Chapter 02

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                             -- 7/12/6526 --

     Aristobulus the Dark awoke with a throbbing pain in his leg.  It
burned in his mind and disrupted his thoughts.  Try though he might, he
could not ignore it.  So finally he decided to surrender to the pain and
embrace it.  He focused his mind on the fiery wound in his leg and the
wave of pain that washed across his body with each pulse of his life beat.
     Soon he was lost to the pain, aware of nothing around him, neither
awake nor unconscious, trapped in some red-tinged dreamscape somewhere
betwixt the two.

                             -- 7/14/6526 --

     Aristo shook his head as he returned to full consciousness.  Though
he knew where he was, he had no idea of how long he had been here.
Fascinating.  He had not formerly considered that down in the lightless
expanses of this subterranean realm, without exposure to the ordinary
diurnal cycles of the world above, his sense of time would easily be lost.
Hmm, this promised to be even more enjoyable than he had previously hoped
     The pain from his leg had lessened while he had slept, however long
that had been.  With great care, he replaced his bandage.  He found the
wound to be healing nicely -- no doubt thanks to the healing salves -- and
it looked as though it might not be quite so bad as first he had thought.
Yet still did he not care to gaze upon ensanguined wounds in his own body.
A minor masochist he might be, but this was far past ridiculous.
Fortunately the wound was healing quite well.  The salves had certainly
taken care of the countless infections which had no doubt been carried on
the filthy orcish sword.
     He dug his spellbook from his pack, along with a small candle.
Shielding the candle as best he could so that there would be little chance
of its light reaching other eyes, Aristobulus lit the candle with a minor
incantation.  He quickly set about skimming the simple spells in his tome
to make certain that his memory of them was correct.  He did so hate to
miscast a spell, especially when he could not afford to.  He also
reestablished the protective spell which kept him from physical harm,
double-checking his knowledge of the spell against the copy in his
spellbook so that the spell was certain to be accurately formed.  After
all, it was ever so jolly watching someone hit him, only to have the
weapon bounce off with no effect.  They would have the most wonderful,
confused expression in their faces as they realized something was not
quite right.
     That finished, be blew out the candle and set about polishing off
some of his food rations to appease the gnawing emptiness in his stomach.
Recovering from severe wounds always made him hungry -- it something with
which he had had a great deal of experience.  He always had been accident
prone, and of course that he had many enemies who always were plotting
against him made it only worse.
     Though he so very seldom got a glimpse of these mysterious
antagonists, he knew that always were they there, planning his pains,
architects of every ill that ever befell him.  They were there.  He knew
it.  He could feel it.  No one else might believe him, but then that did
not matter: they too were part of the grand conspiracy which sought his
     In these caverns and corridors, they might never be able to find him.
Then again, that did not matter, since down here he would assuredly find
new enemies -- or to say it better, they would seek him out -- more
creatures out to take his life...  No.  No, they would never be so
generous.  Far more likely was it that they would make his life even
worse.  A seemingly impossible task, granted, considering how miserable it
had already been, but they were there anyway, trying their best to add to
the list of ills he had suffered.
     However, he had made his decision.  He would now either die or become
powerful enough to foil the plots of all those arrayed against him.  He
squeezed the hilt of his sword.  Nothing but Death could stop him now, and
even a final encounter with that spectral bone-miser would be an
improvement.  Dead, his enemies would be unable to torment him further.
     His sword came from its sheath with a comforting, steely sigh.
Perhaps it would be best to simply end it now.  One quick thrust.  That
would certainly foil the plans of his enemies, both those already
against him and those yet to come.  But then, he would never have the
opportunity to search out the ancient wisdoms said to be hidden herein.
How depressing.  He gave up his speculative contemplation of his silvered
blade.  He would not perform this glorious ritual just yet.  Aristobulus
would seek out those hidden secrets first, if they did truthfully exist.
     Thus he would find those secrets or die trying.  Either way would he
defy his tormentors in this chamber of tortures that is called life.
     He settled back against a crate and relaxed.  He need now only wait
for his leg to heal sufficiently for him to get on with his quest.

                             -- 7/17/6526 --

     Aristobulus walked carefully back and forth in the cramped storage
room.  His leg was still stiff and sore, but at least he could move around
on it.  Consequently, he was now able to resume his investigations of this
realm of darkness.  He would still need the spear to lean on.  However, he
could travel again, and that is what mattered to him.
     True, it would be wiser to rest here longer, but he was bored.
Already he had prized open all of the crates and examined their contents
several times.  There were some food stuffs which had long ago rotted
or dried out -- hard and inedible, even for an orc -- and plenty of cloth
and clothing: nothing of any great fascination to him.  He had decided to
hold onto some of the clothing in case it might come in useful later on,
and he had tied some cloth onto the base of the spear so that it would not
make any noise.
     If there was one thing he detested, it was sound, loud sounds,
discordant sounds, even whispers and faint rustlings.  He preferred
silence, calm and unbroken.  Especially did he hate even the slightest of
sounds which might break any silence.  He had long ago become adept at
moving silently, and he never spoke unless there was great cause.  Silence
was a form of beauty unto itself.  And this small storage room was perhaps
the quietist place he could ever remember being in.
     But now he was bored.  Being alone with his thoughts was often very
enjoyable to him, but right now he was bored.  He was in this fascinating
place, and he wanted nothing more than to see and explore it.  Nothing
could he find to put off that wanderlust any longer.  He had even
carefully repacked everything into the crates after his detailed
examination of those supplies.  He hated being a meticulous perfectionist.
That is why he enjoyed chaos.  It cloaked his natural tendency to put
everything in a perfectly logical order.
     There was nothing left to do but proceed with his explorations.
     He returned to the bend in the passage with the secret door.
Glancing at the wall where the secret door was located, he considered
trying to open it from this side -- simply for the fun of figuring out how
to do so.  He resolved, however, against doing that.  To do so would take
all of the enjoyment out of the attempt should he ever come back this way
and be in a hurry to open the secret door.
     Aristo proceeded to make his way down the other passage.  It was
rather plain, partially carved from solid rock, though most of it was made
from mortared stone blocks.  Ari idly wondered what was on the other side
of the stone blocks.  But, alas, he had no means of finding out the answer
to that question.
     Some distance down the passage, he reached a place where a second
passageway branched off to his right.  Well, where does this interesting
little side-passage lead to?
     It split into a Y-shaped fork.  Aristobulus could see that either
branch ended after twenty feet or thereabouts.  He could make out a small
point of light from the one to his right, so he headed down that one.
     The light was from a peephole set in a door, which, from the looks of
it, was designed to be unnoticed from the other side.  A glance through
the peephole revealed a dormitory with about ten goblins.  Nothing of much
interest.  Most of the short humanoids were asleep, although a few were
playing knucklebones.  Ari frowned.  He could have brought some dice to
toss about to idle away his boring moments.  An eyebrow shot up at an
intriguing thought: he could use the dice to make purely random decisions.
Now there was an idea.  But then again, he was never any good at games of
chance.  Like life, he always lost.
     Aristo went back to check out the other branch of the Y-fork.  It
ended at a door just like the other, except that through the peephole he
saw a darkened room.  Aristo could make out the shapes of some chairs and
sofas.  It appeared to have once been a lounge, but now it was being used
as a bedchamber -- specifically, the pair of humans sprawled on the two
sofas were using it for a bedchamber.
     Now, this might become interesting.  Aristobulus hated humans.  Of
course, he hated all races in general.  He saw no need to be specific in
his hatred.  One race was as bad as the next.  It was only a matter of who
displayed their malicious side openly, and who claimed to not have a
malicious side.
     He cautiously laid the spear against the wall and lowered his pack to
the floor, examining the concealed panel's locking mechanism.  It was
dusty and showed no signs of having been used any time recently.  Yet it
was still in good order and should not make any noise when opened.  It
would not be a good secret panel if it were otherwise, now would it?  He
opened the door.  There was just the slightest trace of sound in the
     Stepping though the doorway, his eyes bulged slightly as he was hit
by the thick, offensive odor of ale and whisky.  He leaned against the
reclosed panel for a moment.  He did so hate the smell and taste of
alcohol and the way it dulled the senses.  These two humans had definitely
been drinking heavily.  They were probably so drunk that it would be next
to impossible for him to accidentally awaken them.  But he was not going
to take that chance.  He was quite aware of what sort of luck it was that
followed him about.
     He examined the two humans in the dark.  They were little better than
orcs in cleanliness.  They were clearly warrior-types, as shown by the
weapons they had close at hand, even when stinking-drunk.  So it was a
safe assumption that they were experienced combatants.  He wondered as to
how good they were.  Now, however, was not the time to explore that line
of thought.
     Noticing the pouches at their belts, he was curious as to what was in
them.  He untied the pouch from the belt of the closer drunken wretch.  He
carefully felt the pouch.  From the clink of metal and the weight of the
pouch, it must only have coins in it, presumably gold ones.  He removed
the pouch from the other human, who did not stir either as he was
alleviated from his unfelt burden.
     This pouch also contained coins, and something else as well.  Aristo
tugged the pouch open and looked inside.  From the outlines, he could make
out some coins and a few slips of paper.  One eyebrow rose inquisitively.
He wondered what was written upon them, but his infravision was no good
for reading.  That would have to wait until another time.  He slipped both
pouches into one hanging from his own belt.  What use did they have for
     Aristo's brow grew heavy.  These two could be part of the conspiracy
against him.  Perhaps he should kill them so that they would not have the
opportunity to do the same to him, if not something worse than death.
Then again, everything was worse than death.
     Then he noticed that there was a faint line of light under the two
other doors into this room.  Curiosity drove any thoughts of assassination
to fade from his consciousness.  Aristo moved silently to the door where
he listened for any noises from the other side, yet heard nothing.
     Curiously, he lifted the latch on the door.  He paused but a moment
when there was a slight click from the latch.  However, he merely shrugged
it off inconsequentially and pushed the door open fractionally.  A line of
light seeped through the exposed crack.  When his eyes adjusted to the
light, Aristo found himself gazing into an office approximately the same
size as the lounge.
     Several aged tapestries draped the walls of the office.  There was
a large bed in the far corner and a couple of bookshelves leaning against
the back wall.  In front of the bookcases there was a desk, behind which
was seated another human with his back to the door.  Unarguably a warrior
as exhibited by the ringmail armor he wore, the human was examining
something by the light of the brazier.
     Ari fingered the blackjack hanging from his belt, deciding that he
was curious as to what the human was so intently looking over.  He slipped
through the door, closing it behind him since there was no need to disturb
the repose of the two drunken humans.  Although Ari was certain that he
was not making the least whisper of a sound as he started across the room,
the human, without turning to face him, asked aloud, "And who might you
     Aristo froze.  The chap was rather calm about this, as though he
frequently had people sneak up on him.  Well, didn't everybody?  "I hardly
think that is of importance."
     "Oh, but it is.  I like to at least know the names of those I slay."
     "An interesting practice.  Then perhaps you had best tell me your
name, human."
     The warrior let out a low laugh, turning to face Aristobulus.  "I
could almost get to like you, elf.  Grey elf, no?"
     Aristo gave a slight, jaunty nod of his head to indicate that the
warrior was correct.
     "I'm curious, elf, did you kill my guards, or simply sneak past
     "Kill them?" echoed Ari, displaying mock insult.  "I try not to kill
anyone who is asleep.  That takes too much fun out of it, and there is
certainly no challenge to it.  But then, you would know a great deal about
that, wouldn't you?"
     The human sneered at him.  "Typical elf.  Always speaking in riddles.
I'm not certain if that is an insult or not.  So I shall assume it is."
     "As you wish, human."  Aristo cocked his head inquisitively.  "You
have still not told me your name."
     "You begin to bore me, elf.  Since you seem to have snuck past my
guards, incompetent though they may be, I would guess that you have some
skill as a thief?"
     "Do I?  I hadn't realized."
     "If that didn't make you such a threat to me, I might offer you a
chance to join my band.  But then, you are also an elf.  I've never
trusted elves.  Too unpredictable."
     "That is one of the many reasons why I hate them as well."
     The warrior looked surprised.  "You trust not even your own kind?"
     "Especially not my own kind, human.  Nor any other."
     A grin crossed the warrior's face.  "I could almost like you, elf."
The grin faded.  "But you strike me as being too much of a threat.  It
would be better if you were dead."
     With that, there was a click and the whistle of an arrow shooting
though the air.
     The bolt of a crossbow struck Aristobulus in the side of his head,
only deflected an inch from his ear by the wards that protected him.  He
was almost as surprised by this weird display as was the warrior, although
for somewhat different reasons: Aristo had not suspected there to be an
archer on the other side of the room.
     Turning to search for the archer, Ari saw a woman clad only in a
nightdress step from concealment behind a tapestry next to the bed.  She
tossed the crossbow onto the bed and reached for a sheathed sword hanging
from a bedpost.  Instantly, a dagger appeared in Aristo's hand.  There was
no need to let her spoil his games with the warrior.  Ari sent it spinning
through the air to bury itself in the woman's neck.  She fell to the
floor, hidden behind the bed.
     Witnessing this, the warrior snarled in rage, unsheathing his
longsword as he vaulted the desk.  Aristo sent another dagger spinning
through the air.  This one stuck in the warrior's shoulder, serving to
only increase his bloodthirst for Aristobulus.  His first sword-swing
rebounded off Ari's protective magic.  Aristobulus quickly drew sword and
dagger and returned the assault.  Though his leg still inhibited him from
his best form, Aristo's sword bit into the warrior's arm.  Aristo evaded
the next blow and struck the human in the arm again, leaving it dangling
useless from the warrior's shoulder.
     This only strengthened the resolve of the human, who struck again at
Aristobulus.  The sword blow shattered the protective spell and sliced
into the elf's left arm.  Ari gasped in pain, falling back.  As the
warrior pressed his attack, Aristo lunged forwards and trust his blade
through the warrior's midriff.
     The human convulsed, dropping his sword.  His eyes locked with Ari's.
An epitaph in a language Aristobulus did not recognize escaped from the
warrior's lips.
     Aristobulus commented, "Give my regrets to Charon, but..."
     He was cut off as the door slammed open and the two guards from the
other room stumbled in, holding their weapons in drunken grips.  Ari
pulled his blade from the body of the dying warrior.  The first guard
swung at Aristo, landing a slight wound to the elf's shoulder.  Aristo
vented an enraged snarl of his own at having his message interrupted, so
he smashed his blade into the side of the guard's head, knocking the human
into one wall where the human slid to the floor, blood spurting from a
severed vein in his temple to add a brilliant swash of color to the faded
     The effort of slaying the human overstrained Ari's bag leg, causing
it to buckle under the overexertion.  Ari dropped to one knee an instant
before the second guard's mace passed over his head.  Beneath the guard's
defense, Aristo thrust his sword into the guard's stomach.  The human
dropped to the floor, curling up and clutching at the wound.  With an
abdominal wound such as that, he would suffer a slow and excruciating
     As Aristo pulled his weapon free, he saw other humans charging into
the guards' room.  The other door in that room must have led to a barracks
full of them.  Aristo closed his eyes for a second, gathering his
strength, then he glared at the first human already through the door.
Aristobulus cast his spell of induced sleep, sending the human reeling to
the floor, unconscious.
     Ari managed to lever himself to his feet and stagger to the doorway,
ready to defend himself against any humans who remained standing.  But
there were none.  He made his way to the other door of the guards' room.
Beyond that portal was a fair-sized common-room.  All told, he counted an
even dozen humans who had fallen under his enchantment.
     He staggered back into the office and recovered his daggers.  It was
a slight shame about the woman.  For a human, she was almost attractive.
Aristobulus had a weakness for beautiful women.  Though it had been his
experience that those with the most attractive bodies had the least
attractive minds.  Or none whatsoever.
     Once his blades were cleaned and resheathed, he noticed the scroll
which the chief warrior had been examining so intently.  Looking over the
scroll, it appeared to be a map of some passageways.  It must go to a
section of this dungeon.  With this Aristo would have a good idea of the
general layout of this area.
     Aristo dropped the scroll into the brazier and watched the parchment
burst into flames.  A map would spoil too much of the pleasure of
     Casting an eye over the sleeping humans, the thought of cutting their
throats did cross his mind, but a more mischievous thought replaced it.
He wondered how they would react when they awoke.  The spell would last
for a few more minutes.  He started for the secret panel, pausing only to
glance over the sleeping forms.  Yet in so doing, he noticed several
drinking pitchers on a table in the common-room.  He did not know what
they contained, but he did know his own waterskin to be nearly empty.  He
found one pitcher with water in it to refill his waterskin.  He also
appropriated another waterskin.  It could only add to the fun of watching
them as they awoke, assuming they were observant enough to notice.
     He exited via the secret panel, making certain to secure it tightly
behind himself.  Ari set about binding his wounds.  These wounds were
really starting to irritate him.  He would have to stop letting people hit
him in battle from now on.  He sniffed at that thought.  Like he had any
real choice in the matter.  Whenever he did anything fun, there were
always downfalls to that enjoyment, such as wounds received while
improving people's lives by ending them.
     Soon the sounds of confusion began to emanate from the other side of
the panel.  Aristo put his eye to the peephole.  A couple of humans had
already woken and were beginning to rouse those still sleeping.  They were
soon all awake, running around trying to determine what had happened.
Aristo grinned.  They looked like ants who have just had their hill trod
     Even though he could not see into the office area, it was obvious
from the voices reaching his ears that although some were disheartened to
find their leader -- his name must have been Alta'karoll -- dead, others
were happy to see him gone.  A heated struggle for leadership quickly
ensued while at least three separate humans claimed the right to succeed
Alta'karoll as leader, although one swiftly backed down when no one sided
with him.
     The voices of a man and a woman raging at each other over who was
more fit to rule rapidly was replaced by the clash of weapons.  Aristo
scowled.  He would have liked to witness that fight.  When the short
battle ended, only the female remained to claim leadership.  For a short
time, it sounded as though they were attempting to question the still-
dying guard.  Then the remains of the dead were carried out through the
common-room.  Aside from those slain by Aristo, there were at least two
other bodies removed from Alta'karoll's office.
     The new leader, one Mareillar, soon ordered several of the remaining
humans into a search of the nearby corridors to see if they could find any
trace of the elf who was responsible for this.  Once the search parties
had departed, quiet descended on the humans' rooms.  All that Ari could
now tell from his concealed resting place was that Mareillar was
presumably searching through the office to discover what precious items
she had -- as the new leader -- inherited from Alta'karoll.
     Tired from his exertions, Aristo returned to his storage room for a
few more days of boring rest.  It looked as though this time he would have
to wait until his wounds were more fully healed.  He did not enjoy having
his leg give out when he was in the middle of a fight, notwithstanding the
fact that on this occasion it had prevented him from being brained by a

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