Chapter 9: Portents Aplenty

How to be an Adventurer —

Making a Party You Can Be Proud Of

Well, you bit off a bit more than you could chew, didn’t you? Not to worry! The first quest rarely ends in victory excepting, of course, those done under the auspices of the most gentle and forgiving celestial overseers. It is time to move forward, enlightened, to enlist a fuller, better-rounded party of four to six persons which most often offers the best punch per pound. Take advantage of any potential allies by giving them a space in your crew. A group of several adventurers is enough to take down quite the mighty foes and, if tempered with experience, could even well become the very individuals the world needs to help save it, as these things often go.

***

Late summer turned to fall as the group marched across the northern continent, with its slow summer, fast autumns and tremendously long winters. That static and eternal heat that had hung over them had been replaced with blissful, cooler, less resentful breezes and the taste of snow to come. The terrain had changed as well as they made their way from the hilly coasts of the Reaches, through the tremendous oaks of the interior, past scrubby patches of deciduous forest and into a hilly land of stunted trees that struggled hard to stay apex over the brush they competed with. Yenrab stomped one mindlessly as he trudged forward. Tracy saw and let out a squeak of protest.

Overtop the scene, crisp with frost, danced the notes of a tune. Not anything fancy, the again-male Tracy thought, examining each individual one as it entered his head through his ears. But it was pleasant nonetheless.

The author, of course, was Carric. That strange man was the same race as him, with the same hybridization of elf and man. Yet, somehow, he knew nothing of the joys of Coraellon.

Tracy flashed a sign, a C and two Ls, with his fingers to remind him that the God Coraellon watched over them. Carric didn’t even notice!

Tracy grumbled and grumped as he tried to imagine being so bereft of that gentle god. It made him shiver with unpleasant tingles. He skipped unhappily to shake off the chaotic whorls of bad energy.

Carric stopped strumming his tune and examined Tracy with irritated concern. “Are you alright, Tracy Riley?”

The man’s voice was annoyed, but tempered with friendliness as well.

Am I alright? Internally, he frowned, casting a glance at his female and androgynous ids. Each was the same as him, yet they were also different, with their own strengths and weaknesses only truly known to himself.

His female self answered him, for now content to ride passenger in this body that they shared.

If you tell him what bothers you, he will be confused. The chaotic energies of this world are not well understood by those who aren’t born wild. Tell him you are fine. Explain that this is normal.

“Yes, Carric,” he said in an emotionless and fake tone, “I was perturbed for a moment, but now I am fine. Please, play some more. It will help me feel more like myself.”

Carric frowned, confused and he picked his song back up where he had left off, beseeching summer to stay with them just a little longer.

Neither Tracy nor Yenrab dared to interrupt as they listened. Carric Smith had added something extra to it this time. This time the music was thicker and more meaningful. As they listened to the melodic ballad about breezes making things seem fine, their limbs didn’t feel as heavy as they had.

Tracy hummed along. Yenrab smiled and joined suit, his voice clearly unused to the activity. His voice arced and weaved in unexpected ways that made the tune sound exotic.

This is what we are made for, Tracy thought, delighted to be caught in such a beautiful mind-meet. He could feel joy all around him and he gave himself to it, barking out an ecstatic and beautiful laugh and pirouetting with his arms outward like a child’s top at play. A long and thick arm, scabbed and hairy, reached out and stopped him.

“Guys, ya gotta watch out around here,” Yenrab warned, pointing with his other hand at a clump of stalks swaying innocently in the frigid fall wind. That plant right there, well, I don’t know its right and proper name, but back in the tribe we called it the Mother-in-Law.”

Carric narrowed his eyes. “The Mother-in-Law? That doesn’t sound threatening at all!”

“I take it you’ve never been married,” Yenrab giggled, punchline accomplished. “Seriously, though, that’s what we call it.”

Tracy’s eyes sparkled. “What is a Mother-in-Law?”

“Well, that’s what the mom of your wife is called,” Carric explained patiently.

“Ah, a wife thing. Yeah, we don’t do that back in the commune. Everyone’s mom is everyone else’s mom,” Tracy stated, beginning to sound bored.

“Hold on now,” Yenrab commanded. “Are you telling me that no one gets married? How do you keep track of who is, uh, ya know”—his face blushed as he talked—“who is making babies with whom?”

“We just go to the mating hall and see who else is looking to have some,” Tracy explained, “and then we all pile together and enjoy ourselves.”

Yenrab coughed and peeked away.

“Hells, yes! That’s what I’m talking about!” Carric enthused. “If I become famous, I’m going to have a huge mansion and you bet I’m going to have my own mating hall.”

“Or just come to Freemeet,” Tracy offered, smiling. “We’ve got plenty.”

Yenrab stumbled, ready to collapse.

“Alrighty,” Yenrab moved on, “now, if you will just observe the Mother-in-Law, watch out for it and don’t get close.”

“Why, Yenrab? And why is it called the Mother-in-Law?” Carric questioned, a grin still plastered onto his normally nervous face. The trip had slowly gotten him to be closer and less shy with his new companions.

“Because, Carric, if you get too close, it will rip your testicles off!”

Carric’s face dropped in an instant. His hands dropped as he covered his balls. Tracy, for his part, spun in a circle and chanted some words, quickly metamorphosing into a woman.

“Am I good, Yenrab?” she asked in a scared squeak. 

“Yeah, you’re good,” Yenrab chuckled. “Listen just everyone: be careful for a while and follow my lead. It is what you paid me for and this area here seems a bit magic tainted, so stay on your toes.”

***

A magical event in this place of errant magic wasn’t entirely unexpected but they weren’t well prepared for it either when it happened. Yenrab was leading the way humming a happy ditty when all at once the sky went black. They all spun to see each other and to their surprise, everything was still visible despite the apparent absence of the sun.

Turn back, a voice sounded. It deafened them with its malevolence. Turn back NOW!

“Umm,” Carric stuttered.

Tracy inspected the darkness with a meticulous eye. Check the auras, her ids advised her. Weaving a cantrip about her eyes, she surveyed the land. All magical things in the vicinity would give off waves, like flames, each imbued with a color itself tied to the spectrum of magic and the schools of magic therein.

All the land about them radiated a dark-red aura. Fire and necromancy, she judged it, far from being an expert in these things like her non-wild, school-trained counterparts.

“Turn back, Turn back NOW!” 

“Umm,” Carric repeated.

Yenrab snorted.

“Look, Gharag, or whoever you are,” Yenrab challenged, shaking a fist at the sky. “I don’t know why you don’t want me to be an adventurer, but if you think you are hard enough, come down here and try it.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Turn back, turn back . . .” the voice echoed and faded.

“Umm?!” Carric stammered, frightened.

Tracy searched the pockets of her robes, grabbed a pinch of this and a clove of that, then rubbed it all together in her hands. Sprinkles escaped and fell to the dirt.

“It’s an illusion,” Tracy said then he cast a pile of glittering and glowing sand out in an arc. It separated and rose, washing away the darkness and the voice.

“Thanks to the gods!” Carric spurted, relief evident in every nook and cranny upon his face.

Tracy smirked. “Don’t thank all the gods, Carric. Thank Coraellon.”

***

The party decided to make camp upon a grassy hill. The forest extended out in every direction from the foot of it. Yenrab was feeling cocky as they set up. He’d just told a god to go stuff himself and was none the worse for wear. Plus Tracy, well, he didn’t know what in the hells she had done. She kicked the gods butt though, however she had done it.

Yenrab walked over to where Tracy sat doing Tracy stuff and he clapped a hand onto her shoulder.

“Hey, Tracy, great job today. I didn’t think to say that and ya know, I should have.”

Tracy eyed Yenrab’s hand, closed her eyes and was suddenly androgynous, her breasts still well in place, but so too a goatee and a large endowment in hir nethers.

Yenrab pulled back his hand, startled.

“Hey, what did you do that for?” Yenrab asked, confused.

“I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, friend Yenrab,” ze replied. “I didn’t want you to get any ideas.”

“I, grr, I, fuh, gah! What?!” Yenrab burbled in embarrassed confusion.

They studied each other, confusion on their faces.

“You started the mating-hall ritual,” Tracy said, “I wanted you to understand that there is no hall here and know that is not going to happen.”

Yenrab blushed and sighed.

“I don’t know if I will ever understand you, Tracy. But good job today anyways. I’m gonna go out and see if I can’t get us something better than hard tack.”

***

Things were quiet in the aftermath of Yenrab’s departure. It wasn’t that there wasn’t anything to talk about, as often seems to be the case when it is just two people with differing interests. No, it was that Carric was sitting close to the fire and just staring into the flames. He had been quiet ever since the incident with the god or demon earlier that day and having a fire at his feet had done nothing to thaw the freeze of his soul.

“Is something wrong, Carric?” Tracy asked, teasing grit out from under hir nails by the flickering light of the fire.

Carric stared at Tracy and gave out one long heavy sigh.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Tracy pressed on, hir voice dripping with empathy.

Carric sighed again. “Yeah. I mean, no, I don’t want to talk about it, but yeah, I should.”

“Go on,” Tracy persuaded him, pushing slowly and gently at his thoughts.

“I failed hard back there. I fell apart. I froze,” Carric admitted. “I don’t know if there was anything I could have done, but if there was, I can tell you that I didn’t do it. It was terrifying. I was terrified.”

“Keep going.”

Carric gazed into Tracy’s eyes. “I am nothing. I was nothing growing up and I’m nothing now. That magic book seems to think I’m one of you guys, but what can I do? Get beat up by trolls and scared pantsless by an illusion?”

“You are still wearing pants,” Tracy observed.

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t be,” Carric informed hir. “The insides of these things are absolutely filthy and have been since our encounter.”

“Ew,” Tracy noted, wrinkling hir nose.

“You don’t even know,” Carric added. “Nor do you want to.”

Tracy checked both his left and his right to make sure that no one was listening and Carric found himself doing the same. Shaking his head, he wondered if crazy was communicable.

“Maybe you are just here to get to Gennopolis and become a famous musician, Carric. Maybe the book is wrong. Or, maybe, you just haven’t been in the right situation yet to show your worth. But you are worthwhile. I say this as your friend.”

“Doubtful,” Carric humphed.

“Just trust me, Carric. We all have our own special worth. Now take off your pants and let’s see what we can do about those insides.”

***

The stars twinkled and blinked in the dusky dark as Yenrab stalked stormily through the wilderness. The rugged barbarian glanced at them in appreciation, for the darkness was lasting longer and the moon had gone on vacation. Steam huffed from his mouth and nostrils as he moved without sound. Heel-toe, heel-toe, the march of the night huntsmen could be heard by nothing but the gods. Even in his confused and irritated state of mind.

Make a wild survival roll, the Gamer said in his mind. The dice clattered, coming up 15. Whatever that meant. He shook it out of his mind.

There was a crackle not so far to Yenrab’s right. The night was poorly lit. Yenrab didn’t mind though. He had another trick up his sleeve. As a product of his mixed heritage Yenrab was the beneficiary to a sort of dark vision that worked well along the same principles as for cats. If the light hit his eyes right, it would reflect in an eerie fashion and without such providence, no prey would see him coming until he was well too close to escape.

His pupils widened as he scanned for the direction of the sound. There! With pinpoint accuracy, Yenrab found and identified a family of wild boars moving through the night in search of food and new shelter. Moving silently, Yenrab slid behind a squat and ragged pinyon tree, he crouched down and paused to hide his proximity. The boars moved about, relaxed and unaware of the predator in their midst. The half-orc grinned, grim and joyless. He judged his distance with measured and patient sight. Then leaping high through the air, he was upon the largest boar’s back. It struggled and bucked. Grabbing a hold of its head he heaved and twisted, killing it. The other boars squealed as they streaked away, seeking escape from this monstrous being.

“I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page, friend Yenrab,” Yenrab whispered to himself in a mocking voice, thinking back to Tracy Riley at the fire. Bah, he thought as he hauled the pig over his shoulders. All of this constant embarrassment was going to be the death of him.

His thoughts softened. But, hey, the past is past and the pork is soon.

No bad day can survive a pork barbecue.

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Published by Damien Lee Hanson

I am the founder of Damien Hanson Books. Come check out awesome authors right here at my website!

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