Episode 20 - "The curse of the mace" or "May I please die and go to hell instead?"
Immediately I felt a horrible wrenching and then pain like I was being stuffed into an ale bottle and then wild cheering and laughter. The cheering got somewhat muted and the laughter got louder and more distinct.
"What a loser!"
"Another idiot, boys!"
A haze faded from my vision and I was standing in the same place, except the landscape was oddly gray and misty. There were a whole lot of guys standing around me, some northen knights in their shiny armor, a lot of rugged trader types, one or two big orcs. They were laughing at me. The orc village was collectively laughing and cheering, parading the mace around in triumph. They stood out like they were burning, and the colors there were vivid and garish. The fire hurt my eyes to look at. "What the hell!" I demanded, fair to middling pissed off.
"All hail the fifteenth 'king'," sneered a man in leather armor. "Now you're trapped for eternity like the rest of us."
"Soul bound to the magical mace, slave of your own stupidity for all time," intoned another.
"I see." I began unwrapping my chain from around my waist. I had had about enough for one evening. Disappointment can make a guy cranky. "So I've earned myself a spot in your Dummy Club with the rest of you morons. Since we all seem to about the same level intellect-wise, to what can I attribute the shitty tones of voice?"
"Their anger is directed inward, sir," spoke one of the guys in shiny metal armor. He had a deep, solemn voice. "You merely represent to them the fury they feel at their own helplessness and mistakes."
"So what exactly is the deal, here -- gods of cod and carp, what is that?" A sudden searing plane of energy erupted from the east. I shielded my face as around me, most of the men did the same. The guy I was talking to lowered his metal visor with a clang.
"Daylight comes. We should take cover." All around, the colors brought out by the rising sun were godawful, getting brighter and more garish by the minute. I could see how sticking around much longer would give a guy a splitting headache. The maidens were following my so-called 'friend,' the bilingual orc, back to one of the rickety tent structures, bearing the mace with them. I was surprised at the tug I felt to follow it, as if someone had attached a bunch of fishhooks to my internal organs and then tied them off to the mace. Thoroughly unhappy with the situation, I followed everyone into the little shanty and then jostled for a spot in the darkest shadows were at least a guy could hear himself think without having his head set on fire with all those colors. It was a relief when the orc and the barn-broadside sisters finally left, leaving us prisoners alone with the mace.
"Okay, so we're trapped in a magic rat-masher," I said as I hurled one of the snotty humans out of a particularly soothing piece of shadow that I wanted for myself. There were two orcs in our party that were bigger than I was. Maybe two or three of the guys in metal outweighed me with their shiny suits. Everyone else here needed to stay the hell out of my way, as far as I was concerned. A bigger bunch of assholes as deserved to be trapped in a magic jail I have never seen. "What's the point?"
"There is no point," one of the guys in leather sneered at me. "We're stuck forever."
"Obviously there is a point, dipshit, or the mage who made it wouldn't have wasted his time," I pointed out diplomatically.
My buddy in the armor came through again. "When wielded in battle, we can be released to do the bidding of he who holds the mace. The more souls trapped inside the mace, the more powerful it becomes."
I was beginning to catch on to the big picture here. "So they use that Gortjon Unjabog thing as a ruse to sucker people into helping them out and taking hold of the mace."
The bigger of the two orcs grunted. "Yeah, dat kinda joke. Me Gortjon Unjabog. Me take mace from magic guy we catch. Other guys beat him til he say magic word how to use it. Too late for Gortjon."
"Huh. Bad luck. Guess you're not my daddy, then."
He snorted. "Damn right, peckerhead."
This was going to be a really crummy way to spend eternity. I heaved a sigh, wondering if Minerva was going to think I ran out on her. Spending forever thinking that I should have listened to Riordan just sucked.
"We all have different stories, friend," the decent guy in the armor spoke in his tones of resignation. "Like you, I was asked to arbitrate between tribesmen vying for power. Some here were offered the mace as a symbol of surrender. Some were sold the mace."
"I tried to steal it," sighed one of the smaller guys stuck where the shadows were thinnest. A generous dose of abuse and derision was aimed his way and I stopped feeling quite so irritated.
I tried to lean back and pound my head against the wall, but got an eyeful of searing colors for my trouble as my head passed clean through the wall. "Dammit! Great. So basically we're screwed."
"Listen to him," jeered another human. "He's so smart, yet he picked up the mace."
"Yes, my friend. I fear what you say is true," sighed the knight, ignoring the smartass remarks. "Unless somehow the mace is destroyed, we are indeed trapped within."
"And have any of you overheard and committed to memory the magic command that permits the wielder to handle the weapon without harm?" A new, heavily accented voice spoke from the doorway. We all squinted into the morning light at a slight man, wrapped in beige and black robes of western style.
"Who the hell are you?" demanded one of the scruffy trapped guys.
Stepping into the shade of the shanty, the man drew aside the cloth covering his face. He looked normal -- by that I mean like one of us, not all dazzling and blazing like regular people. Large, expressive brown eyes, kind of a big, skinny nose, soft mouth like a rich person, lips pressed together in an expression like the important passengers on the boats get when a seagull craps on them. "I am called Ahwadi. Master Osgun?"
"No shit!" You could have knocked me over with a feather. Well, I guess the feather would have passed right through me, but you know what I mean. "You're Minerva's friend?"
"In as much as it is my duty to bring her safely to my mistress, yes, 'Minerva's friend'. Now, gentlemen, I ask again. Do you recall the words?"
The knight stood up and bowed. "Yes. I have memorized both the word for picking up the item and the word for unleashing us to combat."
"Excellent," Ahwadi began, but there was something of a clamor going on around him.
"Don't tell him!"
"Minerva isn't here, is she?" That was me shouting.
"Why the hell should the new guy's buddies get the easy way to this kind of power?" someone else demanded.
"Why the hell not?" one of the other guys replied. "Anything would be better than hanging out in an orc camp. This guy says he works for Minerva. That sounds like a woman. She has the mace, at least maybe we get to see her naked every once in a while."
"The hell you would, asshole!" That was me again.
"Who are you calling an asshole, asshole?"
"Sorry, didn't realize you couldn't tell. Let me make that stupid asshole."
Ignoring us with a small tsk of annoyance, Ahwadi walked over to the knight and spoke a few words privately with him.
"Don't look now, ladies, but Sir Ponyhump went ahead and told our little desert flower."
The knight frowned over in the direction of that last comment. "That's Portnoyhunt, young man. Lord Portnoyhunt to you."
"Well, I'm with Sqibbs," said one of the bigger humans. "We can't let just anyone have the secret to the mace, now can we?"
Gortjon had a look about him that was even more evil than usual. "Mebbe we smash dat one up, huh?"
"Like hell." You guessed it. That was me again. To be more specific, that was me standing up and unslinging my chain.
"What are you going to do with that, dogface?" One of the bigger guys got up and swaggered my way, drawing his sword. He was wearing a kind of long shirt made of chain mesh. This would be interesting. I'd never tangled with someone wearing that kind of armor before. Doubted it would help him much. I was only worried about the two guys in the full plate. "Are you going to tie us to the walls?" He swiped his hand through the hide siding, accompanied by the laughter of several of the others.
"Nope. Gonna knock your teeth out." I looped the chain through the air twice fast and sent it straight into the side of his head. There was a crunching and a spattering and he vanished.
With a roar, all hell broke loose.
When big fighter types get stuck sitting around frustrated too long, they start itching for something to hit. This was the perfect opportunity. In a swarm, they drew their weapons and lunged for me. Swinging my chain rapidly like a shield, I took out a few of them. One sword went flying. An arm got too close and came out mangled. The hook panged off one metal helmet and the guy went down to his knees. It hit another guy in the head and he just disappeared in a spray of blood. To one side I saw Sir Lord Pony... whatever his name was and one of the other guys in the metal armor taking out guys with big hacks of those huge swords a lot of those northerners carry. To the other side, I saw one of the leather armor guys try to defend me and disappear as Gortjon picked him up and snapped his neck. I had to angle part of the arc over their heads in order to keep a good enough spin to do any good. It was looking kind of bad for me. You need more room to fight with a chain like this, especially against guys with swords. Three of them lunged for me at once. One vanished under the impact of my chain, another dropped to the ground as my chain-wrapped fist rearranged where his jaw fit onto his head, but the third... I looked down as a longsword punched clean through my side, just under my ribs and out the other side. It hurt for a second and then I felt nothing. Everything went gray.
Then I was sitting in a gray room. All the guys that had vanished were sitting there, unhurt, talking crap to each other.
"You grip that sword like a girl."
"You never seen a girl grip anything in your whole life, momma's boy."
"Deeter's got to get himself some real armor," pointed out a third. "He's the first one to die every time."
"I am not. Frubuck went first this time."
"That stupid half-orc sucker punched me... oh, there's ugly now. How do you like your first trip into the mace, ugly?"
Okay, it may seem like a stupid question to you, but it was foremost on my mind at the time. "We're not dead?"
"Nope. Can't be killed. We're stuck here for about an hour, then bam. Outside the mace again."
I glared at him, starting to get pissed off again. So much for my epic last stand. I must have looked so brave, standing there determined to go down fighting, while to these guys it was just a game. "Cute fuckin' joke," I snarled. "What happens when you die inside the mace?"
"You get stuck here for another hour," he sneered at me. "Wanna play, sweetheart? We could be in here all night together." He reached for his sword again.
"Knock it off, you two," snapped the tall guy with the hook nose. "Frubuck, the half-orc uses a chain. There's no room in here for the two of you to play without dragging the rest of us into it. I don't want to get that chain in the teeth again and I really don't want to spend any more time here in this damn mace with you two than I have to. Now. Taking bets, gentlemen. Who's last man standing this time? Ponyhump and his girlfriend or Unja-pig and his little lady?"
"I'll say I'm your sister 'til noon if the orcs manage to get through that plate mail," a lightweight volunteered.
The little guy seemed to disagree. "I'll wear my underjohns on my head and walk around bare-assed if he don't. Piggy's been watchin' how the Pony fights. He's gonna get him this time."
"Deeter, nobody wants to see that. Find something else to bet."
I rubbed my eyes, suddenly aware of the weight of the dilemma I had gotten myself into. There was no way in hell I could handle being stuck in the mace with these idiots for any length of time.