Ranes' was filling with lunchtime customers, who still spoke quite a bit about the butcher, although not near as much as the day before.
“Something strange is going on at the Temple,” said the deep, throaty voice voice a man behind a wooden pillar.
“Yeah. Someone told me people were going in there with broken legs and melted flesh, and coming out whole again in days.”
“I saw one myself,” said a third voice. “Came out good as new, and wouldn't say a thing about it.”
Kreemon and Johannes were already sitting when Ardith and Kay arrived at the appointed hour of noon. Ardith related the events of the day, the conversation with the son-in-law, the matter of the missing keys and her commitment to meet with the blacksmith to investigate the house of the dead butcher. “And how did your day go? Did you obtain crossbows, and did you investigate the building next Moren's shop? What have you learned?”
“What do you mean, the building next to Moren's shop?” Johannes shook his head. “We never talked about looking it over. Admittedly, it might be a good idea.” He shook his head again. “We checked the shop again, but we didn't turn up anything new. And yes, I got the crossbows.” Johannes handed one of them over the table to Ardith, receiving nervous glances from several other patrons.
Ardith was puzzled. “But we discussed this only this morning. You, Johannes, had suggested it, and Kreemon had agreed, even before Kay and I arrived to join you. I even suggested that Bork's good nose might be our best detective resource in looking over the old building.
“Kay, did I dream that conversation? Or, do you remember it also?”
“Oh, yes, Ardith. You said, I think, 'Johannes and Kreemon, with the help of his dog's nose, should check out that building, and any other place in the area that looks suspicious.' Later, you agreed to visit the relatives of the deceased while I, as you put it, 'mosey around the town, and lend an ear to what may be afoot.' Yes, I remember it also.
“And, by the way, I learned nothing new in my 'mosey.' The townsfolk are uneasy, but are slowly forgetting the whole matter and returning to routine and normal gossip.”
“What _are_ you two talking about?” Johannes said sourly. “I don't recall ever suggesting to investigate that building! If you want to take a look there, just say so honestly, with none of these pointless mind games. They certainly don't help anything. Right, Kreemon?”
“Well, one thing I will agree upon,” Ardith ventured, knitting her brows, “and that is that there is no point in belaboring the issue.”
With a significant look to Kay, she continued, “Yes, I _do_ think we should investigate that building…” Under her breath, she added, ”… especially now, after what you said.” Ardith watched the table for some seconds before continuing in a normal voice. “I must meet with the deceased's son-in-law at sundown, however, so if we are to go to this building, we should waste no time.”
Kreemon looked around uneasily, but nonetheless nodded his head to Ardith and stood from his seat.
Several congregated rats hid behind some of the lower fragments at the party's approach. Whether at the rats or at something else unseen, Bork growled continuously.
To Kreemon and Johannes, the ruins were nothing special. They had seen them briefly earlier that day, and really wondered only what Ardith and Kay might think.
The first thing Ardith spotted among the ruins was deeply worn and long-since hewn in two, but was unmistakably an Orithory. Ardith had seen pictures of them in the illuminated manuscripts of her seminary. The Orithorans had claimed that all gods bowed to the god of justice, and were so far beneath him that they were like the lowest servants of a king. Many found their philosophy distasteful, as evidenced in the destroyed temple. Among their many stone symbols, the quarter-sphere of dented and engraved stone they called the Orithory was the primary. Like this one, they often weighed over a thousand pounds and were engraved so deeply that some marks would remain even after hundreds of years of weathering. This indeed was quite old, for as far as Ardith knew, there had not been any Orithorans for over five hundred years. The temple, and, consequently, Dunweig, was at least half as old as the Zioth.
Ardith could not identify any of the other nearby fragments, except to say that this might have been a pillar, or that an altar, or a pile of dust a section of ceiling.
“Bork, hush up,” Kreemon said. “Are ye satisfied now Ardith? We can be off to other investigations.”
“Don't admonish Bork,” Ardith said. “My hackles are up around this place, too – and it's not just the rats, I deem.”
Ardith looked away from Kreemon and toward the ruins. “This place is very old,” she began, casting about herself with a wary eye. “Johannes, given your studies of antiquities, would you agree with me that yonder broken sphere was once an Orithory? That would make this place about five centuries old. Has anyone knowledge of the weathering of stone? If so, is the broken face of that sphere newer than 4 or 5 centuries?”
Johannes had not been paying attention until Ardith's question, but when the Orithory was brought to his attention, he looked at the sphere and frowned. “I would say that that is indeed an Orithory… This place is old indeed…” He pulled out an aglar and absently turned it over repeatedly in his palm. “Why haven't these ruins been cleared yet? The Orithorans have been gone for half of recorded history, and a ruin of one of their temples inconveniently in the middle of a thriving town… It's not right. _Someone_ would have wanted to set this land to some other use by now… It breaks every law of commerce, curse it!”
Johannes clenched his hand reflexively about the coin, and he shivered as he drew it up over his heart. “Something about this suddenly makes me very, very afraid, for there seems to be no rational reason for what our eyes insist is true to be so…”
“Indeed. Your questions deserve answers. And I know of no way to answer them but to press forward into the ruins and find what we may find.”
Ardith walked slowly into the ruins, her staff at the ready, and with the Sign of Andritha outside her jerkin. Kay, shaking with fear, followed her, her bow strung, and three arrows at the ready.
As Ardith neared the closest large rock, she began a gentle turn and often looked to her right, as if expecting that something important was to be seen _away_ from the ruins. Kay stopped for a moment when Ardith turned, and looked nervously back at Johannes and Kreemon, but then continued following behind, aiming her bow closer and closer to the area around her feet. By the time they were two feet distant from the nearest stones, they were walking parallel to the ruins. Finally, Kay stopped, tapped Ardith's shoulder, and turned around slowly, looking intently at a large rock. Ardith stopped also, and walked up next to Kay to watch the rock with her. Kay lifted her index finger to her lips when Ardith slid her foot on some gravel. Both watched the rock for a few seconds, and then Kay let loose an arrow. She reached behind the rock, and both women laughed when Kay pulled her arrow out of a rat. She lifted it up high by its tail for the men to see and shouted “See? Only a rat! Nothing to be worried about!”
“Ha, Ha, Kay. Fierce hunter to quarry such game!”
“Yes. I may have it mounted or stuffed.”
Kay flung the skewered rat into the ruins. Laughing, the two women returned to Kreemon and Johannes.
Kree muttered to himself, “Dangblasted women, fooling around like that, somebody's gonna' get hurt.”
As Ardith and Kay returned, Johannes frowned in thought, then kneeled, bracing his crossbow on the ground as he cocked it. He straightened, slid a bolt in, and waved Kreemon over. His voice snapping in frustration, he said, “Something about this building has been having Ardith acting unnaturally ever since she brought up the subject. Saying that I first suggested this, starting to head in then turning off like that, all of this!” He exhaled deeply. “There's something wrong here, and Jarram guide my mind, I _will_ know what it is! Follow me!” So saying, Johannes stalked straight for the ruins, his eyes blazing.
Kree drew his sword and followed after Johannes into the ruins, Bork growling close behind. Louder he said, “I wish you women folk would be a bit more serious about matters!”
“What's this, Johannes?” Ardith called. “_Me_ acting unnaturally? It was you who first suggested we look at this rat infested dump. I'll be glad to get back to the inn and lift an ale.”
“And you, Kreemon,” Kay added, “I'm surprised at you!”
'Jarram,' Ardith thought briefly, the word barely glancing her mind, 'The merchant god.'
Before the bulk of the ruins, Kreemon stopped, quietly sheathed his sword, and faster than anyone could tell, shot his hand under a rock and pulled it up again. The rock rolled over, and a rat was securely held in Kreemon's hands, its head pinched to prevent it from biting. He stood up straight and turned to Ardith and Kay. “Ha! I found another one!”
“Now who's fooling around,” Kay called to Kreemon, though she was impressed by his speed.
By this point, Johannes had already passed the first of the large rocks. He was determined to move forward, although he soon forgot why. His step slowed and he put away his crossbow and walked more cautiously, passing several feet of white and grey rocks. Two yards in, he picked up a two-inch round stone and tossed it in the air. He caught it, tossed it again, and continued tossing as he walked around in random directions. By that time, the rest of the group had dropped their rats and were watching Johannes. His wanderings slowly focussed, and sent him back to the periphery, where he tripped over a rock and fell on his face. He searched the ground until he found his stone, and then stood up. Once out of the ruins, he threw his stone twice more into the air before noticing the curious expressions on the others' faces.
Although she had frowned when Johannes wandered aimlessly after such an impassioned speech, she couldn't help but burst into a giggle.
“Johannes, you say _I_ am acting unnaturally? Perhaps you are the King's Man after all – his fool! When will you buy a clown suit to go with the pratfalls?” The words were delivered in a good natured way with a broad grin.
“Come, now gentle sirs,” Kay added, “now that we know that the movement we saw was only rats, we can get on with our business.”
“Yes, yes,” Ardith added. “I'm sure it was the rats that got Bork's hackles up.”
Johannes straightened himself. “Pratfalls? _Pratfalls_? What, pray tell, are you talking about?”
Suddenly, Ardith stopped laughing. “Johannes, are you saying that you were not fooling around out there?”
“Of course not. Why would I? I just stumbled a little, that's all.” Johannes absent-mindedly dropped the stone, not even looking as it fell to the ground.
Ardith stooped and recovered the rock. She examined it, and saw nothing of interest, although it was nicely rounded and weathered. “Johannes, would you please do me a favor?” she asked. “Take this stone and place it atop that ruined column over there, then come back here.” She pointed out a truncated stone cylinder within the ruins, but only a few yards away.
Johannes looked a bit puzzled at the odd request, but nonetheless shrugged, sighed, and took the stone from her hand.
As Johannes once again approached the ruins, Kay asked quietly, “Why did you ask him to do that?”
“Shhh,” Ardith responded, “watch our friend. Keep an eye out for trouble, and your bow to hand, just in case.”
Johannes' walk became slower and slower, until, at the boundary of the ruins, he stopped, let the stone slip from his hand, and looked up at the sky. He took a deep breath, smiled, and turned around. “Fine weather, this time of year,” he said. “I can see mild waves on the lake from here. It's a shame the snows will come soon.”
Ardith attempted to suppress a giggle and failed utterly. She first giggled, then broke into peals of laughter. Kay looked thunderstruck – she understood neither Johannes' sudden change nor Ardith's laughter. When Ardith finally controlled herself, she said, “Come back, Johannes. Let's sit down and regard what we have here. Oh, and I was NOT laughing at you, but at the situation.”
“Am I missing something here?” Johannes looked about in confusion. “What about our situation is so amusing, precisely?”
Ardith leaned on her staff, sighed and walked a few feet away from the ruins to a clump of large stones, where she sat down.
“I think if I simply told you, Johannes, you would not believe me. So I will, with your permission, Kay, undertake to demonstrate.” Ardith sighed. “Kay, will you let me hold your bow while you walk over there to the ruined pillar and place this small stone on top, then come back here?”
Kay looked puzzled, remembering what Johannes did.
“I promise you will not be harmed.” Ardith smiled.
Kay shrugged and said, “Sure, Ardith.”
She handed her bow over, took the stone and walked confidently toward the ruins. As with Johannes before her, her walk slowed and became less purposeful, and at the edge of the ruins she stopped, paused a moment, then turned back to regard the others with a quizzical look on her face and said, “I'm gettin' hungry, lets go eat,” and walked back to Ardith, dropping the forgotten stone as she did.
“Do you see?” Ardith asked Johannes.
Johannes gasped and went pale. “Oh… my…” He involuntarily stepped back a pace. “I must confess, I was not entirely convinced of the continued use of magic, but this is a proof of it…” As he continued, his words grew faster and faster. “Are you saying I was under that influence? What would the purpose of such an effect be? Defense, of course, and a particularly subtle form, this must be the lair of our villain, but how to track him inside this? Wait… continued observation, of course! But this would require contacting the authorities if we are to avoid being arrested for suspicious behavior, and a demonstration of this effect, on one not affiliated with our number, to convince them of our verity… Ardith, do you have any contacts at the temple here?” As he ended, his eyes were shining with purpose.
Kreemon had been watching the current scene unfold with increasing concern. He took a few steps back from the group, and stroked his beard. “By Zahira's Arse,” he said under his breath.
Then he stopped, mid-stroke, and listened. In the quiet moments while Ardith tried to decipher Johannes' jumble of words, Kreemon thought he heard a long, wailing shout in the distance, like someone's life was being slowly wrenched away from his body. His limbs tightened and temporarily froze. The others made no sign, but Kreemon instinctively jerked his head back. Bork also turned, but did not bark. He merely stood and looked in the same direction as Kreemon, his ears peeled for any other sound, and there it was. A scream, quieter than the initial shout, but loud enough to Kreemon's well-trained ears as they listened in complete attention. Bork looked up at Kreemon and whimpered.
“Go boy!” Kreemon shouted, stopping all conversation. “This way!” he called to the others, and bolted off faster than any of them could keep up. As he ran, a soldier yelled up behind him. “Animals are only allowed on the main –” but Kreemon ran into the distance. “Oh, no harm done, I guess.”
A crowd was already growing by time Kreemon got near the bathhouses, but he pushed through it, and, if only to avoid his growling dog, people got out of his way. Most of the people were heading for a two- story house nearby. The door was still closed.
Ardith: Sorry, but I had to revise some of Kay's words. She's not a tape-recorder, after all. I also changed a bit of Ardith's, to keep her consistant (she used “didst” and “thou” in one part of the turn, and “did” and “you” in the rest).
All: This was another excessively slow turn. I understand that people are busy, and I'd never ask you to put a game over your work or family, but you must have ten minutes every couple of days to write up a brief response. If at any time you are so busy that that's impossible, then at least warn me so I'll know to work around you.
I regret to inform any non-Zioth players (the players already know) that Shaun (Sahlman) has dropped out of the game. Sahlman is now an NPC, but may be available for the taking if someone thinks they can do a good job playing the character. If you want to take over Sahlman, you'll have to read all the turns except the most recent ones, since Sahl has been in since the beginning of the game. And Shaun, you're always welcome back. :)
Check out the new web site at www.zioth.com. The players all have new email addresses based at that site, of the form charName at zioth.com. korisca's email will be forewarded to me, and sahlman's email will still go to Shaun for now. There are also three new email aliases. zioth1 goes to the DM and all the players. zioth1main goes to the DM, Ardith, Kreemon and Johannes. lurkers goes to everyone who receives the turns via email, except for the players. If you would like to become a lurker, email me at dm.
This is the first turn that is officially seperate from FidoNet. We've been using the Internet for all but the first year of the game, so I figured it was about time. :)
Your Bill, Sir:
- Ardith: 1ag (lunch)
- Johannes: 1ag (lunch)
- Kay: 1ag (lunch)
- Kreemon: 1ag (lunch)