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43. The Great Egg Hunt

After finding out Dona Ilsa of Crow Hollow was trading in Spiral Dust in the hope of reclaiming her kidnapped eggs, the party travelled to Ardeyn.  Through the Mouth of Swords into the Vaults where traps, puzzles and creatures wait.  The party have found two eggs and now realise they will have to search the whole complex to find all five.

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Leaving the forgotten room of empty shelves, the group notices the golem attacking spirits has now disappeared.  They wound their way past the room of the metal plates, past the statue of the riddle and back to the main chamber.  There the hulking mass of the golem stood, silent and still.  It faced the copper vessel, the flame-licked up in front of the golem encompassing the creature in its red glow.

“Hello there, I say.  Excuse me,” Tobias called to the creature. It half-turned to the noise, a fathomless black eye focused on the qephilim.

“Hi!  Do you speak at all?”

“I speak,” Came a voice deep and tired, full of the ages that the vaults represented.

“Excellent, who are you?”

“I am Rimush.”
“Very pleased to meet you. I’m Tobias.  What do you do here?”

“I clean up.” And the words were said with such finality that Tobias was sure that it was this creature that dealt with the corpses of failed adventurers and decorated the mouth with their swords.

“Do you mind if we go through to the next door?”

“I have no care,” Rimush stated and turned back to the fire.

“Excellent, I can work with apathy,” Tobias said to himself and turned to the others who had been discussing which door to visit next, “Choose your door, Gentlemen.”

Around the flaming urn, four more doors lay closed, all engraved with a qephilim in a different setting.  One had a qephilim holding a finger to their mouth for silence and one in full plate holding a curved sword, a Talwar. One was holding a chest overflowing with riches and one with a long scroll wound around their feet.  On the premise that it is the last place you look for something, Bruce picked the fourth door and pushed it open.

As with other doors, the first room held a statue similar to that on the door.  A female qephilim read from a long scroll surrounded by spiralling black tiles with gold highlights. More interested in the room than the statue, Tobias and Bruce step in, searching for left items of secret doors. As soon as they stepped in front of the figure, however, it spoke.

” Recite the seven act against Ardeyn that are considered sins.”

Bruce looked to Tobias, “Do you know?”

Wide-eyed shaking his head, he replied, “Not for Ardeyn.  If they were to ask me about Crow Hollow laws, I’m your guy…in Crow Hollow.” 

They both looked to Algernon, who seemed decidedly shifty under their gaze.

“What?”

“What do you remember of the seven acts against Ardeyn that are considered sins?”

“Ur…well assisting….Logan whats-his-face…I would assume,” He fumbled around for answers, “Wearing green, blue and pink in a uniform…?”

“That should be a law everywhere…except for those who know how to carry it off.” Tobias walked back to Algernon and sent a jolt of the Strange rocketing to his brain, “Does that help the old memory banks?”

Instantly, the list of seven sins and the seven qephilim kindred with all interconnectedness to the society and culture of Ardeyn became clear in Algernon’s mind.

“Desire, giving a Stranger or Lotanist access to Ardeyn.  Commerce, the collection of obscene wealth in the face of poverty.  War, cowardice that betrays a trust.  Lore, lies that harm another.  Law, theft of another’s livelihood.  Silence, failure to aid another.  Death, murder.” Algernon recited flawlessly.  On the word ‘murder’, the door at the far end of the room clicked open.

“Thank goodness for nerds who pay attention in class.” Tobias praised Algernon, who was still contemplating the sins.

“Murder.  What’s murder?  Was what we did to the keeper murder?”  He seemed more curious than distraught about the thought.

“I don’t think that it was ever alive so…no,” Tobias replied, responding from what he’d noticed of the wispy, mechanical nature of The keeper.

“Do we assume everyone here in Ardeyn is a mannikin?”

This subject preyed on Tobias’ mind from time to time.  Killing soulless clones in Ruk was one thing, but Tobias had wondered about those lives in Railsea who they’d help kill.  How many of those were constructs of their recursion, and how many had the true spark of life.  He then remembered the henchmen of Lightfinger and Caw Ek Carve they’d injured in Celephais. They would have travelled the recursion. They would have at least held the spark of life.  It gave him a cold shiver.

“We can’t tell the mannikin from the people. That’s the problem.”

By this time, Bruce had already stepped through the door and found a chilled room holding three chests.  On the wall, a shining blue scabbard held a long sword of unusual make.  

“Maybe it will talk to us,” Algernon said around Bruce’s side, “Everything else around here has.”

“Hello?”  Bruce said to the sword.  The sword did not respond.  Taking that as a good sign, he pulled the sword from the scabbard. Instantly the air seemed a little warmer to everyone in the vicinity.  With an appraising look, Bruce took the sword out of the treasure room and placed it against the wall for Peggy to look at when she got a chance.  He then returned to the chests.  Locked.  

“So which one of you sneaky sorts is going to try and open these?”  

Algernon and Tobias looked at each other.  Both had their thieve tools out ready, but in the end, Tobias shook his head and stepped aside. 

“I can encourage you,” Sending a tiny spark of The Strange to Algernon through his words, “I can’t encourage myself.”

“O-kay, so which one first?”

“How’d the old story go.  Goldilocks used Big Bears stuff first, so go for the big chest ,” Said Bruce sagely.

“Good thief was she? This Goldilocks?” Algernon asked.

“Famous for break and enter, but she was only ever done for misdemeanours,” Tobias replied straight-faced as he waited to see what lay in the chests.

The big chest clicked open, revealing a fabulously feathered dragon marionette.  Tobias instantly snatched up the puppet and, once its strings were untangled, started it walking the prancing around the room.  The feathers gave the puppet extra movement, and it all seemed uncannily alive.  Algernon looked at it with distaste, the talk of mannikins fresh in his mind.  When Tobias finally made the creature of paper mache, string and feathers beg in front of him, Algernon had to protest.

“I don’t like it, Rain, put it away!”

Tobias pulled the doll up to his shoulder and soothed it like a pet or unhappy baby.  Algernon went back to the chests.  The second chest stopped all the frivolity.  Nestled in the cushioning lining of the middle chest lay a large blue speckled egg, the third of five. Algernon carefully transferred the egg from the chest to the carrying box where two of its siblings already lay.  After finding the egg, the third chest’s discovery of three clay pots was anticlimatic, and they were perfunctorily placed in Algernon’s bag.

“Told you so,” Said Bruce looking pleased with himself, “Said there’d be an egg in the last room.”

They left the cold room and faced the brightly shining sword waiting for them.

“That’s a cool sword,” Punned Tobias as Bruce picked up the sword once more, “Wouldn’t you like to wield it?”

Bruce handed the sword to Algernon to examine and shook his head, “I smash things, I don’t slash things.”

Algernon’s eyes grew wide as he discovered the nature of the sword through the Strange.

“A soul sword, it’s really powerful. But, if it runs out of energy, it will suck the soul of the last victim or, if it can’t do that, it’s wielder.” 

“Well, that’s certainly not my thing, “ Tobias said, thinking the soul-sucking was cool but passing on the sword.

“Nor mine,” Algernon agreed.

“We could trade it for some…boomsticks?” Tobias said, remembering the dynamite Algernon had been keen on in Crow Hollow.”

“There’s no telling whose hands such a weapon will end up in there.  No, we don’t have to steal everything from this place.”

“I wonder if Peggy would like it?” Algernon mused.

That was enough for Bruce, who took the sword and returned it to the frozen wall where it had come from.

“So the wall is cold, not the sword,” Algernon realised, “So if we stuck Peggy up against the wall…”

Bruce slapped him behind the head in a very Peggy manner.

Before leaving the fourth door for good, Bruce did one last check of the room, with an extra push of the Strange from Tobias. In a seeming natural rock wall, Bruce found a notch that stuck out a little further.  When he pressed the button, the whole wall slid aside to reveal a long narrow corridor.  At the far end, a pile of crowns, the gold coins of Ardeyn, and one or two unopened chests lay twinkling in the firelight of torches.  Wary of traps, Tobias threw a knife down the corridor and made it twang into the wood of one chest.  Inside, the coins rattled and clinked, but nothing else.  No traps, no vicious box monster, nothing.  Algernon walked down the hall and put a coin of the local currency on the pile.  Nothing happened. He opened a closed chest and found it full of more coins, maybe 4000 crowns in total. He used a thin probe to check for hidden compartments on the chests, and still, the coins seemed to be the only things of value.  With a snort, Algernon walked away.

“Interesting, I thought you liked power.” Bruce commented as Algernon walked by, “Riches are a significant power in the world.”

“Too transitory,” 

“Youtube celebrity?” Tobias joked.

Algernon made a face, “No…that’s more your thing.”  He glanced back at the cold room, “You guys go ahead. I’ll close up behind us.”

“I’ll help you,” Bruce replied, having noticed the glance and moved between Algernon and the sword.

“Oh, I meant to the gold chamber,” Algernon sidled sideways to close that door.  As Bruce went to help there, Algernon levitated the sword off the wall and into his hands.  By the time Bruce had closed both doors and was ready to leave, the sword was strapped to Algernon’s back with his crossbow.

“Look, even a good person could do great harm with that sword,” Bruce said to a self-satisfied Algernon as they walked out of the fourth door.

“Well, we’ll make sure not to give it to a good person then.”

The fifth door was the qephilim in full-plate armour, the curved talwar ending in a point up over his head.  Beyond it, another door with a heavy lock stood open. Tobias stood back as this room was opened to reveal a huge statue of the same qephilim.

“Yeah, this is not my room at all.”

Along two walls, wooden racks of gleaming weapons stood attracting everyone’s eye, including the skittish Tobias.  His fascination with throwing blades drew him to the line of shining metal as Bruce and Algernon wedged the door with the lock open with a bolt shaft.

“I don’t trust this place, “Bruce rumbled in his baritone and spotted Tobias petting his marionette dragon.

“Don’t touch any of the weapons. They’re probably rigged to set off the statue or something,” He said before turning to enter the next room. 

“Did we hear something?” Tobias said to the dragon puppet whose head he flipped up to give him a look, “ Yeah, I guess we did, damn it!” He sighed and made a note to ask Algernon to levitate one of the daggers on their way out.

The next room was immense, easily the largest space beside the main hall. In the centre, a twenty-foot tall four stepped pyramid rose to the ceiling.  On each tier, runes were carved. Peggy and Tobias worked out they were the markers of other heroes who had attempted some combat and where they reached on the pyramid.

Gradnog the brave reached tier two before being slain by an arrow.  

Nyrod, the impervious, died here on tier three after being rent limb from limb.

“Yeah, we’re not going to want anything to do with that,” Tobias said as Bruce looked to the summit.  At the peak, a bronze altar shone.

“Peggy, could I borrow your shield generator?”
“Why?” She asked.  Though it was not always on, Peggy had come to rely on her force shield generator when combat was inevitable.

“Well, how much do you want to see Bruce with holes?” Tobias asked

“Not at all. I’m very aware of human anatomy.  Qephilim, on the other hand…” She let her thought hang in the air for Tobias to catch. 

“I have a hole. The unicorn’s work’s not completely healed,” He grumbled and lifted a hand to protect the shoulder.

“You two can keep discussing qephilim anatomy. Can I just please borrow the generator?” Peggy unclasped it from her belt and handed it over to Bruce.  

“Would you like the wings?” Tobias offered.

“Ah….no thank you, Algernon can levitate me up there.”
“Like a widdle baby…” Algernon mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, and Tobias noted Bruces reticence, but said nothing. 

Regardless, Bruce insisted Algernon lift him to the top of the pyramid.  On the ground Peggy and
Tobias started walking around the pyramid.

Expertly landed at the top tier, Bruce scanned the seemingly empty altar.  The only adornment was a plate featuring three images and a dial.  The dial was currently pointed to the image, very much like the stepped pyramid.

“It looks like it can change shape,” Bruce called down to the others describing the dial, “I’ll flip it left and see what happens,”    He set himself to leap away if he had to, and with his free left hand, turned the dial to the left.

The top step dropped away into nothing.  Bruce felt the drop and leapt, grabbing hold of the third tier and rolled away from the now gaping hole beside him. He looked down into the hole that had been the top tier and could just see the altar far below.  Within seconds, the tier started rising again and within the minute was back in place at the top of the pyramid.  Bruce was now on the fourth tier. Five feet of rock wall was between him and the top tier.  With no interest in being on the movable tier for the next experiment, he called down to Algernon.

“Can you come up here?”

With a thought, Algernon flew up to stand on Bruce’s shoulders. Together, they flipped the switch to the right.

Down on the ground, near the other two, the door clicked and swung open. Levitating down, Algernon and Bruce lead the way into the third room.  Deja vu.  It looked almost the same as the first, including the statue of the armoured qephilim.  Here, however, three mummified bodies lay discarded against the wall.  It looked like they may have died of starvation.  Scratch marks on the inside of the door confirmed that these adventurers had tripped the security of this third room.  Across the room, three chests lay locked and ready to investigate.  Algernon had them picked and opened, revealing three bottles of 600-year-old wine, the head of a maul engraved with the legend, Grandfather’s Maul, and a fourth egg!  One more to find.

Algernon gently placed the egg in with its siblings, and the party turned to the other objects packed away for safekeeping.  Tobias started pulling out the bottles of wine.

“We don’t need to steal everything,” Bruce complained again as Tobias foisted the bottles onto Algernon to carry.  He found places amongst the eggs.

“It’s not robbing when you’re an adventurer. It’s looting.”

Under the egg, three cyphers were also hidden.  Bruce didn’t have any qualms about taking cyphers and passed them to Peggy for identification.  Curious to discover if the maul head had any interesting powers, Algernon levitated it out of its box.  Surprised by its weight, he hefted it up to eye level and studied it for signs of The Strange.  Nothing.  It was a huge chunk of metal that someone’s grandfather had seemed fond of.  He teleported it back into its box with disgust and closed the lid.

Leaving the chest room, crossing the pyramid room and finally filing out of the armoury, Tobias pointed out the dagger of this delight to Algernon. Algernon stepped through the doorway and drew the weapon to him.  As soon as it hit his hand, he disappeared, and the doors at both end of the first room began closing.  Bruce charged for the door, running to stop it from shutting. He would not have made it if not for the bolt jammed in the locking mechanism, preventing them from closing.  

“Challenge accepted!”  

Algernon was on the second tier of the pyramid alone with only a dagger in his hand. He put on his armour of atrocity and readied for an attack.  An arrow came from behind him, higher on the pyramid and struck the armour, bouncing off.  Turning, a creature with horns and holding a shortbow took cold damage from his armour.  Another arrow from below did the same.  Looking around, he could see five of the small devilish creatures, all with bows, all seeming ineffective against his armour.

Good, He thought, drawing his jawbone crossbow,  Target practice.

Bruce and Peggy strained against the door, pulling it inch by inch away and widening the gap.  As soon as it was wide enough, Tobias flew in over their heads towards Algernon on the pyramid, Bruce hot on his heels.  Pulling out her spellbook, Peggy found the page with the summoning for the umber wolf.  This time she focused her thoughts on controlling the creature before she released it into the room.  It bounded out, racing after Bruce for the pyramid.

Algernon aimed his weapon, hitting an archer.  The devils, seeing they could make no impact on Algernon, now tried for easier targets.  Arrows fell in Bruce and Peggy. One drew a bead on Tobias.

“Heads up, Rain!” Bruce shouted, vaulted up the first tier of the pyramid, rolling to his feet and pulling himself up the second.  Rain ducked, the arrow flying overhead instead of hitting.  The umber wolf bounded up the first two tiers and launched itself at an archer, but the archers weren’t without skill and stepped aside.  

Bruce was now facing a devil Algernon had previously shot. Pulling back his crowbar, he shouted into the room, “Fore!”  The creature (or what was left of it) flew through the air to land in front of Peggy. Bruce flexed, taking a classical archer’s pose in victory.

“I have no doubt you could take these guys on alone,” Tobias said, hovering above Algernon’s head. The Strange flowed, and Algernon felt it sharpen his senses. Another bolt hit true.  Peggy on the ground examined the devil creature that was now a meat shield as her umber wolf continued to tear into its compatriot above.  Beside it, a shortbow that she now took up, ready to use if need be.  Instead, she summoned a new and terrible creature. Something small, fluffy and white.  It leapt into the battle, going straight for the throat of the nearest devil.  Peggy chuckled as the killer rabbit of Caerbannog did its bloody work.  

Hovering above Algernon, Tobias kept out of the battle when he was clawed from above by one of the devil creatures with wings.

“Incoming!” He cried, looping up above the creature’s head and sending Avel out to scream.  Stunned, it fell to the ground beside Peggy.

“I don’t need anatomy examples that are still living,” She complained and turned her attention to it as it got groggily to its feet.

Bruce climbed to the third tier beside another of Algeron’s target practice dummy’s.  Already injured and with nowhere to go, it too went splat.

Things looked dire for the creatures now as they didn’t seem to be able to land a blow, though the group’s attacks were either debilitating or devastating. Bruce climbed back to the fourth tier and smashed one who was still fresh.  He took the blow and prepared his claws for attack.  On the ground, the devil knocked from the air, was up on its feet and advancing on Peggy.  She stepped back in preparation for the attack. 

“Avel, please take over that body down there and protect my friend,” Tobias asked the now unclothed spirit.  Creepily, the broken body that Bruce had flung there from ten feet up stirred and stood.  With uncoordinated limbs, it threw itself at the flying devil.  On the pyramid, Bruce called Algernon, ”Turn the dial!” He yelled, gesturing with his hands to drop the platform.  His eagle-sharp eyes caught the fight on the ground and recognised the devil as the one he’d knocked off the pyramid.  The disjointed movements, the viciousness of the attack gave him pause.  

What in the hell was Rain playing with?

He had little time to dwell on it as Algernon reached out with levitate and flipped the dial.  He was ready, stepping down as the platform disappeared. The creature wasn’t.  There was a clear crunch as the body hit the platform at the bottom of the drop.  Swinging his crowbar, he waited for its return.

Algernon filled the air with bolts, killing a creature the umber wolf had prone as the killer rabbit took out another.  The umber wolf, now free to attack another, was sent after the shambling monster being puppeted by Avel.

“That’s my Mother!” Exclaimed Tobias and quickly withdrew Avel from the body and the fight.  She returned to the tattoo, her warmth instantly making him clutch his chest protectively. The umber wolf’s target now collapsed again to the ground, it leapt for the winged devil and killed it.  One left, Bruce stood patiently as the platform rose.  The shaken devil stood for his attack. 

Splat!

On the rise of the top tier, a new line of runes appeared.  Tobias flew down beside Algernon and read it out loud,” Mighty Algernon and friends reached tier four.”

Peggy sent the killer rabbit up the pyramid and, with its teeth, scratched a new set of runes just above.

“What do they say, Rain?” Algernon asked as the rabbit completed its last task and disappeared.

Peggy had written the runes for ‘short’ between ‘Mighty’ and ‘Algernon’.

“Ur…Noble.  The Mighty Noble Algernon,” He lied.

“That’s not very apt,” Algernon mused to himself.

“What should it say?” 

“Hmmm, superior in every way,” He finally settled on.

“I’d suspect that’s too long to fit in the space,”

They shared a look, and Algernon handed Tobias the dagger.  

“Cheers,” he said and slipped it into the holder on his forearm. Bruce jumped down from the tier above, glanced at the newly chiselled runes and rounded on Tobias.

“You, don’t follow the lights!” He said, pointing with his crimson streak crowbar.

Tobias blinked, “Fair,” He replied, knowing full well the Lord of the Ring’s reference to the mire of the dead from the last great war. However, he wasn’t sure if it referred to acquiring the dagger or Avel and her terrifying abilities.  Neither said anything more.  Bruce handed back the shield generator to Peggy, and they all returned to the main hall and the urn. 

Rimush was still there, staring at the fire.

“What are you waiting for?” Algernon asked the golem, who didn’t bother turning his head to answer.

“The Mythkeeper. He opens the doors for me to clear up,” The golem replied, reminiscent of Marvin the robot.

“I can do that,” Algernon replied, lifting his hand and the ring,” Which door would you like opened?”

“I care not,” 

Algernon looked to the last two doors, one with a qephilim with a finger pressed to its lips and the other holding a chest full of gold coins. Algernon opened the latter, and without a word, the golem slowly made its way through the door. 

“Happy clearing up!” Algernon waved before turning to Tobias, “Do you want to go in there while he’s clearing up?”

“No,” Tobias shuddered.

“No, let’s go to the other one.” And he twisted his ring.  The flame in the cauldron spun around, and the door clicked open.

Bruce had been busy with his first aid kit on Peggy.  He’d been able to soothe her injuries a little, but not with any great success.  He now turned to Algernon, and Tobias sent a shock of  The Strange through Bruce, hoping it would aid the treatment.  The healing did nothing, and disgruntled Bruce packed up his potions and ointments.

Refreshed, if not healed, the group entered the doors of the silent monitor.  It was clear as they passed the massive door that this was not like the other spaces.  Clean and well lit, the other spaces gave a sense of opulence and grandeur.  This winding corridor heading downwards was dark, unused and ill-kempt.  As they wound down the snaking corridor the dust accumulated grew heavier, and the mythlights of the qephilim grew brighter against the darkness.  Everywhere Tobias read the same runes of spirit warding, stopping unclothed spirits from entering The Vaults from this direction.

“I don’t know if this is where we belong,” Algernon said first.  Tobias said nothing and kept walking.  Eventually, the long corridor ended in a door marked with runes.

Journey not into the Night Vault.

Tobias and Peggy both looked at each other.

“That was one of the myths of Ardeyn,” Algernon said, referring back to his studies with The Estate, “The Night Vault is where you go when you die.”

“What? Hell? What are we supposed to do? Go down and fight Satan?”  Bruce exclaimed, sure he shouldn’t be anywhere near such a place.

“More like Hades of the Greek tradition,” Tobias added, now feeling drawn to what lay beyond the door, “What if there’s an egg down there?  Don’t we have to try at least?”

Bruce had to agree if an egg was down there, they would have to go as well.  He pushed it open, and Tobias jumped back as another unicorn statue reared up silently in front of them.  This one’s horn was made of metal and shone dully in the mythlight.  

“I’ll get this one,” Algernon said, climbing up the side of the unicorn. Not getting in front of this one, Tobias walked around the statue to Algernon’s side. Climbing up a leg and along the statue’s flanks, Algernon edged towards the head and tried the horn.

“It turns,” Algernon said.  

Bruce was checking the seemingly empty room for secrets when he spotted the subtle outline of a door at the far end, “Hey guys, there’s a…” Was all Bruce got to say as Algernon turned the horn to the right and a piercing scream emanated from the statue.  It echoed endlessly around the room making all of them clutch their ears and throwing Tobias to the ground.  When the screaming ceased, blood could be seen trickling from his ears as he held his head in his hands.  Bruce rushed over to see how he was and found the cuts the flying devil had inflicted in the pyramid room.

“Why didn’t you get this healed up before?” He asked.

“It was more important you healed the others.  Even with The Strange’s help, it didn’t seem to be working.  I just wanted to finish this place and leave.”  He confessed as Bruce helped him back to his feet.

At the same time, Algernon turned the horn to the left and a click was heard from the secret door.  Following the other, Tobias wobbled after, down a new passage.

This passage seemed even more abandoned and forgotten than the previous.  Steps lead further and further down, but no longer curved and wound, instead headed due east and away from The Vaults.  A breeze up the passage brought the sound of umber wolf howls.

“I don’t think this is safe,” Algernon said from the head of the group.

“No, the living should not be here,” Tobias swayed like a psychic at a seance adding to the creepiness of the space.

“Doctor Peggy, could you ask The Strange if this is a good way to go?”  Algernon turned to Peggy who closed her eyes and posed the question to the energies of The Strange.

This way is only taking you away from anything of value, Peggy heard her voice reply.

The decision made, the party started back up the stairs.  Tobias stood for a moment wondering what besides umber wolves they may have found further down the path.  He wasn’t sure if it was the qephilim body he inhabited or something else, but he felt drawn towards whatever lay at the end of the passage.  In the end, feeling unwell and longing for a rest, he too turned and trudged back up the winding passage that eventually led back to the main room.

There were no arguments from anyone when they returned to the warmth and temporary safety of the urn for a rest.  They spent an hour recharging, looking over their finds and catnapping before tackling the last door, the one with the chest of gold.  

A short corridor led to a new door that opened up onto a room holding a large glass vessel.  Frosty plumes of fog rolled off the glass and condensation dripped down iron tripod legs.  

Feeling better for his nap, Tobias walked up to the vessel and waved away the mist, but besides the bitter cold emanating from it, he could see or feel nothing.  Peggy cast a spell protecting her from the ferocity of the cold and placed her hand on the glass.  

Roar! Someone said.  It was so curious, Peggy didn’t flinch away but stood, hand on the glass, a look of surprise on her face.

Hello?

Who are you?

A traveller and a scientist.  And you?

None of your business.  This is my home, what do you want?

We’re on a mission of discovery and adventure.  I do ask your pardon for our intrusion.  Are you willing to talk at all?

There was general mutterings but no outright statement yes or no.  Peggy continued, I do apologise for the intrusion.

“Is it imprisoned in there?” Algernon asked from outside the fog of cold.

Is this your willing adobe? She asked.

What’s it to you?

Not much, your situation need not change, but if you were unfairly placed in this vessel I could be persuaded to let you out.

Look, I am stuck in here, but I like it.  I’m safe and I  usually don’t get bothered by nosy intruders! The voice rose in irritation and volume.

Well, pardon.  Enjoy your next eternity, And Peggy released the glass with a snort of frustration.


Another door and an empty hallway ran off this room.  Runes moved in loops on the flooring tiles. At the far end, another door on the right-hand side and darkened archway to nowhere were clearly visible. From the doorway, Bruce used a darkvision cypher to peer down the hallway and beyond.  The cypher did nothing to dispel the darkness beyond the archway.  He stepped into the hallway.

It seemed an ordinary sort of hallway, nothing as flash as the ones they’d come to expect from The Vaults.  The runes moving down the hallway were disconcerting.  Algernon asked Tobias what they said.  

“Ah, Bruce?  The darkness hungers!”   

He took another step and the world flipped.  Gravity, instead of pointing down to his feet, pointed down to the dark archway at the end of the hallway.  His feet slipped away from under him as he felt inextricably drawn in the dark maw, now below. Instinctively, Bruce threw out an arm and caught the door frame.  He climbed up out of the doorway like climbing out of a hole. Normal gravity reasserted itself once he was mostly past the door frame and he rolled back into the room with the glass vessel.

Algernon stood outside the doorway.  He pulled a bolt from his quiver and sent it down the hallway supported by levitation. Once again, the gravity shifted and he had to adjust his hold on the bolt to keep it from falling to the archway.  He let it float all the way to the door on the right-hand side noting the gravity did not change again. It seemed once past the door the hallway just became a shaft.

“Ropes, we can lower someone down to that door on the side at the very least,” Bruce started rummaging through the group’s supplies and found rope enough to make the hallway.  Now it was only to find someone willing to ride the rope down. 

“I’ll do it,” Algernon volunteered.  He was an obvious choice.  Light enough that Bruce would be able to hold his weight, able to levitate himself if need be.  He tied the rope securely around his waist and walked into the hallway.

As before the gravity shifted, but this time he was ready and caught himself with levitate.  Slowly he hovered down to the door, as an unusual rhythmic sound could be heard echoing up to the doorway.

Do  Do  Do-Do

Do  Do  Do-Do…

The door opened to reveal a sculpture studio.  Statues from the very large to the tiny tokens were on tables and benches in various states of completion. Under one bench five iron pails held various useful objects, including extra irons sword ready to decorate the Mouth of Swords.  Papers lay on every flat surface containing illustrations of figures, past and future works as well as notes.  Above a work desk full of clay tokens a bright red light glowed  Amongst all the half-finished statues, another figure stood, still and silent.  

“Rimush, what are you doing?”  Algernon asked from the door.

“I don’t understand the question?” Rimush moaned.

“Fair enough, what are you doing here?” 

“This is my workshop,”

“Can I come in?”

“If you wish.”

Algernon levitated in, was caught by the shift in gravity for a moment and fell to the floor, sliding in the stone dust and clay dust of the floor.  He untied the rope and started looking around at the sculptures and papers.

Above the rope went slack. They’d seen Algernon presumably talking to Rimush and enter in the doorway.  Bruce wedged the rope into the door frame by tying a knot and slipping it over the door, allowing the rope to trail down the hallway.  Checking to see if the rope would hold, he then started climbing down to join Algernon.

Tobias left in the glass with Peggy and focused on his phylactery still with Algernon.  He took Peggy’s hand and shared the link.

Algernon was investigating the red light, trying not to stare directly into it.  Below, new little clay figures like the two in his pockets lay in various states of completion.  Beside them, pages containing a humanoid figure in robes.

“Rimush, do you make these?” Algernon asked, picking up a token.

“When I have the time, the Mythkeeper uses them.”

“And these images, “ He pointed to the man in robes, “Whose this?”

“The Dustman, I hate him. I hate him, I would kill him if I could.” Rimush said with no more urgency in his voice than usual, but the words themselves were full of menace.  Algernon made the connection between the man (not a man) covered in blue dust that brought the eggs to The Vaults.

“So why don’t you?”

“The Mythkeeper forbids it, otherwise I would have killed him.”

“Why? Why do you hate him so much?”

“He is a stranger and not of Ardeyn, and I hate him.”

“Rimush, the Dustman stole some stuff, and he brought them here. Would you know where they would be?”

“The Mythkeeper handles storage.”

“How often has The Dustman been here?”
“He has visited four times.  First with a q.  I did not see her again, and I did not get her name. “  

“We are looking for the Dustman.  He stored something here that did not belong to him.  Would you know where it is?”

“No, the Mythkeeper deals with storage.”

“Would you know where the Dustman is?”

“No, but if I did, I would kill him.  I have a device.  A device of ultimate sorcerers that will kill a Stranger, you know.”

“What if I told you that we want to kill the Dustman?”

For the first time, Rimush seemed to show any interest,” You wish to kill the Dustman too? Oh…if you swear…swear on the Maker to kill him, I will give you the Device.”

“I swear Rimush, on the Maker of Ardeyn to kill the Dustman,” Algernon said, and Rimush gave him a cypher.  He identified it as a Stranger slayer, a weapon uniquely designed to hurt creatures of The Strange.

“Thank you, Rimush.  Can I ask you one more question?”

“If you wish?” 

“What is the red light?”

“It is my working light. I make the figures.”

That much was clear from Algernon’s original investigation.  He poked around a little more, finding polishing sand, bolts, ink and quills.

Outside the hall, Peggy was drawing on her knowledge of The Strange to find the last egg.  She wondered if a spell to draw an item to her would find the egg.

“I think it will take a lot to use this ability.  I wouldn’t be good for much else afterwards, so we’d want to leave straight away.”

“Well then, maybe I need to have a chat with Mr Grumpy now before you try,” Tobias nodded and letting go of his view of Algernon and Bruce in Rimush’s workshop. He walked back over to the glass vessel.  Peggy cast the shield spell to resist the cold, and Tobias touched the glass.

Oh, what do you want now!  The voice said gruffly.

My names Tobias, I won’t disturb you long, but I wondered if you’ve seen a large egg in your time within The Vaults.  A Cro egg? 

Hmmm…  The voice took on a new quality, one that didn’t so much mind the disturbance, What’s in it for me?

Tobias was on firmer ground now and smiled, Well, we’ve seen a few things while here.  Do you have anything in mind?

Silence for a moment as the being in the glass vessel thought.

I like good wine.  I haven’t had good wine in ….well, I don’t remember. The voice said.

Tobias’ smile broadened, This is your lucky day as we just so happened to come across a very old bottle of wine a few rooms back.

Oh!  I could trade the egg for that then, No longer grumpy, the voice was eager, even excited.

Tobias dropped the contact and walked back to the hallway.  

“Hey Algernon, Grumpy has the last egg, but we need the wine,” He called to the workshop.

Inside, Algernon was drawing a map of the Vaults they’d explored.  When he thought it was accurate, he showed it to Rimush.

“Have we missed anywhere in this place?”

“You have not,” Rimush declared 

“Hey Algernon, Grumpy has the last egg, but we need the wine,” Came Tobias’ call from up the hall.

Algernon took one more piece of paper and made a copy of Rimush’s Dustman sketch.  When he was satisfied that he had the likeness, he left Rimush to his workshop and headed back up the hallway.  Bruce had also been investigating the workshop.  As he left, he looked down into the dark archway.  Even with the aid of the dark vision goggles, Bruce could see nothing in the darkness beyond the archway.  He climbed the rope and back into the room where Tobias was making a trade for the egg.

“That darkness is magically resistant.  Can you feel anything Strange in there?” He asked Peggy.  

She looked down the hallway and through the arch.  She let her focus drift to things of the Strange.  There was something.  She sent a ball of fire down into the archway to try and light the next space along.  The darkness swallowed the ball of fire, and when she looked again, the strange thing was still there, hidden in its cloak of black.

“Oh, that’s a lovely bottle of wine,” The voice was now eager and genial as Tobias gently handed off the last Cro egg to Algernon to be safely put away, “Do you have any more of those?”

“I may,” Tobias smelt the sell, “I was looking forward to it myself.  What’s in it for me?”

“I have one or two items in here that you may find of use.  I have a spirit slaying gadget that could be of use.”

Tobias blanched thinking of that thing used against Avel.  Algernon looked keen and described how it could also be used against individuals out of phase. He made the deal, and the bottle and cypher were exchanged.  Just as Tobias was about to farewell the being in the glass, they made one more deal.

“I have a lovely soul gem here, great for soul sorcerers like yourself,” It said, now getting into the patter of the sale, “One spirit can be safely stored inside indefinitely.”

Tobias stopped himself from talking.  This was the answer to his concerns for Avel once they returned to Earth or any recursion that did not support his soul sorcery ability. He was deeply aware she had spent more than twenty years voiceless and seemingly alone.  He didn’t want that fate to befall her again.  Taking a breath, he sighed and seemingly bored with the exchange, he replied

“I suppose I could find a use for it.”

And so the last bottle of six hundred-year-old Ardeyn wine was exchanged for a gem hanging from a chain that he quickly made disappear somewhere on his person.

The five eggs found the group did not waste any more time in The Vault.  Leaving through the broken teeth of the Mouth of Swords, they gathered outside and translated back to Crow Hollow.

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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