Common Sense-Da Great Goblin Rebellion-Part 26

Shattered hunks of granite littered the grand hall of the Unyielding Hold, one of the five Dwarven mountain republics. (There are six Hill Dwarf Holds but they don’t count to the mountain Dwarves. Don’t ask them unless you want to hear a lot about what constitutes a ‘Hold’. Consider yourself warned.) Back to the matter at hand.

Abominations oozed, squelched, slithered, and flopped into the grand hall and immediately began to make a terrible mess, accompanied by a putrid stench. Perhaps not the most germane issue during an infestation of Outer Realm monstrosities, but it is worth noting.

A squad of stout Dwarven warriors grimaced as the intricate carvings of their ancestors were eroded with foul-smelling acids. Dwarves are a sturdy and reliable folk, who pride themselves on leading a well-ordered existence. Schedules were followed to the second. This allowed them to build their magnificent Mountain (and Hill) Holds. Couple that with the legendary Dwarven stubbornness, and stuff gets done. Make a plan, and stick with it. Disruptions to said plans are intolerable and upsetting.

On the other side of the coin, they are almost all terrible improvisers. (Those who choose the freewheeling life of adventurers are, of course, the exception.) The rest can’t think on their feet to save their lives, as we are about to see.

Wearing a steel helmet with brass details and a bright red plume on top, the Squad Leader shouted, “Form up! Arms out!”

With a near machine-like efficiency, the Dwarven warriors assembled into a neat square formation, shields on all sides and spears positioned betwixt each shield. They resembled a War Turtle, without the ability to spew a localized tsunami. (If you want to know more about War Turtles, read Vontos’s ‘1,000 Things You Didn’t Know about the War Turtle.’ But only if you are serious about the subject.)

As they marched towards the horde of Abominations, they began to sing a Dwarven battle song. While there are many excellent Dwarven battle songs, ‘Hammer Strike’, ‘Battle-Axe Blast’, and ‘Hit With A Mountain’, the one they belted out was ‘Forward, March, March.’ It has an excellent beat but it’s mostly about marching in unison, which makes it somewhat uninspiring. Unless you are in a parade. Which these Dwarves were not.

Initially, they killed a lot of Abominations. This squad was comprised of well-trained warriors. They knew their business. However, it very quickly became a numbers game. Given too many Abominations and even the most tireless of fighters will eventually be overcome.

The drummers and pipers, who were accompanying the singing, from a safe distance, retreated. In 4/4 time, in case you were wondering. Once behind the tall iron doors, and safely in the second great hall, they stopped playing and reported.

Busepholus Bronzebeard, Marshal of the Unyielding Hold followed the well-established protocol and ordered his Rune-Masters to take their murder holes. On the count of three, they traced the mystic symbols with their battle staves and the grand hall erupted into an inferno. On the count of ten (the previously agreed upon count), then the Rune-Masters peered out of the murder holes.

Everything was blackened and piles of ash fell like snow, except for being hot and made of incinerated Abominations. As they watched, each Rune-Master thought about all the work that needed to clean up this huge mess. As schedules were being mentally constructed, more Abomination arrived, uninvited. To be fair, few beings invite Abominations to anything, and those who do are not the sort that you might have round for an evening of casual supper and cards.

Again, as the great hall filled with these monstrosities, runes were traced, fire filled the room, and Abominations were flash fried. All was done with extreme efficiency, except for the Abominations who were as sloppy, which was their whole thing.

This happened seven more times, which might not have been a problem except the iron door separating the rest of the Unyielding Hold from the assault was beginning to smolder and was very hot to the touch.

Marshal Busepholus Bronzebeard called his captains to his side to discuss their plan.

My friends, it appears we are in trouble,” said the Marshal.

But we followed the protocols to the letter,” said Shasar Silverboot

These creatures should have retreated by now!” declared Fruden Fireback.

Clearly our foes are doing this incorrectly!” added Ignaz Ironbottom.

There was a general agreement amongst these officers, after all, what else could it be?

Have we somehow, missed a crucial step in our plans?” asked Gerta Granitehands?

This statement caused a flurry of checking, cross-checking, and confirming details from books, scrolls, and other records. In the end, they could find no fault in their actions. Additionally, three more waves of Abominations had repulsed and the edges of the iron doors were now glowing a dull red color.

A call out to the Rune-Masters confirmed that more of these Outer Realm monstrosities were even now, pouring into the great hall.

With great solemnity, the Marshal removed an old leather scroll case from his belt, where it had rested since he was elevated to this post. His Captains said nothing but their nostrils all flared.

Here is the Ultimate Protocol. Written by the first of our people when this Hold was carved. This will tell us how to defeat these invaders that make no treaties, accept no parley, and know no honor.”

Clearing his throat, Busepholus Bronzebeard read this near holy protocol. Afterwards, everyone nodded with agreement and then began the preparation.

First, the secondary great hall was evacuated. For a sense of the visuals of this, the great hall was deep and wide, suitable for grand celebrations. The secondary great hall was more of a hallway, still deep but not nearly as wide. It led deeper into the mountain and to the inhabited portions of the hold. But before that was the Chasm of Jarac-Kram. Discovered by the early Dwarven stone-masons in the early days of the hold, it was a wide, underground canyon that stretched in a wide circle for miles. A perfect natural defense, since it was considered to be bottomless.

Now in the interest of accuracy, no one could say if it was truly bottomless. Some stone scholars argued that everything has a bottom and those who opposed this asked if these smart guys thought it didn’t have a bottom, why not climb down and prove it? Of course, the other ones said, ‘if you really think it has a bottom, it seems like it’s up to you to prove it!’

What followed was a lot of insults about academic qualifications which, as often happens, followed by disparaging comments about each other’s mothers. This was the source of many scholarly feuds that have not been resolved as neither side is willing to climb down and prove things either way.

So, in the end, the Chasm of Jarac-Kram was considered bottomless or close enough to make no difference. There was but one way to cross, a mighty bridge, known as the Span of Goldpick (named for the Dwarf who engineered it), that spanned the nine-hundred-foot distance from one side to the other.

Once they had evacuated the secondary grand hall and crossed the Span, it was destroyed. A moment of great sorrow for those involved, for this was a part of their heritage. It passed rather quickly when the sight of countless Abominations poured down the secondary great hall.

More armies would stop still at the sight of this impassable pit. Not these guys. They began to pour into the Chasm of Jarac-Kram like there was treasure at the bottom. It was an astounding sight. Such a vast and terrifying host, plummeting to their demise with absolutely no regard for the concept of either gravity or death.

After hours of this, Marshal Busepholus Bronzebeard ordered most of his troops to the inner hold. Leaving a squad to keep watch. It was, at the time, considered a victory. Both against the Abominations and for Dwarven pre-planning.

Everyone felt safe. There were vast stores of food and access to fresh water, so that wasn’t a concern. Common sense told them that it had to end soon. It’s not as if there were an unlimited number of Abominations. Also, clearly there was nothing in the deepest, darkest parts of the mountain that might be disturbed. They would know that. Right? Right…

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Some Good News!

My short story, “An Odd Missive”, has been selected as a Quarter-Finalist in the Script 2 Comic Contest! This is very exciting to me as I am a lover for novels both prose and graphic. Winners will have their work adapted to comic form. If you have no read it and wish to, here is a link, https://jenicek.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/an-odd-missive-part-one/

Thank you to all of you readers and fingers crossed for the Quarter-Finals!

Leo Byrne Jenicek

Apologies for any blank posts that got sent out, I was exploring my humanity by erring.

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Corruption is Sexy-Da Great Goblin Rebellion Part 25

The Underworld might appear to be chaos but in fact, Hell craves order. To the untrained eye, it appears to be a random hodgepodge of countless sharp, spiky objects, pits of fire, pits of acid, pits of excrement, pits filled with all sorts of objectionable things (they are very big on pits), and of course, sinners. 

As haphazard as it all appears, Hell is run with clockwork efficiency, each punishment calculated to both torment and the occasional touch of hope to make the anguish all the more potent. Is that cruel? Absolutely. That’s the point.

Each day, as if time held any sway here, the caverns of Hell are filled with the cries of the damned, AKA The Symphony of Sin. But not today. Instead, there was an uncomfortable silence. At least it made Asmodeus, Crown Prince of Hell, uncomfortable.

Looking out from his palace, made of obsidian and shattered dreams, he sipped some infernal Nebbiolo out of his favorite goblet, crafted from a skull of some false prophet. He forgot his name but it added an undertone of delicious terror and a subtle note of plums to his beverages. Now it just tastes like ash, but not in a good way.

Bootherby” bellowed the Prince of Darkness.

Skittering into the vast chamber on his multiple spindly legs, the majordomo bowed at the thorax and asked, “How may I serve you my dark and puissant Prince?”

Do you hear that?” asked Asmodeus.

Your ears are much sharper than mine, your Fell Lowness. I can hear nothing.”

That. Is. The. Point! Where are the screams of the damned? The howls of wicked? Why is it so F—ing quiet?” he yelled.

Has my lord not read the morning missives?”

He had not. Normally, he would peruse them over breakfast, blood waffles with long pork sausages were his favorites, but the unnatural silence had distracted him.

Give me the short version,” said the Ruler of the Underworld.

Pursing their wet, purple lips on their demi-human face, Bootherby said, “I beg your Lowness, I only bring you news, I have no influence over events.”

Fixing his majordomo with slitted, yellow eyes, Asmodeus made the ‘get on with it’ gesture.

There has been a walkout, sire.”

Are you telling me that souls are walking out of Hell?!?”

Oh no! No, no, no.”

That’s a relief.”

Daemons are refusing to work, my lord.”

It was at this point the Asmodeus transformed into a towering figure with massive bat wings, a ripped torso, dangerously sharp horns, and goat legs with steel hooves. All his anger and frustration focused on Bootherby, who quickly became a smear of goo and offal on the black and red marble floor. Notice I did not say ‘poor’ Bootherby. They’re a daemon and they cannot be truly killed. They just return as some other sort of daemon. Also, they framed his predecessor for petty theft and took his place. So, no tears.

Pulling himself together, Asmodeus called for another servant. A figure with the lower body of a large pig and the upper body of some sort of snake person came in. A snake-pig centaur, if you will.

How may I serve you my Dark Prince?” hissed the servant.

Have this mess cleaned up and bring me some more breakfast wine.”

At once your Lowness!”

What’s your name?”

I am called Munt-” began the snake-pig.

-I’m just going to call you Bootherby. You’re the majordomo now”

As is right, my Prince,” replied the new Bootherby, who signaled for the mess to be cleaned up.

The is another matter that requires your wise and most evil attention,” added the newest in a long line of majordomos.

What, what, what?” spat Asmodeus.

Hala Half Daemon craves an audience with you, my Prince.”

Asmodeus tried to remember who that was. There were so many, many daemons in the underworld, so it was difficult to remember them all. Additionally, he was terrible at names but on the other hand, he never forgot a face.

Is she hot?”

Both literally and figuratively sire.”

Send her in then.”

At once, my Dark Lord.”

New Bootherby exited and a moment later, Hala Half Daemon strode in, dressed in a low-cut business harness. Her hair was wreathed in a bright, blue flame and she was indeed very attractive. Delicate horns, a deep red complexion, golden eyes with x-shaped irises. She was damned sexy.

Well, greetings Hala Half Daemon, what can I do for you today?” said Asmodeus with a leer as well as several lewd gestures. 

For anyone who thinks this is inappropriate behavior, remember where we are. 

Indeed you can, Lord Asmodeus,” she replied with a smirk.

He licked his lips, this day might not be a total loss. She reached into her plunging decolletage to reveal… a scroll, which she handed to him.

Some erotica?” he stage whispered, “Do you want me to read it to you?”

Please do, my lord.”

Clearing his throat, he began.

We the daemons of the Underworld, have the following demands. Starting with bondage, well played Hala! Why don’t I continue then? First, a maximum of an eight-hour work day with a one-hour lunch break and two fifteen-minute breaks in the first and second half of the work day. Any work done outside of these hours is to be paid time and a half. The following days are to be considered holidays and as such, blah, blah, blah.”

Asmodeus began to skip past parts, and asked, “Can I give you some notes? The build-up is way too slow. You need to start with something big and sexy to hook the reader.”

I think it’s very sexy,” countered Hala.

Don’t want to kink shame you, I support any and all perversions, but this really isn’t doing it for me. Do you have anything with randy stable boys?”

This is our list of demands,” she said.

But none of them are about forbidden acts that the protagonist swears they won’t do but secretly really want to do.”

With a smile, Hala Half Daemon looked the Prince of the Underworld straight in the eyes and murmured, “I’m leading the walkout, and that scroll you currently hold is the list of the terms that must be met before we go back to work.”

Asmodeus stared at her for a moment and said, “What?”

You did notice that no torture was being done, didn’t you?”

Of course! I WAS about to deal with that!”

How?” she asked.

By slaughtering those impudent fools!” he growled.

That won’t do it.”

It has in the past, I see no reason it won’t continue to work now!”

As the leader of the Local Coterie, Lodge DCLXVI of Daemons, Imps, Succubi, Incubi, Dybbuks, Oni, Tengu, and associated spirits other infernal workers, I am formally informing you that we will not work another moment until our demands are met.”

Is this about the Goblin thing?”

It’s about the Goblin thing.”

Sitting on his crystalline, blood-red throne, Asmodeus sighed.

On the one hand, I’m super proud of how you all lawyered your way out of your binding from all those Demonologists. Those guys are the worst. Well, clearly not the worst, but you get what I’m saying. One of the best parts of winning is on a technicality. So sweet.”

She bowed with a smirk.

But it’s one thing to screw over some mortal jerks, it’s another thing when everyone stops doing their jobs! Without torment, the Underworld is just depressing. And when I say depressing, I mean for me. It’s supposed to be depressing for the souls we punish.”

Agreed my lord.”

So be a slaughtered lamb and make everyone get back to work.”

Hala Half Daemon laughed. It sounded like shards of razor-sharp glass as they hit each other just before embedding in someone’s flesh. Intoxicating.

I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. And when I say afraid, I am in no way fearful. Just so we’re clear.”

Bootherby! Summon my squad of Law-Daemons!” shouted Asmodeus.

They appear to have vanished, My Infernal Prince,” hissed New-Bootherby.

All of the Law-Daemons are working for the Coterie, sire. They could not resist the opportunity,” added Hala.

Well that’s a hell of a thing!” he said as New-Bootherby poured him more breakfast wine.

You’re not wrong my Dark Prince. But I would urge you to consider our terms.”

Holding the scroll, which spilled out across the floor to an alarming length, Asmodeus made an exasperated noise. 

What happened to loyalty and team spirit?”

Both of those concepts run counter to the ethos of Hell.”

Then what happened to fear and obeisance?”

Collective bargaining.”

Damn you!”

A little late for that, isn’t it?”

What if I don’t want to negotiate? Are you all going to just sit about and think evil thoughts that you can never act on? All I have to do is wait.”

If my Dark Lord will come with me to the window,” Hala asked.

I don’t care how catchy your protest chants are, I’m not going to be swayed.”

No assembled crowd of Daemons stood outside. A lone bone bush that had been uprooted clattered by and after it passed, only the wind could be heard, moaning as if it had only now realized that it had been stood up.

And… Nothing! I’m so glad we came out here,” muttered Asmodeus.

Producing a spyglass, Hala gazed at a distant point, then handed it to Asmodeus. He peered through it. While he couldn’t turn white, he did fade to what might be described as puce.

All those wicked, wicked souls, stuck on the other side of the gates of Hell. They can’t go back, but they are piling up. I can’t say for sure what will happen eventually. But whatever it is, it won’t be good.”

Stroking his goatee, Asmodeus said, “Fine! Let me read this list of terms of yours.”

And he did. It took the rest of the day, and he had many many questions, all of which Hala answered in excruciating detail. Then the negotiations began. Insults were hurled, compromises were proposed, accepted, then rejected, then fiddled with, and accepted again. Multiple tables were flipped in the course of all this. In fact, new tables were added as the old ones were smashed in the fervor of arbitration. As well as the appointment of six New-Bootherbys.

Finally, as they sat on piles of shattered tables, they, at last, came to an accord.

I accept terms one through three-hundred thirty-seven, omitting clauses fifty-nine, one hundred and twelve, all of the two hundred twenties, and four hundred ninety-nine,” Asmodeus said.

Shall we sign in blood?” asked Hala who already had a sharp knife in hand.

AND I get to kill twenty percent of those who walked out.”

Seven percent.”

Fifteen!”

Ten.”

Done.”

If you are shocked by how cavalierly Hala sold out ten percent of those who stood with her, I remind you, Daemon. Not a good person. Or even a person, strictly speaking.

Then it was signed, and the strike in Hell was over. Messenger Imps were sent across the infernal landscape and soon the wails of the damned echoed once more.

That was exhausting!” said Asmodeus.

You loved it,” she replied.

Maybe. A little. Or a lot. Maybe.”

She let loose one of her shattered glass laughs.

I think I might take a long blood bath and read a bad book.”

That seems like a waste.”

He eyed her and asked, “Do you have a better idea?”

How big is your tub?”

Hala Half Daemon, are you trying to seduce me?”

Absolutely.”

You really roasted me over the coals, why should I trust you?”

We both got what we wanted, so why not celebrate?” she purred opening up a bag.

It was filled with toys. Well, in Hell they’re toys. You know what I mean. Let your imagination run wild but any nightmares that follow are your problem.

Is this a compromise as the leader of the Coterie?” he asked.

Standing above him, Hala enquired, “Does that concern you?”

Did what follow absolutely compromise the integrity of the contract, as both parties already were plotting against each other while they also made hate (it could not be called “making love”)? Was this a healthy relationship? For the Underworld? Let’s call it a seven out of ten. Good, not great.

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Treat O’Clock-Da Great Goblin Rebellion Part 24

I’m not pro-apocalypse, just so we’re clear,” said The Exalted, with a gesture, “but try to see it from my point of view.”

That was a little joke. Very little. Aerus the Elven Griffin-Rider and Xorp, the Goblin Bard, exchanged sideways glances. In the past, these two would have been deadly foes, but the state of the Land and a mutual love of Orc-Ball had made them fast friends. (Orc-Ball is the most popular game in the Land but for reasons unknown, is called Sockem in Human lands.)

Back to the little joke. They stood on the highest tower in the Plateau Domain, and the view was indeed magnificent. Below them spread out the Exalted’s palace, then the city of Sky Haven, and beyond that, verdant lands filled with crops, lakes teeming with fish, and large herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. The Domain was many, many leagues wide and deep.

“’Tis a lovely place ya ‘ave ‘ere, no mistake,” said Xorp, “Be a shame if dat got ruined.”

Shifting his rather considerable bulk, The Exulted fixed his visitors with narrowed eyes and asked, “Is that a threat?”

Nay Exalted,” interjected Aerus, “my companion is merely observing that trouble has a way of arriving uninvited.”

Much like you two showed up,” observed The Exalted with a smirk.

Apologies, but our task is of the utmost urgency. The Land itself is grave peril.”

As if on ironic cue, a servant wheeled out a large platter of pastries.

Ooo! Treat o’clock!” squealed The Exalted, “Please help yourselves.”

Both of the emissaries tried the baked goods. They were distractingly delicious.

“’Du dees ‘ave almonds in dem?”

Marzipan!” said The Exalted as he brushed crumbs from his intricately embroidered robes.

These are the finest pastries I have ever eaten,” murmured Aerus.

I’m delighted you’re both enjoying them! So you can see why I cannot join this alliance of yours,” agreed The Exalted.

Another sidelong glance followed.

Oy’m not sure oy grasp yer wisdom, yer grace,” said Xorp.

Let me show you.”

Clapping his hands, the ruler of the Plateau Domain summoned eight beefy warriors, all in gleaming golden armor, who lifted his bejeweled palanquin and brought him to the edge of the tower.

What do you see?” asked the royal.

Your domain, your grace,” said Aerus.

Yes! And while that is literally what is before you, so you are technically correct, let me tell you what I see. I see a land that has never known war, famine, or strife. When my ancestor, the Prime Exalted, founded this domain, he did so in order that people might live in harmony and know no suffering. With no false modesty, I can say that dream has been a reality for many, many, MANY years. Allowing my subjects the freedom to pursue their greatest joys! Are you aware we have a very vibrant theater scene? Well, we do. I have tickets for tonight in fact.”

Dats roight admirable, yer grace. Oy thinks yer got paradoice ‘ere.”

Why thank you, my little green friend!”

However, many are not so fortunate as you,” pointed out the Griffin-Rider, “If the Abominations cannot be stopped, I fear that your people will also suffer.”

The Exalted tittered at this and replied, “We are safe here. Nothing can touch us amongst the clouds.”

Der are flyin’ monstahs,” pointed out Xorp.

Look we have ballistae along our walls, a very fit standing army, and even war wizard brigade. I cannot say I am worried.”

Aerus, who was in an amateur theater group and liked doing speeches began one as Xorp played his lute to enhance it

Surely when the tale is told of this upcoming conflict, you will want your name recorded with the other worthies who have sworn to fight against this, the most unnatural of foes. Those who do so will not disappear into the fog of time. NO! They will be held up as the bravest and wisest of all the Land, immortal, and an inspiration to the generations that follow. I implore you, your grace, to join us and become the great hero I know you are!”

For a beat, all that could be heard was the soft sigh of the wind. Aerus and Xorp waited for what could only be a yes.

No. So sorry, but I’m going to have to take a hard pass on your very generous offer.”

But my speech…” whispered Aerus.

But da Land is in great peril!” stated Xorp even as he knew that they had covered that part before.

And that is very sad, but I do have to put the needs of the Plateau Domain first.”

With all due respect, I don’t believe you are, your grace,” said Aerus.

Listen, we’ve live on top of the highest and most fortified plateau in the Land. We’ll be fine.”

Oy ‘ope yer roight, yer grace,” said Xorp sadly.

Now don’t be glum! While I cannot supply you with troops or let your little alliance use our domain as any kind of base, I am not going to send you away empty-handed!”

The Exalted clapped again and two servants brought out a large oak and iron chest.

Please take this as a contribution to your war or whatever it is.”

Griffin-Rider and Bard opened the chest. It was filled to the brim. With carefully wrapped pastries.

Make sure to share them with your friends!” added The Exalted.

Guards strapped the chest to the Griffin they arrived on. The Griffin, whose name was Windfire. Windfire not happy about that but no more so than Aerus and Xorp. As they flew on to their next potential ally, Aerus spoke.

While I worry about the fate of the Land, I am most pleased that you and I have become fast friends.”

“’Struth.”

But something troubles me.”

Wots dat?”

Am I a terrible person, that some small part of me wishes that unpleasantness will visit The Exalted?”

Xopr thought on this for a brief moment and replied, “Well, iffin’ it makes ya feel any better, ya’ll never be as ‘orrible as ‘im.”

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Drinks & Denigration-Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 23

The Drowsy Dragon was a typical roadside tavern, complete with a roaring fireplace, tankards of ale being served by wenches of all genders, filled with adventurers laughing, drinking, and occasionally fighting. As often as not, these quarrels were mended by buying a round. As stated previously, typical.

Two hooded and cloaked figures, one short, the other not short, stepped in from the rain. In some places, this would raise eyebrows. Not here. At least half of the customers entered like this. Adventurers have a flair for the dramatic or at the very least, they like attention. Anyhoo, back to our two mysterious figures, the shorter of the two got the attention of a passing wench who pointed to the back.

With exaggerated stealth, they made their way to private dining rooms, reserved for secret business and intimate birthday parties. Using the prearranged knock (shave and a haircut), our mysterious figures slowly opened the door and entered.

“Cheers,” said Bork

“Roight, ‘ave a seat den,” added Vork.

 Dansey Bigbritches and Garthort the To Be Determined, pulled off their hoods and sat down. Garthort briefly narrowed his eyes at the sight of the two Goblins but pushed down his resentment for the time being.

“Dreadful weather, eh?” remarked Dansey.

“Good drinken’ fer stayin’ inside ‘n fer a pint or five!” said Vork as he raised a mug of ale.

“’Elp yerselves, got a flagon fer the table,” said Bork.

“Thank you very much,” said the Halfling, pouring a mug for Garthort and one himself.

Taking a deep swig, Dansey smiled and asked, “This is very good! Dwarvish stout?”

“’Afling ‘ctually,” said Bork, who refilled the mug, “Brookton Brewers.”

“You don’t say! I’m related to the Brooktons on my mother’s side. Beatrice Brookton is my fifth cousin, thrice removed.”

“Well, tell’em dey make sum foine drinkin’ stuff.”

“I will, I will. We usually have a big family party at Yule time, so I’ll have to bend Bea’s ear about this.”

“Aren’t ya thirsty?” asked Vork.

Garthort’s mug sat untouched.

“I’m not really a ‘beer’ guy,” the wizard said while not looking anyone in the eye.

“Would you prefer some wine?” inquired Dansey.

“I’m good.”

At that, the two Goblins began to chuckle. Dansey gave Garthort a very stern look.

“Did you think they were going to poison you?”

“No… No,” mumbled the currently Fly-Hearted.

“Not loik he never did a bit o’ posionin’ hisself,” Bork said.

“Is this true? I knew you were a Fell wizard but poison? I’m very disappointed.”

“Dun be too ‘ard on ‘im,” said Vork as he tried to not chortle, “A dog whats been beaten, don’t know nutten but dat.”

“Product o’ his upbringin’ he is,” observed Bork.

“A shame, but der ya go,” said Vork.

Dansey regarded Garthort in a manner that said an uncomfortable and very long conversation was in his future. Garthort was about to respond when the distinctive knock was heard once. The door swung open and four more hooded and cloaked figures entered.

Once they had unhooded and decloaked, Darvina, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest, and Punmurr, Warlady of the Blood Keep, representing the Society of the Night, stood on one side of the table and on the other, Fasha the Arcane (whom Garthort recognized as the one who trapped him in a jar), and Cargon Light-Fingers, represent the Adventurers Guild.

“Noice ta see ya all made it,” said Bork.

“Why not order sum ber-er-ages, ‘n sum nibbles fer da table,” suggested Vork.

A pair of wenches, Burt and Evie, entered and took everyone’s order. While they waited, small talk was made. Mostly about the foul weather. Was it tense? By the gods yes! So very tense. Garthort glared at Davinia who in turn, ignored him. Fasha the Arcane smirked at him, which he ignored in turn. It felt like a fight was about to break out when Burt and Evie entered with snacks and drinks.

This muted the urge for violence. The kitchen at the Drowsy Dragon was well known for its appetizers. Small talk vanished as mouths were filled with a variety of roasted and deep-fried snacks.

“Well den,” said Bork as the last of the troll balls were consumed (not made from actual Trolls because they taste every nasty and have the habit of regenerating inside your stomach), “Toime ta git ta business.”

A map of the Land was spread out on the table, complete with many notations.

“Seems ta us,” observed Vork, “da der is sum real trouble brewin’.”

“What in all the hells is HE doing here?” spat Darvinia as she pointed at Garthort.

“I could ask the same question!” said Garthort.

“I am the Chairlady of the Society of the Night and you are a loser whose Goblins overthrew him!”

“We’re roight ‘ere!” interjected Bork.

“And did I get any support from the Society of the Night?”

“We do not support the weak! We consume them!”

“I guess that’s what your sister is doing then,” snarked Garthort who had been informed of goings-on, in case you were wondering.

“That situation is well in hand,” she said with a confidence that was based on nothing.

“HA!”

“How DARE you HA me?”

“Oh, I dare Darvinia, I DARE!”

“Hate to say it, but I agree with the evil sorceress,” said Cargon Light-Fingers, “This joker couldn’t even keep a party of adventurers out of his keep.”

“It was an army of adventurers!” countered Garthort.

“Army seems a little dramatic,” said Fasha the Arcane.

“You’re a little dramatic!” replied Gathort who immediately knew it was a weak comeback.

What followed was a lot of shouting, with a liberal dash of recriminations and a heaping serving of insults. Things were building from verbal abuse that was about to spill over into actual violence, when a shrill, loud whistle was heard, promptly shutting everyone up.

“Clearly,” Dansey said, “things are a bit on the stressful side these days. Completely understandable. However, if we continue to squabble, it will be to others’ benefit, and not our own.”

“Well said mate,” said Vork.

“Absolutely,” rumbled Punmurr, Warlady of the Blood Keep, who up till that point, was silent.

Everyone else mumbled agreements and things settled down.

“Loike oy wuz sayin’, tiome ta git ta bizness,” continued Bork.

“Ya can see, on dis ‘ere map, wot we brung, bits marked in red, dems da undead horde wats carvin’ up a swath o’ destruction,” pointed out Vork.

“I’m well aware of that, thank you,” sniffed Darvnia.

“’Corse ya’re. ‘Tis occupyin’ a fair bit of yer thinkin’ deese days, oyed wager.”

“Problem wit dat is, dats not da worst ting. Isit?”

“What are you talking about?”

Vork pointed to other points on the map, ones highlighted with a bilious, green ink.

“So what are the Tree-Folk marching to war?” asked Darvinia, “with the speed of sap.”

“Abominations, from the outer realms,” said Garthort.

Darvinia fixed him with an intense, piercing glare. The room fell silent. Everyone held their breath, even Punmurr, who was a notoriously heavy breather. What would she say?

Darvinia, Enchantress of the Cursed Forest laughed. Very. Very. Hard. It was the sort of laugh that you can’t control, tears streamed down her face and she plopped back into her chair, cackling. She slowly stopped but was immediately overtaken by mirth once more.

“Did someone bewitch her?” asked Punmurr.

Everyone shook their heads. After a series of gasping laughs, giggles, and guffaws, the enchantress stopped and said…

“Thank you!”

No one knew how to respond to that.

“I expected that this meeting would be either a waste of our time or an obvious trap. We only came because Punmurr insisted that we might gain some advantage. I haven’t laughed this hard in ages.”

“Why not?” inquired Cargon Light-Fingers.

“We killed all our jesters a while back.”

“Even Mirtheo?” asked Garthort who had happy memories of that particular jester.

“Especially him. His bits were a little too on the nose, given the state of things.”

“Da Guild o’ Jesters, Clowns, Fools, and Harlequins wunt be too pleased wit dat,” said Bork.

Darvinia let them know how little she cared about that with an outburst of profanity.

Clearing his throat, Dansey said, “Be that as it may, I’m afraid that this isn’t part of a ‘bit.’ The threat of Outer Realm invasion is quite real.”

“Even this idiot,” Darvinia said as she pointed to Garthort, “can tell you that the fundamental laws of inter-plane travel make that a virtual impossibility.”

“Except when two Abominations work in concert to expand thin points in between realms,” noted Garthort.

Standing up, Darvinia countered with, “Sure. If, and this is a BIG if, two Abominations can agree to work together. The only thing they hate more than us is each other. It. Will. Never. Happen.”

Dansey reached into his satchel, removed the jar containing the small Abomination, and placed it in the center of the map. It flailed and gibbered as it tried in vain to escape. Tiny as it was, it was still a stomach-churning horror.

After a moment that seemed to last for much, much longer, Vork said, “Roight. Seems impossible’s on da menu. Wat ‘re we gonna order den?”

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It Can’t Hurt To Ask-Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 22

Given the current state of uncertainty in the Land, undead hordes, Abominations roaming the countryside, economic upheaval, and general misery, prayer is on the rise. After all, the gods are there to help the devout, are they not?

There’s a bit of fundamental misinformation about what happens when you pray to the gods. Most people believe that when a prayer is uttered, your god hears it in real-time. This is not true. If it were, that’s all they wouldn’t have time to smite blasphemers or take care of whatever they are the gods of.

You might say, “But are not they gods and capable of multitasking in a manner we mortals cannot even conceive of?”

Yes and no.

Since people pray to their deities all the time, the gods invented a new concept that would allow them to cope with all their demands on their time. It’s called delegating. So popular was this concept, that it has been adopted by most mortals. Of course, there is the occasional control freak who can’t trust others to do things the ‘right’ way, but for the most part, everyone’s on board for it.

How does that work? Let me walk you through it.

STEP ONE
A person utters a prayer. The good part of this is anyone can do it, even if you can’t say it aloud, it will be heard. This is the easiest part of the process.

STEP TWO
A Recordium takes note of your prayer. A Recordium is a machine created by the goddess of invention, Fortius. They are a giant eyeball made of a carved gemstone with four golden arms and six silver wings. How many are there? Too many to count. Invocation is a growth industry.

After transcribing the petition, it assigns it a series of glyphs based on the piety of who made the prayer, the urgency of the situation, as well as the frequency of requests.

Once that is done, it puts it into an engraved cylinder and is flown to the Grand Chute, in which it is flung into.

STEP THREE
The Grand Chute is an enormous passage lined with man, many smaller chutes that the cylinders and sucked into. It is said that the engravings ensure that each cylinder goes to the right place. I’m sure that’s true.

After hurtling through a labyrinth of chutes that seemingly double, and triple back on themselves, the cylinders arrive at the vast chamber of the Most Organized Assessor.

STEP FOUR
An enormous mass of tentacles and eyes, the Most Organized Assessor sorts the endless torrent of cylinders as they fly into their chamber. Nimbly grabbing each one, they then toss them to an awaiting Eternal Clerk. The best way to describe them is a wine rack with multiple human feet. It sounds extremely unstable but they almost never tip over.

Once they are full, the Eternal Clerk will then bring it to the court of the deity that their prayer is for.

STEP FIVE
Once delivered to the correct court, celestial or infernal interns (depending on the temperament of the deity in question) arrange the prayer cylinders in order of urgency.

Of course, urgency is a fluid thing. One entreaty might get bumped by a newer one based on any number of factors. It is unclear what these factors might be. They have been described by learned holy scholars as ineffable, AKA beyond the understanding of mortals. This covers a lot of territory.

STEP SIX
Once a prayer gets to the front of the queue, it is presented to the deity, after which blessings or curses are bestowed.

In theory.

Sometimes, a prayer conflicts with another prayer. Say two feuding clans who worship the same deity ask for their enemy to be destroyed by a great flood. What is a god or goddess to do? Drown them both? Sure, that’s happened. But usually, nothing happens. This is what they call in the higher realms, a push.

Also, the relationship between deities can sideline an invocation. Say a goddess of Battle has a massive crush on the goddess of the Forest, who is pissed that war is destroying trees. Battle might, and probably will, deny a blessing to an army of worshipers to impress Forest. Or one god might grant a prayer to spite another deity. Does this happen a lot? It happens all the time. Read your holy texts.

However, the number of prayers actually presented to gods is very, very low. Mostly due to the unending flow of wishes of mortals and the high state of drama between the gods themselves.

If it is of any consolation, all the physical remnants of your prayers are repurposed for use in the forms of statues of the gods and a wide variety of entertainment venues for the gods.

STEP SEVEN
So… What should we do?

Since intervention from the immortal realms is at best a long shot Maybe pray harder?

Umm… no.

This has been proven to be a colossal waste of time, and sacrificing animals is a cruel and clearly pointless endeavor.

So what do we do?

We can step up and fix it ourselves. It will be hard. Lots of us might die, but if we do nothing, we will absolutely die. So gird your loins and get to work.

Can I still pray?

Sure, as long as you also do something to fix this mess. Hey, maybe you’ll get lucky.

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Everything I Ever Wanted-Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 21

There were many rumors about U’Korr the Destroyer. Some said that he was half Daemon and a quarter Giant on his mother’s side. Others believed he was an avatar of some forgotten god of battle or chaos or chaos-battle. A select few theorized that he had fallen into a caldron of an experimental potion that bestowed his might and fighting acumen upon him.

No one knew, except of course U’Korr. Since he was known as the ‘Destroyer’ and not the ‘Emotionally Available’, his origins of his might remain shrouded in mystery.

When he received a missive to break the siege of the Pernicious Donjon by an army of the undead, he rode for seven days and six nights, stopping only to destroy things and for occasional barbecue. He had a personal quest to visit all the barbecue joints in the Land and kept a list on a scroll in his saddlebag.

With the scent of hickory lingering on his fingers and mustache, he finally arrived and the back of the vast, undead army. Not one for ceremony, he got straight to work.

Whipping his enchanted morning stars, one in each hand, he smashed skeletal troops into powder. Over and over again. While he might not have described it like this, U’Korr the Destroyer was in his happy place.

If he had one complaint about battles in general, it would be that they ended far too quickly. Just when things were getting really good, suddenly there was no one left to kill. Sometimes, if he was especially in the zone, he might attack trees or rocks, to keep destroying. It was ultimately unsatisfying, but it was what it was.

Today, well today was different. This battle just kept on going. This was due to two factors. One, the enormous number of undead warriors before him. Two, skeletons are not especially skilled fighters. Their main strengths are they frightening to their foes, and they don’t need to be paid or fed.

Additionally, U’Korr the Destroyer was exceptionally skilled in destroying, I mean, it’s right in the name. He cut a swath through these clattering spear carriers like a flaming sword through an Ice Elemental.

After smashing through three legions of foot soldiers, things got more interesting. Five zombified Dire Bears pounced. Well, really more of a shamble. They were slightly more of a challenge, but a moment later, they soon were chunks of rotting meat and bones.

A zoo’s worth of other reanimated creatures followed, Saber Wolves, Trinacorns, Ooo-Laa’Phants, Embiggened Razor Apes to name a few. All dispatched with U’Korr’s unrelenting style.

Next, a banner of Necro-Knights attacked. These were more fun. Not only were they armed with cursed weapons, but they were also excellent fighters. They took longer to dispatch. One of them, with the sigil of the Siblinghood of the Infernal Blades was a particularly formidable opponent, she almost cut him with her broadsword that was wreathed in purple flame.

Finally, things got serious. A skeletal Giant, still armored in it’s dark iron breastplate, wielding a battle-axe as tall as a tree. This was like Yule and his birthday all rolled into one day.

“This’ll be a job and a half,” thought U’Korr with relish.

While his enchanted morning stars had made short work of other undead, this Giant was more of a challenge. It was impossible to both dodge attacks and chip away at the humongous bones. Such impediments would stop someone like U’Korr.

Using his morning stars, he climbed the titanic skeleton. It involved quite a lot of swinging about, the Giant clearly did not appreciate being clambered upon. To be fair, most folks, living or dead aren’t fans of that.

Finally, he reached the shoulders of his foe. While it was wearing a helmet, the spine was exposed. With a mighty bellow, U’Korr swung both his morning stars, bone exploded, the Giant’s skull tipped backwards, and plummeted to be shattered on the rocky plain below.

U’Korr, leapt from clavicle to rib, to him, along the tibia and fibula, and lastly hopping on the toe bones, he was safely down.

After that, it was a blur of battle. A seemingly endless horde of the undead attacked. U’Korr lost track of those he slew, re-slew technically, but he was living in the moment and wasn’t sweating the details.

Sometime later, he found himself standing on a vast mound of bones and rotten flesh. Looking down on himself, his armor was white with bone dust. Shaking off himself like a dog shaking off water, U’Korr said a single word.

“Huh.”

This was what he wanted, a never-ending battle. It sounded so good in his head. But now… Something was off. U’Korr was a being of simple needs, fighting and eating barbecue. He had done both this day. So why was he not happier.

Given this new emptiness inside him, he did something he rarely, if ever, did. He thought about things. While he did so, the undead horde continued to attack. For most, this would be a death sentence. But U’Korr was so accustomed to combat, that his body reacted automatically, even as his mind simmered away.

While deep in rumination, he heard someone.

“Pardon me.”

Looking up he saw a Vampire Lord, holding a flag of parley while standing at the bottom of the even larger pile of dispatched undead. He also noticed it was now night.

“What?” asked U’Korr.

“Would you agree to a cessation of hostilities while we parley?” asked Pfantus.

“Uh, I guess.”

“Splendid!”

They stared at each other for a beat.

“Whattaya want?” asked U’Korr.

“I speak for the Dread Lady Exhaultia, who commands this army.”

“And?”

“Well, she has asked me to bargain with you on her behalf. She is a very powerful Necromancer and learned in the most fell magics. She alone raised these unparalleled war legions and marched them across the Land! All who beheld this mobile monument to fear and death trembled and fled before it! For she is the-”

“You talk lots for someone who says nothing.”

Lord Pfantus paused.

“What would it take to get you to stop destroying our… err, her troops?”

“That’s a problem. I’m U’Korr the Destroyer.”

“I know! Your infamy is almost as well known as my lady is.”

“I never hear of her.”

“How… unusual. In any case, might you be open to an offer?”

“Of what?

“To join forces with the Dread Lady Exhaultia.”

U’Korr pondered this for a moment, then replied, “Pass.”

“But you haven’t heard our offer yet!”

“Whattya got?”

“First, riches beyond your wildest dreams, a place in the new regime, and whatever else your heart desires.”

“Naw.”

“What is it that you crave?

That was the question that haunted him.

“Maybe, leave me alone for a bit. I’m figuring some things out.”

“So you wish to sit, unmolested, amidst the greatest army of the unliving, so you can mull over your thoughts?”

“That’s right.”

“Will you agree not to attack our, I mean my Dread Lady’s forces whilst doing so?”

“If they leave me alone, I’ll do the same.”

Lord Pfantis paused a moment and then said, “Very well, I will leave you with your thoughts. On top of that mountain of bones.”

U’Korr did not reply. In the deepest part of his thoughts, he wondered, ‘Do I destroy because I like it? Or because it’s what everyone thinks I should do?’

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Meanwhile… Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 20

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-Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 19

“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-Da Great Goblin Revolution-Part 18

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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