Flashback: A Tale Retold or "How the Opals came to the Outback"

Tales from a goblin-infested brewery (home of Jake Thrash and Badsider Brew), and a lawyer-infested sports bar (home of Kalamere Ar'Din and The Line).

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Flashback: A Tale Retold or "How the Opals came to the Outback"

Post by Jake » Sun Feb 02, 2020 1:03 am

Author's Note: Originally posted on AOL and then re-posted on the Duel Archives, and now re-posting here as DoF marks its 25th anniversary.

Date: 11/20/1998 10:05 AM Central Daylight Time
From: JakeThrash

As Winter Descends

As Jake closed the doors of the brewery in preparation for going home a chill wind blew past him. The first hint of winter was beginning to settle upon Rhydin. The trees had given up the last of their leaves, and the bare branches stood out in stark relief against a greying sky. The orc shivered from a sudden chill, but not because of the cool air. Memory overwhelmed him for a moment. The grey skies and the seemingly dead trees triggered scenes from another dead land. A far darker land in both appearance and spirit.

The orc shook off the thought and the chill of those haunted days with effort. He closed up the doors and barred them, sealing away the wintry view. Jake stood for a moment, his hands still resting against the doors, his grey eyes remained unfocused. Memories he had wished banished forever fought their way back to the surface. Unbidden they took him back to the long journey across haunted lands towards the tomb of Gothmorda.

The memories were fuzzy, as if they had been the memories of someone else. Perhaps they had been. Morgan had never talked much about the parts Jake was unable to remember. He remembered it had involved magic and shuddered again. The orc had always hated magic, and since their return to Rhydin, his hate for it had only increased.

The orc shoved himself away from the doors and turned back towards the brewery proper. He stamped out of the front office and into the huge warehouse where the giant vats brewed the latest batches of Bane's Brew. The smell of hops and barley permeated the air. It was strong, but the orc loved the smell. He felt great pride in the brewery, and in the ales that it produced. His favorite, of course, was the orcish black ale. He was still amazed that it sold as well as it did. He felt a need of a mug of it now. Wandering down the steps to the warehouse floor, the orc headed for the sample barrels set off to one side. Grabbing up the mug he always kept near for sampling purposes, the orc filled it with the dark brew. The creamy head of foam spilled over the side and down over his fingers, but the orc ignored it.

As Jake guzzled down a full third of the mug, the orc let himself plop down on the stairs. He kicked his boots out to lie lazily back against the steps. Propped up on his elbows, the orc ruminated on those bitter memories. They drifted by one after another. He could almost convince himself it had all been just some nightmare...if it weren't for the glittering silver blade he had mounted on the back wall of the brewery. His grey eyes avoided it, pretending it didn't exist, but always in the back of his mind the orc knew it was there, and knew that it meant it hadn't been a dream.

Another long swig of the dark ale and Jake's thoughts once more drifted into the past. Memories of his return to Rhydin...

Had he done the right thing? The orc thought he had at the time, but always he wondered and worried. Morgan had said the gauntlet had to be dismantled, that the Opals together had been too powerful...too dangerous. Jake had believed her, she was who she was after all, and who would know better?

Still the druids had been unwilling to take back the Opals. They claimed they had been "tainted." Jake snorted, as far as he was concerned all magic was tainted. He shook his head. He had asked the sorceress what to do with the Opals. He remembered her words as if they had been spoken just a moment ago. "Give them to those of strong heart." She had said they were not evil, but her attempts to explain had only confused the orc. The only thing he had understood for sure was they had to be protected, and kept separate, and that their protectors had to be of strong will and pure heart to resist their influence.

Jake had argued that they should have gone to the mages who overran Twilight Island, but Morgan had shaken her head. "They would be too susceptible to corruption. The stones are better protected by those that would not be tempted to try and combine them again." She had hesitated then, her eyes had bored into Jake as if seeking something. Her gaze had unsettled him. "They are too powerful combined. The danger is too great."

The orc hadn't understood her words, but at the same time he did, and not just because of his distrust for magic. Those fuzzy memories of his time in the dark lands echoed her words. There was a rightness to what she said. A rightness that almost scared him.

"Give them to those of strong heart," she had said. Jake could only think of one group of people of strong will and brave heart that he trusted to be the guardians and protectors of the stones...
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Re: Flashback: A Tale Retold or "How the Opals came to the Outback"

Post by Jake » Sun Feb 02, 2020 1:07 am

Chapter 1

Even Morgan le Fay's magic was not enough to conceal the scent of death that clung to the rocks and earth of this place. It was not the coppery smell of fresh blood spilt in recent battle. Nor was it the cloying smell of long decayed flesh. It was the death of the land itself. The air hurt to breathe. The half-orc could feel the tightness in his lungs as they labored to pull in the air needed to live. He could hear Morgan coughing beside him. The stone of the ancient fortress, disturbed by their presence, crumbled just a little faster. Small cascades of dust rose into the air wherever they touched as the fortress itself succumbed, bit by bit, to oblivion.

The sky was ashen grey, and even the pale sunlight seemed drained of life. A greyish-green mist oozed about the ground and fallen stone, obscuring the perils that might lay beneath. It was a treacherous place that resented life. A place that longed to bring the living with it into decay and ruin.

The land was called Gothmordra. The orcs feared this place. It was a land that no orc went to given free choice and a place that few returned from. It was whispered that even the Nazragath feared to walk in the shadows of this place. The orc chuckled briefly and reflected upon the irony of that thought since in the orcish tongue "Nazragath" meant "Shadow Walker." The chuckle broke the eerie silence that lay upon the surrounding ruin, disturbing it. The walls themselves seemed to project their disapproval. The sound felt flat, alien to this place.

The half-orc checked his weapons for the hundredth time since arriving here via the magical mists of the lady sorceress. The feel of the leather grip of his blade was small comfort. Gothmordra was only spoken of in whispers. One of those whispers said that cold iron was of little use against its denizens. There were other whispers about what the denizens of this place were. Memory of those whispers did nothing to reassure the orc.

Jake spoke as if to combat the silence. "This place is evil."

"Evil is a word that seems inadequate," the sorceress answered. She shivered, clutching her arms about her for a moment. The air was cool but Jake suspected it was something else--that alienness--that caused her to react. The orc dared to chuckle once more and then nodded mutely.

The lady of Avalon searched about, her sharp eyes taking in the ruin. The orc understood her gaze. He too felt as if eyes watched them with malevolent intent. It was not a precise thing. It was if the land itself was aware of them and bore them ill-will. The orc attributed it to magic and grimaced. He despised magic. Magic was what the Nazragath did. Unclean things were the Nazragath. They were tainted by the magic they worked.

No honest orc would choose the path of magic.
As they walked, tendrils of the dark mist clung to them. It seeped through their clothing and chilled the two companions with its corrupted touch. The orc’s turn to shiver, as even through the thick leather it was uncomfortable. The mist sapped at their energy.

The orc looked to the sorceress. "Tell me again why we had to come here?" While awaiting her reply he knelt down over a small cluster of wooden refuse they had scrounged up in an effort to start a fire. As he worked at his flint and stone the sorceress settled opposite him and nodded.

She slid her hands into the sleeves of her dress. Her face took on a distant look. Raven hair haloed her face as she began to speak. Her eyes took on a light as though seeing things from some other place. "There is a darkness here that threatens to wake. One that would consume the land, not only of your kind, but those of man as well. It is … imprisoned." Morgan le Fay frowned for a moment. "The Lady has shown me what will come to pass should it escape its fetters. She directs that I discover the state of its prison."
The orc grunted to himself. The fire stubbornly refused to catch. The wood glowed sullenly, but only for moments before snuffing out. Sparks continued to fall from the flint as the orc refused to give up, but the wood continued to deny him.

"The Sight is blocked here. I could not see the prison from Avalon. It was needful to come here in order to determine the prison's integrity." The sorceress frowned as she continued, "Why this land is shrouded from the Sight is one of the mysteries I would like to solve."

The orc paused in his labors to gaze at the sorceress. It was a quandary. The need to trust her sorcery to counter the forces here felt alien to him. "Why only us two? Wouldn't it have been better to bring an army in here?" And safer, the orc thought to himself, though he did not voice it aloud. It would not have been seemly for the orc to profess his fear of this place, though in all likelihood the sorceress already knew.

Morgan looked to the orc. "The darkness is enchained, but as it awakens it grows stronger. Its senses are dulled by time. It has been chained here for many ages. It cannot yet sense our movements, but it would surely sense an army and, even enchained, might be able to react.

"No," she continued, "this needs be done by a small group. One that can move secretly and silently beneath its notice. To steal away before it can become aware of us and react to our intent."

The orc grunted but said nothing. This was not a kind of mission he understood. The way of things was simple. The mighty defeated the weak. The larger the band, the more mighty it was. Brute strength was his way.

For all that the orc believed this to be true, it was also true that he was only half-orc. And his mind was more cunning than the average orc. A mind cunning enough to understand when brute strength alone was not enough. A mind cunning enough to acknowledge when magic was needful, even when it was loathed.

The orc had asked why they two had gone alone. In truth the orc already knew the answer. He was the muscle, and she the wisdom. Hers was the knowledge of what need be done. His was the brute force to protect her and to guide her through lands that only his kind knew. Hers was also the power to see beyond what he could see. To sense the dangers that ensnared his kind.

The orc paused in his efforts to bring life to the fire. Life was something that was resisted by this place. In his haste to meet her call, the orc had not had time to collect the gear he would normally have carried for a journey of this kind. He carried only the hardened leather armor that he wore, and the assortment of weapons that were so natural to him that they were buckled onto his body in much the way that he pulled on his boots every day.

The sorceress did not seem properly equipped either. Her long dress of deep shimmering green, girdled by a net of silver chain, and with its loose flowing sleeves seemed more fit for a day at court than a dangerous sojourn into the lands of the dead. Yet, despite what must surely seem a deadly lack of preparation, the sorceress seemed unconcerned about these things. The orc could only imagine that again her wisdom required his trust.

As the evening darkened into night, and the air grew more chill, the orc tried once more to bring life to a fire. It worried him that a fire might attract unwanted attention, but that was countered by the very real danger of the cold. The sparks from his flint dropped with determination onto the resisting wood. Then the sorceress interrupted him, "Here, perhaps I can help." The sorceress leaned in and cast a fine powder onto the wood. The wood burst into flame as the powder touched it.

The orc flinched back and hissed, "Magic..."

The sorceress shook her head. "Nay, not magic. A simple trick. Nothing more. The flash powder is just something to startle the naive." She added with a small smile, "and perhaps start the occasional fire."

The orc grumbled, still convinced it must have been magic.

The orc shifted the wood about carefully, nursing the small flame into a stable fire. The light and warmth, small though it was, encouraged them both and they each settled near the fire to await moon-rise, each gaining what rest they could.

When the pale moon, which was only days from being at its fullest, broke through the cover of the night fog the sorceress roused and stood. Alertness returned to her gaze as she moved. The moon illuminated the oppressive ruins, and yet under its gentle light, it also seemed more at rest. The malevolent presence seemed muted, sleeping.

The orc too roused himself and began stamping out the tiny fire. He kicked the wood apart and carefully stomped out the glowing embers. While there was no danger of the fire getting loose--there was little here to burn--it was reflex on the orc’s part.

Morgan was gazing at the moonlight, and following its beams of soft radiance to where they slipped through the fog. The orc watched her without comment until she turned back to him. Before he could ask, she spoke, "The Lady's light is our guide. It will show us the path."

The orc said nothing. Magic was not a thing he understood. The prospect of chasing moonbeams seemed as profitable to him as would asking his sword for directions, but the orc again trusted that she saw beyond what he could see. Gathering up what few things they had between them, the orc tightened his belts, and adjusted his harnesses, making sure each of his weapons was securely in place. He drew each of his two swords in turn and inspected their blades in a ritual so habitual that he was not even aware he performed it. Going over each blade with a knowledgeable eye, the orc reassured himself that each was whole and ready for use. Each was sheathed, one at each side, their grips riding at his hips, ready to be pulled in a moment's notice.

The sorceress too made her preparations. She once more traced the path of the moonlight, and then began a careful walk about the clearing they occupied. Once, twice, then thrice she walked the circle. Each time she spoke quiet words and upon the conclusion of her walk she turned to the orc and nodded. "We may leave."

The orc cocked his head and looked at her.

"I have done what I can to mask our presence. Any who chance upon our resting place will find it difficult to detect whence we go from here. It is a small thing, but mayhap it will aid us later." She said answering his unvoiced question.

Together they left their resting place and struck out, heading deeper into the ruins. Menacing shadows clung to the fallen and crumbling stones. The orc picked his way with care, his superior night-vision finding the safest path through the stones, while her gaze, and the beams of moonlight that only she could interpret, guided them towards their destination.

Author's Note: As I re-post this story, I'm going do a little editing, hence the reason I'm not re-posting it all at once.
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Re: Flashback: A Tale Retold or "How the Opals came to the Outback"

Post by Jake » Wed Feb 05, 2020 12:33 am

Chapter 2

A glittering silver blade slashed out in a deadly arc at the orc. Morgan yelled, but the orc had already sensed the attack and thrown himself to the side to avoid the slash. An animated skeleton stepped out from behind the column, and attacked again. Jake already had a blade in hand and used it to turn aside the skeleton's blow. The orc dodged away, feet scrambling to find purchase on the treacherous ground hidden beneath omnipresent fog. The orc stumbled on a rock and fell hard into the mist, landing on broken stone. The skeleton's blade, lightning quick, whipped through the air, narrowly missing burying itself in the orc's chest, as the skeleton strove to take advantage of the orc's stumble. Growling, the orc rolled away to escape the range of his enemy's blade. The shorter blade of the orc caught the silver blade’s next attack, sending it high and away.

Still the skeleton was unrelenting, pressing the attack as its blade once more sliced through the air hammering at the orc's guard. The orc scrambled back, still trying to regain his feet in the uneven battle. The sure-footed skeleton pressed in, its blade coming closer and closer with each stroke.

Meanwhile, the sorceress chanted furious words, her hurried whispers escalated into rushed commands as she summoned forth the power that was hers to command. A ball of blue phosphorescence formed in the palm of her hand, growing in luminescence as her words became stronger. She spoke each ancient word forcefully and deliberately, filling the ball with her desire and her will. Her hand whipped forward, and the ball transformed into a bolt of light that flashed across the distance between her and the sword-wielding skeleton. The magic struck the skeleton full on, sending cascades of light spilling over it in a blinding flash. As the orc scrambled to his feet, the skeleton staggered back, completely noiseless except for the clatter of its bleached bones as it crumbled and fell into the fog, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.

The orc regained his feet, wincing at the cuts and bruises caused by the broken stone. Holding his blade ready he searched the shadows and fog for sign that other opponents were near. Long moments passed before the orc felt the danger was gone. Then the orc stepped carefully to where the sorceress stood, her own green eyes still searched the dark. Her gaze looked anxious.

The orc misunderstood her gaze, "I think that was the only one."

The sorceress shook her head, "My fear was not that there would be more, for I am sure there will be. My worry is that I may have called attention to us. When you fell I reacted in haste and cast a spell more powerful than perhaps I dared."

Jake frowned.

"I must take care with the magic that I use. The ripples of its use will echo here alerting those that are sensitive to it. It was another reason why I dared not bring others with us. We must move as secretively as we can."

The orc grunted to himself. No, it would not be good to attract attention here. Quickly he checked himself over to ensure that he was not seriously injured. Fortunately, his fall had only caused a few cuts and bruises.

Morgan waited until the orc had finished his inspection before quizzing him. "Do you think this one was a sentry?" She continued to survey the area with piercing eyes that saw more than another might. As she searched, the orc knelt and probed about, reaching his hands into the fog which clung to the ground.

"No, I can remember no tale of sentries." The orc answered as he felt around on the ground, searching for the remnants of the skeleton warrior that had attacked them. After a moment he brought up an ancient iron helm, the partial helm had covered the skull's top, sides and back, leaving the face open for full visibility.

Jake took the helm and hammered it against a rock, testing its strength. Years of dirt and grime were caked upon it, some tiny bit of which came free with the pounding, but mostly clung to the surface obscuring it from close inspection.

He put aside the helm and probed the ground again. "I don't think they need sentries. Who would attack this place?" After a moment he came up with a leather belt which held a sheathed dagger. The leather was old and rotting. The orc pulled the dagger free from its sheath, but after a moment's inspection cast it aside along with the belt and resumed his search.

Morgan turned to watch, her eyes glinting in curiosity. "For what do you search? Do you not carry enough knives already?" She pointed at the dozen or so weapons that the orc carried about his person.

The orc chuckled, "Ya' can never have too many weapons." His search was finally rewarded as he came up with the gleaming silver-bladed sword that the skeleton had wielded. He took the grip and slashed the blade experimentally through the air. Its heft was lighter than was his preference, but its length was a full two spans longer than the short stabbing blades he normally carried. Also, its blade still gleamed brightly in spite of how long it must have rested here. Moonlight seemed to dance along the blade as he tested it. This was a good blade. Probably elven-made, the orc confessed to himself. Normally he would not have considered taking up such a blade, despite its quality, but here, in this place, no advantage was to be tossed away lightly.

Morgan looked at him, her head cocked to the side quizzically. "I would have thought such a blade anathema to you."

Jake turned to her, still whipping the blade about lightly. He shrugged. "Elven blades can be useful against the mordragath."

Morgan still looked puzzled, so the orc continued. "Elves are good at makin' weapons. Probably 'cuz they never seem to die unless ya' kill 'em. So they make their weapons to last too. You can recognize them 'cuz they never dull or rust and 'cuz they are usually silver like this." The orc sheathed his own weapon and whipped the blade about again. "This blade should serve us well against the wandering dead."

The sorceress nodded in agreement and resisted the impulse to remind the orc that elves used magic.
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