Often times, when I was a lad growing up in the dark and dangerous streets of Britain - long before the splitting of the facets - my friends and I would take turns spying through a tiny hole in the wall of the Kings Men Theatre at a wondrous world populated by gaily dressed creatures who pranced about in a jingle of bells and shrill laughing recitations of limericks involving a certain scribe from Yew (I need not tell you the rest of that particular bit of rhyme.) The theatre was always filled with a host of these marvelous performers who, from our limited vantage point, seemed to be virtual cart wheeling gods and goddesses of joy, ever able to send us to greater and greater heights of laughter by virtue of their staged mishaps.
Sadly, however, those days are far lost in the yesteryear of a world long gone since the coming of Minax…it is perhaps the fond memory that I have of those master makers of mirth that has propelled me on my latest quest, for it would seem that not all who would wear the jester’s cap are playful clowns…some invoke screams instead of laughter, as is the case of the creature who calls itself Pandora Vex.
I say “itself”, because in truth while I have looked upon it with my own eyes and it has the shape of a comely, yet oddly colorless, woman, I cannot (and others would agree) believe in my heart that it is a human thing - for I cannot think of any human that would so delight at the tormenting of the innocent as does this creature. But I get ahead of myself as usual.
It was not a week ago that a young man came into the Cat’s Lair Tavern, sat down, and with a trembling hand began to drink and drink and drink until even I (drunken sot that I often am) began to fear that his face would grow a goblet shaped wart. That sort of drinking does not come without first being stimulated by something of journalistic note, and so it was that I found myself edging a stool closer to the fellow and asking what ailed him.
“Ah, m’lord…I dasn’t say, for I fear that if’n I speak of it…she’ll come back, and to be honest…there ain’t enough gold in our Lord’s coffers worth listening to her laugh agin.”
If he thought that this would shove my curiosity aside, then, simply put, he was drunker than was really safe for a man of his size and wit, and so it was that I began a gentle verbal poking into the nature of his fright. T’was this that I finally dragged from his slurring lips :
“Me and me mates were about in the countryside foraging for mushrooms when we heard this hideous laughin. No human could sound like that m’lord - it still raises tha hair on me back - but poor old Grahm had ta have a look at what was making such a racket, and so we poked our way around tha brush and eventually found her.”
“Her?” I asked, thinking perhaps that the drunkard and his fellows had stumbled across the legendary Skara Brae Witch, or perhaps the infamous Hedge Harpy.
“Aye, a looker she was…but’n I could tell that there was sumthin wrong with her…she was all dressed up in one of those suits that the funny folks wear, with bells and all kinds of janglies.”
I poured him another goblet of ale and motioned for him to go on.
“She was laughing at these two fellows and saying all kinds of mean things in an awful rhyme...making fun of em’ and taunting em’ to do sumthin. Looking at those folks I wouldn’t have messed with em’..big brawny warrior types were they and I could tell that what she was a saying was getting on their nerves.”
So far, aside from the costume, I could not possibly imagine what had driven this poor chap so far deep inside of his cups. So, with a gentle prod for him to continue. he began telling me the rest of his tale.
“Well these fightin’ men was getting very upset and wanted to smash her pretty face in, but then she said sumthin really odd in that rhyming way of hers. She asked em’ if they would answer a riddle, saying that if’n they gots it right they’d get their weight in gold.”
He paused at this, his eyes clouding over slightly as if remembering something of note. Whatever it was, it was quickly lost as he took another draw from his goblet and continued his tale.
“So I guess they agreed or sumthin and she said her riddle lesee here, it went sumthin like this.”
“I have ten fingers
I have ten toes
But across my neck only cold wind blows.”
“Well me and my mates just huddled there in the bushes waiting to see what would happen. Truth be told I was hoping that if’n they won we might be able to talk them out of a few coins, but I guess that was wishful thinking as the lady got more and more impatient with’n them not answering her. Oh, she did an awful stamping with her feet and acted like a little girl not getting her way.
Finally one of em’ had an answer for her and he blurted out “mountains”. Fer some reason this made her double over in laughter. Well me and my mates couldn’t see the funny in it at all, and it was about this time, when we were wondering if’n we should pipe up with our own guess, that she shook her stick at the two brawny folk and, letting out a wild laugh, disappeared in a puff of smoke.”
At this point my companion took a very long gulp of ale and sat staring at me for a moment before continuing his tale in a very small, quiet voice.
“They never even saw what hit em’. Out of tha ground at their feet a pair of bony hands shot up and grabbed their ankles, while even more bones clawed their way upwards through the ground and formed themselves into a pair of rotting skeletal warriors. Those poor blokes, Virtues help them. M’lord, I do naye know if’n they survived…all I know is that cackling harlequin appeared right before me and my mates and said…”
“My lucky lucky day, three more chickens come to play!”
“I ran, m’lord, I got up and bolted through the brush and behind me all I could hear was her laughing and the sounds of the fight behind me where those poor chaps were fighting for their lives. I heard me mates behind me, and something coming fast after us, and all I could think about was my wee ones at home and how I wasn’t smart enough to answer no riddler for my life.”
Frowning, I leaned over to him and patted him on the shoulder, “It’s all right friend. Whatever you ran into out there in the woods is behind you. I very much doubt that she would dare brave a city such as Britain.”
“You don’t understand m’lord, I was the only one who came out of those woods alive! Me mates…they…”, tears formed in the man’s eyes as he gazed deeply into his half full goblet, “Every time I close m’eyes sir I hear her laughing and I hear her voice whispering in my ear saying this hideous rhyme!”
“Come to me thou mortal fool, come and be my playful tool…thy friends are resting with me in pain, and oh so soon thy soul shall I gain…so listen to my witchly hex, and come dearest back…to Pandora Vex.”
“M’lord…nothing…makes the rhyme…stop, nothing and every time I close my eyes I dream of her…and that she has followed me even to this city, if I did not know better m’lord I would swear that she is here in this tavern with us.”
With a snort I shoved his shoulder lightly and stood up dropping a few coins on the bar beside him, “A good story my friend but I’ve think you’ve had enough. This will pay for what you’ve drunk and a room for the night.” And with that, I turned and walked out of the tavern and into a gray cloaked figure that let loose a small giggle, “Ah…takes all types” I thought to myself and mumbled an apology.
The figure stopped, and with another giggle turned around to face me, its face still concealed by the heavy gray mantle. From within the cloak’s hood a high pitched, feminine voice cackled…”Think nothing of it you wielder of pen, for surely you could not know when, Pandora Vex would come to play, and claim for herself a victim to slay.”
Over her shoulder I saw an apparition begin to form in the dim light of the tavern, quickly taking the shape of a ghostly spectre that lifted my drunken companion into the air and promptly broke his neck. Terrified, I stared at the cloaked shape in front of me, and to my horror the most unearthly laugh began rising into the night.
“Oh such fun, such gruesome trouble…and now dear Talbot, shall I make thy blood bubble? Or have you the wit to win my game, hrm oh scribe of moderate fame?”
A pair of unearthly white hands appeared at the sleeves of her garment and lifted the hood back, exposing a pale yet beautiful face nestled beneath a gray jester’s cap. Dear readers, I ran screaming into the night, leaving behind me her echoing laughter.
While I at first did not believe what my drunken friend was telling me, I believe now that some frightful creature stalks our realm reveling in the pain and suffering of humankind. Should you come across Pandora Vex, run…run for your lives because to play her game I fear would carry with it the gravest of penalties should you lose. But if you are brave enough to take her challenge and you win, this humble scribe will pay handsomely to hear your tale.