The Stacked Deck Chapter 9

Copyright Ronald Soller © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"I am the future of Hrassk.  You would do well to reconsider your loyalties if you wish to continue to serve her"

Obsidian Legs of Hrassk: Part 1

Haf felt a small poke on his neck, which brought him to. He reached up to the injury and his hand ended up grabbing a stick, which a quick glance revealed was the tip of an obsidian spear. At the other end of the spear was a ragged human with wild filthy hair and wearing untanned animal skins. He pushed aside the spear and quickly rose to protect himself, only to find himself numb. He glimpsed around the campsite and saw at least twenty of these tribesmen and at least two figures wearing heavy dark cloaks. Panic set in as Haf slumped back to the ground. As the darkness began to claim him, he realized that he had been poisoned with that spear.

A scream split the night, bringing Haf out slightly from the dimness. He tried to open his eyes and lift his head, but found he could do neither. The screams continued. As Haf slipped back into oblivion he thought he heard the scream become a feral growl.

***

As he lifted his head, Haf noticed that the numbness was still there. He reached up his arm and his hand found a gate of cold hard metal. He opened his eyes and all there was, was darkness. He tried to speak, but no sound came forth. Haf leaned towards the bars and he slid down the wall until his head and shoulder were crumpled up against them. They felt cold on his skin.

She whispered to him, comforted him in his hour of darkness. Although he could not see her, sometimes it almost felt like she was rubbing his head or cheek. Haf just lay there and enjoyed her attentions.

"I must go, my sweet." She cooed in his ear, "They come to tend to you."

A jingling sound and a click brought Haf to a renewed level of consciousness. Within a few moments, a hand held Haf in place as the bars moved away. Arms grabbed him and pulled him across the floor before he was laid out flat.

"Just put his food on the floor and let's get to the others."

With a squeak and a clank, Haf was alone in his cell once more.

The numbness was turning into a tingle and his ability to move began to return. When he opened his eyes, there was a bit of light beyond the bars of his cell that allowed him to see his tiny prison. A cup of water and a plate with a haunch of meat and bread sat on the floor next to him. Set in the wall across from his head was a pair of manacles. After a bit Haf found the strength to pull himself into a sitting position. He could hear muffled voices and the sounds of other metal doors as his captors did the prisoner rounds. When they were finished, the light source started to disappear and within a few moments he was again immersed in blackness. He sat there silently a while until he noticed the smell of the food, and realized that he was very hungry. As he ate and drank his fill he found it odd that his captors seemed so generous; the meal was fresh and tasted good. Soon he had nothing more than an empty glass and bone filled plate. Haf again felt very sleepy and was dozing off within minutes.

She came to him again; whispered reassuring words and caressed his head. Everything was going to turn out fine for him. She promised to be with him always, and she could give him the strength to withstand his current captivity. Together there was nothing they couldn't do. All he had to do was love her, and support her. Then she showed herself to him. She had stunning green eyes and raven hair. Her long nails combed through his hair as she murmured in his ear. Haf had never felt like this before, and he was drunk with emotion. He reached for her, but she slid behind him; her arms wrapped around his neck and chest from behind, she kissed his neck. Haf felt a small prick and then she loosed her grasp. "Rest well, my love," She said. "I will return to you soon." Haf slowly slipped back into darkness with loving thoughts of his new companion, so he barely noticed the numbness return to his body.

Obsidian Legs of Hrassk: Part 2

When Paul awoke, he was completely unaware of where he was. The last he remembered was being cold and wet on the side of the mountain path.

Swallowed in complete darkness he resorted to his other senses, starting with his Presence spell. He felt five of them within range, but whom or what they were was completely unknown. Feeling around with his hands he determined he was in a cell that was maybe eight feet long and five feet wide. He found a pair of manacles on one wall and another side was metal bars but there was nothing else in the room.

It wasn't long before light started to show beyond the bars of Paul's cell. As it grew nearer he could see a small cabinet in the area outside his prison as well as a small table. Two men in black robes arrived with a lantern, a tray of food, and a bucket.

The first said "You get them fed, and I will get the rest."

The other just nodded and went to work organizing the meals.

Paul figured he was about in the middle of a wall of cells as he counted trips and listed to telltale sounds. Two meals were served before his, although three other cages were opened. When the man arrived at Paul's cell he was surprised to see him awake and active.

"Why are we here?" Paul asked.

"Folk from the Landin' aren't usually fool 'nuff to come out here," said the robed man.

He placed a plate of meat and bread on the floor near the bars and locked the door as he went to fill a mug of water.

The second black robe arrived with waste buckets and he set them out by the cell doors before he left the area again.

"Have you been to Kelfor's Landing before?" Paul asked when the other returned with water.

"I was once from there before I was enlightened by Hrassk." He set down the water and moved back out of the small room.

"What is your name?" Paul hoped he would answer, but the black robe remained silent as he used his foot to push the bucket past the bars and then locked the cell.

A second black robe appeared again, and Paul stood and went over to the bars.

He was looking for more answers. "How many of us are here?"

The second black robe approached "You will step away from the bars and you will be silent, or you will be paralyzed again, prisoner."

Not wanting to stir the pot at the moment Paul went and sat back down to eat the food provided. It was a good meal, too good for prison standards.

He was finished eating about the same time the black robes were finishing up. They grabbed the lantern off the table and departed, leaving the cells pitch black once again.

Paul quietly uttered, "Can anyone hear me?"

Nothing.

"Is anyone else awake?"

Silence.

After a while of sitting in complete darkness, Paul's attention started to wane. Having grown tired, he curled up in the far corner of the cell and went to sleep.

Paul woke with a start when he heard mewling sounds and the rattling of metal. Frynia had awoken and was not taking the lockup idea too well.

"Frynia!"

Paul heard from the cell to his left.

"Frynia, calm down. It will be okay. Calm down!"

It was Yau's voice.

She was not even listening and started to get louder.

Paul went over to the bars of his cell and tried to reach around the bars to get her attention.

"Frynia, we are all here. Calm down so we can figure out how to get out of this."

He could not reach her.

A faint light appeared and very quickly grew brighter. Three black robes arrived; one of them wore an ornate necklace and a gilded sash on his robe. He carried an obsidian spear and without uttering a word of warning, reached it through the bars and jabbed the irate Idivya. Within seconds Frynia's cell was quiet once more.

The higher-ranking black robe walked up the whole length of the cells, looking in on all the captives and then the three of them left.

As soon as the darkness returned Yau asked, "What did they do to her?"

"They poked her with that spear." Paul replied.

He kicked in his presence spell again, and Frynia still registered.

Oddly, only four of them registered this time; one on his right and two on his left.

A strained cracked voice piped up from the far left. "Spider venom. Hrassk's followers coat the tips of their spears with it to subdue their prey."

Yau barely recognized the voice. "Haf, is that you?"

"Yes." He answered.

So that identified the presences Paul felt.

Then it suddenly dawned on him, "Then where is Parri?"

Obsidian Legs of Hrassk: Part 3

Parri awoke to find herself lying naked in a cold wet pile of leaves. She sat up and looked around her surroundings. She was underneath a small outcropped ledge at the top of a copse of trees. She stood up and as she went to brush off the leaves that were stuck to her hands and body, she noticed the blood and gore that was caked on her hands and forearms. Parri shuddered at the thought of what she had done. Her memory was blank as to exactly what happened, but she knew that she had changed form and as the wolf, had killed.

The druid made her way down the mountain side until she came across a cold fresh mountain stream; there she washed off and pieced together a kind of skirt with vines and old tree bark. A bunch of vines tied in loops around her neck covered her breasts as well and she headed towards the camp.

The closer she got, the more she dreaded what she would find. What if she had changed in the night and killed her friends? She would never be able to live with that on her conscience. If she only had a little more time to practice her control over the change, she would be much less dangerous to her friends. Higher ranked druids learn the skills of changing shape, and that should help her keep the lycanthropy subdued.

She could smell blood in the air and new she was close to the camp. Then Parri saw the twisted corpse half buried in the leaves just outside of the clearing. It was a man covered in untanned furs with wild hair and a broken spear still gripped in his hand. She rolled him over which revealed that the side of his face had been nearly removed by the swipe of a claw. His other hand gripped her ragged shirt. With a grunt of disgust she turned away from the body and approached the clearing.

There was nothing left in the camp; all the supplies and even the mules were gone. The only evidence that they were ever there was the cold dead campfire and a couple of blood soaked areas in the grass. She bent down and picked up her Druid Staff lying just in the grass from where she had bedded down. Parri used her heightened senses to investigate further, and she found some bloodied strips of black cloth in the grass. A few shoe marks from a mule could be seen near the gruesome spot and the grass was spotted red. The druid continued to search around the clearing but little else could be determined. Tracks from the mules led back out to the path that continued around the rocky canyon. She was convinced that her victims consisted of raiders, probably from the Temple of Hrassk, and with a sigh of relief she headed up the trail in search of her friends.

***

She lay on her stomach on a rock ledge above the clearing; below her in a clearing forested with pines was a huge obsidian spider surrounded by a few dozen thatched huts. Over a dozen humanoids dressed in un-tanned skins could be seen going about daily activities. The Spider Temple was made of black basalt and polished into a mirror finish, with the giant center dome as tall as most of the pines surrounding the clearing. There were eight legs attached that were easily three times her height. There was a second smaller dome that had wooden doors where a mouth should have been flanked by fang-like pillars. Eight gemstones glistened in the light; they were set four across in two rows where one might expect eyes to be.

Parri remained on that rock watching the Hrasskians until the sun was dipping below the mountain peaks. The followers in skins never entered the spider temple once, but she saw black robed men going in and out of the temple mouth; at least one of them was bejeweled as the metal glinted in the sun as he walked across the grounds. The last rays of sunlight cleared the valley and nearly all the people had gone into the huts for the night. Parri realized she was very thirsty and hungry and with a last glance at the now quiet Hrassk village she headed down the rocks to find some food.

Obsidian Legs of Hrassk: Part 4

She bade him awake after another night together in his dreams. Haf opened his eyes just in time to see the glow of lantern light come down the basalt hallway towards the cells. The same black robe arrived with the lantern and meals, just like she said he would. He went through his normal routine of dispensing food and water to the cells and bringing in fresh waste pails.

Haf looked up and saw the oversized arachnid in the shadows above his cell. He whispered the arcane words that she taught him, and wiggled his fingers in the correct gesture. The spider didn't move, but Haf now had a mental connection to his mistress' pet.

The black robe came and opened his cell, and Haf just watched as the spider slowly made its way above the unsuspecting jailor. The jailor set down the meal, retrieved the waste pail and went to exit the cell.

"Excuse me good sir." Haf intoned. The black robe paused, then turned to face him. "Might I have a word with you?" he finished.

"I ain't suppos' to be talkin' to you." The black robe replied.

Haf couldn't see inside of the robe's cowl, and was a bit dismayed that he couldn't see the adept's face as the large spider settled on the man's shoulder; its fangs pressed up against the clothed neck of black robe.

The adept knew better than to move even a little. "What is the meaning of this?"

"It is just a little display to show you that what I have to say is true. "

Haf got up and approached the black robe, bent close and whispered in his ear. "I am the future of Hrassk. You would do well to reconsider your loyalties if you wish to continue to serve her."

Haf sat back down in his original position in the cell. "I am going to ask you a few questions and as long as you cooperate you will not be harmed." He put out his hand, open palmed, and the spider retracted its fangs.

A voice brought Paul out of a deep sleep, and as he woke his focus on what was being said improved.

"What is your name?" Haf asked.

"My name was once Mikel." He responded.

Paul recognized the voice of Mikel and he spoke before he even lifted his head. "Do you have any family in Kelfor's Landing?" After a moment Haf nodded to Mikel to answer the question.

"I have a sister, who works in one o' the taverns." was Mikel's reply.

"Millie." Paul blurted out before he could think better of it.

Haf got the questioning back on track. "Do you have access to our equipment, Mikel?"

A moment of silence passed and Paul strained to hear the answer.

"Yes."

"I have something I want you to do for me." Haf said. He willed the spider to return to its place near the ceiling as he rose and moved toward the black robe. "Tonight, when you return to feed us next, Mikel." Haf placed his hand upon Mikel's shoulder.

"Yes, chosen one." was the reply. "What do you bid me do?"