I decided the best course on this job would be to learn as much as I could about my target then choose the best tool for the job and then formulate my plan to put it to use. Sounds complicated right? That’s because it is. When you’re going up against a target that is well protected and three times your size, planning is key. I’m naturally a sneaky bastard and like to make sure I’ve got at least half of my ducks in a row before I run off and get to work. That’s just how I roll. A plan to get in, two plans to get out, and the creativity to improvise when it all goes to shit has always served me well. Don’t see any reason to change.
All of that factored in I chose to spend some time living with the tribe. Valsh and I would have to come up with a cover story about why I am there. I mean if a stranger shows up for no reason and suddenly the chief drops dead, the stranger is going to be the natural suspect. Gonna have to play this one out carefully.
Valsh had left me a little carved, wooden totem with a stone base as a link to him on his world. Ugly damned thing…kinda like him. From the way he told it the totem is capable of opening a portal just big enough to pass it through to a small altar Valsh keeps near him. If it is safe for me to come across he will return it to me through a similar portal linked to the stone base along with something else to link me to him. Then I can travel via my usual method. It’s all so James Bond. I dig it.
I press the little purple stone in the top of the totem’s head and a small portal opens directly behind it. I can feel the hot, humid air of the orc world through the opening. I can also see the top of what looks like a table just the other side. I pick up the totem and set it through onto the table behind. As soon as I pull my hand back through the portal it closes with a little pop leaving the smell of ozone in the air. I put the small stone base on the table beside my bed. I grab a glass of water and a piece of hard bread and some cheese from the plate on that table. Then I sit on my bed to eat.
I have no idea how long it will take for Valsh to signal me to come through so I decide to finish getting cleaned up. I’m starting to sweat out the Scotch I was drinking last night, and I smell like death. Bad enough that it’s corrupting the taste of this cheese. Right, time to wash my nasty ass.
There are a lot of things from my previous life on Terra that I don’t miss. I gave them up and never looked back. A hot shower and soap are not on that list. There is something ritualistic about it for me. Maybe it helps me center and focus my ADHD brain on the task at hand. Maybe it calms that nervous cat that lives in my hindbrain. Maybe it’s that and a whole lot more. Regardless I enjoy it.
The room came with a wash basin in the floor that’s big enough to use as a tub and Bobby helped me rig it into a shower. The shower bit is really just a small barrel of water hung from my ceiling that refills from some rainforest planet through…you guessed it…a small portal that I can open just above it when it gets low. The water is heated by a small magical gemstone that I can activate with key word. The plumbing is super simple. Had to be because I had to make it, and I am NOT a plumber. It consists of a small piece of pvc piping attached to the bottom of the barrel with a valve that opens with a pull chain and a shower head on the end. It’s rustic but it gets the job done.
Somethings about life in The Bar and life back on Terra are exactly the same. Every time you get in the shower the goddamn phone rings! I was just starting to lather up my hair when I hear the pop of the portal close from, I assume, the return of Valsh’s totem. Sonofabitch! I rinse everything quickly and dry off. I follow that with the usual strapping on of clothing and kit, including a wide array of pointy things. Finally I think I’m ready to go. Hopefully nothing has changed in the time that has passed, and Valsh is still ready to receive company.
On the table next to the totem is a gold earring that Valsh sent through when he returned the totem. He was supposed to send me something to link directly to him…oh nasty! That’s the ring he had through his goddamn tusk! Oh well, it does create a vivid image in my mind. Should make it pretty easy to travel directly to him. I keep forgetting he’s not stupid. I’ve got to get those fantasy novel stereotypes out of my head. One day it’s gonna get me in trouble.
I walk over to my door and start the routine that will change its destination from The Bar to Valsh’s home world. I know I’ve said this before, but everything in The Bar works on this principal. Every door is a portal. This one just happens to default to the landing outside of the guest rooms in The Bar unless it’s aimed somewhere else. The runes carved into the door are what allows me to change where it opens. Just before I activate the last rune, I close my left hand around the ***shudder*** tooth-ring and focus my mind on Valsh. Once I have his ugly mug firmly fixed in my mind, I touch the last rune. It kind of tingles under my touch signaling a connection. That’s my cue to make my entrance, so I open the door and step through into the jungle on the other side.
When the momentary dizziness of walking through the portal clears, I see Valsh sitting by a small fire chanting softly under his breath. We’re in what appears to be a camp in the jungle. I’ve seen ritualistic chanting more than a few times in my travels, so I decide to let him finish before I speak. The chant goes on for about five more minutes before he finally stops and opens his eyes.
“Thank you for not interrupting my prayers Tole. Communing with my gods is the source of my shamanistic powers. It is through their benevolence that I am able to do what I do,“ he said rising to his feet. “Would you like anything to eat or drink? We are going to be here for at least a day before we can return to my village.” Motioning to a log that had been crafted into a bench he said, “Please sit.”
“Why so long?” I asked. “I didn’t bring provisions for camping in the jungle.”
“The camp is well stocked and what we lack the jungle can provide. I left the village under the pretense of a religious retreat to seek guidance from the gods in our War Leader’s planned assault on the Green Mountain Tribe’s village. These retreats usually last three to four days, and I have only been gone for two.” He picked up a gourd and tug a long pull from it followed by one of the more impressive belches I have ever heard. “My intent is to bring you back with me as having been sent by the gods to aid us in the battle. We do not know much of the Green Mountain orcs and you are of a good stature to be able to sneak around their village and gather information that would prove useful in the battle.”
“And your leader would be willing to take help from an outsider? I mean if your people are as honor bound as you have said won’t this be an affront to their prowess as warriors?”
“If you had just walked into our village offering to do it, you’d be dead before you finished your first sentence. If you come with the blessing of the gods and under my protection, no one would dare touch you. My War Leader may be insane, but he is also devout in his beliefs. He would never question me in matters of the will of the gods. Funny thing is, you actually are here at the will of my gods. Just not for the reason I will give. You were sent here to end the needless deaths of my people.”
Oh great! That’s just fucking perfect! I’m working for a nutcase! Oh well, as long as I get paid.
“I was hired to end a target. Saving your people isn’t even on my radar. I’m just here for a job. It’s all business to me Valsh. Any side benefits are purely coincidental.”
He laughed at that. That big booming laugh carried out into the jungle and things cried out and fled before it. “I always find non-believers amusing,” he said once his laugh was under control. “It has been my experience that things like our meeting do not just happen. Random circumstance rules most of our lives because the gods must use our actions to judge us worthy or unworthy. That said though, when something dire befalls a people, the gods do intervene. If they do not, it is likely because they are the cause of the dire happenings. Your name was given to me during prayer as was the plan I now follow. Believe what you will small one, but the gods do watch over this.”
“Whatever,” I said with a little chuckle. “I’ll trust my skills over divine intervention any day. Just point me at your target and get out of my way. Tell your gods to do likewise and their will gets done.”
Valsh walked back to the small hut in the camp laughing under his breath. He had to turn sideways and squat a little to enter. My first thought was that the door was a terrible design for someone as large as these orcs seemed to be. After a second of thought though I saw the genius in it. No one can kick the door in and charge into the room with the way that door makes them contort to pass through it. I’d have no problem with it, but then I suppose one my size isn’t considered much of a threat. What a way to live. Always on guard. Always vigilant for someone or something wanting to kill you. I could get used to this place. It suits me.
Valsh came back a few minutes later carrying a small leather pouch and a bowl filled with a black paste. He placed the bowl on the log next to me and then unrolled the leather pouch. It contained several small steel needles and what I can only guess were branding irons. It also contained a brush, small knife, and some waxy looking thread. After he finished arranging his implements he took my left arm in his hand. It looked like a grown up holding a baby’s arm. He turned my arm over in his hand a few times examining the skin.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked him.
“Thought I’d give you a down-payment on our agreed upon price. How do you open your portal home?”
I took a small stone and a small piece of leather out of my pocket and showed them to him. “I put this stone on this leather and activate the runes inscribed on it. The stone carries the magic of The Bar in it to power the spell so I can open the portal from worlds that have no innate magic.”
“Bah!” He spat. “Cumbersome and risky. What if you lose the stone or the hide? How will you get home? Let me show you something. Press hard here with one of your fingers.” He was pointing to a spot on the inside of his forearm, so I pressed like he said. I could feel a hard spot. I cocked an eyebrow at him and he continued, “I have a power stone much like yours imbedded deep in my arm. It serves to power the runes that have been inscribed on my flesh. I would do this for you if you are willing.”
I nodded at him and he took a small brush out of the leather pouch. He dipped it into the black paste and carefully began to draw runes on the inside of my forearm. I was so focused on the work he was doing it took me a second to realize he had begun a kind of sublingual humming. Something told me that it was part of the ritual of inscribing the runes and that there was more to this that simple tattoo work and jamming a rock in my arm. The level of detail and precision that Valsh was able to get despite the size of his hands was amazing.
It took him the better part of an hour to finish his work. I assumed that this was the pattern he would use to do the final tattoo work. I’ve got more than a few tattoos from my life before and that’s how it’s always worked. The artist spends a little time laying out his plan in ink before he begins the painstaking work of tattooing. I was so wrong. When he was done with the inscription, Valsh looked at me and said, “Brace yourself. This may sting a bit.” Then he gripped my arm to either side of his work and said something in orcish. It felt like he’d set the ink on fire. I won’t lie…I screamed and the world went white.
When I came to I could smell burnt flesh. It took me a second to realize it was mine. The runes, however, were there on my forearm seared into my flesh in the darkest shade of black I’ve ever seen. The last rune had a tail that trailed to a small incision that was held closed by very small and delicate stitches. I guess he put the stone in while I was unconscious. He started putting a foul smelling paste on the incision and then covered it in a bandage.
“I cannot use magic to heal the incision. It would interfere with the connection of the stone to the runes. By the time your work here is done it should be healed enough to let you travel home. Here drink this,” he said as he handed me the gourd he’d been drinking from when I arrived. It was sweet and tasted kind of like fermented pineapple. It had a kick.
“That hurt like hell,” I said. ”Will all of the work you are doing for me as payment hurt that bad?”
“No. I thought I’d do the easy one first. The others will be much worse,” he said with a toothy grin.
“Worse?” I asked and then took another long pull on the drink he’d handed me.“Much…” he said and then burst into that deep laugh of his all over again.