Fighting and Winning, Pt. 1

“Fighting and Winning” begins below! This marks the first fantasy story to appear in the blog. I imagine it’s going to be low fantasy, with magic being relatively uncommon and unimpressive, but we’ll see where it goes. Enjoy!

I don’t got a lot of memories. I don’t remember having a mother or a father or nothing like that. What I do remember is a bunch of little green things, with noses that were too big for their faces and big floppy ears. There were a whole mess of them, and they all lived in a cave, and they’d go out into the woods and hunt small animals and eat bugs and mushrooms and sometimes they’d steal from any humans that happened to be nearby.

They were alright, those little green guys.

The next thing I remember is the wizard. He was just there, staring up at me behind his old, wrinkled face. He looked frail, like the slightest thing could crush him, but his eyes… There was something that burned in his eyes, hotter than any fire, as blank and merciless as the sun on your back when you’re dying of thirst. I seen a lot of different kinds of folks look at me like they wanted to slit my throat, but I ain’t never seen anyone hate like that old man.

I still remember his first words to me. “I am your master. I have made you to kill for me. Do you understand?”

I understood just fine. He called me Ork, but that’s what I was, not who I was, you see? I wasn’t anyone back then. I was just a thing to him, like the skeletons that stood guard in the halls, or the rotting fellers that he used as servants. I was different than those other servants of the wizard, though. Other than being alive, I mean.

See, every so often a band of strangers with armor and weapons and magic would invade the wizard’s keep. Sometimes they were a bunch of nobodies and they’d be torn to pieces by the living dead. Sometimes they’d be killed by the traps that lined the halls and chambers of the keep. But sometimes they’d put up a good show, and they’d kick open the door to the wizard’s personal chambers, bloodied and battered but still full of fighting spirit. That was where I came in.

The wizard was old, see, and I may not be that smart, but I know a man like the wizard didn’t get to be old by being careless. He had too many enemies, folks that wanted to do him personal harm and folks that wanted to see him dead just for the kind of man that he was. And the wizard knew this, and he took proper precautions.

I was one of the wizard’s last lines of defense. He said that he made me to kill for, and I don’t know much about that, but I do know one thing: I was made to fight and to win. There wasn’t a single man or woman that got to the wizard’s chambers alone that could beat me one on one. Sure, I took my lumps, and I got plenty of scars to show for it, but not one of them ever beat me. But I almost never actually killed any of them. See, I may have been the wizard’s bodyguard, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t take care of himself. Plenty of times, I’d beat some would-be hero unconscious and the wizard would have one of his living dead bind them so he could taunt them before he killed them. Sometimes the wizard would just say one of his words of power, and the hero’s heart would stop, or their body would burst into flames, or any of a hundred other horrible things would happen to them.

That’s the thing. I don’t think the wizard really needed me. I think he’d just killed so many folks over the years that he got bored with it and wanted something new to spice things up.

He was a real sick grot, the wizard was.

But I’m not complaining. There was plenty of food to eat and mead to drink, and if the wizard slaughtered a dozen overambitious adventurers a month, well, it was their own fault for not being stronger. He was an old man, for the gods’ sakes. Sure, he had his magic powers, but why couldn’t a young man with magic powers take him out?

It finally took a band of four heroes to defeat the wizard. I may not remember much, but by the gods, do I remember them. A tall, dark, muscular man with a sword as tall as he was and a set of heavy armor. A short woman with light hair and light eyes and a tongue as sharp as her daggers. A thin and sickly looking middle-aged man with powers like the wizard’s (except not nearly as finely developed.) And an older woman in robes covered with holy symbols, with a sort of far-off look to her eyes like she was seeing something no one else could see.

One day these four folks storm the castle, and the wizard is watching through his looking glass as they tear through the living dead, disable the traps, and just generally make a mess of things. The wizard watches, but he doesn’t really care. He’s got that smile on his face that he always gets when adventurers came knocking, that smile that says that whatever you might think you’re doing, you’re really just a puppet dancing on his strings. He just turns to me and says, “Prepare yourself,” and then goes to sit atop the throne he made for himself out of the bones of dead heroes.

So, I’m standing there, watching the door, my hands gripped tight on the sword in my one hand and the mace in my other, feeling a sort of nervous excitement. I’ve never fought four folks at once before. They had the advantage of numbers, but only one of them had any real meat on his bones. The two older humans looked like they’d drop with a single sharp blow to the head, and the woman didn’t look she’d do much better in a straight fight. So I was feeling good about my chances, confident. I could feel a smile starting to creep across my face. I was made for two things, fighting and winning, and no humans were going to beat me.

At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out I was wrong.

The big human kicks open the door to the wizard’s chambers, and sure enough, he launches into a speech. “We are the Order of the Morning Star, and we have come to put an end to your evil! In the name of all that is good, I, Sir Perceval Roderick of–”

And then the wizard blasted them with a fireball.

It was a favorite thing of his, I think, to let someone launch into a monologue about who they were and why they were going to slay the wizard, and then burn them up mid-sentence.

But it didn’t work that time. The older female human had her arms up and her hands stretched out, and there was a kind of glow coming from them, and I could just see a sort of bubble that encompassed the entire group. “The blessings of the gods protect us from your dark magic, necromancer! I, Maya, am their chosen agent in this land!”

“Oh?” the wizard shouted, that same smug grin on his face. “And will your gods protect you from a sword through your gut? Get them, Ork!”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I’d never seen one of the wizard’s spells not work before, and I was eager to see if their magic would protect them from my muscle.

It did. Sort of.

I let out a roar and charged, my sword ready to hack and to stab, and my mace ready to smash them good while they were busy trying to defend themselves from my sword strike. I thought I’d focus on the big human, this so-called Sir Perceval, since he looked like he’d put up the most fight. But Sir Perceval saw me coming and shouted, “Alonsius! Use your magic!” The skinny male turned to face me, his mouth speaking the same kind of nonsense words the wizard spoke, and all of a sudden it felt like I was trying to swim through mud. Every step was a struggle, and I could do nothing but watch in frustration as the heroes turned their backs on me and busied themselves dealing with the living dead that the wizard sent to attack them. Sir Perceval beat them aside with his sword, Alonsius burned them with fire and shattered them with ice, and Maya stood behind the two, chanting in a low voice and maintaining the bubble that protected them from the wizard’s magic. But the young female was nowhere to be found.

Not until she appeared behind me and sunk her daggers into my back.

I bellowed in agony and fell forward onto my face. I tried to push myself to my feet, but Alonsius’ magic still impeded me, and the weight of the woman sitting on my shoulders and twisting her blades wasn’t helping any. I could feel her shift forward until her mouth was inches from my ear and she whispered, “The name’s Quinara, ugly. Thought you might like to know it before you die.” And with that, she grabbed the back of my head and smashed my face into the flagstone floor. Everything went black.

* * *

I was only out for a few moments. With great effort, I opened my eyes to find the heroes gathered around the wizard’s throne, Sir Perceval ranting again and the wizard just laughing and telling him to get it over with. Sir Perceval obliged. With a single thrust, he ran the wizard through with his sword. The wizard gasped, and then he began laughing. “You may kill me,” he said in halting breaths, “but you will never be rid of me. My spirit will haunt you to the ends of your days, you who have come in the name of the light and have convinced yourselves you’re doing the work of your gods. With my dying breath, I curse you!”

Slowly, he slumped forward. The heroes were silent, looking nervously at each other, before Sir Perceval cleared his throat and spoke. “Our work here is done. Let us leave this wretched place.”

“What of the creature the necromancer called ‘Ork?’”Alonsius asked. “I have never seen anything like it before. The Magi’s Circle may be interested in studying it.”

Maya shook her head. “Let the beast rot with his unholy master.”

“Well, what about the treasure?” Quinara asked. “I mean, the necromancer’s got to have a hoard of gold somewhere, right? Men like him always do.”

Sir Perceval gave her an angry glare that said there would be no further discussion on the subject, and she let it drop.

I watched as the humans left, staying perfectly still and silent as they did so. My back hurt horribly, but I would live. Part of being made for fighting and winning meant being made tough, and I knew that before too long, I’d be fine. So I laid there, thinking about what I would do next.

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