Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXVI: A Very Equalitarian Visit

The sun had not yet risen, though the structure glowed blue in the pre-dawn light. Gottschalk stirred at the change and woke, dreams of his former life vanishing from the unpleasantness of his current situation.

Ever since the invasion of his homeland, he had felt his world become more mad, like some sort of bizarre dimension. He would awake each day, only to be cast out from yet another land by yet more cultists who claimed ‘Tolerance’ as their reason for banishing him yet again.

He wished he could remain asleep.

Back before Dinglesfuhr fell, he used to have a wife and family. He used to have friends and gainful employ as a salt mine captain. He used to... but now those things were gone: all thanks to cults. Some would claim that he hadn’t enjoyed them enough in the past- that he was being punished now for lacking appreciation for them at the time. Some even went so far as to suggest he had made some kind of false, errant thought and somehow violated Attraction’s Law.

But such were the excuses of liars, the misled, and the cruel, blaming misfortune upon others as a way to drop whatever responsibility they might themselves have. Such were the ways of cults.

They would first come with words of ‘Equality’. Slowly in the beginning, but methodically, they would then grow in strength: perverting, corrupting the youth of the very people that had graciously allowed them in. If any of their bizarre ideas would cause a stir, they would simply whine that they had been dispossessed and should instead be able to say and do what they wished in the ‘Name of Free Expression’.

Ultimately though, when their strength was great enough, the cult would seize power, censoring all opposition, doing the very same that they themselves had denounced only a decade or two before- despite the obvious hypocrisy. Finally, they would execute those who would not bow to their new Enlightened Equalitarian rule.

All in the name of Acceptance.

Gottschalk shifted again, his aging body stiff from sleep on the barren floor. His eyes went to Laurissa lying across from him. The young woman was still at rest, though she had to remain on one side because of her injured arm- another casualty of cultist ‘Equality’. He had thought to move closer to her during the night simply to keep warm, but decided against it. No point in scarring the woman further.

Gorm had no such compunction though and kept nudging closer to Ramzeus. Despite his great size, the large man’s intentions remained innocent, but few could blame Ramzeus for wanting to avoid such a sleep companion. It generally wasn’t a good idea to be smothered as a barbarian’s cuddle toy.

Gottschalk’s eyes moved then to take in the rest of the structure. A rectangular house a few dozen feet across, it looked to have once been a home and in the Ancient style, though it was hard to tell who had lived here since. Like all in Monjaksen, such places could be haunted by both those who had perished before Lights Out and those who had perished after. Any living residents were often few and far between.

Suddenly, he heard something: a sound almost imperceptible, a creaking at one of the windows. How such Ancient glass still stood intact after four centuries, here on the surface world for that matter, he could not say, though he guessed either spirits repaired any breakage or at least, scared away any who would.

Gottschalk scanned the room again and all the others were still asleep, though Ramzeus kept migrating away from Gorm’s attempts to snuggle. He cursed himself silently for not taking better precautions, for not better securing the place against intruders. But then again, when it came to spirits, what good could any mundane measures do?

Strangely though, he soon realized that this ‘spirit’ at the window had a hand and seemed to whisper too, sounding an awful lot like a human. Gottschalk rolled over as quietly as he could, only to see silhouettes outside! He was no cleric, but doubted that spirits looked the same as a group of cultists ready to raid one’s home at night.

He quickly reached out with his booted foot to touch Gorm on the face, but soon had to kick the deep-sleeping barbarian to wake him.

“Huh? What you want, Gott-chalk?”

Gottschalk said nothing, but only pointed at the window. Gorm sprang into action, grabbing his trusty great axe and cleaving the first cultist in two before he even had the chance to make it fully inside.

If the gurgling scream of the intruder wasn’t enough, Gottschalk’s shaking got Laurissa and Ramzeus on their feet, their own half-remembered dreams vanishing in the wake of the intrusion.

“Hey look, Gott-chalk! He find equal-it-tee too! Me chop him right in half! HA HA HA!”

The barbarian’s crude levity was short lived though, as five more cultists came through the windows and kicked in the door.

They remained silent and were masked. Unlike the ones who had attacked and nearly put him and his companions to death publically in Caelum Mount, these came as assassins: they had no qualms about killing those who disagreed with them outright. The weapons and large shields they carried, complete with the words ‘No Hate! Support Equality!’ written in glitter, dispelled any doubt.

Despite what the painful verses of the Never Stray from the Cult Path minstrels might suggest, it took more for cultists to come to such a point, to move beyond simply beating unbelievers in public within the Safe Areas they dominate and under the protection of their patrons. But now they were emboldened by the lack of any authority curtailing their excesses. It was a predictable progression from enthusiastic street harassment and beatings to expand into attempts at cold-blooded murder.

Gottschalk had little time to ruminate further though: one had swung at Ramzeus with a sickle and another at Laurissa with a club. A third came at him with the obligatory blackjack soaked with micturant. The remaining two went for Gorm.

Ramzeus and Laurissa dodged out of the way, though Gottschalk took the blackjack right across the face, nearly knocking him out in a putrid haze. Gorm responded by cracking his two assailants’ heads together though. It was doubtful that their masks did much good for them now.

Seeing that the initial assault was beginning to falter, the remaining would-be assassins fell back to their typical cultist ways and raised their shields: “Amaranthine scum- GET OFF OUR STREETS!”

“We not on street?!” Gorm couldn’t understand their stupidity.

The cultists looked around, confused for a moment before continuing. “Amaranthinists- GO HOME!”

At that, Gottschalk finally cracked. They knew full well that he was already at home, or at least, at a home that they had FORCED him into after driving him out of his LAST TWO.

In truth, they only wanted him to have NO HOME, to die in the name of Tolerance, and to make sure of it, they had come here to murder him and his friends in their sleep. He pulled out his miner’s pick, an insane look forming upon his still urine-covered, bruised face.

Even Gorm went pale at the result.

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXVII!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXV: Farewell to Caelum Mount

The four moved grimly, nearing the town line. Though Caelum Mount still glowed brightly behind them, the road remained dark and quiet.

It did not last for long.

Screams of fear and anger rang out in the distance. It seemed that more ‘Safety Zones to Root out Hatred’ were being arranged in that fallen place.

Gottschalk and the others had endured their own ‘Safety Zone’ in Caelum Mount just that evening, a show-trial, nearly sacrificed by the cultists as a result. Any who stood against them of course was to be denounced and destroyed in the ‘Name of Tolerance’. But though Gottschalk and his allies had escaped and then been nearly killed by an angry mob of more of the urine-tossing lunatics, he had come out relatively unscathed.

The same could not be said for some of his companions. Ramzeus still clutched his painful, oozing eyes. Laurissa Austral cradled her broken arm, trying to hold back her tears. On the other hand, Gorm, though battered and bruised, seemed completely pleased, happy to have helped them escape the corrupted town with his great axe. Being a barbarian, the man was untroubled by external or even internal debate. It was enviable.

Gottschalk knew the land they were heading for might be no less dangerous, but hoped it hadn’t been overrun by cults intent on killing them yet. Few were brave enough to venture into such a haunted land as Monjaksen anyway. He was just about to discuss the matter when he suddenly stopped. There, on the road before him, was Captain Salpinx, the one who had promised to save Caelum Mount.

The aging blond man was flanked by his personal hoplite bodyguard and what seemed his family. It was obvious that all was far from well in the town, and yet he was acting as if it were fine. Even odder, he was addressing a donkey.

“This will be fantastic! Yes, let’s invade West By Golly again- we have our troops standing by! Make it big! No, no, I respect the Cult Position... we must come together as a great town again!”

Gorm raised his eyebrow at this: it took a lot to make a barbarian believe you were unhinged.

Ramzeus was so shocked that he even forgot his injured eyes for a moment. “You’re SUPPORTING the cultists? They would murder you and your entire family!”

“I support all Caelum Mounters,” replied Salpinx calmly. “We can’t Tolerate Amaranthinism.”

“We aren’t Amaranthinists, but the cultists are foul!” cried Laurissa. “Look what they did to us! They are Equalitarians: followers of an even more murderous ideology! We would defend you- why won’t you defend us?”

She turned to emphasize her broken arm, but Salpinx’s daughter began to whisper in his ear. The Captain turned again to address the donkey.

“Why you talk to pony?” asked Gorm.

Salpinx ignored his question, though Ramzeus had regained his composure enough to reply instead: “It’s the talking donkey, C’nnamon. Salpinx is trying to appease it because it got the cults to ravage the town.”

“How it do that?”

“By claiming that there were Amaranthinists hiding everywhere. That gave the Equalitarians the excuse to purge all opposition and take over. Corrupt shopkeeps followed suit, denying service to those who disagreed. Now no one can gather together or even say anything without cult approval. And all the statues of the Gods and Heroes are to be torn down and replaced by cult ones! Once the freedoms and traditions of the people of Caelum Mount have been purged, then the people themselves will be next.”

“But why invade West By Golly?” interjected Gottschalk. “To capture the Lost City? To fight the Monongahls? I thought that campaign failed a decade ago!”

Laurissa laughed. “C’nnamon has been tormenting Salpinx ever since he began to captain the town, claiming that the Maurians had helped him get the position. Being in league with the cultists, it of course claimed that he was being ‘Intolerant’ by supporting freedom too. But now that there’s more senseless war to be had, the donkey and its conspirators might finally leave him alone.”

Gottschalk sniffed then, realizing how close they were to the Draining Swamp now. Even in the cold night air, he could detect the ill stench of it: rotting, cloying, corrupting any who might attempt to drain it. Though it seemed like months ago, he and Gorm had been there only yesterday (in Parts XI and XII) and had survived, though it also seemed like it had proven too much for Salpinx.

He hoped he was wrong. He hoped that the once-great leader would still save Caelum Mount and not be defeated by corruption and cults.

The four turned south once more, to the haunted land of zombies and unquiet spirits.

It seemed preferable to all the ‘Tolerance’ here.

* * *

The night grew darker. They hung near the road, though not right upon it. All knew the rumors of wicked things that might race by to snatch the unwary. Still, they did not dare to stray too far either, for the many scattered structures and lonely moors would likely be just as dangerous.

“We need to leave the road entirely,” said Ramzeus. “We can’t go on like this. We need to rest, regroup, and head into the countryside now, like partisans would- maybe even go underground.”

“What? You tired?” offered Gorm. “Here, me carry you?”

Gottschalk blocked the barbarian’s misguided attempt at assistance. “How can you say that? We’ve done nothing wrong- we are on the side of right! Humans should be able to stand up for themselves, just like all other peoples!”

Ramzeus only laughed. “It doesn’t matter if that’s true- cultists have taken over and they don’t care for the truth. We have to be wise.”

“But my arm!” exclaimed Laurissa. “I need a healer! Perhaps there is one nearby?” She began to rummage for her Ghul-Ghul box in her pack.

“Why are you doing that again, woman!?” said Gottschalk as he turned to her, trying to keep his voice down. “That thing is worse than talking donkeys!”

“Yeah!” added Gorm. “And who would trust them?!”

A few dozen yards away, they spied a lone farmhouse upon a hill. Like all the structures about this place, it looked deserted. Tired, the party approached it cautiously.

It then dawned on Gottschalk what Ramzeus really meant: one might have the moral high ground, but that might also lead to a shallow grave.

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXVI!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXIV: Anyone Who Disagrees with Us is an Amaranthinist!

Gottschalk, Gorm, Ramzeus, and Laurissa Austral moved through the now-chaotic town, more cries of villagers dying erupting in the distance. It was clear that Caelum Mount had begun to fall, that the cultists had disrupted it too greatly and let too many goblins in.

Gottschalk was not surprised.

Though it seemed like months ago, his own homeland of Dinglesfuhr had been overrun only recently in much the same way. Granted, Dinglesfrau Mekla had been much more open than Captain Salpinx in allowing the goblins in, even welcoming them as ‘New Friends’, but the end result was still the same. It was rumored also that Salpinx had been neutralized by C’nnamon the talking donkey and had been lost in the Draining Swamp.

In any case, another western human enclave had fallen- all in the name of ‘Fighting Amaranthinism’.

Gottschalk had heard mention of other humans to the east, towards Ruined Dee-Cee, but little more. He hoped that they were faring better.

Suddenly, another group of cultists emerged from behind a storefront. They stared at the interlopers, leaving only a few of their Eternally Repentant Human Males behind in their Holy Chambers of Echoes.

“Oh, look,” said one. “More Amaranthinists!”

“Where?” said Gorm looking around quickly, not grasping the cultists’ insinuation.

“YOU!” they screamed, “ANYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH US ARE AMARANTHINISTS!” their voices reaching a crescendo shriek.

It seemed little point in debating them in the matter.

More cultists swarmed in then, scores of them. Like the others, their hair was dyed blue and they bore rainbow garb and signs of ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, and ‘Tolerance’. Unfortunately though, their faces indicated nothing of the sort, for they also bore bricks and metal poles.

Hoplites! Hoplites protect us!” cried out Laurissa.

“They’re not coming,” said Ramzeus flatly.

Apparently, with Captain Salpinx now removed, the hoplite watchmen had been given the order to stand down. Even though they were only a few yards across the street and clad in full armor, they shrugged. It appeared that the four of them wouldn’t be getting any protection from the Watch today- not when cultists claimed you were an Amaranthinist!

Rummaging through her pack, Laurissa then pulled out a small box; fell lights arose from it and its warped divinations. “I must confer with Ghul-Ghul to know what to do!”

Seeing what she was doing, Gottschalk scolded her. “Don’t you know that it’s evil? It lies to you while saying it does nothing wrong! It selects only what perspective it wishes to show you; it works to enslave our people!”

The woman shook her head, frustrated. “I know: I just... just can’t stop!”

Gottschalk tried to help Laurissa wrestle it from her grasp, but the cultists could not resist seeing Apparent Amaranthinists with their backs turned.

Here they come!” shouted Ramzeus in warning to the others. The cultists shrieked as they charged, dead looks in their eyes as they exercised their false-righteous Tolerance.

Reacting quickly, Gorm strode up to protect his friends. It was then that the hoplite watchmen moved in. But rather than help the heavily-outnumbered small group of four, they made to apprehend Gorm instead!

With their barbaric protection now neutralized, the cultists laughed and sprayed some toxic substance right into Ramzeus’s eyes. “I hope you go blind!” one screamed.

“Death to Amaranthinists!” said another as she struck Laurissa with a metal pole.

“We cannot Tolerate Your Intolerance!” said a third bearing a sign promising to ‘Pummel Amaranthinists in the Name of Peace’.

Despite himself, Gottschalk was stunned. Yes, he and Gorm had faced Helltowne troops, vicious goblins, bizarre demons, Equalitarian harpies, the Boas Constrictor, orcish god impersonators, and more before, but here was a crowd of humans ruthlessly attacking his unarmed friends, all in the name of ‘Fighting Hatred’.

His weapons had been taken from him in the melee: he had no choice but to debate them.

“Is it ever possible for humans to stand up for themselves as a group and not be called Amaranthine?”

At that, the cultists stopped attacking Ramzeus and Laurissa for a moment; even Gorm and the hoplite watchmen stopped grappling too.

“Silence, Racist!” growled Toxin-sprayer.

“Go Home, Human Supremacist!” yelled Pole-beater.

“Amaranthine.... or Amaranthine-sympathizer at least!” shrieked Sign-bearer.

His question had stopped them from attacking his friends for a moment. Ramzeus and Laurissa took the opportunity to move away and assist Gorm.

“Why?” continued Gottschalk nervously. “Would you call an orc who wanted to preserve its people those things? How about a dwarf? Would they be ‘Orcish Supremacists’ or would you tell a dwarf to “Go Home” from lands that were his? If humans can never advocate for themselves, then won’t they just become enslaved, belittled, and die off?”

The cultists had mixed reactions to this. Though Gottschalk was no bard, Toxin-sprayer immediately covered his ears, trying to keep Gottschalk’s Heretical questions from reaching his brain. Sign-bearer became berserk, face ashen-white, contorted in fury, making furious threats about tearing out his tongue and ruining his employ and that of all his family. Pole-beater simply strode up and took a swing at him.

In any case, it appeared that cultists didn’t care for certain questions, no matter how thought-provoking they could be.

Gottschalk began to back away, looking for a place to flee the crowd.

“Oh, look at the Human Supremacist now!” they said. “The Coward is Running Away! See how Amaranthinists run!” The cultists moved in to kill the lone, unarmed man.

The distraction had been enough though. Now rearmed and free, Gorm strode in and used his axe to clear the way, cultist blood splattering all about the place.

The other three ran then, knowing full well that they would be blamed by whoever remained, ignoring the fact that they were only trying to defend Gottschalk from an angry mob.

They reached the southern edge of the city and waited for Gorm to catch up. Ramzeus still grasped his eyes in pain, pus oozing from them. Laurissa had a nasty wound on her head and it seemed a broken arm. The haunted land of Monjaksen lay before them

Gottschalk looked back to the north; a tear came to his eye. What had been a peaceful, safe place only this morning was now a fell zone where cultists and goblins got to beat and kill any and all they didn’t like. When he and Gorm had arrived this morning, he had quietly hoped that he might remain there- a place to dwell after cultists had ruined Dinglesfuhr.

The words of Pole-bearer came back to him then ‘Go Home, Human Supremacist!’

But where was his home supposed to be?

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXV! And also, audio to go with new episodes (including this one)!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXIII: The Doom of Cults


Gottschalk could see that Gorm was upset. At least he had broken free.

“You bite pretty woman! Now axe bite you!!!”

Two blue-haired cultists, one likely male, though the other’s gender couldn’t be told for sure, fell before the barbarian’s mighty weapon. Their shrieking bodies hadn’t even a chance to hit the ground before he was upon the Patrons next. The older cultists tried to dodge away, but Gorm grabbed one by the back of his chiton. The others pulled a lever- an attempt to de-platform him via some hidden trapdoor on stage- but Gorm leapt out of the way before it opened.

“Me hope this not too violent!”

The irony of Gorm’s taunt was likely lost on the Patron he had grabbed as he crashed his axe into his rib cage. Howling like some fell bringer of death, Gorm then hefted the screaming older cultist above his head, his vital humors pouring over the barbarian’s face. At that, most of the others fled in terror. Finally, with a mighty motion, he flung the near-dead Patron into the Never Stray from the Cult Path minstrels.

“See! He support you!”

Gorm had taken great issue with the Patrons’ hypocritical support for those violent minstrels while removing support for those who spoke against them- all the while claiming that those who spoke out were the ones advocating violence. Ironically, silencing people, preventing them from stating their grievances would only lead to one outcome: violence. And seeing Laurissa Austral being molested by some orc dressed up like Zeus gave Gorm an excellent outlet to vent his fury.

The orc glared back at the approaching, gore-covered barbarian. “Me Master Magic Orc Zeus! Woman mine, mutha f’er, get loose!” It smiled, jabbing with its fake thunderbolt as one would a spear, its yellow teeth revealed beneath its fake beard.

Suddenly, two of the other ‘Olympians’, another orc dressed as some hero and a traitorous human wench dressed as a goddess, crashed into Gorm from behind. The large barbarian fell and his axe clattered to the side. Orcish Zeus laughed and went back to grabbing at Laurissa inappropriately.

Gottschalk struggled against his bonds, but could not escape to help his friend. Night had now fallen fully and only the fires of the devastated city lit up the sky. Cries from the victims of the riots could still be heard in the distance. Soon countless goblins would be upon them, just as they had invaded his homeland of Dinglesfuhr. And just like then, they had been let in by cultists.

He looked over at the other prisoner, the well-dressed, older man in spectacles, Ramzeus, but he too could not escape. Even worse, it appeared that the Never Stray from the Cult Path minstrels had arisen from the flung-Patron attack and were looking to take out their frustrations on Gottschalk.

The stunty lead minstrel grabbed him by the ear. “Look what we have here, Gender Equals: a f’ing human male!”

“Aren’t you a human male yourself, minstrel?” countered Gottschalk.

“How Dare You Assume My Gender! And I might look human, like one of the ‘Western Folk’, but at least I’m not Amaranthine like you! Don’t worry though, I’ll help you make Amends for all the Evil you’ve done...”

He then pulled out a fell brand, one similar to what Gottschalk had seen the cultists use on their victims in town earlier that evening.

“Come on, you coward,” challenged Ramzeus, “You’re not going to even give him a chance to fight back?”

“Of course not,” laughed the minstrel, who unfortunately then began to break into song, “We must kill off every last one of you Human Supremies... in the Name of Diversity... By Every Means Necessary. Why, Amaranthine-guy, would we ever fight fair? The Great Glowing Spectral Rainbow in the Sky just doesn’t CARE!

And to emphasize his point, he stuck the brand in a nearby brazier. It still stunk of the fell herbs and filth common amongst cultists. Gottschalk hoped that the man would at least kill him before he had to listen to any more of his awful verses.

So now... it’s time to say, ‘Goodni-’ ”

But the minstrel hadn’t a chance to finish; Gorm had cracked him over the head with his axe. The other Never Stray from the Cult Path members ran for it. It appeared that the barbarian had beaten the orcish hero and the goddess traitor too, and now turned to lumber towards Master Magic Orc Zeus again.

Gottschalk let out a sigh of relief, but then realized the peril they still faced. “Wait! Set us free!”

The barbarian glanced back for a moment and distractedly swung his great axe, nearly taking off Gottschalk’s arm along with the rope that was binding him. But the man remained unwounded and set about freeing Ramzeus as well.

Gorm had reached orcish Zeus, though the creature was too distracted biting Laurissa again to notice. The poor woman was sobbing over the attack. The orc had begun to remove its pants too- Gorm knew he had to act fast.

“Zeus not orc,” he said calmly.

Master Magic Orc Zeus turned at the barbarian’s challenge, enraged, but Gorm only lopped off its head in a fluid motion. Foul blood gushed from the now gaping hole in its collapsing body. Despite getting splattered, Laurissa appeared relieved. Gorm was relieved too: that orc was bad.

Ramzeus nodded to them both, thankful to be free. Cultists at the far end of the clearing appeared to be reforming to attack, but a great boom erupted behind them, even shaking the stage upon which the four former captives still stood. At first, they thought the sound might be Zeus himself, tossing thunderbolts at all the cultist heresy that had occurred here.

Ramzeus realized that it was more of an explosion- one made by mortals. “Goblins?”

“Probably,” replied Gottschalk. “They usually don’t take kindly to performances and attempt to blow them up.”

“The cultists are fools,” added Laurissa as Gottschalk bandaged the last of her wounds. “They let the goblins in, only to have them kill them in return!”

“Why they so stupid?” pondered Gorm out loud.

As if in answer to his question, they could now hear the cultists scream and cry as the goblins drove into them mercilessly. Their cruel, curved blades stabbed without regard to how ‘Against Racism’ they claimed to be or ‘What Gender They Opted to Flow Into Today’. To the goblins, the cultists were simply all stupid humans to be killed.

Gottschalk, Gorm, Ramzeus, and Laurissa could hear the Patrons too, members of the Honesty and Peace committee that had condemned them earlier. Even as they themselves were butchered, their only concern was that this slaughter might lead to some Anti-Goblin Bias.

Gottschalk realized then that cults like this one, the one that had now destroyed Caelum Mount and even his homeland before, were doomed to fail.

The only question was: how many of the People of the West would these lunatics get killed before then?

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXIV! And also, audio to go with new episodes (including this one)!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXII: The Bonds of Tolerance

The cultists hauled the two bound men on stage as the crowd howled. The blue-haired woman, the one who had spoken before, followed behind. She bowed before the imitation god standing there.

“Oh great Master Magic Orc Zeus, tell us what to do with these... Racists!” She kept her eyes pointed reverently to the ground even though the creature’s fake beard wasn’t even on straight.

Being an orc, it at first began to lower its pants, since the kneeling woman was not uncomely. Some of the other ‘Olympian Gods and Heroes’ standing on stage nearby nudged it though. It was obvious that wasn’t what this human was looking for at the moment.

Realizing it too, Master Magic Orc Zeus readjusted itself and looked past the kneeling woman to the two captives: Gottschalk and Gorm. Unlike the other humans here, they obviously weren’t cultists. It strode over to strike them, but then its attention quickly turned to two other captives being led on stage: a younger, blond woman and a well-dressed, older man in spectacles.

“Oh, Zeus...” said the blue-haired woman somewhat impatiently. She gestured back to Gottschalk and Gorm.

The orc grimaced and struck her viciously, knocking the woman clear off the stage. “Nobody tell Master Magic Orc Zeus what to do!” The faces of the other cultists below went pale: they had no idea how to respond to a creature they worshipped attacking one of their own.

Gorm made to intervene, struggling against his bonds, but Gottschalk only shook his head. “We must wait for a better opportunity,” he whispered.

The large barbarian heeded his friend’s advice for now; his attention was quickly drawn to the blond woman anyway. “She pretty!” he yelled. He leaned over and tried to smile at her, but more cultists came up then, taking care to give Master Magic Orc Zeus a wide berth.

They brought all four captives to the stage’s center and tied them to dark poles so that they couldn’t move and remained standing. Gottschalk guessed that he, Gorm, the blond woman, and the man in spectacles were to be sacrificed soon.

Never Stray from the Cult Path returned as well and he realized that his own execution could not come soon enough. Listening to that Gods-awful minstrel band was certainly a fate worse than death. The dwarvish singer that led them glared at Gottschalk malevolently, almost guessing his thoughts. It appeared that he had another terrible song in mind just for him.

Gottschalk took a moment to glance at the spectacled man positioned beside him. It appeared that he couldn’t stand the minstrels either.

The blue-haired woman stumbled back on stage next. Her face was badly bruised and it even appeared her arm was broken. Some of the older cultists from before, the Patrons, escorted her. She came before Master Magic Orc Zeus again, prostrated herself, and began to blubber.

“Oh Great One! I Hope I Didn’t Oppress You with my reminder! Whatever we can do...” She broke down in tears before she could finish.

Despite the fake beard, the orc couldn’t hide its confusion over such a pathetic display- even by a cultist!

“What Existence Achiever means to say is: how can we support you, Master Zeus?”

The orc looked at the Patron who had spoken for a moment and then grinned widely. He pointed at the blond woman tied up on the stage with the others. The older cultist calmly nodded and then placed his hand on Existence Achiever. The blue-haired woman looked up at him, seeming a bit relieved, and hobbled over to address the audience again.

“My Friends, we now have the Final Act for Today’s Celebration: the Ultimate in Tolerance!” She made to gesture at the captives with one hand, but had to use the other, since Master Magic Orc Zeus had broken that arm.

“We present to you- the Lying Arch villain, Ramzeus, the Cruel Impeder of Goblin Migration, Laurissa Austral, and two Other Racists... for sacrifice!”

Existence Achiever then pulled out a long scroll to read the list of charges against the captives. Ramzeus, the man in spectacles, was apparently some sort of town crier who had denounced the cultists’ evil ways and had been critical of their destruction of Caelum Mount. Laurissa Austral, the pretty blonde, was accused of helping rivermen to stem the tide of goblins pouring across the Shenbyrg from the east.

Apparently, the Patrons had been allowing others to help finance the efforts of these two for a little while, but then had it stopped, deeming them ‘Violent’. No matter that Master Magic Orc Zeus had just smashed a woman in her face- the Patrons would still allow support for obviously violent orcs and cultists, but not the people who peacefully challenged their wickedness.

She then came to the charges against Gorm and him: their defeat of J. Kary Rotter, He-woman, and the Boas Constrictor (in Part XIX), which she framed as an unprovoked attack.

Gottschalk made to debate her on that point, but Ramzeus interrupted him. “Debate is pointless. Cultists are our enemies, you know? They only wish our people dead.”

He had to admit that the man had a point, but what else could they do? He wasn’t sure if they would be killed before Never Stray from the Cult Path began another song.

Existence Achiever was still not done reading the list of charges- she was now onto the many ‘Miniscule Encroachments’ that the captives had somehow oppressed her and Master Magic Orc Zeus with. The latter had grown impatient though and was already standing before Laurissa Austral, leering at her and beginning to lower its pants.

Gottschalk looked over at Gorm and it appeared that the mighty barbarian had grown weary. He guessed it was from all the droning on of Existence Achiever, like some twisted cultist bedtime story. He knew he had to act fast; the minstrels were getting ready to play.

“Ho there, Gorm! Where’s that pretty blond woman?”

The barbarian shook himself from his near-swoon. “What? Gott-chalk?” He looked around and saw that the orc was nearly upon her, gyrating and dancing to the screams of the crowd.

Gorm struggled against his bonds. The ropes stretched, but did not break.

Gottschalk spoke again, louder this time, struggling to be heard above the rising din "She told me something, Gorm: you know what it is?”

“She don’t like ropes?”

“She told me she really likes you!”

Gorm beamed at that, but then saw the orc bite her on the shoulder. Laurissa shrieked in disgust and terror. She struggled against her bonds, but could not break free. Her eyes then met his silently, pleading for help.

Gorm’s face went bright red. The cultists, the Patrons, Never Stray from the Cult Path minstrels, and most especially, Master Magic Orc Zeus barely heard the sound of his bonds breaking as the enraged barbarian came at them.

Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXIII!