continuation of a dungeon's and dragons story
|CHAPTER 3: THE FIGHTS|
Terry Johnson, as the old man’s name turned out to be, welcomed them into his home warmly. Helga told him all about Murgel and cried on his bony shoulder. He had a way of comforting her, as a grandparent does a child, and soon her crying stopped.
That evening Mardok ate a dinner of pot roast and bread while Terry told him about his job as the caretaker of the arena where “the fights” took place. He explained how many great warriors from near and far entered the Goering Arena seeking honor and recognition. They often fought to the death.
“There’s going to be some big ones once the king arrives,” said Terry. He had curiously big eyebrows that gave him a perpetually irritated look. “Perhaps the biggest fights old Crystal will ever see.”
“Who do you suppose will be fighting?” asked Helga.
“A fellow named Otto Albus. A master swordsman from what I’ve heard.” A large grey cat jumped into his lap and he began to pet it. “A younger fellow named Hyman Gregs is also going to participate. Rumor has it that he is very skilled with magical pikes.”
He picked up his goblet and let the cat lap up a bit of milk from it. “There will be many more fighters, I assure you, but if any will attract the crowds, it will be those two.”
He turned to Mardok. “So what do you do, young lad?”
“I’m a town guardsman,” said Mardok.
“A guardsman? I couldn’t tell by looking at you. Usually the guards are big and snobby. Mean dogs.” He continued to stroke the cat. It stared at Mardok with large yellow eyes that said He loves me, stranger. I get all of the attention and you get none.
“I’m pretty new to this place,” Mardok admitted.
“I see. Well if you’re ever fixing to see a fight, you know my name.”
Helga cleared her throat.
He turned to her. “Now you know I’ve never turned your company down Helga, but I can’t keep you this time. Three days is all I can afford.”
“Thank you. We’re both grateful and willing to do any work asked of us, Mr. Johnson,” she said in a sincere tone.
Mr. Johnson leaned forward and his face lit up a little. “Come to think of it, I could use a couple strong backs. The harvest season is coming.” The cat suddenly jumped from his lap and trotted into the living room, perhaps not liking its former pillow’s liveliness. “If you help me out around the home, I think I can extend your stay.”
“Oh that would be wonderful. My back is as strong as ever.”
“Mine too,” said Mardok. Oh great, more work.
“Alright then, it’s settled.” Terry looked at his young son, sitting next to Mardok.
“Bartholomew, show these two their rooms.” Bart got up and headed for the stairs next to the living room.
“Do you have any luggage that you need carrying?” Terry asked, looking at Mardok.
“I have a few possessions back at The Theodora.”
“Well you better go and get them! Can’t carry luggage that’s not there, can I?”
“My apologies. I’ll head back there now.”
As he went to the door, Helga gave him a stern look.
“Don’t worry, you can stay here,” he reassured her.
“Aye, but be careful.”
He nodded and stepped out.
Deck Tiller was making his rounds on patrol duty. Not even the hangover lingering in his head took away his good spirits today. Jorge and him had done a job in setting up their little prank against Mardok. It was worth it getting that awful head. What a laugh it was to hear him shriek! He’ll think twice about working in this town now!
Whistling and walking through town, Deck noted how many filthy half-breeds had come to the city within the last few days. There was a half-orc yelling about catfish and another looking at a jeweler’s inventory. There were three young half-elves playing Burrows and Balrogs in the street, a game Deck had little patience for. “You three! Get your dice out of the street! You’re blocking the walkway!”
They packed up and left with little protest, though one did call out “Bite our fairydust, hume!” as they walked away.
Deck would have none of that. “Hey! You little weasel!”
They set off at a run and Deck chased them. Eventually Deck managed to grab the one at the rear of the group in an alleyway and he pinned the brat against the wall. The other two kept their distance. “Let go, or my aunt Mirandiana will kill you!” the boy proclaimed. His light blue eyes shined with fire.
Mirandiana. Where was that name familiar from? No matter. “You better apologize, halfie, or you’ll be meetin’ the rough end of a nightstick,” said Deck.
“I don’t apologize to no one! You’re just a bully!”
“You want to be wise to me, child? I’ll lock you away and throw away the key! You respect the guardsman!”
The half-elf boy began to yell. “Help! A bully’s got me! Heeelp!”
Deck clouted the kid on the head with his billyclub. “Owwww!” He began to cry.
“Now, that will teach you to resp-“
The boy suddenly shot out his boot-clad foot and kicked Deck square in the gillybait.
“Ack!” Deck bent down to grasp the spot where enormous pain erupted. No armor there, of course.
The boy ran down the alley once more and now Deck saw his friends cheering him on.
“Punk!” Deck squeezed through clenched teeth. His face was red with anger and pain.
He couldn’t catch up with them now, so he settled on shouting at them. “Run then! If I ever catch you in the streets again I’ll have all three of your necks wrung!”
They sped around the corner of a deli shop and were gone.
Deck slumped awkwardly out of the alleyway and went down to The Theodora, where he could get ice wrapped in a blanket. Just like that his good mood was shattered. No matter. Ginger mead had a way of fixing things up, if only for a short while.
He found The Theodora in a sorry state. This made Deck ever the more cheerless. He scarcely remembered the rest of the night before. He was drunk with some other guards. They must have gotten too rowdy. Then someone got hurt… Bad…
He saw the bloodstain on the counter.
Images began to form in his head. The gnome was angry. The gnome was bleeding. The gnome was bleeding because he was stabbed…
No. You didn’t murder anybody. Don’t be silly.
From in back of him, putting the icing on top of the cake of awkwardness, entered Mardok.
“Hello Mardok. Good gravy, look at this mess!” Deck said as evenly as he could.
He doesn’t know. Relax.
“It’s horrible. A gnome named Murgel was murdered. Me and a friend found him and are to bury him.”
“Only a bunch of filthy hooligans could have done such malice! We have to work to prevent such tragedies, my friend.”
“Yes. Whoever did this are dangerous criminals. I would keep a lookout for anyone suspicious.”
“Aye. Will do, Mardok.”
Mardok headed up the stairs. Deck quietly departed from the ghastly scene of The Theodora and decided he would rather take a walk for the rest of his shift.
|Mardok entered his room, seeing his backpack laying on the floor. He opened it.... safe. No one had touched it, thank goodness. Everything was in it. "Murgel!" he said under his breath as he quickly geared himself up, adorning himself with his weaponry, and gathered his belongings. He headed back downstairs to check on Murgel's body. He had forgotten to look when he entered, because the guard, whatever his name was had attracted his attention. Following the blood trail, Mardok could see that Murgel’s body had slid off the counter onto the floor behind it. Mardok just hoped it remained this way until tomorrow morning. He wouldn't feel right about bringing the body to Terry Johnson's home. |
He decided he would quickly check in with his boss before returning to the Johnson home… so he carried on him all of his possessions passing that all too familiar inn along the way, and entered once again into the barracks. Once he arrived, he was surprised to only see one guard, the grumpy one.
“Wish to speak to the Baron?”
“Hmmph.” said Mr. Grump as he slowly opened the door and waved Mardok inside.
Baron Hampshire was sitting at his desk, casually smoking a pipe. Something wasn’t right about this man… it was almost as if he just didn’t care all that much about his duty as being the figure of authority his title gave him. He set the pipe down on the desk and looked at Mardok. “How was your first night lad?”
“Fine, Sir Hampshire!” Mardok lied. He didn’t want to tell the Baron about the demonic horse head. Besides if he had, would the Baron believe it? Mardok was familiar with magic, having used several different types of potions himself , but not everyone was aware of the arcane arts. He suspected the Baron might know something about magic, but wanted to play it safe.
The Baron put his legs up on the desk, crossing his heels together, leaning back in his chair. A bit too relaxed for an authority figure in Mardok’s opinion. “What can I do ye for?” asked the Baron.
“Just checking in for my orders, Sir!” Mardok said in a military fashion.
The Baron nodded his head, and then looked a bit puzzled. “Aren’t you off duty?”
“Sir, yes sir!”
“Well I can see your devotion. I really need someone posted at the gates at all times… but you need more training. I apologize for sending you out so early, however, we need all the help we can get.”
“Sir, yes Sir!”
“Also, I afford the guards one day off a week. I know that’s a bit rough, but we’re under-staffed here.”
“I understand, Sir!”
“I tell you what I’ll do, if you come in for more training in the morning, I’ll let you have tomorrow night off. Today is what? Wednesday?”
“Aye, it is, Sir!”
“Come in tomorrow morning at eight o’clock for some brief exercise training. Of Course, Hein won’t like it very much, but he’ll just have to deal with it. Take the night off tommorrow, and report back here Friday morning. You’ll still need to be at your post tonight, though. I know that only gives you this afternoon to rest, but I really need someone posted at every gate, every night. You understand?”
“Sir, yes Sir!”
“Well, be on your on way, then…”
Mardok was a bit pleased to have gotten Tursday night off. He might actually be able to check out these fights he's heard so much about.
It was a thirty-something minute walk from the Barracks to the Johnson home. It would have been a quicker walk if there weren't so many people. Did this City ever rest?
|“Aunty! Aunty!” cried Yalondas as he entered the seaside cottage. Mirandiana was mixing a potion in a small cauldron on the kitchen stove. She took care of young Yalondas, ever since his real parents died in a tragic fire.|
“What is the matter, Yalondas?” said Mirandiana with concern.
“A mean guardsman chased me and my friends and he hit me!” He bawled as he went over to her. She bent down and hugged him.
“Oh, my little sugarplum.” She looked him in the face. “Why did he hit you?”
“We were playing a game in the street. He didn’t like us playing there so he chased us.”
Mirandiana remembered her own bad experience with a guardsman. He had close-cut blonde hair and cruel blue eyes. He had refused, in almost a jovial manner, her entrance to the main hall of Crystal. “No, I’m sorry. No one is allowed to visit at this time.”
“Surely you know who I am?” said Mirandiana disbelievingly.
“Nope. I’m sorry, miss, but you’ll have to wait,” said the guardsman.
“For what? This is important business!” That old elf anger, inherited by her noble mother, began to roil and boil inside. She could see all the while he took pleasure in refusing her.
“The Duke of Crystal is a busy man.”
“That doesn’t matter! I have an appointment, you imbecile!”
He took on a more unfriendly tone. “If you’re going to shout at me, halfie, you might as well leave.”
“What did you call me? I am Mirandiana, daughter of Rictor and Lugota the Wise! Let me in, guardsman! LET ME IN!” She pointed her sharp staff at his face threateningly.
His face was defiant. He didn’t move.
“You will pay for this.” She withdrew and stormed away, furious.
Eventually Mirandiana did get in. She came back when a different guard was on shift. Which was a mercy, because Mr. Cruel Blue Eyes would have never let her in. She was quite certain he had refused her out of prejudice.
If there was anyone Mirandiana would be satisfied to see squirm in agony in this city, it would be him.
She noticed the lump that was beginning to form on Yalondas’ scalp. “You need some ice, Yalondas.” She poured water into a glass from a bucket on the counter. Then she placed her staff over the glass and began to mutter an incantation in elvish. The glass and its contents froze. Using the sharp point on top of her staff, she broke the ice into many small pieces in a single blow. These ice chunks she wrapped in a washcloth and placed on Yalondas’ head.
“I’m glad you told me of this. I’m going to have a word with whoever is in charge of these guardsmen.”
“They’re all rotten. The one who chased me called me a ‘halfie.’” Yalondas sulked.
“Halfie?” Mirandiana was suprised. “What did this guard look like?”
“He had short hair, blue eyes, and a mean face. He was scary, aunty.”
Mr. Cruel Blue Eyes. “Well you don’t have to fear him anymore. I’ll make sure of that.”
“Will you, aunty? Please, ‘cuz I don’t want to go play if he’s out there.”
“Yes, my dear. Now go upstairs and rest.”
Yalondas went upstairs holding the ice bag by his head. Not that he really needed rest. Mirandiana knew Yalondas was strong. She also knew he was a little hard-headed; like her, he was angry but good in nature. Only a cruel bastard would hit him.
Mr. Guardsman made the mistake of crossing an Outrider once, and she grudgingly let it go, but could she forgive him twice? No. None of that.
Mirandiana took her staff from the counter and put on her red cloak. “It’s time to pay a visit to Mr. Guardsman.”
|Mirandiana headed straight away to the Barracks, Her enthusiasm toward revenge flowed through her veins. She assumed it was her elven side that had done this. But she didn't care, she was angry, and she was going to get her payback. No one crosses an Out-rider and gets away with it. She walked passed several homes and stopped abruptly. Overhead a storm cloud was brewing. She looked up and saw that the sky was getting dark and quickly, even in the midst of the afternoon. A quick clasp of thunder and soon the wind was getting stronger. But she marched on, draping her cloak around her. The storm was sudden. It seemed a bit too sudden. She would get her revenge rain, hail or snow.|
Mardok gazed out the bedroom window. "A storm is coming in." He said to Helga who was sitting on the end of the bed. They had been forced to share the same room due to the Johnson's only having one guest-room.
"And lucky you has to work in it." said Helga.
"Yes. Don't remind me." said Mardok. "I'm supposed to rest this afternoon," he continued "But honestly I don't think I can. Do you think Mr. Johnson would mind me eating with the family this evening?"
"No. I'm sure he'd welcome you with open arms, as I have done, although I barely know you."
Mardok sighed. Not again. Must he always be coerced into explainign his origins. "I grew up in Fynn." he said.
"And what brings you to Crystal."
"Many things... but I just don't feel like talking about such things right now."
"Aye, you like to leave a bit of mystery about ye, I see."
"Its not that, its just that I need some time alone. I'll be down for supper though."
"You better be. I told Terry that I'd be cooking tonight."
After Helga left, Mardok searched through his belongings. "Ah there it is!" he said as he pulled out a ragged book. Some of the pages were ripped and the book was quite dusty. He blew some of the dust off and wiped it off with his hand also, turning into the book. "The Story of Quorlin". Mardok's deity of choice. Quorlin, the god of trickery, disguise, and thievery, fit well to Mardok's persona. But Mardok felt conflicted within himself now, and he opened the book. He wanted to know how far he had strayed from being the master of theif-dom he had set out to do. He quickly got emersed in the book and before he knew it he heard Helga's voice "Sir Mardok, dinner is ready."
They ate a hearty meal, and Mardok was well pleased... he just hoped that he could stay awake during his shift tonight.
"Perhaps I'll go to the fights tommorrow" He told Terry Johnson.
Bartholomew made faces at his sister, Elizabeth as they ate.
"Very well.." said Terry. "Helga tells me you have to work tonight."
"Yes. I do." said Mardok.
"Well, let me give you a coat. What you are wearing, won't cut it with the storm that's about to come."
"I'd be much obliged."
"No problem at all." said Terry standing up and heading toward a closet. The door creaked as he opened it. Inside was a very large winter coat. "This one I usually save for winter, but I suppose it will protect you against the elements just fine. Let's see if it will fit you.
Mardok tried on the coat and even though it was a little long in the sleeves, the rest of it seemed to fit fine. "Thank you." said Mardok.
|Mardok made his way to the barracks to check in for nightshift duty. Today he would be miserable out in the storm, but tomorrow he would have the day off. That was a deal Mardok couldn’t complain about, as he had seen rougher times in Fynn. Being a thief wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, that was one thing he sure could tell you.|
The boom-crackle of thunder pounded on the dark grey sky overhead in erratic intervals. Rain came soon after Mardok left the Johnson home, light at first and then heavy and then light again. The wind blew a fierce chill that made him wrap his heavy wool coat tighter with his hands.
He decided to take the southern route to the barracks, walking through a dirt path that went through a cavern tunnel and came out on the building’s east side. Soon he emerged to see the building and two figures outside in front about forty yards away from him. One was in a red cloak and brandishing a jagged white staff. A sorceress. Mardok stayed within the tunnel, sensing trouble. The other figure was a guardsman. On closer observation Mardok saw it was none other than Mr. Jovial.
The sorceress was shouting at Mr. Jovial, appearing very upset. It was hard to hear with the thunder and wind, but Mardok managed to pick their voices out:
“No, please! Don’t hurt me!” whined Mr. Jovial uncharacteristically.
“You don’t know who I am! I am Mirandiana! I am an Outrider, and you have crossed me!” shouted the sorceress. A heavy boom of thunder punctuated her last sentence.
Mr. Jovial seemed to be the only one on duty. Where was Mr. Grump, his inseparable guard buddy?
“I meant no harm to you, sorceress! I only perform the duties I am expected to!”
“You hurt my boy! You beat him! Isn’t that right?” She shot out a red beam of light from her staff that seemed to take away the strength in the guardsman’s legs. He screamed and fell down onto his knees.
I have to do something. But what? He was equipped with only his silver pike and a shield. What good was that against magic?
She’s going to kill him. Then she might go after Hampshire.
Mr. Jovial was saying something Mardok couldn’t pick up. It was most likely a plea. Mirandiana continued to shoot red light at the guardsman, who continued to scream with pain. She wasn’t going to give him any mercy; even Mardok could see that. Alright then.
Mardok got into a charging stance with his pike and shield and ran out of the tunnel. He was lucky that night. Mirandiana was so focused on inflicting pain on Mr. Jovial she didn’t see the man with the big wool coat until he was right on top of her.
She saw the charging figure about ten feet away and cut off her red beam, letting Mr. Jovial fall limply to the ground. She began a swiping motion at Mardok but had no chance of diverting his attack. The sharp pike entered her abdomen just below the ribcage, impaling her all the way to the spinal cord.
“Uh!” she gasped. More thunder and lightning boom-crackled. In the flash of lightning Mardok saw the shocked face of a pretty half-elf. She had dark flowing hair and green eyes. It was the woman he had seen in The Red Tavern not so long ago. One of the Outrider ringleaders, he was certain of it.
“You… you…” she croaked. Mirandiana looked down at the giant pole sticking out of her. When she looked up Mardok swore she was crying. She fell down onto her knees, just as Mr. Jovial had done. Mardok was horrified.
“Yalondas…” She fell over sideways onto the wet grass. Blood trickled from her mouth. “ I love…” Thunder cracked overhead, the loudest boom yet. As Mardok watched, a small whisp of blue light escaped Mirandiana’s mouth in a sigh as if it were her very soul leaving for heaven, and then the half-elf know as Mirandiana of the Outriders lay silent forever.
“What have I done?” Mardok felt nervous terror wash over him. He killed Mirandiana, and if Lynn and especially Kyle ever found out they would most likely kill him.
Looks like you’ve got another grave to dig, pikeman! Hee hee! Naaaaay! NAAAAAY, DIRTY GRAVEDIGGING THIEF! The memories of the grotesque horse head haunted him. He found to his horror he was going to do the same thing all over again.
He pulled the pike from Mirandiana’s corpse with some effort and dragged her off down the southern pathway. Not far off the path was woodland full of soil. Here he dug another hole using his bloody pike and shield, only this time much larger. Some hours passed until he was satisfied with it, and he dropped the corpse unceremoniously in.
He went back to the barracks and found Mr. Jovial. Looking down upon him, the poor man looked to have died in terrible agony. Out of his open eyes streamed blood like tear-trails. He dragged the guardsman off and dumped him on top of Mirandiana even less ceremoniously. Then he covered them both with shieldfuls of muddy soil and rock. This time he did puke, not just out of disgust but also out of total nervousness. Helga’s meal of boarsteak and dwarven redberry wine splattered all over the makeshift grave.
Thunder boomed and lightning streaked down, lighting a nearby tree on fire. The tree nearly fell on Mardok, but he moved just in time. It instead crashed down on top of the grave, like some sick monument.
Leave. Never speak of it again.
Mardok fled down through the tunnel with the sour taste of vomit in his mouth. He fled from the ghosts and monsters of the night. The ghosts and monsters chased him, chased him forever. They loved company in the lonely, the scared, and the guilty.
A long way off in the town of Quintessence was Mardok's brother, Stefan, sitting in a dark, dingy and damp prison cell. Being a theif also had gotten him into trouble, and he stole some precious magical jewels from just the wrong nobleman, the one who would catch him in his theivery. He only wished he had kept in better contact with Mardok. He considered himself to not be worth that much, and wondered if he would succumb to being stuck in the prison for the remainder of his life. A good-for-nothing criminal. It seemed to be his fate.
"Hey!" He shouted to the only guard in the room. "Hey! Can I get a book out of my backpack?"
The guard looked at him with an eye of suspicion.
"A book. I didn't know you were literate."
"We usually don't allow prisoner's to read.""
"I promise you, nothing will come of it, and I won't tell your Captain. You and I are the only one's here, right? Just thirty minutes. That's all I ask."
The guard looked a bit disgruntled, but surprisingly replied "I suppose I can bend to your whim just this one time. But be certain to return the book in exactly a half-hour. I don't want to be held responsible."
"No worries." said Stefan. "I will."
So the guard went to the backpack and found three books. He walked over to the cell, and said "Which one?"
"The small green one will do." And the guard handed it through the bars.
"Thanks." said Stefan. And he sat in the middle of the cell, opening the book. It was all handwritten material written in Elvish... a language that took him some time to be accustomed to reading and writing. He turned to the page marked "Ahdamen", which translates to "Traveler". He skimmed the section with his finger and stopped until he found the correct spell "Teleportation." He just hoped it would work. The luck he had with other spells wasn't so great, not having any proper training.
So he began to read the incantation quietly...
"Ahdamen, Ahdamen... net tu... net tu..." he said clsoing his eyes, feeling his body shake He was beginning to feel dizzy, and before too long he passed out.
When he came to, he heard a voice say "Oh my! Where the hell did you come from?" He opened his eyes and saw a blonde human girl standing above him, peering down upon him. "Are you a wizard?" she asked extending her hand out to him. He accepted the offer and was lifted off the floor. He shook his head trying to get the tingling feeling to go away, but it persited for a little while longer.
He glanced around and noticed he was inside a tavern surrounded by three individuals, a human female with blonde hair, a human male who bore an uncanny resemblance to the human-female, and a half-orc.
"Who be ye? And what kind of trickery is this?" asked the half-orc.
"Now, Tolg, please be polite." said the human female.
"My name is Stefan." He said shaking his head again. "Where am I?"
The three of them laughed.. "Why you're in Crystal." said the human female smiling. Something seemed oddly familiar about this man, but she couldn't place it. "I am Lynn." she said. "And this is Tolg." The half-orc nodded. "And this is my brother, Kyle."
Kyle didn't nod, he simply said with curiosity "where the hell did you come from?"
"Oh that. My magic isn't very good. I didn't know I would end up here when I cast the spell. I came from Fynn."
"Oh great..." Lynn thought. "Another one from Fynn."
And then he noticed it... his eyes grew big as he saw nothing more than the amulet itself, hanging around her neck.
|Sitting around a rickety table in The Wayside Tavern, Stefan told the three rugged-looking compadres about his escape from Quintessence. Most of it was a lie, of course; Stefan’s purpose was to gain trust and admiration, something his scheming half-brother had never quite gotten the knack of. He made an effort to keep his eyes off the amulet, only letting his eyes drop on it twice when Lynn wasn’t looking.|
“So you’re telling me you killed the guard with a breadknife?” said Kyle skeptically.
“Aye, say true. Good thing he was bloated from that gassy-ass spell I cast on him, or he would have gotten me.” He imitated having an upset stomach and made a farting noise with his lips.
Tolg laughed hard. Even Kyle snorted a little. Lynn only smirked politely. The witty dark-eyed man was itching her mind… who did he look like?
“They will never keep me locked away. I’m a triumphant rogue, just as you fellows are,” said Stefan proudly.
“So tell us: why did they lock you away again?” asked Lynn inquisitively.
“My dear, I simply get into their hair from time to time. I petition for the rights of the poorer folk, and you know how the hierarchy frowns upon such action.”
“But I respect King Thomas,” said Lynn. “The poor folk are in a sorry state, but I assure you the king has plans to change that this year.”
Stefan shot Tolg a mocking I-doubt-it face. He didn’t laugh, but there was a ghost of a smile. Lynn ignored it.
Stefan finished off his Burning Swiltvikian. The stuff was great, even better than the Fire Malt back home. He burped loudly. “Well, it’s been nice chatting with you lot, but I must be off.”
“To where? You’ve only just arrived,” said Tolg.
“Why, to see my half-brother. As fortune has it, he lives in this city.” He got up and bowed in a gentleman-like manner. “I bid you ado.”
Before he could leave however, Lynn shot her itching question at him: “Who is your brother?”
“Hmm?” Stefan decided he liked and somewhat trusted these three, especially Tolg, and so gave them an honest answer. “Mardok, my lady. Don’t mind him, though. He’s not as good-looking.”
Lynn hid her surprise, but Kyle showed an expression of distress. He said nothing however.
Stefan noticed and said: “What? Have you met him already?”
“Yes,” Lynn spoke up. “He’s working in town as a guardsman. Kyle is not fond of him.” She shot Kyle a scorning sisterly look. “I haven’t seen him lately.”
A guardsman. Stefan found this quite amusing.
“Come to think of it,” Tolg jutted in. “I haven’t seen Mirandiana around either.”
“The last time I saw her was when she brought Yalondas shopping.” Kyle said.
“I guess she’s too busy with the preparations for the festival.” Tolg said with a roll of the eyes.
“What does she look like?” asked Stefan.
“She’s a half-elf. She has black hair and green eyes. Usually wears a red cloak. You can’t miss her when she’s about in public,” said Tolg.
“Well, I daresay Mardok won’t be hard to find either. I’m his brother, after all. As for this other one, I’ll keep a lookout,” said Stefan. “Goodbye.”
With that, the dirty cellmate from out of nowhere departed the old yet cozy tavern. When the time was right, he would take the amulet. Perhaps Lynn would even give it to him, if she took enough of a liking to him. All he had to do was lay on the charm, and he was damn good at that. It would be like taking shroomcakes from a baby gnome.
Oh Lord and King, dreams do come true.
Sometimes Stefan had a problem underestimating people.
He did not suspect Lynn knew he was a liar, knew it from the minute he appeared. She did believe he was Mardok’s half-brother, at least. She was curious about him, and knew the time would come when he would truly change. The amulet had such an effect on people. It could destroy them, it could possess them, or it could turn the cold beats of their hearts warm. However it happened, they always changed in some way.
Mardok knew, aye, he knew well.
|There was something odd about this City. Mardok felt it. Something mysterious, something dark. The creatures of the night seemed to follow him, and he felt a chill go down his spine at the mere thought of it. He made his chase to the end of the tunnel in a hurried fashion trying to escape that dreadfully gruesome feeling. Once arriving at the end of the tunnel he stopped, because in the distance were two figures in the shadows. Upon inspection he could tell it was a young boy speaking to nothing other than the ghost of that hel-elf Woman he had killed.|
"Go now, and seek out vengence upon my death. Yolandas, and I will reward you greatly." said the ghost. The boy nodded, but said "But how? I am too young."
"Go speak to your uncle. Tell him that I have sent you to him. Tell him that I want revenge. He will know what to do."
And the ghost vanished into thin air.
The boy stood up, and appeared frightened. He looked around, but saw nothing. It was so dark outside, and he was usually asleep at this time, but the ghost of his mother had led him out here. If only he knew why. Then the boy stopped, and picked up something off the ground, looked at it cautiously and pocketed it and immediately took off.
Mardok didn't know what to do. Everything seemed so weird. First a dead talking horse head, then he killed the half-elf, and now he saw her ghost. What was going on?
"I need to return to my post, before anything else strange happens." he thought to himself.
Once ariving at his post he saw that everything was in order, so he sat and fell asleep. Not getting much sleep through the day had really gotten to him. He awakened to the sun shining in his face, and was relieved that this time, he was awake before the changing of the shift.
|Mardok trained once again with Hein. This time Mardok impressed Hein with his improved stances, and so Hein let him go a little early.|
“You make good progress, Brother Mardok. The rest of the day is yours. I would recommend seeing the Pre-festival Rounds down at the Goering Arena. See if you can’t pick up a thing or two from some of the fighters.”
“I will. Thank you, Brother Hein.”
Hein smiled. Mardok noted how strange it was to see an orc smile. “Ah!” He pounded his left chest with a ham-sized fist. Mardok imitated him. “Go and enjoy your day.”
Mardok had lunch with the Johnson family and Helga and then they went down to the Goering arena. Bartholomew and Elizabeth were left in the care of an elven nanny named Melin, who was hired because Terry refused to have Helga look after the children. It was obvious that they had a close relationship; Terry was more like a father figure than a friend to her.
“I can’t believe we’re going to the fights today! I’m so excited!” said Helga as they walked through town. “Danish the Green is so wonderful!”
“And what about Vex Vicious? You can bet he’ll give Greeny a fair fight!” said Terry merrily. He had gotten the day off also. A friend named Bernshaw would take his place today. Once the big fights began, however, he would be unable to avoid work.
The fights today were the first openers in the weeklong festival. The weekend would bring the start of the headliner fights, which would draw in the most spectators. The openers rarely ended in death; most often a fighter would surrender by pointing two fingers up in the air. If the arena master deemed him worthy to live, then the fighter would be spared. Mardok found this information to his liking. He didn’t think he could stand to see much more bloodshed.
They soon arrived at a giant stone rectangle with towering walls about seventy-feet high. Above the large gothic-arched entrance doorway were shining golden letters that spelled out “Goering Arena”. Two gigantic torches flanked the entrance, both burning with green flame. High above flags of all colors jutted out from the walls, representing the many countries that sent their fighters to compete. Respectively, in the center was the Royal Flag of Fynn. The sight was breathtaking. No doubt the approaching festival had to do with its gorgeous appearance.
“Would you look at that,” said Terry with an air of pride. “Never seen the place so tidy!”
Two men in expensive purple and gold velvet vests were at the entryway to hand them tickets. Terry paid for all of them and they were each given a slip with their seat number written on it. They entered and found the arena full of stone benches that ascended like stairs on every side. On the bench seats were royal purple mats. They found their way to the left side and sat nearly in the center of the seating area. The arena was about half-full. A large number of the spectators were orcs and half-orcs. What Mardok noticed next made his heart sink.
Nearly straight across from him on the right side of the arena sat Lynn and Kyle. There was an orc and a half-orc sitting with them, no doubt the remaining Outriders. They didn’t know about his horrible deed and if they saw him they would do nothing, yet Mardok could not help feeling uneasy. In his guilt-ridden mind, he wouldn’t be surprised if they did know.
A man entered the arena dressed in familiar attire. It was Baron Hampshire. He stopped in the middle of the arena to address the crowd.
“Ladies and gents! Orc-brothers and Aryanees! Gnomelings and Helfites! I welcome you to the opening of the Pre-festival Rounds!”
Loud applause and cheering greeted his words. “Today you will witness a fight such as you have never laid eyes upon before! Never before have these two fought, and you will be the first to see it! Hold on to your brownbritches!” Louder applause followed.
Out of a door at the opposite end of the entrance appeared two fighters walking side by side. The one on the left was a dark-skinned man dressed in unusual green full plate armor and brandishing a decorative silver kite shield and a broad sword. The one on the right was a skinny orange goblin clad in a spiked helmet and black plate mail adorned with big thorns on the forearms and chest. He was carrying a nasty looking spear that had three jagged black tips on the end.
They both stopped in the middle of the arena, facing the front crowd.
Hampshire pointed to the man in the green. “From East Panden I give you Danish the Green!” More applause and cheering erupted.
He pointed to the goblin. “All the way from the Kandoria Desert, he is mean, he is merciless, he is Vex Vicious!” Less cheering sounded this time.
“Now fighters, arms to the ready!” Both fighters turned and faced each other. Baron Hampshire backed away and lifted a bronze bell. “Then let us begin!” He hit the bell with a small hammer and the fight began.
The fight went on for nine rounds. Both fighters seemed equally matched, as neither could land a decisive blow. After the ninth round, a break was given to them. Many spectators took the opportunity to go buy food at the vendors, go to the bathroom, or simply take a walk. Mardok took the opportunity to walk, planning to go down to the barracks to check on the grave of Mirandiana and Deck (he had found out Mr. Jovial’s name from a pin he dropped in the grass). It would bother him all day unless he made sure.
“Alright, you can go take a walk. Helga and me are going to get some charred dragon tails. They only sell ‘em during the festival,” said Terry.
“Alright. I’ll see you back here in a bit.” Mardok walked down to the barracks. He felt under his tunic and found the knife concealed there. It gave him comfort to touch it. He had also brought along a warding charm, just in case Mirandiana’s haunting spirit decided to show up. If the Outriders didn’t want him dead, she sure did.
The front of the barracks came into sight. He would only check, make sure nothing had been displaced. Then he would go back and forget it all. Forget it all and enjoy the show…
“Hello, my friend,” said a man’s voice in back of him.
Mardok stopped in his tracks, grabbed his knife, and turned swiftly. Before he could turn enough to see the owner of the voice, he felt the sharp pain of a blunt object on the back of his head and was knocked to the ground.
“Eheeheeheehee!” laughed another voice much higher in pitch. “Get him, Ivan! Kill him!” Mardok tried to get up and was dealt another blow to the back. He yelled and sprawled onto the ground, his face landing in dirt. The irritating voice continued to giggle.
“You must know I was sent here to dispose of you,” said the man’s voice. “If you struggle, it will only make things worse.”
Mardok rolled over onto his back and looked up. Standing there was a half-elf man in a black cloak. He had a thin face and unnerving yellow eyes. His hair was long and black. The weapon he pointed at Mardok was a long scepter with a red globe on top, the kind Mardok saw carried by warlocks. By his side was a small impish creature, not much bigger than Elizabeth. It had dark maroon skin, clawed talons for hands, and a humanlike posture. Its yellow eyes were huge and catlike, set into a scaly catlike face. When it spoke, rows of sharp teeth were revealed. “I want to eat him! Please Ivan! I want to rip his balls off!”
“Now, Quail Taiga, you must not talk with such greed. This one is for me. I wish to enjoy his suffering, and then you may have what’s left,” said Ivan icily.
“Yes, master!” The imp giggled insanely. It licked its nonexistent lips with a long black tongue.
Thoughts raced through Mardok’s mind. He had simply wanted to find the amulet. Find it and leave. No conflict, no worries. Now he was lying on the ground with a scepter pointed at his face. He would die in slow, terrible agony. He might as well die with as much dignity as possible.
Don’t scream. Whatever you do, don’t let them hear you scream…
Ivan’s orb began to glow. It glowed like a fiery ball from hell.
|CHAPTER 4: THE AMULET GETS STOLEN|
First came a shout "Mardok!" and then a rock flew the air striking the imp, Quail Taiga, in the head, knocking the little devilish creature to the ground. Ivan turned, and blasted his jolt toward the perpertrator. Mardok glanced over, and saw that his brother Stefan was caught in a sphere of translucent red light. Suddenly if out of nowhere there was another shout "Leave him alone!" And an arrow struck Ivan in the shoulder, the same arm that was holding the sceptar. He dropped the sceptar, crying "Ow!" placing his hand accross his wound.
A guard, one of which Mardok wasn't familiar of, stepped up to this mess, and said "You two are under arrest. And turned to Ivan, but Ivan had vanished into the crowd. The imp had dissappeared as well. Stefan cried out "Let me out of here! But he remained stuck in the bubble."
"Well, Sir. I hereby arrest you for committing violence in the City Street."
"But-but I'm a city guard just like you..." Mardok pleaded, yet the guard would have none of it, and placed shackles on Mardok's hands.
"No!" Cried out Lynn running towards them, but it was too late, the guard was already escorting Mardok back to the City jail.
|As Mardok sat musing in a musty jail cell, Stefan was attempting to comfort Lynn in The Wayside Tavern. After a local wizard freed him from his magical imprisonment, Stefan went down to The Wayside to lay low and calm himself. He was not surprised to see her at the bar, as miserable as a homesick sailor.|
“Lynn, I’m here for you,” said Stefan. Those were the strange words he had never said to anybody, as no one had ever said them to him.
“I don’t believe you,” she said with a dead tone.
Stefan grinned and a laugh nearly escaped him. “Why do you say so? Am I not trustworthy?”
“Exactly. You are Mardok’s brother. The same deceptive blood runs through your veins.”
“Deceptive? I assure you I am not…”
“Then what of this?” She lifted up the amulet hanging around her neck to his face. “This thing? You want it, do you not? Do you not?”
“I…” Stefan raced for words.
Lynn dropped the amulet to her breast, looked down like a mourner, and began to weep. “All it has ever brought me is trouble. It showed me what happened.” She buried her face in her hands. “Mirandiana is dead.”
Stefan sat there on a barstool, frightened by Lynn’s words. Up close, the amulet hanging over her breast did not look so appealing after all. Inside the ruby, whether real or misperceived, Stefan could see an evil fire burning, seducing him and threatening to destroy his life.
Here, Steffy boy! it laughed. Dreams do come true. I’ll make ALL your dreams come true. Ahaha! Come and take me, sexy! Just kill her. Kill her. KILL HER…
"Devil!" Stefan tore his eyes away from the ruby and settled them on his worn prison loafers. Lynn either didn't notice or ignored it.
“I have kept it a secret. Your brother was the one that killed her. I have kept it a secret. I didn’t want him to get hurt, but now somebody else knows. That half-elf is going to hunt Mardok until he claims his life.”
“Unless we can stop him. We’re going to have to protect Mardok from now on.”
“How? We simply can’t go in and watch him like guards.”
“Correct. We’re not going to watch him. We’re going to bust him out.”
Ivan made his quick escape through town under an invisible shroud and ended up back at the seaside cottage. The imp he dismissed from service at the front door. It was sucked like vapor back into a black vial that became its home when dormant. He opened the door and entered the cottage to find Yalondas sitting at the kitchen table.
“Uncle Ivan! What happened?” said Yalondas, noticing the arrow sticking out of his uncle’s right shoulder.
“It is nothing, a flesh wound. Go fetch me some water.”
Yalondas found a bucket and went out to the spring well in back of the house. Ivan took off his cloak and sat down at the table. He lifted his bare right arm onto the table and grasped the arrow stalk. Bracing himself for pain, he yanked the stalk in a swift tug and pulled out the arrow. Hissing in pain, he tossed the arrow to the floor.
When Yalondas came back in, Ivan dipped a washcloth in the water and began to clean his wound.
“I can heal you,” said Yalondas. Ivan stopped what he was doing and let the boy inspect his wound, curious.
Yalondas closed his eyes and put one hand over the wound. He muttered a few incoherent syllables under his breath and a white glow emitted from his palm. He removed his hand five seconds later and nothing was left of the wound but a small unnoticeable line of pink scar tissue. The pain was gone altogether. Ivan marveled at Yalondas’ ability. He wasn’t even an adolescent and was already an excellent healer. Ivan was an expert at inflicting pain, but he envied the natural skills of the boy.
Yalondas nodded and tilted his head down. Ivan looked at his curling shoulder width hair. Such a beautiful and powerful child he was. He looked up with curiosity in his glacial blue eyes. “Is the bad man dead?”
Ivan slowly shook his head. “No. The bad man got away this time.”
“What do we do now?”
“We find him again.”
“Both of us?”
“Yes, I’d rather have you by my side than an imp.”
“I know you’re brave, Yalondas. You have more power than you think. Will you do it for aunty?”
“She would be proud of you. A great wrong has been done, and together we can both correct it.”
“Won’t it be dangerous?” said Yalondas ever the more curiously.
“Yes, if we are foolish. I made the mistake of confronting the bad man Mardok in public. I was too full of anger and hate to think wisely of my actions.” He looked up at the ceiling. “Mirandiana, forgive me.”
Tears were beginning to form at the corners of Yalondas’ eyes. “I won’t let her down.”
Ivan looked Yalondas in the eyes. The boy would fight. Dear Lady of the Forest, he would fight. “Come then, Yalondas. I have something to show you.”
Upstairs in the attic of the cottage was a place Yalondas had never seen before. Mystical objects of lore only prestigious magical folk could possess crowded the walls. There was a golden pedestal that held up a snow-white globe with a metal hand. There were jeweled knick-knacks of many shapes that held elemental magical properties. A gold and silver eagle figure of the god Boccob’s holy bird was perched on a shelf, watching over the many anomalies. Various scepters and staffs floated near a wall to the left of Yalondas, like spectres from another world.
Ivan led Yalondas over to a sizeable battered elfwood chest that must have seen many centuries come and go. He brushed off some dust, muttered a password, turned three separate knurled knobs until each clicked, and opened it.
What he brought out was a small staff looking to be made of pure gold. In the middle it was ribbed for grip. On the top it looked to have a crown of its own, formed into the craftwork. Bulging out from all around this little crown were the grinning faces of skulls. “This is the Celestine, the staff of Ko Hedisa the Golden One. He was a great wizard, perhaps the greatest half-elf that ever lived. Hold out your hands.”
Yalondas did so, and Ivan placed the staff in them. He suddenly felt a surge of power, like his insides were glowing with radiant light. “I feel… strong.”
He intuitively aimed the staff at a blue stone on a shelf and closed his eyes. Out of the end of the Celestine shot a ball of white energy. The ball hit the stone and melted it like wax.
“You see? No ordinary half-elf can wield the Celestine,” said Ivan, putting his hand on Yalondas’ shoulder. “You are a born wizard, Yalondas.”
“I am,” Yalondas said to himself wondrously. “The Golden One.”
“You are Yalondas, the true disciple of the Golden One,” Ivan said dreamily, looking at the puddle that was once a rock but not really seeing.
“We have work ahead. I may be a warlock, but I can teach you the basics of magical combat and defense. Only through training will you be able to control your powers.”
That night, Yalondas dreamed of a great wizard. He battled fiercely against a giant green dragon. The dream was so vivid he woke up in a sweat. “Yalondas.” His eyes fell on the end of his bed. There floating in the darkness was the white spirit of his deceased aunt.
“Slay the dragon. Claim the amulet.”
“Wh- What?” said Yalondas. “Dragon? What do you mean, aunty? What amulet?”
“Lynn. She carries an amulet of great power. You must take it, before other less worthy hands may.”
“What other hands?”
She seemed to ignore the question. “The dragon will awaken. You must prepare for this.”
“Uncle Ivan is going to teach me to fight. He says I’m a wizard,” said the boy timidly.
“Beware, my child.”
She began to fade. “I will always love you.”
The room grew dark once again as she disappeared. Outside, a wolf cried in the lonely night. Listening closely, Yalondas thought he heard something else in the distance: the beating of great wings.
|Mardok awoke screaming from a nightmare to find the yellow full moon shining high outside his barred window.|
“Oy! What’s all that racket?” said a guard somewhere off to the left. He walked over to Mardok’s cell and stopped in front of it to look in. The guard resembled Deck Tiller to an uncanny degree, except he had darker hair and was a bit taller.
“You. Keep it down in there,” he said.
Mardok said nothing but nodded a little. The apparently satisfied guard walked in the left direction down the corridor and out of sight. Mardok breathed heavily, reliving the images that had awoken him.
In the dream, he was standing in a long tunnel. Lynn was standing at the end of the tunnel, illuminated by outside light.
“She died! She died and it’s all your fault!” she cried. Out of her eyes streamed red tears, like those of Deck when he was tortured to death.
“No! I never meant to! I never meant to!” yelled Mardok.
The amulet she wore cracked open. She began to shriek as blood streamed out of the ruby amulet as if it were a living creature. Mardok began to weep in sadness and horror as he watched her die. Lynn fell to the ground lifelessly and something ugly and horrible crawled out of the remnants of the broken ruby. It was a red mass of wriggling and writhing tentacles that resembled a rubbery starfish. It rapidly grew in size until it was about three feet long. “Maaaaardoooook,” it said in an inhuman growl. “I’m coming for you, Maaaaardooooook.” The repulsive thing had no eyes, yet it sensed Mardok somehow and began to chase him.
Mardok turned and bolted on his heels. He ran fast and hard, but the tunnel was endless. It engulfed him in darkness. All the while he was still weeping feebly. It wasn’t long before he tripped on a rock in his blind dash. He landed with a crash and lay helpless on his stomach, waiting for the red thing to come. He listened to its slithery-slimy approach across the ground. He could feel its heavy girth as it crawled up his leg. “Maaaaarrr!” it groaned. Mardok ceased crying as terror gripped him and began to scream.
The only other time he had awoken screaming was when he was ten, when he dreamt his pet parakeet Ulysses had come back from the dead.
Dear Quorlin, what is becoming of me?
Like any god, Quorlin never answered such questions. At least, he never answered directly. Mardok let out a sigh and looked out the window. The harvest moon was here. On it was the face of Lunus, the dealer of dreams. Supposedly Lunus had the power to bring both joyous dreams and terrible nightmares. It depended on the person; if you were good at heart, you got a dream. If you were bad, you got a nightmare.
“Lunus why do you punish me?” he asked quietly.
Again, no answer. The moon continued to cast its unchanging ghost gaze on him. Soon Mardok laid back down and attempted to sleep. It wasn’t long before he heard a small grunt in the prison corridor. It was followed by a thump. The thump was very soft, like a bag of flour falling on the ground. Seconds later, his brother Stefan was at the cell door.
“Stefan? Quorlin’s ghost, how did you get here?” he whispered loudly so it would carry.
“I’ve been sent here to save you, bucko,” said Stefan, not bothering to whisper but talking quietly.
He fumbled with the guard’s keys and got the door open. Mardok walked out and gave Stefan a hug. They both rejoiced in quiet laughter.
“You don’t look so well, Mardy,” said Stefan as he looked into his brother’s worn eyes.
“Yes, it’s been a rough night.” Mardok looked down the left corridor to see Lynn standing in front of the door at the end, keeping a watch. After a quick scan, she walked down to where Mardok and Stefan were.
“Lynn!” said Mardok joyfully. “You’re alive!”
Lynn looked a little puzzled. “Of course I am. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They hid in a shack near The Red Tavern that Stefan had rented. In the tiny kitchen area Mardok ate a meal of leftover porridge and gingerbread. Lynn and Stefan sat at the roundtable with Mardok, talking and drinking some tavern ale Stefan had “acquired.”
“I think it would be best for all of us to leave Crystal this weekend,” said Lynn.
“Aye, and where would we go? Would this crazed half-blood not follow us?” said Stefan heatedly. His black hair, far shorter than Mardok’s, stuck up around the sides. It made him look goofy and somehow angrier than usual.
“Tis true, he would try his best to follow. However, he doesn’t know the land like I do.”
“What about the Outriders?” Mardok finally spoke up.
“Glad you joined the conversation. I was beginning to think you had lost your marbles,” said Stefan to his brother in cheeky humor. They both ignored him.
“What about us? We no longer have a strong leader. The gang is dissolving. Soon the Outriders will vanish,” Lynn said without emotion. It made Mardok feel sad.
“We can start a new gang. How about… The Three Buckaneers?” Stefan interjected.
“Lame,” said Mardok. Lynn giggled a bit.
“What? Got any better ideas, Mr. Guardsman?”
“Not really. You're just bad at naming things.”
“I take offense to that! I was the one who came up with Roguedune! Remember that old fort? I also came up with Swaggle Swords! That game was fun!” said Stefan like an arguing child.
“Everyone laughed at that game. But yes, it was fun,” said Mardok.
“Straight as the crow flies,” said Stefan proudly.
“Your both overlooking what I am. I am the bearer of the amulet. I will never be safe,” said Lynn seriously.
“I don’t really care for that amulet. Why must you keep it?” said Stefan. These words surprised Mardok. Stefan also must have come in contact with the amulet before.
“The amulet is linked to me through tradition. If someone else got a hold of it, terrible things could happen,” Lynn explained.
“Then let’s destroy it,” proclaimed Mardok. “Melt it in the fire.”
“You musn’t!” yelled Lynn, startling the brothers. Her voice lowered to a gentle quiet breath. “You can’t.”
“Can’t? Watch me!” Stefan said defiantly as he reached out to snatch the amulet. As soon as his fingers touched it, the ruby shot out a burst of flame like an angry dragon. “Agh!” Stefan yelled and fell back, tipping over his chair and landing on his back. He quickly got up and backed away from Lynn.
"Stefan, your hair is on fire!" said Mardok.
"Wha?" Stefan shrieked and began dancing, waving at the flames on top of his head comically. "Ahh! Put it out!" Mardok grabbed his ale mug and poured it on Stefan's head. The flames extinguished with a hiss and the smell of burning beer hops filled the shack.
“Thanks,” Stefan said miserably. They both turned and looked at Lynn with wide eyes.
“The bloody thing tried to burn me!” Stefan pointed at the amulet accusingly. “Evil! That thing is evil, Lynn!”
“I told you. I am the amulet’s keeper.”
“You mean it protects you?” said Stefan. The top of his hair was singed and smoking. His raggedy clothes were drenched in strong ale. Mardok thought he would have never won a beauty contest that night, by far.
“Yes. I bear it and it protects me.”
“Good luck finding a husband with that thing,” mumbled Stefan. Lynn must of picked it up; she looked as if she might enjoy burning him again.
"I don't know about you two, but I'm quite tired," said Mardok.
They all agreed it was time to go to bed. Mardok slept on one of Stefan’s sleeping bags on the musty floor of the small living room. Stefan also slept there, after changing clothes. Lynn got Stefan’s bedroom, unsurprisingly.
“Sweet dreams, my little cutie pie,” said Stefan to a beyond tired Mardok. "Tomorrow we can ditch her."
“Put a plug in it, Stef,” Mardok shot back. For once, Stefan did.
|Far away in another dimension, on the planet Earth…|
Chad Fisher was sitting quietly at his work desk, typing a chapter of an unnamed novel on his word processor tentatively titled “The Black Bear”. A small amulet he had bought from a local souvenir shop lay on the desk, silver with strange markings on it. Outside his little rented cabin house the rain was pouring in bucketfuls and thunder was crashing like the bowling angels were on a hot streak.
He had rented the cabin up in a remote Oregon forest for solitude, to get away from his urban life for a little while. The only things he brought along were his laptop and a few paperbacks to read. He had barely touched the books, as he had grown fond the wilderness. He went outside on many occasions to go on hikes through the tree-laden hills. Once he camped outside in a sleeping bag just to see what it was like. He awoke the next morning lying on his side to find a black bear sniffing the hair on the back of his head. Had he made a sudden movement, things would have played out differently, but he had remained still while the bear inspected and finally left uninterested. The experience had been frightening but weirdly invigorating.
That incident had been a few days ago. Today the storm outside had resigned Chad to typing away on his Macbook. He wrote of his encounter with the animal and soon began to transform it into a wild tale of adventure. After a good few hours, he hit a snag in the storyline. Does the bear live or does he die? His mind nagged at him. Frustrated, he glanced at the desktop clock, which read 8:15 p.m. He decided to take a break and go make some hot chocolate. The nice owner Mr. Hagrin had left him a big cylinder container of Swiss Miss in a kitchen cabinet. He grabbed it and heated a blue tea kettle of water on the old iron stove. As he watched the kettle heat up, an idea suddenly came to him. Of course the bear lives. He let you live, after all. Fitting enough. Not all great stories had to be tragedies.
Chad went back to his work desk and hammered out the final half-page on his keyboard. He looked over the story for a long time and decided it was his proudest achievement to date. Hisssss! The kettle whistled in its distinctive high pitch, as if screeching that it was far too hot. Chad saved The Black Bear and got up to grab a coffee mug from one of the oak cabinets.
Before he got halfway across the kitchen, he stopped and turned as he heard a deep scratching at the front door to the left of him. The dwelling was a mostly old-fashioned log cabin. There was no window on the front door; there were only two frames of criss-crossed wooden beams on the wall to each side of the cabin. The only way to see what was behind the door was to open it.
It’s probably just a fox looking for shelter, or another bear.
A crazy thought came to him, but he dismissed it immediately. There’s no way you’re letting a bear in here.
He found a mug and went over to the stove. He turned the heat off and poured the steaming water into the coffee mug. “Good old hot chocolate,” he said aloud as he poured an excessive amount of brown powder into his mug. He grabbed a spoon from a silverware compartment in the cabinet and began stirring the mix. The scratching came again. Scruuup scruuuup. Chad pictured a poor bear cub, stuck out in the storm.
No, he reinforced himself. He went back to his desk and sat down. The scratching continued in this lazy pattern for some five minutes: scratch, pause, scratch, pause. Finally Chad set his mug down on the desk and walked cautiously to the door.
I’ll just open it a crack, he thought as he approached. If it’s a bear, and God knows it is, I’ll just let it be.
There was no way to shoo the bear off that wasn’t potentially dangerous. Then why look at all? Curiosity?
Curiosity killed the cat, but goddamn it, that scratching is gonna drive me crazy.
“Chaaaaad,” a strange male voice called. “Let me in, Chaaaad.”
Chad’s feet froze to the floor halfway across the room. “Who are you?” he blurted out with surprise. “Why are you scratching my door?”
“I’m lost and I can’t find my way home. Let me in,” the voice continued to plea. It sounded scared.
“Who are you?” Chad repeated.
Outside sounded the loneliest cry Chad had ever heard. “Aroooooooo.” He felt a chill crawl up his spine.
Silence. The rain continued to pitter-patter but the thunder had decided to take a rest. Chad chanced a look outside. He opened the door with the utmost gentleness.
A quarter of the way open he saw nothing. Halfway, still nothing. He opened the door a full ninety degrees and all that greeted him was the rain and the shadowy forest landscape. He stepped out and stood there for a moment, peering into the darkness in front of him.
Guess it was all in my…
He looked to the left and saw a large creature approaching slowly. It was a huge hulking timber wolf, with wild bushy fur and blazing yellow eyes that shone in the night. “Chad!” it snarled. All the humanity in its voice was gone.
Chad yelled in fright and nearly crushed his fingers as he slammed the door shut. The door had one bolt lock that he slotted in place. He backed away from the door and plopped down onto his desk chair.
“Sir Ryverwulfe! I come to claim what is mine!” the wolf called in a throaty tenor. “Let me in or I will let myself in!”
Chad looked around frantically and caught sight of the glass gun cabinet near his bed. Mr. Hagrin left a Remington Model 7 in there. He went over and inspected the padlock. It was an old fashioned key lock. He walked quickly into the living parallel to the kitchen, where there was an old toolbox near the fireplace.
“You know what I speak of,” called the wolf. “The amulet! The amulet, Chad! It will destroy your soul! The fires of hell will consume you!” It began thrashing the front door. Chad could hear wood splintering.
Inside the metal toolbox were many screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, and other odd tools. Chad grabbed the biggest hammer, probably used to hammer very stubborn nails, and went back to the gun cabinet. Forgive me, Mr. Hagrin, he thought briefly.
“Chad! I’m coming!” the beast called with gleeful malice.
Chad swung the hammer with both arms and smashed the glass of the cabinet. He hit it a few more times to break away a big enough opening and grabbed the Remington and a box of cartridges. He loaded the rifle clumsily, dropping a few bullets in the process. When he finally loaded it, he noticed the wolf had stopped thrashing. He stood silently and listened but could hear nothing except the continuing downpour. Thunder rumbled feebly.
Suddenly a splintering crunch rang behind him and he turned, stumbling back and dropping the rifle in his shock. The wolf’s jaws were sticking through the rickety window, tearing the crossed wooden beams apart. It snarled fiercely like a mad dog in a fight. Chad snatched up the Remington and backed away from the window towards the kitchen. He tried steadying the rifle on his shoulder, but he was too shaky. The monstrous wolf ripped away a good size hole in the woodwork, enough for its huge muzzle to fit through. The muzzle displayed an impressive array of long canines. The upper muzzle had been cut by the jagged wood and was bleeding a little. Spittle flew as it roared and rumbled. “You can’t stop me, Ryverwulfe! Nothing can stop me from taking it!”
“Fuck you, you goddamn monster!” Chad shouted. He squeezed the trigger and the shot went through the top of the window, making a deafening bang and chipping off a good-sized hole in the window’s frame. The muzzle withdrew and disappeared. Chad cocked the Remington, keeping his eye on the hole. Silence again, the most sinister silence Chad had ever experienced.
He finally let his nerves get to him and looked over at the desk. His little good luck charm was sitting on the desk. It had somehow attracted the Big Bad Wolf from Hell to come and steal it. Despite all the craziness Chad was dealing with, deep down inside he instinctively knew giving the amulet to the wolf would be bad news. He had to get rid of it.
He rushed over to the desk and grabbed the amulet. He went into the living room, set his gun down, and found a ten-pound sledgehammer propped against the wall near the fireplace. He placed the amulet on the brick platform around the fireplace and raised the sledge. From somewhere behind him there was a terrible splintering crash and the thud of something heavy landing on the floor.
Chad turned in time to see the beastly wolf rushing through the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. He did the only thing he could think of and brandished the sledge as a feeble defense. The wolf snarled and leapt at him with blinding agility and enormous force. Chad was knocked down next to the fireplace, almost hitting his head on the bricks. The wolf’s front claws dug into his abdomen as it lunged at him. It would have ripped off his face right there but Chad put the sledge in between them. It bit into the handle instead, wrestling his arms with its jaws. Pain seared through Chad's belly, the wolf’s girth almost crushing him. He looked into the eyes of the beast, fighting for his life. The yellow moons staring back at him burned with feverish malevolence. He glanced to the right and saw a poker hanging next to the fire pit.
In a desperate act he let his right arm go free to grab the poker. The wolf took the opportunity to rip the sledge from his remaining hand. Chad got the poker as the wolf dropped the sledge and lunged again like lightning. Chad raised his left arm, having no other defense, and the wolf bit down into his forearm. He screamed in agony as his flesh was punctured deep. He aimed the poker at right mooneye but missed and stabbed the middle of its forehead.
It released Chad’s forearm and yelped “Arrrrrrppppp!”, shaking its head and sneezing.
Chad scrambled up to his feet, grabbing the sledge on the floor. Blood flowed from his arm and dripped onto the hardwood floor. The wolf attacked again but Chad was ready for it. He swung the sledge with all his might in a downward sweeping arc and caught the wolf on the side of the ribcage.
The wolf yelped as it flew sideways and landed on its side. The hulking thing quickly recovered and got back onto its feet. “Give it,” it growled. “Give it! It belongs to Merlin now!”
“Come any closer and I’ll smash it!” threatened Chad.
“You cannot destroy ancient magic with a tool! How foolish you are,” the wolf roared. “HOW FOOLISH!” It went at him again and Chad attempted another blow to its side. It dodged the swing by stepping to the right and tackled Chad, biting into his right chest. Chad was knocked down hard. In a split second of vicious force the wolf ripped off Chad’s right nipple. There was nothing to do but scream.
“It ends here, Chad the Ryverwulfe! All your world shall perish!” growled the beast, blood dripping from its mouth. The last thing Chad saw before darkness took him was the piercing shine of the mooneyes, cruel and triumphant.