Beware: here lies gamer humour. If you know your D20 from your deepspawn, this tale of incompetence should stretch the boundaries of the mildly amusing.
The quivering youth peered into the cave’s overgrown depths then turned back to the group. “Are you sure? Seth is big and ugly—can’t he go first?”
Gerith rolled his eyes. “No, you’re the torchbearer. You have to go first or we won’t see what we’re slaying.”
“Man up!” Jinther said, waving his tenderising-mallet-come-warhammer.
“If you say so,” The torchbearer replied.
He stepped into the cave, tripped on a vine, and tumbled out of sight. Silence descended as the party watched firelight flicker at the cave mouth. Kitted out in tablecloth capes, padded jerkins, and wielding an assortment of cutler’s mistakes, furtive glances passed between the five.
A grunt like falling rocks rumbled out, followed by the torchbearer’s shrieks. “What in the…? By the Gods, where are you sticking that spoon? No? No! Oh Gods, no!”
Another moment of silence passed. The party leaned into the cave until a bestial roar echoed off the jagged walls and they jumped back. Heavy footfalls and bouncing torchlight approached.
Gerith turned to his companions, a rallying speech born of long and lonely nights prepared. The torchbearer’s severed arm flying from the cave changed his mind.
“Uhm…leg it,” he said and fled down the mountain path. Dust plumed in his wake as the cave spewed torchbearer anatomy. Gerith’s wisdom spread through the party and they fled like rats from a pie vendor.
“Okay, so that didn’t go well,” Gerith said at their usual table in The Peddler’s Pantaloons. The murky depths of their tankards swallowed the five’s glum looks.
“Got our asses handed to us,” Seth agreed, his bald head buried in his shovel-like hands.
“Right. We weren’t prepared for that. By ‘we’, I mean ‘you’, so I want us geared up. Spare no expense and next time we’ll kick ass like munchkins in the kobold camp. I started us off and bought this.”
“A blank roll of parchment?” Sarina asked, brushing fiery hair from her furrowed brow.
Gerith raised a finger. “Ah, it might look like that but it’s special.”
“But you can’t write,” the rat-faced Jinther said.
“What? No, it’s not for–”
“How about wipe–”
“That’s enough! It’s magical, alright? It must be legitimate; I bought it from Sneaky Pete.”
Reg flinched at Gerith’s tone and cowered behind his tankard with hunched shoulders. “The one-legged dwarf who says cat-men take him fishing?”
“Yes, that’s him. Watch the parchment. It will show us what we need to begin our adventuring career.”
Gerith made some animal noises, poured a drink over his head, and danced on the table, arms flapping like a chicken. A list appeared on the parchment.
“Well, I’ll be a beholder’s backside,” Reg said.
“Isn’t it a neat writer?” Sarina noted.
“See, it’s as easy as that.” Gerith beamed, hands on hips and ale-soaked chest puffed out.
The group made approving sounds and leaned over the parchment. Their mouths worked wordlessly and five index-fingers jostled for precedence along the script. Seth frowned so hard their table rattled.
Gerith stuck his tongue out mumbled the odd word. “It says torchbearer in capital letters, underlined at the top of the page in red ink, so I guess that’s important. Shame about our last one. Anyone know where I’m going to find fifty feet of hemp rope? Never mind. It says we need a cleric, a wizard, a thief—now why’d we want one of those?—a warrior, and whatever a ‘miscellaneous’ might be. It says bard with a question mark. Sort yourselves out and I’ll get the rest in order. We meet back at the cave tomorrow.”
“Wait, shouldn’t we start smaller?” Reg asked.
“Well, Mrs Baker has a problem with rats,” Reg offered, his face colouring. “She claims they said something about her buns.”
Sarina nodded. “Or there’s a large boar terrorising the pumpkin farmers. Apparently loads of them have shown up recently.” She hushed her tone and glanced around. “Deryn killed a bunch but when he next looked, there were just as many, and…and no corpses!”
“Fine. We meet here tomorrow at noon and then decide where to go. Anything else?”
“What’s a cleric?” Sarina asked, buffing her nails.
“A religious warrior, I think. They have Gods-given powers, according to Shifty Terrance.”
“Oh, okay. Can you be a cleric without the religion?”
“I think that’s frowned upon. If you fancy it, you’d better hurry up and have an epiphany.”
Unlike Sarina, Noon arrived right on time. Gerith and the other three loitered outside the inn, overflowing with testosterone. Reg plucked at a battered old lute, repeating ‘me’ in a range of irritating voices while Jinther spent the morning chasing oddly shaped objects that kept falling out of his black cloak, including one that splashed water over his boots. Seth sat on a rock, staring at a huge grimoire that looked like it had been carved from the face of a demon and gathered years of dust before falling in a bath. His face contorted so much it almost formed a question mark.
“I thought you might have wanted the warrior’s job, given all those muscles,” Gerith said, concealing his own rather pitiful spellbook. Actually, it was the guestbook from The Peddler’s Pantaloons with what Sneaky Pete assured him was a powerful scroll shoved between the middle pages.
“Nope. Always fancied myself as one of them smartypants types. Reckon I could shoot fireballs with the best of ‘em. Robes are a bit tight though. By the way, do you know what these picture things mean? Can’t read a word.”
Gerith rolled his eyes and rifled through his pack for the sword he’d brought just in case. “Damn useless multi-classes,” he muttered.
“Hallelujah!” Reg cried.
Gerith extricated himself from his pack and his jaw dropped. Sarina, wearing next to nothing, grinned at him. A tiny metallic…thing…sort of covered her chest.
“Hi folks. I did some research and it turns out clerics wear armour. Lecherous Surj gave me this—what do you think?”
“You are aware the point of armour is protection?” Jinther said.
“It lifts and supports! Look!”
Gerith’s skull barely held onto his eyes as she stuck her chest in his face. “Uhm, well, that’s all of us. The torchbearer’s inside getting plastered. We don’t want another one that hesitates, right? So once we fetch him, we’re good to go. Any questions?”
“Just one,” Jinther said pointing to a dishevelled figure huddled against the inn wall. “Who is she and why is she bound and gagged?”
“That was two, maybe three. She’s Elfana. The guide-thing said we needed an elf and none volunteered so I improvised.”
“And what good is she like that?”
“No idea. I think we just need one with us. Maybe they’re good luck. If there’s nothing else, we’ll fetch our torchbearer.”
The ground shook as a blacksmith’s nightmare crested the hill.
“What the hell is that?” Reg asked.
“Deryn, I think,” Sarina said. “Word has it he did pretty well last time he went adventuring.”
The metal monstrosity lumbered towards the party clanging like a bag of spoons. “Mmph?”
The dreadnought raised the visor of its helm and revealed Deryn’s beaming face. “I said I heard you were off adventuring and thought you might need someone with experience. What say I join you?”
Gerith blinked. “You said all that? But yes, you’re most welcome. You don’t happen to know a ranger, do you? This gui…erm…something tells me we ought to take one with us.”
“’Course. You’ll find one in the Pants. Knows his stuff, too; he’s got hallucinogenic arrows.”
“Halloween arrows? He must be good.”
“I’ll introduce you.”
Gerith followed Deryn into the Peddler’s Pantaloons where the torchbearer slumped over a stool, dribbling, with a bottle in one hand and flaming torch in the other. Shadowed in a corner, a man smoked a pipe and muttered under his breath, twitching.
“Are you sure about this ranger? He looks a bit spaced out.”
“Sure, he led us through the Swamps of Exceedingly Unpleasant Odour.”
“Didn’t you leave with six others? I don’t see any–”
“Accidents, I swear! Why? Who said otherwise? Besides, he’s the only ranger around.”
“I had a feeling that might be the case. If you can get him to move, I’ll pick up the torchbearer.”
Gerith hefted the torchbearer over his shoulder and rejoined his party. Sarina dashed over, wide eyed, and started trying to spank him.
“Sarina, control yourself! This isn’t the time or place. You should have said before and we could have settled down, bought a farm or something.”
“No, you idiot, his torch is melting your cloak.”
Before Gerith had time for a good panic, something hit the side of his head and water splashed over him. He dropped the torchbearer and Jinther grinned. “Ha! And you said they were useless! I think I’ll call them wet-makers. Something catchy.”
Gerith retrieved the parchment from his pack and thanked the Gods of Assumed Magical Waterproofing. “I’m told it’s easier to decide a location if we have a cause. Does anyone have an unusual birthmark? Maybe a wizard has urged you to keep something safe? No?”
Sneaky Pete had claimed that if a proper quest came up blank, the parchment would provide something relevant. Gerith rolled his sleeves up ready to activate it.
The party smirked.
Gerith squatted and leaped into the air three times. He then hooted like an owl and played Seth’s bald head like a drum, using his ears as cymbals. A yellow exclamation mark flashed on the parchment, wisped into smoke, and coalesced into a giant arrow pointing into the hills.
“Well that’s awfully useful,” Reg said. “It makes me feel like singing. Ahem.
“Oh pointy arrow in the sky,
“To thine direction we shall…uhm…fly!”
“That was beautiful.”
Inspired by the song, the intrepid, impetuous, and above all, ignorant, party marched into the forested hills. Before long, all eyes bored into the ranger.
Gerith tapped his feet and folded his arms. “We’re lost.”
“Yeah, ranger us out of here,” Jinther said. “The stupid arrow keeps pointing at trees.”
Clang. “I said give the poor man time to think. These woods are thick and rangering takes concentration. See, off he goes now.”
“Is he sniffing the ground?” Reg asked.
“Must be a ranger thing. Give him a minute.”
They gave him a minute. Then another twenty. Gerith pulled out the parchment, croaked a miniature symphony like a pond full of talented frogs and swung from a low branch. The arrow reappeared and pointed through some shrubs.
Reg glared at Gerith. “You just remember who the bard is around here, Mister Bossy.”
In a clearing, their ranger lounged against a tree, licking one of his arrowheads. He froze mid-lick with a face to make a fox in the chicken coop look innocent.
“I think we’ll have to trust the parchment for a while,” Seth said.
Unlike the party, Night managed to find its way through the forest without getting lost. The torchbearer perked up now that he had something to do and led the way, casting the odd frown to Seth who dragged the bound elf. The ranger wobbled along and apologised to a couple of trees but he still outpaced the stomping Deryn who splintered every twig and root in his path.
“There it is, up ahead,” the torchbearer declared. He gave a superior look to the ranger who didn’t seem to mind.
“Another bloody cave,” Jinther groaned. “Remember last time with the torch–”
Sarina stretched. “So, do we make camp? Rest up and have an early start? This breastplate is very pretty but it chafes.”
“Breastplate implies that it covers some of your breast,” Jinther said.
Reg shook his head. “I’m too excited to sleep. Let’s go in.”
The group agreed. Gerith didn’t need to consult the guide; he knew rule one by heart. “Okay torchbearer, you’re up.”
The torchbearer plunged into the cave.
“He’s awfully courageous.”
“Probably still drunk.”
Screams and the clash of steel echoed off the walls. Torchlight bobbed towards the cave entrance. Gerith steeled himself to at least see what killed the torchbearer this time, before running off. He blinked when the torchbearer popped his head out.
“I say, are you chaps coming in?”
Blood dripped from his sword and matted his tunic. The party exchanged confused glances but joined their torchbearer at Gerith’s command.
“Okay, best be quiet now. We might be able to get the jump on whatever hellspawn lies within.”
They sloshed, clattered, and clanged their way in, Seth dragging the elf behind. Hacked and mangled bodies of twisted evils littered the floor. Blood covered the walls in sickening patterns near the mass of corpses. The torchbearer beamed.
“Oh, and so we enter the cave most dark,
“To slay orcs and beasties, hey, what a lark!”
Deep grunts and the scrape of steel sounded beyond the door. Everyone stared at Reg. Nobody thought to stare at the door, nor question who would even build one inside a cave.
“What? It’s what I do. When inspiration strikes, I have to release it.” Reg stared off into the distance. “Sometimes it’s hard…”
“You only became a bard this morning.”
“Okay, we better pick the lock.”
“Oh right, that’s me.” Jinther sauntered to the door and fumbled inside his breeches.
Sarina raised an eyebrow. “Any more than three shakes…”
“Got it!” Jinther held a twisted piece of metal aloft like the crown of a conquered king.
Gerith wondered where he’d hidden it then abandoned the thought before nausea set in. Jinther’s tool clattered and whirred, he grumbled and cursed, and after a few minutes of what sounded like a construction site on such rare occasion as when work actually happened, he stepped away. “Nope, that’s not opening.”
“Can you magic us through, Seth?” Gerith asked.
“Uhm, maybe. What does that funny symbol that looks like a snake mean?”
“You mean ‘s’?”
“Oh. Then no.”
“Damn. We came too far to be thwarted by a door. Too far!”
“Good idea, Deryn. Someone try the handle. Torchbearer, you’re up.”
The torchbearer rolled his shoulders and strutted forward. He turned the handle and the door creaked open.
“He’s on fire today,” Reg cheered.
The torchbearer stiffened and slumped to the ground, an axe embedded in his skull. Past him, a great muscled beast, like a man only much taller and wider, roared at them.
“Bloody hell, a goblin!”
“That’s not a goblin, that’s an ogre.”
“Are you sure?”
“Does it matter?”
It didn’t. The goblinogre tore off one of the torchbearer’s arms and bludgeoned Reg with it. The bard flew back and crumpled against the cave wall, a stubborn bloodstain on his cape.
“’Ere, he broke my lute!”
Seth waved his arms. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this! Watch your wizard at work!” He sat on a rock and frowned at the massive grimoire balanced on his knees. “Actually, you guys carry on for now. But be ready!”
The goblinogre’s brow furrowed as it regarded Deryn. Unsure how to get to the soft centre it flailed the severed arm against the armour in lieu of a better plan. Blood spattered over the tied elf, her whimpers muffled as she scrabbled away.
“Fear not, for I have a song to inspire you:
“We fought the goblin strong and tough–”
“I can’t rhyme that. Are you inspired yet?”
Gerith knew he had to save the day. Torchlight gleamed off his shortsword as he held it aloft. He swung with such valiant incompetence that it hacked into the thief’s arm. Wet-makers, warped bits of metal, and Gerith’s spellbook fell out of his cloak.
Encumbered by armour, Deryn failed to raise a hand to fight back against the meaty onslaught.
Just as their options ran low, the goblinogre stopped hitting Deryn. It huffed and dropped the torchbearer’s arm. With a rumbled, “Meh, Umph bored,” it pushed past the adventurers and walked out of the cave.
The party stared after the monstrosity. They looked at one another, shrugged, and cheered.
“That went well.”
“No it didn’t, you stabbed me in the arm! What’re the chances of hitting me with that brute taking up half the room?”
“About one in twenty,” Reg said.
“Ah! I see now!” Light flashed and a fireball shot from Seth’s fingers. It blurred past Gerith and exploded on the wall inside the room. Seth fell over.
“What about my arm?”
“Yes, sorry about that. Can you heal it, Sarina?”
“Hm? Oh. No.”
“Isn’t that what clerics do? Pray or something.”
“Okay, if you think it will help.”
Sarina knelt and clasped her hands together. She did not bask in a divine light, nor did a chorus of angel-song fill the air. “I think the Gods are busy.”
“Sorry Jinther, you’ll have to walk it off.”
“But it’s bleeding, I’m mortally wounded!”
“Glad you’re being a sport about it. We have other priorities now. Like loot.”
Jinther appeared by a smouldering chest in the corner. Nobody saw him move, nor did he show any discomfort over his mortal wound.
“Wait. It could be trapped. Disarm it, Jinther.”
The thief frowned. “Actually, I’m not touching it. You almost killed me once today.”
“Okay, how about you, Seth? Got anything useful?”
“Don’t know. All these word-things hurt my head. What do you think a lighting blot does?”
“Let’s leave that one for now.”
After much discussion, they decided upon the logical approach so they went back into the forest and found a long stick with which to poke the chest. Nothing exploded, nor chopped off any heads so Gerith deemed it safe enough for someone else to open.
“Mmph.” Deryn scrutinised the axe he retrieved from the torchbearer’s head. It was hard to tell through the tiny visor but he seemed pleased.
“So what’s inside, Jinther?” Sarina asked.
“Burnt stuff mostly. There isn’t a sword that glows with the faint light of a long forgotten star.”
“Hand it over, Sticky Fingers.”
“Hey, I got wounded, I should get it.”
“But it goes with my armour.”
“Broke my lute, damn it!”
Gerith gave a wry smile as a diabolical plan formed. “I think we all agree I could use as much help as I can get with a sword.”
“Can’t argue with that, friend!”
The general consensus supported Gerith’s assessment yet still gave him a wide berth when he took the blade.
“Wait. Allow me to look at that. It could be worthy of song. Hmm, I think it’s a sword plus one.”
“Plus one what?”
“I’ve no idea but it’s definitely plus one of them. What’s next?”
“Into the next room, I suppose. I’ll check the map.”
“Since nobody is asking the obvious question, I’ll just out with it,” Jinther said. “What the hell was an OGRE doing alone in a room with a chest with all the doors closed?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Hey look at the parchment,” Reg said. “It’s filled in the cave entrance and this room. Isn’t that clever? What are all those dots?”
“I think they’re us.”
“It’s even filled in part of the next room even though we’ve not opened the door. It has a right-angled corner. Does that help?”
“I think we might need another torchbearer,” Jinther suggested.
Sarina glared. “Can’t the elf hold the torch? It’s about time she pulled her weight. Look at her sitting there all pretty and skinny. I hate her!”
“Best not untie those bonds,” Gerith said under the elf’s glare. “Someone just strap it to her.”
Lacking an appropriate guide, they decided the wounded thief should scout the next room. Jinther grumbled and crept through with the stealth of an earthquake. He closed the door behind him. A moment later, he popped his head through. “What does your guide say about prisoners, Gerith?”
Gerith sighed. He smeared blood from the torchbearer’s corpse across his face and bellowed, “Freedom!”
A note appeared at the side of the map. It claimed that freeing prisoners had a high chance of them joining the group to wreak bloody vengeance on their captors. It also had a funny star-shape by the statement but Gerith assumed that just meant it was a good thing. Thus, the group proceeded in high spirits.
“What are they? Orcs?”
“Could be. Hail, prisoners! I am Gerith of the Pants. Wouldst thou join us in wreaking vengeance against thine captors?”
“Why’s he talking like that?”
One of the orcs grunted. “Yeah, let us out and we’ll wreak some vengeance.”
“That was easy. Can you open the cage, Jinther?”
Jinther fiddled with his odd piece of metal. The lock clicked and the door swung open. Every jaw dropped.
“Maybe I should cut your other shoulder.”
Nine burly orcs filed out of the cell. They surrounded the party and their leader loomed over Gerith. “Now, hand over your coin and gear and we’ll be on our way.”
“That’s not how it’s meant to happen. What about the whole ‘vengeance on your captors’ thing?”
The spokesorc glanced to the elf. Its eyes lingered a moment and a smile cracked its face, so wide its lower tusks almost poked it in the eye. It shrugged and snatched the sword plus one. “This’ll do.” They left with guttural laughs.
Gerith consulted the parchment and noticed more script by another star. It read: ‘Freeing prisoners doesn’t always work as intended and some folk ought to be left behind bars until they rot, especially orcs. Seriously, who trusts an orc?’
“Perhaps a song would cheer you up?”
“Let’s just press on. There’s one more room left. Here we meet our arch nemesis!”
“I guess we’ll find out. Seth, you should try starting that fireball spell now if you want it to go off in time.”
“About that…the page is blank.”
“Can’t you cast it from memory?”
“Can’t remember a thing, sorry. I have another one though. I’ll get onto that.”
Seth sat down with his grimoire while Gerith nudged the door open. All but Seth stared at their nemesis. It greeted them with a toothy smile.
Gerith froze. “I say we apologise and leave quietly.”
“How did it fit through the door?” Sarina asked.
IF YOU ARE QUITE FINISHED DISCUSSING YOUR RETREAT, ALLOW ME TO WELCOME YOU TO MY LAIR. IT GETS EVER SO LONELY AND I’M AFRAID UMPH WAS A POOR CONVERSATIONALIST.
“Was that you, Sarina?”
“No, the big lizard’s talking, I think.”
I’M A DRAGON, NOT A LIZARD. CAN’T YOU TELL BY MY EXPENSIVE WINGSPAN?
“Don’t you mean expansive?”
NO, THIS IS REAL SILVER. TELL ME, SQUASHY ONES, WHY DO YOU BRING ANOTHER OF MY KIND HERE?
“Another of your kind, mister, uhm, dragon?
IT’S MISSUS AND THIS IS NOT A GOOD WEEK TO BRING AN EVIL DRAGON HERE. IT IS, HOWEVER, AMUSING TO SEE HER BOUND AND GAGGED.
“Crazy woman thinks the elf is a dragon!” Jinther said. “Should we kill it?”
YOU DO REALISE I’M A GOOD DRAGON?
“Yes, I’m sure you’re very accomplished,” Gerith said, his attention drawn to movement behind.
The ranger started shaking. His mouth twitched and his eyes bulged. “Y-you’re all after me. No. No, you can’t have them. It’s you with the lute, isn’t it? They’re all around us…they’re coming outta the walls, man!”
Reg sidled behind Sarina and peered around her mail mini-skirt as the crazy-eyed ranger grabbed his bow and started firing arrows about the room. Sarina stepped forward. “Don’t worry, I’m armoured! I’ll take the blows while you disable him.”
“I don’t think that’s wise,” Gerith said. As the words left his mouth, his eyebrows shot up. The ranger’s hands blurred and a hail of arrows pelted Sarina. Every one deflected from her tiny breastplate.
“You must be joking,” Jinther said, nursing his arm.
A stray arrow flew wide and severed the elf’s bonds.
Something rumbled. The cave shook. Rocks, dust, and Jinther fell from the ceiling. A second dragon, white as a paladin’s y-fronts, bit the ranger in half.
The white dragon’s head snapped to Deryn. TRULY SPOKEN. THE ONE YOU CALL GERITH DID INDEED TIE ME UP. I SHALL CRUSH HIM BEFORE I TEAR THIS WRETCHED EXCUSE FOR A WYRM APART.
The silver ducked its long neck as though ready to pounce. AND I SHALL DESTROY THE ARMOURED BETRAYER BEFORE I RID THE WORLD OF THIS NEWT.
“Well, the rest of us are okay,” Reg said, edging toward the exit.
The dragons, white and silver, circled one another in the great inner chamber, snarling. Gerith and Deryn provided an unwilling buffet between them.
“Ah, so that’s what the curly symbol means. Eat grease, dragons!”
Slick oil sprayed the chamber. Massive hind legs slipped and the great beasts thudded on the ground. They flailed and writhed. Air colder than Reg’s last girlfriend blasted from the white’s maw.
“Time we weren’t here,” Gerith said and slid to the door.
Deryn shambled toward the pile of gleaming riches at the back of the chamber like a one-man zombie apocalypse. “Mmmmmmph…”
“Deryn!” Sarina called.
“He’s knackered,” Jinther said and closed the door.
“So what now?” Seth asked.
The remainder of the party looked to Gerith.
“The guide says there have been disappearances in a nearby village. Apparently some nefarious group has been recruiting them to carry torches into dangerous places. I say we give those heartless cowards what for!”