Thursday, December 31, 2009

No Entry Tonight

It's New Year's Eve, so get your sorry ass off the computer and celebrate.  Don't be pathetic like me.


Have a safe time, don't drink and drive, and we'll see you in 2010 with more adventures in Doomwatch.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Meeting

I'm hurt, the Prince thought.

Seriously hurt, and I just might die in this pisshole.  Even if I live, that she-bitch bit me.

His mind reeled at the thought of the lycanthropy disease possibly coursing through his veins right now.  He pulled himself up into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his stomach.  He removed his tunic and tried to make a bandage for his wound.

He sat and listened for a long time.  No sound other than dripping water and scurrying little feet met his ears.

Scurrying little feet.

He became aware that movement was nearby... tiny feet inching their way toward him.  He struggled to stand.

I'm damned if I'll be eaten by rats, he promised himself.

He felt the wall and found the door from which Ariya originally came.  With no choice, he ducked through and closed it.

The darkness in here was just as bad as in the hallway, but a faint gleam appeared somewhere to his left.  He drew one sword and felt his way toward the source.  A hallway... extending off toward some unknown light.  He edged closer and saw it was lichen dimly glowing.

He padded down this hall... saw another branch to the left, and instinct told him to follow it.  It ended without fanfare.

Mmm-hmm, he thought, and began to feel for anything to reveal a hidden door.

Immediately, he found a protrusion of stone, and he pressed it.  A secret door slid open, and the Prince found himself exposed to torchlight.  Warily, he looked around and saw the light coming through a door.  With a start, he realized he was in one of the jail cells in the Hall of Xis.

He edged closer to the door and looked out.  No one was there, but the torches were lit.

He traced his way back to the well and the platform left there so long ago.  Collapsing on it, he decided to rest a bit before trying to pull himself up.

With a start, he realized two things: one, he had dozed off here.  Two, the platform was going up.  He drew his second blade and waited for the light now above him to reveal its secrets.

In minutes, he made out a form... no, two forms, pulling the rope to bring the platform up.  Shapes became faces, and he saw four looking down on him.

As he came to a stop, he smiled. "Good evening, and welcome to Doomwatch."

The four faces looked at each other and drew their weapons.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Battle In The Darkness

(Sorry I missed last night; I was unavoidably detained all evening.)

Sword in one hand, torch in the other, the Grinning Prince leaned against a corner as he surveyed the two possible passages. One ended at a great door almost out of sight, while the other spanned into darkness.

If his bearings were right, it was the second choice that would take him closer to his goal.  He quietly moved down the hallway.

The flickering torch dissolved shadows as he passed a doorway on the right.  He considered opening it, but decided to move on.

The doorway jerked open behind him, and he barely spun to his left to parry a killing blow.

Ariya Thule, her backstab spoiled, flew at him with a flurry of cuts and stabs.  Unfortunately for her, the Prince dodged to the side and brought the flat of his blade down on her head.  While dropping his torch and drawing his other blade, he bellowed "Haven't I already killed you?!  I distinctly... remember... killing you... and dumping your bloodied carcass down a shaft!"

Ariya soaked up the blow and rolled forward and on her feet, blood dripping from the back of her head and her blades at the ready.

The Prince took a defensive posture. "Now, how do you want to do it?  Shall we repeat what happened before?  I'm going to kill you, your spooky-eyed lich master, and then rescue my friends from this pit.  I promise."

He stepped forward with two thrusts, one high and one low.  Ariya blocked both with ease, but didn't see his boot coming for her gut.  It connected with a hard thump that sent her flying backwards.

"I seem to recall kicking you in the delicates last time.  I'll bet that was pleasant," he cooed and stepped to her side with a downward swing.  She rolled over just enough to avoid the blow and leaped to her feet with one savage swing that was blocked.

But Ariya did not mean to press the attack; instead, she kicked the nearby torch... lifting it off the stone floor and into an arc which sent it sailing down the hall.  Taken by surprise, the Prince drew both blades up for protection, but couldn't stop her as she bowled him over and disappeared the other way into the darkness.

The Prince looked up just in time to see the torch sputtering out.

Panicked, he got into a crouching position with each blade pointed each direction, and waited for the attack.

Straining to listen in the pitch black, he could hear her breathing somewhere down the hall.  It was labored from heavy exertion... then a gurgling sound as if she were choking up fluids... slowly devolving into a hair raising growl felt more than heard.  He peered down the hallway at what he thought were red lights, and then the Prince knew...

Wolves eyes don't glow in the darkness without a source to reflect, he thought.  Where is that light?

The twin lights bounded toward him followed by a howl, and before he could bring the other blade around, she avoided a weak thrust and leaped on him with her full weight.  He felt crushed under what felt like twice her normal size.  He felt her breath as she snapped for his throat... grunted as he banged against her head with his left blade to no avail.  Ariya had him trapped, and it was just a matter of time before she tasted his blood.

He rolled slightly to his left and emptied that hand to bring it up against her head, then quickly twisted to the right to bash her against the nearby wall.  Ariya howled; he repeated, with more strength brought by encouragement.  Ariya backed off and bit into his thigh.

Now it was the Prince's turn to scream, and he jerked to bring his right blade slashing down on her head.  He felt it bite into her skull, her weight lift and disappear... leaving the Prince to pant for breath and grimace on the cold stone floor in the darkness.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Somebody's Watching Me

He watched the slim fighter slip down the stairwell and into the area below.

The scene in his crystal ball shifted as the Prince roamed short corridors which led to empty rooms... slowly closer to this hidden chamber in which Xis sulked.

The skeletal figure turned to Ariya. "Find him.  This time destroy him and bring his corpse back if you can, but get those swords he carries."

Ariya Thule nodded and departed noiselessly. Xis hissed and leaned back in his ornate chair.

Are these interlopers worth the trouble of keeping them?  Would it be better to simply kill the other two as well?

He turned to gaze upon the raven haired cleric trapped in the violet energy field on the platform.  Such a marvelous tap for spiritual energy.  She really is a conduit for so many gods, and so confused... so easy to confuse...

And the magician... the strong willed wizard from the southern lands.  His mind was such an effort to trap and bend, but what could be tapped from him before he is reduced to a husk?

Xis hissed again and pondered the possibilities.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

At The Altar of Kae'Aboth

When the hanging fell, the Prince walked into total darkness.  He knew there was a small passage beyond, and felt his way along the right wall.

Presently, the passage turned right and continued for another twenty feet or so until he hit a dead end.

This can't be happening, he thought. There must be an entrance somewhere.

After groping for some five minutes, he made his way back to the wall hanging and listened for any movement beyond.  Satisfied, he slowly lifted the hanging up and looked into the room.  All was as he left it.  He grabbed a dying torch from a sconce and returned to the corridor's end.

Waving the torch a little to build it up, he scanned the end for any sign of a secret door.  After several minutes, he spotted a smaller stone that was too square for a natural cut; he pressed it, and a section of the wall on the left slid back.

Leery of hanging around here too long, the Prince dashed through the door and came into another chamber.

The area was large... maybe 100 feet or more in length and roughly 30 feet wide.  A quick scan showed no other exits to the room in his immediate area, but the far end was shrouded in shadows.  The ceiling vaulted with an apex of 40 feet; all was supported on pillars at equal points.

The Prince looked around and saw dead torches ensconced along the walls.  He grabbed one and lit it from his dying light, then moved further into the room.

The pillars were intricately carved with chaotic scenes of all sorts.  He spared them a quick glance and moved toward the other end of the chamber... halted a bit when he saw what appeared to be an altar at the other end.

Slowly, he approached within twenty feet... conscious of possible traps designed to destroy the infidel enemies of whatever god was worshipped here.  He backtracked to the end from which he came, and suddenly noticed a stairwell descending into the darkness.

So at least I can get out. He thought.

Back toward the altar, he approached from the other angle... stepping in a random pattern to increase his odds of not hitting a trapped stone.  Eventually, he got within ten feet of the structure.

It was seven feet in length or so... rising up to 3 feet and carved with symbols of a god he knew.

"Kae'Aboth." He spoke the name aloud without thinking, and the altar subtly vibrated the dank air here.

Curious, he approached the altar and begin to wipe the dust and cobwebs. "Kae'Aboth," he said again.

The air here began to lighten, and the Prince felt the nagging buzzing that had been in his head slowly fade. He cleaned it further and spoke more firmly. "Kae'Aboth, hear me.  I am allied with a priestess of yours."

He didn't expect much, but the effect was more than he bargained for.  The remaining dust swirled and reached into the air high above the altar.  A form appeared, female and powerful, but transparent.  He thought it looked almost like Qova.

"I answer the summons for Kae'Aboth... I, Elanda, his servant.  Who speaks the Great One's name and claims his cleric as friend?"

"Well, names are relative," he made a "who me?" face. "His cleric is lost... trapped somewhere down here, and I need the means to free her. I ask for your aid."

"And what aid could I give you, mortal?" the figure lectured down.

"Give me arms to destroy her captor, and I will lead her back to this altar so that she may properly re-consecrate it," the Prince replied.  Give me a weapon capable of destroying the mightiest of undead, even if for just awhile."

Elanda smiled. "You have chosen wisely, mortal, and your petition will be granted. You will do well to keep your promise or die trying." And with those last words, Elanda slowly vanished... and on the altar lay two broadswords.

The Prince unsheathed them.  Both were of fine quality with unusually sharp blades etched in northern runes.  He read them by torchlight; they said "we seek and destroy the walking dead."

The Prince grinned, strapped both scabbards to his waist, grabbed his torch and headed for the secret door.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Awakening

It was like staring at the same scene for hours, and suddenly realizing that you were seeing a different viewpoint.

His eyes focused on... a ceiling?... the broad beams spanning the stone ceiling of a place deep underground.

My, my, he thought. What have you gotten yourself into now?

Like early morning sleep shaking off, the Prince found he could move.  But he didn't.  He rolled his eyes to each side as far as he could.  There was someone on his left, but he couldn't focus enough to see who.  He returned his eyes to center and listened.

Water dripped on stone somewhere nearby... a whisper of feet somewhere behind him.  He froze back into the posture and expression he formerly held.

A face loomed over his... upside down.  The Prince forced his eyes not to automatically snap up toward it.  He relied on perepheal vision to take in what was offered.

Blonde hair... fixed, icy eyes... and a subtle breath on his face.  She examined him closely, and slapped him.  He let his head slightly rock from the blow, but showed no response... especially as realization dawned.

Ariya Thule.

Ariya withdrew from his field of vision and moved to his left.  The Prince sensed her checking who ever was there... another slap.  After a minute, she quietly stepped away.  The Prince heard a door open and close.

He waited... for no other reason than in case she was waiting.  After five minutes, he thought, he became convinced she was gone.  He slowly turned his head to the left.

He was on a platform of sorts... wide enough to accommodate his frame.  Roughly three feet to his left was another platform occupied by someone.  The Prince focused his eyes in the gloom.

Arbiddance.

The magician didn't move.  He stared straight up at the ceiling, unblinking and with no expression as if he were waiting for something to appear.

The Prince decided to take the next obvious move.  He eased up from his place of rest and quickly looked behind him.

A single door stood roughly ten feet back.  Torches lined the walls, sputtering down but still enough to reveal the contents of the room.  Tables lined the walls and were covered with odd glass objects, pewter and assorted other things he didn't recognize.  His scan of the room showed another resting platform on the other side of Arbiddance, but it was empty.

No other exits.  Except...

He raised up a little more to pay attention to a wall hanging.  With one more glance at the door, the Prince placed his feet on the floor and slowly moved toward the hanging.  He carefully lifted it and gazed behind to find a passageway.

He quickly moved back to Arbiddance and looked down on the impassive face.  He snapped his fingers lightly... touched the bearded face.  No response.

"Sorry, friend..." he whispered. "Nothing I can do for you.  That blonde bitch is loose again, and I need a weapon, so off I go and I'll try to come back for you as soon as possible."  He eased off, leaned back and grinned down. "But only if you promise to be good while I'm away."

And behind the tapestry he disappeared.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Among Thieves

"The coins," a tiny man whispered over the table, "show the likeness of Aris IV, yet appear freshly minted."  He dropped the gold pieces and wiped his mouth to hide a smirk. "You wouldn't be trying to pass on some counterfeits, would you?"

Malek leaned forward. "Sadly, no.  They've simply been kept locked away for some time.  They're more than genuine, I assure you."

The smaller man casually glanced at the bosom of a passing wench. "I see.  Alright.  Suppose I'm daft enough to follow you into a wizard's lair, past his baronial guards, and deep below.  What then?  I'm guessing you're not looking him up just for a chat.  Is he wanted?  Does he have some thing of value that requires a dagger in his kidney, or what?"

Malek sighed. "It's immaterial, Yrmus.  I simply need a skilled hand to help out here.  I've arranged for the company of two sellswords.  I've bought them already, just as I'm paying you up front.  I feel sure there's the promise of loot as well.  At least, they seem to think so." 

Yrmus waved a hand. "Is your plan any more complex then this?"

"Complexity," Malek smiled "endangers goals.  Neither the wizard nor his companions have been seen for some time.  I strongly suspect they are dead.  We merely need to verify this.  That's all."

"If it's Doomwatch," Yrmus muttered, "then they likely won't be found, and perhaps we won't either."  He leaned back. "Forty percent of the loot."

"Twenty," Malek countered.  Yrmus glanced off and grinned.

"You'll do better than that."

Malek casually traced the letter C on the table with his finger, the back of the letter facing Yrmus. The smaller man gazed down, gazed up, and formed another C to sit back to back with Malek's tracing.

"Twenty," he sighed.
-----------------------------------
Outside, the two met with a pair of large, armored men.  Malek stepped up to them and pinged their chainmail.

"No," he stated.  "Leather only."  Both looked at him as if he suggested wearing girdles. "I know, I know, but entrance requires stealth.  You'll put your mail in this." He produced a bag from under his tunic. "It will hold whatever you need."

The two fighters glanced at each other and then nodded their assent.  The four walked away from the tavern into the darkness as Malek explained further.

"We approach the house from the southern side.  There will be one guard on duty on the premises.  Others will be patrolling the road, but that won't matter.  I've arranged for a diversion to be made just before dawn.  The guard on the door will go to the guard house for reinforcements... while he's away, we'll have perhaps two minutes to climb through the window and get inside.  From that point on, stealth is the word.  Once we are below, you may then change back into your mail.  Understood?"

Everyone else nodded.

"Fine," Malek smiled. "Leave nothing in your rooms.  You won't be coming back here no matter what."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Doomwatch 2

To his lordship, Mor-Kilen, Master of Wik and the Scribes of Haraj,

Sire, I send you greetings and wish to update you as to the steps I've taken since I departed your presence a fortnight ago.

Following your instructions to locate the renegade magician and, if possible retrieve the pages of the Twilight Tome which scrying revealed to you as in his possession, I followed word of his passage with two companions to a remote Barony far west of Talus.  After ten days, I gained word he had deposed some minor baron of little importance and taken the title for himself after the death of one of the aforementioned companions deep in some local ruins.  I disguised myself as an onion seller and scoured the area in question to find a rather fine residence built into the side of a hill and under heavy guard.  This, I was assured, was the residence of the new Baron.  First approaches earned me a lick on the back from a pole arm by one of the patrolling guards.  I later returned to a local tavern and gathered the following information from local gossip.  I have had little time to validate the information, but the majority rings true:

I was told that the magician, Arbiddance, with two or three companions, gained entrance to a series of underground areas which may or may not be related to the infamous Doomwatch.  The general consensus is that the ruins are not related to that fatal place lest the Duke descend on the area and take command of it himself as he has done with other supposed entrances.

I was told that Arbiddance has gained certain powerful magics from underneath the hill which aided him in constructing the domicile and overthrowing the local Baron.

I was told that he imprisoned the former Baron somewhere within that complex, and that there are more than a few local residents willing to draw swords for him if he were somehow released.

I was told that the former Baron had drawn into the exploration of the ruins an evil priest and a mysterious cut throat from the wintery north.

Finally, I was told that Arbiddance and his band have not been seen in over two months, and that his commander of the guard has been keeping the affairs of the Barony in order on his own authority not because of allegiance to Arbiddance, but out of fear for the former Baron since no one seems to know exactly where he is held within those ruins.

After hearing these bits of information, I decided to investigate the ruins and the residence myself if at all possible.  I found the area security to be amazingly lax just before dawn, and forced my way in through a window.

I searched the residence to the best of my ability.  Having found four rooms impervious to my lockpicking skills, I retired from the scene and  have elected to return again and venture into the basement where the actual entrance to the ruins is hidden.  After I have investigated this area, I will send my next missive with more informaton.

My loyalty is only to you.  Regards,
Malek-Taus-Dalan.
---------------------------------------------------
To Malek-Taus-Dalan

Let the crow whisper these words deep into your mind.  Free your thoughts, and allow my commands to form in front of your eyes as mist from the spring morning.

I am pleased with your initial report and your efforts to track down the traitorous thief Arbiddance.  I feel as you do that he is somewhere afoot within these ruins of which you speak.  Indeed, your report corroborates information I obtained through other means more esoteric.

I charge you as follows: seek entrance into the depths below.  Find the deposed Baron and free him so that he may regain his former status.  I know of the Baron Falang; he will not be ungrateful.  Seek out the traitor and ascertain his fate.  If he is dead, then seek proof and return to me with a full report.  You will find under your bed enough coins to hire any help you may need at your own discretion.

The pages he stole are secondary.  If you find them, then good.  If not, it is of no real importance since copies were penned long ago.  It would be nice if you did find them, since I hate damaged tomes.

If you find the traitor alive, seek audience with him and, when within striking range fulfill your duty to the order and your masters.  But before you strike, be certain to speak the following words: "Mor-Kilen bought the blade that is to be bathed in your blood."

Regards,
Mor-Kilen

Friday, December 4, 2009

DOOMWATCH...

...will return on the Winter Solstice.  Stand by.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Case of Identity

"Okay, the Hall of Xis was on the level below," the Prince said. "We saw no other way in or out except Xis' domain.  I'm betting the Snake didn't either, so he probably went to the next level below that."

"It would still be nice to have a professional with us,"Qova added. "I know the last choice didn't end well, but a good thief is invaluable in places like this."

"We'll just have to make do without one... for the time being, at least," Arbiddance answered. "By the way, you never did say what you did with Ariya's body."

The Prince raised his eyebrows and mockingly glanced down the shaft.  Qova coughed.

"Okay, so we start at the third level and see what happens," Arbiddance stated. "We descend in half an hour.  I'm just glad the hidden room wasn't raided while we were imprisoned, so we have what we need to at least make a foray and see what's afoot."
----------------------------------------------------
The contraption creaked as it descended.  Qova's nerves were on edge the entire time, but she refused to show it.

As they reached the next level, Arbiddance put his hand on the rope.  The Prince looked at him, and the wizard said "why not have a look?"

The fighter locked off the rope and they stepped off into the small room.

At the gates, they stopped and surveyed the scene.  The entire hall stank from the rotting corpses of the undead destroyed there a few days ago.

They carefully searched the side rooms, including the one in which they had been imprisoned.  Their light amulets swept though each chamber, and they checked the walls for secret passages, but nothing was to be found.

Arbiddance looked at the single door at the end which Xis himself had emerged.  He glanced at the others and then opened it.

Beyond was nothing but darkness.

They entered and looked around.  The Prince looked at Arbiddance and shook his head.  They began to search the walls.

On the opposite side, Qova's hand went through the wall.  She hissed lightly to the others.

The Prince slid up to her side and gently poked his head through the wall.  He pulled back. "Passage."

The three stepped through into the hidden hallway.  Past what looked like empty jail cells they creeped toward a door at the end.  It was iron; its hasp looked to be in good shape.  The Prince listened at it and then shook his head to the others.

"Go," Arbiddance mouthed, and he and Qova readied themselves.  The Prince tried the hasp and opened the door.

A swirling darkness was on the other side.  They stepped through.

Qova brought up the rear and saw her friends suddenly freeze as if paralyzed.  She stopped.

Arbiddance's head slightly rolled from side to side.  His voice came in a raspy strain. "I'm stuck."

The Prince vibrated in his efforts to move, but he could only look around.

From the darkness, two pin light eyes came closer. "Kuka sina olet?"

That's Anayari, Arbiddance thought. And damned old Anayari, at that.  Maybe...

"We are explorers," he answered in his best Anayari. "In search of one who betrayed us."

"Niin?"

"Yes," the wizard answered. "Who are you?  Kuka sina olet?"

The pinlight eyes seemed to grow taller as the voice ominously answered:

"Xis."

Triads

Arbiddance dismounted and strode toward the house.  The two guards parted to allow him through the door.

Through this room, he entered another... and in there sat the tunnel leading below.  He descended the passage, past the little mother arch, turning left and entering the meeting hall to see Qova.

The priestess sat at the table writing on a sheet of parchment.  She replaced the quill pen when the wizard entered and looked up.

"I'll need at least another hour to finish these," she said.

"We descend in two," he replied.  "Be ready."

"Are you taking your smoky friend with you?"

"As much as I hate to do so, yes," he picked up a sheet and glanced at it. "Where's the Prince?"

Qova thumbed toward the collapsed room.  Arbiddance decided to see for himself.

The Prince was rigging some sort of pulley car when the wizard down the new steps into this room.  A sturdy oak frame dominated the area around the shaft.  A triple rope came through a large pulley and spread into three strands attached to a large round platform.  Arbiddance looked to the left and saw the carpenter's tools used to construct this apparatus.

"Just until you get your carpet back," the Prince smiled. "This would have been easier with a little muscle."

Arbiddance pointed. "I'm serious when I say none of the soldiers can ever come down the passage into this complex."  He stopped and rubbed his nose. "Personally, I think we can hold this place against the Duke's forces... if we need to do something like that."

"Let's hope not," the Prince said as he lightly spun the platform to see if the clearance was enough. "You know, the three-sided structure is traditionally the most unstable."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Arbiddance asked.

"I mean if pressure is put on one point, the other two will suffer," the Prince sat on the edge of the shaft. "The four sided structure, however, is much more stable."

Arbiddance gazed at the fighter for a moment and then examined the platform.  It was thick and broad, with plenty of room for the three of them.  The rope went through the middle of the platform, through the pulley and it's locking mechanism, and down again to hold the whole thing.  It looked sturdy enough.

"And now the test, which poor me," the Prince said.  He hopped onto the platform, and jerked the rope to release the lock.  The whole platform shuddered, but held still.

"Not too far," Arbiddance said.  The Prince grinned and began to shuffle the rope upwards.  The platform slowly lowered into the dark.

Qova descended into the room and stood next to the wizard. "Will that thing hold all three of us?"

"Yes, it will.  It's actually quite ingenius.  We'll delay our descent for four hours so he can rest a little."

"Not too long," she replied. "I'm thirsty for blood."

Arbiddance glanced at her quizzically. "We all are."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Orders

The Prince pulled the gag off the soldier's face.

"You're the guard captain, am I correct?"

"What's going on?" the man wet his mouth and croaked.

"A coup, I should think,"  he untied the man from the tree.  In this small grove, almost every tree had a soldier decorating it. "I'm the rightful lieutenant of the new Baron, if you'll trouble yourself to read this abdication notice."

He handed the parchment to the captain, who snatched it and read it over.  "That's the Baron's seal, for sure."

"Ex-Baron.  Falang's going on a sabbatical... into the dungeons of the new ruler here.  For awhile, at least."

"Who is the new Baron? Arbiddance?"

"He's the fellow who changed your war horse into a rat terrier... and he'll do the same for you if you don't play nice," the Prince answered. "Untie your men and report to Breakharrow Hill.  You'll guard the exterior with your very lives and wait for hid Lordship to arrive and brief you."

The captain looked hesitant, but swallowed. "Yes, Sir."
................................................................................
"Is this all of you?" Arbiddance intoned from the top of the house on Breakharrow Hill.

"There's another squad hunting for bandits in the Wrike Woods, My Lord.  They shoud return within two days," the Captain answered.

"Well, you'll fill them in when they do return," Arbiddance was the figure of the aloof and terrifying wizard looking down on his subjects. "You'll take these notices and nail them to the door of every public house in the Barony.  All taxes are forgiven until winter.  All levies are canceled until otherwise noted.  Barracks will be built on this property, but for now you'll post guard here.  This is the new baronial seat. In one month time, I'll be traveling to Talus to swear fealty to the Duke.  I will take a handpicked escort at that time.  Do you understand these things, Captain?"

"I do, Lord."

"Know that I am a fair man, but I will brook absolutely no resistance or trouble.  Make that known, Captain." As if on cue, he pulled the bottle from under his robe and held it aloft in the air.  The ef'fretah soared in from the northwest and settled next to the wizard.

"Know, great wizard, that the task is done," the formless smoke boomed.

"It is well.  Return now to your abode and wait until I summon you yet again.  you have served me well," Arbiddance replied, and the spirit returned to its bottle.  Arbiddance capped it and returned it under his robes.

Every guard on the ground below stood absolutely still.

"My lieutanant speaks for me," Arbiddance gestured toward the Prince, "as does the Priestess Qovakrisstia.  Their word is law.  That is all for now."

Arbiddance descended the stairs with his comrades.  As they reached the top floor, he turned to them. "Tomorrow morning, we go hunting for snakes."

Abdication

"...When you have completed this task, return to me where ever you may find this vessel," Arbiddance told the ef'fretah.  He watched the spirit bear the box containing body of Hern and the sealed scroll tube into the air and soar northwest into the distance.

Several pages of notes, Arbiddance thought.  The best I can do to explain to his family what happened.  Commoners are ignorant of magic and will wonder why we didn't just resurrect him.  Nothing inside to bring back.

My friend is soulless.

The wizard turned to look at the Prince behind him.  Their eyes met... each with the look of hard steel.  It was time.  The Prince was not grinning; now was the time to tap into that being which lurked behind the smile.

They descended the hill and into the abode.
.......................................

The Baron Falang reclined in his favorite chair and sipped his drink.  The view out of the window displayed his fantastic garden in its riot of color and health.

He put down the drink and twisted his head slightly to the left.  Obviously, somewhere a groundskeeper was murmuring, and the Baron wanted to hear.  Not that he was paranoid, mind you... just good practice to know what's going on around you.

After two seconds, he realized the murmuring was chanting.

He rose and threw himself across the room.  Even as he began to move, he heard the approaching roar... like a strong wind on the front of a storm.

A burst of heat and flame shattered the window where he had been sitting.  Glass and fire swarmed through the air in the room, and the maddening roar of air being sucked out deafened him.

Falang's back was on fire.  He screamed and rolled on the stone floor until the heat went away.  He then jumped up and rushed down the hallway to summon his butler.

The Grinning Prince met him halfway, sword drawn and pointed directly at him.  Caught at the collar, Falang was brought up short and sat down on the floor.

"No," the Prince whispered. "No, no, no, no.  I'm afraid not, M'Lord."

Behind the Prince, Qova came strolling up the hallway with her hands behind her back.  She smiled a schoolgirl smile at the Baron and stopped.

Arbiddance came from behind.  He grabbed the Baron by his hair and swiftly brought a dagger against his throat. 

"Time to abdicate, Your Grace," the wizard hissed.
.............................................
"I have a patrol in this area," the Baron quivered. "They'll deal with you when they return.  I swear it."

Qova casually tossed a collection of horses' bridles in the Baron's lap.

"Balesire will have you drawn and quartered, and then he'll hang you, and then you'll be cut up into little bitty bits and buried alive," Qova flatly stated. "You turned an Oienduni priest loose in Doomwatch.  What other possible reaction could he have?"

Falang shuddered in the chair while The Prince casually stomped out little flames here and there.  Arbiddance was sitting on the table in front of the Baron with dagger in hand.

"You conspired with me.  You agreed it was necessary," the Baron whimpered at the wizard. "You're just as guilty as I am."

"Maybe so," Arbiddance stared down with cold eyes, "but I have no fucking idea what you're talking about.  See, my friends and I were exploring the ruins, when your snake handler and that she-wolf attacked us while we were battling undead...no, strike that... we were ridding the countryside of some horrible undead and were licking our wounds and mourning the loss of our comrade when the two attacked us.  We killed her, but the snake priest managed to flee.  Before she died, she intimated that the coins in her purse came from you."

Qova stood at the Baron's side. "Here's what's afoot," she scooted a piece of parchment across the table and beside Arbiddance. "You're going to write the Duke a letter indicating that you're totally abdicating your barony.  You're turning everything over to Arbiddance.  Arbiddance will also write a letter claiming possession of this barony and indicating he will travel to Talus in one month's time to swear fealty to the Duke.  I doubt there will be any argument, so long as someone is running things over here."

"Why are you doing this?" the Baron moaned.

Arbiddance leaned closer. "For Hern.  We're taking your barony.  We're going to hunt down and destroy the Snake... and we're going to plunder Doomwatch itself for its secrets... not the least of which is the Gauntlet itself.  Before three years have passed, there will be a new Duke in the March.  Look on the bright side, maybe I'll give you a job as my court jester."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yeah It's Been Awhile

But I haven't decided where I want to go with this story yet.  Have patience... I shall return!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Prince Dances

"If we run into anything here..." Qova began.

"Pray that we don't," Arbiddance cut her off.

They walked back to the room next to the shaft and looked up.

"How?" he muttered.

"I can climb it," the Prince replied.  The other two looked at him like he was crazy.

"I can," he said. "Used to so a lot of rock climbing in my youth."

"The shaft walls are sheer," Arbiddance countered.  "No way."

"There are always finger holds... the odd toe hold,"  he smiled. "I'll do what I can."

"If you slip..." Arbiddance said.

"Then you're rid of me," the fighter beamed.  "If I get to the top, I'll drop some rope.  It's really not that far.  Give me a boost."

Qova and Arbiddance lifted the fighter up to the ceiling.  He felt around for cracks, somehow found some, and began to pull himself up.

What he would never admit to them is that such cracks are few and far between.

He searched, pulled, scratched, pulled at chunks that dropped from his hands, and slowly inched up to the collapsed room.  At last, he dragged himself over the edge and onto the floor.

Do I dare shout down to them? he wondered. I don't know where the Snake and that she-wolf are.

He strode across the room and climbed the rope up into the hall of gargoyles.  No sign... good.  Across into the original camp room, where he was told the goblins had lived.  A coil of rope was in one corner.  Hern's rope.  Hern also kept a spare sword; he found it.

The Prince returned to the gargoyle hall, and instinct made him duck.

A blade whirled just over his head.  He dropped the rope coil and rolled, bringing his sword up just in time to block another blow.

Ariya Thule came at him in a flurry of blows... faster than she ever gave a hint of being.  The Prince parried each one.

Where the blazes did she come from?  he wondered.

The two lithely danced back up the hallway to its northern end.  The Prince twisted his sword left and right in a series of parries under the thief's skillful attacks.  He was waiting for an opening.

But apparently, Ariya wasn't the type to get impatient.  He noted that her pale blue eyes were beginning to glow a dim red.

He had one last trick to play.  He allowed one blow to knock his sword out of position and slightly twisted with it.  Ariya whirled to give a finishing blow, but the Prince twisted back to catch her sword arm at the wrist and kicked her in the stomach.  He felt her pubic bone crack. 

Ariya howled in pain and dropped her sword.  Her other hand sought her wicked dagger.  The Prince drew his leg back and kicked her again, this time in the chest.  She flew backwards and landed on the floor.

He flipped his sword in the air, grabbed it by the blade and threw it straight into her stomach.  Ariya lay still, her eyes blank and open to the ceiling.

The Prince withdrew his sword, kicked hers away.  He pulled her dagger and stuck it in his boot.  He hefted her body, picked up the rope and dropped both into the collapsed room.  Once on the floor with them, he dropped her corpse down the shaft, made a loop in the rope and lowered it down to his comrades.

In The Darkness

Qova came back to this world slowly.  Her entire body felt as if she had fallen a great distance; the slightest movement made for tearing pain.

I honestly think I'm missing some skin, she thought, and opened her eyes.

Gods, I'm blind, she moved her eyes around and saw no light.  I am blind.  She finally realized that her hands were tied behind her back and her feet were bound.  She shuffled, and heard the sound of dirt on stone.  This place stank.

"Who is that?" a familiar voice reached out from the darkness.  It was the Prince somewhere behind her.

"Me," she replied.  "I can't see."

"We're in the dark, I'm afraid.  The eternal dark of underground."

"Thank the gods," she rolled over, wincing at the pain from doing so.  "Where is everyone else?"

"I don't know.  I haven't been conscious much longer than you have."

Qova heard some shuffling.

"I'm sitting up, in a way.  I'm bound hand and foot," the Prince said.

"So am I."

"Arbiddance?"

"I don't know," she said.  "Hern?"

"Dead."

Qova closed her eyes.

Within a few minutes, the two had edged close to each other and picked at their bonds.

"Someone knows their knots very well," the Prince gritted through his teeth. "It's impossible."

They rested and pondered a new plan.  After a few minutes, they heard heavy breathing from somewhere in the darkness.

"Arbiddance?"  Qova shouted.

"Yeah!"

"Over here... the Prince and I.  We're over here."

"Who else?"

"Not Hern."

"I know.  I saw."

After a few seconds,  Arbiddance spoke again. "I'm tied up."

"We are too.  The knots are pretty tight.  I think I've lost circulation in both legs," the Prince replied.

"What now?"

"I'm open to suggestions."

"I can't see a fucking thing," Arbiddance muttered. "Any guesses where we are?  No, here's a better question: who put us in here?"

"I can guess," Qova moaned.

"Yeah."

A few more minutes.

"I think I've had some luck," the Prince volunteered.

"How's that?" Arbiddance asked.

"I'm feeling a piece of metal coming out of the floor.  It has a rough edge.  I'm going to attempt to saw my bonds... hopefully without any severe damage to myself." Qova and Arbiddance could hear him shuffling around and then a low rubbing sound.

After several more minutes, Qova heard something snap, and then she swore she heard the man grin.

"I'm free.  Just a moment."

Within a minute, she felt his lanky form drag over her's and serious tugs began to pull at her bonds.

"Ow!"

"Sorry."

She was free.

"Can you come toward me Arbiddance?"

"I'll certainly try."  Within a few minutes, the wizard was free as well.

The three spent time getting circulation back into their limbs as they sat up.  Finally Arbidance spoke.

"I've been stripped.  I have my robe and boots on, and that's it.  No light amulet... nothing."

Qova added. "I'm down to my undergarments."

"Light!" the Prince shouted. "I need light!"

"I'll kill you."

"Would you two shut up?  Especially you, you stick insect," Arbiddance hissed.  He stood up and began to slowly feel his way forward in the darkness.  Within a few steps, he found a wall, which he followed until he found a door.  He put his back to it.

"Did I ever mention that I hate the dark?" he said.  He took off one boot, chanted a small incantation, and the boot began to glow.  They all covered their eyes, blinked and then looked around.

They were in a medium sized room.  The place stank.  Rivets were in the floor here and there, and the Prince was glad for that.  All three were stripped down to their every day clothes except for Qova.  Arbiddance noted that apparently she preferred a lot of freedom of movement under her formal vestments.  Seeing that she was the center of attention, she made modest movements to cover herself.

Arbiddance turned to the door.  He listened intently for any sound coming from the other side.  Satisfied, he began to examine it. There appeared to be no lock or handle on the inside.  Still, he felt the entire frame of the door, shook it, muttered another incantation and made a sharp rap on the door.  Nothing happened.

"It would be nice to have a thief right now," the Prince whispered.

Arbiddance turned and gave the fighter a sour look. "It's held."

"Swelled?"

"No, I mean held... magically held.  That disturbs me." Arbiddance stepped back and began to chant.  Within a few seconds, the frame of the door began to glow, then the glow released in a light pop, and the door came open.

"It really disturbs me," he said again and looked through.

His first sight was his friend, still on the cold stone floor.  There were corpses everywhere, none reposed, but Hern's appearance was the most savage of all.  He was nearly cut through at a diagonal angle, and his facial was a total blank.  They stepped all through into the Hall of Xis.

Qova choked at the sight of the fighter.  The Prince turned away and strode toward the gates.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Sword That Wasn't There

Qova was chanting at the top of her lungs while the Snake also intoned his dark curses.  He suspected they were cancelling each other out, since neither seemed to be doing any good against the horde of undead in the hallway.

By the time he stopped, the rank stench hit him, and he flinched and doubled over slightly... trying to fight off the nausea.

Qova hurled.  She had never smelled anything like that in her life, and prayed never to do so again.

Arbiddance struggled to keep his calm as bolts of white energy streaked from his finger tips and slammed into the advancing corpses.  He considered drawing his wand of frost, but knew too many allies were in the area of effect.

Zombies had overtaken Hern.  He barely kept them at bay with savage swings of his blade.  The Grinning Prince deftly wove an intricate pattern of swords as he rended creature after creature.

Qova rose to her feet, slinging spittle from her mouth as she blankly looked up in time to see a shadowy shape with a hideous smile and exaggerated talons flying toward her... followed by another.  The second one fell to the floor as it was swatted by the Snake's staff.  She screamed as the first one took her back down to the floor and tried to tear her throat out.

Arbiddance launched his second volley of magical missles into Qova's attacker.  Bits of the creature flew away, but it continued its attack with manic energy.

Hern slew the last of his opponents and regrouped.  He turned to the Prince just in time to be slammed against the wall by an obscenity once a living person.  It swiftly worked its mouth open and close in its efforts to reach his throat, and Hern began to retch at the creature's rank smell. The Prince killed its twin and ran to help his fellow brother in arms.

Up the hallway, the armored figure laughed at the spectacle of our heroes struggling to defend themselves.  His laughter was cut short by a sharp blow to his back, and he found Ariya Thule clinging to his back and leaning back for another blow.  He reached over his shoulder to pull her off and slammed her to the floor.  Ariya was stunned.

The armored figure drew from his belt a sword hilt, and... as he pulled it back for a stroke, Ariya could see the subtle shimmer in the air where the sword's blade should be.  The figure slammed down as if to cut her in half, but she barely rolled out of the way and on her feet.

The Snake had beaten his opponent into some semblance of stillness and turned to strike the wraith attacking Qova.  Arbiddance hustled to her side and plunged his dagger into the creature's back.

It shrieked an inhuman noise and rose from its prey to face its new attacker.  The Snake slammed his staff into its back, and the undead fled from the melee.

Hern and the Prince finished their mutual opponent and turned to the armored figure.  Pushing past Ariya, they joined battle from opposing angles.  the figure took their blows and brought its unearthly sword down on Hern.

The fighter screamed.  Not only was his sword shoulder badly cut, he also felt as if a piece of himself was ripped away into the darkness.  He had an insane vision of seeing what he would normally see coupled with an exterior view which rapidly faded to black.  He brought his shield up for protection.

The Prince deftly cut two more blows into the figure though it paid him scant attention as it drew back for another attack on Hern.  The Prince desperately tried to parry the blow, but his blade cut through the "blade" of his opponent as if it wasn't even there.  Hern screamed as the figures sword cut through his shield, his arm, and into his chest... and then he collapsed.

The Prince twisted in his stance and brought both blades into the side of the figure.  It grimaced from the strikes and stepped back to take stock.  All of its undead minions were either destroyed or fled from the scene.  One intruder was dead, and two were on the floor, but it was still greatly outnumbered.

So it spoke.  A foul word... spawned from the deepest and most evil reaches of hell itself.  A word with but one purpose: to defile and destroy.  The Prince collapsed... blood flowing from his eyes and ears.  Ariya passed out.  Arbiddance was flattened and knocked out.  Qova closed her wet eyes and drifted away.

The Snake of Oiendun still stood... blood streaming from his eyes and ears.  He pulled a small globe from his robes... no bigger than a large marble.

"Fuck you," he growled at the armored figure, threw the globe at him, and laughed as the figure was enveloped in black flame.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Into The Hall of Xis

Arbiddance brought the second seating down into the room where the first group waited.  A side of the shaft opened into the corner of a room and then continued down into the dark.  This room was barely large enough to be comfortable for the six.

The Prince was merrily trying out his new light amulet Arbiddance had made for him several days ago.  Ariya stood stock still in the shadows awaiting their next move. The Snake loomed in the shadows like death itself.

"Okay then," Hern gestured toward a single shrunken wood door in the room. "Let's get moving."

Ariya pushed ahead of him and stopped at the door.  She gazed across its frame and down to the floor in front of it.  Stooping, she lightly dusted the floor with her fingertips and tried the door handle from a crouching position.  Turning to look behind her, she smiled to herself as she noted no one was standing directly behind her.

She turned it.  It clicked and opened.  Shifting to the side, she eased the door open.

Beyond it stretched a passageway, perhaps thirty feet long.  Ariya checked the floor on the other side, and pronounced it clear.  Hern drew his sword, straightened his helm, and bulled forward.

Ariya followed, then Qova, then Arbiddance.  The Prince smiled at the Snake and waved him forward with his sword.  The priest silently followed the party and the Prince brought up the rear.

The passage stopped suddenly.  On the right was two gates of what appeared to be silver... chained and padlocked with a bar blocking both portals... and with a large hallway extending beyond into darkness.

Everyone shined their light sources down the hallway.  Doorways decorated its sides, and very large flagstones made up the floor.  Arbiddance peered closely at the fine sigils carved on the middle bar across the gates.

"Here lies the Hall of Xis," he read aloud.

"Who?" Qova popped up.

"Xis," the Snake replied. "An Anayari boogey man.  A fireside tale of a death demon who slaughtered the lone traveler and took his soul below.  A tale to frighten children."

Qova looked at the priest as if she wanted to say something cutting and thought better of it.  Hern looked at the thief. "You think it's trapped?" he asked as she casually examined the gates.

"I doubt," she muttered. "Unless there is magic, I see nothing."

Hern snapped the chain with one blow to the lock.  They pulled the chains free, lifted the bar, and opened the gates inward.

The gates didn't give easily. It took all hands to push both open, but after a minute, they were in the hallway.

Flagstones begin to rise up and down the area.  From underneath them armored skeletons climbed up out of hiding spaces and whispered for blood.  Hern readied himself for attack, and Qova pulled free her holy symbol.

But the Snake beat her to the draw.  He produced his own holy symbol and held it high as it began to glow with a jade light, and his voiced boomed down the hallway.

"By Oiendun's Eyes I command thee!
By His fevered scales I command thee!
By the fangs of pain I command thee!"

Qova gripped the sides of her head as her temples throbbed.

"By His grip which brings slow death, I command thee!
From Hell's breath, I command thee!
Ye are creatures of my bidding now!"

The skeletons stood as if enraptured by the evil priest's words.  The Snake swayed his holy symbol side to side, and their skulls followed.

"Now I command thee," the Snake snarled, "to destroy one another!"

The rest of the party watched in amazement as the skeletons began an arena-style combat... wading into each other in a frenzy of destruction.  Within a few minutes, the one skeleton left, missing his sword arm... staggered toward the Snake like a dog seeking its master.  The priest simply lifted his snake-headed staff high and brought it crashing down on the creature's skull with a force that gave Hern pause.

"Impressive, if not a little sick," Arbiddance admitted. "I doubt that's the worst of our troubles here, though."

"Indeed not," whispered the voice of death from the far end of the hall, where a door opened, and a large armored figure stepped out into the light.  To each side, doors flew open, and various forms of undead slowly emerged.  the armored figure laughed, "Welcome to my Hall and prepare to join my ranks."

Countdown

Ariya and the Snake were briefed the next morning about what had been encountered so far under Breakharrow Hill. 

The Snake seemed more amiable when outnumbered.  He asked intelligent questions, seemed to take copious mental notes, and actually commended the Breakharrow Gang on their actions so far.

But there was no way Hern, Arbiddance, Qova and the Grinning Prince could possibly feel comfortable around him.

In the end, the six assessed where they were, and decided either another probe down the hallway to Doomwatch or a trip down the shaft was first priority, though the Snake expressed great interest in the teleportation fountain and voiced a desire to investigate it later... alone if necessary.

Fine by me, Qova thought.

The main proponent for the hallway was Hern.  Arbiddance suspected the fighter didn't like to leave things unfinished, and the encounter with the brass golem had stopped them from exploring further.

The Snake favored the shaft.  It provided better access with a quick means of escape via the wizard's flying carpet.

They tossed a gold coin.  The Snake won.

Working the door mechanism to open the left door, the party gathered their gear and proceeded to the collapsed room and its mysterious shaft.

Hern turned to survey the party as they gathered at the site.  The Snake was the last person he locked eyes with, and the priest's gaze upon him made his blood run cold.  As Arbiddance rolled out his carpet, Hern queried himself as to where he had seen that sort of gaze before, and as he watched the Prince and Ariya join the wizard on the device and descend to the next level, it dawned on him.

It was the sort of gaze someone would spend on the already dead.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Gods Themselves

"I want all of you to understand," Arbiddance spoke softly to his three comrades, "I have no illusions about his intentions.  But there's more to this than you know, and I'm going to ask you both to trust me on this.  In time, I'm betting it will become apparent as to why he should come along."

"What about her?" Qova asked.  She glanced toward the door. "Is she really a werewolf, or is just a cult thing?"

"Oh, she is," Hern answered. "You don't get those tattoos for free.  She was introduced to the werewolf plague probably at a very young age.  It's no big deal to her."

"What you had better watch is her dagger," the Prince offered. "The one on her right hip?  It's a sapirik... a drinker."

"A drinker?" Qova looked at him quizzically.

The Prince smiled. "Let's just say she has a drinking problem.  In any case, if she goes into a battle frenzy, don't turn your back on her.  Ever."

"Back to the issue at hand," Hern leaned back into his chair. "Exactly what function is a Oienduni priest going to serve during our little explorations?  I'm not sure if I want to seek healing from him."

"I'm sure you won't get it," Arbiddance rubbed his beard. "It's this simple: he's along as an observer.  When he's observed what he's here to observe, he'll leave, and that should be the end of it."

"Observe what? I want to know, and know now.  Do you know?"

Arbiddance sighed and looked up.  Should I tell them now and perhaps this whole thing falls apart?

"Okay, look.  First off, the Baron's sanctioned this.  Hell, he's fanatical about it.  If we don't play along, then he'll most likely boot us off the property and this whole thing's for nothing.  That's one.  Two: there are larger factors at play here.  I'm not sure I can explain."

"Try," the Prince replied, and there was no grin on his face.

Arbiddance looked at him, looked down, and slowly added, "right, here it is..."

When the Alpine Throne extended its power into the Raven March, it was met with fierce resistance from what was left of the Anayari Kingdom.  The March itself got its current name from the feasts enjoyed by the ravens after each bloody battle that took place.  Slowly the forces from the North marched through each village and town until they were exhausted, and the territorial lines were formed were they are today.


Behind the forces of the King came the priests of Oiendun... a small cult, little known except in the cesspits of the largest cities.  The priests were searching for something... everyone could see that, but no one knew exactly what. They went from town to town, village to village, with special dispensation from the King himself to kill who they chose and take what they wanted.


The soldiers of Anayar made one last rally and met with the King's army south of Talus. The priests and wizards of Anayar used some sort of ancient magic... and the records are fuzzy as to exactly what... and set the Northerners to flight, but the Oiendun priests intervened and used counter-magic of their own... and that turned the tide.  After that battle, the war was basically over.


Now, surviving priests and wizards on both sides pretty much agree on one thing: the magic used in both camps were tied to one another.  Each side possessed pieces of twin relics, and there are several sets of these relics.  They're carefully locked up and protected, except for a couple of sets. The consensus is that these relics are alive but occasionally take the form of gauntlets.  Seperated from its mate, one gauntlet is weak; combined, the wearer has terrible powers.


The Oienduni priests have ancient claim to these gauntlets.  As horrible as it sounds, the gods themselves have granted this... however, the Baron has one gauntlet from the sixth and final set... the most powerful set, and he says its mate is somewhere in here in this section of Doomwatch.

"The Snake of Oiendun is one of the most powerful enforcers of his cult.  He says he's merely here to see if the mate is here and if it's safe.  I don't believe that, and neither does the Baron, I think," Arbiddance muttered. "But if it's here, we need to know.  If it's here, then we need the Snake to lead us to it, and then we'll kill him."

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm Afraid So, Arbiddance.

It took a threat to summon the ef'fretah and have the Baron's house torn down stone by stone to get Falang alone, but Arbiddance now had his Lordship pinned up in the hallway.

"Do you have any... singular... idea... who or what he is?"  Arbiddance shouted through his teeth.  "He's an abomination to everything that's alive and wants to stay that way.  To even think of giving him any sort of access to the wonders of Doomwatch is insane!"

"I'll have you to remember who you're addressing," Falang suddenly grew cold.

"Fuck your title and fuck your lineage with a twisted halberd!"  Arbiddance hissed as he pointed his finger in the Baron's face. "I'll have you to remember who you are addressing, and before I proceed to have you and your house torn apart, I want to know what you're thinking!"

Falang's eyes narrowed in on the wizard.  He didn't breathe for many seconds, and then twisted his head to one side and thought.  Finally, he took a deep breath and said "I'd rather show you.  Come."

He took the wizard by the arm and drew him to an adjacent chamber.  This space had no windows, and the doorknob responded to a caress by the Baron's hand.  Both stepped inside and Falang lit a candle.

He turned to the seething wizard as if gauging his worthiness, then stepped over to a shelf and took down a large ornate box.  Thumping the lock, he opened it, turned it and revealed the contents to Arbiddance.

Arbiddance shifted his gaze from Falang to the box.  He peered inside.

After a few seconds, he asked "Which one is that?"

"The sixth," Falang replied, not taking his gaze from the wizard's face.

Arbiddance looked some more and then took a deep breath. "It's that close?"

Falang's eyes widened and he nodded. "I think so."
-----------------------------------------------------

Arbiddance slowly walked back into the council chamber and closed the door behind Falang.  He gazed at his companions and nodded his head toward the menacing figure.

"He's coming with us."

The Wolf and The Snake

"That's not the same fellow who met us last time," Arbiddance thought, as the Baron's majordomo led them to a new room and asked them to make themselves comfortable around the oaken table that dominated the room.

"His Lordship will be with you momentarily," the elderly servant quietly said as he pulled the door shut behind him.  Qova scowled, pointed after him and looked at Arbiddance, who shrugged.

Qova, Arbiddance, and Hern seated themselves on one end of the table, while the Prince loitered near an open window and appeared to admire the garden outside.  After about ten minutes, the door opened and Lord Falang squeezed through.  He took one look at the Prince and looked slightly shocked before turning his attention to the others.

"I'm so very glad you returned," he gestured for them to take their seats again.

The adventurers sat back down and Arbiddance spoke up. "I'm assuming you received her message about our need.  We don't make this request lightly, your Lordship.  It's our opinion that things are more dangerous than we perceived within those ruins, and a wise eye would go a long ways in keeping down... er... casualties."

"Very wise," Falang answered. "Very wise, indeed.  When I received your note," he nodded to Qova, "I sent for a specialist whom I've employed before and who was staying close."

"And I simply couldn't resist the summons," a female voice spoke from across the room.  Everyone except Falang jumped when the realized she had been standing near a corner chair in the shadows the entire time.

The thief was a woman, young but not immature, with flaxen blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.  Despite her dress in Onrothic attire, she was evidently even further north in origin than Hern.  Her sharp facial features made her seem cruel, and even though her eyes fixed onto one sight, her entire head slightly bobbed up and down as if she were constantly trying to get a better view.  Hern quickly scanned her and saw one thing he didn't like right off the bat, and Arbiddance did the same.  Qova didn't like her simply on principle.  The Prince merely grinned and bowed.

"This is Ariya Thule, late of Vitteric and other points," Falang offered an introduction.  He quickly named the rest of his guests for Ariya's sake. "She quite possibly the best delver you'll find in this region."

"My price," Ariya evenly spoke in a gutteral accent, "is 20% of all we find.  A reasonable fee given what you have discovered so far, I think.  Don't you?"

"Right, okay.  I have a question," Hern turned to Falang. "What is the date?"

Falang seemed puzzled, smiled, and said "it's the 12th of the Fourth.  Why?"

"The 12th of the... okay, so... we're... what?... eight days away from a Black Sun?  And you thought it would be a good idea to send a werewolf with us?"

A shocked look passed through the faces in the room except for Ariya and Hern.  The fighter pointed to the twin wolf tattoos on her wrists. "Few around here have seen those before.  I have."

She spoke up. " I stay underground and away from the rays, and all will be well.  Otherwise..." she shrugged and gazed off toward a bookshelf.

"I assure you," Falang countered, "this will not be a problem.  Ariya is well in control of her... ah... affliction, and..."

"Blessing," she interrupted. "Benefit.  Talent.  Not affliction.  Gout is an affliction.  The fangs of Haki seized my neck but did not harm me for he saw great worth in me.  So, he made me his child.  You may need me and my affliction."

"I'm not sure this is a good idea," Arbiddance said as he began to rise from the table. "The dangers outweigh the..."

"What outweighs what?" the thief countered. "You are... at least one-quarter Ak'Kori, if not half.  Right?  Ak'Kori are killed on sight this far north from the plains.  What keeps your head on your shoulders around here?"

Arbiddance smiled to himself. "The blessings of Abaoth.  That and people tend not to fuck with a wizard if they can help it.  This helps too."  He raised his right hand and showed the ornate ring on his forefinger.

"A Naejite officer's ring," Ariya said.

"I won it in a card game," Arbiddance said with a straight face.

"Oh, let's let her come along," the Prince interjected. "We'll buy some wolfsbane from the local herbalist and keep an eye on her.  All thieves should be in the front anyway where they can be seen."

"Okay, but we've got a special place for you already prepared come the Black Sun," Qova said. "I'm deadly serious about that."

Ariya shrugged.  Hern and Arbiddance looked at each other warily and both sighed and nodded.

"Then it's agreed!" Falang smiled. "That makes the next part seem almost trivial."

"What next part?" Hern shot the Baron a look.

Falang leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling. "Ahhh.... situational developments compel me to send a... an observer with you.  So... let me fetch him, and you can all get acquainted." He rose, slapped his hands together and left the room smiling.

Qova, Arbiddance, Hern, and the Prince slowly looked at each other.  The Prince suddenly turned to Ariya. "So, what prompted you to leave Vitteric and come to this side of the sea?"  He threw a casual arm onto a bookshelf and leaned toward her grinning. Ariya turned to look him in the eye. "I have a bounty on my head."

"How much?" Qova spoke up.

Ariya turned to her. "Not enough to pay for your resurrection."

Qova pointed at the thief and started to retort when the door opened again.  Falang sauntered in and stepped to the side to allow passage for his "observer."

The man actually entered the room before he entered the room.  An aura of undeniable cold bloodedness preceeded him which made the others suddenly feel right at home with Ariya. He was tall, somewhat muscular in the manner most men his height were.  His craggy face was draped with a long mustache and eyes that seemed to damn everything they gazed upon.

He stepped forward, cast his glance across the adventurers, and spoke in a cold metallic voice. "I am the Snake of Oiendun, and I am here merely to watch and learn."

Arbiddance heard the name, and slowly drooped his head down toward the tabletop.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Proactive Visualizations

For tomorrow's post, here are likenesses of the two NPCs being introduced:

Abby Brammell of "The Unit" as Ariya Thule of Vitteric

Jake "The Snake" Roberts as "The Snake of Oiendun"

Lightning Strikes The Hillside

Author's note: two weeks without a post is inexcusable. I've been busy with real life events, but I'll try to make a habit of posting once a day or so from now on.


Qova checked the skin color of her ward and then looked into his eyes.

"Bringing you back from the brink is getting to be a habit," she scowled. "One day... one day there will be nothing I can do."

Hern shifted in his bed and shot what he thought was a disarming grin. "Well, somebody has to take on the big beasts."

Qova scowled again and rose from the edge of the bed. "You rest for the remainder of the day. Magic only goes so far. There are aspects to the human body that require time to heal. Doomwatch will wait."

"So," Hern rose in his bed a little. "You think it's Doomwatch too?"

"Count on it," the Prince cooed from the open doorway. "Arbiddance and I made a cursory examination of the chamber that housed the golem. Empty, but the golem's nape was marked with this." He sauntered in and produced a rubbing with a unique symbol:






Hern gazed at the symbol. "Means nothing to me."

"I recognize it," Qova spoke up. "That's not a good sign."

Hern gazed at both. "Okay, why not?"

"It means," Arbiddance interjected as he walked in, "the golem was created by one of the most enigmatic individuals to ever roam the March. Semaj Ekad Ralc. The Dread Khan of Ajidika himself." Arbiddance took the rubbing and gazed at it thoughtfully. "Lightning strikes the hillside."

Hern managed a puzzled look. "Isn't he the one who got himself thrown into Doomwatch on purpose and then wound up running the place for two decades or so? People had to pay him a toll to get out and so on."

"The same," Arbiddance answered. "And if he was creating and stationing golems here, then we're somehow closer to the Mother Gate than we thought... and I don't see how... or his underground empire extended further than anyone knew."

"I'd rather not run into another of those golems for awhile yet," the Prince said. "Given what you know, what else do you think we can expect?"

The wizard shrugged. "Semaj Ralc was a mystery even to those who dealt with him on a regular basis. His agenda was his own; the best guess I've ever heard was that he intended to transform the nature of Doomwatch from prison to a proving ground for the strongest and best. The Taloned Dukes have always used it for a oubliette of sorts. Perhaps the Khan saw potential in the place and wanted to raise a personal force of the best of the best. I favor that theory myself, though it doesn't fully explain why he ultimately left the place on his own." Arbiddance sat down at the table and rubbed his chin. "I'd say the golem was designed less as a guardian and more for weeding out the weaker explorers who might get in. If that's the case, expect tests, I'd say."

"I'm going to make a suggestion here," Qova broke in. "We're fine for swords and magic. It's stealth we lack; we need a professional who understands underground labyrinths, traps and other fun things you find in places like that. It's time we brought in a thief."

The Prince laughed as he spoke. "You bring on in, and you guarantee every cutpurse and mongrel in the region will be trying to get in there. I'm under the impression this entrance needs to be kept secret."

"Well," she replied, "I've been looking into that, and sent word to Falang. He might be able to recommend someone already in his employ... for a bigger cut of the treasure, of course."

"Of course," Hern snorted. "I'll admit, if someone hadn't stepped on that trigger, I'd be in a lot better shape right now. It's not a bad idea."

Arbiddance looked at the Prince, who merely shrugged. "Okay then... provided his Lordship has the kind of thief who, once bought, stays bought."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Doomwatch Brass Golem

Armor Class: 3 or 0 [16 or 19]
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: 4 hand attacks of 1d6+2 or 4 weapon attacks
Saving Throw: 6
Special: Facial mimicry, Electrocution, Weapon Rebound
Move: 9
Challenge Level/XP: 12/2,000

(S&W stats; OSRIC stats may be found in Monsters of Myth from which the text is taken and modified)

A brass golem appears as a metal humanoid figure with an amorphous face and four arms. It typically wears the livery of its master, though it may be dressed in other
fashions.

Once in combat, the golem’s face takes on the smiling appearance of its opponent thus causing the opponent to make a save vs spells or suffer a –2 to hit due to being unnerved at the sight for 1d2 rounds. The golem attacks with all four arms upon an opponent, and may wield weapons (25% chance for each golem encountered) or
attack barehanded. It may focus all four attacks on one opponent or divide them among multiple targets.

If the golem successfully hits one opponent with all four free hand attacks, it may deliver an electrical charge to its victim inflicting 3d6 HP of damage (save vs rods for half). It may do this every combat round.

Once every 10 rounds, the golem may harden its metal and increase its AC to 0. Melee attacks upon the golem that miss by a roll of 2 while it is in its hardened state automatically rebound upon the attacker; the victim must roll to attack himself at -2 and miss in order to avoid taking damage from his own weapon. Failed missile attacks upon the golem while it is in this state rebound in a random direction. The hardened state of the golem lasts for 3 rounds.

Brass golems are usually assigned a particular territory to patrol. Any treasure found will be that of prior victims, and will be found scattered in that area.
Though rare, brass golems may be found in various dungeons built by mages. Unfortunately, the creation process has been lost to time. A functioning brass golem brought back to civilization may fetch a price as much as 30,000 gp; a disabled one is worth no less than 15,000 gp.

TREASURE: 25% - 1d4x1000 copper coins, 20% -
1d3x1000 silver coins, 90% - 10d8 gem stones, 80% -
5d6 jewelry items and 70 % - 1 magic weapon, 1 magic
armor and 1 miscellaneous magic item.

The Way To Doomwatch

The entire group entered the hallway and moved up with Hern and the Prince in the lead and Arbiddance and Qova in the rear. Once they reached the side passage, they stopped and focused their amulet lights down it.

"You must tell me where I can get one of those," the Prince muttered. "I don't like dancing by someone else's light."

"I'll make you one later," Arbiddance replied.

The passage seemed to end at a large iron door much like the others. Hern spoke. "Let's go a little further up and see what's there, and then return to this one." All agreed and moved forward.

Just past the right passageway, Qova stepped forward and felt something give under her foot. A light click accompanied it. Everyone froze, looked at each other, and then looked around at the walls and then the ceiling. They collectively exhaled, and the Prince grinned even wider.

Qova jumped when the iron door flew open with a tremendous crash. Hern stepped back and peered down the passage.

Through the door charged a large humanoid figure... roughly 7 feet tall and the color of brass. It had four arms, and each hand held a large sword.

"Heads up!" Hern shouted and took a defensive posture to receive and attack. He sensed the Prince drawing both of his short swords and moving behind him to take a slightly recessed position on his right. Arbiddance stumbled back a little toward the way they came. "Keep an eye out the way forward," Hern told Qova. "This may be an ambush!"

The brass creature stepped forward with alarming speed, its face a blank stare that morphed into a mimicry of Hern's face as it brought all four swords down on the fighter.

Hern was stunned to see his own face looking back at him even as he dodged two blows, parried a third, and felt the fourth bite into his knee. He stumbled a bit and switched legs to return a sword blow from his weaker side. The Prince lunged forward in a stabbing motion with both blades only to find them bouncing off the creature's abdomen.

Hern's blow seemed to gouge a gash into the chest of his opponent. He brought his sword down in an arc and then reversed its momentum to strike at the creature's crotch. Always been a weak spot in the past, he thought.

The creature retracted its swords, brought the left two toward the Prince, and used the right ones to scissor Hern's head. There was nothing the fighter could do except take the punishment.

The Prince parried one blow while sweeping his other sword against the creature's knee in hopes of tripping it. It didn't, but he sliced a severe gash into its leg.

Golem, Arbiddance observed from his position. It's a golem. Look how it mechanically it moves. But what to do... what to do...

Qova braved a look at the battle to see Hern flopping senselessly to his knees and bound for the floor. She grabbed him by his belt and pulled him back with all her strength. The golem took the opportunity to land two more blows on the fighter before he was dragged to safety.

The Prince primed his swords to deliver another flurry of blows before he felt himself also dragged back, by Arbiddance who shoved a wand past him and uttered a single word.

A blast of shocking cold shot forward and knocked the golem on its back... it's exterior coated with a thick ice. It floundered on the floor as the Prince lunged forward, pinned one of its swords to the wall with one of his own, and used his other sword to severe the golem's hand. He grunted when yet another sword stabbed deep into his back.

Qova stepped over Hern and into the fray with her mace drawn high... bringing it down on the creature's face (slowly forming to look like her own). She smashed it in with one savage blow.

And suddenly all was still.

Beyond The Middle Door

"A wonderful trick," the Prince observed as smoke flowed from under the iron door and back into Arbiddance's bottle. "What's its name?"

"As if," the wizard smirked, replaced the cap, and shoved the bottle into his side pouch. All eyes turned to the open middle door.

Hern led the way by shoving the door wider. Beyond, they saw a hallway that extended perhaps 60 feet and then ended. The walls, ceiling, and floor of the hallway were intricately carved on a level that spoke of obsession. No other doors were apparent. The four stepped in.

"I'm so glad you invited me on a little expedition into the unknown," the Prince murmured. "I'll try not to disappoint."

"I'd be more impressed if you kept the chitchat to a minimum," Qova glanced at the Prince. "I mean... you usually have something intelligent to say, but your idle talk makes me nervous." Even as she said it, it occurred to her that perhaps he was nervous as well, and that's why he babbled. Useful information, that, she thought to herself.

They stepped into the hallway and looked around. Arbiddance and Hern looked closely at the carvings on all surfaces and then looked at each other with a grim smile.

It was as if 100,000 drunken worms had decided to mess up someone's cement job. Almost impossible to trace one particular carved line very far before losing it, the depth of detail staggered the eye and made focusing impossible.

"Is someone hiding something?" Arbiddance asked aloud. "We should search carefully for secret doors here."

The four spent the next hour scouring in detail every square foot. In the end, after exhausting themselves, two were found at the end of the hallway.

"One leads on, and one leads to the left," Hern observed. "Now which way do we go?"

"I have an idea the one on the left ultimately leads behind our lair," said Arbiddance. "Let's try the one ahead."

The search had revealed a small swirl pattern that depressed and released the door. A smell of dank air and dust assailed their nostrils. They looked through the doorway and saw a smoother-stoned hallway extending on out of their light with a side passage on the right.

"Here we go," Herne smirked at his companions and crossed through the doorway.

Comments

I've turned comments back on. Comments are subject to approval and word verification. I'm sorry, but that's the only way to keep spam out of here. Please feel free to say what you want on any post.

Another entry tonight.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scorecard... Can't Tell The PCs Without A Scorecard...

A private inquiry for some time back about what the PCs of this story look like prompted me to finally make this post. Below are images of actors who more than resemble our heroes...

So if this were a movie or miniseries, who would play who?

Arbiddance (played by Joe Montegna of Criminal Minds)





Qovakrisstia Darkhair (played by a younger and hotter Kirstie Alley... indeed, she was the inspiration for the PC years ago)






















Hern of Kalmyr (played by Josh Holloway of Lost)

























The Grinning Prince (played by... who else?... the great Tim Curry)























The Lord Falang (played by the subtly creepy Kyle MacLachlan)














So now you know who to think about as the story continues...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Definitely a history," The Grinning Prince spoke as he examined the walls. "This is, of course, very valuable. It may tell us more about Doomwatch itself and its origins."

He stepped back and rubbed his eyes. "That's assuming, of course, there's a connection between this place and Doomwatch itself." He looked at his three friends. "I think you're on the right track with that. Look here," he pointed to a lined off section. "This describes the tunneling that took the workers far from the arch... that's the one out front... straight into the heart of 'Daemwech'"

"That's Anayari," Arbiddance added. "Or it sounds like it."

"I think you're going to find that Doomwatch itself predates the Anayari occupation of this area. They may have just added to it here and there," the Prince mused.

The four moved south toward the fountain that had sent the first three on their icy adventure. They stopped at the archway and gazed at it for a few minutes. Before stepping back.

"We'll have to try that again someday," Hern muttered.

"Oh? And what if this time it lands us somewhere we can't get back from so easily," Qova replied. "We lucked out with that trip."

"Yes, I really want to try that Ak'Kori carpet of yours, Arbiddance," the Prince beamed wider than usual. "I've never seen one, let alone flown across the sky like a sultan on his way to the mountain."

They backtracked to the passageway that extended on the left. Looking down, they saw two doors, two passageways, and another arch.

The Prince slapped his own face and gazed at the others in light mockery. "Oh dear, another arch! I wonder if has any significance or if it's just holding up some dirt and stone."

The moved down the passage way and opened the first door. It led into an empty room. The first passageway led to another door and turned left, so they left that one for now. The second passageway was short and ended at a large door.

Arbiddance, looked at his hand-drawn map and mentally measured off the distance they had traveled so far. "If I'm right, and I usually am... that door should exit into the small chamber off from the main entrance chamber... the one with two doors. But there's not a third door there. So... either I'm wrong... which I refuse to acknowledge... or there's deception afoot."

Hern approached the door. It had a large brass handle on the left side and would open to the right when pulled. The fighter glanced at his companions to see if they were ready, and pulled open the door.

A recessed space of perhaps two feet was behind the door. Lined with brick, it held a large dial of three feet in diameter. The dial had three notches marked with a strange rune each, and an extended handle resembling the minute hand of a clock. The handle was raised a few inches from the face of the dial. The handle pointed toward the middle rune.

"Anyone have any clue as to what those symbols mean?" Arbiddance asked. No one spoke up. "Okay, so we move the handle to see what happens?" Again, no one said a word.

"Fine," he stepped up and gently touched the handle. He shifted it to the left and released it. A large groan and a slam echoed through the hallways, and the handle returned to the middle position.

"What in the hells was that?" Qova shouted.

"Something metal dropped," the Prince replied. "I think a door dropped somewhere. Qova and Hern went back the way they came; a few minutes later, they returned out of breath. "There's an iron door blocking the doorway into our lair."

Arbiddance raised his eyebrows and pushed the handled to the left again. Another groan, followed by a clanking met their ears. The two looked again, and the door was raised.

"I'll wager," the wizard said "that moving it to the right will do the same for the door leading here." He moved the handle to the right and was proven right.

After some time and play, he discovered that both doors could be secured at the same time.

"Now, why have both doors drop at once," Hern asked. "To keep something out, or keep something in?"

Qova made a suggestion. "I'll stand out by the arch, you drop both doors, and let's see what happens."

The rest agreed it was probably safe enough for her to go it alone, and she took her place in the entry chamber near the arch and waited for Arbiddance to work the mechanism.

After a few minutes, one door dropped, then the other. Qova looked around for any changes and almost didn't notice that the middle door was now slightly open.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Long Live The Prince

Allow me a page or two, Gareth, to explain the phenomenon known as the Grinning Prince and his relationship to your brother.

The Prince, as he is commonly known (and who knows his real name?), is rumored to be the scion of some self-styled Onrothic King or such. His family was executed in a power struggle with a rival clan and he would have been too had his nanny not smuggled him out of the castle in a hay wagon. The gangly child passed from stead to stead until he fell under the tutelage of Kagor the Blind.

It was in the training halls of Kagor that the Prince became one of the deadliest swordsmen in the entire March... perhaps one of the best throughout the whole Northern Kingdom. He served two years in the court of the Alpine Throne before he decided enough water had passed under the bridge, so to speak. He returned to the Onrothy and singlehandedly slaughtered the entire family of the warlord who destroyed his youth.

I've seen the Prince in action. While most fighting men tend to take blows and allow their armor or shield to protect them, the Prince wears little in the way of protection. He has the remarkable talent of not being where the blow falls... just a few inches to either side or perhaps behind his attacker in the blink of an eye. In fact, the only person I've ever seen draw blood from him was Qova herself, and that from a surprise right hook. More on that one later.

Regarding the Throne, I cannot confirm any speculation that he was, in fact, his Majesty's legendary jester/assassin known as the Mook. If it were proven true, however, I wouldn't be surprised.

It is the personal opinion of many that he is mad. Personally, I think it's an act, and I refuse to fall into his game of homely distraction. On the other hand, I make personal jabs at him now and then, but I would never think of truly upsetting him unless he were unarmed and tied to a column or something equally strong.

I think he intends to pay you a visit in the distant future. He and Hern were rather close... Hern once told me the Prince led your brother out of the Shattermoors when Hern was part of the ill-fated expedition to the infamous Red Mausoleum. Without aid from the Prince, Hern felt sure he would have died under the minions of the mad druid who lived in those parts.

The two met up here and there over the years. Hern returned the favor in a swanky tavern in Eac after the Prince had humiliated some farmworkers; the two battled their way out of the tavern and out of town with the local farms short a few hands the next morning.

I've rambled enough; I just wanted you to have some understanding of the character known as the Grinning Prince and the part he played in the death of your brother.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Grinning Prince Arrives

Construction for the house began quietly enough. Hern had acquired the building supplies from neighboring carpenters who were curious as to why he didn't want them anywhere near the project. After several wagon trips, the area near the hill entrance was filled with beams, planks, shingles, poles, barrels of nails and pegs, and stone.

Arbiddance sat on a nearby rock cradling the bottle as if it were a fragile infant. Qova stood further up the hill looking up and down the road.

Shit, she thought as she spotted the familiar figure trotting their way on horseback.

"Guess who's coming," she muttered to Hern as he finished unloading the last wagon. "Your friend, Smiley."

Hern turned to the sound of the hoofbeats. The rider crossed the ditch and entered their camp.

"I wonder," the ridculous looking man cried out. "Could you spare a cup of water? For the horse you see. He's not particular in what sort of vessel it comes in."

The rider was a tall, thin man with no apparent muscle whatsover. His head was too small for his body, and his grin was too big for his head. And he always grinned... even in his sleep, Hern once noted. His hands looked like butter paddles at the end of small handles... he stuck one out toward Hern, who shook it.

"I suppose we could water your nag with one of our finest crystal chalices," Hern quipped. "You, however, will have to make do with a trough."

"Oh, that's fine. I'm not too proud," the man laughed and turned to Qova. She always got the impression he was sizing her up for potential dinner based upon the glistening in his eyes. "And my dear Qova... how are you?"

"Well, I was fine until you lowered the tone of this little get-together," she shot back smiling. "You just can't resist fucking up someone's fine day, can you?"

"My dear," the man grabbed at his heart as if shot with an arrow. "Barbs from you are more precious than the sweetest whispers from an entire harem. Speaking of... how would you like to join mine? You'd want for nothing, I promise you."

"I'd rather kiss a naga, but thank you all the same," she beamed. Though it didn't seem possible, the man's smile grew even wider.

Arbiddance seemed to be napping against the rock, or at least faking one. The man cried out "Arbiddance! Still the life of the party I see...!" Arbiddance replied only with a middle finger.

"Yes, that's right. Do it again," the man mumbled through his smile.

"Prince, I hate to break this up," Hern interjected, "but we're about to build a house right where you're standing."

"A house? My word!" he looked quickly around. " I shall, of course, retire to a safe distance lest I be accidentally struck by a hammer or something like that."

He led his horse back across the ditch, unstrapped his mandolin, and began to pluck wildly at it as he bent his knees in time:

O Qova the darkmane
Can drive a man insane
With her gaze and her womanly wiles...

And nary a warrior
Can stand up before her
Or say no to her ruby-red smiles...

Qova looked at him as if his head were two dogs stuck together, turned and slightly smiled to herself as she brought her attention to Arbiddance.

Hern walked off to the side to stifle a grin.

Arbiddance stood up, walked toward the construction site, and began to remove the stopper from the bottle.

O Arbiddance the tragic
Will now use his magic
To build a quaint domicile...


"You're going to want to shut up!" Arbiddance shouted. "This isn't lemonade in here! It's something I can slay you with, so let's pipe down, okay?"

The Prince returned the instrument to the horse's saddle and waited patiently. What he saw next took him an entire week to make into song.