There was me — that is, Dain — and my three droogs — that is, Ash, Cat and Celeste. We sat in the Wardens’ headquarters, making up our minds what to do with the evening. I was suggesting that we pool our coins and buy a barrel of beer from the brewers down the road, which ought to keep us going for at least another hour or so, when Celeste suddenly piped up.
She told us of a chest left by her old master Theodore in the basement of his home, where he had taught the lass everything he knew about magic — or so she had thought. She figured she must have known every inch of the place, but I suppose the canny veck must have had a few secrets after all! She was a wee bit vague on the details, but even so the rest of us immediately agreed to help find the lost loot, and we set off into the cold night.
On the way Ash told us of an encounter he’d had earlier with our pal Erzette. Turns out our friendly neighbourhood dust maker’s not so kindly as she seems! I’ll spare ye the nasty details, but suffice it to say, our partnership with that mingin cow is over.
We arrived at the place, a run down pile of shite with boarded up windows that would need a coat o’ whitewash just to get condemned. The front door was locked, and to my surprise didn’t immediately fall apart when I gave it a shove. The four of us went round the back where a rotting door was falling off its rusted hinges. Cat switched to her wee rat form and jumped on me shoulder, and I pushed the door aside and entered with Ash and Celeste behind.
The inside of the house was even worse than the outside, if ye can believe it. There was a stench of rotting meat that you had to push through like it was solid, and the floor was damp and rotten. Don’t let me short size fool ye — I’m heavier than my three pals, and the floorboards felt ready to give way under my feet at any moment. A doorway stood to the left and another to the right, and down the corridor it opened up into the large front room.
We moved down the corridor slowly, and I peered into the front room. In the darkness I could make out a dead… something. I didn’t go in for a closer look. Ash and Celeste went into the left doorway from the corridor, heading toward a staircase which would lead to the basement. I wasn’t ready to go down there yet until I was more certain that the house was empty, so I took the right door to investigate the other room. Inside was a lot of garbage and a rotting mattress, but nothing alive (or valuable) that I could see.
A few moments later, I heard the noise. Like the wings of a dragonfly, but louder and more violent, the humming came from under the floor. Moments later I could hear the sound of fighting.
Deciding that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, I took out my warhammer and started pounding it into the floor to create a new entry to the basement. But the damned thing just bounced off the floorboards. Before I knew what was happening, some giant flying creatures had flown in from the main room to the hallway, and were menacing me with stingers dripping with a nasty-looking liquid. As Cat and I fought them off, I glanced through the left doorway to see my other two companions at the top of the basement stairs, fighting their own cluster of airborne beasties.
The bloodwings (as Celeste later called them) put up a good fight but they soon ended up as just more dead stuff adding to the house’s charming atmosphere. We attended to each other’s wounds and headed down to the basement. Celeste, who had spent many hours in this basement learning from her master, was amazed to find a secret panel in the wall, which now sat open.
We went inside the hidden area, which led us down some steps and into a small room. At the centre of the room was an empty space, in which a chest had presumably once sat. The space was surrounded by the charred remains of a plunderer — the treasure, whatever it was, had clearly been protected by some deadly magic, but it was not enough.
On the day of the Revelry, we were invited by the Wardens’ leader Felix to the Clan Moot gathering. We’d been to the Moot before, but Felix had hinted to us that this one would be of a certain significance to us, and to our prospects of being inducted as brothers of the clan. The fact that he told us to come fully armed and armoured especially interested me.
The Moot was held at a local gladiatorial arena. The arena’s Soul Anchor stood tall in the centre of the arena — the giant crystal structure which would keep people’s souls within their bodies during combat, preventing permanent death. All around it were clan members and various other people. Some people took advantage of the soul anchor’s effects, having fun by killing each other in various ways — not usually considered a light-hearted practical joke, but harmless in the arena — coming back to life, only to be killed again by their laughing pals.
I spent a bit of time joining in on the fun, then rejoined my crew. Cat was telling us about her trip out to the forest, where she had retrieved a water stone from some bandits. She also pinched their dog, which I thought was pretty funny.
Eventually Felix addressed the crowd. After the usual formalities and crowd pleasing palaver, he announced that the Wardens would be inducting a number of new brothers. But, he continued, there were more candidates than the clan was willing to induct this time, so only four would be accepted: either me and my three companions, or Jed, his two cronies and another contender named Gremm. A silence fell over the crowd as they waited to hear who it would be. Then, he revealed the reason for our attending the Moot in full armour — the inductees would be decided by combat.
The fight began soon after. We stood on one side, and our rivals on the other, separated by the twisting shape of the soul anchor and surrounded by a ring of spectators at the edges of the fighting pit. Felix announced the start of the fight, and we began positioning ourselves strategically around the pit.
Wasting no time, I steadied my balance, reached out and took a swipe at Jed from across the gap. I took a brutal chunk out of his face, and he went down soon after. The early knockout put us in good stead, but his cronies moved forward and brawling broke out all around. Celeste was soon eliminated, while Ash exchanged blows with his nemesis Ox and Cat fought with Gremm. I joined in against Ox, but the mountain of a lad put up a fierce fight and ended up eliminating Ash.
Eventually we were down to me, Cat, Ox and another of Jed’s blokes, all stood in a line. I fought with Ox, raining blows upon him while the bastard barely flinched. The other one flailed madly at me from behind while Cat flanked him on the other side, and we quickly dispensed with him.
At long last, Ox went down.
After the fight, when the soul anchor had restored us all to full health, Felix re-assembled the crowd and announced that we would be inducted as brothers. A short while later I could see Jed arguing with Felix. Felix was having none of it, and as Jed stormed off looking furious I called out to him.
“Hey Jed!”, I yelled. “Kiss my Dwarven ass, pal!” I turned around, loosened my belt and flashed my callipygian cheeks at him.
Later, back at the Wardens’ headquarters, there was a party to celebrate the Revel and our joining the clan. The budget for beer must have been massive because it didn’t run out, despite my best efforts. My memories are a little hazy from this point, but I can remember two points of interest from the night:
At one point, my blacksmith master’s wife and children showed up. The lass bore some troubling news — those bastard Templars had been watching the workshop. Watching, she said, for me. So they were going to have to terminate my apprenticeship. I nodded dumbly, lost for words.
Later I spied Gremm, who had fought with Jed in the arena, moping around with a disappointed look. As far as I knew, Gremm wasn’t actually a friend of Jed’s, so I grabbed a beer and thrust it into his hands.
“No hard feelings, eh?” I said. He accepted the drink, and soon we were having a chinwag. He confessed that he hadn’t really wanted to become a full clan brother to begin with, and he was secretly relieved to have lost the fight. Before long we were engaged in a drinking contest — a foolhardy move on my new chum’s part, and he passed out after a mere eleven pints.
I found out the next morning that we had agreed to participate in a gladiatorial tournament that day. I had no recollection of agreeing to that, but it sounded like something I would do. We set off for the tournament, me still groggy and squinting against the morning light, and with a splitting headache, trying to wrap my beard around my head to muffle loud noises. I felt like I’d hit myself over the head with my own warhammer, which I probably had at some point. But the prospect of a good fight made it all worthwhile.
We arrived at another arena, where the tournament was to be held. We were led to a waiting area, where we prepared ourselves for the first fight, and Ash blathered to some bloke about making money. Who could think about money when we were about to experience the pure joy of swinging a warhammer into a foe’s ugly face?
Well, let me tell ye, the foe whose face was to be smashed was not what me or my pals expected. When we finally got into the fighting pit and saw what was on the other side of it, we couldn’t believe what we saw. It must have been fifteen feet tall and looked like some kind of giant insect. The crowd were as flummoxed as we were as the thing stepped out of the doorway on its spindly legs, raised its grotesque head and emitted a series of loud and threatening clicking noises.
We smashed the fucker to pieces.