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Posted by
Mar 25, 2006

"...So if we're inside a castle... What's this?" Entropy questioned.

"Well... It looks like the entry chamber. Never seen this sort of decor before, though." Stated the summoner.

"There's still a load of guards around here. Freaky hasn't quite got his game up. But, what's worse than that is the rooms seem to form some kinda maze." Dai-sho reported, slowing down for an instant.

"Not to mention the decorations?" Geirrek asked.

"I figgered you'd already noticed that."

"Well, they ain't exactly hard to see..." the drake muttered to himself.

The decor of the castle was, in fact, quite startling. The room they were standing in was large, round, and had a pair of stairways leading to other parts of the castle. Far from the standard noble heraldry which usually adorns the walls of such places, the only hangings were painted with strange-looking runes, with what looked like blood. The wanderer had been examining the room for some time, in his usual silent stance, cane staff tapping the floor.

"So, which way do we go?" the summoner asked the weasel.

The weasel became visible once more, pointing one sickle-clawed hand towards the stairway leading up. At this, the wanderer nodded, saying:

"Aye, for the lord of this castle shall abode amongst the clouds..."

Geirrek and his dragon, hearing this from Zedd's tongue, shot him a strange look. Seeing that no explanation was forthcoming, however, the four began their ascent into the labyrinth...

Meanwhile, the freak was running hard away from the group of guards he was distracting, the toad clinging to his arm for dear life. He looked behind him, and seeing the large number of beasts following him, ran harder. Strangely, the beasts all seemed not to be running at their full pace. The explanation for this soon became clear however...

"Crossbows... Fire!"


Posted by
Mar 28, 2006

A barrage of bolts barreled down upon the unfortunate fiend, trapped in open air. They flew fast to his face, freezing in front of the freak. The intensity in the shelled shield's eyes grew brighter and brighter yet, repulsing the volley back more forcefully than it was fired. Few of the bowmen fell. Most of the massive monsters moved out of the way, the missiles just missing their mangy, matted fur.

"Raph!" cried out the oddity. "Ya saved my life!"

"Forget you," monotonously croaked his amphibious ally. "I just don't want you getting me killed."

"I thought ya Strong Toads were pretty much invincible?"

"Later, chump!" Raph hastily bid before vanishing its head once more into its shining shell.

"Aw, why did I hafta know stuff?" lamented the grey-skin. "What next?"

"Reload!" ordered the freshly-appointed captain of the guards.

"You are from the Northlands," asked the wanderer, "are you not?" Geirrek disturbed their journey little more than silently to nod his head in confirmation. "Are any of these glyphs thus far familiar to you?"

"Nay," the summoner answered. "I can recognize some similarities with older languages, but this blood," he told, "is fresh." He cast his cursed gaze down the winding corridor, all the way to a far off bend, decorated in similar fashion. "That's a lot of blood. It could be some sort of spell."

Just then, the conjurer stopped. "I remember this," he mumbled just loud enough for Zedd to hear. He stared down a nearby tapestry, and then the ones neighboring it. "All of them, I remember this sequence. We've been here before."

Zedd's arm shot out, catching a suddenly visible weasel. "Dai-Sho, are you sure this is the right way?"

"Sure sure sure," it sputtered, still swinging in its keeper's grasp from the abruptness of its stop. "I checked it we're fine."

"Check again," the cloaked one coolly stated. "Just keep going." It gave a few confused, jittery glances to its master, but ultimately went with his plan. As quickly as the Kamaiatchi came, it was gone as soon as Zedd loosed his grasp. The remnants of the group did not need to wait long to hear Dai-Sho's report.

"We have a problem guys." They turned to see the familiar weasel, opposite the direction it had left toward. "Two turns two turns is all I made so I shouldn't be back here already right? Can't make a loop unless you turn not twice or thrice but four times and I only turned twice so I'm not broken this place is."

"Perfect, this bloody place is set on some sort of magic loop," groaned Geirrek. "What next?" Something faintly echoing off the labyrinth walls could be heard. It had barely become distinguishable when Geirrek realized just what it was. "Oh no, not-"

The clamoring shouts grew more vivid in the background, accompanied by the baying of the hunt. Yet, over them all, the distinct whooping call was most recognizable. The little wretch came flying out from a corner and bounded over his old traveling party.

"Stupid... uh, you!" yelled the summoner. "How did you get here?"

"I don't know!

Posted by
Mar 31, 2006

"Gee, that whole 'let's sneak into the place and avoid the guards' idea was genius," snapped the Nidhogg, whose growing size quickly blocked off the corridor. "Now we don't have to go through some mindless killing."

"Are you complaining, wyrm?" questioned Zedd with a level tone, bracing his staff for battle.

"I was at first," Entropy snickered with a devilish smile. Driving his arm forward, his long nails tore through a wave of soldiers, warning the others to keep their distance. That would not have been a difficult problem for the dark dragon to rectify, but he could not move, stuck in the small space. A hellish beast kept at a guard's sides pounced at the trapped drake only to be pierced through the belly by a massive spear. Rejecting its own death, the Garm clawed furiously at Geirrek as its body slid down the polearm. With a grin, the spearman tilted his weapon back and into the reach of his familiar's jaws, the demise of the dead. The mystic wanderer appeared suddenly before his ally, cutting off the enemies' path to him while his pet fed. A pair of hounds each with a pair of heads crept forward, moving to flank the man. He did not react to their advancement, never flinching or even seeming to breath. The Orphi recoiled as their paws were cut with thin lacerations. The wounds were not severe but their numbers grew quickly and for what seemed as no reason. Each of the four heads between them wildly darted about, each pulling the single body in the direction it last saw the near invisible source of the assault. The blitz came to an abrupt stop, only raising the paranoia of the monsters. Stepping back to back, they circled about with no where in the perimeter escaping the grim gazes between their eight eyes. Just as they thought the nuisance had fled, a draft began to pick up indoors. Suspended above the pair, the Kamaitachi had been spinning about in a ring, gathering a tremendous gale. A shredding whirlwind soon followed that lifted the dogs from the floor and beat them about the walls. Thrown out of the cyclone as it ended suddenly, a massive, shaggy, green hound stood over a blurred shape, pinning the weasel to the tiles beneath its hefty paw. The Cu Sith grimaced with its jagged jaws as the drooling lips were lowered to the caught prey. A shadow appeared over the faerie guard, and it beheld the traveller standing over it, unpleased. Whirling about his staff, he braced it horizontally in perfect timing to catch a recovered and charging Orphus on each end. Raising his stick up above himself, he drove an unsuspected knee into the fey hound's throat before chopping its neck with a swift blow. With a startled expression, the creature fell over unconscious, and Dai-Sho wiggled himself free to once more disappear into thin air. The guards realized that these were no ordinary intruders they were dealing with, a thought that came while waters rose above their feet. Unable to reach the sentries, Entropy still had them within his range. Summoning hellish rapids, a black tide ebbed the sentinels, scaring off those who did not already leave to collect reinforcements.

"What'd I miss?" questioned the Terrible Summoner, shaking off the few entrails that remained clinging to his spear left undevoured by the corpse eater. "Anything much?" Zedd answered with silence at first.

"I would suggest to your pet to reduce his girth," he cryptically spoke.

"My butt!" blurted Entropy in his feral tone.

"No need to be all sassy about it. Jeez," huffed Geirrek.

"No, really. My butt!" Returning to his hatchling size, another wave of guards had gathered at his backside, explaining its cause of pain. The forebearer to the battalion was great man, broad and decorated with badges of honor. A stiff, long beard hung from out his horned half-helm over the front of his ornament breastplate while a regal cloak of cerulean majestically covered its back. Wielding a threatening lance, tipped on both sides, in one of his mighty hands, the other arm was entwined by a serpent with eyes that glowed like lamps. It, too, was twin headed. The Amphisbaena slithered about in its coil on the troops' leader as he prepared to address the intruders. For all the eyes between them, none could spot the fiend that clung to the ceiling. Dropping onto the captain's shoulders, the lunatic cackled madly as the giant of a man flailed wildly in his attempt to remove the unwanted passenger. The slippery freak ducked and weaved about, seeming to find amusement in the struggle as though it were a game. Finally planting both hands on the annoyance, the general hurtled the laughing oddity forward. Still in his merriment, he crashed onto the floor in a rough tumble and kept the momentum going, fleeing as fast as his short legs would carry him away. The other centurions, as well, parted the scene by the other route, abandoning their leader. A touch concerned with the fleeing footfalls he heard behind himself, he turned to see if their lack of devotion was true, revealing to the two remaining, unwelcomed guests the shortening wick vanishing under the magnificent cape. They shortly made haste just as the others. Confused by everyone's fright, the captain slowly moved his hand to the lump he had just noticed in his back.

The hallways shook as a thundering blast tore through the citadel.

"Oo, man! That sap went pop good!" chortled the maniac, rolling about the floor in a fit of joy. "Let's go see how dead he is!" The excited fiend bound over his supposed companions, flattened by the force of the blast, on his way back to the point of detonation.

"Look at it this way," the hooded one tried to ration, "at least he's on our side."

"I would muse deeply upon which of our causes would be benefited by his assistance," confessed the cloaked man, pulling his face out of the tiled floor while still trying to maintain his composure.

"C'mon, fellows, ya got to see this," called out the freak. "Pick up the pace an' get yerselves down here." With annoyed grunts, the two marched back down to the place they had ran from for their lives moments ago, finding it filled with smoke and busted open wholly.

"Well, that's one to get around a magical loop trap," admitted Geirrek, looking at the massive hole blown in the side of the wall. "Good work."

"Who did what now?"

"And you wanted to ditch him on our flight here to lighten my load," mentioned the Nidhogg.

"Hey, I never said that!" defended his owner. "... aloud..."

"Say," spoke up the lunatic, not realizing that the comment was directed at himself, "where's Flop-Hop?"

Outside, hopping through the now unmanned stations at the front door, the horned rabbit made its way into the compound. With a wiggle of its heart-shaped nose, it skipped down the trail left by its owner's distintive odor. Meanwhile, the trio pressed onward to seek the lord of the manor. In their passing from the shattered hall, charred and skinless fragments of the dead stirred slightly as two halves of the double snake fused back into one. Calling out for its master, it wrapped itself back around the corpse's arm with eyes beaming as the fingers began to twitch

Posted by
Apr 22, 2006

"...I still wanna know where Flop-Hop is" the fool complained, "and this place just gets weirder and weirder every room we walk through"

"Are you referring to the decorations or the fact that some of the guards we are coming across now have an increasing number of appendages?" the wanderer asked.

"And as for your familiar, I assume he's still around somewhere, because you would've felt his death throes if he wasn't" the summoner added.

As Geirrek said this, Zedd's eyes narrowed. In one moment, a pair of single-edged swords appeared in his hands, the staff he had been carrying flew into the air and he twisted and swung one of his blades with utter precision at something that had been following them. The blade stopped mere centimetres from the Miraj's head.

"Hey!' the bunny exlaimed, "I'm on your side!"

"I am aware of that." The scarred one replied, "However, sneaking up behind a party infiltrating a hostile fortress is usually not the best of ideas."

At that, the coney glared at Zedd, before running to it's master. The cloaked man returned his swords to unseen sheaths and grabbed his staff from where it was floating mid-air.

"That was kinda freaky" the freak's familiar stated.

"Yeah, almost gettin' sliced in two..." the coated one began.

"No, not that, the two-headed snake thing healing that big guy and him walking off."

"WHAT?" the conjurer and the wanderer said in unison.

"Well, I walked into the castle, and started followin' ya, but when I got to this one room with all these corpses in it. In it, the only thing alive was this double-headed snake with yellow gleaming eyes. It was twisted 'round the arm of some really big guy. Anyway, some of the guy's wounds just sorta healed, and he got up and walked off in a different direction."

"Well, mayhap the lord of this place willhave warning of our approach after all." The cloaked man stated, "At least they do not know where we are..."

As the scarred one stopped his speech mid-sentance, he stared at one of the glyphs on the wall.

"I... Know that symbol." he said simply.

The others all looked at him in expectance.

"It means... Spirit in my native language." he stated, and pointed to his face..

Posted by
Apr 22, 2006

"Wait, you can read these things?" intruded the Nidhogg after climbing upon its keeper to meet the wanderer face to face. "Why did you ask if Geirrek knew anything about 'em? You could've saved us a lot of time."

"I recognize some, but," Zedd trailed off, "others are obscure to me. And if I had told what few I recognize mean, you may be deterred from progressing further."

"Oh, I'm sure they can't be that bad," dismissed the happy coney, gleefully being scratched by its master's sickly claws.

"This rune, which follows the symbol for 'Spirit,'" the cloaked one explained coldly, aiming his staff to the blood-soaked wall, "means 'Annihilation.' There are variations to the writings from what I am accustomed, but I am able to decipher several of the glyphs, my glyphs."

"But you aren't from the North," the summoner caught on, "and I know I've seen runes from the Norse alphabet here."

"Aye, and they are the portions I am unable to read, undoubtedly," admitted Zedd. He began to look over the many tapestries with a newfound intrigue. "Both our tongues are scrawled on these walls. Combining the two would not result in any sort of magic; it is not the words that have power, but their meaning. Yet what we see before us have an order. They are another language altogether, neither yours nor mine." The staff-bearer lifted cold eyes to the hooded one. "It must be ancestral, an ancient tongue from before our father's fathers, perhaps before all of humankind."

The spearman grasped his arm more tightly. "I knew they were old, but," wondered Geirrek, "such runes could be the first writing ever, handed down from the gods themselves. Now, we can't just worry about who is capable of using such powerful magic, but from whom did they learn it? You said for yourself..." He paused a moment, deep in contemplation. "'Before all of humankind.'"

"You an' yer human-talk," interrupted the mutant in a boisterous tone. "Whoever said someone had ta learn it? There're a lotta people in the world who ain't quite people, if ya get my drift. 'Ancient' means a whole lot less ta things that live fer millenniums. Maybe one of them wrote it all."

"Unfortunately," sighed the summoner, "the freak's making sense. These guys are pretty tough: enchanted hallways, sorcerer sentries, an immortal guard -- an inhuman in their ranks wouldn't be all that surprising. Still, none of this gives us any more information about what such a creature could be -- if it even exists -- or who is trying to stop us."

"Well, um," the baffled buffoon began to mumble, "maybe the same guy who made yer shiny gun?" The thing was met with a less than enthusiastic stare. "Hey, ya used that thing to get us here. Can't ya do that li'l whatzit of yers again so we don't run into any more surprises?"

"And how exactly am I supposed to do that? Even if there were enough space in this dungeon to fire another round, I have already used all of the components for the locator spell."

"I dunno. Maybe some of the sparklies are left in the gun?" guessed the coated one. "Ya could, like, spin it or somethin'... and it'd point to where we need ta go..."

The impish man was met only with a harsh, cursed stare. "Why do you assume such stupid, stupid things? Even if there were any of the magic left in the gun -- which there is not -- trying to get it to point out the direction we need to travel does not even make any sense with the spell I cast on it! Do you know anything about magic in the slightest, you dim-witted little man?" Geirrek ranted.

"Now, if you would excuse me, I am off to divine the direction we should travel, using an intelligent method," he stressed. With that, the apothecary took his leave, arriving around a bend in the labyrinth. With his hindparts still in full view, the entire party could witness him stoop down to the dungeon floor. What happened next was blocked from their vision, the sounds of iron scraping against stone, with a rhythmic skipping, could easily be heard. When the sounds stopped, Geirrek looked back down the corridor, following an invisible line with his eyes. He picked himself and an unseen object up from off the ground and walked past the group with a stern expression on his face. "We should go this way," he blurted out quickly.

The grey fiend stared wide-eyed as the passed them by. "Okay, ya know more 'bout yer own spell than me," it huffed. "No need to rub it in..."

The summoner backtracked the group an uneventful distance. No guards remained in the area, but there was no telling when more could return. However, the trek was as fruitful as the first time they traveled down this way; Geirrek's path led straight into a wall.

"I can't believe that gun lied to me," the apothecary complained. "I mean, that gun... son-of... a," he corrected hastily. With a quick inconspicuous cough, he carried on. "Whatever we're after could be opposite this wall, but we would surely lose our path if we had to turn.

"I dunno," sneered the weird one. "This wall kinda smells funny. Maybe there's a way through."

"You can't smell rock, you-"

"He could be right," Zedd quickly spoke up. Before the fiend could squeeze in a mocking, victorious laugh, the wanderer finished, "About their being a way through. Do you notice anything peculiar about the wall?" Reluctant to prove the little odd man right yet again, Geirrek eventually put his cursed eyes on the granite corridor. He visually traced the whorls and grains on the rockface, noticing a distinct pattern: a head, shoulders, arms, and legs. The imprint of a man was hidden on the wall, albeit a very tiny man. "Something has disturbed the very structure of the bricks; there is a path that leads within, and we must work to find it."

"Maybe it is just an illusion, and we can just walk in," suggested the grey one, lining himself up with the silhouette and rushing forward, nearly breaking his already crooked nose in the process. With an annoyed growl, he grumbled, "Fine, then. Onto Plan B." Before he could be talked out of it, another one of his bombs was lit and set before the wall. It soon no longer stood.

When the dust and floating debris settled, what once was a workshop could be seen on the opposite end. The walls were adorned with enough arms for a small army, and they were crafted finely enough to give it the strength of a large one. Embers burned beneath a forge, white-hot despite no one manning the bellows. In the far corner, a small, dusty individual huddled in fear appropriate for the recent explosion, clasping desperately to a long-handled sledge. It poked its pale skin and wavering, black eyes out from its enormous, grizzled beard.

"Allow me to handle this. There has already been enough violence," Zedd demanded in a passive way. "Greetings, dwarf," he began in a loud yet soothing tone, not wishing to frighten the thing more than they already had. "We mean you no harm. We are here to save you from your servitude; no longer do you need to work for this cruel master!" The scarred man slowly approached with hands exposed. "Tell me, what is your name?" The wandered attempted to smile, which may have been a more frightening face than his normal, dead expression.

"Something's wrong," Geirrek whispered to himself, suddenly realizing much he did not trust about the dark elf. At a few paces' distance from the creature, its beard suddenly exploded. A circular, toothy orifice erupted on its hideous head, accompanied by a scream just as grotesque.

With surprising agility, the dwarf took to the air with hammer raised high. The blue mage was not fast enough to spare his ally from the assault. The dwarf swung the sledge down; the heavy, wrought-iron head clattered against the floor. The evil little monster saw only a clean cut on the handle. Its bulging, dark eyes scanned the wrecked room for the perpetrator; it found three. The blurring images of a weasel repeatedly struck the tiny weaponsmith, loosing a grieve on its short shin and then shredding the unprotected leg.

"What is that thing?" a rarely startled and unknowledgeable Zedd asked.

"Not a dwarf," Geirrek told, "or at least, not just a dwarf. Dwarves are wrought from stone, carved and imbued with life by their ancestors.

"But this is no common dwarf; no one carved the first generation. They grew like maggots in the flesh of the world. The strength of earth without the rigidity of stone; they are much faster and stronger than their descendents. And by far more evil.

** There is still more to this story. Continue to the next page. **

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