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Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories

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A Good End in Badside - Part 3

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Part LXI

"Um, what's the point of that? asked Belvani.  "Do you think they're going to any more co-operative and forthright with us than they were with Hallarax?"   I didn't bother turning to address him and counted off points on my fingers as I walked, "Bah, first off I'm an authorized representative of Sor-Eel the Lunar Governor of Pavis.  That gives me some clout.  Probably not enough to get straight answers but certainly enough to get something from them.  Second, I'm more interested in stirring up the ants nest to see what comes out right now.  Maybe an official investigation will put some fear in their hearts. Err, third I'm tired of this whole damn business and heartily wish it were all over."  I did stop both walking and talking at that point. I smacked myself on the forehead. "Damn it, I forgot to ask where they live." 

The house, once we'd gotten the address from Hallarax's spotty clerk, turned out to be not all that far from the River Guild's offices.  They lived in a pretty nonedescript place.  The only real distinguishing features were the third story of sundried brick and the two goons loitering outside.  They were good goons too and watched Belvani and I walk by.  They were unarmed, respecting the letter of the law, but a conveniently placed pile of "firewood" violated the spirit of the law.  I led Belvani halfway up the street before turning around and heading back to the building.   The goons got even more alert and interposed their aromatic selves between myself and the door.  I looked mildy up at them and said, "I wish to see Throshush Alcides Hybarate."  This request clearly startled them and the smarter looking one of the pair seemed to struggle a bit mentally before replying.  "Uh, do you have an appointment?

I held up my writ of authority in front of his face and said, "I don't require an appointment."  The goons looked blankly at it.  Of course they couldn't read.  The smart one tapped his comrade on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear about getting someone who could read.  Belvani and I cooled our heels, if you can call it that when you're standing with the sweat pouring off of you.  Bloody street was just wide enough that the sun could beat down on us.  Fortunately we didn't have to wait long.  Soon enough the goon returned with an archetypical Dara Happan functionary right behind him.  He was dressed in typical Dara Happan attire which fortunately for him didn't make him too badly overdressed for Pavis but he clearly wasn't overly thrilled with being outside.  He looked down his long nose at us and arched one carefully plucked eyebrow at the sight of us.

"And you" a slight pause just brief enough to avoid deliberate insult, plenty of time for that later if we really were just a pair of wankers, "gentlemen are?"  Again with the arched eyebrow.  "I am Placidus Treibonus, special agent of Govervor Sor-Eel and this is my, err, special deputy and representative of Count Solanthos Ironpike, Count Belvani."  Belvani raised his eyebrows at this but I'd decided he needed a promotion.  The functionary raised both eyebrows at this, "Indeed is that so?"  I held the writ up and he read it through.   He looked less than thrilled by the time he reached the end but he bowed and waved his arm gracefully in the direction of the door, "Won't you gentlemen please come in." 

He led us to the door and stopped just outside.  "Do you gentlemen swear that you mean the residents of this building no harm?"  Belvani looked at me and I hemmed and hawed.  "We are investigating a murder and if the murdered proves to be a resident here we cannot promise not to cause them harm.  The functionary's face blanched when I said murder.  "A murder?  Whose?"  I frowned at him, "I will discuss that with your master.  If he sees fit to inform you afterwards that is his business."  Ha, that'd teach the bastard for looking down on us. It was his turn to frown but he nodded, "Do you swear to cause no harm to the inhabitants of this building other than through the pursuit of your official duties?"   I nodded and Belvani followed suit.  He shook his head, "No you must swear so to the guardian of this house.  He nodded at a clay face set in the wall, from the looks of it a recent addition.  I leaned towards the face and said, "I swear to do no harm to the inhabitants of this house other than asproves necessary in the pursuit of my official duties."  The blank eyes of the face glowed yellow and I looked at the functionary.  He smiled a tight lipped smile so this was obviously the correct response.  Belvani made the same oath and again the eyes briefly glowed yellow.

Nodding in satisfaction the functionary went inside. We followed him in and after our eyes has adjusted to the dimness found ourselves in a beautifully appointed hallway.   It really was much too nice for a building in Pavis and Belvani was clearly impressed, as was I to be perfectly honest.  The functionary, who still had neglected to introduce himself led us into an antechamber and gestured at a pair of chairs set there.  "Have a seat.  I will have refreshments served and I shall inform my lord that you wish to speak to him."


"Very nice." said Belvani looking around.  I remembered that he had proved to have a discriminating eye before when he had admired my washstand.  Here though he certainly had a lot ot admire.  The room was decorated in a traditional Dara Happan style, one I recognized as being more commonly used in previous centuries, rather than the slightly more ostentatious style that's the norm now.  Since there was no way this building was that old the style must have been intentional.  Very classy and refined.  Obviously a family of taste and better yet lots of money.   After a short pause a pair of young women wearing discreet veils entered and served us cool fruit juices. In actual glass containers!  One of the pair had even brought cloths and a basin of scented water so we could wash the dust and sweat off of our faces and hands.  While one served the fruit juices the other set up bowl and cloths on a washstand, not as nice as mine by the way, and then briefly but rudely stared at us.  I returned her stare with a rude one of my own and noticed that her eyes were quite fiery looking.  Not literally mind you.  After a brief standoff she lowered her gaze, bowed and in a husky voice asked whether we wanted anything else. We shook our heads no.  Impressed by our deluxe treatment we thanked them.   The drink server didn't reply and just bowed and slunk out of the room.   The other one just stared briefly at us and then left head held high..

After cleaning up a bit we sat down to enjoy our fruit juice. As we sipped I casually asked Belvani, "Is it normal for serving girls to go armed in Dara Happan society?" Belvani frowned at me over his drink, "Which one?"   "The haughty one."  "Really?"  "Yes, she had a knife strapped to her right leg."  I took another sip.  "Quite a long one too."  Belvani shrugged, "I don't suspect that's normal behavior but then I'm hardly an expert.  There are a lot of differences between Sun County and Dara Happa."   I shrugged back and we sat there enjoying our juices until the functionary returned.  He entered, bowed and said, "My lord, Throshush Alcides Hybarate is able to see you now.  Would you please walk this way."  He minced off and we followed him farther into the house. I struggled manfully not to make a joke at my own expense.  You know, based on how hard it would be for me to walk like I'd had a stick shoved up my arse due to my artificial leg. A snicker even passed my lips and Belvani shot me a warning look.  I settled myself as the functionary turned and raising one eyebrow inquired, "Something amusing?"  "Oh, no just remembering an old joke.  You probably know it already.  See there's this duck, a baboon, a bison rider, an Orlanthi and a Yemalian and they go into Gimpy's and..."  He interrrupted, "I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with that one sir."  Then he was rude enough to turn and keep walking.  Before I had even finished.  Belvani rolled his eyes at me and I shrugged apologetically..

After climbing three, count 'em three! bloody flights of stairs, that shut me up but good, we finally reached a short corridor at the end of the last flight.  We passed not one but three matched pairs of statues of Dara Happan pikemen on the way and I swear that all six of them were eyeing us as we passed.  Scary. A bloody wooden door, of oak no less and not scrub oak like you find in Prax.   No, this was good Sartarite oak and must have cost a fortune.  Nothing too good for these bastards. The functionary stopped before the door and let me catch my breath, which took far too long, before calling out quite loudly in New Pelorian, "Master, your guests are here."  We heard faint footsteps from inside the room, some muttered words we couldn't quite hear and then the whole door glowed briefly orange before swinging open.  Inside was the even glow of magical light rather than the flickering torchlight of the corridor.


"Welcome, welcome, come in," said a thready old voice.  We entered, first Belvani, then me and finally the functionary.  The room was a shocker I must say. Both Belvani and I stood there in silence as we absorbed what we were seeing.  The room, which must have been an illusion, gave the appearance of being a circular tower room lined with large glass windows.  I gaped as the windows looked out not on Pavis and Prax but the terrain around Raibanth.  There was the fabled crooked tower, there was the Octagonal Arena, there the despot's Palace.  I shook my head at such extravagence. The owner of the thready voice turned out to be just as old as I'd expected.  He was a decrepit looking old man who was sitting in a comfty armchair in the centre of the room lording it over all he surveyed.  Well, here in Pavis anyway.   I doubt he was important enough to lord it over the real Raibanth.

Annoyingly there wasn't anywhere else to sit but the comfy armchair so Belvani and I were forced to remain standing.  Nor were we offered any more refreshment.  I guess that we'd gotten all we deserved downstairs.  Now was the time for business.   We began to offer a proper greeting to our host but Throshush Alcides Hybarate interrupted us and waved a stick thin arm around cackling wheezily. "Not bad, eh.   If I cannot actually be in my beloved Raibanth I can at least sit here surrounded by the simulation of it.  Rather than this pestilent backwater I find myself stuck in."  He paused before continuing.  "Profitable anyway if pestilent.   What can I do for you fine gentlemen."  His enunciation was perfect without any pauses or accents that we might find insulting.  Belvani deferred to me so I addressed the withered monkey skeleton myself.  "Lord Hybarate, I am Treibonus Placidus, special agent to Count Sor-Eel and this is Count Belvani of Sun County, my assistant.  We are investigating some murders here in Pavis and we have reason to believe that the Willowgreen Association or someone associated with the Association is involved."

His dried up pruney face didn't change a bit so either he was a master of self-control or he was expecting us. There was no reason of course to doubt that he was such a master.   No Dara Happan could get very fair in the trade business without being onel.  They're pretty cut throat in their business dealings.  "So this is about those two Yemalio worshippers then?"  A slight drawl on the name of the god there.  Beside me Belvani stiffened at the slight.  I ignored him.   "Yes, our investigations have pointed towards your Association.  Or at least someone associated with your Association."  I bowed slightly to show I meant no insult, though of course my bow was pure bullshit.  His smile didn't reach his eyes.  "From what I have been told the two dead individuals were associated with an illegal trade.  The Willowgreen Association does not engage in illegal acts."  I raised an eyebrow, "Oh, really?  Even when said trade isn't illegal within the Empire and is fabulously profitable?"  The slight smile disappearred.  "Do you have any actual proof or evidence?  Or are you operating on hearsay and the slanderous rumours spread along the waterfront?"

I inclined my head.  "Mostly hearsay and slander so far but we are starting to gather some good evidence.  We were wondering whether we could question the household staff."  He seemed momentarily taken aback by my affrontery.  He templed his fingers and sat looking thoughtful. Finally he sighed.and bowed his head slightly. "Well I suppose there is nothing to be lost in co-operating with the authorities and much to be gained.  I give my permission for you to question anyone you like with the provision that you do not question any of the women in this household without a chaperone."  I was startled by the acquiesence but bowed graciously and mouthed my thanks.  "I will speak with the steward about the arrangements.   And of course you can do your questioning today so you do not have to fear that my people have been prepared with what they have to say beforehand."  I was surprised by this statement which suggested foreknowledge of the informant's occupation.   Curious.  Belvani and I thanked him and made to leave.  He stopped us just before we reached the door.  "Oh Treibonus, be assured that I will not forget this insult."  I smiled at him and shrugged briefly before bowing.   "What kind of day would it be if I hadn't made a powerful enemy?"   Belvani and I left, laughing at the sour look we left on his face.

Part LIX

After the torture of descending all those stairs was over we started questioning the male staff.  The female staff were off limits until a suitable chaperone was rounded up which took quite a while.  A suspiciously long while if you ask me but I get paid to be suspicious so maybe it wasn't that suspicious.  Questioning went on all morning.  We hoped to get some lunch but I guess that was a bit much to expect.   We questioned all the male staff present, which was a complete waste of time because to a man none of them had ever heard of Cressidus or Balarus before.  None of them knew anything about any trade in illegal substances either.  And this included the clerical staff from the Association's offices.  This was getting a bit much for me.  Not that I really expected someone to confess but one of them could have at least been startled or reacted suspiciously when I mentioned it.  Either they were all excellenet actors or none of them really did know anything.  I'd heard the name Willowgreen mentioned too many times in association with hazia to believe that they were innocent.  Maybe there was a different bunch of employees somewhere else that knew something.

We decided to go elsewhere for lunch and since Juli's was close Belvani and I headed over there after warning the steward that we would be back after lunch to question the womenfolk.  We had a hearty lunch and complained to one another about the lack of co-operation we were getting.  I did suggest to Belvani that I thought the fiery serving girl from this morning might be a better candiate for questioning.  She might actually know something.  After paying Juli we headed back to the Willowgreen place where we were let in surprisingly quickly.  We were ushered into the same sitting room that we had been in this morning and there we found a respectable looking matron who we were never properly introduced to. 

We spent the afternoon questioning servants and the like and found it to be an incredibly irritating procedure.  They were very reluctant to speak to men they didn't know and even the presence of the chaperone and steward didn't help much.   After a steady succession of mumblers who knew less than the men did I threw up my hands in frustration.  I realized that we hadn't seen the feisty serving girl from this morning so I turned to the steward.  "Hey, what about the serving girl from this morning?  The one with fiery eyes and a husky voice."  I left out the pig sticker on purpose.  The steward and the chaperone exchanged a quick unreadable look before they turned to me in confusion.  "There's no such servant here at Willowgreen House," he asserted. 

It was Belvani and my turn to exchange a look.  Then who the hell was she and why were they trying to cover up her presence?  I described her as best I could without having seen much of her.  "Err, she was this tall, brown eyes, nice build."   That got me a shocked gasp from both the steward and the chaperone.  "She was wearing a blue cotton dress."  They turned again to each other and had a short conversation with each other in rapid Dara Happan which I couldn't really follow.   The steward sighed and looked extremely agitated.  He said, "Wait here please I must go consult with the master."  He dashed out of the room leaving us with the chaperone who startled and then heaved her not inconsiderable bulk up out of her chair and fled after him.  Belvani and I exchanged another confused look and settled in for a rest.

Part LX

We sat there for a while scratching our heads in confusion.  Now who could this woman be?  Obviously not a servant.  A family member perhaps?  But then why would she be behaving so badly as to be serving strange men drinks.  Maybe she was checking us out?  That was terribly suspicious.  Belvani and I discussed the possibilities in whispers as we waited.  The wait was starting to get pretty damn tedious by the time the majordomo had returned. He swept in nervously.  "The master would like to see you again."  I groaned inwardly at the thought of those bloody stairs and Belvani looked sympathetically at me.

Going up them again was just as irritating as it had been the first time but at least I could consider this part of that vow I'd made to myself earlier to get in better shape.   We were ushered in to speak with the monkey skeleton again but this time he wasn't alone.  Two lesser thrones had been brought in and a pair of foot stools.  (How thoughtful of someone).  Monkey skeleton was sitting in the big throne and a terribly good looking young Dara Happan male whose face was marred by a horrible scowl was sitting at his left hand and the fiery serving maid of this morning was sitting at his right. The pair were both dressed very well indeed and the young woman was of course wearing her veil. Family members indeed.

I declined the stool.  It's pretty much impossible for me to get up from a stool.   I can manage getting up off the ground but a low stool doesn't provide enough leverage for me to get up.  Monkey skeleton was upset about my refusal of his hospitality until I explained why.  Then he sent the majordomo off to fetch another chair.  We waited, not speaking for him to return.  When he did carrying a nice plain chair I sank onto it gratefully.  Then our host made the introductions.   Turns out that the young man and woman were brother and sister and his nephew and niece.  The nephew, Dalmaides Prosso Hybarate, was here to learn the family business.   He seemed a nasty little git, quite full of himself.  Throshush seemed reluctant to introduce us to the niece and I remembered that Dara Happan families quite often sequester their females. 

I prodded, "And the young lady's name is...?"  A brief scowl flitted across Throshush face.  (It made his wrinkles ripple).  "My niece is named Felicity Priesta Hybarate."  Belvani and I both bowed to the young woman and she obviously glared at us from under her veil.  "And your niece is here in Pavis because...?"  Throshush stiffened slightly while Dalmaides face turned beet red.   He made a move for the dagger he was so obviously not wearing.  Probably for a good reason too.  Throshush made a brief chopping motion at him and he settled down.   He spoke with visible reluctance. "My niece is here in Pavis because she and her brother are inseparable."   "That'll make any marriages a bit strained won't it?"  I blurted out.  Belvani gave out a surprised hiss and Throshush actually threw out his spindly arm to keep Dalmaides in his chair.  His face was pretty red too and I hastened to offer my apologies.  "Sorry, that just slipped out.  None of my business really."

Throshush bristled.  I tried a different tact.  "Can I ask the pair of you some questions."  This was directed at their uncle of course.  All three of them scowled at me with varying degrees of heat.  Dalmaides' burned the hottest but uncle and sister weren't fair off.  ""The activities of any of my family members are none of your business Treibonus," he spat.  I shook my head.  Now I was on familiar ground.  I bowed briefly to them before standing up.  "Since you will not co-operate I guess I shall have to have the three of you dragged before the governor for questioning."  I turned to leave.   "Let's go Belvani."

Part LXI

I waited for the expected protests and my waiting wasn't in vain.  Throshush quickly spoke in an oily voice like the phony charm salesman he most certainly was.   "Now, now let's not be hasty.  I supposed a few judicious questions are not unreasonable."  "Now you're being reasonable.." I began and did a quick about face.  A little too quick as I stumbled and started to fall.  I tried to catch myself but all I managed to do was to snatch at the closest person.   This turned out to be Felicity and clumsy old me managed to "accidentally" unveil her.  I ended up on the floor at her feet staring up at her face with what I hoped was a sufficently mortified expression on my face.  Oh, the glare of fury in her eyes!  Fortunately I had managed to avoid groping her.   However I was rude enough to gaze on her feminine beauty with my profane and unrelated eyes.  She was a looker, no question about that.  Chiselled features, black hair and eyes, perfect complexion.  Pretty unmistakable.

That was about all that I got to see because Dalmaides let me have one across the face.   It's a good thing he didn't have a knife or dagger otherwise he would either have blinded or castrated me.  I know which I'd prefer.  No, come to think of it I don't.  Let's hope it never comes to my having to make that choice.  Anyway, I hit the floor again, this time without the benefit of my meager tumbling skills, and lay there stunned.  I rubbed my jaw and kept my eyes carefully averted through the ensuing uproar.  Throshush and Belvani were both yelling at Dalmaides and Belvani was actually holding him off me.  I held the veil up, still keeping my eyes down and Felicity angrily snatched it away from me.  I knew it was her from the scent she was wearing.  After first giving her time to don the veil once more I awkwardly got to my feet and carefully maintaining my downcast eyes I begged her and Throshush's profound forgiveness.  I cursed my clumsiness and offered to make whatever restitution was required.  Belvani drily commented from where he held the struggling Dalamides, "I believe castration or blinding was the traditional Dara Happan practice, Treibonus.  A very generous offer." 

I winced and instinctively made a grab for my goodies before Felicity spoke in her husky voice, "That will not be necessary as I am sure that Treibonus did not intentionally unveil me."  Throshush irritatedly interrupted her, "That is not for you to decide niece.  That is a family decision."  He paused and I straightened up.  His features were tighter than they had been before which was saying something.  Through clenched lips he continued, "However I must agree this time.  It was an accident and I suppose in these enlightened times," he nodded at me in deference to the Empire's contributions to progress, "we must make allowances for mistakes."  I sighed a deep and authentic sigh.  I bowed deeply.  "We will be taking our leave now.  Perhaps we can make an appointment to come back at a later time and ask a few more questions?"   Throshush nodded briskly and we made our exit.  "You can send a message to me at Gimpy's about what time is convenient."  Throshush nodded again and I looked at Belvani.  He was still holding Dalmaides in quite an ingenious headlock. I would definitely have to ask him to show me that one. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at us and Throshush angrily ordered Dalmaides to go to his room.  Belvani let him go and he straightened up.  He bowed respectfully to Throshush and his sister, gave Belvani a quick nod and flashed me one of those looks that should have killed me there and then.   He turned to leave and didn't even slam the door.  Such authority these Dara Happan family heads have.  We waited a bit to let him get ahead of us and then refusing any medical attention took our leave.  Both of us were as edgy as mice in a cat's kitchen on the way out.  The majordomo returned Belvani's shortswords to him and we buggered off.

After we had gotten safely outside and down the streets a little we both relaxed.   Belvani shook his head, "You are very lucky that they wern't a more traditional family Treibonus."  I shrugged, "I was counting on them not being that traditional.  It seems unlikely that an authentically traditional family would be here in Pavis at all or let their womenfolk be here.  Besides I knew that you were there to back me up."  He shook his head again.  "You are very lucky that he wasn't armed.  I would be careful going down dark alleys for the next little while.  He seems to be a very angry young man to me."  I rubbed my bruised jaw.  "I'd agree with that assessment."  "So now what, Treibonus?"  I smiled and winced.  "Now we take our hard earned knowledge of what young Felicity and Dalmaides look like and make some enquiries."


I decided that the best place to start would be Silibar's Fancies especially since that was the only haunt we knew of for our friend Cressidus.  I explained this to Belvani and he nodded his agreement.  We had started to head there when I remembered something. 

"You'll have to send your lizard home Belvani."  I smiled what had to be characterised as a rueful smile.  "They have a strictish no pets allowed policy."

Belvani's eyebrows rose at my choice of words and I would swear that the dragonewt's hackles rose slightly at being described as a pet but I may have been imagining that.   Anyway Belvani shrugged and sent the lizard back to his quarters at the Sun Dome temple.  Not of course as one would send a pet home but as one would send a servant.   No big surprise there.  I may not like non-humans much but that doesn't mean that I think they're no better than animals.  Not that that attitude is rare mind you.  Spend some time in the Far West of Genertela if you doubt me.  Tolerance of others is most certainly not their byword.  Hah, that's rich coming from a bigot like me.  At least I'm prepared to live and let live though.  I won't be declaring any crusades anytime soon.

We made good progress across town since as is usual for this time of year it was just too damn hot at this time of day, late afternoon, for much in the way of foot traffic.   Those who just had to be out where moving as slowly as they could in order to conserve their bodily fluids.  We made our leisurely way to Silibar's Fancies.   We nodded to the bouncer, a different one from my last visit and went inside.   It was dark inside and sounded pretty quiet.  Once our eyes had adjusted we saw that our ears had not deceived us.  We didn't have to wait long until a pretty young serving wench saw us and came over.  I recognized her as the woman who had accused Cressidus of improprieties during my last visit and from the fleeting frown that crossed her face I saw she recognized me too. I maintained strict eye contact with her since I prefer not to be one of those men who see women's breasts as a sort of visual placeholder. Besides I wanted her to like me.  Makes questioning people easier. I asked her for a table for two and she seated us off in a dark corner with a good view of the entrance.  Just what I would have chosen.  I ordered wine and after a brief hesitation supper as well.   Might as well enjoy my visit.  In a insane moment of generosity I even offered to pay for Belvani's meal.

"You must be feeling more confident about this case to be in such a good mood, Treibonus."

"You have to admit that it looks like we've finally have some decent leads."

He nodded in reply and we sat in companionable silence drinking our wine until our meals arrived.  We tucked in with gusto.  Not bad, the grub was better than it had been the last time.  When I was getting close to being finished I waved the waitress over and asked if Silibar was free to see me.  She nodded and scurried off to check this with Silibar.


We didn't have to wait long.  It seemed that the server had barely disappeared into the door that I knew led to Silibar's office before she came back out.  She almost flew back to our table.  She told us that Silibar was waiting to see us.   I nodded my thanks, waved away her offer of guidance and Belvani and I headed towards her office.  Despite my having dismissed her she tagged along behind us.  It didn't particularily matter to me so I pretended she wasn't there. I went in followed by my entourage to find Silibar sitting behind her desk.  She didn't seemed all too thrilled to see me again but I decided not to take that too personally.  She nodded at me, smiled uncertainly at Belvani, I guess the server had forgotten to mention him, and waved negligently at the chair before her desk.  I waved Belvani forward to sit on the chair while I stood.  The server stood just beside the door.  Silibar glared at her but she ignored the glare and stayed.  Interesting.

"Greetings again Silibar.  This is my colleague on this investigation Count Belvani from the Sun Dome Temple in Sun County."

Silibar was a pro and gave nothing away.  She bowed a graceful bow at Belvani which he returned.

"We don't get many followers of Yemalio in my establishment Count.  I am honoured."

She uttered this line without simpering but I got the distinct impression Belvani was her kind of man.  That could be worked to our advantage.  Belvani bowed even deeper but restrained himself from uttering any inanities in return.  I smiled at this touching scene before getting down to business.

"Silibar, I have some new leads in my investigation and I wanted your permission to question the staff."

Her eyebrows rose.

"What did you want to question them about?"

"We have some new suspects in the case and I wanted to know if they have been seen here."

"Certainly, I am more than willing to co-operate with the authorities.  Could I hear the descriptions?  I may recognize them myself."

I quickly described young Dalmaides and got no reaction from Silibar or the server.   It was a different matter when I described Felicity though.  I was only halfway through the description when Silibar's lips tightened and the server let out a gasp. I stopped and waited for an explanation.

"So that's why we haven't seen her lately."

"Seen who?" I asked.

Silibar sighed, shrugged and straightened her shoulders.

"Our new maid."

Part LIX

To say that this was a bit of a stunner would be an understatement.  Extremely odd behaviour for a supposedly upstanding young Dara Happan maiden.  Of course this entire case was filled with examples of odd behaviour by Solar types so I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.  Belvani had greeted this bit of news with a sudden intake of breath and I had had to suppress a gasp.

"So how recently was this new maid been here?"  I asked.

Silibar made a sheepish face and shrugged her shoulders.  "She didn't come to work the day after Cressidus was killed."  She paused.  "Of course we didn't realize that she had quit until after your visit.  She just didn't come in to work and didn't send a message or anything."

I frowned, "Did you check up on her?"

The server nodded vigorously saying, "I took Bruno and went to check where she had said that she lived."

I looked questioningly at Silibar.

Silibar frowned and waved her hand at the server,  "My daughter Signe.   She's not the most obedient child."

Signe just smiled at this.

Silibar continued.  "Signe and Bruno one of the bouncers went to the place the maid had given us as an address to make sure she was all right."

"Do your maids normally live outside of the premises?"  Belvani interrupted.

Silibar shook her head,  "Not normally but I was prepared to make some allowances for a looker who was prepared to provide...shall we say a full range of client services."

I shook my head in wonder and Belvani gasped again.  Bad enough that she was sneaking away from home to work in a tavern but selling her body too?  There was definitely something wrong with our girl.

"And so when Signe and Bruno got to the address?"  I prompted.

Signe made a moue of disgust.  "A total dump.  Just disgusting.  On the waterfront.." 

She gave the address which surprise, surprise wasn't all that far from the Hybarate household as the gull craps.. 

She continued, "And of course they'd never heard of her."  She shivered.   "Going there was a mistake though.  A crowd gathered and started hassling me and Bruno and I barely got away." 

I was dumbfounded.

"A crowd in Pavis tried to attack you?"

"Well, there were only three of them but they were such big brutes."

"Wait a minute."  I quickly described the ogres and she gave a start of recognition.

"That was them!  I'll never forget how cold the old one's eyes were."   She shivered.  She brightened up a bit.  "But for some reason they had the cutest little dog with them."

Part LX

So now the bloody ogres seem to be associated somehow with our newest examples of how even the strictest upbringing can result in bad seeds.  If the world is ever cursed with my spawn I'm going to let them run wild.  Less stress on me and they'll probably turn out bad anyway.  Easier that way for all parties. I've thought it before and I'll think it again, bugger this whole business. 

"So what did they say to you?"

Signe thought for a moment and then replied, "First I knocked on the door.  When there was no answer I went next door and asked one of the neighbours whether Felicity was okay.   That's when these big goons who had been holding up the wall of a building across the street came over and started getting ugly."

(Oh yes our girl was just arrogant or stupid enough to be slumming and whoring around town using her own name).

She shivered at the memory.  "They came over and the two younger ones started calling me names and told me to, err fuck off and mind my own bloody business." (She blushed prettily at the profanity).  "The older one with the scary eyes just stood there looking me over like I was something he was thinking about buying."   (Or eating I imgained).   "Bruno rushed over and pulled out his knife and stepped betwen me and them.  This stopped them for a moment and they just stood there and eyed him up and down.  Finally the old one sneered and spoke to the other two saying something about having more important business elsewhere"  She paused and then added.  "But he called something over his shoulder as they walked away.   I couldn't make out what he said though.  I can tell you quite honestly though that I've never been so scared before in my life."

Silibar walked over and gave her a hug.  After holding her for a moment she told her to go get Bruno.  Signe left right away still shivering.  Silibar went to sit down back behind her desk. Belvani and I had just enough time to exchange some raised eyebrows before she returned with a big muscle bound thug in tow.  She sat on the corner of Silibar's desk and he stood at attention against the wall by the door.  He was big, bald and scarred and it looked like his nose had been broken several times.   He was dressed in a well tailored silver and grey outfit with a natural leather vest.  The colours suited him.  All the visible skin I could see was covered with scars.  He'd have given me plenty to think about if he'd threatened me.   But all in all I didn't expect much in the way of brilliance from this specimen.

Silibar nodded agreeably at him, "These gentlemen have some questions for you Bruno.  Please answer them to the best of your abilities.  This is Placidus Treibonus and Count Belvani.  They are investigating the death of Cressidus Silvercloak" 

No reaction from the lunk other than a curt nod. 

I nodded at him, "Can you explain what happened when you accompanied Signe on her trip to the waterfront to check up on the maid Felicity?"

He stood quietly for a moment and then proved once again that you shouldn't be too hasty to judge people by their appearance.  He opened his mouth and out came the most cultured, high class, soft spoken voice I'd heard since leaving Glamour.  Without the trace of an accent he asked me a question in New Pelorian.

"How are you Placidus?"

Part LX

This unexpected greeting was of course my cue to drop my jaw and look like a gaffed carp.  He reached slowly over and closed my jaw before I could and if the voice and body didn't twig any memories the touch most certainly did.

"Didius!?!  I stammered.  "But how?  Why?" 

The Didius I remembered, Didius Arcturus Figulus, was the very epitome of the "scholar and a gentleman" of hoary old aphorisms.  He was a slight, gentle, bookish sort, not a brutish, hulking figure.  I sat down which was unfortunate as there was no chair present for my ass to connect with.  I ended up in a tangled pile and Didius, no Bruno rushed out to get a chair.  And not incidentally allow me to regain some composure while Signe and Belvani helped me back to my feet.  Normally I hate it when people help me up but I allowed it just this once as a special case.   Bruno returned with a chair and a bottle of wine.  He was always quick and efficient.  I sat down on the offered chair and upended the bottle allowing the contents to flow down my throat.  I stopped once the bottle, a decent Sartarite white, was half empty.  I looked at Bruno and then Silibar and Belvani and Signe.   The former looked wistful while the latter looked confused.  I stammered and waved vaguely at Bruno. 

"An old...friend," I finished.  "Encountered...somewhat unexpectedly."  Now those were the understatements of the decade.  I shook my head and forced myself to return to business. 

I repeated my question to Bruno. 

He asked in those cultured tones of his, which were so at odds with his appearance, what Signe had already told us and I repeated her story.  He nodded and had little to add.  He did mention that he, while not scared had been extremely wary.  He had assessed the situation, probably correctly, as having posed no real possibility of harm. Not then and there anyway. I asked him if he heard the comment that Signe had missed.  He nodded grimly and mentioned that it had something to do with an invite to a tenderizing and a barbecue. In that order. We all flinched at that except Bruno and Signe grabbed the wine bottle from me and took a good long drink.

I figured that was probably all we would get from this interview so I stood up to take my leave of Silibar.  I bowed and thanked her and turned to go. She nodded briefly and graciously to me.  She was obviously if somewhat belatedly concerned for her daughter's well-being. I left them huddled behind Silibar's desk. Belvani and I were already out her office door before Bruno followed us.  He touched my arm and I stopped to turn to him. 

He looked somewhat abashed, "Can we talk Placidus?"

I looked at Belvani and he said something about meeting me at Gimpy's later.  I nodded my thanks and followed Bruno to a corner table.

Part LXI

I sat down clumsily, still shaken at this bizarre revealation.  How on Genertela had my weedy little friend turn into this brute Didius?  Bruno quickly ordered a bottle of wine and then smiled embarassedly at me.  His smile was not a pretty sight the scars on his face told a story that was all too familiar to me in my line of work.   A story of casual brutality and man's inhumanity to man, whatever that means.  

"How?" was all that I managed to squeeze out after a frantic scramble for the words you say to someone I hadn't seen in years and missed more than I'd realized.

"Oh Placidus is that the best you can do?  No, how are you, no, my you're looking well how do you stay so fit?"

Now this was the Didius I remembered and if I closed my eyes I could still see him the way he was back in our student days, back when he had saved my life...

It had started off as a normal day.  Normal meaning of course skipping classes at the Lunar College of Magic and heading out to the unspeakable dives for a misspent day of flirting with borderline attractive serving staff amd venereal diseases alike.  A day spent consuming as much mind altering substances as possible which invariably ended with Didius holding my head and keeping me from drowning in my own puke.  This day was destined to end differently though. 

There were rumours, when weren't there though, that the Lunar Provincial Army was only days away from finally conquering a pathetic barbarian kingdom called Sartar that had had the gall to stand in the way of someone's career aspirations.  This of course wouldn't have even been a rumour in Glamour except that of course some student faction was violently opposed to this.  Why?  For the life of me I can't remember.   Maybe they were Orlanthi from way back or maybe they just needed something to object to.  Young people are like that.  Anyway there had been rumors of an uncoming protest to show student contempt for this bald faced imperialism.  With counter protests of course from those who were in favour of it.  And not just from the Lunar College of Magic campus in Glamour but from other schools as well.  And of course a protest would attract those who had professional interests in protests, both those who squashed them and those who profited from them.

Well, while we were wallowing in our debauchery the news must have come from the provinces that Boldhome, the capital of Sartar had finally fallen. This immediate sparked a protest which of course grew up to be a riot. The inhabitants of the dive we were in wouldn't have cared less about this except for any possible looting opportunities this provided so we were slow to hear anything. Our dive being on the very edge of the student quarter. Indeed the first we knew about it was when a few screaming people started running down the grungy alley our dive was off of.  We weren't so far gone that we couldn't react to this and we raced to the door to have a look at what was going on.  This unfortunately was a mistake as we would have realized if we'd been more sober.  We just managed to beat the owner to the door.  He was trying to bar it.  Smart man.  We stepped out the door and attracted what can only be characterized as unwanted attention.  I was looking down the alley to see who had passed when Didius tapped me on the shoulder.  I turned to the sound of the door being barred behind us and saw a pair of mooncats at the other end of the alley.  My blood ran cold and I was immediately sober.


Mooncats are enormous felines that well come from the surface of the Goddess herself. Their colors goes from black to red depending on the phase the Goddess herself is in and resemble those cats the Orlanthi are so fond of for some odd reason. Except that they're bigger than bloody sakkar tigers and can jump over a four story building. Their nature changes with the Goddess' face as well.  The darker their coats are the meaner they are. They can also either mesmerize or terrify their prey.  The authorities had been using them for crowd control, which is a sign of how serious the riot was, since crowd control here was being a euphemism for a firm application of the old iron heel on the neck of the populace.  Using mooncats is like sicking house cats or ferrets on mice.   They are neither subtle nor discriminating.  The only thing they weren't supposed to do was go inside buildings.  Which is of course why the innkeep had barred the door.  And here we were on the wrong side of the door with a pair of ravening mooncats headed our way. 

This pair was obviously stuck on terrify but thankfully were in no rush to deal with us.  After lightening our load fear led wings to our heels and we started off down the alley.  With an excited roar that shook the walls the mooncats started after us.   I feel no shame in admitting that I was panic stricken.  This is before I started following Lyos the Harrier and I had no magic with which to calm myself.   Thankfully Didius kept a clearer mind and he grabbed my arm to lead me somewhere other than the inside of a mooncat.  He obviously had a refuge in mind and led me down an even narrower alley.  This one was too narrow even for mooncats and we could hear them howling in frustration back at the mouth.  Unfortunately it wasn't a very long alley so it didn't make much of a refuge.  It did however lead to an open square.  I almost stopped when I saw where Didius was leading me but he shouted for me to trust him.  I didn't really have any other option other than a particularily messy death followed up by a truly horrible afterlife so I followed him.

I wanted to stop again when we gto closer and the smell hit me but self-preservation wouldn't let me.  He was heading straight for a sewer opening.  The Cloaca Maximus is the main sewer for the city of Glamor and rumour has it that broos won't even go into it because of the smell.  I blanched at the thought of hiding in there but then I heard the thud of a large killing machine landing behind me followed immediately by another such thud and dashed after him.  I may even have beaten him into the sludge but I can't be sure of that.  What I am sure of was how near our escape was.   I had almost managed to get clean away, ha ha, when I felt talons sharper than any human-made blade rip open my calf.. The pain was horrific and I lost consciousness and tumbled into the muck. 

Well obviously the cats lost interest at the point, and who could blame them?   Their sense of smell was far superior to ours and there were plenty of other less smelly victims waiting outside.  Didius saved me from drowning and managed to get me to a healer who wouldn't ask questions.  She even managed to stave off the infection that ensued, whoever doubts that infection loves filth is an idiot in my opinion, and left me with some nice clean scars.  I'd show you them to you if I only still had the leg.

But back to the present though.  I owed Didius big time since I've never been able to pay him back for saving my life twice, once from being eaten and then from drowning in shit.  I calmed my mind and asked him the big question.

"What happened to you?"

He smiled sadly, "After you joined the army I became more engrossed in my studies.   I learned of a heroquest that promised to grant some unique knowledge..."


"Do you remember Professor Trautheim from the College?"

I shook my head, not because I didn't remember Professor Trautheim but because I did, all too well.  I swore long ago that I would forget everything I ever learned at the Lunar College of Magic but Professor Trautheim's class was one I particularily preferred to forget.  Professor Trautheim taught the advanced class in experimental heroquesting.  As far as I'm concerned heroquesting is a good way to an early grave.   Well, not literally since you rarely return if you die but you know what I mean.   I suppose it's important if your village is dying because the rains have stopped or your cattle are dying because of some curse the village over the hill has cast on you but other than that I think it's crazy.  And experimental heroquesting is the craziest of the crazy.  Why anyone would want to stalk the paths of the Hero Plane without even the meager map a myth provides is beyond me.

I slowly nodded to show Didius that I remembered and he continued. 

"You remember the other students from Trautheim's class that I used to hang around with don't you?"

How could I ever forget them.  My private name for them was the Wanker Brigade.   They were from some of the best families and they all had had great futures before them. The best and the brightest from among the elite of the Empire.  And me, a weirdo runt from the sticks.  Oh I remembered them all right.

"Well they're all dead.  They died on the same quest that made me the way I am today."

I shook my head and said a quick prayer to the Goddess to gather them to her bosom.  Even wankers don't deserve to die like that. 

"You don't have to say anything more..." I started to say but Didius interrupted me.

"No, I do.  I haven't spoken of this in over a decade and I need to say this."

That shut me up and I sat quietly and listened without interrupting.

"It was mostly my fault I guess.  I had been doing some research in an Irripi Ontor archive in Glamour when I stumbled across a reference to a back door to Lhankhor Mhy's library."

My breath hissed when I heard that.  That would have been a coup of coups if it'd worked out.

Didius nodded and continued.

"When I told old Trautheim about this he was thrilled.  Now here was a chance to put theory into practice.  What a glorious opportunity for his masterclass to shine and bring greater glory to the Empire, and himself of course." 

The bitterness in his voice could have been sliced and put on bread.

"So we prepared as well as we could lacking any meaningful official permission that is."


"The quest was to be based on an old Heortling myth about a pupil of Lhankhor Mhy who managed to answer every poser of a question asked him by old longbeard by sneaking in the backdoor of Lhankhor Mhy's library.  He was able to answer every question the old dear asked him by checking what writings were displayed on Lhankhor Mhy's desk. We figured that is we subverted this myth we would have a way to sneak in heist every secret the Heortlings have.  Old Trautheim was hugging himself he was so excited.  Of course he wouldn't allow a little thing like the fact that experimental heroquests by students were specifically forbidden to stop him.  He'd ask for forgiveness rather than permission.  He figured that'd be easier."

"Bastard," was my emphatic contribution.  This has all taken place after I'd been summarily drummed out of the Lunar College of course, not that I'd have been stupid enough to go along with something like this.  I think.

Didius nodded in agreement.  "We did what we could to prepare for the quest.   We boned up on our Heortling superstitions.  We did a few dry runs, we bought every charm and magical gee gaw we could afford.  Everything that is except the one thing we should have done and old Trautheim should never have forgotten about which was to check for variants of that myth."

He shook his head saddened by the memory. "Oh, no I was the fool who was sure that the whole story was spread there before in the myth I'd found.  I forgot the first things you learn in beginners heroquesting.  Things can change and don't forget about the possibility of hidden stations."

I winced in sympathy.

"The day came for the big quest.  Of course we hadn't been able to tell anyone what we were going to do but what could go wrong? We had little trouble in the myth.  None in fact until we got to the part where we were supposed to slip into the backdoor of the library.  That's where we discovered that Lhankhor Mhy had set a guard there.  Oh no he wasn't going to be showed up any more students. If they wanted to sneak into the library through the backdoor they'd have to get past his watcher."

He paused caught in the memories.

"He'd found the perfect watcher too.  Hunger.  Not just the hunger for knowledge or food but the hunger for anything.  We had to challenge this watcher and if we lost we gained a new hunger.  An all consuming one.  We didn't have any choice at this point because the myth had changed too much and we were too green to pull out.  Hunger challenged us in turn.  The first one of us to go was Falco.   He bet his penmanship skill and lost.  We all got to watch as he died trying to screw everything in sight.  The next was Arto who bet his flirting skill.  He ate himself. Loren became lost in his hunger for knowledge.  We left him staring at something so small no one else could see it in an effort to understand it."

He stopped again and covered his face with his hands and his shoulders shook.  I reached over and put my arm across his shoulders to comfort him.  After a while he stopped shaking and steadied himself.

"And you?"

"I bet my...magic and got this."  He spread his arms as if on display.

"What?" I asked puzzled.

"A need, no a hunger for violence.  I bet and I lost.  But I came back from the Godsplane.  Just me and my first stop was Trautheim's office.  After I was finished I left the city and came out here to the edge of the Empire where no one knew what I'd been and life was cheap.  The years have passed and my lust has lessened somewhat.  Seven years ago I would have tried to kill you by now."

I shuddered again.

He smiled bitterly,  "Fortunately my job and my...hobbies have lessened the cravings so I don't need to wallow in violence nonstop."

Part LXV

This was a very sad fate that had befallen my old school chum. I could have wept but instead I sat in silence for a few moments remembering the weedy scholar I went through so much with back in my school days with.  My snoopy brain though couldn't let it rest at that though and I just had to ask a few questions.

"So does Silibar know about your past?"

"Just those things she has to know.  She has no idea that we have a history together nor does she know anything of my prehistory as it were. As far as she knows I've always been a big thug who gets a kick out of violence.  I have a reputation of sorts here in Pavis in certain circles as a circle fighter, though I'm semi-retired from that, and that helps keep the place quite and respectable."

Circle fighting is a particularily abhorrent pastime in Pavis.  Quite frowned upon by the authorities.  It involves knife or bareknuckled fights between two fighters who enter a ring but only one walks out.  I recalled know how I'd heard that the current champion had retired from fighting after being undefeated.  I had never gone to one of these fights so I never knew that it was my old friend Didius who had been the champ.  I shuddered inwardly as I recalled the undoubtably exaggerated accounts of the carnage Bruno had done.  But still if only part ot it was true what kind of monster was he.

"The great troll, um was that true what I heard."

Didius nodded slowly and I guts writhed inside.  I would never have guessed that a human could do something like that to one of those over sized monsters.

"And Silibar trusts you with her patrons and her daughter?" I blurted.

Didius' face darkened.  "I told you Placidus, I have put that part of me aside for the most part.  I don't have to respond violently to everything now.   I can choose to suppress the violence if I want."

This was not particularily reassuring frankly.  I shook my head wearily and struggled with what to do now.  I decided to go home lacking any other plan.

"I need to go home Didius.  I need to think.  If you'll excuse me I need to go home to sleep on all this."

Didius just sat there stoney faced as I struggled to my feet.  As I half-heartedly waved goodbye to him and turned to leave he said something that stopped me in my tracks.

"I... know her you know."

Part LXV

I did not like the sound of this at all.  I turned my head to look at him.  I didn't like the lack of expression on his face either.  I'd seen more expression on stone statues.  He suddenly stood up and grabbed me around the waist and carried me out the door.  Oddly enough being bodily hauled out of a place by the bouncer didn't attract much attention.  Pity really.  Once we were outside he set me down and brushed me off with his hands.  Or was he frisking me?  He didn't find any weapons though thanks to sneaky Mostali craftsman, err craftsdwarfship.

"Now Placidus we will take a walk.  Gimpy's is where you live isn't it?"

I nodded agreement.  "So you err, know Felicity do you?"

He nodded curt agreement and grabbing my elbow started hustling me down the street.

I, of course, immediately started stumbling so with no outward sign of disgruntlement he slowed down.

"Let's walk and talk Placidus.  You may ask me questions and I may or may not answer them."

I thought through the sort of questions I wanted to ask and then started.

"How long have you known this Felicity?"

"A long time. She's what my mother would have termed a bad girl.  Back when I was a circle fighter on a regular basis she was a big fan.  Everyone thought she was a local Yemalian who liked slumming.  You get them now and then.  Once after a match before I had even had a chance to get cleaned up she came to me and to know each other better.  Turns out that she likes fighters a lot.  And likes being knocked around even more.  She appreciates someone with the control and skill not to leave obvious marks.  Of course I could only restrain myself that far right after a match.  So we only got together right after matches.  But that was often enough for the bruises to heal.  The bumwiper of a brother of hers could always be relied on to get her safely home.  Not that anyone would mess with my woman."

All this was said without emotion and chilled me to the bone.

"Of course once I quit the circle on a regular basis she was mad.  I refused to keep fighting though.  It's a mark of pride for me not to have to fight and kill all the time now so no one is going to get me to start that up again.  She was mad at first but then she found other distractions.  Being a Dara Happan she's of course money mad and she started trying to get around her uncle and take over the local hazia trade.  She even tried to make deals with those damn ogres.  With me along as muscle so she didn't end up as an entree for them.  Stupid ogres think they're so tough.  They squeal when you break their arms just like anyone else.  Anyway of course the ogres refused to deal with her.  What was the point they asked?  She was playing with an empty hand.  Can't say that they were wrong though.  All she had as resources were herself and her brother.  Oh, and me.  I've still got a soft spot for her."

Right, I thought, I strongly doubt that Didius has any more soft spots.  Cut him in two, breaking the first three saws, and you'll find solid slag.

"She was frustrated by all this but then those Sun Domer dimwits from Sartar came to town.  Officially to negotiate closer ties to the local Sun Domes but in reality to renegotiate their hazia deal with, who else but our friendly ogres.  Now Felicity got the brilliant idea to try and cut the ogres out so she decided to snuggle up with Cressidus.  That took no effort at all of course.  He was just as morally bereft as she is.  But much stupider of course.  He gladly diddled her and any other bit of tail he could get, female or male, and just as gladly strung her along.  But when push came to shove she just didn't have any hazia.  And no prospects of getting any.  So he of course dumped her.  Not wise as our golden girl has a nasty temper.  Cressidus had gone too far."

By this point we were actually at the mouth to the tunnel to Gimpy's.  I eyed it longingly wondering if I would actually get to see my bedstand again.

"So what happened then?"

Didius turned and looked down at me.  I've seen dead fish with more expression in their eyes.

"She asked me to kill him of course.  For old time's sake."


"Oh", was all I could say at this point though I can't say that I was that surprised.

"And did you?"

He shrugged.  "Not really.  He was mostly dead by the time I got to him.   Felicity had grown tired of him and decided that it was time for her to make a statement.  So she decided to kill him.  Rather than coming to me for professional help she and that lackwit of a brother of her's decided to do him in herself.   It's not that I wouldn't have killed him.  After all he meant nothing to me.   No one does actually.  So I would have killed him.  I like killing.   If she'd asked me I would have done it."

My mind flashed back to what Harnasti had told me about how Cressidus had died. According to Harnasti he'd been poisoned, smothered and then stabbed.  Oh yes, and mutilated after death.

"But I have it on good authority that he was poisoned and then smothered and then stabbed."

Didius snorted, "What do you expect from rank amateurs?  She tried to kill him with some poison she'd bought but it wasn't working fast enough for her or she hadn't given him enough or something so she tried smothering him, or at least dimwit tried but Cressidus was still too strong for him and they both turned out to be too squeamish to do the job properly.  So they stabbed him.  Bloody awful job they did of it too.   So while she watched him expiring on the floor dimwit came and got me.  By the time I arrived on the scene he was finally dead.  I told them both off for their amateurish behaviour.  She asked me to get rid of the body.  She explained what they'd been trying to do and I shook my head.  And how is this a statement I asked?   So I showed them what a statement like that should look like.  And I made them watch".

He said this last bit with a tone of satisfaction that contrasted strongly with his normal monotone. Here was a man who loved his work and that was probably all he loved.

"Where did this, err activity take place then?"

"In a hovel in the Real City.  It was supposed to be their business headquarters for their new drug empire."

This was said with a sneer.

"But of course I burnt it down once I was finished and then took the corpse over to Badside and hung it up in that abattoir where it was found."

"And what about Balarus?"

"Too damned nosy and stupid.  He decided that blackmail was a good option.   Wrong.  Unfortunately that little crossdresser from the bodyguard saw me hauling the corpse away.  I would have caught him but he had too much of a headstart because I was carrying Balarus' corpse.  I know where's he stashed by the way but even I would hesitate to enter a Zorak Zoran temple."

"So is this the point where you kill me to tie up all the loose ends then?" I asked with only a trace I hope of nervousness in my voice.

Didius snorted, "And what would be the point of my killing you?  You're the only reminder that I have in this stinking place of what I used to be.  We were once the best of friends Placidus and I still remember that.  It means as much as anything else to me but I choose to place more importance to it than I otherwise would."

He turned to go and my mind raced as to what I should do.  He started walking down the street away from Gimpy's.

"But what am I supposed to do now?" I asked somewhat plaintively after him.

He called back over his shoulder, "You decide but remember what you owe me."

He disappeared into the darkness and I went home to spend a sleepless night.


Sleepless I lay in bed that night and ran through what I knew of this mess.  The drug hazia was leaving Prax throught two main channels.  The "official" one was being administered by the Willowgreen Association which sent drugs all the way to the Empire.  They had official approval and a state monopoly in this from the Emperor.   Yet at the same time the Emperor disapproved of this whole business.  To be accurate he liked the money the trade brought in as taxes and bribes but dislike the effect drug addicition was having on citizens.  The "unofficial" channel seemed to be run by a family of ogres.  Their goods didn't seem to go much farther than Sartar where they were redistributed by some morally bereft Sun Domers.  Or at least they had been.

Meanwhile the Willowgreen Association was muscling their way into all manner of trade along the Zola Fel by buying up the local businesses.  All aboveboard of course except for the mysterious accidents that kept befalling those who resisted selling out to them.  Under the pretense of trying to arrange closer relations between the three closest Sun Dome temples the scummy Sartarites had arrived to renegotiate their distribution deal with the ogres.  They had run afoul, not of the ogres but the niece and nephew of the local head of the Willowgreen Association who had been trying to get around their uncle to take over the unofficial hazia trade too.  Or did the uncle approve of all this?  That seemed unlikely given the way a proper Dara Happan maiden was supposed to behave.

My old school friend Didius to whom I owed at least two lives was mixed up in this as well.  He had been the abusive lover of the niece who frustrated in her dealings with the ogre had instead decided to try and get the Sun Domers to deal with them instead.   Unfortunately for her she didn't have any hazia to sell to the Sartarites so her attempt to cut the ogres out was destined to fail.  The niece got frustrated when Cressidus wouldn't deal so she decided to play the woman scorned and do him in.   Maybe she thought the ogres would then deal with her.  That didn't make an awful lot of sense since she wasn't in Sartar to act as their middleman.     Whatever was her motive she did try and kill him and did basically succeed.  Then she got Didius to help her dispose of the body.  Instead he showed her the proper way to send a message with a corpse and put it on display in Badside.

Cressidus' body is found and I'm involved in the mess due to the political sensitivity of the murder.  At least one party in the city rushes to proclaim their innocence, i.e. the Imperial faction in city politics.  Soon after I start investigations one of Cressidus' bodyguards was found dead.  Unlike Cressidus who up to tonight no one had killed I had two people claiming that death.  Both my friend Didius and the ogres claimed that they killed Balarus.  I suspected that Didius was less likely to have lied about that than the ogres though.  So there I had it all now.  I knew pretty much everything there was to know in the case, even the motive.  Hells I even had a confession. 

The only question that was left in fact was, just what the hells was I going to do with this information?


Very early the next morning I gave up on trying to sleep, got dressed and went downstairs.  There was something that was really bothering me about what I knew in this case.  And was the fact that Bruno aka Didius seemed to know where I had stashed Petro.  Just why in the all the hells would a thug bouncer ex-circle fighter know something like that?  It's very hard to keep anything a complete secret but since I was the only human involved in that business, besides Petro of course, I would have thought that particular fact would have remained a fairly complete secret.  On top of that why on Genertela would those damn ogres have done something as bloody obvious as sending a cacodaemon after a skinny transvestite anyway?  That didn't make an awful lot of sense either.  That was guaranteed to attract the authorities to their operations.  Or was it?  The authorities should have come down on the ogres like a meteor sent by the Crater Makers.  Why hadn't they?  I needed to talk to Jorjar the Quick.  Good thing I knew where he lived.  It was far too early to find him at work yet.

Skipping breakfast I made my way across town to Jorjar's home.  Once I got there I banged on the door until he answered it.  My banging was greeted with swearing and querulous female voices.  Voices?  Bastard, I guess the rumours about him and Jotoran Longsword were wrong afterall.  I refused to answer and kept banging until he answered in person. Quite a colourful vocabulary our boy Jorjar had.  When he finally answered the door he looked like he'd just dragged himself out of bed.  Prick. When he'd finished swearing at me and calmed down he asked me what I wanted.

"What's been done about that cacodaemon attack on the Beleaguered Buffalo?" I asked.

His angry face was swiftly replaced by first a confused one and then an embarrassed one and finally a half-assed attempt at a confident one.

"Placidus, the authorities are still looking into that whole business..."

I waved off the rest of his explanation.  "Don't bother, you've answered my question.  Thanks."  I turned to leave and he just stood there demanding I explain myself until he realized that the neighbours were probably listening by now.   So he gave up and went back to his roommates.

I made my way to the Silk-n-Plume and knocked on its door.  A very grumpy bodygaurd answered the door and was just about to punch my lights out when I showed him my official writ allowing me to be a complete annoyance.  He couldn't read but he could recognize all the pretty sumbols and seals on the writ so he became much politer.  I asked to speak to the evening chamber maid.  He told me that she'd gone home and volunteered directions.  Sighing I made my way to her house.

It only took a single knock to get her attention.  She was quite pretty but before she could ask me what it was I wanted I heard Crystal 's voice from inside asking me to come in.


I went in and after my eyes had adjusted to the dim light I saw a pretty typical Pavis home.  Nothing too special about it.  The woman I knew as Crystal was sitting cross-legged on a pallet set against one adobe wall.  She was wearing far too much clothing for my liking even to the addition of a voluminous cloak whose hood she presently had flung back.  She smiled at me, oh the weapons these women used.

"So Placidus, have you come to take me out to breakfast?" 

I hadn't planned on it but her question was answered by an angry growling from the whereabouts of my stomach.  We all laughed at the interruption.

"That was not my intentions but I guess I've been out voted.  Shall we?"

I offered her my arm like the gentleman I wasn't and she laughed musically before gracefully rising from the bed, bringing her cloak forward to hide her face.  She turned to the evening chamber maid, whose name I still didn't know and somehow shrunk in on herself.  She spoke to the maid in a querulous voice that would have done the finest actor from Jillaro proud.

"Granddaughter, this nice young man is taking me out to break my fast.  I will return tomorrow to see how you are doing.  Make sure that you stay away from the wrong sort of man dearie.  Like this one.".

She grabbed me by the ass as she said this and I jumped.  She laughed like an old woman and was rewarded by my outraged look and the evening chamber maid's laughter.

"I will granny. Take care."

I helped the old dear over the threshold and as a token revenge on her for the pinch led her to Bob's Bisonburger for one of his breakfast specials. She hobbled down the street just like the crone she was supposed to be would have.  Her hands were just as wrinkly and spotted as the genuine article would have been.  Magic or makeup I wondered? We headed off down the street and she spun me some tale of the problems her granddaughter was having with the men in her life.  None of which granny approved of.

When we finally got to Bob's we found Chomper on duty. I briefly thought about asking him if he'd been talking about my friend Petro and the Zorani's.  I decided against it as he greeted me like the old friend without a trace of nervousness. Chomper's absolutely terrible at hiding what he's thinking.  Another thing setting him apart from other trolls. Even humans could read him.  He probably would have been a little less welcoming if he had been talking out of turn since he was absolutely terrible at hiding his emotions.  Besides who would want to piss off a whole temple of Zorani's?

I was disappointed to find that granny was both familiar with Bob's Bisonburgers and the breakfast special so she tore into it with an appetite that would have given away her true age if anyone else had been around.  Once we had our food, which I paid for, I took her over to the shade of a nearby building to ask her my question.

"Just how many covert agents does the Lunar government have running around Pavis?   Besides you and Gim Gim the Grim that is?"

I could just see her face within the hood and her eyes glittered with amusement.

Part LXX

"Oh, so you figured out that your messy case is made even messier by the contributions of some of my fellow agents.  I knew you were a clever boy."

I'd have been flattered but I haven't been a boy in quite sometime.  I told her what I knew so far and she sat there listenting intently and asking no questions until I was finally finished.

"That makes sense.  You realize that I shouldn't reveal the identity of Lunar agents to you Placidus.  That would compromise the safety of the Empire.   Where's your loyalty?"

She said this last bit without a trace of irony and I knew that she was serious.   So I thought about it.  Where did my loyalties lie?  To some abstract concept of justice?  To the Empire?  Did I really care about the deaths of two Sun Dome assholes?  Not really but I did remember the sight of a shattered street and some bodies lying under red cloaks.  The Impala people from the Beleagured Buffalo didn't deserve to die at the hands of some otherworldly monster just to settle some stupid score or something equally inane. I shook my head to clear it and answered.

"My loyalties are to, well me first off but then to the people of Pavis.  I can't see why they need to suffer from some stupid infighting among Lunar agents.  I don't see how that helps the Empire at all."  I waited for her response.

She slowly nodded.  "No, I don't see how that helps either.  I won't name names Placidus but I will nod if you do."

I couldn't ask for more than that. 


She nodded and I could see a smile under her hood.  The second one I didn't want to be true but I had a bad feeling about it anway.

"Bruno, formerly known as Didius."

She nodded again and I sighed.  That bastard, of course he had been the one who had sent the cacodaemon against Petro.  I shook my head and slowly got to my feet.   I was going to reach down and offer Crystal a hand up but of course she got up quite easily by herself.  She placed a hand on my arm to offer some comfort.   Not that I was terribly moved by this since I knew full well that if I did anything against the Emperor she would kill me without a qualm.

"What are you going to do now Placidus?"

"I am going to do something I would never in a million years have imagined myself doing.  I'm going to a Zorak Zoran temple."


Crystal shook her head slowly.

"Well, it's been nice knowing you Placidus. I hope you have all your affairs in order.  Let me know if you survive and please tell me what you decide to do."

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.  Then she shuffled off down the street in her old woman disguise.  This was a pretty stupid decision but I just had to confront that weasel Petro with my new knowledge.  Since Bob's Bisonburger was so conveniently located I headed over for a little chat with Chomper.  He obviously thought that I had been spending too much time under Yelm's rays for my own good but he agreed to make the arrangements.  He told me to return to Bob's that evening to find out what arrangements had been made.

I spent the day avoiding my usual haunts so as to not run into Belvani since he knew nothing about Petro and my dealings with the darkmen and I preferred to keep it that way.   Of course I had been pretty sure that I had been the only one who knew anything about Petro's hiding place and already far too many people had known about it anyway.

It was a lazy day as I waited impatiently for night to fall.  I wandered around keeping to quarters and bars of Pavis that I didn't normally frequent and managed to avoid most of the people I knew. The ones I did run into that I knew weren't of the sort that would cause trouble in this case so I spent some time getting reacquainted with them.

Finally though it was time to head back to Bob's.  I got there and Chomper gave me a broad wink that I knew meant that he had something for me.  He waved me around back.  There I was greeted by a squad of the Night Patrol.  I think it was the same bunch that had picked me up from Gimpy's but I couldn't be sure.  I greeted them.


I was rewarded by a toothy smile so I figured that I had identified him correctly.

"Are you my escort?"

"Dat's right boss.  Me and da boys will take you to da temple."

"Okay, you lead and I'll follow."

"Oh, no boss.  You ride and we carry's ya."  He pointed to a long box that was hidden in the shadows.

"A coffin?  You want me to hide in a coffin?"

"Dat's right boss.  We uz be carrying a dead uncle back home for, err disposal."

A shudder ran through me.  I'd heard the tales of how the trolls disposed of their dearly departed.  But in for a clack, in for a wheel.  They hadn't eaten me last time so I was prepared to trust them this time.  Calling on Lyos clear mind feat I lay myself in my, err, the coffin, phew, what a stench, and the runts put the lid back on.


I half wished that I had taken a look inside or at least gotten the runts to empty it out.  I could swear that I was lying on things that felt like twigs but most probably weren't.  The smell was unbelieveable as well.  Much worse than the fish basket.   Of course I wouldn't have to swear off eating anything after this trip since I'd sworn off carrion long ago.  With a count of three in Darktongue, most impressive, the coffin was jerked into the air and my trip began.

Travelling by coffin is if anything even more repugnant than travelling by fish basket.   The only slim advantage that it has is that at least you're lying down.  The trip was remarkably unbumping and strangely uneventful.  The only even that I was aware of was our arrival at the wall betwen new and old Pavis.  The trollkin were hailed by the Lunars there.

"Halt!  State your name and the purpose of your visit to the Rubble."

The coffin was unceremoniously dropped.  I just managed to stifle a groan.

"Me sargeant Twisty of Night Patrol.  Me and other trollkin patrolers go back to Rubble side for funeral feast. Uncle who died sudden like while here in city. By time he found him already gone and best parts eaten thanks to stupid trollkin.  Wanna see?"

The lid of the coffin was slowly being opened as Twisty said this and a waft of stench came out.  A hobnailed sandal stomped on the lid almost catching Twisty's fingers and I could hear the sounds of someone's dry heaves.

"That won't be necessary sargeant.  Carry on."

Another human voice interjected.  A young pimply sounding one.  There's one in every squad.

"But centurion, we're supposed to search anything going into the Rubble.   Regulations you know."

The centurion's reply was frosty enough to make an ice demon feel comfy.

"Thank you for reminding me of the regs soldier.  It's hard for someone as old and senile as me to remember them all."

This was greeted by snickers from the bigmouth's comrades which were broken off mid chuckle.  No doubt by the centurion turning his steely gaze at them.  Ooh, I was glad I wasn't him.  He'd be cleaning latrines for a long time to come.  With his tongue.

"If you insist on inforcing regs then certainly be my guest soldier.  Search the coffin."

A pause. 

"No?  Then carry on sargeant.  Enjoy your feast. err funeral."

I was hefted and carried away from the post to the sound of more dry heaving.


More bumpiness and stinkiness.  More soft muttering in Darktongue.  I was actually drifting off to sleep, I hate to imagine what my dreams would have been like falling asleep in a coffin and then a my reverie and the trollkin's piece of mind was disturbed by a loud bellowing challenge in Darktongue. The little buggers were so surprised that they dropped the damn coffin and I almost bit my tongue in two.  When my ears stopped ringing I tried to eavesdrop better.  Whoever was talking sounded like he was chewing up a broadsword as he spoke.  He sounded mad, bad and dangerous to know so needless to say he was probably a Zorak Zorani.  There was a speedy spate of high pitched and nervous sounding Darktongue in response and then a surprised grunt.   A quick order and the coffin was heaved into the air again.

We proceeded in silence for a time and I prayed to all the gods that we would soon stop and I could get out of the coffin.  Finally after a series of challenges, all bellowed at the top of the challengers' lungs showing how subtle Zorak Zorani are, the coffin was finally lowered to the ground and the top wrenched off.  I lay there blinking in the sudden light as we were in a torch lit room.  A pair of troll faces looked in at me.  One was Twisty and the other I recognized as Glint Coincounter.   He was shaking his head at me in an all too human fashion.

"You, Placidus either have the most balls of any human I have ever met or the least common sense."

I didn't answer since I wasn't sure which it was, though I did laugh.  After a second both Glint and Twisty joined me in laughing.  I managed to stop short of hysteria thankfully. Glint extended a hand to help me out which I gladly took.  When I had gotten myself organized I thanked him and Twisty for their help.  A quick look around showed that we were inside a battered house of some sort.  The room looked much like any hovel in Pavis except that any openings the walls may once have had were all filled in. Well, except for the presently inactive troll zombies that stood against three of the walls that is. All the walls except the one the door was in.  It was blocked by the hide of what could only have been some chaotic monstrousity judging from the number of legs.  To demonstrate their god's victory over Yemalio the room was lit by torches.  Or was it in deference to my presence?  Yeah, right.


Glint caught my roving eye.

"Placidus you must be very, very careful here.  This," a wave of his mighty arm around the dingy room, "is the domain of the Zoranis.  Even other trolls must be careful here in what they say and do.  Do not look anyone directly in the eye and say nothing that may give offense.  The Zorani will kill you in a heartbeat and think nothing of it."

I didn't really need to be warned how different it was.  The zombies were a clear indicator of that.  It was a rather sobering thought though that even other trolls were on edge here. I nodded somberly and agreed to follow his lead.  I never would have thought that I would ever wish to be a follower of the Storm Bull though.   Apparently they are just about the only humans who can feel comfortable in a Zorani temple.

"So you wish to see and speak to this Petro person correct?"

I nodded.  That was why I'd put myself through all this.  I'm not that much of a misery lover after all.

"Come this way then." 

Glint led the way out and I saw that Twisty was obviously not joing us. Probably not welcome. We made our way down a smelly hallway accompanied by the far off sound of troll drums. Glint looked back at me.

"Placidus, if the drums should stop start praying and run.  The face of your goddess does not see you in here."

I'm sure there's a whole school of philosophers back in Glamour that would love to argue that hypothesis but I was sure as hell not interested in field testing it. After a stumbling, nightmarish passage through the maze of tunnels past hulking monsters all of whom I'm convinced looked hungrily at me as we passed we finally reached our destination.   Yet another odd shaped hide draped over a doorway hid the entrance and a matched pair of great trolls stood on either side of the hide.  They each held a huge stick with a mighty boulder tied to one end and looked just as friendly as the zombies back where I'd been decanted.  Glint spoke to them in Darktongue and one of them grunted and lifted the hide aside.

After checking with Glint I cautiously made my way through the entrance.  The room inside held more zombies, some suspicious looking piles of bones, a great troll that made the two outside look like puppies and sitting at a battered table that literally looked like it had had a corner chewed off sat Petro.  He looked somewhat the worse for wear.

"So, you're looking well all things considered."  I said.


No, that was a lie.  He looked absolutely terrible.  I believe the expression is "haunted".  I suspect that he hadn't slept at all in the past three days   I clumsily sat down across from Petro and Glint stood beside the great slab of lead that was the great troll.  Just in case he was needed to translate.  And eavesdrop of course.  I looked Petro straight in the eye and he glared back at me.   When he spoke to me in Tradetalk his voice was amazingly steady and devoid of expression.  I suspect that raising one's voice around Zorak Zoranis is kind of dangerous.

"How could you stick me in this hellhole? Do you have any idea what goes on in this place?"

His voice cracked a little at this and I saw the walking slab of lead at the door shift a little.  Glint, who was standing beside him if translation services were needed, stepped slowly away from him.  Petro must have heard the shuffling because hs voice immediately went monotone again.

"You are so dead Placidus.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon, someday soon."

I shrugged and then flinched as the slab moved again.  I decided to skip the body gestures and whispered back at him in New Pelorian in a vain hope that Glint would neither hear nor understand me.

"It's nice to be loved and we all gotta die Petro.  But imagine how you could die if say a temple full of Zorak Zoranis learned that you were a stooge for the emperor?"

This question was rewarded with a complete draining of colour from Petro's face. 

"So it is true then, you're an Imperial agent?" 

I glanced over at Glint and saw no sign there that he was understanding any of this.   I'd hate to gamble with him though since I was sure that his bloody troll hearing was clear enough to hear us and I suspected that he knew New Pelorian too.  Or at least enough to get by.

"Placidus, you've got to get me out of here.  I will tell you whatever you want to know. Just don't leave me here any longer.  I can't sleep at night because the little runts keep sneaking into my room to take nibbles out of me.  I'm sure that the big ones let them do it to torment me.  Please?" 

His voice had started rising again and he had stuck out his leg as well.  Sure enough there were bite marks there.  Nasty ones too.  We all waited for the slab to react but he just stood there ignoring us.  I sat and thought about it.   Petro was a scumbag and I had little use for covert agents at the best of times.   Quite often they turned in innocent people just to get noticed.  I wondered how many innocents Petro had condemned during his career.  I knew how many innocents had suffered at the Beleagured Buffalo though but I really did want to know what he had to say.  Slowly I nodded my head.

"All right.  You can leave."

The expression of gratitude on Petro's face was kind of pathetic but then I though of something and smirked.

"You're just going to love your chariot to freedom."


I slowly stood up, like I've got any other way of standing up, and turned to Glint.

"We would like to leave."  I thought about it and said.   "Please."

Glint nodded. 

"So you no longer wish to secure the services of this temple in, err, storing this person?"

I nodded. 

"That's correct. Can we leave?"

I struggled not to sound too whiny or needy but it was a struggle.  I was sick of the atmosphere in this bloody place after less than an hour here and I couldn't imagine what it must have been like for Petro.  It felt like there was some kind of huge weight pressing down on you, like you were being smothered and watched at the same time.   No doubt comfy cozy for the Zoranis but not so nice for us outsiders.  Not to mention the damn omnipresent drumming which thankfully hadn't stopped. 

"I will have to check with Kreeg Skullhollower first."

He turned and left as did the big slab of troll.  I decided not to sit back down but pace instead.  Petro's eyes followed me nervously as I paced and he flinched at any sounds other than the drumming.  It seemed to take a long time for Glint to return and both Petro and I became increasingly nervous as time dragged.  Finally though he did return.  We waited, nervous as cats walking through a field of sleeping dogs for what he had to say.

"Kreeg Skullhollower says that all business with him and the cult is done and that you are free to go."

Both Petro and I visibly relaxed.  That was certainly a load off of our minds.

"However, he is gracious enough to remind you that you are enemies of the trollish race and recommends that you make great speed in departing.  If you value your lives.   He is prepared to give you an hour to be on your way."

The blood drained from Petro's face and I'm sure that my complexion had to be equally chalky.  I didn't bother asking what would happen after an hour so I just grabbed Petro by the arm since he seemed rather flacid at the moment and asked Glint a quick, desparate question.

"Which way to the nearest exit?"


There will always be a place in my nightmares for the that desparate dash.   Unfortunately.  Every element that could haunt a human's dreams was there, darkness, narrow and beyond narrow passageways, horrible smells and nasty, unpleasant things underfoot, scary noises and even scarier creatures.  Giant insects were everywhere and we were so tense that the smallest trollkin loomed as large in our eyes as the biggest cave troll.  Just imagine what monsters the regular trolls appeared to us nevermind the great trolls.  If I could ever put that flight behind me I would.   Perhaps some day when the goddess does embrace me to her bosom.  A thousand, no an empire's worth of blessings on Glint Coincounter.  Despite the dangers to himself and a complete lack of any responsibility for us he led us safely out even though the paths he took often appeared more dangerous to us than the alternative route.  I don't know how he knew the way out and I don't really want to know but know it he did.

When we were finally outside and it was night Petro dropped to the ground as if he were dead.  I couldn't really blame him.  I myself would have been much, much happier if it had been daylight.  I turned to Glint in horror and asked.

"Which way to Pavis?  Or at least the Real City?  Can you guide us there?  Has it been an hour yet?  Are they after us?"

Glint took my babbling in stride.

"I will lead you to the Real City since it is much closer than New Pavis."

He bent over and reminded me that every troll, no matter how bad their posture is made up mostly of muscles.  He easily hefted Petro to his shoulders and after adjusting him set off setting a pace that I had to struggle to keep up.  The fact that the Goddess' face was turned away from us certainly didn't help me much though of course it hindered the troll not at all.  Just as well that it was dark and that I had no light source.  It would have only served as a beacon for everything in the Rubble that wanted to kill me.  Which was pretty much everything in my reckoning.  Some of them just didn't know yet that they wanted to kill me.  Once they got to know me though...

I abandonded these pointless thoughts as I bumped into Glint's back.  One of his powerful arms pushed me back and I held myself as still as a rabbit on a wolf farm.   I tried to think myself small and scentless.  He had stopped beside a pile of Rubble. I heard rocks rattling and voices speaking quietly in an unfamiliar tongue.   I risked a deep breath and was rewarded with the powerful stench of goats.   Broos!  Great they were equal opportunity killers.  If you were lucky that is.  Better a quick death in battle than being infected with one of their diseases, or worse yet being buggered by one of them and having to carry one of their foul spawn.  Either one of those was a slow, hideously painful death.

It sounded to me like there were a lot of them and I figured we were royally screwed, maybe literally when the night air was disturbed by Zorak Zoran war cries and the darkness was pierced by the flames coming off of Zorani swords.  Our pursuers had finally caught up to us and had spotted the more important prey.  This looked like our opportunity to make a break for it!


Glint smiled back at me and nodded. 

"Time to run.  Stay close."  He dashed off into the darkness.

Damn it.  He knew I couldn't maintain such a pace. Pausing only to slap my wooden thigh and release my shortsword I followed him as quickly as I could.  After his initial burst of speed he slowed down so that I could follow him.  I caught up and stayed close.  The sounds of battle intensified.  The Zorani war cries grew louder and I could hear the horrific bleatings of the goatkin as they fought.  And died.   I doubted that they had expected to run into a Zorani war party.  I determined to make a sacrifice to the Goddess in their memory for saving us from the Zoranis but then something rose out of the darkness of a pile of rubble before us.

It was a broo that would have made the great trolls back in the temple look small.   It looked like it was made up of pieces of rubble or maybe it was just covered with the stuff from hiding under there.  It roared out it's challenge and lifted its arms, I think it had three or four of them, into the air.  Each one held a weapon large enough to smash me sized holes in things.  It was the scariest thing I'd seen in at least a couple of days.  Scarier than the cacodaemon?  Hard to say.  I'd be willing to let them fight it out for the honour though.

Fortunately for me trolls are made of damn stern stuff.  Must come from living in the darkness.  Don't they consider our hell to be their Wonderhome after all?   Also on his side was the fact that this thing was strong on presence and weak on technique.  It elected to wave its fool arms about and try to scare us silly first. Ignoring this ineffectual posturing and barely breaking stride Glint ran between it's middle legs pausing only to stab this thing in its nuts. 

It's true what they say, the bigger they are the harder they fall.  I only barely managed to get out of its way.  I still don't remember how I did it.  But wham!   It slammed to the ground screaming its loss to the world.  I did it a favour by pausing to cut its throat with my shortsword.  I managed to avoid the flood of spurting blood and flailing limbs praying all the time that I would avoid catching any of the diseases it was inevitably carrying.

Glint never looked back once as he sped along in what I could only hope was the direction of the Real City.  The rest of the night and flight passed in what can only be characterised as uneventful


It wasn't until late the next day that we finally managed to get back to Pavis and I could collapse into bed.  With Glint's help I tied up Petro and made him stretch out on the floor.  I then locked the door and hid the key so he couldn't get away.  We had a huge debt to repay Glint Coincounter since neither of us would have ever escaped the Rubble if he hadn't been there.  I had no idea how I could ever repay him but I had a uneasy suspicion that I would find out someday.  Good deeds and debts alike always have a way of coming back to haunt you.   Of course it was my cursing in New Pelorian that got us into the Real City after dark so that evened the score somewhat.  The guards refused to believe that any imposter could boast such profane eloquence in the Goddess' own language so they let us in. Their sargeant even asked me privately for some lessons since I'd used some choice profanities he'd never heard before.   They weren't crazy about letting anyone, especially a troll in after dark but my presence and Sor-Eel's writ and Glint's Argan Argar status made them accept us.

Glint paid for the three of us to stay at the Real Inn and I promised to add the price to my expense account.  He smiled at that and asked for a private room.  Morann Innkeeper, the owner already cranky from being rousted out of bed and obviously less than thrilled at housing trolls and Lunars didn't want to let us in but Glint paid him in good silver so he kept his objections to himself.  After making sure Petro who had regained consciousness sometime during our flight was secured we fell into the beds provided.  Petro had to make due with the floor.

The next morning we ate a huge breakfast, expense account again, and arranged for a quick bath and clothing change for Petro since not only was he stinking from the Zorani lair but he'd also soiled himself during our mad flight.  I had been feeling guilty about not telling the guards or the innkeep that we'd been fighting broos but my guilt was assuaged by the fact that none of us felt the slightest bit sick.  Most diseases carried by broos act pretty fast so I suspected that we'd be sick by now.  I hoped.  

By the time we got Petro and myself cleaned up, how I missed Juli's bath we were ready for lunch.  After lunch Glint arranged for us to join a group travelling back to New Pavis.  I was thrilled to be able to relax in their company since they were a large enough group.  Finally after an uneventful trip back to the Zebra Gate and an interrogation session by the Lunars there, they weren't particularily interested in a party that were bringing back nothing but a person, we were safely back in Pavis.

To be continued.

Story begun July 30, 2002.  This page last modified November 17, 2004 

Last updated September 26, 2016

Glorantha is a trademark of Chaosium, Inc. Gloranthan material on this page is copyright ©1997-2016 by Oliver D. Bernuetz or by the author specifically mentioned on an individual page. Glorantha is the creation of Greg Stafford, and is used with his permission.

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