Sun and Sean, of course, stayed behind, and José and Bark as well. To my surprise, Goldrim also preferred to stay behind, to guard them, he said. I think that although he wanted Ostohar rescued, he did not want to directly disobey a member of the royal dwarven family. Miara helped him out, making it appear as though his presence was necessary as a guard. She told him to be sure that if orcs attacked, to barricade Sun and Sean into a room and keep them safe until everyone returned, with José's and Bark's help.

The rest of us walked down the stairs. Kyuskay led us first to the room he had found Ostohar drinking with the orc. The second level was obviously several cuts above the first. Everything, even the hallway, was much more nicely appointed. The room itself was quite fine: the fireplace in one corner, with a very nice table and chairs before it. The carpets on the floor, other nice furniture. It was empty of anything living, though.

Both Ashe and Kyuskay said it would be quite easy to follow the tracks of Ostohar and the orc, who had left at about the same time and traveled together, at least to start with.

We followed Ashe's nose, which led us further downstairs. The third level appeared to be a workingman's level, from what we could tell. At the bottom of the stairs, Ostohar and the orc parted ways. For now, we weren't interested in the orc, so we followed Ostohar's trail.

We eventually began to hear the muted sounds of combat down a long and thin tunnel. We walked into it a short distance, until Kyuskay could see all the way down it. He said it opened up into a something else about 50 feet down. We took a few more steps, and he said there was a room at the end, and that's where the combat was.

It didn't sound like there were that many people fighting; maybe two or three at best. Hardly the widescale melee that Goldrim had expected. Miara sent Kyuskay forward to scout the situation.

He returned shortly, and said quietly that he saw Ostohar fighting, cornered, swinging his battle axe. But he saw nothing that Ostohar was battling. Something invisible maybe?

In the time it took for Kyuskay to report that, Ostohar appeared, looking somewhat surprised at our presence. I was prepared for anger, but Miara said simply, "We thought you might need assistance."

He answered, "Good thinking. They don't usually follow me out. Follow me." He led us away from his battle at a brisk pace. I struggled to keep up, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it all the way back up the stairs without collapsing. I did collapse at the top, and they waited for me to catch my breath again. Then we walked more slowly back to the apartments. This pace allowed for commentary, and he reported that he was fighting the Grey Mountain clan. When told that we didn't see anyone, he nodded sagely and said they "don't usually come out of the desecrated place."

Goldrim was surprised to see us return so quickly. Ostohar said portentously, "But I fear it isn't over. It will be someday. We will drive them out. Right now, I need beer and food."

José spent his time well, and had a fine meal prepared. Ostohar sat down and Sun came out of nowhere to bring his food and beer to him.

Kyuskay, through Miara, asked some questions of Lord Ostohar while he ate. He first asked who the orc Ostohar met with was, and he apologized for following him. Ostohar said it turned out well that he had, and the orc was one he met with often. He's the chief of the Grey Mountain Clan. Ostohar said his name, but it just sounded like typical orcish grunting to me.

Kyuskay then asked, "Why do you meet with him? To drive him away from Ostohar?" And Goldrim added, "By drinking ale with him?"

Ostohar replied, "That's an odd way to put it." Goldrim explained his vision of the two of them drinking ale together, and Ostohar thought that was very strange. I started to think that Ostohar was the strange one. He seemed to have either no memory of that meeting, or at least a different one.

Kyuskay said quietly to us that he had some ideas that we should discuss privately later, and we ceased grilling Lord Ostohar.

Lord Ostohar then convinced me he was not all there. He looked at us all and said, "I do remember you. You put on a good show, but I do remember you." He said something about remembering asking Goldrim not to call him Highness, and other events none of us remembered in the least. None of us had ever seen him before.

Then he said, "It was Kadar-Helgad." We all exchanged glances. Kadar-Helgad was the dwarven shrine in the mountains that had been taken over by ogres at the top levels and infested with goblins at the lower. And the tentacle thing in the mud. And the cursed temple where we found the hiding place of the Stone of Stones, which sent us here, apparently to meet Lord Ostohar. Very circular. Something weird was going on that we didn't know about yet, and that usually meant Bad News.

Miara said, "I don't recall quite all of the conversation", obviously trying to draw out more information diplomatically. His answer was brief but did contain one more nugget of information: "That's all right, I don't either. It was 22 years ago." Many of us had been small children 22 years ago.

Goldrim tried to draw him out also, "I've been a little busy, could you remind me?"

Ostohar willing replied, "My memory is also a bit vague. What I do know is that we were there together and we were overrun and the ogres took the place."

Miara turned to Goldrim and asked if he now remembered the history, and he nodded, looking rather confused, and said "Ah, yes".

Goldrim pointed to Bark and Son and said, "Of course, we weren't all there at the time." He watched Ostohar carefully. Ostohar didn't say anything, but looked skeptical. So somehow Ostohar remembered Bark and Son, who were both definitely not even born 22 years ago.

Kyuskay smiled and seemed to think he knew something. Miara said to us in Nipponese, "We'll discuss this later. In private."

Someone muttered that the ogres had made a mess of the place. At that ill-timed statement, Ostohar's good-natured affability changed into depression. "Yes, that was bad," he said quietly. Hoping to cheer him, Goldrim said, "Still, they're gone now." Ostohar looked blackly at his empty plate.

Goldrim asked Sean to play something happy, songs of dwarvish victories, and Sean complied. Although he fell no deeper into despair, he was very quiet and sad.

Miara said, "Well, why don't we let you rest after your great battle? I'm sure you're tired." Ostohar accepted that gratefully, and we left graciously. We all crowded into one of the apartments for that private talk about what was really going on.

Miara asked Kyuskay to enlighten us all. He said, "There's no on here but us." Miara agreed. I did not feel enlightened.

Goldrim said,"And Lord Ostohar." Kyuskay said, "No. He's a spirit, a part of this place, re-fighting battles with the orcs long since past."

Goldrim looked as confused as I felt, and pointed out that he's been eating and drinking. Kyuskay and Miara didn't seem to think that was a problem. He said of course they eat and drink, and she said there wouldn't be any point to leaving food and drink for the spirits otherwise. Great, so now we had an insane dwarf and two superstitious foreigners who think ghosts eat and drink like people. The conversation continued into further surreality.

Kyuskay said he believed that the Ostohar we were talking to is the spirit of the city of Ostohar, which, as our cryptic-as-usual prophecy stated, had lost its way. Somehow we're supposed to fix the dead city's unresolved issues. At least, I think that's what he meant.

Miara said, "He's fighting the same old battle or battles over and over. We need to bring this place into the present." Kyuskay replied, "We need to stop focusing our action and direction on this part. Continue to offer the spirit what he wishes: food, drink, stories."

Miara said thoughtfully that we ought to find the other spirit's side of the story. She apparently was talking about the ale-drinking orc. I asked if the spirits they were accustomed to usually left tracks, scents and footprints, that could be followed like they followed Ostohar's and the orc's. I hoped that the obvious nonsense of that would snap them out of the delusion, but Kyuskay said, Why not?" I gave up.

Miara, Kyuskay, Ashe, Goldrim, and Prestley decided they would try to find the orc, or the spirit of the orc, and talk to it. I decided to go with them, and Carmella accompanied me, as always. Kyuskay and Miara brought beer and food to offer the orc/spirit, and some for ourselves as well. Sun, Sean, Bark, and José stayed behind. We all felt this place was empty and pretty darn safe.

Unusually, Miara wound up in rear guard. Ashe and Kyuskay were first, as the only ones who could follow the orc's tracks, followed by Goldrim and Prestley, ready for either battle or dangerous traps. Carmella and I followed, and Miara came after us.

We walked down both sets of endless stairs down to the third level. We were almost all the way down when someone behind us said, "Please do not go down there". Miara echoed his request to us a moment or two later, and we all stopped and turned.

At the top of the stairs was a very old orc, dressed for battle. Miara asked Kyuskay, in Nipponese, to confirm that this was Ostohar's friend. He was. Miara said to us all, "Let's go up and talk with our friend." She started walking back up, and we all followed her.

It was obvious to us all that he carried a lot of magical trinkets. Goldrim said in Nipponese, "Perhaps this is the fellow Sean needs to speak with." Miara nodded.

He led us back to the room in which he had recently been drinking ale with Ostohar. He sat down in one of the chairs; Miara sat across from him and offered him the beer and food. He accepted and apologized that he had nothing to offer us. Miara said, "I am sure you will give us what we need." The rest of us sat on benches and the floor.

In Nipponese, Goldrim asked if Miara was sure he was a ghost, and shouldn't we ask him if he was? Miara pointed out that he probably didn't know he was a ghost, just like Ostohar didn't. I remembered a travelling monk who had stayed out our hospice for a time and who talked like that. He liked to ask how we knew anything was really there. He felt a bruised shin from walking into a table wasn't evidence enough of the table's existence.

We were otherwise silent as the orc finished off the beer and the snack. When he was done, Miara started up a conversation. "So, please tell me why you didn't wish us to go downstairs."

He replied, "This is my home, I'd rather you didn't go down there. It was also a test of your intentions."

"We merely wished to speak with you."

"That is apparent. What do wish speak of?"

"Can you tell me something of this place's history?"

"It's a dwarven city of old. But they haven't been here for some 200 years." That matched with our observations. And no memories of having met us decades ago.

Goldrim asked him, "What do you call Lord Ostohar and myself?" He sounded a little peevish at not being counted as dwarves who were here.

"Historically, the dwarves did leave," the orc said mildly.

"Well, yeah. I suppose you can think of it that way," Goldrim admitted grudgingly.

"Sometime after the dwarves left," the orc continued, "a small colony of orcs moved into the lower levels, what I now call my home. And that was the story of Ostohar until about 100 years ago when a colony of religious people, more like you and you, "he nodded at Miara and Kyuskay" than you, "and he nodded at me. "They lived in some of the upper parts in Ostohar. Apparently they lived on a not completely unfriendly basis with the orcs. These are my best guesses, not recorded history or personal knowledge, you understand."

Kyuskay and Miara asked nearly in unison, he in Nipponese, she in Old Worlder, "When did you move here?"

"About 15 years ago. The others were gone. The orcs, before the humans came, had become involved in a particularly nasty form of the cult of Nergal," I remembered the shrine at Kadar-Helgad and shuddered, "and apparently the humans stopped that. I don't know why or how, but I'm happy they did. The orcs closed off the shrine to Nergal and started living in other areas and levels. I'm not too sure of the timing, but about 24-30 years ago, that portion of the shrine was re-opened and Nergal's wrath was unleashed upon everyone. All the humans and all the orcs were dead or otherwise gone inside of 5-10 years. It's hard to tell exactly. And I arrived about 15 years ago, as I said, and Ostohar arrived at about the same time." Nergal. I shuddered again. But he did confirm that one lonely and elderly orc and one mentally impaired dwarf were the only ones in residence here.

Goldrim asked, "So who was Lord Ostohar fighting?"


Miara said to us, "See?"

"He is haunted by memories of a particular lost battle," the orc said. "He has mentioned the place 'Kadar-Helgad' to me, and I have come to believe that's where he suffered the loss."

"He didn't mention that he remembered you being there, right?" asked Goldrim.

"No, his enemy there was ogres."

"It seems strange to some of us," Miara said, meaning Goldrim, "that you and Lord Ostohar should be on amicable terms. How did that come about?"

"Perhaps Lord Ostohar's current condition is unique for normal dwarves. It is not unique amongst orcs. Not to put too fine a point on it, he may be not all there." That wasn't exactly news to us. "And perhaps neither am I." I could go along with that as well. "But we enjoyed sharing stories of the old days more than we enjoyed smacking each other around."

Goldrim pointed at some of the magic box things that he carried, "We have a blind friend who has one of those." The concept of a blind human carrying around an orcish magic item surprised the orc, as well it might. Prestley volunteered to go upstairs and bring Sean and his box down. At that point, we were certain that there were no hordes of orcs and it would be quite safe to let him go on his own.

While we waited, Miara described the statue she was looking for, but the orc had never seen anything like it. He said most things like that had been long cleared out.

Kyuskay asked through Miara, "Would you ask the ghost of the orcs downstairs if they have seen such a statue, since they were here long ago?"


Miara asked if she could speak with them herself and ask them.

"I would prefer you not go down there, as it's somewhat embarrassing."

"What's embarrassing?"

"The shrine to Nergal."

"I believe we have seen such before. Perhaps you could bring them up here."

He said firmly, "They are long-dead orcs that died by the hand of Nergal. No, I will not bring them up here. If you have the power to talk with the dead, perhaps you could talk to the dead humans."

"Are their spirits here too?"

The conversation devolved into confusions between orcs and ogres and spirits and who could speak with whom or what. I tuned out, and Prestley and Sean appeared shortly.

Sean pulled out the box when the nameless orc asked him to. The orc was astonished, and he was obviously not happy to see that box. Miara told Sean that the orc clearly recognized the box.

"I don't recognize the box itself," the orc corrected, "I recognize the symbols on the box. They are symbols of another one of the chaos gods."

Sean guessed, "Zeentch, perhaps?" "That sounds right. The great conspirator?"

"The druidess thinks I should learn to use it."

"I can tell you what it does and how to use it. But I won't touch it and I don't want you to use it in my presence."

Sean put it away and said go ahead.

"It changes time." We all got the exact same look on our faces. Suddenly, things became clear. Perhaps Ostohar wasn't insane after all. And there were no ghosts, or at least only the ghosts of the mind.

"In what way?" Sean continued.

"In any way you wish."

"Like I could avoid a party I didn't want to go to?"

"I suppose." He seemed displeased with the notion that anyone would put such a device to such a trivial use.

"So how does it work? How can I control it?"

"You don't control it. You can operate it. You cannot ever control it." Why doesn't anyone ever create some magical gadget that can actually be controlled?

The orc stood up and yanked a large basin from the wall above the fireplace. He dropped it to the floor with a loud clang. Miara quietly told Sean what the orc was doing. The orc patted his clothing until he found what he wanted, and pulled out a box that looked a lot like Sean's. Except for the chaotic markings, of course. He opened it, and it also contained a liquid. His didn't flame. He poured it into the bowl.

"These are called fire boxes,", he explained. "Every orcish magic user will carry at least one of them. Some will merely carry flint and steel and non-magic orcs find this fascinating enough. The less mundane ones contain magic. The really powerful fireboxes have water, like this one.

He picked up a jug and said, "This is just plain water." He poured it into the bowl so it was filled with liquid. Nothing happened.

"Water is very useful. And food." We all nodded and exchanged glances that said he was a little weird. Then he reached into the water and pulled out a rabbit. He put it back into the water and poured it back into his box. All the water disappeared without overflowing the small box, although most of it had come from the jug. The rabbit was also gone. He put the box away. Miara described carefully what had happened to Sean.

"OK, so you're saying what?" Sean asked for clarification. "You pour it into a basin and that makes it work?"

"Yes, that's typically how it works."

"If we were to find a basin about 5 feet across, then filled it with my box and enough water to fill the basin, would I pull out something from a different time, or would I step into it into another time?"


Miara, Kyuskay, and Goldrim held a quiet conversation about "fixing" Lord Ostohar with some of the liquid.

"It's probably worth knowing that in orcish culture, water is associated with birth and creation, and fire is associated with death and destruction," the orc explained.

"So the god of death and destruction is somehow in charge of the substance in this box?" Sean asked

"No, chaos is both creation and destruction."

This, of course, led to a philosophical discussion. Could we go back in time, fight the old battle and win? Or would we have to lose because the battle had been lost in the past? What would happen if we did win? There wouldn't be any ogres to capture us and kill Og. The temple with its tentacles and the pillar wouldn't be there. Where would the Stone of Stones be instead? How could we have been directed here without the pillar, and if we didn't come here, then how could we have gone back into the past and made all that happen? Or not happen? I felt dizzy.

We finally took our leave of the orc to return upstairs. He said, "I will leave you with some words of caution. Do not forget where the box came from. And even I cannot imagine the amount of chaos that could easily be caused by changing time."

Neither could we.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~