Chapter 13: Scavenger Hunt
"I have to say, this is the exact reason I signed up for this journey. Just so I can spend half the time looking for more and more powerful keys," complained Ron.
The group had almost arrived in the town of Lancel, if the ghostly old man who had given Suzanne the information on the Final Key was correct. The group had tried out Alice's teleportation spell to get the group and the ship near Baharata. The group had then decided to take the rest of the day off. They had two reasons for doing so: the increased strain of teleporting the ship took a great deal of magic from Alice and it also happened to be her eighteenth birthday. The group rested up and celebrated the occasion, though Bill complained about the wasted day.
After two days of journeying at sea, the group found their information had been accurate when one of the crewmen of the Mad Hound reported seeing land. The Mad Hound had come across a large island. The island was bigger than most, but still easily dwarfed by the island of Aliahan. Not far away from reaching land came the appearance of a small town. The group got their things together and was heading into town.
"Well if that ghost knew what he was talking about, this will be the last time we need to find a key. Might as well get it out of the way now," said Suzanne.
"That's what we thought about the last two keys. I'm willing to bet there's a door that could fool this Final Key," said Ron.
Suzanne thought about what Ron said and asked, "Hey Alice, do you know anything about this Final Key?"
"There's been a lot of tales and legends of magical keys that could open a variety of doors. I can't say I've ever heard one about a key that could open any door but that isn't to say there hasn't ever been one," replied Alice.
"I don't buy it," said Thomas. "Best case scenario in my opinion is that we find a key that can open some doors that our current keys cannot, but I doubt such a magnificent item exists or ever has existed. And even finding another magic key is a stretch. It's not like such items are just lying around all over the place for people to find them, or they would have been found by now. I think we're wasting our time."
"Bill thought it might be worth the risk," reasoned Suzanne. "Sure there's a good chance this is a waste of time, but if it isn't, then surely the reward outweighs the risk of a few days."
The group decided to split up to find information in the town of Lancel. As the town was not the big, the group believed they could find any information to be found before the afternoon had even ended. Ron decided to head to the local pub this time while Suzanne visited other hot spots such as the inn. Thomas and Alice went their own ways to see if there was anything else interesting in the town.
As Ron entered the pub, he found that it was somewhat well crowded, especially for a small town during the day. He quickly went to work asking questions, though not without enjoying himself a small amount. After some small interviews, Ron was pointed in the direction of Alten, the local storyteller. Ron left the pub and went to the storyteller's house where he found a younger man, looking to be in his late twenties or early thirties, inside.
"Hello," greeted Ron. "I'm looking for the local storyteller, Alten. I was told he might know about something I'd be interested in."
The man laughed and walked over to Ron to shake his hand, "You've found him. I'm Alten. Might I ask who you are?"
"My name is Ron. I'm a traveler," Ron introduced himself. "I'm sorry, but I was under the impression that storytellers are usually older."
"You'd be correct," replied Alten. "I only recently inherited this position from my grandfather. He knew a great deal of stories. I'm guessing that you're interested in the shrine on the northern outskirts of town?"
Ron shook his head, "No, I'm actually looking for something called the Final Key. It's a key that is supposed to open any door."
Alten looked surprised at the mention of the Final Key. "That's strange. My grandfather said that all public knowledge of that key vanished long ago. Nobody is supposed to know about it."
"If you'll believe me, my source on the matter is a ghost," replied Ron. "Not exactly the most reliable source, but it was an interesting story nonetheless. By the sounds of it, you don't know much about this key."
Alten's surprise was replaced with a smile as he answered, "I may not know much, but my grandfather told me where to look for the key. Have you heard of the kingdom of Eginbear?"
"I've heard a little bit about it. Not a whole lot," answered Ron.
"Eginbear is to the north of a kingdom called Portoga, a naval power. Have you heard of Portoga?" asked Alten.
"Oh yes, we've been to Portoga. Do you know how far north of Portoga this Eginbear is?" asked Ron.
"I believe about three days or so," replied Alten. "I must admit, I don't know if the key is in Eginbear itself. Even my grandfather's story was dated. He said he got it from his father, who got it from his father. Not the best chance of finding it but it would be a handy item to have. You may also want to pay a visit to the local item shop. The shopkeeper keeps a stock of another handy item you may need. I'm afraid that's all I know. Is there any other way I can be of help?"
Ron smiled and started for the door, "Oh no, you've been plenty of help already. I might check out that shrine you mentioned before we head out. Thanks for the information."
Alice, on the other hand, had already visited the local item shop. She was greatly intrigued by what she found there.
"I talked to this young woman out and about who told me you sell some great magic items here," said Alice. "Is that true?"
The shopkeeper, a somewhat heavy man looking to be in his late fifties, smiled politely and replied, "Well, we only sell one kind of magic item, but we've got a nice stock of it. Ever heard of invisibility herbs, young missy?"
"I've heard about some items and spells that can make a person invisible, but not an herb that could do so," replied Alice. "I'm guessing that's what these invisibility herbs do?"
"Oh yes. Ground them up and sprinkle them on yourself and some of your friends and you'll all turn invisible. Of course, the more you sprinkle on yourself the longer it lasts. If you use an entire herb on yourself, you'll be unseen for about an hour," explained the shopkeeper proudly.
"That's pretty useful!" exclaimed Alice. "Do you make these herbs yourself?"
"Yes I do. I may not look it, but I come from a long line of wizards and alchemists," replied the shopkeeper, his pride still evident in his voice. "Back during the Second Great War, my family lived in Eginbear Castle and sold many a magic item to the royalty and military there. Unfortunately, many of my families' recipes and abilities have faded since then. I assure you though, you won't find legitimate invisibility items of any sort anywhere anymore."
"Would you mind if I examined one of your herbs?" asked Alice. "I don't mean to be rude, but one cannot take such powerful enchantments lightly."
"Of course, of course!" said the shopkeeper enthusiastically. "I'm sure you'll find I've not been exaggerating in the slightest."
The shopkeeper gave one of the herbs, which were an odd blue and black in color, to Alice. Alice looked it over a little bit and cast some identifying and investigating spells on the herb. There was definitely a powerful enchantment living within the herb, the likes of which Alice had never seen. Alice could not help but get excited at holding such an item in her hands. Nevertheless, she remembered the rules of shopping and kept herself from showing any more excitement when she spoke again.
"These are some decent enchantments to be sure," she said, her voice now calm. Might I ask the price of one of these?"
"300 gold a piece," replied the shopkeeper, obviously now getting eager to make a sale.
"That's pretty steep for an herb, and by the looks and sounds of it this can only be used once. Nevertheless, I'll speak with my comrades and see if we could find a use for such an herb. I may be back later," replied Alice.
The shopkeeper seemed a little put out by what Alice said but kept a good amount of enthusiasm in his voice as he replied, "Yes, yes, of course, of course. Tell your friends about these handy items! Tell any you know! I'm sure you'll be back to buy at least a few of these!"
"You see? There has to be a Final Key? How could two people so far away from each other possibly have information on it otherwise?" asked Alice, excited.
The group had convened after their day of investigation to discuss what they found. They four decided that it would not hurt to have at least one invisibility herb along, since one could not know when such a useful item would come in handy. It seems that Thomas came across the shrine that Alten mentioned to Ron. However, there were only three entrances and all were closed off by doors with enchantments too powerful for the group's magic key.
"So we can be pretty sure it exists," said Ron.
"But why would information on this key be so spread out?" asked Thomas skeptically. "We hear all this information on it on the southern side of the map and now we have to go far to the north for either the key or the next piece of information. I find it hard to believe that we have to zigzag so much to find it."
"Either way, we now know there's a better chance it exists than before. And, we're forgetting that we would need to go to Eginbear anyway. We have to talk to the nation's ruler about the Archfiend," said Suzanne. "We can kill two birds with one stone."
The group teleported to Portoga and then, after allowing Alice to rest, set off for the north. The group found that the estimates on the distance between the two nations were actually exaggerated. The Mad Hound hit an island, one even smaller than the one Lancel sat on, after only two days. Luckily, the capital of Eginbear was not very far in land. The group found the castle to be similar to a fortress as there were no open areas as far as the group could see and only one entrance. They walked up to the entrance and found a guard wearing silver armor guarding it.
"Halt! You are not allowed in here!" said the guard sternly.
"We're sorry for the unexpected visit," began Suzanne. "We are travelers hoping to have a word with your ruler. We mean no harm to you and will gladly surrender our weapons if need be."
"King Rogest would never associate with yokels such as yourself! Nor would the good people of this castle want to look on rabble such as yourselves. Your plea for entrance is denied! Be out of my sight or I will send for others and remove you by force!" threatened the guard.
"We're sorry for the inconvenience," apologized Suzanne, keeping her cool. She motioned for the rest of the group to go back outside.
"We could take that guy," said Ron, obviously angry at the guard's behavior. "We could probably take on the whole castle!"
"Keep quiet you fool!" whispered Thomas. "You don't want them to hear that! And I seriously doubt we could take the whole castle on, even if we wanted to. In case you've forgotten, those aren't monsters in there!"
"Interesting," said Suzanne thoughtfully. "Might we use the invisibility herb to gain access? That would certainly get us by the guard, if we made sure to be quiet."
"What about the other guards?" asked Thomas. "Or the people inside. We'll stick out like a sore thumb by the sounds of it."
"We may stick out, but if we get past that guard, I would think most of those inside would believe we were let in for whatever reason," guessed Suzanne. "If someone tries to throw us out or arrest us, we make a hasty retreat. It has to be worth a try."
Alice took out the invisibility herb purchased from the shop in Lancel and group it up. She then quickly sprinkled the powder on the four of them. The four were amazed to find that they could no longer see each other or themselves.
"My goodness!" exclaimed Ron, though he remembered to keep his voice down. "I can't even see my own arms! This is amazing!"
"We should be careful that this doesn't wear off while someone is looking straight at us," cautioned Suzanne. "Otherwise they'll know we snuck in. Do you know how long this will last on the four of us Alice?"
"I can't say for sure," replied. "The shopkeeper said it would last for an hour on one of us, but he never said how long if all four of us used the same herb. Plus, there's always the chance that he was exaggerating the time to help make the sale."
"Then we should hurry in, find a place to hide, and simply wait out the herb," said Suzanne.
The group rushed past the guard as quick as they could without making any noise. Despite their care, the guard apparently still heard the clanking of the group's armor, which they had forgotten to take off. However, the guard dismissed the noise as himself hearing things and the group quickly sought out a hiding spot. Unfortunately, it would seem the herb's duration was drastically reduced when used on so many people. After only five minutes of being invisible, the group found themselves able to see each other again after having turned a corner into a large hallway.
"Did anyone see us?" asked Ron, looking around.
"Doesn't look like it," said Alice. "Luckily we were turning a corner when it wore off."
"And lucky that nobody was coming," said Thomas.
"Well, we're visible now, so let's make the most of it," Suzanne suggested. "Despite our current goal, we should talk to the king first. If we're lucky, he'll give use free passage throughout the castle anyway. Of course, it'll be a bit difficult to ask him for such permission without letting on that we just snuck in."
The group did not take long to find the king's throne room. The four found that most of those inside the castle were well-dressed, obviously members of either the aristocracy or the nobility. As Suzanne guessed, not many turned an eye on the group. Those that did usually only scoffed and kept about their business. As the group neared the staircase leading up to the throne room, the group was cut off by two guards.
"Halt! What is your business?" asked the one on the right.
"We are here to talk to the king over urgent business," said Suzanne. "We are travelers who have a grave warning for the king. I assume you will need our weapons?"
The guard on the left looked confused. "I don't remember hearing about any travelers coming to warn his Majesty about anything. Did you have an appointment?"
"Of course they did!" said the guard on the right. "You know Bob, he'd never let anyone in unless they had permission. Especially a group dressed like this! Must be important indeed. I'm sure the messengers are just slacking again. I'll be sure to have a word with them when our shift is over."
The guard on the right turned his attention back to the group, "Follow us please. You are right, we will need your weapons. We will also have to take you over to our clerics to seal your magic. Standard procedure, I'm sure you expected it. This way please."
The group did as they were told and soon found themselves unarmed, unarmored, and with sealed magic. It was common procedure among nobility of any kind, though Emperor Vilisik had neglected those procedures on the group's last visit, since the group now had his complete trust.
The group came up to a wealthy, heavy man in his fifties sitting comfortably on his throne. The man looked quite cheerful as the group approached, something that surprised the four.
"Well, is not this a nice surprise!" said the king. "It's always nice to take a break from meeting with politicians and aristocrats. As I am sure you know, I am King Rogest, ruler of the kingdom of Eginbear. Might I ask who you are?"
The group introduced themselves and the king continued, "Are you citizens of Eginbear? I must admit you are dressed oddly."
"We are not, your Majesty," replied Suzanne.
"Of course not. Well, what brings commoners such as yourselves to my throne room?" asked King Rogest.
"Have you heard the stories of the Archfiend, who lives in Tarasia and is raising a vast army of monsters as we speak?" asked Suzanne grimly.
"Oh! I remember your names now! You are that group from Aliahan, going around warning everyone about that vile fiend!" said the king, apparently glad to have remembered where he had heard the four's names before. Suzanne, as usual, did not flinch upon realizing the king knew where they were from, though the other three looked at each other uneasily.
"I have heard from King Saldor and Emperor Vilisik. So you all are going around and trying to rally the nations against the Archfiend? Splendid goal, if I do say so myself. And I would guess that your hoping that the Kingdom of Eginbear will join the Romalian Empire and the Kingdom of Isis against the Archfiend?" asked the king.
"That is correct your Majesty," replied Suzanne.
The king gave a chuckle and continued, "Unfortunately, I will have to side with King Saldor on this matter. You see, we are not a very militant nation. Do not mistake me, we could easily defend this nation from any foreign threat, as much from other nations as the Archfiend, but it would cost a great deal of money to start producing weapons and raising an army to send off to some other land to fight a distant threat."
"While I have no doubt that your nation has excellent defenses, and while I also know how far away the Archfiend is from your land, I must ask you to reconsider," said Suzanne. "We took a brief trip to Tarasia and have found much of the devastation for ourselves. We came across only one human settlement, a settlement made up of ghosts, unknowing that they were destroyed by the Archfiend's forces. The only other humans we found were little more than monsters: they were given power by the Archfiend and now engage in cannibalism."
"A terrible story, and not the first time I have heard such news, but it is not our place to go crusading to faraway lands against such a foe," replied King Rogest.
"With all due respect, I think you underestimate the Archfiend's forces," pressed Suzanne. "You were probably little more than a small child when the last Archfiend attacked. History shows that these monsters are dangerous to all humans, not the ones in the immediate area. We need to work together to stop this Archfiend before it strikes at other lands!"
"From what I have learned in my history classes, other humans were more dangerous than the last Archfiend," said the king coolly, though the group could tell what he was insinuating. "Thus, you must understand my reluctance to just join such an alliance, after what happened to the last one."
The king than regained his friendly composure and continued, "Though, I may be able to help you. There is a group of people who may be willing to join you. To the west, on the continent of Malandoras are a warlike people called the Soo. They are a bit uncivilized, but they are always eager to get into a good fight. Sounds like just the people to help you with your cause."
"Thank you for the information, your Majesty," thanked Suzanne. "We'll be sure to check that out."
With the king's refusal to directly join their cause, the group decided to start investigating rumors on the Final Key. As usual, the group decided to split up in order to do so. Suzanne and Ron searched for social hot spots to ask questions at while Thomas and Alice went to the library. The group realized that they were on a time limit as there did not appear to be an inn or any such place inside the castle for visitors (other than VIP's) to stay, and it would take another invisibility herb to get back into the castle.
When Thomas and Alice went to the library, the two decided to let Alice handle the talking.
"Excuse me," said Alice to the librarian. "Would you happen to know anything about something called the Final Key?"
"The Final Key? Can't say that I've ever heard of it. What makes you ask?" replied the librarian.
"We've been searching for this key and we heard that it has ties to this castle. Do you know of any books that talk about keys or any local legends that speak of keys?" asked Alice.
"Nope, never heard of any extraordinary keys of any sort in books or in word. Sorry I can't help you," apologized the librarian.
At this point, Thomas had an idea, "Do you know of any magic items or any uncommon items in the castle?"
"I have heard of one," started the librarian. Then she became suspicious, "Wait a minute. This sounds an awful lot like a treasure hunt. How do I know you aren't thieves?"
"I assure you, we are not thieves," cut in Alice. "Besides, any such treasures are sure to be heavily guarded, am I right? We'd need permission to get anywhere near them. And we have no intention of investigating the castle defenses. If you don't believe us, you can monitor any and all books we read while we're here. Does that sound fair?"
After a moment of consideration, the librarian agreed. Thomas and Alice went to the books, though they could not help but notice that the librarian kept a strict eye on both them and the one door into the library.
"She did say that she heard of some sort of magic item in the castle," said Thomas. "I'm thinking that the key itself isn't here, but that the next clue is here."
"Hey, I thought you said you didn't believe the key was still around," teased Alice.
"I still don't. But that doesn't mean I can do a half-assed job investigating," replied Thomas, annoyed. "And I have to admit, if there is some clue or item here that is to be used to finding the key, than the chances get better and better that everything we've heard is true."
The group spent the entire day investigating any hint of the Final Key. The group met up as the sun was falling down in the sky.
"Well, we didn't find much from talking to the people, did you guys get anything in the library?" asked Suzanne.
"It's a long shot, but Tom came up with an idea, which we investigated," replied Alice.
"The librarian said she'd never heard of the Final Key. But I thought that maybe, rather than the key itself, there might be another clue or tool here towards getting the key. So we investigated any rumors of magic items around here and we believe we may have found something," explained Thomas.
"It seems that there's an artifact called the Vase of Drought here, or at least there's rumored to be. Supposedly, the vase is sealed underneath the castle somewhere," continued Alice. "It's supposed to be a powerful item capable of drying up water. I don't know what that has to do with the Final Key though. Maybe the Final Key is under a body of water somewhere? Like I said, it's a long shot."
"That's interesting. There's a basement to this castle that nobody really uses. There's some large rocks and water all over the place. If this vase is underneath the castle, maybe we should investigate that basement," suggested Ron.
"Before that, we should get the permission of the king to snoop around," said Suzanne. "Even if we found the vase, it'd be stealing to just go and take it."
The group decided to take another trip to the king's throne room. They were surprised to find that the guards who had stopped them earlier were gone. Realizing that the king may have already stepped off the throne for the day, they nevertheless decided to check the throne out. As they ascended the stairs, they heard something strange coming from the direction of the throne.
"Yes yes, raise the taxes in the northern region!" said a voice, though not that of the king's. "Have that man executed at once! I do not care if he is only guilty of petty theft, I want his head for this insolence! This is my kingdom! I can sentence anyone to death that I want! If you protest any more, I will sentence you to death as well!"
The group went to investigate the voice and found the king's chancellor, a thin man around the same age of the king's, sitting on the throne, and apparently pretending that he was king. Upon seeing the group, the man gave a scream similar to that of a young girl and hopped off the throne and into a corner.
The man turned his head towards the group and asked, "How much of that did you hear?"
"Enough I would suppose," answered Suzanne, fighting to keep from laughing. "Do you pretend to be king often?"
To the surprise of the four, the man immediately ran up to Suzanne and dropped to his knees, tears beginning to fall down his face, "Please, please do not tell his Majesty about this! Or anyone else for this matter! I heard that you are travelers! I can give you an interesting tip! There is this field on the eastern side of Malandoras, in the middle of a forest! Something interesting is happening there! You should check it out!"
"That's very interesting," began Suzanne. "But we were hoping to get help with something else."
"Anything! I will do anything! Just do not tell anyone!" cried the chancellor.
"Have you ever heard of the Vase of Drought?" asked Suzanne.
"I have heard of it. It is this treasure that is supposedly hidden within this very castle. But I have no idea where it is, I swear! I wish I could tell you where it is, but I do not know where it is!" yelled the chancellor.
"That's alright, keep your voice down or you'll accidentally tell someone what you did," said Suzanne. "How about this, if we find the vase, can you let us have it? We'll give it back once we're done with it, I assure you."
"That is fine, the king does not know where it is either, so he will never find out. Nobody here really cares about that artifact. Do we have a deal then?" asked the man nervously, though starting to regain his composure.
"We have a deal," assured Suzanne.
The group went into the basement of the castle. As Ron had told Thomas and Alice, there were three large boulders and some deep puddles of water in the room. The puddles were more like small ponds; they were deep enough to hold the boulders inside them. The group found a small chamber on the northern end of the room that had a decorated carpet at the end of it.
"I wonder why there's such a valuable-looking carpet here," mused Alice. "It's not even by a door or the stairs or anywhere where one would usually put a carpet."
"You said that the vase is sealed under the castle, correct?" asked Suzanne. After Alice nodded, Suzanne continued, "Maybe this carpet is somehow connected to unsealing the passageway? It doesn't make sense to put such a fine carpet in a dirty place like this otherwise."
"Hey guys, Tom and I have an idea!" Ron called from the main chamber. Suzanne and Alice returned to the main chamber to see what they had to say.
"We've been studying these boulders and this water and we think these also fit into the puzzle," said Ron. "The water is exactly as deep as it needs to go and fully engulf a boulder. If we were to put the boulders in there, we'd probably never get them out."
"What does that have to do with this?" asked Suzanne.
Thomas spoke up now, "After studying the positions of the boulders, we have determined that it would be difficult to get them in that chamber without accidentally putting them into the water. We think that maybe this is some sort of puzzle that needs to be solved. Maybe this seal we've read about is connected to getting these boulders into the chamber you were just in."
"Hey wait a second! Let me measure these boulders quick!" said Alice, suddenly excited. She took out a ruler and slowly and carefully measured the length of each of the boulders and found them to be exactly the same length. Then she went into the chamber and measured the carpet.
"I have an idea! This carpet is here to put the boulders on! The carpet is just big enough to put all three of the boulders on it side by side!" suggested Alice.
"These are some interesting coincidences," replied Suzanne thoughtfully. "Too many, I think, to be coincidences. Let's try it."
Ron went up to one of the boulders and examined it, pushing and pulling on it a little bit. "Judging by the size, only two people can push or pull it at one time. Since they're spherical and not all that rough, it will be difficult for us to pull it. Therefore, two of us will have to push it. The other two can help guide the pushers and also make sure they don't accidentally push it too far."
"Let's map out the room and the boulders and make a plan first," suggested Suzanne. "Like you guys said, this water is here to impede our progress, and we'll find it very difficult to get the boulders out if they go in. We have to make sure we don't get ourselves stuck."
After a few minutes of mapping out the room and planning how they would push the boulders, the team set to work. The two strongest of the team, Suzanne and Ron, decided to be the ones to push the boulders. Alice and Thomas consulted the map and the plan that had been drawn up to help guide them, while also making sure the boulders did not get away from them.
It took about a half hour of work, but eventually the four got the three boulders onto the carpet. Several streams of light emanated from the carpet and flew at the east wall of the chamber. After swirling around a section of the wall for a few seconds, that part of the wall disappeared entirely. Behind the disappeared section of wall was a small hallway. The group entered the hallway cautiously.
The hallway led to a small room in which laid an ordinary looking chest. After Alice checked to make sure it was not a monster, the group opened the chest. Inside the chest was a vase that looked as ordinary as the chest it was stored in. However, Alice checked the vase out and concluded that it was what they had been looking for.
"There is definitely some powerful magic in this thing, even though it doesn't look it. I'd say we found the Vase of Drought!" she exclaimed triumphantly.
"Only problem now is that we don't know how to use it, where to use it, or even if it has anything to do with the Final Key," replied Thomas.