Red ran forward and watched as the colossus form of Kahn hammered into a group of werebeasts, his broadsword slicing left and right. Two creatures had leaped onto the Berserker's shoulders and they clawed and bit at his flesh.
Kahn pulled one of them off and threw it high into the air then took the other by the leg and after yanking the beast free, he used the creature to swat aside his enemies like a club.
Juzzza sliced and moved, sliced and moved, never staying in one place. He would often parry and keep moving, not even counter-attacking his opponents, but when he did attack, he chose his shots with cold precision. It was almost like a dance... A deadly dance and Red decided to move towards the warrior.
As Red joined the combat, a human attacker sliced wildly at his neck. Red blocked with Juzzza's dagger and pushed the blade of his sword into the sternum of his opponent. The man grimaced and was pushed aside, crying out as the blade was pulled from his body.
As Red moved closer to the Rogue, a werebeast reared up and sliced at him with its claws. Red fell over backwards and as the creature pounced, he lanced up his blade into the creature's belly.
The slavering maw snapped at Red's neck and he stabbed at the creature's head with the Elvish dagger over and over. The creature roared once before dying, its eyes locked onto the fallen man. Red pushed the body clear and got to his feet. He took a deep breath and ran forward, he was tired. He sliced a man across the throat almost beheading him, ducked a blade, side-stepped a claw, then smashed the dagger to its hilt into the back of the neck of a man who fell down hard.
Heat suddenly scorched his face and he held up a hand and turned away. Looking over his shoulder he saw two riders smash into the ranks of Sharn's men, followed by a flying creature, which looked like a white panther with wings.
It was Albert.
Still not enough to swing the battle, they were outnumbered and doomed, even with a Berserker, the Rogue and now a high mage.
Red leaped forward to engage two men and he stabbed and sliced, taking a wound to his left side. He grunted but did not fall, clutching at the wound. He sheathed the dagger into his leggins and clutching his left elbow into his side he moved forward.
Fire rippled into the ranks of Sharn's horde and flesh and fur burned.
The huge Berserker was no longer laughing and his red eyes burned with rage. He watched his shambles of an army, mostly thieves and rapists, flank the small group of men... And now woman. Numbers at least, would win the day but he wanted to meet the human who was leaping and slicing in a whir of motion. He also wanted to meet the other Berserker who was ripping through his men at pace.
Sharn drew his large broadsword and strode forward towards the human.
He pushed passed his men, knocking some to the floor. His enourmous boot crushed one man deep into the mud and he felt bones crunch beneath his toes. He grinned and bellowed a challenge to his chosen opponent.
The man looked up briefly then continued to slice and stab relentlessly.
This must be the Rogue, thought Sharn, although he had heard he had been killed by Dark Elves. No matter, he would make sure the human was killed this time, and he would feast on his entrails and send his head to Belaris for payment.
"Leave the man," boomed Sharn, slicing his blade through the air. His men scattered, leaving open ground between himself and the Rouge.
The man walked casually forward, flicking blood from his blade into the mud. Sharn looked quickly over to the other Berserker who was still standing and ripping apart man and beast. The two mounted warriors, the man in the hat and the woman, were cutting men and beast down from the saddle. The flying creature following the Hat Man was scorching his army with fire.
"This will have to be quick," said Sharn to the Rogue.
"As you wish," replied Juzzza. One of the Rogue's men appeared and called out to the Rogue before throwing something to him. Juzzza plucked a dagger from the air and moved forward to meet the Berserker.
April 19th, 2004, 09:59 AM
Mystiqe crept along the banks of the River Vorg, slowly heading towards the fortified encampment. Water swelled within the river, threatening to spill over its muddy banks. The rogue's boots sank as she climbed up the river bank, slipping and sliding. When she reached the top, she crouched low.
On the outskirts of the camp, a brawny human was patrolling the edge of the ditch, barking out orders to those digging it. Mounted on horseback, he was clad in a mixture of chain and bear hide. His scalp was close shaved, but a thick layer of stubble covered his jowls. A crossbow hung loose in one hand, whilst a tankard of ale rested in the other. He turned to survey the river, lifting the tankard to his lips.
Mystiqe rose and walked out into the open, hands raised in the air, weapons sheathed. The guard jolted upright, dropping the tankard and staring hard. It clattered to the ground. Frothy liquid spilt around the horse's hooves. He slapped the steed's rump and cantered quickly across sodden turf, drawing up twenty lengths short. The intruder continued to walk towards him. He raised the crossbow and aimed it directly between her eyes.
"Stand still or i'll kill you", he shouted, voice gruff.
The intruder smiled, shaking her head with amusement. Rain lashed down, drenching her white locks. Drops of water slid over ebony skin. The guard glared, lips curling in contempt. The dark elf looked him up and down, slowly and seductively, eyes lingering.
"I'm only looking for something to ride", she replied innocently.
The man shifted uncomfortably, rain trickling down his scalp. A flicker of lust burned in his dark pupils.
Mystiqe laughed and walked closer, tossing her leather jacket down on the ground.
His face reddened. The horse retreated a few paces. "Stop messing with me, drow".
"I couldn't be more serious", she murmurred, meeting his slate grey eyes.
"I warned you...", he threatened.
She strolled towards him, pushing back slick strands of hair.
"Stay still or you'll get it", he shouted.
The dark elf stopped and gave him a wicked smile. Oblivious to the wind and rain, she stretched her arms above her head. He watched, swallowing hard, muscles tightening. She started moving towards him again, blue eyes smouldering. Then reached down to her belt, slowly unfastening it.
The crossbow quivered in the guard's hands.
The belt fell open. She began unhooking the buttons on her leather leggings, striding ever closer to him.
"S***". The man's fingers twitched and the bolt shot loose, hurtling through the air.
Mystiqe watched it fly towards her, silvery tip glistening. Closer and closer it came, unerringly accurate. A split second between life and death, she dived aside, dodging the hard shaft. She charged towards the human, blackened dagger and curved sword drawn. Red streaks pulsated across the metal, crackling and hissing in the rain. She grabbed the horse's reins, vaulted up onto its strong back and slid her dagger across the man's bare throat. He slumped in her arms, resting against her, eyes open to the stormy skies. She sheathed her blades and lowered him gently to the ground, closing his eyelids.
April 19th, 2004, 10:49 AM
(Insert before reaching the Cleft into the high valley) -- also a question -- shouldn't the loyal ogre regiment have been found waiting before the bridge? How could they have crossed and there still have been a battle with the other ogre?
Two days later, they crested a small hill and found themselves overlooking the small valley that Castle Unhelm squatted above. The castle was about a mile away, rising majestically on a small prominatory above the narrow wooded valley.
However, even from this distance, the black smoke rising from the towers of the castle were clearly not natural.
Lord Gravid inturrupted further conversation. "It looks like we may have trouble. Let's get up there and see what has happened." His tone was even and determined.
The troupe took the direct path up to the castle, a winding stone path with steps chipped into the rock wall. After about twenty minutes, the castle disapeared behind a ledge of rock, and the path opened out to a small glade that fronted the castles main gate. Scattered about the glade were the bodies of about a dozen ogres, and several dozen smaller black clad shapes.
Mik, who had moved into the lead with Crom called back. "Drow! None alive, though!"
Boldar, Gina, and Mya all moved to the forefront, weapons drawn.
"Give 'em a poke each with a sword, make sure they're dead!" Boldar spoke loud enough for everyone to hear."
"No need, already done." The voice came from the shadows near the castle.
All heads turned, weapons raised. Then, as the uniformed ogre stepped out of the shadows, everyone relaxed, a bit.
Lord Gravin stepped forward and the ogre saluted smartly. "Report, Corporal Clash."
"It was late evening yesterday, sir. We came the long way around on the cart path, sir, and as we came around the final bend, trebuchet and balista shot began peppering down on us from the castle. As we formed up and began to respond to the threat, about fifty of the black devils came out of the woods on either side and attacked with magic and those damned cross bows of theirs. It took us a few minutes to gather ourselves, and we took some losses. But, soon we had near to a hundred of us gathered and we formed ranks and pushed them back into the woods. Another squad moved on the castle after breaking down a tree to batter the door open."
Lord Gravin nodded in appreciation of the efficiency of the ogres.
"Well, sir, we had the sally door broken open in minutes and half a squad was inside ready to clear the place when it all went up in flames. They must have prepared ahead and doused the entire place. Flames were everywhere, and we lost all those within. The drow, we caught scampering down the outside walls. Those did not make it back to their kindred." The last was said with a savage satisfaction.
Meanwhile, Boldar was wandering about the glade. He was kicking each of the bodies. To his surprise, one of them grunted. "Over hear, theres a live one!"
He pulled a dagger and bent slowly to one knee, carefully flipping the dark cloacked figure over.
"Oh!" Mya gasped, standing directly over Boldar's shoulder.
Boldar shook his head, noting the bloody stain on the little mans shirt. "Nasim, what are you doing here?"
Nasim caughed weakly. "Saving... the..." Blood filled his mouth and he gurgled for a moment before closing his eyes.
Boldar felt his wrist. "Dead."
Mik, who had come to stand on the other side of Nasim from Boldar bend down. "What in the seven hells is that in his hand?"
Boldar pulled Nasim's arm from under his body to get at the item trapped there. It was a book. He picked it up and handed it to Mik.
"Legions of light, legions of dark. How the armies of Lord Kincaid vanquished the drow in the battle of Ren Dale." Mik read the cover.
Mya let a small squeeking giggle escape.
Everyone looked at her.
"Sorry! But, the fool came here with a book intending to defeat the drow."
Boldar smiled. "So ends the adventures of Nasim."
Mik shrugged. "One less idiot in the world. Small loss."
Lord Gravin, back at the castle had made a full inspection. It was too hot to enter still, but on the far side, they had found the charred corpses of the lord of the castle and his retainers hanging from chains from one of the lower ramparts.
"Shall I get them down, sir?" Clash asked.
"How? No, we don't have time." Responsed Gravin. "We have to get to the cleft. "
He walked back to the front entrance of the castle and collected up the party, and they continued their trip, now cutting directly uphill from the castle, up the lower slopes of the highwalls to the ruins that hid the cleft.
April 19th, 2004, 11:06 AM
This goes after my last post, but before choppy's about the bridge."
Late the next day, weary from the hike, the party reached the ancient runes. The ruins were little more than what appeared to be the remains of a curtain wall, though the scale of it boggled the mind.
"Must have been huge." Boldar commented.
"It was, the castle that stood here ran for a mile along the ridge line, with walls a hundred feet high and thirty feet thick." Bass replied. "It was destroyed five hundred years ago by a demon."
Gina looked at the little man. "Are you that old?"
Bass scowled. "No, young women, I am not. I do, however, know how to read the histories!"
In the lead, Gravin and Clash rounded the great wall segment, and found, camped behind it, his ogre regiment. There had clearly been more battles, as the regiment was a bit worse for the wear, and down about fifty ogres. Gravin took a report and came back to where the rest of the group was waiting.
"Well," he began, "it appears that the drow were able to get an vanguard force out before we got here, and those are the ones that took the castle below. My forces fought them all the way up the valley and decimated the last of them just a mile or so away from here."
Crom smiled. "Ogres fight very good!"
Boldar grunted. "Yes, but will they fight other ogres?"
Gravin inturrupted. "That may not be necessary. The regiment will rest here and we will cross the chasm and enter into the hidden valley, where we will speak with Nadrack."
"And we can just walk in?" Mik asked.
Gravin shrugged. "Hard to say, that. Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, that is what we are going to try to do. We must speak with Nadrak Halfface."
Gina spoke up. "Um... why is he called Halfface?"
Boldar smiled. "He had half his face torn away in a fight about twenty years ago. Ugliest creature you ever saw... and now he is worse."
"How do you know that?" Gina asked.
Everyone looked at Boldar. Mya spoke up first. "Please tell me you didn't..."
Boldar blushed a bit. "It was an honest fight over a dishonest game of dice..."
Gravin looked shocked. "You tore half an ogres face off?"
Boldar was all wide eyed innocence. "No. I did not tear off half an ogres face." He paused. "I cut it off with my sword."
"Perfect," muttered Gina.
Gravin scowled and thought for a moment. "Like as not, he wont remember you. Ogres are not notorious for their memories, nor, "he whispered, " their intelligence. You've aged a bit since then, so let's just hope for the best."
Boldar bristled. "Aged! Why I..."
"Shut up Boldar!" The entire group seemed to time their response perfectly.
Cromwell walked over to Boldar and winked. "Boldar good fighter, Crom like that! No worries Boldar, ogre no remember, or maybe remember fondly good fight!"
April 19th, 2004, 11:23 AM
Back to real time.
They crossed the bridge carefully, none of them looking down, well, none but Boldar, who kept trying to make the bridge swing. He gave this up after Mya pulled her dagger and pushed it into his ribs until a point of blood blossomed on his shirt.
Boldar, along with the rest of the party, was very glad he had not been noticed.
As they completed the crossing of the bridge, they entered into a cave about ten feet high and five feet wide. The dark crawl lasted for just a few minutes and then the cave opened out into the deep cleft of the hidden vale.
The vale itself was a narrow knife cut into the high mountains. It was rocky but even at the base, which was several hundred feet from side to side. The walls then rose precipitously away, up a thousand feet or more on each side. The valley ran for about a half mile from end to end.
As they entered out, the noonday sun was just reaching the bottom of the cleft. There were a few spindly trees on the bottom of the gorge, and a few more climbing the lower walls on either side. Ahead a short ways was a large, if ramshackle house, with a large cluster of huts and tents nearby it, interspersed with the stunded pine trees.
Further down the small valley they could see a small castle at the confluence of two streams, it was a simple two level moathouse, with ogres walking on the ramparts. It clearly protected the narrow end of the valley that led to the underdark.
Nedrak looked back. "Nedraks, house! We go to Nedrak's house and talk!"
Boldar looked at Bass. "You know, we could have made a big mistake in being led in here without really knowing where Nedrak stands..."
Bass nodded. "It would make a fine trap, would it not? Who knows, perhaps Reed... Well, we will just have to see."
Crom slunk at the back of the party, trying to avoid notice.
As they came to the door of the house, Gravin turned to the party. "I will go in, and Reed and Bass will come with me. The rest of you," his look paused a moment on Boldar, "will stay out here."
So saying, he entered into the hut. Bass looked meaningfully at Boldar and joined Gravin. Reed simply walked into the house as if nothing were more natural in the world.
Mik looked at Cromwell. "Do you think you could..."
Crom flinched. "These ogres no like me."
"We need to see what they are thinking!"
Crom nodded. "Yes, Crom will go. Maybe they like joke friend Boldar show me with finger. Crom try."
Boldar gaped. "You are sending him into a camp of... what a hundred or so... angry ogres who think of him as a traitor?"
Mik looked Boldar in the eye. "No, old man. Crom is going because he knows this is important."
Boldar shrugged and hunched down in the shadows. The sun had, evidently passed full zenith and no longer touched the bottom of the cleft. "This is insane." He mumbled.
Mya sat down next to him. "That," she said, "is the most sensible thing I've ever heard you say."
April 19th, 2004, 05:01 PM
The inside of Nedrak's house was a bit of a surprise. It was nicely appointed, with thick rugs, several rooms, and a mish mash of paintings, vases, and even a small statue, carefully placed on the mud chinked walls.
Nedrak sat at a large chair near the large fireplace and motioned his guests to take a seat. There were a number of other comfortable seats, and they all complied, though Bass had to climb to get into his chair.
"Nedrak know why you come. Nadrak paid by drow, but not stupid... drow care not about Nadrak."
Reed smiled indulgently at the long speech.
"Nedrak have question for man who may be coward."
Reed bristled. "We have been through this..." He paused, visibly controlling his anger. "What is your question?"
"You speak ogre?"
Reed looked surprised. "No, I don't."
Nedrak waved dismissively. "If you learn, you think you sound smart in ogre, or you sound dumb to ogre, who talk better than you?"
Realization dawned on Reed.
"That right, stupid human, this is not ogre speach, but human. When you talk ogre perfect, you come call me stupid."
Reed caughed and nodded, acknowledging the point.
Lord Gravin broke in. "That is well and good, but..."
"You wait for Nedrak to finish! Nadrak have loyal ogre, Lord have loyal ogre. Nadrak think we can fight and see who win, or we can find another way..."
Lord Gravin spoke calmly. "We can also just sit tight and hold the valley from the outside, without your help."
"Drow like rats. Many little cave in valley, lead to outside. You sit and rats get out all around you, maybe hundreds and hundreds of rats in time."
Gravin paled. "What do you want, then?"
"Nedrak want what all want... better life for people. Nadrak want drow gone, Nadrak want to leave this place, and Nadrak want a small thing for Nadrak."
Gravin thought for a moment. "Nadrak, you know of Castle Unhelm?"
"Fire has gutted the great pile, but it is solid and ready to rebuild inside. I will grant it to you for this support. Not, mind you, just for letting us through, but helping us hold the valley. You know, as you say, where the rats can exit, perhaps you know where else they may enter..."
Nedrak nodded, obviously interested. "Nadrak have castle, and lands about it for people?"
"The castle, the glenn, and the long valley below shall be yours."
"Done!" Bellowed Nedrak. "But, must have small thing for Nadrak, or two small things. First, little magic man cast a spell, make Nadrak whole."
Bass blinked in surprise. "Wha... Um, well, I could cast a permanent illusion, but I can't replace what is gone. Would that do?"
Nedrak smiled a hideous half smile. "Yes, that do, no need feel good, just look good."
"And the second LITTLE thing?" Gravin asked.
"You give me the big old man who waiting out front. I owe him one."
April 19th, 2004, 05:35 PM
Bass found his voice first. "You can't just HAVE him!" He squeeked.
Gravin replied at the same time. "You must let us think on this."
Reed said nothing.
Nedrak shrugged. "Small thing to stop all plan. You talk a minute. No leaving though. You talk here, now."
With no option, Bass spoke up first. "Nedrak, I know what happened, we all do. I, for one, will not give up Boldar to you. I can make you look like you used to, so why not just let go of revenge?"
Nedrak looked surprised. "Revenge? No, ogre no need revenge. Ogre need rematch. Never beat by human, and no like it. Nadrak just fight Boldar."
Gravin scratched his chin. "Without weapons?"
Nedrak smiled. "That be good. He may not even die, if you heal him quick. We have deal, or we start killing now amongst us?"
Gravin looked at Bass, authority clear in his eyes. "Aye, we have a deal."
Bass kept silent.
"Good then, go outside now and pulp Boldar!"
They walked outside behind the ogre, who, upon exiting, banged on a big dented gong by the door. Ogre from all around converged on the scene. Bass squeezed out to talk to Boldar.
Bass motioned him to silence. "There was no choice Boldar, none. I can cast some spells..."
Boldar took a deep breath. "No. If you do, and there is a shamen watching, they'll just kill us all. I'll just take the knocks." He stood up and looked around. Gina, Mya, Arleena, and Mik were standing near, having caught the gist of the issue. "You all owe me a big one for this..." And he began to strip down to his small clothes mumbling about not wanting to ruin his best leathers with blood.
Mya looked at Gina and gave her a helpless shrug. She then walked over to Boldar and gave him a warm hug, and a kiss on the cheek. "Good luck big man." She whispered throatily.
Boldar reddened a bit. "Easy lass. Just a small thing. A man can use a nice massage after a big fight though..."
May smiled. "Boldar, if you can walk back to me and ask for that when this is done, you'll get it."
Boldar stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak for a long minute, until Lord Gravin came to pull him forward, into the large ring of spectating ogres.
Boldar found himself standing ten paces away from Nadrak, who had also stripped. He was a full nine feet tall, hairy, and was a massive pile of knotted muscle. Boldar, huge as he was, only came to the ogres upper chest.
"Nice to see you Nedrak..."
"Shut up and fight!"
Boldar looked at him innocently. "Just glad to see a familiar... face... or at least half one. Can't recall what I did with the other half."
Nedrak bellowed and charged forward, blind with rage. Boldar wondered if his tactic had just earned him a death sentance...
As Nedrak came within reach, Boldar spun sideways and down, his leg extended. Nedraks giant fist swished over his head just as Boldar's spinning leg connected, toppling the large ogre. Boldar sprung back up and backed away.
Boldar winked at Mya as the ogre, unharmed, rose back to his feet.
"Nedrak tear off Boldar face with teeth, or maybe his manhood... not with teeth..." He paused, embarrassed by the slip. He worked his anger up again. "Nedrak pull off arm and beat you with that."
The ogre waded in. Boldar turned left and swung a punch in low, connecting a huge blow into the ogres middrift. Nedrak grunted, but was unmoved. He got a grip on Boldar's arm and hoisted him by it, flinging his a good ten paces. Boldar landed with a whoosh of air and rolled to his feet. His arm hung limp, apperently having been dislocated at the shoulder.
"Arm not come off easy, have to try again! Nedrak bellowed.
Boldar simply crouched and waited. Nedrak came in fast and before Boldar could react, simply bowled him over, literally running over him. This time, Boldar was slower arising, blood pouring from his nose, and below one eye.
"That must hurt?" Nedrak taunted.
"You talk... entirely... too.... much." Panted Boldar, who now stood as if ready to fall over.
Nedrak approached slowly now, seeing victory as assured and imminent. He strode directly up to Boldar, who made no attempt to prepare himself and stood over him, looking down and the bent form. "You old, weak, and worthless."
On the sidelines, the ogres were cheering, but May and Bass were preparing for action. The rest of the party seemed unsure of what to do in this situation.
Boldar looked up through bloodstained eyes. "And you," he whispered quietly. "Are still..." he suddenly vaulted backwards launching a tremendous kick into the ogres crotch, "stupid," he then drove a flattened fist in the ogres half nose with a sickening crunch, "slow," and he drove a sideways kick into the ogres lower calf, staving in the leg and toppling the creature, "and ugly!"
Boldar stood panting over the fallen ogre. For a moment, the cleft was silent as all absorbed the impossible. The first sound was the whoop of joy from Mya as she ran and threw her arms around Boldar. Surprisingly, this was followed by a long cheer from the assembled ogres, who apperantly respected might, and a good fight, whenever they saw it.
After a minute, things quieted and Nedrak had worked his way into a sitting position. "Broke leg!"
Boldar walked slowly over to him after disentangling from Mya. "Not my fault, you were too damn big to drop any other way. Besides, look at my arm!"
Nedrak nodded. "Boldar fight good. Nedrak feel better about last time, not mistake. He reached out and grabbed Boldars limp arm, tugging it. With a loud pop, it fell back into its joint. "There, arm better." He paused, then smiled. "Beside, Nedrak did cheat Boldar... made good coin!"
Boldar laughed. "Damn, I was right!" He then walked over and offered a hand to the ogre.
Nedrak laughed. "You good fighter... but not that strong. Get ogre... Nadrak in big pain."
Two ogres came over and helped their leader into his house.
Several hours later, Gravin's ogre regiment had entered the valley and beer kegs had been broached. The ogres were going to a new home, and had seen a great fight. It was a good day.
Boldar finally got back to Mya. "About that massage... I have... well... several sore spots."
Mya blushed. "I bet you do, big man, I bet you do."
They walked off quietly together.
April 19th, 2004, 09:17 PM
Everybody seemed to be having a good time. Mya, Gina, Bass and Boldar were sitting around a fire, drinking, joking, talking. Gravin, Cromwell and Nedrak were standing agains the wall of Nedrak's house, talking. A certain joke spread among the Ogres with such speed that Reed had to quit wincing. Arleena approached him where he was sitting on a big stone in the shadows, with two mugs in her hand. She handed him one. He took it, held it with both hands and stared into it. Then he looked up, at Arleena. "Oh," he uttered and edged sidewards, making space for her. Arleena sat down.
"So what's it this time?" she asked.
Reed exhaled. "Nedrak thinks I'm an arrogant bastard."
Arleena shrugged. "Well, you are an arrogant bastard. You make bloody well sure everybody knows that. What's the problem?"
Reed just stared into his mug. The sluggish liquid looked almost black.
"Will you bloody talk? You're making me nervous," Arleena blurted suddenly.
"I'm worried..." Reed took the key from his breast pocket, turned it in his fingers. "You've heard the story, haven't you?"
"Mhm..." Arleena nodded.
"I've kept the key, not because I've been outsmarted by an ogre, but because I truly have fallen prey to a prejudice I thought was beneath me. I know being an Ogre is not the same as being stupid. But still..." Reed sighed. "Back at the gorge. Do you think I should have let Gravin sort it out?"
"We'll never know, will we? Nobody's really hurt. Stop thinking about it."
But Reed shook his head. "You don't understand. I just blurted out like that, compromising his status as leader. I didn't trust him to get it right."
"And he very likely wouldn't have." Gilli appeared at his side. "Two people caught in a situation neither of them liked much. Both bound by codes. They were playing a game that really only had one outcome. A battle that nobody wanted."
"You can't know that." Reed said. "I think I panicked again, taking charge of the situation. Just like when Bass froze you up and I conjured the shadows. It worked out this time, but..."
Arleena started to slowly rub his back. "You're a gambler, Reed. And in your case it's not a job, but a personality."
Reed smiled, albeit weakly. "Yet, I took charge again, didn't I. Because I didn't want to jump into that gorge."
Gilli said, "You prevented a fight. It would have been inevitable. That's what happens when honorable people on different sides meet."
Reed turned to her. "Look, Gilli, you really can't know that. Life isn't a simple..."
"Um... well, I can't be entirely sure. But I... er... let's say, I can be pretty certain... an educated gues..."
"Well, in that tavern, you know, when you met. I was there. In the rafters..."
"And you didn't join us?" Reed's arms flew up. "Why?"
Arleena stopped rubbing his back, slapping it once. Gilli looked at Arleena, then to the ground. Arleena looked at Gilli, then closed her eyes, and sighed.
"What?" Reed looked alternately at Gilli and at Arleena.
Arleena rolled her eyes. "She loves you, and I be damned if you deserve it."
Reed let his shoulders sag. "Well, yes, I know, but..."
"Haven't you ever felt excluded?" Gilli asked.
Reed looked at the fire place. Boldar had managed to make Mya laugh. Gina looked at her friend, with a wry smile. Bass leant against a rock and seemed content to watch.
"Never," Reed said, looking into his mug again. Arleena put her hand around his waist, squeezing him.
"Anyway," Gilli continued, "I drifted away, because I really didn't want to disturb you. And somewhere along the line I fell into some kind of trance. When I came to, I was in that museum, looking at that crystal, the Chrysalis. In a nutshell, it woke latent powers..."
"You're a telepath," Reed stated, flatly.
Gilli nodded. "If you wonder why I didn't come back earlier... I practised. A kind, old museum warden helped me. In the presence of the chrysalis I can possess people. Away, from it... Well, I read Gravin and I read Nedrak. Either of them was looking for a way to sway the other. Neither of them was going to budge. They needed the fool to distract them. And it worked. At first, Nedrak was confused. And then he felt superior. Strong ogre talking to a funny little human. And..." Gilli stopped.
"What is it?" asked Reed.
"Well, I looked into you. And you played along. You made yourself up on his reactions."
"Yeah, right," Reed said. "You're just saying that to cheer me up."
Gilli shook her head. "You're on instinct in such situations. Your big advantage has never been your tremendous intellect."
Arleena gave a short laugh. "Sorry," she said. And chuckled again.
"Your strength," Gilli said, "has always been to use other people's expectations to your advantage. But the problem is, you're starting to believe your charade."
Reed sighed. "But is it a charade? Or are you just being generous?" Reed took a deep breath, then looked at Gilli. "What do I feel now, huh?"
"You'd really like to join them at the fire, but you don't feel up to it. Which makes you feel lonely, and then guilty, because we're here with you, and we're your friends, and that should be enough. And then you wish you could accept yourself the way you are."
Reed stared ahead, saying nothing. The mug was heavy in his hand. There were many fires burning, weaving a landscape of light and shadows.
"Well, I'll be joining them at the fire." Arleena stood up. "It's getting cold here." She stood a while. "Are you coming?"
But Reed didn't move.
April 19th, 2004, 10:55 PM
Mya sat, leaning into Boldar. She was very surprised the the big man had not made any attempt to take advantage of her during her extended massage of is tired and battered body. It was then that she realized that she had feelings, deep feelings for the old man.
Boldar enjoyed the warmth of the lass leaning against him, but felt vaguely guilty from her attention. He turned his head, and she looked back at him. "Mya, this can't work, I'm just too old..."
Mya spoke simultaneously. "Boldar, I'm not sure how ready I am for..."
They looked at each other, blinking, trying to determine what the other had just said.
Mya spoke first. "Boldar, you ARE old, but not your mind, not your body... its not that. I just don't want to move too fast with all this, it is new for me."
Bodar smiled a warm smile. "Don't worry about my feelings, lass. You need not try to make an old man feel better."
Mya frowned at him. "No, stupid, I am not letting you down easy. You are old... and I do have feelings for you... and I don't want to move too fast, I just want to take our time."
Boldar looked confused. "But... You mean you don't mind... you mean you really... Mya, as foolish as this sounds, I need to go slow too. This is, well, a first for me too."
"Not that, I've done that..."
"Boldar, you are the worlds most infuriating man!"
"You should know my da."
"Surely he was not as stubborn as you?"
"Was?" Boldar frowned. "Is. Yes, he drives me insane. He moved to Tipple just last year but still makes the hike once a month to visit. Drives me nuts!"
"But Boldar, he must be..."
"About one hundred, I think. And as mean as a hungry badger and as tough as an old root."
Mya leaned in and gave the big man a kiss, which he, surprisiingly, returned very gently.
"Boldar," she whispered. "You are young enough for me, and may just outlive us all..."
Boldar stated into her lovely eyes. "Never really thought of that before, lass... Perhaps I'm not so old as all that."
Boldar went to sleep that night near to Mya, but at his own fire with Bass. He felt the best he had in twenty years, and did not even remember to ask Bass to soften his bed.
On the other side of camp, Mik was talking quietly with Cromwell. "Well Crom, what now?"
"Crom thinks we chase drow around valley and keep safe until Juzzza get here."
"You think we can go into that small castle tomorrow?"
Crom shook his head. "Ogre say castle too close, and watched. We go there, drow know problem. They come look."
Mik nodded. "No reason to tip them off..."
"Many of regiment come tomorrow, then we may go castle. Tonight we hide here with friends."
Mik nodded. "At least we have good help now."
Nearby, and ogre was pulling another ogre's finger, and then laughing uproarously at the result.
"Well," Mik corrected, "we have this help..."
April 20th, 2004, 11:00 AM
Kahn waded through the berserker horde with axe and sword, appearing to grow in size with each opponent he cut down. He attacked with brutal effeciency, every blow, killing or incapicitating it's victim. A trail of dead and writhing bodies lay in his wake. Sharn's berserker's were a poor match for someone who controlled the power of the Earth Goddess and had it coursing through his veins.
Perching on his shoulder, somewhat comically, was Urk. His small clawed feet clinging to the granite hard form of his master.
The goblin fired stinging shots with a collection of ranged weapons he kept within the folds of the modified assassins cloak. Darts, arrows and bolts peppered the scurrying masses of werebeasts, slowing them with neurotoxic poison. Urk squeeked with delight everytime his missiles found their mark.
Kahn caught sight of a more familiar form through the mayhem. He swatted aside several wolvish shapes with the flat of his axe and bounded towards Sharn as he approached the rogue.
Juzz braced himself for Sharn's attack, hoping his reflexes were quick enough to allow his to duck and counter with a telling blow. He knew trying to parry was pointless. His sword would be clattered from his grip with the force.
The ground began to shake accompanied with the sound of thunderous impacts. The rogue dared not take his eyes off Sharn to look at the source, as he knew a split second would be the difference between life and death.
Sharn flinched as something struck him in the neck and Juzz lunged forward and slashed at Sharn's abdomen, opening a long but shallow cut. The berserker's eyes flared and he flung the huge sword at the rogue, who dove to the floor as his only defense. The spinning blade missed him by a hair's breadth and flew across the field to imbed in a tree.. As the rogue shouldered the impact. Sharn was already coiled to leap on him and tear him apart with his bare hands when Kahn took him down.
The two berserkers wrestled on the floor in a flurry of action, exchanging blows with elbow, knee, fist and head.
Sharn scratched and tore with clawed hands, whilst Kahn pummelled with crushing impacts from huge, sledgehammer fists.
As the fight raged, neither warrior showed signs of fatigue, each blow exchanged was enough to kill a man and they continued to attack each other with relentless brutality and no thought of defense or self-protection.