Friday, June 26, 2009

Chapter Twelve -- School's In Session

For the first few hallways our heroes are amazed at how benign are the paths that lead to such a hall of horrors. Turning the first corner the sounds of agony were no longer audible and by now they can't even smell the burning flesh anymore. The mystical 'compass' leads them cryptically, but as there is only one way to go they don't worry too much about options. They walk on and on, but at last they reach a fork in the hallway. Checking the 'compass' they are given the option of yellow with three triangles or purple with a yellow bulls eye. Remembering that 'yellow with three triangles' lead them previously to the room of treasure, they opt for the way not yet known.

Fork after fork in the way and they follow the purple with yellow bulls eye each time. Once again they've walked many leagues by the time they reach another door. Inside they hear a single voice calling out in what could be surprise or pain, followed by silence and then another cry. Finally Gladiola can take the mystery no longer and opens the door. A shuriken whizzes past her nose, just barely missing and instead imbedding itself in the open door with a loud 'thud!' Instinctively she puts hand to pommel, prepared to draw her hammer in defense. Simultaneously she shoots a look barely behind her to tell Steve! 'stay back.'

"My apologies master!" says a young man in the room. He steps from fighting stance to attention, bowing at the waste. "I was keeping myself busy until you arrived." The youth stands at attention and waits for her, but she remains in the doorway. After an uncomfortable silence he looks to her and asks "Is there something wrong master? Am I wrong that this is the scheduled time for my lesson? I could come back another time! Just say the word!"

Gladiola steps into the room. "No, this is fine. I was simply testing your patience. Now I shall test your ability to... speak your orders. Tell me exactly of this class, including your name and rank and class level!"

The boy steps to attention again. "Sir yes sir! I am Raegan Istholden, trainee second level, here for my weekly fighting training sir!"

"At ease."

"I must say, master, that I've been very excited to begin our new class. Father has assured me that you are one of the greatest combat teachers he has ever seen, and he is extremely difficult to impress!"

Gladiola steps further into the room. "I am looking forward to hearing more of your father and his high opinion of me. But first I must gain an opinion of you, student." pulling her hammer from her waist Gladiola begins to pace the youth, and he immediately recognizes the unspoken signal to fight and circles her too. As he moves past the weapons rack he pulls a flail out, swinging it around his head once or twice. Upon the second revolution Gladiola moves in, taking advantage of his weapon being occupied and in seconds he finds himself on the ground, the weapon in her hand. "I see we have MUCH to learn." she shakes her head over him.

"What can you teach me, master?" a voice from the door. An older boy, probably several years older, enters with Steve! held before him around the neck. "I found this man standing outside and he seemed suspicious!"

Gladiola steps to the new young man, grabbing his hand and wrenching it around and freeing Steve!. "This is my page!" she growls, bringing her face up to his closely. He backs down not at all. "And who are you?"

The boy behind her speaks as he returns to his feet. "This is my older brother Plataxx. He will be studying with you on the morrow. This is the new combat teacher, 'taxx! Is she not impressive?"

"Hmmm. Perhaps, little brother. I would need to face her to know her true skills."

"I would be HAPPY to show you what I can do. Boy." Gladiola snarls back.

Steve! and Raegan, sensing things could get exciting before we're done here, scoot out of the way, taking their seats on a stack of tumbling cushions against the far wall. Plataxx and Gladiola step back into the room, sizing each other up as they stretch and bend their muscles. Gladiola spins her hammer comfortably around in her right hand. "With weapons or hand-to-hand, boy?" she further antagonizes her opponent. He refuses to take the bait.

"I suggest we begin hand-to-hand. I wish to get a true understanding of your skills. Ma'am." In response Gladiola slides her hammer back into her belt, doffing her imaginary cap to Plataxx in acquiescence. They pace 'round the room, facing each other, waiting for someone to make the first move. At last Plataxx steps forward and they lock arms and heads together in classic wrestling stance. Gladiola is amazed to find his strength to be much greater than that of a boy his age, and she adjusts her strategy to allow for more... surprises. As if on cue, the boy dips low, slipping out of her grasp and rushing forward. His shoulder gathers up her chest, smashing it and her against the far wall with a crash and knocking the wind from her in the process.

Steve!'s eyebrows raise -- this will be very different than what he'd expected.

"Plataxx was the first to be blessed with the strength of the gods." Raegan whispers to the Ranger, never taking his fascinated eyes from the battle at hand. "He enjoys the speed and power as well. I hope that when father bestows these gifts upon me I will be ready and worthy. Of course that's what mistress teacher is for I guess, right?"

Gladiola, having just recovered from the unexpected impact, bends over, grabbing Plataxx 'round his chest and heaves, lifting him off his feet and upside down. She drops to her knees, smashing his head into the floor (with great thanks to Triple H!) with a satisfying 'thonk!'

"Say, by which gods did your father bless your brother?" Steve! asks his seatmate.

"Farrendoah the Flayer." he responds back. The name sends a cold burst shooting through Steve!. Farrendoah the Flayer, he remembers through the fog of his lack of memories, is one of the great and terrible demons, best known for having swept through an entire valley of villages in the olden days, quenching thousands of lives in an instant and all simply for refusing to worship at his demonic feet. Those who worship his name now pledge to extinguish 100 non-believing lives a cycle in exchange for demonic gifts. Steve! marvels at how much worse this just keeps getting and getting...

Gladiola currently kneels, her left knee crushing down in the center of Plataxx's back as she smashes her fist into the back of his head. Or at least that was the plan, but to her surprise the boy is able to shift enough under her through brute strength to turn his head just out of the way, and instead her fist hits hard floor. Equally surprising is the smile that continues to smear itself on the boy's face despite their now vicious battle. He is clearly not worried, and seems instead to be enjoying every moment. Enjoying it in a most... sinister way.

"Your master is amazing. Even Plataxx is impressed with her. He may not show it, but I can tell." Raegan tells Steve! out of the corner of his mouth, his eyes never leaving the battle. Steve! nudges the boy, producing a small ball of flame in the palm of his hand.

"Yeah, but can she do this?" he asks, grinning. The boy's eyes flash with fascination, watching the ball hover over Steve!'s hand.

"Magic!" he chirps. "We had a magician in the court for a while!" Raegan's face darkens with bad memories. "Father had him killed when a trick he performed stained one of the wall hangings." Raegan returns to stare at the fight. After a minute more he adds "Father says it’s important to be clear in your expectations. And when someone does not meet them you..." the boy runs his hand down his arm, from shoulder to elbow. " demonstrate your disappointment."

Gladiola lunges forward, fist just barely sliding past her opponent's shoulder as he sidles by and drives his elbow into her middle. Her armor deflects the blow for the most part, but that insidious smile continues to flash at her across the battle. She decides it's time to wipe that smile off his face, and if she takes some nose off at the same time so be it.

Steve! hands Raegan a bit of jerky, recently purloined from the kitchens. As he takes the offering he looks around guiltily before chomping down on the meat. Through chews he tells Steve! "Father frowns on food not earned. We have a challenge each day and when we do not accomplish the goal we go hungry." As if on cue a loud, sad gurgle echoes from the boy's stomach. He blushes, and Steve! hands him another, larger bit of jerky. The boy looks over at his seatmate again, feeling care from another person for the first time since his mother was put to death in the Sonchiean pit.

Tapping into the mystical strength gifted to her from the Wizard, Gladiola grabs Plataxx's jerkin at the shoulder and his pants at the waistline, lifting the young man over her head. She smiles, knowing that this will hurt (although not permanently) and as she looks across the room to her partner, sure he will share her smile, she's perplexed by his response.

Steve! looks on as Gladiola prepares a stern but appropriate lesson for the brash young man, and as he begins to smile encouragement to her there is a movement in the doorway, immediately behind her. Steve!'s skin goes cold as he recognizes Baron Istholden, standing with an evil eye and a long dagger in his hand. There is no time to cry before his arm lunges forward, aimed directly at Gladiola's back! With the sick sound of the dagger slicing into her Gladiola's eyes go wide. She tosses Plataxx to the far wall, her hands scrabbling at her back in an attempt to remove the blade and she falls to the ground, crying in agony. The pain is far worse than any single stab wound; Steve! understands immediately there is magic on that blade. With no thought other than that of his partner and the need to escape Steve! pulls his own blade, placing it below Raegan's chin.

"Do not move!" he cries, pulling the boy to his feet before him as he also stands. The Baron, still standing over his agonized friend with a wide smile, glares and stands still.

"What do you ask for, Ranger?" he growls.

Steve! gestures with his hands, indicating that he and the boy are to swap positions with the Baron. As they parry about the room, neither side taking eyes off the other, the Baron collects his older son from the floor, helping him to stand. Now Steve! and his hostage stand with their back to the door. Steve! tells the boy "help her up." and he does, ducking to avoid Gladiola's massive hands as they lash out, still trying to remove the painful dagger. With her spasaming form over his shoulder the odd trio back out the door into the hallway. Closing the door after them Steve! sets it ablaze, trusting that the fire will prevent them from following for at least a moment. Looking up either hallway he wonders what is the best, fastest route to a safe haven. Raegan hisses to them "This way!" and, still supporting Gladiola, he makes his way down a hallway. Steve! worries for a moment, but he senses the boy can be trusted and he follows him down the hall.

Raegan quickens his pace and continues to coax on the group, "This way, hurry! No time, we've got to hurry!" Steve! loses sight of him as he turns the corner and much to his surprise runs right into Drelftox as his rounds it.

"Oooof! Steve!, Gladiola, what are you doing here?"

"We're on the run from Istholden. His son Raegan is helping us. What are you doing here?"

"Raegan the Mad is helping you? This can't be. You are in grave danger!"

"Raegan...the Mad...are you sure it’s not Raegan the friendly or perhaps Raegan the kind, because I would like that a lot better."

A small voice echoes out of the darkness, "Unfortunately no. Father has assured me that kindness will only be rewarded with pain. Delivering the two of you however may finally convince him that I'm worthy to be an Istholden. No more will I only be known as Plataxx's little brother."

The voice seems to be coming from all directions and Gladiola whirls around looking for a target.

"You'll always be nothing... Plataxx would have killed them both by now... SHUT UP! I'm am just as brave as Plataxx! I've just been held back by my... my... condition." "You can't fight like Plataxx... can't wield a weapon like Plataxx... you aren't worthy to carry his armor... SILENCE! I'll show all of you!"

Suddenly the sound of stomping boots coming closer echoes through the room. From out of a dark corner comes the form of a young boy enshrouded with a cloak of what likes like sewn together pieces of flesh. Streams of tears can be seen racing down his cheeks as he streaks towards the adventurers. A gleaming sickle in his hand raises as he cries out unintelligible babble.

What will you do?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Chapter Eleven -- Money, Money, Money MONEY. MONEY!

*Time Passes*

Steve! and Gladiola sit, eating their sammiches stolen from a guard galley they happened by. Their legs dangle over an endless precipice, having come to roost on the verge of a bottomless pit they've found. They enjoy a moment of rest and quiet. Finally Gladiola swallows the last bite of her mutton and cheese with pickle. She picks a bit of meat out of a back molar with her pinky claw, sucking the food off (because who knows when she'll get more meat so waste not want not!) and clears her throat.

" TOTALLY lost?" she asks at last, not looking at Steve!.

".........totally." he replies, still a third of his sammich left.

Silence returns for several beats.

" long do you s'pose we've been wandering around today anyway?"

".........somewhere between 4 and 6 hours I expect."

"yup, that sounds right."

Silence at the lip of a bottomless pit is actually silenter than any other silence.

"Yup." Gladiola repeats, swinging her feet below her.

Steve! finishes his last bite or two of food, his hands shiny from the mutton grease. He reaches into his pockets, pulling things out in pursuit of his kerchief. At last he finds it and as he wipes his hands clean his eyes survey the pile of items thrust upon him by Drelftox. 'Funny little assortment of this and that.' he thinks to himself, shoving his kerchief and the clutter back into the pockets. "Right!" he calls, clapping and rubbing his hands together as if eager to try some daring new thing. "Let's get back to the wandering around lost and aimless, shall we?"

The pair clamber to their feet and stroll back to the single door behind them. Back out into the hallway they close the door, clearly marked "Bottomless Pit Room", behind them. Gladiola shakes her greasy hands as well, and in response Steve! hands her his kerchief, once again pulling out his booty. The brass disk falls from his hand, landing on the floor with a clatter. The cover opens with a 'pop!' as it spins on its edge. Steve! watches the revolutions eventually run down, and as Gladiola tries to hand him back his kerchief he becomes transfixed by the face of the device.

"Steve!. Hello? Your kerchief? Helloooooooo???"

"Do you hear that?" he asks, almost a whisper.

"Hear what?"

"I think it's coming from that compass-thing-deal."

Steve! picks up the device and holds it to his ear. Ever so faintly he hears, "wrong way dumbass".

"What do you hear Steve!?"

"Ummm...nothing, I think it's broken or something."

"duuuummmbbbass...your going the wrong waaaaayyyy."

"Shut up you!"


"Nothing. How does this stupid thing work?"

Examining the instruments face shows it divided into eight sections, each with its own color and symbol. There is a rotating arrow anchored in the center encircled by four tiny gems of different colors. As Steve! faces down a corridor, the arrow points at a blue section with what looks like a pineapple with a star around it.

"Hey Gladiola, isn't that the way to where we got these sandwiches?"

"Yeah I think so, why?"

Steve! turns and begins to walk down another pathway. The arrow swings wildly for a second and then comes to rest on a yellow section with three rectangles. Steve! proceeds down the passage staring at the device as he walks.

"Steve! where are you going? Steve!...Steeevvvee!?"

He comes to a large wooden double door. It has massive iron hinges and large lock next to the handles. As he draws near it, one of the gems glows green. Looking over the large lock, Steve! decides it to be impenetrable by raw brute force. Racking his brain, a spark of brilliance appears. Focusing his thoughts he releases just a whisper of a spell. A single bogling appears before him and immediately begins to cower in fear.

"It's OK little guy. I'm not going to get you killed, just relax. I need you to unlock this door."

The bogling looks at the massive doors and then back at Steve! Even more afraid he shakes his head at Steve!.

"Don't worry. I'm going to get you inside, you just open the lock."

Recalling the wisdom of The Wizard, Steve! begins to do that which is not necessarily the right thing to do, but is the most excellent. Reaching into his mind he calls out both the Summon Boglings and Trick Shot power and begins to mix. The two ethers swirl and dance, resistant at first to intertwine. Then all at once they snap together and pierce through the giant door. After a few thumping sounds there is silence. After a few minutes pass, the great lock begins to rattle and creak. The door swings open and there stands the bogling with a wide grin. Steve! pats him on the head as he passes through the doorway. Entering the chamber, Steve!'s eyes widen and his mouth gapes open. Filling the room is chest after chest brimming over with gold and treasure. Glimmering jewels, golden crowns, and hordes of pearls and silver.

"Gladiola you gotta come see this!"

"What is it, did you discover the bathroom of ultimate darkness 'cause I really gotta make some room after all that mutton...Holy Gilgamesh!!"

Gladiola stares in wonder at the mountains of loot. Passing through the doorway, she never thinks to look down. Straight down onto the slightly raised floor stone. The floor stone she steps directly on. The same floor stone that triggers a great metal slab to come hurtling down from the ceiling, smashing the smiling bogling to paste and sealing the entrance.

"Whoops...sorry Steve!. Looks like you lost another follower."

"You know you have a detect traps power right!"


"Are you confused as to how it works or what a "trap" is?!"

"No...Hey you would have probably killed him later by lighting him on fire or something anyways."

What will you do?

"I'll set you on fire..." Steve! mutters under his breath as he climbs back over a chest overflowing with doubloons, making his way back to where there used to be a door. Now he faces only a huge wall of stone. No hinges, no windows, no locks or knobs. "Yeah, this is totally perfect." He shoots a glare her way, quick to pull it back before she returns the glance. "Got any ideas?"

"I was just thinking this could use a great deal of pounding from, say, a mystical hammer. Or some overly-strong fists."

"Hmmm. Interesting idea. Of course I don't think even you could plow through this thing, though I have to admit the idea of letting you try for a while has some appeal. Anything in your trick bag that could help?" Steve! goes through his powers inventory too, just in case.

"...not unless you think it'll help to "please" the wall or bum it out. You?"

"Wanna see what it looks like when a huge mass of arrows bounces off of stone?" The two back away from the stone wall, staring at it intently from their new perch seated atop a bejeweled chest. From his pocket Steve! hears a tiny, nagging voice.


"Good god, there it goes again!" he gripes as he pulls the compass from his pocket. Opening the lid he sees that the arrow now points into a corner behind the piles of treasure, in a section colored black with a keyhole shape of white at its center. The nearest gem, a vibrant blue, flashes in three short bursts over and over. After looking over the cryptic direction for a few minutes Steve clambers off the chest, headed into the corner. "Follow me." he says. The two climb over and around massive mounds of riches. For a moment Gladiola has a brief, hazy memory of some time in her childhood; she climbs up and down dunes of brilliant golden sand. In her fleeting memory she's covered by an avalanche of sand, but as the memory fades life imitates it and a mountain of coins and jewelry tumbles down on top of her. "Gladiola!" cries Steve! as he leaps back, just avoiding the downpour. The entire mass slides past him, crashing into the corner of the room.

He begins to dig before the cascade has even finished, scooping the treasure away in huge handfuls. Sharp corners cut and scrape him, but he digs and digs. Finally a scaly hand shoots up through the gold and he grabs it, pulling and pulling until she re-emerges. She pulls herself to full standing, and as her other hand frees from the quicksand of wealth Steve! sees it holds a golden rope. The other end of the rope disappears into the corner, hidden by the remaining mass of gold. "Where do you think this goes?" she asks. Steve! looks again at his cryptic compass and sees that the blue gem now flashes at double the speed. Going on a hunch he instructs his partner.

"Pull it."

Gladiola prepares to give a yank, but stops and holds her hand to Steve! in the "hold a sec'" position. She gathers up several handfuls of gold and riches, depositing them into her pockets. Steve! follows her lead and does the same. Now, properly riched-up, she takes the rope in both hands and gives a good, solid YANK!

All at once the room tilts toward the corner, a hole opening up there. Treasure flows through the hole, along with the heroes. As she slips through the opening Gladiola looks up and sees that the stone wall hangs at an angle now, leaving a clear path through the still-open door. But it is too late for that now -- they are falling again...

But not for long! *SPLASH!!!*

The cold water shocks them both. They are relieved that the descent wasn't unending like before, but the relief is short lived as they are both pulled under the water quickly, dragged down by the weight now filling their pockets.

Struggling to remove the golden anchors from their pockets the adventurers can feel their lungs begin to ache. Their clothes sticking to their bodies as they descend into the abyss, the gold is reluctant to be removed. Reaching the bottom of the pool their eyes begin to fill with blackness. Gasping for air where there is none, their consciousness slips away.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Chapter Ten -- Remote Controls

"I'm up for sammiches" replies Gladiola, plucking the arrow from her neck with a sick little 'pop!', "but right now I can only barely see YOU, and down the hallway it's super-dark. Man, I wish we had torches. Steve! sits in the glow of the one red stone which provides enough light in the immediate area, but only so far down the way. He remembers that the floor is scattered with more of these, and that the way is dangerous both due to lack of light and to the danger that one of them will step on another red stone, pitching them back into epic battle with each other. (kind of not what they're going for as a goal.) And then, as if knowledge crammed into his brain by a nasty little alchemist, he has a thought.

"...hopelessly trapped..." he whispers as he pulls the red crystal from his pocket. He's surprised to find the crystal glowing in the same manner as the red stone, and he slams it down on the floor. From that point red veins of power shoot across the floor and down the hallway. As each touches a red stone it flashes brilliantly, as the first had done once Gladiola touched it, and stays glowing with power. Now the way down the hall is lit, dimly but enough. With a clear path the two dust themselves off and renew their trek to the other side. "Hey," Steve! mentions to Gladiola as they head out, "do NOT step on the red stones. Just trust me on this."

As the pair finally reach the other side they find a large wooden door, closed and imposing, with a pile of extinguished torches lying at its base. From the other side of the door they hear... rattling. Perhaps a huge, heavily plated dragon with epilepsy? Perhaps a freezing-cold kitchen worker carrying stacks of metal plates? Definitely rattling. Gladiola taps into her 'detect trap' power (1D20=17) and senses no danger, so they turn the large L-shaped handle and pull the door open. On the other side they come face to face with a huge army of soldiers, dressed head-to-toe in plate armor with swords slung at their hips. The army is 50 men strong -- far more than our heroes can take on. "I thought you detected no trap!" Steve! yells as he draws his bow and lets fly the first arrow at the closest soldier's helm!

"I didn't! I don't understand-" at that moment Steve!'s arrow slams into the soldier's forehead, knocking him completely over with a crash! "What the'...?" Gladiola walks, carefully, over to the prone body and kicks it with her toe. Nothing. She tips up the soldier's visor with her hammer and finds the armor... empty. "It's the storage area for the armor!" she turns to Steve! with a smile.

"Whew!" he replies, letting his bow down. "I was not sure exactly what we were gonna do with this."

It is at that moment that the armor stands back up and falls back into place. By itself.

The second the armor moves Gladiola jumps back instinctively, her hammer at the ready. The armor snaps it's visor back down and falls still. Several minutes go by with heroes at the ready and armor standing, vibrating minutely but otherwise completely motionless in formation. Satisfied that there will be no phantom movement they begin to slide through the empty army towards the back of the room. As they hoped, there is another door there. Gladiola checks for traps (1D20=3) and finds that the energy throughout the room not only causes minor vibrations in the phantom army, but blocks her senses beyond the door. Weapons at the ready they push the door inward and find what looks to be some sort of control room. The room is dominated by a panel with four levers and a large red button. All the levers are able to move up and down and currently are in their central positions. Some seem to have metal plaques beside the various positions while others just have holes where the their plaques seem to no longer be. As the door into the chamber opened, a panel on the wall seems to have started to whir and click. A few small gems embedded in it also start to glow one by one from left to right.

What will you do?



"No sammiches..." kicking a small stone at her foot in disappointment, Gladiola enters the room. She moves to the levers, squinting at the scratched, tarnished wall plaques still visible. "This one says "Left A." she reads. Steve! has joined her, peering at another plaque.

"Right L." he reads. "and the button says "Action."

"...what the?" Gladiola scratches her head. This is not her forte. She likes it best when the world asks her to smash things. To mangle with impunity. To provide DESTRUCTION. The puzzles just make her itch under her armor. This is more Steve!'s thing.

Although currently Steve! is itching just as much as he stares and stares at the smattering of information before him. Gladiola imagines that she can hear gears whirring between his ears. He makes his way to the other panel, still whirring and clicking and flashing various colors. "The gems have letters on them." he notes. "A, B, C... all the way up to J."

"Raaauughh!" Gladiola punches an unused portion of wall, leaving a fist-sized crater behind. "All this confusion and yet no sammiches!" she growls. "Not even another way out of the damned room!! I swear, if that little crapweasel Drelftox is playing with us I'm going to break him in two and leave him flopped over in a heap!"

Steve! laughs at the image, but then swings back around to the puzzle pieces again, his face the picture of 'Eureka!'. He steps back enough to see the rows of empty soldiers, counting how many across and how many down, then back to the gems, counting how many across. Then back to the doorway, and then back to the panel of levers. Doorway, levers, back to the gems, and so on and so forth. Gladiola briefly considers asking him what he's doing, but she has a vague feeling that she's seen him in such a frenzy before, and that it's best to wait until the fever passes on its own. Sometimes there are prizes at the end.

At last Steve! strides confidently to the gem wall, waving his hand over the green one labeled 'J'. The flashing of all the gems stops, with only 'J' still lit. He smiles triumphantly, moving to the lever wall and pushing the first one all the way up. Finally he pushes the 'Action' button with the flare of a conquering hero.

All at once the entire row of standing armor in the outer room lifts their left arm above their heads. Gladiola leaps to a defensive position instinctively at the sound of the jangling armor and throws her hammer into the armor standing just outside the door, crumpling it to scrap metal. "Great Gods, Steve!, a little warning if you please???"

"Sorry!" he calls over his shoulder absently as he continues to work through the levers, moving arms and legs in turn. "They're puppets!" he calls finally, having found the rhythm to move them smoothly. "An entire puppet army that can barely be stopped because they're not alive! By my count Malgamamarsh has 100 of these hollow soldiers in that room. That would be quite a challenge for any military!"

Gladiola has fetched her hammer back from the barrack. As she heads back to Steve she notices a wall hanging behind the open door and goes to examine it closer. "Steve!, I think we may have a problem." she finally calls to him. Intrigued he allows her call to drag him away from his fascination in the new toy. On the wall she shows him a map. A red arrow states "You Are Here" in the middle of what looks to be 9 more barracks, complete with army operation suites.

"One Thousand Puppet soldiers." she murmurs, looking over the map. "There is not an army around that could defeat them."

"...then we will have to." Steve! replies.

"Oh, good! Brought your 'destroy 1,000 unstoppable metal death-mongers' bat did you, Steve!? Because I'm afraid I left mine in my other pants!" Gladiola seems to get much taller when angry.

"We don't need to destroy the puppets, Gladiola my old friend," Steve! smiles confidently. "We need only to destroy the puppet master. Once we crush Malgamamarsh there will be no one left to marshal these troops!"

Gladiola smiles her most vicious of grins. "Excellent." she purrs, eager for the smashing.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Chapter Nine -- Don't Make Her Angry. You Wouldn't Like Her When She's Angry.

Sure enough that the door will hold, at least temporarily, they look to their new path as they are committed to it. It is a well-lit hallway with a store of multi-colored stones, mostly grey but with some a vibrant red. Steve! pulls himself up, dusts off his clothing and they have just started down the hall when they hear a disembodied maniacal laugh booming off the walls and crashing through their minds. The laugh drips with evil, and as it crashes through their mental defenses, knocking them to the ground, it flies down the hall, gathering up each torch as it goes by and carrying them away into the darkness. When the pair has pushed the laugh and it's coating of evil out of their heads they look up and see the way is now black. Pitch black.

"You know if this were my castle, this would be a great place for a..."

"Don't say it Steve!. I mean it, don't say anything."

"What? I'm just saying a trap door would...." The floor beneath them seems to shift, although in the blackness they can't be certain. Sensations of movement to the side are quickly replaced by the all too familiar feeling of plummeting...quickly.


"Quick Steve! do something!"

"Like what? Aren't you the one with the detect trap power! Don't you think maybe that would have been useful!"

"Shut up! We're both going to die if you don't do something!"

Desperately trying to summon his powers, his mind reeling from the continuing drop, Steve! reaches into his mind and pulls out the first thing he can grab. From out of the darkness, falling right along beside them, dozens of boglings appear. Each one screaming as they rocket towards their doom.

"How is that helpful Steve!?"

"I don't know. It was all I could think of! I can't believe I'm going to kill even more followers!"

Confident that she can do better, Gladiola summons her power, and releases. The air whooshing past is suddenly thicker as they are surrounded by an odd smelling fog. doom doom di da duh doom doom doom doom... Despite their apparent demise, the boglings seem suddenly more relaxed. Pleased almost that their end will be soon... in a gadda da vida honey... Some stretch out their arms and legs, using them to spin and tumble as they fall. "Wheeee! Thank you master! We're flying like birds!"

"Good one"

"Well they're not screaming anymore are they."

Steve! tries again to focus his mind and taps another power. Streaking across their path come green strands. Thwapping at the adventurers as they pass, their descent is noticeably slowed. The vines numbers begin to increase and some are able to grab hold of Steve! and Gladiola. The boglings prove to be too small and slip through the network of ropes. Although the vines are easily within reach, the boglings just seem to tumble past them, giggling as they go. The silence is broken only by the sound of happy boglings dropping further into the darkness, followed quickly by a chorus of splats.

What will you do?

"...ummmm... now what?" asks Steve!, dangling by his left ankle amidst the pitch black. He asks the general area that he BELIEVES contains Gladiola, but so thick is the black he can barely make out any shapes. Occasionally he giggles as a vine reaches out and inadvertently tickles him.
From the ink comes, at last, a rather annoyed reply. "We climb." And climb they do. Have you ever tried to climb one of those rope ladders, or the big hanging ladder-bridge challenge thing at the renaissance fairs? You know how those are really difficult? Well, imagine if instead of ropes you have vines. And imagine if the vines are VERY MUCH alive and moving around. And a little slick. And sometimes they latch on to you, but sometimes they let you go. This climb? It was like that. After about a dozen feet they came to the point at which Steve! had initially called for viney assistance, above which the walls are only rock and dirt. Holding on to a vine with one hand, his feet held by others, he calls forth more vines and they make their way back up to the corridor in this fashion. Very slowly.

Periodically Steve! tries to chat up his partner. "Tough climb, eh?" He asks. He can hear her grunts and panting in the darkness, and occasionally sees movement, but she refuses to answer. "So, you're still mad at me?"


"I didn't know that the trap door would happen just because I thought it would be a good place for one-OAH!." he tries again, his arms missing a grip and his entire body flipping top to bottom, held tight by those wrapped around his knees. They continue to climb and he continues to offer olive branches, but Gladiola's impressive anger will NOT be cracked.

At LAST they reach the top of the hole and climb, sweaty and sore, out through the trap door. Steve! holds up his now-free hand, filling it with a fireball, the light from which he hopes to see Gladiola's face. "Are you done being mad at me now?" he asks. He sees her prone form lying on the floor across the trap door, her chest heaving from exhaustion, and for several minutes she says nothing. At last she sits up on her elbows to look over at him. She gives him a wry grin.

"Aye, I'm done. But next time? Let's keep our brilliant evil mind to ourselves, shall we?"

After a well-deserved rest they climb back to their feet and begin to make their careful way down the hall. Steve! produces fireballs as he can for temporary light, but knows it is folly to waste the energy required for that power on a flashlight. Part-way down the hall Gladiola's heavy foot steps down onto one of the red floor tiles, and the second she does her entire body glows strong and red. She sags dramatically for a moment, then rises to full size, but something about her demeanor has... changed. "Are you alright?" Steve! asks, reaching out a hand to touch her arm, but when he makes contact she spins to face him, drawing her weapon as she does. She is armed and ready for battle!

Steve! takes a step back and then another, careful to avoid any other red stones (and grateful at least for the light now glowing from the one on which Gladiola had stepped.) "What are you doing?" he asks her.

In the hallway the booming voice returns. "She is following her NEW master!" it laughs, crashing through Steve's mind like an elephant crushing cockroaches. "What better way to eliminate you pesky interlopers than by letting one dispatch the other?" As the laugh roars loud and strong again, eventually fading into the distance, Gladiola's hammer flies past Steve!'s nose, far too close for comfort!

"This can't be happening. Get a hold of yourself Steve!. Focus. You've got to have some sort of power that can help you here. Think. OK... Mind Control, that will totally work! Wait... no... that's Gladiola's power... damn. What about a Pleasing Mist? Maybe that would calm her aggression? No... also Gladiola's... son of a..."

Gladiola rushes at Steve!, her eyes burning with fury. His nimble ranger instincts kick in as he darts towards the stone wall and then rebounds off it, narrowly avoiding her tackle. As he spins to keep her in his sight, as if by reflex he releases a burst of electrical energy. Gladiola's body convulses as it is surrounded by the storm of lightening. As the shocks subside, she falls to the floor and cries out, "Steve!, why would you do that? I thought that we were friends?"

"Gladiola... I'm sorry... you were possessed or something." Steve! approaches and lays a hand on her shoulder, still hot with ripples of smoke coming off of it.

Her face turns as her hand grabs his, "Fooled you!" Pivoting off her foot and with great force, she hurls Steve! into the wall. The concussion makes his head ring and he can barely make out his bow lying before him. He quickly reaches for it, leaps to his feet and tries to get a target. Seeing Gladiola standing boldly before him, he hesitates.

"Give me your best shot loser."

Steve! draws the string taut and lets fly with the arrow. As it streaks toward Gladiola, she leans back, bending like a reed in the wind. The fletching grazes her cheek as it shoots by, tickling her viciously.

"Not good enough ranger boy."

"Don't be so sure."

The arrow continues down the corridor before striking a torch holder and glancing off. Just then a lone guard comes around the corner. "It's them! I've found..." The arrow catches his shield and forces it into the wall. The blow causes the soldier to lose his balance, as his sword hand instinctively goes down to try and catch his fall. The blade sticks in his gut and drives through his torso as his body falls to the floor. The arrow now almost reversed, loses a single fletching, causing its flight path to arc. The journey ends as it catches Gladiola square in the back of her neck. The tip jabbing perfectly between the vertebrae as one lonesome remaining spark travels along it directly into her spine. Her body jolts for an instant, and then is calm.

"Steve!? What happened? Where are we?"

"Gladiola, are you OK?"

"Yeah, I guess so. What's going on?"

"You were mind controlled for a while there, but it looks like you got out of it."

"Oh man, I feel really weird. Oh my God, is this an arrow stuck in my neck? How the hell did that happen?"

"I don't know, weird huh. A lot of crazy things happen in forbidden fortresses. Hey let's see if we can find some sandwiches..."