Saturday, March 28, 2009

To Arms

It had taken only two days marching at a brisk pace to get to the base of the mountains and the territory known by all as Orcenhome. It was a rugged, unforgiving place full of shifting, loose stone and jagged, sheer cliffs. It was said that the dwarves once lived here but had been overthrown by the orc hoards long ago. Now the place was crawling with all manner of nasty beasts hiding in dark holes. It took Vantil and his woodland friends another day to move from the foothills up into the mountains where the druid had tracked the foul goblin. Arteris, god of protection, smiled upon them that day; no monsters ventured forth to attack them as they plodded along the narrow mountain trails. This was a good thing, as all of the druid’s considerable skill was tested navigating the rugged terrain which was still heavy with wet snow and ice from winter. They would have to be quick about their business the druid noted as they passed; otherwise the melting snow might make it too dangerous to travel back.

Nightfall was fast approaching when they found a small plateau just beyond the cave entrance which allowed them to rest for a while. Taking the opportunity provided, many of the animals lay down to rest while Vantil prayed to Lantana, urging the Treemother to grant him victory this day. Prayers complete, Vantil felt refreshed and energized, his deity was with him and he felt empowered. The old druid moved about the plateau giving individual blessings and additional prayer for each of his woodland friends. Then he began casting spells upon himself. His skin took on the gnarled appearance of old oak bark and his staff began to glow softly with divine power. He would not be caught off guard this time.

“Rise my brothers.” Vantil said when his casting was complete. “Let us bring a swift death to those who prey on our home!”

With his force behind him Vantil marched back down the narrow trail to the cave entrance. Without hesitation he summoned a globe of light at the end of his staff to illuminate their way and plunged into the gaping mouth of the cave. They did not go far before the cave narrowed down into a large, surprisingly well cut, tunnel twice as tall as the centaur and half of that in width. The tunnel continued on a small decline and ended at a large, iron bound door.

On either side of the door stood a pair of freakishly large goblin guards dressed in well maintained black leather armor and brandishing gleaming spears. They had seen the druid’s light coming down the passage and were waiting for him. As soon as he noticed the guards they let fly their spears in unison. Their aim was true and their throws were strong but all of the missiles bounced harmlessly off of Vantil’s enchanted skin.

Their looks of surprise were expected but, when the flight of owls descended upon them the guard’s eyes went wider still. The owls circled, pecking and clawing at the faces of the goblins who; threw up their arms and flailed about trying to make space to maneuver. The guards were completely distracted by the swooping birds, their leader shouted orders in that same strange language that humans used trying to restore order to his troops. The wolves took advantage of the preoccupied goblins, rushing in to overwhelm the guards. Within minutes the passage was quiet again and four goblin guards lay next to two owls in a fast spreading pool of crimson. Vantil gazed upon the scene with a pang of remorse. How many more would have to die this day? He quickly rebounded from the loss though, reminded that this had to be done to prevent future tragedies within the forest.

Knowing that time was not their ally he moved up to the door and attempted to open it. Of course, it was locked. Turning quickly he motioned his friends away from the door then proceeded to throw all his considerable weight and strength into his rear legs, kicking out at the portal. It took several strikes but the door was no match for the centaur’s hooves. With a shower of splinters and shattered iron bands the door gave way.

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

Boggrot and Uzed were privileged among their goblin brethren of the Bloody Fist tribe. Being strong and fierce brawlers they were rarely challenged or given daily responsibilities allowing them to wander the ancient dwarven halls the clan inhabited and act upon their whims. This was the case today as they meandered about the outer common area hassling their tribe mates and mooching food to fill their ever-hungry stomachs.

Satisfied with their take this evening the pair moved near the main door of the hall to dine on their spoils. For the most part nobody ever came near this area, partly because of the two bullies who often sat against the wall there but mostly due to the constant presence of the much more menacing Bloodfist guards on the other side of the door who were rotated every few hours. Regardless of why, the two thugs were happy to have their space, a commodity among the clan of nearly two thousand who crowded into this common area and the smaller tunnels deeper in the mountain. Once seated on the filthy debris covered floor the two quickly began haggling over their take.
“Hey, gimmie that!” Uzed demanded of his partner motioning to a half eaten stick of jerky. “I sawr it first!” He insisted.

“Yea, but I took it.” Boggrot stated flatly, not impressed by his companions claim.

“Well I’m tooking it from you!” Uzed yelled as he lunged at Boggrot who retracted the jerky and held up his other arm to fend off Uzed.

The two quickly became entangled in each others limbs grappling, shoving, and shouting at one-another. So engrossed in their own battle neither of them heard the screeching, growling and shouts on the other side of the door. It was only when the door they stood in front of boomed and shook within its frame that they paused. The noise was like that of a boulder slamming against the door and it reverberated throughout the large stone chamber. The general noise and chatter ceased and the hall fell silent.

Uzed and Boggrot stood quietly arms still entangled both of their flat green faces only inches apart, they turned heads in unison to stare at the door. Again something crashed against it causing dust and debris to shake loose from the wall. A third and fourth strike came to bear on the iron bound door and still the pair stood dumbly before it unable to will their legs to carry them out of harms way. Behind them in the common room three patrolling Bloodfist came running to investigate shouting for additional guards as they went. Somewhere in the chamber a horn sounded in alarm causing the goblins to stir. When the fifth strike hit the door the splintering portal finally gave way throwing shards of wood and broken iron like daggers. Uzed and Boggrot never did get to savor their last meal as they were showered in the jagged remains of the door. When the two hit the ground together, still locked in grapple, they looked much like large porcupines.

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

As the door collapsed Vantil’s intuition told him to jump to the side. Several spears flew through the space he had occupied seconds ago and skipped down the passage. With a wave of his hand the forest beasts rushed past the hanging remnants of the door into the room beyond. Vantil followed right behind them, so far his plan was going well but they had to be careful not to get too tied up in the goblin complex. When he emerged on the other side of the door he quickly surveyed the scene. They were in a large antechamber which was quickly filling with defenders. Five other passages lead out of this room and from every one poured goblins, most of which were typical of their race but several of them were the brutish black and crimson clad variety. The forest creatures had immediately encountered resistance and were already in danger of being surrounded though, the sight of all these predators in their midst seemed to have the goblins uneasy.

As he was preparing to cast a spell upon his enemies Vantil was distracted by two distinct arrivals from the passage directly opposite him in the room. The first was a mysterious goblin, bent and wrinkled with age yet displaying rich crimson robes trimmed in fur and a long neck chord that rattled with many small bones. This individual held a long, ornately carved staff topped with a goblin skull and hid beneath the shadows of a deep cowl. The other figure was one the druid knew well, it was the goblin that had nearly killed him not long ago. The Bloodfist Captain surveyed the scene from his side of the room and immediately saw the centaur standing amidst the battling beasts. Their gazes met and locked, neither of them willing to show weakness. Hatred simmered in the druid’s stare as he watched Olrich reach up with a gauntleted hand and tapped his left eye. Giving Vantil an evil sneer the goblin turned and began bellowing orders.

An explosion of fury erupted from the old druid as he spat out his spell, hands gesturing wildly. The temperature in the room suddenly dropped and the breath of the laboring combatants could be seen in the air. The goblins did not seem to notice and continued to fight. Seconds later a white fog collected at the ceiling of the chamber swirling and writhing above their heads. The fog quickly condensed and sent a sudden storm of large hail stones the size of a large mans fist crashing into the goblins at the rear of the hall. Many died instantly; some were able to withstand the barrage but were severely injured. The only ones who seemed to escape without much injury seemed to be the larger armored goblins. For many heartbeats ice smashed into the ground pummeling the nasty monsters into broken and bloody heaps. The barrage of ice ended as abruptly as it started leaving the floor coated in frost and slippery with gore.

Terrified by the sudden show of magical might, many of the goblins who were able to broke ranks and began to flee- or tried too. The large Bloodfist troops began shouting to their smaller brethren and when some did not respond they were cut down by their superiors. Those who had thought of desertion quickly changed their minds. Vantil gave a high pitched whistle, the signal for his friends to run. Without hesitation those beasts that were able turned and fled back to the outside.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


The next morning heralded one of the strangest things Ademar had seen. In the quiet predawn hour there came a constant rustling from outside the hut. Ademar rose from the floor to investigate and found Vantil had already left the shelter leaving the door open to the crisp morning air. The elf rose, pulled on his cloak and boots then, taking a blanket with him for extra warmth, headed outside. Although the sky was still an inky shade of blue, Ademar’s keen sight easily spotted the hoard that had gathered and Vantil standing at its center. The druid was not leaving the forest; he was taking the forest with him! A pack of wolves paced anxiously, birds of prey perched in the nearby trees, nearly a dozen large bucks grazed in the clearing, a pair of cougars lay quietly taking in the scene, and a large black bear sat on its haunches next to Vantil.

The druid’s eyes were closed and lips moved in quiet prayer as Ademar approached. His eyes opened when the bear growled softly freezing the elf in his tracks. Vantil reached over to swat the bear lightly on the snout then waved Ademar on as the bear rose and wandered a few paces off.

“You have amassed your own army it seems.”

“I told you, I have many friends within the boarders of these trees.” Vantil responded waving his arms out wide. “We are ready to march. You have decided where your path takes you next.” It was a statement not a question.

“I have.” Ademar paused searching for the right way to say what was on his mind. “Is there no way you would delay this?”

“I am not graced with longevity of elves Ademar. If I were to wait for your help how long would that be? A decade is akin to a day to an elf, I do not have that much time. With every day that passes Lantana’s call to me becomes louder, if I am to finish this it must be now.” Not leaving any time for the elf to respond Vantil turned and picked up long bundle wrapped in heavy, oiled cloth then handed it to Ademar. “I hope these few items are more efficient in your hands than those of the previous owner.”

Ademar received the bundle which was much heavier than it looked and laid it gently to the ground to unwrap it. Inside was a well made long bow complete with a quiver of arrows, a much used, sheathed long sword (he noted it was not the same sword he had procured from the smith), a backpack stuffed full of cheese, bread, and a length of rope. With a sigh of relief he found a small leather pouch inside the pack as well (lock picks were expensive to buy, even if you could find someone willing to sell them!). The last item was a much repaired set of leathers which looked to be just a little too big but surely would serve their purpose.

Mouth agape, Ademar looked up to the druid. “How- why-?” He was speechless at the generous gift.

“When you have defended the forest for as long as I have you tend to, acquire, certain things.” The centaur said with a slight chuckle. “This is just junk to me, I honestly don’t know why I even held on to it.”

“Thank you Vantil.” The elf began reverently. “You realize that I will not be making the trek into the mountains?” He asked almost sheepishly.

“I knew that yester-eve.” The druid responded. “Like I said though, this is just clutter to me I would rather see it used. All I ask in return is that you make your way back some day to check in on the place.”

Ademar nodded solemnly. “I will.”

With that said Vantil put his fingers up to pursed lips and gave a loud, shrill whistle. The assembled animals rose to their feet and sprang into the air then slipped into the forest heading west. The old druid gave a nod to Ademar before taking up his staff and heading off himself.

The elf stood and watched them all leave into the wild, like ghosts they vanished with hardly a whisper. For many minutes after they were gone he remained in the small clearing, listening as the small creatures of the wood emerged with the brightening morning sky. He could still catch them he knew, he should catch them. Still he stood there. With a sigh he scooped up the bundle at his feet and headed back into Vantil’s hut. When he emerged nearly an hour later the druid’s home was in order and Ademar was outfitted for his pending journey. Closing the door he moved quickly north into the forest not once looking back.

Vantil and his troupe ran hard to the west making it out of the forest and well into the plains before nightfall. When they stopped to rest on the riverbank the druid looked back to the east. He hoped to see a slim figure cutting across the grassland. For several minutes he studied the horizon yet no elf emerged. As the moon crept into the sky Vantil turned back to the west again and prepared to rest for the night. He was not surprised that Ademar did not follow on his quest but, he admitted to himself, he was a little disappointed that the elf had not changed his mind. He surely would miss the company of the strange Nightwalker.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The stern demeanor of the massive druid left little doubt with Ademar that he should choose his next words carefully. But what could he say? Who were these goblins he was speaking of? What happened to the townsmen who were chasing him? Where was he? Who was this imposing, one-eyed centaur and what, exactly, did he want? The confusion must have been clear on his scared face for the centaur shifted his weight noisily onto his rear legs taking a somewhat less aggressive stance although his glare remained upon the elf. Finally Ademar could take no more of the intense stare from the druid.

“I’m sorry but, I know nothing of these goblins you speak of.” The elf replied hesitantly. “The last thing I remember is falling from the river bank and then I was fighting to stay above the water then, everything went black…”

Vantil raised his hand and waved it over Ademar’s head as he whispered something that even the elf’s keen ears could not decipher. “Do not try to lie to me.” The druid warned ominously, his voice sounding very much like the low thunder that precedes a storm. “I have little time or patience left for outsiders.”

Ademar did not know a great deal about magic but he understood enough not to take lightly the words of those who wielded it. His next response cracked and squeaked through his suddenly dry lips. “I speak truth to you good keeper of the forest, I do not know of these beasts you speak of. I am a mere traveler passing through and wish no ill-will toward you or that which you protect.” As he spoke he gained confidence and conviction in his voice as what he said was all truth. He just hoped that the centaur was only reading the truth of his words and not the thoughts behind them.

Vantil stood there for several heartbeats weighing every word that the elf spoke. As the seconds passed doubt began to creep into Ademar and he started thinking about how he might escape if the druid became violent, slowly though, the druid’s scowl softened.

“I find it very odd that a fey creature would find it best to travel through the night, especially in a storm. It is flattering though, that the humans would not risk entering the forest to find you night walker. At least I will not have to deal with them too.” Ademar’s pale skin lightened at least two shades as he stood there, how could he know?!

As if on cue the druid spoke again. “I have a great deal of power within this forest and friends for miles in all directions. I spoke to a family of mice who told me of your passing through the plain.” The poor elf felt trapped, how much more did he know and whose side was he on? Were the back woods farmers and their overgrown smith outside even now waiting to take his hands!?

Ademar was trying hard to hold his composure but the expression must have been plain upon his face as Vantil lifted his large hand, bidding the elf be calm. “I do not know what you have done to anger the villagers but they seem to be done chasing you. As long as they do not come here again looking for you, and disturbing the forest I have no interest in your problems.”

Ademar relaxed visibly at that bit of news and reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. He winced as his hand brushed across the rough, still-tender skin of his face.
Vantil spoke again. “I don’t know what brought these wounds upon you but I did what could be done for them. The burns were too old for my magic to heal completely. I tried using some herbs but they seem to have had limited success…” He lamented glancing at the bandages cast upon the floor. Ademar’s fingers played gently across his face assessing the damage. It was the first time he had really thought much of his wounds since leaving Caercaster a week ago. The fire had done the most damage on the right side of his face leaving long, crisscrossing ridges of tender pink flesh there. The backs of his hands and forearms were similarly scared; he must have been shielding the left side of his face with them. This will put an end to after-revelry revelry the elf mused darkly to himself.

For several hours following his waking the centaur and elf talked. Vantil told Ademar of all he knew about finding him laying on the riverbank, the goblin captain, the slaughter of the stags; he even recounted the loss of his eye which sent a chill down the elf’s spine. Through all of this Ademar gave sparse and vague information, guarding the shame of his recent past. The conversations drifted then into more enjoyable topics as the druid produced a meal of bread, cheese, a thick soup and a bottle of home brewed wine then stoked up the fire while dusk descended upon the world.

Through the twilight hours and long into the night the two talked of fond memories and past exploits. As the third bottle of wine dwindled and conversation topics waned the mood in the druid’s small hut sobered.

“I have tracked the monster.” Vantil stated. “I know which of those holes in the mountains he calls home.”

Ademar looked on having a good idea of what the druid was getting at yet hoping he would not ask.

“On tomorrows dawn I will leave the forest.” He paused and the elf swallowed hard on the last sip of wine in his cup. “I would ask that you go with me and help me exact revenge upon the monsters that use the ancient mountains as their shelter. Lantana demands that I put an end to these defilers. Their poaching must end.”

Before the druid finished his sentence Ademar was shaking his head. “I can not follow you into the mountains. I’m afraid it is not my path. I have an oath to fulfill and I will not risk dying before I can see its end.”

“You would turn your back on the forest?”

“I would see my vow to its completion. It is no different than that which you are proposing now. Would you turn away from this hunt for another cause?”

The druid thought hard on that for a moment before responding. “I understand. I will not force you to my cause but, know that the forest has called for your aid. Perhaps we can speak of this again before I depart tomorrow.” With that he rose, picked up the bowls and empty cups and retired for the night.

Ademar lay down on the pile of blankets and stared at the heavy logs of the ceiling. It was the first time in a while that he had been clean and warm and with a full stomach. It was also the first time in many years that he had to make such a difficult decision without any guidance. It would be a long night.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Last Meal at Homebound: Conclusion

The orc reached for her throat with his left hand. Again she wriggled away from him, her diminutive stature making it easier for her to duck the exhausted, wounded monster. She stepped toward her foe, ducking under his outstretched arm and kicked the orc squarely under the skirting of his hide. She felt the point of her boot make soft, squishy contact and knew she had scored a hit to the orc's massive berries. She hoped this sort of blow would affect orcs as it did her barbarian counterparts. It was a tactic she rarely used, but admittedly wasn't ashamed to employ when the need arose, as it so often did when a frying pan was either not enough, or just out of reach. This time, both instances had reared their ugly heads.

Magda felt relief rush over her as the fiend doubled over, his wounded right arm reaching up to cover his stomach. He sprayed blood and few stray teeth into her face as the blow took the wind from his lungs. Magda hardly noticed the gore and in fact her eyes widened at the sight of the bloody bolt protruding from the orcs wounded forearm at face-level. Seizing the opportunity, Magda reached both hands for the bolt, winced in pain as her left hand reminded her of her own protruding missile when she took hold of it by the fletching. She pulled it free as a mother might pull a thorn from her child's foot and, taking a quick step back she thrust upward at the still bent-at-the-hip orc puncturing his left eye, burying the missile deep inside the orc's brain.

Magda gasped as she let go, watched as the orc twitched, listened as a final few unintelligible noises passed from his lips. His shocked expression froze upon his face as he died, slumping forward, Magda had to back away to avoid his falling body.

Knowing there to be another orc still in the room perhaps less than a dozen feet away, Magda chanced a look at Feargal, her trusty, if a little thick-headed table-boy hoping to see any sign of life. When none came, she slowly turned at the far right edge of her bar table and faced the uninjured crossbow-armed orc who was still at the opposite end, his weapon trained on her as before. Though now his hold was less steady as it had been. Magda believed that she detected a slight, almost non-existent trembling in his hands that radiated to the end of his crossbow. However, shaky herself from the battle-rush she experienced and her womanly instinct to burst into tears over the loss of her friend she couldn't be sure if it was real.

Exhausted and unmoving, Magda wondered after a few seconds why the orc hadn't fired.

He stared at her, down the crossbow's shaft and over it's makeshift sight with one eye the other squinted tight as he aimed. The human female looked insane to him, feral. Like a wild, untrained worg. Her braided hair stood out, one blood-spattered twist in front of her, the other behind her back over her shoulder. Head to toe she was covered in blood, most it not her own. Most of it fresh, orc-blood. Blood of his tribe-mates, blood of his superiors. Bits of bone, likely broken teeth, clung to the blood and sweat upon her cheeks, some it in her hair. The expression on her face was wild, appeared inhuman, even to an orc. He thought that perhaps this woman's destiny may not be at an end, believed that somehow, in this pathetic inn, Gruumsh had no sight here. No influence. He looked around for a moment, taking his eye away from the wild woman-beast with the braided hair to look at his comrades, all four of them dead or dying. His leader, the one they all called BuggRust, the first to die. The crossbow bolt that killed him still protruding absurdly from his forehead. An orc who traveled with the invincible Tonguescum for years as his closest bodyguard and most trusted confidant. She dispatched him with a deliberate ease that he thought at first was just luck, an unfortunate (at least for BuggRust) twist of fate. But the way she finished the others, especially the one she'd just killed, gave him cause to believe that he had little chance to survive this encounter. No matter what actions he took. Believed that, if he loosed his bolt, the hand of whatever god that watched over her would guide it away from her, or into the frying pan she wielded like the one before. Unlike her weakling slave, she had the light of the gods upon her, and Gruumsh's single eye was blinded by their brilliance.

Believing that the orc may never fire his crossbow, Magda bent forward and picked up her iron skillet. She returned to her previous stance and resumed staring at her would-be killer. Her chest heaved in and out as her rapid breathing began to slow. She spat upon the ground, would remain defiant to the end. Surprisingly, she heard the orc speak.

"No." The orc said.

Spouting one of the few words he knew and understood of the common tongue, the orc, keeping his aim on Magda the entire time, backed quickly away from the bar. Within seconds, he was gone through the shattered front door, stepping lightly with reverence over his dead leader's body. From Homebound he began to head south, knowing that this cowardly act would make him a pariah in his community, and more likely a victim, falling to the weight of one of Tonguescum's massive scimitars. He would not trade one death for another, so he chose exile.

Resisting the urge to burst into tears Magda's breath hitched for a moment. When she regained control she said a quick prayer of thanks to all the gods that she believed had assisted her. Whoever they might be.

She deliberately moved toward the narrow space of her kitchen. Threw the iron skillet onto her stove as she'd done a thousand times before. It clanged hard upon the cold, open burners making an unfamiliar sound. She figured it was due to the hit it took from the crossbow bolt. Like everything around her, it would likely never be the same.

Her senses became less attuned to her immediate surroundings and suddenly she was once again aware of the death all around Snoam-Schlabach. The sounds of screaming women could be heard. Their crying children could be heard as well. Sadly, the sounds of resistance had faded and Magda imagined that by now it was likely that all those who could fight off the invaders were either dead or near death. Hope for Homebound, and Snoam-Schlabach, was lost.

Magda stood for several moments in her narrow kitchen corridor, trying to regain strength and ponder her next action. Staying here was no option, that was certain as more would be coming here when this orc death-squad did not return. She could not run out and fight to save those who still had breath as that would be foolish, suicide even.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard a sound that made her stomach jump. It was a sort of scraping sound, the kind one would make when rising from a prone position. She felt the rush of emotion well up in her again. It presented itself as a flush of red upon her pale face and again she had to force back the tingling, burn in her nose that always preceded tears. With eager anticipation, she turned to face her standing table-boy.

"Feargal..." Standing before her, on the opposite side of her bar table was not Feargal, but the fifth orc Magda had gutshot what seemed like hours before. He leaned upon the bar with one arm slung upon it, struggling to support his weight. The other also rested upon the bar, steadying the crossbow he held trained upon Magda's stout figure.

"Disappointed?" He spoke in near-perfect common. His voice was hushed, breathy. His arms were covered in blood from his elbows to his fingertips from trying to stunt the flow of blood from his abdomen. An inordinate amount dribbled from his lips as well. Magda cursed her poor aim.

Magda didn't answer, the sudden shift in emotions coupled with her terror made her legs give out. She caught herself upon the stove before falling. She raised herself back up to her feet, looked away from the orc to the door she'd blocked with a grain barrel only a few minutes ago. It was only a few feet away, but those feet may as well have been miles.

"Go ahead." The orc growled. "Go ahead... and try."

Magda didn't move, instead she stood still, closed her eyes tightly for several moments. Frozen, she tried to will herself to move.

"Or, you could beg..." The orc coughed, spat a bloody mass upon Magda's bar table, continued. "...for your life." He coughed again, spat again. "If you're too scared to die, I may be merciful." He croaked laughter.

Magda looked back to the orc.

"You are scared, aren't you?" The wounded and clearly near-dead orc asked with delirious arrogance. Several moments of silence passed between them.

At last Magda spoke.

"Magda Dervish..." she began.

"Who?" The orc interrupted quizzically.

"... is a'feared of no orc!" She turned, finally able to will herself into action and moved for the door. She outstretched both arms for her trusty filler barrel, hoping she had the strength and speed to both fling the barrel aside and dart outside her back door before the orc had a chance to take aim.

Magda Dervish never had a chance.

The orc, shocked as he was, triggered his crossbow and loosed the bolt instinctively. It struck Magda in the middle of her back, severing her spine just below her shoulder blades. Instantly paralyzed, she fell forward, her fingers making contact with, and gripping the lip of her grain barrel's lid. She held tight as she fell forward, pulling the grain barrel down with her. Both woman and barrel hit the ground simultaneously, filler spilled out from the open lid, spreading outward in a "V" shape, most of it settling around her face and shoulders. Blood pooled around her, this time it was her own. It mixed with the dry grain and was soaked up like a sponge. In that moment, Magda wished she'd thought of using it before now, after bar-brawls in her beloved establishment.

She felt no pain in her back after the impact but could not will her body to move below her waist. No longer could she feel her own legs or wiggle her toes. It was as if her body had forgotten about them, lost the memory of her lower extremities.

Her arms still obeyed her commands however and for a moment she tried to drag herself toward and upon the grain barrel, hoping to bypass it and still have a chance to...

To what, freeze to death in the snow? No, Magda knew it was now done, over. For many, agonizingly terrifying moments, Magda felt her life slip. Though not fast enough as she heard the click of the orc's reloaded crossbow. Heard him slowly shuffle his feet as he, like Magda, was likely never to leave this inn alive, lacking the strength to approach faster.

Eventually, he made his way round the bar table, into her narrow kitchen to stand, feet spread apart on either side of her torso, above Magda. His loaded crossbow trained at the back of her neck. She could smell the leather of his boots. Both of them heard small footsteps in the parlour, cracking through pieces of broken chairs and other debris, both of them knew that other orcs had finally found this inn like his own squad had so many minutes before.

Magda hoped he would pull the trigger before a higher ranking officer among them thought it better to ravage her while she still breathed. She couldn't imagine dying as mistress to this filth. The thought made a single tear roll down her cheek.

But the orc didn't want that either, knowing he would likely be dead soon he relished the chance at this final kill and so he pulled the trigger before he could be overruled. The bolt struck Magda at the base of her neck killing her instantly.

No longer having use for it the orc tossed his crossbow away once Magda's body relaxed upon death. Smiling he backed away. Before he was able to turn he felt something sharp at his back, felt it pierce his armor and flesh. Then he saw the tip as it exited out above his sternum.

He then turned, whatever had thrusted the shortsword into him had let go of it. It remained inside of him and he resembled a colossal piece of meat upon a skewer that was much too small. After a few seconds he turned completely around and faced his killer.

"Impossible." He spat black blood from his lips with every breath."I... watched...." He fought against it, but weakness and impending death brought the orc to one knee. " die." The orc said. Dying himself, he fell forward just behind Magda's bar, at his killer's feet.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Last Meal at Homebound: Part VI

Magda jumped to her feet as quickly as her wounds would allow. She watched as the boy ran past the open right side of the bar table toward the massive orc, a crossbow bolt held high overhead, clenched tightly in his right fist. The boy let out a yell that Magda never knew he was capable of. It was loud, though not particularly masculine and Magda thought, in that split second, that had her regular patrons heard the boy's battle-cry, they'd have teased him mercilessly and to no end. Though horrified, in that moment Magda was as proud of the boy-turned-man as any mother could be.

The orc stood his ground as the boy covered the short distance between them. Without thought or emotion he snatched the boy by his throat with his left hand. The boy's momentum took his feet out from under him making him think he would fall to his back, but the orc easily held his weight and, squeezing him by the throat, slowly lifted his body in the air. His legs swung momentarily as a pendulum would, dangling helplessly beneath him. Unable to inhale, the boy weakly struck at the orc with his bolt-clenched fist, but his short arm fell easily a foot short of contact. The boy punched at the orc's muscled arm with his off hand and tried to stab at it with the crossbow bolt but lacked the strength to break skin. Swiftly, the boy felt weakness overtake him as the orc's grip grew ever tighter. Feeling his head go light, the boy fought the overwhelming urge to pass out. His hands fell limply to his sides, the bolt he held dropped harmlessly to the ground.

Before he allowed consciousness to leave the boy the orc threw him back to the wall he had charged from at a seemingly terminal velocity. Magda watched the boy's forehead crack against it making a sickening sound akin to a maul striking a tree stump. Blood spurted from a wound that opened just above the boys right eye, leaving a dove-shaped pattern of crimson upon the dirty-gray wall. The boy's body recoiled, his momentum carrying him away from the wall, back in the direction of Magda's bar table. Charging forward, the orc caught the boy as he rocked, trying desperately to regain his footing through the pain of impact and the dizziness caused by it. His feet would have failed him had the orc not gripped him again by the neck with one hand and by the waist of his breeches with the other. Using the boy's momentum against him, the orc effortlessly flung him into the air toward the bar. The boy's left thigh struck the lip of the bar's tabletop, causing him to spin vertically, heels over head into the common area. Like a wet ragdoll he flew, arms and legs askew, until he landed with a violent crash several feet away amongst broken chairs, tables and remains of the recently dead.

"Oh gods, my poor Feargal." Magda whispered to herself, knowing that she had failed her table-boy. Her nose began to feel the familiar tingling burn of grief, knew the moisture of tears were soon to follow it. She fought her emotions as she would have to fight these last orcs: Fiercely. Miraculously, her eyes remained dry.

She began to step backward, suddenly aware of the crossbow-armed orc to her left. He had snuck undetected, kneeling around the open left side of Magda's bar. He was less than ten feet away. The orc who had tossed the boy as she would a sack of potatoes was still admiring his handiwork only eight or nine feet away. He watched the rise and fall of the boy's chest cease as he stopped breathing.

She was trapped now, flanked. Two orcs on either side, the wooden obstacle called a bartable in front of her and a barrel-blocked door several feet to her rear. Time to fight, or die.

Magda chose to fight.

Before the wounded orc could turn his attention to her, she charged him with only her iron skillet in hand. Confused, the crossbow-armed orc kept his aim on her from his crouched position but did not fire. Fearing the crossfire Magda had created could cause him trouble with his new superior if he were to let loose an errant bolt. Magda moved quickly, gripping the handle of her skillet in her right hand. Hearing her approaching footsteps the wounded orc turned, instinctively he raised his right arm defensively.

Seizing the opportunity Magda reared the frying pan back and swung it across her body with all her might. She struck the inside of his forearm, hammering the tip of the bolt that protruded from it, nearly punching the missile back through the side from which it entered.

"Aaarrgh!" The orc roared. He took a step back, blinded by pain he tried fruitlessly to grab at Magda's throat. She ducked easily away from his grasp and swung her flat-iron weapon again. This time striking the orc's left jaw. His head whipped right, a flat smacking sound preceded the mass of blood and chunks of the orc's formerly pristine, near-white teeth that sprayed from his now shattered mouth. They hit the floor simultaneously, making a sound akin to gambling dice upon an ale-soaked wooden table. Magda, smelling victory, rushed a third swing. In desperation the orc backfisted with his left arm, fortuitously striking Magda's arm near the wrist. Losing her grip, the skillet flew from her grasp, striking the baseboard of her bar table, landing a few feet away where it lay to rest after a loud gong. Magda's arm went numb below the elbow from the force of the blow. Weaponless, she began to back away.

Sensing that his enemy was now unarmed, the wounded orc slowly turned and faced her. The left side of his face felt impossibly swollen and the familiar, copper-taste of his own blood filled his mouth. Slowly, he ran his tongue along the jagged edges of his broken teeth. Bloody drool seeped between his lips. He was nearly blind in his left eye from the frying-pan impact but relished the fear he saw creep across Magda's face with his healthy right. He smiled, a slow horrific growl emanated from his throat, made even more terrifying by manifesting itself as an animalistic gurgle as it passed through the fluids in the orc's mouth.

Magda fought the urge to scream.