Rumors of War is actually two completely different sprite comics, both by Dither, whose blog is also Rumors of War. Admittedly, I never got very far into the original Rumors of War comic. I know that it had a conversation between two guys on a boat. The second Rumors of War comic is written in the form of an old-school Text-Based Adventure game with a limited 16bit graphic interface. The concept behind the second comic involved crowd input from the kickstarter backers who were able to choose from a pool of randomly generated characters who were then assigned roles in the story. It’s pretty amusing and worth checking out. It’s only been going for a couple of months, but since the update schedule is almost daily, there are a number of posts up there already.
Anyway, even though Dither is planning on writing a novelized form at some point, which will benefit from all of the author’s insight into the characters and story as it was outlined, I’ve gone ahead wrote my own little totally not-legit unauthorized fan fiction that covers a few of the early pages. Hope Dither won’t be mad about this, and I hope you folks here for A-Z enjoy!
Weak. Slow. Ugly. Clumsy. Pig-ignorant. These are all words used to describe the stout young gnoll who had just ambled out of the trackless wilderness and into Destiny. How fortuitous it might have been were ‘Destiny’ the name of village he had arrived at, yet even if it were, he had not the slightest idea of what the place was called. In a former lifetime, this fellow had been a herdsman. A shepherd of animals. Guarding various beasts that were the livelihood of his family and his people, not that he was particularly good at it. But that was long ago. These days, young Kratos has become a herdsman of a different kind, a shepherd of life and death, and taken up something of an itinerant lifestyle, the sort which leaves little time for the herding of livestock. Most necromancers are clever, scheming, and intelligent. Alas, poor Kratos is none of these things. But he is determined, and it is that very determination that has led him to this small community on the edge of the wilds. He has it on good (at least he supposes) authority that there is someone here who might have need of him and his skills.
The laughter of children (or at least childlike laughter) filling the air reached the ears of young Kratos, who took it as a good omen. Hastening his step, Kratos entered the clearing in which several small huts stood about firepit. The gnoll noted that none of the huts had any doors, which presented him with the rather awkward conundrum of how he should go about knocking to make his inquiries. Though etiquette was low on the list of things which Kratos was knowledgeable of, he at least knew (by experience, no doubt) that one ought not simply enter a fellow’s yurt unbidden. Yet ever the botherer of things which he ought not bother (the arts of undeath not the least among them), Kratos could not resist the urge to attempt to light the neatly stacked dry wood in the firepit.
It was nearly sunset, and Kratos justified his endeavors by supposing that he was simply helping the villagers by getting the night fires alights. But alas, his attempts to get a spark to catch were to no avail. Basic survival skills, such as starting a fire from tinder, were among the many talents which the hapless necromancer failed to possess. How he made it this far, even he was unsure. Yet he was here now and thankful that he need not return to the wilderness, provided irate locals did not desire him gone. Fortune is sometimes kind to foolish.
Fortune smiled on young Kratos now in the form of a young woman, who had moments ago been minding her own business, working out which chords sounded best in the song she had been composing. She saw Kratos’ attempts to light the fire and approached with a smile betraying stifled laughter.
“Is it time for the fires to be lit already? Let me help you, then.”
Perhaps Kratos was embarrassed by his failure to do something so simple as start a fire or perhaps he was embarrassed at being caught attempting to start the village’s bonfire unbeknownst to any of the villagers, but the young necromancer felt compelled to reply “I was just arranging wood, actually; as you can see, it should burn more brightly now with the these bits here and those other bits there”, with odd confidence.
“Then it shall burn nicely when the time does arrive.”
“That’s a harp, right? You’re a minstrel, right?” Kratos probed, either to try to change the subject and distract from his rather inappropriate behavior or simply a strange continuation of such inappropriate behavior.
The young woman looked at Kratos warily for a moment before answering. “Yes, I am. Is there anything you’d care to hear?”
Kratos thought for a moment. There was that lullaby his mother used to growl to him when he refused to go to sleep. “Yes! Do you know the one that goes ‘raLAAtralalaluuRAAlalalalilielee’?”
“Yes, of course!” the woman nodded before playing something entirely different. Different, but lovely. Yes, Kratos, thought. A truly lovely song that he could get lost in. And he did, for a few moments at least, until he noticed that the song had stopped and the young woman had her hand outstretched expectantly.
Kratos reached into his pocket. Then his other pocket. And then his other pocket. And then his first pocket again. Lint, string, a chicken bone, but certainly no money to pay this fine lady for the song she had just played.
The woman’s smile faded into a scowl. “Be on your best behavior as a guest in this village.” It sounded as much a threat as it did warning, and sent the apologetic gnoll scurrying off further into the village.
When he felt he was far enough from the woman whose ire he had no doubt raised, Kratos paused to look around. More huts, similar to those he’d just passed, surrounded him. Another firepit, unlit, was constructed here, as was a stone well. Something about the stone well bothered Kratos. Certainly not the attractive lady standing beside it, but something! Being a young male gnoll, and feeling he desperately needed to improve his track record with the women-folk of this village, Kratos approached the well with every intention of making a good first impression.
“Greetings! I am Kratos, necromancer!” Now, this may seem to you, gentle reader, a bit straight forward, or even inappropriate, however I can assure you that Kratos was fairly certain that by the purple robes and floppy pointed hat this lovely lady wore her profession involved some form of the darker mystic arts. And he would, in this case, be correct. The cute witch smiled and introduced herself as Marion, a fellow practitioner of the dark arts of life and death. Have I mentioned Marion is a troll? She is. A very lovely and charming troll, at that. Kratos and Marion shared a moment together exchanging mildly excited platitudes and exultations that those who share a common hobby, trade or passion are expected to exchange. I’ll not bore you with the details, but suffice to say they were both happy to meet one another. Yet even in this happy moment, something about that well still bothered Kratos. But not enough to bring it up and ruin the mood.
“I heard that someone here might be seeking adventurers,” Kratos stated bluntly. “Had a problem, or something. Needed talent to deal with it. Know anything about it?”
Marion paused for a moment, giving Kratos a quizzical expression. “I’ve heard that Tempus, one of the merchants in town, was having some family trouble. I didn’t know he was looking for help, though. Why?”
“Well, I just happen to be a very talented adventurer!” Kratos boasted. “Is there something up with that well?”
“Nevermind. Hey! Would you like to go with me and ask Tempus..”
“…about the work? Wait, really?”
“Of course!” Marion smiled, proffering her hand to shake. “I think I heard that Tempus is usually over with the artisans on the west side of town.”
Kratos was elated by the prospect of the cute troll girl going on an adventure with him. Maybe soon, he’d have an entire entourage of adventurer’s with him. He’d never been a leader before! Well, the truth was, he wasn’t much a leader. There was a difference between herding animals and herding adventurers, and even Kratos was willing to acknowledge his shortcomings in that respect. But for now, he was happy to no longer be alone. And by the Gods, there was something about that blasted well!
“One moment,” Kratos raised a finger. “I want to check something first.” The young gnoll stepped up to the stone well and peered into its inky depths. As he leaned forward, though, a patch of wet ground gave way under his foot, and the hapless gnoll found himself tumbling head first down the well.
“Oh, my God, are you okay!” Marion cried out. Kratos didn’t answer, however, as he was too busy screaming and still falling down the well. He landed with a splash. The well was incredibly deep, and water was very cold. Kratos could just make out the outline of Marion far above him as he struggled to keep his head above the surface of the water. Though he made a feeble effort to climb out on his own power, Kratos found the walls far too slick, offering no hand-hold, to find any success.
“Marion?! Marion, help me! I can’t get out!”
“I’m going for help!” Marion’s voice faintly bounced off the wet stones, down the well and to Kratos’s ears, adding the unpleasant reassurance, “Don’t worry about drowning; you’ve got quite the excellent skeletal structure.”
Kratos was too panicked to fully wrap his head around the implications of the witch’s words, though they were not particularly heartening. He continued flailing, desperately trying not to drown. His only chance would be if Marion managed to come back with help, but if he wore himself out thrashing about the bottom of the well he might not even be able to lift himself out if Marion brought a rope. An attempt at taking a deep breath filled his mouth with water. This is it, Kratos thought, my life ends today.
As he waited in stillness for the end, cold and barely able to move or feel, a noose tightened about Kratos’s shoulders. He was so numb from exhaustion and the icy water of the well, there was almost no pain as his arms were squeezed audibly against his ribs with each slow tug that lifted him the dark and narrow shaft, foot by foot, until he at last was dragged over the stone lip and onto the ground. Kratos sputtered, coughing up water as Marion and another stranger crouched by the pitiful gnoll. Finally able to get his wits about him, Kratos sized up this newcomer, a Halfling, whose armor indicated a martial profession.
“Are you okay? This lady was able to help me pull you out of the well.”
“I’m Dwayna,” the Halfling, still looking rather concerned, introduced herself. “You alright?”
“I am eternally grateful to you, Lady Dwayna,” Kratos prostrated himself awkwardly before the Halfling. “I owe you my life and offer any such service which might be weighed against that debt.”
Marion rolled her eyes.
“As much as I appreciate the gesture, such oaths are unnecessary,” Dwayna warmly explained. “As a paladin, I’ve sworn an oath to help those in need.”
Though it is a story best told later, Dwayna has long made a habit of aiding the poor, the miserable and the hapless, including, though not limited to, those who fall down wells. And speaking of wells, the well now seemed… smaller to young Kratos.
“I hear – Marion told me – that a merchant named Tempus is having family problems,” a shivering Kratos boldly proclaimed. “Do you know anything about that?”
“Say, I have!” Dwayna lit up. “One of his kids has fallen in with a bad crowd. Band of smugglers. He’s hoping that someone might convince the kid to come home. I’ve actually been hoping to find some help looking into it.”
“Is there a reward?” Marion slyly rubbed her chin.
“Dwayna, won’t you join us?” Kratos blurted out. “We were heading over to Tempus to talk to him about just that!”
“Sure, I’d love to!”