Chapter Eighteen

Orb of villainy
An except from The Tome of Awesome Stuff You Ought To Know

The town of Commonwealth’s Orb has an unusual history. Before it was town, it was the pride of the Commonwealth of Puldor. As everyone knows, the Commonwealth of Puldor was the largest, most powerful collection of nations in recorded history. Its heroes were the strongest, bravest and best looking people or creatures that had ever strode like giants across the earth.
Note: The Commonwealth of Puldor was the only country where all peoples, regardless if they were human, Goblin or Bear-man were treated equally under the law. It is lost to time if this was a result of it being the golden age of enlightenment or extremely strict anti-bias laws.
In Capital City, which was named so for obvious reasons, there stood a statue, of Puldor the Warrior Sage who had ushered in this paradise on earth. It was so large that it could be seen from every corner of the Commonwealth. And it was told that this statue was made from silver, gold, platinum and inlayed with countless precious gems. The largest of these was the Commonwealth’s Orb, a diamond sphere of such clarity and brilliance that it made the Moon look like a hunk of rock hanging in the sky. Two other things of note about the Orb: one, it was hollow and two, there were a series of holes in it that when the wind blew through, made the most exquisite music anyone had ever heard. And third, it was found just like this in the deepest part of the mines of the Falken. So, three things, actually, not two.
Held in Puldor’s statue’s hand, this was literally the crown jewel of the Commonwealth. It was said that you couldn’t die until you had seen and heard this miracle. Of course many people did, it was just a saying, but many would make the pilgrimage to see this wonder of wonders.
Something else is germane to this story. Theft had almost disappeared. Such was the prosperity of this age. And if something went missing, most citizens would shrug and figure that whoever took that thing must have REALLY needed it so there was very rarely any hard feelings.
So when Jarven, who to all outward appearances was a perfectly ordinary citizen, announced that he was going to steal the Commonwealth’s Orb, it was not taken seriously. At all, by anyone.
He made the astonishing announcement at a dinner party, or so the legend goes. It was greeted with first silence, then gales of laughter. It became a very fashionable joke in the Capitol City.
“Lets have a picnic in the Forest of Sighs,” someone would say, then someone else would interject, “Sorry, I’m going to steal the forest tonight, how about we picnic by the Sea of Sapphire?”
“Oh no, it’s raining, let’s stay in tonight,” said a young man to his sweetheart who then replied “Not to worry, I’ve nicked all the clouds, so it should be a lovely night.”
There were countless variations on this, too numerous to relate and frankly, most not terribly funny. Thus proving that a utopia is a wonderful place to live, except for comedians.
As with all fads, this one wore off and people forgot that Jarven had said that he was going to steal the Orb, because it was clearly impossible. It had taken three years to bring it up to the surface and another two to place it in the upturned palms of the statue, clearly no one was worried.
However, one evening, Jarven told his girlfriend he was going to go out for a walk and then he was going to steal the Orb. She rolled her eyes and told him that when he was done doing that, he should bring home a bottle of mead, as they were having people over for brunch the next day.
Upon the morn, citizens of Capital City rose and began their day, but something was wrong. It was if an integral part of life was missing but it wasn’t immediately apparent. Someone noticed that the music of Orb that gently echoed through the city was absent. That was of course because it was gone.
Without going into too much detail, things went downhill very quickly. If you are a fan of such things, please read the “Fall of the Commonwealth, volumes I-DXXVI”. For everyone else, know it involved broken alliances, baseless accusations, age-old hatreds being brought out and dusted off and ultimately civil war. And so the Commonwealth was dissolved, much like most things in acid, painfully and permanently.
The Orb was found in the Canyon of Hu-Toph. Where it became a fortress for a bandit king. Some people say that the bandit king was Jarven; others said that he sold it to him for an enormous fortune or that the bandit king betrayed him and all the variations you can think of. The only things we can say for sure, how he did it was unknown and that he never stole anything again. Because, how do you follow that?
Over the years, it changed hands many times and though it was worth more than anything else in the world, it is a very impractical object as it was virtually impossible to move. The land pirate Oooanya had it moved further down the canyon but was crushed when it rolled over him.
As the years went by, wooden buildings were assembled inside and it became a city unto itself. A city of criminals, low lives and the other dregs of the world, but a city nonetheless, still called the Commonwealth’s Orb, What else could you call it?
But if you needed information, it was an excellent place to go, provided that you were cautious and knew whom to ask.
There were many people who had valuable knowledge in the Commonwealth’s Orb. Abigail the Crone with the Crimson Caldron, whose vapors showed glimpses of the future. The Silhouette, who knew what truly lurked in the hearts of men, but not women and as a result, had many, many ex-wives. Fat Boy and The Skinny Man, whose flesh mingled as result of some horrible spell gone wrong. They finished each other’s sentences, and knew what was happening AS it was happening.
If you were less theatrically inclined, there was Kelph. To look at him, you might not think much of him. He was average height, weight, his eyes and hair were completely brown, not the warm luster of chestnut, more like a forgettable coating of dirt and that was his greatest skill, people overlooked him. Better than being invisible, a very expensive proposition, potions were dicey, wearing off at inconvenient times and invisibility rings were legendarily rare and almost impossible to find, let alone steal, what with the owners being able to vanish at will.
His completely unremarkable appearance made him an excellent thief and better information broker. All he had to do was linger in a tavern and listen.
Today, there were two mooks planning a quick B&E on a silver merchant. He pondered his options. He could either warn the trader and collect a reward OR get there ahead of the mooks and then send the watch to round them up. Options, he thought, make life all the sweeter.
Then a cloaked figure slid into the booth across from him.
“How’s it going, old pal?” enquired the stranger.
Kelph began to slide out of the booth when someone else slid in to block him. Long Auburn tresses slipped out and were hastily tucked back into a hood. He didn’t know this one but the other one…
A hooded Chosen One shook his head and the thief trailed off, “Bu bah fah nnmn…”
“So, how’s tricks?” asked Garfan as he traced patterns on the table with spilt beer.
Struggling to keep his voice even, he tried to casually remark, “Fine. Just fine and fine…” Trailing off he took a long pull on his mug.
Pocked and missing his front teeth, Handsome Pete, for whom this tavern was named, limped up to the booth.
“Whatta ya have?” Handsome Pete had a strict you better buy a drink if you want to sit in my place policy.
Everyone was looking at Kelph, not a thing that pleased him. At all. He lifted his mug and said, “Three more of the same.”
“Three Dwarven stouts, coming right up,” said Handsome Pete with a grin that could very charitably described as ‘unsettling’ and he was off to get their drinks.
“So, where were we?”
Hissing, Kelph leaned in to Garfan, “What. Do. You. Want?”
“Now here I come, all this way to see my old friend and no hello? No, how are you doing?”
“Hello. How are you doing? What do you want?” He looked around and asked, “Where’s Lockford? Did he finally ditch you?”
“He’s around.”
“Back left booth, with some kid. He must not know you very well or he’d had left already.”
Garfan shook his hooded head. “What did I ever do to you?”
Kelph raised his voice, “The Ruby Egg of-“
He was cut short by the reappearance of Handsome Pete, who slammed three mugs on the table.
“That’ll be twelve brass bits.”
There was a pause, one of those awkward pauses when no one reaches for the check. Kelph sighed and counted out the coins.
“Enjoy,” spat Handsome Pete who then hobbled off.
Keeping his voice low he continued, “The Ruby Egg of the Rok of Myphune!”
“Listen, I told you not to take it, all we needed was a feather.”
“All you needed was a feather! I could’ve bought my own castle in the clouds for the price of that ruby!”
“Hard to enjoy a cloud castle from the inside of stomach of a monstrous bird.”
He stared Garfan down for a moment then just leaned back sullenly.
“I suppose,” Kelph grudgingly admitted then drank his beer.
The other cloaked figure spoke, “Who is this ill-tempered worm?” So, it was a woman. A rude woman.
“Manners, Tarnah. Kelph is an old friend of mine. He’s going to help us.”
“Am I?” he mumbled. “Plenty around here would pay a fortune for your head on a pike.”
“And who would be doing that?” asked Tarnah, who suddenly had a dagger at his side.
Garfan leaned in. “Let us all act like civilized folks, okay?” He fixed both of them with a glare. “You, put your dagger away. And you, how would you explain our checkered past? I’m sure those same people would enjoy that tale.”
She removed the dagger and Kelph held up his hands. “Listen, you make life… Complicated.”
“You have no idea how complicated my life is.”
“Oh, I don’t know, try avoiding a Vendetta from the Jade Sisterhood; that’s like running out of Drake’s gullet with stone boots!”
“That’s my morning. Before breakfast,” said Garfan.
“Really? Have you found yourself shackled to an Ursine Warlock with night terrors?” enquired Kelph.
“Try fighting an Infernal Iron Golem, from the inside.”
Tarnah licked her lips and said, “I would hear more of that…”
This was followed with a bit of an uncomfortable silence.
Kelph, wanting to get this over with looked Garfan in the eyes, “What do you want?”
“Just some information,” as he placed a weighty purse of coin on the table.
Eye narrowing, the thief reached for the money but Garfan lay a gauntleted hand over it.
“Talk first, gold after.”
“Fair enough,” said Kelph who did not think it was fair at all. “What are you looking for?”
Garfan took a sip of his beer. “Not much at all. Just a name.”
Alarms were going off in Kelph’s head. The Chosen One didn’t travel to the heart of villainy casually.
“What name?”
Garfan leaned in and whispered, “The new Master of Evil.”
“The Dark Wizard slash Warrior slash Overlord who will appear if you say his name? That guy? That’s all you want?”
“Lost your nerve?”
“Better than loosing my soul into the demon’s belly.”
“You know that stuff is just hype, no one can do that.”
“How do you know? Last time I checked, you’re not a master of the mystic arts! Wait… Do you do that too?”
“No! But think about it, if every time you said his name, he appeared in a puff of smoke, that’s literally all he’d be doing. He’d be popping all over the place.”
Kelph folded his arms in what he thought of, as an “I’m serious” manner. “Nope. If people did that, he’d just turn them into some sort of slime creature or just incinerate them.”
“Everyone knows the old one is dead,” said Garfan in what he thought of as a calm patient tone, “All I want to know is who the new one is.”
Looking at the bag of gold, which now seemed pitifully small, Kelph shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
Tarnah spoke up, “Why not write it down? If you are too craven to speak.”
He considered if writing was the same as speaking out loud the name of a Dark Wizard slash Warrior slash Overlord with all the powers of the Hells behind him.
“I want double. Up-front. Then I’ll write it down.”
Garfan and Tarnah exchanged glances. “Done,” he said producing a twin to the purse of gold and slid both with a scrap of parchment in front of the thief.
Kelph took a stick of charcoal from his pocket and was about to start to write when a dagger appeared, quite unexpectedly, quivering in table in front of him.
All three of them looked up to see a furry, horned man wearing a kilt and bandoleer that could have been a mobile show room for elaborate dagger and dagger-like implements.
“Kelph, the Little Man wants a word with you.”
To his credit, the thief waited a full three seconds before he pointed and yelled, “It’s the Chosen One! Right here!”

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