheik had a plan for it, so he allowed it to live. As a symbol of the dishonor he brought to his House, the Sheik named him K’t’inga, Bringer of Destruction.

Fourteen years later, K’t’inga worked under the hot sun in the tanning yard. His muscles still ached from turning the wheel that ground the grain that the hundred or so residents of the estate used each day. Though only forteen years old, he was already as large and strong as a young man. Orcs have short lifespans, and, in this, his heratige showed through. He did not look up or stop working as the Sheik approached with his master of arms. He was never to look directly at the Sheik, speak to him, or do anything that would cause the Sheik to notice his existence. The two men stopped a dozen paces short of where K’t’inga was working. Z’gavsta turned to his companion, a man a little taller than average, with thick arms and more than one scar on his face.

“Prepare him for what he must do. Teach him,” he said curtly.

“He is to learn the Bat’leh?” the master of arms asked with some surprise.

“No!” Z’gavsta turned to his man with more than a little anger. “That is the weapon of a true warrior! A warrior with honor! He only needs to kill. Give him a weapon that will be efficient at this task and teach him to kill with it.” With that last comment, the Sheik stalked off toward the house, not looking back, while the master of arms studied K’t’inga thoughtfully.

So it came to pass that K’t’inga was taught how to use a weapon that was good for killing. A steel breastplate was little protection against it, and it required little skill to use. The master of arms thought it appropriate for K’t’inga as he was regarded as being slow-witted. The half-orc surprised his teacher by learning quickly and soon began to excel in the use of this weapon, nearly outstripping the master of arms himself.

An old steel breastplate stood in front of a bale of hay left over from the summer floods. K’t’inga stood at attention in front of the master of arms with a heavy crossbow in a sheath on his back and a short sword on his hip. He did not see the Sheik watching quietly from behind him.

“Loose!” old warrior shouted, and K’t’inga moved with quickness that belied his size and that of the crossbow as he reached over his back and drew it out. He had it on his shoulder and was firing before he seemed to take aim, but at twenty paces, the bolt punched a hole in the center of the steel chest.

“Reload!” The command sprung K’t’inga into action again as he pulled back the lever that drew the massive bow and fixed another bolt in place. He then stood ready, awaiting the next command with neither anticipation or complacency on his face.

“Loose!” Again the command came, and K’t’inga fired after taking a hare’s breath longer than before to aim at the second target, a full hundred and fifty paces away. The bolt did not hit directly in the center as the first one did, but it still would have been a lethal blow to anyone who did not have a healer standing next to him when the bolt slammed home.

“He is ready then?” Sheik Z’gavsta said as he strode toward the student and teacher.

The master of arms nodded while watching his student. “More than ready. He learns very quickly.”

“Good. It is done then.” The Sheik turned to face K’t’inga, acknowledging his presence for the first time in K’t’inga’s memory. He tried to look away, as he should, but Z’gavsta placed himself directly in front of the half-orc. Now seventeen, K’t’inga stood a little over six feet tall, and had chest and arms larger than many blacksmiths, but he still seemed intimidated by the man whom he owed his life to, as he saw things.

“You have been the symbol of my House’s dishonor, K’t’inga. A living reminder of my failure to protect my family and my people. A failure compounded by my inability to track down the beast that defiled my wife and put an end to him. He must have traveled beyond our lands to have avoided my scouts these past years, and he must be a formidable fighter to have killed the ones that hounded him after his vile acts. An unusual orc it seems. This should mark him out.” The Sheik seemed to look within himself, and then at the targets. “You will be the instrument of my House’s redemption, K’t’inga. You will track down the orc with six fingers, and you will kill him.” He then turned as if to leave, but hesitated. When he turned back to K’t’inga, he looked at him without his previous disdain. “You have done well. All these years, doing as you have been told with never a complaint or sign of discontent. And you have learned well what you have been taught it seems. You need not return with proof you have killed this orc. Either he will be dead, or you will. Either will lessen the stain upon my House. When your task is done, the shame of your existence shall be lifted. You will be free to make your way in the world as you can, gain what honor you can.” And with that last comment, Sheik Z’gavsta Komo Val walked away.

So it was that K’t’inga was given supplies and enough coin to begin his journey, his hunt. In time, he would find the trail of his prey, the father he never knew, and put an end to his shame and that of House Komo Val. Even so, he was left with no direction, no family, and no purpose in his life. He continued on, but did not know where to go next or how he would make a living in a world that still looked at him with hatred and disgust. It was with this uncertainty that he came upon the small village of Opar. But that is another story . . .

Qapla’! (Success!)

Unfinished TOEE Story

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
Tags: ,

They came to Opar individually, from all corners of the continent, and never left. Today you can see pieces of their work throughout this part of the Land. It was ten years ago that the Temple of Elemental Evil reared its head again, and the fortress-sanctuary that was the master stronghold cast its Evil spell over the good people that walked the earth.
An unknown priest founded a small temple on the river that flows North to the Inland Sea. Halfway between the seaport of Klin’Shai and the village of Opar, this temple brought forth a town in little time. The majority of Khasvana’s inhabitants were unsavory types, from brigands to Humanoids: Bugbears, Goblins, Orks and others. The Temple began a new project: their future home and sanctuary, one that reflected their growing power and the multitudes of new worshipers. Materials were brought from many locations, and the craftsmen worked through the night every night for three years to complete the structure. Khasvana profited from traffic to the Temple, and the Temple welcomed anyone caring to stay in Khasvana. At least, many more persons came to Khasvana than ever left the town.
Merchants passing through Khasvana started relaying reports of brigands sacking whole caravans, then of Humanoid bandits riding as far as Klin’Shai to pursue those who managed to escape. Nearby Opar was silently taken without resistance by a force of Bugbears from the quietly captured Moathouse of the Baron Karza. The Temple network expanded to Klin’Shai, and the capital of the region, Chardonnay. For three years, the Temple was the true force behind the politics of Chardonnay, before a letter was passed to the wrong guard. From the guard, the letter reached the hands of the Count of Chardonnay, and three days later, a force of Calvary was dispatched to the Temple gates.
The Calvary never returned, and several despicable murders later in the capital, the Count decided to send North for assisstance, which he did receive. An army of heroes descended upon the Temple of Elemental Evil, and, after laying siege to it for two weeks, they broke the gates in the wall and the hideous brass doors, flooding the Temple. The leaders of the expedition, perhaps even the Count himself, may only know what went on in the Temple in those last minutes of the battle, but speculation has it that several Demons appeared in order to defend the Temple from “desecration”, and when they fell, a Being from another realm was awakened…and released.
Despite the Beast’s protections and strength, the Heroes drove it back into the Temple, sealing it shut with mighty magics, and, it is rumoured, the seal of St. Cuthbert himself. The organization that surrounded the Temple was systematically destroyed, and the sealing was supposed to be the death-blow for the Evils that drove the Temple from the dreams of madmen to a reality. But Evil is a more resilient foe than ever you think. Seventy five years later, a party of common adventurers, questing for gold and treasures, explored the ruins of the Karza Moathouse. What they found led them straight to the adventures that left these scars upon the landscape, these fortifications around Opar, and this time of peace upon the Land.

They had conglomerated in the Tavern of the Inn, the Queasy Centipede, in Opar. One by one, they assembled mysteriously, out of the dust of the road and the shadows of the nearby hills, as adventuring types are wont to do. Sometimes it is as if they can smell it, or feel it in their bones. I watched them all from behind the bar, cleaning my countertop while listening to them, and observing them.
Truly the first adventurer to appear did not appear to be an adventurer of any kind. Father Ezekiel Dowland was a new acolyte at the Church of St. Cuthbert in Opar, and was a favorite of the Monsignor of the Church, Isiah Crowley. Sean Murdoch was the first adventurer that I spotted, though. He came from Chardonnay to assist Rufus Gamboa and Burne Thappalgesic (the local representatives of the Count) with the construction of the Keep that was to strengthen Opar. He would be, I guess, their sergeant. Father Crowley took a liking to him immediately, and they would have long religious debates in the Tavern over foamy mugs of homebrew.
Boomclad Rockbottom the Dwarf was unmistakably an adventurer, but his gold was as good as his thirst was unquenchable. He was the first creature to have bested the local Brewmeister ever in liquid combat. They, of course, became good friends and re-enacted their epic battle nightly except for Sundays.
Cormac Mac Cain arrived soon after Sean Murdoch; they were old friends, I guess, and Cormac soon became a favorite in Opar, tracking through the woods and wilderness nearby and bringing back to town game and resources. His courting of farmers’ daughters, however, was not as appreciated by the locals.
Abu Dabu Dabu Day, the Bendarian, was some sort of magician in his own land — I just called him a Wizard. He was passing through one day, and he decided to stay to do some studies. He liked tea, really hot, and I had to keep a kettle going for him almost night and day.
Kleptus, the thief, although nobody ever caught him, was as good as his name might suggest. He said he was a Merchant from the Little People, but what a Halfling Merchant was doing with no goods to sell and no money to buy them, I’m not sure. Anyways, he grafted to the party quickly, smelling treasure.
Yorl the Wanderer was a Monk of St. Cuthbert, travelling the roads and preaching the faith. Happening upon Opar, he conversed with Monsignor Crowley, asking for a period of rest and meditation, and a simple cell to reside in in the Church. He was usually found at the Church itself, but would come to the Inn with Father Dowland upon occasion.
Miss Natasha made quite a wake when she arrived; she was a headstrong young lady who had studied quite a bit of magic, and was defying her father by “going out” to adventure. Pretty, she wheedled her way into the graces of the bar patrons rather easily.
Sister Tourmaline Ness came down from the slight hill that the Church of St. Cuthbert rests on once, and since then, has returned many times, competing with Abu Dabu Dabu Day for the Chess Crown of Opar, a title which she herself devised. A Priestess of our lord St. Cuthbert, Tourmaline was another young member of the flock who had been sent from Chardonnay to Opar for a stint of duty.
The last member who joined the adventurers setting out for the Moathouse was Iolo the Minstrel. After receiving a smaller monetary appreciation than he expected from the customers here at the Inn, he decided to accompany the adventurers to see if he could increase his funds.

One Saturday evening in the Tavern, Iolo overheard the conversation at one of the front tables. Since he wasn’t receiving any attention, he quit playing, stepped down from his stool, and wandered over.
“What’s the latest tally on the caravans, Sean?” asked a red-haired woodsman.
“Well,” began Sean Murdoch with a gaelic lilt, “Two more Merchants in the past week have reported seeing the signs of raids on the road.”
“What are the signs?”
“Burned wagons, tracks, broken merchandise,” Sean replied to the red-haired man, “Cormac, something is preying on these caravans. It isn’t even a laughing matter now.”
“My question is this,” said a slim man dressed in travelling clothes, “Where are they taking all of their acquired merchandise?”
“Abu?” Sean directed the question at him. The Oriental Man looked to Father Dowland, who nodded.
“Father Dowland has graciously allowed me some time in the Library at the Church of St. Cuthbert,” Abu began, “I found two possibilities.”
“Let’s have ‘em, jerky,” growled the Dwarf, Mad Dog.
“One: the Swamp to the South-East has long been a favorite of thieves and brigands in this area,” stated the Wizard.
“That’s the obvious place to look, Abu,” commented Natasha.
“Two,” Abu continued, “There is an old road to the town of Khasvana, which lies East of here. This road passes through the Swamp, and also, the old Moathouse of the seemingly extinct Karza family. It is here that I surmise the bandits are operating from.”
“Well, where in the Swamp is it?” questioned Boomclad. Abu turned to Father Dowland, who brought his chair down to the floor and removed his pipe from his mouth.
“We don’t know,” he said, “The maps of this area that we have do not show it — many do not show the old road at all.” He paused to sip his brew. “The last time that the Karza Moathouse was occupied, it was occupied by the servants of the Temple of Elemental Evil, some 75 years ago.”
“Pardon my intrusion,” Iolo interrupted, “But I came to this lovely town because it was on one of the maps I carry, and I happen to remember that this ‘Temple’ you speak of is on this map…”
The occupants of the table looked at each other, then cleared a space for Iolo, who was searching through his pack. Lifting out a wooden scroll case, he looked around at the unfamiliar faces around him.
“Hi,” he started, “I’m Iolo. I’m an entertainer most of the time, but I can be handy with a sword if you’re going to the Moathouse.”
“Iolo, I’m Sean Murdoch,” stated the older gentleman dressed in green, “I’m also a representative of the Count of Chardonnay. Nobody is going to the Moathouse until I, or Rufus, the Chief, says it is a worthwhile expedition to make.” Iolo smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, just asking,” he said, opening the case, “Here’s the map.”

Iolo spread the map out on the tabletop. The old road was plainly on the map, and the Karza Moathouse was halfway between Opar and Khasvana. But what drew their attention was the strange writings around a dark icon at the Eastern edge of the map, near Khasvana, and the river.
“Hold it flat, Boomclad,” said Sister Tourmaline.
“I am,” retorted the Dwarf, who was nearest the writings, “I don’t like what I see here.”
“Hold still for a moment,” said Natasha, rising out of her chair and standing over the map. Passing her hands over the parchment, she closed her eyes. Her palms glowed blue briefly, and her eyes snapped open. “Holy Fire of Brigit,” she exclaimed and backed away, “That thing is really magickal!”
Father Dowland was mouthing words to himself, and his hand unconsciously crossed himself. “…and the Evil which cannot be killed shall be chained by curses and prayers to false Gods, but that is not dead which can eternal lie…”
“Do not read any farther, Father Dowland,” interrupted Yorl the Wanderer, a monk clad in a brown cloth robe, laying his hand on the priest’s, “There is a breath of foul air that has entered the Inn.”
Father Dowland snapped out of his reverie long enough to watch the letters that he had been translating pouring off the parchment and the edge of the table. A dark sepia-colored stain spread from the Icon of the Temple to envelop the nearby Khasvana, and, as Murdoch pointed incredulously, a pseudopod of the color snapped out to encompass the site of the Moathouse. As suddenly as it had started, the activity within the map ceased; the edges of the parchment rolled together with a snap, and Iolo thrust it hastily into the wooden case.

“I told you, “ said Sean Murdoch angrily, “I saw the damn lettering sliding off o’ the paper like somethin’ unholy, sir.”
Rufus Gamboa looked sideways at his partner, an Enchanter, Byrne. “What do you think?”
“Heard of it happening before, Rufus,” Byrne gestured with one hand in the direction of the chainmail-clad commander of the Tower.
“Alright then,” Rufus turned back to Sean and Cormac, who were standing before him on the top level of the tower, “What do you two want to do about it?”
“Well, sir,” Cormac stepped forwards, “There’s a couple of adventurers chafing away in the Inn over yonder, and I thought it would be nice to have them along if we were to head over into the Swamp South o’ here.”
“And, Rufus,” confided Murdoch, “The Church o’ St. Cuthbert seems to have a couple of volunteers who wouldn’t mind swinging their cudgels.”
Rufus raised an eyebrow. “Hmm…good point,” he rumbled, “Alright — get your provisions together. I’ll throw in some gold so you can afford a couple of mules or something. Full report when you come back, and don’t endanger yourselves.” Rufus turned his back on them, and went back to his rosters and reports. Cormac and Sean descended the stairs of the Tower and exited the structure to the platform in front of it. Raising a long arm, Cormac signalled a thumbs up to three figures down the street. Waving back, they turned and trotted up the trail to the Church of St. Cuthbert.

“Not all three of you,” stated Monsignor Isiah Crowley firmly and waggling his finger between Father Dowland and Sister Tourmaline, “One of you two priestly types, and Yorl can go to protect you, probably from your own folly.” Father Dowland and Sister Tourmaline turned to face each other, each wearing a stubborn look.
“I’m your superior,” said Father Dowland.
“I beg to differ,” retorted Sister Tourmaline, “Exactly how are you putting that?”
“Please Father Crowley,” begged Yorl to the Monsignor, “Settle this dispute before they come to blows. I do not want to have to immobilize them.”
Father Crowley put down his quill and carefully removed his glasses, turning to the pair of arguing clergy. “Enough!” his voice rose above their clamor and echoed through the hall of the church, “Why should I let the both of you go to the Karza Moathouse to be maimed or dismembered or killed, both at the same time? Give me one good reason.” He glared at them angrily.
“Rufus is letting Sean Murdoch and Cormac Mac Cain go,” Yorl put in quietly. Father Crowley gave Yorl a questioning look, verifying this new information. He sighed and put his head in his hands. Speaking from the depths of the front of his robe, he warned them. “Be back in a week, and say all of your dailys before you go.”
Outside, the three worshipers of St. Cuthbert slapped hands and grinned at each other. Looking down to the green before the Inn of the Queasy Centipede, they spotted the other adventurers, and waved at them excitedly.

“Looks like we have the fanatics on board,” grumbled Boomclad the Dwarf, carving his name on a post in front of the Inn.
“I think you have observed right,” commented Abu Dabu Dabu Day, shielding his eyes to look up the hill.
“Well, time to go pack,” said Kleptus cheerfully, carrying a pair of wagon hubcaps.
“I’m going to go bargain for bottles in quantity with the bartender,” sighed Natasha, carrying her little pink umbrella topped dacquiri back into the Queasy Centipede with her, “See you all around moonrise?”

* * * *
The crescent of the waxing moon hung suspended over the jewelled tapestry of the night sky as they reconvened in the Inn of the Queasy Centipede. A Merchant caravan had come into town at dusk from Chardonnay, the city to the North West, and the traders were circulating among the patrons of the tavern and common room, plying their smaller wares, striking deals, and gossiping about another trade group they had discovered along the road, burned to the ground and dead bodies liberally strewn about.
“This is the guy you want to talk to,” Boomclad slopped his ale in the direction of Sean Murdoch, who had just entered the Inn with Yorl the Wanderer in tow. Striding to the bar in his greenish-black chainmail, Murdoch clapped Cormac Mac Cain on the shoulder and gestured to Abu and Natasha at the end of the long oaken bar.
“Let me see the ring with the spiked skull on it,” said Boomclad, looking through the selection that the Merchant displayed before him, “No, the bigger one…the one with the spikes that could do some damage if you hit somebody with it. My cousin Stonehold Ironfist deserves a token Hallows-tide present, now that I think about it…” Kleptus rudely bumped into the dealer while passing behind him, spilling some of his wares, and apologized profusely.
“By my stars! I’m terribly sorry, mister,” he exclaimed, and bent with the Merchant to retrieve his goods. The Merchant counted his wares quickly, and Kleptus pulled up a bench to the table.
“Could I buy you a drink for my clumsiness?” Kleptus interrupted the Merchant’s count, “You need one after seeing such grisly carnage on your way to Opar.” He nodded sympathetically to the Merchant.
“Well…,” the Merchant thought for a moment, then shrugging, acquiesced and sat down.
“Yeah, alright,” continued Boomclad without a pause, studying the ring he was holding in his thick fingers, “Cheap Suloisian craft, but Stonehold’ll never know. I’ll give you a couple silver for it.” Money exchanged hands, and the Merchant ordered a glass of wine from the barmaid, who winked at Kleptus knowingly.
“What was that?” growled the Dwarf, pointing over his shoulder at the retreating form of the young girl. “She a friend of yours?”
“She doesn’t like beards,” replied Kleptus, counting coins from one purse to another.
“Gentlefolk,” interrupted Sean Murdoch, setting down his ful flagon on the tabletop with a thump, “Set for the mornin’?” He sat down, making room on the wooden bench for Natasha and Abu, who were hotly debating the existence of some magickal book from the aeons of the past. Cormac shouldered his way through the bar patrons with the Bard Iolo behind him.
“Almost all here,” said Iolo merrily, “Just the representatives from the Holy House on the Hill left.”
“Mister Murdoch?” the Merchant directed his question at the grizzled warrior.
“That’s right; may I ask your name?” replied Murdoch, turning to face that end of the table.
“Well,” the Merchant started, “I’m Sander from the Boscollis trading caravan that came into town this evening, and we saw something rather disturbing on the road on our way from the capital.”
“What, pray tell, was that?” asked Cormac, dropping onto a bench across from Murdoch and the mages. Looking from one man to the other, the Merchant continued.
“We came upon a caravan from Chardonnay which had been attacked and slaughtered. The wagons had been burned and sacked. There were at least ten guards who had been killed. Their thoats had been cut — it was awful…” he trailed off.
“We heard of this from a rider from the Hillside Communities who came in yesterday evening,” said Murdoch; Cormac nodded as well.
“But the raiders either suffered no losses, or they took the time to remove their dead…” the Merchant went on.
“Typical of a successful raid — leave no clues,” commented Boomclad.
“…except for one,” said the Merchant, “And he wasn’t what we expected from a bandit in the badlands between Chardonnay and Opar. It was a Bugbear.” Murdoch and Cormac exchanged glances, and Boomclad sat up in his chair.
“A what?” the Dwarf asked, “Did you say that you saw a Bugbear?“
“A dead one, yes.”
“Can you give me an idea of where this caravan attack took place?” queried Murdoch.
“The second high pass on the road,” thought the Merchant out loud, “Right when it starts to drop into the that narrow wash before Killian’s Spring.” Sean looked over to Cormac.
Cormac brushed his long red hair out of his face and wrinkled his brow, “That runs East, then South to the old Druid wood. The West side bottoms out into the valley after a couple of miles — nowhere to go from there.” He looked back at Murdoch. “Cancel the expedition, chief?”
“No, I just want all of the details,” replied Murdoch, “Rufus will want to know and maybe speak with the caravan leader.”
“I also found something interesting next to the…” Sander was cut short.
“I am the leader of the Boscollis group,” stated a man in a reddish brown robe and a metal mask which covered his face, “From what I examined at our very brief stop at the site of the demise of the Clovenhoof Merchants, I would say it was the work of bandits on horseback. They fled to the West; I followed the prints of several horses away from the horrid mess beyond the turn in the canyon. You are, sir?” The robed one gestured at Sean Murdoch, who rose to his feet.
“I am Sean Murdoch, sergeant-at-arms of the garrison here in Opar,” replied Murdoch, facing the man squarely, “May I ask your name…sir?” Boomclad put his drink down on the table, and Natasha and Abu grew quiet.
“My associate here,” said the stranger, laying his hand on the Merchant’s shoulder, “Derives his share of the profits from selling merchandise. I see that he is procrastinating in his duties. That makes me a disappointed employer.” He inclined his head for a response from the Merchant.
Rising quickly, Sander arranged his wares and struck off into the crowd with them. The masked person watched him depart, and then turned back to the table. “I am sorry if my boy offended you or disturbed your meeting,” he said in a friendlier tone, “It is the first time he has seen something like that. He is city-folk.” He set a small wooden box on the table and opened it, revealing a number of rings and other pieces of fine jewelry. “I hear that you are adventuring to the abandoned Karza Moathouse, yes?”
“Actually, we’re going to Klin’Shai to compete in the Maximum Karnage competition,” said Kleptus, polishing a golden ring, “Who exactly did you say your employer was?”
“I am Kulkas,” the ocher robed man turned to face Kleptus, “And my employers are my business, friend.”
“Well, that would be rather useful information for my report to the Commander of the Garrison,” Sean Murdoch stated matter of factly.
“I am sorry if I have sounded angry,” Kulkas apologized smoothly as he returned his attention to the standing Warrior, “It has not been the easiest of days. I am a member of the Kien group from Chardonnay. I would appreciate your attention in keeping the roads safe, as I would think your employer, the Count of Chardonnay, would. It directly affects our livelyhood.”
“That is our job,” replied Murdoch evenly, “Accurate and detailed reports only help us track down brigands like these. You, then, did not see a Bugbear, as your ‘employee’ stated he saw?”
“I saw a badly burned half-Ork’s corpse,” said Kulkas helpfully, “That a city boy would easily believe to be a Bugbear. Would you care to examine some of these fine items?”
“I certainly would,” said Natasha from her seat, “Could I examine the silver one with the inset obsidian chip?”
“Of course, milady,” Kulkas said, bowing a little, “In fact, please take it as a gift of my appreciation of your beauty.” He plucked the ring from it’s place in the velvet-lined box and swept around Sean Murdoch to place it on her finger.
“Ooooh!” said Natasha, holding her hand out at arm’s length, admiring it, “It’s wonderful! Thank you masked man!”
“It is my pleasure, milady,” returned Kulkas, “May it bring you good fortune on your journey to the Karza Moathouse.”
Yorl the Wanderer materialized out of the crowded patrons watching a heated game of darts and waited to catch their attention. Sean beckoned him to take a seat.
“Where is Father Dowland and Sister Tourmaline?”
“They are waiting for you at the Church,” Yorl inclined his head meaningfully at the door.
“Again, would you like to peruse this array of fabulous gifts and keepsakes?” Kulkas flashed the contents of the box around the table.
“Lemme see that fat gold chain,” Boomclad pointed. Yorl leaned over to speak to the Dwarf.
“I hear that Father Crowley is about to try his ripened Double Stout Homebrew, Boomclad.”
“Whoa! Forgot I had to go to confession tonight!” Boomclad began drinking his Ale noisily. Sean Murdoch turned to Kulkas.
“I think that Rufus, the garrison commander would like to speak to you personally tomorrow,” he said cryptically, “Please make it your duty to find him at the Tower. I must attend to some affairs with my associates here.” Turning, he strode towards the door. The remainder of the party began to get out of their seats. Natasha chewed the ice in her Margarita and took Cormac’s offered arm. Abu followed through the crowd in Boomclad’s wake. Kleptus was the last one to leave the Inn, and he handed a worn leather wallet to Kulkas as he was leaving.
“You dropped this, sir.”

At the Church of St. Cuthbert, Monsignor Crowley greeted them and led them to the pews at the front of the sanctuary. Father Dowland and Sister Tourmaline were waiting, poring over a few worn scrolls that were stacked at their feet. Looking up as the rest of the adventurers entered, they set their work aside and rose to their feet.
“So Father,” said Boomclad rubbing his hands, “I heard that your homebrew was ready!”
“Well, yes it is,” Monsignor Crowley glared at Yorl, who seemed not to notice, “Might as well celebrate getting three of my staff members lost in the Swamp before they leave, eh?”
“I thought we were supposed to meet at the Inn,” Kleptus spoke up, as Halflings are wont to do.
“I had another Margarita coming,” complained Natasha.
“We came across some interesting news,” said Father Dowland firmly, sitting again in the front pew, “Or, as is probably more appropriate, he came across us.”
“What are you talking about, Father?” queried Cormac, sliding into a seat and resting his forearms on the back of the pew in front of him. The other members arranged themselves in seats, Boomclad and Kleptus sprawling on the stone steps leading up to the simple altar to St. Cuthbert.
“He came from around Weedwood, near Klin’Shai,” said Sister Tourmaline, “He is exhausted and not in any condition to talk, but he himself is rather a surprise. I would almost say a shock.”
“I think he is doing okay,” a voice came from the side of the room, where a teenage boy in a green and brown tunic was shutting a side door, “He needs to rest badly.”
“This is Lentos of the Vines,” Monsignor Crowley introduced him, “An apprentice to old Jaroo the Druid in the Oak Grove to the South of town here. He is the one who found Rex and brought him here when he mentioned my name.” The adventurers exchanged looks.
“Who is Rex?” asked Kleptus.
“Rex is a Lizard-Man,” stated the Monsignor, “And he is an old friend of mine from the Ssleestak tribe on the river Taanesh South from the Inland Sea. He has the unique ability to speak in the Common Tongue, a talent which has made him the representative for most of the tribes in that area. I met him in Klin’Shai, when I was delivering a message to the Bishop of the Church there; he was negociating a trade agreement with the Lord K’Tinga Como Val.”
“I have heard you mention him before once or twice,” said Father Dowland.
“You’re friends with a Lizard-Man?” said Boomclad incredulously, “I thought they were savages.”
“The Lizard-Men believe the same of Dwarves, I’m sure Boomclad,” quipped Kleptus.
“Rex is a trustworthy individual,” continued Monsignor Crowley, unperturbed, “We have done the best we can for tonight; now he needs to rest. He is not in the best shape; in fact, several of his wounds seem to be from weaponry. I would guess from this, and the fact that he has journeyed so far, that something is awry South of Klin’Shai. I would guess that Rex isn’t going anywhere for about a week.” The Monsignor seemed genuinely concerned.
“Can we speak to him,” spoke Sean Murdoch; Cormac Mac Cain looked like he seconded the question.
“Perhaps in the morning, before you leave for the Moathouse,” replied the Monsignor.
“One of the few things that he said does concern us,” said Father Dowland, “Though indirectly. From what little he said, I understood that his tribe was attacked by a force of Humanoids. They were led by a priest in black armor who ‘called down the Elements’ upon his people. The Priest, during the melee, kept shouting the praises of ‘the Temple’.”
“Meaning the Temple that was on the map today?” asked Iolo, rustling through his pack.
“Though impossible,” said Monsignor Crowley, “That was what first came to me, also. The Temple of Elemental Evil was sealed many years ago by the Power of our Lord Himself, St. Cuthbert. But, if I remember history right, their priests were able to command the Elements to suit their own purposes.”
“Used correctly, the Elements can be most punishing enemies,” said Abu Dabu Dabu Day darkly, “The Temple of Elemental Evil was a great woe to the balance of Natural Forces in the Land.”
“This is true, Abu,” replied the Monsignor, inclining his head towards him, “But the Grace of St. Cuthbert himself has blessed the ruins of the Temple, and nothing escapes the eyes of our Lord.”
“Except maybe your home brewing setup, eh, Monsignor?” asked Kleptus.
“What does this have to do with the Moathouse, Father?” Boomclad turned his attention to Father Dowland.
“The Moathouse was the first major strike that the Temple made in their ascension to Power, seventy five years ago according to the Booke of Galstephus,” Father Dowland picked up a scroll and read from it, “‘The Temple of Elemental Evil, in the highest moments of it’s glory, firmly dictated the policy of Chardonnay, it’s military influence extending the length and breadth of the land by threat alone; and, when the dust had settled from the breaking of the gates of the Stronghold, the nefarious tentacles of the Temple had been unearthed in three other nearby Lands, notably those that had sent their Might to aid the Count of Chardonnay against the Temple’.” Father Dowland closed the scroll carefully and looked around at the company, scanning the expressions on their faces. His eyes came to rest on Sean Murdoch’s grizzled face.
“So,” Murdoch started slowly, “Are we all still going for a little vacation at the abandoned Karza Moathouse?”
There was a moment of silence, broken by a voice from the door Lentos came through:
“It iss in your besst interesstss to invesstigate the Moathousse,” said the tall Lizard-Man who bent low to clear the doorway, “My people are no more; perhapss yourss are the next.” Rex moved to a pew and slid into it heavily. “I wass returning from Klin’Shai when I met sseveral of my Kin fleeing an unknown assault. They told me of the desstruction of sseveral tribess; they were of my own village. I arrived cautioussly to find a black-mailed Priesst curssing my people’ss home, crushing the Ssacred Idol of Bokrug and killing the lasst of the defenderss. The Warriors were Orkss and Goblinss — almosst a hundred of the sslthiss vermin. They left, heading Wesst through Weedwood, and away to the Ssouth.” He sank back against the hardwood pew and blinked his yellow eyes at those assembled.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” chided Sister Tourmaline. Rex managed to smile, and flick his forked tongue out at her in tired defiance. Turning from Rex, Monsignor Crowley spoke, glaring at Yorl.
“Well then,” he said, grumbling a bit, “Not to confirm popular rumor, but I am about to harvest a new batch of homebrew. Anyone for a nightcap?”
Several hours later, the candles in the Church went out one by one, and the party members stumbled loudly down the hill to their accomodations in pairs and groups of three. The moon hung higher in the nighttime sky, and silvered the edges of the buildings.

Fires raged everywhere upon the battlefield; their garish light illuminated for hundreds of yards and the flames licked almost to the velvet of the dark sky. Smoke roiled in choking clouds between Human and Demi-Human defenders and the masses of enraged Humanoids literally slaughtering them. The cries of the dead and dying, mixed with the roar of the fires, were deafening. Blackened bodies and equipment lay strewn across the field where the fires had passed; a singular pillar of flame began to approach, burning with Demonic delight at each new corpse. Within the inferno, two faces could be identified: one was that of an old man with glee in his eyes and long fingernails made of flames like knives; the other was nothing but a pair of eyes on either side of a massive tentacle which sometimes twisted through the carnage, sometimes writhed skywards with the flames. Their hideous laughter carried the point of view upwards and away, to where it could be seen that miles of land was burning, and whole towns were being engulfed by the fires that illuminated the clouds of black smoke in the heavens.

Sean Murdoch handed the still-sleeping Halfling up to Boomclad on his pony; he unceremoniously slung him over his saddle and hoisted his mug of Ale.
“And we’re off!” the Dwarf said hopefully.
“Here they come,” Iolo pointed at the three forms coming around the hill of the Church of St. Cuthbert on horses.
“Now we can depart, old Dwarf,” replied Murdoch. Boomclad grumbled something to Moradin, his Deity.
The party made it’s way South and East, along the road that led to the nearby town of Khasvana, long known as a haven for brigands and thieves, but they turned at the crossroads, continuing along the Old Road; the one that had been used during the occupation of the Karza Moathouse when it was first erected.
Kleptus was complaining about his headache when they first saw that the road entered the Swamp. Slowing down as they drew near to the gnarled trees and boggy ground, Cormac Mac Cain signalled a halt and gave his reins to Murdoch. Dismounting, Cormac jogged ahead and disappeared into the mist that hung like shrouds on a clothesline between the twisted trees and the gloom of the marshland.
“This Wood is quite unhealthy,” commented Abu, touching a nearby branch with his slender fingers.
“Maybe it doesn’t get enough exercise,” said Kleptus rather sullenly. His head hurt.
“There is, like, no wind at all,” said Natasha, “It was quite breezy just a while ago, on the plains…”
“That greasy fog stuff gives me the creeps,” growled Boomclad, chopping a stunted sapling into flinders idly with his battleaxe.
“Could you please not murder that young tree, Boomclad?” implored Abu, offended at the destruction of a defenseless oak.
A piercing whistle hung in the air for a moment, then Sean Murdoch spurred his mount into the Swamp, along the road. The rest of the party followed more cautiously, and came upon Murdoch and Cormac standing before an abandoned wagon that was halfway sunken in the ooze of the Swamp. As the party left their horses and joined them, murky bubbles rose, making blurping noises, and the wagon sank deeper into the muck.
“What irresponsible individual would park a perfectly good wagon there?” said Kleptus, enraged at the loss.
“Remains of one of the raided caravans?” queried Father Dowland.
“Look at that,” pointed Tourmaline with her mace, “Arrows stuck in the side.” Two rough arrows projected from the wood of the wagon several inches above the unreflective Swamp.
“Orks,” said Cormac grimly, “Pretty advanced ones at that.”
“How can you tell, Cormac?” Iolo asked.
“The fletching,” started Cormac, then seeing the puzzlement evident in Iolo’s face, “The feathers on the end of the shafts — they’re hand made, and it looks like from carrion-eating birds. Surely Ork arrows.”
“Phew!” Natasha dusted herself with Patchouli, “This place is gross.”
“Something is moving on the other side of the road, friends,” Yorl tapped his fingertips together questioningly. Murdoch pointed quickly at Boomclad and Cormac, who each circled around the horses from different directions. The voice of the Dwarf rose from the mist:
“Priests of the Bald One, your services are required.”

A small campfire and three blankets later, the party was assembled around the small figure of a shivering Halfling. Kleptus was interrogating him in their mother tongue, and, from the tone of it, he was not being too nice.
“What do you have so far, Kleptus?” asked Boomclad testily. Snorting in contempt, the Halfling turned away from his blanketed kinsfolk.
“He says his name is KornFlake and that he is a Merchant from Chardonnay. He was “sleeping” and he woke up to find that his caravan was being attacked by Orks.”
“Where was he coming from,” interrupted Sean Murdoch, “And where was he going to?”
“Klin’Shai to Chardonnay,” replied Kleptus, “By way of Khasvana and Opar.”
“Chalk up another casualty for the Merchants,” said Sister Tourmaline, “This little Hobbit needs rest and a hot meal.” KornFlake nodded his agreement vigorously.
“We’re not going to go too far now — it is bloody well dark in here,” noted Murdoch. The rest of the party looked around a little bit surprised.
“I thought it was midafternoon,” said Iolo incredulously.
“Better set up camp,” grumbled Boomclad. Natasha began directing Iolo and Cormac about, flashing her brilliant smile at any resistance, and Abu began to find his cooking gear. Murdoch was studying the sinking silhouette of the Merchant’s wagon, and turned back to KornFlake, who was warming himself by the fire.
“How many wagons were with you, sir?”
“There were three, and we had fourteen guards!” stammered the Halfling. Kleptus spat a Hobbit obscenity from the horses, where he was going through someone’s pack. KornFlake looked his direction, then continued.
“We knew of the dangers, but the trade in Khasvana has been very sporadic, and prices for goods that do come through has tripled.”
“Tripled, you say?” Kleptus walked under a horse towards the fire and looked interested.
“Kleptus, find a good place to tether the horses,” Murdoch directed him pointedly. The Merchant duly led the horses to a nearby stand of trees and began measuring their leads out, whispering calculations under his breath.
“Isn’t fourteen guards a lot of arms for three wagons, Kornflake?” asked Father Dowland, fiddling with his tobacco pouch.
“Well…” started KornFlake nervously, who looked around at the party, who was waiting for his answer, “We were carrying expensive goods.”
“Such as…” Abu said casually, hanging a kettle over the fire.
“Weapons and armor,” KornFlake burst into tears, “And now I’m ruined. RUINED!”
“Serves you right for sleeping, you dingbat,” muttered Kleptus.
“That’s enough, Hobbit,” Murdoch swung around to face the Merchant, “Or else I’ll let Boomclad play shot put with you, and see how far he can heave you into the Swamp.” The Dwarf grinned and cracked his knuckled for effect. Turning back to the Hobbit, Murdoch awkwardly put his arms around KornFlake, who was near hysterics, and soothed him as best as he could. Natasha mouthed “How cute” to him over KornFlake’s shoulder, and Sister Tourmaline beamed at him. Murdoch frowned sourly and tried to disengage from the weeping Halfling, but KornFlake clung to him and buried his face in his tunic.
“There, there now,” Murdoch said uncertainly as the rest of the party supressed snickers, “You’ll earn it all back.”

Yorl awoke to the sound of distant thunder. Rising silently from his bedroll, he moved out into the road to survey the sky. Abu was on watch, unaware that Yorl had risen. Stirring the fire gently with a stick, Abu chanted quietly over it, making delicate prayers to to Elements. Yorl walked quietly to the small warm space of the fire, the only place that the moist grey tendrils of ground fog did not settle in, and laid his hand on Abu’s shoulder.
“Friend,” said Yorl, “Did you hear thunder just a few moments in the past?”
“I thought I did, indeed, Yorl,” answered Abu, rising and placing the stick in his sleeve.
“Something wicked this way comes,” said Yorl ominously. The newly born wind plucked lightly at their robes.
“Wake Cormac Mac Cain, Abu,” directed Yorl as a flash of heat lightning illuminated the camp for an instant. Abu moved across the road to where the Ranger was slung in a hammock between two trees. Yorl sniffed the air, smelling the ozone, then strode to the horses to calm their questioning whinnies.
“Heat lightning, Yorl,” said Cormac from behind him after a minute. Turning, the Monk saw that Sister Tourmaline had also risen, and was shaking her head.
“Sister, what do you think?” Yorl asked her. Cormac and Abu turned to face her. Wrapped in her blankets, Sister Tourmaline closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the stirring stench of the Swamp. After a moment of quiet as the three Men watched her, her eyes snapped back open.
“I don’t know…” she started as a firm gust blew through the bent trees, swirling the mist into eerie shapes, “There is something wrong. Maybe we should wake Father Dowland…”
“He is here,” said Sean Murdoch, walking from the firelight and gesturing at the form of the Priest near the blaze, “We all are waking easily tonight.” The snores of the Halfling and the Dwarf across the road brought quick smiles to their faces, soon replaced by expectation as the Father drew near.
“Something is going on. I can feel it in the air,” said Father Dowland, “It is North and East of us now, and it does not seem to be moving. That is all I can discern for now.” Another flash of dry lightning flickered across the clouds massing overhead.
“I can sense that from the Land itself, Father Dowland,” Abu agreed, “The Breath of the Air is tainted with Magicks that are unnatural.”
“Wake the others,” Sean Murdoch gestured to Cormac and Yorl, who returned to the fire to do so, “I want to hear what Lady Natasha has to say.”
Five minutes later, Natasha was throwing bits of pickled animals into the fire, and singing quietly over the undaunted flames. Iolo unstrapped his lute and began to accompany her, hesitantly at first, then more sure. Natasha glanced over at his efforts and smiled, nodding her encouragement. After another minute, the Enchantress fell into a sort of trance, and pointed towards the dark hills that rose over the swamp to the NorthEast.
“I see a canyon, and a dark forest within it,” she said in a monotone, her face slack, “There is a clearing, with a great fire in the middle…creatures are dancing around the flames gesturing and…oh Zagyg…they’re throwing people into the fire! They’re still alive…!” Her face drained of color. Cormac stepped towards her; Murdoch seized his forearm and shook his head negatively. Iolo continued to play her melody softly on his instrument.
“They are Orks…” Natasha continued, her voice growing deeper, “They worship the Old One from the North…the sacrifices are still coming…Halflings now…they scream as they burn…they keep adding wood because their blood is putting out the fire…”
Yorl moved away from the campfire and looked North; Cormac joined him so he did not have to look at Natasha’s ill pallor.
“Somebody stop her…” mumbled Kleptus, who, in his horror, did not notice that KornFlake was clinging to his arm with wide frightened eyes. Natasha’s voice took on a resonance that belied her slim frame.
“They drum to awaken something from an age-old sleep…they are summoning something to them…there is an awful Priest whose armor is slick with the blood of captives…there is a Necromancer with a garland of freshly harvested skulls…they are chanting…Iä…Iä…Hotep Khandan Sudaram…”
A flash of heat lightning flickered across the campsite, followed by a close crackle of thunder. Iolo looked around at the party as they stood entranced by Natasha’s display. The wind lifted his cap from his head and sent it spinning into the Swamp. Natasha turned from the campfire and raised her hands Northwards.
“Iä, Iä, vaprak dominus Dagon thoth ghandruis vlemminak,” shrieked Natasha to the hills. The shocked Bard immediately quit playing and gagged at the blood pouring from her mouth. As Natasha collapsed towards the fire, the sturdy arms of Boomclad Rockbottom caught her and carried her to a nearby bedroll. Sister Tourmaline immediately attended to her, seizing Boomclad’s handkerchief to mop the stream of crimson that still flowed from her mouth.
“You don’t know where that’s been,” Kleptus commented without much effort at humor.
“Father! She’s lost a lot of blood!” said Sister Tourmaline as Natasha coughed and tried to sit up. The Sister firmly pushed her back down and turned her head to the side. Father Dowland held her down as she vomited blood. Cormac stood nearby, looking as if he wanted to help. The wind grew stronger, and became more constant, bringing the smell of wet grassland with it.
“It is raining out in the fields,” commented Abu; Yorl nodded his head in agreement.
“Only a matter of time, now,” said Murdoch, looking into the thick eddies of fog that obscured the sky, “We’d best be prepared for it. Find somewhere where we can sling a tarp. There’s two of them under my saddleblanket.” Murdoch turned to Father Dowland. “Can we move Miss Natasha?”
“In a minute, Soldier,” said the Priest. Sister Tourmaline had her eyes closed in prayer, and her hands on Natasha’s chest. The Enchantress’s body was engulfed in a warm white glow, and she seemed to regain some color and relax. Sean turned to Cormac and barked a command at him.
“Cain! Find us some shelter…now!” Cormac seemed to wake, and then grabbed his swords in one hand and dashed down the road. The rest of the party was hurriedly packing their gear on the horses.
“KornFlake, you’re going to have to pull your own weight now,” Murdoch knelt to look him in the face. The unfortunate Halfling attempted to smile and burst into tears again. Murdoch rose and placed him on his horse.
Cormac returned a few minutes later, shaking his head. “I’ve got a solid piece of land and a couple of big rocks,” he reported to Murdoch,”It’s into the swamp a little ways…”
“It’ll have to do now,” replied Murdoch grimly, “Won’t it?”

They led their horses after Cormac Mac Cain, down the road and to the North, into the Swamp. At first, some thought this was foolhardy, but Cormac’s uncanny sense of where the solid land was and where the marsh was deceptive was comforting, if not incredible. In the frequent flashes of crooked heat lightning, wrapping around the formidable shape of great thunderheads above them, they could see the point that Cormac was heading for: a small rise in the swamp which was crowned with three large stones.
The first drops of rain pelted them like sling bullets as they led the horses into the shelter of the three grouped boulders. The stone was moss-laden, and each one rose over 15 feet in the air. Several hardy oaks stood near the granite blocks in the small clearing, and an old campfire ring made of rocks blessed the middle of the site.
“Horses over there; Kleptus and Boomclad,” directed Murdoch after surveying for a moment, “Cormac, Yorl, Abu — get those tarps strung between those two trees. Water is going to come down that rock face, so trench it away from the ground we want dry.” The Priests were getting Natasha down from her steed and tending to her.
“What can I do?” asked Iolo. Murdoch looked the youth up and down.
“I don’t know…” said Murdoch, chewing on a short pipe, “What can you do?” He seemed to think for a moment. “Look around this campsite carefully, into all the nooks and crannies. Make sure there is nothing unusual. Then report back to me and I’ll find something else for you.” Iolo scampered off, and Murdoch looked around once again. “That ought to keep him busy.”
Ten minutes later, there was a small fire going right outside of the makeshift tent, the rain had started to come down in sheets, Natasha was resting on her bedroll and Iolo was nowhere to be seen.
“I’m going to go look for him,” stated Cormac stubbornly, “He’s lost in the Swamp.”
“No,” Murdoch dissented, “I don’t want two people lost in the Swamp.” Iolo stuck his dripping head in the tent and blinked the water out of his eyes.
“I think I found one of your unusual nooks, Mr. Murdoch,” said the soaked but excited Bard, “In fact, it even has a door built into it!” Cormac shrugged at Murdoch, and Sister Tournaline smiled to herself at the Bard. After a short-lived argument, Murdoch decided that Cormac, Iolo and Kleptus would go look at the “unusual crevice”; they were to return in no more than 10 minutes. The three of them dashed out into the pouring rain, and the remainder of the fellowship listened to the tattoo of the drops on the tarps above them.

After sliding halfway down one side of the hill into the Swamp, whose water level was quickly rising, and working their way back up again, Iolo led the other two through a tall but narrow crack in the rock.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Cormac Mac Cain shook his hair out of his face in front of a large wooden door set into the darkness of the rear of a chasm that cut through the back of the rock that the party was camped against. “There’s room enough in here for the horses even.”
“Do you think we should open the door?” asked Iolo fearfully.
“Of course, my boy,” said Kleptus, stepping up to the lock and peering through it, “I think I even have the key somewhere in here…” The Merchant began rummaging through his waist pouches.
“Cormac, do you think so?” Iolo turned to the Ranger, who was frowning and rubbing one hand over his jaw, thinking.
“Let’s see if Kleptus has the key,” Cormac said sarcastically after a moment, watching the Halfling pull a thick piece of iron out of his bag and jam it into the lock. After a few grunts and curse words from the Hobbit, there was a rusty clunking sound. Kleptus stepped away from the door and bowed. Cormac raised an eyebrow.
“I’m just lucky, that’s all,” the Hobbit said self-depreciatingly. Cormac strode towards the door and looked at the handle. After a moment, he seized it and pulled outwards, his muscles bulging. The door swung outwards, belching forth a torrent of bats and revealing a dark square.
“Lamp?” asked Cormac, holding out one hand and not looking back. His shortsword had appeared in his other hand. Kleptus quickly struck up a lantern and handed it to Cormac. “Stay here.”

“Is Natasha making any noise?” asked Sean Murdoch over his shoulder as he stood at the edge of the tarp watching the rain coming down like hammers. Most of the rest of the campsite was close to being washed away; huge torrents of water coursed from the rocks, and the trees sluiced water from their boughs. Lightning played across the clouds like skeletal hands, bringing the hills to the North into view: only a few miles distant. Sean thought he could see the smoke rising from the Unholy fire that he believed Natasha had witnessed.
“No she isn’t, Sean,” said Sister Tourmaline gently, “She’s sleeping as far as I can tell — she hasn’t said a word.” Noting Murdoch’s lack of response, she added a question: “Why?”
“Nothing,” Murdoch replied, then, thinking better of it, motioned Father Dowland over, “What do you see out there, Man of the Cloth?” The wind seemed to ignore the existence of the tent and chilled them. Again, lightning lit the far hills and the sea of misty trees between here and there. Boomclad Rockbottom joined them at the edge of the tent.
“Been a while since those three bailed,” he mentioned.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about something out there in the Swamp, Father,” Murdoch continued. The Priest nodded, and Boomclad stuck his head out into the rain to look around. A bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, and Boomclad shakily withdrew his head.
“Down below,” he said cryptically as he backed towards his battleaxe. Murdoch hefted a large mace and peered through the bars of rain and out into the Swamp. Father Dowland gripped his silver starburst, the graven Holy symbol of his office, and waited for the lightning.

The lamplight played over a small, rough-hewn chamber that was thick with dust and debris from the walls and ceiling. In the middle of the room was a large table that was cut from the living stone of the floor. It seems this cavern had been improved, and the door fitted into the opening. High in the cavern, there were small barred windows dripping rain, presumably for ventilation; a small fireplace of sorts was visible in the side of the chamber, where a fold in the stone obscured Cormac’s view. Kleptus pushed his way past Cormac, and began his rounds of the room, looking into everything.
“Be careful, Kleptus,” warned Cormac as the Halfling disappeared around the corner beyond the fireplace. Iolo crept in from outside, shivering.
“Check this out, Cormac,” Kleptus’s voice echoed from around the corner. The Ranger walked around the table, pausing to note a small and dusty stack of firewood next to the hearth, and Iolo, who was making funny sounds in his throat and following him like a shadow.
Around the corner was a pile of dusty goods: timber, crates, barrels, pieces of wilderness clothing, and a few moldering suits of leather armor. Kleptus was wrestling with a ladder that was lashed together out of pieces of a tree.
“Help me with this, you two,” he grunted as he tried to place it against the wall under one of the small streaming windows. Cormac placed the lamp on the stone slab.
“There’s no time for that, Kleptus,” he said, walking towards the Halfling, “We’ve got to get the rest of the party in here.”
“I know,” Kleptus rested, halfway there, “They’re on the other side of this wall here. I think I can yell to them, and they’ll know we’ve found shelter.”
“Alright,” said Cormac, grasping the ladder, “Good idea — which window?” Kleptus thought for a moment, and then pointed to one of two on the back wall. Cormac hefted the ladder and moved it to the window, holding it from shifting. The Halfling climbed it and peered out into the rain.
“Shoot. I can’t see anything from here. There’s an overhang. Try the other one.” Cormac dragged the ladder impatiently to the other grate, leaning it against the wall and holding it firmly still. Kleptus again nimbly mounted to the barred window, shielding his eyes from the gusts of rain that blew inside on the shrieks of the wind.
“C..C..Cormac?” Iolo waved behind him to try to get their attention, “Kleptus, who is that at the door?”

Skeletal figures were slowly groping their way up from the fog shrouded trees at the base of the hill that the stones stood on. Bones rose from the Earth, knitting together and standing upright. The skeletons of dogs, rats, and other creatures weaved their way through those that were bipedal, though they were not clad in rusted armor and wielding old weapons, as some of the others were. The moans of the unpredictable wind became those of the legions of Undead monstrosities that staggered from the Swamp before Boomclad, Murdoch, and Father Dowland.
“This is your department, Father Dowland,” said Boomclad, holding his axe rather limply, “I’m just plain terrified.” Murdoch tore his eyes from the rainy night and looked back at the others meaningfully.
“You’d better get ready to move Miss Natasha,” he said grimly, “The best thing I can think of is getting on top of one of these rocks right about now.”
“Sean Murdoch!” the disembodied voice of Kleptus came on the wind, “Look at the back wall of the stone, above the tarp.” Exchanging a glance with Boomclad, Murdoch strode to the dripping stone that they had camped against. Lifting the tarp, and getting a face full of collected water, Murdoch grasped the hand of the Halfling, coming from a small hidden grate high on the wall.
“How do we get there?” said Murdoch quickly.
“Around the rock to your left,” Kleptus replied, “There’s a passage to a doorway. It’ll cost you 5 gold to stay the night apiece.”
Turning away from the wall, Murdoch pointed at Yorl as a peal of nearby thunder shook water from the canopy. “You lead, then the Sister. I’ll follow with Kornflakeand Abu; I’ll carry Natasha,” he paused and looked at Boomclad.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said resignedly, “I’ve got the big axe.”
“By Saint Cuthbert,” said Father Dowland, who was watching the progress of the Undead with an expression of horror, “Let us go now.”

“Who’d you talk to?” Cormac asked Kleptus as he climbed down the ladder.
“Murdoch, of course,” replied the Merchant, “He always seems so stressed out. Where’s the Bard?” Iolo hit the wall next to them hard, and slumped to the ground in a daze. Cormac whipped out his weapons, turning to face a gigantic Undead monster, a half-rotten Ogre corpse, animated by some Evil Power. A dagger from Kleptus spun lazily into it’s chest, seeming to have no effect at all. The door to the chamber swung shut with a boom, and the scattered wind waved the ribbons of the Ogre’s pelts and hides like banners.
“Stay there, Halfling,” said Cormac, advancing slightly and keeping his eyes on the massive Skeleton, “Hit it from behind with everything you’ve got.” He began to circle to his left, drawing the attention of the creature past Kleptus, and the still unmoving form of Iolo. Kleptus slowly crept back up the ladder. The creature staggered slowly in a circle to face Cormac, who was pointing a longsword and a shortsword at it menacingly. Skipping forwards, Cormac stabbed it twice in the chest and deftly bounced back to his defensive position. The Skeleton roared and towered to it’s full nine feet. Bringing it’s fist around, Cormac narrowly avoided the Skeleton’s blow by slipping under it and chopping his shortsword into it’s side. An unexpected backhand threw Cormac Mac Cain into the side of the chamber with a yelp of pain; Kleptus, seeing his opportunity, unbalanced the ladder towards the Skeleton and rode it heavily into it’s back. Driving a dagger into the back of it’s head, Kleptus dropped to the floor and rolled away. Slipping over to Cormac, he helped him sit up.
“Can you still fight?” Kleptus inquired worriedly, “I hit him with all I had.” The Skeleton was still turning, looking for it’s attackers.
“Methinks I can,” Cormac shook his head clear; his weapons made grating sounds as he stood up.
“What now, O great Ranger?” said Kleptus as he watched the skeleton face them and growl gutterally. They leapt apart as a bony fist drove into the wall between them. Cormac waved his swords in the thing’s face as Kleptus ran underneath it, slashing at it’s legs. Cormac tore rotten flesh from the side of the Ogre’s head with his longsword as he ducked another huge swing.
“Frankly, we need the Priests,” the Ranger answered as he parried with all his might.

Father Dowland took a deep breath and looked back one last time. Murdoch had his shield strapped to his arm and Natasha slung over his right shoulder. Yorl and Sister Tourmaline were moving by the left side of the shelter and out into the rain. Boomclad stepped outside with his axe in his calloused hand. Abu shooed Kornflake after the Priestess and looked back at him. Father Dowland sought to remember the words of his learnings, and stepped forth into the lightning-lit storm.
“Begone! Foul creatures of Darkness and Despair, thou art a mockery of what beings you once were. Evil spirits, desist! Thy presence shall disturb the Wrath of the Starburst Crown!” Father Dowland lifted his Holy Symbol, closed his eyes, lifting his head into the rain, and prayed to Saint Cuthbert. Boomclad, several paces downhill from him, dispatched his first Skeleton with a sweep of his mighty axe.
Rays of light burst from the hand that Father Dowland had clenched around his Holy Symbol, piercing the first two rows of Skeletons in their chests. Energy exploded within them, knocking them apart, and to their knees. Looking back at him incredulously, Boomclad finished off a pair that was coming around from the right side.
“Well then,” the Dwarf said as he pointed the to the left, “Thataway”.

A Skeleton leered out of the shadows of a tree between the rocks at Yorl the Wanderer. Two well-placed snaps of his foot later, the mass of bones lay crumpled in a heap. Others groaned around Yorl as he skidded to a stop in the darkness near the outside of the rock. Sister Tourmaline was right behind him, carrying her mace in her hand…

Sean Murdoch ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
Tags: , ,

Sean Murdoch was born a true Scotsman, one of three sons of a soldier, who was the son of a soldier, whose father was a soldier before him. The first child of Gordon and Diane Murdoch, Sean was a strapping youth who always ate his brussel sprouts. At six, he received his first weapon: a leather sling, which he proceeded to make use of, thumping the neighborhood dogs mercilessly until his accuracy was legendary in the small hamlet Briarstrough, North of Edinburgh, where he grew up.

At eight years of age, he was bringing quivers of arrows to his Uncle James Doohan when he was trampled in the Hobgoblin Wars of lower Loch Ness, Yulestide, 1243. Sean inherited the weapons of his Uncle, who bequeathed them to him as he was being blessed on his deathbed by the Priest; Sean was found halfway home under the incredible burden of a suit of plate mail, a footman’s mace and, of course, his uncle’s shortbow and quiver. A neighbor, Gregory Mac Cain, saw the determination of the youth and assisted him home to his proud father and mother.

At 10, Sean was proficient in his Uncle’s shortbow, and the neighborhood dogs had much more to fear than a sound beating from the eldest of the Murdoch boys. His two younger brothers, Michael and Kyle, were also following in their father’s footsteps. In the schoolhouse of Briarstrough, the boys learned their lessons well, including Greek, Latin and a smattering of the Humanoid tongues, reading, writing, arithmetic and history, of which there wasn’t much of but wars. On the playgrounds, they learned the use of their feet and their fists. Sean would brook no blemish on the family name, and would fight like a wild Pict, even if he lost the battle. The honor of showing up seemed to be more important than who won.

Sean adored his two younger brothers, so he routinely beat the crap out of them in good Scottish humor. It was his twelfth birthday when they lured him out to the barn and ganged up on him, finally besting him by combining their youthful energy, Sean so admired their simple but effective use of strategy, he began to study it on his own, sitting in on the Councils behind his father and listening attentively to the strong Gaelic accents thrusting and parrying over the olde oaken table. His twelfth year was filled with experiences, including miserable bagpipe lessons, what his father rued as “ye only weapon me boy canna wield”. It was this same twelfth year that saw his first service to his Country, in the Grugashelm Troll Hunting of 1247. Wearing a suit of studded leather loaned to him by his Irish Uncle Stephan MacDaddy, and carrying his prized 12th birthday present, a real shortsword, he was part of the volunteer group of soldiers that his father presented to William Bruce, Lord of the Scots, to assist the tracking and destruction of the band of marauding Trolls.

Sean was fourteen when his father came home on a pallet, and died three days later in his wife’s arms, after the terrible Sahuagin Uprising of 1249. Sean was a lieutenant in the service and had been instrumental in leading several groups of Highlanders against a contingent of Hobgoblin clans that swore that they were the true Scots of the island. Sean burned the kilt right off of the leader, and that night started his journey home upon receiving the news that his father was gravely wounded. Arriving the evening of the third day, he was in time to lay his father to rest. Gordon’s last words to Sean were ones he would always remember: he said to take care of his mother and his brothers, look after the livestock, always keep his sword sharp and handy, to make him proud, and that

“If it was noot Scottish, it’s crrap!”

Sean was finally face-to-face with a problem that his schooling nor his soldiering could solve; he left the homestead, vowing not to return until he had found an answer. After three weeks of wandering loch and lee, he found it in a Dwarf named Angus MacFlugin. MacFlugin was passing him as he was sitting by the wayside of the road, and handed him a Bible.

“I goot it from ye Gideons inna last Inn I passed through, laddie,” said MacFlugin, “And iffa carry it mooch langer, I’m gonna be damned by me bonny wife — she’s an atheist an’ has eyes inna back o’ her head!”

Reading the Bible brought some comfort to Sean, and he found wisdom in the Word of the Lord. Returning to his father’s grave, he found his father’s restless spirit. “Ye are special, Sean, the first o’ me boys,” spoke his father’s Ghost, “I give ye the years that I was supoosed to have lived so that ye make a real impression upon Scotland in the name o’ tha Murdochs!”

Sean returned home and assumed the position of the head of his household, leaving his days as a soldier behind. But the family was not the same. Diane died of heartbreak in less than a year, and was laid to rest next to her belovéd husband in the Scottish peat. Sean performed the ceremony himself, and the village Priest was heard to remark that “The lad said it better than I coulda meself”. The Murdoch boys had choices to make, and all went their separate ways, Kyle went to Edinburgh as the lead bagpiper in the Hall of the MacDonalds, and Michael to Ireland, where he stayed with Uncle MacDaddy, studying to be a poet. Sean, seeing that his remaining family had their work to do, turned to his, and became a professional soldier.

Angus MacFlugin hired him as an archer and scout for his Dwarven Dragoons as soon as he saw the lad in the Fourth Light Pike Brigade in 1251. From there, he learned his trade, serving in virtually every soldiering capacity available to a Scotsman, both on and off of a horse. Cormac Mac Cain, son of Gregory Mac Cain, the neighbor who brought him home, had come to some power of his own, and gave him his own Legion to command, with which Sean virtually rid Scotland of Humanoid and Englishman alike by the use of the strength of his arms, and by the strategies he had learned around the Council table from his father. He was a born leader, having an uncanny inspirational charisma due to his determination and his faith in God. Some soldiers even claimed that evil couldn’t touch him, that he could smell wrongdoing from sixty paces, and that he healed with his hands. Sean gave no heed to these stories, saying only that “Imagination is not a crime in Scotland.”

The bagpipe was still the only weapon he couldn’t use well, though he preferred the footman’s military pick over almost any other. And the bagpipe would always slip under his guard whenever he would hear its lonely strains over the moors, and bring a thought of his mother and father to mind and a solitary tear to his eye.

For nigh forty years he fought in every major battle and skirmish on the Isle of Scotland (never mind what those foppish English sassenachs said). Refusing decoration and promotion alike, Sean swore never to rank higher than his father ever did, and he became renowned as a leader and a fighter. After Sean disobeyed his superiors and committed his Legion to the support of William Wallace on the field in defiance of the English, and their subsequent trouncing at the Battle of Glenfiddich, William Bruce finally forced the title of Myrmidon on him, and knighted him a Defender of Scotland, the highest honor a soldier can achieve. Sean still refused to wear the appropriate trappings, and said “titles are for Englishmen; to me, they’re crrap”.

The plate mail he wears to this day is the armor his uncle Angus bequeathed him, permanently tinted green with the countless swamps and forests he has tramped through. His hand-and-a-half sword is his father’s, the Murdoch broadsword of olde. He, too, is olde, but still carries his armor well, including the shortbow and the footman’s mace, and, upon special occasion, he will carry his lucern hammer, the pole arm given to him as a symbol of his Knighthood. Sean has grown fond of fishing, reading his Bible, and smoking a good bowl of Halfling cavendish. He travels quite a bit now, though always homesick for the fog and brussel sprouts of Scotland, and has had many an adventure after his Knighting with the likes of Angus MacFlugin the Dwarf, Cormac Mac Cain the Ranger, and Joffrey Marcus the Blacksmith.

Paulo Hasselhoff Profile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I was born about 115 years ago to Isiah and Miriel Greymantle, rich and sometimes underhanded Elven merchants from Chardonnay. The fifth son out of seven children, I was mostly ignored, or thought of as an inconvenience until I turned 100 — my “coming of age”, as it is stipulated in some cultures. Then I was to assume ownership and the position of manager of one of Father’s companies.

During my youth, I was fortunate to win the friendship of one of the groundskeepers; he was Cormac Mac Cain, a Scout of no little accomplishment, and it was he who first taught me of the worlds of adventure that lie around the slightest bend in the road and glimmer softly in the light on the edge of the horizon. Due to his influence, I have come to this point in my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It was with him that I was caught carousing in the Queasy Centipede pub along the mighty docks of Chardonnay.

Due to my perceived “slumming”, I was confined to the estate grounds (yes I came from the nobility) and sentenced to reading every book in my father’s extensive library. He, however, agreed to release me from my confinement as soon as I read every book, a possibility he obviously thought to be a task that would take nearly forever. 2600+ volumes and five years later, I was tested by every person in the house on the contents of the library. Each person had to ask me one question; I answered every one correctly, such was my quiet rage against my father and my prison.

The last question, unexpectedly, came from Cormac. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, now that I was free of the house imprisonment. I smiled, knowing as well as he that most nights I had made a habit of slipping off of the grounds and returning to the Queasy Centipede or some other haven for adventurers and magicians, having my own quasi-adventures in the early morning town streets and dashing from shadow to shadow to escape the guards of my father’s land. Confidence and triumph passionately rushed to my lips, and I stated to my father and his household that I would sooner hang myself than manage my father’s company and would prefer a life of piracy and romance.

No sooner had my confinement ended than my father in one of his infamous bad moods sentenced me to my choice of a monastery or piano lessons. A difficult choice, but piano lessons it was; then there was the Stradivarius lessons and the fife lessons, the tympani and the harp, the lute and the harmonica, the accordian, saxophone and electrified bass guitar. For 27 years, the Greymantle house was filled with the sound of musical instruments — the same drive that caused me to read all of those books now turned me to music.

Once again, each person in the house was asked to request a tune from me, and I was charged to demonstrate each instrument at least once. Again, Cormac Mac Cain was the last request after a harrowing jam session; he requested me “…to plae that bonny sweet fiddle with the lyric you sang to me yestereve”.

The night before, I had sang him a song that I had written myself about a young Elf who runs off after his request to become a Knight of the Realm had been denied by his tyrannical father. Remembering my other show of bravado at the end of my Test, I glared angrily at Cormac, who had become my fast friend, and stated that I would not, due to the present company.

“Well then,” spoke my father, “Clear the room except for Paolo, Cormac and I.”

I played the song, and my shrewd father condemned me to another Herculean task: I was to take over his company now, before my coming of age on my 100th birthday, and to make sure it was successful. I bitterly asked if I could leave the house now, in order that I run his business more effectively. My sarcasm was met with disapproval, and I was grounded again until the full moon, a fortnight hence.

I spent my time rereading my favorite lyrical poetry and treatises, along with a few horrifyingly unsettling books I had just found on an almost forgotten shelf behind the fireplace: the blasphemous Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Al-hazred and “The Call of Cthulhu” by the Archmage Lovecraft. Perhaps these last few works unhinged me a bit, or possibly “great wits are to madness near allied / and thin partitions do their bounds divide” as an Elder Elf, Alexander Pope, once stated; yet as I was introduced to the company as the president under my father, a plan arose in my mind.

Fifteen minutes after my father had left in his splendiferous eight horse carriage, I was a free Elf, having sold the company to the highest bidder in the meeting space. I had 23,000 gold pieces worth of jewels in my rucksack, and boarded passage on the first ship I came to away from my father and my beloved home, Chardonnay.

On board the ship, I found myself comfortable with sea travel, and made myself useful to the Captain, a kind hearted Black man by the name of Mr. Placebo. He must have found me a hard and willing worker, for I was asked by him personally to remain abord the ship. I did so, and for several years, I travelled the seas from stem to stern with him aboard the good ship Brigit.

It was here that I learned the use of a good solid sabre and a well-aimed quarrel. Finally, after a scuffle with a shipload of seafaring Trolls, the captain and I were adrift in the wreck of the ship and I decided to strike out for land. We said our farewells and I ended up in the southerly port of Gronk in the realm of Orkland (no, not Oakland). Travelling north after a less-than-welcome reception, being an Elf in Orkland, I walked into a tavern in the hamlet of Gnatspit, and the kind owner, Mr. Rumble, a most learned and considerate half-Ogre, had lost his entertainment for the night. He had been killed in an earlier bar brawl by a carelessly thrown battleaxe from Stonehold Ironfist the Rabid Chaos Dwarf. I volunteered to take his place, and ended up entertaining for several years at Rumble’s Tavern.

Rumble has, after hearing many a telling of my tale in song and in conversation, suggested that I follow my original dreams of becoming an adventurer. He also has charged me with bringing back enough entertaining stories to regale his bar patrons. During my employment at Rumble’s Tavern, I had the delightful opportunity to associate myself with one unique Frogg, who has invited me to this new Land, promising adventure, exploration and intrigue…and maybe a few pretty ladies!