World of Weirdcraft
The fortress rears up above the plain, a jagged tooth of stone against the livid sky. It is a brooding mass of stone, thrusting up out of the living rock, sharp and cruel. Strange lightnings play about the highest towers, even on the calmest nights, and vast piscine shapes glow weirdly as they twist beneath the placid surface of the moat. It is the keep of the Sheldor the Conqueror, a place of terror and power.
The war-machine grinds slowly forward on iron-bound wheels, a heavy mass of chains and spikes and sharp-edged death. At the head of the column of warriors, a knight in resplendent silver armour halts his unicorn at the edge of the moat, and commands the trumpets to sound.
Two figures step out onto the platform above the gate. Sheldor is tall, lean, his night-black armour forged by demonic hands. Beside him, the barbaric beauty who is his Queen. The sun casts a golden glow, across her mane of blonde hair, her honey skin, the razor-sharp edge of the mighty war-axe she carries.
The knight shakes a mailed fist up at them, defiant.
"My mighty waw machine will cwush you uttewy! I stand for twuth and mewcy and all that is good in the wowld."
"That's nice." Queen Penelope calls back. "We've got a dragon."
The man gets one horrified look up at the shadow suddenly cast over him. There is a short, hot, exciting interlude. Sheldor and his Queen watch with interest, and a mild concern.
"She always gets such a tummy-ache if she doesn't take her food out of the can first."
"You are too impetuous. In future, capture them, take their armour, and then let Tranquillity loose."
"But she's having such fun..."
The dragon performs an impromptu stomp of victory upon the shattered remnants of the war-machine. Sheldor smirks with satisfaction. Gives a signal, and the gates of the fortress swing wide, the horde within unleashed...
The after-battle parties are always riotous. The courtyard is a seething mass of fighting, dancing and drinking. Some captives are providing dinner and a show. Tranquillity, replete with slaughter, burps and rumbles faintly in her pen, gnaws at a last haunch of unicorn.
Penelope reels away from a knot of dancing warriors, and swishes her way across the courtyard. A hand reaches out of the shadow, and attempts to tug at her cloak. She grabs the wrist, and the owner finds themselves flat on their back with a boot on their throat.
"Dranel." She sighs. "I've warned you about this before..."
"You could leave him, you know." The halfling peers wistfully up at her.
"So I could come live in a hole in the ground, with a short person who doesn't even wear shoes?" She smiles pityingly at him. "Sweetie, get real."
"It's because he's all tall and powerful and got a big tower, isn't it?"
Her mouth twitches.
"Not...quite." Takes her boot off him.
He watches her walk away from him, and sighs. One day, she'll understand. She'll get fed up of the excitement, leading armies and conquering realms, and be ready to settle down quietly in a nice little burrow with him and have beautiful, smart babies and cook him dinner and stop wearing those high leather boots with the horribly sharp heels...
"Was he bothering you again? He really is hopelessly deluded."
"Yeah, he seems to think I'm only attracted to you because of your big...sword..."
Sheldor raises his eyebrows, and she laughs at his confusion.
"Queen P, gotta question..."
They turn. One of the horde has caught something.
In his own country, he was a prince, a proud member of a proud race, a scholar, an Astronomer, calculating the alignment of the spheres. But he had been young and foolish, and desired travel and adventure.
And he'd ended up here. It hadn't been too bad at first. Sheldor lurked in his tower, conducting whatever dark and terrible rites he did, and the rest of them contented themselves with half-heartedly plotting against him.
And then She had come. Blazing out of the sky. Bringing terror and change. And orcs. Lots of orcs. Like the one that presently has him in her grip. The dark elf, rendered mute by Her presence, squeaks piteously.
The orc-maiden runs a rough tongue up the side of his ear.
"Heh. Delishus car'mel." Looks at them. "Keep?" She asks, hopefully. Queen Penelope and Sheldor exchange glances, and then he nods. The orc-maiden grins, gets the elf in a companionable headlock and barrels away again.
"One of the mighty Elder race, reduced to a sex-toy." Sheldor shakes his head. "Sad."
"Well, he doesn't sing, unless he's drunk."
"And his star-gazing proved ultimately futile, since he failed to foresee your arrival. I could have avoided so many complications."
"You were brooding in your dark tower, and all you had to keep you company were a few scuttling minions. Admit it," She purrs, "I make your life much more fun."
She'd encountered kings and warlords, pirates and barbarian heroes. Killed quite a few of them. And then one day, she'd crash-landed Tranquillity into the courtyard of the Dark Tower, and met Sheldor.
He was cold and ruthless, and seemingly unimpressed by her. A delicious challenge.
Who ravished who first was always a matter for debate. Loud debate, often requiring a rematch.
There's discarded armour throughout the room, the shattered remnants of more fragile furnishings – a lamp kicked over by one wild foot, the hangings from the bed torn down by an enthusiastic grip, a chair reduced to kindling...
The bed itself gives an ominous creak, and settles abruptly to one side. They both slide off onto the floor in welter of blankets, his yelp, her laughter.
"I must command the minions to construct something sturdier..."
She settles herself above him.
"Perfectly good bearskin rug in front of the fireplace."
"That's hardly civilized..."
"Barbarian queen, remember." Stretches her arms up luxuriously, gathering her blonde hair up atop her head, and the sight entrances him. Looks down at him through narrowed eyes. "I'm not at all civilized."
He looks around at the wreckage of his once-neat bedchamber.
"I would have to agree." Long hands on her hips. "I'm going to have to teach you proper behaviour."
"You can try." Her smile is feral. Sheldor's answering smirk is evil.
There are benefits to living in a Dark Tower, as opposed to living wild and free. Plumbing is one – she is a definite convert to the idea of regular bathing. But there are certain drawbacks...
There is a shriek, a thud, several metallic crashes and some unpleasant squelching and bubbling.
Queen Penelope comes out of the bathroom, covered in green ichor and other happily unidentifiable things.
"You're going to have to learn to kill your own giant spiders, Sheldor."
"She's letting them up out of the dungeons again. I'm going to have Words."
"I'll come with you. Just as soon as I've cleaned up." Gives him a Look. "You know how she upsets you."
Sheldor recoils faintly as the creature in the cell darts forward and rakes a clawed hand at him through the bars, screeching.
"A pox on you, you skinny warmonger..."
"Winkle, you hag..."
"May a thousand tiny demons come and spit on you..."
"At least I can summon demons..."
She screeches curses at him, the air itself curdling.
Penelope bangs her axe on the bars.
"Would you consider a deal?"
The witch stops swearing at Sheldor, and looks at Penelope.
"What sort of a deal?" she asks, in a much more normal tone of voice.
"You stop cursing Sheldor, and I don't pull your tongue out." Penelope says, sweetly.
The witch blinks. Considers. The blonde barbarian doesn't make idle threats.
"I can work with that."
"No more spiders. I hate washing them out of my hair afterwards."
"Bah." The witch spits. "You only keep me locked up because you are afraid of the feminine power principle that I embody...."
"No, I keep you locked up because you eat children." Sheldor growls.
"I thought that was a vicious slander." Penelope says.
"No." The witch shrugs, grins horribly. "Nothing to do with witchcraft. I just like the taste."
"Okay. Um...best just stick to the rats."
"And I get another halfling. At least until I get bored with him."
They are having a light luncheon, when they are next interrupted. Sheldor has been trying to teach Penelope about cutlery. Well, that you eat with it, as opposed to the myriad unpleasant uses she can find for a spoon. His bloodthirsty darling is inventive, he does admire her ingenuity.
There is a thud. Another. Heavy footfalls outside the door, a smell of smoke. Something wails in terror, and there is a mighty blow upon the doors themselves, which shake before the assault, burst open. The creature before them fills the archway, a dark shape wreathed in terror, all flame and shadow, wide spreading horns and eyes of fire.
"Sorry to bother you, sire, but I caught this sneaking round the kitchens again." Holds out one clawed fist, a dangling bundle of rags. "It was bothering the maids."
It's small and clammy, all eyes and nose and ingratiating grin.
Sheldor narrows his eyes.
"Maybe I'll pull one of his arms off, just as an object lesson."
"Don't do that." Penelope purses her lips. "You'll have his mother screaming up from the cellars again."
The creature leers hopefully at her.
"Have you ever been told how beautiful you are in flawless Sindarin?"
She stares at him in mild horror.
"...Or you could just drop him in the moat."
The Balrog clears his throat, a respectful rumble.
"The lads were hoping to get up a game of orcball this afternoon, sire, and since we've lost our old ball..."
"...kicked off-side, into the wolf-pit..." Penelope reminds Sheldor.
"...we could use a new one."
Sheldor waves a magnanimous hand. The creature wails pitifully. The Balrog grins.
"Jolly good, sire. Will you be joining us?"
"Oh, I thought I might take him out for a flying lesson." Penelope says.
The Balrog's grin shrinks a little.
"Right you are, m'lady. I'll get the fire-crews stationed around the towers..."
"I had more important things to do in my youth than learn how to control a dragon properly." He folds his arms, a scowl to command armies. Penelope ignores it.
"All the more reason to learn now." She takes another fairy-cake. "These are so good."
"It's an old family recipe." He smiles at her delight. "You have to leave the wings on."
He doesn't actually crash into anything, and Tranquillity only stalls once, when distracted by a herd of cattle. The landing could do with some work, but repairing the stonework gives the minions something to do. They can keep an eye on things from the comfort of the tower, anyway.
Queen Penelope slaps the side of the crystal globe.
"I'm just getting that great fiery eye again..."
Sheldor stalks over, and glares into the stone. The eye blinks, retreats rapidly, and the crystal clears.
"I don't understand why you find them so amusing..."
"It's the pitiful way they think that you don't know they are plotting against you." She smiles indulgently. "And then they act all hurt and surprised when you catch them..." Her eyes narrow suddenly. "Like that one."
Sheldor peers, too. And his wrath kindles, dreadful to behold.
The room is dark, silent. Outside, the sun is setting, the last bloody rays drawing back, leaving only a soft, lambent glow in the corner of the room.
Two steps up to a platform, and a small casket rests atop a pillar.
A small shape creeps stealthily, moving lightly from shadow to shadow. He has avoided traps and hazards, guards and all manner of eldritch beings to get this far. If he has this prize within his grasp, then...there will be nothing he cannot do, cannot be. Nothing he cannot have...
The snap and discharge of violent energies, caged lightning paints the room in black and silver. There is a yelp, and something slightly singed rolls down the steps, and gets groggily to large, hairy feet.
Sheldor is suddenly there, stalking across the room. Slap of the leather gauntlet.
The halfling whimpers.
"Don't torment him like that." Penelope marches across, and snatches the gauntlet out of his hand. The halfling blinks up at her with wild hope. She smiles back. "You've got to get more swing behind it."
This crack elicits a yelp.
"Right, I've put up with this long enough, Dranel." Sheldor snaps his fingers. Two large orcs lumber forward, pick the halfling up by the arms. "I didn't want to have to do this, but you leave me no choice. Take him...down to the witch."
He struggles and shrieks, bare feet scrabbling helplessly against the floor as they drag him off, the pitiful wailing growing fainter.
"They don't learn, do they? What was he after?"
Sheldor sighs crossly.
"I was keeping this for your birthday..."
He is master here, the subtle sorceries and elemental powers do his bidding, and he reaches a hand forth with no more than a flicker of harmless sparks, opens the casket. The chain loops down from long fingers, and there, holding all the light in the room...a ring. The Ring.
"For me?" Her eyes wide with delight, biting her soft lower lip, suddenly girlish. He smiles, flushes a little, looks down, back up again, the mighty warlord reduced to a nervous man.
"For you, my Queen."
The world itself trembles, as he holds her left hand, slides the gold circle onto her finger. Distant towers fall, consumed by the earth itself, seas boil and deserts freeze. Men and beasts cower in terror as weird lightnings dance across the sky.
They don't notice such things. Because she flings her arms round his neck, he returns the embrace with awkward care, and they kiss with all the passion of two souls destined to rule the world together.