by David E. Barber
Skal the Undaunted raised his axe and shield, readying himself as the huge shadow of the Chimerus descended out of a blood-colored sky. The nightmarish creature was part stallion, part kitten, with the wings of an eagle, and a single corkscrew-shaped horn protruding from between feline ears. The Chimerus’ jaws opened wide, revealing gleaming white fangs and a lolling red tongue. It emitted a high-pitched, mewling cry, fixing Skal with the gaze of its toxic green eyes. Upon its back rode the mad wizard, Wheatonius, clad in a red and white tunic, emblazoned with the face of a demented clown, and short, blue breeches. His feet were bare. In his hand he clenched the golden Spear of Luzum.
“Fool!” Wheatonius cried. “How dare you enter my realm, orc? You shall die for your insolence. At him Kimbr!”
The Chimerus struck at Skal with long, hooked claws, digging furrows in his shield, knocking him off balance. A cloven hoof caught him on one armored shoulder and sent him sprawling. He gathered himself, lunging to his feet. The Chimerus wheeled as Wheatonius raised the spear. Lightning arced from its tip, a jagged line of brilliant white light that bathed Skal in a phosphorescent glow. Blue lines of electricity danced over his skin. His leather cuirass began to smolder and blacken. Skal screamed, his body jerking with uncontrollable spasms. He fell and lay as one dead.
* * *
Several days earlier, while traveling from Northwood to Southshire, Skal encountered a messenger with a letter for him. After reading the letter, sent by Mog, Chieftain of the Bad Axe Clan, Skal decided to put off pillaging Southshire, and turned toward the craggy mountains bordering Mosgreed.
His approach was heralded by much fanfare. He was, after all, the greatest orc hero ever to live. As he entered the subterranean hall of the Bad Axe Clan he was greeted by orcish courtiers and led to a huge cavern beneath the mountains. Upon a raised dais, sat the great chieftain, Mog, in a tall, throne-like chair. To his left was a beautiful orc maiden, and on his right stood a dozen ferocious guards.
“Skal the Undaunted,” Mog said. “It is said you have never been defeated in battle, and that you are without fear. I have need of such an orc. Welcome.”
Skal inclined his head. “My thanks, great chief, for your hospitality and praise.”
Skal considered the orc maiden. She was tall, nearly of a height with Skal himself, with luxurious emerald hair and eyes of gold. Her lips curled into a small, inviting smile.
“We are set upon,” the chief continued, “by the mad wizard, Wheatonius. He has laid claim to this realm as far as the Sea of Dragons. We have sent our bravest, most expendable warriors to do battle with him, but none have returned.”
“I don’t think I know this wizard,” Skal said, raising his head, still regarding the maiden from the corner of his eye. “But he sounds familiar–”
“Well,” Mog said, “it is a sad tale, and one you should hear. Wheatonius is of noble birth. As a boy he was kidnapped by brigands and held captive. The Arch-Mage, Bartholomew, arranged his rescue.”
“Ah,” Skal said, fingering two gold rings hanging from his right ear. “This part of the story I know.”
“Then you know that Bartholomew made Wheatonius his apprentice. But, as he grew, the boy wearied of his studies, and ran away with a troop of diminutive, acrophobic trapeze artists.”
“Not very successful, then.”
“No indeed. But Wheatonius thrived, becoming a brilliant clown and veterinarian. He was celebrated among the 13 Kingdoms, and used his wealth and popularity to support the efforts of many well-meaning and socially responsible organizations.”
“Hardly sounds like the makings of a dark wizard,” Skal said, pondering the feminine curve of the maiden’s hips.
“You wouldn’t think so,” the chief said, “but Wheatonius became disillusioned with the political corruption that constantly foiled his efforts, and the relentless disappointment drove him mad.”
The chief paused for dramatic effect.
“He returned to his former master, whom he murdered in his sleep. Wheatonius took up residence in Bartholomew’s tower and resumed his studies, immersing himself in tomes of powerful black magic.”
“Ah,” Skal said. “Now we come to it.”
“Indeed. Wheatonius soon learned of the fabled Spear of Luzum, a talisman of such power that it was deemed unsafe for the hands of men or orcs. Whoever holds the spear has power to rule the world.”
“That would come in handy.”
“I’m only sorry I didn’t think of it first,” the chief said. “For centuries the spear was kept safe by the Amazonian priestesses of Nophun. Wheatonius was able to break into their temple, overcoming the various traps and pitfalls. He escaped with the spear, leaving the Nophunians to contemplate the inadequacies of their security.”
The chief quaffed blood wine from an enormous tankard and belched.
“As a veterinarian Wheatonius was fond of animals, kittens in particular. Using the power of the spear he created a creature called the Chimerus, a horse with the wings of an eagle, the fore body of a kitten, and the horn of a unicorn–his ultimate abomination–that he named Kimbr.”
“You mean he created a unicorn Pegasus kitten?”
“His next action was to destroy the Kingdom of Mosgreed, that lies on our western border, reducing it to a smoking ruin. The Bad Axe clan now stands in his path, and we have not the strength to withstand him.
“We need you, Skal, to battle Wheatonius; and Kimbr, of course. You must slay him and bring me the spear. With it, I will carve a new future for all of orcdom.”
“I see,” Skal said. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but what’s in it for me?”
“As reward,” the chief said, rising to his feet, “I shall give you the hand of my only daughter in marriage.”
Skal raised an eyebrow, glancing at the maiden. Her smile widened, revealing sharp yellow fangs.
“That’s a tempting offer–”
“And–” the chief continued, “one third of my clan’s wealth, all the wine you can drink, mutton you can eat, and a three bedroom condo in the royal cavern, just below mine.”
“That is generous,” Skal said, “but–“
“And, since you will be husband to my daughter–and not unlike a son to me–you will, of course, become chieftain after my death.”
Which may be very soon, Skal thought. “Done,” he said, pounding the haft of his axe against the stone. “We have an agreement.”
* * *
Through a haze of pain, Skal opened his eyes. Dark clouds roiled overhead, painted crimson by the fiery glow of Mount Winsom. Skal heaved himself up and faced his enemy.
The Chimerus stood not ten yards from him, with Wheatonius astride its back. The wizard watched him with interest.
“How is this possible?” Wheatonius said. “You should be dead, reduced to ash and blackened bone.”
“You’ll have to do better than that, clown boy.” Skal growled. “I am not called Skal the Undaunted for naught.”
Skal reached inside the curve of his shield and snatched a large, leather wrapped ball from where it was wedged beneath the handgrip. The ball had silver bells attached to it that jingled as he raised it over his head. The Chimerus’ head came up, as Kimbr caught the scent of the gourmet catnip inside the ball.
“Want it?” Skal said, grinning. “Go get it.” He turned and threw the ball in a high arc, out over the edge of the cliff. Kimbr lunged for it, scrabbling with claws and hooves, wings flapping. Caught off guard, Wheatonius toppled from the Chimerus’ back, landing hard on the cracked earth. The spear sprang from his grasp.
Kimbr sped past, racing over the side of the cliff, yowling in excitement. Wheatonius lay, gasping for air. Skal moved toward him. The wizard drew in power to cast a spell, but had no breath to speak it. He rolled onto his side, crawled to his knees, and reached for the spear. Skal drew the dagger from his belt and threw it. The blade pierced Wheatonius’ reaching hand. The wizard fell back and, finding his breath at last, cried out in pain.
Skal picked up the spear, feeling the power that thrummed along its shaft. He stood over Wheatonius, the blade of the spear pointed at the wizard’s chest.
“Wait! Wait!” Wheatonius said. “I must know. How did you survive the power of the spear? No man or orc could withstand such a blast.”
“Because of these.” Skal said, indicating the gold rings hanging from his ear. “The first of these magic rings gives me the strength of ten orcs. The second makes me impervious to harm.”
“That can’t be,” Wheatonius said. “There is no wizard alive who could create such magic.”
“Right you are,” Skal said. “The Arch-Mage, Bartholomew, made these, and gave them to me as payment for the rescue of a small boy.”
Skal drove the spear downward, ending Wheatonius’ rein of terror.
* * *
Kimbr landed on the slope above the entrance to Mog’s hall. Skal leapt from the Chimerus’ back and went at once to collect his reward. Mog was again seated in his high chair, with the maiden on one side, and his guards on the other. There was much whispering and gasps of astonishment from the court as Skal entered, the golden spear glowing in his massive, green fist.
“Great Chieftain,” Skal said, “Wheatonius is slain. I bring you the Spear of Luzum, which will ensure the success of the Bad Axe Clan for generations to come.”
“You have done well,” Mog said. “And, in return, I offer you your reward; marriage to my daughter, with all the titles and lands that go with it.”
Skal smiled, inclining his head toward the maiden. “I look forward to our wedding night,” Skal said. “We shall have many fat children.”
Mog looked from Skal to the maiden, then back again. “Er, no, not quite.”
“What? I thought–”
“No, see, that’s not my daughter,” Mog said. “That’s my wife, Flora. No, I’m talking about my daughter, from my first marriage; thank Creel that’s over. Here, let me introduce you to Boba.” Mog turned in his chair. “Boba! Get in here. I want you to meet someone.”
Skal waited, palms growing sweaty on the shaft of the spear. In the depths of a broad passage at the side of the hall a shadow emerged from some hidden alcove and moved toward them. At its approach the members of the court drew back. The shadow grew, becoming larger and larger, until it filled the tunnel with its girth. Then, the thing itself emerged into the torchlight. It was pink-skinned, with splotches of green and black. There were obviously feet somewhere beneath the undulating layers fat, but they could not be seen. Short pudgy arms ended in large man-like hands. One held a tankard of blood wine, the other a half-eaten joint of mutton. The head that rested atop the quivering mass was Boba’s smallest feature, with dark, beady eyes, and hair like the straw on a broom.
Boba did not so much smile, as leer at him, drool and meat fat running down her chin, as she ran her black tongue over blunt, gray fangs. She lumbered forward, arms outstretched.
“Hello, lover,” Boba said, emitting a girlish giggle. “Give us a kiss.”
Skal the Undaunted was suddenly, well, daunted. The Spear of Luzum fell from his nerveless fingers, clanging against the cavern floor. Skal turned, pushing his way past the slack-jawed courtiers. He fled the hall of the Bad Axe Clan as if all the demons of hell were at his heels, and was never seen again.