Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Buffy Comic Project: "Hellmouth to Mouth, Part 1" [BUFFY]

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 47

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad & Joe Pimentel (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Angel, Cordelia, Faith, Gunn, Groo, Fred, Buffy

Major Original Characters:  Steglar (demon drug dealer), Marget Brown (judge)

Summary:  Angel and Cordelia go undercover as drug dealers to infiltrate a demon nightclub named Dante’s Inferno.  There, they discover that a demon named Steglar, who carries his head on a pole, has been trafficking in a new drug called Soul Drops, harvested from the souls of the unborn!  Steglar reveals that the source of his supply is Sunnydale, leading Cordelia to have a vision of terrible events happening in the city.  With their cover blown, Angel and Cordelia are forced to fight and kill the demons.  Angel then calls in a favour with a judge he’s helped in  the past, Marget Brown, to get Faith temporarily sprung from prison.  Over the objections of his employees in Angel Investigations, Angel takes Faith with him to Sunnydale.  Meanwhile, Buffy lies unconscious somewhere in Sunnydale, while a mysterious figure putting on clothing from Riley Finn’s locker vows to help.


What a fantastic debut for Scott Lobdell as writer.  I enjoyed this issue as much or more than any other so far in the series, and it feels like the series is finally getting the right (darker, edgier) tone.  Buffy hardly makes an appearance (one page where she’s unconscious), but I honestly didn’t mind: Angel, Cordelia, and Faith steal the show, with the combat against the unique head-on-a-stick demon a highlight for me (some panache on display for once in a Buffy comic!).  I’m quite legitimately looking forward to reading the next issue.


·         *  Angel and Cordelia undercover as mobsters is bound to be fun!

·         The headless Steglar.  Things don’t end well for him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up (1975) [COMICS]

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up (Marvel) (1975)

Always wanted to read a comic with three hyphens in the title?  Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up is the book for you!  Although it only lasted two issues, GSSVTU (as those in the know refer to it) featured Doctor Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner in a sometimes uneasy alliance to gain dominion over the lands and seas of this fine planet of ours.  The issues really were giant-size, coming in at 68 pages (though with some cheats, such as reprints).

In Issue # 1, we find out how the monarch of Latveria survived the explosion in space at the end of Fantastic Four # 144: Doom fell to Earth and was found by Namor’s submarine (his “long weeks of constant vigil rewarded”).  Namor asks Doom to join with him to conquer the surface world, which has long menaced both Atlantis and Latveria.  This leads Doom to think back to the last time the two discussed an alliance, which takes the form of a reprint of Sub-Mariner # 20 (Namor wouldn’t go for it then, and the two fought when Doom tried to keep him prisoner).  Then, Doom thinks about the last time he was in alliance with someone else (Diablo, the Master of Alchemy) which takes the form of a reprint of Marvel Super Heroes # 20 (an interesting issue, as Diablo holds Doom’s childhood love, Valeria, captive; Doom pretends to ally with Diablo and then betrays him to rescue Valeria, but she rejects him, knowing he really values power more than he values her).  So after some deep thought, Doom decides that allying with Namor makes no sense, as they would betray one another at the first moment it would be advantageous to do so.  A fight breaks out, but Doom escapes.  Essentially, the original material is a framing sequence for the two reprints.  Still, as far as framing sequences and reprints go, it’s done well.  Roy Thomas is a master at continuity and I’ve always liked his stories; he captures the majesty and arrogance of the two monarchs quite well.

Issue # 2 begins with Namor sinking a massive oil supertanker as a warning to the surface world that he won’t abide the environmental devastation on the oceans.  Namor then returns to Atlantis, where (apparently established in other, previous comics) the population is comatose.  Doom sends a force to attack Atlantis, but his real goal is to draw Namor to the surface world so he can offer an alliance this time: he’ll split the world with Namor, with Doom controlling the surface and Namor controlling the water.  As a bargaining chip, Doom says he’ll reveal to the surface world how vulnerable Atlantis is unless Namor agrees to join him.  Doom takes Namor on a tour of Latveria to show off his legion of recently-constructed androids, nuclear capability, and (apparently most exciting and dramatically) his solar batteries.  But there’s a problem with those new androids: they’ve gotten religion from “Andro, Lord of the Androids” (who’s really a former foe named the Doomsman) and decide to mutiny.  Namor and Doom fight side by side to defeat the androids, forcing the Doomsman to flee.  The issue ends with Namor and Doom planning their team-up.  (and a completely unrelated, not unenjoyable, reprint of Amazing Spider-Man # 8).  Although this issue had more original content, the battle against the androids was pretty rote stuff and I think I actually liked the previous issue better.

In any event, Namor and Doom’s team-up wouldn’t take place in giant-size format, as these two issues were the only ones published.  Marvel would go on to publish a regular-sized Super-Villain Team-Up to continue the story, and I think I might have to invest some cash to find out what happens next!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Twenty [BUFFY]


Several minutes after a determined Buffy slid behind the wheel, the sedan crested the snow-covered hill. It was coming down as hard as she had ever seen it, but Buffy didn’t slow down. She knew they were running out of time, and wanted to get it over with—one way or another.

The top of Kingman’s Bluff was a flat plateau with steep sides all around it. Xander was familiar with the place. It was here that Willow had raised an unholy temple from the ground and set about destroying the world. It was here she had finally realized the enormity of what she was doing and had collapsed in his arms, the agony of Tara’s death flooding into her and racking her body with sobs. Seeing the hilltop again put Xander into one of his rare despairing moods. He missed Tara too, of course. But what he hated was seeing his best friend in so much pain and not being able to help. Willow wouldn’t let him, or anyone else, in. She had distanced herself from the world, and he knew that no matter how many frost demons or vampires they destroyed, she wouldn’t suddenly snap out of it.

Buffy hit the brakes hard, and the car slid for several feet in the snow and ice before coming to a stop. She got out quickly, and the others followed. She was staring into the sky above the hill, with a hand over her eyes to help deflect the glare from the snow. She could hardly believe what she was seeing.

“Is that what . . . it looks like?” she asked quietly.

“I guess it is,” Xander replied.

Buffy, Xander, and Dawn looked on as a giant, vaguely humanoid shape almost thirty-feet tall hovered over the hilltop. Its body and limbs looked like they were composed of ice, and even through the swirling snow they could see its mouth was a gaping maw of icicle teeth. It wasn’t complete ye —the left hand was a stump where the elbow would be on a normal human. They could see it slowly filling in with ice and snow though, and knew that when the demon’s arm was completed, it would be fully manifested. It would be free—and near impossible to stop.

Buffy’s instincts told her to tell Dawn to get back in the car and stay there. But Buffy had promised to stop trying to shield her sister from the dangers they faced. And more, Buffy doubted the car or anywhere else in Sunnydale would really be safe from this monster, once it was set free.

“And me without my flamethrower,” Xander cracked bitterly as they trudged towards it. The snow was deep here--at least two or three feet--and made for slow going.

The whirling flakes died down slightly, and they could make out a human-sized figure limping towards them from the far side of the hill. It carried a small chest in its arms, with the lid open. From the chest, a steady stream of ice flowed upward into the sky, and then spread out.

Winter in a box, Buffy thought. Handy.

The approaching figure set the box down and limped closer. It drew itself up to full height, and as it began to speak, the wind suddenly stopped and everything on the hilltop was deathly silent.

“Ms. Summers,” Castillo said, “how nice of you to drop by. And you brought company? Excellent. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long, long time. I trust you will find it suitably . . . dramatic?”

Buffy looked at the vampire carefully. She barely recognized him because he simply didn’t look much like the Castillo she had encountered before. He was nude now, for one thing—but the terrible scars all up and down his body, and on his face, made him look like a disfigured monster. Even his facial expressions were different. When Buffy had seen him before, he was calm, confident, and in control. Now his face clearly showed hatred and barely suppressed rage. She decided she might be able to exploit it.

“Dramatic?” she asked. “More melodramatic. Remember the bad comic book super-villains we talked about? Well, congratulations. You’ve become one. What’s next? You tie us up on some mechanized death-trap right before a hidden announcer says ‘Same Bat-Time, Same Bat—“

“I’m only going to tell you this once, Ms. Summers. Shut up!” Castillo said through clenched teeth. “You are the most insufferable . . . Ah, but I forget myself.” He closed his eyes for a moment and then spoke again, more calmly this time. “Can you imagine what it was like for me to linger at the bottom of that cliff, my body broken, for months on end until I was well enough to move? Can you imagine the pain and the—“

“Well it was your idea to do the whole cliff-thing,” Buffy interrupted. “Remember? Something about Sherlock Holmes or something. I don’t really remember. It was kinda lame.” She judged her distance to the open chest as she said this, and decided she couldn’t reach it before he managed to intercept her. At least not from where she was standing.

“I remember,” Castillo replied. “And what I neglected to mention was that after Sir Doyle’s famous protagonist fell to his apparent death, he was . . . resurrected, shall we say, just a few years later.”

“That’s great,” Buffy said. “Literature. I like that. Danielle Steele, V.C. Andrews, Stephen King. I read all the great classics.” She continued to goad him on as she edged closer. Behind her, Xander and Dawn stood anxiously, not quite sure what Buffy was doing or what they should do.

Castillo sighed at her words and put his hands to his face. He drew them away and shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But I’m going to kill you now. However, unlike last time, I have prepared words appropriate for the occasion. ‘For only in destroying I find ease/To my relentless thoughts.’ Milton, Paradise Lost.”

Heeding their cue, a score of Castillo’s finest suddenly burst from underneath the snow where they had lain in wait, claws extended and fangs salivating in anticipation. Castillo had kept them hungry, and now they were ready to tear something apart. Buffy, Xander, and Dawn were surrounded and stood back to back, their wooden stakes looking pitiful. The wind picked up again, the snow swirled, and a tremendous roar came from above— Solasheyk had almost completely manifested. It was then that Buffy realized Castillo hadn’t intended the vampires to kill her, but simply delay her until the demon was ready. She realized that judging by the fact that the demon was now missing only the tips of its fingers, his plan would probably work.

“The chest!” Buffy shouted.

The trio of friends fought like cornered tigers, slashing and stabbing with their stakes frantically as the vampires swarmed all over them. They pushed in the direction of the chest, but the vampires knew what they were trying to do. A moment later, scratched and bleeding, Buffy and her friends were only a few steps closer than they had been before—and it seemed like there were more vampires than ever.

“Keep fighting” Buffy yelled. She staked another vampire and dodged to the side, looking for an opening. Two more vampires stepped in front of her, and she threw herself back to avoid a fist. She dodged in low, kneeing a vampire in the chest and then brought her stake down and stabbed it in the back, piercing the heart from the rear. She barely had time to breathe before another vampire stepped up in its place.

Dawn and Xander were barely holding their own. They had had some practice fighting vampires most of it in the field, like this—but fighting a vampire one-on-one was something quite different than fighting a group of voracious vampires, each intent on scoring points with Castillo by being the first to claim a prized victim.

Buffy staked another vampire and then looked up. The snow swirled so hard she could barely see the demon, but she could tell she only had perhaps a minute left. As soon as it manifested, Sunnydale could kiss itself goodbye. She spun to avoid a high kick and saw that Xander and Dawn were still on their feet. She knew she could get out of this crowd and reach the chest—after all, she could jump over fences and walls when she put her mind to it—but it meant leaving Xander and Dawn, and they wouldn’t last a second without her around. It was a moment of choice she had never wanted to face Sunnydale or her friends—but she made it without regret. She stayed where she was and continued fighting, hoping against hope that something would happen to turn the tide of battle before it was too late.

Dawn danced in place, stake held up high, waiting for one of the vampires to come within range. Her jaw was sore—one of them had gotten in a lucky shot—but otherwise she was still feeling pretty good. She saw one of the bloodsuckers stumble in the snow and shot forth, jamming the point of the stake into its heart just as Xander’s stake did the same thing, barely an inch apart.

“Hey!” Xander said with half a smile. “There’s enough to go around. Get your own!”

“My bad,” Dawn replied, swinging around to realize two vampires had picked her as their own.

Several of the vampires suddenly started screaming, and Buffy wondered if the snow had turned to rain—liquid water was splashing all over her and the others. The vampires surrounding them threw up their hands and fell to the ground, rolling around in the snow to try and cool off. They didn’t know the terrible burning sensation was caused by holy water that had hit them and then frozen to their ski —try as they might, they wouldn’t be able to get the stuff off.

Buffy staked another vampire and looked around for her next target. It was then she realized there weren’t any more—all of the vampires had either been destroyed or were on the ground, screaming. She looked around and saw a man dressed in green armor running full speed towards Castillo. She recognized the type of armor from the woman in the caverns who had collapsed the ceiling. And almost buried me and Dawn alive. She didn’t know quite what to think when the man leaped and tackled Castillo, screaming something about “Maggie and Kate.”

Castillo and Tintsman rolled around in the snow until, with a vicious strike, Castillo knocked his opponent back. Castillo stood up, panting. “Who the hell are you?” he said.

Tintsman stood up as well, tears in his eyes. “You’re Angel,” he said. “The Angel of Death. Spike was right. It makes sense now—Electrotech, the project, all of it!”

He rushed Castillo again, but the vampire landed a solid shot to Tintsman’s jaw and staggered him. The vampire laughed dryly.

“Ah, yes. I do seem to recall a pitiful bureaucrat standing in the way of the Sunrise Project. Maggie and Kate did you say? According to the activity report, I believe my boys had . . . quite a time with them.”

Tintsman bellowed so loudly that everyone—Buffy, her friends, even the remaining vampires stopped what they were doing and stared at him. His face was a mask of pure rage and although he tried to speak, no words would come. Castillo looked surprised and, without intending to, stepped back a few feet. Tintsman was blind to anything but his enemy now. He charged forward again and slammed into Castillo like a freight train.

“They both look insane,” Xander said, coming up behind Buffy. He held his wrist, trickles of blood dripping into the snow.

“Well good,” Dawn said. “Problem solved.”

“Not yet,” Buffy said.

Solasheyk the Frost Demon had manifested fully, and it looked even larger than before. It began to move, slowly at first as if flexing its non-existent muscles, and then faster. It drew its head back and then pushed it forward. A hail of razor-sharp icicles flew from its mouth like a dragon breathing fire. Buffy barely had time to push her friends to the ground before a thick icicle embedded itself in her side. She screamed out in pain and looked down to see her blood was already mingling with the ice and starting to freeze. She desperately tried to think—she couldn’t remember if you were supposed to pull out arrows and things like that or leave them in.

A shadow passed over her and she realized the demon was moving towards her and the others. Castillo and Tintsman still fought, each delivering brutal blows to the other. Buffy forced the pain away and stood up. She started to get dizzy and knew she was going to black out, but willed herself to keep going. There was something left she had to do.

She moved as fast as she could towards the open chest. Pain laced all the way up and down her left side where the icicle was still embedded. She was grateful for the pain though—she knew it would help keep her conscious. Blood dripped into each footprint she made in the snow as she half-jogged, half-ran. In the back of her mind, she realized that Solasheyk had focused on her for some reason. Better me than Xander or Dawn, she thought.

Although she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but look up at the demon. Its sheer power was almost magnetic. It reared up and inhaled, drawing snow and ice into its mouth. A second later another volley of ice spikes, larger than the first, were flying directly towards her. She jumped towards the chest, landing slightly behind it. It shook slightly with the force of all the snow and ice still streaming from it. She glanced at the deadly fusillade and then with one last, final burst of energy, she grabbed hold of the lid and forced it closed.

It was like turning a light switch on and off. It suddenly stopped snowing, the wind fell to a faint breeze, but most of all, the temperature reverted instantaneously back to normal. It was suddenly a normal Sunnydale summer’s night, hot and humid. The snow quickly began to melt, but the effect on Solasheyk was even more dramatic. It was like he was being flushed down a drain. The demon’s entire body started to shrink and spin, more and more of his mass sucked into the dimension he came from. He gave a tremendous roar as his ice body melted, dripping water all over the top of hill.

The razor-sharp ice spikes were still flying. Even if Buffy had the energy, there was no time to run. She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable. Tintsman, still locked in combat with Castillo, saw what was about to happen.

“I won’t let you hurt anyone else!” he screamed, charging his foe again and knocking them both toward Buffy. At the last possible moment, the pair fell in front of her and the thick volley of spikes embedded themselves into them instead of her. Castillo was disintegrated and Tintsman torn into pieces, but she had been completely shielded.

She was still bleeding, however, staining the snow around her a dark crimson. She tried to stand up but she couldn't. She saw Xander and Dawn rushing towards her and heard sirens in the distance. She knew she was going to be okay, but her side hurt like hell and everything was going blurry.

Xander reached her first and cradled her head with his arms.

“You know what?” Buffy said through pain-clenched teeth, a moment before unconsciousness came. “Winter sucks.”

Portal Through Time [BUFFY]

Portal Through Time

By Alice Henderson (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

RATING:  4/5 Stakes

SETTING:  Season Two

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES:  Buffy, Lucien, Cordelia (as alternate timeline vampire); Hank & Joyce Summers (alternate timeline); Willow, Xander, Giles, Angel, Angelus, Darla

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS:  Gorga, Victor & Jason (vampires); Zaaargul the Seer (demon); Incinii (Welsh Slayer 60 C.E.); Eyra (Incinii’s Watcher); Ejuk (Sumerian Slayer 2700 B.C.E.); King Gilgamesh; Namtar (Plague God); Agatha Primrose (American Slayer 1862); Niles Hallowell (Agatha’s Watcher); Marguerite Allard (French Slayer 1792)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY:  “Buffy thought she’d finished the Master when she dusted him.  But in Sunnydale things have a way of coming back.  . . .  The Master may be dead, but he is not forgotten.  One of the vampire lord’s devotees sets out to alter the past so that he can resurrect the Master without Buffy’s meddling.  When he conjures up a portal to transport his minions through time, the vampires are poised to murder the most power slayers in history!  It is up to the Scoobies to stop the Master’s followers before they break the chain of slayers.  Giles, Xander, Willow, and Buffy pursue the vamps back in time through the portal to save the slayers of the past.  They must track the bloodsuckers from the French Revolution to the American Civil War without getting detected—or worse!  But you can’t change the past without changing the present.  . . .


You’ve got to give this one points for creativity: time-travel and Buffy are not a natural combination, but the novel actually holds together reasonably well.  It starts out with a gruesome but effective opening, putting the reader right into the thick of things as vampires murder a pre-Hellmouth Buffy, and then, a couple of chapters later, cut a three-year-old Buffy in twain!  Interestingly, the vampires plot to resurrect the Master by making it so Buffy never comes to Sunnydale keeps failing, so the vampires decide they need to interrupt the Slayer line more definitively.  This section of the book is a nice connection to the Tales of the Slayers short stories, as Buffy and her friends go back in time to save each of four different historical Slayers.  Without knowing much about each of the time periods, there weren’t any jarring anachronisms (at least to me), and each mini-adventure was fun and different.  Semi-continuity buffs may be interested by the backstory given Lucien (he knew Giles in the Ripper days, for example) and the brief appearance of Angelus and Darla.  Overall, the characterisation, dialogue, and action are solid, and the plot is original enough (for Buffy), that this is one of the better Buffy novels I’ve read.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Who Fears the Devil? The Complete Tales of Silver John (Planet Stories # 24)

Who Fears the Devil? collects all of Manly Wade Wellman's short stories about a character named Silver John.  The stories feature an interesting and original setting for folkloric/supernatural fantasy (contemporary Appalachia) and a character that's more memorable than the traditional swordsman/gunslinger.  Silver John is a wandering collector of backwoods songs, and travels from place to place with only the shirt on his back and a silver-stringed guitar.  He is more of an archetype in some ways than a character with real depth and history, but for short stories that are plot-focussed, that's okay.
The stories are well-written and avoid formula, but usually involve some sort of supernatural menace that Silver John's pure heart and guitar can banish.  Unlike most stories published in SF magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, there's a degree of continuity between the Silver John stories which I noticed and appreciated.  According to the editor's introduction, Wellman also published a handful of novels about Silver John, and, fascinating, there was a motion picture featuring the character (it flopped).

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [Norton Critical Edition]

This is my first time reading Mary Wollstonecraft's classic 1792 feminist work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.  Wollstonecraft's argument for equality boils down to a simple syllogism:  1)  God has invested all human persons with the capacity to reason;  2)  It is the duty of all human persons to be virtuous;  3)  Virtue is the function of the exercise of reason to know right from wrong;  4)  Virtue is a universal concept, not a relativistic one: the same standards apply to all persons, male or female; 5) Therefore, women must be educated to the same extent and held to the same standards of conduct as males.  Wollstonecraft goes to great lengths to support the fourth and fifth points, as those are the ones must vulnerable to attack in the time period to which she's writing.  She emphatically criticizes the concept that there are different virtues for males (such as "courage" or "aggressiveness") and females (such as "modesty" or "docility").  Women are often focussed, she writes, on frivolous things like fashion or gossip because they have, since birth, been taught that those are the only things they should concern themselves with.  If women were given the same education and expectation as males, she argues that there is every chance that they could fulfill a far more important and valuable role in society.  In other words, she anticipates the modern argument that much of the perceived difference between males and females is socially constructed and not due to innate differences in mind or body.  Wollstonecraft's argument could have logically been extended to challenge a whole host of concrete social inequalities between men and women in her time (such as voting rights, property laws, etc.) but she avoids going so far and extends the implications of her position only to education.

I have to admit that I found the writing to be turgid and repetitive, even if the general theme of equality is well-established.  The critical essays in the Norton edition are much better and quite interesting.  They indicate that Wollstonecraft's book was well-received when first published, as the concern for women's education and perceived obsession with clothing and love affairs was under examination.  However, after her death, her husband published a biography that was meant to be laudatory but that revealed details of her personal life that were seized upon by critics to undermine her political writings.  The essay by R.M. Janes is particulary good on this point.  Other good essays discuss the debt she owed to historian Catharine Macaulay and the influence she had on later feminists such as Emma Goldberg.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 54 [RPG]

[2 Flamerule 1372 continued]

In Silverwood, Syd tells Daisy that he must enter the city. As he is still undecided as to whether he plans to travel with her to Startop Mountain or journey through the portal to Thay (a place he has been told he cannot bring Garry), he tells Daisy that if he does not return in three days she can take care of his animal companion until he finds them again. Daisy is quite excited at the opportunity to add a new animal to her small menagerie.

Back in Silverymoon, while Dolcetto, Myst, and Ralkin are out shopping, a visitor knocks on the door to Terrigo Multivar's residence. Fargrim answers and sees a slim, female kenku. The visitor announces herself as Karin Whitefeather and says she is here to return a quill-pen that Mellia allegedly left behind the night prior when she had a kenku elder sign a disclaimer. When she meets Mellia, Karin "accidentally" reveals that Ralkin failed to break into the High Palace and says that the city guard are looking for a male kenku fitting his description. Mellia has no difficulty seeing through Karin's pretence, and surmises that she and Ralkin must be rivals. Mellia tries to call Karin's bluff about the "forgotten" quill-pen by asking to speak to the elder kenku, but the sorceress loses her in the city streets.

Meanwhile, Markus renews his quest to win the famous Ninefangs blade at Blademaster Noboru's Academy. His first duel is against the Academy's fifth-ranked student, Sister Demuria, a woman who is so thoroughly cloaked that little can be seen besides her face. The Academy's Duelmaster, a priestess of the Red Knight, explains that in this duel one duelist will choose the type of sword that both will use, and the other duelist will choose the conditions for victory. By lot, Sister Demuria is given choice of weapons and chooses the greatsword; Markus decides his best chance of victory is setting the condition to be the first to disarm the other.

The two duelists are led into what appears to be a plain room with transparent, steel-hard walls. Sister Demuria removes her robes to reveal a lean, lithe body barely clad at all! A small crowd gathers to watch, including Kronk, the half-orc that Markus defeated last time, and El Capitan, who he lost to in turn. When the two duelists have taken their fighting stances and the Duelmaster has left the arena, the contest begins with a surprising equalizer: the floor magickally vanishes and plunges the duelists into deep water, while simultaneous a horizontal barrier of magickal force covers the surface of the water, preventing them from emerging!

Both duelists managed to gulp a quick breath before plunging into the water, and now the contest begins in earnest. Maneuvering in the water and fighting at the same time is difficult, and both duelists initially take defensive positions. After some tentative and inconclusive swordplay, Sister Demuria decides it is time to strike. She swings her greatsword in a wide arc towards Markus, but the nimble swashbuckler reacts even faster, and with a perfectly-timed strike knocks the blade out of her hands! With the contest ended, water drains from the arena and Markus is named victorious. He announces his plans to challenge the Academy's fourth-best student soon.

Elsewhere in the city, Ralkin visits several pubs and tries to spread a rumour about a master trapsmith being available in the hopes that he might find employment in the High Palace, but few seem interested in passing the news along. At the Emporium Arcanum, Dolcetto unloads several thousands of gold pieces worth of magickal items.

Back at Multivar's house, Fargrim overhears a conversation between the old wizard and a figure who turns out to be Mortimont! Mortimont hands Multivar a small pouch of diamonds in exchange for permission to travel through the mirror-portal with the others that evening. Fargrim tries to stealthily depart, but steps in a chamberpot and it shatters with a loud crash! When Multivar investigates, Fargrim tries to talk him out of allowing Mortimont to travel through the mirror-portal, but the old wizard is undeterred, saying that his coffers have been lower than he thought they were. Fargrim rushes to Mellia and the two discuss what to do. Mellia refuses to go along with Fargrim's suggestion about trying to frame Mortimont for a crime, but says that if they can delay his entry into the mirror-portal at the right time, he won't be able to enter until the next day and by then he won't be able to pick up their trail.

As the afternoon continues, eventually the entire group assembles in the courtyard in front of Multivar's house. Markus announces that he plans to stay in Silverymoon in order to continue the series of duels at the Academy. Mellia is disappointed at his decision to place winning a sword over rescuing his friend Cain, but she says the swashbuckler must do what he thinks is right. Syd, on the other hand, has decided to go through the mirror-portal in gratitude for the group rescuing him earlier. He sends a squirrel as a messenger to carry word to Daisy.

Various options are discussed by those assembled about what to do about Mortimont, including barring the door, selling him Fargrim's red axe, or trying to buy time by telling him the group is considering it. Before a decision can be reached, the group is shocked when Cain walks in! However, it is actually only Myst in disguise, utilizing the properties of a magickal scarf found in T'Klack's complex. Dolcetto announces that she has largely finished her calculations of the shares of gold and treasure that each adventurer is entitled to. By subtracting the value of claimed magick items from disbursed gold, several individuals end up in debt to the group.

As the sun fades away, Mellia sends her friend Hestia a magickal message stating that she will check in on Gideon in about a week. Mellia also tells Ralkin about Karin Whitefeather's malicious trick.

An hour before the group is scheduled to depart, Fargrim, standing just behind the front door, hears a carriage pull up. Peeking around a curtain, he sees Mortimont emerge along with two massive humanoid constructs: clay golems! When Mortimont pulls on the door bell, Fargrim puts on a surprisingly credible false voice and says that Multivar is unavailable and that no one is going through the mirror-portal that evening. Mortimont is on the verge of turning away when Fargrim's voice cracks, and the self-professed pastry-maker realizes he has been deceived. When Mellia and Dolcetto arrive, they insist that Fargrim let Mortimont inside, as it is not the dwarf's right to bar visitors that Multivar has invited.

Everyone assembles in the cramped and dusty room with the mirror-portal as they await the peal of the eleventh bell. Mellia and Mortimont agree on what order everyone will enter, and Mortimont says it is "good to see us all working together." He also promises that he will never again ask Fargrim to sell him his red axe, but that a time will come nonetheless when Fargrim offers to do so. Dolcetto graciously thanks Multivar for his assistance and for putting everyone up for in his home, and even hands the old wizard some coins as compensation for damage done. Soon, all anyone can do is wait anxiously for the mirror-portal to turn its face to what Multivar says is Aglarond. When it does, everyone jumps through and disappears.