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The Portrait of Zool

The Boaz Room

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Down the hall to the side of the main entrance of the Grand Cabaret is a well appointed but unassuming staircase leading up. On the landing at the top of the stairs one is presented with an aesthetic of rich but impeccably classic styling; Deep carpets in an exotic pattern, imported paneling with ornate finish work, an arched ceiling of architectural woodwork, artistic glass sconces glowing cheerily, and a pretty elfin maiden in a black dress behind a small podium at the entrance to the Boaz Room, the finest eatery at the Pen, or anywhere this side of the Alluvians, as a matter of fact. Enter here and prepare to see service like you have never seen, and cuisine that is simply out of this world. Your hostess will seat you at the single roomy table and present you with a menu for a feast of the gods, for here one can not only partake of the most scrumptious comestibles arguably to have ever graced a plate (or glass), but of the most lively and interesting conversation as well. All are invited. Enjoy! :)

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*OOC: Zool and Brighid's entrance continued from 'What's Up' in the Cabaret*

http://patrickdurham.net/themightypen/index.php?/topic/17197-whats-up/?p=133216

 

Brighid and Zool topped the stairs and were quite impressed with the foyer of the Boaz Room. While not ostentatious, everything was impeccably tasteful. They approached the hostess with rising excitement.

 

"Good evening," said the elfin maiden as they arrived, Zool in the depiction of a baroque facade and Brighid beside him. "How may I help you?"

 

"Two for dinner," said Zool brightly.

 

"Your name?" said the lovely young lady.

 

"Uh, Zool," said Zool, a bit put off at the sudden formality.

 

The hostess consulted her book, look at him and smiled sweetly. "I'm sorry, your name's not on the reservation list."

 

Zool was dumbfounded. "Wha...? How could that be? That's impossible!" Zool was turning a bright shade of red. "What is your name? You'd better let us in right now or...!"

 

Brighid cut him off. "Grimmael invited us directly. He may have inadvertently left us off the list, but if you ask him he'd probably want to know why you didn't let us right in."

 

The hostess' face became serious. "Oh!" she said to Brighid. "Why didn't you say the boss had sent you! Please come right in. We'll seat you immediately."

 

Two waiters instantly arrived at some unseen signal and escorted Brighid in. Zool turned a deep shade of purple, but they were finally able to ascertain that he had a regular 'chair' already inside, which was a painting of a chair that could be set up at the table. He stepped into it and sat down, fuming. Brighid pretended not to notice, and quickly was able to alleviate Zool's mood. "This place is so NICE!" she enthused, "And have you seen the menu? My GOODNESS!"

 

Zool looked at the menu too, and quickly forgot his irritations.

Edited by The Portrait of Zool

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“I have no idea what to order, Zool! There is such a variety to choose from and I’m used to much simpler fare. I didn’t realize until this moment that I’m absolutely famished! Please order for us both,” Brighid said enthusiastically.

 

Zool puffed up at the thought of showing off in front of the hostess and waiters after their earlier condescending snub. “Garcon!” he yelled as he snapped his fingers in the direction of the closest waiter. “Bring us the Boaz Room’s specialty for two. I assume you have resurrected the entire secret menu for special guests now that you’ve reopened. And bring us a bottle of Boaz’s reserved red wine. I have shared many bottles with that old rascal in the past and happen to know that there are many more in the wine cellar. Go dust off a bottle post haste; my lady and I are ready for a feast!”

 

The waiter scampered off to do Zool’s bidding.

 

“As we wait for our repast, why don’t you tell me how you happened to be outside our keep this afternoon? Unless you think I am being too presumptuous. I do not mean to pry,” Zool added hastily.

 

“No, I do owe you an explanation. You have been so kind and hospitable. I’m sure it’s not every day you find a bedraggled young woman traveling alone and wandering outside your home. I must warn you though; my story is rather long and does not turn out well.”

 

Zool leaned back into his chair and nodded encouragingly. He said nothing to the waiter as he approached the table and filled the glasses with a rich, ruby-colored wine. Brighid took one appreciative sip and then proceeded to tell her tale.

 

“My mother was a month away from delivering me when a goddess visited her in a dream. She appeared next to my parent’s bed: hair, skin and cloak of burnished gold. The woman laid her hands on either side of my mother’s swollen belly and proclaimed that the child she carried was to be the next Keeper of the Hearth for the People of the North. It is an exceptional honor and one my mother had been taught to respect, but she knew it also came with certain restrictions and high expectations.”

 

Zool leaned forward eagerly, waiting for Brighid to carry on with her story. A glass of red wine had miraculously showed up within his frame and he was holding it to his lips.

 

“I was born at sunrise on the morning of Imbolc as all Keepers are. At the age of two, after I was weaned from my mother’s breast, I went to live in the home of the previous Keeper. For many years she taught me the ancient knowledge and skills I would need in order to serve my people. Those years were happy for me. I studied the properties of medicinal plants and how to compose songs of healing. I learned the words which spark a fire where there is none and keep a fire burning long after it should have died out. I mastered the art of walking with one foot outside the boundary of this world in order to receive prophesy and guidance from my namesake, the Goddess Brighid.”

 

 

Brighid paused to take another sip of the delicious wine before continuing. Zool got the feeling she was fortifying herself against the next part of her story.

 

“On the morning of my twelfth birthday, just as the sun’s first rays crept into the horizon, my mentor, the woman who had become like a second mother to me, climbed upon a pyre built in honor of the occasion. Without a word she laid herself upon the bier which was covered in a tapestry of rich greens and golds. With as much majesty as I could muster, for inwardly my young heart was full of grief, I managed to speak the words of the fire-sparking spell.”

 

Brighid stopped her story and looked somberly into the eyes of Zool. She wasn’t sure how someone outside of her people would react to such a selfless and voluntary act, but Zool only gave his head a slight nod.

 

“After the previous Keeper left this world, I lived alone in the cottage we had shared for ten years. Even though I was permitted to visit my family and I was often the guest in the homes of my people, especially when I was there to attend a birthing, I lived a solitary life. The Keeper of the Hearth does not take a lover or husband. Only when she is close to the end of her mortal life does a child come to be hers in the form of the next Keeper.

 

For twelve more years I lived in this manner, serving my people willingly. One day, while I was working in my herb garden, a young boy came running up to my cottage, breathlessly yelling my name. A foreign man had been found washed upon the shores of Lake Penrith. The stranger was suffering from an abdominal wound and was barely clinging to life. I grabbed my healing bag and ran in the direction of the lake.”

 

Brighid stopped and took another quaff of the rich wine. “Should I go on, Zool, or have you heard enough?”

 

“No, do go on my lady, unless, of course, you’re not ready to share your entire story.”

 

Brighid regarded the painted man earnestly. His affable demeanor and friendly smile made it easy for her to trust him. Plus, she realized, it felt good to lighten her burden by sharing her story with another. It had been too long since she had spoken to another…um…human.

 

“His wounds were festering; the deep gashes he suffered had punctured his intestine and he was dying from internal poisoning.”

 

Brighid stopped speaking momentarily, hoping that her dining companion wasn’t put off by such a distasteful description, but Zool was battle-hardened and didn’t even make a grimace.

 

“Several of the villagers laid the man on a litter and carried him to my cottage. They placed him in front of my fireplace which was illumed with flames never extinguished since the Goddess herself had lit it within. I was not accustomed to ministering to a sick person within the walls of my home, but this man was not from our village so he had no place of his own, and he was so gravely ill that he would need 24 hour care from me if he was to survive.

 

It took a long time for him to regain consciousness. I had begun to think that I was not skillful enough to save him when he finally opened his eyes, eyes that were the warmest shade of golden brown flecked with blackest coal. Slowly he regained his strength. For several days I prepared for him a nourishing broth which he allowed me to spoon feed to him. I couldn’t help but notice how pleasantly curved his lips were. We spent the hours talking of our pasts. He was from the mountains far north of us and had journeyed into our lands all alone. He had left his home after a family dispute which he was reluctant to speak about. He received his near-fatal wounds after being gored by a wild boar.”

 

The waiter, noticing that both Brighid and Zool had drained their cups of wine, came by and filled them up again. As soon as he left, Brighid resumed her story.

 

“One morning the man was strong enough to move from his cot to a chair by the fire. That afternoon we carried on our usual conversation while I stood at a wooden table, my back to him, preparing some herbs for his tea. Suddenly, I felt his presence behind me, and as I turned around he pulled me into his arms and kissed me.”

 

Brighid lingered a moment upon the memory, looking into Zool’s eyes but staring far off into another time. Slowly she lowered her eyes and whispered, “And I kissed him back.”

 

“That night we slept together, limbs entwined. I knew what I had done was against all I had been taught and that there would be consequences. My hope was that he would return to his homeland and none would be the wiser. I fell asleep for the first time in many years listening to the heartbeat of another.

 

The next thing I knew I was walking in that dream-like space between this world and the next. I carried the man effortlessly within my arms as he slept. We walked the forest path toward Penrith, and illuminated by the full moon I could see the white-tipped waves moving across the grey lake. I stood for several moments upon the shore, breathing in the otherworldly-scented air; I was still not sure if this was a dream or a walk within the dream world. Suddenly, with a sob of anguish, I stepped into the lake, kissed the man one last time upon his lips, and viciously tore open the wound I had so lovingly closed up. He died somewhere between leaving my arms and descending beneath the water. At no time did he make a move to stop me.”

 

Tears glittered upon the tips of Brighid’s lashes, but she continued on. “I stumbled and fell into the water myself; choking, I crawled up onto the bank, curled into a ball, and cried until there was nothing left for me to cry out. I came to – for that is the only way I can describe it –at some point an hour or two before sunrise. I was indeed lying in the cold, damp grass next to the lake, and I knew with certainty that my dream had not merely been a dream. I ran desperately to my cottage, still clinging to a sliver of hope that I would find my lover sleeping peacefully within my bed, but he was gone. I did not think; I just reacted. I packed a traveling bag full of supplies, grabbed my cloak, and ran from my home. I have been running since…until now.”

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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Zool fell back in his chair, the shock of Brighid's story settling heavily upon him. A moment passed, then another, then he covered the silence with a drink from his glass before resolving to speak.

 

"That is indeed a sombre tale... but also, rather puzzling. The whole thing smacks of intervention from beyond. Perhaps later I will visit the library and do a little reading of the goddess Brighid and the Tuatha De' Danann." Zool looked appraisingly at Brighid, his eyes narrowed in a rare look of seriousness. "So you awoke with no sign of this man you helped, but next to the lake. That does seem damning... but just how sure are you of his demise?"

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Brighid stared at the portrait, a slight smile turning up the corners of her lips.

 

"Ah, I see you're no fool; you've discovered the crux of the situation in just a few seconds where as it took me several days into my journey before I realized that the stranger may or may not have actually died. At first I was in shock at finding my lover gone, and I was overcome by guilt from betraying my position as Keeper of the Hearth. It didn't occur to me that my dream vision might not have been real. I didn't think; I felt compelled to run. The first few days I didn't even stop to sleep, but rested only briefly to eat a bit of food and drink some water. Finally, after three days of this, I stumbled upon a small cave, and knowing that I could not go on in this way forever, I curled up inside, lit a small fire, and fell into a deep sleep. I did not dream that night, but I woke with a clear head, and that's when I understood that there is much about the situation that I do not understand."

 

Brighid took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She suddenly felt weary with the fullness of pain her heart contained.Thankfully, the waiters appeared at the table bearing trays of covered silver dishes.

 

"Just in time," she exclaimed delightedly, "I'm starving! And curious what the 'Boaz Room Specialty' consists of."

 

Temporarily pushing the distressing thoughts aside, Brighid smiled at Zool with merriment as the waiters started to place the serving dishes on the table in front of them. A string quartet commenced playing in the corner of the bustling dining room, and the two new friends were enveloped with a spirit of celebration.

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"I think your situation certainly bears some investigation," said Zool in a low voice and a meaningful glance as the waiters arrived, then he straightened up and smiled broadly, his delight unmistakable. Like Brighid he was also curious to see what the 'Boaz special' was, as it was actually whatever Sven was cooking up in that fevered chef brain of his. You never knew what it might be, only that it would be original, exotic, and absolutely delicious! He looked excitedly at the spreading repast as lids began to be lifted.He was not disappointed. It was a smorgasbord of appetizers the likes of which he had never seen. There were two of each dish, and each dish was only a bite or two, but each bite certainly packed a wallop; A chupacabra tartare with white truffle oil, capers, and goat cheese. A salad of baby cabbages, pomegranite, bacon, and an ambrosia dressing, with all greens grown in a unicorn pasture. Toasted fairy bread with a tiny poached bird of paradise egg and a sauce made from Andean cave cheese. Hydra fois gras with mermaid grass and lemonThe list went on and on!

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"I've never seen such an elaborate buffet!" Brighid effused. After months of surviving on meager sustenance, she was overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of the foods spread out before her. Most of the dishes were foreign and much richer than her usual fare. The exotic foods were accompanied by several creamy sauces served in ornate silver bowls. Brighid felt her stomach rumble and realized just how famished she was. "I don't know where to start! I've never heard tell of a chupacabra before; if such a beast roams the northern forest then I've never seen one. I think I will try a little bit of everything...and a spoonful of every sauce!"

 

It pleased Zool to see how appreciative Brighid was of all the Boaz Room had to offer. For too long the room had been closed up tight and void of any life. He began to hope that the Keep might become as vital as it once was.

 

All of a sudden the quartet stopped playing and a troupe of gnomish performers bounded onto center stage. One of the tiny men balanced on top of a spinning golden sphere, juggling balls of garnet and emerald. Two female gnomes deftly rode unicycles in concentric circles, brightly-colored ribbons streaming behind them. All the diners laughed out loud when a gnome dressed in a pig suit was carried in on a carving platter, emitting squeals of mock distress while a bevy of comedic “cooks” tried repeatedly to stab him with their rubber knives.

 

Zool and Brighid joined in on the laughter whole-heartedly. “I haven’t had this much fun in a very long time, Zool” Brighid said as she helped herself to another helping of the hydra fois gras. “This stuff is delicious! Would you like some more?”

 

Zool started to reply but his answer was stopped dead in his throat before he could articulate it. Brighid saw his eyes widen and his mouth gape open in surprise as he stared beyond her left shoulder. Almost simultaneously the lights dimmed dramatically and a pink-tinged spotlight illuminated the main entrance. A hush fell over the dining room. Brighid turned around in her chair, straining to see who or what was responsible for causing such a reaction in her dining companion.

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Centered in the doorway was a female form, dramatically lit by the spotlight and contrasting darkness, draped in a colorful semi-sheer fabric, her arms wrapped around herself, her face hidden behind a filmy veil, gold and jewels sparkling seemingly everywhere."It can't be..." said Zool, just above a whisper.Brighid gave him an inquiring look, but before either could say more the show started.A drum from somewhere in the shadows gave a single beat, and the mysterious woman's arms began to unwind. The drum beat again, starting a slow steady rythm. As her arms opened then lifted she revealed She was wearing a belly dancing costume. The single drum was joined by a tabla with a more traditional rythm, and she began to dance.She had the full attention of the Boaz Room. Even the ever-busy waiters and waitresses momentarily froze in motion. She pirouted, spun, shimmied and otherwise danced her way around the room, dragging a gauzy veil over more than one thrilled dinner-goer, though Brighid looked more amused than thrilled as the translucent cloth trimmed with a golden thread whispered over her. Finally the woman danced up onto the small stage, and as she faced the guests everything stopped on a single beat. Then, she spoke, her warm contralto reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich but with a strange, exotic accent, projecting strong and clear in the fresh silence; "From out of the sands of time and across the sea of history, from across vast deserts and dense forests, great mountains and deep oceans, comes the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-eating, Swami Noguru!"The light on her went dark at the same time the light turned on Swami Noguru, standing in the doorway, a portly man in a white robe with a thick mustache and an ill-fitting purple turban with a jewel set in the center and a broud feather jutting up out of it. The spell was broken, the staff resuming their duties as the band struck a 'Ta-dahh!' The Swami took a bow. After an awkward pause, the room applauded politely. Escorted in by the hostess he quickly took a seat next to Zool. "Swami Noguru!" exuded Zool. "You old fakir, I thought that was you! It's been years! How in the nine hells are you?"The Swami smiled broadly. "Zool! So glad to see you. I am well, though you look a bit flatter than the last time I saw you.""Yeah I lost some dimension - but it looks like you found it!" Both men laughed uproariously."Is there anything else I could get you?" asked the hostess, who had been patiently standing by.The Swami looked up casually. "Yes, could you also please seat my entourage?"In through the door streamed dancers, musicians, acrobats, clowns, geeks, roustabouts, and finally what looked like an entire zoo of elephants, tigers, bears, ostriches, giraffes, horses, woodchucks, duck-billed platypusses, badgers, and many others. The dancer who had made the Swami's introduction had already seated herself next to Brighid. Suddenly the table shook as crowds of unique people began pulling up chairs. The collective look on the waiters and waitresses faces was priceless, that their hallowed and high-class Boaz room should be invaded so!

Edited by The Portrait of Zool

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As the entourage was seated and Zool and Brighid chatted with Swami Noguru, no one noticed the dark shadow that was suddenly sittting in the far corner of the room. By . . . happenstance? . . . the wait staff avoided seating diners in that general area. Still, Zool, Brighid and the Swami all felt a small shiver and gave eachother a small, quick glance of trepidation. They immediately played it off and went on with there revelries. All the while with a tiny feeling of dread at the back of their thoughts.

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Luckily, the old groom and two young stable hands were quickly called for, and they led the mélange of animals past the diners and out through the back entrance to the near-empty stables. They would be busy all evening making sure they were fed and bedded down for the night. A few stray peacocks lagged behind, strutting around between the tables looking for handouts.

 

What had started out as a quiet dinner for two quickly devolved into a riotous carouse. Swami Noguru’s entourage filled the entire back quarter of the immense Boaz room, but their singing and jests could be heard throughout the cavernous space. While they waited for the staff to bring them food and drink, the musicians played lively melodies on their lutes and pipes. Several dancing girls were hoisted up onto the table tops, and they undulated to the rhythms while their jewel-colored gowns flowed around them creating a rainbow spectacle. The somewhat staid clientele of the Boaz Room were totally enraptured by the exotic party-goers. Even those who had settled their bills right before the Swami appeared decided to stick around to see what would happen.

 

“My professional name is Yasmina,” whispered the gold and jewel-bedecked belly dancer sitting next to Brighid, “but my real name is Mary. Swami Noguru found me waiting tables in my father’s back-country inn and rescued me from a life of dull servitude. He dubbed me Princess Yasmina, the orphaned daughter of Sultan Suleiman and a favorite member of his Imperial Harem. A much more fitting name for the companion of such an esteemed swami as Noguru, no?” She winked conspiratorially and gestured magnanimously toward the paunchy man.

 

“My name is Brighid, and I just arrived to the Keep myself this afternoon; it’s nice to meet you. I suppose you’re already acquainted with Zool?” Brighid replied, suddenly feeling quite aware of her disheveled appearance next to the gorgeous dancer. She should have gone to her room to bathe and freshen up before dinner, but hunger had gotten the best of her.

 

“Oh, yes. I am well acquainted with Zool," Yasmina answered quietly. “Although, it has been awhile since our last visit here and he’s quite changed. Whatever happened to him?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Brighid whispered back to Yasmina. “He hasn’t told me how he came to be trapped within his painting, and I didn’t want to be impolite and just ask outright. Like I said, I just arrived a few hours before you. I’ve been traveling alone for some time and came across Zool in the forest. His frame was being carried by a man called Grimmael. I followed them back to the Keep, and so here I am.”

 

Brighid suddenly became aware that the conversation across the table had come to an end, and when she looked up, Zool and Noguru were both staring at her expectantly.

 

“I’m sorry, Zool. Did you say something?” Brighid asked, feeling slightly awkward.

 

“It was I," replied the swami. “I was saying that I’m intrigued in how you happened to stumble upon this Keep. You’re shrouded in something mysterious, my dear, but I’m sure you’re worn out from your travels and I don’t want to delve too deeply until you've rested up. Zool has told me that you’re from a far-off northern land and that is it. Your story can wait until tomorrow, though; right now I’m interested in how our larger than life fool has somehow shrunken himself into a sliver of his former self! Oh, Zool! What mishap has befallen you since our last meeting, my friend?”

 

“Yes, Zool, I’m also curious,” Yasmina added, smiling and placing her hand gently on the gilded frame surrounding the somewhat flustered man.

 

No one noticed the shadow in the corner as it leaned in closer toward the conversation.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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Springs squealed and one of the doors at the rear of the room bowed inward. For a moment the door creaked open without any hand to be seen, the light beyond it was darkened, and everyone who'd noticed the shadow drew a sharp breath--but then the light reappeared and silhouetted the neck and head of a young giraffe bent nearly upside-down. A female chirruped from beyond the doorway and took some strain off of the door hinges; the giraffe sniffed at the glowing exit sign, righted its head, used the sign to scratch between its horns, then retreated back through the doorway. The door swung back shut for a little while before the owner of the voice stepped back into the room.

 

She stopped dead upon seeing the chaos, but she was smiling. "Madcap antics and mayhem. That's more like it!" Her ears (rather longer and more pointed than the giraffe's had been) pricked up with joy. That lasted for a few seconds, but then her nose twitched, and she turned up the sole of one long boot and frowned. The elf seemed to deflate on the spot, and hopped back out on the other foot, bumping the door open with her hip. Half a dozen members of a musical troupe skittered out of their chairs and rammed through the door after her. It hadn't even settled back to stillness before Rydia was borne back into the room in midair squeaking in dismay, and being bounced twice a second as the rubber band twanged out a entrance theme while carrying her in.

 

After they'd boogied on over near the portraiture table and dropped off the elf, she seemed somewhat green. That wasn't seasickness though, that was just her. Boots, dress, eyes, even the hair which went up and out and over and balanced out the sheer length of the ears, all in shades of green. "Oh hiiiiiiiiiii!" she chirped, unfazed. "Zool it's been simply ages! And this is proper blitz! And you brought back the swami--" she stopped and her eyes went wide, "oh dear." Realization wasn't just for Rydia. With that look of incipient panic, and if you mentally subtracted the ears and recast her looks in a human form, and added on a costume of a power-mad red mage, wouldn't she just be a match for one particular portrait in the series of portraits of a red mage lining one wall of the room?

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"The story of how my present state befell me is a fascinating and tragic tale," replied Zool in a serious tone. "It all began when..." At that moment Rydia appeared. "Rydia!" he exclaimed, his face lighting back up in surprise and delight at seeing her. "My goodness, it HAS been AGES, though I find you look much more familiar than I remember...." Zool's voice trailed off at that, but then another thought struck him. He motioned for a waiting waiter who quickly stepped up. "The animals seem to have left some, erm, deposits," he whispered to the servant whose eyes widened in horror at the revelation. "See that a cleaning squad is dispatched to ensure spotlessness all the way to the stables!" The waiter ran off to take care of it. No one bothered the animals still ranging the area.Zool then looked around as if seeing the room for the first time. He thought he had seen a shadow out of the corner of his eye, but quickly forgot it "My goodness," he said, remembering himself (his favorite thing), "Where are my manners?! Introductions are in order here. Brighid, please forgive me."Before Brighid could reply he indicated the Swami. "You've heard the formal introduction of Swami Noguru. Swami Noguru, I am pleased to present Brighid of Byrness.""My pleasure, Lady Bridgid," intoned the Swami with a most charming smile and a seated bow. "Lady Brighid," said Zool, repeating the honorific because it pleased him to do so, "Please allow me to introduce Rydia; Elf, Angel, and long-time fellow Bard. Rydia, Brighid of Byrness, healer, poetess, and traveler."After the ladies had made their greetings Brighid turned to Yasmina. "So what exactly is it that you all do?"Yasmina smiled. "The Swami is a great mentalist, hypnotist, and prognosticator extraordinaire - or whatever pays the bills. We have quite a traveling show - we have been simply everywhere and played for anyone of any import. The Swami is probably one of the greatest shysters since Saint Barnum - but that said, I have seen some very strange things while in his show, and the Swami does seem to have a knack for being right in the middle of things."After this was said all eyes turned to the Swami, who had gone back to chatting with Zool. Just at that instant a trap door on the side opposite Zool of the Swami's turban opened up and a luminous blue arm reached out and grabbed some Hydra Foigras off the table, then disappeared just as quickly with it's prize, the trap door shutting behind it, the whole operation as quick as lightning and as silent as fog.The women blinked, then looked at each other."Did anyone mention that Boaz is the Demigod of madness?" asked Rydia with an innocent smile.

Edited by The Portrait of Zool

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It seemed as if no one had. "Hmm," Rydia cooed, "Maybe I'd better back up a bit and explain the world. Blitz Terra lived life at full speed. We were all really young and crazy. Let an hour pass by and the world would've changed, two dozen people piling in and saying something, and barely two paragraphs when you added it all up later and got rid of the carrots."

 

Zool cleared his throat with a noise that sounded quite like 'carets'. Rydia shook her head, setting half-a-dozen sparkly dangly earrings flying. "Ohmigod no. Car-rots. Believe me. So you would live an entire lifetime in a day. Well, more like two, but we didn't go in for splitting hairs like that, that was more of a Blitz Two thing. We're talking about Ones here. With me so far?"

"Not especially. . ." Brighid began.

 

"Great! Now you're getting it! Not really knowing what's going on, but hanging on for dear life. Someone shouts 'LOOK! A MONKEY!" and just hours later you find yourself swatting flying devil monkeys and giant carrots out of the air with whatever comes to hand. One day there was an argument about who was the most crazy person on Blitz Terra, and believe me there was some competition!" She giggled and flipped a corner of her shawl. "Anyway, after a few hours of this I got bored and I said OK, now you are the Demigod of Madness, and that was Boaz. And a few others, it was quite a craze for awhile to get yourself a demigod title.

 

"Now the Demigod of Insanity decided to have a bit of a propaganda war later, and got an entire guild's worth of people to go swarm another corner of Terra in his name, but somehow that didn't seem fair to me y'know? So somehow I ended up 'leading' this, yeah right, the way the head locomotive leads a runaway train down from the Rockies, but anyway, I called myself Boaz Mastermind of the Joats." Rydia pointed an ear back at the mistaken portrait of herself in "Boaz" regalia, in between the rather more correct one of Boaz taming a red dragon of formidable size and an extra wide canvas showcasing Boaz and others in the midst of a battle set over a simmering volcano with entirely too much realism.

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"Terra was a heady place," interjected Zool, his face momentarily overcome with a nostalgic tinge. "It was a locus of sorts, of passions and energies I had never seen before, and rarely seen since. Even in Ager we had some most compelling episodes." He stopped for a moment, as his far away look returned to the present. Something in Rydia's words almost disturbed him. Who was Boaz really? Zool had not known him well, hardly at all really. He turned to the Swami. "What do you know about Boaz?"

 

"On the great tree of life, we are all but leaves rustling in the wind," replied the Swami enigmatically.

 

"Uh, erm, yes, of course," answered Zool, trying to look intelligent.

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At that very moment, Mr Moog (1 of Snypiuers' overlarge squirrel companions) enters the room wearing a grass skirt and Pacific Islander tribal tattoos. A fast drum beat is heard as he does a fire dance . . . it takes about 3 seconds for him to set himself on fire. At which point, Pith (the tallest of Snypiuers' squirrel companions) races in to turn his buddy out . . . BUT, not before Sil (the last of the companions) gives Mr Moog a look of, 'you poor dumb ninny' and launching into her best Alicia Keys voice, "This squirrel is on FIRE!" Pit laughs as he puts Mr Moog out and even Mr Moog gets a chuckle out of it. Suddenly, all 3 look at eachother and, for the briefest of moments, just at the furthest corner of their eyes, they glance at the shadow in the far corner of the room. They quickly gather themselves, make apologies and practically flee the room.

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"What was that?" asked Zool as he watched the overlarge squirrels fast retreat,

 

"The Shadow knows!" said the Swami.

 

Zool gave him an uncomprehending look, even as a maniacal laugh came out of nowhere and the strains of Camille Saint-Saëns' 'Le Rouet d'Omphale' came from the same place.

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“I’m completely overwhelmed by incomprehension and sensory overload,” Brighid shared with Yasmina. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve been lost since Rydia mentioned ‘car-rots’ and Blitz One or Two!”

 

“Me, too, but I think we’re about to be caught up to speed,” Yasmina replied, gesturing toward the dimly-lit corner on the far side of the room.

 

Brighid could barely distinguish between what was shadow and what were lingering wafts of singed-squirrel smoke, but she could see that something dark was starting to coalesce into a defined colossal shape.

 

“Wh-wh-at is that?” stammered one of the troubadours who had ceased strumming his instrument.

 

“Or, perhaps you mean who?” stated Swami Noguru succinctly.

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"Ohmigod do not talk to me about Ager," Rydia drawled. She focused on the cut-crystal wineglass she'd been twiddling with, frowned, and set it down. "That was not the fun kind of crazy. I was retired, I was gone, and then I got dragged back and into that. Ugh. Can't even look at a glass of rosé these days," she continued, and scrunched her eyes shut before picking up the glass again and draining it.

 

When she opened them again, squirrels had invaded the room. Rydia tipped the empty glass and gave it a look of suspicion, but the shiny glints of light from the remaining drops of alcohol made her giggle. She looked up again just in time to watch them flee. The giggling died away into a noncommittal noise.

 

"That great big quest about going forth and finding the ultimate spell for a red mage? And the reason for needing one? See, Boaz was right in the midst of that but I wasn't. . .so. . .did it start with shadows creeping in at the corners? Because if it did. . ."

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There were no windows in the Boaz Room, but there were no floors above it either, the beam ceilling supporting that part of the roof of the Pen. A sudden ominous crack of thunder from the storm outside boomed loudly, causing one of those odd hushes made even more audible when the conversations collectively resumed a split moment later.

 

Zool eyed the ceilling before resuming his own conversation, making no comment on the thunder or the storm. He smiled and said, "Ager was a crazy kind of oasis to me, at least on the battlefield. Many were carful to stay on the forum of their server, but I paid no mind, jumping from forum to forum on Terra like a drunk jumping from bar to bar on Bourbon street." He hoisted his glass and drained it for emphasis. "Besides, I remember the polls - I actually was one of the oldest mages there!"

 

In the time it took for him to say that last sentence his glass had been refilled. He took another sip before thoughtfully continuing. "So much was lost at the fall of Terra. I remember the Eradication quest of which you speak... but I don't recall that Boaz was in it. I seem to remember that was one of Gyrfalcon's epics... with Yui and Wyvern and...?" Zool shook his head in exasperation. "I don't remember how it began, and only some of the end because I participated." He nodded at Rydia before continuing. "You have long amazed me with your powers of recall, a power which I simply do not share. Even as a young mage I had great difficulty with such things. I am thankful we have the pittance collected in the library, and grateful we still have this Keep where we can keep those memories alive."

Edited by The Portrait of Zool

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“Reminiscing over a few drinks is all well and good,” Swami Noguru interjected, “but you don’t have to be a potent prognosticator to realize that we have more pressing matters at hand.”

 

The revelers within earshot put down their drinks and glanced in the direction the swami indicated with his outstretched arm. Yasmina gasped in astonishment as a black-cloaked figured stepped from the corner’s recess. His cloak seemed to be sewn from the magical mist of the shadows themselves; its lines were vague and vacillated in and out of an exact form. The man who wore the cloak, for no woman could be large enough to create such a prodigious form, was completely hidden within its folds. Or, perhaps the mystical being was merely the cloak itself and there was no substance within. In any case, all eyes were riveted in the direction of the shadow lord and a deathly quiet had descended upon the Boaz Room.

 

From two tables over, an enormous warrior sprang from his chair brandishing a well-used sword. “Stop where you are!” he commanded the shadow. “Do not take another step forward until you uncover your face and declare who you are.”

 

The shadowed figure started to slowly raise his hand to his hood when all of a sudden chaos broke loose in the forms of Mr. Moog, Pit, and Sil – the latter swinging down from one of the ancient oak beams and landing squarely on top of the hooded figure. Moog and Pit ran dizzying circles around the cloaked figure, creating a hurricane of dust and flying fur as the man careened around the room, swatting at the psycho squirrels….

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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"STOP!!" The entire room froze at the sound of command in the shout. People froze in mid-scream, the warrior dropped his sword, Sil fell to the floor, Zool peeked out from under his painted chair.It was Swami Noguru. Dropped was the congenial and charming demeaner. In it's place was a posture and manner of authority that was undeniable. Honed from his many years of experience, he now completely commanded that room."This is no way to treat a guest," stated the Swami. "It is true that his entrance was not through a means that we would prefer, with the stealth and furtiveness of a phantom. It is true that he has completely concealed his person, and it is true he gives off a certain 'air' that could be construed as 'menacing', but what has he done, really? I think we should all step back and look closely at our own actions, for behold!"As he said that a powerful beam of light projected from the large jewel in his turban, illuminating the phantom like daylight - or rather the area where the phantom was, for where the beam shined it simply passed through him, causing him to largely disappear! Then the beam dimmed slowly until gone, so as not to leave everyone's eyes dazzled, and they saw as the light diminished the phantom regained solidity."That's right," said the Swami somberly, "Our new friend is visibility disabled. Let us not condemn him for his misfortune, but welcome him, and get to know the real phantom, aside from his disability, for isn't that how we would all prefer to be treated?"Everyone cast their eyes down, ashamed, the ensuing silence broken by one sound - the sound of the phantom weeping.

Edited by The Portrait of Zool

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Brighid slid her chair back from the table; the sound of the thick, oaken chair legs scraping across the rough flagstone flooring drew everyone’s attention away from the sniveling shadow. She stood, and taking a few steps toward the figure, gracefully raised her arms toward him, palms facing upward. With gentle authority she spoke comfortingly words she had learned as a healer in the north, “Cneasaigh! ‘S mi fo chomraig Naoimh Moire.” Instantly, the formless, nameless being regained its composure and slunk back into the corner whence it came. Perhaps it would be coaxed out at a later point in the festivities; although, it was still unknown whether it was a harbinger of approaching good or evil.

 

Brighid pushed back her shoulders, lifted her chin just a bit, and tried her best to hastily flatten the wrinkles in her gown. Giving her golden-red hair a toss, she smiled with genuine warmth at the occupants of the Boaz Room. “Ladies and gentlemen, the dramatic interlude has ended. I suggest we raise our glasses in toast to the talented Swami Noguru, the all-seeing, all-knowing prognosticator extraordinaire!”

 

The dining room rang with cheers and the tinkling of knives being tapped against crystal goblets in Noguru’s honor. The orchestra struck up a Viennese waltz, and Brighid made her way over to the smiling swami. “May I have the honor of this dance, my kind sir?” Brighid asked Noguru, her eyes twinkling with merriment.

 

“But of course, my beautiful lady,” he replied, excusing himself from the table and leading Brighid out onto the dance floor. The vertically challenged swami barely topped Brighid’s breasts, but he led her around in swirling circles with enthusiastic aplomb.

 

Soon, the dance floor was crowded with all sorts of celebrating creatures: elves, belly dancers, fire eaters, dwarves, and a few frenetic squirrels...

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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As James and Scheherazade went up the staircase they had found, they entered a big room. “What is this place,” wondered Scheherazade.

“This is the Boaz Room. A place of the finest foods, richest drinks, and most pleasant company,” replied a very slim elven maiden, in a silken, form fitting, black gown.

“STOP!!!” roared a voice from the other room.

The elven maiden looked into the room, a lot of anger and fear in her eyes. She quickly turned back around, sighed deeply, and asked in a hopeless voice, “Can I help you?”

James looked at her, gave a big grin, pointed into the other room, and said, “We're with them.” Scheherazade laughed as the maiden throw the guest book high in the air cursing in her native tongue, and waved them to go ahead.

 

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

 

As they entered the most lavish dinning hall they had ever seen, they marveled at the scenery. Paintings and sculptures of every era, plants of long dead or forgotten species, peacocks and other marvelous animals roaming through the guest and staff, acrobats, dancers, musicians, three large squirrels, a belly dancer, an elven girl, a girl with beautiful golden-red hair, a man in a turban, a painting that moved, and.....HIM! There in the corner of the room was the Cloaked Figure. “YOU!” shouted James, pointing at the corner.

Everyone turned to face the newcomers. Scheherazade waved shyly. James pointed to the moving portrait and said, “Sir, I know you are innocent, and I will prove to everyone that you have been FRAMED!” Scheherazade slapped him and he shrugged and simply said as he made his way to the group, “It had to be said, sorry. My card.” He then handed Zool, who had worked himself back into his chair, a card. As it touch the painting it somehow appeared in Zool's hand.

“It doesn’t say anything,” Zool said, “It is merely the fool from a deck of cards.”

James nodded and said, “But a picture is worth a thousand words, I figured you out of anyone would know that.” James thought he heard some of the ladys giggle, could have been his imagination, or something in the Swami's turban. Zool puffed up a bit. “And at some point in life, aren't we all fools.” James smiled at the portrait. “I am sorry that I can not stay longer, I would love to get to know you all better,” he slowly drew his eyes across the room, stopping once, and only for a moment. He then continued, “I am off to fix a toilet.” James pulled out the portable window,throw it against the nearest wall, smiled at Scheherazade, and together they jumped out of it.

As the window broke a gust of cold storm air rushed in. Then as a lone leaf entered through the gaping hole, just as the broken window vanished. Replaced by the wall, in perfect condition. The entire place was speechless. It might have been from the sight of the Mighty Pen outside in such disarray, or the sight of a lone leaf dancing in the center of the room, or the fact that two people jumped out of a window in a windowless room. Or it could be that the Cloaked Figure in the corner was gone!

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Rydia suppressed a headdesk at the pun of Swami Noguru by turning it into a bowed head. Her lowered eyes met the rubber band, which had picked up the tune of Le Rouet d'Omphale and added some extra funk into the boot-level bass. "Do you mind?" she whispered sharply, and the band trailed off into silence, then picked up the waltz--and started fooling around with that time signature too. Rydia's ears drooped slightly to either side of her head, the equivalent of a sigh. She looked back up in time to see Brighid's. . .banishment?

"Oh, we would call you a green mage for that, Brighid," she trilled. "My natural ally!" Rydia beamed, looked to Zool for support, then lifted one ear in a distinct question-mark shape. ". . .Zool? You would be the other sort of natural ally? Wouldn't you?"

 

Further delicate inquiry was cut short by the arrival of James Crow and some little girl who seemed much less hyperactive than the Pen standard. Rydia couldn't help tittering along with the rest when the card changed hands, but then she saw the fool, while still straining to remember. And quite a lot of pieces were lain down before Rydia's mind as cards of their own, as they would not have done for any other of the quincunx, one by one and slow enough to grasp. "Fool. Crow. Ley-line. Shadow. Unalive. Oh wow, like I used to be. . .

 

"Oh dear," she sighed, quite defeated, to no one in particular. "No wonder he's so upset."

 

She wandered out to the dancefloor and attached herself to the squirrels' dance as best as a tailless creature could, filling in by waving her shawl around like a kite, but her heart wasn't in it. Still, it would be rude to leave and talk to the rest of the quincunx without having at least one dance. The others could wait.

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Partially out of breath from all the dancing, Brighid plopped herself enthusiastically into the empty chair next to Zool. “What an extraordinarily entertaining evening this has become,” she effused, gathering her hair into a pile upon her head and fanning the nape of her neck with the swami’s turban, which he had thrown onto the table during one of his wild passes around the dance floor.

 

“Ouch!” she exclaimed as a slender, blue arm reached out from within the turban and pinched her exposed skin. Dropping the turban on the table unceremoniously, she looked over at her silent friend and noticed he was sitting rather somberly within his painting, pensively staring at the card James Crow had slipped him.

 

“What’s the matter, Zool? Aren't you having fun? Why are you staring at that playing card?”

 

The pictorial image of her new-found friend slowly lifted his head, and Brighid thought that she could make out a slight glistening at the corner of his eyes which hadn't been there before; although, it was hard to tell in the semi-dark room.

 

With a subdued smile, the debonair man rose from his chair and bowed dramatically low. He straightened and rearranged his hair which was sitting rather askew after the formal gesture.

 

“Lady Brighid, excuse me my brooding. I am sorry to say you caught me dwelling on some not so pleasant memories. Let’s pour ourselves another drink and kick this party up another notch!”

 

To illustrate his point, Zool threw his rubber chicken up into the air, and using his walking cane like a baseball bat, knocked the flimsy fowl clear out of the gilt frame where it was plucked deftly from its fateful flight by the turban’s resident appendage.

Edited by Brighid of Byrness

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