“What the hell was that? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Well, I don’t blame the good people of Vijeti, for thinking it was a gremlin infestation.”
“Well, it wasn’t. I’ve fought gremlins before. This…thing was way more dangerous.”
EnPsyClops took a deep breath, before he spoke.
“I’ve only seen it once before, when it tried to outsmart me. I believe what we fought was a Moor-Orc, a hellish breed of orcs, bred out of their nurseries at tender ages into vicious, savage beasts. They’re mindless and stupid. Their attacks rely more on persistence, which they’re incredibly capable of. Their thick hide is impervious to insults and spells alike. They’re beasts of attrition, launching continuous, irritating attacks that eventually rob you of co-ordination and reduce you to mind-numbing frustration. I would not like to run into one again.”
Lord Beavis paused, thinking of the tiny clawed beast, which didn’t look extremely dangerous at all, but had lashed and slashed at him, as soon as he had laid down his guard and replied, “Well, good for us then. I think we squashed the little bugger.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. The Moor-Orca are very resilient. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this one yet. Tuckwar’s gone to her home town, I’m sure she’ll warn the people she can. And now it is time for us to part ways.”
They’d come to a fork in the path; the path on the right led to Farcrace, the town of business of Lord Beavis, the one on the left led to Athen, hometown of the Wizard of All.
“Well, EnPsyClops, pleasure fighting with you. I’ll catch you on the downside then.” With those words, Lord Beavis set off on his way to Farcrace.
“Yes, you shall, Lord Beavis. Yes, you shall.” The Wizard of All smiled and walked away, whistling a tune that he’d composed.
“Lord Beavis, what a pleasure to have you back with us. We heard the good tidings in Vijeti.”
“Chingol, how many times have I asked you not call me Lord? Beavis will do fine.”
Lord Beavis’ friend and comrade looked at him and smiled.
“Only in front of the commoners, old pal. How was the trip? Gremlin problem, I hear?”
Lord Beavis hesitated, before saying, “Not exactly. The Wizard of All informed me that it was some curious breed of orc. Looked rather like a gremlin, not at all the size of the ones in Little Orctown, so I guess the confusion is self-explanatory. No harm done, we’ve routed it for now.”
“Good good. So you must be all rested now, I hope?” Chingol smiled, a little too widely.
“What is it, Chingol? What’s happening in Farcrace?” Lord Beavis knew his friend too well to know when he was trying to tell him something.
“Oh, nothing at all. Just it seems that there’s a little trouble with the authorities here.”
“Trouble with the authorities?” The lord knew only too well about the draconian authorities who ran the business town of Farcrace. The Ascetics of Farcrace were businessmen-monks who’d been in charge of Farcrace for nearly 25 cycles now. They pledged their allegiance to the Pillar Code, their rules inscribed on a pillar in the entrance area of the town hall of Farcrace. Business was good, and so were the profits. But the town ran like a machine because the Ascetics of Farcrace ruled it with an iron fist and the theocratic policy they used. Their word was law, and their rules implemented forcefully on all. All residents were expected to submit to inspections every two moons, and had to establish that they plied their trade for at least 3/4thof the time within Farcrace. To cross the Ascetics, was to invite a truckload of trouble.
“We’re not supposed to speak of it openly.” Chingol’s voice had dropped to a whisper, “But it seems some of the traders from Farcrace, had travelled to the distant land of Tamsade on a benefit mission to aid the villagers. And there, they might have found some …dogma that the Ascetics will not allow. They say it is heresy.”
Lord Beavis was intrigued already. “Tell me more.”
But almost immediately, the towering shadow of an Ascetic on horseback loomed over them.
“Well met, Lord Beavis.”, Chingol’s voice had returned to normal. “It is unfortunate that we can’t celebrate now, for I must go to my workshop. But perhaps, you can drop by there, the third hour of the afternoon, maybe?”
Lord Beavis and Chingol nodded at each other and walked their separate ways.
Lord Beavis walked into Chingol’s workshop, now clothed in a worn-out blue suit that covered his whole body and disguised him well. The workshop itself was cluttered with tools, work-tables and vises. At many of these tables, blacksmiths and carpenters worked on implements and tools for sale or use in Farcrace. Lord Beavis walked right past all of them and straight to Chingol’s desk.
“Chingol, it’s me, Beavis. Is it safe to talk here?”
Chingol smiled. “Of course, it’s so loud in here; listening charms won’t yield a thing.”
“So what’s the scoop? Tell me everything.”
A worried look came on Chingol’s voice, and his voice fell to a whisper again.
“You know the gang. Iased, Jugjar and Jarene were among the people who went to Tamsade. Apparently, they found someone called the Pahadiwale Baba, some miracle-worker who wants to lead them on the path of truth and light and other such crap. No one’s really following him for any of that of course. His real crowd puller is that he can transform water into wine or mead or any other alcoholic beverage. He’s gathered quite the following. Ever since the gang returned to Farcrace, they’ve been spreading word about this Pahadiwale Baba. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but apparently the tale found its way to the Ascetics. They fear that this man could possibly signify the end of their power over Farcrace. If the Baba creates a revolt in Farcrace, the Ascetics could lose everything.”
Lord Beavis shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “That sounds bad. But what do you want me to do about it?” Beavis wasn’t the biggest supporter of the Ascetics, but the downfall of Farcrace was not exactly what he wanted either.
“Look, it’s not the Baba or his men you should be worried. The Baba may or may not even be in Farcrace. His men are not the kind to take up arms against the Ascetics. But they’re not taking any chances. They’re cracking down on us, Beavis. Shutting us down hard. Maybe they’re just being paranoid, but we’re feeling the ill-effects. The arrests have gone up, the number of people who had to repeat their inspections is on the rise, too many traders have had their licenses revoked. They’re afraid, Beavis. I don’t know of what.”
Lord Beavis was silent. Surely the problem could not be that serious? He’d been away too long, touring the towns after the Gluchmunster incident. Could it be possible that he’d missed this change in the way the Ascetics functioned?
“Chingol, are you asking me to stop the Ascetics? Because you know I can’t do that.”
“Not stop them, but make things smoother maybe. There’s a lot of innocent people suffering and they don’t know who to turn to.”
“Look, I’m sorry, but I’m no hero. I’m not going to stick my neck out to save this town. Especially not against the Ascetics.” Lord Beavis rose to leave.
Chingol sighed, and spoke, “Beavis, I’m your friend. Can’t you talk to them? For my sake?”
Lord Beavis looked at him, and said curtly, “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Come in, Lord Beavis. I’ve been expecting you.”
“I’m sorry, milady. I was summoned here. I don’t know who you are.”
The lady behind the desk settled herself and looked piercingly at Lord Beavis. Her thin, unbelievably arched eyebrows were raised ever so high, and her lips were pursed in her thin grim smile. Her face looked like the battlefield for cosmetics and age to fight their war. So far, cosmetics was fighting a losing battle.
She spoke again in her drawn out, cloying voice.
“I’m Ryena Antibas, the Cultural Administrator for Farcrace.”
“Cultural Administrator? I’m sorry... what’s that?”
“ Oh, a new post made by the Ascetics. We’ve noted that a lot of our traders are picking up foreign traditions and cultures which represent a threat to our native culture. We need to be proud of our traditions, not have them mixed into riff-raff. It’s my job to …keep the riff-raff out, weed out the undesirables. And you’re going to help me.” Ryena smiled her grim smile again.
“Excuse me, did you say I’m going to help you? How exactly?”
“You’re a warrior or something, aren’t you? I heard that you fought some gremlins and some sea monsters and minor tribulations like those. Surely you can handle a few rabble-rousers.” Ryena’s tone was dismissive and curt.
“Handle them, milady?”
“Why, execute them of course!” Ryena smiled with a gleam in her eyes, “You can start with this fool of a blacksmith guildmaster, Chingol. He’s one of their ringleaders.”
Lord Beavis stood up, smiled and said, “Of course, milady. Anything for the protection of Farcrace.”
Within minutes, Beavis was in Chingol’s workshop.
“I think I can help. Round up everyone you know, and meet me in the guild hall.”
An hour or so later, several people stood in the guild hall. Chingol went around introducing them quickly to Lord Beavis.
“This is the Lady Dita Rain, staunchly against the Ascetics. This is Acolyte Bridge, our inside man who is friendly to our cause. This is Percy Wallgay, one of the men in power right now.”
Lord Beavis looked them over.
“Is this all of you?”
“Unfortunately yes, only around ten of us.”
“So you really do want me to overthrow the Ascetics?”
Chingol smiled mysteriously.
“We hoped you’d help.”
Lord Beavis’ face contorted into a frown.
“I’m not helping you stage a revolt. Not just yet. For now, I have to turn you in.”
“What?!” Chingol was shocked.
“Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”