Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 31

“And that is the willow my dear wife planted on our tenth anniversary,” said Pelleas cheerfully. “I like to call it Memoire. That means--Memory…”

“Quite nice,” said Nisrioch.

Pelleas nodded, and glanced around the garden. “My goodness, we have a lot pleasant company here with it, don’t we?”

Morgaine looked at the various Eremites scattered about. Most still held their crossbows, but had long stopped trying to actively aim them at the group. “Yeah. Just great.”

“I… always enjoy to know where all my friends are,” said Pelleas. “It makes things easier…”

Nisrioch laughed. “An admirable sentiment, Your Highness.” He placed an arm over the King’s shoulder. “I must state it has been a pleasure and a joy to meet with you--a pleasure, a joy and a delightful surprise.”

“Likewise, young fellow! Likewise!” chuckled Pelleas. “Oh! And there are my roses! I do so love roses!”

“Run! Run! Run!” came a loud shout.

“You know, I don’t need you telling me to do that,” said Jean Crow as she and Viviane rushed into the garden.

“Keeps you motivated,” said Viviane pausing to pant for a moment. “Keeps the blood flowing!” She glanced up. “Nissy. Morgaine. Good to see you. We…” She blinked. “Who’s the old guy?”

“King Pelleas,” said Nisrioch. “He’s been showing us around.”

Viviane’s eyes went wide as Pelleas stepped forward and shook her hand urgently. “A pleasure my dear. A pleasure.” He shifted around. “Might I inquire as to your name?”

“Viviane du… are those--Eremites?” asked Viviane. “With crossbows?”

“I have many friends here, all of whom are very concerned about my health,” the King noted, making sure to put himself between Viviane and the Eremites.

Jean stepped behind Viviane. “And we’re glad you have them. Very glad. I’m Jean Crow.”

Pelleas nodded. “Ah. Nice to meet you as a human. Glad you got Malina out of all this.”

Jean slapped her forehead. “Right. King… ‘Pelican’. Makes sense now.” She glanced around. “Look we should probably get going. People are following us.”

Pelleas smiled broadly. “Why more company is always…” His smile vanished as the sound of heavy boots on stone rose in the distance. “Oh, bugger….”

Morgaine turned. “What now? Are you finally tired of playing a senile old coot or…?”

They strode into the garden, trampling flowers heedlessly as they entered, a group of cloaked men, their faces obscured by masks. The man at their head wore an iron mask in the shape of a skull. “Men of the Hermitage, you have done your duty. Leave matters to us.”

One Eremite glanced at him worriedly. “The King…”

“We will take care of things,” said the man, his deep voice tolling like a bell. The Eremites shuffled out nervously.

“Who are these weirdoes?” hissed Morgaine.

“The Stylites,” explained Pelleas. “Knights of the Tower. They who study the weapons of Night, so they may be used in the service of Light.”

The head Stylite raised his left hand. The men behind him began to stamp their feet on the ground. He lowered his left hand, and raised his right. They began to chant.

“They’re your sorcerers,” said Nisrioch. “Your wizards.”

Pelleas nodded. “I fear, friends we are all dead.”

“Can’t kill me,” said Morgaine. “I’m already dead.”

“Won’t stop them from trying,” said Pelleas.

“Oh, no,” declared Nisrioch, raising his hands. “That’s our job.” Bright sparks started to fly from his palms.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 30

Amfortas stared at the Dark Lord for a moment. “I notice you don’t have your magical sword. Or any weapon for that matter.” He raised his knife.

Mansemat straightened himself, then leaned back into a crouch, his arms raised. “Seventeen-Style School, Style 9--Warrior Becomes Weapon.”

Amfortas actually blinked at that. “Indeed,” he stated levelly before stabbing at Mansemat. The Dark Lord merely dodged then kicked Amfortas in the stomach. Amfortas fell back, but then righted himself, and managed another stab. He took an elbow to the face, followed by Mansemat throwing him off balance, and then kicking him in the rear.

As the Prince landed on the ground, Mansemat stepped forward and planted a foot on Amfortas’ chest. “As amusing as it is to see you keep at it and give me more chances to cause you physical injury,” said Mansemat, “I think I should finish this up now.” He raised his hand--Murgleys suddenly sailed through the air and came to rest in.

“I see,” said Amfortas, regarding Mansemat calmly. “So you’re going to kill me now…” He sighed. “Oh, well. That’s how it goes.”

Mansemat sheathed Murgleys. “Actually, Amfortas, I’m not going to kill you. This time.”

Amfortas stared at him for a moment, then chuckled. “Why, how admirably merciful of you. I’ve no doubt you expect that…”

“Oh, it’s not merciful at all,” replied Mansemat. “I’m doing this because if I kill you now, you won’t have suffered enough.” He took a deep breath. “You will die when I want you to die, Amfortas, and not a moment earlier. And so until that time comes--when that glorious day arrives when I decide that the world is now ready to enjoy the benefits of existing without you--you will live with the knowledge that I am going to kill you. That you will die like a beast, scared, alone and hunted. Have I made myself clear, Amfortas?”

He began to turn around, then stopped. “Oh, and one more thing…” Amfortas flinched slightly as Mansemat’s hand darted down, and yanked away the Sword of Light’s sheath. “I believe this is my stepdaughter’s.” He walked back to Elaine and handed her the scabbard. “There you go.”

Elaine grabbed it awkwardly, and after a few attempts, replaced the Sword of Light. “Umm… Thanks. This should help with Clarent’s whole… magic… glow thing…” She blinked, and began to rub her forehead. “Wait… no, it’s telling me its name is… Caladbolg. And something about… being wielded in… justice and right…”

“That’s standard procedure,” said Mansemat with a nod. He looked at Murgleys. “Isn’t it? It is?” He nodded and turned back to Elaine. “It is. Also, Murgleys says hello.”

Elaine was rubbing her temples. “Yeah. And Caladbolg says hello back.” She shuddered slightly. “Now can we please get out of here. This place is creepy.”

“Right,” agreed Mansemat. The pair walked away from the room.

Behind them, Amfortas laughed. “Do you imagine you’ve won?” he said, cheerful once again. “You have played right into my hands.”

Elaine was about to look back when Mansemat placed a hand on her shoulder and shook his head. “Do not give him the dignity of a response. That’s what he wants.” He smiled at her. “Thank you for saving my life, by the way.”

Elaine nodded. “Right back at you,” she said, placing her hand on his.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 29

Lanval leaned back against the wall and caught his breath. He had to admit it--he wasn’t a young man any more. He glanced over at the Goblin, who was resting on his war hammer, and shook his head.

“I think I’ve been in the game too long,” he noted.

“I’m willing to take care of that for you,” said Grizzel.

Lanval chuckled. “Oh, I’m well aware of that. A man doesn’t spend five minutes trying to bash my head in without me realizing that he’s in earnest.” He pointed at Grizzel. “You’re pretty damn good, if I may say so.”

“That’s how you live in this business,” noted the Goblin. The pair turned to regard their soldiers, still fighting it out. The Ghoul was expertly dodging Gilly’s torch, while the tall Marsh Erl was up against Raslac and holding his own. The short, fat Erl (and that was something that Lanval had never thought he’d see) was not doing as well. His battle against Jernis had largely degenerated into running away from the slender little man.

“You’ve got a good crew,” said Lanval.

“Thank you,” said Grizzel. “I’d tell you the same, but I’d be lying.”

Lanval stood, and gave himself a stretch. “Well, truth be told, I don’t want a good crew. These folks--they’re lunatics. These are guys who don’t give a shit, and that is a weapon if you know how to use it.”

“I’ll stick with people who want to get out alive,” said the Goblin gravely. “More apt to do what they’re told and not get… out of hand.”

Lanval nodded and gave his mace a few practice swings. “Mmm. Well, that’s another way of looking at it. Always understood it. Never completely agreed with it, but I understood it.” He glanced at Grizzel again. “You know--I recommend you stand up soon. Counting on my sense of fair play to give you a bit longer is unwise as I don’t have one.”

Grizzel grinned. “That a fact?”

“Oh, yes,” said Lanval with a nod. “The fact is, if I were a younger man, you’d be dead.”

“If you were a younger man, I’d be a younger man,” noted Grizzel. “And then you’d be dead.”

Lanval circled closer to Grizzel. “You’re pretty sure of yourself…”

Grizzel gave a shrug then with a swift motion, lashed out with his war hammer. Lanval leapt back to avoid it. “I was pretty good then. And much more hot-headed. For example, in those days, I’d have killed my opposite number fast as I could. These days--I’d know that if I did that, all his flunkies would flee to get help, instead of staying here, all nicely tied up…”

Lanval blinked. “You’re a distraction.”

Grizzel laughed. “Not exactly. But our instructions were, if facing opposition, to… keep it busy while the important one went off and did what he had to do.”

“The tall fellow?” said Lanval. “Who pulled a runner as soon as we came?”

“Yep,” answered Grizzel.

“And was he going to… say, go to get help,” said Lanval quietly. “From--and this is speculation on my part, I freely admit--the very angry foreign sailors who have been stewing on the docks for the last few days.”

“Something like that,” said Grizzel, with a nod.

Lanval stared at the swarming crowds marching on the docks. “Well-played,” he said quietly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 28

Elaine watched as Amfortas fell back as she pushed against his legs. For a second, she was filled with the hope that he would topple over--but he regained his balance, and smiled at her. “That was unwise,” he stated.

“Don’t touch my family,” she declared.

“Or you will stop me with your vast, horrific might,” noted Amfortas, steadying the Blade of Light. He chuckled. “I am trembling. Really.” He raised the sword, with hands that still seemed to tremble. “Of course, I must admit the desperate notion that I will kill you, then move on to Mansemat has occurred to me, but then, that’s me. Always hopeful.”

“I won’t let you kill him,” said Elaine. As the sword swung down, she made a desperate attempt to catch his hand. To her surprise, the hand almost seemed to jerk into hers, allowing her to catch it easily.

Amfortas looked at her, his face as mild and pleasant as ever. “My goodness,” he said. “You are stronger than you look.”

“It’s… an… Erl… thing,” gasped Elaine, as she tried to keep hold of his hand. Amfortas’ yanking grew more and more urgent, and at last broke free of her crude grip. And then it happened. Somehow, the Blade of Day fell from his hands. And into hers.

And then its blade exploded into brilliant light.

Amfortas and Elaine both stared at it for a moment. “Oh, my,” Amfortas managed to say at last.

Elaine gripped it in both hands and smiled. “Now, what was that about me ‘stopping you with my’… how did it go again? Oh, yeah… ‘vast, horrific might’.” She stepped forward, the Sword of Light shining like a beacon. “Or all that stuff about being the chosen of the Seven… the perfect servant of the Light… and so on… and so forth…” She lunged forward to stab at Amfortas. “Because it seems like the Seven don’t agree!”

Amfortas easily side-stepped her blow. “Mmmm. Truth be told, I’ve always had my doubts about Clarent. The records are rather dubious actually, the Synod have never officially endorsed it as a chosen weapon of Light, and….” Elaine swung again. Amfortas dodged it once again. “Well, the entire discussion is rather arcane. Still, whatever its nature, granting its power to a girl who has never held a sword before does appear to have its drawbacks.” He dodged Elaine’s next blow. “Frankly I wondering if you are wielding that sword, or the sword is wielding you…”

“Shut up!” she shouted.

Amfortas sighed. “First your mother, now you…” He drew a knife from his belt. “This is growing tiresome. And I know just how to end this discussion.” He twirled the knife expertly. “Once again--I prefer small blades. And am quite adept with them. Far, far more adept than you are with your ever-so bright sword.”

He circled he warily for a moment, then suddenly lunged at her right. Elaine moved to avoid his attack, only for him to suddenly fall back and then slash at her left. Elaine felt a sharp pain in her left arm. Amfortas inspected his bloody blade and smiled.

“So tell me, dear… who do you give the advantage in this battle?” said Amfortas quietly. “You. Or I?”

At which moment a large black blur rushed into him, and sent the Prince of Leonais sprawling.

“The answer is I,” said Mansemat, dusting himself off.

Amfortas stared at the Erl for a moment. “That was enough strangledust to keep a man out for an hour,” he stated in a calm, detached voice.

“And it would have worked on a man,” answered Mansemat. “But you faced a dragon, Amfortas.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 27

Mansemat glanced around the room. One thing that had to be granted to Amfortas.

The bastard was fast.

The Prince of Leonais had skittered away, as Murgleys had swung near him, darting into the shadows. Mansemat’s eyes trailed over the statues in the darkened halls.

“You don’t seem to have much confidence in that blade of Light of yours,” he noted.

“I will be honest,” said Amfortas. “In truth, I am only an… adequate swordsman. Clarent or no, my chances against you in a direct attack are… less than good.”

Mansemat nodded, trying to focus on the voice.

“No, truth be told, I’m better with small blades,” he noted. “Knives are so much more intimate than swords, I find. And as I like to know people when I deal them, they serve my purposes better. It’s a sin for a man to not use the gifts the Seven have given him. And as I am not even capable of sin, naturally, the thought never ever crosses my mind.”

“That’s nice,” said Mansemat. “Elaine, how are you?”

“I’m… I’m okay,” she said quietly.

“I could have told you that,” came Amfortas’ voice.

“No, you couldn’t have,” noted Mansemat. He glanced to his right. Not there. “She was right earlier, Amfortas. I want you to know that.”

“Do you think I care about either of your opinions?” said Amfortas.

“You’re not a god. The Seven aren’t talking to you,” continued Mansemat levelly. “Those voices you hear--or that special feeling you get that convinces you how wonderful you are--it’s all just you. You are just a man, like any other, frail and mortal. You will die, as all men die, though in your case I doubt anyone will particularly mourn.” He glanced to his left. “And you know this.”

Amfortas burst out, and launched at Mansemat with a clumsy swing the Dark Lord easily avoided. He then tossed a handful of dust at the Cthonique, stepping back as he did so. Mansemat coughed, and blinked. “Th-that’s your grand trick?” he spat out “Sand in my eyes?”

“Not exactly,” answered Amfortas. Mansemat coughed again--and then again, each time longer than before. “They call it Dalkiel’s Fingers, in the Concord. Easterners call it strangledust. Constricts the throat if it’s breathed in. A large enough quality can kill a person, though I doubt that will happen to you.”

Amfortas stepped forward and gave Mansemat a shove. The Dark Lord landed sprawling on the ground. “You are, after all, a rather large man. Which means that I’ll have to finish the job myself.” Amfortas smiled as he drew the Sword of Light again. It occurred to Mansemat that the sword seemed to be misnamed, as its blade was the same dull grey of most swords. But then he realized that he was probably trying to distract himself.

Amfortas regarded Clarent a moment himself, and shrugged. “Again I’d prefer a knife or a small blade. They’re what I’m best at. But sometimes, one has to do things properly. And it simply will not do to kill the Black Dragon of the Plains with anything less than the Blade of Day.” The blade seemed to shake in his hand as he raised it. “Adieu, Dark Lord. It has been… enjoyable.”

At that moment, Elaine rushed at the Prince.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 26

The little skiff slid into the harbor, passing by the barge. The guards standing watch signaled for it to stop. It did so, the hulking man at guiding it gesturing to his cargo--an unsightly heap of rags. The guards waved him in.

After the skiff had traveled some distance from the barge, Palamedes Woodash stuck his head out of the heap. “I can’t believe that worked.”

The River Ox smiled. “Men on guard duty tend to get bored. And underestimate just how much can be placed in a single heap of rags.”

“Amazing,” came the muffled voice of Sacripant Fenswater. “Woodash, would you please move your foot out of my face.”

“Not his foot,” whispered Quiet.

“Ahh. Sorry about that. It’s kind of hard to tell them a…” There was silence for a moment. “I should have just shut up shouldn’t I?”

“Yep,” answered Quiet.

“And now I’m in trouble, aren’t I?”

“Uh huh.”

Sacripant sighed. “Great.”

“Would you two lovebirds shut your mouths!” snapped Grizzel. “Honestly, Il’Mok, I preferred it when you weren’t speaking at all.”

“And I preferred it when I wasn’t in a heap of smelly rags. Life moves on,” said the Ghoul.

“We’re here,” said the River Ox. He grabbed hold of the little dock to steady the skiff and began to tie it in place with a bit of rope.

“Finally,” said Grizzel, bursting out of the rags, and then leaping onto the dock. He stretched, and rubbed his back. “That was… annoying.”

Palamedes scrambled out of the skiff, and then shook his leg. “I’m definitely glad to be out.” He glanced at the River Ox. “What is this exactly?”

“The old corn tax dock,” said the River Ox, as Quiet and Sacripant emerged from the skiff. “They built a new one, ten years ago, but never got around to getting rid of this one.” He smiled slightly. “And so the Society… sort of acquired the use of it.”

Grizzel gave a snort. “You River Traders have such interesting words for things. Is it safe?”

The River Ox nodded. “Most of Joyeuse has forgotten that this even exists. And the ones that haven’t just don’t care. I’ve used it for years without inci--”

At that moment a flaming brand was tossed onto the skiff. The group watched it burn for a moment, listening to the long peal of high-pitched laughter that started at the same time. “I found them! I found them!” came a voice.

Grizzel turned around. A small figure stood there, holding a lit torch in… its hands. “Hello, Nightfolk! Time to play!” it proclaimed cheerfully. Three larger figures came out of the darkness behind it.

“Very good, Gilly,” said one--an older man with a hard face and graying hair. He looked to the men at his side. “I owe you an apology, Jernis. Raslac. Gilly was as good as you said.” He drew a mace at his side and glanced at the Cthonique Guards. “I assume you’re here to serve the bidding your masters?”

Grizzel readied his war hammer, and looked to his men. “More or less,” he answered as Sacripant, Quiet and Palamedes fell behind him.

“Very nice, Goblin,” said the man. “We’re here to serve the bidding of ours.” His eyes narrowed. “I am Lanval Equitan, Serjeant-at-arms for the Prince’s Men. And you are…?”

“Grizzel Greedigutt, Serjeant-at-arms for the Cthonique Guard,” said Grizzel. He frowned. “Shall we begin?”

“Oh, yes,” said Lanval, charging forward.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 25

Elaine followed the Prince numbly as they ran through the dark corridors of the palace, feeling small and weak, and scared, and stupid. Oh, so very stupid. She’d done all this, risked so much, and she’d found what she’d been looking for. And it was horror, a nightmare made real. And the worst part, the absolutely infuriating part, the part that made her kick herself, is that underneath it all--she’d always known there was an answer like this waiting for her, if she ever bothered going to look for the story of her conception. When you don’t have a father--and your mother doesn’t let people get behind her. And cries to herself at night. And will not talk about certain things if you ask her about them. Well, how could you--on some level, at least--avoid realizing that if you searched in your past, you’d find rape?

Oh, you could never be sure. And you could let yourself create alternate explanations, and castles in the air, and tell yourself, over and over again, that of course, it was just a tragic romance cut short by war, of course she just missed your father terribly, so terribly that she couldn’t bear to talk about him--but you always knew. Deep down knew. That’s why when the need for answers grew so great you went running out on a fool’s errand instead of just confronting your mother. Because you didn’t really need to know. You just needed to convince yourself that you’d done all you could to find it out. But that was the thing. All that nonsense you’d said, about the blood of the Badb, and being bound by the Weird--that wasn’t nonsense. It was true. And it had demonstrated that truth in the worst possible way.

Amfortas finally stopped. “Here,” he stated calmly as he threw Elaine towards the ground. She saw it was a small chamber, filled with statuary. She suspected it was all the collection of some past King of Leonais and then realized with a start that she was thinking about an ancestor. A man related to her through this horrible man near her, who just happened to be her father.

She managed to catch herself on a wall, and stared at him for a long while. “How could you?” she asked.

“That, my dear, is rather… vague,” answered Amfortas, with a smile. “Please--specify.”

“You know what I mean,” spat out Elaine.

Amfortas nodded. “I believe I do now.” He gave a pleasant, cheerful shrug. “What can I say? It amused me.”

Elaine stared at him in horror. “Amused… you? That is your answer? That is why you…”

Amfortas looked at her, and began to laugh. “Come now, my dear? Do you honestly think I have to justify myself towards you… creatures?” He chuckled once again. “How adorable. Absolutely… adorable.” He placed a hand on her face, and stroked it familiarly.

“If you don’t pull back your hand,” snarled Elaine, “I will vomit all over it, and that nice doublet you’re wearing.”

Amfortas considered it for a moment, and then pulled back his hand. “I do like this shirt,” he noted. He chuckled to himself. “Ahh, me. What to do now?”

Elaine took a deep breath. “You sick bag of… sick…”

Amfortas smiled at her, and then calmly gave her a back-handed slap. “That is a very unladylike thing to say to your father,” he stated. “Remember, young lady, you exist because of me. And the fact that there wasn’t a rock close to hand after I was finished with your mother.” He drew a knife from his side. “Perhaps it’s time to finally remedy that… little cosmic jest, eh? You have, after all, served your purpose, and killing you would be most enjoyable right now, I think.” He smiled at her brightly, eyes looking at her for a response.

Elaine looked back at him. “Do whatever the hell you like,” she said. “Just don’t think for a minute I believe ANY of your nonsense. You’re not better than me, Amfortas. You just… aren’t.”

“Of course I am, child,” said Amfortas with an easy nod. “I’m better than everybody. That’s why all that I do is right. And that is why my killing you is a good thing. A holy thing. A righteous thing.” He smiled cheerfully. “Every stab that pierces your flesh shall be a glorious hymn to the Light…”

Elaine shut her eyes. “The worst thing about listening to you, Amfortas, is that I think even you know what you say is bullshit. But you say it anyway, because it’s the only thing you know how to say.”

The Prince clicked his tongue. “Such vulgarity. How tiresome.” He moved towards her, then turned suddenly and threw his knife. “You really shouldn’t have tried sneaking up on me,” he said calmly. “I have very good ears.”

Mansemat Cthonique stepped into view. “And you shouldn’t have thrown your knife,” he said, tossing the knife to the floor. “I have very fast hands.”

Amfortas shrugged. “It’s not as if it was my only weapon,” he said. He spread his cloak open, and drew the sword clasped to his side. “This is Clarent, the Blade of Day. Supposedly it has the power to oppose your own accursed sword,” he noted. “Shall we test that, eh?”

Mansemat stared at Amfortas. “My wife still awakens screaming, every now and then, because of what you did to her, and you have just spent a great deal of time threatening her daughter. Do not imagine for a second, Prince of Leonais, that I will treat you with any more respect than you deserve, you vile piece of shit.”

The Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread drew his sword, and with a shout, struck at his opponent.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 24

Archon Septimus Seraphim stared at the figure before him--a figure from a thousand legends and nightmares--a tall, slender figure with bone pale skin and long dark hair that almost seemed to be a man. But Septimus knew better. This was an Erl--a Dark Lord, if he wasn’t mistaken. He rather doubted that most Erls went clad in rich armor, a mix of black and grey, edged with gold.

The Erl stared at him calmly, contemptuously, with his bright green eyes. “Flee and live,” intoned the Dark Lord in a deep voice. “Fight and die.”

Septimus glanced at Sir Ashareus Kerabim. “Where are Tiresias’ squad?”

Ashareus bit his lip nervously. “I’m… starting to think they met with… the Dark Lord.”

Septimus nodded. “I see.” He glanced around at his men, then nodded. “On my command, rush him.”

The Archon stepped forward and regarded the Erl for a moment. “Dark Lord, I bid you prepare for your doom,” he stated. “We are true knights of the Seven, pure hermits who serve the Holy Light, and we shall slay you for your wickedness, and your impiety. I, Archon Septimus Seraphim, do swear this.”

The Erl stared back at the Archon. “You stand between me and my daughter, Archon. Continue to do so, and I will make sure you may never do it again. Flee and live. Fight and die.”

“Oh, indeed,” declared Septimus with a snort. “I fear you have it wrong, Erl. I have given you a chance to renounce Douma Dalkiel, and embrace the Holy Light. You have not taken it. And now--you die.” He raised his hand. “Now!”

Six men leapt at the Dark Lord from all directions. What happened next occurred in a few seconds. The Erl drew his sword, and cut down four men in one swift motion. He then stepped forward, sheathed his sword, turned around, drew it again, and cut down the remaining two men. He then turned and looked at Septimus and Ashareus angrily as he sheathed the blade again.

“That was wasteful. And most unchivalrous. But mostly wasteful.” The Dark Lord stepped forward. “I do not care how many poor souls you hurl at me, heedlessly. If they try to kill me, they will die. My skill is sure. My power is great. And my cause is just. Keep me not from my child, little hermits. Flee and live. Fight and die.”

Septimus stared at the Dark Lord for a moment, then glanced at Ashareus. “Kill him!” he hissed. Ashareus bowed, then rushed forward, stabbing at him. The Erl gracefully stepped to the side, then drew his blade. His stroke caught the Eremite between the shoulder blades. Ashareus fell to the ground with a grunt. He made a wobbling attempt to rise, then slumped once more to the ground, groaning to himself. The Dark Lord tapped his fingers against the hilt of his sword.

Ashareus shut his eyes, and was silent.

The Dark Lord turned towards Septimus, sheathing his blade. The Archon slowly drew his own sword, noticing as he did so, that his hand was trembling.

The Dark Lord regarded him calmly. Septimus took an unsteady step forward. The Erl’s hand went towards his blade. Septimus stepped back. The pair regarded each other for a moment.

Then Septimus threw his sword down and ran. He ran from the Dark Lord as fast as he could, for as far as he could go.

He realized sometime later that tears were streaming down his cheeks. He had no idea when he’d started crying. However, to his immense distress, he simply wouldn’t stop, no matter how hard he tried.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 23

Nisrioch smiled as he stopped the crossbow bolt in midair. “Well, you have to admit things are getting interesting.”

Morgaine raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Sure. May I remind you that only one of those things has to hit you for your interesting life to be over.”

“Ohh,” said Nisrioch with a pout, as another bolt passed by his head. “Must you forever ruin my fun, Morgaine? I mean this situation is proving so much FUN. Especially with all the amusing remarks these Eremites are making.”

“Die, heathen spawn of HELL!” shrieked one Eremite has he hurled a stone at the Cthonique siblings.

Nisrioch laughed merrily, as Morgaine caught the stone in a shimmering lavender web of force. “See? Such cleverness.”

Morgaine rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Sure, Nissy. Sure.” She sighed. “The plan has fallen to pieces, we are getting shot at by dozens of smelly guys in grey cloaks, and I think I just stepped in cat urine--but we’re having fun. Why I can’t wait for the next bit of jollyness to come our way…”

“Dear friends!” came the voice of an old man talking much too loud. “At last you’ve come!” Morgaine suppressed an instinct to turn, until she saw that the Eremites had paused themselves. She glanced over, and saw him. An old man in a very nice nightshirt, smiling daftly. He walked over towards Nisrioch and Morgaine. “Now, the party can begin!” He clapped a hand over Nisrioch’s shoulder. “My goodness, you’ve grown! I swear you’re taller than me now!” He leaned over to Morgaine and pinched her cheek. “And you! Such a delightful child! Still as fond of rice candy?”

Morgaine blinked. “Ummm, yeah… I… We don’t… know each…”

“Of course we do!” proclaimed the old man brightly, pinching her cheek once again. “Don’t you recall your sweet old uncle Pelleas, my little pookie?”

“Is that the King?” muttered one Eremite.

“Looks like him,” said another.

Pelleas caught Nisrioch and Morgaine in a hug. “Come now, my darlings! Let us celebrate our happy reunion!” He yanked Nisrioch over, and leaned towards Morgaine. “All right,” he whispered. “I’m only going to say this once--in the name of the Seven, try to keep me between you and them. Because these men will take a clear shot if they can get one.”

“Uh huh,” said Morgaine with a nod. “And… umm is there a reason you’re doing this… Your… umm… Majesty?”

“A desire not to be locked in away in tiny rooms and doused with poison to keep me agreeable,” answered Pelleas. “Also, Malina. I do hope she got away all right.”

Nisrioch nodded. “She’s fine. Back at Her Lady Ship.”

“Well, good,” said Pelleas. “Now--big smiles everyone.” He backed away grinning broadly. “Now, you must come with me! We shall see my garden! And drink drinks that fizz! And wear funny hats! We must wear funny hats!”

Nisrioch raised his hand. “Oh, oh! I have a funny hat I’ve been thinking of for some time! It’s a hat, with another hat on top!”

Pelleas nodded. “I am certain such a hat can be made!”

Nisrioch clapped his hands together. “Oh, excellent!” He turned to Morgaine again. “Isn’t great to see Pelleas again?”

“Frankly, I’m still recovering from the fact that I’m going to have let someone who pinched my cheek get away with it,” said Morgaine with a sigh.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 22

Jean stared at Viviane, readying her pestle and breathing heavily, and then glanced back at Amfortas, still smiling serenely, while holding Elaine in front of him. That was the awful thing about the Prince, she’d decided, now that she’d finally seen him--he didn’t care. He could do horrible things, admit horrible things--and he’d do it all smiling, in a pleasant tone of voice, as if he were discussing the weather, or a choice in outfits.

“Now, dearest Badb, I do hope you’re all right,” he declared, kind as kind could be. “I worry that my revelation that I am willing to kill this little token of our past interaction has you…”

“Shut up,” said Viviane. “I can kill you. I will kill you. I am going to kill you. Kill you dead.”

Amfortas nodded. “I’ve heard that from you before.” He tickled Elaine’s throat with his knife. “Or near enough. Yes, on the magic day this little bundle of joy was conceived…”

“SHUT UP!” Viviane raised the pestle on high, gathering a flame to it. “I am not a frightened little girl anymore, Amfortas…”

“And yet, you tremble, just like you did on that special day,” said the Prince chuckling mildly. Elaine shifted suddenly, and kicked Amfortas in shin. He gave a slight shudder, and yet his grip on her didn’t break. “My, my. She really is your daughter,” he said chuckling. “She imagines pain can stop me.” He twisted Elaine’s arm. “I believe you remember this part of the lesson. Should I move on into what follows after?”

“Keep giving me reasons, asshole!” Viviane screamed. “Just keep at it!” She leveled the pestle at him. “Go on! I dare you!”

Amfortas smiled serenely. “Aren’t you worried about striking dear little Elaine?”

“You of all people should know I don’t need to aim,” said Viviane, a rather vicious smile of her own appearing.

“Indeed,” agreed Amfortas, nodding. “I still have the scar to prove it. I just wonder if you are… quite in control of yourself.” He shrugged. “After all, the temptation must be there to simply… erase things.”

Viviane’s eyes went wide. “What… the hell do you… mean…?”

“If you kill us both, it will be like all that never happened,” said Amfortas quietly. “All gone. And you will able to walk in a world where that moment, that special moment, that moment you have been unable to forget, simply did not happen. Or… close enough.”

Viviane’s hands began to tremble, the flames gathered at the end of the pestle wavering. “You… you…”

“You know what I say is the truth,” said Amfortas. “Don’t tell me you’ve never considered it. All these years of having my eyes looking at you from this face…” He gave Elaine’s face a slight squeeze and chuckled cheerfully. “I fancy it must have driven you mad…”

Viviane shut her eyes. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up,” she muttered. Jean’s eyes went to the pestle.

The flames were still there.

“And after all, it would only take a second…” continued Amfortas.

“M… Mom…” whimpered Elaine.

Viviane took a deep breath. Jean rushed forward and grabbed at the pestle, pushing it away from Amfortas and Elaine. “Viviane--you can’t!” she said.

Viviane turned to regard the young sorceress. “I--wasn’t… it was… I… How did you…” Viviane blinked, and then took a deep breath. She turned back to the Prince, but he and Elaine were gone. “Damn it…” She sighed. “That bastard… that creepy bastard was… toying with me…” She turned to Jean again. “You shouldn’t have done that. He was just--I would never…” She shook her head. “It was all mind games. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s good at.”

Jean stared at the Badb. “Well--from where I stood it looked like he was trying to get you to do something horrible.”

Viviane grabbed her by the shoulders. “But like I said--I would have never…” She wheeled around. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got company coming… Let’s go…” Jean followed her, as quickly as she could, the ominous sound of metal shod boots behind them. Viviane shut her eyes as they retreated back down the hallway. “Manny… I… we ran into Amfortas. It was a trap. He kept us… occupied, while his men got ready to spring an ambush. His big men. These are the heavy hitters. We… you go another way. And save Elaine.” A small smile came on Viviane’s face. “I love you too, dear. Now… hurry.”

Jean coughed. “Ummm… you know, if you want to talk about what happened back there…”

“Because naturally, I want to DWELL on this humiliation,” spat out Viviane, frowning bitterly. She was silent for a moment. “For nearly fifteen years, I’ve been waiting for this meeting. This time it would be different. This time I would make him pay. And one look at him, and I was that scared little girl again.”

Jean glanced down the hallway. “If it makes you feel better, I think that guy would freak anybody out. I mean, I’ve still got goosebumps from all that…”

“It doesn’t,” said Viviane. She paused for a moment and pulled a few threads from her sleeve, twisted them, and tossed them behind her.   “That should delay them,” she noted as she began to run again, pulling Jean behind her

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 21

Elaine watched her mother attack the Eremites in the courtyard below her, tearing into them with her power. “Well,” she said to Amfortas quietly, “it looks your plan’s backfiring. My mother’s destroying your holy knights.”

“Mmm,” murmured the Prince casually. “Things certainly appear that way.” His tone was so… relaxed that Elaine had to glance at him, if only for a moment. She immediately wished she hadn’t.

It wasn’t that Amfortas was doing anything overtly horrible. No, he was simply standing there, and watching, much as she was. Only his eyes stared in a gruesome fascination that made the mild smile on his face seem almost obscene. Elaine gulped. “Don’t you care?” she whispered. “She’s killing your men.”

Amfortas gave a pleasant chuckle. “Care? Why should I? Those men were holy Eremites, pledged to live in the service of the Light, and to die in it. They are fulfilling their lives’ ambition. That’s a good thing, my dear, not a sad one.” The smile deepened. “Each time one of those brave men dies, it is a soul going up to paradise, where the Seven may tell him, well done, thou good, and faithful servants.” Amfortas shook his head. “And I… I am making it all possible. It is happening by my will, and in my name. Truly, mine is a blessed existence, to grant such favor to these insects.”

Elaine was silent for a while, merely regarding the man. “You really are a piece of work, you know that?” she said at last.

“The finest one the Seven have made,” said Amfortas cheerfully. Elaine blinked as a knife suddenly appeared in his right hand, pointing very neatly at her throat, while his other hand grabbed her arm. “Now--please come with me my dear. I think it’s about time I had a few choice words with your mother.” With that he gave a little tug, and Elaine found herself being yanked along as he moved down the stairway. Her gaze fell on an Eremite who’d fallen on the ground and was rolling around in a desperate attempt to beat out the flames. She felt a mild burst of sympathy for the man, just a poor pawn in Amfortas’ mad game now facing her mother. And then she got a clear look at her mother. Viviane stood there, her hair flying loose, and her face contorted in rage. Jean was standing in a corner, Elaine realized, looking nervous and frightened--but Viviane easily dominated the scene. Especially when she saw the Prince.

“Amfortas,” she hissed, her eyes lighting up with hatred.

“Why if it isn’t the little Badb, all grown up,” replied Amfortas cheerfully. “The years have been very kind to you. Frankly it makes me glad at this opportunity to renew our old acquaintance.”

“You sick…!” shouted Viviane, before turning to Elaine, who was still processing the fact that Amfortas and her mother knew each other. “Elaine! Are you…? Has he… done… anything….?”

“I’ve barely laid a finger on her, dearest Badb,” said Amfortas. “She is fine and unspoiled.” He shifted the knife in his hand slightly. “Something I can change in a moment, should I wish to…”

Viviane raised her pestle, leveling at him. “Let her go, Amfortas. NOW!”

Amfortas chuckled. “Mmmm… no. No, I don’t think I will do that. It strikes me as particularly unwise.”

Viviane’s eyes narrowed. “You… you’re stalling me, aren’t you? For some… strange reason…” She took a deep breath. “Stupid move. I can kill you very quickly, Amfortas. And I’d love every second of it, you vile freak…”

“And oddly enough, that is EXACTLY what I was going to say about your daughter,” answered Amfortas brightly. “Right down to the cheery feelings that will fill me as I do it.”

“You… Don’t you dare…” spat out Viviane. “I will ANNIHILATE you before you even…”

Amfortas merely smiled pleasantly. “Perhaps. But you of all people should realize just how quickly I can move, when I wish to. As I most assuredly would in this case.”

Viviane stared at him for a long moment. “She’s your daughter, you monster!” she spat out.

Elaine felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as Amfortas gave a pleasant-sounding laugh. “Yes, I rather suspected that when I saw the Pescheour eyes staring at me from an Erl’s face.” He allowed an idle finger to toy with her hair. “Believe me when I say, it makes no difference. One false move, and I will gut her right here, as you watch.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 20

“I think the Archon’s a buggerer,” declared Constans Mu, suddenly. “I mean--wanting to hold the bloody Sword of Light? Don’t that just scream ‘buggerer’ to ya? Well, don’t it?”

“It--is one of the great holy artifacts of Light,” suggested Arcadius Pi.

Constans Mu gave a dismissive snort. “And do you want to hold it?”

Arcadius looked away awkwardly. “Not… particularly.”

“Exactly!” said Constans. “Because you’re not a buggerer!”

Arcadius sighed. “Well… I admit that you argument does have a certain… sort of logic.”

“The BEST sort of logic,” boomed Constans. He followed this up with a fierce nod. “My sort.”

“The sort that barely resembles logic at all,” muttered Edward Delta.

Constans wheeled on the shorter Squire. “Only to a fool like you, Delta.” He snorted. “Everyone knows you’ve been getting all… buddy-like with that Eremite.”

“I enjoy the company of Edmund Erelim because--aside from a few quirks--he is a perfectly pleasant individual,” said Edward. “As opposed to certain other individuals I know. And as for the Archon--I strongly doubt Septimus has any interest in buggery, or licentiousness of any sort for that matter.”

“Pfft. That’s what you think,” grumbled Constans. “That just proves he’s the worst sort of buggerer--the kind that don’t bugger people!” He leaned forward. “Them that actually bugger folks, aren’t so bad. They’re just blokes who like other blokes a lot more than is normal, and really, that’s all a matter of taste, isn’t it? But them that don’t--they get all weird an’ frustrated, while they try to pretend they don’t want to bugger people. An’ it makes them do weird things.”

Edward glanced at Arcadius. “You know I’m very glad that I always give him a wide berth right now.”

Arcadius nodded. “After a while, you learn to simply… tune him out.”

Preceptor Rho walked towards the group. “Nervous?” he asked.

Edward watched Arcadius and Constans shake their heads. “Actually, yes,” he said. He sighed. “I… are you sure this is the right thing to do, sir?”

Maximilian smiled. “Well… that depends on what you mean by ‘right’.” He looked up at the ceiling. “You ever hear the story of how the Sacristans became a Knightly Order?”

Constans scratched his chin. “There was a goose in it, wasn’t there?”

“No,” answered Maximilian. He shut his eyes. “It was… hmmm, four hundred years ago, or near about. Agrican had ridden into Leonais with his Kizaks, and was causing bloody havoc. King Kardeiz rode forth to battle him. It didn’t go very well. In fact it was a damn massacre, and Kardeiz had to flee the field. But as it had been such a bloody damn massacre, he didn’t have the troops to hold them off. And then, the Sacristans stepped forward.” A smile came to the Preceptor’s face. “They were nothing but canons then, who kept the remains of Saint Julian, and they were there because Kardeiz had brought Julian’s bones into battle with him for… well, luck. But they said they could hold a spear as well as any man, and so Kardeiz accepted their aid in covering his retreat. They were ordered to protect him. And they did. When the Agrican rode for the King, the Sacristans put themselves between the pair, and they cut that bastard down. Half of them died doing it--but they got him. Kardeiz was so impressed he had the Sacristans remade into a Knightly Order, like the Warders, sworn directly to the Throne of Leonais, in its aspect of Protector of the Faith. And so it’s continued. The Pescheours order, and we obey.” Maximilian looked at the Squires pointedly. “So in that way--yes, we’re doing the right thing.”

Edward nodded. “I see. But… don’t you have… doubts?”

“I do,” said Maximilian. “But they don’t count. In the end, a man has to do his duty, or he isn’t a man. He’s just a son of a bitch.”

Constans turned to the Preceptor. “That was a great story. Why’d I think there were geese in it?”

“Because you’re a bleeding imbecile, I suspect,” answered Rho.

Constans nodded. “Sounds about right.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 19

Jean watched as Viviane raced through the hallways, doing her level best to keep up with the Badb. Viviane’s face was drawn in a tight scowl, her eyes shining with fury, and her pestle was ready in her hand.

Somehow, this didn’t exactly reassure Jean.

“Maybe--maybe we should get a plan,” she suggested.

“I don’t NEED a plan!” yelled Viviane. “All I need is a mother’s love to guide me to where my daughter is, a mother’s strength to keep me going until I get there, and a mother’s anger to make the bastards who’ve taken her pay!” She snarled as they reached a barred iron door, and raised the pestle. As Jean watched, the stone around it fell apart, and a blast of wind knocked the door away. “Also,” added Viviane, “the power of nature itself at my beck and call. Can’t forget that.”

Jean stared at the ruined door for a second then coughed. “Umm… right. You know… Viviane… I know this might seem… presumptuous, coming from me… but I think you aren’t quite thinking clearly…”

Viviane glared at her. “Well, you’re right on both counts.” She leaned forward, crossing her arms. “First, I’m not thinking clearly. A haze of anger is covering everything. And I’m okay with that. Anger is useful. Anger lets you get things done. Anger kept me alive for a long, long time. It was one of the two things that kept me going until recently. So don’t knock anger to me. It’s an emotion I value. Even cherish at times. Am I understood?” Jean managed a nod. “Good. That means I don’t have to make a production about the SECOND thing you were correct about--you being presumptuous. So let’s just go get things done, shall we?”

Jean gave another nod. “Sure.” She looked nervously at the ground.

Viviane turned away. “Well,” she said, “I guess you’ve finally pinned down EXACTLY where Elaine gets it from.” She shrugged. “What can I say? Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” Viviane bit her lip, and gave a nervous laugh. “I… I couldn’t give Elaine my magic, but… I did give her my bitchiness, and that, I like to think, is a far, far greater gift.”

Jean stared at Viviane for a moment. “She’s the second thing, isn’t she? The other thing that kept you going…”

Viviane shut her eyes, and nodded. The pair moved through the hallways in silence for a long while after that.

The silence was broken by a man’s shout coming from before them. “Halt! Who goes there? Declare yourself!”

As they stepped forward, Jean saw that the speaker was an Eremite, one of a group of several who were standing in a broad hallway. “Erls,” hissed one of his fellows. “Those are Erls, Sir Ishim.”

Sir Ishim gave no response to that beyond a wave of his hand. His men began to disperse through the room.

Viviane smiled to herself. “Well. I was hoping to meet someone. And here you are. It must be fate.”

“Stand down,” said the Eremite. “Stand down now, and…”

Viviane laughed. “Now isn’t that rude?  Here I’m about to answer your questions and you’re yelling at me!” She raised the pestle. “Who am I? I am Viviane du Lac, the Badb, Queen of the Old Magic, and you, gentlemen, are dead men.”

Jean blinked, and then jumped back as Viviane gathered a flame around her pestle, and then let it fly.