Fa’ss’th paced the cylindrical chamber beneath the crystal, occasionally looking up to see whether he could spot any obvious flaws or imperfections. He scuffed the thick layer of scunge on the floor and was surprised to see a dim reddish glow. Bending over, he began scratching the detritus of years away from the floor of the chamber, revealing a circle of faintly glowing runes. Barak joined him and examined the runes as well.
“It looks like a protective circle,” Fa’ss’th said after a moment, examining the runes carefully. “It might be the portal, it’s just not working because the crystal is sucking it dry.”
“Does it protect what’s inside, or protect *from* what’s inside?” Kyrian asked.
“It’s protecting whatever’s inside the circle,” Fa’ss’th said after a moment.
“Does it make a cylinder, or dome, or what?” Barak asked.
“Dome,” Fa’ss’th said.
“So what now?” Kyrian asked. Barak gestured upwards at the crystal.
“The problem I see is that we have no idea what is going to happen when it shatters,” Fa’ss’th said. “Otherwise one of us can probably get close enough to blast it.”
“With what?” Kyrian asked.
“Lightning worked on the other one,” Barak said.
“I have a shatter spell, too,” Fa’ss’th said, “but it’s arcane so who knows whether it will work.”
“Well, I could fly you up there if I leave some of my stuff down here,” Kyrian said.
“Works for me,” Fa’ss’th said, nodding. “We can try shatter first and see what happens.”
“Barak, would you hold this for me?” Kyrian asked.
The’ss’it waved a claw manically. “Oo, oo, I’ll take it!”
“I will want it BACK,” Kyrian admonished as he handed his swords and backpack to the lizard. The’ss’it balanced the backpack on his head.
“Oh well, that’s good too,” he said.
Kyrian picked Fa’ss’th up and flew upwards toward the crystal, holding the little lizard while he chanted and gestured. A faint sparkling light flew out from Fa’ss’th’s claw, struck the crystal, and vanished. There was a faint noise that sounded something like ‘fwoob’, but nothing else happened.
“That’s it?” Kyrian asked.
Fa’ss’th grumbled under his breath and pointed a single finger at the crystal, firing a crackling beam of electrical energy. The electricity was absorbed into the crystal, which began to hum faintly. The hum grew louder and louder as bright lights began to flash in the depths of the crystal.
“Uh, run?” Fa’ss’th said, alarmed. “Er, fly. FLY!”
Kyrian zoomed towards the side passage, now a considerable distance above the floor of the chamber. Below, Barak concentrated for a moment, then vanished and reappeared in the tunnel as well. The flashing crystal began to spit arcs of bluish lightning. Then it exploded. House-sized chunks of crystal went rocketing in all directions. The’ss’it glanced around as the red runes suddenly flared to life. Then a wave of sound and light hit him.
Barak, Kyrian, and Fa’ss’th cringed as the tunnel shook violently and dust showered down on them. The cataclysm faded away, leaving only a ringing in their ears and, faintly from below, The’ss’it shouting: “AWESOME! LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!!”
“Is he crazy?” Barak asked.
Fa’ss’th nodded. “Yes.”
“Uh-oh.” The’ss’it announced. Barak scrambled to the edge of the tunnel and looked down. He saw The’ss’it begin squeaking and running around in a panic as a wall of water surged over the sides of the vault and began to pour down into the room. The red runes flared and the water divided in midair, flowing through the floor and vanishing into nothingness. Realizing he was still unhurt, The’ss’it looked up at Barak and shrugged.
“But where’s it all going?”
Barak blinked as an extremely disgruntled-looking water elemental flew past him. Seconds later, it was followed by a strange blue-skinned demon that shot by with a loud: “SKREEEE!” After a few more minutes the flow of water stopped and The’ss’it climbed up to the tunnel.
“I think you broke it,” he told Fa’ss’th.
“Broke what?” Fa’ss’th demanded.
“At least now we know what the circle is for,” Barak said. They climbed back down into the room and began looking around. The floor was littered with pieces of crystal, most of them as fine as grains of sand, but a few fist-sized chunks remained, glowing faintly. Fa’ss’th bagged them up on general principles.
“Okay,” Kyrian said. “We blew up the crystal that was draining the magic from the portal, so where is the portal itself?”
“We’ll have to look around and see,” Fa’ss’th said. “It’s possible the belt was used to create it in the first place . . . if we take the belt away, the water may not come back.”
Kyrian looked around the room. “I think this portal has been out of commission for some time.”
“Yes,” said Barak, “and everything just flew back into it. So how do we turn it around and get water flowing back into the swamp? Maybe we need to use the original process to get it started again.”
“I just want to know where all that water went,” Fa’ss’th said, poking the floor. “This floor is kind of odd. The’ss’it, swing your pick right here.”
“Yes, right here.”
The’ss’it spat on his palms, rubbed them together, and took a two-handed grip on the pick. Swinging it mightily overhead, he brought it smashing down on the floor. It stuck firmly into the surface. Grunting and swearing, he managed to wriggle it free again, only to dance backwards in surprise as a jet of fire shot out of the hole he had made.
“Um, I don’t think that’s going to stop,” Fa’ss’th said, pointing to the edges of the hole, which were beginning to glow redly. “Anyone else have any ideas, except to get out of here before something explodes?” They shook their heads. “Let’s get out of here, then.”
They climbed back out the tunnel to the base of the ruined tower. Outside, the water had completely drained away, revealing a lot of mud, tree roots, and submerged blocks of ancient stone. Confused fish flopped in the mud.
“Well, that’s not exactly the result we were looking for,” Barak said.
“Great, I succeeded in making it worse,” Fa’ss’th grumped.
“Sorry, The’ss’it,” Kyrian said.
“It’s okay, I guess,” The’ss’it said, sighing. “We can always move or something. It’s not such a bad outcome if you think about it. You got rid of the water elementals and the demons, and this isn’t bad land. Plus, now we know what was going on.”
“You don’t mind that your swamp isn’t a swamp any more?” Barak asked.
“Well, it’s not the end of the world,” The’ss’it said. “Leastwise I don’t think so. Of course, now those damn farmers are going to try to move back in, but you can’t have everything.”
“I hope the rest of your people will feel the same way,” Kyrian said.
“You realize that all the creatures that live in the swamp will start attacking for food and so forth,” Fa’ss’th cautioned gloomily.
“Then we should go find the tribe and make sure they’re okay,” The’ss’it said.
“So, which way do we go?” Kyrian asked.
“Beats me,” The’ss’it said. “I could ask God if you like.”
“Well, if it helps . . .” Kyrian said after a while. The’ss’it built a small fire, tossed a bunch of herbs into it from one of his pouches, and began dancing around in a circle waving his arms and shouting “huh!” periodically. Then he abruptly stopped.
“God says that way,” The’ss’it announced with finality. They walked through the swamp for several hours, following The’ss’it’s less-than-precise directions.
“Did God tell you how far?” Kyrian asked eventually.
“No, but he said to use a different type of incense next time, this one makes him want to hurl. Phew!” After another hour or so of trudging through the increasingly dry mud, they found two lizardfolk sitting in a tree and peering dubiously at the ground below.
“Hallo,” the first lizard said without preamble.
“Why are you sitting in a tree?” Fa’ss’th asked.
“It seemed prudent. What are you doing here, Fa’ss’th?”
“Well, sadly, I tried to fix the water issue, only to make it worse. So now we are going to warn people because I don’t think it will ever be fixed.”
“Oh,” said the second lizard. “So we can come down, then? We were thinking it might all come flying back at any moment.”
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Kyrian said. The two small lizards jumped to the ground. They were dressed very much like The’ss’it: only a few leather straps to hold necessities. One was armed with a pair of small swords, and the other carried a bow.
“I’m Ve’ss’intorr,” the sword-carrying lizard said, “and this is Marthi’ss. We don’t see other races around here very much.”
“Probably all the swamp, or, well, ex-swamp,” Barak said.
“Quite possible,” Marthi’ss said. Shall I assume you’d like to go meet with the Elder?”
“That’s probably best,” Fa’ss’th said. “People need to know what happened.”
“Come on, we’ll show you the way,” Ve’ss’intorr said. “Really, you’re lucky you found us. You might have run right into the Blackscales if you hadn’t.”
“Blackscales?” Barak asked.
“Yes,” Marthi’ss explained. “They’re another tribe of lizardfolk around here. They’re MUCH bigger than we are, but also stupider so we don’t have much trouble with them. You can ask the Elder about them if you’re curious.”
“Lead on, then,” Fa’ss’th said. They arrived at the lizardfolk village a short time afterwards. The houses, if such they could be called, were all set in platforms in the trees, and the village was surrounded by a veritable forest of sharp stakes buried deep in the mud. A lizard wearing a robe jumped down from the main platform and regarded them all seriously. Fa’ss’th bowed, and Barak and Kyrian did so as well after a second or too.
“Ah, Fa’ss’th, you return, and I see you found The’ss’it, too, how nice.”
The’ss’it grimaced, offended. “Shouldn’t that be the other way around?”
“I know what I said,” the Elder replied mildly. “Now don’t interrupt. I am Xivi’zz, the Elder of the Poison Dusk Tribe.” Xivi’ss extended a claw towards Kyrian. “And what may I call you, young fey?”
“I’m Kyrian, your, um, Elderness.” Xivi’ss patted his hand.
“Very good, very good. And you, human?”
“I am called Barak.”
“You are welcome in the huts of this tribe.”
“I’m grateful,” Kyrian said, “we’ve come a long way to be here.”
“I notice that your arrival was preceded by a rather unusual phenomenon. Were you involved in that at all?”
“Sadly, yes,” Fa’ss’th said. We came to try and help with the water problem, only to make it worse. We found the old wizard’s tower, which had a chunk of crystal growing off the arcane energies. We’ve seen what the same crystal does in other parts of the world, so we removed it. Unfortunately, that didn’t cause the water to return, only drained it faster.”
Xivi’ss waved a claw. “No matter, we had already made up our minds to pack our belongings and quit this place. I am mostly glad that you are still alive and, apparently, in good health. How is your sister? She did not come with you?”
“La’ss’a is on her way to another continent, Maztica. We’re trying to stop a bastard from waging war,” Fa’ss’th said.
“A worthy cause, no doubt,” Xivi’ss said, nodding. “Now, what hospitality may we offer you? I am afraid that we are all a bit busy, but if we can help you have only to ask.”
“Have you ever heard of this belt?” Fa’ss’th said, handing it back to Barak.
“A belt?” Xivi’ss asked. “May I see it?” Barak offered it to the lizard Elder, who examined it in detail. “Turquoise, that’s a foreign stone. You won’t find it around here, it’s imported. These disks appear to be made of silver--” he tasted the metal speculatively—“very poor quality, though, crudely manufactured.”
“Foreign?” Kyrian asked. “Maztican, perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” Xivi’ss said. “I’m not familiar with the place, myself.”
“Have you ever seen anything like it before?” Fa’ss’th asked. “We think there are several more we need to find.”
“I’m afraid not,” Xivi’ss said. “Your question would be better posed to the great sages in Halarahh.”
“Where can we find them?” Fa’ss’th asked.
“Go to the city and throw a brick, I should think,” Xivi’ss replied, amused.
“I meant . . . oh, never mind. I guess some rations would be good and a map if you have one.”
“How far is it to Halarahh?” Barak asked.
“Eight or nine days to the northwest on foot, mostly through farmlands, though, so it’s not an arduous trip.”
“That sounds good,” Fa’ss’th said. “We should probably head out soon. I’m not sure how much of a head start the other group has.”
“We were planning to depart tomorrow in any case,” Xivi’ss said.
“Do you have a new home in mind?” Kyrian asked.
“Not at present, but we are resourceful. I have no concerns that we will find something eventually.”
“Oh,” Kyrian said. “Good fortune go with you, then.”
The lizards turned one of the huts over to them and provided them with a selection of food: roots, fruit, and a bowl of choice grubs. Kyrian avoided the grubs and, bored, began wandering around the village and listening in on the various conversations.
“Can I have a word, Fa’ss’th?” he asked, returning to the hut some time later.
“Sure,” the lizard said, chewing on a handful of grubs.
“It looks like your people are moving out, but it seems like a disproportionate amount of their preparation is being spent on making weapons. Arrows, and vials of blue stuff. Do you know what that is? Or what’s going on?”
“Well, we are the Poison Dusk. We specialize in poisons. The blue stuff is probably blue whinnis, it saps the body and if you’re unlucky, down you go.”
“It just seems like a *lot* of poison arrows for the occasion,” Kyrian continued.
“Well, as I said before, a lot of the creatures that live in this swamp might be hungry and angry about it. Moving out isn’t exactly a safe proposition.”
“They said they were going looking for a new home, and odds are that someone lives just about everywhere,” Barak said.
“I’ll go and see what’s up,” Fa’ss’th said. He wandered off and began hissing at other lizards. After a while he came back.
“Well, apparently the Blackscale tribe has been raiding a lot recently. Leaving the village means no fortifications. The Blackscales are more brutal than we are.”
“Oh,” Kyrian said.
“We could stick around and help the tribe move if you want,” Fa’ss’th said.
“Well, I’d like to help,” Kyrian said. “What about you, Barak?”
“Sure, it shouldn’t take long,” Barak said.
“I’m surprised those ol’ Blackies would be raiding, they must be pretty desperate or something,” The’ss’it said speculatively. “They’re pretty darn stupid, so they don’t farm or anything like that. Mostly they just hunt and fish.”
“I’m going to go find the Elder and offer our help,” Fa’ss’th said. Xivi’ss was surprised by the offer.
“That is extremely generous of you, but you are our guests.”
“Yes, but we sort of got you into this mess,” Fa’ss’th said. “If I didn’t blow up that crystal, you might have had more time to organize.
Xivi’ss nodded. “It is truth. I am concerned that we don’t have enough scouts. If we use the young or the bulk of our goods to a raid, we may be hard pressed to start over somewhere else. It would be best to avoid a battle if possible, really.”
“Wait a minute,” Fa’ss’th said. “HEY BARAK!!!” Xivi’ss covered his earholes protectively. “YOU STILL CAN ASTRAL CARAVAN, RIGHT?!”
“Yup,” Barak said.
“Feel like relocating a bunch of people to take over Nymbus’ realm?”
Barak pondered for a moment, then an almost evil grin spread over his face. “I think I can do that,” he said.
“The power just requires us all to hold hands,” Fa’ss’th explained. “How many people are there, total?”
“Thirty adults and twelve young,” Xivi’ss said promptly.
Fa’ss’th frowned. “Looks like I need to find a mate and help out a bit,” he said. Kyrian stifled a laugh. “So, Elder, how about a hot, steamy jungle with a big lake?”
“It sounds acceptable,” Xivi’ss said.
“Well, if Barak doesn’t mind, we can transport the tribe to this place we know about where they should be safe.”
“Don’t forget Baugetha and Salmede, though,” Barak said.
“I’ll bet we can work something out with them,” Kyrian insisted.
“Right,” Fa’ss’th said. “So, get everyone organized, Xivi’ss, and remind them that they can only bring what they can carry.”
The Elder had all the lizardfolk assembled within an hour, all of them carrying weapons, armor, and assorted goods. Xivi’ss explained the plan and the lizards all seemed to accept it. The idea of traveling to another plane either didn’t concern them, or they didn’t understand it. The’ss’it performed a short ceremony that involved a lot of dancing and shouting to bless the undertaking. Then Barak walked through the group, touching each lizard on the head. He held up his hands and a shimmering curtain of ectoplasm formed around the group, occasioning a few comments of, “ooh, pretty” from the assembled lizards. The curtain descended, and they vanished into the Astral Plane.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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