Oisyphrix the Outlasting - not to be confused with Oisyphrus the Decaying, or Isyphrix the Temptress - sat in her parlor in a hidden location accessible only through three carefully hidden entries - a magical doorway, a magical tapestry, and a stairway from the cellar of The Blinking Corpse Tavern down the street from the old Money Changer’s Guild in the city of Ithrasca. That last thing is the way that most people find her. But not this time.
Across from Oisyphrix stood a small, mysterious figure in plain brown robes. Sethoralas was an elf of indeterminate age. You know what they say about elves – “fairies don’t fade.”
Nevertheless, Sethoralas was a sorcerer of tremendous skill. Enough skill to decipher the cryptic clues that led to the magical doorway to Oisyphrix the Oracle’s parlor from some dark catacombs far, far, far away. Sethoralas was a very serious elf. He was always telling people in his travels around the world how he was playing a role in keeping The Old God from returning and throwing the current world into chaos and upheaval and all manner of mischief. Neither his warnings nor his forewarnings were received well. Sethoralas had often been described as “a puny little elf with a bad attitude.”
The oracle’s head was wrapped in silk wrappings, making her appear blind in the manner of oracles all over the place. Oisyphrix’s six arms were spread apart as she weaved a spell of divination. In case we hadn’t mentioned it, Oisyphrix was part giant spider and part human. The anchor for her six arms was a big ol’ thorax, but she is a little sensitive about that so we shouldn’t bring it up. Also, it’s not very relevant to the story. Probably….
“I see a pair of young men, hardly older than boys, really. One born into nobility, one orphaned ignominiously.” The oracle had a way of speaking that was little more than a whisper and simultaneously made you feel like tiny spiders were trying to crawl into your ears.
“Yes, yes,” Sethoralas replied as enthusiastically as his normally subdued and serios manner would allow. “I have read about these two in… The Book of Heroes!”
“The Book of… It’s a magical tome. There are entries for every hero of every age. I just need to know - ”
Before the elf could finish telling the oracle what he needed to know, there was a sound to his right of a door being slammed open from the top of the stairs that led down into the parlor. The oracle and the sorcerer waited with trepidation and bated breath to see who had arrived.
Two sets of feet came down the stairs, followed by legs, and torsos, then shoulders, etc.
One was a human female wearing form-fitting battle armor and carrying a magnificent spear. Hestra was a beautiful creature, blessed with an athletic form and the face of an angel. She was the sort of woman who made men think naughty thoughts. But the gleaming point of her spear inevitably drew people’s attention away, because it looked really, really sharp.
The other visitor was a reptilian, wearing a more common set of chain mail. Ha Tsin was from a clan that did not pay heed to fancy things. He wore a simple cloak pulled back over his shoulders and held together in the front by a clasp that bore a religious icon on it. In his scaly hand was a metal rod with flanges running up and down its length. His scaly green tail slapped the stairs as they descended.
“We are seeking guidance,” Hestra announced in a rich, commanding voice.
“I was here first,” Sethoralas insisted, tossing his palms back and forth to demonstrate his existence.
“But we’re in a hurry,” Ha Tsin replied. The reptilian priest came to stand a few feet away from the sorcerer.
“We are looking for the Book of Gods,” the female warrior said modestly.
“Is that the same -” the oracle started to ask of Sethoralas before he stormily interrupted.
“No, it is not the same as the Book of Heroes. My book is real. I have seen it. That’s how I know that these boys exist. Their book is a myth, a rumor, a fable for fools to follow.”
“Who are you calling ‘fool’?” Ha Tsin asked as his lip curled up to review a row of fangs.
“Look,” Sethoralas said as he faced Oisyphrix directly, “all I need is one answer to one question, then I’ll be on my way. We already discussed payment.”
“We’ll pay more,” Hestra interjected as she pointed to the reptilian.
“Yes,” Ha Tsin agreed as he slid a backpack from his back. “As I said, we’re in a hurry. What do you want? Coins? Jewels? A magic potion?” Then the reptilian looked at the oracle’s head. “Wait, do you have a mouth? I can’t tell.”
Oisyphrix began to answer, then paused. Her head swiveled to her right, towards a point on the floor opposite from where the stairs entered her parlor.
“Stupid rat-men,” she muttered. “If they haven’t learned yet that they will be eaten if they come in here….”
Before she could finish the thought, one of the flagstones was flipped over. A moment later, a small figure launched itself upward from the new hole in the floor.
“This is the end for you, monster!” a shrill voice announced. The little figure had an uncombed mess of brown hair on top, a shirt desperately in need of a good washing, and trousers that were caked in dirt. In its left hand was a small sword and on its right hand was a ring that gave off a red glow from a giant ruby.
“Is that a dwarf?” Ha Tsin asked of his companion.
“No, that’s a faun,” Hestra answered. “In some realms they are called hobbits. Other places, they are called halflings. Those are all stupid names. The original term for them is fauns and that is what we shall call them.”
The faun in question was named Pug Racola. He danced to and fro, waving his sword back and forth as he tried to determine who was the most dangerous threat.
“What is that obnoxious odor?” the reptilian queried as his eyes squinted.
“Sorry,” Pug responded. “I’ve been eating lots of broccoli lately. And preparing for battle against the undead makes me gassy.”
“There are no undead here,” Oisyphrix replied languidly.
The next head to pop out of the hole had a blonde ponytail and bright blue eyes. The owner of the head clamored up to show that she was, like Hestra, decked out in a complete set of battle armor. Covering the armor was a tunic with a dwarven rune prominently displayed on it. A warhammer was clutched in two hands. She was slightly taller than the faun and slightly broader than he was. Her name was Lornael. Among dwarven-kind she would have been considered more attractive than Hestra.
“Is that a dwarf?” Ha Tsin asked again.
“I think so,” Hestra answered. “Although she doesn’t have a beard, which I think marks her as an outcast among dwarves, or something like that.”
“No,” Lornael responded. “The females in my family do not grow beards. My face feels cleaner without one, anyway. Now, I have been chosen by my temple to assist in the eradication of the followers of Oisyphrus.”
“You are in the parlor of Oisyphrix,” the oracle explained laboriously.
“Is this it?” a third figure asked as it emerged from the hole. This one was clearly a gnome, smaller than the other two, with pointed hat and long white beard and everything. He had no discernible armor or weapons. Just a regular gnome who was called Glomni.
“I don’t think we’re in the undead crypts, like we were promised,” Pug said as he sheathed his sword. He had sauntered over to the oracle and, after looking her up and down, began caressing her thorax.
“Please don’t do that,” she said uneasily.
Meanwhile, Glomni had wandered over to a tapestry that was behind Sethoralas. The picture that was depicted on it was a pastoral setting of rolling fields bisected by a blue stream. A dark green forest was to the left and grand mountains formed the backdrop.
“Welllll, I haven’t seen one of these in a long time,” the gnome said in a voice that was slightly above a whisper.
“It’s a very magical tapestry that can display clairvoyant observations around the globe. It is called… A Screen of Scenes.”
“A Screen of…? Oh, that’s just a horrible name,” Hestra scowled as she looked at the tapestry. Even when scowling she was beautiful.
“My question…” Sethoralas reminded Oisyphrix. His jaw was clenched so tightly that veins were beginning to appear on his temples.
“Yes, yes, you read about some young heroes in the Book of Gods -”
“No! I have researched the Book of Heroes! THEY are looking for the Book of Gods!”
“Yes, and we’re in a hurry,” the reptilian repeated for the benefit of the room.
“Why would you be worried about a book of heroes when they are looking for the Book of Gods?” Lornael the dwarf queried.
“Yeah,” Pug agreed as he kicked at a closed chest tucked away behind Oisyphrix. “A book about gods sounds way more interesting than a book about heroes.”
“Here we go!” Glomni exclaimed as he stood on his tiptoes, reviewing an open book on a stand next to the tapestry. “This tells you how to use the tapestry. Did you know that you had this here?” he asked of the oracle.
“I beg you not to -” she warned the gnome.
“I DEMAND AN ANSWER TO MY QUESTION!” The elf, small even for his kind and dressed in simple traveling robes, was often overlooked in public settings. However, when he raised his voice and made a glowing staff appear from out of nowhere, people tended to pay a great deal of attention to him.
“Yes, of course. And what was the question?”
“Where can I find the two boys I am interested in – the boys I discovered in the Book of Heroes?”
“Just give me a moment.”
Oisyphrix put two clawed hands to her head and began delicately gesturing with another pair of hands in the air.
“From the White Stone Fen to Mhikourm’s Tomb, I seek answers from darkest doom.” The gnome was reading from the instruction book.
“Should you be doing that?” Lornael asked nervously as she stepped toward Glomni.
The faun moved closer to his friends. “Remember when he accidently unlocked - ”
The gnome waived them off as he continued.
“From the Eshon desert to the Dosul Sea, let four responses come to me.”
In an instant, the colors of the tapestry shimmered and waved, erasing the scene that had been there and forming a swirling confusion of hues.
The oracle finished her own spell, raised her head, and saw what was going on.
“Oh, shit,” she murmured. “Why would you do that?!” she cried out in her spidery voice.
The gnome gave her a blank look.
“I wanted to see what would happen.”
Without further warning, a great bull’s head started to emerge from the tapestry. The head was slightly distorted, with eyes closer to the front of the face. Also, the head was higher off the ground than the usual farm animal. The head was followed by an enormous pair of shoulders and humongous hands that clutched a coiled whip. A minotaur then stepped into the oracle’s parlor.
“WHO DARES SUMMON CRUXCES THE SLAVEMASTER?!” the thing bellowed.
“By the most unholy… You need a bath!” Ha Tsin cried out from behind a scaly hand.
“I BATHE IN THE BLOOD OF MY VICTIMS,” Cruxces declared boastfully. Stringy threads of his most recent victims were still dangling from his teeth.
“Man, that is rank,” Pug offered.
“You should talk,” Lornael observed.
“I was here first!” Sethoralas opined.
“YOU WILL BOW TO ME!” Cruxces ordered.
Ha Tsin backed up, while Hestra stepped forward.
“I bow to no one!!” the female warrior hollered as she assumed a fighting stance.
Oisyphrix noted that Hestra was no longer a beautiful show-off. Here now was a true, experienced warrior ready to do battle. On the other side of the room, a golden helmet appeared over Lornael’s head and her armor was likewise bathed in golden light.
Cruxces uncoiled his whip and began chortling with foul humor.
The oracle shifted uncomfortably as she watched what was happening.
Meanwhile, the tapestry behind the minotaur was still shifting and whirling. In an instant, another figure was pulled through the magic opening.
This figure, much smaller than Cruxces, was wrapped in silk fabrics of soft colors, with an assortment of golden jewelry that showed nicely against her red fur.
Helledare was a fox-woman. She had pointy ears, green eyes that were open wide in surprise, a bushy tail that twitched from her backside. And she was desperately trying to adjust the frilly green pants she was wearing.
“Can’t a girl take a poop in this enchanted world without getting yanked about for some pervert’s tea party?”
The fox-woman glanced around at the assembled gathering, who were all staring back at her with wide eyes and mouths open.
“Where the plug am I?” she demanded to know. Her eyes narrowed, her ears were twitching back and forth, and her lips were pulled back in a snarl. “Who are you people?”
An intricately-carved dagger appeared in her hand from somewhere within her clothing.
“I’m going to start stabbing people if I don’t get an answer here,” she asserted.
Sethoralas, who was closest to her, gave an answer.
“We are in an oracle’s parlor,” he said evenly. Oisyphrix waved at her from across the room. The elf continued. “I am merely investigating the whereabouts of some young fellows who I learned about in a magical text.”
“Yeah,” Pug piped up, “He’s on the lookout for some boys he saw in a magazine or something.”
“That’s weird,” Helledare responded. “I mean, don’t get me wrong – your business is your business. But your quest sounds kind of messed up.”
Before Sethoralas could release the exasperation that was clearly building in his face, the screen produced another visitor. This time, a monster with the head and wings of a large falcon and the body of a baboon emerged into their midst. Its predatory eyes roamed around the room as it cocked its head at various angles.
“A sphinx,” Sethoralas murmured. He immediately began conjuring.
“Don’t let it speak. DON’T LET IT SPEAK!!” Helledare screamed as she scrambled to get away from the thing’s claws.
Just as the sphinx’s beak began to open, Cruxces’ whip lashed forward and encircled the hooked mouth. The sphinx launched into the air with a single flap of its wings. Though appearing much smaller than the minotaur, the sphinx nearly pulled the larger beast off of his feet.
Sethoralas cast a set of magical bands that encircled the thing’s front paws. Hestra launched her spear, which was buffeted away by its wings. Pug had leaped up and was dangling from its tail.
That is when the fourth figure emerged from the tapestry and stood at the mid-point of the taught leather strands.
This was a human-sized figure, dressed in a full set of courtly attire – all black. The man’s dark hair was short and unruly. The only peculiar thing about him was his cat-like eyes, which narrowed when he saw what was going on. A feeling of darkness pervaded the room.
“Who seeks council from Lord Baffle?” he said in a low voice.
Helledare instinctively backed away from him.
“This one stinks of sin,” Ha Tsin hissed as he strode forward to do battle.
Oisyphrix had seen enough. As soon as the sphinx had entered her parlor, she had scaled the walls and assumed a position on the ceiling above the fray. With perfect accuracy, she had shot a web from her lower abdomen to snag the instruction book for the tapestry. Without delay, she invoked a single command.
In that very same moment, a magical wind blew through the parlor. Nearly every occupant was swept up and cast through the tapestry.
When the last wisps of her woven wish wafted out of the room, there was still one visitor remaining.
Sethoralas stood facing Oisyphrix, staff in his hand. Ribbons of magic thread within his robe, invisible prior to this moment, shimmered as they absorbed the latent magical energy.
“How did you - ”
“I did not wish to be ‘expelled’, and so I wasn’t.”
For the first time, the oracle was aware of just how much power could be reserved in such an unassuming figure.
“Divination is one of the few magics closed to sorcerers. That is the only reason I am here. And I do not wish to waste another moment with you. Now, where can I find these young men who apparently have a fate tangled with my own?”
“Winesap. A small village, south and west of the ancient city of Remn, on the continent of - ”
“I know where Remn is. It is the only city we have in this world with multi-dimensional representations.”
The elf tossed a jeweled wand, promised as payment for the divination, and by the time Oisyphrix caught it with one outstretched claw, she found herself alone.
The oracle looked about her completely wrecked parlor. She rested her weary head on a pair of spidery limbs.
“I am so over this oracle business,” she declared as she unwound the wrap around her head. “Perhaps it’s time for me to rejoin… Kaligro’s Carnival of Chaos!”