Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"The Game - Chapter 1"

This story features a band of adventurers called The Brotherhood of the Brave. Thee characters are based on characters from a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign I was involved in back in high school.

Back in 2001, I was part of a group that decided to make role playing products for the new open gaming license (d20 system) put out for D&D. I designed an adventure module called The Game. This story was an attempt to put the module in a story format, showing one way a party of adventurers could run it. The intent was to include it in the module as bonus content. The module never got published - and the story never got finished. As outlined, the story has a good 12 Chapters. I had written eight. I figure now is as good a time as ever to finish it.

These first chapters aren't my best writing ever, and I've improved a lot since I wrote them. Still, I hope you might enjoy it. So, here's Chapter 1 of "The Game."

"Help! By the spirits, he's trying to kill me!"

From the woods ahead of the party came a man of medium stature. His shoulder length brown hair was wet and stringy with sweat and his face wore the haunted, frightened look of a deer pursued by wolves. His once fine clothes were stained and torn, a cloak hanging in tatters about stooped shoulders. His eyes darted about as he stumbled and almost fell, then latched onto the four friends who stood dumbstruck at the man's sudden appearance.

"Please...save me!"

As if to add weight to the reality of the man's peril, a crossbow bolt slammed into his left thigh, spinning him full circle and dropping him to the earth with a cry of pain.

The four flew into immediate action. The woman rushed to the man's aid, gentle hands ripping open the cloth of his trousers to examine the seriousness of the wound. The three men took up a defensive posture around the two, drawing weapons with practiced ease. Their skills were soon tested as the man's pursuer burst from the shadows of the forest.

The short, burly one stepped forward to intercept the attacker. The assassin responded by tossing a handful of white powder into the powerful fighter's face. Blinded, and suddenly without breath, the defender fell to his knees, dropping his mace. The assassin's killing stroke was parried by the quick interposition of a bastard sword that caught the rapier's blade just above the hilt and threw it out wide. Foiled in his attempt, the assailant launched a series of lightning fast attacks, confident that his speed and lighter weapon would make short work of his opponent. Amazingly, the lithe defender met and countered each new strike with an ease that unnerved the assassin. He leapt backwards and reached behind him. A dagger flashed from his hand, flying with unerring accuracy at the defender, only to be deflected by a minute flick of the man's blade.

Seeing that he was outmatched, the assassin fled back to the safety of the forest. The third man in the group quickly drove his twin short swords into the earth and nocked an arrow in the bow that seemly appeared in his hands from out of the air. The arrow was loosed as the assassin made the final jump into the safety of the trees. The shaft caught the man in the left calf and he hit the ground with his face. He raised up on his elbows for a brief moment and then dropped, his limbs convulsing violently before his body was still.

Valinor Trollslayer shouldered his bow, drew his blades from the ground and moved to where the downed assassin lay. He was sure of what he would find, but moved with a deliberate caution, ready for the unexpected. He knelt next to the still form and checked for the nonexistent pulse. A bubbly froth gave evidence to what had occurred and the mild scent of almonds confirmed it: poison, probably cyanide.

Meanwhile, Teserk Deseau sheathed his bastard sword at his back and bent to help his comrade. The big half-dwarf, Colin of Trenchmar, was rubbing furiously at red and tearing eyes, but otherwise seemed unharmed.

"Salt peter," Teserk said helpfully. "It'll pass. No serious harm done."

"Iff'n ye donnae want t' feel me boot in yer backside, ye'll be keepin' yer comments t' yerself!" Colin retorted with a snort. "Goin' help the lass."

Teserk hid a smile and turned to face his friend Theadina Tyderon as she tended the assassin's victim.

"Put this in his mouth and hold his head still," she said, handing Teserk a length of clean linen cloth. He twisted the cloth and the man accepted it between his teeth, his eyes showing he knew what was coming. The injured man groaned as Theadina pulled the crossbow bolt from his thigh with a sharp jerk. Blood welled up from the leg and the man went white. The Knight of Calinde thrust two fingers into the wound and closed her eyes, visualizing the damaged tissue. Teserk watched as the blood flow from the wound slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether. As Theadina slowly removed her fingers, the flesh knit itself together as if under the hands of a skillful surgeon. When she finally removed her fingers there was nothing left of the injury save a red puckering scar.

"I'm afraid that's the best I can do for you," she said in a tired voice. "The rest will have to heal on it's own. Let me get my satchel and I'll pack it for you."

Teserk removed the gag from the man's mouth as the color returned to his face. He reached for the still tender spot and shook his head in amazement.

"I can't hardly believe it. You have my thanks."

Valinor and Colin joined them as Theadina began to apply a sticky salve to the damaged area.

"Your attacker is dead," the ranger told the wounded man, "though not by our hands. He poisoned himself rather than be captured."

He tossed a ring to Teserk. Teserk could see how the signet area was hinged, giving access to a small cavity inside the ring.

"I am in your debt, good people. I fear I can never repay you for this kindness."

"Telling us who you are and why you were attacked is a good start," Teserk said. His remarked earned him a reproving glance from Theadina, but the man didn't seem to notice.

"Please, pardon my rudeness. My name is Mortimous de Vous, but friends call me Mort. I am, or was, a rather well known mink farmer from down near Caddington. I don't suppose you've heard of me?"

The party's quickly shared glances told him they hadn't.

"Well, no matter," Mort said, "Those days are over. And they won't be coming back." His face suddenly fell and despair filled his eyes.

Theadina finished bandaging the leg and she helped Mort to his feet. He tested the leg and smiled slightly.

"You're good, Lady Knight. Hardly any pain. Thank you."

"You are most welcome."

Theadina could tell that Teserk was becoming impatient. "What changed things?" she prompted the farmer.

"Not what. Who. Nefarious brought me to this end."

"Who be Nefarious?" Colin asked. He could tell there was a tale to be told and he was anxious for the telling of it.

"You aren't from around these parts, are you? If you were, you'd have heard of Nefarious. A black-hearted Wizard he is, demented and evil, wont to cause ill and wreak havoc with?innocent lives."

Mort's voice grew quiet, filled with unmistakable pain as he told the party his story. Mort's life had been a fairly full one. He lived with his only daughter, Lucinde, and managed a successful mink farm several miles to the southwest of Caddington. His wife had died unexpectedly from a fever not long after their daughter's birth and Mort had raised the girl himself. They had no other family. As the demand for mink fur grew, Mort had done rather well for himself -- the value of the farm had risen considerably. Such intrinsic value did much to raise his standing in the community, but provided little in the way of real physical comforts. Mort was rich, but his assets were tied up in the farm. He and his daughter managed to live comfortably. Several nobles had approached him about buying the property, but he refused to sell, knowing the need for a large dowry if he ever hoped to marry his daughter to someone of higher station. Life had been simple, but grand. Until Nefarious.

"I came back from the pens last week and found the door to the house standing open. I couldn't smell any dinner, and that was odd, since Lucinde always has supper on the table when I come in for the day. I knew something was wrong, so I drew my knife and hurried into the parlor."

Mort's eyes misted over at this point and he had to swallow several times before he could get enough voice to continue.

"My baby was lying on the floor, stripped down to her shift. Her hands were lashed behind her back and her mouth was gagged. She looked at me with wild eyes. I could tell she was in pain. The monster was sitting in my chair, grinning like a madman.

"I had to do something! So I rushed him, or at least I tried to. He waved his hand and I couldn't move. He told me he was Nefarious and he was taking my daughter with him. His terms were simple: pay him a 20,000 gold crown ransom and I could have her back, unharmed. Fail, and I would never see her again. I told him I didn't have that kind of money. He told me to sell the farm and gave me five days to do it. Then he grabbed Lucinde by the hair and they disappeared. I found a map on the chair with instructions as to where I should bring the money."

"Did you go to the authorities?" Valinor asked.

Mort snorted. "Baron Lieber is the closest Lord, but he was the one pushing me the hardest to sell the farm. How do you think he reacted? He was more than willing to help. His solution was to buy the farm."

"For a fraction of its value, I'll wager," Teserk noted.

Mort nodded. "I saw the lust in Nefarious' eyes as he looked at Lucinde. What choice did I have? I took Lieber's offer and followed the map. I'm not a very good map reader and I got lost once I entered the Wildwoods. I thought I had found my salvation in a lone traveler who stopped to join me for a meal. His name was Finch. He knew the area and told me he would guide me in return for a thousand crowns. I agreed."

Mort noticed the look of disapproval in Colin's eyes.

"Well what was I supposed to do?" he growled. "By that point I had only two days left to meet the wizard's demands and I was out of options. It was take this man's help or lose my daughter!"

Valinor pointed to the dead man lying on the roadside. "That's Finch?"

"No. Not long after we set out we were ambushed by a band of robbers. Finch was killed almost immediately as he tried to resist them. I used the confusion to make for the woods. The band let me go. After all, they had my wagon and its supplies. All of them but that man there. He's followed me for several hours now. If you hadn't come along?."

There was an awkward pause. Mort tested his leg, again. He limped a bit, but if there was any pain he hid it well.

"Well, I thank you again for your kindness," Mort said, "I expect you'll be on your way. Best wishes."

Theadina and Valinor exchanged a look that spoke volumes to Teserk.

"We're going after them, aren't we." His tone made a statement of the question.

Valinor smiled briefly and then headed into the woods in the direction from which Mort had arrived.

Mort shook his head vehemently. "I cannot ask your aid! The last man who tried to help me perished. I won't have your deaths on my conscience."

"Your daughter is still in danger," Theadina said simply. "We are duty bound to assist you."

Mort made to object, but was waved to silence by Colin.

"Donnae even try t' change their minds. Like it or not, ye've got our help."

"Praise the spirits, then, there's still hope!" Mort cried and clapped the half-dwarf on the shoulder.

Teserk just shook his head. What they were proposing was nearly impossible. Find a robber band and recover the lost gold, then deliver it intact to a hostile wizard all in a day and a half. And Teserk wasn't so naïve as to think that this Nefarious would turn the girl over to them when the ransom was finally met. They would all most likely die in this endeavor. Sighing heartily he followed his companions into the woods. At least it should be interesting.

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