Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interlude: The Long Squabble


Monsters Amok

...The heroes stood over the dead creature, gloating. Praymar had looted the still warm body and was counting his filthy lucre with unbridled delight.

“You know,” said Hermel, “I can’t understand your fascination with those bits of iron.” Praymar looked up, flicked his little forked tongue, and stared at Hermel with widened eyes.

“I grew up in a poor dirty village with nothing, and not a soul to befriend me. I’m curious about things,” said Praymar. “Iron bits are very interesting to me.”

“But you grew up on a farm, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” answered Praymar, innocent of where this was heading.

“And on the farm you have all your needs. You have the earth, the land, the rain, the sun. Your food, your clothing, your companionship. Everything you need is there for you, on the farm. It is the wealth of the world. So what is the need for these foolish iron bits?” Hermel lectured.

Praymar paused. He thought. A moment went by.

“You’re stupid,” he said, and went back to counting his filthy lucre.

“I wonder how long it would take you to loot my body if I died,” said Hermel half to himself as he was turning away.

“Depends on which way your facing,” answered Praymar, not looking up.

“He is so disturbing,” said Hermel to everyone loudly.

“If you happen to be face up, it will be a snack as well,” Praymar went on thoughtfully.

“I’ll try to die face up then,” answered the hero, trying to make light of what he thought may not be a joke at all.

“Thank you,” replied Praymar, finally looking up from his iron pieces, and batting his eyes warmly and flicking his tongue.

Hermel went back to what he was doing. Figuring out what to do next.  It was a furious mental process, but he rather enjoyed it, in a strange sort of way.

“Eldrik frowns on the drinking of the gut-blood of one’s allies,” pontificated Star to Praymar in the hopes of educating the young strangeling in the ways of humanity. It was to no avail. 

“I don’t know about you people,” said Mr. Rokkafellah after a reassuring sip of brandy from his silver flask, “but I’m thinking this is not a safe spot at all and if we stay here too long I’m likely to get killed. Why don’t we go back, and I’ll order my men to come down here and clear this place out top to bottom. My son is down here somewhere, but with these kinds of monsters roaming around, it’s too dangerous.”

“So we’ve completed our end of the bargain to your satisfaction then?” asked Arik.

“Indeed, you have,” said Ischandar’s father. He loved his boy, but he vanished a week ago, and an extra hour of reorganizing the expedition based on current facts was, he felt, most certainly in order. Drunk as he may be, Mr. Rokkafellah was a shrewd and calculating Hobbit. You don’t get to be at the top of the financial heap in Hobbington by failing to plan or being overly sentimental. Cold hard facts, and a keen mind well lubricated with brandy. That’s what makes for success among Hobbit-kind, Mr. Rokkafellah always used to say. And he meant it, too.

“Hmm… ok, well that suits me fine,” replied Hermel. He had in fact been worried that the party would likely meet more freakish creatures... and there was the Fifth Animal who had escaped Barnstormer’s ‘Long Arm’ who might just be lurking around down there somewhere as well. And then there was the prospect of meeting up with that horribly mordant Black Knight again. Or perhaps those hideous little yellow-green poisonous toads. Yup. Hermel didn’t require a lot of arm twisting to make him feel that the new plan was just honky dorey.

Meanwhile, Praymar had slunk over to the infamous desk furtively and was running his finger along the beautifully engraved woodwork. Hermel looked at him. Perhaps young Praymar would, he thought, try to open the trapped desk drawer. From what he gathered from the last time such a move would very likely prove fatal. While Praymar didn’t die from his first taste of the Tears of the Black Lotus … you never know. Maybe this time would do him in after all?  He looked over at Star of Justice, and with a nod drew his attention to the albino, who assumed no one was paying attention to him as usual. Star raised an eyebrow quizzically. Hermel gave a little helpless shrug. Maybe he would get lucky this time.

There was the barely audible sound of a tiny twang from across the room. Praymar stepped back away from the desk suddenly. Hermel raised a hopeful eyebrow. 

“Aaahh! It’s a trap!” he shouted at the desk drawer. The tiny needle had flicked out, but Praymar’s cobra-like reflexes caused him to flit his finger out of the way just barely in the nick of time. A droplet of black liquid spilled from the needle to the floor, and flicked back into the drawer handle.

“That’s not all,” said Hermel as he went over to close the huge metal door that Praymar had opened in the early part of the battle with the Polyvizus. “There are also poison toads down here, body parts, and all kinds of nasty things in jars.”

“Really?” said Praymar excitely.

“You don’t want to go down there,” answered Hermel sternly as he bolted the door with the heavy metal bar.  Praymar’s attention returned to the desk. If at once you don’t succeed, maybe a second try would do the trick. Without much ado, and curious to see what such a desk might conceal, he brought down his fist onto the desk with a truly magnificent blow. Although Praymar looked slight, and hardly more than a boy, he concealed a very impressive muscular strength. The desk shattered into three pieces under the blow. 

“You know, Praymar, with all the noise you’re making it would be a wonder if any other lurking monsters down here weren’t making there way down those long dark corridors to this very spot as we speak,” said Arik, wisely keeping an eye on the dark gaping hole where the fancy wooden double doors used to be before the Polyvizus shattered them with his club.

“That’s stupid,” said Praymar who, having found nothing of interest in the broken desk, was now looking at a bookshelf along the wall. There were many interesting books there; mostly old dusty looking tomes on astronomy, geology, biology, and a book on electro-chemical engineering which none of them could understand, were set in neat rows along the length of the shelves.  It was, in fact, one of the most amazing libraries in Hobbington.  But none of them knew that.

“Well,” said Hermel looking at the shelf, “these books are all about the same thing, anyway.” He pointed at the “ology” part of the names commenting that they all about the same thing, and dismissed the entire set out of hand as a big waste of time.  The others gawked at him with slack jaws. 

Praymar picked up a biology book from the shelf. He blew the dust off the cover and opened the ancient tome. There were all kinds of diagrams of animals, and plants, with lots of tiny scripted text.  He was fascinated.

“Are we sure,” asked Star after perusing a few of the books himself, “that this library belongs to the nefarious villains we’re searching for, and not some fine upstanding citizen?” He was concerned that the typical villain would probably not have had much interest in such matters as astro-zooology, or the meta-dimensional vertices formed by chronoplasmatic vortexes.

“Yes, quite sure,” said Hermel as he followed Mr. Rokkafellah’s lead and began ushering people through the secret door into the sewer which lead to the street above. “The good Doctor Lobe has been doing some very strange experiments; such as replicating friends of ours, opening time-rifts, and creating freakish animal hybrids, such as the Polyvizus there. Well, anyway, time to go… come on Praymar. Lets leave the books and get out of here before …”

Saber-Tusked Toads

A melon sized scarlet colored toad with beady black eyes and large yellow tusks hopped through the doorway into the room from the darkened corridor outside.  It belched a billowing plume of fire which rose to the ceiling and rolled along it forming a bright orange ring.

Arik grabbed Praymar by the collar and said, “Come on Praymar, time to go,” as he heaved him towards the secret door.

“Froggie!” said Bantum, overjoyed. It looked awful, but kind of cute, he thought.

“Don’t touch that frog!” yelled Arik. “You see those bright colors? That means it’s bad for you, Bantum. Don’t get near it.”

“Awwee… it’s so pretty!” gushed Bantum as he leaned over to pet the fierce little monster from the bowels of hell.

“We have a problem here,” yelled Arik out the secret door to Hermel.

The horrid toad belched a billowing ball of flames at Bantum, but the oaf got lucky and the flames happened to get carried past him on a current of air from the sewer.  Bantum, suitably alarmed, splattered the pretty little froggie with his warhammer. Splat went the froggie.

“I’m sorry froggie,” he said sadly, “but you were baaaad.”

Another three fat red toads with large yellow saber-tusks hopped through the shattered doorway into the room belching fire.

“Ohhh… lookie! More froggies!” cried Bantum with delight.

“Hermel! We have a problem down here!” yelled Arik through the secret door again as he foisted Praymar somewhat unwillingly through the opening. The young albino was craning his neck around to get a look at the fire-belching toads, but Arik was a rough usher, and Praymar only caught a glimps after all. Somehow he felt a vague affinity with the grotesque creatures, almost strong enough to suggest a distant kinship of some sort. Oddly, he thought, they looked somehow tasty. It was strange.  He felt hungry.

“Oh!” yelled Hermel back to Arik, “...is that a kitty?”

There was a short pause. “A kitty?” cried Bantum, excitedly. “Where?!”

“Over there,” Arik exclaimed as he pointed through the secret door to where Hermel was standing.

“I think I see the kitty over here in the tunnel,” said Hermel alluringly.

“Oh boy! I want to see the kitty!” cried Bantum as he scrambled past Arik through the opening, nearly crushing Praymar in the process.

The three dreadful toads had hopped aggressively across the room toward Arik. To get through the secret door required climbing up the wall and hooking a hand on the ledge of the arch over what looked like a long unused fireplace, and hoisting oneself upward until the first step could be reached with a foot or knee, and then scrambling up a short set of stone steps into the sewer tunnel. It was not the sort of thing that most people would expect Dwarves to be especially good at. But when a horrendous bellowing roar was heard echoing up the dark corridor from outside the shattered doors, followed by the sounds of a raging Polyvizus stomping its way toward the library, Arik leapt up, and with his mighty arms, shimmied up the ledge, took hold with iron-strong fingers, and heaved himself through the doorway to the first step without any trouble at all. In fact, his effort was so perfect that he was equally able to flip the trigger mechanism as he hurled past it with his left hand, unlatching and closing the massive stone door behind him.  It slid into place with a dull thud. On the other side he could dimly hear roaring and thudding against the stone work, but Arik knew quite well that such a door as that was not going to be bothered at all by the likes of the Polyvizus.  Not even close.  He brushed his beard down, shook the dust off his cloak, and sauntered up the tunnel to where the others had gone.

“It’s surprising that those monsters didn’t ever manage to bash their way through those flimsy library doors before,” said Arik as they trudged down the cylindrical stone-walled tunnel to the iron ladder.  It was dark. The air was frigid.  Everyone's breath was misty by the torchlight. 

“I wonder where all those monsters came from?” asked Hermel. “Everything was nice and neat and orderly the last time I was here.” He thought about what he had learned from Ishcandar and Lido before they decided to return with the parchment from the library desk that Ischandar had fatefully stolen.

“It seems to me, Mr. Rokkafellah,” he said as they walked, “that Dr. Lobe can not be a good guy. Those Five Animal guys worked for Dr. Lobe, and were situated directly under his Laboratory Tower. I think they were a part of his whole operation there.”

“Well, that’s certainly plausible,” said Mr. Rokkafellah as he took a long swig of brandy now that they had left the dangerous creatures behind them. “If you consider that four of the Five Animals were hung over the wall… that could explain the mess down there. After all, if the Five Animals were keeping a lid on things, so to say, well… now there’s no one down there to keep the monsters a bay. They’re probably running amok trying to find their way out... that would be my guess. I wonder how many monsters there could be,” he said to himself, his voice trailing off into disquieting thoughts.

An Unexpected Reunion

And so the party made their way single file up the ladder and to the street above. It was the dead of night, freezing, and snow flurries whipped through the air. Arik came up last, of course, and was looking mighty pleased with himself at that. Two short figures were approaching with cowls over their heads down the street as Hemel gave Arik a hand out of the manhole. Suspiciously short, thought Hermel. And one walked with a wobbling gate.  Suspiciously wobbling.

“uhhhhhhhhh,” said Hermel. “It couldn’t be.”

“My Friends!” cried Ishcandar with a grand show of cheer as he pulled the cowl from his bright red face!

“My son!” cried Mr. Rokkafellah holding out his arms.

“My father!!” cried Ishcandar as they clasped arms and gave each other huge Hobbit-Hugs. Lido leaped on the two of them, so great was his delight to see them united at last. Of course, although Lido was part of a rather poor and common Hobbit Family, all Hobbits in Hobbington were friendly with one another, and Lido’s father was a long-standing friend of Mr. Rokkafellah in any event. They all danced in a circle through the snow so great was their joy.  This went on for an inordinantly long time, actually.  They were drunk.

As it happened the two wayward Hobbits, Ishcandar and Lido, had made the arduous journey back to Hobbington from Hamfest passing quietly as silk worms along the old highway northward. This was the same ancient highway, now but an unpaved dirt track, that the proud and mighty Varincarnians had built long ago, and ages later the Oswaldian troops had used to come to Glendale township under the banner of Lord Dunn and Lord Beltane. Lord Dunn, as we know, turned aside and took his retainers and people to Hobbington, while the rest of the Oswaldian force sought refuge from Queen Watho further south. And so the two communities grew apart, and over time lost contact, and so the old road was not at all well traveled any more. Few and seldom were the travelers who took to the ancient highway. And even if there were some few, the two Hobbits, wise enough in their own way when need be, sought to pass through by night, from shade to shadow, unseen and unheard even by the field mice, as only Hobbits can do. 

When they finally arrived in Hobbington many long cold days later, they were exhausted and bedraggled, and Ishcandar, as one might imagine, had built up quite an enormous thirst. There were no inns along the old highway anymore, the last of them having fallen to ruins after the Ogre War some years back. So by the time the two had made it a days journey north of Tansy Hill they were out of food, and worse yet, out of brandy. Of course, therefore, once back in Hobbington, half starved and direly thirsted they spent the next day, or two, or maybe even three, making their way up towards Hobbington Heights very slowly via every pub and tavern and drinking hole between West Gate and Zatok Bridge. Lido, who was not a particularly great drinker, was however, quite happy to join his friend, for at every stop there were heaping plates of all kinds of wonderful foods; breads and cheeses and grapes and onions and huge heaps of beef and fatty chickens, and eggs and watermelons and ... well, you get the idea.  The poor Hobbit was hungry. He may not drink as much as Ishcandar, but pound for pound, Lido is a champion eater. And so the two merry young Hobbits finally found their way home, and the two of them, finally satiated, went to visit his Ishcandar's father to tell him all that had happened.

Once at the Rokkafellah mansion, and after a lengthy and protracted ear-drumming from Master Greggin Stouthart, Ishcandar's cantankerous tutor, he was informed that his father had taken his life in his own hands to rescue the delinquent boy from the terrors beneath Hobbington, and that they were at that very moment on some mad expedition down the sewer hole near Dunn’s Bridge. With that the two Hobbits hurried off to a pub, had a few drinks and then rushed to a tavern that was along the way, and finally managed to make it to Dunn’s Bridge by midnight, just a wee tad bit drunk, and stuffed to the gills, so the two Hobbits wobbled along merrily as they strode through the snow.

The clock struck twelve times above Dunn’s Bridge. Through the mist and snow they could see that a green light had appeared in a window on Dunn’s Bridge Tower. Ishcandar, Lido, knew what that meant. Doctor Lobe was working at his experiments again.  They tried their best to hide their faces beneath their cowls and forged ahead. And so, finally, they found the AAA Group, just where they expected, clambering out of the manhole in the fog near Dunn's Bridge.

“Oh, by the way, before I forget,” said Ischandar to Hermel, “which of course can happen any time, I do want to ask you for a small favor.”

“I’m not going to like this very much, am I?” asked Hermel.

“You see, Lido and I happen to have met a very nice young lady along the way of our adventures. You’ve met her yourself. I think she took a shine to you, at the time, if I remember correctly,” said Ishcandar coyly.

“Oh? Who could that have been?” asked Hermel, now, despite himself, a bit interested.

Skirting the Edges of Disaster

“Why that lovely girl, Elizabeth Warden. You remember we met her on the first day of our adventure together. Her father, Mr. Warden the Inventor, introduced us to her on High Street.  She helped us locate the Yellow Robed man.”

“Oh, yes, I think I do remember her,” said Hermel slicking his hair back unconsciously.

“Of course, of course. And I’m quite sure she remembers you kindly as well.”

“Oh?”

“Why yes, but there’s one small problem you see. We had to leave her in the Five Animals dungeon.”

“ … what? …” asked Hermel, suddenly not liking the direction this good news had taken. Not very much at all.

“Yes, you see we were on our way to escaping the clutches of that evil White Haired Master of the Five Animals, when we came upon her, imprisoned as she was with her dear father. Actually we came upon her several times, but it’s a long story.”

“That’s for sure,” put in Lido.

“No.” said Hermel, suddenly getting his dander up with a bit of the old high umbrage.

“But…”

“No. Absolutely not,” repeated Hermel forcefully. “My sister has been kidnapped by a gang of thugs, and is at this moment in deadly danger. We are not going back down into the unknown hells of the Five Animals Hall, Doctor Lobes secret Laboratory, with the leaping Fire-Belching Toads, Poison Drippers, Weirdly-Dying Replicants, and mammoth twelve-eyed Pig-Frog-Men! We’re going to save my sister!”

“But…”

“No! No! And Absolutely No!” said Hermel with a fanatical finality.

“I see,” said Ishcandar. He was disappointed. After all, he was sure they did need Hermel's help. There were monsters down there, and Hermel was the most competent fighter among them. Without his help they might all get themselves killed, and that wouldn’t do at all.  He took a swig of brandy to calm his nerves.

“There are some pretty awful monsters down there,” said Lido anxiously. “I do hope he will help us rescue that poor girl.”

“I don’t see why we don’t give it a try,” said Star of Justice.

“Not you, too?!” cried Hermel angrily turning on his companion. “I can’t believe it. I thought you agreed already to help me rescue the Yellow Clay villagers and my sister from the Brigands. Now you want to go on some totally unrelated side quest?”

“Well, what I mean is, I don’t see why we simply can’t do both,” replied Star. Everyone nodded in agreement. Except Hermel who had begun pacing back and forth.

“Ok, so that’s it, is it? Ok, that’s how it’s going to be, eh? Well that’s just fine. You guys give me the gold I asked you to carry for the mission, and I’ll go to Yellow Clay myself.”

“But Hermel, it’s not like we don’t want to go to Yellow Clay with you, but there’s a girl and her father who are prisoners down there and I think the Elkron would want us to try to rescue them,” said Star firmly, but gently.

“With the warriors here, and these giants here..." began Ishcandar.

“Who are you calling a giant?” interjected Arik bristling his beard.

“Well not so much you,” replied Ishcandar looking up at the Dwarve, “but with these fine warriors here, surely we can dash into the dungeon, rescue the dear and future Mrs. Dreadton, and be out of there in but a moment’s time!”

Hermel hung his head with frustration, anger, and anxiety. If he happened to die down there in the horrible Laboratory-Dungeon of Five Animals Hall while rescuing some girl he hardly knew, how would the Ancestors ever forgive him? He paced.  Everyone was silent.

“So, son,” said Mr. Rokkafellah after a few moments, “how was your adventure?”

“Wonderful, father,” said Ishcandar excitedly, “I have had amazing experiences, helped my dear friends, and learned much about the world!”

“That’s wonderful to hear, my boy,” replied Mr. Rokkafellah. “It is very noble. I’ve never heard you speak so well before.”

“I’ve matured a great deal, father,” said the young Hobbit sincerely.

“Have you been drinking a lot?” asked his father with narrowing eyes.

“Not really,” said Ishcandar.

“Your not my son, are you?” asked Mr. Rokkafellah with a raised eyebrow as Lido stared at Ishcandar incredulously.  But from Ishcandar's point of view his drinking had been rather moderate, actually, as ridiculous as most of us would think that was.

“Why I am, I am!” replied the lad, flustered and annoyed.

“Oh, ok, I see. Well, in any event, how have you been Lido?” asked Mr. Rokkafellah as he turned to the young Hobbit.

“I’ve been well, for the most part,” said Lido, “but I fear for the young lady who has been imprisoned. We were forced to leave her. We had poor timing, I’m afraid, when we found her.”

“That’s right, father. And we Rokkafellah’s always stand on our word, ...like a rock. And as I promised her that we would return to rescue her as soon as possible… I simply must keep my word, no matter what.”

“Quite right, son. Quite right.” They both stared at the manhole leading down into the dark tunnel without moving.

The AAA Group Completed

“In any event let me introduce you to our new companions. They’re friends of Hermel,” said Mr. Rokkahfellah, and with that he introduced the various companions one by one. Finally, he came to the little albino boy.

“And this, as I recall, vaguely, is Praymar, the gut-blood drinker.”

“Hi,” squeaked Praymar and held out his hand.

“I wouldn’t necessarily shake his hand,” his father was saying, but Ishcandar shook the creepy little albino’s hand anyway and shook it energetically. Oddly, thought Praymar, it seemed that his Draining power had no effect on the pickled Hobbit. Annoying little man, he thought.

“You should have heard the poor girl weeping,” said Ishcandar to Hermel, who was pacing a groove in the snow.

“How long ago?” asked Hermel.

“Oh, well, I suppose about two weeks ago,” replied Ishcandar.

“That’s strange. I saw you two, last time, let’s see… what... seven days ago?” said Hermel.

“Well, that’s the thing. We had some strange time-related experiences down in … the … well, anyway, it was some time ago, then, but what does it matter exactly how long?” asked the little pickled Hobbit while taking another swig of brandy from the flask his father handed him. He smiled and gave out a little burp.

“Well, it matters because by now she’s probably dead,” said Hermel matter of factly. “Most people are not going to survive two weeks in a dungeon without food or water. Face it, she was pretty, but she’s dead now. Let’s go.”

“Actually, we can’t really be sure of that,” said Star thoughtfully. “After all, as you’ve mentioned, Dr. Lobe has created some sort of temporal vortex or other down there, and it’s possible that time is not what we may think in the dungeon.”

“And besides,” said Lido, “we don’t know what her condition was after we left there. She may have been fed until a day ago for all we know, really. But then again, perhaps…” He didn’t finish the sentence.

“You know, you little guys are good folk,” said Arik looking down, slightly, at Lido.  "I don't know what Hermel has against you!"

“If we leave now, we can be down there in no time,” said Ishcandar with a little hiccup.

“Ok,” said Hermel firmly, “this is what’s going to happen. You guys, Arik, and Star, who seem to have developed a sudden close kinship with the Hobbits for some reason, are going to all go down there and rescue the girl. That's fine.  I’m going to take care of the business I need to take care of. Now, I’ll need each of you to give back the gold that I’ve asked you to carry for me.  If you don't mind.”

“You know, it doesn’t need to come to this,” said Star. To which point Hermel took out the crumpled note that he’d taken from the carrier pigeon, and held it up. “You guys can’t read this, but it has the only word on it in the world that matters to me, and it says ‘Hurry’. That’s from my village. I’m going.”

“We can have this done in a matter of minutes,” said Ishcandar.

“And I know you will,” answered Hermel. “I have every confidence in you. But I have things to do, and I won’t risk my sister’s life on the chance that we wind up spending three weeks lost down there, or worse. In any case, Star of Justice, are you going to keep your word to me, or are you going to go gallivanting down into the unknown with these guys?”

“Well, to be honest, I just don’t see why we can’t do both,” replied Star.

“Besides,” Praymar squeaked, “you had time to stop off at the salt mine. And then you had time to stop off at the Gray Serpent Cave, and then you had time to do the other things along the way.”

“And you had time to stop off at Wuldkarva’s Doggie Emporium, too,” added Arik.

“Yeah,” squeaked Praymar.

“And you went ring-around-the-rosie with Rokkafellah here, too, as I recall,” said Arik.

“That was all before I got the note. But I have it, and now I have to move. And besides,” he added turning toward Mr. Rokkafellah, “I’d have thought you would appreciate what I’ve done for you.”

“Well, I do, very much. I appreciate that you’ve helped me to find my son,” said Mr. Rokkafellah sincerely. “Son,” he added, “you look great.”

“Thank you, father,” said Ishcandar, taking another swig of brandy and belching warmly.

“Say, didn’t you say you’d be willing to send your men down there?” asked Arik of Mr. Rokkafellah pointing to the sewer hole.

“Why of course I did,” replied Mr. Rokkafellah taken aback.

“Fine, then would you be willing to send them down to find the girl?” asked Arik pointedly.

“Of course he would!” said Ishcandar proudly.

“So there you have it. What do you think of that, Hermel?” asked Arik over Mr. Rokkafellah’s hemming and hawing.

“What about it? He hasn’t agreed to anything. And frankly, why should he?” asked Hermel.

“Alright, alright,” said Mr. Rokkafellah. “I’ll tell you what. If Hermel goes down, then I’ll send my men under his command down there too.”

“What?!” exclaimed Hermel. “This is so unfair! It’s ridiculous!”

“The odds of us getting in and out of there faster just went way up!” said Ishcandar merrily taking another swig. “All this arguing had built up a bit of a dry throat, of course,” he mentioned looking up at his father, who took the flask back and took a handsome swig of it himself.

“I agree,” he said.

“Ok, I have another idea that will help you even more. Why not give something special to Ishcandar to augment his heroic deed?” asked Hermel of Mr. Rokkafellah pointing to the senior Hobbit’s pocket. He shrugged and took out the brandy flask and held it up. Ishcandar without hesitation swiped it from his hand, uncorked it between his thumb and forefinger and had taken a generous swig before anyone could blink.

“No, I don’t mean that,” said Hermel. “I mean the Dragon Stone.”

“But it’s not got any of its power anymore. It’s all used up,” replied Mr. Rokkafellah. “Perhaps in its original owner’s hands it may yet produce some mystical effect, but as it is, I think it’s quite useless for that.”

“Then what good is it to you?” asked Hermel, incredulous that anyone would pay a Prince’s ransom for something useless.

“Why it’s a rare and historic artifact now, and quite a beautiful one, I should say,” said Mr. Rokkafellah holding it up and looking at it. Everyone marveled at how lovely the Dragon Stone looked.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m leaving,” said Hermel and stalked off down the street. Lido, in a fit of some bizarre mix of emotions, grabbed onto Hermel’s leg, and was carried away by the stern and resolute hero.

“I’m glad you've decided to come along, Lido,” said Hermel, not slowing down. “Your skills will be invaluable on our quest to save my sister.”

“Well, father,” said Ishcandar looking nervously after Hermel and Lido as they disappeared down the dark street, “why don’t you take your men down to the dungeon and rescue that nice girl, while we go and help our fine friend, Hermel, rescue his sister?”

“You can also ask Barnstormer,” Hermel called back over his shoulder while Lido held on for the ride, nibbling on a piece of cheese he’d secreted in his pocket earlier. “Its his job…”

“That’s an excellent point,” said Mr. Rokkafellah.

“I know… I make a lot of excellent points, if people would only listen to me,” called back Hermel as he continued striding forward through the snow toward the Five Crows Tavern.

“Well, actually, you usually suggest stupid things,” said Praymar. “Like wrapping you up in a carpet and pretending you're dead so we could get you into Hobbington. Remember that one?  That was stupid.”

“At any rate, it’s a fine point,” said Mr. Rokkafellah. “After all, it is Constable Barnstormer’s job to rescue people. I will send him word that the girl is down there somewhere, and he can attend to it when he has a chance.”

“Make sure he sends people after her,” called Lido back toward the diminishing party.

“My father’s word is his bond!” shouted Ishcandar, apparently not comprehending the turn things had just taken.

“Well, I’ll do what I can, but after all, I’m not the Chief Constable. I’ll mention it to him, for a certainty, but I can’t guarantee that he’ll send anyone.”

Meanwhile, Hermel was thinking of that beautiful girl, Elizabeth Warden, with her gorgeous red hair, imagining her pining away in the dungeon cradling her poor dying father’s head in her hands. It did kind of tug at his heartstrings. Star for his part was unsure what the right thing to do was. The girl might be dead. They could get lost in the dungeon or killed. It was quite some time since anyone has seen her. It was in fact, he calculated, seven days or so since any of them had last seen her. There seemed to be a reasonable chance she might be alive. But then again if the monsters were running rampant down there, could she have survived this long?

“Well, I think if we’d have gone down there to begin with, we’d have come back up with the girl by now,” said Ishcandar.

“No, let me tell you what would happen,” said Hermel, now walking back towards the group.

“I knew he’d be back,” whispered Ischcandar to his father with a little wink. His father smiled and nodded.

“What would happen is that we’d be down there for weeks. Weeks! And it’d be your fault. Your fault!” yelled Hermel, now thoroughly annoyed.

“Well, I say the faster we get down there, the faster we get back and help rescue your sister!” said Ishcandar.

The clock struck twelve times above Dunn’s Bridge. No one seemed to notice that this was the second time it chimed twelve times.

“I have an idea,” said Hermel. “You still have those wondrous rings that Rothmon gave you?”

“Yes,” said Ishcandar, holding up his finger. “Why we completely forgot about them!”

“Indeed!” added Lido holding his up. “Why it’s been so long that I was wearing it, I completely forgot we had them!”

“Ok, well let me borrow one will you?” asked Hermel, and so Ishcandar gave him his. Hermel put it on (interestingly, the dimly luminescent ring fit his finger, whereas it also fit Ishcandar’s finger, which was quite a bit smaller than his).

“Hello… Mr. Rothmon… Mr. Rothman… can you hear me?” said Hermel loudly into the ring.

“Hello? Hello” he heard in reply in the center of his mind.

“Is that you, Mr. Rothmon?”

“Yes, this is he. Is that you Hermel?”

“Yes. Sorry to bother you this late, but I need to know … will the men we agreed upon, the archers, be ready for me to take to Yellow Clay Village tomorrow morning?”

“I can arrange for it,” said Rothmon.

“Fine then. The AAA Group, including the Ishcandar and Lido who’ve recently returned, are going to go down to the Five Animals Hall and rescue Elizabeth Warden and her father from the prison there. I just wanted to leave word with you there… in case we don’t return.”

“Very good, then,” replied Rothmon, sounding quite proud of his Adventurers. “Good luck to you all!”

“I knew he’d come around!” exclaimed Ishcandar giving Hermel a pat on the ass since he couldn’t reach his back. Lido hugged Hermel’s leg with great sincerity, a small tear of joy escaping his eye. Above, in the tower on Dunn’s Bridge, a green light dimly illuminated the third story window unnoticed. In the window a shadow stood ominously.

“I notice there is a green glow in the window above there,” said Ishcandar’s father pointing to the tower. “I suppose that indicates that Dr. Lobe is working in his laboratory.  I suppose that may be him there, as well.”

“That’s a good reason for us not to go down there tonight,” said Hermel.

“Why don’t we attack the problem at it’s source?” suggested Mr. Rokkafellah.

“You mean we should go and confront Dr. Lobe directly?” asked Ishcandar, amazed at such an outlandishly bold idea.

“Why not? I used to finance him, you know. He was quite the young and rising star back in the day. Did a lot of very fascinating work, before he went … bad, I suppose you’d say. It would be worth my while to find out just what has become of the man, and what he's been up to lately.”

“Perhaps we should find a place to mediate and recuperate our powers first,” suggested Hermel. “Let’s go to the Five Crows Tavern and take a rest there before we do anything else. Some of use could use some medical healing, and some of us could stand to recuperate our mystical energies I’d say.”

With this agreed on, they went to the Five Crows Tavern. Lido was sent to find Constable Barnstormer and let him know what the AAA Group was planning to do. Everyone else rested while Star and Arik healed those that needed it. And so they waited.

The clock struck twelve times above Dunn’s Bridge. Dr. Chickenhiemer was not at all pleased.



Previous Episode: The Awakening of the Serpent

Next Episode: Intrigues, Rogues and Riots in Hobbington


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