Posts Tagged ‘D&D’

The Return of Bombaata Sulako

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

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
Tags: , ,

**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!

Joffrey Marcus ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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Joffrey’s mother died in bearing him into the humble house that his father had erected next to his place of work: his forge. Holding his only son in one rough arm as he brushed tears from his eyes with the other, Emmanuel Marcus bid his one true love, Miriel, goodbye and strode back to his smithy. Joffrey was raised by his father in the heat of the forge and to the sound of a hammer meeting steel.

He was a big child, one that was remarkably so. Emmanuel himself stood a little over six feet tall, but even he was unprepared for the growth of his son. Joffrey was six years old when he first lifted his father’s hammer, and nine when he forged his first weapon, a mace that fetched a pretty price at the marketplace. His father was tough on the young Joffrey, being bereft of a wife, and so many of the household chores fell upon his son’s broad shoulders.

Joffrey was cheerful, and quickly set about completing most tasks that he was assigned. Against his father’s wishes, Joffrey attended the weekend school, led by Yorl the Wanderer at the Church at the far end of town. Emmanuel set about loading Joffrey down with more chores than he could manage to accomplish, but somehow Joffrey completed them all with time to spare, probably on account of his size and strength, and Emmanuel, though he built his forge as far away from the Church as he could, didn’t have the heart to forbid his son to go strictly because he said so. Joffrey learned his own version of spirituality from the gentle Monk Yorl, who couldn’t help but notice the huge youngster slipping into the rear of his makeshift classroom. Joffrey never spoke unless he was required to give an answer.

Yorl stopped him at the end of one of his last classes that he was to teach, and Joffrey apologized for his size taking up so much of the class space. Yorl studied him for a moment, and then said: “But with such a huge healthy body, you must have an equally proportioned heart.”

Emmanuel was tough on his son, but loved him dearly. During the fall, when the leaves’ colors were changing and it was near Joffrey’s birthday, he could hear his father in his bed across the room talking to his wife in his sleep. He asked her forgiveness, but for what, Joffrey couldn’t fathom. One day a week, and it never was the same day twice, Emmanuel would be awake when Joffrey rose from his bed, and would tell him not to stoke the fire in the furnace, and they would go walking or fishing in the nearby forest. These excursions were happy times for Joffrey, but as he grew older, he realized that his father was most comfortable in his home, hard at work on one piece of metal or another.

Joffrey’s childhood was also hard at times; as soon as he was big enough to assist his father, he was apprenticed to him, learning the ins and outs of the blacksmithing trade. His father, good man that he was, rarely lifted his sight from the metal when he was working, and failed to notice that his son, though talented at the work, was starting to cast his own steely eyes past the palisade that was the wall of the village, to the forested mountains beyond.

An old man of the village brought an odd request to the Marcus smithy one afternoon in the heat of summer. The forge was a virtual inferno, heat waves shimmering and dancing in the sunshine, when the old man stepped into the workplace. He commissioned a mighty two-handed sword; a strange request in this time of peace. Emmanuel refused the offer, though the pay would have been more than he would have made the remainder of the year. After the stranger left, Joffrey asked his father the reason why he didn’t make the sword. Emmanuel’s reply was that he didn’t like the man; there was something not right about him.

That night, Joffrey crept out of the house to find the strange old man. He, too, knew there was something unique about him, especially the way that he had walked right into the blast furnace of the forge at midday and didn’t even break a sweat. He found the stranger at the edge of town, outside the gates, under a tree with his back against a huge boulder.

“Young Marcus,” said the stranger, “You are much like your father.”

He gestured to a place across the fire from him, and Joffrey sat down. “My name is Goibne, and I, too, was a blacksmith, like your father,” continued the old man, “And I see that you will also follow in your father’s footsteps and become a smith.”

“Why do you want such a big sword?” asked Joffrey cautiously, “I don’t even know if my father has made one before.”

Goibne laughed and ended up coughing. Spitting into the fire, he grimaced and looked at the boy from under a bushy eyebrow.

“Your father not only knows how to make big swords, young Marcus,” Goibne said, “He knows how to use one as well.”

Joffrey was shocked. His father? A warrior? Goibne regaled Joffrey for the rest of the night with tales of adventure and sorcery, battles, romances and honor.

Joffrey crept home as the sun was rising in the East.

The next day, Joffrey rose to stoke the forge’s fire in preparation for the day’s work. His father was already awake, his face grim.

“Where were you last night?” he demanded of Joffrey.

Joffrey, unable to lie to his father, told him the story of his meeting with the stranger outside the gates of the town. His father’s face grew stern, and he admonished his son for leaving the palisade. Joffrey took the lecture; he had noticed that his father was holding a crisp piece of parchment.

“Joffrey,” Emmanuel said to his son, noticing his gaze, “You know I can’t read these damned things. Since your mother is gone, you’ll have to tell me what it says.”

Joffrey started to read the message; it was a summons by the Lord of the Land to military service in the North, where the Bugbear Legions were again active and threatening the homes of honest peoples. Emmanuel explained to his son that if the North fell, it would only be a matter of weeks before the Bugbears were knocking on the gate of the palisade of the village, and that he must go.

“You must run the smithy now,” said Emmanuel with a sad look in his eye, “You are a Marcus, and the metal runs in your blood. Now go attend to your chores.”

His father did not appear for over three hours; Joffrey spent his time straightening the smithy and putting the finishing polish on a few completed items for the market tomorrow. When his father returned, he did not look like Emmanuel Marcus. Dressed in a gleaming coat of chainmail, with a mighty two handed sword strapped to his back, his father looked like the warrior that Goibne had told him about only last night. He was accompanied by several other men from the village, also dressed in suits of armor, but none looked as fine as his father. A rush of pride came to young Joffrey.

“Father!” said Joffrey, hesitating at the expression on his father’s face.

“I must go now, Joffrey. Be your own man.”

“You’re not coming back, are you?” Joffrey suddenly accused him. The men waiting for Emmanuel shifted their feet uneasily. Emmanuel drew his son aside.

“I shall be back, Joffrey,” he said quietly, “But I go to war. It is every man’s duty, and every father’s nightmare. But it is better that I go than you.” Emmanuel looked at the men who were waiting for him. “I must leave now,” he said, nodding towards the men, “I must take these recruits to the Lord of the Land.” He gripped his son’s forearm in his great leathery hand. “But when I return,” he caught Joffrey’s eye meaningfully, “I will teach you how to use this.” He touched the great sword on his back. Through a mist of tears that he did not want to come, Joffrey watched his father leave the village.

That night, the house was too empty for Joffrey to sleep, so he went in search of Goibne. The stranger was not there.

“He must have left town with the men that my father is leading,” thought Joffrey. He was fifteen years old.

Two years later, Joffrey had accepted that his father was never coming back. He bagan to patronize the pub, and upon occasion, had ended up in the lone cell of the courthouse for several days. News had stopped coming from the North, and the news that had been arriving with the merchants and wagon trains was not good. Then they, too, stopped coming. Low clouds hung over the Northern mountains, and Joffrey began to receive more and more commissions for weapons. A rider from the Lord of the Land came and took more townsmen with him; Joffrey was spared being recruited because he was crafting arms and armor for the war effort. When wagons did come to the town, they bore the dead and dying. Joffrey expressionlessly examined each body, recognizing some and assisting all who needed the help he could give.

His father did come back after summer had passed, and fall was painting the leaves in autumn hues again. He was riding one of the wagons that were returning from the North; he had lost all of his pride and equipment, and had little to say to his son or anyone else. He was missing both his right hand, and his right leg. Joffrey had grown into a man in the time of his father’s absence, standing a full head higher than his father, and almost twice as broad. His eyes held the same steely color, though his father’s were now faded. His long shaggy hair and beard were wild and unlike his father’s or his mother’s, from what the townspeople said, but the strong muscles that he had gained through his assumption of his father’s position at the forge were pure Marcus blood. Joffrey carried Emmanuel through the town to their dwelling, and laid him in his bed.

Joffrey was getting drunk with his father one night, a recurring event since Emmanuel had returned, and the forge was slowly falling into disrepair. There was a knock on the door, and Joffrey rose to answer it. Yorl the Wanderer stood outside, and beckoned Joffrey out into the driving rain.

“There is someone who wishes to see you,” he said. Leading him to the smithy, Joffrey discovered that Goibne had taken refuge there from the rain and was sleeping next to the barely warm forge.

“I am just passing through,” said Yorl, appreciating the size of his former pupil, “But this man said that he wanted to see the Marcus family, and I conveniently knew the way.”

Joffrey felt his heart heave in his chest, once again at a loss of words for his teacher, and settled for giving Yorl a mighty bear-hug.

“My friend,” Yorl smiled and continued when he had caught his breath, “Remember the root of all of your strength always lies in your heart. Hearts speak a truer language than words do. Listen to your own.”

Yorl left him standing in the smithy over the sleeping form of the stranger from long ago.

“Goibne?” Joffrey roused the stranger cautiously. The old man cracked an eye open and appraised Joffrey. “Well, well,” chuckled Goibne, sitting up and blinking, “If it isn’t young Marcus. How is your father?” Joffrey burst forth with the entire story of the war to the North and his father’s sorry return.

“Heh heh heh,” laughed Goibne after Joffrey had run out of words, “Sounds like you’ve lost faith in the only thing you believed in, that kept your family together!”

“What?” said Joffrey, still reeling from his own admission to the stranger.

“This, right here!” said Goibne, patting the anvil that his back was up against, “The anvil, the metal, the fire…”

“How is the forge going to give my father back his leg, and his hand!” shouted Joffrey, his huge hands balling into fists the size of helmets.

“Wait, wait,” said Goibne, putting up a hand gently and rising to his feet, “You did not hear what I, or Yorl, for that matter, said.” The figure of Goibne straightened up fully, and he seemed to shed a burden of many years. “I would like to commission a Great Sword, young Marcus,” stated the not-so-old man in a voice recalling years past, “And I believe that it is long overdue.”

In the middle of the night, with rain coming down as if the clouds were trying to extinguish the fire in the smithy, Joffrey forged an unparallelled Great Sword from a bar of steel that Goibne had drawn, almost magically, from his pack. The rain slackened near dawn, and as the first rays of the morning sun shone over the wooded mountains, Joffrey held up his creation to catch their jewelled light. Nearly six feet long, the blade was extraordinarily light, weighing perfectly some foot and a half beyond the mighty two-handed grip. The crosspiece itself was large enough to gut a man, curving into the blade wickedly. Joffrey hefted it as the sun grew stronger, and he felt his heart find a resolution to his woes.

He turned to Goibne to present him his commissioned work, and he was gone, leaving no payment. Joffrey, still holding the great sword, ran out of the smithy into the last drops of the rain and the new day’s sunshine, searching for Goibne, but, as his heart told him, he had returned to wherever he had come from on the wings of angels. Holding the sword high enough to pierce the last ragged clouds, Joffrey shouted aloud, feeling the strength he had lost over the last few years flood his huge frame, and, once again, he believed in himself.

“Joffrey, where have you been all night?” questioned the stern voice of his father from the house behind him, “Not out with that stranger again”. Something in his manner suggested that he was laughing; Joffrey turned slowly, holding the sword he had forged, to see his father standing, smiling in the doorway, waving at him with his right hand.

Acroyear ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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Born 12,646 years ago in the shadow of an eclipse, Acroyear Karza is the last son of the Karza dynasty. Killed in battle against the throngs of invaders from the North and East only three years after marrying Anastasia de la Cascada, Acroyear’s father Demian left the brunt of a dying Kingdom on Acroyear’s shoulders. At two years, Acroyear assumed the throne and was mercilessly manipulated by the advisors and relatives that his father had left behind. Acroyear adopted the policy of listening to everything and saying nothing.

Ten years later, the Kingdom was on the verge of extinction. The Orks who had continually assaulted the Elves because of their mutual racial hatreds had sacked the Kingdom repeatedly after the first conquest, bringing away women and children for their slave trade and riches for their coffers. Seven years ago, the Land had fallen to the conquistador Orks, and since then the government was a puppet, the advisors paid by horrendous taxes and Ork graft. Acroyear said nothing when he heard of his father’s death, nor did he speak for the time of occupation.

When the Orks finally turned their full attention to a resource-exhausted Kindom of Elves, there were none left. The ones that still remained were useless, spineless pawns of the Ork government, abandoned by their kinsfolk, but protected by the predatory Orks. Once again, nothing was said, but this time, the remaining Elves were dispatched.

Acroyear had watched too much happen to his people; his father’s blood of true nobility still ran through his veins, impassioning him — the honest form of any good Elf. After learning everything he could, and planning for years alongside his remaining family and those Elves who believed in their freedom, Acroyear led thousands of his people from their homeland and passed, through the aid of mighty magics and great entities, through a portal which led them to a new Land, one in which they could live in peace.
Hundreds of years passed, and Acroyear became a great leader, refusing to again start a royal dynasty, and instead implementing a form of government that responded well to the Elves’ natural inclinations. The more government by the people and the communities, the better. Acroyear spent years building a haven, not only for his people, but for Elves from across the Planes. Others were welcome as long as they existed in harmony with the Elves, the Kingdom and the Heavens.

Acroyear thus was able to remove himself from the public’s eye after thousands of years, becoming more and more auxiliary for the needs of the Kingdom. After hundreds of adventures and intrigues, from wars to exploration, Acroyear has slipped away from his Kingdom in order to follow the true adventures of a lone warrior and magician: alone and afraid.

Standing 5’ 4” tall, Baron Acroyear Karza has black die-cast mithril plate mail, which adheres tightly and flexibly to his slim Elf frame. His weapon of choice is an ultra-light broad shortsword, also made of die-cast mithril, matching the dagger that sometimes graces his off-hand. His helm is winged and expressionless, shiny gold and somewhat like a crown. Acroyear wears the Karza dynasty hunting cloak, made of a red colored flexible aluminum foil-like material which never rips nor is pierced, and always seems to have a breeze in it. He also carries his father’s lightsaber, but uses it only in emergencies, because that takes all the fun out of things.

Acroyear is quiet and solitary, but welcomes company when it is sincere and in need of him. He never wants to seem like the celebrity he really is; his years of service to his people has rid him of every desire to be obtrusive in pleasant company. He enjoys exploring and reading or “researching” as he smilingly calls it. He is the Imperious Leader of a group of interstellar heroes known only as “The Micronauts”, powerful creatures and machines from the 7th Dimension.

Abu Dabu Dabu Day ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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Abu Dabu Dabu Day was selected at a young age for the School of Elemental Magick. The seventh son of a wealthy merchant, he was the illegitimate product of Tonfu Dabu Day and his favorite concubine, Meesha, but could not be accepted into the family completely due to the unfavorable circumstances surrounding his birth. Had the concubine been more discreet in who she confided in, Abu might have been touted as the proper son of Tonfu’s wife, Illiah, and Meesha might be alive today. As it was, Meesha had not learned the fine art of discretion, and Tonfu had her head removed. He did, however, not abandon Abu; he was reared by Illiah as if he was a son of her own, and Tonfu publically accepted this son, since the sin of the exposure had been cleansed by Meesha’s sacrifice.

Abu was always a great scholar; his ill health and slight frame during his adolescence certainly prevented him from strenuous activity. He spent a great portion of his life in his father’s library; when that was exhausted, he begged his father for a letter to the local consulate in order to gain permission to research in the library of the Magistrate of the land. Though his body was underdeveloped, nigh cadaverous, and he experienced many health problems, Abu’s mind was quite sharp, and his dreams were filled with the adventures which he read from the ancient scrolls and tomes of the libraries he frequented.

At the age of twelvc, his knowledge had grown to encompass all that which could be gleaned from the local resources. His father took him on a trip to the Capital of Bendaria, Thok-hai, and he presented his son to the Emperor. The Emperor was suitably impressed with Abu’s learning, and deferred to his Court Magician. The Court Magician searched the eyes of the boy and deemed him fit for the School of Elemental Magick.

This school was the most grueling school of Magick known to the Bendarian culture; Abu’s father was extremely proud of his son, who had no choice in the matter. Very few persons were able to withstand the tortuous rituals and initiation rites of the school, which was still functioning under the original leader, Khan Grimlock.

This Magician had not been seen by anyone but his disciples for 300 years. Abu was immediately taken from the palace, led before the Master’s chambers, and not seen for four years. He was presumed dead.

Now sixteen years old, Abu reappeared on the very day that the Master had accepted him into his inner sanctum. Speaking to no one, he left the city and lost himself in the wilderness for two more years of tutelage; the Master had instructed him in the ways of the Elements and the balances inherent and necessary in the Natural World — it was now Abu’s duty to study them for himself and make his own judgements.

Returning to the city nearly unrecognizeable, Abu again made his way silently to the Master’s chambers. Nobody knows exactly what went on in the Master’s quarters, but Abu, as he exited, stated solemnly to the Court Magician, who was waiting eagerly to speak with the young disciple, that the Master was dead.

In the shock and surprise of the news, Abu disappeared from the Capital, walking along the roads and fields to reach the house of his father, whom he had not seen in six years. He stayed for several weeks with his family, attending to his chores and duties as he always had before he had journeyed to the capital, but his discontent was sometimes plain to all.
Always courteous and respectful except when saying goodbye, Abu was not to be found one morning. News of his travels occasionally reached the village and his family, but then he went across the Sea, and has not been heard from since…

Orkland Story

Posted: September 24, 1994 in Writing
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[Unfinished…just getting started, actually]

CHAPTER ONE : Rumble’s Cavern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a tense moment of silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mithral!” said one in awe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Got nothing to do for the next few weeks”

“The Tribes of Benjammin shall benefit from this!”

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

“We can retake Cheese Island!”

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

“Everybody else is doing it.”

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER TWO : A Hasty Explanation

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

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

Shadrach surveyed the company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t ask,” replied Shadrach meaningfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” asked Brutikus bluntly.

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

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

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

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

“I am Kerith Moniskoi Tar’at Velikuna.”

“You may call me Abu.”

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

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

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

“Twelve,” Ravenhelm intoned cryptically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Back door . . . !”

CHAPTER THREE : Leaving in a Hurry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ptah smiled and put his elbows back on the bartop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I help y’all?” he inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Make it quicker.”

“Working on it!” growled Karza.

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

The Unfinishable Tale

Posted: February 14, 1994 in Writing
Tags: ,

[Note: This was a document circulated around my college group of friends, mostly D&D players, all of us poor writers, but the idea was to try to pass this around and write something that would, at least, entertain us later on. I know at least Geoff Stearns and I wrote on this.]

The Eternal Campfire burns somewhere in a valley deep within the Wombat mountain range north of the town of Hell’s Purchase, or so the old minstrels tell. Those individuals foolish or wise enough to give up their dreary but safe lives to follow quests hidden in old stories journey first to Hell’s Purchase where they inevitably end up in Braco’s Tavern, a large but unimposing and comfortable structure constructed of wood from the forests covering the mountain slopes and stone brought from the old quarry by the river.
Many folks who have tales to tell of their visits to the tavern speak of the plaque made from an unidentified metal that hangs over the fireplace, and on which is written wise words to the weary traveller. Every traveller who speaks of it seems to recall a different moral or a different saying upon the plaque. Legend has it that each sees something different and personal written there – especially if one has visited the bar first.
One night at the tavern, the usual motley group were playing darts upon the far wall and buying up rounds of ale. It was dark, windy, and raining brutally, and all were glad of the fire. Suddenly, the door burst open with such force that the wood of the frame made an audible cracking sound, and the wind drove hard enough to put out the candles on the tables within ten feet of the door. A smallish, slight, hooded figure stepped in the door, accompanied by a large dog with a luxuriant, though drenched coat. Although two young men had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to close the door against the rain, the hooded figure stepped in, grasped the door’s edge with one hand, and gently closed it.
“Stranger.”, the barkeep said, “We allow no animals in here. You’ll have to leave your dog outside.” The figure, which had been in the act of taking off its gloves, paused, and seemed to bend slightly toward the dog, which had sat upon its haunches. An almost inaudible whisper came from under the hood, and with a glance up, the dog moved quietly to the corner of the room and made itself compact beneath some chairs.
“We mean you no trouble. Surely my friend will be of no offense to you in that corner. As you see, he can make himself unobtrusive.” It was a lady’s voice that had come from beneath the hood, and the barkeep, appearing a bit confused, swept an unreadable look over the bottles behind the bar, and then tapped his finger on the bar surface.
“All right, I love me dog myself, and such as its raining… he can stay if ya can keep ‘im quiet.”
She nodded her head, for now all could see that the figure was a she. Her hood was let back, and her dark hair was caught up in a rope that disappeared into her travelling cloak. She made herself comfortable in the same corner as her dog, in front of a steaming cup of coffee, to which she surreptitiously added a dash of blue powder from a jewelled bottle with a cork the size of your pinky-nail.
“A wee bit rainy out an’ about in tha wind t’night.” An old broad-shouldered man with a Gaelic accent leaned over and said to the young lady, startling her. As she turned and looked at him quizzically with her piercing green eyes, there was a bang and a shout from the dart-players.
“What in Hades…?” questioned the young lad at the fireplace, who was attempting to roll a hot log back into the hearth proper, “It just popped right out – almost hit me in my eye, right!” He turned around, a little sheepish from having yelled, and recieved similar looks from his two friends at the dart board. The two in the corner traded glances, then went back to their respective drinks.
The grey dog leaped up on to the wide window ledge behind the seat of the broad-shouldered man, who spilled part of his Guiness. He cursed something under his breath, and then, smiling tiredly to the traveller, got up and sat at the bar. The bartender looked like he was about to say something, but grimaced and poured another stout for the older gentleman. Silver was exchanged, along with a wink and a nod at the dog, now sitting and looking out of the window, into the rain, as if waiting for someone else to come in from the cold.
One of the other patrons, a rather short and stocky individual with a huge flaring beard and moustache and a balding pate brought out a small wooden flute, and began playing a simple rustic melody, reminding the other individuals of the mountain streams and high forests which surrounded the tavern and its curious plaque. His eyes were closed and almost obscured underneath his bushy white eyebrows as he played his tiny instrument, and the few conversations on that rainy night died down to nothing as the bard told tales of secrets hidden under rocks and in the boles of trees with the lilt of his flute.
The voice that issued forth from the bard’s lips was one which, almost magically, transported his audience into the depths of his tale. This golden voice blended with the notes of his flute so well that no one at the pub ever noticed when the bard was singing and when he was playing. The entire pub seemed to be transported. The fire roared and flared at the mention of strife, but, just as easily, it resumed its soft crackling and playful bouts when the bard wished it to be so. The song he sang was that of the story of the plaque.
Flashing a smile to the lady and her dog in the corner and raising his flute to his magical lips he began,“This is the ballad of which I may be the only soul who knows,” This was the only introduction he made, and after hearing the ballad, even it was unnecessary.
Being that it was a song that the regular patrons had never heard, they all gathered around the bard. They had all heard this man’s magical tales before, but no one had heard the ballad of the plaque. The woman in the corner turned her attention towards the bard and all one could focus on was her flowing black hair and sparkling eyes that seemed that they knew more than the others ever would know. As the bard began his tale, the dog looked up at the woman from over his shoulder with a look which can only be described as a knowing smile. The three gamers quietly put up their darts and turned chairs towards the bard and the fire, and the barkeep leaned on his oaken bar next to the old man, who sipped from his mug thoughtfully.
The minstrel tripped through a keen melody, and after a small pause, in which he caught everyone’s eye with his own twinkles, he proceeded to sing.

It was a time of Dragon’s fire
That the souls of Kings were born
From the fear of Demon’s ire
Rose a hope for those forlorn.
The simple men whose lives were led
With doors barred shut and fires high:
Those women who feared to tread
After the dark had seized the sky:
These common folk, no sorc’rous king
Did bring the Magic to the World.
Not in Swords or Magic Rings,
But in the form of boys and girls,
Who, taught the strength of father’s might,
And told the lore of mother’s art,
Grew tall and strong against the night,
Grew wise and bold and good of heart.
This plaque which no one sees the same,
Is said to be a craft of Elves
To whom the tricks of Magic came
With ease; it is one of their spells.
Yet others call it Dwarvish make,
Their skill with metal’s not unknown,
But who had such the time to take
And sink this plaque in fireplace stone?
It took not Dwarf or Elf to cheer
The Hearth, the heart of every room,
It is the men and women here
Who saved us all from Demon’s doom.

The sound of his voice trailed away for a moment, and then the bard’s flute spilled a short melody which spun hauntingly to the smoke-stained rafters to pool and dissipate into the old wood. The Dwarf stopped with a sigh and looked around. Movement resumed in Braco’s Tavern after a moment of reflection, but the patron’s voices were quieter; some of them spoke of other legends that the Dwarf had reminded them of. The dart game resumed and more silver was exchanged at the bar between the ‘keep and the gentleman.
Thunder rumbled outside, with force enough to rattle mugs on tables. One of the gamers walked to a window and stood looking out into the storm through the violence of the rain on the glass. Turning to the bar, he said jokingly “Well, Braco, it doesn’t look like any of us are leaving anytime soon…”
“In a cloudburst like this, nobody’s going anywhere,” Braco answered over his shoulder as he absentmindedly dried a mug, “Funny how it was clear until around sunset. Didn’t see a cloud in the sky ‘till then, and then the darkness came fast and quick up the river, like if it was following someone here.” His bushy eyebrows raised as if to point to the mysterious woman. The dog turned and looked at him as he hung up his towel on a peg. Looking out the window again, the young man started and turned white.
“Hey Marco!” he motioned to the two dart-playing youths, “Lito! I…I think I saw someone out in the rain.” The two men at the bar exchanged another glance and the older man shifted from his stool to face the door; the other young men joined their comrade at the streaming panes.
“Sure enough,” said Marco, “I think there be seven or eight visitors arrivin’.” Marco turned away and headed back to the dart board.
“Brandon…” started Lito, who was next to him at the window, “What are they ridin’?”
“I can’t rightly see through the storm,” replied Brandon hesitatingly, “They got water down their necks alright, though. Look at them runnin’ around all hunched over.”
A snarl from the grey dog startled the patrons, including his owner, who turned and looked askance of the noise. Again, she whispered a few indistinguishable words in his ear, but rather than calming the creature, his hackles rose higher. He glared out of his window into the rain.
The traveller turned a questioning look to the gentleman and Braco. The gentleman returned her gaze, and starting to speak, looked over to Lito and Brandon. “How many?”
The door crashed open and a flash of lightning illuminated several figures in long black hunting cloaks. Striding into the bar, the newcomers dumped water out of the folds of their gear, the ninth one in shutting the door against the storm with an idle hand. Braco opened his mouth to say something about the moisture on the floor when the lead traveler flung his cloak aside and rose to his full height.
“The map, runt!” the Bugbear growled at the Dwarf. Seven and one-half feet tall, his head barely cleared the beams of the open A-frame ceiling. Water dripped from the grey fur on his face; his semi-canine features were twisted in the semblance of a smile, his eyes glittered in the firelight. His companions shed their cloaks.
“Bugbears! All of ‘em!” whispered Lito in a small, frightened voice. Bugbears were rumors from explorers who had been past the first escarpments of the Wombat mountains and deep into the Northern Wastes beyond. Brandon shuddered next to him.
“Ah, Gulash! What a pleasant surprise,” said the Dwarf calmly, “If you really want the map, like I know you do since you’ve been following me for years now, I guess I’ll co-operate.”
The Bugbears rumbled among themselves and the tallest one, obviously the one referred to as Gulash, placed his hand on the wicked scimitar at his belt and stepped forwards with an open hand. The bard reached down and opened his large leather backpack, rummaged for a moment, and carefully drew out an ivory scroll case, studded with emeralds and wrought gold. Marco’s eyes went wide; he loved his silver enought as it is when he won at darts – this was unheard of. Handing it over with a great regretful sigh, the Dwarf spoke:
“Well it’s been a great conversation piece, but I wasn’t going to do anything with that map – I’m too old now.” The Bugbear chief looked confused for a moment, then a crafty look stole over his face.
“How do I know the map’s really in here?” he asked with a grin at his companions who grunted agreement.
“Maybe you should read it, Gulash,” replied the Dwarf, playing with his flute, “I can help you if you…”
“I can read!” growled the Bugbear. The dog bared his teeth at the dripping Bugbears and was shushed by the lady. After a few seconds of struggling to open the scroll tube, Gulash pulled the end cap off with his teeth while Marco winced at the lack of finesse. Turning it over, Gulash shook it until a lavender-tinted piece of parchment slid out and into his furry palm. He chuckled and unrolled it, looking at the Dwarf. His gaze turned to the paper and squinted hard.
The bard put his hands over his ears, provoking puzzled looks from everyone in the tavern; Gulash emitted a choked question and the paper exploded in his hands, running blue fire up his arms and around the edges of his studded leather armor, knocking him back into his gang. The smell of sulfur hung in the air for a moment with the laughter of the Dwarf who was doubled up in tears.
“Oh my, my,” gasped the hysterical bard, “The same trick worked on him two seasons ago.”
A broadsword slid across the surface of the bar to the old Gaelic-accented man, who hefted it in one hand and drained his beer with the other. Braco looked at the Bugbears with an oaken club resting on his countertop.
“There’ll be no fightin’ in my tavern.” The Bugbears slowly pulled out various ugly looking short blades: curved, straight, hooked and sharp. Gulash was hopping around with smoke wafting from several charred patches of fur.
“Alright, Dwarf!” said Gulash in a guttural snarl, “Yer goin’ down.” He yanked out his black tulwar and menaced the bard.
“You heard Braco,” piped up Marco, standing by the dartboard, “No brawlin’!”
“Shut the pipsqueak up, an’ be quick about it,” spat Gulash to his Bugbears. Two of them moved surprisingly quickly for Marco, and grasped his arms firmly before he could draw his shortsword which he had quietly retrieved from the back of his chair.
“I said shut him up!” Gulash gestured across his throat with his index finger.
“Marco!” yelled Lito and started towards him. A hairy Bugbear grabbed him by the arm and hurled him over a table into a corner by the fireplace, where he slumped and groaned. Brandon backed slowly around the table to Lito, and fell to his knees to tend to him, glancing over his shoulder nervously at the Bugbears grinning at Braco, the Dwarf, and the gentleman. The Dwarf had suddenly recovered from his laughing fit.
“Hey, now. No need for violence, just as the good ‘keep says.” The Dwarf took his feet off of a low stool and stood up. “You were never very good at diplomacy, and I see it is time for you to learn another lesson.” Reaching behind his chair, he seized a good sized battleaxe and removed the leather sheath.
“Not this time, fat little rodent!” said Gulash smugly. He barked an order in his native tongue, and a smaller, shadowy Bugbear stepped forwards. From a fold in her ragged clothes she produced a glowing red vial the size of her fist.
“Numinmentat sthaass quo Demontum voothat Volatum! “ she cried, dashing the glass to the floor. The Dwarf stepped back, surprised, and the silent woman in the corner slowly got to her feet, the palms of her hands flat on the tabletop. The dog was still grimacing at the Bugbears, but had regained some control over itself. Smoke spun towards the ceiling in thick coils; the firelight died unnaturally in the haze and the candle-flames spat sparks. Braco cautiously stole a sip from a bottle and surreptitiously passed it to the gentleman. The vapors were rising rapidly from the glowing red liquid that had been in the vial, evaporating it into the folds of the smoke, leaching from it a bloody aura which was coalescing into some sort of creature. All of the Bugbears were shifting between their feet uneasily, forgetting about silencing Marco or keeping an eye on the other patrons; even the Bugbear incantatrix was watching fearfully. The Dwarf muttered something under his breath in Dwarfish and gripped his battleaxe firmly. A blue-silver twinkle played across the blade of the axe; he backed up as the smoke curled around his feet.
A voice erupted from the column of vapor like the strike of a serpent: “Toluwait Rockthain, we require a Map which is in your possession.”
“I…don’t believe I have made your acquaintance,” the Dwarf stalled for time, “You are…”
“We represent the interests of a power that does not appreciate your trifling in matters that do not concern you in the least.” The eerie red vapor began to swirl into a more definite form. A heavily muscled torso appeared first with little licks of orange lightning wrapping like chains around its curves and corners. Two eyes the color of metal hot from the forge winked on, and twin stag antlers, gilded with copper, materialized above the smoke that veiled the creature’s face. Lito trembled at the sight of the Demon; Brandon clutched at his tunic and prayed under his breath. The bottle was quietly passed from the gentleman back to Braco.
“Can you fight him?” asked Braco under his breath to his friend.
“I don’t know, Tuledan,” replied the gentleman, using Braco’s little-known last name, “I dunna think you need a sword but a good clean-shaven priest.”
“Look here Mister Sean Murdoch, I just run a cosy tavern,” said Braco, half-turning to the gentleman, “You’re the one with the fifty years of military service.”
“Yes but spikin’ an Orc here an’ there dasn’t give ye experience with the spawn o’ the divell, ya cretin!”
“Shut up you fossils!” Gulash tried to assert some authority, “And I thought I told you to kill that boy!” He pointed at Marco, and Lito struggled to his feet, leaning on Brandon, a horrified expression on his face.
“Leave him alone, you bastards!” yelled Lito. Passion consumed his features, twisting them in pain and rage. Brandon looked quickly at his friend, then at the mass of Bugbears. The incantatrix glared at the interruption of her Demon’s business, and flung an arm towards the pair. Speaking several words of power, energy started to crackle at the ends of her fingertips. The woman’s dog snarled loudly and started forwards, but was restrained by his owner with a tense grip.
“Oh, no! My bar!” said Braco.
Two blue missiles of light flared at Brandon and Lito; Lito threw himself behind the Dwarf’s table, Brandon froze and shut his eyes. But the table in front of him leaped as if thrown, and intercepted the two missiles. An extraordinary talent, Brandon had always been a little wary and frightened of his psionic strengths; now he found them handy for saving his life. The Bugbear magician howled in surprise and disappointment as the table absorbed the missiles; Marco still struggled helplessly against two seven foot tall smirking beast-men.
“Rockthain,” rumbled the Demon.
“Bite it, moron,” countered the Dwarf. Lito stopped climbing up from behind the table and stared at the bard.
“There’ll be no fightin’ in my goddamn tavern!” screamed Braco. He ducked just in time as a Bugbear throwing axe embedded itself through a bottle of whiskey into the rear wall of his bar. Thunder stormed outside, and the Demon waxed a glowing scarlet. “Kill them. Kill them all!”
The Bugbear holding the squirming Marco was gibbering at his comrade, who had thrown the axe at Braco. Lito picked up a stool and brained the axe-thrower. Gulash pointed at the Dwarf and spat a command; several burly Bugbears warily approached through the smoky skirts of the Demon, who fumed and glowed brighter.
“Alright, enough of this nonsense!” said Murdoch rising from his barstool to meet a pair of the brutes. Easily cutting one in two, he caught a blow from an axe in the ear and rolled under the bar holding the side of his head. The Bugbear, leaning over to cut at him again recieved a solid crack on the skull from Braco, wielding his short club with both hands. The Bugbear was thrust out of the way with Murdoch’s sword point as he clambered out from the bar’s shadow.
“Drink?” asked Braco, lobbing a bottle to Murdoch, who, catching a look from the woman in the corner who was being threatened by a single Bugbear, turned and slid it across a table to her She caught it deftly as it dropped off of the end and reversed it in her hand, braining the incoming Bugbear neatly. As it fell to the floor, the dog leaped upon it and savaged it. The two creatures rolled around knocking chairs about and upsetting tables.
The Dwarf was engaged with several Bugbears at once, but his battleaxe was making quick work of them; several of them had already fled past Gulash and into the night clutching ragged rents in their flesh and light armor. Brandon crouched behind a table in the corner by the window and watched, appalled at the situation. The Bugbear incantatrix, avoiding the great swings of the Dwarf’s axe or Murdoch’s deft blade, pulled out a vicious curved knife and stalked Brandon. Caught in the corner with no weapon about, he looked about him hopelessly. The magician grinned at him evilly across the table, then shoved it out of the way carelessly, approaching him with the knife held in front of her glittering eyes. With the sound of shattering glass, an enormous sword plunged through the window from outside and impaled the Bugbear neatly between the shoulderblades. The knife dropped out of her hand, and she slumped forwards to the ground with blood pouring out of her mouth. A short curse was heard from outside through the rain being swept into the window: the greatsword was stuck firmly in the body of the Bugbear and was standing straight out of her back out of reach from the window. A great wet shaggy head was stuck though the broken window pane for a moment, swore horribly, and then disappeared.
The Demon screamed his disapproval of the Bugbears’ teamwork, or lack thereof, and, forming two enormous fists within his cloud of vapor, struck the bard, hurling him into a table which buckled underneath him. His axe flew backwards and chopped into the leg of the Bugbear holding Marco, who bellowed ferociously and released his captive to clap his hands to the wound. Lito, who had barely dodged the Dwarf, the table, and the axe, danced around with his stool and clubbed the other Bugbear that had been threatening Marco. Marco grabbed the darts from the dartboard, and as the Bugbear turned to slash at Lito, he jammed them down solidly into the back of his neck. Lito beat the confused creature senseless with the stool, and then found shelter behind the bar with Marco – the Demon was approaching the stunned Dwarf and its forge-fire eyes were showering sparks.
The door flew open for the third time that night; a Bugbear was propelled backwards out of the rain and into a chair, out of the way of the owner of the two-handed sword which saved Brandon’s life. The man was well over six feet tall with a great mane of curly hair and a bushy beard. He was drenched from the rainstorm and lightning illuminated him in the doorway as he sighted Sean Murdoch.
“Yer late for dinner, Sean!” he bellowed above the fracas, “The missus missed you an’ sent me to fetch ye.”
“You could be a better help than a windbag, Joffrey” grunted Murdoch. He was keeping a Bugbear at bay while the mysterious woman was chanting and making mystical signs with her hands. Gulash turned around and screamed a challenge; Joffrey Marcus balled his big blacksmith hands up into mighty fists and charged him. The two of them fought wildly, but Marcus bit the sword arm of the Bugbear and forced him to drop his wicked scimitar. Gulash ripped at Marcus with his horny claws, drawing blood in several places, but Marcus’ strength from his work at the forge prevailed: Gulash was throw bodily out into the storm, and the tavern door slammed on him. Brandon was still crouched in his corner, gaping at the Demon who was picking up the Dwarf’s body.
A boiling of icy energy wrapped around the joined hands of the lady behind Murdoch. With a sharp cry, she hurled the spell at the Demon as Murdoch ducked. It removed the head of the last Bugbear and slammed into the smoky form of the evil being. It dropped the heavy Dwarf to the floor with a thud and spun around to face the other side of the tavern.
“I dunna think a bottle is going to work on this one, Braco,” muttered Murdoch as he hefted his broadsword. Marco and Lito looked on helplessly from behind the bar as the Demon swept over towards the gentleman.
“If ye got another ball o’ ice, toss it now,” said Murdoch over his shoulder to the mage. She gave him a quick, frantic glance and continued drawing sigils in the air. Marcus stepped behind the creature with his huge sword and swept it clean through the smoke; nothing happened – the Demon didn’t even seem to notice.
“Vistakir Aleph-Doksari; hail and well-met!” said the Dwarf from a sitting position. He had recovered his axe and was drawing on the floor in a pinkish chalk. The Demon flared yellow for a moment and whirled on the bard.
“How dare you speak one of my names!” flashed the Demon menacingly, “We have such delights for you in our domain, bug. The map is nothing; your soul shall be ours!” It flew at the Dwarf, who had set his axe aside and grabbed his flute. The bard blew an incredibly quick melody and brought the Demon up short, right over his little chalk drawing; a circle with a few odd characters around it. Playing a short but forceful tune, the bard started to walk around the Demon, who was suspended over the drawing. The Demon’s eyes followed him, but he made no move. Murdoch and Marcus exchanged glances, and Braco passed his bottle down to Lito and Marco; the woman stopped her low chanting and watched the Dwarf carefully.
The bard kept playing and walking around the Demon, and some of his awful red glow was dissipating; the dog, muzzle covered in Bugbear blood, began walking around the circle, also. Brandon came out from his corner and also began to circle the Demon; he didn’t know exactly why, but it seemed to be working for the smoke was floating away into the rafters, without the evil reddish tinge that the presence of the creature lent it. Murdoch sat down heavily in a chair to have Marcus look at his ear; the lady shook his tired hand.
“My name is Tishan Willowtree, my Lord,” she spoke and cast her hood back, revealing slightly pointed ears and delicate features; an Elf, or at least there was quite a bit of Elven blood in her veins. “Thank you for your defense.”
“Thank you for the timely incantation, my lovely lady,” replied Murdoch, who was wincing under the blacksmith’s inquisition into his wound.
The Demon was nothing but a pair of fading eyes as the patrons of Braco’s Tavern watched the Dwarven bard banish it into a pall of smoke. Drinks were replenished all around, and the three young men helped right the tables that hadn’t been splintered and place the chairs back into order. The Bugbears were dragged out into the rain by Joffrey Marcus and Braco, who came in white-faced after cutting their mounts loose.
“I never seen such big wolves,” said Marcus, shutting the door tightly behind him.
“It’s good that they eat Bugbear,” replied Braco shakily, “I hope they don’t bother anyone on their way out of town.”
“Bard,” called Tishan to the Dwarf, “What map is this that you own that attracts the attention of such doubtful company?”
“Ah, my lady,” said the Dwarf, bowing deeply, “My friends, I owe all of you a great apology for this inconvenience. You see, I don’t have the map that these monsters were bothering me for – I just know where it is.
“I am the bard Toluwait Rockthane, son of…”
“Yes, yes, sir. I can guess. I have met enough Dwarves to pass on hearin’ your family’s history,” interrupted a gruff Sean Murdoch.
“Well, as I said, I don’t have the map, I just know where it is,” continued Toluwait, “It is a treasure map, which shows where there are great riches and greater perils. I have been waiting to go get the map because I was doing… research on the veracity of the information regarding the locale and the indigenous life.”
“Were you?” questioned a grumpy Braco, who was fixing a sheet over the broken window, “Well, where’s the map?”
“It’s right there,” said the Dwarf, and pointed to the plaque above the fireplace. The company gathered around the plaque, but saw nothing but its normal proverbs and useful sayings; no map was evident.
“There’s no map here, old Dwarf,” said Marco disappointedly, “It’s just tthe same old plaque.”
“Ah, yes, my boy! But it is a Magical Plaque!” Toluwait lifted his flute and played a haunting melody that hung in the air like the Demon’s smoke, and the plaque changed. The lines of the letters grew and swirled into a map of landmarks: mountains, forests, creeks and valleys, with an X at the foot of a certain hooked crag. Marco hurriedly pulled out a piece of parchment which he had bought to write love-letters on and began carefully copying the map. The bard played his simple melody on until everyone had seen the map for a minute or two, and then let the notes fade away into the nighttime rain. Thunder growled around the tavern.
“So, is anyone interested in a fortune in gold, Magic, and jewels?”

# # # # # # # # # # #

“I dunna give a damn what time it is in the mornin’, Braco!” yelled an irate Sean Murdoch, banging a flagon repeatedly on the countertop of the bar,“Where’s the Glenfiddich?!”
“You’re crazy, old man!” retorted Braco wearily as he shuffled around the end of the bar rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I still can’t believe you believe that old Dwarf’s tale of the Eternal Campfire. I tend this bar and I have yet to hear a whopper like that one the Dwarf told last night.”
“What about the map?” Murdoch pointed at the plaque above the mantel.
“What about the bottle of Glenfiddich we drank last night?”
Murdoch put the mug down with a thump and turned half away from Braco. Willowtree was making her way down the steps from the rooms above the tavern, keeping one slender hand on the railing, the other one massaging her temples. She sat down gingerly on a barstool and groaned.
“Do ye remember what ye promised last night, lady?” Murdoch winked at Braco, who rolled his eyes and started a kettle over the fire.
“I need a cup of coffee, a new head, and a gag for the gentleman over there, Braco,” she said over her shoulder, pointedly ignoring Murdoch.
The door to the tavern opened, and several youths came bounding in, carrying all manner of implements and bags. Among them were Marco, Brandon and Lito; there were several others, including a girl who was clinging to Lito’s arm as if he was about to disappear for good, and the majority of the teenagers in the town of Hell’s Purchase.
“You can’t go! We’re supposed to be betrothed!” cried the girl.
“Marisa,” Lito tried to pry her fingers from his shirt, “I’m going and that’s final — my father doesn’t like it either, but I’m my own man, now.”
“But….” stammered Marisa, her lower lip trembling as if she was about to cry, “But you’ll never come back! Who’ll take care of you?”
“I can take care of myself,” replied Lito, almost proudly. Murdoch and Willowtree exchanged resigned looks. Murdoch banged his flagon once more to remind Braco, and turned to the gaggle of teens.
“Alright ye miscreants!” he barked out. The commotion stopped as his voice cracked like a drill seargeant’s through the pub. “What in the Devil is all that crap?” he said, pointing to the equipment that occupied several chairs and a table. Murdoch strode over to Marco, Lito and Brandon and started looking at their possessions. “Ten foot pole, six changes of underwear, breath mints,” Murdoch rustled through an open rucksack, “What the hell ye think this is gonna be, a walk in yon woods?” He started throwing their equipment out of the open door into the courtyard.
“Sounds like a corporal,” Willowtree commented to Braco, who was pouring her a cup of coffee.
“He actually retired as a captain,” Braco nodded at Murdoch’s back.
“Get rid of all this worthless junk!” roared Murdoch as he kicked a skillet out of the tavern to bounce on the flagstones outside. The group of youngsters beat a hasty retreat outside to reorganize. Marisa was still hanging on to Lito and the sound of her cries were redoubled. Murdoch slammed the door behind them.
“Better get him his Glenfiddich,” said Braco, looking under the bar.
“Bloody sassenach,” growled Murdoch, sitting down at the bar again and looking for his flagon.
“There there, now, Sean,” soothed Braco, putting a glass of whiskey down at Murdoch’s elbow, “You needn’t turn them into soldiers overnight.”
“I dunno why the damned Dwarf invited them along in the first place.”
“He said that the composition wouldn’t be right without them,” said Willowtree from down the bar. Rockthane entered the Inn laughing at that moment.
“What a fine group of heroes we have outside,” laughed the Dwarf, “I don’t want to hear a word about it, Mister Murdoch.” He waggled a short finger at Sean as he took a seat. “I dropped by Joffrey’s smithy on the way here. He’ll be along with a friend, he said.”
“When are we leaving?” asked Willowtree.
“As soon as we’re all assembled,” said Rockthane, “And, of course, the courtyard is cleaned up.” He winked at Braco, who smiled in spite of himself.

# # # # # # # # # # #

It was quite a large group of people who assembled in front of Braco’s Tavern. Not all of them were going along with the Dwarf and the adventurers, but the sight of people gearing up for such an outing was always something of a commotion. Murdoch passed his helmet around and collected enough spare change to finance a public keg of Hairfoot Triple Stout, and that added to the draw of the event.
The three young men, Marco, Brandon and Lito were considerably better equipped. Each wore a decent leather jerkin for protection and a grey-green travelling cloak. They each had a knife on their belts as well. Lito carried a old mahogany shortbow that he swore was a family heirloom from the Hobgoblin Wars of ‘23, and wore a motheaten quiver of arrows that looked like they were about the same age. Their “equipment” had been miraculously compressed into a backpack apiece.
Murdoch wore his chainmail and his traditional green military gear.
“Thought soldiers never wore skirts,” said Willowtree, her eyes twinkling.
“Thought you’d ride a unicorn, Elf,” grumped Murdoch in reply, “And it is not a skirt; it’s a kilt.”
“Well, sir, I’m only half-Elf, so a whitish horse will have to do.” Willowtree’s canine friend was sitting in the shade of a large tree along the avenue that ran through Hell’s Purchase some distance away. It kept its eyes on its master protectively.
Joffrey Marcus thrust his way easily through those assembled with his broad shoulders, making way for a second person.
“Good morning to you all!” he said cheerfully. A man in a foppish hat with a jaunty white feather stuck in it stepped out of the crowd behind him. “This is my friend Karza. He’s on his way out of town anyhow, and he’s invited himself along for the journey.”
“That’s the Baron Karza,” he pointed out testily, sweeping his hat off and performing a graceful bow in the direction of the Dwarf, “I need protection from the thieves and brigands who wish to make off with the riches that I carry.”
“Yes well anyway,” smiled Marcus, “I’m about ready. Ah, yes…wait one moment.” He turned and thrust his way back through the crowd again.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintences,” said the Baron, smoothly making his way for the keg and pouring himself a flagon.
“Wow! A real Baron!” said Lito to his friends.
“I think this is going to be pretty exciting,” replied Marco.
“My head hurts,” said Brandon, receiving a sympathetic look from Willowtree.
Marcus returned leading two strong horses loaded with gear. Murdoch took one look at the mass of items strapped to the two mounts and groaned. “I hate travelling with Joffrey,” he muttered.
Marcus unstrapped a trio of shortswords from his steed’s saddle and handed one to each of the young men. “There’s no use adventuring without a bit of steel for good luck. May the great Goibhnie keep your blades sharp and true.” Marco and Lito took their presents with wide eyes, and strapped them on under their cloaks awkwardly. Brandon hesitated, then took his and tied it on to his saddle. They thanked him.
“Alright, alright,” grumbled Murdoch, refilling his mug at the tap, “Who are we waiting for now?”
“Good things come to those who wait,” grinned the Dwarf, who was behind him in the line for the beer. Marisa had reappeared, this time in a rather provocative dress, and was again trying to persuade Lito not to leave her in a piteous voice.
“I hope we don’t have to wait too long,” said Marcus, switching his empty mug for Sean’s newly refilled one. Willowtree smiled and watched the Baron throw copper pieces to the children.

…to be continued…?

Sometimes it’s hard to find myself,
camouflaged and hunting fears by
hiding underneath the lilypads.
Like fear is going to to assassinate the Froggacuda?
But the memory is that if that is what it is:
a feeling lost and sunk in the swamp it was born in;
a beautiful first and last of its kind,
bred from books and desires and pirate gold,
from lost helium balloons and forts under acacia trees.
The Froggacuda is nothing without
one poet of keen eyes and quick hands,
a child catching frogs in the bog alone near dark
with a flashlight and an overactive imagination
full of Dungeons and Dragons books and Lovecraft stories.
Nothing is the Froggacuda without the puppeteer
who makes the teeth snap shut
and the eyes roll,
the ears perk up and the lungs breathe.
But nothing is the puppet-master without
those teeth, eyes, ears, and lungs
beating, breathing
in his self-esteem, his soul.

Placebo Runs Away

Posted: October 12, 1993 in Writing
Tags: ,

Placebo was running away again. Rounding a corner, he ran into a solid wall of plate armor and bounced off. He couldn’t draw his rapier because his hands were full of seemingly useless items of obvious monetary worth, but what an Elder of the Land (a title he had been awarded due to his association with the semi-legendary Sir Robin Fowlfeather) was doing with a set of platinum fireplace tools and an armload of crystal goblets was a question to be asked at a later time. The wall of plate mail spoke.

“Placebo where have you been? The Humongous and I need you.”

“Look here K’Tinga,” Placebo interrupted quickly, “I…was minding my own business and these four thugs tried to jump me.”

“Right,” said K’Tinga disbelievingly. He was another valiant hero who adventured with Sir Robin, a half-orc who was particularly good at shooting people with a ridiculously heavy crossbow that shot four quarrels. He hefted it now and stepped around the corner.

Three men with drawn weapons were moving down the street towards the corner that K’Tinga had stepped around. They paused when they saw him, but continued towards Placebo, who had appeared behind the armored shoulder of the half-orc.

“Shoot them!” squealed Placebo, hitting K’Tinga awkwardly with the fireplace poker. K’Tinga half turned to Placebo.

“I don’t just shoot people I’ve just met.”

“Yes you do! Now shoot them!” K’Tinga and Placebo glared at each other.

“Come on, tough guy. This stuff’s worth a fortune! I can smell it,” Placebo said confidentially.

Placebo was a swarthy bald Black man with a myraid of useful skills that included pirating, lock picking, yelling obscenities, climbing, thieving, and getting into trouble. He was, however, a fast friend of K’Tinga’s, and K’Tinga was usually the best at translating Placebo’s gibberish into understandable language. K’Tinga lowered his crossbow.

“Hey, pig boy!” yelled one of the advancing men from about ten yards away where he had stopped and hefted a large mace, “Get out of the way so we can slaughter the slave.” Now it is true that orcs do resemble pigs, but K’Tinga was quite civilized in his own unique way, and he never liked being called “pig boy”.

“Slave? Slave!” said Placebo, outraged. Racism in the Land was often heard but seldom practiced. “Hey, he called you a pig boy.”

K’Tinga lifted the crossbow and fired almost casually. “Stick around.” The man stumbled backwards under the force of the quarrels and was pinned to a haywagon. He dropped his mace; his jaw went slack. Blood poured from the rent in his chainmail. Placebo gave the other two men-at-arms the finger.

K’Tinga turned the crossbow at the remaining men. The design of the crossbow was such that there were two bowstrings, each string firing a set of two quarrels. There was a bottom rack and a top rack; the top rack was empty, but two more deadly bolts gleamed in their grooves below.

The men looked at each other; they seemed to come to an understanding, but one ran forwards brandishing his broadsword while the other one took off running back the way he had came. The first one skidded to a stop and looked around helplessly. K’Tinga motioned with the crossbow and he threw down his sword, disgusted, then pointed at Placebo.

“That’s our merchandise; he just walked in and stole it!” The man looked angry as he walked over to the man pinned to the wagon. A small crowd had gathered, and they let him through.

“Placebo,” K’Tinga started to speak.

“I thought it was the Thieves’ guild again,” he said in a small voice, “Anyone could have made that mistake.”

“Where’d the guy go?” asked K’Tinga, searching the crowd. He wasn’t to be seen; the crowd started to disperse. A merchant was pulling the arm of the dead man, trying to dislodge him from the side of the cart. Wading through the crowd, a big man in brightly colored tights pushed the merchant aside gently and yanked the man away from the wagon. Dragging the man under one arm, he waved to the merchant who bowed his thanks, and walked over to K’Tinga and Placebo.

“Is this your work, K’Tinga?” said the Humongous, dumping the body in front of them. Placebo knelt down and started searching through the man’s pockets, tearing the armor open and sifting through his tunic. His smile grew wider as he held up a slim shining gold necklace and three silver earrings. Placebo’s ears were already pierced seven or eight times each, and they were loaded down with expensive jewelry.

“That’s my necklace!” shouted a woman. She ran over to Placebo and tried to wrest it from him. He shrugged her off easily and she fell to the ground sobbing. The Humongous helped her up; K’Tinga scolded Placebo.

“I had to pawn it to that man,” said the woman through a veil of tears, “He said he would take my children if I didn’t pay him.” A gaggle of small dirty children gathered around their mother’s skirts. There were three or four, all girls, the oldest about thirteen; she looked brazenly at Placebo.

“Hey, these are mine, fair and square,” said Placebo petulantly.

“Wrong,” stated K’Tinga, “They’re mine.”

Reaching over and closing his mailed fist on the jewelry, he carefully gave them back to the woman. Placebo looked hurt for a moment, and then started picking up the stolen goods. The thirteen year old scrambled over and helped him pick the goblets up, loading them into his arms as he stood there.

“Hey, thanks!” he said, in a better mood, “Humongous, give her a couple of coins for me.”

Placebo turned and started away with his cargo. The Humongous looked at K’Tinga and grinned; K’Tinga looked puzzled, and then gave the Humongous a pouch of coins. He bent down and gave each of the girls a golden coin, then gave the whole pouch to the mother.

“Please save some of it,” advised K’Tinga, “And stay out of trouble.” The family scurried away, parting with many words of thanks. The two men turned and followed after Placebo, catching up steadily as he had to stop ever now and again to pick up a fallen cup.

“Why’s you smile at me like that?” asked K’Tinga suspiciously, “And why’d you give her the whole thing?”

“Aw, they needed it,” said the Humongous, “And a small bag of gold was worth seeing that little girl take Placebo’s big fire opal ring, y’know the one on his pinky finger?” K’Tinga and the Humongous laughed together and helped Placebo distribute his load evenly.

“Hey guys,” he asked, “Why’re you laughing?”

Rumble’s Cavern

Posted: August 1, 1993 in Writing
Tags: , ,

After one great adventure, Rumble the good-natured half-Ogre decided to leave the life of a mercenary and become a businessOgre. He had enjoyed swinging his oversized weapons to save the kidnapped daughter of a Duke, but he was really in search of something else. And he hadn’t found it sliding down secret traps into spike-filled pits.
Upon presentation of the stolen princess or whatever she was, everyone had been awarded riches and presents. Even Rumble, as he admitted himself, who had been the butt of many insensitive Ogre or “half-breed” jokes all of his life out of fear of his size, strength and heritage, was awarded the same as his other companions. As his friends decided to pursue adventure and danger and riches, Rumble invested his money elsewhere. The big city he had come to was a far call from the small port of Nazbo back in Orcland where he had originally set sail for adventure. This menagerie was teeming with all sorts of humans and demi-humans with half-Orcs the most populous of the humanoid peoples. His half-Ogre bulk made it difficult for Rumble to get about without attracting stares, so he quickly went about his business and signed up to crew a ship leaving for home.
While in the bustling city of Chigoca, Rumble sought out a Sage of no little repute, who had a great knowledge of unusual things and was reputed to have the ability to blow smoke rings in different colors. Rumble was fond of smoking tobacco, a habit he had picked up during a week-long stay with the Halflings who had rescued him from being lost in Lurkwood, but had never been able to blow a smoke ring. Rumble had tarried with the Hobbits for a week, performing voluntary labors in thanks for his timely rescue from a spider of extraordinary size who had caught him in a well spun lasso of silk. Cutting him free in the nick of time were a pair of Halfling woodspeople, Nicholas and Anatina Merryfoot, who proceeded to help Rumble dispatch the bloated purple arachnid and then lead him out of the forest to their secluded and hedge-encircled town. After a week’s visit, Rumble was fondly attached to his small friends, and in bidding each other farewell, Rumble left his rescuers with a bone totem of his father’s which would be significant in bargaining with the local Ogre Stonethrower Union, and Nick and Tina gave him a furred tobacco pouch and a feathered oak and brier pipe, carved with big people dancing with little people, tailored to his respectable size. Rumble also recieved a half-pound of fresh tobacco and enough seed to grow his own patch. After this strange and happily-ending encounter, Rumble made his way by foot to Barrelton, and then sat smoking on the edge of a raft with his large feet in the water until he reached Walpurgis, where he walked to Nazbo and thence sailed into a short career adventuring.
After the rescuing-the-Duchess business, Rumble found himself running out of tobacco. The Halflings had an undiscovered luxury in a long cut and unique cavendish tobacco; the coarse and unrefined burleys that were available in Chigoca were not to Rumble’s liking. He quickly learned that the Halflings’ cavendish was much more potent and mellow, whereas the port’s tobacco was almost uncivilized. Wherever he went and smoked, soon a few dignified people would overcome their racist disgust and inquire about the beautiful aroma that arose from his pipe. Rumble was always as friendly as he could be; after all, his purse had been stolen or cut four times in the city, and would let his audience pass his pipe around and try some of the Halfling blend. Many offered to purchase his tobacco, but Rumble always declined; after his adventuring, he was well-off anyways and didn’t want to sell any of his gifts from his friends Nicholas and Anatina.
Inquiring at the door of a large basalt tower in the midst of a well-kept garden, Rumble was ushered into a small antechamber to await the arrival of the Sage. After a few minutes, he arrived in person. Balding, yet with a full grey beard, the Sage was dressed in flowing grey and white robes and carried a tablet of fine paper, an inkwell, and a white-plumed quill.
“I have yet to actually meet a half-Ogre,” the Sage said affably, sticking out his hand, “I hear that you require my services, and I decided to put off some of my studies in order to hear about your concerns.” Rumble hastily rose and bowed uncomfortably, then gingerly shook the old Sage’s hand.
“Thank you, your majesty,” Rumble didn’t know how to address a person of such magnitude.
“Oh, bosh!” said the Sage good-naturedly, “I saw you admiring my gardens and you looked intriguing. Being a Sage pays well but can be extremely dull. What can I help you with?”
“Well, your holiness,” started Rumble, “I would like to know more about smoking a pipe and growing tobacco.” The Sage lifted a grey eyebrow, and several blue twinkles escaped and dropped on to the rich carpet.
“Yes,” said the Sage, “I smoke a pipe upon occasion. Go on.” Rumble proceeded to tell him the story of how he was lost in Lurkwood and saved by the Merryfeet and came to smoke a pipe through the Halflings of Orcland. “And I haven’t been able to find any other tobacco quite as pleasent to enjoy in my pipe,” finished Rumble lamely.
“But you stated that you had seeds to grow your own tobacco,” reminded the Sage.
“But I’m frightened to plant them,” said Rumble, “I’ve never farmed before – all I’ve been told I’m good at is fighting.”
“Ah, now that,” intoned the Sage, “is complete nonsense. I can tell you many tricks about farming and the tending of plant life and will be happy to do so. But first I ask a favor of you, Mister Rumble.”
“You can just call me Rumble,” the half-Ogre said shyly, “I’ll give you all the money I have if you want.”
“No, no, my boy!” laughed the Sage, “No, nothing like that. I have enjoyed just listening to you and studying a half-Ogre up close. And I must say that you are much more pleasent to speak with than most of my snobbishly rich clients anyhow.
“No, the favor I ask for is a bowl of this Halfling cavendish that you have made my mouth water with in your descriptions.” Rumble was taken by surprise; he hadn’t been expecting this, but he knew he should have been. After all, the Sage had said that he smoked a pipe now and then.
“Of course, your lordship,” said Rumble, hesitantly bringing out the last of his tobacco.
“Stop with that ‘lordship, holiness, majesty’ crap, Rumble,” laughed the Sage again, losing a few more twinkles which flew about his head for a few seconds, “I only yesterday entertained a man who offered me a good sum of money to find out where a certain half-Ogre obtained his wondrous tobacco. I can only assume he meant you. Of course, I don’t do detective work like that and refused him; you paying me a visit is just another humorous coincidence that I’m sure I will fondly recall in the years to come. Now, pass me that golden Hobbit cavendish!”
Rumble peered into his tobacco pouch, which was more like a normal man’s satchel, and sighed. His last bowl. But if the Sage would tell him how to grow what he had, then he could be happy, and live a peaceful life as a tobacco farmer. He passed the bag carefully to the Sage, who looked into it and then at Rumble.
“Judging by the size of your pipe, this is your last bowl, son,” said the Sage slowly, “I won’t take your last bit of tobacco.”
“No, please, go ahead,” said the half-Ogre, “I’d just like to learn to grow the seeds as best as I can so that I can have my own Halfling cavendish to smoke and share with other pipe smokers.”
Looking out from under his craggy brows, the Sage looked quizzically at Rumble, and then deftly packed himself a small bowl of Halfling tobacco in a long-stemmed platinum pipe that he had shaken out of his voluminous sleeve.
“Thank you very much, Sir Rumble,” said the Sage gratefully, firing his pipe with a aimless wave of his hand. Handing the pouch back to Rumble, who found he had most of his last bowl remaining, the Sage sat back in his high-backed armchair and puffed.
The Sage raised an eyebrow, then the other one came up to meet it. He readjusted himself a little lower in his armchair. He put his feet on the coffee table. His eyes shot little fireworks of blue surprised twinkles that lazily fell like feathers into the valley of his white robes between his legs and stayed there, dancing little jigs. The Sage smoked in silence for ten minutes; Rumble patiently waited, though his back was beginning to hurt from sitting straight up for so long. Then the Sage knocked his pipe out on the sole of his shoe and conjured up a little whisk broom and dustpan to clean it up.
“This is amazing. I have smoked everything available on this continent and three or four imported aromatics, not to mention my share of fascinating substances and magickal reagents, and nothing is as purely enjoyable as this Halfling stuff,” he whistled, “You’re wishing to grow this stuff?”
“Yes,” answered Rumble simply.
“Well then, Rumble,” said the Sage as he stood up, swirling his robes around him as Sages do, “Let us take a walk in my garden and discuss the nurturing and growing of plants. Especially tobacco plants.”
For a week, Rumble and the Sage researched and spoke and talked. Rumble tried many of the special tobaccos that the Sage had tried and agreed that the Halfling cavendish was by far the mellowest and most relaxing. They discovered that tobacco was unusually resistant to duplication spells and other magicks of that sort, and on the sixth day, the Sage called upon the Grand Druid of Wolvesbane Forest through his magickal apparatus, and spoke at length with him. The Grand Druid also sampled a small amount of the Halfling tobacco, and proclaimed it another miracle of Nature. After the week was up, the Sage came to Rumble and spoke of an answer.
“Between the Druid and I, we have researched many ways to insure your tobacco crop,” started the Sage.”I have placed a short piece of advice on each of the pages of this book…”
“But I can’t read!” stammered Rumble.
“Don’t worry; they’ll speak to you,” replied the Sage testily, “Anyways, there is your research. And there will be no cost for you to pay except for the generosity which you have already demonstrated.” Rumble stood waiting.
“Of course, Rumble,” said the Sage gently, “You know how I love my gardens.”
Picking five seeds out of the secret pocket of his now empty tobacco bag, he handed them to the Sage and shook his hand gingerly again.
“Thank you very much!” Rumble said as he turned and made his way out of the lush gardens, through the stony gates and to the wharf to find passage back to Orcland.

* * * * *

Hiking north from the Keep at Gronk towards Noland, Rumble stopped at a small wooden homestead where Grizzle Road meets the north-south Madonna Road.
“Howdy, stranger!” said a man in leather overalls from the porch. He was in his early thirties and had pleasant crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. He introduced a woman sitting next to him. “This here’s my lovely wife, Rebecca. Do we have any coffee left?” he asked her.
“I’ll go see, sugar,” she said, getting up and disappearing inside.
“Hello, sir,” said Rumble.
“My you’re a big guy,” said the man, walking down the steps towards him, “Might I ask who and, sorry about this, what you are?”
“Of course,” said Rumble, who was used to explaining his size, “My name is Rumble, and I’m part Ogre.”
“Well, now; that expains a lot. Care to have a cup of coffee?” The man walked up and shook his hand warmly. “ “Becca’s always got coffee on. My name’s Rump. I’ve opened a sort of stopping place – a general store, you see. I figure that there should be a town around here sometime soon, this being halfway between Gronk and Tadox, which is just a speck in the eye of the Maker, anyhow. Where’re you travelling to, Rumble?”
“I’m looking for a place to plant some crops,” said Rumble a little bit guardedly.
“Well, I don’t want to make you stop here, but there’s a pretty patch of land just up beyond the circle of the two roads, over yonder past those big trees you might want to look at,” Rump pointed up the road about 400 yards, “There’s a little spring right past those trees on the grassland side, and a gentle valley that gets good sun all day.” Rebecca came out with three cups of coffee and they stood in the road in the late morning, talking.
After a while, Rumble said he would go look at the land; he was tired from a long journey, and had had a bad experience in Paddywak with a gang of brigands. Rump and Rebecca were sympathetic, and they told him he could leave his belongings at the house while he traipsed around.
The trees that Rump had pointed out were huge; they were all massive oak trees with great histories enscribed in their bark and in the boles of lost limbs. The spring Rump mentions sprang from the roots of one of the great trees and bounced merrily down through the grassy slopes into one of the many small riverbeds in the mild rolling fields of the Jumpback Grasslands. Sitting down in the shade of one of the oaks, Rumble took out his tobacco pouch, which now held the book the Sage had given him. He opened it up and leafed through the pages to the section on proper land. He held the book up to the scenic view of the valley, and it exclaimed immediately: “Perfect!”