Bujilli and his small band of adventurers returned to Idvard's Keep. Their mission complete. The lower Portcullises were secure. They had rescued Bortho's mate, even delivered his child. Just as they had they re-entered the ground-level commons, they were confronted by a dozen labor-drones equipped with spears and under the command of a conniving Pallid sub-leader named Ajjmae. They were quickly brought back up to the Observatory Chamber, where Idvard had set-up his base of operations and where the Weak Point leading back to Wermspittle was located. There they were brought before Leeja's sister, Niobe. It was not a tender reunion...
Niobe hissed in outrage.
Combat drones filed into the Observation Chamber. Dozens of them. They quickly took up positions so as to completely surround the Pallid troops ostensibly under Niobe's command. Those troops closest to Ajjmae's unconscious figure sprawled on the floor before Bujilli inched away to either side as unobtrusively as possible.
"You have trespassed upon my home." Idvard floated into the room, flanked by an elite bodyguard of four-armed fighting-drones and a pair of Nirlock attendants. The fighting-drones all carried a combination of gonnes, blades and hand-axes. They also wear armored. The Nirlocks wore heavy mittens and carried bulky draped objects. They could be cages of a sort. Perhaps.
"Your home?!" Niobe snarled.
"Yes." Idvard floated further into the room, his three eyes quickly taking in every detail.
"By what right--"
"What right do you assert to defend your actions?" He spoke clearly, precisely. Like a lawyer in a trial.
"Are not here. Nor do they have any legitimate claim on this property."
"No. They did not build this structure."
"A technicality. This Keep was built by their vassals and slaves--"
"Untrue. This Keep was built by a band of Morlocks who rejected, resisted and rebelled against your Masters. They built this Keep as a free people."
"There is no freedom. No one leaves the service of the Pallid. Not even the dead can escape."
"Yes. They do cultivate a rather grim reputation, don't they. Yet you freely chose to serve them--"
"Choice? You dare use that word to describe it? Ha. The only freedom my sister or I ever knew was the freedom to starve, to be hated, feared, hunted..."
"But your sister did not sell--"
"A word of caution Triloo: I will not be judged nor lectured by you. My sister chose her path. I chose mine. Let that be the end of it."
Everyone turned to look at Bujilli.
"You need to leave. Now." He grinned crookedly at Niobe.
She regarded him cooly. Dismissively. Then realization hit her.
"He's awake. Only pretending to be choked out." Bujilli kicked him in the belly.
Ajjmae wheezed. Rolled away from Bujilli. Rose to his feet. Brushed off his robes.
Studiously ignored Niobe.
"He's already given the order to his troops. You're no longer in command. He has reported your failure to your Masters. You are to be eliminated."
"Is this true?" Growled Niobe. Suddenly she stood before Ajjmae. One hand grabbed a bunch of robe, pulling him forwards, off balance, teetering on the tips of his toes. Her other hand. Claws. Poised before his bulging eyes.
Ajjmae tried to look away.
"It is true." Spoke up one of the troops.
Niobe glared at the trooper.
She looked at all the Pallid troops in the room. One after another. As though memorizing their face, their features, the configuration of their personal aura. They remained stationary, unmoving. Immobile. Unwilling to commit to an uncertain outcome. She turned her baleful gaze back to Ajjmae.
Milky, pinkish-white blood gushed. His body collapsed to the carpet. The scent of something sickeningly sweet filled the space. Bujilli sneezed.
Ajjmae's head landed at the feet of the trooper who had spoken-up.
Niobe seethed in rage. Her hair flared out like a corona of tendrils. A nimbus of white hot death.
"You can have your Keep. May you rot in it." Niobe turned on her heel and headed for the spiral ramp way down to the main concourse and the commons area.
The Pallid troops shifted nervously. A few began to whisper or mutter.
The trooper who'd spoken up before broke ranks.
"What are we to do?"
Niobe stopped. Turned. Laughed.
"I don't much give a damn."
She was at the ramp. Then she was gone.
Bujilli glanced at Leeja.
She looked away so as to prevent him seeing her cry.
He looked at the twenty Pallid troops encircling him and his group. The small horde of combat-drones surrounding them. Idvard and his new retinue.
"Well now. Since you are well and truly surrounded I suggest that you surrender. No need to get the carpet any more filthy than it already is..."
The Pallid troops stood rigidly in place.
Bujilli watched them. He realized that they were conferring, probably arguing among themselves telepathically.
The trooper who'd spoken up previously stepped forward. He looked at Bujilli and Leeja, Bortho, his mate and child.
"You have us surrounded. But we have hostages." As one the Pallid troops went back to back, the wand-wielders faced towards Bujilli and his little group, the others presented their glaive-form weapons outwards, toward the mass of combat-drones pressing in upon them.
"Really? This is your notion of a good idea?"
"What? What are you saying?"
"How long did you serve alongside Niobe?"
"And during that time you witnessed what she is capable of, correct?"
"And you saw how she and her sister quickly fought themselves to a stand-still?"
"You do realize that Niobe's sister is right in there with you all?"
Three troops threw down their weapons.
Confusion. Fear. Their resolve was undermined by internal divisions, worm-eaten by Ajjmae's underhanded double-dealing, compromised by the loss of their leadership. Worse than any of that, for them, were their final orders as received by Ajjmae. Failure had doomed Niobe as surely as his betrayal had destroyed Ajjmae himself. Already under censure for past misdeeds, both real and recorded, the Pallid troops were now faced with a spectacular instance of gross insubordination, attempted mutiny on the part of their sub-leader, an unthinkable desertion by their leader...
There was little future for them in Aman Utal.
Two more troops laid-down their weapons and held up their hands in surrender.
Idvard waited patiently for the soldiers to fully appreciate their situation.
It had all gone so terribly wrong, so horribly fast, without a single shot fired or any sort of melee at all.
"If you fight; you will die. If you return to your Masters. They will not be pleased. you will no doubt wish you had died, from what I have heard of their methods." Idvard considered the disgraced and discredited troops all in disarray. Some were ready to fight. A few seemed content to sell their lives dearly. But not all were quite so fatalistic. More were surrendering. As a group, a fighting unit, they were defeated. Morale had broken them more devastatingly than any opposing force had ever managed to accomplish ever before,
Idvard pointed to the trooper who had spoken up.
"You mention hostages. An interesting point. Your Masters certainly will not pay for your release. But you might consider ransoming yourselves. I am a reasonable person after all."
"Ransom?" he flinched.
"But of course. You are trespassing. You are out-numbered. You no longer have any authority, no leadership, no mandate or any sort of legitimacy. I can do anything I like to you now and your Masters won't so much as lift an eyelid let alone a finger to do anything about it whatsoever."
The trooper hung his head. Things would have been different, very different indeed, if they had not gone along with Ajjmae and poisoned all their sergeants.
Now they were lost.
At the mercies of some inhuman petty lordling who commanded an small army of drones.
"Would you accept our--"
"Don't even think of it. You're traitors. Every last one of you. Disgraced. Discredited. You were placed under Niobe's command in order to humiliate you, gall you, motivate you to redeem yourselves. You might even have done so, if you hadn't fallen for Ajjame's foolish scheme. He really couldn't abide serving below some unsanctioned, only partly human creature, could he?"
"No." The trooper shook his head in disgust at how far they had fallen. All because of a conniving minor noble with pretensions of grandeur and an aggrieved ego.
"We have little besides our servi--"
"Spare me. You may each retain one weapon. I suggest that you make a pile of your personal items on my table here," Idvard gestured casually to the big trestle table, "and if the lot of you manage to make it interesting enough, quickly enough, I will be inclined to leniency. But if you drag this out any further, I'll simply have my drones pick through your corpses. In fact..."
The troops began placing pouches, belts, packs, pearls, gems, scrolls and more on the table. Some carefully, others tossed their offerings into the mix with little to no enthusiasm.
But they did not drag things out.
Idvard nodded. Gestured. A spell shimmered and swirled outward from his outstretched hand. Bujilli could taste a soft purple-ness in the air. He remembered the smell of dream-snail blood. The spell billowed forth as a murky, cloudy non-mist that drizzled down upon the unlucky soldiers.
The Pallid troops collapsed. One after another. Asleep. Deeply, profoundly asleep.
The combat-drones went into action. They picked up each one of the defeated troops and carried them away.
Towards the Weak Point.
And now perhaps Bujilli and Leeja can settle accounts with Idvard.
Or at least make their report.
Maybe we can find out where Bortho's people have gone?
Just what really did happen to them?
What is his mate's name?
Niobe has left the Keep...but where will she go?
Will she return to Aman Utal? Or will she go elsewhere? Out into these ruins of an alternate Wermspittle perhaps?
Will Bujilli and Leeja return to Wermspittle now?
Or will they stick around and handle a few more loose-ends for Idvard?
Maybe they'd like to help Bortho locate his missing people?
Or track down Niobe, perhaps?
Or something else?