Can’t. Catch. Breath.
My wounds have mostly healed thanks to Esera. Hrm. Maybe not a wizard but I’m still not convinced! We just need to get out of here first but I’m in no form to continue. My head throbs and I can’t seem to think straight. I don’t think my blood will respond to my will to heal myself. Too loopy. Too weak. Damn! The day just began and I’m already drained. I will not make this place my tomb.
I try to convince the others to stay and rest but the fools are too impatient. Probably scared too. They want to move down this long corridor we just discovered out of this room. They think it an exit. But it’s a corridor with dozens of burning torches, recently lit. It’s not an exit, it’s an invitation. Someone’s been here recently and expects us. I’d prefer to make them come to us, not go to them. It’s a stronger position, more defensible; to see your enemies approach down the restricting corridor while we spread throughout the room. They still want to go. By the mists! How can they not see that? Mumpsimuses all of them! The women don’t even have weapons. Sure they have some magic – likely as foul as whatever brought us here and sure, maybe it will be useful – but what will they do when their minds are foggy and their blood is weak? Eh, they’ll probably just slice their bellies open with a sword. Maybe there’ll be some children down here in need of rearing. Hrm, useless. If I can’t catch my though I don’t even know how useful I’m going to be and it looks like it’s up to me to protect these pretty little things. Sure, Arden’s firearm is powerful but I’m not sure how much use it will be down here, in close quarters, and he looks physically about as frail as the women.
I have nothing in common with these humans and yet I feel slightly protective of them. We were the only ones to escape the horror of the theatre fire. It was a scene I never thought I would see again. Prayed would never happen again. And yet, somehow, this was even worse than before. Far more deaths… and the chaos of actually being inside while it burned… but at least they weren’t all children. No, nothing in common at all. And yet three of us have those accursed, silly handkerchiefs from DG. Too much of a coincidence I’m thinking. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellelana was lying or she actually was this DG person herself. I’m going to keep an eye on her. Good thing she’s kinda nice to look at.
Fine, I can’t convince them to stay and recover but if we’re going to go further into this hellhole I can at least arm myself more. A quick look around the weapon display room and I can easily see that these weapons are not very well forged. They’re serviceable and not in poor condition so they’ll do fine for now. At least they’re not corroded piles of rust like the heaps of scrap metal in the last rooms. I slip two daggers under my belt and grab a well-balanced long sword in my off hand. There aren’t any scabbards so I’ll have to carry it. I certainly won’t be able to fight like this but I can always drop it if need be. A second weapon is always a good idea and I left all my other options in my wagon outside the theater. If I drop it maybe one of the girls can pick it up, fumble with it and accidently poke something. Something that’s not me! Hrm and maybe later I’ll poke one of them.
I adjust the buckles of the de-haunted breastplate, feeling a little more well-protected than before. Should have just worn my banded mail and not been worried about appearances. Port-de-Lucene was a silly little city full of ninnyhammers more worried about fashion and looks than protection. I must have been there too long. It’s a mistake I shouldn’t have made.
“Alright, I don’t think it’s a good idea but are we going down this corridor or what?” I call out as no one seems to want to move or make a decision. I generally feel more comfortable in the lead but this is a fool’s errand and so we should be lead by a fool. Arden offers to lead. Hrm, probably more chivalry than foolishness but isn’t chivalry just another form of folly? I take the rear, protecting the ladies from anything that may come up behind us. Let’s call it practical chivalry.
As soon as I step through the door a gust of wind billows up around us and the door slams shut behind me. The closest torch blows out.
“Told you!” I will not make this place my tomb. I will not make this place my tomb.
A short distance up the corridor Arden comes to a door to his right. He doesn’t want to open it though and asks Ellelana to. Presumably because she’s shown she can pick locks but he hasn’t even tried to open the door to see if it’s locked or not. He’s scared but I suppose I shouldn’t fault him for that. Also, so much for chivalry. Ellelana finds that the door is locked and manages to pick it. Hrm, good call Arden. Then she backs away so Arden can open it. Ha! Oh the subtle games humans play with each other. I’m enjoying this “watching the show” from the back position instead of being right up front. Well, that didn’t work so well in the theater though. Images of the burned dead float to the front of my mind. No! Stop thinking about it, I tell myself.
As we move through the door we see that there are pieces of forest scenery throughout the room, presumably for some play. It’s strange since we’re not actually in the theatre anymore. So then… whoever brought the theatre to this cave is also responsible for putting on the plays. Maybe? Is the theatre simply a snare? No, maybe more like a honey pot.
Arden and Ellelana move throughout the room but Esera and I stay near the door which I close as I enter the room. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I rest my sword against the wall near the door and ready my war axe. I have a bad feeling about this. I lose sight of Ellelana and Arden around large wood cut-outs of trees and bushes. I look around the room for signs of trouble, for other doors, for anything that… there! Movement between two panels, what was…
“Ah! Dog creature over here!” Ellelana cries and I’m off as if fired from a trebuchet. Rounding the panel I saw her move behind I find her directly in front of me with the dog creature right next to her. I see a splash of blood on the ground and realize the thing must have bit Ellelana on the leg. Without stopping I swing my axe at it. Dammit, poor form. My momentum from turning the corner turned my swing wide and I miss horribly. Getting a good look at the thing now it appears to be some hideous six-legged creation made to resemble a dog or maybe a wolf. Great, another crafted toy. Ellelana takes a dagger out from her sleeve and makes a feeble attempt to strike it. She misses just as bad as I did. Granted, I do want this thing dead, but at least I wasn’t upstaged by her.
Arden and Esera are yelling something about escaping; retreating back into the corridor and closing the door behind us. Might work. It sounds like this may not be the only wizard’s toy here. If they are stronger than the crab creatures we may be in trouble. I swing again at the creature and make solid contact but my axe thuds against something hard on its torso and bounces off, not appearing to do any damage. Not good, not good at all. Ellelana takes another swipe at the creature with her dagger and manages to catch it in the face but the skin is thick and the hit does nothing. Still, it was a nice hit. I’m just glad to see she’s armed.
One more swing I think as I hear Arden yell, “Is everybody coming?”
Raising the axe high above my head in two hands I bring the full force of my rage down upon it, and hack a large chuck of wood and leather from its body. It’s badly damaged but still up. Damn, what are these things?
“I think Kraj has almost killed this one.” Calls out Ellelana
Another hit should kill it. I bring my axe up again, and catch a flash of light off an iron door behind two set pieces. Hrm, an iron door, that’s the first metal door we’ve seen. Must be significant.
My axe slides through the creature’s body and almost severs it in two. It falls to the ground in a puddle of ichor and base materials, no longer recognizable as the dog creature it once was. There’s still one fighting Esera I realize. Someone might have yelled that, I’m not sure. I’m lost in the lust of battle and the thrill of the kill. I run back towards the main door and see the creature bite at her leg, taking a strip of flesh of blood between its teeth.
“No one hurts a lady!” I roar as I rush forth, using my forward momentum to put more power behind the swing and feel my axe crunch through wood and bone and hide. It falls to the floor in a similarly indiscernible pile of junk as the first. Arden reappears in the doorway and shakes his head. “Worst retreat I’ve ever seen.” Right, that was the plan at first wasn’t it? I’ve never been very good at retreating myself. Best to keep that to myself.
Ellelana must have seen the same iron door I did while we were fighting the creature as she’s already there trying to pick the lock. She seems to do so pretty easily too. Usually I just bash the door down, but there’s no way I’d bust through iron. Hopefully she sticks around if we can get out of this. Might not be too useful in the thick of battle but once the kills have been made she seems to have worth.
Before we open the door; however, Esera wants to heal Ellelana’s wounds. Might be a good idea but Ellelana is so shy she pulls Esera behind a piece of scenery so she can hike her skirt and show Esera the wound on her leg. “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before” I call out impatiently. Ellelana curtly replies, “This is true.” I think she likes me. Oh my sword! I remember that I left it by the main door to this room. I go back to retrieve it and Ellelana thinks I was trying to sneak a peek. Arden and I graciously give the woman some time but when Esera returns she looks troubled.
“Is it a bad wound?” asks Arden. Esera says is wasn’t but her eyes are downcast and her words slow. Something happened. Maybe the critic tried to put a move on the little girl! Ha! That would be a show I’d be sorry to miss.
We don’t wait any further and open the iron door while Ellelana is apparently still putting her clothes back on. The door opens to a small space that seems to be a storage room of valuable jewelry and items. There’s a small ivory statuette of some fairy creature on a toadstool, a few necklaces, a bracelet and some coin of gold, platinum, and silver. The wealth inexplicably seems to bore Esera and she calls back out to Ellelana to see how she’s fairing.
“Hey, I remember these,” Arden says as he holds up six shiny emerald earrings that the large Valachani man in the lobby of the theatre of wearing. I’m guessing those crab constructs already collected his body and stored these here do to their worth. Maybe? Gah I have no idea what’s going on here! Why does nothing make sense.
The last item in the room seems to be a simple wooden chest that doesn’t appear to be locked. I’m thinking of opening it when Esera comes back into the room informing us that she’s lost Ellelana. Or maybe that she’s run away. Then she stutters something about her being replaced with a man and is looking at us like we hid Ellelana on her and now the jokes over and expects to see us pull her from our assholes at any moment.
“Go look for her!” I yell at the little girl. Perhaps I was too rough but I can’t do everything. Blast, now we have to go hunt down Ellelana and find what trouble the girl has gotten herself into. I carry the wooden chest into the main room to open in there before we go traipsing off after our lost lamb and some door slams shut behind us and we can’t get back here.
Opening the chest I find two seemingly identical glass bottles of some liquid. They aren’t labeled and there doesn’t appear to be anything else left in the chest. I take out one of the daggers at my belt and cut the velvet lining out of the crate and wrap the bottles in it before storing them in my pack and setting off after Ellelana.
My two remaining companions and I wind through the corridors and Esera is able to actually see traces of Ellelana’s passing. We follow these corridors to an open door depicting a farm house scene exactly like the one we saw in the play. This must be the way Ellelana went although I see no sign of her. Esera wants me to break the door off the hinges to prevent it from closing behind me but I don’t see the point in it. Instead I slide my sword under the door and get a nice tight fit that should prevent the door from swinging close. I then enter the room first.
What the! Somehow I’m standing… outside of the farmhouse… and Ellelana, (Ellelana!) is to my left. Where did she come from? Standing in front of me is… no… how? It’s not possible! The dwarf looks exactly like me! He even moves like me. What just happened?
Wait, it’s coming back to me. I entered the farm house and I was looking for something… needed something. It was my house. I lived there. And there was something I needed to do. Eventually I found myself outside, oh right I was looking for my moonshine. I found the bottle but I also found… her casket. I remember the pressing despair and sadness and guilt. I remember sitting with her until the sheriff arrived and I remember searching for my wife down by the river. I remember we all played a role, trying to decide the fate of my poor dead daughter. Wait. A role. Yes…
We were… we were acting out the last scene of the play? It seems so but was it real or was it a hallucination? Was it a dream? Was it more of the foul magic that pervades this place? Could all of this not be real either? Ah I just want something I can cut!
I just wish it didn’t look like me. Speaking of which, there’s a person standing in front of Ellelana too but it’s a man that looks nothing like her. Why is it just this thing that looks like me! What manner of sorcery is this? Although… what was it that Esera said earlier?
My head is still loopy and now I’m trying to recover from the disorientation of suddenly finding myself here, as my double charges at me. He touches me with a hand and I feel as if the wind was knocked out of me. I can’t catch my breath again and my head gets as foggy as if I had actually downed a bottle of moonshine. Maybe I actually did that too? Why can’t I tell what’s really happening?
I swing at the creature (it has to be another fake wizard’s toy made to look like me, it has too!) but miss and both of its arms come out after me now and I’m wracked with pain and a feeling of great loss. And then everything goes black.
My sense of touch comes back first and I can tell I’m bound in a sort of standing position. Hearing registers next but besides the sounds of other people – breathing, a grunt, a smacking of lips, a footstep – the sounds are foreign. Sight and everything else comes back next, but more slowly. I gradually see the blurry outline of someone in front of me, also bound against an upright slab. As my vision clears I can see that it’s my double, bound and unconscious. I’m in a room I haven’t been on before, and yet one I have. The large double door in front of me is clearly the main entrance to the theatre but the content of the room is foreign. It looks like a wizard’s lab. Figures. So we’ve finally been captured by the master of those hideous creatures. Is it DG or some other evil?
I groggily force my head from side to side but don’t see my companions. I do see a figure though. A man, human perhaps, yes – that’s likely, though it’s hard to tell as half of his face seems to be burned or melted off. His teeth show through a gaping hole where half of his mouth once was. He’s wearing a pristine white lab coat as if he fancies himself a doctor.
What. Is. Going. On?
“Let me out of here!” I grunt out as I push against my restraints. Careful, I think. We have to be very careful in this if we are to get out alive. Give this man what he wants. Agree to his terms if he has them. Flatter him if he’s looking for praise. Tell him our story if he’s looking for an explanation. He is clearly in charge and more powerful than we are. As evil as he is, the man is powerful and power like that has to be respected. Right?
He begins to speak and explains that he is trapped in this… place and has spent millennia trying to escape. He explains that the play was created for us, to bring us together, to trap us and test us and end at this moment so that he can send us out into the world. I don’t follow but Ellelana is doing most of the talking and seems to have a fair grasp on the conversation. When we get out of here I’ll have to ask her to summarize for me.
The bastard Lamont is here as well. This wizard refers to Lamont as one of his best creations. Could he be a created creature just like the crab and dog toys in the previous rooms? Or was any of that even real. I can’t think straight. Just want to get out of here. I’m done talking.
Ellelana seems to think that we are now some of this wizard’s created creatures. She thinks we’ve been replaced? That doesn’t make much sense. I’m not made of wood and leather and I can think and move like me. If anything’s fake it’s this doppelganger strapped in to the table next to me. Although if this thing was created by the wizard, who says his name is Frederick, why is it strapped down?
Ellelana is freed from her slab apparently and comes into my field of vision. She grabs her knife and slices her palm, drawing a fair amount of blood. Hrm. I was right. We are real. Esera seems to be having a tough time with this as well. She’s shouting about being violated and throwing insults at Frederick. Stupid! We are in no position to fight or anger this man. He could simply walk over to her and slip a knife between her pretty little breasts and end her life. I’d rather be violated than dead. Adren isn’t saying anything. Frederick advises that he’s not dead but that sometimes things go wrong during the transference. What transference? He says that Arden may or may not get better.
I’m freed from my table now as well and Ellelana moves to help Esera, both out of her restraints and to calm down. I check my pack making sure I still have everything. We don’t appear to be in any immediate danger, in fact Frederick wants us to leave, wherever we may be.
Wait… wherever we may be?
By the mists, he says we are no longer in Port-de-Lucene but has no idea where this door may open up! I could care less about that town but we could be anywhere! And many places are not friendly to a dwarf. I just hope my wagon is still outside.
Ellelana and Esera are helping Arden down from his slab. He’s awake but clearly can’t move on his own. I wonder if the poor guys mind broke? Likely, but hopefully he’ll recover.
Ellelana trades a few more words with Frederick but I make it clear I’m impatient to leave. We walk up to the main theatre doors and open them. The wide streets of Port-de-Lucene are gone. Instead a forest lies in front of us in all directions. Just… great.
We guide Arden out the door and turning around to see where we just from. There’s nothing there but the ruins of an old building foundation and a… hole, a doorway back into the wizard’s lab cut literally out of the air. As the doors close it appears as if nothing was ever there and all that I can see is trees and ruins and… my wagon!
A weight lifts from my shoulders and I think, for now, the madness is over.