Eagle Time

Full Version: The Ballad of Adler Young, Canto 2.5
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My lord Adler stared at Ash Marten, and Ash Marten stared back at the spot where he somehow knew His Majesty was scrying from.

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I can't stand the suspense! What's going to happen next? This is too intense for me! My lord will be back next week to once again take over the narration of this, his epic tale of intrigue and adventure.

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Well.

I managed to survive your horrid lowfolk holiday relatively unscathed, no thanks to the perfidy of certain individuals whom I won't name. You know who you are.

And so do I.

For now, let's continue on with the story. Where did Typantronn get you up to? Let's see ... I was parleying with Ash Marten and he was making ridiculous statements about my enemies and how he could help them get to me, so I called his bluff and asked him to elaborate on the subject more fully. We stared at each other for a while, until I thought he was playing some strange form of Frontgammon - and then suddenly:

Quote:>Ash: Take a breath and compose yourself. Your jovial attitude comes back as if nothing happened.

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"Of course," Ash grinned as his jovial manner suddenly returned. "I would be happy to list off your enemies. You should have done this yourself. It is something that will be an absolute necessity if you wish to rule an empire someday. Surely you don't believe for a moment that Queen Edessa is your only enemy? What about the Duchess of Daisies, Bonsai and his Shrub Knights, the Vulpitanians, the rabbit village, or the entire population of Faerie? Even your former allies are turning on you. Did you forget that your former mentor tried to kill you not long ago? It wasn't your plea of innocence that convinced Estvan to stop; it was when you took his walking stick and threatened him with it as a bargaining chip. Another example: That opossum body guard you used to have, the last time you met he helped you despite the Duchess's wishes. He has a family. According to my contacts when O'Daisies were still doing business out here, the Duchess found out about Lemmy's little slip. Who is he more likely to strike out against, the Duchess or you? You've been safe out here only because all the forces that worked against you believed you to be harmless. That's not entirely true anymore, is it? As minuscule and slow to build as it is, your hair cult is a shuffling inch in the right direction. Would they see you as truly harmless if they realized you were slowly building influence and resources? Of course they would be wiser to strike while you are still small and weak. I only have to say the right words to the right people, and the word spreads around through Faerie and the lowfolk realm. Suddenly Edessa realizes your banishment isn't as restrictive as she thought. Suddenly Bonsai finds out his tree guards are no longer serving their original purpose. Suddenly The Duchess discovers that her originally dismissed suspicion that you were behind the trees attacking her really was your doing all along. Suddenly the rabbits of Bunkirk learn that you and your followers are the real culprits behind their recent troubles. Suddenly the Vulpitanians learn that their spy has become a turncoat and is working for the presumptive emperor now. Suddenly word spreads like wildfire and every elf in all of Faerie realizes that Adler the 'Mass Murdering Brother Killer' is still alive, and they learn exactly where he is. Militias, spies, assassins, knights, fundamentalists, and everyone who bears you a grudge will be marching to your doorstep. As for 'holding the door open' ... scoff all you like; it matters not that I can't approach the stone circle. I am a Fuma damned master of nature lore and magicks. I can force the trees currently guarding you to go inert or even kill themselves if I so wished. I've let you discover one word - just one puny nature word against my own vast, encyclopedic knowledge which I gained over centuries. I'll have you know that I wrote the book on nature lore and the use of the Voice of the Forest! So rest assured, my young friend, you will be utterly helpless and unguarded while you are accosted from all sides. Your cultists won't be able to help you, because they will be busy bearing the Rabbits' wrath. You might be able to hold off such a multifarious assault for a while, but you can't defend on all fronts indefinitely. Eventually even the keenest eye must blink, and yours is not the keenest by far ... Imagine the Duchess succeeding this time in planting her charm, rendering you blind, deaf, and dumb to the outside world, hiding in your little tower in fear for your life forevermore."

At some point about two-thirds of the way through this monologue, I began to hear a small voice whispering "Sire! Psst! Sire!" somewhere behind me. I tried to wave the interloper to silence and listen to the rest of Ash's rant - just to be polite more than anything else.

Eventually he stopped talking and paused with a smug look on his face, apparently expecting me to gasp or sob or something.

"Is that it?" I asked. "Are you done? Hang on for a minute. My spy has returned and I need to hear her report."

"Naturally," Ash gloated.

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"Well?" I asked the Ixie as I withdrew from the scrying-space. "Did you contact the Sisterhood? What did they have to say?"

"They're not sure who he really is," she replied. "If this is the same Ash Marten who ran a tavern in Tulgeyside and then burned it down, they know him to be a small-time operator of local organized crime, specializing in murder, extortion, and insurance fraud. Before the fire, his tavern was a good recruitment location for potential Sisterhood agents. They've kept an eye on him but so far have deemed him not enough of a threat to merit action. What has he been saying? Has he menaced thee? They would be most interested to hear of any developments in that direction."

"He's pathetically desperate," I sighed, shaking my head at the sad spectacle of seeing an elf brought so low. "Really grasping at straws. He needs me to be crowned so I can pardon him, but instead of begging my favor he's acting all belligerent as if he alone can control my destiny. Instead of simply helping himself by helping me, he's willing to sabotage things so that neither he nor I can ever get what we want. It's downright goofy. Get this: He reckons the Duchess will come all the way back here to fight me when she discovers I'm a bigger threat, even though I managed to whoop her butt when I was LESS of a threat earlier! I suspect he's a dishonest elf, because he implied that it was threats of physical violence, not my sincere protestations of innocence, that convinced Estvan to stop trying to murder me. He seems confused about what exactly Lemmy did for me after the battle ... wait ... does that mean Lemmy is still alive? Did he get out of Albric Tor? How would Ash Marten know that? And what did Lemmy do anyway? He said he'd make a vague report about me to the Duchess; that's all. If he got on her bad side I doubt he'd be in any position to come take it out on me. Ash said something about a Vulpitanian spy defecting to my side and I don't have the slightest clue what he's referring to there, but if it's true wouldn't that be more to my benefit than my disadvantage? He tried to scare me with the mental image of hordes of elves marching here to attack me - but Faerie is perforated by Gaps. They'd have to march on foot through lowfolk country, and I don't see a lot of elves going to that much trouble. The only thing he's got that worries me is his uncanny command over the trees. If he gets the rabbits riled up and then clears the forest ..."

"Sire?" the Ixie asked as I trailed off.

"Something just occurred to me," I said excitedly. "Ash said he had written the book on the Voice of the Forest. What if that was no mere figure of speech, but ..."

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I dashed to the bookcase where I thought I had remembered seeing it, and sure enough, there it was: A thin, cheaply-bound monograph entitled An Exhaustive Treatise on the Tactical Utility of the Voice of the Forest, with complete glossary, by Dr. Owter Cesawonki, S.A., L.V.

I quietly thanked Fuma for her gift of Luck, and my ancestor Thorwald for being such an obsessive hoarder of information that he started the Department of Definitive Veracity, which built this scrying tower, and at some forgotten date obtained an obscure piece of Vulpitanian scholarship for its library.

"I think I know who our mysterious Mr. Marten is," I chuckled. "Stay on call in case I need you, but I'm starting to feel it will not be necessary to involve The Sisterhood in this affair after all."
>Nicely done ! However, knowing his name is only the first step of knowing who he is. You still need to find a way to know more, either by interrogating a source (maybe one you'd trust more thn the sisterhood) or scry him on the past (if such a thing is even possible)
>Or you could just read the "about the author" book prologue, sure , it works, it's just not as fun...
>Uh that paint a suprisngly milketoast description of the character. Of course you wouldn't expect the man to tell all of his all his sins and flaws in the introduction of his book but still... must have been a  while ago because he clearly changed since then.
>Also may be very usefull indeed to read, you could use more control over plants.
>Adler: Throw all your new knowledge in Owter Cesawonki's face. Call his bluff, even him using the forest against you. You know his secrets now.
>Ash: You are actually pleased to hear someone say your name for once. Adler's gloating could use some work. He shouldn't have revealed he found your book, especially since there's no way he read the whole thing yet, and surely he doesn't think you put ALL your secrets in there?
>Adler: Doesn't matter, you're confident that most of Ash's threats are empty and the few areas he could inconvenience you, you are confident that you can overcome.
>Ash: Are you to understand that Adler is in fact rebuking you and not afraid of your threats?
>Adler: Yep.
>Ash: *you clap your hands* Excellent, you'll begin assisting Adler right away!
>Adler: . . . What?
>Ash: You had heard that Adler was an easily manipulated fool. If he wasn't, then that means you won't be embarrassed working for him. If he was, well, mores the better for you. As a sign of good faith, you'll tell Adler everything you know about controlling the time slips. He thinks he has it figured out, but why leave things to chance?

Quote:>Or you could just read the "about the author" book prologue
>Uh that paint a suprisngly milketoast description of the character.
>Also may be very usefull indeed to read, you could use more control over plants.

So who exactly was this Owter Cesawonki? I flipped to the back of the booklet and read the "About the Author" page. It didn't tell me much; just that Dr. Cesawonki had studied botany at the University of Fuchsburg and was currently (at the time of writing) a Horticultural Fellow at Vulpitania State.

That didn't tell me much about the elf, but the book itself seemed to be a treasure trove of forest lore! I flipped through it quickly and saw that it contained detailed explanations of the specific talents of various plant species, as well as a basic grammar for The Voice of the Forest, and words of command that would guarantee plants' loyalty to the speaker. This would all be extremely useful!

I could barely suppress a chuckle as I re-entered the scry space and located Ash Marten.

Quote:>Adler: Throw all your new knowledge in Owter Cesawonki's face. Call his bluff, even him using the forest against you. You know his secrets now.
>Ash: You are actually pleased to hear someone say your name for once. Adler's gloating could use some work. He surely doesn't think you put ALL your secrets in there?

"Did your spy manage to find out anything useful?" he asked as soon as I connected.

"Not much," I admitted. "Ash Marten is an enigma, but I did discover something about a certain Dr. Owter Cesawonki."

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"Oh my!" Ash allowed himself a surprised little giggle. "How delightful to hear that name again! The Sisterhood is far better informed than I expected."

"Not exactly, Doctor," I smirked. "You see, I happen to have in my possession a certain booklet regarding the tactical use of the Voice of the Forest, written by a certain Horticultural Fellow whose threats now ring completely hollow."

"You've read my monograph?" Ash bubbled. "If we ever meet, please be sure to ask me to sign it for you. It was commissioned by the Imperial authority, you know. I put enough information in it to be useful to the Grand Marshal, but my dear boy, don't delude yourself into thinking that it contains ALL of my secrets."

Quote:>Adler: Doesn't matter, you're confident that most of Ash's threats are empty and the few areas he could inconvenience you, you are confident that you can overcome.

"Give it a rest, Doctor," I scoffed. "You have nothing to bargain with, and I'll tell you how I know. When I sent the forest to attack your ally and business associate, the Duchess of Daisies, you were either unable or unwilling to stop them. For that reason I don't think you can go to her now and expect any favors. Your information regarding events in Faerie is out-of-date and highly speculative. It seems to be mostly based on my own story, as overheard by your spies. I don't think you have any elven connections at all. As for your command of the forest, again referring to the previous arboreal battle, I don't think you are as much in control as you let on - and with the information in your scholarly report I should be able to deal with any sort of inconvenience you might pose to me. You say you need me to be crowned so that I may pardon you? Well, you should have approached me as a supplicant and offered your assistance in return for my favorable consideration. Instead you came with ridiculous threats. You've wasted your time as well as mine. Good day, sir."

Quote:>Ash: Are you to understand that Adler is in fact rebuking you and not afraid of your threats?
>Adler: Yep.
>Ash: *you clap your hands* Excellent, you'll begin assisting Adler right away!

"Wait!" Ash barked. "Am I right in understanding that you are dismissing me out of hand, and are not at all concerned about what I might do in retaliation?"

"Let's just say I'm not concerned enough to put up with you any longer," I replied.

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"Wonderful!" Ash chuckled, as he doffed his hat and bowed slightly in my direction. "I place myself at your service, Your Highness."

"What?" I answered incisively.

"I had surmised, based on the writings of Percy le Gobelet and some other tales that happened to make their way to me, that you were an easily manipulated fool. If you are not, then that means I shan't be embarrassed working for you. If it had transpired that you were indeed the fool I expected, well, obviously that would have been greatly to my benefit. You can't fault an old Vulpitanian for trying a few tricks. As a sign of good faith, I'll tell you everything I know about controlling the time slips. You may think you have it figured out, but there are certain details that all the standard texts omit, which can only be learned by frequent experience. Did you know, for example, that after putting your right foot in and taking it out, you can greatly solidify the temporal alignment by putting your foot back in again and shaking it all about?"
>Adler: Uh, wait- wait. Hold on a minute now. Sure, Ash's threat's where just a test, sure, and you passed,great, it's good to pass tests. However, tests or no, you're still apprehensive at having someone as unseelie as Ash working for you. He's a bad-bad man!
>Ash: Point out that compared to many other historical figures in Faerie, your tactics are positively mild in comparison. How many did the first emperor kill?
>Adler: That's different, Ash kills people thoughtlessly at the drop of a hat. He treats people like things, a mere resource.
>Ash: Untrue, you have thought them all out very thoroughly. You killed Walnut Marten's siblings to place him in a desperate and vulnerable position which you then saved him from allowing you to reap the rewards of his gratitude. You did the same thing to the younger Marten siblings with their now lost brother for the same reason. Gratitude is one of the most valuable currencies around, and if you have to artificially cultivate it, well, so be it. Also, you take exception to treating people like a resource. You have never treated elves in the same manner; there were assassinations, of course, but those where with dignity. Lowfolk aren't people, they're vermin. They should consider themselves lucky to be a resource for anything. By Fuma, Adler hasn't even been trapped among lowfolk for even a fraction as long as you and already he's going native?
>Adler: Deny it, the lowfolk hold no sway over you whatsoever!
>Ash: Hmmm... His crying session with Vernier says otherwise, but that's beside the point. The reason why the path you are opening up to Adler she be so valuable to him is because it allows him to finally be independent. With your assistance Adler can cultivate a vast amount of resources to put at his disposal that are only his. He won't have to rely on allies of convenience or people trying to turn him into a puppet. Just Adler and his plan. Sure, there's still you, but your motivations are straightforward, you just want to go home, and you are prepared to swear an oath that you will never bother Adler with any requests ever again. Think about it, no sisterhood trying to castrate and lobotomize him, no Duchess trying to force him into a marriage, no more deals with cretins who will only betray him a week later. And let's be honest here. The textbook definition of insanity is "Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result." How many times has Adler tried doing things the seelie way and how many times has it worked out? Maybe, just maybe it's time to try something different.
>Adler: ...
>Ash: Sometimes, the easy way is the best way.

Quote:>Adler: Uh, wait- wait. Hold on a minute now. Sure, Ash's threat's where just a test, sure, and you passed,great, it's good to pass tests. However, tests or no, you're still apprehensive at having someone as unseelie as Ash working for you. He's a bad-bad man!

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"So all of that was just a convoluted test?" I asked, skeptically. "It would be extremely convenient to simply say that, after your plan didn't work out."

"My plan included several possible outcomes," Ash sniffed.

"Did you take into account the possibility that I might not want someone so Unseelie working for me?"

"Poppycock," Ash poohed. "Compared to many major historical figures in Faerie, my tactics are positively mild. How many did Irenaeus kill?"

"That's different," I insisted. "Irenaeus mowed down his enemies in battle. He didn't murder them by treachery."

"He was reckless and indiscriminate," Ash scoffed. "They called him 'The Bloodthirsty' with good reason. I plan mine very carefully to get maximum reward with minimum waste. You see, I removed Walnut Marten's siblings to place him in a desperate and vulnerable position which I then saved him from, allowing me to reap the rewards of his gratitude. I did the same thing to the younger Marten siblings with their now-lost brother, for the same reason. Gratitude is one of the most valuable currencies around, but sometimes it must be encouraged by some slight artifice; cultivated, one might say. Also, let me point out that your first emperor massacred elves by the hundreds. I have never treated elves as if they were disposable. There were assassinations, of course, but those were dispatched with dignity. Lowfolk aren't people, though. They're vermin. They should consider themselves lucky to be useful for anything. By Fuma, don't tell me you pity them?"

"It's not right, what you do," I insisted.

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"Look," Ash explained. "The path I am opening up to you is valuable because it allows you to finally be independent. With my assistance you can cultivate a vast amount of resources that will be entirely yours. You won't have to rely on allies of convenience or people trying to turn you into a puppet. It'll just be you and your perfect plan."

"Wouldn't you be an ally I would have to rely on?" I pointed out.

"Well, yes," Ash admitted. "But my motivations are straightforward. I just want to go home, and I am prepared to swear an oath, if you require one, that I will never bother you with any additional requests. Think about it: No shadowy Sisterhood trying to castrate and lobotomize you, no Duchess trying to force you into a marriage, no more deals with cretins who will either forget their mission or outright betray you a week later. Honestly, how many times have you tried doing things the Seelie way and how many times has it worked out? Maybe, just maybe it's time to try something different."
>Ash: What better way for Adler to take his revenge but to rebel against the people who took everything from him? Cut them out then cut them up. Let them know just how insignificant they were in the scope of Adler's destiny. Keep them in the dark as you raise the hammer above their heads, then when the time is right, let them know exactly what they did and who they wronged. The look in their eyes as they realize that all avenues of escape are gone and all chances for mercy are dead. It is a very old and beautiful dance.
>Adler: Is revenge something Ash has a lot of experience with? Is that another reason he wants back into Faerie?
>Ash: Yes and a partial no. You have taken revenge for yourself and on behalf of others many times. It's one of the reasons you became so wealthy, your skills were always in high demand. But you have come to terms that most likely the people who wronged you are all dead. You'll have to look into it. But, that's a personal problem. You are willing to swear an oath as previously mentioned. Your informants, wealth, resources, and experience would all be at Adler's disposal. Your resources would pump Adler's little organization into a force to be reckoned with, your informants would scour the land looking for the Skonk lady Adler needs to find, and your employees would tirelessly spread pro-Lord Randal propaganda. You would get the ball rolling and all Adler has to do is use the time-skip, don't forget to use the method you told him lest he go too far, to skip to the end when the work is all done. Yes, some lowfolk will probably get hurt, but honestly, what are the lowfolk to Adler? With one exception, they have all been a disrespectful nuisance. You can deliver all this to Adler and he only has to say, "yes."
>Adler: It's very tempting. After everything you've been through, are you not entitled to have things be easy, even just once? What exactly are the lowfolk to you? Do you really care about them? Ash is loyal to foremost to himself, but he is willing to swear an oath to you. It worked on Estvan. Perhaps this can be a new tool for you. Any elf that enters your service must swear an oath. You should be entitled to that demand. You are the emperor, after all. The power you could hold over others would be absolute, no one could betray you ever again. Or else. And the idea of hurting back everyone who hurt you. Everyone. You could skip to the end where the work is all done. Just like that. It would be so easy. You asked this question earlier to Sam and Estvan. What has being seelie ever gotten you? If you really are Fuma's chosen champion, are you not entitled to accomplish your goals however you see fit? If it is for the benefit for all elves, does that not justify anything?
>So Adler, what will it be? Will you take the High Road, or the Fast Track?

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"What better way," Ash inquired, "to take your revenge than by rebelling against the people who took everything from you? Cut them out, then cut them up. Let them know just how insignificant they were in the scope of your destiny. Keep them in the dark as you raise the hammer above their heads - then when the time is right, let them know exactly what they did and who they wronged. Imagine the look in their eyes as they realize that all avenues of escape are gone and all chances for mercy are dead. It is a very old and beautiful dance."

"What does revenge have to do with me becoming Emperor?" I mused. "Is revenge something you have a lot of experience with? Is that another reason you want back into Faerie?"

"Somewhat," Ash shrugged. "I have often taken revenge for myself, and even more often on behalf of others. It's one of the sources of my fortune. My skills were always in high demand. However, sadly I must accept that the ones who wronged me are probably all dead already. I shall have to look into it. But, that's a personal problem which you need not worry about. You're certainly not one of them, and I am willing to swear an oath as previously mentioned. My informants, wealth, resources, and experience will all be at your disposal. I can mold your fledgling organization into a force to be reckoned with. My informants will scour the land looking for the noble skunk femme you need to find. My employees will tirelessly spread pro-Lord Randall propaganda. All you'll have to do is use the time-skip. Be sure to do it just like I told you, lest you go too far, and you can skip to the end when the work is all done. Some lowfolk will probably get hurt, but honestly, what are the lowfolk to the High King of all the elves? With one exception, they have all been a disrespectful nuisance. I can deliver all this and you only have to say yes."

0127hmm.gif

Something about this didn't add up. The insistence on swearing oaths implied a lack of trust, which - Seelie or Unseelie - was downright un-elfly. I also didn't like the idea of letting this unsavory character do all the work. How would I be deserving of a crown that someone else earned for me? Skipping ahead in time sounded especially suspicious; clearly Ash wanted me out of the way while he perpetrated who-knows-what manner of dastardly deeds in my name, without any supervision whatsoever. And why would lowfolk be hurt? They had nothing to do with this ... did they? Annoying as they were, they were still mostly innocent, and besides - their lifespans were so short, none of them would ever remain a problem for long.

"I don't understand why you can't just help on your own initiative," I finally said. "You don't need any authorization from me, and quite frankly I don't want my conscience stained by whatever it is you might do."
>Ash: You could have assisted Adler in secret of your own initiative, but Adler seems to keep forgetting what the general public thinks of him. His reputation paints him as either a mass murdering despot that delights in the destruction of others or a spineless, incompetent fool that strips himself naked while being interrogated, curls into a ball, and cries for hours on end.
>Adler: *in complete embarrassment* How do you know about that?
>Ash: Nobody bothered to keep it a secret. Anyway, if Adler was the former, he would have welcomed your help with open arms, if he was the latter there was no way of knowing if he would ever do anything useful or even have a plan which would require direct intervention to get the ball rolling. The fact that among Adler's first actions was to start a cult of hair dressers did not inspire confidence. It turns out Adler is somewhere near the middle, you admit that's on you for assuming he'd be one of the extremes. You'll be honest, elves don't lie after all, the main reason you offered to do all the work for Adler while he skips to the end is that, after hearing his life story and the way all of his exploits seem to turn out, you are worried that having Adler directly involved would be like keeping a powder keg near a kiln.Speaking of powder, you have to ask, Why was Adler so adamant on trying to steam gun powder?
>Adler: Why is it that despite everything else that has happened, that is the one thing everyone fixates on?

0203shrug.gif

"I could have assisted you on my own initiative," Ash shrugged. "But before wasting my time I needed to know what kind of elf I was dealing with. The stories portray you as either a mass murdering despot or a spineless, incompetent fool. If you were the former, you would have welcomed my help gladly. If you were the latter, there was no way of knowing if you would ever do anything useful or even have a plan which would be worthy of my involvement. I do have a certain amount of professional pride, and a modest but solid reputation to uphold. Your decision to start a cult of hairdressers as your first move did not inspire confidence. As it turns out however, you are somewhere near the middle, neither a tyrant nor a booby. My mistake for assuming you would necessarily be one of the two extremes. Elves don't lie; the main reason I offered to do all the work while you skip to the end is because ... well ... after hearing your life story and the way all of your exploits seem to turn out, I was worried that having you directly involved would jinx the whole operation."

"If I was a murderous despot I might not need your help," I pointed out. "And if I did accept, you'd be in constant danger from me as well as from my enemies."

"Believe me, I'm used to that," Ash replied.

"Well, I don't know -" I began, then reconsidered. "Or let's say I don't WANT to know exactly what you can do for me. The hair cult isn't a strong-arm racket, and I've already got Lysander looking for Zandar Skönk."

"Lysander works for me," Ash declared. "You had him investigating Skeorlesburg, correct? That place burned to the ground almost 150 years ago. An outbreak of witchcraft, according to the official reports."

"Was Zandar there?" I asked. "Did she escape? Why did she not come to the Ferifax Festival with the other changelings that year?"

"I don't have answers for those questions but I will get some," Ash replied, then tipped his hat and walked away.

0203alarm.gif

"Sire, Sire," an Ixie whispered urgently. "There is someone outside the scrying tower, on the porch, trying to get in!"
>Well, it's been a long while you had a visitor around here, what with the plague o'battle clouds remaining and so...
>Look (discretly) from the window above as to who that may be.
>Instantly regret peeping out the window. The sight is so horrifying you draw your knees to your chest and whimper.
>Adler: *GASP* It's someone from your past that has miraculously survived. Maybe Burnside or Thompson (the one that doesn't emote very well).
or
>It's a door to door salesman wanting to sell you cleaning supplies, something to get rid of that mountain of corpses would be useful.
or
>You open the door and no one is there, you close it and there is a knock again. This continues for a while. *sigh* Someone is playing ding-dong-ditch...

Quote:>Well, it's been a long while you had a visitor around here, what with the plague o'battle clouds remaining and so...
>Adler: *GASP* It's someone from your past that has miraculously survived. Maybe Burnside or Thompson (the one that doesn't emote very well).
>It's a door to door salesman wanting to sell you cleaning supplies, something to get rid of that mountain of corpses would be useful.

Who could be at the door? Did this mean the vapor from the Plague of Battles had dissipated enough that the field could be safely crossed? But Albric Tor was completely surrounded by Gaps! This would have to be someone who survived the battle and had been living in the city all this time ... but how? What had they been eating? I shuddered at the thought.

No, it was more likely this was somebody who snuck in through the Gate while I was distracted, talking to Ash. That meant it had to be an elf, but not somebody with security clearance to enter the tower uninvited.

"Did any of you see this person approach?" I asked the Ixie. "Where did they come from?"

"Sire, I have no idea," she replied nervously.

Whoever was out there rattled the door handle and then knocked sharply a couple of times.

If it was a battle survivor, there was no way of knowing if they were sane, or a bloodthirsty Plague-ridden zombie. I needed to see who it was before deciding what to do.

Quote:>Look (discretly) from the window above as to who that may be.
>Instantly regret peeping out the window. The sight is so horrifying

0210window.gif

I thought about just looking out the windows, but the ones overlooking the porch were high above the door - and besides, these tower widows were made of some kind of strange, milky glass that admitted a dim illumination, but you could not see through them.

I quickly returned to the scrying orb and used it to view the tower porch (keeping my view angle low so I wouldn't have to look at the decomposed carnage of the battlefield).

0210assassin.gif

A small masked and black-cloaked figure stood pressed against the wall beside the door. It clutched a dagger in one hand and seemed to be tensely waiting for the door to open.
>Adler: Make contact with elf mind. "How's it at, sugar cat?"
>"Completely Unknown Assassin Whom We've Never Seen Before": *complete surprise*"EeeeeK!"

Quote:>Adler: Make contact with elf mind. "How's it at, sugar cat?"
>"Completely Unknown Assassin Whom We've Never Seen Before": *complete surprise*"EeeeeK!"

"How's it going," I said.

0217whogoes.gif

The figure spun around in alarm, waving its dagger menacingly.

This did not seem to be the behavior of someone crazed by the Plague of Battles.

0217disarm.gif

I quickly Pooked behind the assassin and used a move Adoyret Sam had taught me to knock the weapon out of its hand. Then while I still had surprise on my side, I tackled the figure and pinned it to the ground.

0217pinned.gif

"Who are you?" I growled. "Are you alone? Who sent you?"

"Ain't tellin," the assassin snarled. "You'll have to ravish me a buncha times before I'll talk."
>Adler: Wait a minute: that accent, that irritating scratchy voice, the overwhelming odor of barbecue. Is that Burnside?
>"Unknown Assassin": You'll never tell! Your identity is a closely safeguarded secret! He'll have to torture you to get you to talk!
>Adler: *Pulls off the hood.*
>Burnside: "Okay, yeah, it's me."
>"Tell me who you are and who sent you"
>"I will never taaaalk unless you use some terrible orgasmic touch willes on me, repeatedly"
>"...Oh, hello Burnside"
(>That said, you haven't ravished anyone in a while, and with your ... block with lowfolks femmes... you may consider the offer later)

Quote:>Adler: Wait a minute: that accent, that irritating scratchy voice, the overwhelming odor of barbecue. Is that Burnside?
>"Unknown Assassin": You'll never tell! Your identity is a closely safeguarded secret! He'll have to torture you to get you to talk!
>Adler: *Pulls off the hood.*
>"Tell me who you are and who sent you"
>"I will never taaaalk unless you use some terrible orgasmic touch willes on me, repeatedly"

That accent! That scratchy voice! That diminutive stature! That smell of Antglade barbecue! Could it be possible?

I yanked back the assassin's hood.

0224burnside.gif

"Burnside??" I gasped in astonishment. "How did you survive the Plague of Battles? What are you doing here?"

"I ain't tellin' you nothin' you durn scallywag," the mysterious interloper grumped. "You'll have to torment me repeatedly with your Orgasmic Touch before I'll talk!"

Could this really be Burnside? There was one way to find out.

I reached into her robe and started pulling knives out of her Elfintory.

0224blades.gif

This was definitely Burnside all right.

"Dad blast you Adler!" she growled after shaking off her mask. "You better search every nook and cranny, cuz I might have a blade hid in a secret place, and so help me, if you leave me with one I'll stick ya!"

"Can I have 'em back when you're done?" she added as I slid the fistful of cutlery away from us across the scry-tower porch.
>"So, long time no see. Still working for the duchess o' daisy ? Still barbecuing ?"
>Have a surprisingly casual chat considering the circumstances.
>Adler: She can only have her knives back if she behaves. Tell her to explain herself. How did she survive and what is she trying to do?
>Burnside: You missed most of the battle, to your shame and disappointment, even with how it ended. You fell down a hole into the catacombs and you've been trapped down there this whole time. You were able to survive by eating bugs and mushrooms. When you finally found your way out, you saw someone in the tower and came to investigate. If it was anyone else you would have made them into barbecue, but seeing as it's Adler, well, this is your idea of flirting.
>Adler: Does she still work for the Duchess?
>Burnside: No, she probably thinks you're dead. Which is a good thing considering she'd probably flay you alive for switching sides and working for Adler. You're still waiting for your reward for that, you know.
>Adler: She smells like death and cheap barbecue. She needs a bath before you can even think about that.
>Burnside: Be impressed that Adler had actually used the plague of battles
>Adler: Oh that hurt!!

Quote:>"So, long time no see. Still working for the duchess o' daisy ? Still barbecuing ?"
>Adler: She can only have her knives back if she behaves. Tell her to explain herself. How did she survive and what is she trying to do?

"You can have your knives back if you behave," I explained. "Now tell me how you survived and what is your purpose in coming here now."

"Nuh uh uh," Burnside taunted. "I already said I ain't tellin. You'll have to ravish me pretty hard to make me talk. And you better search me real good to make sure I ain't packin a spare blade someplace."

0303search.gif

With an exasperated sigh I reached under her cloak and felt around for potential hiding places I might have missed.

"Oooh, yer gettin' warmer," she giggled.

After a few minutes I managed to find two stilettos, a dirk, and a thin rapier. "Is this all of them?" I asked.

"Yup," Burnside grinned. "I am completely unarmed. Elves don't lie. This means I am completely at your mercy and you can do with me whatever you will, you vicious brute!"

I must admit, searching her reminded me just how long it had been since I enjoyed any venery...

0303afterglow.gif

"Whew," Burnside sighed as we relaxed on the porch afterward. "You still got it, Adler darlin. I'm feelin' mighty talkative now."

"All right ... so how did you survive the Plague of Battles?"

Quote:>Burnside: You missed most of the battle
>Adler: Does she still work for the Duchess?
>Burnside: Be impressed that Adler had actually used the plague of battles

"I don't rightly know," she murmured dreamily. "Me and Thomson jumped into the fray and we was a-hewin' foes right and left, havin' a big ol time, and then I reckon you must've deployed the Plague o' Battles. Still can't quite believe you actually done it. Twas wonderfully Unseelie of you."

"It was an accident," I insisted. "Go on with your story."

"Well there was a greenish fog and then MAN ALIVE! What a feelin! I went buck wild, just a-killin' everything in my path. Reckon that's the most fun I ever had in my life, right up until I blacked out. Don't recollect what happened, but I must've fell through a Gap because I woke up covered with gore in the top of a tree, and when I clumb down I was in the lowfolk world. I was right upset about that, and I'm afraid I wasn't very nice to the loggin' crew I ran into ... but the ones that lived took me to see the Duchess and we got it all sorted out in the end. She was mighty surprised to see me."

"Are you still working for her?" I asked nervously.

"Course I am, sugar," Burnside giggled. "I wasn't sure what had become of you, but I do declare I was tickled pink when she sent me here on this mission."