Cells Within Cells Part IV
Chapter Fifteen, Part Four
Clunking her two potions disguised as wine bottles onto the table, Kafeera asks Rastorn, “Will your voodoo work on these?”
Arianna sets her bow and wand next to the bottles, just as Claire flips one of the gold pieces she took from Deathwish onto the table.
After completing the Detect Magic spell, Rastorn lists the results.
“The coin is not magical, neither is this wine bottle, but the other wine bottle is and so are the wand and the stringless bow. The wine bottle radiates Alteration magic, the wand radiates Invocation, and the bow radiates . . . Conjuration magic – that’s odd.” He looks over to SeLiem, “So, what did your Augury tell you?” he asks.
Arianna scrunches her face in confusion.
“If the bow were broken, wouldn’t the magic in it be gone?” she asks Rastorn.
Kafeera shrugs and leaves the wine bottles on the table. She turns to the group and poses a question. “I got no use for that potion, but what I do have a need for is gold, so what’s my share of it? I’m not going anywhere just yet, but since we’re calling it a day, I’d like my share.” As she waits for a reply, she looks about for the best place to lay her head for the evening. She claims a spot in the corridor between the cells, not wanting to sleep within a cell. The prospect of waking locked within one does not appeal to her and she shares this with the group.
“Valid concerns, Kafeera,” Melias comments, “but this cell – what used to be the guard’s cell – has already been rendered incapable of captivity by you widening the bars. It’s very defendable. There is only one way in for corporeal opponents – notwithstanding the secret door.” He shrugs and offers, “I think we’d do well to stay right here for the night. There are furnishings here as well, to aid in comfort to some small degree.”
The fact Kafeera has gradually gone from speaking quite properly to more like a peasant is not lost on him. Which is her real way of talking? Is she trying to hide a peasant or barbaric background or trick us into believing she is more or a commoner to ingratiate herself to us? She’s referenced having been surrounded by magic-users as a child, so likely the peasant speech patterns are just for show, he decides. His eyes drift up to the vent again and he wonders what sort of hazards that might pose or if it is simply for ventilation. Nothing in this dungeon seems to be what it first appears.
“We could head outside, camp with the others, and return in the morning, but if we do then anyone or anything inside would then have the opportunity to set traps for our return,” Melias says.
He moves to a chair and spins it around, sitting on it backwards and leaning his arms against the back.
“As for the treasure, I want no part of it, nor anything in this place but The Cube of Power, itself. You are free to bicker about belongings without worrying over me. I’ve been bitten one too many times to open myself up to any more magical traps.”
He smirks as he looks at Claire and comments, “I think we should stick with Arianna’s initial plan and smash it all as we find it. That worked with the orb.”
Arianna nods, “If it’s not cursed or poisoned or trapped . . . ” holding the bow up she continues, “it’s broken already.”
Rastorn off-handedly answers Arianna, “Broken items are no longer magical, yes.”
“So the bow isn’t broken. It just needs to be figured out. Apparently, there’s more to it than appears,” Arianna responds, as she scrutinizes it.
“Nothing to bicker over about treasure,” Claire says. “As for the items . . . yeah. No reason for us not to, really.”
Rastorn had been staring at SeLiem, awaiting the results of his Augury, but turns toward Claire and asks, “So, does that mean your henchman is going to split that treasure with the rest of us?” Before she can answer, he asks Melias, “Could you, at least, let me study each item or cast Identify on them prior to ‘smashing’ them? I’ll test almost anything, except potions.” He looked to Kafeera and says, “Feel free to test those potion-filled wine bottles you have there, Kafeera, but I’d suggest trying only one at a time and waiting until death seems imminent.” He said the last part in a whisper, so she couldn’t hear. “About this magical bow, it could have a hidden stud that needs to be pressed or runes etched upon it or just a Command Word. You may have to feel around it or start saying different phrases which you think might be likely commands.” He suddenly seems bored with the bow and his mind wanders back to SeLiem. “So, what was the answer?”
Arianna did as Rastorn suggested, looking for runes and saying phrases. She was patient with it. After all, she has hundreds of years to figure it out.
“Everyone who helped gets a share,” Claire says.
Deathwish had already begun passing out shares to people.
She looks at him with disdain, but he ignores it.
Melias shakes his head. “Not that I care, mind you, but it’s typical for the henchman to take a share of the master’s treasure . . . the master, being you, Claire. Your portion is divided into smaller portions and divied up to your henchmen. Sad fact of life, I’m sure,” he says, smiling smugly, “but it’s the rule of the road. Your henchman works for you, not for us.”
He then turns his attention to Arianna and tries to guess words or phrases that might be of use.
“Try ‘attack wielder’, ‘explode’, how about ‘kill us all’ . . . ”
He cuts his words short, as he receives a threatening glance from Arianna.
“Alright, I’ll be good. Hold it up as if to use it and say ‘arrow’, or ‘notch’.”
Arianna does as Melias suggested. He didn’t know it, but the threatening glances were just pretend. In truth, she thought it was funny.
Claire takes a small portion and puts it with everything else. Deathiwsh’s portion is significantly larger than hers. She gazes at Arianna and softly sighs. Stupid Elf made her/himself like the opposite gender psychosomatically. She simply can’t compete with that.
“Disturb the restless Priests, join the restful congregation,” SeLiem finally tells Rastorn. “I’ve been pondering it’s meaning and I’m thinking Undead are involved. Feel free to give your opinions on this; I never really was good at deciphering these Augaries.”
“Mess with the stimulant-addicted, insomniac Priests, and die?” Arianna says with a smile, then returns to stating every Command Word that leaps into her mind.
“Work for me!”
A lightly-glowing bowstring with a notched arrow forms attached to the bow, accompanied by a sizzling sound. When Arianna fails to release the string, the arrow and string shrink and drift away into nothingness. While she pulled the string taut, it took all her strength.
As a happy Arianna smiles at Melias, he notes the same magical energy which created the arrow and string was present in her eyes, but only for a moment.
Rastorn moves next to SeLiem and places his hand on the Half-Elf’s shoulder. “That’s alright, we can all work together to solve this riddle. Melias seems to have a knack for this sort of thing and I would guess that Claire, being a master of words, may have some insights, as well. As far as I can decyfer, I’d say it is a good sign. SeLiem would be the restless Priest, since he is ready to call it a day, right? It sounds like we’ll search the room, then go to sleep, as planned,” he says.
“More undead,” Claire moans, after the wealth is divided. It took a great amount of restraint for her to allow Arianna to receive a fair share. She shakes her head. “More Undead! Damn it! I hate the Undead! They’re saying if we disturb ‘the restless Priests’ we die like all the other ‘restful congregation’ did before us. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this without disturbing them, because between me and all of you fighters, we seem to have disrupted a lot of the things we’ve come across. Mostly me. Not the point. We have to deal with powerful Undead, I’m guessing.”
Rastorn considers the idea of powerful Undead. Absent-mindedly, he slides his hand along the wall. “How powerful? I wonder . . . “
Melias splits all of his share between everyone else, except Deathwish, and takes none for himself.
“I meant what I said,” he says, “I will accept none of this tainted treasure. And furthermore, if Deathwish is getting paid like a party member and not a henchman, I fully expect him to see to all of our needs.”
Turning his attention back to Arianna, he asks, “Did you feel alright after that? I saw some sort of glowing in your eyes. Frankly, I don’t like it when some magic item has an unexpected effect.”
Cliare mutters under her breath, but all anyone can hear is ‘Ariann’s eyes’. She sighs, rolls her eyes, then splits Deathwish’s share with everyone else, so he takes less than the rest of the group. Her retainer seems to be the one thing she doesn’t want to share. When Arianna looks at her she asks, “Having fun?”
Arianna says the magic word again. The string and arrow appear as before and she shots at the back wall. A normal-looking arrow appears in place of the magical arrow as it leaves the bow. The arrow strikes the wall, splinters, and drops to the stone floor with a tinkling sound. Arianna notes the back wall appeared closer to her when she aimed, compared to now that the arrow has landed.
Claire notes Arianna’s eyes glowed when she aimed.
Arianna gives the bow an approving look and then looks to Claire. “Yes, I am having fun. It seems not only do I not have to worry about storing arrows or replacing strings with this bow, but the bow makes my target appear closer. I like this bow. I hate to retract my statement about smashing everything. This I’m keeping. As for the gold, I don’t need all thousand pieces, maybe two or three hundred.”
“No. You’re keeping the thousand. I’m not dividing it again,” Claire states flatly. “And your eyes seem to glow when you fire that thing. Maybe it’s a targeting spell?”
Glad to have her share of the treasure, Kafeera tucks it away. She decides Melias is right about the cell with the broken bars and finds a cozy corner near the back wall away from the secret door. Shaking her empty wine skin, she frowns, then looks about. To anyone who’ll listen she asks, “Anyone got anything to quench the thirst?” Setting her halberd beside her, she stretches out, using her backpack as a pillow, and chews a chunk of dried meat. She does not sleep, instead listening to the others. To them, she appears to lay in deep thought.
Melias nods, “Yes, Kafeera, of course. We should tap off our skins before continuing. If you, or someone else, would like to accompany me, we can make the trip for the others while they set up camp. There should be water in the kitchen area or maybe a well outside.” He hadn’t yet responded to SeLiem’s Augury, still a little sore at the Priest for his earlier unjustified remarks.
“There was still some water in the kitchen area the last time we were there,” Claire volunteers, “It’d save you a trip outside.”
“Thanks,” Melias offers Claire, as he stands and asks around, “Any empty skins to fill? Let me have them. I’m only making one trip.”
Arianna holds her bow down, lets go of the magical string, and says, “I’ll go, too, Just in case anything comes to get you that we might have missed. Also, I could stand to get out of this area for a while.”
They head back down the hall to get out, only to find their exit blocked. The well-engineered stairs have folded again, creating a solid wall. They briefly search for a lever or some way to open the area and find nothing. Even after a more meticulous search, they discover no way out.
In the guard’s cell, Rastorn tells Kafeera, “I have a small amount of wine left,” as he pours some into a small cup plucked from his pack, before taking a swig himself. “Are we entering the secret door or camping? If we are camping, I will need to get full rest to recover my spells. SeLiem and Claire will need a full night’s sleep, as well. You may have to take a watch, Kafeera.”
“Orc dung!” Arianna exclaims, loudly enough for those in the cell to hear. “So much for getting fresh water. My waterskin is full, but it’s got to be stale by now. I guess it’s better than nothing.”
“Isn’t this a fine mess,” Melias says. He spins about and leans against the wall that used to be their exit and folds his arms. “I hope there’s a back door.”
He follows Arianna back to the cell and returns the skins to their respective owners.
“Well, so much for that idea. Conserve your water and food, ladies and gentlemen. We’re in for the whole ride. Now then, let’s talk watches,” Melias says, resuming his seat. “What do you think, two people on a watch for three watches, or one person per watch?”
“Well, with as much activity as we’ve seen down here, I’d say two per watch. It might mean less sleep now, but we’d be better guarded,” Arianna replies.
Rastorn, crouching in a corner eating rations, suggests, “We three spell-casters need to get at least six hours of sleep. It’s up to you other four to stand guard.”
He takes another nibble, then looks at SeLiem. “Why don’t you cast that Wyvern Watch spell you used when we were on our way to Metava? That signaled us if anyone approached. It would at least allow us to only post one guard.”
He puts away his rations and unpacks his bedroll.
“As for me, I think I’ve done all I can today. Good evening gents, ladies, and those somewhere in between.”
Arianna rolls her eyes at Rastorn’s last comment. “Too bad we still didn’t have the girdle. I think Rastorn would make an interesting woman,” she says, with the best evil grin she can muster.
“Well, only if he’d come back young,” Claire remarks.
At Arianna’s comment, Melias makes a face like he just ate spoiled food. “Rastorn, you’re not off the hook, friend. Spell-slingers may need six hours, but if in groups of two we watch for three hour shifts that gives everyone plenty of sleep. Just because you wear robes and study a lot doesn’t get you out of the menial tasks. With two people on watch there is less chance of someone falling asleep and leaving us unguarded. A Wyvern Watch, as you call it, may be nice to have, but it’s no substitute for an alert party member.” He looks around and announces, “That leaves one person extra. We can draw straws to see who’s the lucky one to get the night off.”
“Well, since we are going to rest, I’d imagine I won’t need any of my remaining spells. So, I like the Wyvern Watch idea,” Seliem states, “but I agree with Melias and think two people would be the best choice, just in case something out of the ordinary happens, like a monster or Shadow sneaks past both of those guarding. At least in that case the Wyvern Watch will help. Also, in case someone falls asleep during their turn. So, let’s just do the normal watch, with my spell.”
Kafeera shrugs with her eyes closed and says, “Just say when and where.”
“I’ll do it when I can, but I need my offensive magic back and maybe some of my strength,” Claire says. “Get the straws.”
“I’ll take last watch; do the straws with yourself. I can do my prayers and get my healing spells back to heal the party,” SeLiem says, noting the smirk on Melias’ face when he mentions healing the party.
“If we haven’t healed by our own means by then,” Melias says, as he travels to the next cell. He returns with seven pieces of straw from one of the prisoner’s beds. He had cut them all to equal length, except for one. He holds them out for everyone to take a pick.
“The short straw gets a full night of sleep. The rest of us will pair up. If it so happens that I have a watch, I will gladly take one of the middle watches, to allow the spell casters a full stretch of -hopefully- uninterrupted sleep.”
Everyone draws a straw in turn and Rastorn ends up drawing the shortest straw. He immediately curls up under his blanket.
SeLiem’s Wyvern Watch is cast.
Melias stands on a chair and says, “Before we turn in for the night, are there any last spells to use that we can get out of the way now? SeLiem, are you completely out? I heard some Priests have the ability to make bread out of mud and wine out of seawater. Any nifty tricks such as that up your sleeve? We’re going to need to replenish our water from somewhere or it’s going to be one thirsty day tomorrow.”
Half-sleeping, Rastorn answers in a raspier voice than usual, “I have no helpful spells left, except maybe casting Armor on Deathwish, but Claire prefers to do that herself.”
SeLiem nods to himself, “There is one thing I can do before I rest. Let me see your waterskins.”
He casts Create Food and Water for everyone. “I hope that will do.”
Claire casts Armor on Deathwish, does her watch, and goes to sleep.
The party eats and drinks, then all except two fall asleep.
During the first and second watch nothing of interest happens, but during Arianna and SeLiem’s watch, something odd happens. SeLiem is the first to notice it. Kafeera is covered in sweat and tiny red swirls keep appearing within that coating. Arianna notices SeLiem watching Kafeera and steps closer to investigate.
“Say, you don’t suppose that’s normal for a black, Human female do you? I’m guessing you don’t have a clue either. Damn this place.” She wraps her hand in cloth and gently touches the area with the red swirls.
The tiny swirls are all over Kafeera and when Arianna touches her, she realizes that what is coating her is not sweat, but some sort of goo. Dots of red stain her clothing.
Arianna shakes Melias awake.
“Sorry to wake you, but we have a situation and I thought you’d probably want to be aware of this. On Kafeera’s body there’s some sort of slime and a swirling red pattern. Honestly, it looks magical, I’d wake Rastorn but I really don’t want to hear him complaining if it’s not warranted.”
“Slime?” Melias asks, rubbing his eyes. “Like some sort of blob creature consuming her? Does it react to fire?”
The Elf drags himself out of his comfortable spot and slides his feet in a half-stupor with sleep-filled eyes, as he looks at the large woman.
“I don’t think it’s good, whatever it is. Wake Rastorn, he’s been sleeping plenty long enough. He may have a better assessment than I.”
Once awake, Rastorn closely studies Kafeera.
“Look closely. You see those little bursts of red? That’s her blood being drawn through her skin. Interesting, isn’t it? Have you ever woke up in a dungeon and found a companion dead and bloodless? This is what happened to them. The goo she is encased in is an Invisible Stalker. It drains people of their plasma. She’s getting pretty white now. Won’t be long.”
Suddenly, he realizes she’ll die and puts aside his professional curiosity. “You can’t risk hurting her trying to kill it. Let me Magic Missile it first. Then, as many of us as you wish should be ready to stab or otherwise hurt it before it can escape. It can fit through the smallest crack, only to kill another of us the next night, so be ready. Let me know when you’d like me to cast.”
He looks back at Kafeera and comments, “They paralyze their victims . . . look now, she’s almost drained, you can tell by the loss of color and the more shallow breathing . . . ” He moves in close, morbidly consumed with the sight.
Being in close quarters, Arianna draws her magic longsword.
Deathwish, who is now fully awake, moves to hold Arianna back. “You’ll kill her if you do that,” he whispers loudly, “Let him use the missile.”
“What are you doing? Let go of me. You really do have a Deathwish. If you paid attention to Rastorn’s plan you’d know he’s going to use the missile and then we’re supposed to stab the creature.”
SeLiem says in an icy voice, “No arguing.” He looks at Rastorn expectantly.
Melias rolls his eyes as the infighting continues. He draws both weapons and moves to an empty side Kafeera. “Ok, let’s surround it then.” When everyone is in place, he says to Rastorn, “Alright, whenever you’re ready, Pepper.”
Rastorn lets his Magical Missiles fly at the creature, careful not to harm Kafeera.
The monster seems to anticipate the attack and tries to move, but is too slow.
The second after it is struck, it disappears below Kafeera, pulling all of its slimy form out of sight.
“By the Nine Hells,” Rastorn says, “I didn’t expect that!”
He looks to those circled around and asks, “Any suggestions?”
Then he looks to Melias, “And quit calling me ‘Pepper’.”
Claire woke from her dream about concubines tending to her every need in Lincont’s palace. “What’s going on?” she asks. “What happened? Why is Arianna trying to take my job of yelling at my retainer away from me?”
“Well, you said it was an Invisible Stalker didn’t you? Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there!” Melias attempts to strike in the general direction where he expects the creature to be. In between wild, yet rationalized strikes to the air about him, Melias asks Rastorn, “Are Invisible Stalkers self-sufficient? That is – I mean do they have their own agendas or are they sent by someone else? And if so, how specific do the senders have to be?” He was curious if Kafeera was picked at random or if she was specifically chosen.
Claire remains entirely oblivious to what’s going on and flips the pages of her spellbook while she waits for someone to tell her what they think must be obvious.
Rastorn looks confused for a second, then answers, “Oh, did I say ‘Invisible Stalker’? I meant ‘Slithering Tracker’. No, an Invisible Stalker is entirely different. Slithering Trackers are not truly invisible, so no need to stab about in the air like that. They are nearly transparent, so they are difficult to see as they slime along the ground looking for victims. They are about as intelligent as a normal Human, though they don’t seem to understand speech. It merely found Kafeera to be the most abundant food down here. Hells, look at the size of her – she’s a virtual smorgasbord! It would prefer to finish sucking her dry of liquids, but now I figure it just wants to escape and attack another one of us in the morrow.” He looks down at Kafeera. “It could still be feeding on her now. You really should do something.”
“Give me a hand,” Melias directs Arianna, as he grabs one of Kafeera’s hands. “We’ll move her on top of the table. That will expose whatever is beneath her.”
Arianna assists Melias. Once Kafeera is on the table Arianna says, “You know, that was a good idea.”
Melias winks at Arianna. “I have them once in a while. Might as well take advantage of it.”
Arianna smiles and says, “Oh, I shall take advantage. I shall.” Then her eyes grow wide and she yells, “Damn this Curse! I hate Curses! I want my manhood back, Kurosaw please, enough of this torture. For the sake of the gods, I keep flirting with a man that’s like a brother to me. Not only is that gross, but it’s like incest at the same time!”
The outburst distracts Melias, but what he finds most intriguing is the idea that he can be a brother to someone who is not his blood, especially after such a short time together. He decides he likes the idea of being someone’s brother who chooses him as a brother.
The group sees nothing on the floor where Kafeera was and nothing on her back as they roll her onto the table.
Rastorn jumps back against the wall and shouts, “Oh, no! It’s loose! Look very carefully – it is difficult to spot. It looks like clear slime, about the size of a blood puddle after a beheading. It is of no real danger now, but if we don’t kill it, it will just return the next time one of us is injured, knocked out, or asleep. I suggest one of us stop looking and get that idiot Bard to use her ointment on Kafeera, before she breathes her last.”
Like a caged animal, the Necromancer searches nervously for the nearly invisible slime-monster.
To be continued . . .
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