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Emmaline's struggles didn't go unnoticed. Or maybe the missing goblin was the crux of the investigation, but mere minutes later, with Emmaline halfway out the door and dragging her stone gaoler, did another goblin come sniffing around. Its big, hooked nose twitching as it sniffed the air while its diminutive legs crept along the floor with unpredictably quiet steps. It's green head with its yellow, beedy eyes spied the woman from the garden, making only the smallest chittering sound before it raced back to fetch its master. Had Emmaline noticed, there was very little she could do in the meantime, and mere minutes later, she was greeted by a strange, wicked looking man from the far east.

At first only his footsteps were heard, not deigning to mask his approach in his inner sanctum. The goblin and two of its comrades had come racing ahead of him to leap into the woman's point of view, brandishing gardening implements that, whilst unusual for combat, were noticeably sharp and well forged. Even at the sight of their stupefied and transmuted comrade, they smiled as if Emmaline posed no threat at all, snickering amongst themselves and inching closer, their weapons poking at her position as if harassing a group of cattle that had gone astray.

"Humie dead stuck!" One mocked, laughing in its rasping voice. Some phleghm boiled up as it did so, and it spat it out contemptuously.

"Away, all of you." A voice commanded, and they complied without complaint or hesitation, backing off and giving room for an oddly curled shoe to step into her line of sight. Once she looked up, she found herself staring into the fearsome eyes of what had to be the master of this strange cavern palace. An easterner, though Cathayan or Nipponese or one of the many small kingdoms of Ind, it was hard to say. His beard looked well groomed, and yet entirely worn at the same time. What stood out was his garb, an outfit even more extravagantly colored than Amal's, and far more furnished. It consisted of a robe, or perhaps a jacket, worn as the upper garment with a skirt worn as the lower garment, covering loose fitting trousers. Reds and indigoes and golds shimmered along the cloth, making it hard to judge where one colored ended and another began. In addition, he wore a tall, curious piece of headwear, along with the aforementioned footwear, belts, jewellery made of jade.

"Ah, a delectable one this time," He mused, his riekspiel fluent, albeit strangely spoken. He used the words as if they were wholly unnatural for him to speak, and it was unpleasant to do so, despite his choice to use them. He lowered his bronze staff, topped with a well carved wyvern head, placing it under her chin to lift her up and look at him fully. "A sorceress too? Interesting... Klatza Uch baku Tzeentch?" He squinted his gaze, sensing no reply. "No? No matter. You are lucky, my dear. Not many women have the chance to become the wife of the future king of the old world. And if not...I may still derive some pleasure from you." His mouth opened, showing yellowed teeth.

After drinking her in, he noticed the goblin statue and suddenly let out a few harsh, guttural words of power and snapped his fingers. Purplish energy emanated from the stone goblin that held her fast, stone skin transmuting back into green, pickle-ish flesh until the goblin she had turned to stone popped back into life, falling onto its ass and confused as to what had happened. The sorcerer then kicked the dumb goblin, causing it to screech and crawl away pathetically.

"M-Master found wife?" One of the loathesome creatures asked, ears drooping.

"Perhaps. Even if she is not the right fit, you will bathe her and bring her to me in fresh clothes. She's filthy."

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"Well I wouldn't be filthy if you..." Emmaline trailed off unable to think of an insult that made any sense. Fortunately the strange wizard showed no particular inclination to listen. He was already striding away, strange robes whisking on the stone floor. The goblins wrenched her to her feet and dragged her off down the corridor. The goblins frog marched her into another cavern beyond the larder she had so recently raided.

"I can bathe myself," Emmaline snapped, but if the bewitched servitors heard her they gave no sign. The chamber contained a large pool that steamed with heat. The water bubbled up from beneath the mountain, heated deep below. The goblin pitched her bodily through the air, her arms flailed wildly as she let out an outraged shriek. She hit the water in a splash that sprayed water against the living rock of the cabin. Without preamble one of the goblins clambered into the pool with her and began stripping off her clothing with rough calloused hands.

"Hey!" Emmaline shrieked, beating at the greenskin with ineffecally closed fists. The creatures showed no sign that they even noticed the blows, scrubbing her clean with rough brushes and what smelled to be very expensive soaps. She tried to work a spell, but it seemed as though a thick blanket had been draped over her powers. Asp was apparently unwilling to be of any help and so she found herself scrubbed and roughly toweled dry.

"You wear!" one of the goblins demanded. It thrust out an armful of green silk with strange gold designs printed upon it. She snatched it from the goblins hand and pulled it on, awkwardly struggling with the unfamiliar cut. It seemed to have a sort of belt sewn into it which she quickly tied around her waist. No footwear was forth coming and the goblins half escorted half dragged her out of the chamber. They hauled her through several more corridors. The level of oppulence rose as they went, simple stone carvings giving way to painted murals inlaid with semiprecious stones. Finally they reached a pair of large gold doors swirled with disturbing patterns. The doors opened, seemingly of their own accord, and then Emmaline was shoved through. The chamber beyond was nothing short of a throne room. Rich tapestries hung from the walls, gleaming with gold thread. Elegant vases held cut flowers that Emmaline could not identify, fluted columns marched down the center, framing a mosaic of the constellations drawn in mythical style, heroes and monsters picked out in mother of pearl with silver grouting. At the end of the hall the sorcerer she had met earlier sat on a throne that seemed to be carved from guilded serpents.

"Better but still not quite there..." he remarked in his strange accent. Lifting his hand he spoke a word and snapped his fingers. Emmaline yelped as her hair curled up into an elaborate bun. A pair of jade sticks ripped away from the wall and pinned it in place. Small shoes spun themselves out nothing to cover her feet and a cherry blossom appeared behind her ear.

"There you go, come forward and present yourself to your king," he demanded imperiously.
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The cavern's entrance was devoid of life, the bleating, chill wind ramming into an invisible force. An intangible wall of magic kept the heat in. It reminded Amal of the expensive ice containers an emir or satrap might keep to stave off the heat to store their drinks, only opposite on the temperature spectrum. He only felt the initial buffeting of wind at the entrance, peering in from above the entrance. The carpet peered with him, and when they ascertained the coast was clear, Amal noiselessly dropped from his perch to land on the magical item, soaring into the relative warmth and cavernous corridors of the sorcerer's cavern.

Amal knew it a sorcerer lived here like he knew the sun rose in the east. He had delved too many tombs and labyrinths in his time to not recognize a lair. It would definitely explain the wyvern not eating Emmaline, the well carved platform, and the increase in heat. Amal crouched low on the carpet, gripping its rim and steering it through varying twists and turns, only the barest hint of a breeze betraying anything was floating around at the top of the ceiling.

In the distance, a snickering drew Amal's attention. The two turned left, floating into a tunnel dimly lit by light from seemingly nowhere. Below was a goblin that muttered to itself, frustrated, holding incense sticks as it complained to itself. Amal didn't know it was the goblin Emmaline had turned into stone not an hour ago, but he could smell just the smallest whiff of lavender, one of the oils she liked to put on her golden hair whenever they had the opportunity to stop and rest.

It was surprising to the goblin how silently a man weighing eighty four kilograms could simultaneously land atop him and beside him, and before the diminutive creature could even think to piss itself in fright, it was kicked right into the waiting coils of an animated carpet that wrapped about it like a constrictor, snapping the incense sticks and covering its entire body save its long, hooked nose. It struggled briefly until the glint of a dagger caused it to freeze. Even to a normal man, Amal with a fearsome gleam in his eyes was intimidating wreathed in shadow, but to a goblin, he looked like a massive daemon about to devour him.

"Quiet," Amal said before the thing could try and screech again, muffled though it would have been. Amal placed the dagger under its nose, ever so lightly digging into the green skin of the monster. He chose to speak in reikspeil. "I'm here searching for my girlfriend. Blonde, blue eyes, big tits? Tell me where she is, and I will not hurt you. Scream, run, or not answer my question, and you will hurt more than you have ever been hurt. Do we have a deal or must I speak slower?"

The thing nodded dumbly, and ever so slowly the carpet slackened its hold until the goblin tumbled onto the floor.

"Zog!" It exclaimed in woe, abruptly halting what it was going to say when Amal slapped it hard across the face.

"Silently," he warned, and the goblin nodded.

"Yes, 'umie. Yes, just don't tell the boss."

"Deal." Amal said.

The goblin still looked reluctant, glancing over its shoulder as if to ascertain how far away the nearest exit was. But it wisely stayed put. "The lady git is with the boss. Two tunnels down that way," it said, pointing what Amal imagined to be west. "He wantz the humie to entertain him to see if she good wife. Now, I go?"

"Any secret traps?" Amal pressed.

"No, no. Only when boss expecting someone, but if you here, he not expect you, see?" The goblin asked, and Amal had to give the pathetic thing credit. He was not one to be caught by traps anyway, but he doubted if the sorcerer knew he was here, he couldn't have gotten through the door or would have been attacked by the wyvern outside.

"Nice, this idiot's given me everything," Amal said in Arabyan, and then nodded amicably, switching languages. "Good job, little one. Now normally I would just kill you, but we had a deal. You might want to stay far away from your masters for a second. In fact..."

Amal slammed the butt of his dagger onto the goblin's head. It's eyes crossed and it fell to the floor, alive but unconscious. When the thing awoke, if he was still even here, he would lie to it. Turning to the carpet, Amal motioned for it to come closer so he could whisper.

"Follow behind me twenty paces. Don't show yourself unless we need to make a getaway." He told it, and the carpet waved its ruffles and floated back as Amal pushed the slumbering goblin behind a stalagmite. This way, even if other goblins found it, they would think it just lazy. Amal and his companion delved deeper into the cavern system, following the greenskin's instructions and creeping past a patrol of food bearing goblins flanked by two armed with short swords. He didn't expect there to be any more obstacles between he and the throne room, but at the center of a well-lit tunnel, two goblins armed with spears stood guard. Amal didn't dislike his chances, but he didn't want to announce himself either. At that moment, he heard a strange accent echo down the hall.

"Better but still not quite there...," it said, following by a yelp he had heard dozens of times before.

Amal's black heart had never had a soft spot before. But somehow this woman had made a home in it and lit it up. Just hearing her voice sped his heartbeat up, and he grew angry. Peering past a grove of stalagmites, he saw the two goblins standing relatively still, though there was the occasional bickering and pushing as they each thought the other was making him less alert. He vaguely thought of calling for the carpet to help him do the same ambush as before, but the tunnel was too well lit. They would see him even if he climbed up the wall and crawled along the ceiling, so he had to improvise.

"Oi ye bleedin' gits, Lunchin' time! Last one's a 'umie!" A high pitched voice rang out from within the caverns. "Oi you two! Ye, guarding the boss! Lunchin' time!"

"Lunchin' time? It's early innit?" One asked the other.

"Ye, it's chuesday innit?" The other responded, equally confused.

"Lunchin's early, ye gits. Never 'ave I seen worse gits soddin' off for the boss."

"Wot did ye say?" One of them asked, brandishing his spear. "Is that Filkim bak there? Show yeself!"

"Aye its Filkim, and you can suck on me bleedin' squirtz, ay?"

For all his urgency, Amal had to keep himself from snickering. He'd done voices before, but never had he had so much fun with them. Small footfalls announced one of the goblins was approaching, and mutterings for Filkim to 'sod off' sounded closer. Amal flipped his knife to a backhanded grip, his arm poised like a spring as the first goblin poked its head, expecting to find a small green troublemaker rather than a tall, brown one. The line of blood that spurted on the wall was a mirror to the clean cut of the goblin's falling corpse. Immediately, Amal dropped the knife and rolled, grabbing the spear as the other goblin down the end of the entrance opened its mouth to scream. Amal threw his spear five meters to pierced the back of the greenskin's mouth, causing its scream to get lost in the fountaining blood gurgles it began to make before it fell, lifeless.

At some point, Amal had begun to sweat. He took a deep breath and wiped the perspiration from his brow before gathering his knife and the second spear, and sneaking down one more, more ornate corridor until he reached the door to the throne room. Taking a peek, he saw Emmaline approaching the throne just as her hair was finished being tied into an elaborate bun by an unseen force. Amal waited and watched, taking his time like a panther in a tree.
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Emmaline approached. She had never considered herself to be a brave person, though she supposed that she had endured more than many with better claim to the title, but this sorcerer was terrifying. Even if he hadn’t spoken the ruinous name, its affect still making Emmaline’s tender stomach, roil, the kind of magic needed to create the garden she had seen was orders of magnitude beyond what Albrecht and most of the wizards she had known could have summoned up. She regretted eating the cherries, nothing good ever came of anything touched by Chaos. As she approached the throne a dwarf in a crimson robe entered from a side corridor. Emmaline was momentarily surprised to see a dwarf here, and even more surprised to note that it was a woman. A collar of black metal, similar to the ones on the goblins was affixed around her throat, perhaps accounting for the sullen expression. The dwarf took position in front of and to the right of the throne.



“You approach Zar Tan Zhou, Champion of the Changer, Scourge of Cathy, Anointed and Accursed, King of the Old World,” the Dwarf declared in a deep resonate voice, striking the flag stones three times with an iron shod staff for emphasis. Unsure of the proper form, if such a thing could be said to exist, Emmaline attempted a curtsey. The silken garment made the effort vaguely ridiculous, but she persevered.

“I am… Emmaline von Morganstern,” she said somewhat shakily. It galled her slightly to tell the truth but she couldn’t think of a benefit to lying at the moment.



“An ugly name,” Zar Tan Zhou commented, his strange face twisting into a sneer, “but an unusual beauty for these lands, and a wizard. Those fools in the village did well to send you to me.”



“I’m not much of a wizard,” Emmaline said, truthfully enough. Zar Tan Zhou, arched an angular eyebrow, leaning forward to peer at her with unsettling eyes.



“You say so, yet I see you are touched with more than the one feeble glimmer,” the sorcerer mused. Emmaline thought about the flickers of color she had been seeing lately in her mage sight. Since the time of Teclis, Imperial wizards had worked with a single wind of magic. That way lay purity and safety, using more than one wind inevitably lead to discordance and dark magic. According to legend many terrible necromancers and foul sorcerers had begun their careers as simple dabblers, no so different from her, eventually falling to evil as a result of using discordant magics. The thought made her mouth go dry.



“You will make a fine apprentice, and a fine wife,” Zar Tan Zhou declared. Emmaline’s mouth worked but she could think of nothing to say that wasn’t likely to get her blasted to paste.

“Tell me, are you a virgin?”



In Emmaline’s defense she really tried. The laughter exploded out of her in spite of her best efforts, doubling her over with mirth. The slight hint of hysteria tinged it but she couldn’t stop herself, laughing so hard that tears gathered in the corner of her eyes. The notion of herself as some prim blushing virgin was too ridiculous to contemplate. The sorcerer and the dwarf both stared at her as though she had gone made.



“I think you might have the wrong idea,” she managed at last, wiping tears away with the back of her hand. Zar Tan Zhou’s shock at the outburst seemed to give her new strength.

“And it’s a flattering offer, but I already kind of have a thing going and…”

“Silence!” Zar Tan Zhou snapped, veins standing out on his temples with anger.

“I care nothing for the customs of your so called Empire. Tzeench will bind you to me regardless of what words you have mumbled to your god,” the wizard sneered. That gave Emmaline some hope, if Zar Tan Zhou wasn’t gloating over Amal’s death, that meant that the Araybian thief was probably alive, probably had already cut the location of this mountain top out of Gert and Myrtle. Perhaps with the aid of the flying carpet he could reach her in time. Emmaline furious mumbled mentally at a variety of gods for just such an outcome.



“Take her and prepare her for the ceremony, the moons will be in alignment in a few short hours,” Zar Tan Zhou declared with a dismissive wave of his hand. The dwarf steeped forward and took Emmaline by the arm, leading her from the chamber and leaving the wizard to brood over the debauchery and insolence of Imperial women.





For the second time in a day Emmaline was stripped nude by a stranger. The Major Domo, or whatever the dwarf was, had taken her through several more palatial rooms into a white plastered room lined with unidentifiable vials on ebony shelves. The dwarf selected a bottle of attractively blown green glass and splashed oil from it onto her fingers, pressing the stubby pads against Emmaline. Unlike the leering goblin earlier, the dwarf’s face was somber. Emmaline had never seen a female dwarf before. Even in Altdorf dwarves were hardly a common sight, and those that lived there tended to be adventurers trying to make their fortune rather than families. Despite the jokes about dwarf women having beards, this one’s chin was smooth, though her side burns were longer than would have been the case on a human. To Emmaline’s eye she looked a lot like a very stocky Halfling, though she doubted any dwarf would appreciate such a comparison. Her hair was thick and piled high in a similar fashion to Emmaline’s own, a rich chocolatey brown that a Brettonian might have envied, though the style looked beyond alien on a dwarf.



“Who are you?” Emmaline asked, but the dwarf didn’t answer, just frowned looking troubled. To magically attuned senses, the collar of black iron seemed to throb harder.

“Who …are… you,” Emmaline tried, this time in bastardized Khazalid. The dwarf tongue was a closely held secret of course, but no association as long as that between humans and dwarves could hold a secret so completely. Dwarves had their criminals two and Emmaline had known a fence back in Altdorf who was often too drunk to remember to speak common. The limit of her meager store of Khazalid would have been ordering a beer and calling the dwarf’s mother a whore, neither of those seemed likely to improve her situation at this juncture. The words had the desired effect however. The dwarf reeled as though she had been struck unexpectedly by a child. She blinked hard and peered at Emmaline.

“Zwili… Zwili Hagarson,” the dwarf managed, gritting her teeth.



“Zwili,” Emmaline repeated, nodding encouragingly.

“I have gold. Can you help me get out of here?” she asked eagerly. Gold was always something to get a dwarf’s attention, and Emmaline should know, being afflicted by a similar ailment herself.

“It would have to be hidden … rather uncomfortably,” Zwili managed, speaking in common and beginning to sweat with the effort. Emmaline peered at her in puzzlement and then looked down at her naked body. She snickered.

“Well not on me,” she admitted, she didn’t have any gold in truth, her meager supply of coins having vanished when her original clothing was taken, but now was no time to find integrity.



“Cant… obey…” Zwili gasped, her hands mechanically continuing to apply the ointment. It was obvious from the dwarf’s eyes that a colossal internal struggle was taking place just to allow her to speak out of turn, though there seemed little that could be done about it. Emmaline could tell from the scent that the potion was a combination of mineral oil and perfume, though what purpose it served, if anything beyond the cosmetic she couldn’t tell. Her fingers flexed, did she dare try a spell? Zar Tan Zhou would certainly be expected it, but how long did she dare wait before acting?

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Amal wanted to attack then and there, but he knew he needed to be patient. The Arabyan had a very good sense of memory and direction, and as Emmaline was escorted out by spearpoint, he could guess at least somewhat accurately where she might be taken, though he couldn't guess if there was any eldritch locations or pocket dimensions. He doubted it, however. He knew little of spellcraft, but even powerful sorcerers only did it when necessary or showing off. From what he could tell, it took energy to make things, and why make a pocket dimension in a mountain when you could just use rooms?

Luckily for him, he was right. It took Amal sneaking past a few patrols, servants, and sleeping guards. He waded through overpacked storage rooms at chilling temperatures and rudimentary sleeping chambers for the goblins. He passed through an armory with the weapons the goblins used, though he found blades that glimmered in shadow and dulled in light, with edges that could cut hairs in two, and swords that had the green tinge of warpstone. Thankfully, he merely had to slink through one kitchen past a plump goblin in a strange hat that prepared a meal and sang to itself, and he made it to a corridor connected to an antechamber where he heard a familiar voice.

"I'm so good at this," he whispered to himself, and appeared in the doorway before Emmaline's eyes, behind the dwarf woman but right in front of Emmaline's face. Her eyes lighting up and the beaming smile she gave him was worth all of the gold in Araby, but he pressed a stern finger to his lips. She buttoned her lip.

Amal pointed at the dwarf, and gave a quizzical look as he slid a finger across his throat. Emmaline shook her head. Amal shrugged and pointed past her, indicating with his chin for good measure, before giving the same gesture. It was easy enough for her to tell he meant the sorcerer, and she nodded. Looked like there was no reason to keep him alive, at least. Amal gave a thieving cant gesture to be patient, placing his left hand flat and vertical with his right hand mirroring it just above. Amal then gestured past her once more, and mouthed the words' play along.' With her nod, he gave a wink and a grin, and then playfully looked her naked form up and down before fading into the shadows again.

Now all she needed do was distract the sorcerer, and Amal would take his shot.
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Emmaline’s relief at seeing Amal alive was immeasurable. A leaden weight which had been lurking unrecognized in the back lifted. How he had found her and how he had gotten here so quickly remained good questions, but they hardly seemed immediately pressing. For a moment she regretted not having him cut Zwili’s throat, just so they could have talked together, but that seemed a rather uncharitable regret. Amal was no fool, and he must have a plan. All she could realistically do was play her part as best she could. She raised her arms and allowed Zwili to continue to anoint her with oil, hoping it didn’t result in her sprouting tentacles or something. It didn’t or it least it hadn’t by the time the dwarf had clothed her in a white and gold garment which Zwili said was called a kimono. Once this was done a white paint was applied to her face, accented with dark eye mascara and cherry red lipstick. The whole effect struck Emmaline as slightly ludicrous, making her look exceedingly pale and washed out with her fine gold hair, but she supposed that an insane chaos warped wizard probably wouldn’t be that interested in her fashion advice. Once again she tried to rouse Asp, but the snake remained stalwartly inked on her arm, unwilling or unable to manifest.

“You are ready,” Zwili announced in a dull listless voice. Her face worked mightily and she managed to add, “I am sorry.”



“Don’t worry about it,” Emmaline responded, “Half the girls I knew growing up got married at the end of a pitchfork with their bellies swelling. I suppose I’m better off than they are.” It seemed impolitic to remark that at least they weren’t marrying psychotic wizards.

“Not,” she added with a grimace as she plucked at the kimino, “that it is without its challenges.” The garment had clearly been cut for someone with a figure significantly less generous then Emmaline’s. The belt that cinched around her waist pulled the fabric in ways it hadn’t been designed to do and she had to make frequent adjustments in order to prevent her cleavage from making a made dash for freedom. A result she doubted would be looked upon with favor. Asking for a shift seemed unlikely to go over well however.

“Alright, lets get this over with,” she announced finally, figuring she had delayed long enough to give Amal a chance to make whatever preparations he needed, without giving the inhabitants of this strange fortress too much time to stumble over him.

“A… wedding…. gift,” Zwili ground out, reaching into a pocket and producing a small knife. The dwarf was twitching so violent as she handed it to Emmaline that she seemed about to vomit. Emmaline tucked the blade away in a fold of her kimono, greatful for the effort. The dwarf seemed disappointed that she didn’t stab her with it and try to escape, but the dullness stole over her before she could make further comment.

“This way.”



***



A lot, it seemed, could change in an hour. The throne room, which had been majestic bare stone, was now draped with blue silks of every hue. Some were bright as the sky, others the dark grey black of a storm tossed sea. Others Emmaline had no name for and made her slightly nauseous to look upon. An eye searing sigil was emblazoned on many of them, perhaps some kind of coat of arms of Zar Tan Zhou, or perhaps a sign of his blasphemous patron. The wizard himself was also transformed. Gone were his simple robe, replaced by armor that seemed to be wrought of dark blue ice and edged with gold. It had an improbable number of hooks and points that seemed to limit its practicality, though he showed no signs that it hindered him.

“Step forward my dear, let us speak the words of dedication before mighty Tzeentch,” he grinned, showing his pointed teeth and beckoning her. As sthe stepped forward the ground began to glow as it was lit by strange sigils on the floor. There was an odd smell, like sandal wood and old pine tar. Emmaline swallowed, hoping that Amal knew what he was doing. Against the unarmored wizard, Zwili’s knife might have been some use, but against this armored warrior of chaos she didn’t much like her chances.
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Amal pressed the goblin's nose to the chakram, threatening to cut its face on the honed blade. It squirmed, but was powerless to be loosed from Amal's grip. Had it been any other greenskin, Amal would have listened to it and then slit its throat, but he had decided to save on time and go back to gather the one he had knocked out. He wasn't exactly growing fond of it, but he did find it funny in hindsight.

"Yes, this one! Yes!" It cried, and Amal dropped it. Behind him the carpet trudged around as if it were perusing the weaponry itself, but when Amal snapped, the carpet sprang to action and floated upwards. The thief leaped atop it with the disk in his hand, and the two zipped away, the goblin hyperventilating and cursing its luck. If Amal died, Zar Tan Zhou would skin the goblin alive and keep it breathing through magical means even as he cut out his beating heart!

Luckily, Amal didn't intend to lose.

As the procession went underway, Amal watched from the darkness of one of the dozen corridors, and he had mixed feelings on the whole affair. On the one hand, he was glad he had thought ahead when he saw the armor, and he had seen Emmaline in some nice outfits before, but she was all but bursting out of this one (and the hair suited her too). But of course, the dark sigaldry of the tapestries and unnamed, eldritch signs, not to mention someone trying to marry his woman...that didn't sit well with Amal.

"Don't I get an invitation?" Amal asked in his smoothest riekspeil. He liked to think he cut quite the figure when he cleared his throat, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, cloaked but unhooded. Zar Tan Zhou spun in bemused bewilderment, blinking at the sight of the Arabyan thief. Chilling hatred entered his eyes for so brief a moment, it was almost as if it had never been there at all. But then the chill turned into cold curiosity.

"So, you're the one." The sorcerer calmly stated, the barest flicker of recognition in his eyes. Amal wasn't certain what he meant, but he supposed dead, cut up goblins drew attention at some point. "I should have come looking for you myself, but I incorrectly thought my minions would solve the problem for me." As Amal yawned, Emmaline was suddenly scooped up by the carpet and ferried to the other side of the room. It was far more gentle, but it felt as sudden as a hawk plucking an unsuspecting rabbit off the ground.

Amal indicated the sorcerer look behind him with his head. Curiously, Zar Tan Zhou did, and to say he was angered when he saw Emmaline gone was an understatement. If he was enraged there, however, he would be even more pissed once he realized Amal's plan. A discus chakram was flung through the air with a deft flick of Amal's wrist, landing to horseshoe spin atop the chaos chosen's helm, which caused the item to begin to glow a vicious red and white as the armor began to shift and change before their very eyes. It looked like the goblin's tale had been truthful. The armor of Hanra was a sacred metal suit for a chosen of tzeentch, unbreakable and unassailable in all ways, and Zar Tan Zhou had taken precautions to gather up all the items in the Old World that could possibly dispell the armor. Unfortunately, he didn't plan on someone fighting him with it within his sanctum, so the key to the dispellment was very close for any would-be attackers like Amal.

The armor melted, Zar Tan Zhou cursing Amal in his native tongue in frustration. To everyone'e surprise, the armor's disappearance left the sorcerer utterly naked at the alter, and Amal burst out laughing when he saw the man in his birthday suit.

"Tzeentch did not bless you in all ways, did he?" Amal chortled.

With a word of power, the robes he tended to don reappeared upon the Cathayan's form, his staff materializing into existence. He had a noticeable lack of mutations on his torso and legs, but as he spoke, Amal could see his tongue was forked and slithering as if it had a mind of its own.
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"Perhaps you can discuss it with him when I feed him your soul," Zar Tan Zhou snarled, leveling his staff. Before Emmaline could react a bolt of ravening energy ripped from his staff. Amal, moving faster than anyone expected, dodged aside and the bolt blew a smoking hole in one of the walls. Emmaline raised both her arms and began to chant, but the chaos sorcerer, sensing magic directed at him, flicked an irritated wrist. An invisible hand swatted Emmaline away and she avoided crashing to the ground only by virtue of the carpet coiling around her to break her fall, its fabric snapping taught and flipping her onto her feet like a prize fighter being pitched back into the ring by his supporters. Zar Tan Zhou slicked his hands in angry gestures, deflecting two thrown knives away in showers of sparks.

"Come minions!" Zar Tan Zhou shouted, the words ringing unnaturally loud. Emmaline tried her spell again only to have Zar Tan Zhou snap his fingers. The blue tapestries shot out, grabbing at her wrist and she yelped and leaped away, avoiding the enchanted fabrics grasp but loosing the focus of her spell. All across the chamber the tapestries reached out, forcing Amal closer to Zar Tan Zhou. The wizard snarled and shouted a word, tendrils of mist reaching out to seize the thief. Amal slashed at them with his blade and there was a flash of light and a grunt of pain from Zar Tan Zhou. Quick as a whip the wizard lifted his other hand and blasted the thief off his feet. Amal flew backwards, but twisted in the air like an acrobat fingers catching on one of the columns, and landing horizontally on it, cushioning the shock with his feet before flipping down and back to his feet. Emmaline could see shapes moving through the entry hall now, the greenskinned servants of the magus coming to his aid. Ahead of them, almost being dragged by her collar was Zwili, eyes filled with hate, teeth bared in useless defiance. Emmaline raised her hands and began to chant, gathering Charmon to her as greedily as she could. The snake tattoo on her arm writhed and extended out into the golden staff. She leveled it at the dwarf and shouted a word. The iron collar around the dwarf's neck shattered explosively, spraying fragments of hot metal all around. The goblins howeled as their own enchanted collars flew to pieces. They came to their feet, wiping at the cuts and contusions the spell had wrought.

"Oi, the fuggin' collars gone!" one of them hissed. A dozen pairs of yellow eyes turned towards Emmaline and the wizard beyond her. She swallowed hard and stepped to the side.

"He did it," she declared pointing an accusatory finger at Zar Tan Zhou.

"Da' blonde bint is 'it! Git 'em!" one of the green skins snarled and then they were surging forward, some brandishing garden tools, one wielding a pastry roller.
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Amal moved faster than most men likely thought possible, pivoting and twirling, sometimes even parallel to the ground in a vertical butterfly kick. At one point Amal leaped, rolling behind a gaggle of running goblins, the magical blast meant for him enveloping the gangly creatures. The pure force of chaos mutated some of them into masses of flesh whilst others were simply incinerated as if by one of the industrial furnaces of nuln. The light hid Amal in a brief instance, and he was already a dozen feet away, hanging by one of the spiked arches above the wall. With a subtle movement of his legs, he flipped up onto the arch, perched by the balls of his feet.

"Given up yet?" The handsome thief asked.

The sorcerer was truly getting annoyed. He had but barely given attention to the very clear divine favor given to Emmaline by one of the heathen gods of the desert. Once she was under his thralldom, he would interrogate her personally. As Amal dodged the next blast, Zar Tan Zhou realigned his next move, turning the wall Amal was about to springboard off of into some substance with the texture of melted wax. Amal landed on the floor, nearly colliding with the transmuted surface, face inches from it.

The dwarf woman gave a guttural warcry and ran at the remaining goblins, holding a broken chair leg as she screamed to her ancestor gods. Her long braided hair swayed and bounced off her stout body as she charged, braining the first goblin and breaking the legs of another, wading into a group of them who were so surprised she had suddenly turned on them. Meanwhile, Amal continued to do his best to dodge, but he was slowing, exhausted and sweat from the exertion, getting closer and closer to the sorcerer, but it was to no avail. With a laugh, Zar Tan Zhou sent one last stream of chaos energy, arcing the blast to hit a desperately leaping Amal square in the chest to engulf his body in flashing, multicolored energy. Zar Tan Zhou laughed maniacally, praising tzeentch for his victory as the smoke rushed out from the blast zone.

Amal, apparently unhurt, came with it.

The last thing the sorcerer could comprehend was Amal's smile as the dagger slid up, through the bottom of his mouth into his tainted brain. Blood suddenly began seeping from his stricken lips, and Amal waved the ring he had on his finger before the dead magician's eyes as the once proud sorcerer fell onto the ground as a lifeless corpse. Emmaline looked at Amal with wide eyes, her left hand on her mouth even as her asp staff turned another running goblin to stone.

Amal blinked and looked at her, showing her the ring. "You didn't forget I had magic immunity, right?"

"But you kept dodging..." She said, lost.

"Well it's not fun if he doesn't think he can win." The thief shrugged.
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Emmaline had, in point of fact, forgotten the existence of the ring, though this wasn’t an artifact of her flighty nature or self centered outlook. The Ring of Shadows was, by its very nature, an item of obscucation. It’s subtle magic encouraged others to forget its existence, to overlook its presence, even as it encouraged watchers to ignore its wearer. Even now it was brought to her attention, she found the fact of its existence slipping quietly from her mind. It wasn’t important how Amal had survived afterall, simply that he was alive and Zhar Tan Zhou was dead. The greenskins too seemed to be sharing in their masters fate. Zwili tore into them with a fury, teeth bared with ancient racial hate. One of the goblins tried to grab her with its yellowed talons, but she twisted aside, broke its arm with a powerful blow, and then staved in its skull as it staggered back. That was enough for the rest of them. Emmaline burned one down with a bolt of golden energy, just to be seen to be contributing, and the few survivors fled squealing from the throne room, vengeful dwarf on their heels.

“Well I’m glad you were in the neighborhood,” Emmaline said, catching Amal in a relieved hug. She still wasn’t exactly sure where they were or how they had gotten here, but she suspected Amal would be able to fill her in.

“And I’m glad you finally decided to show up,” she said to Asp, who had transformed into his snake form and was coiling around her arm.

“Better late than never,” she said, somewhat censoriously. Asp lifted his head, tongue flicking as he hissed and bobbed his head in lengthy explanation.

“I can’t understand you,” Emmaline reminded him. The snake lifted its snot loftily, in clear indication that her lack of understanding was both not surprising and beneath his regal notice. Emmaline stuck out her tongue at the serpent, but it had already sunk back into her arm, becoming the familiar tattoo once more.

“Luckily some heroes are right on time,” she grinned, bestowing on Amal a lingering kiss.

___

“So the villagers sold us out?” Emmaline asked incredulously. She took a bite of cheese and washed it down with a gulp of wine. They were sitting in the garden, enjoying a meal of pilfered supplies. Emmaline had scanned both the strange cavern and the supplies carefully with her mage sight and detected no sign of the taint of Chaos upon them. It was somewhat saddening to think that Zhar Tan Zhou had accomplished this without the aid of his patron. What great works he might have done if he hadn’t been lured by blind ambition into madness. Emmaline couldn’t even begin to contemplate the spells woven into this place, and her head throbbed faintly from the effort.

“And you rode here on a dragon?” she asked incredulously.

“Technically its a Wyrven because it has only wings and legs,” Amal replied around a mouthful of bread.

“Ohh pedantic for a street rat,” she snickered.

“Ped what?” Amal asked, reaching the limit of his Riekspiel. A sudden noise prevented further conversation and they both turned to see Zwili stalking into the cavern. They hadn’t seen the dwarf in the hour since she had chased off after the goblin and she was much changed. Her fine clothing was gone, she wore only breeches, boots and a bandeau that wrapped around her chest. Her hair was disheveled beyond belief, clumsily shaved on both sides to leave a kind of crest that hung somewhat limply, an effort having obviously been made to make it stand up. She held a heavy hammer in her arms, a real weapon rather than a miners tool.

“Zwili I take it the goblins are…” Emmaline began.

“Dead,” the dwarf concluded with grim finality. Emmaline wondered how she had managed to catch them all but didn’t ask.

“Did uhh… I mean what happened to your hair?” she asked, imagining a goblin barber assaulting the dwarf.

“I have taken my oath to Grimnnir,” Zwili spat. Emmaline had no idea what a Grimnnir might be but judging by Zwili’s expression it was a sore subject so she chose not to pursue it.

“I owe you a debt, to both of you,” the dwarf continued, ignoring Emmaline’s lack of reaction to her announcement.

“To both of you, I will travel with you until I can repay it.”

"But we don't really..." Emmaline tried to interject. Zwili's hands closed so tight around the haft of the hammer that her knuckles ran white. When she responded it was very slow, as though speaking to a child.

"I will travel with you."

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Amal shrugged, an easy smile on his lips accompanying his raised brow. "Sure, you can join us." He said, and it seemed no problem to him. She had carried herself well in the fight against the goblins. Dwarfs were short, but they carried around a lot of muscle, even the women it seemed. Zwili seemed relieved at his acceptance, giving a curt nod and a salute with her newly found axe. Amal placed a finger on Emmaline's lips when she opened them, and he gave her a wink.

"Now that we are traveling together, can you tell us where we might find some treasures here?" Amal asked, crossing his arms as if it was the most pragmatic thing to ask. Zwili's eyes widened, but the luster in them died down after a moment from sheer willpower.

"If I had no taken my oaths, I would have already taken half and ran off. But gold has no place in my life now, or...vast riches, at least. I'll still take some so I can survive long enough for a good death. I hear Grimnir looks down upon-" She continued for another minute, lost in her monologue, convincing herself she wouldn't lose herself to gold lust. Meanwhile, the mere acknowledgement there was some vast treasure in the caverns made Amal and Emmaline's faces light up.

A goblin ran past them into another corridorm the soft padding of its feet rapidly approaching and just as suddenly disappearing making Emmaline jump a bit. The last few hours the little creatures had fallen to infighting. Amal had seen half a dozen diminutive green corpses on the rocky ground, and little figures darting out of the way wherever they walked. Whatever they were doing, they wanted to stay away from the sorcerer's killers. It seems the slaying had given quite the impression. Amal had to admit, he enjoyed being feared, if only for the hilarity of it.

"Follow me," Zwili said, raising her axe as if it were a standard. Amal helped Emmaline to her feet, and the three of them walked into the hallway, their bellies full for now. About two hundred meters away, through five different tunnels and up a strange, carved stairway of marble, Zwili pulled back a curtain to reveal an elaborate bedroom, its back wall strangely ornate with parallel markings while the other walls were lines with foreign trophies and hugged by desks with beakers and eldritch texts. Amal's eye caught a few of the more noteworthy items, but Zwili walked over to the back wall and uttered something unintelligable, knocking on the wall three times with her knuckles before spouting off "Coredok!" in a command.

The ground reverberated ever so slightly as the wall began to pick itself up, sliding into the ceiling with a harsh rumble. The gleam of the room was hard to look upon for a moment, but once their eyes adjusted, even Amal gasped.

Thousands of gold coins were made into a rough pile, a veritable mountain of treasure. The gold wasn't all polished, and there were numerous coins of brass and copper and silver, but the gold far outweighed every other metal. Zwili turned around without even giving it a look, knowing she wouldn't be able to look away if she had laid her eyes upon it. "Last time I was in here, the sight broke my spell and I was punished severely for disobeying Zar. I'll go and find somewhere to sleep before the morning." Was her parting words, and she marched out with a stern countenance.
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Emmaline had been somewhat distracted by the various eldritch texts and items which littered the late and unlamented Zhar Tan Zhou’s inner sanctum. Many of them were obviously abominable works of chaos, unclean things bound in human skin, more innocuous volumes that seemed harmless but whispered silent promises of power and immortality. Somewhat reluctantly Emmaline opened her wizards sight to survey the library, feeling greasy and unclean at the magical imprints on some of the items. A few of them appeared untainted, though all but one was written in a strange script that looked to Emmaline like pick up sticks randomly cast on the ground. Her eyes fell upon one that stood out from the rest, a simple scroll of papyrus with a red silk tie. She reached out for it feeling it tingle against her skin as she picked it up. The ridiculous white silk gown she had been dressed in had nothing so useful as a pocket of course and her own. There was a satchel of fine leather laying over an ornately carved chair which served well enough, she picked up another book, the only one so far as she could tell that was written in the Classic Arcane she had been taught and stuffed it in after the scroll.

Emmaline. Emmaline frowned at the whisper of her name. Her attention was drawn to a piece of dark glass that looked like it might be a lens. It was an inocuous enough thing, not grotesque or awful the way that the brass eye or the bloody dagger beside it were. Obviously it was a quizzing glass, it would let her read all these spell books safely. All that reading sounded terribly dull and her attention began to wander. Emmaline. The whisper had a hint of exasperation in it as her attention returned to the quizzing glass. Just pick it up and all the arcane secret in this room could be hers. Eternal youth, immortality, the ability to turn objects to gold with the merest touch. Her hand lifted towards the glass. Charmon roared in her mage sight and snapped her head around so fast that her hair flew out and the hem of her kimono lifted. Emmaline! But the glass and its seductive whispering was lost as her eye filled with the horde of gold beyond the portal. Her jaw dropped open and her mind seemed to slip it's gears for a moment as all she could do was stare. In hindsight she probably should have heeded Zwili’s warning and at least prepared herself for the powerful surge of gold lust that momentarily blotted out conscious thought. Without memory of cross thing the intervening distance she found herself laying atop a pile of coins, hugging it, running the metal through her fingers and rubbing herself against the clinking currency, its metallic scent filling her nostril, the smooth cool feel of it on her hands and spilling down into the kimono, the clink of it filling her ears.
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