Fall of a Hero is an excerpt of a novella from the anthology (Chronicles of the Dreamers)of the sci-fi/fantasy stories that form the basis for the soon to be published role-playing game Legacies of the Artificer(which i named and collaborated extensively in developing).
Chalandria exited the gypsy wagon that was not, first, followed closely by Falconetti Sebastiani, and he by Enttos Belafonte. Outside in an elliptical circle stood three or four dozen glassy-eyed Caperean citizens armed with a variety of makeshift weapons. Since the occupation of Capa City the outward display of weapons had been outlawed to the general populace and only special envoys and courtiers had been permitted to wander about the city in a condition that proclaimed them ready to do battle. And even they were forced to carry their weapons bound by a peace knot. Until just this afternoon, the world famous actor Falconetti Sebastiani and his companions Chalandria the half-elven Queen of the Opera house and Enttos the Benevolent had enjoyed such a status. But no more. Now; more than a decade after they've given up their lives as thieves and burglars; and having paid back to the people of Capa City ever so much more than they'd ever taken; apart what they had needed to survive, they three were once again wanted criminals. Wanted for the unwarranted slaying of one of Taal Zodo's secret policeman. And wanted for the starting of the riot that decimated the Stolid Elf, resulted in the wanton slaying of the Elf's proprietor Otick Redbeard, and the brutal murder of one of the city's most notoriable courtesans Priscilla Devrys. Just beyond the perimeter formed by the entranced Capereans, stood Taal Zodo's Rubes, a total of thirteen of them. More than Falconetti had seen assembled all in one place; apart from when they'd gathered together at the end of their day to spiritlessly drink some beer and take in a cabaret at the Naughty Chambermaid. Enttos recognized the Rube who was he supposed the leader of this assembly. He was an extremely tenacious adversary and had methods of interrogation brutal and fiendish enough to make the stoutest hearted interrogatee soil him/herself in terror. Chalandria's eyes glistened in the torchlight cast by the torch racks the Rubes had erected on every side of the gypsy wagon. This foiled her; and no doubt, Falconetti's, night vision. It was almost impossible to see anything out beyond the reach of the torchlight. And the Spellsinger felt almost certain this was the Enemy's intent. Just beyond the reach of the torchlight, Falconetti and Chalandria could discern the shadowy shapes of a small pack of huge canines. These were excitedly growling and snarling as they greedily tore at something vaguely humanoid-sized that lie on the ground just beyond the ring of torchlight. As the three friends looked on, warily, the bulk of a couple of the canines; which looked to be mastiffs, the breed of dog Capereans hunted bear with on the southern half of the island continent. The mastiffs' muzzles, shoulders and upper chests, were stained dark with blood, presumably from the carrion that they savagely fought one another over. It was difficult to tell even what their provender might once have been, what with the way it flashed in and out of the torched half-light. The wet squelching sound it made as the canines tugged and pulled on it, caused Falconetti to begin to feel a queasy uneasy feeling begin to roil about in his empty stomach. The mastiffs' quarry smelled disturbingly familiar and a loathsome coppery residue settled upon his tongue. The taste of blood. And that of a fresh kill; of this Falconetti was certain. Chalandria smelled it, too. And doing so, she wondered at the horses lack of response to it. Horses, she knew were very particular about the smell of blood; and even more so but the growling and snarling of dogs. risking being perceived as aggressive she out further away from the wagon and peered over her shoulders towards the front. She recalled that when she half-run, half been dragged by one of the Silver Elves to the wagon that it had been pulled by a two-horse team and was manned by a driver and two footmen. The horses she saw stood stock-still, moving not even so much as their tails. And of the three Silver Elves there was no sight, at all. "Whut do you monsters want of us, then," Falconetti spoke, first, having to project his voice quite loudly to be heard over the snarling, growling mastiffs. "you went to such terrible lengths to stop our wagon. Whut is it thet you want of us?" There was a shifting about of bodies in the half-light, as one of the Rubes shouldered his way past two dazed Capereans. They seemed more than a little agitated and confused as to why they were standing about in the street brandishing makeshift weaponry. But a whispered word from the emerging Rube quieted them right back down, again. He stopped far enough away so that his face remained still half-hidden in shadow. "You go to such lengths to evince us of your guileless ness to come so heavily armed and dressed for a confrontation, as you are. Why come you so, if you are innocent of any wrongdoing, here?" "We are but humble wayfarers," Enttos Belafonte said rather unconvincing; not for his words or inflections, but for the bared broadsword and gladius he held psalms out and away from his side; the gesture raised his mighty barreled chest and made his thick neck and shoulder muscles bulge intimidatingly. "We came to your fair city to trade our precious wares for thy even more precious Ylem. We'd heard thet one of thy Rubes,...that is to say constables, wa-was murdered in this city, today, not many hours ago." "My cousin speaks truth, your lairdship," enjoined Chalandria, flawlessly affecting a Chalcedonian accent. "Nae wishing to involve ourselves in this local disturbance we tried to take our remaining wares and leave thy city, but, alas, we found the way barred." "Tis truth only my good wife speaks, milord,..." Falconetti chimed in. "Finding one way barred, we sought another way out of the city. Then; seemingly set upon by highwaymen and bandits, we thought to flee, for fear of our very lives,...!" Chalandria very nearly choked, when Falconetti delivered his line about the two of them being husband and wife. Could she have done so, she'd have dealt a good, swift kick to his posterior. Chalandria listened on in dismay as Falconetti struggled to work his particular magic. He was breaking what he himself had often enough told her was the primary rules for would-be liars: don't embellish; the lie using the least amount of words spoken was always best, he'd told her; and told her. Offer too little and the hearer would conclude that something was being hidden; say too much and the listener would suspect duplicity; say no more than what was absolutely necessary to perpetrate the lie. So, why was the Shadow Elf going back on his instruction, now? The Rube was confused. On the one hand, his extensive experience as an interrogator warned him that lies were being spoken. His nerves even jangled in silent alarm. Yet; for all that, he still felt himself compelled to accept the word of the dark skinned one without question. And it was this compulsion that bothered him. He'd not felt such a strong pulling sensation at his heart, since he'd forsaken the true path and given up his immortal soul to Taal Zodo in exchange for his miserable life in the here and now; along with the power and respect he thought his due in life, but had never received to his complete satisfaction. This compulsion was not totally unlike the pyscho-magickal suggestion that he and his comrades-in-arms visited upon their enemies the people of Mythus, the sworn enemies of his liege, Taal Zodo. And as with his liege, something darker than night and malignant hovered around and about; and perhaps even inside, this dark-skinned one. " If what you say be truth, then wherefore do thy weapons glow so in our presence?" the Rube pointed to the broadsword held hanging at Enttos Belafonte's side and then pointed at Falconetti's own bared broadsword. "We---my men and I---do nae pose anything kind of threat to innocent gypsy merchants and artisans---Will no one muzzle those damned mongrels!?" Falconetti had to agree. Throughout the Rube's attempted interrogation, the mastiffs had continued to snarl, snap and growl threateningly at one another, pausing only now and then to try and gorge themselves upon their food. The coppery smell and taste of blood and death had grown quite cloying and nauseating by this time. and Falconetti Sebastiani could feel the gorge starting to rise unbidden up into his throat choking him. Conversely, behind the nausea his stomach rumbled with something he had never suspected it might, given the circumstances,...hunger. The Rube raised a small metallic object to his lips and put the tip of it into his mouth. The Human, Enttos heard not a sound from this object, yet Falconetti and Chalandria heard it, well enough. It was a sound that bore straight into the cerebral cortex of their brains. Falconetti barely resisted the temptation to drop his green steel sword on the ground at his feet. That's how painful the musical tone that the Rube's device made in his sensitive elven ears was. Garnering no response to his summons, the Rube blew into the device, again. Then suddenly a dark and bloodied form streaked out of the darkness, into the torchlight. Enttos Belafonte bawled out in shock and anger as he finally saw what the enormous canines had been fighting each other over; the head, neck and savaged upper torso of a slain Silver Elf. Scraps of richly embroidered elfish liveryman's clothing still adorned the torn and mutilated flesh. As the three friends watched mesmerized with shock, the mastiff begun to growl and shake the elf's carcass. Its head rolled back and to the side, revealing the elf's unseeing, dead eyes. And the elf's throat which only just remained fastening by a few strands of torn muscles and cartilage. Chalandria screamed as fresh blood bubbled up out of the gaping wounds. Her blue-green eyes became wild and she dropped into a half-crouch swiftly and practicedly brought her Oathbow off her shoulder and into her trembling hands. "Chandy! Stop,...you'll get us all killed,...!" warned Enttos even as he drew his powerful left arm back and launched his gladius at the Rube, who had dared call the monstrous beast into their sight. The short killing blade spun end over end one, twice,...three times before thudding into the uppermost portion of the Rube's chest. Even before the gladius had found its mark, Chandria had drawn back on her bow’s string once, twice, a third, then a fourth time. Though her hand never even came near her quiver, four arrow-like beams of energy shot forth from the magical bow and sped their way towards the bloodied creature. The first arrow of lightning caught the mastiff smack dab in its right eye; the second flew right into the canine's gaping jaws, and the third and fourth slammed into its shoulder and upper chest. Electricity from the bolts lit the head and body up brightly, causing all the formerly entranced Capereans to drop their weapons to try and shield their eyes from the obscenely bright glare. And a couple of heartbeats later the mastiff's body began to swell up like a worn wineskin filled with new wine. Then it abruptly exploded, showering Chalandria, the dying Rube, and anyone else standing nearby with the boiled blood, guts, and entrails of the monstrously massive mastiff. The Rube felt his knees weaken as his life's blood pumped out around the razor-sharp blade of the gladius. He raised his hands to try and pluck it out but he hadn't the strength. He tried to cry out for his fellow Rubes to seize the prisoners, but a fresh gout of arterial blood erupted from his open mouth, spraying the front of his vestments with crimson. Arundel Machieaville, who up until that point had contented himself to let his assistant lead the prisoners' interrogation, raised a wicked-looking barbed footman's mace. He was opening his mouth to sound a general alarm when the gypsy wagon standing in the background, behind the prisoners, suddenly exploded, sending its burning timber flying and smoking debris raining down on the heads of everyone left standing near-by; after the explosion. "Run,....for your lives!!" Falconetti cried out as blood flowed freely from his elfish ears and nostrils. "Chalandria, Enttos,....follow me,...Quickly!!" Chalandria smirked a little to herself in satisfaction as she hit her targets with all four lighting bright arrows. She winced, shuddering at the rain of blood and chunks of raw meat pouring down on her as the ringing and stinging of the musical tone still lingering in her head painfully. Just as suddenly she stumbled forward from the strength of the wagon blowing up into fiery shreds, almost falling face first she waved her arms in the air barely regaining her balance before she hit the flooded sticky ground. Enttos narrowed his dark brown eyes, glaring down at the Rube as he watched his gladius hit him right in the chest, causing blood to spill profoundly down his shaking body. ' That's what that scoundrel gets for showing us such a hideous thing!' In what swift second, he took a step forward, his eyes growing wide in surprise as gushing hot air pushed right past his big muscular frame, causing him to take a step forward in surprise and for support. "What the?!-" With his mouth left a gap, he turned to the blazing wagon, he put up a protective arm over his eyes as he watched still air born pieces of fire eaten wood come back down to the bloody ground, hearing Falconetti shouting out to him he turned back, instantly forgetting about the wagon. Barely comprehending what Falconetti was shouting she griped her bow in her hand as she pushed herself off the ground with her other hand. She stumbled up, her body swaying to the sides a bit as she blinked, peering through drops of red that was masking her vision. Quickly with the back of her hand she pushed away her damp blood stained hair out of her eyes, clearing the chunks of meat from her face as she turned towards Falconetti, who seemed in worst shape then herself, blood running down his ears and nose out of his handsome face- who knows how bad she looked herself. Mustering all her strength and concentration, she ran following him as if her life depended on it- which ironically it did. . . . . Seeing that Chalandria was already up and running after Falconetti, he unsheathed his sword swiftly, ready for any other Rubes or for those blasted man-eating bloody dogs, whose hunger didn’t even look like it was satisfied by the way they where tearing up at that unfortunate Silver Elf, he frowned deeply, shuddering slightly as he ran faster to quickly catch up right behind Chalandria. "Falconetti, where the bloody hell are we going?!" He bellowed from behind, hoping the shadow elf knew what he was doing. Enttos Belafonte got all of a half dozen ground-eating steps when he remembered the gladius he'd thrown at the Rube interrogator. 'I'm going ta be needing, that' he thought wryly. He turned back again and saw the no longer entranced citizens fleeing every which way in a mad panic. The mortally wounded Rube had as yet not given up the struggle and fallen to the ground, so Enttos made a mad dash to catch him, before he had,... To the left and to the right of him Enttos saw the blood-crazed mastiffs attacking the Capereans whom the Rubes no long exuded any control over. "Better they than us,..." he thought morosely even as he reached his target. The Rube opened his mouth to say something and another gout of arterial blood gushed out of his mouth spraying the huge Human in the face. Roaring in anger, Enttos swiftly brought up his mighty thewed right forearm and smashed the Rubes cross the throat, even as he savagely yanked the gladius' blade out of the Rube's carcass. "Do us all a huge favour, an' die already,..." he said dispassionately. He was in the process of turning away back, again, he felt a potentially devastating blow glance off his field plate shielded left shoulder. Blinking away the blood that all but completely covered his craggy face, he met the sneering visage of the notorious Arundel Machieaville. Forget something; did ya, Master Not-so-bright,...?" Enttos snarled, baring all his yellowed teeth at the Chief Interrogator, Arundel Macheaville. "Aye, villain," he said. "In all the excitement, I forgot that it was you i was supposed ta kill. Well, now, nae, that’s nae true ; I looked for you, but found you nae, for you were skulking about in the darkness you bastards sooo dearly love." He whirled about with a speed that belied his size and drove a plate armoured elbow into Macheaville's side. The Rube grunted in pain and surprise and whipped his spike-balled mace about for a two-handed blow, which Enttos received on the bloody blade of his gladius. There was a loud "CLANG" as metal struck upon metal. It was a jarring blow that would have caused a less strong man to drop the gladius; but not Enttos Belafonte. The force of the two heavily ensorcelled weapons clapped together with such force that they both began to vibrate and hum like tuning forks. Both combatants grunted with the effort he needed to retain a firm grip upon his respective weapon. Neither Arundel Machieaville nor Enttos Belafonte expected to find the enormity of strength each discovered the other to possess. Enttos had not encountered an adversary who even came close to matching his remarkable strength in a good long while. Arundel Machieaville had been a long time without having to wield his mighty warmace against anywhere near what he considered a "worthy" opponent. He had thought to make short work of the Human, as few of their kind was any match for a Half-Ogre in melee combat, and he was a member of this rare mixed-blooded race. A fact which he had gone to great lengths to hide, but that had accorded him a position of great power and influence in Taal Zodo's regime. "Thou art weak, boy," he growled to Enttos. "It will nae be overlong ere you are a-lying in the dirt and my hounds are licking up thy lifesblood." But Enttos was himself no stranger to armed close quarters combat. He knew that the other was only attempting to lure him into a psychological game, designed to detract from the strength he had to exert to keep his opponent from overpowering him. He shoved the other man away with his armoured forearm, gaining a degree of dim satisfaction as the metal of the Rube's hidden screeched in protest. If the man had been as almighty powerful as he'd meant to imply that he was, then the armour he wore would most likely not had been there. Everyone who'd had any contact with them whatsoever knew the Rubes to be great and powerful sorcerer-priests and necromancers. They rarely engaged their adversaries in physical conflict, preferring to have those they'd somehow mentally enslaved to do their fighting for them, after the which they frequently assailed them with powerful dark magic’s and unholy incantations said to conjoin their heart and minds to the Zodo, who in turn fought the Enemy's battle through them. The mere fact that one of Taal Zodo's emissaries deemed it necessary to equip himself in armour; addition source of protection, other than that offered by his God's divine deowmer gave him to understand that this one at least did not share his fellows absolute dependents upon his foul God for protection. Mere men and dwarves and elves seldom exhibited such absolute faith, knowing that the Gods had imbued them with free will, the right to flee and live or fight and die. The Rubes, as well as the Zodo's other servants were seldom accorded such a choice. They usually fought to the death, regardless the numbers brought to bear against them. And so often overbore their stronger enemies, because they knew that only damnation awaited them, at the end of their life's road. They had no hope of salvation. Servitude to Taal Zodo offered none. Machieaville spared only the fleetest of glances at the tear in his priestly tunic, but it was enough in Enttos' eye. He pressed the attack swinging in upon the Rube with first his glowing Runesword and then, again, with the gladius. The wily Half-Ogre then depressed a knobule on the heft of his warmace and the barbed flanges on the warmace sprang forth smiting Enttos on the head and in his powerful barreled upper chest. Enttos blinked in surprise as he spotted the barbed flanges, moving back as much as he could, which was about a step, before he was hit with them. The sharp barbed flanges cut into his sticky blood-stained shirt, that clung with dry blood and his sweaty scalp, causing him to clench his teeth tightly together as he grunted. His red blood seeping out of his cuts. Enttos eyes narrowed into small slights of anger. "You no good-!" Tightening his hold on his gladius and his Runesword he pushed away the war mace with his gladius, a high pitched screeching flooding the air around them as sparks flew as the metal rubbed against each other. His pain slowly disappearing with his adrenaline as with his Runesword he stepped forward and jabbed at Machieaville's left side. He thought maybe this wasn't going to be such an easy fight, already their strength seemed to be quite a match, maybe Machieaville's hidden armour wasn't as strong. . . Enttos Belafonte tried; without much success, to ignore the ringing in his ears, thankful for the forethought that had convinced him to put on his full helm, before having left the techno-magical gypsy wagon. Had he not been wearing this piece of headgear; no doubt, the treacherous Rube's initial attack would have slain him, outright. Or at the least have visited him with a severe concussion, with would have left him helpless to defend himself against whatever might have befallen him, next. The unique molding of the helm also prevented the flanges of his adversary's warmace from gaining any purchase in Enttos headgear. "You're a tricksy bastard, ain't ye?" Enttos growled as he twisted his Runesword's glowing blade about the chains connecting the deadly flanges to the shaft of Arundel Machieaville's deceitfully designed weapon, before the mighty Half-Ogre could pull them away, again. Machieaville let his thumb fall away from the knobule he'd been just about to depress. He'd been about to detract the chained flanges of his weapon, but realized; at the last moment that this manoeuvre would have carried him well within grappling distance of the obviously angry Human The wild-eyed bestial look with which the man favoured him gave Machieaville to know that he was facing one of those infamous Berserkers, and that any attempt made by Machieaville to lay capture to his adrenaline- charged mind was doomed to failure. Even the possibility of summoning arcane aid was remote, as summonings took time and concentration to effect, and time and concentration were two things that Machieaville could not utilize, while engaged in hand-to-hand combat with so seasoned a warrior as this Human showed all the classic signs of being. Perhaps when the Berserkergang finally came upon him, Machieaville might stand a chance of bringing this foe down with relatively small injury visited himself. But as it stood now, there even existed the remotest possibility that this mongrel Human could actually end up killing Machieaville. Continuing to twist and turn the glowing blade of his Runesword about the chains of his enemy's warmace-turned-flail, Enttos Belafonte pulled at Machieaville with all his considerable might. Arundel Machieaville stumbled towards the Human better than a foot, so taken aback was he, before he came fully to himself, again. Attempting to counter-balance his foe's most unimaginative attack, Machieaville depressed a second knobule on the shaft of his warmace, releasing the chained flanges, thus freeing his weapon for a second pressing attack. With its being weighed down by the flanges and chains, Enttos found he could not get his magical broadsword up and about in time to deflect the Half-Ogre's next sweeping attack. But he did somehow manage to get the gladius up in time. Unfortunately Machieaville's blow had come short, and Enttos had thrust his forearm up too high. The heavy meteoric iron head of the warmace, caught Enttos wrist and would have broken it, but for the armlet that he wore. As it was, the blow proved too much this time around and Enttos watched in dismay as the gladius flew away from the combatants, spinning with the momentum of the strike. The blow had; however, set his wrist and hand to tingling, painfully. Still unable to bring his Runesword to bear, Enttos desperately lunged out at the Half-Ogre, driving his left foot into Machieaville's in-step and his right foot into the Rube's upper abdomen. The spark of pain from the leg-strike was so severe and had come so unexpectedly that Machieaville scarcely felt the punishing blow to his midsection and was lifted completely off the ground and flew fully half a dozen feet before coming crashing back down upon the cobbled street. The rough landing had been more than enough to knock the wind completely out of him, but Machieaville was not himself completely ignorant of the tactics of unarmed combat, and rather then tightening up his muscles in response to the hit he'd taken he forced his body to relax enough so that when he hit the ground, he did not sustain as great an injury as he might have otherwise. Allowing the momentum of the lighting-quick double drop kick to carry him as far away from his adversary as he could get, Machieaville rolled over onto his stomach and sprang awkwardly to his feet, seemingly losing his balance and falling back down to his knees in the process. Enttos, wishing to take advantage of his enemy's apparent weakness rushed over with his now-freed Runesword in hand, to Machieaville's side. A quick twist of his wrist; the left still tingling quite painfully, turned the broadsword point downwards. He was raising it with every intent of thrusting it down into his enemy’s upper chest, with he heard the telltale sound of a buckler blade leaving its sheath. Instinctively he leapt up off the ground, but not in time to completely avoid the scything sweep of Machieaville right forearm across his shin. The blade was heavy and sharp and split the shin guard as easily as a far less sharp weapon might have split tent canvas. Had Enttos not been able to respond to the attack as quickly as he had, Machieaville might well have hamstrung him, as had no doubt been his precise intent. But even so strong a Human male as Enttos Belafonte was, he could not have remained airborne for very long; especially wearing mithril field plate armour like he was. So almost immediately he began to come down again. Unfortunately for Arundel Machieaville, he has down on his hands and knees, when Enttos made his precipitous descent. The heavily armoured Human smashed down in a half-sitting position upon Machieaville's powerful shoulders and upper back, snapping his neck, but being a glancing blow did not succeed in the breaking of it. Machieaville heaved himself upwards and threw Enttos backwards off of him. And Enttos too might have suffered injury; possibly fatal to his thickly muscled bull neck, but here again his choice in armour; or rather the armour that he'd found hanging in the magical wardrobe, saved him. As it was, the padded gorget bent under the sheer force of its wearer's landing, yet had been just enough to spare him a broken neck. Enttos lay there for a second completely dazed. He was able; however, to shake and blink away the fog from his sight, just in time to observe his nemesis staggering over to try and put the coup-de-grace on him with his buckler blade. "Thou art a hard one to kill, Human," the Half-Ogre slurred incomprehensibly. "But methinks I’ve the way of it, now,..."