Arthaxiom travelled through the wastelands. On foot. In full armour. He was a Hero, so he didn't
He carried no food nor water. It was not a problem. Heroes don't die from hunger or thirst. That
wouldn't be very Heroic.
He walked alone through hostile, uninhabited territory. There was no one to keep guard when he
slept. He could have got ambushed and eaten by wild animals. Nothing like that had happened.
Wild animals suddenly became polite and well-mannered. They attacked only when the Hero was
ready to fight, and only in limited numbers. Swarming a Hero would be really inappropriate and
could tax him unduly, whereas they were only supposed to be a mildly entertaining food source.
It is hard to say if crossing the Desolated Wastelands took the Hero a few days, a few weeks or
a few months. It is not important. Every day was almost the same. Wake up, find a small water
reservoir cleverly hidden where no water should ever be, have a drink. Get attacked by a random
animal, kill it. Find some dry twigs despite a distinct lack of trees in the vicinity. Strike a
fire. Cook and eat the killed animal. Walk, walk, walk. Kill more random animals. Eat some of
them for lunch. Walk some more, kill some more, have another meal, find some more water... And
find a comfortable spot for a good night's sleep, however improbable it would seem.
Only the animals varied. The wastelands had a surprisingly rich ecosystem. Things like snakes,
rats, and even an occasional hyena were quite understandable. On the other hand, a polar camel
certainly wasn't, and neither were a flying swordfish and an obese orange opossum, to name just
a few. A lesser man might have been startled by those, but not Arthaxiom. They were something to
fight, so he fought them. They weren't something to think about, at least for him. He wasn't big
on thinking. The origin of a white rabbit wearing fancy clothes and a top hat was of no
importance to him. He appreciated the taste, though. Only the round ticking thing was somewhat
difficult to chew.
Encounters with wildlife posed little trouble to Arthaxiom. They weren't supposed to. Having an
epic fight with each one wouldn't be very Heroic. They were too random and not quest-relevant
enough for that. That is not to say that they were completely defenceless. The camel, for
example, had a nasty icy spit.
One day the scenery changed. The wasteland ended. Arthaxiom entered the Northern Wilderness. It
was covered in snow, like everything named 'northern' should be. The paladin didn't waste a
thought on absurdity of a snow-covered forest bordering a scorched wasteland. He had more
important things to do. Like being a Hero, for example.
This time the Baron was present, much to dismay of five other lords and indifference of the
sixth one. The Baron himself didn't seem too pleased either. Only the Master of Ceremony was
satisfied. The protocol was maintained.
General Roseduck knew he should be happy. Lady Oxrabbit didn't like him too much, which was
nothing unusual. He was unworthy of the title and all that. The Baron on the other hand didn't
have such prejudices. Not bright enough for them. Also the Baron's sheer presence would most
likely severely slow down the proceedings. Yet, somehow, even being assassinated sounded more
appealing to Eneumerius than spending a lot of time around Oxrabbit. He concluded that the
damage was already done, so he might as well try to benefit from having the Baron around. Unless
his brain explodes. Being in the same chamber with other High Lords already was hard to bear,
and now it was going to get worse. Probably much worse.
"I, Baron Regedulf Solthyron Asrius Oxrabbit, am present, well in mind..."
"Doubtful," Philigree murmured.
"...and body, and ready to... do... how's that thing I'll do called again?"
"Right. Thank you. I knew it has something to do with partridges. Participate in these
proceedings. Achoo!" The Baron sneezed powerfully. He was a big man, and his sneezes were
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose," Earl Gevenarius blessed him.
"I recognise Baron Regedulf Solthyron Asrius Oxrabbit, High Lord of the Empire," the Master of
Ceremony formally accepted his presence.
"Yes, that's me," the Baron said cheerfully. "Achoo!"
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose," the Earl blessed him again.
"Thank you. I think all this dust doesn't agree with my nose," the Baron observed. "Couldn't
some servants clean up this chamber a bit?"
"Servants cannot enter this chamber unless the Emperor orders it," the Master of Ceremony
"I hate to break it to you, but the Emperor is dead, you know," the Baron leaned towards him and
whispered conspirationally. Obviously, everyone else heard that anyway. Philigree sniggered.
"Another one?" the Marquis asked sleepily. Nobody answered this one, but the Marquis didn't seem
to expect an answer.
"That is the whole point, young man," the Master of Ceremony explained. "The Emperor is dead,
therefore nobody can order the servants to clean here. Unless they are blindfolded, but they are
rather clumsy and useless in that case."
The Baron didn't seem too happy about that. Having to spend a whole day in a room that disagreed
with his nose didn't seem appealing. He also was vaguely aware that the proceedings probably
would take more than one day. He wasn't going to give up here. Perseverance was one of his
strong points. "Maybe we could vote on that?" he suggested. "Achoo!"
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose," the Earl said yet again.
"No, young man, it does not work like that," the Master of Ceremony explained patiently. "You
only can vote on the new Emperor."
"The new Emperor is more important than cleaning this chamber. Therefore I should be able to
vote on cleaning the chamber too." This was an impressive feat of logic. The other lords watched
the duel with interest. An unstoppable, yet somewhat blunt force against a rather aged unmovable
object. Sympathy was on the Baron's side. He wasn't liked much, but lately the Master of
Ceremony became rather intensely disliked. Letting the Baron in was only one of the reasons.
Another one was that nobody really enjoyed sitting in a dirty chamber. The High Lords were used
to nice, clean chambers.
"Unfortunately, the Codex does not agree with you, young man." The Codex was the old man's
ultimate weapon. The Codex contained the laws. A bit of it contained some silly laws concerning
murders or thievery. The vast majority of it contained the laws concerning protocol. Many
suspected that the Master of Ceremony knew it all by heart.
"And how about... achoo!"
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose," the Earl said yet again. The Baron's constant sneezing
and the Earl's constant blessing him quite irritated the other lords. The SemiViscount was the
first to get annoyed enough to speak up.
"Do you really have to bless him every time he sneezes?!"
"Of course I have to. You may ignore the religious mandates if you wish, but I most certainly
will not!" The Earl got quite agitated. "The Holy Book says: thy shalt bless the one who
sneezes. It does not say 'unless he does that too often', or 'unless it doesn't irritate some
"So do you say that every time one of your servants sneezes?!"
"Are you out of your mind, man? Why would I bless a servant?!" The Earl was shocked that the
Count would suggest something so ludicrous. "They aren't allowed to sneeze around me anyway.
They get whipped if they do!"
"Right. Sorry. That was silly of me," the Count apologised in a rare instance of self-criticism.
"So maybe we could partridge the proceedings somewhere else? Achoo!" the Baron returned to
trying to provide a better world for his nose.
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose," the Earl repeated. The Count only growled this time.
"No, we could not," the Master of Ceremony replied. "The Codex clearly says that the proceedings
have to be held in the Chamber of the High Lords. This chamber is the Chamber of High Lords,
therefore the proceedings will be held in this chamber."
"How about we tell the blindfolded servants to roll around on the floor... achoo!"
"May the Lord of Light bless thy nose."
"And you," the Count decided to get irritated at the Baron this time, "must you really thank him
every damn time?"
"I am being polite, you know," the Baron explained. "You could use some politeness too."
The Count's angry noises apparently brought back the Marquis back to reality, because he looked
around and asked "What is happening?"
"Oxrabbit sneezes too much!" the Count complained to him.
"Ah. May the Lord of Light bless thy nose, then," the Marquis blessed the Baron.
The Count got up from his seat, his face red, his fists clenched, his eyes bulging. Clearly he
had enough. Before he managed to say or do anything, the Duke, who meanwhile got his breath
back, exploded with anger.
"May the Weasels of Doom defecate on thy face!" he shouted, banging his fist on the table.
"Now that was rude," the Baron remarked calmly.
Being a Hero is not a job. Being a Hero is a way of life. Quest is the only thing that matters.
Failure? No such thing. Reason? Purely optional. Wisdom? A little wouldn't hurt...
Arthaxiom the Paladin is a Hero. His quest is to destroy the Evil Empire, so that's what he's
going to do. What's so evil about it? It doesn't matter. A Hero does not argue with his quests.
Nor does he argue with fate. A randomly encountered dwarf? Perfect choice for a sidekick. A
village girl in distress? Must be a princess.
But if there's a Hero, there must also be villains. An assassin, who stabs people. Because they
were alive and he had a knife. A sorceress, who puts things on fire. Because they weren't on
fire before. And there would be the Emperor himself, if he hadn't ended up dead in a moat full
of lions. A bunch of quarrelsome High Lords are to choose his replacement. It will surely go