Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part V

*bam* *bam* *bam*

Fafnir came awake with a start, hands thrust out defensively towards the door. A ruddy glow seeped in through the small window bathing everything in a dull reddish hue. The room was stifling and Fafnir could smell smoke.

"...stard. Open the door!" The curse was matched with another *bam* *bam* *bam*.

"Pops?" Fafnir called out. He pushed himself off the bed and stood, rapidly coming to terms with his environment.

"Not for long if you don't let me in. You Locked your door." A scream sounded from somewhere distant and was cut off suddenly.

Fafnir concentrated for a moment. The door clicked. Pops threw himself inside and slammed the door shut again. In the moment the door was open Fafnir had the impression of bright light and heat.

"Lock it Lock it Lock it." Pops cried out in a rush.

Fafnir focused on the door and it made another audible click. A second later something slammed into it hard enough to shake the frame.

"What the hell, Pops?" Fafnir asked. "I thought we were done with the burning inns down phase of our careers."

"Wasn't our fault this time. Whew." The older halfling dusted himself off and tried to catch his breath. With a suspicious look back at the door he continued. "A handful of hood wearing nut bags are running a slightly smaller handful of chaos beastmen wild through the building. And, well, fire is about the only thing slowing them down."

"So ... you did start the fire." Fafnir said accusingly.

"What? Who cares? That's not important right now." The frame of the door shook again as something hit it with a crash. "Is that Lock enough to hold the door?" Pops asked as he backed deeper into the room.

"Only long enough to get this ready." Fafnir said with a grin. He brandished a silver tuning fork.

"Whoa!" Pops shouted and tumbled past the wizard as an even greater force slammed into the door. The frame and bits of the wall gave in with a splintering crash. The fires in the hall beyond the destroyed door backlit a seven foot monster with the face and eyes of a goat, three twisted horns and a bulky chitinous torso. It let out a frenzied snarl and began tearing through the wreckage to get inside.

*Binnnnnnng* Fafnir struck the tuning fork on the nearby bed frame. The whine of the fork was matched quickly by words and gestures.

*crack* A bright bolt of lightning shot from the wizard into the beastman, hurling it back into the hall.

*iiiiinnnnnng Pang* The tuning fork shattered.

"Blood!" Fafnir cursed. He dropped the useless piece of metal and turned to Pops. "Are you ready to leave, yet?" he asked.

"Thought you would never ask." He looked nonchalantly at a wall of the room that had begun to show smoke along its seams. "The management has really let this place go to hell," he said with a chuckle.

"Spare me." Fafnir groaned. He picked up a belt of small pouches and put it on. "Check the hall. We probably only have a few minutes before the entire building is unlivable."

"Voice of experience, eh?" Pops cackled as he moved back to the broken door.

"That was one time and it wasn't my fault."

"Says the guy with the fireball in his pocket."

"I was jumpy, bite me."

"Hallway looks cl .. " *pang* *thunk* A crossbow bolt embedded itself in the wall a foot from Pops head. "New plan. Hallway is not such a fantastic place. What about the window?"

*creeeak* The room shook and the two heard a not too distant crack of a large timber.

"Running low on time, Fafnir." Pops said. Fafnir crossed to the window and pushed it open.

"Remind me again why we take rooms on the second floor?" He asked the halfling.

"Security." Pops flicked a stone into the hallway. "missed." he muttered.

"And the logic behind a window overlooking a closed courtyard. A courtyard currently wreathed in flames I might add, it's quite spectacular."

"Thank you. I mean ... uh ... privacy."

"Hmmm. Ah ha. The kitchen. It's connected to the courtyard. Ok, Pops. Time to jump. I have a plan. Hold on to this feather. Try to avoid the bigger fires as you float past yet another once happy home crumbling to embers and ruin around us."

Pops crossed the room one more time to stand next to the tall man.  "Oh! The usual. Why didn't you say so in the first place. Give me the feather." He held out his hand with a smile.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part IV

"You were right, Fafnir." Pops chuckled. "Oh were you ever right." Pops' eyes danced and sparkled with barely contained giddiness.

"Found something?" Fafnir asked quietly.

"Heard something," came the reply. Pops leaned in conspiratorially. "It's that Thomas guy. The Lady and the surgeon were settling him in. He was sort of in and out of it. Started mumbling ..." Pops paused and let the tension build. All of his weight was shifted forward.

"If he was a child, he would be skipping and dancing," thought Fafnir. Out loud he finally asked, "And?"

"It's the Alkhezzar." The word burst out of Pops in a bubble of glee.

"What?" Fafnir grimaced. "No. No. No. The fantastical lost necropolis that has been leading you around by your ... stomach, from one dive bar to the next and so far has turned up nothing?"

"I wouldn't cast our adventures in that light ..." Pops said.

"I would!" Fafnir's eyes flashed. "And don't call them adventures. Gambling with throat cutters for beer money in a rat infested tavern whores wouldn't enter isn't an adventure. It's idiocy. Just like your obsession with this vanished city of the dead."

"Lost necropolis." Pops insisted with an impatient tone. "There is a difference." Fafnir glared. "And it does exist," Pops added hastily.

"And Thomas, delirious with blood loss, disoriented, barely living let alone conscious...he just happened to confirm your every suspicion?"

"Well ..." Pops shuffled his feet. "He mentioned a map. Something about keeping it safe."

Fafnir sighed and gave Pops a rueful glance. "Let me guess the remainder, my honorable friend. Upon hearing of a map of unknown quality, content, and veracity you had to see it for yourself. You slipped away from whatever door you were listening at and ..."

"Hey..." Pops interjected.

"From whatever door," Fafnir continued over him. "Slipped away, rooted through his things. Found it. Took it. And are now trying to convince me that you have, finally, after months of not doing any real research, found a clue to your mysterious city."

"Well. Not exactly." Pops started rummaging through the nearby desk. The room was large. It was an overnight room for one guest and had a small writing desk near one corner. Pops, Fafnir knew, could not let a closed drawer remain unclosed.

"He probably doesn't even know he is doing it," thought Fafnir.

"What then exactly?" he asked the halfling.

"It is a map to the key." Pops proclaimed proudly.

"The key?" Fafnir sighed. The faintest beginnings of a headache were forming. He needed sleep. Soon.

"Yes. The key points the way to the necropolis, and presumably opens it. This is a map to that." Clutched in his fist was a roll of tired looking parchment.

"So ... it's a map to ... another map?"

"Ya," Pops beamed.

"Bones and Blood, Pops!" Fafnir swore. "Put it back. They've already lost one of their party, they might lose a second and if Tess thinks you're out to rob them ..."

"Hey, you were the one that said they would be interesting to follow," Pops said defensively. He slipped the parchment into a belt pouch.

"Your map to another map isn't the reason," Fafnir explained and then had a sudden thought. "You aren't just making all this up as an excuse to cover the fact you robbed him blind are you?"

"No! I mean, I'd never ... I mean, No! This is all I took. Once I saw the symbols in the thing, I figured you were a sure thing." The conspiratorial tone and smile crept back over him. "You like symbols," Pops finished with a grin and an earnest twinkle in his eye.

"Come on Fafnir," he cajoled. "How long has it been since you've had a paying job? The council doesn't trust you. The Watch ... watches you."

"The council doesn't trust battle wizards. They are concerned because I am not moving on to some nebulous 'front line'." Fafnir frowned at Pops and said, "The Watch watches me because they don't trust you. At all."


"You are gaining a reputation. And making a name for yourself."

"Oh really?" Pops switched instantly from wounded to curious.

"The smiling swindler."

"What?" Pops cried. "That is a terrible name!"

"What do you expect? Merchants, on the Turn of all places, are complaining ..."

"No," Pops interrupted. "I mean, that name lacks flair. It lacks class."

"So, it's dead on then," Fafnir said with a chuckle.


"I am just saying ... the powers that be in this city want me to move on and the merchants guild is pushing the Watch to find a way to contain you."

"It's not like I run the black market," Pops said.

"For lack of trying?"

Pops waved a hand in Fafnir's direction while the other tried another drawer at the desk. "Guilds are too much work. I am doing fine bartering."


"Bartering ... with merchants ... here and there. Besides, with you around it isn't like they are going to hire someone to do something about it."

"I am not so sure about that ... tonight was odd." Fafnir softened his tone and looked thoughtful.

"How so?" Pops asked.

"That crew was operating far too close to a border everyone knows about. And the Cateris ... lurking around just watching ..." Fafnir frowned.

"I don't see what a pack of curious cat-folk has to do with our merchant problem."

"Your merchant problem," Fafnir corrected him. "Think of it this way: if someone hired that bunch to move in at a place where no one should be dumb enough to be found operating, how long is it until someone gets hired to do something lethal that is also in the best interests of everyone except you and I?"

"They could have been out of town employers. Or Thieves Guild themselves," Pops reasoned.

"Wasn't Guild. They were rabble and the Guild would have let the group move all the way in to their web, not jump them fifty feet from the door."

"Out of town, then?" Pops asked.

"Maybe." Fafnir grunted still thinking.

"Either way," Pops said with a smile. "It means they had something and I say it is this map." Pops patted the small satchel at his hip.

Fafnir sighed. "How soon are they going to notice it missing?" he asked.

"Not sure," Pops replied. "I pulled a swap with a spare bit of parchment I had lying around."

"Ok. Let's assume morning then. I need to rest."

Pops looked around the room taking in the heavy drapes and tapestries. "Is this enough to muffle your screaming?" he asked gently.

Fafnir sighed again. "It should be. I didn't use much power tonight."

"Are the nightmares ever going to stop?" Pops asked with true concern in his voice.

"No, Pops. That's the way it goes sometimes when you tackle demons. You know it as well as I do." Fafnir looked away. "Go, Pops. Try not to start a riot with the remainder of the night. I need to sleep."

"Good night, then." Pops let himself out and headed down the hall to his own room.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part III

Pops sling started buzzing as he jogged forward to close the gap. The scene revealed itself to him as he approached.

Two people in traveler's cloaks stood with blades bare beside the two fallen forms of their comrades. Five menacing night haunts closed in. The haunts were typical of their type: mismatched clothing, a piece of toughened leather here and there plus whatever weapon available or improvised. One of their number was on the ground already, a dagger shoved indecently through his throat. The two travelers, female, shifted back to back as the five remaining assailants spread out around them.

"No one else has to get hurt, lovelies. We's just looking for fun. Put those stickers down now," one of the bravos said in a raspy voice.

"Does that line ever work?" Pops asked loudly into the night over the buzz of his sling.

"Wha ... " *crack* The surprised question was cut off instantly by the slung stone and the brigand dropped like a puppet with cut strings. One of the would-be thieves recovered quickly enough to snap the yell, "Get them!" and brandish a cleaver. Two charged the travelers, swinging and screaming for blood. The Cleaver and his knife wielding sidekick spun toward Pops. Pops wasted no time in dropping another stone into his sling. The Knife charged at him, closing the distance in a few strides.


The hairs on the back of Pops' neck stood on end as he felt a crossbow bolt zip past him too close for comfort.

*crack* The knife wielder dropped to the ground, a heavy bruise already forming at his temple where the slug tipped bolt him him. The Cleaver hesitated upon seeing his companion dropped from an unseen attack. Pops shot his stone at one of the attackers harassing the travelers. It banged into an elbow eliciting a startled cry and caused the man to drop his guard.

The nearest traveler used the diversion to run a long knife into her attacker. The thief coughed up blood and crumpled. The other attacker turned and ran off into the night.

"I know you, you little shit! You are going to pay for this," cried the Cleaver, unaware he stood along against four.

"I'd run now before you say something," came the reply. "My friend in the shadows isn't the forgiving type." Pops scuttled away from the menacing man.

Cleaver snapped a quick look at the scene behind him and did the math. He started for the nearest alley.

"You'll get yours, little man. Just you..."

*Thrumm* *crack*

The cleaver made a dull clunk as it hit the ground a moment ahead of the brigand.

"Ah hahah. Not likely!" Pops danced over the fallen foe. Deft hands made a quick search for spare coins. Fafnir stepped out of the murk of the evening and retrieved his bolts. One of the women was crouched over one of her fallen comrades. Fafnir though he could hear small desperate sobs. The other held her sword out protectively watching Fafnir and Pops as they moved closer.

"Stay back," she warned.

"Thomas. Oh Thomas. No," called the other. "No. No. No."

"Let us help you," Fafnir said soothingly. "Your friends need medical attention."

"Were you with them?" The woman asked.

"No. We were on the street, too. We saw them jump you. Please. I know a night house nearby. If we hurry we can save them."

The woman nodded. "I am called Tess, this is Yemna. Thomas and Sven. I ... I think Sven is ..."

"Help me with him, Tess. Pops! Keep an eye out. Chibiguazu!" Fafnir whistled. "Go." The word was voiced with something more, a note of power.

Pops pushed Yemna into motion. Tess lifted Sven and pushed him to Fafnir. The man was thin and pale and cold. Fafnir didn't have much hope for him. Tess picked Thomas up on her own and turned to Fafnir.

"Which way?" she asked.

"Pops, get us out of here."

"With pleasure. This way if you please. I know the place he means." The halfling started back down the road, his feet made no sound as he wound his way from shadow to shadow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part II

The perpetual evening mist was performing its nightly slow dance meandering across alleyways, clutching and clinging, fumbling slowly from stoop to stoop, eve to eve. The hard pack dirt was cut here and there with a section of choppy stone, remnants of a public works project long past. The only fixture held in the sky was the sullen moon, sickly yellow red with the torch haze rising from road and roof. It was not a well lit city.

Street lanterns were just close enough to give a sense of security in this section, but too far apart to truly banish the night. There were few that strode boldly from lamp to lamp; the ignorant or the untouchable. The old quick thieves call the gamble on which you'll get: the fool's take.

Fafnir and Pops were not strangers to the shadows. They stayed the hell away from anything that smelled like a trap.

"We should stay the hell away from this. It could be a trap," whispered Pops as the two moved swiftly but silently down a twisted road known as Crooked Knee Alley.

"You think everything is a trap," Fafnir replied. He peered into the murk. "It's a dark one tonight."

Pops gave a harumph and muttered, "Notice that I am still around? Common sense."

"I am going to cheat," Fafnir said decisively.

"About time," Pops whispered. "I hate leading through this." He gestured vaguely at the crawling mist. There was a soft thump as the lynx dropped smoothly to the ground. Fafnir passed a hand over his eyes and when they were uncovered Pops saw his companion's blue gaze replaced with shimmering green cat's eyes.

"That creeps me out every time." Pops shuddered.

"We should be able to follow at a comfortable distance now. Follow me." Guided by Fafnir, the pair moved easily through the gloom. After nearly twenty minutes Pops spoke up.

"Fafnir. I don't think these guys are from around here," he whispered with concern slipping into his voice.

"What makes you say that?" Fafnir asked.

"Because they are about to cross into the Bone Yard after moonrise. We should do something."

"Someone might be getting around to that without our help. Trouble ahead by the looks of it." Fafnir whispered. He peered into the low slung night mist towards shadows closing in on their marks.

"Trouble above," Pops whispered in return. He pointed at a pair of figures slipping quietly from roof to roof following the same group.

"Bad news, decrepit one. Those are Cateris."

Pops flinched at the mention of the cat-like men with the prickliest honor. "The ones ahead, too?" he asked in an uneasy tone. He fidgeted.

"Tell me you haven't been scamming the Cateris. And no, the group about to cause a stir are just the normal type of fun for around here."

"Sca ... scamming?" Pops sounded mildly offended. "What I do is business and ... uh ... risk management."

"Well, for the moment the cats are just watching. I am more concerned for what is about to go down."

The marks crossed an alley mouth as Fafnir finished speaking. The night came alive with the sound of rushing bodies and drawn steel.

"In or out, wizard?" Pops asked.

"In. Stagger it. We don't want to be seen as reinforcing the wrong cause."

"Timely then," Pops whispered and a sling appeared in his hands. A sudden wet thunk and terrible cry of pain split the night air.

"Not too timely," Fafnir replied. He was uncollapsing a small crossbow and shaking his cloak out of the way at the same time. "Get to it."

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part I

Smoke from the cheap wood crumbling to nothing in the fireplace across the tavern common room mixed with the oily ringlets of gray puffed out by the wide-eyed traveler. He leaned in, hooked on every nuance and intonation from the lanky man seated opposite him. Small stones and bits of animal bones were strewn in an indecipherable pattern on the table between them. A few dice and a bit of string rounded out the casting. The seer was dressed in a loose fitting cotton shirt with a short hooded cloak pulled over his head as if it were a ward against stray eldritch energy. From an unseen pocket he pulled a slim deck of cards and flipped one onto the table.

"There is a shadow creeping across the face of the world," whispered the man to the traveler, indicating the card. The traveler blinked and leaned back from the table.

"That's a sun," he pointed to the card.

"You have to have light to cast a shadow, " insisted the reader as twitch of a frown crossed his features.

"The people on the card look happy," the traveler said.

"It's ... uh ... upside down ... inverted." The man made an esoteric gesture and pushed the word out in a husky whisper.

"No. It's not. It's a sun and the people are smiling." The traveler pushed himself back from the table.

"You have to look at it from this side ... it's inverted. They are all frowning." The would-be seer paused for additional effect. "There is a doom coming."

"Ratman piss," A new voice interrupted the reading. "Just tell him he is destined for happiness and get his money already, Fafnir. Before he figures out you are a charlatan." The voice had the honeyed tenor of someone who could talk the rain out of falling. The halfling owner, a short and round opposite to Fafnir, hopped up on a nearby bench and looked at the chaos of junk spread across it.

"Oh wow," he laughed, "Are they still falling for your bag of stones and bone bits? Don't any of your marks know anything about fortune reading?" The question was followed by another chuckle.

"Pops, dammit." Fafnir turned to the halfling with a pleading tone. "I am with a client."

"No, you aren't," Pops said with a cackle and pointed. The traveler had risen and moved away, muttering to himself.

"Wait! Sir?" cried Fafnir, "The shadow..."

"It was a sun, you hack," The traveler said over his shoulder as he stomped off.

"Pops, you bastard. That was my meal coin." Fafnir reseated himself dejectedly and began gathering his stones and bits into a small bag.

Pops laughed again. A smile was wide on his face and it made his eyes sparkle with mischief.

"Here," he said, and flicked a coin at Fafnir. Fafnir snapped it out of the air in an eye-blink then stopped and looked at the small golden disc in his palm.

"A gold half-crown? What are you playing at?" he asked the halfling.

"Pips, mostly. I just can't seem to lose tonight."

Fafnir gave Pops an icy stare. Pops fidgeted.

"Everything was on the up and up," Pops defended himself. "Mostly. I mean ... I didn't take much."

"If you are doing so well, then why are you over here chasing away paying customers?" Fafnir asked with surly frown.

"Well, one," Pops ticked off reasons on his small but dangerously deft fingers, "You are better than this garbage stuff. You should be selling the real thing. And two, I ... uh ... might have been a bit ... too ... good. Honestly, they were happy to see me step away." The last bit was said in a muttered rush.

"I don't believe you." Pops feigned shock at the statement. "So," Fafnir said with resignation. "How long do we have until two huge guys come over here looking to get their coin back?"

"Oh ... minutes at least," Pops replied.

Fafnir scanned the room. The hood of his cloak fell to his shoulders. "And by minutes," he said with a sigh, "You, of course, meant from the moment you came over here?"

"How many?" Pops asked with an air of curious indifference.

"Three. Dammit. I was hoping for a quiet night."

Fafnir looked quickly at the room over Pops' shoulder and gauged their options.

"Hey, night's young," Pops said sneaking his own glance. The twinkle rekindled in his eyes.

"Fair enough. You have a plan?" Fafnir asked.

"I was thinking a Horse's Mouth might be in order."

"Ok." Fafnir said in agreement.  "Ghost up. Now."

Fafnir cleared his throat and returned to picking up his things from the table. Pops hopped off the bench and was instantly lost in the mill and press of a few busy nearly tables. The moment Pops vanished, the approaching trio stopped and looked around. The brief pause was all Fafnir required.

The three goons were near a bench home to a few equally thuggish drinkers when Fafnir threw his voice and said, "You three come as a pretty set or do we hav' ta pay fer extra pillows?" Followed immediately by, "Pull up a bench, pull up your shirt, and let's get to known' each other." The results were predictable. In moments the center of the common room was a cloud of dust, splinters, broken crockery, and swinging fists. Pops reappeared at Fafnir's side as he slowly circumnavigated the brawl.

"Very nice, Fafnir!" he chuckled. "Smooth as silk."

"It's just one more tavern we have to avoid for a while," Fafnir muttered in reply. "Think it will pull the watch?"

"Not sure," Pops said at the same moment as a meaty thunk and distinctive groan sounded from the center of the fight. "Check that. Yeah. This is going to get messy. You really hit a sore spot this time."

There was a soft scampering noise and a small bundle of fur hopped from a nearby ledge on to Fafnir's shoulder.

"What's the story, my friend?" Fafnir said quietly to the lynx balanced comfortably next to his head. The lynx purred and something passed between the two of them. "All is not lost, Pops. I think we have some interesting prospects tonight after all."

"Oh? Of what sort?" the halfling asked.

"Not sure just yet. Something old and ... tingly is the best way to describe it."

"I don't think it is. What's tingly?"

"Lynx for vaguely mystic in origin I think. See that group slipping out the front? Chibi says they have a lead on something interesting. And..."

" it." Pops sighed. "You know ... you don't have to make up stories to get me out of this perfectly crazy room." A piece of a chair spun past Pops as he spoke. "I have zero issue with leaving." He laughed and smiled.

"For truth, my friend. Our rapidly vanishing 'friends' have a very old piece of parchment," Fafnir explained and picked up his pace toward the door.

"Like a map?"

"Would you like it to be a map?"

"Maps are interesting. I've sold my fair share of maps and I can tell you..."

"It might not be a map." Fafnir interrupted. The pair twisted past a handful of onlookers screaming drunken encouragement at the fray.

"Well, why are we following them, then? There are four of them and two of us and they look armed to the teeth." Another chair smashed into the wall next to Pops.

"Treasure, mystery, adventure Pops." Fafnir explained with a bit of drama. "That's line item one in the manifesto. Come on."

"Your manifesto," Pops countered. "Mine starts with beer. Then ale. Then cheese, sausage, and beer in that order."

"Four people are on the ground over there and I am reasonably sure that the people you robbed aren't among them. Come on, Pops." Fafnir said with a sly smile.

"Hey, hey, hey." Pops protested as Fafnir practically pulled him out the door and into the night. "Rob is pejorative. It was a friendly game of cards."

"I thought you said pips."

"It's not my fault they didn't know the rules."

The whistles of the watch sounded in the distance as the noise of the fight intensified. Fafnir and Pops slipped into the night and faded away.


About Me

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.