Rusticus, having enough of the desert for now, dissapeared. As that happened, out popped a familiar face that hadnt been seen in a while - Tiddles.
"Woah" murmured the bard. "Whered the forest and river go?"
Opal stepped up and exclaimed "Tiddles! Havent seen you in ages! Boy do we have things to fill you in on." She quickly went over where they had been, and what they had been up to. She went into careful detail about just how much the desert sucked, and why deserts were among the top 3 worst places to ever adventure through.
"Yeah yeah yeah that's all fine and dandy" interrupted Tiddles. He had suddenly realized just how incredibly thirsty he was. "But do you have anything I can drink?"
Opal slowly started "...wellll I just gave my spare water skin to Rusticus... but... I've got a spare cactus here, should help satiate yall!"
Tiddles stared at the plant dubiously. He shrugged, and took it from her. As he tilted his head back and squeezed the cactus into his mouth, he spotted Lisk out of the corner of his eye.
Swallowing, he asked slightly surprised "Who are you? When did you show up??"
Opal and Ryder turned to see Lisk standing in the shadows.
"Lisk! How long have you been standing there?"
Lisk grunted. "Whole time."
"Whos the new guy?"
Tiddles smiled broadly. With a swish of his hand, and a certain flourish, he bowed. "My names Tiddles! I'm the bard, I hit things, I make music, I know things." He rattled off a rat-a-tat-tat on his shield. "Pleasure to meet you!"
Lisk stared at him for a moment. "Another high energy person. Pleasure."
The two shook hands.
Lisk walked over to Naro, who had been laying on the floor the whole time.
"Whats his deal now?"
Tiddles took a look at him too. "Is... he... a drow?"
Ryder awkwardly shuffled as Opal grimaced. "Yeah so uhhh... he got a lil acid on him, and it ate away his body suit. Turns out he's a drow. Also turns out he aint a fan of being a drow. Or something."
Tiddles shrugged. "Well, he's always been helpful and a nice lad, doesn't change my opinion of him."
Opal nudged Naro with her foot. "Lets go Naro, lets get out of here."
Lisk walked up to the drow on the ground. "I don't care if he's drow or not" He nudged Naro with a bit more force. "I just want to get going."
Naro got up and looked around moodily. He was quiet, and after looking around, stared downward at the ground. He kept his eyes downward as he followed the party outside of the ruins they had been sheltered in.
As they walked out into the hot sun, Tiddles looked around with a start.
"W-wait a minute, three of you are wearing creepy masks! And a bunch of you have amulets!"
The party quickly filled Tiddles in on the curses and poisons they've been plagued with on this floor. Tiddles grimaced.
As Ryder hopped onto Kir's back, the party began the journey back into the hot desert. Ahead of them they could see the stairs in the far distance. There was a shimmering around the tower, drifting downwards. They were still unable to see the base of the tower, the heat haze obscured the horizon.
The journey began slowly. As they trudged through the hot sand, the party chatted amiably. Stories were told about giant scorpions, to Lisks annoyance. Tales were told about mimic water barrels, to Opal's annoyance.
As they walked through a certain patch of sand, a large cloud of blue gas bubbled up around them. Lisk coughed as it entered his lungs, and then clutched as his head as a searing headache came over him. He shook the pain away, but felt in a strange mood afterwards.
Unrelated to the poison, Opal suddenly remembered her bottled misfortune. "Oh hey Lisk I have a lil something that might be useful to you!"
"Yeah? Cool, what do I need to do?"
Opal grabbed a bottle out of her pouch, and cast a hex on it. "Just dip your arrows into this bottle here, and it'll let you poison foes with my hexes!"
"Cool, will do. How many arrows?"
Opal blinked. "Uhh... I have no idea. Like 10?"
"Done. What next?"
Opal blinked again, confused by Lisk's eagerness and suggestibility. "Uhhhh that's... all?"
Lisk shrugged and said "Okay then. Let me know if there's more for me to do"
A couple moments went by as the party walked onwards, before Lisk shook his head again. What had just come over him? Why was he so willing to do things for a moment there?
He ignored the strange feeling, and walked on.
A while later, Tiddles pointed out some dried plants. The party looked closer to find that the plants were almost grub-like, and weakly wriggling in place. Grossed out, and un-trusting of anything found in this desert, they took a closer look at it. Tiddles relied on his bardic knowledge, thinking back to the tales his patrons had told him. Scrounging through his memory, he remembered... that they were grub-like plants. The plants may or may not be hostile, but they are fairly dried out right now.
Lisk stepped up, thinking that he might've seen these plants before. Instead, all he was able to do was confirm with what Tiddles had said. The two of them left the grub-plant they were looking at, and walked up to the next one to inspect it.
Meanwhile, Naro and Ryder brought up the rear. Ryder, from atop Kir's back, looked down to see his drow friend staring at the ground as they walked. "You okay?" He asked.
Naro didn't respond, and just continued walking silently.
Ryder turned away from his sad friend, and looked back to Lisk and Tiddles. They had found another dried grub plant, and were now poking it with their weapons. The plant made weak gurgling noises, and wriggled ever so slightly more frantically.
"I still have no idea what this is" mentioned Lisk.
A huff could be heard from ahead of them. Opal, who had been leading the way, turned around and walked back to the group. She took one look at the plant, and took a step back.
"Aight. Thats uhh... thats a Griefgall
ya'll are lookin at there. A sort of parasitic grub plant. They like to paralyze their victims, then make their home inside yer throat -- controlling your every action"
Even Naro reacted to that news.
"Well then" Said Tiddles. He bent over and rapidly swished his rapier through the dried leaves - it parted them easily. The Griefgall wailed pitifully, and shriveled up into a ball, ceasing all movement.
"That solves that. Lets just avoid any more of these we see. And lets make sure we do NOT water them."
The party resumed their travels towards the tower in the distance. They began to worry as the shimmering they previously saw around the tower was turning out to be water vapour. Water was cascading down the top of the tower, gradually turning into water vapour as it fell towards the bottom.
The water vapour drifted away from the tower, coalescing into large dark clouds.
The clouds began to roll in as the party passed yet more dried Griefgalls. Looking ahead, they were finally able to pick some structures out against the horizon -- there appeared to be a small stone structure with smoke coming out of it atop a small rocky hill. Behind that was a hazy purple and blue fog, with some trees and greenery showing through.
Looking around at the numerous dried griefgalls around them, Tiddles pointed to the stone structure. "Lets get some shelter before the rain wakes up all these plants!"
The party began rushing forward, as the rain started.
They hustled up the rocky slope towards the building. To their left was a patch of 4 griefgalls -- in the rain, one of them had already started turning green.
Out of the hut stepped a woman, interrupting the party's mad dash to safety. She looked at them with a blank angry stare -- horrifying plant like tendrils reached their way out of her mouth, waving slightly in the air.
Lisk was the first one to act. The ranger was in full stealth mode, undetectable. Working off of what Opal had told him previously, he notched an arrow and took aim at the womans throat. Letting the arrow fly, it pierced directly into her neck, skewering the griefgall inside. A pained sound could be heard from it -- the griefgall was hurt, but not dead, and still in control of the woman. Lisk moved to quietly say "Yes.", but accidentally let loose a much louder celebration, removing any stealth factor he had.
Ryder turned to Naro, and patted his shoulder, buffing him with mage armor. "Snap out of it man, time to go"
Naro nodded, and took off running at the woman. He swung wildly at her throat, but just barely missed. The woman stared at Naro with an expression of hollow rage.
Tiddles surveyed the scene before him, and noticed more of the griefgalls turning green, and beginning to move with more energy. He did the thing any sensible bard would do; he started a driving rhythm on his shield, cast a spell on himself to make him run and act faster, and ran. Tiddles retreated back away from the combat.
Seeing Tiddles retreat, Opal also figured she should get herself into a more tactically sound location. She let the power of magic flow through her and felt herself lift off the ground, as she flew up and away. Opal left the ground just in time. As she flew away, the possessed woman radiated magic energy, summoning into existence great thorn walls all around.
The thorn walls were 5' thick, and 10' tall. The walls surrounded both Kir and Ryder; Lisk and Tiddles had their view blocked, but could still escape.
"What just happened??" called Ryder. "Where am I??"
Naro was standing face to face with the possessed woman, and was thankfully safe from the thorn walls. However, he had caught the attention of the other plants; the griefgalls nearest him had come fully back to life, and looked to take control of the many armed drow.
The two nearest griefgalls cast their minds out, using their psychic power to attempt to subdue Naro. The first spell was easily resisted, but Naro fell to the effects of the second. Suddenly overcome with great regret, Naro yelled wordlessly. He looked down at himself with pain and anger, and began slamming his fists into himself, hurting himself.
Lisk stepped out from around the thorn wall to see his ally bent over punching himself. Being as stealthy as he could, he notched another arrow, and took his opportunity while Naro was out of the way. Lisk fired another arrow directly below the first, skewering the woman's throat. More pained sounds could be heard, but the tendrils still moved with strength. Remembering his previous stealth mistake last time, he let out the most quiet and stealthy "yes" he could -- he celebrated so stealthily that all of his footprints into the sand up until this point vanished.
Ryder was still stuck in the middle of the thorn wall, and still confused. The poisons and curses had been affecting his mind. Ryder did the one thing he could think of; he cast a spell to switch places with Kir. Ryder found himself trapped in thorn walls still -- but this time he had a bit more breathing room.
"Where the hell am I??" he exclaimed. "Kir, can you get out?"
The large eidolon, stuck in a tiny 5' square of thorn walls, was emotionless as he tried to force his way through. As he pushed, he got stuck right in the middle of the wall. His armor managed to protect him from most of the damage, but a few thorns still managed to stab into Kir's sides.
"Did you get out?? hello?" called Ryder.
Opa, flying above, called down to Ryder. "Ya'll are stuck in some thorn walls! just hang on!"
Ryder looked up at her. She called down "Kir is stuck in the thorn wall, he's gonna have to push his way out!"
With that, Opal flew out of Ryder's view. She looked at the 4 griefgalls that were now moving towards the party, and decided to drop an aggressive thundercloud on them. The griefgall she targeted managed to resist the magic however, and took no damage.
Ignoring the thundercloud, 3 of the griefgalls continued to slowly make their way towards Naro.
The 4th began to make its way towards the thorn walls, where Tiddles was waiting behind.
Tiddles dashed out from around the thorns, sprinting at the griefgall with alarming speed. His rapier slashed down with force, easily parting the leaves on the parasitic plant in front of him. The plant kept moving though, not dead yet.
The possessed woman raised her hands once again, and the ground began to shake. Vicious, invisible shards of rock and stone shot up out of the ground, protruding at every angle imaginable. The entire ground was covered in sharp objects; impossible to see.
Ryder quickly jumped onto the thorn wall, and attempted to climb over to get away from the spiky ground that had just appeared.
Hand over hand, he began to climb. "Ow."
He started to waiver as he reached the top of the vine wall.
The thorns were tearing into his skin. He was bleeding from multiple puncture wounds. As he made it to the top of the wall, the pain became too much for him; he passed out. Ryder slowly toppled forward off the top of the vine wall. His bloodied body fell 10' down, landing on the spiked ground which punctured his injured form even more. Kir vanished.
"Ryder!!" called Opal. From her point of view, she saw the whole thing; she stared now at his motionless body, bloodied and bruised.
Lisk looked up to see the panic in Opals face, before looking back at the possessed woman. Lisk stepped backwards off the spikes, taking a small bit of damage. He focused on his foe, and let fly a final arrow. The arrow struck true, and pierced the woman's neck just below the other two. A horrible high pitched gurgling noise came from her throat. The tendrils frantically waved, before ceasing all movement, and rapidly turning brown. The woman briefly opened her eyes wide before passing out.
"We gotta get her to dispel these spells!" yelled Lisk.
Opal nodded. She looked at Ryder with worry, and quickly used her Hex Scar
to heal some of his pain and injuries. Ryder stopped bleeding out, but he still lay unconscious. Having done all she could, Opal flew down beside the woman with the arrows in her throat. Opal landed beside her, and felt pain as a small shard of rock pierced through her foot; walking would be difficult for a while.
Opal landing beside the possessed woman was enough distraction to help Naro clear his head. No longer full of regret, he was instead full of determination. It was as if getting over the spells effects helped him to get over the regret and anger he felt in his normal life. Naro cleared his thoughts and charged away from the spikes.
He ran around the top edge of the dangerous terrain, charging towards the nearest griefgall. As he reached the monster, he slammed two of his fists down, tearing at the plant.
The griefgall, hurt, attempted to swing back at Naro. It whipped one of its vine like appendages at Naro, but missed entirely; the vine whirled back around and smacked the griefgall. The toxins covering the vine began to seep into the griefgalls own nervous system, paralyzing it. Naro laughed victoriously.
The other griefgall moved towards Opal. Opal moved to the side, lining two of the griefgalls up; she put her hands up in front of her, and let loose a massive lightning bolt. The nearest griefgall to Opal exploded in a shower of flaming leaves and vines. The paralyzed griefgall in front of Naro caught fire, but remained alive.
The fourth griefgall started moving away from Opal after that. It moved towards its companion that was currently in battle with Tiddles.
The griefgall in front of the bard rapidly swung its tendrils at him, slapping him directly on bare skin. Tiddles failed to resist, and froze in place. His face stuck in an expression of surprise, he could do no more than wait and hope.
Lisk ran around the corner of the thorn walls in time to see Tiddles become paralyzed. Fearing for his new companion's safety, he grabbed two acid arrows from his quiver, and lined them up. Letting them both loose, he skewered the griefgall, and watched in satisfaction as it melted into a puddle of goop.
Opal looked to the griefgall retreating from her, and moved her thundercloud onto it. The griefgall took full damage in its attempts to flee, and it too was vaporized.
At the same time, Naro was angrily dealing with the monster in front of him. He tore rapidly at it with all 6 of his arms, shredding it into tiny pieces, and scattering them to the wind. With that, the threat of the griefgalls was neutralized.
Naro, Opal, and Lisk took a moment to breath. Ryder was still unconscious on the spikes; he appeared stable for the moment. Tiddles was paralyzed, but beginning to show signs of movement.
Naro and Opal went over to Ryder's location on the spikes, while Lisk approached Tiddles. The bard finally regained control of his actions, and thanked Lisk for stopping the parasitization.
"Now" Tiddles began. "About these spikes..."
He thought for a moment, drumming his fingers against his shield.
Tiddles waved his hands in the air, and summoned a large standing bass.
"This autta do it."
Lisk watched incredulously as Tiddles lay the bass down on top of the spikes. The bard then stood atop the wooden instrument, and hop-waddled it across the spikes. A few spikes managed to stab up and scrape his fingers, but overall most of the threat was mitigated.
"Well done." said Lisk, eyebrows raised.
"Music is the answer to everything!" responded Tiddles with pep. He and Lisk walked around the edge of the spikes, over to where Naro and Opal stood.
"We really need to get him out of there!" said Opal with worry. "Someone strong needs to lift him out!"
Her suggestion was met with silence. No one wanted to walk onto the spikes.
"Okay how bout this, we draw straws to see who goe-" started Tiddles. He was interrupted by a loud sigh from Naro.
"FFFFFiiiiiiiiiiiiiiineeeeeeeeeee" Naro said. He made to step onto the rocks before Tiddles caught his arm. Tiddles's hand glowed brightly for a moment.
"This will protect you!"
"Thanks" responded Naro, who began to make his way out onto the spikes. Shards of rocks pierced through his feet; blood could be seen oozing from the wounds.
"Hmm." murmured Tiddles. "I think actually I just stopped the pain, not the damage..."
Naro continued unperturbed. He reached Ryder and lifted him easily into his arms, before turning and bringing his unconscious friend out of the dangerous area. He lay him down onto a soft patch of dirt, and Opal poured a health potion down his throat.
Ryder coughed and awoke with an "oowwww, where am I? Where's Kir?"
Lisk and Tiddles quickly filled him in, while Opal looked at the unconscious woman near them. She knew a bit of what to do to heal though who were freed from a griefgall's grasp. It had been a long enough interval of time to safely remove the remains from the woman's throat, so Opal pulled gently at the withered tendrils. She gagged a bit as the mess of plant matter came out of the woman's mouth; the woman remained unconscious however.
"Lets get inside and out of the rain." She said. "Hey Naro, ya think you could lift one more person?"
Naro rolled his eyes, and picked up the unconscious woman. Together, he and the rest of the party members moved inside the stone hut, and out of the elements.
Upon entry to the building, the party found a room taken up mostly by boxes of goods, and a large machine gently humming along one edge.
Tiddles immediately moved to the far wall, and began rummaging around inside the box, collecting some flasks and cloth. Opal began looking through the box nearest to her, where she found some scrolls and potions.
"What. The hell." Started Lisk.
Opal and Tiddles looked at the ranger in surprise.
"We just get in this building. No idea who's building it is. No idea who's stuff it is. We rescued this woman, she was here, maybe it's her stuff. Just gonna steal it?"
The two looked at Lisk with blank expressions on their faces. Opal shamefully put her stuff back, while Tiddles kept holding onto his, searching for an excuse.
At that moment, Naro was watching the unconscious woman. Her eyes began to flutter as she started to wake up. She sat up, and then stood up. Opal turned to look at her, and Tiddles quickly hid his loot behind his back.
Opal put her hand on her own neck and opened her eyes wide. She pointed at the new woman's neck, where 3 arrows stuck out like pins in a pincushion. The woman looked down, and felt at her neck with her hands. She furrowed her eyebrows, and grabbed hold of the arrows. Ripping them out forcefully, she quickly brought her other hand up and healed the open wound.
The woman coughed twice, and cleared her throat.
"Okay, I'm confused. Who are you, where am I, and whats going on??"
Details were quickly shared about the woman's previous state. Everyone learned each other's names; the woman's name was Jen.
"Oh, wow." Said Jen. "Thank you so much for saving me. I'm a herbologist druid; I was studying the griefgalls. Didn't think I'd actually get parasitized by one."
Jen waved her hand at the interior of the building.
"By the way, this is a visitor hut; feel free to take or leave whatever you want inside the boxes here."
Tiddles quickly spun in place, acting surprised to find a bunch of flasks in his hands. "Wow! Great!"
Jen pointed at the machine on the outside wall. "That there is one of this floors Enhancement Stations
. I believe this one accepts soul coins in trade for health. Bit unstable though, I think it's only stable for 1 use per person, but you can try for more."
The party thanked her.
"By the way" said Lisk. "Where are you from?"
"Ah! I'm from Beachcastle
.... why are you looking at me like that?" responded Jen.
"Uh... Beachcastle is destroyed, and everyone is dead." Responded Lisk.
Jen stared at him in shock.
"Not everyone!" Said Opal. "The cat guy is still alive! Cant remember his name for the life of me..."
Jen turned to look at Opal. "Isamu...?" She asked slowly.
"Thats the one!"
Jen, in shell shock, slowly replied. "I hate Isamu..."
An awkward silence was had by all. After a few moments, the party unanimously decided to try the machine while Jen came to terms with her city being destroyed. One by one they stepped up, and fed a coin into the slot. The each felt the magic energy surround and envelope them, increasing their maximum HP.
"Hey uhhh..." started Tiddles. "How are we supposed to get passed the poison and curse fog ahead?"
Jen shook her head slightly, and responded. "Just use the amulets and masks."
Tiddles carefully asked "But what if we don't all have them...?"
"Then just take turns. The artifacts also help to remove existing poison and curses. Takes 24 hours I believe, but it does cure you."
Everyone raised their eyebrows.
"Anyways..." continued Jen. "I... I need to go. I'm going to head to Tamworth
. I wish you luck."
The sad woman left the small stone building, and began making her way across the increasingly dark landscape.
The party looked out after her, and then looked up at the darkening sky. The large disk of bright light in the center of the sky was almost entirely out.
"Well that was sad." Said Lisk. "Might as well sleep."
The party rolled out their bedrolls, and made camp inside the stone building.
It was the middle of the night. Everyone was fast asleep. The spell that Tiddles had cast on Naro hours ago to delay pain finally wore off. Naro awoke with a "ffFFUUUCK!!"
The party looked around in fear, before drifting back to sleep.
The party woke up slowly, stretching and massaging their sore muscles from the events of the prior day. Ryder coughed a few times. He eyed the amulet strung about Lisk's neck.
"So uhhh..." he started. "Been feeling a bit cursed lately..."
Lisk rolled his eyes, and took the amulet off. Passing the amulet to Ryder, Lisk turned his attention to Tiddles. "Guess you and are both defenseless to curses and poisons today."
Ryder, Naro, and Opal touched their masks and amulets to make sure they were safely on their person. Tiddles smiled bravely and tapped his shield a few times. "No worries friend! A little bit of music shall carry us onward!"
Lisk responded with a curt "Hm."
They packed up all of the supplies from the small stone building, and exited to the desert. The sky was bright and the air was hot. Ahead of them lay a swamp like area, covered in blue and purple fog that was lazily drifting about. Beyond the swamp they could see the tower, with the water cascading down the outside.
And so the party set off. Tiddles stared banging on his shield, filling the party with determination. However, three steps into the colourful fog, and Tiddles and Lisk began coughing. Tiddles felt pain in his head; both of them felt suddenly vulnerable as well.
It was a short journey through the transition land, where the desert turned into swamp. Opal, Ryder, and Naro watched with worry as Lisk and Tiddles repeatedly coughed and hacked as they breathed in the accursed fog. The two kept on brave faces however.
After about half an hour, they began to notice insects. In fact, an overwhelming amount of insects could be seen. Getting a little bit closer, it seemed none of the insects were actually moving.
Naro approached a swarm of wasps that were frozen in the air, and studied them closely. The appeared to be mid flight. Tiddles came up beside Naro, and poked at them. The wasps remained in the same location, appearing to not have been affected by the poke at all.
Opal shuddered slightly, she hated wasps.
"They're all frozen in time it seems.." she said.
"This is NEAT." said Tiddles happily. He started walking from insect to insect, looking closer at them.
"Woah, look at this one! And that one! Wow, this is a HUGE swarm of ants!"
Naro and Ryder stared at the bard with confusion as he walked excitedly around the insect laden swamp. Lisk appeared at their side, and shared a look with them.
"Ooo! What is this swarm? Scarabs I think?" Tiddles opened his bag of holding, and scooped the bag over top of the scarabs. The scarabs remained frozen in time and in the same positions; but now those positions resided in his bag. "Never know when you need a swarm of scarabs! Woah, what is that giant centipede? I wonder if its poisonous!"
Opal stretched out her hand and opened her mouth, but faltered mid motion as Tiddles ran up to the giant armored centipede. She watched as Tiddles first tried to pry one of the fangs off, before pulling out his rapier and hacking at the fang.
Each strike seemed to impact the centipede, but impart no actual effect on the creature. The flow of time was frozen for it, and outside influence appeared to stop at the surface of the time frozen centipede.
Tiddles shrugged, and patted his bag of scarabs. "Well, good enough. Onwards, shall we?"
Heads shook as the rest of the group continued forward.
Ahead of them appeared to be the start of the water in the swamp. The land in front was covered almost entirely in a shallow lake with mounds of dirt sticking up here and there. They looked closer at the water; it appeared to shimmer in the exact same way that the cursed water of The Spillway
"We probably don't wanna touch that do we..." Asked Naro.
"Looks like there's some paths that are slightly below the surface of the water. We can probably walk across those?" suggested Opal.
Tiddles looked out across the water for a minute, before excitedly grabbing at his bag. "Ah! I've got just the thing!"
He pulled out another instrument, his Lyre of Building
"I'll just build up the paths! That should make things easier."
Tiddles began slowly strumming at the lyre, checking the tune, before launching into a joyous driving tune. Heaps of earth began to move under the influence of his music; the path ahead of them was reinforced and repaired, built up above the surface of the water.
"Well, that works." Commented Lisk.
The 5 of them set off along Tiddles' handiwork. A couple more clouds of gas were dodged as the party reached the far end of the area. Ahead of them they could see a more reinforced path, and what appeared to be the source of the fog; a massive whirlpool was sucking in all the water around them. Out of the center of the whirlpool spiraled the purple and blue fog. The fog drifted upwards, and outwards -- out towards the desert.
The party quickly hustled through the last bit of the fog. Tiddles and Lisk coughed a few times, and they both felt incredibly tired. Lisk grabbed at his head; a painful headache had struck him as well.
They look at the area around them. Strewn about the whirlpool were a collection of ruins and objects; the water glistened, it too was cursed. Opal spied a few objects nearby she could grab. There was also a wooden crate lazily drifting in circles in the whirlpool, slowly making its way towards the center.
Opal cast flight on herself and lifted off the ground. The nearest ruins to the path had a small gray bag floating among them. She drifted over and leaned down, gingerly picking the bag out of the water. Opal then floated upwards in the air to overlook the area; a bit farther ahead, sitting atop some other ruins, was a ring softly glinting in the light. Opal flew over and picked it up too. She looked to the center of the whirlpool just as the crate reached it; a crunching and cracking sound could be heard as the crate burst apart and its contents shattered. Opal shrugged and flew back to the party.
"Check out what I found!" She put the ring on her finger, and rotated it clockwise. Her right eyeball popped out of its socket, and extended 2' on a thin meaty rope connected to her eye socket.
The other 4 looked at her in horror and disgust.
Opal turned the ring counter clockwise on her finger, and with a "shSHHLOPsht" her eyeball retracted back into its socket. "It's a peeping ring!"
She turned the ring back and forth a few more times before anyone could stop her.
"What's the gray bag?" Asked Naro.
"No idea." Opal reached into the bag. "Lil furry balls in here though.' She pulled her hand out, holding onto a tiny gray ball of fur. Opal inspected it. "I think if I toss it, it'll do something..."
She threw the ball as far as she could; directly into the water of the whirlpool. With a "POP" the furry ball turned into a bat. The bat immediately started floundering in the water, but Opal didn't notice that it was drowning just yet, she was too focused on the fact that she had a bag of bats.
"Neat!!" she reached in and grabbed another furry ball, and tossed it after the first.
A second bat appeared after the first. It too began drowning. Opal now noticed the poor animals floundering in the water, drifting inwards towards the center of the whirl pool.
"Hah--awww. Damn. I shouldn'ta done that." She shamefully tucked the bag away.
She looked at her party members faces before asking "well.. shall we continue?"
Eyes were rolled, and the party made their way away from the whirlpool. As they walked, the water around them gradually lost the glint associated with the cursed waters and fog. Ahead of them was the tower, they could finally see the base of it. The sky was rapidly darkening as the light disk at the top of the tower turned off.
The party hurried towards the base of the tower. At the base of the tower was a small wooden shack, surrounded by a calm pond. A wooden walkway lead to a simple wooden door into the shack. The door showed obvious signs of forced entry.
The party walked up, and opened the door.
Inside the cabin was a mess. Scorch marks, magical residue.
Slumped against the wall opposite the door was a man, small in stature. Pierced through his stomach was a black spear, radiating dark energy. Inscribed all across the spear was incomprehensible runes, anyone attempting to read them would find themselves confused, and in pain.
The wounded Gnome
was suffering from some sort of magical affliction, seemingly born of the black spear. Parts of the gnome were growing and shrinking in place, warping in and out of reality. The gnome wasn't dead yet -- as the party entered the shack, he looked up.
"It's... the dark one... y..."
He began weakly. "She.. dark... she's got hold of me, he let her in, she had him do this to me..."
His eyes wandered the room vacantly before focusing on the new arrivals to the shack.
"I've been watching you, you Vibrants , you glorious souls, you chasers of gods!"
"You're too late I'm afraid, I'm beyond saving. This tower I've created has caused my death to delay, but I could not stop it. Not even with my power."
Gasps were heard from a few of the party members. A hushed whisper came from from Opal. "It's... it's Locorin!"
"But maybe... maybe I can help you help yourselves."
"And all other souls who have and have not existed..."
Locorin's eyes unfocused, as his gaze drifted around the room, as if he was looking at a different scene than what existed in front of him. The injured Gnome continued to phase and warp in place.
Worry crossed everyone's faces, along with confusion on a couple others.
"Tiddles knew the most about Locorin when we first arrived in Synthacrosia" Offered Opal.
Tiddles looked to Lisk, Ryder, and Naro. "He's the one who made Synthacrosia. An incredibly reclusive figure, hardly anything is known about him or his past."
The party looked around the shack. On one wall was a writing desk covered in paper and writing utensils. Opal went to look at the desk and papers; the writing was incomprehensible, in a language unknown to her. She thought the language was unknown to anyone.
Tiddles and Naro spotted a large stone door leading into what must be the stairs upwards. Beside it was a plaque. Tiddles squinted at the plaque; he could make no sense of what it said. He instead reached for the door and tried in vain to open it.
Meanwhile Naro read the plaque;
“Open by daylight;
Closed by nightlight;
For enemies and friends;
Rush in during twilight”
Tiddles shook the door a few times. "Sure would like to know if I can open this thing. Wonder if there's any information anywhere that would tell us about it..." He looked at Naro. Naro stared back wordlessly, before turning away from the door. Tiddles continued trying to open the door.
Lisk looked at the window and noticed a few wooden boards below it. Beside it was a basket with a collection of tools; some hammers and nails.
After taking a brief look around, the party reconvened and began discussing what they could do in this area. Locorin sat catatonic against the wall, paying them no attention.
"Lets remove the spear, maybe we can heal him then." Suggested Naro. He approached the spear and looked at it; searing pain raced across his mind as he read the runes on the spear. The dark energy radiating from it filled him with dread.
"Okay, not touching that" he said, rubbing at his temples.
Ryder looked to Tiddles. "Can you magic it away?"
Tiddles pushed up his sleeves. "Caaaan do." He cast mage hand, and using magical energy, gripped at the magic spear. Suddenly the dark energy spread across his magical connection to the spear, rapidly approaching Tiddles' body. He ended the spell just in time, and took a step back.
"Nope. Cant do." He felt at his wrists and hands. "I didn't even know that could happen" he mumbled.
While the party debated about how to help, Locorin began rambling. Slowly at first, but then more feverishly.
"Forgive me, Naeldreg , but I was just so scared..."
"What we were doing was just so dangerous... it had never been done before, what was I to do? SHE WAS AND IS A GOD AND WE WERE JUST MERE MORTALS!"
A quiet murmur rose from the injured gnome. "but then we were gods too..."
Some time passed, before Locorin's eyes again focused.
"You, I've been watching you! Glorious Vibrants."
He shook his head, clearing his thoughts.
"I don't have much time, as my mind has been warped, and parts of it are phasing in and out of this and many other realms."
"Your foe, the one you've been following, I think his mind has been tainted. It's a long story, but there's a being, a god, The Dark One, she wishes to take control of my beloved tower... Your foe has been granted a boon from her. He can ignore the checks and balances I've built into this tower, by manipulating the clockwork. He was the one who attacked me."
Pained breathing came from Locorin.
"I've been working against the dark one, modifying the tower and floors... The journey will teach you what I cannot, with my limited time... At the top of the tower, in the Starstone Architrave , lay the power to stop him..."
Locorin's eyes became unfocused again, and his next words came quickly and quietly.
"Mortals are not meant to be gods it is too much power in my mind help me Naeldreg I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry"
"My friend how could you possibly betray me I'm sorry I'm sorry I had to I didn't trust you I didn't trust her I was so afraid of her of him of you of me of me of me..."
"Of me of me of me of me..."
Panic gripped Locorin. His eyes focused again, razor sharp. He looked at the nearest person, at Tiddles standing in front of him.
"YOU HAVE TO STOP HIM, YOU MUST REACH THE STARSTONE ARCHITRAVE FIRST, OR BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH HIM IF HE BEATS YOU THERE"
"Do not let the dark one win... She will use her pawn and the clockwork to slow you down as much as she can... In all the years of operation... you Vibrant are the only souls to bring me hope... I've told you all I can, but maybe these things will help..."
Locorin waved his hand, and dust beside him rapidly began forming into 7 fine wooden boxes. The boxes transitioned from dust, to rotten wood, and finally to pristine condition -- as if they de-aged rapidly. Before the party was Locorin's Gifts
to them, to help them ascend.
As the final box appeared, Locorin writhed in pain.
"SHE HAS ME. I CAN FEEL IT."
"You know what you need to do! Go, I have hidden a small workshop on floor five, within the winding halls of castle Dreg. Go there, and find my workshop. Only those who have been through the earlier floors can find my workshop."
"I've installed a few incorruptible clockwork servants on floor 4, they will tell you more about my work shop... They will help... they will..."
The injured Gnome began to warp, shrinking, growing, twisting, vanishing, until nothing was left.
No Soul Coin
remained behind. All that was left of the creator of Synthacrosia was his memory, and his gifts.
A sudden lurching in time occurred as Locorin vanished. What had previously been frozen was now in motion again. The hoard approached, as the party looked at each other.
Tiddles was swarmed with scarabs.
"eaauaAURGH fuck!" he said in surprise. He batted at the scarabs, no longer frozen in time. Rushing to the window, he took his bag of holding and turned it upside down, dumping the scarabs out of it.
Somewhere out in the distance, a centipede suddenly felt the pain of multiple rapier strikes to the face. It rapidly took damage, curled up into a ball, and died.
"Well then." said Tiddles, after wiping himself off.
The party looked at the named boxes, and began opening them. Opal opened hers up, and felt tears spring to her eyes as she found a Planar Tuning Fork
made especially for her; she found it to be a part of her soul and memories.
Lisk opened his and smiled with grim satisfaction, finding his men to be with him once again in the form of Soulscarred Arrows
Naro was expressionless upon opening his box. Inside were two rings, seemingly of great importance to him. His eyes focused on the dark metal ring; entwined about it were strands of copper hair. He wordlessly picked up his Ring of Betrayal and Ring of Forgiveness
Tiddles and Ryder simultaneously opened their boxes, finding them to contain items relating to companionship. Inside, Tiddles found a new rapier; a clockwork construction with a mind of its own, The Singing Blade
. He smiled as the blade offered to sing with him.
Ryder found a pair of robes, made especially for him and for Kir. The Anchorplace Robes
would bring them closer and tie them together more strongly, anchoring him to his most loyal companion.
Everyone stared in appreciation and thought at their new possessions. Things felt different now. They shared looks with each other. It was time to prepare.