So. This is for a small competition on a group on facebook. Nice little challenging short story.
Theme was “the gathering dark” to be set within a game/gaming IP. I went with D&D.
I hope you like it. 🙂
Never accept a mission from a man in a pub.
As the figure hunkered down behind the bush, a slump of snow slid languidly off the branches above, gracefully dropping straight down their back. “Oh! By all the blasted dog faced gods!!!” The hunched figure vowed not to let the next cloak purchasing opportunity slide by. Winter was setting in hard and fast and the group were nowhere near completing the quest. A voice, deep, harsh and barely whispering, shocked the figure; it was far closer than it should be. “What kind of lookout are you? Your swearing will wake the dead, and you know we don’t deal with that very well. What’s actually happening?”
The figure turned to look up at the speaker. He was about seven feet tall and built like a brick outhouse, which made his deft footwork even more surprising; even in this weather he only wore skin boots and a fur loincloth. With his large battle axe strapped across his back and his knife tucked in his boot, he said he was ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The figure stood to meet his gaze. Shaking off the snow her features were revealed. She was, by all accounts, fairly plain. She didn’t have the appearance of any particular human group, this helped when trying to ‘fit in’, which to be honest was not something the group were good at, so every little helped. Currently she was sporting a short haircut, which had proven useful in the past, as getting gunk out of long hair had been a nightmare. She thought back to their most recent skirmish with a band of gobbos where they had barely made it out alive. Using all of her healing skills and resources, she had patched the group up as best she could, but picking bits of goblin carcass and innards out of her hair and off of her group was something she would remember for a long time.
“I haven’t seen any movement, which is why I haven’t reported anything… I do wish you’d let me do my job.” She stopped short as she heard something.
Her head whipped round and she swiftly squatted with her back to the tree trunk. Motioning Mr Man Mountain to do the same with some urgency, she glanced back to the rest of the party, took a breath then let out the apparently fail safe warning noise of ‘a wood pigeon in distress’ watching for a reaction. One figure heard it and scuttled up a tree, disturbingly fast, but the remaining party member just sat still, in open view.
“Godsdamn that bloody man. He picks his time to meditate,” she hissed. “Go back to him and get him out the way, I’m going to check that noise out and I’ll come back”.
Ignoring the incredible cold dribbling down her back, she carefully eased herself forward into a vantage point. She saw a lone goblin crouched down behind a bush, oblivious and communing with nature. “Why here?” she wondered aloud. “You never get a solo gobbo, they like back up, the snivelling little turds. So, an arrow in the head is probably not a good idea as something will be looking for him. Eventually.” She concentrated, fixating on the sound. “Oh, that didn’t sound good at all.” It was a deep rumble, low and constant.
She crawled forward to peer through the foliage, keeping an ear open for the goblin, who was loudly defecating.From her vantage point, the view opened below to a large clearing of fields rolling away dotted with small copses or an individual tree here and there, then more woodland. It was pretty, with the sun glinting off of the snow.
Right there, sitting in the dappled shade at the edge of the clearing in a small hollow, was a damned Orc snoring away, and scratching his groin in his sleep. There were also about a dozen goblins sitting close by, sharpening a variety of nasty looking, spiked weapons.
“O…K…” she mumbled worriedly. “These are a bit too close for comfort.”Carefully she made her way back to the stopover camp, all the way thanking, whichever small gods were looking over the group that the green skins hadn’t landed on top of them during the night.
Man Mountain turned round as she approached.
“Call yourself a light foot? You sound like a grumpy child wearing hobnail boots. Just pick up your toes, it will help no end,” he smirked at her playfully.
“Thanks, but I don’t have time for a ‘technique critique’ right now, we have a band of greenies having a rest just over there.” She waved her hand vaguely in the right direction “Right, so, two plans… One, we just go around, or two, we do something about them.”
She fervently hoped the vote went for going around. This was a hurriedly put together group and were still not overly coherent when fighting, not having been much tested in combat. She looked up at the third member of the group who was in the tree.
“We should burn them all!” The face which looked down at her grinned evilly. This statement would have been a lot more disturbing were it not for the fact the voice was high and reedy, not fitting the beautiful features it came from. Teric was the unfortunate product of a meeting between a Halfling and an Elf. Well, he maintained it was an Elf, but after knowing him for a while, Gwen reckoned it was a Dark Elf, because Teric had a very particular skill set. Whatever, he was destined for a life on the road as he would never be accepted by either of his ancestor races. “Burn them and leave their corpses for the crows!!!” he giggled, a particularly uncomfortable sound.
She turned away from him toward the Man Mountain. “What about our magical friend? Where has he gone?”
The warrior walked over to a thick clump of brambles, reached in with one hand and produced a stiff figure, cross legged and with a serene look on his face.
“Oh ye arse faced gods, how long is he going to be like that?!?” Gwen cursed loudly. She understood his need for meditation, but his timing was freakishly dreadful. He never got it right or convenient, at any rate.
“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” Man Mountain rumbled, “He said he had a new spell that will be quite impressive, he just needs to pin it down.” He looked at her with an expression somewhere between admiration and disgust. He was uneasy with magic: he’d never got the hang of it, and didn’t understand why you couldn’t just ‘snot’ something. But then, not everyone had been born with his natural prowess with a weapon.
“Dammit!” she shouted, “We don’t have the time for this. Have you seen how fast the sun sinks these days? If we are going to reach the Far Tower and return in time for the feast day, we must avoid unnecessary distractions. And fights. Really, the fights.” She shot the warrior a look.
“Hey, I was hired to do a job and I’m very good at it, thank you. Nobody said ‘Hey mate, fancy going on a really boring adventure where very little will happen apart from getting nagged constantly by some bint, sleeping with one eye open to watch out for a midget maniac with blades, and having to stuff a deranged wizard in a bush?’ No! They came to me because they knew it would be dangerous and I AM the best. And you know it too!”
“Yes, yes, OK, don’t hammer it home.” She retorted, fairly agitated at it being quite close to the truth. “I thought we would get more practise before we got sent off, that’s all, and I don’t even know you lot properly, and this is not the romantic notion of adventuring I had, and at no point have my feet been even close to dry in days!” At this point Gwen was shouting loudly. And then, with his usual skill and timing, the wizard decided now would be a good time to re-join the party, unfortunately doing so with a good long scream. A regrettable side effect of his years of magic use. Reality always did that to him. Poor guy.
From his vantage point up in the tree, Teric saw the Greenskin troupe move towards them, alerted by the fracas that had suddenly kicked up. The big woman and the really big guy were having an argument again, the bloody mage had just woke, and no one was aware just how loud they were. Teric was attempting the alarm, but managing what could only be called a strangled eagle. “Close enough,” he thought, but they weren’t listening. “Sod it,” he decided “Enough.” He took a breath “OI!!! Morons! Greenies fast approaching!” he shouted. “Yeah, that got their attention.” he said to himself “Right, looks like I am going to get to burn some filth after all! All righty then!”
He jumped down from his branch, drawing his blades, devilishly sharp and ready for blood…or ichor, they were not that bothered; they just loved the death! “So, one big guy and a few goblins… This should be over in a matter of minutes,” he thought. He looked and saw the kettle still bubbled on the fire. He should get a decent breakfast too, if he could keep the fight over the other side of the clearing and keep one Goblin alive.
The mage was ever so slightly confused. He always was when he came round from meditating: Right, where do we start? Who am I? Erm, Cloydor, yes… that sounds right. Pain… oh, only some, a slight throbbing in my elbow now, that is much better than it could have been. Hungry… yes, very as always, but magic and food are not a good mix. No eating before meditating and this is a big spell.
It had taken him weeks to learn this spell. It buzzed and bounced round his skull, itching to get out. He hadn’t realised it would be SO fizzy, but now he understood why.
Cloydor was suddenly aware that it was not just his screaming he could hear, so he stopped. It seemed all levels of hell had broken out. The giant warrior, Bogdan, had barrelled with a gleeful shout towards what looked like a walking pile of smells which had a most ginormous rusty two handed sword. It was slashing the blade around whilst making a nauseating noise, apparently a barrage of Orcish curse words, foul on the ears. They were such disgusting, filthy brutes. He also heard the squabbling high pitched chattering of nasty, spiteful little goblins, all sharp and spikey, jeering and after blood.
He saw that Gwen had taken up station at the back of their group and was doing what she could with a bow and arrow, but she was an awful shot. He still thought she may have lied about any aptitude with adventuring, but her healing skills were top notch, which was a good thing really. He thought she should try to throw rocks, it would be far more helpful.
The little Halfling elf thing was surprisingly adept at almost any weapon he chose to wield, but had a deep love for some elven daggers, apparently a gift from his father, and they were currently glowing and hissing through the air as he skipped toward the oncoming mob, singing.
Before Cloydor could even blink, his lips tingled as the spell fought to be spoken. “Gosh, well!” He exclaimed. He had thought it was a long term keeper of a spell, but apparently not. That was a shame, he would have to learn it all over again, then. “Ah, but remember it is all about timing!”
Yes, timing was incredibly important.
Gwen was in way over her head. She was busy trying to remember all the basic rules of archery, things like hold and point and… Ah, everything always happened so fast in combat, targets moved and everything. She doubted that would ever be something she got used to. After dropping the third arrow from the bow, she actually gave up and started to walk towards the closest goblin. She knew she would have greater effect if she just swung her bow at them, it would at least keep the enemy away from her. She shut her eyes, clenched her jaw and flailed. Yes, there was no other word for it, she flailed, swinging wildly. The bow connected with such a jarring blow that she opened her eyes, shocked, and stared at a collapsing goblin whose face really shouldn’t look like that. “Euwgh, goblin insides again,” she thought, “I’ll never get used to what brains look like, who’d have thought they were like that?”
She had no time to dwell, that was one down, she knew there were eleven more. Oh no, and the big one too. She could smell him quite a distance away. She looked over to where Man Mountain was doing his stuff. He really did love fighting. She blushed to herself when she realised she had been looking at the fluid motion of his fighting for some time, watching the muscles moving as if she were enchanted. “Oh come on, this is not a spectator sport,” she mumbled to herself, irritated. “Go and do something!”
She turned just as a goblin went to stab her arm, raising his scabby knife high and letting out a shriek. She stepped back and fell over a damned tree root, landing heavily on her arse with the wind knocked out of her. She had just about the right amount of time to raise her bow over her face to shield herself from the knife approaching at speed.
Teric saw her go down. He turned away from the pile of dead around his feet, his blades singing, revelling in the liquid spewing from his fallen foe. He jumped closer to Gwen as he brought down his blade into the back of a goblin’s neck. He sliced it through the bone and scraped it down as he landed, severing the spinal cord, yanking his blade from the carcass. Limply the body fell. He leapt, landing in front of Gwen. “Get back on your feet!” he shouted at her, “We have things to kill!” as he watched her fumble on to her knees. Well that was a start, they were the same height now: she might be able to learn a thing or two. “Stick with me!” He instructed. At least that should keep the healer alive.
Bogdan was in his element.
The Orc came straight at him, huge weapon matching the huge arms that wielded it. It was a monster of an Orc. Bogdan had killed Orcs before, but this was possibly the largest, meanest and smelliest he had seen.
There was a titanic meeting of blades, the shock spectacularly vibrating through the both of them. With his hammer axe hooked around the blade of the enemy, Bogdan pushed the Orc backwards a good few steps, anger coursing through him, allowing him to shove with almighty force. The weapons locked, the fighters’ faces mere inches apart, contorted with the effort of the struggle. The Orc roared into Bogdan’s face, covering him in filthy spittle. Realising he needed an edge, he resorted to his favourite party trick that Gwen had dubbed ‘The Bogdan Special’. Quickly he pulled his head back and rammed it forward with colossal force, connecting with the ugly beasts’ nose, smashing it in a spray of blood and gore.
The Orc, now blinded with blood and roaring in pain, let go of its weapon with one hand. It roared again: an inhumanly guttural sound, then raised its paw to its face. Bringing its gore covered talons away from its maw, it snatched Bogdan’s face in a lightening quick move, squeezing the warriors’ skull, driving him to his knees with brutal Orcish power.
Enduring the pain crushing against his skull, Bogdan switched the grip on his weapon with a swift twist, so the hammer was facing forward. Moving his hand further up the shaft, he swung the hammer back as far as his crouching position allowed. He then drove the hammer home with all his might, striking the beasts’ knee.
It connected with the unmistakable sound of snapping bone.
The Orc howled, stumbling back, letting go of Bogdan’s head. Snarling and raising its weapon high, roaring with fury, the Orc swung the blade towards the kneeling warrior. Seeing the blow coming, Bogdan tried to dodge, but the speed of the blow was surprising, and connected with his side as he tried to roll away. The failed dodge splayed him in the dirt, with a burning sensation around his ribs. He realised He had been caught by the fetid blade. Face down in the dust, he phased in and out of consciousness.
The Orc roared in victory. It had conquered another warrior! It looked eagerly for its next kill.
On the floor, Bogdan muzzily opened an eye, managing to look around very briefly to see the state of play. He was shocked that little Teric had amassed such a body count in such a small span of time, and Bogdan was quite pleased that Teric was apparently looking out for Gwen too. He saw the Wizard, staring at his own hands, little sparks coursing over his skin and round his teeth, his hair and beard starting to stand out from his head under his stupid hat. Bogdan started to feel a pull on his own skin like static before a storm. This was not good. Not good at all. He then heard the wizard scream again, and this time it was words, not just meaningless sounds.
“GET DOWN, I THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE RATHER WORSE THAN I IMAGINED!” Cloydor shouted.
As one suddenly well-oiled machine, Bogdan’s party hit the dirt. From past experience they knew this meant that the damn fool mage had no idea what was actually about to happen.
The Greenskins turned on the lone standing human, now unguarded and looking vulnerable. As they advanced on him, he looked to them and said “Very well, let’s do this, shall we?” and let out a string of bizarre words that appeared in front of him as they were spoken. The feeling in the air became like treacle, a buzzing that invaded the brain to the point where it felt their skulls would explode, then suddenly the clearing danced to the thumping impact of burning rocks. Large rocks, small rocks, all burning, setting their surroundings on fire. The sound was like nothing they had heard before, an almighty high pitched whistling and then *doof* as the rocks hit the floor, shock waves travelling up through their feet. Faster and more urgently the rocks fell as the spell reached a terrifying crescendo. The goblins tried to scatter but were incinerated by the burning rain of rocks, their bodies exploding with the force of the impact, the smell of burning wood mixed with burning flesh and rapidly heated metal.
The Orc saw what was happening and was very confused. A few minutes ago it’d been asleep, and now the goblins were literally being struck down by the sky itself. The Orc did what it did best and took another step towards the frail looking, crazy old human, brandishing his freshly bloodied blade. The old human looked at it and laughed. Laughed! Well he’d not be laughing once the Orc got his claws on him, crazy old fool. The Orc needed to kill something else, and the old man would do. The Orc took one more step and everything went suddenly blank.
Gradually the sounds of fire subsided and the “plink plink” of cooling stone indicated it was safe to look up. Gwen saw that Cloydor stood with a huge megalith buried in the ground in front of him that wasn’t there before. He was painting a symbol on it. Funny, Gwen didn’t remember him having painting equipment with him. She got up to and went to have a look and nearly retched as she realised it was one of the Orcs arms he was using for a brush. He was painting with the Orcs blood, pooling from the half exposed body that was very much pulverised by the stone. Vivid green goo against the light grey stone streaked with dark burns. Looking anywhere but there, she also saw that Teric had a goblin wrapped up in rope and was poking it with a stick shouting various nasty things at it. She headed towards him. “Why haven’t you killed him?” she croaked, “That’s not like you.”
“Erm, I thought I would do some information gathering,” he muttered shiftily. He was lying; they both knew that Teric was going to roast and eat the gobbo, but it sounded good. “Anyway, as it turns out, there is a huge gathering of the forces of darkness or some such crap, happening right in our path to get to the Far Tower.” He giggled. “Looks like you are going to have to get a bit better at swinging your bow before we move out!”
This was not the news Gwen wanted. She turned round though, as Bogdan was shouting again, but this time at Cloydor. She noticed Bogdan was holding his side together, and the back of his leg was smouldering from a rock that had hit him.
“Why for all the little green apples held in this kingdom, didn’t you think to warn us?!?” Bogdan was pretty incandescent already, his anger at the wizard the only thing keeping him upright.
“Well, I did actually warn you.” The mage stammered out under the onslaught of a viciously pointing finger.
“Just shouting ‘get down’ is not an adequate warning, you daft old fool!!!” Bogdan shouted, inches away from Cloydors face, forcing the old guy to stumble back.
“Look, we won didn’t we?” Cloydor stammered as he continued stumbled back, avoiding puddles of goblin. “No harm done, no injuries as such and I also got to practise a quick curse on that stone.” He pointed to the blood-daubed monolith. “It will be interesting to see if that holds,” he babbled.
It was all too much now for Bogdan, whose arm was wheeling back for a bit of a punch, but Gwen caught his fist and said, “All is well, really, considering, don’t you think?” She was using her best calm voice, even though today had been a bit trying already. “Let’s just patch you up and have breakfast whilst we work out how the hells we are going to make it to the Far tower in one piece. Oh, and get back again too, that’s quite important.”
She sighed and reached for her healing pack.