Elder Players' - Interlude Five - Zeek
I will be posting the e-mails I receive between the May game and the July D...D game, regarding Zeek when they are appropriate for the whole group to read:
(from Mark) Zeek rubbed his ribs, and brushed the dirt from his clothing. He thanked
the spirits that he knew how to fall...otherwise, being tackled off the top of the tower by the talking skeleton
would have been the end of him. What had he said his name was? Jack Bones...no, no, it was Jack Skull. Zeek shook
his head. What sort of trouble had he and his friends gotten themselves into? An entire ork army, a foreign Priest
who could call down lightning bolts...and some freakish skeletal warrior. They had definitely been out-classed
from the start.
"I surrender, I surrender." Zeek mumbled the words a few times and smiled briefly. He had told the party to surrender, but there was no way that was going to happen. The townspeople wanted to fight...Kerbach certainly wasn't going to give up, and Oren seemed to actually think they could win. If only enough time had gone by for help to come from Rosehill...or Dumit. But stalling was not exactly a technique his friends seemed to favor. A sad look washed across Zeek's face, and the exhaustion he felt drug him to his knees.
The last he saw Kerbach, the bears were tearing him to pieces...literally. Oren had been fighting the bears too...wonder if he suffered the same fate as the Grasslander? The smoldering remains of Collin, Gremage, and half a dozen men from Widow's Grove were prone on the shattered roof of the blacksmith's shop. Kit...let's see...Kit had been fighting the good fight, along with the spearmen. Was Kit captured, or had she escaped? Now Doomnoodle, from the very beginning he had said he would hide and wait the battle out. Had he survived?
Zeek clenched his fists. Here he was in the tomb of the Mays. Twenty-five feet underground, the electrical trap standing between him and the ork army. Zeek looked across the tiled floor at he 5 orks he had been forced to kill with his bare hands. Now nobody knew Zeek was here. Perhaps he could wait it out...and sneak out in a few days. Perhaps the tomb had hidden tunnels leading out the other way. Zeek closed the door, sealing himself in with the 14 men that had spent their lives protecting Widow's Grove. His eyes closed, and he fell fast asleep.
It was days later, and Zeek had gotten used to the darkness of the tomb. He had long since become accustomed
to the dampness and the smell of the tomb, and had begun talking fairly regularly with Loren and Dack Mays. Nevermind
the fact they never answered back, the empty conversation passed the time and took Zeek's mind off the death of
his friends. Then there was a sound...footsteps!
Zeek cracked open the door to the tomb a bit and looked down the hallway. He could see torch light in the room where the snakes had built their nests. The dim light of the torch was near blinding to Zeek, but he squinted his eyes and tried to make out the on-coming threat. It was Milton Fedge! He had survived the battle. Milton was carrying what appeared to be a body over his shoulder, and struggling under its weight. When Zeek was sure that Milton was alone, he through open the door and called out, "Milton...Thank god you're here!"
Milton nearly dropped the body from shock. His eyes were open wide in terror, and his mouth gaped open. "May Heironeous protect me...ghost, leave me be." Milton backed in to the wall and was clearly panting with fear.
Zeek carefully walked the correct lettered tiles, and tried to calm Milton down as he approached him down the trapped hallway. "Milton, it is I...Zeek. I took shelter here...I've been hiding for days...."
Milton immediately calmed down, and carefully put the wrapped body he was carrying upon the stone floor. Milton shook Zeek's hand, and then they sat down to talk. Milton had much to tell Zeek:
"As the battle turned ugly, and it was clear we would lose...and lose badly...I gathered the women and children together in the dining hall. The building was stone, and I was hoping the conquering orks would stop short of killing and raping the weak of Widow's Grove, as they broke our walls and took our town from us. I was looking out the window when Kerback went down beneath the claws and teeth of the bears. He was our Protector...he was armed with the sword that has protected us for 150 years...the Mays' Sword. I cried as the bears tore at his flesh, and his body became lifeless."
"Your friend...the short gruff Dwarf...Oren, wasn't it? He was fighting the bears valiantly...smiting one until it turned and ran. But the bears behind this one were clearly not impressed. They charged him...biting and clawing, and I was sure he would be torn to bits. Oren stumbled backwards and away from the bears, but they were moving in to attack him again and finish him off. He was screaming out to someone...but I could not understand his words. Suddenly the bears stopped in their tracks, as if an invisible wall was erected before them...and Oren ran. He got inside the blacksmith's shop and I could hear him blocking the doors with heavy objects."
"Another lightning bolt hit the town, and we all scurried to the back of the Dining Hall. A short while later, everything was quiet for a moment...then we heard them. The orks...screaming and scrambling over our walls. And the siege was over. Widow's Grove had fallen...."
Both Milton and Zeek sat there awhile, each of them mulling over all that had happened. Zeek patted the wrapped body Milton had been carrying. "Who is this?"
Milton looked up with tears in his eyes. "Our Protector...your friend Kerbach. I was able to hide his mark...cut it from his body actually, and convince the stupid orks that he was one of the men from the town. His body was so torn up...that no one would have recognized him for who he was anyway. I hid the body, until now...and it is time to put him to rest where he belongs."
Zeek noticed that the hilt of the Mays' sword was sticking out of the wrappings. "What about the sword?"
Milton pulled it from the wrappings. "The sword stays with Kerbach. It was meant for him...he was meant to come to Widow's Grove to protect us...and he gave his life trying to do so. He is one of us now, and the sword is his."
Milton and Zeek carefully walked through the trapped hallway, and placed Kerbach in the tomb, along with the other Protectors of Widow's Grove. They placed the bastard sword lengh-wise on top of his body. Zeek spoke to the spirits, and asked them to guide his friend to the eternal battlegrounds of the warrior god Kempin, of which Kerbach had spoken often.
Milton left the tomb briefly and returned with food. "Zeek, the orks took
your friend Oren away in chains. The priest in blue and yellow led him away, himself. They stayed camped outside
our walls for two days. They took food from us, and some tribute, but for the most part they treated us well. When
they first came over the walls, I thought for sure that they would kill all the men, rape the women, and sell the
children into slavery. But their chieftain...Grotten Redfang...he had very strict rules for their behavior. Actually
an ork slapped one of our women on the behind, and Grotten had him gutted, and his body hung from our broken gates."
"After a day or two, the one I really feared was the one they call Skull. Jack Skull. He would come within our walls and want to have conversations with me. He would talk of the weather, and ask how the injured were doing. I could only sit there at stare at his skinless face, with his large wet eyes! What manner of creature gets up from the grave, and leaves his flesh behind? When I would stare at him...and not answer, he would laugh at me. The priest...he seemed to stay away from the town, relaxing and healing back in his large campaign tent. I think the battle had taken quite a bit out of that one."
Zeek could stand it no longer. "But what of Kit, and Gremage, and Collin...what of them?"
Milton looked away from Zeek. "We never saw the female...Kit. I assume she must have been killed and dragged away by the orks. Gremage and Collin are dead. Burned horribly by the lightning. Their bodies were left here with us. Grotten told us to bury them as our customs would dictate. But...but...they took their heads...they took them. I suppose they needed to prove they had found the right people, or something...I don't know."
Zeek rubbed his tattooed chin. His mind was reeling. They took their heads. By the spirits that's brutal! Then Zeek thought of the tall icy blue mountains between Widow's Grove and the Azure Keep. Much easier to transport a head to earn your money...than to transport an entire body. Zeek's life in the jungles of the Valley of the Mists had been harsh, but he was finding that life outside the Valley had much sorrow, and was full of strife.
Zeek realized that while he had lost several of his friends, the townspeople had sacrificed their peace, their homes, their very lives for the party of Marked Ones. "Milton, how many of the townspeople made it?"
Milton rolled his eyes upwards, as though he were calculating in his mind. "All seven of our blessed children that remained survived, and only five of our women died, as I had pulled most of the from the walls as the siege became a lost cause. As for the men, though many of them are gravely injured and teeter on the brink of death...at this time twelve still live."
Zeek put a hand on Milton's arm. "I am sorry we brought this army to your doorstep. I am sorry for you losses. We never meant for this to happen."
Milton smiled a wry smile. "Do not apologize. We may well have deserved worse treatment from the orks than we received." Milton looked down at the floor in what appeared to Zeek to be shame.
"What could you possible mean by that. How could you deserve to be attacked by the orks!?! That is nonsense you are speaking, Milton."
Milton ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Well, Zeek. The Mays clan founded Widow's Grove, then called Maysville, about 150 years ago, so that they could rule their own area, and not be under the power of any of the lords of this fractured kingdom. But life in the wilds of the Azure Kingdom is harsh, and wells dried up, the wild game seemed to thin out, and the crops we hoped would grow in the Kingdom's cool summers repeatedly failed. The men of Maysville turned to raiding the nearby demi-humans...stealing their food and water in order to survive. After all, demi-humans aren't human...they are living filth...right? That is what I was taught all my life. The raids went on for years, and our men ranged far and wide. They raided orks, goblins...large and small, kobolds, even a gnoll den or two."
"After a time, Maysville began to prosper, and the raids continued. It was too easy to go and steal the food and the water, than to actually grow it and dig for it. If the demi-humans resisted, the men of Maysville would kill them, and to this day I remember my grandfather having two orkish female slaves. Well this sort of success did not go unnoticed, and an army of orks and goblins was raised, and an ambush set. As the men of Maysville left one day, they were slaughtered almost to the man in the forest surrounding the walls of our town. That day Maysville's name was changed to Widow's Grove...in memory of these fallen fathers and husbands. From that day, new wells were dug, the fields were tilled, and the population rebuilt with a focus on agriculture."
"I never thought much about it...I mean what I was taught about the demi-humans. But when the ork army took our town over, and DIDN'T slaughter the men, rape the women, and sell our children into slavery...when the ork army took only food and a small tribute from us...when the ork chieftain executed one of his men for slapping one of our women on the behind....It set me to thinking. Perhaps everything I learned about these demi-humans was completely wrong. Perhaps all those deaths the men of Maysville caused in their raids were not justified, but were actually murders. I mean, what right did my grandfather have to take orkish women as slaves? These orks acted more human certainly, than our men did during their 110 years of raiding the surrounding demi-human communities."
"I guess I'm saying that the treatment we received from the ork army, and its Chieftain Grotten Redfangs, was much better treatment than we probably expected...or even deserved." Milton looked tired after expressing so many thoughts and feelings at once. Clearly, the raid on Widow's Grove had been a life-changing moment for Milton, and he had not yet adjusted to it.
Zeek smiled. "Well, Milton...the only man who can't learn a new lesson, is a dead man. I must think on these things you have told me. What of the ork army...do they still hold your town?"
"No, Zeek. They built a makeshift gate to replace the one they destroyed, and then set off to the southwest. I fear they left a few scouts behind to watch over our activities...after all, a few of the Marked Ones are unaccounted for. If you leave this tomb, it must be under cover of darkness and in full robes. I brought some for you when I got the food. Or you may consider camping down here a while longer."
Zeek looked around at the dead Protectors lining the walls. "I have had worse companions! I will stay here a while longer. I have some thoughts of my own how to get out of this tomb unnoticed....."
The party was exhausted and hungry. What better place to go upon returning to Greenmark, than the Green Grape Inn. Thomas Furfoot greeted the party, showed them to their seats, and ran to the kitchen to cook them a huge meal. The serving wench, human and twice as tall as Thomas, began pouring glasses of wine, cups of mead, and mugs of ale. Though it was at least five hours after sunset, The Green Grape was always the home to hospitality.
Doomnoodle chuckled and said, "The only user of magic that we seem to get along with, never seems to be around. Gorin nearly kills us all, then this creep Grinval tries to feed us to a demon! But the Hooded Mage is nowhere to be found!"
Lenga grunted. "Perhaps the Hooded Mage has something to hide from us...something besides his masked face, I mean."
The rest of the party was too tired from its journey to join in the conversation, and soon Doomnoodle and Lenga fell quiet too. The serving wench brought the drinks, and as each member of the party drank deeply, she returned to pouring a second round of drinks to replace the first.
The front door openned and banged loudly on the wall. Each of the party members went for their favorite weapon out of instinct and habit, but stopped short of drawing them completely forth. A man stood in the doorway, cloaked from head to foot in muddy grey robes. Doomnoodle choked on his drink. "Hooded Mage...Sir...I meant no insult...."
The man in grey robes interrupted the small stuttering gnome. "I am no mage. But I come bearing news from the man you speak. I come bearing news from the dead. I come bearing news from those that would have justice served." The man's accent was unknown to the party members, but he clearly was not a native of Greenmark.
Merrin was the first to gather her wits and speak. "If you come bearing news for the Marked Ones, then enter in peace and sit with us friend. If you come to rile us only, then go...for you have succeeded in your quest!"
Thadius elbowed Merrin and giggled. Then he whispered to her, "Excellent...simply excellent and snide. You have impressed me, Merrin."
The robed figure strode into the room, and the movements bared his legs. Wide black stripes adorned his legs, as if he were a tiger walking upright. The man walked with a grace that made him seem more than human. "I will sit with you...mead, Barmaid! I have come quite a distance, and would quench a thirst that no amount of drink would quench. No, not mead...bring me something stouter!"
The robed man unwrapped his head, revealing similar stripes up the left side of his neck and head. In between the stripes were finely tattooed symbols. On his temple by his left eye was the "Mark of the Dead." Clearly this man had been marked by the Hooded Mage, just as the party had.
"We don't have much time. The Hooded Mage come to me during my time of trial, and told me that a second group of Marked Ones existed to counter the threat that Gorin Zachian poses. He mentioned that you too are being stalked by a shapechanger by the name of Fedden. He said that in my time of need, you would help me."
Talia leaned forward with a dark glint in her eye. "We will hear you out...but know that we owe you nothing. We shall decide if we will help you or not...the Hooded Mage does not command our action. Know that."
The tattooed stranger drank down a glass of sharp smelling liquor, and took a deep breath. "I think you will want to help me, once you hear the tale. My name is Zeek, and by the spirits, may everything I say be the absolute truth. My friends and I went to the Sunless Citadel to counter a great threat to the populous of Greenmark. Inside the place we got in a huge fight with a Kobold tribe...and we barely survived. Many of the Kobolds did not. It is a long story, but in the end...a huge army of orks came after us to gain retribution for the death of the Kobolds....
Vall spoke up suddenly, Zeek, what do you mean an Ork army? How many orks?
Zeek continued, There were at least 500 of them...led by a great ork general named Grotten Redfang. They had among them a priest that could call down olts of lightening from the sky, and a living skeleton that walked and talked and seemed to hold some sway with the troops. We ran for a walled town named Widow s Grove, and there a siege began. In the end, at least three of my companions now walk with their ancestors, while at least one was taken captive by the army. This army travels at this very moment to the Azure Keep. It seems that a new lord has declared himself ruler, and claims power of the land. This new lord calls himself Javair, and it is he that set the ork army upon us. He seems to value the Demi-humans of the land, more that us humans! I am a wanted man, and fear for my life.
Orest spoke in a loud gruff voice, So what do you want of us!?! You have been dealt a harsh fate, as have your friends...but what can we do?
Zeek s eyes lit up. Don t you see. This Javair is a pretender to a throne that no longer exists. He cavorts with Goblins, sends Ork armies after innocent adventurers, and plans to take the region by force...Demi-human force! The Hooded Mage suggested that I travel to the Azure Keep, and that I take you with me. I can only assume that he meant for us to join forces and face this evil bastard, before any more humans fall prey to his plans! May the spirits walk with us...May they strengthen our arms, steady our legs, inspire our minds, and fortify our hearts! May we drag this pretender from his throne, and make him pay for what he has done to the MARKED ONES! Zeek jumped to his feet. Who among you is with me!?!
Feel Free to Contact me at VoidPulp@aol.com