Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Awakening of the Serpent

Desperately Seeking Ishcandar

...A large crowd had gathered at the main square outside of the Fountain Hotel where Mr. Rokkafellah was biding his time with a bottle of brandy. The crowd outside was ugly with shouting and the chanting of anti-government slogans. As the AAA Group came up Dunn Street and entered the square they had to shove their way through the crowd to make any progress. A man got up on a hastily constructed wooden platform and began ranting about the new taxes. The crowd yelled and hoisted their torches, waving them wildy, sparks flying amid the snowflakes high into the dark sky.

“I don’t like taxes! I don’t like them!” shouted Bantum in a booming voice. The people cheered and many slapped him on the back approvingly as he passed.  He grinned stupidly as Arik pulled him along following Hermel and the others into the hotel. On the other side of the lower tavern hall Hermel spotted the elegant room where Rokkafellah was sitting. There were two empty decanters on the table in front of the jovial elder Hobbit.

“Ah! My friends!” he said cheerfully, “you’ve returned!”

He wobbled over to the door to welcome them.  As he passed an beautifully carved wooden three-legged accent table the Hobbit deftly lifted another, full, brandy decanter that happen to be there and poured a generous sampling into the snifter that happen to be in his left hand, a look of mild delight and surprise on his face as he did so.   He moved with the easy grace of a drunken and jovial Hobbit, which indeed he was.

“Good to see you, too, Mr. Rokkafellah,” said Hermel curtly as he entered. The others filtered in behind him. The room was warm and cozy, lit with the warm glow coming from the crackling fireplace. They shook off the cold night air, and settled for a talk, everyone taking a seat where it suited him best. Mr. Rokkafellah offered Hermel a glass of brandy, which the young hero declined with an impatient wave of his hand. Just as well, thought Mr. Rokkafellah with a gallant smile and a hefty swig.

“So, are you ready to go and look for the secret door in the sewer where your son was last seen?” asked Hermel.

“Of course!” said the drunken Hobbit, grinning broadly while holding the snifter up to the light.

“We should probably hire a few men with pick axes, in case we can’t manage to get the secret lock open,” offered Hermel, increasingly dubious about the elderly Hobbits current capabilities.

“Of course, of course!” said Mr. Rokkafellah as he downed the brandy with relish.

Arik wondered how the elder Hobbit ever managed to get to his state in life. 

“I think Constable Barnstormer might be willing to lend a few men,” suggested Hermel.

“Oh? Barnstormer? No, no!” blurted Mr. Rokkafellah suddenly aroused. “That wouldn’t do at all!”

“I don’t understand,” replied Hermel. “He’s a good friend of mine. I helped him to solve the Hagglesmith Kidnapping Case, and he pretty much owes me one.”

“Well, I see,” answered the Hobbit, his eyes wandering over to the decanter again. “Well, whatever you do, don’t mention anything about our little deal, you see. Just don’t mention that, and everything should be fine. Taxation has been rather steep lately, if you get my meaning,” he added with a little wink that Hermel didn’t seem to notice.

“And besides,” added Hermel, his mind occupied with multiple plans all competing for attention, “we need him to get into the Five Crows Tavern, in any case. It may provide a more direct route to the Five Animals Hall than the secret door into Dr. Lobe’s Library, actually. Ok, well, then I think we’re ready to go, if you are,” said Hermel.

“…* hic * …,” replied Mr. Rokkafellah with an amiable grin.

The Restless Crowd

They headed out into the snowy night. The crowd occupying the square with many torches chanting anti-government slogans made the going slow. As expected, Hermel spotted Constable Barnstormer toward High Street, ordering his men into position. Hermel and the others made their way through the crowd over to him.

“You men there, form a line in front of Ferdinand’s Arch!” Barnstormer was yelling when he saw Hermel coming toward him. “Hermel!” he said with a glad shake of the hand when the young hero approached. “I don’t suppose you’re part of the rabble tonight”?

“No, not at all,” answered Hermel, glad to see the Constable in good spirits, given the circumstances. The crowd lit an effage of Mayor Redmaw on fire and hoisted it onto a large pole at Elain’s Fountain in the center of the square with cheers.

“I don’t LIKE taxes!” yelled Bantum into the crowd. Everyone cheered.

“He’s with you?” asked Barnstormer of Hermel, looking a little nervous as he eyed the youthful giant with eight chickens clucking from his bandoleer, and a scrappy rooster atop his huge head.

“No need to worry about him,” put in Arik, “He’s a big’un, truly, but he’s ultimately …harmless.”

“Oh ok,” replied Barnstorm, a bit dubiously.

“… unless you’re a bear…” added Arik. “… You’re not a bear, are you?”

“Ok, fine, no, I think,” said Barnstormer, a bit more dubiously. “Well, just make sure he stays behind the line,” he added pointing to his line of men.

“What line?!” demanded Bantum jovially.

“Um…” Hermel interjected. “I need to get into the Five Crows Tavern Basement, if you can do me that favor.”

“The Five Crows, eh? - Hold on – No! No! Not over there! Make sure the crowd stays behind Finnigan’s Ally!” yelled Barnstormer to another squad leader. “I’m sorry, Hermel, but as you can see, I’m very busy at the moment. I can meet you later. Let’s meet after the rally. I will see you there at midnight, ok?”

And with that Constable Barnstormer launched back to commanding his men as the crowd began to seethe with anti-government chanting and roar to slogan-bearing speeches. The crowd began to get even uglier. Effigies were burning around the square, and loud shouts could be heard between the strident pronouncements of the rabble-rousers.

Praymar Unhinges the Lynchpin

“Praymar,” Arik said, jesting completely, “why don’t you calm the people down with a speech?” The young albino was mortified at the thought, and remained silent. After all, as scarcely anyone had ever paid any positive attention to him in his life, the idea of soliciting the seething mob's attention was the last thing he could imagine doing voluntarily. It began to snow. Rotten tomatoes were being thrown at the troops who had formed lines in front of the major streets and alleyways.

“Well, so long as the crowd doesn’t march on City Hall, everything should be ok,” said Hermel to Star.

Someone in the crowd, overhearing him, cried out “To City Hall!”

“Good idea!” shouted others, one man clapping Hermel on the back. The crowd began to rally behind Hermel, intent on storming the walls of City Hall. He adopted an expression that one might have thought was bemusement, but in fact, was a form of annoyance particular to his personality.

Arik clapped Praymar on the back, and said “Go on, Praymar! Now's yer chance!  Make a speech!”

Instead the young albino reached out grasped Constable Barnstormer’s hand, Draining him with his mystic power. You have to hand it to Praymar for impeccable timing, thought Hermel as he watched Barnstormer go limp and drop to one knee.

“Woah, woah,” said Barnstormer trying to steady himself. “What hit me? Woah… That didn’t feel too good.” Barnstorm sat down on the curb. Seeing that Barnstormer was no longer towering over the crowd commanding his men, the crowd began to surge toward High Street, which lead up to City Hall. The troops, alarmed and unable to rally without Barnstormer’s vital support, fell back, and collapsed before the surging crowd. Up the way toward City Hall swelled the rabble in a huge wave of shouts and waving torches.

“Good job, Praymar,” said Arik clapping him on the back sarcastically.

“I just wanted to touch his cloak,” said Praymar trying to dodge responsibility. The truth was, however, that he wouldn’t have cared much if the Mayor had been lynched by the crowd, and probably would have found it amusing.

The members of the AAA Group dodged into a side alley and watched the crowd flow past, carrying Barnstormer with them. He was still too dazed to take much note of what the crowd was doing. His men had scattered, or had been subsumed by the crowd and vanished from view.

“Tell them to stop, Bantum,” said Hermel calmly as he settled Barnstormer against the ally wall.

“EVERYBODY STOP!” boomed Bantum. However, as it turns out, one of the hardest things in the world to do is to change the direction of an irate mob on their way to do dreadful mischief.

“Down with the Mayor! Down with Borge! Down with the Mayor! Down with Borge!” chanted the crowd.

“You know, I was just thinking,” said Praymar to his fellow Adventurers, “Constable Barnstormer works for Senior Borge after all. And that isn’t good.” There was no reply from anyone. “Hello?” he squeaked, but to no avail. No one was paying any attention to him. Instead, everyone was focused on the seething mass of angry humanity surging up the hill toward City Hall.

Hermel decided to try to cut off the crowd from its dire purpose by summoning the illusion of a burst of mystical green fire in the air above High Street. That, he thought, ought to frighten the simple-minded towns people into abandoning their quest for rough justice. To do so he wished to position himself so that he could get the illusion to appear ahead of the crowd, but that would require some rather deft maneuvering on his part. He mentioned his plan to his compatriots.

“You know, if we Dwarves could only fly, I could carry you over there,” said Arik pointing to a balcony overlooking High Street. There was a tremor in the earth at that moment. Omri, one supposes, might have overheard that remark with a certain disapproval, perhaps.  In any case, despite the tremor the crowd continued their march up High Street, brandishing clubs, daggers, torches and anti-Government slogans. 

“Down with the Fat Cats! Down with the Mayor! Down with Senior Borge!” they shouted.

A Mystic Power Gone Wildly Awry

Hermel articulated the spell carefully with his fingers as he chanted in low tones, aiming his Mystical Green Fire illusion over the heads of the leaders of the mob. However, despite his best effort, it so happened that a floating ember from a passing torch landed on Hermel’s left cheek. It was a particularly ill-timed misfortune as there followed a disastrous domino effect as his hand involuntary went to swipe the ember away, his voice wavered, and then the spell, arising from the Hidden-Depths with dominion and power, escaped his grasp, and began to wobble erratically. Realizing the dire potential, Hermel’s eyes widened, and a sudden cold sweat made his body tremble. He wrestled mightily with the untamed magic, but it lurched suddenly to the left, and then, hitting a street sign with a green blaze, went wildly out of control, shimmering against the buildings, darting up the lamp posts with flickering green sparks, and in a sudden cloud wrapped itself around the first word that came into Hermel’s tortured mind. “Gut-blood!”

And so it was that Praymar found himself enveloped in a dark scintillating cloud of wild mystical energies. From somewhere a dreadful music began to play.

“What? What did I do? Damn it!” squeeked Praymar. He had a very strange feeling; a very dark feeling. He began to grow… taller… and broader of chest, his hair grew longer and whiter and his skin took on a silvery shimmer as though made of a white serpent’s scales. As he grew he began to feel the power surging up within him. The Phantasmal Forces beckoned him. His eyes began to glow with a dark red light, like the embers of some ancient and long forgotten fire. Flames flickered off his tongue. The air around him shimmered with a hellish light.  Above lightning suddenly flashed across the sky. The embers of a thousand torches mingled wildly with the heavy snow that began whipping through the streets on savage gusts of freezing wind. The crowd slowed.

A break in the heavily laden clouds above exposed a ray of moonlight that landed directly on Praymar, who had grown now to a massive seven feet tall. He stood staring into the vastness of space and time, ancient memories beginning to swirl up from the depths of his tormented soul. Power and majesty indescribable awakening within him, he stood with both arms raised, a terrible grimace taking hold of his face. Yet his mind was still, and as yet, he had no thoughts at all. Utter silence filled him. And dread darkness. He felt the storm as though it were his own body. The lightning seemed to dance from his hair. The winds seemed to come off his skin in shimmering waves. The moon’s rays seemed like beams of light from his eyes. And beneath his feet the magma of the deep earth filled his veins, unleashing billowing flames from his tongue. And in his eyes was the vision of the ancient kingdom that once ruled this mountain, and once ruled over all lands between the mountains.  Memories of a long forgotten race of Serpent Kings; demoniac Sorcerers whose cities lay deep within the mountains, and who ruled the world above with hell-bound domination.

Tremors were felt throughout Hobbington. The sky flashed with scarlet lightning. The crowd had stopped, and turned to see from whence the dreadful feeling came. Everyone turned and stared in awestruck disbelief, hairs on end. They were frozen with fear. Only the howling wind and crackling of torches could be heard. No one moved, but all stared, rooted to the ground in terror, staring unbelievingly at the giant Serpent-Lord that was Praymar.

“Everybody!” yelled Hermel. “Run for your LIVES!”

With that Hermel ran for cover behind a stack of barrels at the head of the alley. Others were too entranced to run. But the crowd began to back away from Praymar, at first slowly, inch by inch, they stepped backwards. Terror gripped their hearts as black nightmares danced through their shivering minds.

“Are you OK?” asked Bantum of Praymar.

Praymar’s mind returned from whence it had gone, and his eyes began to take note of where he was standing. He was in Hobbington, or a city that had come to be named that, on mount Zatok. He felt somehow that he was rooted in this mountain; that his ancient ancestors were rooted in this mountain. But the feeling was as fleeting as it was profound. He awoke as though from a long black dream, suddenly. He felt a vast hunger. He reached out to the closest peasant and touching him on the forehead with one finger, drained his life force.  The poor miserable slumped to the ground wordlessly.

“I am more than OK, Bantum,” replied Praymar with a deep and resonant voice that none of them recognized. “Far more than, 'OK'.”

Arik stepped away. Star stared gawking silently. Bantum drooled out of one side of his mouth.  Mr. Rokkafellah was no where to be seen.  Even the eight chickens and Dr. Chickenhiemer were struck cluckless.

The Mob Disbursed

Suddenly, the entire mob broke and scattered, shrieking. Within moments the streets were empty. Only the howling of the wind remained, and the empty cobblestones littered with dropped torches which crackled fiery embers into the night.

Hermel, peeking out from behind a barrel, in fact, felt a twinge of satisfaction. After all, despite the mind-boggling menace that was the fully realized Praymar, he did succeed in dispersing the crowd and ending the riot. Not too bad, he thought. Mission accomplished; they’d saved the Mayor from the lynching mob after all.   All is well that ends well, he thought congratulating himself.  Briefly.

Star of Justice went over to the crumpled peasant whom Praymar had touched and bent down to see if the man was still alive. He was. Praymar, he noticed, was staring at the man’s exposed belly with a strange gleam in his eye, and so Star heaved the man onto his shoulder and helped him to stagger away. As he did so, Star watched Praymar carefully and saw the young albino Snake-Lord, or whatever he was, wrestling deeply within himself.

Indeed, deep within, Praymar was desperately conflicted. On the one hand he wished to take over the city, and the nation, and cruelly vent his fathomless rage on all those who had ignored him for so long; to take control of his ancestral domains, and rule over the world as a true Lord-Serpent-King and drink his fill of gut-blood, Forever. And yet, another part of him, the shy, humorous, somewhat mischievous but kindly Praymar, wished only to return to his normal self, and continue on in the company of his friends. This conflict showed in his twitching face as his glowering eyes darted to and fro. He lifted his hands high into the air, as just then a scarlet bolt of lightning struck the clock tower overhead.  Praymar's maniacal heart-wrenching laughter echoed dreadfully into the storm whipped sky.

“I’d cover up that belly of yours, if I were you,” said Star quietly to the man as he helped him settle himself against a wall in the alleyway. Arik kept an eye on Bantum, who was standing and staring at Praymar, drooling, and not knowing what to think. Dr. Chickenhiemer had his wings full keeping the other chickens calm, but also kept a wary eye on Praymar. Arik, however, was not particularly alarmed by these events. He was a master of Lightning Magic, and so he was not particularly shocked by that, and he’d long suspected Lanna and Ben of being Bear-folk, though he was a bit surprised that it turned out they were likely Serpent-People instead. A bit strange, but other than that, not so terribly out of the ordinary for Arik. He just stood and shrugged his shoulders and watched with a bemused expression.  Hermel hid.

Praymar Returns To Himself

“So, how ya feeling?” asked Arik of Praymar casually. “So this is a bit of a change for ya, isn’t it?”

With this casual and distinctly under-awed tone, the spell was broken, and Praymar’s awesome power vanished as quickly as it came, flickering away in every direction with blazes of green fire. Overcome by exhaustion he squeaked, “oh fuck”, as he collapsed at Arik’s feet in a dead faint. His awesome form dissipated and he returned to his normal diminutive albino self. Arik smiled. Not bad, he thought.  Praymar flicked out is his little red forked tongue.

Arik called Star over and they carefully helped Praymar over to the curb and settled him against a wall next tot he peasant. Hermel came out from behind the barrel. He was aware that the entire incident with Praymar was due to a badly fumbled Illusion spell that spun wildly out of control, turned into a seething Phantasmal Force that latched onto Praymar and mystically unbound some ancient thing related to the odd little boy with the glowering red eyes, white hair, and forked tongue. The only difference between Praymar from before and now was the fact that he’d seemed to have grown a pair of relatively pronounced fangs. Other than that, he looked to have returned entirely back to his normal self.

“Eh… I’m ok,” he squeaked as he opened his eyes. “What happened?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” answered Arik, “but I must say, you looked quite impressive there for a few minutes.”

“What? That doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid,” answered Praymar not being able to believe that he’d impressed anyone at any time. He had no recollection of what had happened at all.

“Sometimes things happen,” said Star, “and no one knows why or what, exactly. But in any case, you made the crowd go away. Look, they’re all gone. Good job,” said Star smiling at the bewildered albino boy.

“So, I guess we’re going to go to Five Crows Tavern without Barnstormer,” said Hermel.

“Technically,” said Arik, “I think we did his job for him tonight.”

“We should go back to the Constable’s office and see how he's doing,” said Hermel. “He ran off with the crowd, and I hope he's ok.  Given the circumstances, maybe he will open Five Crows Tavern for us anyway. After all, he does owe us for stopping the riot,” he added with a slight grin.

Star looked around for Mr. Rokkafellah. The last he’d seen him the senior Hobbit was following behind the party as they went to find Barnstormer. He put to use his tracking skill, and with some searching, and a good eye, located the elder Hobbit hiding under some crates in an allyway. He’d been somewhat trampled by the rioters, and had scrapes and bruises all over him. He opened his eyes and seeing Star, smiled weakly.

“What happened?”

“There was a disturbance, but everything is ok now. No buildings were burned down.”

“The crowds are easily scattered by a sudden fright,” said Mr. Rokkafellah as he took a swig of brandy from a small silver flask he’d pulled from his vest pocket.

Trouble beneath the Five Crows Tavern

The AAA group went up High Street, and made their way to the Constable’s Hall. There was a light inside. They walked up the steps and into the front door.

“Wait here, Praymar,” said Hermel.

“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?” asked the odd little albino with a squeak.

“Well, not exactly, but still, you did Drain the Chief Constable, and I have a feeling he won’t forget that so soon.”

“Oh, I did? Ok, I’ll stay here then and wait, I suppose,” he answered as he sat down on the stone banister next to the main door. The rest of the party stepped inside. There was a single brazier with a fire burning in it before the long wooden barrier that separated the outer hall from the Constable’s Chair. Sitting a bit dazed was Constable Barnstormer, being attended to by one of his men. Two other men stood guard at the door, but when Hermel entered Barnstormer gave leave for him and the others to pass.

“How are you feeling, Constable?” asked Hermel

“A bit woosy still,” replied Barnstormer unsteadily. “Something about that weird little white haired kid. So strange. He touched me and all of a sudden I felt like a bag of bricks landed on my head. Still feeling kind of weak, to be honest.”

“Sorry about that,” said Praymar from the doorway. Everyone looked up.

“He’s a fine young man,” offered Star, “but he’s not always in control of his mysterious abilities, I’m afraid.”

Praymar smiled and flicked his little red forked tongue out between his glinting white fangs.

“Oh, yeah… sure kid, I … uh …,” said Barnstormer cowering back a bit and looking the other way.

“In any case, I imagine you’re not quite up to helping us get into the Five Crows Tavern tonight. I came by in the hopes you are, and could help us, but I think we won’t ask that of you. But perhaps you could lend us a few men to go with us. We have an investigation to conduct,” explained Hermel.

“Or at least you might provide us with a writ of special permission to investigate the premises?” asked Star.

“I suppose I … uh … well …” stammered Barnstormer.

“Oh, I do hope you will agree,” said Mr. Rokkafellah.

“Oh so you’re part of this, too, Mr. Rokkafellah?” queried Barnstormer.

“Why yes,” replied the elder Hobbit. “It is on account of my son, Ishcandar, that these gentlemen have agreed to explore below the Five Crows Tavern and help me find him.   Poor lad has gone missing for over a week now.  I'm worried for him, you know.”

“I see. Well, I and my men searched the basement of Five Crows Tavern after the kidnapping case was closed, but we didn’t find anything notable. Nevertheless, since it’s you who are asking, I agree. Men!”

“Yes sir!” shouted the men in the hall.

“Follow me!”, and with a flurry of his cape, Barnstormer exited the hall followed by the rest.

As they marched through the cold empty streets towards Dunn’s Bridge, Hermel took the opportunity to flurry his shiny green cloak on any occasion where anyone happen to look his way. He was quite proud of that cape, you know. When he would do so, he even flashed his teeth which gleamed with a shiny brightness.

Finally they crossed the foggy span of Dunn’s Bridge and came to Five Crows Tavern shrouded in a heavy mist. There was a pair of crisscrossing official yellow warning papers over the door. Barnstormer ripped the papers aside, unlocked the door and pushed it open. The bar was exactly as it had been the last time they’d seen it. Tables still tipped over, chairs strewn about. Some cobwebs had grown in the corners. Barnstormer lit one of the gas lanterns along the wall next to the door that lead down to the basement.

“Proceed,” said Barnstormer to his men, and they opened the basement door. It creaked loudly as it swung open. There was a hush in the room. Hermel pushed the hesitating constables aside and marched down the stairs bearing a candle lamp he’d lit over his head. Shadows danced luridly in the darkness. When he came to the bottom of the stairs there was the bolted door on the right, and the small table and wash basin on his left. He looked in the mirror on the wall.  He looked great.   He turned, unbolted the door and stepped into the wine cellar, followed closely by Star, Arik, Bantum, and Praymar. Barnstormer and his men followed behind, and finally Mr. Rokkarfellah followed up in the rear, sipping brandy from his silver flask as he gingerly stepped through the doorway. The basement was covered with dust and cobwebs and had an old musty smell.

Hermel turned immediately to his left and began examining the brass lamp on the wall. When they had cracked the Hagglesmith case, what seemed like years ago, Johan the Guild Priest had somehow opened the secret doors using the lamp. While Hermel had not seen exactly how it had been done, he was familiar enough with the lamp mechanisms to give it a try. Meanwhile the others examined the basement room meticulously. There were kegs of beer, and lots of shelves on which bottles of wine were stacked in neat pyramids. The Five Crows Tavern used to do a brisk business on the weekends, as Barnstormer recalled. A lively, if unruly, pub, where laughter and fighting went hand in hand on any typical night. It was only in the past year that things had turned sour at the pub, and mysterious goings on curtailed the business there. Finally, he thought, it was good that the mystery was resolved and the villains captured and brought to justice. Perhaps the pub would come to life again after the Magistrates completed the sale of it to the new owner, Mr. Senior Borge. But time would tell, thought Barnstormer. Time would tell.

Hermel shivered in the cold cellar air as mist came from his mouth when he spoke.

“The secret door is in the corner over there,” said Hermel pointing is finger to the far corner of the room. Barnstormer had his men begin to break through the wall with axes they’d found in a corner. However, once they broke through the wooden outer covering they a hit stone slab, and could not break through. The secret door was very well made, and not easily defeated.

Hermel turned the base of the brass lamp clockwise. There was a click on the far side of the room. He strode across the room and pushed the stone slab aside.  It was well balanced, and easily moved.  He stuck his torch through the gap into the darkness beyond. Far down the corridor he saw a pale blue light. Barnstormer, who had come up behind him, peered into the murky darkness.

“What’s that blue light down there?  Is it a lantern?” he asked.

“Dr. Lobe, whose tower is directly over that blue light, was doing some strange experiments. After he urged us to leave, that blue glow kept getting closer and closer to us while we kept running away from it. We followed the corridor to this room, where we found villains holding the Hagglesmiths. Then came the Black Knight out of the blue glow, and the room somehow was changing with things blowing around and the blue light seemed to come from the walls.   When the Black Knight touched that poor man he turned to dust. At that point another secret door on the other side of the room had opened with others coming in. We managed to rescue the Hagglesmiths and ran upstairs where we got into the bar brawl with he thugs there. That’s when you showed up with your men, fortunately.”

“That does look weird,” said Arik from behind Hermel, and pushing past began to walk up the corridor towards the blue light.

“It looks like a time displacement vortex to me,” said Praymar.

“Don’t touch it,” called Hermel after Arik.

“Why? Do you think it is going to hurt me?” asked Arik incredulously.

“Yes,” replied Hermel.

“It’s only a light!” answered Arik as he moved towards it. The others followed close behind him. A breeze began to blow as they walked toward the pale blue glimmer.  Dust and old dry leaves began skittering along the floor, and cobwebs in the corners began to quiver.

“What are leaves doing blowing down a corridor, underground… in a city?” asked Arik.

“If you see a giant black Knight coming at you, just run,” suggested Hermel.

“If I see a giant Knight coming at me, I’m going to say, ‘Hey, Giant Knight, how’s it going?’” answered Arik impertinently.

“And then he’s going to grab you, and your going to age really really fast, even for a Dwarve, and then you’re going to die, and then I’m going to have to trudge all the way back to the Guild to get a replacement for you,” said Hermel matter of factly.

“Uhn,” grunted Arik. “Doesn’t sound like fun.”

“No,” concluded Hermel.

Tempting Fate in the Blue Room

They came to the lantern on the corridor wall that had opened the other secret door that led onto a long passageway that only Ishcandar, Lido and Jeremy had followed. Hermel was not sure what was down there. He shuddered as he remembered, however, the dreadful scream he’d heard echoing up the corridor before he and his group had busted their way into the basement room to rescue the Hagglesmiths. So, based on his prior experience in Dr. Lobe’s underground library-laboratory, and the report of Jeremy who came scrambling back up the corridor after the dreadful scream, Hermel was triangulating on the probable location of Five Animals Hall.   It must be down that corridor, he thought.

Praymar touched the door where the blue light was emanating from. He opened the door. Inside was a room that was swirling with blue light. On the floor were crates, one of them open, with straw strewn around. There were strange pieces of equipment laying on the top of one of the crates. This caught Arik’s eye, and so he also craned his stubby little neck toward the room to try to get a closer look.

Praymar caught some movement out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked in that direction he didn’t see anything. It seemed to him like the shadow of some large cat, or animal of some sort, but he couldn’t be sure.

“I think there’s an animal in here,” he said.

“Well, just close the door,” said Hermel in his calmest possible voice.

“Why? What will happen if I just go into a room?” asked Praymar.

“Something will wrap around you, rot your flesh, and you’ll die,” answered Hermel with that same calm and nonchalant voice.

“How do you know? You’ve seen this happen?” asked Praymar with an excited squeak.

“Yes,” answered Hermel definitively. “So, lets just close the door, and concentrate on the task at hand,” he continued, hoping that such a strategy might actually work, and that Praymar would see the sense in his very sensible suggestion.   Not to be.  Instead, Praymar stuck his big toe over the doorframe into the room, because he was curious, and had, generally speaking, the common sense of a pickled Hobbit.

“The time is at hand,” he heard in a low undulating tone that vibrated up his spine from the blue glowing chamber.

“...s-s-somebody spoke to me from inside the room!” squeaked Praymar. “He said, ‘The time is at hand!’”

Hermel considered shoving the little albino moron into the room and shutting the door behind him. “Praymar, 500 years into the past. Problem solved,” he thought to himself. But then a vision of what might transpire occurred to his vivid imagination as he envisioned walking outside to find the entire city populated by Serpent-People demanding his gut-blood. He thought twice about shoving.

Getting Back on Track for a Moment

Annoyed at the never-ending distractions caused by his wayward party members, Hermel decided to focus on the task at hand anyway. And that was to open the secret corridor in order to find the Five Animals Hall. So he put his hand on the brass lamp on the wall and gave the base of it a twist to the left. There was a click. Then a hissing sound came from above him. He looked up. There was a small copper pipe protruding from the wall above his head. The hiss was steady and soft. There was a faint sickly-sweat smell in the air. He began to feel a little dizzy.

“Hold your breath,” he said to everyone, and blow out the candle in his lamp. He held his breath as he waved his hand pointing toward the entrance up the corridor from whence they came. Everyone held their breath and ran up the corridor and back into the basement room, including Praymar, who left the door to the blue room ajar.

Once in the cellar they shut the secret door, and began breathing normally. They opened the cellar window, and opened the door to the upstairs. There was still the lingering sickly-sweat smell that clung to their cloths.

“That scent you smell…” said Mr. Rokkafellah, “is from a very unpleasant poison, I believe. It will cling to our cloths, and kill people in their sleep if we don’t clean it thoroughly off of ourselves, and our cloths.”

With this Arik took some snow that had fallen into the room through the open window, formed, and then threw a snowball at Praymar, hitting him in the head. Praymar, incensed, thought to Drain the wily Dwave, but instead ran over to the window and made his first snowball. He threw it at Arik, but the Dwarve held up his shield, and the snowball splattered off of it.

“Oh darn,” said Praymar. “Well, we’ll see about this later. I’ll get you back for that somehow,” he vehemently.  Everyone had a belly laugh, and from that point forward they decided to have their cloths and equipment cleaned carefully, and Mr. Rokkafellah agreed to pay the expenses, since it was on his behalf that they undertook the dangers. It took a few hours. They reconvened at the Five Crows Tavern, everyone outfitted with newly cleaned cloths and equipment. Hermel’s cape shone with an especially opulent color green. He flurried it behind him as he walked into the tavern hall.  Regretably, Barnstormer and his men had other duties to attend to, and so they had to excuse themselves from going on further with this particular expedition, though Barnstormer was indeed curious as to what mysteries would be revealed at the Five Animals Hall.   But duty comes first, and he had other responsibilities to attend to with his men.

“By the way, Mr. Rokkafellah, I’m just curious, but … How did you know about the gas?” asked Hermel.

“I used to Adventure myself, once upon a time,” replied the elderly Hobbit with a smile.  It had occurred to Hermel before that this was quite likely.  He felt gratified to hear the Hobbit say it.

Plan B

“Well, there is another option,” said Hermel. “I thought the Five Crows Tavern might provide a shortcut, but that way is too dangerous. We can try to find the hidden latch that opens the secret door to Dr. Lobe’s Library. That’s where I last saw Ishcandar and Lido at any rate, and probably is the better route after all.”

Everyone agreed, and so they went across the street, shoveled the snow off the grating that lead into the sewer tunnel and climbed down the long ladder. Torches were lit and everyone made their way slowly along the tunnel until they came to the place where a stone archeway hid the secret door. Bantum hoisted Mr. Rokkafellah up to the top of the arch so that he could reach behind, and following Hermel’s rather vague instructions finally managed to locate the secret latch and open the door without triggering any traps. And so there they stood, facing once again (at least for Hermel) the dread Library of Dr. Lobe.

They filtered into the room. It was much the same as the last time Hermel saw it. There was the dull metal door with the steel bolt on one side. Across from that there was the ornate double wooden doors. The infamous desk was as he had first seen it.  Meanwhile Ishcandar’s father made his way directly to the liquor cabinet and with delight found that a decanter of fine brandy was sitting there. How grand.

“Don’t touch anything,” said Hermel, remembering something about a fire trap that had caused considerable trouble for Lido and Ishcandar earlier. Mr. Rokkafellah looked disappointed. But waiving his hand dismissively  he took out his brandy flask and opened the bottom latch which revealed a secret case in which there was a small set of lock picking tools. He took one out and managed to very efficiently disable the trap on the cabinet, and opened it. He refilled his little silver brandy flask with great satisfaction, and closed the cabinet again.  At Hermel’s request he agreed to use his “wondrous skill” to open the double doors, which were locked.  With a merry little hop he went and listened at the doors. No sound.  With a few quick flicks he tripped the lock and opened the doors, bowing with a flourish of his hand. Hermel stepped through holding his torch overhead. Ahead of him there was a long stone corridor that vanished into darkness. About ten feet up there was a ten-foot wide opening on the right where he saw stone stairs going upward into darkness.

He walked ten feet until he came to the stairs, and took a look up. There he saw a massive man with a huge club standing on the stairs. The creature, and that is what you would have to call such a thing, was very stout and stood six feet tall or more. He had short-cropped spiky black hair and a flat head, fat red lips, and a large pig snout for a nose. His most remarkable feature, however, where the two rows of eyes that circled his head. The creature roared, and began stomping its way down the stairs toward Hermel, who, shocked by the sight, turned tail and ran back to the double doors as fast as his feet could carry him.

Everyone retreated rapidly back into the room as the creature reached the bottom of the stairs and rounded corner. It roared and charged towards them. They closed the doors. Mr. Rokkafellah used his wonderful skill to flip the delicate latch on the ornate door and lock it with evident satisfaction. This tactic proved less than useful as the double doors shattered under the massive blow of the creature's heavy iron banded club. There he stood, bellowing with fury, all twelve eyes bulging with rage. He charged into the room mightily.

Praymar ran to the far side of the room and unbolted the metal door, hoping that there was a viable exit that way. Mr. Rokkafellah dashed to the far side of the room where the liqueur cabinet was located, in case of emergency. Bantum pulled out his warhammer. Hermel stood back, as did Star of Justice. Arik stood forward and hefted his shield. Although technically they had the creature surrounded on three sides, they still, overall, seemed overwhelmed by the many-eyed monster. It roared as it eyed everyone in the room many times over.

“Hey Ugly! Down here!” yelled Arik as he hefted his shield up and withdrew his battle-axe from his belt. His taunt failed, however, and the creature took aim at Bantum, striking him hard on the left arm with his club. Bantum grunted with the impact of the blow, but withstood it, and swung his warhammer in warlike reply, hitting the monster on the leg with a thunderous bone-cracking thud. The creature was shaken by the blow, as the sound of their confrontation echoed throughout the room.

“Foul demon!” cried Star of Justice. “May the Elkron of the Sun banish you back to the hell from which you came!” he bellowed as he invoked the Mystical Divine Strike of Eldrick. Unfortunately, Eldrik must have been looking the other way at that moment as the invocation fizzled, and nothing happened. Star of Justice thought he heard a small voice as though from a great distance say “Flashlight of Retribution, indeed.”

Hermel leapt forward with his sword, and raced toward the monster, slashing at its belly with a graceful arc that splattered a wide splash of blood across the wall. Praymar ran forward and slid under the desk to reach out for the monster’s foot, upon which he performed his uncanny Mystic Drain. The creature wobbled. All twelve eyes blinked slowly. The monster brought his mighty hands up to his head and began to drool.

At that, Arik struck the creature with his axe. It crumpled to the ground with a heavy thud. Bantum struck the monster on the head with his warhammer, splattering brains and eyes all over the room.  And that was the end of that Polyvizis.

Praymar gazed at the creature’s exposed belly, wondering what its gut-blood might happen to taste like. However, for the sake of his friends, he restrained himself, and instead took the creatures pouch from its belt. Inside he found ten iron pieces.

“Oh, yes!” squeaked the young albino with glee.

“I have to say,” said Mr. Rokkafellah from the corner, “you fellows are magnificent!” And with that he deftly opened the cabinet and toasted the AAA Adventure Group with a inordinately large swig of fine brandy, courtesy of Dr. Lobe.

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