Chapter 04

previous chapter (#03)                  next chapter (#05)

                             -- 7/30/6526 --

     Aristo gazed at the second door of the rubbish room.  Since the first
door would likely only lead to more dull run-ins with orcs, he would take
the other door.  He noted that the remains of those creatures had been
removed.  Or perchance they had been devoured by something even more
     Placing his ear near the second door, he could make out some barely
audible, high-pitched jittery voices.  Kobolds?  He gingerly cracked open
the door.  From what little he could make out of the next room, he could
see a couple of small, humanoid forms that appeared to be a cross between
lizards and dogs.  Definitely kobolds.  They did not appear to have
noticed the opening of the door.  What observant creatures they were.
     Ari placed a spell of sleep on them.  He entered the room, noting the
nine bodies unconscious on the floor.  And what ills had these irksome
little beings been conceiving?  Kobolds were quite good at playing
dangerous pranks on those they encountered.  A quaint attitude, but Aristo
did not care to be the subject of any of those pranks.
     Selecting the door opposite the one he had entered, Aristo listened
at it.  Hearing nothing, he stepped through and found himself in a tunnel.
Left or right?  Right would take him in the direction of the Mareillar and
her bandits and might open up into their chambers.  Ari wanted some new
action.  He strode down the passage in the other direction.
     This brought him into a large chamber with an oddly-angled wall.
There were the remnants of previous visitors here: some remains of long-
cold cook-fires and some useless castaway items.  Ari ignored them and
left through the only other exit, a tunnel in the opposite wall.  This
tunnel was moderately short, ending at a door.
     Hearing nothing, he opened the door.  But as he did so, he heard a
peal of course laughter.  Not taking any chances, Aristo kicked open the
door, surprising five orcs in the process of tormenting a small humanoid.
Trust orcs to only victimize a helpless creature.  They would never even
dream of doing such to a person capable of defending himself -- well, they
might dream of doing so, but nothing more.  They would only do that if
their victim were somehow overwhelmed or otherwise rendered helpless.
     Their helpless victim was rather ugly, barely two and a half feet
tall, and certainly of faerie origin as shown by the typically caricatured
features.  However, Ari did not have the chance to take a closer look at
it as he took the offensive and immediately slew two of the orcs.  He
easily evaded an attack, but another bounced off of his armor spell.  As
Aristo was engaging the orcs in battle, the little humanoid fled out the
door the elf had kicked open.  Ari felled another orc as a mace was
deflected off his wards.  Aristo sliced up a fourth orc, and then cut down
the last one who had decided to make a break for it as had his tiny
     Ari paused to give some thought to the creature the orcs had been
tormenting.  He had never before seen the like of it, and its description
was like none he had ever heard.  All he could tell from his brief glimpse
of it was that the creature had been in someway related to faerie.  That
in itself would make it difficult for Ari to recognize what the small
humanoid had been.  Beings of faerie are difficult to classify.  Their
widely diverse appearances and attitudes cause those members of one faerie
race to blend into the next.  True, elves were descendants of the true
faerie races, and grey elves the closest of all elves to their faerie
ancestors.  Indeed, grey elves are even occasionally called faeries by
those less informed of things.  But that did not phase matters.  Grey
elves were too far removed from their faerie origins for Aristo to have
any insight on what that unfamiliar being had been.  Sigh.  So it goes.
     Aristobulus turned his attention to the smallish room he was in.
There was not much to catch his eye here.  Aside from the corpses, all
that there was in the room was a large amount of rubble in one corner from
where the two walls were crumbling under the weight of time.  The
crumbling stone was damp, and the wetness must be weakening the walls.
     Set in the wall to the left of the door Aristo had kicked open, there
was a second door which proved to open up into a passage running parallel
to the first.  Aristo followed the passage.  When he reached a bend in the
passage, he carefully stepped around the bend to be certain that no one
was waiting in ambush.
     That precaution, however, proved useless when a pair of arrows shot
out of the wall.  One broke against the opposite wall, while the second
broke against Ari's wards.  He automatically whipped out his sword, for
what little good it would do him in attacking a stone wall.  A detailed
examination of the wall showed that the arrows had come from a simple
spring-loaded firing device.  He could tell that there was a third arrow
in it, but the arrow appeared to be jammed.  Still, the trap looked to be
kept in good condition.  It was assuredly one of somebody's security
measures.  Scanning the floor with his eyes proved that he had tripped a
pressure plate.  Someone did not want people wandering randomly though
this passage.  Perhaps there was something of importance hereabouts.
Things were beginning to look up.
     Aristo was just glad that his wards were still protecting him.  He
was rather surprised that they were still intact with the beating they had
withstood thus far, which meant that they would likely not withstand much
     Being more wary of traps, he advanced down the passage to where it
intersected with three others.  Choosing the rightmost tunnel, Ari rounded
the corner and came face to face with a solitary orc.  Both of them were
quite startled by this, but Aristo's greater speed allowed him to slay the
beastly humanoid before the orc's hand had even connected with the hilt of
his sword.
     Where there is one orc, there is likely to be many.  This place
seemed to be infested with these cursed humanoids.  Ari hoped that he
would soon find some members of a more entertaining race with whom he
could amuse himself.  Not caring to come that close to an orc again,
Aristo was more heedful of his surroundings as he continued down this
tunnel.  The pleasingly odd surprises of this place were certain to keep
him on his utmost guard as he grew more accustomed to these picturesque
passageways, draped with moss, mold, dust, and other such quaint things.
     This tunnel opened up into a plain room, unadorned but for some
broken, ageworn shards of pottery and fungus-covered wood.  Although there
were doors in the wall on either side of the tunnel he had just exited,
the passage opening in the opposite wall engaged Ari's attention.  A few
vague flickerings of light were visible from down that tunnel.
     Sneaking down that passageway, keeping close to the mossy walls, he
came upon nine kobolds clustered around a door in one of the walls.
Aristo wondered if perchance he had met these little critters before.  In
the light of their torches, they appeared to be arguing over something.
Did not the little fools know that although a torch cast enough light to
see several dozen feet, it allowed oneself to be see from an even greater
distance?  Surely they were cunning enough to know how to sneak around
using just their heat-sensitive eyes to see.  Ah well, though known to be
cunning, no one had ever accused a kobold of being intelligent.  Perhaps
Ari could teach them a few lessons.
     Ari remained lurking in the shadows of the torches, observing the sly
little devils.  They were casting furtive, paranoid glances about
themselves as they opened the door.  Aristo could certainly teach them a
few things about being paranoid.  Already a number of ideas were coming to
him.  However, he remained where he was while the kobolds slinked through
the door, leaving two of their number on guard.  Aristo wondered at the
odds of them leading him to someplace to entertain his desire for new
     He watched the two guards for a minute or so as they cast their
surreptitious glances up and down the passage, grumbling their disquietude
between themselves.  Unfortunately, it would be most difficult for him to
sneak through the door with those two crouching at the door.  However,
that was easily attended to.  He hefted a dagger in either hand, sending
them flying at the two kobolds.  The two creatures keeled over, dropping
to the floor with little more than gurgling groans.  He did hope that they
got the point that just being paranoid was not enough.  It took a bit more
than that to get through life when everyone was after your hide.
     Recovering his trusty blades as he passed the fresh corpses, Aristo
crept through the door.  There was no sign of the recent progress down
this passage, except for the fading traces of heat from their filthy
little feet.  Following the track of warm prints on the cold stone floor,
he came across a side-passage.  However, the tracks lead on straight, so
Ari did get the chance to fully investigate this fascinating side-passage.
     Instead, all he had the opportunity to do was duck around the angled
corner of the passage as he saw the light of the returning kobolds'
torches.  They continued on past him, oblivious to the fact that there was
an elf only a pace away -- well, two paces since kobolds seldom grow
taller than three feet -- from them as they skulked past the side-passage.
     Despite their seeming lack of attentiveness, they could not help but
notice their dead comrades outside the door.  Ari watched in amusement as
the kobolds' natural caution grew to the heights of paranoia as they
realized that there was someone else nearby.  They went into a fearful
huddle, arguing amongst themselves.
     Anon, the group doused their torches, finally wising up to the fact
that the torches were a detriment to their well-being.  They split up
their number, the smaller group slinking down the passage the way Aristo
had come, which was enough of an incentive to inspire him to follow the
larger group into tunnels he had not yet ventured into.  Well, that was
the spirit of exploration, to boldly go where one has never gone before
and is likely to never want to go again.
     The passage ended at a door, where the kobolds quickly ducked
through.  What an excellent place for an ambuscade.  Were these kobolds
brave enough to lie in wait for whoever was pursuing them, or would they
keep fleeing for cover?  It turned out to be the latter when Ari jumped
through the door after them, surprising only the cold corpses of a pair of
     Ignoring the cadavers, Ari exited through the door in the opposite
wall, since it was not only the one through which the kobolds' tracks led,
but also the only other visible means of egress from this smallish room.
The door opened onto a passage which lead to a medium-sized chamber with a
tunnel exiting to the left and right.  The kobolds' tracks exited via the
tunnel in the right wall.  Aristobulus hoped the kobolds were heading to
someplace fascinating, since they appeared to be going there in a rather
roundabout fashion.
     This passage brought Aristo to a four-way junction.  Unfortunately,
light from the passage to his right spoiled any chance of his tracking the
kobolds with his infravision.  Cursing the light, Aristo quickly moved
down the passage on his left for a short distance, but could discern no
trace of the heat from the kobolds' feet.  He returned to the junction and
heard voices down the tunnel with the light.  Ari was able to make out a
couple of humans coming down the passage towards him, recognizing them as
some of Mareillar's bandits.  He considered venting his frustration on
these humans, being not the least bit happy at losing track of the
     But as he headed down the last passage, he soon could make out the
fading traces of heat from the kobolds' passing heading into a small
chamber with a couple of doors and a tunnel exiting it.  Here, the tracks
split up, some going down the other tunnel and some going through one of
the doors.  Not trusting what lay behind this door, he pursued the two or
three which had gone down the tunnel.  This passage turned to the right
and led into another small chamber and out another tunnel to eventually
lead to yet another chamber.
     This last chamber, however, was inhabited, as Aristo could tell from
some distance down the tunnel.  He caught just the briefest of glimpses of
a warm body moving furtively off to one side of the chamber, out of Ari's
line of sight.  The form he perceived was too far away for him to see
clearly, for at this distance he could only tell that there was a heat
source down there.  Any other details were beyond the scope of his eyes to
perceive this far away because the cool air of the passage absorbed the
heat, allowing nothing more than the recognition that there was something
warm down there.  Since the form he had seen had been small, he assumed
that it was a kobold, which meant that if he were to move any closer, he
risked having the warmth of his body picked up by the kobold's
infravision, if that had not happened already.
     So now he was presented with a simple problem.  He could not move any
closer without having the kobold see him a raise a warning cry.  He could
not hurl a dagger that far, as if he had a chance of taking out all of the
kobolds that were certain to be there, since they must either be laying in
wait for him, or that room was a guardpost.  He strongly suspected the
latter, though he had no real proof.  In any case, he was wanting to
follow the kobolds back to their lair so that he could have some fun
playing with their minds and enlightening them upon the benefits of being
dead.  To do so, he would need to sneak up on them, and having a guard
raise a cry would make that rather difficult.
     Aristo remained where he was, every once in a while catching a
glimmer of heat from the end of the tunnel as presumably a kobold was
glancing down the tunnel to try and see if Ari were there.  Ari finally
gave up for the moment.  He would try his luck later, when they were not
alerted to his presence.  If nothing else, then he would have the strength
to cast another spell of induced somnolence and put the guards to sleep.
But for the moment, the effort of casting that last sleep spell had
drained his magical energies too much for him to do so again any time
     Backtracking down the tunnel to the last small chamber he had passed
through, Ari considered the door exiting the room.  But his contemplations
were cut off most abruptly when five goblins and a pair of kobolds charged
into the room from the first tunnel.  They must have followed him from
where the group of kobolds had split up.  He guessed that he was somewhere
near the dormitory where he had been watching those one goblins resting.
     However, Aristo had not the time to give it much thought as the
engaged his diminutive opponents in battle.  One of them quickly broke
through his defensive wards, scoring a small cut on one leg.  Ari
vigorously laid about himself with sword and dagger, receiving another
slight wound as he slew the kobolds and some of their goblin friends.
     The two remaining goblins began to question the wisdom of their
decision to assist the kobolds, but then they had been promised some
silver for their efforts.  Yet the two kobolds who had made the promise
were now dead and the goblins decided that a tactical retreat was in
order.  Besides, they would be able to claim the valuables owned by their
dead fellows.
     But Aristo was mad at having been ambushed and wounded.  Maybe it was
through his own lapse of attention, but these were the creatures who had
done this, and his rage was not so easily released.  Seeing the two
goblins moving to make a break for it, Ari was not about to let the source
of his rage get away unpunished.  A quick slash of his sword killed one of
the goblins, and his hurled dagger brought down the other of the pair.
     When Aristo was in the process of cleaning his weapons, he heard the
war cries of charging kobolds.  Though more of a comical sight than a fear
inducing one, Ari was not in the mood to fight the untold number of
kobolds now stampeding down the other passage.  He hated retreating and
giving his enemies any satisfaction, but this time wisdom won out and he
headed back the way he had come in his original pursuit of the kobolds.
Later, he would assuredly return for some fun and vengeance at a price the
kobolds would surely loath paying.  But then, they would not have any
choice in the matter.
     Hearing the quick little kobolds catching up to him as he entered the
chamber where the kobolds had split up, he knew that a lengthy retreat
would likely be fatal, and he was not about to die without first making
those bloody kobolds pay for this.  Ignoring the door that the second
group of kobolds had gone through in search of aid, Ari charged through
the other door and found himself in a fair-size chamber that looked to be
the goblins' common-room.  Unfortunately, there were five more goblins
here.  Though that quickly proved to be unfortunate for the goblins
instead of Aristobulus.
     Lashing out with his anger, Ari carved up two of the surprised
goblins as they were grabbing for their weapons.  Within moments, the
remaining goblins were also laying on the floor, their life's blood oozing
from their dying bodies.
     Aristo charged through the door in the opposite wall since it was the
only exit from the room.  This brought him into a dormitory with five more
goblins groggily rising from their bunks.  This time, Aristo's rage flared
up to totally encompass his awareness, the crimson of anger blinding him
to everything but the flashing blades in his hands.  He hated being forced
to retreate, and for it to happen at the hands of kobolds forced his anger
to the heights of rage.  When he finally regained his senses, the goblins
had joined their friends in the other room as bloody corpses on the floor.
Ari recognized that had they been armored and armed as well, he would
likely be dead right now.  But a lifetime of contemplating death left that
realization as nothing more than a numbness on his mind.
     Cries from the other room indicated that the pursuing kobolds had
discovered his trail of carnage.  Glancing around, he grasped the fact
that he was in the goblin dormitory he had observed from the secret
passage.  He started for the part of the wall where the panel must be,
tripping over a shattered chair, part of his consciousness vaguely
recalling that a goblin had broken the chair over his head.
     Aristo managed to find the concealed latch which opened the panel and
stumbled through, resealing the panel as the war party of kobolds barged
into the dormitory.  They looked around the room, trying to figure out
where their quarry had gone.  After shredding the chamber to make certain
Aristobulus was not hiding here, they stormed off to search elsewhere.
     Behind the secret panel, Ari watched them leave, aware only of the
anger that filled him.  He would kill them, wrench them limb from limb,
torch their living chambers, and gleefully dismember their mates and
offspring.  Vaguely, the memory of how much he hated children filtered in
through his clouded awareness.  He smiled at the thoughts of sweet revenge
which boiled in the maelstrom of his anger.  For the first time in his
life, a smile crossed the lips of Aristobulus the Dark.

                              -- 8/1/6526 --

     Aristo gazed dully out of the peephole at the guard lounging
indolently on one of the sofas.  Nothing but anger filled Ari's mind.
Burning, unfocused anger waiting for the slightest excuse for a reason to
lash out at someone, anyone.
     The human guard was in his way.  Ari had finished off the last of his
provisions some hours earlier.  Now his stomach was telling him to eat
something.  And this human was in his way.  Ari knew that he could obtain
all of the provisions he needed from this group of brigands.  All he
needed to do was to kill this guard and he could then reach the common-
room where all the food he could eat would be found.
     He opened the secret panel.  There was only the softest of squeaks as
the panel swing open.  The guard turned towards the panel, thinking that
perhaps there was a mouse in the wainscotting.  Instead, he found himself
facing an elf stepping from a door in the wall where previously there had
been no door at all.  The guard started to cry out when Ari's first dagger
flew across the room and buried itself in the human's throat.  The cry
came out as a muted gurgling of blood in his throat.  Aristo's second
knife sank into the guard's chest, piercing his heart.  The guard
collapsed back onto the sofa, quite dead if Ari had cared to notice.
     All Ari's enraged mind noted, however, was that his goal was just
through that door on the opposite side of the room.  His hand grasped the
latch of the door and he threw it open.  The seven humans in the room
jumped to their feet as this deranged elf stormed into the room.
Remembering what had happened to their previous leader more than ten spans
before, they grabbed their weapons and prepared to slay the elf who had
undoubtedly slain Alta'karoll, and possibly had just done the same to
Mareillar as well.
     But before they could cross even half of the room, Aristobulus's
spell of sleep descended upon them.  Suddenly very drowsy, all seven of
the humans sat down on the floor and curled up, deeply asleep and under
the elf's charm.  Aristo saw the room before him contained spartan
furnishings, but he was not here for the decor.  The meat roasting over
one brazier is all that caught his attention.  He knew not from where the
haunch of meat had come, nor even what manner of beast had once worn it as
a leg, he knew only that it was edible.
     But before he had even crossed the room, the force of a sword
smashing into his back propelled him to his knees.  Not in the least bit
phased, he rose to his feet, his silvered shortsword leaping into his hand
as if by a will of its own.  He easily deflected the next blow of
Mareillar's own shortsword.
     Cursing him, Mareillar growled as if she were a wounded animal.  "I
knew I should never have trusted you.  A secret passage...  I should have
known, but I could never find it.  Now for this you will pay with your
life.  I know not what bewitchment you've placed on my people, but I will
gladly carve the answer from your cursed elven hide!"
     Aristo said nothing and took no note of the sword that came within an
inch of slashing into his arm, deflected at the last moment by his armor
     Mareillar drew back.  Twice she had scored solid blows on this fiend,
and yet neither of them had even touched him.  "What manner of deviltry is
this, elf?  What are you?"
     "Know me as Death, for such is what I am to mine enemies," came the
emotionless response.  Aristo's blade flashed out faster than Mareillar's
eyes could follow, drilling into her breast to the hilt.  Mareillar
coughed and convulsed at the sudden explosion of fiery pain which shot
throughout her body.  Blood foamed from her lips as she cursed him with
her dying breath.
     "Save your curses, human.  I already bear the greatest curse of
all..." he paused to wrench his sword free of her body, "...the curse they
call life."
     Aristo stumbled about the room in a daze, gathering what useful
provisions he could carry before he stumbled back into the secret passage,
leaving the other humans dozing obliviously.  He had no intention of
slaying them.  Rather would he let them alone to continue to bear the
awful curse of life.  Of that burden he would not yet relieve them.

previous chapter (#03)                  next chapter (#05)