Beneath a rusted sky whose swift currents scoured the mountains into odd windblown shapes, a series of tunnels are chiseled from the rocks making a mountain into a stone honeycomb. The constant pinging of stone echoes throughout the maze of chaotic halls, through darkness and lantern light, through dust and debris. Their faces are darkened by dust and glazed by sweat as they constantly swing their picks into the crevasses that contain thin veins of silver ore that fuels the economy of the rogue city called Thuron.
“So that is the story of this place,” Ivan the Lipless said sitting in his dark room of arcane tapestries before a table with a glowing prism and a handcrafted box of onyx. “That is what draws men to Thuron. There is a good living to be made here if men can endure its harshness and not run afoul of the thieves. When a man can no longer make a life in the civilized lands, he has no place to turn but Thuron. We get all the realm’s baggage, folks seeking asylum, if they can pass the test.”
The man sitting across from Ivan the Lipless was just as mysterious keeping the dark features of his face mostly hidden in darkness. Ivan paused then continued his story in his hissing voice that seemed to blur certain consonants being absent lips to pronounce them correctly.
“It was no different for the red headed Daggenite that showed up one day. He came to escape from something. He felt he could hide from some calling he had no desire to heed but I sense he was a man of great notoriety in the world. Notoriety of the sort that obliges one to use his skills in a way to benefit others or bear the guilt of allowing demise come upon others. Common men have this thing called a conscience. They believe it is what drives them to do good but little do they know, it is a weakness taught them by their thing they call society. Civilization is great at building towers but it numbs the mind making it merely a platter for the kings of Mann to feast upon.”
Ivan the Lipless paused and made a hissing noise shifting slightly revealing his lipless lower face momentarily beneath the dark hood he wore.
“My prism reveals much about this man. He has upset the balance in Thuron since he came and has made more than a few enemies. This is what I can tell you . . .”
* * * * *
The lantern light flickered off the sliver of pure silver that had fallen on the tunnel floor. The stunted man grinned showing his stained teeth as he held the sliver up in the light.
The short man yelped in pain as a long whip slapped across his back ripping his shirt. He dropped the sliver of silver he held in his right hand and a sack of raw ore he dragged in the grip of his left. The man sank to his knees and behind him stood a burly miner with a braided beard. His eyes burned with anger and beneath a pair of nostrils turned up sneering in unison with his cracked lips. He rared back and let the whip fly as he condemned the helpless runt of a man.
“Be damned you scoundrel!”
The whip snapped across his shoulder and the little man curled in a fetal position begging for mercy.
“I shall teach you to never thieve again you little misbegotten gnome.”
He brought the whip back again as the little bleeding man cowered but just as he began to swing it forward it seemed to hang on something.
“What?” the miner growled as he turned to see what his whip had caught on. When he saw the obstruction, he gasped.
“You!” the frowning miner shouted.
There was a copper headed miner with a brushy beard and stark emerald eyes staring straight at the whip wielding miner. He had a fist held upward clenching the end of the whip.
“That’s enough, boss.”
“You telling me what to do? This is my mine, Daggenite. I have a mind to give you a good lashing just as well.”
The miner jerked at the whip but it wouldn’t come free of the Daggenite’s grip. He dropped the handle of the scourging device and grabbed a knife from his belt.
The Daggenite dropped the whip, reared back, and with lightning speed punched the mine boss directly in the face. The punch landed with a dull thud snapping the miner’s head backward and knocking him to the tunnel floor. Blood ran from both nostrils and the boss lay there dazed.
A handful of men came around to see what ruckus had been stirred up but they didn’t see fit to get involved.
The Daggenite stepped over the mine boss and helped the little man to his feet.
“Get up, munchkin.”
The ruddy Daggenite picked up the sliver of silver and gave a smug look at the boss who propped himself up on his elbows sneering at him. “He’ll be keeping this for his troubles.”
He helped the wounded little man down the tunnel following the twists and turns until they came out of the mountain and stood on a ledge where there was a circle of thatched huts. Inside one hut the Daggenite attended to the whip wounds of the little man with some ointment and strips of cloth. The little man winced but didn’t scream though the rips in his flesh looked painful.
“I don’t believe I got your name,” the little man said with his high pitched voice.
“They call me Fist.”
“Well Mr. Fist, they call me Suds.”
“Yes, I’m as light as suds on a mug they say. I’ve been knows by that as long as I can remember.”
“Well, Suds. We got to pack up. Our shift is done. It is time to head back to the city.”
“Thank you for what you did,” Suds said. “But you know that Krag only has it in for you now. Most men that cross him come up crushed by boulders or disappear in the bottomless pits.”
Fist shrugged as he rummaged through a footlocker. “I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
Fist nodded with approval as he removed a long object from the trunk. He unrolled the hides that protected it revealing a shining piece of steel with a leather and bronze haft. A heavy broadsword and a leather scabbard lay on the open pelt and Fist strapped the rig onto his waist then sheathed the sharp blade and donned an olive cloak.
The miners stayed close together following Krag and his henchmen as they descended the rocky slope; and Suds stayed close to Fist as the made their way toward the road that led to Thuron with their carts of ore. The city’s crude towers and the lake it skirted could be seen in the distance as the wind had died. The sky faded from its normal rusty hue to a more subdued light tan.
The caravan of miners was descending the final stretch of the hewn catwalk when out of a forest of boulders dozens of wailing brigands leapt out of the rocks and pounced upon the unaware miners.
The ambush took them completely by surprise. A couple of miners toppled over the side of the cliff plummeting a couple hundred feet to the rocks below. Cries of terror rang out as the miners grabbed a hold of their clubs and axes to try to fend off the rogues.
The cloaked brigands attacked with their daggers and cutlasses but quite a few of the miners were slashed to death before they could prepare themselves.
Fist jumped off the donkey he was riding and grabbed Suds and shoved him under a cart. “Stay under there.” He yanked his sword from its scabbard and parried a brigand’s assault then spun around chopping the cloaked attacker in the back of the neck. The blade bit deep into flesh and bone causing the blood-spattered brigand to fall instantly. He downed another in quick fashion as his own blood began to boil in his veins.
Daggenites were always a hardy folk and well known for their half-crazed battle fury. Fist was the elite of the Daggenites and his ruddy hide turned a darker shade–reddish purple. His veins bulged, he sneered with rage as he swung his sword in broad arcs leaving crimson trails in its wake.
Despite downing four brigands himself, there were too many for the unprepared miners to defeat and the brigands were too organized in their tactics. The miners were falling by the second in a bloodbath on the narrow trail down the mountain. He estimated there were about twenty of them with about an equal amount of miners left standing though no match for the swordplay of the nimble brigands.
Fist was not yet in full frenzy mode but his body was surging with rage yet his thought process was still clicking enough to concoct a plan. He jumped on the back of his donkey and rode down the path dodging the cloaked attackers until he reached the carts that were all tied together behind a team of mules. He cut the mules free and gave the carts a shove creating chaos as they rumbled down the narrow road toward a turn and the cliff’s edge.
Fist used the distraction to mount an attack hacking and slicing at more cloaked rogues. His adrenaline surged and he roared and charged into a group of them that had just slain more miners. The miners fed upon Fist’s courage and they gathered their composure and fought back.
The carts of ore crashed down the roadway then ran off the edge of the road dumping loads of a week’s worth of work down the cliff. It their wake were many men, miners and rogues, flung aside by the comotion.
Krag was swinging a huge axe and yelling as he killed two more brigands. Fist was not far away whirling and swinging his heavy blade cutting through cloaks and lancing open severe gashes in the enemies causing them to fall screaming in pain. Finally the tide was turned and there were more miners than brigands and the cloaked attackers were backed against the edge of the road, four of them. They had lost their tactical advantage of surprise and now were at the disadvantage of numbers. Rather than face the ire and wrath the scroungy miners snarling with rusty weapons and sharp picks, the remaining brigands leapt to their death.
It was too early to celebrate as one remained trying to escape upon a horse. Fist jumped into the roadway and grabbed the man and yanked him off the black mare as it sped past. Both men fell to the ground.
The cloaked man raised up and scowled. He wore a mask and appeared to be the leader. His swords were jeweled and his leather armor was lacquered heavily. He jumped up seeming uninjured from the fall and whirled his swords in a flash and landed in an aggressive stance. It was obvious this man was well trained in the art of martial combat.
On the contrary, Fist bounced upright and picked up his sword out of the dirt and stood with it at his side.
“Come get some,” Fist muttered with his wavy hair hanging down his face.
The experienced brigand with nothing to lose jumped forward whirling his swords like a a bumble bee flaps its wings. The air off the blades could be heard slicing through the air so fast that they were invisible.
The flurry nearly took Fist’s head off but he dove aside just quickly enough to avoid the blade fury. Fist lunged at the man with his sword but the masked man parried his blade with ease. Fist recovered and parried a riposte from the man then they clanged blades for a dozen heartbeats.
Fist’s skin turned darker in color and his veins bulged. His natural strength and quickness was barely a match for the swordmaster he faced. They traded blows and Fist got knicked on the thigh and blood flowed down the side of his leg. This seemed to only make him madder.
The swordmaster surged with another fury driving Fist toward the cliff. Fist yelled out some word on one else ever heard, “Volyroh!” He clinched his jaws like an iron vice and his emerald eyes shot like piercing beams and he whirled and gripped his sword with both hands delivering an arcing blow towards the neck of the swordmaster.
The swordmaster was too quick. He raised one of his two swords in the path of the heavy broadsword. It looked as if he would parry the deadly blow but he did not anticipate the raw power that Fist delivered and the larger sword cut through the swordmaster’s blade and kept a path for his neck. Fist’s sword struck flesh, embedded deep with a bone snap and the rogue’s head leaned oddly sideways and his body went limp as blood gushed from the deep wound. Fist jerked the sword out of the neck and the body fell over the cliff without a sound until the corpse landed with a dull thud far below.
The camp was quiet with each man standing in awe of Fist. Fist sank to one knee breathing heavily. His body slowly began to return to its normal color and the blood gorged veins subsided. He wiped his sword on one of the brigand’s cloaks then stood and sheathed the weapon.
“That was some feat, Mr. La’brau,” Suds hollered as he jogged down the road. “I’ve never seen such fighting in my life.”
Krag stood with his axe in hand eying Fist. Fist shot him a quick glance then shrugged off the feat he had just produced.
“Look, these are members of the thieves guild in Thuron,” Suds said holding a ring he had just confiscated off a corpse. “Only the guild members get these rings.
“I’ve never seen anything but common brigands out here,” Krag said. “I wonder what brings them out this far? Things must be getting bad in Thuron these days.”
They counted their losses, patched up wounds, and gathered what ore they could and moved onward to Thuron.
* * * * *
Just the opposite of what he wanted, happened. He came to Thuron to escape the spotlight, to be an ordinary person. The miners now hailed him as their hero much to the chagrin of Krag. The story was told and even embellished. Fist had slain half of the score of thieves guild members that attacked their convoy although the common perception is that he killed all of them. Add to that the killing of one of the guild’s master swordsman and you have a legend once again.
It was about a week after that event that the miners all packed inside the Swanky Boar to discuss the problem. Word was that all the cutthroats down at the Bloody Dagger groaned about the miners and were plotting something bigger. There was a plot to kill Fist La’brau and to sabotage the mines causing a cave in while men toiled. This led to one thing. All the mine bosses knew they had to stick together–they had to bond into a common force against the thieves of Thuron if they were to survive. Even the Silver Princes who usually overlooked the actions of the thieves were concerned because they did not want any harm to come to the mines that they allowed to exist and profited bountifully from. Every ounce or ore brought into Thuron was heavily regulated and taxed as were the thieves. Thus they would certainly look the other way if the miners took any kind of acton against them to maintain balance in their valuable economy.
The discussion in the smoky tavern turned sour but the most aggressive mine boss shouted them down and declared that the miners must first start a guild of their own. Previously, none of the mine bosses could ever get along and work together but it was now obvious that they had no other choice. Reluctantly, they all agreed with Krag and he immediately suggested they declare the start of a new organization called the Diggers Guild. Then he urged them to put the leadership up for vote among all the guild bosses. Shouts from the crowd demanded that all the miners get a vote and thus to avoid a riot they decided to let every man cast a vote for their desired leader to head up the new Diggers Guild.
And thus they did while the crowd of miners quieted and jotted down a name on small pieces of parchment. The parchments were all collected in a hat and then with everyone gathered around, each piece was drawn from the hat an tallied. To his surprise, the first vote counted had Fist’s name on the ballot.
“He’s not a boss,” Krag delcared.
“No one said he had to be a boss to be voted on,” a miner in the crowd shouted.
“Yeah!” others chimed in.
Krag grunted but carried on. Soon all the votes were tallied and nearly two thirds of the votes were for Fist who stood in the corner witnessing something he could not believe. Chants started to ring out as a small bronze pick was handed to him.
“Fist, Fist, Fist, Fist . . .” the crowd chanted.
Finally he stepped forward having no other choice. The crowd quieted and let him speak.
“I did not expect this,” Fist said with his naturally deep voice. “I’m not a man of many words and never had a desire to be a guild boss. I guess as guild boss, I have the right to do whatever I want to make this guild and all you hard working men succeed.”
When he paused several nodded. Krag listened with his arms folded not disagreeing but obviously steaming inside having lost as the runner up in the vote. “Go on,” Krag said.
“Well, I appreciate your confidence in me but when I came here all I wanted was to be a common man. I think there is someone here that deserves this more than me anyway,” Fist said staring across the room at Krag. “He is someone that I hope has learned the value of compassion as the result of something that happened a week ago. As your current guild leader I am going to pass this pick to your new guild boss and I expect that you all give him your greatest respect.
Fist stood and walked across the room toward Krag and stopped in front of him. He took his stare away from Krag’s grinning eyes and handed the pick to Suds who was standing at arm’s length to his left atop a table.
“Congratulations,” Fist said.
Astonishment fell upon Suds’ wide-eyed face and he couldn’t speak a word.
Fist nodded toward Krag, turned, then walked out of the Swanky Boar.
You could have heard a pin drop in the tavern that day.
* * * * *
“So that is the story of Fist La’brau,” Ivan the Lipless hissed. “Why did you need to know these things?”
“Curiosity,” the hooded man said with a cold voice. “I like to know the story of a man before I kill him.”
The man dropped a sack of coins on the table and he arose form his chair allowing some of the glow of the prism to strike his features. He was dark and slender with a well-trimmed black beard and piercing eyes.
“You say he comes here often?”
“He does and why do you wish to kill the Daggenite?”
“Whether he knows it or not, he is my greatest threat and a game of cat and mouse must commence.”
– by J.Wade Harrell,