09 October 2010

The Meeting

Just a little tongue in cheek comedy surrounding some of my favorite genre, fantasy.

Hope you enjoy!

S.J.



The Meeting

The moon sailed like a pale ruby in a cloudless indigo sky. The sands of the Valkithrm Dunes spilled ivory white beneath the moon’s glow, punctuated by ebony pools of shadow cast by intermittent trees, rocks and dunes – and other…things.

Really nasty things too, Thelea reflected as she shifted her grip on her two-handed axe. Lethal, deadly things. She watched a blue-shelled crab scuttle by. Everything that crawled, flew, bounced or walked on four feet in this Akalltana-forsaken place could and, given the right provocation, would kill you. Fortunately, most of the wildlife here wouldn’t attack – unless you attacked them first.

Unfortunately, in the dunes they had more than wildlife to deal with. Beastmen -- Vana’s ancient enemy – roamed the shifting dunes. Thelea recalled a close encounter but a few minutes ago. Thankfully the Goblin had another luckless adventurer in his sights when he’d begun casting that Bind spell. Thelea’s blood ran chill at the very memory of the beast’s guttural chant. She and Hundak had passed the spot a little later to see a wizened mage raise the hapless Glaalka back to life. The Goblin, content in his kill, having wandered far away.

But now it was night and things far worse than goblins joined the fray. Hungry for fresh blood, and eager to prey on the weak and injured, ghouls and ghosts haunted the starry night.

Many, young and inexperienced adventurers had fallen to their blades and bolts – equally as many more experienced fighters and mages died too – for any number of reasons, up to and including their own errant stupidity.

Thelea sighed. Death was a fleeting thing for some in Vanal. Akalltana granted immortality, of a sort, for those who fought against the hordes of darkness – but, like any gift of value, there was a price – and sometimes a heavy one – to pay for coming back from death again and again.

Dying hurt a lot

There were days when Thelea wasn’t sure that instant resurrection was a good thing.

She started at a nearby rustling sound, relaxing when she saw it was only Hundak reaching into his pack for another mushroom to chew on.

“You’re gonna get addicted to those things you know.” Thelea gave him a hard stare.

“Talk about me, what about you and that rabbit stuff you cook.”

“Well,” Thelea still nicely full from the last slice of cooked hare waved Hundak’s argument aside. “At least that’s proper food. Shhh!”

They both fell to a silent crouch as a Goblin Slugger edged over the far rise. It stared in their direction for a moment before turning and heading back towards Selbrina. An excited grunt, a few moments later, told them it had found another juicy adventurer to chase.

“You know, that chap back in Selbrina was rather rude, don’t you think?” Hundak continued as they relaxed. Well, relaxed a very little.

Thelea glanced at her husband. Hundak stroked his beard and stared thoughtfully to the west. His mage club hung at his hip and a well-beaten maple shield was covering his left arm. The white mage wore a royal archers tunic, pants and a pair of high-gaitered solea. Thelea’s heart leapt into her throat every time she thought of how easily a sword or arrow could cut through such flimsy defenses. But mages couldn’t wear armor, as Hundak had told her, over and over.

“What chap was that?” she asked, putting away her fears and smiling at the man who was the center of her life.

“That Ipsacio fellow,” Hundak answered. “Dissing our survival skills. Hmmph. We know perfectly well how to survive.”

Thelea thought of all the times she’d awoken, bloody and aching, at one of Akalltana’s glowing crystals. “We do?”

Hundak grinned. “Of course we do. If anything is bigger and meaner than us, we just run like hell for the nearest town or border.”

“Or die trying to do same.” Thelea chuckled. “Ipsacio is elvan, love. We’ve never met an elvan yet that wasn’t cranky when he had to deal with a lowly Human.”

The wind began to whine through the trees. About a hundred yards away, a party of four Tarturs ran hell bent for leather towards the La Themaine border, a train of six mayflies following angrily behind. As they watched the Tartur at the tail end of the escapees took a fatal blow that tossed him like a sack of feathers over the pale sands. Somewhere in the distance there was a shout of “Goal!” Thelea and Hundak shook their heads. Yet another outlander custom they knew nothing about.

Hundak dug in his backpack and pulled out a battered journal and a small stub of a pencil. “Cranky elvan or not, if we want to train with two jobs at once, we have to bring him those three items. He’s the only one who’ll teach us how. And I’m really looking forward to studying black magic.”

“I know.” Thelea fell silent as Hundak scribbled in his notebook.

“We’ve got the worms and the aprons.” Hundak summed up. “Now all we need are the skulls. Should be dead easy.”

“Yeah, dead.” Thelea agreed, her palms covered with a cold sweat. They’re previous attempts at killing ghouls were as successful as well as Hundak’s ability to use a sword.

An unearthly shriek shivered through the air. Thelea automatically dropped into a defensive posture and scanned the dunes around them. Hundak’s club was in his hand and she heard him start the chant of his favorite attack spell. They both stopped as a bogy appeared, then floated away to the west—instant death for both of them—to the east a couple of leeches bounced like soggy sponges, leaving a trail of blood smeared slime behind them. A glint of ivory bone flickered briefly to the north and then disappeared behind a stand of trees with the echo of maniacal laughter.

“Another ghoul,” she said, relaxing her grip on the haft of her axe. Wishing they were strong enough to hunt and kill the fiend. Hundak shut the journal and tucked it back into his pack. “That’s three we’ve heard or seen so far tonight. Where’s Kaizar? Didn’t he say he was bringing a friend to help us get the two magicked skulls?

“He’s on his way,” Hundak told her. “They should be here very soon. In fact…” Hundak pointed to the road.

Two Humans, wearing armor and carrying weapons, loped towards them—armor and weapons clinking in the night. With a tint of envy Thelea noticed how the gobs moved away from the approaching duo. Oh, to have that much power. She thought.

Thelea instantly recognized Kaizar, a warrior who’d risen rapidly in the mercenary ranks and achieved 24th status. She admired, no lusted after, the gleaming chainmail armor that Kaizar wore. She and Hundak had scrimped and save to buy some lizardskin armor for her while Hundak still fought in his 10th level tunic. Seven levels below his rank and a definite weakness in their constant battles.

Still at least it was clean, Thelea pouted a little. No matter how much Thelea cleaned her lizard skin, the armor always stank. It was better protection than the leather she had been wearing, but it didn’t stop Thelea from hating the smell of the ugly stuff.

“Hey, Thel and Hun,” Kaizar called. He skidded to a stop in front of Thelea, startling a couple of sand hares. They glared at the party suspiciously before going back to the task of chewing the gristly desert grass. His companion halted a step or two behind. “Remember I’ve been telling you about this great guy that I’ve been hanging around with? Well, this is him – Ender’s his name.” Kaizar clapped a hand to the man’s shoulder. “Ender, this is Thelea and Hundak. They’re kinda new around here and they need some help getting old Ipsacio some of those dumb skulls he keeps collecting.”

Even though Kaizar and Ender were much higher in status the duo looked young enough to be Thelea and Hundak’s children. War does such strange things to people, Thelea mused. Especially a war against an evil like this.

“Hi.” Ender pushed back the visor of his helmet. Blue eyes twinkled merrily at Thelea. “Kaizar’s told me a lot about you two.”

“Uh oh.” Thelea laughed. “Nothing good I’m sure.”

“And you still agreed to help us?” Beside her, Hundak chuckled. “Brave lad.”

“Hey, no problem,” Ender replied. “I like to help people.” Thelea studied the man standing in front of her. He wore a sword and shield, but there was something….

“Can you toss a Cure on me Kai?” Kaizar said to Ender. “Damn Goblin Bleecher at the border got a couple of good hits in before we took him down.”

Ender chanted under his breath and raised a hand. Magic swirled in the air and sparkled around Kaizar’s muscular frame. So that was it, Thelea thought to herself, Ender must be a red mage.

“Whew, that felt good.” Ender smiled. “Hun, we’ll need to join your party.” Kaizar adjusted the straps of his backpack. “That way we can keep in touch while we look for a ghoul-friend for ya.”

Thelea reached into her pack for some freshly farmed hare meat and a packet of herbs while Hundak organized the party. Slipping one of the precious fire crystals from her pouch she combined the ingredients. The delicious smell of roasting hare drifted in the breeze. Kaizar and Ender looked on with hungry interest.

“Ghoul-friend?” Thelea joked. “Hundak’s already taken, and we can help. We’ve seen three ghouls already, two to the south and one to the north. I can show you…”

“That’s okay,” Kaizar said briskly. “You’ll be safer over by the outpost.” He pointed to a small square of yellow light in the distance. Don’t move, from there and you’ll be okay.”

“But…” Hundak said.

“But…” Thelea said.

“Erh, what does that hare do?” Ender licked his lips.

“It’s sort of like Shikkabobs but not so good.” Hundak told them, itching to get into battle.

“Probably not so useful then,” Kaizar said pulling a bit of meat from his pocket and eating it. Instantly flames flared around him and he looked stronger and more dangerous. “Damn, that was my last one, I can’t afford any more.”

“I can’t afford any,” Ender agreed.

“Here,” Thelea passed the medium rare hare meat over to Ender. “Try it. We use it because we can get everything by hunting, except the herbs and they’re really cheap.”

“Really?” A spark of interest flared in Ender’s eyes.

Ender took the meat and ate ravenously as Thelea cooked another piece for herself. After the flames had dissipated Ender looked stronger too, though not as much as Kaizar.

“Hey, this feels really good.” He admitted.

Thelea and Hundak just grinned. Until Kaizar and Ender started moving away.

“If anything attacks you,” Kaizar told them, “just start yelling, Ender or I will come and rescue you.”

“But…” Thelea said.

“But…” Hundak said.

Ender pivoted and headed north, Kai pounded towards the south. “Just stay put. We’ll have you a skull in no time!” they yelled in unison.

“But I want to fight too,” Thelea grumbled, kicking up dust whorls with her axe. “We can almost take those ghouls. We’re both 17th status, dammit.”

“Oh yeah, don’t attack any flies,” Ender’s voice said in Thelea’s head, she didn’t know whether to thank Akalltana for the gift of Party talk or not. “They link and you’ll die.”

“And you don’t want to attack any sheep either,” Kai’s voice added. “They’ll kill you too.”

“And you don’t want to take on puggilts yet either,” Ender said. “Hey Kai, ghoul at sector J-10! Come on over and help me, huh?”

“On my way.”

“Well,” Hundak whispered, looking at Thelea as the war screams, shouts and threats of dire murder echoed around the party talk. “What do we do now?”

“Nothing at G6,” Ender said, “moving to I-7.”

“They’re being very nice and trying to look after us.” Thelea whispered back.

“Got a ghoul! Damn, its hitting me hard, need help.” Kai shouted back.

“Oh, yes. Very helpful and protective.” Hundak agreed drawing a circle in the sand with his toe.

“Man I gotta heal, that one nearly got me.” Kai yelled.

“Heading to the secret beach.” Ender said.

“I’m getting very bored.” Thelea moaned.

“And once you reach 20th status we’ll help you get some grasses so you can get a Riders license.” Kaizar panted. “Would you believe it, they stole it from me!”

“Me too,” Hundak sighed, carefully burying the toe of his boot in the sand because it seemed the most exciting thing to do at the moment.

Thelea stuck the head of her axe in the sand… exasperated.

“We wanna come kill something.” Thelea told them.

“Kill some rabbits.” Ender said. “There’s always rabbits by the outpost.”

“We don’t want to kill rabbits.” Thelea complained.

The sand hare in front of them watched with boggled eyes, as if it could tell what the four of them were saying.

“They’re cute and cuddly and we want to take them home.” Hundak explained. “We don’t want to kill a rabbit.”

“Oh, well, rabbits are the best thing for you. Don’t want you to die.” Ender explained.

“Kill rabbits.” Kaizar confirmed Ender’s diagnosis. “And we’ll have to escort you Janlo. No way you’ll make that alone.”

“Gee, Dad, willya really?” Thelea asked sweetly. “If I eat all my veggies and clean behind my ears?”

There was a startled silence. “What did you call me?” Kaizar asked.

Hundak stifled a laugh. Hoping it didn’t pass into Party talk.

“You heard me.” Thelea said. “Do you think I could get permission to come out and help, Daddy Dearest? I promise not to trip over my axe or anything.”

“Yeah dad, we promise to be good.” Hundak agreed.

Ender laughed. “Hey Kai, your kids are getting restless. Maybe you should put them on restrictions or something.”

“But Dad Number Two, that’s mean.” Hundak answered

There was another startled silence. “Dad Number Two huh?”

“Our kids seem to be getting restless,” Kaizar said, doubtfully.

“Our kids?’ Ender retorted. “These are your kids, my kids behave themselves…”

“Nahuh, they’re you’re kids too!”

Thelea and Hundak looked at each other and grinned.

“Now?” Hundak asked.

“While they’re distracted.” Thelea nodded.

Axe and club raised, with war cries and magic chants, the warrior and white mage ran in to the darkness to hunt with…dads Number One and Two.
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