ARC 2 - Chapter [04]: The Missing Toe

Tucker didn’t have a great history with The Missing Toe Tavern, so it was strange that when he walked in the open doorway without concealing his full identity, he was greeted with reverence. The smokey atmosphere stilled and all heads turned to observe him. It would have felt strange except Tucker noted that most of the faces looked happy to see him, whereas the first time he had walked into the establishment with his face completely hidden, nearly all people besides the bartender wouldn’t give him the time of day.

He held his helmet at his side and had wrapped his lower face in the maroon scarf that he wore. It was just enough covering that he wouldn’t disturb anyone who wasn’t from the area. Tucker assumed that most people knew that he was an orc by now. If they didn’t, then they hadn’t seen the procession that had traveled to Castlederg with him — transporting Colton safely to the area’s one and only prison.

The scarf was just a formality. As Tucker had seen on his journeys so far, even with his good will earned by taking down a local criminal, some people were still uneasy when looking upon an orc face. It was built into the culture, and a knee-jerk reaction. This layer of protection was merely a precaution and a nicety for Tucker.

The bartender smiled when he saw Tucker approach the counter.

“Good afternoon to you, young adventurer. I see you ended up finding yourself some work after leaving here, did you?”

Tucker tried to play it cool.

“It took a little bit,” he answered. “But, you no doubt have heard about my success.”

“Indeed we did. It was quite the sight, I must say. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Tucker lowered his eyebrows.

“You didn’t know anything about me at all,” he answered flatly, causing the bartender’s friendly attitude to falter for a moment. “But, that’s all in the past. I understand why you didn’t offer me anything — any of you. However, I am back and looking for another round of employment.”

The bartender frowned.

“You mean you didn’t end up making off like a bandit after taking down Colton?”

Tucker forced a laugh.

“He didn’t keep much in his pockets.”

This got a rumble of chuckles throughout the hazy room.

“I guess that makes sense,” the bartender went on as he scratched his chin. “The man was quite the gold pincher. I knew one or two men who came in here who lost everything to Colton’s schemes. So, allow me to say that I’m very pleased that he’s finally been caught in the act and justice will hopefully be served. I imagine that most of the money he stole and swindled is going to be locked up in legal battles from here on out. Good on you for lifting that burden for the locals around here. The name’s Bradley, and you are welcome here any time you’d like. Allow me to get you something on the house. You look like you might be hungry.”

Reputation Increased. Contributions to the area have been well-received.

At last, thought Tucker. He didn’t expect anyone to hold his hand as he worked his way through Acaedia, but he also didn’t want to constantly be fighting an uphill battle. He nodded to Bradley as the man motioned for an order to be prepared for him.

“I appreciate that, thank-you,” said Tucker as he lowered his scarf a bit and got comfortable. “My name’s Tucker, for those who don’t know. I’ll look into what work is needed after I enjoy something to eat.”

The room returned to its own conversations and Tucker felt like he finally blended in. It felt nice.

Moments later he had a hot metal plate in front of him containing bacon that was still sizzling, accompanied by four sausages and some crispy potato cubes with seasoning. The aroma of melted butter and fat filled his nostrils. He was about to ask about something to drink, which he assumed he would be paying for, when someone walked up to the counter beside him.

“How’s about a drink, Tucker?” asked the person, and Tucker turned to see that it was a tall man with flowing reddish-brown hair and a good amount of stubble. On his back was strapped a long sword, and his attire was suited to light sword fighting.

The man grinned as Tucker hesitated.

“Um…sure, I guess. That sounds nice.”

“What will you have?” the man prodded further.

Tucker realized that he had never ordered a drink — let alone had alcohol — before. He actually had a horrible instinctual reaction to the thought of it, becoming flooded by a wave of memories of his stepfather, Vinny, being drunk and constantly dragging boxes of beer cans into the kitchen. He had no idea what to ask for, and he guessed that it showed because the stranger took the initiative when Tucker hesitated and ordered for him.

“Get him a Dovannian Cider.”

“You’ve got it.”

The man plunked down a coin for the drink and waited until Bradley brought the curved glass over to Tucker before speaking further.

“Thanks,” said Tucker. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I wanted to make a good first impression,” the man replied. Then, nodding his head to a table over in a cozy corner of the tavern, he added, “Join me over there?”

Tucker had to agree that the lower table looked a lot more comfortable than a hightop bar so he took his plate and the glass of cider and followed the man over to his spot. The man let out a sigh as he sat down.

“Try a sip,” he said, motioning to the cider. If Tucker had been earlier on in his journey, he might have been suspicious. But, there were so many people around that the idea of his drink being drugged was a little far-fetched.

The idea got in his head that this was an excuse for him to expose his orc features completely. It was a little strange to have so much attention just because of the way he looked, but obliged the man and pulled down his scarf to expose the lower half of his face.

He took a tentative sip of the golden liquid and was surprised more by the bubbly carbonation rather than the crisp, tart taste. It was refreshing and not unpleasant, though it caused him to hiss through his teeth after swallowing.

“That’s pretty good,” he said after placing the glass down. The man appeared pleased and at last got around to introducing himself.

“You can call me J.D.,” he said. “I already know who you are. I actually saw you the first time you came in here. I gotta say, you handled the rejection well. Some men would have thrown a fit at being turned away when asking for work. I’ve seen my fair share of a few bar brawls. There were tables flipped over, glass broken, and even a few chairs smashed against walls. You showed gracefulness. I guess I should have expected that from someone who practices the arcane arts.”

His eyes flicked to the jewel-set staff that was strung on Tucker’s back. Tucker had found it back in the Knawbone Crypt, confiscating it from one of the Abandoned Speakers who had the misfortune of being incinerated by one of his spells.

J.D. continued.

“Even more remarkable when one notes that you are also an orc at the same time. Most of your kind is known for their rage and impulsive behavior, not anything as elegant as magic.”

“I’m not like most of my kind,” Tucker replied, placing his hands flat on the table. “What is it that you want from me?”

“I heard that you were looking for work, so I thought I would tell you about a job proposition I have. It would be perfect for someone with your skills…if you’re willing to do it, that is.”

Tucker narrowed his eyes, intrigued. He picked up his fork and speared one of the pieces of bacon and took a large bite of it, dripping oil down his chin. The bacon was delicious and he wiped away the grease with the back of his hand.

“There’s money involved in this quest?” he asked.

“Oh yes. Plenty. I don’t think you will be disappointed.”

Tucker drummed his fingers on the table a few times as he chewed the rest of his bacon.

“You have my attention.”

J.D. grinned, appearing much more boyish than his build would suggest, as he explained.

“There’s an estate over in West Arran that has been having some unwelcome visitors to their property the past week or so. Nobody has seen the creatures up close, or even in the daylight for that matter. But, there appear to be two or three different creatures. They’ve left footprints in the soft earth.”

“West Arran…” muttered Tucker. “Where is that, exactly?”

“You really haven’t traveled very far, have you?” said J.D. When Tucker started to protest, J.D. held up a hand and leaned back with a laugh. “Slow down! I didn’t say that was a bad thing! It just means you have more to explore. More things to discover, and more importantly, more treasure to find.” He winked at Tucker. “But, to answer your question, West Arran is the next town over, sort of nestled between Castlederg and Sorrell. Lots of woods and countryside.”

“But, you said there is an estate out there?”

“There is indeed,” said J.D. “Lots of wealthy people who don’t like the hustle and bustle of living in a port city decide to relocate to Arran. There’s more space, even if they have to travel a bit for business. This one estate that contacted me is…let’s say, pretty rattled at these night visitors. Not only do they not know what is causing the footprints, but the creatures aren’t exactly leaving everything intact. More than a few of the greenhouses have been broken into and plundered, which is a considerable tragedy.” J.D. gave Tucker a knowing look. “Consider that one of these greenhouses was storing the ingredients for a bunch of health elixirs and you can imagine that the proprietors are not very happy. So, what do you say?”

Before Tucker could decide, his Codex illuminated itself within his bag. He took it out and flipped through the pages until he came the one that glowed vibrantly. It was no surprise that it was an entry detailing what J.D. has just talked to him about.

Quest Updated: Find paying work to build up funds and gain XP.

Property owners in West Arran have reported property being destroyed by unseen creatures. These creatures appear to only come out at night, and have plundered the greenhouses.

If you choose to take on this challenge, you will be required to complete the following:

  1. Question the property owners to gain intelligence on the happenings.
  2. Track the creatures that have caused the destruction.
  3. Positively identify the creatures.
  4. Detain or destroy the creatures to prevent further property damage.

This quest sounded involved. If he chose this particular quest to tackle, odds were good that he would only have time to complete this one before The Castine left Castlederg. That could be both a good thing or a bad thing. The good part of it would be that he would only be required to complete one quest before heading North. The downside would be that this quest might not pay enough to make it worthwhile. He also needed to complete this quest with at least a day to spare in order to upgrade his weapon and armor, and also collect some supplies. Tucker was ready to stock up now that he had the hang of moving and fighting through Acaedia.

“How much would this job pay?” he asked.

“These people are pretty wealthy,” answered J.D. as he scratched his stubble. “So, I’d say roughly a thousand gold each.”

“A thousand?”

It was more than enough for Tucker to be extremely interested. But, J.D. elaborated further.

“I was sent to recruit anyone else that might be able to help take down these creatures. However, the high payload is compensation for any bodily injuries that might befall us, as well as due to the number of creatures that we will go up against. These creatures are supposedly pretty large, and who knows how strong they are? We won’t know anything else about them until we track them and find them. I hope that doesn’t scare you away.” He lowered his eyes. “I figured if anyone would be capable of accomplishing such a task, it would be you.”

Tucker was a little taken aback at how forward J.D. was being. Where was all this support coming from? Word must spread really quickly in Acaedia, or at least in Castlederg, when it came to defeating enemies and taking down crime. It reminded Tucker that he truly was living within an RPG world.

“I appreciate you being so blunt with me,” Tucker said after a moment of contemplation. “But, why are you putting on so much pressure for me to join you? You haven’t seen me in action.”

“And yet I’ve heard enough to know what you can do.” J.D. brushed a hand through his hair as he lowered his voice. “I also have to be honest. I’m not just looking out for the well-being of these wealthy folks. I’m hoping to get a little something for myself out of this job.”

“The money?” Tucker suggested.

“More than the money. I’m interested in magic. My hope was that, in addition to our pay and any loot that we might find in these monster’s lairs, I might trade some sword skills with you in exchange for some instruction on how to summon magic. Or, at the very least, you could let me try out your enchanted staff.” He nodded to the staff, and Tucker was again made aware of its weight on his back. “I don’t have a magical weapon of my own, but The Ancients know that there are plenty of other such objects lying around Acaedia just waiting to be picked up. If I can learn how to use one of them ahead of time, it will make it that much easier to use it when I find one. And I fully intend to find one.”

He placed a fist on the table with a dull thud to finish his point.

“So? What do you say, Tucker? Are you willing to take on this job with me?”

Tucker was shocked at how much he had to gain if he took this job. It certainly was an open doorway for him, and he felt that it would be foolish if he were to turn it down.

“J.D.,” he replied, “I will take you up on your offer.”


About the author


Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.

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