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Volume 3188
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ROSE OF STORMGAARD
A Serialized Fantasy Adventure Novel
By Ken St. Andre

Chapter 22: Music?

Strange discordant music interrupted their council. Urpetar, who had the sharpest hearing, noticed it first.  “What in creation can that be?” she whispered.

Urcaryx picked it up next. “Music?” Her face took on a pained expression.  “If that’s music, then I’m a cow.”

The noise kept getting louder. Within a minute Urroz, Urrarth, and Urthorn heard it, a discordant whisper that grew louder even as they listened. L’nnrrd and L’rrww rushed over to them. “We have to get out of here!” yelled L’rrww. “The band is coming.”

The dwarven leaders were in a panic. They rushed to their own troops and yelled. “Grab your things and run! Run for your lives!”

Urrarth moved to stop the panic. He quickly ran and caught L’rrww, grabbing the dwarf by his cowl and lifting him off the floor. “Calm yourself, L’rrww. We can deal with this band if we know what we’re facing.”

L’nnrrd and the other Dwarves scurried from the room. L’rrww writhed in the grip of his captor and tried to bring his hand up in a magical gesture.  Urthorn smacked his hand with the flat of her axe blade. “Don’t even think about it, Shorty. We need answers and we need them from you.”

The black-skinned dwarf made a supreme effort to bring his fear under control. It might have helped that his captors remained calm. “The band is something that belongs to the Master Wizard of this dungeon. It is a group of animal-shaped automatons that play maddening music on strange horns and drums. They walk randomly through the halls and blare their insanity-producing noise everywhere. To see them and hear them is to go mad. Now let me go, please! We could still escape if we run fast enough.”

The music had doubled in volume, although it still seemed little more than tinny noises in the distance.

“Let him go, Urarrth,” commanded Urroz. “A fear-maddened guide is worse than no guide at all.” The big uruk leader set the dwarven wizard back on the floor, and the dwarf lost no time in fleeing.

“Shall we follow them?” asked Urarrth.

“No, we need to meet this band. If it belongs to Nam, I want to take it from him, and smash it.”

The strange music grew louder. It now sounded like the skirling of bagpipes mixed with the wind in a clock tower, punctuated by a discombobulated battering of kettle drums.
“Urcaryx, have you got anything to protect us from that unholy sound?” Urroz asked.

“I know of no spells to deafen a listener.”

“I know one,” said Urthorn. “It is called wax in your ears. And luckily for us, I brought some candles in my pack.” She pulled out half a dozen candles and quickly began carving one up with her dagger.

“Urpetar, bring our leaders over here,” commanded Urroz. The smaller Uruk moved to obey. Some of the Uruks had begun to look puzzled or pained.

“What is that noise?” asked Urkharf.

“It sounds like a party to me,” chortled Urdarg.

“I wonder why the dwarves ran away like that,” said Urnatar.

“Maybe they don’t like parties!” Urdarg was enchanted with his own wit, although the others seemed less than impressed by it.

“Yer bosses, get over dere,” growled Urpetar, jerking her warty urukish thumb toward Urroz’s group. “Da boss wants ter tell yer sump’n.”

The four lieutenants of Clan Cave Panther ambled over to Urarrth and Urroz. They saw Urthorn chopping up candles, and Urcaryx sticking small plugs of wax into her ears.

What’s going on?” asked Urnatar.

“We don’t have much time to explain,” said Urrarth, handing waxen plugs to Urkharf. “That strange music is supposed to drive anyone who hears it mad, but we think it needs to be loud and close to do that. Take these earplugs and put them in your ears, then follow our lead.” He handed them each a set of earplugs. “Take more of them.” Urthorn had now carved out about thirty earplugs. “Give them to your best Uruks. We are going to destroy this band.”

“I don’t understand what—“ Urkathal started to argue.

Urrarth shot his fist out and hit Urkathal in the forehead with such force that he knocked the smaller uruk back on his butt. “Don’t argue and don’t try to think about it. Just obey me!” snarled the leader of Clan Cave Panther.

“Dat’s a good tuff boss!” muttered Urkharf to Urnatar.

Urkathal got up, rubbed his head, and put his earplugs in. He grabbed a handful and headed over for his squad. Urnatar, Urdarg, and Urkharf followed. There were not enough earplugs for all, so Urarrth stood up and yelled at them. “Everyone without earplugs, go to the farthest corner of the hall and stick your fingers in your ears.” He showed them what he wanted them to do. Some caught on right away, and others stood there looking dumb  until their leaders cuffed them, repeated the gesture, and sent them on their way. “Those of you with earplugs, grab your weapons and follow me!” He brandished his sword in the air.

The bizarre noises had grown louder. It seemed wrong to call it music except that here and there pure notes and tones gleamed through. But the rest of it sounded like the shrieking of tortured cats, the whining of werewolves on moonless nights, the thump thump thump of overheated hearts after a race. Just when Urarrth thought he had an apt analogy for the sounds, they changed into something else.

The leaders of Clan Cave Panther put their own earplugs in. The cacophony decreased by two thirds. They could still hear the noises, but it was no longer as painful or maddening. Gesturing broadly with a wave that could only mean follow me, Urarrth headed for the door to the hall.

He pushed it open, looked both ways, pointed, and then charged. Urroz and Urthorn were right behind him, and after them poured a flood of about thirty uruks.

Coming down the hallway toward them was the weirdest assortment of beings that Urarrth and his companions had ever seen—that is, if they could even be called beings. It was a marching band of anthropomorphic rats, ducks, frogs, crocodiles, and one large bear. They all seemed to be made of brass, and dressed in colorful vests and shorts. Some of them wore tiny hats unlike anything ever seen in Trollworld. Each carried a musical instrument of some sort—some instruments were easily recognized, horns, drums, flutes, cymbals. Others were bizarre assortments of pipes and bells. Some of the band members even seemed to be singing.

“Kill!” cried Urarrth, and charged at them. The band creatures, not being alive, took no notice of him—they marched straight on in merry pandemonium. The uruks came howling behind him, and this was a good thing, for their hoarse shouts helped to drown out the maddening music of the band.

When the two groups met it was hardly a fight. Urrarth bowled over the leading marcher, a big round-eared brass mouse holding a baton. His nicked broadsword drew sparks as he hacked through the automaton’s neck and sent its spherical head bouncing down the hallway. Still the body moved, flapping its arms, and randomly beating him with the baton. The blows had considerable force, and if Urarrth had not been wearing armor, they might have hurt, but instead they bounced off.

Urroz tackled the giant bear. It carried two great brass cymbals which it randomly clashed together. Urroz made a mighty running leap and kicked it with her boots right in the snout. It staggered backward a step, and that is when Urthorn’s axe cleaved through one of its legs. It fell with a great clatter. Urroz rolled free. Four Uruks including Urkharf ran up on it and began beating it with their swords. They did not cut well against the brass of its body. It dropped the cymbals and began cuffing at its attackers. It caught one uruk across the shoulders and hurled him clear across the hallway. He thudded into a far wall, slid along it for a few feet, and slumped to the floor, bleeding and unconscious. Then Urthorn came behind it and split the bear’s skull with a mighty blow of her axe.

The band marched on past this madness as if nothing were happening. One alligator thing stepped on the bear’s paw, lost its footing, and fell backwards onto its tail, then toppled over sideways. Its feet kept moving as if walking sideways through the air, and the slide trombone it was playing kept emitting the same unmelodious blats of sound. Urcaryx and Urnatar came up on it and began battering away at the horn—stop the instrument, stop the music.

The uruks hurtled into the band. They outnumbered the mechanical creatures two to one. They hit them high, and they hit them low. Iron spear blades struck fiery sparks from brazen bodies, but didn’t do much damage. Sword strikes with the uruk scimitars did better, but even then most blows glanced off. The smarter uruks struck at the instruments instead of the marchers. The horns and drums and flutes and pipes were no match for hard swinging weapons of war.

The cacophony of strange discordant music faded away as the Uruks struck again and again. Within a few minutes all that could be heard was the triumphant howling of the uruks as they tore mechanical ducks and other creatures to pieces. Even dismembered, many pieces of the band continued moving.

When the band was completely destroyed, Urrarth bellowed for silence. It took a few minutes but the Uruk howls and growls of triumph finally died down. Urrarth took the earplugs from his ears and motioned for them to do likewise. When he thought they could all hear him, he spoke.

“Spear brothers, sword brothers, we have won a great victory here! The destruction of these lifeless puppets will show the Wizard what we mean to do to him as well for his crimes. Gather up the fragments of brass. We will make it into rings that we can wear in our ears—thus showing our scorn for this magical toy. All those who fought with us in this battle shall be entitled to the Brass Ear Ring and great will be their honor!” The Uruks stamped their feet and rattled their weapons and roared approval. More badges of honor! Surely this was a leader worth fighting for.

Urrarth took a piece of brass from the broken bear, hammered it flat with the pommel of his sword and then bent it into a ring, showing the Uruks how to do it. This ring he hung on his ear. It fell off. The uruks all laughed. Then he worked on the ring a bit more, and put the badly dented and battered piece of brass around a forefinger. “I will fix it into my ear later,” he told them. “For now I wear it here. Let all do the same.”

“Heh,” smirked Urroz. “Looks like you’ve won a brass ring, my lord.”

Interlude 4
“She killed all my ogres.”

“I see you’re blaming Rose for the current debacle.”

“Of course, I’m blaming Rose!” The lich wizard was so infuriated that his normally servile manner had completely fallen away. The goddess indulged him. It amused her to see her apprentice so worked up. “She was my target. Then she insisted on bringing all these other people with her, and now she has devastated half the dungeon.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t lure red-headed beauties into your dungeon. Maybe you should stick to men.”

Terevorr gave his goddess a dirty look, but prudently kept his head veiled behind a fold of his cowl.

“Your minions and monsters haven’t disposed of Cherry and her friends yet either.”

“They haven’t?”

“Not even close. Did you see that duel where Cherry fought the spider-troll one on one?”

“You’re telling me she killed my spider-troll?”

“Yes, didn’t you see it?”

“I think I was busy. How did she do it?”

“Cherry is an incredible fighter. When the spider-troll swooped down on the party, she leaped out to meet it by herself. As fast as it moved, she moved faster. She rammed a spear right through its head, pinning its jaws shut. Then she grabbed a foreleg, and in an incredible display of strength, she body slammed the spider troll right over her head and into the floor. She did this eight times until the leg broke off. She then pulled out her sword and hewed its head clean off, and it was, by then, so dazed, battered, and broken that it couldn’t resist.”

“But it will regenerate,” cackled Terrevor. “And if it was in several pieces, then I will have multiple spider trolls in the future.”

“No, not unless you go find another one somewhere. Cherry apparently knows about trolls. She gathered all the pieces and burned them. Then she scattered the ashes. I would be very surprised if that troll ever managed to regenerate.”

“You’re telling me that one woman was strong enough to throw my spider troll around like a rag doll?”

“Yes, but I’m fairly sure that magic was involved. She fairly glowed with a golden radiance while she trashed your monster.”

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Why should I? You made this dungeon for my amusement, and indeed, I was mightily amused to see Cherry in action.”

“It was you, Goddess, who suggested that I get some female adventurers into the Pits of Despair.”

“And a good suggestion it was! The male adventurers you have been recruiting haven’t done much. The last three groups never got past the lizard men at the entrance.”

“You sound glad.” Terevorr felt betrayed by his master. “You favor these women because you are a woman. Have you been helping them?”

Anger entered her voice. Thunder rumbled around them. “You go too far, my apprentice! It is not for you to question me! Not ever!” She reached out and stroked his face. As she did so, the flesh fell away from the bone, leaving bare skull behind. Indescribable pain shot through his undead body, and he fell on his knees, weeping. His body heaved with sobs of anguish, although no tears dripped from his undead eyes.

“You exist at my sufferance, Terevorr,” said the goddess in dulcet tones. “If I withdraw my favor, you become a heap of lifeless bones. Your little dungeon amuses me—that is true, but do not presume to tell me what should amuse me.”

“Nay, Goddess. I beg your mercy and forgiveness.”

“Oh, look! Rose is destroying your mechanical band.”

Terevorr stopped his whimpering, got up, and peered into the huge model dungeon displayed on the tables of the Viewing Room. He saw the band of Uruks tearing apart his beautiful toys. He watched and gnashed his teeth so hard that two of them broke and fell out of his lipless mouth.

“That woman infuriates me! I’ll blast her where she stands.” He pulled out a silver sigil shaped like a lightning bolt. The goddess took several steps away from him.

Terevorr cried several words in rage and pointed the silver lightning symbol at Urroz the uruk. Lightning flashed from the silver, struck the model and rebounded on him. His robes caught fire, and the silver lightning bolt melted in his hand, along with several other silver talismans on his arm and around his neck. The flesh of his upper body crisped and turned black, and his howl of rage turned into a howl of pain.

“Ah, Terevorr,” chuckled the goddess. “You amuse me more and more. You knew that the dungeon is protected from outside magic, just as we are protected from magic within it. And yet you blasted it with lightning, thus blasting yourself. You had best calm yourself and think more clearly, or I may need a new apprentice soon.”

The undead apprentice seethed with rage, but the curses grew quieter until finally he stood there with fists clenched. “This will not go on much longer,” he vowed, “even if I must go into the Pits of Despair and destroy them all myself.”

“I think that’s what you should do, Terevorr,” said the goddess. “Yes, if you aren’t any more effective than your toys, it may be time for me to find a new apprentice.” 

 

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