1911 words (7 minute read)

Prologue: Press Start

Haven's Bureaucracy

Prologue: Press Start

        Bailey Groves watched in the sidelines as the scene unfolded before him. He observed the entire event like a fly on the wall, wishing he had a tub of hot buttered popcorn with him.

        The stone wall erupted inwards with a cloud of dust and bits of debris flying everywhere. Amid the haze, six figures could be seen walking through the newly formed door. The small band of warriors charged through the hole in the wall as if emerging from a clown car. An appropriate analogy because each one looked as ridiculous as the last. The collection of ren-faire rejects were in brightly colored elaborate costumes that didn't look the least bit functional. They weren't period pieces in the least. Instead it looked like a group of people on their way to a gaming convention dressed as their World of Warcraft avatars. The costumes were improbable and impractical.

        The sorceress who took the lead after blasting the hole in the wall clad in fancy robes of crimson and gold. The barbaric warrior wore only a minimal amount of clothing to cover his dignity. Every inch of his muscular body was put on display with such bulk that it would make Arnold Shwarzenegger look like a puny girly man. Behind him came the thief, a short little thing clad entirely in black. He walked upright, but looked more like a member of the dog species with short black hair so dark that it seemed to absorb all light, and long floppy ears like that of a hound dog. Behind him was the archer, a gray skinned elven looking man in camouflaged leathers that would have had difficulty blending in with any forest scene. Next came the wizard with his walking staff, long gray robes, and an actual pointy hat. Finally, a short squat hairy man brandishing a sword that was clearly too big for him and wearing metal armor that looked impossibly heavy.  

        “I, Grognac, will put an end to your villainy,” the burly, nearly naked, man called out to the equally elaborately dressed old miser sitting in the throne at the far end of the empty cavernous chamber they just crashed into. His only response was to laugh maniacally like a cliché movie villain.

        With a wave of his hand and the muttering of a few archaic words, over a dozen minions of various races and sizes appeared from puffs of black smoke between him and the band of erstwhile adventurers. All of them were armed and ready to bear whether it was a simple sword, or a ridiculously huge war-hammer.

        Grognac responded by hefting the massive battle ax strapped to his back and let out a battle cry. The others in his party rolled their eyes in annoyance, as if to say 'here we go again' to his rushing headfirst into a fight, and dragging them along for the ride.

        The sorceress launched a jet of flame in front of her before the barbarian could get past. The wave of minions dove out of the way of the flames, making a path directly towards the throne that Grognac charged down, screaming all the while. As the minions scattered, the archer let loose with his bow, nocking a new arrow and letting it loose at lightning fast speed. The wizard summoned a pair of phantom dogs that charged after the minions, while the short, squat warrior transformed into some sort of feral monster who jumped into the fray, rending them with his claws. The thief, however, vanished completely from sight.

        The fight was brief, but intense. The minions never fully recovered from the chaos caused by the jet of flame. Two of them weren't able to get out of the way in time, and ended up running around, waving their arms about like fools in an attempt to put the flames out. Those on the right were preyed upon by the archer and the sorceress as she flung more lethal spells at them. Those on the left didn't fare any better. Between the summoned beasts and the real one, it was a grisly sight. They managed to get their footing quickly and were able to fight back, but they were already at a disadvantage, and there was little doubt they would lose.

        Their fearless leader had to contend with Grognac who charged directly towards him. The old wizard launched deadly spells at him in succession, which he quickly sidestepped unscathed without losing momentum. Grognac finally came to his knees, quite literally, only five feet away from his nemesis, when a last ditch spell hit him head on. Grognac froze in place, as if every muscle in his body turned to stone. He stood in mid stride with the ax held above his head with both hands, one leg raised slightly as he was about to leap before making the final blow. Because of the awkward position of his body, Grognac toppled to the ground face first with a hard thud on the stone floor that made everyone in the room cringe. He lay on the floor, still frozen in the exact same position.

        The old wizard finally rose from the throne, and confidently sauntered towards the fallen warrior. The fighting in the room stopped suddenly, and all eyes were on him.

        “The mighty Grognac has fallen,” he spit on the warrior as he stood over him. “Now he will stay fallen.”

        He reached for the scabbard on his belt, and was perplexed for a moment. He looked down at the decorative scabbard to see that it was empty. He only had a fraction of a second to grasp that the ornate ceremonial dagger was missing before he winced in pain and fell to the ground face first. As he fell beside the warrior, the thief released the handle of the dagger as the invisibility spell wore off and he came into focus.

        “YES,” he called out in a boisterous, deep voice that seemed uncharacteristic for the diminutive little thief. “A new record time for campaign completion. Now lets split the treasure, distribute the experience points, and pop the corks to celebrate.”

        All the other members of the adventure party cheered, but the minions left standing howled in protest.

        “Wait a moment,” one of them shouted. “Just because you killed our leader doesn't mean that we lost the fight. You're still outnumbered, and your leader is down too.”

        “He is not our leader,” the wizard protested adamantly.

        “But he is your strongest fighter. Without him, and the fact that you've already used up your strongest spells, the fight could go either way.” All of the other minions shouted an affirmation.

        The rest of the adventuring party grumbled, and looked in the direction of the fallen villain, searching for some sort of confirmation. The old wizard slowly rose from the ground, stumbling to get to his feet. He reached behind his back with both hands, trying to find the dagger sticking out. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get hold of it. He could manage to touch parts of the hilt as he reached around, but that was about it. His breathing was wheezy as he exerted the effort. It was comical to watch, and everyone in the room seemed to find humor in it. The entire chamber filled with snickering as people covered their mouths to keep from laughing out loud.

        “Can you help me out here?” He asked the diminutive thief in a gurgling voice.

        “Oh,” he stammered. “Of course.” The thief reached up for the dagger, but it held firmly in place, and the old wizard winced in pain every time he touched it. The thief grabbed the handle and started to pull, resulting in the old man screaming out in pain in a strained voice that seemed far younger than he appeared.

        “Just do it quick,” he gritted through his teeth.

        “Ok. Kneel down.” Ideally someone taller should have come to his aid, but they were all too busy trying to suppress their laughter. The old wizard knelt down so that the knife in his back was directly in front of his 'enemy'.

        The thief grabbed the dagger with both hands, and one foot firmly planted in his adversaries back for leverage. “One, two, three,” with that he gave a mighty tug and the dagger came free, dripping in blood. There was so much force behind the pull that the thief nearly lost his balance and toppled backwards. The old wizard screamed in pain and began coughing, turning to face the thief. He coughed up blood, a large quantity of it splattering on the thief’s black fur.

        “Eww, hey, that wasn't called for.”

        “Sorry,” he spoke between coughs and gasps. “You pierced my lung, and its taking a while to heal.”

        “You have to admit,” the thief beamed with pride. “I did a good job of getting the drop on you.” He looked down at the ornate dagger in his hand, dripping with blood. “And killing you with your own knife was a pretty nice touch.”

        “Yes, that was a good play. Certainly better than his tactic today of smash first,” he gestured towards the barbarian still lying on the ground in the same position, “and ask questions later”.

        “Are you going to release him from the hold?” Someone in the room asked.

        “Eventually. There is no rush, I am still irritated with him.” His voice no longer sounded like that of an old man, and he was able to speak a lot clearer without coughing up blood.

        “Why?” The thief asked. “Because he beat your dungeon in record time?”

        “It's not a race” he grumbled, clearly agitated. “I go through great lengths to set this all up for you. Villains, scenarios, puzzles to solve, traps to avoid, and Captain Destruction here bashes through all of it in no time.”

        “You're just mad at him because he destroyed your rock monsters,” Someone said.

        “You see, that's exactly it. If he hadn't started attacking everything right away, you could have turned them into allies who would have helped you against fighting a dragon. An actual dragon that I spent a lot of time, and pulled a lot of favors, to persuade into doing this. Since that didn't come anywhere close to happening, I was stuck coming up with this,” he gestured towards himself from head to toe.

        “Um, Kedvin,” the sorceress called out. He turned to glare at her with a look of death for calling out his real name, but she wasn't fazed by it. Instead, the sheer panic on her face made him freeze in his tracks.

        She was kneeling over Grognac's stiffened body. “Something is wrong. I,” she stammered in a panicked voice that sounded nothing like the confident enchantress had moments before. “I, I think he might be dead.”

        They all crowded around the fallen warrior and one of the minions called out, “Healer, someone get the healer.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 1:LARPer's Paradise