Sunday, February 21, 2016

Oblivion Adventures Part 17: Expected Surprises

Last time on Oblivion Adventures, orcish adventurer Shush’Ogar obtained a new job typical of his profession: recovering an ancient artifact. But not-so-shadowy forces are conspiring against him. Can our hero possibly survive this ordeal?! Are you kidding me? Are you not familiar with video games? Or serialized stories? Have you been paying ANY attention? Why even ask that question?! Sheesh, I swear, you readers. I’m not saying you’re stupid.

But you’re stupid.

S’razirr was scoping out the perimeter of his latest job. He was the first to arrive at the dilapidated ruins apparently named Malada. The set-up seemed simple enough. The door to the underground complex was surrounded by half-collapsed structures, in a clearing atop a steep hill. Plenty of cover, easy to box someone in, good place for an ambush. The khajiit grunted his approval and then hopped up the lower branches of a nearby tree overlooking the entrance. He nestled himself in the crook where the branch met the trunk and propped up his feet. S’razirr pulled a knife and a lump of bark out of his pocket and lazily started carving while he waited for the others.

For a while there was nothing but the early morning sounds of chirping birds and the gentle swaying of branches. S’razirr yawned and looked down at his idle carving. It was starting to look a bit like the face of his boss. The khajiit scowled and nailed the bark to the tree behind him. He sighed,  extracted the knife and pocketed it. Squinting up at the sun, it looked like he still had a while. His compatriots did not live close. He sat dozing in the tree, half-awake until he suddenly heard a sound.


S’razirr jolted up and pulled his bow off his back, only to see the corpse of a mudcrab bounce off one of the nearby toppled pillars. He heard the clanking of distant armor approaching, and a voice said:

“Ha! Dat one flew real far. Shush are getting better at de swingin motion.”

S’razirr’s eyes bulged as he saw a massive orange-skinned orc walk into the clearing. Maric had described him as strong but stupid, and he certainly had the first one down. S’razirr holstered his bow and leaned forward to get a closer look when the branch he was on rustled. The khajiit froze as the orc looked up to where he was perched.

“Oh! Hey dere cat-man guy. Shush didn’t see you at first. Wot is you doin out here?”

S’razirr stared at the orc unmoving. “Um...nothing” he said, his face carefully neutral as he lowered himself down to the ground. “This one was just, ah, relaxing in the woods. What are you doing out here?”

“Smashin stuff” the orc responded as he hefted his massive warhammer onto his shoulders. “Shush are lookin for some ruins too, so dat Shush can get dis panel from it. Does you know where de door to dis place is?”

“Shush don’t know why de elf wantsa big rectangle full of squiggly lines, but dats worth a lotta gold Shush guess. Meybe Shush should try to make squiggly line art an sell it sometime.”

S’razirr looked Shush up and down as he approached. He was even stronger than he expected, enough that he was starting to get an idea. “Yes, this one thinks he can assist you, maybe even more than that. But, ah, this one wonders if he can trust you...”

Shush pointed a finger at S’razirr and the khajiit blinked at a flash of light for a moment. S’razirr was confused as to what had happened, but he was more confused at why he had ever doubted such a clearly trustworthy individual.

“Apologies, Shush. My name is S’razirr, and I have a proposition for you. I work for a man named Claude Maric. I believe you two have met?”

“Yah, Shush saw dat guy cloud-marry. He had a funny voice.”

“Well he also has a funny habit of forgetting to pay his associates their full cut. He doesn’t think I know, but now that I’ve caught on I might be persuaded to work against him with the right motivation. Listen: Maric wants the carving. When you come back out with it, he’ll confront you. The odds will be stacked against you, and Maric only hires the best. I can help you out if things get violent. But if I’m to go against Maric, I want half of your payment.”

Shush scrunched up his face and put his hand on his chin. After a pause, he answered. “So Shush has to give you lotsa money just so you won’t shoot Shush?”

S’razirr frowned. There went subtlety. He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Do not think of it as that. This one does not wish to threaten you. But it would be risky to go against my employer, and we are all quite skilled in combat. I am offering you a way out.”

“Nah.” The orc started to walk towards the entrance of the ruins.

“Wait! Can we not talk about this?”

“Shush only got one ting ta say.” The orc turned around and looked S’razirr dead in the eye.

“Don’t shoot Shush.”

The door to the ruins slammed shut.


“Ah, zere you are!”

S’razirr looked up from the wall he was leaning against to the face of his employer. He was the only one entering the clearing.

“The others?”

“On zere way, no need to fret. Ave you perhaps seen our orcish friend?”

“He went inside not long ago. This one was not seen, of course.”

“But of seem a leetle concerned. Anything you would like to share wiz me?”

The khajiit’s face was unreadable. “This one wonders if you have estimated the strength of our target properly. Merely professional concern, he seemed quite formidable.”

Claude Maric gave an authentically fake laugh. “Aha, is zat all? My leetle kitten, I assure you, I am quite familiar with ze orcs power. I nearly took a ammer to ze face when I met him. Iz eet possible zat ze great archer S’razirr has lost iz nerve?”

S’razirr made a mental note to unpack the rage of the kitten comment at a later time. “I told you, it was only professional concern. Of course I’m prepared.”

Maric grinned. “Are you sure? I ave not seen you shoot for some time, perhaps you ave not been practicing?”

With a deadpan expression, the khajiit pulled his bow off his back and nocked an arrow. He looked out calmly into a seemingly nondescript section of forest. His breathing grew still, and then he loosed the shaft at a high angle in between the trees. After a second’s pause, there was the distant cry of a deer and a barely audible thump.

Maric whistled. “Well, you sure showed me. Of course I waz only kidding, but it seems you still have quite ze aim wiz zat.”

S’razirr scowled while Maric’s back was turned. Aim he says. Nothing mentioned about listening to the prey, knowing its habits of movement. Nothing noticed about the control of his breathing, the preciseness of his posture, the measured power of the shot. Nothing said even about the calculation of the arc, the account for wind, the eye for avoiding a dense net of branches. No, apparently this man thought he trained under his father for over 11 years to learn how to point the sharpened end in the right direction and release.

“I am not worried about myself” said the khajiit. “But an archer is ill-equipped for a warhammer to the face. Are you sure the others are equally prepared?”

“I don’t know. Did any of YOU kill three black bears on the way here?” came a voice from behind them.

The two turned to see an armored nord woman silhouetted by the morning sun, a black bear draped over her muscular shoulder. She stepped towards them and dropped the corpse in front of her, then wiped her hands on her greaves.

The mighty Rigmor, in the flesh.

“Of course, only felt like carrying one here” she said. “This armor’s heavy and it’s more than enough for breakfast.”

“Ah, Rigmor. I zee you ave been quite busy on ze trip ere. Is Bruce not wiz you? I thought you two were eading from ze same direction.”

Rigmor rolled her eyes. “He’s with me alright, like a lead weight I’ve had to drag the whole way. HEY BRUCE, GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!”

After a moment, a masked individual in leather armor jogged unsteadily over the hill, panting heavily. After pausing to lean down and catch his breath, he stood in front of them.

“I’ll have you know...huff...that my name is...oof...Brucetus Festinius to you, thank you very much!”

“Sorry, couldn’t catch that through all the panting” said Rigmor.

Bruce huffed indignantly. “Well what do you expect? I’m a battlemage, how am I supposed to keep up with a muscle-brained nord like yourself?!”

“My mistake, I forgot about all the grown bears you were lugging around.”

“Now now, we are not ere to bicker, are we? Our leetle friend is inside as we speak, so gazer round for orders. And Bruce, take of zat silly mask.”

The battlemage slouched and crossed his arms. “I fail to see what’s silly about properly concealing my identity!”

“Bruce, please. I ave been trained most of my life in espionage and covert operations. I am skilled at stealth to the point of knowing ow to become literally invisible. YOU went to college and learned everyzing about going undercover from mystery novels.” Maric shooed the mage with his hand. “I put up wiz eet in ze inn, but now we are deep in ze wilderness. Remove ze mask.”

Bruce grumbled rebelliously, but conceded and revealed his middle-aged, balding visage. He glanced sullenly at the other two, who were stifling smiles.

The less-than-mighty Bruce, in the flesh, and wearing what you might call “Bethesda-Face”.

“What are you looking at, furball?” he barked at S’razirr.

“Apologies, I suppose all this one’s hair makes you jealous.”

“Enough” said Maric, putting a hand up to Bruce as the mage scowled and bunched his fists. “We ave a job to do, and if any of you want to get paid for eet zen you will stop and listen. Understood? Good.”

“Our target iz an orcish fellow, anozer treasure unter ze old elf ired for ze same job. Instead of going into zis deadly ruin ourselves, it seems far more prudent to wait for our friend to emerge. When e does, e shall be greeted by us in position and ready to strike. You are all professionals, I know you are quite capable, but please allow me ze floor at first. I will make im a friendly business offer, to wit: ze carving in exchange for iz life. E seems quite strong and zere is no need to risk zings when we can simply press him into anding it over. After all, you know me. I ABHOR unnecessary violence.”

Rigmor rolled her neck and pumped her fist into an open palm. “And necessary violence?”

Maric grinned.


When the orc Shush’Ogar emerged from the ruins of Malada, he stopped in his tracks. Then he waved.

Don’t mind us, we just like standing in formation for fun.

“Oh hey dere! You is dat cloud-marry guy, yah? Wot’re you doin out in de middle of de forest?” The orc glanced left and right. “An how come all dese other people are here? Is dere gonna be a party or somethin?”

Maric gave a patronizingly sweet smile. “You could say somezing like zat my leetle orc friend. I am glad you remember me. You may also recall zat I ave a similar goal to you, no?”


“Not doing zat again. Look, did you find ze carving inside ze ruins?”

“Yup! It took Shush a while to kill all de angry ghosts hanging round it doe. Shush don’t have much fun killin ghosts, dey is real whiny an screamin all de time. But Shush got de panel ting an now Shush are gonna head back to de weird elf guy for de money.”

“Ah, yes, about zat money. I want eet.”

“Kay. Dat’s gonna be a hard ting ta do doe, on account of Shush are gonna get it.”

“Ha. Well, I see I am going to ave to make things simpler for challenged individual such az yourself. You ave two choices here, Shush. You and over ze carving, or you die.”

“Ohhhhh, Shush gets it.” S’razirr felt a subtle chill down his spine as the orc looked his employer in the eye. “You’s a BAD guy.”

Maric chuckled. “Bad guy? Of course not, ow silly! I am merely an enterprising businezz man, nozing more. This iz nozing personal. Simply give me ze carving an we can both walk away from zis appy. If you don’t, one of us iz not walking away at all.”

“Hm...dat is wot will happen. An it still sounds like a bad guy ting to say.”

“Well I do not care ow “bad guy” eet sounds, zose are your options. Now enough stalling, choose!”

“Shush doesn’t listen ta bad guys.”

“Iz zat a no? Zink carefully...”

“Shush DOESN’T listen ta bad guys.”

Maric sighed in mock reget. “Aaah, such a shame zings ad to be zis way. Well zen...”

Maric snapped his fingers and there was a flash of light. When it faded, the man was no longer visible.

Artist’s approximation.

“Kill im!”

The arrow was already off before the last syllable, but so was the orc. S’razirr blinked in surprise to find Shush already halfway to Maric when the shaft buried itself in the ground. The orc ran up and swung at the air above Maric’s waiting horse. There was a crack, the whooshing of air and a heavy thud on the ground at its feet. From there, Maric’s voice croaked:

“Ow did you-“

“Your horse isn’t invisible!”


“Also Shush can hear you.”


“Also see de blood.”

The trio of mercenaries stood frozen for a moment in dead silence. Claude Maric, or what was left of him, had become visible again beneath the orc. Said orc turned to them and tilted his head.

“Sooo now dat Shush have killed your boss-“


The orc leaped aside to dodge Bruce’s fireball, which incinerated the bush behind him so quickly that the ashes burst into the air by the sheer force of it. Shush stepped towards the mage only to find Rigmor in the way, shield raised. That shield was her pride and joy, the toughest piece of metal she’d come across in all her years fighting. Shush swung straight for it.


Though the orc was staggered, so was Rigmor, her arm flung to the side. S’razirr thought he saw a dent, but he was busy taking advantage of the opening. He let another arrow fly, only to curse to himself as it bounced harmlessly off Shush’s armor. Either the orc or his apparel was sturdier than S’razirr thought, because Shush didn’t even seem to notice the impact. S’razirr drew another arrow and focused. Getting a shot through the gaps in that armor would be tough, impossible in the midst of melee combat. He would have to wait for the right moment.

Fortunately for him, Bruce had made better use of the same opening. A lightning bolt from his fingertips singed the side of Shush’s skull. As the orc recoiled in pain Rigmor regained her composure and bashed him back with her shield. The orc started retreating backwards, swinging his warhammer to keep the nord from getting a swipe at him with her shorter mace. However, Shush couldn’t make any headway. Rigmor’s spacing with her shield was immaculate, and any time the orc tried to step around her Bruce loosed another bolt in his direction. Slowly but surely Shush was pushed back, until his footing started to shift.

Shuch glanced behind him. The mercenaries had backed him up against a small cliff, a fifteen foot drop onto a steep hill. The glance was all the opening Rigmor needed, and she quickly lashed out with her foot and knocked Shush off balance. As he fell on his back Shush grasped his warhammer and swung upwards, while Rigmor swung down.


Rigmor’s mace had hit first, with what sounded like a crippling blow to the orc’s right leg. Shush cried out in pain. But the nord had missed any vitals, and her attack was not enough to stop the sweeping arc of the warhammer.


The second she was hit, S’razirr knew that Rigmor was dead. The warhammer had connected directly with her jawbone, and the thunderous impact actually popped her whole body a few feet in the air. She rose almost gracefully as her neck twisted at an impossible angle, then returned to the earth in a limp jumble of limbs.

While this whole exchange occurred, Bruce was shrieking bloody murder and running forward with a longsword in one hand and a lightning spell in the other. The spell struck first, and Shush arched his back in pain as electricity coursed through him. But as Bruce tried to follow up with his sword, the orc raised his hammer sideways and blocked the blade with its shaft. Bruce’s sword arm bounced back from the impact, and Shush was prepared to take advantage of that. Once again the warhammer swung with blazing speed, hitting the battlemage in his side and tossing him like a ragdoll.

S’razirr saw his moment at last. Clear of all obstructions his arrow flew fast and true, striking Shush in the hand as he finished his swing. The orc yelped and released the hammer, momentum continuing its arc through the air several feet beyond Shush’s grasp.

Just beyond where the hammer fell, Bruce was unsteadily propping himself up. His bones hadn’t made a pleasant noise on impact, and he was losing and alarming amount of blood. Despite this, he had mustered enough strength to raise a shaky hand towards Shush, static on his fingers and murder in his eyes. Once again lightning struck and once again Shush screamed in agony. As one, both of the prone combatants went limp.

S’razirr remained still as a statue, arrow carefully trained on the orc. Moments passed. Static still danced on the body. Seconds passed. The sound of sizzling flesh slowly hissed to a stop. Over a minute passed. Shush was completely still. The khajiit rose slowly and walked towards him, never lowering his bow. S’razirr drew close so he could confirm the kill with a shot between the eyes, the only clearly unguarded vitals on the orc. As he stood in front of Shush’s inert body, the khajiit sighed.

“You should have taken my deal” he said.

Shush’s unbroken leg pumped out like a piston and knocked S’razirr’s feet from under him. As the surprised khajiit feel forward unto Shush’s fist, the orcs eyes snapped open.

“An you shouldn’t have shooted Shush!”

The orc threw S’razirr forward with incredible strength, sending him sailing over the cliff before he knew what hit him. A dreamy second of weightlessly floating forward gave way to S’razirr’s leg catching on a branch, spiraling him out of control. His whole world shook as his side hit the hill and rose into the air yet again. The shock was such that his only thought was: “Bodies shouldn’t BOUNCE like that.” On the second impact, everything for S’razirr went dark.


Shush’s head fell back onto de ground an he did a deep breath. Everyting hurt real bad, except his leg, which had stopped hurting real bad on account of not feelin anyting anymore. Shush couldn’t remember de last time dat a fight went so bad. Meybe dere wasn’t one. Shush placed a hand on himself an let de magic come out. As Shush’s hand glowed wit de shiny light of his new healin spell, he sighed. Dat felt much better...okey, den it felt worse, cause he could feel his leg again. Still, dis was way better den how tings were before. It woulda taken forever to heal dis up wit de old spell Shush’s grandma taught him.

After a few minutes, Shush got up on his feet again. He picked up his warhammer and checked de bodies of de mean guys. Dey may have been bad, but de stuff dey had was real gud! It weren’t a nice ting dat Shush had to smash em, but at least dey had all dis neat shiny armor and weapons.

You don’t have to be very high level for the enchanted gear the ambushers wear to far outstrip the value of your initial reward. It’s a fitting prize, considering that this fight is genuinely challenging compared to the rest of the game. It almost makes it worth it to take S’razirr up on his offer. But come on, do you really see anyone who’s gamed for long paying part of their reward to make things easier? That’s what our vast repertoire of exploits and quicksaves are for!


Far downhill and far downstream, S’razirr the khajiit woke up coughing through a face full of riverbank mud. It really was incredible, how he could retain so little feeling and yet be in so MUCH pain. He jerked his arm towards his pack, desperately clinging to consciousness as he fumbled around inside. When he finally recognized the shape of his emergency healing potion his claws seized it like a vice. It clattered like a wind chime in a tornado as he extracted it from his belongings, arm unsteady but grip deathly certain. S’razirr rolled over, brought the bottle to his mouth, ripped the cork out with his teeth and started to gulp down the liquid. It tasted a lot more like blood than he remembered, but it wasn’t as if it could actually worsen the artificial grape flavoring.

As he finished drinking, S’razirr took a deep gasp of air and started coughing like mad. However, those coughs had a very manageable amount of blood in them. It was barely there at all, more a mist than anything, nothing to worry about. His head thumped back on the ground and he elected to wait until he had enough strength to limp back to town. As he sat there, breathing growing less shallow, adrenaline slowly lowering, he thought of Shush’Ogar. S’razirr had to admit, the orc was right. He SHOULDN’T have shot him. And he would do his best to never lay eyes on that monster again so long as he lived. But if, by chance, they happened to cross paths again...

S’razirr gripped his bow. In for a penny in for a pound.

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