Chapter One Hundred

July 19, 2013


22nd of Haymonth


            Outside, Foozle tilts his head to one side, then says to the party in common, “Me be back.”  He takes one of the other orcs with him, leaves another in his post, and heads toward the room where we had gone with the mistress of the house. 

            Back in the room, Ulric drags the orc’s body behind a couch where it won’t immediately be seen from the door.  I follow the woman through a hallway until she stops at a wall where she makes a fast series of elaborate hand gestures and the wall opens up.  Beyond it, there is a staircase leading down, and I continue to follow her. 

            Foozle enters the sitting room and looks around.  He asks Ulric, “Where Mistress and your mistress?”  Ulric points to the other door, and Foozle asks, “You let your mistress go without you?”

            Ulric answers, “Her insistence.  I don’t presume to tell my mistress anything.”  He looks at Silas as if this guy is crazy.  Foozle puts his hand on his sword, but doesn’t grip it tightly or draw the weapon.  He steps back out and closes the door behind him.

            “Well, that went better than expected,” Silas says.  “I would have thought he could have smelled it.”

            “Maybe that’s not unusual here,” Ulric offers.  They discuss whether they should give me more time, or start taking action immediately.  They discuss several possibilities for a plan of attack.  They finally settle on teleporting Ulric to the top of the wall, and then summoning a horse for him so he might mow down the archers on the wall.

            Foozle goes back to Briggette in the courtyard and carefully evaluates her shape.  He comments that she has had children.  Briggette seems confused, but just considers that it is the oddity of an orc.


            The wall closes behind me, and up ahead, I hear a painful wailing.  The staircase opens into a large room lined on either side with small cells.  On one side, the cells are filled with larvae, while the other side contains people, many of whom are wounded.  She steps forward, speaks to, and passes the package to a vrock.  He takes the package with the stones, and walks away, growling at the people as he goes.  The woman stretches and mutters, “I hate this form.  It’s so confining.”

She stops for a few moments, then puts out her hand.  Some small, incredibly ugly creature comes out and hands her a goblet.  She repeats over and over to herself, “Don’t kill them, don’t kill them. . . .”  She takes a swig of the beverage, and mutters, “It’s just business, just business. . . .”  She finishes her drink, hits the creature in the head with the empty goblet, and begins to head back up the stairs.

I see the vrock walk all the way to the end of the room, presses a button somewhere on the wall, and I hear stones slide back.  He deposits the silken package, and returns to his work in the room, whatever that may have been.  I head back up the stairs, but she seems to realize I’m there.  She pauses and looks around but manages not to see me.  She places both her hands on the walls where spikes come out to impale them, and the walls open again.  She wipes her hands, which heal almost immediately, and steps through into the house.  I manage to make it through the doorway, and I shadow jump back into the sitting room.


I step out of the shadow, and look at Ulric and Silas.  “I know where they keep the stones, so now all we have to do is kill them.”

She steps into the room and says, “Well, I’m sorry that took so—” she looks around, “Where is Tirag?”

Ulric points to the exterior door, “He had to do something with the other one.  His brother?  They look alike.”

She nods and says, “Ah, well, then, shall we?”

“Ladies,” Ulric says as he opens the door.  I step through first, followed by the mistress of the house, and I hear behind me in a tremendous booming voice, “I am Ulric von Zurwald, and I am here to kill you!”  With that, he raises Law’s Claw and prepares to strike.

Before he can land his first blow, she begins to transform into a six-armed merelith, each arm with a weapon.  She has five longswords and a battle-axe, all of which are glowing.  One of the longswords strikes Ulric, but he doesn’t seem too affected by the blow.  He strikes her well, and the battle spreads out to the rest of the courtyard.

Finn sweeps his gruisarme around, striking out at three of his orcish guards, killing one instantly, and nearly killing a second, which Stefan finishes off.  Arany returns to his true form and lands on the fountain, breathing a gout of fire on our adversary. 

Briggette charges, releases a bright flash of light as Helga connects with all her divine fury.  Silas flies up above her and casts a spell directly down onto her.  We see a rainbow fly forth from his hand and strike her.

Laurana steps up and screams in a clear, ringing voice, “In the name of St. Cuthbert, I banish thee!”  To everyone’s surprise, the bitch simply blinks out of existence.  After a moment of shock on both sides, Foozle runs up to attack Ulric.  One of the orcish archers shoots Silas in the back, but the mage remains airborne.  Finn spins around again, and chops another orc in half, while I run over and stab Foozle in the back, sending him to his death.  As Foozle’s body falls, Boian runs toward him, uses his corpse as leverage, and flips himself up first to the door frame, then over the edge of the wall to attack one of the archers.  The orc takes a heavy slash to the face, but manages to stay alive, though he is staggering.

Briggette climbs onto Arany’s back, ready for the next bit of fight, and Brianna climbs the wall on the opposite side of the courtyard, where she takes care of one of the archers.  Silas again extends his hand, this time releasing a lightning bolt centered on the one who shot him.  The bolt then extends around the wall, striking every single other orc still standing.  We hear what sounds like a hunting pack of dogs howling and baying from far off.  We turn and see that six more orcs with spears have entered the courtyard from a door in the other side.  Arany flies up and turns back toward the courtyard, sending his fiery breath out across all six of the new attackers.

One of the spear-wielding orcs charges across the courtyard to attack me, but on his way by, Ulric swings and ends his miserable existence.  Stefan is beset by four of them, which surround him and Laurana. 

Through the same door that admitted the orcs, we see eight large black mastiffs with glowing grey eyes.  One of them is significantly larger than the others.  Behind them, there is a large armored man on a horse that is releasing smoke from its nostrils.  Finn charges the first mastiff, who easily stands as tall as Obsidian, and he chops the beast’s head clean off.  I fire at two of the ones surround “dad” and Laurana, and both of them fall.  Stefan finishes off the other two, and Korvinean takes one out, as well.  Finn begins to grapple with one of them, and is able to maintain his footing.

The man on the horse charges Stefan and Laurana, but Arany is on it, charging the man and lifting him into the air.  “Circle up and drop him,” Briggette says.  Arany complies, dropping him somewhere far off from here before turning to return to the battle.

From behind him, Ulric hears, “That was exceedingly rude.”  He turns to see the merelith there, returned to this plane by some magic of her own.  Silas once again sends out a lightning bolt, this time into her.  It branches out and strikes all of her minions on the field of battle.  She moves forward and attacks Ulric with all six of her arms.  She slings her tail out and hits me, wrapping me up and beginning to constrict me.

Finn begins to spin around in a whirlwind with his gruisarme, and takes out the remaining dogs as well as the warhorse.  Boian jumps off of the wall onto her back, stabbing her with his rapier.  Stefan crosses the courtyard, but is unable to charge due to the obstacles in the field.  He doesn’t appear to hurt her, but Korvinean lands a few solid shots on her.  Arany dives and slams into her, Briggette laughing like a giddy schoolgirl all the while.  He strikes true, and as she rolls back from the hit, Briggette skewers her on Helga’s point, driving the sword straight through from the back of her skull straight through her mouth.

Arany roars and breathes straight into the air.  Finn, whose gruisarme stopped singing when the bitch fell, slices off her head, and we carry it into the manor house as we go to kill the vrock and find Brannick’s soul.  After a few minutes, her body and head suddenly disappear.

We make our way through the house, and I manage to open the secret door with ease.  I’ve explained what lies at the bottom of the stairs, so Ulric goes first.  When he reaches the third step, the spikes the merelith used to exit strike at him out of the wall.  They stick into his armor and remain there.  He pulls himself free of the spikes, which close further and arc with electricity, making a solid wall to prevent the rest of us going through.  I search and find the way to turn it off, and manage to secure the trap for the rest of our party.  The process, however, is slow, leaving us trapped while our lord goes on.

Meanwhile, Ulric has seen the vrock, and charges him.  They trade blows, and the vrock summons one more vrock to help him.  In a few seconds, Ulric has felled the first, and goes to work on the second.  Suddenly, four more vrocks appear around the first, all moving somewhat in unison.  Ulric strikes make two of the false images disappear, and the remaining three attack him, but none appear to actually hurt the count.  He gets rid of the other images, and hits the correct vrock moments later, as Briggette finally approaches.  She charges from across the room, and manages to cut the vrock completely in half.  The first one gets up again, and Ulric slams into it, somehow sending it back to its own plane of existence.

As the rest of us enter the space, I head straight to the piece of wall where the vrock stood to put the soul stones away.  I search carefully, taking my time so as not to do anything to put the stones in jeopardy.  I find the mechanism, as well as the trap protecting it.  When I try to disable the trap, five darts hit me in the back, and one of them poisons me.  I call Laurana over, and she gives me a potion to keep the damage from becoming permanent.  I try again, and am able to disable the trap.  Inside, there are nine stones.  I recognize the one containing Brannick’s soul, and place it one of the inner pouches of my clothing.  The other eight I deposit into the bag of holding.

Meanwhile, the larvae from the one side of the room begin to cry for us to save them.  The sound is almost deafening, and Laurana suggests that we release them as we leave.  She says they are receiving the punishment they deserve, but that is still no reason to make the soul stealing easy on the demons that would have them.  As I join them for the rest of this conversation, it occurs to me that we have found no treasures for this extravagant lady.  I express this to my friends, and we decide it is time to leave this area.  Korvinean finds the keys to the cells, and begins to unlock them.

I head to the stairs, and prepare to open the door again.  We tell all the captives that they will have to hurry out the door as it only opens for a short time.  I step to the third stair and place my hands up in anticipation of the spikes.  I can’t quite reach, so I put on my mask to become a human-sized version of myself, and place my hands in the proper location.  The spikes protrude and the doors open.  I urge everyone through quickly. 

At the top of the stairs, one of the humans stops.  He recognizes Ulric as the former Ambassador to Nevers.  He tells him and Briggette, who he also recognizes, that if they go to the docks of Nevers, to the third house of the ropers, and look beneath the false floor, they will find something they need.  He says he deserves to be here because he signed the paper and knew what he was doing when he did so.  However, he says he should be in Hell.  Ulric consults Laurana and they decide if he is killed here, his soul will reform where it belongs.  The man extends his head without fear, and Ulric dashes it off.  His body disappears, and Ulric and Laurana are satisfied that they’ve done the right thing.  Briggette realizes that the house in question is the one she was raised in. 

We go on to toss the house, and find a vault door in one room.  It has five keyholes, and upon inspection, I find a magical trap.  I am able to get past the trap, and Silas uses magic to open four of the locks.  I pick the last one, and we open the door to find her massive stash.

We decide to stay there in the vault for the night.  Silas lays salt across the doorway, and writes runes in it with a stylus that has a cold iron and a silver tip.  In the morning, he spends an hour with his spell book, then tells us to go as Nicodemus will be opening the gate in about three hours.

When we get to the courtyard, we see a group of ten daemons and a night hag.  She smiles at Ulric, “Me not know you.”

“Nope,” Ulric replies.

“Lots of dead orcs.  You kill her?”

“Yep.  You come to do business?” Ulric asks.

“Not anymore.”

“I think it’s best if we go our separate ways.”

“Seem reasonable,” she replies.

There is some more discussion, and eventually, she turns her back and leaves.  Before we leave, Silas burns a giant symbol of St. Cuthbert into the ground of the courtyard and Laurana blesses the area.  Arany chirps at us, and Ulric says, “Sure, sounds like a reasonable plan,” even though he has no idea what the canary form said.

When we are about five miles from the rendezvous point, we see massive gouts of flame coming from the area we left of the town.  Arany is breathing and destroying what he can.  When he’s done, he flies over to us, and we can see a mass of creatures forming up to come after us.  Arany breathes fire into the air, then transforms back into a canary for transport.  Shortly thereafter, the gate opens, and we step through back to our home plane.


We arrive in Nicodemus’s tower in Tulcea.  Briggette immediately turns to Nicodemus and tells him that she needs to go to Nevers.  He says that it would be better if Silas took us as he has a score to settle there, and cannot, in good conscious, go there without handling it.  Silas says we must wait until the next day to travel, and as it is only noon, they discuss visiting the Duke.

“Wait!”  I gather their attention.  “We have more pressing matters!  What are we going to do with Brannick’s soul?”

Laurana looks at me, “Ah, that’s easy, give it to me.”  I hand her the stone, and she rears back with her cudgel with intent to smash the jewel.  Briggette stops her and snatches the jewel away.  She holds it close to her heart, and refuses to release it.  The ladies argue for some time, and the men—except for Korvinean—slink away from the catfight one by one.  Eventually, they reach an uneasy truce, and I lead Laurana the safe way out of the tower.

Shortly thereafter, Korvinean makes his way out, leaving Briggette alone with Nicodemus, who offers to return the soul to Brannick’s body.  He warns her that if he was already dead when his soul was taken, the soul will travel to his eternal reward with St. Cuthbert.  However, if he was still alive at the time the soul was taken, this spell will release it back into the body at Castle Heltragen.  Briggette hands the stone to Nicodemus and very reluctantly leaves.


As Ulric, Stefan, Finn and Silas approach the Duke’s castle, the guard steps up to greet them, and seems very concerned that they are not on horseback.  After some hesitation, he accepts their nonsensical information—they’ve stopped here unexpectedly and travelled without roads—and commands the portcullis to be opened.  He says he will be getting them rooms immediately.  “I will have baths drawn for you immediately, and someone to tend to your armor.”  The men are led away to be primped and pampered before they meet with the Duke.

Meanwhile, Briggette finds an appropriate gown in town and makes herself as beautiful as possible.  She makes her way to the great hall, where the Paladin of the White Rose is in attendance.  The two trade barbs, but Briggette puts him in his place when she relates our day’s experience.  He bows slightly toward her and says, “It will be a pleasure and an honor to die beside you in the coming war.”

“It will be the highest honor.”

“I pray that the Fiannan’s legends are true,” he replies.  He pauses and asks, “May I speak to you knight to knight rather than man to woman?”  She agrees, and he continues, “The Duke’s wife is being rather bitchy.”

“I will take that into consideration,” Briggette replies, thinking that if anyone has the right to be bitchy today, it’s her.  She goes to greet the Duke who compliments both her appearance and her disposition.  Briggette addresses the Duchess directly in a highly courtly manner.

“And where is your husband, Countess Heltragen?” the Duchess asks.

“I believe he is still getting ready, and should be here soon.”

The Duchess momentarily sports a very sour countenance, “Yes,” she says, “Men.  Men often take longer at things than they should.”

In perfect courtesy, Briggette smiles, “As you say,” and takes her leave politely from the noble couple.  The Duke asks her not to break any of the august personages in attendance.  She joins the area of the room where most of the knights are assembled when an extremely handsome man begins to hit on her.  She is gracious in her rebuff, and soon thereafter, the herald announces the Counts Zurwald and Zurwald-Heltragen.

Ulric looks up to see Briggette in the room, and can’t help but smile at the beauty that is his wife.  She has had her hair done up in an elaborate style, and wears a new, very low-cut, very becoming burgundy dress.  She is easily the most beautiful woman in the room, and he cannot contain his pride that she is his.

Silas walks up next to the man who is flirting with Briggette.  “Uncle Silas!”  She is genuinely happy to see him.  As he stands there, the end of his staff starts to glow brighter and brighter.

“Who is this?” he asks Briggette.  She introduces Sir O’Quinn, and Silas asks him, “Do you like frog legs, Sir O’Quinn?”  The man becomes uncomfortable and makes a hasty, but polite retreat before Silas escorts Briggette to her husband’s side back in front of the Duke.  When she arrives, the men are discussing the adventure we’ve just had.

When she arrives, Ulric bows deeply to her, turning his attention completely away from the Duke, and says, “You look quite lovely, my dear.”  With some effort, he turns his focus back toward the Duke to conclude their conversation.

As they make their way into the roomful of people, they encounter the current Ambassador from Nevers.  She makes some very suggestive comments, and Briggette is having none of it.  The Countess Heltragen meets the woman’s banter with equally witty and cutting remarks, turning down her proposition to join the nobles in their bed.


Meanwhile, Laurana takes me to a very seedy part of town.  We go into a shop with an elderly woman behind the counter.  She bows to Laurana and says, “I haven’t seen you here in some time.”

Laurana tells her to stand up and explains that our clothes are messy, but we must present ourselves at court.  The woman directs us to step into the back, undress, and she will take care of our clothes.  We step out of the changing room, and I see a large pool built of stone with steam rising from it.  We settle in, and as soon as my shoulders go under, all of my tension, as well as any remaining wounds, disappear.  Laurana leans back and tells me, “This pool is very special.”

I relax for a moment and dip my head under the water.  When I step out and return to the changing room, my hair is elaborately done up and dry, as if I’d spent hours in a salon chair.  Laurana’s honey-colored tresses are perfectly curled and cascade down over her shoulders.  All of our clothes are there and completely clean, and Laurana’s armor appears to have been repaired.  The vestments smell of cinnamon and other incense.  I stick my head out to call the proprietress and ask if the pleasant aroma could be added to my dress.  She is happy to oblige.

As we leave, Laurana tells me this is a secret place, and I swear to keep it so.  We head to the Duke’s castle.  We arrive during the dinner and are seated on the other side of the hall.


Back in the great hall, Briggette shares the tidbit about the Duchess’s mood.  He smiles, “A challenge!”  He asks Briggette if he may ask the Duchess to dance.  When she agrees, he approaches and asks the Duke for his permission as well.  He agrees, and Ulric approaches the woman, “Would you care to dance with the second most handsome person in this room—other than your husband, of course.”

She grins and looks around, “I think your father might have something to say about that.”

“He shall have to settle for third.”

“And Sir O’Quinn over there?  He might not like it, either,” she smiles.

“Oh, well, he is easily fourth or fifth, and will have to live with whatever shame that brings him.”  He extends his hand and she takes it to join him on the dance floor.  After two lively tunes, her disposition is visibly improved, and Ulric returns her to the Duke.  Ulric goes on, in his usual fashion, to dance with most of the women there.  Briggette dances with Sir O’Quinn and the Paladin of the White Rose amongst others.  Sir Stefan finds Laurana at our table across the room, and dances through several tunes with her, though he also takes a turn with his daughter-in-law and several other ladies in the room.  She, however, politely refuses anyone else who asks her to join them.

I look around for Boian, and not finding him anywhere, I approach the Duke on one of the more somber and regimented songs.  I bow deeply, and say to him, “Your Grace, if your lovely wife would allow it,” I smile at her, “and your duties permit, I would rather enjoy the honor of your arm for this number.”  Both of them graciously agree, and he joins me on the dance floor for the song.  When the number ends, I bow graciously and take my leave of him.

The night goes on until most of the knights are drunk and singing songs of conquests and battles.  Eventually, people begin to leave, but I still have not seen Boian.

I head back to Nicdemus’s tower and speak to the doorman.  He says he will make sure he is not adding décor to the assassin vines.  I wait at the gate, and he comes back about twenty minutes later, assuring me that he is not among the ornaments in the garden.  He tells me that he’s not sure which way Boian left, and that the master has not come out since Briggette left earlier.  I search in the taverns for several hours.  Finally, around 4:00 in the morning, I give up and go back to my room in the castle.

Around 4:30, Boian comes in covered in dust and says nothing, but simply goes about his normal nightly routine.  Finally, I say something, and we talk for a bit, and he assures me that due to my own obligations, I could not have helped him in his task.  As we lie down for the night, reconciled but still somewhat unsettled, I notice a wound on his shoulder.  I sit back up and dig through my bag.  I hand him a potion, which he grudgingly drinks, and the wound closes.  I curl up into his arms and finally find some rest.




            The next morning, Ulric, Briggette, Boian, and I meet up with Silas in the courtyard at the castle, and he teleports us to the market in Nevers.  We head immediately to the docks, and look for the third house.  There is a middle-aged man sitting on the front porch of the house, and both Ulric and I recognize him as the man who told us bold-faced lies about the family who lived in the house the last time we were in town. 

            As we walk up, he squints and looks at us, “What brings such highborn sirs to my humble home?”

            Ulric answers with a question, “Oh, this is your house?”

            “Yes,” the man replies, “I’ve been here about fourteen or fifteen years.  Since that poor family got killed.”

            Briggette chimes in, “Tragic.”

            “It was tragic,” he replies, “I had to bury their poor burnt bodies myself.”

            After a pause, Briggette says, “I’m quite the fan of architecture.”

            “Well, you won’t find any here.  It’s just a house.”

            “But I love the simple things,” Briggette continues, “I’m sure it’s just as nice inside.  You wouldn’t mind doing me a small kindness and giving me a tour, would you?”

            “No,” he seems apprehensive, “I don’t recognize your crest, Sir,” he looks at Ulric.

            “I’m not surprised,” Ulric answers.

            Briggette continues to beam at the man, and makes a sign of the ropers with her hands.  He seems even more confused, and says, “You’re mighty far from your line of work, there?”

            “It was never my line of work,” she replies.

            “Oh, so your father was training you to be one, and something interrupted?” he seems a bit more at ease and leads us inside.  After some more conversation, Briggette has the man taking her to show her the new addition of an upstairs after the fire.  Meanwhile, downstairs, I am searching the floorboards, and barely find an extremely well-hidden trap door.  I manage to disable the trap and spring the door, where I find a large metal box.  Silas uses his glasses to confirm that the box itself is magical, and I close the door back to its original state.

            “Dear,” Ulric calls up the stairs, “we’ve found what we came for.”

            Briggette turns to her host, “I suppose I should be going.”

            The man places a gentle hand on Briggette’s shoulder, and she turns back to him.  “I told you last time you should not be here. The family that was here died with all their sons.”

            “Yet, I rose from the ashes,” she replies.

            He seems disturbed, “No.  No one rose from the ashes.”  He seems to be searching for other words.

            “Don’t worry,” she tells him, “I won’t be here much longer, but you can’t fault a person for wanting to know where they’re from.”

            “You never came from here,” he insists, and they come downstairs.

            Ulric tosses an expensive gem to the man, “For your trouble, sir.”

            Briggette smiles at him, “I would tell you where to reach me, but you probably don’t want to know.”  She pauses for a moment, then adds, “Or do you?”

            “I don’t know why I would want to reach you, Madam, I’ve never seen you before in my life.”  Silas steps up and tells us to join hands, and suddenly, we are in the center of Brasov.