Medievia Mudslinger

August 6th, 2001

The Challenge - By Homncruse

It's funny how fate can sometimes come to the rescue. There were only two more weeks until my twenty-first birthday and I wondered if I would ever complete my training as a warrior.

"Homncruse, I would like to have a word with you." It was the gravely voice of my guildmaster.

"What? Huh?" I had this way of not sounding very bright at times. The guildmaster shot me a look. "Sorry Master," I apologized, bowing respectfully, letting my guard down just long enough for the orc brought in for training to land a nasty punch in the middle of my back.

The guildmaster chuckled and replied, "Homncruse! What's one of the basic elements of winning a battle? Never let down your guard, no matter the circumstances! Finish him!"

Turning around and facing the orc once more, I rolled my eyes at what was quite possibly the most humiliating thing I'd ever done in front of the guildmaster. The only way I could reclaim my dignity would be to finish this orc off mercilessly.

I threw a fierce slash at the creature which had humiliated me, cutting deep into his side. The orc wailed in pain but continued to fight. He raised his hands far above his head and brought his double-edged axe swiftly upon my head, knocking me to the ground.

There I lay, sprawled on the floor, as the orc attempted a lunge at my throat. I quickly placed my sword in the path of the axe and disarmed his weapon, sending it flying low above the guildmaster's head. I snickered uneasily knowing I would receive a lecture about that later. Of course the guildmaster had to assign me an orc with a positive IQ... a rare find. Now that the orc was defenseless, I finished him off with my most impressive-looking cross-slash. His corpse fell lifelessly to the ground.

"Heh, uhm... sorry about... that, Sir. What would you like to speak with me about?"

"Homncruse, Homncruse, Homncruse. You have been here for almost a year now, and I realize your twenty-first birthday is coming soon. I would like to present you with an offer." He studied me carefully, hesitating.

"What's that Master? You know I would do anything you ask," I tried to reassure him It'd taken so long to gain what little faith I felt he had in me.

"I am not forcing you to do this, if you don't think you're ready," he let out a cough that sounded more like a chuckle being held back.

"However, I would like you to take the final warrior's test. The test is something which I require before I allow anyone to graduate from the warrior class and be reborn anew. You have advanced very far since you first came here, and I believe you have reached the extent of the training I can provide you... What do you think?"

"I... I don't know... are you sure I'm ready?" I hesitated, though I felt my heart would leap through my chest. I didn't want him to think I was too eager. He'd often told me that showing one's emotions could mean weakness in battle. I half wondered if he was just looking for a way to get rid of me.

"I know for a fact you are ready, I have never seen anyone with as much of a natural warrior ability as you have," he said. It was probably the first genuine compliment I'd ever received from the man. "Now, will you accept the challenge?" he asked me again.

"If you believe I am ready, Master, then I am. I accept," I said. I wasn't going to make him ask again.

"Wonderful! Now return home and get some sleep. You'll need it," he added, smiling broadly. "Report to me tomorrow morning at dawn."

That night passed quickly. I ate a filling meal of chicken-fried sunsprite and mashed potatoes with gravy and went right to bed. Miraculously, through all the questions in my mind and the thoughts racing through my head, I fell right to sleep.

Early next morning, I journeyed to the guild for my challenge. I knocked on the door - it wasn't unlocked yet. Normal classes didn't begin for a few hours.

I waited outside, giving a few knocks every now and then. It was still rather cold outside and I was getting impatient. The air still had the early morning chill. I started to wonder if this had all been some sort of Warrior's Guild practical joke. It was only by chance that I thought to look under the mat for the key. Sure enough it was there.

"Not very high security," I mumbled to myself feeling particularly stupid for staying outside in the cold so long.

"Master? Are you here? Hello?" I yelled down the hallway to the training room. Such a creepy feeling, no-one seemed to be here, and my voice echoed throughout the halls. Sure was dark inside, no lights were on and no fires were lit. All I had to go by was the flickering light of my firefly lantern.

Continuing down the hallway, I saw an eerie orange glow emitting from the guildmaster's office. Maybe he was here after all, but why didn't he answer the door or respond to my shouts? I decided to walk onward towards his office.

"Master?" I continued to call out. "Are you here?"

It was then that I heard a soft, low mumbling from his office.

"Master? Is that you?" I asked, still not quite sure if it was safe.

"Oh! Homncruse!" he jumped up from his knees startled. He looked as if he was in middle of a prayer. He stood up straight, flushing somewhat still, and tried to look gruff. "I see you have arrived. Come in."

No-one was ever allowed in the guildmaster's office without given permission, and that was rarely given. The rule was strongly enforced - two of my old classmates had been banned from the guild for trying to break into the master's office. I think the one had gone on to janitor training. I was quite sure I'd seen the other in the thieves' quarter once...

Walking in, I saw a ritual path of lit candles, like those in an altar. The room was huge, bigger than that of the training room where up to three classes are held at one time, each consisting of up to fifteen people. Displayed all over the walls were swords, plates, medals, certificates, and plaques. This was the office of a truly accomplished man. I gaped in astonishment.

"Master? I am here to receive my challenge." I was humbled and still in awe at his awards.

"Of course you are." he snorted at my remarkable talent for stating the obvious. "Follow me." I blushed and walked along beside him to one of the adjoining rooms.

The Guildmaster walked over to a large table, and picked up a scroll. He opened it up, cleared his throat, and said in a loud, clear voice:

"One who wishes to complete their warrior training must prove himself an honorable knight worthy of such a title. As keeping the peace is one of the many duties of a good-hearted warrior, you shall bring back to your Master a trophy gotten from a criminal, having brought him to justice. Only upon returning alive, shall one be declared a Warrior Knight."

"A trophy from a criminal I bring to justice?" I thought aloud. There were so many places just riddled with crime to choose from. Most places, though, it would take more than a single knight to clear out.

"Have you any advice for me, Master?"

"There is a place overwhelmed with crime. It is the headquarters and hideout of the worst band of thieves ever in Medievia's history. Maybe you could look for clues around the city? Perhaps you shall find something there. The gods and the fates are at your side boy. I cannot help you with any more." He caught himself smiling at me and forced a disapproving frown straight-away.

"Okay," I sighed heavily, "thank you." I bowed and left the Guildhall.

If I were a criminal, I thought, where would I hide? It was time to look for clues. I decided to check the post office for any clues, but there was a line going out of the post office. The inside was packed full of people as usual, even that early in the morning. The bank was nearby and, on a whim more than anything else, I went in and scanned the walls.

Wanted this, wanted that... Plenty of posters, but they were all for small-time criminals - pickpockets, suspected orcs, grave robbers. I needed something bigger, something worthy of a great knight. It was then that a giant poster caught my eye. It read:

WANTED: The former Medievia guardsman commander, Dorlion. He is believed to have stolen millions of gold from criminals attempting to rob the bank of the City of Medievia. Dorlion disappeared shortly after the criminals were apprehended, and the money has not been recovered. His last known whereabouts were in the White Rose Clantown area. Once again fate had stepped in and lent a hand. This was just what I was looking for.

"Excuse me," I asked the post office attendant. "Can I borrow this poster?"

"Doesn't matter to me." she drawled. She was too busy filing her nails to pay much attention to anything around her. I doubted she even knew what I was talking about. It seemed little wonder that the bank wasn't as backed up as the post office.

"Thanks." I muttered and took the poster off the wall - careful not to tear the criminal's picture.

Hurrying out of the post office as fast as I could, I bumped into a tall cloaked man. "Oomph! Sorry!" I mumbled. I wasn't really. He'd been just as much in my way as I was his. I almost wished to myself that I'd knocked him harder.

"Homncruse?" he asked. "Is that you?"

It caught me off guard for a moment. "Excuse me? Who are you?"

Taking off his hood, I realized who it was. It was Khwaj! He was a clannie of mine I had just met, although he was still only a single class cleric, he was one of the oldest and most respected members of my new family.

"Khwaj!" I'd never been so happy to see someone in my whole life. Except maybe the toffee apple man that wandered our clantown sometimes.

"Maybe you could help me. I'm on a quest to complete my warrior's training. I have to solve a crime and prove myself a worthy knight...I have a lead here - it's just a wanted poster, but what do you think?" I asked, handing him the poster.

"White Rose Clan Town, huh? Looks good. I think it'll do fine," he beamed a smile at me. Khwaj was often known for his mysterious airs, but so far he'd been a friend to me. I regretted wishing I'd knocked him down.

"Follow me, we'll take the portal," he said. I nodded and ran behind him.

I caught his arm just before we entered. I'd usually gone places via dragonback and only used the portal once in a blue moon. I'd have rather walked than taken one of those things. It was embarrassing to admit to him, my comrade and clannie that I needed reminding on how to use the portal. I whispered my predicament in his ear.

"Now just think in your mind where you want to go. To put it simply, the portal can read your mind and take you to wherever you wish.. presuming that place has a portal there too. I'll meet you there." He said chuckling. He stepped into the portal, vanishing.

I entered the portal and a strange light started to glow, and a few minutes later, I somehow knew to take a step. WHOA! I almost fell as I stepped out of the portal. I swore I would never take one of these things again. Khwaj was already there waiting for me, grinning widely. "You gotta learn to take them more often.. they're free and it gets you there faster than any dragon can fly."

"Yeah, but I've heard it brings you to a different place that you didn't want to go... like if you don't keep concentrating on the place you want to be. Other times, I've heard, it will throw you into the wilderness, far away from anywhere," I stammered. It was no use, it was a lost cause trying to get any sympathy for my portal-phobia from Khwaj.

"I see," he condescended. "Right, let's split up and go over the town, see if we can find anything on this guy. Shout if you find anything."

I nodded my head solemnly, still sore over what later came to be known in clan lore as "the portal incident", and headed south from the clantown to check the surrounding area. Khwaj left north to search the clantown itself.

I walked for what seemed like hours, before I finally found anything. It was a small shack off in the distance. That can't be anything, I told myself, but maybe I could rest there. The sky was already getting dark. I shouted at Khwaj, telling him I found a place we may be able to spend the night.

No answer. I started to shout again when he stepped out of a portal much like the one Ralu used when he helped Crin and I while trading. Clerics called it phasing.. to me it was just unnerving. We headed towards the shack, to find an old man rocking in his chair on the porch.

"Excuse me, Sir, may my friend and I stay at your house for a while? We have been traveling for a long time and are really tired. We would like a place to rest for the night. We will leave tomorrow morning, I promise,"

"Of course you can stay here... Its been a while since I've gotten any visitors, and I would love to have you stay for a while." the old man said, but with a strange grin on his face. Follow me. I'll show you to your room," the old man stood and led us inside. There was something weird about the old man and his place, but I couldn't place quite what. Maybe it was just my imagination.... oh well, I decided to take advantage of a nice place to stay and get a good night's sleep.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of what seemed like a battle. At first, I thought the noise was only part of a dream, but glancing out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Khwaj was gone. I grabbed my sword and left the room to investigate.

As I got closer to the door, I could hear whispers that got louder and louder, but still not loud enough to understand what was being said. Whoever it was, they were right outside my room.

The door started to open slowly. I quickly hid against the wall so as not to be seen. The light slowly poured into the room through the small crevice the opening door created. It was now or never, I needed to take action.

I flung open the door and put the mysterious person in a headlock, holding my sword to his throat.

The intruder made a quick twirling maneuver and was able to escape from my grasp. Not as much as a novice as I had hoped, obviously. The person managed yet another sudden movement and I fell to the ground. This guy was fast.

I held tightly onto my sword and lunged at my opponent, but missed. The thief saw my failed attempt at an attack, and took the opportunity to catch me off guard. He slashed at my upper arm with his dagger, cutting deeply into my skin. Tendrils of excruciating pain surged through my body, but I could not give up. Not this soon.

Using a technique I learned in my beginning days as a warrior in training, I managed a swift mighty kick at the man's solar plexus, located right in the center of the chest.

"OOMPH!!" the thief yelled, gasping for air. My kick was so strong it had knocked the wind out of him and he dropped his dagger - this battle was won. There was no way he could continue fighting in his current state.

I picked the thief up with one hand by his shirt, surprised to find that he was incredibly light. Probably assists in hiding and moving silently, to be so small. "Who are you!?" I demanded

"I shall never tell you anything!" the wispy man gasped, still gasping for air. I loved it. I almost thought he'd lose control of his bladder.

"I said, who are you!?" I asked again, this time tightening my grip on him and shoving him against the wall.

He started to panic, and sweat ran down his forehead. "Fine! Fine! I'll talk! Just don't kill me!" I thought he was going to cry. I released him and threw him to the floor.

"Who are you and what are you doing here? What have you done with Khwaj?!" I demanded.

"My name is Harald, I am a thief-in-training, I only wanted to prove myself to my Master by stealing your money! I didn't mean any harm! Please don't kill me!" he bawled. Not a very good thief. I studied him more closely. He couldn't have been more than 13 years old. I almost felt pity for the poor kid. I couldn't, though, not when Khwaj might have been in danger.

"Where is Khwaj," I shouted in his face.

"My master took him to the hideout," he murmured barely loud enough to hear.

"Who is your master?" I snarled. If I'd learned anything from my GuildMaster it was how to look menacing.

"His name is Dorlion." Harald choked back a sob.

"Dorlion? The former Medievia City Guardsmen Commander?" I puffed up and flexed my muscles, looking mean and ready to strike.

"Yes yes that's him. Please don't hurt me!" Harald curled up in a ball on the floor before me, shaking and terrified.

"Bring me to him and I won't kill you." I said in an firm voice.

"I... I can't! He would have my head if I revealed the location of the hideout!" More tears welled in the kid's eyes as his face drained of all color.

"Let's put it this way, I'll have your head if you don't," I said. To tell the truth I was almost as scared as he was. "You take me to him and I won't kill you. Since I'm feeling nice, I'll even protect you from him. Your choice." It was hard not to take pity on the wretched thing.

"Okay," he whimpered. "I'll take you... but I can't guarantee that we'll get in. There are so many of them everywhere!"

I stroked my chin, deep in thought. I had to at least look like I was coming up with a plan. It occurred to me that the little weasel might be of help to me after all. I'd obtained full marks in "Mercy and Exploitation of the Bad Guy" in class. I had to admit, though, that this was the first time it had ever come in handy.

The kid's eyes darted around wildly. "What... what if you act like you're my prisoner!" he exclaimed, a little too enthusiastically for my tastes. "It's the only way I can get you through the other thieves. You're far too big and clunky to sneak in and you've no ways of making yourself invisible have you?"

The runt had a point, but still I wasn't convinced. "How can I be so sure I can trust that you won't turn me in and kill me once you have me?" I growled.

"You can't. You'll just have to trust me. Its the only way. You do want to save your friend, don't you?" the boy straightened himself up, regaining a bit of his pride. Suddenly he held something over me.

"I suppose I have no choice, let's go," I growled. "But I'm warning you..."

Harold nodded slowly. I hid my sword beneath my cloak and allowed him to loosely tie a bit of rope around my hands. I tried to look as weak and "prisoner-y" as I possibly could. I allowed the thief to take me as his prisoner. Yes, I was risking my life, but it had to be done. I could not return to the Guildmaster honorably without rescuing my friend and even trying to complete my quest.

I followed Harald out to the den, and watched him lift the carpet, revealing a hidden hatch. He opened it and lead us down the ladder. It was difficult managing the rungs with my hands tied, but somehow I made it down.

We traveled through a long hallway, surrounded by guards. They paid little attention to us, assuming I was Harald's prisoner. Minor thieves, though cunning, my GuildMaster had often told me, are rarely very high in intelligence. We caught the occasional glaring eye, but that was it. Continuing down the hallway we eventually came to a door.

"This is it," Harald whispered in my ear, "be ready." I nodded my head slightly trying not to disturb my prisoner image.

Harald opened the door. Sitting in a large wooden chair with his feet propped up on a flimsy desk at the other end of the room was the man on the poster - Dorlion. We entered the room and Harald closed the door behind us.

"Hello Master. I have brought you a prisoner," Harald beamed like a cat that had just brought its owner a mouse. Harald threw me as hard as he could before his Master. I went with the fall and landed hard.

"What? What are you doing Harald? This wasn't part of the plan!" Dorlion roared. He must have sensed the trap - Harald was hardly doing his best at acting the part. Winking over at his Master, I'm sure, didn't help in the charade.. Dorlion lunged at me with his sword, I quickly rolled over and avoided the attack. I tried to wrestle my hands free of the rope, which had been tied much tighter than I had thought. My sword clanked uselessly against my side from inside my cloak.

Harald hurled a shuriken at me, it glazed right over my left shoulder and right into Dorlion's chest near his heart. Dorlion plucked the star from his chest and dropped it to the ground with an angry *clang*!. Harald backed to the wall white as a ghost. I couldn't help but grin.

Dorlion swung at me again, this time harder and with more determination. By some miracle I managed to avoid him once more. My wrists bloodied and my palms sweating, I finally managed, also, to break free of the ropes that bound me. I drew my sword from inside my cloak, more ready than I had ever been, for battle. We fought hard, blade against blade, the two of us battling to the death. Sweaty and exhausted, we continued on, until finally I landed a sturdy kick right in the middle of Dorlion's solar plexus. The sound of bones crunching under the force of my lucky camogreen boots was sickening, in a gratifying sort of way...

I couldn't help but grin over at Harald, who ran and stood in disbelief over his fallen Master. I turned to leave and find Khwaj, figuring Harald for harmless when he began to weep and pray.

I have been wrong at many things before, though. As soon as my back was turned Harald growled angrily as he crept up behind me and placed a dagger right in my back, twisting it violently. But no, this is not how I was going to die - killed by one of the most inept thieves I had ever met. I swung my sword-arm around quickly and lunged, plunging it deep into his chest.

"Aaaaarrrgggghhh!!!! Forgive me, Master..." he whispered as he fell to the ground dying.

What happened next was a blur. I ran out of the room, and searched desperately for Khwaj. It didn't take long to find him in one of the adjacent rooms battling vigorously with one of the locals.

Khwaj's opponent, a portly novice thief stood no chance. Khwaj focused and called upon the fire of demons from the ground. The thief screamed as his flesh was boiled by the unholy flames.

When the fires ceased, the thief fell to the ground - char-broiled, and dead. Sick thoughts of backyard hog roasts loomed in my head. I suddenly pitied the roast pig.

Khwaj turned suddenly at me with a large, ghastly hammer in his hands, ready to swing.

"Whoa, wait bud, it's me Homn!" I said suddenly wishing I'd remembered finding a bathroom along the way.

Khwaj chuckled and looked over at me, the hammer disappeared. He looked at my wounds critically, then placed his hands on me as they shone with a bright white light. I felt the energy return to my body.

At a loss for words, I threw my arms around Khwaj, nearly crushing him. Khwaj blushed and hugged me back. He smiled and said, "Let's get out of here!"

"Hold on, there's something I still need to take care of," I said to Khwaj. He knew just what I meant.

I walked slowly over to Dorlion, who, although mortally wounded, was still alive. "Dorlion! You're coming with me back to the City of Medievia to pay for your crimes!"

Dorlion was too close to death to speak. I flung him over my shoulder and Khwaj and I left the room. We crawled back up the ladder to the den, and went out to the porch. The old man was no longer there. Who he was and where he went I could only speculate. Right then it didn't matter. I was filled with pride at having accomplished my task... and knowing that I'd just made the best friend I would have in my life.

We hurried back to the White Rose town and entered the dreaded portal to get back to Medievia City. Everyone stared at me as I walked down the streets with a half-dead man flung over my shoulder, but it didn't matter. I had completed my quest, and I was on to see the guildmaster.

"Master? I have returned," I called cheerfully, kicking the door open with my foot. It landed hard against the wall inside with a *thud*. The Guildmaster looked up from his students, and saw me in the doorway. A wide grin spread across his face.

He dismissed the students and beckoned me into his office. I strode in, my prize still hanging listlessly over my shoulder.

"So, my boy, you've completed your task. The gods are pleased!" He continued talking excitedly and instructed me to lay Dorlion on the floor before him. The Master studied Dorlion's face, beaming with pride.

I told the guildmaster of my adventure, including where the thief hideout was. He said he would notify the City Guard, and that they would take care of the old man, who was probably the ringleader of the Crime Underground, as it was called.

"Homncruse, do you realize what has happened? You completed your challenge. You are now finished with your warrior training. You are ready to further your training with another of the four Guildmasters in this city." He stopped mid-thought. "You have a long journey ahead of you, Homncruse. I wish you good luck. Go now, see either the Cleric, Mage, or Thief Guildmaster of Medievia City. Bring them this certificate and tell them you would like to begin your training."

"Thank you so very much, Master." I said as he handed me a piece of paper.

"Before you do this, go to the top of Mount Vryce. There is a button up on the top of the mountain that will notify the gods about you completing your warrior training, the other Guildmasters in this city need more than just that certificate, they need divine notification," he explained.

"Thank you again, Master," I said, still stunned.

"Oh, and don't call me Master any more, I am no longer your teacher. Call me by my first name, Tarantull," the old man grinned and ruffled my hair as one would his son. I could have sworn I saw a small tear making its way to the corner of his eye.

"Yes, Mast... errm.... Tarantull. Farewell," I waved and left the Warrior's GuildHall forever. I couldn't help but strut as I walked past a group of lower level warriors that stood chatting outside the hall.

Anxious to begin my next adventure, I summoned a dragon's aid. When the imp arrived to collect the dragon's fee, I asked if he even knew the way to Mount Vryce. The imp nodded and said he would, but it would cost an extra fee. I didn't care - I needed to get there.

Mt Vryce, the highest point on the entire continent was hard to miss, I couldn't even see its top as it was above the cloudline. I had a long walk ahead of me, I thought to myself. I knew that with my luck the dragon would only take me to the bottom of the mountain. I would have to climb the way to the top of the mountain myself.

I was right - it was time to wear holes in my boots. At the base of the mountain I found a well-used path, beaten into the ground by the feet of previous pilgrims. I walked along the path and watched as the plantlife around me changed. Surrounding me were hundreds, if not thousands or even millions, of types of plants. I continued on.

This was a strange mountain indeed. Still trekking on, the air around me changed. I saw small tornadoes on the surface of the ground; the water slowly changed into lava, and back into water again. Clouds seeming to be only above this mountain hailed, rained, snowed. I came to an area filled with powerful magic, my hairs stood on end from just the feeling of it.

After hours of walking and wandering, I arrived at my destination. The highest point of Medievia. Searching hard, I saw a small button on the side of the cliff and knew I was at my destination. From the moment I saw it I couldn't wait any longer. I had to push the button! I crept up to the protrusion, and depressed it slowly. I heard a mysterious, deep, booming voice inside my head.

"You ... are ... NOT ... [Ready] ... for godhood! You are not wise enough, not OLD enough! Not complete! Go back.. Go back...... Go back as a newborn! Learn what there is to be learned from the mortal realm... learn all things great and small... learn all skills.. learn all classes.. be everything.. Choose your destiny!"

I thought of Khwaj's miraculous healing powers and yelled out to the clouds, "CLERIC!"

The world raced around me in a swirl for a long time... I couldn't breathe. Suddenly I fell to the ground, and regained my consciousness. I found myself back in Medievia. I did, indeed, feel as a newborn. I was incredibly weak.. and yet I could feel something inside that had never been there before. I felt what we call mana racing through my blood. I journeyed, hungry and nearly naked to the Cleric's Quarter. My old warrior's outfit was far too heavy for me to use, and somehow didn't seem to suit me anymore anyway. I was ready to begin my new life.

"Hello," I said nervously as I handed the Cleric's guildmaster the certificate, "I am ready to begin my training." The guildmaster smiled and gave me a warm welcome.

"All right, now..." he began in a soothing voice, "the first essential spell that a cleric needs, is armor. To perform this spell..." I listened but could barely hear... I was finally going to be able to use the ancient art of magic...

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