Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Hagglesmith Rescue - Part IV

Bickering at the Door

Through the partially opened secret door the party of young adventurers peered into the room. It was a basement wine cellar lit by a two brass lamps on the south and west walls. The cellar was well stocked with shelves upon shelves of wines, bottles of various kinds of liquer, and beer kegs set against three walls, along with several large crates in the middle of the room. There were three men sitting at a round wooden card table on the other side of the room next to a bolted and heavily constructed wooden door. Heaped next against the north wall at the base of a large case of wines, were four bodies bound hand and foot with ropes. They listened in as the men played a card game.

“Hey, I thought you played that card two hands go!" said one with black hair and split lip.

"Don't be stupid. How could I do that?" replied another with brown hair and brown beard.

"Awww - he's cheatin," whined the the first.

"Shuddup. They'll be here any time now,” ordered the third one whose blond hair fell across his solders in long curls from beneath a red cap.

"Yeah yeah... kinda gives me the creeps, ya know?" said the brown haired one.

"You said it, bruthah,” replied the whiner with the black hair ruefully.

”Shuddup, I said! They'z get what they'z want (gesturing toward prisoners) and we'z gonna get the shipment we wantz, see? That's all you need to think about, ya dumb bastards,” barked the blond man.

"Alright, you da boss. Anyway, common you gonna play yer hand or what?" answered the brown haired man.

"Ok ok! But damnit, how come I keep losin!" whined the black haired one scuffing his foot under the table angrily.

"Cause yer an unlucky bastard, that's why. And waddya know... Looks like I win the pot again! Must be my lucky night,” he concluded with a wide grin.

The party stepped quietly back from the secret door, which they left cracked open a tiny bit while Jeremy peered through to alert them if any of the men at the table should happen to come there way, or doing anything else. They went a ways back up the dark corridor and started whispering furiously about what to do next. Hermel was uneasy about the idea of barging in on the men, primarily because he had realized that they actually had very little evidence to suggest that the men of the Five Crows Tavern, nor Doctor Lobe had actually done anything all that out of the ordinary or all that illegal thus far. After all, he pointed out in a hoarse whisper, the Hagglemsiths had trespassed into the basement. The fact they were tied up… well, he said, if he discovered tresspassers on his property he would very well do the same.

Lido and Ishcandar pointed out however that talk of a shipment in exchange for the captive kids sounded pretty nefarious at any rate. They agreed on that point, but Hermel still didn’t feel there was quite yet enough to warrant busting the door down and killing the card players (assuming they could even succeed in doing so!). Nevertheless, some of them wanted to bust into the room and catch the men at the card table by surprise, namely Jeremy, come what may. Hermel thought this too hasty, and noted that the Hagglesmiths had done the same, and pointed to the floor where they were laying in a heap, tied up and knocked out as they were.

"Not so great," he said.

Adding to that was the fact that Lido had traced his keen eye along the secret door's edge and noted a large heavy rope net was hung on the ceiling covering entranceway for about ten feet square. He had pointed to it, and the others had nodded. It seemed that they needed more options to consider, and so they all took to thinking.

A History Lesson

Hermel began reflecting on what he’d heard on the way to Dunn's Bridge earlier that evening as the party had woven it's way through the mazes of the Old Quarter, from Johan who had given them a little more information on Doctor Lobe and his relationship with Doctor Sniloc.

"Doctor Lobe and Doctor Sniloc were both venerated members of the Council of Science and Medicine, and the two doctors were academic rivals. Doctor Lobe had become very wealthy and famous as a physician, and was renowned for his medical skills and knowledge of science. Doctor Sniloc was equally famous for his medical skills, though his knowledge of science was considered somewhat inferior, and this was a bone of contention between them. Rumor has it that at a famous Symposium five years ago Doctor Lobe shocked his audience by claiming that he had found some "astounding artifacts" of unknown origin in hidden tunnels somewhere beneath Hobbington, and was researching their purpose. At the Symposium the following year he claimed, among other things, to have used one of the devices to create what he called 'Replicants', exact duplicates of people grown from blood or tissue samples. While they were flawed creatures, unable to live long, he said they nevertheless proved the potency of the artifacts. Some members of the Council believed that Doctor Lobe's claims were possible, and worth considering if evidence could be supplied, and were willing to give him a year more to produce tangible results. Others of the Council believed that there were no such artifacts and that he had been driven mad by some experimental mishap. Doctor Sniloc was of the opinion that while the artifacts might exist, he demanding proof. However Doctor Lobe refused to provide any concrete evidence offering only vague descriptions, theories and a few diagrams of the artifacts he claimed to have discovered. Afterwards, Doctor Sniloc convinced the Council that any ancient artifacts found beneath Hobbington would be too dangerous for private experimentation, and so the Council demanded that he hand over his research notes and the artifacts for inspection and collaborative research. He refused, denouncing the Council as myopic imbeciles, declaring that his research was far too important to be interrupted or meddled with by inferior minds. And so the Council annulled his license to practice medicine in the township, and banned him from conducting any further research. He became even more secretive from that time forward and vanished from civil society all together. Rumors circulated that he had established a secret laboratory somewhere underground, but these rumors were unsubstantiated. A lawyer by the name of Senior Borge represented his interests in the town, and the Doctor himself presumably continued with the research. A year ago he was fished out of Dunn's Brook having drowned to death, the autopsy being conducted by Doctor Sniloc. As no one knew where he had hidden the alleged artifacts, and Senior Borge denied ever having seen the artifacts, saying only that he managed the Doctors financial interests and nothing more, the Council put the matter was put to an uneasy rest. Until now. There can be little doubt that the case of Doctor Lobe's discoveries is far from closed after all."
Snapping out of his reverie, Hermel realized that the others had begun bickering, and hand wringing, about what to do next. The two Hobbits advocated returning back down the first secret corridor in order to investigate the ancient iron grill gate again. Ishcandar wanted to try his hand at picking that old lock one more time. If it could be opened the gate might lead to another exit, which he thought quite desirable since the two paths of retreat they knew about, the one through the tower basement, and the other through the secret door leading to the sewer from the elegant underground study were both blocked. One by a strange sense that the room was being strangely twisted in some kind of bizarre non-Euclidean manner, and the other by a raging fire of their own making. Either way, they had a strong desire to find an alternate exit in case all did not go well during the rescue operation. And so the Hobbits without further ado trotted back down the long corridor to the gate. Hermel wagged his head slowly, thinking to himself “those Hobbits will be the death of me, I just know it.”

Before the Hobbits left, Johan added his blessing to Ishcandar's hope to open the gate.

“May the Great Elkron above bless thee and give thee, Ishcandar, their most gracious blessing to have greater augmentation of thy crafty skill in thy attempt to breach the ancient lock of the old gate, that thou might further have access to plunder these dungeon chambers into which thou art trespassing with thy great impunity and … um… may the Elkron Bless thy sin ... and ... um ... bless thee in that, yes. If it so please the Elkron, be thou thusly blessed!” said Johan in a dignified whisper until the latter part where he sputtered along as he realized what he was asking for. The Hobbits stared at him for a few seconds, shrugged, and then plodded away into the darkness.

Back to the Gate

Down to the secret door they quietly padded on their furry little Hobbit feet. They passed by the Dunn's Bridge Tower basement, and darted a glance through that doorway, but saw nothing especially strange, except perhaps a slightly blue tinge to the color of the lamp light in the room, perhaps.  They quickly ignored it and passed into the long eighty foot corridor through the secret doorway there. Finally they passed the stairs going down to the lower level on their right where the burning study and the corridor leading to where the red door of the Five Animals Hall was located, and came at last to the end where the old iron grill gate was.  Lido held the torch while Ishcandar tried his hand at the lock again.  He cleaned his lock picking tools, brushed his hands on his coat, and tried his best not to think too hard about Johan's blessing.  As it happened this time, after a single try, the lock clicked open.  He was delighted.

With both of them pushing hard, the gate swung slowly open with a huge creaking sound. They tried opening it even more slowly to try to muffle the sound, but that almost seemed to make the creaking even worse. At any rate, they opened the gate just enough for Ishcandar to slip through. Onto the small five-foot wide platform he stepped. Before him there was a yawning darkness that descended he knew not how far. To the left was a narrow and well-worn stone stairway descending into darkness. Lido held the torch up, but the radius of light was insufficient to see into the gloom far enough to tell where it ended. Ishcandar dropped an iron coin over the edge of the platform. It seemed to fall a ways and then clinked on stone. He guessed it fell some 30 feet or so. Ishcandar made his way very slowly and softly down the stairway. It came to a landing, and then turned back the other way and continued down a second flight of stairs. One would never have known there was anyone moving in the room had they only been listening for footsteps, so quiet was Ishcandar’s gait. He followed the stairs down to the bottom, and peered out into the murky darkness.

By the light of Lido’s torch from the other side of the gate above he could see that there was another wide arched opening on the other side of the cave-like chamber that lead into another room of positively inky blackness. He looked around for his iron coin and finding it on the stone floor plunked it back into his pocket. He then bravely, and oh so quietly, made his way toward the dark gap. About half way there he decided to throw his coin through the archway into the darkness. He gave it a hefty toss, and it sailed far and then clattered ringingly along the stone floor. He paused, waited, and then began to pad silently toward the doorway again.  Then he heard something inside the far room shift as though something large had moved. Then he heard a dull thud. Then another, and another. Something heavy was shambling through the black shadow of that chamber. Ishcandar stopped dead in his tracks and turned a pale shade of green. He immediately padded his way back to the base of the stairs, where he stopped and turned around again to face the dark archway. A huge hulking shape lumbered out from beneath the archway, as though stepping out of a nightmare. It stopped momentarily and stared at the little Hobbit across the stone floor.

The creature had the body a large and brawny man with rough pinkish skin, a bulbous stomach, and a large snout with a curved yellow tusk. He wore thick studded leather armor, and in his right hand he carried a heavy knotted wooden club embedded with iron nails. His head was topped with a a forest of dense black hair cropped so it was flat across the top. His wide gaping mouth had thick red lips and large crooked yellow teeth, while the one tusk curled upward toward his snout, and ended in a savage point, speckled with dirt and blood.  Most alarming of all were the creature’s eyes. Around his head were set twelve eyes evenly spaced, black as coal, forming a circle of dark wells beneath his crop of black hair which formed monstrous eyebrow. All eyes seemed to focus on Ishcandar.

“Oh My Goodness, ...a Dodecaclopse!” he said Lido with a quiver in his voice as he looked down with horror from above.

Ishcandar didn’t waste any time, but turned and bolted up the stairs. The creature, whatever it was, suddenly bellowed loudly and lumbered across the chamber after him. Up the first flight dashed the Hobbit. The creature pursued and was gaining on him rapidly. At that moment from the middle of the second flight of stairs, Ishcandar pulled out his jar of 'Sticky Oil' he had picked up in Hagen’s supply depot at the Rat’s Den. He tossed it onto the stairs below. The bottle shattered and the thick blue-black ooze spread over the stones. When the creature put his foot on the black slick it stuck fast. He could neither extract it nor slide across it. The monster struggled mightily, pulling at his leg to try to free it. Ishcandar then politely took the torch from Lido’s hand and tossed it lightly onto the black pitch. It immediately burst into flames.

The creature bellowed with such force that dust fell from the ceiling. The Hobbits were temporarily deafened. So loud, in fact, was that roar, that all the way down the corridor, and far up the next corridor, even into the room where the men where playing cards, the violent roar made it’s way.

Reverberations in the Cellar 

“What the hell was that?” demanded the blond man who put his cards face down on the table.

“How should I know?” replied the brown haired man nervously looking toward the secret door.

“Allen, it’s your lucky day. Go check it out,” said the blond man fiercely.

And so Allen, who was not the least bit eager to do so, got up and trotted fearfully over toward the secret door, which was still cracked open a hair.

“Ixne, Ixne,” said Jeremy in a low whisper, to Hermel and Johan as he slid the secret door quietly shut. “Here comes one of them.”

Hermel rolled his eyes. “Those Hobbits are definitely going to be the death of me, I just know it,” he said under his breath as he took up a position next to the secret door and withdrew his sword. Jeremy and Johan stepped back about ten feet from the secret entrance and waited for Allen to do what he would.

Meanwhile, the two Hobbits were both delighted and terrified as the monster below continuing bellowing insanely as the flames crept along his clothing and caught his hair on fire.

“Sssshhhhh, be quite already! It doesn’t hurt that bad!” whisper-yelled Ishcandar to the creature below waving his arms to try to encourage the creature to shut up. That did not help. So the Hobbits exited the chamber, and slowly creaked the door shut, at which point the gate locked again. They were mightily relieved and stood panting while the creature caught fully on fire from head to toe, and gave out a few more horrible shrieks before falling silent.

It was then that Lido noticed a light was coming toward them from the bottom of the stairs to the left of the corridor they were now standing. They heard feet running. They made a dash for the far end of the corridor where the secret door was, but Hobbits are not so fast as men, nor did they have any light by which to see, and so it was that they found themselves quickly surrounded and captured by three grave young men with long black braided pony tails, each dressed in a black button down uniform with white cuffs. Lido looked to see if they were carrying weapons, but their hands were empty.

“Thank the Elkron you are here!” shouted Ishcandar.

“There’s a giant monster over there!” added Lido excitedly pointing toward the closed gate.

Two of the young men held each of the Hobbits, while the third looked through the gate at the smoldering hulk at the bottom of the stairs.

“The guys from the tavern sent us in here. They heard noises. We came in here and the gate was open. When we came in there was a huge monster coming up the stairs, and I threw something at it and I tried to light it on fire and we ran like hell,” said Ishcandar in a blur.

The young man holding him looked surprised. He then said in a calm voice, “Come with me.”

And so it was that the two young Hobbits were led back down the corridor toward the gate, and down the flight of stairs that lead toward the red door of the Five Animals Hall. Ishcandar felt optimistically certain that Hermel was on his way, coming to look for them, and would rescue them shortly.

The Grand Rescue

Far up the corridor and around two bends and through a secret door Hermel and Johan stared down the long corridor in the direction of the of the roaring, now mercifully ended.

“That was no Hobbit,” said Johan quietly. “I think we should go check it out,” he concluded. Jeremy nodded in agreement.

“Jeremy, let us not forget why we are here,” whispered Hermel. “Lets not forget your friends the Hagglesmiths,” he said darting an eye toward the secret door that lead into the Five Crows Tavern cellar. “I think the greater good is here,” he concluded.

“So we’re going to rescue the Hagglesmiths then?” asked Jeremy hopefully.

“Shhhh, be quiet, Jeremy. There are men in the room who are coming this way. We must be prepared for them,” he said. Jeremy nodded and looked toward the door.

Hermel tested the fine unused edge of his sword against his thumb, and stepped a little further back into the corner of the corridor to conceal himself. He planned to ambush anyone who might come through.

“Be brave,” said Johan, after casting a powerful invocation known as Iron Skin on Hermel.

There was a click at the secret door. Light came streaming through as the door slid open. A man was standing in the doorway peering out into the darkness. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust while Johan prepared an invocation of mystical power. Jeremy stood close behind him and peered out from the side, hardly visible to the man at the door who when he saw Johan stopped in his tracks with a surprised look on his face.

“We’re here for the prisoners,” said Johan to the man at the door.

“Who are you?” asked the man flummoxed at the site of the old gentleman.

“What does it matter who I am? Just give me the prisoners so we can finish our business and be on our way,” replied Johan sternly.

“Boss, some guy says he's come for the prisoners,” called the man over his shoulder into the room.

“Who is he?” came a voice from within the room.

“I don’t know,” said the black haired man.

“Tell 'em to come in,” said the voice from the room.

“The boss says you can come in,” said the man nodding his head toward the room.

“There’s some kind of ruckus going on down the corridor. Let’s hurry this up. We don’t want any mistakes,” said Johan coolly.

“Boss, he says there’s trouble down the corridor and he’s in a rush.”

“Get the package,” said the voice from the room harshly.

“Gimme the package,” said the man.

“We dropped the package, when we got attacked back there,” replied Johan.

“Boss, he says he dropped the package when he got attacked back there,” called the black haired man into the room. They heard chairs moving in the room, and footsteps were heard walking toward them. Two men showed up at the secret door. The first was tall with blond hair, another short with brown hair and a beard. The blond man spoke first.

“Who the hell are you?” he demanded when he saw Johan.

“What difference – “ Johan was saying when the man interrupted him harshly.

“No – who the HELL are YOU?!” he shouted. “I don’t know you! Where the hell did you come from?”

“You deal with the people who sent me,” replied Johan trying to maintain his cool composure.

“Yeah? Ok. Who’s that?” asked the blond man with a raised eyebrow.

At this point Johan could no longer contain himself, and sputtered with surprise at the unanswerable question. Fortunately he had prepared a response quietly before the secret door had opened. With both hands raised he unleashed the power of his mystical energies into an invocation of the Elkron known as 'The Divine Strike', which he aimed at the closest man standing in the doorway.

The black haired man, whose name happens to have been Allen Wainsilver, a disagreeable and unlucky wretch since youth, looked upward, and with an unworldly anguished, almost plaintive cry, fell to the ground as though smote by some great invisible hammer.

“Lets stop fooling around and give me the hostages so we can get this over with,” said Johan firmly.

The blond man stepped back away from the door, shoving at the brown haired man ahead of him into the corridor.

“Get him!” rasped the blond man as he backed away.

The brown haired man lurched toward Johan with a dagger in his hand. As he lurched through the door Hermel struck at him from the shadows, attacking him from behind toward his flank. It was a devastating cut, splattering blood across the floor and crumpling the man to one knee. Johan stepped forward and kicked the man in the chest. Up into the air he was lofted, and flying through the open doorway landed full on his back with a thud and passed out.

The party followed quickly after into the room, and found that the blond man had already made it half way to the door on the other side.

Without hesitation Hermel raced across the room, leaped over a crate, and grappled the man before he could get to the bolted door that most probably lead up stairs to the Five Crows Tavern.

Meanwhile, Jeremy immediately ran to the Hagglesmiths lying on the floor in a heap, apparently unconscious. He found Janet and began tearing away at the rope knots binding her hands while trying to wake her up. Very groggily she came around, and opened her eyes blearily.

“Oh hi Jeremy, have you come to rescue us? How grand,” she said weakly with a vague smile.

Subduing the Enemy

The blond man turned to face Hermel with his back to the door, and slashed at him with the broadsword he had grabbed off of the crate next to the card table. The blow glanced off of Hermel’s armor, which had been augmented by the Iron Skin invocation Johan had cast on him earlier. Hermel launched at him with a savage blow to the neck, but at the point where the sword would have slashed into his collar bone, he held back, and with his other hand shoved the unbalanced man to his knees, effectively subduing him, saying “Stop resisting now, and I will let you live.”

The man, Charles Rook, a notorious cutthroat, dropped his sword and held his hands up in a show of submission. “Ok, ok! You got me,” he said with resigned exasperation.

Having freed Janet, Jeremy hustled over to the next Hagglesmith and began untying Jorus, who was also unconscious. Johan meanwhile, feeling rather proud of himself, was surveying the room with satisfaction. A calendar fell from the wall and fluttered to the ground. From the calendar a few pages fluttered out and slid across the floor on a wind that had picked up in the room. Johan looked at the window. It was closed. He noticed leaves swirling around the floor of the room, and cobwebs in the corners began to flutter. He walked over and picked up one of the pages of the calendar from the floor where it had wedged itself between a crate and the floor boards. He got a strange feeling as he noticed that the calendar was for the wrong year. In fact it showed the month of November, but of a several decades past. A chill ran up his spine, but he didn’t know exactly why. Old calendars are not really all so uncommon, after all. At the same time Hermel decided it would be safer to tie up Charles, who though protesting, saw fit to allow it, since he had no choice, given that a sword was being held to his throat. He tied him to the chair.

The Bizarre Convergence

The yellow flame of a brass lamp on the wall next to the bolted door suddenly lit itself. Johan looked out the window again. He no longer felt quite sure if it should be dark outside, or light. He could not seem to remember what time of day it should be. It was, in fact, dark outside. The wind in the room swirled leaves across the floor as the cobwebs in the corners billowed strangely. The window was closed. Johan shuddered involuntarily.

Hermel walked over to the henchman with the brown hair who was still lying bleeding on the floor. His name, by the way, was Bren Wallowcats; a cheat and liar he’d been since his earliest years. Hermel bent down and using his mystic power of 'Earth Healing', put his hands on the man’s wound, and with a stone he’d pulled from a pouch in his pocket in his right hand, invoked the Elkron of the Earth, Minvar, to heal the villain. There seemed a golden glow for a few moments; the man began to breath more evenly, and the blood began to flow less as the gaping gash in his side closed up wherever the stone touched it. He closed his eyes, and thanked Hermel under his breath.

Jeremy moved to the next Hagglesmith, having freed and wakened Jorus, and began to untie Brox, who was also unconscious. While he did this Johan noticed that dust had begun to cover the crates, and shelves of all the wine racks in the room. He also noticed that there was a subtle blue tinge coming through the doorway where the secret door was still open, though he could see no light in the corridor beyond. It almost seemed to him that there was something oddly curved about the doorway. He couldn’t really tell what it was that made him think so, but it gave him a queasy feeling to look at it. Lying on the floor across the open secret doorway was Allen Wainsilver, still unconscious. He seemed lit by the mysterious blue light.

At this point Johan was staring through the doorway into the darkness beyond. He began to feel a cold sweat forming on his forehead. He decided to pull Allen away from the doorway, though it was one of the most unpleasant tasks he’d ever assigned to himself as the cold sweat turned into a positive chill and he began to shiver. Pulling the man from the door, Johan rested him against a crate, still staring horrified down the long dark corridor.

Sensing that there was something quite wrong with the look on Johan’s face, Hermel walked to the secret door and took a careful look into the darkness. A fly buzzed around his head, but Hermel did not notice it at all. At first he could not see anything as it was pitch black, despite the light streaming through from the room. Then, just has he thought there was nothing there, he saw something moving. It appeared to be a black miasma of some kind, like an undulating cloud of dark mist. And in the center of it he saw an even blacker object, like a shadow within a shadow. It approached, but whatever it was made absolutely no sound at all. It came closer though he found it very difficult to tell how far away it was. Hermel began to distinguish an outline the dark figure within the shadow. It was, he believed, a knight in black platemale walking silently up the corridor towards him, the black miasma surrounding him like a cloak. Meanwhile Jeremy was freeing the last of the Hagglesmiths, young Rory, who remained unconscious despite Jeremy's best efforts to wake him.

"I think we should close... the door ... here ... now ...," said Hermel.

“You!” said Johan to Charles who was tied up in the chair, “how do we close the secret door?”

At that moment the lamp on the wall turned off, and then turned on, and repeated that twice. Charles observed this with a sudden concealed interest.

“Finally,” he said under his breath with a wry smile. “You turn the lamp handle,” he said aloud, jerking his head toward the lamp that had lit itself on the wall. Johan walked up to the lamp, turned the base, and the secret door in front of Hermel slid silently closed. There was no sense of relief in the room whatsoever for that. There was, however, another click heard in the room, and a completely unforeseen secret door on the south wall slid open revealing yet another corridor, from which was emanating the flickering light of torches and the sounds of footsteps approaching.

As the leaves danced across the floor of the room in long prancing swirls, and the calendar pages fluttered past, while the cobwebs billowed wildly in the corners, Johan noticed a pale blue mist had begun gathering along the edges of every wall. Jeremy, having freed the Hagglesmiths (who were now beginning to stand up in various stages of groggy turpitude, except for Rory), wondered what would happen next. As he gazed toward the now closed secret door with the blue tinge and oddly warping seams, he wondered to himself, “What ever became of those nice Hobbits, after all? I do hope they are ok.”

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