The carriage stopped yet again. The cabbie opened the small communication hatch in the roof to inform his passengers that their destination was sealed off by order of the city. “Sorry sor, so where do you want to be dropped off?”
“You might just as well drop us off at the drow embassy,” joked Rich.
“Ha ha sor. There ain’t no such thing,” retorted the cabbie.
Minnow’s eyes flew open in shock as a very familiar voice whispered in the back of her mind. She licked suddenly dry lips and whispered, “Junction of Deepwell Avenue and Wall lane.”
“What was that Minnow?” queried Rich.
Still looking shocked she complained, “They are bickering in the back of my mind, it is getting crowded in here,” replied Minnow tapping a finger to her forehead. “Anyway, the Spider Queen suggested we go to the junction of Deepwell Ave. and Wall lane. It’s not far but it is not a nice quarter of the city.”
“Why? Did she say?”
“Because that is where the Embassy is located.”
Rich looked round at his companions and received a series of nods and shrugs. “Very well. Cabby please take us to the junction of Deepwell Ave. and Wall lane.”
The cabby’s look was suitably dubious. “Well if you’re sure sor?”
* * *
Rich descended from the carriage in front of what he recognised as a reasonable faithful replica of Linderhof Castle in Bavaria. The real thing didn’t feature a statue of the Spider Queen on the peak of the roof nor did it feature octopi, squid and dolphins decorating the frieze. Then too the interior bore not the slightest resemblance to the Earth original.
He was not surprised to be received by Silver-Blade. The presence of drow guards did surprise him. “Good afternoon Silver-Blade, where did the guards come from?”
“My aunt has already consecrated the shrine. Our Lady opened a portal to the secret temple. The High priestess sent the guards. What the Goddess decrees gets done.”
“So this is truly an embassy? That is going to be amusing,” commented Rich with a smile as he watched the commander of the guard hand Minnow a nasty looking barbed bullwhip and a skill crystal. Minnow accepted them gingerly and fumbled as she fastened the whip to her belt.
Silver-Blade chuckled. “Yes, isn’t it? And our cousins are going to be so jealous of this elegant little palace Mother gifted us with.”
= = O = =
Magister Kee-an Fordoran, the first councillor of Conimbriga scanned the unbelievable document in his shaking hands once again. He couldn’t grasp the sheer gall represented by this brief missive. He looked round at the ruling council of the realm and tossed the document onto the desk. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“We have several problems gentlemen. We have three members of our council to replace. We have a rogue dungeon to subdue or destroy. And we have a new embassy in town.”
Darintus Galeontar cocked his head to the side and looked at the big man sitting at the head of the table. He noted with some concern that Kee-an’s normally rosy cheeks were flushed with restrained rage. He knew from long experience that the normally calm mage could become extremely reckless when he actually lost his temper.
“Councillor Fordoran, I think I speak for all of us when I say that replacing our missing members can wait on settling the matter of the murderous dungeon in our midst. That would seem to be the most pressing thing on the table.”
“Read that damn letter and tell me that Darintus.”
Darintus looked surprised but picked up the letter. Minutes later he looked up, “This has been confirmed? The Drow have set up an embassy and temple in Conimbriga?”
“So what? Another temple to Vortexius Blackbeard is hardly a problem,” said Coranmac Beltrrasive.
“What rock have you been hiding under Beltrrasive? The Spider Queen has retaken control of the drow. Her and some other goddess I never heard of before,” scoffed Kee-a-ran Fordoran, high priest of Holistos the Tinkerer.
Darintus tapped the letter on the table. “So how serious is this. Can this ambassador Silver-Blade truly represent all the realms of the drow as he claims?”
Kee-a-ran spread his hands in exasperation. “He was accredited by the High Priestess of the hidden temple. So yes he can and does. Just like the damn godless dwarf in the cube.”
Coranmac Beltrrasive looked puzzled, “Surely it is simple enough. As chairman of the council Magister Kee-an Fordoran will remain here with his brother Kee-a-ran Fordoran to receive the new ambassador and the chief priest or priests of the new temple while Kee-an’s deputy in the mages guild leads a party to assist the guild master of the adventurer’s guild to subdue the dungeon.”
The other councillors exchanged looks of exasperation amongst themselves. “Yes, but—” started Darintus as he passed a mental review of the two men in rising horror.
Kee-an shuddered, well knowing his deputy, while an excellent paper shuffler, was indecisive and a total failure as a mage. “Unfortunately you’re correct Coranmac.”
Kee-an tugged at his close cropped white beard, sighed and directed his gaze at Darintus Galeontar, “Make sure your iron-collars don’t get dragged into the ... err ... into guild affairs. We don’t want to tread on any sensitive toes do we?”
Darintus narrowed his eyes and thought about the current situation. “I will see to it personally magister.”
= = O = =
Rich and Cinders moved through the Mock Turtle dungeon and returned to their chamber. They found Alice Liddell awaiting them.
“Hello Rich, Mr Carroll wants to know if you want these apartments moved deeper in the dungeon, or closer to the Drow Embassy.”
“Hello Alice, I hope everything is well with you and Lewis? I think moving this area closer to the Embassy would be a good move. But is there any chance of setting up another eatery, restaurant or shop so we don’t have to use the Embassy as an entrance. The local authorities will be watching it, as will other powers.”
“Mr Carroll says that will be possible. He’ll see to it soon. What do you want done with the current eatery and the rabbit girls? It’s doing well, the iron-collars are very fond of it. We will need to explain why it isn’t running out of food.”
“I’ll visit it now and have a chat with whoever is in charge. We should be able to arrange or explain something.”
* * *
Rich settled into the comfortable chair and sipped from the cup of strong scalding hot tea one of the rabbit women had handed him. Cinders for her part was surreptitiously blowing on hers in a desperate effort to cool it.
At last satisfied that the woman were happy to continue running the eatery despite the current circumstances and that they all knew of the available boltholes they could use in case of emergencies Rich headed for the eatery itself trailed by Cinders.
When Rich stepped through the back door of the eatery he became the centre of attention of all those present in the establishment.
“Welcome master Rich,” said Heather as she looked up from the grill.
“I’m here to see how you are doing Heather. And to see if we will need to close when the food runs out or if we can come to some arrangement about getting supplies with these gentlemen.” Rich moved towards the counter and Cinders followed cautiously.
The soldiers looked unhappy at the thought of the place closing. One of them came over to Rich. “Sir, I’m Private XXXII. If you are willing to wait I’ll get one of the sergeants here to talk to you about the supply issue.”
Rich blinked and sighed, “Damn it man, what’s your name? I refuse to call people by job description and number.”
Private XXXII’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and someone near the door said, “That’s Alton sir.”
“Well please get a sergeant Alton. The ladies are willing to keep the place open but without supplies that become impossible.”
“Could you serve drinks Sir?” asked someone from the mass.
Rich leaned back against the bar, “This isn’t a tavern, it is only licensed to serve small beer, ale and cider. And cider wasn’t selling so...”
After some back and forth with the soldiers the soldier who had gone to find a sergeant returned with not only a sergeant but a lieutenant too.
The lieutenant scanned the room and made his way to where Rich was leaning against the bar. The sergeant followed him.
“I understand you’re Rich Burton the proprietor of this establishment. And that you prefer names, or was that just to ingratiate yourself with the men?”
“I am, and I do. And no, I just happen to come from a place that isn’t into dehumanising it’s people.”
“So you feel free to ignore the law?”
“I obey the laws, some reluctantly, but I do not find it necessary to obey rules and customs if they are not laws.”
The sergeant grinned nastily. “Are you not scared to be so close to a free dungeon?”
Rich laughed. “No. But then I’m here and it is somewhere over there. So long as I don’t set foot in it there is no problem.”
The sergeant nodded slowly. “I think he not shitting us sir.”
The lieutenant grinned crookedly. “My men need relaxation and feeding. This place is nice and the food is good if limited. But it is too small, Think you could expand it?”
Rich glanced at the Heather and raised an eyebrow. She looked down then nodded slightly. He looked back at the lieutenant and said, “Possibly, but there really isn’t room.”
The lieutenant pursed his lips. “The shop next door relied on the arena. I’ll lay odds you could buy or lease it. The guys will help with knocking down the wall and dragging benches and tables.”
“Heather what do you know about the shop next door?”
“Um, master Rich, Dodem was a widower and he was in the arena with a tray of his goods when ... when. Well he won’t be back. We’ve been feeding his kids. We’ve got them in the back.”
“So the orphans will be collared and the shop’ll revert to the city. I can arrange for the sale,” offered the lieutenant.
Rich grimaced. “No the kids won’t be collared. I’ll take ’em on. Mother would never let me hear the end of it I let them be collared. But I’ll buy the shop if you arrange it. As for supplies will you allow wagons through?”
The lieutenant grinned and stuck out his hand. The two men shook. “I’ll have the papers here in a couple of hours. We’ll be watching as Bartold Kennings leads the raid on the Arena of Blood with the support of Magister Deelon Arrdolson and his team. Might as well get something done while we wait.”
“Kennings and Arrdolson! You’ve gotta be kidding. It’ll be a slaughter!” exclaimed Cinders.
“You know them ma’am?” asked the sergeant.
Cinders looked wild eyed, “Kennings is an ass and he’s hooked on gulph. As for Arrdolson, he’s an excellent administrator.”
Rich grinned at their stunned looking audience, “She should know, Cinders is a kick ass fire mage and up until a few days ago worked at the adventurer’s guild. Maybe you should lay money on it. I assume bookies are takin’ bets.”
Shortly after the eatery was mostly deserted. Rich sat on one of the now empty stools at the counter. “Tell me Heather, are there any more widows and kids needing help because of Frog? And if so can we help them?”
“There is a old granny, she has a couple of granddaughters but none of them are kids.”
“Well if they’re in danger of getting collared and we can help ... well let them know alright. We will need more help if this becomes a tavern or Mother forbid, an inn.”
Heather giggled. “You still don’t want the girls to take customers, right.”
“No. I won’t stop them if they truly want to follow that career path. But only on their own time, and it will be without our sanction. Not to say we won’t try to help if trouble ensues but I want them to believe we won’t help.”
* * *
Some hours later the lieutenant and sergeant were back with two clerks, one in the uniform of the army and wearing an iron collar and one from the town hall in bronze. Heather was sent to fetch the orphans and returned with clover and four children ranging from thirteen to six. A table and chairs were also found and papers spread across it.
The shop was claimed by the city and purchased by Rich. The orphans were apprenticed much to the surprise of the city clerk who found his papers of servitude and the leather collars unneeded. As soon as the papers had been signed and money passed over a squad of sappers moved in and after a quick survey started clearing away the wall dividing the eatery from the shop.
That evening Lewis Carroll claimed the shop and did some hasty and much needed repairs to the house now that one of the major load bearing walls had a big hole in it.
= = O = =
Frog and Strelitzia watched with anticipation as the seemingly well equipped adventurer band and the hand of mages that looked to be dripping with enchanted items and scrolls moved confidently through their entryway.
The partners examined their visitors with a degree of incredulity. The mages radiated power, or their gear did. The adventurers however didn’t. With the exception of three individuals they bore no magic, and their gear looked shoddy to their arena-sharpened senses.
« Looks like the mages are going to be a challenge but... »
« Or maybe not Frog. They seem confident in the ability of those... »
« Would be adventurers. Hey Strelitzia, we know that guy leading the fakes. He was in piggy’s box. »
« Yes he was wasn’t he? He was swilling gulph wine. So if we tailor some of the treasure... »
« Yeah lets do that. »
They watched as the raid entered the first chamber on what was now their first level. The lizardmen were outnumbered and on the face of it outgunned. Frog and Strelitzia watched in anticipation of the slaughter of their monsters. They intended make use of the overconfidence that they hoped the first few encounters would generate later.
Frog and Strelitzia were stunned.
« How did our outnumbered lizardmen manage to kill four adventurers and wound all those others? And their healing potions don’t. Heal that is. »
« This is silly Frog. They’re all scared. And the idiots think we have an anti-magic field... »
« ’Cause their defective equipment isn’t working. »
The second encounter went better due to the mages blazing away with all their magic. The next encounter was more of the same. And the raid party started to swagger with confidence.
« Um, Strelitzia I think their mages are getting low on manna. I know it’s early but I think we should hit them with a squad of crocodile ’folk. »
The partners watched as their soldiers lay in wait, literally lying behind some sandbags. When the raid arrived in the chamber, they received a volley that dropped two of their mages and three adventurers. Staggered the raid grouped prepared themselves to attack the crocodile ’folk while they still had empty rifles.
The crocodile men flipped open the breaches of their rifles, reloaded, raised themselves to their knees and fired again. On of the opposing mages, more quick witted than his fellows discharged a wand at the dungeon denizens dropping two with the resultant fire ball.
Seeing the surviving crocodile men charging them with bayonets most of the surviving adventurers broke and fled. They were accompanied by one of the surviving mages.
Two of the adventurers fought valiantly but in vain. Magister Deelon Arrdolson, the mage who had remained, frozen with indecision and doubt, was quickly killed.
Strelitzia and Frog watched as four adventurers, all wounded, and one mage staggered out of their domain into the hands of the awaiting iron-collared soldiers. Then they absorbed their loot and reset their dungeon and awaited further developments.
« Did you notice that druggie teleported out again Strelitzia? »
« Yes, pity. He seemed to have lots of interesting equipment. »