Thursday, November 29, 2012

Intrigues, Rogues, and Riots in Hobbington

Lido Goes it Alone

… and there they were, sitting in the now derelict Five Crows Tavern across the street from Dunn's Bridge. The heroes sat by the light of a single gas lamp. They were all healed up and ready to get a good night's sleep. Ishcandar announced that he wished to search for a tavern.

“We’re in a tavern,” said Arik bluntly.

“Is there anything to drink here, by chance?” asked Ishcandar dubiously raising an eyebrow and peering into the darkness. And so there was.  And plenty.   Ishcandar and his father took a seat at the bar and helped themselves to dusty bottles of brandy. Arik took the opportunity to sample a cask of fine Dwarven Ale he happened to notice. Bantum sat petting his chickens while Dr. Chickenhiemer tried to explain something to him and so was clucking away. That was not going so well. Bantum just nodded and smiled.

Lido had gone out into the street to find his way to the Constable's Hall in order to try to bring Constable Barnstormer back with him. The AAA Group hoped that Barnstormer would help them to invade the Five Animal's Hall prison in order to rescue Elizabeth Warden and her father.  It was dark and murky outside. There was a deep fog covered the entire town. A small tremor shook the bridge as Lido stepped onto it.

“Down to the hairs of my toes, I don’t like having to cross Dunn’s Bridge in the middle of the night,” mumbled Lido to himself. There was a green light flickering in the third floor tower window of Dunn’s Bridge. A shadow passed across the window, and Lido took a deep breath. He crossed through the fog to the far side of the bridge, scurrying as quietly as he could, sticking to every shadow that he could squeeze himself into. He felt grateful that he made it to the other side without incident, and proceeded on toward the town square, where the Lower Township connected with High Street, and where the Town Court and other administrative buildings. In that warren of streets was were the Constable’s Hall was located.

As he crossed Fountain Square, Lido noticed a noisy crowd had formed on the far side under the shadows of some tall buildings. He had been drinking with Ischandar for several days before meeting with the AAA Group, so he was not really familiar with what had been brewing lately in Hobbington. However, by coincidence, somewhere along the line he’d been sitting in some obscure pub eating a loaf of hard bread and taro-root soup, when he overheard a conversation that now, finally, occurred to him might be of interest.

Two men had been sitting in a dark corner that night, practically invisible, whispering to each other. Anyone whispering always caught Lido’s attention. He turned a highly tuned Hobbit's ear towards them and pretended to not be paying attention to anything other than the soup in front of him. Ishcandar, drunk on a gourd of rice wine, sat babbling aimiably about his upbringing with Mr. Stouthart, the tutor he was hoping never to see again. Hobbits have wonderful hearing. But Lido was moreoever specially trained at the Guild to focus his hearing on one specific conversation, even in a crowded and noisy pub, and listen in. His luck was good, the angle was just right, and once he positioned his head to catch the acoustics and used the back of his hand to reflect the sound just so, he could hear them reasonably well.

“Now Korfu, I want you to listen to me very carefully,” whispered one.

“Yes, my master,” whispered the other.

“The rebellion is going well. You have done an excellent job.”

“Thank you, master. I have followed your instructions exactly.”

“Good Korfu,” whispered the master, controlling with subtle movements of his hands the emotion of his disciple.  “You feel proud now. You feel proud of yourself. You feel that you can achieve great things in this world.” Korfu felt pride in his achievement.

“Yes I feel that now, master,” whispered Korfu with sudden delight.

“Good Korfu. Now, listen to me carefully. You must undermine the Mayor’s authority. You must seat Senior Borge at the head of the Council. You will raise rebellion in the North Quarter. Then you will send your two minions to the Old Quarter and rouse the rabble there to riot against the Mayor there.”

“Yes master,” replied Korfu.

“Good, Korfu,” whispered the master. “You will meet me afterwards at the usual place.   Go now.”

“Yes, my master,” whispered Korfu, who rose and left the bar.

Days later, as he crossed the Fountain Square, Lido thought about that conversation again. It was an ugly looking crowd, burning garbage in a barrel, and shouting slogans about something having to do with taxes and the Mayor. As he observed the crowd, Lido happen to spot a man standing off to the side in the shadows who was speaking to another man who then came out and rallied the mob with a fiery speech. The man in the shadows slipped into an allyway and disappeared. That man, he was certain, was the same Korfu who he’d overheard in the pub days earlier. Lido skirted the crowd with his head down and slipped past without being noticed. Up High Street he went on his way to the Constable’s Hall.

The roads in that area of Hobbington are cobblestone, and newer than the rest, but it feels as though this part of town is at least as old as the Old Quarter, as the streets are serpentine, winding this way and that, with many little bridges and underpasses, small stairways, and very old looking buildings made with huge blocks of stone. Eventually, Lido came to a short flight of steps leading up to a massive black door with large iron bands crossing it; above it on a large black sign in white letters, “Constable Hall”. He went up the steps and knocked lightly on the door. A face appeared in the window, and then the door opened.  A stream of light revealed the long wide stone hall inside. There were two armored guards holding pikes who stopped him as soon as he entered.

“Who goes there?” asked one in a gravelly voice.

“My name is Lido. I’ve come to speak with Constable Barnstormer. I’m a friend of Mr. Rokkafellah’s who wishes me to convey a message of great importance to the Constable as soon as possible,” said Lido excitedly with a little bow.

“Wait here,” said the guard, who sent off a runner to bring word inside. Off dashed the runner with his white headdress and bright blue shirt through a door and down a hallway. In a few minutes Constable Barnstormer came out. He was, in fact, a large man with broad shoulders and a handsome square jawed and chiseled look about him.  He had not shaven for several days.

Lido's Conversation with the Constable

“So… do I know you?” asked the Constable.

“My name is Lido. I believe I am acquainted with friends of yours, Mr. Rokkafellah and a man by the name of Hermel. I believe that you, you, may know them, sir, and I, -”

“What’s the secret handshake?” interrupted Barnstormer with a raised eyebrow and stern look.

“Secret handshake? Secret handshake?” asked Lido in a near panic. “Do I know of a secret handshake? I don’t think so! No one told me anything about a secret handshake!”

“It’s ok,” replied Barnstor, “… I was testing your reaction. You’re evidently a sincere young fellow, so there is no need for you to worry. How can I help you?”

“There’s a number of things we’re hoping to… we have reason to believe… I know that the Five Animals Gang has been broken up recently, and we …”

“I see,” interrupted Barnstormer with an outstretched hand. “If you will come with me, please,” he said, as he led Lido towards a set of heavy wooden double doors. “We can speak privately in here,” he said as Lido entered the stark chamber. It was dimly lit, with wooden chairs and a plain wooden desk, and no window. There were books lining the shelves along one wall, and large cabinets with various designations in red along the other walls. It was, in fact, quite a large room.

Lido wondered if Barnstormer would remove a mask and reveal himself to be ‘The Fifth Animal’ and kill him then and there, but fortunately that did not happen. Barnstormer took a look behind him as he closed the doors, and turned to offer Lido a seat.

“Well, sir, you see that we are aware that there are people who were trapped in a prison linked to the Five Animals Hall, and we believe they may still be alive down there. We’re hoping you will come and help us to locate and rescue them. Mr. Rokkafellah in particular has an interest in getting them out while they are still alive. Would you like some cheese?’, Lido said, while offering up a morsel of cheese from his pocket.

“Well,” said Barnstormer declining the cheese, “I have some good news for you. When we invaded the Five Animals Hall we found a prison block, and a number of prisoners were freed at that time.”

“Would the Warden family be among them?” asked Lido anxiously.

“Why yes, Elizabeth and her father were there, and we released them,” said the Constable.

“Oh that’s a great relief,” said Lido. “I’m ever so glad to hear that. Thank you very much. When Ishcandar and I escaped the prison we were unable to rescue them, and have been wracked with worry these past couple of weeks,” he concluded as he sampled the morsel of cheese happily.

“Ah, well there’s nothing to worry about. They’ve returned to their residence on High Street, and the last I heard they are recovering well,” the Constable said with satisfaction.

“Whew,” replied Lido.  "I'm quite glad to hear it."

“The only difficulty is that were not able to find the chief of their clan. The Fifth Animal,” continued Barnstormer pensively.

“Yes are aware of that. I only care to say that I hope he does not find … me,” replied Lido.

“I don’t know that he would have any reason to… do you?”

“Other than that I was his prisoner, and then I wasn’t anymore, no, I don’t think so,” answered Lido.

“You mean that you escaped from his prison?” asked the Constable.

“Why yes, I just said that,” answered Lido.

“How did you manage it?” asked the Constable, quite surprised to hear this.

“I’m afraid it’s a rather long story, you see. We had some help from another friend of ours named Bernie. I am led to understand he has passed on recently, I’m sorry to say, though I wasn’t there. We had some help from him, and then… well, things got a little complicated. As it happened we were taken quite far away from Hobbington. I’ve been eating quite heavily since we returned, you see. It was a hard journey back,” he said taking a third chunk of cheese and popping it into his mouth.

“I see. Very interesting, Lido. Thank you for letting me know. I’ll get in touch with you, if I may, if I need your services again,” said the Constable as he led the Hobbit back to the doors. When he opened them however, outside the Hall in the street they heard a commotion. There appeared to be a large crowd outside shouting slogans against the Government and the Mayor.

“Down with the Mayor! Down with the Council!” members of the mob were shouting. The two guards at the door to the street were standing firmly against the crowd, pikes crossed, keeping any from entering the Hall.

“Oh my,” said Lido as he peered out. An egg hit the door near one of the guards. There was more yelling outside. A rotten vegetable splattered on the other door.

Constable Barnstormer Confronts the Mob

“Lido, you better stay here. This could get ugly,” said Barnstormer, preparing himself to confront the crowd.

“I don’t suppose there is a back door?” asked Lido nervously.

“There is a way, but it would be rather complicated to get down there. It requires getting through several locked doors, and through subterranean pathways. I would fear for your safety more going that way than remaining here. Just stay out of the way, this could get violent,” said Barnstormer firmly.  Lido gulped. The Constable summoned more men from an inner chamber and a troop rapidly formed a line at the main door. Barnstormer stepped forward ahead of his men at the top of the stairs. He held up his hand and addressed the crowd with low and certain tones, as one of great authority and justice.

“Citizens of Hobbington. I share your grievance and concern over the new taxes in the town. I too have been struck by the tax the same as you have.”

“But you defend the Mayor, and the Council!” shouted a man from the midst of the mob, to which shouts were raised and torches brandished wildly.

“We are all being taxed. Everyone from high to low,” said Barnstormer, steadying the crowd with his firm tone.

“But the Mayor is not being taxed!” shouted someone. “Nor is Senior Borge! Or the High Council!” shouted another.

“And this is why,” said Constable Barnstormer raising his voice above the crowd, “I too share your concern. However, let us be men, and not animals. Let us be citizens of the town, united by our peaceful intention to protest in a lawful manner.” The crowd murmured, seeming to be half persuaded by Barnstormer’s suggestion.

At that moment, Lido, who was peering through the door from a position he had taken to do so, noticed that across the street the same mysterious man, Korfu, was standing on the other side of the mob in the shadow of an alleyway. Korfu, it seemed to Lido, was removing something from his vest pocket in such a way that made him suddenly deeply suspicious. The twist of Korfu’s body seemed to suggest he was preparing to throw something. Without further thought, he slipped his sling on his finger, and took a stone from his trusty pouch, cradled it, and slipped through the ranks of men so that he came to Barnstormer’s side.

“Constable, look there!” he said pointing at Korfu. “That man there!” With that, Barnstormer looked and saw Korfu in his cowl, his face obscured, a gleam of malice in his eyes.

“You there!” shouted Barnstormer across the street pointing at Korfu. Everyone turned and looked, but Korfu slipped away into the shadows and vanished without a trace. Lido explained that the man in the cloak looked as though he were about to throw something deadly at the good Constable, and the crowd murmured again.

“Good citizens of Hobbington. Let us make a solemn pact,” said Barnstormer. “I will go with you tomorrow, when the sun rises to the noon hour to the Town Hall, and I will present the grievance to High Council on your behalf. Only do nothing rash this day, but be peaceable that your words may carry weight, and the Council have no cause to deny you a fair hearing.”

With this the crowd demurred and so the crisis was, for a second time, averted. The crowd dispersed.

Lido and the Constable returned to the Hall. Lido thanked Constable Barnstormer, and complimented him on how well he was able to handle the crowd.

“Thank you, Lido. Your sharp eye may well have averted a great disaster. Had I been attacked at that moment, it might have turned the crowd.  Who knows what they might have done then.”

“That was my sense as well,” said Lido. “That particular man, I don’t know if you saw his face, but his name is Korfu. I overheard him speaking with another man, his master, in a pub a few days ago.  They seemed intent on creating disturbances around the town. I am convinced that the mob is being deliberately incited for purposes that have little to do with the repealing of the new tax laws,” said Lido.

“That is very interesting. I’m glad you mentioned it. If you don’t mind, I will call in a friend of mine to speak with you on this matter. He is the town’s Inspector General, Mr. Henderson. He has been working on a case that I believe may be directly related to what you just said. Will you wait here while I send for him?” asked Constable Barnstormer.

“Certainly. Anything I can do to help, I will be happy to,” replied Lido sincerely.

Enter Inspector Henderson

Inspector Henderson came into the private chamber. He was a tall lean man with a gaunt, serious look about him. He was polite, and cordially shook Lido’s hand, introducing himself with a mild tone. He was smoking a cigarette.

“I’m quite interested in what you can tell me regarding the man you spotted outside,” said the Inspector, tilting his head to the side as he watched Lido through narrowed eyes. Lido informed him of everything he knew, with the exception of a single detail. He did not feel safe explaining that the Mayor was likely to be a target of the sinister duo, and that Senior Borge was in line to acquire his powerful position on the Council. He did not want to be the guy who pegged the plotters, least he become an enemy of those with whom he could not hope to survive a quarrel. Henderson’s keen eye, however, detected that there was a singular moment at which Lido’s eye twitched, and his gaze faltered.

“Are you sure there is not something you are …” began the Inspector sternly.

“There is one more thing,” said Lido looking around the room suspiciously, “but I should like to ask before I continue… are you sure that no one will overhear us?”

“This chamber was especially designed for discrete communications. There is no need to worry.”

“Well, then, I will tell you. The master of Korfu told him that they must eliminate the Mayor and elevate Senior Borge to his seat on the Council!”

Henderson and Barnstormer exchanged glances. As there was nothing more that the Hobbit had to add, they thanked him, and asked him to bring any additional information along should he happen to discover anything of interest in regards to this case. Lido agreed to so do and was preparing to leave.

“Very interesting,” said Henderson to Barnstormer, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “This fits in with the general pattern of strange events of late. There have been fires set in various Quarters around the town, and even tremors felt in every Quarter. Strange glowing lights have been reported, and if rumor is to be believed, some kind of ancient Serpent Lord appeared in Fountain Square earlier today. Ever since we managed to get our hands on the Five Animals Gang things appear to be unraveling. I suspect that the remaining Fifth Animal is lurking out there somewhere, and likely involved with these events,” he concluded looking off into space thoughtfully.

“Yes, well,” said Lido with a sudden shudder, “if you won’t be needing me further, I think I ought to get back to my comrades at the Five Crows now. Thank you ever so much for the good news about the Warden family. That’s a great relief to us all, I’m sure.”

“You’re quite welcome, Lido. And thank you for coming forward with the information. I imagine it may be quite useful in the investigation. As for the Warden’s I think I will send a man over to take a look in on them tonight. Just to be sure they are getting on alright.”

“That’s a good idea, thank you,” replied Lido as he wrapped himself in his scarf and put on his winter hat. “I’m quite grateful to you,” he added as he left the room. And with that he departed the Hall and returned along the winding streets, and made his way back to the Five Crows. Lido entered with a flurry of snow behind him into the Tavern.

“Friend!” said Ishcandar as soon as he saw Lido. “What news?!”

“Good news! The Wardens have been rescued already by Constable Barnstormer days ago. They’re safe and sound in their home on High Street. He’s even sending a man to take a look in on them.”

“Wonderful! A round of drinks for everyone!” shouted Ishcandar merrily. As it happened though, everyone was soundly sleeping in various corners of the room. Even Ischcandar’s father, Mr. Rokkafellah, had taken up a comfortable spot on a cushioned chair and was snoring quietly near the fireplace. The only other members of the group who were awake happened to be Arik, now on his third cask of fine Dwarven Ale, and Praymar, who rarely was found sleeping.

“It may be best if we don’t stay in Hobbington, Ishcandar," said Lido to his friend.  "I ran into a mob on the way to the Constable’s, and I recalled something I overheard while we were in one of the pubs we wandered through when we first returned to town.”  Lido sat at the bar and conveyed the details of the sinister conversation to Ishcandar.

When the Clock Strikes Thirty-Six

“Did you say Korfu?” squeaked Praymar who had slunk up from a corner of the room to listen in. “I thought he was dead by now!”

“It would seem that both he and Ibis survived the salt mine,” replied Arik stroking his beard thoughtfully. He and Praymar took turns explaining to the Hobbits how they had met Ibis and Korfu in the Prancing Unicorn Inn, and all the details that they could recall regarding the salt mine, and their adventures there. Outside the wind howled in the streets, and the clock on Dunn’s bridge struck twelve times. With that Hermel woke up and stretched himself, glad to see that Lido had returned without incident.

“Um… isn’t that the second time that clock tower struck twelve times tonight?” he asked.

“Actually, the third,” replied Arik.

“It must be broken,” said Hermel, not wanting to get involved with any unnecessary mysteries when they were so close to getting on their way to Yellow Clay Village after all. “At any rate, it doesn’t matter. Why not lie down and get some sleep. We’re leaving early in the morning. There are some blankets over there.”

“But if the tower clock were broken, ...I would think it would not strike at all, rather than strike midnight three times in one day, don’t you?” asked Lido.

“Are you a clock maker?” asked Hermel curtly.

“Actually my father was friends with a clock maker once,” replied Lido.

“Does that make you a clock maker?” asked Hermel, even more curtly.

“Well, no, I suppose not,” replied Lido. “But I do know that a broken clock doesn’t strike at all, rather than strike the same time more times than it should.”

“Yeah,” squeaked Praymar.

“You know what?” said Hermel, seeing where this was headed, “I have an idea. Why don’t you two go and check it out?  That would be the right thing to do.”

Doctor Chickenhiemer began to cluck. He jumped off of Bantum’s head and fluttered himself to the floor, waking the young giant up.

“Do you want to go out?” asked Bantum. “Okeee” he said and got up to let the rooster outside. Hermel shrugged and rolled over to go back to sleep. Star, who had woken up by then, looked out the window toward Dunn’s bridge. He saw that there was a green light in the window on the third story of the tower, and that around the entire tower there was a pale shimmering blue glow. Chickenhiemer jumped off the stoop down to the street and began making his way toward Dunn’s Bridge.

“Yer letting out the chicken, eh?" asked Arik rhetorically.  "Is the chicken going to scout out the tower and find out if the clock is broken? Is that what’s going to happen?” he continued, disgusted.

“What are you even saying?” asked Bantum confused by the multiple questions in a row.

“I don’t even know anymore,” replied Arik gruffly. He never believed that damn rooster was able to talk, or anything other than an ordinary bird in the least. All the genuflecting to that ridiculous creature really irked the Dwarve to no end. “Good night!” he said, and with that went to find another cask of ale. Arik drank himself into a stupor. Meanwhile Star of Justice was looking out the window, watching Chickenhiemer as he made his way toward the tower.

“Come back, chicken!” shouted Bantum as he went out into the street to get Chickenhiemer. Star followed after him. Chickenhiemer made his way across the snow drifts toward Dunn’s Bridge, wound his way around the side of the tower, and to the front door.

Inside the Tavern, Lido began snoring, which for Hobbits is a funny little sound that would be hard to imitate, but sounds a bit like “ninnyninnyninnyninny”. Hermel got up and kicked him lightly until he stopped snoring and went back to sleep. Meanwhile, Ishcandar noticed a rat crossing the bar in front of him. It had a white spot over one eye.

“Hermel, look!” said Ishcandar. “It’s Bernie’s rat!” Hermel opened an eye and took a brief look. He saw the rat scuttling across the bar. The rat stopped and perked up on its hind legs. Arik looked at it and commented on the fact that it wasn’t a bear, or a snake, or a chicken and took another draw from his pint of ale.  He said he could take a liking to a rat, since it wasn't any of those other three animals, and grunted with satisfaction when rat squeaked at him.  The rat squeaked again and rubbed his little paws together. Ishcandar gave it a little bit of cheese he pulled from his pocket. The rat squeaked with delight, took the cheese and nibbled on it.

Meanwhile, at the bridge, Bantum had followed Chickenhiemer, while Star of Justice had followed Bantum. He thought it best to keep an eye on the young giant. When the two adventurers made their way around the railing of the tower to where Chickenhiemer was clucking, the rooster clucked twice and bounded into the air, flying up to the third story window from which the green glow was emanating. He landed deftly on the ledge of the window, and took a position there, peering inside intently.

“Come back, chicken! Come back!” shouted Bantum. Star, who did not want to make a ruckus at all, calmed Bantum down and got him to be quiet. They agreed to go to open the front door and try to find Chickenhiemer quietly from the inside. The door was open. Within was a dark unfurnished circular hall surrounded by dark purple tapestries. “Chicken…” called Bantum into the dark hall. Star lit a torch and they both stepped inside.

“This is probably and awful silly thing to do,” commented Star to himself.

Dr. Chickenhiemer to the Rescue

As the two brave souls entered the lower hall, Chickenhiemer was craning his neck around the side of the windowsill in order to peer into the upper chamber. There he saw some very interesting things indeed. There was Dr. Lobe, exactly as he remembered him, only somewhat older looking now. He was focusing his attention on a machine with a large number of dials, meters and an array of electromagnetic projectors. Dr. Chickenhiemer was somewhat alarmed. There was a soft blue glow emanating from a tall cylinder in the center of the room. Within the cylinder were highly energetic beams of blue light, forming a cubic spiral in a descending pattern, slowly rotating around a single beam of green light that went to the ceiling. The array was positioned according to a Chronometric device and aligned to specific stars and constellations which were mirrored in the ceiling of the chamber, all with incredible precision, even by Chickenhiemer’s exacting standards. Above it, suspended from the ceiling was a glowing emerald casting a fiery green light around the chamber. The entire place was throbbing with unfathomable mystical energies.

Off to one side Chickenhiemer spotted movement. It was Yakov, the burly mute assistant of Dr. Lobe. He was carrying a large heavy steel container into the room from a passageway. Dr. Lobe instructed him to place it in a precise location at the center of the room, within the cylinder. On the far side of the room Chickenhiemer saw a frosted glass rectangular box, with mist coming off of it in undulating waves. Within the container he could make out a body. It was, he thought, a young woman with long curly red hair. She appeared to be in a state of suspended animation. The entire setup presented Dr. Chickenhiemer with a single, clear, and obvious purpose. But why would Dr. Lobe wish to send the young woman into a time vortex? Thinking it over swiftly, Dr. Chickenhiemer concluded that Dr. Lobe himself probably had no interest, other than that of pure science… to discover the laws of the universe. Yet, someone was behind the experiment. Dr. Chickenhiemer was very curious as to whom that might be. Yet there was no time left to find out. The girl would be vanish into the vortex momentarily if he did not take action. Not wishing to disrupt such a delicately dangerous operation such as this, he decided to make one small, barely significant change to a single setting of a particular dial on one of the supporting devices in the room. To do this was very simple. He used his Mesmeric Hypnotic-Influence to reach into Yakov’s weak little mind, completely undetected, and cause him to brush the dial unwittingly as he passed the machine on his way to the center of the room. The dial moved from a 32 setting to a 31 setting. The likelihood of Dr. Lobe noticing this in time, he estimated, was 1 in 37,812. Good enough. Dr. Chickenhiemer fluttered off the ledge silently and flew down.

Meanwhile downstairs, Bantum and Star had entered the lower chamber by torchlight. When they walked in the door behind them began to close, but Bantum’s rather large body prohibited it. He did not notice, in fact, but pushed the door back open without considering it again. They looked around the room. There were three melon-sized red toads with large curved tusks in the room. All the chickens began to cluck. Bantum tried to calm them down, but as the toads began to hop towards the two men, one belched out a ring of billowing orange fire, which wafted up to the ceiling, and this caused the chickens to cluck frantically.

“Sorry, Froggie, but you are bad!” said Bantum as he crushed the toad nearest him with his warhammer. Star destroyed another one with his mace. The third one hopped over to Bantum and belched a large billowing wash of flame over the soft hearted warrior. The flames were made of mystical fire. Bantum, unlike most others, was uniquely low powered when it came to any kind of mental ability, and his low mystical defense reflected that. The flames washed over his ethereal body and consumed what little mystical energy was there. Bantum fell to both knees with a loud thud, staring sightlessly into space. All the chickens on his bandoleer fainted. Star killed the remaining toad with his mace, sending a splat of blood guts and fire in a wide area.

“Bantum!” yelled Star as he ran to his friend's side. The great warrior was slumped to the floor unconscious. Star knelt down, a look of deep concern on his face. He prayed for the blessing to be able to perform the only skill he knew of that might heal Bantum’s mystical energies. That was Mesmeric Healing. He focused on that, praying to the wondrous Elkron of the Sun, and by that power, performed the Mesmeric Healing successfully. The mystic energies flowed into Bantum from the air around them, and so the young warrior awoke, opening his eyes slowly.

“Bantum!” said Star with great relief, and helped him to get to his feet. The chickens drooped on the bandoleer as Bantum stood up.  Star guided him slowly to the door. At that moment Dr. Chickenhiemer came flying into the chamber from outside and landed on Bantum’s head. He was very annoyed with himself for having left his favorite mount where he might encounter this kind of danger, and swore to himself that this should not happen again. With a flick of his wings the other chickens were revived and began squawking. And with that they walked back to the Five Crows Tavern.

Mr. Rokkafellah's Dream

Entering the now silent Tavern, Star woke Hermel and recounted the tale, or as much of it as he knew. Hermel seemed unimpressed, and advised them to get some sleep.

And with that everyone went to sleep. Except for Mr. Rokkafellah, who had awoken to a slight sound from somewhere in the room. It sounded, he thought as he opened his eyes, like two sticks tapping across the floor. Without moving he turned his eyes in the direction of the faint noises. There he saw a remarkable sight. An odd shaped creature, about four inches tall, had emerged from Lido’s vest pocket and was standing itself upright. Mr. Rokkafellah closed one eye and made the other into a thin slit. The creature, if you could call it that, had an enormously oversized head, bulbous body, and pencil thin arms and legs. More remarkable were its pointy teeth, which showed as it worked its jaw into a dreadful grin. But most remarkable of all were its glowing red eyes, like two small coals of fire glowing fiercely within jet black eye holes.

“Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” Mr. Rokkafellah thought to himself. The odd little creature began tapping its way across the floor on its tiny stick-legs. It was making its way, slowly, toward where Mr. Rokkafellah was sleeping. He felt very uncomfortable about this. Just as the creature, or thing, was upon him, the stalwart Hobbit sat up suddenly and looking down said, “What’s this? How dare you sneak up on me while I’m sleeping, you devilish little runt!”

With that the creature got a very angry little look on its face and stood up tall. Taller and taller it stood until finally it was quite a lot larger than Mr. Rokkafellah, and billows of flames were coming out of its mouth. In fact it grew so large that its head grazed the ceiling and its body seemed to fill the entire room.

“You have something I want,” said the now gigantic hell-runt. “Hand it over, or I’ll eat you for breakfast.”

Now, ordinarily, Mr. Rokkafellah was not the easily frightened sort, but this was pretty bad. He felt quite sure that if the hellish fiend wanted to eat him, it very well could.

“W-w-w-what do you want?” asked the elder Hobbit stammering badly, a cold sweat having taken hold of his entire body.

“Give me the Green Jade Dragon. I want to steal it, you see, since the true owner has let go of it,” said the monster with a fierce grin, his eyes blazing with red fire.

“B-b-b-but what do you want it for?” Mr. Rokkafellah managed to stammer out.

“With it I can torment the young hero, of course. He and his family will be at my mercy. And we like that. Very much, we like that, because we have no mercy,” said the fiend from hell. And with that Mr. Rokkafellah, who liked Hermel after all, got up his ire, and so he blurted out something that he thought he would regret very much, very soon.

“I shan’t do it,” he said. And with that the little monster roared with a fierceness of iniquity that would have frightened most of us down to the very marrow of our bones. But Hobbits, as we know, are in fact made of stern stuff, and when it comes to the defense of their friends, they’re in fact very tough little critters indeed. And as soon as he set his face sternly with furrowed eyebrows against the monster, it shrank suddenly down to tiny size, and ran across the floor as fast as it could back toward Lido’s pocket. Before he jumped in he squeaked in a terrible tone, “This isn’t the last you’ve heard of me, Mr. Ishcanter Rokkafellah! We know where you live!”

Well, of course, Mr. Rokkafellah was quite upset, and nearly paralyzed with fright. He decided to get up and throw some cold water on his face. He walked over to the bar in order to so do. As he did, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that bothered him a great deal. There was an eye looking through the Tavern window at him; a very large eye. So large in fact that only part of it showed through the window. The tavern shook a bit. Despite his best intention to run and hide himself somewhere where no one would ever find him again, he found that he was walking to the window to see what could have such a huge eye as that. And there he saw in the street a great green dragon was resting his giant claws on the tavern peering through the window at him.

“You did well not to give the Dragon’s Tear to my enemy,” said the Dragon in a deep and sonorous voice directly into Mr. Rokkafellah’s mind. “But you should remember, as long as you hold the stone, that devil from hell will be after you for it. And he will find new and inventive ways to try to pry it from your fingers, you can be quite sure. I won’t tell you what you must do… but consider yourself warned.”

And with that, Mr. Rokkafellah awoke with a start, his body covered in sweat as he lay in the comfortable chair near the window. It was a nightmare! Only a dream! He was enormously relieved. And yet, still enormously frightened. He didn’t like that dream at all. Not one bit. He quickly felt into his pocket. There it was, cool and glassy hard. The Jade Dragon Stone, safe and sound. After that, as you can imagine, the poor old Hobbit didn’t fall back to sleep. But kept his eye on Lido’s pocket the rest of the night.

Eventually, dawn came around. Everyone woke up, starting with Hermel, who went around and woke up the others one at a time. When he came to Mr. Rokkafellah the Hobbit was wide-awake, staring up at him from beneath his blanket. Hermel thought it a bid odd, but paid no particular attention. His mind was elsewhere.

“Mr. Rokkafellah, why don’t you come with us to the Guild Hall so that we can arrange for a guard to accompany you back to your mansion?” suggested Hermel.

“Why that’s very decent of you, young man,” replied the elder Hobbit. “Very decent indeed. I doubt that shall be necessary, however,” he said. 

After everyone had gotten themselves together under Hermel’s direction, they went to the Guild Hall, and settled in to have a hearty breakfast before the long journey to the far away Yellow Clay Village. After the breakfast, Mr. Rokkafellah prepared to head back to his mansion.

“Good bye, my son,” he said warmly. “It was good to see you.”

“It was good to see you, too father,” replied Ishcandar.  "Oh father, I don't suppose you could spare any money for my journey to the Provinces?  I've spent quite a bit and have run low."

“You’ve grown up a great deal all of a sudden. I suppose you will turn out to be a responsible young Hobbit some day, much like I did,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, handing him a small sack of coins. “Do take care of yourself, and come back from your adventure in one piece,” he said, almost tearing. He gave the lad a hearty hand shake, and passed him a small hastily scribbled note as he did so.

“I’ll try father,” said Ishcandar, and stepped aside to surreptitiously take a look at the note. It read, “Meet at the Iron Horse at 9:30.”

“As for you, Hermel, you’re a fine young man. I want to lend you something,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, and he pulled out the Dragon’s Tear and handed it to Hermel.

“Mr. Rokkafellah, I can not repay you the money you gave me for it,” said Hermel sincerely surprised by this unexpected action.

“You hold on to this young man, and consider it perhaps a kind of loan, possibly. I had a strange dream last night, in which I will say that a great green dragon suggested in no uncertain terms that you should hold onto it, er, for me. Why not?  Hah hah... It’s of little use to me. But for you, perhaps it is of great importance. Just remember that I did you a favor once if you ever should come to mind, ok?”

“Ok, well, thank you Mr. Rokkafellah. I appreciate it very much,” said Hermel taking the stone in his hand. It felt cool and comfortable resting again in his palm. He put it in his pocket, wondering what in the world the Green Dragon might have said to Mr. Rokkafellah to make him change his mind and give up on so much money.

“Good bye, young heroes,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, shuddering a little bit as he recalled the freakish dream.

At that moment the door opened and in walked Constable Barnstormer, followed by the young and beautiful Elizabeth Warden and her elderly father.

The Arrival of the Fair Maiden

“Hello,” said the Constable. “I went to check on the Wardens, and Mr. Warden insisted on coming along to see you folks, along with his daughter. You remember, I suppose, Elizabeth Warden?”

Everyone looked at the gorgeous young beauty with the curly red hair, and large green eyes. She looked at Hermel, and as she was about to hold out her hand to greet the surprised young hero, Ishcandar stepped forward and took her hand.

“Can this be? The fair young maiden is safe and sound!” he said as he bent his head to kiss her hand.

“Is this the girl you abandoned in the prison?” asked Hermel with a bit of sardonic intonation in his voice.

“Why I think this is the girl you didn’t want to go back for,” said Ishcandar with a bit of a snide edge in his voice.

“I didn’t realize it was HER,” retorted Hermel, annoyed and dismayed by this sudden turn of events. "I didn't remember her name."

The girl, now entirely wilted, turned to leave the Guild Hall looking miserable and depressed, followed by her doting father, who appeared equally dismayed.  Things certainly didn't turn out as he had hoped they would!

“Wow. What a buzz kill,” said Rothmon as he shook his head and slumped his shoulders.

“If I’m not getting any, you’re not getting any,” said Hermel to Ishcandar with a twinge of satisfaction.

“Hey lady,” squeaked Praymar as she left the room, head hung low. “I’m here for you,” he called after her. There was no reply. Constable Barnstormer, considerate of the Warden’s bruised feelings, made a quick good bye and followed after them.

“That was the same girl that was cryogenically frozen in the tower last night,” clucked Dr. Chickenhiemer quite uselessly.

“So, Rothmon, how’s it going with the Archers? What do we have to work with?” asked Hermel, having taken a whole second to move on and get back to his objective.   Hermel was nothing if not single minded.

Rothmon replied that the arragenments for the Archers were already made, and that they would assemble at Hobbington Main Gate that morning. Everyone was ready to move out, and so the 'AAA Group' of the Hobbington Adventures’ Guild marched toward the Main Gate, eager to get started on their next adventure. And when they got to the Main Gate, what did they see, but a large crowd of people outside of Wuldkarva’s Wooden Doggie Emporium. It was quite a large crowd in fact, and everyone seemed quite excited about something or other, and the whole plaza was abuzz with the excitement.

“Oh no,” thought Hermel to himself. “This smells very suspiciously like the beginning of another distraction… must avoid. Must avoid. Must avoid…” In his pocket the Jade Dragon Stone grew a bit heavier, and a bit warm to the touch.

Last Episode: Interlude: The Long Squabble
Next Episode: Time To Leave Hobbington

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, “ 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.”


“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.


“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!”


“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, 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.

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