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."


"I don't know," she said.  "Hern?"


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.


"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.


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.



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."


"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."


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."