Once upon a time there was a half-orc named Yenrab. He was a warrior and that will matter soon.
More than that, he was the avatar. The Avatar of the Gamer in fact. That will matter even sooner.
But for now, he was simply a satiated half-orc with no desire to do more than stay next to his mother in the wet and fragrant grass of the forest clearing, listening to birds twitter. The remains of a picnic lay nearby. It had been a long while since he’d done anything pleasant or sweet, and he wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind.
Especially since today was a special day.
Today, the shamans had declared, was his day. No battle classes, no hunts, no foodless stays in the mountains. Today he’d been granted time with his mother, time with which to enjoy themselves and picnic. (Footnote: It is often left unconsidered by gamers that orcs, too, enjoy picnics and brisk sunny walks. Though usually this sort of thing ends in xps for the “heroes” who encounter them.)
And what a picnic it had been! Stuffed squirrel, squirrel tea, filet o’ squirrel! Those tree rats weren’t going to be bothering the tribe again for quite a while (It is worth mentioning that squirrels might look cute, but watch them as they watch you. They are clearly up to something.).
He sighed. Dice clattered and bounced in his ear, followed by a scream.
It was the Gamer. The Gamer always rolled, and rarely did anything good happen after. The scream sounded again, confirming his suspicions.
“Someone is in trouble,” Yenrab said. He got off the ground and brushed himself off, shaking his head as he did so. Of all the times somebody could have gotten into trouble.
His mother stood up next to him, her face scrunched in annoyance.
She can hear it too. He searched her scarred visage for a hint of her thoughts. The man saw something else as well. He saw fear.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his body suddenly rigid.
Mom is never afraid, he thought, surprised.
She glanced at the swaying branches above them and then she turned on him, her eyes steel and angry.
“Don’t you do it!” she said, looking down at him from her superior height.
“I have to, Mom. These people don’t know what they are doing.”
“Besides, I think the shamans might have planned for me to be here. They said today is my day. What if they meant this?”
“You are the Avatar of the Gamer! They couldn’t have!”
“But what if they did?”
His mother grunted again. The birds above them had fallen silent.
“That was a settler scream – Icegarditian! Let her die. She doesn’t belong here.”
“No!” he said. “Ya know, I feel guided in this. I have to go help her.”
“Don’t make me ground you,” his mother warned. She assumed a wrestler’s stance, ready to take him down.
“I’m not twelve anymore, mother and it might be you who gets grounded.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“And, besides,” he added, “have I not been anointed as the avatar?”
Her eyes widened.
“Ya know,” he said, “I always thought that was meant to mean something.”
“You don’t know of what you speak, child. You aren’t old enough to understand how horrible those settlers are. They will come and come and come without end.”
“Then we’d better make peace with them while we can,” Yenrab answered. “This is the will of the gods. I know it. The Gamer and the Bear tell me this is so.”
His mother stood tall, tears streamed down her face. She was a tremendous and powerfully muscled behemoth in her own right and seeing her stand there, helpless, it broke Yenrab’s heart.
“You are anointed and you are the avatar. But you are so young. Is it really your avatar that tells you to do these things? Does the voice of a Gamer truly tell you which way to turn and what to do when you get there?”
“He does,” Yenrab stated.
“Can I talk to this Gamer? My progeny, warrior of my uterus, we battled settlers three times this month! Is this Gamer maybe not some evil spirit?” she questioned, desperate for another answer. For they both could feel it. Destiny and a parting of ways.
“Mom, it doesn’t work that way. I get a feeling and at times, a rattling of dice. He doesn’t talk to me directly. It is more of a sense I get.”
Yenrab screwed up his face in confusion, “I know he is there when there is the taste of Mountain Dew and Cheetos on my tongue. Not that I know what those are, but I know that this is correct.”
She nodded as she wept.
“Then go, Yenrab Atsittab. Go to the settlers and follow the words of the Gamer and the Great Bear! Leave behind the drama of this chapter in your life and move into new ones, greater ones, ones with laughter, action, fun and merriment! I don’t know how to let you go, son and I’m sorry I’m doing the best I can. It is the start of your adventure and you know what is best. The Gamer and Bear bless you. Let me do the same.”
The young man blinked and let the moment wash over him. He had known this day was coming. The tribe was a good group, really, but a lost one. It fought too much against the outside. It fought too much against change.
Every time he heard a cry of anguish or fear, he responded. It didn’t matter who it was, he was there. And usually it was settlers – good, decent, stupid, foolish settlers – humans, ogres, elves, city folk lost in the big bad woods. They didn’t know the nuances of the swordfisted-abnercath, or the damnful games of the titterdum. And so he helped them, again and again and again and in doing so he became a figure of legend and a folk-hero of the North. All without having to kill a single sentient being.
His tribe was different. They had killed settlers. When they’d all traveled over the Crokrad River in sledges last winter they’d ignored the moans of the freezing and lost family of settlers just a mile over.
That night he went back and saved them. He brought them into the tribe and warmed and fed them. The following morning the tribe killed them.
Murder hobos, the Gamer had suggested to him. What a bunch of murder hobos. Not in voice, the Gamer never talked to him in voice. Yet the word was on his tongue anyways.
“Thank you mom. I must go. If this feeling of destiny is wrong I will return.” The sight of mother, father and children splayed bloodily against crusted white snow played again and again through his mind’s eye.
She gazed upon him with broken eyes. In the distance the woman screamed again.
“Yenrab, please don’t!”
“I have the taste of the Mountain Dew in my mouth and the clatter of dice in my ear, mother. I must.”
“Then go,” the tremendous woman warrior said, picking fretfully and murderously at the leaves on her armor. She refused to look him in the face. “You will be an adventurer, then, son Yenrab, once of Tribe Atsittab. A mercenary and a scavenger of treasures. May the Bear and the Gamer treat you well!”
Yenrab walked away, stopped and turned around. He then gave her a deep bow of respect and love. His mind made, he spun on his heel and sprinted off to his latest rescue.
Yenrab ran. He ran hard and fast. He leapt over a fallen log then began to breathe hard as he tilted uphill, his chest heaving as he conquered the hillish incline. Above him the tree branches swayed in the wind. “Yenrab!” he thought he heard his mother shout. If it was her, she was too late. He snatched his battle axes out from their latched harness upon his back as he ran.
“Get away from me, fiend!” the woman’s voice echoed from the berms and muddy slopes of the forest. Yenrab was getting nearer. Leaves slid and scattered smoothly underneath him in damp forest loam, their noise a pleasant reminder of who he was and what he needed to do.
He blasted over the incline, his heart soared as he did so. A cloud of forest litter, needles and surprised squirrels, sprayed upward from behind him.
There, where the local creek cut its way through the land, was his target. A young woman clad in expensive leathers and furs was trapped, her back up against a mossy rise of hillock near the water’s edge and her face contorted in fear. A man in ripped and ragged leather crept up in front of her, a predatory smile on his ugly face. She had warded his advances thus far with a large and well-made leather satchel, but the man was toying with her.
If I were in his place and this woman was my enemy, I would catch the satchel as it swung and disarm her. Then I’d slam her into the dirt.
He grinned sadly. It was always better to settle fights than to win them.
Sprinting down the slope, skidding on the slick and muddy soil, the massive barbarian made his presence well-known.
“Leave her alone!” he yelled. “Please?”
The man turned sharply at the sound and the woman slung her satchel over the hillock before scrambling up it and away from both of them. The brigand glared back at her, scowled and drew two curved blades. His blades arced, one higher than the other, as he spun to face the teenaged half-orc dead on.
“Let me guess? Yenrab the Good Orc? What is it with you? Why can’t you just let things be?” the human sneered and spat into the turned up ground beneath him.
He was starved and exhausted. Dark bags hung under his eyes and pox marked his left cheek.
“Yeah, ya know, you got me. I don’t got you though. Who are you and why are -?”
“I have expected you. And here you have come. In coming you have killed me. You don’t know it, but you have killed me,” the man said. Opening his mouth wide, he bared vampiric fangs and hissed. Yenrab retreated a step. “The path to adventure has consequences, Yenrab, once of Tribe Atsittab. You bloody well look at me, for this is what happens!”
Yenrab’s face whitened. Something was broken here. This man knew not just his name but also his new status and maybe even what he had eaten for breakfast.
How in the seven hells? How fast does news travel in this forest? he thought, bewildered.
“Whatever being sent you, fiend, I am not interested. Leave this place. Ya know, I don’t want to hurt you.” Yenrab moved his hand axes into battle position. He didn’t want to fight. Yet he would if he had to.
“The wonders of the world lie at your feet, Yenrab. And the world, well, it does not give away such sights for free. Your adventures will not end well. They never do. You will die in pain underneath the foulest of beasts as your family is torn asunder. Slay me and you will know. Or allow me to slay you and die happy, knowing that you have averted such a dirty mess,” the gaunt man said, a contemptuous smile rode across his face as he did so. “Your move, bar-bare-ee-un.”
A hand axe protruded from the man’s chest and he flopped to the ground. He smiled as blood welled forth, hard and crimson.
“Gharag will see you burn forever,” he gasped, before he lost consciousness for the last time.
Yenrab searched the corpse with shaky hands. Searching the corpse was unnerving for the young barbarian. He had never actually killed a sentient being before. He poked and prodded a lot then sighed and tore through the man’s many pockets and pouches. Nothing. He turned to the man’s ragged backpack that lay deflated upon the mucky ground. Hefting it into one paddle-sized hand, he could feel a single item inside. Something that radiated importance. And fear.
I could just leave it here, he thought desperately to the words the man had told him. The path to adventure has consequences, he said. Bad ones he implied. This is it. This has gotta be the thing that sends me on this path of horror and destruction.
What if there is good to be done on the way asked the Gamer from inside his head. He startled.
“Ya know, I don’t have to do this!” Yenrab screamed into the sky. He whipped the backpack away from him to squelch hard into the wet clay near the bank of the creek. “I don’t have to play anyone’s games!”
But you do, Yenrab. This is the world and we are all somebody’s puppet. The dim clatter of dice sounded in his ear.
The voice seeped through him and a bright and dazzling glow caught his eye. From the backpack had tumbled the only thing it possessed. It was a tome, in perfect shape and written, somehow, in Orcish. On its cover was embossed, in what looked to be gold, the words: “How to be an Adventurer—Volume 1.” Underneath that, in silver, was tagged the byline: “Written by Jerold Frey at the Behest of the Gods.”
He thought about it. He really did. For almost an hour he stood there, confused, deep in thought. The shadows changed in shape and demeanor about him and the creek burbled and sluiced by. Then, finally, he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Why do you have to make this so damn interesting?” he asked, chuckling. He smooshed his heavy frame through the slimy clay bed, wetting his feet and knees in the process. Wading through that mess he tromped to the tome that shone so brightly with both magic and destiny.
“That was well played,” he spoke to the sky as he recovered the tome and stuck it firmly into his rucksack. “Well played.”