Saturday, April 30, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 45

"Are you sure that was a good idea?" Viviane asked Nisrioch. 

Nisrioch nodded.  "All must go to the place appointed," he said quietly.

"I... just... I want them to be safe... Elaine and... all of them," muttered Viviane glancing away.

"They'll be... fine, Viv," said Jean.  "Well... relatively fine, I suppose."

"Right, Elaine's tough, so is Eurydice, and Nissy has... some plan he's following here," said Morgaine, reassuredly patting Viviane's arm.  "Yep.  We're gonna be fine.  Fine, I tell you!  Fine!"

"Morgaine, you're hurting my arm with the frenzied patting," said Viviane.

"Sorry," said Morgaine backing away.  "But we're on this!  That's the important part!"  She gestured to the three witches bound before the.  "I mean, you beat these guys, and you didn't have us with you!"  She slapped her hands together.  "Us against Armida isn't even going to be a contest."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Armida, as she ambled into the chamber, smiling faintly.  "Hello, Nisrioch."

"Hello, Armida," answered the tall Dark Lord. "Shame things have to end like this?"

"We always knew it would, didn't we?" answered Armida.  "Especially you."

"The Sight doesn't work that way," said Nisrioch. "I've suspected it would, but hoped it wouldn't."

Armida chuckled at that. "Your naivete is somewhat endearing."

"Okay, should have expected you to show up like that," stated Morgaine striding forward, "but the time has come for me to end your evil family-screwing reign of terror!  And trust me, I'm the undying sorceress to do--"

Armida snapped her fingers.  Morgaine went flying backwards.  "First cousins once removed is suddenly the height of decadence now?," said Armida quietly

"I told her that myself," noted Nisrioch.  "But you know how she is."

"True," said Armida, nodding.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 44

Malina chewed her lip in consideration then smiled.  "Is it the big tablespread over there?"

Meg Mowton nodded.  "Very good, child.  You win this round.  So, think of you what you wish to make us try to guess, and tell us when you've made a choice."  She glanced at the crowd of children before her and smiled broadly.  "My, isn't this fun, my dears?"

Agalia le Fidele sat her chin on her knees and pouted.  "No."

"Can we go now?" asked Thalia.  "Please?  Pretty please? With sugar on it?"

Meg gave a merry chuckle.  "No, dear. No, you can't. It's not safe. Now, come, let's wait for the Princess to choose her object."

"But do you really know that it's not safe?" asked Euphrosyne pointedly.  "I mean, really?  It could be safe now, and you just didn't realize it."

"I could go check," said Malina.  "It'd be real easy for me to just apport somewhere else, an' then..."

"But then the rest of us couldn't play the game," said Meg quietly.  "Wouldn't that be bad?"

"Oh, right," said the young Dev eyes going wide.  "You are a smart old lady!"

"That's why I'm so old, dear," answered the witch, leaning back in her chair.  "Survived five wars, and countless plots by being a clever old thing and knowing when to fight, and when to run very quickly away, find a nice hole, and stay there."  She looked around at the room's fine furnishing and gave a satisfied nod.  "Must say, this is a fine one.  Very nice.  Clean too."

"It is the Chamber of a Thousand Painful Deaths," said Malina, smiling cheerfully.  "It's very old."

Meg regarded her for a moment, and then coughed.  "That is... nice to know.  Have you made your choice?"

"Yep!" said Malina.  She pointed to her wrist.  "My bracelet!"

Meg sighed.  "You're not supposed to tell us what you chose, Malina.  Not before we guess."

"Ohhh, right," said Malina.  She considered things for a moment.  "You could all pretend I didn't tell you."

"Just make another choice, dear," muttered Meg.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 43

"All worth it," muttered Armida to herself as she strode from the chamber.  "All the years, all the sacrifices, all the secrets, all the plots, all the murders, all worth it.  It has all been to come to this moment, this shining moment, where all is righted, where all is made whole, and pure again."  She paused a moment, leaning against the wall, and shut her mismatched eyes. 

"I am sorry, Mother, but he didn't see that," she whispered plaintively. "I know you loved him, but he... never really understood."  Then she took a deep breath and continued on her way.  She felt the Castle around her.  Oh, she was blind to a few chambers and rooms, but most of it was visible to her now. 

No, no, visible was a rather poor word to use.  She was a part of these rooms, somehow.  She felt them, as if they were the tips of her toes.  It took concentration to really hone in on them, but there was always the vague tickle of them, at the back of her mind.

"Worth it," she said again, with a fervent nod.  "Worth it.  I will leave this to my daughter.  All this.  And a better world.  Much better."  She frowned.  She would of course have to deal with the rest of the Necklace's Pendent, but that would be easy.  Most of them were as blind and arrogant as Falerina Asurana, in their own twisted ways.

Easy, but not effortless.  "A lot of killing ahead of me," she whispered.  "But... it will be worth it.  It will be worth it." 

She'd felt Tisiphone perish.  That had hurt.  Brought to mind the little blind girl she'd found, begging for scraps of food.  Whose inner eyes she'd opened.   Who'd smiled at her, long ago.

Let it go.  This was a war.  There were always going to be casualties.  She'd known that, for years.  Learned it from her father, when her mother died.

It occurred to her she couldn't remember her mother's face anymore.  Oh, she could recall all sorts of things about her, in a strange abstract manner, but not her face.

Armida clenched her teeth.  "All worth it, all worth it, all worth it," she repeated to herself.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 42

"And here we go," said Nisrioch, as he helped Eurydice to the floor.  He gave a fervant nod.  "Well, we certainly solved this problem!"

Eurydice gave a bow.  "I thank you, Your Excellency," she stated, then glared at Echidnae.  "Well, someone did not take their insect exterminating duties as seriously as they should." 

"I was kidnapped and threatened by witch-assassins," said Echidnae.  "And then freed by a ghost.  I really, really don't need this right now."

Eurydice crossed her arms.  "Well, I just fought a duel with a blind witch-assassin, and do you see me whining about it?  No!  I continue to curse my failure to properly do my duties."

Viviane massaged her temples."Eurydice, now is not the time."

The chambermaid bowed.  "My apologies, Your Magnificence.  It was not my intent to disturb you."

The Badb gave a pained nod to this.  Elaine glanced at her mother.  "Headache getting worse?" she whispered.

"Exponentially," muttered Viviane.

Morgaine glanced around.  "So where to now?  'Cause, at the moment, I'm not sure this room isn't going to... I don't know, suddenly lose the floor or something."

"I can show you where the magic room is," said Echidnae quietly.  "Where I was kidnapped to and threatened.  With death."

Jean stared at her for a moment.  "We're going to have to give you a vacation after this, won't we?"

Echidnae stared blankly ahead for a long time, then nodded.  "That sounds nice," she said faintly.

Nisrioch smiled.  "You know--if you're looking for places to go, the Painted Beaches are very nice..."

"That does sound pleasant," muttered Echidnae.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 41

Mansemat stood in the darkness, waiting, his eyes closed.

"It's quite hopeless, you realize," came Tisiphone's voice.  "The castle turns against you, you tire, and I do not.  You know this to be true."

The Dark Lord made no reply.

"She does not hate you, you realize," noted Tisiphone.  "Why, she even thinks it's a pity that it has come down to this.  But then, that is how it goes.  In the end, there can only be one Dark Lord of the Plains of Dread.  And you have been weighed, and found wanting."

Mansemat slowly turned, readying his blade.

"My, my, that gets a response," said the blind lautist with a chuckle.  "What is wrong, Mansemat?  Does it wound you to think that you will no longer be... 'Your Magnificence'?"

Mansemat raised the Sword of Night.

"Oh, it does," whispered Tisiphone.  "My, my, my.  Not quite the shining glorious warrior of chivalry you so do like people to imagine, are you?  In the end, just a..."

Mansemat suddenly twirled half away around and struck, feeling the too-familiar sensation of the blade hitting home.  The gasp and slow thump of a body hitting the floor were merely further confirmation. 

He opened his eyes and took  a deep breath.  The witch lay on the floor, clutching her wound.  "How...?" she said at last, her voice weak.

"You thought I trusted in my eyes, and my ears when I could not use them reliably," answered Mansemat.  "But in battle, I trust my instincts over my senses."  He frowned quietly.  "Would you like me to...?"

She shook her head.  "I... took my chances, and the rewards that came with them," Tisiphone murmured.  "I'll take my death now."

Mansemat sheathed Murgleys in silence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 40

Viviane chuckled at the sight of the three witches tied up before her.  "Well, this is going well," she said with a grin.  She glanced at Jean and Echidnae.  "What do you think?  Pretty little picture?"

"I prefer it to chasing these idiots around,"noted Jean.

"Or being tied up by them," said Echidnae. "That really wasn't fun."

"We will tell you nothing!" declared Arsinoe grandly.

Leucippe glared at her sister.  "You've already told them a great deal."

"Well, I meant nothing more," explained Arsinoe.  "Qualifications, sis!  Qualifications!"

Semele rolled her eyes.  "Please just kill me now.  It'll be more merciful than what Armida will do.  Or listening to these two."

Viviane clapped her hands together.  "Actually, I'm trying to cut down on my dispensing of summary justice.  So, if you'll just tell me what the meaning of all this is..."

"Armida is Nerghal's daughter, and she's trying to take over the castle," came the familiar voice of Nisrioch.  "Through a bit of old magic."

Jean glanced around.  "Wha...?  Nisrioch--you knew this?  And you didn't mention it?"

"He's known for a while," came the dark tones of Morgaine.  "And said nothin'."

Jean glared around.  "Shoulda seen... hey, where are you guys?  It's hard to be properly mad at you when I can't see you."

"We should be there... now!" declared Nisrioch grandly, as he emerged from a hall that apparently had been set into the ceiling.  He glanced around and blinked.  "Oh, dear.  Things are progressing rather further than I imagined..."

Morgaine and Elaine appeared behind him, glancing at the floor below with interest.  "Should we... jump, maybe?" asked Elaine.

"I wouldn't recommend it," said Nisrioch.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 39

"So, are you feeling better now, Aunt Morgaine?" asked Antea cheerfully.

"My head isn't flying off without warning, so yep," muttered Morgaine.  "Just fantastic. I mean... aside from dealing with the entire terrible invasion of the castle by crazy assassin witches under the rule of the local courtesan provider."  She gave a frustrated sigh.  "I just don't get why Armida's doing this."

"She is Nerghal's daughter," answered Nisrioch quietly.

Morgaine blinked. "Wha...?"

"Nerghal had a daughter?" asked Elaine.

"Oh, yes," said Nisrioch.  "Actually, there was a quiet negotiation to marry us off in the earliest days of Shaddad's reemergence.  News of which was completely buried after Father completely destroyed Nerghal's power-base." 

Morgaine nodded.  "Ahh.  Of course, that does leave the question of why Nerghal never... because he's a shifty bastard, and I never asked.  Answered that one quickly.  Yep."  She frowned suddenly, and glanced at her brother.  "And you... just recently figured this out, right?"

"Oh, no, I've known for years," answered Nisrioch.  "Part of the reason I sought her out was to keep an eye on her."

His sister stared at him grimly.  "She is related to us."

"First cousin, once removed!" chirped Antea.  Elaine glanced at her.  "I'm good at this sort of thing!" Antea stated proudly.

"Right, right," said Morgaine.  "Still--relative."

"Well, we're aristocrats!" replied Nisrioch.  "This sort of thing happens all the time with us!"

"Uh huh," replied Morgaine with a dull nod. "And I suppose she knew that you knew."

"Almost certainly," said Nisrioch.

Morgaine slapped her forehead.  "Nissy, do you realize this means that you have no romantic relationships that are not based on lies, and evil headgames?"

"What can I say?" answered her brother.  "I am deep and complicated.  Like a multi-volume novel!"

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 38

Leucippe jumped back from the jaws of the immense catamount before her, its jaws snapping shut with a crack.  She scurried up the wall, as the massive predator paced towards her.  Across the way she could see her sister and Semele dodging the fiery blasts the Badb was hurling at them.

"Jean, have you caught yours yet?" asked Viviane tiredly. "I'd like some help with mine..."

The catamount turned, and gestured towards Leucippe with a paw.  "Hey, you see how quick these guys are?  Like... cockroaches.  Only... human-sized."  She quickly turned around again and snapped her jaws again.  "Hey!  Don't get any ideas.  You get in range, you're mine."

Viviane shuddered, while unleashing a bolt of lightning from her hand.  "Haven't I told you about talking while you're in one of those shapes?  It creeps me out!"

"Oh, you're just mad I figured this out!"  said Jean. She growled up at Leucippe.  "Come on!  You can't cling to that forever!"

"Yes I can!" said Leucippe very quickly, sending a few stray sparks at the transformed witch below her. 

They fizzled before even reaching Jean. "Ha!  Magic lion, fool!  Ultramagic lion to be precise!" chortled Jean proudly.

Leucippe blinked.  "You're... not a lion..."

"Quick question, lady," snapped Jean.  "Which one of us is quivering in terror right now?  And as we both know the answer to that, can we agree that I get to decide what I am called?"

"Don't worry, sis!" said Arsinoe, cartwheeling over towards them.  "I'm coming to save--ooof!" Leucippe watched as her sister lost her footing thanks to a bit of ice that had been conjured before her, and slammed into the ground.

Viviane chuckled to herself, as she turned to face Semele.  "I'm almost embarassed that you're the best that was sent to face us..."

"Hey, we're actually pretty good," said Semele.  "Just not Witch Queen good..."

"Plus, we're really just supposed to be distracting you," said Arsinoe attempting to rise to her feet.

Her partners winced as she slipped.  "Noe, you do realize the point of plots is to keep them a secret," noted Leucippe.

"Well, yeah," said Arsinoe.  "But she was making me feel bad."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 37

"Right, right, right," said Morgaine.  "That's it.  I think you've got it."  She took a deep breath.  "Right.  Just back away now.  I think my head will stay on now."

Eurydice nodded and stepped away from the Dark Lord.  Morgaine smiled fixedly.  "Yep, perfect!" she announced, placing her hands on her hips.  Her head tottered and rolled off.  Morgaine muttered something indistinct and likely obscene. 

Eurydice sighed and performed the Obeisant Gesticulation.  "My apologies, Your Excellency," she said, walking towards Morgaine's head.  "She... really pulled a number on you, didn't she?"

"Thank you for the sterling display of the obvious," muttered Morgaine with a pout as Eurydice picked her up.  "Care to tell me that water is wet next?"

Eurydice scowled and raised the Dark Lord's head to hers.  "That was uncalled for.  I am only trying to help," she said wagging a finger at her.  "This is hardly a just reward for my loyalty."

"I know," said Morgaine, looking guiltily away.  "I'm just... pissed that she kicked my ass like I was a nobody.  I thought she'd just be a bit... freaky, and it turns out she's... super-freaky.  And not in the good way.  The scary way."

Eurydice found herself wondering what Morgaine meant by that, but decided that it was part of the Dark Lord's personality that she preferred not to inquire into, like the section of the library with the perverted books.  You knew it was there, largely so you could avoid it, and guide younger siblings away from it. 

She set the head on the body that was presently propping itself up against the wall.  "Okay, another try..."  Eurydice stared at the clean cut that had severed it.  "Do you have any idea how she did this?"

"It was over so quickly, that mostly I just got a chance to notice it had happened," muttered Morgaine quietly.  She shut her eyes.  "Right.  I'm just going to sit back and... heal from this, instead of trying to rush things.  Best way."  She took a deep breath.  "Yep.  Take my precious time."

"Morgaine!  Dearest sister!" said Nisrioch cheerfully, walking down the hall.  "And young le Fidele!  Salutations!" 

Morgaine's eyes blinked open.  "Hey, Nissy.  Don't hug me now.  I might fall to pieces."

"Ohhh," groaned Nisrioch.  "But you're just so adorably huggable!" 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 36

Mansemat glanced around, sword raised warily.  The hall was dark, even for the eyes of an Erl.  Which of course was no problem for his opponent.  Whatever it was the mysterious woman used to see with it was not her eyes. 

The sound of a light footstep came from his right.  He whirled around, slashing downwards, and was rewarded with the sound of cloth scurrying away.  Mansemat gave himself a mental kick.  He should be used to his opponent's strange and eerie speed by now, but it still struck him as horribly off-putting.  He found himself wondering if his own foes felt the same way when they fought him. 

He rather expected they did.  Somehow, this failed to comfort him.

Another flurry of footsteps, coming from behind.  He allowed them to come closer, then twirled around.  The footsteps retreated swiftly away.

Mansemat frowned to himself.  Even with the power of the Sword of Night, he was tiring.  Magic could take flesh farther from its limitations, but only so far.  He could hope that this was true for his foe, but he knew that warriors who thought in this manner typically wound up dead. 

He felt a rush of air coming at him from above.  He rolled back, and watched as the mysterious woman landed in front of him, and threw a knife. He managed to duck just in time, and then found himself dodging and parrying the woman's blows.  One struck the blade of his sword with a strength that made it tremble in his hands.  And then she leaped back, and was enfolded by the darkness.

There was silence for a moment.  "You move well, in this darkness," came the woman's voice.  "I've known few opponents who can."

"I've trained myself in many ways," said Mansemat quietly. 

"It shows," said the woman with a chuckle.  "You are truly, as they say, a great warrior.  It will almost be a shame to kill you."

Mansemat raised his sword.  "My feelings exactly."  He gave a swift slash, and heard another flapping of cloth.  "But then, you are hardly trying, aren't you?  This is about delaying me, so that your employer can accomplish whatever she is trying to do..."  There came an amused chuckle.  "What does Armida have against me, I wonder?"

"What makes you think it's her?" came the woman's voice.

"I may not recall your name, but like my sister I know your face," he said.  "And knowing who you are associated with--well, the conclusion seems reasonable."

Another knife came at him from the darkness.  He fended it off.  "Tisiphone," came the woman's voice.  "If it makes things easier for you."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 35

Echidnae Bluebell made her way down the corridor as fast as her legs could take her.  Her breaths came heavy and slow, and she found herself regretting having that thick hasty pudding she'd had earlier for breakfast.  Her stomach was doing flip-flops.  She leaned agaisnt the wall and took a deep breath.

"Hey!" came a familiar voice.  Echidnae gulped and turned.  Arsinoe was walking towards her down the hall.  "I was right!  It's that... serving girl!" she said.  She smiled and waved, revealing a hand streaked with blood.  "Hello!  Nice to see you again!" 

Echidnae debated her options, among them running away quickly, and curling up into a ball.  Considering her lack of breath latter was starting to look very attractive.  Especially after Semele and Leucippe joined their associate.  "What's she doing out?" asked Semele quietly.

Arsinoe shrugged.  "Maybe the boss just let her out.  To celebrate her impending victory."

Leucippe blinked.  "That... doesn't sound like Madame Armida."

"Well, maybe she's turning over a new leaf," said Arsinoe fervently.  "You know... like she said, start off the new regime without a bloodbath."

"Aside from the people we killed," muttered Semele.

"Well, yeah, obviously," noted Arsinoe.  "Come on!  New era!  Tell me you back me on this, sis!"

Leucippe shook her head.  "No, I don't."

"Low blow for family loyalty," muttered Arsinoe.  "I will remember this on your birthday."

"Another excuse to avoid buying me a present, eh?" snapped Leucippe.

Semele sighed and raised her hand.  "All right, kindly come with us, miss..."

A gust of wind arose and knocked her over.   "That isn't going to happen," said Viviane du Lac, her pestle raised.  Jean Crow nodded in agreement.  The pair stepped forward together.

"Ooooh!" said Arsinoe. "Look, Ippe!  We're about to throw down with the Badb and the Nemain!  It'll be epic!  One set of witch sisters, versus another set of witch sisters!"

"Yes," muttered Leucippe, lowering into a crouch.  "Terrific."

"You two are witches?" said Jean.  "What is going on at Armida's?"

"Oh, all sorts of amazing things!" answered Arsinoe with a significant nod.  "That will shortly be revealed."

"Please, shut up," said Viviane.

"I don't know," noted Jean. "She's really making me want to kick her ass."

"Join the club," said Leucippe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 34

"So... can you get to your feet?"

Eurydice nodded, took a deep breath, and stood on shaky legs.  "There.  See?"

"Very good," said Morgaine, her head wiggling slightly in the chambermaid's arms.

"What was that?" asked Eurdyice.

"I just attempted a nod," muttered Moragine.  "It's... pretty much reflexive."

"Ahh," muttered Eurydice.  "Right."

"What's with the tone?" snapped Morgaine.  "Look, I remember you as a little girl, for a start."

Eurydice narrowed her eyes.  "What does that mean?"

"You're not my type," muttered Morgaine, shutting her eyes.  "Look, my ability to get a good view of the area is... kind of crap at the moment.  What are Manny and creepy blind chick doing?"

"No idea," muttered Eurydice, steadying herself on the wall.  "Fighting I imagine.  He... moved away very quickly, and she... she kept up with him."  She shook her head.  "There is something... unnatural about her..."

"She's a blind woman who sees somehow," noted Morgaine.  "That's sort of a given."  She suddenly grimaced and let out a hiss.

Eurydice looked down at the Dark Lord's head.  "What...?"

"Something... terrible just happened," replied Morgaine.  "Something that I wasn't even sure could..."

Eurydice stiffened.  "Are... are we in trouble?  I mean... worse then we were earlier?  Your Excellency?"

"A little," replied Morgaine.  "It's not the terrible thing you're thinking of.  It's a... different one."

Eurydice gulped.  "Oh."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Around Again It Comes--Part 33

"So, it really is you," came the familiar voice to Armida's side. 

Armida Cthonique took a deep breath, and tore her eyes away from the Needle of the Blood.  Sure enough, he was standing there, at about the age he'd been the last time she'd seen him, when he'd sent her away.  "Father," she said with a bow.  "I'd heard you were playing at being Morgaine's lap dog."  She sighed.  "I'm not happy to see it is true."

Nerghal Cthonique frowned.  "Well, I would be happy to see you, but frankly meeting you in these circumstances is... somewhat putting a damper on my joy."  He looked around the chamber.  "Rather odd place..."

"Our ancestor Assur's creation," said Armida with a smile.  "I bet you wish you'd found it, all those years ago..."

"These days, what I wish might surprise you, Armida," said Nerghal quietly.

"I'd heard death has a way of weakening even the hardest spirits," noted Armida.  "I'm sad to see it's true."

"Wisdom isn't weakness, Armida," muttered Nerghal.  "And revenge... well, it's taken me years to realize that it just isn't worth it."

Armida frowned at her father's spirit.  "And the cause?  You were going to change the Plains of Dread."

"And I did," said Nerghal.  "It got worse.  And then Shaddad came and wrought even more destruction."  He shook his head.  "His children have done more for the things I claimed to represent than I ever did.  Another reason I gave up hating them."

"Oh, I don't hate them, I just..."  Armida blinked and turned to see the discarded rope of the little chambermaid laying where she'd been imprisoned. She let loose a snarl.  "You... you freed her!"

Nerghal smiled at that.  "Actually, it was Lame Mair that did that.  Pleasant fellow, really.  I'm amazed someone murdered him, but then people can be damned unpleasant, can't they?"

"You traitor," hissed Armida.

"How do you figure that?" asked Nerghal.  "You may be my daughter, but our paths have diverged, for some time now." 

"You... you will pay for that!" she said, raising her hand.  "I know ways of making even a ghost suffer..."

"Your mother said the same thing to me once," said Nerghal.  "I suppose now I'll see if she was telling the truth..."

Armida shut her eyes, and took a deep breath.  "Yes.  Yes, you will."