Chapter 6: A Live Trout
After their short rest, Ligotti decided that he’d seen enough — he liked adventuring, but this work was just too dangerous for him. He wandered out of the castle, playing his flute.
The rest of the party, dedicated to finding Trout, continued on their way. They crossed through the curtains into the next room. Inside was a small shrine, with pig ornaments decorating it. As the party approached, three poglins jumped from behind the shrine and attacked, the middle one in makeshift ceremonial wear. He claimed arrogantly that they would sacrifice the party to their pig-god.
Finch immediately engaged the poglin religious leader in combat, almost striking it down with the first blow. Brendan took down the one on the left; Samp brought his sword down on the leader but missed badly and stumbled to the floor. Finch finished off the leader with a whack of his shield, and the final one was beaten down by Makoto.
The marvellous heroes continued onwards into the castle, now with only one way left to go. Finch led the way into a further room, where they were confronted by two hobbes: far less porcine and than their poglin and puruk cousins, hobbes were pernicious and warlike creatures, known in times contemporary to our heroes for their two-year war against the kingdom of Aspark some eight years past.
However, whilst deadly in large numbers, two hobbes were not a great threat to our heroes; they were quickly dispatched. Our protagonists then debated between two directions — a large, barred door, or a mysterious curtain. They chose the curtain.
Behind the curtain was another hallway, with a door at the end. As they got closer, they could hear an angry-sounding voice behind the door… Finch went straight up to it and booted it in.
This was the sight that met them: a large room with many furs and rugs on the floor, many trophy-mounted poglin heads, as well as those of wolves and stags, upon the walls, a large bed in one corner and several wax chairs scattered throughout; near a table in the corner lay a badly-beaten, unconscious dwarf, over which stood a high-heighted and mighty puruk; upon this big pig’s head was an iron crown, and at his feet stood a vicious, bristling attack-hog. This mighty porcine warlord was King Klarg himself. There was one last entity in there: a very tall, thin, pale man, wearing a black coat, and a bowler hat. Klarg appeared to have been arguing with the tall man just before the door was booted open.
Klarg turned, and bellowed with rage. The attack-hog ran towards them, as did the big boy himself, bringing his sword down on Finch’s raised shield. Finch countered, dealing a strike against the regal puruk’s tough skin. Seeing this brewing battle, the Tall Man moved forward with inhuman speed, aiming to strike Makoto with his outstretched hands, which seemed to almost grow in size and length as he brought them forward towards the woof elf’s chest. Although distracted by the king-pig, Finch was able to thrust his shield in front of his potion salesman friend, and the Tall Man’s surprise attack faltered, not quite reaching its target. The Tall Man moved back again with inhuman speed, and Makoto followed, swinging his mace down; but the strike did not hit, as before it could land, the Tall Man had already moved out of its way.
Brendan, seeing the threat that the Tall Man posed, moved forward to strike him too, but again, his attack met only the air, as the thin gentleman seemed to flicker out of existence and back in again some five feet away. The attack-hog bit Samp’s leg, and Samp struck down at it in return, calling out: “Begone, pig — DIVINE SMITE.” The hog survived, just; it squealed in pain and rage. Finch, distracted by the Tall Man, bore the brunt of a full strike from King Klarg, who laughed with battle-lust: “Feel the might of King Klarg!” — Finch, realising he could be outmatched, used a surge of energy to perform two blows against the hubristic hog-monarch, equalling the pork-lord in might. “Squeal, pig-bitch!” cried Finch.
The Tall Man stepped around Brendan and slammed him in the side with his open palms, and then turned on Makoto, aiming another slam at his chest; again, in the heat of battle, Finch was just able to turn from Klarg’s enmity long enough to block the blow. The Tall Man’s blank expression finally cracked slightly; he almost looked annoyed. Makoto took his chance — his mace connected with his lofty opponent, who barely seemed to feel it.
The angry mini-hog bit into Samp’s leg again, drawing blood. Samp cried out, and hacked the pig’s face asunder in revenge. Meanwhile, Klarg took his opportunity to hit Finch again after the fighter’s protection of Makoto: he brought his greatsword down on our hero, a savage strike that knocked Finch unconscious and bleeding.
The Tall Man surveyed the situation. He flickered over to the bed, flipped it over and grabbed a some sort of tubular object from beneath, and flickered over to the unconscious dwarf; Brendan caught him with his sword as he moved, and seemingly distracted the Tall Man enough that his attempt to kill the inert merchant was unsuccessful. The look of cold irritation upon his face heightened, and with that, he flickered out, through the open door and away from the combat.
Makoto rushed over to Finch, and, placing his hand on Finch’s chest, revealed his true power, clearly no simple potion salesman as he had claimed: green magic burst from his hand and reinvigorated Finch’s waning consciousness. Samp, freed from the irritating attack-hog, imbued his sword again with divine energy: “DIVINE SMITE,” he cried, as he jumped and sliced at the same time, King Klarg not even receiving a chance to come to terms with mortality before he was struck diagonally in half, the wounds cauterised by the paladin’s sword’s radiant power.
They rushed over to the beaten and unconscious dwarf, and Samp stabilised him and raised him back into consciousness. The dwarf coughed and spluttered, his throat dry and hoarse. The dwarf looked up at them.
“Well… well, hey there. What’n… what’re you doing here? Where’s that pig?” said the dwarf, his eyes squinting at the light. Samp looked down as Finch regained his footing. The dwarf coughed savagely. “By damn I feel as’f my lungs are comin’ out my throat.”
“We just killed the pig king,” said Samp. “But the tall, pale man escaped.”
Trout’s eyes widened and he looked around.
“Why — you must be them boys I sent for!”
“Yes,” said Samp.
“Did you find Harry? Is he okay?”
Finch stepped over to meet the dwarf.
“Yeah, Harry’s at the town,” he said. “He’s running the place right now.”
“Good.” The dwarf sat up properly, cradling his head. “Gods, how long have I been here? A week? Two?”
“Yes, it has been a long time,” said Samp. “Who was that pale man? He was very fast.”
“I didn’t see no pale man. I been chokin’ on my own tongue for the past three days. Have any of you boys got any water?”
Finch got out his flask and handed it to him.
“There you go. Oh yeah — are you Trout?”
The dwarf grinned.
“That’s me. I’m Trout Rockefeller, of the Rockefeller Three. It’s good to meet you guys.”
“Good to meet you, too,” said Finch. “Now enjoy some water.”
Trout drank deep and long from the canteen, swigging the entire canteen in front of the party.
“Slow down, Trout!” said Finch. “Ye gods.”
Trout finished the last sips and sighed deeply.
“I ain’t had sweet water in so long. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more at the town, I’ll get you some.”
“If you make it. You’re barely alive.”
“I’ve seen worse. Glad you found me when you did though, I weren’t lasting much longer. They had my map — that king pig was just keeping me alive as a cruel joke.”
“Is the map still in here?” said Samp.
“He kept it under the bed.”
Finch turned around, looking at the flipped bed.
“No! That’s what Tallboy took,” he said.
“Tellin’ me someone took my map?”
“Would there be anything else in here of yours?” said Samp.
“They likely would have taken all of my stuff long ago, but there might be something lying around in here that’s worth something though,” said Trout.
The gang checked the other items uncovered by the upturned bed and found King Klarg’s treasure stash. They also found a potion of indeterminate power, but Makoto suggested it looked similar to ones used to change one’s shape.
“What’re we doing then, boys?” said Trout.
“Let’s get you back to Harry, and Barthen — your man Barthen’s missing you,” said Finch.
They helped Trout to his feet and Samp restored energy to him through his divine magic. As they walked past the barred door in the adjacent room, they heard loud slamming, but chose to ignore it, and left the castle.
As they left the castle grounds and headed back towards the woods, they saw a returning party of four hobbes heading towards them, carrying bloody bags. The hobbes saw the leaving heroes, and saw the blood their weapons were bathed in. The lead hobbe smiled ironically at Finch.
“Men. How’re we doing. Lovely morning, isn’t it? How do you do?” he said.
“Just fine,” said Finch.
They all kept walking, and crossed paths with no further bloodshed.
They reached the town at nightfall, and were welcomed in by Ted, waiting outside with his carriage.
Thus spake Ted: “Welcome to Sheoville! Oh, it’s you guys.”
They went to see the acting townmaster, good old Harry Lyndon; Trout and Harry had a joyous reunion.
“Good Trout! I was worried I would not see you again,” said Harry.
“Well, it’s all thanks to these boys,” said Trout.
They resolved to speak again the following morning.
“Where are you staying, Trout?” asked Finch.
“I have a free cell here,” said Harry, somewhat jokingly.
“Nah, think I’ll get myself a good night at the inn. Get a good old drink.”
“And see my boy, Toblen,” said Finch. “To the inn!”
They went over to the Stonehill Inn. Toblen welcomed them warmly.
“Hello, gentlemen! Back from more adventuring, I see. And with new friends!” he said.
“Howdy,” said Trout.
“Oi, Trilene — bring us over some pints, would you?” said Toblen.
“Right you are, my lovers!” said Trilena.
They all sat down and started drinking.
“Would you like a pie, Trout?” said Finch.
“I would love some pies.”
“A very meat-filled pie. I like lots of meat in my meat pie.”
Trout’s mouth was watering at the mention of proper food. They all smashed some pies, and then Trout outlined some of the situation he had found himself in.
“Now look, as far as I know, they’ve got my brother, Cam. My other brother’s still overseas, back in Grenmund. Now, each me and my brothers, we specialise in different areas. Cam, he’s the best at raw numbers. Me, I’m the ideas man. And my brother Bart, he’s a bit more political, if you like. He’s trying to end some of the corruption in the mining guilds back home. Now, me and Cam set out here as a duo, with his son Colt in tow; and we’re onto gold here — you know about the Old World, don’t you?”
“Do tell of it,” said Samp.
“All that crazy old lightning — the shining lights. Well, I’ve found something quite spectacular. Legends say it’s called Echo Chamber Deluxe. All of these old contraptions, and weird magic — it’s all powered by the water in the cave, and still all working as it should. Now, I’m telling you, that would bring people to this area. This whole town could have jobs, working down in Echo Chamber Deluxe, we’d have people moving here. It’s a hell of an opportunity.”
“Why the name? Does your voice reverberate inside it?”
“I ain’t been all around the place yet, so I’m not sure about the specifics of the meaning of the name, but I’ll tell you something — Echo Chamber Deluxe is what it calls itself. You walk in, and it says ‘Welcome to Echo Chamber Deluxe.’ It’s dangerous in there, though. Anyway, I went back to meet Cam and tell him it was legit, and then we met up with Harry, who was going that way anyway so I hired him to protect me on the way. That’s when we got captured. Now, whoever it was that took my map, they might already be down there. Listen, this Harrier Jet — I don’t even know who he is, but that sum’bitch probably down in my chamber right now. Anyway, even without my map, I reckon I could walk you there from here. I’d go in there with you myself, but there’s all these horrible things in there, you know. Comin’ up from the caves over the centuries.”
“Hmm… I don’t know if I want to go there,” said Finch.
“Now see here, boys, I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t think you were good enough.”
“So where is it, exactly?” said Samp. “Underground?”
“ ’Tis indeed. I went down there and spoke with that here voice that comes from the walls in there, whatever creature that is. He seemed friendly enough and spoke your language, calls himself Malcolm. He told me I should probably not go in unprepared, said it was dangerous. So I called around back in Joi See, heard you guys were pretty good fighters. This guy —” and he pointed at Makoto “— I was just going to buy a bunch of potions to help you guys out, but seems you’ve been enjoying yourself.” Trout grinned.
“It’s been interesting,” said Makoto.
“Yeah. Near-death experiences. It’s been good fun,” said Finch.
“Anyway, we can set out there tomorrow if you like, after we speak to Harry,” said Trout.
Brendan left to go back to the Sleeping Giant, and then camp out in the woods. The rest of them went to stay in the bunk room, with the exception of Trout, who took one of the single rooms. Our heroes took their rest.