It was the early hours of the morning, and the party was still waking up. The sky was already incredibly bright -- it seemed there was no period of gradual morning in this place. As they stood outside Zinnia's
hut, Lisk suddenly vanishes into his bracelet. The bracelet is picked up, while Rusticus bursts from Ryder's pocket.
"eaUGHAH where did you come from??" Ryder exclaimed.
Rusticus, disoriented, ignored the question, saying "Where am I???"
Moments later, the Dwarf felt the incredible thirst that comes hand in hand with this floor. "And does anyone have anything I can drink??"
Ryder offered his water skin. While his hand was outstretched, Opal grabbed her two water skins from her bag. One for her, and one spare. She looked back and forth between the water skins for a moment, while Rusticus made to take Ryder's only water skin.
"Oh!" She said "I've got a lil extra here. Y'all can have it!"
Rusticus, hand on Ryder's water skin, stopped. He turned and made his way to Opal, taking the water skin from her hands and downing a healthy swig of water. "Thanks!"
Thirst aside, Rusticus was ready to be filled in on what he had missed. Last he knew they were in metal corridors within the Level 1 Interstitial
space, lost in a maze. The party quickly filled him in on how they escaped the maze, fought with Jaxton
, and chased him up onto The Floor of Dexterity
. They took a boat, battled along a river, charged some castles, and climbed up to The Floor of Health
, where they currently were.
Rusticus took all this in best he could. He had the key information down though; they were in a desert, and they were chasing Jaxton.
With recaps out of the way, the party decided it was time to leave.
As they made their way from the quaint oasis, along the rocky hills heading north east once again, a purple fog began to build on the hills.
"Oh yeah" The party said, as the purple cloud rolled down the hills heading straight towards them. "This desert is full of curses and poisons"
The curse fog hit the party. Everyone wearing an amulet was safe; Ryder and Rusticus were not. While Rusticus was able to shrug off the curse effect, Ryder once again succumbed to another curse. He coughed as the purple fog dissipated, feeling slightly less intelligent and slightly less wise.
"Anyone else feel a bit worse after that?" Ryder asked.
As a chorus of "No" was heard from the party, they continued off into the desert.
The party began the long walk in the desert. An hour or two went by as they amiably chatted among themselves. They had drained about a quarter of their water skins. As the made their way through the sand, Rusticus, Naro, and Ryder all spotted what appeared to be an Oasis ahead. Opal however was unable to see it.
"What are y'all lookin at?" She asked carefully. The rest of them pointed ahead at what they perceived to be an oasis. "A spot to top up our water and maybe beat the heat a bit!" They started walking a bit faster towards it.
Opal lagged behind, carefully. "Maybe... uh maybe try to be a bit careful, alright?" She didnt trust her eyes -- maybe she just couldn't see it? Or were they seeing something that wasn't there?
Rusticus, Naro and Ryder were walking in line straight towards the oasis. As they approached it, Rusticus broke into a run -- the dwarf wanted to jump straight into that delightful looking water. As he charged into the oasis, the mirage shimmered and vanished. Before he knew it, he was 15' away from solid ground, up to his chest in quicksand, and sinking fast.
"Oh shit!" Rusticus exclaimed.
He began struggling as best he could to keep himself a float.
Opal put her hands on her head and immediately began panicking in fear. "Oh no oh no oh no!"
Naro, thinking quick, asked Ryder to get Kir to stand next to the quicksand. "We're gonna human chain this shit! Kir grabs me, I'll grab you, you grab the dwarf, and we'll get out of here."
As they discussed, Rusticus attempted to move closer to shore, but inhaled a bit of sand and faltered. Before the party could do anything, his head was below the surface of the sand. All that could be seen was his hand reaching up.
Opal's eyes were wide, her hands on her mouth.
Ryder took one look at the dwarf drowning in sand and said "OKAY, we gotta do this NOW"
Kir stepped up to the shore while Naro quickly climbed in front of him. Naro was in the quicksand up to his waist, but Ryder's large eidolon was holding him up. Ryder clambered over top of Kir and Naro, making his way to the front. Ryder, up to his chest in quicksand but supported by the human chain, attempted to reach forward for Rusticus -- and faltered.
Rusticus managed to lift his head above the sand just in time to see Kir, holding Naro, who was holding onto a submerged Ryder, as Ryder sunk below the surface of the sand.
Naro, not wanting to lose two friends, summoned all the strength he could -- and lifted Ryder straight up into the air. Using all 6 arms he was able to lift Ryder entirely out of the quicksand, while Kir anchored them to the shore.
Rusticus struggled a little bit closer, and Ryder reached downwards to the dwarf. They clasped forearms.
Ryder looked back at Kir, and uttered a command. "Kir! Toss us out!"
The 7' tall armored eidolon heard this command, and acted. He fell backwards, pulling with all of his might, wrenching the three companions out of the quicksand. As Kir landed on his back in the sand, he suplexed Naro, Ryder, and Rusticus behind him, tossing them a good 10'.
Opal exclaimed "Oh holy shit! You're safe!"
The rest of them sat in the sand for a few moments, in shock.
"Lets uhh... make our way a bit more carefully through here I think" Suggested Opal.
The rest of the party nodded, and got back to their feet. Opal began leading the way, trusting her eyes more this time. As she started to look around, she spotted more patches of quicksand. Skirting the nearest quicksand patch, dark purple gas bubbled out of the sand -- but a quick gust of wind blew it away.
A couple more patches of quicksand were dodged, as the party successfully made their way out of this dangerous area.
As they put distance between themselves and the quicksand, the wind started to pick up. "Seems like a sandstorm might be brewing..." Remarked Rusticus.
Almost as if the sandstorm was sentient, as the words left the dwarf's mouth, massive clouds rolled in. Soon the party was struggling to see. They could just barely make out a bump on the horizon, some sort of structure ahead. After a quick debate about what would be safe or not, they decided to make their way to the bump.
They began making their way to the object ahead when the main bulk of the sandstorm hit.
Blasted with wind, everyone bundled whatever clothes they could around themselves to protect from the driving sand. It was in their eyes, digging into their skin, making it hard to breathe. The party stumbled together as a group, relying on one another to find their way. Every so often they'd almost be lost, but one of the four would manage to keep an eye on the prize, and keep them going the proper direction.
And finally, they reached their destination -- what appeared to be a smashed, broken, abandoned sand skiff. The quickly climbed inside.
Inside the sand skiff, the party found some small reprieve from the blowing sand. The howling wind could still be heard outside, but at least in here the wind was unable to find them.
The sand skiff appeared to be in a state of major disrepair however. The contents in the cabin were thrown all around, and the front of the craft was entirely smashed in. A small silver metal rod stood on its end, surrounded by debris from the wreckage. Rusticus approached it, and tried to pull the rod out -- it didn't budge.
Ryder came over and took a look at the rod. It seemingly wasn't even embedded in the sand, instead its end was just resting atop the ground. There was a small button on the side of the rod as well. He informed Rusticus, and took a step back as Rusticus took out his hammer. The dwarf gingerly pressed the button with his hammer.
The rod fell over.
"Well that was lame" Rusticus said.
He nearly walked away, leaving the rod behind, but on a second thought, went back and grabbed it. He took the rod over to Opal.
"What is this?"
Opal, who had not been watching the exchange, turned and examined the rod.
"Eh, it's an Immovable Rod
She and Rusticus stared at it for a moment.
"Oh shit, it's an immovable rod!" Opal exclaimed. "If you press the button on it, it will not
move -- not even gravity will move it! They're super rare and highly magical."
With a "Neat!" Rusticus took the rod back, and pocketed it.
As he was closing up his pack, the party began to hear the screaming.
Rusticus heard what he thought was his sister. Opal heard her professor. Ryder heard rhythmic, cultic chanting. The three of them opened their eyes wide in panic, while Naro looked at them confused.
Ryder slowly asked "Do you all hear that...?"
He began making his way to the exit of the cabin. "I'll be right back... I just need to go see something."
Opal grabbed his arm. "Hey now just wait a minute here Ryder, just wait. We don't know what's out there." She yanked on his arm and hauled the researcher back from the exit.
"We don't know what's causing those sounds!"
Ryder, Opal, and Rusticus sat in agony as the sounds they heard increased in volume and intensity. Minutes passed, as the screams Opal and Rusticus heard became more pained and panicked, while the chanting Ryder heard was reaching a crescendo. Suddenly, the sounds of the sandstorm ended, and the screaming/chanting faded off with a whimper.
The party sat in silence for a moment, wondering what happened.
Rusticus finally volunteered to go outside and take a look. From up on deck, he looked east from the sand skiff -- there, in the sand, was 3 stakes driven into the ground. On each stake, a body hung, bloodied and broken. He called the rest of the party out.
"Kay." said Opal. "We need to leave RIGHT NOW"
The party grabbed everything they had, and started to make their way across the deck of the sand skiff, intending to leave. Then the illusion was dropped, and the Hungerer
A massive monstrosity was before them. It appeared to slightly resemble a cross between a lion and a human female, but twisted and mutilated; malformed into a giant mass of fat. Its eyes betrayed nothing but a base desire to consume. Embedded into its flesh were 5 silver metal orbs; they radiated magical energy. Short crossbow shafts dotted the creatures gelatinous flesh.
Rusticus responded to this reveal with anger. He charged the Hungerer, swinging his hammer at one of the metal orbs, but missing. The hungerer turned its attention to Rusticus, and bent its massive head down, biting him, and dealing massive damage. Rusticus was knocked back, and nearly dead.
Seeing how much it just hurt Rusticus, the rest of the party knew they had to bring everything they had. Opal dropped an aggressive thundercloud directly on top of the Hungerer, but it managed to dodge the damage. Ryder quickly enlarged Kir, and Kir charged behind Rusticus, slicing his sword straight through the thick fat on the Hungerer, dealing damage. The wound opened by Kir's sword spewed vile blood and acid.
Naro dodged around the vile spray, and came up to Rusticus's right, slamming a fist into one of the orbs. The orb shattered, and a blue lattice of energy raced across the Hungerers flesh, before fading into nothingness.
"Take out the orbs! It seems to affect it more!"
Rusticus, protected by his allies drawing the hungerer's attention, retreated as fast as he could. He clambered up onto the deck of the sand skiff while the Hungerer sliced two claws into Kir.
From the edge of the battlefield, clockwork rapidly approached. A Clockwork Overseer
leading three Clockwork Hunters
came charging into view. The clockwork hunters had crossbow attachments on their arms; the bolts seemed to match those embedded in the hungerer. The clockwork quickly took shots at the hungerer, aiming to strike the orbs.
The party, feeling revitalized by the backup, redoubled their efforts. Naro unleashed a full attack on the hungerer, destroying another orb, and sending the rest of his attacks into the thick flesh of the monster. As another orb went down, the hungerer seemed weaker yet again.
Opal tossed a potion to Rusticus, and blasted a bolt of lightning straight into the flank of the Hungerer. It roared in pain. Rusticus downed his potion, and ran up to the beast again, swinging and taking out another orb. Meanwhile Ryder kept up the buffs, while Kir and Naro traded blows with the hungerer.
Suddenly the hungerer bent down again, and sunk all of it's teeth deep into Naro, ripping his flesh to pieces. Naro stumbled back in pain and shock, as the damage dealt to him severed his connection with Markus. In an instant, Markus disappeared into nothingness, and Naro was alone. He fled in anger, retreating to behind the sand skiff.
As the clockwork hunters fired another volley of shots into the hungerer, Opal saw that things weren't looking good for her party. She held her hands out, and in desperation, called upon all the power she had available to her. Focusing on the hungerer, she held a single image in her mind; a Toad, small, and non-magical. With this focus, she cast her spell.
The hungerer's eyes snapped to focus on Opal as the spell took effect; but it could not stop it. Within seconds, the massive monstrosity was reduced to nothing more than an average toad. It hopped about a few times on the sand. "KIR!" Opal called.
Ryder gave Kir the nod, and Kir stepped up to the toad. Not bothering to look down, Kir stomped with all of his strength; splattering toad all over the surrounding sand.
A collective sigh of relief was heard.
Two crossbow bolts suddenly slammed into Kir.
The clockwork had turned their attention to the next foes in sight; the party. Opal quickly slid her thundercloud over to the clockwork overseer, zapping it with energy.
Naro, still in pain, slammed back a health potion. He cast mage armor on himself. As he did that, Kir and Rusticus made short work of the Clockwork Overseer in front of them, damaging the mechanical man. Naro charged forward, full of anger. Sprinting up to the overseer, without Markus to assist, he punched the metal in front of him. Opal's thundercloud dished out a bit more damage, and finished off the overseer.
Two of the clockwork hunters turned to flee, while one was left standing.
The party focused their attention on the remaining hunter; meeting it face to face for battle. After taking some damage, the hunter slammed its fist against Naro, hurting him some more. This pushed Naro over the edge, and still without Markus's help, he slammed his fists into the clockwork, destroying it and scattering gears and metal shards in a large cone behind it.
A second sigh of relief was heard. The party looked around at the suspiciously quiet area; the bodies on the stakes had vanished. It appeared the sandstorm, the screaming, and the bodies were all illusions from the hungerer.
A couple heals were passed around, and then the party decided it was time to leave this cursed sand skiff.
The day was getting darker and darker as the party trudged through the sand some more; their water skins were about half empty. It was getting harder to see as the light level dropped.
They looked around, and couldn't see anything near them. Deciding that there was safety in solitude, they took out one of Opal's desert tents, and set it up. It was time to rest.
Still being careful, and fearing ambush, Ryder left Kir outside to stand guard. The party slept comfortably inside the insulated tent.
Rusticus woke up extra early. "We can avoid the heat by traveling in the gray morning time" He quietly said. The rest of the party ignored him. He exited the tent while it was still dark, and nodded to Kir, who remained motionless. Suddenly, Rusticus was blinded as the great disk of light in the center of the sky turned on to full light, instantly.
The rest of the party exited the tent moments later, holding back their "told you so"'s.
A short trek later, the party began to notice something in the distance that was previously hidden by the dwindling light. It appeared to be a set of ruins, directly between them and their destination. As they approached, they began to hear mad laughter echoing from the ruins.
Approaching, there was a disturbing scene before their eyes. The ruins consisted of a large pyramid like structure, with pillars in front of it in various states of standing or collapse. Chained to one of the pillars was an orange fox; it was panicking, pulling at its chain, and letting out cries of fear and pain.
Stomping and wandering aimlessly around near the fox was an oddly clad man. Wearing full robes adorned with multiple belts; on the belts was a multitude of different glass flasks. As the party watched, the man turned his head to the sky and yelled incoherently. He then turned to the fox, pulled out a flask, and threw it at the fox. The flask shattered and covered the fox in strange liquid that shone blew, while the fox yelped in pain.
Naro, freshly reacquainted with Markus, was unhappy. "FUCK YOU" he yelled from 80 feet away. He began sprinting at the strange man, the alchemist, who had just finished throwing another flask at the fox.
The rest of the party briefly looked at each other, before charging after Naro; Rusticus was following close behind Naro.
The madman turned to see who was yelling at him. He yelled back, though it was unintelligible. As Naro approached, he grabbed a flask from his belt, and whipped it at Naro; it shattered all over him. Naro only had a split second to dodge to the side before a massive 10'x10' pit opened below him. Stumbling but not faltering, Naro continued sprinting at the madman, reaching and punching him deftly in the chest.
Rusticus ran as fast as his shorter legs would allow, making a wide berth around the pit in the ground. He approached Naro's side, and swung his hammer into their foe, dealing more damage.
Opal and Ryder ran to the side, and hid among some fallen columns, choosing to cast spells from the side, while Kir slowly and purposefully strode up the battlefield.
The alchemist took a step back from Naro and Rusticus. Grabbing another flask from his belt, he whipped it at Naro once again; and again Naro only had a split second to dodge to the side to avoid the pit, making it safely to the ledge. Rusticus, who had been standing directly beside Naro, was not quick enough.
Naro watched as his ally disappeared into the pit, falling what must have been at least 50'. A splash could be heard from the pit as Rusticus hit the bottom, landing in a 5' deep pool of acid.
Naro was again furious. He took a step after the alchemist, and with cold intent in his eyes, slammed his fists down in 3 forceful, pinpointed strikes. The alchemists eyes went wide. He stood still for a moment as the dust settled, before falling to the ground, dead. His body faded away as a soul coin was left in his place, along with a couple smaller articles.
"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllp!" called Rusticus from the bottom of the pit. The acid was eating away at his skin. Opal and Ryder, who had just recently caught up to the battlefield, looked around in panic -- all their rope was in Tiddle's possession.
Before anyone else could do anything, Ryder stepped forward and jumped into the pit. Rusticus managed to look up in time to see this happen; he stretched out his hands and caught the summoner. Ryder immediately cast dimension door, and transported himself and Rusticus back to the surface.
"Oh thank fuck thank you so much" gasped Rusticus. Ryder nodded and pat him on the shoulder. With a chance to relax, the party looked around at what was left by the alchemist, and where they were.
Naro grabbed the shoes left behind by the alchemist, and pocketed a bag of soul coins. Taking the shoes to Opal, he asked "Got another item for you to look at. What are these?"
The witch studied the shoes. They had a blue lightning bolt pattern on the side. "Oh! Cool! These are Shoes of Lightning Leaping
! They let you turn into lightning and charge through enemies."
Naro gave an appreciative nod to Opal. "Hey Ryder, here." Naro passed the shoes to Ryder. "I don't need these."
Ryder looked at the shoes happily for a moment, before looking at their size; too big for his feet. He compared them to Kir's feet, and found they were much too small for Kir.
"Yo you can have these back" Ryder said. "They wont fit us here."
Naro waved the comments off, responding "Just hold onto them for now, I don't need them."
Opal watched this exchange with obvious envy. Rusticus dusted himself off, and made his way into the ruins entrance. The party saw where he was going, and followed after him.
Inside the ruins, the party found a wide hallway with multiple columns and doors along the side. At the end was an archway; beyond that was a strange machine built into the ruin's walls. Rusticus made to walk deeper into the ruins, but Naro pushed him aside, drawn in by something.
He paid no heed to any of the doors, walking straight towards the machine at the end -- but as he stepped through the archway, he walked through a tripwire, and triggered the mad alchemist's last trap. A tub of acid perched above the archway turned over, and doused Naro in corrosive liquid.
Naro began screaming in pain, panic, and fear. His body suit, having covered his skin entirely from the very beginning, began bubbling. The fabric was giving way to the acid. His body suit began sloughing off, revealing large patches of dark skin.
Naro writhed and screamed. "MY SKIN, NO, GIVE IT BACK, MY SUIT NEEDS TO COVER MY SKIN, COVER IT UP, COVER IT COVER IT!!"
He grasped at patches of suit as it fell away. The fabric that was on his head was entirely gone; revealing pointed elf ears.
The party gasped as Naro's skin was revealed to be dark, almost entirely black, with pointed ears. Remembering his odd exchange with Zinnia
, realization suddenly struck them; Naro was a Drow
Naro confirmed this a moment later by crying "NO NO NO NOT DROW NO I DON'T WANT TO BE NO"
Ryder quickly turned to Kir and nodded. Kir walked up to Naro, and scooped him up into his arms; he gently carried Naro back to the entrance, and softly put him down onto the ground. Naro curled up into the fetal position, still in full panic mode.
Opal crouched down beside Naro, and moved to comfort him with a hand, but hesitated before drawing her hand back. Naro seemed to have noticed the attempt, and appeared slightly calmer for it. Opal with concern in her voice asked "Do you want to sleep?"
Naro nodded through pained eyes, as Opal cast slumber upon the hurting young man.
She stood up and looked around at the rest of the group, as everyone let the information sink in that one of their companions was Drow.
Did his race change their opinions of him? If so, how much? Naro had always been one to protect and help them all. As they thought about this information, they headed back into the ruins to finish clearing it out.
Rusticus walked down to the trap Naro had set off, and looked up. A small remained of acid dripped down from above, and dropped straight into his eye. He writhed in pain and was blinded. Ryder nodded again at Kir, who retraced his steps into the ruins. Kir scooped up Rusticus, and carried him back out, as the dwarf happily felt the eidolon's large muscles lifting and carrying him with ease.
Kir put Rusticus down at Opal's feet. Rusticus stood up and rubbed at his eyes in pain. Opal stepped forward and jabbed two healing fingers into his eyes. With an "OUCH" Rusticus stepped back, and then found he could once again see. "Thanks?" he said questioningly.
Rusticus, Opal, and Ryder made their way inside again, with Kir standing watch over Naro.
Rusticus made his way directly to the big machine at the back. It had a small spot to stand, with what appeared to be a soul coin slot. Without a second though, Rusticus thrust a coin inside. A bright blue light enveloped him, as he felt his mind expand; he became more knowledgeable. It appeared to be some sort of Enhancement Station
. He referred this information to his party members, but they decided not to approach.
They began exploring inside the ruins.
Near the machine, Rusticus found a couple glowing orbs embedded in the ground, and some closets full of electrically charged machinery. Choosing not to smash yet, he left them alone.
Ryder opened a room and found a couple containers full of odd powder, but chose not to examine them yet. Meanwhile Opal checked another room, finding a glowing stone, some universal solvent, an anchor feather token, and a strange piece of origami.
Rusticus opened the remaining two doors, finding some sovereign glue, a strange metal compass inscribed with the heavens, and a creepy straw doll. When looking at the doll, Opal realized it was a hexing doll; uncomfortable with that side of witchery, she kept the knowledge to herself, instead telling Rusticus to keep the creepy doll.
Finally, Rusticus and Kir approached the glowing embedded spheres. On the count of three, they smashed the orbs at the same time. The whirring of the machinery that had been present the entire time wound down, stopping, as the party found themselves in silence. It seems they had broken the machine. With a shrug, everyone convened around the now waking up Naro.
Naro had determination in his eyes, while the rest of the party had acceptance in theirs.
And in that moment, time paused.