The Oracle and the Lich - A Thundarr the Barbarian Adventure
I need you to help with the rations and wares“.. I need help with the rations and wares, please.”
The young girl untangled herself from the nest of knotted bedsheets and moth-eaten coats. Mother made it a habit to rise early for her shopping ventures. “The best time to do things around here is after the evening riffraff exhaust themselves.” She would often say. Sybil snapped together the make-do pulley apparatus, opened the window, and gently dropped the platform down to her impatient parent. Mother diligently unloaded her wagon and secured the load with rusted bungee tie-down straps. She waved up to signal all was ready and yelled up the apartment complex. “I got you a surprise, dear. Hurry so I can show you!” Sybil smiled with a pretense of anticipation. The blueberry muffin cakes are just what she needed. The night did not provide much rest, and her wits were dull. Sybil steadily pulled the foodstuffs up to their 3rd-floor apartment so as not to wake the tenants below
Mother did not remember to give the rest of the complex the same courtesy. “Fire up that stove, dear, we have blueberry cakes today!”
She peered out the window to let her mother see the smirk from below. And you also splurged to get some goat's milk. A few minutes later went by as mother carried up the rest of the supplies to their room. The Underground City apartments of the common folk did not have the extravagant furnishings like some Administrators and officials have, but its home. It has a kitchen, table plus a walled-off restroom, and they could create a semblance of a bedroom with crates and clotheslines. You got used to the moldy air and furnace fumes in time, and the community showers were private enough on the 5th floor. She heard it was dreadful to live on the surface in comparison.
Her father was missing for a week now, not too uncommon for a scouting expedition party, but it would be nice to have him home more often. “Babe, no matter what they say, there is no such thing as a safe place. Only a safer place. Your pop has to keep things clear so you can grow up without worry, ok?” she understood more than ever his wise words. The cattail flour ball rolled out from the platform, but Mom caught it before it spilled to the floor. “Whew! A week’s worth of frags! So I also splurged and got us some goat's milk!” Because she heard Dad is coming home.
Her mother bent down and looked at her face to face. Sybil enjoyed this part too. “You know why? Because Thundarr and his friends are coming. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Sybil backed away a bit out of sorts and blinked. “Who?”
“Your father, silly. Don’t you want to see your father?"
“Who is Thundarr?”Her mother laughed. “Sybil, what games are you playing? I said your father is coming home. Are you daft?”
"Ariel, what do you make of this place?" the rider pointed to the stick-built building. A tan tarp-covered roof swayed in the wasteland breeze. Someone had slapped this outpost up not too long ago. “Thundarr, this could be the place. The scout said an outshoot usually looks like this. Installed shelters with no one to staff them.” her voice was dry from the last leg of the journey. She had an uneasy feeling and was not sure why.
A burst of high voltage current sounded behind her. A wooly bugbear dropped off his mount, releasing flatulence and a moan. The trusty Equort, a mutated steed with the hybrid look of a Hadrosaur and Warmblood stallion, shot off galloping without its rider. Ookla balled up on the ground as burnt fur whiffed into the air.Thundarr whipped around in surprise.
“Thank you for that tidbit of intel!” a familiar voice bellowed from beyond the wasteland brush half an arena away. A host of humanoids emerged out of mounds of red soil around the shapely figure. The midday clouds moved aside to let the searing sun and its heat rain down. A brunette wearing a dirty black faux leather top and harness lowered her voltaic rifle just enough to confer a wink of satisfaction.
“Cordon! You!” Thundarr grabbed his hilt adhered to his wristband. The Sunsword ignited then its plasma pulsed upward to a blazing blade. A moment later, a loud thunderclap filled the zone. “What have you done now?”
A dozen mutants, hidden nearby in mounds of earth, stood up and dusted themselves off. They had the faces of swine or boar, but silhouettes revealed bipedal statures. Something between a squeal and a cry of a prepubescent teen came out of their maws as they charged with pistols firing.
“After all these years, you would think Captain Cordon would have known better. I guess she wants revenge on Ookla.” Ariel waved her hands and imagined a robust net. Her amber encrusted circlet and hands formed an upside-down triangle above her head as turned her thoughts materialized into the yellowish construct. She reached out with a strong will and desire as the netting encircled the injured Mok. Her poor horse snorted in defiance as it dragged the motionless quaggoth to the entrance of the outpost.
A few rounds impacted the walls and sizzled to the ground behind her, but she got her hairy buddy inside. She inspected to see Ookla’s damage. The stun shell went in about 5 cm to his back, and the burn from the electric discharge singed a large patch of hair off, but he should be fine. Is he breathing? Yes, yes, he is.
Ariel saw her leader ride into the fray. The two warriors, rider and steed synchronized like a Centaur. She knew her horsemanship, but Thundarr moved atop his horse like a showman of old. He could evade attacks by shifting to a side, balance on his stallion's back and launch himself like a cannon into enemies as the mighty beast whirled around to deliver skull-crushing blows with its rear feet. Few men had such skill to plow through a dozen shooters at point-blank range, but the barbarian sowed panic among the garden of cowards with focus and fury. A wanderer would mistake the whole thing to be a training exercise from a samurai master with a dozen raw students on a sunny afternoon.
Captain Cordon knew better. She jumped on her horse to flee the outpost area; she fired her handgun as Thundarr mounted again to give chase. Unlike the inept mutant thugs, her reputation as a pistoleer had truth to it. Her shots had to be deflected away by the parries from the Sunsword. Her equestrian prowess also rivaled that of Thundarr. Abrupt stops, slipping sideways, rearing up with hoof strikes, the two combatants danced deadly for a long time, when Ariel lost sight of them behind the outpost.
Years before Cordon throttled the Riverlands like a gang boss. Her goons siphoned what limited resources villages had gained in return for pathetic protection services. She searched relentlessly for the fabled Mok treasure of gold, and if not for Ookla and Thundarr’s wily efforts, the Pirate Queen could have claimed that too. The woman had cunning. Ariel understood why Cordon hated Ookla, but why spend so much time fighting with Thundarr?
A notion in the back of Ariel’s mind took hold as they galloped out of her view. Cordon is leading Thundarr away. The mud floor rumbled beneath her feet. A worn phablet fell off a nearby shelf and busted into pieces. The tattered canvas top swayed as a gust of wind from the southeast blew through. The clanking noise of gears and metal scraping metal rang outside.“Oh, no.”
“War machines!” the voice called to her. She darted back outside and circled the outpost clockwise to meet the new adversaries alongside the sandy blonde one-person demolition service. This time a fleet of a dozen rusted vehicles idled behind Cordon. The sizes and shapes of these death chariots ranged from small two-person spiked armadillo buggies to a semi-trailer adorned with missile launchers. Another dear friend took time to show himself. His alien features were unmistakable as he stepped out of the big rig.“Artemus?”
“So glad you remembered, Thundarr. Cordon and I are ready to bring the mighty barbarian and his friends down.” his voice echoed loud enough that they heard it despite the creaking engines around him. Thundarr reared up his steed with no fear. His blazing Sunsword held high. “We beat you once already, Wizard. Turn back or disappoint your Council once again!”
Wheels spin with devilish glee as the stench of heated rubber fills the air. “Your fury can last only so long, Thundarr, even you will tire and grow weary. My chariots will drive your broken bones into the soil. Attack!” the azure skinned Wizard led the advancing forces with an arching rainbow of acidic green energy from his hands.
The first two vehicles break ahead of the crowd, a small Hillman style buggy came on them at full speed, then spinning wildly. The passenger spills halfway of his busted window sporting a worn defective Uzi. Mutants all have degrees of crazy, making them suitable for the pirate/raiding warlords. Artemus snarled as the incompetent pawn sprayed expensive ammunition rounds all over the area, a few moved to the direction of the target, but most scattered into the winds and some pelted into his dilapidated chariots. Still, Thundarr and his white bronco should have suffered, but a thin yellow barrier of energy intercepted the barrage. The Wizard’s initial volley also collided into the force field, dissolving the construct quickly.“Ariel! Hows Ookla?” Thundarr retreated to her position.
“A thank you would have been nice. Ookla is down, but not out.” The second vehicle rambles towards the reunion, an ancient 39 Dodge liner with sharp blades protruding from the doors barely miss them. Ariel instinctively imagined a ramp in front of the wild speedster and stretched out her hands. The confounded mutants had no chance to evade their fate as they launched off the steep incline back and plunging into another incoming rust bucket.
The rest of the advancing fleet changed direction and spread out at Cordon’s course. Her plans to surround the pair and pin them against the outcropping building wall behind them.
“We are sitting ducks if we don’t get away from this building, Thundarr.” Ariel threw up a soft barrier to divert some thrown spears and rocks from the lunatic passengers. Thundarr knew Ariel had spoken truth and struck out to escape the incoming noose. Artemus telekinetically controlled one of the more massive chariots, a makeshift Reims airplane body frame with thick farm tractor wheels. A rusty plow attached to the grill with a decrepit M134D Gatling machine gun on its hood. A salvo of large-caliber bullets walloped the earth stopping the barbarian in his tracks.
Thundarr grits his teeth in frustration. “Demon dogs!”
“It’s over, Thundarr! Surrender your Sunsword and the horses!” Cordon sneered with delight as her plan faithfully delivers her quarry. Not a minute later, a sharp twinge of pain shot in her chest. Son of a bit- the stun arrow found itself lodged just between her right shoulder and breast. The Electrical discharge reverberated throughout her body, sending her into a convulsive frenzy then she collapsed.
“Ookla!” A bow fires again from behind the mounted duo. The long slits in the outcropping wall offered perfect cover. Two more drivers felt the Mok’s marksmanship sending them out of control into other cars. The formation breaks into chaos. Thundarr pressed back towards the mounted M134 weapon chopping it in half. The metal frame containing a vast serpentine of bullets spilled its ammunition to the ground. A rebel yell from Thundarr came next as he bounded from his horse to the truck roof to pulverize the driver with the Sunsword setting fire to the engine. Artemus let go of the truck and cursed.
Ariel gets an idea. Her hands outstretched, she mentally collects each bullet off the ground to form a swarming cloud of bees. The cloud whirls faster with tornado velocity high above the fray and climbs skyward almost appearing to vanish.
The furious Wizard cannot believe the unraveling of his crafted plan, “Squash those two, idiots!” Artemus let all his rage spew forward from his hand. His vision blurred as seething hate drove the remaining power he had at Ariel. Ookla fires another arrow, and this time squares one in the Wizards stomach. He keels over but not before seeing the rain of bullets pummel down on his entire fleet. Ariel teetered. Moving a load of such magnitude taxed the limits of her abilities. She took the brunt of Artemus' toxic burst full on. She collapsed.
Thundarr leaped out of the burning chariot to deliver a broken nose to the laughing Artemus. He fell over and disappeared in a puff of smoke. The remaining mutants that survived Ariel’s bullet rain scattered. Cordon’s driver took her limp body away. “Ariel!" he called to her. No response.
“Where did you go, dear?” Something worried her. “I can’t find you! Come out. Come out.” She opened a door; no one was there. She flew to the cabinet below. No one was there. “You must be somewhere, dear.” Panic set in, and her breathing turned to short gasps. She saw the door. Light bled through its crack. “There you are!” As she opened the door, a beautiful paper doll whisked in as if pulled like a vacuum. Her world was shaking violently now.
“Sybil, Sybil wake up!” her mother, looking up at her, was jostling her legs.
In her tattered nightgown, she claws at the walls in a panic, she found herself on top of the kitchen counter with one foot in the sink. Her apartment in disarray. “Honey, you were sleepwalking.”
She slowly returned from a frantic state and turned around, looking over her mother to the other side of the room. “It’s ok; she is safe now.”
Her mother backed away, tired, and confused. “Who? Honey, come down from there.”
The girl leaped on to her mother, knocking her down. Sybil climbed the struggling parent as she came into view once again her face distorted and contorted she moved within a few inches of her “Daddy has come home!”
Ookla hated healers that had no Mok translators. Even with the cybernetic implants, he found communication to be - well, burdensome. Thundarr found an underground entry point in the outshoot cabin and encountered a human scouting patrol. A team carried them to the settlement complex and an infected area. Ookla was faring better than Ariel, but he needed medical help. He murmured to the healing attendant in a half daze, “Are my testicles black?” The young nurse did not flinch or hesitate as she peered under the thin sheet to investigate the inquiry from Siri voice assistant. She manipulated the Mok organs and turned on her penlight to give her final analysis. “They appear fine to me.” Ookla stammered a bit and pressed a few buttons on the keypad on his shoulder. A new voice buzzed on. Ookla muttered low again, and Watson spoke for the injured Mok this time. “Thank you, dear, but listen carefully, are -my- test - results- back?” the attendant flashed blood red.
“How are you, old friend?” Thundarr bumped into the nurse escaping the room. Ookla mouthed and knickered in Mokish. At least Thundarr knew his language. “Back hurts a bit, but I should do well soon.”
It did not take long for a healer to arrive. Good news and not so good news was the message. Ookla suffered burns, and the projectile is out, but Ariel was unconscious, her skin was clammy, and her breathing labored. No magic cure. “Make her well. Please.” Thundarr never sounded so desperate before. They informed him not to see Ariel until they can stabilize her. The air in there smelled funny. It was stuffy or thick; the air almost irritated his lungs. He felt disoriented and sleepy so much that he ran outside. He found a few broken crates and arranged them form a bench. He lied on his back and succumbed to exhaustion.
“Hey, mister.” A female voice nagged Thundarr a few moments later. “Your girlfriend was picking flowers at the market. I figured you want to know. “Thundarr turned to the person waking him. “You see a big Mok, little one?” she shook her head, replying her father had a Mok pet a long time ago, but she is not to go near him. The father must have been a wealthy lord or noble to own Moks, he thought. As she was leaving, she pointed across the worn walkway to a commerce area. An aluminum sign hanging by some frayed twine above saloon-style double doors etched the words “Sarah Janes Bar” caught the Barbarians attention. Thundarr fell off his bench and woke up.
He was not averse to food and drink, but the sense of urgency for Ariel drove him through the clamoring patrons. He had never seen so many people in a tavern! The noise of cheer, boasting, and camaraderie saturated the room. The thick smoke from indulging men obscured the big oaf in the corner table. He was treating himself to a pitcher of something bubbly and a bowl of rat legs and swamp worm stew. “Ookla, friend. I fell asleep; a little girl told me she saw Ariel in the marketplace. Let’s go find her!”
He downed the mug, double fisted the soup, then threw some copper shards on the table and followed him out. The Underground City was more advanced than any other outpost he has seen before. Cracked slabs and overgrown shacks typical of a human settlement were only a few sections of the area. Other regions had rebuilt their structures reasonably well. A company of men working with hand tools bustled about in the housing sector of the city. The walkways had propped up some directional signage to help travelers find their way in the locales. A new shipment of carts stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, and onions scuttled awaited check-in at the trade bazaar. Children chased each other around in playful fun. Unlike other places, these children did not have a gaunt, starved appearance. They were content! An odd-looking human with spectacles nearly ran into them as a drone trailed about 15 feet overhead. The man was pressing buttons on a handheld device and looked up, “Hey, what the -“ he restrained his annoyance when the sasquatch sized Mok looked down and emitted a low growl.
“Um, yes. So Sorry.”
The market drew all types. A crowd of traders shouted their wares to anyone passing within earshot. Artisans bustled about tinkering with repairs of street and structure, and street entertainers sprinkled the corners with acts of song or tales to spin. No whips or cries of suffering from mutant taskmasters. No overcrowded slave pens of Wizard mining operations. They were free people who enjoyed life instead of fearing it. A pair of men caught his ear bickering over a bear snake rug. As he passed them three women gawked over the wares of the weapons shop, One brunette straps a rusty flamethrower to her body. “Does this look on me?” Her friends giggled over the trendy fashion choice. A group of teens huddled in a corner make cheers and jeers as they play the dice game “Wizard Armies.”
“Those skins you sportin’ are just so wasteland, like, maybe ok for surface trading, but have you heard about Knetherwebbed hide?” Thundarr was still unsure if to belt this fool for the name crack.
He got ever closer to the trader. “Knetherweb-“
“Yes, you never heard? This stuff is tough. It is super rare. Survive a lair of an arachnid and gather enough of it to weave it into a mold..”
“Thundarr, what the heck?” the Watson's voice alarmed him from behind.
Thundarr snapped back out of his semi-hypnotic state. “I’ll be back,” he told the trader, walking back to Ookla.
“No problem, Blondie.”
The trader fell to the floor as the blades booming thunderclap resonated in the area. He looked up from his fallen wares to an angry customer with Sunsword. “Thundarr- is the name.” A few moments later, two sentries with long pointed staves came upon the scene.
Something forced his hand to stave his hand. He shut the Sunsword off. “I have no quarrel with anyone. I seek my friend, Ariel." They pointed him back to the sick zones.
Ariel was lying in bed with an IV drip running, but no monitors or droid bots stood by to convey her status. Her skin was white, and she had green bruising on her neck and arms. Some wet coughs interrupted her heaving. She looked terrible. For a moment, Thundarr thought she aged 40 years.
“You have seen this before, Ookla?”
The Mok shrugged and gnawed in reply, No, I have not.
“By the Lords of Light, I will find out what Artemus did, and he will pay a dear price.” Thundarr slammed his fist into the wall, the old sheetrock buckled and fell apart with the blow.Thundarr decided to look again on the surface to find any clues to track down Artemus. Tracking the defeated mutants proved to be more difficult than expected because a sandstorm whipped through the area. They spent the entire day searching with no useful clues where they went. Coming back to the city, a human scout met them, “Thundarr we have bad news. Your friend is gone.”
“Gone where? At least she is strong enough to get off the bed and look for us.”
Ookla put a consoling hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“No, Lord Thundarr. She has passed.”
Thundarr looked back at the scout and grabbed him. “Enough games, boy. Pass where? We will find her. Just tell me.”
Ookla grabbed his friend and held him tight. “Harrumph! What.. are. you doing?”
The boy ran off as Ookla signaled to his friend in Mok that she died.
Sybil let out a long yawn while arranging herself for an evening shift at the tavern. The patrons tipped well if she kept focused on her work. The issue bothering her is the recurring dreams of recent days. The theme played out differently each time, but the most recent one was nightmarish. A knock on the door with his muffled voice. “Open the door, honey, I'm home.” Someone locked the door with a latch too high for her reach. She ran around in a hectic state to move chairs and tables to the door so she could let her father in, but by the time the door opened, he vanished. She would peer down the hallways to see other apartment doors bleed. The floor sopped up the blood and became squishy. She heard squishy footprints behind her, and as she turned around, a stranger stood there — a nobleman dressed in elegant attire.“Darling, I’m home!” with open arms, he welcomed her, but no sooner as she ran to him, he decomposed into a horrifying wraith.
The news stabbed his insides worse than any foe. Every joint in his body ached. “Ariel was here with us. She saved us from..” Thundarr felt his face flush, and his sinuses clog up. His nauseated state heightened his awareness. His body odor repulsed him. His hair knotted and clumped as if the sweat turned to glue. Everything about him reeked — his gagged on his saliva.
“NO! I don’t believe it.” Ookla had to carry him back to the Underground complex of Monts. The healers parted from the bed before Thundarr could barrel them over akin to bowling pins. He grabbed her head and searched in her dilated, unresponsive pupils for something. “I can’t let you go, Princess.” He embraced her cold body. She should lock her arms around on his neck by now. Some snark in his ear will come any minute. He waited for her to call out to him to say she is feeling better and to take me home, but nothing happened.
He thought of all these years of riding across the countryside together. All the life-threatening battles they endured to see it all go away. Thundarr whispered in her ear, “I will avenge you, by the Lords of Light I will - sweet Ariel.” The barbarian fell on her sobbing uncontrollably. Ookla said something to the others, but it was a murmur in the waves of grief. Sometime later, they peeled him from her corpse.
Thundarr lost his will to move on his own, so Ookla carried him to Sarah Janes. He gestured and spoke in Mok to explain what they could do next. He loved Ariel like a sister (if not more). She meant the world to him. Only a Mok funeral will do for Ariel. Only then will her spirit rest among the stars. Thundarr nodded still in shock from it all. “I will hunt Artemus until his magic runs out, he will beg for mercy, but I will grant none. His face will melt. His fancy clothes will burn. He will walk on stumps, and his hands will spew no more poison. Only then and no moment before will I let him die!”
Ookla said he would need to make preparations for the burial ceremony, so he bought a few rounds of drink for Thundarr as he left. Do not leave, friend. I will be back. . His pur- snarls were clear.
Time had grown stale as the barbarian drowned himself with honey mead. Its sweetness reminded him of Ariel’s hair when he carried her. He closed his eyes and remembered what glorious battles she waged against the Wizards. She saved his hide more times he cared to admit. There was no way anyone else used magic as she did. He remembered being tasked by the Wizard Sabian to escort her to safety from his crumbling citadel almost 15 years ago. “Take her to family. She will know where.“ Thundarr hated Sabian for his cruel treatment of humans, but he understood the honor in a dying wish. He never told Ariel he traveled the lands to find her family. Frankly, he got caught up fighting Wizard Lords and savage things in this hostile world. A memory sparked a smile; Ariel had a chip of pride on her back then. A princess with skills in sorcery a rare thing to be sure. Stubborn as a Groundling with too many gold shards too heavy to lift, that woman would try his patience! She talked more often than he thought necessary, but by the Light, she knew her tales of the ancient people. Sometimes Thundarr would think Ariel would betray them to the Council of Wizards, but she never did. She stood back, let him drink the thrills of a good fight and kept him alive when he took it too far. She would have been a prized Queen - Another memory snuck in- Council Lord Argoth wanted to marry her. Imagine if that wedding happened! Argoth would have become the most potent Wizard if she traded her loyalty to him instead of staying with Thundarr.
“Here is your drink, sir.”
Thundarr did a double-take. The barmaid - she was the young girl from his daydream. Why didn’t recognize her earlier? “Sorry for your loss.” She touched him with sympathy. Thundarr was about to ask her name when she crumpled to the ground. Her tray clanged and spilled her drink orders everywhere.
“Demon Dogs, woman!” a half inebriated Thundarr bent over to assist her.
She lashed out with a hiss, her eyes rolled back in her head but staring at him. “Ariel walks among shadows. She flirts with Cordon’s spies as we speak. Go to the alleyways!”
“What?” it was all that could come back. Thundarr felt more tears in his eyes. The barmaid began to cry, seeing what she had done. She stayed on her knees to soak of the mess with her rags.
“How do you see Ariel? She is dead!” She shrugged and sniffled all at once. “Who are you?”
“I am Sybil. Please, Thundarr, do not hurt me.”
“You know me?”
“Yes, I think I do. Why I cannot be sure.”
She explained her recent day delusions and horrible night terrors. At first, they struck her as coincidences. She could predict what her parents would serve for dinner or who would threaten her at work. Now, she can’t stop getting visions of Ariel and strange people, including Thundarr and Ookla. Her description of Ariel was flawless. The raven hair, her far east, dark complexion, those Chesnut eyes, her athletic frame, and sporting wear with travel boots. No one knew those things about her except him and Ookla.
Thundarr did not know what to make of it. Was Ariel alive? Was she trying to contact him from the spirit world? Where did she say Ariel was again? Cordons spies.
" It was just a dream. Ariel's spirit is in peril. I think this is what the girl saw. " Ookla tried to explain the concept of the afterlife. According to Mok culture, the spirit of the dead can move to the darkness if we do not bury them with proper dignity. Legends of darkened Mok spirits wandering the Earth spotted by ancient humans called such sightings “Bigfoot,” “Yeti” or similar names. These broken spirits would spread terror wherever they went, and many lost their lives to an embittered spirit whose body did not reunite with the earth. Ariel’s spirit seeks the shadow world because it resembles her material life. She thinks she is still alive.
His advice reminded Thundarr of Ariel. “You speak like her old friend. How come you never advised me?”
“The moment I give advice, you don’t listen. Then I sit back and watch everything I predicted to happen.”
They both gave a hearty laugh.
“What do we do about this dream of Cordon’s spies?” the Barbarian snapped his fingers with a spark of insight. Cordon has spies here! We can find Cordon and Artemus! Maybe Ariel is showing us where to go!
He and Ookla traveled with a cloak disguise to see if what Sybil described was true. They scoured the alleyways behind the sick bays. The vermin took flight when exposed to the Sunsword, but a group of men rummaging in some discarded barrels ignored the effect until the hot tip nearly cooked their grimy beards.
“Hey, watch that thing!”
“Speak, men. Have you seen a raven-haired woman chatting with some rough-looking folk?” They looked at each other in surprise. “My mouth is dry. Laryngitis. I need a coin for a healer to fix. Fifty silver shards and I’ll tell you what I know.”
The sizeable hooded figure emerged from the shadows. “You will need a healer if you don’t speak up now, bitch.” He set the voice assistant to one of his favorites, Mr. T. That was all it took for the alley brats to sing. A woman was skulking around here, and she met with some thugs. They don’t know what they said, but perhaps they were meeting again in front of a sentry post.
Thundarr and Ookla sought out to investigate the checkpoints. The city had set up many guard posts because of the threat of invaders from the surface. Most of the time it was a few mutant stragglers, or a disguised trader trying to get in, but the guards knew what to do if anyone suspicious came to the checkpoint. The western sentry did not answer the walkie talkie communication, which was out of character for them. Thundarr and Ookla ran across the city to investigate. “We got a problem. Cordon’s men must have assassinated the guards!” they heard from a scout talking device.
“Demon dogs!” the bodies of sentries hung off the cavern walls with spears through their chests. The floor painted with fresh bloodied footprints towards the surface. Cordon will get her intel again. A strange clue confounded Ookla; a few guards bore signs of severe burns to the face and torso. Thundarr blamed it on the fires of torches or perhaps a flamethrower weapon he saw earlier. Ookla shook his head, not convinced. Where did he recognize such damage?
Sybil took five minutes after seeing Thundarr hurry off. He left ten silver shards on the table. Enough payment for rent that month. Why this surface ruffian plagued her is puzzling.
Another patron wanted a drink. “Little doll, fetch me a special. Me an’ da boys just got off our shifts in the stoneworks. Make it quick!”She composed herself and mentally counted the table. Four men with orange helmets. Specials. Check. The nights special was a fire cinnamon whiskey. Must be a payday, she thought.
She brought the tray over in due time; as she served, the conversation caught her attention. “The blokes up there had some run-in with highwaymen. Bastards had blood all over like a stuck pig.”
Another replied, “Ah, I tell ya, patrolling ain't for me. Give me a pickaxe or rotten pipe any day. Least I make it home for some sweet from da lady-wife.”
The patron grabbed his shot and swigged it before it landed on the table. “Yo - you hear about patrol number nine? Wiped out. Sorry lads scooped up and likely taken to a Wizzie slave camp.”
Sybil nearly dropped the rest of the order.
“HEY! Watch it, Dollie! Fetch more and be quick then!” the crew leader raised his voice.
“Sorry, sir, so sorry. Next round is on me.”
“Damn straight it is Dollface. You would think they train em better here at Janes.” they all got a good chuckle on that one.
“Ease up, Ethan. The wench just lost her one pop, and the other is coming to beat her straight.”
Sybil whirled around. “What was that?”
The group looked up, confused. “Our drinks? Get our damn drinks!”
“You said something about my dad?”
Ethan stood up about a foot taller than her, “Dollface, you heard nothing. Get- our- drinks.” The room had no sound, no laughter, nor any smoke in the air. She could only hear herself breathe, and her heart was pumping rapidly. All the men at the table stood up perturbed at her. They all slowly made their way to impose some tavern justice. One of the abruptly stopped to check his nose as fresh blood streamed down it. Another recoiled and grabbed his eye. The third sat on the floor, all bewildered and his chair broke apart. Ethan dropped to his stomach as the table and chairs piled on top of him. Drinks threw up and shattered upon the area like an aerial bombardment event. A burly blonde-haired figure brushed by her knocking nearby astounded observers aside as he stormed out of the tavern. She blinked again and all as it was before. She lowered her head submissively to grab the order.
They arrived back at the city to get on with the burial and then inform the city officials of Cordon. The healing nurses reported them that Ariel’s body went to holding zone three. Ookla and Thundarr did not understand they would do this. When they arrived at the holding pen, her body had a cloth sheet covering her. Thundarr felt nauseated, but the urge to see her again was too high. He lifted the grey veil to see her green bruises decay into black holes, her orbits started to sink, and her flesh was cold as ice. He dispensed death to many foes, but it never meant much, now he felt the mounting burden of unknown strangers, family members, and lovers. The messages his ventures delivered to widows, children, and parents of his adversaries. Did everyone deserve the justice of the Sunsword? Or could mercy be a better companion?
“Do you have what you need, Ookla? We need to put her spirit to rest.”
Ookla gestured, I think so. Meet me outside. I will set up a pyre. Thundarr took one last look. The thought of giving her peace provided some solace. His heart ached. He never gave Ariel a damned thing since he knew her.
About an hour later, a large pyre made of broken wood stood in a secluded area. A few stones etched with names marked the region sacred for the dead. The Mok scavenged pieces and slabs of wood fallen from the surrounding structures throughout the complex since the great cataclysm a century ago. He ceremoniously painted faces with some red stone dust to symbolize spirit witnesses. Next, Thundarr brought the body to the pyre. He turned on his voice assistant setting because Ariel needed to hear and understand the ritual. The “South African Siri” proclaimed to the audience: I gather us today to say goodbye to our dear friend, Ariel. May the Eternal Rest be upon her, and the souls of her nature have peace. Thundarr held the body of Ariel upright. She was no taller than he was without her boots; her body was unusually soft and toned for one dead this long. Thundarr recalled the stiffening effect of his fellow slaves if they died in the arena or the slave pits.“I will miss you, Princess,” he whispered to her. Her body was ice cold. He felt his hairs stand on end as he gently brought her closer to the roaring flames of the pyre.
“ May the Lords of Light shine the way. Follow the light, Princess Ariel, daughter of Sabian, follow the light now.” Her arms draped over his back as her head rested on his shoulder. Another few moments. Just another few moments he said to himself, then the blaze would swallow its prize. The hands felt relaxed and crept up his back; he almost felt like it was tickling him. A blunt force slammed into his groin. The nerve center of his groin sent alarming pulses of spastic agony up and down his back, neck, and stomach. He instinctively dropped Ariel and buckled to his knees.Except she didn’t fall. “Lords of light,” Ookla said with cold breath. Her voice was hollow, had an echo or a distant tone to it, her body levitated above the pyre after kicking her former companion's scrotum. “I am not going anywhere.” a hissing noise followed by a rattle came next. She vanished in a thick cloud of gas.
The two mourners stared at the dying fire for hours saying nothing. What have they done? Ariel has become a hateful spirit. Thundarr murmured his thoughts a few times “We are too late. We lose her to the shade.” The shaman pondered deep in thought, “ Something about all this is wrong. From what I remember, no shadow spirits can speak like that. That voice reminded me of a chasm echo .” Thundarr shook his head in disgust. “Ookla, it does not matter. We cannot chase a ghost.” “ What if she was not a ghost? ” “You saw it! She floated up and whisked away. What are you saying, friend?” I need to review data archives. I cannot be certain until I figure out some things. We need to find Ariel. Thundarr stomped like a spoiled brat. “HOW? HOW? HOW? She is a demon now!” The last person to see her move and speak, the barmaid. He snapped his fingers and smiled, “Sybil! By the Lords of Light, Ookla we may save her!”
The haired punk bartender at Janes took the wind out of the sails, “Sybil just left. Splitting headache is what I could tell ya,” she said. Best not bother her till tomorrow.” Thundarr was persistent. He pressed on to find out where she lived. Impatient patrons conveyed their annoyance “Mate, can’t ya bug off and come back when she’s here?” The resulting bar fight was over in about 15 minutes. Four plastered workers discovered what grime glossed the floorboards and how much pain a table and chairs can bring. Fire whiskey drenched their heads burned their black eyes and bloody noses as Thundarr left the scene. The burly bouncers took chase for a few yards, but thought better of it and waved down an armed patrol instead. Thundarr gave no fight and figured he shut off his brawling mode for Ariel’s sake. “Thundarr, wake up.” A homely looking woman tapped on the bars as he stirred from his nap. “What is it, woman?” “My daughter sent me to you. It was the only thing I understood. She is delirious and can’t sleep.” His temples pounded and hands were sore. Start your penance now, Thundarr. He whispered. “I’m sorry for hurting your husband. I didn’t mean to-“ “No, I think you misunderstand. Sybil said you would know what to do. Ariel comes for her.” The prison cell almost bounced off its hinges, knocking the woman to her rear end. Thundarr stood a full six-foot-tall, and he reached out from between the bars to a wall behind her. “See that bronze hilt, hanging there? Throw it to me now. We will go.”
The city security service kept Ookla waiting for quite a while as he stood in the entrance to the data archives. Tales of giant wooly humanoids were the subject of scary stories for children. A few veteran guards knew of the uneasy alliance of Moks and men, but to experience one first hand incites fear. No one heard of a Mok interested in human data intelligence before. An older man with armed security finally arrived. “Mayor Tristen, here. I understand you wish to review our data archives.” Ookla switched to Alexa's voice, figuring to be less imposing as he spoke. However, she still had bugs in the program. By the time he got what he wanted to say across with the Mayor, they all thought he was a famous descendant of the great Winnie Pooh with a desire to research the applications of the honey from a mud wasp. It was clear he was not a security risk, and they let him in with armed guards in the archive room. The Mok’s cybernetic implants had good and bad aspects to them. Wizards experimenting on him probed and tested how to make him the ultimate soldier. Others used him to win money at Arena contests. It was all part of the slave trade that thrived under Wizard kingdoms. Some would conduct immoral acts of research and tests on Moks, others would use him as a training dummy, and others stuffed his body with so much poison and magic to see what color his fur would become. The implants provided a means of communication to humans. The Voice emulator was a breakthrough. It created a language by assigning common words to the sounds and clicks of the Mok voice box. It is not perfect, but it has the potential to be a bridge for Moks and Humanity to work together. Another perk was the female ports and the solar-powered CPU. Ookla could connect to a terminal and communicate with it. Then download data to a data cube. While it is not a supercomputer that could take over a network, Ookla is learning more and more about the computing capabilities of his systems. He logged into the data archive as a guest and started word searches.
Zombie, sorceress maladies, Shadow Spirit, GhostsA list of words files through the display to help narrow his search. Nothing much catches his eye.
Wizard conditions, poisons and entitiesOokla stares at the list again, he peeks up to see if the guards know of his work. They seem preoccupied with digging for nutritious secretions in their nasal cavities or scraping off their rectal lice. Ookla downloaded the answer and bid his human friends a good day.
Thundarr arrives at the apartment to the sounds of shrieking. He waited no longer as he fired up his Sunsword and busted through the door. The room was no bigger than a 25-foot square rumpled apartment with a table, a few chairs, and two beds, and Sybil was writhing on one of them spewing out gibberish. She was in fits. “Sybil! Sybil! It’s me. What hurts you?” Her sunken red eyes looked up at him. They told a tale of the misery of sleepless nights. “Thundarr... Water I need water!” Her mother grabbed a cup, and she splashed her face with it. “Not much time. The visions run through me like butter... Ariel will come for me. She knows I can see her and...” She clenched her eyes shut and pushed her ears into her head to stave off another mental incident. “I can’t.. please hurry.” “Where does she hurt you?” “Tonight, she takes Cordon’s men and kills the guards. She breaks in and kills my mother. Then she will incinerate me in her unholy fire.” A chilling concern. "I will guard you.” “You will fail.” “What?” “I see it happening as we speak. She will overpower you here. Make you a slave or something. She - he is not Ariel. Beware! He is not Ariel!” More water. Thundarr gestured to the mother. She is going out of consciousness. He doused her again to bring her back. “Best if you catch it off guard. Go to Cordons with Ookla. Best chance..” she finally went asleep.
Ookla caught up with his friend and made clear a way to capture the demon. Thundarr was not sure, but he decided this horror ends today. “We Ride!” Sybil described a hideout under the mounds to the south about an hour's ride. The rage of the skies clashed with power as if the heavens cried out for justice. Teeming hot rain pelted their faces washing away the guilt for now. Thundarr drew strength from the storm and imagined his Ariel fighting for her life. His heart must not falter. The demon must perish so Ariel can rest.Ookla made some adjustments to his bows and charged his defensive implants to the max. The Girl's dreams were confirmatory of his data scans. If he is right, this will be no battle with swine. If they are off in the plan, this demon thing could kill them. They dismounted far from view and snuck up to the grounds of the hideout — no posted sentries. A low cry came from the shelter. They snuck in. The entranceway blew a cold wave of air to them, sending a shiver to their bones. Two men were on the floor, hands up clawing for the door with faces of utter dread. Their skin had a cyanotic blue tinge, and they were in full rigor mortis. The room smelled of charred skin and rotted sewage. The familiar whiff of ferric fumes followed, the temptation to burst in and lop off things grew inside Thundarr as his fingers twitched. Ookla reminded him to hold off and be ready. He pressed a few buttons as quietly as he could. The war room door teetered open, revealing a gruesome scene. The cluttered mess contained bodies of men despoiled and frozen. Crude Melee weapons and ammunition strewed about melted in part, fallen pistols and plasma rifles buzzed like a fried circuit board. Flesh bits and clotted blood defaced the maps and pinups. Cordon trembled in the corner begging for her life, and the Wizard Artemus convulsed as Ariel siphoned green energy from his face. “Demon, it's over!” the Sunsword boom startled its feeding. Thundarr stood in the doorway with his blade blazing. The once striking woman opened her mouth and spoke with the eerie echo again. Her eyes had a ruby red fire to them. Her black hair bleached to silver. The ashen pale skin with protruding bones betrayed her identity as undead. “The little pup led you here? So be it!” she got on all fours like a hyena and scurried at the Barbarian. The rickety door slammed shut as the evil creature smashed into it. An eerie howling pierced through air as the door burst open again as it pounced. Thundarr’s hologram flickered as the clawed dive attack went through and it fell onto the table smashing it. Ookla came out of hiding to overpower it with a bear hug. The frigid cold made him growl and whine. His fur was already turning white with frostbite. Thundarr kicked its skeletal head, causing the topaz circlet to fly off clanging to the wall. The entity released a blaring cry. It was breaking free from Ookla. “Enough, Ariel. Or should I say - Sabian!” Thundarr pointed his Sunsword at the glowing circlet. The Lich rose to collect itself. Ookla was not moving. He looked frozen to the ground like a stuffed bear. “Do that, and I kill the Mok, Thundarr.” it intoned. “You won’t live long when I destroy your jewelry. Back off, Sabian!” he swung his blade. “STOP!” The Sunsword seared the wall within inches of the gem. The nearby window shattered from the impact. “You break that, and I lose Ariel. You lose Ariel! She still survives. She still lives in that gem!” “Liar!” Thundarr was tearing up. This lich will say anything to live, but could it be? Thundarr sputtered for words. He had Sabian dead to rights. A week ago, he would not have given thought to destroy the item. He has broken Wizard relics with a particular satisfaction in the past. Nothing good comes from them. This whole dark ordeal could end once and for all. It is a simple thing. Incinerate the delicate headband, and it would disrupt the Lich’s power, maybe banishing it to a dark dimension. So why does he wait? “You know it's true, Thundarr. Let it be, and she can live again.” His sword arm quivered. “Ariel..” “Her fate is in your hands. No harm will ever come to her. My daughter, your friend, will live forever.” Sabian levitated ever so slightly off the floor. “Do you wish to hear her again? It is within my power, Thundarr.” That snatched the warriors gaze more securely than any fisherman’s lure. “Say what?” Sabian advanced as his form wavered the necrotic pale wraith-like face return to a stunning beauty of the Princess, the voice was unequivocally hers. “Thundarr, is that you? I am here. Can you see me?” “Ariel? I see you. You hear me?” She reached out to him as the boney hands formed flesh, the gaunt frame filled out to seductive curves. “Yes, it is me. I’m ok. Where are you? I can’t see you. Help me get out of here.” Thundarr’s eyes welled up. This is not real! Sorcery! Slice the spirit before it hurts you. His sword arm dropped. He didn’t care anymore. He wanted to hold her so badly. He will take her away from it all. The Sunsword dropped to the ground, and its plasma fires returned to the hilt. “Outta my way, lovebirds!” A voltaic pulse jarred into the pair. The blast sent Thundarr into the wall knocking down a shelf of dust masks and desert helmets. His body throbbed with seeping pain. Ariel’s visage melted away, and Sabian glared at Cordon pushing her way stumbling over bodies to escape outside. Sabian laughed. He let the fool roll and tumble into the afternoon sun. Turning once more to his foe before him, he lifted his skeletal hands and summoned a growing green wisp of fire. “It was all true, barbarian. Too bad, you will never see Ariel again. She will be my prisoner forever! Goodbye, Thundarr!” The ball enlarges as it intensifies, any moment it should fall and deliver its scalding pain turning Thundarr into a heaping pile of charred flesh. The defeated hero remained on his ass but looked at the lich in its unholy eyes. A warrior's death, he thought. A knock on the door. Is Cordon coming back? “Daddy.” The Lich looked up. “Who?” “It's me, Daddy.” The fire dimmed from his hands. “Who is there?” “Don’t you know your daughter? Daddy, it's me. Let me in!” The Lich’s fire wilted, “Sorcery! Who is it?” The door knocked again. Thundarr recognized it now. The Lich lowered his spell moved to the doorway, “Sybil?” He telekinetically thrust the door open; the winds danced beyond view. No one was in sight. The circlet bounded across the floor swaying against the wall from the impact of a short electrically charged bolt, spinning on its side like a ring tumbling away out of reach. Another shot held it in place on the sidewall. The metallic headband sizzled loudly and blackened the wooden wall as smoke emanated from it. “Damn you! NO!” Sabian grabbed his skull as if his brains short-circuited. His blaring shriek generated a flood of sound that cracked the mirrors and electronics. His form steadily liquified into a mound of toxic ichor then drains through the floorboards. Ariel was on her back and not moving where the lich once stood. “Quick, fool, get the Circlet!” Ookla’s hoped Mr. T voice setting had enough authority in it. Thundarr flipped into action. Ookla pulled out all his remaining charged bolts from his quiver. Thundarr put the headband back on Ariel’s head. The face visage contorted in anguish. A war going on inside must have been fierce. Ookla jammed the remaining bolts between the head and headband. Sparks flew shorting out the enchantment and turning its amber hue to a dull grey. Ariel’s body thrashed violently for a few seconds, and then she gasped for air. “She’s alive!” Thundarr knew his partner had returned. She felt warm and flushed with life. Her marks faded, and her chest heaved for oxygen.
The healers confirmed that Ariel had returned from death and there was no trace of the toxin. Ookla helped clue everyone in what transpired. Before dying Ariel’s Wizard father, Sabian transferred his essence or subconscious into a gem-encrusted headband. Ariel thought it to be a dying gift and a memoir. For years, it lay dormant until Artemus killed Ariel with magic. Something must have triggered the circlet to awaken Sabian, and it was a matter of simple possession of a dead body. However, instead of Ariel leaving, the gem captured her life force. This event set off a psychic shock wave and" “That’s when I picked it up.” Sybil finished the story from her bed. Sybil was far from improved. Ariel knew right away that she suffered from the Oracle curse. If left untreated, her range of visions would increase to pick up dreams, timelines, creatures from shadow and beyond. She will die of torment and sleeplessness.
The healers did not understand how to deal with the problem, but Ariel remembered that fish mitigates the symptoms. Something about the levels of a substance known as mercury, in particular, helped the condition. Ookla found some tin foil in the marketplace and wrapped it around Sybil's head. She rested her eyes as if they had administered a sedative to her. “A band-aid for now,” Ookla said. “The archives said they could blunt Oracle madness with tin foil. Maybe it will help Sybil.” Ariel instinctively rubbed her circlet on her head. The attempts to remove it from her head have been unsuccessful. The dull gem has returned to an amber hue. The Wizard bound the phylactery to Ariel's life force. Sabian's soul is protected as long as she breathes; if she dies, Sabian will come forth again.
Sometime later, Ariel had lunch with Sybil. Hot tea and some salmon locks. “Sybil, I am so sorry to hear about your father. Has anyone heard from his patrol?” She took a deep sigh. “I'm afraid Dad may be suffering in a slave pen or dead. He was the father to me that our Sabian was not. " She stopped her train of thought and looked at Ariel blinking.
"You look - different since we last met."
Ariel caught herself as well, her carbon knitted bodysuit traded to a striking formal business style suit and skirt. She blushed. "Thundarr got this ancient piece for me. Said it was reinforced with Knetherwebbing. I told him it wasn't my style, but he doesn't like the word 'no." "
"You know Knetherwebbing is expensive, right, like 80 - 100 gold shards. Where did he get that kind of money?"
"Never mind, ladies. Never mind." his voice carried from the other room as if he sat next to them.
"Leave us alone, Thundarr!" Ariel quipped. She whispered to Sybil. "The oaf said he had a chit chat with a trader. Seriously, I don't care. He bought me something!" they both giggled like schoolgirls.
"Sybil, I suspect Blondie will tell us to ride soon. We will find out what happened to your father, okay?"
She rubbed her tin foil headband and pointed to Ariels. "I could find out, but I am terrified, Ariel."
“I am so sorry, dear. Father was a monster in life as he is in death.” she hugged Sybil. Ariel held on to her tightly and let tears flow, Indeed as long as this phylactery is on my head, Sabian can return. He will use his daughters are soul batteries to extend his presence and power. "Don't let time or space separate us again, sister. You need to be strong so we can take on Sabian." she said.
"Oh, sister, you will see me in your dreams!"