Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Battle of Aphid Temple – Part 2

“Wise Aphid, before you leave… do you know what that tremendous booming sound would be?”, asked Storm Wizard as the old Holy Aphid-man was hobbling out of the Great Hall.

Pausing, he turned around and looking back, said dismally, “That would be the sound of the Locust Ambassador’s Horn.” He then turned about and continued out of the Hall, vanishing from view as the giant doors swung closed behind him.  He was now safe in the Sacred Precinct of the Aphid Temple.

Last minute arrangements were being made by the adventurous heroes as the Locust Ambassador approached the Great Hall through the Temple corridors. Should Storm Wizard pretend to drink out of the doctored Chalice before handing it to the Ambassador? It was decided not to risk any complications. The Chalice was a half globe made of translucent white stone, filled with a greenish liquid, and was carried by three sturdy aphids into the hall and placed on the table closest to where the Ambassador would enter. All of the adventurers quickly ran to their assigned places around the Holy Aphid's stone dias in the middle of the hall, even though the Holy Aphid was not present anymore. There had been no time to discuss the change of plans, and so everyone quickly prepared themselves, and began to pretend to be feasting.  Well, the aphids did not pretend.  A simple folk, when food was before them, they feasted, as they and their kind had done for many millions of years.

A crowd of aphids began pouring into the Great Hall from the main corridor, clicking and whirling as they were wont to do when excited.  Behind them came the Locust Ambassador, his red metallic skin glinting dully in the dim green light, his enormous muscles bulging, antenae swaying, and oblong eyes steadily searching.  Once he entered the Great Hall and stood before the congregation of feasters, his fierce eyes darted around the chamber.  He immediately demanded to know in a booming voice, “Where is the Holy Aphid?!”

He was angry. His antennae flicked around his head searching for a scent.

“Oh you are here! You are early!", said Juliette placatingly.  "The wise Aphid is old and is slow, but he will be here shortly!”, she said from her place at the lead table.

“I am not early! He is late!” shouted the Locust Ambassador vehemently into the hall.  He snaped his red cape around him and stomped his right leg on the ground.  All of the aphids began to make louder clicking whirling noises and some began to skitter around the tables nervously.

“Oh, we’re terribly sorry about this inconvenience,” said Storm Wizard standing up, and holding up the Chalice toward their unwelcome guest.

“This is unacceptable!”, yelled the Locust Ambassador fiercely at him.

“Here! While you wait, please accept this drink!”, said Storm Wizard, offering him the Chalice filled with the Elixir of Dreamless Sleep. Although Storm Wizard was a practiced liar, his effort was wasted as the Locust Ambassador ignored the Chalice.

“This is a DISGRACE!”, shouted the Locust Ambassador in a thunderous voice that echoed throughout the hall. Everyone stood motionless as the Ambassador, his shiny red skin began to drip with beads of sweat, and his right hand began fingering the hilt of his sword. There was a dreadful silence as the Ambassador looked around with his menacing glare.

“You’re absolutely right, it is a terrible disgrace,” said Storm Wizard. The aphids all began to chitter incoherently with a strange warbling sound. “You know how Aphids are, disgraceful creatures after all. Please, have some food, have some drink. It won’t be but a minute.”

The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ were very lucky at that moment.

The Locust Ambassador, at the mention of food, suddenly burst out in a ravenous shout, “I AM FAMISHED!”, and with that he leapt across the open space onto a table top, and with his body hunched over he began ravenously devouring every dish of food within his grasp. Plates and bowls went flying as he disgorged their contents and hurled the empty containers to the ground.  At one point he actually bit into the wood of the table itself, leaving a large gash in the table’s edge. The aphids fled before him and scurried away in a chaotic jumble.

Meanwhile, behind the Locust Ambassador, not far down the long winding corridor, Ben and the aphid wokers were furiously building the barricade, and piling high all of the materials the aphids had gathered into the Library shortly before.

Elsewhere, the Holy Aphid was in deep meditation deep within the Sacred Precinct.

In the Great Hall, there was a cacophony of noise as the Locust Ambassador leapt ten feet onto the next table, crashing it to the ground and devouring everything in sight. When he ran out of food there he grabbed a chair leg and furiously devoured it, splintering it into pieces with his massive yellow teeth, to the utter shock of everyone. He took no time for breathing between bites, and within moments every dish on a table was empty and shattered.

However, the one thing the Locust Ambassador seemed to have no interest in were the drinks. Those pitchers and flaggons went flying to the ground as soon as he leapt onto a table, and he ignored them completely, whatever succulent liquids they might have contained. And so, Storm Wizard, at Juliette’s behest, "accidently" tripped as he approached and so tossed the Chalice directly onto the next table that the Locust Ambassador descended upon, splashing the Elixir all over the food there. The Ambassador in his fury took no notice whatsoever, and devoured all the food there before leaping to the next table, crashing it into a wall with a shuddering thud, and began to devour everything there, too. It was at this point that he stopped for a moment to stand up and shake his head.  But then, without further interruption, he hoisted a huge piece of broiled bark into his ravening maw and devoured it, making a sound like a buzz saw. Everything else on the table followed, until there was nothing left, not even the table legs, which he’d also broken off and eaten. He leapt to the next table and made short work of it. Meanwhile the aphids had fled from the Great Hall and were so panic struck they could not even speak. They simply ran as fast as their little legs could carry them as far away as possile. As they did the heroic adventurer’s watched the Ambassador with anxious eyes.

Finally, all of the food was gone, and no table or chair in the hall stood intact.  It looked as though the hall had been hit by a tornado, the chamber filled with shattered splinters of furniture and broken pottery.  The Ambassador began to wobble on his stout legs. His red metallic skin was covered in a sheen of shining sweat. His antennae waved in the air frantically, his eyes rolled in his head. He picked up a chair, took a bite out of the side, and ate he entire bottom of the chair when he fell to one knee, and then collapsed onto the remains of the table before him.

Looking around frantically, his eyes rolling wildly, he screamed, “You have poisoned me!”

Reaching into his copper vest he pulled out a small metal rod, and aimed it directly at Storm Wizard who was standing close by watching intently. The rod had a small blue gem on the end of it, and when he pointed it at Storm Wizard, he uttered a strange word, and a flash a blue lightning shot out of the gem, which shattered with the execution of the magical blast.

It was fortunate that the Locust Ambassador was so drugged that he could no longer focus, and so the bright blue bolt went astray, blazing past Storm Wizard’s shoulder, singing his hair, and hitting the wall behind him, blasting a small hole through the stone. Had it hit him, Storm Wizard felt reasonably certain, that would have been the end for him.

Juliette took that moment to call upon Holy Minvar, Elkron of the Golden Grain, to Divinely Strike the Ambassador down. When she utters her prayer the Locust Ambassador happen to slip on some of the liquid that had spilled on the ground, and so slipping he fell hitting his head rather hard against the stone. Morgana took the opportunity to give him a whack with her staff, but it bounced off his copper vest and so did not harm him. Brian took a swing with his trusty sword from the side, cutting through the Ambassador’s defenses, but not by much. Laraby also struck with his sword, and also did additional damage, though a great deal of any damage was being absorbed by the Ambassador’s armor, and his metallic skin. Storm Wizard cast his own mystic Stun Beam, which hit the enraged Ambassador on the side of his head with a dim ray of blue light.  Just beyond the Ambassador, Brian, who had accidently maneuvered into the line of the Stun Beam, instantly fell down unconscious.

Meanwhile, the Locust Ambassador, still heaving with rage, managed to pull out a small glass globule from the inside of his vest. Storm Wizard’s Mystic Stun Beam put the already flailing warrior out of consciousness, but not before he dropped the globule on the ground. When it hit the stone floor it exploded with a loud 'Pop', and from it there emerged a cloud of blue gas which immediately began to fill the Hall. And so it was that the Locust Ambassador fell to the ground unconscious directly in the center of the blue cloud.

“Tie him up now!”, yelled Juliette, knowing that the Mystical Stun would only last for a minute or two. However, no one wished to enter the blue gas cloud to do so, and so everyone danced around the edges of the swirling vapors, until Laraby, holding his breath, jumped into the cloud with rope in hand and began to tie the unconscious Ambassador’s arms and legs. Daniel tried to help him, but caught a lung full of blue vapors and instantly fell back reeling, his lungs burning with a wicked searing pain.

“Wind Shield!”, yelled Storm Wizard summoning another of his Mystic Powers. The spell created a vortex of wind like a shield before him, and wedging himself between the floor and the gaseous cloud, he used the utmost of his mystic ability to thin the shield out and turn into a bowl-like shape. With all of his might and skill he lifted the bowl of blue vapors upward. And there Storm Wizard stood, his right arm raised high, a funnel of wind holding the swirling blue cloud against the ceiling.

With that Laraby quickly tied the ropes around the Locust Ambassador and tied a dozen solid knots. Everyone stood back and looked down at the unconscious Locust-man. His huge muscles were evident even through the rope bindings. Storm Wizard had wished they’d had time to remove the mystical copper vest that had undoubtedly been protecting the Ambassador from both weapons and magic. Nevertheless, he reached down and withdrew the black scabbard that held a long silver sword that was still sheathed at the Ambassador’s side. Looking it over, he recognized the excellence and quality of the weapon, noting briefly to himself that they were fortunate he had not had the wherewithal to withdraw it during the brief battle. He handed the fine silver weapon to Laraby, who wielded it appreciatively for a few moments before sheathing it in the polished black scabbard. A superior weapon, he thought.

Tinkin, who had been standing in the corner terrified, then came forward and chanted a mystical healing over Daniel who was curled up on the floor gasping for air, his face turning a vivid blue. By the time Tinkin’s chanting was finished Daniel stopped gasping and sat up. His color returned to normal, and with a few final coughs thanked the young Aphid Prince and got to his feet. He looked nervously at the ceiling where Storm Wizard was holding up the blue vapors in a bowl of wind.

Then, on the other side of the room behind them, everyone turned to see a large crowd of hideous looking creatures clambering along the sides of the corridor wall that lead into the Great Hall. These creatures, they realized immediately, were the same creatures that the 'Steel Wool Sheeps' had passed on their first journey down the Greaty Ivy Highway, and had their own tiny city of brown mud on a leaf. It seemed like years ago that they had passed by it. They were mites. Tiny, grapefruit sized creatures with sharp pointy fangs, bulging eyes, long bristles and stubby spring-like legs which they used to loft themselves into the air. The defenders ran forward to block the corridor, but it was useless. The mites lofted themselves high overhead with “beeyooing” sounds and landed in large numbers all around the Locust Ambassador, savagely biting everyone who stood near him. Though the adventurer’s were able to easy kill each one they hit, being as they are rather small, there were very many of them, and their savage fangs began to take a bloody toll. Juliette, more than the others, was surrounded by the horrid little monsters, and so wound up covered with lacerations that bled profusely.

Moreover, four of the mites landed on the Ambassador himself as they were all fighting, and began gnawing through his ropes. One, before he could be dispatched by a well aimed blow of Morgana’s staff, had bitten through the ropes, and now the Ambassador lay free on the ground. Fortunately the mystic Stun had not quite yet worn off.

“On the positive side, we can take his vest off,” thought Storm Wizard to himself with a wry smile. However, as it happened they never did have time for that. Everyone was engaged in fighting the horde of mites, while Tinkin kept busy healing people of their wounds as they fought. While he did so, Juliette was casting an invocation known among the Minvarians as 'The Hands of Awakening' on her brother, Brian, who was still unconscious from Storm Wizard’s Stun Beam which he had accidently intercepted earlier in the battle. He awoke with a start, and jumped to his feet. Morgana was still smashing mites with her staff, and the others were also swatting, smashing, slashing, and otherwise trying to kill the hideous creatures, all of whom had blood dripping from their vicious little fangs.

As it happens, it was a desperate battle, and mites, though tiny, turned out to be dangerous opponents en mass. It occurred to Storm Wizard that it was possible that the nasty creatures might even carry diseases, but he put that out of his mind and concentrated on the battle at hand. All the while holding the swirling blue cloud on the ceiling with his magical right arm. With his free hand Storm Wizard chanted off a series of Lightning Arrows, each one blasting a mite or two to sizzling charred cinders. Juliette swiped at them with her staff, smashing all those that came within reach. Morgana wearily smacked them with her staff, as Laraby pierced others with his shining silver sword. He was smiling all the while. The sword was very well balanced, and he was pleased to have such a rare weapon in his hands. Finally, the battle was over, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief. None of the heroes was dead, though everyone's cloths were in tatters and bespeckled with blood.

Morgana could not discern how to remove the copper vest from the Locust Ambassador, which had a confusing set of mechanisms that seemed to lock it into place. And so, Laraby tied up the Ambassador again as firmly as possible with their remaining rope. Just as he finished furiously tying the last knot the Ambassador awoke with a wild roar, and began to attempt to burst his bonds with the sheer force of his magnificent strength. Fortunately, the bonds were strong enough, and held.

And so Brian and Daniel Bellowick lifted the Ambassador on their shoulders carried him forth from the hall. As they left that august chamber Storm Wizard's spell was broken and the blue vapors drifted down along the sides of the walls and began to fill the enormous, ransacked, disheveled feasting hall. Ben looked over his shoulder at the blue vapors as they left, wondering how the aphids would be able to rid themselves of the menace.

“How dare you kidnap an Ambassador! It is an OUTRAGE!” shouted the Locust Ambassador with his thunderous voice. He was difficult to carry as he managed to use his strength and dexterity to wriggle and sway his body around, writhing in ways that made him very difficult to transport. Several times Brian or Daniel almost lost their footing.

“The Holy Aphid is a treasonous wretch! He is a betrayer!” yelled the Locust Ambassador at all the aphids as they carried him down the long dark corridor that led to the Grand Promonade, where the archways openned into the air overlooking the Black Forest far below.

Isabella was waiting for them as they exited the Promanade and clammered onto a leaf along the edge of the Great Ivy Highway. She made a strange whistling hum and a huge bright red ladybug came flying over the tops of the leaves and landed nearby. Everyone was positioned on the ladybug’s huge black legs, two people per leg which they held onto by hairy spurs. The Ambassador, still struggling, was positioned between two of the legs, his ropes threaded with a long pole that the aphids had provided for this purpose. The Ambassador maintained a steady stream of outraged denunciations of the Holy Aphid as they flew away downward along the side of the tower. The poor aphids looked unusually downcast. And eventually they turned and went back into the Temple slowly vanishing from view, anxiety and despair showing on their little faces. Last to be seen was Holy Aphid, who looked as sad and distressed as the rest. But he turned and speaking in low tones to his congregation gathered them together, and they entered the Temple in silence.

Down, down, down the ladybug flew until finally she landed in a huge forest of grass blades that towered over head like sky scrapers. She alighted on a small open patch of mossy dirt between the towering green blades and everyone disembarked. The Ambassador was unrelenting in his condemnation and threats.

As soon as he was placed on the ground the Locust Ambassador let out a massive blasting shout that was so great that it knocked everyone off their feet and made the grasses shiver.

A droning sound was then heard high above, and then one of the grass blades suddenly bent and snapped back into place. High above them the adventures could see that on the grass blade had landed a handsome and swarthy man with silver skin, large oblong eyes, silver antennae, and he was wearing a silver vest and a silver cape fringed with gold. He looked rather a great deal like the Locust Ambassador, except for the color of his skin and clothing. Down from above he shouted with a loud booming voice, “Unhand that man!”

“A grasshopper, or another locust?” asked Storm Wizard of Lady Isabella calmly.

“He is one of the High Royalty of the Princes of the Grasshoppers who transform into Locusts,” she answered with a bit of awe in her voice.

“What is the grasshopper opinion of the locusts?”, asked Juliette.

“When they are grasshoppers they are friendly, adventurous, and independent-minded poets. When they become Locusts they transform completely into the implacable foes of all the living. It is as if the grasshoppers do not know that the locusts even exist,” she answered gravely.

“I see,” said Storm Wizard.

The Locust Ambassador then shouted upward to his silver sibling, “Great Rohar! It was treachery! It was treason! The Holy Aphid has betrayed us!”

When he heard this the silver-man high above became very angry, and yelled, “It is impossible!” And with this the adventure’s could see him begin to transform, growing angrier every moment, his muscles growing larger, his silver skin shining brightly in the sun.

“It is impossible! The Holy Aphid can not lie!”, yelled down Rohar.

“He was not there!”, yelled up the Locust Ambassador. “We were BETRAYED!”

Juliette wished that she could somehow turn the heart of the silver grasshopper from his great and growing wrath, but she could think of nothing to say. No one could think of anything to say. And everyone became filled with anxiety.

Last Episode: Battle of Aphid Temple - Part 1
Next Episode: Down the Spider Hole - Part 1

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