"Come on," said Juzzza, heeling his mount forward. The rest of the LRI looked at each other then followed their leader into the trees.
Jared's eyes were wide with fear but he tried to put on a brave face when he noticed that Red was looking at him. The men had watched the Dark Elf slide into the water, had seen the Berserker gallop off, trying hard to contain his warping form, they had heard the screams, they could smell the burning and could feel the fear coming from the forest.
Despite that, the LRI galloped in to face whatever it was that was terrorizing the woodland village.
Juzzza and the ten LRI mercenaries broke into a clearing and rode straight into a pack of creatures that could have been spat out by hell itself.
Juzzza's horse slammed into the first creature and in a tangle of mane and fur they tumbled over into a somersault. The Rogue had jumped clear and after rolling to his feet, he drew his curved blade and dagger.
A claw slashed at his face and he ducked beneath the talon and sliced at the beast's belly. An ordinary sword would have done little damage and would have failed to cut through the thick shaggy pelt, but the Rogue's blade sliced deep. The creature roared and scooped at its entrails with its claws but couldn't stop them from spilling to the floor. The Rogue's dagger punctured its left eye socket and it fell to the floor dead.
Two more of the wolf men loped forward and arrows from the LRI shot passed the Rogue, cutting them down.
Horses whinnied and reared and Jared saw two mounts tackled to the floor along with their riders, before massive jaws crunched into his colleagues. He drew his sword and screamed as claws sliced across his thigh. Red's blade thrust at the creature's neck from behind but it had little effect.
Standing on his saddle, Jared held his blade double-handed and he leaped off his mount, driving his blade into the collar-bone of his attacker. The blade buried deep, smashing through the heart of the beast and Jared fell to the floor, losing his grip on his weapon. Spooked, his horse jumped and kicked, a hoof catching the man on the side of the head and knocking him unconcious.
Red saw his friend leap at the monster and he cheered as the blade skewered the beast. He beat his own blade at the back of its skull until it toppled forward. He turned his mount away and the horse turned a full circle, Jared was nowhere to be seen. Hearing screams to his left, he pulled clear the long spear from his saddle and leaped down to the soft earth.
He ran towards the Rogue, who was a blur of spinning sword and dagger intending to watch his leader's back but the only thing left behind the warrior was dead or dying enemies. A shadow loomed to his right and crying out and gritting his teeth, Red planted his feet and thrust his spear into the furry belly of the creature.
The monster roared and grabbed the shaft of the spear, Red pushed forward, the blade driving deeper into its flesh. Hearing the commotion behind him, Juzzza turned and ran back to help his comrade. His blade sliced at the beast's throat and blood poured over Red's hands and the warrior lost his grip on his weapon . Another cut and the head fell to the floor with a 'thump' and the torso fell away to the side.
The Rogue grabbed the spear shaft, placed a boot on the chest of the dead creature and pulled the weapon clear. He passed it back to Red and winked before sprinting off towards the large black beserker who seemed to be growling orders to the others.
This one was larger, standing almost seven feet tall and long black fur hung from its arms like dreadlocks. Unlike the other creatures, this one held a sword. It's golden eyes spotted the Rogue spinning and slicing his way towards it and its maw spread wide, dripping saliva.
Juzzza stood three paces from the beast and pointed the tip of his blade at its face.
"Are you Sharn?" asked the human.
The creature cackled and stomped forward slicing clumsily at the man. Before the move was half complete, the man had ducked under the blade, stepped-in close and sliced through fur, flesh and bone. The creature's sword arm fell to the ground and it howled with pain.
Juzzza's dagger buried into the groin of the creature and twisting and slicing the blade free, the artery fountained blood. Falling to its knees the creature held up his remaining claw in a feeble attempt to take the human with him. The gesture was ignored and the Rogue simply moved on, slicing and stabbing at his wolf-like enemies.
April 16th, 2004, 08:07 AM
As Juzzza passed the first building, a crudely constructed cottage, he knelt by the body of a woman. Her ribs were exposed and it looked like these things had feasted on her.
One of the beasts stepped from the dwelling holding a lit torch, the fur on its face was stained red as were its claws and arms to the elbow. Sickened, the Rogue paced towrds it.
The creature threw the torch into the cottage and jerked as it noticed the warrior pacing forward.
The beast crouched low and howled, snarling at the Rogue.
Juzzza threw his dagger and it thudded into the chest muscle of the werebeast. It howled, grabbed the handle and wrenched the blade free, dropping it to the floor.
It leaped forward and sliced with its claws. Juzzza side-stepped, sliced at the lead leg of the creature then dived and rolled out of range. The creature clutched at the wound and moved forward.
Juzzza gripped his blade and was about to move in for the kill shot when his attacker burst into two halfs, cleaved at the waist by an enourmous broadsword. The legs of the creature kicked briefly.
Standing before him was a grotesque collection of muscle and dark fur, parts of the creature were still human, parts were beast and some were in-between. The body of the thing rippled and seemed to fold in on itself and reduce in mass until Kahn stood there breathing heavily.
"Nicely done," said Juzzza.
Kahn looked over at the body of the woman and shook his head.
"What are they?" asked Juzzza moving towards the barbarian.
"Freaks," replied Kahn, "Sharn's play things, the fool has been playing with ancient lore to create these animals using a blend of his own blood, willing volunteers and pagan magic... These things aren't beserkers, just disciples of one."
"Why did they attack the village?" asked the Rogue.
"Fun, to feed? I don't know, but I intend to take it up with Sharn when we meet." Kahn's form bubbled and folded and he once again doubled in size into the hulk of flesh and fur.
The berserker moved on into the village and Juzzza followed as four of the LRI came from the trees, covered in blood, tired and petrified.
April 16th, 2004, 08:29 AM
Crom dropped to his knee and said, "Lord Gravin," as the man entered the tavern.
Gravin looked around the large room, noting the unconcious giant by the fire.
"Is this the Loveable Rogue Inc?" he asked.
"Um... Others asleep upstairs... Crom thinks."
"Wake them please Mr Hornsmash, at first light we are leaving for the mountains," said Gravin. Crom stood up and towered above his leader.
"We?" said Crom.
"Yes, you and your new friends are joining me and the Mag Regiment."
"Why... If Crom may ask sir?" said the Ogre sheepishly.
"To prevent a war Crom... And perhaps save a world."
April 16th, 2004, 10:25 AM
Crom paused just long enough as he crossed the room to kick the snoring form of Boldar awake.
"Wha..." Boldar groaned.
"Wake up, big man, we in the army now."
Boldar sat up, rubbing at his waist and shoulders. "Uhngh. Feels like I've been beat with axe handles. Must be getting old."
Crom shrugged. "Are old." He did not bother mentioning that he had kicked the man half across the floor the previous night, but instead lumbered up the stairs.
Several minutes he returned, the rest of the party in tow. Gina and Mya looked a little worse for the wear. Boldar noticed that Mya had not fully buttoned her shirt, whistled quietly, and positioned himself behind her to look down her blouse.
Mik came down the steps carefully, now mostly healed by the magical potions appliled by the healers the prior day. Reed and Arleena followed a bit behind Mik and stopped short of the bottom of the stairs, unsure of thier place in this.
Nasim was no-where to be seen, to the relief of everyone.
April 16th, 2004, 10:39 AM
At the south-end of the village, the trees thinned out and in the distance, the Tin Hills were barely visible.
Juzzza, the now human-form Kahn, and the four surviving LRI men, crouched low. Between them and the plain leading to the Tin Hills, were three hundred of Saerka Sharn's henchmen. Predominantly human, they were rugged, hard-faced warriors and about a quarter of them were the various shaped and sized, fearsome, werebeasts.
At their centre stood a monster. The creature's head was more bear-like than wolf, skin reddish-brown, shoulders and back covered with black wire-like hair.
Sharn was shouting at his men in a bestial, gutteral language that reverberated in the LRI's stomaches even at this distance. Red gulped.
"Is that what a Beserker looks like then?" asked Juzzza.
"That's one form," said Kahn, "Sharn seems to like the bear look. We can take many guises, fish, hawk, wolf, bear... Hulking blob of flesh and fur, which is my favourite by the way," he grinned.
"So what happens now?" asked Red.
"I am going to take on a hundred of those bastards and you lot can share the remainder," said Kahn, his shoulders starting to bubble and stretch.
"Can't we go round them? There's hundreds of them and only six of us," said Red without fear in his voice.
Juzzza looked at the man and grinned, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Albert told me we should fight, however bad the odds look," he said. Red nodded and drew his sword.
"There's one more thing you should know," said Kahn, standing and warping into his largest form.
"Leave Sharn to me or Juzzza, a Beserker can blunt human weapons with wicca, even if you can get close enough, you won't harm him." The four men stared at each other as the barbarian stalked into the opening.
Juzzza handed Red his dagger and said, "this was forged from the same ore as my sword by a Master Assassin Dark Elf, you may need it." With that the Rogue went after the barbarian.
As the LRI ran towards Sharn's hordes, the creature's booming laughter could be heard above the clatter of steel, and the thud of feet and claw.
April 16th, 2004, 10:56 AM
Lord Gravin drew himself up. "Who are those?" He pointed to Reed and Arleena.
Boldar shrugged. "Friends, I suppose. Who the hell are you?"
Gravin seemed to almost swell. "I am Lord Gavin, and you will show proper respect, old man!"
Boldar shrugged. "Don't work for Lords anymore. Work for Juzza, the Lovable Rogue. Surely you heard our name, LRI? Anyhow, if you think I am joining any army, you have lost your mind. Its been 40 years since I marched straight and pissed proper."
Gravin tried to remain calm. "It is not a request, this is a matter of urgency, and with your help, war may be averted."
To everyones surprise, Bass stepped forward. "Lord Gravin, surely you know us as free men and not of this city. What right do you have to call on us? We are employed and awaiting the instructions of our employer."
April 16th, 2004, 11:18 AM
Originally posted by Richardb
To everyones surprise, Bass stepped forward. "Lord Gavin, surely you know us as free men and not of this city. What right do you have to call on us? We are employed and awaiting the instructions of our employer."
"He's right," Gina yawned, stepping forward. "But it wouldn't hurt to hear the rest of it."
"You're getting us 'involved' again," Mya groaned.
"Don't you want to know why we got woken up so early?" Gina asked.
"You were sleeping, I was practicing," Mya corrected, but glanced over to the others and shrugged.
"Okay, what's this about then?"
April 16th, 2004, 12:00 PM
Mystiqe followed the ulheddin through the burning forest, clinging to her blackened dagger. The beasts ran at speed, hurtling through the trees, heedless of the roaring flames. Pieces of blue and gold livery were scattered across the blood drenched ground. Amongst them, the remnants of men lay partially devoured, mutilated beyond recognition.
On and on through the night, the run continued. The beasts kept up a harsh pace, leaving the rogue some distance behind. Their shapes stood out, blackened and dishevelled, streaked grey in the light of the moon. By daybreak, the pursuit reached the banks of the River Vorg. Gasping for breath, Mystiqe fell to the ground, doubled over, clutching her ribs.
When she rose to unsteady feet, muscles painfully cramped, her blood ran cold. The open fields overlooking the river were consumed with the dark green banners and standards. A vast campment with fortifications was under construction. Beyond the wooden fences, in the far distance, flames burnt across the landscape. Yor Pines were engulfed in sheets of raging fire. A hundred or more campfires burnt brazenly across the crests of the Bolg Hills. Dark lines scoured the devastated farmland, snaking inexorably from the Hills towards Krill Bay.
It was impossible to estimate their numbers. In the cold light of dawn, only one thing was certain. The warriors who had reached the turn of the Longfin River and poured out onto the plains before the Tin Hills were merely the first. The battle had only just begun.
April 16th, 2004, 03:45 PM
"Thank you," Lord Gravin nodded graciously to Gina. "As to being in the current employ of one Juzza, that is precisely why I have come to you. I have instructions from your lovable rogue, that we-- you-- must bottle the drow in the underdark. It is imperative that they not be allowed to escape in numbers."
Mya smiled and fingered the blade of a dagger that suddenly appeared in her hands. Boldar smiled and wished she were fingering another blade...
"Can you vouch for this?" Bass asked.
"I can. Perhaps you know of a certain man named Albert and his firedrake?"
"To the mountains it is." Bass replied, to the amazement of the group. "But how are we going to pull this off?"
"We are going to be joined by a regiment of ogres. But even then, the valley is protected by those in the employ of the drow, and I hope to change that. There is a large settlement in the valley, a settlement of ogres."
"Perfect." Mumbled Boldar.
"But," continued Gravin with a scown aimed at Boldar, "I hope to avoid confrontation with those, and perhaps enlist them to our side."
"Ogre not change sides. Ogre loyal." Said Cromwell.
"Yes that is true." Replied Gravin. "But they are led by, and loyal to one Nedrak, whom I believe I can convince to, shall we say, change sides?"
Crom muttered. "Nedrak Half-Face? The scourge of the Highwalls?"
"Yes, that is he." Gravin seemed unpreturbed. "I will handle the negotiations, perhaps with a bit of help from a certain friend, who I named earlier."
"So there it is. Up to the mountains and kill, or befriend some ogres. Then what?" Gina seemed to be a bit miffed.
"Then," Lord Gravin continued, we hold the valley mouth against the drow. Then we also await Juzza and the rest of your party, for you all have more to do, don't you?"
"Indeed, and bring provisions for about a week. The journey up the East Path is slow and rugged. We may stop at Unhelm Castle, maybe not, but from there we cut directly into the mountains, up to about 3,000 feet where ancient ruins protect the entrance cleft to the High Valley. It's gonna be cold, so pack well. We leave tomorrow at dawn.
The party began to break up, each to their own taks of packing and preparing weapons.
Gravin walked over to where Reed and Arleena stood at the back of the room. "You I don't know, though the rest seem to accept you. Will you be coming?"
Reed spoke up first. "Yes, I believe we will, Sir."
"Fine, though I'll be watching you."
Arleena shrugged. "Join the party."
Lord Gravin turned and left the room, a day full of preperations to make.
Reed smiled and Arleena. "Perfect, just perfect."
April 16th, 2004, 07:40 PM
"Do you know what it's like to live without a soul, Xhao?".
Xhao looked across at his master, a wry smile creeping across his face. "I can't say that i do, although the Emperor seems to fared rather well without one".
Tularis laughed, a bitter sound. "A sharp observation, as usual." He took another sip of wine, setting the silver chalice down on a glass table. "There was a time when i believed there was no hope for our people. That like weapons, we were designed to bring pain and death to others. A cruel, heartless race, thriving on suffering. Unable to overcome centuries of prejudice and hatred, unable to bring a halt to the violence. Incapable of forming meaningful bonds with our human brothers and living alongside them. My daughter taught me differently."
"She always did have a unique way of seeing things", Xhao remarked, looking down at his hands. "I never did understand how she could trust humans so much, in the midst of the Great War".
"You're still jealous after all this time", Tularis smirked. "Typical dark elf".
Xhao shrugged, a trace of embarrassment flickering across his ebony features. "As a child, i heard so often that objects cannot escape their purpose. A blade is forged with the intent to kill. A dark elf born with the intent to murder. We are what we are, nothing can change that."
The Master Assassin shook his head slowly from side to side, stretching his long legs out before him. "Purpose is not innate. It's a conscious choice or decision. It's possible to forge the finest blade in Ayadar, and choose to use it only to demonstrate the craftwork, never wielding it in combat. There are always choices, multiple paths through life. We can elect to embrace violence or walk away from it, doing everything in our power to avoid bloodshed".
"You and i may believe that, but how do we convince the masses? There's a nasty undercurrent spreading through the city. Have you seen their latest propaganda stunts?".
"Can't fail to miss them". Tularis sighed. "Fake pictures of men ravaging our women. Rumours of cannibalism in the northern towns. All this nonsense about selfish brutes, incapable of sophisticated thought, devoid of emotion and sensuality, ruled by greed and insatiable sexual urges. You know they're saying human children are the product of rape? That only dark elves are capable of love? It's all absolute junk but the people absorb it like sponges."
"Drip-fed with poison", Xhao agreed. "It's what they're taught from birth. The newspapers, colleges, guilds all reinforce it. The average dark elf never encounters a human directly, and never hears any other views about them. I actually heard a girl say today that the humans cross-breed with gorillas".
"Blazes, i thought that idea died out with the plague". Tularis laughed. "Still, anything is possible from the right sphere of influence. Even dissolving prejudices and insiduous misconceptions."
"Emperor?", Xhao queried, eyebrow arched.
Tularis smiled. "There's only one problem. Removing the current emperor and overthrowing Belaris would be easy enough. A challenge, but within our capabilities. But how can a shell devoid of its spirit lead the people through change? Years ago, i believed in the sacrifice beyond anything else. I still do. But i also know that our people need a strong leader who can lead by example, proving to them that we can be whatever we choose to be, that we can cast aside our legacy of violence and form a peaceful alliance with our human brethren, living side by side with them."
"A perfect merger between the light and the dark", Xhao murmurred.