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  1. And so, we continue the story of Merith and Kylee, retracing Dugal's steps... "The tongue of a bandit? Gross! This quest is getting weirder and weirder," exclaimed Kylee with a shiver. "Oh, please, Kylee," responded Merith with a smirk, "an experienced Cedrica girl like yourself shouldn't fazed by anything!" Kylee just smiled back at her. "Let's take a look at Dugal's journal, and see what this is all about," said Merith. Turning to the journal, she paged through it until she found the section where he had been captured by bandits. On the third day since my capture by the bandits, I managed to hide away a small chicken bone, which I used to pick the lock on my cuffs. However, I didn't take them off, as I didn't see any immediate way to escape the bandits' camp by Skoll Lake without attracting notice. Later that day, there was a tremendous shouting, and all the bandits went running this way and that, picking up their weapons. Clearly they were under attack. My guard shifted uneasily, and rightly so, as I thought this might be my opportunity. The bandit known as Wadal Sandshifter, who appeared to also be a shaman-mage of some sort, approached us. "Go help defend the camp!" he roared at my guard. "I'll take care of MacLean!" He began waving around some sort of amulet, and muttering in a strange language. It was clear that he was casting a spell on me. Well, I couldn't let that happen. Unfastening my unlocked cuffs, I grabbed his dagger out of his belt before he realized I was free. I then lunged forward, attempting to slash his throat and stop the spell. Sandshifter however had tilted his head downwards, rolled his eyes up, and stuck out his tongue for the last words of the spell. I don't know why, but I suppose it was part of the enchantment. The dagger struck his outstretched tongue and sliced it clean off. He screamed in pain, and ran off in a frenzy. Dugal vs Sandshifter, by nice.marmot, on Flickr Moments later, before I could start running away, a strange large man, not one of the bandits, came up to me, blood glistening from his sword. "Dugal MacLean?" he asked hurriedly, "We're from Everlast. Watts Gorgon is the name. Let's get you out of here!" Dugal meets Watts, by nice.marmot, on Flickr Well, I certainly was happy to see those guys. Watts and I ended up becoming great friends; he's a captain in the IAMS. Later he presented me with Sandshifter's tongue, which he had picked up that day, as a gruesome memento. "Dugal sure lived an adventurous life!" remarked Kylee. "I suppose we should check out the Skoll Lake campsite, and see if we can figure out where those bandits ended up. Although I'm still not sure how we would get one of their tongues!" After a short journey, Kylee and Merith arrived on the shores of Skoll Lake, a turquoise body of water in the Rakath Mtns that has the shape of a deaths-head. They easily found the old bandits' camp, but it had clearly been deserted for a long time. There weren't any clues to where the bandits had gone, until Merith noticed a white marble historical marker. Merith and Kylee at Skoll Lake, by nice.marmot, on Flickr She read it out loud: "Historical Site - In memory of the Razcari's Rakath Rascals, whose banditry achieved great heights and fame, until their untimely demise at this site at the hands of the dreaded IAMS - placed by the Kaliphlin Thieves Guild Hall of Fame, Messahmuk" "Hah!" snorted Kylee, "How's that for historical revisionism?" "I'm amazed they put up a historical marker so quickly," smiled Merith, "This guild must be on top of things. Perhaps we should pay them a visit, and see if they have any more information on these bandits." So our intrepid heroines traveled to Messahmuk, halfway across the Siccus, via the Lick of Salt river and canyons, and thence overland through the Dune Sea. A week later, they walked up to the imposing entrance to the Thieves Guild Hall of Fame on Lizzard Lane. It's quite grand, although effect was somewhat diminished by large banners in the plaza advertising auditions for a new amusement park just outside the city, WadiWorld. Thieves Guild Hall of Fame, Messahmuk, by nice.marmot, on Flickr "Think they're compensating for something?" giggled Kylee. "Now, now," said Merith, "Although they do seem eager to impress." "What's that motto over the doorway mean?" "It's in ancient Erduwan. It means 'Respectability at last!'" answered Merith. "Hah! The closest the thieves are going to get to respectability is when they rob some rich politician!" chortled Kylee. Merith chuckled, and then asked the nice young Serpentine receptionist how to find information on Razcari's Rascals. "Oh, pleassse go to the ressssearch library," he hissed. "Assssk for Sssylvessster. Down the hall, to your left, and up the sssstairsss. And watch your pursssse around him!" "The Thieves Guild has a research library?" asked Kylee wonderingly, but Merith hurried her down the hall. In the musty old research library, they quickly found the librarian Sylvester hunched over some old scrolls, intently reading. They introduced themselves, and asked about the bandits. In the Research Library, by nice.marmot, on Flickr "Oh yes! Razcari's Rakath Rascals!" exclaimed Sylvester excitedly, quickly pulling some scrolls off the shelves and perusing them as he talked. "One of our bigger success stories of the past few decades! A fascinating bunch, and they had tremendous success. Did quite well with a multi-pronged strategy: banditry, kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, and protection rackets. Pioneered the use of the threat-evacuate-pounce technique, the theory of which is only now being fully developed. We're also doing a statistical analysis of the impact of their extortion racket on the north Rakath caravan economy." "Um, yes, they were quite the crew, weren't they?" answered Merith, "But we're really more interested in what happened to them all." "Ah! A biographical sketch! I get it, sort of a where-are-they-now? Razcari's Rascals Revisited!" "Yes, kind of like that…" "Well, unfortunately, that will be a bit of a short work," the old researcher said gloomily, "They were mostly wiped out by Everlast's IAMS in the battle of Skoll Lake. Terrible to lose such a promising group so early in their careers. Razcari could have taken them all the way; he was brilliant. They shot to stardom, and then burned out just as quickly." "Oh, how awful!" said Merith, not very convincingly (but Sylvester didn't notice). "Aren't there any of them left at all?" "Only two survived the battle. One was Wadal Sandshifter, their mage. No one knows where he is now, but there are rumors that he's in Nocturnus, and is now mute. The other was Herbius van Slyck, Razcari's right-hand-man, and the one responsible for the kidnapping side of the business." "Where's Van Slyck?" asked Kylee quickly. "He's dead; killed recently by a disgruntled investor." responded Sylvester. The women's faces fell at this news. "But you can visit his remains at the Shrine of Noble Elocution here at the Hall of Fame. His specialty was as a con-man, and all great con-men's gifted tongues are enshrined there for safekeeping." Merith and Kylee had to suppress their glee at this. They asked the researcher for directions to the shrine, and thanked him for all his help. Arriving shortly thereafter at the Shrine, they were greeted by a strange man dressed in a bunny suit. Behind him were many rows of small drawers set into the wall, each presumably with a dead superstar con-man's preserved tongue. The Shrine of Noble Elocution, by nice.marmot, on Flickr "Welcome to the Shrine of Noble Elocution! I'm Yephet Tolmet, the guardian today. How can I help you?" said bunny-suiter enthusiastically. "Hello. You're the guardian?" asked Kylee incredulously. "Yup. The cat is on holiday for five weeks. Union rules. I'm just a temp." answered Yephet, in all seriousness. "OK…" said Merith, wondering why things like this always happened to her. "I see, the cat has the tongues…" Kylee, covering her face with her hands, suppressed a huge giggle. Merith wondered how they were going to get past the guardian. "We're here to pay our respects to Herbius van Slyck." "Great!" exclaimed Yephet, his ears perking up. "One of our newest inductees, but a fabulous con-man apparently! His tongue is in drawer 487, right over there. But of course, you're not allowed to open it." "Oh no, of course not. It's just a privilege to stand here and look at!" responded Merith winningly. After they stood dutifully admiring the closed drawer and trying to think of a plan for several minutes, Merith, dropping seamlessly into an imitation of Yephet's accent, said, "You're from Mophet, right? Wasn't your mother Nala Tolmet?" "Oh yes! We lived on Tarpit Lane! Are you from Mophet?" answered the surprised bunny-suiter. "No, I'm from Mazbit next door. I used to buy date tamales from your mother at the Oil Road Market, where my family sold hand-woven prayer rugs. I think I remember playing with you in the tarpits as a kid," Merith continued. Kylee watched wondrously as the two of them chatted away like old friends. Soon, Merith was scratching the bunny suit ears as she talked, and was practically cooing at him. The young Yephet was eating it up. Kylee sidled over to Merith, and surreptitiously slipped something into her hand. Looking down at it, Merith saw that it was an authentic gold-level Thieves Guild membership badge. "So were you at the amusement park auditions earlier today?" Merith asked, guessing the truth behind the bunny costume. "No," groaned Yephet. "I got all dressed to go, and then found out I had to work here today. It's awful; it's my life's dream to be the bunny at a theme park, not guard a bunch of desiccated tongues." "Oh that's terrible," said Merith sympathetically, while nonchalantly pinning the membership badge on her dress in a prominent location. "I was just over there auditioning for a princess role, and they mentioned they're desperately short of bunnies and marmots." Yephet's face brightened at this news, and then fell again. "You know what, Yephet, dear?" Merith continued soothingly, "Why don't you run over and audition really quickly? I'll watch the shrine for you. It'll only take a few minutes." "Really? You'd do that for me?" asked Yephet, gazing at the membership badge on her breast, and then back up to her eyes. "Oh yes, us ol' Mophet folks have got to take care of each other! It's the least I could do. My mum would whup me if she found out I didn't help out Nala Tolmet's son!" "Oh thank you so much! Thank you, thank you! This is a dream come true!" gushed Yephet, as he rushed off. The Tongue of a Bandit!, by nice.marmot, on Flickr "How did you ever think of that?" asked Kylee. "Well, you know, to get people to do what you want, you've just got to hold out the right, er, carrot!" answered Merith with a snicker. "Oh, jeez," groaned Kylee. Merith grinned. "Now let's get that tongue out of drawer 487, and get out of here before Mr Bunny gets back!" "OK," said Kylee, looking for the correct drawer. Continuing in a terrible imitation of a Mophet accent, she chuckled, "I declare, you're lil' Miss Mophet! Where did all that come from?" "I've always been good at imitating accents," answered Merith with a smile, "and I've been to Mophet once. It's a small town, and produces only oil, dates, and rugs, and all the women seem to be named Nala or Yasmin, so I just put together a few educated guesses… And what about you? Where did you get that membership badge?" "Oh well, I've got some skills of my own," said Kylee mysteriously, "and the research librarian won't miss it until later today." "Oh poor old Sylvester! We'll leave it right here on the desk for him." They opened the drawer, and took out the desiccated, grotesque tongue, wrapped in silk, and deposited it in Merith's bag. Then they hurried through the Hall of Fame, and walked quickly out, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. At the entrance portico, they were suddenly accosted by a ghost. The Ghost of Herbius van Slyck, by nice.marmot, on Flickr "Congratulations!" moaned the ghost, as the women tried to evade him and flee. "You have obtained my tongue; now I can speak to you!" "Your tongue?" asked Merith. "I am Herbius van Slyck, and that was a very worthy con." "What do you want of us?" demanded Kylee. "I come with a message from Dugal's ghost," the spirit answered, "For your next task, you must obtain the still-burning blue flame of an ice dragon's fiery breath!" Well, this ended up being a much longer build than I thought it would be. But I got carried away with the story, and really wanted to illustrate it well. I apologize for keeping Ska and Damaximus waiting for several weeks! I'm probably happiest with the mountain backdrop for the Skoll Lake shots. It really looks nice, even up close and in focus. Here's a wider angle shot of the Skoll Lake camp; you can see the shore and mountains more clearly. Skoll Lake shore, by nice.marmot, on Flickr
  2. Departure of the Southern Lions from Messahmuk's Western Gate [if you've read the next few paragraphs in the Kaliphlin thread, then skip ahead] Gex put down the letter from Dugal, and stared out the window of the guard captain's quarters in the Western Gatehouse in Messahmuk, pondering the ever-increasing difficulties of the war against Revolword and the higher and higher personal costs. Outside, there was the clatter of stonemasons' chisels and hammers, from the repairwork on the gatehouse, heavily damaged in an attack by earth elementals a week ago. Farther in the distance, rows of newly dug graves lined the ancient Western Shore Road. At least this gate is still standing, thought Gex randomly, the northern gate is still completely destroyed and impassable. "Is it authentic?" asked Butellius, the captain of the guard, whose men had received the missive from a white turbaned man on a camel from Queenscross. "Yes, quite so," sighed Gex. "I recognize Dugal's hand, and this is definitely his seal. The accompanying note, from Tyras, my factor in Queenscross, also attests that Dugal wrote and sealed it in his presence, and Tyras' word is unquestioned. Poor Dugal! I never suspected this of Petera!" "Then the situation in Queenscross is dire indeed. Dugal dead, and a larger enemy army than we feared approaching the city. If they take Queenscross, there's little to stop them before they reach the walls of Petraea." groaned Makenippa, the current secretary of the Council of Elders. Gex broke out of his solemn reverie, turned back to Makenippa, and his demeanor changed to one of action. "We need to send troops to Queenscross, immediately. I don't know where we'll find them, since we're sending the Southern Lions to help save Mypa Stedor. We can't let the enemy break through Queenscross, or worst-case, the Jackals' Teeth at the top of the Escarpment Pass. Otherwise they can ravage Mophet and the other oil towns on their way to Petraea. I'll send Growlfarghh the werewolf to the coordinates that Dugal requested; he's the best one for the job." "I'll call a Council meeting for tonight," said Makenippa. "We have no more troops to send. The Southern Lions are loading on the ships as we speak. The Silver Shields are half destroyed, and we need the remainder to protect Messahmuk, the valley, and the mines and armories at Erezhi. At all costs, we can't lose Erezhi, and we certainly can't let it fall into Revolword's hands." "I know," said Gex. "We'll have to think of something. Let's hope for some good news from Mypa Stedor..." [OK, picking up the story now...] Late that day, Gex composed a letter to Tyras Jazar, his factor in Queenscross: Tyras, I hope this letter finds you still alive and Queenscross still strong. I received your letter this morning, and it quite threw the Council of Elders into a panic. We did not expect that things would go so wrong up north so quickly. Dugal's untimely demise is a heavy blow. We had already committed most of the available troops, consisting largely of the Southern Lions, to help support Damaximus at Mpya Stedor. Makenippa was worried enough that we wouldn't be able to protect the city and the mines and armories at Erezhi. But our prayers have been answered! While the Council was (heatedly) discussing our limited options, a messenger burst in from the docks, quite out of breath. He was so excited he could barely get the message out -- one of the PGTC's ships had just arrived from Mpya Stedor with the news that the city walls had held, and Damaximus had won a great victory against Valsharess and the Hand! Apparently many are dead, and Valsharess captured! Well, you can imagine the relief at this news! Cheering, hurrahs, etc! Old Gerships Hamilcarzi even broke into his private stash of Siccus Ultra Reserve '37 and gave everyone a drink! I suppose miracles really do happen. The Southern Lions were immediately ordered to unload from their ships and redeploy northwards as soon as possible to support Queenscross. You can imagine the grumbling from the ranks. It took a few hours to unload, and then a few more to arrange a baggage train for an overland journey, plus we had to bring the cavalry too, which we wouldn't have needed at Mpya Stedor. It was late afternoon before they left the city, but they should make good time up to Queenscross as long as they don't run into any trouble. Count Darzag is leading the expedition; he's quite competent. It was quite a sight as they marched out of the Western Gate, resplendent in the late afternoon sun! I'm sure they will look even better to you all as they march down from the Escarpment towards your city! They had to use the Western Gate, as the Northern Gate is still quite destroyed from Revolword's elemental attack several weeks ago; it's totally impassable. The Western Gate sustained damage, but is still very usable. It's not fancy, but that most ancient of our city gates held up quite well. The troops have directions to get to Queenscross as soon as possible, and if the city has already fallen, to fall back to the Jackals' Teeth, and thence back to defend Petraea. Their secondary mission is to ensure that there are no ravaging bands of the Hand threatening Erezhi. Give Paulos any assistance you can; he's a good one, and he has Dugal's blessing. Please return this falcon with any news of Queenscross, as well as any intelligence of the enemy's troop movements. As I expect you will have a hard time of it soon, I am sending three ships with supplies to Barqa, and then up the river to you. You may dispose of the supplies as you see fit; this is not the time to worry about profit. If Queenscross falls, I believe I shall have to bring whatever remaining troops we can find and help defend Petraea, leaving the Muk Valley and Erezhi essentially undefended. Wyndifera sends her best, and says that you and Yasminafa must come down to our place in the Mystic Mountains if things get too bad in Queenscross. I know you won't leave, but perhaps you will send her on? Darzag can arrange transportation. I hope this is enough to help you all. Good luck to you all! Yours in Kaliphlin, Gex Departure of the Southern Lions I kept the design of the gatehouse and walls fairly simple and clean, trying to make it look like a more ancient and slightly decrepit structure, before ornamentation got popular, or perhaps built when the city didn't have enough money for fancy buildings. (Plus that makes it easier to build!) The structure is fully detachable -- the walls detach from the gatehouse, and the each floor of the gatehouse and the wall tower lift off so you can see the interior of each floor. Someday I'll try to get photos of the interiors; they're pretty basic right now. There is a slot through the middle for the portcullis, although, as you can see, the earth elemental ripped it out and left it against the gatehouse wall. Departure of the Southern Lions - leading the way Count Darzag leading the Southern Lions to help defend Queenscross and Petraea Departure of the Southern Lions - front oblique Departure of the Southern Lions - front left Departure of the Southern Lions - the workers These guys have a lot of work to do to fix the gatehouse and city walls! Get back to work, before another earth elemental shows up! Departure of the Southern Lions - left side This is not technically part of the 6th Challenge (too big), and not part of the Kaliphlin off-to-war mini challenge (again, too big). But the story is relevant to my challenge entry, so I suppose it's a freebuild prelude to the challenge. Enjoy; C&C welcomed.