Episode 2 – And They’re Off

Destiny Deceived – Episode Two

“Remind me again why we’re killing rats” said Destiny, and stomped down on another unfortunate rodent’s head.

“Because you need the experience.”

“Badas, we’re supposed to be saving the world from the Dark Lord, not from some skanky, ageing rodents. We’re adventurers, not pest controllers.”

“Oh, alright then missy, why don’t you just march into the Dark Lord’s Lair, zap him with your little lightning spell – make sure you don’t miss with your one shot by the way – and then we’ll all go home. Think you’re up to that? No, didn’t think so.

“So, we start with the weaker prey, and work our way up. Besides, Mrs Giggins is paying us ten pieces of gold for this. Plus we can keep all the gold these little critters drop.”

“Yeah, why do they do that?” said Destiny, “What do rats want with gold?”

“Probably the same thing as skeletons.” Destiny looked blank. “Oh, I don’t know – I’ve really never thought to ask before. They just do.”

“Fine, are we about done? I can’t see any more.”

“Yeah, I think so. Right, let’s go tell Mrs Giggins we’ve finished.”

“Right – hey, where’d all the bodies go?”

“You like your questions don’t you? The bodies are gone – that’s what happens when adventurers kill stuff. And then they take the gold and/or items of use or value that are left behind.”

“Seems odd to me, the rats in our old barn never disappeared after I killed them. We usually ate them – we were quite poor.”

“Well, indeed, what sort of Chosen One doesn’t come from a deprived background?”

They headed up the rickety old staircase into the shop above. Mrs Giggins stood behind the counter, her ever-present apron bound tightly around her vast belly, and her equally ever-present beaming smile plastered across her face.

“Ohh, are you done luvvies? Wonderful. Here’s your money, and every penny well earned.” She pulled a purse from beneath the counter and carefully counted out ten, shiny gold pieces. “And, since you were done so quickly, here help yourself to a pie.” She held out a basket of her famous pies. Destiny’s stomach rumbled as the smell of freshly baked pastry wafted into her nose, and she quickly grabbed one of the enormous pies and smiled her thanks.

She and Badas left the shop and headed to the tavern to meet Borlid and Jahra. They entered through the main doors and peered into the gloomy interior. Their two companions were at a table in the far corner, four beers already waiting.

“Hi guys, you survived the fight of the century against the fearsome rattus norvegicus.”

“Har har, now shift over, heroic barbarian warrior needs a seat.”

“Ok, so we need to decide which way we are headed.” said Borlid, tugging a map from his pack. “We have two choices. We are here, and we are headed here. As you can see, the direct route is across a mountain range. Tough going, but shorter than the alternative route, along this river.”

“So, we take the river. The mountains would be a nightmare this time of year. Especially when you’re just wearing a loincloth” said Badas.

“Well, actually, we think Destiny should decide. She is the Chosen One, after all.”

“She’s what? Hey! Look, here,” Badas waved his sword tattoo under Borlid’s nose, “Chosen One here too, remember?”

“Oh, right. Of course, there are two Chosen Ones. How could I forget.” Borlid turned away from Badas. “So, which way should we go, Destiny?”

“I think we should go over the mountains. It’s shorter, and besides, it seems like much more of an adventure that way than spending days just sitting on a boat.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake! More of an adventure? What’s wrong with you, girl? We just want to get there, do the job, then go home and enjoy the rewards.”

“But, you’re a barbarian warrior, aren’t you in it for the thrill of the adventure?”

“No, I’m in it for the gold. I sort of like being alive thank you very much.” Badas sat back and folded his arms.

“Borlid, Jahra, what do you think we should do?”

“Well,” said Jahra, “Much as it pains me to say it, I actually tend to agree with Badas. The mountains are dangerous, especially at this time of year. The mountain trolls will be hibernating, but the path becomes treacherous with the colder days.”

“Borlid?”

“Sorry, Destiny. I still think it should be your choice, but they are right, the mountains are dangerous.”

“Fine, we’ll take the river” Destiny caught Badas’s smug little grin and poked her tongue out at him.

~*~

The boat fare cost all of the money they had made from Mrs Giggins, plus a little on top, but even Destiny had to admit that it was nice to relax in the small boats as they drifted serenely down the river. She would have preferred excitement and danger, but even getting to sit down for more than five minutes was more than she’d ever had on the farm.

They were sharing lunch with some of the boatmen who crewed the barge they rode on. They were an amiable bunch, and knowledgeable about the river and its trade.

“There’s been far less traffic on the river in recent months, though,” Boris, a young man from Glarsk, far to the west was saying, “ever since the orcs started moving down here.”

“Orcs? Moving here from where?” said Destiny.

“They live in large tunnel complexes in the mountains, but in recent months they’ve started raiding the river and surrounding towns.”

“Really? So, you could say that the mountains are now safer than the river? Isn’t that interesting, Badas?”

“I couldn’t have predicted that, I haven’t been this way for years.”

“No, but doesn’t it seem like the sort of thing the Chosen One might have a gut feeling about? And doesn’t it seem that said Chosen One and her companions would do well to follow that feeling?”

“Not to me. This Chosen One felt nothing except cold, hard logic.”

“Yes, and doesn’t that tell you something about your claim at being a Chosen One?”

Badas said nothing, just stared at her, a scowl painted across his face.

~*~

That little wench! So he wasn’t a proper Chosen One, neither were any of them. He knew there was at another Chosen One running around somewhere, making at least three of them. And she accused him of not being genuine.

He was just forming a reply when a warning shout went up. He leapt to his feet and drew his sword in one fluid motion, eyes roving the banks, looking for the danger.

There – orc archers lined the banks, waiting for the boats to reach them. He sheathed his sword and sprinted along the slow moving barge, diving into the water over the prow. Powerful strokes carried him quickly to the river bank, arrows whizzing past him from both directions as archers on the boats shot back at the orcs.

He ran up the bank and drew his sword again. Its frenzied orcish turned heads in the ranks of his enemy, and he used their confusion to rush into an attack.

He fought like a madman, his mind lost in a haze of barbarian rage. He cut, stabbed, punched, headbutted, kicked, kneed, even bit his enemies as he cut a swathe through them. Another orc fell to his blade, and he turned instinctively to the sound of footfalls behind him, raising his sword for the deadly blow.

“Woah! Badas, it’s me” he stopped his blade an inch short of slicing Destiny in two. She looked absurdly pleased with herself again. “I got one! An orc, he was sneaking up on Jahra, and I got him. Zapped him, and then stabbed him.”

“Wow, a whole orc, all by yourself?” he swept his eyes over the pile of bodies littering the ground around him. “Worthy of ballads, I’m sure.”

“Oh, I suppose you think that being a Chosen One is all about how many orcs you kill, huh?”

“Basically, yes. That’s what the whacking big sword is for. The Dark Lord isn’t going to defeat himself.”

“Nor are you going to defeat him by killing orcs. There are rather  lot of them, you know, and you may have a whacking big sword, and huge, bulging muscles, all glistening with a sheen of sweat, and…uh, what was I saying?”

Badas grinned and flexed a little. Not a lady born who could resist. He turned and headed back towards the boats, which had drawn up to the bank to pick them up.

He was still chuckling to himself when he leapt over the side of the nearest boat to be confronted by Jahra cradling a still body. She looked up at him, tears staining her cheeks.

“Borlid…he’s dead.”

~*~

It seemed unreal to Destiny. Borlid was dead. They stood around the grave they had hastily dug, Badas doing much of the work, his muscles straining as they worked to fling huge shovelfuls of dirt out of the whole.

Jahra stood at one end of the grave, explaining what had happened.

“He died bravely, defending this small group of hobb-uh, halflings. The little fellows were pinned down and Borlid stepped up to…uh, yes?” she looked down at the small figure tugging at her sleeve.

“I’m not a halfling, I’m a gnome. And so is Barry.”

“Gnomes? Oh, I am sorry. Borlid died defending a small group of gnomes and…yes?” The small figure was tugging at her sleeve again.

“Jeffrey isn’t a gnome, and nor is Cedric. They’re halflings.”

“Oh, I see. My apologies. Borlid died defending a group of halflings and gnomes.” She paused, waiting for another interruption, but none came. “Unfortunately, despite his best efforts two of them were captured.”

“Yeah, and you gotta come help us get them back. Jeffrey’s the Chosen One, you know. He’s going to save the world, get the Ring of Dark Power and throw it in the fires at Ack’Rooban.”

Destiny heard Badas groan and mutter. “Oh great, another one.”

She glared at him, and he shrugged. He could be so infuriating sometimes. She turned back to Jahra and the gnome.

“Excuse me, little man? Your friend can’t be the Chosen One, I  am.”

“You are?”

“Yes she is,” Badas stepped forward, “and so am I. Isn’t this fun? What’s your name, little man?”

“My name is Nigel, and less of the little man thing. I’m not a man at all. I am, as I mentioned, a gnome, and I’m rather tall for one of my kind thank you very much.”

“Guys, can we do this later? We’re trying to bury our friend here.”

~*~

“So, we’re helping the halflings now?” Badas groaned to himself as Destiny’s whining started up again.

“Hey, gnomes too” put in a small voice from somewhere near Badas’s elbow.

“Whatever, how does it help our quest?”

With Borlid laid to rest, they had left the boats behind to follow the orcs and their captives. Jahra had been eager to go, not too surprisingly. She lead the small party at a breakneck pace. Destiny had been more resistant, not understanding why they needed this little detour.

Badas was interested in finding out more about yet another Chosen One, this one not even human. He wondered just how many had been sent out, and why none of the Chosen Ones from previous quests had ever met up during their quests. This last point bothered him the most. He had always worked off of the beaten path, and once or twice he had cheated entirely, so it was not beyond the realms of likelihood that he had never encountered another. But why had none of the others met up and exposed the secret?

“Badas, are you even listening to me?” Destiny’s shrill little voice cut into his train of thought.

“Not really. Look, we can’t just let these poor little guys lose their friends. Especially if one of them is another Chosen One. Maybe this will lead you to accept that the whole Chosen One thing is a scam.”

“Well, surely there are fakes out there, but I was chosen by the King’s own soothsayer. I’m the genuine article.”

“I was chosen by the King’s soothsayer too, but I am in no way the real article. My birthmark is a tattoo, it fooled the daft old hag in the silly hat though.”

“A tattoo? I knew you were a fake! And now you’ve just proved it to me. Thank you very much, Badas. Now I know for sure that I am the real Chosen One. My birthmark is real.”

“Maybe, but your masculinity isn’t. You’re a fake too, remember?”

“Well…but…I, well, obviously that part of the prophecy was wrong.”

“Why that part? Perhaps the part about the birthmark was wrong, and I’m the real Chosen One.”

“You…I…I mean, how…Shut up! It’s me, I’m the real one.”

“How do you know?”

“I…don’t, I guess.” Her face fell, and suddenly Badas felt bad about having pushed her like this. But it may be for the best.

“Look, let’s not worry about it for now. Let’s just see where the adventure takes us, shall we? At least you got away from the farm, does it really matter if you are The Chosen One, or just A Chosen One?”

“Perhaps not. Okay, let’s just see where we end up. Speaking of which, I think we’re there.”

Badas looked ahead to see that Jahra had come to a halt at the crest of a hill. Peering down, he saw what had to be the orc camp. Tents and camp fires littered the valley below.

“This is not going to be an easy fight” said Jahra, gripping her staff.

“You’re not wrong, that’s a lot of orcs, and only a few of us. I think we need to go in quietly.”

“They killed Borlid.”

““This is true, but you understand that this is a barbarian warrior telling you we should go in quietly?”

“They killed Borlid.”

“And they’ll kill us too if we charge in there, weapons flailing.”

“Need some help?” They all turned to see Boris, grinning at the head of a small army of boatmen. “We lost some men too, thought we might be able to help you and get some small measure of satisfaction at avenging the deaths of our friends. Plus, y’know, boating is really dull – we could use some excitement.”

“Ok then,” said Badas, trademark grin back on his face and sword drawn, “now we can go kick some orcs.”

“D’ak bootargne!”

“Shouldn’t we have some kind of battle plan first?” said Nigel.

“Battle plan? What’s one of those?” Badas was genuinely puzzled. The idea of planning something as chaotic as a battle seemed an odd thing to attempt. Rather like herding cats.

“He’s right,” said Jahra, “we need some sort of plan. It’s no good just charging in waving our weapons around and yelling battle cries.”

“Always worked for me.”

“Perhaps, but you’re a lunatic. We have an army of inexperienced fighters here. Handy with an oar, but that’s not a whole lot of use in a fight.”

“So, what do you suggest?”

“If I may, I might have an idea.” All eyes turned to the diminutive Nigel.

~*~

Badas grinned as the dragon swooped low over his advancing army of boatmen. It was smaller than it should have been, and if you looked really closely you could see smooth skin where there should have been scales. But if you didn’t know it was faked, you’d never guess it. Those gnome illusionists really knew their business.

He whooped as the orc camp awoke to the sounds of alarmed yells from the patrols, until all sound was cut off by an almighty roar from the dragon.

The pandemonium made the orcs easy pickings, even for the inexperienced boatmen. Badas ran through the camp, targeting the orcs that had remained together enough to arm themselves and attempt a defence of the camp. There weren’t many of them, and he didn’t really blame them. A angry dragon was not a foe to be taken lightly.

It soon became clear that the orcs were not putting up any kind of a fight, and Badas turned to his makeshift army and instructed them to begin a sweep of the tents to look for the missing halflings.

“Badas! Badas, Jahra.” An out of breath Destiny pointed off into the woods.

“What about her?”

“Following orcs. Help her.”

He nodded and took off in the direction of Destiny’s pointing finger. It wasn’t hard to see which way Jahra had gone. The trail of dead orcs, their skulls cracked in, was a bit of a giveaway. And the screams of further unfortunate orcs helped too.

The screams suddenly stopped, punctuated by one piercing, high pitched scream that couldn’t have come from an orc. Badas stepped up his pace, dodging the usual detritus that littered the forest floor, as well as all the bodies, despite the darkness of the night.

He broke into a clearing and saw Jahra, lying on her face, surrounded by orcs. They were all laughing, at least they were until they were cut off by Badas’s blade. Three of them fell before they even knew he was there, the others had sheathed their weapons, happy to use their fists and feet on the helpless woman before them. They quickly fell beside their comrades.

“Are you ok? They aren’t worth your life, revenge or no.”

“It wasn’t revenge, there are more of them up ahead. They have the hobbits.”

~*~

Back at the camp, Destiny wandered between tents, peering into each in search of two small figures. She had no luck, and neither did anyone else.

It occurred to her that the two halflings would not have known about the dragon, and would likely have been every bit as terrified as the fleeing orcs. If they hadn’t been chained up, their instinct would have been to flee, as their captors had.

She walked to the edge of the camp, not really sure what sign a pair of fleeing halflings might leave that she would notice over the signs that an army of fleeing orcs had left.

She was about to give up and see if anyone had found them in one of the tents when she saw it. A small shoe, the size of a child’s foot. Or a halfling’s foot.

She stooped and picked it up. So, they had come this way. She wondered why whichever of them had dropped his shoe had not stopped to pick it up again. Had they been that scared, even here, a good way from where the dragon had made its dive? Maybe. Or maybe they had not been given a chance to stop.

She picked up her pace as she realised that this may be as much a rescue mission as a search. She almost stopped and went back as fear washed over her. She had beaten an orc before, but that had mostly been luck. And this time there could be more. But those little guys might need her help. And there might not even be any orcs.

She moved quickly through the forest, painfully aware of every cracking twig she trod on, and every painful branch that whipped her face as she hurried past.

“Blas munack, boors nehab.”

Orcish! Destiny froze in place. Had they heard her? She muttered the opening lines of her lightning spell, at least she could take down one of them.

“Bloorsnarg!”

She heard the footsteps now, and a laugh. Terror constricted her throat, and she coughed to clear it. A figure appeared out of the gloom in front of her, she raised her hands…and nearly zapped a grinning Badas.

“Hiya Destiny, what are you doing out here? Oh, I rescued Jahra by the way, and the two halflings.”

“Hi there” came a chirpy voice. Destiny peered into the dark behind Badas and could just make out the three figures, two short, one tall.

She sighed. Another chance at the honour and glory, and he’d beaten her to it. Again. She looked back at him. Even in the dim forest, his muscles found enough light to gleam. Damn him and his…wait.

“Badas, look out!” she said, and loosed her lightning spell at the new shadow that had appeared behind the barbarian. The orc was flung back into a tree, body twitching at the electric shock.

Badas grunted, and turned to spear the orc on his sword. “I knew he was there.”

“Of course you did…oh, I feel…different somehow. Stronger.”

“Oh yeah, that’ll happen. The more stuff you kill, the better you become.”

“Just like that? All of a sudden, like?”

“Aye, it’s one of those hero things, like the rat bodies and the loot. I expect you’ll be able to use more powerful magic now – still got that book of magic from your attic?”

~*~

That night, Destiny dreamed. She was home again, knee deep in cow muck, as usual.

She sighed and threw another pitchfork of hay over the side of the next stall. The cow thanked her politely and she moved on to the next.

Hang on.

“Did you just thank me?”

“Well, of course, it’s only polite.”

“But you’re a cow.”

“Yes, but that’s no reason for rudeness.”

“You’ve never spoken before.”

“You’ve never dreamed about me before.”

“Oh, this is a dream. I see. I usually have more exciting dreams than this.”

“Well, you have an exciting life now, we thought it best to tone down your dreams a little.”

“You…toned down my dreams? How?”

“Uh, nevermind. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that. Besides, we have more important things to talk about.”

“A cow has important things to talk about?”

“The cow is just a shape. My real form is more…well, less…Look, I’m not a cow, ok? I just picked a familiar shape to enter your dream. Sheesh, can we get over the bovine thing already?”

“Well, sooooorry.”

“Just pay attention. You are going to wake soon. I need to tell you that you are not The Chosen One…”

“WHAT! But I must be! I was chosen, I have the mark.”

“It is as your musclebound friend says, a setup. However, time is pressing upon us, and we have need of a real Chosen One.

“We think you have the potential we require, young Destiny, you even have the right name. You are our Chosen One. Your task will be to…”

“SQUEEEEEE!!!! You mean, I realy am the real Chosen One?” Destiny leaped into the stall and threw her arms around the cow’s neck. “Ew – you’re really stinky, you know?”

“Yes, quite. Now, your task is as your king stated, but you will not bring him the Ring of Dark Power. Instead, you will use it to usurp the Dark Lord and take his power from him. I will come back to you and give you further instructions. For now, I grant you a boon, a new power to aid you in your quest. Use it wisely.”

Destiny awoke in the small tent she shared with Jahra and lay still, turning over in her head what the cow had told her. Was it real? On the one hand, it had said that Badas had been right and that she was not a real Chosen One, but on the other hand, it had made her a real Chosen One, but on the other other hand, she had no idea who or what the cow represented.

But it had made her a Chosen One.

And it had said it had granted her a new power. What had it done? How was she supposed to know how to use whatever power it had given her if she didn’t even know what it was?

Just do what comes naturally, Destiny.

Who said that? The cow? Oh well, she supposed she should give it a try. If it worked, at least she would know the dream had been real.

She raised a hand and concentrated on a spot above her head. Something in her brain clicked and she knew what to do. The air shimmered before her and something began to form there. Something brown and…

SPLAT

“Eeeewwwwww!” What sort of a power was that?

Jahra grunted and rolled over.

“What is that smell? Ugh! Destiny, why is there cow poo on your face?”

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