Chapter 14: Malandoras
"Of all the dumbest ideas, this has to be one of the dumbest," criticized Bill.
"Well, we don't really have any clue as to how or where the Vase of Drought comes into play," admitted Suzanne. "For all we know, this interesting thing that the chancellor mentioned could have something to do with it."
"If I had to guess," said Alice, "it'd be that we're going to find some body of water there. And then we just use the Vase of Drought and maybe the Final Key will be at the bottom or something."
"I have to agree with Bill on this, this is the longest shot yet," said Thomas. "The chancellor said he heard it was in the castle, but he didn't sound sure. My guess is that he knows very little about the vase. Not to mention the fact that we don't know if the vase has anything to do with this Final Key at all, or that we have no proof that this Final Key is all that it's cracked up to be."
"You two have some better suggestions?" asked Ron. "I can't think of too many better things to do"
The group had returned to the Mad Hound and sailed west. According to the most common world maps, the Mad Hound had already sailed off the western edge of the map only to reappear on the eastern edge, due to the roundness of the world. They had been sailing for three days towards the continent of Malandoras.
The eastern hemisphere was something of a mystery to the western world, though admittedly one that few were willing to investigate. The whole eastern hemisphere was, for the most part, wild and untamed. Those humans that inhabited the two continents, Malandoras and Sisten to the south of Malandoras, were primarily nomads and barbarians. The kingdom of Samanao resided in the middle of Sisten but had recently sealed itself off from the rest of the world, much like Aliahan had. Unlike Aliahan, Samanao had offered little reason for its isolation.
The group had decided to check out Malandoras on the advice of both the chancellor and the king. The group had done a little research on the Soo that the king had mentioned, and found they resided in the middle of Malandoras, in a region with many rivers. Since the chancellor had told the group that there was something happening in a forest on the eastern side of Malandoras, the group decided to investigate that first since that would be closer.
"Hey! You four!" came the voice of Captain Marbeley. "We've got aerial foes coming this way! Hades' Condors by the looks of it!"
"Hades' Condors?" asked Suzanne.
"For the most part, they're about as dangerous as your typical scum. But they've got a spell that can teleport a person against their will. That's why anybody sailing these days makes sure to keep a wing of wyvern on them," explained the captain. "Still, most ships don't have these enchantments like what you've put on ours, so the best a sailor can do is either teleport to the ship's next destination to be picked up or back home. A true pain."
"Here they come!" warned Ron.
Two large blue birds descended on the group. Alice sent a stream of fire at the birds, giving them some good burns. The birds were far from done however. One of the birds swooped at Suzanne and gave her a good peck to the shoulder, doing so in one fluid motion such that Suzanne missed on her counterattack. Ron managed to hit the same bird with a slash to its torso, but the bird still lived.
Thomas was casting a spell of his own. He finished his spell just before the spell casting bird did and the bird was engulfed in the energy waves of a spell-stopping spell. The condor could do nothing but make angry noises as its spell failed after it had finished casting.
Alice took out her sword and joined the melee. The wounded bird, seeing her and thinking her an easy target, came in for an attack. Though Alice was still the least skilled in weaponry of the group, she managed to inflict the killing blow on the weakened bird. The spell casting bird, no longer having that option available, came in for a strike on the group. It was met by the blades of Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas and met a fate similar to its comrade.
"Good job on that sealing spell, Tom," complimented Suzanne. "It would've been really annoying if those birds got somebody lost somewhere."
"I wonder where the spell sends people," commented Alice.
"Surprisingly, it usually sends a person into a town or other friendly place," said Captain Marbeley as he approached the group. "It'd be more than an annoyance if they sent people straight to the Archfiend's lair or something! You guys did well against those damn birds."
The group came to the eastern side of Malandoras after another day of sailing. They spent a good portion of the day looking through the forest for the field that the chancellor had mentioned. After a while, they found a break in the forest that led to a field. The group found that there was a lake in the middle of the field with a house near the lake. The group decided to investigate the house.
Inside the house was an older man, in his fifties or sixties, wearing work clothes. The man had been enjoying some coffee at his table when the group knocked on his door.
"Hello," greeted the old man. "Who might you all be?"
"We're a group of travelers," replied Suzanne. She and the rest of the group introduced themselves to the man.
"Nice to see people for a change," said the man. "My name is Polce. What brings you four out here?"
"To tell you the truth, we're not entirely sure," admitted Suzanne. "We were told by the chancellor of Eginbear that there was something interesting around here. He didn't tell us what though."
"Eginbear you say?" asked Polce. "I would guess he was referring to me. I came to him a short while ago with a request of sorts. You see, this region is completely unpopulated. I know, I've lived here for a few decades now. Then I had the idea that maybe people could start populating this region. The land is pretty good from what I've found. Some people from Eginbear had been around here one day so I asked them to spread the word to people to start coming here."
"That sounds like a great idea," replied Suzanne. "Anything we can do to help?"
"I don't suppose I could get you all to stay?" asked Polce.
Suzanne shook her head, "I'm afraid we have to continue our journey."
Polce chuckled, "That's alright. I've already got some good warriors here, eager to prove themselves against the monsters here. They've kept this field safe for some time. The only thing I can think of is to spread the word of this place. If we had a merchant around here, that would really start to bring some people in."
"A merchant, huh?" echoed Suzanne thoughtfully. "We may know one willing to take a risk. We'll see what we can do."
"You're going to ask Bill to help Polce out?" asked Alice.
"I'm going to mention it to him," answered Suzanne. "It'll be up to him if he wants to do it or not."
"I don't think he'll go for it. How's he going to make money out here?" said Ron.
"That's true, but what if a town were built here? He could easily make a profit then," returned Suzanne. "Yeah, I know he probably won't go for it. And that's all right too. We can certainly still use his help. I'm just going to mention it to him and see what he says."
The group returned to the Mad Hound and went straight to talk to Bill. They found the merchant looking over figures and records in his room on the ship.
"Hey Bill," greeted Suzanne. "We're back from our little trip."
"Let me guess, you didn't make any sort of money while you were wandering around did you?" asked Bill with a knowing smile.
"No we didn't," answered Suzanne. As Bill started laughing at her, she cut in, "But we may have a business opportunity for you."
At the mention of a business opportunity, which sometimes led to money, Bill stopped laughing immediately. "I'm listening," he said.
"We met a man in a cleared area of the forest near a lake. The man's name is Polce and he said he wanted to get a town together in the area. He already has some warriors and fighters to guard such an area, but he needs people. He also needs a merchant. Don't know if you're interested, but I thought I should mention it to you," Suzanne explained.
"Hm. You bring up an interesting point. Of course, there's a good chance that nobody would ever show to this spot. But if people did, I would be the sole merchant, at least at first. Then I could build up money and stock and become a prominent figure in the fledgling town," Bill pondered.
"I'm going to have to give it some thought. It's a risk, and there's a low chance of it succeeding, but like many risks, the payoff could be great. Is it alright if we stay here for the night so I can decide in the morning?" Bill asked.
"That's fine. Don't forget, you still have your job with us if you decide not to go. We can certainly still find some work for you," replied Suzanne.
The next day, Bill came to the group with his decision. Bill had decided to stay in with Polce a while and help him out. If Bill decided that the town was not going to grow and that he was wasting his time, he could leave the town and do what he wished. The group then escorted Bill through the woods to Polce.
"You're back," greeted Polce when the five came to his door. "And I see you have someone else with you."
"Hello, my name is Bill," introduced Bill. "I am told that you are Polce. I hear you are trying to start a town in this region and would like a merchant to help you out. Well, I'm just the guy for the job!"
"Really! You'll stay!" exclaimed Polce. "That's great! Thank you! It may be some hard work, but I'm sure we can make it worth your while!"
Polce then turned to the other four, "I suppose you'll be continuing your travels?"
"Yes. I'm afraid we can't stay in your town," replied Suzanne.
"That's fine. You've done more than enough in bringing this fine young man here. I don't know if it means much, but you should find the Soo in the rivers to the west. In their village is a well. Try digging around that well. There's something interesting there. I can mark where their village is on a map," said Polce.
"Well, we'll see if they allow us to do that. Thank you for the tip," said Suzanne.
Then Bill walked up to the four, "Well, I guess this is where I offer my resignation."
"We're going to be in trouble without you, Bill," said Ron. "None of us can work the financial magic that you've been working."
"Yeah, we've saved a lot of money while you've been here!" said Alice. "If this doesn't work out, you make sure to come straight back to us!"
"Like I said, we can always get some work for you. For a nice salary, of course," said Suzanne.
"We'll see how things work out. You guys be safe out there. You can't make money if you're dead!" said Bill.
"Well, now we have another reason to seek out the Soo," said Suzanne. "Looks like that should be our next destination."
"One thing about what Polce said," cut in Thomas. "He said that the Soo live in a village. King Rogest made it seem as though they were as powerful as a nation. How can a village help the struggle?"
"That's true," said Ron. "The king didn't seem to think highly of them either. From how he said it, the Soo are a bunch of savages."
"We'll have to be careful," acknowledged Suzanne. "But I get the feeling the king wasn't being fair to these people. And remember what Polce said about the well. Maybe that's out next step to the Final Key. Maybe we have to use the vase on their well."
"Problem is, if the vase works as we think, won't that damage their water supply? We can't very well risk these people dying of dehydration on a theory," warned Alice.
"Plus, Polce said we should dig around the well. I don't think he knows anything about the vase at all. And if he did, how would he know we have it?" asked Thomas.
"Okay, so this probably has nothing to do with the Final Key," admitted Suzanne. "Do you guys think we shouldn't go?"
"Oh no," corrected Alice. "We should definitely go. If nothing else, we'll see another culture of people. That's always worth it."
"Yeah, we may even get into a good scrap," laughed Ron. "But seriously, what do we have to lose?"
"Our lives, for one," said Thomas. "But we have no other leads. I'm for the journey."
"We may find it difficult getting there," said Alice, who had been studying maps of the region before the group started their discussion. "We're going to have to go to the southern end of the continent, then go north up a maze of rivers. I estimate a five day journey, assuming we don't get lost."
"Why can't we just walk there?" asked Ron.
"There's a mountain range between Polce's area and where he said the Soo live. In fact, the village is in a small area boxed in by a river and the mountains. They probably don't get many visitors," explained Alice.
Alice's estimation might have been true, but the Mad Hound did get lost in the many rivers of middle Malandoras. It took an extra day for the Mad Hound to find the village of the Soo. Eventually, the four came to land and found a settlement not far from the river.
The group approached the settlement cautiously but made sure to have their hands in the air as they came within view of the people to show that they meant no harm. A couple of guards came to greet them as they approached the boundaries of the village.
"Hold! What are your intentions here?" asked one of the guards.
"We are a group of travelers. We heard about your people and were in the area, so we were hoping we could stay here for the day and the night. We mean you no harm," replied Suzanne.
"We will take your word for it. However, we will have a couple of warriors escort you as you move through our village. We will also have to confiscate your weapons. You must understand, we rarely receive visitors. We must be sure you are up to no ill, despite your claims," answered the guard who had greeted the group.
"That is fine. We also have magic on our side as well. Would you have our magic sealed?" asked Suzanne.
"How honest of you," commented the guard. "We will have to tell our leader, the shaman Banil, of this. Maybe he can do something about your magic."
The group surrendered their weapons and waited to hear the news from the village leader. After about a half an hour, a man looking to be in his seventies wearing fine robes approached the group. The man walked up to the four and cast a spell, surrounding the group in the energy waves of a spell sealing spell. Since the group did not want to cause trouble, they did not resist the spell and let it run its course. Then the man spoke to the group.
"I am the shaman Banil," introduced the man. "It has been some time since we have had visitors in our village. I have heard why you stopped by our village. However, I have not heard the nature of your journey. Might I ask what that is?"
"We have been trying to forge alliances between the nations of the world against the Archfiend who has taken over southern Tarasia," explained Suzanne. "Have you heard of the Archfiend?"
"I have not. I do remember the stories of the last two Archfiends. Vile creatures they were indeed. You are hoping to unite humanity against this threat?" asked Banil.
"Yes we are. The reason we are in this region is that we have currently hit a dead end. We have met a couple of rulers who do not believe the Archfiend is a great threat. We need some way to do reconnaissance on the Archfiend's forces, but his region is surrounded by impassable mountains and landlocked bodies of water. We have been exploring several leads on artifacts that could help us," recapped Suzanne.
"I see. And you think there is an artifact in this region that may help you?" inquired Banil.
"We truly don't know. We have been searching for something called the Final Key. We have obtained another artifact called the Vase of Drought that we believe has something to do with the key. Do you know anything about this?" asked Suzanne.
"I do not," replied Banil.
"Don't forget the Portogan legend Susie!" cut in Alice.
"Oh yes. We also heard a legend that whoever obtains six orbs will be able to travel anywhere without a ship. It could just be a legend, but if it were true it would help immensely in seeing what the Archfiend is up to," continued Suzanne.
"Ah yes, the orbs. I have heard of them. You might try the Tower of Arp on the southwestern side of the continent. There you will find the Echoing Flute. It is an instrument that is said to make echoes when played near one of the six orbs," answered Banil.
"So you have heard of this legend. Maybe there is some truth to it then. Thank you for the information. We also heard one other thing, from a man named Polce who lives to the east. He said to check the well in your village. We would never do so without your permission, but I am curious, do you know what he speaks of?" continued Suzanne.
"Polce. He is another visitor that we had some time ago. He has given us no trouble. At the time, he meant to start a settlement to the east. Has he succeeded?" asked Banil.
"He's making progress, but there is no formal village there yet," answered Suzanne.
"As to the village well, I know not what he speaks of. If you wish to investigate, you may keep whatever you find, so long as no other member of this village claims it," said Banil.
"He said we would have to dig. Do we have your permission to do so?" requested Suzanne.
"You shall not dig very deep. But you may dig," permitted Banil.
"Thank you, sir shaman," thanked Suzanne. "Might we also stay the night here?"
"You may," answered Banil.
The group then decided to explore the village. They would have liked to split up, to get more done in a shorter time, but they could not as the guards wanted them in one place. As the group made their way to the well they met many of the Soo and made conversation with them. The Soo took notice of the four since, as the guards and Banil had mentioned, they were unaccustomed to visitors.
"Hey, you four are travelers?" asked one woman who came to talk to the group.
"We are," answered Suzanne.
"I heard that you've been looking for some artifacts," said the woman. "There was this other traveler here, around the same time as that Polce fellow. He was a wizard. He was also looking for some artifacts. You might want to talk with him. He said his home is in Greenlad, an island in the northern seas."
"I've heard of it," mentioned Alice. "It's an island about a third the size of Aliahan. It is almost completely covered in ice, since the northern seas are quite cold."
"We'll be sure to check that out. Thank you," said Suzanne.
After some time, the group made their way to the village well. There did not seem to be any sign of anything suspicious at first glance. Nevertheless, since they had been given permission, the four decided to dig around the area. As ordered, they did not dig very deep. After some time, Thomas found something. He picked a staff out of the ground.
"Alice, could you examine this?" asked Thomas.
"You found something?" asked Ron.
"Let me see!" said Alice. She took the staff and examined it closely. "It's got some magic runes on it. I won't be able to tell for sure until we have use of our magic again."
"You will have to give that to us for the moment," said one of the guards who were escorting the group. "We have to be sure this hasn't been lost by someone in the village. If nobody claims it, we will give it back to you."
Alice gave the staff to one of the guards. He had the group wait at the well a short time while he delivered the staff to Banil. Once the guard returned, the group continued exploring the village. After a few hours, night began to fall. Rather than burden on of the villagers, the group set up camp just outside of the village. They made sure to maintain the fire as the night went on to show the guards they were not up to any trickery in the dark.
As the group prepared to settle down for the night, Alice decided to go for a walk through the village once more before dark. She met up with the guards on the nightwatch and went about the town, observing what the village was like at night. She came across a horse walking around at night.
"Did somebody forget to tie their horse up for the night?" asked Alice.
"Oh no, they don't tie me up anymore," came a voice, amazingly from the horse itself.
"What the! You can talk?" exclaimed a very surprised Alice. Interestingly, the two guards with her did not seem startled by the talking horse at all and found her surprise very amusing.
"Yes I can talk," said the horse indignantly. "I am Ed, the talking horse. You can't well have a talking horse that can't talk."
"I'm sorry Ed," apologized Alice. "But I've never met a talking horse before. It caught me off guard."
"It's all right," sighed Ed. "Your reaction isn't the worst I've ever had to put up with. I have heard about you and your friends, but I have not heard your name? Might I?"
"My name is Alice," introduced Alice.
"Hello Alice. I have heard that you and your friends are in possession of the Vase of Drought. Is that true?" asked Ed.
"Yes, that's true. You've heard of it?" answered Alice.
"I have," replied Ed. "I also hear that you don't know how or where it is used. Is this true?"
"That is true!" said Alice, starting to get excited. "Do you know anything about it?"
"Whoa, settle down," said the horse, chuckling at her excitement. "I heard some things about it a long time ago. From what I've heard, the vase is supposed to be used in the ocean immediately to the west of this continent, almost directly west of this village. There should be some marker of where to use it, but I don't know what that would be."
"Thank you for the information!" said Alice, hugging the horse. "We had no idea where to go next with this."
"Whoa, don't thank me so much," laughed Ed. "I don't know if what I've heard is true. For all I know, this all a wild goose chase. I do hope it helps you though."
Alice spent some more time talking with Ed before she decided to return to her group's camp and go to sleep. Before she left the guards, she asked them about Ed.
"That being is an enigma. It has resided with us for a long time," explained one of the guards. "The thing is, it's not the same horse. You were right about someone forgetting to tie their horse. In the morning, that horse will likely be a regular horse. This Ed has been a number of random horses throughout years and decades that were left untied by their owners at night. Usually Ed doesn't have much advice, just wants to have a good chat. It would seem that Ed is quite learned as well."
In the morning the group returned for another audience with Banil. Banil gave the staff from the well back to the group and told them that none in the village believed it belonged to them. Both the four and Banil were amazed that a staff was hidden in a shallow hole around the well, without having been found for who knew how long, and that Polce somehow knew of it. Nevertheless, the group eventually bid the village goodbye and returned to the Mad Hound.
"You guys!" yelled Alice at the top of her lungs from her cabin, where she had been studying the staff. "You have to see this!"
"Whoa, calm down Alice," cautioned Ron. "You didn't set fire to your room again did you?"
"No, but I could, and without even using any of my magic!" shouted Alice, not calmed down in the slightest.
"We would prefer it if you didn't do that," laughed Suzanne.
"And if you gave us an explanation," muttered Thomas irritably.
"Okay. This staff is incredibly powerful. If one speaks the command word and aims the staff as one would aim the associated spell, this can mimic my stream of fire spell! And it's the stronger one too! And it won't take any of my magic to use! Plus, it can be used indefinitely!" explained Alice.
"That's incredible," remarked Suzanne. "I've never heard of such a powerful artifact before."
"An incredible killing tool from long ago," said Thomas. "Fortunate that we found it, rather than it falling into the wrong hands. You should keep it safe and use it wisely, Alice."
"Don't you worry, Tom. Using this staff is like using the spell that comes with it. You don't do it unless you have to and you're prepared for the consequences," assured Alice.
"So I'm guessing that we're going to search the western ocean now?" asked Ron.
"We have few other leads, at least on the Final Key," said Suzanne. "If this doesn't work out, we still have two other places we could go to."
"Two?" asked Alice. "I thought our only other place of interest was this Tower of Arp that the Soo told us about?"
"You're forgetting Jipang, that city-state we heard about back at the Portogan shrine," explained Suzanne.
"Do you know how long it will take to search an entire ocean?" asked Thomas.
"Too long," acknowledged Suzanne. "That's why we have a search radius. This Ed that Alice talked to said that what we're looking for is almost directly west of the Soo village. That means it'll probably be a little to the north or a little to the south, but it should be somewhere in that area."
"Did the horse mention how far west what this thing is? North and south are not the only factors we need to worry about," reminded Thomas.
"That is true," said Ron. "This could take a while indeed."
"It'll also take a while just to get there," mentioned Alice. "It'll take just over six days just to get out of the rivers and to that ocean. Then the search begins."
"We might also get other things done in the meantime," suggested Thomas. "Didn't they say there was a wizard to the north of Malandoras? Our path would take us near this Greenlad, won't it?"
"Yeah it will. Good idea. We can see if the wizard knows anything that will help us," replied Alice.
The Mad Hound left the rivers of Malandoras and sailed north around the eastern shores of Malandoras. As they cleared the northern tip of the continent, they found an island, slightly smaller than Eginbear, with a strange structure on it. The structure appeared to be a shrine, but its shape was that of a triangle if viewed from above. It differed from a pyramid only in that it had the same shape and size on its bottom floor as it did on its top.
The group decided to take a quick detour to check the shrine out. They found three Traveler's Gates inside the shrine, one at each of the triangle's points. However, at the end of each Traveler's Gate was a locked and magically sealed door, too powerful for the group's magic key. Remembering to note the location and nature of the shrine, the group resolved to return sometime after getting the Final Key, if they could find it.
The group came to the icy land of Greenlad about a day later. The Mad Hound was finding the ocean to be a more perilous place, though not just due to monsters. The ocean in these colder regions was now subject to freezing, limiting and constricting the Mad Hound's movements if it wanted to keep from being beached.
The group spent a brief time exploring Greenlad and eventually came upon a house. They knocked upon the house and, being beckoned to come in, entered. They found a man wearing green robes in his late forties.
"Well isn't this a surprise!" said the man jovially. "I am the wizard Zlistan. Who might you be?"
The group introduced themselves and then Suzanne revealed the nature of their visit, "We've heard from the Soo that you search for magical artifacts. We find ourselves on such a search. We were wondering what you may have found."
"Oh, I've found something interesting, though it is not what I was looking for. I found this thigh bone from a dead sailor, who now serves on the Phantom Ship. Have you heard of the Phantom Ship?" asked Zlistan.
"We have not," replied Suzanne.
"It is a ship that was sunk in a storm a few years ago. However, both the ship and its crew returned in the form of ghosts a short time after its sinking. If one wants to find the Phantom Ship, one will need this sailor's thigh bone," explained Zlistan.
Zlistan than looked at the group hopefully, "What I search for is something called the Staff of Change. It allows the user to change his appearance. Might the four of you possess this artifact?"
"I'm afraid we do not," answered Suzanne.
Zlistan's hope notably faded from his face, "Oh. Well, if you do find the Staff of Change, consider bringing it to me. I'll trade you the staff for the bone."
The Mad Hound took to the waters of the western sea. The group set up a grid-like search pattern over the ocean to ensure that they covered a lot of land. They decided to search the ocean closer to Malandoras than to Dalmath, the continent that Malandoras shared the ocean with. It took another four days, but the group found something interesting in the form of large shoals sticking out of the ocean.
"Hey captain!" called Alice. "Stop the ship, we may have found something!"
"What do you think Alice?" asked Suzanne.
"Those shoals look suspicious. See the water around them? It looks really shallow. It's almost like there's some land under the ocean there," theorized Alice.
"Hey guys!" called Thomas. "The vase is glowing!" The other three went to see the vase and found that it was indeed glowing.
"I think this is it!" said Alice excitedly. "That must actually be land there. The vase will get rid of some of the water so we can land on it!"
"How do we use the vase?" asked Suzanne.
"To be honest, I don't know," admitted Alice. "Let's just take the vase near those shoals."
"It'll be too dangerous to take the ship near," said Suzanne. "We should take some rowboats over there instead. We don't want to beach the ship if this turns out to be true."
The group did as Suzanne suggested and went out on rowboats to the shoals. The vase began glowing brighter and brighter the closer the group got to the shoals. Suddenly, the vase began floating in the air above the shoals. There was a great rumbling, and the water around the shoals rapidly disappeared before the group's eyes. The four struggled to stay afloat amidst the spectacle. When all was done, there was a dent in the ocean leading down to a small island, upon which was a shrine. The group rowed up to the land and went into the shrine.
The shrine was well decorated and quite spacious, but also quite empty. In the middle of the shrine was an alter, upon which rested a strange looking key.
"Is that it?" asked Ron. "Have we finally found it?"
"Only one way to find out," said Suzanne.
The group walked up to the key and took it. Alice gave it the usual examination and reported to the rest of the group.
"There is definitely powerful magic in this key. Way more powerful than our current magic key. There's only one way to find out if this key is all it's supposed to be though," reported Alice.
"I think I see its first test," said Thomas, pointing to the north end of the shrine. There was a door on the northern end.
"Try our other magic key first," suggested Suzanne. "Let's see if that key can open that door."
The group's old magic key could not open the door. However, the key that had been on the alter easily opened the locked door.
"I think this is it!" exclaimed Alice. "The Final Key!"
"About time," said Ron. "It better be all it's supposed to be. I am really tired of these hunts into dangerous areas and all this investigation just to find a key!"
"So," came a voice from within the chamber beyond the door. "You have found the Final Key. You must be powerful indeed to have made it this far."
The group entered the room and soon drew their weapons as they found a skeleton resting upon a grand throne. However, the skeleton did not seem to mean them any harm.
"Beware the Great Pit of Giaga," warned the skeleton. "All misfortune emanates from that accursed pit."
After voicing its warning, the skeleton vanished before the group's eyes.
"That was very strange," said Ron, his axe still drawn.
"Another thing for us to remember," commented Thomas. "There may be something to its warnings. It also seems I owe you all an apology."
"What for?" asked Suzanne.
"I've been criticizing this excursion since the beginning. It would seem I was wrong," apologized Thomas.
"Don't worry about it," said Suzanne. "We need some healthy skepticism on the journey."
"Though you could be less of a pain in the ass about it," suggested Alice.
Thomas chuckled at the suggestion, "I'll have to keep that in mind."
The group left the shrine and got back onto their rowboats, wondering if they had the strength to paddle upwards, since the dent in the ocean meant they would have to go "uphill." However, this dilemma was soon solved, as the water began to reform a few minutes after the group returned to their boats. After another struggle to stay afloat, the ocean returned to how it had been before, with the shrine of the Final Key once again under the ocean.
"Amazing," commented Alice. "Such elaborate defenses."
"A necessity, to be sure," said Thomas. "This key could be devastating in the wrong hands."
"It looks like we're finding ourselves under more and more responsibility, with all the artifacts of incredible power we've been accumulating recently," mentioned Ron.
"We'll have to be sure to put them to good use," said Suzanne.