Monday, April 14, 2014

The Goblin King Chapter 2: Rising Fear

Fland groaned as he slowly woke. He was sore and from the battle the night before. In particular his left side hurt where a goblin had tried to stab him with a stone knife. He was fortunate that the small monster had not the strength to penetrate his armor. Now it seemed that the sun wished to assault his eyes.

Damage control had ran late into the night. Fires had to be put out and bodies taken care of. It was fortunate that there were more dead goblins than villagers. Almost everyone seemed to bare some kind of wound. A watch was organized to make sure the goblins sneak back for another attack. Fland agreed that it was prudent, though he hoped it would be unnecessary. These goblins had proved braver than most of their kind, but he could not see them returning after being routed.

Fland looked around the room and saw that Elarr’s bed was empty. He was a bit surprised. The elf mage seemed to require little sleep most of the time, but after such draining magics, Fland would have thought that he would sleep the day away. Fland pulled on his tunic and splashed his face with some water from the wash basin. After doing the bare minimum to look presentable, Fland headed for the common room.

He could smell food as he came down the stairs and his stomach growled. The common room was filled, every seat occupied. While people were eating, most were talking. He caught snippets of conversation, all pertaining to the attack the night before. Across the room, seated in the corner by the window was Elarr. Fland started towards his companion. Several people called greetings and thanks to him as he wound his way between the tables. They offered him their seat, but he declined.

“It is good to see that you have finally risen,” Elarr said without looking up from the book he was pursuing.

“I’m amazed you are up at all,” Fland replied as he took a seat. He waved over the serving girl. “You were about dead on your feet after that little trick.”

“Indeed. There is no time for rest, though, I fear,” Elarr said as he finally looked up. He indicated something behind him. Fland glanced down and saw that it was the lead bugbear’s shield from the night before, the one that bore the odd mark. “That rune is carved into all of the goblins and bugbears. Easy to miss in the dark, but I checked several of the bodies this morning to make sure.”

“Alright...so its a tribal mark or something?” Fland asked, unsure of where Elarr was going with all of this.

“No, not unless they were part of the tribe we dealt with ten days ago,” Elarr said.

Fland sat up straighter. They had been commissioned to find the den of goblins that had been raiding farms and villages a while back. What they found had been far more than a few goblins in a cave. It was a putrid wound in the earth housing a small army of goblins. Worse yet, they had found that at the heart of the goblin lair was a foul pit being used to transform lowly goblins into ferocious and deadly bugbears. The pair had barely made it out with their lives intact. They had gathered up the local millitia and helped stamp out the vermin. That was a week back, however, and they had been ridden over two hundred miles since then.

“Now, let me show you what makes this particularly disturbing,” Elarr said as he reached down into his satchel. Fland had a hard time imagining this growing more worrisome until Elarr unwrapped a black rune covered cloth to reveal a shard of the orb from the goblin pit.

The hobgoblin that they presumed to be ruling over the goblin pit had possessed an orb of foul power. He had been using it to empower his magics and to create bugbears. During the battle with the hobgoblin, Fland smashed the orb. The result of this, beyond Fland needing new maces, was the release of a great deal of dark energy.

“I have been examining this,” Elarr started in a lecturing tone. He took out a vial of what appeared to be water and started to sprinkle it onto the shard, “I have discovered that if you pour something pure, such as rain water or powdered silver, onto the shard it has a curious reaction. At first, this seems to just be a piece of broken,” Elarr put a great deal of emphasis on the word broken, making it clear who he blamed for that condition, “black glass, smooth and unadorned. However, you can see that the water is being drawn into a patern on its surface, the focus of power trying, struggling to corrupt the introduced purity.”

Fland watched as the water beaded up and started to slide down the glass. Suddenly, it changed direction, sliding back up the gradient. It formed into thin, liquid lines. His hands tightened into fists as he saw the patterns that had formed. It was the same as the one on the shield. “That can’t be good.”

“No, no it is not,” Elarr said flatly. He covered the shard again with the cloth as he continued, “The goblins were not just from some extended tribe. They were exposed to the orb, or another like it. The runes seem to indicate that it is not a source, but a conduit. I would be able to study it better if someone had not shattered it.”

“Hey! How was I suppose to know we might need that accursed thing in one piece,” Fland shot back. This was not the first time he had gotten a lecture on the subject and was getting tired of it. “I saved both of our lives when I smashed that thing.”

“Our lives would not have been in danger if you had not blundered into that trap, as you always do.”

“And if it were up to you, we never would have made it that far. You never would have gone to the den. Hells, you never would have left your nice cozy room.”

The two stared daggers at each other. While they managed an effective working relationship, the man and elf were as different as night and day on many points. This issue between them highlighted that quite clearly. One was accused of being too rash, the other of being to slow to act. They glared back and forth in a battle of the wills, each convinced that by not being the first to look away they would prove their point superior. In short, two grown men that the just the night before had saved a village had degenerated into petulant children. The angry contest would have likely continued for quite some time had they not been interrupted.

“Ahem, excuse me,” said a man in a blue coat that would have been described as nice if not for the soot stains. The man was of middling years and showed the first signs of grey in his hair. His face was open and friendly, the kind that invites you to discuss the weather. The way he held his hat in both hands was a sure sign that he had come to make a request.

The two broke eye contact at the same time, a cooperative skill that had developed between them to allow arguments to end with no looser, and turned to the man. They let their disagreement fade away, though each catalogued it away in some corner of their mind for later. They appraised the man quickly and it was Fland the first to reply, “Good morning. Is there something we can help with?”

“My name is Dylan, the town mayor,” he explained, “I will be holding a meeting at my home in an hour. The captain of the guard and a few others will be there to discuss last night and what is to be done about it. I was hoping that you two would attend.”

“That would be prudent,” said Elarr, “I think we all have much to discuss.”

“Ah, good,” Dylan replied, obviously pleased, “My house is on the other side of town. There is statue of an eagle I carved in front of it, very hard to miss. Anyone should be able to direct you there. We plan to meet in an hour.” Offering a final bow of his head, the mayor turned and left.

***

Fland and Elarr made their way through the streets. In the daylight they could take in the toll of the damage better. It seemed that about a third of the buildings bore scorch marks. Fortunately only a few had been destroyed beyond repair. People were busy repairing the damage. They fixed doors and windows, threw out anything broken, and tried to wash away blood stains. The bodies had already been moved early in the morning. Those who had been killed would be buried, the goblins were being burned. The nauseating smell wafted through the air.

Fland had donned his armor and weapons. This mainly included a quiver of javelins in addition to his light maces. Elarr wore a sash lined with little pockets. Each held spell components. Behind them, they led their horses, saddle bags filled with their possessions. They had already concluded that they would be leaving after the meeting, whatever came of it.

The house was not hard to find just as they were promised. Sitting in front of it was an eagle carved from a log. It was rough, but distinct. It was perched on what remained of the log, standing there with its wings folded. The eyes peered down the street as though standing silent guard over the row of houses. A slight bit of blackening showed that one of the goblins had tried to start fire to it, but was interrupted or changed its mind.

“Humans desire art,” Elarr said with disdain, “but they are unwilling to perfect it, just settling for something crude.”

“It’s a project for his free time, not a life’s calling Pointy Ears,” Fland responded as they went to the door. “Not everyone has a century to waste decorating their house.”

The door opened and they were ushered inside by a young woman whose features suggested she was the mayor’s daughter. The main room had a few decoration here and there, other little carvings that Dylan had done. There were a few shelves on the walls with  little figurines and a few books.

At the center of the room was a large table. Six men were seated around it on a mix of chairs and stools. The mayor was at the far side from the door. To his left were three guardsmen, one older and two younger. Two his right was a large, burly man that looked to be a smith and then an elderly man with a long beard.

“Ah, the final two have arrived. Please have a seat so we may get started,” Dylan said. As the duo sat, Dylan made introductions, “This is Madoc, Gilden, and Edard,” he said as he indicated the three guardsmen who all offered a polite nod at their name. “That is Cardec, the blacksmith. He is representing the tradesmen,” he indicated to the burly man who only gave a grunt in response. “And this is Hywel, the village elder,” he finished.

“I am Elarrolinas Ulidarrai, son of Lord Yendelis Ulidarrai of the Shin-velis Wood,” Elarr said in a formal and practiced tone that bordered on haughty.

“Just call him Elarr,” Fland said in a deadpan voice before adding, “and I am Fland. Just Fland.”

With the introductions made, the meeting got underway. They started with an assessment of the damages and injuries. Twelve dead and twenty people with injuries that would take time to heal was bad, but better than it could have been. It was also revealed that some of the outlying farms had been raided as well. They were burned down and robbed of all livestock and harvested produce. Cardec demanded to know how the attack happened, how so many goblins could get into past the gates with so little resistance. This of course incensed the guards and lead to a shouting match. Dylan was able to calm tempers down to a low boil.

“Now,” said Dylan, “We need to look to the future. A rider has been sent to Lord Tudwal to request assistance. I hope that he can be convinced to send soldiers to find the goblins that escaped to ensure there is no return.”

“We gave the gobs a thrashing. The cowards will not be coming back,” said Cardec confidently.

“I would not be so sure of that,” replied Fland, “Goblins are cowardly, but those bugbears sure aren’t and the more numbers they have, the bolder they will be.”

“Bah, goblins might breed like rats, but they feast on each other as well,” Cardec said dismissively, “We cut their numbers down and I can’t see them getting back to such a large size again soon.”

“There was likely more of them than what we saw at the attack,” Fland responded with a touch of heat to his voice.

“Goblin raids are on the rise,” Elarr added, “We helped deal with a tribe east of here only a week back and have reason to suspect that attacks like this may soon become more common.”

“They already have,” said Hywel. The old man had been silent for most of the meeting. His low, dry voice attracted everyone’s attention. “I keep in touch with some old acquaintances by pidgeon. Several of them have told me of goblin attacks. They are all a hundred leagues away so I had not felt to concerned. I was going to bring it up at the town meeting at the end of the month. Now I wish I had sooner.”

Cardec looked like he was about to make a sharp remark, but Fland interrupted, “No, there was no way you could know that an attack like this would happen, especially so soon. I really doubt more could have been done to make the town more ready unless you wanted everyone living like they were already under siege.”

Dylan and the guardsmen nodded. Cardec only grunted, but did not add what he had been about to say. Hywel looked relieved. It had weighed heavily on his conscience since last night that he might have averted the disaster.

“This does, however, help confirm my suspicions,” Elarr said in a grim tone, “I think that the goblins are coordinating their efforts.”

“What?! Goblins don’t organize,” said Madoc, the older guard, incredulously, “They can barely get along in their own little tribes and they are as dumb as a rock.”

“Hobgoblins are smart though,” said Elarr, “There was one with the tribe we encountered, and I bet there was one with last night’s as well. Your people may not remember the horrors of the Goblin Wars, but mine do. My grandfather fought in them. He told me of the flood of corrupt little creatures spreading over the land like a disease. It was not easy, but the goblins were beaten back, their numbers decimated. Since then men and elves and dwarves have worked hard to prevent such a thing from happening again.”

The village men all looked pale and nervous at Elarr’s implication. The idea that goblins might overrun the land had never occurred to them. For the most part, goblins had just been something to frighten children. Madoc, Cardec, and others that had faced goblins before knew that they could be dangerous, but even that was only to the unprepared. Last night had changed that view entirely. They had fought for their lives and barely won, and now they had been told that it might be on the frontline of a war with deadly monsters.

“Th-then we must prepare,” Dylan said, breaking the silence, “You must help us if there is a war coming.”

“No, preparations are something that you must attend to yourselves,” Elarr said, “My companion and I will be leaving after this meeting. We intend to discover the true extent of this threat.”

“I’m figuring to track the remnants of last night’s raid,” added Fland, “They might lead us to a larger force or give us a clue where to find whoever is controlling them.”

“But what if they return in a night or two with more forces?” asked one of the younger guards.

“That is not my concern,” said Elarr coldly, “If a goblin army is on the rise it could threaten the borders of Sylana.”

Cardec snorted, “And what about you, ranger? Are humans not your concern either?”

“Some are, and some aren’t,” Fland replied back with a hard stare, “Finding the true threat is likely to save more lives than sitting around here.”

“They are right,” added Dylan, forcing firmness into his voice, “Two men, even skilled ones, will not make much of a difference if an army comes. If they can possibly stop the threat before it gets here, then all the better.

“Madoc, you are the new guard captain. Start looking over our defenses and see to recruiting every man you can. Cardec, start smithing weapons. Get together men to work on reinforcing the walls, and I want that gate repaired and sturdier. Hywel, send pigeons to your friends with news of what has happened here. Maybe others will be spared our troubles if they know to prepare. A town meeting will be this evening, I will inform everyone then of our concerns.”

“That sounds like a good course of action,” said Fland as he stood from the table. “I don’t think that me and Pointy-ears are going to be of any more help here, so I’d like to get going before midday.”

“Of course,” said Dylan as he stood and escorted the pair out the door. He stopped to talk with them alone once they were outside, “I shall say prayers for your safe journey, and that we are all fearing only shadows. If there are any provisions you need before leaving, tell the shop keepers that I will cover it. It is the least that can be done to thank you for all you have done, and all that you may do.”

“Your generousness is appreciated,” Elarr said with politeness then turned to his horse. Fland clasped Dylans forearm and shook, then gave him a parting nod.

The pair made a quick trip to several shops. They procured food for the most part along with a few odds and ends. In almost no time at all they were riding out the front gate. Fland waved at a few of the people that called to them.

“I hope we haven’t started some kind of panic over nothing,” Fland said at last.

“Goblins are creatures of fear. Panic is to be expected when they are involved,” Elarr responded solemnly.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

Land Fall

Morgan woke with a groan. His head was pounding and he was completely disoriented. As he opened his eyes he understood why: he was upside down. The safety straps were doing their job and holding him in place. Looking down he could see that the T-7 landing craft was suspended at least thirty meters above the ground. According to the chronometer on his wrist he had been out for about ten minutes.

Only half an hour ago Morgan had been making a fairly routine landing. A few minutes after entering atmosphere something went wrong. The survey said the planet’s electromagnetic field could fluctuate and that atmospheric disturbances would be common. For that reason his equipment was suppose to be shield it. It seemed that the shielding on his ship had not been quite up to par though. The controls started to malfunction and he lost his guidance system. He tried to find a place to land, but ended up going down in the forest doing his damnedest not to fly straight into one of the gigantic trees.

He was suppose to land at the survey station and start preparation for the colony vestle.  As a terra scout he was charged with preparing the initial site for colonization. A survey ship had already approved the planet, but they only assessed habitability and resources. They left a small scan station that would have some resources for him.

With a careful amount of contorting he was able to free and right himself. Grabbing hold of the safety straps, he blew open the canopy and swung out onto one of the stout branches that was supporting the landing craft. He surveyed the scene and was not pleased. He was high above a forest floor in the strange, giant trees that populated the area. Blue vines with reddish spots hung all about. He could hear the indigenous wildlife, though saw little of it.The crash had startled most of it away apparently. The air was warm and wet, his skin quickly being plastered with a thin sheen of sweat. Scents both sweet and pungent filled his nostrils. What most preoccupied his attention, aside from the far away ground, was his ship.

The ship seemed mostly intact though not operable, but the cargo space had been torn open. He had lost almost all of the gear that he had brought with him. He could see some bits and pieces scattered about, utterly wrecked. The only things left to him were what was upfront in the cockpit with him and anything he could scavenge.

After a couple minutes he had gathered what little had made it with him. His main survival pack had been lost unfortunately. His GPS had survived and was able to relay with the satellites he had dropped before making his landing. His survival knife was strapped to his belt fortunately. There was a single bottle of water and a couple of ration bars that had been upfront with him as well. He also had his personal data pad up front along with a small first aid kit. The only thing left in the cargo space was a fully loaded GR-77 pistol with one spare magazine.

Slowly, but surely, Morgan climbed down the tree. The blue vines made good handholds as he worked his way lower. The giant trees cast a thick shade as he went lower. However, the vines that he used to make his way down had luminescent quality and started to give off a faint blue glow. The forest floor seemed to be set in state of perpetual twilight with only a little sunlight filtering down below. It was a relief to be back on solid ground.

After a few hours Morgan had salvaged as much as he could. It looked like a some of his stuff had not scattered until the impact with the tree that caught his ship. What could be scrounged  included: a hand lantern, a multitool, an ET tool, his personal data pad, a solar charger, twenty meters of high tensile cord plus a coil of wire he pulled out of some machinery, one good tarp and a second with a rip in it, a large piece of foil, some carabiners, and a duffle bag. He also grabbed up some miscellaneous parts that he thought might be useful in trying to build with.

He stretched out some as he marked the landing pod’s location with the GPS. He might be able to repair it with tools from the survey station, provided he could make it that far. With his gear secured and the GPS setting his course, Morgan set out. He reset his chronometer to planetary time. It looked like he still had hours before true nightfall to cover the distance. As he walked he took in the sights. It was hard not to be awed by the alien flora and its strange colors and shapes. He had been to a few worlds, and none had trees as tall as these.

He tried to recall all that he knew about the world as he walked. Taurus II was a level 2 habitable planet. Not quite Earth, but no terraforming required. Right atmosphere and gravity. Abundant water. The magnetic field was obviously a problem, but was not suppose to be damaging to humans. His data pad had a good deal of information on it as well, though not as much as he wished now.

All around him the forest was rife with noise and life. He could hear the trilling and screech of a dozen animals. Insect-like creatures scuttled up the bark of the trees and made little chittering sounds. Occasionally would see colorful creatures flit through the air. They had six wings and serpentine bodies that seemed to undulate through the air. They produced a mournful, but melodic song.

What caught his attention the most, though, was the strange arboreal creatures that swung from branches and vines. They actually looked like a balled-up mass of tangled vines covered in moss to him. They had no eyes, mouth, ears, or other facial characteristics he could distinguish. When they wanted to reach for something a viney appendage would shoot out and grab ahold. They chirped back and forth at each other. A group of three seemed to have taken an interest in him and started following along. They seemed harmless enough, so it was nice to have the company. He figured that if nothing else one of them might provide him with a meal.

The air was warm and humid. Morgan could feel it sapping his strength with each step. Stopping for a rest every few minutes would make for slow travel though. He was beginning to wish that he had something better to wear than his flight suit. The top of the jump suit had been quickly unzipped and now hung from his waist. The light undershirt was soaked through with sweat. The boots were the worst part. While comfortable and broke in, they were not made for long treks over land. No blisters yet, but with his feet growing wet that was not likely to last long.

He had been hiking for two standard hours when it started to rain. He took out the tarp with the rip in the center and pulled it over him to form a poncho. He wrapped some wire around his waist as an impromptu belt to hold it snug against any wind. He drank down all of the water in his bottle then used a leaf as a funnel to start catching more.

The rain continued at a steady pace with no sign of letting up. He continued on with the determination to make it as far as he could. Each day would be harder than the last so he figured it was best to push as much while he was still good and fresh. The sun had sunk sunk below the horizon, but the bioluminescence of the plants provided enough light to navigate by. As his legs started to finally fell heavy and his energy waned, he began to look for a place to make a good camp for the night.

As he looked at the possibility of resting in the hollow of a tree for the night he noticed that the forest had grown quiet. Even his three chittering watchers had become silent. He glanced up to where he had last seen them and found that the space was now vacant. Listening carefully he started to take in his surroundings.

As he turned about he spotted a slim, serpentine creature with red fur half hidden in the underbrush. It was the size of a large dog with six clawed feet and a long maw of needle teeth. It was already crouched, but when Morgan turned the beast burst from the undergrowth, covering the distance in a matter of heartbeats.

Morgan wanted to draw his pistol, but was blocked by his makeshift poncho. The knife was not, however, and he drew it as he leapt to the side. The creature passed through air where he had been with a blood thirsty hiss. It whipped around in the blink of an eye and slashed at him with one of its claws. Morgan rolled away so that only his poncho was raked. He made a flailing slash with the knife that nicked the creature’s paw.

The beast withdrew from the wound enough for Morgan to scramble to his feet. He held the knife forward in one hand as the other fished about for the pistol. Before he could free it, he was forced to leap back as the creature clawed at him. He dodged and jumped as the creature swiped at him. Finally it curled back for a great pounce.

Morgan’s heart pounded like a hammer inside of his chest. His hand raced to free the pistol as the creature uncoiled its muscles to spring at him, a missile of fangs and claws. It shot through the air as he pulled his weapon free and pointed it forward. Just before the creature collided with him a crack echoed through the forest as he pulled the trigger.

Breathing hard, Morgan looked at the fanged maw above his head. It hissed as it thrashed about erratically on top of him.  With great effort he heaved the creature off of his chest. Rising up to his knees he took the knife in both hands and jabbed down into the creature’s chest. The creature gave a final spasm of movement then was still.
A surrealness settled on Morgan as he looked down at the beast. Here he was, wet and muddy, effectively stranded on an alien world. It could just as easily have been him to die today instead of this predator. He laughed out loud as he thought about how that was twice now in one day he had just barely avoided death.

With a deep breath, he forced his mind back into the moment. He drug the animal over to the hollow where he planned to sleep out the night. After an hour of work he had a fire going and had cut some meat off of the carcass to make his dinner. It smelled fairly good. Getting as comfortable as he could, he watched as some grease dripped into the flames and popped.

He checked the GPS to confirm his position and to figure out his rout for the next day. He needed to hurry. Not just did he need to reach the landing zone to increase his survival odds, he still had a job to do. He looked out into the forest with a sigh. “I don’t have a damn clue how I’m going to get things ready now. If I spend a month just sitting around in the trees there will be hell to pay when the ship arrives. I’m probably the first castaway to ever not want his rescue to come sooner than later.”

He put that thought aside as he picked up a skewer of meat. There was no point thinking about how he was going to do site prep until he reached the survey station. He took a bite and found it to have a sweet flavor. All things considered, he was doing fairly well for the moment. Settling in for his meal and rest, he finished planning out the next day’s journey.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flash: Runemaster

Daniel cast the runes on the ground as he recited the ancient chant. The stones bounced across the soft earth, but all remained within the crude circle he had drawn on the ground. His lips moved out of habit as he silently read them. The name and influences of each was etched deep into his memory. However, he also had to pull deep from his feelings to find their truest and most hidden meanings.

That intuition is how he made sense of them. Anyone could cast the stones, consult a chart, and say they meant this and that. True power required the ability to make sense and connect them. You had to look not just at their literal meanings, but the metaphors and ideas that they represented. Each was the piece of a puzzle with undefined lines. The reader was the one who had to know how to connect the dots.

He scratched his scraggly beard before saying out loud to himself, “Asia it is then.” He scooped up the stones and placed them in a small leather sack. He had travel arrangements to make then.

***

He walked through the crowded Hanoi street trying not to bump into anyone. Daniel hated crowds, and yet they seemed unavoidable in cities. He had already been through Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. It was all something he could have done without. Each stop had brought him closer to Zugth’lex.

The demon had possessed an incompetent demonologist named Rupert Sandoval. Rupert had been digging into things best left untouched when he made the mistake of putting on an amulet that should have been left buried. So now Daniel was on a quest to find the moron and exorcise the demon. While that might, might, have been enough to motivate him to save the man, it was stopping the demon that was most important to him. It had only taken a little research to realize that Zugth’lex was bad news, and Rupert had ever so kindly supplied the demon with everything he needed for some rather foul rituals.

So Daniel had spent the last three months bouncing around the globe to track the monster down. He had jaunted across Europe, made one stop in northern Africa, and crossed the United States. Now here he was in Vietnam, dodging the crowd as he made his way into a secluded park that happened to be situated on a potent ley line.

He walked slowly through the flowering trees to the heart of the park. He could feel the negative power in the air that had driven away everyone else. He had to admit, it was nice to at least be someplace quiet finally. It only took two minutes to reach the clearing where Zugth’lex was performing his ritual.

The demon had drawn a ritual circle on the ground in blood of unknown origin. In one hand he held a curved knife. At his feet lay a young woman, bound and gagged. As Daniel stepped from around tree, the demon stopped his chant and fixed glowing red eyes on him.

“Curse you. Why must you trouble me so?” Zugth’lex hissed, “Be gone!” He pointed his hand at Daniel and black flames shot through the air.

Daniel was prepared though and held up a rune stone marked for protection. The flames hit the stone and dissipated. He whipped his other hand forward and tossed a handful of runestones towards the demon. He clasped his hands together and began a rapid chant. The runes began to orbit the demon and glow with power.

Zugth’lex tried to run, but the runes created a barrier he could not cross. After a moment he let out a howl of pain. The energy of the stones ripped the demon from his host. Daniel tossed another runestone that he had especially prepared. The demonic energies were drawn into the stone and burning it black before falling to the ground. Rupert’s now free body fell to the ground unconscious.

Daniel gathered his personal runes in their bag. Then he placed the demon stone in a separate bag, this one marked with further runes of binding. He then untied the grateful young woman. Rupert, he left on the ground. He had helped the fool enough, and he figured trying to make his way home from a foreign country unaided would give the man some needed time to reflect on not putting on random amulets.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

To Aaron Allston

I was saddened to learn this morning that author Aaron Allston passed away yesterday. He was to be the guest of honor at Visioncon in Branson, MO. While in the airport he collapsed. The cause of death was heart failure. He was 53.

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Aaron several times at conventions, most notably Origins in Columbus, Oh. He was one of three Star Wars authors that would be sitting at a table over in authors' alley. Him, Michael A. Stackpole, and Timmothy Zahn formed their own kind of trilogy. Aaron was always pleasant to talk with and friendly to his fans. I attended several of his lectures on writing. They were fun and educational. The mark of a man that knows his craft and is enthused about it.

I knew him before the conventions because of his writing though. I loved several of his Star Wars novels. He was one of the writers in the X-Wing series. Starfighters of Adumar was a favorite of mine for both its adventure and comedy. He also did work on some Dungeons and Dragons books. While those were before I got into the game, his influence can still be felt.

I learned a lot from reading his work and attending his seminars. At Origins 2013 I also bought a book a book from him on plotting. It is a good book and has some interesting exercises. I will be trying some of the exercises and posting them here. That is my tribute to his legacy. So look forward to some of those soon.

Aaron Allston will be missed. He has left wonderful works to remember him by though.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Goblin King Chapter 1: Night Fires

Chapter 1

Fland let the dice roll across the table. They danced about, crashing into each other and the surrounding tankards. One came up with five pips, and the other with four. “Nine means I win this round boys,” Fland said with a big smile as he collected the small pile of coppers from the grumbling men.

They had been playing the game for well over an hour with the flow of luck sliding from one man to the other. Most of the men were only up or down a few coppers from what they had started until Fland hit a streak of good rolls.

Fland was a young man of twenty-six summers. His chestnut hair was kept somewhat shaggy and gave him a carefree air. His skin was weathered from days spent deep in the wilderness. Stubble spread along his face, a few days had past since he last shaved. He wore hardened leather breastplate with leather pauldrons and cuisse to protect his shoulders and thighs. Hanging from his belt were a pair of elven light maces. The slender, but sturdy shafts were topped with flanged heads smaller than a man’s fist.

As the men started to ante up for the next round, Fland turned towards the far corner of the room where his companion sat reading a small tome. “Hey, Elarr! How about you jump in and up the ante. I’d like to win a few silver to add some shine to all of this copper.”

Elarr had flowing raven hair that ran down past his shoulders. His long, pointed ears were the only break in the flow of his locks. While he had the fine, handsome features possessed by all elves, his expression seemed to naturally settle into a grim countenance. He wore a long, loose tunic of elven make. It was sky blue except for the light green trim. Arcane sigils sewn in gold circled the cuffs and collar. Resting beside him was a short walking stick made of crystal. It was topped with a multifaceted sphere at the top and tapered to a point at the end.

The elf marked his page with his index finger as he looked up with disdain in his eyes. “If you wish to toss away your coin gambling, that is your own mistake. I will not waste my time with such plebeian vices.” With that he turned back to his reading.

“What he means, fellows, is that he is afraid he’ll lose that pretty set of cloths of his and that we’ll send him to his room in his undergarments,” Fland told the others and received a hearty laugh from them all. He tossed a look back at the elf to see if he had managed to get his eyebrow to twitch, no luck this time, then cast the dice again.

Before the cubes stopped spinning the calm night was interrupted by screams of “Fire!” and “Help!” Everyone leapt to their feet as the warning bells started to echo through the air. All of the other men, local villagers, immediately dashed for the door. Fland took a moment to scoop a handful of coppers into his purse before heading  towards the door. Before he turned away, he looked to see what the dice had landed on.

Both had come up with only one pip. Bad luck.

Fland stepped out into the cool spring air with Elarr following a step behind. Their eyes were quickly drawn to the multiple fires that burned throughout the village. At least a dozen buildings were lit from the inside or had their roofs on fire. This was no case of a knocked over candle. While shouts about the fire had been the first to reach the tavern, they could also hear alarms of an attack.

Fland scanned down the street and picked out the real threat. Running about in the dancing shadows caused by the fire were goblins. The wicked little humanoids stood only as tall as his waist. Their skin was a putrid yellow like an aged bruise and their too wide mouths showed off rows of sharp, pointy teeth when they made evil little grins. They cackled with glee at the chaos they had sewn into the peaceful village. As the confused villagers tried to put out the fires, goblins would swarm onto them, hack and stabbing with crude swords and axes. In every group, at least one waved about a torch.

“I will start on the goblins, you see about the fires,” Fland said to Elarr as he targeted a mob of five goblins coming down the street.

Fland was glad that he had not retired yet and doffed his leather armor for the night. He drew his twin light maces as he dashed towards the nearest mob of goblins. He jumped over the lead one to land in the center of the group. He kicked out hard, slamming his booted toe into the nose of the torch bearer, knocking the goblin to the ground. His maces worked like like lightning as they struck each goblin in turn he smashed them across their heads and faces at a rapid tempo. Any goblin that did not drop at the first blow, or that simply did not fall fast enough, received a second and even a third blow as he rolled his wrists to rain down more strikes.

He did not pause after dispatching the goblins. Instead he hurried on to another target between two buildings. After bashing the skulls the goblin trio he was off again. He could see that the villagers had begun to organize as the realized the threat. Some of the men were arming themselves, but still found themselves outnumbered by the goblins. Farther down, Fland could see a group of men with swords, village guards most likely, fighting together to hack their way through the goblins.

Fland grabbed a man that had just smashed the head of a goblin with a club. It turned out to be one of the men he had been dicing with. “Come with me, we’ll work our way to the guards.” The man nodded and followed along. As they moved, Fland grabbed a second, then a third man, each armed with farming implements. Soon their numbers swelled as they fought their way down the street, pinning the goblins between themselves and the guardsmen.

***

While Fland fought the goblins, Elarr ran towards one of the buildings with a burning roof. He was no conjurer so summoning a ball of water was beyond him. He had never studied much of fire magics, seeing them as having little practical application outside of war. What he could do, however, was command the winds. He chanted and made a gesture with one hand the pointed the top of his crystalline walking staff at the flames.

The air around the fire condensed into a tightly packed sphere that centered itself in the flames. The dense orb suddenly expanded with the force of a cyclone. The explosion of air caused the flames to flare up and then sputter out like a candle that was blow on to hard.

It was a good start, but Elarr knew that he needed more. He watched as villagers bailed water from rain barrels to put out the flames. A burly man picked up one next to the tavern and emptied it directly inside of a burning house. The flood from the barrel inspired an idea in his keen mind. Elarr dashed between two buildings with the intent of reaching the next street where the town well was located.

***

Fland’s rag-tag group held the line as they forced the goblins to retrete. Some fled down alleys or climbed buildings. Most were fleeing towards the town square. The guardsmen hacked apart any goblin they could from their own position. Soon the two forces were meeting at the center.

“Those things are still in half the town,” Fland shouted as he turned down the intersection to the town square.

“We had to retreat this way,” one of the guards said as he took position next to Fland, “They burst through the gate with so many that we had to regroup. And there were other things with them, big and terrifying. They cut through the captain and headed straight towards the square.”

“Damnit!” Fland cursed as he turned towards the man, “Were they hairy with heads like a bear?”

“Yea, how did y-”

“Bugbears,” he replied, cutting the guardsman off. “I’ve ran into them before. Tough, ugly, and wholly unnatural.”

As they marched down the street they could see the village square ahead. A mass of disorganized goblins could be seen in the flickering firelight. There were a few bugbears mixed among them. The large brutes stood as tall as man, and would likely be taller if they did not hunch forward. Sitting atop broad shoulders was a large, ursine head with a short snout and big ears. When the monstrous creatures opened their mouths in violent roars, they revealed that their lower mandibles split open to reveal that it was lined with teeth that led into a spiked gullet. They radiated an unnerving presence, and when they got closer, Fland new the men would falter under the fear aura.

“Everyone keep together!” Fland shouted as he started towards the goblins, “They’ll scatter as soon as they know we won’t stop.” Fland charged and the rest followed behind him. The guardsmen raised their swords and spears. The villagers shook their pitchforks, clubs, and kitchen knives.

The goblins hooted and shouted obscenities in their debased tongue. The bugbears gave them strength, not to mention intimidated them into staying in place. The cowardly creatures’ resolve fell apart as the villagers fell on them. The front rank broke as the villagers attacked with savage ferocity, determined to save their homes.

The goblins might have been routed then and there if the bugbears had not stepped forward. The monstrous creatures strode through their smaller brethren, kicking aside any that did not part the way for them, crushing the dying under heel as they engaged their prey. They chopped and slashed with their weapons, cleaving into villagers with ease. Their unsettling presence sapped the rage from the villagers, dashing their momentum like a wave against a cliff. As a bugbear hacked off an arm or leg, opportunistic goblins would follow behind, delivering a cruel killing blow to the wounded or attacking someone that was put off balance by the death of a friend.

Fland could feel the unnerving aura that the bugbears generated. It left him, and everyone else within range, shaken. It stirred the instincts to flee not fight. He would not let that stop him. He knew that most of the villagers were not trained warriors. Some of the guardsmen seemed like they might have been soldiers in the army in years past, but even they were faltering. It was up to him to take down the bugbears.

That damn elf had better do something soon.

Fland spun and ducked under the swing of a bugbear’s ax and brought both of his maces hard into its side. He sidestepped behind it as he came up and rolled his maces to bring them down hard on the bugbear’s head. He spun one around to crack its neck for a final blow as the he brought the other around to block the attack of another bugbear. One of the men he had been dicing with stabbed a sickle into the bugbear to finish it off.

Spinning maces blocked the attacks of the new bugbear and slipped in one hit after another. The light maces were fast and let him put up a wall of steel to batter aside the unskilled, but powerful, attacks by the bugbear and any sneaky goblins that were feeling brave. Unfortunately, they lacked the power to kill such brutish creatures in a single blow. Each attack built on the next in a rapid succession that collectively pulverized the target. The tactic was working, but to slowly for such a mass battle. Matters only became worse as Fland saw another bugbear coming at him. It appeared that they had determined him to be the most worthy target.

That damn elf had better do something really soon.

***

Elarr blasted a goblin with a bolt of eldritch energy. The little sneak had been lurking in the shadows, hoping to catch someone from behind. Keen elven ears heard the patter of feet, though, and where human eyes might have missed it lurking in the shadows, he saw it as plain as day.

He watched the pitched battle as he prepared his spell. This was not going to be easy and would drain most of his aether. He drew a circle around himself and chanted the words to a barrier spell. Pale runes began to hover in the air around him as the ward formed.

From a pouch he drew forth a vial that contained pale smoke that swirled about as he shook it. He planted the base of his staff in the ground as he began to chant. It stood there, unwavering as though his hand had not left it. His free hand traced patterns through the air as he shaped his fingers into elaborate seals. Aether coalesced around him as he drew the strands of power in. He shaped them and weaved them together with his will.

His thumb and index finger deftly unscrewed the lid on the vial without dropping it from his palm. The smoke wafted out, but did not dissipate. Instead it was drawn into the strands of aether and Elarr willed it into a swirling orb. Sweat formed on his brow from the exertion and his vision blurred slightly. He dropped the empty vial and directed the swirling sphere to move away from him, towards the town well. He took his staff again and lifted it above his head. He used it to focus and draw in more aether.

He centered the orb over the town well and let it extend outward. Then, with intense focus, he reshaped it. He stretched it out and sent on end snaking down the well. The column of wind sucked up water, funneling it up into the air. To anyone that looked, and many villagers and goblins did, it looked like an elemental serpent breaking out of the earth.

He directed the top of his creation to swing towards one of the worst fires. It drove into the burning building with a great hiss of steam. Elarr relaxed his control on the end of the churning mass of air for a moment and it sprayed its water about. Not all of the flames were put out, but it most were smoldering now and the villagers with buckets could finish the rest. Elarr turned to the next building, dousing its roof.

Soon he had put out most of the nearby fires. Elarr turned his attention to the battle in the square. He was almost completely drained. While putting out more fires would be nice, he knew he could not last much longer. With his final effort, he was determined to make a difference in the battle, which did not seem to be going in the village’s favor.

With a white knuckle grip on his staff, Elarr commanded the mass of water and wind to lash against the goblins and bugbears. It sent the goblins scattering and smashed one of the bugbears to the ground. It swept across the horde, battering them about before Elarr’s power finally failed. The binding wind dissipated as it aimed at an ax wielding bugbear, sending a wave of water to soak the monster. Elarr stood there panting from the exertion. He leaned on the crystalline staff as he watched the fight resume.

***

Fland brought his maces down hard on the heads of two goblins as lead everyone forward. Elarr’s show of power had sent the goblins into retreat. Only one bugbear remained. He was the largest Fland had seen and he appeared to be the only thing keeping the goblins from fleeing.

Fland rushed at the bugbear. It was armed with an ax that was too good for goblin make. It must have been scavenged from another raid. It bore a hefty shield that was painted with a wired design, some kind of goblin rune Fland figured. The bugbear swung its ax in a horizontal arc, intending to cleave the charging ranger.

Fland did not try to block or change his stride. Instead, he dropped low and slid feet first into the bugbear’s shins. The towering creature was caught off guard by the surprising maneuver. Fland rolled to the side so as not to be pinned under the larger humanoid’s bulk. He came came up to to a knee and hammered his maces down in rapid blows on the bugbear’s head.

CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK! CRA-CRACK!

The rapid succession of pair blows beat the bugbear’s head into a bloody pulp. The goblins saw this and turned to run. The villagers chased after them, but only to the village gate. Fland stood, and surveyed the destruction. Buildings were still on fire, but the worst were out and villagers were quickly getting back to work extinguishing the flames. Fland headed over to Elarr to see how he had faired through the ordeal.