Meet the Team:
From left to right, each carrying their magical artifact
- Farouk, inexperienced 19 year old son of a wealthy merchant (who is a friendly rival to Gex), with the Bellows
- Ramesahk, an 800 year old mountain mummy, with the Horn
- Growlfarghh, werewolf, and factor/merchant for Gex, with the IceBlade
- Tahrisa, a Karinca sea captain for Gex, with the Cup
We join our intrepid adventurers in passageways under The Drain, a large whirlpool off the southern coast of Gorr. They are about to break through an ice wall into a cavern they believe holds the Water Crystal. They have already had many adventures, leading them nearly all over the Siccus Badlands. On the advice of a wise river spirit, they have visited most major water-related locations in the Siccus, obtaining several ancient magical water-related artifacts along the way. The river spirit said that they must truly know and understand water in all its forms to have any hope of obtaining the Water Crystal. Now, at the end of their journey, they have come to the place where water drains out of this world, and down onto the back of the Great Turtle. This is the Drain.
Tahrisa waved them all to attention, and spoke in a clear voice, “This will be the hardest part of our quest. Whatever is behind that ice won’t be easy to defeat. We may be injured or worse. But we will get the Water Crystal! I may have had some doubts about our abilities early on – we hadn’t worked together before, we’re not fighters, some of us were inexperienced. But we have learned how to work together, and we are a great team now. We’ll need that to win. We have to use our smarts, and we need to use the water artifacts we’ve collected. But most of all, we have to work together as a team. No running off doing your own thing, and talk to each other about our plans and actions. But do it fast and confidently! Alright, let’s get that crystal!”
They all nodded, and then wandered around silently picking up their packs and various items, stowing stuff, checking weapons, etc. Each one contemplated what might lie behind the ice wall – fame, fortune, reputation, injury, death.
Tahrisa and Growlfargh lined up, with Farouk and Ramesahk immediately behind them. They looked at each other, and the werewolf nodded.
“On three we rush the wall. Farouk and Ramesahk, don’t wait; you’ve got to be right behind us,” ordered Tahrisa. Everyone nodded their assent.
They took off as one, sprinting down the stone passageway, splashing through the meltwater. Tahrisa and Growlfarghh threw themselves shoulder-first into the wall of ice, with Farouk and Ramesahk flattening them against the ice an instant later.
Thunk! Donk! Thwack!
The ice shuddered and made some strange, deep noises. And then, nothing.
“Aw, crap,” muttered Growfarghh, trying to push harder. Farouk, his head buried in the werewolf’s furry back, sneezed and lost his balance in the icy, slippery water. Reaching up to steady himself as he fell, he grabbed onto Growlfarghh’s shoulder, pulling the werewolf down on top of him. Then Tahrisa felt herself being thrown off balance and pulled down also. The scabbard for the IceBlade had become entwined with the strap across her torso holding the Flask of Tankazu, and as Growlfarghh fell, so did she, pitching right into Ramesahk and bringing him down.
The floor of the passage was alive with a pile of thrashing limbs and equipment, with much cursing and muttering. “Damn it!” “That’s my foot!” “Very nicely done!” “Fine heroes you lot are!” “Quiet!” “Not what I meant by working together!”
Then they heard a slow cracking sound, gathering in speed and loudness. They looked up and saw the ice starting to move.
“By Wantazi’s Ghost! The ice is going to fall on us!” yelled Farouk in total panic, thrashing about even more wildly to get up, and only succeeding in wrapping his pack’s straps around Growlfarghh’s arm.
“Shut up!” hissed Tahrisa. “Everyone shut up and be still! Now Ramesahk, you disentangle yourself first and take a look.”
The mountain mummy, who was the least entangled of the four, methodically freed himself and stood up next to the ice wall, examining it.
“It still seems fairly solidly attached,” he said, placing his hand on the ice casually. “I think that –”
With a loud, sharp Crack! the ice block shuddered away from his hand and broke free into the cavern beyond. It disappeared into the gloom, making several large crashes as it bounced down and away, before shattering loudly.
“Fancy that,” the mummy said smugly. “I don’t know what you chaps are doing down there on the floor, but I’m going to go get me the Water Crystal.”
Entering the Cavern
A spear clattered onto the floor behind Ramesahk, skidding between his legs, and coming to a rest slightly embedded in Growlfarghh’s pack. The mummy casually turned around to face the cavern.
“What kind of throw was that?” he yelled at three skeletons standing on the floor below him. “That’s the lamest effort I’ve ever seen. You all are an embarrassment to the undead! If you were mummies, you’d still have muscles, and you wouldn’t miss! What’s the matter, your widows spent their money on their boyfriends instead of on bandages and embalming after you died? You couldn’t hit the broad side of a pyramid with a ballista at ten paces! What a bunch of desiccated, dirty-white, osteoporosic carbonated hydroxyapatite you all are!”
He continued shouting at the skeletons, who appeared quite taken aback for a few moments. In between insults, he turned and whispered to the rest of the team, still struggling to untangle themselves on the floor, “Hurry up you bunch of lily-livered live bait! Damn blood pumpers.” (Common insults toward the living from the undead) “There’s three of them, and I can’t hold them off forever!”
“Wow, what’s got into him?” asked Farouk, finally freeing himself from the werewolf.
“I think it’s an undead rivalry thing,” said Tahrisa, standing up and moving to the cavern entrance. The skeletons were still dumbfounded by Ramesahk’s rant. Without really taking in the entire scene, she calmly brought her crossbow up and fired a special blunt-ended bolt into the skull of the nearest skeleton, only about twenty feet away. The skull shattered into bits from the impact, and the skeleton dropped to the floor. A small whirlwind engulfed it for a few seconds as the bones withered away to a powdery white dust.
The other two skeletons broke out of their insult-induced stupor with a start. Seeing themselves outnumbered, they turned and ran, disappearing through a large archway on the other side of the cavern.
“Well, that was easy,” said Farouk. “Cool.”
“Too easy,” said Tahrisa. “I doubt the crystal is only guarded by three skeletons. Let’s check the situation out carefully.”
Only then did the team really begin to examine the cavern. It was a very large room, with stone walls and floor, at least one hundred feet across, and quite a high ceiling, lost in the gloom. They were in a doorway about eight feet above the floor, with stone steps spreading out below them. About twenty feet in front of them, the stone-tiled floor was riven with deep cracks and fractures. In some places, the crevasses were narrow enough to be easily jumped, but more worryingly, there were large sucker-covered tentacles and grotesque, monstrous arms emerging from the cracks. These appendages waved around threateningly, and were reaching aggressively towards them. Crossing the floor would be quite dangerous.
And cross they must, for in the center of the room, on the other side of the crevasses, was the large column of ice and snow they had seen before. It extended from the floor to ceiling, and was about eight feet in diameter. About ten feet up, embedded in the center of the icy column, was the Water Crystal, glowing with a pulsing deep blue light.
“Oh my!” said Farouk, as he unconsciously started down the stairs, drawn by the beauty and magnificence of the crystal. Growlfarghh put a hand on his shoulder and held him back.
“I’m not sure we want to mess with those monsters under the floor,” the werewolf cautioned. “Those are some nasty creatures.”
“Agreed,” said Tahrisa. “We’ve got to find a way over them somehow.”
“And quickly, before the skeletons come back with reinforcements,” added Ramesahk.
“Growlie, can you make a bridge of ice with the IceBlade?” asked Tahrisa. “From these steps to the column of ice? Then we wouldn’t have to use the floor at all.”
“I suppose so,” answered the werewolf pensively, speaking as he thought it through. “It would have to be high enough to avoid the tentacles, but they don’t look too long… Maybe three feet wide… Will have to be careful walking on it, so we don’t slip… That’s a lot of ice… No problem fastening it to the ice column, or even to the ice here in the doorway… It could work. I don’t know how long it will take, or whether there’s enough magical energy in the IceBlade. You all will have to keep the skeletons away from me; I’ll need unbroken concentration.”
“Right. Go for it!” ordered Tahrisa. “Ramesahk, you protect Growlfarghh’s left, Farouk on his right, and I’ll cover the center.”
The werewolf lowered the IceBlade’s tip to the floor, concentrated, and muttered the magical incantation to initiate its spell. The blade pulsed with a very light blue-gray light, and they all felt the air temperature plummet. Slowly, ice began to form at the end of the blade. Then it began to accumulate more quickly, and started to take shape, spreading across the icy stone step. One a solid foundation had been built up, the ice began to build up and out from the steps, reaching slowly into the air, controlled by Growlfarghh’s twisting movements and muttered commands.
When the ice bridge extended about six feet from the doorway, Farouk heard some faint noises coming from the passageways leading out of the far end of the room. He couldn’t be sure, but they didn’t really sound like the clicking and clacking of skeletons. It sounded more like, well, howling?
“Incoming!” yelled Farouk. “A bunch of them. Sounds like they’re coming from your side, Ramesahk!”
They all peered into the gloom, trying to see down the passageway.
“I think I hear them,” said the mummy. “Doesn’t sound like skeletons…”
Out of the darkness across the cavern burst a pack of dire wolves, sprinting towards them, howling and snarling. They had mangy, matted brown fur, with red eyes and yellow teeth.
water.crystal.drain.4.dogs by nice.marmot, on Flickr
“Oh dear,” said Farouk nervously. There were quite a few wolves, and he was more of a cat person anyway.
Growlfarghh’s hair stood up on end as he sensed the wolves nearby. He looked up from his ice-building work, and snarled unconsciously at them. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck began to grow thick and stand up in alarm, as his teeth and nails lengthened and sharpened. He let loose a loud howl.
“Growlfarghh!” Tahrisa shouted. “What are you doing? Concentrate on the ice bridge!” But the werewolf didn’t appear to hear her at all. Sure enough, as his concentration slipped, the IceBlade stopped producing new ice. Tahrisa watched in horror as the end of the ice bridge started to slowly crack and splinter.
“It’s a canine territory defense instinct!” said Farouk, causing Tahrisa and Ramesahk to look at him in a puzzled manner. “He’s defending his ground against enemy wolves!”
Tahrisa stepped back up next to Growlfarghh, who didn’t even look at her but was concentrating on the wolves. They had paused at the cracks in the floor, and were considering the best way to get past the tentacles. She reached out and gave the werewolf a short, sharp slap on the side of the face.
He turned and snarled at her, and then dropped out of his defense-instinct, saying, “Ouch! What was that for?”
“Keep working on the ice bridge!” Tahrisa ordered him firmly. “Don’t worry about the wolves; we’ll take care of them!”
“No, I’ve got to protect my pack!” he responded.
“No!” yelled Tahrisa. “Your duty is the ice bridge. I’m ordering you to finish it! You’re a person; not a wolf! Suppress that instinct and finish that bridge!”
Growlfarghh visibly struggled with his emotions and instincts. “How are you going to fight the wolves?” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But we’ll figure it out. You can’t let that bridge collapse. We must work quickly; there is probably more trouble on its way.”
The werewolf nodded, and his features slowly resumed a more human aspect. He lowered his head and tried to concentrate on the IceBlade again, which started pulsing again with light. Ice slowly started forming again on the leading edge of the bridge.
“Any ideas?” said Tahrisa to the other two as the first wolf prepared to leap across the crevasse. Farouk shook his head and shakily readied his sword. Ramesahk didn’t answer, and he had sheathed his sword, and was pulling the Horn of Ragnethka out of his pack.
“Ramesahk! What are you doing?” she shouted. “Get your sword ready!”
The mummy didn’t respond at all, but continued getting the horn out. The first wolf leaped over the crevasse, just clearing an outstretched tentacle waving through the air. Ramesahk brought the Horn up to the bandages over his mouth, chanted the starting spell, and began to blow into it. Several other wolves jumped, one getting caught by a tentacle in mid-air before biting his way free. Now they started to sprint towards the steps.
Then a very high-pitched whistle began to issue forth from the Horn. Growlfarghh began to grimace and twist his head around. As the whistle rose in pitch, Farouk realized what the mummy was doing. He tore two small pieces of cloth off his shirt and stuffed them into the werewolf’s ears, plugging them up. Growlfarghh looked confused and started to resist, but then relaxed as the sound was blocked. He turned and smiled at Farouk, saying thanks before looking down and concentrating on the IceBlade.
The wolves were affected by the whistle also, and had paused mere feet from the steps, cowering at the pain in their ears. Then Ramesahk rubbed the Horn and changed his blowing style slightly. The whistle disappeared. Or did it? Perhaps it was still there, in the background, at a pitch slightly too high to actively hear. But the wolves could clearly still hear it. They were rolling on the ground in pain, twisting wildly, and pawing at their ears. The mummy blew a bit harder, and the wolves couldn’t take it anymore. Jumping up they raced back across the crevasse and sprinted across the cavern as fast as they could, disappearing down the dark passageway, howling in pain.
Ramesahk kept blowing the Horn for several minutes, and then stopped. As he turned to the others, he allowed himself a small smile. “Those dog-gone wolves,” he said.
“Hah, hah,” chuckled Tahrisa in spite of herself. “You’re turning into quite the comedian.”
“Was that funny eight hundred years ago?” teased Farouk. “’Cos now it’s just lame. But seriously, good job on the wolves.”
“I doubt that’s it,” warned Ramesahk. “They are probably just the opening act. The Water Crystal will be guarded by something far worse. I imagine we will encounter it soon enough.”
Growlfarghh, with his ears still plugged, hadn’t heard any of this and was still concentrating on building the ice bridge. It was a majestic, thin ribbon of ice stretching in a gentle arc up and across the room to the ice column. It had just reached the column, attaching to the ice a few feet below the crystal. Now he was busy building it up, widening it, and strengthening it. Finally, he looked up.
“Should be OK for one or two people to use,” he said much too loudly. “Why don’t one of you give it a try while I continue to strengthen it?”
“No need to shout!” said Farouk.
“What?” shouted Growlfarghh.
“I SAID, NO NEED—,” yelled Farouk in return.
Tahrisa pulled the cloth from the werewolf’s ears.
“TO SHOUT!” finished Farouk.
The werewolf looked at him in annoyance. “Why are you yelling?” he said. “I’m right here. By Murttelly’s Nose, that’s annoying!”
Tahrisa cut off Farouk before he could respond, “I’ll try the bridge.” She thought that as leader, she should probably be the one to risk the bridge and retrieve the crystal. Lead by example, she thought.
As she started to hop up onto the end of the ice bridge, they again heard noises coming from one of the passages at the far end of the cavern. There was quite a bit of that familiar click-clack noise, but also a deeper, louder thumping and rumbling. A horde of skeletons slowly emerged from the darkness, swords raised. Behind them was a very large, ominous shape.
The creature slowly emerged into the cavern behind the skeletons. It was big and chunky, about twenty-five feet high. It was a light tan color, and its skin appeared to shimmer or move. It had long blocky arms ending in thick three-fingered fists. Its big, heavy head sat squatly on square shoulders. Above a fanged mouth, two eyes glowed bright red. Its torso was covered in sharp scales, and spikes extended from its legs.
“A sand golem,” said Tahrisa, shocked into a strange state of calm, as if not realizing what was happening to her. “I thought they were just legends.”
“I’ve never seen one, but they were real in my day,” said Ramesahk. “I haven’t heard of one for hundreds of years though. I don’t know anything about them really, but it looks awesome.”
“Farouk!” said Tahrisa, snapping out of her reverie. “You’re the encyclopedia. What do you know about them? Quick!”
Farouk fumbled for words. “They’re big,” he stammered. “And very, very strong.”
“Thanks, but I can tell that!” responded Tahrisa anxiously. The skeletons and golem were slowly making their way across the room.
“Um, very slow?” he added.
“Well, if we outrun it, we’ll never get the crystal, so that doesn’t help much.”
“Methodical, deliberate, relentless,” Farouk added, starting to warm up to the task.
“So it will keep coming after us even if we do run,” said Tahrisa. “Great.”
“Virtually impregnable. Swords and arrows sink into the sand and then fall out. Blunt blows are more useful,” he said.
“That’s what I want to hear – weaknesses! Keep going.” said Tahrisa, thinking hard. She didn’t think they had anything that could deliver blunt blows forceful enough to hurt this monster. The first skeletons were approaching the ice column.
“A purely magical creature,” Farouk continued. “Destroy the source of the magic, and you destroy the sand golem.”
“That’s no help,” said Ramesahk. “The Water Crystal is probably the source of the magic. We can’t destroy that.”
“I don’t know!” panicked Farouk. “It’s just sand. What can harm sand? It’s just a huge moving killer sand castle!”
We’re all going to die, thought Tahrisa. I should order us to retreat. But she didn’t. Something that Farouk said was sticking in her mind. Like a big sand castle. She had a mental image of herself building sand castles at the beach as a child, struggling to build up the walls and towers as they were being overtaken by waves, the sand washing back into the sea. Water washing away the sand. Suddenly, she knew what to do.
The skeletons were almost to the crevasse, with the sand golem right behind them. The tentacles must have sensed the skeletons, and they retreated into the cracks.
“Growlie! You and Ramesahk use your crossbows to take out as many skeletons as you can!” she ordered. “Farouk, you use the bridge to get to the ice column. Wait until I take out the sand golem. When you get there, melt a hole in the ice with the Bellows and retrieve the crystal.”
“How are you going to stop the golem?” asked Farouk incredulously.
But Tahrisa didn’t answer. She quickly pulled the Cup of Opherphlough out of her pack and muttered the initiation spell for it. The chalice hummed, and a jet of water shot out of it towards the monsters. As she chanted the spell and turned the cup in her hands, the jet became a torrent, and then a deluge. Shooting across the crevasses, the water collected into a large pool, surging and undulating across the floor.
She changed her chant and the motion of her hands, and the water started to form into waves, moving back and forth across the floor. The waves grew bigger, began breaking, and started to knock down the leading skeletons. They washed up against the sand golem, who initially took no notice of them, but plodded forward. Tahrisa thought she could see some erosion of sand from its legs, but wasn’t sure.
In the meantime, Growlfarghh and Ramesahk had started to shoot at skeletons with blunt tipped crossbow bolts, managing to destroy a few with clean shots to the skull, but more were coming. As the waves grew bigger and swept across the cavern, the skeletons were effectively held at bay, floundering in the water trying to regain their footing. Brainless, they apparently couldn’t swim. Since they all had swords, and none had spears or bows, Growlfarghh and Ramesahk carefully and patiently took aim, waiting for the best, clean shots to their skulls, and began to winnow them down.
The sand golem had reached the crevasses and was stepping across them, when a particularly large wave caught it while it had one leg in the air. It staggered for a second at the force of the impact, but then regained its balance and continued. However, a considerable amount of sand had washed away from its supporting leg. When it next put weight on that leg, another wave hit it hard, and the great sand leg, withered to almost nothing, buckled. To her astonishment, Tahrisa watched as the huge sand golem fell down on one knee.
“Yeah! Take that, you big lump of particulate silica!” shouted Farouk enthusiastically from his perch on the start of the ice bridge, pumping his fist up and down.
“Watch this!” responded Tahrisa, without breaking her concentration.
She then altered her chant again, and huge waves collected and hit the motionless golem at once from all sides, washing over its torso so only its head was visible. The water went tan with all the sand being eroded from the golem. When the waves receded for a moment, she could see that its legs had washed away to nearly nothing, and there were deep gullies carved into its body. Its arms too been withered away.
The golem shook a fist at them, causing what was left of its hand to break free and sail through the air, crashing into the ice bridge before collapsing into a shower of sand.
“The bridge!” shouted Farouk in panic.
“I’m on it!” yelled Growlfarghh, and then said to Ramesahk, “Cover me!” He dropped his crossbow, and unsheathed the IceBlade. Concentrating hard, he immediately went to work repairing and strengthening the ice bridge.
Tahrisa smiled confidently, and her chant took on a powerful new tone. Huge waves gathered from all over the cavern and converged on the foundering golem. They crashed together, causing a splashing column of water, nearly reaching the ceiling of the cavern. When the water receded, only half of the golem’s head was visible above the crevasse. A few small waves were all it took to wash the remaining sand down into the cracks in the floor.
Tahrisa stopped chanting, and slowly the water began draining down through the crevasses, washing most of the sand with it. The only sound was the gurgling of the water, and the occasional splintering of the remaining skeletons receiving a crossbow bolt from Ramesahk.
“Only a few more osteo-morons!” the mummy said delightedly. “Too bad, I’m starting to enjoy this.”
He took a few more shots at skeletons that were still floundering in the receding waters. Then Growlfarghh stepped forward, and sent a blast of ice from the IceBlade to freeze the last skeleton’s skull. He then hit the frozen skull hard with his fist, shattering it.
The team looked around, somewhat amazed that they had defeated the guardians of the Water Crystal. Farouk was carefully making his way across the ice bridge, as the tentacles of the monsters below waved futilely through the air, just short of the bridge. The water was almost gone, slowly draining through the cracks in the floor. A fine layer of sand covered the stone tiles. For once, all was quiet.
Farouk was now at the ice column, and was examining the embedded crystal. He pulled out the Bellows and began to carefully melt the ice around the crystal.
“That was brilliant work!” said Ramesahk to Tahrisa. “Using magical water to wash away the magical sand monster.”
“Thanks! Let’s get across and help Farouk!” she answered.
They climbed up to the ice bridge and carefully made their way across. It was slow going, as they weren’t sure the bridge could hold all their weight. When they were nearly there, Farouk let out a cry of delight, as he melted away the last of the ice surrounding the crystal. He then carefully reached in and extracted the crystal. Turning around he displayed it to them.
“We’ve got it!” he shouted exultantly.
“Great job, Farouk!” said Tahrisa as she approached him.
“Nicely done,” said Ramesahk.
“Now,” said Tahrisa. “We’ve just got to get out of here, and bring the crystal back to Gex safely.”
“That might be easier said than done,” grumbled Growlfargh, as ominous rumbling and cracking noises started above them.
To be continued (eventually)...
Edited by NiceMarmot, 13 May 2012 - 10:21 AM.