"I'm sorry, Trevor."
It took me a moment to comprehend her first words, as she stood there with her fair hair shining against the dark wood of the mansion hall behind her. She went on about how she needed to leave this house with it's insalubrious effects on her, how she could not return to the temple for certain reasons, how she still had much to atone for from her monastery...but I was still transfixed by those first words. My wall of inner darkness cracked just a bit and a ray of hope peeked through.
I wasn't sure what she was on about concerning her temple, although I avoid temples as a rule, but her desire to depart the mansion found resonance. The place was becoming increasingly disturbing. First there was the secret chamber off the main bedroom with the Black Mirror, then the whispering, and now clear signs of witchcraft. On top of that came yesterday's discoveries in the secret chamber of sorcery in the attic and torture dungeon below. And there was no telling what might lurk in the still unexplored crypt down below. In addition, the posting of guards from the town watch outside the house foreshadowed a more tangible threat. Yes, much as I had otherwise grown fond of the old thing it was looking less and less like a ticket to my desired station in life.
A bit later the company all assembled at the dining table and Kevin presented some alleged gruel which was obviously warmed-up library paste with sawdust mixed in. I suspected he was trying to kill us. Predictably enough, Brute and Kull ladled every last bit of it down and declared it quite satisfactory. Given what they likely were fed as young cubs I excused their utter lack of discrimination. For my part, I finished off the last of a bottle of chateau something-or-other instead. Katherine laid out her misgivings about the manse and her desire to leave, probably to head north against the goblins. Boomtock agreed with her, adding the patently ridiculous claim that it was most likely the influence of the house which had made him so naughty recently. The discussion then ranged over the mirrors upstairs, the goblins up north, the cellar crypts, young Broderick Natal's inheritance, the watchies standing guard out front, and the disposition of the as yet unidentified woman rescued from the dungeon.
During the discussions, which became rather tedious after the wine ran out, Kevin again intrigued us by attempting to pantomime something important. This at least was somewhat diverting but not initially particularly enlightening. Eventually we were able to gather that his former master Remi Natal had fled the house in fear of his life. The by-now-rather-moldy-in-the-ground councilman had attempted to reach a summer house somewhere to hide out.
This was important news indeed.
With the integrity of the city house compromised by witchcraft the prospect of the summer house sounded rather delightful. I imagined relaxing on a wide veranda, glass in hand, as one of the new serving girls brought me a refreshing refill. Another comes up, delightful in her frilly maid's outfit and offers a plate of baked goods fresh from the oven. I was just reaching for one of her delicious warm buns when Katherine said sternly "I'm not sure that's such a good idea". I was jolted back to the dining table. Brute was standing up with that look of thoughtful determination he gets when he's about to give someone a piece of his mind--or give someone else's mind a piece of his axe. Katherine was just saying to him "I'm not sure that's such a good idea". Brute was arguing, as usual, that the best course was a direct one and was ready to simply ask the guards out front what was up.
Suddenly I felt a most peculiar sensation. It was emanating from the pouch I'd taken from the secret attic chamber of witchcraft. I pulled out the four rings set with gems which corresponded to the colors of the frames of the magickal landscape mirrors in the chamber. The red one was actually vibrating in my hand like a stunned bee. Brute noticed and we decided to go upstairs and see what me might learn. Entering the chamber of witchery cautiously we looked into the mirror. The scene in the mirror was dark, apparently nighttime, and a woman was just walking away into the desert. On an impulse I slipped the ring onto my finger.
The desert breeze wrapped me in stifling heat. I could hear the faint hissing of sand blown across the surface of the dunes. The woman was out of sight but the trail of her footprints in the sand were clear. I looked behind me and through a shimmering oval saw Brute standing in the chamber--next to me. Ah, so it was not I who was standing in the desert but a simulacrum. Perhaps it was a marvelously intricate form of illusionology. The me next to brute appeared to be daydreaming, probably because my intellect was here on this side. So was the woman here in the desert also a simulacrum of someone in Adan, the witch perhaps, or a desert native? I considered following the trail, but Brute motioned me back insistently. Returning to the chamber I removed the ring from my finger, but Brute was not satisfied with that measure and removed me bodily from the room just to be sure.
Meanwhile, Katherine and Kull had gone around to the watchies out front so ask why the mansion was under guard. The two underpaid officers of the law informed them that now that the entire ruling council was dead by assassination the authorities were were worried about the general situation. In addition citizens had reported vagrants and shifty types in the vicinity of the mansion recently. "Shifty types" indeed! Clearly they had not yet seen me in my new attire.
Downstairs Kull placed a sofa in our cart, then wrapped the rescued woman in a a blanket and placed her gently on the sofa. Kull, Uhmri, and my K. were to take here to the temple and make arrangements for her care. The semi-incompetent Kevin offered to care for here but the suggestion was an obvious non-starter. Brute and I would head for the courts make inquiries. But just as we were wondering what Boomtock was up to the gnome appeared from the cellar with an alarmingly sheepish look on his face. He admitted that he had accidentally broken "a few" bottles while messing about down there. I felt like Kull had just kicked me in the midriff. My precious vintages! The only thing making life truly bearable under the current circumstances was the mansion's real treasure: the hoard of bottled sublimity in the cool racks in the wine cellar.
I dashed down the worn stone steps, heedless of my safety, followed by Brute and Uhmri. Alas, it was far worse than the little rapscallion had admitted. Over half of the trove was done for, splashed about on the floor like the noble blood of ancient dragon kings slain by assassins.
|Hardly a bottle left intact (pic from the internet, not mine)|
As he related later, the lupine-clad one did not join us but rather followed a cool breeze coming from another passage and came to the crypts which were also below. He made his way to the barred iron gates flanked by ornamental suits of armor earlier discovered by Brute. They were unlocked and so he ventured in. A passage led to a pentagonal room. Five stone coffins were in the room and each wall had niches piled with the bones of presumably lesser personages. Water leaking from somewhere filled the room to the depth of a few inches, causing Uhmri to question the overall soundness of the structure. Brute then came down, having made some comment about "herding cats", and brought Uhmri back up to join the company. Brute and Kull also forcibly removed the gnome's magic boots and took custody of them in order to prevent further "accidents". Stout fellows! Kevin by this time had mysteriously produced delicious eggs and bacon from somewhere and fed them to the rescued woman. Clearly he'd been holding out on us this entire time. I was almost angry at him but realized that she was certainly more entitled to them than I was at that point. With all that resolved, our two groups parted and headed to the courts and the Temple of Light respectively.
Because the Temple of Light was not open that day, and K preferred to avoid it in any case, they went instead to the Temple of Law and Order--which turned out to be immediately across the street from the Temple of Light. They approached the L&O clerical staff, who consisted of uniformly humorless specimens sporting identical unattractive bowl-cut coiffures. After grilling our companions on the particulars of the case they agreed to arrange care for the victim. One of them also mentioned that the L&Os earlier sent a young paladin named Osric up to the mansion to look into things. As our group departed they noticed just down the street, which apparently contained all of the temples in the city, a group of young ladies garbed in little more than a few ribbons and scarves. They happened to belong to the L&O's complementary religious establishment the Temple of Iniquity, or the "Sinnies" as we usually called them. The young ladies were not actual anointed clerics of the temple but a few of the "lay sisters", if you catch my drift.
Kull, Brute, and yours truly meanwhile traversed the cobbles in search of the city courts. While passing a rather pleasant park, the sort of amenity one expects when in the bosom of civilization, we were accosted by a rather remarkable fellow. He wore loose pantaloons and an unattractive sleeveless tunic. His arms were covered with tacky dragon tattoos and a garish gold medallion hung from a chain around his neck. I naturally assumed he was going to ask me for some gentleman's wardrobing tips, for all the good it would do him. Instead he confronted Uhmri and challenged him to a duel to the death! Given that Uhmri was still parading around in his hand-crafted garment of deceased lupines I then thought that perhaps the fellow was incensed that anyone would dare challenge his hard-won title as Worst Dressed Citizen of Adan. However he continued his belligerent verbal posturings, claiming that Uhmri had defeated earlier challengers from something he called his "Dragon Clan" who were after some secrets of ancient mysteries or something to that effect.
Uhmri accepted the challenge. The two then took up remarkable sophisticated-looking stances, unarmed but for their fists. I was unaware that druidism had such intricate rituals. I had generally understood that their sylvan soirees involved a lot of herb-based alcoholic beverages, mushrooms of questionable type, pounding on large drums, and naked frolicking late at night. Perhaps he was of some more developed branch of the naturist philosophy, such as a Pongolean Arborologist or Adanite Sylvanist.
The two posed and flexed for a few moments, eyes locked in impressive intensity. Then Uhmri shot forward like a bolt from a crossbow and delivered a massive blow, which he later described as a "stunning fist", to his opponent's head. It should have stunned an ox. To my surprise the challenger shook it off and attempted a counter-blow of his own. At this point Brute lost what little patience he had for the impertinent fellow and joined the affray with a mighty swing of his axe. The vicious instrument bit deeply into the man's chest and he staggered back. Then, to our astonishment, the wound began immediately to heal. Well, this was clear evidence that he was unfairly using some magic to win the contest. The quickly-restored challenger leaped into the air and succeeded in a complex double-kick which struck both Brute and Uhmri. Brute was undeterred and reopened the chap's chest with another two-handed swing. This time he was fazed by the injury. He began to stagger off, blood dripping all down his already unfashionable attire, threatening to return later. Brute offered to finish the cheater but Uhmri declined, stating cryptically that "monks do not kill monks". The odd-fellow hefted his axe in contemplation then decided to let him go for Katherine's sake, remembering her earlier distress at his common-sense dispatching of defeated bandits.
With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way we were about to resume our perambulations when another bit of unpleasantness reared its ugly head. A crowd had gathered to enjoy the martial display but were much displeased by Brute's entry into the lists, apparently considering it dishonorable "ganging up". Then they actually began to fling rotten fruit and other unpleasant items. In my many years with the carnival I'd seen this sort of thing before. There was little point in trying to reason with them and point out the challenger's unfair use of a healing magick so I began the incantations for my trusty Color Spray. Brute, however, simply drove them off with a display of odd-fellow menace.
We soon arrived at the main Justice Square, which was mostly deserted. A scruffy commoner sweeping the flagstones informed us that all the judges, lawyers, and other legal types had all gone to the city's Autumn Festival--besides which the courts were always closed on Saturdays anyway. While we pondered this disappointing bit of information the rest of our company arrived. With most things closed on the following Sunsday, Moonsday would be the earliest we could return to the courts. Katherine and Brute were prepared to head north against the goblins, but I expressed my lack of enthusiasm for pointless violence and danger. Brute then wisely reminded me that Veronica was still at large in Adan. I promptly decided that hordes of vicious spear-wielding little fiends were the lesser of the two evils and agreed to accompany them. Brute went off and engaged a set of rooms at an inn for the next couple days. We would need somewhere to stay other than the compromised mansion while we wrapped up our business and finalized plans.
Suddenly the empty square was filled with flowing crowds headed for the Autumn Festival. It was the carnival parade, accompanied by happy citizens on their way to celebrate. We joined them and went to sample what the festival had to offer. Uhmri quickly availed himself of the services of a fortune teller apparently in regards to the ancient secrets alluded to by the cheating duelist with the desperately unfashionable outfit. Later we sought out a self-proclaimed "loremaster" to determine whether the various prize weapons selected from the crusader horde at the Temple of Light had any extraordinary qualities. Luckily for them he was indeed a genuine master of the arcane and revealed all. One after another each instrument of destruction proved to have something unexpected about it. Brute's new bow magically produced its own arrow when drawn properly. Brute's huge new axe had a name, "The Executioner". Uhmri's marketplace bracers turned out to be enchanted to provide more protection than met the eye. Katherine's new mace was blessed by the Light to strike down the undead. The shortsword had previously had only one owner, a cleric, and would glow when undead were near. This was far more than any of us had anticipated. I was mildly disappointed there was nothing there appropriate for a scholar of the arcane such as myself. But the new spell I had been perfecting in my off hours would likely help keep me up to par.
Last but by no means least was the immense greatsword which Kull had taken as his own. The loremaster took some time divining its secrets. He revealed that although not imbued with arcane wierding, it had a name, Right Hand of the King. It was a royal sword of king after king. From the legends I'd grown up with a boy, swords with mighty names often come with mighty trouble attached to them. I hoped the big chap would not end up in a sticky situation.
After the others left to wander about the fair, I slipped back with a few items of my own. The loremaster was just tucking into a depressingly ordinary dinner of fish sandwich at the back of his tent when I entered. I offered him a bottle of decent white wine to go with the fish and several lovely round shiny bits of the noble metal for his services--and a side order of discretion. I handed him the three other pieces of jewelry which I had retrieved--at great personal danger, as you may remember--from the witch's attic ritual chamber. He applied his considerable skills and the results were reasonably satisfactory. The red stone amulet was one which provided protection from fire and heat. The peculiar pair of metal fiddly bits turned out to be a pair of nipple clamps designed to provide female mammary enhancement (what will they think of next). The final item, the ring with a clear gem on it, remained an enigma.
As we were walking about we noticed crowds moving towards a large tent and several people mentioning "The Amazing Rovert". It took me a moment, but then I realized that Rovert was Trevor backwards! Some swine had the unmitigated gall to impersonate me and surely ruin my carefully built legacy on stage! Looking back I was a bit of a prat about it all, but at the time I was not prepared to accept that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. After attempting to plan a suitable response I lost patience and simply went to the main tent and stormed up on stage to confront him.
|So, I meet at last! (pic from the Internet, not mine)|
I was rather non-plussed. After the chaotic scene with "Rovert", I was entirely unprepared to immediately launch into yet another emotional dust-up. I had rather expected the Big V to run off after her crestfallen romeo. But just then my cuff unlocked itself and latched onto Veronica's free wrist. I looked at Boomtock, but he nodded towards Katherine. Katherine? And indeed she was there, and looking rather pleased with herself. So, our young sorceress was becoming as talented as she was lovely. I was rather impressed. Then I noticed Veronica was still going on about how our love was forever no matter what. I felt it was time I set things straight with the Big V and the lovely K. Remembering how I'd botched things at dinner in the tavern I straightened up and declared to Veronica in no uncertain terms that I cared for another. However, I was still reluctant to bring the Wrath of Veronica down on Katherine and so avoided revealing her identity. To my consternation, Katherine suddenly blurted out "Who is this other?". After a further short exchange with Veronica the woman finally took herself off. I looked over to Katherine but she had also moved off somewhere.
The Brute came up. Apparently he thought it was time to set things right all around. With a firm but kind tone he told me that if I indeed cared for Katherine then it was time I told her so. I was just mulling this over when we noticed alarums and excursions in front outside the tent. Something was up--and from the roars it clearly involved Kull. I just hoped one of the female elephants hadn't taken a fancy to him. Katherine heard as well and came to join us. I offered K my arm in gentlemanly fashion to depart the tent. She looked pleased by the gesture, but coyly demurred, saying "Not now". Well, perhaps the air between us was clearing again.
The area in front of the main tent was a scene of absolute disarray. Carts were knocked over, banners down, and strewn about were several unconscious chaps in the same tacky get-up and tattoos as the fellow who had challenged Uhmri that afternoon. Apparently he'd gone for reinforcements. Little did he realize that when facing the mighty Kull summoning reinforcements merely increases the magnitude of one's defeat.