Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last Meal at Homebound: Part V

The orc aimed quickly and fired. The bolt struck it's intended target in the soft part of her left shoulder, just below it's socket. Magda's momentum, along with the bolt's impact forced her to spin hard into the table-boy, knocking him into the wall behind the bar. His necked whiplashed causing him to crack his head against the wall yet surprisingly he was able to maintain his footing.

Magda felt the searing pain of the bolt in the upper part of her shoulder just as she felt the immediate loss of feeling in her left arm that followed. She hissed as the bolt entered her, maintained her dignity by avoiding a scream though she had to bite her lip hard enough to draw blood in order to achieve this great feat.

Grimacing, she chanced a glance at the table-boy. He hadn't seen the bolt's impact, but could easily tell that Magda had been injured by the look on her face. His flesh had turned a lighter shade of white, something Magda wouldn't have thought possible just a few moments ago. He looked now as a sweat-stricken ghost might, she imagined she probably looked the same to him.

Magda looked back to the bar where her weapons lay less than an arms length away, then looked to the orc who'd just shot her, watched as he attempted to reload. The orc ahead of him, the one she'd gut-shot was still doubled over, one knee and a hand to the ground kept him from crumbling completely. Near the entrance, she saw another falchion-armed orc rise from a kneeling position. From where she stood Magda couldn't see past the toppled tables and chairs in order make out what he had been kneeling near but she assumed it was the first orc, the one with the rust-colored face that she had killed. She assumed the dead one was the pack's leader, this made her smile in spite of her pain.

She reached out with her right arm, (as her left refused to follow any command at all) and scooped a crossbow and the quiver in the crook of it and slung them both in the boy's direction. The crossbow hit the boy in the chest as he did not raise his arms in an attempt to catch it. He let out an "oof!" as the weapon rattled to the floor. The quiver landed nearby, spraying it's contents all over the already cluttered floor behind Magda's beloved bar table. These two events did not play out exactly as Magda had intended.

Magda turned back to the bar as the orc finished loading the crossbow, heard the familiar click as the bolt nocked into place. Magda did not see this as she reached for the iron skillet she'd left upon the bar what seemed like hours ago. She looked up to her one surviving barbarian, he looked good, the blood-rush of battle seemingly blessing him with new life. A gift from Tempest or Kutenai, no doubt. She called to him as the orc lifted his crossbow to send the killing missile in her direction. When the barbarian turned, Magda tossed the short sword in his direction, knowing herself to be virtually useless with it and the boy likely to be even worse. It clanged to the wooden floor a few feet in front of him. The barbarian nodded in reverence to her, not the first time she'd seen such respect in this town, and moved to bend for it.

Magda reached for and lifted the skillet in her right hand. A second later the orc loosed his crossbow, the bolt exploded into a shower of sparks and tiny wooden splinters as it struck the broad bottom of the iron skillet. Magda looked at the humble frying pan in wild bewilderment as she heard the orc, less than 20 feet away, grunt in anger at his misfortune.

"Gods, be praised!" She managed to gasp. At that moment Magda promised in prayer to Solarth to bake him one of her famous mutton-pies to show thanks if ever she were blessed with being granted entrance to his beloved realm upon her death. She'd even go easy on the filler.

Looking toward the orc, Magda saw that he wasn't about to waste time feeling sorry for himself as he began to load another bolt. Deciding she wasn't going to wait to be shot at a third time she spun and slid along her back against the bar, lowering herself to the floor. The bolt still protruding from her shoulder made slight contact with the bar, causing her to wince in agony. Looking at the boy, who had slid down the wall himself to sit, knees upward, amongst the litter behind the bar, she hissed when she'd seen had not otherwise moved.

"Load, boy! Why haven't ye begun to load?" she gestured with her good arm toward the crossbow.

The boy ignored her question. "You've an arrow in your shoulder." He gestured toward her himself. "And... there's blood."

"It's a bolt," Magda said. "and I know. Which is precisely why I need ye to arm the crossbow for me."


"Forget about my wound and get to it!" she snapped as the boy scrambled to gather a loose bolt and the crossbow that struck him in the chest only seconds ago. He put the bolt to the drawstring and, pulling it back, snapped it quickly into place in one fluid motion.

Magda forced a smile. "Clearly yer gettin' good at this." she said.

The boy did not return the smile and offered the crossbow to Magda in his outstretched arms without a word. Shaking her head, she looked to her useless left arm. "Can't." she said. "You have to do the lion's share o' the killin' now." He nodded reluctantly. "Time to be a man." she said.

The clang of clashing steel startled both enough to make them jump. The barbarian had engaged his falchion-armed foe. Magda imagined the unhurt orc with the crossbow to be planning his next move, she needed to plan hers as well.

"We don't have much time. I count two healthy orcs left and only one bein' kept busy." She looked to her right to make sure the orc that stuck her wasn't coming around the bar. "But he won't be kept long, our friend doesn't stand a chance. Barring a miracle, 'o course." The boy groaned at the news."Don't lose hope, I'm still here. And with you here we outnumber 'em. 'Least fer now." This didn't seem to make the boy feel better. "Anyhow's, we can't stay here. I reckon we can take the back door way outta here," she motioned down the narrow kitchen corridor. "But I blocked it wit' a feed barrell to keep the bastards from bushwhackin' us."

"You mean yer filler barrell." The boy replied sarcastically, yet through a smile.

"Aye, that be the one." She replied. "We need to move it, it's heavy though and I won't have me strength after bein' shot." Magda could feel the spread of warm blood on her shoulder, felt it's sticky tackiness as it made her shirt and bustier cling to her skin. There were many times, during quieter moments in the triage, that she told the sleeping or unconscious wounded she tended that she would gladly trade places with them if Tempest would only allow it. She felt at the time that she meant it, and hoped that she had the strength to follow through if Tempest, or any God for that matter, offered her the opportunity to do just that. Magda believed in her heart that the time was now approaching.

"You'll have to do the bulk of the movin', I'm afraid." She said to the boy whose sarcastic smile slowly began to fade. "I can't help much with it, but I can protect ye while ye do it yerself." Magda wished to continue but was cut off by the sound of the wounded barbarian's last gasp as he was bested by the stronger, healthier and better equipped orc. The sound of his body thudding upon the cold wood-plank floor followed soon after. The heavy sound of the orc's boots heading for the bar made Magda's hair stand on the back of her neck. The deep, raspy growl of his native tongue, shouting orders toward his crossbow-armed companion made chill-bumps break out across her arms.

There was no more time.

"Magda!" the boy shouted as the falchion-armed orc came into his view, just over the right side of the bar. His hulking, green skinned, hide-clad form towered over him, his eyes fixed solely on the boy as from his current angle he could not yet see Magda. He smiled, baring surprisingly straight, intact teeth. He held his falchion low to one side, his chest heaved as he continued to breathe heavily from the strain of his fight with the last barbarian.

In an instant, all fear washed away from the boy's face. Magda's heart leaped as she knew, a moment before it happened what was to come as the boy raised the crossbow he'd been holding. Surprised, the orc backpedaled as he lifted both arms to shield his face. The boy loosed the bolt striking the orc in the right forearm. His falchion dropped from his hand as it involuntarily contracted. The orc roared angrily as he stared momentarily at the bloody wound, the bolt had punctured through the middle of the forearm, both ends protruding from it comically. The orc's fortune was not lost on him however. Even in this agonizing moment, he realized that, had he not raised his arms, the bolt would be sticking out the back of his skull instead of through his lower arm.

"Did you hit 'im?" Magda yelled as she was as blind to the orc as he was to her.

The boy seemed to ignore her as he moved to his knees, gently placing the crossbow to the floor. Sensing that he didn't have enough time to load before the wounded orc decided to come at them again, he took a stray bolt into his hand, gripped it underhand like an assassin would a dagger before delivering a killing blow.

"Time to be a man." He whispered Magda's words to himself as he rose to his feet.

"No." Magda's voice hitched, as she watched the boy rush to stab the stunned and unarmed orc.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Last Meal at Homebound: Part IV

BuggRust grunted fiercely in frustration as he fought against whatever blocked the door to the inn. The latch turned easily but whomever was still inside had barricaded it against entry. BuggRust was certain that he and his band could get through, but he had hoped it would be easier. He raised a free hand to halt one of his troop from tossing in another tar flask, wanting to take whatever awaited him inside alive. At least at first. Smoking humans out was generally a good strategy, but one that included a risk of burning to death their intended victims, usually a bonus side-effect, just not in this case.

A quick inspection of the windows flanking the door showed that they too were blocked, though less earnestly than the front door. One of BuggRust's lackey's had nearly attempted entry through one of them, but was stopped before doing so. Feeling that the windows presented an easy place that his orcs could be ambushed and picked off one by one BuggRust ordered against the idea and the troop held up reluctantly.

After a few seconds of thought BuggRust decided to go with his original plan: Through the front door. It was a mistake he would not live to regret.

Taking two steps back, holding his falchion with both hands in front of him, he took a deep breath and rushed the door. When only a few feet away he planted his left boot into the slushy, gray mud and kicked at the door with his right. The astonishing force produced by his compact, iron-strong lower body caused the chair on the other side of the door to explode, splintering into hundreds of pieces. As the door swung open, the top struck the leaning table with enough residual velocity that it caused it to slowly tip forward towards Magda's bar, resting momentarily at a 90 degree angle before it's momentum carried it the rest of the way to the floor, away from the door it had been leaning against. It crashed to it's feet with a enormous wooden "thunk", where it remained, seemingly waiting for Magda to dress it with plates and forks for dinner service.

Triumphant, BuggRust stood in the now-open entrance of Homebound, the door had remained intact and swung free of it's impediments. Dust from the impact, as well as the residual smoke from an earlier tar flask impaired his vision enough so that he could only barely make out the bar across the room. Silhouettes of slumped human barbarians, barely clothed, could be made out only a few feet away though they did not advance. Sensing their impatience, BuggRust stepped into the tavern, clearing the way for his troop who, in two's, began circling around his flank in order to enter. As he moved in he heard a voice, unmistakeably female, unshaken and impossibly stern amongst the bloody happenings around her. Stoically, she spoke only two words.

"We're closed."

Though raised and living amongst his own kind his entire life, BuggRust understood a fair share of the common tongue, and this phrase was familiar to him. He smiled again, admiring this human woman, though he could not see her he respected that she stood stubbornly against her orc invaders while other human women (and even some men) screamed and cowered before being slaughtered. He would enjoy killing her and would remember her fondly.

The cross-breeze of air caused by the now-open front door and earlier broken windows swiftly released the smoke and dust hanging within the room. It swirled about, forming half-circles of gray and black before clearing away, revealing a stout, diminutive woman only 14 or 15 feet away. Her long red hair neatly resting on plump, voluminous breasts in two braids which nearly reached her waist. She wore an apron, brown, long-dried blood crusted it in an incongruous pyramid shape that came to a point just below her neck. She held a crossbow up to her handsome, though lined with toil, face. One eye squinted while the other looked down the bolt shaft, aiming carefully along it's red fletching. Her intended target was clearly BuggRust, as he was the first to intrude.

BuggRust's grin faded hastily as she loosed the bolt in his direction.

"Cakk!" was BuggRust's last word.

It struck true, splitting BuggRust's forehead, sinking in all the way to the fletching Magda had aimed along. BuggRust's hands, contracted then relaxed causing him to lose grip on his falchion which crashed mightily to the floor, before contracting again to grip nothing. He rocked back on his heels, still alive he heard ringing in his ears, it seemed to be miles away and moving away further still but it was there. The slight sensation of blood on his face and in his eyes brought his memory back to his first village. Made his mind regress to the last time his father had attempted to drown him, after he had been released once more just before death. He remembered how this time, he'd left a hand-axe under some dead leaves near his father's favorite rain barrel. Remembered how, once adequately recovered, he reached under the leaves to take the axe in his hand. Felt the heft of it, felt the rush of adrenaline as he snuck up behind his father, still cursing his freakishly scarred weakling son of whom he was so ashamed. Remembered burying the business end of the axe into the back of his fathers skull, once again felt the spray of his warm blood upon his face. Felt the stream of red as it poured down the axe handle and over his tightly clenched fist to run between his fingers.

In his minds eye he watched his dead father fall forward as, nearly dead himself, BuggRust fell backward. He felt ashamed at his impending death but thanked Gruumsh for allowing him to relive this moment, his life's most cherished memory. By the time BuggRust crashed to the floor resting in the doorway he had so violently entered just seconds ago, he was dead.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Magda handed the crossbow she'd just fired to the boy as he slid the one he'd just reloaded to her along the table. She picked it up, satisfied at her kill but lacking any time to celebrate she aimed down the crossbow at another orc who had just passed beyond the now-dead orc's left flank. He moved to engage one of the standing barbarians.

Magda fired again and this time struck the orc in the throat, he dropped his falchion before reaching his prey, futilely throwing both hands up to cover the open neck-wound. The nearby barbarian threw his hands up to shove the dying barbarian over a chair. The orc tumbled over it, spraying blood in several directions through clenched fingers. The barbarian stumbled, his knees trying hard to buckle, but remained on his feet.

The boy was struggling mightily to load his crossbow, his hands shook nearly uncontrollably as a second orc approached from the right. Two others, armed with crossbows themselves, approached from the left. The boy could feel his death approaching by the moment, and his fear was mirrored in the movement in his hands.

Magda spied the two orcs approaching from the left and with a mix of relief and terror she watched hopelessly as the other barbarian closed to impede their progress. He reached up weakly and attempted to grab at the crossbow the first orc held. The orc moved swiftly to avoid the grapple and backfisted the barbarian across the jaw. A loud crack was heard as the barbarian spun off his feet and into a chair causing him to fall hard to the floor. The orc paused, raised his crossbow and loosed a bolt into the prone barbarian who moaned inhumanly, the sound akin to what an injured whale might make when harpooned.

The barbarian's imminent death bought the table-boy enough time to lock the bolt into place. No sooner had he done so had Magda snatched it away from him, leaving her empty one beneath his violently trembling hands. He picked it up and again began fumbling with the drawstring.

Magda instinctively raised the loaded light crossbow and fired without truly aiming in the direction of the orc who'd just shot the helpless barbarian. Again, her bolt struck orc flesh though not where she had intended. Disappointed, she watched as the orc doubled over, the pain of being gut-shot overcoming him. He fell to one knee, as his left hand covered the wound. The bolt had disappeared beneath his armor and, for all Magda knew, lay deep within his bowels. As he slowly lowered forward, Magda watched helplessly as the orc behind him raised his crossbow toward the two clansfolk.

Instinctively, Magda turned her shoulder toward the boy to shield him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Last Meal at Homebound: Part III

They called him BuggRust ever since he was around five or six winters old, he couldn't remember exactly what his age was then, just as he didn't know exactly how old he was now. BuggRust guessed that he was around forty, but as his father used to say, "Guessing is just as likely to get you a handful of cakk as it is a fistful of gold when reaching into a dragon's bum."

That saying never made sense to BuggRust, but neither did much else his father said or did. BuggRust sometimes felt guilty about killing him nonetheless, even if his father was indirectly responsible for giving him his commonly accepted, though hated, name.

He was born with a different one, long forgotten by those who knew him before he was called what he is today. A name that may have eventually led to more respect among his peers, BuggRust wasn't sure, but the name he went by now didn't exactly evoke terror into those who heard it. Not like the name Tonguescum, now that was a scary name! One that commanded respect.

BuggRust earned his name due to a pair of physical traits, one natural, and the other unnatural. One he always had and one he acquired, a gift from his dearly departed father, you could say.

BuggRust was born with healthy green skin, normal for most orcs from his place of birth, over most of his body. However, his face, scalp and most of the tops of his shoulders were a deep rust-brown, which was not. This made him stand out like an oak in the Pinefore, giving him the kind of unwanted attention that makes a child, even an orc-child, grow bitter and angry with age.

When BuggRust had seen around five winters (again, he couldn't remember exactly how many) his father had witnessed him weeping in the woods after taking a particularly bad beating from older orc-males in the tribe. When he had heard his son's pathetic excuse for this show of weakness he snatched BuggRust by his filthy collar, dragged him to the closest rain-barrel and dunked his head. Drowning the orc-boy until he lost consciousness in an effort to "toughen him up". This act became routine until BuggRust reached adolescence, the constant toll of air deprivation caused blood vessels in his face to burst, over and over again. The frequency of attempted drownings never allowing his face to fully heal. The damage permanently manifested itself as a blue-colored web pattern across his already rusty cheeks, nose and forehead. The orc-children in his tribe would tell him that it looked like "a giant spider-bugg cakked all over your face". Henceforth, he was known as BuggRust.

As he grew older BuggRust delighted in killing many of those children, as well as their families.

It was the screams he heard now, those of the barbarian villagers dying all around him that reminded him of those dead orcs. Reminded him of his childhood, and how he came to be called by his name. The chill on the cold wind brought his thoughts back to the glory of the present.

BuggRust hated it here.

He had followed Tonguescum to this place all the way from the south end of the foothills of The Broken Lands. The weather was nicer there. The sun shined most of the time, food was easier to find and he never had to worry about wearing itchy bear hide over his thick, green skinned arms and legs. But here? Here it was always cold! Even when it was warm it was still cold! Snow, all the time. Never any beef to eat as he hadn't seen a bovine in years. Always deer, always chewy, gamey venison. No fat, no flavor! BuggRust found that he even missed potatoes, though he wouldn't admit it to anyone. And ale was sparse too, this was probably worst of all. Occasionally they'd raid the odd caravan that would have a keg or two and sometimes Fengis would bring them some, but he charged a lot for it, and Boss Tonguescum said it made the other orcs, um, less focused anyway. Whatever that meant. BuggRust just thought that not having ale made him focus more on wishing he had some. Maybe that's what the boss wanted. Who knows?

He came to Lurz Ghazrach with Tonguescum, stood behind him when The Boss took the outpost for himself. Watched intently as The Boss challenged and crushed his helpless predecessor, subsequently installing himself as "Chieftain". Though BuggRust didn't care about any of that he had followed The Boss for years and, at that time, didn't expect to stop any time soon. He was Boss Tonguescum's right-hand-orc after all and certain privileges came with such prestige. Privileges he enjoyed and took advantage of at every opportunity.

But lately, those privileges just didn't appeal as much as they once did and BuggRust's feet had acquired the itch of wanderlust. This tribe he and The Boss lorded over had been dominant for so long in this area that he'd become bored and longed for the fights that were going on in the south. Wanted to war again with the dwarves that thought they'd have a chance reclaiming their "Homeland". (Orcs had always been there and he couldn't understand what the dwarves were so upset about, but he didn't mind, as long as he got to kill dwarves.) He wanted to make war with the humans in Westheath, ravage their women and maybe even eat some of their babies. Human babies did taste better than deer after all. Tasted a little like chicken actually, but without feathers, which tasted bad.

Truthfully he wanted to be anywhere. Anywhere but here but Tonguescum wanted him to wait. "Something's coming," he would say "Gruumsh himself, came to me in a dream. Told me to come here and wait for a stranger." BuggRust would get a little scared when The Boss would talk like that, made him think that The Boss might have a few pebbles loose in that boulder of his. But then he'd go on, and it'd just get worse: "Gruumsh said, 'Go north, and wreak havoc there. A messenger will come and tell you of your mission. Your destiny will bring about a new era of fear of our kind. Destroy or unite what clans you can and kill those that stand in your way.'" Then, The Boss's eyes would glaze over as he would finish:"Then Gruumsh said to me: 'Your reward, will be a glorious death in battle, remembered by all orcs.'"

BuggRust thought The Boss took it all a little too seriously. Thought that maybe The Boss had taken a hard whack to the head that never fully healed, like BuggRust's own facial scars, but he waited alongside him anyway. BuggRust's loyalty only went so far, but Tonguescum was nice to have around in a fight.

But that was all about to change, BuggRust was leaving tonight, after this final raid. He hadn't told The Boss yet, and didn't plan to. Though he suspected that Tonguescum thought him up to something. Boss always knew stuff like that. Traditionally it was probably more acceptable for BuggRust to challenge Tonguescum in a fight to the death in order to become Chief. But BuggRust wasn't stupid, nor was he even interested in being Chief here. Gruumsh never came to him in any dream, telling him to wait for some stupid stranger. And even if Gruumsh did come, BuggRust wasn't thrilled with the idea of his "Great Reward" being death. Even if it was glorious. BuggRust was no coward, but he wasn't ready to die yet, for The Boss or anyone else.

Nope, he'd had enough of waiting, of being number two. He'd grown tired of venison, tired of snow, of cold. Tired of the same orc women, tired of longing for the sweet smell and sweeter taste of a human woman and the sound of her screams. Hoped he'd get a chance at one before he departed for his great journey.

This raid would sate him, but he knew it would only be fleeting. While Tonguescum and his group razed the northern human village it was BuggRust's job to destroy and pillage this one. Once finished, Tonguescum would make him wait, again. Make the tribe wait until The Stranger came back. BuggRust didn't feel like waiting for The Stranger, after all he was... strange.

BuggRust knew that if he didn't leave tonight, under cover of night and the remnants of the blizzard, with The Boss and his other bodyguards distracted by victory celebration (not that there'd be any ale), he likely never would. It was almost time now. Almost time to leave this barren, wretched wasteland for warmer climes and fairer species. Not to mention better food, like human babies.

Approaching the only tavern in the wretched little town, BuggRust found himself thanking Gruumsh for giving him the strength to notch six more barbarian lives upon the flat of his falchion blade. He promised more barbarian lives to Gruumsh if he helped him successfully make it out of here and start his journey southward. Not that he'd need any help from a deity as the day's work had been easy up to this point and he didn't foresee any reason, making his way toward the steps to Homebound with five orcs flanking him, that this should change.

Approaching the tavern door, hearing a woman scream inside as one of his grunts threw a flaming tar flask through a side window he smiled, thinking he just might get that human woman to smell and taste before his journey after all.

His rust-colored, spider-webbed face grinned through rotting, broken teeth. BuggRust gripped his battle-worn falchion with his right hand as he reached with his blood-crusted left for the tavern door's wooden latch. He couldn't wait to see what waited for him beyond it.