It was a blisteringly hot day in AshtonVale. A tattered brick path wove out from a dense thicket and through the fields, all the way through the mighty township. The beaten-down pathways curved and zigged throughout the array of wooden shacks and cottages. Inside the castle, Jarl Ein sat upon his golden throne with a pristine red wine glass, and beside him kneeled a brawny young man in chainmail armor.
A hunched man in robes made his way to the king with his head pointed at the floor.
“What is it?” The Jarl demanded.
In a panicky, rushed tone the man spoke, “Jarl, the province of Cheirstead is requesting reinforcements, I’m afraid the brigade didn’t make i-”
The Jarl raised an arm with contempt on his face as the robed figure silenced. The man looked up with pleading eyes but saw a towering man with no time for patience.
He turned to leave until the young man spoke up. “What happened to Charles and his men?”
The figure stopped and looked at the young man. He was a handsome lad with long brown hair that fell over his eyes. He couldn’t have been over twenty. The hooded man spoke, “The goblins swarmed them fifteen miles out from Chearistead. Their masses grow by the day I’m afraid, and there is but little time before they march on our kingdoms.”
The boy’s brow tensed and a discouraged look appeared on his face. “What do we do then father?” He asked the king above him.
Ein put a large hand over his long brooding face. He looked down at his son with a scowl. “We do nothing, you imbecile! Charles had been one of our finest and now he and his whole squad have perished! All because of some squabble in Chearistead? The shabby mining town of dwarves? Let those abominations come, we’ll do what Charles could not!”
The boy beside him quickly shot up and raised a finger to the king. “Charles was one of our own and you sent him to die!”
The king bared his teeth. “Charles had been tasked to take care of a few goblins, if that’s too much for him then maybe it’s good he’s not returning,” he said bitterly.
The boy coiled back as if he had been slapped.
The king lifted a finger. “Check your tone before speaking to royalty or I’ll reunite you with your good friend, Charles.”
The boy felt his heat rising. “We’ll all be seeing him with you under the crown,” His fists clenched.
The king stared back blankly at the boy while swirling his glass in his fingers. “You blind fool; you think ruling a kingdom is that simple? It’s not as crystal clear as you may think, Oliver!” He roared as he beamed the wine glass at the boy’s head.
The glass caught him on the temple and shattered. Tiny shards pierced the top of his head and poked out of his hair as wine and blood dripped down his face. A shocked Oliver stumbled backward as he reached for his sword. By this point, the man in robes turned and bolted from the room.
Oliver yanked his sword from the sheath, a hulking, slick, bronze blade that was even heavier than it looked. He gripped the handle and held the tip out towards the Jarl. “You are to blame, you coward!” Oliver said with tear-stained eyes. “You’ll get us all killed upon the throne! I will not stand for treason, Father!” he said as he inched closer to the king. “I see you tarnish this kingdom’s legacy every day! You throw our brothers and sister into the fray like pawns and you’ve pushed away every ally we’ve known!”
The foot soldiers guarding the hall heard the commotion at this point and ran into the room. Jarl Ein stood up slowly with an angry sneer on his lips, “So what, you’re gonna kill your own blood? Well get it over with you little whelp, I’m getting tired of hearing your voice,” he challenged.
Oliver felt his head get hot and his pace quickened. “If that’s what it takes,” He said with a sinister tone and walked towards his father. “Halt!” a soldier yelled.
Jarl Ein leaned back in his seat and kicked his feet up, “You couldn’t kill a sloth in it’s sleep, what makes you think you can strike down your old man?” He scoffed.
Oliver reached the throne as he locked eyes with his father. “You drive us further into the dirt with every whimsical decision you make. You play the role of betrayer in the shoes of a Jarl, and I will not let this kingdom unravel by your hand!” Oliver raised the sword above his head with a primal yell.
The Jarl’s mocking grin turned to a grimace of shocking horror as he realized his son wasn’t bluffing. Oliver brought the sword down as one of the guards tackled him from behind. The blade whistled down and slashed a sickly red line across the face of the Jarl. The cut sliced his face below the nose at a 45-degree angle.
The soldier wrestled with Oliver on the floor as the King screamed and clutched his face. Horrible agonizing moans echoed throughout the castle as the king dropped and squirmed along the floor. “You wretched dog—you’ll be killed you know!” The other soldier said as he grabbed Oliver by the arms.
“You think you’re doing this kingdom a service? The rot takes hold at the throne, my brother. We must rid this land of tyranny!” Oliver yelled.
The guard simply kneed the boy in the back and said, “So murdering your father is the key? What’s wrong with you?” More guards ran in and rushed to the aid of their fallen king. They reached him as he sat up to face his son. The wound took up the whole front of his face. He opened his bloody red mouth and choked out a horrible gurgling sound that pierced the air as he tried to speak.
A group of soldiers grabbed Oliver and forced him out of the room. Oliver struggled to break free but was met with a debilitating punch to the stomach. He was escorted through several halls before being tossed into a small windowless cell. It was lit with candles in the corners of the room. Only a ratty wooden bench and bucket filled the desolate brick room.
A guard followed him in and slammed the iron door behind him. “You twisted, sadistic, little maniac,” he said as he looked down upon Oliver.
Oliver turned to look back but was met with a swift kick to the head which was followed by darkness.
Oliver woke the next morning on the cold stone floor with a pounding headache and crusted blood on his face. His armor, sword, and shoes were long gone.
“What the hell happened?” He asked himself, staring up at the crumbly foundation.
“You lost your composure, boy.” An old man’s voice croaked.
Oliver quickly sat up with his eyes darting across the room. “Who’s there?” Oliver demanded. He turned to see the same robed man from yesterday. Oliver suddenly recollected the previous day’s events.Oliver covered his face in his hands and shook his head.
The figure stood up and cleared his throat. “Listen, son, when things got hairy with your father, I split. A couple of guards stopped and questioned me on my way out of here yesterday wondering why I had been running. I told them I had urgent business for the king and was on my way until they had heard the commotion you stirred up. They didn’t exactly buy my story after that, and that’s why I’m here. More importantly, I heard rumors of what happened to Ein. Is it true?” he asked eagerly.
Oliver looked up, “That he lives? That I only grazed the man’s face? Yes it’s true,” he said with shame.
The hood of the figure shook in disapproval. “A real shame. I’m afraid to say it, but your father is a peril to any township in the region, including Ashtonvale. Anyone in his way will fall, Oliver. I see now he’s far past the point of reason, and I admire your attempt at finishing him.”
“Who are you?” Oliver demanded.
The man reached up and pulled down the back of his hood. Long pointy ears stuck out from a wrinkled grey face. The old elf smiled and said, “Back in Y’venore, they call me Oro, the Bolt Bender.”
Oliver’s jaw dropped. “An elf!? If my father knew you’d be hung by now. He only tolerates humans in the castle.”
Oro shook his head with a smile, “Well he’s not gonna find out and besides, we’re most definitely set to be hung as soon as he’s recovered.”
Oliver stirred and began pacing. “Maybe you are. I’m getting out of here,” he said shakily.
“Child, what makes you think you’re getting out of here on your own? The guards would cut you down before you left the basement. No, you’ll need me if you want to escape,” Oro said.
Oliver frowned at the old elf. “You’d only slow me down, grandpappy.”
Oro scowled at the boy and before Oliver could blink, the elf extended a finger directly above him. From his fingertip erupted a skinny shriek of light that crackled in the air and pinged the ceiling with a loud snap. A flash of blue illuminated the room as Oliver was showered in a blizzard of sparks.
Oliver dropped to a knee and shielded his face as the sparks rained over him.
Oliver felt the last of the sparks bounce off of his arms and back as Oro angrily stood over him. “Don’t be daft boy! We have but little time until we meet the noose.”
“Where did you learn that?” Oliver stood up with an eager curiosity and walked towards the elf. “The bolt, how did you cast it old man?”
Oro’s face reddened and his brow tensed. “There’s no time for explanation.”
Oliver took a backstep, stifling his anger. “Fine old man. What’s the move?” Oro looked around the darkroom with his hands on his hips. “We wait. The guards make a routine patrol to each dungeon room throughout the day. That’s when we strike.”
Oliver’s eyes squinted and an unsure frown surfaced on his face. “That’s it? Strike when they come to change the sheets? It’s a simple and risky plan. Anyone, even I, could have come up with that. How do you even know they’ll come in here?”
Oro shook his head. “But you didn’t think of it and besides, this isn’t my first time in your father’s dungeon.” He said with a wink.
“So what, we just attack when they open the door?” he asked.
Oro smiled once again showing chipped grey teeth. “You just sit tight right over there and leave the scheming to me.” He said nonchalantly.
Oliver sat down and groaned. “You better know what you're doing you nutty old elf,” he said.
Several hours passed in hostile silence. “Where’s this guard Oro? It’s been hours now,” Oliver said impatiently.
Oro remained as silent and still as a stone.
“You’re just some senile old wizard aren’t you? Mind rotted away with your youth, did it? Why don’t you just—” Before he could finish, Oro raised a hand directly at Oliver. Oliver only had time to widen his eyes in horror as a glistening purple beam struck him directly in the chest. He waited for the pain and darkness to follow yet he felt nothing. He looked up at Oro to see nothing. The empty bench on which he sat, still had the weight bending curve on it as if the old elf had left a permanent bend on the seat.
“Now shut up,” Oliver heard in the dim-lit room.
He stumbled back as if a bear had entered the room. “What the—” Oliver began but again was cut off.
“Look down you fool!” Oro said.
An astonished Oliver looked down at his hands to see only air. The reality hit him. “Invisibility? What kind of elf are you?” he asked the empty room.
“Silence fool, we’ll slip past the guards and rendezvous at the windmill outside of town. Don’t touch anything or you’ll lose the effect.” Oro said in a hushed tone.
Oliver stood up with an angry glare and groaned. He was about to remark before the heavy doors swung open.
A guard in plate armor burst into the room with his eyes scanning every corner. “Impossible!” The guard roared into the empty room.
Oliver saw his moment and took it. He slipped past the guard as quiet as he could and was on the move. He snuck past two more guards in the hall and hooved it upstairs. He found himself in a long hallway with lots of traffic. He snuck through quickly and dodged people as they passed directly in front of him. He snuck past the kitchen as a meal was taking place and a panicked conversation could be heard. “He’s in rough shape. Our court mage is doing everything she can, but I’m afraid it might not be enough.” Gasps and alarmed shrieks echoed through the room as Oliver slipped by. From there he found the exit and slipped out when a guard used the door. He was careful to avoid bumping into any peasants and squatters on the path out of AshtonVale.
The windy path curved out through the Merchant District where the few with enough coins gathered and bought their goods. As he passed the busy market, Oliver heard hushed murmurs and gossip of the king. “Did you hear of King Ein? They say his own son cut him down!”
“I heard his head was nearly split in two” came from a fisherman’s stall.
Oliver grinned and moved on through the square.
“Come one, come all! Buy Donnie’s newest gizmo for the small fee of five gold!”
Oliver turned to see a stubby gnome about three feet tall with an orange handlebar mustache standing on a box. He wore a brown leather apron that went down to his boots, all over a dirt-riddled white shirt. “Don’s got all the newest gadgets in town so don’t miss out! Watch as Donnie wields his newest masterpiece!”
The gnome hopped off the box and whipped out a strange chain-looking artifact. Black steel links chinked and jingled off each other leading to a dense metal ball the size of a grapefruit. “Created from Donnie’s own prison chain. Don has constructed the ultimate problem-solver!”
Oliver watched with pure amusement as the gnome began whirling the chain around like a lunatic.
“See the wrist action? It’s all in the craft folks, now look at this range!” The chain shot out in several directions as startled bystanders walked off.
Oliver laughed until the gnome changed course. He began spinning in rapid circles, creating a giant swing zone. Any viewers in attendance scattered at this point leaving only Oliver with the crazed gnome.
The gnome whirled out of control and fell to the ground as the chain flew from his grip. The ball of the chain carried the rest of it as it propelled and slammed into Oliver’s gut. The ball bounced off as all the air was forced out of him. Oliver dropped to the ground with a whispy noise as he tried to suck in air.
The gnome looked up startled at the newly visible character. “Well if you wanted the chain so bad why didn’t ya say so?” he asked Oliver who was coiled into a ball moaning.
Oliver crawled onto all fours and proceeded to spill his guts as the gnome laughed. “It’s not wise to creep up on Donnie like that; one might lose a limb.”
Oliver slumped over to his back gasping. “You crazy bastard, I oughta’ knock your teeth in!”
Once again the gnome broke into high-pitched shrieking laughter. “Donnie likes this one. This one’s got fire, but don’t kid yourself, you’ve got a set of broken ribs at the very least.” He said as he walked over to Oliver.
Oliver forced his body to move, but the crushing pain would not allow it as he stumbled back to the ground.
Donnie put a hand on Oliver’s back, “Come now boy, Donnie feels sorry. Let him help you.” Oliver wanted to slap the hand away but couldn’t muster the strength.
“Donnie’s got just the salve. Oh yes, Donnie will fix you up right as rain.” The old gnome helped Oliver to his feet.
With great effort, he escorted him into his tent and plopped him on the ground. “You oughta lose some weight boy.”
Donnie strutted over to a large wooden chest and pulled a key out from his boot. He slid the key in and pulled out a small black vial. “Ahh, here you are pal,” he said as he tossed it over to Oliver.
Oliver caught the vial, popped the cork, and began glugging immediately. The vial’s contents were thick as molasses and darker than coal. Oliver grimaced and tears welled up as he chugged.
Donnie’s hands shot up and began waving. “Wait! You’ve got the wrong goo!”
The vial flew to the floor as Oliver spewed the contents out of his mouth. The black liquid stained the floor in two different pools. He stood up and turned to Donnie with a black stained mouth. “What the hell did you just give me?”
But Donnie was laughing again. “Donnie gave the promised stuff, however you only need a sip boy.”
Oliver’s face reddened. “I’m pretty sick of your nonsen—” Oliver was stopped by the sudden realization that his ribs felt fine.
They were surely broken seconds before, yet he could feel nothing. “I figured that’d take some of the edge off, but you just fixed me! What was in that vial Donnie?”
Donnie grinned and raised his stubby arms. “Donnie got you his standard healing potion. In case you hadn’t heard, the name’s Donnie Thraben, tinkerer extraordinaire! Any potion, gadget, gizmo you can think of, Donnie made it first!” he said grandly.
Oliver couldn’t help but laugh at the gnome’s introduction.
Donnie frowned. “Don’t believe Don? Donnie can bring out the chain again and prove it.”
Oliver raised his hands. “I didn't mean to judge. My name is . . .” He blanked for a moment thinking of a name. “Arthur Turnsdorf, and I really appreciate the help, Donnie.”
“Yeah right. You’re Ein’s boy! Donnie heard all about your revolt. You should be hung by now.”
Oliver produced a small grin. “That bad of a liar huh? But you’re right Donnie, I should probably get going. I wouldn’t want to get a friendly gnome hung for harboring a criminal.”
Donnie met Oliver with a toothy yellow smirk, “I’d like to see those lickspittles try and noose ol’ Donnie,''
Oliver laughed and shook his head. “You’re a quirky old gnome aren’t ya’?”
“Come on, Donnie’ll cut ya’ a real deal after supper,” Donnie said.