The Reavers – Oni Nobles

I included a female oni as a prisoner in an adventure, held by evil giants. The idea was to see what Eric and Patrick would do with her.

To my surprise they freed her and invited her to join them, and to my bigger surprise I rolled extremely well in the reaction roll. So Renki ended up joining the party as an NPC.

At some point I dreamed up noble oni and wrote this very long pastiche for publishing. I also used it to define more of the end story for Marissa and Trajan.

Note: I prefer the name “oni” taken from Japanese folklore, than “ogre mage” as the AD&D version is called.



Jake was sweating hard, salt stinging his eyes as he practiced. He knew better than to complain as he knew what his grandfather would say: “Does an enemy care if your eyes sting? Fight or die!”

Even in his eighties the old man was tough, at least on the training grounds. Elsewhere he was a kind man, but on the training ground he was a tyrant.

But Jake was worried about him. Marissa, Trajan’s wife, had been sick often lately and the clerics of Demeter could offer little help. Healing magic could cure wounds and diseases, but old age was neither. Her sickness was taking its toll on Trajan as he watched his wife of more than fifty years get weaker and weaker with each successive bout.

Practice started with a double-weight wooden sword, sparring with both Trajan and David, Jake’s best friend. Sometimes Trajan brought in others for sparring, giving both young men wider experience in terms of styles and weapons they might face. David favored spatha and shield, while Jake loved his grandfather’s weapon, a hand-and-a-half bastard sword.

Trajan always ended practice with strengthening and endurance exercises, often chopping posts. “Your enemy doesn’t care that you’re tired, except that it makes it easier to kill you.” The steel practice sword was also double weight, although after an hour’s practice it felt like quadruple weight. “He who tires first, loses.” About the time Jake’s arms were falling off Trajan called a halt to the practice.

Surveying the two young men whom he had trained for six years, since both were eleven … Trajan realized both were fine swordsmen in their own ways. Better than he and Etjar had been at seventeen. Maybe better than they had been at twenty-one. “All for the best,” he thought. “They’re not going to get much more training from me.” Days like this he felt every minute of his eighty-nine years.

“I have presents for you.” He motioned to Bisonbit, who must have arrived a short while before.

Walking over to a long bundle he had brought with him today, he unfolded the bundle to display two swords in ornate sheaths. The sheaths were breath taking, fine leather filigreed with platinum, dotted with red and black gemstones. In contrast the pommels were plain excepting a silver ball at the end of each. He presented the bastard sword to his grandson, and the spatha to the other young man he thought of as a grandson. From a smaller parcel he withdrew a similarly detailed dagger, which he handed to the young cleric.

“Go ahead, look at them,” he commanded.

Each young man drew his respective sword from its sheath, the “ahhs” singing in harmony. Both swords were of exceptionally fine manufacture, different from anything either had previously seen. Fancy scroll work was etched into each blade, an alien pattern they had not seen before.

“Who made these?” David asked.

“These were presented to Etjar, Marissa, and me by a clan of oni. We,” meaning Trajan, Etjar, and Marissa, “had saved one of their people from giants and we received these swords as a token of their thanks.”

Both men’s eyes opened wide. The goblinoids – from kobolds to giants – were generally the enemies of humans. While the oni were not numerous nor frequently encountered, they had a fierce reputation due to their magical abilities as much as their combat abilities. The idea of saving one from anything was as beyond comprehension as being rewarded for it.

Jake gulped, “You never told us about this!”

The old man laughed. “There are a lot of stories I have never told you.” Shrugging his shoulders he continued, “but I will tell you this one now.”

Trajan ran well behind the others, acting as rear guard. Hobgoblins had caught up with him twice, and twice the young soldier had shown the hobgoblins the danger of running too fast.

Etjar led the fleeing group. By rights the elven scout Adelf should be in front, but he was too afraid he would run into something. Trajan would have made him lead at sword point if necessary, but Etjar, always smoother with people, took the lead instead. This saved the scout for later tasks, hopefully not at Etjar’s cost.

Trajan knew he was tiring. He could run a paced tread all day, but the two short fights had sapped his strength. Each had taken less than a minute and left three or four dead or maimed hobgoblins in his wake, but the drain on his reserve strength was heavy.

A short life but a merry one!” he thought.

Trajan’s consciousness was divided. Part of him concentrated on the trail in front of him, making sure he on the same trail as the others. If they moved slower, they could mask their trail, but the need for speed negated that possibility. Their trackers would surely follow.

The remainder of his consciousness listened behind him, straining to catch the sounds of the pursuers getting closer. He heard the heavy tramp of something big behind him. Make that somethings. Definitely not hobgoblins or any of the man-sized goblinoids. Probably ogres.

Well rested he could take on two ogres, maybe three. They reacted predictably and had difficulty with opponents who changed tactics quickly and randomly. But now? One he could defeat, two would be a problem, three would be fatal. His next battle would be the last. Trajan planned to give the others a better lead and hope they could escape.

Trajan, Etjar, Marissa, and Adelf had met a pair of dwarves, twin brothers, who were seeking the ruined tower of a mad wizard. Well, all wizards were mad, but this one was rumored to be balmier than most. His ending was typical of the stories, his tower in ruins, his dead enemies scattered around him. And of course, an unnamed treasure in the catacombs below the ruined tower.

The brothers had a map to the tower and instructions for getting into the catacombs. Having more greed than good sense the group linked with the brothers and started off on yet another adventure.

Things went fine until they ran into a small army, mostly hobgoblins with a leavening of ogres, led by frost giants. Whatever they were doing and wherever they were going, the army wanted no witnesses so they detailed a detachment of hobgoblins and ogres to remove witnesses. An hours long chase began.

Which was ending now, at least for Trajan. He could hear the lumbering ogres catching up. There were at least three, probably more. Things were not going to end happily for the human side of this engagement.

Trajan dodged left behind a tree, hearing the thunk of a thrown spear embedding itself in the hard wood. Reversing course the soldier stepped out and slashed blindly across the space in which he expected the ogre.

His instincts were right. He caught the ogre completely off guard, slashing across its belly. The magically sharp sword cut through the heavy furs it wore for armor along with the ropy muscles of its belly. Grey twining intestines burst forth, distracting the ogre from its prey.

Stepping away from the preoccupied ogre, Trajan saw five more ogres charging him. “Damnation!” he scream out as his final battle cry.

A greenish vapor puffed into existence around and in front of the charging ogres. Their lungs heaving with the exertion of running, they inhaled deeply of the vapor and instantly coughed and puked.

Trajan stepped back to stay out of the vapor. This was nasty stuff, he knew. Being quite familiar with it the young soldier circled the mist, waiting for each ogre to stumble out of its grasp. As each did, he dispatched it. The last one was so busy puking up the contents of his toes he never knew that his compatriots had died under the human’s blade.

“I expected you’d get yourself killed playing at rear guard all by yourself.”

GAWD that woman irritates me!” Trajan thought. “I thought you would be glad for the chance to see me get myself killed?”

No love was lost between the pair. From the first moment they met the two irritated each other, at first unintentionally and later by conscious choice. It irked Trajan to no end that he owed his life to the exiled wizard. It occurred to him that she shouldn’t be there. “What are you doing here?”

Looking at him like he was an idiot she retorted, “Keeping you from dying stupidly.”

He raised an eyebrow. “But that would fulfill your prophesy.” She repeatedly told him he would die stupidly.

She smirked at him. “Yah. But I’d have to listen to Etjar whining about his dead friend, the hero, for the next ten years. Better you alive than him whining. Maybe you’ll get yourself killed later when you’re not the rear guard.”

Marissa typically got along well with Etjar, enough that Trajan was surprised the two didn’t have a “closer” relationship. She didn’t normally say anything negative about him, although she rarely passed up an opportunity to pick at Trajan.

“Enough chatter. I’ll see if I can delay the pursuit.” She turned and walked back the way she had come. After a hundred yards she turned back and gestured to the soldier to get behind her. She started a low chanting and after a few seconds a gust of wind quartered across the battle ground, whipping leaves and branches up in a mini whirlwind, depositing them haphazardly back down in its wake. The bodies were unidentifiable leaf-covered lumps on the ground.

Breathing heavily, she turned to catch up with the others. “It should take the next group some time to figure out what happened here and more time to figure out where our trail is. Maybe a bit of fear to slow them down,” gesturing at the lumps.

Trajan hated to admit that at times like this she scared him. Her facility with magic was, well, magical and honestly frightening. Maybe that was why he went out of his way to irritate her as much as he did.

That and because she deserved it.

Walking at a fast pace they caught up with the others in less than thirty minutes. Etjar smiled his pleasure at the sight of his best friend and the wizard. “I was getting worried about you two, sneaking off together like that.” His forced smile and bluff manner unsuccessfully hid his very real concern.

Marissa snorted with horror and disgust. “Sneak off with HIM?” She spit quite pointedly. “More likely a couple of ogres than him.”

Trajan felt his face heat up. He retorted, “Thank Demeter I saved that ogres from THAT fate.”

The battle between the two flared in earnest. Etjar stepped up to them and simultaneously slapped both on the backs of their heads, pushing their faces together. “Are you going to argue or run?” This shut them up as their black looks were directed at him instead of each other.

Trajan looked at the others. Adelf ignored the whole thing. He didn’t understand human behavior and as much as he was part of the group, he maintained his distance, mentally and emotionally. Of course, if the elf understood human behavior Trajan didn’t think he’d act any differently. The young soldier was cautious of the elf, never fully trusting him.

The dwarves looked scandalized. They had very little experience with humans and their society was a matriarchy, so the concept of a male treating a female in that fashion horrified them. They didn’t much like the way Marissa treated Trajan, either. The idea of two beings treating each other so rudely and coarsely visibly bothered them.

Etjar? Etjar looked amused, like he knew something Trajan didn’t. That irritated Trajan the most.

“Ok, let’s keep moving. We have some breathing room, let’s use it.” Trajan issued the command to help him push the unhappy thoughts from his head. He glared at the elf, who realized arguing with the powerful human was not a life extending move. He could push Etjar, but Trajan brooked no argument when in certain moods.

The tall elf led the way without a word.

Moving at a fast walk with Adelf in the lead, the party started making a large circle, looking to get out of the area. All thoughts of continuing to the ruined tower were gone. They needed to escape the goblinoid army and there was no value in leading them to the tower.

Adelf stopped abruptly, holding his left hand up at shoulder level, signaling to the others. Instead of asking questions they all scanned around them, looking for whatever caught the elf’s attention.

The elf pointed up a ridge to their right, made circling motions with his hands. Holding up ten fingers to the dwarves he pointed straight up the hill. This meant they should count slowly to one hundred then head straight up the hill. Meanwhile he and Etjar would circle to the left while Trajan and Marissa circled to the right. The idea was a pincer move with the dwarves as bait, er, distraction.

The three groups took their time and converged on the top of the ridge from three directions, finding … nothing. An easily followed trail led down the ridge. Something big had shambled down the ridge, dragging feet and making it impossible to tell what it was, other than “big”.

A half mile farther on they found what looked like an ogre, but bigger. Ogres ranged seven to eight feet tall – this one was nearly nine feet, stretched out on the leaves. He wore an unfamiliar type of well-crafted wooden armor, carried a well-crafted, steel tipped spear, and lacked the stupid brutishness that characterized every ogre Trajan had ever seen. He was unconscious and had a variety of wounds, all of which were closed and not bleeding, although there was fresh blood on his armor and skin.

“What is it?”

With some hesitation Marissa spoke. “I think it’s an oni. They’re somewhat related to ogres, but a lot smarter and with magical abilities. Much smarter. Much more dangerous.”

“He’s definitely bigger. His wounds are partially healed, but he’s covered in fresh blood. Can’t be his.”

“Kill him?” one of the dwarves asked, hefting his axe.

The oni groaned and rolled onto his side. Weapons raised to strike him down. Trajan stepped between the dwarves and the downed creature, sword ready but blocking them. “Let’s not be hasty. He’s not hurting anyone right now and those ragged wounds look like the scars left by ogre spears.” Ogres often used stone tipped spears, painstakingly chipped into shape. Trajan had an ugly scar on his left calf that looked like most of the wounds on the oni.

Etjar looked at him with an unspoken question. Trajan replied, “We can always kill him later if need be. If we kill first the questioning won’t work as well.” Etjar shrugged, leaving the decision in Trajan’s hands.

One of the brothers vehemently said, “NO! Kill it now before it kills us!” Trajan couldn’t tell them apart. But he probably couldn’t tell them apart if they weren’t twins. Dwarves mostly looked alike.

“Why do you spare me?” a voice like rocks rolling down a mountain asked. Looking down they could see the oni had opened his pain-filled eyes.

“Right now I’ve got enough enemies after me. Looks like you have the same ones, so we might have something to talk about.”

“I did not know humans have a sense of humor.” His pain-filled chuckle was like rocks grating together. Trajan had no idea what was funny about what he said, but if it got the conversation going, so be it. “You flee the frost giant army?”

“Yah. Well, hobgoblins and ogres they sent after us.”

“The giants move against a human community. They want no foreshadowing of the attack. It makes much sense that they kill you.”

Trajan was well read, but he was guessing the oni to be better read, speaking clearly with a large vocabulary in what for him is a foreign tongue. “Why did they try to kill you?”

“I chose not to ally with them. My people have no love for humans, none at all, but neither do we hate them. There is no value to my clan should I help in their endeavor.” He paused a moment before continuing. “Frost giants are not known for sufferance, nor politely accepting no as an answer.” He chuckled again as did the humans.

Leaving his spear on the ground the oni slowly stood up. He towered over Etjar, Trajan, and Adelf who all stood over six feet tall. Marissa was just over five feet tall and the dwarves just under, so he nearly doubled their height. Trajan guessed he weighed at least six hundred pounds. “This could be an ugly fight,” he thought.

Trajan realized the wounds looked better than they had. Marissa realized it at the same time and spoke for the first time, “You regenerate?”

Trajan and Etjar both looked perplexed. “Regen -what?”

“Magical rapid healing ability. That blood is mostly his, but his wounds heal very rapidly.”

“I must eat.” His hands slowly moved toward a bag that had been slung over his shoulder. All weapons raised to attack position.

“No, let him eat,” Marissa explained to the others. “Magical healing such as his uses the body’s resources. That’s why he was asleep, his body needed the rest to heal quickly.”

The oni slowly withdrew a block wrapped in leaves. Unwrapping it revealed a white-ish, semi-translucent block that weighed probably five pounds. He bit a chunk off the end, quickly chewed and swallowed, and in another few bites consumed the remainder. “Thank you for your kindness.” He rolled the leaves up and put them back in his bag. “How shall we proceed? Do we talk or do we fight?”

“You want fight?” one of the dwarves asked belligerently.

“No. But relations between our peoples are rarely cordial. I have some hope that this situation will not devolve into fighting between us.” His gravelly chuckled sounded again. “I suspect we have enough enemies that we do not need each other to satisfy urges in that direction.”

Marissa spoke again, “We probably do. Unless the group chasing you is the same as the one chasing us, we probably just doubled our list of enemies.”

“True. But if we work together we can crush one group before they combine, and then the other.” He held a hand in front of his throat. “Truce and alliance?”

Marissa took charge. Both Trajan and Etjar realized she was a lot smarter than either of them, and the demi-humans didn’t interfere. “On what terms?”

“Mutual defense, none allows harm to come to others by action or inaction. The alliance will initially hold for one day and we will agree to not fight, harass, track, or betray each other for one day following the end of the truce. The agreement is renewable on the agreement of both parties.”

The babble of arguing took a few minutes to quell. The dwarves were hard against allying themselves with a goblinoid of any sort. The elf, not normally one to agree with the dwarves on any topic, sided with them. Marissa and Etjar were for the alliance, while Trajan was undecided.

The oni looked unimpressed by the arguing of the Little People.

Trajan realized they needed a decision, and they needed it quickly. He made his.

Etjar cajoled people into agreement while Trajan generally bashed people until they agreed. “Ok, bashing time,” he thought. “This is too much for either side to deal with alone. We have a better chance of survival if we work together.”

The dwarves and the elf protested against this.

“I can’t force you to do this against your will. Good luck, maybe the larger group will chase us instead of you. May we meet again in this world, and if not, in the next.”

Turning his back on the trio he addressed the oni. “What form of swearing upon our allegiance will satisfy you?”

This brought forth another round of protests from the demi-humans. “This doesn’t concern you,” he responded.

As he turned back to the oni one of the dwarves spun him back around. “You going to side with that against us??” his face red with outrage.

“NO! I’m siding with survival. You made your choice and I’m making mine.” He peered intently down at the dwarf. “Unless you’d like to change your mind?”

The dwarf, although older than the humans, was far too young and naïve by his race’s standards. His feelings were obvious on his face. He didn’t want to separate from the three humans who were far more experienced – and deadly – then either of the dwarves. But neither did he want to ally with a traditional enemy of his people.

“Decide now.”

The two dwarves gabbled back and forth in Dwarvish, with passion. Finally the first said, “We agree.” Turning to the oni he asked, “How do you swear?”

Before the oni could answer, Trajan turned to Adelf. “What about you?”

The elf didn’t hesitate a second. “I’m staying.”

Trust that one to always decide in favor of personal survival at the expense of all else,” Trajan thought. To the oni, “How may we swear upon this alliance?”

“I will swear to my war god, Orochi, that I will faithfully obey my word as long as you all do.” Looking at the dwarves he continued, “Will you swear the same by Avaya?” He named the chief dwarven god, their god of battle.

Both dwarves nodded sullenly, not liking the chief dwarven god named by the oni. “What will you swear by?”

Trajan thought a moment and said, “Etjar and I both follow Demeter.”

The oni nodded, “That one is trustworthy.” Looking at Marissa he added, “And her?”

“I can speak for myself!” Marissa bristled. “I, too, will swear by Demeter.”

The oni nodded again. “Elves are poor at keeping their word with my people. Will you all swear to protect me against your companion as well as our enemies?”

Trajan expected the elf to be outraged. Instead, his eyes narrowed. “If Adelf violates our agreement I’ll kill him myself.” Trajan didn’t bother to look at the elf, having a good idea about the stare he was receiving.

“My name is Mamoru of the Clan Raiden. I do so swear as we have agreed by the spirit of Orochi.”

The others named themselves and swore by their gods as well, even the elf, who did so with poor grace.

As soon as they were done Mamoru pulled another block from his bag and ate it, and the others nibbled trail rations as well, plus drinking water. Retrieving his spear Mamoru led off to the northwest, continuing the circle the others had been following.

Quickly he realized he had to slow his pace so the dwarves and Marissa could keep up. Pacing alongside him Etjar asked, “Where are you leading us?”

“We must circle around them. Their tactics are not extensive, but they are hunters and we are prey. We must escape their lines. If we get far enough ahead they will stop chasing us.” He paused a moment before continuing, “More likely we will ambush them.”

The group walked another hour in silence with no signs of pursuit. As they passed in the shadow of a ridge the elven scout hissed. All stopped as he peered around, his sense flaring. “Incoming!” he rasped, putting a tree between him and the top of the ridge.

As the others moved a hail of large rocks, spears, and arrows flew among them. One rock hit a sapling, passing through it to leave a ragged stump. Another rock whistled by Trajan’s head, missing him by a hand’s breadth. Spears and arrows whistled by and some thunked into trees. One arrow skidded off a dwarf’s chain mail, ripping through his cloak.

“Where are they?” rasped Etjar. He risked a look, which produced another hail of missiles. His tree took a solid blow and a glancing one from rocks, blows that shook it from roots to crown but didn’t break it. “Top of the ridge!”

Marissa pulled items from a belt pouch and started chanting. At the conclusion she stepped out from behind her tree with her hands held out an arc of lightning flashed from the outstretched hands and impacted a frost giant, sparking on metal armor and burning him. Several ogres near him dropped to the ground, twitching into permanent silence. She slid back behind her tree as missiles from other locations passed through the space where she had been. “That was my best spell, almost my last.”

Mamoru did the same, chanting a different song. He stepped to the far side of his tree, a veritable giant, also with hands outstretched. A gout of black liquid coalesced into existence and spouted at another giant, hitting her squarely in the chest. She screamed as the burning began, mimicked by ogres and hobgoblins around her who were splashed by the acid.

Susafras’ Acid Blast!” Marissa marveled. Invented by an arch mage of the Council of Rendelshod some eight hundred years before, she marveled at the power of the spell, one far beyond her meager skills.

Missiles targeted Mamoru, but less than before.

While the spell casters began their side of the battle, the others strung their bows. Etjar spotted a couple of hobgoblins circling to his right. The first took an arrow in the ribs, the second dodged and avoided a similar fate.

Trajan, the dwarves, and the elf found similar targets. Trajan and Adelf hit their marks, the dwarves missed but broke the attempt to encircle them.

“We need to move back, get them to chase us,” Mamoru hissed.

“Provide him with cover!” To the oni he commanded, “You go first, we will dodge easier.” To the others, “On three. One, two, three!” The bowmen stepped out of cover enough to fire. As the arrows flew the oni ran, surprisingly fast.

Quickly the big one was out of sight among the trees. “Marissa, you and the dwarves are next! On three. One, two, three!” Etjar and Trajan fired, two arrows each. The elf outdistanced the female mage and the two dwarves.

Etjar’s anger was hot. “I’m going to pull that elf’s eyeballs out through his butt!”

“Kill him later, goblinoids now! Shoot and zig zag like Belkin taught us.” Belkin had been their trainer in the Kerr militia, which both men had joined at age seventeen. Both owed a lot to the grizzled old one-armed veteran.

Each stepped out from the opposite side of their respective trees, shooting a single arrow into the handiest target. Turning to run, each ran on a diverging course, then after one hundred feet turned abruptly back towards each other. Hail after hail of missiles targeted them, hitting where they had been or where the goblinoids expected them to be. Between the trees and the ragged running patterns both escaped without a scratch.

Half a mile farther the land rose, a wide gully splitting it. The trail of the others led through the gully so Etjar and Trajan charged in pursuit. After half a mile the land dropped again, the gully petering out.


Skidding to a halt the men saw the exiled wizard on the higher ground next to the gully. “We’re going to ambush them. Up here!”

Following the woman, they made their way back to the middle of the high land, looking down into the gully.

Mamoru hunkered down to their level, outlining his plan to hit their pursuers. “Kill the giants. Without them the others will break.”

The bowmen had a few dozen arrows between them. Marissa had used all her spells but one, but had a scroll containing a Lesser Poison Cloud spell like she had used on the ogres earlier.

Mamoru admitted that most of his spells were gone as well, but he had a Fireball remaining.

“I didn’t know oni could use fire magic? I thought it was just cold magic.”

“Most of my people are limited so, but I am a noble,” he stated proudly. “Nobles master magic similar to wizards. Plus we are mighty fighters. We must be greater than the commoners,” obviously meaning oni commoners, “so they will follow where we lead.”

Ten minutes later the first hobgoblins ran into the gully. According to plan they would be left to continue at the risk that they’d find their way onto the ridge. Next came a phalanx of ogres followed by a trio of giants, one with clothing and armor damaged by acid, another with lightning burns.

Marissa read her spell from the scroll, keeping her voice as low as possible, barely whispering the words of power. The characters on the vellum writhed as she read them, squirming off the vellum and coalescing into a greenish ball in the air.

Just before she finished a stream of fire spurted from Mamoru on her right, hitting the middle giant and expanding into a sphere of liquid-appearing fire. The struck giant collapsed heavily while the other two spun to either side. The ogres near them dropped or screamed as they batted at their flaming clothing and hair.

At the conclusion of her spell a moment later, the ball flashed into the gully and spread into a greenish cloud. The standing giants were too tall for it to affect them as their heads were above the cloud, but the ogres all started retching and choking. The acid and fire burned giant lay unmoving.

The five bowmen launched arrow after arrow into the gully striking giants, ogres, and the hobgoblins who had turned back upon hearing the noise of the fray.

The dwarves, who had the worst aim, concentrated on the giants, the biggest targets. Adelf focused on the unwounded giant while Trajan and Etjar shot whichever ogre or hobgoblin presented the best target at the time.

The flurry of arrows left all three giants and a score of ogres and hobgoblins dead in their wake. The wounded survivors ran back the way they came.

With typical greed the humans and demi-humans quickly searched the bodies for valuables. “We might as well make some profit from this,” Etjar quipped.

Mamoru stood by impatiently. After a couple of minutes he commanded, “We must flee. There may be more coming.” Survival beat out greed and with a final riffle of an ogre the elf set out behind the others.

The wizard commented, “I’m almost completely out of spells.”

The oni nodded in agreement, “I, too, have no further combat magic to employ.” The dwarves and the elf were out of arrows, while the humans had three between them. “Best we don’t get caught,” Etjar commented.

Moving at a fast walk the group quickly crossed several miles of light forest. They were starting to feel like they escaped when the elf stopped cold, right hand at shoulder height in a clenched fist. The party halted in fits as each realized the elf stopped.

“I have bad news.” Adelf didn’t have to articulate the bad news – it appeared among the trees, four frost giants, a dozen ogres, and two score of hobgoblins.

“This isn’t going to go well,” Trajan commented on the obvious. “How did they get ahead of us?”

“Does it matter?” Marissa replied snippily.

With a roar the hobgoblins charged and a moment later blasts of fire, acid, cold, and lightning burst amongst the attackers. Reeling from the attacks the surviving goblinoids struggled to defend themselves from a dozen oni who materialized in conjunction with the magical attacks.

Reacting with the reflexes of trained soldiers, Etjar and Trajan charged to engage the giants, followed by the dwarves. The fight was furious, brutal, and ended relatively quickly.

None of the humans or demi-humans suffered any serious injuries. One of the oni suffered a nasty slash down her right arm, but the wound was already closing. She quickly ate one of the unidentifiable white-ish blocks of food.

Mamoru walked up to the clustered humans and demi-humans, who eyed the oni with misgiving. The oni eyed them back with distrust and hostility. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend may not hold true,” Trajan thought.

“Our scouts report that this was the last group tracking us. Let us part ways on good terms.”

The group sighed a collective sigh of relief. Etjar started to comment when an oni stepped forward, spear held ready. “NO!”

“What means this?” Mamoru challenged.

“We never deal with the Little People on friendly terms! Kill them while we can, to lessen their numbers!”

“I swore an alliance of mutual defense with these Little People. You will NOT violate my oath!”

“Only a fool or a weakling would swear alliance with such as these!” With that he lunged forward at Marissa, aiming to impale her with his spear.

Obviously expecting the move, Mamoru reacted even quicker, snapping his spear across the attacker’s chest to stop him, spinning to strike him across the back of the head, stretching him headlong onto the ground. Twirling his spear, he spun again and drove the point into the prone one’s back and through his heart. Withdrawing the spear, he wiped the point on his fallen victim’s cloak. Four oni came silently and emotionlessly forward and picked up the body while a fifth retrieved the fallen one’s spear.

“Thank you for keeping your word,” Marissa said softly while the others remained pointedly silent.

“Do not thank me. I slew my younger brother because he would have shamed me by violating my word. For your sake. While he was a hot-headed fool who would have broken my word … he was my sibling.” His angry countenance was frightening to even the hardened soldiers. “It is best we not cross paths again. Farewell.” With that the oni turned to the west, carrying their fallen sibling.

The group silently watched them until they were out of sight, then fell to looting the bodies.

A few weeks later when the group was back in Kerr and had disposed of their spoils, a small man approached Trajan, Etjar, and Marissa while they were supping in a tavern near their boarding house. He carried a cloth wrapped bundle about four feet long. “Are you Etjar, Trajan, and Marissa?” he asked.

“Who wants to know?” Etjar shot back.

“I have been paid to deliver a gift to the people named, at this tavern.”

“Who paid you?”

“A man named Mamoru. He said you’d recognize the name.”

The three looked at each other. “Yeah, we’re them.”

The name laid the bundle on the table, turned, and left the tavern.

Trajan carefully unfolded the bundle to reveal ornate sheaths holding a finely made bastard sword, spatha, and dagger.

Jake’s eyes stung with tears instead of sweat. He, David, Bisonbit, and three of Trajan’s other students lowered the wide casket into the ground.

Marissa died the same evening Trajan told them the oni story. The old man crawled into bed, cradling his dead wife in his arms, and went to sleep. He never awoke. They were being buried together.

Jake wasn’t sure if losing both grandparents at once was better or worse. It wasn’t good no matter how he looked at it, but it was a mercy for Trajan to not have to live without his Marissa. At least Trajan would feel that way.

Jake decided losing both at once was worse. Turning from his grandparents’ grave he discovered his way blocked.

“What are YOU doing with that sword?!”

Hallan, Jake’s father, stood angrily there with his hands on his hips, his body taut.

Putting his hand on the sheathed sword Trajan had given him two days previously, Jake retorted, “It’s MY sword, Grandpa gave it to me.”

“Gave it to you? That old fool had no right to give it away. It’s mine by right!”

Jake reacted in blind hatred, his right hand swinging in an arc that intersected his father’s face. Hallan was taller by a head but Jake had far more muscle and led the blow with his hip, putting his entire body weight behind it. The sharp CRACK of the impact turned every head within one hundred feet, and everyone got a good view of Hallan picked off his feet and slammed into the soft, muddy earth.

“DO NOT EVER speak ill of my grandfather again!” Jake’s instantly bright red face shown in the morning sun as he towered over his prone father.

Slapped to the ground, Hallan would not be dissuaded. Looking at the spatha that David wore, Hallan rubbed his sore face and swore. “That one is mine, too! I’ll talk to the magistrate about you thieves!”

“Good luck. I won’t be here.” Turning to David he stated flatly, “It’s time to do what we’ve been thinking about. Time to leave.” Jake stomped off with David in tow, ignoring his father.

Struggling to feet Hallan vainly wiped the mud off his fine clothes. “I’ll see those two thieves in jail!”

“Etjar, they are not thieves, and you know it,” Galafid said quietly. He sadly eyed the man while Bisonbit stared holes in the ground, prudently silent.

Rounding on the cleric first of the Temple of Demeter, Hallan rounded on him screaming, “Don’t call me that! My name is Hallan!”

“Etjar is the name Marissa and Trajan gave you at birth, naming you after their best friend who died protecting them.”

“They named me after a FOOL!”

“The only fool is you,” Galafid stated calmly, his always polite demeanor dramatically contrasting Hallan’s anger. “They named you after a brave friend to whom they owed much, including preservation of his memory.”

Naming you Etjar was a waste and a blot on a good man’s name,” Galafid thought. It wasn’t polite, but he called the man Etjar to his face to irritate him. Privately he thought of him as ‘Hallan’.

The words were quiet, but the effect was forceful. Surprisingly the excitable Hallan shut up. Well, he calmed down. Shutting him up for long was another matter. “Those swords are mine by right. I am their son, and they should go to me. They are far too valuable to be left in the possession of idiots.”

Ahh,” thought Galafid. He should have remembered there wasn’t a sentimental bone in Hallan’s body, it was the value of the swords that invoked his ire, that and the idea that something of value didn’t belong to him. “Those swords belonged to Trajan and Marissa. Along with ALL their belonging, which they had every right to disburse as THEY pleased.”

“What do you mean? Their house is MINE! By law!” Hallan’s face reddened further. Kerrean law awarded real estate to the eldest child, unless there were extenuating circumstances.

Galafid thought, “If he keeps this up he is going to have a stroke.” Aloud he said, “Yes, it is.” Galafid’s calm never wavered. “But their individual possessions, parceled out prior to their deaths, are not.”

Hallan emitted inarticulate sounds of rage, his body clenched in anger. For a moment it appeared he would attack the older cleric … but something in the man’s calm demeanor shut down the fool’s misplaced anger. Hallan knew a moment’s fear, for no reason he could articulate.

“I witnessed the granting of items by Trajan and Marissa to various persons. Do you wish to dispute me in court?” The cleric didn’t smirk but gave the impression of a subdued smile on his plain face. That impression was the first emotion he had displayed since hearing of Marissa’s death.

The strange intensity of Galafid’s mild statement shut Hallan up, something not often accomplished in a man so self-centered and self-important.

“The house and land are yours by right. Their possessions that they assigned are not. Bother either of Trajan’s grandsons on this matter at your own cost.” The threat was obvious even to a man such as Hallan.

Not surprisingly, anger overcame fear. “That boy is NOT a grandson!”

“David may not be Marissa and Trajan’s grandson by blood, but that is exactly how they treated him these past ten years. Nor is he a boy. Confront him at your own peril.”

With that Galafid turned and walked away, Bisonbit trailing behind, leaving the fuming man in his wake.


“Yes, sir?”

“The look on Hallan’s face when he finds his parents’ house empty is going to be priceless.”

Bisonbit, at age twenty-two having the mixed confidence and fear young men often have, nearly choked. Then he laughed, “Yes, sir, it will.”

Galafid chuckled. “We will know when it happens. Everyone between here and Sathea will hear his screams of outrage.”

Bisonbit DID choke this time, laughing at the upcoming discomfiture of the greedy man.

“Jake and David are leaving Kerr.”

“Yes sir. They have spoken of it repeatedly over the past couple of years. No one believed they would go.”

“With Marissa and Trajan gone there’s no reason for them to stay. Talk to them. They may store their belongings in the temple where we will care for them until they return, regardless of how long that may be.”

“Yes sir.”

The older man stopped abruptly, turning to the younger man. Bisonbit nearly tripped over his feet, but with colt-like reflexes turned to meet Galafid’s eyes. The cleric locked gazes with Bisonbit, which immobilized the younger man. After ten seconds or so Bisonbit’s gaze glazed over. He was conscious but not really, under the effect of an unconscious geas, one of the most powerful spells any cleric could cast.

“You will go with them.”

“Leave Kerr and the Temple?” Even under the power of the spell the young cleric was surprised at the command.

“Jake and David are mentioned in the Book of Muur. Those two young men are going to save the world from Darkness. And you with them.”

“Darkness? ME?”

Galafid stared at the young man. Very few reacted with any emotion when an unconscious geas was laid upon them. To react with powerful emotion, Bisonbit possessed much stronger mental strength than anyone had realized. If he survived the next few years, a powerful cleric he would become. “Yes, some unknown Darkness that will engulf the world. And yes, by all means, you.” Galafid took a breath. “You will stay with them, guide them, teach them. They will listen to you and follow you. Grudgingly, unhappily. But they will follow you until they are ready to lead.”

Seconds passed then Bisonbit’s head jerked as if he had been nodding off and caught himself. Seeing the older man staring at him he recovered quickly. “Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said.” The young cleric had no conscious memory of anything while under the influence of the geas. To him, it felt like he had simply lost his train of thought.

At Galafid’s nod he continued, “Jake and David are a pair of real knuckleheads. They will get themselves killed.”

Swallowing he continued hesitatingly, “I think I had better go with them. I don’t want to leave the Temple, but I owe Marissa and Trajan too much to let those idiots get themselves killed.”

“I concur. You had better catch them before they leave. Make sure they stop by the Temple.”

“Yes Sir!” Bisonbit rushed off.

“Just as well that I didn’t tell you that YOU are mentioned in the Book of Muur as well,” Galafid whispered to the young cleric’s back.

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