Sue realized what a monster of a project she had ahead of her in planning the State Wedding to Jack and combining it with their official installation as Duke and Duchess of Isbardia. She decided that the wedding should come first, followed by the rest of the pomp and circumstance. But she also realized that she was in desperate need of assistance in the planning. Oh, she had plenty of Ladies in Waiting and Pages to do the leg work, but somebody had to do the overall executive planning, and she was just too snowed under in the details to do that, too. In a fit of common sense, she consulted her mentor.
"Hat, please help me! I am so loaded with the details of what Jack and I have to do that I just can't handle the big picture, too. Where can I turn for help?"
"Why don't you do what most girls do under these circumstances and ask your mother to help you?"
"But, I have been told that my mother is dead. How could she help me?"
"Yes, your biological mother is dead, but why not get help from the mother who knows you so well? Your adoptive mother from Earth could do what you need and I am sure would love to do it."
"Oh, Hat, is that possible. I want my whole family to come for the wedding, and Jack's family, too, but I thought that was impossible."
"No, it was once impossible, but you and Jack have accrued so much power now that you can manage it. The process is not simple, but it doesn't take long. You could devote three hours to the project and have all of them come right away. They can be returned to Earth after the wedding at the moment they left, so there would be no disruption in their normal lives, even if they spent a year in Isbardia."
"Oh, that's wonderful! I'll tell Jack and he can start getting apartments set aside for all of them while I work on getting them here."
Sue used their special mental communicating ability to tell Jack what she had in mind, and he was enthusiastic about the deal. He immediately called the chamberlain, Sir Hugo, and got him started on reserving the apartments.
Early the next day, both families were reunited with their children, and a welcoming party was held. The party was confined to the two families, without all of the court functionaries who would normally have attended. Jack gave a synopsis of their adventures since they arrived in Isbardia, so everybody was brought up to date. Since their families were familiar with the fact that Sue and Jack were special people, they came to believe the wild story without too much trouble, especially after Sue and Jack demonstrated some of their powers.
Sue and her mother, Helen, immediately tore into the wedding planning while Jack was delegated the responsibility of entertaining the rest of the families. The first thing he did was to arrange a grand tour of Isbardia so that the newcomers could see the dragons and other fascinating fauna and flora to be found in the magical country. They even visited TU (The Unconquerable) in his underground chamber. Everybody was enthralled by a being that could coordinate that many feet, TU even did a little dance to show off what control he had!
Some trouble had developed in a neighboring country, Sansor, and the trouble was leaking over into Isbardia. Jack transported to the troubled area, which, fortunately, was virtually uninhabited. He found there an encampment of warrior women who called themselves "The Sisterhood of the Sightless Eye," though outsiders usually called them "Rogues" for no obvious reason. Jack entered the encampment and talked to Akara, the spiritual leader, and Kashya, the combat leader. He explained who he was and offered them sanctuary as long as they needed it.
Akara said, "We appreciate your generosity, but we really want to return to our monastery at the edge of the Desert of Lut Gholein. We were driven out by Andariel and her minions. We need a hero who can clear the monastery for us."
Kashya added, "I can provide a guide and helper to that hero. Unfortunately, our ranks are so depleted that only one at a time will be available, and it will take me a little while to reorganize my troops to provide even her."
Jack said, "I need to look around and see what is going on along my border. I'll see you ladies later." Jack left the camp and crossed the small river which marked the boundary between Isbardia and Sansor. Almost immediately, Jack encountered demons very much like those he and Sue had seen when they first entered Isbardia. He had no difficulty eliminating them, especially since they were uncoordinated and tended to flail away without much skill. The place was overrun with skeletons which attacked much like the demons did, and with about the same result. There were a few zombies, but they were mostly just in the way, though they could cause some damage with their swinging arms and biting teeth.
Jack eventually came to a cave, or maybe a pit was a better description. He was somewhat reluctant to enter because of the awful stench that wafted from the entrance. Jack decided that he really did need to look into that cave, since he could hear some disturbing noises coming from it, so he took a deep breath of the last clean air he would find for a while and entered the cave. Well, no two ways about it, this cave was a stinking mess! Most of the stench came from rotting human bodies, though there was an overlying smell of old piss and shit. This was definitely not the vacation spot he was looking for!
Jack had hardly gotten down the ramp to enter the cave when he was assaulted by somebody's idea of a yeti. The creature was about eight feet tall and covered with oily, grubby hair. Its growl would blast ordinary eardrums and its smell was the perfect match for its surroundings. The yeti's attack consisted mostly of swinging its arms like great bludgeons and bites that would tear out huge chunks of flesh and bone. Fortunately, Jack's armor was up to the task of resisting the attacks, but he did miss Sue's spell to restore stamina. It looked like, at least for now, he was going to have to depend on drinking manna to keep his stamina up to the necessary level. Fortunately, he was well supplied at the moment.
Jack wandered through the cave, occasionally meeting another yeti, but mostly being bothered by packs of demons with a demon shaman. The demons were persistent choppers with their battle axes, but the demon shamans were the most problem because of the fire balls they cast. Jack's armor was proof against the fire balls, except that enough of them could wear him down. If his stamina dropped too far, then his resistance to magical attack was reduced. Given long enough, the fireball attack could kill him, so Jack did have to be on his guard.
Jack had worked his way well back into the cave when he was surprised to see a fight going on between some skeletons and some demons. Every once in a while, a green ball of magic poison would come forth and strike the demon shamans, there were three of them. Jack assumed that anyone fighting demons had to be a friend, simply based on the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
To his further surprise, as soon as a friendly skeleton was knocked out of the fight, Jack saw a new one appear to burst from the body of a downed demon and join in the battle against the living demons. Nevertheless, whoever was commanding the skeletons seemed to be losing the fight. There were just too many demons!
Jack called out that he was joining the fight against the demons, even though he still had not seen the other combatant. Jack leaped into the fray, immediately attacking the nearest of the demon shamans. It took only a few swipes with his magic sword for Jack to dispatch the first of the demon shamans and to move on to the next one. This was when Jack saw why there was so much difficulty in winning against the demons: as soon as he had a few seconds to cast the spell, the demon shaman was able to resurrect a fallen demon. That explained why the demons seemed to be in never ending supply.
With this as incentive, Jack renewed his attack on the demon shamans with increased ferocity. Nothing was reviving the demon shamans, so killing them seemed to be the key to winning this protracted fight. The other fighter finally brought down the last demon shaman with a poison ball just as Jack was dispatching his demon shaman. The skeletons were now able to wipe out the last of the demons, and the fight was finally over.
Jack now had time to study his companion in the battle and was confused by what he saw. This was a man who was so thin that he was almost a skeleton, himself. The man's body was covered in a close-fitting black leather suit and a set of armored boots. Other than the fact that the man was so skinny, his most striking feature was his waist-length pure white hair. This must be one of the legendary necromancers!
Jack had heard a few stories about necromancers, none of them complimentary. They dealt in poison, curses, and raising the dead—none of which was going to engender popular support, even though this activity was always directed toward accomplishing a good result. Jack introduced himself, and the necromancer replied, "My name is Nosef. As you can see, I am a necromancer and I will understand if you wish to leave now, though I hope that you will not."
Jack said, "Let's both leave. I have had about all of the stink of this place that I can stand." The two men escaped from the cave as quickly as they could find their way out.
Once outside, Jack asked, "Nosef, why are you here in Sansor? People of your following are very rare around here."
"That is true, but I have only just recently reached the level at which I can function on my own. I now need to gain experience fighting evil so that I can have enough power to be able to use the spells I already know and to learn the others that I have only heard about."
"OK, my girl friend and I were recently in that boat, ourselves, so I can appreciate what you have to contend with. If you like, I would be pleased to have you join me while I try to clean up this mess that has invaded Sansor."
"Ah, that would be very nice for me. I am a graduate necromancer, but I am still weak for now. A companion, especially one as experienced as you, would be a welcome change right now. I would be delighted to join you. Where should we go first?"
"There is a burial ground near here that seems to have been taken over by an evil form of necromancer, and you should be a great help in clearing it out. Let's go see what we can do with it." The two companions set off in the direction Kashya had indicated.
They walked about two miles, pausing occasionally to eliminate a demon, skeleton, or zombie as they were encountered. Nosef took the opportunity to build up his skeleton hoard to six individuals.
I asked, "How many skeletons can you animate at one time?"
"Right now, I'm limited to six, but I should be able to get up to 20 or so. The problem is that the skeletons hardly get any better at fighting, so they will become of lesser value as I go along. However, they can always be used as cannon fodder. The bad guys won't know that they are weak, so the distraction factor should hold up pretty well.
"Also, I have a curse that I can use to amplify the damage done by a weapon. Right now, it's not such a big deal, but it should get stronger as I gain experience. The way it works is that you could hit a zombie and just injure it, but if I cursed it first, your same hit would kill it on the spot."
"Hey, man, I like the way that one sounds. Let's give it a try the next time we run up against a tough character. You curse and I'll hit, between the two of us, we should mow them down!"
They began to run into more zombies, skeletons, and demons as they approached the burial ground. They tried some experiments and found that the amplify damage curse was indeed effective. They were now looking for a good opportunity to test it to its limits.
They were about half way through a large meadow when they came to what looked like a massive sink hole. The odd point about the hole was that there was a ramp leading from the lip down into the hole. The ramp spiraled around a couple of times before it finally reached the bottom. Jack and Nosef looked at each other and shrugged, as if to say "why not?" The went down the ramp and immediately encountered a gang of combined zombies and demons.
This was an excellent place to test the amplify damage curse against a tough foe. One of the zombies appeared to be much stronger and faster than the rest, so Jack called that he was going to concentrate on that one. Nosef was busy casting the amplify damage curse and raising more skeletons as his current ones were killed off. A useful side effect of the curse was that a red cloud hung over the cursed beings for the duration of the curse, so that Nosef could easily tell when it was time for him to renew the curse.
Nosef cast his curse and Jack leaped at the affected zombie. Man, this guy was tough! Even with the amplify damage curse in effect, Jack was hewing with all of his strength trying to bring the zombie down. Not only could the zombie dodge many of Jack's strokes, he was strong enough to knock Jack as much as 20 feet away whenever he could land a blow with his fist. Jack was really getting a working over from this monster! Several times, he had to stop long enough to drink some manna. Once, he even had to stop for a drink of the health restoring fluid. However, Jack's dander was really up at this point and he was not going to let a damned zombie beat him! Nobody ever knew how long the fight lasted, but Jack finally managed to get in a blow to the zombie's neck and chop off his head.
Jack took a moment to catch his breath before jumping at another zombie. Luckily, this one was not super fast or super strong, so Jack was able to dispatch him pretty easily. The same could be said for the rest of the zombies, and Nosef's skeletons had managed to clear this section of the cave of demons.
Normally, Hat did not contribute anything in the way of advice, but this time it prompted Jack to check out the weapons that littered the floor in case there was something that he or Nosef would find useful. They did find a small shield and a dirk that Nosef could profitably use, and Jack's eyes lit up when he came across a spear that looked like it would be ideal for an atlatl dart. Hat found that the spear had two very useful attributes: it renewed itself so that the user never ran out of the spears, no matter how many he threw at enemies, and it was was supercharged with both fire and lightning.
That was all Jack needed to make him switch over to the short spear. He made up an atlatl launcher from a broken spear, and only took a few casts to become an expert in its use. Jack was already familiar with the use of the atlatl, so he only needed a refamiliarization to regain his skill. The sword and shield went back into his magic carrier pack and he now held two spears in his left hand and the atlatl in his right hand, ready to use.
Jack and Nosef continued to work their way through the cave, killing demons, zombies, and an occasional yeti as they progressed. Nosef found that he was already up to handling eight skeletons and had hopes of 10 by the time they had the cave cleared. He also found that his bone armor spell would now work, so he discarded his shield.
Andarial watched the progress of the two heroes in her scrying dish and cursed the ground that they walked on. She could tell that they were going to give her trouble unless she sent her strongest minions to stop them. In the meantime, Andarial sent a message to Blood Raven to be on the lookout for the two, for they were sure to visit her before much more time had passed.
Andarial did make one mistake in that she assumed that Nosef was the more dangerous of the two adventurers, but this was based on her previous experience with necromancers and common warriors. She had never had any contact with a warrior of Jack's skill and determination.
Cast in this chapter:
Andariel—a demon queen
Blood Raven—the traitor Rogue who now ruled the cemetery
Helen Thomas—Sue's mother
Jack, Lord Argo—hero, Duke of Isbardia
Joe Bryson—Jack's brother
June Bryson—Jack's sister
Sir Hugo—the palace chamberlain
Sue, Lady Ulna—heroine, Duchess of Isbardia
The Unconquerable (TU)--Jack and Sue's dragon friend