shout echoed in the forest.
The cry came from my left and ahead. I unlimbered my shield and my axe as I plunged through the undergrowth.
The cry was even more plaintive now and closer. I broke out into a small clearing and quickly took stock. Two warriors were locked in mortal combat. I recognized the one it was SoulScreamer; I did not recognize the other who when he spotted me shouted: "It's alright. I have him!"
"Let be!" I shouted. SoulScreamer had a red aura but he was not an evil person just unlucky.
"He's evil!" The other fighter a noble shouted and delivered another blow. Screamer's health was way down, most likely as a result of the encounter with the ogre whose body I saw behind him.
"But not by choice!" I remonstrated. I stepped forward, axe at the ready.
He saw my shield and scoffed. "Just like a Chaos scum! Protecting thine own! Thou daren't touch me in any event! Thy shield will do for thee." He swung again and connected, knocking Screamer off balance.
"Bravely spoken!" I replied. "But I have been known to take off my shield. I said let be!" As I said this, I sheathed my axe. He was right about one thing: there was little I could do at the moment. If I healed Screamer I would be wrong; if I attacked this Noto Killer I would also be wrong at least in the eyes of my liege.
"Ha!" the 'noble' shouted. "As I thought! Too late in any event!" So saying the brazen bastard delivered the coup de grace to Screamer who collapsed soundlessly at his feet. My blood ran cold and I was about to toss down my shield and take up my axe again when Screamer saved the day. In his panic he instantly resurrected. His sudden re-appearance startled the sonnuvabitch who hesitated and then cast a Fire Field in an effort to torch SoulScreamer on the spot. Screamer, despite his weakened condition, did not hesitate but stepped out of the field. I did not hesitate either and stepped directly into it.
"Thou art an idiot!" The attacker hissed. "Look what thou hast done!"
"First a Chaos scum and now an idiot! But I am a Great Lord and thou art now but a … what? Idiot seems too mild!" He looked down at his aura now red just as I released an Energy Vortex. As I thought it would, the eldritch being for it is a being, make no mistake fastened itself to him immediately and with a fury began attacking. I ran to one side and behind to chip away at the miscreant with mine axe. He screamed and twisted but there was no place for him to run. Screamer, in War Mode, blocked his way, bravely managing to hold up his own halberd though it must have cost him. The once Noble, now Dark, fighter tried to cast Recall but both the fury of the Energy Vortex and my own attack kept interrupting him. It was only a matter of time and that time came quickly. As he went down I stepped away. Screamer had already retreated. The Vortex, bereft of a victim, now hummed angrily as it sought out another.
Screamer and I kept our distance until finally with a whooshing sound the Vortex disappeared. The deceased had wisely chosen not to resurrect during this time. The Vortex would have had him immediately if he had done so, and it would have cost him in loss of attributes as well. But he did manifest himself in his ghostly form now and treated me to a torrent of invective which, by virtue of mine ability with Spirit Speak, I understood well enough but chose to ignore.
"Thou hast become a victim of thine own hypocrisy, fellow," I admonished him. I motioned Screamer over and indicated the corpse. "It is only mete that thee should relieve this chap of his accouterments." This elicited another torrent of invective from the ghost which I chose not to translate for Screamer who was weak enough as it was. "Thee has a foul mouth, fellow, and a foul sense of what it means to be honorable. Screamer here told thee he was no evil thing; no fell creature or practitioner of the black arts. Yet thee chose to ignore him and me. What's worse thee attacked when he was already weakened surely a cowardly act." This only produced another outpouring of filth.
"Get thee gone! The Chaos shrine is to the north. And much good may it do thee." It would be a long walk back to whatever rock he had crawled out from under assuming he made it at all. His ghostly form wavered as his will began to falter, then he turned and glided away northward. I threw down several potions of Healing for Screamer. I was still constrained by my oath not to aid him directly but aid him I would.
Screamer had been unlucky as had many others who found themselves in his predicament. It was too easy by half to become an evil person in this Land. Witness what had just happened to the 'Noble' except that in his case it was well deserved. That fellow was only a step away from those murdering scum the PK's (people killers). He was worse in that he was even more of a coward by hiding behind his notoriety. Now he would see just how difficult it would be to make his way back. I was hopeful that the experience might sober him and cause him to reflect. But I did not hope with any great hoping. It was more likely that he would seek refuge with some band of brigands and continue in his dastardly ways amongst others of his ilk. He would then offer up all manner of excuses and say that he had been forced into it.
But in a way, the fellow whose mortal remains lay before me was also a victim. How was it possible to discriminate between the truly evil and the merely unlucky these days? His training had conditioned him to oppose evil. His nature had acted to cause him to abuse that conditioning. Screamer had accidentally healed a harpy during a melee. For that he was branded evil and hunted down. There were countless stories such as these most of them true. But how to tell? My Lord Blackthorn would answer trust. Judge a person by his or her actions not by their station in life. Of course, he was somewhat fanatical in this view, holding that the same benefit should accrue to orcs and other fell beasts. In this way he was just as rigid as our Lord British. The answer, of course, was that more trust was needed along with a dollop of common sense and a gallon or more of balance. More rewards for acts of charity and for practicing forbearance would be a good start.
SoulScreamer had quaffed the potions and was now looking somewhat better. He had discarded his ripped and dirty robe and tunic and was besporting himself in apparel removed from his erstwhile looter. Aside from a few scorch marks and a spot or two of blood, he looked rather resplendent. He was also somewhat richer by virtue of the other fellow's pouch of gold and that of the ogre. He offered some to me, which I declined. I was not fully settled in my own mind about having to dispatch the other fellow and I wanted no reward for doing my duty.
Screamer insisted upon casting Greater Heal upon me though I was merely scratched. I allowed it. It would do him good and help him along his path toward rehabilitation. I looked around. We were through here. Already I heard the cry of scavengers. But there was one other matter. I evoked the ICQ cantrip and got Demented immediately. I knew he was hunting near the Chaos Shrine. I outlined events and described the former noble.
"Hehe," he answered. He has a twisted sense of humor. He broke off for a moment and then came back. "I heard something." He broke off again briefly and then: "By the pricking of my thumbs something evil this way comes. Bye."
Hehe indeed. I also have a twisted sense of humor. As I have repeatedly said: the Avatar has much to answer for.
Note: Of all the scum that walk the Land, none is more scurrilous than the so-called 'Noto Killer'. These creatures make it their business to hunt down and kill anyone of a gray aura (and sometimes red) without compunction. Furthermore, these are in the habit of creating situations which might cause another warrior to become criminal through no fault of their own. Case in point is the NK's penchance for hiding within dungeons and then deliberately walking into a Blade Spirits or field spell cast by another. In his 'infinite wisdom', our Lord British has seen fit to hold any caster of such spells responible for damage caused to a so-called 'innocent'. Once the caster has been so flagged, they are 'fair game' to any NK out there.
These 'heroes' will then loot the body into the bargain walking away without a stain upon them. They are typically cowards as well and tend to operate in packs like onto wild beasts. These will also hide and loot a fallen monster who has been dispatched by another. One of the more despicable of their acts is to follow a monster who has targeted another warrior, taking pains to stay out of range and frequently hiding until the creature kills the other. They then wait until it wanders off and then loot the fallen fighter. The 'salt of the earth' I don't think.
BloodLord! It is BloodLord! How I've ached to find him like this alone; separated from his renegade cohorts! "BloodLord! Defend thyself!" He is startled because I have taken him unawares, launching myself at him from ambush. "Zastranitz! I've been looking for thee! Are thee surprised to see me, swine!?" I've taken a page from this coward's book and have lain here hidden for the better part of the day just for this opportunity. I'd already whacked his lieutenant and had sent his ghost howling away and now his master was before me.
To give him credit he recovered quickly and managed to fire off a low power Magic Arrow to take down my Magic Reflection shield. But I'm on him before he can get off another spell. He's at a severe disadvantage. Firstly, he is not as accomplished as I with a weapon I'm a Grandmaster. Secondly, I can cast spells while defending with my shield; he cannot cast whilst his hands are full. He can cast from a scroll one-handed and I know what he'd like to do but I've introduced a new wrinkle for him to ponder. I've been working on my thieving skills and while he's attempting to break away from me I manage to grab his recall rune. I hold it up for him to see before tossing it over my shoulder into the brambles.
His evil gaze is now filled with fear as I ready my war axe. "My new axe hungers for thy blood, slime!" Whoosh! Thwack! He goes down on one knee. I reverse my grip and bring the axe back from the top of its swing in a mighty back-handed arc catching his neck just below his chin. Whoosh! Thwack!. And it is over. The 'great' Dread BloodLord is no more. His head has been severed cleanly from his body. I shake it out of its helmet into a special bag along with that of his minion. As I rummage through his pack, a grayish shimmering begins to rise up from the corpse signifying the separation of his ghostly being from its mortal coil.
"Bastard!" the apparition hisses.
I have already cast the cantrip: Spirit Speak and so understand him perfectly. "Actually not," I answer calmly. "I know my father whereas I doubt me thee can say the same."
"Thou shalt pay for this," it hissed again shaking its ghostly fist.
"Oh, as to that," I wave my hand airily. "Already have as thou art forgetting. Been there, got the tunic, fellow. And what will thee? Sic thy dastardly companion Duncun upon me? Behold!" I reach into the bag and hold up Duncun's head. "Not today, methinks." If it was remotely possible for a ghost to become paler than death, the late BloodLord (BL to his friends) manages it. As I say quite a fellow.
The apparition releases a stream of epithets that would make a sailor blush. I calmly rummage through his erstwhile belongings holding each piece up as I do so. He has a pouch laden with gold and jewels doubtless lifted from the corpses of his recent victims. "Thou hast been a naughty boy," I taunt shaking the pouch. "And what do we have here? An accurate Viking of Vanquishing! Probably not thine at all. And look! Fang! My old war axe. How thoughtful of thee to bring this along. I think I'll leave thee this sash by way of repayment. Ye trash!" His ghostly form has faded somewhat as the energy it was taking to hold him visible begins to wane. "And plate arms of fortification somewhat shoddy for the likes of thee is it not? What else do we have here …" Without looking up I go on: "Shouldn't thee be scampering off to the Chaos Shrine? Don't want to be late now dost thou? Nice! GM plate legs! And a wand of Harming! My cup runneth over." The now transparent apparition turns to go. "Don't bother looking for Margoth," say I cheerfully still sorting through his packs. "I put that evil sonnuvabitch beneath the sod earlier today. That leaves ye with what one evil healer lurking about? And him over on Hythloth! Pity! Make sure to bear north. Can't miss it. Bye now." I didn't wave as the ghost moved off through the trees getting more transparent as it went. There was a surprise waiting for that scum at the Chaos Shrine. Oh, it would resurrect him, but he'd not survive more than 30 seconds. Some of his 'friends' would be waiting there for him. I would have told him but I didn't want to ruin the surprise. I've too kind a heart, methinks, for my own good.
And when I recover that rune, other 'friends' would be waiting for his kinsman. There will be blood upon the sward this night and that's no error. We might even manage to put Demented's tamed dragon into their keep. Those creatures get hungry when they're not fed and they have big appetites. Demented found BL's reserve pack earlier today as well. By the god's that fellow is arrogant! Does he think that he has a monopoly on brains? Didn't he even suppose that someone might look in that exact spot? And wait until he realizes what this death is going to cost him a few more of these and he'll be down to newbie status in no time. Pity, I don't think.
I rise and stretch. My muscles are protesting from standing in one place for hours. But it was worth it. A good days work not to mention the most enjoyable feeling of sweet revenge. Who it was that said: 'revenge is a dish best eaten cold' was right on the mark is a lovely old world.