NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo 2008 Winner

The NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. All you have to do is write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.

My entry for this year was again a sequel to last year's, another installment of the Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel™ series. Once again, the plot and characters were entirely from my own head, but how they acted, and what happened in the story, were decided by using GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) 3rd Edition. By this method, if (for example) the characters met the guards, I rolled to see how many guards there were, I rolled to see whether the characters could hide or bluff successfully or not (if they wanted to, that is - cocky bastards), and if not, I'd roll out the combat. And yes, I did let them get their arses kicked.

Book III of the Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel™ series.
(If you enjoy these extracts and want to read the whole thing, you can buy it.)

Opening    Demanding Work with Menaces   Bath Time    How to Annoy Your Jailer
Favourite Lines

 

Opening

Cullan put one set of lockpicks down on the desk, and, with a final double-check, pocketed the other.

"Hey," the eagle-eyed clerk interrupted, "lockpicks."

Cullan looked at him, and gestured at the set on the desk. "You've got them."

"And the others."

"What others?"

"The ones you just put back."

"You mean my lockpicks?"

"Yours?"

"Yes, mine."

"They're not yours, hand them over."

"They are mine! Look at your sheet. I signed for one set of lockpicks six months ago, and one set you've got!"

The clerk checked. "Alright - one set. But are you sure you handed over the right set?"

"Gordon Bloody Bennett, yes!" Cullan pulled out his lockpicks again and showed them to the clerk. "Here, see? No official Galorndan markings whatsoever!" He turned them over in front of his face, then withdrew them and put them away before the clerk could make a grab for them. "Those are my official lockpicks you've got there."

"Right. Your official lockpicks. I see. Then what about your unofficial ones?"

"They're mine."

"You are aware that they're extra-legal equipment? If you're found to be carrying them without official warrant, you could be arrested."

"So what? I just won't be found is all."

"Hmmpphh!" went the clerk, but checked in the official lockpicks.

"That everything?" Cullan asked.

"Yes," the clerk snapped. "Now get out of here!"

"With pleasure!"

Cullan stalked out. It was his last day of service with the Galorndan crown, and not a moment too soon in his opinion. Okay, yes, Alys and Kenyon had had plenty of work of the type they were used to put their way by General Kael (ie. training grunts and killing people), and even Morgan was pleased with her service, being trained as an official mage of the Galorndan army, but Cullan, as a thief and a rogue, had been handed less regular, more difficult, employment often without the aid of Alys, Kenyon and Morgan, which was problematical, to say the least.

He was heading out past the barracks when Styfsen caught up with him. "Cullan! Cullan, wait!"

He stopped and turned. Styfsen was one of King Dashell's chief advisors he'd been left in charge of the country while the King and the army were off conquering Morat seven-ish months ago and was often the intermediary between the Court and what King Dashell liked to refer to as "His special implements".

"What can I do for you, my lord?" Cullan asked. "Better be good, I'm officially and permanently off the clock now."

"The King would like to see you."

"Then he can make an appointment. I've got a prior engagement, and I'm running late."

"He has made an appointment, Cullan," Styfsen replied, "he sent me to tell you about it. And to make sure you attend."

Cullan shrugged and sighed. "Fine!" he headed back into the palace, Styfsen at his side.

"Look on the bright side, Cullan," Styfsen reminded him, "now you're a free agent, you can charge an arm and a leg for your services."

"Yeah, and if I try, that's what I'll lose."

The throne room was clear of all but a few guards and Adromvab, the head Court wizard. Dashell was nowhere to be seen.

"Cullan, good," Adromvab welcomed him. "His Majesty will be a few moments."

Cullan turned to Styfsen and asked, "what was the rush?"

"You'll find out in a few moments," Styfsen replied.

Cullan shrugged again and waited. It was indeed only a few moments later that a harried-looking King Dashell strode in from a side door. "Ah, Cullan. Good. Good." He sat down on his throne. "Have you been told anything?"

"Only that I apparently have an appointment with Your Majesty."

"Right. Right." Dashell shook his head. "Adromvab, fill him in."

"Yes, Your Majesty." The wizard turned to Cullan. "As you may be aware, since the recent war with Morat, His Majesty has been most eager to improve relations with our neighbours to the southeast, Turnobae, and hence has invited Her Majesty Queen Elspeth to visit with a view to forming a long-lasting alliance."

Cullan nodded. It was common knowledge that King Dashell had fallen for Queen Elspeth when they first saw each other through a crystal ball in the throne room of the Tower of Morss during the peace negotiations arbitrated by Mordlin, and had been trying to get her to visit so he could get his end away and marry her. Quite apart from the increased riches the double-kingdom would generate for both monarchs.

"The Court diviners have managed to observe a new prophecy, just this afternoon. It appears that on Queen Elspeth's way here, she will be ambushed and attacked, and kidnapped."

"What?"

"We do not know who by, or where, this ambush will take place, but we do know that a few extra men of varied and unique skill will be able to prevent it."

"'Varied and unique skill'?" Cullan asked.

"Yes."

"Well, good luck finding them then," he said, executed a quick bow to the throne, turned and began heading for the door.

"Cullan!" Dashell's voice stopped him. "It is you and your comrades We have in mind."

Cullan turned back to the throne. He seethed in thought for a second, approaching the throne to cover the silence. "But Your Majesty, how do we know the prophecy also has me and my comrades in mind?"

Adromvab answered. "We do not. But when that piece of information was related to His Majesty, -"

Dashell interrupted, "I immediately thought of you. It seems to me that there can be no-one else. You are, after all, a thief who can fight well, who habitually works with two excellent warriors and a powerful mage."

"And who habitually does not do this sort of thing," Cullan replied. "We get into difficult places, do a dirty job, and get out. We don't escort royalty. Besides, she's due to get here the day after tomorrow, who'd be daft enough to ambush her within three days travel of Dentrassi?"

"We don't know." Dashell replied. "That is what I have been praying to find out." Cullan raised an eyebrow. It was known that Elspeth was considerably more pious than Dashell, and here was further evidence that His Majesty would do anything to appear more alike to Her Majesty than he was, in order to get into her rather fine-quality and tightly-fastened loincloth.

"No luck, I take it?"

"Deities do not often answer prayers immediately no matter what their urgency."

"You are aware, Your Majesty, that I am officially no longer in your employ, nor are my companions?"

"Name your price."

Cullan blinked. Dashell was a fairly generous employer as rulers went, but he was known not to be extravagant. He must be desperate. "Okay, then. Three days, all five of us "

"Five? There are four of you," Styfsen objected.

"Morgan's colleague from her days with Mordlin is visiting, to celebrate the end of our contract. He'll want to come too." Dashell nodded not irritably. "So," Cullan continued, "three days, five of us, that's fifteen days'-worth of wages, let's say ... three thousand dollars, and you provide the horses."

"Three thousand dollars?" Styfsen was shocked at Cullan's audacity and angry at his greed.

"Not possible," Dashell said. "That's a month's wages a day for each of you. Eleven twenty-five dollars."

"One thousand, one hundred and twenty-five dollars. Good enough," Cullan said. It was much better than the standard pay for a three-day job for five on behalf of the Galorndan Court. "But don't forget, escorting royalty is not like a fetch-job, like what we normally do."

For the first time that meeting, Dashell's voice was hard, not harried or worried. "Eleven twenty-five, and We will provide the horses."

"Done, Sire. We will leave first thing in the morning. We won't get anywhere tonight in this weather, and besides, I have a prior engagement." Cullan bowed again, and made to leave.

"You will be paid upon Queen Elspeth's safe arrival at my palace," Dashell told him, "Styfsen will bring the horses to your house by first light. Be ready, or the men he brings with him will burn the house."

"Of course, Your Majesty," Cullan smiled, and left.


 

Demanding Work with Menaces

Five minutes later, Rassillon and Morgan were standing outside the workshop of the chief administrator of the Mage Corps. Only Adromvab and Kael outranked him. Morgan took a deep breath, and knocked.

"Enter!" came a voice.

Morgan turned the handle and pushed open the door. She went in, followed by Rassillon, who closed it behind him. He immediately walked to the outside wall, and placed his hands just below the windowsill.

The administrator looked up from the carving he was examining. "Ah, Morgan. Have you finished the " the administrator began.

"No, I haven't. You must find someone else to do it."

"Ah. Has another assignment come up?" He glanced at Rassillon, who was very still, and muttering under his breath.

"No, another assignment has not come up. I am ..." she faltered. "I am ..." and stopped.

"What is it, girl? Spit it out! I have no time for your party games!"

Morgan flushed. "I am not a girl! I am not playing games!"

"Then what the devil are you doing here, with your tasks unfinished and three hours still left before your appointment at the palace? Get out, get back to work!"

"I will not!" she shouted, red-faced. "I am an accomplished wizard, trained by Mordlin the Sage at Rast, and I will not be treated like a child who is incapable of the most basic cantrips!"

Suddenly, the wall next to the window heaved, and melted, and split, and suddenly a Gerignak was standing in the workshop, its massive head bowed so it could fit under the ceiling, its huge arms reaching all the way to the ground. The elemental's eyes glowed red.

The administrator turned to Rassillon, who had stepped away from the wall and was smiling at the creature. "Did you Summon that?"

Rassillon smiled back. "Yes, I did. It responded to my call as readily as a Demon Lord did to Morgan's two-and-a-half years ago."

There was a moment's silence. The administrator carefully raised his right hand above the desk. "Is that a threat?" he asked carefully.

"No, merely a demonstration," Rassillon replied. "An earth elemental like this is not half so dangerous as Ran T'uggoh was when she Summoned it."

"It is a threat!" the administrator cried, and both his hands snapped into spellcasting position, each one sporting a nimbus of magical energy, the telltale sign of a spell building. Rassillon pointed his hand at the administrator, and it too began to glow. Morgan raised her staff and let the administrator see the fireball start to build. The Gerignak growled, a low rumbling sound, and took a small step towards the administrator.

"I repeat," Rassillon said, "this is not a threat, merely a demonstration. We will defend ourselves if attacked, but we have no wish to harm you intentionally."

"Then what ..?"

"Listen to me," Morgan said. "I will not work as a clerk any longer. I am capable of powerful magic. My companions whose services are retained by King Dashell get to do what they want to do, what they are good at ..." she faltered.

"Whereas," Rassillon stepped in, "possibly the greatest mage the North has seen for hundreds of years is being treated like a non-spellcasting clerk. As from tomorrow, I suggest you employ her in a capacity more suited to her talents, and pay her commensurately to her level of service." He glanced at Morgan, and she dispelled the Illusions of spells building on her staff and Rassillon's hands. They glared at the administrator, and he dispelled the spells he was building.

"I see. And to what possible use do you think I can put a renegade demonologist with a penchant for threats and fire spells? Hmm?"

"I am sure if you cannot think of something useful for me to do, then General Kael can and he has seen me cast in action."

"Really?"

"Yes," answered Rassillon. "We shall be returning tomorrow, before the royal party arrives. I am sure that when we are presented, Queen Elspeth will want to know how those of us who saved her from ambush last year are doing in King Dashell's service. It would be unfortunate if we had to relay that one of our number was still unhappy in their work."

"I see," the administrator seethed. "Very well, I will make arrangements. Tomorrow. See me tomorrow. And leave the Elf behind!"

The Gerignak stirred again, and loomed over the administrator, who barked in fright and leaned back in his chair, trying to get away.

"Come," said Rassillon, and led the way out. Morgan followed him, and, with some difficulty, so did the Gerignak. Rassillon closed the door, and they began walking away from the office.

"What ... what are we going to do with him?" asked Morgan quietly, gesturing at the elemental following them.

Rassillon looked over his shoulder. "Take him to the park, or the gardens. Let him commune a little until the spell wears off."

"And that will be how long?"

"An hour."

"I see."


 

Bath Time

The Orcs hadn't stopped their headlong gallop until they were well past the village, when they stopped for a while, then had moved on at a walk. Cullan and his companions kept up the trot-canter sequence they'd been doing for the last five days, and by early evening they could tell they were catching up. They found the Orcs' campsite just a few dozen yards from a wide stretch of river that was quite shallow. It was an obvious crossing point, and a few minutes careful examination of the ground showed no hoof prints beyond a sandy bank leading down into the water.

"Apart from the Orcs, it doesn't seem to be a well-used ford," Cullan remarked.

"I have not heard tell of any major fords in this area," Rassillon confirmed. "The nearest one I can think of is the Turn Crossing, maybe another dozen miles or so further downstream."

"Why's it called that?"

"The river turns there. It stops heading southeast along the edge of the Forest, and turns more directly eastwards, towards the ocean, and starts running through the Forest."

"Is there any particular reason why this place wouldn't be used as a crossing?" asked Georgia.

"I do not see why, except that it is quite some distance from the nearest settlement."

"Is there a town or something at the Turn Crossing?" asked Morgan.

"There is a large Dell on the northern bank, and a small Human village on the southern."

"Makes sense that the Orcs would avoid it," Anselm said, "but why come this far downriver in the first place?"

"Well, you've seen it," Kenyon answered, "this is the first place to cross really since we left the cliffs."

"The bank was too rocky to cross back there," Alys reminded them, "and after that it became too deep to cross, or the banks too steep to get down safely, until here."

"Whereupon the Orcs cross," Cullan concluded, "and go ... where?"

"North, most likely," Rassillon told them. "There are few settlements this far west in the Forest, and maybe two days' journey north from here will get you to the lower slopes of the mountains, where there are plenty of places to build or dig a near-unassailable fortress."

"Right. Well, I daresay we'll find out tomorrow exactly where they went. Meanwhile," Cullan stood up, "who's for a bath?"

"A what?" asked Anselm.

"A bath. I'm sure you know what a bath is?"

"Yes, of course, but-"

"No buts. We've been in the saddle non-stop for the last week you two even longer and it's been hot and dry weather, and this is our last chance to get the sweat off before raiding an Orc-held fortress. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm hearing that an Orc's got a pretty good sense of smell, so I'd rather not take the chance on it being true, and them smelling us before we see them."

"I see." Anselm stood up. "We'll bathe in the river, then, while the women watch the camp. When we've finished, they can bathe, and we'll keep watch."

"Oh yeah?" Cullan grinned. "What makes you think that?"

"What?"

"What?"

"What?"

"What? The water's still about four feet deep, it'll cover you up. We can hobble the horses and leave our gear within sight on the bank, it'll take no time. And when we've all finished, we can come back and sit round a nice roaring fire, instead of us men having to wait twenty minutes for the women to finish so that Morgan can come back and start one."

"What? But don't you have tinderboxes?"

"I've started the campfire every night," Morgan reminded him. "I'm a fire mage, it's easy."

"But," Georgia tried, "but, common decency-"

"Did you not listen? I just said it's deep enough to cover all your bits."

"It'll be freezing!" Anselm objected.

"Then you've got a ready-made excuse if your tackle doesn't measure up, haven't you? Besides, roaring fire when we finish. Come on!"

Cullan, Alys and Kenyon began gathering up their things. Morgan and Rassillon followed them after a few seconds, grinning nervously. The two paladins stayed put, looks of impending embarrassment on their faces, until the others started leading their horses the fifty or so yards down the bank to the ford. They looped the horses reins around handy tree branches and began stripping off.

"There's a sort-of ridge going across the river-bed, a couple of yards wide" Cullan told them, "that's the ford itself, just a couple of feet deep. Either side it's a bit deeper, four feet or so. There'll be more stones and less mud on the up-stream side."

"So we'll be standing down-stream, then?" asked Morgan.

"Yeah. Unless you want the soles of your feet cut open?"

She shook her head and carried on undressing. The paladins were the last to start taking their clothes off. Whilst the others had huge woollen blankets (except Kenyon, who had a huge bearskin cloak) to wrap around themselves, the paladins had to make do with their green cloaks, and they tried to hide behind them as much as possible. Kenyon and Cullan just wrapped their blankets around their waists before wading in and discarding them at the water's edge. Rassillon was a little more circumspect he tried to cast Haste on himself and dash into the water, but the spell backfired and he couldn't move for a minute. He then decided to take advantage of the Illusion Morgan cast to cover them both and Alys as they went into the water.

That just left the paladins on the bank, trying to cover themselves with their cloaks.

"Oh, come on in! The water's lovely!" Cullan cat-called.

"Come on, get in!" Kenyon shouted. "The sooner you're in, the sooner you're out, and the quicker we can get warm again!"

"There's no need to be shy," Alys called, "the water covers everything, and you can't see under the surface in this light!"

Cullan leaned over to her. "You are aware that you're slightly too tall for the water, aren't you?"

She looked down. "Cullan!" Her arms heaved up a spray as they covered her chest, and she bent her knees so that her nipples no longer broke the surface. She waded a few more feet downstream and wagged her finger at him. "You could have told me earlier!"

Kenyon gave an ironic cheer Anselm had decided to drop his cloak and take a dive into the river, upstream of the ford. He missed his footing on the edge of the bank and it turned into a belly-flop. He surfaced spluttering to the others' laughter, then waded carefully back to the bank, in front of Georgia, who was facing away from the river.

"Back a bit, bit more .. stop! Ready?"

"One, two, three!" She dropped her cloak and jumped backwards from the very edge of the bank. Anselm tried to catch her hips as she came down, but either he mis-judged the speed or he was reluctant look properly in case he saw something, and they both disappeared under the water, to more laughter. Anselm surfaced first, white as a sheet, scrambling across the river as though a Skaven hunting pack were after him. He stopped about halfway out and stood to attention facing the far bank. Georgia was not far behind him, but she stopped at least two yards from him, and stood facing upstream.

"D'yer see that?" Kenyon asked. "They can't see each other. They don't even have to look at us!"

"Mmm, good, a bit of privacy!" Cullan leered, loud enough for the paladins to hear. He stepped up close to Alys and goosed her under the water. She shrieked and heaved more water at him.

"Talking of privacy," Kenyon said, with a glance at Morgan and Rassillon, who were standing with their arms round each other, tongues down each other's throats.

"We're s'posed to be doing this to get clean, guys, not dirty," Cullan reminded them. Morgan waved a hand, and for a brief second they disappeared, but she must have not been concentrating on her Illusion, and they re-appeared again, still locked in their embrace.

"Nice trick if you can do it," Cullan commented. He turned back to Alys and a second later a surprised smile appeared on her face.

"What were you saying about getting clean?" she managed.

Kenyon looked around in disbelief. "Am I the only one with sex not on their mind in some way?"

"Apparently," Cullan replied.


 

How to Annoy Your Jailer

Just then, the door was unlocked and in came five Knights of the Green Cross. Four of them stood ready just inside the door, but the fifth, a woman, marched straight to the far side of the cell before turning to face them. They were all in full armour, shields, everything. Their swords remained in their sheaths. The lone Knight's sword was larger than the others'. She reached up and took her helmet off, revealing long dark hair, nearly-olive skin, and dark brown eyes. And an expression that said you were either in her way, or beneath her notice, she just hadn't decided which yet, but you'd better hope it was the latter.

Anselm and Georgia slowly got to their feet. "Squad Officer Roxeth?" The woman nodded. "I was unaware you had been sent to find us," Anselm said slowly.

"I haven't," Roxeth replied.

"Then, how is it you are here?"

"Who are your companions?" she asked, ignoring Anselm's question.

"Mercenaries in the employ of King Dashell of Galorndan, ma'am."

"That's us," Cullan piped up. "And who might you be?"

"I take it you are just as heathen as the one you work for?"

"Hell, no, we're much worse," Cullan grinned. "We don't recognise any deity."

Roxeth visibly frosted. "I shall have even more praying to do than usual, I see," she muttered. "You should stand up and show respect to your betters!"

Cullan looked round theatrically. "Show me where I can find any, and I will."

"You scum!" Roxeth snarled. "Heathens! Get up!" She glared at her escort, "get them up!"

The four other armed paladins strode to where Cullan and the others were lying on their pallets, and dragged them to their feet.

"Touch me again, I'll break your neck," Alys hissed in the face of the woman who'd pulled her up.

"You wouldn't be so tough if I had my gear," Kenyon growled to his.

Cullan waited until the one pulling him up had let go of him, then lay back down again.

"Get up!"

"No."

Roxeth gestured, and a paladin hauled him to his feet again. Immediately he let go, Cullan lay back down.

"Up!"

"Screw you."

Roxeth strode forward, eyes blazing, bent down and grabbed Cullan by his shirt collar, and hauled him to his feet. Which he lifted off the floor.

"Ooff!" Roxeth landed on top of him, the sudden transfer of weight taking her completely by surprise.

"I didn't mean right now, darlin'," Cullan whispered, "but if you insist ..."

Roxeth scrambled to her feet, a look of disgust distorting her features. "You ... you ... hideous, foul creature!"

Cullan leapt to his feet, eyes blazing, "I could say the same about you, fuckin' paladin!" He gave the last word the same inflection as she had used for calling him scum.

Roxeth recoiled. "You are not worth the time," she managed, and stalked back to her piece of wall. Cullan shrugged and lay back down. When Roxeth saw this she shrieked. "Get him up! Make him pay respect!"

Two paladins grabbed Cullan and hauled him to his feet. "Having fun there?" he asked them. They didn't let go.

Morgan sat down. A paladin dragged her up. Alys sat down. A different paladin dragged her up. Rassillon sat down. One of the paladins left Cullan and hauled him to his feet. Kenyon lay down. "Don't mind me," he said, "I still can't feel my left arm after last night."

The paladin who had dragged Alys up moved to Kenyon and tried to do the same. Alys sat back down, so the one holding Morgan went to haul her up again. Morgan sat down. The paladin holding Rassillon went to haul her up, and Rassillon sat down. Kenyon was on his feet, so the paladin who'd just got him up went to get Rassillon up. Kenyon lay down again.

"Enough!" Roxeth screamed. "Leave them be!" Kenyon gave her a wave with his fingertips. "How can you stomach working with these animals?" Roxeth demanded of the unarmed paladins.

"He can be tiresome," Georgia replied.

"It is difficult," Anselm answered, "but I have found his methods ... rewarding."

Roxeth breathed out slowly. "I see. Perhaps none of you are suitable to help me. I may have to resort to yet more subterfuge."

"If you need assistance, Officer," Georgia began, "we are, of course, at your command."

"Very well." She breathed out slowly again, trying to calm herself. "In recent years, our Order has watched the religion we serve be slowly undermined. Pursuance of the Observances, observance of Rituals and Feast Days, they have all been less adhered to. The Cajonic faith is losing its' way, bemired in a veritable assault from all directions, with heathen religions gaining strength, an increase in benighted atheists everywhere, loss of prestige and control of our sacred Artefacts, penitents not truly believing in the need for their salvation, penances relaxing or not being carried out fully a dilution of the Faith, from the lowest quarters to the highest. The rot must be stopped if we are to pursue our true calling, the elimination of the heathen faiths. We must act now, and act decisively, in order to ensure that the followers of the True Religion regain trust in their church, and stop the rot before it spreads any further."

"She lost me after 'in recent years,'" Kenyon deadpanned. Roxeth glared at him.

"What do you require of us?" asked Anselm.

"We have finally been blessed in Queen Elspeth, with a ruler who is not only Cajonic, but devout in her beliefs. The Kingdom of Turnobae is a stable and powerful kingdom, it would be a fine place with which to begin the revitalisation of the Church. Many of Her Majesty's subjects follow Cajonism, and it is only fitting that their material and spiritual leader is strong in the Faith. What better way for her to re-affirm and cleanse that strength than by joining in Holy Matrimony with one of her long-time suitors?"

"A long-time suitor?"

"I'd say eighteen months is pretty long," Cullan commented.

"Seven years is longer," Roxeth snapped.

"Seven years? That's definitely a long time."

"Bishop Hawn first had his eye caught by Her Highness Princess Elspeth seven years ago, when he visited Darash to attend to the spiritual instruction of the Order's Chapter there. I was among his escort, and it was he who petitioned the Master of Darash to promote me for my sterling service. He was, of course, presented to the most devout of the royal family, and at that moment Cajon made His will known to the Bishop. When Hawn's vows of service release him at the Turn of this year, he will be able to fulfil his Calling, and marry Her Majesty."

"Hang on," Cullan began, "if he's a bishop, he must be at least, what, forty? Seven years ago he'd've been thirty-three. If my numbers're right, seven years ago, Elspeth was sixteen."

"The dirty old goat!" Kenyon shouted, together with an, "eewwwww!" from Alys.

"It is Cajon's Divine Will," shouted Roxeth, "it matters not about the age of the two parties!"

"But, Officer Roxeth," Anselm began, "it is well known that Her Majesty intends to marry His Majesty King Dashell of Galorndan."

"She cannot," Roxeth stated flatly. "It is necessary to remind her of Cajon's Will as it has been Revealed to Us, and to defuse Dashell's ardour. And that is where you, and your ... associates, come in."

"We coming in now, then?" asked Cullan. "So we didn't need to listen to all that bit, then?"

"Be silent and listen," snarled the paladin Officer.

"Listen, lass, I couldn't care less about all this religious guff. I assumed you, as, y'know, a paladin, that is, a good and lawful agent of some of the better bits of Humanity, you were here to get us out. If you are, fine, let's go if not, shut up and piss off!"

Roxeth was almost incoherent. She glared daggers at Cullan. "You will pay in the Fires of Hell for your insolence!" she bellowed.

"So what else is new?"

"Aaaarrrggghhh!" Roxeth stormed out, a gesture bringing the other paladins with her.

"Was it something I said?" Cullan asked innocently. The door slammed. "Well, that was fun," he said, brightly. "What would you like for an encore?"