Chapter Thirteen, Part Three
Stretching from the fireplace, the appendage forms into a club and strikes SeLiem in the back. His new armor protects him from injury, but the fireplace grows four new arms and grips him tight in a wrenching hug. In case his armor fails, SeLiem takes a deep breath.
Melias tucks the loot in his pockets and backpack. He’ll split it up with the group later . . . maybe. Dropping into the room, he says, “Well, that tunnel is clean . . . so to speak. No evil-doers in there.” After brushing his hands and knees clean, he looks up to see the fireplace attacking SeLiem. “Good grief! Man, you couldn’t wait for the wizard?” He shouts, “We have trouble here, folks! I could use a hand!” then charges in with both swords.
SeLiem yells, “Is this a Mimic?” Moving both hands to his hammer, he lets go of the cloak stuck to the cube. “That is the last time I listen to a Necromancer.”
Upon regaining her breath and wits, Kafeera, still on her back on the lawn, glances at the gore to either side. “Uh, your companions wish for the Mage to join them. They need his advice.” To Percy, who is still straddling her, she says, “If you will, I’ll assist with the remaining pest, then I’ll lead the way for Orjulun.” Her cheeks flush when Percy looks down at her. She’s never been in such a position with a man before. He steps aside and she and Orjulun race to the mansion.
With a well placed arrow shot, Blitzarrow shoots down a Giant Bat, just as Linus flings a bullet from his sling to kill another. Reputa waits until a bat attacks her, then smashes it out of the air with her mace. Eva casts a Magic Missile spell and kills one more.
“I split my missiles between multiple targets and still downed each of them!” Orjulun proclaims to Kafeera. “If you do enough damage to them, they lose the ability to fly. They will be easy to kill crawling around on the ground!” He pulls on her arm to get her attention as they reach the front porch. “We had a lot of practice on monsters like this when we were in Metava.”
Over his shoulder, she can see Honeysuckle the Druid casting a spell from her heavily decorated wooden staff. A Wall of Thorns grows up the side of the mansion. Apparently, she has discovered which window the bats are flying from and is blocking them in with the thorn wall. To Kafeera, it seems like an awfully impressive spell for such a low level Priestess to cast. As she steps into the building, Kafeera glances behind her. Percy and Blitzarrow are finishing off the last three Giant Bats still flying and Linus and Reputa are killing those that were grounded.
Up the stairs they run, stopping only so each of them can say “unite.” Inside the room Orjulun’s lantern is no longer needed, as the Mimic has dropped the magical item it held, a rock enchanted with Continual Light.
Arianna, Claire, and Deathwish enter the room right behind Kafeera and Orjulun. They see SeLiem being beaten and smothered by a very large Mimic that still partially looks like a fireplace. The bulk of the creature is still slithering out of the chimney.
Altering its last strike into a flattened and sticky wall along the Cleric’s back, the Mimic holds SeLiem fast and creates a new pseudopod to punch him in the back of the head.
Orjulun runs to a corner in the room and casts another Magic Missile spell.
Rastorn walks over to the side of the Mimic and crouches down to get a good look. “The cube was definitely the Mimic in disguise. I can see it getting absorbed into the Mimic again. Hmmm. I wonder how it could have known what the cube looked like or that people might be drawn to it? It was also smart enough to hide a light rock inside the false cube, so it would detect as magical. I had no idea these monsters were so clever . . . “
“Quit admiring it, and start killing it!” Melias shouts, as he continues hacking at this creature’s make-shift arms. He asks SeLiem, “I bet you wish you would have waited for Orjulun now, huh?”
After shaking her head at the chaos in the room, Kafeera runs to the space furthest from the Priest, so she will not have to worry about accidentally injuring him and hacks at the creature with her halberd. Seeing Rastorn studying the mimic inquisitively, she shouts, “Pepper, if you wish to study something of interest perhaps you could aid us in destroying this thing then you could run down stairs and study Honey’s staff! Now that’s something to look at!”
Claire pulls her longsword and attacks, realizing that a crossbow, although otherwise effective, doesn’t work against amorphous things.
“Oh, Kurosaw,” Arianna mumbles, as she draws Iflander.
Rastorn stands up and quickly backs away, not wanting to get sliced by the storm of bladed weapons raining down on the Mimic.
Melias, brandishing a magical short sword and a longsword, lands two solid blows then retreats, allowing the next person to attack.
The next person in line is Kafeera, who moves to the right side of the creature and brings her halberd to bear, also opening a gaping wound on the Mimic.
As Orjulun’s missiles strike the Mimic, Arianna runs to it’s left side and slams her two-handed sword into the monster’s flesh.
Claire misses with her sword and SeLiem’s hammer bounces off harmlessly, but Deathwish’s powerful blow more than makes up for their ineffectiveness. The Mimic collapses.
Rastorn pokes the Mimic with his dagger. “It’s dead,” he announces. “It will take a little while for the glue to weaken so SeLiem can break free. We might as well have a quick dinner while we are waiting.” He sits down on the bed and rummages for rations. “I guess we won’t need you after all, Orjulun. False alarm.”
“Oh, then I guess I should be leaving,” Orjulun stammers.
Rastorn nods to him, then asks Kafeera, “What was that you said about a staff, Kafeera?”
Kafeera begins to answer, but is distracted by Arianna stepping between them to talk to SeLiem.
“Well that was sure fast. Are you alright, SeLiem? Are you hurt badly?”, Arianna asks, as she kneels next to SeLiem. “Do you need anything?”
SeLiem shakes his head and tries to push himself free of the Mimic.
Melias sits across from Rastorn, shaking his head at the ‘heroics’ the Wizard exhibited. He signals for Orjulun to stay, then searches for something to eat. “It looks like this room is empty. Well, now it is. The next thing to do, after we eat, is check the basement or perhaps we should rest for the night and get an early start at it? Orjulun, Percy, and the others can watch the keep from outside to make sure no one leaves without our knowing.” In his backpack, he happens across a small bundle and produces several small vials, which he holds up for the others to see. “I found some more potions, it would seem. I have no clue what they do, but I suppose I can put them with the other potions that we are clueless about. In a tough spot, we can experiment . . . or die . . . or perhaps both?”
Unable to free SeLiem, Arianna sits and opens her pack for rations. “After we get through exploring the keep, what is our next move? Say we get The Cube of Power, then what are we supposed to do with it, again?”
Orjulun answers Arianna, although he speaks primarily to Kafeera, “I’ve spent the last few hours studying notes and clues and interviewing the “Special” ones, so I do have a new perspective on a lot of what we are doing. Firstly, let me get Kafeera caught up with some of the other things going on around us. You see, we are all dealing with various issues which are unassociated with our quest. Melias is being chased by his Evil sister Evenliir, a Wizard/Thief who can take on the form of whomever she wishes. My former master Lickmer, a Wizard of no small water, is chasing after me on the whim of King Zane of Dumas. A friend of ours, Lil Forestdweller, a Druidess, was recently murdered while we were in ASU. These are all things you need to know about, so you’ll be prepared to react accordingly if they come back to haunt us during this excursion. But, again, they have nothing to do with our current quest. Our quest was to find The Chosen Ones so that they could continue on their quest to recover The Cube of Power, thus stopping another Undead War, which – if they failed – would likely mean the end of all mankind. That has changed. The Chosen Ones or The Special Ones or whatever you want to call them have returned to their original forms and are sorely unsuited for such a quest. So we are completing their quest for them. We will find the horrible Artifact before it is used to start another war and return it to High Priest Ifon of Goodmanville, so he can present it to The Queen Mother of The Nation of Homeland and – I’m assuming – destroy it. That is who The Chosen Ones notes say it should go to.” Noting the confusion on Kafeera’s face, he fills in some of the blanks. “The Chosen Ones are what Onif the Diviner refers to as ‘Special’. They – and I just found this detail out today – without any warning or control, switch places with alternative reality versions of themselves. These stronger and more experienced versions are then able to complete important tasks that they could not complete in their original forms. Understand?”
She looks at him gape-mouthed and squints.
Orjulun continues, “The Cube of Power is what Terrorek, Daemon Lord of Undead, used to gain continued access to this plane of existence during the Undead Wars. It was hidden by the kings of men 100 years ago, but The Chosen Ones uncovered it and promptly had it stolen by Anna Stetic, Lord Darkoth of Darkuth’s adviser. The Chosen Ones were made out to be villains and are now wanted for crimes against mankind. The only reason they found The Cube was because Linus, the Halfling among them, had dreams about it and about gathering their group together. Before then, they did not know each other. In fact, none of them had ever adventured before. The versions of themselves who stole The Cube weren’t the ones here with us now. Let me backup a bit. Their first ‘jump’ into another form came early on and they maintained their own faculties, but when they went to Darkuth, they jumped again and this time their minds were replaced and not just their bodies. The Chosen Ones out here have no idea what happened after they were captured in Darkuth, but I’ve learned a lot and I know they went on to travel to several different locations before finding The Cube and were assisted by many powerful and often good people.”
Everyone continues eating, except SeLiem who is freeing himself from the Mimic.
Hearing no questions, Orjulun continues, “There are some things we’ve learned that may be related to The Cube. Lincont, the leader of ASU, had some sort of relationship with The Chosen. The man running against him in the current ASU elections, Rube G. Howges, a merchant who trades in raw materials, is from the cesspool that is Paradise and may end up spreading some sort of virus or something like that. The coincidence that brought all of us together so neatly is also suspicious. But, what we know for certain is there are prophecies which are coming true. Prophecies that all point to another Undead War. The prophecies foretold our coming to ASU and taking on another’s quest and they told of the uncovering of The Cube. Why, I’ve even had dreams which . . . Well, that doesn’t really matter. What is important is we believe that although Lord Darkoth would never use The Cube to call back Terrorek, because Terrorek is his greatest enemy, that doesn’t mean someone close to him (as the prophecies state) will turn on him and side with Terrorek, taking The Cube of Power and starting another Undead War.” He catches his breath and shakes his head, laughing. “I sound like Nofi the Sage! Ha!” He walks toward the door. “We can watch from outside for you, if that is what you wish.” Melias and Arianna both nod to him as he reaches the door.
Orjulun stops as Melias lifts an eyebrow and asks, “So, that’s what they were going to do with The Cube? Take it to High Priest Ifon? I wonder if that’s such a great idea. How much do we know about him, after all? He was a bit suspicious with his questions to the gods. Near the end, they ushered Percy out so Ifon could ask other questions they did not want him privy to.”
Arianna rolls her eyes at the mention of Ifon. “I say we find the hottest fires or find a tar pit and throw The Cube in there. This thing is more of a pain than it’s worth. Should anyone with not so good intentions get a hold of it . . . well, we know what can happen. Personally, I think we should find a way to destroy it.”
Her aching head from the overload of information, Kafeera rubs her temples. “I can’t say I’m convinced of the importance of this quest you are on, but so long as you believe it that’s all that matters. I’m just here to give thanks for my release from the magical prison.” She swishes her lips side to side, then asks, “So you’re simply assuming those people outside are these Chosen Ones? Do you think it’s wise to leave them alone with your friends? I mean, if what you say is true, how do you know they are who they say they are? After all, you were all for restraining me.” As they consider her questions, she tells Rastorn,”Oh, that staff Honeysuckle has shot weeds out two stories up the building. I never saw such a trick. Now, I come from a long line of Wizards, and I ain’t never seen such a magical display. Well, at least not from one who appears so young anyways. I’d believe it would even have you seeing green.” She laughs. “Yup, I’d consider her special – that’s for certain! I’d rather we finished up the exploration of this building prior to camping. I just don’t think I’d get much sleep in here if we didn’t. If we do stay, I’d rather keep watch outside.” She reviews her comments in her mind, then grimaces when she realizes she had jumped topics.
“I’m with Arianna,” Claire says. “Let’s destroy it. All that’s going to happen is a lot of people are going to fight over it, and the government will fail the way it always does.”
Deathwish puts his arm around her and whispers in her ear.
Claire swats him away. “Deathwish, how do I put this? It’d never work out. One, you’re my protege, and two, you’re not my type. There are only two people here that are, and only one I’m actually interested in. Sorry.”
Deathwish shrugs and turns away.
Rastorn looks at Arianna and winks.
Arianna smiles at Claire. It would be very strange and very interesting indeed to have a sexual relationship with a woman now. She feels heat rising into her face and looks away.
Melias marvels at how much this henchman’s personality has altered to become the sort of person Claire would befriend. It is as if Deathwish is a Mimic in his own way. If there is anyone he wants to keep an eye on, it is Deathwish. Catching Kafeera’s eye, he tells her, “Yeah, they’re the ones. They match the wanted poster. By the Nine Hells, you were trapped in that prison with them. Didn’t you get a chance to talk to them while they were Special?” He shrugs it off, then says, “Something Rastorn mentioned has me bothered with the prospect of pushing forward tonight. Many of our spell-casters are running low on their magical essences and could stand the rest to recharge. How about a compromise? We make a final check of the rooms up here then camp outside one group at the front of the keep and one at the back. Then we can see who comes and goes.”
While they consider his idea, Melias reflects on what Claire and Arianna had suggested. “We definitely don’t want to keep The Cube of Power for ourselves if so many powerful people are so eager to have it. And I agree with Claire. If we hand it off to someone in charge, chances are it will fall out of their grasp through hireling incompetence or bribery. Maybe we let Kafeera take a whack at it with that big axe?”
Claire laughs a little too loudly. “From what I’ve heard, that won’t do it. Most Artifacts were made to withstand that sort of thing. Otherwise, they’d be breaking all over the place.” She shakes her head. “Usually, you need a volcano or a bottomless pit in the ocean or something like that. The old stories usually talk about that way of disposing of them and some may have means specific to that item.”
Melias regards Claire’s last statement, “So then . . . I ask again, which way is the nearest bottomless pit? The stories may say what to do, but they never seem to say where or how. I think you are all a little hasty about destroying it, anyhow. We don’t even know what this Artifact can do. In the right hands it may help mankind. Who are we to question the decision of Kings. One hundred years ago, they decided not to destroy it. That alone tells me it isn’t just for helping Undead to destroy the world.” He looks around, to see if anyone will side with him, then continues, “Beside, who is to say High Priest Ifon doesn’t know how to use it for the betterment of all? Or maybe he is the only one with the ability to destroy The Cube, right?” When no one answers, he shrugs and says flatly, “I guess we can decide that later. For now, I say we kill the bats, search that room and the empty room, then camp in this room where the glyph can afford us some protection. I’d love to journey down to the cellar, but I’m beginning to tire. I get the bed!”
Orjulun had stopped to listen to the discussion, but he was ready to return to the other group. “There are a lot more notes for me to review, so I may have more information for you tomorrow. What I uncover may make this decision easier. The good thing is, Eva – the other Eva – kept a detailed diary of their journeys, so I’ve been able to use that as a reference. It will just take time.” Reaching for the doorknob, he stops and carefully chooses how much he shares. “They also have some . . . I guess you would call them ‘treasure maps’. I wasn’t certain what to do with them, since they really are their property and have nothing to do with The Cube, but . . . well, I think you would all be interested. We could always take the party with us and share things evenly with them.” Noticing he grabbed everyone’s attention with this comment, he fills in more details. “There is a bundle of notes and such, something The Chosen found where they found The Cube, and it gives clues as to the whereabouts of four sentient magic items. A magic ring which they believed to be in a Forgotten City, a staff that the people who gathered the clues believed was in The Lost City in the Desert, a very special suit of armor which they thought was in the ruins of Goodman, and a legendary sword of the Golden Age named Iflander which they thought was buried with The Cube of Power. They also had a bundle that they found in a coffin here at the keep that had notes which supposedly led to a long forgotten settlement of Mages that was destroyed during the Undead Wars. If the notes are accurate, these Mages may have developed magical means to increase a person’s Strength, Intelligence, and other abilities. Percy has already asked if he could use the notes and search for the place. The Chosen Ones said they would consider it, if he would take them with him.” Orjulun glances around, seeming somewhat uneasy. “Well, I’ll be going now. Percy and I could watch the front door, if you could watch the back. If you don’t mind sleeping so close to a graveyard.”
Melias looks to Arianna, who shrugs, then nods to Orjulun.
Rastorn waits until Orjulun closes the door behind him then whispers, “Did you hear that? These amateurs have a bag full of treasure maps that a kingdom would die for and they are sharing it with people they barely know! These “chosen ones” are far too naive to be responsible for such valuable property. For their own good, we should get those notes from them as soon as we can!”
“Leave them be. What is it with you and greed anyways?” Arianna says. She turns toward Melias and lowers her voice to say, “Well, I don’t know where a bottomless pit is, but we do know where a volcano is located. Unfortunately, we’re halfway across The Realms from it now.”
The party continues to talk as Claire crawls into the tunnel with her crossbow to finish off the remaining Giant Bats. When she runs out of ammunition, Rastorn kills the rest with a Magic Missile spell.
The group searches the bat’s room, careful not to slip in the guano, but find nothing of value. They also search the empty room Melias was first to enter, but find nothing there, either.
“What a waste of my time! This place has either been picked clean or never held that much of value to begin with. It has a lot of items that look nice, but it is all pretty cheap when you really look it over.” Rastorn complains. “Claire, I forgot to mention it, but when I had my Detect Magic spell on I caught a glimpse of the sea shell. It’s magic. Divination magic.”
“Well Rastorn, it isn’t a complete waste. Some of our party members have found things to help them. Claire found a better crossbow and Melias found a new sword. I’m sure there’ll be something here for you. Just have some patience,” Arianna says. Cleaning her boots, she says, “I think we should camp tonight and search the cellar in the morning. We can camp in the master bedroom. It’s large enough for all of us. I’ll take the last watch – unless someone objects.”
Melias objects. “As comfortable as it seems in the master bedroom, I think we really should keep a vigilant watch on the back door, as Orjulun expects. We don’t have to sleep out in the cold rain, but we could camp right in the room just inside the door.” He looks apologetically at Arianna. “We don’t want someone sneaking up from the cellar with The Cube and escaping out the back door while we’re all upstairs camping out. Do you agree?”
Arianna, who had completely forgotten about their agreement with Orjulun, nods.
“As to the maps and what to do with the Chosen Ones,” Melias shrugs, “after we get The Cube, we can discuss what we do next. I wouldn’t mind helping Percy find a way to improve himself a step or two toward Paladinship, if I can. It’s the least I could do for all his help these last few days,” and he turns his attention finally to Rastorn, “but Arianna’s right. The maps are theirs, not ours. If they choose to share them with us, then we will be very blessed with such friendly and giving people. If not, we are not out of anything – since it wasn’t our treasure to begin with.” He recalls a time back in the Elven homeland when he was tasked to steal some important documents from an official and how dirty it made him feel when he used them for his family’s gain, twisting the facts detailed therein for the worst.
Arianna smiles and is the first to stand. “Camping by the back door is the best idea. Coming all this way just to lose The Cube while we rested wouldn’t be a very productive trip. Then we’d have to track down who took it and have all that extra work. There’s no reason to look that way at me, Melias. You are completely correct.” She stands by the door, while the others pack their things. “I’d like to help Percy as well. It’s the least I could do for him. Just how do we do that and what’s involved in it?”
Joining her at the door, Melias answers, “Remember the rock that flew about his head that was supposed to make him more wise, but alas he wasn’t quite wise enough to be a Paladin? If there is a map to lead him on a path that will help him become wise enough that he can see through with his life dream, then I think that’s something I’d like to help him attain.” He smirks, “Besides, you never know what could be in it for us. A little boost of strength for you, a little extra nimbleness for me. Everyone could be a winner.”
“That would be good. Maybe there’ll be a way for me to grow a pair again,” Arianna says with a smirk to match that of Melias.
“What?” Melias exclaims in mock-shock. “And give up your built-in floatation device?”
“Well, yeah! I’d love to grow a pair. My father used to always say, ‘You know son, why don’t you just grow a pair.’ It would make him so happy. Well, if he wasn’t dead that is.” Arianna says, smiling.
“But you look so cute now,” Claire says to Arianna, only joking a little.
Lost by the depth of the conversation, Kafeera had finished her meal while trying to absorb as much as possible – which wasn’t much. She does realize she never answered Melias’ question about her conversations with The Chosen, so she tells him, “No, there was no communication in the magical prison. One minute I’m knocking on a door and the next I’m lying on my butt in front of you all and Pepper there is telling Percy to hogtie me.” Disappointed by the decision to rest for the evening, she mutters, “As usual, the world revolves around Wizards. Some things never change.”
With the upstairs searched, Melias re-examines the area around the back door, checking for ways to secure their space, and the point where there would be the least possible approach routes. “I’ll take a middle watch. That’ll be fine for me,” he says.
“I’ll take the second watch” Claire says, “if no one objects. I need to do something other than hoard semivariables, anyway.” She strums her lyre and sings a song about lack of trust in those around you, though very softly .
The party sets up camp in the pantry and adjoining spaces, with a clear view of the back door and just a door between them and the hall (which leads to the front door and the stairwell). Rastorn peeks into the secret door that leads to the Mongrel Men’s room and announces, “We will be staying in these rooms out here tonight. I suggest you not leave your room until light or we may mistake you for the enemy.” Then he smiles at Melias and shrugs.
Kafeera gives Rastorn a rude look and goes to speak directly to the Mongrel Men in a more friendly tone. Everyone is busy preparing for the night and after a few minutes she returns.
Rastorn sweeps all the bug-infested flour and the dead monster into the kitchen and goes right to sleep, complaining loudly how much he has toiled this whole trip and how manual labor is beneath him.
Deathwish takes the first watch, although no one (except Rastorn) really sleeps much during his watch.
Nothing attacks the party the whole night and the rain covers the sound of anything that may have happened outside.
Continued in Chapter 14 next week!
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