Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chronicles of the Amazing Trevor: Chapter Eleven "Chaos on the Road"

I awoke somewhat refreshed but ravenous after several days of irregular mealtimes and far too much traveling about.  My hopes of settling into a proper mansion and leaving the perambulatory life of a carny behind me were fading quite fast now.  At least the weather was decent for the continuation of our trip back to Adan.  I reviewed in my mind the streets we'd passed along in that fair metropolis to see if I could recall any dining establishments.  I was determined to enjoy a bit of steak and kidney pie and a bottle or two of the vintner's best handiwork to wash it down with.

Suddenly a throng appeared on the road in front of us.  It was a mass of clearly low-class types coming towards us covered in road dust with a determined attitude.  At the front was some fellow of middle years in white robes.  He looked a bit priestly, but was not immediately identifiable as belonging to any temple with which I was familiar.  As they drew a bit nearer I surmised that he was one of those "prophet" types who gathers about him a following through sheer charisma and force of will.  We drew up in front of them and the priestly type introduced himself as "Brother Daniel".  He offered no religious affiliation and I took it that I had surmised correctly as to his being a "prophet".

Brother Daniel announced that he and his flock were returning to the recently liberated city of Cliffside.  This was a bit of a surprise, particularly given that we had only just left there and should have been the first bearers of that bit of news.  The people with him were overjoyed that it had been liberated from the goblins and were now eager to return to their homes there.  With a bit of a jolt I realized that this put us in a rather awkward position, in that rather than liberating it we had instead essentially completed its demolition.  Thinking quickly I rose and addressed them.  I had delivered bad news to audiences before and knew it was best to ease into the subject slowly and let them down in as gentle a fashion as possible.  And with this lot we didn't have the option of offering to refund their ticket money.

"My dear people I am quite pleased to see your happy faces today.  My companions and I have indeed just returned from facing the goblin menace at your fair city of Cliffside."  <cheers>  "However, I must warn you that it was quite thoroughly ravaged by the brutes <gasps> and is not the home you once knew." <murmurs of consternation>  "Indeed, it has been tainted by the presence of chaos and can no longer be considered a safe abode for such decent folk as yourselves." <more consternation>  I glanced over at Brute and he looked rather impatient with the mass of bovine peasantry blocking our progress.  To my annoyance Brother Daniel brushed off my warnings rather cavalierly, pronouncing that he and his followers were quite determined to return to Cliffside and restore their homes no matter what; several rustic types behind him called out in affirmation.

I realized that as soon as they actually saw the devastation of the place they would start asking questions about the avalanche  The goblins clearly would not have brought it down on themselves and the obvious alternative perpetrators were standing here in front of them.  "Honestly, I must stress that monstrous avatars of chaos, huge hulking beasts all, still roam the area.  They wield weapons of immense size.  It is far too dangerous to even consider..."  To my surprise suddenly Katherine stepped forward and before I could stop her she explained that the city was quite uninhabitable but that the goblin menace was gone.  Oh, sweet K, why must you always be so painfully honest?  I had just begun to bring some of them around but now they were having none of it.  Angry mutterings ran through the crowd and brows furrowed.  Alas, Brute then finally tossed aside the last scraps of his patience, told the crowd directly that the entire place had been looted and torched by the goblins then buried under a massive avalanche from the cliffs above.  With that bombshell delivered he began pushing his way through the throng to continue the journey to Adan.

I thought it best to push on through as well and be on our way while the refugees were still a bit stunned.  With any luck they'd fall into argumentation until we were out of sight.  Brother Daniel did indeed begin addressing his flock as we passed.  This brought me quite near him and I sought to observe him closely.  The fellow clearly had excellent powers of persuasion and I hoped to profit from observing his technique.

Instead I observed something quite different.  My years of practice and experience as an illusionologist served me well in this instance.  It was quite clear that he was not at at all what he had originally appeared to be.  Brute, too, had noticed that something was amiss.  I had already assumed that "Brother Daniel" was a charlatan gathering a flock that he might shear it at his leisure in Cliffside, but there was strong magic at work here--and some evil beneath.  Unfortunately Brother Daniel became aware of our discovery almost as soon as we did.  His countenance darkened and so did those of his followers. It was suddenly clear that his hold over them involved more than clever words.  We needed to break out of the crowd and flee as soon as possible.  My companions prepared for desperate action, with Boomtock suddenly disappearing somewhere.  I reckoned that if we could quickly incapacitate "Brother Daniel", whoever or whatever he might really be, our chances would be far greater.  Clearly this was a job for that old arcane standby, the lovely Color Spray.

I cast it with a fair bit of panache and it worked beautifully.  A coruscating blast of rainbows laced with small silvery fairies and bright purple butterflies engulfed the charlatan and the crowd nearby.  A few of the dimmer folk collapsed for a sudden nap and Brother Daniel waved his hands about in distress.  "They have blinded me!", he exclaimed.  The crowd was suitably shocked--then angered.  I was about to suggest that we depart with alacrity when Brute stepped forward with his fearsome weapon.  He clove the sightless enemy's head in twain with a devastating blow.

I was mildly surprised to see his victim immediately dissolve, melting down into a pile of empty robes.  Ah, so, now it was clear.  He was not the real "Daniel" at all but an arcane simulacrum.  Well played, sir, I thought.  I mentally tipped my hat to the fellow at carrying off so convincing a deception.  Clearly we were dealing with our first truly worthy opponent.  I quickly informed my companions that the real mastermind must be concealed nearby, likely in disguise somewhere in the crowd.  My lovely K, clever girl, deftly cast a well-executed blast of stunning sound into the surging mob.  And her instincts were well rewarded.  A large part of the herd were felled by the blast, leaving only one likely lad standing.

It was immediately clear that the survivor was our man.  His hands were working magic even as he shook off Katherine's assault.  The rest of the mob, now clearly all under his control, rushed us like a pack of fiends.  I whipped up the horses and drove the cart through the thronging maniacs, K managing gamely as we headed for open ground.  Suddenly a mass of fog appeared, clearly the casting of someone in the vicinity, and our escape was thus enabled.  Looking back I saw the massive Brute come wading out of the mass of humanity.  The hulking odd-fellow looked rather like some oceanic demigod emerging from the foaming surf.  K hurled a blast of arcane power at out mystery opponent but it went wide.  Thus apprised of our new location he directed the crowd to charge us again.

I started to whip up the horses again to avoid the onrushing hordes but they were too close.  K and I were assaulted by several individuals in succession.  One rude fellow actually struck me in my gentleman's bits, though it pains me even now to recall the incident.  I put his unsporting behavior down to the effects of the enchantment and refrained from chastising him too severely.  K broke free of her assailants and assumed a heroic stance in the cart.  She raised her hands in complex motions, her hair streaming gloriously in the morning breeze.  Arcane utterances flowed from her lips and then the spell was released.  A clear chime sounded and the crowd stilled suddenly.  She had countered our enemy's enchantment!

Brute took advantage of the sudden respite to push through the crowd and deliver a massive stroke to Daniel's chest, knocking him to the ground.  Brute seized him by the neck and he began yelling to the crowd for help.  Brute quieted him with a well-aimed punch to the face.  With the enchantment dispelled and Daniel incapacitated the refugee peasants began to recover their wits.  K stood up on the cart and calmed them with words of peace and reconciliation.

With our mysterious opponent in custody and the spell dissipated I paused to take stock of the situation.  All around us were injured persons of every description.  They included many, I admit, run down by my cart.  Uhmri had also dealt out many a savage blow defending himself from the crazed folk.  Some lay on the ground moving only feebly, some crawled or limped, others sat cradling their injuries.  Their condition was indeed pitiable.  My K was immediately in among them with bandages and consoling words of The Light.  I helped as well as I could but my medical skills are rudimentary at best.  I considered entertaining and distracting them with some card tricks and the like but decided that they had probably experienced enough magic for one day.

And then I noticed Bob again.

One of the scruffy rural types clinging to the cart when Katherine so brilliantly dispelled the enchantment of delusions had quickly introduced himself to her as Bob.  He previously showed some interest in Katherine but then wandered off, no doubt to seek his traveling companions.  But now there he was, hovering around my lovely K and looking quite moonstruck.  The cheek of the fellow!  I started over to tell him off, but just then Daniel awoke.

The blighter had bled heavily despite a rough bandaging job by Brute, but still had the strength to threaten us venomously.  "The Circle of Chaos will come for you!" he snarled.  Brute was studiously unimpressed.  "Bring it on", he replied with aplomb.  Very soon afterwards Daniel expired from his wounds.  Assuming he would have items of arcane significance we searched him for anything worthwhile.  He had on him an interesting ring, some vials with potions, and some jars with indeterminate contents.

By now many of the refugees had recovered their composure enough to reassess their goals without the influence of "Brother Daniel".  Most decided to push on to Cliffside and see if they could make a go of it.  Others, particularly the injured and their traveling companions, made camp nearby to rest.  We camped with them so that K could continue aiding them.  The attentions of her new smitten admirer Bob were becoming increasingly uncomfortable.  She attempted to brush him off by suggesting he help by spreading the word of The Light amongst the refugees as she had been doing.  He agreed, but then continued to hang about.  Finally Brute went over and drove him off with a bit of snarling.

The weather the next morning was chilly and brisk.  Most of the remaining refugees moved on, some north towards Cliffside and some south towards parts unknown.  A few considered founding a completely new village somewhere.  After a good night's sleep Katherine remembered hearing of the cult called the Circle of Chaos which Daniel mentioned but she thought it had died out.  Brute brought over the sash which Daniel had been wearing and K thought the design looked like the cult's symbol she remembered.  K then attempted to use her magic to determine the arcane character of Daniel's magic ring but was not fully successful.  It apparently afforded some kind of protection.

The otherwise potentially enjoyable trip back towards Adan was marred by the presence of Katherine's would-be suitor Bob.  After several unpleasant vignettes we literally left him behind in the dust on the road.

When we camped that evening Brute decided that it was time that the romantic gravity which was gradually drawing my lovely K and I closer should come to its natural conclusion--now.  So he arranged for the party to withdraw to somewhere nearby.  I placed my cloak on the ground for K to sit on with me.  Feeling that Brute was right I decided to lay bare my intentions to Katherine that very evening. Although I needed to seize the moment I wanted to avoid being too crude.  I declared there before her that I wanted formally to court her, in as romantic and dramatic a fashion as I could manage there in the wild.  She was somewhat surprised, and showed confusion for a moment before stating that she would have to seek guidance on the matter from her temple.  But then she suggested we go out--the very thing which was next on my mind.  I insisted that this time it be just the two of us.  Brute is a stout fellow but his presence at such an evening would be awkward.

Suddenly K changed the subject to Veronica, perhaps sounding me out further on how her continuing interference might affect the situation.  She was also interested in what had happened with Brute and the Big V in Adan before we left.  Hoping to reassure K that V's attentions would likely be elsewhere from now on I delicately alluded to Brute's contretemps with her just before we left.

Alas that turned out to be quite a misstep.  K immediately called Brute over and insisted on details of the affair.  This was not at all what I had intended and the conversation quickly swerved off course.  How is it that all of my moments with my lovely K always seem to include Brute at some point?  Perhaps one of the gods has placed me under some strange doom.  Brute was his usual stand-up chap and explained it all in a quite straightforward matter, including some surprisingly kind words for V.  Katherine then immediately confronted him with surprising intensity as to his intentions should V subsequently find a bun in her oven.

I immediately had a mental image of V pregnant, an infant on her hip, and surrounded by a dozen other assorted tykes all of whom were the spitting image of their odd-fellow father--including the girls.  The children all squabbling and squalling while V harangues Brute in traditional wifely fashion as he calmly sharpens his axe in front of the hearth.  Several other murderous tools of trade just visible here and there on the walls in between the laundry hanging from the lines in their small rented flat.

Brute assured K that should he unexpectedly become a father he would assume his manly responsibilities in due course.  Still slightly confused as to how he had ended up in the conversation, Brute realizes that the "moment" between K and I is over and recalls the rest of our troupe to the camp.

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