Darklands Online Filled With Peril, Danger, Claims One Distraught Teen

Online, Darklands – Sally Sommerman thought she’d finally found a place to relax. Tremendously realistic settings so crisp that she could taste the air.

Little did she know that carnage would soon ensue.

“I showed up in the game and immediately asked around town about where I might chill, ya know. Put my feet up. Just listen to nature and get away from my mom.”

She was given a location. A pristine place. Sylvan light filled the glade. White berries shined from deep green bushes while animals danced along the periphery. She said it was a dream come true.

But the dream soon became a nightmare.

“The people in town had lied to me! I didn’t know that NPCs can lie.”

The ground upon which she lie, indeed, the whole place itself had been an elaborate trap. Just as she fell asleep, the ground opened up, and she fell into a nest. One filled with webs and giant spiders.

“Oh my god, yuck yuck yuck, that was so horrible. They kept biting me and I kept getting more and more poison debuffs on my status. I screamed so hard that my mom pulled me out of the game.”

Darklands Online has declined comment on Sally’s account of the game, simply noting that “experiences may vary.”

This has been Damien Hanson reporting.

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Chapter 7: On Track

How to be an Adventurer—The Art of the Quest

You’ve found a quest, perhaps a noble one or perhaps something with ruins, treasure and spelunking. Welcome to the world of adventuring! Now that you are here, it is time to INVENTORY YOUR TRAITS! Why ignore those gifts that the gods have given you when you can STRATEGIZE! Maximize your approach by organizing your party. A good leader makes an order of march, an order of battle, a party pool for the treasure and an accurate assessment of all of his or her assets and fellows. Use that assessment and compare it to possible obstacles and foes! Not every party is ready to slay a dragon or scale a cliff. And, when in doubt, RUN! Discretion, strategy and intelligence are much more important than headstrong valor.

***

The weather was favorable this late summer afternoon. It was the sort of day in which the wind breezed off the hills and its battalions of dandelions, tall grass and fruit trees. It was perhaps the remains of an ancient orchard. For sure, this land had seen enough destruction and regrowth over the millennia. 

Carric gazed to the sky, the sun warmed his face as he allowed himself a contented sigh. Carric had practiced being confident and done a pretty good job of it. He had argued the logistics of the quest and lost—as his heart had desired. And so, he had no reason not to feel good. The clouds were wispy and light, the birds chirped with the beauty of sound and things buzzed and flew about him in delightful play. It was a joyous sun that showed on this day and he felt confident that even their corpses would look wonderful in the open air of this magnificence.

Humming quietly to himself, he soundlessly practiced his lute and singing voice as he marched.

“Yenrab, have you ever read the biting words of the poet Ray Day McCray? Or the nuanced thoughts of Alexos Polaris?” Carric asked, scanning about himself in ecstasy.

The man was lost in his own thoughts and paid him no heed.

Carric simply sighed. It is all good. I am often not heeded and am quite used to it.

Tracy cavorted nearby, half-skipping and half-dancing as they moved forward. To her, Yenrab did pay attention, mumbling and shaking his head. Carric noticed that Yenrab even shook his fist at the sky, his face stormy. The big man sighed.

“Yenrab, what are you thinking about?” Carric Smith asked, himself content with their certain and impending death but worried that his new friends might not be so at peace with it.

The big man paused and eyedCarric critically. He nodded, bent to his knee and slung his massive ruck off of his shoulders to place it upon the ground. Tracy continued moving even as they stopped. She was circling them rather than progressing forward, lost in her own world.

Carric eyeballed his fellow half-elf and wondered what she was thinking as well. It had to be interesting, the way it seemed to take her over even in the midst of the things about them. He’d have to ask sometime.

Yenrab flexed and stretched to rid himself of the stiffness that comes with being the party’s pack animal. He opened his rucksack as far as it would go before looking at Carric again with curious and searching eyes. Carric backed up.

“Woah! This feels important, Yenrab. Maybe you shouldn’t do whatever you are about to do,” Carric said as he, without thought, retreated from the large bag upon the ground. He felt the dizziness that often accompanies destiny.

“It might be. I don’t know yet. But if it is, maybe you guys should know about it too. Or at least you since Tracy doesn’t seem to be all there,” Yenrab groused the last bit, distracted with larger thoughts though. “Before I found you both, I found this.”

Yenrab plunged his thick arms into the bag, searching and shuffling before grunting his success. Yenrab withdrew a book that glowed with purpose and he displayed its cover to the curious bard. Carric read it aloud, with an eager voice, “How to be an Adventurer—Volume One. Written at the behest of the gods. By Jerold Frey. Gods, Yenrab, that is fantastic!”

“Do you know something about this, Carric?” Yenrab asked, his eyes serious and wide in surprise. “What can you tell me?”

“I can tell you that Jerold Frey was the most powerful and famous bard ever and that he is practically the father of our modern field. That book, there, is worth a fortune. Can you read it?” Carric asked in surprise.

“I can. And I have a theory that I suspect is about to be proven. Can you?” Yenrab asked back.

Carric scratched his head. “The book is in Upper Elvish, the language of the Elven Reaches. Or so it was a minute ago. And now it is in Icegarditian common tongue. That is absolutely amazing.”

“It is. And I thought it might be like that. For me, it is in Orcish,” Yenrab paused, scratched at his butt cheeks and then sniffed his fingers. Carric pretended not to notice. “And I’m not a quick hand at Nemedian common, ya know, nor do I know a lick of Icegarditian. I’m guessing that’s where it is gonna stay for me unless I make some strange life choices and study to become a linguist,” Yenrab chuckled. Carric joined in. Tracy honed in on them, coming close and laughing heartily.

“What’s up, guys? You playing ‘laugh a lot’? I love that game. I usually win. Especially, when I play against myself. Hey, cool book. You all read Freemeetian? That’s amazing! I do too!” Tracy exclaimed.

Yenrab laughed hard, his sides shaking as he did so. And Carric joined in as well. Tracy was different. There seemed to be something enjoyable and fun buried into that sorcerous free-floating hippy. Something quite enjoyable. They laughed together in newfound friendship as the birds chirped and tweeted and the bugs buzzed by in contentment.

***

“Well, I don’t see anything yet, but let’s all keep looking anyways. They won’t have gone far, ya know,” Yenrab spoke in a concentrated manner as he surveyed the land. His seasoned eyes crawled over the tall grass. Somewhere, soon, there would be tracks.

Carric bent forward and grabbed a small hunk of wood that had lodged into the dirt before him. It was sodden and had a slimy feel to it. Disgusted, he dropped it down and wiped his hands off upon his trousers.

“You find something, Carric?” Yenrab asked kindly.

“Nothing worth anything. I think that maybe we aren’t going the right way.” Carric grimaced as he thought about having to go back and retrace their route.

“Nonsense, friend Carric,” Tracy put in, “Those tracks were heading in this direction. Sure we lost them, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to the right place.”

Tracy Riley spun around in a couple of circles, her arms outstretched as she did so. Carric smiled as he watched her twirl in contented bliss. Then the smile dropped awkwardly. Shadows of his past clouded his face in discomfort and he looked away, both jealous and embarrassed.

“Well, you know, I’m sorry everybody. I lost the tracks and, well, I guess I messed that up. But I’m really thinking that we’re gonna find them again real soon. These guys are not at all afraid, I don’t think. If they were, they’d spend time covering their tracks, but, well, these guys weren’t doing that. And I don’t see why they’d start doing it later up the hill,” Yenrab noted.

Carric gave it a brief thought and nodded. There was no reason for the orcs to be afraid when they had a troll leading them about.

Yenrab whistled a halt. Carric checked about himself in a brief panic, unused to this life. Following the large man’s gaze, he saw it. There, over a green-haired lump of wildland, something was pushing down a clump of tall grass.

“Hey, guys, I see something. Battle prep just in case—I’m gonna move on and investigate,” said Yenrab, taking charge and calling out the plan.

The big monster man moved cautiously. He weighed and calculated the risk in just moments. His handsome and friendly face went serious, his massive muscles rippled as he dropped his large wooden shield and stretched both arms behind him. Each arm seized a well-sharpened and heavily weighted battle axe suited to his size and strength.

Carric whispered to himself in preparation and called up the words to one of his magical songs. He blew notes upon his harmonica and swung its hold bar shut across his face. The instrument quivered in readiness. His powers were just a chord away. Satisfied, he glimpsed over to observe his final companion.

Tracy wasn’t doing anything. Carric growled in frustration.

Ahead of him now, Yenrab moved closer and closer, his body hunched low to the ground and his senses alight in the tingly mess of adrenaline. The human-orc hybrid zigged and zagged with suspicion as if he suspected some sort of trick. Carric whistled, breaking Tracy from whatever conversation she had been having with herself and he waved for her to follow forward. They fanned out in the rear and watched Yenrab approach his target. There was a moment of tense hesitation as the youngling tribesman stopped and reconsidered. Then, with tremendous agility and speed, he leaped up, both battleaxes gleaming wickedly in the summer sun. Even before he landed, his companions could see this was a false alarm.

“It’s a pig, guys. I’d guess it tried to escape and the troll smashed it for a quick meal. Sorry about that. But, hey, let’s take a break here and I bet ya I can find the trail again no problem,” half-chuckled a half-embarrassed, half-amused, Yenrab.

***

The break lasted a brief ten to fifteen minutes before the party moved on again. They were not all that tired, each fueled by that unrelenting energy and that somewhat foolish eagerness that comes with youth. And the trail proved easy to follow. Dollops of blood, bone and cartilage left a trail anyone with half a brain and functioning sight could follow.

Carric thought about what he was seeing and shuddered.

“What a mess,” he said aloud.

Yenrab grunted in agreement.

Carric’s brain pulsed with thought and imagination. He felt he could see exactly what had happened.

He could see the hulking troll and his dirty orcish companions. They hooted and hollered in glee. Maybe one of them even did a dance. They grunted and growled in apish hunger before tearing out steaming, bloody chunks of sow as they trudged ahead. The pig had still been alive, no doubt. They were damned savages. They howled in victory as they made their way to their new home. The orcs and the troll were lords over the local village now, unless the young adventurers did something about it. Dirty, filthy orcs leading humans.

Carric suddenly felt guilty. He cast a furtive glance at Yenrab, remembered back to the orc farmer in the village and sighed. Nah, orcs aren’t all bad. Just the ones that try to kill people for no reason.

As Carric and his companions trudged up the hill, he felt weary. What was right and what was wrong in this world? In Icegard, it was pretty easy. Ogres and humans were the good guys even if they tended to stuff you into the latrine between classes or make you dance naked in the snow. Orcs were the bad guys. And giants. And anything that rose out of the ruins of the old Mage College. He used to pay a local skirmisher a copper a day to hear tales of the world and that last one, the ruins of the old Mage College, that was the one thing about which he would not tell tales. Perhaps it was that easy. Perhaps those ruins were evil and everything else was just degrees less of it.

He felt dizzy thinking about it. But at least it made the time pass by.

***

At the steepest part of the hill there came to sight a series of rough-hewn planks, fresh and new, set into gradually inclining ramps. It was a primitive set of steps that led to the furthest parts of the steep bluffs. They peered up and saw that these thick slabs of oak led to a recess in the almost sheer rocky sides. That recess, Carric thought, must hold the object of their quest.

It would have been a hard climb but, as it was, the humanoid bandits had taken some effort to make this place permanent and easier to traverse and that worked both ways. The party would arrive at whatever camp this was in a condition that left them fit and ready for battle. Ultimately, they would arrive with nary a breath spent.

Winding around, again and again, the heavy wooden planks provided step after balanced step in a way that presented professional acumen. Carric had tried and failed to create his own variety of structures in Icegard—it was expected of real men to know such things. But he had studied the ideals of sustainable architecture before and found that everything he created was neither sustainable nor rightfully called architecture. Ruminating on it all made his brain itch. Either the orcs had better shaap teachers, as they had been called at his school, or else he simply sucked that bad at making things. It really was a toss of the dice, he realized, having no definitive answer to draw upon.

Each plank had been slapped into the rocky side hard with multiple oaken poles, sharpened and forced into the surface by a very enthusiastic troll, held firm and solid without any shake or shiver. Despite a lack of expert craftsmanship, the humanoids had done a good job of addressing the problem at hand, bending nature to their whim and creating the defensible path as well.

Carric peaked over the side at the drop that awaited the unwary and he shuddered. We should probably keep the fight indoors and away from all of this. He could too easily imagine the troll picking them up, one by one and tossing them to their doom. 

The companions walked along the plankways with weapons at the ready. A bird called out, its cry echoed against the rock face.

“Aaah!” screamed Tracy into Carric’s face.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” Carric screamed back, almost losing his footing.

Yenrab stopped moving and just watched them. He shook his head and sighed. Suddenly the air was aflutter with frightened birds. The white pasty grit of their poo haphazardly landed on and about them.

Tracy waved at them as they departed.

“Gods! Both of you! What happened to well-practiced professionalism? Aren’t we adventurers now? Don’t we have a book saying we are?” Carric spoke out in shrill outrage.

“Eh,” Tracy squeaked, her hand rocking back and forth in front of her to signify her doubts about such a concept.

“I think the book is teaching us, Carric,” Yenrab opined, glancing into the sky. “Right now most of it is blank so we aren’t nearly to where you seem to think we are.”

Carric turned to him. “Yeah? Then what are we doing chasing down a troll?”

Carric had been beginning to feel better about the idea. I mean, helping poor villagers was the stuff of ballads! But it was beginning to seem as if his first instincts had been correct and that this fight was well above anything they could handle. 

Yenrab smiled.

“We’ve got weapons and magic, bard. Those are formidable friends in all situations.”

“Yeah!” Tracy added in a burst of enthusiasm. “We’ve got this!”

Carric stared. Those two were bursting with energy and to be honest, he was still feeling a tingle of it himself. How could they be defeated? It was unimaginable.

Next Chapter Last Chapter

Ikoria

One of the bestest things about MtG is how you get to visit cool otherworlds, and you don’t have to stay there if you’re bored of it. It’s infinitely wondrous. If you’re into the idea of internecine guild politics on a scale undreamt of, there’s Ravnica. Each guild runs with two colors of magic and has a cool take on what that means for their role in the city. 

The Rakdos are black and red… you’d think immediately: chaos and death, huh? What’re they up to, sacrificing the world’s virgins in some dark ritual to a demon who runs their guild? And you’d sort of be right. The Cult of Rakdos is the entertainment on Ravnica… the bloodiest jester shows imaginable. It’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker, only with fire magic and demons and shit.

Anyway if Ravnica’s your jam, they’ve got bioengineering with the Simic, and shadowy spymasters with the Dimir. There’s even a food production and waste removal guild in the form of the Golgari Swarm. And fungus zombies. They have the fungus zombies too. 

But that doesn’t begin to cover even one of the many planes in MtG. Anyway Ravnica’s not even my favorite. 

My favorite is (presently) Ikoria, because it sounds like Korea and that’s where I live, but also because they have a King Kong and a Godzilla. From what I could pierce together just by looking at the gorgeous art, and the different game mechanics that popped up with Ikoria, the place is a battleground for massive mutated kaiju. Humans live in tiny pockets of civilization, under domes of magical engineering, and the ones who head out are serious badasses who either hunt those monsters, or tame them. Yeah, there’s a pokemon element to all this. 

The plane’s 3 mechanics are Mutation, where you smash together two creatures to make a brand new one with the powers of both, Companion, where you compromise with a monster to gain special abilities when it’s in play, and boring-ass Cycling. (Cycling being the ability to throw a card into the void to draw another one). 

With Mutation, you could mutate a regular old creature from a different set and only gain the one mutation ability, or you could mutate two creatures with the ability, and you’d get a double effect. The original creature gets doubly strong by increasing its power and toughness, but you’d also get free token creatures, or force your opponent to discard, destroy your opponent’s enchantments or artifacts, or get a free spell from the graveyard… the possibilities were endless.

Companion was less cool, but flavor-wise I loved it. There’s an Ash-like character called Kinnan, bonder prodigy. Essentially this kid went around all over the place collecting them all. From the various other cards in the sets, whenever a Bonder would form a bond with their gigantic mutated monster, they’d get part of that monster’s powers: flight, dark sight maybe, or incredible speed. 

So Ash on steroids. 

Some of the aesthetics were also pretty great, like the green crystals embedded in the armor of various humans trying to eke out an existence in the world here. All the armor and clothing mirrored after an angular, crystalline look, with green crystals embedded here and there. One particular card, Call the Coppercoats, showed massive green crystals in the city’s buildings suddenly glowing, and those crystals also glowing on the armor of the people on the streets, as a sort of emergency ‘battle stations’ call. 

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/N5lQlD by Cristi Balanescu

Different crystals seemed to be the reason behind the crazy mutations. Exposure to crystals turned plain old creatures into insanely dangerous murder machines. A deer with spinnerets shooting webbing out of its face. Cats with wings. 

Cats. With wings.

Okay, this is the end of the second installment of whatever this is… shameless shilling for a game that’s not sponsoring me, I guess. 

Peace out, until next time.

This is the third segment in a series of articles about MtG:PQ. Come back weekly for more of whatever this is.

Also write reviews for books you read. –Nolan

Chapter 6: A Quest?

“Ma lowds! Ma lowds! Tank da gods you’ve been come!”

The dirty man smiled with a wide and open mouth, showing off stumps rotted from a local pipe and a great lack of hygiene. His filthy tunic hung off his scrawny frame and hopped about, left and right, shoulder to shoulder, as the peasant jigged about in jubilation. The other villagers and farmers gaped in stupefied wonder at the wealth and power apparent in the fresh-faced youth before them. It pulled at Yenrab’s heartstrings to see such ignorant confidence.

Carric Smith strung at his lute, looking about with shy trepidation, but making a concerted effort to be confident and cool.

“I, um, well, I am Carric, a bard of Icegard. I can see that, well, you know. You have a problem here.” He broke off, uncertain with his words. “Um, you do have a problem here, right?” The man nodded. “Right, well and I assume you have sent off for help?” He gaped back at Yenrab and Tracy, his eyes pleading to be relieved from this duty. They had all drawn straws and his had been the shortest.

Carric’s face had a pained expression as he regarded the poor folk before him. He really wanted to help these people. He didn’t really know why, but he did. And he was also uncertain that he could actually help them.

“I know that you have been waiting, perhaps months, for help. But that isn’t us. We weren’t sent here by anybody. We’re just passing through,” Carric spoke, smoothly and in a more convincing manner. He glimpsed back at his traveling mates for support.

Yenrab shook his head to the negative then stopped himself. New life, he thought. A life of adventuring, into ruins, rooting around for treasure and fighting monsters. Not this. This is not my problem. But he couldn’t shake it and his doubts persisted. Plus, he couldn’t disappoint Ghost Dad.

He let out a massive, very orcish, sigh. It howled more than a little and spooked the peasants, they cringed as they backed up slightly. Every bird in the vicinity flocked and fled, excepting those trapped in pens.

Fortunately, the good name of Yenrab, Folk Hero of the Reaches and Helper to those in Need, was known by song and description. His years of good deeds during his time with his tribe had become the stuff of legend. Everyone was slowly coming to accept the idea of the neutral orc who’d help you build a barn for the right coin. But a good orc? A man who helped just because it was right? That was something the people of Freehold, otherwise known as the Freeholder’s Republic, ate up from corner to corner and pole to pole. Indeed, somehow, many more people had been helped by him than he had actually ever helped. 

“What are you thinking, Yenrab?” Tracy asked, stifling a yawn. A small flock of children were slowly creeping up on her and the fabulousness of her robes. Their eyes shone with mischief as they pleaded to touch it.

Tracy Riley was an odd one. She had been a he until yesterday, which confused the heck out of Yenrab though Carric seemed accepting enough. All Yenrab could say for sure was that the half-elf was of indeterminate gender. Carric spent some time trying to teach Yenrab about the phenomenon the night before, after the half-orc had emerged naked from his bath in the river to see an attractive half-elven Freemeetian woman studying him curiously. His high-pitched squeak of pubescent embarrassment in front of the other sex had roused Carric into coming to his aid and the Icegarditian minstrel had laughed with tremendous mirth after he realized what was happening.

They watched as Tracy Riley clapped her hands and a small unicorn appeared in the air. It shimmered all of the colors of the rainbow as it bounded through the village children, causing all to ooh and awe.

Carric had spent the night explaining that the people of Coraellon were sometimes genderless, or genderful, or a different gender every day. It was complicated. Yenrab soon realized, though, that he didn’t need to care about it. The whole thing probably served those elves quite well. They lived lives measured in multiple centuries, so it’d get boring being just one sex all the time. Heck, he didn’t even know if elves could die the normal way. They didn’t sleep the normal way. He knew that. The most common cause of elvish death, as far as he could tell, was orcish axe. It wasn’t old age.

“I think I don’t have a choice, Mr. Riley. I want to hear what these good people have to say and, ya know, what is bothering them,” he stated and paused for a second, his eyes cast skyward in thought.

“Mr. Smith, Mr. Riley,” Yenrab continued on, “you have paid me to deliver you halfway across Athatia to Gennopolis. But, ya know, I have to be honest. I really, really feel like stopping here for a bit and seeing what is bothering these fine folks. If you think this is a breach of our agreement, I happily accept that you can leave my services and I will return the coin you have given me.”

Carric looked a mixture of relieved and nervous. Tracy Riley studied him without expression while Carric nodded with assent.

“I’m good with whatever, really.” Tracy yawned. “Just so long as the bard comes with us.”

“Huh?” Carric stuttered, his face contorted in confusion.

What made him say that? the man thought. 

As a youngling outcast of a land in constant conflict, Carric sought a different life—one with a different kind of danger than perpetual war one with adoring crowds of accepting people and, occasionally, a lithe yet bountiful body to share his bed. He never thought he’d be questing.

Maybe I have to quest a little if I want to be famous. He pondered the idea. And part of his heart went out to them. The villagers were happy to have help. They were so poor and so luckless. Now here were this barbarian, this bard and this strange Freemeetian, broadcasting power, station and rescue. What the hell, he thought. Might as well see what we can do.

A girl squealed and all three of them turned to look at her. Standing at the edge of the crowd neat a tall and shady elm, she was in no trouble. Instead she and her brother and seized up sticks and were dueling against the tree. Behind the trunk of it a skinny old man growled. “I’m a mean old troll. No adventurers can hurt me!” The children both slashed and parried, showing him that they could. 

“Good people of, well, whatever this place is, maybe we can help you out. What, exactly, is your problem and how can a man of song, some weirdo half-elf with fancy robes and Yenrab the Animal Chief help?” Carric asked.

Tracy Riley interrupted him, “I am a sorcerer.”

Both Yenrab and Carric turned to gape at him in disbelief.

“What?!”

“Yeah, I harness wild magic and turn it into, well, stuff. Like this!”

The growing mass of villagers oohed and aahed as the spectral image of a nude and embarrassed Yenrab flashed into existence beside him. The real Yenrab’s face pinkened and yellowed.

Forgetting his shy demeanor for the moment, Carric spoke, an edge to his voice.

“Do you mean to tell me that a few days ago, when it was pissing down freezing rain and we were all trying to dry off in that cave and we were all as cold as the frosts of Nordenverft, you could have warmed us?”

Tracy, apparently a half-elf wild mage, smiled. “Sure, man. All you had to do was ask.” Then, in a loud conspiratorial tone, she said, “Us half-elves need to stick together.”

The dirty villagers sat beaming and smiling as the conversation went on and applauded as Tracy finished her statement of support. Yenrab browsed the sky for signs that he was stuck in some sort of cruel and cosmic joke.

Carric just stared at Tracy in disbelief, turned that gaze onto the villagers as they clapped their hands at the mad woman and cleared his voice, deciding to ignore insanity in favor of progressing the plot.

“So, what is your problem, villagers?” Carric asked in a kind voice.

“Ma lowds. Dere be a trull an’ ‘is band. A drue, uh, ‘Sem blaj of Ee-vil’”, the man stated, gesturing wildly while enunciating the last word with pride evident upon his face as he attempted to be proper like the lords before him. The words were in no way colloquial and he earned a few confused looks from his neighbors, which made his smile that much larger.

“Dey tuk ma pigs. Da orkis hed un each. Da trull be carryin us in ever hand. We was a hollerin and whistlin and we trow dem rockis, but no and no, dere was no way, no how dey was gonna drop ‘em.”

The other villagers and farmers had gathered very close now in a ragged throng, some spitting brown juice and one teasing an unlit pipe from the corner of his mouth. Others had come from out of nowhere. Barefoot children with hardened feet and torn rags gawked and pointed. They tittered about this comment and that comment, all the while whispering hurtful jokes with childish ignorance. A woman tottered in exhaustion, shifting a big-boned baby from one hip to the other to ease the strain. Meanwhile, her orcish husband, bent from years of labor, gazed with admiration upon the youth and look of Yenrab. For some in the Freeholder’s Republic, he was more than a token good orc. For some, he was the hero they hoped their children could be.

As the rumpus expanded and village excitement swelled, a well-dressed man arrived and stepped through the growing crowd. While he wasn’t big-city rich, he was well enough off around these parts, as his cleanliness attested to.

“Well, Mr. Yenrab and others, if you didn’t comprehend the fine words of farmer Tuck, let me speak for us all when I first welcome you to whatever-this-place-is, as yon minstrel so finely put it. We folk like to call it Turner’s Plot, if you will. I’m the shopkeep and the leader here, as often as not, so it ought to be me anyways.”

The man smiled, an action which caused his beard whiskers to quiver in excitement. And, after a brief hesitation, he proffered his hand. Yenrab took it and shook it in the way a settler had once shown him after a rescue from a bog. Tracy’s eyes widened in ecstatic amazement and wonder at such an odd custom.

“It seems there is some trouble round here. A troll and a few orcs came to our farms. They grabbed some livestock and they legged it to yonder hills. Or so Tuck sez and I hearken. We ain’t fighters, really, though we can put together and fight the odd raider, when it comes to it. But outside of the village and the farms, no, that ain’t us. We need those pigs, Yenrab and sirs. And we can’t lose any more of our animals. Not with winter on its way soon enough.”

The three viewed one another quizzically. Carric, with his long—slightly unruly in a cool sort of way—dirty blond hair, smirked as he puzzled upon the way life had decided to keep him in the fight. Better here than on the battlefield, he told himself as he loosened a dagger and juggled it with one hand. Tracy, meanwhile, seemed content. Her both beautiful and handsome face held no apparent emotion, while truly her eyes showed a propensity for mischief underneath her cloud of brownish and wild, multidirectional hair. Tracy Riley hopped up and down, eager for this quest. And Yenrab, as usual, just stood there holding a big goofy smile on his face.

“Give us a moment, mister . . . ?”

“Jored” the man filled in, “Just call me Jored.”

“Jored, we must talk a bit on our own and consider this problem. We will be back to you . . .”—Yenrab scanned about, making sure to include everyone at least once in his friendly gaze—“all of you, in just a spike of the dial, or a burn of the candlestick, or whatever time you guys use, ya know? Let’s talk at that time.”

The adventurers moved away from the corner and formed into a huddle. Carric was the first to speak.

“Look, guys, we don’t need to do this. We really don’t. I mean, yes, they need help. But a troll?! And what can we get out of this? What can we even ask from them in return? They are dirt rich and money poor. Ask for a copper and we’ll bankrupt them,” Carric said. Despite his words, though, the man’s eyes spoke a different story. I want to help them, they said. Just give me a reason that my mind can accept. Just argue with me so that I can tell myself it wasn’t my idea.

Yenrab stood stoic and silent for a moment, preparing his thoughts.

“I say we do it,” Tracy broke in.

“Why would we do it? I just said we won’t be paid!” Carric Smith protested.

“I have spent a decade training to harness the wild energies of this land, Mr. Smith. I don’t know why I did so if I wasn’t going to tussle. It’s just some dumb orcs anyways,” Tracy noted, waving his hand dismissively. Yenrab frowned at that..

“And a troll. A fricking troll!” Carric pleaded, looking amazed that they were considering this.

“A big dumb beast, Mr. Smith,” Tracy stated with confidence. “I say we can do it.”

“And I say we can’t. I say we have a duty to help these people, yes, but that duty does not in any way involve sacrificing ourselves to whomever trolls worship,” Carric said, defeat creeping into his voice and cracking his resolve.

Yenrab’s voice was quiet as he stated, “I honestly don’t have a choice, good people. I can’t explain my motivations other than that I have a totem that I follow, the Gamer and it imbues me with a guiding spirit, of which I have no understanding. But I can feel his will. He compels me to do this. And I can feel that he is a good spirit. One that I should obey.”

The other two nodded. They would do the quest.

The three walked back, their faces determined, to that dirty mass of poor and filthy peasants, there arose a ragged cheer. One which the three joined. There would be a quest, a wrong would be righted and the people of the land would be saved. While words were said and Yenrab’s name was chanted, the questors set off to the hills in search of a troll and his orcish fellows.

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