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Treguard loses his sovereignty when a new team behaves strangely. Part one of a gripping fanfic, by Emily Evans.

Are You There?

[Emily Evans (née Bradshaw) / July 2003]

 

"Are you there, Masssster?" Lissard knocked gingerly on the big wooden door to Lord Fear's private chamber. Lord Fear hadn't been out in over a day - the lizard man thought it was slightly suspicious, and was trying to find out what was going on.

Beside him, Hands put his ear to the door, straining to hear any small movement that might give away his master's new scheme. No doubt the leader of the opposition was plotting something again. "Yer Lordship?"

"Go away, Lissard!" growled the familiar voice inside.

"I'll be in the communications room..."

"I don't care - just go away, Lissard. You too, Hands. You're not needed."

In his chamber, Lord Fear stared into the cracked mirror before him, studying his face. His skin, usually tinted grey, was deathly white. His eye-sockets were soot black, rather than dark smoky-coloured and red. There was something very, very wrong.

***

Treguard was in an unusually good mood. The elf and halfling had noticed it at the beginning of the season. They put it down to the success of previous teams, for they too had felt somewhat uplifted by the champions, even after they had left the antechamber. They also thought it might have been partially down to Pickle's temporary departure at the end of last season, though it meant no fewer arguments - Frego had returned not long after.

Frego gazed around.

"This old place seems lighter, somehow, doesn't it?"

Kully agreed. "Yes - much warmer. Not as cold and forbidding as it used to be."

"Oh come now - I wouldn't say forbidding," boomed Treguard, as he stomped into the room. "Remember - I do live here."

"That might have been something to do with it, yes." Said Kully loudly, once again pushing her luck with her new Master. Treguard either didn't hear or was blatantly ignoring the statement. Frego scratched his head. The last time he was here, if he or Kully had said anything like that, Treguard would have immediately jumped in with threats of expulsion, disgrace and even disembowelling. These were still common threats of course, but had become specific to when the pair had broken things or argued back. Treguard was definitely more light-hearted than before.

"On with the Quest!" he bellowed, slapping the arm of his chair in an almost pantomime style as he sat down. Frego made a face at Kully and turned to Treguard, trying to keep the bemused smile from his face.

"You are very optimistic, Treguard..."

"Of course! Enter stranger!"

Short but sweet, thought Frego, as a tall Dungeoneer walked in through the archway.

"Name, age and direction." Asked Frego.

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Kully, bemused.

"It's an old saying from the early seasons." Frego told her, before turning his attentions back to the youngster. The Dungeoneer, on closer inspection, was extremely tall, with jet-black hair, dark-ringed brown eyes and a pale, sallow face. He reminded Kully of a phantom, but she didn't say this to him.

The Dungeoneer answered Frego's question - strangely, without looking him in the eye.

"I'm Paul, sixteen, from Femont."

Treguard racked his brains to think where he had heard that place-name before. He was sure it wasn't a large place, but before he could pinpoint anything Kully's voice shattered his thoughts.

"Isn't sixteen a bit old, Master?" Treguard shot her a look - mainly for interrupting his train of thought, but the idea did cross his mind. Walking over to a large, dusty cabinet that obviously hadn't been opened in years, he pulled down two large books, bound in leather and in several places where the spines were coming away.

"The rule-books." He stated, to answer their questioning looks.

He went over the rules carefully, but found nothing to say that Paul couldn't attempt the dungeons.

"There are all sorts of cautionary devices, set by the dungeon itself, to prevent those that are too advanced from entering the portal which brings the adventurers here. Obviously the dungeons have advanced slightly and therefore so must the range of challengers. Do you think that this is the case, Paul?"

Paul looked briefly at Treguard, and then looked the elf square in the eye before nodding but kept his gaze on her for a moment or two after the action. Kully shivered when he looked away, thinking she preferred it when he didn't look her in the eye.

"Very well!" said Treguard. "Call your advisors!"

Paul opened his thin-lipped mouth, a strange look in his eyes, and called out, in a deep, cold voice.

"Harold. Silver. Lou."

The three boys appeared in the advisors seats. Frego nudged Kully. "They look like they haven't slept in days!"

Though he had whispered at a great distance from them (not that it bothered him - Frego never really cared about who heard him saying what), Harold, a shorter boy with light blonde hair turned and stared at the pair intently. Frego wondered how he could have heard from such a distance, but then realised that the boy couldn't have heard at all. They were much too far away. Perhaps he was just interested in the fact that there was a halfling and an elf in the room with them - Frego had heard there weren't many of them in their world.

Kully noticed that the old assistant was right - all of the boys had dark ringed eyes and pale skin. She looked at Silver, wondering how such a peculiar name came about. He certainly stood out from the rest - he was the only one with hair longer than the nape of his neck.

Slowly, Harold turned back to where Treguard was giving the usual speech. Treguard had seen the boy's reaction, and made a mental note of it. There was something odd about this four.

Very odd.

***

"Lordness?" Lissard gingerly pushed the door of his Master's chamber open, and crept in. It creaked loudly as it swung shut behind him, making him wonder why it hadn't creaked when he first opened it. No matter - there were more important things on his mind. Lord Fear hadn't come out of his chamber for nearly two days.

"Lordness?" he called again.

Creeping across the marble floor, he rounded the corner in the L-shaped room to Lord Fear's sleeping quarters. Sure enough, Lord Fear was sprawled across the bed on his back, still fully clothed and breathing heavily - sound asleep.

"Looks a bit pale, dunnee?" said Hands in Lissard's ear, making him jump. Lissard nodded. Hands was right - his Lordship was white as death. A thought crossed his mind suddenly.

"Maybe he's dying! Lordness! Lordness!" They both jumped on Fear and started to shake him awake. Lord Fear mumbled incoherently and shoved them away before opening his eyes.

"What the devil is going on - what d'ya think you're playing at?" he groaned at them, seemingly too sleepy to release his wrath on the pair. "What hour is it? Why have you woken me? Why am I still clothed?"

"It's midday, yer Lordship."

"Are you trying to tell me I've slept since last night?"

"You've been asleep for nearly two days, you're Lordness..."

"WHAT?! Why didn't you wake me, you fools?! Get out!"

Lord Fear glared at them as they scuttled out of his chamber. He wandered in an almost dazed way to the mirror across the bend, and got a shock as he peered into it. He hadn't thought it possible to get any paler. Evidently he was wrong.

"Funny." He murmured, his thoughts wandering again. "I don't even remember going to bed two days ago."

***

"Sidestep to your left." Lou spoke clearly to the screen, which had Paul inside it by now. "Move around the other side of the table."

The screen showed a close up of the table's contents and Lou shook his shaggy black hair out of his eyes to look at the items. Paul had already put the food into the knapsack.

"A dagger, a lamp and a bar of gold, now."

"The dagger." said Paul flatly. In the antechamber, Treguard and his advisors exchanged doubtful looks.

"Remember the rules, boys..."

"Its our choice." Said Harold, harshly. His voice was as cold as the others', but less upper class. Lou and Silver nodded in synchrony.

"Well that was damn rude!" Frego looked once more at Treguard to see if he would try to dissuade them, but a did little more than shrug and say; "they're right."

Paul picked up the dagger in one hand, and asked the Advisors which other item to choose. Silver answered straight away.

"The gold!"

Lou sneered at him. "You would say that, wouldn't you, Goldie. Eh - Brassy?"

Silver glared at him. "I'm changing my name as soon as I can."

Harold and Lou laughed cruelly and turned back to the screen. Treguard observed all of this from a distance - friends, indeed? Associates? They seemed to have about as much respect for each other as a termite has for an albino cactus.

"Sidestep right...and again...and again..." Under Lou's instructions Paul disappeared into a portal.

"It's a causeway, Paul." Said Harold, without waiting for Paul to ask where he was.

"Take two paces forwards to the starting point."

"Ah - boys, this is the causeway of..."

"Shut up, you old fool - we can see what it is." snapped Silver. Treguard looked shocked. The Kully looked on the verge of fainting - nobody had ever dared to address the Dungeonmaster in such a way, and now that this boy had broken this clean slate it seemed a worse action than anybody had ever imagined. Frego squinted at Treguard expectantly, waiting for the verbal explosion.

Treguard sat back and did nothing.

Kully and Frego looked at each other in blatant disbelief. Surely this wasn't right? "How.how.Treguard - aren't you going to throttle him?" Frego looked annoyed that Treguard was giving this Dungeoneer more slack than he gave his own assistants.

Treguard raised a hand and their jaws dropped further.

"Carry on." He said simply.

Frego knew he wasn't exactly polite to Treguard at the best of times, but this team took the life-force cake. Treguard was clearly disgruntled by the words he had just received, but was doing nothing about them. Frego went to talk to Treguard quietly.

"Are you just going to sit back and take that from them?!"

"For the time being, yes."

"But WHY?"

"Leave it, Frego."

"But."

"I said LEAVE it."

Frego scowled and went back to the table at the back of the antechamber where Kully was sitting. He shoved her half off the bench and sat down.

"Oi!"

Frego ignored her. "He isn't going to do anything!"

"Nothing?" Kully tried to shift back onto the bench by nudging Frego along. Frego stayed put so she balanced on the corner. "Isn't he bothered by them?"

"Oh he's bothered all right - I want to know what he's plotting. He's got his thinking face on."

Kully risked a glance at Treguard but turned back with a shrug. She couldn't tell the difference - all these human facial expressions confused her. Pondering to herself, she assessed the situation. Treguard was acting strangely, there was an even stranger team in the dungeons, and there had been no sign of Lord Fear and his minions for days, even though Frego was keeping an eye out for Hands or Lissard up to their tricks before the Dungeoneers were sent in. What was going on?

Little did she know, Frego was thinking along the same lines, and he didn't like it one bit.

"Forwards, Paul."

The Dungeoneer disappeared after completing the causeway, and emerged in a small, cosy-looking village. Frego sat forwards in horror.

"You have to be joking! This is impossible...the place is way out of the dungeon stretch..."

Treguard looked confused. "You know this primitive place, Frego?"

"Primitive, my hairy foot! This is Logondale...my home village!"

***

All in the antechamber stared long and hard. Frego was right - the village was a small population of halflings, who were gradually stopping their daily work to stare at the tall helmeted figure that had appeared in their midst. An elder one walked away from his stall and prodded Paul in the ribs.

"What do you want, eh? Barging in here...disturbing our peace!"

"Get off me, you filthy half-thing..." Paul sniffed loftily.

Harold spoke up. "Paul...maybe they'll help us out of here!"

"No chance now." Grumbled Frego, feeling put out that anyone could speak to a halfling elder like that. To his surprise, the old one nodded at the request and guided Paul to a small table.

"Sit?" Offered the elder.

"No thank you..." Paul sniffed again.

"Sit." Ordered the halfling. Paul sat, and Kully swore she could hear him grinding his teeth under the helmet. The halfling clasped his hands before him and spoke to the heavy metal helmet that hid the intruder.

"I have reason to believe that you are one of these Dungoerers that our Frego went off to aid. If that is so, you will also have a knapsack on you."

Paul patted it at his side. "Don't go by much, do you?" he sneered.

"Simple at heart, but not in perception." Said the halfling passively. Harold and Lou scribbled furiously, and Silver drew a smiley face on his paper.

"Anyhow, if you want your way out of here you must go through that hitchinn behind you..."

The team assumed this was the small gap between the two wooden cottages that were directly behind Paul.

"...and then turn left at the fork in the elf path. That will take you into the second part of your 'dungeons'."

"You mean level two?" Questioned Paul. The sneer had left his voice slightly and was replaced by what could have been hope. Frego added this to his list of mental notes.

The elder nodded. "Same difference. I suppose you will be wanting something as your hands have been empty of good for a while."

"How did you know?" Paul asked in surprise.

"...not in perception..." repeated the elder with a smile. Lou nudged Harold.

"He's still got the dagger!"

Paul heard and grinned. "That's right, Old Perceptive One - I have a dagger in my possession."

The elder, who had stood, paused briefly. "Like I said, your hands had held nothing good for a while." He stooped and removed the dagger from Paul's grasp. "You won't be needing this - no good will come of it, I assure you."

The team was too stunned to retaliate, and Treguard was slowly beginning to smile again. He never thought he would welcome the blunt tone of the halflings, but once again he had been proven wrong.

The elder was by Paul's side again and slipped a small piece of bread into his knapsack.

"Life force green," commented Treguard.

The elder pressed a small twig into one hand and a piece of glass into the other. Paul winced as it sank into his skin and a thin red line trickled down his index finger.

"What's this?" Demanded Lou angrily. As if he could hear him, the elder answered the question.

"A tool for your future quest - it is more than it seems - and a small token for your tone."

With that, he left, leaving the four boys seething.

"Lets get out of here, before they start chucking rocks." Moaned Sliver.

***

Lord Fear was on his throne when the blinding whiteness threatened to split his head open. It was only for a moment or so but it was enough to make him shout out and slump forwards. The aftershock felt like he was waking from a heavy blow to the head, but was still in limbo between consciousness and semi-consciousness. As usual, Lissard slimed to his side.

"Lordnesss! What is wrong?"

Lord Fear groaned loudly as sickness nearly overcame him and he shoved Lissard to one side.

"Go and do something useful." He growled eventually. "Go and find the Dungeoneer."

"Just this minute stepped into Level two." Said Hands helpfully.

"Well get out there and stop them!" roared Fear, and sat up slowly.

One day these Dungeoneers might just be the death of me, he thought.

***

"Where am I?"

Paul was in a prison cell, which was crawling with mice and stinking of everything. Lou informed him of this and Paul wrinkled his nose and ordered them to get him out. The three advisors jumped at it.

"Walk forwards - there's an open door and you're just going through it."

"This appears to be the underground torture chambers of some royal, though it is doubtful if they are still alive and running the place. Any royalty in level two would be most likely to have the cells filled." Treguard had suddenly perked up as the team had entered level two. Frego was really confused by now, and was trying to work it out.

Treguard only seemed to receive bouts of energy as the Dungeoneer passed up a level, and this energy was maintained for a while. That would explain the good mood, but it was curious how the energy would dwindle as Paul got near to the end of each level. Where was this extra energy going? It certainly wasn't natural...

Paul ascended a flight of stairs and ended up in a room quite unlike the rest of the castle. It was white stone and clean, and looked chilly. It was completely empty save for a tall case of frosted glass in the corner with a dark shadow inside.

"Should we have a look?" asked Lou.

"I would, for I'm as curious as you boys." Treguard rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"I would like to see as well." Stated Paul, and Silver took on the role of directing.

"Sidestep left. LEFT! NOT that left!"

"Right." Said Harold dully."

"Yeah...that's it. Right. And again. Walk forwards. Can you see the case?"

"I can see the bottom of it."

"Tip your head back." Said Harold, and Paul did so. Squinting, he looked deep into the case at the shadow.

"What's in it, Paul?" Kully spoke directly to the boy for the first time. Paul seemed so surprised at what he saw, he didn't even seem to care that he was talking to what he viewed as a 'lower being'.

"I don't believe it! It's...it's a jester!"

Frego was confused.

"A jester? All three of our jesters are gone! The last left weeks ago! No one knows where, mind. I think Mellisandre said that he had been sent to a far off village to the North...oh dear."

Suddenly it dawned on him. While he thought about the possibility, Paul ran his fingers over the front of the case.

"OWCH!"

"What you done now, Paul?" Asked Harold.

"I've cut my damn finger AGAIN!" cursed Paul. "There's a chunk missing out of the front and it's all rough edges!"

This confirmed Frego's notions and he groaned inwardly. "Where's that bit of glass, Paul?"

"It's still in my hand. I think it's stuck in my skin."

"Pull it out."

"Are you mad?"

"No, just more intelligent than you. If you don't get it out, it will be infected by the time you come out of the dungeons and I will be the one to take your arm off."

Paul grumbled in loathing and yanked it out of his hand with a sharp hiss. The three in the antechamber regarded Frego with great care after this little outburst. Treguard had been right - halflings were blunt, but most of all, honest.

"Now what?" Demanded Paul impatiently.

"Fit it into the space in the glass."

Paul did as he was told for once and flinched as he heard a loud crack. Back in the antechamber, all watched as Paul's blood ran down the case and a large crack followed it.

Kully, Frego and Treguard looked at each other knowingly.

***

Yet another one come to gape at me...this wasn't how I wanted to be remembered...jester trapped in glass...how thrilling...how long have I been here...days...weeks...I should never have gone to that halfling village...how was I to know that the old thing wouldn't like my new trick...that's it...take your time...gawp away...I don't care and even if I did you wouldn't know about it...

***

With a crash, Iokus fell out of the glass and onto the white stones.

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