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The D20-headed Knight, Chapter Six: The Prodigal Steve Returns

Posted by Apocalypse, 03 October 2010 · 575 views

Yeah, it's been a while since a blog post, but here's more writin's!

Chapter Six: The Prodigal Steve Returns

The party, or, what was left of them, toppled out of the mysterious green energy, its eerie light vanishing as the magic that had sustained it ceased to function. Luckily, the window etched into the stone behind them was not halfway up a cliff; instead, it was halfway down a valley, and they slid down the gentle slope until they rested at the bottom. The pinkish sun was just beginning its rise to the east, the sky a dull orange as it did so.

Magnar found himself resting on Serstia's chest, and he quickly got to his feet. His sweater was covered in blood, his first thought being that the bodily fluid had already seeped into the fibers and utterly ruined his favorite clothing item. He began to take it off when he realized that it was freezing, and the white ground that he had mistaken for the typical off-color palette of this world was in actuality snow.

"This dimension… the stories Father told me… two sides of the same coin…" Serstia said, perhaps delirious from the loss of blood. Winston had already knelt to tend to her, something Earl wished that he had done first.

"Come on, Serstia, heal yourself," the assassin urged.

She lifted her hands, and magic sparked from her fingers, but she lapsed into unconsciousness before whatever spell she managed to begin could complete. Winston tore the sleeves from his shirt, removing the needle from her stomach and gingerly bandaging the wound. Earl also tore his sleeves off, because he had initially thought that Winston had only done so to display his chiseled biceps, and he had not wanted to be outdone. It was an act which, in this cold weather, he would later come to regret.

Winston had withdrawn two spears from his bag of holding, and Magnar had knitted a stretcher for their healer, when the Raven landed not far from their party. It cocked its head to the side, glaring through one onyx eye, when it spoke.

"You have arrived. It is time to journey to my Master's lair."

"You have to help us," pleaded Magnar. "Our healer might die."

"It is of no concern of mine if she lives or dies, Dwarf. It is you, not she, who is needed."

"What about Steve? What have you done with him?"

"Yeah!" said Earl. "Answer him or I will stomp you into bird soup!"

"I have done nothing. The Drogreman journeyed into the snowy wastes, perhaps to die, but I think, perhaps to live. You must follow him," the Raven said, swinging its head to look out into the snow-covered tundra. A wind picked up where there had been none before, and blew snow from a long line of indents receding into the distance, which the party recognized as footprints slightly larger than a human's.

"My Master's realm is timeless, eternal. What was ten minutes for you was ten years for the Drogreman. Ten years in a frozen wasteland, clinging to his survival. You may not find him as hospitable as you left him."

"Yeah, because he was a shining beacon of hospitality before," said Earl sarcastically.

"When you find my Master, perhaps he can help you with your healer. Go now, and do not tarry," the Raven commanded before hopping along the ground, lifting off, and flapping into the distance.

The party agreed that moving on was prudent, mostly because, at least according to Earl and Winston, the only known owner of a vagina in this universe was in no condition to copulate. Also they were a bit chilly. They found the going to be rougher than they thought, however.

"So surprising that such a slender and well-shaped woman would be so heavy…" Winston remarked. Earl, remembering hearing something one time about people in comas remembering things from when they were out, spoke in a projecting voice.

"It is not that she is heavy, my naïve subordinate! It is merely that you do not bear the strength and grit necessary to tend to a woman in need!"

Magnar was having the hardest time, however, seeing as the snow was relatively much deeper for an individual of his stature. He did his best to hobble through it, and as he walked his trembling hands were knitting as fast as the cold would allow.

"There. My mittens are finished!" he proclaimed, holding up large, colorful mittens.

He put them on. Now, this wasn't particularly important to the party or their adventure, but Magnar considered this kind of a big deal. He stopped hobbling for a moment, and paused to admire his exquisite handiwork. They were so warm and soft and perfectly fitting, but they also managed to be transcendentally beautiful in their craftsmanship. Magnar grinned, wholly satisfied and content in his heart.

However, when he looked up again, his companions were nowhere to be seen. They had seemingly vanished from the face of this desolate plane, and the fierce wind had already covered up their tracks. Magnar began to, under his breath, recite the ancient mantra against fear that he had been taught by his very mysterious mother.

"When in fear, or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout."

Magnar proceeded to do so.

Of course, the Dwarf had done this for all of two seconds when he tripped on something beneath the snow, toppling face-first into the cold, white powder. So, as his beard took the brunt of the chill, he lay on his stomach, with an excellent view of the ground that was immediately in front of him. While snow is all well and good to watch, normally it would not hold one's attention for long, save for the fact that this snow in particular was shifting, as if something was coming upward from below it. Magnar checked his hands and feet, ensuring that they were in the proper position and had not, in fact, gone rogue on him, when a tiny man, only a few inches tall, tunneled upwards through the snow, bracing himself against the gale and the few flurries that fell from the sky.

"Ahoy, giant man!" yelled the tunneler, equipped with a shovel and a tiny hat-lantern that lit his immediate surroundings in a pale glow. "Where have I had the great fortune to surface?"

Magnar looked left, right, and then left again. He briefly decided that it would be best to just ignore this new happening altogether. The miniscule digger, however, was not so eager to let things go.

"Sorry, mate, but I can't see past all this snow! Am I perhaps in gentle Icetopia? Or the great Winter Caves of Impenetrable Chill? Blast, where's that map I had… Ivan! Ivan, where's the map?"

Another man, somehow even shorter, surfaced next to him, breathing heavily.

"Map's gone, boss," he said simply, still catching his breath.

"What? Lost? But, that's impossible!"

"Burned it so I wouldn't lose my toes," Ivan remarked, wiggling diminutive, stubby foot-fingers. He appeared to have no shoes.

"Where am I?" asked Magnar.

The little man looked confused.

"Well I was hoping you could tell me."

"I don't think he's from around here, boss," remarked Ivan.

"Clearly not," said the boss. "I suppose our only option, Mr. Giant, is to travel around on your back until we know."

"That doesn't make any sense," Magnar murmured.

"Of course not," said the boss, hopping up onto Magnar's shoulder. "But if we stay in that snow little Ivan here will freeze to death. You don't want that, do you?"

"Poor Ivan has a wife and kids," said Ivan, jumping on the other shoulder. "If I died they would cry enough tears to fill a whole thimble!"

"Now, mush!" cried the boss.

Meanwhile, Earl was beginning to feel the chill in his arms as the blood froze in his veins. His muscles were also tired from carrying half of Serstia, who was light, yes, but Earl's upper body strength relied more on short bursts of energy rather than endurance. His legs, accustomed to running in fear, were holding up quite nicely, however.

The snow was picking up, clouding the travelers in obscurity as they attempted to continue following the Ogre-ish tracks in front of them, trailing their own set of footprints as they marched on. The Drogreman's tracks were refusing all snow flakes in the same way all the bars in Gorf would refuse service to Earl.

"Winston," Earl said above the rushing wind, "how much further do you think we have to go?"

"I share your sentiments, Earl. Any longer and Serstia may risk death."

"I mean, at this point I feel like Magnar could beat me in an arm-wrestling match." He waited for the Dwarf to utter an indignant comment. It never came.

Earl halted, Winston pressing the stretcher against his back before realizing they were stopping.


"Where's Magnar?"

Winston spared a look around, making a dejected sound as he realized they were minus one party member.

"Oh," he said, not knowing what else to say.

"He gets lost more than… something that gets lost a lot."

"One stocking in a pair?"

"Shut up."

The Dwarf was astray in what was beginning to become a blizzard, and neither of them particularly knew what they were going to do about it. It was the least of their worries, of course, because perhaps twenty feet behind them, a silhouette crouched in the snow, its form concealed by the storm. It paced after them, at a slight diagonal angle, curving so as to circle the two. It moved like a quadruped but it was quite obviously a biped on all fours, stealthily prowling like some kind of beast of prey, elongated arms stretched to the ground.

Earl and Winston were oblivious to the figure, and from the swirling white depths of the snowstorm, faintly glowing yellow eyes peered at them, watching.

Earl caught sight of the beast, and in his startled reaction, he lost his grip and Serstia rolled off the stretcher, landing facedown in the snow.

"phlox! Man, you dropped her!"

"What, no, that was totally you!" retorted Earl. "There's something out there." He was looking this way and that, trying to see where the beast had gone.

And then, with a blood-curdling scream from Earl, the great white ape leapt onto his back, clawing at Earl's plate mail and roaring a very throaty roar. Winston dropped the other end of the stretcher, temporarily abandoning Serstia and drawing a weapon. Before he could strike, though, the white ape fell off of Earl's back with a crossbow bolt buried in its forehead. Earl didn't stop screaming for another ten seconds, however.

Out of the blizzard walked none other than Steve, whose black hair had grown to his waist in the time since he had arrived. He was dressed in every manner of scarves and animal hides, and was brandishing a crossbow in his right hand.

"Oh! Steve! Boy, are we glad to see you," Winston said. Steve replied in a deep, gravelly, bitter voice.

"You would do well to avoid the great white apes of the EverWhite."

But before anyone else could reply, Steve dropped dead to the ground, a crossbow bolt buried in his forehead. Another Steve, dressed just like the first, emerged from the blizzard. He spoke with the same gravelly voice.

"You would do well to avoid the treacherous shapeshifters of the EverWhite," he said, as the first Steve dematerialized, revealing a gray-bodied doppelganger.

"Whoooa…" Winston said, ogling at Steve's badassery. Earl just scoffed, knowing he could do better, if he actually tried.

"Wait…" Earl said, scratching his chin. "Shapeshifter!" he cried a moment later, pointing at Steve, grasping for a sword that was no longer in its sheath. In a flash, Steve pulled a steely blur from his back, and the blur plunged into the snow, quivering to a halt. The emblem of Earl's knight order was upon its hilt, swaying back and forth, and the greatsword was nicked, unpolished, and overall worse for wear than when Earl had seen it an hour earlier.

"Steve!" Earl cried ecstatically, rushing over and throwing his arms around the Drogreman. Steve flinched instinctively, as if he had to prevent years of muscle memory telling him to snap the neck of a fast approaching opponent, before reluctantly settling for a hard slap on the back of the Knight's plate armor. Earl did not let go.

"Er, Steve?" asked Winston, pulling Earl with great effort from his iron embrace. "Serstia's been wounded."

Steve went to kneel by the healer, prying the bandage away from the stomach wound and reaching into an ape-skin pouch. He withdrew a green vial and poured it on the bloodied area, taking care not to actually touch it himself, and the liquid happily sizzled away there on the front of Serstia's white robes.

She awoke with a start due to the white-hot pain, crying out as the sizzling died down and the liquid evaporated. Breathing heavily, the healer looked up with her emerald eyes at the rugged Drogreman's bearded face, his own harsh orbs momentarily softening as he recognized the woman in front of him as a friend.

"Steve?" she asked weakly.

"Take it easy," he said, bringing forth a fresh bandage and wrapping her in it.

This touching moment was briefly interrupted by a sprinting Dwarf tripping over Earl's greatsword as he hurtled full tilt from the snowstorm. Magnar sprawled, and two small figures shot into the snow in front of him, making deep impact craters.

"Guys?" Magnar asked, not towards his party, but towards his newfound companions, or rather, towards the tunnels they had made from their falls.

"Ivan's okay," came a gruff but small voice.

"What the Magnar?" asked Earl as the Dwarf scooped snow aside, retrieving one of his small friends. Sticky snow clung to the rescued man, and Magnar's best guess was that he was holding the boss.

"Uh… not Ivan?" he asked.

"Quite right," came the muffled voice of the snow-covered boss. Magnar set him on the ground as the tiny man began to brush the thick snow off. He then fished around for Ivan, withdrawing the disheveled Lilliputian man from deep within the snow. He dangled from Magnar's fingers as the Dwarf inspected him for any damage.

"Are you okay?" Magnar asked when he noticed the melancholy expression on Ivan's face.

"Ivan was flung into the ground, through the tunnels of the snow gnomes, and there he met a family of winter faeries. They told me of the ice trolls and how they hid in fear from them beneath the white snow, too frightened to venture above ground. I travelled to the ice troll kingdom via the gnome tunnels, and I slew Frigid the Troll-king, and when Ivan came back to the faerie den, he found them to be merely specters of a long dead people. They mournfully offered me tea, and I wept," Ivan said, voice drenched in sorrow.

"Um… what?" asked Magnar.

"Egad, man!" cried the boss. "You always have the fun adventures!"

"Did you understand any of that?" Earl asked Winston. The assassin shook his head as he pulled his dark clothes tighter around him, the lack of movement chilling his lanky body.

"Steve!?" cried Magnar, finally catching sight of the Drogreman.

"The legendary Drogreman!" shouted the boss. "Ivan, get the journal!"

Ivan withdrew a leather-bound book from his pack and handed it to his leader. He flipped through it.

"Here we are: Drogreman! Ivan, what shall I write?"

"He's tall," said Ivan matter-of-factly.

"Blast, Ivan! Everyone's tall to us!"

Steve was quite obviously embarrassed, unaccustomed to social contact after ten years in the snowy wastes, and now that he was the center of attention, uncomfortable. "We should keep moving," he said, turning to leave.

"A sound plan," remarked the boss.

"A sonic plan," mimicked Ivan.

"You don't know what that word means, do you?" whispered Magnar to him. The small man shook his head.

"A sonic plan indeed, Ivan!" cried the boss over Magnar's lowered voice. "Magnificently bearded one! Hoist us onto your stony shoulders, so that we may see the white plains stretch out beneath us!"

The party followed after Steve, trudging through the snow with dogged determination now that the group was once again whole (and with one or two miniscule hangers-on). Earl and Winston continued to carry Serstia for the moment, and she was too weak to protest. Steve wandered ahead, but never too far ahead that they couldn't see him through the heavy snow fall. Winston had convinced Earl to display a little tact, for the Drogreman obviously needed time to readjust to his friends, and was probably lost in thought.

I should have eaten that ape, thought Steve.

"Where is he going, Earl?" asked Winston.

"You're kind of new, Winston, so I'll just say that if Steve is leading, we are on the right course. If I were leading, or if Magnar were leading, you would be right to second guess."

"I have an uncanny directional sense," said Serstia from her reclining position. "Just no one lets me lead is all."

"Well, in our defense, we don't let you run with Magnar's knitting needles either. It's a safety precaution," said Earl.

Magnar had finished stitching together a lovely yellow and pink blanket, which he'd draped over Serstia, and found his knitting hands idle for the moment. He lagged behind slightly, pulling up the rear, engaged in a peculiar conversation.

"Dorf? What's a dorf?" asked the boss, who counter-intuitively to narrative flow was not given a name, nor will he ever be introduced in any other fashion.

"Dwarf," Magnar corrected.

"No entry for dorf," said Ivan, leafing through the journal.

"Dwarf," Magnar corrected again.

"That's the most extensive Encyclopedia of Beasts ever crafted around these parts," said the boss. "If it doesn't have you, then you don't exist."

"Try looking under 'Dw.' It might be there," suggested Magnar.

"I think I know how to spell dorf," Ivan laughed confidently before surreptitiously flipping to the end of the D section when Magnar wasn't looking.

"And I do too exist, there's whole cities of Dwarves," Magnar said to the boss.

"Are they all so ludicrously named?" he asked.

"Magnar," instructed Magnar, the tone in his voice implying that he had no faith whatsoever in his students.

"Mug mum?" asked Ivan. "Ivan doesn't know how to make those sounds with his mouth."



"Forget it."

"Tell me about Dwarves, then," said the boss, nestling into Magnar's luscious red beard.

"Well, most Dwarves are hardy folk with a passion for mining, smithing, and drinking, and they're fairly lewd and vulgar as a side effect of almost constantly being at least a little drunk."

"Most?" prompted the boss.

"I'm not like most Dwarves. They rejected me because of my lifestyle choices."

A snigger could be heard from Earl.

"I meant the knitting!" shouted Magnar. "I like the ladies same as every red-blooded Dwarf man," he assured the tiny travelers.

"You are a man? Whoopsies," said Ivan, scribbling at the notes he had penned into the back of the journal. "Ivan just assumed, what with the knitting."

"That I was a woman?" said Magnar in indignation. "What about my beard? My bulging muscles? Ok, maybe not the muscles, but the beard, surely."

"We assumed your women were similarly haired," said the boss.

"Well, you wouldn't actually be too far off on that one," pondered Magnar. "My Aunt Krelda could actually grow a beard so thick that she was recruited into the Mountaineer Legion because they thought she was a man."

"Irregular… facial hair growth… among females," said Ivan as he wrote, tongue sticking out periodically, enunciating in such a fashion so that it was all but assured he was misspelling every word.

"What do you have in there about Steve?" asked Magnar. He lowered his voice so that sharp ears could not distinguish his conspiratorial murmurs above the wind and fell a few more paces behind the group.

"Not much. He is an enigma, your Drogreman," said the boss.

"Ivan drew a picture," remarked Ivan, displaying a black and white etching that was more shadow and teeth than anything else. The boss changed the subject.

"What brings such a strange creature like yourself to these snowy lands?"

"We are looking for some kind of shadowy Master guy who speaks through a talking crow," said Magnar.

"Egad! The Raven!" spluttered the boss, burrowing deeper into the safety of Magnar's beard. Ivan tensed somewhere on Magnar's right shoulder.

"I thought it was a crow," said Magnar obliviously.

"Magma! The Raven!"

"Magma?" asked Magnar, once again obliviously.

"You! The dorf! I'm speaking to you!"

"Oh!" said Magnar as the realization dawned on him that Magma meant Magnar. "What about the Raven?"

"The Angel of Death's dark wings, sweeping towards Ivan…" mumbled Ivan. He seemed to have gone into shock.

"The Raven is pure evil! He feasts on the tiny folk of the land without remorse! He gobbles them up like candy!" the boss said, eyes peering out from within a tangle of coarse beard hair.

"No! Not me legs!" cried Ivan.

"Some say he is a conduit for souls which he ferries back to his Master. Others that he serves Death itself!"

"I thought Death was a 'she.'"

"Death is an abstract concept, Magma. It's not a person."

Magnar decided that religion might be a touchy subject to discuss with new friends.

"We've got to tell Earl!" he said instead.

"Yes! Wait, no! He might decide to go gallivanting off and fight the forces of darkness, and then we'd all be in a load of trouble."

"Not if I phrase it properly," said Magnar. "As long as you avoid saying the word 'adventure,' Earl is quite the coward."

Earl did not possess the ability to move his ears, but it could be said that they pricked up. His head craned to stare at the Dwarf, though he was still walking forward at a leisurely pace.

"Magnar! Get up here!" he yelled.

"Er, yes?" asked Magnar as he trotted forward to walk at the knight's side.

"I heard the word ADVENTURE! You holdin' out on me, boy?" he asked sternly.

"No, I said… bad venture."

"I don't know what you mean by that but it sounds a lot like ADVENTURE!"

"Evil!" moaned Ivan.

"What's he on about?" asked Earl.

"No! Shut him up!" the boss urged in Magnar's ear. The Dwarf swatted ineffectively at his shoulder.

"Death on ebony wings!" Ivan continued.

"Death? That sounds like a bad venture," said Earl worriedly.

"The worst," assured Magnar, searching frantically for Ivan, hopping sideways to keep pace with the knight, who had not stopped walking. The small man poked his head out from within Magnar's beard, apparently having tunneled through it.

"Spires of fear!" Ivan cried before being muffled by a hairy Dwarf hand.

"Spires?" asked Earl, halting suddenly. "You are talking about ADVENTURE! All the bad guys have spires!"

Magnar's mind raced for some excuse to assuage Earl's suspicions. Inwardly, he rummaged through the messy files within his mind. He pawed across desks and through books. Finally his inward self sighed and shrugged.

You're on your own, buddy, mental Magnar said.

"Yeah," said Magnar, body drooping as he spoke in an exasperated tone. "It's an adventure."

Earl laughed triumphantly before turning his head back towards the Dwarf. "Now say it right."

Magnar sighed.

"ADVENTURE," he said, sans exclamation mark.

"Hear that Winston?" Earl said to the assassin. "We're going on an ADVENTURE!"

"Do all the bad guys have spires?" Winston asked in return.

"Oh yeah," said Earl in a matter-of-fact tone as he began to walk again. This was a subject on which he was particularly well-versed. "Evil Black Tower Inn? That was a spire. You know the Grand Master of the Assassin's Guild, the one before me? He lived in a spire, and he was all evil."

"What do you mean, before you?" asked Serstia.

"Or Lord Despicarius! We killed that guy in a spire!" said Winston, ignoring the healer entirely.

"Yeah! See what I mean?" Earl said.

"I do… so, if all the bad guys have spires, why doesn't everyone just automatically know that they're evil?"

"Grand Vizier clause," Earl said. "There are just some bad guys whose entire purpose is to avoid suspicion from the populace, particularly adventurers, so that they can enact their evil plans."

"Wow, Earl, you sure know a lot about this stuff," said Magnar in awe.

"Well I should, I've been at this since first level," said Earl.

"Level?" asked Magnar.

"You know. Level one of the Gorf military barracks. That's where all the new knights start out. The better you get, the higher up the building your room is."

"I wonder what our levels would be," pondered Serstia.

"Well, Winston and you are pretty close to me, and I dropped out at level five a long time ago. I don't think they have a building high enough for Steve," Earl said.

"What about me?" asked Magnar with giddy anticipation.

"Hmm. Two," said Earl without much thought.

"What? I'm way higher than two!"

"Okay, three."

Magnar waited a moment, and then smiled with satisfaction.

"Yes!" he said and held out his hand for a high five. Serstia eventually reciprocated out of pity.

"We're here," said Steve, suddenly speaking from his position at the front of the stationary party. Behind him, a mountainous form loomed behind the veil of snowfall. In the rock face was the massive, black shape of a cave entrance, and from within, an ethereal rattling burst forth. The party shared apprehensive looks, and then plunged themselves into the maw of the cavern.

I don't have any idea about the star trek, but your site inspired me a lot, so that i would watch this series.

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