Harmless Hamlet grows. It is an eclectic settlement founded by adventurers and populated with men, monsters, and even some women.
In a tall tent, Colgrevance stands with his arms spread as his orc squire attires him in green-tinted full plate. He is the defacto ruler of Harmless and the sheriff for the whole region.
Jutting out his chin, Colgrevance rolls his shoulders and squats. “Feels like it fits, but how does it look?”
“Magnificent.” The orc dips his head and shuffles his feet.
“Be honest, Quad.”
“You are magnificent, Sir.”
Colgrevance snorts. Quadagh was born in the way of orcs a month earlier, eating free from the womb after his mother was slain. Colgrevance took him under his wing, raising him to be a squire during the curcial imprinting and growth that transforms an orc infant into an orc man.
“Fine craftsmanship from a past age.” Colgrevance clips his sword and helm onto his hip and his shield onto his back. “Martle has done well refitting this armor for me. I must also thank Pipit for recharging its mystic power. It takes discipline to praise useful people you despise. This is especially important for irreplacable casters.”
“Yes, Sir.” Quadagh furrows his hairless brow. “Praise people you despise.”
The ground shakes as giant footsteps pass by the tent.
“Tobbie has also been a vital acquisition from Zenath.” Colgrevance holds up a finger. “I respect him though. His cyclopean race has a mixed reputation, but it is the individual that matters. Tobbie works hard without complaint, and I trust he would defend us as we would him.”
“Race not matter. Individual matters.”
“Just so.” Colgrevance rubs his chin. “Do you find it funny that our smithmage, master sage, and cyclopean builder were all stolen from the same mind-enslaving tyrant?”
“If Zenath hadn’t drawn our ire, I think we’d still be camping in squalor.”
Colgrevance parts the tent flap and points outside at a hive of activity. Ancient ruins house the growing settlement. A dozen labors, including the lone giant, toil with massive stones.
He smiles at his squire. “Well before winter, we will have a hall to feast in and temples to pray in.”
“Yes, Sir.” Quadagh picks at his tusk. “I killed to recover your old armor.”
“Indeed. I heard you fought well.”
The orc rubs a scar on his cheek. “Sir, it was a gift from your Lord Valor, but you leave it cursed, disconnected, and abandoned. I don’t understand.”
Colgrevance strides out of the tent. Quadagh hurries to follow.
“Quad, you wormed your way out of your mother only weeks ago. While it’s incredible how fast your race learns as newborns, this cannot replace actual experience.” He pats the stylized snake decorating his breastplate. “This armor has decent mystic protection, especially against viperous things. For something made by mortal hands, it is truly magnificent. Even so, it is far inferior to the godly armor gifted by Lord Valor.”
Colgrevance stops at the door of a round building bordered by the crumbling remains of a castle’s tower. He knocks, the steel of his gauntlet ringing against a bar of reinforcing iron.
“What?” says the nasal voice of an elder male.
Colgrevance crosses his arms. “Pipit, it’s noon. Time to destroy those cursed items from that necromancer. Bring them and meet us at Martle’s forge.”
Pipit opens his door and squints up at Colgrevance. “The rod would magnify the might of your band’s magician, and the mandolin could focus your connection to Lord Valor’s divine power. Your stance against soul-enhanced items is irrational. Why don’t you wait for the others to return and have a vote—”
Colgrevance punches the door-frame next to the old man’s ear. Pipit stumbles back inside and spins his hands, summoning blue and white sparkles of light.
“Lower your hands, or I’ll make Martle this place’s master caster.” Colgrevance drums his fingers on his sword’s hilt.
Pipit shakes his hands out of his casting pattern and clears his throat. “I meant nothing hostile. You startled me, that’s all.”
Colgrevance turns on his heel and ushers Quadagh towards a smokey corner of their settlement. The laborers they pass bow or salute. Tobbie sets down a man-sized stone and does the open-handed cyclopean equivalent.
“Do you know how I garner respect, Quad?” says Colgrevance.
“Because you demand it, Sir.”
Colgrevance sighs and points at a red-robed man casting bursts of orange energy into a brick furnace. “Hey, Martle! Is that hot enough to melt evil?”
The smithmage coughs and claps his hands, ending his spell. “Uh, it could cook a dwarf and melt his steel.”
“That’ll do,” says Colgrevance.
Pipit steps through the remains of once grand castle walls. He leads a pair of horses, taking care to stretch their reigns so they stay a stride away.
Quadagh trembles. “I feel—it’s not cold, but I shiver.”
“A void. The nothingness that inspired the Overgod of Black to create the Pit. Cursed items as hungry as those two will zombify you in minutes, maybe seconds.”
Martle wipes his brow. “Respectfuly, it is simple to re-attune them to Master Pipit’s place of power. You don’t have to destroy them.”
Colgrevance shakes his head and grips Quadagh’s bulky shoulder. “Casters are too clever to understand. Do you?”
The orc chews on his lip. “The rod and mandolin are bad and evil.”
“Cursed items may be dangerous, but they are a force. There is no mind that drives their hunger.” Colgrevance holds up an armored finger. “Now, someone who designs an item to be powered by an enslaved soul is true evil, a conscious evil. Clear?”
Quadagh nods. “Yes, Sir.”
“Now, why do people respect me?”
Pipit leaves the horses and shuffles over. “Lessons later, Host of Valor. These items so close together—their hunger’s increasing.” He waves his thin arms around, pointing at a half-dozen slack-jawed laborers edging closer. “You want to spawn a zombie horde?”
Colgrevance grunts and jogs to the nearest horse. Wincing, he grabs the mandolin strapped to the saddle. A bald creature with squid-like tentacles instead of a chin decorates the instrument’s back. He recoils from the art that’s detailed fine enough to be a monsterous reflection.
“Quad, grab the rod!” Colgrevance flips the mandolin around to the string side, strumming it with his thumb as he shifts.
The sound freezes his step. It echos in his mind, summoning phantoms of lives he’s never lived. Tears roll down his cheeks.
Martle spins his hands, summoning flame. “Colg’s becoming a death knight!”
“Sir!” Quadagh drops to his knees, hugging the cursed rod to his chest. “It’s eating my mind.”
Colgrevance stiffens his spine. “Follow me to this mouth of Hell.” With jerky steps he passes by the smithmage. “Crawl if you must but do not stop.”
“Oh.” Martle claps his hands, extinguishing his mystic fire. “Hurry, the cyclops is coming over!”
Colgrevance tosses the mandolin into the furnace. A puff of smoke covers the mystic instrument, and it sings as strings snap in the heat, sounding sweet as a rotting angel.
Quadagh crawls on his belly, holding the rod over his head in a shaky grip. “Sir, it’s so… heavy.”
Colgrevance yanks the cursed item out of his squire’s hand and tosses it in after the mandolin. There’s another puff of smoke, and it hisses like a wet log.
The laborers shake off their blank faces and grumble to each other. The one-eyed giant scratches his bald head and turns back to the boulder he’d dropped.
Colgrevance grips the hilt of his sword and marches over to the elder caster. “Pipit, why didn’t you warn before you brought the items together? Better one by one, and we should have kept everyone farther away.”
The master sage shrugs narrow shoulders. “I respected your orders.”
“Your job is to keep me informed of dangers before they occur.”
“Well, I scribed it into a scroll.” Pipit scratches a bushy, white eyebrow. “Filed under ‘Purged’ or was it—”
“We’ll talk later.” Colgrevance stomps back to his squire and helps him to his feet.
Quadagh bows his head. “I am sorry, Sir. I let the void drop me to the ground.”
Colgrevance grips the orc’s wide shoulders. “You didn’t give in. You stayed focused and true. You were reliable, and I respect you.”
Quadagh straightens. “I understand. When you deem me worthy, I will wear your armor with pride.”
Colgrevance opens his mouth, winces and shuts it. The month-old orc walks ahead with a spring in his step.
Colgrevance sighs and says under his breath, “Hell will freeze before I let another sully my armor.” He smacks his metallic fists together. “I earned it.”
Colgrevance, Paladin of Valor—Leads from the front
Martle, smithmage—Pipit’s assistant and formerly Zenath’s
Pipit, master sage—former mind-slave of Zenath
Quadagh, orc squire—raised and trained by Colgrevance
Tobbie, cyclops orphan—former servant of Zenath
Some other flash fiction with this band:
Black Ships Before Dawn
Crashing a Vampire Ball at Lowtide Mansion: Part 1
Adventuring in the Undersea: Part 1
Lighthouse Girl: Part 1, Djinn
Theros: Part 1, The Gruff Scapegoat
Jabberwaki: Part 1, The Empty Room