When they were ushered out of the building containing the Truth Reader’s guild they found a carriage awaiting them. Standing by the driver was one of the guild’s messengers. He nodded to them with a mischievous grin and trotted back into the building.
“To the dwarven embassy please.”
They were slightly delayed by several crowds that were congregating around some newspaper sellers. Rich cast them a look of derision. “No way the papers have any solid news yet.”
“But they will have the government’s and the guild’s statements. The statements are standardised after all. And they will also know which dungeon went rogue,” said Cinders.
Rich smiled sarcastically. “Hardly news. Frog and Strelitzia broke their chains. I suspect they’re going to create a veritable fortress. They’ve promised Mother they’ll close the entrance opposite the eatery.”
Cinders just stared in surprise.
“Come, come Cinders. Surely you must know by now Mother is both a dungeon and a goddess. We’re not going to be blindly hostile to dungeons. Especially as you must also know Mother is not in favour of slavery.”
Minnow grinned and rubbed her bare neck. She winked at Cinders.
“But Rich...” started Cinders before pausing while she thought things through. “What about the dungeon we are living in? I thought Mother...”
“Mother is Lewis Carroll’s suzerain, he is her vassal. They both have formal obligations one to the other.”
* * *
There was a muted rumble and then the sound of the horses pulling the carriage changed, the sound of hooves becoming clearer and echoing slightly as they entered the embassies cavernous enclosed front yard. Their carriage swung round and came to a halt, its door was opened by a liveried footman. Rich and Minnow descended from the carriage followed by Cinders and Eldaan.
A grey bearded dwarf in splendid robes awaited them. He regarded Minnow with badly disguised distaste. “The ambassador would like to see you Mr Burton. Your entourage can wait here and we would appreciate it if you left any magical items and your weapons with them.”
Rich regarded the dwarf steadily. “I see.” Rich turned to the driver of their carriage. “Please take us to the great central market.” He then handed Minnow up into the carriage before getting back on board.
Cinders looked from the slowly purpling dwarven dignitary to Rich, and back again, before collecting her senses and getting back into their carriage.
Minnow, seated on the rear facing padded bench was watching Rich wide eyed. Rich relaxed when he heard the rumble of the entrance to the embassy open and they passed back into the fog. He smiled ruefully at Minnow and Cinders. “Well that could have gone better.”
“Could have gone better!” exclaimed Cinders. “How could it have gone worse?”
“Well we might have had to fight our way out,” Rich chuckled. “Not that surprised. Mother is at odds with the dwarves on Parthia too.”
Minnow blinked surprised, “She is! ... Oh, I see. Um, how do I know this?”
Eldaan smirked. “Mother did say it was going to hurt ’cause she had a lot of information to give you.”
Cinders slumped back in her seat. “Goddess! This is going to be all over town soon. Those people the dwarves hire are none too fond of their masters and tend to gossip, then there’s our cabby.”
Rich stiffened slightly, and then he relaxed and grinned again. “Nothing we can do about it now.”
* * *
Once they reached their destination their cabbie was quite happy agree to await their return, especially after Eldaan slipped him a few coins. The cabbie led his team into an enclosed waiting area and set about making his team comfortable. Removing their cumbersome breathers, watering and feeding them.
Eldaan easily caught the others as Rich had delayed to examine the elaborate main entrance to the great market. It was set into the huge iron framed glasshouse that housed and protected the market. Several teams of goblins with accompanying by orcs patrolled the exterior of the edifice.
Rich drew in a deep breath while fingering his new earring, relishing the fact that he no longer had to wear the damned uncomfortable and restrictive breather mask before stepping into the domain of the bound dungeon that controlled and maintained this market.
* * *
Ruby felt the dungeon bound party enter her domain but beyond studying them did nothing. Her master had only hours ago renewed and increased his control, leaving her with virtually no freedom to act. So she studied the strangers and envied them greatly. She could dimly sense the power of the one that they were bound to.
Sighing with regret she reached for Twinklegrin her wisp and companion of many years. They merged and commiserated with one another.
« Ruby dear, shouldn’t we tell the master just in case? »
« How? Our new orders are to obey without question. We are only allowed to disturb the master if an attack we cannot handle occurs. They are not attacking. »
* * *
They wandered around for a fair amount of time examining the booths and stalls. The goods displayed were of varying prices and quality. Heated haggling that involved much screaming seemed to be everyone’s favoured pastime. Then they stopped for a quick snack at one of the pie stalls.
“Huh, the eatery has better at lower prices,” muttered Eldaan.
“True,” agreed Cinders.
Eldaan grinned in delight, “you’ve already tried it?”
“Yes well ... those apple pies and fritters smell ... and taste ... divine.”
Rich chuckled, “well the rabbit girls do have an unfair advantage. Their ingredients are superior, and free, after all.”
They continued meandering through the market after their snack. Then Rich spotted something that stopped him in is tracks. In a booth dedicated to toys a couple of tiny tethered airships floated. He stopped and stared. Then he walked up to the booth and started to talk with the proprietor.
They left that booth with one of the toy airships and a bag of liftwood seeds. Rich had been surprised and delighted when he learned that liftwood seeds were used in several toys. He had bought all the ones Arensoon had been willing to sell.
Eldaan was laughing quietly as they walked back through the market. “Boss you are a pushover when it comes to haggling. You could have got that lot for less than half what you paid. Arensoon must think you’re a pushover.”
Rich sighed, “But it would have taken forever.”
Minnow giggled, “But think of the fun you’d have both had screaming insults at each other and bewailing your fates. Telling each other about your starving children and elderly grandparents.”
“Yeah, you must have taken all the fun out of it for Arensoon. He must have felt let down after cheating you so easily,” snickered Eldaan.
= = O = =
Strelitzia and Frog’s revolt – Another POV
Bartold Kennings was lounging in the comfortable chair sipping a glass of his favourite wine with a most cuddlesome armful of a girl occupying his lap. He chuckled at a witticism his benefactor Magister Rufus Calitroglia had just uttered.
He paid little attention to the fights going on in the arena below. The gladiators were not the best as they were only the opening act. And for a connoisseur like himself they weren’t worth watching. Better fare would be along later.
He vaguely noted the change in the sound of the audience’s roar; he definitely noted the first shots. He just couldn’t believe his benefactor was so crass as to use guns in his arena. So he looked up from the little leather-collared girl in his lap and watched in astonishment as a job lot of lizardmen charged onto the arena killing some gladiators and chasing the rest off.
It was only when Rufus stood ashen faced and started defending his guests from the two lizardmen shamans, that Bartold realised that the spell barriers defending the audience from the denizens of the sands were down. Bartold stood abruptly dumping the girl to the ground. He could hear screams and crashing volleys from the top of the stands and benches. He fumbled his collar out from under his tunic. Not unexpectedly his guild amulet was telling him he was in a free dungeon. And by what he was seeing, the dungeon was in one hell of a snit.
Rufus seemed to be holding his own against the lizardmen, or he was until two bullets hit him almost simultaneously. Bartold for his part was feeling very scared. He dropped to one knee to make use of the parapet as cover as he tried to make some kind of plan to save himself.
He winced as the Rollonds fell to bullets. That was going to do the chartered R&T company no good at all. Their heirs were a vicious and ambitious lot. He looked round bewildered. Where were the slaves? The only ones he could see were Rufus’ butler and the Rollonds’ boy toy, and they were both dead. Then he heard a set of blood chilling screeches and a feathered two-legged monster appeared framed in the doorway of Rufus’s box. Those guests of Rufus’ who were still alive started screaming.
Bartold fumbled at his necklace, his fingers almost instinctively finding the Amulet of Halis. He yanked it free and smashed it to the ground breaking it. There was a flash and he found himself kneeling in his office at the guild.
He staggered to his feet and noting absently that the alarm bells were still pealing he walked quickly to his sideboard where he poured himself a glass of gulph wine. He moved to his desk and collapsed behind it. Then he drained his glass and shuddered.
‘By the gods, this has been an appalling week. First the Spider Queen materialised in the reception room of his guild along with the new balancer of the drow, the oddly named Little Fish. Then when I got there I only found poor Woofie’s corpse. Naked and mutilated where someone had harvested it for alchemical ingredients. And Ciders quit via letter. Well her pay was over a month in arrears so it wasn’t that surprising. And now this. I’ll miss old Rufus. Denning is a mean spirited little prig, nothing like his father.’
* * *
Bartold Kennings might not like it but he knew his duty. He knew what he had to do if he was to retain his hold on the local Adventurer’s Guild. So after scouring the building and surrounding streets and bars he managed to put together a party of fifteen “adventurers”.
Half an hour later they poured out of the guild’s somewhat dilapidated firewagon and joined the city guard keeping guard on the large concrete dome that stood where formerly the Calitroglia Colloseum had stood.
The iron-collared guardsmen had already cordoned off the roads surrounding the dome and were keeping the curious at a distance.
They were facing the only opening in the dome. It stood about half way up at the top of a wide but steep flight of steps. Above the arch that surrounded the entrance tunnel was a sign that read:
Strelitzia and Frog invite all and sundry
To visit the Arena of Blood
Welcome to Hell!
Bartold really didn’t fancy what was coming next. Thankfully the representatives of the mages’ guild hadn’t shown up yet. Mabe he wouldn’t have to lead the raid into the dungeon today. He was sure he could find an apropriate excuse given time.