XON screamed, and the meaning was Intelligence.

The forest listened to XON.


Fatal Helle-Rune forever whispered, from her memory palace, to the world, over and over: "Give me the strength to deceive even myself: that the past can be returned." She had gritted those words many turns ago. The false city of illusion around her, Bel, whispered the message to her, its creator, and she cocked her head, XON's gift tilting: a diamond crown.


As always, grief was XON's most precious ally. Her Hits depleted from travel through XON's prison: bloodprice before the feral queen's binding, she made her choice, and was bound in a castle of illusion, to build a city for her mistress.

Helle-Rune heard the tongue of the trees, rustling: she let go of the great cocoon that warded her from a world she no longer wished to see. Bel, offering strength from its twisted fountains and echoes of childhood memories, sheltered her. Opening herself to twin disciplines awful combined: singing a lullaby of the mind, she dove into creation's ecstasy, the power of the Magic.


The stabbers walked into the town uncontested. It seemed like a Level 1 - no walls, the creatures in it domesticated food animals, the people friendly yet wary. They seemed tribal, by their lack of Side livery - yet with no obvious tribe.


Signalling nearby cavalry to travel, Warlord advancing for supply negotiations, the sun shone on the stack and the activity of the turn as if distorted. The air strangely blurred and thin, recycled, rushed by as if pulled from a mountain hex in the time of the Titans... a voice, rhythmic, filled it.


The Warlord, walked up to a merchant stall, negotiated charmingly, the merchant replied, the stabbers couldn't quite understand the wording. They turned to each other and spoke to each other, and felt reassured. The Warlord listened to the merchant and nodded, smiling eagerly like a child. The air made them all giddy.


A man, so rotund and bedecked with chains he seemed a walking celebration, a caricature mayor, walked out of a house that coalesced of the air haze.


The leader of their stack's eyes narrowed and turned to her seven: she spoke firmly, gesturing at the walls and clutching her head. Her hands moved, describing the corners of the house, and at one point she tried to pass her hands through each other. The stabbers looked around at the houses - and indeed, the walls were wrong.

The walls were wrong, and as the man opened his mouth, too wide, toothless, they heard the first clearly distinct sentence spoken in the turn they were in that town:


"All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."


The ground turned to the consistency of taffy, and as the Stabbers began to run, in slow motion, the Warlord looked with incomprehension at the merchant as he, too, began to melt in place, the world distorted and the air evaporating,

"All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."


the fat man tolled in his many chains, his voice tinny, his face bright, sheened and sweet, hyper-real,


"All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

And as they began to sink, his mouth widened impossibly, and out stepped a woman, slim and lithe, in the red and black of XON. As he turned into ooze, he tolled, distorted,

"AH, THE GOOD OLD DAYS. NOTHING BEATS THE GOOD OLD DAYS." as he whipped up like projectile vomit, compressing to a thin line and settling in her hair, a diadem like a chain, with a fat man embossed on its gem, as the wide eyes of the stabbers sank below the surface of the ground, and she walked, leisurely, to the gibbering Warlord still staring at the place where a market stall once stood, in an empty earthen plain.

Her lips curved, thin and ironic,  as she growled, soft and dulcet, "I'm Helle-Rune. Many-Hat Magician."



Crash in time, and make it fine

Make it your sign, the Dwagon Dweaming

Burn the oil, sage, with thyme

Enough to rest, a Dwagon Dweaming

Turns come round, and you are crowned

By deadly sleep, a Dwagon Dweaming,

And when you wake, inertial creep

Won't make you freeze: a Dwagon Dweaming.


-- Helle-Rune (Caster and false Princess, under her breath, during the Empty City Ruse.)


(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post. -Rob)