Questball - Chapter II
Dearest reader, in Chapter I 75% of you chose to have our hero embark on a quest. Thusly, he abided. At the end of this Chapter is a poll, and you will once again be asked to determine our hero’s fate.
Vlarax slurps up a spoonful of mother’s famous snake and eyeball stew and crunches into a juicy orb. Granwell Beaulcrest sits across the table from him, stirring his stew and contemplating. He hasn’t eaten much, for it is disgusting.
“A curse be upon thee if ye don’t eat yer stew,” the witch says. Helryna the Grey hisses and swirls her spindly fingers in Granwell’s direction. He glances nervously at Vlarax.
“Don’t worry. She’s not actually going to curse thee,” says Vlarax. “She says that all the time.”
The grey witch winks and blows Granwell a kiss. When she’s not threatening to curse him, he can’t help but feel that she’s hitting on him.
“We don’t get many men around the lair these days,” she told him earlier, as she eyed him from head to toe. “Big. Strong. Virile. Men. Why don’t you let me draw you a bath.”
She has been persistent in her offers to draw him a bath, despite his insistence that he needs to be off to save the world and can only stay for lunch.
He politely refuses and, his mind put slightly at ease about the probability of being cursed, returns to thinking. Vlarax the Grey has agreed to join him on a quest, a quest to save the Realm from the Evil Brewing in the North. In many ways, the first step is the hardest: getting started. But Granwell has been down this road before, and he knows the way ahead is not an easy one.
For one, his hero is fat. Not that there haven’t been fat heroes, but this quest will require a minimum baseline of physical fitness. He and Everdale will have to whip Vlarax into shape, and fast. And his body isn’t the only thing that has grown soft with misuse. Vlarax has hardly used his magick in years. The only time he casts a spell these days is to blow dragon-shaped smoke rings or conjure a fresh bag of chips. Everdale says she’s confident the magick is inside him, just waiting to come out, but after spending a day with him, Granwell is not so sure.
“We really should be going,” Granwell says. “There is much work to be done.”
Vlarax lifts the bowl of stew to his mouth and slurps up the last remaining bits of snake. The three of them sit silently around the table for a moment, each wistful in their own way. Vlarax knows that this may be the last time he sees home, for he may not return from his journey alive. Granwell knows that their quest will fail if his hero is not up to the task, and the Realm will be cast into an eternal shadow. Helryna, well, it’s not clear what she knows, but she knows something. She knows lots of things.
She rises from the table and puts her hand on her son’s shoulder.
“Well, I suppose I should help you pack your things,” she says, then turns to Granwell. “But first, let me draw you a bath.”
Ninety-nine percent of every quest is walking, or sitting around waiting for something to happen. Perhaps one percent is the stuff people talk about.
“That’s why the first part of your training will be to walk. And to wait,” says Granwell. This is not reassuring to Vlarax. They’ve been walking hardly an hour, and already his legs and shoulders are burning and he is drenched in sweat.
Vlarax slouches slightly to adjust his pack, in an attempt to find a more comfortable position. But there is no comfortable position, and there won’t be for the rest of the journey.
“When you’ve mastered walking and waiting, then we can work on the fun stuff.”
Vlarax feels an intense longing to return to his home, to his mother, to Questball. How wonderful it would be to sit in the basement smoking his pipe and eating turnip chips! They reach the top of a small hill and he turns around, hoping to catch one last glimpse of his lair. But it’s already beyond the horizon, out of sight.
He heaves a sigh, readjusts his packs, and keeps walking.
It’s nearly dusk when they reach a small clearing in the forest where Granwell decides to make camp. As soon as he gives the word, Vlarax tosses his pack to the ground and collapses on top of it. Sweaty and chafed all over his body (wizard robes are not the ideal hiking attire), he’s too tired to conjure a breeze. Not that he remembers the spell for that, anyway. He settles for fanning himself with his hat.
“The day is not yet through, Vlarax the Grey,” the knight says. “Don’t let thy guard down just yet.”
“How long is this journey anyway?”
“Well, it’s seven weeks by foot. And we’re on foot. So I’d say about seven weeks,” Granwell says.
“Seven weeks!” Vlarax writhes on the ground in despair then throws up a little.
“A hero must walk before he can run. Before he can do any number of hero things, for that matter,” the knight says. He moves slowly but efficiently while he sets up the camp, as if he’s done this a thousand times. “Although there was one hero named Smergdol Nonwalker. He lost his legs in a fishing accident before he became a hero, so he never really learned how to walk after we recruited him. But he was the exception, not the rule.”
“What happened to Smergdol?” Vlarax asks.
“Oh, nothing good,” says Granwell. “He was one of our first heroes, in the early days of battle against the Evil Brewing in the North. At the time, we didn’t really know about the giant man-eating rats that inhabit the North.”
Vlarax has finally stopped wallowing in the dirt and is helping Granwell set up camp, but the mention of giant man-eating rats gives him pause. With a look of trepidation, he bids Granwell to continue the story.
“So yeah, the rats got him,” Granwell says. “But don’t worry, we know about the rats now. You’ll be fine.
“I’m going to gather some firewood. You stand watch over the camp.”
Before Vlarax can respond, Granwell disappears into the woods.
The last vestiges of twilight auger darkness around the camp. Granwell has not yet returned with the firewood. Vlarax stands guard, and by stands guard that means he sits on his pack twirling a stick in the dirt, careful not to look into the grey woods lest he see something that will ruin his sleep after a hard day of walking.
Footsteps crunch on the leaves behind him.
“It’s about time you got back here with that firewood. It’s almost d…” Vlarax turns around to chastise his companion. While it is nearly dark and difficult to make out clearly, the creature he sees is most definitely not Granwell Beaulcrest.
Experts on the natural tendencies of man say there are three possible responses to a threat: fight, flight, or freeze. This means that when, say, a rather large wolf-like beast with horns and glowing yellow eyes sneaks up behind one in a dark forest at night, one will instinctively choose either to fight the beast, run away as fast as one can, or freeze in terror waiting to be eaten.
But experts — having never been in such a situation themselves, and gaining their knowledge of these things mostly secondhand — often ignore the much more common fourth possible response, which is fumble.
The fumble response may be considered a combination of the other three, executed clumsily and all at once, typically with undesirable consequences for the one threatened.
This is the response that Vlarax’s instincts choose now. At first sight of the creature, he freezes, with a dumb look on his face, trying to convince himself in his mind that what he sees before him is not real. When his mind finally accepts that the creature is, in fact, a mere thirty feet away from him and probably hungry, he fumbles awkwardly with his pack, looking for something he could use as a weapon with which to fight the beast. Unable to get it open, he throws a small stick in the creature’s general direction. It misses wildly. He then turns and takes flight in the opposite direction, with the creature in hot pursuit. He’s quite swift for an overweight wizard, but he soon fumbles once again, tripping over his own feet and falling flat on his face. His face and still-sweaty robe now caked in dirt, he continues his flight on hands and knees, groping — fumbling — in the dark for something, anything he could use as a weapon. Eventually he fumbles down a small hill and topples head over heels. At last he freezes in a nook of exposed roots from a large tree. Experts, if they knew what they were talking about, would consider this last act to be neither freeze nor fumble, for it was executed not instinctively, but because his body by this time in his flight was too tired and battered to move. He had no fight left in him.
The beast approaches now. In the darkness he can see only the glow of its yellow eyes, and smell its hot breath.
So much for going on a quest, he thinks to himself.
But something inside him stirs. Something he has never felt before. At first he thinks it might be indigestion, but then it tells him to stand. He does so. Despite his mind telling him that it’s over, that he’s done for, this mysterious force urges him on.
He stands before the creature, not more than an arm's length away. And with his last ounce of courage, drawn from somewhere deep in his soul, the mysterious force inside him tells him to…
Ye Olde Tyme News is a vassal-supported publickation. To receive new posts and support The King, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.