Bikendi Otongu faded from sight.
"Well," Reiko said, "That was interesting." Ezikial nodded agreement. "I am fairly certain he wasn't giving us the full truth about needing to take over one of our bodies to do this ritual, though."
"We will need to do something to get these spirits off the island," Feruzi said. "All these risen dead will prove problematic."
"I don't disagree with this notion, but I am not willing to let something take over my body," Reiko insisted.
"We should not discuss it standing in this room, I think," Feruzi said.
"Aye," Chopper said. "Let's be on our way."
"If you wish," Reiko said, following them back up the stairs, "But I don't care if the spirit hears me saying this."
"I have serious doubts whether we should entertain the idea of doing anything he requested," Feruzi explained when they were back outside. "If he and his curse are tied to the Immortal Dreamstone, it might be best just to destroy it, assuming we can find a way. There is a good chance Otongu would attack us, and it might anger that Hag Haetanga."
"Shoot the hag, break the Dreamstone, kill the Cyclopes and banish the ghost," Ezikial recommended. "Then have a couple drinks and go to bed."
"I am all in favor, though the Cyclopes have done us no harm."
"No harm YET," Chopper said. "They sound like a buncha savages to me."
"Savages like me, maybe?"
Chopper actually looked embarrassed for once. "You know what I mean,
Leila shrugged. "If the hag is angry with Otongu, it seems like the only way we could anger her would be to steal her chance at revenge. She might even be grateful, though who knows what form such gratitude might take. It is hard to say with such beings."
"We are all injured from fighting these creatures," Feruzi said. "I suggest we fetch the Crisis crew to help with securing the fortress and go from there."
Chopper made his habitual gesture of bumping his finger against his nose and pointing at Feruzi. "Seconded. C'mon, ramblers, let's get ramblin." The crew were a bit shocked to see their condition when they returned to the ship, Sandara calling up healing magic to relieve the worst of their injuries.
"The natives are not very friendly," Feruzi remarked.
"I reckon they ain't, Miss--Missus Feruzi," Fishguts said. He shook his head. "Gonna be awhile afore I get used t' that, ma'am." Feruzi shrugged. They left a skeleton crew aboard Crisis, returning to the fort by early afternoon.
"I think it would be wise for us to return to the ship before sundown," Reiko said, "so let's get this done. We're burning daylight."
Chopper rounded up Cog, Rosie, Conchobar and a few of the other crewmembers. "We'll explore along the walls. Reiko, you take everyone else and check the buildings we haven't seen yet."
Reiko's group had not gone far when Ezikial waved them to a halt. "Pitfall there," he said. "A cellar of some sort." The ground ahead was unstable and would likely drop anyone attempting it thirty feet or more in an avalanche of rubble.
"There's something down there," Leila said, peering through the jumbled mess. "A chest, maybe?" She began to climb down.
"Be careful," Reiko admonished.
"Of course." Leila slid past the broken beams and pilings and under the supports, opening the heavy chest and returning with several bottles, a spyglass, and a small bag of coins.
"Nice job," Feruzi told her.
The next set of doors opened into a rectangular room with a flight of wooden stairs leading to the floor above. "Wait," Leila said. She pointed to the stairs, where faint magical tracings could be made out.
"One of the apprentice's traps, I expect. Let me see if I can disarm it." Leila crept across the room and halfway up the stairs, pulling out tools. They could not make out what she was doing, but after a moment she made a thumbs-up sign and waved them onward. The upstairs rooms seemed empty at first, but the doors had numerous tripwires controlling other traps. Leila disarmed them as well.
"Remind us to give you a raise," Feruzi said, stepping past some scythe blades. Leila tested the next door, taking wire cutters to a line.
"That should just about do it," she announced, throwing open the door. A hail of arrows peppered the room. Feruzi ducked, but Reiko, Ezikial, and Leila were all hit, though fortunately not seriously. "Oops," Leila said.
"Maybe I spoke too soon," Feruzi said, getting up and dusting herself off.
"Ow," said Reiko. "It's all right, no one is perfect, and no one is dead."
"You did get away with shooting Ezikial," Feruzi said. Leila winced and glanced over at the gunslinger, who gave one of his horrible face-mangling grins.
"Don't worry about it," he said.
Reiko tried the next door, one of two that seemed to lead into the same room, and found a heavy, soft resistance behind it. She gestured for Feruzi to try the other, revealing the same thing. Reiko gestured for Leila and Sandara to take up positions behind one door, while she joined Feruzi and Ezikial at the other. At her signal, they forced the doors open, revealing piles of mattresses and a terrified man who screamed and threw a spell at Reiko, striking her with a lance of fire that set her clothing ablaze. He then stomped on a concealed trigger that blasted the doors with electricity. Ezikial leaned past Reiko's shoulder and fired both pistols, punching holes in Baines's armor and sending him reeling back. Reiko sprang forward and slammed the hilt of her katana into his head, knocking him into one of the mattresses, where he lay senseless.
"Right, now that he isn't blasting us, let's tie him up and see if we can get some sense out of him," Feruzi said. "Can you wake him, Sandara?"
"Aye." Sandara said, digging into her kit while Feruzi and Reiko bound the wizard's apprentice, making sure to immobilize his hands and pull a length of rope across his mouth so that he could still, mostly, speak, but not precisely enough for spellcasting. Sandara waved something vile-smelling under his nose and Baines's eyes snapped open.
"Get away from me! Get away!" he screamed, twisting violently against his bonds.
"Easy, friend, easy," Feruzi said.
"You're out to get me! You're all out to get me!"
"We are not here to hurt you," Reiko said.
"Except Ezikial," Feruzi added under her breath. Reiko shot her a reproving look.
"If you do not calm yourself," she said to Baines, "I will knock you unconscious again."
"Let him rant," Feruzi said. "What's he going to do? Eventually he'll wear himself out."
"Hells take you, ghost, or dream, or shade, or whatever you are!"
"Mr. Baines, we are living people. Please, calm yourself," Reiko said.
"Assuming the hag didn't ride him and break his mind," Feruzi said. "They do that."
"Or the ghost," Sandara added. "Or both."
"Yes. Could you try using restoration magic on him? Perhaps it would help bring back some of his wits?" Feruzi asked.
"I won't listen to your lies! And I don't know where your damned stone is!"
Sandara slowly shook her head. "Madness like this takes magic beyond my abilities. 'E needs a miracle, and only a great cleric can produce one on demand. And even then, it don't come cheap."
Reiko nodded and whacked Baines unconscious again. Sandara winced. "I'm sorry," Reiko said, "but our best bet is to get him off this island and to other help."
"Aye, I know. Still."
"We'll turn him over to Chopper, if we can't cure him we can at least take him somewhere he might get help," Feruzi said.
They stashed Baines in a safe place and moved on to the last uncleared space, the massive crystal-topped tower. A shrieking alarm went off as they opened the door. The air stirred and a clicking, skittering noise echoed. Sandara and Feruzi both cast quick defensive spells as two of the spider-creatures appeared, one vaguely familiar and the other much larger, bearing long reddish hair and fur.
"You killed my children," the red-haired spider hissed in a woman's voice. "Now I shall have my revenge." Both of the spiders vanished.
"Your children are ugly," Feruzi said as they reappeared, flanking Sandara, who went down under the onslaught of poisonous mandibles. Reiko hacked at the lesser spider, injuring it before it could vanish, and Leila's ready arrow hit it somewhere in the abdomen.
"I've seen your like before," Ezikial grunted. "Now piss off or die." He readied his pistols while Leila scurried to check on Sandara. Feruzi tossed her a potion and readied her bow. The spiders reappeared to attack Reiko. Ezikial shot the lesser spider full in the face, ending it, while Feruzi peppered the red-haired one with arrows. Reiko's blade claimed two of the spider's legs and she screamed.
"Enough, I would rather face my mistress's wrath than this certain death." The red-haired spider vanished and did not return. They waited, on guard, while Leila helped Sandara to her feet and the cleric healed her wounds.
The tower stairwell led up to a pair of balconies and from there to the roof. Inside the vault, a fist-sized chunk of rosy quartz sat atop a silver pedestal. Above them, the vault ceiling was capped by a similar chunk of crystal, only a hundred times larger, towering another twenty feet above the central spire. Two large Cyclopean statues stood at either end of the balcony, overlooking the fort and the bay.
"I believe this structure can be used to project sendings to other, similar structures," Feruzi said. "You would have to know and envision the destination and someone would have to be present at the other tower, most of which have probably been swallowed by the sea."
"Interesting," Reiko said.
"Still, even one other tower in a useful location would make this valuable," Feruzi added.
"I agree," said Reiko. "I think I may know where one still stands. I'm not sure of its condition though."
"We will have to look into it when we can."
The bottom level of the tower proved to be another domed chamber covered in spirals of golden glyphs and runes. The floor held a circular dais that held a pale blue disc of some unknown material. Beyond an immense brass door was an amphitheater with a gigantic statue of a Cyclopean warrior, a pool of clear water at his feet.
Sandara hobbled toward the disc. "It looks like a teleportation circle t'me," she said.
"Perhaps it works in a similar way to the crystals upstairs," Reiko said.
"Teleports you to another tower?" Feruzi asked.
"It'll take ye t' another disc it's attuned to, aye," Sandara said.
"In that case, I'm not stepping on it," Feruzi announced. "You could end up a mile underwater."
"Shall we report our findings to the Captain?" Leila asked.
"Sounds like a plan," Reiko said. "We need to get Mr. Baines off this island as well."
They located Chopper again. He was sporting a black eye and a huge grin.
"What did you do to your face?" Feruzi demanded.
"Oh, we found some giant crawling hands. Cyclops zombie hands!" he announced, miming spiderlike crawling with his fingers.
"Ick. Well, we found Otongu's apprentice and we seem to have chased the last of the spiders off. There's some magic stuff in the tower. Also Sandara gets a bit by spiders bonus and Leila gets a trap disarming bonus."
"All right, then, everyone back to the ship. We'll set out for Sumitha at first light."
"Ooh, I can write to Merrill," Feruzi said.