Once again I’ve delved deep into the digital ruins of my hard drive and unearthed a tidbit of ancient fiction. Well, seven years ancient, but it’s never been read by anyone. (You’ll have to decide if it should have stayed that way.) This is yet another piece from when I was an RPG designer/writer/editor for Goodman Games (posted with their kind permission). Like the others in this series, “The High Road” and “The Challenge,” this is from an unpublished manuscript for a player-oriented 4E Dungeons & Dragons supplement. Also, like the others, this is a vignette meant to introduce a gaming concept through the narrative, in this case a wresting/boxing-type option for the the fighter class. (I know, grappling; what was I thinking?)
As I was reading this thing for the first time in seven years, I realized it’s a Robert E. Howard (Conan) pastiche (sincere apologies to REH fans). I can’t remember if that was on purpose or not, but there you have it. Anyway, this one is called “A Red Night,” and it comes with the usual warnings for this series. It’s basically a first draft, high fantasy world, blah, blah, blah.
A Red Night
Narl studied his target from across the crowded tavern, barely noticing the noise and stink of the Wastrel’s patrons. A full tankard sat untouched on the stained table in front of the half-orc assassin, but he was not drinking. This was a red night, and he needed to keep his wits sharp to complete his contract, for this was no ordinary target. This was no fat priest or slovenly merchant with muscles of sodden dough and fighting skills that would shame a child. This target was dangerous.
His name was Bjorngar the Great, an infamous pirate captain whose moniker Narl had found ridiculous until he’d seen the northerner in the flesh. Narl was hardly small, but Bjorngar dwarfed him. The massive human was well over seven feet tall and had to be three hundred and fifty pounds at least, most of it iron muscle by the look of him. To make matters worse, the red-haired pirate was armed with a long-hafted executioner’s axe, a weapon far too massive for anyone without Bjorngar’s strength and size to wield properly. If his sources were correct, and they usually were, his target could swing that axe with a skill that bordered on supernatural.
Despite his target’s physical advantages, Narl was not overly concerned. Bjorngar lacked the training of a Black Throat assassin, training that had turned Narl’s body into a living weapon more than a match for the best armed and armored warrior. Plus, he had another advantage: Bjorngar had been drinking steadily for the better part of the night. Most of his crew had either retired or lay in a drunken coma around their humongous captain, who sat behind a graveyard of empty flagons.
The giant northerner suddenly lurched to his feet, lurched around the heaped and snoring bodies of his crew, and then staggered toward the tavern’s front door. It was what Narl had been waiting for, and when Bjorngar walked out into the night, the assassin counted to thirty then followed.
The Wastrel was one of the more popular taverns in the port district, and this late at night, it was one of the few businesses still open. When Narl stepped outside, Bjorngar was nowhere in sight, but he soon heard the sound of piss splashing against brick in the alley next to the Wastrel. He crept into the concealing shadows of the narrow corridor of trash-strewn dirt that connected Eel Shadow Road and the Way of the Mermaid. Business and personal dwellings crowded in on either side, blocking the silver glow of the moon and creating a stretch of blackness that was nearly complete. Narl’s orcish blood allowed him to see in the gloom, and he spied his mark a short way down the alley, leaning against the wall and voiding enough steaming urine to fill a horse trough. The great oaf had left his weapon in the tavern.
Narl smiled. At no time was a man more vulnerable than when he had his most prized possession in hand. The half-orc glided toward his target, his massive hands outstretched to seize Bjorngar from behind. From there he would lock his arms around the big northerner’s bull neck, and not even Bjorngar the Great’s great strength would save him from being throttled to death. He was within a few feet of Bjorngar, who was still doing his best to piss a hole in the stone wall of the Wastrel, when the northerner whirled around, spraying Narl with a shower of warm urine. The disgusting assault caused him to recoil for an instant, long enough for his foe to reach out with one apishly long arm and grab him by the throat.
Bjorngar’s grip was like a steel vice, and Narl realized his target was not as drunk as he should be. He twisted like an eel, momentarily slipping free, but again, the northerner’s absurdly long reach allowed him to lock his fingers around Narl’s shoulder and pull him back and off-balance. He became alarmingly aware his opponent was not only far larger and stronger than he, but he was also no stranger to unarmed fighting. With a twist of his hips and feet, Bjorngar spun Narl around and pulled him into a bear hug, locking both gargantuan arms around the half-orc’s back. Narl squirmed and fought, slamming his fists into Bjorngar’s head and shoulders, but the pirate’s strength was unrelenting.
“I’ve always wanted to try my strength against one of you Black Throat killers,” Bjorngar said, blowing ale-sodden breath into Narl’s face, and grinning. “I’ll be very disappointed if you’re the best they have.” The northerner’s grip tightened, crushing the breath from Narl’s lung’s and turning his shout for help into a weak, rattling gasp. He slipped into darkness to Bjorngar’s booming laughter and the sound of his vertebrae snapping like rotten twigs.