Mik, of Lovable Rogue Inc., and Hornsmash, the recruit had approached his table. Reed's instincts had been to flee: The duo didn't exactly look like a team sent to negotiate. But Reed did not flee. His curiosity wouldn't let him.
"So how we catch Imp, Mr. Mik?" said the Ogre, who Reed took to be Hornsmash.
"Just hit him hard and watch him fall," said Mik.
Mistress Vexx, at the Guild, was an Imp. She had been his favourite teacher. The Art of Confusion had been his favourite subject.
"You sure this imp?" Hornsmash sniffed.
"I'm not an imp," said Reed.
"Don't listen. He's trying to confuse us," said Mik.
Hornsmash sniffed again. "He not smell imp."
Reed didn't like the look on the big man's face. Was it to late to run?
"I don't think he imp," Hornsmash said, but Reed just looked at Mik.
One of these days, I'm going to lose big time...
"Whatever," grunted Mik, and swung his enormous fist.
And then the world went black.
March 23rd, 2004, 01:11 PM
A dagger flew through the air. Sharp and wicked, it scythed through the darkness, threatening to eliminate anything in its path. It struck home, majestic point nestling into the office wall, an inch from Juzzza's head. The blade hung there, quivering. Hard, taut metal rendered into a trembling mass. Black leather straps wound around the finely crafted hilt. Imprinted upon the leather was a single symbol, unmistakable in its portent. A dagger dripping with poison.
As the strong steel blade thudded into the wall, Mystiqe released a deep sigh of contentment. The message was delivered. Soon they would be reunited, fighting to the death on another wild adventure. Her heart pounded rapidly. She slipped into the shadows, drifting away into the night.
March 23rd, 2004, 02:25 PM
"Lovable Rogue Inc, my arse," growled Boldar, crumpling the leaflet in his massive hand. He winced, feeling the familiar pain in his joints.
"It's the arthritis again, isn't it, Boldar?" The ancient man, looking much like an dried apple sitting in his chair made it more a statement than a question.
Boldar sighed. "Shut up Bass. I may be old, but Boldar Dread adventuring is THE adventuring shop in this town and I won't have some Juzza come lately poaching my work." Boldar rubbed his aching joints.
"Heh," cackled Bass. "They laugh and call us Old or Dead adventuring you know... In case you haven't noticed, we're the only two left, and we have not had work for a decade..."
"Now wait a minute," inturupted Boldar, coming to his feet.
Bass waved a mottled hand vaguely. "Yes, yes, there was the cat incident, but come now, we can't claim that now... a job fit for a six year old girl... Time to admit it Boldar, no one is hiring geriatric adventurers, even if one of them is still the biggest man I have ever seen. Not to mention the greatest wizard of the time. No, no, we are retired!"
Boldar looked at his long arm and flexed it. His massive muscles were still corded, though now they seemed a bit ropy under his lose skin. Again, he sighed as he sat his seven foot frame into his chair. "I may be seventy years old, and you may be, what, 200? Well, anyhow, I can still squeeze the juice from an orc barehanded and outlast any twenty year old in a forced march. I'll not rest here until death takes me silently during the night man, I am going to send this Juzza an invitation to come here and speak with the great Boldar Dread. He'll come. You'll see just how many remember our days of glory."
Bass stared at him for a minute. "Fine," he barked. "I suppose you'll be needing me to pen the invitation?"
Boldar shrugged. "If you could, old friend, my fingers do hurt."
Bass scribbled the note and put it in an envelope with the seal of the Boldar Dread adventure company on it. He rang a small bell and handed it to the boy that arrived with instructions.
"Well old man, we'll see what this brings. Perhaps Boldar Dread will ride one last time, and perhaps Bass will cast just a few more spells."
"You know," Bass mused, "I have heard of a new champion named Nasim. Perhaps if we brought him on?"
Boldar grimaced. "No. No more employees. I want to go this on without all the responsibilities of logistics. Let's just see to ourselves on this. Besides, I've heard many odd things about that fellow."
March 23rd, 2004, 02:49 PM
Without looking at the blade resting an inch from his ear, Juzzza sliced the apple he was holding in two across the blue-ish silver steel. Hume stared open-mouthed at the other side of the office. Juzzza threw one half of the apple and Hume caught it with ease.
"Put that in your mouth, you're causing a draft," said Juzzza.
"An admirer?" asked Hume before taking a chunk out of the fruit and chewing noisily.
"Dunno yet," Juzzza replied.
"What do you mean?"
"It's a message... Or rather, a response to an invitation."
Hume stood up from his chair and made his way over to the blade.
"Hmmm," he said. "There's a symbol on the hilt, a dagger dripping with fluid, poison perhaps."
"Unhuh," grunted Juzzza, still holding his half of the apple.
"Response to an invitation you say?" asked Hume, pushing the last bit of apple into his mouth.
"Unhuh... If the blade has been dipped in poison, it means 'no'... If it hasn't, it means I'll be seeing Mystiqe again."
Hume paused for a few seconds before spitting the contents from his mouth and scraping any remaining pieces from his lips with his fingers. Juzzza stood up and laughed as he offered his friend the remaining half of the apple. Hume slapped it from his friend's hand and continued to spit at the wooden slats on the office floor.
"Are you crazy?" yelled Hume at his friend in disbelief.
"Hell no, I'm not the one who may have just eaten an apple sliced by a poisonous blade!"
"I can't believe you did that, you're supposed to be my friend."
"And you're supposed to be intelligent," replied Juzzza still laughing. "B'sides, don't worry about it, if the answer is no the poison will be made from the venom of a Lava Toad."
"Lava Toad?" said Hume.
"Yea, Lava Toad. Named so because if you eat something soiled with its venom, your ass is like a volcano for a few days."
Hume dropped to his knees then sat with his back against the office wall. He grinned.
"You're a bastard Juz, loveable my ass."
"Now we are even," replied Juzzza spreading his hands wide. "I was ill for a week and a half that time you made me eat that fermented custard fruit."
Hume smiled and nodded. Juzzza sat down again, all humour gone from his face.
"So what will it be?" he asked. Hume sighed and looked up at his friend.
"You're going to see Mystiqe again my friend..."
March 23rd, 2004, 03:26 PM
Hume paced across the landing and carefully stepped over a sleeping drunk. He looked at the symbol upon the door.
"A barrel," he said shaking his head. "I am in a tavern where the house guests need symbols on their doors because they can't recognize numbers." He knocked twice. Nothing.
"Come on," he said, rapping the door twice more.
"I don't think you'll find anyone home," someone said from behind him. He turned around to see a pretty face staring at him from behind a numbered door.
"That's where they store the ale," she said. Hume's face flushed and as he moved away from the store room he stumbled over the drunk's feet. The sleeping man grunted, turned over and broke wind before starting to snore. The girl giggled and opened her door a little wider.
"Who are you looking for?" she said still holding a hand over her mouth.
"Oh, um... I am looking for a Mya companion, I mean a Mya and her companions."
The girl shuffled and Hume heard a sword being drawn.
"Wait," he said holding up his hands. "I am here on behalf of Loveable Rogue Inc. I have instructions and some coin for your travels and expenses." Hume fiddled nervously in his pockets before producing a small bag of coins. The girl giggled again as Hume held the bag before him and stepped cautiously forward.
"I don't bite you know," she said.
"Who the f*** is that?" another female voice shouted from inside the room.
"A messenger from Loveable Rogue Inc." replied the girl turning away from Hume for a moment.
"Oh no," said Hume. "I'm no messenger, I'm a..." Before he could finish his sentence, the door was yanked open and a woman stood before him with a huge grin across her face.
Hume's jaw dropped. He didn't know what was more astonishing, the size of the woman or the fact that she was half naked.
"Well then," she said. "Don't just stand there messenger boy, hand over the damn message and more importantly, that little bag of coins you got there."
"H... Here," said Hume, handing the woman the parchment and coins. "In three days, be at the location detailed in the message."
"You got it," she said before slamming the door in his face. Hume stared at the door for a moment before making his way back towards the stairs.
The door burst back open and startled, Hume nearly fell down the flight of steps.
"One more thing message boy," said the giant naked woman. "Gina wants to know your name."
"Uh... It's Hume," he replied.
"Happy?" she said turning away from Hume. She nodded without looking back at him and slammed the door again.
Hume, a little stunned, made his way carefully down the stairs, holding the rail as he descended.
March 23rd, 2004, 03:57 PM
"Well crap the bed," said the old man. "Would ya look at the size'o that sonafabitch!"
Mik ignored the remark, he glanced up at the top of the door frame, surprised that he didn't have to duck beneath it or turn sideways on to fit through it. He looked at the old man then over to the slightly younger man who sat in the chair behind the desk. He was big.
"Are you Boldar?" he asked.
"Who the hell wants to know?" the big man replied.
"Who do you think knuckle head? I do," said Mik.
The man stood up quickly and his chair flew into the wall behind him. He moved around his desk and stood nose to nose with Mik. He was very big.
"And who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"I work for Loveable Rogue Inc. The name's Mik, we got your message."
"I didn't send no Mik a message, I sent Juzzza a message," said Boldar jabbing a finger into Mik's chest.
"He's busy," replied Mik, ignoring the finger.
"Or too scared more like it."
"The only thing scary in this place old man, is your breath. Now move your finger or lose it."
"Easy boys," Said the old man who had stood up and with the aid of his walking stick, was making his way towards the giant stand-off.
"You ever seen a couple'a Wart Orcs mating? That's what you two idiots looks like right now, so put your d***s away boys and you, Junior... Tell us what you came to say."
Mik took a step back and reached into his pocket for the note. Boldar clenched his fists ready.
"Easy Grandpa," Said Mik. "Watch that bladder of yours, it's just a message."
Bass held out his hand and Mik handed him the note.
"Boldar old friend, seems we get that last ride. Mr Juzzza has invited us along... Says he could use a couple of veterans and that he doesn't even need to interview the famous Rogues of Ruen the legends speak for themselves." The old man looked up at his friend then over to Mik. "Also apologizes for his manners... Seems his scale ain't the only thing you two have in common."
The old man chuckled and produced a flask from his hip. He took a sip and offered it to Mik.
March 23rd, 2004, 04:14 PM
As Mik ducked back out through the door, Boldar sat back down, grinning.
"Better get packing big man," said Bass.
"Sure enough. Gonna need all my best stuff, there's sure to be some serious orc cleaving to do! The magic chain armor and the two hander, I'm thinking. Plus a few private little tricks I like to have up my sleeve."
"Don't forget your girdle." Bass' tone was even and conversational.
"GIRDLE!, you spivined, pocked marked, son of a..." Baldor regained his composure. "It's not a girdle old man, it just helps keep the old belly wound protected is all."
"Belly wound my arse. You know damned well that you ruptured your gut trying to bed that wench last year."
"Shut up and pack old man, just shut up and pack, we are on a one way trip to immortality. I'll show that Mik a thing or two about real fighting, yes indeed I will."
Bass coughed a dry laugh. "Just don't let him fall on you, your girdle may not hold up under the stress, big man."
March 24th, 2004, 12:20 AM
Reed woke up in a barren cell. It took a moment for his eyes to focus. The walls and floor were made of stone, and there was a single bucket in the corner - no chairs or even a bed. The floor was cold and wet. His body shivered as he stood up and brushed himself off. The welt on his forehead throbbed.
When he turned around he realised that he was being guarded by an ogre. Dreadful things. A wall of iron bars stood between him and the beast - perhaps strong enough to keep him out - he gave the odds at seventy-thirty in his favour.
The ogre sat on the ground, playing with his toes like an infant who had just discovered they were attached.
"Ahem," Reed said.
The ogre jumped up. He was an ugly thing - upturned nose, tainted green skin that looked thicker than leather armour, and oddly a shaved head. The beast sniffed him for a moment, and stared at him intently. Reed couldn't help, but wonder when it last ate.
"I don't suppose you could tell me what I'm doing in here?" he asked - hoping the beast was at least smart enough to speak.
"Big man say watch you. No tricks."
"But what are they planning to do with me?"
"Him think you imp."
"Ah, yes. Well I can assure you, I'm no imp."
"Yes. Hornsmash already know that." The ogre opened up a sachel that he carried on his belt and pulled out a small scroll of paper, a jar of ink and a quill that he could barely hold. He thought for a moment, then began to scribble on the paper.
How quaint. He thinks he can write. Reed stroked his chin. If the ogre was watching him he presumably had a key. And if that were true, convincing a beast to give it up shouldn't be too much trouble.
"What are you writing, Mr. Hornsmash?" Reed asked.
"A report? Hmm. On what?"
"I tell Juzzza what you is."
"I see. And you know what I am?"
"Have idea. Need to ask question. Was waiting for you to finish sleep."
The ogre scratched the back of his head and wrinkled his brow as he looked like he was straining to think. He looked rather comical. As he did, however, Reed noticed a key on the other side of his belt.
"I see," said Reed. "What makes you think I'm going to tell you anything? I can tell you that I've faced much worse circumstances than this. If you're thinking that you can just beat it out of me - it won't work."
"Smashing come later. Need to ask polite-like first. Need to find something you want - then we trade. So what you want?"
"I'm not sure you have anything I want, Mr. Hornsmash."
The ogre rubbed his chin. "How many bucket you have in there?"
Reed looked at the beast curiously. "Well, one, of course."
"Maybe you want two?"
"I don't need one. Why would I possibly need two?"
"You can use bucket to hold soup. Or you can use to empty bladder. Maybe one bucket okay, but two bucket better."
"What you really doing in town?"
"I'm a gambler, Mr. Hornsmash. I look for opportunities, where ever they may lie."
The ogre sniffed him through the bars, then wrote something down. "You work for someone?"
"Mr. Hornsmash. I answered your first question. It appears you owe me a bucket."
The ogre nodded, got up and fetched him a secon bucket. As he split it in between the bars he leaned over, exposing himself. Reed was tempted to just snatch the key, but the opportunity was gone as quick as it appeared.
"What I really want is that key on your belt, Mr. Hornsmash. I'm a man of high stakes - not buckets. If you give me that key on your belt, I'll answer anything you ask."
The ogre thought about it.
"Oh don't worry. I can assure you, you won't get in trouble if I go. Juzzza will know where to find me. Ask me anything you want, and I will answer truthfully - in exchange for that key of yours."
Hornsmash picked the key off his belt. "You work for someone?"
Even an infant could have come up with a better question than that. Reed sighed. "Give me the key, and I'll tell you."
Hornsmash held the key in his fist and pushed it through the bars. He kept his fist closed though - even when Reed streched out his hand to receive. It was so close - so easy.
"Ultimately I work for myself, Mr. Hornsmash. I was hired to come into town, however. I cannot tell you by whom - as that would be bad for business."
The ogre nodded, then dropped the key. He wrote on his paper a little more then nodded to Reed. "I go to Juzzza. You stay here."
Stay indeed. Reed waited for the ogre to leave and then slowly reached around and fit the key into the slot. He turned, but nothing happened.
It was the wrong key!
In his frustration, Reed kicked on of the buckets in the cell, but then calmed himself down. No matter. The ogre was gone. He'd picked his way out of worse predicaments. Stupid ogres. Reaching into his pockets for his tools, his heart suddenly sank. He hadn't bothered to look up the entire time, as he'd been so transfixed on the ogre. One of the door's bars was bent and wrapped around one that made up the wall - lock or not, the only way out of that cell was by the strength of an ogre.
In the distance, he heard faint echoes bounce through the halls.
"Hornsmash got the smarts."
Report on Captive
Concerning Barnabas Reed
Him not imp. Clever fellow though, and have interest in twar... thawar.... stopping quest. Him paid to come to town, so working for someone else, so there is larger somebody who not want us on quest.
Suspect him spy.
Too early to connect straight to Kult'ar, but there are some who want it not smashed, so likely he work for them.
Further note: did not pull arms off.
March 24th, 2004, 01:12 AM
"You'd better be sure she doesn't see that"
"But Grav!", the young boy replied, "She's bound to see it - they're EVERYWHERE!" Quinot stared at his brother as he sat down heavily, a look of dismay flashing across his handsome face.
"Well, she's been in one of her moods again. You know what she gets like at times like this. With any luck she'll not notice or be off before anything happens". Gravin chewed on his lower lip, deep in thought - hoping against hope that his words would be true.
"You know, they say she got wild after she tamed that dragon" Quinot boasted, proud that he had remembered that little fact. "Old Mistress Havvle says when Dani caught him, the dragon put up a fierce fight and their battle lasted for days. She says the dragon finally saw that he would not win, so he just gave up!"
"Dragons never JUST GIVE UP" Grav grunted, absently stirring the broth that had been placed on the table for him.
"Old Toad says that the dragon knew he'd have to bow to her will or be killed, so he let Dani take him. But he put his wildness in her heart and now his blood beats in her chest". Quinot was getting excited, remembering all the tales that had been whispered of his sister. Of course no one ever dared mention any of these things when she was around, but even Danika could not be everywhere at once and at night, when the fires burnt low and the ale had been flowing freely the old hands murmured among themselves. Drunken tales to the travellers who did not know better, but to those who lived in the Crystal Cities they were more than yarns. They were truths of the terrible fate that had befallen the young Danika Longress years before.
"They say...", Quinot started, but his brother interrupted him sternly "Quinot, enough!". But the youth would not be stopped so easily "...that she rode on the back of the dragon - flew right to the moon and hid it there, where the light folds into the darkness!"
"They also say she walked among the stars and put it there, where no one would ever find it" Grav drolled. "They say she held her breath and swam down to the bottom of the Emerald Lake and hid it there" "They say many things about her".
Gravin sighed heavily, his face looking older than his 26 years. He had heard all the tales of his twin and how she had miraculously escaped from the clutches of Kahn the Berserker, after she had gone off after the Rogue. But he knew them to be only half truths, coloured by the imaginations of bored old men. HE knew the truth, well, as much of the truth as Dani would ever allow anyone to know.
He looked down in the expectant face of his youngest brother and knew that there would be no more training in the fine art of swordsmanship today. Drinking deeply from his cup he started.
"It was in the year of the Great Darkness when the Rogue came to us. The armies of the Ogres had been marching steadily towards the Cities and all our strongest men had been sent North to defend the borders"
"I KNOW this part!" the youth wailed.
"Dammit Quinot! Are you going to let me tell it, or would you prefer we carry on with our training?"
"The battle had been going on for many months when the fever came. Stealing through the streets like a thief under the cloak of darkness, quietly slaying all in it's way. When the call came that there was an injured man at the gate all thought that it was one of our own, bringing news from the North". Gravin paused to take another sip from his cup, noting in dismay that he had emptied it already. "He was taken to the stables, all the other rooms had been filled by sick people from the Cities. Because there were no hands available it fell on Dani to care for the stranger. Old Havvle was tending to you, fighting like a woman possessed to stop the fever from taking you as it had our dear Mother".
"Dani stayed with him day and night, swabbing his wounds, feeding him strong broth from a spoon - she even bathed him!" "He grew stronger everyday, yet Dani never left his side, even when he was well enough to walk around unassisted, she insisted on aiding him, being his guide".
"Curse that man! He should have been off when he was strong, but he stayed, casting his spell on our sister - like a spider catching the innocent fly in his web. And she was enslaved by him".
"Then, one day when she was out - collecting food to fill his belly, he was gone. He never even stopped to bid her farewell".
Grav sat in silence, remembering the pain on his sister's face when she returned to find the Rogue gone.
"What happened then Grav?", Quinot prompted from his side of the table.
"Yes Grav", a soft voice mocked from the entrance to the Great Room, "Do tell, what happened next?"
"Danika!" Two pairs of eyes, the colour of chestnuts, turned to her in shocked unison. "I didn't see you there" Gravin stammered. Quinot sat in silence, eager to be some place else; any other place would be just fine, even helping Old Havvle in the kitchen would not seem such a chore. But he was reluctant to move, not wanting to pass his sister who was blocking the only exit from the room.
"Clearly", Danika smirked, making her way deeper into the room. As she walked her black tresses cascaded down the length of her back in a mass of unruly curls. Her white dress swept around her feet....they say the dress had been woven by the Fey of the Black Forests, from the tears of a thousand unicorns.....they say a lot of things about her.
When she finally reached the table where her brothers were sitting, Danika snatched the copy of the Adventurer's Gazette Quinot had been reading from his hand. Grav made a move to grab it from her, but she was too fast; twisting away from him in a single deft movement. "So, what is this then?" She read, muttering to herself "....adventure.....quest...competent with sword...". Finally her eyes came to fix on the name at the bottom of the page "Loveable Rogue Inc".
"Hmpf!", she snorted "Loveable Rogue.....LOVEABLE Rogue! Ha! Should be LAUGHABLE Rogue!" "So, he wants it back", she mused, chewing on her lip in much the same way as her twin had done earlier. "We'll see about that, now won't we Mister LOVEABLE Rogue".
As she swept from the room, an icy determination about her small frame, Grav turned to the boy by his side "Well little brother, it seems you are to have that adventure you are always seeking" Grav stood and moved to the window, peering out at the gathering storm in the distance "We are in for some interesting times.......interesting times indeed".
March 24th, 2004, 04:32 AM
"I take it all back," said Hume a little flustered.
"I know," replied Juzzza handing his colleague the crudely written note. "It seems Crom is going to become a useful addition to the LRI... I bet Reed is squirming, outdone by an Ogre," he laughed.
"So who sent him?" asked Hume.
"I'm not sure. Almost everyone has heard of the Kult'ar and what it can do, but no one should know about our intentions to destroy it. One thing is certain, whoever it is they are far more interested in its whereabouts than whether it remains intact. I suspect they sent Reed to tag along rather than thwart our efforts. Only one person knows exactly where it is hidden, I have an idea but this is a large country."
"Do you think she will co-operate?"
"All I can do is explain why it must be destroyed, this is far bigger than any history we may have, she must see sense," said Juzzza.
Hume laughed, "Oh sure, because women who have been scorned ALWAYS see sense."
"She wasn't scorned Hume," Juzzza objected.
"Oh really? She patched you up, cared for you for weeks, no, months on end. Fell in love with you, thought you were the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with... And you left without a word, never looked back, never explained why."
Juzzza sighed. "I was with Mystiqe Hume, whatever my feelings were for Dani, I couldn't betray Myst. I was so grateful for everything Dani did for me but I couldn't face her to say goodbye."
"And the Kult'ar," said Hume. "You never once asked her where she had hidden it?"
"Nope, I wasn't interested. My mission was to retrieve it from the Kretik Lord and make sure it couldn't fall into the wrong hands again. Mission accomplished."
"I'm not sure what is more remarkable," said Hume. "Your total uninterest in power or your taste in women. You held the Kult'ar in your hands and you entrusted it to a village girl."
"She's a lot more than a village girl," said Juzzza.
"Oh I know, but you didn't know that at the time."
Juzzza shrugged, "I am good at reading people. Mind you, I thought you were intelligent once, shows what I know. An Imp?"
"You aren't exactly the brightest candle in the church Juz."
"You've recruited the woman you deserted Dani for, to accompany you to ask Dani politely where the dreaded Kult'ar is hidden... Wise move indeed Mr Lovable Rogue.
Reed heard the man approach his cell, thank goodness it isn't that ghastly Ogre. Barnabas was sat against the back wall with his legs drawn up to his chest.
The package was thrown through the bars and landed between Reed's knees.
"Thank you," he said but the man was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
He turned the parcel over and pulled the string away. Carefully, he unfolded each flap of the brown paper. Inside, a bunch of green stems with dull leaves, that Reed could not identify, were wrapped with a note.
The enclosed Frumpleweed may aid you in your escape, it seems the Ogre has a tendency to faint in its vicinity.
I trust you will not fail me, if you lose this little wager, you lose big.