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A Brief Tale ~ Chiefly involving the exploits of Zaius, a young Half-Orc residing in the world of Arcanum

by Michael Craft


In-game Stats of the Main Character

(*note, slight liberties have been taken to support the story):
Character Sheet - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3

Name: Zaius
Age: 17
Race: Half-Orc
Sex: Male
Background: Raised by Monks
Level: 5
Magick/Tech Aptitude: 0 (neutral)
Hitpoints: 42
Fatigue: 42
Carry Weight: 5000
Damage Bonus: 0
Armor Class adjustment: 0
Speed: 10

Primary Statistics
Strength: 9
Intelligence: 10
Constitution: 9
Willpower: 9
Dexterity: 10
Perception: 10
Beauty: 6
Charisma: 8

Bow: 0
Dodge: 0.5
Melee: 3.5
Throwing: 0

Backstab: 0
Pick Pocket: 0
Prowling: 1
Spot Trap: 0

Gambling: 0
Haggle: 0
Heal: 1
Persuasion: 0

*no spells or tech acquired


Chapter 1

Character Sheet - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3

Zaius watched from his cot as the first bits of sunlight crept across the cut stone wall of his small room, passing the mark he had made for 7 o'clock. Most everyone else that resided behind the cool granite walls of St. Marcus Abbey were still asleep, save the Cook and his helpers, the bell-keeper, and of course, the four Acolytes like himself who happened to be unlucky enough to have been chosen to keep the early vigil at the shrine to the obscure old man whose namesake this building held. It was almost always Zaius who was picked for this dubious responsibility as, regardless of the teachings and grudging kindness of Father Mathias, Zaius still suffered regular and expected discrimination because his father, an orc from the Northern Steppes, had raped his mother sixteen years ago during a raid of the small village of Chantry that lay at the foot of the imposing mountain on which sat the Abbey. Because of that raid, the town of Chantry no longer existed, it's few remaining inhabitants all having moved permanently behind the comforting 8-foot think walls of the Abbey. Zaius' mother had carried her child to term, but she was of slight frame and weak build, and perished in his birthing.
However, because Zaius' mother had died while under the care of the quiet monks of the Abbey, they were bound by their oaths to Halcyon to uphold her wish that her son be raised there. Thus, Zaius was raised in a manner ostensibly no different than the other youths that benefited from the teachings and life of the quiet monks of St. Marcus. In reality however, Zaius was ostrasized, the victim of cruel discrimination because of his mottled skin, coarse features, and slow, measured speech. In spite of the outward appearence of slow-wittedness, however, he hid a natural and perceptive intelligence behind his thick black eyes, and withstood the pains of early life with a quiet will that rarely faultered. He was successful in his studies, grasping easily the ideas and theorums presented to him. He excelled at history, written language, and mathematics, as well as dominating the various sports that were played by the Acolytes in their brief recesses during the day.
Zaius lived in solitude however, as none of his fellow Acolytes afforded him anything more than mistrust and occasional, if adamant, disgust. After sixteen years of ill treatment, he was beginning to feel increasing animosity toward the entire Abbey, he was restless, and was suffering from almost constant insomnia. Because of this, he could no longer quite maintain complete control over his volatile temper as he had in the past, and it now burst out at sometimes the slightest provocation.

Zaius could hear movement in the halls outside the thick oak of his door, and knew that he would have to soon rise to suffer through yet another painful day of duties after a night devoid of sleep. As the patch of sunlight crossed the greasy black line of charcoal on his wall, the Abbey's bell began its tolling. Seven resonant knells later, Zaius was on his feet, quickly splashing his face with cool water from the basin that sat on his bureau, and rifling through the drawers to quickly select one of the rough woolen robe's to pull hastily over his head. After cinching the coarse rope around his waist, he walked to his door and hastily pulled it open, then walked briskly toward the Great Hall for breakfast.
Most of the Abbey had gotten up at the six o'clock toll and were already assembled in the huge Hall, actively consuming their morning meal. Zaius quickly snagged a tin bowl and spoon and was unceremoniously dolloped a ladle of warm oatmeal, which he set at the nearest spot at a table and began eating. Presently he looked up and found that he had seated himself directly across from Brother Aldous, the Abbey Physician.
"Exscuse me, Brother Aldous?" The ancient man looked up from his breakfast.
"Forgive me for disrupting your meal, but I've been suffering an ailment." Brother Aldous took a spoonful, then leaned back in his chair and spoke around the oatmeal momentarily packed into his cheek.
"Well, don't just sit there. What's troubling you, young one?" He resumed his chewing. By this time most of the diners had left the Hall to begin their duties for the day, leaving only small clumps of people here and there about the room.
"I do not sleep at night, Brother. I haven't had a full nights sleep in weeks." After a thoughtful pause the man replied,
"Yes, you look as though you've been worked over by an ogre. Insomnia, my son, is a symptom, not an ailment, and usually bespeaks an ailment of mental nature. What might be bothering you?"
"Oh. Nothing I suppose. Perhaps I am anxious."
"You need more work, son. Keep the hands steadily working toward the greater good, the mind will follow."
"Thank you Brother, I will do as you say."
"Good. Now I must depart. Good luck, my son, with your nights." And with that, the portly old man stood and carried his bowl to the kitchens. Zaius sat contemplating his quickly congealing breakfast and was quietly angry at the fat healer. He did twice as much work as the other Acolytes, unfairly. And now he was to do more? He stood, banging his stool on the table behind him and stalked to the kitchens, roughly throwing his bowl and spoon into the dish basin.
The great bell began gonging eight o'clock, Zaius cursed and began jogging back toward his room. He had a history lecture at eight, which he would now be late for, and he had to get his materials from his room yet. He was running down the halls, he ducked through the door which opened into the spiral staircase that led up to the men's chambers on the fifth and topmost floor. He was taking great bounds up the steps when he crashed bodily into Wil, a young, blonde-haired, beautiful male eighteen years old, close to graduating from his status as an Acolyte; and as there were only three ranks in the Abbey, Acolytes, Brothers and Sisters, and the single Father or Mother, he was quite anxious to be considered by his peers a man. He was having no trouble in that regard, either, as he was a popular, haughty youth, and was now used to getting his way and having others fawn over his ever action. When Zaius flattened him to the steps, he squawked indignantly, then began pouring curses and insults from his wide, red mouth at Zaius. They both stood, and the last words from Wil's mouth were:
"It's a damned shame your thrice-damned father didn't murder your whore of a mother after he raped her, you good for nothing son of a bitch, when I-" And there he abruptly stopped, as this was where Zaius firmly planted his right fist in the boy's mouth. Zaius was a good head shorter than Wil, but after the entanglement, he had ended up two steps above him, which placed the boy's face at about Zaius' chest, perfectly lined up for the right hook that sent Wil flying backward down the stairs, his skull making a disturbingly audible -crack- on the fourth floor landing. Zaius stood panting, sharp teeth clenched. He waited for Wil to move, but the body lay as it had fallen. He waited for Wil to groan, but no sound came. Zaius turned and dashed up the remaining steps.

Brother Hinton stood at his post at the top of the lone tower that was built into the southern face of the great wall that protected the Abbey. The Order of St. Marcus was an sect mostly devoted to teaching and healing, but in of times of battle, the Brothers and Sisters could be fiece combatants, wielding their oak quarter-staves that they were trained with from age five. Brother Hinton leaned on his at the moment, watching the country-side that spread before him. As the current Brother of Arms, it was his duty to train the Acolytes and to guard the Abbey from threats of the physical nature. But as there had not been such a need for several years now, the latter part of his duty was growing boring. He watched the sky-line, the rising sun, and stretched his back. It must be around half-past eight, he supposed as he yawned. In the far distance, near where the small town of Shrouded Hills must be, a blurry form was coming into view high above the hills. It looked like a giant gulpfish that was fully inflated... but it was high in the air, and looked as though a fleet of gnats were chasing it.
Suddenly the flying gulpfish shuddered violently and burst into flames. Brother Hinton was incredulous, he had never seen anything like this, he had spent his entire life sheltered behind the walls of the Abbey. So enthralled was Brother Hinton with the drama playing out before him, he did not notice when Zaius, wearing a rucksack stuffed with victuals and supplies and clutching his quarterstaff, emerged from a hatch on the top of the east wall, tied a rope to a crenellation, and slipped over the side.


Chapter 2

Character Sheet - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3

Zaius was running faster than he had ever run in his life. It was not fear that sped him along, but the fact that he was running down a steep incline while wearing a fully loaded pack. Though fear may have had something to do with it. He was not afraid of being caught fleeing the Abbey, he was certain no one had seen him leave, most of the Abbey was at morning classes, and old Brother Hinton had been thoroughly distracted by something off to the south when he had leapt from the wall. But he was afraid of what lay ahead of him. Never in his life had he left the shelter of the Abbey, though he knew the surrounding area well from his cartography lectures. He knew where the ruins of Chantry lay, and he planned on trying to find shelter there for the coming night, as it would probably take him most of the day to reach them. From there he hadn't the slightest idea of where to go, though he thought he might as well head towards civilization, which meant Shrouded Hills, and eventually Tarant. For now though, he simply ran.
Zaius had been running at a steady pace for what seemed to be quite awhile in the chilly November air when he was stopped abruptly by the unfortunate entanglement of his quarterstaff, which was strapped across his back, in a low-hanging limb. The top of the staff was pitched backward sharply, which forced the lower portion of the staff forward accordingly, and directly between Zaius' legs. He tripped, sprawled face-first downward, and would have no doubt rolled down the entire length of the mountain, completely out of control, had he not promptly slammed into a old, dead chestnut tree that was mostly hollow, which cracked at the base and went crashing down the incline in his stead.
Zaius lay on his back a moment, breathing heavily and waiting for a rush of pain from one of his limbs to tell him he was not only a fugitive, but now lame as well-- but none came. After a few minutes, he sat up and saw his pack several paces uphill, and the staff a bit further on. He slowly stood and limped to retrieve them, finding that although nothing seemed to be seriously injured, there must be terrible bruises on his back, ribs, arms and legs from rocks and smaller trees he had hit in his brief tumble. As he sat down heavily and undid the clasp on his pack to ensure that nothing was damaged, he remembered that, in addition to the injuries just acquired, he had not slept at all the previous night, and had not had anything to eat since his half-consumed bowl of oatmeal that morning. Glancing skyward, he noted that it must be near noon, maybe even one o'clock by now. He had indeed been running for good deal of time.
Returning his attention to the pack, he peered inside for a moment, then emptied it onto the dry, leaf-strewn ground. Five apples, two pears (slightly bruised, but he began munching hungrily on an apple nonetheless), three loaves of hard bread (barely crushed, the bread was notorious for being so hard it was almost inedible), one flask of water (the flask was made of tin, which was dented, but the screw-top lid had held), a compass (thankfully unbroken) and a sheaf of maps pertaining to the region stolen from Brother Strunder's quarters, a tinderbox which contained flint, steel and some tightly packed cotton for kindling, some stolen bandages and various healing supplies, a knife from the kitchen which was small, perhaps 5 inches long, but quite sharp, and the woolen blanket from his cot, which was rolled tightly and tied to the bottom of the pack. In addition to the cotton shirt, leather vest, loose fitting black leather pants, wide leather belt, soft leather boots, the thick black cloak he was wearing, and of course his oak quarterstaff (which was about two feet taller than him when the butt rested on the ground) and the frayed rope he had left tied to the east wall, it all added up to quite a lot of things to successfully steal from various people in the few minutes of frantic scrambling before he had hastily left. The clothes he was wearing belonged to a Brother of course, though he did not know which one. He had just picked a room at random and rifled through the contents of the simple chest of drawers that had sat in the corner. The gray Acolyte's robe he had been wearing that morning he had left behind. It had been easy, there were no locks anywhere in the Abbey.
Zaius was feeling rather pleased with his theiving skills, until he remembered that in the eyes of Halcyon, he had done many terrible crimes that day. He had stolen from ordained monks no less, and perhaps committed murder as well. He had gone the long way around after looting the upstairs living chambers in order to avoid having to step over what might have been a corpse lying on the fourth floor landing, though he now berated himself for not simply checking Wil's pulse before fleeing like a fool. He sighed. Whether he had actually killed that ass or not, it was a good thing he had left. Striking a member of the Abbey in anger, no matter what the reason, was a reprehensible act, certain to be punished harshly, and Zaius felt as though he could stand no more unjust treatment from that place. And if he had killed the insulting prig, he would have been exhiled anyway, so it was better this way. Yes, he told himself, it's better this way.
He stood and repacked his belongings, threw the pack over his shoulder and began slowly walking down the mountain again, pulling the hood of the cloak over his head now to keep out the chill. He could see what appeared to be the ruins of Chantry through breaks in the foliage, and while it looked at least two to three miles away yet, he felt sure he could make it by evening. He finished the apple he had started eating and bit into a pear.

* * * *

It was now much later. By the position of the sun glimpsed through gaps in the dense canopy, Zaius surmised it must be well after five o'clock, and beneath the trees, the gloom was gathering quickly. He had still not reached Chantry, which worried him. Even more disturbingly, he had heard a strange keening yell from somewhere to the east not long ago, which was then shortly answered by a similar call to the north. The terrain was not nearly as steep anymore, but the forest was increasingly thick. Huge oaks, chestnuts, and rowans closed in around him, and navigating the forest began to resemble wandering a maze rather than traveling out of doors. Another call, from the south this time. From his studies, Zaius knew well the indigenous wildlife, and now felt sure he was being stalked by kite. He nervously slipped the quarterstaff from his back and began walking as silently as possible, training his eyes and ears on his surroundings, waiting for an attack, wondering if they would use bows and arrows, or simply rush him. He did not think the foliage would allow for a ranged attack, but the idea of simply finding himself suddenly filled with tiny arrows from a quick and unexpected barrage did not thrill him. Brother Hinton had brought in many dead kite, and had even caught one alive once, but it had escaped in the night before Zaius had a chance to inspect it. The screeches were getting more common and more unearthly as it got darker, but it sounded as though there couldn't be more than 3 of the little beasts skulking about by the sound of their various calls. Perhaps it was not a large clan...
Zaius' thoughts were interrupted by the expected, though still severly startling, sound of a small creature screaming loudly directly behind him and crashing the last few feet through the underbrush towards him just as he entered a small clearing. Zaius spun on his heel and fell into a low defensive stance, the fighting drills taught him from youth taking over. The attacking kite, it's wide, yellow eyes set deep in a large sallow-skinned skull that sat atop a pale and narrow chest had thin, wiry limbs snaking out from it's sides, one of which was clutching a cleaver-like bladed weapon that the kite swung clumsily as it bounded forward. Zaius neatly stepped back and the weapon cut nothing, the weight of the blade leaving the slight creature off balance, and Zaius whipped the staff around and struck the ghoul below it's head, lifting it bodily from the ground and sending it sailing into the woods. Zaius had felt it's neck break upon impact, and in the back of his mind heard the body thud into a tree somewhere out of sight. He spun again just in time to knock the point of a spear away from his chest as another of the beasts lunged at him. He swung low, taking the feet out from under the thing, then in one swift motion brought the opposite end of the heavy staff straight down in a piercing blow aimed at the writhing thing's chest. Just as the prone kite got it's breath and wits back, the oak sunk home with a sickening crunch, and the creature screeched at so high a pitch that Zaius thought his ears would be damaged. Though it began to spasmodically fling itself about the clearing, the dying creature no longer appeared a threat. Again Zaius frantically twisted, trying to see in all directions at once. He glimpsed the noticably glowing eyes of the next kite bounding forward through the trees toward the clearing, and focused on them, which allowed the kite clinging to the limb of a rowan behind him swing home a blow to Zaius' head with a cudgel. Zaius saw a burst of stars, then fell heavily to the ground, on top of the now dead kite he had speared through the chest. He heard the two remaining kite howl in triumph as they leaped from cover to charge. Zaius managed to regroup and was beginning to clamour to his feet when the kite whose eyes had distracted him jumped out of the brush and slashed downward at him with a small sword, the edge cutting through leather of his left pant leg to open a long gash that stretched from his left buttock down the side of his thigh. Gasping at the sudden pain, Zaius fell forward, catching himself on his hands as the other kite brought the weighted cudgel down on the small of his back. The blow, not aimed well, glanced to the side and Zaius, who had managed to hang onto his quarterstaff, found he was gripping the smooth wood by the very end, swung as hard as he could in desperation. The already bloody other end caught the kite with the sword in the side of the head, just above its twisted little ear, and the skull cracked open like a ripe melon, sending the broken body spinning across the forest floor and out of the clearing in a spray of gore. Zaius, still gripping the staff at one end like a bleeding fishing pole, followed through the arc of the staff, allowing it to swing about behind him, then brought it back down over his head, grunting as he put all his strength into the blow that crushed the last screeching kite to the ground, connecting with it's left shoulder as it tried in vain to dodge the swinging oak. It collapsed instantly to the forest floor under the blow, and did not stir.
Zaius then collapsed to the ground himself, and would have passed out from fatigue and exertion had it not been for the adrenaline surging through him and the voice in his mind shouting that he had to bandage the wound on his leg or he would die of blood loss in his sleep. In a daze he slowly forced himself into sitting position. It was now almost completely dark, so he mostly inspected the wound by touch, and though it did not feel very deep, it was a foot long and bleeding profusely. Because of it's placement at the top of his thigh, curving around his backside, he could not simply tie it off, so he fumbled for the bandages and packed them into the wound, first almost exhausting his meager supply of healing salve by filling the entire wound with the cooling paste. After the bandages were applied, he rolled over onto the wound so that his weight would apply pressure, and dove instantly into the deepest sleep he had experienced in years.


Chapter 3

Character Sheet - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3

Zaius awoke to a strange crunching sound quite near his head. He lay listening for a moment with his eyes closed wondering what it might be, quietly experiencing the staggering hurt that filled his body. It felt as though every muscle in his body was stretched thin over jagged rocks, and the sword wound throbbed.
Presently he opened his eyes, then squinted them almost shut again as dazzling sunlight pierced his retinas. The crunching sound continued. As his eyes adjusted, Zaius shifted up onto one elbow. Startled by the sudden movement, the two monstrously large, mottled gray and brown buzzards that had been consuming the four slain kite squawked in reproach and leapt a few wing strokes into the air, though they hesitated to leave their feast. Zaius scrambled to his feet in revulsion, which sent the creatures up into the tree tops, where they berated him loudly until he gathered up his possesions and left the grisly clearing.
Zaius had been walking for a couple of hours, chewing some ginka root he had found, and enjoying the pleasant loosening feeling that movement brought to his limbs when he became aware of a strange creeping vine that was dominating the withered oaks and chestnuts that surrounded him. Zaius stopped and looked around. It was everywhere. It carpeted the forest floor, hung from the trees, blocked the sun. Zaius crouched and inspected the plant life closer. He did not know what species it was. The creeper was thick as his thumb where the stem reached the ground, and Zaius assumed that it was all connected by some vast root structure.
Pulling the tenacious vines apart to further examine the roots, Zaius was surprised to find himself staring down through the foliage at a large letter T. Perplexed, he reached into his pack and rummaged for his knife. After cutting away a substantial amount of the cord-like vine, Zaius found that he was looking at a long rectangular metal sign that read "Cumberland Street". It seemed he had stumbled into Chantry, though there was no sign of the few crumbling towers he had viewed from a distance the day before. Zaius stood and continued through the leafy maze.
Zauis was no longer paying attention to his surroundings. He was thinking. His original plan had been to travel to Chantry and try to find shelter, and from there decide where to go, but he realized now that this would probably not be possible. It seemed as though the town had disappeared beneath this strange vine. Besides, what had he been hoping for anyway? A bed, maybe? A handy fireplace? He had been naive to think that these things would be available. He tried to order his thoughts, catalogue what he knew. His eventual goal would be Shrouded Hills. It was a well-populated town, and his status as a monk would garner him sympathy, he hoped. He sighed. As soon as he thought it, he knew it was wrong. The townspeople would not believe that he, a half-orc who looked as though he had spent three or four days in the wilderness was a member of the prestigius Order of St. Marcus. He doubted they even remembered that the Order existed. He would be treated as a vagrant, a drifter. Then he remembered he had no money. In a sudden burst of frustration, he planted a solid kick on the base of the nearest tree, causing the creeper-choked rowan to topple, which was very satisfying. To his surprise though, in addition to the crunching sounds as the ancient hollow trunk struck other tree's branches as it fell, he heard a woman screech in surprise, then saw a form plummet to the earth not ten feet from where he stood. He leaped over some underbrush to where she had fallen.
He was greeted with the muzzle of an ancient flintlock pistol, which was being hastily cocked by a young brown-haired woman. She looked to be about nineteen, was clothed in cotton pants, tall leather boots, and a leather tunic. Two brass bands adorned her upper arms, along with twisting black tattoos that looked like vines creeping up her arms. She carried a strange smell about her. A mixture of sulphur and herbs. She was breathing heavily, favoring her right leg. Zaius took a step forward.
"Stop! Stay still or I'll shoot you!" She gasped. "What do you want with us? Why have you come here?"
Zaius was perplexed. He had never seen a flintlock pistol before, had only heard rumours about the various ills of "technology". The monks seemed to harbor a deep disdain for such things. He very much wanted to hold the gun, to inspect and take it apart. He returned his attention to the young woman who was clutching it.
"What do I want with who? I am just trying to get to Shrouded Hills. I am a traveler." He raised his hands, palms up, hoping to calm her down. The woman jerked the weapon closer to his face.
"I do not believe you! No one travels here! If you are going to Shrouded Hills, where are you coming from? There is nothing but the mountains to the west!" She seemed more on edge with every word. Her voice was becoming shrill. Her finger was on the trigger of the pistol, and she clutched the handle with white knuckles.
Zaius was wondering if he would have to fight this woman. He hoped it would not come to that. He was not afraid of her, but he was unsure of the capabilities of her weapon. He had only a very rudimentery knowledge of guns, he only knew that they allowed their wielder to strike down enemies from a distance by hurling small pieces of metal. How they did this was a mystery to him.
"I mean you no harm. I am a monk, my name is Brother Zaius of the Order of St. Marcus. There is a monastery about five miles to the west." He winced internally at the small lie about his status in the Order, but he hoped it would lend credibility to his name. To his relief, the woman did seem to visibly deflate, though she kept the gun pointed directly at his face.
"You are a monk? I am not familiar with your Order. You will come with me." With that she uncocked the pistol, holstered it, turned on her heel and began swiftly walking due north, obviously assuming Zaius would follow. He leaped to catch up.

~ to be continued...



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