Marissa, Trajan, and Etjar – Oculus Despot

On Dragonsfoot forums Stuart Marshall challenged others to re-write AD&D monsters for OSRIC. I took up the challenge. Then a few years later I wrote this pastiche for publishing in & Magazine.



Jannalanga, the Rathian owner of the tavern, asked Trajan a question as she handed him a mug of wine. “The other day Hal claimed he fought and killed a creature, Ock cue lus dish pot?”

“Oculus Despot.”

“That’s it. I never heard of it, even in the stories told around here, other than Hal slinging his usual bull dung.”

“Ahh, that’s no surprise. The oculus are deadly dangerous. Most who meet one don’t survive the experience.”

“But you and Gramma killed one, didn’t you?” Jake asked.

“No. No, we didn’t. We fought one and managed to drive it off without being killed.” He sipped his wine. “We were very lucky that day.”

Adelf led the way, carefully picking his way through the ruins. Some eighty years before Agarmemnar had been a thriving commercial center, the jewel of the eastern seaboard. Success bred jealousy, and rivals had banded together to hire mercenaries to reduce the powerful city/state. The result was the ruin the party picked their way through, holes in the ground where wooden buildings collapsed and burned, stone buildings crumbled, evidence of fires still visible on the few remains amongst the trees, bushes, and weeds that reclaimed the formerly beautiful city.

Senses flaring to spot dangers, Trajan still mused, “Funny, the two cities that led the gang that destroyed this city both fell within five years. The second stringers filled the openings and are still powerful today.” He snorted, “As they say, the second mouse gets the cheese.” He glanced at his best friend, Etjar, who was equally attentive thirty feet to his right. He knew that the third member of their tight team was thirty feet behind them, the small bronze woman with similarly flaring senses.

As much as they adventured with Adelf, none of them trusted him. He had never done anything adverse, but none of the trio trusted that he’d risk himself to save the others if things went wrong. He was distant and gave them all the same feeling of unease. That said, he was a great scout, his abilities had saved them from more than one ambush. “As much as Marissa and I fight, she’d not let anything harm me any more than I’d let anything hard her.

But the elf? Best to not find out the hard way.

They trusted their employer, Sugarro, even less. The sage hired the group to guide him and his men to Agarmemnar, as they had been here before. He and his crew of cut throats were seeking a wizard’s tower that supposedly had never been breached. He paid good gold to be guided there, half up front, half on arrival, with the understanding that the payment was for guidance only – they’d part ways once the tower was reached. If the tower had not been breached during the sack, nor during the eighty years afterwards? It was more hazard than any amount of gold was worth.

For a sage Sugarro was a hard soul, trusting no one and never offering a crumb that he didn’t get good value for. His initial offer for their services as guides had been so low it was beyond insulting. All through the trip he acted as if they cheated him by charging their usual rates. In hindsight the big man wished they had asked for more. Maybe the sage would have been angered enough to find someone else who knew the way.

The four agreed that the wisest course was to get their remaining money as soon as the tower was reached, and to leave immediately. They watched for treachery and had grown to expect it once they reached the tower. If Sugarro seemed untrustworthy, his men seemed even less so. It felt strange for a highly educated man to surround himself with scum of such low caliber.

The suburbs of the city, outside the main wall, had been completely crushed. The invaders had taken everything of value and burned anything they could, tumbling stone walls. Some for fun, some to demoralize the defenders before the sack. Eighty years later the formerly cobble-stoned streets held back most of the shrubbery, but the places where buildings had been sprouted mini-forests.

Small animals and birds could be seen, and intelligent eyes could be felt. Most of the survivors fled as soon as they could, although some never left the city. Treasure seekers continuously pawed the ruins for trinkets, while the permanent inhabitants avoided all, watching everything. It was not a good place to be alone, or unguarded, or uncareful.

The city wall still stood in many places, rearing forty feet above the ground. It had been breached in numerous places. Treasure hunters had worsened the ravages as they sought imaginary caches hidden within the walls, tearing the stones out in their frenzied greed. Time had not been kind to the old stones.

The buildings inside the walls were typically in better shape than those outside. More were made of stone rather than wood, and once the post-breaching carnival of slaughter, rape, and savagery had sated itself, the mercenaries left with everything they could carry, and the survivors of the city fled as well. Wooden structures had burned, but no serious effort was made to destroy anything that wouldn’t burn.

“How much farther to the tower?” rasped Sugarro’s voice, unnaturally loud in the silence. He was seventy feet behind Marissa, his bully boys ranged protectively around him.

What a coward,” Trajan thought.

Adelf, Trajan, and Etjar, stopped, and Marissa moved up between the two big men, as the party waited for the sage and his men. “I asked you how much farther?” the sage grated out, showing his irritation.

Etjar answered, “In hostile or unfamiliar territory, we keep quiet and don’t shout.”

“Are you telling me what to do?!” the man half shouted.

“No, I’m telling you what WE do,” the bigger man mildly replied. Etjar was well over six feet tall, with a lot of muscle on a heavy frame. Trajan was an inch shorter and looked less bulky in comparison, but that was deceiving. He was about as strong as his friend, and had a faster temper. More than one fool had chosen Etjar as the more dangerous and discovered far too late that he’d made a bad decision. Not that there was a good decision in deciding which was more dangerous.

All of the bandits fingered their weapons. “Sheesh, I think of them as bandits, not guards. Not that I think I’m wrong,” Trajan silently considered as he watched them for a first move.

“There are a lot of unfriendly things in this place. It’s wiser to not call more attention to ourselves than is absolutely necessary,” Etjar continued. Then he, Trajan, and Marissa all backed away from the sage and his bully boys, not turning their backs until they were another twenty feet away, Marissa turning last. The men discounted her and didn’t appear to consider her a threat, a tremendous mistake on their part, but one that didn’t need correcting. Foes tended to focus on the two big men, ignoring the small woman until it was too late.

The last mile to the tower was slower going. Trees and shrubs had shouldered their way between the cobblestones in many places, making the formerly straight avenues a meandering course. The foliage and wrecked buildings produced numerous ambush spots, so the going was even slower. Sugarro chafed at the slowness, but his neck wasn’t in the noose of an ambush. The guides would not be rushed.

An hour later they came within sight of the tower. It wasn’t tall, maybe sixty feet, and was a squat forty feet in diameter. An eight foot wall, appearing untouched by time, surrounded it, keeping invisible the courtyard that was probably thirty feet across. The wall and its single gate stood out oddly after passing through the wrack of the city – both were untouched by the ravages of man, elements, and time. Nothing had been built within eighty feet of the wall, so a huge area – nearly three hundred feet across – contained nothing but the tower and its enclosing wall. Low weeds and grasses grew in the area, but nothing above knee height. The gate was open, showing more grass like outside the wall.

His eyes gleaming, Sugarro heavily stated, “We are here!”

Etjar eyed him. “You agree that we have fulfilled our commission? We have guided you to the tower?”

Eyes closing to slits, the sage breathed, “Yes you have.” He snorted, “Begone!”

Etjar, Trajan, Marissa, and Adelf moved into a defensive arrangement, facing the sage amidst his cluster of thugs. “We are owed a sum of two hundred gold crowns as the remaining payment for our services, as we agreed.”

“I paid you well enough,” he grated out. “I deducted ten gold crowns for every time any of you were insolent. Be thankful I do not charge you for wasting my patience and take back what you were already paid. Leave now and I will spare your lives.”

Swords rasped as the elf and the two big men drew their swords. “Whose life will be spared?” Trajan asked softly.

A heavy weight slammed Trajan in the ribs, knocking him aside. A spear fell at his feet. It failed to penetrate his chain mail, but the impact bruised ribs. A ragtag shower of thrown spears rained upon them, and one of the sage’s men gurgled out his life after one drove through his neck. Another flight of spears wobbled after the first.

It’s a wonder they hit anything,” Trajan marveled at the raggedness of the flight. Then he touched his bruised ribs and remembered that luck could be good or bad, as the dying bandit discovered.

A dozen unkempt men boiled out of the bushes, rusty swords in hand, their eyes gleaming in madness. They hit Sugarro’s men hard and slaughtered two in the first moments. But those men bought time – Sugarro rasped out words of magic and five bolts of red flaring energy erupted from the fingers of his left hand, each spearing a different target. Three of the men dropped with black holes burned in their chests. The other two threw themselves on the sage.

A glowing dagger appeared in each hand and the sage – revealed as a mage – deflected sword strokes and slashed an attacker across the ribs. Trajan, Etjar, and Marissa backed away from the fight, forcing themselves to glance around for other dangers. They barely watched as Sugarro killed his second opponent with a deft stab while his men finished off the remainder, although another of the thugs’ number fell to rusty blade. Better skill and armor had paid off for some of the thugs.

As Sugarro killed his opponents Marissa swore, “Damn, damn, damn – he’s more powerful than me by a lot!”

Half his force down, the sage turned back to the party. “It seems there are dangers here. Would you like to earn back some of the money you owe me?”

Trajan shook his head. “This jackass was beyond arrogance.” Then something happened that he had never heard before – Marissa screamed in horror. The woman had ice water in her veins, rarely showing any trace of fear. Something tickled his peripheral visions and h snapped his head to the left to see the thing that floated silently out of the bushes, the thing that evoked horror in the battle-hardened mage.

To his dying day Trajan could clearly describe the horror that menaced them. It was a spherical, roughly five feet in diameter. The huge eye that filled the upper half of the sphere was locked onto the sage, while another eight or ten small eyes on stalks or tentacles waved around and looked at everything else. A huge mouth filled with jagged teeth occupied the space below the great eye, drooling slime. The rest of the body was rough looking, as if the skin was partially sloughed off, although it looked tough, even at a distance.

Light flashed from the great eye, bathing Sugarro and his surviving men. The glow of one of his magical daggers winked out, and the sage screamed in horror as something unidentifiable happened to him. He dropped both daggers and clutched his head.

One of the thugs screamed as rents appeared in his skin, blood gushing forth. Another readied his sword in a defensive posture, and the last one froze in place.

Marissa howled out words of magic, and three bolts of cyan forth burst from her right hand, flashing across the distance to the thing. Two scorched the body and the third burned a small eye to ash.

Adelf flung a pair of daggers and darted for the tree line. Marissa charged the thing, her staff at the ready. Trajan and Etjar stormed past her, Trajan putting his armored body between her and the thing. Even wearing chain mail he was faster than the much smaller woman.

Out of the corner of his eye Trajan saw one thug turn and hack at the still howling sage, while the second started smoking and screaming. Then he had no more time for them, only time to bring his heavy sword down on the thing. A small eye stared at him and he felt drawn into it, an undefinable terror ripping at his conscious mind. His first instinct was to flee, and he wanted terribly much to do just that, but the sight of Marissa thrusting her staff into the great eye stopped him. Somehow, he mastered the induced fear and stood his ground. Still horrified, none the less he hacked at the thing again.

Next to him Etjar suddenly slowed, his movements reduced to half their normal quickness. He was still fast enough to get in a lick, snipping off a small eye, but something was wrong, his normally graceful moves were jerky and forced.

The light of the great eye flashed again, bathing Marissa. She rocked back from the thing and then inky darkness descended upon them, blocking out all light. Not even thinking, Trajan threw himself backwards and down. Some type of heat flashed above him, unseen but palpable. He rolled out of the darkness, which encompassed a sphere easily thirty feet in diameter.

To his left Marissa stumbled out of the darkness, and far too long after that, Etjar on his right. Sheathing his sword his snatched his bow off his shoulder, quickly checking it for damage. It looked ok, so he deftly strung it and snatched two arrows from his quiver, nocking one and palming the other. He backed up as he scanned for movement.

Marissa screeched more words of magic and a red pea flew from her finger into the darkness, apparently blossoming into a sphere of flame. Some of the fire licked outside of the darkness. An inhuman scream of rage and pain erupted from the hidden thing, and it rose out of its hiding, hovering on nothing. Trajan plunked an arrow into the central eye, and then a second. Etjar, normally a bit faster, got one off after Trajan’s second. Marissa screamed off another spell, this one producing a stroke of electricity that encompassed the thing.

Continuing to bellow, it went straight up and then arced over the tower. Trajan hit it with another arrow and missed with the second. They watched as it faded over the tree line. Etjar was still moving slowly, but his movements returned to normal after a few minutes. About the same time the darkness disappeared as instantly as it appeared.

On the other side one of the sage’s henchmen stood, burned to a cinder. His armor still glowed red from the heat and he must have balanced just right to remain upright. The sage himself was on his face, his back both burned and badly hacked, very dead. The last henchman had been caught in the Fireball and burned to death.

Marissa watched as Etjar and Trajan checked the bodies for valuables. The henchmen had some minor coinage, nothing of enough significance to pay for this journey.

Sugarro, on the other hand, had numerous pouches filled with many items Trajan knew would make Marissa ooh and ahh, implements necessary to cast spells. That was something. Trajan pulled off the pouches and stuffed them into his pack. He found minor coinage, nothing like the two hundred gold crowns the bastard owed them.

The big man found a small sack crumpled in the bottom of the sage’s pack. Trajan was going to throw it aside when some instinct made him look inside. To his surprise, the sack was not empty, it was filled with small bags, plus five books. From the outside it was an empty sack, but it was clearly not empty.

Really great magic!” he marveled.

Reaching in, he hefted a small bag. Definitely coins, and from the weight probably gold. Yeah, there was probably enough to pay the bill, plus some extra for treachery. “This bag is bigger on the inside than the outside. There are bags of coins here, probably enough to make this trip worthwhile!” Extracting a book he showed the cover to Marissa, thinking he knew what it was. “Plus there is this!”

Her eyes glowed and she hopped up and down in excitement. Rushing forward she planted a kiss on his lips and ripped the book from his hands, so focused on the book that she didn’t realize she had kissed him.

“What is it?” Trajan asked in surprise. The mage was far more likely to kick him than kiss him.

“It’s a spell book, I think it contains spells of the next rank up from what I know!” Carefully turning pages she glanced up with bright eyes, “I won’t know until I have time to study it! I will need to use magic to read it!”

Pulling out another book he held it up. She greedily grasped at it, but he held it out of her reach. “I need a kiss for this one as well.”

“A KISS? You must be joking!”

“I got a kiss for the first one!”

“No you didn’t!”

Etjar interceded. “This is not the time or place for you two to fight. Let’s leave before that thing comes back.” Marissa looked like she wanted to argue but subsided at his glare.

Trajan put the books back in the bag. “What about the tower?”

“What about it? We were paid to guide them here. We weren’t going inside, and after fighting that thing, I have no interest in anything except leaving.”

Both Trajan and the mage nodded in agreement. Trajan changed the subject, “What was that thing?”

Marissa responded, “It was an oculus depot. An unnatural creature that can invoke magical powers through its eyes. The beam of the great eye can destroy magic items and stop a spell caster from invoking magic. She pointed to the roasted thug. “And the small eyes can do many things, including heating metal to red hot.”

Trajan instinctively rubbed his chain mail armor and glanced in the direction in which the thing fled. “Ok, I agree that leaving is good.” He paused, looking around, “Where is Adelf?”

“That coward fled immediately.”

As he stuffed the non-descript bag into his pack, he waggled it. “Are we going to share this with him?”

“Share what?” Etjar asked innocently. Marissa laughed. Adelf didn’t share the danger so he deserved none of the rewards. There would be words when they found him, maybe more than words.

As Trajan led the way back to their camp Etjar said in a low voice, “You did kiss him when he pulled out the first book.” The woman looked aghast. “And he liked it. I expect you’ll have to kiss him for the other books as well.”

“That is NOT going to happen,” she stated in disgust. “I will never willingly kiss that man!”

The big soldier laughed, “Never say never …”

“What powers do the eyes have?” Jannalanga asked.

The elderly woman spoke, “It depends on the oculus, the exact powers vary from one to the next.” She ticked points on her fingers. “The little eyes of the one we fought could charm men into being its thralls, heat metal to red hot, cause wounds at a distance, cause slowness, cause fear, and invoke darkness. The big eye evoked an anti-magic ray that could de-magick all but the most powerful magic items, and it may temporarily prevent a spell caster from casting spells.”

“Others? I heard of one that could kill with the big eye, and the powers of the small eyes are too numerous to list.” She locked eyes with her husband. “We were very lucky that day.” She planted a kiss on her husband’s lips.

Jake piped up, his young mind not understanding the somber atmosphere. “You didn’t share the loot with the elf?”

She laughed, “No. When we got back to camp, he was trying to convince the sage’s valet and horse wrangler that no one was coming back. He wasn’t doing well.”

“We explained that Sugarro was dead, and the men believed us. They actually looked happy.” Snorting, she continued, “They tried to take all the horses. We left them walking for their trouble.”

“What about Adelf?”

“We split the coins we found on the sage’s henchmen with him, a pitiful dozen gold crowns worth of silver and copper coins. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t believe that was all we found, but he knew not to argue with us.” She sipped her wine and continued, pain in her eyes. “We didn’t see him for nearly two years after that, when we made our last trip with Etjar.”

David was unusually somber. “That was when Etjar was killed by a bereaver?”

“Yes. When Trajan got me back to camp afterward, the elf had taken everything of value including the horses. We had to walk and the bereaver’s strike hurt me badly. Trajan carried me most of the way.” She leaned over and gently kissed her husband on the cheek.

The old man rested a fond hand on his wife’s shoulder and interjected, “We caught up with him a few months later, after we destroyed the bereaver and gave Etjar a decent burial.” His somber mood turned comical, “The elf saw me first, turned to run, and she,” he nodded at his wife, “popped his knee with her staff.” He pantomimed someone tumbling head over heels, and snorting with laughter said, “Adelf didn’t run too well after that.”

“Trajan beat him black and blue, then strung him up in a tree.”

“You killed him!!!”

“No, we hung him by his ankles. That really put a hurting on his knee.” Trajan continued, laughing.

“Served him right for running out on us, leaving us to die.”

“How long did you leave him?”

The elderly woman snickered, “No idea. We just left him. He either got himself down or someone took pity on him.”

“A few months later he got caught stealing in Kerr and the authorities hung him by the other end.”

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