How to take my mind off matters on which I’d prefer not to dwell….productivity ought to help. Ooze hadn’t exited the brothel yet and I wasn’t sure where Bob’bi was. Maybe she was off doing Githzerai stuff, whatever that might entail. By now, I was plenty familiar with the area and could find the marketplace easily enough by myself. Locating a merchant, I sold a healing staff I happened upon. Healing naturally is rather useful and I wondered if I might not be able to help Zariel out with his newfound absorptive properties, but then there were my owls to consider. That spell Zariel had cast on Alma seemed pretty handy, though permanency would be expensive. I’m a ranged fighter anyway. Water elemental hugs and opening perilous doors aside, I don’t tend to get injured too much. Steeled owls of doom ought to make any future battles go faster and help prevent some injuries. Practically the same thing, really.
Staff sold, owls’ feet enchanted, I made my way towards the Temple of Ao to talk to Fin and hopefully not Thrimbar. Maybe he’s a perfectly nice guy and probably wouldn’t do anything too bad to me, being fated and all, but he still kinda scares me. Neither did I much feel like informing him that he was wrong about the Sensates.
Just as I was leaving the marketplace Bob’bi came running up to me, her long arms flailing with some sort of necklace dangling from her hand.
“Syephos!” she called, “wear this and you’ll never have to worry about drawing breath again!”
I was initially a bit surprised that she remembered my name, then grew wary of this magic necklace she claimed to possess. I wouldn’t need to breathe? Would it blow my head off if I placed it around my neck? I doubt the dead have need of air. Dang, there goes my “Ooze is a zombie” theory. Now standing before me, Bob’bi must have noticed the odd look on my face. She quickly grabbed the necklace she was wearing, hanging at about eye-level for me, and presented it as proof of its safety. Smiling again, she handed me a necklace, looking entirely too pleased with herself. Was it possible to enchant an item to be safe for one race to wear, but not another? Or even sex, being the only female member of the group. I’m not terribly familiar with the art of enchantment, apart from Aislyn’s lovely golden eyes. That aside, I couldn’t think offhand of what she could gain from killing me. And so I took the offered item, hopefully without notable reluctance. I thanked her for it, gauging her reaction as I went to put it on. Excitement shone in her dark eyes with no hint of malice I could perceive. My shoulders tensed as the new weight hit them, but my head seemed to still be attached. Practically giddy, she suddenly launched into a half explanation, half ramble about how much easier it would be to get to the compound with them and various planes. Not one to tarry needlessly, as well as I’m aware, Bob’bi soon bounded off to find Ooze, I think. Certainly the most animated I’ve ever seen her. Maybe it’s a matter she’s been mulling over for some time now. Such an artifact would undoubtedly relieve much of the difficulty of traveling to the compound and I began to notice that the typical stench of the city had dispersed.
Shrugging at the strangeness of it all, I continued to make my way towards the temple. Considering all the time I had to consider my words, I didn’t formulate too well what I was going to say to Fin…that was maybe a mistake….if I stopped to think it over, I’d probably end up losing my nerve again. All too soon arriving, I took a deep breath, hoping it’d go well. Fin seemed like a nice guy. Maybe he’d take the news okay, all things considered.
Walking in, I saw Fin going over some papers at his desk. Breathe in, breathe out…. Making my way over to him, my sudden shadow caught his attention as he slide the papers he’d been working on under others.
“Ah, Syephos, what brings you here today?” Fin asked, his troubled brown eyes glancing up at me.
So many people remembering my name today…okay no, don’t get distracted. You’re on a mission! Small talk or cut to chase, small talk, cut to chase….
“I…don’t think….Ooze..quite…feels the same….as you may do,” I painfully fumbled. Panicking, I ended up rather blurting everything about Ooze out without nearly the care I should have had.
“Syephos…I don’t want to discuss this here,” he said with a tired sigh, further pain ghosting across his face at the confirmation of what I suspected he already knew.
“Is there anywhere else we could speak then?” I asked, refusing to be dismissed. I couldn’t very well deliver such news so crassly and then run, tempting though the thought may have been. After pausing a moment, Fin agreed to take a walk with me.
“I suppose I already knew Ooze’s interests laid elsewhere, especially after our last date, so to speak,” Fin admitted breaking the awkward silence as we strolled through an almost decent part of Sigil.
“What were you working on when I arrived?” I questioned, but he just shook his head and claimed it nothing. I could feel sinister intend of some sort coming off him as he recalled his previous activity. Not towards myself so much as likely a certain orc, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about it. Priests aren’t typically violent, are they? And one could hardly blame him for being upset after being wronged so. “I’m so sorry for how this all played out, especially at the hands of one of my own companions. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Is there any way you could ensure that Ooze will be in the city tomorrow?” Fin asked, looking perhaps the happiest he had since I had shown up.
“I don’t see why not,” I said smiling, just happy to give him some good news. “We’ll likely be investigating the anarchists tomorrow.” Being a Priest of Ao and subordinate of Thrimbar, he undoubtedly already knew of our assigned task. Informing him of what we specifically intended to do seemed okay.
“Ah, yes, the investigation,” Fin said nodding, recalling the information. “Well, I should be getting back to work.”
“Would, um, would you like a hug? Hugs always make life better,” I offered. Hugs from any of my family always made me feel better. I didn’t see why it shouldn’t have the same effect with Fin.
“That would be nice,” he said with a faint smile. Accepting the very platonic hug, he returned to the temple.
Feeling a bit better, I wandered back towards the inn. While our discussion definitely could have gone better, so too could it have gone worse. And neither did I have to confront Thrimbar. That makes for a good day. I still rather regretted not talking to Fin or even Ooze before when I had meant to, but such couldn’t be helped now. I’m trying to help Ooze’s human, Bob’bi is trying to help his gnome…that which he touches doesn’t seem to fare too well as of late.
The next morning, mostly Bob’bi and Ooze shared what they had been up to the previous day while I listened and wondered idly if Ooze would try to catch gruel in his mouth if I flung it at him. Outside, I suddenly heard screams and the strangest, most inconsistent footsteps. They loomed closer, sounding as if produced by one creature, but I couldn’t fathom how one being could possible generate such variance. One moment the steps would be soft and quick, the next incredibly heavy, always changing in weight and even the number of limbs the thing might lurk upon.
Hearing whatever could be outside creeping ever closer, I prepared my bow and faced the door. There was an awkward fumbling at the doorknob, like it was trying to figure out how to pass the barrier. The door began creaking open before suddenly slamming into the wall.
Standing or maybe more accurately oozing at the door was a pinkish, shifting…mass… Hmm, that explains the screaming. A feature or grained pattern would occasionally form before fading back into the rest, as if it was trying to maintain some other shape and continually falling back on mimicking its surrounding. Could this be Zariel? He looked so different being conscious. The top of it turned as a head might, perhaps glancing between the three of us as we must have been staring at him in obvious shock.
“You’re alive!” Bob’bi and I yelled.
“What happened? What do I look like?” Zariel asked in a voice as strange and inconsistent as his appearance, still maybe looking around. Or possibly just oozing like a bizarre sponge.
I silently lead Zariel over to the mirror in our room, touching him as little as possible. It wasn’t his fault this had happened, but neither did I want my hand to phase through him as it had in the forest. Motionless for a time, he only stared forward at his reflection. Slowly, he turned and cast his gaze upon me, only for an imitation of my own face to look back at me. He then turned to Bob’bi and judging by her reaction, it was her own vague likeness she saw. We looked at each other in mutual horror, wondering what to do. Zariel’s original face flickered a couple times like he was trying to recall what he looked like and couldn’t or any one form refused to remain.
Watching panic and frustration shifting across him, I tried to think of something to say when Orag and a couple Mercykillers appeared at the door, demanding to see me. I couldn’t possibly guess what interest they might have in me. I made my bed every day when we stayed in the barracks, honest! I didn’t even try to draw anything on a sleeping Mercykiller’s face as I had been considering. I stepped forward before my mind could come up with any more odd notions to explain their presence. They probably wouldn’t make a house call for something I didn’t do two weeks prior.
After they finished staring aghast at Zariel, Orag proceeded to charge me with the murder of someone from the foundry the previous evening. I simply stared at Orag in shock, the Mercykillers standing behind him glaring down at me. Murder? I hadn’t killed anyone! Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. I’ve killed more people than I sometimes care to think about, mostly those who would use the fights to sate their cruelty. Those with cold eyes, preferring to torture and humiliate their opponent as much as possible before slowly killing them. But I hadn’t killed anyone in Sigil! Wait, did he say last night?
“I was here all night with my companions, Ooze and Bob’bi,” I argued.
“And you suppose I expected you to say anything else?” Orag countered. “The witness clearly identified you and their word was verified with magic.”
“I didn’t do it!” Can’t you verify my word with magic? Or that of Bob’bi and Ooze? They can vouch for my presence.” I glanced between the two of them for an eternal moment, praying they’d say something.
“He was here with us the entire evening,” Bob’bi evenly stated, Ooze nodding after her. “It couldn’t have been him.
“And did you sleep last night?” Orag asked.
“Sleep. Did you sleep at any point last night.”
“Well, I suppose eventually,” they answered.
“Then you can’t know for certain that he didn’t slip out while you were sleeping,” Orag said calming, seemingly anticipating the rebuttal.
“Well, what was he killed with?” I asked, nervously twisting my pendant with my fingers.
“He was stabbed with an awl,” Orag said, his voice unwavering.
“I’m an archer. Why would I kill someone with an awl of all things? A tool entirely unfamiliar to me?”
“Why indeed might a murder use a foreign weapon? To throw suspicion off from himself, mayhap?”
He sorta had me there…wasn’t there anyway to prove my innocence?
“Just because they were honest doesn’t mean they saw what they think,” Bob’bi tried again.
“True though that may be, I must bring him in. I’m sorry. I did try to defend Syephos against these allegations, but to no end. Will you come peacefully or will we have to take you by force?” Orag asked, directing his attention back to me.
“I’ll go with you,” I said, glancing in his general direction. As fun as trying to take out three Mercykillers sounded, I didn’t foresee it going well. “Thanks for trying, Bob’bi,” I said looking back, offering her a small smile. She nodded, looking thoughtful. Waving goodbye to them, I followed the other two Mercykillers out. Orag stayed behind for a short while, maybe to talk to the others.
Walking towards the jail, they’d seizes my arm by the crook of my elbow and jerk me back into place if I’d so much as stepped too far on either side, laughing and jeering all the while. Or maybe they simply enjoyed pulling me back and forth. It was hard to say. This was going to be a long walk. Don’t shoot them in the face, don’t shoot them in the face, don’t shoot them in the face….or the knee….the knee might fun. You don’t need two functional knees, right? Okay, maybe assaulting my jailers wouldn’t end well, but before then it’d make me feel better. Though honestly, what could they do to me? Execute me? Pretty sure my neck was already on that block. Might as well hold out for some hope that they’d realize they had the wrong guy.
When Orag finally caught up, I think they pulled me around a bit less. And here the bruises forming just above my elbows had so been looking forward to the additional company. Guess I’ll have to cancel those other reservations after all. I thought about trying to talk to Orag, but ultimately decided against even looking at him. Whatever caused his demotion, if that was indeed what the change in his weapon meant, congregating with a murderer wasn’t about to help him at all.
Arriving at the lone jail cell, Orag relieved me of my weapons and the other two took the opportunity to give me one last good shove into the cell, for old time’s sake, I’m sure. Orag hung my bow and quiver on a nearby hook, nodding slightly in my general direction before departing. Did…he believe me? It wouldn’t save me, but it was some small bit of reassurance as the steel door closing echoed throughout my dank cell. I didn’t dare say anything lest I further his punishment and risk my bow being moved, but I hoped he knew I appreciated it. Sir Grumpypants #1 doesn’t seem as grumpy as I seem to recall.
The cell was rather small, not really anything to look at. One of the remaining mercykillers thrust a blanket and a bowl of food at me. At least I think it was food, not glue to attach the blanket to the wall for insulation. It tasted similar enough to the gruel spoon we rather often subsided off of, though there was a tragic lack of positive plane dirt to mix in. The blanket looked clean enough. Now, to sit on it or try to attach it to my back and pretend to fly? The latter sounded like more fun, but there wasn’t much room in the cell. Hey, you do what makes you feel better as you await execution and I’ll do the same. Finding the least diseased-looking spot I could, I threw down the blanket, pulled out my book, and curled up with Aislyn and Alma. Owls and books make life better, regardless the anticipated expectancy. While flipping through the pages, idly looking for Ooze’s brain-damaged lizard chicken, I started to wonder how they would kill me if I didn’t find a way out. There hadn’t been any shortage of various shiny blades in the barracks. Stabbed? Throat slit? Would they use my own bow on me? What would happen to my owls?
Before, the two Mercykillers had been largely preoccupied, wondering back and forth, fulfilling whatever duties. Passing me, they never failed to make loud, rude remarks. Now, evidently, they had finished whatever they had been doing and were bored, allowing me their full attention. Today sure is my lucky day. I had a rather difficult time believing that in Sigil of all cities, there wasn’t anything more pressing to attend to than taunting a caged elf.
Between the morbid thoughts and constant commentary outside, reading in Draconic, even aloud, was quite the ordeal. Sighing and pinching the bridge of my nose, I sat up. Something had to be done about the idiots outside my cell. If I were to share a few creepy owl facts and have Alma speak with his ever so unsettling voice, maybe I could intimidate them. Make up something about what happens to those doomed to hear Alma’s screech. If it worked and they left, that’d be great. Even if they just laughed at me, such wouldn’t really be anything new. But what if they tried to do something to Alma? If I’m a dead man walking, so be it. Maybe they could return to their old lives or become an owl police force against the mistreatment of familiars or something. If we were really lucky, the others were looking into what really happened and all three of us will get out. I can’t risk the safety of my owls on the assumption that the Mercykillers can’t or won’t cause any of us harm. Hmmm….big, tough guys, huh? Maybe hearing about something no so threatening would annoy them enough to that they would leave. I could try talking about how cute and fluffy owls are. Even if it didn’t work, happy owl thoughts beat wondering what it’s like to take an arrow between the eyes.
Launching into an elaborate description of the insane cuteness of owlets, especially their enormous eyes and tiny, fluffy bodies, I strived to impress upon them the vast magnitude of owl kind. When I finished, they stared rather blankly at me for a time.
“You know, I think it might be true, what they say about elves,” one of them began.
“And what might that be?” I asked.
“There isn’t all that much difference between the male ones and the female ones.”
……….Well, that was unexpected…..so long as they don’t try to personally investigate the matter, this may work out yet. They are certainly worse things to be called and as a long-haired elf, it wouldn’t be the first time someone thought me female. It’s hardly my fault that the male counterparts of so many races seem to be so disagreeable that any fair features are confused as femininity.
…………I’ve been here forever….weeks, months, maybe even years….in all actuality, it’s probably only been a few hours, maybe seven or eight? But that’s a long time to be babbling at bored Mercykillers about owls! As wonderfully creative as I like to kid myself to be, there are only so many things that can be said about owls in so many ways. How many odes to owls have I composed on the spot? If archery should fail me, I’m becoming a bard.
As I strained to think of another overelaborate description of an owl, I began hearing familiar voices up ahead. Sounds like the rest of the group brought some friend of the receptionist guard guy’s. Maybe he’s the one who actually killed the man at the foundry. As enjoyable as being framed for murder has been, I was rather growing weary of it. Meanwhile, Ooze wandered on back and asked me how I was. Loud and kinda smelly though he may be, at the moment he was my favourite tuba-playing half orc bard ever. The competition there may not be too steep, but I was truly glad for his company.
We chatted for a while until I heard a male voice yelling in pain and Bob’bi saying something about not liking the other suspect guy’s hands, or maybe what he was doing with them? The receptionist said he’d have to arrest her too for stabbing the suspect in the hands. ….did she seriously just stab a suspect and friend of a Mercykiller right in front of him? Was she trying to get arrested? She almost had to be, but why? As glorious as life in jail sounds, there are possibly better ways to spend time. But maybe her face will scare away the two Mercykillers back here? That’d be great.
The lot of them soon came back by us, Zariel squishing along behind them. As I had hoped, soon after my new cellmates were ushered in, the two idiot Mercykillers departed. Finally something worked! I could’ve kissed Bob’bi. Or smacked her upside the head for her questionable judgement. Or both, if I didn’t value my life.
Ooze and Zariel stayed for a while longer, making jokes and asking if there was anything we needed. Zariel kept offering to turn into a cake for us. Somehow, despite all the wonderful positive plane dirt I shoveled onto him, I doubted he would have adopted the same delicious flavour. And eating one’s companion is typically frowned upon by society.
“Could you go to the temple and talk to Thrimbar? Or Fin, if he is otherwise engaged?” Bob’bi asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Zariel said, I think nodding.
“Wait!” I called out to them just as they had turned to leave. “Ooze? Ummm…you maybe shouldn’t be the one to talk to Fin…or be there…”
“If..if you say so,” Zariel responded, startle confusion evident. “I’ll talk to them when we arrive.”
I’m not sure what compelled me to warn Ooze after having spoken to Fin the other day, or why I might need to warn him at all, but I had a strange feeling about it. All he asked of me was that I ensure Ooze was in Sigil and that he was.
When they left, I was forlorn to see them depart. Laughing with them, as the strangest group of four even Sigil had possibly ever seen, had been so nice, so normal, the situation aside. Though Bob’bi was still here and the Mercykillers weren’t, so that was something. The other suspect and what appeared to be his pet owl staring creepily at us wasn’t as comforting. Another reason to be glad for Bob’bi’s presence. If things went south, I could probably take him, though backup would be nice in such a small cell for an archer deprived of his bow.
The other suspect just continued to stare at us, looking oddly pleased despite also having been imprisoned. “You people think you’re sooo special,” he ground out, setting down his owl’s cage and opening the door on it. “And you played right into our hands.”
The owl then took flight and transformed into a man, his face a mixture of amusement and hatred. Well, there goes my owl interrogation plans, not that either of them looked terribly willing to talk. I cast mage hand to retrieve my bow as the druid’s skin turned to bark.
The other suspect promptly punched Bob’bi while Alma, Aislyn, and I focused on the druid. The druid launched flaming acorns with better aim than I might have cared for. What’s with all the pyromaniac druids, anyway?
Glancing next to me, I saw Bob’bi take another good blow. Staggering, she gripped her dagger and thrust it into Enemy Down #1 while screaming “you’re going to feel this!” He cried “Talos” as he fell, the invocation causing the door to explode. Undoubtedly hearing the noise, the Mercykillers came running just in time for the resident pyro to give into peer pressure. When the second cultist called out to Talos, a huge bolt of lightning struck grazing my owls and I, also incinerating both the cultists and Mercykillers. Bob’bi fortunately managed to evade what likely would’ve been a lethal blast for her.
Outside, dark clouds swirled right above us, a hand appearing as if pressing through a veil. The cage was breaking. Four enormous bolts of lightning exploded out of the sky, Talos following in their wake. The Lady of Pain appeared next to him and the battle for Sigil began.
We ran to holding to retrieve Bob’bi’s other weapons. She tossed a frost bow to me while continuing to look around for her other daggers and maybe anything else worth taking. I was already wanted for murder, so what was a bit of theft on top? With the impending battles, the bow was better off with me anyway.
Leaving the jail, we saw that the four bolts had actually materialized into stable streams and were still connected to Talos, seemingly anchoring him to Sigil. Maybe if we were to investigate and destroy each contact point, the drain would banish or at least weaken Talos enough to give The Lady a fighting chance against the deity. As it was, she wasn’t fairing too well.
Going to the nearest contact point, we found the scattered remains of a bar, six very large lizardmen, and our other two companions. The lizards stood in a circle, generating lightning to feed the portal, all connected by a stream of energy. Bob’bi promptly ran in and stabbed one. Commendable though her courage is, it truly is of little wonder she barely survives many of our encounters. Silly close-range fighters, that’s what bows and magic are for. From a safer distance, I called acid splash to my hand, willing the fates to alter and grant the low level spell greater strength than it would ordinarily possess. Feeling the sea of magic swirling around my fingers, I focused on it, causing the arcane force to contaminate the stream connecting the six lizardmen. The toxic energy killed two of the lizards.
Zariel took a bite of his apple and began to glow gold like he did once before in the compound. Transforming into a giant scorpion, his staff becoming a large stinger, he too struck at the stream, charging the lightning gold.
Ooze knelt down clutching his beloved tuba as he prayed to Tubatron, imploring him to appear in the room before us. Bob’bi and I glanced at each other, both pulling at strings of fate and willing his prayer to be heard, knowing so fully how much it would mean to Ooze. His tuba suddenly began glowing and floated a short ways away, transforming into a half orc much taller than anything has the right to be. Ooze wept at the sight of his radiant bronze deity before him.
“Thank you, Ooze, for your undying devotion and dedication, without which I would never have come to be,” Tubatron said, turning to face the bard.
“If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, could you grant me a tuba? To replace the other one?” Ooze asked.
“Ah, yes. A tuba. And a mighty tuba you shall have,” Tubatron replied, thoughtfully resting his hand on his chin. Facing the remaining lizardmen, he raised his hand and turned them into a living tuba with some divine magic I couldn’t quite comprehend.
“Oh thank you, Tubatron,” Ooze said accepting the tuba and bowing deeply.
Tubatron nodded, acknowledging Ooze before turning to Bob’bi and I. “Thank you two as well. I shall bestow upon each of you a favour of your choosing. Now, I believe I have a false god to take care of.” With that, Tubatron vanished.
The destruction of the portal disrupted the first lightning bolt, causing the stream to crash back into Talos and explode. The Lady of Pain took the opportunity to stab Talos and his blood rained down on Sigil. If we were paid for the number of times we took showers in questionable substances, we’d make out rather well in the end.
Paying little further mind to the delightful summer rain, we head towards the next closest contact point. Out roaming the streets was a minotaur covered in chunks of dirt and stone wielding an enormous hammer. Trying to move towards the giant, I was knocked to the ground by an earthquake. Climbing to my feet, I shot the beast twice and Aislyn and Alma swooped down on him, talons bared. Zariel charged by in his gelatinous glory just as another earthquake hit and the ground beneath the rest of us started to fluctuate and wave. Moving was difficult, but I could still aim. I lined up another shot, only for the minotaur to disappear into the ground as if he had melted into it. Instead, I merely shot at the yet wavering ground, hoping it might do something useful. Near my arrow, the ground only split, and I’m sure would’ve stuck its tongue out at me if it had one.
Meanwhile, Ooze was playing with a weasel he summoned. I couldn’t tell what he was trying to get it to do, though the effort was probably brought on by a similar motivation to what made me shoot the ground of all things. Zariel arrived near where the minotaur had stood, shifting himself into the same form and claiming the hammer the other had dropped to become one with the earth. Moments later, the minotaur erupted out of the ground, goring Zariel in the process and reclaiming his hammer. Bob’bi managed to edge her way forward enough to stab it and I fired in rapid succession, all hitting in the same spot and splitting the previous arrows. The first arrow caused it to bellow and turn towards me. The second appeared to have killed the minotaur while the last exploded through it, destroying the portal behind it.
Like the first time, the shockwave released from the destruction of the portal crashed into Talos and he lost his advantageous position against The Lady of Pain. Lady Grace then approached us to heal our wounds and share that the pervert who molested my ears the other day had been executed. I wasn’t clear on the wherefore, but wasn’t sad to hear of her passing.
Near the next contact point, we found a fortress and a strange mechanical golem rampaging. A crater the golem must have come out of was full of gears and cogs.
“All that clockwork looks like an entropy puzzle we’ll have to solve,” Ooze said, peering down into the hole. “And it looks like there’s a timer.”
“We could go find Zilvyn,” Bob’bi suggested.
“A good idea, but only if we can find him quickly. Here, let me try something,” I said, climbing down around the gears. True, he’d likely know something about the gears, certainly more than an archer, but he might not be able to solve the puzzle with an arrow lodged between his eyes. When in doubt, throw fate at it. Holding my hands above what might have been a control panel, I willed them to find the right buttons and levers in the proper sequence. Gradually, I would feel a gentle pull one way or the other, guiding me though I knew nothing of “entropy puzzles” or the inner workings of clockwork. At my ministrations, the timer wound tighter and alerted the golem. Seeing it running towards us, I clambered out of the pit.
“Even agents of entropy are subject to their own laws,” the golem rumbled before collapsing back into its entropic dwelling.
Gazing back towards the battle yet raging above, the third portal closing didn’t seem to hurt Talos, but he was visibly weaker. He and The Lady were now on equal footing!
Three down, one to go. The last contact point was in the foundry, or what was left of it. Bodies of cultists and godsmen lay strewn about. If anyone was still alive, they hid it well. Creeping though, trying not to step on anyone in a lovely exercise in dexterity, we eventually discovered a gapping aperture a heavy iron door once guarded. Something about the multitude of scattered corpses and otherwise excessive display of power just didn’t bode well with me. Deep breath, cross the threshold, and survive what lies ahead. Certainly nothing impossible. I buried my face in Aislyn’s side and rested my hand on the small of Alma’s back for a brief time. Not a goodbye or anything so morose so much as an attempt to pull myself together. We three luckily hadn’t much been injured, but fatigue was starting to show. Just this last one, is all. So simple, so near. I clutched my bow, the moment of respite passing. At least with this possibly lethal necklace from Bob’bi, I couldn’t smell all the blood in the undoubtedly thick air. A small comfort, but I was glad for it.
Passing the doorway didn’t immediately reveal anything new. Just more bodies, their endless blood splashed against most surfaces, drops steadily dripping as we traipsed through puddles, the pools of fading red clinging to our steps, marking our path. The eerie silence was at last broken by a faint rustling ahead. For better or worse, something ahead was alive.
Approaching another room ahead, I saw a colossal cannon as well as a high priest, judging by his garb. He walked around the cannon, fingers trailing along it, his eyes wide with fascination and glimmering with dark intent. Cultist high priest, then. Oh goodie. When he finally noticed us, he gave a delightful monologue, perhaps memorized from his “Bad Guy Speeches for World Domination” textbook. Nothing that much bears repeating, however. I was rather more interested in lodging an arrow good and deep between his eyes.
Zariel ran forward first with a hammer he materialized, his swing only narrowly missing the priest. I released a couple arrows and Aislyn and Alma swooped down on him. We didn’t seem to do too much damage, but distracted him enough that Ooze landed a devastating blow with his tuba, bringing the cultist to his knees. The priest stood with difficulty, starting to cast fire out of a portal appearing behind him. Taking advantage of his slowed state, Zariel ran in again and I readied my bow once more. Though it’s harder to accurately fire three arrows in rapid succession, I grabbed the extra projectile anyway. Whatever spell he was preparing, I had the feeling we wouldn’t all be walking away if he were allowed to finish. My first arrow thudded solidly in his torso, causing him to turn towards me as he raised his hand for the incantation. Panicking, the second flew, missing wildly and he smiled creepily, a crazed look about him. My last arrow…either it hit, and well at that, or I was to become the first victim of his torrential flames. I inhaled deeply as I pulled my notched arrow back, my hand pausing beside my ear. My breath escaped as the string slipped from my fingers and I prayed that Corellon guided my arrow’s flight. Just as the last syllable of the cultist’s fatal spell would have been uttered, my arrow shot through his open mouth, exiting the back of his head and landing in the wall beyond. The final portal imploded upon itself as the priest’s corpse slumped to the floor.
Outside, The Lady moved in once more to attack Talos, only for him to grab her and begin to beat her into the ring. Beside us, a godsman moaned and tried to reach out to one of us.
“The cannon,” he gasped, pointing towards the gun. “Our greatest invention…wielding the power to slay even gods…but it can be powered only by life force…one of you must climb inside the cannon for it to work…it’s the only way…” he barely bit out before his hand fell and his breath stilled.
Life force? As in all of it? Were we to decide amongst ourselves who was to die? Couldn’t we go get a few living cultists and shove them in the cannon instead?
“I’ll do it,” Zariel volunteered, stepping forward. “I’m an abomination. I can’t abide by this form.”
For a time upon hearing Zariel’s words, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t blink, think, or do anything but stare at him in growing horror. As a druid, being something so…unnatural must have been weighing on him more heavily that I had realized. Most other such entities we encountered he had cleansed with flames. Maybe we’re lucky he hadn’t tried to just torch himself. But would I be more callous to allow a friend to kill himself or deny him that which he desires on the simple basis of not wanting him to die? Looking back at the sky, at The Lady and Talos, I could tell we hadn’t much time. I shuddered to think of what should happen if Talos were to escape The Lady’s distraction. To come so far and sacrifice even a willing victim…but how much choice did we have?
Casting my gaze back to Zariel, he had already planted his apple in his chest, his mind made up. Bob’bi was doing something with her anti-Talos dagger and Ooze was performing an epic on his living tuba. What if the cannon didn’t have to kill him? If, say, a demi-god were to owe me a favour? The immediate joy that filled me at the notion of saving Zariel was soon tainted with mortification. To request Tubatron’s assistance, I would have to…to pray to him….a half orc tuba… There would be no forgiving myself if I allowed Zariel to die for so petty a cause, but to open myself to Tubatron, utter his name on my lips with earnest…at least at the brothel, it was only my ears that were violated…oh Corellon Larethian, forgive me. I beg of you, know that it is for the love of my comrade that I would do this, not the desire to worship any other deity. It is only that in your infinite glory, my lord, one such as I could never do anything that would cause one such as you to become indebted to me.
With lingering reluctance, I began…contacting Tubatron, hoping with his yet limited power he might be able to shield Zariel from harm, to guard his life force so that the cannon might not exhaust his precious supply. No sooner had I recalled Tubatron’s face did a flash of bronze light erupt in the room, leaving the new demigod towering in its wake. Dangling from his grasp was the severed head of Lothar, to Bob’bi’s obvious delight. Well, there’s one less archmage vying for divinity to worry about.
“I will suffer no rival!” Tubatron cried out, his melodious voice reverberating throughout the room as he threw down the skull. Ooze stood up straighter, his eternal devotion glowing in his eyes.
“Can you save him?” I asked sparing no further moment, though I was aware he already knew of my request.
“I’ll do what I can,” Tubatron responded with a nod and disappeared with a thunderous clash of tuba “music” that made me grimace.
Okay, operation “Keep Zariel Alive” was looking good. Now to make sure the cannon does what it’s supposed to. Turning my focus to my bow, I willed my weapon of choice to lend its strength to Zariel, to grant him its same accuracy and piercing strength. Maybe Bob’bi was doing something similar with her dagger. This…could work, couldn’t it? We could all walk away from this terrible ordeal yet.
Watching Zariel morph into the opening in the cannon, endless words I could have told him flooded my mind, but they all sounded too bleak, too final. “Hey, I hope this doesn’t kill you” isn’t a very good farewell. Not that this was goodbye. I offered a weak “see you later” and short wave, the guilt residing in my chest despairing further at seeing Alma’s savior offering to forfeit his own existence, begging that this might not be the end.
I hazily recall the deafening explosion of the cannon firing, Talos shrieking as he was impaled with druid surprise, the torrential downpour of divine blood, warm drops hitting me despite out relative shelter. The Lady mended “the cage” and disappeared. I pretended it was to fix her mask, a small attempt at humor, as if blood wasn’t yet raining down on a sea of corpses.
Like an ember fading, the bond between us grew dim and vanished. Nor could I feel the strings of fate wound through my fingers when I’d try willing something to happen. What now? Reporting back to Thrimbar might be a good plan. Maybe have him talk to the Mercykillers about that little murder charge there. Lady Grace could likely help. That woman she killed was somehow related to all this. After that, with us losing our ties to fate, I don’t know that he’d have any further need for us. Unless we were to develop a sudden interest in doing paperwork. I think I’ll pass.
Those humans I was sold to were probably dead. Even if they did survive the firenado somehow, I’ve no intention of returning to them. After so long, they invariably would have assumed me dead and wouldn’t even be looking for me. There would be no telling where my family might be after the decades I’d been gone. I’m…..free…? I can choose what I want to do with my life and where to go. To keep fighting or rediscover what peace is, that intangible concept torn from me so long ago by the human greed that pushed a bow into my hand. Truthfully, I don’t know if I could lead such a quiet life anymore, but the knowledge that I had been gifted the power of choice was exhilarating.
I could stay in Sigil, possibly make something out of the compound with Bob’bi. I could just travel with my owls, maybe find one of those planes of air and reference the cloud formations. I might even cross paths with my family in the meantime. I could take up an instrument, anything but the tuba. I could go find Zariel, or try to. Seeing him again would be nice. Ask him what it’s like to be launched out of a cannon, if flying was cool. Hope that landing wasn’t too unpleasant. Oooo I could find a way to go flying with my owls. I bet there are scrolls for that. Or I could find someone to just cast the spell on me, cut out the middle man. Middle parchement. Whatever.
Privy to my emotions, Aislyn flew happily around me. Alma, perched on rubble to the side, just watched us, a feeling of general contentment coming from him. Whatever came, I knew I wouldn’t be alone again.