Short Stories

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Short Stories

The Visit

A tale from the old UO Sonoma days...

The cheery light of the fire gave off warmth, but little comfort to the man pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. If anything the flickering light exaggerated the new lines on his face making him appear to be craggy and older, the dark circles under his eyes gave him a haunted look. With a sigh he plops into a chair and reaches for a book on the table beside him. Opening 'The Complete Anatomie and Battlefielde Surgerie' to a mark not quite half way through he begins to read. After a moment reading and re-reading the same paragraph he slams the book closed and stands up to pace before the fire yet again. His eyes scan briefly about the room. It lay empty and quiet except for the thump of his own boots and the crackle of the fire.

Abruptly the man stopped pacing and stomped purposefully to a nearby rack and began to arm and armor himself. He shunned noisy shiny plate and selected dark chain and ring. Carefully he checked his saber and axe before belting them on and then topped everything off with a dark blue wool cape. Once girded for battle he moved to the back room used as a stable, his spurs now ringing time to the thump of his boots. As he entered his horse nickered in greeting. "Easy Beast," he said patting the horse on its neck. "How about you and me going on a little nighttime ride?" The horse dipped his head up and down, almost as if he was nodding, causing the man to chuckle. "Sorry about this, I know you hate these things, but tonight we need to move quietly." With the ease of long practice he placed muffles on the horses hooves and then mounted up. Once more checking his gear and looking satisfied, he canted "In Jux Sanct" and "In Lor", then rested for a moment to regain his energy. With a final sigh, his heart already beating stronger from adrenaline, he uttered "Kal Ort Por" and disappeared.

The man materialized in a copse of trees near where the Saboteurs used to have a safe house. He slipped into the shadows quickly and froze. He listened intently, but the only sounds were of the ocean and the nearby ferryman chanting as he hauled on the ropes toward Skara. The man moved, then ghosting through the trees and across the road, melding into the shadows from time to time as he heard movement. The normally quiet woods were thick with warriors, but the man began his training in the forests as a ranger before joining the Legion and this place was his home, and none saw him pass. He wondered at so many people skulking about in the woods. The arrogant Fallen Angles normally did not bother with stealth. Perhaps it was one of their allies trying to win favor by tracking down any of the defenders.

As he neared Ironwood, he slowed his pace even more. The smell of smoke from the fires of the invaders permeated the woods, along with another more acrid scent. "Brimstone," the man mused. Just then a great bellow could be heard from the vicinity of the village, followed by a few ragged yells. Once again slipping into the shadows he began running through the magic needed to banish one of the fiends, fully aware that his magery was woefully inadequate for the task. It turned out not to be necessary and the warrior watched as a small troop of riders flew through the woods, pursued by a winged demon. One hapless fellow was paralyzed. His comrades did not even pause to free him, but continued fleeing. With a howl of triumph the demon pounced and rended the man limb from limb before disappearing back to the abyss with its newly acquired soul. Unable to resist, the man rode to the grisly scene to take a look. The remains were not familiar to him, neither friend nor foe. With a shrug he prepared to mount up and leave when he noticed something...a patch or badge of red. Upon closer examination it turned out to be a black phoenix on a crimson field encircled by a symbol the Legion Saboteurs used to signify the rank of scout. Stranger and stranger the thought. Something about the phoenix tickled his memory. Briefly touching his own Black Rose symbol, the thought clicked into place. Once long ago the Black Legion, was not a mercenary company, but a military legion, the Legion of the Rose. He wondered at this new development and decided to go and research what remained of the old records from the Arcadian Empire days, to see if there was any mention of a Legion with that symbol.

He sighed again. Demons, vampires, soul stealers and now ghosts from the Legion's past....Ironwood just wasn't what it used to be. With a final pat to his mount he uttered "Kal Ort Por" and winked out leaving the night as it was.

Aftermath

A tale from the old UO Sonoma days...

The evening sun was finally setting casting fierce shadows across the rooftops of Ironwood.

At the edge of town the sound of a lone rider could be heard approaching the city streets. On the roof of the Roasted Boar a solitary figure clad in black seemed to melt from the shadows cast by the lamplight below. The figure crouched by the corner of the Boar, his close fitting suit and cloak almost invisible against the inky blackness. His head swiveled watching Sir Mordane ride into town. The Horns on the sides of that blasphemous Helm curled themselves downward in what seemed to be an attitude of disdain. Small, minute tendrils of smoke began to waft from the openings on the Helm. A brief moment of what seemed like pain passed through the dark figure then he sprang into action....leaping silently from rooftop to rooftop.

Following Mordane to the center of town, the figure crouched motionless while he watched the Knight converse with a group of Black Legionnaires. The quiet murmur of war plans being formed were carried to the intruder who waited patiently just feet above.

Finally, Mordane concluded his meeting and begun riding away.....the Intruder backed slowly onto the center of the roof, eye slits glowing a faint red as he done so. With a light touch of a rune on his armband, the shadows melded and swirled engulfing him once again.

A short time later, the Figure stepped out of the shadow under a bridge. The Hedge Maze always was deathly silent at this time of night....... A few days later a group of warriors gathered together in the candle and firelight amid the familiar comforts of the Roasted Boar tavern. Some were binding wounds or checking armor and gear for battle damage, the normally boisterous lot was unusually quiet. Some were drinking heavily, no doubt to try and wash away the taste of defeat from earlier in the eve. A gray haired warrior with a young face and flowing blue cape strides in, his spurs ringing on the step as he enters. "Gaah! Whisper is out of heals again," he says as he plops down on a well-worn stool. Another blue clad warrior with blonde hair speaks up. "Aye Lugoun, I think John will be quite busy tomorrow, battle is good for the Ironwood merchants." Garth said and then chuckled wryly while picking at a rent in his golden Captain's chainmail. Lugoun slammed a mailed fist into the table. "Dam that Harlequin! If he hadn't showed I could have had Kain! After I fell, Thorin got picked apart and then they slammed into our unprotected left flank." Lugoun let out a growl of frustration. Another man in Legionnaire blue with dark hair leaned forward from the shadows. "Nay, we did the best that we could under the circumstances. They ambushed our ambush plain and simple. When we got wind they knew of our plans we shouldn't have gone forward with the attack. I regret gating so many to that doomed battle."

"But how often do the foes of Balart get to strike instead of just reacting and being on the defensive? Commander?" Garth asked. "Not often." Corwin responded. "That's twice now the Legion has been defeated in a major battle with Balart. Others have been beaten many more times." Lugoun chimed in. "And that Bree golem defeated Ice Wyrms in melee! How can you fight against that!?" Corwin spoke again. "You both miss the main problem of this battle anyway. They knew our plans, we were sold out." This brought a moment of thoughtful silence and glances around the room. "There have been a lot of new faces around Ironwood lately." Offered Garth. "I don't trust those Drow any farther than I keep my sword from me." As he said it Lugoun unconsciously reached down and grasped reliable katana belted to his side. "I'm also not so sure about some of the new recruits that Captain Drakem has brought into the Legion." That's enough of that kind of talk Lugoun," Commander Corwin said. "Drakem is Captain of our Saboteur brothers and we don't interfere with each other's contracts or recruitment. If any Legion member betrays our oath's of loyalty they will be outcast from our company and reviled accordingly." He sighed then. "In any event none of the Saboteurs need to be told of our plans. No....we all know that there are spies and counter spies and the walls could have ears.... Tis the truth of war.... We shall have to find some way to deal with it....."

A few days later finds Lugoun beating the road dust from his kilt and knocking the mud from his shoes before entering the Ironwood Ladies Society hall. He is surprised to find Lady Genevieve Vryce in man's garb, sweating though a sparring session. He suddenly realizes that he has not seen her wear her signature pink dresses for quite some time. "Pardon me Lady, may I come in?" "Of course Lug, come in. You got my note?" "Indeed, as you know myself and several of my brothers are doing what we can in the fight against Balart." "Did you take part in the assault against a few days ago?" "Aye...." he went on to describe the battle in some detail. "The way I see it we've got a few problems." As she spoke, each point was punctuated by another mace blow. "One. The groups against Balart are in disarray, each group fighting alone, no communication." "Two. We have no common banner or leader to gather under." She mumbled something under her breath that could have included Damien's name. "Three. Security is also a problem, we need some way to gather those that we trust....."

Much later Lugoun left the ILS house in search of some of his Legion brothers, with a spring in his step that had been missing since the last battle.....

The Audience

In the depths upon a dias sits a throne. It is hewn from the shiny obsidian like rock that forms the cavern and polished to a glassy gleam. To either side of the throne more stone has been shaped and carved into fanciful beasts. A soft gurgle and splash can be heard, but the water is nearly invisible against the dark stone despite the blue flames that dance above the water. Away from the fountains of fire and water a deep chill wraps the cavern, in places frost and ice coat the already slick stones. The cavern is as still as a tomb but for the restless dancing of shadows upon walls. The capering shadows move almost as if some mad puppeteer was enacting a play before the fire to an audience of cold stone.

The sense of timelessness that pervades the scene abruptly changes and the shadows become still, though the flames of the fountains change not at all. A piece of darkness detaches from the wall and glides toward the throne. As it approaches the pool of light from the fountains, the shape resolves itself into a dusky skinned elf wearing black leather. Its every stride relaying grace, power and control. No sound of a footfall interrupts the song of the fountain as it moves and then kneels on one knee before the throne.

For a minute or a day the elf kneels unmoving before the shadows on the throne stir. Where before had been seemingly nothing an armor-clad figure leans forward from a pool of darkness. Dark mail clinks mutely as the figure gestures for the elf to rise.

With a dry, soulless voice the figure speaks. "Why do you come before me now after your failure in the south?" "I bring the new agent you sought." The normally musical Elven language seems stilted and dry. "I have also brought the grimoire you requested I retrieve." The elf holds forth a book seemingly made of copper or brass plaques upon which have been etched runes of power. With no discernable queue a bit of shadow departs from the wall and carries the heavy plaques to rest on an arm of the throne. After touching the runes briefly the figure on the throne speaks again. "You may take your leave until I summon you again. Others will handle the contingency plans for the current course of events." With an ever so slight bow of the head the elf backs away into the darkness and is gone. The shadows in the chamber return to their cavorting along the walls for an indeterminable length of time before a foreign sound intrudes upon the song of the fountain.

A presence enters the room, a sinuous line of movement that coils beyond the direct light of the fountains. "Maassster," said a voice that hissed and quavered at the same time. The silence extended out and slight movements from the coiled form further betray its agitation. Finally the dark figure on the throne moves, laying a hand upon the plagues resting on the throne. "You will have your chance to prove yourself to me Shrissstaac. If you and your offspring perform well then perhaps you can earn the reward you seek." "Ohhh, thaaank you maassster. We will live only to ssserve you!" A sound frighteningly dry and alien comes from the figure on the throne. It takes Shrisstaac a moment to realize that this is laughter. "Yes, you will only live to serve." The mockery in the tone set Shrisstaac to coiling about himself in fear. With a movement that almost sent the coiled form ducking, the dark figure tosses the metal plaques to the floor. "Take this as payment for your service. You may share this knowledge among your offspring as you see fit. Now begone from here." Uncoiling some the form moves into the light revealing a dark serpentine body. The head dips down and swallows the plagues from the floor in one gulp before slithering quickly away.

All is quite for a moment, and then the horrible dead laugh comes forth again from the ShadowLord. "Live only to serve, or serve only to live?" The obscene laugh continues briefly before silence descends, and unmoving the figure on the throne seems to fade. Once again the shadows begin their desperate play upon the walls and all is as it was before…

Beginnings and Endings

Fiction created for a character concept for Neverwinter Nights 2 server/world based on Middle Earth called Heroes of the Third Age (HotTA).

Dusk brought forth the usual crowds, merchants hawking their gaudy wares before darkness drove them from the streets, barefoot sailors swaggering about looking for diversion before going back to sea, and the whores and ale sellers and tavern keepers seeking to part from them their last coins. Slave gangs fresh from the market shuffled past on the way to their pens. Toughs and thugs and pimps of all sorts peered out among the press looking for marks. The smells wafting through the district varied as much as the goods being sold in a tinker's stall, one moment roasted meat and ale, the next the ocean or the fish monger's offal, stale ale and piss, the masses of unwashed bodies and the occasional sharp tang of coppery blood.

In ten minutes of silent watching from a shadowed alcove, no less than ten propositions, seven pukings, three brawls, two robberies and one murder occurred.

This was life off the docks district in Umbar, a thriving chaotic pulse where the tough survived if they were lucky and the only justice to be found was bought with gold or found at the end of a knife.

Out from the alcove slipping into the growing shadows strode a man. He was dressed as a typical sailor in gaudy bright clothing, but in place of the rotten cheap rags most wore, this one had fine cloth, and a bright gold earring that would normally be begging for some street thug to take. However the black patch this one wore over one eye and the wicked blade strapped to his leg announced another sort of sailor entirely. He walked with a strange combination of sailor swagger and feline grace one struggling for dominance over the other, but neither winning, nor lessening the smooth trod of his booted feet. Where he passed, the crowd miraculously parted. A few in his wake dared cast looks at his back before quickly resuming their business, but none wanted to be noticed.

The man walked purposefully to the edge of the district where the remains of some hovel tenement had burned decades ago. Signs of more recent building could be seen about this precious open space, but it seemed that for some reason fire had taken those too.

At the edge of the burned area a merchant had set up a stall.

The man simply stood there arms crossed in the street while the crowds washed around him. Slowly, space grew around the man and almost magically an untrodden path opened up between him and the merchant. A hush began to spread, until at last the merchant turned and froze.

The man simply stood and stared.

After a moment of frozen terror the merchant began packing up his little cart, before he had half completed he gave a quiet squawk as though prodded and lurched away to disappear down the street leaving some of his goods on the ground.

The man then moved to the space the merchant had occupied and surveyed the burned remains, idly rubbing a burn scar on one arm. As he surveyed the ruins with far away eyes something broke the rhythm of the street and like a dog picking up a scent a flash of tension lightninged through the mans body. It was followed by a feral half smile and a slight tilting of the head.

From behind the man a braying voice broke through the crowd, “So predictable. So sentimental Tarn. You should know better than to come back here like this every year, now you’re caught like a rat in a trap.” As the voice spoke, several others moved out to join the speaker, each bearing daggers and knives, and each grinning at the prospect of an easy slaughter. All wore the dirty black rags of the cutthroat gang known as the Sewer Rats. The vendetta between that gang and the man named Tarn had become legendary.

Without even turning to face the threat, the man at the edge of the ruin replied lazily, “Oh no Faiz, you seem to be mixed up. You see, this isn’t your trap...”

The Death of Shea

A player death from a campaign in the college days. A portion of this combat was recorded on a cassette and the action was converted into this rough excerpt.

Shea has entered the cavern filled with orcs and ogres invisibly. After felling an orc in one blow he placed himself with his back to the wall and has been felling orcs and ogres. The magical strength he possesses causes his axe to rip through armor instead of merely denting - the orcs that dare move within his reach fall with one swipe of his axe. The huge beastly ogres falling after two passes of the blade. Those blows Shea is not able to dodge bounce off of the protective stoneskin spell cast upon him hours earlier. After five or six of the humanoids are slain, the cavern is in a panic, but then an orcish voice booms from behind the threatening mob - "Move away, I will take care of this..."

The orcs, already frightened, scramble away and Shea cuts one down as it flees. A large orc in black armor raises its hand and a cone of freezing magic springs forth striking Shea and two orcs not fast enough to get out of the way. Fighting forward despite the freezing magical blast, Shea strikes the Ogre-Mage, wounding it severely. Surprised by the power of the attack, the creature turns to flee, only to be struck down as it exposes its back.

The cavern is now in a shocked state seeing its mighty magical leader slain. Still, a few of the ogres and orcs become enraged and seek to attack even knowing they will die. Potentially deadly blows from the ogres are defeated by the rapidly diminishing magical stoneskin.

In the mad rush of combat, an orc manages to trip Shea and he falls to the ground, nearly losing his grip on this axe-spear. Seeing the mighty half-elf warrior stumble causes an uproar among the throng and several more find heart and move forward to battle, shouts of fear turning into shouts of victory.

Amidst the din, Shea can now hear the sound of huge booted feet echoing up from one of the deeper caves. Emerging from the darkness are huge forms. Minotaur wearing scale armor, marching in lockstep three abreast. Shea manages to regain his feet just in time for the Minotaur to unleash a volley from their over-size crossbows. Shea dodges and several orcs are shot through or pinned to the walls by the massive bolts. Seizing the opportunity, Shea begins to flee, noticing yet more Minotaur in rank behind the first three.

Hoping to create confusion, he turns mid-run and hurls a flask of oil into a nearby cookfire, spreading burning oil amongst the orcs scrambling to get out of the line of fire. The orcs are frightened and confused, but the Minotaur ignore the chaos and continue to march forward, methodically reloading their crossbows and firing again, one striking Shae a vicious blow as he turns to run. Advancing and spreading out on a shouted command, the second rank of Minotaur fire at Shea's fleeing silhouette... Shea is thinking "I'm not running fast enough" as he has to roll to the ground to avoid another volley, receiving yet more bruises and wounds.

He leaps up and dodges around the corner and (instead of continuing to flee), he ducks around the corner and invokes the healing from a ring of spell storing, then prepares to ambush the minotaur he can hear still marching methodically after him. He hears the click clack of the massive crossbows being loaded again. He readies a bag of hot pepper dust to throw into the sensitive eyes and nose of the minotaur.

The disciplined line of minotaur moves out into the daylight, expecting to fire at the fleeing half-elf. Instead Shea swings before they adjust to the light, but at the last instant the minotaur dodges and Shea only strikes the cave wall, nearly dropping his weapon. The minotaur are clearly surprised, the lucky minotaur drops its crossbow and reaches for the large axe slung at its side. The other two in the front rank fire bolts point blank, both strike and the stoneskin has long since worn off. The others to the rear don't have a clear shot and hold their fire.

The orcs are now rallying behind the minotaur, eager to see the kill of the clearly badly wounded foe. Shea calls upon the gods of luck for speed and tosses his pepper powder into the face of his nearest foe and swings his axe-spear at another causing a slight wound. The minotaur recover from their momentary confusion and begin to surround Shea, loading crossbows and readying their axes. Once again calling upon the gods for luck, Shea throws a flash pellet into the midst of the surrounding minotaur temporarily blinding them and then runs for it.

One minotar behind the others and shielded from the flash steps around and fires at the fleeing Shea, striking him square in the back and dropping him. A moment later the stunned Shea is rolled over and the last thing he sees is a great obsidian axe blade whistling toward his head.

So ends the last battle of Shea.