We have lost a log. iPad ate it. We fought our way across the bridge successfully.*
We stood in the stone courtyard just beyond the bridge. Oceanwatch, the first castle in Grey Reach and the stronghold of Southport stood before us. We took a moment to catch our breath and heal as we surveyed the soot-roofed stables around us. Despite it being only about noon, the clouds hung low, protecting the undead from the cleansing light of the sun.
Asakku squinted at me and then headed back into town for a short time, returning with ten gold bracelets. I frowned. “Do I want to know where you got those?” I asked.
“No,” Asakku said with a grin.
I sighed and reminded myself that we were saving the city. We were saving the city. We were saving the city. Ugh. Handing them out and sliding five of them onto my arm, I explained to them how Sacred Bond worked.
At my suggestion, Gunnar and Helmy opened the door, hiding behind them for cover.
The doors opened into a large hall, well-lit and rich with tapestries, two stairwells wrapping around the sides and leading up to a large door. A large, oak door rested at the end of the entryway with smaller doors branching off in either direction.
“Should we barricade the doors?” Elif said, frowning.
I nodded. “After we identify what’s behind them.”
Gunnar peered through a keyhole, seeing swirling pink smoke and in the other he saw an austere kitchen. He told us what was behind them, and we agreed. Though we wedged a couple chairs in front of the door with the pink fog.
“Though I’d like to check the kitchen to see if they have garlic in there. It might be…”
“We don’t know if they’re vampires. It’s a valid thought, but…” I nodded, and we headed into the kitchen.
The kitchen was lavish and filled with almost every spice we had ever seen and several we couldn’t identify. Elif pocketed a strand of garlic. We left the rest alone. Helmy swiped a bunch of cutlery and stuffed them into his bags. I frowned at him and shook my head. He snorted and flipped me off, more or less. I sighed. We’re here to save the city…
While I discussed the notion of barricading the doors with Elif, Gunnar called out to us. “I found something.”
We headed over to him, and he pointed out some wear on the floor near one of the islands. He pulled on the island, revealing a trapdoor. Gunnar opened it, revealing what looked like a crawl space with a platform of metal with a crank to one side. He wiggled the winch, leaning over the edge. The platform lowered a little, though there was no way Elif or I would fit down there in our armor, though. Leaving that, for now, he identified several other magical auras. One was a spatula we couldn’t identify, one was a block of salt Gunnar was CERETAIN was poison, the third was a frying pan. Gunnar went to pick it up and yelped, dropping the pan with a clatter. “It’s hot.”
“Well… this strikes me as strange,” I said. “There’s no one in here. A castle’s kitchen is the heart of the place, and it’s empty. At noon. That suggests to me that no one here is eating.”
We stepped back into the foyer, and the kitchen door closed behind us. I scowled at it and pushed on it, and it opened seamlessly.
“Uh… guys?” Elif said, looking around.
We all looked at her, questioningly.
“This is not the layout of the castle where we met Earl Dregard.”
We looked around, realizing that, indeed, this didn’t match what we remembered. Gunnar identified north and then went to step into the courtyard to check there… and the doors back outside wouldn’t open.
“Well, the only way is forward… or into the pink smoke. And… since this isn’t where we thought we were, perhaps we should be cautious about taking things. It could belong to the fae, for all we know. I don’t know what’s going on here, but…”
Elif paled, or she would have if she could. She opened the kitchen to return the garlic, and the door opened into a broom closet. We all stared. We did it again and found an austere dining hall. She put the garlic on the table, and Helmy and… Asakku… put their ill-gotten things on the table.
As Elif closed the door, she opened it and looked through the keyhole, seeing a glade beyond. When we closed the door and opened it again, it showed a washroom. Though she looked through the keyhole again while it was closing. Still a keyhole.
I looked over it a few moments, and a centaur walked past. He squinted at me, and I looked at him. Though he was gone after I blinked.
When we walked up the stairs to open the throne room doors. A small throne room with the sound of ocean surrounding us. Elif stayed by the door, holding it to make sure we didn’t end up totally lost. Or so we hoped.
“There’s… magic in here, but nothing I can put my finger on,” Gunnar said, looking around us. Still no windows. No way out. I sighed and looked around.
We called out in greeting, but no one replied. No answer.
“Hey, Helmy, you should go sit on the throne…” Gunnar said.
Helmy rolled his eyes at Gunnar. “No. That would be foolish.”
We retreated to the foyer and closed and opened the doors, which remained the same. So perhaps it was the kitchen room that was different.
“That leaves us with the pink mist and the strange, changing room.” I said, looking back and forth between them. “Perhaps we should try using that strange door over there to see if we can discern a pattern of where it goes.”
The next time we opened the door, it opened into a weaving room. We repeated the door, and it was the kitchen. Then an armory full of weapons. No armor, no shields, only weaponry. All manner of swords, axes, polearms, and a large, gated area off to the end of it. We approached the gated area, finding the door locked. It looked almost like wardrobes lined the wall in back.
“We should check out the place with the pink mist,” I said, sighing and rubbing my hand over my head.
After agreeing to an arrangement, I opened the door where the pink smoke lay, and it began to billow into the room. Gunnar began coughing, collapsing forward into the smoke, which was slowly filling the room we stood in. I shut the door and pulled Gunnar up out of the fog. Or what I thought was Gunnar. He didn’t have a beard and… boobs. Oh my.
The pink smoke swirled around our ankles, and we put Gunnar on the stairs and tried to wake him. Her? Whatever… was happening. When Gunnar woke, he looked down at his chest and blinked. “That’s…”
Rising, he headed back down the stairs and breathed in more smoke, though nothing happened. “This smells lovely.”
I leaned down and smelled the smoke. It smelled sweet and lovely to me, and nothing changed that I could tell. But, we decided to send the three remainng gentlemen climbed the stairs, and the three of us women entered the smoky room. Around us, it was featureless and gray stone on all sides with a small cauldron sitting in the center of the room, filled with dark red liquid spewing pink smoke out.
Gunnar put the lid on the pot. “This is definitely poison.”
Elif. “I wanna taste it.”
I snort. “Well, I can fix you if you do…”
Gunnar rolled his eyes and threw his hands up as Elif took a sip of the liquid. Her curves smoothed out, and she looked… different. Better. More attractive. Not by much, but some. Her breasts also looked a little larger, not that I spend my time studying her chest.
I took a taste of it and felt my hips broaden and chest grow a little. I grunted and frowned down at my body a little, not that it showed in the heavy armor I wore. “Well, that’s a thing now, I suppose.”
Elif strutted out of the room with a huge grin and Helmy’s soon matched hers. “Nice…”
Asakku squinted at me. “Cass…?”
“Apparently,” I said with a snort.
“Well… shall we explore that trap door in the kitchen?” Gunnar asked, looking around.
“We’d have to remove our armor, and I’m not…”
“Take it off,” Gunnar said with a grin.
“Go take your own clothes off.” I rolled my eyes at him and shook my head.
“So, perhaps we should send Asakku and Gunnar down the trap door in the kitchen.”
“Why, because I’m the big, strong man now?” Asakku said, shooting me a big grin. I smacked him, and he just started laughing.
We eventually found the kitchen, and sent Asakku down the hole. He called back up to us, telling us he’d found a wine cellar with a door nearby. Elif and I doffed our armor, headed down into the cellar, and then put our armor back on with the help of Helmy and Asakku.
I squinted through the keyhole of the door, which proved to be locked, and it looked like it might just be more wine. Asakku studied the wine bottles as we walked along the racks of the wine bottles. “These are getting older as we go,” he said, plucking a bottle and popping the cork. It smelled like wine when he did.
We walked down the corridor of wine for some time, finding wines from all over the place until we reached year one WE, and prior to that everything was in elven. Asakku nodded.
“These are elven vintages, though their year system is different.”
Interestingly, despite the thick dust, we found no spiderwebs or indications of anything living in the area. We continued walking, trying to find the end of the way. It felt like forever. Asakku eventually decided to run ahead with his rather impressive speed and endurance, vanishing off into the shadows. I sunk down to sit against one of the casks.
About two minutes later, Asakku arrived a little out of breath. “I couldn’t find an end, but… whatever’s back there is ancient. It looked more and more powerful. It might be the beverage of the gods, for all I know.”
We walked until we couldn’t anymore and then started again, until what I guessed was two days later. At the end of the shelves we found pedestals and an antechamber at the end. Stained glass radiated daylight onto twelve decanters with golden liquid in them in a triangle.
I shrugged. “I’m more interested in the fact that these are windows. They’re the first windows we’ve seen. Is this a way out?”
Gunnar grunted. “There’s a lot of magic here. A lot.”
“The language changed a few hours ago, and it’s definitely not Elven. Some of this has been abyssal. Some has been celestial.”
“This place might belong to a god,” Elif said.
“And if it is a god’s, the last thing we want to do is upset whoever our elusive host is.” I sighed, looking around.
I prayed to Bahamut for guidance, and after a moment, I felt more than heard a deep, rumbling voice in my bones. Destroy it.
Unsure what I was supposed to destroy, I frowned, looking down at the ground for a moment.
“Cass?” Elif said.
“I… was told to destroy it.”
I looked at the decanters and took a deep, deep breath. “Right.”
“Wait!” Elif cried. “We should taste these. They might be…”
“Elif, if my god, himself, bent his ear to me and told me to destroy these, nothing good can come of them. I don’t know, it’s… I’m not trying to say anything about morality here, but…”
It took her a second, but she nodded. “All right. Smash it.” The others nodded a little.
I drew my scimitar, said a silent prayer, and smashed all of them in a single swing. Sparkling golden dust wisped into the air, coiling away into nothing. The light went out around us, leaving us again in darkness.
We spent the long walk back in quiet, considering what the hell had happened. The wine cellar seemed the same as we walked along, and eventually reached the kitchen entrance. Asakku picked the lock on the door, and we stepped inside, finding many bottles of various shapes and sizes, but none of them were labeled.
Asakku opened one a wine glass sealed with wax and recoiled instantly, his face showing burns across the surface. “…Ow. Just ow. What the hell.”
Returning to the kitchen, Elif and I repeated the process of stripping and donning our armor. When we stepped into the foyer, I sighed and looked around. “What if elven magic is coming back.” The others stared at me. “I wish Darvin were here, but… what if all of this, our tattoos, this place, it’s all connected and it’s reawakening. So far as we can tell… And the door here? The constant seems to be that glade on the other side of the door. What if there’s a key?”
We talked as we wandered back into the throne room. After seeking through the throne room, I sunk down onto the throne. The doors snapped shut. When I rose, water started pouring out of the coral of the throne. When I sat back down on it, the water stopped. I sighed, and the water began to drain.
When Elif and Gunnar tried to open the doors, they discovered they would not open.
“Well. I guess I live here forever now.”
Gunnar studied the throne, “Hey—there’s something written here.”
“Embrace that which sealed Kelessa’s fate,” it read in Celestial. I told the others. “I have no idea who Kelessa is, but… perhaps we are supposed to let the place fill with water. Not that I want to die, but…” I rubbed a hand over my face again.
Gunnar and Elif started discussing things, and Asakku stood, and water poured into the room, reaching a foot in a few seconds. Then shortly thereafter, it was at our knees. I sunk onto the throne again. “Elif, Dudley. Remove your armor.” I followed suit. When the water reached five feet deep, a massive serpant appeared in the water. Gold, with antennae, and a thick body and a long, crocodilian face.
It snapped at Elif, sinking its teeth into her arm and twisting its head. Her eyes went vague for a second, and Asakku moved forward, trying to stab at the beastie with his spear though missing.
“It’s a gilded sea serpant,” Gunnar called across the room. “Related to dragons. Not smart. Needs water to live. It’s venomous, guys. Careful. Also very hard to hit.” He then spat a glob of acid at the beast.
I sunk onto the throne, holding my breath and forcing myself to sit there by clinging to the throne’s sides. After that, I couldn’t see much with the water filling my eyes, so all I could do was wait and hope as the water level dropped around me.
Blood filled the water as the creature wrapped around someone and thrashed. Seeing dog feet and Dudley’s familiar plate armor, I grit my teeth, focusing all my energy through the bracelet I knew matched Dudley’s and channeling the power my god gave me into connecting me with him. Tilting my head back and straining upward, I broke surface enough to speak the words of the spell.
The water dropped a little more, and I hurled positive energy through the new bond between Dudley and I, focusing on him deeply. He took a breath and then began to cough.
A moment later, Asakku buried his spear in the beast, pinning it to the ground. After that, I bade Elif come closer to me and used magic to soothe the venom rampaging through her system.
Asakku skinned the thing and then slopped it down onto the throne, and the water stayed down. Still unable to leave the chamber, I booted the mess off the throne to let the water refill. Perhaps it was necessary to let it fill. At the five mark, the another beast spawned, sinking its fangs into Asakku.
“Climb me,” Gunnar bellowed, turning into a tree.
Rounding on the beast, I attacked it using the full might of Bahamut, but was unable to penetrate its scaly hide. Right. With even that, I couldn’t harm the beast, so there was nothing I could do. The best thing was to do as Gunnar said and climb him and… just stay up the tree, I supposed. At least without my armor I could climb easier.
The serpant attacked me, sinking its teeth into my shoulder, but it didn’t have the effect on me it had on others. After all, I was not susceptible to poisons the way others are. I then shimmied up the tree after the others.
The water rose, and I cast the bonds between myself and the whole party other than Helmy, who could heal himself. At least there was that, for what good it would do if we all drowned. Elif clung to the trunk and jabbed at the serpent, as did Asakku, but neither of them did any damage. It seemed like the water was filling faster.
As it reached toward the ceiling a third serpent began to swim around us, circling. When the water got high enough, two of the serpents went after Elif and one went after Helmy. Taking a deep breath of the remaining air, I focused on Elif as her eyes rolled back. While I couldn’t account for how he got them, I could not have been more grateful that Asakku had gotten those bracelets.
A moment later, the water touched the ceiling, and began to drain quickly. The chill sunk into my bones, and I sputtered, clinging to the tree. The monsters circled as the water sunk away, and the beasts sunk to the base of the tree. Elif wavered, and I grabbed her, preventing her from falling as I continually cast magic on her while the poison ran its course.
We climbed out of the tree as soon as the water drained, and I sat with Elif while she recovered. Asakku walked around the room, frowning, and vanished behind the throne. He pulled a large clamshell off the throne and called out to us. “There’s a tunnel!” he said.
We descended into the passage behind the throne. The stairs were dark, and the walls were covered with pearls all the way down. Asakku paused in our descent to collect pearls, filling a pouch with them. I sighed. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Asakku…”
“You don’t think anything’s a good idea.” He grunted.
At the base of the stairs, the group gathered as many pearls as they could into the bag of holding, and I shook my head in reaction. The cavern we stood in was covered in pearls, and I paused for a moment in awe. As Asakku started plucking them from the walls, they came free with a slick, wet sound from what proved to be flesh. Eli’s cracked open a massive pearl and found a femur.
Asakku stared at it and grimaced.
“As much as I am not…excited by this, I wouldn’t assume anything. Pearls are created by things arriving in the oyster that irritate it. It might not be as… Horrifying as it seems.”
He glanced at me and then nodded.
Eventually, we headed down the long cavern after Elif and Asakku claimed as many as their hands could hold. After some time, we arrived at an ornate blue and golden door with plaster around the outside of the frame.
Elif tilted her head a little and then knocked.
To our utter surprise, a female voice answered: “Come in.”
Quiet music began to emanate from the room. Elifopened the door and stepped in its me hot on her heels. We entered into a room draped in silk and velvet with blue serving trays covered in cakes and fine foods. Two women in sleek, noble attire greeted us. “We have been here for some time, thank goodness you’ve come.” They introduced themselves as Cleo and Countess DuBerry of Avalon. “Won’t you stay for awhile? We have quite a bit of food and would like to reward you for finding us.”
The others looked at me, and I shook my head. As did Asakku.
“Where are we?” Elif asked.
“We aren’t sure. We came here for court and became lost. We came through a door.”
Countess DuBerry looked past us and out the door. “Oh… That’s vile. It looks so… Unpleasant. Clammy.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh, about a day.”
We all looked at each other and then at them. They had the mistaken idea that they had only been there a day rather than a hundred years. They believed it was the year 809 when, in fact, it is 906.
“How long do you suppose it’s been…?” Elif asked, looking back at us.
Asakku looked around at us, frowning. “I have no idea where this music is coming from. It’s from… Everywhere.”
I began detecting evil, and the women rolled their eyes. “What are you doing, woman?”
“Examining things. It’s what I do.”
The countess gave me an unimpressed look. “How strange.” She looked at Cleo, who shrugged.
The feeling in my gut told me there was evil present. The two women were definitely evil. As was the lamp. I made eye contact with the others and nodded a little. Whatever was here? These were not some trapped courtiers. Or, if they were, they were of substantial power and just… I grimaced.
I just hope I don’t have to seduce them, too.
Elif wandered around. “This is a really lovely room…”
“I think we lucked out, yes… It is rather lovely. But we would like to get to the ball soon.”
Elif opened the other door and slipped out while the women were focused on us, talking sushi. Whatever sushi is.
“Oh, do you think you could help us find the ballroom?” The countess asked, smiling at us a little too broadly.
“Hey, Cass, can I talk to you for a second?” Elif said around the door.
“If you’ll excuse me, ladies,” I said, inclining my head in their direction before heading toward Elif.
“Rude. Very rude.” The countess looked at Cleo and shook her head.
I joined her in the hall and dropped my voice. “They’re bad news.” I glanced over my shoulder at the room.
Asakku joined us a moment later. “They offered me a dance, and Gunnar is making them tea. He’s making them dreamleaf tea… I almost got a dance, too. I would have done it well…”
“If you’re that desperate, Asakku, I’ll dance with you sometime.”
He looked me over with a slow smile. “Later, perhaps, Cassiel. But…” I slapped at him, and he ducked. “How many times do I have to tell you—not with the gauntlets!”
When Gunnar did not join us shortly, Elif turned to Asakku and I. “Let’s kill them, let’s burn them, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
I sighed, rubbing the back of my neck and headed into the room. We collected Gunnar and slipped out. “We should not have anything to do with them, Elif. They’re… They’re bad. And powerful. We’re not able to do anything to…”
Elif reached forward to grab the lamp, despite my warning, and came up with a silver statuette. It showed a satyr or something of that ilk. I rubbed the bridge of my nose.
When we reached the hall, Asakku stopped and scowled at Elif. “Put it down.”
“No, I want to keep it.”
“Put. It. Down.”
I touched Asakku’s shoulder. “As much as I agree with you wholeheartedly, we need to get the hell out of here. We don’t have time for this right now.” I shook my head.
Asakku went to the nearest door, and it opened into a parlor. I stepped away from him and opened a door into a lavish blue bedroom in the same style as the room we’d come from and the one Asakku had discovered. Elif rushed to the end of the hallway and threw open the door there, and music poured into the hallway. The same music as we’d heard in the room the women were in.
[Gunnar’s Vision: He asked if it would be to our benefit to help those women, the answer came as a positive.]
I turned to the next door and found another bedroom in a strange, foreign style, draped in red silks and velvet. Damn it all to hells. All of them. Asakku opened the final door, and it led into a yawning cavern heading off into nowhere.
Elif stood at the end of the hall tapping her foot and gesticulating at the door behind her in a manner that suggested impatience until Asakku announced his discovery. We then headed into the cavern.
Gunnar groaned from where he was draped over Asakku’s shoulder. I looked around us at the cavern. It was warm as hell, and sweat broke out across my shoulders under my shirt.