Saturday, February 27, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 18

The great bird flapped its mighty, impossible wings, as it raced through the night sky.  Nisrioch seated on its back, gave a nod at his progress.  "Thank you for this," he said. 

"You are welcome!" declared the Roc in its booming voice.  "And thank you for the meal of pickled crocodile tongues.  Most delicious."

Nisrioch nodded.  "Of course, you would not be here if I hadn't given you the offering..."

"Of course not!" agreed the Roc.  "But still, it is always nice to see the proprieties followed.  So many of your ilk these days have forgotten all that.  No manners, the lot of them!  Just demand, demand, demand!  'I have a talisman, you must obey'!"  It gave a throaty chuckle.  "Always a pleasure to eat them."

"Yes, I can imagine," agreed Nisrioch quietly.

"Though not as pleasant as crocodile tongues!" stated the Roc.  "I miss them so since I largely left this world!"  It gave a mighty sigh.  "Such a shame.  Such a shame.  So, yes, yes, I was quite pleased to do this for you for that.  And it is always good to have a favor with your mother.  How is she doing, may I ask?  A rum old gal, is Zamial..."

"It has been a while since we last met," said Nisrioch.  "To be fair, given my previous impression, I do not think aiding me will improve your standing with her."

"Oh, you do her wrong, Nisrioch," said the Roc.  "She dotes on you, that one does.  Dotes on you!  And you know that for she brought you into the world!  Few of we Ancient Residents have done that!  I certainly haven't!"  It clicked its massive tongue.  "Never had to, of course.  Renewed by my own eternal fires, and all that..."

Nisrioch gave a weary nod. "Indeed.  You look most excellent."

"Keep myself in fine shape, I do," said the Roc.  "Not many of our kind can boast this, you know.  The Barghest... gone utterly to seed, you know.  Not that the blasted dog will ever admit it!"

Nisrioch nodded.  There were many reasons he refrained from summoning demons.  The conversation was a large part of it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 17

"Well, here we are," said Porone gesturing around the small room.  "I use it for times when the Folly gets a bit... heated."

Rhea glanced around nervously as she stepped in.  "It's nice.  Cozy."  Porone watched her, beaming as she walked around and settled herself on a small seat. 

"My lady--" he began.

"Could I...?" started Rhea at the same time, only to stop and cough.  "I'm sorry.  Go on."

Porone stared at her, eyes wide, and then went on one knee.  "My lady, no, no--you need never apologize to me.  No, I should apologize to you.  I... what I owe your blessed grandfather... cannot be counted.  But I... for years, I lived, making my money, counting my coins, as Shaddad and his usurped all that rightfully belonged to your mother.   When she came into contact with me..."  He sighed.  "Let Mansemat say what he will--it is she who will bring a new way for House Cthonique, a new way for the entire Lands of Night!" 

Rhea stared at that.  "Yes, well... what were you going to say earlier."

The chubby merchant smiled.  "Merely that your being here is the greatest honor that has ever been done to this humble abode."

"Ahh."  Rhea sat awkwardly on her hands.  "Well, I was going to ask for a drink."

Porone stood up.  "And I will get you one!" He headed for the door, then turned.  "What would you like?  Wine, perhaps? Or brandy?"

"Something... soft, if you will," said Rhea.  "Tea. Tea would be fine." 

Porone smiled, and gave a bow.  "Then I will get it for you, Lady Cthonique."

Rhea leaned back and shut her eyes as he headed out of the room.  She knew as soon as she heard it, that she would never, ever be used to being called that.  Even if it happened to her for a hundred years.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 16

Falerina regarded the various dresses in Armida's wardrobe with keen interest.  "Hmmmm... this is very nice..." she said, holding a low-cut shift of light blue silk up to her chest as she looked at herself in the mirror. She peered at her reflection for a moment, then turned to Enyo.  "What do you think?   Is it my color?"

The woman gulped.  "Do you want my honest opinion?"

The Dev gave a rather menacing smile.  "I insist on it."

"It's really not," muttered Enyo.  "You're so pale already, and it makes you look... dead."

Falerina considered that for a moment, then nodded.  "So it matches my feelings.  Good choice!"  She began to slip into the dress then frowned.  "Oh, fudge.  I'll need to cut this for my wings."  She gestured at Enyo to come forward with a knife. 

Enyo frowned as she walked forward at Falerina's bidding and began to cut at the dress.    "You really don't listen to people, do you?"

"Sure I do!" said Falerina.  "I'm not deaf!  Just don't care about what they say, most of the time.  It's bla-bla talk.  Boring and useless.  Like them."  She pulled the altered dress on and smiled.  "There!  All done and byootifuuuul!"  She blew her reflection a kiss.

Enyo winced.  "So what now?"

Falerina considered things.  "Well, I have a lot of choices.  However, for now... oh, I think once I'm done getting dressed, I will find something liquid and flamable, drench as much of this place with it as possible, and then set it ablaze."

Enyo stared for a moment.  "Wha...?"

"Oh, yeah," said Falerina, as she regarded a collection of shoes.  "You'll be staying in here when that happens."  She squeezed one foot into a shoe, and wiggled it around.  "I might just have you do something like cut bits of flesh off yourself while it's burning.  I haven't decided yet.  But I am leaning towards that."

Enyo struggled for a response.  "I thought you said you weren't going to kill me nastily," she whimpered at last, the only thing she could think of.

"I lied," said Falerina with a shrug.  "I'm a nasty meanie liarpants.  I thought you all knew that, really."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 15

Armida nodded at the sisters, as Tisiphone lightly played her lute.  "I see."  She shrugged.  "We'll work around this."

Semele glanced at the older woman in surprise.  "You're handling this well."

"I want to do this cleanly," said Armida calmly, glancing idly at her hands.  "Too much blood will make things awkward in the long run."

Leucippe fidgeted nervously.  "Are you sure this place is safe?"

Armida smiled.  "This room's been lost so long that even the Castle isn't quite sure where it is anymore."  She laughed.  "You see?  There are secrets I know which that mad Ashurana does not."  She shook her head.  "She truly was a treasure trove of information, you know.  She simply didn't know just what she was in possession of."

"Well, obviously," muttered Semele. "Like you said, she's mad.  I suspect she isn't aware of all sorts of things she happens to have."

Armida sighed.  "I'm finding this increasing skepticism on your part rather irritating, Semele.  Do you forget all you owe me?"

The younger woman glanced away.  "Well, of course not.  It's just... well, now that we're close, the stakes... and what we're doing... I'm not comfortable with all of it." She stiffened as Armida drew close to her and placed a hand on her cheek.

"Well, I recommend you get comfortable with it, Semele," she said with a smile. "Because that is how things are going to be from now on."

Semele gulped slightly. "Of... of course... Lady... Lady..."

Armida's smile grew.  "Go on.  You can say it now."

"Lady Cthonique," said Semele, shutting her eyes.

Armida took a deep breath.  "Ahh.  That sounds so sweet on these ears. I do admit it."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 14

Sindri Stoneshoe glanced around the vast storeroom.   "So... there are things here."

"The Hall of Anguish and Dread holds much knick-knacks," explained Hymir, eyes focused on the floor.

"Knick-knacks?"  muttered the Mountain Erl quietly.  "That... seems rather underwhelming..."

"The House Cthonique has many assorted things that it has gathered over the many centuries," declared the old Ogre.  "But it lacks places to put them.  So they go wherever they may be placed."

Sindri stared at a large wooden box.  "That makes our liege lords sound like some sort of advanced colony of pack rats."

"This theory is not unknown to my ears," said Hymir.  He stood to his full height and regarded the younger Guard.  "So, what have you noticed?"

"There is a box labelled 'Eregal's Wigs'," answered Sindri.  "Which--isn't he dead?  Like... centuries dead?"

"Yes, and this is immaterial to our present circumstances," said Hymir patiently.  "More importantly, you will note multiple sweepings on the ground, meant to disguise footprints of someone who has just been in the room, prior to us."

Sindri rolled his eyes.  "Well, if you'd told me to look at the floor, of course I would have noticed that."

"Doubtless," said Hymir dryly.  "Still, what does this tell us?"

Sindri considered things.  "We have been invaded.  By angry maids."

Hymir stroked his pale beard, and gave a little cough.  "While such a... specific invader is... uncertain, the general point is actually correct. Someone has arrived in Castle Terribel through unknown means, with an unknown purpose, and they are trying to keep their presence hidden."  He turned to the door.  "So, we have much to do."

Sindri considered things for a moment.  "So--I actually impressed you?"

"No, not really," said Hymir flatly. "The maids took care of that."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 13

Eurydice glanced around the room, frowning.  "More Ancient Mummy Dust!" she proclaimed.  "I want to this entire place smelling like it!"

"Isn't this made out... ancient mummies?" asked Echidnae, softly.

"Yes," stated Eurydice, with a forceful nod.  "Hence the name.  It's remarkably self-demonstrating as names go."  She gripped her own cannister of it ansd shook it vigorously.

"So we're breathing in... dead people," muttered her companion quietly.

"Oh, no," said Eurydice.  "Ground up dead things.  Mostly cats, I believe.  The occasional crocodile, and yes, every now and then a person."  Echidnae stared at her, eyes wide.  "What?  They've been dead for centuries upon centuries, and do not care.  Plus they kill insects very dead." Echidnae did not cease staring at her with wide eyes.  "Look, this isn't supposed to be an enjoyable experience.  Understood."

"I know, I know, I know..." murmured Echidnae.  "It's just... this stuff is so... awful and smelly, and... made of dead things apparently."

"Hey, if I knew what it was in this stuff that killed bugs and was able to extract in a manner that didn't involve desecrating corpses, I would do it," noted Eurydice.  "But I don't.  So--Ancient Mummy Powder."  She nodded.  "And I like the smell.  It's the smell of dead pests."

Echidnae sighed, then glanced around suddenly.  "Did... you just sneeze?"

"No," said Eurydice.

"Are you sure?"  said Echidnae.  "Because I just swore I heard a sneeze."

"Which do I have reason to doubt more, Echidnae?" said Eurydice flatly.  "Your ears, or my knowledge of whether I sneezed again."

"Fine, fine," muttered Echidnae with a scowl.

"Come on!" said Eurydice.  "More rooms to douse, more bugs to kill."  Echidnae nodded as she followed Eurydice out of the room. 

After a moment, Arsinoe and Leucippe emerged from a dark shadow in the corner.  "That was close," muttered Leucippe, glaring at her sister.

"Oh, like it's my fault," muttered Arsinoe.  "The short one was right--that powder is smelly and awful."

"They were both 'the short one'!" snapped Leucippe.

"You know who I meant!" replied Arsinoe.  "Now come on, let's go see Madame..."

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 12

"...It is simply," finished the stately young woman, "that I am not certain he is a wholesome influence on our children."

Duke Gurnemanz Graharz peered over his tea at her with his long-perfected appearance of kindly interest, one that he had over the course of three marriages progressed from a mere tool into the realm of a sublime art.  It had served him well with each of those three wives, and their mothers, and the various wives of his sons and their female relations.  (Male relations were handled with his related look of manful interest, which was similar, but involved scrunching up one's brow more.)  He was not certain which of the latter he was dealing with at this moment--he believed it was his second son' Lascoyt's wife, but it might have been his third son Gurzgi's sister-in-law.  As he did not dare reveal his ignorance by asking, he was left with no choice, as he saw it, but to nod sagaciously, and say, "Well, that is a shame."  He gave a formal cough.  "Personally, I find the Dark Lord to be a perfectly amiable individual."

"But he is so... startling!" said the woman.  "After all, cousin Agrivain and his dame were one thing.  But this Nesriach..."

"Nisrioch," corrected Gurnemanz.  "It is pronounced 'Nisrioch'." 

"Oh, you know what I meant," said the woman.  "Listen--just this morning he was hard at work at some most ungodly spell!  While my children watched!"  She leaned forward.  "And they found it... intriguing!"

Gurnemanz was torn.  On the one hand, he did have the occasional worry if this alliance was with the Cthoniques was truly in the Free Cities best interest--though these worries tended to decline with each new bit of news out of Prince Amfortas' territory in Leonais.  On the other, it struck him that this woman's children would have been exceedingly odd if Nisrioch's spells had NOT intrigued them.  And on yet another hand, there was the ongoing difficulty of trying to remember the lady's name, and just who her children were to him.  He was on the verge of attempting a cunning strategem to fish her name out from her, when Nisrioch entered the tea chamber.

"Ahh, salutations all," he declared.  "Duke Gurnemanz, so excellent to see you on this fine evening."  He smiled at the woman. "And you as well, madame."  The woman looked away at this, while Gurnemanz felt a sinking feeling as he realized that he would not be able to have the woman introduce herself to the Dark Lord after all, meaning that the awkward situation of the present would continue indefinitely.

Nisrioch was however, keeping his attention firmly on the Duke.  "Gurnemanz, I do hope you would not mind me using some of that hot water. For alas, a purpose other than tea."  Nisrioch gave a wistful sigh.

"Not at all," began Gurnemanz, to which Nisrioch gave a polite nod, took the kettle and pour some of its contents onto a plate.   As the Duke and the woman watched, he began to chant quietly.  The water quickly turned brackish, and then black, causing the Dark Lord to click his tongue in irritation. 

"As I thought," he muttered. "Active interference."

The woman sputtered.  "Lord Nasirauch," she muttered, "what is the meaning of this?"

"Nothing much, Rosamund.  One of my enemies is working a dark spell to keep things hidden from me," said Nisrioch, biting his lips.

"The Stylites?" asked Gurnemanz, as he stared at the black water, and wondered if it would stain the plate.

"Oh, no," said Nisrioch.  "One of my other enemies.  I have many."

"Ahh."  Gurnemanz sipped his tea and sought dubious comfort in the fact that he now knew the name of the woman he was talking to.  Assuming Nisrioch had it correct.  Which was by no mean certain.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 11

Elaine took a deep breath, and shut her eyes, hand on the hilt of the Sword of Light.  The sound of conversation reached her ears.  She focused trying to make it out..

"...She actually said that?" said Viviane, as she walked through the doorway.

"Yep," said Jean, following her through.  "And then she ground those creepy teeth of hers."

Viviane shuddered.  "Oh, I am not sad I missed that."

"Yeah, yeah," muttered Jean.  "Brag about how you passed off dealing with your creepiest underlings to your poor, poor little Nemain."  She gave a little pout.  "Who is your little sister.  Your long lost little sis..."  She blinked.  "Why is Elaine standing there like that?"

Elaine cracked an eye open.  "I'm trying to mystically focus my senses.  It's a very du Lac thing to do."

"Not at random," said Viviane.  "Like... at a party for no discernible reason."

"I... I've got a bad feeling," said Elaine.  "Okay."

"Is this about that conversation you had with Morgaine earlier?" asked Jean.

"She told you?" said Elaine.

"With much laughing and giggling, and yea, even pointing," answered her aunt.

Elaine frowned.  "Well, she can laugh all she wants.  I've got a bad feeling.  And if there's one thing I've learnt it's to trust those.  When it feels like the other foot's about to drop, that's because it usually is."

Viviane placed a comforting hand on her daughter's shoulder.  "Elaine... Believe it or not, I'm happy that you're trying to look out for us all.  You've... grown so much in the last couple years, and I'm so proud of you that..."  She bit her lip.  "But, anyway--I wouldn't worry.  Because probably nothing is happening, and if I'm wrong... well, it's happening to us.  We're scary people."

Jean nodded.  "Right.  I'm scared of us, and I am us."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 10

Sindri Stoneshoe glanced at the courtyard below from the wall.  "And... nobody here either."  He smiled at Hymir.  "Well... good that we're here to make sure of that, eh?"

The Jotun raised one pale eyebrow and walked on in silence. 

Sindri blinked and then realized he was falling behind his superior.  "I... was that... did you imply that it isn't good that we're here?"

Hymir sighed and glanced at the young Mountain Erl.  "No.  Not really."

Sindri squirmed.  "Well, then why didn't you agree."

"Didn't view it as worth talking on," replied the Jotun.

"Well, that's just..."  Sindri struggled for words.  "Rude.  I mean, it's hard for me, trying to talk to you."

"Then don't," said Hymir.

Sindri stared at the old Ogre for a moment.  "But... do you realize how awkward it is walking here in silence all the time?"

"No," said Hymir.  Sindri coughed.  "Besides, we're talking now.  More than I like."  Hymir shook his head.  "Most irritating."  He paused as he and Sindri passed over an arch, and stared at the ground below intently.  His mouth turned into a rather severe frown.

"Why are you only telling me this now?" asked Sindri.

"Because I was hoping you could take hint," said Hymir.  "But apparently you can not.  Now please be shutting the mouth."

Syndri nodded.  "Right.  On it, sir."

Hymir glared at him.  "You are very bad at it, I am thinking."  He grumbled to himself, and began to walk towards a set of stone stairs.  "Come.  We have things to look into."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 9

"Well, she's shut right up, hasn't she?" muttered Enyo, staring at the captive Dev.  She glanced at her fellow for a moment, looking for a response.

Pephredo gave a grim but satisfied nod.  "Like a gate at night."  She chuckled to herself.  "I guess she realized that nothing was getting her out of that."

Enyo stared quietly at Falerina Ashurana.  "I suppose so." She frowned slightly.  "Do you think... she's really secure though?  I mean... she is, well, a Dev..."

Pephredo laughed at that.  "Nervous, aren't you?"  She shook her head, and gestured towards the ceiling.  "No, she's stuck there thanks to the wards.  With you and me serving as the next wall if those should fail."

Enyo glanced up at the symbols that had been carefully enscribed on the basement wall.  "Ahh.  Good to see."  She raised a hand and let loose a blast that obliterated the glyphs. 

Pephredo blinked.  "Wha--what are you...?" she began, only to be thrown to the wall by Enyo who then began to strike at her with her fists, over and over, and over. 

When Pephredo's skull was a ruined bloody pulp, Enyo finally stopped, and then began to blink.  "What... what just happened?"

"I did," answered Falerina, rising from the floor.  She smiled at the Erl.  "All my little charms and trinkets..."  She lifted her skirt and pulled a foot out of her shoe, wiggling the ring-laden toes.  "You missed some."  The Dev grinned at her former captive, as she shoved her foot back into her shoe.  "Ha!  Bet you didn't see that coming!  Oh, I knew I shouldn't try anything while your super-scary boss was here, but when she was gone, I got to work.  Because I am crazy like a fox.  And not like my aunt Hinde, who my father locked in a small room and fed small amounts of food for her entire life, to keep her weak and controllable.  And who we never, ever spoke about, never ever."  Falerina shuddered.  "Nope.  Not like her at all.  Not a bit!"

Pephredo stared at the Dev in horror and anger and tried to raise her hand at Falerina, only to find her arm frozen in place.  "What... what's going on?" she cried.

"I'm running your body like a puppet," said Falerina.  "Or a doll.  You ever have a doll?  I had one named Miss Funnyface.  She was very dear to me.  But I set her on fire once by accident, and so she had to be disposed of.  It was very sad."  She walked to the door, and then glanced back at Enyo.  "Anyway--I've been doing that since earlier, just when I did it at first, I had you shoved so far back in there, you had no idea what was going on.  Now, I'm letting out, but just a little.  So--I need a bath, to wash out the stinky mess that my oopsie left.  And I'd like you to help.  If you do a bad job, I kill you horribly."

Enyo regarded her for a moment.  "What if I do a good job?"

"I kill you not horribly," answered Falerina.  She grinned at the woman,  "See?  I'm good at motivating people!"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 8

"Now, you roast the chestnuts in the embers," explained Constans, placing the skillet in the heap.  He grinned at the two Cthonique Guards.  "They are QUITE a treat."

Quiet turned one of the little brown nuts over in her hand, eyeing it suspiciously.  "So you keep telling us.  With great heat."

Sacripant waved his hand.  "Don't mind her.  She just gets paranoid because Ghouls like to prank people with 'genuine Ghoulish cusine'.  That is unspeakably vile.  And which they don't actually eat at all."

"Oh, like that... cattail root stew of yours wasn't awful!" snapped Quiet.

"We actually EAT it," said Sacripant.  "And anyway, it's good.  Filling.  Nutritious.  Keeps you going when fish are scarce."

Palamedes glanced back at the group and sighed.  "Just ignore them.  It's that point in their relationship."  He glanced at the Easterling camp outside the walls.  "You suppose they're cooking chestnuts over there?"

"Doubt it," said Arcadius Pi.  "Not any chestnut trees over there.  They're in the city because the Pescheours had them planted in big orchards from up north."  He shook his head.  "No, those bastards are sitting in their tents, plotting to kill us all.  It's what they do."

"Didn't you used to say that about us?" said Sacripant quietly.

"No," said Arcadius.  He thought it over, then coughed.  "Well, okay, but in a general sense that... well, look, we always knew that, yes, we'd be fighting you again one of these days, but we still knew that a lot of what we were saying was nonsense, and that most of you were just people trying to get by.  But the Janissaries are soldiers, and nothing but.  Oh, and they pretty much run the Easter Kingdom.  Which means starting wars and crises with their neighbors is what they do.  And they're very good at it."  He shuddered.  "So trust me, they're planning on how to kill us right now.  In terrible ways."

Sacripant glanced over the wall.  "Right back at them, then."

Constans licked his lips.  "Right.  Chestnuts should be ready soon.  You are all in for a treat."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 7

Armida placed her hand against the hole resting the wall and chanted in a low voice, Tisiphone joining her.  The stone began to glow in an eerie blue light.

"Ooooh," said Arsinoe.   "That is neat!"  Leucippe rolled her eyes at her sister.  "Well, it is?  Do you regularly see glowing blue stones as you go about your daily business?"  Arsione crossed her arms.  "No?  Didn't think so.  So--NEAT!"

Leucippe scowled.  "Well--look, I think we all know when we schlepped out for Castle Terribel we were going to see strange, magical crap.  So... glowing stones really aren't that special, in my book."

"What book is that?" declared Arsinoe.  "The book of grim awfulness, and dire cynicism?"

"Oh, shut up," muttered Leucippe.

"You both realize that this is a delicate operation, right?" said Semele. "And if Armida and Tisiphone are interrupted during it, something catastrophic might happen to us?"

Leucippe snorted.  "Oh, like what?  We might explode?"  Semele merely stared at her.  Leucippe gulped.  "Wait... you're saying we might explode?"  She turned to her sister.  "Oe--we might get exploded!"

Arsinoe shivered.  "Oh, no!  I'm too young and pretty to die!"  She blinked.  "And... you two.  To a lesser extent of both."

"Now I'm hoping that she blows us both up!" snapped Leucippe.  "Just so that you will go!"

Semele sighed.  "It's sort of like water running off a stone, isn't it?" 

The chanting stopped.  As they watched a strange gateway opened in the stone, seeming to bend the very rock. Armida and Tisiphone stood back from it and nodded.  "Well, that's done," said Armida.  "With very little help from some people."

Arsinoe glanced down at her feet, while Leucippe coughed.  "Was... there really a chance we could get ex...?"

"Yes," said Tisiphone.

Leucippe gulped.  "Well, I wish people would mention these things."

"We did," said Armida, as she walked through the portal.

"I meant BEFORE I agreed to this!" snapped Leucippe.

"Well, I for one thought it was implicit on attacking Castle Terribel," noted Semele.