Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 44

“So, the plan was wait for the Dark Lords to arrive and bail you out?” muttered the River Ox.

“One of them,” explained Grizzel. He glanced down the river. “And there’s the other.” The River Ox turned and saw the Lady Ship sailing towards them. “She’s one of the largest ships on the Murkenmere, you know. My second’s on board, with catapults and bombards at the ready. If the Dark Lords hadn’t reduced the Prince’s fleet to splinters, the Lady Ship would have.”

The River Ox nodded. “You know--don’t tell the Dark Lords I said this--but that is one incredibly stupid name.”

“His Excellency is a mystical genius, a prophet, and a man of brilliance,” said Grizzel. “But alas, he has a sense of humor that would break the patience of a Deinreian friar.” The burly trader stared at the Goblin. “They’re an order. Started up in the Shadow Woods. On the banks of the Deinre.” The River Ox still stared. “They’re very patient.”

“But not patient enough to accept Nisrioch Cthonique’s puns?” asked the River Ox after a while.

“No one is that patient,” replied Grizzel. The River Ox nodded. Suddenly, a bird flew overhead.

“Yeah, well, same to you!” came the voice of Jean Crow, soon followed by the sorceress herself. “Sea gulls,” she muttered ruefully. “Damn it, I need a new crow. Or even a magpie. Sea gulls just don’t make good familiars.” She glanced at Grizzel and the River Ox. “Sorry. Magician talk.”

“It’s all right,” said the River Ox.

“There you are,” said Viviane, appearing on the deck. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Jean gulped and looked away. “Ahh, yes, I’ve… just been trying to get a new familiar. Figure with Hoppedance gone I…” She sighed. “Listen, I really thought you might want some time to yourself now that things have calmed down, and after all that happened, and…”

Viviane shook her head. “No, I want to talk to you.” Jean shivered slightly. “Relax,” said Viviane raising a hand. “I’m not angry. Frankly, I’m rather impressed with how you kept your head back there in all that.” She took Jean by the hand. “Really.”

“Oh,” said Jean quietly. “Well, thank you I--OWWWW!” Jean screeched as Viviane raised the younger woman’s hand to her mouth and bit. “What the hell did you do that for?”

“Sorry,” said Viviane, licking the blood from her mouth. “Just had to be sure.” She gave Jean a brittle smile. “Here, I’ll make it all better…”

Jean watched as a gentle glow suffused her hand, the small wound swiftly knitting itself close. “Umm… well, again thanks, I guess, but I still don’t get…”

“You know, when you first told me your name, my heart went to my throat,” said Viviane quietly. “But I told myself--‘well, it’s a common name. It doesn’t mean anything.’ And then Nisrioch discovered you had talent. And I told myself it was just a coincidence and that I had to move on with my life, and face facts. And then you grabbed my pestle--the pestle of the Badb, while I was channeling my power in it. And I then--I pretty much knew.” She took a deep breath. “It’s you. After all these years, it’s you. My little Gigi. Jehannine du Lac.” And suddenly Jean found herself engulfed in Viviane’s embrace. “Hello again, little sister.”

Jean blinked. “Umm… listen… Viviane… Your… Badb… ness…. I’m sure this is some mis…”

“Shhh….” said Viviane, resting her head on Jean’s shoulder. “Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise…” she began to sing.

“I…” Jean Crow stared at her. “That song… I… I know that song…” Tears began to come unbidden to her eyes.

““Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby,” continued Viviane. “Rock her, rock her, lullaby…” As she sang, Jean began to cry, and buried her face in Viviane’s hair.

“I thought you said you acted out of loyalty to… Gautier’s blood,” said Grizzel.

The River Ox gave a slow nod. “I did. And I do.” He looked at the sisters. “Both the blood of his leaving, and the blood of his adoption.” He shook his heavy head. “Lovely girls, aren’t they?”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 43

“Would you like some tea, sir?” asked the little old woman.

Augustus Gwyned looked up from his writing. “Mmm… No thank you, Mags.” He smiled at the old servant. “I’m surprised you’re still here.”

Mags snorted as she walked forward. “This isn’t first time Joyeuse has been in a tizzy about a Dark Lord. I stayed when old Lord Shaddad was supposed to be coming to kill us all, and earlier when Red Hasdra was supposed to being doing the same thing. Both times, they failed, and folks began to declare it a miracle.” She shrugged. “I wish to see if we’re going have a third one.”

Augustus set down his quill, and sighed. “Sparing us from the Dark Lord while still inflicting us with the Prince would count as a rather dubious miracle by my standards.”

“Mysterious are the ways of the Seven,” said Mags, pouring his tea. “I’ve been burning candles to Uriel for years now to help me with the pain in my hands. The results… have been mixed. But I keep at it. The Lord of the Sun works at His own pace, for His own reasons.”

“Assuming He works at all,” said Augustus.

“Sir!” said Mags.

“Well, damn it, Mags, look at what’s happened to this city,” said Augustus. “Once the Peers of Leonais had POWER. We could bring a King to heel if he overstepped himself. Or was a danger to the realm, like old Mad Tor. But this accursed Prince…” He shook his head furiously. “Amfortas has unmanned us all. The Council is jumping at shadows, unsure of what’s a threat and what isn’t. He asks for more and more, and we give it to him…” There was a heavy knock on the outer door. It continued for quite some time. “Isn’t anybody going to get that?” asked the Duke.

“I’m the only one here,” answered Mags. “So perhaps your views aren’t as rare as you’d like to imagine?” She headed towards the door. Augustus watched her go, and then picked up his quill again. ‘It is of the utmost important that we move swiftly. He has overreached himself, and thus is now exposed…’

“Sir,” came Mags’ voice, filled with quiet fear. Augustus dropped his pen and turned towards the door. Lucien de Cortana entered.

“Ahh! Duke Cortana! I was hoping to see you!” began Augustus, only to stop as Lanval Equitan followed Lucien in. Augustus glanced at the younger Duke.

“I… He… It…” began Lucien nervously.

“What the Duke of Cortana is trying to tell you,” explained Lanval levelly, “is that he has sold you to us in exchange for a pardon.”

Lucien looked down ashamedly at his feet. Augustus nodded to himself, then turned to the Serjeant of the Prince’s Men. “You think I never expected this? I knew I was risking my life the moment I started to move against Amfortas. And I accepted that. I know I won’t see it now, but Leonais will be free of your accursed Prince and…”

“Count Sesyll is dead, Gwynedd,” said Lanval. “My men killed him this very night. Him, and quite a few other members of his family. We also took his little grandson in custody.” The Serjeant smiled. “So you see--the Prince’s Men are going to be with you for a while yet.” Lanval watched Augustus face fall. The Serjeant looked away. “I’ll try and make this quick.” He drew his sword, and stabbed the Duke of Hauteclaire in the stomach.

Lucien gulped. “You--you said you were going to arrest him…”

“I lied,” said Lanval. “Same as about your pardon.” Lucien let out a scream, that swiftly stopped when Lanval brought his mace down on the man’s head. He then turned and finished off Augustus. He regarded the bodies for a moment, then nodded to himself, sheathing his sword. And then he helped himself to Gwynedd’s cup of tea.

Mags was standing there, old and frightened as he left the room. “You made that tea yourself, did you?” he asked. She gave a nervous nod. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I could be sure of your silence,” Lanval added with a sigh. Mags seemed about to try to make a positive answer--but gave up and merely shrugged. “I thought so.” He stepped forward, and raised his mace. “Pity. That was a mighty fine cup of tea.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 42

The Chapterhouse was chaos when Archon Septimus Seraphim reached it.

“Oh, Archon!” said Sir Alexandros Chashmalim. “It’s horrible…! Young Squire Edmund is…” The Eremite gulped. “It was Squire Edmund Delta of the Sacristans! The one he befriended.” Alexandros shook his head. “I… you were right. We could not trust them. Most have fled… It’s… The Dark Lords…”

Septimus perked up slightly when he heard. “Yes, the Dark Lords. They are terrible.” He took a deep breath. “I… me and my men clashed with the Black Dragon. He slew them all. Only I survived.”

Alexandros gasped. “You crossed swords with Mansemat Cthonique and lived?”

Septimus tried to answer but found he could not. He settled for a nod. The Archon looked around the hall. Men were rushing about, shouting at each other, looking for answers. His throat felt suddenly dry. He gulped, then licked his lips. He tried to produce words. At first, they would not come. But then--they did. They came loud, and long and clear, pouring from him, like water from a crystal fountain. “Fellow Eremites--we stand betrayed--betrayed by those we thought our allies. The powers of Darkness seem… overwhelming. And yet not all hope is lost. The Light--the Light of the Holy Seven burns bright in our hearts, never to be extinguished, so long as we keep the faith. We will not fail--because it will never fail. The Holy Light will triumph.” He smiled at them. To his surprise, the assembly applauded. Septimus yawned, and began to rub his eyes.

“Are you all right, sir?” asked Sir Alexandros.

“Just tired,” said Septimus.

A trio of young men stepped forward. “We can help him to his chambers,” said one.

Septimus peered at him. “Squire Jerome…” He turned to the others. “…And Ambrose. It is good to see you survived…”

Jerome nodded. “Yes, sir, well… we’ve undergone great torment…”

“We are pre…” began Ambrose, only to stop as Jerome raised his hand.

Septimus looked at the third man. “You are a Sacristan,” he noted.

“Squire Sylvester Khi, sir,” answered the young man. “I… some of us remained loyal.”

Septimus nodded. “And you will be rewarded for that. When this is done. Greatly rewarded.” He yawned again. “Perhaps… if you could…”

“Of course, sir,” said Sylvester. The group began heading for the Chapterhouse’s guest chamber. After a while, the Sacristan spoke. “So--you fought with Mansemat Cthonique?”

Septimus took a deep breath. “Yes,” he finally managed. He bit his lip. “I was fortunate to survive.”

Sylvester put a hand on the Archon’s shoulder. “We are all fortunate, sir.”

Septimus nodded silently once again. They reached the door of his chamber after that. Septimus smiled, nodded at the young Squires, and stepped inside.

Once by himself, the Archon hurled himself to the ground and wept. He did so for a long time, lying huddled in a little ball.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 41

“This way seems clear,” said Edward, peering down the street.

“Are you going to ride that horse the entire way?” said Elaine, walking beside him. “I mean--there’s a boat involved in this. Do you really want to take a horse on a boat?”

“Well…” began the Sacristan. “You see, Neigette is…”

“Neigette? You named it…?” said Elaine.

“It is a she,” explained Edward.

Elaine rolled her eyes. “Okay, you named her…”

Mansemat raised his hand. “Quiet.”

Edward turned to the Dark Lord. “What…? I told you it’s…”

Mansemat glanced at the young Sacristan. “Not being quiet.” He turned towards a small building and walked towards. “I heard something from over there. It sounded like a whimper…”

“Can he really hear things like that…?” asked Edward.

“Apparently,” noted Elaine flatly. “He heard you coming.”

The Sacristan nodded. “Ahh.” He took a deep breath and dismounted. “You know,” he said, as he hit the ground, “that is kind of creepy, on consideration…”

“You’re carrying around a case full of dead guy,” said Elaine. “You don’t get to declare anything creepy. Anything. At all.”

“Look, it’s a reliquary,” explained Edward. “The remains of Saint Julian within have been burnt into a fine ash, that is utterly in…” He stopped mid-sentence. “All right. You win.”

Mansemat strode to the portal of a small building. A huddled group of people were sitting on the floor, as two men in white masks bearing whips walked among them. “Keep quiet, you…” said one. “Do you want…?”

The second masked man saw Mansemat standing there and coughed. “Ummm… Jus… I mean, Brother Law…?”

“What is it, Brother Cord?” said the one who’d spoken earlier, turning. He blinked. “Ahh. Yes. The Dark Lord.”

Mansemat stared at the pair for a moment, then glanced at the small group around them. They were chained, and most had some strange mark on their foreheads. He frowned, and drew his sword.

Brother Law looked at him a moment, then turned. “Screw this,” he said quietly, walking away. “Joyeuse does not pay us enough.”

Brother Cord watched his fellow leave. “Brother Law… surely we should do SOMETHING?”

“You can try,” said the retreating man.

Brother Cord raised his whip, his hand trembling. “Halt… Dark Lord. I am a Holy Flagellant and I…” The whip fell from his hands. He stared at it on the ground, then stared at Mansemat for a moment. “Clearly, I am no match for your unholy power,” stated Brother Cord. He turned and rushed after Brother Law.

Mansemat looked at the prisoners for a moment. They looked back nervously. “Were those two Flagellants I just saw…” said Edward. He saw the prisoners and gulped. “Ah. Yes. Dark Lord. Sir. You--should go. These people are criminals. Sir.” Mansemat glanced at him and frowned. Edward looked away.

“What’s going…?” began Elaine. She growled as she saw the prisoners. “I see.” She spat. “The Eremites were doing this to people when I came to town. Printers. Seizing them and marking them, and making them slaves. For printing.”

“It’s… not just printing,” said Edward. “The Flagellants are given imperium over many… lawbreakers. Prostitutes. Thieves. Vagabonds. Swindlers.”

Mansemat nodded. “And what of murderers?”

“Those we kill,” said Edward. He shut his eyes. “Can you say these people will live honest lives if let go, sir?”

Mansemat smiled to himself. “I’ve made worse calls.” He drew Murgleys. “In Her Service, All Chains Shall We Break,” he recited to himself, and the struck the blade against the ground. The chains cracked, and the shackles fell off the prisoners’ feet. “Be free.”

They watched the prisoners rise unsteadily and then rush away. A few paused to bow before Mansemat. Edward watched them leave and then glanced at the Dark Lord. “You know, sir, I have had… doubts as to the course of action the Preceptor chose this entire time…”

“And are they gone?” asked Mansemat.

Edward shook his head. “But I find that I am now… strangely optimistic about it…”

“Hey,” said Elaine. “One of the prisoners is trying to head off with your horse…”

The Sacristan blinked and rushed towards the door. “Oh, son of a…”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 40

Aemilius Praetorious steadied himself as he walked down the hallway. The Concordat-born Doctor had had many experiences in his life. Waking up in a pool of his own sick with the knowledge that said sick had saved his life was now one of them.

He was not happy about that. Still--he was alive. That was something to the good.

At least, he liked to think so.

A sudden kick in his stomach left him weak, leaning against the wall. It occurred to him that he still wasn’t quite through with the aftereffects of the poison. He would probably need something to keep himself up. Nothing to severe. A cup of tea would do the trick.

“Doctor Praetorious,” said a soft voice. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Praetorious gulped, and took a deep breath. He turned to his right, and bowed to Amfortas. “Your Highness. I…” He stared at the Prince. “Are you all right, sir?”

Amfortas smiled, even as he continued to clutch his side. “Oh, I’m fine, Doctor. I just had a fight with the Dark Lord, you know. It didn’t go very well.” He gave a cheerful chuckle. “Actually, I think he may have caused me a severe injury.”

Praetorious blinked. “And this is… fine…?”

Amfortas smiled at him. “Well, I suppose when you put it that way, it isn’t.” He laughed again. “Still--it’s only physical pain. Hardly a major issue.”

Praetorious coughed. “Perhaps, sir, I should… give you a quick look over.” He took a step forward and then had to fall back to the wall as the room started to spin.

“It would seem you’re in worse shape than I, Doctor,” commented Amfortas cheerfully. “May I ask what brought you to this… extremity?”

Aemilius shut his eyes. “I… your father escaped. And doused me with… his medicine…”

Amfortas chuckled once again. “Ahhh, my. I thought you had him under control.” Praetorious looked at the Prince pleadingly. Amfortas waved his hand. “No, no. Don’t worry, Doctor. I will not release you from my service for this little error. A man of your skills, after all, is very useful. I’m sure that I can find something constructive for you to do.”

Praetorious winced. “I… thank you, sir.”

“Do not mention it,” said the Prince, offering the Doctor his hand. “Of course--don’t imagine I am pleased with your failure.” He smiled gently. “I will require you to make up for it, one day.”

The Doctor nodded as he took Amfortas’ hand. “I would expect no less, sir.” The pair began to walk down the hall. “Sir… may I ask… where we are headed?”

“My chambers,” said Amfortas. “I have some papers to dispose of. And some people to meet.”

“Papers…?” asked Praetorious, trying to keep his eyes open.

“Well, to be fair, it was something of a will,” explained Amfortas. “Useless now, actually.” He shook his head. “He left me alive, you see.” Amfortas shook his head. “It’s odd, really. I didn’t think he would, at first. He seems to think this way I would suffer. But I don’t suffer. I never suffer. That’s how I realized what I was.” Amfortas chuckled again. “Oh, well. What can be expected from Douma Dalkiel’s accursed children?”

Praetorious merely nodded in agreement.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 39

Mansemat froze on the city street. Elaine took the chance to catch her breath. “Is… there a reason we’ve stopped…?” she asked, leaning against a nearby wall.

“There’s a horse coming,” said Mansemat. “Riding heavy. The rider is… a young man, leaning in the saddle, as if very tired.”

Elaine stared at her stepfather. “Did you get all of that through some… magic Blade of Night enhanced senses… thing?”

“No,” answered Mansemat, gesturing behind Elaine’s head.. “I figured all that out by turning around to look at the approaching horse.”

Elaine frowned and turned around. “Right. Should have known.” Her eyes narrowed. “Crap. It’s a Sacristan.” Her hand went to the Blade of Day. “All right, you Holy bastard, prepare to be skewered…!” she began.

“Whoa! Easy! Easy, Dark Lords!” said the Sacristan raising an empty hand. “I’m on your side. Sort of.”

Elaine glared at him. “Yeah. Right. I have to say as tricks go this is…” She blinked. “Do I know you…?”

“Uh, yes,” said the Sacristan nervously. “Sort of. I was one of the people helping to guard you, Miss… Princess.” He stared at her. “Is that the Sword of Light?” Elaine gave a silent nod. “Well, that’s… odd.” He coughed. “I’m Squire Edward Delta. If… you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t,” said Elaine.

“Right,” said Edward, looking away. “Umm… you’re… Mansemat, right? Mansemat Cthonique?”

“Correct,” said Mansemat.

Edward began to nod rapidly. “Oh good! Good! I was just… finishing up business at the Chapterhouse, and… well, the Badb told me to tell you that they’ll be by the docks. And to look out for the Stylites, who are--and I’m quoting her ‘really, really freaky’.”

“You saw my mother?” said Elaine. “And she… spoke to you?”

“Like I said, same side now,” replied Edward. “Well--kind of.”

Mansemat gave a slight bow. “Thank you for your service.”

“May I… travel with you?” asked Edward. “I… we can get back to the others faster, if we travel together.”

“Of course,” said Mansemat.

Edward fell in behind them. “Very good.” He glanced at Elaine. “If the lady wishes to ride with me…” he began.

“I’m fine,” answered Elaine. Edward nodded. Glancing at the Sacristan, she pointed to the elaborately-carved box. “What is that?”

“Saint Julian,” answered Edward. “Or… what remains of him.”

“Was that your… business at the Chapterhouse?” she asked. “Collecting some pieces of Milesian saint?”

“That and killing Edmund Erelim,” said Edward.

Elaine frowned. “Who?”

“An Eremite,” replied the Sacristan softly. “He was my friend.”

“Oh,” said Elaine. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s all right,” said Edward.

“Really?” asked Elaine.

The Sacristan took a deep breath. “No. Not really.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 38

Edmund Erelim opened the Sacristan Chapterhouse door. “All right everyone, we have to hurry! Preceptor Rho has…”

Sir Alexandros Chashmalim regarded the young Eremite balefully. “Squire Edmund, may I ask why you are being accompanied by two women? Have you forgotten the Rule of the Eremites granted to us by…?”

“No, no, of course not,” muttered Edmund swiftly. “Uh… Sir Alexandros… May I present Squires Ambrose and Jerome… they…”

Alexandros blinked. “Oh, my.”

“It was a Dark Lord,” said Jerome quietly.

“We are pretty, pretty prin--” began Ambrose, only for Jerome to whack him swiftly in the head.

Alexandros scratched his head. “Well… this is… well, still inappropriate, but not quite as…”

“This really isn’t important now, Sir Alexandros,” stated Edmund, trying to suppress a sigh. “Once again, Preceptor Rho…”

Alexandros rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know about Preceptor Rho and his special orders… Everything is…”

“What?” said Edmund.

Alexandros stared at him, looking increasingly nervous. “His special orders,” said Alexandros. “The messengers to the other Sacristan chapterhouses. They’ve just been sent out.” He gave an uneven laugh. “Quite a few of them, actually. I’d say there are more Eremites here now than Sacristan…”

Edmund leaned forward. “Is anyone left?”

“The young man who brought the orders is still there, I think,” said Alexandros. “Waiting for them to get his horse ready…”

Edmund turned to Sylvester Khi. “You stay here, and keep an eye on things. In case there’s another trick prepared.” He glanced at Ambrose and Jerome. “And you two--get some… more appropriate clothing on.”

Ambrose stared at him dully. “But we are pretty, pretty--” Jerome gave him another whack on the head.

“You are much too fond of doing that,” said Sylvester.

“I’ve been his partner for four years now,” said Jerome. “This makes it all worth it…”

Edmund hurried to the stable, and saw the slender figure in the garb of the Sacristans preparing to get on his horse. “Somehow, I knew it would be you…”

Edward Delta nodded. “And somehow, I knew if I ran into someone, it would be you.” His left hand traveled to his sword. “So--I suppose you’ve come to stop me…?” Edmund nodded, his right hand going to his. “You’re too late. I’ve already done most of what the Preceptor sent me out to do. At this point, I’m fairly disposable.”

Edmund glanced at the small casket fastened to the horse. “Oh, I have my doubts about that. I think Rho needs every man he can get. And I think he needs the remains of Saint Julian even more.” He drew his sword. “Stop this, Edward. I know you’re a good man. You’ve done--well, some awful things, but if you step back from this madness now, I’m certain…”

“That sounds a lot like what I was going to say to you,” noted Edward, drawing his sword. “I have only one reply. I am a keeper of the Holy Sacristy, a servant of the Oaken Throne, a Knight of the Seven. The Holy Light guides my blade. I am loyal unto death, and indeed beyond it. I will not turn from my appointed path. So I swear by the Seven.”

Edmund nodded. “And my reply to you is that I am a dweller in the Holy Hermitage, who has forsaken all to live by its Rule. By renouncing all wealth, I am richer than any king. By renouncing all family, I have made all men my brothers. By renouncing all glory, my raiment shines like a star. I have only one desire--to serve the Holy Light, whose Knight I am. Seven guide my blade.”

The pair regarded each other for a moment. Finally Edward laughed. “I thought you’d say something like that.” He shook his head. “Funny situation, eh?”

Edmund nodded, a tear appearing in his eyes. “Oh, very. So… shall we begin this?” The pair readied their swords, and rushed at each other.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 37

Jernis coughed and hacked up a bit of phlegm. “Well--this is embarrassin’, ain’t it?”

Lanval glanced at his subordinate. “No shame in being beaten by a worthy foe.”

The slender Prince’s Man pointed to the harbor. “I was thinkin’ more of the fleet. That’s twice now they been taken out by birds.” He spat again. “Badly done. Badly done.”

Gilly clapped her hands. “They’re burning another ship! That’s four!” She tilted her head back and squealed. Razalic nodded and gave her a fond pat to the head.

Lanval was considering his reply when the sound of splashing water caught his attention. “Oh, thank the Seven! Prince’s Men!” He turned to see the soaked form of a man in a scarlet cloak climbing out of the Murkenmere.

“Guigemar,” drawled Lanval. “We were just talking about you.”

The exiled River Trader gave them a nervous smile. “Serjeant! Thank the Heavens!” He threw himself at Lanval’s feet. “It’s madness out there! Ships burning! The river--attacking us!”

“We’ve noticed,” said Lanval. He nodded at Razalic, who swiftly darted forward and seized Guigemar by the shoulders.

“What…? What are you…?” stammered Guigemar. He looked at Lanval desperately. “Prince Amfortas… he’ll…”

“His Highness ordered me to… take care of you if you had another failure,” said Lanval. He shrugged. “I don’t think he feels you’ve been a winning investment.” The Serjeant gestured towards his men. “I’m delegating the affair to my subordinates.”

Gilly smiled at the quivering River Trader. “So I can burn him now?”

Jernis smiled and drew out a long, thin scalpel. “Let me go first, Gilly. When I got done with a man, there’s a enough left him for you to enjoy yerself. It don’t work the other way around.”

Gilly pouted. “All right. But just don’t kill him, okay? Dead bodies aren’t as much fun…”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” snickered Jernis, drawing near Guigemar.

Guigemar shut his eyes and whimpered. “This… it’s because… of the children isn’t it? My people threw me out because of that and now…”

Lanval sighed and shook his head. “My objections to you, Bottomfeeder, are not moral--they’re aesthetic. There’s no joy in your crimes--no flair. Simply the dull actions of a dull man feeding his base appetites.” The Serjeant gestured towards himself. “I may have done many horrible things over the years--but I had a style to it. And my dear associates here--well, I won’t lie, they’re a bunch of murderous lunatics--but they’re FUN murderous lunatics. You… aren’t.” He leaned forward, and looked Guigemar in the eyes. “You simply make us look bad… and I just can’t have that.”

He stood up again and began to walk away. “Well, adieu. I have an appointment to keep now. Jernis--Razalic--Gilly--meet me back at the Palace in… oh, two hours.” He smiled at them. “Until then… enjoy yourselves.”

Five minutes after he started to walk away, the screaming began. Lanval Esquitan smiled to himself and fondly shook his head.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 36

Palamedes glanced at the ships coming towards them. “Serjeant,” he said softly, “please tell me the Dark Lords are going to come through.”

“They’ll come through lad,” answered Grizzel.

Palamedes gulped. “You’re sure of that, right? Because those ships are big. And numerous.” An arrow landed on the boat beside him. Palamedes regarded it nervously. “And filled with very scary people.”

Grizzel nodded. “Well, if it makes you feel better, lad, I think those scary people are scared of us. As they should be.”

“Really?” Palamedes stood noticeably straighter. “Am… I included in that…” Grizzel nodded. “It’s just that… well, between the kidding… and the ribbing… and the mocking… and…”

“We respect you, Woodash,” said Grizzel. “We make fun of you every now and then--mostly because you’re so damned sensitive--but you’re a man we like to have at our backs. Because you’re solid.”

Palamedes frowned. “Is that a weight crack?”

“No,” said the Goblin, rolling his eyes. “What I mean is you’re one who looks after his fellows. Who sticks by those he’s with through thick and thin. And most of all--I mean you’re one of us.”

The chubby Erl blinked, then laughed. “Well--thank you. Especially the whole weight matter.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Grizzel. “It’s easy for you to forget--but I was green once myself. A young recruit, getting shown the ropes by Serjeant Cambyses. I used to live for that man’s approval. Happiest day of my life when I got it.” He frowned. “Well--in some aspects. In the other--well, retreating back over the River with King Pelleas’ army chasing you isn’t very…”

“Please stop, sir,” said Palamedes quietly.

Grizzel slapped his forehead and chuckled. “Right, right. Sorry, lad. Sometimes, you forget.”

Palamedes stared at the ships. “So about the Dark Lords’ help is that coming…” At that moment, a large wave smashed into the enemy ships. “Ahh, yes. There it is.”

Grizzel laughed, as birds began to attack the crew on several ships, while several riggings burst into strange greenish flames. “Feeling foolish now?”

“Not really,” said Palamedes. “Those ships are still scary.”

Sacripant and Quiet rushed up to join them. “The Badb’s back. With Their Excellencies, and a bunch of Sacristans, and an old guy who seems to be the king of this place. And they all want us to move out.”

Grizzel blinked. “What about Her Estimable Grace and His Magnificence?”

“They’re coming,” said the Marsh Erl. “Along with some more Sacristans that they sent out to get some things done.” The pair stared at him. “Look, I barely understand it myself.”

“Ahh, well,” said Grizzel. “The important thing is, we aren’t dead yet.”

An arrow landed a few inches from his head.

“Yet being the operative word,” noted Palamedes.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 35

Mansemat and Elaine burst through the doorway. “And here we are!” proclaimed Mansemat.

Elaine glanced around. “On a balcony. With the ground hundred of ells below us.” She coughed. “Please tell me that you have a plan for this. Even one that involves gryphons.” Mansemat looked at her. “I’m that desperate.”

“I see.” He gave a nod, and then coughed. “Well--sadly we are not at the gryphon portion of my plan.”

Elaine stared at him. “There’s--a gryphon PORTION? And this isn’t it?”

Mansemat fidgeted under her gaze. “Ahh, yes. I really couldn’t have the gryphons hang around here, what with all the men with bows. And crossbows. And slings. And so forth.” He frowned. “They’re very delicate creatures.”

“Yeah, I get it,” said Elaine rolling her eyes. “So--how are we getting down from this?”

“Easy,” declared Mansemat, pointing upwards. “We’re going to run down it.”

Elaine stared at him blankly. “Run down the wall?”

Mansemat nodded. “Correct.”

Elaine looked away. “That is impossible.”

“On the contrary, it is quite possible,” answered Mansemat, smiling brightly. “I’ve done it before.” He paused. “Well, all right, not PRECISELY this, but very similar things.” He began to lean over the edge. “You’re a Swordbearer now! Cease to think of limitations! Consider all that has occurred! Why we’ve always thought the Blade of Night and the Blade of Day were opposed, and--it appears we were wrong! We have been vouchsafed a vision of the world as it should be and…”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” Elaine muttered, with a sigh. “You really want me to hurl myself over this wall?”

“Not ‘hurl over’-- ‘run down’,” explained Mansemat. “There is a difference.” He offered her his hand. “Here. I’ll help you.”

Elaine took it, with a sigh. “Fine.” Mansemat turned and plunged over the side of the tower, his feet striking the edge with a clatter. To Elaine’s surprise, instead of falling, he began to scurry down it.

“Quick, quick!” shouted Mansemat. “Run! Keep moving, or you’ll well--move in a different manner.”

Elaine followed his advice, rushing down, keeping her feet in motion. It seemed to be working, though she was glad that Mansemat was…

That was when she realized that Mansemat was no longer holding her hand. Staring at the Dark Lord’s retreating form, she howled ‘You BASTARD!” as she hurried to catch up with him. At which point she realized that the ground was getting rather close. Mansemat chose that moment to leap off the wall and onto the ground, an example that Elaine decided to follow.

“How could you do that?” she screamed.

Mansemat shrugged. “Well, I thought it would help you learn. Which it did.” He coughed. “My… apologies if it… was… less than ideal.” He smiled hopefully. “You have to admit it was pretty neat..”

Elaine frowned and turned away. “Yeah. It was.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 34

Squire Edmund Erelim stared at the closet door before him. Someone was banging on it fitfully, while making rather disconcerting grunting noises. On the whole, it was fairly unnerving, especially for Edmund who had found the rest of his squad dead after heading out for a brief indulgence in his bodily functions. (Eremites did not say ‘to take a piss’, as that was vulgar and meant acknowledging that one’s bodily functions were… well, frequently rather unpleasant.) This made him understandably worried about mysteriously knocking closets, and more specifically, what they might contain. Still, it occurred to the Eremite that this was unworthy behavior for a Holy Hermit Knight of the Seven. He was a sworn servant of the Holy Light, with a very sharp sword at his side. Drawing this instrument, he took a deep breath and opened the closet.

A young man fell out, with his wrists tied behind his back and a gag in his mouth. On closer inspection, Edmund realized he was a Sacristan. He knelt to free the poor fellow, and quickly untied the gag. “Oh, thank the Seven,” muttered the Sacristan. “I’ve been locked in there for hours…”

“Who… did this to you?” asked Edmund as he freed the Sacristan’s hands from his bonds.

“Preceptor Rho!” said the young man. “He’s gone mad! Just like King Pelleas! They’re planning some--insane escape. With the Nightfolk! And I objected, and they tied me up and threw me into the closet! Like crazy people! Crazy!”

“They?” said Edmund as the Sacristan stood up.

The young man glared at the Eremite as he stretched his aching limbs. “The other Sacristans! It’s madness! Madness!”

“Ahh.” Edmund gave a distracted nod. “And you are?”

“Sylvester!” said the Sacristan. “Sylvester Khi!” Edmund blinked. “You don’t remember me?”

The Eremite scratched his head. “Are you the stupid one? Who talks too much?”

Sylvester stared at him in quiet disbelief. “No. That’s Constans Mu.” He coughed. “Did Edward EVER mention me?”

Edmund shrugged. “We mostly talked about this and that.” He looked at Sylvester. “So--you know who I am, apparently.”

“Sure,” said Sylvester. “You’re--that Eremite who’s always with Edward Delta. Ummm…”

“Squire Edmund Erelim,” said Edmund.

Sylvester nodded. “Yes, that’s it.” He blinked. “Hey, that sounds just like…”

“Yes, that is what let to our acquaintance,” said Edmund. “I heard his name, commented that it was the same as mine, and things went from there.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s get out of here. Maybe we can keep whatever you think is going to happen from happening.”

The Sacristan nodded. “Right. I can explain the whole thing while we walk.” He followed Edmund out onto the battlements. “So--when we came here, we saw King Pelleas, and he was acting…”

“What’s that?” asked Edmund pointing ahead.

Sylvester blinked. “It… looks like… two women. Tied to a post on the wall.”

Edmund nodded. “Yes. That’s what I thought.”

“Then why did you…?” began Sylvester.

“Because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t going mad,” he stated, as he walked towards the figures. To his surprise, he recognized them. “Jerome? Ambrose? What happened to you? Why are you in women’s clothing?”

The two Eremites looked up at him grimly, something their heavily made-up faces made almost comical. “Because we are pretty, pretty princesses,” they intoned in near-perfect unison.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 33

Nisrioch grappled with the thing the Stylites had called forth, an oozing slime that took a shape that lay somewhere between a snake and a slug. As it tried to escape Nisrioch’s grip, the thing grew arms and lashed out at the Dark Lord. A strange gleam came to his rainbow-colored eyes, and suddenly the thing had burst into silver flames.

“Well, that’s taken care of,” he said, slapping his hands together.

“That’s nice, Nissy,” replied Morgaine. “They’re summoning another one.”

“Oh, damn it,” he snapped. He glanced at Pelleas. “I just want you to know, I am swiftly coming to hate the Stylites. Where’s the joy of the art? It’s like fighting a machine. A malignant curse spewing machine.”

Viviane glared at the chanting Stylites “Yeah, and these little bastards are the cogs.” The grass under the feet of the foremost Knights of the Tower grew into long brambles, tangling their legs. The Stylites behind them changed their chants, causing the brambles to wither and die. Viviane snarled “Damn it, just STOP!”

“I don’t think they’re going to, Viv,” said Jean quietly.

“Well could you get another flock of birds here?” said the Badb forcefully. “To delay them?”

“After what they did to the last bunch?” replied Jean. “I just--don’t have it in me…”

Pelleas glanced over his shoulders and continued to back away from the Stylites’ line. “Just a little longer. We’re almost to the back gate. At which point we’ll be in a very nice, twisty hallway that should confuse… oh, hell.”

“Wha…?” Morgaine turned and saw the Sacristans filing out of the doorway.

Pelleas sighed. “My apology for getting all of you killed.”

“Oh, I’m not scared of dying in a good cause,” said Nisrioch gently. “Frankly, matters being what they are, I’d prefer dying in an effort to fix them then simply having never tried at all…”

Morgaine coughed. “Remember--I’m already dead!”

The slender grey hair man leading the Sacristans raised his left hand. “Aim!” The holy knights brought up their crossbows.

“Is now really the time to quibble, Morgaine?” asked Nisrioch. “I know you don’t like getting hit by those things.”

“Hey, aside from the hideous pain, it’s not so bad!” said Morgaine.

“Do we really need to hear that?” asked Jean.

The head Sacristan lowered his hand. “And fire!” And with that the knights let loose their bolts at the Stylites.

The Nightfolk watched in surprise as the missiles struck the chanting knights. The Stylites fell back startled, many collapsing in the ground in pain when they were hit. “Come on!” shouted the head Sacristan. “We’re keeping the way clear for you.” Pelleas lead the group forward. “Your Majesty,” noted the Sacristan with a nod.

“Thank you, Maximillian,” said Pelleas. “I wasn’t sure that you’d found my note. Or that you’d even believed it if you had.” He gave a small sigh. “Frankly, after our little… argument in Evelone, I’ve been fairly convinced you thought I was mad.”

“I did,” noted Maximillian tiredly, “And I still suspect you are. But these days, half the damn country’s gone mad, with your bloody awful son leading the way.” The old Sacristan shrugged. “So I figured, what the hell? Whatever troubles we’ve had--you’re my friend. And more importantly, my king.”

“A king,” said Pelleas stepping forward. “There were times when I almost forgot that, you know…”

Viviane glanced at Jean. “This would probably be a lot more affecting if we knew what the hell was going on.”

“Me, I’m mostly glad not to be made into a pincushion,” answered the young sorceress.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Play of Light and Shadow--Part 32

Palamedes scrambled over the side of the boat. “That was too close for comfort. You realize that?”

“No, I didn’t,” said Sacripant, grabbing the shorter Erl’s hand to help him aboard. “I like fighting with murderous thugs, and watching them threaten my girlfriend with torches.”

Quiet placed her hands on her hips. “Oh, please. Like she even had a chance of hitting…” She glanced over the side of the ship, and suddenly paled. “Oh, crap…” she muttered, clinging to the side of the railing. “This again.”

Grizzel coughed. “If you people will all just stop talking and get to working… We have a boat to secure.” He glanced at the Milesian sailors already setting to work, and turned to the River Ox. “Are you sure we can trust these fellows?”

The large River Trader smiled. “Well, I won’t lie to you--there’s precious little love for the Dark Lords among those that ply the river. But Amfortas has gotten so bad over the years, folks are starting to wonder if there’s a difference between those hold the power on this side of the Murkenmere, and those that hold it on the other.”

Grizzel frowned. “I’d say there’s a big difference--at least between Amfortas and the Cthoniques…”

“Exceptin’ it was ol’ Shaddad who last raised hell by crossing the river,” said the River Ox. “And most of us are old enough to remember that--or have been told by someone.” He shook his head. “Anyway--they may not love your Dark Lord, but they hate Amfortas. And they trust me.”

“And what’s brought you over to our side?” asked Grizzel.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again--the River’s Uncrowned King bid me watch over his blood.” The River Ox shrugged. “I’m a man who likes to keep his word.”

“And you certainly have,” said Grizzel, looking over the water.

“Don’t say that yet,” muttered the River Ox. “We’re not out yet. And we might not be.” He gestured ahead. The ships which guarded the entrance to the port were slowly, ponderously turning around. “I think they’re starting to realize something’s up.”

“We were expecting that,” said Grizzel. “There’s a plan.”

“Are you going to share it with me?” said the River Ox. “You may not believe it, but I don’t like the idea of dying if I can help it. Telling me how I’m to avoid that would help my spirits.”

“When the time comes,” answered Grizzel. “Not a moment before.”

Sacripant glanced at Quiet. “Ummm… would you like a bag, maybe?”

The Ghoul shook her head.

“It’s just that some people take a while to get their waterlegs…” he continued.

Quiet glared at him.

“My uncle swears by ginger root,” said Palamedes.

“When has your uncle ever traveled?” asked Sacripant skeptically.

“On numerous occasions.” said Palamedes. “Kitchen staff doesn’t JUST stay in the kitchens. It leaves, to pursue kitchen-related matters.” He turned to Quiet. “Like I said… ginger does the…”

Quiet threw up.