...soon the travelers found the river to be too narrow and swift moving to reliably row the boats upstream. At the suggestion of Belladonna, they disembarked and with Belladonna and Mr. Tarnish on the left bank and the Tacomancer and Quiver on the right, led the boats by rope marcing though the cattails and startling red winged blackbirds until the caravanserai of Portage appeared from behind a turn in the river. To Quiver, the town looked like it was on the verge of sudden growth. All building looked to be engaged in at least one industry. Taverns, Liveries, Boatwrights and blacksmiths all crowded around the Great sawmill and its overshot wheel. Some families crowded multiple buisneses into their homes. This proved to be very usefull when Belladonna led them to a combination farrier and boatwright establishment which agreed to exchange their boats for horses. This was where the smoothness of their experience ended.
"I'm not riding a horse." Declaired Mr. Tarnish.
"There's nothing to be scared of." Replied Belladonna.
Mr. Cinder glared, but seemed unwilling to confront a woman with too much rancor. "I'm not scared, I just don't like riding things."
"I'll charm it."
"Doesn't matter, I'm the one refusing to ride."
The Tacomancer interupted at this point. "Actually, it's fine if one of us doesn't ride. We can put the majority of our equipment on one horse, and after endurance is factored in, one pedestrian can travel about as fast as a horse and rider. Horses are only really a benefit if you're travelling really fast for a short distance."
Belladonna still seemed unhappy. "I just don't see what's wrong with animals. Besides, we will need to move fast if we are running away from..."
"I'm not running away neither."
"Great!" Excaliamed the Tacomancer "It's settled then!"
The party agreed that since Belladonna was best with animals, she would ride in the lead, with Quiver, who was not very comfortable with his hose following behind. "Besides," said Quivver "If the horse follows belladonna's on it's own, I can keep both hands free to use my bow." Mr. Tarnish was of course striding beside his horse, grumbling about having to hold his Pick left handed. After a mile or so, The Tacomancer dismounted as well and walked beside his horse as well. When Mr. Tarnish Gave him a questioning glance the mage just smiled and Tarnish rewarded him with a rare nod and grunt of approval. The grumbling stopped.
Soon however, it was the wizard who was slowing odwn the party. He had found some peculiar smelling white flowers growing allong the mountain trail and was picking as many of them as possible. When the delay became noticible, Belladonna halted the line and rode back. Like a young man in love, the Tacomancer handed a bouquet up to The Druid.
Without a sound except the creaking of saddle leather, The Druid dismounted and also began picking the flowers while The Tacomancer wove them into thick ropes with deft hands. Quivver, being a troll, decided to follow the lead of Belladonna and soon Mr. Tarnish found himself in the lead and all four horses riderless.
"Hey! What are you three doing!"
"I thought we were travelling to the Labrynth."
"No we're not, we're picking daisies!"
"No, you're yelling, and three of us are picking Bullnip."
"I don't care what you're picking, I just know it's a waste of time! Now stop it!" Demanded the Dwarf. At his tirade the trio slowly looked up and excahnged glances. Since Quivver was clearly just following the others lead and Belladonna seemed unlikelly to repond to hostility the Tacomancer replied. "How strange, i've never heard a dwarf say that saving gold was a waste of time."
This manged to get Mr. Tarnish to listen. "Gold? Perhaps you should explain.....please"
"Well, as you know, Belladonna said that using the Labrynth could asve us time."
"An the labrynth is run by minotaurs."
"As nocturnus citizens, we can use this to get a pass from them instead of using gold."
After gathering the flowers they continued on the the Labrynth. Nothing seemed to phase the wizard and Belladonna had clearly been here before, perhaps many times, but for Quivver and Mr. Tarnish it was new experience.
"Amazing work, simple amazing. I see Kaliphin sandstone, Avalonian granite, Mitgardian granite and Nocturnus Obsidian.
"Isn't it a little, um, desolate?"
"Nah, look, do you see any plants?"
"No, that's what I mean, there's no sign of life."
"Of course not, this place is well tended. The Mortar is mainly blood and volcanic ash paste. If it wasn't regularly tended it would be sprounting weeds like Mr. Cinders farm on decorking day."
"So....if it's so well maintianed where are the custodians?"
"Oh," Interupted the Tacomancer "They're right behind us."
The other three froze and slowly turned around. There as predicted was a pair of minotaurs each with a sharkmouth lizardman on a leash. One of the minotaurs spoke with a voice so deep you could feel it in your chest. "How did you hear us? We had a silence spell active."
"I didn't, I just knew that after that comment, it was an ironically good time for you to make yourselves known." The guards blinked in confusion.
"Just pretend he said magic, it makes everything easier."
"Very well, now what will you pay us to beat you up?"
"Yes, if you don't pay us we'll beat you up and kill you. So...."
"Oh silence, you crop-horned fool." Interupted Belladonna. "We're not intruders, we're champions of Nocturnus, one and all, and I've been through here with my tribe enough times to recognize YOU Telgus, would it hurt so much to repay the favor?"
"Belladonna! Are you looking for another stone?"
"Of a sort, the triskadekalith is working, but this is a different mission. We'd like to travel to the south gate, the long way."
"Ah, excellent. I assume the usual fee then?"
"Actually, I was hoping that a gift of these herbs to your totem Menoetius would be sufficient"
Soon the four were led into a chamber. Lizardmen prowled constantly like fish swimming around rocks, but the Minotaurs were more statelly. Dispite their stoic nature, more than a few looked with curiosity at the ceremony.
A Minatour patricarch proceded into the open air chamber carying a vessel of a red liquid. Following him was a pair of young mintaurs carying an altar made from a table to which gilt tridents a lamp and a blackened statue. At belladonna's urging her companions left their weapons near the door.
"Carefull lad." Murmured Tarnish to Quivver. "It's not natural."
"The statue, no one can carve obsidian like that."
Quivver pondered the words as the ceremony continued. The Minotaur patriarch had annointed the horns of the totem with the red liquid and was now lighting the lamp. A gush of flame made heat waves in the air as the wizard approached with a rope of flowers.
"Oh great Menoetius, we bring you this offering in hopes that you will allow your servants to aid us in our journey. May we travel in your labrynth unmolested?"
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, or the way the heat made everything behind it dance. That was what Quivver told himself later that night. That was what made it appear as if the statue nodded.
After the Tacomacer reverently placed the garland around the base of the table, the lead mintoar stepped forward and capped the flame with a phrase that could only be a prayer of sorts, "And may it stop growing." repeated the
After a feast of Delicacies from a dozen siezed caravans, quivver was in a more friendly, inquisitive mood. Fortunatelly he found a young minotaur who was just as curious about the world outside as he was about the labrynth.
"So, won't the labrynth slow is down? I mean time is an issue here, even with out mage talking about a two week extension."
"Oh, no. Not the way you're travelling. You see, most caravans travel east-west. By travelling north-south you snubs can bypass most of the obstacles. Plus no one would dare attack you with a minotaur honor guard."
"I see. And, I've also wondered, why don't intruders just walk on the tops of walls instead of risking the traps and lizardmen?"
"Because of the crossbows and Ballista."
"Ah, And what was that about "May it stop growing."
His companion paused, and shuffled around a loose sandstone tile before continuing in a hushed tone "The Labrynth....it's growing."
"Yes. A thousand years ago, it only took 500 Minotaurs to maintain and patrol the labrynth. Now we have over 2000 plus we have to use reptrians for tracking and we still can't keep up. It's growing all right. You used to be able to run from one end to the other in a day if you knew the right path. Now caravans spend weeks travelling. If this keeps up we will not be able to control it much longer."
An awkward silence fell over them. Quivver suddenly felt just how large the labrynth really was. If there had been a roof he would have felt crushed.
"So far away. Um, how long will it take a horse to go from the north to the south end?"
"Oh, horses don't fit in the maintenence passages, I thought you knew. By taking the narrow north-south passages You'll be at the south end in no time. We'll take your horses here and give you fresh mounts at the south end. We do it for all of Nocturnus Messgengers."
"And walking the direct passage will be faster than riding the indirect passages?"
"No, but you won't be walking, you'll be travelling by Leper."
The Next day....
Links to following chapters
Edited by Jareth, 12 May 2012 - 02:06 AM.