Rounding the last corner, they came to a large natural cave. It was wide and it spread about them like willow branches from the mother trunk. Carric saw he was not alone in it as he gazed about in envy of the enemy’s spunk. They had put a lot of work into the place despite its nearness to lawful civilization, chiseling out this bit and that to make it a more worthwhile abode. This group, whoever they were, planned to stay and had put in a good deal of homesteading in on their project. Timbers served as pillars here and there to keep the new additions sturdy.
From the welcoming mouth of the cave there lead a winding throat-like aperture into its depths. The party scanned the area, checking it for traps or other devices.
“If no one is going to say something, I am going to say it,” Tracy piped up. She shifted her stance, uncomfortable.
Carric and Yenrab stared at her and waited for her to continue. The time stretched on.
Alright, okay. Tracy is broken. Time to wind her up. Carric sighed.
“What are you going to say, Tracy?” Carric asked in a patient manner.
“It!” the half-elf yelled and laughed.
“Bear above,” Yenrab muttered. He rolled his eyes and peered skyward. He tried to frown. It didn’t work though. Carric could see crinkles of suppressed laughter in the corners of his mouth.
“Well, guys,” Carric Smith smiled, “I think we can call this spot secure. Shall we enter? Ladies first?”
“Ladies must be first, Mr. Smith,” Tracy responded. “If they weren’t, where would babies come from?”
There was a chuckle followed by a gasp as Yenrab tried not to laugh.
“That’s enough of that. I’m going in,” the stalwart barbarian stated in a serious tone, getting nods of acknowledgement from the other two.
With Yenrab in the lead, the other two trailed as they entered the gullet of the tremendous hill. They walked along a stony tunnel that was damp and held clumps of mushrooms here and there in its clammy nooks. It veered from place to place, not unlike the minor corrections of a drunken man or a sailor’s first steps ashore. It rose as well, but it didn’t go on for long before it opened again into a small cavern, the opposite side of which was walled with cobblestone and fitted with what appeared to be a solid granite gate. It was roughly hewn like all the rest of the constructions seen thus far. Yet it was fascinating and lovely to look at. It was a very functional approach to creating a bizarre and unexpected artifact of humanoid civilization.
Tracy and Carric exchanged curious glances.
“Yenrab, is this orcish culture?” Tracy, ever curious, could not hide the surprise within her eyes.
“Ya know, I grew up in the forests with the tribes of the North,” Yenrab reminisced. “We hunted. We gathered. We fished. I don’t know.”
“You are honestly very well-spoken for an orc,” Carric confided. “I never actually met any like you, Yenrab. How can it be that you are also a barbarian without schooling and a man of the wilderness?”
“Well, not a lot of people know this, I guess, but the tribes are not without education,” Yenrab explained, “Many of us have shamans who, themselves, keep the written word. Every five years, the tribes convene and the most inclined are sent away to the Mage College. At least, that is the way among the Confederation of the Bear. Barbarian is more a state of mind than it is an indicator of a lack of culture.”
Tracy and Carric glanced at each other again, open-mouthed in wonder.
“That was beautiful, Yenrab,” Carric said with an admiring look.
Yenrab kicked a leg to the side, an expectant gaze riding his face. Tracy was the first to realize what was happening as the fetid stench of sulfur burned her nostrils. She gasped and choked.
“No, friend Carric, that was beautiful,” the half-orc laughed, waving the stench of his fart in his direction.
How to be an Adventurer—Volume 1 states that the children of Coraellon, even those mixed with the earthy independence of humankind, are often curious by nature and driven to seek out and understand new things. The tome surmises that this has caused them a lot of trouble in life. It has also brought them to great levels of existence, craft, culture and magic.
That could well explain why Tracy Riley was currently playing patty-cake with the gate. Nothing else really made any sense in the matter.
Yenrab the barbarian and Carric the bard waited patiently as the sorcerous half-elf played her investigative game. Tracy murmured something just at the edge of human hearing and stopped.
“Did you all know that the three of us are hybrids?” Tracy asked, looking back at them in shock.
Oh, great, Carric thought. More silly nonsense.
“Yes, Tracy, of course. Hot, hot humans are the plight of our world,” Carric laughed back at him, doing a little dance..
“Ah, yes. I understand,” Tracy said in a grave and serious tone. “We must kill all humans.”
“What?! No!” Carric exclaimed, “Tracy, I was joking about plight! Humans are good, usually.”
Tracy smiled, her lips magically adjusting to a rosy hue. “I was joking as well, bard Carric. Perhaps humor is something I can understand better in this world than even you.”
Yenrab chuckled. Tracy turned to him. “Yenrab. You are large and quite well-built. Could you break down that gate or, in some way, maybe take apart that wall?”
“Well, Tracy, I’m not sure I can,” Yenrab answered. “Ya know, maybe we should just knock?”
Tracy nodded, then waved at them in a puzzling fashion. “Good idea. But, first, let’s all gather some tinder in the corner and get a little flame going just in case. We’re dealing with a troll and I don’t know if you know this—”
“—but trolls die by fire.” Yenrab and Carric spoke the words simultaneously, gaped at one another startled and chuckled. Tracy laughed as well, though she also seemed embarrassed.
“Yeah, yeah,” Tracy responded, “if everyone knew what I hear everybody knows the world would be a heck of a smarter place, right?”
The three of them gathered combustibles from their immediate surroundings. Still, it didn’t seem to be enough. To make things work, Yenrab resorted to shaving some thicker and longer burning chunks off of the slab road at the cave entrance. Their labors uninterrupted, they soon had a small and decent fire.
“That should last long enough,” Tracy informed them. Her voice was going husky. Her change was coming.
“Yeah, it doesn’t have to last all night. Guys, I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Yenrab beamed. “And, ya know, I really want to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed this all. I feel like a real adventurer.”
“Yenrab, I think you are destined to be more than that, considering the book you are carrying,” Carric noted. He fixed him with a serious gaze.
Yenrab stopped smiling and simply grunted in reply and turned to face the gate with his weapons at the ready. Carric and Tracy took positions to the rear and side.
“Well, I guess this is it. Ready, guys? Or, um, guy and gal?” Yenrab asked.
“Yeah, better to die now where no one can see how much we suck at fighting, I guess,” Carric griped, a scared frown warped his usually handsome face.
Tracy laughed hysterically.
He studied at them over his shoulder to judge their positions. Yenrab marched to the front and pounded one gigantic, meaty slab of hand upon the granite gate. Despite its great durability, it shuddered and one could imagine it gasping under the assault.
A slot opened in the door, previously undetected and about eye level for the massive half-orc.
“Yeah? Nalkriuk ayh lat agh whaav do lat wanav?”
Carric turned to Tracy and Tracy to him.
“I do not understand anything they are saying, friend Carric,” Tracy Riley said, his voice a little uncertain about the word friend as he spoke.
“It sounds like guttural nonsense, I know, but that is a language. They are speaking Orcish, friend Tracy. Yenrab has this.” Carric, feeling this was important to the half-elf from Elfsmeet, emphasized the word friend as he spoke. Tracy responded well, giving him a grateful and ecstatic look in return.
Indeed, Yenrab spoke the crackle and spit of the language fluidly, the half-orc and the other being exchanged a quick back-and-forth conversation that ended with an orcish laugh and a grunt from the gate’s other side. The half-orc turned back to the group, deep frown on his face.
“Alright, guys,” Yenrab said back to his companions. “They say we are young nothings and say they’ll eat us if we don’t stop bothering them.”
“Well, we need them to open that door. Can you maybe show off our equipment and let them know that it’d be really profitable to rob us?” asked Tracy.
Carric started at that. Yenrab chuckled and scratched himself between his legs.
Ugh, Carric grimaced.
Yenrab sighed with content, having gotten rid of that wearisome ill and shrugged. “That’s not a bad idea, Tracy, but I might have a better one.”
Carric piped in, “Maybe we should just look at the book?”
“I’m not sure the book likes being used that way,” Yenrab mused, thinking out loud. “It sure had opinions on how I used it earlier.” He peered at them guiltily, his eyes refused to meet theirs.
Both Tracy and Carric started to ask questions at the same time.
“What do you—”
“Why are you—”
“Anyways, guy and gal, that will all have to wait,” Yenrab interjected in haste. He lowered his voice. “I have an idea that might settle this quickly. Guys, just hang back and stay ready for a fight.”
The half-orc went through a series of motions. There was something about the tribal dance that made it spiritual and it nagged at Carric’s mind. A dim memory from bard school so long ago rose in his mind. Tribal Barditry and the Contest of Insults! It was a vague subject in his schooling. One he had been interested in for a brief time. Yenrab was going to taunt, intimidate and insult the orc through the door in a contest of wit. Carric considered Yenrab again with a critical eye and realized something interesting. Yenrab would probably win this.
Yenrab barked out orcish words, sharp and fine. The orc across the way laughed and responded in kind.
Tracy whispered to Carric, “Any idea what they are saying?”
Carric, whose knowledge spanned unsuccessful lessons in dozens of languages, shrugged and whispered back, “Well, I think Yenrab told him a joke about his mother and told him he was a coward. And the other orc said that the joke was funny and something about a trap?”
“Darn,” Tracy said, loosening up in tone since Carric had admitted to friendship. “Okay. I think I know what Yenrab is going for.”
“It’s a Contest of Insults,” asked Carric.
Tracy nodded. Cupping his hands around his mouth he yelled to the big man, “Hey! Yenrab. Do trolls speak Orcish?”
“Sometimes,” Yenrab answered with authority. “But mostly they speak Trollish.”
“Troll? The trolls are smart enough to have made and compiled their own language?” asked a surprised Tracy.
“Nah,” Yenrab waved away, “Mostly colloquial Trollish is just Nemedian common and Northland Orc, mixed together with a bad accent.”
“Alright. Why don’t you just start mocking their troll leader? Do it as loud as you can. Try to get it to echo through there,” suggested Tracy.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay, Tracy. Let’s try that,” Yenrab said through a goofy grin.
Yenrab switched to Troll as best as he could, mixing common with Orcish and a horrific mispronunciation of multiple words. “Hey, troll. Troll! Okak Kog there? Can Okak Tan me? Nart are your orc friends keeping Okak Kog a cage. That’s Ega Ok’d keep Okak. A dumb Gorak Tek Okak needs narg kept away Kor real people.”
“Carric what’s he saying?” Tracy asked.
“I don’t know. It sounds nasty though,” Carric snorted. “I guess you could say he is trolling the troll.”
Tracy just stared at him. Carric threw up his hands, his joke absolutely misunderstood.
“Hey, troll. Troll!” Yenrab bellowed, “Teg do Okak Ek On a half-orc has recor Ar a troll? Your mom last Nadul!”
“Carric, did he just say what I think he said?” asked Tracy, cocking his head.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he answered.
Yenrab was laughing at this point, thoroughly enjoying himself. The faint sounds of titanic anger echoed from the rear of the complex.
The orc behind the gate wasn’t laughing though. He said something back in a worried voice. Yenrab nodded and turned to his friends.
“Guys, the orc says he actually knows of me and likes my work,” Yenrab proudly translated, “and so he wants us to run. He said trolls are way too tough for newbies like us.”
“He knows of you? How in the seven hells does everybody know who you are Yenrab? All you did was run around saving people from their own stupidity!” Carric exclaimed.
“I dunno,” Yenrab theorized, “I guess I’d theorize that we all get our fifteen years of fame?”
“I’m famous too,” Tracy confided.
“That’s just great,” Carric stated in frustration. “I bet that orc has a few stories about him as well. Anyways, let’s just get this over with.”
“Yeah, hurry it up. I say we can take him. Just keep insulting him. And, hey, I’m going to slick this place with all of our oil while you talk,” further suggested Tracy.
Carric and Yenrab both gave him their assent and Yenrab laid down another volley of insults. The troll’s roars of rage became louder and nearer.
“Nalal jiak’m goaumn avo go kurrauz wiavh mausan companionuk. Najor’uk gone berukerk. Jiak wiukh lat nalal Yenrab shal your afavas life.”
“What did he say?” asked Tracy.
Yenrab cleared his voice, “He said he’s getting out of the way; his boss has gone berserk and will smash anything and anyone in his way. Oh and he’ll see us in the afterworld.”
“Nice guy. I like him,” said a half-laughing Tracy.
“Yeah. Orcs kind of get a bum rap,” Yenrab grinned. “I hope things look up for him in the future.”
“He’s almost here, guys. Get ready. Torch up, Tracy. Carric, umm, make some noise!”
They all thought, in a dazed and dazzled way, that the fates had been kind. Ribs had been broken, noses busted, eyes blackened, sorcerers cooked and, indeed, crap had been released. The sheer terror of a troll is such that neither words nor pictures can entirely describe the sensation.
The troll had thrown open the gate and stooped low to fit his gangly and beastly frame through. The adventurers stood their ground in heroic defiance, blasting him with magic, hacking him with axe and lighting the oil all about them.
And it had reared from the flame, then found a way around it. Leaping, sliding, dodging and swatting, the troll flung Yenrab hard into the wall of the cavern with a swipe of its gangly green limbs before tossing Carric back to the entrance, all the time shrieking in its devilish common/orcish mongrel tongue and glaring with ferocity at the lot of them.
It wasn’t until the troll faced down with Tracy Riley that he met his own dose of terror. Tracy, perhaps figuring there was no reason not to at this point, used the minor powers at her call to splash herself in burning oil from the ground. She screamed in pain and agony while charging directly at the terrified troll who, in all of its many travails, had never ever encountered a creature so uncaring of its own life and existence. It had loped back through the gate, sealed it shut and screamed about within the gang’s lair. Then the troll bellowed in such a way as to suggest the thing was crying, even though its brief battle had finished.
And now here the adventurers were, sprawled about the cavern at strange angles and in immense pain. But also victory? They all could feel the divine rumble of beings grumbling that this had been so.
“That. Hurt,” Yenrab grunted.
“A lot,” Carric added. “I’ve got . . . ung . . . some healing magic but . . . ahg . . . well, it’s pretty basic.”
“I—huff—am—huff—in,” the smoldering sorcerer gasped out. “Lay—huff—it—huff—on—huff—me.”
“Gah. Okay, guys—I—oof—I gotta sing it,” Carric gasped, “I sprained—ack—my hand.”
“Just do it!” Yenrab moaned. “Agh.”
Carric pulled himself up and broke into an award-winning aria. Dips and valleys in voice rose into fantastic crescendoes, weaving back and forth between the joys and sadness that accompany life. Twenty minutes later, the spell finally launched, bathing them all in an aura of light and relaxing their muscles even as it creased over burns and knitted closed scratches and scrapes.
“That was a nice song and all, friend Carric. But I think, if we are all going to adventure together, maybe you need to make an abridged version?” Tracy suggested.
“I was never supposed to need it, you know? Not for anything more than making people at the local tavern feel better,” Carric responded defensively.
Yenrab got to his feet and feeling better, stretched his limbs and popped his back. “Well, Carric, you do you. I’m not sure how much I care so long as it works. But, guys, I think we are going to have to reevaluate our quest here. That troll is still in there and he is pissed.”
“Are you sure?” Tracy asked with too much intensity. “I think Carric put him to sleep.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, I get it,” Carric apologized. “I’ll figure out a new song.”
“Do you do requests?” Yenrab asked in feigned innocence, a glimmer in his monstrous eyes.
“Maybe I ought to. But, hey, back to the task at hand. New quest—give this job to some other guys,” Carric Smith smirked as he said it, perhaps amazed at how awful it had all turned out. “What do you all think?”
“Right, then. Off we go,” Carric said. “We’ll let the first person we see know that this is well beyond us and then let us continue onto Gennopolis.”
The novice adventurers, bloodied but victorious, found a farmer boy, his bare feet dirty with play rather than animal muck. He was stomping on anthills on his way back to the village. They flipped the boy a gold piece to go and tell the village their story. They had frightened the band and it may have been enough, but probably the villagers would need to hire more professional help to deal with the troll and his gang. Then off they went, framed by the blood red rays of the sun setting over Gimmok, bathed in the bonds of battle.