WarSpell: The Orclands
Game of Freedom Book 1
The Merge leaves the memories and abilities of two American soldiers from Fort Benning in the bodies of a conquistador and a half-orc divine intercessor of Twir, the goddess of scribes, in a world filled with slavery and human sacrifice.
They are determined to let freedom ring. But doing so will require outwitting royal governors and assorted gods and goddesses. To put the icing on the cake, the intended beneficiaries of their struggle, the orcs themselves, would just as soon feed them to those very same gods.
In the first book of the Game of Freedom series, the Merge leaves the memories and abilities of two American soldiers from Fort Benning in the bodies of Don Hernando Francisco de Montoya y Cortez, a conquistador of the Nasine Empire, and Vectoria, a half-orc intercessor of Twir, the goddess of scribes. In a world filled with slavery and human sacrifice, they are determined to let freedom ring.
And if that doesn’t work they’ll darn well make freedom ring.
Not everyone is in agreement with their plans. The Count they work for throws them out. The Nasine Royal Governor isn’t impressed. When the Church of Noron—for their own reasons–forces him to give Francisco a title, he then does everything in his power to make him fail. Preferably fail fatally.
And while Twir and Noron or in favor fo the project the other gods are too busy squabbling over access to the Merge world to care about a couple of adventurers and a small group of orcs.
Meanwhile the governments in Nasine and the rest of Centraium have noticed that something strange is going on in the Orclands and are coming to investigate.
And the orcs . . . all they want to do is feed Francisco, Vectoria and the gang to their gods.
Chapter 1—The Merge
Location: Fort Masina
Time: Before dawn, 5th of Barra, Day of the Merge
Vectoria rolled out of her bed and groaned in agony. Clearly one of the orcs in yesterday’s fight split her head open with an axe and she was just now noticing it. That was the only explanation. A hangover couldn’t possibly hurt this much. She felt horrible, but at the same time she felt a little more alive. Stronger than yesterday. She started to fold into the position used in the Godlands to pray, and as she bent, her brain wobbled and rattled about in her head. Surely, she thought, I have done well enough Twir will give me a spell to cure my hangover and Make Grog.
Carefully she bowed her head and started to pray.
Location: Twir’s office, Celestial Plane
No, Twir thought, irritated as Vectoria Magna began her morning prayers. She is not getting Make Grog.
Twir was still a very minor goddess. She only had 18,243 followers and only 315 intercessors. So she needed to coddle each and every one. But there were limits and Vectoria Magna seemed intent on pushing them.
How, Twir wondered not for the first time, did I end up with a half-orc intercessor? Of course she knew the answer. Twir didn’t require mortal sacrifice, which most of the gods of the Orclands did. That was very attractive to Vectoria Magna, who was bred specifically to be sacrificed. And she tried, Twir had to give her that. The mostly illiterate half-orc girl was absolutely dedicated to the goddess of clerks and scribes.
Unfortunately, Vectoria’s inclination was to spend as much of her time getting drunk and laid as was half-orcishly possible—and that was just about all the time. No, she would not be getting spells to turn water into grog or water into ale or even water into small beer. Instead, she would get Water into Tea. Strong tea. And she would be getting another copy of Learn Spelling. Twir calculated that it would only take another hundred or so of those and Vectoria would be literate.
Location: Fort Masina
Time: Dawn, 5th of Barra, Day of the Merge
Vectoria felt Twir’s displeasure with her for getting drunk and she felt appropriately guilty. At the same time, she felt more than a little resentful about her guilt and Twir’s disappointment. A girl’s gotta have a little fun sometimes, after all. In any case, she ended her prayers with no hangover cure in her spells. She had Mud to Stone, three of them, but the very weakest sort, a couple of healing spells, but they were for minor wounds and didn’t work on hangovers. Well, she hadn’t really expected a hangover cure. Don Eduardo had made it clear that Twir wasn’t the goddess of partying. Twir also gave Vectoria a spell of Reading and one of Writing. They would let Vectoria read and write for five hours after she cast them. And, more importantly, each time she cast them she remembered a little more of how reading and writing worked.
When Vectoria stood up to head out for work, her head pounded more than usual. She winced and brought a hand up to feel the peeling skin of her face. Vectoria, like most orcs, didn’t tan, but burned, then peeled where not covered by green fur. That was her face from neck to forehead and in front of her square ears. The ears themselves had a light green fur that accented the upper back corner of her ears. She knew that she shouldn’t have gotten drunk last night, but it was the end of a long day and Private Urk had muscles on his muscles and, well, things got out of hand. Vectoria, at nineteen . . . well, intellect wasn’t what she was looking for in a playmate. She grinned, showing her prominent canines, then winced as her head throbbed.
She checked her spells again, hoping against hope for a headache reliever. No such luck. Aside from Reading and Writing she had a spell on Spelling. She would cast it when she got to work and maybe she would have fewer spelling errors. Not that anyone but Twir noticed spelling errors. Spelling was mostly a matter of individual preference, except for followers of Twir.
Oh no, not Tea again! Granted, the muddy brown tea the spell produced woke you up, but it tasted like shit. Well, worse than shit, actually. She thought about those two spells of minor healing. I wonder who is going to fall on their ass at drill today. Bet it’s not Urk. He might not be bright even for an orc, but he can move well. Really well when his instincts take over.
Vectoria fell to her knees as she was walking to the drill field behind their camp.
It wasn’t the hangover. It was shock. She suddenly had the memories of someone named Vicky Hill, a staff sergeant in the United States Army with a bachelor of science in business. Which Vectoria knew all about from that new set of memories that was hers and not hers all at once.
Vicky Hill. A small, weak human woman who had never swung a sword, much less a battle axe. And who didn’t have a half-orc’s head for grog or, for that matter, a half-orc’s pain threshold.
Vectoria’s hands went out in an automatic response to the fall. She came up, hand on her battle axe and there was nothing to fight. The headache was gone, along with all her other aches and pains, her sunburned face, even her hangover. Nothing but the memories that were hers and at the same time not hers. Those were very much still there.
Great Twir, what is happening to me? she screamed in her mind.
Twir was almost as shocked as her intercessor, but gods are different from people. She had time because while Timu, god of time, was the only god that could turn time back, even the most minor gods could slow it down to examine what they needed to or speed it up to make it pass quickly. Gods can spend as much or as little time on anything as they feel they need to.
Also, while not the omniscient entity of monotheism, a god can know what she needs to about her followers and certainly about one of her intercessors. In a frozen instant between one heartbeat and the next, she examined Vectoria and found the extra memories which led her to Vicky Hill.
It was almost Vicky Hill’s last moment.
Gods, even minor gods, don’t care for finding out that they were made up as a joke. On the other hand Twir was the god of secretaries not the god of rash action. She didn’t let emotion get in the way of a well run office. And if Vicky Hill’s mind offered unintended insult, it also offered ideas and concepts that were unfamiliar to Twir but at the same time fit all too well with her notion of how the world should operate. The idea of computers entranced Twir’s orderly mind, Vicky Hill’s world looked very interesting and much more her sort of place than the Orclands.
There was opportunity here. That timeless instant was days of consideration for Twir. Time enough for Twir to remember that causality between the universes was complicated and she possessed many origins and many futures. Vicky Hill’s desire for a god of secretaries was just one.
And through all that consideration, no time at all passed for Vectoria or Vicky.
Vectoria was strong physically and strong in her faith, but no intellectual giant. Vicky was short and slight and made ninety-eight pound weaklings seem hearty, but managed to educate herself and earn a degree. Not to mention survive boot camp. Hard-working, both of them, and at their core they were much the same person. It could be fairly said that they shared a soul. They were both honest in their beliefs and fair in their dealings, at least as the worlds they came from judged such things.
Each of them had, at their core, that which made an intercessor of Twir. And in the merging of them and the copying of each to the other, missing parts were filled in. All in all, Twir was pleased. She noted that the merging healed both of them of hurts and stresses such as the sort that were left when an intercessor prayed for spells or a god sent the intercessor hints. She decided that she could offer them a little reassurance.
She sent them a feeling of well-being. It’s all right, the feeling told them. It couldn’t be a strong feeling, for even the strongest human would melt like a snowflake in a furnace before the voice of a god.
Twir now had one more follower but, even more, she had new opportunities in both worlds. That made Vicky Hill her most important follower because, for right now, Vicky was the only intercessor of Twir on her world.
Twir examined the WarSpell books and rules for several months in a frozen eyeblink. The game designers, in a moment of political correctness, had used “intercessor,” instead of “priest” to describe those persons who could receive spells from the gods as well as the hierarchies that offered prayers and sacrifices to the gods. For those who dealt with demons or evil gods they offered the term “bargainer.” The distinction between good god and evil god was one that the mortals focused on much more than the gods did.
The knowledge from Vicky’s world would change the world of Vectoria in profound and unpredictable ways. And Vicky’s world was a world of clerks who might come to follow Twir to some extent. And prayer is a basic sustenance of gods.
“What—what has happened?” Vectoria prayed.
“But it was only a game,” Vicky’s dreaming mind complained.
Twir laughed for the pure joy of something unforeseen.
Chapter 2—Gods’ Approve
Location: Quarters of Intercessor Roberto, Fort Masina
Time: Morning, 5th of Barra, a few minutes later
“They are speaking some strange tongue, Intercessor, and talking about some weird plane where magic didn’t work, but they do magic anyway. And I have to know if they are possessed of demons.”
Roberto wasn’t in a very good mood. He’d been quite busy ministering to a well-muscled orc girl and Tomas’s pounding on his door was very much coitus interruptus.
Still, an intercessor of Noron had duties and spotting things like possessions were definitely among them. So he let himself be dragged along by this heathen islander before he was able to properly adjust his chainmail cassock.
They reached the part of the compound where the two knights had their hut, and when they went in, found Don Francisco and the half-orc Vectoria chatting away. Their chat was in a tongue that Roberto had never heard, but it had a cadence and a style a little like that of the Kingdom Isles’ tongue.
“Is that some weird dialect of your language, Don Tomas?” Roberto asked.
Don Tomas stopped and listened. “No. It’s nonsense words as far as I can tell.”
“It’s English,” said Francisco, and neither Intercessor Roberto nor Tomas recognised the name of the strange tongue.
“What’s English?” Intercessor Roberto asked.
“It’s a language spoken in the world where Vicky Hill and Frank Johnson lived,” Vectoria said. “And I guess still live, if they are real and not some spell cast upon us.”
Intercessor Roberto decided there was no reason to wait. He cast See Faith and something strange happened. Normally when See Faith was cast, the caster would see colored symbols above the head or in front of the person he looked at. The largest for the god that the person was most dedicated to, and others for the pantheon of gods respected by that person. For instance, Noron’s symbol was two crossed swords in red. And, having cast it on both Vectoria and Don Eduardo Cardona, Vectoria’s mentor in the faith and previous owner, he knew that Twir’s symbol was a green quill and scroll. So he would expect to see the symbols for Twir, Noron, Cashi, Prima, Barra and some others appearing around Vectoria with Twir’s symbol most prominent and Noron next. Francisco normally showed Noron as the most prominent by far, and Twir just smaller and dimmer than the major gods of the human pantheon.
Now the spell was showing him that, but it was showing him more. Along with the crossed swords, Francisco had another symbol almost as large, one that Roberto had never seen. It was a wooden cross, longer in length than width. He didn’t know what it meant, but the presence of the crossed swords in company with it meant it was at least acceptable to Noron. Also, around both Francisco and Vectoria, a golden nimbus showed. There was another spell that Intercessor Roberto knew of, though it was one he had never received. It was to designate a chosen of the gods. When it was cast, the chosen was bathed in a golden glow.
Roberto drank too much and had a real liking for girls. He was here in this place because his ministrations to young women of good family back in Nasine was not appreciated by their families. But he believed in honor and courage. He loved Noron and respected the good gods, even minor deities like Twir. And as he saw that golden nimbus, he knew that something special was happening. That these two were chosen of their gods. In Vectoria’s case, he could see Twir’s point. She had the makings of a great fighter and a major intercessor in combination. Roberto half expected her to end up a Champion of Twir at some point.
But Francisco? Until now, Francisco was the next best thing to a wastrel. A useless fop, in love with his ancestry and convinced that the drop or two of royal blood within his veins meant that he should be placed at the head table as a matter of course. He was sent out here by his family to keep him from insulting more powerful families with less lineage.
Roberto found himself smiling. “Why do you think that your gods have singled you out, my friends?”
“Singled them out?” Tomas asked.
“Yes,” Roberto told him. “They are still of the same faiths, though I will want to speak to Francisco about the wooden cross I saw sometime soon. But they are also chosen of their gods, for some purpose not yet revealed.”
“So they aren’t possessed?”
“No. Or if they are, it’s a possession that the gods approve.”
For the next few hours, Roberto, Tomas, Francisco and Vectoria talked about what had happened.
“I have no good link in to the new world,” Noron complained.
“Well, I can’t tap Frank Johnson on the shoulder and have him pray to you,” Twir said. “Even if I could, that would be far above the favor I agreed to.”
“Nor does Frank have the mental toughness to withstand contact with a god,” Noron agreed. “But I wish for a solid contact in the world of Frank and Vicky.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“When Vicky Hill next prays, have her set about finding a cleric for me.”
“But there are many aspects of Noron on Vicky Hill’s world.”
“And I am not one of them,” Noron pointed out.
The gods of the many worlds are not exactly individuals. They maintain characteristics of individuality, and at the same time characteristics of a group mind. If Noron were to have a link into the merged world, he would, to some degree, be one with all the other versions of Noron that are prayed to by all the other merged characters on the Merge world. But to have that union, he needed to have a link into that world, an intercessor who worshiped him as the Noron from Francisco’s world.
“I can do that, I guess, but I will want help with Vectoria. I’m not entirely sure what I will want to do with her, but I don’t want her to be a slave. Vicky wouldn’t do well as a slave. And from her memories, I don’t think Frank Johnson would do well as a slave owner.”
Noron looked over Frank Johnson’s memories again. “They have a very different culture,” he told Twir, not altogether pleased with what he saw.
Location: Fort Masina
Time: Sunset, 5th of Barra
By nightfall, the news of the event that affected Vectoria and Don Francisco was all over Fort Masina, and Juan de Lopez y Montoya, Count Masina, interviewed Roberto, Francisco, Tomas, and even Vectoria, slave or not. It depended on who you were as to whether intercessor trumped slave or slave trumped intercessor, but for Count Masina, a slave was a slave—even if she did have the favor of some minor deity from the Godlands.
Having interviewed everyone, Count Masina wasn’t happy. He didn’t want to go against Noron, but he wasn’t convinced that Twir qualified as a good god. Where, after all, was the honor in bills of lading, account books and over-precise spelling? He hadn’t made up his mind what to do, but he wasn’t at all happy.
Chapter 3—Masina’s Disapproval
Location: Training field, Fort Masina
Time: Mid Morning, 6th of Barra, Merge Plus 1
Francisco saw the move and stepped a little to the right. Urk’s practice sword slipped by and Francisco stepped in. And he was too close. He couldn’t get his sword into position. He was reacting using Frank’s reflexes and training. If he had an eight-inch combat knife rather than a two and a half foot rapier, he would be in perfect position to slide the blade under Urk’s ribs and into his heart. But as it was, he twisted and brought the hilt up against Urk’s stomach as though he was wearing brass knuckles.
Francisco stepped back. “Movement is important. Not just swinging sword or axe. You have to be aware of where the other fellow’s weapon is going.”
Urk, still bent over gasping, nodded. Urk was a good fighter, strong and fast, but he wasn’t quick to pick up new techniques.
“Francisco,” Tomas called. “Count Masina wants to talk to you.”
Francisco grimaced. Juan de Lopez y Montoya, Count Masina, hadn’t been pleased yesterday, and Francisco wasn’t expecting any great improvement today.
For two hours Francisco sat waiting in the count’s antechamber, then he was shown in by Don Pablo de Avera, one of the count’s favorites.
The count’s office was quite nice. The walls were thick stone and there was a table of orc-berry wood polished to a deep red sheen. At the moment, however, the beauty of the table was marred by the count sitting behind it with a pewter plate filled with fried dumplings and orc-berry sauce, a pewter mug—dented—filled with beer. It looked very good and Francisco hadn’t yet eaten breakfast when he was called to the count’s presence. But there was only one place set. Count Masina continued eating while Francisco waited.
Then, after a swig of beer, he looked up at Francisco and said, “Until the full effect of this thing that has happened to you is determined, you shall not leave Fort Masina.” He waved. “Go back to your post.” Then he went back to eating.
Francisco—the Francisco from before the Merge—would probably have challenged the count, illegal as that would have been. But Frank had much more experience and realized that a challenge was almost certainly what Count Masina was looking for.
He bowed carefully, making sure he displayed all the deference that the count’s rank demanded, then turned and left.
Francisco steamed all the way back to their section of the fort, not even noticing the trash in the dirt streets. He was oathbound to Count Masina. He couldn’t challenge him and he couldn’t just run off, either. First, there was nowhere to go. The wild orclands were just that, filled with orcs who would gut him and quite possibly eat him. Going back to civilization after running out on his oaths would be even worse. But the real thing that stopped him wasn’t a practical matter. It was his honor. He had sworn fealty to Count Masina, and whether Count Masina was worthy of that oath or not, Francisco couldn’t betray it. He couldn’t.