Land in Revolt Interludes IV
The helm of comprehend languages Alexander wore was beginning to give him a headache. The wizard was spent, magically speaking.
The run-in with those goblins earlier in the day forced him to cast most of the spells in his repertoire. The whole encounter was extremely taxing. Upon reflection, Alex realized there were more than a few close calls during the fight. A bad decision probably would’ve cost him his life. For that reason, he had to make certain he got enough rest tonight to build his defenses once more.
The expenditure was worth it, however, for doing so awarded him the uncomfortable helm he currently donned. Its previous owner was the goblin warchief who pegged Alexander as an easy mark in this dangerous part of the Plainslands. Alex doubted the nasty little bastard knew the extent of the helm’s abilities; he probably just wore it as an ornament of conquest. It’s ornate appearance and healthy smattering of arcane runes made it easily distinguishable as a tool of magic.
Alexander had to use trial and error to discern of exactly what the helm was capable. In hot pursuit of his sister, he didn’t have access to the components needed for a formal identify spell. He had some previous experience with empowered helms so he set forth to testing. It didn’t take long to determine the nature of the headpiece’s magic. He experimented with the tome he found in the cultists’ ziggurat and the results yielded a world of information.
He had been glued to the Infernal writings for hours. Alexander literally hadn’t put down the book once he began reading. He realized he’d forgotten to eat his daily rations. What he read in the tome made his stomach turn such that food didn’t sound appetizing anyway. The nightmares the text described were almost beyond comprehension but Alex still read on. He guessed it was written by several individuals as the feel behind certain sections varied greatly from one another. The most recent entries were likely courtesy of the hobgoblin the Golden Saviors dispatched in the large ritual chamber.
The Golden Saviors, yes. He had to warn them. He had to let them know just what they’d uncovered in that foul place. It was far more than just a odd group of mad cultists. This was something far…
“The Master watches you, wizard.”
Alex quickly turned and looked over his shoulder. Fear shot through him, his chest heaving as he stood. Nothing. No one was there yet the voice sounded like it was right behind him.
No, not behind him… inside his head.
The wizard knelt down and picked up the tome. He walked towards the campfire and held the evil thing aloft. He wanted nothing more than to see it destroyed. But then, he considered, what about the information it held? What if the answers to combating this adversary lie within? Best to hold onto it then. Warn his former companions and find his sister, that’s what he needed to do. He calmed himself and sat back down upon the soft earth. Just a few more pages, then time for rest.
The next time Alexander lifted his head from the tome, it was dawn.
* * *
“He’s as strong as a storm giant, I tell ya! Just watch…”
As if on command, a huge cheer erupted from the crowd. The jubilation was in response to the gore in the center of the dilapidated arena. A dwarf, dressed only in rags, had just torn the head off an ettin as easily as child pulls bread from a freshly baked loaf. The remaining head howled in agony at the halving of himself. Before it could retaliate, the ettin launched into the air courtesy of a squarely placed punch from the dwarf. The force was akin to the tail slap of a dragon considerably larger than either combatant.
“What did I tell ya?” continued the half-elf. “He eats ettins for breakfast!” Speckler, or Specks for short, grinned widely. No amount of selling on his part could have as much impact on Boss Grug as the massacre currently on display. Specks counted the gold in his head with each passing moment.
“Hrm,” responded Boss Grug. The half-orc seemed skeptical. “So far, I’m not that impressed, Speckler. I’ve seen much better fighters. Strength isn’t everything. He’s just a brute. Brutes are easy to outclass.”
“That’s the thing, Boss!” countered Specks. “He can really hold his own – I’ve seen it! Yeah, it was easy to tear apart Twofers but he can take on ginks with expertise, too. Plus, he’s got thick skin. Tough as a bulette. I’ve actually seen things bounce off him!”
“That so?” said Boss Grug with a cocked eyebrow. “You’re telling me this little ham hock is built like a giant, thick as a landshark and smart as a gladiator? If all that is true, then how did a pile of dung like you manage to steer him into the arena, ey?” The half-orc towered over the skinny half-elf and glared with his one good eye.
“Heh, that’s a trade secret, Boss,” Specks smugly replied. “A guy’s gotta have his secrets, you know? But I can tell ya that I’m the only one who can keep him in check, otherwise you’ll end up with a raging umber hulk on your hands tearing heads offa shoulders and the likes. That’s why what I’m proposing is the perfect arrangement for the both of us. I’ll be his Manager and you’ll put up the gold. It’s your arena so you’re already taking a cut outta every fight as it is. With this powerhouse in your pocket, you’ll get paid five ways to Faynesday!”
“Listen to me, maggot.” growled Boss Grug. He grabbed Specks by the back of the collar and lifted him off the ground with ease. “Before I hand over any gold to the likes of you and your magic dwarf, I need to know exactly what I’m getting into. You tell me how you keep him in line or there’s no deal. I’ll also make sure he never fights in this arena again, understand? UNDERSTAND??!!” Specks nervously shook his head to indicate his understanding. “Now,” continued Boss Grug, “spill it.”
With an audible ‘gulp,’ Specks explained. “Okay, so the thing is the little goofball is a bit, uh, off, I guess…”
“How you do mean ‘off’?” questioned the half-orc as he tightened his grip. Doing so caused Specks to emit a soft squeak.
“Off, you know?” said Speck. The half-elf raced through his words. “Like he’s lost his marbles or something. When he’s not staring out into space he jabbers things that make no sense. I found him wandering not too far from Oasis covered in blood. I was going to toss him for sport when I saw he was built like a brick outhouse. I went to leave him for the vultures when he called out to me. Kept calling me a nyther or some such (I don’t speak dwarf). Then he followed me like a hungry mongrel. I tried to shoo him away but he wouldn’t get. The little crackpot distracted me and I turned down the wrong alley where I bumped into some, uh, “former associates” who mistakenly believed I owed them some gold. When they tried to get rough, the dwarf did to them what you just saw him do to Twofers. Just…messier. After I stopped retching, I realized he was a gold mine (heh, get it?). Since then, I’ve just been pretending to be whatever his nyther is. People have been much friendlier to me these days. It didn’t take long for me to figure out your arena is where he belonged. And because you and I are such good friends, I thought you should be the first to take advantage of this fantastic business opportunity!" Specks was out of breath by the time he finished.
“Did you now…?” sneered Boss Grug. Grug looked Specks over as the half-elf hung there nervously. After a moment, a thin smile began to form on the half-orc’s cracked lips. “Alright then, let’s see if he’s worth the investment, shall we?” Grug let go of Specks’ collar, unceremoniously dropping the smaller man in a heap. He then made his way to the opening in the room that overlooked the arena. Grug fished around in his pocket making sure Specks couldn’t see what he was doing. His fingers closed around the small rod carved to look like a bestial worm. Boss Grug closed his eye and mumbled a few words. The rod grew warm in his hand.
The rumbling underground silenced the wildly hooting and hollering spectators. A shared realization came over them a moment later. The chants of “Rosie! Rosie! Rosie!” rang through the crowd. The only one who didn’t seem to know what was going on was the lone, blood-soaked dwarf in the center of the arena. He looked around frantically; confused by the shaking beneath him. “Rosie! Rosie! Rosie!” the audience continued to shout. The dwarf covered his ears in hopes to drown out the chaos. Tears of frustration began to stream down his face. “Rosie! Rosie! Rosie!” Then the earth erupted.
The gargantuan Purple Worm towered over the dwarf. The shrill pitch it emitted was only slightly louder than the cheering throng. Even though the creature had no eyes to speak of, it was obviously fixated on the small man nearby. The dwarf looked up at the massive invertebrate, frozen in place. He appeared hypnotized by the swaying of the beast’s body. He remained still as stone when the monster brought its giant maw crashing down upon him. The crowd roared at the sight. Their thirst for violence had been sated by the dwarf’s helpless consumption. They appeared drunk with glee.
“Not so impressive now, is he Speckler?” Boss Grug said sardonically. “The little twit didn’t even try to move out of the way. That’s what I meant by-”
“Take a look, Boss,” interrupted Specks confidently as he pointed from the floor. Grug turned back towards the arena. He saw the Purple Worm swaying but not in its normal, rhythmic fashion. The thing was obviously in pain. It confirmed as much when it let loose an agonizing shriek. The source of the discomfort revealed itself when the dwarf burst forth from the worm’s mid-section in a spray of gore. He tumbled onto the arena floor covered in entrails. While not enough to kill the beast outright, the wound drove it back underground screaming all the way.
The audience was once again silent – totally stunned by the event. The same went for Boss Grug who simply stared at the muck-covered dwarf in amazement.
“He didn’t move because he didn’t have to, Boss” said Specks. “Looks like he gave Rosie some indigestion. So, are you ready to do some business with good ’ol Specks?”
Boss Grug continued to stare at the dwarf, his mouth slightly agape. “Speckler,” said the flabbergasted half-orc, “let’s make history.”