Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 43
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    The comedy (and the madness) is just beginning.

    Who says I can't milk a joke for several installments?!

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2e: The Village of Dunover

    Old Mother Esther continued to putter around the kitchen while she talked, setting a place setting for each of them around the crowded table.

    “The bard came a few days ago,” she said. “He was a handsome man, dressed in the colorful cloak and tunic of the bards from back when I was just a little girl. My grandson told me he wanted to tell stories to us.”

    “I bet he did,” said Kham.

    “Everyone was so thrilled, we gathered together in the big barn, making it up like a theatre. Everyone was there. He told maybe five or six stories, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. My hearing isn’t what it once was.”

    “You don’t say,” grumbled Vlad.

    “My grandson said he would tell me the stories later, after we got home. But it was wonderful, sitting there, with everyone, watching a real bard working his magic. I hadn’t seen such a thing since I was little, when Cael Greybeard performed at my sister’s wedding.”

    “Wait,” said Dril. “I thought the bard who drove everyone mad WAS Cael Greybeard?”

    “Eh?” Esther set a plate down in front of Kham, who began slurping it up hungrily with a spoon.

    “I said,” Dril took a deep breath, “YOU’RE SURE THE BARD YOU SAW WASN’T CAEL GREYBEARD?”

    “Oh no, certainly not,” Esther put a plate before Dril. “This man couldn’t have seen more than twenty winters. Cael Greybeard was an old man when I was a girl. He seemed as skilled as Cael, I’ll give him that. Certainly, he never carried a banner around before.”

    “What kind of banner…” asked Ilmarė. When she realized Esther didn’t hear her, she just shook her head. “Never mind.”

    Esther smiled at Ilmarė and put a bowl of porridge in front of her. “Aren’t you a beauty?” she said with a gap-toothed smile. “After the bard hung that banner, everything went wrong. There was this rune on it that made people feel funny. Some started to cry; it made me fell dizzy, like when I get up too fast.”

    “The Yellow Sign.” Dril ate a spoonful of porridge. It was quite good.

    “The bard started telling another story. My grandson told me what it was called before the bard got too far into it.”

    “The King in Yellow,” said Vlad and Esther at the same time. Esther didn’t hear him. She plopped a plate down in front of Vlad.

    “Everyone was staring at the bard, listening to the story. I wish I knew what it was about, because they hung on every word. When it was over, people started jumping around, stripping off their clothing, and running around like animals!” She shook her head. “Some even started rutting in the dirt, right there in front of everyone!”

    “Stupid filthy humans,” said Ilmarė in disgust. She hadn’t touched her porridge.

    “We’re not all like that,” said Vlad.

    Kham lifted the bowl up to his lips. “Speak for yourself.” He poured the last of the porridge down his throat.

    “I started to pull my grandson away,” said Esther, ”but he tried to bite me. He was as mad as the others. I ran home, but not before I saw the bard walking away. I called out to him for help, but he didn’t even turn to look at me. I think he was crying.”

    Vlad finished his porridge. “We’ve got to get her back to the castle. She’ll never survive out here by herself.”

    There was a mournful wolf howl in the distance.

    “Let’s go,” said Dril. “Before a different kind of animal shows up.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 2f: The Village of Dunover

    As the mounts and sleigh began traveling the road away from Dunover, something strange flashed in the corner of Kham’s eye.

    A large building of black stone, maybe three stories high, with an adjacent tower even taller, sat at the bottom of a cobblestone path off the main road. It was impossible to have missed such a thing on the way into the village. The structure was like none he had ever seen.

    Kham called out to Dril. “Do you see that?”

    A gust of winter wind blew, filling the air with a cloud of icy snow.

    “What?” When Dril looked, all the end of the cobblestone path was an empty snow-covered field, with the silent forest beyond. He turned back to Kham. “Are you feeling okay?”

    “Damn it, I saw something!” said Kham. “And it’s not because of Fleshripper either!”

    “We’re all a little edgy,” said Vlad. “Once we get Mother Esther to the castle we can visit Brighton.”

    “If Cael is still out there,” said Ilmarė, “we’ll need to move fast.”

    “Why are you so interested in the plight of humans anyway?” asked Kham. “Aren’t we all supposed to die in a war or something?”

    Ilmarė arched an eyebrow. “Don’t misunderstand. I believe this Unspeakable One has a name. My people have known it for centuries.”

    “Really,” said Kham, intrigued. “Care to share?”

    “You would not know He Who Waits in Darkness,” said Ilmarė with a sneer, “because its name was stricken from all human records. The elorii name for it is Umor. It was Umor who brought the first humans to our shores. It was Umor who stole away our goddess Belisarda to the dark moon Yhtill. And it was Umor who betrayed the elorii gods to your foul deities.”

    “Interesting,” said Dril. “I’ve studied The Illuminated Perfection. There’s a very different take on what happened between our gods and yours.”

    Ilmarė smirked. “Of course there is.”

    “According to the third scroll,” said Kham, “Illiir was forced to sacrifice the elorii deities so that His pantheon would have enough power to defeat Umor, just as Umor had absorbed Belisarda’s life force to defeat the human pantheon.”

    “Propaganda and lies,” spat Ilmarė. “Say what you wish to soothe your conscience—your deities are murderers.” She nodded towards Kham. “And a murderer’s blood runs in your veins.”

    Esther patted Ilmarė’s hand, completely oblivious to the conversation. “That’s nice, dear. You shouldn’t worry yourself too much about all this, I’m sure it will work out in the end.”

    “For the sake of both humans and elorii,” said Vlad, “I hope so.”

    “You mentioned Yhtill,” said Kham. “I think I’ve seen it. Or I should say, I’ve seen a city from the dark moon.”

    “Carcosa,” said Ilmarė and Kham at the same time.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3a: The Village of Brighton

    Vlad was questioned at length about what had happened in Dunover and, predictably, Duke Adolphos was not pleased. He ordered them to rest the remainder of the day, but demanded they visit Brighton as soon as possible. The house guard was put on alert and armed men began patrolling the castle grounds.

    “Well, at least Mother Esther will be all right,” said Vlad from his mount. “It turns out she’s actually a great aunt of a member of the kitchen staff.”

    “How wonderful for her,” said Ilmarė. Snow had begun to fall steadily. “Osalian is displeased. A snowstorm is brewing.”

    At long last, they saw the village of Brighton through the falling snow. Smoke rose from most of the chimneys and people were moving about chopping wood, running errands, and tending to chores. While smaller than Derek’s Holding and Dunover, Brighton boasted larger and better-made furnishings.

    Kham sniffed the air. “I smell fresh-baked bread,” he said.

    “Do you ever think of anything besides your stomach?” asked Ilmarė.

    “Sometimes a little lower,” said Kham.

    The steady rhythm of a blacksmith’s hammer punctuated the play of children in the snow.

    “It’s an improvement,” said Vlad. “After the horrors we experienced in the last two villages, it’s good to come to a place of life and normalcy.”

    Peasants came out to greet and welcome them. The mounts and sleigh were taken into the village’s largest barn and the animals were brushed and fed.

    Vlad was ushered into the reeve’s home.

    “Welcome!” said a large, loud man. “I am Bannen, Reeve of Brighton. How can I help you?”

    Vlad spoke in as imperious a voice as he could muster. “I am Vlad Martell, Bailiff of Archduke Adolphos val’Tensen.” He indicated his companions with a nod of his head. “These are my sergeants.”

    Bannen smiled. “I am much pleased by your presence, but I can assure you that all is in order in Brighton, as it has been for the past several months.”

    “Have you seen anything strange?” asked Dril. “A storyteller perhaps?”

    “None tell stories here,” said Bannen, “except to each other over a warm fire.” He grinned. A large fireplace crackled behind them. “There was a boy who saw a strange man, however.” He ordered another villager to fetch the boy.

    A dirty boy, not more than twelve winters, was dragged in from the outside. Vlad caught a glimpse of the snow, which was so piled up in front of the door that it was becoming difficult to open.

    “Tell them what you saw,” said Bannen.

    “I was gathering firewood when I saw a strange man,” said the boy. “He was lurking around in the woods near some old hunter’s lodge.”

    “How was he strange?” asked Ilmarė.

    “He wasn’t from around here,” said the boy. “And he wore a colorful cloak.”

    “I’d like to see this lodge,” said Dril.

    “Of course, of course.” Bannen waved the boy off. “But night is fast approaching and the storm is getting worse by the minute. It’ll have to wait until morning. You must stay the night.”

    “I don’t think—“ said Vlad.

    “That’d be great,” interrupted Kham. “Got something to drink around here?”

    “I like your sergeant already!” The reeve patted Kham on the back. “We recently slaughtered an ox in town in preparation for our holiday feast. We have two rooms available with a roaring fire in each. Please, make yourselves at home.”

    “I don’t like this,” said Dril. “Something’s wrong.”

    “I don’t see why,” said Vlad. “This is what village life should be like.”

    “Whatever,” said Ilmarė. “All I know is that the rest of you can sleep in a separate room.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3b: The Village of Brighton

    Much preparation was made in the large, warm hall. Tables were set up around a huge open fire in the center of the room. From the adjacent kitchen came the delicious smells of stews and roasting meat. Two kegs were tapped as they entered.

    Kham led the way and sat down. Villagers showed Dril, Vlad and Ilmarė to their places at high table, where several bottles of wine sat besides loaves of fresh-baked bread, bowls of salt, and platters of cheese and nuts. About thirty villagers were gathered to celebrate the coming holiday.

    The reeve called for silence. He held up a mug. “A toast! To Duke Adolphos and his royal emissaries! We welcome you and wish you health!” A friendly cheer raised from the gathered peasants and the feast began.

    A huge fire filled the center of the room, with tables set around it.

    “I’ve got to tell you,” Kham tore off a piece from a loaf of bread and popped it in his mouth. “I could get used to this life.” He washed it down wine.

    Ilmarė wrinkled her nose. “You eat far too much meat.” She picked at the cheese platter as ox stew was served. “They serve it with everything.”

    “You’re in my country now,” said Vlad with a smile. He took a generous helping of stew. The gibbets of meat steamed in his wooden bowl. “It’d be only polite to eat something.”

    Sausage with bread was placed on the table. Dri speared a sausage with his knife. They weren’t supplied at the table; in Milandir, one was expected to bring his own knife to dinner. “Where are the plates?”

    Vlad cut a trencher in half that was set between them. “That’s your plate,” said Vlad. “The bread absorbs the juices. You can eat it when you’re done.”

    The final course was a serving of roast beef. Vlad carved the meat and offered it to Ilmarė. She passed it on to Dril, who sat next to her.

    Dril looked at the meat curiously. “Actually,” said Vlad, “Ilmarė should cut the meat and serve it to Dril.”

    “I serve no one,” said the elorii with a sneer.

    “It’s okay,” said Dril. “I’ll serve myself. And if I’m following Milandisian custom, I cut the meat for Kham, right?”

    “That’s right,” said Kham with a twinkle in his eye. “Serve your val master.”

    “Very funny.” Dril slapped a hunk of meat on Kham’s trencher.

    A keg of ale was tapped, along with one of mead and several bottles of wine. The villagers feasted, drank, and had a merry time. Kham took up the slack on behalf of Ilmarė to consume enough food and drink for two people.

    After the meal, a few villagers took up instruments. Music filled the air.

    A pretty, plump village lass curtseyed before Vlad. “Will my lord join us for a dance?”

    “Oh shure!” said Kham. He stumbled to his feet. “C’mon Vlad, it will be jusht like Shavona. Only without all the kisshing.”

    Vlad coughed and rose to his feet. They joined in a circle, holding hands with ladies to either side of them and executing exact steps, as well as Vlad could remember them. Kham didn’t know the steps, but he compensated by being very, very drunk. The dances were done with much handholding, flirting eyes, and smiles until late evening.

    “Not the dancing type are you?” asked Dril.

    “Not in this filthy place.” Ilmarė sipped a mug of mead. “I find it curious, though, that they never open that door.”

    Dril looked over to see a door at the far end of the hall. “I hadn’t noticed. You suspect foul play?”

    “With humans,” said Ilmarė, “I’ve learned to always expect foul play.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3c: The Village of Brighton

    Ilmarė had no need for sleep. Elorii meditated for hours, but they didn’t sleep or even dream. She had on occasion had nightmarishly vivid visions, but those were the exception and her meditation had been uninterrupted of late only by distractions of a more mundane nature. She sometimes envied humans of their blissful rest; the squeaking of rats or the caterwauling of squabbling cats disturbed her rest. But that night, she was glad for Osalian’s gift.

    Ilmarė stepped out into the hallway. Something that sounded suspiciously like a man vomiting assaulted her ears. She knew that sound: Kham.

    She padded down the steps, her thinblade at the ready. Whatever was behind that door, Ilmarė planned to find out.

    The hall was quiet. Only the crackling of the fire greeted her. Fortunately, it was a full moon out, so moonlight illuminated the hall.

    It was almost too bright. Ilmarė peered out a window to look at the sky.

    Two moons were visible in the night sky. They were completely alien, neither the size nor color of the moon she was familiar with. Clouds rolled in, and then snowfall blocked her view of it.

    The elorii made her way along one wall and up to the door. She tried the handle. It was locked.

    Ilmarė drew a large pin from her hair. Her silver and purple locks tumbled down around her. She brushed the hair out of her face and then twisted the pin in the lock. A moment later, the door creaked open.

    As the door swung open, Ilmarė beheld a sickening sight. It was clear that the home had undergone a drastic change recently. All the furniture was removed. The room was freezing cold; ice and snow was packed all around the floor, much of it bloodstained. In one corner of the large room stood a worktable, behind which stood a rack of mallets, hooks, knives, cleavers, and saws. In an opposite corner were several barrels that reeked of brine.

    Ilmarė swallowed hard. She inspected one of the barrels. After a moment, she tried to pry open the lid with her thinblade.

    It was stuck. She wrenched harder. Just a little more…

    Something wet dripped on her shoulder.

    Ilmarė looked up.

    The ceiling was a forest of butchered corpses. About thirty naked bodies hung face down from hooks fastened to the rafters. They were all eviscerated, with the internal organs completely removed. The tops of the skulls were sawed open, showing an empty converse bowl where a brain once sat. The meatier parts were missing from a half-dozen corpses.

    “Stupid human cooking.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3d: The Village of Brighton

    Kham was emptying the contents of his shoes into a hole on the second floor. He had long ago voided whatever was in his stomach. Whenever he was convinced he had nothing left, nausea overtook him again.

    Kham’s head went back down into the hole. It didn’t smell all that great either.

    Just as he leaned down again, he heard something thunk above him. When he looked up, a meat cleaver jutted out just above his head.

    The plump lass who had asked him to dance hours before yanked it out of the wood.

    “Nrrrraaaah!” she shouted. Her eyes were crazed, mere pinpoint pupils in a sea of white. She kicked the door closed behind her.

    “Look, I know I’m not a great dancer but—” Kham stumbled backwards as she clumsily swung at him again.

    Fleshripper was propped in its sheath in the other side of the cramped privy.

    Kham lifted one arm to fend the woman’s attack, but she nicked him with the cleaver. Blood dripped everywhere.

    The lass took a moment to lick the blood off her cleaver.

    “Althares’ ass!” Kham dove for Fleshripper.

    The woman charged at him just as he unsheathed the blade. She fell on it, skewering herself on Fleshripper’s jagged edges.

    For once, Kham was grateful that Fleshripper was so wickedly forged. The woman’s ribcage caught on a particularly vicious hook. Kham rolled aside as she lunged forward again, completely impaling herself.

    Kham yanked the blade off the woman and shoved her down the privy hole.

    Someone knocked tentatively on the door.

    “Occupied!” shouted Kham.

    “You okay Kham?” came Vlad’s voice on the other side of the door. “The villagers turned on us. We killed a few of them.”

    “Yeah,” said Kham. “I’m just great.”

    “In that case you might want to know about your dinner,” said Ilmarė.

    “What about it?”

    “All that meat you ate was actually human flesh.”

    Kham decided to use the services of the privy once more.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 3e: The Village of Brighton

    Dril came in from the cold.

    “Well, they got to the horses. Looks like they poisoned them.”

    Vlad punched the table. “Damn it!”

    “How long will it take to walk back?” asked Kham, dreading the answer.

    “If we leave now, we should be able to get to the castle some time after nightfall,” said Vlad. “But that’s just an estimate, I’ve never walked it before.”

    “We’ve got to get to Duke Adolphos before Cael does,” said Ilmarė. “He’s probably on his way right now.”

    “Let’s gather up all the supplies we can find,” said Vlad. It was left unspoken that they wouldn’t be taking any food. “We’d better get moving.”

    “There’s more bad news,” said Dril.

    “More bad news?” asked Kham.

    A howl spoke for Dril.

    “The wolves are back.”

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4a: Returning to the Castle

    The snowfall had become blinding. White was everywhere. The unforgiving wind whistled and shrieked around them. Whenever they felt like resting, the wolves caught up to them, circling and howling. It made for a great incentive to keep moving.

    “Aren’t you cold?” Dril shouted at Ilmarė. The elorii traveled with only a thin, hooded cloak to protect her from the elements.

    “I am a child of Osalian,” said Ilmarė. “I have nothing to fear from him.”

    “Look!” shouted Kham. “Everyone look this time, I want to be sure I’m not going crazy!”

    He ran over to a life-sized, bronze statue of a beautiful woman on the side of the road. She had a scepter in one hand and a rose in the other. The statue stood atop a six-foot tall platform of carved onyx.

    “We came this way before,” said Vlad. “I never saw this.”

    “Me neither,” said Dril.

    “Can you read what it says?” Kham asked Ilmarė. There was something written on the base of the statue.

    She shook her head. “The inscriptions are illegible.”

    “Great,” said Kham. “Well all I know is that it wasn’t here before. Something strange is going on.”

    “You mean like that?” Dril pointed at something dark that loomed out of the endless white.

    A great arch, two stories high, straddled the road. It was made of stark black stone. A long banner hung below the top of the arch, snapping in the wind.

    “That’s Duke Adolphos’ emblem,” said Vlad. “But I know we would have seen that on the way in.”

    The banner snapped again, and this time it showed the Yellow Sign instead.

    “It’s happening,” said Ilmarė.

    “What’s happening?” asked Dril.

    “Carcosa is merging with Moratavia,” she said.

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    Herald of the Yellow King - Part 4b: Returning to the Castle

    They arrived to see that the chaos plaguing the duchy had come to the castle as well. While many of the castle’s features were the same, some were altered, while others were gone completely. The castle appeared larger, wither several towers and wings added since the last time they were there. All of the stonework was black, and a large black banner emblazoned with the Yellow Sign hung above the main entrance.

    “Well, that can’t be good,” said Kham.

    The drawbridge, which once spanned a twelve-foot moat, had become a marble bridge crossing dark, mist-shrouded waters. Snow swirled about the long bridge spanning the distance between the castle and land.

    As they cross the bridge, Ilmarė lifted one finger. “I hear something.”

    Suddenly, from just ahead of them, the icy surface of the water exploded into movement. Four long tentacles whipped out of the water, reaching over the span of the bridge. They frantically flailed towards Vlad.

    “Get back!” shouted Ilmarė.

    The creature below them was like nothing they had ever seen. Larger than a draft horse, it was both insect-like and snail-like, with features of a squid as well. Its four grasping tentacles whipped around Vlad and dragged him towards a pair of vicious-looking claws. A forest of eyes adorned its head. Two pairs of legs that ended in grasping digits gripped one of the pylons raising the bridge above the water. A vertical, fish-like tail flapped wildly as it climbed higher, slowly moving onto the bridge.

    Vlad struggled briefly as the tentacles whipped around his limbs, but then he slumped forward, his features twisted in a rictus of horror.

    “Don’t let its tentacles touch you!” shouted Kham.

    Dril unshouldered his rifle and ran across the bridge to the other side. He kneeled and fired.

    The crack of the rifle caught the thing’s attention. It turned and began to crawl its way along the side of the bridge towards Dril.

    “Uh oh.” Dril frenetically struggled to reload his rifle.

    Vlad dropped from its tentacles and slid onto the icy surface of the river below.

    Dril dropped his rifle and drew his scimitar and knife. He hacked at one tentacle and slapped another aside with his blade, but the other two snaked in under his defenses and lifted him up by the ankles. Dril hung limply, paralyzed.

    Ilmarė fired an arrow at it. The shaft merely stuck out of the thick carapace. “How do we stop it?”

    “The more important question is…” Kham took a potion out of from the many pockets in his overcoat and swigged it. “How do we stop Vlad?”

    Vlad’s rigid body slipped towards the hole in the ice through which the beast had erupted. Rushing black water boiled beneath it, oddly out of place for a normally sedentary moat.

    With a running leap, Kham dove onto the surface of the ice. He slipped across it and collided with the paralyzed Milandisian. It was enough to send Vlad skittering across the ice and safely away from the hole.

    Ilmarė dragged Vlad off the ice.

    Kham struggled to his feet, only to see a large shadow loom over him.

    “That’s right,” said Kham. “Come get the stupid human bait.”

    Kham whirled just as the tentacles whip-cracked where he was standing. He skated along the ice, further out, where he could see the black water beneath the ice.

    The thing followed him. It claws click-clicked their way across the surface, digging into the ice for purchase. The claws snapped reflexively and its mouth-tentacles undulated, almost as if the thing was fretting over the escape of its prey.

    It put another claw forward. A spider web of cracks appeared beneath it.

    “Come on.” Kham drew both of his pistols. “I’m right here!”

    The thing skittered tentatively towards Kham, lifting one clawed leg at a time. It loomed over him, tentacles flailing.

    “Kham,” shouted Ilmarė, “What the hell are you doing?”

    Kham pointed his two pistols at the ice between him and the creature. He cocked both hammers back…and fired.

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