= 1 =
Arrival and Retrospective
In the dimming light of early evening Orgar surveyed the city of humans from a snowy hilltop less than half a mile outside its perimeter. He had met few humans in his life. Most of them had tried to kill him on sight. They ended up dead and their gold was now in a small chest he carried in his backpack. One human he once knew he counted a friend. For only a friend would lay down his own life to save Orgar. He and the human named William had travelled together for almost three years before they were ambushed by a band of Orgar’s own people. William stepped in the path of an arrow that was meant for Orgar.
When Orgar wondered if he would have done the same for William he felt an unpleasant emotion that he thought was probably guilt. Orgar didn’t like guilt. It made him feel ill.
His friend, William, was a large man for a human – very nearly as large as Orgar. William often joked that he expected to become a still larger man in the coming years, at least in the belly. That is why he wore oversized robes with “room to grow” as he so often phrased it. He truly did like his food: plentiful and often.
William was also a pious man and was faithfully devoted to his god. Orgar himself had little interest in gods or, for that matter, respect for them. William had heard of a land oppressed by evil and he believed it would please his god if he were to travel there and work to liberate those people from tyranny. Unfortunately, this land he called Daeoria was so distant that one could only travel there by magic – expensive magic. William had once traveled south to the Dalelands and visited a wizard named Talothos who had a reputation for skill in such travel, but he learned that it would cost him two thousand gold; a fortune William could never hope to acquire.
= 2 =
The Fate of Thieves and a Friend
It was a band of five thieves that surprised them on that cold and damp autumn morning. As William fell with a black arrow in his chest Orgar grabbed his battleaxe with his right hand and his war hammer with his left. Within seconds he had killed three of the attackers and was running after the two who fled, including the one with the bow. Orgar caught up to the first and planted his axe between the shoulder blades of the fleeing coward, then he ran on to catch the last one: the one who killed William.
In his rage and lust for vengeance, this one Orgar did not kill. First, he beat the archer to the ground with his fists. Then he slashed open his belly so that his intestines spilled across the forest floor. Next, he smashed every bone in the murderer’s hands, arms, legs and feet with his war hammer so that the scum could neither run nor crawl away. Finally, Orgar cut the genitals from between the bandit’s legs and stuffed them into his screaming mouth. So he wouldn’t be able to spit them back out, Orgar grabbed a short but thick stick from the forest floor and shoved the genitalia down the murderer’s throat, forcing him to swallow his own flesh.
Orgar left the moaning savage for the forest predators and scavengers to finish and returned to find that William was still alive, but only just barely. He knelt beside his dying friend.
“My friend,” rasped William. “It has been my honor and my joy to have known you. I soon will have no further use for worldly things. Take whatever I leave behind that you find useful or of value. There are a few gold and silver coins in the pouch at my waist.
“I know you don’t put much stock in such things, but I believe we were meant to meet and become friends. I sense the hand of the gods in the crossing of our paths. Take these things of mine as a parting gift from me. It is my wish that you use them and live the rest of your life well and in happiness.”
With a spray of blood from his mouth, his last words were, “Fare well, my dear and beloved friend.”
Orgar watched as William’s gaze turned vacant. He pressed close William’s eyelids, then sat down next to him and thought that William looked so completely at peace. His attention went to William’s robes “with room to grow” and thought, you’ll not be growing into these robes after all, William.
A scream from the forest reached his ears and he surmised that some carnivore was eating the still-living archer whose arrow killed the man lying before him. It sickened Orgar to think of his friend’s body being torn and ravaged by woodland animals. It just seemed so wrong. He would not let that happen.
= 3 =
It was almost midday by the time Orgar finished the grave he had dug for William. He accepted as gifts from his friend the cooking pot, skillet and other cooking utensils, as William had spent much time teaching Orgar to use these to be a better cook. William carried two books that he had used to help teach Orgar to read in the common language. These he also took. Tucked between the books was a sheet of papyrus. This papyrus seemed to be a letter from someone named Maexon. Orgar realized that this letter is how William had learned of the land called Daeoria; the oppressed land to which William had always wanted to travel in which to do good works. Orgar kept the letter.
Considering the road that lay ahead of him, Orgar took also William’s hooded cloak and spare set of robes.
Orgar wrapped William’s bedroll around his body, then placed him in the grave that was almost as deep as Orgar was tall. He laid next to William his mace and other personal belongings, less those Orgar had kept, and he buried his friend. Upon the grave Orgar piled large rocks so that no wilderness beast scented his friend’s corpse and dug him up.
Orgar sat upon a fallen tree trunk and gazed a long time at the grave of his dead friend. Many thoughts ran through his mind including memories of the adventures he and William shared in their time together, and how William had died. He considered long what it meant to be called “friend”; what it meant to be a friend.
= 4 =
What he did now he did for no god. He cared not what the gods thought of him or his actions. What Orgar did now he did for his friend, William. Were it not for William, Orgar might be lying in a grave and William traveling alone. He pulled the hood of William’s cloak low over his head to conceal his face and started down the hill toward the city.
It had taken Orgar several weeks of travel to get here. In that time autumn had turned to winter. William’s robes and cloak not only disguised him, but they helped keep him warm. Along the road to this place many had tried to kill Orgar, to their ultimate and eternal regret, though Orgar himself was not without a fair collection of scars from the encounters.
Surprisingly enough, a fair number did not try to kill him, each letting the other pass in peace. It made Orgar consider that there may be more humans like William than he might have thought. Perhaps, contrary to what he had been raised to believe, all humans were not necessarily murderous animals.
It was from one of those who did not try to kill Orgar that he had learned how to find this Talothos. He made his way through the streets with no more than a few gawking stares from the people he passed. Though taller than almost all humans, he was not so much taller that people would immediately think he could not possibly be human.
It was dark when he came to a door illuminated by lantern light beside which was a sign that read, “Talothos: Wizard for Hire.” A slender half-elven man opened the door when he knocked.
Squinting at the darkness that concealed Orgar’s face, the wizard asked, “What do you want?”
“A wizard’s services,” replied Orgar.
“Obviously! Why else would you be at my door? I need you to be more specific.”
In answer Orgar handed the wizard the letter from Maexon.
“Hm. I’ve seen a letter like this before.”
With that, Talothos stepped back from the open door and Orgar quickly stepped in and closed the door behind him.
Talothos frowned suspiciously at Orgar’s abrupt actions and said, “You act like someone who doesn’t want to be seen. Are you a wanted criminal? I don’t deal with criminals fleeing justice.”
“I’m no criminal,” growled Orgar.
Seemingly unconvinced, Talothos said, “This will take hours to set up and prepare for. I’ve no time for it today, it’s late. Come back tomorrow.” He shoved the letter toward Orgar.
Orgar pulled the hood off his head revealing his features. “It probably would not be a good idea for me to go back out into the streets of this city.”
Talothos’ eyes opened wide as he stared up at Orgar’s face. “I see. Yes. Perhaps so.” He paused for a moment then said, “It’ll cost you three thousand gold.”
Orgar frowned and said, “I was told that you would perform this service for two thousand gold.”
“Told by whom?” asked Talothos.
“By a priest who could not afford your price.”
“And who are you to this priest?”
“I am his friend. I come to do what he could not do, with the gold he did not have.”
“Where is this priest?” Talothos pressed.
“In a grave that I spent several hours digging for him.”
“Did you… kill him? Did you kill this ‘friend’ of yours?”
“Never!” erupted Orgar, startling the wizard enough for him to take a step backward. Then more calmly, Orgar continued, “But I did kill those who killed my friend. His death is avenged.”
Talothos looked him up and down eyeing his attire. “You are dressed as he would be, are you not?”
“I wear what he gave me to disguise myself so I may pass among humans without having to do battle with everyone whose path I cross.”
“You are well spoken for an… for one of your kind.”
Orgar said, “In the years the priest and I traveled together he taught me much; from his books and from his experience.” And from his heart, he thought to himself.
Talothos seemed in thought for a few moments then said, “Alright. Two thousand gold. Payable now.”
Orgar swung his backpack off and set it on the floor. From the backpack he took a small but heavy chest and handed it to the wizard.
Talothos opened the chest and saw that it was full of gold coins. By its weight and size he estimated it was at least very close to the price he asked and did not count the coins. After all, Orgar might take offense at the suggestion that he would cheat the wizard.
Talothos locked his front door and gestured to a chair. “Make yourself comfortable. This is going to take a while. I’ll return for you when I’m ready.” With that, he carried the chest through a door, down a hallway and into another room.
= 5 =
Shadows in the Mist
“It’s time,” said Talothos some several hours later. “Everything’s ready. I just need you to stand among the symbols drawn on my floor while I recite the incantation. This way.”
Orgar had just begun to nod off while waiting in the warm comfort of the wizard’s silent foyer. He shook his head and rubbed his face, then stood up. Orgar followed the wizard to the back room where he saw strange markings on the floor in a circle around a central spot. It was on this spot that Talothos indicated he was to stand.
“In a few moments you will find yourself surrounded with fog and mist.” He stepped forward and pointed to one of the symbols on the outer edge of the circle on the floor. “Here, face this symbol. When all is fog and mist you will be facing the direction you must travel to pass through the portal in Ashtakahr. This is important! You must not veer from this path or you will never find your destination. If you lose your path you will wander the endless emptiness of the astral plane until you die of hunger or thirst. Walk straight in the direction you are facing. Any questions?”
“How long do I walk?” asked Orgar.
Talothos raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know, until you get there, I suppose. I’ve never traveled there myself. I’ve only helped others go this way.”
“How many of those you’ve helped have come back?”
Talothos paused. “None. But I don’t think it was ever their intention to return. Do you plan to return?”
Orgar thought on this for a moment. “Probably not,” he admitted.
Talothos asked, “Are you ready?”
“Oh,” Talothos reached in a pocket and pulled out the letter. “Do you want this?” he asked as though he knew what the answer would be.
Orgar shook his head, and Talothos put the letter on a table on top of a short stack of similar-looking letters.
“Good luck to you,” said the wizard.
Talothos began moving his hands and arms in a complex manner and muttered words that were of no language Orgar had ever heard. After a few minutes wisps of mist began circling Orgar, then the wisps became clouds and the clouds grew and swelled until they obscured everything. He looked around, but did not move his feet. Soon all was dark, swirling mists and Orgar suddenly realized he could no longer hear the voice of the wizard and his strange incantations.
Though the air was warm, or so it seemed, Orgar felt chilled to his bones like no winter wind had ever done. He stood still for several minutes unsure if he should be moving yet. A noise to his left startled him. It sounded like the grunting of some rummaging beast. Were there creatures in this place? he wondered. He decided he didn’t want to stand around and find out. Carefully orienting himself by the placement of his feet, Orgar started forward at a brisk pace.
This place seemed to play tricks on his mind and stop any sense of time. He couldn’t tell if he’d been walking for a minute, an hour, or several days. As he walked he began to notice moving in the mist were dark shapes that were just far enough away that he could not tell what kind of creature made them. Some of the shadows seemed to be moving along parallel to his path. Suddenly, directly before him loomed a huge shadow more than twice his height. He froze. He remembered the wizard’s warning not to veer from his path. As though sensing his fear, and possibly believing that Orgar was trapped, some of the smaller shadows moved closer and surrounded him.
Orgar made his decision. He drew his battleaxe and war hammer, one in each hand. He began swinging them both as he broke into a run directly at the large shadow before him. Apparently, such a foolhardy and unpredictable move surprised whatever it was for it lurched visibly as Orgar began his run. Bull rushing his way past the large shadow, he felt his whirling battleaxe bite into something fleshy and the large creature roared loudly. Orgar kept running straight ahead as the roar faded behind him.
Up ahead Orgar thought the mists seemed slightly brighter, so he kept on running. Brighter still the mist became and a great sense of relief filled him as he sensed he had arrived, if not at his intended destination at least at some destination. He slowed his run to a walk and put away his weapons as the mists thinned and brightened. Now, though he felt less chilled, the air seemed colder. A few more steps and he emerged from the mist in a large, circular, domed building.
= 6 =
Around the perimeter of this room at seven of the eight major and semi-major compass points (northeast, east, southeast, south, etc.) stood a tall (taller even than Orgar) figure in a pale gray, hooded robe. Standing still and silent, each was at least eight feet tall, their faces and hands were concealed by their robes, much as Orgar had done while in the human city he had just left. From each of these hooded beings there seemed to emanate a chill breeze, as though air was chilled by their bodies, flowed to the floor and drifted away along the floor. Behind him, in the center of the circular room was a domed-shaped cloud of mist. Apparently, it was this cloud of mist from which Orgar had just emerged.
To the north the circular room opened into a rectangular room filled with benches upon which sat people either preparing to depart or having just arrived through the portal to Orgar’s back. Also to the north was another of the cloaked creatures, this one was in a white robe and just enough taller than the others to be noticeable. Orgar found himself standing among about a half dozen other newly arrived travelers.
One of his fellow travelers, a human, looked closely at the robes he wore, particularly the symbol of William’s god sewn into the left breast of the robes. The same symbol was blazoned on the breastplate of the shining plate armor the man wore. He smiled up at Orgar, placed his hand upon Orgar’s shoulder and said, “Greetings, brother. The name’s Dillon.” Then, lowering his voice he whispered, “Might I guess what letter from a particular elven wizard brought you here?” And he winked.
This human was not quite as tall as William had been. He was more muscular and was not nearly so large around the middle. But there was much about his eyes and face that reminded Orgar of William. With the many eyes, and ears, that were upon them, the man’s words made him nervous. “I’m Orgar. It was no letter that brought me here. I came here to honor the memory of a departed friend.”
Dillon’s smile faded and he frowned. He seemed perplexed as though he hadn’t expected Orgar’s reply and wasn’t sure just what to make of it.
“But a letter like you describe that my friend carried,” whispered Orgar, “told me where to go to honor his memory.”
With that Dillon cocked his head to his left and raised his right eyebrow as though considering Orgar’s words. “Well met, friend. Travel safely,” he said glancing back at Orgar over his shoulder as he stepped away.
At this point the taller creature in white robes stepped forward and addressed them. His hood just barely revealed the white-scaled snout of the creature as it spoke.
“Welcome travelers,” said the tall creature in what seemed a decidedly unwelcoming tone of voice. “Know ye that it is the 11th day of the month of Lophuradahn in the year 12,697 of our glorious Lord and Master, Xox, in the state of Ashtakahr of the land of Daeoria.
“Obey our laws and respect the lords of the land and you will remain welcome. Break the laws and you will find the justice of Daeoria swift and harsh.” The tall robed figure then stepped aside in a manner that suggested they were expected to make their exit – now.
Orgar followed the others as they moved toward the exit to the north. As he passed through the rectangular room where seated people seemed to be waiting, perhaps, for fellow travelers who had not yet arrived, Orgar saw several people glance at him and casually look away. Orgar abruptly realized that he had never pulled his hood over his head after leaving the wizard’s home and passing through the mists. Everyone could see his face, but none seemed alarmed. Few even bothered to give him so much as a passing glance. It was as though they found nothing out of the ordinary for one such as he to walk among them. I think I’m going to like this place, thought Orgar.
The group of travelers he followed came to a pair of large double doors, opened them and stepped out into the blindingly bright sunlight of midday.
= 7 =
Orgar walked into a wave of heat like a blast from a blazing furnace as he stepped out of the chilled portal building. “Blessed beast of the demon lord,” he exclaimed aloud. “I hate this hellish place.” He quickly pulled off William’s cloak and robes and stuffed them into his backpack. He thought it mildly amusing that he still thought of them as William’s. He blinked his eyes to try to adjust to the brilliant sunlight, and looked around.
The sky was crystal clear and a cloudless pale blue. For a moment Orgar thought his eyes were still blinded by the bright sunlight and seeing false images, but he realized that there really was the ghostly image of an enormous pale moon high in the sky just barely visible in the bright daylight.
The city of Ashtakahr was on a broad desert plain providing a wide, expansive view of the sprawling city. The portal building was at the intersection of two main roads. Crossed street signs read “Mihndehm” and “Ahmguhn”, and the streets seemed to run for miles in perfectly straight lines. The streets were not deserted, but traffic was moderately sparse. What people he saw seemed to be walking singly, or in groups of two to four, though in the far distance he was sure he saw half a dozen figures walking together. There was also street traffic of riders on horseback, lizard back, or bird back, and various mammalian and reptilian creatures pulling carts and wagons.
It was the mix of people that fascinated him. Orcs, half-orcs, humans and dwarves either walking together or casually passing one another, and nobody getting killed. Not even so much as a fight!
There was a short walkway from the doors of the portal building to the public sidewalk. At the end of the walkway by the street was a free standing billboard with a small overhang giving shade to those reading the posts on the board. Orgar walked up behind a handful of others perusing the posts and, as he was taller than them, read the posts over their heads.
There were posts advertising places to buy and sell arms and armor. There were posts for jobs with the city guard and the merchant military. There was a post from someone named Dwendahl selling “exotic meats”. There was even one post bemoaning the loss of a puppy the owner was hoping to recover.
But the post that interested Orgar the most was the one for the arena. That seemed like an opportunity for quick and easy gold. Well, quick anyway.
Orgar realized just then that fighting probably wasn’t something he was in the best condition to tackle at that moment. It was evening when he found Talothos’ home. He’d spent several hours waiting for the wizard to prepare his magic, and he had no idea how long he’d spent in the astral plane while walking to the Ashtakahr portal, and now he felt that he was melting under the heat of the blazing Daeorian sun. He reached in his pocket and counted 10 gold coins, a few silvers, and some coppers and he wondered if that would buy him a room for the night and maybe some food and drink.
An orc walked casually beside a dwarf, both wearing similar livery. As they passed near, Orgar hailed them and they stopped.
“I just wanted to ask, what is the significance of your uniform?” asked Orgar.
The dwarf glanced toward the portal building from which Orgar had come and smirked at his companion. “Tourist.” The orc nodded and gazed idly off toward some arbitrary distant sight that seemed more interesting to him than Orgar. “We’re the guard,” spat the dwarf. “The city guard. We’re the ones you really don’t want angry at you.” Then the dwarf looked Orgar up and down, grinned and said, “You might do well, yourself, in the guard. Interested in signing up?”
Orgar immediately knew he wasn’t interested, but he wanted to choose his words carefully. William had taught him the wisdom of thinking about how one’s words might affect the one to whom they are spoken. “I’ll give that some thought. What I’d really like is a meal, some mead or ale, and a place to sleep for the night.”
“Well, sign up with the guard and you’ll get all that, and fresh garb,” he said gesturing at his uniform.
“Like I said,” Orgar replied, “I’ll keep it in mind, but I really wanted to see the arena, too.”
The smile vanished from the dwarf’s face as he realized he was not going to enlist Orgar, at least not today. “Yea, that’s as quick a way to die as any, I suppose.” He pointed to the sign at the crossroads. “You’re in the government district; some call it the Municipal District. You can take the Ahmguhn road south to the Ruhndehm road, then travel southwest into the Arena District and on to the arena itself, or you can follow the Mihndehm road southwest to the Ahmjohr road, then straight south to the arena. Either way there’ll be all kinds of taverns, inns, eateries and boarding houses just waiting to pocket a tourist’s gold along the way.
“I suspect we’ll find your carcass in Dwendahl’s shop in a day or two.”
The orc took a passing glance at Orgar as the two continued on their way to the northeast. Orgar started south along the Ahmguhn road. Within a half hour he’d found a promising looking tavern called The Twittering Bard. Outside the front door was a wooden bench by a sign that read, “Arena carriages hourly: 2cp.” He walked past the bench and stepped through the double door. Inside the tavern, and out of the blazing Daeorian sun, it was noticeably less hot, but by no means cool or particularly comfortable.
On a raised stage was a singing human female accompanied by a male human playing some kind of stringed instrument. There were about a dozen tables around the room; two tables seated three people each, at one table sat two patrons. Everyone was giving courteous attention to the performers, if not actually enjoying the performance.
Orgar looked behind the counter and saw a half-orc wearing a chef’s hat and apron. A dwarf woman was collecting empty dishes from an unoccupied table. Orgar stepped up to the counter and asked, “How much for food, drink and a room?”
The half-orc nodded while cleaning dishes. “The room’s two gold. That’ll get you a private room, a bed with a mattress, blanket and pillow, and a covered chamber pot. A meal of cheese, bread and meat will cost three silvers, and that includes a mug of ale.”
Orgar put two gold and three silver coins on the counter. The cook smiled, gestured toward the dining area and said, “Sit where you like. Sioka will bring you your meal shortly.”
The other patrons paid Orgar little attention as he seated himself at a table away from the others. He sat facing the stage and listened to the performers as he waited for his meal which didn’t take long. Sioka brought a tray with everything that was promised. “Krung says he forgot to mention that for another silver we can prepare you a cool bath to soak in. Feels good to soak away the sweat of the hot Daeorian sun.”
Orgar scowled suspecting that she was making a veiled insult about his smell.
“It’s a very popular service,” she continued seemingly oblivious to his scowl, “especially among the city guard who often have to spend a lot of time in the sun. And combatants from the arena like to soak away bruises, aching muscles, and wash off dried blood. We’ve a very nice balm we add to the bath water that eases the sting of cuts and scrapes and soothes the ache of strained and bruised muscles.”
By the way she rambled on Orgar lost any concern that she was being rude, she was just chatty. Orgar reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He had eight gold coins and thirteen copper left. “Ten copper do as well as one silver?” he asked.
“Ten copper, one silver, either’s fine.”
Orgar handed the woman ten copper coins. She took them with a smile.
“We’ll have your bath ready and waiting for you by the time you finish your meal. Will that be alright?”
Orgar nodded and said, “Thank you.”
After she left he took a bite of cheese and washed it down with a gulp of ale. The meat smelled good, though he couldn’t tell exactly what kind of meat it was; pork maybe, or something like it. Whatever it was it was obviously cooked well and mildly spiced, too. The bread was warm and freshly baked and served with a small dish of butter. This was seriously high class living, at least by Orgar’s standards.
The bath room was behind the kitchen and contained eight copper tubs arranged in two rows of four. The tubs were easily large enough for Orgar to fit in comfortably. All the tubs were empty except three. One was filled with clear water only, for him he’d guessed. At the far end of the room two other tubs were occupied by other patrons: a dwarf and a human. Beside each of the tubs were benches on which were piled the uniforms with the markings he now knew were the symbols of the city guard. The two guardsmen ignored Orgar, so he returned the favor. He got out of his clothes and smelly hide armor – and he had to admit that even by his standards it was rather odorous – then he eased himself into the slightly cool water.
Sioka walked in, completely unconcerned about Orgar’s state of undress. She held up a bottle with a bluish fluid in it and said, “Care for a splash of fragrance in your bath. We ladies like a nicely scented man,” she said with a wink and a wide, guileless grin. “It’s covered in the price of the bath – no extra charge.”
This was beyond Orgar’s knowledge or experience and he had no idea how to respond. The idea of him wearing any kind of perfume just felt really wrong, but he didn’t want to seem unworldly. He thought a small compromise might work and said, “Um, perhaps just a drop instead of a splash.”
She gave a knowing nod and tipped the bottle to drizzle a little more than a drop into his bath water. She looked over Orgar’s gear: his bedroll, backpack, shoulder bag, and his weapons were on the floor and his clothing and armor were on the bench. “Your room’s been prepared; it’s waiting for you when you’ve finished your bath.” Then she added, “One last thing you might be interested in: we have a cleaning service for clothes, arms and armor. For armor,” and she gestured toward Orgar’s hide armor on the bench, “it’s only three silvers. As you’re occupied at the moment I can send our boy to pick up your armor and you can settle up any time before you leave.”
Orgar agreed and a few minutes later a human lad of about fifteen years came and collected his armor. Orgar finished his bath and dried off with a cloth towel that Sioka provided. He wore William’s priest’s robes while following her upstairs and carrying his gear to his room.
It wasn’t a large room, but it was more than adequate for Orgar’s needs. After bolting the door he sat down on the bed and laid back. His belly was full, his body was clean and the bed was soft. Strange land or not, he fell fast asleep quickly and slept long.
Orgar woke before the sun rose and in the darkness of the room he didn’t remember where he was for a few seconds. Then, as the previous day’s events flashed through his mind, he sat up in the bed. The easterly breeze that drifted through his open window smelled of the sea. He felt well rested. He gazed out the window toward the east and saw the darkness fading at the horizon. The sun would rise soon and the day would quickly grow hot. To the west he saw the moon he’d seen during daylight much more clearly now. It was a blend of blood red and brown and filled more of the sky than he’d ever imagined a moon could. That moon was either really close, or really huge.
He found his armor waiting for him on a small table outside the door to his room, along with a basin of water and a cloth. He took these into his room. Though he still felt well refreshed from his bath the day before he dampened the cloth and wiped his face, then got dressed. As he donned his armor he noticed that, in addition to being well cleaned, the inside had been scrubbed smooth and fit more comfortably against him than it ever had before in all the years he’d been using it. He even wondered for a moment if they’d given him the same equipment they’d taken, but he recognized the gouges various swords had made over the years. It was his armor, but in better condition that he’d seen it in a very long time.
After getting dressed and donning his refurbished armor, he packed his gear and headed downstairs. The cook – What was his name? Krung? – was already up and in the kitchen. Did that guy ever sleep, he wondered? The dining area was otherwise empty.
“Morning! An early bird, are ya?” called Krung across the room. “Care for breakfast? We got eggs, bacon, and potatoes. A shipment of fruits from Quaar came in yesterday that we’ve squeezed for juice, but if the early hour doesn’t matter to you there’s ale or mead if you prefer.”
“I’ll try your juice with my breakfast,” answered Orgar as he took a seat at a table near the kitchen. From his seat he could see Krung working with the efficiency of long years of practice. He poured a cloudy liquid from a copper pitcher into a mug and brought the food and drink to Orgar’s table.
“So,” said Krung as he set the juice and food before Orgar, “have you found your stay here at The Twittering Bard to your liking?”
“Truthfully,” Orgar said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time in my life.”
Krung grinned broadly at that. “Glad to hear it. I just hope you’re satisfied enough to recommend us to all your friends.”
Friends, thought Orgar. I only had one, and he’s dead now.
Orgar took his time eating his breakfast and watched as other early risers started down from the rooms upstairs. A woman with distinctively elvish features in silken black robes ornately appointed with colorful embroidery gracefully descended the stairs. She carried a duffle bag slung over her left shoulder and in her right hand was a slender, black staff with a large, ornately carved head piece. Orgar realized that she was only half-elf, but still the first person with any degree of elf he’d seen since arriving in Ashtakahr. She noticed his gaze and pulled up her hood just far enough to conceal her elvish ears, but not her lovely face. She took a seat at the table nearest the foot of the stairs.
Next down the stairs some minutes later was a groggy-looking dwarf in robes almost exactly like William’s, except the symbol on his left breast was different; the dwarf’s symbol was that of a hammer and anvil. He made his way down the stairs and joined the half-elf at her table. He rested his forehead in his palms with his elbows on the table. Though she spoke in hushed tones, Orgar sensed that she spoke harsh words to the dwarf. Krung brought food to these latest arrivers and they passed coins to him.
Orgar had just finished his food and downed the last of his juice when two more figures came down the stairs together. These two wore dark gray, hooded robes that revealed only their hands and a vague hint of their chins, mouths and noses. Orgar would guess that one was male and the other female, probably human but he couldn’t see them well enough to be sure. They sat at a corner table furthest from Orgar and the odd couple by the stairs. As Orgar watched them he had the feeling that behind that shadow of their hoods they were studying him intensely. He picked up his gear and stepped up to the counter.
“I’d like to settle up my account and be on my way. How much for the breakfast?” Orgar asked Krung.
“Breakfast with juice is two silvers,” said Krung.
Orgar remembered something William had taught him about giving a gratuity to people for good service. William said it was a good way to ensure that you always got the best service. He’d never understood what William had meant by that before staying at the Twittering Bard. He now had a new appreciation for quality of service and felt that if ever there was a time to give a gratuity, this was certainly it.
“I also owe you three more for the work your boy did on my armor,” Orgar said. “Good job, that. That totals five.” Orgar handed the man a gold piece. “Keep the difference as my thanks. Make sure Sioka and the boy get a share.” Then Orgar pulled out two more gold pieces and asked, “Could I get some silver and copper pieces for these? I think I’ll need some smaller change.”
“The boy just runs errands. He took your armor to our smith who’s got his own shop at the back of the tavern,” said Krung. Holding up Orgar’s gold piece, “You are most generous, good sire. Folks in Ashtakahr don’t believe in tipping those of us who provide service, and it’s a rare traveler who bothers to do so. My thanks, and I’ll be glad to make change for your gold. I’ll be right back,” said Krung as he made for a back room where, Orgar guessed, a chest or strong box of coins was kept.
Krung returned with twenty coppers and eighteen silver coins, then asked, “So, good sir, do you have any specific plans for your day in Ashtakahr?”
“Well,” started Orgar, “I was either going to leave town and explore the surrounding countryside, or try to make some money at the arena.”
Krung rested his elbows on the counter top and leaned close to Orgar. “Both bad ideas, friend. You’re not going to be able to get through any of the city gates unless you’re on somebody’s official business. As for the arena, most first-timers die after one or two rounds. I know you may think you’re pretty tough and all, maybe you even came out on top in a few street fights,” Krung gestured at the scars in Orgar’s armor, “but the arena’s worse than you might imagine. There’re people there who are well experienced in killing. And if they can’t kill you with another person, they’ve got monsters that no one can stand up against. People go there and pay money to see someone like you get killed. In every fight, somebody dies.”
Orgar smiled. “In the mountains and forests of my home I’ve fought for my life probably hundreds of times. I don’t think I ever kept count and I couldn’t possibly remember them all now. But I really do appreciate your concern and will keep your warning in mind.”
Krung frowned, “Even if you don’t die, do you really want to kill someone else so badly?”
“I don’t want to kill anybody,” said Orgar, “unless they’re trying to kill me. I’ve never hurt anyone who didn’t start something that needed finishing.”
“Well, if you’re set on it, there’ll be a carriage making its rounds to the arena. It stops at any tavern or inn where folks wait by the sign outside. They come about once every hour, give or take. Two coppers will buy you a ride to the arena. If you walk you can get there in a couple hours or less.”
“Thanks.” Orgar extended his hand. “I saw the bench and sign on my way in yesterday. I’ll try to make it back here for more of your excellent service and food, if not tonight then at least someday.”
Krung shook his proffered hand, “Thanks. Good luck to you.”
= 8 =
A Brush with the Law
Orgar had not been waiting long when the carriage approached from down the road. The carriage was basically a wagon fitted with four benches facing forward behind the driver, and four posts, one at each corner, held up a canvas cover to shade the passengers. Each bench could easily fit four or five human-sized passengers. One orcish-looking fellow in chain mail sat on the left side of the third row, the rest of the carriage was empty. As Orgar rose from the bench and picked up his gear the dwarf and his half-elven companion stepped out of the tavern. The woman eyed Orgar suspiciously, but the dwarf seemed not to pay him any attention at all. When the carriage stopped Orgar handed the driver two coppers and climbed onto the back seat. The dwarf and half-elf paid their fare and took the front seat directly behind the driver. They didn’t look like combatants to Orgar so he guessed that they were going to the arena as spectators. Before the driver started moving, two human men ran from across the street to catch a ride and climbed into the second seat. One of them leaned over the front seat and handed the driver four coppers, and became the object of stares from the irritated front seat passengers.
As the carriage started moving, Orgar saw a small figure run up to the side of the carriage. At first he thought it was a human boy, slender and wearing close-fitting leathers, but having effeminate features on the face. Orgar saw a pair of slight bumps on the chest giving just the faintest hint of breasts. This was a slender, petite, but very athletic human female. Her hair was tucked under what seemed a tight-fitting but thickly padded, soft leather skull cap of some kind, and she wore soft leather shoes on her feet. The small woman leapt and tumbled gracefully and without a sound onto the floor in front of the third row seat. Crouching on the floor she put her finger to her lips and whispered, “Shhh.”
The orc in chain mail glowered at the small woman, but looked away saying nothing to the driver and pretended to have seen nothing. Taking his cue from the other, Orgar raised no alarm. The small female smiled her gratitude at him and crawled under the seat to conceal herself.
Seconds later, three young men came running from out of an alley next to the Twittering Bard. One of them had a bloody slash across his left cheek. “Where’d she go, damn it? I’m gonna kill that bitch,” he exclaimed.
Orgar heard one of the others say, “Benton wants her alive, Greggor. He can’t collect from a corpse.”
The carriage pulled away and distance plus the sound of wheels on the gravel road drowned out the voices of the three men and Orgar heard no more of their conversation. Two city guardsmen, humans each, joined Orgar to his left on the rear seat at another stop along the way to the arena. Apparently, the city guard ride for free; they neither offered nor were asked for the fare. Neither guard seemed to notice the small woman under the seat in front of them. At the same stop, two other passengers got in the first and second seats, respectively.
At a later stop a well-to-do human couple, nobles perhaps, apparently husband and wife and both abundantly well fed, tossed a gold coin to the driver and got onto the third seat directly above the small woman under the seat. Their satin robes were adorned with jewels, rings crowded their fingers and expensive-looking necklaces hung from their necks. They were wealthy, proud of it, and not the least ashamed of flaunting it. They draped a plush blanket over the coarse, wooden bench to protect their expensive clothing from snagging on splinters before sitting down. Orgar wondered why they didn’t hire a private carriage, though perhaps that would deprive them of the opportunity of flaunting their wealth to the lower classes.
As the two guards beside him were engaged in discussing the mild autumn weather Ashtakahr was enjoying Orgar watched in fascination as a thin, sharp blade protruded through the blanket and made a slit toward the back of the seat, then a slender hand reached up through the slit and slipped a small burgundy-colored pouch off the belt of the man seated above her. The hand returned and deftly plucked several jewels from the man’s robes. As the carriage slowed to stop at the arena she slid to the side of the carriage and tumbled skillfully off the carriage landing on her feet just before it had come to a stop. She then strolled casually past the carriage blending into the stream of people heading for the arena entrance.
“Smooth,” remarked Orgar under his breath as passengers began disembarking the carriage. He collected his gear and stepped off the carriage. It was still fairly early in the morning, but it had already become hot and it was only going to get hotter. Orgar saw hanging above the obvious entrance to the arena a sign that read, “Spectator admission: 50 gp.” A smaller sign on a post beside the entrance said, “Combatant’s entrance to the north. à”
“Thief!” shouted someone behind him. Turning around Orgar saw the rich man from the third row carriage seat pointing at him and shouting. “He’s a thief. He stole my money. Stop him.” Orgar wasn’t moving and had only taken a couple of steps from the carriage, so it took only seconds for several armed city guardsmen to surround him with swords drawn.
One of them, a leader perhaps, though if there was any insignia of rank Orgar couldn’t see it, said, “Most thieves run a lot faster than you. Maybe you should find another way of making a living.”
“I’m no thief,” replied Orgar flatly.
Said his accuser, “He was sitting behind me. It had to be him. He stole my purse with all my coins: over a hundred gold coins and nearly as many platinum pieces.”
The guardsmen exchanged a knowing glance toward each other and smiled ever so slightly. The guardsman who spoke before said to Orgar, “Drop your gear and strip off your armor. You’ll be searched. If this man’s purse turns up on you, you’ll be chained and brought before a magistrate to determine how you’ll die.”
Orgar looked around at the four men who surrounded him: two humans, a dwarf and a half-orc. He’d been up against worse odds, but if he killed these men he’d be branded an outlaw and would be a wanted fugitive in this strange city from which there was no way to leave, if he believed what Krung had said. He slid the strap of his shoulder bag off his shoulder and tossed the bag to the ground in front of the guard. He took off his backpack and tossed it down. When he reached to remove his weapons, all of the guards in unison raised their sword tips to his neck.
Most of the people in the passing stream of arena spectators moved hastily away from the scene and pretended they didn’t see what was happening. A few stood some distance away and watched while trying to look like they weren’t.
“I’m just doing as you asked. Just taking them off,” said Orgar.
“Do it slowly,” said the guardsman. “Your life depends on it.”
Slowly, Orgar drew out his battleaxe and placed it on the ground beside his backpack, then did the same with his war hammer. Finally, he stripped off his armor and extended his arms out to his side. “Search away,” he said.
Three of the guardsmen kept their swords pointed at his throat while one made an uncomfortably thorough search of his person finding his money. “Six gold, a few silvers and coppers.”
“That’s not mine,” said the rich man. “Mine’s in a blood-red pouch. Search his bag and backpack. It has to be there.”
Now, two of the guardsmen kept their sword tips at his throat while the other two searched his gear. The self-designated spokesman took William’s books out of the backpack and thumbed through them. Orgar was glad he had heeded the advice of that wizard, Maexon, and left the letter behind. He had no doubt that it would have been found and he would likely have faced more severe consequences than those for theft. Then the guardsman pulled out William’s robes and cloak. Frowning, he asked Orgar, “What would someone like you be doing with priests’ clothing? You don’t look like a priest.”
Orgar decided to tell the truth. If this man was skilled at detecting lies then he’d know Orgar was being truthful. “The clothes and the two books were the property of a friend I once traveled with. He died when we were ambushed a couple of months ago. I haven’t figured out what I want to do with them, yet. So, for now they are keepsakes, reminders of my friend.”
The guard watched him intently as Orgar spoke and seemed satisfied with his answer. After very thoroughly searching his gear the guardsman turned to the man who accused Orgar of theft. “There’s no blood-red pouch and no coins other than the few we found in his pockets. No platinum pieces at all. Did you actually see this man take your coins?”
Doubt clouded his face. “Well, um, no actually. But it had to be him. He was sitting right behind me when my wife and I got on this carriage. I had my money then. Then when we got here it was gone. He’s the only one who could have taken it.”
“So,” continued the guardsman, “he was the only one sitting behind you on the carriage?”
The accuser hesitated.
“Well,” demanded the guardsman. “Was he the only one seated behind you?”
“Um, no. There were… there were two others,” he said in a barely audible whisper.
At this point the two guards who had been sitting next to Orgar stepped forward. Said one of them, pointing at Orgar, “We were sitting next to this guy on the carriage. I never saw him so much as move an inch during the ride here.” Then to the rich, fat man he asked, “Do you want to accuse us of stealing from you, too?”
“O- o- oh, g- g-goodness no, s- sir,” stammered the fat man.
The speaker for the guards said to the rich man, “Do you realize that you’ve made false accusations against an innocent man? He could have been executed for something he didn’t do. That makes your crime about as serious as murder.”
The man’s eyes opened wide with fear as he realized that he could be facing execution for accusing the wrong person. “No, please. I… I… I didn’t mean to… I really thought…” Droplets of sweat beaded on his brow and his breathing quickened.
His wife stepped forward, anxiety evident on her face, and possessively clung to her husband’s arm. She said, “No, please. We can pay. We can pay restitution, fines, fees for services, anything.” She was apparently offering to bribe all present.
At a gesture from the guardsman Orgar began putting his armor back on. The guardsman said, “Well, you seem to be the victim here. What do you want us to do about this? Should we arrest him?”
Orgar shook his head. “No. Let it go. I just want to be on my way.”
Hope glimmered in the fat man’s eyes. His wife reached into her shoulder bag and took out another pouch of coins (hers was pink) and put a coin in each of the guardsmen’s palms, including the two who had been sitting next to Orgar. She offered nothing to Orgar, the presumptive ‘victim’ of this whole episode. At first Orgar thought it was a silver coin she gave the guards, but on second glance he realized it was a platinum piece. Obviously, there was more profit to shaking down the rich couple than an orc with only a few coins in his pockets.
The guard who had done most of the speaking said to the woman, “Don’t you think some restitution is due to the man you falsely accused of stealing?”
With obvious reluctance she took another coin from her purse and, though her eyes burned with resentment at Orgar, she gave him the coin. Orgar looked at it and saw that this one really was only a silver piece.
“A silver?” he asked, and held up the coin for all to see.
The guards looked at the woman who flushed and quickly said, “Oh, I- I’m so sorry. My mistake.” She traded Orgar a platinum piece for the silver.
Satisfied and apparently in no mood for any more work than necessary, the guardsman said to the rich man and his wife, “Be off then, and take better care before you go shouting accusations and making trouble for people.”
= 9 =
Delores the Deft
Orgar finished collecting his equipment. He started toward the north and saw at quite some distance ahead of him the chain mail-clad orc that had been in the seat in front of him and, to his surprise, the dwarf and half-elf some few steps ahead of the orc and moving toward the combatant’s entrance. What the little human female had done didn’t seem nearly as amusing now that he had taken heat for her antics. Looking around, Orgar saw no sign of the thief that had almost gotten him into trouble.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?” said a voice so close to his back that Orgar jumped and spun around. The little thief stood there grinning up at him. “Sorry about all that,” she said jerking her thumb back toward the now departing carriage. “Didn’t mean to get anyone at odds with the guard.” Studying Orgar, she added, “You’re new around here, aren’t ja?”
Orgar nodded and moved off north toward the combatant’s entrance.
Walking hurriedly beside him, she continued, “Ya know, if you were just a little more street-wise you could ‘ave avoided that whole situation back there.”
“You mean by telling the driver of the carriage that you were stealing a ride?”
She smirked, “Well, no, not exactly.” Then she said, “Ya know, a newcomer like you could use some lookin’ after. How ‘bout I take you under my wing and look after you, help ya get along here and give you some pointers?” She put forth her right hand and said, “I’m Del, short for Delores. Call me Del.”
Orgar stopped in his tracks and looked at her. This girl, little more than half his height, was suggesting that she would look after him! Slowly, with just a hint of reluctance, Orgar accepted her hand and said, “Orgar.” Then he asked, “You’re going to look after me, are you?”
“Hey, I know the places and people to avoid, and the people who might be willing help you. I’m good at getting things and information. All around, I can be pretty handy and helpful. If not a jack-of-all-trades, at least a jack-of-many-trades.”
“Are you some kind of rogue or something?” asked Orgar, and resumed his northward trek.
“What’s a rogue?” she asked. “I’m a thief. I steal things. And,” she added with a wink and a grin, “I’m pretty good at it.”
“I noticed,” Orgar replied. “How’d you manage to become so skilled and knowledgeable in the ways of the world?” he asked sardonically.
“My folks brought me here with them when I was just a kid. They were rich folks and rented a house in the second district of Ashtakahr. The second district’s for wealthy people. And, just so’s ya know, first district’s mostly government buildings and such, third district’s for folks who are better off than poor but not quite rich, fourth district’s all slums and poor folks, and the fifth district’s where you’re at now –the arena district, and it’s mostly businesses that support or profit from arena business and tourism.
“Anyway, my folks were big on arena fights and liked to bet on them. Between you an’ me, I think they mostly liked watching people getting killed and gutted. One night, on the way home from the arena they trusted the guard to keep them safe once too often and the guard wasn’t around. They got themselves robbed and killed.
“In Ashtakahr, if you die without an officially registered will, all your property goes to the state. The Ashtakahr city government took everything. A wealthy neighbor who knew and often socialized with my parents said he was my uncle and slipped a few platinum pieces to a city official, so they handed me off to him. This ‘uncle’ looked at me in a way that made my skin crawl. He had ideas for a twelve year-old girl that weren’t exactly in my best interest. My first night in his home he told me to ‘get undressed for bed’ and that he’d be upstairs soon to ‘tuck me in’. He wanted to ‘tuck’ me, alright. He came into my bedroom wearing just a house robe; he took that off and came at me. I kicked his nose, his mouth, then lowered my aim and kicked him between the legs. While he was rolling on the floor bleeding from a broken nose and toothless mouth, holding onto his stuff between his legs and screaming, I grabbed my things and helped myself to a few other incidentals from his house before I made a hasty exit.
“I’ve been doing a decent job of taking care of myself ever since.”
“Yeah, then who were those men running after you back at the Twittering Bard?”
“Them? They’re just some street punks trying to play debt collectors for a debt that’s not mine to pay. It’s the guy they’re working for that’s making life difficult for me lately. A thieves’ guild big-wig named Benton; he’s appropriately called Benton the Belligerent. I refused to join his guild – too much nasty stuff going on there for my tastes. But he insists that he’s still entitled to eighty percent of my income anyway.” She looked up at Orgar and said, “I don’t happen to agree with him.”
“Why does he even bother with you?”
“He wants me working for him. He got a contract to heist an heirloom that somebody stole from somebody else. He sent one of his guild members to snatch it, but I saw it first – and I got to it first. I had already fenced it before Benton’s man – as a matter of fact it was that guy, Greggor, who was chasing me – came to steal it. So, the guy I stole the heirloom from had noticed that it was gone and had set a trap in case I, or some other thief, ever came back. He caught Greggor and turned him over to the authorities. That gets you executed in the arena, unless you can pay the right people enough bribe money. Benton paid to get Greggor off, and he paid the fence to buy the heirloom I sold. It cost him more than twice what he was paid for the job, and he wants to collect the difference from me.
“That’s when Benton decided that I was good enough to be an asset if I worked for him or be a problem for him if I didn’t.”
“So, a child of the mean streets, are you?” Orgar teased.
“Hey, I’m no child. I’m nineteen years, I’ll have you know. The last seven are Daeorian years, which run a little longer than on most worlds. I quite qualify as a woman, but,” she added impishly, “I’ll play the helpless little girl role if it helps me pull off a scam in times of need.”
Orgar glanced at her chest and said, “I thought you were a boy.”
She looked down at her breasts and said, “My mother had small breasts, too. Just runs in the family. Besides, who wants a big pair of boobs getting in the way when you’re squeezing through a tight crevasse to get your hands on some nice, shiny gold or sparkly gems?”
Orgar remembered the tight squeeze she managed while fitting under the carriage seat and concealing herself. He could well imagine that protruding breasts would have made keeping herself hidden a lot more difficult. Part of him wanted to brush her off and get rid of her – she’d only be a burden to him, but another part found her just too amusing. He didn’t want to encourage her to hang around him, but neither did he want to run her off.
They stopped at the combatant’s entrance to the arena. “Is this where you’re goin’?” Del asked. “You gonna fight in the arena?”
“That’s my plan. Got to earn some money somehow, and I prefer to get my money if not legally, at least ethically,” Orgar jabbed.
“Hey,” Del protested. “I’m ethical. I never steal from anyone who can’t afford to lose a few coins, or who doesn’t deserve it. Besides, I figure all rich people deserve it for one reason or another. I should know; my parents were rich. At the very least they can afford to spare a few coins, willingly or not.”
= 10 =
“Well, follow me. I’ll show you how it’s done,” said Del, and she led Orgar through the combatant’s entrance. Once inside she confidently walked straight up to a large orc who was about a half foot taller than Orgar, well muscled and heavily scarred.
“Hi, Glenn,” she said cheerfully. She gestured to Orgar, “This here’s my friend, Orgar. He wants to fight in the arena and I thought I’d introduce him to you and show him how things work. That OK with you?” Then to Orgar she said, “Glenn’s the battle master here at the arena. Nobody goes out to fight without his say-so. He makes sure the fights are at least somewhat balanced. The crowd likes a good, even fight. Usually.”
“You fighting as a pair, or separate?” asked the large orc she called Glenn.
“I don’t know if he even can fight,” said Del. “Separate for now.” Glenn grunted, and extended his hand, palm up. Del reached into the burgundy pouch which now hung heavily from a belt around her slender waist, pulled out two gold coins and put them in Glenn’s palm. Orgar took two gold coins from his pocket and gave them to the scarred orc.
Del continued, “The two gold is a deposit against disposing of your remains if you get killed. If you survive your fight, you get your two gold back plus fifty more for winning the battle.”
Glenn marked on a slate with chalk, “Del” and “Ogr”. Then he gestured toward a long, wooden bench against a wall. “I’ll call ya when you’re up,” he said. Then Glenn marked something on a book-sized square of slate and handed it to a boy who took off running with it.
Del explained, “The boy’s one of the pit runners. He’s taking a message to the pits telling them who or what Glenn wants them to send out to fight us from the other side of the arena.”
Orgar nodded and followed Del to the bench. He saw that others on the bench had their faces up against the wall. Then he saw that there were narrow slots in the wall that afforded combatants waiting their turn a ground-level view of the action on the arena floor. Along an adjacent wall was a row of cots, a couple contained bandaged combatants who didn’t survive their fights completely unscathed. He sat down next to Del and looked through the slot in the wall at the fight already in progress.
The arena floor was at least a quarter mile in diameter and there were many hundreds of spectators in the tiered rows of benches that surrounded the battle floor. On that floor was a large, two-headed creature Orgar recognized as an ettin. It was facing off with an even larger creature Orgar had never seen before. He asked Del, “What is that thing?”
She answered, “It’s a skai'zahag; an ancient creature from the deep bowels of the world.”
Sixteen feet tall at the shoulder, it had tiny white eyes, enormous tusks and large claws that Orgar guessed were used for burrowing, when it wasn’t fighting for its life in the arena. Its sparsely furred hide looked as tough as armor. It seemed like an old-world creature, and by the shape of its head Orgar guessed that modern boars might be descended from a creature like this. It seemed to attack leading with its tusks trying to gore its opponent. If it got close enough it would swipe with its claws. The ettin dodged the tusks and slammed his massive club down onto the top of the beast’s head. It blinked its pale white eyes twice, then quickly spun around and caught the ettin in the gut with one of its enormous tusks. The ettin’s bowels spilled onto the arena floor and the crowd cheered wildly. The ettin dropped to his knees and the skai’zahag swiped his face and chest with its claws tearing deep furrows in the ettin’s flesh. The ettin took one last feeble swipe at the skai’zahag with his club, missed, and fell down, dead.
Several handlers came out and herded the skai’zahag through an enormous gate beneath the arena seats. When the gate close behind the enormous beast, a huge wagon rolled out onto floor and with the careful use of ropes and pulleys the ettin’s body was dragged onto the cart. Most of the intestines were also collected. As the cart rolled off the arena floor Orgar saw that there were signs on either side of it that read “Dwendahl’s Meats: serving dietary preferences for mammalian, reptilian, avian, and arthropod meats for over thirty years.”
= 11 =
Arena Battle: Tolpek and Resinyos
Glenn checked his slate tablet and called out, “T’pek and Resnos.”
The dwarven priest and half-elven woman he had seen at the tavern approached Glenn. The dwarf said, “That’s Tolpek and Resinyos.”
Glenn unbarred and opened the heavy, iron door that separated the staging area where the combatants waited from the arena floor where the fights took place. “I don’t care what your names are; I got ‘em close enough for you to know who I was calling, didn’t I. Get on out there. Kill something or die trying.”
As the pair moved out onto the center of the arena floor, four figures stepped out onto the far side of the arena. Then it was six, ten, then twelve. Twelve nearly human-sized figures were facing off against the dwarf and half-elf.
Orgar frowned and said to Del, “This is a balanced fight? Twelve against two?”
Del and Orgar looked over at Glenn and saw him angrily addressing one of the pit runners. Evidently, this was not what he had written on the slate to be sent out against Tolpek and Resinyos. The boy took off to convey Glenn’s displeasure to the pit crew for their failure to follow instructions.
As the twelve opponents ran forward to engage Tolpek and Resinyos, Orgar could make them out as goblins. Four of them had bows, four with shortswords, and four wielding a spiked mace.
The dwarf, with war hammer and shield, took a position in front of his taller companion. The half-elf began waving her left arm while aiming her staff and muttering something Orgar couldn’t hear. A ball of fire shot forth from her staff toward the goblins. It sped through the air expanding in size, then it exploded amid four of the approaching goblins. The four were singed, but they kept coming.
The archers stopped a short distance off while the others continued onward. The archers fired. Two arrows missed, one bounced off the dwarf’s chain mail, and one managed to skewer the wizard’s left thigh. She cried out in pain, but there was no time to do anything about it just then. Now angered at the more distant archers, she hurled her second fire ball at the archers – the nearest one fell in flames, the other three seemed burned, but were still standing.
Tolpek set his hammer and shield on the floor and began muttering and waving his hands. Within seconds an obscuring mist swirled into existence around him and Resinyos. Most of the gang of goblins stopped just short of running into the cloud of mist. Two didn’t stop and plunged, maces a-swinging, into the fog. One of the goblins could be heard to scream, then abruptly fell silent. Then there was a crunching sound, not unlike that of a hammer smashing a skull. Flaming missiles came flying out of the mist and struck down the three remaining archers.
Now there were two goblins with maces and four with shortswords circling the cloud of mist. Suddenly, Tolpek leapt out of the mist, struck down one of the singed goblins, and ducked back into the mist. He did this twice more before the cloud of mist began to thin and dissipate. As the mist cleared, the first two goblins who rushed foolhardily into the mist could be seen lying at the feet of Tolpek and Resinyos, the three that Tolpek struck down by darting out and back into the mist were lying at what had been the perimeter of the mist, and three goblins were still on their feet.
Resinyos stood with her back to Tolpek’s back. She faced one of the goblins wielding a sword, and Tolpek faced two; one with a mace and one with a sword. Seemingly on some signal, all three goblins lurched forward. The one facing Resinyos thrust forth his sword and sliced her left arm between the elbow and shoulder, then he turned his blade and sliced sideways, cutting her across her left side ribs. Pain registered in her face, but she made no sound. With determination in her eyes she swung her staff in her right hand and slammed it into the side of the goblin’s head. It dazed him, but he was still on his feet. Ignoring the pain in her rigs and arm, she took the staff in both hands in an overhead stroke and brought it straight down on top of the goblin’s head with a resounding ‘crack’. As the goblin fell to the ground a little bit of scrambled brain matter fell out of the bloody wound in his skull. Orgar remembered thinking that her staff had looked thin and fragile when he saw it back at the Twittering Bard. Evidently, that staff was solid and tough as stone.
While Resinyos dispatched her opponent, Tolpek blocked the mace with the shield in his left hand, and met the shortsword-wielding goblin’s blade with the war hammer in his right hand. The blade-wielding goblin took a step back, so Tolpek slammed his shield into the closer mace-wielding goblin, then swung his hammer into the side if its head. As that goblin dropped, pain burned as a blade tore through his chain mail and bit into his right buttocks. He spun away from the remaining goblin pulling himself free of the goblin’s sword tip. Pain impeded him, but he swung his hammer at the goblin anyway, and missed. Encouraged by the dwarf’s evident weakening, the goblin pressed forward hammering at Tolpek’s shield with his sword and driving the dwarf limping backwards. A black staff sliced through the air and struck the goblin squarely in the back of the head sending it stumbling forward toward Tolpek, who slammed his hammer into the dazed goblin’s forehead dropping it to the ground. Resinyos’ and Tolpek’s eyes met over the body of their last foe and they nodded in salute to one another.
The arena spectators cheered loudly at what was, for them, a very exciting battle. Tolpek put his arm around Resinyos’ waist as she leaned heavily on the dwarf for support, and the two made their way slowly off the battle field. Glenn unbarred and opened the door to let them back into the staging area. Both were hurt, but neither critically, and they had survived their battle. Glenn handed Tolpek fifty gold pieces as Orgar ran up and took the wounded wizard in his arms and carried her to one of the cots, the dwarf came limping behind him. Resinyos tensed slightly when Orgar picked her up, but she didn’t refuse to be helped.
“Thanks,” said Tolpek, though Resinyos remained silent, then he turned his attention to the arrow protruding from Resinyos’ leg.
While standing beside the cots watching Tolpek work, Orgar noticed a sign on the wall offering gold for the capture of live beasts for arena fights. The bounties ranged from dozens of gold pieces to thousands. Then he saw a cart stacked with about a dozen goblin bodies and drawn by a muscular human moving toward the street. There was a separate gate for Dwendahl’s cart. He noticed a smaller sign on the cart he hadn’t seen before. It read, “Lot’s of dead meat, for someone to eat.”
= 12 =
Arena Battle: Karaguk
Glenn checked his slate. “Karaguk, you’re next.”
Karaguk was half-orc or more, he heavily favored the orc side of his gene pool. After Karaguk walked through the iron door, Glenn barred it behind him. He walked out in light chain mail and carried a longsword.
The opponent that stepped out to meet Karaguk from the far side of the arena sported two deadly-looking horns protruding from what seemed a bull’s head on top of large humanoid body. Orgar had never seen a minotaur before, but he’d heard enough about them to recognize one when he saw it.
Swinging a double-bladed greataxe, the minotaur thundered toward Karaguk. Karaguk stood his ground until the minotaur was within striking distance and swung the greataxe at his chest. Karaguk leapt aside and dodged the stroke as the minotaur charged past him, then he slipped around behind the minotaur and brought his blade down upon the minotaur’s head. Blocked by the minotaur’s horns, the blade glanced away chipping the horn. The horned beast spun around, lowered his head and charged at Karaguk again. Karaguk threw himself backwards onto the arena floor while holding his blade-point upwards. The minotaur’s horns passed inches above Karaguk’s prone body, then it impaled itself upon Karaguk’s sword. Karaguk’s eye widened in alarm as the weight of the dying minotaur pressed his sword hilt painfully into his own stomach. He strained to push the minotaur off him to the side, then climbed to his feet as a cart approached to collect the minotaur’s body.
When Karaguk returned to the staging area Glenn handed him his fifty gold. “You handled that one well enough. Care to go again?” Glenn asked Karaguk.
Karaguk exuded confidence. “Yuh, again.”
Karaguk jogged out onto the battle field to meet his next opponent. His opponent came scurrying out of the gates to the pit. It stood almost twenty feet tall with a green, chitinous exoskeleton. It walked on the four rear-most legs, the two front legs were folded and ready to strike out and grab its victim. The grabbing legs were equipped with a row of sharp spikes to aid in keeping a tight grip on its victim. It had two enormous wings that were hobbled by a long strip of leather binding down the wings. Its chitinous mouth parts moved hungrily. The only creature Orgar had ever seen like this one was only four inches long and was called a praying mantis.
Once again, Glenn screamed his anger at a messenger. Even though Glenn’s rage was not directed at the boy himself, the lad looked stricken. When Glenn had finished his tirade and sent the boy off to convey Glenn’s displeasure, he turned to watch the battle through a slot in the door that separates the staging area from the arena battle field.
The giant praying mantis started toward Karaguk and he broke into a run, straight at the monster. He swung his sword and struck at one of the legs upon which the huge beast stood. The mantis jerked its leg away, apparently more startled than injured by Karaguk’s attack. Its wings quivered against the leather strap binding them down. It lunged toward Karaguk and in its attempt to grab him managed merely to knock him down. Karaguk rolled away from the mantis and jumped to his feet. The mantis grabbed at him again and Karaguk met the attack with his sword, striking at the grabbing legs, but his sword bounced off the thick chitinous armor.
Again, the wings quivered, straining against the restraining leather strap. It moved toward Karaguk and lunged to grab him, missing again. Karaguk ran forward and struck again at the bug’s legs, prompting it to step away from the half-orc. The wings quivered again and kept doing so for several seconds, then the binding strap snapped. The mantis’ wings spread wide and it took to the air. As it circled the arena floor the spectators screamed in terror and ran en masse toward the exits, trampling anyone who fell along the way.
The flying mantis circled and climbed high above the arena floor, then turned and dived directly at Karaguk. It slammed down upon him, knocking his sword away and locking his grabbing legs around Karaguk’s chest and stomach. Then it clamped its mouth on Karaguk’s head and tore it off. After swallowing his head the mantis tore away the chainmail shirt and worked its way down his body devouring his neck, shoulders and chest, stomach, pelvis, then finished with the legs and arms. Karaguk was gone.
The mantis took to the air again and landed among the panicking crowd of spectators. It quickly grabbed a helpless dwarf woman and began devouring her as it had Karaguk. Then two of the audience skilled in magic stepped forward and pummeled the giant mantis with wave upon wave of flaming and exploding missiles and within a few moments the great bug fell with the half-eaten woman still clasped in its forearms.
It took a while for the panic to subside and order to be restored to the arena. Restitution had to be made to the family of the dwarf woman for her wrongful death. The charred mantis corpse was carted away and the spectators gradually returned to their seats. The crowd was noticeably subdued.
= 13 =
Arena Battle: Delores
“Del,” called Glenn. Then more quietly, for her ears only, “Be careful, little one. I can’t tip the scales too far for you.”
“I’d resent it if you did, Glenn. I can handle myself well enough. You ought to know that by now.”
“Yuh, I know. Still, be careful.”
As Del stepped out onto the arena floor, something hairy and taller than Orgar, taller even than Glenn, approached from the far side of the arena floor. Glenn’s eyes opened wide when he saw it. Evidently, yet again, this was not the creature he had specified for Del to go up against. This time he sent no messenger to the pits. Glenn took off running around the side of the arena.
It was a bugbear wielding a large, spiked mace, and it looked eager to smash the small woman standing before him. It ran at her sweeping its mace left and right as it came. Del had only a dagger and couldn’t get close enough to strike. The bugbear swung his mace and Del danced and dodged around the arena for several minutes. Gradually, the bugbear began showing signs of fatigue. He swung his mace less forcefully and less frequently, and he chased after Del a little more slowly. Perceiving an opportunity, Del faked backing away and abruptly lunged forward, dagger first, at the bugbear’s belly.
He was faking it! Pretending to tire to lure Del in close enough to hit, and it worked. The bugbear brought his mace up and around much faster than she expected. She spun away in mid-strike and the mace caught her on her left shoulder, the spikes tearing open her flesh. If she hadn’t seen it coming an instant earlier, it would have been her head that was struck. Blood trickled down her arm and fear showed in her eyes. Pressing his advantage, the bugbear came at her again.
This time it was Del’s turn to fake it. She tumbled forward between her opponent’s legs and stabbed his left foot in the process, the dagger piercing deeply. The brute roared in pain and anger and swung his spiked mace wildly at the agile woman. The mace slammed into the ground where she had been crouching a half second before. Del tumbled just out of his reach again and again to keep the enraged bugbear coming at her, keep him limping on his injured foot. Suddenly, putting his weight on his uninjured foot, the bugbear leapt at Del and caught the side of her head, tearing open her leather skull cap. She stumbled backward and fell on her ass, stunned. Gloating, the beast walked up to her and raised his mace for a killing stroke. He swung the mace at her head and Del dodge the blow by dropping onto her back.
Now, standing over the prone woman, the bugbear raised his mace straight up over his head with both hands and grinned at Del. Just as he started bringing his mace down Del curled forward and tumbled, not between the bugbear’s legs, but past him on his right and sliced through his right Achilles’ tendon as she did. Then she spun to her right and stabbed the bugbear from behind in his left calf. Again, the beast screamed in pain and rage, and he fell to his knees, unable to stand on his feet.
Even on his knees the bugbear was taller than Del, but now it was her battle. She lunged and dodged at the kneeling beast. Every time he swung his mace at her it threw him off balance and he had to right himself before he could swing again. Del exploited her advantage. She’d move in to invite an attack and dodge it when he made the attempt. Then, while he righted himself, she’d dart in again and nick him: on his arms, face, and neck. Finally, when she could see that he had had enough, she zipped in and slit his throat. Clutching his neck and gurgling, the bugbear fell to the ground. A cart started rolling out to collect its body.
As Del walked toward the door to the staging area she gingerly touched her hand to her head where the mace had torn open her skullcap, then looked at her fingers. There was a small smear of blood on her hand; not nearly as bad as she had feared – at least her skull was intact, if slightly bloody. She pulled off the torn skullcap and a thick mass of long brown hair tumbled down to her waist. Orgar realized that all that hair tucked under her skull cap was the padding that he thought was part of the skull cap. She had a lot of padding to protect her head from the bugbear’s mace.
Glenn had just returned from the pits, the knuckles of his large hands were cut and bloody. Ignoring this he unbarred and opened the door for Del.
Del returned to the staging area with an angry fire smoldering in her eyes, she gave Glenn an accusing look. Glenn met her gaze as he was wrapping his bloody knuckles with bandages. “I fired my pit boss,” he said. “He’s feeding one of the larger carnivores. I promoted his first assistant and made sure he understood that he works for me. ‘I’ decide who or what comes out of the pits to face the combatants, and he is to carry out my orders. I think he understood me.” Then Glenn gave Del her fifty-two gold pieces.
Saying nothing, Del took the gold, sat down on one of the cots and dabbed her scalp with a dry cloth to stay the seepage of blood.
= 14 =
Arena Battle: Orgar
Without checking his slate, Glenn nodded at Orgar. “You’re next.”
Orgar stepped through the door and out onto the arena floor. His opponent was already on its way. It was an ogre, over nine feet tall and looking mean and ugly. In its right hand it carried a massive club with a foot-long iron spike protruding through the pounding end of the club.
Pulling out his war hammer and battleaxe, Orgar approached the center of the arena. To Orgar’s experience, ogres tended to be really stupid. He’d just have to watch and wait for the ogre to do something stupid, then exploit the advantage it gave him.
The ogre came straight at Orgar confidently and swung his club close enough that the wind from the club tickled the hair on Orgar’s head. The ogre swung his club again in an overhead swing that Orgar dodged by barely an inch. The swing brought the spike at the end of the club straight down into the floor where it stuck firmly. The ogre used both hands to try to pull the spike free, but before he could do so Orgar brought his war hammer down on top of the ogre’s head with a loud ‘thock’ that echoed from the surrounding bleachers. The ogre swayed slightly and his eyes crossed. Then Orgar swung his battleaxe horizontally so the blade caught the ogre just under its chin. The axe blade passed cleanly through the ogre’s neck and its head toppled to the ground. The crowd cheered wildly. It was almost a three-count later that the rest of the ogre’s body collapsed to the floor.
Orgar hadn’t even worked up a sweat and he was already strolling off the arena floor while one of Dwendahl’s carts rolled out to collect the two-piece corpse. Glenn paid him his fifty gold pieces, then asked him, “You feel like goin’ at it again, or you want your two-gold deposit back?”
“I’ll go again. Maybe this time I’ll even break a sweat,” Orgar said with a smirk.
“There’s a fighter in the pits that’s killed everyone he’s gone up against this morning, and everyone he’s fought was bigger than you. He ought ‘a make ya sweat.”
Orgar stepped back onto the arena floor for his second fight swinging his axe and hammer to limber up. This time it was a human in shiny, plate armor that limped slowly toward Orgar from the far side of the arena. He wore no helmet and his face was bruised and bloody. He carried a longsword in his right hand and his left arm, blackened with bruises and probably broken, hung limp at his side. The man’s expression was one of grim determination, as though he knew he was going to his own execution. Orgar realized that this was another ‘balanced’ fight, and the scales were balanced heavily against the human. He began to feel that ill feeling he associated with guilt. Orgar really didn’t like guilt.
As they both drew near the center of the arena floor, Orgar thought there was something familiar about this human. Then he recognized the man, despite the injuries to his face. This was the human who spoke to him yesterday after he’d emerged from the portal. His name was Dillon, if Orgar remembered correctly.
When the human was close enough to speak to, Orgar said, “You look like you’ve had a rough time of it.”
For a moment the man looked confused, then he seemed to recognize Orgar. “You look much less like the priest you appeared to be yesterday,” said Dillon. “The people of Ashtakahr don’t like how I decorate my armor,” he explained tapping the symbol of Heironeous on his breastplate. “Seems being a devotee of Heironeous, if not exactly illegal, makes you more likely to be accused of all sorts of trivial and made-up crimes. It was wise of you to lose your robes.”
“It wasn’t wisdom,” said Orgar. “It was the blazing Daeorian sun.”
Dillon nodded with a smile, then continued, “They tore my backpack apart trying to find a certain letter that wasn’t there to be found. A magistrate sentenced me to face five opponents in the arena, if I live that long. I’m still not sure what they convicted me of. They took my helmet and shield to ‘improve the odds’, so they said. Clearly they meant to improve the odds that I’d be killed.”
“So, what’s your count?” asked Orgar.
“Four down and I’m still alive, if only barely. It seems you’re supposed to be my fifth.”
The arena crowd had begun to grow restless and loud with raucous booing and jeering. Shouts of “fight him” and “kill the heretic” echoed from the seats surrounding them.
Looking at the screaming crowd, Orgar said, “So, you’ve come here to save this world, eh?” He gestured at the crowd, “They want me to kill you.”
“Evil must be fought wherever it arises. Winning would be nice, but the battle must be fought, win or lose. These people are victims of generations of false indoctrination. They believe that good is evil and evil good. They need to be saved.”
“I mentioned yesterday a friend I once knew. His name was William. He often spoke as you do.”
“And you came here to honor the memory of that friend, did you? What does it mean to you to honor your friend’s memory?” asked Dillon. His sword had slowly lowered until the point now rested on the ground; his grip on the handle was loose and he only barely held onto it.
“It means to do on his behalf what he would have done if he could have.”
“You’re a noble man, Orgar.”
“Funny,” said Orgar, “William use to say that of me. I don’t know what that means. I never understood why he said that, and I don’t understand why you say it now.”
Dillon smiled and said, “It’s all the more true because of that. Yours is true nobility born of innocence, rather than the assumed nobility born of arrogance.”
Now, the arena spectators were nearly rioting in the bleachers. Some were throwing objects at Orgar and Dillon, though none could throw anything far enough to actually hit them.
Outraged, the battle master ran out onto the arena floor. “What in the nine hells do you stupid fools think you’re doing? These people aren’t here to watch you talk each other to death. FIGHT!!! Kill each other!” he screamed.
Orgar looked at the human. “Well, are you going to try to kill me?”
“Believe me, if I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead,” said Dillon with mock bravado. “I thought you were going to try to kill me.”
“I only kill those who are stupid enough to try to kill me. Are you feeling stupid today?”
Dillon grinned and said, “Seems we have ourselves a bit of a dilemma.”
Fed up, Glenn roughly shoved Orgar and Dillon toward the gate screaming, “Get out!” Dillon staggered and fell to his knees and dropped his sword, wincing in obvious pain. Orgar put his weapons away, picked up Dillon’s sword and helped the man to his feet.
Glenn yelled, “I said get out, both of you! Get your worthless asses out of my arena. Nobody’s gettin’ paid for this disaster!”
Looking up at Orgar, Dillon asked, “You get paid?”
“Well,” said Orgar, “if you’re good enough you get paid. If not, you get a burial.” Then he remembered Dwendahl’s carts carrying off the dead. “Or you get served medium rare with Dwendahl’s special sauce.”
Dillon grinned at the back of Orgar’s head as he, limping slowly, trailed Orgar off the arena floor. Glenn quickly sent out the next set of combatants: a hill giant against some kind of enormous reptile. It was sure to be a bloody, vicious battle that would adequately entertain the angry spectators.
= 15 =
United in Purpose
Del greeted Orgar inside the gate with an expression of incredulity. “That’s gotta be a first,” she exclaimed.
Glenn interjected angrily, “And it better be a last. If the fighters I send out there don’t fight, I could lose my job and possibly my head.”
Jerking her thumb toward Dillon, Del asked Orgar, “You guys know each other or something?”
Orgar replied, “We’ve met.”
Swaying slightly on his feet, Dillon said, “I doubt that the magistrate will count my non-fight with you as my fifth. I think I’d like to not be around when someone does the math and figures out how to count to five. I’ve got to find a way to get out of this blasted city.”
“I was thinking about finding a way to leave the city, too,” said Orgar. “This has been an interesting experience and all, but I’ve never found city living to my liking.”
Tolpek left Resinyos’ side and stepped over to the others. With a hushed voice he asked, “Did one of you say something about leaving the city?”
Dillon frowned suspiciously at the eavesdropping dwarf, then he recognized the hammer and anvil symbol on the dwarf’s chest and said, “It was mentioned.”
“How’re you plannin’ to pull that off?” Tolpek pointed to the half-elf resting on a cot and said, “Resinyos and I tried to finagle our way out yesterday and found out that you can’t leave the city without some kind of official authorization, unless you leave by the astral portal.”
Following the dwarf’s gesture, Dillon saw the cots. “I’m going over there,” he said pointing at the cots, and staggered toward them.
Tolpek saw that Dillon was hurt considerably worse than he and Resinyos had been. “Hold up there, lad. Let me give you a hand,” he said as he helped Dillon to the cot next to Resinyos. Dillon collapsed on the cot as fatigue and pain claimed him.
The dwarven priest removed Dillon’s armor to check for broken bones. With clean rags and fresh water, Tolpek began wiping away dried blood from the man’s face and arms, then he bandaged Dillon’s wounds that were still seeping blood. Finally, Tolpek pulled out a religious symbol hung on a chain around his neck and, while laying his hands on Dillon’s broken left arm, quietly muttered an incantation.
While Tolpek attended to Dillon, Del said to Orgar, “Ya know, Glenn might be able to give us what we need to get past the gates.”
“I doubt Glenn is likely to be in a mood to be helpful to me any time soon,” Orgar replied. Then her words registered and he asked, “Us?”
“Yeah. I told you about Benton making things a bit sticky for me this last year. Your talk of leaving town is sounding like a good idea. I’m thinking an extended change of scenery is probably just what I need.
“And don’t worry about Glenn. Besides, we won’t make it about him helping you. We’ll make it about us helping him to make up for the trouble you and…” She looked over at Dillon, “you and what’s ‘is name there stirred up out on the arena.” Feigning exasperation, Del said, “What is it about you that just seems to draw trouble to you? You really do need me to look after you.”
Orgar scowled at the young woman. “His name’s Dillon. So what’s your idea?”
“We offer to collect dangerous critters to stock the pits.”
Orgar pointed at the sign on the wall. “You mean the work that sign over there advertises?”
“Yah! At least it’ll give us an excuse to get out of the city.”
Orgar nodded, then stepped over to Glenn. “You’ve got a sign over there about bounty for collecting beasts to fight in the arena. How does one go about collecting these beasts?”
“You buy a cage-wagon and go find them.”
“And how much does a cage-wagon cost?” asked Orgar.
“Twelve hundred gold,” replied Glenn.
Orgar went over where Tolpek was finishing his ministrations on Dillon. Dillon was now able to move his left arm, though it still looked badly bruised.
… … …
Taking interest in the conversation, Resinyos sat up.
… … …
“We’ve got two-fifty between us,” said Tolpek, gesturing toward Resinyos.
“I’ve got nothing,” said Dillon. “They took my backpack and everything I had before tossing me out on the arena floor earlier this morning. Even if I survived all five battles I don’t think they were going to return anything to me.”
“With my prize money for my first battle I’ve got just over fifty gold,” said Orgar. “That’s not going to cut it.”
Delores jingled the coins in the burgundy pouch at her waist. “I think I can cover the difference,” she said.
They pooled their money and gave Glenn his asking price for the cage wagon.
“What about beasts to draw the wagon?” asked Dillon.
“I can sell you two protocs for two hundred gold each,” replied Glenn.
Dillon looked at Orgar and asked, “What are protocs?”
Orgar shrugged in reply, then looked at Glenn. Glenn pointed at half a dozen quadrupedal reptiles in a pen along the side of the outer arena wall. They were about the size of a buffalo, maybe slightly larger, wearing harnesses and feeding from a trough. With a horny growth like a beak on the end of its snout and a boney flange shielding its neck, it looked like an old-world ancestor of a rhinoceros.
Del said, “Protoc is the local name for a protoceratops. On my home world they were considered part of an ancient class of creatures called dinosaurs that have long since died out on most worlds. There are lots of ‘em still roaming around on Daeoria. Protocs are herbivores, plant eaters, so they’re considered fairly harmless, but if they get scared or angry they can do a lot of damage by ramming you.”
Turning to Glenn, Dillon asked, “Two hundred gold? I would have thought the wagon would come with draft animals for the price we paid.” Then he looked at Del.
“I’ve got a little left, but not enough to cover the cost of two of those things. We’ll need to keep some gold to pay for supplies and stuff.” Then Del turned her eyes flirtatiously toward Glenn, “Come on, Glenn. Can’t we work something out? You know twelve hundred for the cage-wagon was kind of inflated.”
His face remained stern, but his tone was slightly more conciliatory. “A hundred now to rent two protocs. When you get back with animals I can use, you’ll pay the full cost to buy them out of your payment for the animals.”
“Agreed,” said Del smiling appreciatively at Glenn. Glenn scowled at her as though he thought he was being taken advantage of by the small woman and was pretending to be bothered by it. She handed him another hundred gold. Glenn unlocked and reached into a trunk that sat near where everyone signed in to fight upon arriving. He took out a rolled up sheet of papyrus upon which was a pre-written statement.
I, Battle Master Glen, have hired the following person(s) to find and collect dangerous beasts for arena fights. By signing their name below, they acknowledge responsibility for containing and controlling the creatures they bring within the city walls so that no citizen of Ashtakahr is endangered.
Below that statement were several blank lines. Glenn provided a quill and ink bottle and, indicating the blank lines, said, “Sign there.” Each of the party, in turn, did as instructed, then Glenn signed at the bottom of the page:
“Batl Mastr Glenn”
Then he handed the sheet to Del. Well, thought Orgar, at least he spelled his own name right.
= 16 =
Dillon and Orgar went to fetch two of the protocs and walked them to the wagon. Dillon had difficulty getting his beast to cooperate, so Orgar took the head harnesses of both beasts, one in each hand, and lead them without difficulty. They seemed readily willing to be lead by Orgar, but decidedly less comfortable with the human. Then Orgar and Dillon followed Glenn’s instruction on rigging up the animals to pull the wagon. Tolpek went over and helped Resinyos limp to the wagon and into the back – inside the cage – where she could lie down and rest. Because the protocs seemed more comfortable with Orgar it was agreed that he would drive the wagon.
Orgar asked Glenn, “Which gate do you suppose we ought to use to leave the city?”
“Dehm gate to the northeast,” replied Glenn.
Orgar nodded, his gaze locked on Glenn’s eyes. He suddenly got the distinct and very strong impression that Glenn only made a game of acting dumb, but was actually quite a bit more aware than he let on. He was certain Glenn knew that they weren’t planning to come back; at least not any time in the foreseeable future. Orgar extended his hand and Glenn shook it. “Thanks for your help, Glenn,” said Orgar.
Apparently feeling better than she was when she limped off the arena floor, Resinyos said, “Orgar, we’ve got some gear we left in our rooms back at the Twittering Bard. We’ll need to stop there to pick it up.”
“Um, me too,” piped up Del. “My gear’s not at the Bard, but a couple of streets west. Not far off our route to the gate.”
With everyone on board, Orgar drove the wagon northeast. Barely two miles from the arena they pulled to a stop in front of Willard’s Trading Post. Spending their dwindling funds sparingly, they stocked up on a few essential supplies and replaced a few personal items taken from Dillon at the arena. Del also bought a sheet of canvas to drape over the cage to provide shade to the passengers in the wagon. She also got a couple of poles that she fastened to the front of the wagon to serve as tent poles so she could stretch a corner of the canvas over the driver’s seat so Orgar could also be shaded from the worst of the Daeorian sun.
With the supplies and companions loaded, and the canvas giving shade, Orgar continued driving the wagon northeast. Though rumored to stampede at a good speed when frightened, the protocs’ normal speed was plodding and slow, but steady. It was probably by conserving energy and not exerting themselves that they were able to adapt to dessert living.
At about mid-afternoon they pulled the wagon up in front of the Twittering Bard to collect the personal supplies of Resinyos and Tolpek.
Orgar said, “I’m hungry. Why don’t we eat while we’re here?”
“Sounds like a plan, lad,” said Tolpek. “Why don’t you grab us a table while Resinyos and I fetch our things from upstairs.” He and Resinyos disappeared into the tavern.
Orgar stacked their supplies in the center of the wagon and covered them with a blanket. After he exited the cage and closed the door, Del attached a heavy padlock she had procured at Willard’s.
As Orgar stepped through the door with Dillon at his side and Del trailing behind them, he spotted what looked like the same two hooded figures he had seen that morning still sitting at the same table in the same secluded corner. With them was sitting the man who had been chasing Del – the one called Greggor. Though the hooded figures’ faces were hidden he could tell by their movements that both were looking their way, as was Greggor. Del stopped and backed out the door.
Recognizing her concern, Orgar said, “I don’t think they’ll try anything while you’re with us, Del.”
She shook her head and said, “Maybe not. I think I should go get my things, anyway. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Orgar and Dillon took the table nearest to the door and the front windows affording them a view of their wagon so they could keep an eye on their possessions while they enjoyed their meal. Tolpek and Resinyos came down with heavy backpacks. Resinyos also had an elongated canvas bag that Orgar guessed likely contained a small assortment of staves.
“What a delight it is to see you all back here again,” said Sioka. To Resinyos she added, “I see you’ve collected your things from your room. You’re not leaving us, are you?”
Tolpek replied, “Aye, lassie. ‘Tis time we were movin’ on. But I’ll be keepin’ it in mind to make it back here agin someday.” With a wink he reached over and pinched her bottom. Sioka gasped and feebly pretended to swat away his hand.
“Oi! You just be behavin’ yourself, mister, or I’ll have to smack you with a ladle, I will.”
Resinyos rolled her eyes and with restrained annoyance asked, “Can we order some food, please?”
“Oh, to be sure, lady. What’ll ye be havin’? Krung’s boiled up a nice pork and bean stew. We’ve also got some cheese and some fresh-baked bread. Will that do ya right?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” said Resinyos.
Everyone agreed to have the same along with a mug each of water for Resinyos and Dillon, Orgar and Tolpek ordered mead. Glancing over at the corner table Orgar saw that Greggor had apparently slipped away.
Observing the direction of his gaze Tolpek said, “I don’t think you wanna be havin’ any trouble with those two, lad. I hear that’s some Thieves’ Guild big-wig called Benton. He’s said to be deadly dangerous. And his lady friend there, Natasia, is said to be nearly as deadly. They’ve been here at the Bard since Resinyos and I got here a few days ago. I’ve been makin’ a regular habit of just ignoring them. Don’t notice and don’t be noticed, I say.”
“That’s Benton?” asked Orgar. “I’ve heard of him.”
The food was delivered quickly and Orgar bit into a chuck of cheese and followed that with several spoonfuls of stew, but Greggor’s disappearance kept bothering him.
“I’m going to check on Del,” said Orgar, as he pushed away his half full bowl of stew and stepped out of the tavern.
= 17 =
The alley was narrow and darkly shaded by the adjacent buildings. Orgar followed the alley and saw that the three men who had been running after Del earlier had now caught her. Two held her by her arms and hair, the one called Greggor held Del’s knife to her throat.
“Benton’s put a price on your pretty little neck. If you won’t pay up, you die.”
Del squirmed and struggled against her captors. Greggor slid the dagger through the neck of her shirt and cut the front of her shirt open exposing her breasts, then he said, “It’s a good thing you don’t have any titties, little girl. They’d have gotten in the way and got cut.” The three men laughed raucously at Greggor’s crude humor. Then Greggor lowered the dagger to Del’s crotch and said, “How ‘bout we have a little fun before we cut your throat, eh Del?”
Del struggled again, but said nothing. Orgar moved quietly though not especially stealthily as he approached, but the men’s attention was focused intently on Del. Then Orgar lept out of the shadows and rushed them. He grabbed Greggor’s neck with his left hand and Greggor’s knife hand in his own right hand. Overpowering Greggor, he pushed the dagger up to Greggor’s neck. The other two wore stunned expressions on their faces and didn’t seem to know what to do. One of them said, “Let him go or we’ll kill the girl.”
Orgar looked at the two men. Neither was holding a weapon as both hands of both men were fully engaged in restraining the squirming girl. Orgar turned toward Greggor’s face and asked, “Is that right? Your boys here gonna kill her?”
Stammering, Greggor asked, “Wh- what do you want?”
“I want the girl for myself,” said Orgar.
“You don’t know what you’re asking for, she’s dangerous. Sh-she’ll kill you.”
Orgar glanced at Del and said, “She doesn’t look that tough. I think I’ll take my chances.”
“Who are you? Wh- what do you want her for?”
“Who I am is none of your business, neither is what I want her for. Let’s get something straight here, I’m taking the girl. That’s settled. The only question left to answer is, do I kill you first or let you and your buddies run away? Do you have any thoughts to offer on that?” To underscore his point, Orgar pushed the dagger into Greggor’s face and cut him across his right cheek with it.
“I’ll run, I’ll run, I’ll run! I’d like to run, I’ll run, I’ll run! Please, let me run. Please!”
Orgar took the dagger from Greggor’s hand and shoved him. Without looking back, Greggor ran headlong down the alley. Then Orgar turned to the two men still holding Del and snarled, “She’s mine.” Then he leaned close to them and whispered, “Run.”
They didn’t need to be told twice. Both of them released Del and took off after Greggor’s fleeing form.
Del was angry and embarrassed. Not because her breasts were exposed. She was embarrassed that she had needed somebody to help her escape from the thugs. Without saying a word, Del snatched her dagger from Orgar’s hand and stepped up to a wall behind a tall pile of debris. She did something Orgar couldn’t quite see and managed to work loose a wall panel. She leaned into the opening behind the loosened panel and, with some effort, pulled a trunk from behind the panel. She spent several seconds working the lock mechanism, then opened it and pulled out a dress. Casting aside her ruined shirt and pulled the dress on over her head. She pulled her long hair out of the back of the dress so it lay down her back outside the dress, then she closed and locked her trunk. Finally, she pointed at the trunk and curtly said, “Carry that for me,” and started to walk past Orgar.
Orgar stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t mean that, what I said to them. I don’t claim you or think that you’re mine. I was just trying to make them think I’m meaner and nastier than they are. It worked. I didn’t have to kill them.”
Del’s face flushed pink. “Maybe you should have,” she said. She pulled her shoulder away from him, crossed her arms over her chest and stomped off down the alley.
I should have what? wondered Orgar. Killed them, or claimed her? He picked up her trunk and followed her at a distance that let him keep her in sight, but didn’t crowd her. Careful, Orgar, he thought. You’re just a big, dumb brute. Best watch where you let your mind wander.
= 18 =
Escape from Ashtakahr
The others were waiting in the shade of the canvas-covered cage-wagon. Del climbed aboard and sat in a front corner, arms still crossed and avoiding everyone’s gaze. Orgar came behind her and set her trunk in the back of the wagon.
Resinyos’ sharp eyes picked up the tension in Del’s demeanor. She knew something was wrong – something was bothering Del. She glared venomously at Orgar.
… … …
Resinyos shoved the head of her staff under Orgar’s chin and demanded, “What’s bothering her? What did you do to her, you filthy, pig-faced animal?”
… … …
Del rushed over and shoved the staff aside. “Leave him alone, he didn’t do anything. Why don’t you mind your own damn business, witch.”
Resinyos looked confused. In a hushed voice Orgar explained, “Something embarrassed her. I was there and saw it. It’s just that someone saw it, anyone really, that’s made her upset.” Orgar waved off Resinyos’ obvious question before she could ask it. “No, I won’t say anything else about it. That would only make her embarrassment worse. I’ll keep her secret to myself.”
Dillon looked at the others and said, “Well, aren’t we just lovely bunch of comrades.”
Tolpek said, “Let’s just get out of this damn city and worry about it later.”
Orgar sat in the driver’s seat and, with a flick of the reins, started the protocs drawing the wagon toward the Dehm gate.
The gate itself was a great arching hundred-foot long corridor at least forty feet high [and thirty feet wide] passing through the three hundred-foot high city wall. There was a line of half a dozen wagons and carriages queued up to exit the gate ahead of them and about two dozen city guardsmen manning the gate and checking that papers were in order to gain passage out of the city.
… … …
[Viewports in the corridor. Guard recognized Dillon and stops the wagon. Resinyos casts sleep on guard. Orgar props sleeping guard against the wall and hurries the protocs to get the wagon far away before the guard wakes.]
… … …
It took several miles of travel before the vast walled city of Ashtakahr began to recede from view. Orgar turned in his driver’s seat toward the others and said, “Well, we’re away from the city and, I’d guess, away from unwelcome ears. I think it’s time we had that talk about what we’re here for.”
“I’m here to get out of that infernal city before someone cuts my throat,” said Del touching her neck as though remembering her encounter with Greggor earlier that afternoon.
Dillon said, “I just want to find some place to make a difference and do what we can. I don’t think we’re going to overthrow this Xox dragon ourselves, but if we can weaken his hold on the world by taking down a few significant minions… I guess, to start with, we should just explore and learn a bit more about the Daeoria. Maybe even actually catch some beasts for the arena and make some money.”
“Are you sure you want to risk going back into Ashtakahr? Especially with your armor decorated with the symbols of Heironeous?” asked Orgar.
“Well, I can hide my armor, if need be. But, returning to Ashtakahr’s not something I’d want to do any time soon.”
Resinyos said, “I like the idea of putting distance between us and Ashtakahr, and exploring the surrounding territories to learn more about Daeoria.”
“Let’s keep riding a few more miles before we pull off the road to camp for the night,” said Dillon. “I suspect it’ll be a fair number of days’ travel before we’re out of Ashtakahr’s territory, especially at protoc speed.”
The stoic protocs plodded steadily northward as the sun lowered in the western sky on Orgar’s second day on Daeoria.
And thus begins the adventure . . .
Orgar lived in and traveled the Dragonspine Mountains of Moonsea. He and William traveled Moonsea and the Dalelands during their time together.
Resinyos Ameshalia – female, half-elven wizard
Tolpek Valdichak – male, dwarven cleric (Priest of Moradin)
Delores Lynx (aka. Delores the Deft) – female, human thief
Dillon Farlandsman – male, human paladin (Shining Blade of Heironeous)
Copyright © 2010 Patrick L. Hagerty, all rights reserved.
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