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  Notes on this story:
 "Xatopher Quest" won Jim a Second Prize for Humourous Story Based in a Role Playing Game on GEnie [General Electric's attempt to become a contender in the on-line network world.]

 In those days GEnie was competing with Compuserve (Sometimes called "Compu$erve") and Delphi. AOL was an upstart, begun by Apple Computers Inc. and was then known as "Apple On Line", before somebody else bought the idea and the service and made it "America On Line".

 Anyway- There are a bunch of Game-Specific names in this story, and if Jim wasn't exactly clear in his definitions, we will probably offer a little dictionary / Glossary at the end of the story to explain things.

 Jim believes anybody who wants to know what's going on can probably figure it out for themselves, but we're not so sure of that. We've gone through the story and added plenty of *asterisks to indicate game-specific race names and such.

 If you'd like to prove us right, you can either leave a message on the Magazine's new forum or send us email at qaeglan @ aerendel ca & indicate "Story/Magazine Feedback" in the subject line. Thanks... [Doug / djo] 

 * An "Oog-ra" is an Ogre.


** Find out more about Dragons Gate at Dragons Gate Dot Com **
 

  Xatopher Quest (Prize Winning Story)

 

{ Quick note: This story's happy ending may owe its existence to 'too many khat-nip brownies before bedtime'. Purcival left the Spur knowing that Xatopher had not been found, but had been somehow contacted. Xatopher was alive and well and had grown up in a parallel dimension or something, was fully grown within less than six months Spur Time. But he'd written this story and left the ending as he'd dreamed it. He then went and dedicated himself to Rinanni and [rerolled] became a cleric. Very soon
after becoming the life mate of Kyren, a fighter, he was sent off on a 'short' mission to Leuia on behalf
of his temple. Years later, after hearing of Kyren's honourable death in battle, he became distraught,
was comforted by a Heart Cleric named Saashaa and was granted a special dispensation to life-mate
a second time. He was formally allowed to change his his surname to 'Shureclaw' and a statue of his
mother, commissioned by and donated by Drag-als, still occupies a place of honour in the largest Temple
to Rinanni In Leuia. .... [Researched by Draejlen Lechaat, one of Purcy's many descendants.] }

XATOPHER QUEST

                           [  approx. 15,800 words]
                                by Jim Wellington
                                  (a.k.a. Purrrrcival)
                                (reserve me all the rights?)

1. Kidnapping

     THE SPUR is many things to many people.  As a city where most of the major sentient races are represented, it is a place of cultural exchange.  It is a magnet for certain kinds of teaching and learning that are not available in many other areas.  Most major Religions have temples here.  All of the legal (and some of the illegal) guilds have major centers here, where their members can come to train and where members of other guilds can come to purchase products and services.
     The Spur can also be a confusing place.  The variety of different beings of different races is enough to bewilder almost anyone.  The number of languages spoken here can sometimes make it seem miraculous that any form of business can transpire at all, let alone prosper.  As you may have never been to the Spur, perhaps I should tell this tale through the eyes of a newcomer.  But first, let me tell you of a fowl deed that preceded this newcomer's arrival by a few days.

     *Drag-als have always been known for their playfulness.  Their intelligence and curiosity are almost legendary.  'Common Wisdom' has it that the Drag-al race is a relatively young race.  This seems to account for the bright eyed innocence, the overwhelming curiosity and the propensity for stumbling into places and situations that almost anyone else would have enough sense to avoid.  Their love of drinking, partying and practical joking is, possibly, even more legendary than their intelligence, curiosity and good humour.
     Their very being strikes some as 'curious'.  "Diminutive Dragons without wings" is the description under "Drag-als" in the Dictionary of the Common Tongue.  This tells you nothing of their wide spread differences in appearance; the fact that some have webbed feet and others don't; that some have horny, scaly plates on their backs and arms; that some have longer tails than others; or that quite a few have lower teeth that protrude upward past their jaws to give them the look of someone with a permanent grin.  More industrious races call them 'lazy'.  But Drag-als have a cultural point of view that puts enjoyment of life much higher on their lists of 'honourable goals' than obsessive accumulation of wealth or pompous self-aggrandizement.  Drag-als do love to poke fun at pomposity.
     If it wasn't for the nasty rumour that there is a chemical in the Drag-al body that can be distilled and sold at a great profit to some races whose body chemistry has become unstable due to the abuse of magick, Drag-als wouldn't have an enemy in the world.  (Unless somebody with no sense of humour took one of their practical jokes a bit too seriously.)

     Roxy Glytterchaser was a playful young Drag-al who'd been brought up by *Fir Elves.  Her love of storytelling and music led her to study the Bardic Arts.  It may have been at a concert where she first met and fell in love with Xyzzy Spursearcher, another Drag-al Bard, whose silvery eyed magic touched her golden eyed soul.  At any rate, Roxy and Xyzzy let everyone know that they were to marry and start a family, probably in that order.  But Roxy had only Fir- Elves to guide her upbringing and Fir Elves, it seems, knew absolutely nothing about the length of time it takes a baby Drag-al to complete the cycles within a mother's womb and charge out into life with an enormous appetite for food, love and fun.
     The Happy Occasion was arriving too quickly.  The happy couple had very little time to plan.  (Xyzzy, of course, had probably daydreamed through the 'serious' part of sex- education but he thought he knew a few things about tradition-) They found a friend, Keridwen Darkblossom, a Fir-Elf Forester, who agreed to be the token 'armed guardian' at the birthing ceremony.  Another Drag-al, Stumps Fathead (A Cleric), showed up in a felt derby and a vest to lend the proceedings 'class'.  Random DiAmber (a *Human) and Astarthe Naal (a *San Elf) (Both Rune Mages) were there out of friendship.  {*San Elves are supposed to be the 'black sheep' of the Elven races, being dark skinned, dark eyed, and quite often dark spirited.  *Fir Elves are Forest Elves, looked down upon by the *'Usil Elves', which most of you know as the tall, slender figures with pointed ears and scholarly ways.  I believe you all know what *Humans look like.}
     It was a beautiful night in the Spur.  A three quarter moon shone brightly in the clear sky.  The winds were calm.  The stars twinkled with a particular magick that night.  Xyzzy and Roxy were in love and their child was about to be born.  They'd already chosen the name, "Xatopher".  {You'd have to ask them if it means anything in particular, perhaps a family name?}
     Her time was near.  Roxy knew it.  The pain was more than she expected.  She practised her panting and had the mind boggling concept that she was supposed to perform a 'Birthing Dance' dropped on her at the last moment.  She knew she wanted to be out in the open.  But the Town Square was not her idea of 'open'.  She longed for the woods, or some open green area.  Xyzzy knew of a farm that was close by, where the farmer was away for a few days and had enough faith in Drag-al kind to ask one of them to watch the place for him.  (Perhaps the farmer figured that if he paid a Drag-al to watch over the farm the odds were better that  Drag-al thieves would be less tempted to steal anything of value they might find there.)
     Xyzzy lit a torch and led the little party to the farmland.  He found the farm he'd heard about.  They thought it was a good sign when six little puppies came out to play with them.  The party wandered around a bit and found a spot that best suited Roxy's, uh, sensibilities. 
     Xyzzy produced a pair of drums from somewhere beneath his black and gold robes and began to play them.  Roxy picked up a quarter staff and began her Birthing Dance.
     Keridwen stood as guard, ready to challenge anybody or anything that came near.  But no one was ready for what happened.
     It was quick.
     A sudden fog arose. 
     A dark, winged figure swooped down and grabbed at something.
     They heard a brief, echoing scream as it flew away.
     As the fog lifted, they noticed that Roxy was no longer with them.
     "RRRRRROXXXXXXXXXXEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" the scream must have echoed throughout the entire Spur that night.
     "ROXYYYYYYYYY!"
     The party armed itself immediately.  Random and Xyzzy readied their Greatswords, Astarthe readied his two handed mace.
     Keridwen swung her own sword against the sky, against the evil twists of fate that allowed such a thing.  Her voice was among the loudest that screamed, "ROXXXXYYYYY!" through the night.  Keridwen thought she'd failed.
     Stumps kept his wits about him and missed being sliced by a slim margin, but, "Sunnuva bitch!" was all he could say for a few long moments.
     "What do we do now?"  someone called.
     Someone else pointed back toward town, "I think it flew that way!"
     And they stormed off, flaming mad and ready to invite one certain dark flying thing to be the guest of honor at an extremely satisfying Turkey Roast.
     As they neared the Town Square they could barely make out the wailing of a new-born child.
     Enegue LionHeart, another San Elf, joined them as they searched.  They were actually moving away from the Square when somebody noticed a dark, winged figure rising into the air from what appeared to be the north-eastern corner of the square.
     In the Square, at the Statue, they asked if anyone had seen the dark winged thing take to the air.  Someone pointed to the northeast again.
     And there, inside the blocked passageway where Death was reported to have left the Realms, they found Roxy.  She was barely able to move.  Rime and Firetongue, two young *Dragons, still upright in their wingless, human form, were doing their best to heal her.  And Erika, (A catlike *Leuian) was with them.
     The Dragons asked Roxy what happened.  They'd found her nearly dead.
     She replied she didn't know.  She could remember dancing her Birthing Dance and then she was being healed.  She could remember nothing in between.  But she was no longer pregnant.  And her child was gone.

     The story was all over the Spur in no time.  There seemed to be no clues at all.  What sort of creature could do a thing like this?  Why would any creature do this?  There were many more questions and no answers at all.
 
 

2. A Stranger in Town

     Purrrrcival Alleyscourge first saw signs of the Spur from the deck of a Drag-al ship.  His head swam with the stories and warnings he'd heard all his life.  So far, he counted his life short and full of learning.  He was a *Leuian, he knew that.  His mother had been a brave warrior, an "Order of the Hand" Cleric who had died protecting the hidden colony of Drag-als who had taken her in after she washed ashore, the only survivor of a ship wantonly destroyed by a *Frontacian ship whose mercenaries were bored since they'd found no Dragons to slay for their Essence (the raw stuff of a drug the Frontacians paid dearly for).  That same Frontacian ship returned after she'd given birth to Purrrrcival and a dead twin brother.  The Frontacians believed they might find the same drug in the slain bodies of Drag-als.  It is said that Purrrrcival's mother killed most of those Mercenaries with her own two, sharp clawed hands.  Not a single mercenary lived.  The ship was sunk, and while a few Drag-als had died in the fight,  not one of their hides fell into the hands of any disreputable members of the Apothecary Guild.
     Purrrrcival grew up thinking he was a tall, grey, furry Drag-al.  Prunela (Laughxalot) DeBaker and Frysbyne DeInstigator loved him and treated him like he was their own son.  He'd spent long hours playing fighting games with the best fighters on their uncharted Island.  He studied long with a Bard named TruthDreamer Seesafar, who told him many stories about the different races and temperaments of citizens of the wider world.  He'd been with TruthDreamer when his tutor had visions that were later verified by crewmembers of the Drag-al ship which had taken its name partially from Prunela's baked goods, the 'Drear-Bane'.  It had been TruthDreamer who had finally convinced everyone that Purrrrcival's destiny had something to do with the Spur.  And it was aboard the Drear-Bane that he swore an oath stronger than life itself, never to reveal the whereabouts of the Island he could hardly bring himself to leave.
     The Drag-al seaman kept his spirits high enough, always ready to joke with him, making sure he wasn't seasick. They kept his mind busy with only slightly stretched tales of what he might find in the world that opened up before him.  And when they sailed into the wide river that eventually brought them to dock at The Spur, they all gave him last minute advice and addresses to call on.  They'd grown to like the naive Leuian, and they hoped he had the fortitude to make it in the Spur.  Many of them secretly vowed to keep track of him and make sure he had what he needed to get by.  A few of them whispered references into the ears of shopkeepers they knew they could trust.

     Purrrrcival's first day in the Spur wasn't anything you'd call inspirational.  For one thing, he stepped up to the desk in the Customs Office during lunch time.

      {*Penthanians:  'Living Jewels'. Tall Humanoid race
      having bodies of a soft, crystalline substance. 
      Described as aloof and possibly unfeeling.  Some say 
      they lost their emotions as well as most physical 
      sensations when their bodies were changed at the time 
      of the Great Change.} [ <-- From Purrrrcival's Journal ]

     The first Penthanian he'd ever seen sat behind that desk.  Not just any Penthanian, but a battle-scarred fighter who had no stomach for clerk work.  (He'd been wounded and it takes Penthanians a long time to heal.)
     "Name?"  asked the clerk.
     "Uh, Purrrrcival, Purrrrcival Alleyscourge-  At least that's what my adopted parents told me- they may have stretched the truth a bit, they were Drag-als and-"
     "And so, Purrrrcival Purrrrcival Alleyscourge, I guess you're a male, right?"
     "Male?  Yes-"
     "And you're obviously a Leuian, correct?"
     Purrrrcival raised an eyebrow, "Correct- I-"
     "Occupation?"
     Purrrrcival blushed, "Well, my adopted father told me I was quick and agile enough, I'd make a dandy thief if I-"
     "Thief."
     "But he was probably teasing me, I-"
     "Do you have anything to declare?"
     "Declare?  What do you mean declare?  I wish I was through with this nonsense- is that what you mean? -"
     "Are you carrying any illegal drugs?"
     "Drugs?   Is catnip illegal?  How about Drear-Bane? Mom never told anybody exactly what she puts into those brownies, would you like to try one?"
     "How much money do you have with you?"
     "Uh, just whatever Mom and Dad gave me, do you want to count it?"
     The Penthanian scowled and tossed the purse in the air, caught it and seemed impressed.  He opened the purse and looked inside, pouted and guessed, "Twenty nine hundred Silvers.  Twenty five gold.  Have you paid your taxes?"
     "Is that the shack back there on the dock."
     "Yes, of course you paid your taxes,"  the Penthanian stamped something on a page in a booklet.  "Do you wish to work for the Mercenary Guild to assure gainful employment since you're new in The Spur?"
     "I suppose I should-  Where do I apply?"
     "You just did-" The Penthanian scowled, "These are your working papers, now please move along."
     "Where do I go now?"
     "To the Mercenaries Guild, you twit."
     Purrrrcival wandered away, scratching his head.  He'd led a sheltered life.  He had no idea what being called a twit meant.
     He found a window under a sign that read, "Mercenaries Guilt" and grinned.  He wondered if somebody had misspelled the word on purpose.  A Drag-al came to the window. 
     Purrrrcival grinned and spoke in Drag-al.  The Drag-al in the window lost his cigar when his mouth fell open.  They talked for half an hour (Draggies would much rather talk than work) and in the end the Drag-al winked and said, "Sign here-" and pushed a purse across the counter to him.
     "What's this?"
     "Shhhh!"  said the Drag-al, "Can't you read?  It says 'Payment for services rendered.'  Your contract is up, you're a free man.  It pays to have friends around here-  Whatever you do, don't go near the Thieves Guild until you can hold your own in blindfolded combat with a sewer Guardian.  Take this money to the Market and buy yourself a decent weapon or two.  And go find yourself a god you can live with and pay him or her as much as you can afford.  Around here, you're going to need to have some kind of god on your side.  Go register at the Fighters' Guild.  Don't bother telling them you been screwed over by no customs clerk, just tell them your money's as good as anybody else's.  Maybe they'll let you train there.  If not, there's this crusty old Draggy named Fatebasher Pipedreamson.  He owns this big old apartment house just this side of the slums.  Ya can't miss it.  It used to be the area's best prison.  But too many of us Draggies got tossed into the place and we tunnelled and blasted our way out to the point were even an *Oog-ra can find his way outta the place, so Fatebasher bought it for next to nothin, see, and now he runs it as a 'partment house.  Tell him 'Squiggly' sent ya, maybe he'll give ya a deal.  And if the Fighters Guild don't want to know ya, old Fatebasher knows more than they does anyways."
     Purrrrcival finally waved goodbye to Squiggly and wandered in a daze toward the town's high walls and the Square.
     He saw his first Leuian in the Square.  He later learned that the Leuian's name was Macavity.  Macavity was about Purrrrcival's height, so he wondered why everybody was surprised that he was so short.  Macavity bowed.  Purrrrcival waved.  And then he felt like slamming his head against the statue, "I should have said something."  He growled under his breath.  "The first one of my own kind I've ever seen and what do I do?  Stand here and wave?  Least I could have done is offer him one of mom's catnip brownies-  right?"
     "Buff-" he walked into someone.
     "Hey!" she said, brown eyes and brown hair ready to fly into a murderous frenzy, until she seemed to change her mind when she discovered he was a Leuian, "Why don't you look where you're going?"  she dusted herself off.
     Purrrrcival blushed, "Uh, I'm new here, I don't know where I'm going.  What are you?"
     "What do you mean? 'WHAT' am I?  Can't you see what I am?"
     "No-" he shook his head, "I mean, I know what some of the races look like, we had a museum and all, full of paintings and statues.  But I can't tell-  Are you a human?"
     "I'm a Fir Elf!" she straightened herself, indignantly.
     He offered her his hand, to shake, "I'm a Leuian."
     "I can tell you're a Leuian."
     "Oh," he looked at his hand, "My name is Purrrrcival," he bowed.
     She finally shook his hand, "My name is Keridwen," she curtsied.
     "Pretty name-" he said.
     "And I'm hopping mad," she glowered, stamped her foot.
     "Did I do something?"
     She growled, "No!  It's nothing you did.  It's something I didn't do."  She blushed, "Excuse me-  I shouldn't carry on like this in front of a stranger."
     "Uh, would you like a brownie?  They're made with catnip and this stuff my mom calls 'drear bane'.  Ever heard of it?  She's a Drag-al."
     Keridwen blinked, "You're a Leuian?  But your mother's a Drag-al?"
     Purrrrcival nodded, "My adopted mother.  My real mother died protecting the Drag-al village from Essence Pirates."
     Keridwen looked like she wished she wasn't too proud to cry, "My best friend is a Drag-al and I was supposed to be their guardian and something dark with wings stole her baby-" Keridwen took a bite.
     "Maybe I should have warned you-  If your metabolism's just right these brownies might do something to change your mood-  maybe better- maybe worse?"
     "Now he tells me."  She took another bite.
     "It isn't your fault."
     "What isn't my fault?"
     "You said the damned thing had wings, right?"
     "Yes!"
     "Well how many dark winged things are there waiting around to steal babies?"
     "I've never even heard of any-"
     "Well, there you go-  It isn't your fault.  If you knew it was there you'd have stood right over the waddler and swung your sword just right.  Poof, no more dark flying thing.  Right?"
     She seemed about ready to test his theory by swinging her sword at him, then she nodded, "These are good-" and looked at his pack with wide eyes, "got any more?"
     Maybe it was the night.  Maybe it was the brownies.  Keridwen showed Purrrrcival around town.  They found the old prison and she thought the rent on the apartment that Fatebasher offered him was a good deal.  She wished she could afford to move.  Fatebasher raised his eyebrows and said he didn't care who his tenants entertained.  Keri took a swing at him with her fist and he laughed. 
     Fatebasher liked the smell of Purrrrcival's brownies.  He also seemed to know the taste- "Drear bane?  I should cut your rent in half, young man."  (Purrrrcival gave Fatebasher several brownies, but he didn't reduce the rent by anything.  He was seen later that night chasing a half naked Flerian maid around a balcony at the "Anything Goes Club".)

      {*Flerians:  Short and slightly built Humanoid race
      with long dextrous fingers.  Their faces are usually
      narrow, features usually sharp.  Communal beings,
      they prefer to live with their own kind and seem to 
      believe they should take anything they can, by any 
      means possible from anybody of any other race, in 
      order to improve the status of their communal group.}

     Keridwen led him around through some shadowy parts of town and seemed to just wait for something.  When a rogue jumped out of nowhere and attacked them she seemed to have found what she was looking for.  He fought alongside of her, nobody kept track of who hit who where, but three or four rogues later Keridwen wiped her sword and picked up some booty, "There- now I feel better."
     She told him what was worth taking and what was more trouble than it was worth. 
     Just after dawn she led him back home and waved, promised she'd be back to show him around some more.

     She did come back the next night, was the first to call him 'Purrcy' and insisted that he call her 'Keri'.  She showed him more of the city and introduced him to many of her friends.  At one point he slipped away and bought himself a pocket sized ledger in which he intended to keep track of who he had met and what race they belonged to.
     But then he met Roxy.  And she broke his heart.  He tried to give her a brownie or two, but this big dumb *Thugian was hovering around her, trying to console her in his own way.  And 'his way' included trying to convince her that she didn't need any drear-bane brownies (he crumbled one up in front of her, showing off his muscle-brained aggressiveness?) 
     Purrcival went home and tried to sort through his feelings.  A new person in a strange town.  And the first few friends he made were the victims of a waddler-napping.  It made him feel awful.  He couldn't feel good about anything until he decided that he'd do whatever he could to help this poor sobbing Drag-al bardess get her waddler back.
     Then he got out his pocket ledger and began taking notes.

      {*Thugians:  big dumb muscle-bound monsters I don't 
      think I'd want for an enemy. Somebody told me they eat
      anything they can fit in their mouths.  I believe it.}

     He began to find his own way around the Spur.  He made a few friends on his own, even after he'd run out of brownies.  He found that he had a knack for finding and using the best hiding places in town, and was amazed to discover that most races not only couldn't see in the dark, but couldn't smell or otherwise sense him there, either. He also learned it was pretty easy to pick up gossip on almost any subject you wanted to learn about.  But nobody knew anything at all about poor Roxy, or Xatopher, her lost baby.

      {*Secians:  Secians are just over one foot tall.
      They look like little humans with wings. They can fly.
      It is 'common knowledge' that Secians are beings of 
      pure love who can't stand to see another being suffer.
      They take on other people's wounds and then heal
      themselves.  They are really friendly.  I bet they're
      deeper and more intelligent than most people think they are.}

      Purrrrcival spent one depressing night in the Town Square, practising hiding in the shadows, eavesdropping on people, talking about poor Roxy and her kidnapped son.
     He almost forgot himself when a crowd of six and seven foot tall Leuians wandered through the square.  He was sure they could see him, no matter how well he thought he was hidden.  He was speechless.  They were beautiful.  How could he be related to such magnificent creatures?  He felt small and dumb and very uninteresting, very unimpressive. 
     Then he saw a village Elder appear in a kind of rainbow shimmer and he gasped, nearly revealed himself.  The Elder gave somebody a lecture on etiquette, answered a few questions and disappeared the way he came.  Things like that were not very remarkable in the Spur.  They happened all the time.  As a matter of fact, Purrrrcival was becoming bored with all the showy magick around him.  What good is it if it can't find a lost and maybe starving baby?  Surely, Xatopher would be starving for love if he was being brought up by anybody but a Drag-al.
     But something remarkable happened in conjunction with this speech.  Just before the Elder vanished a Secian flying overhead pulled his loincloth out of the way and dropped a 'doo doo' in the Elder's hair.
     Purrrrcival laughed so hard he fell over a garbage can.
     The Secian flew over to him and bowed as he hovered, "You saw that?"
     Purrrrcival nodded.
     "You won't say a word-"
     Purrrrcival shook his head from side to side.
     The mischievous Secian sighed with relief (and readjusted his loincloth), "You must be Purrrrcival, my name's Bren."
     "You know me?"
     "We've heard of you, a Leuian raised by Drag-als, whose heart is broken over the kidnapping of Roxy's child.  Would it help you to know that we've been searching?  In places we're afraid to go normally?"
     "You are?"
     "Yes, and Pib, he's a Secian Rune Mage, he's told me he might even break his vow against hurting a sentient being if he finds out what manner of vermin did such a thing."
     Purrrrcival grinned, "My father would probably tell your friend Pib that any sentient being who could do such a thing must not be very sentient after all."
     "Your father sounds like a wise being."
     "Yeah,"  Purrrrcival nodded, "Usually-  He has his moments."
     "We thought of something that might help keep the baby alive.  In case he was taken by an Essence Pirate-  We've been telling everybody, Especially Go-blins, and creatures in the sewers, that Drag-als don't have any Essence worth killing them for until they're at least thirty years old."
     Purrrrcival grinned, "That sounds good.  I wonder why I never thought of that."
     Bren looked at Purrrrcival carefully, "It's because you're too upset to think calmly." 
     They talked for hours, then Bren followed Purrrrcival home and checked the place for bad vibrations.  Bren said he liked almost all of the vibrations he felt in Purrcy's apartment.

      {*Muatana-al: Most people call them bloodsuckers.
      They have to drain life to live.  If they're not 
      careful they kill the people they drain.  Maybe
      because they've been hunted so much, they've become
      very strong fighters and heal very rapidly.  There's a 
      Muatana named 'Belefix' who seems to be immune to the
      hunger.  He has a magick sword.  He sincerely tried to 
      help us discover what happened to Xatopher.  Maybe I'm
      a sucker, but I refuse to believe they're all bad. 
      Maybe TruthDreamer's compassion and understanding 
      really got through to me.}
 
 

3. A letter home

     Purrrrcival sat at his desk, staring through one of the many windows in the rounded room of his third story apartment.  He thought about his landlord and friend, Fatebasher, telling him that this apartment had at one time been the warden's suite at this sturdy old ex-prison.  (A number of Rune Mages had since assured Purrrrcival that there were no lingering nasty spells left on the place. A Secian sensitive had hovered at various spots around the
walls and smiled, reading scenes of love and mischief left behind by previous tenants.) 
     While morning gathered in the distant East, Purrrrcy absent-mindedly tapped his pen on the nearly clean parchment in front of him.

     +++++

     "Dear Mom and Dad," he had written, 
"Two weeks in the Spur, and I'm doing quite well."

     He was beginning to know his way around town.  He was beginning to take a second look at things he'd taken for granted the first time he'd looked at them.
     His apartment was in an uproariously dour looking building a stone's throw from the slums, at the edge of the curious, sometimes outrageous architecture of the Drag-al community.  He was close enough to walk out on his balcony and watch the action down the street outside the "Anything Goes Club".  He was also fairly close to an alley that even the strongest and best of the city guards could not be coaxed, bribed or cajoled into entering in the dark.  Every morning a few brave beggars and desperate street urchins huddled near the alley, and at first light, ran in to search the bodies of Muatana victims for anything they could pawn, sell or use, all the while keeping a wary eye peeled for any signs of lingering hunters.  Many locals called this section "The Lunatic Fringe".  Draggies partied nearby, all day and night.  The Anything Goes Club erupted at odd hours of the night with sounds of fighting, sounds of music and romance.  There were always screams and laughter, singing, shouting, calls for help, shrieks of vengeance and oaths of undying loyalty.

     "Father, you taught me well," he wrote, "Without our 
swordplay and those "dodge and roll" games we loved so much 
I would probably have been killed the other night.  Two rogues 
jumped me near the Market Square.  I held my own, but I was 
nearly exhausted when a *Hithual named "Flar" came along and 
finished them off like he was used to that sort of thing. 
He didn't even stick around long enough for me to thank him."

     Most of the tenants in this building were serious students of various forms of magic and healing arts, sent here by their teachers to learn to concentrate in the midst of bedlam.  Purrrrcival's tail curled around the chair's legs as he wrote.  He reminded himself that he'd grown up among Drag-als, he was used to noise and mischief at all hours of the day and night.  As daylight drew nearer there was a bit of a lull outside.  Creatures of the night were slinking home to rest.  Citizens most active in the daylight were just opening their eyes.

     "So far I've only seen one Leuian shorter than me.  His
name is 'Macavity' and his brother (an old pirate named
'Growltiger') told me that Mac's love of 'wine, women and
song' had stunted his growth."
     Purrrrcy smiled, "Oh, Mom, you were right about making
friends with your catnip and 'drear-bane' brownies.  Most of
the local Draggies who had a sample sat around and giggled
for hours.  They found one poor fellow hanging upside down
from a flagpole the next morning, singing love songs to an
*Anthian."
     But, then Purrrrcy frowned and got to the sad reason he was hurrying through this letter, to get it finished and bring it to the captain of the Drag-al ship that had brought him to the Spur in time for the late morning tide, 

     "Dad, Mom something awful has happened here.  The first 
Drag-alene I met was a playful young Bardess named Roxy. 
Well, she used to be playful.  She recently had a baby, and while she was
doing her birthing dance- some mysterious winged creature
enveloped her in a fog, swooped down and carried her away.
The next thing she knew she was nearly dead in the Town
Square and the nasty creature had flown away with her son.
I wish my old friends and teachers were around, maybe they'd
know what to do.  Or at least we'd keep each other company
while trying to console poor Roxy and waiting to see what
comes of this.  Be sure to tell me immediately if
Truthdreamer Seesafar has any visions concerning a kidnapped
waddler,"  Purrrrcy wiped a tear from his eye.
     "I have to go.  I love you.  I've been told that you
guys could make your fortune here if you wanted to open a
bakery and sell those 'drear-bane' cakes of yours."
     He signed the letter, "Your loving son, Purrcy."

     +++++

      {*Hithuals: Short, stout humanoid race, sometimes
      slightly misshapen.  They are extremely strong for
      their size and have a natural immunity to Magick.
      Truthdreamer said they were befriended by Drag-als
      and developed their resistance to Magick out of 
      self-defence.  They love to party.}

     He was quite tired, but he ran down to the docks to make sure he got to the "Drear-Bane" before she sailed.  The sailors cheered when they thought he was coming back with them.  Then they all felt helpless together when he told them what his letter was about.  They all told him he was looking well, wished him health and prosperity, and told him they'd be back in about a month.
     A month?  Poor Xatopher could have been somebody's stew a dozen times over in a month.
     Purrrrcival decided he'd do what any good Drag-al would do when the world seemed this awful.  He decided to go get drunk.
     But then he came face to face with the ghost of his mother.  Only instead of grey, this creature was Orange.  She looked at him with that look, he was sure the first words out of her mouth were going to be, "You're a disgrace to the Leuian Race!  How could you dishonour your mother by looking so messy?  Where are your manners?  Don't you know how to act in the presence of a Clawmistress?
     This proud Orange Leuian with a beautifully full mane and a nearly flat face trembled slightly as she prepared to speak.  Her voice was soft and warm, a bit hesitant, but also strong, "Are you the Leuian who was reared by Drag-als?"
     Purrrrcival swallowed, he wondered if a truthful answer would be admission to some horrible crime or faux-pas, but then he decided that if she didn't respect Drag-als, well, the hell with her, "Yes-" the conviction resonant in his own voice shocked him.
     "You are the son of Grizelda Shureclaw?"
     He thought that was her name, (Drag-als, and especially his father, seemed to overlook a lot of fine details from time to time.  His father had said, often, "If her name wasn't Shureclaw, then by gum, it should have been.") "Yes-" he listened to his voice try to place a question mark in the air between him and this female who positively reeked of nobility and authority.
     "I heard she died.  Did she die well?"
     Purrrrcival thought he saw a tear deep within her eye.  He nodded, "Yes, the Drag-als made a monument to her.  They say she almost single-handedly saved their entire colony from a ship load of hardened mercenaries.  Essence Pirates."
     The noble orange Leuian raised her head.  A tear did glisten behind the thick hair of her face, "Come with me.  You are my cousin.  I must hear all about it."
     "Cousin?"  A lifetime of tears exploded right there, "Cousin?"  he buried his face in her fur and hugged her for all he was worth, "did you call me, 'cousin'?"
     "Yes," she sniffed quietly, "Come with me, I am well known here.  They must not see me show this kind of emotion in public."
     "I know," Purrrrcival stiffened and stepped back, he made sure no one could see him before he dried his eyes.  Then he drew a deep breath, "I have an apartment, near the slums-"
     She winced, "Perhaps it would be better if we went to one of the temples.  You follow Set?" she seemed a bit shocked.
     Purrrrcival shrugged, "They recruited me-  Somebody said they needed a follower they could trust to guard their treasures."
     She nodded, "You haven't told me your name-"
     He bowed, "I am Purrrrcival Alleyscourge."
     She seemed confused, "Is 'Alleyscourge' the name of your adoptive parents?"
     "No- Dad's name was Frysbyne DeInstigator."
     "What a strange name."
     Purrrrcival shrugged, "I often thought he made up my last name.
     She nodded, "He most assuredly did."
     "What's your name?"
     She blinked, "I've forgotten my manners, you're quite a shock to me,"  she bowed slightly, "I am Cervina Marringdale."
     Purrrrcival raised his eyebrows, "I've heard of you."
     "You have?"
     "In the town square.  I heard Dragons discussing rumours of underhanded deals between races.  They were talking about asking you about something.  They said they were sure they could trust anything you told them.  They said you were honourable and had a reputation for having a very strong mind of your own."
     "You heard this from Dragons?"
     "Yes,"  Purrcy nodded, "Is it an honour to be respected by Dragons?"
     "Indeed, it is-"
     As it turned out, they ended up at his apartment.  She decided she had nothing to worry about, entering an apartment house in broad daylight.  No one would dare accuse her of anything.  They would think she was on official business.  After all, she was a Clawmistress, an elected official of the local Pride organization.
     When Purrrrcival told her everything he knew about his mother she nodded, she sighed, and then she broke down.  She cried as if his mother had been her favorite aunt.  Cervina couldn't have been more than a year old when his mother and her family had set sail.
     He was relieved to know that he wasn't the only Leuian in existence with emotions so powerful he didn't know what to do with them.  They hugged and cried on each others' shoulders (while they were sitting down, she was a full foot taller than he was.)
     "There had been rumours,"  she said finally, "Spread by a particularly vicious enemy of ours, that your mother and father had run away in disgrace after shaming us all.  I  must read an account of her deeds at a meeting of The Pride.  You will be living proof that their rumours are false."
     "Are you inviting me to join the Pride?"
     "I am."
     "Oh," Purrrrcival rose a little higher on the couch, "So this is what it's like to really belong?"  he sighed.
     Cervina grinned, "I like you, cousin.  Your lack of stuffiness will be a welcome relief at the Pride Meetings.  But, never tell anyone that I said that."
     Purrrrcival grinned, he finally thought he saw beneath his cousin's regal facade to see the true strength and nobility within.  He nodded, fighting back tears of pride.
     She nodded too.  They had a strength between them.  An alliance that might turn some heads.  But an alliance as strong as blood.  Maybe stronger.

 4. From the Depths of Despair



      {*Anthians:  A race of full-sized winged humanoids.
      Well, almost full sized.  They are noble and 
      trustworthy and seem to have none of the ostentatious
      manners that some of my own race (Leuians) seem to
      love to flaunt.}

     Keri's cousin Maddy seemed to be in love with an Anthian named Hastikhan.  Keri had a friend named Shannon (another Fir Elf) who was definitely in love with an Anthian she called 'Ducky'.  Purrrrcival tried to keep his laughter silent.  He knew how bad it could be to be teased.  But he made a mental note to ask 'Ducky' what he preferred to be called.  He was sure he'd meet Shannon's friend, soon.
     Another thing about Keri's cousin, (and close friend) Maddy, (or Madrigale) a half Elf, half Human (listed on the census as Human); she seemed to be as angry about the kidnapping as anyone.  But then she let it slip, over some good stout ale, that she was expecting a child soon, and worried about the state of affairs if kidnapping could be gotten away with so easily.
     They were at the inn.  They didn't spend much time at the inn, but the hunting had been more prosperous than usual and the whole gang had met after selling off most of their booty.  And Purrrrcival wanted to know why Drag-als spent so much time in Inns.
     And Maddy recited several limericks.  And Purrcy recited a few himself.  She said he had a talent.  He said he had too much to drink.  She said that was another sure sign of Bardic talent.  They tried to out-limerick each other for a few rounds before somebody mentioned Roxy.  They said she could outdo them both, with her mouth taped shut.  And the two of them fell to brooding about the lack of progress in finding the baby.
     "Oh! If only my old friends were here!"  Purrrrcival said, much too loudly.
     "Your friends?  Who are your friends?"  Maddy slurred.
     "Well,"  Purrcy said as Maddy became a bit fuzzy herself, "There's old Truthdreamer.  He's a bard and he has visions."
     "Some of my friends have visions."  Maddy nodded.
     "And TaleRocker, we used to get into such trouble together?"
     "Trouble-" she nodded, "I know what that's like."
     "And then there's our secret weapon."
     "Your secret weapon?"
     "Skunky!" Purrcy nodded pretty hard, nearly clunked his head on the table.
     "Skunky?"
     "Skunky's got this talent you wouldn't believe.  You're not supposed to take this literally, I don't think, but the legend has it-"  Purrcy took a drink.  "Legend has it that old Skunky went on this colossal drunk.  And he passed out in this forbidden area of the forest.  And there was this stale old stinking monster of a snake.  Good Grief, they said she was the mother of all venomous snakes.  Well, she was sick to death with some horrible old snake disease and blind to boot.  She didn't know where she was going, but she crawled up old Skunky's asshole, made herself warm in there, and she died."
     "She died?"
     "Deader than hell."  Purrrrcival burped, "Now every time we get a chance we feed him chili.  We feed him chili and beer and jalapena peppers and some of the  most gruesome combinations of gassy food you can imagine.  We get him blind drunk and we put him someplace.  Anyplace.  We aim him just right and wait.  Because sooner or later, and it's usually sooner.  Old Skunky lets go with a 'PFFFFfffffftttt.' And you wouldn't believe it.  He  lets off farts that smell so bad I heard they once condemned a building three weeks after he let one go next door to it."
     "No!"  Maddy was the only one in the inn that wasn't laughing, "You're teasing me.  It couldn't be."
     "It the honest truth.  I can't lie, I'm a damned Leuian.  Don'tcha know?"
     "But you were raised by Drag-als-"
     "Yup, I know it."
     "And everyone knows they can lie-"
     "Yeah, well some of them stretch the truth so much it comes back and hits 'em in the face.  I tried to lie a couple times, I couldn't.  Nobody believed me because I couldn't believe myself."
     "That makes sense."
     "You bet it makses senst."  Purrrrcival blinked twice and fell over backwards.  They carried him home.

     In the morning Purrcy learned that Leuians were not quite as immune to hangovers as Drag-als seemed to be.
     "Ohhhhhhhhhh," he groaned.  He couldn't imagine his poor landlord, waking up in this kind of shape, hanging upside down from a flagpole.  He had a dickens of a time just getting one eye to close again, after he'd had a hell of a time coaxing it open.
     But someone was knocking on his door, "Hey, come on dude, wake up. It's like, IMPORTANT!" sounded like a female.  She probably had the wrong apartment.
     "Go away-" he growled.
     "Wow, you're awake!"  The voice was inside his head.
     "Ohhhhhhhhhh, no I'm dead.  Come back with the undertakers."
     "Like, no kidding, Purrcy, I've got this, like, super important message for you."
     "What the hell can be so important you have to interrupt me on my death bed to tell me about it?"
     "It's from somebody named TaleRocker.  He says to tell you He, and TruthDreamer, and Skunky are on their way here, they should, like, get here in a couple days, man-"
     Purrcy nearly ripped the door off its hinges, "Yeah?"
     He was staring eyeball to eyeball with the first *Psycian he'd ever spoken to.  Still, his first instinct was to strangle her.
     "Oh, wow, man, You don't really want to do that-"  she said.
     "You're a Psycian.  You need Dragon Essence to live without going insane.  People have been killing my friends so you can live.  You bastard."  He flexed his claws.
     "Like, Bullshit, dude, that's a very nasty rumour and I want it to stop right here and right now.  I couldn't live with the knowledge that somebody else had to die so that I could live.  That's bullshit.  That's a lie made up by *Frontacians.  They're like, totally uncool, man."
     Purrcy remembered how badly his head hurt, "Frontacians?"
     "Frontacians, like, don't deserve to breath the same air we do, man-"
     "Oh come on, what's this racist bullshit?"
     "It's bullshit, but a minute ago you wanted to kill me because I'm a Psycian, right?"
     "Well, I've got an excuse, I'm hungover-"
     "OOOoooo," she held her nose and waved at the air in front of his mouth, "Tell me about it."
     "I'm sorry," he covered his mouth, "Come on in?"
     "Sure," she raised her eyebrows and half slid, half hopped through the doorway.  Then she grinned, "You like my silly personality?  I'm trying it out today.  I think it works."
     "Don't ask me to think,"  he groaned, "Do you know any cures for hangovers?"
     "Are there any Secians around?"
     "I don't think so, Bren?  You here?"
     Somebody answered.
     "Huh?"
     The Psycian touched her head and looked around.
     "Does that help?" Purrcy asked, "Does it help focus your thoughts or something?"
     "No," She wrinkled her nose, "but it looks good, doesn't it?"
     They looked around, found Bren in a pile of clean linen on one of the shelves in a closet by the bedroom.
     "Good morning-"  their new friend said, bright and cheerfully.
     Bren raised his head and looked at her like she'd just suggested doing something sexual with his grandmother.
     "What did you do?  Follow me home from the Inn?" Purrcy asked, with one eye closed.
     "Is that where you were?  I was at the Anything Goes Club.  They had this lady Thugian with a thing about Secians.  Nahhhhh- I don't think I was that drunk.  I think I ran away and hid when I decided she was serious. Didn't think you'd mind-  Your window was open."
     Purrcy blushed, "My window's always open where you're concerned, you know that.  And if it isn't, the door's never locked."
     "What????"
     "I keep forgetting my keys, I never come home before the sun rises-" Purrcy shrugged.
     "You're either really brave or really stupid," the Psycian said.
     "Who's your new friend?"  Bren asked, he had one eye open.
     "Uh, Gee, I never asked."
     "WishDreamer PeaceChild," she beamed.
     "Sounds like a perfect name for a Secian," Purrcy winced.
     "Or a Muatana-"  Bren collapsed again.
     "Do you know us?"  Purrcy asked, "Or should we reintroduce ourselves?"
     "Ah, no, it's cool,"  she nodded.
     "Should we let you sleep some more, Bren?"  Purrcy asked.
     Bren answered by snoring.
     "I guess so-"  Purrcy grinned.
     They left the door open and straggled back to the living room. 
     "Have a seat?"  Purrcy asked as he flopped into the couch.
     WishDreamer looked around.  There was a comfortable looking chair.  It was probably designed for Drag-als, with a discrete cut out space for the tail.  She wasn't much taller than a Drag-al, she fit just fine.
     "What did you say about Skunky and TaleRocker?"  he asked.
     "They're on their way here, and so is TruthDreamer, and some others."
     Purrcy raised his left eyeball just enough to look at her, "How do you know?"
     "They took a small boat out into the shipping lanes.  TruthDreamer had a vision of a baby Draggie in a cage, man, and he saw you knocking yourself out to find the little critter.  And when he told everybody that you were in danger they all signed on with him.  They couldn't wait for your letter."
     "But, how do you KNOW this?"
     "Because, dude, I'm a Psycian,  they were picked up by a Psycian ship, already-" she seemed to be feigning impatience.  There was something about her that was very Secian-like.  Her curiosity was about as evident as a 
Drag-als.  Or maybe she was just soaking up Draggie 'Vibes' and took on the personalities of most of this apartment's more recent tenants.  "If you dudes ever find the little guy and he needs help, I want to be there, okay?  I can, like, zap the bad guys with sleep darts, ya know?  It might be safer for everybody that way."
     "Maybe we can feed Skunky some magick potion and he can zap them with sleep farts?"  Purrrrcival laughed, "Sounds reasonable."
     WishDreamer leaned back in her chair and grinned.  It was really hard to think of someone like her needing to live on a drug they killed anybody to get.
     She raised her eyebrow at him, "If I did find out that they had to kill anybody to get that lousy drug, I would probably go to Rinanni's temple and pray for a species change operation."
     "Can they do that?"
     "I heard the gods did something like that when the hunger first hit the Muatana.  A lot of them couldn't stand the idea of killing to live.  One woman M-A walked out into the sunlight and let herself die.  It was, like, awful.  But Rinanni found out about it and brought her back as a San Elf."
     "Rinanni sounds like an okay dude."  Purrcy wagged his tail.
     WishDreamer tried to pout, "Rinanni's a dude-ette, man-"  But her eyes sparkled beautifully.
     "How far away are they?"
     "Your friends?  They're about halfway here.  Should be here in about a week."
     "Yeah?"
     "About that- yeah," she nodded.
     "Cool."  Purrcy grinned.
     "Far out?"  Wishy grinned more widely.

     Purrcy woke up.  It was late afternoon.  WishDreamer was gone.  At first he thought she must have let herself out.  He felt a bit embarrassed.  Then he wondered if there had ever been such a person.  Had he dreamed the whole thing?  He got up and walked to the closet.  Bren wasn't there.  But there were definite signs that somebody had been there.  Blond hairs on the towels?  Purrrrcy's own hair was a light grey. 
     Of course she'd been there.  If he still doubted it later he could drop by the Psycian's guild and ask them if they such a member.
     His friends would be there in a week?
     That didn't help much.  Well, yes it did.  It gave him that extra shot of hope he knew he needed.  What it didn't do was produce any shred of evidence that Xatopher was still alive.  Or where the poor waddler might be.  Maybe the Psycian Guild wouldn't be a bad place to go and ask questions after all.

      {*Psycians:  I thought they were all parasites, like
      Frontacians.  Maybe I was wrong.  They have 
      Psychic powers. I only met one so far.  "WishDreamer"
      She was short, fair and slight and really easy to get
      along with.  I suppose she'd even be cute if she was
      covered with hair.  I liked her.}
 
 

 5.  Getting Somewhere?







     He'd already decided to visit the Psycian Hall.  Or Guild, or whatever they called the building on the Square where all the Psycians hung out. 
     He just about got through the Square when he came upon a Noble slashing away at somebody he'd met somewhere, "Hey, stop that.-" Purrcy drew his sword and came to his friend's aid. 
     The Noble screamed.
     "What's a matter you bastard? Can't stand a halfway fair fight?"  Purrcy called back.
     But the next thing he knew there were three guards attacking Purrcy and the noble just stood there and smirked.
     "Oh shit-"  Purrcy defended himself as well as he could, but they were too much for him.  And the word "Fair" was not in their vocabulary.  He thought about calling out to Set, the god who's followers had sought him out so short a time ago.  But it was too late.  He was dying.
     So far from home, and no friends around.  Fat lot of help he'd been to poor Xatopher-  maybe they'd meet in the afterlife.
     Cervina?  Gees, the bastards must have killed Cervina too.
     Kythor?  The seven foot tall Leuian who called himself the High Priest of Set.  Gees, there must have been a blood bath.  Funny, the afterlife looks an awful lot like the damned Spur.
     "Purrcy, what happened?"  Cervina cried.
     "I'm dead-  three guards killed me when I tried to help somebody fight off a nasty, stinking Noble."
     "Maybe they thought they killed you and left you for dead-"
     Kythor took one look at Purrcy in the middle of a pool of blood fanning out to twice his size.  No questions asked, just a serious gaze at all the wounds and he knelt down.  Kythor knelt down beside Purrcy and put his hand on Purrcy's chest.
     The healing power flowed into Purrcy with a dizzying intensity.  The ground seemed to shake beneath him.  He couldn't move.  All he could think to say was 'Wow,' but he didn't have the strength to say it.
     "What happened?"  Kythor asked.
     Purrcy repeated his story, "This noble was attacking a friend of mine, I tried to help.  The damned Noble screamed and three lousy guards attacked and left me for dead."
     Kythor nodded, "You're all right now."
     "Thanks-"
     Purrcy didn't move very quickly.   He didn't move at all for a while.  Kythor left.
     "Did I thank him?"  he wondered,
     "Yes, you did-"  Cervina was still with him.
     "Wow," he finally said it, "funny how a little thing like coming close to death can show you who your real friends are-"  he sat up.
     Cervina blushed.
     Purrcy thought back.  He remembered Cervina doing something.  Reaching out and giving him some kind of strength.  She probably kept him alive until Kythor came in and did the rest.  "Cervina- Did you save my life?"
     "I tried."  she said.
     "Thank you," His eyes watered.  He looked around.  When he'd thought he was dying the place had looked strange.  The stone and brick of the buildings had seemed to take on a whole new level of meaning.  The statue in the centre of the Square seemed to have taken on a weird kind of life of its own.  It knew something about the lives of the people who had come through and seen it.  It knew something and it wasn't saying what it knew.  He suddenly had the bizarre feeling that if he knew how to ask it, the damned statue could tell him where Xatopher was.  Damned guards.  Sentient?  They weren't half as sentient as the bricks in the bloody square.  Speaking of bloody, "I better go get cleaned up."
     "You feeling strong enough?"
     If Cervina hadn't asked he probably would have just stood up, or tried to stand up, and fallen flat on his face.
     He found something to lean on.  He pulled himself up.
     That something he was leaning on turned out to be Poindexter, another friendly Drag-al face.
     "Did you hear me talking to Cervina?"  Purrcy asked Poindexter.
     Poindexter raised an eyebrow.
     "Some guards just beat the hell out of me and left me for dead."
     Poindexter nodded, "I heard that part."
     Purrcy rolled his eyes, "Funny how a little thing like death can change the way you look at things-"
     Poindexter shuddered, he looked very much like he wondered if he'd heard that right.
     WishDreamer just happened to be bopping along the Square at that moment.  She bopped over in his direction and said, "Oh wow, you don't look too good."
     "I hope I don't have to explain this one more time."
     Wishy waved his annoyance away, "Ahh- no sweat, I'll get the story from somebody else.  And if they don't know nothing, I'll ask the bricks."
     Purrcy's eyes nearly popped out of his head, "Do you know how to talk to bricks?"
     "Any idea what he's been drinkin'?"  Poindexter asked.
     Wishy winked, "You want some?  It's called 'Life'. And it's really weird stuff.  Ya never know what it's going to do to ya-"
     Purrcy grinned, "I think I like you more every time you open your mouth and let some of that strange wisdom of yours out-"
     Wishy blushed, "Ahh- go on, you're just teasing me, right?"  But she helped Cervina walk Purrcy home.

     A couple days later.  Purrcy felt strong enough to try again.  He set off for the Square before sundown.  He figured he'd be less likely to stumble onto any stupid nobles trying to kill any of his friends. 
     He was right. 
     He got to the Psycian Hall and met a couple more Pyscians, Frankz and Nahaz.  Nahaz said he was one of the Ex-Muatana who'd gone through the Species Change.  Wishy was there with them.  When Purrcy said he'd come there to ask if they could help him find a lost baby Drag-al, Wishy cut him short and said, "We're already on the case, dude-  Nothin new to report."
     Purrcy grinned from ear to ear, then, "What do they make that drug out of?"
     "Well, if it was distilled Leuian juice you'd be in big trouble, wouldn't you?" she grinned.
     He frowned.
     "Believe me," WishDreamer said, "Nothing sentient dies so that I can maintain what passes for a little sanity around here.  I couldn't stand that.  It would drive me crazy."
     Purrrrcival really wanted to believe she wasn't double talking nonsense into his brain, hoping he believed something he wanted to believe.
     "I'm telling you the truth, I can't lie any better than you can."
     "We're all checking out any leads we get."  Nahaz said, "We just aren't getting much."
     "We know he's still alive, and we know he couldn't have gotten anywhere by any conventional means of transportation, We can scan anything we know about and he just wasn't aboard any ship or wagon train."  Frankz told him. "We don't think that dark winged thing could have taken him very far without being seen by somebody, somewhere.  We think he's still in the area.  Maybe in the sewers.  Maybe some Go-blins have him for now.  If we find out anything at all, we'll let you know."
     He thanked them.  He didn't try to hide his sense of helplessness.  He figured it wouldn't work.  They'd know how helpless he felt.  And then, on top of feeling helpless he'd feel like a jerk for trying to pretend otherwise.  He waved and sighed and walked away.  He gave a half hearted shrug and talked to himself most of the way home.

     He felt more and more like a failure every day.  He was not cut out to be a detective.  At least not the kind that find missing babies.  He didn't feel like he was cut out to be anything.  How could he be serious about being a thief when all he'd do is worry about the people he'd have to steal from.  If he could specialize in stealing from smirking Nobles, that might be one thing.  But he couldn't steal from common people.  Their lives were rough enough as it was.

     Cervina came by and said she was worried about him.  He moped around and said he didn't think he could be very good at anything, and mentioned his qualms about being a thief. 
     "You've got a way about telling stories," she said, "Be a Bard-  to hell with what your working papers say."
     "You think so?"
     She shrugged, "I haven't seen many Leuian Bards.  But I haven't seen many Leuian thieves either.  Some of our snooty relatives look down their noses at everyone.  Forget about pleasing them.  Do what you want.  Find out what you're good at, what you like to do, and then just do it."
     He thought about that.  Draggies had never quite said it in that many words.  But Draggies don't very often take themselves as seriously as Leuians seem to.  Damned Leuians must be ruled by Capricorn or something.
     "What?"  Cervina asked.
     "Huh?"
     "Did you say something about Leuians being ruled by somebody named Capricorn?  Or something like that?"
     "Did I?  Geez, I thought I was thinking about something my tutor used to say.  I didn't realize I was speaking out loud."
 
 

6. Arrival







     Most of the Draggies he'd grown up around had webbed feet.  Most of those in the Spur didn't.  Purrrrcival was wondering if that meant anything at all.  Then he wondered when his friends would get there.
     Bren flew in his window, "The Psycian ship's been seen. They should dock by tomorrow morning."
     He thought that was good news.  He went around to all  his new Draggie friends.  Most of them were excited.  Fatebasher asked if they were bringing any brownies with them.  "Oh probably," Purrcy answered, "But if I know them, they already ate all of them."
     Fatebasher scowled.
     He couldn't even find Roxy.  He told a lot of Draggies to make sure she got the word.  She hadn't been herself in a long time.

     And there they were.  Half the Drag-al community seemed to be lined up on the docks watching the Psycian ship come in.  And there were a dozen Draggies on board, gasping at the size of the welcoming committee, wondering just how big this city was.
     "Purrrrcival!  You old Scallywag!  How the blazes are ya?"  Truthdreamer bellowed.
     Purrcy blushed, "Where's Skunky?"
     Everybody pointed to the smaller boat they were towing behind the large one.  Skunky stood up, grinned his silly grin, waved and belched a little fire for the heck of it.
     "Did you make him ride all the way by himself?"
     Most of them shook their heads, 'no'.  A couple grinned from ear to ear, "We sure as hell should have."
     Skunky shook his head, good natured as ever.
     "Oh Geez, I'm glad to see you."
     "Your mom sent more brownies,"  somebody called, "We ate them all.  They were great!"
     Fatebasher growled, "It figures."
     Purrcy whispered, "They wouldn't say anything if they didn't save me at least a couple."
     And the ship docked. And everybody stormed the Customs shed.  They all gave the Penthanian on duty as hard a time as they could.  Nobody told him their real occupation. 
     Skunky scratched behind his ear and responded, "Social disease,"  to the grunted question, "Occupation?"
     The clerk snorted, "Just answer the question."
     "Me name's Skunky McSchtinkbohm, Me rank is "Very" and me serial number is all zeroes."
     "Mr McSchtinkbohm, if you want to get any closer to the Spur than you already are, you MUST ANSWER MY QUESTIONS.  Now, one last time, What the hell is your occupation?"
     "Why didn't you ask me?  I'm a stinking helluva Fighter, that's what."
     "I bet you are, Mr Schtingbard, I bet you are."

     The Draggies could have spent hours looking at each other's feet, wiggling there toes, wondering why some of them had webbed feet and others didn't.  A pair of accomplished Bards launched themselves into a very long and deep discussion on the possible origins and implications of webbed feet versus non-webbed feet.  They'd probably still be going at it if somebody hadn't asked, "Where's the best Beer joint in town?"  And when several places were suggested, they deemed it necessary, even imperative, that the relative merits of each establishment be 'fully' investigated.
     They were chased out of half a dozen places before they decided they'd have to hold a semi finals and then a final competition for their 'Best Bar in the Spur' award.  But they wouldn't be able to do that all in one night.
     Two places put up signs before morning, "Skunky McSchtinkbohm = Barred for life."
     When he saw the signs Skunky laughed, "Hey look guys, they want me to sing here tonight- can't spell worth a darn-"
     Purrcy conked out a long time before they did.  He woke up on his own balcony with somebody chasing one of the local females up and down the couch and across the bookcases.  He grinned and made himself a little more comfortable, closed his eyes and sighed.  Life had returned to normal. 
     TaleRocker walked out on the balcony to scrutinize some of the noisier shenanigans at the Anything Goes Club about an hour before dawn and grinned, "I think I'm going to like it here.  Think maybe I should stay?"
     Skunky woke up swinging upside down from the same flagpole Fatebasher had decorated almost a month earlier.
     Purrcy slunk into the living room around daybreak, found the couch empty and claimed it for his bed.

     He will never understand how, but around noon he thought he heard something and opened his eyes to see a small squadron of Secians hovering a few feet from his balcony.  How he ever heard anything above the cacophonous snoring is open to debate.  (TaleRocker claims there was an anomaly in the wall of sound and Purrcy's Leuian sensitivity and Drag-al sensibilities knew something was strange, and woke him instantly.)
     "Purrrrcival, are you in there?"  a familiar voice asked.
     "Sure, come on in."
     They hesitated, fearing the noise might shred their sensitive wings, but they came in, most of them did.  Pib, Jesoph and Bren were the brave ones.
     "Purrcy-" Bren said, "We think we know where he is?"
     "Who?  Skunky?  He's swinging from the flagpole-"
     "No- not Skunky, darnit, Xatopher.  We've found him."
     "Xatopher?"  Truthdreamer sat up like he had a hinge at his waist.  "In a cage?  In a dark place?"
     "In the sewers, way down near the docks."
     "You're sure?"
     "As sure as we can be, without sticking around, asking to be killed."
     "Is he safe?  For now?"
     "He should be, most of those things down there sleep all day, they don't wake up until sundown."
     "Sundown?  I bet we can have Skunky primed and ready to go by then."  Truthdreamer sighed.
     "Huh?"  Purrcy asked.
     "We've gotta plan-"  Truthdreamer beamed.  "You guys got anything that will pass for gas-masks?"
     "For what?"
     "They ain't been invented or discovered yet?  Or is it that they've been forgotten?"
     "What are you talking about?" 
     "Um, think: Thick, strong cloths, to tie over your noses?  This is really important.  No, I ain't kidding."
     Purrcy cleared his throat, "Bren, have you told Keri?  What about Roxy and Xyzzy?  And Maddy and Random and-"
     "We've been telling everybody.  The whole Secian colony is on the alert.  We're acting as messengers."
     "Well, how about scouts?" Truthdreamer snorted.
     "Scouts?"
     "How about you guys acting as scouts tonight?"
     "In the sewers?  Are you kidding?"
     "Hell, if I'm right, and your sense of smell don't spoil it, we'll probably have about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes when we won't have to worry about fighting anything, but then they'll probably catch on and there will be hell to pay.  All we need is a couple of you guys to fly down the sewers a ways and tell us when ya hear them coming back."
     The Secians looked at each other with a combination of disdain and trepidation in their eyes.
     "You'll be in no danger, I promise you."
     Pib puffed his chest up and said, "Danger?  I can't even spell danger."
     Bren and Jesoph giggled.  He probably couldn't.
     "An hour before sundown?"  Truthdreamer looked at his wrist.  There was nothing there.  So he scratched his head. "That should be good.  Everybody meet at the docks an hour before sundown."   Then he bellowed, "Skunk-Watch!  Your time has come.  Get that boy down from the flagpole and get to work.  He's got to come through about fifteen minutes before sundown, or we came all this way for nothin."  He saluted the Secians, "Good job men, We're proud of you." 
     The Secians blushed, Pib and Bren saluted back.  They buzzed off.
     Truthdreamer looked at his naked wrist again and shuddered, "What the hell am I lookin' for?"  Then he fell back down into a pillow he'd liberated from somewhere.  He was snoring again within seconds.
 
 

7. Down and Dirty







     Purrcy couldn't sleep.  He figured he'd be better off sleeping through this whole blasted thing.  That way he couldn't goof anything up.  It's no fun having self doubts when anybody else's life depends on you.
     "Like, hey dude, chill out.  You got good friends.  They know what they're doing.  They've been taking care of stuff like this all their lives.  All you gotta do is show up and let them run the show.  They'll all love you no matter what goes down.  Man, they already love you, you don't gotta prove nothin to nobody."
     And, unlike many poor souls who might be afraid they were losing their minds, Purrcy knew where this voice in his head came from.
     "Yeah," Purrcy sighed, then grinned, "some Conscience I got. Aren't you wearing a button that says, 'I'm naked under this armour'?"
     "Can you see it from there?" Wishy asked him.
     "You heard?"  he asked.
     "About Xatopher?  Sure thing."
     "You be there tonight?"
     "You bet-"
     "You guys have a drug that turns off the bullshit in your own head?"
     "No way, man, wish we did-"
     "But wouldn't that, like, take away most of the reasons we're here?  To learn to deal with all this nonsense?"
     "Woa- dude, you're getting too deep for me, there."
     "Bull doo doo!" Purrcy growled, "You can play any role you want, just don't forget that it is a role and you'll be ahead of the game."
     Wishy stepped out from behind her persona long enough to respond, "True- Or at least it sounds good.  But I really want to pull this act off with people who think it's the real me.  I don't know why, it's just important to me, that's all-"
     "I don't mean to sound judgmental or anything."  Purrcy told himself, "I'm just kind nervous about tonight."
     "I know- So are most of your friends.  They're good people.  Life's important to them.  Keri and Cervina are in their temples right now, praying for the souls of those they may have to kill tonight."
     "I should go with them."
     "You can pray from where you are, pray to anybody.  This one gets through on all channels."
     He bowed his head, "Thanks."
     "Thanks yourself, dude."

     Purrcy snuck out and bought himself a new (slightly used) two handed sabre and a new (slightly used) Bastard sword.  He asked the salesman at the Weapons Shop if he knew anything about getting weapons blessed.  The merchant scratched his head, and said, "Don't know for sure, but I bet you can have that done at your favorite temple, if you offer the right priest the right amount of, ER, donation-"
     Purrcy left muttering to himself, "That's so Obvious, Why didn't I think of that?"
     The temples were busy.  Purrcy was surprised at how many people he knew were buzzing around, some trying to pretend they were on their way to somewhere else, some openly proud to be seen in the Temple district.  He never once stopped to wonder how many of them would be coming with him that night.  He took a few minutes out to spar with one of his friends, then hurried on when the sound of clashing steel raised a few eyebrows. 
     He paused outside of every Temple he came to,  Said a quick prayer to each 'god', asked him or her (or it) to look after any of the souls that might come winging their way toward them tonight.  Even Taath seemed to appreciate his thoughtfulness.  At least, that's what Purrcy told himself.   He went into the Temple to Set.  Donated a few silvers and prayed for a while.  He found somebody who was happy to bless his weapons, cheap too, the acolyte said. [ He was glad it was after the big fight that he saw the same acolyte, dressed a little better, in robes with gold buttons and gilded filigree, outside in the Square and pointed him out, to a friend who responded, "Who?  That bum?  Looks like he stole himself a new set of clothes, it does-" ]

     And then he waited.  He waited and waited and waited and said a few more prayers, and waited some more.  Finally, he saw Cervina and Keri.
     "I've lost track of time-" he said.
     "That's easy, around here-" Keri said, "You ready?"
     "Ready as I'll ever be."
     "Who's leading this-?"  Cervina couldn't seem to find the right word.
     "Uh, one of my Draggie friends should have it all plotted down to the- um, They've probably been figuring all the angles-"
     Cervina nodded.  Maybe she was preoccupied enough not to notice that he was making a fool of himself every time he opened his mouth.  Maybe she didn't care. 
     "Or maybe you're the only one worried about making a fool out of yourself,"  Wishy was reading his mind again.
     'See You down by the docks?' he thought hard.
     "You bet, fuzzy buddy-" she thought back to him.

     He nearly gasped when he saw the docks.  They were teeming with people he'd met, and others who'd been pointed out to him from a distance.  There must have been a hundred people there.  All of them grim faced.  Quite a few were testing their weapons against the wind.  At first he thought they must be there for some important ship's arrival.  Then he noticed the swarm of Drag-als in the centre of this mob. 
     Truthdreamer saw him coming and called, "Purrcival, come on up here."  Keri and Cervina came with him.  Maddy was already there. 
     Roxy was sitting there, stunned, "All these people, came to help ME get my Xatopher back?" she boo hooed until Cervina patted her on the back.  Then she sniffed, "You too?" and boo hooed some more.

     Truthdreamer looked around, "These your friends?  Looks like the social event of the year, by gum."  (He didn't say "By Gum.") (He added something a little bit stronger, a little bit earlier in the sentence.  But not everyone can understand, or even stomach, some of the things that fall under the topic; "Drag-al Sensibilities".)  (Let me say this, he did appreciate the commitment shared by so many members of so many races.  There was even a contingent of Muatana-al standing inside the Warehouses, out of the sun.
     "Okay," Truthdreamer whispered, "We've outlined the plan to at least one member of each race present.  We've had offers from at least a dozen Anthians who want to volunteer to act as scouts.  But, from the size of this cluster- uh, we better stick with the Secians.  If things get bogged down in there at least they can fly over our heads and escape.
     "The Secians go in first.  We had a contest and found out that Junior, the Thugian, had the biggest mouth in town.  He's also one of the meanest looking mothers in the group.  We want him up front.  When the Secians smell trouble he's gonna scream loud enough for all of us to hear him and scare everyone the hell out of there.  We shouldn't have any trouble freeing the kid, long as he's still there.  And your cute little Psycian sweetheart assures me, he's still there.  Confused and lonely, but he's still there.  He can't understand why his mother doesn't come and hug him when he cries, all he gets is some ugly bastard telling him to shut his yap or he'll shut it for him.  He knows what his mamma looks like.  He's got her picture stamped on the inside of his eyelids.  He's some kid.  Born Rune Mage I'd say, with a little bit of Skunky's metabolism tossed in for good fun.  He will be tossing sleep farts at people in no time.
     "All we gotta do now is wait for old Skunky and his keepers....  They should be here any time now, Everybody bring a good strong bandana to tie their noses shut?"
     There was a momentary hush, then everybody heard some terribly off-key voices singing about somebody named Casey Jones and a large number of horses.  Or was it whores?  At least they sang it in Drag-al, it was mixed company.
     "Another thing-"  Truthdreamer said, "With Junior up front, If need be, we've got this humungous fear dart," Truthdreamer turned and winked at Wishy, "and we figure if we need to, we'll hit him with it.  He's so damned big he'll probably push the whole damned bunch of us to safety in front of him."
     Purrcy leaned forward, "Then what?"
     "What? When what?"
     "We run in, we grab Xatopher, we run back.  Then what?  Those damned buggers are liable to chase us all the way to hell, they'll be so mad."
     "We got us a plan."  Truthdreamer grinned, "One hell of a plan-  Something we been practising since about the time you left for here.  Don't ask- it'll go down in History.  You can bet your fuzzy little butt on that one.  History!"
     "I hope you're not saying that just to make me feel better."
     "Believe me, if we survive this, we're gonna feel real good about it."
     "Oh Great, I love that, IF we survive."
     "Ya gotta buh-leeeve-"  Truthdreamer had a thousand and ten grins, this one was somewhere between 'Keep you're shirt on' and 'You'll laugh so hard you'll have to change your trousers'.
     "Casey Jones was a son of a [ bleep ]-"
     Somebody covered Skunky's mouth, just in case anybody in the crowd understood the language. 
     He continued to sing into the cupped hand clamped over his jaws as they weaved their way through the crowd.  Some of those gathered there thought the masks were supposed to hide the smell of alcohol.  (Boy- were they in for a shock.)
     "Casey Jones, was a sonnof a [ bleeeeep ]."
     "You all set?  Skunky?"
     "Skunky's all set."  He signalled, "[ Bleep ]ing Right I'm all set.  I'm full of so many kinds of beans I thought I died and went to bean heaven!  And that chili sauce?  mama marone!  Hope I don't [ bleep ] in my pants-"
     "This is it-"  Truthdreamer tied the bandana around his nose.  He sounded as funny as he looked.  Two Drag-als pulled the grate away from the Sewer's entrance.  Skunky's special two 'wardens' backed him into perfect alignment, where the grate had been.  They bent him forward at just the right angle and:
     Skunky squirmed, "Oh my," he said, "this one's for the record books."  [Expletives deleted and other text has been euphemized.]
     "PffffffffffffffffffFFFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTTTT!"
     "AHHHHHHHHHHHH......" 
     And everyone within a hundred feet of the grate began frantically fanning the air toward the sewer. 
     Suddenly all those who didn't know why they'd been requested to bring along 'very strong bandanas' knew exactly why that request had been made.  A few stout hearted members of the quest passed out cold.
     Bren crossed his eyes and tightened his bandana.  Pib wished he was drunk.  Jesoph's eyes watered.  They all looked at Truthdreamer.
     "Ready?"  he asked.
     They nodded.
     "Go!" he pointed.
     The Secians buzzed into the sewer.  They were gone.
     Junior was one of the poor fools who thought he was tough enough to do without the bandana.  Hastikhan and a couple extremely quick Leuians caught him and tied his nose securely away from the smell.  They turned him around and pushed him toward the sewer.  Somebody yelled, "Ya ain't yellow, are ya Junior?" and poor Junior went in charging blindly after the Secians. 
     Keri was one of the first in line to charge in after Junior.  TaleRocker held her back, "We need somebody who can see in the dark-" he explained.
     Truthdreamer pointed at Purrcy and Cervina, "GO!" he said. They went.
     Truthdreamer pointed at Keri and Maddy "Go!." 
     They went. 
     Keri grabbed somebody's Tail, "I can't see."
     Maddy grabbed Keri's arm, "For gods sakes don't light a torch."
     Behind them they kept hearing Truthdreamer shouting, "Go!"  "Go!"   "Go!"
     Roxy and Xyzzy were behind Maddy and Keri.
     The Leuians could see in the dark.  They were in a hurry.  Purrcy mumbled something about putting his tail in a sling.  I think he meant that, literally.
     "Go!"
     "How the hell many of us are down here?" somebody asked.
     "I'm afraid to count."  Somebody answered.
     Run run run run run run run run.
     Nobody knew why they were running in any particular direction.  They just ran.  Most of them were following Purrcy and Cervina.  Purrcy just ran where he did because it felt like the direction he should run in if he woke up suicidal and stupid.

     Meanwhile, all over the Spur:  Anywhere there was a sewer opening, ( and in many places where no one knew there had ever had been a sewer opening... ):  Things out of your wildest nightmares appeared, and ran, gasping for air.  Anybody that wasn't already down at the docks had a field day.  It was open season on the poor sewer vermin.  They didn't stand a chance.  Poor buggers couldn't even see where they were running for crying out loud.

     "Almost there!"  Pib cried out.
     "We see him!"  Bren added, "there's some kind of light up here."
     "We're going a little farther down the sewer."  Jesoph said.
     "Like duh man said!"  Junior blurted, "Geez, you guys sound funnier than usual with yer noses pinched."
     "Behave yourself, or we'll steal your bandana," One of the Secians disguised his voice.
     "I'll be good, I'll be good!"  Junior really hoped they were convinced.
     The sewer bent around a curve and they ran into the light.  It was kind of a sick greenish glow from something slimey on the wall. They were at a cross-roads in the sewers.  Their eyes took a few seconds to adjust.
     "Xatopher!" Roxy squealed through her pinched nose.
     There he was, stuck in a locked wooden cage with his hand held firmly over his nose.  He looked nearly comatose.  But his eyes moved, "Momma!" he squeaked.
     "Xatopher!" she squeaked back.
     "Who's got a key?  Purrcy, can you pick locks?"
     "Hell with the damned lock-" Purrcy motioned, "Xatopher stand back, it's a damned flimsy wooden cage."
     And at least three sharp swords whirred through the air and came down with an amazing series of blows on the wooden bars.  One of those blows was the first one through the cage.  The whole front face, lock and all, fell into the crud at their feet.
     "Momma!"  Xatopher leaped onto his mother, groped around for her boobs, "Momma!" he sighed.
     Xyzzy tied a bandana around Xatopher's face.  Xatopher said "Momma," A couple more times, just to hear how funny his own voice sounded.
     "Okay!"  Purrcy shouted, "We got him, let's get outta here!"
     Nobody moved. 
     Cervina pointed to one of the side tunnels, "I studied maps all afternoon.  We can catch up with them around a couple left turns.  Do you know Left from right?"
     Purrcy held up his left hand and yelled, "Left!"
     Just then they heard the sickening sound of Pib squealing, "Oh, my god, it looks like ten or twelve damned guardians."
     They heard what had to be a fear dart hitting Junior's really thick hide.
     "Huh?" he said, quickly followed by, "Run like hell, gall dangit!"
     And run they did.
     Luckily everybody else in the sewers had heard Junior's roar.
     Back at the grate they'd organized the biggest Thugians and the strongest Hithuals, and even the Strongest Muatana, now that the sun was down.  They began pulling everybody back out of the sewer and giving them a good shove toward safety, "Run, dammit-  Run like your life depends on it.  Run to the Town Square, it's our only hope!"
 
 

8.  Run like Hell!

     Cervina, Purrcy, Keri, Maddy, Roxy, Xyzzy, Xatopher, and maybe a couple others ran down the side tunnel.
     "Left!"  Cervina screamed when they came to a turn.
     "Left!" she screamed at another cross-roads.
     "Straight!"  she roared at the next cross-roads.
     "Left!" she yelled again.
     "Straight!"  and then, "Slow down, don't kill any good guys."
     They came to a bottle neck, started pushing people toward the grate, yelling, "Go! go!  Go!   Dammit Go!"
     Somehow they slipped Roxy and Xatopher into the stream of running questors.
     Xyzzy yelled, "Oh no- here comes Junior, they hit him with a fear dart, god he'll crush us-"  And everybody ran just a little bit faster, until they really did hear Junior. 
     "Good Gawd!  there's a dozen sewer Guardians back there and they're pushing a million god damned monsters ahead of them, I want my momma!" 
     Xyzzy looked at Cervina, "We really gotta get the formula for that fear dart."
     Junior cleared the sewer ahead of them, then he ran by, the Secians were seconds behind. Maddy pushed Keri and dragged Purrcy.  Purrcy grabbed Xyzzy by the tail and Xyzzy  Belched fire.  There must have been something unstable in that sewer.  Xyzzy's fire belch rocked and rolled the sewer like ten Fourth Stage Dragons on a rampage wished they could.  Cervina somehow managed to escape being singed.  So did the Secians.
     Somebody's large strong hands yanked the last of them out of the sewer.
     Truthdreamer had been counting on his fingers and toes, he checked his addition.  He blinked once or twice, mumbled to himself, "Yup, that's it!  Close the damned thing up and run like Hell."
     A dozen of the Spurs strongest citizens stuffed the grate back over the sewer.  Then they stuffed all sorts of loose boulders and planks and anything they could get their hands on over the grate. 
     Truthdreamer stayed there long enough to make sure they understood that it was now their job to run to the Town Square and pick up anybody who had fallen, or run out of strength, or anything.  Yup, they understood. 
     He looked at everyone who was trying to catch their breath and roared, "Catch your breath in the Square!  Dammit, Run like Hell!"  And he led the retreat. 
     Almost nobody had stumbled, or passed out, or anything, at least not for the first couple hundred yards.  Beyond that a few stragglers were being assisting by anybody with any wits about them.  Hastikhan had ferried a few feeble Flerians to safety and came back for more.  [Sorry, couldn't resist.]  Junior had carried half a dozen stumbling elves on his shoulders [Yes, all at the same time.]
     A few slackening citizens found a sudden inspiration and doubled their speed when they heard the unearthly roar of something that climbed up out of the sewers.
     "Run, run Run!!!!!"  Purrcy looked back for Keri and Maddy.  Everybody in the group that had actually freed Xatopher was doing fine.  They had almost made it to the first gate.
     A second unbelievable roar shook the ground.   Purrcy, Xyzzy, Keri and Maddy readied their weapons.  Cervina flexed her healing aura.   They stood by the gate and waited until the last of the muscle team was through the gate.  They caught their first look at the enemy.  Three Secians flew at the enemy and made very good imitations of the sound of gas passing.  The enemy hoard screeched to a halt just long enough for the crazy questors to squeak through the Gate and slam it shut behind them.
     "They'll break it down!"  Maddy roared.
     "Line of defence back in the town Square.  We're ready for them there!" Chorused two of the three Secians.
     Keri looked tired.  A Hithual tossed her over his shoulder and ran like his pants were on fire.
     "What about me?" Maddy screamed.
     "Okay," the Hithual called back to her, "When I get tired you can carry her!"
     Purrcy gasped once before a burst of energy hit him full force, "Like, don't mention it, dude-"
     A couple dozen ugly dark things flew over the Gate.  A couple dozen arrows went flying in their direction.  More than a dozen fiery bits of magick followed in hot pursuit.  A couple dozen dark ugly things lay dying by the gate.  A couple dozen more dark ugly things flew up and over the gate.
     "Don't look back,"   Purrcy said as another volley of arrows flew over their heads, "You'll drop dead."
     About that time a dozen fiery fists formed into one over their heads and came crashing to earth near the Gate.  Too late.  Hundreds of dark ugly things swarmed through.
     But by this time they'd reached the inner gates.  Next stop, Town Square.
     Truthdreamer was there, yelling, "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" as he pushed everybody through.
     I'm pretty sure it was Cervina that picked Truthdreamer up and carried him through with her.
     Purrcy and Xyzzy were the last ones through the gate.  A dozen guards slammed it shut and locked it.
     Purrcy shook his head and shivered, "Never thought I'd feel good about seeing those guys."
     But then he noticed they were running just as fast as he was.
     "Shit......"

     They reached the Square.  Just about anything you can imagine that anyone could think of using to form a barricade and been upturned in a line across the Square Just south of the Statue.   There were a couple breaches in the wall.  Now everybody to the south was frantically trying to get to the north.
     Something awful screamed and the first thundering slams shook the whole square. 
     Purrcy stopped dead in his tracks, he turned around and readied his sword, "Might as well die here as anywhere, Set, give my favours to somebody else." 
     Cervina leapt back out from behind the barricade, bonked her crazy cousin on the head and dragged him back to safety.

     Booooooom.   Boooooom.   Booooooooom.
     At first he thought it was the pounding in his head.
     Booooooooom.      Booooooooom.   Boooooooooom.
     Then Purrcy realized he was hearing those dark things, banging down the gates.
     "Oh, no-  It's my fault we brought this down on the Spur."  Purrcy mumbled, "Least I can do is stand up and die defending them."  But he couldn't move.  Cervina had put something heavy down on top of him. 
     It hiccupped.
     He sniffed the air.  Some cousin, she'd plunked a drunken Oog-ra on top of him.  Why the hell would she do that?
     Booooooooom.   Booooooooooom..   Booooooooooom. Crash.
     With a hiss the dark army surged through the gate and swarmed into the archway.  In seconds the first of them were standing in the Square sizing up their defences, wondering what that half-naked Drag-al rump was doing, pointing into the air at a rift in their defensive line.
     More and more of them poured into the Square.  They waved their weapons or showed their claws and fangs and began to advance.
     "I'm warning you!"  Truthdreamer bellowed, "We have a secret weapon, advance no further!"
     They hesitated.  That awful scream was heard again. They advanced.
     "He's telling the truth."  A chorus of Secians shouted, "Go back where you came from, We won't be able to help you."
     Two guardians pushed their way into the square, a third and a fourth were close behind.  Gad, they were ugly.  Seven headed, seven armed-
     The Secians flew down and buried their heads in friendly arms, against friendly chests.
     "Don't do it!"  Purrcival growled.  He recognized Skunky's Rump and two dozen Draggie sets of eyeballs clustered near that rump.  "Oh, no-"  Purrcy clamped his fingers over his nose.
     That awful scream filled everyone's ears again.  Anything in the dark army that was carrying a weapon raised it and began to charge.
     "NOW!" two Kamikaze Draggies pushed hard into Skunky's sides.
     "PPPPPPPPPPPPFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTTTTTT!"
     The toxic cloud was actually visible as it spread out and engulfed the dark army.
     "NOW!" two dozen Draggie heads popped up and snorted fire at the cloud, and ducked.  Everybody to the north of the barricade hit the bricks.
     KkkkkkkkkkKKKKKKKKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-
                  BBBBBBBBBLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMM!
     The entire known world felt that one.
     It was enough to rock the earth itself.
     When the first brave questors raised their heads to gaze south across their barricade into the southern end of the Town Square, they expected to see a flaming pile of twisted bodies.  There were a few cinders.  A dagger or two fell to earth while they sat there.  An Armour or two crashed into the high wall and landed, charred, and much too close for comfort. 
     "Where the hell did they all go?"  Somebody gasped.
     "What happened to our damned statue?"  Somebody shrieked.
     It began to sink in. The statue wasn't there, at least, not where it had been a few minutes earlier.
     "Is that it?"  Somebody answered.
     "What?  Where?"
     "North end of the Square, in front of the Hostel?"
     Sure enough.  That monstrous golden Statue had been blown right off it's pedestal and landed upside down in front of the hostel.  It nearly blocked the door.
     "Good Gawd."
     Hastikhan took to the air.  He flew nearly straight up. He pointed south, "Anything that survived is running like hell back to the sewers."
     Then he pointed in a wide circle, "Looks like piles of charred junk fell all around us.  Some on top of buildings, on top of the walls, some as far south as the Fairgrounds."
      Somebody pulled the Oog-ra off Purrcy.  "Hey, pal, you look like I need a drink."  One of them, maybe the Oog-ra said. 
     Purrrrcival sat up.
     A couple street urchins and beggars started sorting through the garbage, it looked like they hit the jackpot.
     Truthdreamer slapped Purrcy on the back, they watched Roxy and Xyzzy hug and kiss their baby and each other in a bear hug that would have smothered a human child.  Xatopher had a smile from ear to ear,  "Momma!"  he said,  "Dadd-" Everybody expected his next word to sound like "Booom!" or maybe "PFFFTTTTT!"  But he was too busy hugging his parents.

     Maddy helped Purrcy to his feet, "Okay, wise guy, you know nobody's ever gonna believe me if I tell them this story."
     Truthdreamer turned around and winked, "Yeah, yeah, that's fine, but now what the hell are we going to do to top this one?"
     In a mad series of rainbow shimmers, brown dust clouds and lightening blasts, all the Elders at once appeared in the Square.
     "Uh-oh-" Truthdreamer glanced around for the exits.
     "All right!  What the hell happened here?  Who's going to clean up this mess?  You!   You!  You!  You!   You're volunteering, You!  You!  and You!"
     In about ten seconds there was nobody left in the square but the Elders and a snoring Drag-al with his rump in the air. 
     "Ahhhhhhhrrrrgggggg," said the Drag-al, "I don't feel so good," Then they heard the unmistakable, "PfFFFTTTTTTT.!"
     After a second mad series of rainbow shimmers, brown dust clouds and flashing lights the Square was emptied completely, except for one terribly drunk Drag-al who rolled over and waved the air away from his nose, "I need a pizza!  Who's Buying?"
 
 


 9. Postscript

     It was weeks before the beggars and street urchins ran out of booty to hock.  A few of them even paid their rent for a year or more, stocked up on stuff they'd need for the winter.

     Weekly 'volunteer' work parties got the Square looking pretty spiffy in no time at all. 
     It took them two weeks to right the statue.  Three more to move it back to the centre of the Square.  And, at last notice, they were planning to have a contest: any Mage that can levitate the statue back onto its pedestal will never have to pay taxes again.

     Xatopher turned out to be one of the most well balanced and happiest babies ever born in the Spur.  He does, however love to make noises like "PFFFFFFFTTTTTTTT," and laugh when everybody holds their noses.

     There are currently ten bars with signs that read, "Skunky McSchtinkbohm, Barred for life."   Every now and then Skunky walks in to one of them and says, "Aw gee fellas, It was awfully nice of yas to elect me yer favorite story teller, but ya gotta learn to spell "Bard" right."
     Then he runs like hell and laughs all the way to the next bar.

     The last time anyone asked, the 'Best Bar in the Spur' competition was still up for grabs, with the judging committee coming up with crazier and crazier reasons why they need to go back and re-judge every place on the list over some technicality or other. 

     At least once a month (usually around the full moon) some poor Draggie wakes up hanging upside down from one flagpole or another.

     Prunela's brownies are legendary.  She just might move to the Spur and open a bakery.
 
 

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