- Where have the tides of fate cast you adrift?
Far From Home is the 16th questing area released (listed as the Far From Home (12) on the map) in the game and becomes available after completing My Name Is...
|Title||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6||Level 7|
|Beneath Strange Skies |
(Complete Far From Home on Nightmare difficulty.)
|Blue Orc Warrior||55||55||69||Far From Home Questing|
|Brown Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Grey Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Green Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Blue Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Purple Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Orange Qwil Arm||Crafting (General):||Far From Home questing, |
|Forbidden Knowledge||100||155||Undead Qwil||4860-5940|
|Terrors and Tribulations||100||155||Purple Orc||4860-5940|
|Welcome to the Jungle||100||155||Purple Orc||4860-5940
|Forbidden Knowledge||125||196||Undead Qwil||6187-7563|
|Terrors and Tribulations||125||196||Purple Orc||6187-7563|
|Welcome to the Jungle||125||196||Purple Orc||6187-7563
|Forbidden Knowledge||155||224||Undead Qwil||7812-9548|
|Terrors and Tribulations||155||224||Purple Orc||7812-9548|
|Welcome to the Jungle||155||224||Purple Orc||7812-9548
|Dant'Kun leaned his head round the side of the hut, so close to its wall that spurs of wood dug into his blue flesh. His fingers curled into his palms, forming three tight, trembling fists.
A band of purples occupied the expanse of stamped-down dirt some yards away from his hiding place, between a cluster of crude dwellings. They stared and swaggered, whilst blue orc villagers averted their eyes but remained rooted to the spot. It was a familiar sight. That only made it more galling to Dant'Kun. Purples who came to the villages for sport, in search of mischief to enliven their evenings, were worse than those who who'd come to mete out justice. For they were unpredictable. None of the blue orcs wanted to draw attention to themselves, by gaze or word or movement.
The purples were fresh from feasting, their muscular magenta bodies streaked with the remains of food that had fallen from chomping maws or been smeared there by the wiping of careless, decadent hands. Some tottered and swayed. Their eyes shone bright but bleary. A pair of these held ceramic jugs, which they raised to their lips in haphazard quaffs that spilled more down their chins than into their mouths. Another clutched a thick bone. He took a bite of the big hunk of yellowish meat at its end, belched, grimaced, and tossed it over his shoulder. Then he turned to watch, while three blue orc children -- two boys and a girl -- lunged for it, shoving one another aside, saliva dripping from their jaws.
The purple orc laughed when the punches started flying. Dant'Kun's cheeks burned.
An elderly female moved towards the youngsters. She reached out with a hand and a twisted, gnarled stump, calling for them to stop.
"Get back, geeshunk!" the purple roared.
Dant'Kun's nostrils flared at the slur, the word the purples had taken from their masters' tongue to hurl at his kind. Geeshunk -- 'blue crap'. But in the next moment his anger decayed into horror. One of the purples had unhooked the karbok from his belt.
The wyvern-hide whip uncoiled like a glistening black serpent. Its thick, heavy length flopped in the dirt. Then the purple orc jerked his arm, and it curled up above his head, its sinuous body undulating, forked tongue hissing.
The blue orc woman froze. Her hand and stump shook. The karbok lashed. Its coils split the air in a sharp whisper, and her flesh with a hungry crack.
Her scream was so piercing, so utterly wretched, that it seemed to slice into Dant'Kun's eyes. But it didn't last long. The purple had whipped her in the side of the neck. Blood spurted from the opened artery, splashing the wall of a hut in a long red gash and a spray of crimson flecks. Her stump beat against the wound in a feeble attempt to staunch the flow. It fell away as she collapsed.
The boys stopped struggling over the discarded viand. They stared at the woman, their jaws hanging slack -- gazing at the blood pooling beside the rent flesh of her neck, that shone on the twisted, mangled skin at the end of her arm. The girl looked too. But only for a moment. Then she snatched up the meat and ran off. Her family would eat well this night.
"Waste of a worker," a purple female said.
The orc who'd whipped her snorted.
"What work could a worn out, one-handed geeshunk bitch do?"
The purples laughed. One of the drinkers spat out a long stream of grog, then coughed like a dying beast as merriment and liquor battled in his gullet. None of the blue orcs moved.
Dant'Kun's fingernails bit deeper into his palms.
"Bastards..." he muttered. "Purple sons of whores..."
But he kept his voice low, inaudible -- so the impotent tirade stung only himself. The shame deepened in his breast when the purples began to move away, and bitter relief flowed through him.
A second shriek cut into his eyes and heart, so like the first that it was as though the old woman's shade was screaming from the netherworld, her anguish echoing beyond the veil of death. The breath caught in Dant'Kun's throat.
The purples stopped in their tracks and whirled round.
A woman pushed her way through the unresisting crowd of villagers and threw herself down beside the corpse. She was no older than Dant'Kun, perhaps younger. Her slim, underfed body was bare of any mutation save for a flap of flesh that fluttered around her left shoulder like a tiny gossamer wing.
The other blue orcs stared at her, some in pity, others in fear. A man stepped forward to pull her away. But a female, perhaps his wife, grabbed his arm and held him back -- gazing at him with four wide, pleading eyes.
Dant'Kun could read the hopes, prayers, and entreaties murmured behind the villagers' lips. For they filled his brain as well.
Don't give them an excuse...
The purples grinned, waiting and anticipating.
She screamed again. But this time it was a howling, murderous, demonic cry. And she hurled herself at the orc with the whip.
He laughed. His left fist smashed into the side of her head, rocking her skull so hard that Dant'Kun expected it to shatter under the blow like an eggshell. But the woman didn't fall. She didn't even stagger. In the next moment the purple was shrieking, as she bit and clawed at his face.
The blue orcs scattered in all directions, those who'd been left stunned -- gaping children and horrified adults -- yanked away by friends or kin who'd recovered their wits faster and knew what would happen if they remained. Only Dant'Kun stayed and watched, hidden behind the hut.
The purple and the blue woman crashed down together. He was still screaming. She was astride him, biting and gouging.
A purple female was the first to intervene. She leapt onto the rolling combatants and drove an elbow down into the back of the blue orc's head. The rest were close behind. One tossed his jug away and seized her right arm. Another wrenched her left arm behind her back in a wrestler's hold. They tore her off the downed purple, who let out a tremendous wail -- for a chunk of his ear was torn off in turn. The piece of bloody magenta flesh stuck out from the blue orc's mouth, until one of the males thumped her in the stomach and it tumbled to the dirt.
The wounded purple scrambled up, one hand pressed against the wound, the other grasping his whip.
"Hold the bitch! Hold the geeshunk bitch!"
He threw his arm backwards, launching the whip's hissing black length behind him.
The purples holding the woman spread apart to get clear of the coming lash, dragging her arms to either side, holding her steady as she thrashed and struggled.
"Wait!" Another male grabbed the fist that clutched the karbok.
"Get off me! I'll kill her! I'll-"
"Why kill her quick?"
The arm with the whip fell by the orc's side. His hand came away from his bloody ear, revealing a great smear of redness that sent trickles down his neck. A smile opened his square jaw -- its aspect so terrible that the blue woman's resistance melted away.
"Bind her arms," a female said.
One of the others began to take the manacles from his belt.
"No! Not those..." The orc with the wounded ear waved him back. "Not those..."
He pressed his whip into another purple's grasp. Then he strode away, disappearing from Dant'Kun's sight. But the blue woman could still see him. And whatever he was doing made her groan.
The purple returned. In one hand he held a stone hammer, with a leather loop dangling from the bottom of its shaft. The other grasped a long black metal object.
They pulled the blue orc's arms in front of her, forced her palms together, and twisted them parallel to the ground. The purple with the hammer braced the nail on the back of her hand.
Dant'Kun's fingers must have fallen open, for he found himself clenching them again. In his mind's eye he dashed out from behind the hut and ploughed into the purples, his three fists swinging. Magenta bodies staggered and toppled in all directions. He snatched the hammer from the orc's hand and-
The hammer rose and fell.
There was no scream. The woman's jaws were clamped shut, her eyes closed. Her whole body shook, but still she remained silent.
The purple with the hammer frowned and grunted.
"Bring her," he said.
He walked away. The others came in his wake, some of them half-leading, half-dragging the blue woman.
Dant'Kun fell against the hut and dropped onto his haunches. Two of his palms pressed against his eyes, the third clutched the side of his head.
"Put some blooming beef into it, as the bloke said when the barmaid served him lentil soup."
You turn your head and glare at the gnome. But it's hard to muster up a cutting retort when your muscles are straining for all they're worth.
"It's no good," Roland growls.
He takes his hands off the ebon skull that you, he, and Dao are using for purchase. The adventurer stretches and winces. You and the shaman do the same. The fleshless visage grins at your failure, as it's grinned at everything else during your brief and unpleasant acquaintance. Thus far it's resisted the magic of three spellcasters, Medea's song, Lucian's scholarly thinking, and all the brute force you can muster. It hasn't budged an inch, or sustained the slightest scratch.
"The others might be able to force it from their side," you say.
Medea's harp trills its ascent.
"When they see we're trapped, they'll do whatever they have to," she says. "Even if that means sending for a battering ram, or digging through the rock itself."
You nod, though it sends a twinge along your neck. Apparently you managed to strain that as well... But even as you try to work the pain out of your thews, the thought is comforting. Marcus, Solus, and the rest of your friends won't leave you stuck here for a minute longer than they have to.
A harsh laugh tears through the soothing notion.
"Don't be foolish," Ariala says.
Her eyes gleam within her mask. The Starmancer's mouth is curved in an insolent smile. She seems to become aware of everyone's gazes in the next moment, however, and she coughs. The arrogance leaves her lips with the expelled breath.
"I... I'm sorry. But people have tried to force their way into the crypt before. Nylvena tried it herself once. If it could be done, do you think she and everyone else would have waited for centuries till it opened again?"
"A perturbing thought," Lucian says, "but I fear that it has both logic and empirical evidence on its side."
"Well that's bloody marvelous, that is. So we just need to wait for a couple of hundred years, then you elf girls can take a peek outside and see if we won the bleeding war. Try not to trip over our sodding bones on your way out."
"What makes it open and close?" Roland asks.
"Nylvena never found out," Ariala says.
"Then for all we know, closing one door might open another."
Roland explains what he, Lucian, and Elyssa found. When he's finished, a glorious burst of harp music encapsulates your party's feelings. It softens into a melodious tune that follows your footsteps as the adventurer leads you down the corridors, that echoes from the stone walls and sends your spirits soaring.
When you round the final corner, the instrument's music is joined by a chorus of relief and joy from all your voices.
"It's open! It's bleeding well open!"
Rissa performs a summersault. And if it wasn't for the fact that you'd probably just fall on your head and humiliate yourself, you'd feel inclined to do the same. A skeletal figure stands at the other end of the passage, his back to you. It's Gaius, and his tattered cape, the ruined crest on his helmet, are outlined against pure, glorious, natural light.
It's only as you draw closer that your brow furrows and the bard's song twangs out of its former rhythm. The light...
You all halt, the exuberance fading into wariness.
"How long were we in here?" Elyssa asks.
"Not long enough for that," Roland says.
Beyond the arched doorway and the undead centurion, the daylight bears the rich darkening deepness of evening. A strange melange of scents tingles your nose as you approach. It's a pleasant, perfumed aroma. But its presence disturbs you more than the stench of disemboweled bodies and rotting flesh would.
When you reach the doorway, half a dozen profanities blurt from your mouths.
"So Marius spoke the truth," Gaius says.
|He should leave... Go back to his hut, throw himself down on his sleeping mat, and pray that his dreams won't be haunted by images of lashing whips, driven nails, and grinning violet faces. Ridiculous notions and absurd hopes had filled Dant'Kun bare minutes ago. They'd been smashed from his mind by the fall of the hammer, the piercing of blue flesh. This was all their folly, their dreams of resistance, would ever bring them. Yes... He should go home...
But something else burned in the pit of his despair.
Those merciless purple bastards... The old woman... Struck down for trying to separate brawling children, for wanting to preserve a tiny scrap of her people's dignity. And the others had done nothing. Dant'Kun had just watched.
Shame and misery ignited like pitch put to the torch.
Before he knew he'd made the decision, the blue orc's legs were carrying him forward. He went past the pool of blood and the crimson-daubed hut. The old woman's body was already gone, hurried away by her kin lest the purples come back to make an example of it.
He paused in front of the wooden post. A single limb protruded from the thick trunk, carved from the same tree. A heavy object with a big stone head hung from it, suspended by a leather loop. The purple had returned the hammer on his way back to his settlement. And there beside it was the bag of black nails.
Dant'Kun gazed at the grim pillar and its torturous implements for several long moments. His rage burned hotter and his resolve hardened by the second. There were still traces of blood on the dark, weathered wood around the holes, where time and rain hadn't yet erased them. Each one hammered a fresh spike into the blue orc's heart, evoked a bitter and brutal memory in his seething brain.
Cries for mercy, shrieks of anguish... The thud of nails through flesh and wood, pinning blue hands to the post and leaving their owners fastened there as punishment for so-called crimes... A grey-haired elder standing in the rain, one arm pinned to the post, using the other to wave away the villagers bringing him food -- lest the purples learn of it and inflict the same savage retribution on them.
Dant'Kun's mouth twitched. A low growl emerged. His two left hands went towards the hammer and bag of nails, yearning to pull them away and scatter them across the dirt -- a sign to the purples that not all blue orcs were cowed by their brutal authority. But they clenched into fists instead. No... That would only bring vengeance down on the villagers' heads. So he plucked a single nail from the bag, one ebon spike that would never be missed, and tucked it into his belt -- hidden behind his kilt.
Angry pride smoldered in Dant'Kun. A tiny voice inside his head told him that this small, childish act of defiance was worthless and stupid. But it was immolated amidst the rising flames.
The blue orc strode across the dirt, between the huts.
He banged his fist on the door of the largest crude building in the village. It opened a crack, revealing a glaring blue face.
"Not so loud!" the face hissed. "Do you want to bring the whole island here?"
"The blue shark swims," Dant'Kun said.
The other orc squinted at him.
"You're Elar'Kun's son?"
The door opened further. Dant'Kun entered.
At least two dozen orcs packed the hut, sitting or squatting on its dirt floor or else standing against its walls. The musky smell of their sweat was almost tangible. Anticipation quivered in Dant'Kun. So many...
A man stood before them. He was old, his face lined with wrinkles so deep they were like scars cut into his flesh. But the chest above his loincloth still bore hard, sinewy muscle. One of his eyes was cloudy, pupil and iris lost behind a shimmering blue-grey layer. Dant'Kun felt its gaze on him even though the wizened face wasn't turned in his direction. So this was the prophet...
"Sit down!" said the orc who'd opened the door.
Dant'Kun squeezed his way to the back and squatted down. A little intake of breath to his right drew his eye. A young male sat on the dirt beside him. Above the orc's right eyebrow, protruding from his skill like a bizarre antenna, was a single thin finger. It curled and twitched.
"Sud'Larsh?" Dant'Kun said, loud enough that a couple of the orcs in front turned around to stare at him.
Even that sniveling coward was there -- the last orc he'd ever have expected to muster up the nerve to attend. That more than anything told him how powerful the prophet's words were. Even their whispered echoes had brought him and Sud'Larsh alike. Now they'd hear them from the elder's very lips...
There was no chatter in the hut. Everyone simply waited, while more orcs were ushered in through the door. Each came alone, casting furtive glances over their shoulder. Among them was the four-eyed female who'd held her husband back from intervening in front of the purples.
When they'd joined the crowd, packing it into an even tighter mass, the prophet began -- not with words, but with a gesture. He moved his right hand through the air in front of him, tracing a horizontal line with palm facing the dirt floor, fingertips pointed at the audience. Then he rotated his hand, spread his fingers, and completed the motion.
Dant'Kun had seen that shape before. The orc who'd told him about this meeting had traced it on the ground. It'd stared up at Dant'Kun for only a moment, then been obliterated, brushed away before hostile or curious eyes could fall upon it. The symbol of those blue orcs who dreamt of overthrowing the purples and their masters.
"Unless I'm mistaken, that one is the Roaring Manticore."
Lucian points his spear upwards, at a group of stars just visible within the soft purple-blue mantle of the heavens, before lowering it and drawing on the ground with its tip. You stare at that portion of the sky, but you just don't see the resemblance between the scattered twinkles of astral lights and the beast in question.
He hums to himself as he works, scribbling with the spear as though with a quill on a piece of parchment. A series of numbers, symbols, and diagrams decorate the dirt, but if they mean anything to the scholar, they certainly don't to you.
At last he stops, goes back to where he started, and moves the spear point underneath his scrawls -- underlining them from beginning to end in one ponderous motion.
"The Roaring Manticore here," he mutters, "and the *ahem* Immodest Lovers here..."
After perhaps a full minute of rereading his work, scarring the ground with the spear, and making inscrutable pronouncements, he turns to you.
"Based on the constellations, we're far from West Kruna."
"So I'd noticed..."
You glance at the edge of the jungle, which begins a few dozen yards away from the rock face -- beyond the dark dirt Lucian's using as his blackboard. The dying daylight and the moon's emerging silver paint a swath of curious trees and plants. There are bulbous flowers with huge, bulging stems. Trees with twisted, spiraling trunks and jutting round growths. Small shapes leap amongst the branches, giving you flashing glimpses of wings and tails and unidentifiable appendages. The landscape's colors are subdued by the gloom. But even so, there are hints of the bright, clashing hues it would wear in the sunshine.
East Kruna has jungles. So does Chalua. But you've never heard of any like this.
"We're on the other side of Tor'gyyl," Lucian says. "Most likely in the chains of islands near Tethal Haran."
His gaze meets yours, and the look of smugness at his scholarly success falters. You read the same thought in his eyes that lurks behind your own. Even if you had a ship, it would take months to get back home. Months in which the dragons' armies would be assaulting the kingdom, and your friends battling against the hordes, risking life and limb without your blade to aid them.
The scholar joins you inside the doorway once more. He leans against the wall and props his spear up. The two of you elected to remain at the entrance whilst your friends search for other open doors or clues as to the magic which governs them. Lucian wanted to stargaze, and you didn't trust him to keep watch at the same time. So you stayed with him, on the alert lest any of this land's denizens come to the crypt and prove hostile. You have no idea if the legend of Caracalla's artifacts exists amongst treasure hunters in other countries as it does in West Kruna, but if so you'd rather see them coming than have an unexpected meeting in the winding corridors. And since the crypt is full of assorted arms, you and Lucian both requisitioned long-shafted ones to supplement your usual weapons. They may come in handy if you have to hold the passage and keep intruders at bay.
The scholar picks up his cricket bat, spins it in his hands, and sighs. Perhaps he's lamenting the probable lack of that sport in this alien land. His fidgeting is infectious. A moment later you're turning your newfound weapon's long metal haft, making the prongs at its end describe a pair of concentric circles.
You glance down the passage, into the depths of the crypt. It's come to something when the place filled with traps and bands of angry undead seems more familiar and comforting than the outside world...
"Get out of the way! I'm going to burn stuff!"
Centurion Gaius didn't understand the words, but he recognized the voice of the elf with fiery hair. And when the whooshing of flames followed, their meaning seemed clear enough.
He continued down the corridor, letting the din of battle fade away behind him.
Gaius had explored the chambers and passages with the barbarians for a while, aiding them in battle as he scoured for the missing eagle. The chatter of their uncivilized voices had grown tiresome. So he'd decided to search elsewhere, trusting Medea's promise that she'd retrieve the standard if they came upon it.
He wandered the catacombs that had once been known to his people as the Sealed Temple, but were now a true resting place for the bones of the dead and undead. Some of its rooms and routes were more familiar than others. It was a vast and sprawling domain, but his ever-repeating battles with Marius and Caracalla had seldom spilled beyond the part of the ancient shrine where each of them had now fallen once again.
The centurion's skeletal limbs picked their way past traps and hazards. Some of them were as familiar to him the fleshless faces of his friends and enemies, clearer in his mind than the visages of his wife and children, or the sunny fields of his homeland -- memories that had long since faded into an unreal vista, a wall painting he might have gazed upon and been touched by long ago. Even the other traps were little challenge to him. His unliving senses and centuries-old instincts took him beyond each of them in turn. Perhaps his soul had a special affinity for the catacombs now, and they for him.
A warbling, gurgling noise came from his right.
Gaius spun to face it, his shield raised. A pale, octopean being lunged at him. Two arms, each ending in hands and a series of thick tentacles, battered at the scutum. The centurion thrust with his gladius. Iulian metal punched through the creature's face. Cold, quivering chunks of brain matter burst from the back of the thing's broken skull.
The centurion felt the pursing and twitching of a mouth he hadn't possessed for untold generations. His wanderings had brought him in a great circle. He wasn't far from where he'd fought Marius on that first occasion so very long ago. Gaius had never known these wretched, squid-like barbarians to come to this part of the temple before. Why now? Had they-
Impossible! The voice... It sounded like...
Terrors and Tribulations
|"I've seen it, with eyes clearer and truer than these wretched old things."
The prophet's voice was rich and powerful. It was young and old at the same time, as though possessed of boundless youth and vitality which enveloped infinite wisdom. Every word echoed inside Dant'Kun. They entered with his indrawn breath, beat alongside his heart, and drifted back out into the world with each exhalation.
"A pale monster rose from the depths of the sea, and it had a hundred eyes and a hundred mouths. Where its eyes looked, all became foul -- the clear waters turned to vile poison. The fish grew sick and weak. They were twisted by the gaze of the terrible beast. And its maws laughed. Then they fed, devouring all the creatures of the sea. But still the monster wasn't sated. A hundred tentacles grew from its body, and each tentacle had a hundred purple mouths of its own. With the purple mouths the beast reached out and devoured all the creatures of the land and sky as well."
The words had little poetry to them. There was no fine artistry, as there'd been in the stories his mother had sung to him as a child. Yet they painted an image upon Dant'Kun's vision, clear and terrible. The monster was there before him -- possessed of a reality so potent it made the blue orcs and the walls of the hut seem mere phantoms in comparison. Only the prophet's voice, his cloudy eye, and the beast were real.
"The hundred mouths of the beast's body exalted, and they believed they would rule forever, until the sea and sky and land were empty and its belly was full. The myriad purple mouths sang praises to the beast and said they would feast on the heavens as well."
Dant'Kun flinched. For the purple mouths were snapping at him, hungry for his flesh. And each one had jaws filled with black metal teeth.
"But heaven could not abide this insult. The gods had seen their servants twisted and poisoned. They had seen the monster devour their all their creations. And the gods were angry. The sky grew dark. Thunder shook the heavens and the land and the sea. Then the purple mouths screamed, and called on the gods to spare them. But the gods did not heed. Lighting came down from above, and it split into four bolts. They all struck the monster. And the monster was destroyed."
Yes! The vision transformed in front of Dant'Kun's eyes. There was the single bolt of lightning that divided into four prongs, forming the shape of the Enshada'nach -- the weapon of the ancient hero. It blazed down in all its celestial might. The beast writhed and thrashed in anguish. Its tentacles flailed and beat against its own hide. The purple mouths' black teeth bit into its flesh, rending and tearing, driven to madness by the pain. And still the four bolts burned deeper and deeper, brighter and brighter, until the monster was burned to nothing.
Now the orcs around him were real once more. Some wept. Others cheered. The woman with the four eyes cried out curses against the purples and the driani.
But next to him, Sud'Larsh's face was twisted into a sneer.
Dant'Kun stared at him. Sud'Larsh didn't meet his gaze. He was looking at the door instead.
"Purples!" someone cried.
A woman had pulled back one of the hide flaps that covered the hut's tiny windows. She turned round from it, her face pale.
"Purples are coming!"
Orcs yelled and swore. Some leapt to their feet, staring this way and that as though in search of another way out. But there was only one entrance to the hut. Other blue bodies were already hurtling towards it, tearing the door open, rushing out into the night. Their shrieks floated back to those inside, amidst the roars of savage voices and the lashing of karboks.
Sud'Larsh grinned. And despite all the chaos, the blue bodies blundering around, unsure of where to go, the cries of pain and fear and triumph, Dant'Kun wondered how much they'd offered him for this. Then he grabbed Sud'Larsh by the hair and yanked him onto his back with a sharp wrench.
"Traitor!" Dant'Kun cried.
Sud'Larsh babbled something. Dant'Kun hammered his fist down, thrusting the black nail through the orc's eye. Sud'Larsh's entire body convulsed. Then he lay still.
"Come on!" Dant'Kun rose to his feet. "Through the walls! The walls!"
He waited a second, just long enough to know that the cry was being repeated, that the others were looking in his direction, before hurling his body at the side of the hut.
Mud-daubed wood splintered. It ripped and tore at his flesh, stabbing and slashing him in perhaps a dozen places. But he tucked his head down, shielded his face with all three hands, and smashed through.
Behind him there were more crashes, as the others followed his example.
"Get that geeshunk!"
Dant'Kun broke into a run. Something snapped behind him, slicing the air. He darted between two huts, sprinting towards the edge of the village. A flash of purple appeared in front, blocking his path.
"Stop! Stop, geeshunk, or I'll-"
He slammed into the female, his shoulder lowered, and knocked her flying.
"Kill him!" she exclaimed. "Kill him!"
Other voices took up the cry. Not all of them belonged to orcs. Driani...
Dant'Kun hazarded a single swift glance behind him as he ran. It sent an icy spike through his heart.
He sprinted for the jungle, his feet pounding against the dirt. In his mind's eye, thudding in his brain like a hundred ebon nails, a mass of purple muscles and pale tentacles charged after him.
"Marcus is a good commander," Lucian says. "With him to lead them..."
"He'll do a fine job," you say. "But..."
You pause, unwilling to give voice to the thought. Yet Lucian sits beside you, watching and waiting. He's your friend. He'll understand...
"But he's not the dragon-rider of Burden's Rest," you finish.
There's a snort of music. You sigh. Of all the luck...
"Humble as always," Medea says.
The bard strides in front of you, looks down into your face, and plinks her harp strings in a manner that makes you feel as though you've just been patted on the head. Roland, Rissa, Dao, Elyssa, and Ariala follow her out of the crypt. Everyone sits down near you and Lucian, forming a loose circle beneath the warm night, the perfumed air, and the chatter of the jungle.
"<He's/She's> sodding right though," Rissa says. "Everyone wants to fight for the blooming dragon-rider. Ain't that why you sing so many songs about <him/her>?"
"I..." Medea elapses into verbal silence, and contents herself by strumming her instrument.
"And that's why we're going to get you back to West Kruna, mate!"
"You found another door?" you ask.
"Yes, but they were all closed," Roland says. "Ariala found something though."
The Starmancer holds out a small tome, its yellowed pages and square, blocky characters illuminated by a little wisp of arcane light.
"While they were exploring, I examined the artifacts," she says. "I thought one of the grimoires might tell us something about the crypt."
"Is that High Balaric?" Lucian asks, leaning in for a closer look.
"Oh, you can't read High Balaric?"
The ghost of a smile flits across Ariala's mouth.
"No. Only Middle and Late."
"I can't either," Medea says. "It's a rare language, even amongst bards."
"My mother taught me," Ariala says. "Nylvena spoke dozens of languages."
Dao looks at her, his eyes two pools of near total blackness.
"Tell <playername> the important bit," Elyssa says. Tiny tongues of flame flicker in her eyes.
"It shows us how to activate the crypt's magic, and control it."
You're already moving, rising to your feet, when Roland grabs your arm to stop you.
"Hang on," he says. "One of the main rules of adventuring: nothing's ever as easy as you'd like it to be."
His meaning sinks in.
"Let me guess," you say. "We need something to make it work. Something we don't have."
"Got it in one. You've been paying attention to my stories, haven't you?"
"Roland, half your adventuring stories both start and end with you getting drunk... What do we need?"
"A strong source of magical power," Ariala says.
"The crypt's full of magical items. What about all these weapons..." You gesture to the object lying on the ground beside you. "...and the other things we found in Caracalla's chamber?"
"No single object contains enough."
"Couldn't you just take the magic out of all of them and-"
"Trust me. I'm a Starmancer. And we're talking about magic, not turnips."
You glance at Medea, wondering if the bard has been giving her fellow elf tongue-sharpening lessons. But she simply flutters her harp strings and smiles.
"What about Elyssa?" you ask. "Couldn't she..."
"Pour a torrent of fire into it?" the pyromancer asks. "That's what I said..."
Ariala blinks at you. And if ever a mere blink could make you feel as though you've taken leave of your senses, this one accomplishes that feat.
"So what do we do then?" you say.
The Starmancer turns to Lucian.
"Did you discover where we are?"
"Near Tethal Haran," the scholar replies.
"The bigger coast cities may be able to sell us what we need. We'll barter using some of the artifacts from the crypt."
Everyone's looking at you.
"Is this the best way to get home?"
"Yes," Ariala replies, without a moment's hesitation.
"Then we should wait till it's light," you say. "We can't go stumbling through that jungle in the dark."
"I could-" Elyssa begins.
"End up burning down half the jungle," Roland says. "And magic light might draw the attention of whatever monsters are lurking beyond its radius. <playername> is right. We should wait till the sun's up."
He leans back, propping himself up on his elbow.
"Anyone know a good story to pass the time?" he asks.
"I could sing the-" you say.
"No," Medea says. "For the love of all the gods, no."
She glares at you, perhaps reminded of a certain oneiric adventure the two of you once shared. But a gentler, almost serene expression brightens her face when she sings instead. The rest of you settle down to listen.
|A furry, chittering object flew at Dant'Kun's face. He batted it aside with his left hands. Pain burned along one of his forearms, rent by teeth or claws. But whatever the animal was, it bounced away into the undergrowth. The blue orc kept going, ducking under the huge bulbs of two rulac plants -- his shoulders brushing their thick, sticky stems -- leaping over a low ultap creeper.
They were crashing through the undergrowth behind him, either not as used to navigating the jungle as Dant'Kun or else casting caution aside in their eagerness to catch him.
A viscous splurging sound and a number of screams told him they were paying for that haste. The liquid inside a rulac's bulbs could burn flesh... And perhaps the next cry meant one of them hadn't noticed the ultap. But the shouts and crashes didn't diminish. There were still plenty of them close behind.
And he couldn't run forever. He had to find somewhere to lie low...
An immense roar came from his left. Dant'Kun's head snapped round. Two great black orbs glimmered in a shaft of moonlight that split the canopy above, and cast its silvery light on a furry feline face.
A wordless sound of terror -- half moan, half scream -- flew from his lips. He flew after it, hurling himself forward with a fresh burst of desperate speed which even the purples and driani hadn't evoked from him.
The next roar rang in both his ears, reverberating from the trees.
Were its paws pounding behind him? He didn't know. Wouldn't know, until its claws or fangs took him. Krachicore's were too silent -- even at full run -- for them to make a sound audible over the din of his humanoid pursuers.
He had to get out of the jungle. Krachicores only hunted amongst the trees, never in the open. If he could...
Dant'Kun swerved, brushing thorny braches away from his face, letting them tear his arms instead of his eyes. The edge of the jungle was close. And with that realization, the dilemma racked his brain. If the krachicore was after him, to stay among the plants was to perish. But if it wasn't, running across open ground might destroy him in turn. He couldn't hide from his enemies out there.
There was no time to think further, to weigh doom against doom. So Dant'Kun broke from the jungle, sprinting out from under the canopy, and glanced over his shoulder. From the screams, shouts, and cacophony of displaced foliage, some of the purples had met the krachicore.
The blue orc laughed like a madman. Perhaps he could escape after all... The Grinning Skull Mountain was up head. If he reached its trails and lost himself amidst the crags...
"Bloody hell! Is that a sodding demon?"
"I don't know..."
"I'll burn it!"
A barrage of unintelligible voices rained down on Dant'Kun. His head jerked round. Then he staggered to a stop. More than a half dozen men and women stood between him and the mountain, weapons in their hands. There were humans, and elves, and...
Dant'Kun's eyes fell on the long weapon one of them grasped. The orc's jaw fell open. The index fingers of his left hands jabbed out, pointing.
"Kill the geeshunk!"
The purples had burst from the jungle, and were only seconds behind him now. But the blue orc was no longer afraid. He darted forward, ignoring the sudden movement of weapons around him, and put his hands together.
"Smite them! Smite them, O bearer of Enshada'nach!"
"He's attacking!" Elyssa shouts. Fire blazes around her hands.
"No he's blooming not!"
"Well, he looked like he was attacking..."
Enchanted light flares above you, adding to that cast by the moon, stars, and Elyssa's flames. Its illumination reveals the creature in all its... his... bizarreness. He looks like... Yes... An orc. But his flesh is bright blue, and the hands clasped before him in obvious entreaty are three in number -- two forearms extend from his left elbow.
And if this absurdity wasn't enough, the sight behind him provides a fresh helping. Muscular, loincloth-clad figures are running towards you. More orcs -- these ones purple. There are whips, clubs, and blades in their hands. The looks on their faces are no less murderous than the weapons.
The blue orc yells something meaningless, at least to your ear. He points at you... No. He's pointing at the quadradent you're holding. Then he turns around and jabs two index fingers at the approaching purple orcs.
"I think he wants you to kill them," Medea says. Her eyebrow and music both rise.
"Oh..." is all you can muster.
You weren't raised amongst nobles, and instructed in all intricacies of etiquette and social deportment. But even if you had been, you suspect the awkwardness of the present situation would remain somewhat befuddling.
Perhaps the purple orcs are just as taken aback, for they've come to a stop -- brandishing their weapons and casting uncertain glances at you and your friends.
One of them gestures with his whip and shouts, either at you or at the blue orc.
"Anyone understand that?" you ask.
"No," Roland says, "But it doesn't sound like he's asking for a pint of beer and a pie."
"I think he wants this orc," Lucian says.
"Oh, what gave you that bloody idea? The fact that they were chasing him and waving their sodding weapons about? Wish I'd gone to a blooming university, so I could be that quick on the uptake."
"There's really no need for unseemly-"
"Shut up!" at least four of you chorus.
"No one speaks orcish?" you ask.
"I do," Medea says. "But that isn't what they're speaking."
"Try it anyway."
She utters a string of syllables, accompanied by hard, firm strikes of her harp. It's a loud, insistent noise that quells the purple orcs into silence for a moment. Then they commence babbling once more, with renewed intensity.
"What did they say?" Dao asks.
"I don't know!" Medea replies. "They're still not speaking orcish."
"Look, we don't know who this bloody cove is. For all we know, he's a bleeding murderer, as the teacher said to the schoolboy's parents."
You look into the orc's blue face, and find yourself wishing that he'd fled from his pursuers in some other direction. But it's too late for that.
"Ariala," you say, "will your magic... Ariala?"
The Starmancer is gazing at the jungle, from whence more figures are emerging. These ones aren't orcs, of any hue. Their robed bodies are pale and mottled. Tentacles writhe around their limbs and mouths -- giving them the aspect of mounds of entangled worms.
"Qwils," Ariala says.
The purple orcs turn away from you, and direct their babble at the newcomers instead. They're deferring to the qwiladrians -- that much is obvious -- chattering at them and pointing in your direction.
Their masters stare at you from cold, dark eyes.
One of them speaks, in a hissing, warbling tone in which you believe you discern anger or confusion. Perhaps a question or demand.
"Ariala!" you say.
The Starmancer anoints her brow with a glowing hand.
She says something to the qwils. They pause and stare at one another for a moment, before replying with a verbal torrent that sends their oral tentacles curling and flicking.
Ariala speaks again. Medea's head turns from the elf to the qwiladrians, her music matching the rise and fall of all their voices as it accompanies the inscrutable conversation. It soars up into a crescendo when the Starmancer cries out in the common tongue.
"They're going to attack!"
Pink energy flares around Ariala's left hand.
Welcome to the Jungle
|"Elyssa!" the Starmancer shouted.
The pyromancer's flames didn't approve of this. Who was that woman in the silly mask to be giving their mistress orders? They'd never really liked her. And lately she'd been...
But their mistress needed them. They could deal with the Starmancer later. And what kind of word was 'Starmancer' anyway? Their mistress was a pyromancer because she wielded fire. Did Ariala wield stars? No? They didn't think so. Maybe they should burn her...
Oh. Yes. The enemies...
Flames gushed from Elyssa's hands, throwing raging heat and flickering light out in a great wave. The purple orcs scattered, fleeing the path of her unleashed inferno. But the qwiladrian didn't retreat. He writhed forward, his tentacles undulating, and raised his hand.
His entire body shimmered with a layer of eldritch energy that coated his octopean body like an azure slime.
Elyssa smirked. If he thought a little ward was going to stop her flames...
They reveled in their mistress' confidence. They'd burn this stupid tentacled thing up! Their conflagration engulfed the qwil, submerging him. But something was wrong. They couldn't taste his charred, melting flesh. All they could taste was... blue?
The pyromancer gasped. Her flames spluttered.
His writhing body emerged from the blaze, unscathed. The azure shield was still there around his limbs, upon the oral tentacles that seemed to wave at her. He was immune to fire. That was bad. Very, very bad.
Her flames agreed.
The qwil, most likely, did not. A bolt of purple energy flew at her. Its surging force crackled against her cheek as she leapt aside. His right arm darted out, launching fresh projectiles from each of the three tentacles that surrounded his hand.
Her flames leapt in front of her, shrouding her in their burning aegis. The purple bolts burst against them. Elyssa flew backwards and crashed down on her side. Her arm smacked the ground in a clumsy, instinctive breakfall... And landed on something hard.
The stratagem ignited in the pyromancer's mind. Her flames understood it in the same instant.
A fireball whooshed from her left hand. It exploded against the qwiladrian, enveloping him in flame once more. Her other hand closed around the thing on the ground. Elyssa sprang to her feet and threw it.
The fire dissipated. As before, the azure-sheathed body emerged unharmed -- just in time to catch the spear in its chest. The qwil's oral tentacles fluttered. His eyes gazed down in what the pyromancer took to be confusion.
She didn't know if she'd hit his heart. Qwiladrian anatomy was a mystery to her, beyond the grotesquery she could see. But that didn't matter. For his azure shield had fallen.
Elyssa smirked. So did her flames, as they leapt from her hands to claim their prize.
"So, they're purple orcs?" Roland said.
"Ex Tor'gyyle semper aliquid novi," Lucian replied.
"If you say so..."
The adventurer leapt into the fray, putting himself between two of the orcs and Medea. Her song trilled in gratitude, working the gesture into her battle hymn without hampering its melody or flow. Lucian took up his station on the elf's other side. Her song bathed them both in its harmonies.
"Sing with me daughters,
Of warriors brave,
Recount the slaughters,
When battle they gave."
Roland's blades slipped into the tune, each instrument part of the orchestra. A purple orc swung a bladed club at his skull. The adventurer tapped with his steel sword once, twice, thrice. The first two beats met the weapon and deflected its strike. The third smacked the orc's forearm, jarring his nerves, opening his grasp. Raknur's old blade spoke its two syllables before the mace hit the ground. Red marred purple in two gaping rents.
The mace landed. So did the body. The adventurer made three quick steps to complete the next line. His blades flashed in five deft cuts and thrusts. Two more orcs toppled backwards.
Wherever he goes,
Through crimson he wades,
No matter the foe."
She counterpointed the musical salute with a swift horizontal cut from her sword that took an orc's raised hand and weapon in the same stroke. Lucian's cricket bat was the beat of a drum as it slammed down and brained the maimed foe.
However bizarre their surroundings, however strange their foes, the familiar song and dance of battle wove its way into all three of their breasts. Their homeland may have been so many leagues away, but whilst its songs played and its heroes wrought such feats of arms, its spirit would lay claim to that distant place.
"Runners!" <Playername> exclaimed.
That was just like <him/her>. Always blooming thinking. Good thing, thinking -- as long as you didn't get carried away with it, of course, like old Lucian.
A few of those purple coves were scarpering, running back to the jungle. Now, some blokes might think that was all well and good. But they'd be laughing on the other sides of their sodding faces when those runners spread the word and they ended up with a whole bleeding army falling on them like drunks on an unlocked pub. In a foreign land as well? Full of purple orcs, blue orcs, qwils, and gods knew what else? Might as well make a will and repent your sins. And she had a lot of blooming sins to repent.
So Rissa legged it after one lot, and Dao went off after the other.
Those purple blokes were fast, what with their long legs and big colorful muscles. They were already at the jungle. And that meant she had to go in after them, worse luck. But she could hardly piss off back to <Playername> and say she'd given up on account of not wanting to get her blooming boots dirty.
Good thing was, the clumsy sods were smashing the place up -- just bumping and bashing their way through everything in front of them. That slowed them down a bloody treat, and cleared her path good and proper. So she was feeling pretty blinking chuffed with herself, catching up nice as you like, when all of a sudden one of the tossers looked over his bloody shoulder and started shouting. Rissa D'Tang didn't speak purple orcish or whatever it was they blabbed around there. Unless of course talking slower and louder did the job, like it sometimes did with foreign blokes. But she didn't have to be a blooming scholar to work out what the cove was saying. It was probably something like this:
"Oi, mate... Why the sodding hell are we running from a little gnome tart with nice baps?"
The orcs stopped running. So did Rissa. They turned around. She did too. And then it was her turn to scarper, with two big purple blokes chasing after her and thinking how nice her noggin would look with a sword bunged through it. Just like being back home and running from the bobbies, except bobbies were a bit less purple unless you got them really pissed off.
Rissa D'Tang wasn't having any of this. It was one thing to run from the sodding guardsmen. It's not as if a nice lass like her could just shank a bloke with a badge and a friendly smile, like old Marcus. But a couple of tossers who looked like someone had smacked them with the wrong end of a rainbow? Well, that was a different kettle of fish and no blooming mistake.
So she ran at a tree, legged it up the trunk -- not so blooming hard if you're a bloody marvelous gnome thief, and aren't pissed out of your skull -- and flipped over. Landed right on the first orc and put a knife through the back of his neck, then sprang straight at his mate and stuck the other dagger through that one's throat. A girl liked to have a bit of bleeding variety in her life, after all.
After that, something big and nasty growled from the undergrowth. So she decided to make herself scarce, and let it have the blooming corpses if it wanted.
"So you've found your courage?" Dao said.
The purple orcs grunted. One of them lashed out with a long, black whip. It cracked against the shaman's shield. The other two advanced on either side, moving to flank him whilst their companion pulled his serpentine weapon back for another strike.
Three on one, with the jungle concealing them from Dao's companions, they were confident enough. And with good reason -- for their purple thews were strong, and they handled their weapons with the air of experienced fighters.
The orc on his left swung a mace. Dao parried with an outside beat of his sword, putting his assailant off balance and into the path of the middle orc's whip. But the whip-wielder was proficient. He pulled its black coils back at the last moment, before it could flay his comrade's flesh. The shaman wasn't dealing with fools.
However, he was dealing with orcs. And he was a felpuur. Thus he saw what they did not, within the dark depths of the jungle. And it made him bare his teeth in a feline smile.
Dao made a sound, one that would have suited housecat more than a man. A soft, inviting, mewing noise. The orcs hesitated, their purple brows furrowed. Until it was answered from the undergrowth. Then perhaps they understood, though too late for that knowledge to save them.
The feline beast pounced with all the power and grace of great cats the world over. Its mighty paws landed on the orc with the whip, smashing him to the ground. A chomping, tearing bite crunched his neck. The other purple orcs spun round to face the new threat. Dao's sword made them pay for that foolishness. Two quick thrusts ensured his new ally would have easy pickings. Then the shaman hastened away, lest their ephemeral kinship not endure the feeding frenzy that was sure to grip the creature when it feasted on such an ample banquet.
Burden's Rest |
Faedark Valley |
The Last Titan |