The Laboratory of the Wizard Frogmilker
This small chamber was most certainly once a part of a traditional dungeon. The cell bars may have been removed, but the mounting points on the walls for manacles or other restraints persist. One of the reasons for a wizard to have such a dank and musty lab is clear from the incessant croaking and chirping of frogs and toads, which line the walls in deep enclosures and individual tanks. Some are in jugs, even. Aside from the amphibians, there are the usual wizardly accouterments: tables covered in glass vials and complex tubing filled with colorful fluids, bookshelves with dusty old tomes, skulls for candle holders, a stuffed crocodilian suspended from the ceiling. A big rune-covered staff mounted in glass case on the wall is labeled: In Case of Demon, Break Glass.
It's the morning after Alptraum's date and rather painful serious of lessons from Melusine. But … somehow he still manages to wake early (probably because he still hurts all over and that white scar on his chest itches now and then.) Remembering that the odd mage, Frogmilker, is an early riser, the Eeee decides to go visit before breakfast and whatever strange events the new day will bring. Especially if he starts practicing with the shadow to improve control… In any event, there's a rapping on the door frame and Alptraum's head peers around. "Good Morning?" he calls out warily.
There is no answer to the Eeee's call, but the door swings open wider to admit him, all on its own. The first thing Alptraum notices is that the room is too quiet even the incessant chirping of the frogs has died away to an occasional croak. He can't see the Frogmilker from where he's standing, but he can see a small lamp burning on top of a table near the back of the chamber.
"Good Morning?" Alptraum calls out again and slinks into the strange laboratory. Idly scratching at his chest, he heads slowly towards the dim light.
With a loud thunk! the door closes behind him… then there is a click! as it locks itself, too. "This way, young man," a weak voice beckons him, sounding somewhat close to the lamp.
"Gah!" yells Alptraum and he nearly jumps into the ceiling. "Don't do that," he hisses. Calming himself, he heads towards the lamp, ears flicked forward.
"I didn't mean to frighten you," the voice continues, after Alptraum is finished peeling himself from the ceiling. "I simply would rather not risk prying ears."
"Look, I've had one shock in the past day when Melusine killed me. I don't need more," Alptraum grumbles as he reaches a few feet from the light and looks for the mage. "But, eh, gah, I was just coming to see how you were doing."
Now that Alptraum is within the faint circle of light cast by the lamp, he can see the Frogmilker sitting in a wing-backed chair close to the table. She is dressed again in her familiar robes, but with the hood pushed back and the collar laced only loosely. Her limp, silver hair straggles over her shoulders and she actually looks thinner, if that's even possible. She sits with her head leaning against one of the wings, her strangely-colored eyes appearing to be the only things alive in her face. "Well, now you know," she replies, her voice barely above a whisper.
Alptraum's brow goes up. "Know what? I know you look … ill," he says carefully, "But that's about all." The Eeee moves closer and crouches down near the chair, peering at the strange sight before him.
The mage chuckles, but her voice is deep and husky, just as it was when the Eeee first met her. "Ah, that is because my unwelcome guest is making yet another bid for control," she says, then frowns when Alptraum kneels. "You may sit if you find that position uncomfortable," she offers next, and a wooden stool slides up close to him gently, so as not to frighten him.
"I hang by my feet a lot," Alptraum points out, "Crouching isn't so uncomfortable." He rubs absently at his neck with his chitinous right hand, then asks, "So … what exactly is your unwelcome guest and how did it come to … well … be part of you?"
"As you wish," the mage says mildly, and the stool moves back to its original place. Moving her head slightly so she can look the gypsy in the eyes, she continues, "A second spirit resides within me, Alptraum. In life, he was a Jupani named Georgi. A highwayman. An assassin-for-hire. And an all-around bastard. In his day, he was quite well-known for killing his marks as slowly and painfully as possible, because he enjoyed watching them suffer… just as he enjoys watching me suffer now."
"Delightful person," Alptraum mutters. "That explains who, but not the how." the Eeee points out. "How did it become attached to you?" He even reaches out and touches the Frogmilker lightly, to see how 'solid' she is.
The woman's arm seems solid enough, especially since the Eeee can plainly feel all the bones just beneath her skin. "The 'how' is around my throat," she explains, holding her head up a little so Alptraum can see the silvery necklace lying there. It looks as if it is made entirely from short bars of metal, haphazardly joined together to make one of the ugliest pieces of jewelry he has ever laid eyes on. "The last thing Georgi ever did was to try and rob a necromancer of all his worldly goods. His physical body was destroyed and his spirit was trapped inside this cursed object as a result."
Alptraum reaches up and touches the necklace with his fingertip. "And how did it get on you? And if it is in the necklace … why not just remove it?" the Eeee asks.
In a flash of movement, the Frogmilker grips Alptraum's wrist and forces it away from the necklace. "I would not do that if I were you," she hisses, then releases him just as quickly. "Unless you wish me to kill you. That is what happens whenever someone tries to take it from me Georgi's spirit overshadows my own and I try to murder the person."
Alptraum doesn't fight the push away. "One of my ah, natural abilities is to destroy necromantic magic, such as zombies and the like. I was trying to see if my contact would simply … destroy it," he tries to explain. "I wasn't going to try and remove it. Not yet, anyway."
The mage considers this for a few moments, then shakes her head. "That may be, but you would have to fight me in order to take proper hold of it and I do not wish to harm you. I've been told that my combat tactics become vicious when under Georgi's influence." A shudder passes through her body as she admits this. "As for what happens when I try to take the thing off… well, let me demonstrate," she adds, then reaches up and curls her fingers around the necklace.
Once her hand closes around the necklace, the metal starts to ooze and flow around it. Suddenly, long and thin silver "claws" sprout from it and plunge into the mage's hand, causing her to wince in pain. The transformation does not stop there, as more "claws" protrude from the necklace to dig into her throat. After a few seconds, tiny rivulets of blood begin to trickle from her wounds.
"Er, you might want to stop that," Alptraum says quickly and reaches out … but he doesn't actually touch anything. "So … where did you get this and why did you put it on?"
As soon as the woman drops her hand, the "claws" retract and the metal re-forms back into its original shape. Shakily, she searches for a handkerchief in one of the pockets of her robes and then presses the cloth to her neck. "I put it on because I am an idiot," she answers, her face twisting into a mirthless smile. "I found it at the bottom of one of my frog traps, three years ago. Occasionally I do find objects that have fallen into ponds and lakes, so I didn't think much of finding this at the time… that is, until I tried it on." She snorts. "Georgi and I both got a shock that day."
"Not that I have any room to talk. I've stuck my hand in dangerous places," Alptraum notes with a wry smirk. Without even asking, he takes her wounded hand into his, then says, "No arguing. I'm going to try something."
The Frogmilker raises her eyebrows at this, but she does not try to evade his grasp. "And what is that?"
"I am considering trying to heal your hand," Alptraum explains. "Melusine helped me complete my bonding with the shadow last night and I have a better understanding of it. I am going to try to open the Barsunala up to the energy contained by the shadow and apply it to your wounds. If I do it right, they should mend quicker. If I don't … we shall see. Unless, of course, you object."
The mage snorts another short laugh. "Why should I object? Perhaps you can do something for my hand. If not… well, I am dying anyway, so what would it matter if my journey to the world beyond was shorter than expected? Go ahead."
"Pah, you are not going to die. I'll see to that," Alptraum says. His chitinous hand closes over the punctured back of the Frogmilker's hand. He draws in several long, slow, breathes and he starts to focus and draw down. Without the light, Alptraum looks to the other source of energy at hand, that which the Shadow has obtained for itself. Now unified, he finds its warm glow … and much like he did with the wounded girl … Alptraum merely tries to funnel a small part of that glow into the Frogmilker's wounds to encourage them to close.
For a moment or two, Alptraum feels a strange, dark resistance to the flow of light that he is trying to apply to the woman's hand, but he manages to overcome this without further trouble. As they both watch, the Frogmilker's eyebrows go up even further as the wounds on the back of her hand stop bleeding, then close into tiny, red slits within her fur.
Alptraum nods once and pulls his hand away when the wounds have mostly closed. "There. I do not know how much energy I can use safely before the shadow may grow … hungry," he admits, then glances to the back of his hand to check the glowing 'state' of the orb. "As for your other problem … I might be able to solve it, but I will have to think on the most effective way how. The problem is … you're, well, in the way. Since I have to factor your safety in, I cannot just strike."
It's still glowing that was a big hog last night, after all.
The mage holds up her trembling hand and examines it more closely, then lets it flop back into her lap. "Well, well," she murmurs, with something very much like hope in her odd, gold-and-blue eyes. "You may have finally met your match, after all, G-" Then she chokes and sits up straight, both hands grasping the arms of her chair now.
Alptraum's eyes narrow and he practically growls, "I should point out that if you kill her now … I will most certainly destroy you the moment after. And it will not be pleasant. She is the only think that is protecting you from me right now."
The hard, barking laugh that comes out of the mage's throat is nearly an octave lower than her normal voice. "Kill her? When I'm having this much fun?" When she looks down at Alptraum again, he can see that both of her eyes have turned gold. "And don't think your second-rate parlor tricks scare me, you snot-nosed prat! Annika is mine, and I intend to keep it that way!"
Alptraum just smiles … as his visage ripples and warps as he very willingly lets the Barsunala flow over his form once more. Cheeks draw back, eyes fade the solid white, dead eyes. The rest of him shifts as well, wings splitting, talons lengthening and skin on the back of his left hand drawing in until practically skeletal. Even his fangs lengthen. "You have no idea who you are dealing with, do you?" the wraith rasps. "But no matter, you will learn soon enough."
"Illusions and lies, that's all you are!" the woman's voice rumbles, her golden stare boring into Alptraum's own. "Once I have complete control… once I have all of Annika's power behind me… then we will see who-" Suddenly, her words are interrupted by a feral roar of protest and mage sinks back into her chair once more, her eyes closed and her breathing labored.
"If that is all I am, then why do you rage so? Tsk, your own fear is obvious enough," Alptraum remarks rather bluntly. As he exhales, the wraith form ripples away with it, then along with a shudder. "Perhaps I should allow you to rest now. I need to think on what to do next. And you, well, you have enough to deal with."
"I am sorry for that," the Frogmilker apologizes, sounding as if her energy is nearly spent. Slowly, her eyelids lift and Alptraum can see that the color of one eye has returned to a milky blue. "But you're right - Georgi is afraid of you, and of what your Barsunala spirit might do to his own. I think that's why he's trying so hard to overwhelm my spirit this time; in fact, I became ill right after your examination." She smiles again, without humor. "So don't let his tough talk fool you."
"I've faced world destroying dragons and had my own body be warped by magic. Some two-shekel highwayman isn't about to rattle my nerves," Alptraum says and pats the Frogmilker's shoulder. "I have some things to do and some practice with the shadow, before I tackle fighting this … spirit. I can think of several options to dealing with it, and need to see which are the most effective."
The mage nods, then says hesitantly, "Do as you must, but if you do not want my spirit 'in the way,' as you put it… I could simply allow Georgi to take complete control, so that his spirit would be in the forefront. That might allow you to draw his out without taking mine, as well. Still, that solution poses its own risks. Since you are the, ah, 'expert' here, I will defer to what you think is best."
"While not a bad idea, the main issue is also your body. Drawing him out and putting hi into control would mean any injuries would also be sustained by your body. It doesn't help you if I kill your body in the effort of removing him," Alptraum tries to explain, "Now, if I could get all three of us into hmm. Actually, I do have an idea. And heh, I'll need to talk to someone about it. But … I think it may make this possible… "
For an instant, Alptraum can see that glimmer of hope again in the woman's gaze. "Injuries or no, I may die anyway if the strain of the unbinding is high enough as weak and wasted as I am. At any rate… go do your researches. I've held out against Georgi for three years now, another few days or weeks isn't going to matter much." Then she reaches out and catches the Eeee's hand. "And thank you… for this."
"Thank me when I've done something other than talk," Alptraum tells the tired Skeek. He pats the back of her hand, then rises to stretch. "I will see you as soon as I have formulated a reasonable plan for dealing with this. Until then … keep your strength up as much as you can." Then with a rather formal bow, Alptraum turns and heads for the exit.