“Stupid Caterpillar,” the wizard whispers, his voice echoing into the cavern as if the darkness were hungry for something to eat besides silence. He follows the utterance up with a stomp of his slipper. In the small sphere of blue light cast from the top of the wizard’s white-oak staff, the dwarf can see the smooshed little corpse.
“Why did you do that?” The debate was finally over, he no longer had to play mister nice dwarf. As an excuse, they have been lost for days and out of food since the last of the hardtack was eaten, who knows when. Time is meaningless as they wander, looking for a way out. He wonders if he can even find an exit. They could very well be lost forever. Are they lost forever? If so, it may just be his fault, his being the wizard who hired him in first place as a guide.
“I will tell you a tale of small things that eat big things.”
“Please don’t.” Endless prattle was all the wizard had been good for so far, and maybe if he lived a better life, forged a better reputation, so to speak, he wouldn’t have had to seek the gold the old fool was offering a guide. Take me into the mountain. As a hill dwarf, he lied and said he could do what was required, and now here they were, beyond lost.
Too obtuse to hear the dwarf’s plea, the wizard pushes on, “A worm to some. A sliver of life that, if consumed, ravages the insides of its victim. Victim? Maybe, but that is really not fair. Its victims are attempted murderers after all. Maybe one might consider it karma even.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“It starts slowly at first, with this tiny string of nothing taking over blood vessels and airways and eventually even thought. It Breaks down systems that took hundreds of millions of years to perfect. That still are works in progress. Which makes me wonder, maybe it’s the apex predator we human’s like to think we are.”
“Well, maybe some dwarfs too, I guess.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I fed you one, already.”
“Did I neglect to warn you? Yes, you see, I’m hoping once it takes over, I can finally have the guide I paid for.”
The whole feeking world is racist, even the clan, even the shaman. That wrinkled goat-scrotum refused to think a half-orc girl could save anything, let alone everyone. But with every painful barefoot step, that is exactly what she plans on doing, save everyone. Except that miserable bag of stink and bones, she decides, stepping over a sharp rock. The shaman will rue the day she said the world would be better off if she just found a cave somewhere and laid down for owlbear snacktime.
She adjusts the old wood-ax slung over her left shoulder. Nothing can stop destiny, not even absurdity, she thinks, not even meanness.
She seeks to save the clan, to show the clan she is better than them, even though they don’t want her, by finding answers among the very people that shunned and assisted in the murder of her mother.
As she moves closer to the first mountain village, called Dharma and Hope, she thinks of the taphouse and its warm common-room, a place that has told her no before.
This reminds her, she should add the place to her list of things to do while she’s out.
She walks and works out a plan.
Save the clan
Kill the shaman
Save the world
And maybe while in town she’ll visit dear old dad and thank him for blessing her conception by driving mom crazy. He abandoned them to the wilds of clan life. He made her mother do the horrible, unforgivable thing she did, and sell her to the shaman for some spice.
And as a constant stream of steps match the circular thoughts in her brain, she arrives at the gray wind warped door of the taphouse. Beyond, she hears the revelry of drunken fun. It hurts her heart because she knows she will never, ever, have fun like this. Fun makes her sad and angry, and she hates hearing it had. Life is serious. Life is chores, and brooding, and hate.
“They think you are ugly.”
“Well, they do. Yet, they thought I was ugly also, and here you are. It seems a fair list you have. What’s twenty more humans in the grand scheme of things?”
Being the dead don’t speak to the sane, the half-orc agrees and amends her list and basks in her dead mother’s opinion, “I am proud of you, girl. Now go kick some ass!”
“Thanks, mom, I love you.”
“I love you too, sweety.”
And the half-orc kicks in the door. It splinters into shrapnel, nailing many of the drunks with painful wooden shards.
With a war scream, she removes arms and legs and heads with her rough-honed ax. Even with a notched and dull blade, blood flows as she moves towards the bar. She more chases down victims than fights, “but beggars can’t be choosers now can they,” mom asks rhetorically.
But, as she pegs the last standing man, one trying very hard to escape out a broken window, in the back with her thrown ax, she agrees, “Mom, you’re right, a dead human is always better than a living one.”
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I have begun writing and know soon the sun will come. Unlike every day when my words hit the screen, without fail, it will and light up the sky announcing- I am free again to dream.
Ole Sol and I, linked in my task to tell stories. Stories that entice the sun to come and witness my effort.
No matter the pain of continuing, I do what needs to get done, hoping the sun will come. It is not difficult, this task, but I do it for us all, for I am the writer that rises the sun.
The Guardsman fills in his daily log entry, noting in the book:
–Three men lost, same damn juvenile owlbears. Reminder! Soon they will be adult owlbears!
He thinks about adding another exclamation point, but decides he is too tired.
He just finished a patrol that started with a team of four, unscathed, and with just a scant five-mile hike, he can be back home, half into a tankard of ale, and getting a foot massage from the missus.
He looks up, willing to die instead of having to deal with whatever this ends up being.
The new hell between then and a better now, is a traveler leaning on a long twisted root. Wrapped in a black cloak- like the humidity wasn’t boiling, or as The Guardsman wishes, and not for the first time, he had moved North and not South when he had the opportunity- the traveler shivers violently.
Stuck in the Eggy Swamp for decades now, The Guardsman has seen his share of the plague and decides. This man is afflicted with something bad.
“I am looking for a Troll necromancer,” the traveler wheezes- demonstrating damaged lungs.
“Troll Necromancer?” The Guardsman says, absentminded, wondering if he should cover his mouth or ask for Godly protection as a precursor to catching whatever got its claws into this man.
“Yes,” but before the sickly creature can even get the word half out, he succumbs to a coughing fit. Body wracking, veins bold against his glossy flesh, coughing fit.
The Guardsman half expects the traveler to die right in front of him.
Instead, though, he wipes his mouth after the fit, his black sleeve leaving a smear of blood on his gallows-pallor cheek. He holds himself tight as if only slightly in control and proves it when he succumbs to yet another long bout of horrendous coughing.
Blood splattering everywhere.
The guard watches in complete disgust and annoyance- mixed with only a bit of empathy- because he knows how awful it is to have travel when ill.
But may the Gods blight the man’s cock for bringing his sickness here. “I know of a troll with a bounty on his head that keeps returning swamp cats to life, but you don’t look up to opening a door on your own, let alone tracking a half-crazed swamp-dweller down who can pull souls from the Deadlands.
But as the traveler heaves and convulses to rid himself of the infection in his lungs, he seems to, what? The guard asks himself.
The Guardsman decides there does seem to be a steady rosy-feverish-glow to the traveler that only gets stronger as he hacks out phlegm and steadies himself on the small camp desk. The desk wobbles dangerously with each cough spraying little droplets of spit-soaked blood everywhere.
The guard has seen this type of glow before. Paladins get it when they pray. Priests also. Maybe even the old crinkling librarian who gets excited about long-ago dates.
It means power.
Hidden deadly power.
Power that could be thrown in balls of fire, or used to weaken a foe right down to nothing. Without removing his eyes from this person who just revealed themselves to be dangerous, he points South. “Follow the main road, look for the zombie cats. If you find yourself swimming in an ocean, you’ve gone too far.”
“Thank you,” the traveler gasps and leaning heavily on his root, he turns to stagger out beyond the door and toward what The Guardsman assumes will be his death.
–Look for a dead man near Troll Necromancer. Careful plague!
He finishes the final note, closes the ledger, and takes his first steps toward home and a much-deserved rest and peace.
The empty unkept land ran away from his sight as the blood leaked from his body. All for what was so plainly abundant around him. Lunacy, madness and greed, all his, of course. And his bride said it would be his doom. At least not her’s. He would sigh in relief at that, but those parts of his body don’t work anymore.
And even as he dies, he knows there is not a single thing he would do differently.
He feels his murderer’s heel kick him over.
“It’s the King!” the piece of rabble yells.
A cheer, a goddamn cheer, rises from the surrounding soldiers as their steels clash with what remains of his defense. And he realizes he is dying. Regardless of this youth’s intent, there’s cold lifeless flesh where he once felt warmth and more. The nothing spreads like a deep icy grip wrapping itself around him slowly. And he knows nothing can be done. Yet his mind still tries. God, please don’t let me die.
“Your highness, shall you know the name of your Assassin?” his killer’s black teeth are revealed by a mud-coated face cracked with a smile. He can see blue eyes stained by war and destruction and wisps of blond hair that fall from under a youth’s cloth cap. In his hand is a dagger with a ruby-encrusted hilt. It’s a royal weapon. He knows it as the one he gave his queen.
“Please…” he tries. He really does. He tries to not make this his last word, but can’t. And even as the boy and his lads mock him for begging, his gaze shifts back to the lands that once could have been his, and thinks, Goddaman it, as he dies.
Sue Vincent #photowrite
Bartholomew knows the group is in combat. He isn’t stupid. He is, in fact, the most intelligent creature known to exist.
“Who cares,” screams the crude man in steel-plate swinging a rude looking cudgel to smash in the frontal lobe of the two-legged small dog-like creature assailing him. “Just do something magic and aim it at something ugly.”
Bartholomew feels pressed between not wishing to ruin the work he’s been at all morning, and helping. There is only so much room in the ole noggin, after all. If he stops now, he may never complete his magnus opus, a treaty on the use of metaphysics in magic, and the philosophy behind the ethics of the, so-called, natural-laws in science.
He had spent the morning thinking about an old wizard who refused to allow a local scientist the true results of his experiments. Cruel bugger wanted to put fungus in the body to fight off illness. So the wizard taught him a lesson and constantly changed his results. Funny man, that scientist. Lost his mind. Eventually moved toward mating giants and trolls and was killed by a local ranger guild.
The little elf in black dyed leather screams, “Barty!” and shoulder bumps the wizard to safety just before a spear chucked from the fist of a near-by Kobold splits him in half.
Almost by accident, Bartholomew unleashes a fount of fire from the tip of his staff that roasts the hideous laughing creature into ash.
My! Very unladylike, my dear, screaming and assaulting me. Where was I? Oh yes, I would send the man condolence letters mocking his attempts to wield the natural world without magic to control the results. Wizards exist for a reason, I’d tell him. We are the thinkers in this world friend. No one needs a scientist for anything, except maybe the masochist who wants a headache.
I interact with bar patrons.
Umm, does anyone look willing to talk?
There is one guy who looks quite eager.
I approach him.
Bob has normal stats except charisma, which is so low when he attempts to interact with you, you feel your sanity begin to slip. Roll vs. psychic damage.