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."


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

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



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


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."


"...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, 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!