Way, Way back in October last year we issued the MUD Challenge. British Telecom sought a CRASH Champion to take on the Champions from the other computer magazines in a play off to the death within their Multi User Dungeon which was going to be launched before Christmas.

A variety of glitches and gremlins in the system led to the postponement of the launch of MUD, but it should be on-line any day now. So here’s the winning entry in the MUD Spectacular competition — supplied by ANDREW MARSHALL who will go forward to represent CRASH in due course. Meanwhile, have a good read, courtesy of Andrew. We asked you to describe a day’s adventuring using around 1,500 words...

The Stranger, by Andrew Marshall

The tall sinister-looking stranger who entered the Albino Dragon Inn one winter evening caught everyone’s imagination. He wore shiny black armour, speckled with dissolving snowflakes, and a wide brimmed black cloth hat, which hid his face. His sword, which he laid in the rack by the door, was decorated with gems and glowed with magical runes.

He sat down at a table, near the corner, and waited. Eventually, Harfik Chalk, an inquisitive dwarf, went over to the man and sat down in a nearby chair. He cleared his throat.

“I couldn’t resist coming to speak to you,” he said. “You must have many stories to tell.”

The stranger looked up, and Harfik caught a glimpse of his lean mouth, though his eyes were still hidden.

“You are right my friend,” said the man in a deep, croaky voice. “I have a long and strange tale to tell. It began eight years ago.”

Harfik pulled up his chair, and waited for the story to begin. The stranger began to speak:

“Eight years ago, I was a promising young fighter in the arenas. When the religious army of the evil priest Gorgnatas Styl attacked the city, I helped beat back the attack, and slew Styl’s brother.”

The dwarf was already sitting on the edge of his seat.

“A year later, my brother was hired by a Lyearian merchant to guard a trade caravan on a trade run to the east. A week after it was due to return, a single, driverless cart pulled into town, its horses exhausted. My brother was nailed naked to the side. Slashed on his chest, in deep swordstrokes, were the words:

This is my revenge — Dare you face me yourself? — STYL.

As I stood crying and heartbroken, watching the corpse of my brother being cut from the cart, I vowed that I would slay Gorgnatas Styl. I would seek out his palace in the east and attack and torture him in the way he had tortured my brother. I set off the next day.

For months I journeyed through the forests, swamps and mountains of the wilderlands. Then one day, I saw a vast building nestled in a hidden valley. It was a huge cathedral. I knew instinctively that this was where I would find Styl.

The door was of wood. Carved, stone faces decorated the archway. The portal was unguarded. Opening it, I entered the cathedral. The walls echoed with the sound of chanting, a frightening, discordant noise. The corridors were empty — it seemed that everybody was worshipping. I climbed up a flight of stairs and tried a door to my left. It was locked. I took a step back, and broke it down.

I stumbled into a room. It was small, with a little window in the far wall. A ladder led up to a trapdoor on my left. Something moved behind me — there was something else in the room. A priest dressed in scarlet robes held a sword in his hand and advanced upon me.

I tried to turn and tripped. The priest lunged forward and a tearing pain ripped through my chest. I fell against the wall, and clawed for the ladder to hold myself up. Dizziness was overcoming me — everything was spinning and my vision blurred. My blood dripped onto the floor as the priest advanced towards me. I had to escape — I couldn’t fight as I was.

I pulled myself up the ladder. It led to a small niche, set in the top of a wall which was at one end of a vast hall, decorated with tapestries and statues. The hall was filled with thousands of people, all dressed in scarlet, all chanting and looking up admiringly at the vast stone figure of an evil looking, bald-headed man that was suspended from the ceiling. Coloured smoke billowed from the image’s mouth and its eyes rolled — there were obviously priests inside the hideous creation, working it.

There was no escape from the room — it was at least a hundred feet above the floor of the hall, so I couldn’t hope to jump into the body of the hall, and there were no doors in the three enclosed sides of the chamber. The priest was nearly at the top of the ladder.

I was now almost fainting from the pain in my chest as it became more acute. My ears rang, and my sight was deteriorating, but still I could make out the shadowy figure of the priest making his way towards me relentlessly. I was hit on the jaw and stumbled backwards — into space. I had been knocked over the edge of the niche and was falling.”

Harfik was so excited that he almost fell off his chair.

“And what happened?” yelled the dwarf.

The stranger continued...

“I thought I was going to die, but suddenly the priest grabbed me and swung me back into the room. It was obviously supposed to be a secret — perhaps it was where special effects were rigged up, to be taken as miracles by the fanatical worshippers, or a place where high priests could spy on their inferiors and check that they were showing enough devotion... The priests’ secret vantage point would have been exposed had I fallen.

The priest was staggering backwards, off balance after pulling me back. Summoning up all of my energy, I ran into him. He was thrown back, tripped, and tumbled down through the still open trapdoor.

He landed on his back at the bottom of the ladder. I jumped down after him, and landed on his upper chest, smashing his ribcage. He gasped once and then lay still.

I stumbled into a corner and slumped to the ground. The blood was still dripping from my chest as I lapsed into unconsciousness...

I don’t know how long I lay there, but when I regained my senses the ceremony was still in progress, and the sound of chanting had risen in pitch noticeably. The worshippers were becoming more frenzied. I climbed back up the ladder, into the hidden niche to hide, to recover.

It was then that I saw Styl... sitting in a throne underneath the figure suspended from the ceiling. My thirst for revenge now aroused, the pain in my chest was forgotten. I thought of a plan — if I could cut the figure down, Styl would be crushed underneath it.

I sized up the possibilities of jumping across to the figure. It was almost impossible, but with the adrenalin pumping through my body I felt I could do anything. I stepped to the back of the niche, ran forward and jumped.

I hit the figure with a slap, but the chanting drowned the noise. I looked around but nobody could see me — they were all facing the front of the figure. I crawled upwards until I could reach the rope that held up the figure. With a yell, I swung my sword and struck the hemp cords that suspended the monolith.

The figure lurched, but didn’t fall. I hadn’t severed the rope. With another yell, I struck it again. The rope cut cleanly. I grabbed the end still attached to the roof as the hideous stone effigy plummetted downwards. It smashed onto Styl’s throne, crushing him. Coloured smoke began to billow out of the debris. I shouted my joy at my victory.

But I was by no means safe. I was defenceless, hanging by a short length of rope, with hundreds of the furious priests massing below me. An arrow whistled past me. If I stayed where I was, I would surely be killed.

Swinging from the rope, I jumped towards one of the walls, grabbing a tapestry. It ripped halfway across its length, but I held onto one end, hanging downwards. It was slowly tearing more, slowly lowering me towards the frantic crowd. There was a smaller tapestry to my left — I was sure that I recognised it. I looked closer. Yes! It had been the main treasure my brother’s trade caravan had carried — a flying carpet! When Styl attacked my brother and the merchants, he must have thought that the carpet was an ordinary tapestry, thought no more of it and hung it in his temple as decoration.

I ripped it off the wall, and yelled the magic words ‘Ojai Ling’. The carpet flew along the hallway, with me hanging onto one end, being pulled after it. The priests, screaming with frustration, rushed after me.

I soon outpaced them and guided the carpet towards the exit of the cathedral. As I reached it, I jumped off the carpet and opened the door.

‘Leaving? Running? Dare you not fight me?’ came a voice from behind. I whirled round, and looked straight into the eyes of Gorgnatas Styl.

My heart leapt, my mind was numb. I tried to reach for my sword but some power was paralysing me. Styl walked towards me. He grinned and great fangs showed, stained with blood. Then I knew why Styl had not been killed by the falling figure — he was a vampire! Now that I had looked into his eyes, he had control over me. I was powerless to save myself, as his glistening fangs came nearer and nearer..”.

Harfik Chalk was almost speechless with excitement.

“And how did you escape?” he gasped.

“I didn’t,” said the stranger, sinking his fangs into the dwarf’s neck.

The Stranger illustration