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An exploration of Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds in literature and multimedia entertainment
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Friday, June 30, 2006

3.1.5.2. The Hermit Awakes

Without wasting any more time, Robert, Carolyn and Christopher takes Father Andreas – who’s still unconscious – to Grad. Christopher and Andreas mount the same horse, and Chris is already having problems keeping this sleeping dwarf sitting straight and he grumbles along the way. Robert and Christopher carry provisions in their backpacks, and Chiel flies above them as a scout to warn them if there are monsters or attackers ahead or behind. Once in a while, Chiel flies down and tries to transfer more holy energy to Andreas to gradually bring him back to consciousness.

As they enter the Borgian-Arcadian border, they ride on along the main trade road, and soon meet with a huge pile of snow blocking the road. Robert and Carolyn dismount, and work hard to melt the snow blockage from the road with their fire skills and spells. While Chris guards the horses, the provisions and Andreas at the back.

The rest of the journey is uneventful, since the monsters usually hibernate or hide in warmer places and only few come out to do quick hunts. Non-carnivore monsters usually keep a stock of food that they have gathered and stored to survive the winter. And carnivore monsters usually eat a great deal so they keep the excess nutrition stored in their body and they will consume it during winter. So, monsters generally behave like common animals, they kill to eat.

No bandit, goblin or orc roam the main road as no traveler passes there to rob and kill. The only thing to fight against is the snow – and the freezing winter weather that comes with it.

But somehow, thanks to Robert’s cool leadership and Carolyn’s precise calculations on provisions management, they manage to arrive in towns before their provisions run out. The only drawback is, Chris always wants to eat more than his ration, and Robert has to keep a sharp eye on Chris at all times just to make sure he doesn’t steal extra meal from his comrades’ share or the backpack. Robert even shoot a bolt once that passes right in front of Chris’ eyes when Chris is nearly succeed in stealing a meat ration from the backpack. And Chiel once pokes Chris in the eye when Chris tries to steal Chiel’s share. And all that leaves Chris with a sulkier and sulkier face each day.

Carolyn scolds Chris by saying, ‘Keep your chin up, pal! This is not a walk in the park! This is a delivery mission! I’m sick and tired with your complaints all the time!’

And Chris becomes more depressed now as they leave the last town to Grad Mountains. They have to continue their journey by foot. They entrust their horses in the public stable master’s care and they set off after replenishing their provisions and have a night’s rest. Chris now has to carry Andreas who is still unconscious, and Robert and Carolyn carry their backpacks.

When they finally reach the mountains of Grad, the greatest mountain range in Borgia and obviously, in the continent of Aurelia, they can’t but stare at it in wonder (Robert, whatever, again hides his amazement with an indifferent look on his face). And as usual, Chris whimpers and lets out his stream of complaints – again.

‘Damn, this is HUGE! Correction – HYPER-HUGE! Is this where shortie here told us to go through? Man, he sure demands so much while he’s sleeping on my back! Why? Why me?’

Robert and Carolyn ignore that complaint altogether, as they don’t hear any suggestion to go back yet. If they do, they’re all ready to smack anybody who said it down as an answer.

They tread the steep mountain path through an extremely cold weather and a violent, snowy wind that one might mistake as a blizzard. It’s a good thing they don’t have to climb the mountain to reach The Dwarfs’ Citadel of Ylbarra in Grad although they must hurry as a dwarf’s life is at stake. They walk on and on for a few days and can hardly say a word.

The party, even Robert never went to Grad before, and the townspeople there only told them to follow the path. And just as Robert and his party think that they are lost and it’s impossible to reach Ylbarra in this weather, they find a cave and decide to rest in there and plan the next move. They cut the roots that grow through the cave wall, and make fire from it plus some firewood Carolyn brought in a backpack.

Just as things are getting warmer, Chris is the one who talks first.

‘Man, we almost die freezing out there! Now we are stuck here in a cave in the middle of nowhere!’

Carolyn scowls, ‘Hmph, I know I can’t trust you to ask directions to Ylbarra from the townspeople. I just feel that their information can’t be good.’

Then a voice comes, ‘Don’t blame him… or the townspeople… no man can reach Ylbarra…. Unless… there’s a dwarf… or someone who’s been there… to guide them…’

Carolyn answers, ‘Well, thank you for your “timely” information, Rob, why didn’t you… hey, wait a minute! That’s not Robert’s voice! This means…’

Robert, Carolyn and Christopher turn their heads almost at the same time to the place where Father Andreas lies down. And there he is – he is conscious now but is still weak. Carolyn rushes to Andreas and checks his condition. She says, ‘Thank Vadis! Teacher, this is me, Carolyn. And these are Christopher, and Robert. We have been carrying you all the way to Grad.’

Andreas replies feebly, ‘Ah… Vadis be praised… but what am I doing… returning to Grad? I went to find… help… to chase them…’

Robert asks again, ‘Chase whom? Ah, you were the one who wants to return to Grad. You said that and we decided to take you all the way here.’

Andreas sighs, ‘Ahh, this is bad… real bad… but how come… you find me? The last thing I remember is… I was lost in the snowy field… and… and I was about to die…’

Robert answers, ‘Chris here saw you collapsed and told us to rescue you. I think Vadis has sent us there so you can be saved. What a fortunate coincidence.’

Andreas tries to laugh but all he can produce is a weak giggle.

‘Aye… Vadis can work miracles… But alas, they must be gone now… how can I… return to report…. This failure?’

Chris now talks, ‘I don’t get it, Father – who are they? Did they harm you and give you those wounds? And what is failed?’

‘Ahhh… ahhh.. no other choice… we have to… go to Grad….’

‘Hey, fatso, answer me first!’ Chris is getting impatient.

‘Chris! Mind your manners! My teacher is still weak! Let him rest for a while.’

Andreas shakes his head. ‘Ohh, nay… can’t rest now… must reach Ylbarra… and receive punishment.’

‘Punishment?! This guy is a psycho. If I were you, I won’t return there!’ Says Chris, pointing his finger onto his head.

Robert is irritated, but he makes a quick decision. ‘Enough, Chris! Don’t insult him again! Now we need rest, and we’ll set off again at sunrise! And Andreas will guide us there and explain us everything when we reach Ylbarra.’

Andreas forces a weak smile. ‘Good thinkin’, lad.’

Saturday, June 24, 2006

3.1.4.4. Face the Past Embrace the Future


Early the next day, Robert, Christopher and Carolyn begin their travel to Varestine. They encounter several monsters along the way. Although equipped with , a fine-looking long sword, Chris makes himself a poor companion, and the battle always ends up with Robert taking the front, Carolyn at the rear for magic support, and Christopher between them, supplying them with potions and guards their provisions. Robert still doesn’t teach Christopher any sword skills yet – only telling him to get a firm one-hand grip on his sword and his wooden shield and continually corrects his handling. This irritates Chris greatly, being a slow learner and impatient.

They pass the new Arkvale village along the way. The village, built not far from the ruins of the old one looks more like a refugee camp or a thieves’ den – completely the contrary than the beautiful old village Robert used to know. Then they visit the graveyard of the old village’s folks. Their graves have no names on them, only crosses to hang anything they wore or bring at the time of their death. Then Robert recognizes his father’s armor on his family grave, with a full-slab tombstone with the names of Robert’s father, mother and sister engraved on it because the late Duke Walthorn knew them: Emmerich, Klarisse, and Jeanna Chandler. Chris and Carolyn go to visit other graves and put flowers on them.

Robert approaches the grave, pulling his father’s kiliji out from the scabbard, and kneels, thrusting it into the ground. Robert prays for a while, and then talks...

‘Father, mother, Jeanna, I’m back. I know the orcs have separated us forever, but I don’t want to waste my life taking revenge upon them. I decided to dedicate my life to protect the people and the country I love. With your sword, father, I will make you proud.’

Then Robert kisses his ring, saying, ‘Wish me luck, and wish me well, I will always keep you all in my heart.’

Robert gets up and searches for Laetitia’s grave – in vain. But suddenly he sees a grave with an orc’s throwing axe hangs on a cross. He remembers at once – the throwing axe that killed Laetitia. He approaches it, and assuming that it is indeed her grave, he kneels and says,

‘Tisha… How I wished to be dead and be with you again in heaven, but I was spared. It was my greatest regret in my entire lifetime that I failed to protect you. But as I have found my purpose, I will never cease to protect the weak and oppressed until the day I die – to repay my debt to you. May you find rest in Vadis’ hands.

Robert stands there for a little while longer. He is deep in his thoughts. Then he calls Chris and Carolyn and they set off to Varestine. As they arrive at Varestine, Robert’s party go directly to the hunters’ guild to trade hunted monsters’ proofs and valuables with money, and sign up for the job to hunt the Lumien Trolls. The clerk examines Robert, Chris and Carolyn closely, then her expression changes and she says,

‘Sorry, this job is already taken. You can wait for the results first or take another job.’

Robert has already expected this kind of response – underestimation – and gives a ready answer.

‘Ah, but we have already received a recommendation letter from the guild in Rand and confirmation from this guild that we are among the hunting parties eligible for this job – and the only one. Please read this letter first, miss.’

The clerk takes the piece of parchment from Robert’s hand and cross-checks it with the records in the back office, and comes back to Robert with a smile on her face.

‘Our apologies, sir. It seems that your party indeed claimed the job. A guild master’s recommendation is always good and guaranteed. Here’s the map to Lumien Forest and the ‘X’ marks here pinpoint the recent sightings of the trolls with notes of the time, date and their movements. Well, good luck and stay alive.’

‘Good luck and stay alive’ – This is the common greeting from the guild clerks continent wide to wish the hunters well and successful. But the clerk said it in such a tone as though she is doubtful that Robert’s party will succeed and come back alive. But Robert ignores that and goes away with the party. Chris complaints,

‘Grrr… the clerks here are never polite. They think they’re important, although their job is a mere administrative thing with low pay. Someday I’ll show ‘em a thing or two… hmph!’

Robert shakes his head and smacks his lips aside on hearing this.

Then they set out to downtown to prepare the weaponry and provisions for the hunt. Robert buys a crossbow and an ample supply of bolts at the weapon shop, and Christopher a small, light black iron shield with a white raven figure engraved at front. Christopher also equips himself with a simple breastplate to resist sharper blows from the enemies. While Carolyn takes her time at the enchanted weapons blacksmith to repair her Thunderclap Staff, a lightning elemental staff with a silvery magnetic orb-like force field floating in between when it’s activated.

When they walk in front of Jeland Citadel in Varestine, Christopher and Carolyn can’t help admiring the greatness of the citadel that protected the city for ages. As Robert is native in this region and as he has served The Walthorns that rule Varestine, Carolyn asks Robert.

‘Robert, you said you served Lord Walthorn before. Why don’t we visit the castle and greet your ex-lord and wish him well?’

Robert answers coolly, ‘That would be impossible. I’m not welcome in there anymore. If I ever set foot there again, they will imprison me at the spot for trespassing.’

Chris reacts carelessly by saying, ‘How come you’re not welcome in this castle anymore? What crime did you commit?’

Robert glares at Christopher. Chris backs away, terrified. Carolyn notices this and says,

‘That’s his “friendliest” way to say “mind your own business!”’

Chiel chuckles amusingly. Christopher glares at Chiel angrily because he is embarrassed. Chiel yelps in fright, and hides behind Carolyn and blows raspberries at Chris.

They set to Lumien Forest by foot early the next day, and they arrive at the forest entrance by night. They don’t dare to stop. They keep walking towards the riverside to avoid a surprise attack by the trolls. They arrive at the Dale River bank at dawn the next day.

Christopher walks feebly; his eyes are half-open. He obviously doesn’t used to have a sleepless night before, and is obviously off-guard – a sitting duck for any monster passing by…

Speaking of which, several pairs of eyes are watching from the bushes in the dark, damp forest. They look for unwary travelers and as they have found one, they immediately prepare themselves to strike.

As Chris yawns, three green-skinned goblins wearing nothing but loincloth suddenly lunge behind him, and one of them draws its dagger to slit Chris’ throat. But before the dagger reaches Chris’ skin a crossbow bolt is already nested through the goblin’s head, right between its eyes. The goblin lets out a loud shriek then dies at once. Chris is startled and turns around. The two other goblins are also shocked – but they already set their own targets and charge forward.

‘Voltarus!’ Carolyn casts a Lightning Bolt spell with her magical trident Esthagar towards one goblin and zaps it dead, totally burnt to crisp. Christopher defends himself from the second goblin’s mace with great difficulty, and suffers a hard blow on his breastplate. But Robert doesn’t move to help him. He only stands in front of Chris, ready with his crossbow and shouts,

‘C’mon, Chris! You can beat him! This peasant goblin is a piece of cake. Do it if you want further training!’

Carolyn looks worried and says, ‘Shouldn’t we help him, Rob?’

Robert doesn’t answer. Then Chiel the Micha who flies to watch for enemies shrieks as an alert. It sees things moving fast towards Robert’s party from the forest, at quite a distance. Robert who hears this immediately aims his crossbow to another direction, saying…

‘More enemies are coming this way! Finish that one quickly, Chris!’

Christopher fights harder, deflects every blow with his sword and shield. Chris swings his long sword Wyrthal haphazardly in panic, hoping that one of his blows might hit – in vain. Suddenly Robert yells with a very, very loud voice, “HEEEAAAH!” The goblin is shocked and reacts by turning his head to see the assailant. Chris sees this opportunity, and swings his sword, cutting through the goblin’s neck. The goblin totters sideways, and falls into the river, lifeless. Soon blood starts flowing out and turns the river red.

Christopher is panting. He never fought this hard before. He kneels to take a rest, but Robert scolds him, ‘On your guard! More enemies are coming, and they now run faster because they smell blood!’

Chris gets up, scowling, but gets himself ready with his Wyrthal Sword and shield anyway. Just then, they hear roars from the forest and three huge, greenish and ugly forest trolls come crashing, charging towards them.

Chris yells ‘Here comes the main course!’ and starts to panic. But Robert stares at the trolls calmly and shoots a bolt right into a troll’s eye. Chris comments again.

‘Bull’s Eye! Oops, I mean, Troll’s Eye!’

But Chris’ face turns pale in a sudden. The other two trolls attack him simultaneously. Carolyn thinks. Man, even trolls hate loudmouths too! In that critical moment, Robert draws his kiliji and launches his lethal Ten Point Chain Slash at the two trolls, making them release their crude clubs, causing them to stop and regenerate their wounds. Christopher gathers up his courage, holds his sword with two hands, climbs one troll’s bended knee, and leaps. But the troll grabs Christopher in mid-air and squeezes him tightly in his massive hand, giving him such a pressure. If Christopher doesn’t wear his breastplate, his body would surely break apart. The troll can’t launch his massive, deadly punch at Chris due to the regeneration of its wounds.

In the agony of death, Chris looks around for help. Robert is busy attacking a troll beside him with quick blows and speedy skills, while also evading the troll’s slow blows. Carolyn is at Chris’ front, sending bolts after bolts of lightning towards the troll with a bolt in one eye, but like Robert, she doesn’t get an upper hand either.

Chris’ condition is desperate, and as the pressure becomes more unbearable as the troll regains his strength, Chris prays silently, “Oh Vadis the Almighty; please save me!”

It was a prayer from a desperate heart that only depends on its last hope – Vadis’ will. But it seems that Vadis has a plan for this ‘hopeless’ fellow, Christopher. Suddenly Chiel the Micha who flies above them reacts to the prayer. Its body and eyes are glowing brightly, and a golden, shining circle that looks like an energy ring appears above its head. It turns its gaze on Chris. Then suddenly a new strength is surging into Chris. The holy power from Chiel generates ceaselessly inside Chris, and Chris feels that he is about to explode if he doesn’t do something to release the energy.

‘EEEEEYAAAAGHHH!!!!’

Chris tries to free himself from the troll’s grip, holds his sword high and thrusts it into the troll’s cranium. The grip loosens at once, and the troll crashes on the ground, dead. Christopher also falls, following the troll to the ground, and lays unconscious. The excess holy energy is gone, and a part of it resides in Christopher’s body, making him stronger so he can generate holy energy by himself from now on. Chiel’s reaction also ends, and it flies casually as though nothing has happened.

Meanwhile, Robert and Carolyn are still fighting their opponents. Robert releases another Ten Point Chain Slash towards the troll, and the troll falls – died from too many mortal wounds, leaving Robert with a bruise on his left cheek.

Carolyn still can’t overcome hers. Every time she only casts and runs, as she needs time to say the mantra and do some energy charge before releasing the spell. This gives time to the troll to regenerate. Carolyn is about to cast another bolt, but the troll has already raised its club aside to strike Carolyn – there’s no escape. Carolyn only stares at the troll in terror. But the troll’s attack stops as a bolt penetrates into its brain between its two eyes. It stands there still, its club falls from its hand, and he falls dead on the ground. Its wound regenerates, but what’s the use of it if the brain is already dead. Carolyn is recovered from her shock at once, and looks back. Robert used his crossbow again to put another bolt in the one-eyed troll with his Bull’s Eye shot. Carolyn stares at him admiringly, then says,

‘Thank you, Robert. You saved my life.’

‘Don’t mention it. That’s what a party for – watching each other’s back.’

‘Speaking of a party – where’s the other party member? Chris?’

Robert looks around, and then finds Christopher.

‘There he is!’

He walks towards Christopher who is still lying unconscious with a rather worried face.

Ah, I failed to protect him. But… this troll is dead. He must’ve killed him. Maybe there’s indeed something special in him that I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just check on him whether he is alive or dead.

Robert puts a finger on Christopher’s nostrils, and speaks in a surprised tone.

‘He’s still alive! This is a miracle!’

‘Ah, really? Oh, Chris! But… but did he actually KILL that troll?’

‘Of course, Carol. Look, his sword is still stuck on its head. It takes a real pro to deal that kind of blow at that troll.’

‘Maybe it was only a fool’s luck. He’s always like that.’

‘Yes. A fool’s luck. But this fool is too lucky. Well, I’ll train him harder to make sure he won’t run out of luck.’

‘Robert, you agreed at last. He will thank you for that.’

‘Oh well, just to show you if I ever stuck in a hunting party, I’ll stick with it until the end. It’s called “commitment”.’

‘Thanks. Now let’s collect the proofs and valuables so no other party or spy might claim them as their own.’

They move Christopher aside. Carolyn tries to bring Christopher into consciousness by pouring water from the river at him. Robert examines the carcasses to extract the proofs and valuables. As he examines the goblin he shot, he finds another wound on its stomach – a stab wound with a sword – and then he smiles.

Hmm. That confirms my hunch, says Robert in his mind.

End of Chapter Four

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Worst Hunter In The World

3.1.4.3. The Worst Hunter in the World


Robert regains his full health a week later. He claims his money, and then puts most of them in the Melchior Warehouse in Rand – another branch of a continent-wide network. The Melchior Warehouse store goods in stashes, trunks and spaces and transports them when any of the goods are needed in another place outside the storage city. They employ wizards and chronomages to teleport goods magically through time and space to any place according to the owner’s request, with a quite expensive fee. They also hire hunters and escorts to transport goods of minor urgency, post wizards with flying brooms, horsemen couriers, owls and pigeons to carry personal letters at cheaper prices. But Melchior Warehouse serves mainly as a bank that keeps money into accounts. A person keeps his accounts in a small account book that records deposits and withdrawals as a copy of their own records. They also develop ways to store and transfer goods and money safely, safe from the clutches of bandits, thieves and monsters. The name ‘Melchior’ is derived from the name of a great wizard who proposed this magical teleporting system for commercial use – as a safest and quickest means of continent-wide trade in Aurelia Continent.
Robert checks his account book one more time as he moves out from Melchior Warehouse building, and heads to the Golden Ram Tavern-Inn. As he arrives there, he settles his tabs with Gumbold, and then he sits on his lonely, usual corner, thinking. As no one invites him to gamble or even a chat, and no newcomers around, Robert falls asleep at his corner. He does that for two successive days, without even thinking to go to the guild and recruit his party members. At the third day, he goes to the stable at the back of the guild, and talks to his horse, Paeldagrin.
Robert greets Paeldagrin as he steps into the stable.
‘Hello, old buddy. I dreamt of your old master again. But this time he looked so real, and I recalled almost every step of the way since I lost Tisha and met you. You do miss him, right? Well, to ease your mind, the late lord Walthorn asked me to send his ‘hi’ to you.’
Robert pauses, and strokes Paeldagrin gently like Lord Walthorn used to greet his horse.
Paeldagrin neighs in comfort.
‘And you know what? You and I will travel again. This time it’s not to the orc’s den, but we will see the wide-world. But be patient, buddy. First I have to find other members for my hunting party.’
Paeldagrin neighs in a certain tone, as though he is real happy to ride out freely again.
Robert caresses its mane lovingly and gives it a soft hug, then after a brief pause he feeds Paeldagrin and leaves it. Memories of him being a stable boy came again in his mind, and Robert unawarely kisses the ring on his left hand as he moves into a new phase of his life and new challenges on keeping a hunting party together.
As he arrives at the tavern, Robert goes to his usual corner. But as he is about to sit, Robert hears loud voices and then sees two people going into the tavern, arguing with each other – or rather a one-sided argument.
Well! Other newcomers in town! It’s GAME time! Robert thinks.
The two guests are a man and a woman. The red-haired man dresses like a traveler, his clothes are torn here and there and looks totally shabby. He wields a common long sword, and the woman looks like a sorceress with a pink hair with a magic staff. They unmistakably look like hunters – poor, inexperienced hunters. A strange creature is following the woman – It looks like a hamster with little wings and a long tail – A micha.
Before Robert can say anything to greet them, the sorceress who actually was criticizing the man and then talks to Robert loudly,
‘And YOU should learn how to be a REAL man, just like this gentleman here. Right, mister?’
Robert is perplexed, and answers, ‘Er… yeah?’
The sorceress nods firmly and talks on.
‘You see! Now here’s one man that actually worth regarding. He looks serious, focus, and responsible.’
Robert and the red-haired man respond together (every time), ‘But…’
‘Look strong, macho, and look at his skin! Hardened, sun burnt, and scarred with experience!
‘But…’
‘Not like you! Soft skinned, greedy, idiot, lazy and helpless boy! I should’ve never stuck around with you in the first place! Always blunders, always in trouble, and I have to save your life so many times!’
‘Er…’
‘What? And you too, don’t start getting foolish like this chap here, mister… O-mi-gosh! Where are my manners? May I know your name, mister?’
‘Er… Robert.’
‘SPLENDID! A quick, direct answer. I like you, Mister Robert.
Well, I’m Carolyn, the apprentice sorceress and this is my pet, Chiel the micha. Isn’t she cute?’
Chiel lets out a happy sound, ‘Chi! Chiiii!’
The red-haired guy laughs a bit and comments, ‘I think she likes you, sir.’
Carolyn continues her introduction, ‘And this helpless chap is Christopher.’
‘Just call me Chris – and I’m not helpless.’
Christopher extends his hand to shake Robert’s hand, but Robert only stands there and only reacts coolly.
‘Whoa! Whoa! Easy does it. I don’t want to interfere with anything here, but please take your arguments outside before you make any damage here.’
Carolyn gasps, ‘Holy cow! How rude! Well excuse me! But you see, this chap here was almost killed by a giant mantis and I had to save his life – again! What do you think that made me, huh? I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere with this geek!’
Chris complaints, ‘Well that’s what witches do! To give magical aids in tight spots! All right, I admit I didn’t see that leg strike, but that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Watching my back!
‘AAArgh! A PROPER swordsman could’ve detected and avoided it very easily, right, Mr. Robert?’
Robert gives them a totally puzzled look, and says
‘Um… yes?’
‘See! That proves my point. Anyway…’
Robert can’t stand to hear some more arguments and cuts to the point.
‘Hey kid! You want to win BIG money?’
Christopher’s greed is easily hooked with this bait, and he responds with wide-open eyes.
‘Oh, yessiree! Of course!’
But Carolyn, sensing another trouble, blocks Christopher from Robert’s sight, saying,
‘Hey, cousin! Stop that! Every time you do that, you always ended up with an empty purse and bruises all over!’
‘But this guy looks like a stone and geeky too! I’m sure I can win this time! So, what’s the game, sir?’
Robert answers coldly, ‘How about a dice game? Small or big numbers, the usual thing?’
Before Christopher can answer, Carolyn has already put her face real close to Robert’s, and scolds,
‘Listen, buster! Don’t you ever think you can cheat our money! We don’t have much left anyway!’
Carolyn takes out her purse, and pours four zennies and three florins on her hand.
‘You see? We’re dead broke! We need hunting jobs now, but this bloke here can’t kill even a jelly slug!’
Robert observes Carolyn and Christopher more closely and thinks,
Oh, yes. These two must be the worst hunters I’ve ever seen, a geek and a loudmouth. But I sense something familiar with this geek. His red hair, his face, his name… Somewhat I think these two aren’t ordinary people. But one thing for sure, they won’t stand to any challenge unless they do what novices do, like I did…

Carolyn’s face gets close to Robert’s again in a sudden. This time Chiel sits on Carolyn’s head, making a similar expression as Carolyn’s.
‘Hey, sir? What are you thinking? Daydreaming? Or…’
Suddenly Carolyn slaps Robert’s cheek.
‘How DARE you! Thinking weird things about me, huh? I thought you were a gentleman, but in fact you’re nothing but a pervert pig!’
Carolyn turns to go away from the tavern, followed by Chiel. Robert is still rubbing his painful cheek, and he tries to stop saying from going away by saying…
‘Wait, WAIT! Listen, how about another deal?’
Carolyn stops and stands there without turning back. Chiel also stops and floats in mid-air.
‘No gamble, no cheat. Just assist me in one hunting job, and you’ll get a fair share of the bounty and a solution for your financial problems.’
Suddenly Carolyn turns and moves her face very close to Robert’s.
‘Okay! We seventy, you thirty. Deal.’
‘Hey, wait! No way! Novices may not take that kind of share! You thirty, I seventy! ’
‘We are not novices, and it’s not fair! We seventy, you thirty!’
‘Hmph, okay, I sixty you forty!’
‘No!’
Carolyn turns to leave. Christopher was all ready to take the deal, but didn’t make a sound at all because Carolyn has already taken over all the conversation.
‘Hey, don’t try to push me, greenhorns.’ Robert pauses a bit, and then talks again.
‘Okay, Fifty-fifty. That’s my last deal. I usually work alone, so take it or leave it!’
Carolyn’s face turns cheerful because her haggling has taken her this far, and she answers,
‘Okay, deal. When can we start?’
‘After lunch. I heard Chris’ stomach is already grumbling. My treat.’
Christopher blushes like a boy, but is excited upon a treat, and so is Chiel (it likes to copy human expressions and doings, especially Carolyn, Chris and now Robert’s). Carolyn looks at Christopher and then to Robert with worry on her face.


==oOo==


On the streets of Rand, Carolyn and Christopher walk and chat merrily, with Robert walking behind them, making an even surlier face than usual. Chiel chooses to copy Robert’s face this time and flies around Carolyn.
Robert thinks. That geek ate like a Leviathan! Now even the bounty can’t cover up my losses!
He jiggles his purse – Not many coins are left in there. Robert bows his head as though he regrets choosing these two morons in his party.
As they arrive at the guild, Carolyn and Chris immediately browse for jobs – and arguing with each other again, while Robert goes to meet Hulferd.
Charlotte says, ‘Oh, sorry Rob. Ferdy is going out for some errands – he will come back soon. You just wait here.’
‘No thanks ma’am. I think I’ll wait outside. You see I am with friends….’
‘Friends? At last, Robert! That’s an improvement!’
‘Good day, ma’am!’
He gets out as he says that.
Then he also browses for a job himself and his party. All the jobs on the posters and boards are not satisfying enough for him: low-rate monsters, low-pay, and many competitors. Carolyn and Chris keep showing him to job posters, but their choices are nothing but jelly slugs, giant spiders, and giant rats. And Chiel excitingly looks at a poster with the picture of a wild micha and makes a love struck face. Robert almost loses his patience, overwhelmed by too many unfavorable choices. Werewolves, goblins, gnolls, giant carrion caterpillars, giant ants, fishmen, turtlemen, skeletons…
Hulferd returns at last. Robert is glad, but his expression is unchanged. He just walks right to Hulferd and talks to him.
‘Sir Hulferd, May I ask you for advice?’
‘Oh, Robert. Yes, of course. Found yourself a party, I presume?’
‘I guess so. But I still need your keen judgment to make sure that they are really dependable. That’s because if we look with our own eyes only – they aren’t.’
Hulferd reacts with a surprise.
‘Really? That’s interesting. Now bring them to my office and let me look at them.’
‘Yes, sir. Right away.’
Robert then calls Christopher and Carolyn, and they go to Hulferd’s office. Robert knocks the door. Hulferd replies, ‘Come in, come in!’
Robert comes in first and introduces,
‘These are the party members I told you about. Carolyn the witch and Christopher the swordsman. You two, this is Sir Hulferd Richardson, the guild master.’
Carolyn and Christopher say, “Pleased to meet you, Sir Hulferd.”
Hulferd is very surprised to see Christopher and Carolyn, but Chris gives him a certain kind of look and Hulferd’s expression changes in an instant. He is thoughtful for the moment.
Robert is surprised upon Hulferd’s reaction, and asks him,
‘Sir, are you all right?’
‘Oh, yes, Robert. I just want to confirm that your judgment is correct. We can’t assess someone’s potential by his appearance only. And according to Robert’s standards, I have just the right job for you three. Where is it… aha! There you go!’
Robert, Chris and Carolyn see the poster. It has a picture of a forest troll there. Then they read the contents.


WANTED
The Trolls of Lumien Forest
DEAD

80 Crowns per Head
Three Trolls Sighted
Same Reward for Extra Trolls

For crimes against the kingdom
Killing, Forest Plundering

Submit Right Troll Ear as proof – All have complete ears
Walthorn’s Edict : Proofs will be checked magically upon submittance


This rather detailed poster definitely isn’t a poster from Rand. Only one guild in Lore added the details in the posters beside the manuals. Hulferd speaks,
‘Just received it today from the guild in Varestine. I bet you three want to take the job, do you? And you have a chance to visit your “home” before you go overseas, Robert.’
‘Arkvale… The Walthorns… Jeland.’
Now Robert knows the meaning of his dream. In order to embrace the future, he must face his past again sooner or later. He doesn’t want to remember his bitter past, but he soon realizes that his existence and purpose is much more important than being an orc-hunter for revenge. He was spared from death for something greater, for the good of his country. Then he feels the urge to visit Arkvale. The tragedies will motivate him to go forward, not consume him with hatred and revenge. He needs to remember. His father, mother, sister, Old Duke Walthorn, and… Laetitia.
‘If I’m strong, I can do whatever I can to protect all that I love, and don’t let them get stolen from me again!’ It’s Robert’s conclusion in his mind.
‘Okay, we take it.’
Chris is overjoyed like a child, ‘Awright! A job!’
Carolyn pulls Chris’ ear. Chris whines. Hulferd clears his throat, and as he gets their attention, he continues.
‘Okay, now we’re set. I want you two to assist Robert and watch his back, and let him do the bashing. You three can kill as many monsters you can along the way – except this one.’
Hulferd points at Chiel with his chin. Chiel hops joyfully on Carolyn’s shoulder, making a sound.
‘And don’t forget to claim their special and useful body parts as proofs to be exchanged with money at the guild. You do have the list of required proofs, don’t you?’
Carolyn nods. ‘I have it anytime.’
She pats her goodie bag.
Hulferd nods.
‘Good. I see you’re the observant and careful one.’
Then he continues.
‘Anyway, the last sighting of the trolls was at the western part of Lumien Forest, at the bank of the Dale River. Trolls like fish the most, although some of them eat men. Proceed with caution. These creatures are dim-witted, but they’re very brutal. And Forest Trolls can regenerate and heal their wounds. But they can only heal one wound at a time, so attack quickly and inflict fatal wound as soon as possible.’
Chris nods, ‘We understand, Sir.’
‘And,’ Hulferd stares at Chris, ‘no mistakes, No foul-ups. One slip from you, their clubs will crush your skulls like squashing a bug.’
Chris gulps. ‘Mistake’ is the ever-occurring thing in his each and every mission. Hulferd sighs and continues his explanation on trolls.
‘Attack the trolls in broad daylight, because they are the strongest at night. But they’re never weak, only dumb. If you’re not strong enough to confront them frontally, use your wit and speed.’
Robert already knew all this from his experience, but he listens attentively and seriously. Knowing that he brings along unseasoned companions, he must remind them every now and then. Carolyn copies Hulferd’s words in a notebook, and Chris just stands there with minor attention and major fright.
‘Well, all I can say is good luck. And Robert, just take your time facing your past and you’ll embrace your future with no regrets.’
Robert replies coolly, ‘Thanks, sir, and wish us luck.’
‘Yes, good luck, you three. You will need it. Oh, yes, Robert – one word with you – in private.’
Chiel, Carolyn and Chris move out from the room. Then Hulferd gives his opinion to Robert with a low voice.
‘From outside, I can see that Chris is a loser and Carolyn is over-eager. But I sense a different air in them, Robert. Just do anything you can to guide them to greatness. I know they can if they try.’
‘Thank you, Sir. That gives a rest to my worries. Well, see you again – perhaps not very soon.’
‘I’ll miss you, Robert. You’re like a son to me. I’m sure Lord Walthorn watches over you from Heaven with pride now. Good bye.’
Without further ado, Robert leaves the room. As he walks out from the room, he finds Carolyn, Christopher and Chiel eavesdropping.
‘BWAAAHH!!!’
With that shout, Robert makes them jump with surprise. They are flustered and look real ridiculous, but Robert doesn’t laugh.
Chris protests, ‘Careful, buster. You might rip someone’s heart out.’
Robert replies,
‘If I intended to rip your heart out it would be done before you can say that.’
Chris gulps and goes silent. Robert talks again.
‘And that’s your first lesson. ALWAYS ready for surprises. Don’t let the enemy surprise you. You’ll meet all sorts of monsters: Goblins, for one, are sneaky bastards. They’ll ambush and kill you before you can say, “Goblins!”. Oh well, let’s prepare the provisions and we’ll be on our way.’
Carolyn looks at Chris with disdain. Then an idea comes to her, and she talks to Robert.
‘Sir Robert, will you be kind, as to teach Christopher here swordplay? I know it’s kinda hard for you, but if he doesn’t improve his skills, he will be slain before he reaches the trolls.’
Robert hesitates.
‘Hmmm. I see… well, let me think about it for a while, and we’ll talk again at the tavern.’
As they walk along the posters room, some rowdy, tough-guy hunters recognize Christophe and Carolyn and then insult them.
‘Well, well, lookie here! The geek and the loudmouth!’
Robert looks at them with wide-open eyes, thinking, hey, they stole my line!
The insulting hunters are Baxter the skinny archer and Ellephar the fat pikeman. Baxter always wears a bandana covering his long hair and head like a sea pirate. His face always looks sly and intimidating, like a black mamba snake. Ellephar on the other hand, looks like a dimwit and a pushover, but he covers it by acting tough and menacing. They are known by their dirty methods and sometimes they cheat on their party members. No one wants to be part of a party with these ‘Deceptive Duo’ in it. Baxter and Ellephar continues,
‘Taking a flobber* – hunting job again huh?’ says Ellephar.
‘I bet you can’t even kill a flobber,’ says Baxter. ‘Just go home to your momma and beg for milk!’

(*Flobber is another name for Jelly Monster. A term widely used by hunters because of the jelly-ish substance they found in it – The Flob or Jelly Core. Flobber is a low level monster.)

Christopher is about to burst out and attack them, but Robert immediately blocks his way, shakes his heads and stares at him, as a sign that Chris mustn’t attack these two rogues and just ignore their insults.
‘Ooh, what’s the matter with you? Chicken, huh? Chick, chick, chick – chicken!’
‘Mommy’s boy!’
‘I see you’re making friends with Orcbane now. What’d you do, kiss his butts? Or just let your pretty cousin here spending one night with him? Tsk, tsk, tsk… How low. How very-very low.’
This time Robert has to calm Carolyn too by saying in low voice,
‘Chill, you two. Don’t be provoked by them. I know them. They usually provoke wannabes and novices and challenge them into duels. Then they’ll defeat the novices and rob them. Just move along.’
Baxter is upset that Robert foiled their provocation, and provokes Robert instead.
‘Hey, Orcbane? Change lines from hunting to babysitting now, eh? Don’t interfere! We’re going to give these runts some ‘orientation’!’
Robert replies coolly, ‘Why don’t I give you an “orientation” instead? My kiliji here will teach you two a lesson of “mind your own businesses!”’
Robert has his hand on his kiliji sword and is ready to draw it and decapitate Baxter and Ellephar in split seconds – at the risk of losing his hunter license. Baxter and Ellephar loses their gut at seeing Robert’s killer determination in his air, and walks away hastily out of the building.
Robert also walks to the exit, followed by Carolyn and Christopher. They don’t talk along the way to the marketplace. Carolyn keeps her eyes on Robert with admiration. Christopher notices this and thinks that Carolyn fancies Robert and from now on she will pay more attention to Robert than to him. Christopher walks on with hopelessness and disappointment in his face. Chiel the micha flies merrily above them and lands on Chris’ shoulder, rubbing its face on Chris’ to comfort him. That gives Chris a slight smile on his face.

FireHeart3 - Paladins -Table Of Contents - Book 1 - Chronicles of a Bounty Hunter

FIREHEART Episode III

Legend of the Paladins

Book One: Chronicles of a Bounty Hunter

Table of Contents

How to use Table of Contents:

Just block, copy and paste the chapter / sub-chapter code or title on the Blogger's or Technocrati's "Search This Blog" blank on the top or sidebar to find the chapter you desired.

3.1.1. ORCBANE: IN THE SHADE OF THE MOON

3.1.1.1. An Oddjob and an Orcjob

3.1.1.2. The One Job No One Wants

3.1.1.3. Into Danger's Den

3.1.2. THE DREAM PART ONE: THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE

3.1.2.1. Flashes of the Past

3.1.2.2. The Old Duke and the Silver Haired Boy

3.1.2.3. The Citadel of Jeland

3.1.3. THE DREAM PART TWO: THE FORBIDDEN LOVERS

3.1.3.1. The Old King and the Little Princess

3.1.3.2. The Order of Lions

3.1.3.3. The Seeds of Romance

3.1.3.4. The Forbidden Love

3.1.3.5. The Parting

3.1.3.6. The Wheel Turns Again

3.1.3.7. The Change of the Way

3.1.4. THE FOOL AND THE MAGICIAN

3.1.4.1. The Six-Legged Trouble

3.1.4.2. Wake Up and Smell the Florins!

3.1.4.3. The Worst Hunter in the World

3.1.4.4. Face the Past, Embrace the Future

3.1.5. THE HERMIT AND THE WINDWALKER

3.1.5.1. Salvation in the Snow

3.1.5.2. The Hermit Awakes

3.1.5.3. Little People, Big Heads

3.1.5.4. The Hermit's Story

3.1.5.5. The Slander

3.1.5.6. Escape From Grad

3.1.5.7. Enter: The Windwalker and the Bladedancer

3.1.6. DEATHBLADE PART ONE: THE SPIRIT OF TEMPERANCE

3.1.6.1. It is Time

3.1.6.2. The Red Envelope and the Treasure Map

3.1.6.3. Temperance Saves the Fool

3.1.6.4. The Call of Heroes

3.1.6.5. Attractions and Distractions

3.1.7. DEATHBLADE PART TWO: THE HEART OF THE SUN

3.1.7.1. Enia's Sanctum

3.1.7.2. Temptation of Nature

3.1.7.3. Flyin' Flynn

3.1.7.4. Boulder Trouble

3.1.7.5. Strife in the Ice

3.1.7.6. Robert's Sacrifice

3.1.7.7. The Ravaging of the Sun

3.1.7.8. The Morning Light

3.1.7.9. I'm Here

3. FireHeart Saga Episode III: Legend of the Paladins

3.1. Book One: Chronicles of a Bounty Hunter

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

3.1.1. Chapter One - Orcbane: In the Shade of the Moon

CHAPTER ONE
ORCBANE:
IN THE SHADE OF THE MOON


‘A monster is not judged by its size and ferociousness, but by the devastation
it brought.’
-
Sage the
Fireheart

Founder, Fireheart Hunters’ Guild
First Emperor of Arcadia



An Oddjob and an Orcjob


A boy runs in a hurry along the narrow streets of Rand. He bumps into people and tramples mud puddles along the way, leaving people cursing and yelling behind him – some even check their tunic to look whether the boy has stolen their purses or anything valuable. The streets are real crowded here in Rand – as the city in the kingdom of Lore becomes a center of economy and culture. Thanks to the hunters and the hunters’ guild, the risk of monsters and bandits’ attacks has been lessened – at least less than other major cities in Lore: Varestine, Wagnerport even the capital, Alceste. Merchants, caravans and travelers usually hire hunters as escorts, unless, perhaps they are well-skilled, well-armed and can defend themselves or hire personal bodyguards.
The boy ignores all the curses and yells upon him, and runs along several blocks until he enters a shabby-looking tavern with a yellowish ram with the text ‘The Golden Ram’ badly carved on a signboard hanging in front. The Golden Ram is the cheapest, shabbiest and dirtiest tavern-inn in Rand. The wine and ale there are bad, but it is always full of rowdy, strange and suspicious people with their own strange, shady businesses – gambling, brawling, having fun with tavern maidens, and even talking in low voices. Well, secret talks in loud voices can be made in here too, as it’s too loud there – rest assured your talks won’t be heard by the neighbor at the next table.
The boy looks around desperately, and once in a while ducks to avoid flying objects like wooden mugs, stones – fortunately no sharp ones, though. After a while, he finally notices someone and comes to a group of people gambling on a corner. They are shouting in frustration or muttering things like ‘Damn, he won again!’ and all sorts of curses. One of them – a man with silvery, unkempt hair - doesn’t yell, though and coolly extends his hands to collect the crowns (gold coins), florins (silver coins) and zennies (bronze coins) on the table and pour them all into his purse. Although he apparently is the winner, he doesn’t smile. He only stare cautiously around him, readies himself as though anticipating something bad. And it happens. One of the gamblers, an ugly, fat, unshaven and badly dressed man gets up, bangs on the table and puts his one foot on the chair, screaming.
‘You CHEATED! Bloody cheater!’
The two other gamblers are puzzled for a while, staring at him – but they instantly understand, and scream along to support him.
‘Yeah! Winning seven times already! That’s impossible!’
‘Must be sumthin’ behind ‘ees hands!’
‘And he ain’t even smile all the time! Mus’ be afraid he’s gonna be found out!’
‘Thrash ‘im!’
‘Search him! Make him return our money!’
The cool silver-haired guy raises his face. He is handsome, although his face is sallow and looks somewhat feminine, but his calm, serious and cautious behavior gives an air of someone who has endured great hardships, tragedies and traumas. He always wears a leather breastplate in front of his shirt, and always ready with a kiliji (a curved long sword) neatly hung inside its scabbard under his shabby blue hood and robe. The boy recognizes him perfectly at once, and is about to call him, but the silver-haired man notices the boy and signals him to keep quiet and keep away.
‘Hey, won’ speak a word, eeh? No reveal your secret!?’
‘Maybe you will talk after we rearrange your pretty face!’
‘O’ you hungree? Wanna eat? Here, taste THIS!’
The bald man launches his knuckle sandwich towards the silver-haired man’s mouth, but the silver-haired man simply moves his head aside with great reflexes and avoids the hit altogether. He gets up, and is ready for the next attack.
One thought comes into the silver-haired man’s mind:
Even if I speak, these stupid brutes won’t listen – they just want to rob my winnings. Well, it’s time to show them who I really am, as Pear is already here…
To avoid revealing too much of him, the silver-haired man avoids most of the attacks using knuckles, knifes and a wooden chair, and finally counterattacks, catching the bald man’s punch and kicks him straight on his jaw, sending him flying backwards and falls crashing on the wall, knocking him out. The fat guy and the one-eyed scarface are astonished to see this display of strength, but thinking that it was only a lucky strike they attack the silver-haired guy altogether. The scarface’s attack misses, but the fat guy successfully hit the silver-haired guy’s shoulder as he is avoiding the scarface. But the silver-haired man’s expression doesn’t even change in pain, instead he ducks and sweep-kicks the fat guy’s feet, causing the fat guy to fall tumbling on the floor.
The one-eyed, badly-scarred man thinks. Damn! He’s too strong! I must get outta here!
And he runs away at once.
The fat guy tries to get up although he is irritated with his friend’s cowardly behavior. But the silver-haired man doesn’t waste time and instantly draws his kiliji and points it directly to the fat guy’s throat. Then he finally speaks.
‘Get out now. I only kill monsters and bandits, unless you are one of them.’
The fat guy whimpers, ‘Ah, you’re a hunter?’
A tavern guest cuts in.
‘You’re new in town, heh? He’s a hell of a hunter, you know.’
The little boy named Pear speaks, ‘Mister Orcbane?’
The silver-haired man replies, ‘Sssh, I’ve told you many times, just call me Robert.’
‘Aw, it’s easier to remember you as Orcbane, as it is so frequently said at the guild.’
‘Ah, Pear, now you’ve done it.’
Robert the Orcbane then talks to the fat man with a threatening tone.
‘Well, what will it be now? Still want to rob my money?’
‘Your money WHAT? You must be cheated, I can tell’.
‘I didn’t cheat.’
‘Then how come you won seven times and only lost twice?’
‘’Twas a dice game, right? Maybe you must learn about concentration *). Focus your mind and eye on the dice movements. Well, you must train them hard, because I got that kind of training once as a soldier and a scout in the Lore-Arcadia war.’

(* Concentration = What Robert means is Eagle’s Eye – the ability to notice very quickly or even the slightest movement from the objects from any distance. Besides training, one must have the talent – that is very uncommon among humans. An Eagle’s Eye expert is usually a good scout or spy. Robert has that talent.)

‘Damn, you’re a soldier! Then why did you lose twice?’
‘Even fools can guess that. I deliberately let you guys win so you won’t suspect me using concentration and you won’t want to gamble with me anymore. I know you guys are new in town because none of my old mates want to gamble with me again. I need to earn pocket money, you know as there is no orc to hunt…’
Suddenly Pear remembers something and cuts in.
‘Excuse me, Sir Orcbane, but now there is’.
‘It’s Robert, Pear, Robert.’
‘Yeah, Robert… Robert…’
‘Wait.. you said there’s an orc-job at the guild?’
‘Yessirah.’
‘Let’s go there! Here, Gumbold, for the food, ale and for the damage too’
Robert tosses several florins and zennies to Gumbold the tavern-innkeeper’s table, and a crown to the fat guy.
‘Here’s for you. No hard feelings mate. Treat your friends too.’
The fat guy doesn’t believe his eyes and ears. He is still sitting on the floor, astonished as he sees Robert and Pear rushing out from The Golden Ram tavern-inn.



The One Job No One Wants


Robert and Pear arrive at the Hunters’ Guild in Rand. It’s a fairly large building with a banner bearing a cross-lining between a snake and a sword, as though the snake is pierced by the sword. All Hunters’ Guilds in all regions of Lore use this symbol to show the wide network and excellent management system they have. So it is possible that several jobs can come from other cities – but those sorts of jobs must be the difficult ones that require extra skill and experience that are few among the hunters in the job commissioner’s region.
Many hunters of different sorts: swordsmen, warriors, assassins, archers and mages; men and women are there – it seems that the hunting job attracts more talented people than being a soldier, a mercenary, a bodyguard or even a thug. Some even wear clean robes and shiny armors – to show that they are distinguished hunters that are more trustworthy than the shabby ones. Of course, most of them crowd near job posters hanging on walls and message boards, and queue near job counters. The clerks are usually fine maidens with attractive uniforms – another proof of the excellent management of the guild.
Pear guides Robert to a poster on the right wall – the one that no hunters are seen around it. It bears a poorly drawn picture of an orc’s face, and Robert sees the notice:


WANTED
A’bong the Orc
DEAD

200 Crowns
Extra 50 Florins for every kobold’s head in A’bong’s gang

For crimes against the kingdom
Banditry, Robbery, Murder



Robert reacts, ‘Well, it seems the reward is slightly higher than usual.’
A voice comes from behind.
‘That’s because this is not any stray Gremion orc or common ones – this guy is intelligent. He can even round up kobolds and lead a band. Of course the reward is fitting.’
Robert turns around to see the speaker – Hulferd, the Guild Master. Hulferd is a 43-years old man with beautifully-trimmed moustache and beard, and well-built. Traces of his handsome face can still be found on him. It seems that he is a former well known hunter and now runs his own guild. Robert greets him in his usual, cold but polite manner.
‘Good afternoon, Sir Hulferd.’
‘So, are you interested, Rob? I got the details right here.’
‘You don’t have to ask me that. Just tell me the details straightaway.’
‘Hahaha, don’t be like that, Rob, my friend. You know I always remember you every time I get jobs like this. It’s just no other hunters here ever want to take orc-hunting jobs. They think it’s too risky and dangerous for them, and I don’t have to send the posters to other cities when you’re around.’
‘And I specialize in orcs, highly dangerous monsters, and bandits.’
‘Right. Well then, shall we move to a quiet place for a quick briefing?’
‘Okay.’
Then Robert takes out three zennies and hands them to Pear, touching his head affectionately as though Pear is Robert’s own son.
‘Here, Pear. Now stay out of trouble. There are so much bandits and monsters around with these many posters. Don’t let your parents worried.’
‘I will, sir. Thank you, sir.’
Pear walks away joyfully. Robert and Hulferd walk to the office rooms in the second floor.

==oOo==

The second floor consists of several office cabins and Hulferd’s own compartments. Hulferd enters a room – his office. Robert follows him in, and inside he sees a simple table with three chairs, with piles of parchments stored in racks. The wall is full of job posters – almost all with ‘X’ in a ‘O’ stamps that signifies that the jobs are complete. Robert takes notice of a new, unstamped poster with a picture of a fearsome, mysterious looking assassin on it and asks Hulferd.
‘Hulferd, who is the guy in that poster? Why didn’t you put it on the boards?’
‘Oh boy, haven’t you heard, Rob? Tsk, tsk, a person by your trade…’
‘Well, I’m not actually THAT sociable, you know.’
‘Hahaha… By the way, that guy is called MacLair. Oliver MacLair, a rogue assassin. He has killed several high-rank officials in Wardstone, not to mention the prime minister’s daughter, rest her soul. Who hired him, we don’t know. And it’s not quite an accurate drawing either. He moves real damn quick so none of the “survivors” can see his actual looks – and he seldom leaves any “witnesses”. If anyone tries to chase him or even takes a glimpse of his face – that guy will end up dead before he can even blink. And I’m damn sure that none of the hunters here can match him…’
‘… Even me?’
‘… Even you. Don’t get insulted – that’s for your own good. It takes someone who can match his speed to take him down. The poster was sent to me a fortnight ago from the capital, and I decided to keep it down low until I have a chance to meet Kyflynn.’
Robert is curious. ‘Kyflynn?’
‘A night elf assassin – don’t tell me you don’t know him too.’
‘Only by reputation. I once overheard people talking in the tavern about the assassin who never killed good people – only monsters and criminals. And his speed is legendary too.’
‘Yeah. I believe he’s the only one who can match MacLair. Ah, shall we get on the business now?’
‘Go on.’
Hulferd moistens his lips then talks on.
‘Now this A’bong and his kobold gang are nomads, they came here about three months ago and they raid villages, caravans and ambush travellers – kill and pillage like bandits do. Only bandits sometimes spare people’s lives so they can rob them again in the future. By the way, our spies have found their lair in the cave in the West Harper Hills. Here’s a copy of the map, and you can find the location accurately drawn in it. A’bong uses a broad battle axe and well-armoured – I think he’s a veteran from The Gremion Wars that deserted his army after Gremion was forced to share its territory with Bresconnor. And the kobolds are eight – two large ones and six small ones – including two females.’
Hulferd pauses for a while, staring at Robert with concern. Then he sighs.
‘I know you always get excited when it comes to orcs, but as your friend and mentor I warn you – be extra careful this time. A’bong is not an ordinary orc. He is intelligent and has leadership qualities – real different than the orcs you hunted all these times. I think he used to be a captain or even a general. Better take a party with you along, don’t act alone.’
Robert replies in a calm, polite voice.
‘I understand, teacher. You always have been my helper and guide since I’m a greenhorn and only a bit skilled in the battlefield. You even saved my life several times. You taught me your sword moves and treated me like your son. I will never forget that.
But as always, I work alone. I always had this difficulty to deal with people, you know. And I bet no one will join me even though I tell them to handle the kobolds only and let me deal with the orc. For this once, teacher, let me handle this alone. If I can’t overcome this difficulty, I will never improve and I will be no different than others who only content themselves hunting jelly slugs, petty monsters and petty bandits.’
‘I see. But you surely won’t mind if I send one of my spies to keep an eye of you, so he can collect the heads and the proofs of your work – standard guild procedure.’
Robert nods. It seems that he doesn’t mind at all, because the guild usually send novice hunters as spies – an extra job – to learn from the experienced ones. Robert used to be a spy to assist Hulferd these three years.
Then Hulferd’s wife, Charlotte comes in. She’s 39, a plump lady but still pretty. Although never experienced real education, she has a keen judgment and a kind heart. She has two kids, Helen, 16, quite pretty just like her, and her younger brother, Pearce, 10 years old. Apparently Pearce is the same Pear that called Robert earlier. Pear has great intuition and a keen sense upon anything, just like his mother and great determination to improve himself just like his father. No wonder he immediately searched for Robert as he saw the poster before his father told him not to. Maybe someday he can become a great hunter just like his father.
Charlotte greets Robert enthusiastically – she also wants Robert to marry Helen someday, but apparently Helen already has a lover somewhere… and Robert too…
‘Oh, Robert! What a surprise!’
‘Good day, ma’am. Long time no see.’
‘A long time, indeed. Two months! Where have you been? Helen has been asking for you.’
Robert snorts and shows his rare, cold smile. How can that be, he thinks. Helen already has Albert, the bookworm. She must be in the library with him now. She is only interested in poetry and writing, and Robert doesn’t even have an interest in it – or even in her.
‘Really? Tell her I said hello. Oh yes, about Pear, just tell him to stay out of trouble. I’ve been staying in the tavern these days, and it’s getting rowdier each and every day.’
‘WHAT? Ah, Pear! That overactive son of yours, Ferdy. Give him a word or two once in a while, will you? What kind of father are you, letting him prowling around, huh?’
‘Aw, honey, don’t be like that. Just let him taste a bit of the real world, it’s good for him. He’s smart, and I’m sure he will be a good hunter one day, just like dear Rob here. Anyway I’m too busy with the guild and things…’
‘But at least a warning, so he can learn to be cautious – like dear Rob here.’
‘…. Perhaps too cautious.’
‘… Or too rash.’
Charlotte and Hulferd stare at Robert at the corner of their eyes with their strange faces. Robert stares at them with a puzzled face. He replies…
‘Hey, hey, don’t get angry, old fellas. I promise you I will keep an eye on Pear whenever I’m not at a job. Is that okay with you?’
Hulferd lands a slow jab on Robert’s shoulder.
‘Now that’s the spirit. Don’t let your cool hides who you really are.’
But THIS is who I REALLY am, Robert thinks.
Charlotte is not satisfied yet with Robert’s answer, and contorts…
‘And MOVE OUT from that smelly, flea-ridden Golden Ram Inn! And buy yourself a REAL house! I don’t want to see Pear play with you in that god-forsaken place every day! Gambling? Vadis forbids!’
Robert replies, ‘I’ll work something out, ma’am. I will.’
But a different thought comes into Robert’s mind.
Aw, we hunters still have to eat when there’s no job. And honest jobs will keep us out of monster-hunting. And I don’t have enough money to buy a proper house, either. Later, ma’am. Much later.
Charlotte snorts. She knows her bidding won’t be fulfilled in the near future, knowing very well of the hunters’ nature – namely her husband’s. But she finally resigns and goes to the kitchen to make some tea for Robert, Hulferd and herself.
‘All right then. Don’t leave yet, Robert. I still want to talk to you over a cup of tea.’
Robert nods. Although he knows that a talk with ‘Chatty’ Charlotte will be a boring one, but their kindness tops over anything in the world for him so he compels himself to stay a little longer – preparing his spirit for the most difficult job he has taken until now… with some pep talks and a healthy cup of tea.



Into Danger’s Den


A shadow moves quickly in the dark, in the shade of moonlight. It also moves cautiously and stealthily, so no enemy might spot him and it can attack them in a surprise. Then Robert the Orcbane, the hunter arrives in front of the cave in the West Harper Hills. He hides and tries to recall his plan again before going in for a surprise attack.
No guards at the front… Suppose the map is right. But I never know, right? I must be ready for all risks and possibilities. Maybe they have already expected a hunter to come and prepared an ambush. A’bong was a veteran captain. I was only a scout. I have no idea what kind of ambushes they will be preparing and how to tackle them. I only participated in one war – so I only know standard ones and no orcish types. Pity Hulferd has resigned, he must be able to give me a few more pointers. Ah, throw away those negative thoughts. I must overcome this by myself – if I ever want to improve. Vadis, help me.
Then he clasps his hand and prays like a true Vadisian devout, and then he kisses the ring on his left little finger. He’s now ready.
Okay, here goes nothing.
Robert enters the narrow cave with a torch in his left hand and his trusted Kiliji in his right hand. He walks along, and sees some light from afar. Now he is convinced that someone is indeed there and camps inside the cave.
I’m in luck. They’re here – or whatever it is.
He walks on, and the cave is getting wider with stalactites and stalagmites on his way – he’s going underground. He sees some torches hung on the cavern posts, and draws the conclusion that the orc can lead his gang as well as humans do and he becomes more alert.
As he walks on, he smells something strange. And the air around him moves like a soft breeze. He raises his kiliji. Suddenly two pairs of eyes are shown on his left and right, and two kobolds pounce on him. Calmly, without looking, Robert moves right and slashes his kiliji to the upper right, and cuts through the kobold on his right on its gut. Kobold blood showers and splatters on his hair and armor. He successfully avoids the kobold on his left. Without wasting any time, he attacks the kobold. The kobold blocks Robert’s attacks with its sword – but Robert’s attack is getting quicker and comes from different angles and variants, the kobold gets overwhelmed and finally Robert pierces its chest. Before it dies, the kobold lets out a loud, long howl as an alarm to warn its comrades.
Robert thinks, So much for the surprise. I better think of another plan quick.
He thinks as he runs on forward, hoping to reach A’bong and the remaining six kobolds before they even realize what the alarm means. But it’s still a long way to the center and Robert hears angry kobold barking sounds not far from there. So he decides to drop the plan and head back. On the way, an idea comes into him.
Why don’t I use their tactic against them? Hiding behind the dark parts will be good. I’ll use my ‘concentration’ and attack them in the dark.
Robert deliberately puts off the torches – except the ones near the narrow exit - and hides behind a post just like the kobolds did. Then the six kobolds arrive, running in frenzy. They realize that two of their comrades have been slain, by sniffing the blood and the kobold carcasses. And they howl in fury, especially the two female kobolds – because all the males are their mates. Robert sees that this is a perfect opportunity to attack – but he retracts himself as he hears a loud yell.
‘HALT! On guard, you hound ‘n bitches! Something’s odd here!’
Robert sees A’bong the orcish captain’s silhouette appears from the light of the torch from the exit and from A’bong’s rear. Then A’bong roars again.
‘Ghr’oak*! You morons! Can’t you see? The infiltrator is trying to ambush us! He put out the torches!’

Footnote : (* Ghr’oak = A hole in your gorged flesh! – A very rude Orcish sarcasm)

The kobolds only yelp and bark in reply, obeying their master and leader.
‘This one is good, better than the gorged guts trying to kill us these three months!
You bitch! Go to the center and bring us some torches! And the rest of you, spread! Proceed with caution! The infiltrator is still around here! Hiding!’
Gorged guts? Robert thinks. This orc probably eats humans, or at least the kobolds do.
Orcs are usually well-versed with Aurelian Common Speech as well as their own harsh language that mostly sounds like grunts and growls, but they always speak in harsh slangs and sarcasms, and only believe that they can only control or lead others by power and out of fear. Female orcs only choose those who are fearsome and strong (because no orc is fair – as a matter of fact). No wonder male orcs sometimes kill each other to get the female and to show who’s the strongest. And A’bong is indeed an example of an orc idol because his brutality is more terrible than his rude talks.
Back to the tension at hand. Robert thinks hard to free himself. Now he begins to think that he should’ve chosen to be an assassin or learn the methods of stealth-killing, or be a sorcerer with mass-killing skills, but martial art is what he does best. No regrets, then. A swordsman is a swordsman. Then a kobold sniffs near his hiding place. Robert is tensed. Then in split seconds his wits fly fast and without thinking twice he carries on with his new plan and attacks the kobold near him without looking; only using his other senses.
He successfully slashes the kobold diagonally on the torso, and the kobold wails before it dies. A’bong and the other kobolds hear the wail, and run to the source. Then Robert avoids the kobold in front of him and runs to the exit. But the large kobold lunges with its claws, slashing Robert’s left arm, leaving three scratch marks on the wound. Robert is in pain – but as usual he only grimaces – never screams. Clutching his bleeding left arm, Robert runs into the narrow part of the cave, and waits midway.
Then he hears loud barking and sees the large kobold entering the narrow passage, and its two fellow kobolds also enter with him. As they are racing to reach Robert, the three kobolds jam each other on the narrow passage which width can only support one person. Robert uses this opportunity by slashing into the large kobold, splitting it in half with his incredibly sharp kiliji. Then he charges onto the second kobold and decapitates it. The last one, the female kobold springs onto Robert with a greater speed than the male, and sinks its teeth on Robert’s chest only to find that its teeth only goes into the thick leather armor and only scratch Robert’s chest a bit. Robert sees this opportunity and thrusts his kiliji into the female kobold’s gut, killing it at once. Then he pushes the dead kobold away and pats his reliable armor, as though thanking Vadis for the one who sold him this good quality armor.
Then no one comes into the narrow passage – and Robert thinks that A’bong has already realized this tactic too. And it’s getting brighter inside – the torches are lit again. Well, playtime is over, Robert thinks. Now it’s the real showdown between a human, an orc and two kobold mongrels. Robert takes out his healing potion and drinks the whole dose from the container. Then he boldy walks into the wide caverns again, clutching his bleeding left hand.
I should’ve worn my robe and cloak tonight – and brought a healing salve, Robert thinks.
A sarcastic voice greets him as he comes out of the narrow pass.
‘Well, well, the rat finally comes out. Still have the guts, huh?
You got bigheaded after killing my six mongrels, huh?’
Robert sees A’bong standing at a distance, staring mockingly at him. Robert approaches him.
‘Gharh, not very good at all, you still got wounded by my mutts. You two, now stay away! It’s now a matter between two warriors. C’mon, take me down now! Show me what you got!’
The two kobolds back away. And Robert has already arrived in front of A’bong. Apparently A’bong has underestimated him because of his arm wound and several minor wounds on his body. And A’bong thinks that the blood on Robert’s right is Robert’s, so Robert must be in front of the death’s door and A’bong can finish him with ease.
Robert says, ‘You know what your problem is?’
‘You talk too much!’
Without warning, Robert attacks A’bong with his kiliji. A’bong is shocked with Robert’s fast moves – for a dying man. He gets overwhelmed at first, but he successfully repels Robert’s blows with his great axe. Then Robert increases the strength and speed of his attacks. Swordsmen usually use the balanced measure between strength and speed and have adequate constitution to bear heavy wounds before using healing potions.
Robert uses his skill – Power Bash and inflicts a deep wound on A’bong, but A’bong shows the Orcs’ great constitution by counter-attacking Robert with his great axe. Had Robert slowed down a little, he would have been split in two with the simple axe slash – Land and Sea Divide from A’bong. Robert backs away staggering from the shock vibration from the effect of A’bong’s strike, then he gathers his strength again quickly and launches his combo move – Ten Point Chain Slash, slashing ten times on ten different weak point possibilities in split seconds. It’s a devastating combo. A’bong can’t match his speed with Robert’s and gets slashed in seven points and can only block or avoid three. Blood gushes out from the wounds, and A’bong falls on his knees on the ground.
But as Robert is going to deliver his killing blow, the two kobolds charge to save their master and attack Robert from the front and left. The large kobold seizes Robert’s left foot, gnaws on Robert’s armored left side. At the same time the female kobold locks Robert’s sword and kicks Robert right at his cheek. The blows throw Robert backwards, and now he’s completely helpless – sprawling on the ground – seized by the two kobolds. Boy he wishes that he complied with Hulferd’s advice to bring a party along – and his stubbornness will lead to his death. And once again he gets the feeling he hates most: fear, as A’bong rises up again with glee. He raises his axe high – ready to deliver the Land and Sea Divide Slash to divide Robert in two.
‘Now, you die! And my mongrels will gorge your gut!’
In that critical moment a flash of a beautiful lady’s face comes in Robert’s mind and Robert quickly regains his resolve and wit.
He thinks, NO, I can’t die now!
He screams, ‘YAAAAAAHHH!!!’
The slash goes down. Robert lets out his spirited glare, and in split seconds, with his remaining strength rolls to the right, dragging the large kobold with him with his free left hand and the blow from A’bong slashes the large kobold instead and splits it in two – the large kobold has served as Robert’s shield now. The female kobold gets shocked and its grip is loosened. Robert gets up and thrusts his kiliji into the orc’s throat – his unarmored part and also the orcs’ common weak point. A’bong spills out blood and he dies with wide-opened eyes before he can say ‘Impossible!’ – His last thought.
Robert retracts his sword from A’bong’s throat, and the dead orc falls on the ground. The female kobold howls at the top of its voice, enraged by the loss of its mates and master. Robert’s physical strength has depleted, but a newfound strength is growing inside him. It’s fire, the element of Robert’s inner strength. It has been triggered when Robert avoided A’bong’s last attack and now it’s growing out from his hand then covers his kiliji. From now on, he can use fire property in his sword skills. The female kobold whimpers at Robert’s display of strength – He’s stronger and more deadly than A’bong is and ever be. Its canine instinct takes over – it flees. But Robert is now determined to finish his job completely and slashes his sword from afar, horizontally. A crescent-shaped fire emerges from the slash and flies in high speed towards the kobold. The kobold feels a hot wind behind it and turns its head back – and it howls in terror as the fiery crescent splits its torso in two.
It was one of the sword skills that originally utilize air – The Dragon Wings Air Slash. Now with fire property its name is The Crescent Fire Slash. Robert and Hulferd can do multiple air slashes, but in this case one is enough to finish the job.
Realizing that his job is finished, Robert sighs in relief. Tears start rolling from his eyes, as though he is sad and dissatisfied, but in fact the true reason is different. And his expression is somewhat indifferent. One may think that this is just a daily routine for Robert, or a mere trifle.
It’s another job well done.
But before he can move to decapitate his target or collect the proofs of his work, his failing physical strength, wounds all over his body, and loss of blood makes him staggering, lolling and then he collapses on the ground, unconscious. His condition is critical, and sometimes when a man goes into that state, flashes of the past and his entire life may come to him…


End of Chapter One

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