Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 13

Viviane smiled at the little Troll child. “And there you go. All better!”

The child smiled back bashfully, before retreating back behind his mother. “Thank you so much, Badb,” said the woman, with a smile as bashful and brittle as her child’s. “I… that cough…”

“Please, don’t make a big deal out that,” said Viviane, raising her hand. “I was just doing my duty.” She peered at the mother intently. “You know, you might want to consider moving to rooms that are less… damp…”

“Only rooms we can afford,” said the Troll woman quietly. She pressed her hands on her son’s shoulders. “Becoming goti. Joining temple soon.”

Viviane nodded. “Well… that’s nice…” She was considering coming up with another comment when the sound of people marching by, singing in unison was heard.

“So let us together raise our hands! We are stronger than we know! And as we gather in our bands--our courage we shall show!” Viviane glanced out to see a large group of Hands stomping down the street. Many were holding signs that read things like ‘Dagonet For the Thing!’ and ‘It Must Stay In Our Hands!”

“By-election,” said the Troll woman. “Everyone getting very excited. Hats think they might gain control of Thing, with help of Black Caps.”

Viviane nodded. Like many Castle residents Marsilion’s Folly’s complicated political scene was something of a riddle to her--she knew there were the Hats, the Caps, and this young group called the Hands that had sprung into existence last year, but she didn’t completely understand the differences between them. Though Elaine had taken to reading that broadsheet the Hands put out after the whole matter of the matchstick factories, something Viviane chalked up to her daughter’s voracious reading of just about anything.

“So… another election, eh?” she said, watching the crowd move down the street. “Well--hope it goes well.” The Trolls nodded enthusiastically at this, and Viviane thanked the Lady that they saw this an acceptable answer. As the pair left the building Manny had given her, Viviane frowned to herself. She was worried about the Folly. Not due to the elections, mind you--those happened throughout the Lands of Night, and if the people in the Folly took them more seriously than the norm, well, that was just local custom. Like their insistence on drowning cooked fish in vinegar.

No, it was that cough. Viviane had seen a lot of children coming to her with that cough of late, generally from places like the Mumblety Pegs, or Cheapside, or Trolltown. That cough, and… similar complaints. She wondered if Jean would come with her on the next trip. And what would happen, in the near future.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 12

“This kite festival is going to be incredible!” gushed Thalia.

“Yes! The most incrediblest kite festival ever!” proclaimed Malina.

Agalia frowned. “Well, duh! There hasn’t been any others, so of course it’s going to be the most incrediblest.”

“That is just like you, Agalia!” declared Malina, placing her hands on her hips. “There have been other kite festivals all over! And ours is going to make them all look like nothing at all!”

Thalia clapped enthusiastically. “Yay!” Euphrosyne nodded along.

Agalia glared at her sisters. “Oh, you’re just agreeing with her, cuz she’s a princess!”

“Nu-uh! They agree with me cuz I’m right!” said Malina.

Agalia stared at the Dev for a while, attempting to come up with a withering comeback. Eventually, she found one she thought fit the bill. “Are not!”

Malina crossed her arms. “Are too!” she said with a smirk

“Shouldn’t that be ‘am too’?” whispered Euphrosyne.

Thalia put her finger to her lips. “Shhh!” She leaned towards her sister’s ear. “Just let ‘em argue with each other. It keeps ‘em busy.”

Euphrosyne glanced back at the pair, where Argalia and Malina had progressed to making faces at each other. “Ohhhhh.” she said, with growing comprehension.

“Jerkface!” “Smellyhead!” “Poop! Poop! Poop!”

Malina and Agalia’s stirring debate was stopped by a single cough. “Ahem!” The young pair’s faces both paled, and they turned. Eurydice le Fidelé stepped forward, glancing at the children imperiously. “Lady Malina, is there a reason for this unsightly behavior?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Um… we’re just… playing,” said Malina hopefully.

Eurydice glanced at her sisters who all nodded along. After another sweeping gaze at the group, she coughed once again. “You know it is very unsightly for you all to argue in this manner. You, Lady Malina, are a Princess of the Cthoniques. And you, my dear sisters, are le Fidelé s, pledged to service of that same family.” One eyebrow raised. “I believe you can understand my point, yes?” Another nod, this one going all around. “Very good. Now, some of the halls need a light dusting. Do you three think you could help with that?”

The other Fidelé sisters were about to nod again when Malina coughed. “Umm, but… I need their help with… my room!” She clapped her hands together. “Yeah. We were going to take care of my room, when we got stracted.”

Eurydice’s eyes narrowed. “Malina, I clean your room. Something I did not too long ago.”

“No, no, no,” said Malina. “What I want is… is to rearrange my funiture so it looks… better.”

“Really?” Eurydice looked at her sisters. “Is this what Her Precious Grace approached you about?”

The three le Fidelé s managed a group of muttered responses that could be taken as affirmatives. Eurydice frowned, then glanced at Malina. “Very well. You four may go on with this… vital business. But Agalia, Thalia, Euphrosyne--I will need your help very shortly.”

The four watched her move away, then took a deep breath in relief. “Your sister is spooky,” said Malina.

Thalia winced. “Don’t! She might hear you!”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 11

“Well, they seem happy to see each other,” said Elaine. “In a kinda annoyed way.”

“It’s a family thing,” said Jean. “You annoy the hell out of me, but I like having you around.” She pinched Elaine’s cheek. “My little niecey!”

Elaine glared at the young witch. “You are three years older than me, about the same height, and I have a sword that kills with light. No cheek-pinching. And no little niecey.”

Jean feigned a hurt expression. “Awww, don’t I get some family prerogatives?”

Elaine continued to glare.

Jean narrowed her eyes. “You know I can do that too.” She returned the glare. After several minutes, the pair gave it up. “You know,” said Jean, “I can understand how it is our family regularly implodes after something like that.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty much the du Lac family history in a nutshell,” said Elaine wistfully. “Gain power and influence, then throw most off it away in an internal squabble because cousin Brangwain looked at you funny. Only the Maganzas are worse at it--and they at least tend to come out ahead at the end of one of their little feuds. With us, it ends, and half our family is dead, and somebody took over a castle we always used to have while we were killing each other.” She shook her head. “Especially that last time.”

Jean nodded. “I really am going to have to know about that thing with our great aunts in more detail,” she said.

“Join the club,” answered Elaine. “I know more the Badbs and Nemains who lived four centuries ago than I do about the ones from twenty years back. Mom really doesn’t like to talk about those days. For obvious reasons. And I think she’s pretty sketchy on spots of what happened back then, though she’d never admit it…”

Jean was considering that when she heard the voice. “So you’re sure this will work?” asked Palamedes Woodash.

“No! How can I be? This isn’t exactly a normal problem!” answered Sacripant, as he strolled into view. “This isn’t exactly a normal problem, now is it?” The Marsh Erl was holding a large yellow stick the end of which had what looked like a bird painted on it. Palamedes and Quiet followed him, carrying similar sticks.

“Hey, Sacripant,” said Elaine with a wave. “Midge problems?”

Sacripant looked away sheepishly. “Something like that.” The three Guards quickly darted off.

Jean looked at Elaine for an explanation. “It’s an old Marsh custom to get rid of midge infestations. You burn the sticks, while saying a prayer to Mother Night, and they vanish.”

“Does it work?” asked Jean.

“I suppose,” said Elaine. “Usually after a few days, the infestation ends. Of course, whether that would happen without the whole rigmarole is anyone’s guess.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 10

“It is good to have you back, Nissy,” said Mansemat, glancing over his shoulder. “There’ve been all sorts of reports I’ve been hoping to go over with you. Important, dramatic developments!” The Dark Lord of the Plains opened the door to the Chamber of Ineffable Unpleasantness.

“Hey!” said Morgaine. “And you couldn’t go over this stuff with me? Your twin sister? The Queen of the Netherworld?”

“You are not the Queen of the Netherworld,” stated Mansemat. “And I have attempted to discuss these things with you. On multiple occasions. Only to have you ignore me. For various reasons. Most notably that time two weeks ago. When you replied that you had ‘serious business’ to attend to, and left the Castle dressed as a dancing girl.”

Morgaine stood on her tiptoes in a futile effort to look Mansemat in the face. “Well, if you had only indicated it was something really important, of course I’d gave gone with you.” She considered it. “Except for that time two weeks ago. That was cuddle time for me and Despi.”

Mansemat nodded ruefully. “Well, that explains the dancing girl outfit, I suppose.”

“Yep, we were playing ‘Slaves of the Harem’,” said Morgaine. “She was the blushing ingénue, and I was the jaded mistress showing her the ropes--if you catch my drift…”

Mansemat rubbed his temples. “Morgaine, I didn’t need to hear that.”

“Oh, like you haven’t heard worse things,” said his sister, gesturing to Nisrioch.

Mansemat glanced at his elder brother and sighed. “Point.”

Nisrioch smiled at the pair. “You know talks like this are part of what I’ve missed in my absence.”

“Yeah, we miss all the petty bickering too,” said Morgaine, rolling her eyes.

“It is more than petty bickering,” insisted Nisrioch. “This is the language… of family.”

Mansemat stared at his brother. “So it’s… lots of petty bickering, then.”

Nisrioch looked at the pair, then dived forward and hugged them. “With love! With LOVE!”

Morgaine and Mansemat looked at each other worriedly, then returned the hug. “We have got to remember not to let you take long vacations,” announced Morgaine. “You get maudlin after them.”

Nisrioch sniffled. “Only if we get to keep you from drinking thirty times your own weight at parties.”

Morgaine’s eyes narrowed. “Touché.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 9

Onyx cradled his black-gloved hands together. “This report is disturbing, Pearl.”

“Did you imagine that news for the Lands of Light on the threshold of the Great War would not be?” replied his fellow Pendant member.

“I at least hoped that the leader of the forces of Light would be someone sane,” noted Onyx. “I need not remind you that the War is vital to our plans, Pearl. If Amfortas exhausts his own forces too early the Cthoniques will have regrouped by the time our own designs have begun. Indeed, they may very well be stronger than they were before.”

Emerald sighed. “Must we have this ruinous war, gentlemen? It seems a rather poor thing to become the rulers of blasted, ruined land…”

Sapphire chucked. “You were given numerous chances to give them something else, my dear. And you failed.” He turned and regarded Opal. “You and your little associate…”

“Hey!” said Opal. “You were all very enthusiastic when I came to you will all my know-how on destroying the Cthoniques! But these days, I hear nothing but complaints! Very unfair complaints! Not one of you wants the Cthoniques as dead as I do, but you all act like it’s my fault that they aren’t!”

Sapphire sighed. “It appears, darling Opal, you have a rather… tangled grasp of causality. Something that explains… so many of your plots…” Jasper chuckled quietly from his corner at that.

Opal stood up and pointed an accusing finger at her associate. “And you Sapphire, are…” She thought it over for a moment. “Mean to me! You’re very, very mean to me!”

“That is enough, both of you,” said Onyx. “We did not call this meeting to turn this into yet another childish squabbling match.” Sapphire and Opal turned away from each other, and it was easy to think that if Opal had had a visible face, it would be pouting. Onyx regarded Emerald once again. “We understand your objections, Emerald, but sadly, this is necessary. The Necklace does not have the forces to establish control if the Cthoniques and those who’d ally with them are not weakened first.”

“Which does not require the much-vaunted Great War to start and reduce the lands to soot and ashes,” noted Emerald pointedly.

“Perhaps,” noted Onyx with a grudging nod. “But that is another part of the equation, Emerald--the War is coming anyway.” Emerald appeared about to say something, but Onyx raised one black-gloved hand. “Trust me, I know of what I speak. The Lands of Light have been obsessing over this great struggle of theirs for some time, and Shaddad’s recent excursion has left them on edge--especially Leonais. It was Pelleas’ falling out with the War party there that allowed Amfortas to accumulate power, in the beginning…”

“In the beginning?” noted Sapphire, clearly puzzled.

“He’s since established his own power base,” said Pearl. “A process that involved much of the War party dying mysteriously over the years.”

Jasper chuckled. “One can’t fault the man for enthusiasm.” His fingers idly tapped the tabletop. “What of the Easter King? Could we perhaps gain his services?”

“Skarvsky’s is too much a creature of opportunity,” said Pearl. “In his own way, he’s as much a risk as Amfortas, though a different sort. Amfortas at least will fight in the War as long as he can--Ilarion’s likely to snatch a few gains, then start negotiating peace. He might mouth the words about this being the Great War, but in the end, it’d simply another war for him.”

“In other words, Amfortas may be too crazy, but Ilarion Skarvsky is too sane,” said Jasper.

“Aptly put,” noted Onyx. “Still… we maybe able to find some use for the Easter King…”

“Can we please get to the ‘killing the Cthoniques’ part of the meeting? Please?” whined Opal. “I have some great ideas! Great, wonderful ideas!”

“Do any of them involve bears?” asked Sapphire

Opal crossed her arms. “That was just once. Also it involved ‘A bear’. Not ‘bears’. ” She idly scratched her chin. “Say… if I had used bears that time, it would have…”

“No, it wouldn’t have,” said Sapphire bluntly.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 8

Justinian watched as the girls’ kites took awkward flight, frequently smashing into each other. This was usually accompanied by yelling, declarations of eternal enmity, and then more smashing their kites into each other.

Somehow, it reminded Justinian of growing up in the Breakers.

“Hey, no fair!” shouted Thalia, as Malina’s kite smacked into hers again, sending the poor bird into a tailspin.

“Is TOO fair!” shouted Malina back.

“Yeah, Thalia!” said Agalia. “Stop complaining! Euphrosyne didn’t complain, when you smashed her kite!”

The third le Fidelé sister sniffled slightly.

Thalia scowled and then jostled Malina, who promptly jostled her back. “Ohh, you’re a butt!” snapped Malina.

“Am not!” replied Thalia. “You are!”

Pelleas smiled and worked at repairing Euphrosyne’s kite. “And think of the joy that will follow when we have the actual kite festival.”

Justinian nodded slowly. “Yes. Such as the Castle burning down.”

“Oh, Sigma,” said Pelleas with a snort. “This sort of scuffling is what children do. It is how they learn, piece by piece, to deal with others. Why I used to have these sort of silly arguments with my relatives and companions, and we all grew up to be dearest friends.” He frowned. “Except for Fesnac That ass.” He shook his head, and smiled once more. “The Joyeuse kite festival was one of the highlights of my youth. Of all our youths really. A magical time to not be princes, and counts, and counts-to-be, and simply be boys. Or girls.”

Justinian regarded the King of Leonais, lost in a happy memory. “Yes, I guess it’s a pity that it’s been suspended for the last… decade.”

Pelleas turned to regard the former Sacristan. “Amfortas did that, eh?” He sighed softly to himself. “Figures. He never did like the festival. Then again, I wonder if he enjoys ANYTHING that doesn’t involve making people suffer. I suspect the answer to that is ‘no’.” He looked at Justinian pointedly. “You know, Amfortas never seemed to get into these sorts of scuffles as a child. Indeed, most of his tutors used to praise him for being so pleasant, and well-behaved. Just like a little adult, they used to say…” He shook his head. “I always put that one on his knowing just enough to fake… normality, and the children knowing just enough to stay away…”

Justinian gulped. “So… he didn’t like the kite festival?”

Pelleas nodded. “Participated one year, lost his kite, never took part in it again.” He scratched his head. “Looking back, there were a few… mysterious incidents which we probably should have taken more note of. But then, that’s more or less the story of my son’s youth.” He handed Euprosyne her kite. “They you go, dear.”

Malina, and Thalia walked to him, holding their own battered kites. “Can you fix ours now, King Pelican?” asked Malina. “Also, Agalia’s got losted.”

“Because of you!” Agalia pouted and glared at the Princess. “You are awful and I hate you!”

“No, you are!” shouted Malina back.

“I’ll see what I can do,” noted Pelleas.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 7

“…And pivot and strike, and turn and strike, and turn, and strike,” repeated Elaine to herself, going through the motions Mansemat had taught her with enough grace as she could manage.

“Well, aren’t you industrious now?” came a familiar voice. Elaine turned to see Nisrioch standing there, with Morgaine and Jean by his side.

“Hey, Nissy,” she said with a smile. “Nice to see you’re back. I’d give you a hug but…” She waved her practice sword, and then returned to her forms.

“And believe me, my dear, I appreciate all the thoughts that go into that,” answered Nisrioch. “You know, Manny’s been making noises about getting a student for some time. I should have known he’d find one in the family…”

“Oh, like you didn’t just plot this out as part of your giant master scheme,” said Elaine. “…and turn, and strike, and strike…”

“Believe me, my omniscience is a purely-imagined trait on those who assume it,” replied Nisrioch, hands shifting behind his back. “I am not half so knowledgeable as people presume I am. Perhaps not even a quarter.”

“I could have told her that,” said Morgaine.

“I don’t think it’d have the same weight,” replied Jean.

Morgaine gave the young witch a mild glare. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“So, is Manny somewhere around here?” asked Nisrioch, looking around the courtyard. “Lurking about, watching your progress and so forth…”

Elaine finished her practice, and stuck the practice sword in the dirt. “No, but I can get him quickly.” She walked back to a nearby rack, and picked up the Sword of Light. Turning back, she grinned at the others. “You have to see this. It is so cool.” Wrapping one hand around the Sword’s hilt, she touched the other to her forehead, and shut her eyes. “Hello? Dad? Can you hear me? Hello?” There was a slight pause, after which Elaine laughed. “Yes! Big improvement? That’s great! Anyway, Nissy’s back, and he’d like to talk to you, I guess…” Another pause. “No, I’m not sure. I’ll ask him.” Her eyes popped back open. “You do want to talk to him, right?”

Nisrioch nodded.

Elaine shut her eyes again. “Yeah, he wants to talk to you.” Another pause. “Where am…? Where you left me! Where’d you think I was gong to be?” As Morgaine, Jean and Nissy glanced at each other, Elaine frowned. “No need to get…? Hey, you got snippy first!” A brief pause. “Yes, you did!” Another brief pause. “Yes, you did!” Her eyes cracked open, and then shut again. “Look, let’s the debate on snippiness for another time. They’re starting to give me that look.” Another pause, slightly longer than the others. “Yep, that’s the one.” She chuckled. “You know this is so neat.”

“Isn’t it?” said Mansemat as he walked into the courtyard, one hand on Murgleys’ hilt, the other on his forehead. “I do not understand how everyone else does this, and doesn’t get how amazing it is!”

“I know!” said Elaine. “The way they act, you’d think it wasn’t a big deal!” The pair’s eyes cracked open, glanced around the Courtyard, and then snapped shut. “Okay, you’re here now, so we should probably stop with the mindspeak…”

“Yes, yes, the same thought has occurred to me,” noted Mansemat.

“Good. It is good we are on the same page,” replied Elaine.

“More than good, it is excellent,” answered Mansemat.

“Right. On two then… One… two…” began Elaine.

“Wouldn’t ‘three’ be better?” said Mansemat.

“Does it matter? It’s an arbitrary number,” said Elaine.

“I suppose.” The Dark Lord sighed. “I just don’t get enough conversations with people who share my appreciation of how cool this is!”

“I know!” said Elaine. “I’m in the same boat!” She glanced at him. “Hey are you getting the same echo thing, I’m getting?”

“Yes,” said Mansemat. “And it’s cool!”

“It is cool!” agreed Elaine. “Okay, on three than?” She waited for an answer.

Mansemat coughed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were just going to start a count again.”

“After the problems I had last time?” she noted.

“Point well taken,” he said with a nod. “Three is excellent.”

“One… two… three…” The pair pulled their hands away from their foreheads and then smiled awkwardly at the others.

Morgaine glanced at Jean. “Say, you think it’s possible for people to wind up related by osmosis?”

“Maybe,” answered Jean. “I’d have to know what ‘osmosis’ means first.”

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 6

“And this,” proclaimed Pelleas Pescheour grandly, “is a loop-de-loop.”

The children watched and then began to applaud.

“See?” said Malina Cthonique proudly. “Isn’t King Pelican NEAT?”

Euphrosyne le Fidelé gasped in wonder. “He makes it fly!”

“On, no,” said Pelleas. “The wind does that. I merely make it do tricks.”

“Amazing tricks!” said Thalia le Fidelé .

“Trust me, my dear, I am a rank amateur,” said Pelleas, drawing his kite back in. “You’ll see when you get your kites for the festival. I’m certain you will all leave me in the dust.”

“Your Highness, my apologies if I--” said Justinian, as he walked up the stairway of the Tower of Melancholy towards the King of Leonais and the small knot of children around him. He blinked as he saw the king’s kite. “Sir… I have to ask, have you been flying that thing… on a regular basis?”

“Oh, yes,” said Pelleas, holding the kite before him. “Weather permitting. Why do you ask?”

“No real reason,” said Justinian. “May I state that your kite is a MOST accurate representation of a butterfly…”

“You may, but you’d be wrong,” said Pelleas, hefting the kite by a painted wing, and gesturing to its head. “It’s a moth. See the antennae?”

Justinian nodded. “Ahh. Correct.”

Pelleas stared at the young man quizzically. “Why do I feel there is something reason for your questions you are not telling me?”

“Because there is, sir, and I will share it with you at some later time,” answered Justinian.

Pelleas nodded. “Very well, then. Now, I need you to help me assembling the Fidelé sisters kites. Thalia hasn’t indicated she’d like a bird, Agalia would like a flickering flame, and Euphrosyne would like a flower…”

Justinian regarded the trio for a moment. “Does Eurydice know you’re here?”

The response to this was a simultaneous ‘yes’ that was delivered while trying to avoid looking Justinian in the eye. The Milesian looked at Pelleas. “Well?” said the King of Leonais. “You have your answer. Let’s get cracking! We have kites to make!”

Justinian sighed, and followed the King to the little workbench he’d set up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 5

Sacripant Fenswater glanced at Palamedes. “So… it shows up about now, you say?”

“Some nights,” replied Palamedes testily. “Others nights, it doesn’t show.”

Justinian sighed. “So that means if it doesn’t show up, we have to come back here, and stand around some more, for your… giant beetle?” Quiet snickered and rolled her eyes.

“Butterfly!” snapped Palamedes. “Or… possibly a moth. I freely admit, I’m a little unsure of the exact species.”

“Does it have the straight antennae, or the little ones like brushes?” asked Sacripant.

Palamedes stared at the Marsh Erl in bafflement. “What, you think I’m making notes about the antennae of the GIANT FLYING INSECT I’m seeing?” He looked away. “When it shows up, I’m usually on my knees praying to the Darksome Lady…”

“Which is clearly working,” noted Quiet. “As it hasn’t eaten you yet.”

“Ex--” Palamedes blinked. “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”

Quiet grinned and nodded.

Palamedes snarled and turned away. “Well, fine. What friends I have! I come to you in my hour of need, and all I get is mockery! Ceaseless mockery!”

Justinian sighed. “Look as fascinating as all this is, Pelleas is expecting me, so… I’ll leave you three to your… watch.”

“Helping him with this kai-tah contest?” asked Sacripant.

“It’s pronounced ‘kite’,” said the Milesian, as he walked away. “And yes.”

“Happy now?” asked Palamedes. “You’ve driven him away! Now we face the thing with one less man!”

Sacripant shut his eyes and sighed. “Well that would require us to believe that there is a thing too…” Quiet tugged on his sleeve. Sacripant frowned, and glanced at the Ghoul. “It’s appeared, hasn’t it?”

Sacripant looked up to see the large… thing hovering in the air. “Oh, Unholy Mother Night,” shouted Palamedes. “Protect us, your little children!”

Quiet grabbed Sacripant’s shoulder and yanked him down to a prayer position. “You sure this situation warrants this?”

Quiet looked at her lover. “Palamedes is right about something ridiculous,” she noted.

Sacripant nodded, and started to pray.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 4

Nisrioch regarded his sister for a moment. “So… let me see if I have this correct… You are doing… this because of the threat of war…”

Morgaine pushed her left arm back into position with a snap. “Yep. Look we all know Amfortas is coming over here soon--or we’re going over there soon… Or… well, that someone will be going somewhere. That’s a fact.”

“Quite,” agreed Nisrioch with a nod.

Morgaine squinted at him for a moment, then got to work getting her ankle into a proper position. “Well, what that means is we need new weapons! Secret weapons! Weapons that will give our armies the edge! And deny edgeness to their armies!” She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Have I made myself clear?”

Nisrioch thought the matter over. “Surprisingly, yes.” He scratched his white locks in puzzlement. “Though I still do not see how this necessitates your wearing cushions and hurtling yourself through the air.”

“I’m GETTING to that!” proclaimed Morgaine. “Now--what’s the longest part of any military campaign? Siegecraft. What’s the difficulty of sieges? Walls. That is the long and short of it! The problem of war is one of walls! The fastest way to end a siege is to get your men over the wall!”

Nisrioch glanced at Jean who only shrugged.

“Having placed my brilliant mind on the problem,” continued Morgaine, pausing a moment as if expecting a burst of sarcasm from her audience, “I quickly found a solution! Consider the Dev. They are justly feared in war for their ability to launch precision strikes that disable a fortress from the inside. What causes them difficulties is the fact that there have never been that many Devs.”

“Among other things,” noted Nisrioch. “For example, their reliance on foreigners for food stores, their…”

“This is not supposed to be a dissertation on why Mount Qaf isn’t quite the force it could be, Nissy!” snapped Morgaine. “This is me explaining my brilliant plan!” She coughed. “Now then--it’s clear that’s what needed is a way of duplicating the Dev’s ability to soar over a wall en masse!”

“Is it?” asked Jean.

“Don’t be cruel, Jean,” said Nisrioch. “Let’s pretend it is.”

Morgaine glared at the pair, waiting for another remark, before going on. “And how do we do that?” she said at last. “Easy! With another device commonly used in siegecraft--the catapult!” Nisrioch stared at her in mild alarm, and began to make a comment, only for his sister to cut him off. “There is obviously a slight flaw in this plan, vis-à-vis the catapult’s tendency to kill or at least maim those who use it as a means of travel.”

Nisrioch nodded. “Well, I’m glad of you’re aware of this… slight flaw…”

“And working tirelessly to overcome it!” said Morgaine, pounding her fist into her hand. “For I am able to do that which few others can--catapult myself, and then note the damage! And thus, I strive to create a mean of catapulting a person while allowing said person to avoid injury.”

“Hence the padding,” noted Nisrioch.

“Exactly,” agreed Morgaine with a nod. “True, it is far from perfected, but it’s only by trying that we make progress on these things. Why this latest test has told me many things, chief among them that I need more padding!”

Nisrioch regarded his sister for a moment, then leaned forward and gave her a hug. “I’ve missed you so much!” he said.

“Hey!” said Morgaine, squirming, “Be careful! I’m still recovering!”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 3

Nisrioch glanced around the Small Courtyard, rainbow eyes glinting in the dusk. “Well, everything appears to be running in order.”

“Oh, right,” Jean snorted. “Like you have a lot to do with that.”

“Oh,” replied the tall Erl, “I feel I have a certain connection to this place. Its rhythms and patterns. I am part of it, as it is part of me. When separate from each other for too long, we both get slightly off…”

Jean nodded. “Well, you definitely have a healthy ego, I’ll give you that.”

“Pray explain, former apprentice,” asked the Erl.

“Nisrioch Cthonique,” said Jean, crossing her arms, “If you can’t just admit that you miss your home, you shouldn’t bother making up elaborate excuses about why you’ve come back after a lengthy absence. Just stay quiet, and… enjoy the ambience. Because frankly the sort of crap you’re peddling just ruins homecomings.”

Nisrioch regarded her for a moment, then laughed. “I see the apprentice has become the master.” He sighed and looked around. “You’re right. It is I who misses this place. Not the place that misses me.” He shook his head. “Ahh, it is humbling to know your proper place in the world.”

Jean lightly slapped him the arm. “Ehh, stop moping. We miss you, you oversized nuisance.”

Nisrioch tussled her hair. “Your mocking displays of affection are appreciated, former apprentice.”

“Could you please stop calling me that?” asked Jean. “It’s almost making me regret the whole ‘missing you’ thing.”

“Understood, my dear,” answered Nisrioch with a bow. “Shall I call you ‘Nemain’, or…?”

Jean shook her head. “I’m really not a big fan of titles…”

At that point their conversation was interrupted by a lengthy shriek. “Look out below!” The pair stepped to the side as a smallish object came hurtling towards them. After hitting the ground with thud, it was revealed to be a short figure clad in what appeared to be a set of exceedingly padded armor.

Nisrioch stared for a moment, and coughed. “Morgaine…?”

“Yeah… yeah… yeah… it’s me…” the undead Dark Lord muttered. “Yeah…”

“If you’re wondering what this is about…” began Jean.

“Don’t you dare explain this thing to him!” snapped Morgaine, weakly raising an accusing finger. “This is my thing to explain!” Her hand fell back to the ground. “As soon as the hurting stops.”

Nisrioch glanced at Jean. “So things really have been fairly normal in my absence.” Jean nodded.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 2

The Pearl entered the Chamber of the Pendant. It was not a real chamber, of course, being a mental construct the members of the Pendant used in their discussions, to keep their anonymity--but to those going communicating in it, it took on the appearance of one. To the Pearl (which was not his real name of course,) it took on the appearance of the sort of rooms he’d spent his boyhood in, a poor common inn, albeit one largely devoid of people. There was only a small group of them, seated around a single table. In appearance they varied greatly, but one thing remained constant--they had no faces.

“The Pearl approaches the Pendant,” declared the Pearl.

“Hail and well met,” replied his fellows.

“This meeting may now begin,” said Onyx, appearing as always as a shadow.

“Perfect! Brilliant! You may now all hear my latest plan! Which is perfect and brilliant!” declared Opal, standing up. Opal’s appearance was as usual that of a glittering woman, whose image shimmered and shifted as she moved.

“Give us time,” said Sapphire, adjusting the large blue hat that obscured his face in shadow. “We are still recovering from the last one.”

“As well as the plan you inflicted on us without warning,” said Jasper, dull green eyes glowering from his dull green cowl. “I understand it has taken you months to get yourself together after that.”

“Now, now you two,” said Emerald, her sparkling green mask held skillfully over her face. “Opal has proven a valuable member, time and time again.”

“More ‘instructive’ than ‘valuable’ to my mind,” whispered Sapphire.

“I heard that!” snapped Opal, glaring at her fellow. “Oh, if I knew who you were I would track you down, pull out your eyes, and have beetles claw through your brain to teach you a lesson about being mean to me.”

Sapphire chuckled. “It would most certainly teach me one.”

The Pearl coughed politely. “I must insist we refrain from.. bickering and get to work on the matter at hand.”

Onyx nodded. “The Cthoniques.”

“Oh, how I hate them!“ snapped Opal, slamming her fist onto the table. Then suddenly she laughed. “Oh--oh--oh--I just had a beautiful plan to kill them all, horribly. Please, please listen to it! Please!”

The other members of the Pendant all glanced at each other. “In due time, Opal,” said the Pearl at length. “In due time.”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Weary Wanderer Homeward Wends His Way--Part 1

Nisrioch Cthonique pedaled as fast as he could on his gyroorthinothon. He had to admit, it was a great improvement on its various predecessors, though the sparks that flew off the central wheel were mildly alarming, even to him. Still--they made travel interesting, and wasn’t that the point?

Looking ahead he saw it--the spires and banners of Castle Terribel. The Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste smiled to himself. As fun as wandering could be, there was always a special sort of joy associated with coming home.

“Nisrioch!” came a familiar voice. “I knew it was you. You’re the only person I know crazy enough to build a flaming deathtrap as a means of travel. And then use it.”

He glanced to his right and nodded. “Hello former apprentice. May I state the wings are a surprising, yet skillfully done addition?”

Jean Crow glanced over her shoulders at the great black feathery wings that were sprouting from there. “What, these?” She gave a dismissive snort. “They’re nothing. A bit of elementary shape-changing I hit on because I was sick of using broomsticks.” She leaned forward. “All the real interesting stuff is back at the castle.”

“Well, as that is where I plan on going, you may show it to me there,” stated Nisrioch. He began to guide the gyroorthinothon to the Castle. “So I understand everything’s been all right in my absence?”

“Well, Morgaine made me sub for you as one of the judges in the Great Summer Carnival,” said Jean, flying alongside Nisiroch’s vehicle. “And I’ve been dealing with the resulting death threats as best I can.”

Nisrioch nodded. “Those farmers do take all that seriously.”

“And Pelleas is trying to organize a kite festival in the castle,” noted Jean. “And getting a lot of blank stares.”

“Well, glad to see he’s enjoying himself,” said Nisrioch, touching down on a rampart.

“On a less positive note, there are a lot of unpleasant stories coming over from across the river,” said Jean, her wings dwindling as she set herself down beside Nisrioch.

“That can wait,” said Nisrioch. “I need to tell the others I’m back.”

Jean shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just give me a moment. There are all sort of subtle changes that I do alongside the wings that take a bit longer to get rid of.”

“I’m glad you’ve found your talent,” said Nisrioch with a smile.

“It’s a family thing,” said Jean with a shrug. “Elaine says my great-great-grandmother Arianrhod could turn herself into all sorts of things, and spent half her time as a spider. Now, why you’d want to do that, I have no idea, but then again, from what I’ve picked up we du Lacs make you Cthoniques look like the definition of sane normalcy for the…” She paused as a crackling sound reached her ears. Turning around, she saw that the gyroorthinothon was now shooting off rather dangerous looking purple sparks, while shuddering ominously. She glanced at Nisrioch. “Should we run or… something?”

“Don’t worry,” said the sorcerer, raising his hand. “I’ll handle this.” A shimmering field of color surrounded the pair, just as the gyroorthinothon exploded into a hail of sparks and parts. Nisrioch gave a mournful smile. “You know if I can just solve that one mild defect, that thing would be close to perfect.” He turned back to Jean. “Now what was that you were saying?”

“For the most part,” finished Jean quietly.