I’m going to hop up on my Neanderthal soapbox here for a minute. Well alright, I guess they didn’t have soap boxes, so how about a boulder? That make y’all happier? Good.

First of all, I know I might take some heat for this point of view, but IDGAF. So if you feel you must take the opposite position & reply to this, keep that in mind.

As amazing as the athletes in gymnastics, ice skating, diving and synchronized swimming and even boxing are, I have to say, if a “sport” requires a judge to determine a winner, it isn’t a sport, it’s an exhibition. How exactly, does  ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ apply to gymnastics or synchronized swimming?

It’s fairly easy to see who wins a foot race, the pole vault or a weightlifting competition. It was who got there fastest, who jumped highest or who lifted the most weight. But a gymnastics or synchronized swimming routine? How does a spectator determine a winner if there are no faults made by the competitors? They can’t. It’s like trying to decide what the better work of art is; the Mona Lisa or the statue of David. They are both spectacular, but they are also different. There’s no way you could say one is better than the other even if you were an expert in the field of Renaissance art.

Sure, the athletes are doing things faster, jumping higher, and they have to be stronger to be successful at their chosen activity. But the margins between those  crowned champions and those who are given the “Good Try” pat on the head are so small –sometimes non-existent– that an average joe would say, “I liked both gymnasts routines.” One routine isn’t necessarily “better” than another to the naked eye, they just have differing aspects that some people enjoy, while others enjoy something else.

In fact, why do we allow different routines for gymnastics or similar sports? This just allows for judges personal preferences to creep into the results. If we must have exhibition “sports” like gymnastics and synchronized swimming in the Olympics, let’s have a specific routine that all “competitors” have to complete and leave it at that. Whoever does that routine the best, with the least mistakes is the winner. Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, & Justin Gatlin, et al do not have to add back flips or handsprings when they run the 100m dash. The only thing they have to do is run as fast as they can over a pre-determined distance and beat everyone to the end of that distance. That is the true meaning of  ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’.  So why do the Olympics allow for different routines for different competitors and call it fair competition?

*Hops off his boulder*

Let the slings and arrows fly.

© 2012 by What I Desired to Say….

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Arriving at Ma’s house shortly, I am stunned. The place is an utter and complete disaster area. It looked like it had been looted by goblins many times over, without the benefit of a clean-up after any of them. Locating Caretha, we exchanged the obligatory greetings and I asked, “What in the name of Chaos happened here?

“Well Ma apparently wasn’t well. The best that can be pieced together is that she suffered from depression, high-blood pressure and simple loneliness after Dad… well you know.” she trailed off.

“Yeah, I do. Oh Ma…” I said, as thoughts of Nicorella entered my head. “So what’s happening here? There’s a lot of stuff we should keep.” I said, trying to stay focused on the task at hand.

“Well, Jamestry thinks we should just hire the trashmaster and have him clean it up.”

“Like hell we will! This place may look like Chaos’ first temper tantrum, but memories of our lives are here. Buried, but still here. Where is that stubborn mule?”

“Right behind you, brother.”

Turning to face him, I was surprised by what I saw. His ‘wife’ was at his side, but what little beauty she had possessed the last time I saw her had faded and it looked as if nothing but the strongest magic could bring it back. Or maybe that was why she was beautiful before. Jamestry had changed too, also not for the better. Apparently he had socked away the rich foods of the wealthy, for he had gained some weight. Quite a bit, too. He also apparently had blood pressure issues, at least right then. His face was redder than the crimson of dragon blood.

“Well, hello Jamestry. It looks like life is treating you well. You’re all settled in at the Von Baren’s I take it?”

“Don’t flatter me, you ingrate!” he boiled over.

“Ingrate? Why I should be grateful to you, is really beyond my understanding. Care to elaborate on this delusion of yours?” I asked calmly.

“Sure. As soon as Ma needed you, you abandoned her to chase this warrior dream of yours even though we both know I am by far the better warrior!”

“Oh really. Care to test that theory right now, brother? And as far as abandoning Ma, at least I didn’t follow my little brain out the door.” I said as I dropped my hand to the pommel of the sword sheathed at my side.

Apparently seeing the movement of my hand and realizing he was unarmed, he backed off the indignation and said, “Sorry, I’m just a little upset with Ma’s death. You understand.”

“Of course I do.” knowing full well he was full of sheep manure. “Now what was this about throwing all the stuff in the house away? You can’t be serious.”

“Well, I am. I don’t have time to do a proper job with my job as the town cartographer, you’re off playing warrior and I will not allow Caretha and Thaddeus to do it alone. “

“Fine. I take a break from ‘playing’ as you so elegantly put it, and I will take care of it. No need to worry your self-important head over it. I’ll start today after the service.”

At the words ‘self-important’, Jamestry’s face reddened quite a bit and his stare narrowed and hardened. But knowing he was unarmed made his anger impotent…for now.

“Well there is the fact of the matter that the landlord wants the house clean by day after tomorrow so she can rent it out again. She’s losing money with it empty.”

“So pay the woman with your married into riches, Jamestry. What good is the money if it can’t be used for something important?” I replied incredulously.

The countess then spoke. “I forbid it! It is my money and we will NOT be paying any further monies to your family. Your mother sucked me dry with her depression and inability to provide adequately for herself. With Jamestry’s salary and what I have left, we are barely able to keep the servants’ salaries paid. If you want the stuff, you figure out a way to pay the rent! That armor sure cost enough!”

“Fine, I will. And what I find, I keep. It will never see your home, Countess. That I vow.”

At that moment, the vicar approached us to finish up some last-minute details. Glowering at Jamestry and his old hag of a wife, I barely heard a word the minister was saying.

The funeral was lovely and well attended by the town. Ma was a respected member of the community, even though she suffered from depression. She was able to take care of others, yet not herself after Dad’s unjust death. Everyone was shocked to hear that she had been depressed, yet from what I remember, no one made an effort to really befriend her in the time since Dad was stolen from her. No one knew, because no one took the time to. Sadly, that included Grandmother, Grandfather, her brother and sisters. They lived far away and when they spoke via letter, Ma always said she was doing fine.

After the service and everyone had left, time had grown late. I needed to start working on the mess at the house in order to meet tomorrow night’s deadline though. After grabbing a few candles, I set to work on salvaging what I could of the memories of my past. I saw pictures of the family in happier, more prosperous times. I found examples of schoolwork Ma had saved from each of us kids’ primary education. Priceless things to normal people, but just trash to one of the people who should care the most. It was plain that the Countess had changed Jamestry for the worse. He and Luwandra even exerted an unholy and unhealthy control and influence over the minds of Caretha and Thaddeus.

Yawning as I worked, the early evening darkness slid into the pitch black of midnight. I had made quite a lot of progress in separating the true trash from the things that could never be replaced, but I was beat. I’ll just take a quick nap to refresh myself and get back to work.

Lying down on the bed, I quickly doze off. After what felt like 15 minutes, I awoke to the sound of the front door being kicked open. Still wearing my gear, I grabbed my sword from the corner and charged out of the bedroom and stopped short. There standing in the middle of the great room was Sundrick von Baren.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded.

“Determining if this home is livable. Word is that your mom’s house is an environmental hazard.” he sneered.

“Yeah, well Ma had some problems, but this,” I said motioning around, “isn’t a danger to anyone. What authority do you have to be busting in the door, huh?”

“Oh this,” he said pointing to his breastplate. “I am a deputy to ‘ol Abe for the town of Coradale.”

“Wow. Mommy buy that for you Sundrick? Cuz there’s no way you should be a deputy to ‘ol Abe. He ate choads like you for midnight snacks.” I growled as I walked towards him.

“So what if she did? I am respected here now.” he gloated. But he was retreating at my advance.

“The only thing you are respected for, is that badge. Take it off for a while and see how much respect you get then. Hell, the only reason you got through school is me. Now get out before I get Abe over here.” I demanded.

A nervous look crossed his face and he stammered, “ Y-y-yeah, well, you just be out by today or you’ll have to deal with me. You remember Spertzer, right?” he said as he approached the door.

“Yeah. What about him?”

“Well, he’s also a deputy working with me. Seems you two have a bit of a history according to him.”

“Yeah we do. Tell him he won’t be able to enjoy our next meeting. Now get out so I can get finished up.”

“Fine. I’ll be here same time tomorrow morning. If you’re still here, I get to throw you in jail for a month. I hope I get to. Mother would be so happy.”

“Tell your mother to keep her libido to herself in the future, K?” I said, as I closed the door in his face. “Bastard.” Little did I know how right I was.

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

After making it out of chat that morning, I headed over ‘home’. I’d never really lived at Ma’s new place, so I don’t really consider it home. But where your mother lives, should always be home, right?

On the way, I stopped at the bank to swap my field gear for my dress gear. I wanted to look my best for the wake. Also, to show how ‘successful’ I was becoming as a warrior of Shade.

After I polished up the gear, I resumed on my way. About halfway there, I encountered a… What WAS I looking at? blocking my path.

It was human-form, but looked like no human I had ever seen. It was hunched over on all four of its limbs. In addition, it had a growth running the entire length of the center of it’s back, a couple of horn-like protrusions on the crown of it’s head, poking through a mass of what was once probably hair. It was dressed in rags that barely covered it’s body in any sort of modest manner. In fact, the creature was undeniably male. The skin of the creature was a mottled mixture of the pinkish-white usually found on Mortals, and the gray and white usually seen on an Undead or a Lich. Never had I seen, or even heard of, this combination before now. What in Grimm’s name would cause this?

While taking in the spectacle before me, he started to speak. Well, I can only assume it was trying to speak, for I could see that his mouth was moving and sounds were coming out, but I couldn’t make out any actual words.

As I tried to make out what he was trying to say, the creature became more and more agitated at my inability to understand it’s ‘speech’. It started to grab my legs and arms and it tried to pull me down an alley. Not knowing what–or who–this thing was, there was no way I was going ANYWHERE it wanted to take me.

After trying for 15 minutes to shake it off and continue on my way, I was still being hounded by this thing. Rather annoyed, I shouted, “Leave me alone!”

Well, that had no effect. The thing seemed to take it as encouragement. It started pulling harder and harder at my limbs.

Now being thoroughly enraged (Didn’t seem to take much nowadays), I figured I’d try a little physical discouragement. As it drew nearer, I took a backhand swipe and connected solidly. He went tumbling against the building with a hard thump. Maybe that’ll get him off my case. I got no further than five steps though and he was back to tugging on my arm, cape, whatever he could get his grubby little fingers around.

I decided to be a bit more drastic, so I shoved him away then let loose with a spell. “Excessum, Nuage, Parlier”, I incanted and sent a Death Cloud its way. Of course, he kept on coming.

“Genero, Pulsus, Exsto” and a magically created missile of energy found its way into the creäture’s flesh. Still coming, eh? OK, enough playing around. Knowing the magic infused into the armor lent me extra abilities, I commenced with a full barrage of spells and attacks until I watched the creature disappear in a puff of smoke, leaving behind that ragged set of what were at one time clothes.

Not really wanting to chance rabies or some other disease by looking through the tatters, I started walking away. Besides, what could he have hidden in there that would be of any value? But then, I heard a vaguely familiar faint voice say, “I am here.”
Quickly looking around for the person who said it, I of course, saw no one. Whose voice was that? P? No, he would be here. Dad? Don’t be silly, Sid. Hakkini? Now you’re really reaching. Oh well, I’ll figure it out later. But do I dare look? Feeling a bit invincible, I figured why not. If I get sick, Nicorella will… Oh screw it.

Making sure my gauntlets were securely on, I quickly rifled through the remnants of cloth and found something. Wow, he did carry something. Retrieving it from the pocket it was contained in, I saw that it was a necklace or amulet of some kind. It looked like a skull, but as I inspected it more closely, I gasped. This was not a skull; it was a replica of the thing that greeted me when I awoke in the lair of Master Vontrael. Hmmm, why would that thing have a trinket such as this? No matter now, so I went to put it in my pack to investigate later. As I placed it inside, the string brushed up against my exposed forearm. Feeling a surge of power so strong that I nearly blacked out, I fell to my knees. Luckily, it just brushed against me. Man, that thing was so powerful, I think I might have died if our contact had been more substantial. Very curious, indeed.

Getting back to my feet, I chuckled nervously. “OK. That’s settled. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I said, glancing at the rags on the ground,” I get the pleasure of dealing with my brother. What a pleasure THAT’S going to be. He can be such a pig-headed fool sometimes.”

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

After we grabbed a couple of pints of the Cora Ale (a little weak, Reap told me, but for free, he better not be complaining), we hit the pub chat. My there were a lot of people in here! There’s the famous LEWD, apparently discussing a recent battle with a clan member. Raiven, the renowned Bard, is holding a group spellbound with one of her re-tellings of events surrounding the clans of Darkness. Hmm, must be a good tale, or a good ale, to keep them mesmerized like that.

In another corner, I see a few of the clan RHC. The place to be, as they say. From what I’ve heard they are a pretty close-knit clan, so maybe there’s something to the claim.

Reap spots an empty table in the midst of the chaos, so we hurry and sit down.

“So what now?” I asked.

“Well, there seems to be quite a few of the elite here. In this case, it’s time to just sit back and listen. There is usually some tidbit or two that you can pickup on if you just listen. Also, since you’re still a newb, not many will pay attention to you.”

“If you say so, bro. But how do you know who to believe? I’ve heard of some tall tales that have come outta chat. Trik is an imp, I tell you.”

Laughing heartily, again at my expense, he replied, “Yeah, he is. Usually harmless though. Just sit back and listen, bro. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.”

So for the next hour, we sat there listening and downing pint after pint of the free-flowing ale.

Soon, talk started drifting over to warriors killing other warriors, or p-killing. Maybe I’d had too much to drink, or I was upset with being attacked, or maybe subconscious stress from Ma’s death, or a combo of all three, but I started ranting about K5W being a bunch of thugs, how General! was a crappy leader for allowing his members to get away with attacking a semi-newb and how p-killing was wrong, etc.

Reap tried to tell me to shut up, but me being incensed and inebriated is a hard mixture to calm down, so I kept right on going.

Then a rather large, imposing figure took a seat at our table. Glancing over towards him, I saw the K5W insignia. Even though I was standing up, he was looking me in the eye. I probably should have STFU right about then, but drunk and intelligent never did go together, and now was no exception.

“Well, speak of the devil, and here he comes. Whaddya got to say for yer clan buddy, eh pal?” I managed to say around my suddenly thick tongue. I look over at Reap and he is staring at the floor, slowly shaking his head.

The reply is something I will carry to my dying day. “First of all, he ain’t my ‘buddy’; he is my clan member and part of my family. Secondly, you’re pretty newbish to be shootin’ off your mouth. You gotta beef with me and mine, come talk to me and mine. DO NOT be spoutin’ off in chat, spreadin’ rumors and shit. I hear of you doing it again, and I will kill you myself. And to drive the point home, you will die repeatedly. Do I make myself clear, newb?”

With my heart beating a mile a minute, I wasn’t about to let him know I was nervous, so I started again with the ale-driven false bravado. “Well then tell your ‘family’ to not attack me! I REALLY HATE being attacked for no reason!”

And to his credit, he pretty much ignored my ranting, “Look, you’re drunk. And a newb. Reap here knows how to handle this stuff. Once you sleep it off, make sure he explains it to ya, K? And yes, you’re right, you shouldn’t have been attacked. He will be punished for that infraction of clan law. But a word of advice, if I may?”

“Sure! You’re spouting off pretty well. Might as well carry on, mate!”

At that, General! started to draw his sword. Before he could get it halfway out though, who should appear, but Jim. He had his sword unsheathed and a pulsating ball of energy in his left hand.

“Leave the kid alone, man. He’s just blowin’ off some steam and not worth the effort for you to kill. If I heard it correctly from Reap here, he got dumped by his childhood sweetie AND lost his mother this week. So back off, man.”

Visibly relaxing, General! turned to face Jim. “Ah, yes, Jim_West. Looks like nothing’s changed. You still got a lippy bunch. You better rein them in, or you’re going to be picking up their gear for weeks.” he threatened.

“I’ll run my clan, and you run yours, K?”

“Sure, just a little friendly advice, leader to leader. And you might want to explain how things work around here to him,” he said, nodding his head in my direction.

“Like I said, I’ll run my clan, and you run yours, K?” Jim said, through clenched teeth.

“Fair enough. See ya ’round Jimbo.

Then he turned, glanced at me and made his way out of the chat.

The room let out an audible collective sigh. Jim sheathed his weapon and sat down “Dude, you sure know how to pick ’em. General! there coulda killed you in two swings and not thought twice about it. And what did I tell you about stuff like that?”

“Stuff like what?

“Running your mouth, that’s what.” he replied. It looked like he was madder than General! was.

“Nothing I can recall, but you’re probably gonna tell me to shut my trap and let my actions speak for me, right?” I said, meekly.

“Yeah. That and the other ‘rule’ in the clan. If you die, do NOT resurrect ’til your gear can be rescued. I really hate having to replace gear that doesn’t need to be. Understand?” he replied, looking at both me and Reap.

”Yeah, boss.” we chorused.

“Good. I better never hear about you two shooting off your mouths again, K?”

“Yeah, OK.”

“Now get out of here. Go sleep off the ale, man. Take care of your family for the next few days.” he said, as he spied a couple of his lady friends across the room. “I got business to take care of, if you’ll excuse me.”

With that, he left and went over to his ‘business’.

“Well, good thing he was here, huh man?” I said nervously, looking at Reap.

“Yeah, lucky for you. I was going to let General! take you out for being a smartass. No more ale for you.”

You’re right, man. I’m sorry. Just a lot of crap I got built up inside. Gotta let it out somehow, y’know?

“Yeah, I do. That’s why I wanted you to talk about your girl dumping ya. You’re going to die a lot, if you’re always thinking about stuff like that. Let it go, man.”

“I guess so. It’s just that since I was never what you’d call ‘good with the ladies’; I want to hold on tight to those who let me in. Then, when I’m dumped, I feel like if I don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen, y’know?”

Reap kinda chuckled… and winced. Hmm, wonder what that means? “Yeah, I do man. I been dumped more times than I care to count. One thing ALWAYS makes me feel better though.” he said, as his head turned to watch the very fetching serving wench as she passed by.

“Oh, and what might THAT be?” I asked, knowing full well what he had in mind.

“A little hair of the dog that bit ya, of course.” he replied, winking at me as he motioned with his thumb over his shoulder at the barmaid.

Giving him the nod of approval and the OK sign, I start to get up.

“Whoa, pal!” he said, grabbing my arm. “She’s a bit out of your league, bro; especially, in the mood you’re in.”

“Whatever, man. You just want her for yourself. I’m going over there. After all, fortune favors the bold. Just watch. If I bomb, she’s all yours, K?”

“OK. But when you get shot down, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

Laughing him off, I said, “OK. I’ve been ‘warned’. Now if you’ll excuse me?”

“Be my guest, bro.” he replied, a little too smugly.

Walking over to her, I thought about what to say, but she beat me to the punch. “Hey Sid. Tell Reap I’ll be over in a minute, K?”

A bit taken aback, I responded as eloquently as I could, “Huh?”

“What are ya, deaf? I’ll be over in a minute.”

“Uh…Sure, Ok. See ya in a minute.” I stammered. “I guess.” I muttered under my breath as I turned around.

Walking back over to the table, I see Reap has company. A somewhat attractive woman who is VERY voluptuous in all the right areas.

Hey, bro, apparently she knows you. Said she’d be right over.

“She’s Sexy.” he said.

“Yeah, she’s hot all right.”

“No. She’s Sexy, man. DeadSexy.”

“Hot, sexy. What does it matter? She is smokin’!”

Quickly turning in her direction, he says, “Yeah she is hot. But I don’t see any smoke, bro.”

“Smoke? No smoke. I just meant she’s hot.”

“No, bro. I already told you, she’s Sexy.”

“Excuse me, fellas. But I think you have your wires crossed a little bit.”

We both turned back to the woman sitting at our table, and I said, “Huh, what do you mean?”

“What I mean is, her name is DeadSexy. Sexy for short. And she is hot. Like you.” she said coyly, batting her eyelashes at me with the last part.

“Ooohhhh. I get it now. A bit too much ale, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, I do indeed.”

Reap then spoke up, “Sid, allow me to introduce you to Martalena. She saw us come in and finally worked up the nerve to come over just as you left. She was waiting for you to get back.”

“Really? Well, I must say I am flattered that a woman of your…umm, statuesque beauty thinks I am hot. Would you like a drink?”

“I’ve had more than I care to. I’m feeling a bit tipsy. Would you care to escort me to my room?” she said suggestively.

The ale must have rendered me a tad indecisive, for I looked over at Reap for help. He was grinning from ear to ear, gave me a wink, a slap on the back, and said, “What you waitin’ for, man? The lady needs an escort to her room.”

Not wanting to offend Martalena, I offered her my arm, and said, “If the lady needs an escort, then an escort she will have. It would be my honor and pleasure to see you to your room.”

At that, she exuberantly popped to her feet, barely able to contain her…excitement. Beginning to be a bit excited myself; I managed to make it to her room.

The rest of the evening’s events are a tale best left to the imagination. Mainly, because I am trying to imagine what happened myself. I’m sure I had a good time because I got quite a few “congratulations” and slaps on the back when I entered the chat the next morning, but, for the life of me, I cannot recall anything after making it to her door. Gotta swear off the ale.

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

As we hit the town common, we were feeling great. P had brought word of, and the crests to prove, our admission into the BCL clan of Jim_West. We were kings of the world, by damn!! After going to the smithy to get the BCL insignia attached to our armor, we headed to the pub for a WEE bit of a party. Oh the ale flowed and the women were…nice. LOL.

Waking up the next morning, I almost said to forget it. That Lesser Dragon trying to get out of my forehead was hard to argue against. But seeing as how I had promised Reap we’d go hunting again, I figured I’d better get up.

Softly chanting, “Magnus, Resarcio, Ictus, Selftis” a couple of times and I’m feeling much better. Not the best I’ve ever felt, but definitely the worst. Oh, definitely not the worst. By a LONG shot. But that’s a story for another time.

Donning my gear, I see P materialize just inside the door.

“Morning P. Whatcha got? Yeah, yeah. Messages.” I said, in my best (worst) imitation of his raspy voice.

“Bad news, Master.” he replied.

A bit taken aback by this sudden surge in his vocabulary, I said, “What did you say?”

“Bad news, Master.” he repeated.

Still feeling a bit euphoric over yesterday’s events, but wary due to the unusual behavior of P, I said, “Well, let’s have it then.”

After he passed it over, he disappeared. Now, that too was unusual. Wonder why he didn’t stick around? Oh well.

Opening the tattered scroll, I see that it is from Caretha. “Brother, I wish I was writing under happier times, but I must tell you that Ma has passed away suddenly. Please come home quickly.”

The rest of the message was a blur. I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and my vision had blurred from the tears. The room started spinning, so I sat down on the bed. Well, now I know why P didn’t hang around.

A knock at the door brought me out of my trance. Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs that seemed to have been spun, I staggered over to the door and cracked it open. Of course, it was Reap.

“Dude, it’s almost noon. What’s taking so long? We’re burning daylight here!!”

“Sorry, man. Can’t. Gotta head home for a while.” I managed to say.

“Home. What for? I thought you wanted to clear your father’s name. Can’t do that from home, man. Let’s go, huh?”

Shoving the parchment at him, I said, “Got a problem with that?”

“Uh… No. Sorry, man. I was just excited and didn’t know…”

“I know man. Don’t sweat it. I’m gonna head home. We’ll hunt when I’m done with this, K?”

“Sure, bro. You gotta take care of this first. You wanna escort back to Cora?”

“Nah. I’ll be fine. Just a few goblins and wolves to worry about. Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Dude, in your frame of mind, one lapse of focus and you could wind up dead, lose all your gear and be back here. Lemme just tag along in case something happens, alright?”

“Yeah, guess that’s true. I guess you’re ready, huh?”

“Yep. Let’s go.”

“Ok. Just need to send a reply to this, let ’em know I’m on the way.”

“Sure. Take your time, man.”

Sitting down, I pulled a small scroll out of the nightstand and wrote in barely legible scrawl, “Be home tomorrow. Love ya.” I gave the scroll to P, and told him, “Be there 5 minutes ago, k?” Nodding his head once as is his custom, he disappeared.

“Let’s go.” I said as I donned my helm. “Gotta get home tomorrow.”

“Sure, kid.”

We set out from town headed west into the setting sun. “How appropriate,” I thought. “Mom’s time here has set, as well as my time of having parents. I wonder what this is the dawn of? Thaddeus and Caretha are still at home, with both being under the legal age of adulthood. Jamestry married that vamp, Countess von Baren. Wonder if Jetrune has tried anything? There were rumors he was in hiding, having somehow lost the powers given to him by the Dark Lord Chaos. But rumors were rumors, not facts. I wasn’t letting my guard down just ’cause of some rumors.

And what of Nicorella? She of the backstabbing, two-timing, leaving me for some… yeah just WHAT kind of slimeball DID she leave me for?

All questions I wanted answers to, but they would have to wait ‘til this business with Mom was taken care of first.

I heard the crackle of Ball Lightning a split second before the spell’s effects slammed into my left side. Suddenly, the smell and sizzle of charred flesh filled the air. Howling in pain, I turned to the south to see who my attacker was.

Next thing I heard was the loud guffaws of my ‘friend’ and clan mate, Reaper.

“Oh, man! You shoulda SEEN your face. It was priceless.” he chortled as he almost fell over from laughing so hard.

“Oh, I’ll bet. Hardee-har-har, funny guy.”, I replied, as I cast a Greater Heal on myself. I threw a Magic Missile towards Reap, but of course it fizzled.

But then I see a blast of what looked like a yellowish rain move from the north and perch itself over Reap’s head. As it doused him, I heard him shout, “Attack him, dammit!!”

And it dawned on me, we were under attack! Looking north, I see a dude getting ready to launch a spell.

Shouting a battle cry, hoping it would distract him, I charge. As I advance I begin firing off Death Cloud, fizzing more than I hit. Just as I reach our assailant, he casts a spell at me –that same yellowish rain stuff– burning exposed skin as it spatters on me. Wow! That stuff smarts!

Swinging my sword, it clanks against his armor harmlessly. He lets loose with another blast of that yellow crap, and this time it barely stings. I hope that means he’s running low on mana. I cast a Magic Blade and am dismayed when my opponent laughs and says, “Magic Blade? Are you kidding me?” And he let’s loose a salvo of Ball Lightning, singeing me pretty good.

Getting nervous because I’m not equipped for this kind of battle, I glance around and see Reap just regaining his feet. He casts a couple of heals my way, and shouts, “Run, bro! We ain’t ready for him!”

Knowing he is right, I turn and run west, in the direction of Cora, with our attacker on my heels. Dodging side to side to evade the occasional Ball Lightning, I see Reap reach the gates of town. He turns and yells, “LEFT!”

Huh. Left? What is he talking about? Then I find out. He has sent a Ball Lightning of his own towards me. Quickly moving left a step, I watch the bundle of static pass by and hear it slam into the dude behind me. Right on its heels comes a Death Cloud, and he sidesteps it, lining back up with me. Almost to town now, I see Reap go in the gates. Sensing limbo could be imminent, my pace quickens. But just before reaching the town gates, I receive one more shot in the shorts, as it were.

Inside, I spot Reap waiting for me. He motions me over. When I get in earshot, he says, “Did you happen to see who that was?”

“I saw him, but he wasn’t exactly identifying himself, no.”

“Well, I managed to see his clan tag, K5W. You know them?”

“Barely. I’m pretty much new to this way of life and don’t have many friends or contact with others. Kinda a loner. Though it’s been fun hangin’ and huntin’ with you. Why? Who are they?”

“They are what is called a ‘Shadow Clan’, though what that means, I have little idea. The leader is someone by the name of General!. Good warrior by all accounts; great leader, or so his name implies.”

“How do you know this? Is it some training I’ve missed?” I asked.

Well, partly. But clans come and clans go – sometimes in a matter of days – so it’s nothing any school could have taught you. Mostly I’ve picked it up here and there. Best place is the chats that are set up in each town. There’s one in the pub, the inn, the fountain, the local training hall and one at the fountain.”

“Oh, yeah. I’ve seen those. Thought you had to be invited. I got chased out of one, once. Nasty people, they were. Plus, I’ve never had time to worry about it. Hey, we got here so fast ‘cuz of that guy, I’m not expected ’til tomorrow.

How ’bout we go check out the pub. I’m buying, ‘cuz I popped a healer level when you attacked me.”

“ALRIGHT! Let’s go! We’ll learn ya yet in how to be a warrior of Shade!”

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

Moving down the ladder after Reaper, I mumble to myself, “Yeah, let’s move, alright. Sooner we get done the better.”

“Huh? You say somethin’?” I hear Reap’s voice carry upward to me.

“Nothing. Just saying how excited I am that we are doing so well. I expected more trouble.” I called down to him.

Suddenly, the room below me erupts with an eye-searing fireball from the hands of Reap. Catching the Hobgoblin Berzerker square in the chest, the fireball dissipates as the beast before us absorb’s its energy. Quickly looking around, I see another one to Reap’s right. Jumping down from the ladder, I hastily call out, “Genero, Pulsus, Exsto, Weslin” and watch as a magically created missile heads straight for Reap! Oops!

“Duck!!” I scream, as it barrels in toward him. At the last possible moment, he does and the missile passes him. Sort of. It lodges in his pack, causing a gaping hole and, do I smell paper burning? No time to worry about it now. Gotta focus on the Hobgoblins.

Now that I have my bearings, I chant, “Excessum, Nuage, Parlier, Nortus,” and see the green cloud of acid take its damage on the second Hobgob. Following that with a quick, “Magnus, Lamna, Eminus, Nortus,” nothing happens. What?!?! Again, the chant and this time the phantasmical blade carves out a chunk of the Hobgob. Retreating a step, I cast Maniacal Shriek and it stops him dead in his tracks. The Hobgob stops and looks around with a fear in his eyes I didn’t think possible. Seizing the opportunity, I launch myself at him, driving my sword down in a vicious hack. Catching my blade on his shield, he counters with a thrust of his own sword that manages to find a home in my left bicep. Howling in pain, I scoot away to the east a pace or two and sing out the Magnus, Resarcio, Ictus of a greater heal and feel my wound heal slightly. By this time, Hobgob had managed to line up again with me and I slashed right to left, on a down slant and felt his flesh accept the intrusion of the blade. Retreating a step, I cast Death Cloud again hitting him and causing a spasm of coughing. He continues to advance though, so I scoot back again, this time sending a Magic Missile his way and it hits him a little low, ugh! Oh well, this is battle for life, not sport, so all’s fair right? Again backing up, I cast Death Cloud and again he starts hacking up a lung. Seeing his momentary distraction, I sidestep and move behind him, slicing at the back of his legs. The Elvis Shorty connects with his left hamstring, severing it and rendering him immobile. Now that he is essentially helpless, I finish him off rather quickly. Surveying the room around me, I observe Reap has the other one near death, so I cast a couple heals his way.

After we loot the gold, from their pouches, we take stock in our wounds. I, being stabbed in the left arm have healed it, although it is a little weakened at the moment. Good thing it’s my shield hand. Shouldn’t be too bad. Reap was stabbed in the thigh and he is limping a little bit, but all in all, we’re OK. The same cannot be said about the contents of Reap’s pack though. My disorientation has cost us the use of half his pack and more importantly, the map.

“Oh, great. Now look what you did. How are we going to find him now?” Reap groaned dejectedly.

“Don’t sweat it, bro. We’ll be alright. If I remember it right, we pretty much just keep heading East, South east and we will find him. Now could you tell me which way east his?”

Rolling his eyes, Reap points towards the only exit in the room, well other than the ladder that is.

Grinning sheepishly, I motion for him to lead on.

The rest of the short trip to the Goblin King was fairly uneventful, with a Hobgob here and there with the lesser Goblin Warriors around acting as pests.

As we come to the end of a sizable tunnel, it turns north. We head up this short tunnel and it opens into a large chamber with two pools of water, one on each side. Between the pools is a pathway and as we move further north on this path, what looks to be a throne appears.

“This must be it, there’s the throne. But where’s the King?” wonders Reap.

Then, a burst of light draws our attention to the left half of the chamber. We turn and see a lone warrior in battle with a being that is obviously the King of the Goblins. The king has the same ugly green skin as all the other goblins we’ve seen. The same large ears and over sized feet, but he is wearing some kind of higher grade armor. And his weapon is a spear, which he is using rather effectively. It is keeping the lone warrior from mounting much of an effective attack; he is constantly spending his time and energy healing himself with the occasional slashes at the King.

Seeing the little guy is having a tough time, I cast a Greater Heal his way. He retreats from the King for a moment to look at us. Then inexplicably, he dodges to his left, runs south a little bit and vanishes.

“Huh? What’s he doing?” I asked.

“Probably thought we were going to kill him to get to the King. Oh well, same effect. You go draw his attention to you. I’ll heal you. Try to use mage mostly, K?”

“OK.”

Moving west quickly, I see the King has his back turned to me and he is looking for ScrdyCat. I cast Magic Missile and it hits him square in the back. Still confused, he whirls around, not really seeing what has attacked him. He stabs wildly with his spear, missing badly. I cast Death Cloud this time, again scoring damage. Not wanting to get hit with that spear, I dodge to the east as he lashes out, again missing, but this time due to the dodge, not his wild aim. Casting Magic Blade, I fizz out this time. Damn! Dodging to the west this time I wasn’t quite fast enough, for I feel a pain blossom in my left thigh. Quickly moving west again, I glance down and see blood running from a gash about 3 inches long. Coulda been worse, but man, that smarts!! As Kingy lines up again, I cast another Death Cloud, again scoring damage, and I feel the warmth of a healing spell land on me. But no glow of a Greater Heal. Hmmm… Moving east this time to keep Reap in sight, I again didn’t move fast enough, for pain again has introduced himself and this time in the right shoulder. Man why am I moving so slow?!?! Casting again, I fizz. Grrrrr! Feeling the magic temporarily leave, I know I must let it rebuild. Moving east again and quickly south, I am now in range to slice with my sword. Stabbing for his heart, I miss as he knocks the sword away with his spear. Suddenly, I feel a boost of magical energy. Glancing over to Reap, I see his eyes closed and his hands moving about in the air. His lips are moving, but I can’t hear anything. I again feel magical power pulse through my veins, straining to be released. He must be mana gifting me.

Being distracted can cost you in a battle and this one was no exception. Again, pain has made an appearance in my right thigh, this time pretty much crippling me. Screaming in pain, I fall to the ground, just as the King’s spear misses my head by the smallest of margins.

“Crawl to the side, man! I got ya!” I hear someone yell.

Doing my best, I crawl to my right barely dodging the spear again. Casting a greater heal on myself, I see Reap lash out with a flash of lightning that catches Kingy square in the chest, knocking him backwards a bit.

“Drink a potion, dude!” Reap hollers at me.

Potion? Oh yeah! Digging in my pack for a pot I grab one and down it and yet another. Feeling life force it’s way back into my limbs I feel strong enough to stand, but fight? Not at the moment. Glad that Reap has Kingy occupied at the moment. Damn!! I wanted to kill it! Oh well, might as well heal Reap.

And after a short, but pitched battle, I see Kingy fall to his knees with a vacant look in his eyes. The look of death. He topples to the side and hits the floor without so much as a thud.

“Whew. That’s over with. You OK man?” Reap asks.

“Yeah I’m good. Just gotta focus better on the task at hand next time. What’d he leave us?” I asked.

“Uhh, JACKPOT!! TWO Fists of Lao!! You take the gold and one of them, I’ll take the other.”

“Sweet! BCL here we come!!!”

“Yeah alright! Bloody Clover Loyalists are we!!

“Wanna ‘port back or find our way without the map?”

“Well, I think we should ‘port. I don’t wanna get lost and be here forever.”

“Yeah probably right. Ready?”

“Yeah. On 3, K?”

“K.”

“One, Two, THREE!”

And in unison we chanted, “Itum, Rursus, Origo!”

Out of nowhere, Zanden appeared and said, “Two of you at the same time?! It’s gonna be an extra 20 each.”

“Fine with us. Here you go.” Reap said as he handed over a bag.

As I counted out my fare, I could sense Zanden’s impatience. “Don’t you have it ready? What are ya? A N00b? “

“Hey, back off, Z. He doesn’t know. He didn’t go to Warrior School.”

“Didn’t go? Then what’s he doin’ out here? Look, I don’t have time for this. You done?” he said.

“Here you go, grouch.” I said, as I fairly threw the pouch at him.

“As long as I get paid and don’t get injured, that’s all I care about. You boys ready?” And not waiting for an answer, he whisked us back to Cloven Pine.

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

As I tramp along after Reaper, I can’t help feeling I am being cheated of a true adventure. Sure we have a goal to kill the Goblin King and with the map, we will probably accomplish it. But what lies down those caverns we keep passing up and why do they seem to be calling my name?

As we make a left turn, I see the tunnel open into a wider cavern and I hear the melody a stream. As we enter the cavern, we see 4 or 5 goblins around and some piles of crushed rock. Further ahead I can see a bridge spanning the underground stream I heard before.

Focusing on the goblins, I notice 3 of them are Goblin Scouts and they have made ready their bows. Two are on either side of us and one up ahead. The others are Warriors and Peons.

“Wha’s the plan, Reap?” I asked, a little nervous.

“Well, with you gaining a mage and a fighter level so far, I’d say…. Divide and conquer. You take that side,” he said as he motioned to the east. “And I’ll take this side. Holler if you need help. Meet at the bridge.”

“K, man. Be careful.”

“Worry about yourself, newb.” He said as he slapped me on the shoulder, chuckling. “Go get ‘em!”

Fanning out to the east, I see the Scout draw his bow and send an arrow my way. Ducking under the arrow, I draw my sword and run up next to him to negate the bow’s advantage. As I begin to cut him down, I see a Peon make his way towards me. Still fighting the Scout, I cast a Death Cloud in his direction, weakening him. Making a final lunge at the Scout, I pierce his heart and he falls to the ground, alive but just barely. Just as this happened, I feel a blade cut my right shoulder. Wincing in pain, I turn to face my assailant, sweeping my sword around catching the Peon in the leg. Sneaky little bugger. Retreating a step, I cast Magic Missile and am rewarded with…nothing. Fizzle. I chant out another spell, this time Magic Blade, and I see success lance out at the goblin. Retreating another step, I chant, “Excessum, Nuage, Parlier” and see the Peon drop to the ground, slowly dying from the effects of the spell. Turning back to the Scout, I see he has managed to regain his feet. He has his bow drawn and lets the arrow fly. Being unprepared, I catch the arrow in my right shoulder. Double wound, and of course, on my sword side. Angered, but being unable to use my sword for the moment, I chant, “Inasnum, Quiritatio, Sonitus” and relieve the land of Shade of another goblin. Damn pests! Realizing I am pretty badly hurt, I cast a couple Greater Heals on myself and shout, “Doin’ OK, bro?”

“Worry about yourself, bro!” came the reply. “I’m good”

Seeing another Warrior over by the bridge, and recalling Reaper’s advice, “Magic. The most powerful weapon in Shade. Learn to use it.”, I decide to try and use mage only. Casting a Death Cloud his way, I see the green haze hit him full on. As he staggers towards me, I cast Magic Missile, hitting him square in the mug. Actually improved his looks, I think. Retreating another step to allow my mana to recharge a little bit, I cast a Magic Blade, chanting, “Magnus, Lamna, Eminus” This one fizzles, of course. Can’t be successful all the time. Backing up two steps this time, I see the goblin lurch in my direction. Rather clumsily, I might add. Feeling good, I sing out the Death Cloud chant and watch as the goblin teeters over onto his face, dead. Wow! I killed him and didn’t even take one hit! Not bad.

As I looted his pouch for his gold, I called out to Reaper, “All clear here, man!”

“Here too!” came the reply.

Meeting at the bridge, we crossed and found 2 more of the foul things and dispatched them with relative ease. This time I saw a dagger in the pouch of the one I killed, and I stashed it in my pack, leaving a potion behind to make room. Hope that don’t come back to haunt me.

To the east, we see a ladder sticking up out of the floor. Of course, we knew it was there because the sainted map said it would be. Clambering down quickly, we see just one goblin, which I killed with my mage, again taking no damage. Maybe this magic stuff will be alright after all.

Heading south,–I think. I get all turned around underground–we see more piles of crushed rock on both sides of the tunnel and I silently wonder why it was left there and what it might be hiding. Silently, because Reaper has made it clear he ain’t here to see the sights.

We reach a turn to the left in the tunnel and follow it along for a few paces when another bridge appears in the dank dimness. Seeing the bridge in fairly good repair, we move across and a whole troop of goblins suddenly materializes from the darkness in the tunnel. Or so it seemed. There must have been around 10 of them, all packed into a slightly largish room, but they were right on top of us. Reacting quickly, I cast Death Cloud at the nearest beast and was surprised to feel slightly weakened at the same time.

“Can’t use that in close quarters, man! You’ll splash yourself to death!” I hear called out.

“Huh?” I said as I blocked the goblins reply with my shield. I realized almost immediately that now would not be the time to be asking questions. Later. I don’t think my fledgling mage skill would be of much use in this battle, so I fall back to using my trusty sword. Dodging the blade of an axe swung at my head, I thrust the point of my blade into an arm, causing a most unpleasant howl. As I battle the goblins, constantly maneuvering in order to reduce the number of attackers able to hit me at one time, I think back to Nicorella’s message. Interrupting my thoughts, I feel an arrow lodge itself in my armor and dig into my side. Forget about her for now, man! Save your life first! Summoning my increasingly familiar rage at whoever stole my girl, I launch myself into the fray, quickly dispatching goblins. One by decapitation, the next by severed limbs, with all the goblin blood making the tunnel floor slippery. Retreating to drink a health potion, or pot, I find better footing and some distance. Casting mage spells as fast as I am able, I take out another one and see his partner weaken as well, making the kill that much easier. Seeing one more in my general area, I call out, “You doin’ alright, Reap?”

The reply comes back strong, “Yeah, only two more. You?”

Shifting to the right to dodge the attack of the last one, I say, “One left. Still full on pots.”

Re-focusing on the goblin, I feint right, then left. With a backhand motion, slashing from left to right, I catch the handle of the axe, shatter it, and slice open his chest. Clutching his chest in pain, and with no weapon to defend himself with, he dies with honor, holding his head high.

“All done!” I yell.

“Me too. Meet back at base of bridge.” Reap calls back.

Looting their pouches, I claim 105 gp and another dagger. The rest of the trip to the next ladder was similar, nothing exceptional, except the rage I was feeling. And using rather regularly now.

As we readied for the next level of the Goblin King’s lair, Reap asked again, “You OK man? Need to talk? All that rage you’re carrying around is useful now, but it could be a tool for someone to get the drop on you later. Better watch it.”

“I told you, I DON wanna talk ‘bout it.” I said through clenched teeth with my back towards him. “Jus DROP IT, k?”

“Alright, alright. No need to be so touchy. Just trying to help.” he said. I could tell he was a little offended, but I didn’t care. “Your pots re-stocked, man? This next part has some tougher goblins, Hobgoblin Berzerkers. They can be a handful, especially for lower levels like you.”

“I’m ready, don worry ‘bout it.” I replied, curtly. He was starting to get on my nerves just a WEE bit.

“OK man.” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He started down the ladder and said, “Suit yourself. Let’s move out.”

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

Departing Cloven Pine, we head south, slaughtering goblins as we go. Like a man possessed, I was spilling that putrid goblin blood as if my life depended on it. Which, in a way, it did. My Elvish Short Sword sang for goblin blood, and it thirsted not.

After we had cleared our immediate vision of a couple of Goblin Warriors and Archers, Reaper said, “Dude, save some for me, huh?”

“Sorry man. I just feel like killing everything in Shade right now. You go ahead. I gotta work my healer a bit anyways?” I said a bit breathlessly.

“OK. You wanna talk?”

As I glared at him through my sweat drenched hair, he shrugged and without a word turned to the east. Waving his hand, he motioned for me to follow. We slogged and tramped our way to the cave entrance, where we found a pack of Goblin Warriors, two on either side, flanking the passageway to the Goblin King. I took the ones on the left, fanning out to that side, and Reaper slid over to the east taking two with him. Good. As I battled the foul beasts hacking and slashing at them, I couldn’t shake the vision that appeared on the face of my opponent. Seeing the aura of Nicorella floating in front of the goblins, my feelings of anger and betrayal fueled the energy flowing through my sinewy arms and I swiftly dispatched the two on my side, taking minimal damage as I danced from side to side, dodging their futile attempts to hit me. After the second one died, I glanced to the east. I see Reaper on one knee with his sword held high, level to the ground, trying to deflect the attacks from both Warriors. Wha..? Realizing now wasn’t the time, I cast a quick heal towards him and see him perk up a bit, but he is still unable to fight back. The best he can do is motion for me to attack the Warriors. After casting a few Greater Heals his way, I stepped in and stabbed the one on the left side of Reaper. Shrieking in pain, the putrid being turned towards me, swinging his axe in wide circles above his head. Backing up to assess the situation and look for an opening, I see only the one follow me. Damn! Gotta get this over with now! Charging in, swinging my sword, I manage to take a chunk out of his side. That effectively made him one-handed, and his axe was better suited to two hands directing it. I stabbed at him a couple of times missing both, I start to worry about my companion, but can’t risk a look in his direction. I suddenly feel the bite of the goblin’s axe in my leg. Howling from the pain, I run in and quickly slash from right to left and back again, decapitating the brute. A little tired but being no rest for the weary, I see Reaper still holding his own. As I move over to help, he summons a reserve of energy and stabs the goblin clean through the heart.

“Bro, you OK?” I asked with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine. That was close though. Seems Demon S decided to make an appearance after all. Guess Zanden can’t control him as well as he would like. I’m OK, but I had to use half my pots. Go clean the gold out of their pouches while I make some more.”

“OK.”

After cleaning them out, I had acquired 51gp. “You want your share? What about the weapons?” I asked.

“You keep it. Goblin weapons are crap. Leave ‘em. We got bigger fish to fry. Let’s go.”

Shrugging my shoulders, I followed him into the cavern entrance.

Entering the cave, our eyes had trouble adjusting to the dimness. Our ears worked well though, well enough to hear the guttural sounds of other goblins echoing throughout the chamber. Pretty agitated ones too. They must have heard their friends get slaughtered outside. Just as my eyes adjusted to the dark cavern, I see a goblin charging hard towards us. As I readied my blade, I see the goblin pushed to my right by a wall of water. What? Then I see a flash of lightning and the goblin carcass falls at my feet, charred and smoking. Turning to my left to ask Reaper what the hell happened, I see out of the corner of my eye something moving. Turning quickly and drawing my sword to face this unknown danger, I see that it is Reaper.

“What was that?” I ask incredulously as I sheath my sword.

“Magic. The most powerful weapon in Shade. Learn to use it.”

“Well, YEAH! But what spells? That was awesome! Killed in 2 shots! Holy Gates of Hell!!!

“Well the first was Tsunami and the finisher was Lightning Bolt. Get his gold and let’s move.”

Scrambling over I pick up the pouch and dump the contents into my pack, and we head further into the cavern. North I think.

As we reach the turn to the left, a goblin charges from around the bend, getting a hit on me. Damn! Gotta focus. Reaper casts a spell, launching a ball of fire at the goblin and it hits him square in the chest, dazing him. Casting my own spell, Magic Blade, and the magic blade lances out and pierces the breast-plate of the goblin. As he advances on me, I see his wounds heal. Seeing that the healing was coming from Reaper I call out, “Um What in Chaos’ name are you doing?!?!?”

“Giving you the chance to boost your mage skill. Finish him off!” he yelled back.

Still wondering what was going on, I shrug and chant, “Excessum, Nuage, Parlier, Nortus” and watch the familiar green gas of a Death Cloud spell pass over the goblin, stealing his ability to breathe for a moment. Not waiting for him to get his wind back, I follow quickly with another Death Cloud and am again rewarded with that feeling of success as the spell hits it’s intended target.

“One more and he should be gone, man!” I hear Reaper call out.

Once more I chant, “Excessum, Nuage, Parlier, Nortus” but this time, nothing. Crap! A Fizzle! Knowing I can’t cast another spell for a moment or two, I step right, dodging a blow from the goblin’s axe. Drawing my sword, I lash out with it just as he steps over to strike at me. The sword connects with his neck and severs an artery. Putrid goblin ichor gushes out of the wound. Feeling a bit of magical ability returning I chant, “Genero, Pulsus, Exsto” and see a magic projectile bury itself in the chest of the goblin, extinguishing it’s life. As the last of it’s life ebbed away, I felt a surge in my magical ability.

“Great job man! You got stronger there huh?” Reaper called out.

“Thanks, I did.” I responded. “Musta gained a mage level.”

“Yeah, you probably did. Grab the gold and let’s go.”

Heading down the now east-west tunnel we come to a branch headin north. I veer that way and Reaper keeps marching straight ahead.

“Hey man, what’s up here?” I wondered aloud.

“Not the goblin king. Follow me. I got the map, remember?” he said.

“Sure, whatever you say man.” I say as I trudge forward, glancing over my shoulder, wondering.

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

“Hey man, can we stop at the bank on the way out? Don’t wanna take up pack space with my back up gear.”

“Sure. Make it fast though. Others will beat us there if we don’t hurry.”

“Thanks bro.”

I popped into the bank, deposited the leathers and grabbed a couple of potions I had stashed and we headed out north.

Coming upon the bridge where I was “ambushed” recently, I became a little hesitant and my pace slowed. My head was turning about at a relentless speed and my eyes darted back and forth.

Sensing my reluctance, Reaper (as I found his name to actually be), abruptly stopped and asked, “What’s wrong, man? You look as jumpy as a virgin on her wedding night. You OK?”

Halting as well, I turned towards him, keeping my senses on alert. “Yeah, I guess. It’s just that this is about the spot where I died last night. Little nervous, you know?”

“Relax. I’m here. I can save you from a couple of goblins, if I have to. We can work as a team. You’re not by yourself here. Comprende?”

“Yeah. I guess.” I said, still not entirely convinced. I knew not of his fighting capabilities. For all I knew, he could be full of hot air. I hadn’t heard back from Jim yet, so I wasn’t sure how far I could trust him.

“Dude, listen to me. You’re not gettin’ it. In the land of Shade, nothing is forever. Death is not forever. You got resurrected, right? The only permanent death is the one where you give up. Grimm made sure of that. Gear is not permanent. You can fight with ANY gear, right? The only permanent gear loss is when you give up. Level loss isn’t permanent, they can be regained. Being scared to try again is the first step to permanent death. Because death and gear aren’t permanent, feel free to take risks, challenge yourself, challenge being normal, DARE to be great. That’s what you want, right? To be considered great and eclipse your father’s tainted memory?”

“Yeah. Wait. What about my dad’s tainted memory? What do you know about that? Where’d you hear about it?” I demanded. I trusted him less now than before, if that was possible. The only people I knew who had an inkling about how I felt were Jim and Nicorella.

“Jim shared a bit of your story with me. I knew right then we would be buds. You see, I also lost my dad to an injustice. I can sympathize with your thoughts and dreams cause they’re mine too.”

“He did, huh?” Where is P when I need him? “Well, I can see your point about death not being permanent and all that. It’s just something I’ll need to learn, I suppose.”

“Yeah it won’t take long. That’s the one thing you need as a warrior of Shade. A fearlessness that no matter what you lose, you can still continue on, courtesy of Grimm.”

“What do you mean, ‘courtesy of Grimm’?” I wondered.

“You don’t know?!?!” he asked with a tone of incredulity. “Oh, that’s right. You weren’t able to attend advanced warrior school. I almost forgot. Well, the story is that one of the things Grimm the Sorcerer was trying to do when he was seeking power was to stop death. His beloved wife, Hansel, was suffering from a rare disease that none of the healers could identify, let alone cure. Chaos knew this and found that if Grimm performed one of the rituals that would bring him to this world, then death would cease to be permanent in the land of Shade. He began to whisper across the planes into the willing and fertile mind of Grimm. Chaos’ minions would be invincible! Or so he thought. In Chaos’ lust to inhabit Shade, he failed to realize that everyone involved in the battle between good and evil would not taste permanent death until they chose to do so. To paraphrase the old saying for every dark, there also must be a light, you know.”

“Oh. So that’s the reason the legends of G_3, Abel and the others continue to grow. I get it now. Let’s go kick some goblin ass!!!!” I shouted.

“That’s the spirit. Let’s go.”

As we walked east after passing the bridge, he told me about his father’s demise. He had also been accused of a murder he didn’t commit and once convicted, he snapped. As he killed the judge, he was heard to shout, “If you think I killed someone, I might as well make you right!!!!!!”

Right after that story, we heard a noise in the bushes to our north. Tensing and preparing for the worst, we see a pack of 3 wolves emerge from the undergrowth.

Reaper shouted, “You take the big one. I’ll take the 2 small ones. Stay even with me so I can heal you if you need it.”

Advancing to the north, I move to the east slightly to separate the pack. The big one followed me. The other two went with him. Good. Swinging my sword, I hit nothing but air. Reaper laughed and said, “Hit him with a spell or two before he gets closer.”

Glancing at my spell “book” I had secured to my wrist, I decided to try the Magic Blade spell Reaper had given to me. I chanted “Magus, Lamna, Eminus, and Nortus” and watched as nothing happened. Trying it again, “Magus, Lamna, Eminus, Nortus” I was pleased to see a magically created blade launch from my hands and hit the wolf right in the chest. As it had knocked him back a half step, and feeling only slightly weakened from the first 2, I tried again. “Magus, Lamna, Eminus, Nortus” and was rewarded again with damage to the wolf. By now though he was right on top of me, and snapped his huge jaws at me. Barely missing me, he managed to tear a hole in my pack. As I danced back to the west. I glanced back to make sure the valuable potions were secure for the moment. As the wolf drew near again, I stabbed with my sword and drew blood. Dodging another snap of those monstrous jaws, I glanced to the west and saw Reaper had already killed one of ‘his’ beasts. Suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my right leg. Damn that wolf was fast! Slicing horizontally from left to right, I managed to hit him again. Seeing he was dazed, I attacked again. Another hit. And again. Missed. And again. Missed. Danced east. Another bite on the leg, this one on the left, not as bad as the first. Fully angry now. I started just hacking and slashing, missing more than I hit. Taking damage every few moments. Finally, after about 10 minutes of battle, the wolf carcass moved no longer. Relieved, I reach into my pack to drink a potion, but as I do, I am bathed in a golden light and I am healed slightly. Another glow, almost totally healed. I hear Reaper say, “Tsk, tsk. Mustn’t use what you don’t need. Pots should only be used in emergencies. Use your magic first to build up it’s strength. You’ll thank me later.” Turning, I see he has dispatched his 2 beasts and already skinned them. He must be pretty good to have done that. After skinning my wolf and packing the skin to sell we head east again, interrupted only by a few goblins and wolves.

Working as a team, we easily defeat these obstacles and with weary, yet stronger bodies and minds, we come upon the town of Cloven Pine. Dragging our selves past the town gates, we go to the nearest shop, Xangus’ Armor and Weapons II, to sell the goblin equipment we had picked up along the way.

Feeling good, I said, “Let’s go get an ale.”

“No,” was the firm reply.

“Why? I’m thirsty and tired,” I protested.

“I told you. Killing the Goblin King is my ticket into {BCL} and I want in as soon as possible. We go tonight. Fill your pack with potions and we’ll go.” he said as he picked up his already brisk pace.

Sensing he wasn’t taking any crap, I said, “Ok. I can make pots as we go. You know where we’re going?”

“I have a map from Mac’s Maps. Guaranteed to be the most accurate map, or your money back.”

Just as I was about to reply, I see over his shoulder, a familiar face coming towards us. P has shown up at last! “Hold on. I got messages. Could be from Jim.”

Groaning, he sits down on the bench outside the bank .

“Oh, quit your bitchin’. It’ll only take a sec.”

P stopped in front of him, extended his hand and in his best raspy voice said, “Messages.”

As I took them from P, I glanced at Reaper. The look on his face was one of pure awe and therefore, priceless. Turning my attention to the messages, I see one from Jim. I t reads, “Oh yeah. Forgot to mention him. Too busy wenching, you know me. Sorry. He’s cool.”

Reply: “Thanks a lot. Almost level 6. We going to kill Goblin King.”

Next: from Chr-2468. Uh-oh this can’t be good. “YOU F’N THIEF!! WHERE’S MY GEAR?!?! I’LL KICK YOUR ASS YOU FILTHY JERK!!”

Showing that one to Reaper, I told the story behind it and he chuckled, “Good one. You ready?”

“Hold on. Gotta reply to this.”

“Whoa!! Do NOT reply to that unless you do want your ass kicked. By me.”

“What do you mean?”

“You changed your name right? Well, if you reply, he finds out your new name. You don’t want that do you?”

“Yeah you’re right. Garbage for that one. And the last is from Nicorella, my girl. If you’ll excuse me?”

“Sure make it quick. We gotta hurry.”

Opening the message, I was on cloud nine. Upon reading the message, Cloud nine was replaced by thunder heads. “Sid, sorry to have to tell you this way, but I am engaged to another man. Too long a story for this message. “I’m sorry” is all I can say and I know it’s not enough. Look me up when you get to Sly.”

Feeling gut-punched and angrier than a mama bear whose cubs have been stolen, I said stiffly, “Let’s go. See ya P.”

Reaper said, “You OK man.”

“I said, LET’S GO. I’m not talking about it.”

“K. Let me know if you do. Not healthy to keep that kind of anger bottled up.”

“Oh it ain’t gonna be bottled up for long. We going to the Goblin King, right? I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of anger venting opportunities on the way.”

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

Feeling a bit nauseous and weak after resurrecting, I decide to head to the pub for some of the fine food, intoxicating ale and some company. After all, misery loves company, right? And what better way to forget having to be resurrected than with a little liquid happiness.

I step out of my room into the hall and head down the hallway, feeling a slight chill. A fair distance from the room, I encounter a couple of the many lovely maidens of Shade. Nodding my greeting and bowing to them as a gentleman should, I hear a couple of giggles. At the deepest part of my bow, I notice something’s a tad off. My boots! Where are they? And for that matter where are my leggings? Realizing a little late the source of that chill, and placing my hands to strategically cover what little dignity I had left, I ran back to my room, all the while, chortles of laughter ringing in my ears. Hastily shutting the door behind my bare and red-faced retreat, I hear the laughter and voice of someone familiar…

Waking up in a cold sweat, I look around the room. Sitting in the chair by the window is Jamestry, laughing his ass off. At least my dream was a dream and not real. Whew!!

“What are you doing here? At what is so damned funny?” I demand, still a bit sleepy.

“Oh, sorry. Just laughing at this joke about the undead, the mortal and the lich who went into the bar. 1000 gold same as in town, my ass,” he said, as he almost collapsed in another spasm of laughter.

“Great.” Hopefully the sarcasm was evident. “You’ll have to tell me later. What are you doing here?” I asked again, as I stood up to get “dressed” in my under armor clothes.

He looked nervous, he was sitting on the edge of the chair leaning forward, but rocking back and forth a bit, and his voice faltered as he started, “I-I-I know we’ve had our differences, but you are still my brother. Just thought you’d want to hear this in person, rather than through the grapevine.”

“Hear what?” I growled.

“Well, it’s like this. Ma’s struggling again since the Countess cut off the support was providing and we’ve kinda been seein’ each other…”

“You and the Countess? You know she’s married right? Are you crazy?!?!?!” I exploded. “Jetrune will kill you man. He already tried to kill me once. She’s poison, bro. Stay away.”

“Well, I can’t seein’ how we already married.” He said as he glanced up at me. “And I don’t need to worry about Jetrune. Luwandra divorced him all legal and proper. She heard stories about him and his Chaotic rituals. She got everything. Left Cora with his tail between his legs he did.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as me. If not more.

“Well, you be careful no matter how “gone” he seems to be. From what I’ve seen and heard, those “stories” aren’t just stories. He tried to kill me once.”

“Well, he screwed up. She’s not his anymore.”

“Be careful just the same. Just ‘cause he screwed up doesn’t mean he ain’t pissed. And I’ve found that amongst followers of Chaos, might often means right, whether they’re wrong or right in the eyes of the denizens of Shade. How’s Ma and everyone?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

“Ma could be better; I’m a little worried about her. She wouldn’t come live at the guest house when I married Luwandra and her boss said she’s been lookin’ pale and sickly. Won’t say anything’s wrong though. Caretha and Thaddeus tell me she’s doin’ OK, but I know better. She won’t let anyone help her though. She’s just as stubborn as Dad was.”

“Yeah, Dad was a stubborn one, alright. You know how to get me a message?” I asked.

“Sure, Caretha does. Why?”

“I’ll send her a message to let you know how. I want a message the instant you hear anything about Ma. Or Jetrune von Baren for that matter. Still trying to prove his guilt in Dad’s and Elvren’s deaths.”

“OK. Will do. I gotta get back,” he said as he stood up. “Luwandra’s waiting on me so we can take our honeymoon, if you get my meaning.”

Yeah, I do. Get going. Remember the instant you hear ANYTHING, K?” I said as I walked him to the door.

“Yeah, take care of yourself bro.”

“You too. You got more to worry about than I do, new wife, jealous ex-husband. Later.”

“Later.” he said. As we shook hands and embraced. I couldn’t shake the feeling that would be the last time I would see him alive.

Watching him depart, I suddenly became aware of the Shade Demon Lord residing in my belly and the Breath of Dragon residing in my throat. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in days, so I headed down to the pub for some vittles and ales.

Walking in, I felt everyone’s eyes upon me. I nervously walked up to the bar and placed my order and waited for it to be prepared. Keeping my senses alert as I was waiting I glanced around the place. Everyone seemed uneasy, but it looked like everyone was having a good time. A couple of times, people approached and asked me if I was alright. Feeling hungry but fine, I said that I was OK, and they departed.

When my order came up, I took it over to an empty table and dug in. About halfway through, I see a warrior coming my way. Dressed in well used but well cared for armor, he was carrying an extra pack that looked to be quite full. As he approached my table, he tossed the pack on the table then sat down. “You need some gear, Sid?”

“Uhh, sure I could use some. Lost mine in a battle with goblins. But who are you and how do you know me?” I asked quite puzzled, trying to figure out where I’ve met him before.

“Jim told me you ran into some trouble and lost your gear. I had some extra gear I was going to sell to the shop, but figured you needed it more than I needed the gold. Name’s daReaper. Nice to meet you.” he said as he extended his hand.

“How’d Jim know? I haven’t spoken to him since I died and res’d.”

“Man he’s got informants all over. Mostly women, of course.” he said, chuckling to himself.

“Well thanks. I owe you anything?”

“Nope. Just do one thing from now on.” Leaning in closer and motioning me to do the same, he glanced from side to side before continuing. “When you die, don’t rez ‘til your gear gets rescued by someone you trust. Sucks trying to replace gear if you ain’t got the means, know what I mean?”

“Yeah it would. So you in BCL too?” I asked between bites of steak.

“Not yet. Gotta kill the Goblin King and bring back a Fist of Lao, then I get in. You wanna go with?”

“Sure. That’s where I was headin’, when I ran into my unfortunate demise. When?”

“As soon as you finish your food. No sense waiting. Someone beats us there and it’ll take the Goblins a month to choose a new king. I ain’t waitin’ that long.”

“Ok. I’m done. They overcooked my steak. Damn newb cooks. What do I need to bring?” I asked excitedly.

“Everything you need is in that pack. Make sure you inscribe those spells too. We especially gonna need the healing.”

Grabbing the pack, I stood up. “I’ll be back in 10. Wait here.” As I walked out, I flipped a tenner to the serving wench, giving her a wink in the process. And to my amazement, she winked back. Whoa! Gonna have to follow up on that later.

As I walked up to my room, I started a message to Jim. “Hey man. You know daReaper? He says he knows you and I don’t know if I trust him. Please reply ASAP.”

P showed up as soon as I was done. Flipping him a 20gp, I said, “Make it quick, K?”

“As you wish, Master.” And with a cloud of smoke he was gone.

Donning the gear, I was amazed at the quality of the stuff I was being gifted. Elven robes, Shield of dragon Eye, Chaos Helm and an Elvish short sword. Good stuff for a beginner. Well hopefully I’ll earn it on this trip.

©2005-2012, Insidius, aka J. Todd Hubbard, All Rights Reserved.

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