In the far and distant realms of the High North, the icy grasp of winter has finally relinquished its hold on the land. The snows have melted, shoots and buds of green life appear where once there had been only whiteness and death. Now that the passes are clear, we can at last depart from Working Barbarian Towers and retake our place in the world. That is our official excuse for being gone from your browsers for nigh on 4 months and we’re sticking to it. Our absence is most certainly not the result of a slide into indolence, or a growing affinity for the hedonistic joys of lying on the sofa like a loppy dog while pouring gallon upon gallon of tea into our collective faces. A warrior cares not for these things! So even if they might be entirely true and accurate, could you please just pretend we’ve been off fighting dragons or rival tribes of belligerent northerners? As a small gesture of our contrition, the next instalment will be a bumper two parter!
Since it’s been such a long while since the last instalment of Jala’s saga it’s more than likely that some, if not all of you, will have forgotten the deeds and events that have thus far transpired. But worry not my hale and hearty friends! The great Skaald James of Clayton has prepared something to jog your memories a little.
THE WORKING BARBARIAN
By James Clayton
Once upon a time we stopped starting stories with ‘Once upon a time’. Cut that mess the heck out. This ain’t no fairytale, child. This is a bloody barbarian saga…
Let me tell you of the days of high adventure…
Enter Jala. Insert stirring leitmotif here. Jala is a Northern barbarian who wants to go to work at working up a crowdsourced collaborative barbarian saga. The frigid north hath got reet dull. Real Northerners go south to prove just how hard they are. Ergo, there she goes. Jala departs her homeland. Here begins a saga. Thanks and ta-ra, Jala. You just unwittingly walked into a story that is completely subject to the whims and fancies of omniscient, omnipotent, omnishambolic readers.
That’s the sound of maniacal laughter and a cruel, indifferent cosmos whistling mercilessly. We’re in the key of D-minor.
She comes from the land of the ice and snow. Now she is no longer in the land of the ice and snow. She finds a settlement. This place is quiet. Too quiet. Something rotten in the state of wherever this is. Oh, a little girl. The little girl is called Freya. She has a moss fetish. Some malevolent mystery force has had its wicked way with her village. The pair talk to each other and in doing so ensure that this saga passes the Bechdel Test. They wait around until the right kind of moonlight reveals the secret rune writings. Oooh, glowsome. The secret rune writings tell ’em to head to the Fountain of the Meek.
When the sacred rune writings tell you to do something, you do something. Indeed.
Oh, and Freya has a stoat friend. Marek is the stoat friend. Ain’t he cute? Nah, you’re right he ain’t. But don’t worry because he’s going to suffer some.
Some suffer, suffer some. Actually all suffer. Life is suffering and life is definitely suffering in a barbarian saga.
The Fountain of the Meek welcomes our hero tag team. It welcomes them by presenting the Whore of Knives. The Whore of Knives cuts an ‘FU’ into Jala’s midriff. Freya and Jala cut the Whore of Knives right out of the story in revenge. We lost our favourite character after only 126 lines. Instant cult favourite. Keep the action figure in the box, mint condition.
Oh, FU. Jala needs healing. The grief-stricken Freya doesn’t want to lose more people so she journeys into the subterranean space beneath the fountain. It’s cold down here. There’s a woman preserved in an ice casket. The woman is the Star Witch (also known as Krung Nak To, Kru and Lady Charmfingers but never Mary Sue). Freya frees her because everybody needs friends with magical benefits.
The magical benefits may sometimes not be obvious.
Kru heals our northern barbarian hero. Jala and Freya decide to trust this freshly thawed-out woman. We can’t go on together with suspicious minds (backing singers harmonise: ‘With suspicious minds!’). Jala opens up her straining-not-to-be-suspicious mind to her healer and the Star Witch reaches right into psychic soul essence and uncovers the barbarian’s destiny. Jala’s envisioned destiny appears to involve mutilation and apparent death between the teeth of a great dread obsidian dragon amidst mountains of flaming skulls. We’ve not written that part yet. It sounds very exciting.
Jala, quite understandably, is not looking forward to reading it though and is traumatised by the vision. The Star Witch reckons that they should hit the road and head to Stellastelathororn because it’s a well-connected cosmopolitan city packed with cults, culture, cult odours and carefully cultivated plot threads.
That sounds exciting as well. Off the power trio (plus one stoat) trot, deciding to reach their destination by passing beneath the mountains because that’s what the Fellowship did in The Lord of the Rings.
Enter the Gruhzkär Mountain tunnels. Enter Avatkch. Avatkch is a dwarf and a former lover of Kru. Diminutive beardo and ancient witchy weirdo. Yes, it’s an odd pairing and we can’t quite see how that would’ve worked. Avatkch becomes a miniature hero for a moment as he saves our separated lead protagonists from such subterranean perils as giant spiders and his undead Beige Plague-afflicted brethren.
The mountains have worms. The worms make earthquakes. The earthquakes loose rocks and open chasms, trapping our ever-expanding band of main characters. They can escape by using Kru’s bone magic mad skillz to stretch Marek’s body over an abyss like some kind of Supernatural Stoat-Bridge to Salvation. This requires a sacrifice so Jala kills off Freya. Merciless. Ruthless. Sword right through the heart. It isn’t a true barbarian saga if there aren’t any dead children anywhere.
By the way, this barbarian saga is rated 15 for violence, strong language, sexually suggestive content and mature themes.
Freya is out of the tale and out of physical existence. The party are out of the mountains and the upset stoat is out of the party. Then the upset stoat is back in the party and wreaking fatal vengeance on Avatkch because it turns out that the dwarf had been controlling everyone and everything right from the moment they first set foot in the mountain passes. Free of such despicable company, the pair plus one stoat get back on the road to Stellastelathororn.
Oh, and Marek can talk now. Bone magic has side effects.
In part the seventeenth Marek fails to climb a flight of stairs. Parts the fifteenth and sixteenth happened before that though.
In those parts Jala, Kru and Secret Stoat arrive in the city and encounter some guards. One of the guards wears bootikins and this distinguishes him as a person of rank and special importance. The Star Witch goes off with these guards thinking that they’re emissaries of the Sablemagus Guild. The Sablemagus Guild is a mysterious organisation that specialises in the kind of things that mysterious organisations specialise in. These men, however, are not from said Guild. They trap Kru in catatonic fingercuffs and drag her off as a captive prisoner.
Jala, meanwhile, is left to explore the overwhelming sordid metropole that is Stellastelathororn. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like it at all. She retires to a tavern to pull herself together and meets a queer figure who seems to be one of the Guildmeisters of the Sablemagus Guild. He gets attacked by some thugs and flees but Jala follows him because the readers told her to follow him.
See, you made that happen. That’s the joy of this thing. You run the show. You call the shots. You, dear reader – Saga Father and Saga Mother – are the power-trippin’ dictatorial major domo master of this fictional universe.
Of course, none of this is fictional.
Applause. Cheering. A few boos but they’re swiftly silenced by a few well-aimed shivs.
Kru is in a cell and helpless. She’s taunted by a gaoler who talks in ‘chocolate tones’. She dispatches the undetected stoat in hope that he can find a way out or, at least, the possibility of reversing their fortunes. In the next part, of course, we find that he fails in this task because he ‘can’t do stairs’.
Back on the mean streets of Stellastelathororn, Jala catches up with the Guildmeister who subsequently abandons her in a crowded marketplace. He says he’ll meet her at the Arch of Souls when the crow, err, crows.
Alone again, Jala decides she needs coin to buy enchanted indigolily petals that will guide her back to the Star Witch. She thus accepts the job offer of a sleazy bath house owner. Alas, his bath house has no plumbing. This is the point where we see the proud barbarian’s decline into a career as an underdressed dancing girl in an insalubrious dive. We don’t actually see that though because Jala proceeds to murder everyone in the joint, taking the money as she goes.
Irritated by all these distractions, the bloody rampaging northerner storms back through the city. Stirring leitmotif reprised. She hears a crow, err, crow over the Arch of Souls. That means a reunion with the Sablemagus Guildmeister. Isn’t it nice when people do exactly what they promise?
The incarcerated Star Witch has a lightbulb moment even though lightbulbs haven’t been invented in the ages of barbarian saga. She gets Marek to forcefully suck upon and thus stimulate the protuberant Mage Gland on her mid-section. The excitement of this erogenous, ultra-empathetic anatomical feature attracts the attention of others. One of these others is Bootikins who is revealed to be Calathor Oakenknock, sympathetic spy for the Sablemagus Guild.
That Guild is now assaulting Castle Solaris which is where Kru and Marek have been held. That Guildmeister who hooked up with Jala has guided Jala to Castle Solaris. We’re building up to an epic cliffhanger climax and a boss battle.
Enter Magdebane. First among the dread lieutenants. Hand of the Whelpslayer. Wielder of The Bastard Sword. Yes, The Bastard Sword.
Jala faces her. Cue boss battle music.
‘I am the North. I am the end of all things. I am your death.’
That’s what Jala says right at the end. That’s where we got up to before the break. Now you’re all up to speed. Really, you should have been reading right from the start…
Let us tell you more of the days of high adventure…