Into the Breach
Mentally Unstable Shape-Shifter
Mischievous shape-shifter searching for his lost love, met at The Twilight Tavern, Maktig Har.
Hurke Lord of Bandits
Torches lined the great stone hall, but somehow offered no warmth or comfort. At the end of the hall, high on his throne of bones, the Bandit King Hurke leered down at a serving man. The poor serving man, Jaon, dared not make eye contact with the Bandit King. He had seen too many others killed on a whim by the fickle lord, and his behaviour had got increasingly strange of late. Jaon had been summoned here some time ago. He had quickly submitted himself to his lord, head bowed and sitting on one knee in supplication. Custom dictated that he hold that position until directly spoken to by the great lord. Jaon imagined Hurke’s cruel eyes on him, studying him, perhaps looking for provocation. He kept his body still, attempting to prevent the Lord from finding any pretext for displeasure.
Thirty minutes passed, then an hour, then two. Jaon’s body was cramping badly. The agonising cramping of his legs had stopped, replaced by numbness, but his bowed posture had begun to take its toll on his neck and back. Jaon bit his lip, less he cry out from the pain. He knew Hurke would be watching this, his discomfort, his agony. Perhaps that was why he had been summoned, to perform this dance of submission for the loathsome lord.
The third hour of waiting approached, and fatigue had taken its toll on Jaon’s slight body. His vision began to blur and whirl, and slowly, very slowly, he began to keel over sideways.
The sound of his fall echoed around the long dark hall, bouncing from wall to wall, having only the gentle roar or the torches to compete with. If the sound of own his fall didn’t alert him, his head striking the floor certainly did. Jaon, tired and exhausted, cried out loudly”Owww!” As he centred himself again, and his eyes refocused and he remembered where he was. The cruel Lords chamber…
His heart slowed and a chill consumed his body. He knew now he was dead. The lord would flay him, or perhaps worse. His eyes travelled up to meet those of the Bandit king. Jaon prepared to drink in the Bandit Kings unpleasant countenance. The bunched muscles, barely containing his furious anger, his cruel sneer, the crazied eyes, the furrowed brow, all of these were… absent. Hurke lay slumped across his bone throne, asleep, a thin line of drool pooling across the arm of which his head rested. He looked, peaceful…
Jaon couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing? To see the Lord in such a state was almost as frightening as seeing him in a rage. Jaon looked about the room, trying to determine whether this was one of the Lord’s newest cruel japes, but nothing seemed out of place. He turned back to look at Hurke, he noticed something was amiss. The Lords face had taken a greyish hue, and his face looked almost as if was…melting.
The Lord must have been poisoned! Jaon quickly realised. Forgetting all normal decorum he shouted out to the guards outside the hall. “Quick! Help! The King is ill!”
With the new sudden noise Hurke snapped awake with an eloquent “Huh? Wha..” One of his new followers was making a ruckus. Hurke spoke casually, removed of his usual thick brutish accent“Hey you. Yeah you. Stop that”. The new voice startled Jaon, and he turned to back to its author.
“My Lord! You live! Your face?”
Hurke reached up and felt his loose face. “Oh, right” he replied. With practised ease, Hurke nonchalantly smoothed out his face with his hands. Playfully he asked the servant “Better?” The servant looked back dumbfounded, confused by what he was seeing.
Suddenly guards raced into the hall, feet thundering as they ran to the throne and their wounded Lord. They all stopped behind Jaon and assumed the traditional bowed position. The largest of the group growled out “My Lord, we come as summoned. We heard you were hurt”
Hurke’s face darkened, as he bellowed out in his usual foul tone
“NONE MAY HURT HURKE! HURKE HURTS ALL!”
All the assembled followers echoed the simplistic required response “HURKE, HURKE, HURKE” None but Jaon dared to look upon their lord. He could have sworn that he saw Hurke roll his eyes at the sound of the rebuttal.
Hurke changed his tone to something more aristocratic and condescending
“I’ve gathered you here for an announcement. I, Hurke, are going on, ahhhh big quest, to fight…. biggest dragon”.
With that the guards began their raucous calls to celebrate, only Jaon seemed to notice the change in their lords demeanour. Hurke raised his arms to quieten the mob.
“Now, I, as the biggest and smartest, have selected…”
Hurke’s eyes began to scan the crowd, and points to Jaon.
“I’ve selected, Jason, to lead in my stead”. The crowd turned to Jaon, and angry glares filled his vision.
Jaon squeaked out a reply “Actually, my Lord, my names Jaon…”
Hurke stared blankly at Jaon. “Really?” Jaon could only nod, quickly remembering the fate of the last person who corrected Hurke.
Hurke continued, “As I was saying, I’ve selected Jack to lead in my stead”. As a murmur of dissent rippled through the crowd his features darkened again. Switching back to the thick angry voice he roared
“DO ANY HERE QUESTION ME!?”
Hurke’s eyes scanned the group in front of him, checking that none would challenge him.“Good, now leave me and Lord Jeremy.”
Slowly the guards started to file out of the hall, leaving Hurke and Jaon alone in the grand hall. As the last of the guards left and the heavy wooden doors closed behind them Hurke pulled out a large sack and started to collect anything of value from the room.Jaon stood dumbfounded, utterly confused. It was all happening so fast. Moments ago he was certain he was about to meet a terrible death, and now he was Lord of the bandits? His daydream was interrupted, as he noticed that Hurke loomed over him.
“Hey? Have you got any coin?”
Dumbfounded again, Jaon quicky checked his pockets, but came up empty.
“Hmmm… Tell you what then, let’s trade.” With that Hurke pulled the broadsword from his back scabbard with one hand and took Jaons short sword with the other. Carefully weighting a sword in each hand Hurke muttered to himself “Yes, this will do nicely” and nonchalantly tossed the broadsword to Jaon.
Jaon barely had chance to emit a quiet “oomph “before he crumpled under the weight of the hefty sword. Heaving, Jaon pushed the heavy sword aside, its loud clatter echoing throughout the hall. He noticed that Hurke was leaving.
“Wait!” He squeaked. “Why me?”
Hurke turned, and Jaon was surprised to see the greyish face again, it was a happy, mischievous face. A face that was not Hurke’s
The man that was not Hurke replied, his aristocratic and condescending tone returning “You seem like an alright fellow. You’re the one you told the joke about the half-orc with the crossbow yes?”
Jaon nodded quickly and in flustered voice asked “But but, how did you get in here, past the guards? Who are you? Where is Hurke?”
The man who was not Hurke smiled a wide smile. The smile of a trickster or a predator, or perhaps both. “I’ll let you in of a secret, Jacque”
“Jaon” corrected Jaon.
“Right” continued the man who was not Hurke.
“The greatest weakness in all the realms is….people. Mountains don’t care that you attempt to ascend them. They don’t act to assist or dissuade a traveller. Likewise, a locked door doesn’t care who attempts entry. But people do. People care plenty; it’s just about finding who they care about. For the gate guard, it was fear of the wrath of the lieutenant Cazhek. For Hurke it was lust of the she-maiden Esmeralda…”“But, these are your troubles now, Jaon, Lord of the bandits. I bid you good day”. With that, the man who was not Hurke hefted his sack filled with borrowed goods over his shoulder, gave an exaggerated bow and casually walked to the door.
“Wait” said a still very confused Jaon. “Who are you?”
The man who was not Hurke stopped and without turning called back “Call me, Baden.”
“Baden?” replied Jaon.
Baden turned his head towards Jaon. Condescending eyes barely bothering to look back at him. “That’s, Lord Baden to you…commoner”