Friday, 13 November 2015

Orgu's Tale: a Dungeon Roll story

I recently received Dungeon Roll, a push-your-luck fantasy dice game created by Chris Darden at Tasty Minstrel Games. Here's a very nice video introduction to the game and how to play it.
It's loads of fun and I'm really enjoying playing it: so much so that I was inspired to write a short story, based on a dungeon delve. Without further ado, here is Orgu's Tale.

 
Very well, very well. Yes, I am Chieftain Orgu, Twindragon.
No doubt you wish to be regaled with my tale of the Dungeon of Despair? How my companions and I faced the monsters that dwelt in that foul, nightmarish place? Fine.
I came to this village as a young half-goblin. The son of a forbidden love affair between goblin-maid and man, viewed as sinful and depraved by both goblin and human-kind, I wandered through these lands in search of purpose and glory.
As soon as I heard tell of the Dungeon and the dragon that lived there I knew that my destiny was calling – at least, that’s how my foolish child-like mind saw it. I stood on a table, right here in this very tavern, clanking a wooden spoon against my flagon of ale to get the patrons’ attention.
“Listen here, all of you!” I called out. “I am Orgu Halfblood, from the Southern Swamplands, and I have a mind to delve deep into the Dungeon of Despair and slay the scaly wyrm that so frightens the good folk hereabouts. Is there anyone here brave enough to join me?”
 No sooner had I finished, than the tavern walls shook with laughter and jeering. Everywhere I looked were ruddy, blotchy, drunken faces, grinning and hurling slurs at me. Someone even threw an egg. Disheartened beyond belief, I clambered down from my perch.
 “I will join you, young Halfblood,” said a kind, booming voice behind me.
I turned round to see a tall, muscular man in a suit of bronze-coloured armour. The face of a boar adorned the chest-plate and a crimson cape hung from the shoulder-guards. The man’s face was dark and lined with age. A great, wiry black beard covered the lower half of his face and his green almond eyes shone like emeralds. “I am Zahim, Champion of Silver Moon Falls,” he continued with a nod. “I sense greatness in you, Orgu, and a strong desire to prove yourself. You remind me of myself at your age!” he grinned and gestured to a table. “Come! Sit, share some ale and meet my friends…”
 I joined Zahim and was surprised by his company. One by one, I was introduced to them all: There was Samira, a Cleric of the White Goddess, all dressed in gold and silver robes and carrying a hammer-head staff. Beside her sat Murmik, an apprentice Mage – a spotty young man who looked not much older than me, wearing patchy robes and a threadbare pointed hat. Next were Juni and Maya, swordswomen fighters and lovers from the Sunless Mountains. The toughness of their leather and chain-mail armour was offset somewhat by the tender looks they gave each other and the gentle way they held each others’ hand. Finally, there was Kit, the youngest of the party at just thirteen, but already a master thief. She proudly displayed to me all the purses she had snatched throughout the course of that evening alone, as well as a scroll she had lifted from a wealthy-looking merchant who sat dozing in a corner of the tavern, surrounded by empty bottles of wine.
 After a few hours discussion we were all in agreement: we would face the dungeon together.

Level One

The next day, shortly after dawn, we ventured forth towards the entrance to the Dungeon of Despair. A low layer of green mist rolled like slow-flowing water around our ankles and the sky turned strangely dark: strange, blood-red clouds were gathering overhead. We wasted no more time and stepped across the threshold into pitch black.
The first level of the dungeon was nothing more than a cold, clammy cave: the only sounds were our own footsteps and the steady drip, drip, drip of water from some hidden pool. Then, we heard a distant rumbling. Murmik suggested it might have been a rock slide further below… but Samira whispered what we were all thinking: Dragon.

Level Two

We found some roughly-carved stone steps and followed them down to the second level. We entered a low chamber, illuminated by a single torch hanging from the left-hand wall. At the very centre of the room there was a wooden chest. Murmik eagerly stepped forwards, but Samira’s staff began to glow. “Stop, young mage!” she cried. “There may be treasure hidden within that box… but remember where we are. No doubt some evil trap is contained therein also…”
 “Well we won’t know if we don’t try it, will we?” Kit scoffed, and before any of us could stop her, she had flung open the lid of the chest. Nothing happened. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“There see? Nothing to be scared of!” Kit laughed. Her eyes shone suddenly. “Ooh, look! A portal gem… that’ll come in handy if we’re in a pinch and need to get back to the town…”
She reached in and grasped the glowing jewel. There was a blinding green flash, followed by a shriek of pain. With a dull thud, Kit’s small lifeless body fell to the ground, a whisp of black smoke curling upwards from her singed hand, still clenched around the gem.
 Samira bowed her head, and chanted a mourning prayer, joined by Juni. Zahim cradled the child in his strong arms, his cheeks wet with tears. Murmik stared into the distance, mouth agape as Maya roared with anger and frustration. After a while, we heard the Dragon growling once again in the distance and decided to press on.

Level Three

We reached the Dungeon’s third level and entered a great, cavernous hall. Glowing green crystals, half buried in the bare rock, shone their eerie light over us as we crept forwards. Murmik’s keen eyes spied something shiny in a corner and tip-toed off to investigate. He returned with a grin on his face and a bottle full of swirling, orange liquid in his hand. “A life-potion!” he whispered excitedly. “We can use it to bring Kit back to life!”
“But at what cost?” Maya tutted. “You know how those potions work: a life for a life. One of us must drink it, giving up their own life to bring back that of another!”
Murmik shook his head and held up Kit’s stolen scroll. “We can use this! I’ve had a look at it and the arcane spell on it can be used to activate the potion’s magic without the need of a sacrifice!”
 “Well then what are you waiting for, mage?” Zahim snapped, “do it!”
Murmik unfurled the scroll and, holding up the potion in his other hand, read out the incantation. The words on the parchment began to spark and fizzle, until the scroll caught fire and evaporated in a burst of yellow flame, causing Murmik to yelp and almost drop the potion. Before he could, however, the bottle began to shake, its contents bubbling violently. The stopper suddenly flew off and the potion swirled up and out, twirling in the air like a strange ribbon caught on the wind. It splashed down onto the cobblestone floor, forming a glittering pool. As we watched in awe, a hand emerged from the pool, followed by another and a hooded head… it was Kit!
 Overcome with joy, we rushed round our resurrected companion with a gleeful cheer.
Alas, our celebration had an undesired affect… the ground began to shake and behind us we felt the growing heat of dragon breath. There was a deafening roar that knocked us off our feet. The Dragon was upon us.
 “Kit, get to safety!” Zahim bellowed, as a jet of blue fire missed him by inches, singing the rock wall behind him as he ducked away. The young thief, still dizzy from her ordeal, gathered her wits and did as she was told, huddling behind a pile of rubble.
I heard a cry of pain behind me and turned just in time to see the Dragon’s tail swoop towards me, after having struck down Juni. She lay sprawled on the floor, nursing her leg. I narrowly avoided the tail myself, before noticing Murmik and Samira striding purposefully towards the dragon.
“Maya! Cover us…” Samira instructed the swordswoman. “Keep the beast distracted while we perform the spell!”
Maya glanced over at Juni, here eyes shining with tears. She blinked them back and let out a warrior’s cry. Juni stirred and gazed at her lover, as Maya raised her broadsword and lunged forwards to strike the Dragon. Juni let out a wail of despair as, moments after her blade pierced the beast’s skin, Maya was crushed beneath an enormous clawed foot. The Dragon roared in pain and turned its dagger-shaped head towards the mage and the cleric. Murmik and Samira had been combining their magic, concentrating their powers into a ball of bright blue light. The beast opened its jaws wide and dove down to swallow our two companions whole. An explosion of fire and magic threw me backwards into the wall of the cavern, knocking the wind from my lungs, and the world went black.
When I awoke, I found myself watched over by Zahim and Kit. In the middle of the cavern, lay the dragon’s lifeless body. Nothing was left of Murmik and Samira, save for the mage’s singed hat and the cleric’s broken staff. Juni was kneeling by the smouldering beast’s carcass, holding Maya’s sword in her lap, weeping quietly. Kit picked up a single dragon scale from off the floor and quietly went over to put her arms around the grieving fighter’s shoulders. 

Level Four

After some time, we ventured further down, reaching the fourth level of the Dungeon. As we stepped into a narrow, dimly-lit chamber, thick with dust and cobwebs, we were horrified to hear the all-too-familiar rumbling of another dragon up ahead.
 “I had heard legends that the Dungeon contained a dragon nest,” Zahim muttered wearily. “It appears now that those legends were true… there is more than one dragon in this foul place.”
“Then we should kill it!” growled Juni through gritted teeth, still clutching her fallen love’s blade. “We should kill every slimy, fire-breathing lizard we meet in this hell-hole!”
“How are we to do that without any magic?” Zahim sighed. “I have no skill in the mystic arts. Both Murmik and Samira are dead… remember there are other creatures here besides dragons. The restless dead… slime-beasts…”
“We can best them!” Juni cried, her voice breaking. “We can and we will!”
“It’s suicide!” Zahim bellowed back. “How will getting yourself killed help, Juni? Do you think Maya would want you to die?”
Juni’s eyes widened and she looked ready to strike the champion. Instead she spat and wheeled round on the spot, stomping off into a corner.
Kit and I stood silently, watching the argument unfold. “I must do it,” the young thief spoke suddenly, more to herself than to me. “There is no other choice.”
 “Do what?” I asked. Kit smiled wearily at me and placed the dragon scale she had found into my hand.
“Take this. It’s shiny…”
Then, she produced two bottles of orange liquid from her robes. “I found them as we came in here, under a stone slab just next to the door…”
I realised too late what she planned to do. Before I could stop her, she had downed both bottles of life-potion and had let out a groan of pain. “Kit, no!” I cried… but she was gone.
 As her body fell once more, two golden spheres of light floated out from her mouth. They hung in mid-air, pulsing slowly, before growing in size and taking shape. Within the space of a few seconds, Kit was dead once more and Murmik and Samira stood in her place.
No-one took Kit’s second death as badly as Zahim. He beat his gauntleted fists against the stone floor again and again, while a still dazed Murmik and Samire tried their best to come to grips with what had happened.
 “This place…this Dungeon of Despair…” Juni muttered to herself, “it is well named.”
We waited for Zahim to compose himself. When he finally stood up, his eyes were red, but his gaze was steel cold. “We go on,” he said, simply.
 “Zahim,” Samira said gently, reaching to touch his hand. The champion turned away. “We honour Kit’s sacrifice and we go on,” he said, and marched towards the door.
 Reluctantly, the rest of us followed.

Level Five

Upon entering the fifth level of the Dungeon, we realised we had stumbled into hell itself.
The second dragon loomed before us, larger than the first, leathery wings unfurled and black smoke spiralling upwards from its flared nostrils. It flicked its venomous green tongue and hissed at us menacingly. Before we could even react, I heard a loud clatter of armour and turned round to see Zahim struggling with a hideous, livid purple slime-beast. The ooze bubbled and burped as it tried to envelope him within its disgusting jelly-like form. Murmik jumped in to help, but in freeing Zahim, became ensnared himself. We watched in horror as his flesh burned and melted away inside the quivering folds of the dying ooze.
The dragon stomped towards us, jaws open wide to unleash a fiery attack.
In those brief moments that felt like a lifetime, I can still remember my companions’ faces before they died. Zahim’s cheery resolve had all but vanished, replaced by cold, mournful fury. Juni’s tear-streaked face was flushed and distorted with fury, while Samira’s eyes were closed as she chanted one last incantation.
“For the goddess,” Samira whispered.
“For Maya!” Juni roared.
“For Kit!” Zahim cried.
 Together, we charged.


***

I was the only survivor. I can still remember how it felt, to crawl out from the rubble, battered and bleeding, only to see my three companions lying motionless on the floor.
 The silence was overwhelming. I wanted to scream, but my throat was parched and my lungs weak.
I hadn’t the strength to carry Zahim, Juni and Samira’s bodies back out of the dungeon to give them a proper burial, so I made a pyre and burned them, along with the dragon’s carcass. I plucked another scale and placed it alongside Kit’s in my pocket, along with her portal gem.
When word reached my goblin clan that I had had a hand in slaying not one, but two dragons, they welcomed me back and made me chieftain. I was offered two chest-worths of gold and silver for the dragon scales and gem, but I sold neither. As you can, see I still have them, fashioned into a necklace to always remind me of Kit and Zahim. Of Murmik, Samira, Juni and Maya. To always remind me that glory and riches can come at a terrible price…

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