ENLIGHTENMENT
PART FOUR

By Fritz Baugh

Previously
Once upon a time in Romania, two teams met while investigating the same vampire lord. One team was the world-famous Ghostbusters--Dr. Ray Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, and Dr. Peter Venkman. The other team was the far-less-famous (by design) "Inquisitors" --Liz Hawthorne (the wizard Lady Enlightenment), Father Diego Portenza, Barney Lupin (the werewolf Nightclaw), and Lilly Peacecraft.

Boy (Ray) met Girl (Liz) and some sparks started to fly.

A few weeks later, the Ghostbusters and the Inquisitors met again, along with the Prince of Warlocks Phineus Eventide, his familiar Tarantula, and the Archmage of the Winds, Zandrik Fallagar. Together, they defeated the Zodiac Lords, with the help of Eventide's noble sacrifice; he asked Fallagar to look after his cat.

More sparks also flew between Ray and Liz.

But after that victory Ray went back to New York with his fellow Ghostbusters, while Liz was sent on a new assignment by her bosses, the leadership of House Guernicus of the Order of Hermes.

Neither was far from the other's thoughts, but it's three years later. Both are shocked at how much has changed.

Liz finds out that the Ghostbusters have broken up; Ray is at Stanford, Venkman is a Hollywood agent, Winston is flying a commuter airline in Montana, Janine is in an unhappy marriage with a man she doesn't love, and Egon is holding a lonely vigil at the former Ghostbusters Central.

Ray finds out that Liz has spent the last three years at the shard realm inhabited by Archmage Fallagar, trying to discover his secrets. She's come back seeking the help of the Ghostbusters against the army of undead camped outside Dragonsfall covenant.

There are no Ghostbuster anymore, but Barney Lupin and Lilly Peacecraft have just shown up on Ray's doorstep. Lilly's clairvoyance led them there; Ray and Liz could do a lot worse than to have a werewolf on their side!

Magvillus, in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
May 26, 1982
Words of Latin reverberated through the chamber. "[The special tribunal of initiation recognizes Lady Persuasion]"

Lady Persuasion stepped forward. Two Quaesitors presided over the small ceremony--one to officiate, the second as a representative of House Guernicus, as over a thousand years of tradition dictated.

"[I am Lady Persuasion, Filia of Romana, Follower of Guernicus, Maga and Quaesitor of the Order of Hermes.]" Persuasion nodded, and motioned with her hand. "[I wish to present my apprentice.]"

Elizabeth Lucille "Liz" Hawthorne, age twenty-one, gulped nervously. This is it She had, after much rumination, settled on an outfit for the occasion; a dark blue cloak covered a loose burgundy dress that went down to below her knees. She wore short boots that matched the dress color, while her tights matched the cloak, as did the pack slung over her right shoulder and hanging at her left hip. Liz would never consider herself a clothes horse, but she hoped the ensemble looked serious and "wizardly" enough. Even though I keep getting this nagging feeling it's missing something...

"[The special tribunal of initiation recognizes the apprentice of Lady Persuasion.]"

"[Her vulgar name is Elizabeth Lucille Hawthorne. She entered the world on the twenty-second day of Aquarius in the two thousand and ninety-ninth year of the Age of Pisces. She graduated Rein•Hagen Academy in the top ten percent of her class in the two thousand, one hundred, and eighteenth year of the Age of Pisces, at which time I took her as my apprentice.]"

Lady Persuasion--the woman Liz usually addressed as "Aunt Tegan"--continued. "[I have given her instruction in the history and lore of the Order of Hermes. I have opened her Arts, and testify that she can manipulate all ten Forms and all five Techniques, including performing Certamen. She has taken and passed the Apprentice Gauntlet as mandated by the Code, and the standards of House Guernicus. She is ready to swear the Code of Hermes, and become a maga and Quaesitor of the Order in her own right. I petition for her initiation into the Order of Hermes.]"

"[Lady Persuasion, the special tribunal accepts your petition.]" the presiding Quaesitor noted. "[Does the witness from House Guernicus have any objection?]"

"[None, Sir.]"

"[And what is this new maga to be called?]"

Liz wondered that herself. The peripheral code dictated that the instructor had the final say on the initiate's Hermetic name, though in the centuries since the Order was founded it had become very rare for the magus-to-be to have not chosen their Hermetic name themselves.

Liz was an exception. She had tried out several ideas, but none of them seemed right. Aunt Tegan, for her part, had enigmatically said more than once "I already know what your name shall be. It has been chosen for you, and chosen by you. If you do not realize it before then, you will find out during the ceremony of initiation."

Aunt Tegan nodded, just the slightest hint of a smile on her face. "[Lady Enlightenment, Filia of Lady Persuasion, Follower of Guernicus]"

Liz felt like blinders had been taken from her eyes.

Her mother's words, when she was five "And your middle name, Lucille--it comes from the Latin word for 'light' "

And her own words, three years ago.

"Teach me, Aunt T...teach me, Lady Persuasion." Liz said, bowing. "You want me to learn magic. I want to learn magic."

"And why is that, Apprentice?"

"Because I seek that which I've always sought." She looked up at her cousin, no fear showing in her eyes.

"And what is that, Elizabeth?"

"Enlightenment."

"[So noted.]" the presiding Quaesitor said. "[Lady Enlightenment, do you swear to uphold the Code of Hermes?]"

Liz stepped forward, now in front of Aunt Tegan. She cleared her throat, and began to recite the ancient oath.

"[I, Lady Enlightenment, hereby swear my everlasting loyalty to the Order of Hermes and its members.]"

"[I will not deprive nor attempt to deprive any member of the Order of his magical power. I will not slay nor attempt to slay any member of the Order, except in justly executed and formally declared Wizards’ War. I hereby understand that Wizards’ War is an open conflict between two magi who may slay each other without breaking this oath, and that should I be slain in a Wizards’ War, no retribution shall fall on he who slays me.]"

"[I will abide by the decisions made by fair vote at tribunal. I will have one vote at tribunal, and I will use it prudently. I will respect as equal the votes of all others at tribunal.]"

"[I will not endanger the Order through my actions. Nor will I interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin on my sodales. I will not deal with devils, lest I imperil my soul and the souls of my sodales as well. I will not molest the faeries, lest their vengeance catch my sodales also.]"

"[I will not use magic to scry upon members of the Order of Hermes, nor shall I use it to peer into their affairs.]"

"[I will train apprentices who will swear to this Code, and should any of them turn against the Order and my sodales, I shall be the first to strike them down and bring them to justice. No apprentice of mine shall be called a magus until he first swears to uphold this Code.]"

"[I concede to Bonisagus the right to take my apprentice if he should find my apprentice valuable to him in his studies.]"

"[I request that should I break this oath, I be cast out of the Order. If I am cast out the Order, I ask my sodales to find me and slay me, that my life not continue in degradation and infamy.]"

"[The enemies of the Order are my enemies. The friends of the Order are my friends. The allies of the Order are my allies. Let us work together as one and grow hale and strong.]"

"[This oath I hereby swear on the fifth day of Gemini, in the two thousand, one hundredth, and twenty-first year of Pisces. Woe to they who try to tempt me to break this oath, and woe to me if I succumb to the temptation.]"

The presiding Quaesitor made a slightly appreciative noise. "[I, Octavian, filius of Tiberius, Quaesitor in good standing, hereby recognize Lady Enlightenment, Filia of Lady Persuasion, Follower of Guernicus, as a maga of the Order of Hermes]"

Tegan embraced her cousin warmly. "Then let me be the first to say Salve, Sodalis."

Tegan turned back toward the presiding Quaesitor. "[I now wish to present to my Filia her sigil.]" Tegan produced a foot-long length of polished, light-colored wood with several symbols inscribed in it. Liz took the offered wand.

"[The sigil represents your membership in the Order.]" Tegan told her. "[It is your vote at Tribunal, and your focus in Certamen. To better represent you, my Filia, the sigil has been inscribed with the Verditius runes of Rego and Intellego, your best Techniques, and the runes of Ignem and Corpus, your favored Forms. The glyphs of Aquarius, Capricorn, and Libra represent not only your birth chart, but the glyph of Libra represents the ideals of justice on which House Guernicus was founded. The wood of the wand comes from a tree associated with the power of warding, which as a Rego mistress you excel at. And...]" Tegan smirked slightly. "[...Just so that you are always reminded of your roots, the wood is that of a hawthorn tree.]"

Liz chuckled. She couldn't help it. "[My deep thanks, Mater.]"

The witness to the initiation spoke up for the first time since the beginning. "[As a Follower of Guernicus, there is one final order of business, Lady Enlightenment.]" The witness was the same somewhat severe looking woman who had attended Liz's graduation from Rein•Hagen three years earlier. "[Having passed your apprentice gauntlet, and in doing so demonstrated the requisite knowledge of the Code of Hermes, I, Anna Hardwyck, Prima of Guernicus, officially name you a Quaesitor of the Order of Hermes.]" She produced a scroll, and handed it to Liz. "[This is your official credential, carrying the mark of House Guernicus, and my personal seal. It will need to be renewed every seven years to remain valid.]"

Liz nodded and bowed. "[My deepest thanks, Prima]"

Liz and Tegan both bowed to the presiding Quaesitor, and stepped aside. There were a couple of other new initiates to be inducted, and they deserved their moments just as much as Liz had.

"Well, Filia...what happens next?"

Liz and Tegan were sitting by the fountain in the middle ward. Magvillus was the Domus Magna of House Guernicus; legends say it was conjured out of the granite bedrock of the Apennine slopes by the magic of Guernicus himself, a master of Earth magic before he became the first Quaesitor of the Order of Hermes. The middle ward was open only to Quaesitors, and the actual mundane inhabitants of the covenant; the inner ward, from which Liz and Tegan had just emerged, was reserved for the leadership of House Guernicus--all others, even Quaesitors, could only enter at their invitation.

"You were right, Aunt Tegan." Liz said, evading the question for the moment. "The name was perfect. Maybe a bit...presumptuous, granted, but still..."

"You'll grow into it." Tegan chuckled. "But if it helps I felt the same way when Grandma Romana gave me my name. She said it was because I was too stubborn to stop until I got the answer I wanted from someone--the very definition of 'persuasion' she joked."

Liz chuckled along for a moment, nodding.

"And you didn't answer my question." Tegan noted.

"Obviously, in the short term I'm going back to Truro for at least a few weeks--I can't miss Cheryl's wedding, after all. After that..." Liz sighed. "Well...I do have options. I've been invited to become an assistant to the Chief Quaesitor in Hong Kong. He's about 150 years old, and I might have a shot at succeeding him in a decade or two."

"I suspect Jun's involvement in that offer." Tegan surmised.

"Yeah." Liz nodded. "I guess having your father as a House Primus lets you pull some strings. And it would be a great opportunity, especially for someone just out of Gauntlet, but..."

Tegan raised an eyebrow. " 'But'?"

Liz stood, and looked back at the central keep of the covenant. "But I don't think I'm ready to set down in one place yet. I've been seeing only the dips and dabs of the world, on the trips back and forth from Truro in the summer, and on the assignments I've accompanied you on over the last three years. But I want to see more. I have to see more."

Tegan simply listened.

"I'm going to accept the Prima's offer to become an on-call Quaesitor here, at Magvillus. I know what that really means--I'm at their beck and call to send to put out any fire at any shitty backwoods Tribunal at any time. But that's what I need right now, Aunt Tegan. If the shittiest assignments get me around the world, then I'll take those shitty assignments and do the best damn job fixing those shitty problems that I can."

Tegan nodded. "I think I understand. Sitting in one place, in a comfortable existence, isn't for everyone. And you're young--wanting to see the world and experience life is as human as breathing."

"I was hoping you'd understand." Liz exhaled, clearly relieved. "I was afraid you'd think I was insane."

"Elizabeth, I've known you for the last nine years." Tegan said. "How could I not understand? You were showing that wanderlust even before you graduated Rein•Hagen, straining against the expectations of 'normalcy' others were trying to impose upon you."

Adric Liz knew. She means Adric.

"I have something else for you. Two things, actually." Tegan said.

"Oh?"

"The first is from Master Zephyranthes." Tegan informed her, pulling out a flask.

"This isn't...some kind of alcohol is it?" Liz asked.

Tegan shook her head. "No. Open the cap."

Liz opened the cap, and a delightful fragrance wafted into her nose.

"He had some of the same ideas I did--he said the ingredients of the perfume include hawthorn berries. Eric said it's to help mask the effect of your spell sigil." Tegan explained, then getting a conspiratorial look. "I think he's just kind of sweet on you. He practically admitted at the last Christmas party that if he was a hundred years younger he'd be trying to lure your into his sanctum for a series of Creo Corpus experiments."

Liz blushed and coughed. Not that it was a revelation she hadn't suspected for some time. But for her part she'd always looked at Eric like some eccentric but beloved old granduncle. "Well, tell Master Zephyranthes I appreciate his gift. I think it will prove as useful as he hopes."

"And this is from me." Tegan said as she handed Liz a package.

Inside the package was a brooch, gold-plated, and engraved with a stylized mark resembling a backwards letter "P". It was very similar to the one that Lady Persuasion had on her own lapel.

"This mark has been in our mystic lineage since the late Twelfth Century, when it was adopted by the then-young Zandrik Fallagar, well before he became an Archmagus and, even later, the Primus of Jerbiton. It was adopted by his only student, Melwen Fallagar, and from her passed to her all-female mystic lineage, kept even when Lady Euphemia was Gauntleted into House Guernicus."

"It's...beautiful, Aunt Tegan." Liz promptly took it, and pinned it to the clasp of her dark blue cape. Yeah...that's what it was missing. Tegan smiled proudly.

"You are now a fully-trained wizard, but your journey is far from over. I do hope that out in the wide world, you will find the knowledge you seek--perhaps most of all, to find the place where you feel you will finally belong."

Liz's eyes began to mist. "You've been a good teacher these last nine years, Aunt Tegan. No...more than that..." She wiped tears from her eyes. "You've been a good second Mother these last nine years."

At this, Tegan broke down too. "I..."

They couldn't find any more words. Mater and Filia held each other and cried.

June 9, 1994
The Nineteenth Day of Gemini in the Fourth Year of the Age of Aquarius
Ghostbusters Omnibus Timeline Year Twelve
Well... Raymond Francis Stantz, PhD, Age 34, though to himself as the world started to recongeal out of the violet mists. At least it wasn't the Cosmic Tilt-A-Whirl again... Truth to tell, it was the gentlest dimensional jump he'd ever experienced, including the transits in the ECTO-4.

His first priority was making sure Liz, Barney, and Tarantula were still nearby: they were. He gripped his neutrona wand, and only then allowed himself a look around.

To one side of him was a building, two stories tall; to the other, a white tower, standing a good four stories, surrounded by a pond.

Tarantula jumped off of Liz's shoulder and bolted off into the building. "Tarantula!" Liz called, but the black cat ignored her.

"I thought for sure that was gonna feel more like an acid trip or something." Barney said with mock disappointment. "Instead, I had more excitement the time I crawled into the dryer and turned it on."

"You okay, Liz?" Ray asked.

"Fine. You?"

Ray nodded.

"And I'm okay too!" Barney said sing-song. "So can we have milk and cookies now?"

Liz rolled her eyes. "Well, the covenant hasn't been burned down over the last day, so that's a good sign. You two stay here--I need to procure a casting token for Barney."

Ray and Barney nodded.

Liz did a quick chant, and disappeared. Ray realized there was a sudden rush of sweet-smelling air, like the perfume she was wearing on the day they'd met. Or at least I thought it was perfume...is it something to do with her magic?

Barney belched and scratched himself. "So...now that it's just us guys...it's hilarious how Lizzy tried to convince me you two hadn't been shacking up yet."

"We haven't!" Ray said indignantly. "She only arrived yesterday and..." He grumbled and shook his head. "Now I know how Egon always felt when Peter bugged him about Janine."

"Well, sounds like you two have your stories straight at least." Barney said. "So seriously, how's she..."

"We are not talking about this anymore." Ray said firmly. "I know she doesn't want us to wander off, but let me get a better look at that tower."

"Whipped." Barney said. He wandered off a few paces in the opposite direction, where he saw some tattered scraps of leather, beaten-up sword and spear, and two piles of dust. Near some scuffing on the wall of the building was a broken staff and some shredded pink terry cloth. Must be where Lizzy got into that fight yesterday...

Ray, meanwhile, regarded the pool and the tower sitting in the middle of it. His eye was drawn to a plaque near the bottom reading "MCXXVI AP". 1126? I thought Liz said the place was built in the Tenth Century..."AP"...yeah, the Order uses astrological dating, so that probably means "Age of Pisces"...I wonder what the epoch offset to Anno Domini is...

The next thing Ray knew, he was slamming into the cold water of the pool.

Liz slung her satchel over her shoulder, and grabbed her wand. The polished piece of hawthorn wood hadn't been at her side every moment of every day for the last dozen years, but close enough. It lacked the ability of the staff to be useful in melee combat, but it wasn't in two pieces either.

She looked for a second at the brooch Lady Persuasion had given her. I never have been able to ask the Archmage what it means...Eric once pointed out it resembled a mirrored image of the futhark character wunjo, but other than that...

She was startled out of the second of contemplation by a shout of surprise in a tenor male voice, and a loud splash.

Leaving the brooch behind, Lady Enlightenment teleported again.

"You are not as hideous as the last intruders." An arch voice told Barney. "But you are no more welcome."

The speaker was a muscular, brick-red skinned humanoid with a bald scalp and long, pointed ears. Two white pupils glared from black eyeballs. His mouth was wide, with protruding tusks.

Barney wanted to laugh, though--in contrast to the monster's appearance, he was dressed like a waiter, with a dark suit jacket, tie, and checked gray slacks. "Nice pants."

"And your pants are quite cool as well, monkey-thing." the monster retorted. "But it will not save you! I will defeat you, and then melt you with acid!!!" The monster moved forward.

Barney, mostly out of reflex, called on the power of his birthright. Man fades to gibbous, wolf rises to crescent... the familiar transformation to his Glabro form began...

And when it was finished, Barney could barely move, like he was drowning in a sea of cement.

Ray felt panic intruding into his instincts...he could swim out, but first he'd have to ditch the proton pack, which would leave him almost defenseless...And worse, I'd be useless then...I came here to help Liz, not be a burden to her...but I don't see any other way...

Then Ray saw an enormous dark shape move in the water, and it grabbed him.

The monster slammed Barney in the gut, hard. Barney's endurance was augmented in the Glabro form, but he still felt it.

"I see you have encountered the power of the Aegis." the monster taunted. "It is a somewhat cowardly way of avoiding conflict, hiding like some skittering kobold, though I suppose it could be considered efficient at keeping out the less worthy opponents." The monster punched Barney again. "I think it's quite safe to say that you are proving one of those unworthies."

Yeah...Lizzy warned me about it...but I got caught up in the moment...forgot...oh, fuck, and now am I gonna pay for it... "That's not what yer Mom said..." Barney nevertheless quipped.

"I think the Archmage will be pleased when I present your pants as a gift to him." the monster replied. "I do hope he will forgive the bloodstains!"

"STYX!!!"

Barney and the monster both turned, to see Liz glaring at them angrily.

"Ah, Lady Enlightenment!" the monster said amiably. "You are just in time to see me obliterate this most uncouth intruder!"

"He's not an intruder!" Liz said.

"He's not?" the monster said confusedly.

"I brought him here! He's with me! He's here to help us, you idiot!"

"...oh..." the monster said sheepishly, letting go of Barney.

Liz sighed, and then looked around. "There was another one with him..."

"Yes! I deposited him in the pond! He should be very drowned by now!" the monster said proudly.

Barney saw the blood vessels on Liz's forehead start to bulge.

"It okay, Lady E." a new voice broke in. "Dulk got him."

Barney looked to see a purple monster, resembling some kind of deranged cross between a dinosaur and a centaur, set a soaked Ray Stantz down on the ground. Waitaminute... Barney thought. Is that a bra on that thing's head?

"Ray!" Liz said, leaning down. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah..." Ray coughed. "Soaking wet, but not hurt."

"Dulk knew he good guy." the purple monster said to Liz. "He smell like you."

"I bet." Barney chuckled.

"Thank you, Dulk." Liz said, patting the monster's muzzle.

"Does this mean I do not get to melt them with acid?" the first monster asked.

"No, Styx, you don't." Liz rolled her eyes. "Guys, this is Styx."

The monster straightened up like a Marine at morning drill. "Styx, Marhsall of the Guard of the Covenant of Dragonsfall, and most loyal servant of Maglubiyet, Lord of All That Is Vicious, at your service!"

"Take Ray into the Provost's building, get all his wet clothes off of him, and then bring them back to me." Liz commanded.

"Very well, then!" Styx said brightly.

Ray gulped

"Everything will be fine." Liz reassured him. "Styx can be a bit...overenthusiastic, but he's loyal to the Covenant. And if he mistreats you, I'll roast him."

"Right this way!" Styx led Ray to the nearby building.

"Here." she told Barney, handing him a silver coin; it was about the size of a silver dollar, but inscribed with a hexagon design inlaid with a dragon. When Barney took hold of it, the sea of cement seemed to instantly vanish. He whooped and did a backflip--as he did, he transformed further. Man and Wolf at Half Moon...Crinos... It was the most powerful of his forms; along with the transformation, his shirt and boots seemed to vanish, though having been "dedicated" to him, they would return if he changed back to human.

"I feel great now!" Barney said. "In fact...I feel downright awesome!"

"It's the magical aura." Liz explained. "Fifth magnitude--as a creature who is part of the Magic Realm, it energizes you."

Barney's muzzle twisted into a toothy grin. "Let that little twerp try to attack me now! I'll kick his butler ass! So Lizzy...did you really just tell that guy who seems to take things literally to go strip down Ray and bring him back here, right?"

"No!" Liz said, a bit of a blush developing in her cheeks. "I said..."

"Hey! Wait a minute!" Ray shouted indignantly as he was shoved back out of the Provost's building.

He was as naked as the day he was born.

Liz's face went redder than Ray's hair.

"I have complied with your orders, Milady!" Styx said brightly. "Removed his wet clothes and then brought both him and the clothing back to you!"

Liz buried her face in her hands. "I meant bring his clothes back to me so that I could dry them with...good grief...I just don't..."

Barney was clearly holding back uproarious laughter. "Told you." he quipped.

"Oh--and here is a towel!" Styx said.

Ray, his face just as red as Liz's, grabbed the towel and wrapped it around himself. "Gee. Thanks. So glad you thought of that."

She grabbed the pile of clothes from Styx, sponted a Perdo Aquam spell to dry them out, and handed them back to Ray. "Sorry about that"

Ray muttered something incomprehensible and quickly went back inside.

Barney couldn't hold back the laughter anymore. "Or was that part of the plan?"

"Shut up." she snarled. "It's harder to dry the clothes while on a body--danger that the Perdo Aquam will affect body fluids."

"So that's the story you're gonna stick with. You could do a lot worse. Still a bit of pudge, and not the biggest..."

"What are you talking about? He looks fine!"

"So you did check him out!"

"Shut. Up."

Barney guffawed some more.

Liz sighed, and tried to push the thoughts of what she just saw out of her head. She wasn't succeeding. A wry smile found its way to her mouth.

Still...I guess after the show I put on for you at the fountain yesterday, we're sorta even now, aren't we?

Truth to tell, a very similar thought rolled into Ray's head as he finished dressing and re-donned his proton pack. I guess I owed it to her after the fountain...and she didn't exactly look like she was going to throw up, did she? He then shook that thought out of his head. I'm here for a reason...to help with this skeleton problem. And I haven't even seen any of the skeletons yet.. He made a quick vow to himself, however, before he completely lapsed back into professional thoughts. But if we get through this thing alive...I've got some things I really need to tell her...

By the time he got outside he wasn't mad anymore--it was just a comedy of errors he shouldn't dwell on. Peter and Egon were the ones who held grudges--that had never been Ray's thing.

"...Most of the inhabitants are in the basement under the Provost's office." Styx was explaining. "Master Terchi and Miss Coda are keeping watch at the main entrance."

"She got Terchi to go along with that?" Liz said.

Just about then, Tarantula ran up. She pawed at Liz, and gestured toward the Provost's building with her head.

"I think she wants us to follow her." Ray said. The cat nodded.

Inside, Ray was a little surprised to see an old, manual typewriter. "Oh wait...yeah...I forgot, Tarantula knows how to type! Janine said she was a better typist that Peter." Ray chuckled. "Peter countered by asking Master Eventide how he taught the cat to type so we could save money on secretarial help."

Master Fallagar is fine, and has not been disturbed. But he will not awaken until he's ready to, or his watching wards are tripped.

"Do you know who is behind this?" Ray asked.

Tarantula started typing again.

No.

Liz thought for a second. "Dulk called the leader, the armored skeleton who attacked me, 'Lord Stalker'. Does that mean anything?"

Unfortunately not. Theoretically, we could question Dulk further. But his...shall we say...simplistic and eccentric perspective may make getting any useful information out of him difficult.

"Stalker certainly talked like he'd encountered the Archmage before...talked about other people, like a stuck-up Frank, a lesbian werewolf..."

"Whoa!" Barney said excitedly. "How did you leave out that part before?!"

"...And someone named 'Arlana'." Liz finished, ignoring Barney's interjection.

There may be something in the Covenant records. But it would take time to find, and I'm certainly at a disadvantage for doing so.

Tarantula waved around a furry paw for emphasis.

Barney started to sniff her butt. She hissed and swiped at his nose.

"What? Cat butts smell delicious." Barney explained. "Because that's where cat turds come from, and cat turds are nature's most perfect food!"

Liz and Ray looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

"Maybe it's time we had a look at this skeleton army." Ray suggested.

"The top of the tower." Liz nodded.

A quick journey up four flights of stairs--Ray left his proton pack on the bottom floor for speed--brought Ray, Liz, and Barney to the top of the white-painted tower in the center of the covenant.

"Oh wow.." Ray sighed. The upper room was strewn with disorganized lab equipment, and several really gaudy tapestries.

"This room was actually the Archmage's personal laboratory." Liz noted. "At least back when he joined the covenant."

"He may be old and powerful, but I can't say I like his taste." Ray said.

"Aw, c'mon, I love this picture of gnolls playing poker!" Barney said brightly.

"House Jerbiton has a mantra of 'living beautifully'..." Liz shrugged. "Sometimes their definition of 'beauty' can be a bit...avant gard, eh?"

"You don't say 'eh' enough." Barney quipped, sniffing a beaker. "I keep forgetting you're Canadian."

Liz and Ray went to the window.

Ray peered out, and the shape of the covenant became more apparent; a hexagon perimeter with five more or less similar buildings inside, each facing the white tower and the pool around it sitting at the center. The Provost's building was opposite the main entrance. Ray squinted; there was a small field next to the entrance. It kinda looks like there should be another building there…

Sure enough, outside the stone perimeter wall--about two meters tall--was an army of raggedy skeletons.

"Look!" Barney said excitedly at another piece of artwork. "Velvet Elves!"

"How many do you think there are?" Liz asked.

"Just the one." Barney replied. 'But the Elves are cool looking."

"At least two hundred." Ray shook his head. "It looks just like Dun Keld all over again, but this time there aren't any garbage trucks or electronics stores in a nearby village."

"In other words..." Liz bit her lip. "We are in deep deep trouble here."

They took a look at each other. There was an awkward pause...

"Hey! What's that?" Barney said, finally looking out the window.

The skeletons outside parted. A wheeled vehicle made of wood moved forward.

Beside it was the same armored skeleton Liz had fought the day before.

"Is that a mutherfucking catapult?!" Barney asked.

"A ballista? Oh shit!" Ray cried.

The armored skeleton barked a command in Latin. A flaming projectile was hurled straight toward the tower.

To Be Continued
Questions? Comments? Go to the Ectozone Message Board