Viviane frowned as she wound her ways through the tunnels. “I don’t like it here, Manny. There’s too much old magic.” She raised her pestle, the flicker of light at the end of it shining brightly, and nodded at the blue arrow etched on the wall. “It--feels wrong.”
Mansemat gritted his teeth as he turned down the hall. “You’re not the only one who feels it. Murgleys is whispering to me about the--stray spells. My family--well, we have tendency to allow our enthusiasm overcome our good sense. Charms have been lain here on top of charms. Some of them interact rather--oddly.”
Rodomonte shook his head, while wiping the sweat off his brow. “I can understand why she marked out her path, but--why blue?”
“Oh, it was the Magnate color during the Rising,” said Mansemat. “True blue, or some such nonsense.” He blinked and then coughed. “Uh, sorry, forgot…”
Rodomonte sighed and shook his head. “Feragau fought for the Ashurana. I did not. And even he did not try to claim that he was fighting on the side of right. Whatever nobility lay in the fight against Lord Shaddad drained away with the Traitor’s Treaty. But a warrior must stand by his obligations. Which is why I had left the service of House Ashurana many years before.” He nodded as he reached the heavy door marked with a blue arrow. “Here we are…” He glanced at the Dark Lords. “If you will allow me?”
“Of course,” said Mansemat.
“Normally, I could do it faster, but down here, I have no idea what would happen if I tried anything,” muttered Viviane, looking at the mildewed walls nervously.
Rodomonte nodded, and then tore the door apart with his bare hands, then rushed through, followed by Viviane and Mansemat. As they entered, they found themselves staring at a grimy Erl kneeling on the floor smiling as the lit fuse before him rushed towards a grate in the middle of the floor. “Too LATE!” he shouted triumphantly.
Mansemat rushed forwards as the spark disappeared into the grate, and then with almost blinding speed, drew his blade--and just as quickly replaced it in its scabbard. The southerner laughed triumphantly. “You see, don’t you, Dark Lord--it’s hopeless! It took me hours, but those barrels of mine are safe below the grate, and in a moment…”
Mansemat stared at him mildly. The southerner looked at him, his growing nervousness obvious. The would-be assassin crawled forward and looked down the grate.
The fuse had been snuffed out.
As the southerner stared at Mansemat in bafflement, several members of the Guard arrived, holding lanterns. Serjeant Greedigutt glanced at the Dark Lord. “I hope we aren’t too late, sir!”
Mansemat raised his hand. “Oh, everything is under control.” He gestured to the southerner. “Please take this sad, sad man away.”
Balthazar Subtle and Palamedes Woodash stepped forward and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Come with me, Mister Marcolf,” said the chirurgeon. “And allow me to state, you’ve caused me quite a bit of grief.”
“It’ll be worth it for the bets we’ve won,” said Palamedes.
Marcolf glared at Mansemat as he was taken off. “Don’t imagine you’ve escaped, Usurper! The Necklace may be delayed, but one day it will tighten around your throat! I am only a single Link of the Chain!” He gave a defiant laugh as the Guard took him down the hallway.
Viviane’s eyes narrowed. “The… Necklace?” She shook her head. “Why does that sound familiar?”
Mansemat frowned. “It was--well, this sorry little resistance group my grand uncle tried to start up when it became obvious my father was going to take the Plains of Dread.” He sighed. “Which has apparently had something of a resurgence. Oh, well. Our friend can doubtless provide us the details.” He turned to the Serjeant. “There are five barrels of hellpowder below the grate.”
The Goblin saluted. “They will be disposed of with every possible precaution, sir.”
Mansemat nodded, and turned towards Rodomonte. “Thank you for your help, sir.”
Rodomonte bowed. “It was my duty. I could do nothing else.”
Viviane looked at Rodomonte hopefully. “So--does this mean the duel is off?”
The Ogre frowned. “I will meet Lord Mansemat at the appointed place. This--is also duty.” He bowed again, and then walked away.
Viviane sighed and snapped her fingers. “Well, can’t blame a girl for hoping…” As the room gradually filled with Guards, she and Mansemat departed.
Afterwards, when they’d reached the upper levels, she turned towards her husband. “Okay--how’d you do it? Is that some sort of ‘Blade of Night’ spell, or a Cthonique thing, or…?”
A smiling Mansemat shook his head. “No magic. Only skill.” He gestured towards a candelabras across the hall. “Watch.” His hand quickly went to the hilt of his sword, and fast as a snake, he drew. The flames on the wicks of the candles sputtered, and then went out. Mansemat grinned as he replaced the blade in its scabbard.
Viviane nodded. “I have to admit, that gives you real brag--” Suddenly, she realized that her dress seemed to be slipping off her. Glancing down, she realized why. “You--you…” she snarled at Mansemat while grabbing her gown by the waist, “YOU CUT MY RIBBON!”
Mansemat blinked. “Ummm--sorry?”
Viviane was engaged in an epic struggle to keep herself decent. “Did you think this was CUTE?”
“Kind of,” said the Dark Lord softly. He darted forward. “Here I’ll help you with that…” He looked Viviane in the eye. “You don’t find it--romantic? At all?”
“Not enough to make me not mad,” said Viviane as Mansemat helped steady her dress. “I really liked that one.”
“I’ll get you another,” said Mansemat. “No--two. No--several.”
Viviane nodded. “You damn well better. Now--are you ready? Forward MARCH!” And with that Mansemat Cthonique and his wife began to walk towards their chambers, holding up her dress the entire time.