Cresting a rise, the adventurers found themselves at the outskirts of a somewhat disturbing looking town. Low-slung, stained stone buildings dotted the hilly landscape, and it was possible to detect the odd waft of boiling cabbage – something not even Wardstein had any interest in eating.
“Orclord Harbourage,” Sir Kyle read aloud from the mossy sign canted beside the wagon path. “What kind of weirdo name is that?” The moon-face of a mutie halfbreed leered at them from the dark window of a nearby hovel. It grinned stupidly, drooling, and disappeared into the gloom. “This is where Paulus wanted us to go? It sucks!”
“Whatev,” Wardstein remarked. “Doesn’t matter the names, they all die the same.”
“I was speaking generally, but metaphorically I suppose they could. Maybe if it burned to the ground, likesay.”
“What you said doesn’t seem to suit it. It’s more like people die. Towns are ‘destroyed’ or something.”
“Look, I was going for a badass one-liner there, and that’s all I came up with. Eat it.”
James grew agitated. Often, too much talking back and forth confused and annoyed him. He supposed it was because he reckoned himself a man of action. Violent action. “Look, let’s just get going!” he carped. “And shut up! Kyle? I’m looking at you. You ask way too many questions.” Whimsically, he executed a pirouette and continued towards the centre of the town.
Leading into the town’s industrial centre, Wardstein spied a tavern. “The Ruthless Hand,” he read. “Wow, what a name! Let’s go inside. I need a drink.” He pushed inside, and the other men followed.
Conversation stopped inside the tavern. Dark faces of doomed men turned like lost planets to regard the adventurers, who fairly glowed by comparison. Hushed whispers hissed across tables as their weapons, armour, clothing, even bearing were all noted. They were not of this place. They were not welcome. The shine of their enchanted weapons were an offence to everything these people took for granted: That there could be something more to life than wasting their days drinking polluted ale in a tavern. The sight of Sir Kyle, Wardstein, and James in the entrance threw harsh light over their assumptions of reality, ones they’d rather not see. Distantly, the men heard a diarrheal explosion as a patron released his undoubtedly diseased sphincter into the jakes behind the tavern.
Wardstein signalled for beer, and they sat uneasily at an unoccupied table as conversation grudgingly renewed around them. The beer tasted like urine, James announced. “And how, pray tell, do you know what urine tastes like, eh penis-breath?” Wardstein guffawed. Sir Kyle laughed loudly, happy not to be the target of jokes for once, and hoped encouraging Wardstein in this manner would direct attention away from him this evening.
Presently, a dwarfish character drew close. “Adventurers three, I have waited for thee!” he cackled. “It is the witch that you seek, to whom you would speak! You knew her before, her face you abhor!”
“The witch!” Sir Kyle gasped. “I thought she was dead when we trashed her cabin. Why do we have to see her?”
The little dwarf capered at their table in glee. “Answers you seek, but that’s not for free! First you must answer these riddles three! Riddle me first –“
Wardstein flipped over their table in rage, grabbing the dwarf and slamming him to the tavern wall by the neck. “WHERE IS THE WITCH?!” he bawled at the dwarf. “TELL US WHERE SHE IS, RIGHT NOW!” Ejected spit dotted the rosy cheeks of the little man, who squealed in terror.
“James! Stab him in the kneecap until he tells us where the witch is! I hate how this stupid guy talks!” Wardstein screamed.
James grinned and eased closer. “I’m going to enjoy this, dwarf,” he said, drawing the ghoulish Goblin Dagger from his belt. At the sight of the infamous blade, bar patrons murmured in fear, and began to exit.
“All right!” the dwarf cried. “Stop! Prithee! She lurks in the hills. Her heart is hard against you for the destruction of her cabin! But you must see her. Only she knows the plans afoot at Castle Georg!”
“Not good enough. I wanted you to provide us a map!” James hissed. He lunged forward and poked the dwarf harmlessly with his knife. “That’s two for flinching, you retard.” He punched the mystified dwarf solemnly.
Sir Kyle stood shakily. He hadn’t even finished his beer. “I guess we’re done here,” he grumped. What he’d give for one ordinary day.
Kyle was feeling a little giddy. For one, that beer had been his first in ages. He had not wanted to be seen as a wimp so he taken it and downed it quickly, noting only afterwards the distinct taste of urine and the fact the other two had barely touched theirs. But mainly it was the map. Kyle liked maps, and even if this one had been gained from torture, Kyle found it did little to sully his enjoyment. Really, the memory of the torture was fading quickly as he looked at the parchment. Were it not for the smatterings of blood on it, he thought he could forget altogether. It was a simple map. A square for the town, small triangles on top of sticks to show the forest and a few concave lines denoted hills. There was a squiggled line connecting the town to the middle of the forest, though Kyle thought it was meant to have been straight. He would advise against following each of the small variances in the direction the line seemed to make if the suggestion was made, citing that its maker was under tremendous duress. Straddling the squiggled line was a small blue figure with a knife. “Draw me!” James had insisted, twisting his knife. And the dwarf had drawn.
“Orclord Harbourage,” Wardstein snorted. “More like Porklord Doucherage.”
Kyle nodded. “Harbourage is dumb. What does it say that Harbour doesn’t imply? ‘Oh this is a Harbour that, uh, harbours stuff. Unlike those other, empty harbours.’ Idiots.”
“I always thought Harbinger was a dumb word,’ James said. Thunder cracked nearby, though no lightning had been seen. “Harbinger.” He spat. “It makes your mouth feel weird.”
“And it smells bad,” Wardstein added, scrunching his face. “Orcish.”
Clouds had rolled in, quickly and unnaturally. Kyle was having difficulty seeing the map. He held his sword up to better see it with its light. “Seems like a straight shot, lads,” he said matter-of-factly. There was no immediate response.
“Lads?” Kyle turned to look.
The other two stood speechless and stunned, mouths agape.
“Or-O-Orc-,“ James stammered.
“Use your words, big guy,” Kyle urged.
“ORCLORD!” Wardstein yelled. “He was being harboured here!”
“Orclord Harbourage! How could we be so blind!” said James, drawing his dagger.
Kyle looked calmly over at the 12 foot tall mass of putridly stinking flesh that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and began approaching him. “Him?” he asked. “He’s alright.”
“Sir Kyle!” Wardstein screamed, a hint of what was either panic or peaked pique in his voice. “Be ready, he comes.”
“By the look of his loincloth I think he has came a lot already. Right, James? On account of them being more or less solid? Presumably crusted with semen. You can’t just softball them in there, Wardstein. I’ma knock it outta the park.”
“What is wrong with you, man?”
James didn’t allow time for a response, the Orclord was picking up speed. “Scatter!”
The two men ran in separate directions with varying levels of dignity. Sir Kyle looked up at the Orclord and felt a deep calm. This Orclord, he wasn’t like all the other Orclords. People just didn’t understand him. But Kyle did. Kyle understood plenty. He held out his hand in greeting. The Orclord crashed into him violently, sending his body flying along like a ragdoll. He cartwheeled through the air, smiling. The Orclord had given him a great honour, rupturing his insides like that.
“’The hell is going on with him?” Wardstein yelled at James, who shrugged.
“I have no idea.”
Suddenly there were Ro-Gan in their midst, Tim-Tak at their head.
“He is under a glamour!” Tim-Tak yelled, grabbing at the hem of Wardsteins shirt.
Wardstein slapped his hand away harshly. ‘What do you mean?”
“He drank something, or ate something. Now he views the Orclord as his friend.”
“The beer!” Wardstein and James yelled simultaneously.
“It was likely mostly Orclord urine,” Tim-Tak said.
Wardstein scanned the Ro-Gan’s faces. “…mostly useless,” he said under his breath. Then his face lit up.
“James, quick, grab a rock and brain that moron before he gets himself killed. Tim-Tak, tell three of your friends to go help James drag that idiot to safety after he is knocked out. The rest of you little ones with me. We need to create a distraction.”
Wardstein and the remaining Ro-Gan began to walk towards the Orclord while the others scurried around to get to Kyle’s limp form.
Wardstein stopped, drawing his bow to full length. He let out a vicious roar and loosed the arrow, its flight aided by rage and also magic. It struck true, though it seemed to do little damage to the Orclord. Nonetheless, it spun and let out a roar of its own, startlingly similar to that of Wardstein’s. It fixed its beady eyes on the warrior and his diminutive companions and raised its axe, spittle drooling from its misshapen mouth. It began advancing on them. Wardstein snarled at the beast, and stuck his tongue out.
“Hold, you yellow midgets,” he said to the Ro-Gan assembled around him. “Stand with me and become legend.”
They trembled, but they stood firm. At forty paces, they stood firm. Thirty. Twenty. Fifteen. At ten paces Wardstein spun and grabbed the one nearest to him, hurling it into the path of the approaching beast. The tiny body fouled the Orclords stride, giving Wardstein enough time to grasp another Ro-Gan by the collar and hurl it into the face of the monster. It stumbled back momentarily, stunned. Wardstein grabbed another and threw it to the beast, and another after that. He kept his eye on James as he reached Kyle and hit him on the head with a rock far harder than necessary. He saw him consider the Knight for a moment and then hit him again, before he and the small creatures finally began dragging him away. Meanwhile, the Orclord was beginning to move more slowly. It had been devouring the Ro-Gan as they were thrown to him, and now appeared a bit logy. Wardstein threw another of the creatures at him, noticing from the extra weight that he had grabbed one that was more rotund than normal. The Orclord snatched it out of the air, killing it instantly. The beast pondered the pudgy little thing before popping it into his mouth. It turned its attention once more to Wardstein, who no longer had any fodder to throw it’s way, but after a step pulled up short. It let out a tremendous groan and clasped at its stomach.
“Indigestion can fell the greatest warrior, beast.” Wardstein said smugly. “Come!” he yelled to James. “This monster is in no shape to chase us now.”
He chuckled to himself and began walking back towards where the men had set up his map, but nearly tripped on Tim-Tak, who was in tears. Maybe. It was hard to tell.
“Oh, hey, Tool-Time,” Wardstein said. “See that? Turns out you guys aren’t as useless as you thought, huh?”
The small creature did not respond.
“Plus, more food for you.”
“My wife was one of those you hurled,” Tim-Tak said despondently.
“Well it’s just all coming up Track-Suit, isn’t it?” Wardstein gave the little guy an enthusiastic pat on the back.
James approached, leading a mule with Sir Kyle laden on its back. Also with him were the three Ro-Gan, as well as the rhyming dwarf from the tavern. The Ro-Gan looked…something. Wardstein was apathetic.
“Super sweet, Wardstein, super sweet. I will never be able to thank you enough to give me that opportunity to smash Kyle’s face with a rock. Honestly, dude. Solid.”
“And we comparably congratulate the culling!” said the dwarf. “The beast brought beaten breasts and broken backs, by and by / Your courage conceived cunning concepts, conspiring to keep killing claws—-“
Wardstein stepped back and examined his bow, suddenly bloodied. The dwarven corpse twitched on the ground, its head thoroughly bashed in.
He shrugged to James. “The poetry was bad enough.”
“Are we there yet?” Wardstein grumbled.
“Well, let’s just have a look-see!” said James, holding the map aloft. “According to this, I’M here—see? There I am, ‘Doobie-doop-doop!’ on my way through the triangle forest in my enviable, one-of-a-kind blue coat, and you’re— well now that’s strange! I don’t see you or Sir Kyle on this particular—“
Wardstein, clearly in a mood, snatched the parchment away from the Archduke and glared. “You know, one of these days I’m going to tear your head off and throw it in your face! Why don’t you just go check on the cargo?”
“Why don’t you just lighten up? I don’t know even know what you’re stressing about. Before the day’s out we’ll have killed the dreaded witch and we’ll get to go home!”
“What? No, the idea is to obtain information from her, which, according to the rhyming midget we tortured and later killed, is pertinent to completing our primary objective: delivering that stupid box to your uncle Georg!” The big man gestured behind him. Some yards back along the rocky path, their stolen mule was doing its best to keep up. Sir Kyle remained draped over its back, while the strongbox was lashed awkwardly to the beast’s head.
James studied the animal. He knew perfectly well that it wasn’t the proper way to have loaded down the mule, but he also knew that because it couldn’t talk, it didn’t have feelings, so it was okay.
Just then, Sir Kyle groaned and slid off the mount to his feet. He wobbled slightly, but soon regained his footing and joined the other two. The knight rubbing his head, which had sustained quite a bit of damage from when James knocked him out with the rock; ironically, just as the scars from the Archduke’s earlier attempt at digging the “vision” out of his brain—as well as those from the subsequent Phal-Helm installation, and later, de-installation—were beginning to fade.
“Man, what happened back there?” Kyle groaned. “I feel a little weird. And where’s that delightful little dwarf? Quite the cartographer, that one!” He looked around expectantly.
“He got fragged!” spat Wardstein
“Apparently you were under a spell or something because you drank too much orc piss? Oh, and a bunch of those Rolodex characters didn’t make it either. But big whup though, right? Ha-ha!”
“Guys, keep low, there it is!” said James, pointing through some tall grass. The men did as instructed and ducked down. In a clearing much like the last time, stood a witch-shack, but unlike the last time, this one was still under construction and had only been framed around the hearth and chimney. Nearby, Ungesicht and two men stood talking.
“Okay, huddle up, here’s how it’s going to go down,” James continued. “Full frontal assault! We move together on this. Wardstein, as we approach, we’ll be counting on you for suppressing fire. Now –who’s going left?”
Sir Kyle and the Baron said nothing.
“Who’s going left?!”
Sir Kyle giggled. “Him, from the looks of it!”
The men turned and observed the mule, its head nearly at ground level due to the weight of the chest, ambling right towards the witch’s cabin.
“Crap!” said James. “We’d better—“
“Hold it!” Wardstein hissed. “Let’s see where this goes.”
From their vantage point they watched the mule, moaning and spitting in discomfort, make its way towards the shack, helplessly trying to shake the box on its head free as it went. It careened awkwardly into one of the shack’s support beams and the frame of the entire structure began to slant; only slightly at first, but with momentum, into the stone chimney, which crumbled along with the lumber in a terrible clatter, collapsing on not only the mule, but the witch herself!
“AIEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” Ungesicht squealed.
Hearing this, the boys began to snicker uncontrollably at their good fortune when, hearing them, Ungesicht pointed angrily in their direction.
“INTRUDERS! Get them, my pretties!”
The men she had been talking to looked at one another.
“Listen lady, we’re contractors, not henchmen,” said one of them.
“That’s right!” said the other, running a hand through his hair with a smile. “But I daresay, it is nice to be complimented now and then.”
Enraged, she thrust her twisted hand in their direction and zapped the two of them with a blue bolt of electricity. The two workers, suddenly white-eyed and spooky-looking, turned and started running at top speed towards the men.
James rolled his eyes. “Pffffffftttt! Too easy!” Reaching for his glowing Goblin Dagger, he threw it with all his might. The blade arced beautifully through the air and found its mark in the center in the lead contractor’s forehead.
“YARRFFFF!!!!” he screamed, crumpling instantly.
“Nice!” said Wardstein. “—But check this!” Extracting an arrow from his quiver, he licked one finger and held it in the air to gauge the wind before hurling the shaft at the man, striking him squarely in the genitals. “Game over, pal!”
“DAAHHHHHH!! MY GROIN!!! the man cried in agony.
“Baron, that’s not how we do things!” chided Kyle. Withdrawing his mighty sword and holding it in the ready position, Kyle clattered as fast as he could towards the man, intent on putting him out of his misery. Still dazed from the beating he received from both James and the Orclord though, when he swung to humanely decapitate the assailant, he merely cleaved away the man’s scalp along with a coaster-sized disc of skull, which Frisbeed to the ground. The man screamed even more pitifully, but a few more aimless thrusts at his writhing body eventually did enough damage to silence him.
“Come on, boys!” said Kyle, beckoning James and Wardstein forward. “Let’s find out what that witch has to tell us, eh?!”