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Chronicles of the Order of Iron II
Author Message
Jay Omega Offline
Galactic Gladiator



XWF FanBase:
Mixed

(loved by some; hated by some; dips between clean/dirty)


#1
04-09-2023, 12:57 PM

A/N: You asked for it, you got it! Well, someone asked for it, anyway. The following is a follow up to the first entry, so if you haven't read the original "Chronicles of the Order of Iron", you might be a little confused as to whats going on. I take no responsibility for that, I honestly have no clue what I'm doing with this, so don't blame me if it sucks, I just wrote it. Besides, you already clicked the link, giving me that sweet sweet page view dopamine hit, so ha!

I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Please keep reading my stuff; I really need the psychological validation, because I can't afford banana stickers right now(10 X-Bux in it for ya if you catch that reference).

Okay, enough rambling, let's get to why you're really here; to read about a make-believe wrestler playing a bastardized version of Dungeons and Dragons. What a world we live in, that this passes for entertainment.



The Trouble With Tribals

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"The intention that man should be happy is not in the plan of Creation."
-Sigmund Freud
==============================

UNIVERSE XWF99
Glizzdau Merchant Ship, En Route to Fennyllarris System, Interstellar Medium
08/4/2022, 0003 Hrs, Shipboard Time
~The sensor array was easily the most boring post on the ship, in Utagheg's opinion; ceaselessly sweeping the cosmos for danger and navigational hazards became tedious after the first ten minutes of nothing. The empty space between the stars was incredibly big, and incredibly empty. Utagheg felt that actively running the sensors full time was redundant; you could travel in a straight line for a billion years, and you were more likely to spontaneously combust than run into anything.

  No sooner had the thought formed than the array gave a warning chime; a burst of cosmic energy had simply materialized in their path. A more concentrated scan indicated the energy field was unlikely to penetrate the navigational deflectors, so Utagheg simply passed the information along to the pilot, and put it out of his mind. When the energy mass flickered from its distant position to inside their navigational deflector screens, Utagheg barely had time to register the phenomenon in a panic before an all-consuming white light filled his vision.~

---------------

~The energy and mass provided by the vessel and its crew gave a small boost to the cognitive functions of the newly created being who thought of itself as the Dungeonmaster. But to build a living world in which to host a campaign for the Players, the Dungeonmaster would require far more material than the meager amount already collected. A star would be a suitable source for the Dungeonmaster's singular purpose, preferably one without a planetary system; it would be easier to shape a realm within his precise parameters if he were to start from scratch than modify an existing one. The decision made, the Dungeonmaster slipped silently through the sea of stars, searching for the perfect place to begin.~

==============================
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-Arthur C. Clarke
==============================

UNIVERSE XWF99
Market Station 15, Orbiting Krs'Tuvaq, Hrn'Gazh System
20/4/2022, 1437 Hrs, Shipboard Time
~With the first of what was sure to be a long string of victories in the Galactic Combat League under his belt, The Omega Man, Jay Omega, had decided to splurge some of his winnings and take his wives, Tasha and Evelyn, shopping. Some of the best shopping in the galaxy happened aboard Nommocan "Market Stations"; orbital platforms that were essentially malls the size of a large city, servicing the needs and luxuries of dozens of different species. Jay also had the added bonus of receiving a clan discount, after having helped a high-ranking member of a powerful merchant family escape certain death some years ago.

  Being the generous friend and captain he was, Omega had insisted Kazuto Mazikawa, and Jack Hampshire joined them on the excursion, as neither had ever experienced the mind-boggling wonder and madness of a Market Station. Wanting to restock some basic items and see what new curiosities could be found, Nikola Tesla had opted to tag along as well. Despite the vastness of the station, there was no worry of anyone getting lost - thanks to Erin's ability to monitor their communication devices if necessary - so there was no need to stick together for the most part. Jay kept Jack and Kaz close at hand for their own benefit, but Tesla peeled off from the group almost immediately.

  Omega had sent the ladies off soon after, intending to surprise them both with a few gifts, then led Hampshire and Mazikawa into the chaos of thousands of aliens haggling over a myriad of goods both mundane and esoteric. Now the three men were browsing through a clothing shop, after Jay had remarked on buying his smartfabric omnicoat at a similar franchise on another station; a quick demonstration of shifting the apparel through several different styles - including vest, trench coat, hooded cloak, and flight suit - convinced the other two to upgrade their wardrobes.

  In the midst of examining an evening gown that sported a layer of the latest ballistic armor, Omega stiffened as a warm tingle crept up his spine and pulsed into his brain. The Omega Man looked around and noticed that the vendor and other patrons had frozen in place. Jay turned toward Jack and Kaz with a sinking feeling, not at all surprised to discover they had vanished. Omega sighed as he felt a strange buzzing sensation prickling his skin; it seemed his shopping trip was about to be cut short. ~

==============================
"It was easier to be brave when you were someone else."
-Stephen King's IT
==============================

POCKET UNIVERSE DND5E
Outskirts of Blackwood Forest, Hohmbru World, Deet'eughuentie System
14th of Daystrom, First Era, Sunrise
~Rogosh Hellbeast stood at the edge of his party's camp, surveying the forest as the dawn broke over the trees. The Oath of Conquest Paladin turned toward the tents as the rustling of his waking companions reached his ears; Damyr, the Gloomstalker Ranger; Darkmaw, the Assassin Rogue; Hephaestus von Faraday, the Armorer Artificer; Chinmoku, the Way of Shadow Monk; Alistair the All-Knowing, the Order of Scribes Wizard. Together, the six mercenaries of the Order of Iron would soon venture into the woods, in search of a hermit who might know the location of a holy relic that would aid them against the undead minions of the dark wizard they had been hired to kill.

  As the adventurers came together around the cold ashes of last night's fire, the air shimmered and coalesced as the Dungeonmaster appeared before them. Rogosh tensed at the arrival of their guide, suppressing the surge of hostility that rose unbidden in his thoughts, then forced himself to relax; he had no need to be uneasy around the Dungeonmaster.

  "Greetings, adventurers," the distinguished, robed gentleman began, "As the new day brightens the world, you feel yourselves refreshed and energized, ready to face the trials ahead. The village of Shol's Watch is half a day's travel back the way you came, and the Blackwood Forest looms before you; how would you like to begin?"

  "The only way to go is forward," said Rogosh, as he adjusted the packsaddle of the clockwork warhorse he had summoned at the end of the previous day, "We have heard tell of a hermit who lives in the Blackwood, a wise old man whose knowledge of a holy relic might aid us in our quest."

  "A wise decision," the Dungeonmaster replied with a nod of approval, "But be forewarned that this forest is home to more than mere beasts; there have been tales of unwary travelers being set upon by goblin tribes."

  "Aye, the innkeeper of Shol's Watch said much the same," Rogosh agreed, somewhat dismissively, "My companions and I fear no goblins, whether their number be small or great."

  "Indeed," was the Dungeonmaster's cryptic response, "Then I shall leave you to your task."

  The Dungeonmaster folded in on himself and disappeared with a pop, leaving the mercenaries of the Order of Iron to begin their day's travels. The party readied themselves quickly and efficiently, breaking down the camp and stowing any unnecessary items in the packsaddles of Rogosh's warhorse construct, named Artax. Once everyone was armed and armored, and Alistair had recalled his familiar - a stygian owl named Nicodemus - the party ventured forth into the woods.~

---------------

~The sun was past its peak and swiftly moving toward the horizon; Rogosh and his mercenary troupe had traveled for nearly half a day, but had barely penetrated the forest's depths before they had been set upon by goblins. Ragtag bands of untrained savages wielding crude spears; hardly a concern for the seasoned warriors, but this was the fourth such encounter and each had been against increasingly larger groups. The whole of the party had taken minor wounds throughout the skirmishes, and the magical reserves of those who had them were nearly depleted; even Chinmoku and Darkmaw were beginning to flag in their whirlwind of guerilla tactics.

  Though he loathed the idea, Rogosh began to consider calling for a retreat; a chance to take a short rest and regroup, lest their bravery and battle lust get the total party killed. A rustling in the branches above him touched the periphery of his thoughts, but Rogosh had no attention to spare for the sound, busy as he was with concentrating his conquering presence into a mystical field that practically petrified the goblins in his immediate vicinity. The frightened goblins could look up, though; an action that only compounded their terror as a man clad in furs dropped from the canopy into their midst.

  Again and again the new arrival struck; a rapid and relentless series of unarmed blows and grapples delivered with a precision and ferocity that quickly laid waste to the few cowering goblins. Once the final goblin had been hoisted up and over from behind, ending with its head driven into the ground with the force of a trip hammer, the new arrival straightened, then looked down at himself in disgust, pulled a dangling waterskin from his hip, and began to thoroughly wash his hands.

  "Ew, ew, gross," the man complained as he scoured the goblin filth from his fingers, "I can't believe I actually touched them– oh no, is that my blood or their blood? Get it off! Get it off! I don't want to get infected with some grimy goblin blood disease!"

  What few scattered goblins remained were quickly being picked off from cover by Damyr and Alistair, so Rogosh sheathed his sword, slung his shield onto his back, and raised a gauntlet in greeting.

  "Hail, good sir," called Rogosh, drawing no reaction, "Your timing could not be more fortuitous, friend; my party and I thank you for your aid."

  "No no no , gotta get the blood off before it absorbs into my hands," muttered the newcomer, entirely and intently focused on his excessive hygiene, "Pretty sure this is how Expungus got turned into a Minotaur, and no thank you on that! Almost there; almost clean. Almost… Almost… Whew! That is soooo much better!"

  His manual ministrations completed, the man turned and started at Rogosh's appearance, as if he hadn't noticed the heavily armored Paladin standing a few feet away from him until just that moment.

  "Oh yeah, you!" exclaimed the man as he replaced the waterskin at his hip, "I've been tracking you for a few hours now, and I figured you don't know where you're going, because you're heading, like, straight toward the swamp, and there's literally no reason for anyone to ever go there."

  Rogosh stared blankly for a moment as his brain tried to process the swift flow of words that tumbled from the other man's mouth, then gave himself a shake and reached for his own waterskin.

  "Your manner of speech is quite odd, friend," the Paladin stated, and took a swig from his waterskin, "But if your words are true, then you have aided us twice this day. How are you called, good sir?"

  "I'm sorry, I talk funny?" mused the fur-clad man, "Have you heard anything you've said? You know what? It doesn't matter. As for my name, you can call me Purseval."

  "Well met, Sir Purseval," greeted Damyr, stepping out of a small thicket nearby to join them, "Pay no mind to my husband's mannerisms; he gets cranky if he doesn't land the final blow of a battle."

  "Weird," replied Purseval, "Anyway, the sun's gettin' real low, but we're too far to make it to my farm before full dark; I know a small copse nearby that would make a decent campsite, if you wanna follow me."

  Purseval walked off without another word, but only went five steps before he paused and looked back over his shoulder.

  "You guys coming?" Purseval queried as the other mercenaries broke from concealment and joined Rogosh and Damyr, "I kinda want to get a fire going before twilight; need enough time to hunt dinner. Hope y'all like rabbit."

  "Rabbit is just fine, thank you" Hephaestus interjected, then gestured to the Ranger of the group, "If Damyr would be so kind as to gather some edible vegetation and fresh water, I can prepare a hearty stew."

  "Sweet!" exclaimed Purseval, continuing his trek toward the proposed campsite, "I'll catch 'em, but you're cleaning and cooking them."

  The six members of the Order of Iron fell in behind their new guide, and made their way a short distance through the woods to a small clearing, where they began to make preparations to settle in for the night. Once the camp was situated, Purseval and Damyr went out to gather ingredients for the night's meal, while Rogosh coordinated a watch schedule with Chinmoku, Darkmaw, Alistair, and Hephaestus. The adventurers went about their mundane business, oblivious to the fact they were being watched; despite the perceptive nature of the party, none of them had noticed the lone goblin scout trailing them.~

---------------

~His belly warm and full of rabbit stew, Alistair sat slumped against the thick bole of a leatherleaf tree, allowing his mind to wander, despite being on watch. Nicodemus was out hunting, surely the owl familiar would alert Alistair if anything was amiss in the vicinity. On a whim, the wizard tapped into his familiar's senses, momentarily disoriented as his mind adjusted to the colorless view of darkvision.

  Nicodemus was sitting on a branch somewhere off to Alistair's left, his keen senses searching for some hint of a morsel rustling in the underbrush. A tiny hint of movement on the ground proved itself to be a field mouse foraging, and Nicodemus stooped on silent wings toward his snack, taking Alistair's consciousness along for the ride. The wizard exhilarated in the sensation of the short but swift flight, though his stomach lurched at the mouse's squeal as the owl's talons found its flesh.

  Alistair withdrew from the familiar's mind before Nicodemus began to eat, not wanting to experience that firsthand. As his vision cleared, it took the wizard a moment to register the sight his eyes were taking in. Before he could raise the alarm in a panic, the quintet of goblins pounced on him, binding his hands behind his back and stuffing a filthy rag in his mouth to gag him. Alistair tried to send a mental command to Nicodemus, hoping to rouse the others, but a club to the head brought a wave of blackness as his senses fled.

  Some time later, Alistair awakened with a stiffness in his arms, and a throbbing pulse of pain in the side of his head. The dazed fog slowly lifted, and the wizard took stock of his surroundings; he was shackled to a rough stone wall in a dimly lit space, too large for him to make out anything that lay beyond the meager firelight of a pair of braziers. A lone goblin sat watching him, who perked up and clutched his spear as Alistair stirred.

  "Ugh, me fookin' head," mumbled the wizard through dry, cracked lips, "Hey, mate, don't suppose it's too much to ask for a cuppa?"

  "Oi, oi! Shuts the face of you, big-big!" cried the goblin in broken Common, "Big-big no talks with Kwa'la! Big-big only talks with Noj'ak!"

  "The fook are you on about?" asked Alistair in confusion, causing the goblin - Kwa'la - to heft his spear threateningly, "Oh, fook off with your bloody toothpick you little cunt; the fook am I gonna do while I'm chained to the fookin' wall, you bloody git?"

  "OI! Shuts the face of you!" shouted Kwa'la, striking the human captive in the mouth with the butt of his spear, "Big-big no talks magic words, or Kwa'la eatses big-big's eyesies!"

  "Settle down, ya little anklebiter," announced a new voice as a hulking shape moved to the edge of the shadows, still too far back for Alistair to make out any detail, "There's no need to threaten the cunt, unless he doesn't wanna do what I say."

  "Yeah, well, sorry, mate," Alistair replied, trying to ease the ache in his shoulders, "I'm not in the habit of doin' favours for cunts who go around kidnapping blokes. Especially when that bloke is me."

  "Kidnapped?" rumbled the unseen conversationalist, something is his manner indicating his attention shifting to the goblin guard, "You fuckin' dogshite morons! I told you to invite the magical cunt, not kidnap him!"

  "Please to tell Kwa'la, Noj'ak," pleaded the cowering goblin, "What is 'invite' means?"

  "Are you a fucking larrikin now, you little cunt?" roared Noj'ak as he stepped fully into the light, revealing himself to be a seven foot tall monstrous mass of muscle; humanoid in shape, but goblinoid in features. The creature wrapped a meaty paw around Kwa'la's throat, and hoisted him up to eye level, "It means you fucking ask, you daft cunt! Nicely! Strewth, I'm about ready to crack the shits with the lot of you cunts! That's the sort of thing you ask before ya leave! Now rack off afore I turn ya into a sanger; I ain't eaten yet s'arvo."

  The brutish behemoth tossed the goblin into the shadows, Kwa'la's pained exclamation implying a less than soft landing, then turned his full attention toward the chained wizard, and hunkered down to meet Alistair's gaze.

  "Haven't even properly introduced meself; I'm Noj'ak, Top of the Sikkunt goblin tribe," explained Noj'ak as he unshackled Alistair's hands, "Sarry 'bout the rough treatment; these cunts barely know which end of a spear is pointy. This was s'posed to be a friendly parlay so's I could ask fer a bit of help with a problem the boys and I are having."

  "Strange way of asking, mate," Alistair responded, rubbing some feeling back into his wrists, "Your little goblin pals have been trying to kill my friends and I all day."

  "Yeah, well they're right fucking stupid, aren't they?" Noj'ak said by way of explanation, giving a shrug as he sat back on his haunches, "Pretty sure that's been firmly established. I just told the little drongos to bring you here; guess I should have been more clear. Oh, by the way, your fancy magic won't work in this particular cave, so you can forget about blasting me with a fireball and trying to escape."

  "Wouldn't dream of it, bruv," the wizard stated, ceasing the subtle motions of his fingers, "So I am a prisoner, then. Again, not the best way to make an impression on someone you want help from."

  "Well this weren't the way I planned it," Noj'ak said with another shrug, "Just makin' it up as I go along now, and I can't have you running off before you even hear me out, now can I?"

  "That's surprisingly logical for one of your kind." observed Alistair, causing Noj'ak's furry face to split into a wide grin.

  "Yeah, I bet you're wonderin' how a fuck-off-huge goblin like me talks so good, hey?" asked the hulking humanoid, "Well that's 'cause I'm not a goblin; I'm a fuckin' Bogan, mate. Bigger, stronger, and more importantly, smarter than yer average goblin. Smart enough to recognize that these dumb cunts can't handle the problem I've been having, which brings us to why I had you brought here."

  Satisfied his circulation hadn't suffered any permanent effects, Alistair folded his hands in his lap and tried to make himself more comfortable; no easy task considering the rocky terrain.

  "Let's get on with it, then," said the wizard in resignation, "Why did you ask me here, ever so politely?"

  Before the enormous Bogan could elaborate on his motivations, a trio of goblins came scurrying into the firelight.

  "Noj'ak! No'jak!" called the lead most goblin as they crowded around their leader, "More big-bigs come for fightses! Same big-bigs we steals magic cunt from!"

  "Seems you're in a bit of a sticky wicket, mate," said Alistair flippantly, "I can tell you right now, if you hurt my friends, you can forget about asking me for any help."

  "Well, I don't want any more of me gobber cobbers killed, either," Noj'ak said, rising to his feet, "So we'd best go intercept yer mates afore there's a pointless bloodbath, then, hey?"~
---------------

~Damyr was the first to spot the hidden entrance to the goblin lair; a wide crack in a rocky outcrop turned out to be a sloped tunnel that led to a twisting, labyrinthine network of dark and dank subterranean caves and caverns. Chinmoku took point, tapping into his ki to temporarily enhance his senses and grant himself darkvision, allowing him to stealthily scout ahead. Hephaestus, with the helm of his armor similarly infused with sensory improvements, fell back to guard their rear.

  While Rogosh and Purseval strode cautiously through the tunnels bearing torches, Damyr and Darkmaw clung to the dim areas at the edges of the torchlight. They had been skulking through the caves for some time now, and had yet to encounter any goblins, despite clear signs of their residence; a rather suspicious set of circumstances. The reason became apparent soon enough; a soft scrape of bootsole - clearly intentional - forewarned the mercenaries as Chinmoku materialized from the darkness with news of what lay in wait.

  "There's a large force gathered," the Monk said softly, not wanting his voice to carry far, "About fifty feet down a tunnel on the right just up ahead. I don't think they've seen your lights yet, but they definitely know we're coming."

  The party gathered to discuss strategy for the pending encounter; with the element of surprise all but lost, and the party still somewhat fatigued due to their interrupted rest, there was little chance they would survive a prolonged battle.

  "I don't suppose diplomacy is an option?" suggested Hephaestus hesitantly, "Does anyone speak goblish, by chance?"

  "Well, yeah, I do," Purseval replied immediately, "I've been living out in these woods for years, and I've tangled with them enough times that I've picked up on it."

  "Negotiation will only work if we have something to offer them," Damyr pointed out, "Do we even know what they want?"

  "Bah, they are vile fiends," declared Rogosh in a tone as low as he could produce that would still carry his bravado, "They want nothing more than to raid and pillage. I say we make a show of force, then demand they free Alistair before we slaughter them to a man."

  "I disagree," interjected Darkmaw, who squirmed under the sudden attention, "If we know where their main force is, perhaps Chinmoku and I can sneak past them, and rescue Alistair without anyone knowing."

  "Nay, dear heart," said Rogosh, laying a hand tenderly on her shoulder, "Were we against a lesser force I would consider it, but if you are discovered, we would not be able to reach you in time. I firmly believe the best way to avoid a battle, is to convince these malformed miscreants they would be swiftly and systematically destroyed, should one occur."

  "That might work," said Purseval, nodding to himself, "After all, goblins are a cowardly and superstitious lot."

  "That gives me an idea," Damyr said with a small, mischievous smile, "Perhaps we could make these goblins believe that you are in command of spirits, Rogosh. So long as I remain out of full light, they cannot rely on their darkvision to see me. With a little assistance from Chinmoku and Hephaestus, I believe we can terrify them into submission."

  Damyr laid out her plan to the others; a work of cunning and deception that would require precision and flawless timing. Their strategem set, the party made quick preparations; first Hephaestus used an infusion to inscribe a magical tattoo on the back of Rogosh's hand, then he and Chinmoku hung back far enough that the light from the torch they took wouldn't reach around the corner, but close enough that Chinmoku could still see down the tunnel. Rogosh hefted a large, broken table leg, then Purseval and Darkmaw accompanied him as he walked confidently down the stone corridor, while Damyr trailed behind; careful to stay just beyond the edge of the torchlight.

  The rustle of motion made their course clear, and the trio headed straight for the goblin assemblage. Rogosh passed the torch off to Purseval, drew his sword with one hand, and raised the table leg overhead as the first few goblins were illuminated. The diminutive creatures clutched their spears tightly, barely restraining themselves from a frenzied charge against what they assumed to be easy pickings.

  "Hold here, goblin horde!" Rogosh shouted, hoping his words carried far enough that Chinmoku would hear the signal, "You have taken our comrade, and we demand his return! Bring us the wizard Alistair, and we shall leave you unmolested! Defy us, and I shall have my necromancer summon the spirits of all you have slain to torment you!"

  Darkmaw made a few motions with her hands as Rogosh named her a necromancer, giving the suggestion she was preparing to cast a spell. Purseval translated the terms to goblish, causing a stir among the opposing force.

  "And should you doubt my words," Rogosh continued in a threatening tone, "Then I will provide a demonstration! Vorash!"

  As Darkmaw made an uplifting gesture, Rogosh activated the magical tattoo, creating an invisible mage hand that took the table leg from his grasp and kept it levitated as he withdrew his arm. At the same time, back around the tunnel's curve, Hephaestus finished the final touches of dusting Chinmoku with simple flour, then cast faerie fire on him, outlining the Monk with an eerie blue glow.

  In the cavern, Damyr cast a sphere of fog targeted as low to the ground as she could. While Rogosh and Darkmaw held the goblins' attention, Purseval subtly used his druidic attunement with nature to stir the air; causing the fog to billow out along the ground and fluttering the edges of Darkmaw's long coat. The goblin horde chattered nervously among themselves at the display, several squealing in fright as a trio of arrows from an unseen source sunk into the floating table leg in rapid succession.

  "Kiroth amugraad hectizah," began Darkmaw in a surprisingly deep voice, gearing up to give the signal, "Come forth, vengeful spirit!"

  Chinmoku Shadowstepped from his position with Hephaestus, to the edge of the circle of light created by Rogosh's torch. The Paladin gave a mental command to the mage hand, floating the pierced piece of wood over to Chinmoku's waiting clutches. The shadow monk then activated his own magical tattoo, also courtesy of Hephaestus, and created a dazzling flash of blue-colored light that obscured vision for a moment. In that moment, Chinmoku swapped out the table leg for his spear, extending it to its full length; from the goblins' perspective, the mundane wood had suddenly transformed into the weapon of an angry specter.

  Chinmoku then Shadowstepped from one side of the torchlight to the other, then behind Rogosh and his allies, before finally Shadowstepping into the midst of the goblins barely illuminated by the torch, creating mass panic as the frightened creatures stumbled back from the ghostly apparition. His role complete, Chinmoku rode the shadows once more, returning to where Hephaestus was holding position.

  "You have our terms," declared Rogosh, pointing the blade of his sword at the closest goblin, "Refuse them at a peril of your own making."

  "Big-bigs no fight! Big-bigs no fight!" called Kwa'la as he scampered up to the opposed gatherings from further into the cavern, "Noj'ak brings magic cunt; big-bigs talk to Noj'ak!"

  No sooner had the goblin spoken the words, than the sound of heavy footfalls approaching reached the party's ears. The goblin horde parted in mingled awe, respect, and fear as their leader sauntered into view, and the mercenaries unconsciously shrunk back a little from the imposing sight of the seven foot Bogan. Rogosh tightened his grip on his sword hilt, and sensed Darkmaw tensing up beside him; no doubt in his mind that her blades were at the ready. The large, threatening creature stomped up to the fore of the goblins, then bent down to take a deep sniff of the mercenary band's mingled scents. Rogosh was considering his team's chances against such a monster, when the Bogan's face split into a wide grin.

  "Fuckin' beauty! Great fuckin' show, ya little ripper!" said Noj'ak in a jovial tone, tapping at his nose, "Of course, I can smell your sweet Sheila hidin' out in the dark, even if I can't see her, and that 'ghost' of yers smelled a bit like unbaked bread; not exactly the most ghastly thing I can think of."

  The ruse had failed. Rogosh readied himself to snatch his shield off his back and charge; perhaps they could wound the Bogan enough to force it to withdraw, surely the goblins would fall back to protect their leader.

  "Fook's sake, settle down, Rogosh, and think with something besides your fookin' sword arm for once," spoke Alistair as he too stepped into view, apparently unharmed and unhindered, "They obviously knew you were coming for me; you never stopped to wonder why nobody was guarding these fookin' tunnels?"

  "I expected an ambush at any moment," replied the Paladin, gesturing to the goblins around them, "It would seem I was right to do so."

  "Because goblins are known for their fookin' strategic tactics, right?" Alistair retorted with a derisive snort, "They let you in because I told them not to hurt you, you fookin' git."

  "Actually, I let them in 'cause I want yer help," clarified Noj'ak, then gestured to the other mercenaries, "And yer more likely to give it if yer mates aren't all bloodied up. Plus, this way they can go with you, and I don't have to risk sending any more of my tribe to certain doom."

  The massive Bogan took in the expressions of those around him, and hunched his shoulders in confusion.

  "What? It's only certain doom for them," explained the Top Sikkunt, "The little galahs are fuckin' stupid, remember? For you lot, it'll be a bit of hard yakkas, but it's only possible doom for you; there's a difference, see?"

  "You still haven't explained what help you need," Alistair reminded the Bogan, then turned to his companions, "Noj'ak here kept his word, and left you lot unharmed, so at the very fookin' least, Rogosh, I think we should hear what he's got to say."

  "Alistair," began Rogosh as he cautiously sheathed his sword, "What in Xor's name is going on here?"

  "That's actually a bigger fuckin' question than you might think," interjected Noj'ak, "And it requires an answer too fuckin' big to get into here. Come, sit, and have a bit of a chinwag with me; the Sikkunt tribe will treat you as honored guests, with the best Strayan hospitality in all the Down Underdark. Well, the best I've managed to teach 'em, anyway."

  "We must gather the rest of our party before we venture further," said Rogosh; a nod in Damyr's direction dispatched the Ranger back up the darkened tunnel to collect Hephaestus and Chinmoku, "Once we are all together, we shall listen to your proposal, though I do not guarantee our aid."

  "No wucka's," said Noj'ak dismissively, "Grab yer crew and we'll have a little piss up while I tell yous what's been going on around here lately."

  As the three remaining members of the Order of Iron entered the gathering, all motion among the goblin tribe stopped, even breathing; Purseval, too, stood frozen in place. A patch of air shimmered and coalesced into the form of the Dungeonmaster, drawing the party's attention.

  "This is a most unexpected development," the Dungeonmaster said to the gathered adventurers, "I had assigned a high probability to your arrival here resulting in an extended combat encounter, but you have surprised me. An excellent example of teamwork, yes. I feel this is an appropriate place to end our session; your actions have given me much to ponder, and I shall have to make adjustments to certain parameters."

  "My Lord Dungeonmaster," piped up Rogosh, drawing the distinguished gentleman's attention, "What do you mean 'session'? What has happened to the goblins, to Purseval?"

  "Hush now, Rogosh," said the Dungeonmaster, cutting off further questions with an uprated hand, "After your numerous bouts of combat with the goblin tribe, and with the wisdom gained from trusting in your comrades, you all feel more confident in your abilities; after the experiences you have had, you feel as though there is more power available to you, more skills you feel capable of mastering. I grant you each a level of power in your respective class; speak with me, and tell me how you would like to progress your abilities."

  One by one, the mercenaries of the Order of Iron spoke with the Dungeonmaster, learning new abilities or improving existing ones. When they had all had their turn, the Dungeonmaster bowed to them and dematerialized, leaving only his voice hanging in the air.

  "I shall summon you when the next session is prepared."~

==============================
"How dreadful...to be caught up in a game and have no idea of the rules."
-Sorcery & Cecelia
==============================

UNIVERSE XWF99
Market Station, Orbiting Krs'Tuvaq, Hrn'Gazh System
20/4/2022, 1437 Hrs, Shipboard Time
~Jay blinked and rubbed at his arms, trying to dispel the buzzing sensation. The chatter of a bustling market assaulted his ears, and it took Omega a few moments to focus on Jack and Kaz, standing a few feet away and looking just as disoriented as he felt.

  "What the fook was that?" asked Jack, his voice sounding slightly dazed as he looked around in confusion, "I know it's crazy, but I swear there were a fookload of fookin' goblins here a second ago."

  "You're, not crazy, Jack; something definitely just happened," replied Jay, then looked down at a chirrup from his W.E.I.R.D., "Yeah, Erin, what's up?"

  "I was about to ask you the same thing," answered the digital sophont through the communication device, "Your vitals suddenly spiked, and I doubt you'd be engaging in coitus on a busy station; naturally I assumed you were in danger."

  "False alarm," Omega assured her, though he wasn't as certain as he sounded, "No danger here. Regardless, I think everyone should head back to ship soon; we'll make another shopping trip some other time. Today feels… off. Send the word out, will ya, Erin?"

  The Omega Man closed the communication function, and gestured for Jack and Kaz to follow him as they made their way back to the Khybaris. Jay remained deep in silent contemplation as they made the trek, trying to make sense of the jumbled flashes of memory; like fragments of a half-forgotten fever dream. Something had happened on the Market Station, and Omega was determined to find out what.~

Official List of XWF Achievements and Accomplishments

I ain't done shit.

Yet.
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