Uncle Jimbo's Get Mediaeval
|"Downward and onward!"|
The creature called Number of the Beast had been banished from its home for centuries. Slowly, its mind had festered, turning its convictions and even its shape far from the norms of its kind. The Dark Number appeared as a 3½’ pyramid of black leather panels edged with blackened iron, topped with two sweeping iron blades like horns, and walking on four spider-like iron legs. It was a killer and a servant of evil, but mostly a black numerologist which collected the numbers of pain and woe like ornaments of finest crystal.
It muttered to my disgusted tutor, Keybreaker, and she related it to me: “The murder rate in Curst is down by two tithes since last quarter, even when the Children of Deimos are stirring again. This is improper! Mayhem has declined! Defenestration is nearly defunct! Chaos has infected the system!”
Elmo swore at my glee, “Brazen paps of Tiamat, you pathetic puppy! Have you forgotten where we are? There is something rotten in this peace, by Belphegor, it stinks of foul dealings. Go out and get to the bottom of this!”
I asked high and low among the surly criminous folk of Curst. None had any clue to impart, though several mentioned especially wicked and bloodthirsty acquaintances who had not been seen recently. The whole burg was talking about the latest pack of evil bloods to flee the Abyss for our tortured town. Three identical alu-fiend sisters of puissant magic called themselves the Three Arisen, Marikan, Marivlet and Marivel. They had taken up residence at a secret location and begun to terrorise the townsfolk into joining their army of revenge.
Many weary hours later, well after dark, I turned towards the Sign of the Stake to cut the dust in my throat. I stopped short at the sight of human, tiefling and gehreleth bubbers stumbling frantically out, some gibbering in fear. The razor-barred tavern windows flashed with magical lights and shuddered with roars of battle within. As I watched, an unlucky farastu framed in the doorway shrieked and threw up his arms, contorted into a cross by crackling blue lightning sparks, before collapsing on the step as a fiercely burning corpse. In a moment of silence, I heard the final words of an invocation. Next moment, every doorway vomited flame and blazing dead bodies. The building flamed up like a torch into the dead black night.
In the grey morning the tavern’s site was only a field of smoking cinders. The survivor we had scragged told of the Three Arisen lording it at the best table, eating with flesh-forks from the roasted corpse that the innkeeper set before them. Then all was confusion, with the she-fiends slinging magic against a swarm of black-hooded humanlike figures. Even in his drunken terror, the little rutterkin throat-cutter saw one of the alu-fiends wrapped in magical iron bands, and several of the dark figures blasted to ashes by spells.
Elmo ordered, “Git in there, boy, show me what that plumb-bob of yours can sniff out of the demonesses’ bones.” I stepped gingerly into the hot ashes with my pendulum. Though I quartered the inn three times, no trace of the alu-fiends’ bodies could be found.
Under the hard word of the Burgher himself, Elmo and I scoured the Blocks for any trace of a lead. Finally, a horribly maimed dwarf apprentice led us to the base of the razor-vine Wall, where a slim form slumped like burned garbage, barely alive. We carried the hapless Marivel to the dubious safety of the Burgher’s Quarters and resumed questioning, both for the events at the Sign of the Stake and the disappearances of murderers.
The chamber within was utterly foreign to the ugly black stone cells of Curst. Translucent curtains in pastel colours, hung with tiny opals, formed a bower around an exquisite set of low tables and couches worked in silver filigree. To one side was a silver loom, set with the first few inches of a silk weave of incredible fineness. Of the four occupants, three seemed to soil this delicate room by their presence: two burly humanoids in black hoods gripping a filthy, snarling half-orc, feared by the whole town as Snelic the Hacker.
The one who was obviously master of this place glided forward. At least seven feet tall and severely thin, he seemed to be an elf of the most noble blood, with silver hair and great lavender eyes. He wore samite robes of colours so near white that an onlooker could never be sure, once he looked away, what tint they carried. One of the black-hooded ones demanded, “Shanarel, by our pact you must destroy this scum in fitting fashion!”
Sighing, the elf-lord raised a hand. It glittered with a strange black-green ring. The two in black hoods leapt back, leaving Snelic free and facing the elf. Howling in mockery, the halfbreed raised his great scimitar high to cleave the flimsy elf in half. The shining being casually touched the back of his hand to the half-orc’s forehead.
A baneful dimness dropped over the silvery elven lamp-light. The shadows in the room suddenly writhed and gibbered in demonic half-speech. With a single scream of mortal agony, the half-orc’s body seemed to warp and lift from the ground, sucked like smoke into the ring. In the dreadful silence which followed, the being called Shanarel seated himself at the loom, pausing a moment in contemplation. He passed the ring over the warp with exquisite skill. A barely visible grey-green thread reeled off into the cloth. The two black-garbed figures declaimed in unison, “Hail to Shanarel the Fine, the chosen spinner of the Vestment of Justice!”
Gagging, I fled across the rooftop and leapt down into an unknown alleyway. Instantly I sensed many forms around me. As I leapt to my feet, I felt the sting of a sword-blade against my chest, and a rough leather glove clamped over my mouth. I was surrounded by warriors in black hoods and blackened chain mail, with the dread wyrm of the Mercykillers worked in mithril links on their chests. A githzerai stood to one side, bareheaded except for a silver circlet, and wearing a black cloak embroidered with the same symbol. She was staring at me with sunken, intense eyes. As I goggled, she blinked and looked away, clutching at her temples for a moment.
One of the warriors spoke a single word. The Mercykiller squad strode swiftly towards the building, led by a slim energetic figure, and bearing three struggling captives I had not noticed before. The leader snapped, “Your part here is done. Begone!” I fled as the sounds of battle began behind me.
The next day, Elmo and I were summoned to the chambers of the Red Sword Doomguard faction, where we collected a barely alive tiefling minstrel. She had performed in the Clerks’ Ward of Sigil with her two comrades, singing ballads of a heroic band of thieves who rescued a lady burglar from the king’s harsh dungeons. After ugly warnings, all three had been dragged to the Prison, then conveyed through a portal to the dark streets of Curst to play their role at the close of this grim saga.
The three bards were led in the wake of the Red Death enforcers through a mess hall with two rows of bodies hanged from the rafters, presided over by a richly dressed corpse fastened into a throne at the head of the table by numerous iron spikes. As they climbed the stairs, an elven battle-song and numerous human shouts sounded ahead.
The chamber which I had seen was now wrecked, the silver chairs and fine curtains trampled by brawling warriors. Half a dozen black-cloaked fighters circled the being Shanarel. As the minstrels watched, one rushed the elf-lord and was mercilessly consumed by the evil magic ring. Two others seized the distracted Shanarel from behind and forced him to his knees.
The youthful leader of the Mercykiller band stepped forward, drawing off her hood. Her staring black eyes flicked towards the three captive minstrels. “Sons of justice”, she proclaimed, “these spinners of lying doggerel shall now witness the truth of inevitable punishment. For speaking against justice, I sentence Haklo the Muse and Skron Skaldier to have their tongues burned from their mouths before they are put to death. For employing an instrument to glorify crime, Tisania Gornglum shall lose three fingers of each hand. She shall serve true justice by bearing witness to the torment of her accomplices, and the final punishment of the thrice-traitorous Shanarel.”
The black-haired girl turned scornfully away as her minions bent to their work with branding-iron and sword. She seemed not to hear the screams of the unfortunate minstrels as she paced impatiently, swearing under her breath at the slowness of proceedings. Finally, the factol stood over the graceful form of Shanarel where he knelt, pinned by two burly Mercykillers. Two priests among their number stepped to either side of the silver loom, uncapping kegs of clear water marked with hawk-shaped hieroglyphs of vengeance.
She snatched the black ring from his finger, drawing it thoughtfully onto her own hand. “So, Shanarel, blasphemer of righteousness, leader of those traitors to my rule, and betrayer of the elves. I sentence you to destruction by that which you have gained from out of the Abyss!” Nilesia raised her hand, preparing to slap his handsome face with the awful ring. Every shadow about the room leapt into writhing, spidery life as a gibbering howl of triumphant malice filled the air. “Lolth, queen of treachery, open the maw of thy Demonweb Pits and receive now the fruits of your corruption of the Seldarine Shanarel!”
Shanarel wailed in fear as the girl’s hand swept down. At the last instant, she flicked her hand expertly aside. The black ring sailed through the air, perfectly aimed into her subordinate’s keg of holy water. The voice of the demon queen screamed in agony over a great bubbling hiss, as the shadows turned to a thousand thrashing, melting spider legs. “Aye! Justice to that she-bitch who dared to corrupt the followers of righteousness!” raved the factol, as the shadows twitched their last and subsided.
“Why, Shanarel, it seems that my sentence is now invalid. How silly of me!” Nilesia giggled. “Boys, you might as well let him up now.” The elf-prince slowly regained his feet, glaring in distrust. “You are free to depart, Shanarel .. as soon as you are properly dressed.”
Shanarel instantly spun about towards the two priests of Horus, just as they hurled the half-woven silk garment from their gauntleted hands. The silk floated down, light as a feather, over Shanarel’s face and arms. It settled in a shimmering cover, white and pale blue, then with the faintest tint of pink. The elf sank to his knees as the garment shredded, each thread slicing into his flesh. The awful minced mass writhed, then twitched, then shrank away to nothing, leaving only a faint black stain on the floor.