Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paths Ending, Paths Beginning--Part 2

“Feel the sun on your face--and breathe out,” repeated Viviane du Lac.

Jean Crow did so, and then glanced at her elder sister. “So… how does this help me… be a witch again?”

“It helps you feel,” answered Viviane confidently.

Jean glanced over the Castle’s battlement, then back at Viviane. “Okay, that… really didn’t answer anything. What does feeling have to do with… witch… witchiness?”

“The word you’re looking for is witchery,” said Viviane. “And the answer to your question is everything.” Viviane raised her left hand to the heavens, and idly waved it. Gradually, the air around it began to ripple and swirl. “This isn’t like Nisrioch or Morgaine’s sorcery, where you figure out the rules and then work to exploit the loopholes--this is the OLD MAGIC! The Badb is a figure of authority---SHE does not ask favors of the forces of the universe--SHE MAKES DEMANDS!” With a sudden thrust of her arm, Viviane sent a gust of wind rushing forward.

Jean blinked. “Whoa… That…”

“Was the merest sampling of my awesome might!” declared Viviane in a booming voice. “For I am the Badb, and mine are the ways of power and TERROR!” She threw her head back and laughed, her eyes glowing an unearthly red, while deep shadows surrounded her face.

Jean gulped and then stared at her for a moment. “You… used to do that when we were kids, didn’t you?”

Viviane blinked, as her appearance went back to normal. “Ummm… what… do you mean?”

“The… spooky face thing,” said Jean. “You used to do that. And chase me around.”

Viviane frowned. “You liked it,” she declared.

“No,” said Jean, shaking her head. “No, I didn’t.”

“Well, I liked it,” said Viviane. She crossed her arms. “I mean--come on, Jean. I was twelve. And Mom tended to unload you on me. Constantly.” She shrugged. “I didn’t usually mind, but sometimes… well, you know. Twelve.”

Jean took a deep breath. “Yes, well, aside from revealing the source of my childhood nightmares, how is all this going to help me figure out how to be the Nemain?”

“You don’t need to figure anything out, Jean,” explained Viviane. “You are the Nemain. All you have to do is… do.”

Jean shut her eyes. “Right. Right. So… are you telling me I just spent half a year learning from Nisrioch, and none of it is any good to me?”

Viviane thought it over, then nodded. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Jean let out a frustrated sob, and buried her face in her hands. “And I finally had that damned trick with the glowing sphere down…”

“Hey,” said Viviane. “Language.”

Jean peaked up at her sister. “Viviane, you swear like a sailor at the least provocation.”

“Yes, but I’m not you,” said Viviane. “You being my beloved, long-lost little sister. Am I being damned clear?”

Jean stared at her for a second and sighed. “Oh, go get bent.”

Viviane let loose a snort. “Care to back up that tough talk?”

It occurred to Jean, as Viviane rolled up her sleeves, that she might be in trouble.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paths Ending, Paths Beginning--Part 1

Justinian Sigma knelt in the Chapel of the Seven in Shadow, and continued his prayers. “Radiant Uriel, pardon this sinner for his weakness. Sublime Annael, forgive this wretch for his failures. Mighty Ramiel, excuse…” A polite cough interrupted his prayer.

“I thought you might like these hot cross buns,” said Eurydice, dropping a basket by his side.

Justinian glanced at her, and sighed. “Eurydice, I must ask, with the greatest possible respect, what part of a fast don’t you understand?”

Eurydice frowned, and stepped before him. “The why part. You’re still recovering from what that… monster did to you. And so you are starving yourself in a chapel, reciting prayers and…”

“Eurydice, I don’t question your need to do the… hand thing every time someone mentions Mother Night, do I?” asked Justinian.

“Of course not,” declared Eurydice, touching her hand to her forehead, mouth and heart in quick sequence. “The Obeisant Gesticulation is simply a reminder of our service to Our Unholy Mother in Darkness in deed, thought, word, and feeling.” She shrugged. “It’s not something… silly like this.”

“It is a matter of faith, Eurydice,” said Justinian. “Just like what I’m doing right now.” He nodded at the mural of the Darksome Lady on the wall. “You wouldn’t feel right with your god if you didn’t do it. And I would not feel right with mine if I didn’t do this.”

“Yes, but the Darksome Lady exists,” said Eurydice. “Even you Mileisans acknowledge that. You just think She’s some sort of demon, for some strange reason.”

Justinian raised an eyebrow. “Are you telling me the Seven don’t exist?”

Eurydice shifted her feet nervously. “Ummm… they might, but… they might not…” She looked at Justinian positively. “But that’s beside the point. The point is--EVERYBODY agrees Mother Night is real.” She frowned. “Well okay, except for the Orahatian Mikhelites. But those guys are weird.”

Justinian sighed. “I’m not trying to dispute the existence of Douma Dalkiel with you, Eurydice. I’m just trying to explain why I’m doing this.”

“Well, you’re doing a bad job,” said Eurydice with a nod.

“Just take the rolls away,” said Justinian, shutting his eyes.

“They’re not rolls, they’re hot cross buns!” shouted Eurydice. “You have to eat them now! While they’re hot! Otherwise, they’re not very good.”

“Well, I won’t,” replied Justinian. “So… just take them away.”

Eurydice stared at him for a moment, then turned away. “You are the most frustrating man I’ve ever known. And remember, I know a lot of people. I was even engaged to Palamedes Woodash.”

Justinian stared back at her. “Palamedes Woodash is the mildest, most unassuming man I know.”

“Oh, that’s what he gets people to think,” noted Eurydice, wrinkling her nose. “By being all quiet, and apologizing all the time. But then, then, just when you think you have him figured out, he goes and has an opinion on you.” She shook her head. “It is so, so very annoying.”

Justinian shut his eyes. “I’m not having the hot cross buns, Eurydice,” he said calmly.

Eurydice took a deep breath and picked up her basket. “Maybe if I leave one here…”

“No, Eurydice,” stated Justinian.

“Fine!” she snapped, storming towards the chapel doors. “Starve to death! See if I care when they drag your emaciated corpse from this chapel!” She paused a moment. “Unless the thought of me bawling my eyes out at the sight of your dead body would make you rethink things. Then I will care, very much!”

“I appreciate the kind thoughts,” said Justinian, quietly.

Eurydice grumbled something under her breath, and left the Chapel.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 30

“Isn’t this great, Palepole?” announced Faileuba. “Ponies! We’ve got ponies! Real, live ponies!”

Gwydd frowned. “Yeah. Wonderful. I am filled with a gentle sense of delight.”

Faileuba stuck her tongue out at him. “Hmmph. Princess Sugar-Wonderful-Sparkling-Joy and I are ignoring your negativity.” She leaned forward and began to rub her face in the pony’s mane. “Isn’t that right, Princess?”

Gwydd stared in horror. “Do you have any idea where that pony has been?”

“A wonderful land filled with rainbows and enchantment?” suggested Faileuba.

The Goblin sighed. “Sure. Right. Enchantment.” He turned to Meliadus. “Tell me you realize how crazy and disgusting she’s acting?”

“I’m sorry,” replied Meliadus, “but King-Awesome-Incredible-Awesomeness and I are in agreement with Fai. Ponies are great.”

Gwydd raised a hand and began to massage the bridge of his nose. “How have you to gotten on so long in the real world?”

“By beating up lots of people,” said Faileuba.

“Chivalrously!” added Meliadus.

“Of course!” noted Faileuba with a nod.

Gwydd nodded sadly. “Right.” He pulled out the little silver necklace from his pocket and looked at it again.

“Memento from an old flame?” asked Faileuba.

“No,” said Gwydd. “It was Chult’s.”

“Wow, you do move fast,” she declared.

“Your various insults over aristocratic Goblin custom no longer disturb me,” declared Gwydd calmly.

“Awww,” said Faileuba, pouting, “you’re no fun anymore.”

“It seemed to have some sort of symbolic meaning for him,” continued the Goblin. “Tied to whoever gave him the money to hire the Disciples. And it hit me that we’ve been seeing a lot of these lately. Like the leader of those bandits, operating near Altaripa. Or that bunch of smugglers, in Belfior. Or…”

There was a large explosion. “Oooh! Fireworks!” said Faileuba enthusiastically.

Gwydd sighed and glanced at the Murkenmere, flowing in the distance, with bright lights appearing with every bang. “Actually, I think those are rockets,” he said.

“What’s the difference?” yawned Meliadus.

“Rockets mean war,” replied the Goblin.

Faileuba shrugged. “They’re still pretty.”

Meliadus looked at the explosions, and nodded. “Yeah, whatever this is, we’ll probably hear what’s going on at the next stop. So why worry now? Let’s move, while we still have money in our pockets, and a chance at a good job. For we are young, dashing chivalrous warriors!”

“I second that,” declared Faileuba, raising her hand.

“And I third it,” added Meliadus.

“You can’t third it, you firsted it!” explained Faileuba.

“Hey, I can third, and even fourth it if I so desire,” he replied.

As the two Erls rode cheerfully away, chatting all the while, Gwydd sighed. He felt like he’d been on the verge of something, but his partners had once again put a stop to it. “What a life,” he muttered. He watched the rockets exploding on the Murkenmere, and wondered once again what was going on. “And the mountain cried ‘Too high, too high, that endless expanse they call the sky, I reach but it is greater than I, the sky it is too high,” he sang softly to himself, as he continued on his way.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

And the Mountain Cried, 'Too High, Too High'--Part 29

Idun watched Brandomarte Vanir and Fiordelisa Aesir kiss the axe, and sighed.

“This entire job has been one giant waste of time,” she muttered to herself, shaking her head. She’d come here, expecting to play a small, but significant part in ending an age-old feud. Instead, she’d discovered herself to be superfluous to the matter--a bit part in the political theater the Margrave and the Count-Palatine used to keep their more bellicose relatives and followers satisfied. And really, what could she expect? The Dark Lords of the Fangs had left the Southern Lords to their own devices for centuries now--the Counts-Palatine had officially been allies to Lords of the Stonefangs, not subjects. And despite this tradition of benign neglect, they apparently thought that the Southerners were helpless without them--could not live without them--needed the Fangs to tell them what to do.

“What do we rule?” asked Idun quietly. “Other than a handful of fortresses in the mountains, I mean?”

Idun heard a little cough. “Ummm… Skald Bragi?” She turned to see Nan Walsing standing there, looking rather nervous. “Are… you… what are you talking a…?”

“Just muttering to myself,” said Idun. “I do that a lot.” Nan managed a rather nervous nod. “So… what brings you here?” Nan looked at her feet in a rather nervous manner. Idun turned to the door. “You know, I do have places to go. Things to do. Recitations to deliver. And so forth. So I’ll just head on my way…”

“Thanks for… all you did,” blurted out Nan. “With my father, and the discussions, and the Gibelings and…”

Idun turned to regard the Ettin. “I did jackshit, Miss Walsing.” She shook her head. “Old Bragi is probably shaking his head in disgust in the Halls of Ancestors. He once stopped a war with an epic.” Nan stared at her. “It was a real good epic,” explained Idun.

Nan nodded. “Right.” Her eyes turned to the wedding, and then shut. “Umm… well… still… thanks… for…”

Idun noticed the tears appearing in the corner of Nan’s eyes. “Oh. Well--you’re welcome.” She looked at the wedding, and nodded to herself. “You know… through a set of circumstances that I will not detail, I am in need of an apprentice after letting my last one go.” She shrugged. “It’s not a well-paying job, but you travel a lot--see all sorts of things…”

“Are you--are you… offering me a job?” asked Nan, staring at the skald in disbelief.

“Yep,” said Idun. She looked the Walsing in the eye. “I find one of the best ways to put sorrow behind me is to put some distance between me and it. One reason I became a skald. Aside from the whole family matter…”

Nan bit her lip. “Is there… is there something I have to do…?”

“Yes. Pack your bags, and get ready.” Idun shrugged. “Not a whole lot of ritual involved in taking apprentices. Becoming a proper skald’s the complicated thing.”

“Ummm. Wow. Thank you.” A slight, brittle smile had come to the Ettin’s face. “I--I go… do that…” She turned to leave, then paused. “I… is this because… you feel… that thing between you and…”

Idun raised a hand. “Remember that apprentice I mentioned? The one I no longer have? Well, I will mention that his severance involved a tendency to ask questions I didn’t want to answer.” She smiled. “Am I understood?”

Nan nodded. “I’ll go get… packed…”

Idun watched the young Ettin scurry away, and shook her head. “I am such a sucker for a sob story,” she muttered. She turned to the wedding and took a deep breath.

“Skald Bragi!” boomed Dolistone as she marched forward. “So good of you to…”

Idun frowned. “I’d like to make this brief, understood? Because--and don’t take this the wrong way--I would sort of like a break from having to listen to the sound of your voice, Count.” Manodante started to say something. “You too, Margrave.” She looked at Brandomarte and Fiordelisa. “So… keeping it brief. Be good to each other.” She leaned forward. “Understand me? Be very good to each other.”

The pair looked at her, slightly confused. “We… will be,” said Fiordelisa.

Idun turned to leave. “Yeah. I hope so. I really do. With all my heart.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 28

“So, you feeling better?” asked Faileuba.

Meliadus yawned, and then sat up in his cot. He glanced around several times. “Well, I no longer feel an urge to vomit when I try to look around the room.”

Faileuba slapped him companionably on the shoulder. “Baby steps. Baby steps.” She flashed him a grin. “Well, good thing that your creepy old friend is dead, right?” Meliadus remained silent. “I mean--it’s not like we’re going to see him again, right?” Meliadus frowned. Faileuba coughed. “Right?”

“Right,” said Meliadus suddenly. “He is almost certainly dead.”

Faileuba sighed. “You’re a terrible liar, Meliadus, you know that?” She shook her head. “So… I’m not even going to ask where you got the hellpowder, because that’s just you being… well, you…”

“Thank you,” said Meliadus cheerfully. “I’m glad you’ve noticed my propensity for explosive devices of all sorts.”

“Not meant as a compliment,” muttered Faileuba. She bit her lip. “I--ever tell you about my father?”

“I wasn’t even sure you had one,” he noted, shaking his head.

Faileuba squinted at him. “Well--then how did you think…?”

“I’ve also assumed you grew in a patch of poison ivy,” explained Meliadus. Faileuba squint turned into an offended stare. “It was admittedly, a rough guess.”

“He was a Thanatos, like me,” said Faileuba. “And he used his vast and incredible power to be… a butcher. He killed the village’s cattle and pigs and the occasional sheep, and once, I believe a goat, quick and clean.” She shrugged. “He thought that if he did that, people would like him. And he was wrong. They… grudgingly tolerated him, they let him marry and have a kid, but they were just waiting for him to screw up. One day, a kid vanished, and they surrounded him, and strung him up, and he let them, even though he could have sent the bastards scurrying with his eyes closed.” Faileuba frowned. “I guess he figured that he was proving something by not fighting back. They found the kid the next day. Alive and fine. She’d wandered off in the forest, eating berries, and lost track of the time.”

Meliadus placed a hand on her shoulder. “I guess he taught you a lot.”

Faileuba glared at him. “Yeah, that stupid sacrifices are stupid. He could have fought those bastards off and lived. He could have made a good name for himself, doing great things. Instead he threw all that away chasing acceptance from a bunch of stupid hicks who would never give it to him.” She shook her head. “I’m not going to die like that, Meliadus. And I’m not letting my friends die like that either. Understand?”

Meliadus nodded, then yawned. “Man, I never knew lying in one spot could be so exhausting.”

“Yeah, well, prepare to forget it--we’re traveling again,” she declared. “We’ve actually been given money, and I think leaving before we outwear our welcome might let us keep it.”

Meliadus fell in behind the shorter Erl as they walked out. “Oh, one thing Fai,” said Meliadus. “That kid who got lost--whatever happened to her?”

“She was beaten up repeatedly by a mysterious assailant,” said Faileuba. “And the little brat deserved it too.”

Meliadus chuckled. “You are so mean.”

“You know it, Holdfast,” declared Faileuba. “You know it.”

Saturday, November 17, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 27

Baron Chult was sipping his drink, when Gwydd found him. “Ahh! Palepole,” said the old Ettin cheerfully, raising his glass. “Care to join me.”

The Goblin shook his head. “I’m going to have to pass.” He took the seat next to the Baron. “So… I guess you heard the news of how that murder turned out…”

Chult nodded. “Yes, yes.” He sighed. “Quite… odd. And tragic.”

Gwydd stared at the Baron for a moment. “That’s… one way of putting it.” He glanced away. “Hired assassins are… I think… a bit more than odd and tragic. They imply someone doing the hiring. And…” He shook his head, and laughed. “Well, I may not be a Guild of the Sword member anymore--but some things become habits. I see something like that, something that makes me ask questions, and it makes me want to look for answers.”

“I’d say your answers died with Argilius Gibeling,” said Chult. “Slain by the very men he hired to cover their tracks.” He shrugged. “It’s almost… ironic.”

“It would be if he did--but he didn’t,” noted Gwydd. “Argilius was as surprised the Disciples showing up as anyone else. He had no idea that Saxo Walsing was dead, and anyway--Argilius wasn’t the kind of man who hires assassins. He may have been a bloodthirsty, ambitious idiot of a man--but he did his own killing. That’s one thing you can say in his favor.” The Goblin shut his eyes. “No, the kind of man who hires assassins--he’s a man who fears people. A man who holds grudges, but buries them. Even jokes about them. A man who sits in his corner, sneering at the world.” The eyes opened again, regarding the Baron clearly. “You know the sort of man I’m talking about, don’t you, Chult?”

The Baron stared at him, then finished his drink. “You must have been one hell of Guildsman, back when you were a member.”

Gwydd shook his head. “A fair one. But I never really fit in. Working in the Guild, I learned a lot--but not all of it was what I wanted to. I also saw how the law can pervert justice. They tell you it falls on everyone the same--and I suppose if rich men were as apt to sleep in ditches and steal bread as poor ones, it would be a very admirable system. But somehow, the big crimes had a way of getting all murky, especially when money was involved.” The Goblin gave a sad smile. “It rankled me. It really did. And so, being a young idiot who was convinced that greatness was waiting for him, I stopped serving the law, and started serving justice.”

Chult stared at the table. Eventually, he pulled out a small necklace of silver chain and began to play with it idly. “You talk about poor men and rich men. Well, I’m one of the poor ones. We Chults have lost so much in funds--in lives--to this ridiculous feud…”

“And that’s why you have plenty of liquor,” said Gwydd. “As well as being able to hire Cruel Disciples to engineer a bloodbath…”

“The liquor isn’t very good,” said Chult sadly. He stared at his necklace again. “As for the assassins--I had help with them. A little loan from some interested parties.” He gulped. “You have to understand, Palepole--I’m not a bad man. I’m really not. I care for this little patch that the Lady has seen fit to grant to my line. And seeing it torn apart, again and again, by these stupid angry fools who do not care…”

“Shut up, Chult,” said Gwydd, slamming a hand on the table. “I don’t want to hear your useless bullshit rationalizations. You say you got played. And I believe you. You got played because you’re one of those stupid, angry fools who do not care--and you think you aren’t. And the proof is, your way of ‘solving’ your problems is to have more of the killing that you are apparently so bitterly offended by. A lot more.” He took a deep breath. “So what were we supposed to be in your little game? Handy people to attract blame? Or had you figured out that your good friends who floated you a loan didn’t like loose ends?”

“Partially, the second, but also…” Chult began to weep. “A man may make mistakes--terrible, awful mistakes, and he may regret them, and wish to set them right…”

“When those mistakes involve murder, Chult,” said Gwydd, “I think there’s a definite limit to the forgiveness available.”

Chult smiled grimly. “I would not say you’re wrong, sir.” A pained look came to his face. “Oh, my...” He fell to the ground, groaning.

Gwydd rose from his seat. “What… what did you do?”

“Poison,” said Chult. “Water… finally good… for some…” He groaned again, and convulsed, then passed out.

“No,” spat out Gwydd. “No! You don’t get to die like this, taking the easy way out…”

It occurred to Gwydd that if Chult had been still capable of speaking he’d have told the Goblin that he didn’t have a say in this matter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High,'--Part 26

Meliadus shivered slightly as a cold wind blew on the villa roof. “So what’s this really about, Eliaures?” he asked.

The Cruel Disciple laughed. “I told you. You quit. I don’t appreciate that.”

Meliadus stared at him. “Wait--you… haven’t been looking for me?”

Eliaures shook his head. “Nope. I thought you were dead, Gravegoods, till I saw you in that crowd.” He shrugged. “This has all been one rather odd coincidence.”

Meliadus chuckled. “Well, imagine that.”

“Yes,” Eliaures laughed. “It is rather amusing.”

“So, what’s the job?” asked Meliadus.

“Over,” answered the Cruel Disciple. “Frankly, it was always a rather foolish one. But one goes where She directs.” He shrugged at Meliadus. “Even you.”

“Oh, especially me, Eliaures,” noted Meliadus with a smile. “See, I’ve kind of changed my mind on what it is She wants.”

The Cruel Disciple hissed. “Folly. Heresy. Madness.” Two blades appeared in his hands. “There is no stepping off the path once it is stepped on. We are beasts, you and I.”

“You’re a beast, Venomous,” said Meliadus simply. “I became a man.”

A contemptuous sneer came to Eliaures’ face. “Then die as one,” he declared throwing his knives.

Meliadus ducked beneath them.

“My, my,” said Eliaures. “And I thought you’d gone soft.” Meliadus rushed forwards, to close the distance between them, and struck at the Cruel Disciple. His fist touched only air, though his kick managed to graze Eliaures’ stomach. He felt the blade prick his shoulder.

“So that was your plan?” whispered Eliaures. “Hit me?” He chuckled and shook his head.

“No, not really,” said Meliadus, striking a match on his thumbnail. He opened his jacket, and lit the packet of hellpowder there. “It was more getting you far enough from everybody else--and then close enough to do this.” He quickly grappled the Cruel Disciple by the arm. “It ends now, Venomous.”

Eliaures’ eyes went wide, as he stared at the flickering fuse. “You’re insane.” He smiled. “I love it.”

And that was when the roof beneath them exploded outwards. Meliadus lost his grip on Eliaures. “Holdfast!” shouted Faileuba, as she sailed through the air. She grabbed Meliadus, then saw the burning packet. “Arrgh! Exploding packet of death!” She quickly tore off his jacket and tossed it away. Meliadus saw it flutter down the hole into the villa, where Eliaures, lying on the floor, watched it coming with abstracted amusement. Then it exploded.

“I used up a lot of juice with that leap,” explained Faileuba, as they began to fall towards the ground. “So be prepared for a bumpy landing…” She looked at Meliadus’ shoulder. “You’re bleeding. Do you think he…?”

“Venomous doesn’t use poison,” said Meliadus. “He is poison.”

“Right,” said Faileuba. “We’re getting that checked out.”

“Sure,” answered Meliadus with a nod, as he watched the ground coming closer. “And Fai…?” He took a deep breath. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Faileuba, as she shut her eyes, and braced herself for the impact.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 25

“I’m must commend you, Gravegoods,” said Eliaures with a chuckle. “You have excelled at hiding in plain sight. Bravo.” He paced around edges of the room. “I am less impressed at your having deserted the Society to become… a freelancer, but still, all serve, eh?”

Meliadus shook his head. “Not the way you’re thinking, Venomous. Not that way at all.”

Eliaures nodded. “Hmmm… I rather thought you’d say something like that.” He raised his hand. “Ban. Baholt.” The apprentices emerged from the shadows knives at the ready. “Here is the apostate. And what is our duty towards the apostate?”

The pair carefully lined themselves to prevent Meliadus from having a clear line of attack on either of them. “The apostate must die.”

“Exactly,” said Eliaures with a smile, throwing two of his darts. Ban and Baholt fell to the ground, dying.

Meliadus blinked. “What…?”

“They were planning to kill me,” explained the Cruel Disciple. He shrugged. “They had some strange notion that I was planning to kill them.”

“Gee, imagine that,” said Meliadus. He regarded Eliaures for a moment. “So… what are you doing with apprentices now?”

Eliaures smiled. “I’m the new Master of Novices,” he explained.

“And Oristges?” asked Meliadus quietly.

“Guess…” answered Eliaures.

Meliadus took a deep breath. “Yeah. I expected as much.”

“Enough talk!” shouted Faileuba. “Whatsyername! Prepare to suffer--FOR JUSTICE!”

Eliaures leapt out of the way as she rushed him, dodging her blow by inches. The Cruel Disciple produced a thin blade and pointed it at her eyes as she moved forward. Faileuba managed to call up enough energy to avoid it, but it was still distracting enough for Eliaures to roll away. “Unwise, Thanatos. Unwise. I’m trying to be civil about this.” He twirled his knife. “Continue this, and I’ll stop.” A slight frown touched his face. “And that would get very unpleasant.”

Meliadus glared at him. “What do you want to be civil about?”

“Our… settling things,” said Eliaures. “You left the Society, Gravegoods. That cannot be allowed to stand.”

“Yeah, well, you’re going to have to be disappointed by that one,” muttered Meliadus.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said the Cruel Disciple, drawing another knife.

“Where does he keep getting those things?” whispered Faileuba to Gwydd.

“I think he keeps them in his sleeve,” replied the Goblin.

Faileuba shook her head. “That has to be hard on his shirts.”

“Probably,” agreed Gwydd.

“Please stop the chatter,” said Eliaures, idly raising his knife.

“Look--Venomous,” said Meliadus “If you want to get done with this, I suggest we move some place more… spacey.”

Eliaures nodded, and moved to the window. “I will see you on the roof then. Or you will see quite a few corpses in this little village. As many as I can make.” And then he leapt through the shattered windowpane.

Faileuba glanced at Meliadus. “You’re… not going to do what crazy assassin guy says, right?” She smiled hopefully.

Meliadus sighed and headed to the window. “I’m a warrior of chivalry, Fai.” He followed Eliaures out.

“Man,” groaned Faileuba. “I knew he was going to say something like that.”

“So why’d you ask?” noted Gwydd.

Faileuba shut her eyes. “Because I was hoping he wouldn’t.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 24

Faileuba rolled her eyes as Argilius stabbed at her. “Oh, please,” she muttered, blocking the dagger with her hand. The blade shattered.

Argilius stared at it a moment. “How…? How…?”

“Like you said,” drawled Faileuba. “I’m a Thanatos.” She glared at him. “And a Warrior of Chivalry, here to make you face justice for your numerous crimes. Like killing the old guy.”

“What?” Argilius blinked. “What are you talking about…?”

“Well, having him killed,” said Faileuba. “Same thing.” Argilius continued to stare at her. “Sa… Sasho Vault Thing.” She scratched her head. “Or Sassafras Wallting, or…”

“Saxo Walsing,” said Gwydd with a sigh.

Faileuba nodded. “Yeah, that might be it.” She raised a finger. “Maybe.”

Argilius continued to stare at her.

“We just let the fun happen,” explained Meliadus.

“Oh, like you’re ‘Mr. Name Guy’” spat out Faileuba. She stuck her tongue out at him. Meliadus replied by screwing up his eyes and puffing out his cheeks.

Argilius began to chuckle in a strange, dead way. “I… This… I…” He shut his eyes. “My life cannot get any worse.”

The blade pierced him through his chest. He stared at the dripping wound for a moment, then tottered over, and died.

“I didn’t do it!” shouted Faileuba. She glared at Meliadus.

“What?” said Meliadus.

“Hey, you’re ‘Assassin Guy’, I’m ‘Deadly Magic Hands Girl’” she protested. “That is the dichotomy of our relationship, and so it shall remain.”  She bit her lip.  “Well, okay, occasionally, you’re also ‘Explosion Guy’, but the broad outline is what I just said.”

“Well, I didn’t do this one,” said Meliadus.

Faileuba rolled her eyes and snorted. “Yeah, yeah, heard that one before.”

“Ahh,” said a calm voice, “but this time he is telling the truth.” The tall, pale Erl stepped out of a corner. “Hello, Gerholt Gravegoods. Long time, no see.”

Meliadus frowned. “Not my name anymore, Venomous. Not my name.”

Faileuba blinked then glanced at Gwydd. “Okay, now I’m confused. Isn’t that the ribbon salesman?”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 23

“Are they just going to do stand around out there talking?” Argilius muttered to himself. He turned and glared at his captives. “I don’t think your fathers value your lives very much.”

Brandomarte sighed. “You think we’re surprised about that?”

The Ettin didn’t appear to listen to his reply. “If they’re going to break through, they’ll need at least twenty trained warriors. Not a bunch of old men, and women..” Argilius scowled and shook his head. “It’s madness. What sort of fool do they think I am? What sort of weak…” He blinked, and glanced out the window again. “Wha…?”

“What’s going on?” said Fiordelisa.

“Keep your mouth shut,” snapped Argilius. He peered through the window again. “Where did they…?”

At that moment a large Ogre slammed through a different window. As everyone stared at the fallen figure, a short Erlish woman jumped through the gaping hole that had previously been a window, and gave a triumphant laugh. “Ah ha!” she proclaimed. “Thegn Argilius Walsing! Prepare to face justice in the name of CHIVALRY!”

Argilius stared at her, then began to chuckle. “Oh, you have to be kidding me…”

The Erl cracked her knuckles. “Nope. We flipped for it, and I won. Which means I get to kick your ass.”

“Of course it does,” said Argilius. He stepped forward, raising his heavy fist. “I’ll save questions for what happened to the rest of my men for after my beating you into a pulp.” He swung at the woman, who swiftly side-stepped his blow. Snarling he struck at her again. Once again she twirled out of the way.

“Man, you suck at this,” said the Erl.

“Just have to hit you once,” muttered the Ettin.

“You sure about that?” she asked, dodging his blow once again. She lashed out with a kick that struck him in the stomach.

Argilius snarled. “Positive,” he muttered, steadying himself.

“Oooh,” laughed the woman. “You’re a tough one!” She dodged his next clumsy blow. “That’s great. I’ve been hoping for a tough fight.”

As they fought, another Erl--a lanky man--slipped through the window. He motioned for Brandomarte and Fiordelisa to stay quiet, then helped a Goblin through. The pair darted towards the imprisoned Mountain Erls, and began to cut away at their bonds.

“I will gut you!” shouted Argilius, as the woman dodged him yet again.

“Of course you will,” she noted with a nod. “Of course you will.”

“You stupid bitch,” he snarled, charging forward. “Do you think this is a game? Do…?” Argilius struck the wall, as she once again nimbly danced away from him. But as the Ettin righted himself, he turned and saw the others preparing to make their way out. Argilius frowned, and let out a bitter chuckle. “A trick. Of course. I should have known.” His gaze turned to Fiordelisa. “Well, you I can hit…”

“Eyes on me, jerk!” yelled his opponent, punching him in the jaw, her fist bathed in an eerie blue glow. Argilius gave a grunt of pain, and turned towards her. “Thanatos…” he spat out. “That explains a lot…”

The woman gave a confident roll of her head. “Trust me, I’ve barely been using my gifts. You just suck that much.” She chuckled. “You’re a tough bastard, Argilius--but not much else.”

Argilius glared at her, and drew his dagger. “Just keeping saying shit like that. Go on.” And then he lunged at her.
 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 22

Ban stared at the crowd before the Gibeling villa. “This is not what was planned,” he said at last.

Eliaures glanced at his student with something akin to contempt. “Adapt then. Adapt.”

The young assassin turned to his master nervously. “Sir--my apologies--but--the situation…” He frowned. “We were supposed to be controlling this situation, gradually escalating things. Instead the situation has completely escaped our grasp.” He took a deep breath. “I… have always understood in a case such as this, it is best to back away.”

Eliaures smiled at him, then turned to Baholt. “And what do you think?”

Baholt gave a slight bow. “I defer to your judgment, master.”

“Excellent,” said, Eliaures with a nod. “And my judgment says we stay.” He turned again to Ban. “I appreciate your… concern--but remember who is the master here. As your friend does.” He walked away. “Keep your eye on them. I have preparations to complete.”

Ban waited for his master to move away, then glared at Baholt. “What are you doing? How can you…?”

“Save your life?” said Baholt. “I know. How foolish of me.” He frowned slightly. “Master Venomous has some… mad little obsession he’s following. Given his past history, I’d say it’s wise to let him follow it.”

“And what will happen to us?” snapped Ban.

“We’ll be rewarded for stopping mad Eliaures when he wandered off mission,” answered Baholt. “Surely you see, this is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. He’s distracted, so we can pull it off, and he’s giving us a valid excuse so the Hierophants won’t punish us afterwards.” He shrugged. “They might even reward us.”

Ban looked at him suspiciously. “I still don’t like it. It feels off. Dangerous, in a way that’s… worse than most of our missions.”

“Which is why we have to move now,” said Baholt. “We aren’t going to get another chance.” He placed a comforting hand on Ban’s shoulder. “When it’s all over, it will be just another job. We’ll probably joke about it.”

Ban doubted that. He turned to the crowd again, and watched it idly. “Huh. That’s odd.”

“What?” asked Baholt.

Ban squinted as he gazed at the group. “There are people missing. Two or… no, it’s three. Three people who were standing there seem to be gone.”

Baholt nodded. “You’re right. That’s… odd.” He shook his head. “I suspect things are wrapping up.” He nodded quietly. “I can’t wait to get out of this town.”

“That makes two of us,” said Ban.

“I’d say that’s placing it low,” noted Baholt. “Everyone here wants to be somewhere else.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 21

Idun sighed. “So… he’s holed up in his little villa, there are… about half a dozen Gibelings in front of it, and he’s got two hostages.” She turned to glare at the little gathering of Aesir and Vanir that had assembled there. “I hope you all are proud of yourselves.” She focused her glare on Manodante and Dolistone. “Especially you two. Your meaningless quarrels have quite possibly killed your own children.”

“Ridiculous!” said Dolistone.

“Absurd,” noted Manodante.

“Why, if they’d only eloped in White Pine like we thought they would, everything would have been solved by now!” added Dolistone.

There was a stunned silence for a moment.

“Wait…” said Leodilla, quietly. “You… know that those two are involved…”

“Of course!” said Manodante.

“We aren’t idiots!” said Dolistone.

Manodante spread his hands. “Frankly we’ve been hoping for something like this to happen. Let us kill the feud in a way that doesn’t involve killing each other.”

“Ha! Good one, Mano!” chuckled Dolistone.

“Yes, Stoney,” said Manodante. “Rather thought it was clever myself.”

Dolistone glanced at Leodilla. “Frankly, we were hoping you would solve things by falling for my nephew Folderico, but no such luck.”

Leodilla stared at her father in shock. “But you forbade me to even look at the man!”

“Of course,” said Manodante. “That was to make him MORE appealing. Forbidden fruit and all that.” He sighed and gave a mournful shrug. “Too late now, of course. Still, a man can dream. A man can dream.”

“Oh, now you’re just being ridiculous,” shouted Leodilla. “And why are you two acting like friends? You hate each other!”

“What… Me hate old Stoney? Never!” said Manodante.

“Yes, I suppose the secret is out,” noted Dolistone. “Truth is your father and I have been best pals for years.” He patted Manodante on the shoulder. “Ever since old Mano saved me life.”

“Only after you saved mine!” added Manodante. “See, back Stoney and I were a pair of young heirs, we kept the feud up in the traditional manner, hurling insults, questioning the honor of our respective mothers…”

“The usual stuff,” said Dolistone.

“And one day, we did it in the company of a few cousins,” continued Manodante. “It was all in good fun, but the cousins…” The old Erl’s face grew pale. “They took it a bit too far. Suddenly, I’m staring at an arrow heading right at me--when Stoney pushes me out of the way.” He shook his head. “Took it in the back.”

“And then your father,” said Dolistone, “he picks me up, puts me on his horse, and he takes me to the best chirurgeon he can.” He sniffled. “Great man. Great man.”

Idun cleared her throat. “So--why do you two fight all the time if you’re secretly best friends?”

“Well, first of all,” explained Manodante, “the feud is a grand tradition of the Aesir and Vanir, which we are honor bound to continue. Our lessers expect it of us, as do some of our vassals. Secondly, we both love to argue. Over everything and anything.” He grinned “Frankly that’s probably why the friendship’s lasted like it has. Not many people I can argue about the color of the sky with.” He glanced at Dolistone. “It’s turquoise, you old fool.”

“Aquamarine!,” said Dolistone. “Turquoise is a darker shade you mad old bat!”

“Arrogant toad!” declared Manodante.

“Worthless weasel!” shouted Dolistone.

Idun looked at Leodilla. “And I thought they were annoying as enemies…” Leodilla merely nodded.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

And the Mountain Cried 'Too High, Too High'--Part 20

For many years, if you’d asked Brandomarte about the worst day in his life, he’d have told you it had happened when he was eight. His drunken father had dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night, to ‘sing that song’ in front of a gathering of thegns--Brandomarte had desperately tried to figure out just what ‘that song’ was, even as a sizable group of large hairy men bellowed at him to sing. Eventually, he had panicked and wet himself, to the laughter of the entire group. This horrific event remained etched in the young Vanir’s mind, made worse by Manodante’s habit of bringing it up and chuckling over it.

“Wergild!” shouted Argilius out the window. “Wergild for the Gibelings! The blood of my slain kin screams for vengeance.”

That day had finally been eclipsed. Brandomarte glanced over at Fiordelisa, who he suspected was downgrading her own previous worse day as well.

Argilius waved his fist at the crowd gathering outside. “The Vanir have wronged us! The Aesir have betrayed us! The children of Gibel have been made into fools! The son of the Vanir and the daughter of the Aesir comport themselves in lewdness!” Brandomarte and Fiordelisa blushed at that, especially as they had most definitely not comported themselves in lewdness, even if they had had a certain wish to. “House Gibeling is made to sacrifice its honor to their lust! But we will not brook this! We shall take our rightful place in the Fangs!”

“You’ll never get away with this!” shouted Fiordelisa. “My father…”

“Will be embarrassed by this whole affair,” said Argilius. “Meaning I’ll be able to pressure him to making sure that I get the Chultwater.”

Brandomante blinked. “Wha… that’s your wergild? The Chultwater? That’s it?”

Argilius smiled. “That’s it--this time, Vanir.”

“But it’s worthless,” said Brandomante.

“On its own merits? Oh, yes,” said the Ettin. “A bitter, worthless little stream. But--from the Chultwater, I can pursue claims on the Gedres, the Voorish Vales, the Ogre’s Fingers. Mines--farmland--good trade routes.” He smiled. “And those are most definitely worth it.”

Fiordelisa’s eyes went wide. “So… it’s all a lie. You don’t actually give a damn about all your dead kin.”

“Oh, I do, Madame Aesir,” said Argilius. “I do very much. My family has thrown its lives away for yours for centuries. And now--now you want to end the feud and leave us with nothing but scraps and that list of dead kin.” He bit his lip. “That chafes me, Fiordelisa. That chafes me raw.” He gestured at Brandomarte. “Just like it chafes me to see a child of the Aesir plotting to elope with a Vanir.” He leaned towards Fiordelisa, and glared at her. “But where all you… sophisticated, modern types get it wrong is that you imagine folks like myself are just grunting monsters, incapable of planning.” Arglius chuckled. “Well, my dear--we can plan. And we can have goals and dreams. I dream of the children of Gibel finally wiping out the Walse, the Vanir--and the Aesir, for playing us for fools these past few centuries.” A strange gleam came to the man’s eyes. “I dream of the Gibelings standing in the Fangs, a power equal to the Utgardi and the Regni.”

Fiordelisa snorted. “Why not dream about Kitvekh coming up from the waters? It’s about as likely.”

Argilius raised one massive fist. “I’d keep my mouth shut, girl. If you didn’t want to lose some teeth.”

“Don’t you lay a hand on her,” snarled Brandomarte.

Argilius turned to the bound Vanir, sneering. “Or what?”

Brandomarte took a deep breath, and looked the Ettin in the eye. “Give me time. I’ll think of something.”

Whatever twinge of satisfaction Brandomarte felt vanished when Argilius struck him, sending him sprawling to the floor. “Did you think I wouldn’t do it?”

“Thegn Argilius!” came the voice of Idun Bragi. “You have broken the green branch of peace and insulted both your liege, and his liege, the Dark Lord of the Iron Fangs. I strongly recommend you give this mad scheme up and throw yourself on my mercy.”

Argilius moved away from downed Erl, smiling. “Ahh. Well, someone important is finally listening.”