Meanwhile…

As every wizard knows, some parts of the Land are infused with magic. Elven kingdoms are dripping with it, as they LOVE to remind everyone else. Dwarves draw on their rune-lore and ties to the living rock. Sites of great tragedy are infused with fell sorcery, and the list goes on.

This is not to say, that you can only do magic in these places, it’s just a lot easier. In the same way, it’s easier to get seafood near a body of water.

If you wish to tap into the twisted and wholly twisted arcane power of the Outer Realms, good luck with that. Realms are separated for a very good reason. Many of the wise have said that this was done by the gods so there would be peace amongst the realms or at the very least, the whole thing wouldn’t just collapse into utter chaos. Because, when they cross with each other, things go catawampus. Crossing the laws of each Realm, things at best, get… different. At worst, apocalyptic.

The gods, as usual, are less than forthcoming on the subject.

Typical.

Occasionally, something slips in. This might be from an ambitious wizard who has summoned a being from another realm. Honestly, it rarely ends well for all concerned but every spell-caster thinks they have it all worked out.

Other times, shit just happens. I realize that this is an unsatisfying explanation, but please realize that the multiverse is a mysterious, strange place and not particularly well organized if it is being organized at all. Again, the gods are mum on this subject.

Deep in the Crags of Wantos, far from civilized land was a crevasse. This, in and of itself, was unremarkable. The Crags of Wantos was lousy with crevasses. In fact, it was at least seventy to eighty-five percent crevasses.

No one ever explored it. Why not you ask? It was a stretch of razor-sharp rocks and crevasses and nothing else. (I don’t think I’ve ever used ‘crevasse’ so many times. But here we are.)

There is another reason people of all kinds stay away. Just southwest of the center is a spot where our Realm and the Outer Realm overlap. That gives this area a distinctive, ‘let’s not go there’ vibe. Also, it means that every so often something comes through.

While this is alarming, it’s not as terrible as you might think. Because this spot is so small, and at the bottom of a crevasse, whatever wee abomination oozes through soon starves to death (nothing to eat) and dissolves. It’s not a perfect system, but it works.

Until recently.

Once our friends Montar and Guuuunooook have taken it upon themselves to infest this realm, the spillover has increased. Their efforts have weakened the barrier betwixt our Realms. I know that ‘betwixt’ invokes a whimsical tone, but how often do you get to use that word? I stand by my choice.

Anyhoo, as I was saying, bad things are slithering in, which is bad. What is worse, is that no one has any idea. Except for you and I. While I don’t usually speak directly to my readers, I felt I needed to share this. Frankly, I couldn’t be the only one who knew about this encroaching disaster.

Phew! I am relieved. Sorry if I’ve burdened you with this but I had to say something. And it’s not as if you can tell anyone.

If it makes you feel any better, someone might discover this before it’s too late. Maybe a noble eagle will fly over and bring word to a crucial and dramatic point. Or something like that.

I mean, anything could happen. Right?

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A Nibble and a Chat

“Please, make yourself comfortable,” said Darsey Bigbriches.

Garthort paused. This was the sort of thing he would say just before he would do something terrible to a prisoner.

“Oh, and help yourself to second brunch. I hope you like scones.”

A table full of delectable baked goods, sausages, a cheese plate, eggs prepared in a variety of styles, and a large dish of bacon that was crispy but didn’t look too crispy. The Hafling was already tucking in so it wasn’t poisoned.

Garthort sat down and took a scone. It was delicious.

“You must add some clotted cream and strawberry preserves! It’s a lovely combination!”

“Thank you…”

Wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin, Darsey smiled and asked, “What do you think of the view?”

It was spectacular. This feast had been set up on the top of one of the many parapets of the Citadel or the Light. Looking out, you could see the gleaming, snow-covered peaks of the surrounding mountains, the sky was brilliant azure punctuated with fluffy clouds, and below was a verdant valley that cradled a picturesque village.

‘Very nice,” replied Garthort.

“Ooo! Look up!”

Above them flew a pride of Griffins, in a tight arrowhead formation, each being ridden by an Eleven warrior in gleaming armor. They passed above doing a barrel roll, then flew off.

“I have to say, I never get weary of seeing that. Quite impressive, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Sure.”

“Would you care for some tea? I just got some ruby rooibos that I, personally think is delightful. Just add a touch of-”

“What are you doing?” interrupted the captive wizard.

“Pardon?”

“Why am I here?”

“I just thought you might enjoy some sunshine and a good meal.”

Garthort dropped the half-eaten scone on his plate and sneered, “Really?”

“Is that so hard to believe?” asked Darsey as he plucked a strip of bacon off the plate.

“Well, given I’ve been your prisoner for an undetermined amount of time, and I still have this instant kill collar on and neither thing has changed, I’m going to say, yeah, that sounds about right.”

“I can see how you might feel that way. However, given your reputation, you can forgive our overabundance of caution.”

“My reputation?”

“We were dealing with Garthort the Wicked after all!”

“Not Fly-Heart?”

“Bards! Such wags, you know they do love to throw some shade. Between you and I, it feels like they are overcompensating.”

“Very true!”

“So naturally we had to take many precautions for one such as yourself.”

Adding some clotted cream and strawberry preserves to his scone, Garthort shrugged and said, “You’d be fools not to.”

“Indeed.”

“So, what do you really want from me?” asked Gathort who leaned back in his chair.

“Our idyllic surroundings notwithstanding, something terrible is loose in the world,” said Darsey.

“What has the Society of the Night gotten up to?”

“It’s not them.”

“Has a dragon awakened?”

Darsey took a sip of tea and spoke softly, “Abominations from Outer realms.”

Garthort stopped mid-chew, paused, then swallowed with less relish than the food deserved.

“What exactly are we talking about?”

“That’s why I have come to you, we have little knowledge of such… monstrosities. However, if rumors are to be believed, you are an expert on this subject.”

Smiling for the first time in quite a while, Garthort smiled.

“You were wise to come to me.”

“Exactly.”

“But I have certain terms to be met. First, take off this damned collar. Second, the restoration of my keep and everything those adventurers looted from me. Third, I want to punish them personally. Fourth-”

“I think we can offer you something even better than all that.”

“That would have to be something really big.”

“You know what it is to be feared, do you not?”

“I do. It’s the best.”

“I’m certain that it must be a rush, emotionally speaking. But do you know what it is to be loved?”

“I’ve been in relationships.”

“I’m not talking about romance. Have you ever walked down a street, in any city, town, or hamlet, and been greeted with unadulterated adoration?”

“Once I… No. I can’t say I have.”

“Few can. But the Land is in grave peril and I believe you are the one person who can turn the tide of this approaching disaster.”

“What do I get out of this?”

“I won’t speak to you of honor, no one can eat honor.”

“Exactly!”

“However, heroes rarely pay for meals or drinks. Or anything at all.”

“Do you think they might put up statues of me?”

“I’d be astonished if they did not!”

“Being loved, that might be nice.”

“I can speak from personal experience, it is the best.”

“People have to know that I’m the one who is saving them!”

“Of course!”

“And I will need a new THE.”

“A new what?”

“Not what, the. I was known as the Wicked, but if I am to be a hero. Saying it out loud feels strange, but also right.”

“Well, often times people bestow such things on heroes. Carnahn the Bold was called that after defeating Kurt Stonefist in single combat.”

“What do you think they’ll call me?” pondered Garthort.

“There any many, many possibilities. Take this first step on this path and discover it.”

Garthort stood and offered his hand to Darsey, who shook it enthusiastically.

“Excellent! Come with me, there is much to do,” said the Halfling.

Gesturing to the table, Garthort asked, “Can I get some of this to go?”

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Bury The Lede

Weren’t you terrified?” asked Burthode Bronzefist.

I guess if I had thought about it for a moment, I would’ve been,” replied Brother-Sargent Xoran.

If Oi had’ta foight a vampire all by me lonesome,wit only a silver buttah knoif, Oi’d be fillin’ me britches Oi would!” added Frina, the Goblin spotter.

Turned out that the blood-sucker and I had one thing in common.”

Wot’s dat?”

We lost track of time so when the cock crowed and the sun rose, both of us were surprised. Him a little more. After that, I knew that it was destiny to serve the Dawn Goddess, as she saved me that morning.”

That’s quite a story.”

Oi havta agree.”

I did not mean to boast,” murmured the Bother-Sargent.

The three of them sat for a moment.

When do you think they will see us?” pondered Burthode Bronzefist.

Firna peered down the Hall of Petitioners, a wide, vaulted corridor carved out of white marble, the floor inlaid with tile work that showed all the free peoples of the Land lined up in an orderly fashion. At the end, was the enchanted plaque of order which she read aloud, “Der at seventeen. Wot number du we ‘ave?”

One hundred and sixty-three,” said Burthode Bronzefist.

Well, F— me!” swore Brother-Sargent Xoran.

This earned some side-eye from those nearby. However, the Dwarf and Goblin had become accustomed to the holy warrior’s profanity which was somehow not a sin.

Whispering, the Dwarf asked, “Our news is vital, is there no way to bring it before Consortium of the Wise with more haste?”

When I spoke to the Uncle-Major of the local temple of the Dawn Goddess, he urged me to follow the protocols of the Citadel or the Light.”

Roight, roight… But do ya tink dat’s da best way ta do dis?”

Rules are important,” replied the Brother-Sargent.

True, but is not one of the chief tenets of your goddess that the undead should not be?”

Suffer not the undead to walk, but yes!”

Whilst we palaver, ders literally a horde o’ dos blighters walkin’ bold as brass!”

By the Dawn that shall not stand!” proclaimed Xoran as he leapt to his feet and began to vigorously cut to the front of the line. Burthode and Firna followed him. This of course set off a roar of protests from the others online but no one chose to challenge a large armored man with a spiked mace hanging from his hip.

Once they reached the front, the Brother-Sargent was about to pound on the door with an armored fist when he was interrupted.

Rude!”

Xoran looked at who had spoken. It was a Cat-Folk, marmalade with green eyes, dressed in loose-fitting clothes with a long vest that was covered in pockets.

Please forgive us, but our need is great.”

I am Sahx, emissary of the Great Feline Queen. Whatever it is, mine is greater,” insisted the Cat-Folk.

Is it a threat to life everywhere?” asked Burthode.

Uz iffin’ it ain’t…” added Firna.

Whiskers twitched with vexation and Sahx spoke softly, “Indeed it is. I bring dire news with me.”

The three companions exchanged glances and nodded.

So you know of the undead horde as well?” asked Xoran quietly.

WHAT?” shouted Sahx.

Shush!”

His eyes darting and tail flicking back and forth, Sahx leaned in and asked, “Are you telling me we’re dealing with an undead invasion as well?”

As well as wot?” asked Firna.

As well as this,” replied Sahx, as he took out a jar from an inner pocket.

Inside was, well… a thing. It was a writhing mass of tentacles about the size of a goose’s egg that produced mouths full of jagged teeth and eyes of a color that could not be quite described. All of them shuddered and Sahx returned it to its hidden pocket.

What is that?” asked Burthode, who had broken into a cold sweat.

Something unnatural,” replied Sahx.

No shit!” declared Xoran, who was definitely feeling stressed.

This and others like this were found at the borders of our land. Cat-Folk are the greatest hunters in the Land, we were able to track and destroy them all, save for this one.”

“’N how didja deal wit sucha unholy beasty?”

Fire, and lots of it.”

Makes sense.”

Sahx of the Cat-Folk, I propose an alliance. Both of us carry terrible, and yet vital news. We need to make certain that the Consortium of the Wise hears this. Will you join us in this?”

Sahx considered this. On the one paw, he was next. On the other, this Human and his companions had some equally horrific news, so maybe doubling down on this might get things moving.

Let’s go.”

With a mighty kick, Brother-Sargent Xoran kicked in the door. Beyond it was a smallish desk with a Half-Elf secretary behind it. Sitting in front was an irritated farmer.

Excuse me! I was here first!” shouted the farmer.

Are you here to warn of danger to all the free people of the land?” asked Xoran.

My tomato farm is full of malicious pixies!”

So, no,” stated Sahx.

Apologies, but you will thank us later.”

My tomatoes won’t!”

Why dunt ya have a sit over der?” suggested Firna pointing to a bench along the wall.

The farmer did so with a great deal of resentment.

May I see your chit?” asked the Half-Elf.

We have no time for chits!” shouted Xoran.

I’m afraid without a chit, we cannot proceed-”

Sahx produced his chit. The Half-Elf made a notation in a ledger.

What is the nature of your petition?”

The Land is in dreadful danger!” cried the Brother-Sargent.

Form fifty-one slash B. If you would please fill this out in triplicate, we can move on to the next step.”

Are you out of your M—– F—— mind!” bellowed Xoran.

The Half-Elf, who had been dealing with difficult petitioner for more years than she cared to remember fixed a tight smile on her face.

There are procedures in place for a reason. If you follow them, it will all go smoothly.”

Sahx’s ears flattened as he produced the abomination in a jar. The Half-Elf’s eyes went wide and then she retched into a wastepaper basket behind her desk. Wiping her mouth clean, she asked, “What is THAT?”

One of many that is plaguing the Land,” said Sahx with a touch of smugness.

Taking a deep breath, the Half-Elf pointed to a tapestry on the back wall.

There’s a door behind there. Go up seven flights, go left and open the doors at the end of the corridor, that’s where the Consortium is. Show them THAT.”

May the Dawn Goddess light your way.”

Before they left, Firna turned and asked one last question.

Jest outta curiosity, ‘ow long does it take fer petition ta be heard?”

Six months to a year.”

Moight wanna revise dat process,” the Goblin suggested as she rejoined her friends.

In very little time they arrived.

Should we knock?” asked Burthode.

Bit past dat, dunt ya tink?”

Brother-Sargent Xoran threw open the door to the salon and cried, “We are heralds of woe!”

The assembled members of the Consortium of the Wise leap from their midmorning snack into defensive positions.

Hold foes of Light!” said Panthia, Elven lady of the Starlit Lands.

Sorry, sorry, sorry!” said Burthode, “We come as friends.”

Funny way of doing that,” observed Dansey Bigbritches.

Tis urgent, Oi’d say.”

If I may?” asked Sahx as he slowly and carefully pulled the jar out. This resulted in the Consortium being horrified and then filled with many questions, which the Cat-Folk emissary answered.

We will need to act quickly,” said Vumto, the part-Giant, “Let us muster the armies of the Free Peoples.”

Do not forget our other problem,” reminded Brother-Sargent Xoran.

The Consortium paused and looked at the holy warrior.

There’s another problem?”

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Eye of the Beholder

Where in the ninety-nine hells are they?” asked Montar, the Abomination from the Outer Realms.

Their cavern was empty. Well, at least of adventurers. There were plenty of the mutated creatures that they had summoned to soften up any adventurers that were bold enough to try and slay them. These misbegotten brutes shrieked and burbled intermittently, as was their habit.

Montar passed a burnished gold mirror and gazed upon themselves. By all that was twisted and dark, they were magnificent! Their writhing mass of tentacles, eyes, and mouths were the definition of beauty. They budded several new mouths and blew themselves a kiss.

Floating through the caves, lit only by green and purple phosphorescent lichen, Montar grew increasingly irritated. They had spread the word that riches could be found here through those disgusting, but delicious human agents. It was just the sort of thing that would intrigue the hideous beings of this plane to come running.

So why wasn’t anyone here?

With great reluctance, Montar glided to the entrance of their cave. Outside was a grotesque landscape of dull green, non-luminescent plants, creatures that lacked tentacles, or slime, had only one mouth, and were covered in fur. As the tiny winged best sang their awful ‘songs’, the Abomination gazed at the unnatural bright blue sky. No adventures approached.

With seven of their nine stomachs churning from this disgusting landscape, Montar retreated back to the comfort of the damp glowing caverns. ‘Why is no one taking the bait?’ they wondered.

Once back in their main chambers, Montar activated their pool of distance to speak with their frenemy, Guuuunooook. The two of them were demi-kin, having budded from the same ooze pool. As a rule, Abominations hated everyone and everything, especially other Abominations, but they and Guuuunooook had an understanding, of a sort.

With a ripple of the arcane liquid, the image of Guuuunooook appeared. They presented in this plane as a large pustule that periodically erupted a variety of viscous substances. In other words, gorgeous.

Greetings Guuuunooook!”

And to you, Montar,” burbled his demi-kin.

How is every little thing?”

As well as can be expected, given the state of this terrible plane.”

Right….”

I mean, this is all very bad for business.”

Of course!”

The natural order has been disrupted!”

So, so disrupted,” agree Montar.

Guuuunooook sprouted five small mouths that grinned.

You don’t know what’s going on? Do you?”

Of course I do!” sputtered Montar.

Then tell me.”

It, it, it, it… Sounds like you don’t know.”

Oh, I know!”

Then why don’t you tell me?”

Montar, who was terrible at improvising, mumbled, “All the things, that are going on, disrupting and so on…”

The two Abominations stared at each other for a moment.

Just admit your ignorance,” cooed Guuuunooook.

FINE! I admit it! I have no idea what is going on on the weird, ugly plane of existence! Are you happy now?”

Very.”

Are you going to tell me what’s all this is about?”

With several smirks, Guuuunooook replied, “It’s the Goblins.”

Ugh! They’re so stringy, but I’ll eat them in a pinch.”

Not the point.”

Did they all die or something?”

Worse, they’ve organized.”

What?”

Goblins all over the Land have thrown off the shackles of oppression and banded together. The established order is in chaos.”

I am a big fan of chaos.”

As am I, but it means that adventurers haven’t been visiting us.”

Are they fighting the Goblins?”

No! They’ve been allying with them.”

Montar writhed for a beat, then said, “This makes absolutely no sense.”

I know! It’s madness and not the kind we are so fond of.”

How do you know all this?” spat Montar suspiciously.

Maybe try not eating your human minions when they finish one task,” suggested Guuuunooook.

Whatever. Damnit, moving is awful, all the treasure packing is a terrible chore, but should we start looking for another plane of existence?”

You can if you want, but I think I’ll stick around.”

Five of Montar’s eyes narrowed.

Why?”

What goes well with chaos?”

Blood? Screams? Pain?”

Yes, but I was considering more chaos.”

I hate that you thought of that first, but it’s a terrific idea. I’d like to join you in this.”

Let’s be clear, we still hate each other.”

With every drop of my ichor!”

And I will probably betray you the first chance I get.”

Not if I betray you first.”

Deal!”

They both grew tentacles that formed into a non-euclidean sigil to seal their pact.

I think I know the first place to strike,” said Guuuunooook.

Both laughed manically. It was the only way they knew how.

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How Does This Work?

“This is a good thing, right?” asked the Halfling lawyer, Dansey Bigbritches.

That question hung in the salon of the Grand Concordance of the Wise in the Citadel or the Light like an unpleasant smell that no one wished to take responsibility for.

“Well, of course, it’s a good thing,” tentatively agreed Vumto, the part-Giant.

“Naturally,” agreed Panthia, Elven lady of the Starlit Lands.

By the window, the Chief Diva of the Bard Guild strummed his lute and sang, “When the light triumphs, all free folk rejoice.”

“That doesn’t even rhyme,” snarked the Dwarven Priestess, Santun Shield-Breaker.

“Not all songs have to rhyme!” sang the Bard.

“Just the good ones.”

This set off some high-spirited debate on the nature of song, art, and some questions of parentage. It was cut off by Dansey giving a sharp, hand whistle.

“I would remind everyone here that we are the Grand Concordance of the Wise, let us not forget that we are here to defend the Land from darkness,” said the Halfling.

Apologies were given and accepted.

“We still have a problem,” stated Panthia.

“I mean, do we?” asked Vumto.

“We finally have peace with the Goblins, a thing my people never thought possible,” admitted Priestess Santun.

“And they carry no grudge, even though countess Goblins died over the ages,” pointed out Dansey.

All of them agreed that alone was a miracle.

“Let’s look at all the good fortune we’ve been given, shall we?” asked Dansey as he took out a notebook.

“Those who exploited the Goblins have lost a large majority of their military might. We now have a potential ally in the DHGOFG, and-”

“What is the DHGOFG?” asked Panthia.

“The Honorable Guild of Free Goblins.”

“Why does it start with a D?”

“In the Goblin dialect, the is pronounced ‘da’,” replied Dansey.

“I get that, but it’s still spelled ‘the’,” argued the Elven Lady who was a bit a grammarian.

“Let’s not get distracted by minor things that don’t really matter, shall we?”

“This is the sort of thing-” began Panthia.

“My Lady, if you would care to delve into linguistic matters, I’d be happy to indulge that impulse at a later date,” suggested the Halfling.

Everyone in the room had been corrected on some tiny discrepancy of language by this Elf and they all hoped she might be cool this one time.

“Very well,” she conceded.

“Gracious as ever,” said Dansey with a smile that looked warm but was entirely forced, “Moving on. The Adventures Guild is now reformed and its members are enjoying expanded benefits. Since we all are former adventurers and guild members, it’s a boon to us as well. Orc raids have all but disappeared, travel is safer, and trade is booming. Free folk can live without fear. It feels like all we’ve fought for is coming true.”

“These are all marvelous things,” concurred the Priestess Santun, “And I am grateful for this feast of light we are now enjoying…”

“But?”

“There is the one thing,” she said, “This Goblin philosophy.”

“Talkocracy,” crooned the Chief Diva.

“That,” muttered the Dwarven Priestess.

“It seems… Unnatural,” whispered Vumto.

“I mean, we’ve been doing a pretty good job without it,” said Panthia.

“We are on the side of light,” sang the Chief Diva.

“And we are the wisest of the wise,” insisted Priestess Santun, “In fact, all these wonderful things happened under our leadership.”

Sounds of self-congratulation followed that statement.

“Except, we really aren’t responsible for any of it,” pointed out Darsey.

“I wouldn’t say that!” argued Lady Panthia.

“And what did we do to aid these lovely results?” enquired the Halfling Lawyer.

“Well!” said Priestess Santun, “I think that at the very least, we did nothing to prevent these things!”

“Agreed!”

“Indeed!”

“Oh yeah!!!!”

Darsey sighed and countered, “Let’s be honest, shall we? While we can say we did not do deeds that actively prevented these events, we’d be lying to say we aided in any way, shape, or form.”

A shameful silence followed.

“Which brings us to the larger issue, there is a lot of chatter about making the Grand Concordance of the Wise a Talkocracy.”

“But the sacred charter, the history, the lines succession? Do they mean nothing?” sputtered Vumto, “My mother, and her mother before her, and her mother before her-”

Lighting his pipe, Darsey took a puff and said, “Like it or not, things are changing. We need to change with them.”

“We did well, did we not?” asked the Dwarven Priestess.

“It seems we could have done better,” answered Vutmo.

“How do we know this Talkocracy will work here? Maybe it only is good for already corrupt systems?” suggested Lady Panthia, who then paused and added, “Okay, that sounded so stupid as I said it.”

Everyone agreed.

“So what can we do?” vocalized the Chief Diva.

“We can do one of two things. We can embrace Talkocracy and all the benefits that come with that or…” began the Halfling lawyer.

“Or what?”

“Or we fight against it and become the villains of this story,” said Darsey.

Each considered this. Then finally, Lady Panthia asked, “I guess we’re supposed to vote? Is that how this works?”

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We Need To Talk

I’m not going to talk to her,” insisted Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest.

  Punmurr, Warlady of the Blood Keep sighed and looked out at the jagged landscape below The Pernicious Donjon. The common wisdom was that such a hostile environment would break any army that had the foolish notion to lay siege to this fortress of darkness. That was a solid theory if your troop cared about discomfort or needed to eat. The vast undead host below was immune to such concerns.

I know that you and your sister don’t always get along-”

HA!” interrupted Darvinia.

-but she has asked for a parley,” finished the Warlady.

With an army at our doorstep?”

She says, she is here to offer aid to us.”

That’s a lie.”

I mean, it might be,” said Punmurr, “On the other hand, it could be the solution to our staffing issues.

Do you really want to trust her to protect us?”

We need troops, and let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of options. Our offer to the Troll-Lands did not end well.”

Who needs them?” snipped Darvinia.

Silence stopped by for a brief, awkward visit.

Listen, we’ve all been real patient with you. Family can’t be a pain in the ass, you’ve met my brothers so you know I’m speaking from experience.”

I know bu-”

I’m not done, Madame Chairlady. The fact is, we are screwed. We need troops and the Goblin gravy boat is empty. They are allied now with the Adventures Guild, two groups who have zero amount of affection for us. If they decide to destroy the Society of the Night, it’s over.”

This will end VERY, VERY badly! My sister is not a stable necromancer!”

None of them are! They play with dead things, it’s baked into that lifestyle. We need you to play nice, get a good deal for her undead troops, and pretend to have a healthy sisterly bond so that happens.”

I’m the Chairlady of this cabal of evil and I say no. That is final!”

Punmurr took Darvinia gently by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes. She had to look down as she was a good foot taller than the Chairlady. The Warlady hated to look down because she felt as though it was an unflattering angle for her, and she did it because she wanted to get across the seriousness of what she would say next.

If you refuse to treat with your sister and gain our security, the other members of the Low Council will vote you out of office and do it anyway.”

Darvinia was about to speak when Punmurr shook her head.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, they will offer you up to Exhaultia as a gesture of goodwill. We do not want to do that, because it’s a given that you will not go down without a fight. Ultimately, this will weaken the Society of the Night, and I have to believe that is not what you want.”

Are you serious?” sputtered Darvinia.

  The Warlady presented a scroll with a no-confidence vote, the only seal missing was Punmurr’s.

Gods damnit.”

Look at it this way. Get this done, and you’ll be an icon to the Fell community for eons to come.”

Darvinia’s shoulders slumped and she said, “Fine… I’ll do it. But I hate you all.”

Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

  Dressing in her finest gown, woven from the living gold-leaf plant, Darvinia exited the Pernicious Donjon and rode a wave of bright red vines to the elaborate bone tent Exhaultia had set up. She was ushered in by a skeletal servant to a cozy meeting area. If can call a room furnished entirely out of bones cozy.

Sister!” declared the necromancer.

They air-kissed, as was their want.

This is all very… Impressive,” said Darvinia.

Praise from the leader of the Society of the Night! You flatter me.”

Please, let us talk as family. That is what we are, after all.”

Of course we are!”

I can see you’ve done quite well for yourself.”

It seemed to me, that at our last chitchat, that I didn’t express myself as well as I wished to. So I thought to myself, ‘how can I make my wishes clear?’ Then it came to me, a practical demonstration might just do the trick.”

You have made quite the impression.”

Why thank you!”

Just then, the skeletal servant places a delicate tea service in front of the sisters. It looked to be made of bird bones. 

While I’d love to while away the hours catching up with you, as Chairlady, I am compelled to discuss terms with you. For your service to the Society.”

 “Business before pleasure, I suppose.”

Darvinia shrugged in a what are you going to do way.

Well, for providing troops for all Society membership, is going to cost a grand total of nothing,” the necromancer said with a smile.

Pardon me?”

If the darkness doesn’t stick together, the light will prevail.”

So you want no gold? No treasure? No magical artifacts?”

Exhaultia laughed. It was not a comforting laugh.

No, I’m not doing this for baubles! I just want to help.”

Darvinia looked at her sister’s face. She seemed sincere.

If that is true-” began Darvinia

-it is!” interjected Exhaultia.

Then it seems we have an accord.”

We must celebrate!” 

A chilled bottle of wine in a bucket with Gnomish skeletal legs trotted in and Exhaultia poured them each a glass. They were about to toast when the necromancer paused.

Before we seal this, there is one little thing I would love.”

And what is that?” Darvinia asked as she stifled all her instincts.

Leaning in, Exhaultia whispered into her sister’s ear.

It was then, that the real trouble began.

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It’s A Funny Old World, Innit?

Burthode Bronzefist, a Dwarven scout, hid in the brush alongside Firna, a Goblin spotter. Below them, a seemingly endless parade of undead streamed along the old imperial road.

I see a legion of spearmen, from the…” Burthode paused, “Vantovian Principality.”

Roight,” said Firna as she recorded it in her notebook.

As the skeletal spearmen clattered past, Burthode furrowed his brow. His eyebrows were very bushy and so it was quite a silent statement of consternation.

May I ask you a question?” inquired the Dwarf.

“’Cours. Ask away.”

Does this seem weird to you?”

Spyin’on an army o’ da dead ‘taint my idea o’ a regular day, Oy must confess.”

That’s not exactly what I meant.”

Den speak plain.”

We are a Dwarf and a Goblin, working side by side.”

“’An you think dat’s weird?”

Until recently, it would have been unlikely, to say the least.”

Oiy can’t argue dat point. So Oiy won’t.”

They sat for a while, the only sound was the clack of skeletal troops marching.

May I ask another question?” 

The Goblin shrugged to indicate, ‘why not?’

 Do you hate me?”

Firna closed her book and regarded Burthode.

Why would I?”

Burthode sighed, and said, “There have been many terrible wars between our peoples. Myself, I have killed many, many Goblins.”

Oy see.”

So, I ask you once more, do you hate me.”

Chewing on the end of her quill, Firna stared at the Dwarf for a moment, then spoke, “Der’s no denyin’ da oceans o’ bad blood twixt our respective folk. Lots o’ red in dat list.”

You speak true.”

Some folk, dey ‘ave trouble lettin’ go of da past. Dey got der reasons, ‘n dey ain’t wit out merit.”

I see,” replied Burthode as a bead of sweat rolled down his face.

On da utter hand, it seems ta me dat doin’ da same ting and expectin’ it to end different… Well, dats daft that is.”

Hold on!” uttered Burthode.

Wot?!

Pointing at the road below, a skeletal Giant strode alongside the spearmen.

Dats not good,” muttered Firna as she made a note of this new development.

Once it had passed out of sight, the Dwarf spoke, “I agree with you.”

Undead Giant ‘taint no joke.”

Yes, but I meant about what you said before. We’ve all been dancing to someone else’s song. Time we wrote our own.”

Da way I see it, dems whats on da top, it’s in their interest to keep da rest of us in ‘r place. Leastways what dey tink ‘r place is.”

There are some powerful individuals who will not like this.”

Oiy suspect yer roight ‘bout dat.”

More blood will be spilt.”

Loikly.”

I wonder if this will all end in ruin. Evil on the march, chaos is on the rise, tomorrow is uncertain.”

Cheer up mate! Everyting is all elbows ‘n knees, true enuff. On dey utter hand, Goblins are free, yer adventurer’s guild is bein’ reformed, and a Dwarf and a Goblin can work ta’getter and have some civil discourse. Oiy call dat progress.”

Burthode smiled and said, “You speak true. I would be honored to call you friend.”

Roight back attacha!”

As they shook hands, the sound of breaking branches and cursing could be heard from the underbrush. Both Goblin and Dwarf drew their weapons and stood ready to fight. With an explosion of branches and leaves, a figure dressed in battle raiments and riding a Dentre-Bird skidded in front of them.

Pardon me. Have either of you seen a bandit carrying a holy satchel?” asked Brother-Sargent Xoran.

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Some Good News!

I just wanted to share with all my constant readers that a play I wrote is being performed at the GI60 Festival in the UK! All of the plays are 60 seconds long, hence the name. I’m posting the details below with all the other chosen entries.  If you live near Leeds, please check it out, and if you don’t, you can watch it online, I believe. Here you go!

Leo Byrne Jenicek

PS I bolded my play because I could.

Gi60 UK Live Edition  2022 PLAY SELECTION
Gi60 UK Live: Wed 01 June, stage@leeds, Leeds, UK
£7.50 (£5.00), Tickets available now!
https://stage.leeds.ac.uk/events/gi60-screaming-media-productions/ 

I am very pleased to be able to announce that the majority of plays for Gi60 UK live edition have been chosen. The quality of writing has been so high this year that we are still making final decisions over the last few plays. All playwrights chosen for Gi60 International UK Live edition will be contacted within the next few days and offered a free ticket to the live event or the online streaming. This year we will be broadcasting the stream in the same week as Gi60 International US Live edition for a truly international festival feeling.
Thank you, as usual, to all our writers who have once again sent an amazing collection of tiny plays that seem to perfectly encapsulate the times in which we live. It’s a long process but it really is a pleasure and an honour to read such a body of work each year. I look forward to seeing the selection of the Gi60 UDs Live panel when it’s released.
Very best regards
Steve Ansell
Gi60 International UK Live Edition: Play Selection
Hold Your Peace Raymond  – P. Weath
Fatal Bite Arthur – M. Jolly
The Zebra Matthew – Weaver
Good News Steve – Alguire
Skittles, A day in the Life – Terry Collins
Even Briefer Encounter – Terry Collins
Walter The Legend – Debra A. Cole
Cup of Tea – Jennifer Whittaker
REUNION II – Ruben Carbajal
The Last Out – Dave Doster
Lost – Marilyn LT Klimcho
The Good Fight – Janice Morris Neal
Chekhov’s Gun – Ruben Carbajal
Me and Love – Janice Morris Neal
COURSE CORRECTION – Ted Wenskus
G.I Poe – Jay Strong
Presence – Ruben Carbajal
Clothes Shopping With a Friend – Michele Markarian
STOP and GO – Gary Wadley
ROOF – KNOCKING – Marco Di Stefano
ONE THING AT A TIME – Leo Byrne Jenicek
What do you Want from Me? – Ellie Cansdale
Scream – Georgia Pickles
Old Dog New Trick – Dana Hall
Untitled, A Short Play – Ruben Carbajal
STILL SEEN – Jay Nickerson
Second Sleep – Marilyn Anne Campbell
Not About You – Ivy Vale
Ghombie – Georgia Pickles
10 Second Rule – 3 Second Dog! – Jennifer Whittaker
HOLIDAY PLANNING – Stu Welkovich
PLEASE SMILE – Robin Baron
A Creative Challenge – Phil Taylor
Queue Life – Abi Sutcliffe
Let’s Do Something – T Salib
CHEESY – Vivian C. Lermond
Window – Sophia Vitkovitsky
WHITE NOISE – Alex Dremann
Films – Joel Dean
Tree Funeral – Olly Leighton
Hookie – Hilary Bluestein-Lyons
Every Fairytale Ever Told… – Colette Murphy
Flight of Thought – Dana Hall
The last Few Meat Sacks – Lewis Fraser
Groan in 60 – Arthur Sutcliffe
4 – Barry Hobbs Sent from my iPhone

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Good Luck With That

Greetings Jarl Bonegrinder, lord of the Troll-Lands,

I wish to discuss a mutually beneficial arraignment between your folk and the Society of the Night. If this is amenable to you, please send word.

 Respectfully,

Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, Chairlady

P.S. I would ask you not to eat our courier.

Darvinia,

As the Jarl of all the Troll-Lands, I’m frankly quite surprised to get a message from the oh so lofty Society of the Night. 

I’ll bet you’re wondering why?

Mostly because when we wanted to join your little group, we were told, and I quote, “The Society of the Night is for those whose ambition, power, and sophistication rise to a certain level. We have no interest in brutish savagery.” Strange considering your ranks include Umpbor the Head-Crusher and Wipkaw, the Whip-Handed Warrior.

So you can see why I’m confused by your current offer of… friendship.

Maybe if you explained it to me, keeping in mind my low level of ambition, power, and sophistication, I might be able to figure out what’s going on.

 Jarl Bonegrinder

P.S. We did eat your courier. Next time, send someone less succulent.

Jarl Bonegrinder,

It is unfortunate that past leaders of the Society of the Night were so short-sighted regarding Troll inclusion in our ranks. This is a subject we are more than willing to revisit.

If you are willing, we can discuss the details of our proposal for a first collaborative venture that will be of mutual benefit to both of us.

Please respond with all due haste as this is a time-sensitive matter.

 Respectfully,

Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, Chairlady

Darvinia,

I found it interesting that your last courier was a stone golem. There is a rumor that Trolls eat rocks, which is not true. I’m sure you picked your messenger out of expedience and not a stereotype. Unfortunately, some of my troops are less enlightened so I’m sorry to say your golem was destroyed. Let’s chalk that up to a misunderstanding.

While I am willing to talk about this venture, I am going to have to demand that myself and my sub-jarls (list attached separately),

be admitted as full members, with all the benefits that come with that, before we consider any collaboration. 

 Jarl Bonegrinder

Jarl,

Apologies for my use of an invisible servant to deliver this message. I felt as though it might be less provocative than what we used before. I hope the sudden appearance of this message in your private quarters caused you no undue stress.

While I cannot bestow full membership to all those you requested, it was quite a list, I am authorized to offer you and two of your highest ranking sub-jarls a seat at the table. Consider it an act of good faith.

If this is agreeable to you, let us name a time and place to parley.

 Respectfully,

Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, Chairlady

Madame Chairlady,

Without knowing what this proposal is, I can’t agree to anything. Trolls can be stubborn if they feel like they are being lied to.

It’s time to get real.

 Jarl Bonegrinder

Oh Lord of the Troll-Lands,

It saddens me to think that stubbornness and ancient history might be the cause of you not taking this leap forward to a darker tomorrow alongside us.

I propose that we meet in the Ruins of Arv’Karth’Marv to discuss this in detail. Please bring your two nominees with you and we can get the scroll work going.

 Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, Chairlady

Darvinia,

Let me give you some Trollish wisdom. “Don’t swing an axe just before dawn.” 

Just so we’re clear, if I were in your position, I wouldn’t be so evasive if I had as many problems as you do.

If you want the help of the Troll-Lands, better start getting more generous. Before it’s too late.

 Jarl Bonegrinder

Bonegrinder,

I’m disappointed in your attitude. This could’ve been a brand new start for both of us. In the interest of transparency, we are negotiating with other parties. 

However, if you change your mind, please contact me posthaste.

Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, Chairlady

Darvinia,

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

 

And HA!

Jarl Bonegrinder

PS Let me know how that works out for you.

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One More Time

Let’s start again,” said the Elven investigator. 

Garthort the Fly-Heart, formerly Garthort the Wicked, sighed.

I’ve told everything I know,” he pointed out.

The investigator, who was called Pitare, pulled out a sheet of parchment from the folio in front of her, and asked, “What can you tell us about Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest?”

We’ve already gone over this,” he protested.

Indulge me.”

Garthort threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “Why! Why should I?”

If you are unhappy with your current arrangement, I can end matters,” she replied with an arched eyebrow. No one can arch an eyebrow like an Elf. 

I’m… Satisfied with this arraignment,” he relented.

Delighted to hear that,” she said with a lack of any actual delight, “Please, tell me what you know about Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest?”

She’s a botanicamancer.”

Not a druid?”

No. Once I saw her eviscerate someone who called her that.”

And how did she accomplish that?”

Well, she grew a bouquet of Serrated Orchids in his intestines.”

I see. Strange, most spellcasters whose specialty is growing things aren’t so evil.”

Darvinia specializes in poisonous, sharp, and carnivorous plants.”

Pitare made some notes and then asked, “Have you ever visited her estate in the Cursed Forrest?”

A couple of times, she used to have some real ragers,” Garthort said with a smile.

Ragers, the berserk Semi-Ogre species?”

No! A rager is a party. A very wild party!”

More notes were made.

You’ve never been to a rager? They are a lot of fun!”

My social life is of no concern of yours, Fly-Heart.”

Garthort smiled, she had clearly had never been to one. For that moment, he felt as if he had the upper hand, till he looked around the windowless, cold, stone room he was imprisoned in.

Let us move on to Armtek the Unmerciful. His war-fortress is not far from the Steel Mountains, the main hold of the Dwarves. Describe his readiness and troop strength.”

I’ve already told you all of this! I don’t know anymore!”

Perhaps there are details you have neglected to mention? Your information is… light on specifics.”

Garthort rubbed his eyes and sighed.

You know why that is?” he asked.

Enlighten me.”

Because people like me don’t trust anyone. We don’t share our secrets. That’s why they are secrets.”

I see. A sound strategy for a group of ambitious, self-interested, power-hungry, sociopaths to take. The fear of the unknown keeps you all safe. No one is willing to chance open warfare if they cannot predict what the others will do in response.”

While he resented being characterized as a sociopath, it was hard to argue with the other points.

Let us move on then,” stated Pitare as she opened a different folio, “Now that Goblins are no longer enslaved to dark forces. What are the alternatives?”

What do you mean?”

How will the Dark Fellowship of Wizardry, the Deamonological Association, the Knights of Malfeasance, the Brotherhood of the Free-Booters, and other evil organizations replace Goblin troops?”

Garthort paused. He hadn’t thought about this, his plate had been, not just full, but overflowing of late.

That is a very good question.”

Which is why I asked it,” she responded with the air of someone waiting for a good answer.

I don’t know.”

Pitare stared at him for a moment, then continued, “I’m going to read to you the list we came up with. You can tell me the likelihood of each. Kobolds?”

They all have very short-term memories. A Kobold will forget what they were told to do very quickly.”

Bandits?”

Can’t trust them.”

Evil adventurers?”

Same reason.”

Orcs?”

Do you have any understanding of Orcish politics?”

I must confess, I do not,” the Elf admitted.

No one does! Not even the Orcs do. There are so many rivalries and long-standing grudges that two tribes can start a battle on the same side and then suddenly, they’re fighting each other AND whoever they were attacking, to begin with!”

She made a note and then continued, “Ogres?”

Do you know how much an Ogre eats in one day? It’s not a sustainable model.”

Giants?”

Let me stop you right there. Do you know why we used Goblins for our troops?”

A lack of moral fiber.”

Okay, that’s not, not true. But real reasons were that they bred incredibly fast, worked for almost nothing, and until recently, did exactly as they were told.”

So, you and your ilk can no longer afford to field troops.”

It sounded like a question but it was clearly more of a statement.

Ummm. Uh. Yeah,” he conceded. 

Checking her papers, Pitare made a little ‘mmm’ sound.

What?” inquired Garthort.

There is one other option. The undead.”

No. No, no, no.”

And why not?”

First, it’s gross.”

Given what your former compatriots do, that seems counter-intuitive.”

Maybe, but even evil has its limits.”

That cannot be the only reason.”

No,” he admitted, “As you said before, no one trusts each other. I can’t think of any warlord or fell wizard who would entrust their safety to a necromancer.”

Because the necromancer would have complete control of an army of the undead.”

Totally.”

Interesting.”

Also, real skill at necromancy is rare, and even if you’re good at it, there are limits to how many dead you can raise and control.”

Pitare made some more notes, then gathered her pile of folios.

That will be all for today.”

Will you put in a good word for me?”

I will report my findings to the Council,” she stated as exited his cell.

Garthort reclined on his cot. Not comfortable but at least clean. While this was certainly not how he pictured his life, at least he was alive. At least, he thought, the rest of his former cohorts were kinda screwed. That was something. He took out his spoon and thought, ‘You know, maybe everything will work out.’

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