Chapter 2: The Tower of Najima
"How was I supposed to know they were hiding in there!" Ron shouted.
"Horned rabbits love to hide in bushes like that! How didn't you know that!" Alice shouted back at him.
"Why are you complaining anyway! It's nothing we couldn't handle!" Ron asked.
Alice did not seem to think that was consolidation enough. She pointed to her left leg where there was a visible tear in her traveler's robes and a small scar underneath the tear. "Do you see this scar! That thing got me right in the leg! What if the scar never goes away!"
Ron threw his hands up in exasperation. "You're fine! My man Tom here healed you up, and healed you up damn well I might add! In fact," he turned to Thomas, "I think she was criticizing your healing abilities Tom! Are you going to take that from her?"
Thomas gave Ron a look that basically said, "If you drag me into this you will have much more than a small scar to worry about." Ron decided not to continue his attempts in dragging Thomas into the argument.
As the group neared the castle town of Aliahan, Ron and Alice continued their argument. The day before, the group had been ambushed by a group of horned rabbits. Alice and Suzanne had warned their leader about taking them into the forest and then warned him again about taking them near a large group of bushes, but Ron had ignored them saying, "I'm sure there's nothing in there too dangerous."
All in all, the encounter had not been too dangerous, but one of the rabbits slipped past Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas, who were all fighting in melee against the giant rabbits, to attack Alice. It gave her a large wound to the leg that might have been serious if not healed immediately. Luckily, the three front-line fighters dispatched three of the rabbits while Alice, despite the pain, blasted her attacker with a fireball. Thomas was able to heal Alice right after that.
Since the encounter, Alice had been angry with Ron over leading them in to such a situation. Meanwhile, Suzanne and Thomas had thought over and discussed the current situation. They found nobody in all of Reeve who had any clue as to where Nathan would be. However, they came across a strange rumor that may be helpful.
Apparently, there was a thief named Baker who had been running rampant in northern Aliahan recently. The amount of gold and items he had stolen valued in thousands of pieces of gold, maybe even tens of thousands of gold. It seems as though the reason he was so successful was that he could just walk up to houses, as though he was the owner of the house, unlock the door and just walk in.
Alice had been the one to suggest seeking out the thief. "The door had some sort of toughening spell on it to resist attempts to force it. But I don't think there was any sort of holding spell on the door to keep it shut. I think we could open it if we could get the key or, in this case, pick the lock."
However, some people of the village had already tried that. There was a very advance lock on the door. However, the lack of any magic keeping it shut encouraged Alice to suggest seeking out Baker himself. Thomas had shown skepticism, but the Ron and Suzanne both agreed they had little to lose in trying. As far as money for food and shelter was concerned, they earned enough in selling parts of the monsters they killed to make up for that.
It turns out, Baker had finally been caught. Due to the reputation he had built up, he had been taken to the prison in Aliahan castle, of which there was no more secure prison in the land. Thomas had been quick to suggest that it was unlikely that he would be allowed out of prison to help them after the amount he had stolen, but once again he was overruled.
According to the guards, Baker testified that he had made a key to rob the houses. That is how he was able to unlock the door casually and act like he belonged. The key was a sort of lock-pick that Baker had made so masterfully it could pick most locks and yet the device looked just like a key. But when the guards asked Baker where the stolen goods were, he told them he couldn't get into the area he had stored them since the key had been taken from him by someone else. In fact, that's how he ended up being caught, the fact he no longer had his key.
It was not very difficult to get a chance to talk with Baker. He had not actually harmed anyone, so he was not treated as a murderer. As the group walked over the cell where Baker was being held, he seemed both confused and angry that he had visitors.
"What, are you showing me off to people now?" Baker asked as the guard brought the group to his cell. "Ooh, look at us, look at us! We caught the thief Baker! Come one and all to see the amazing thief in his cell!"
Ron was first to address the thief, "We're not here to gawk at your sorry behind. We're here for information."
Baker did not seem cooperative. "Oh really? I've been interrogated by better men then you. You don't scare me."
Suzanne cut in at this point, "This isn't an interrogation. We just heard about the key you made. We were wondering where it is right now."
Baker suddenly became very angry. "How many times are you people going to ask!" he shouted. "If I knew where it was, I'd tell you all so I could at least get a lighter sentence!"
"Hey, pipe down over there!" one of the guards shouted at Baker.
Suzanne continued, "What happened to your key?"
Baker shook his head in exasperation. "You won't believe me, just like all the other idiots here."
"Try us." Suzanne challenged.
"I was robbing this house when this wizard came to me and used his magic to disable me. He said that if I wanted it back I could find him on top of the Tower of Najima." Baker explained.
"A wizard you say?" Suzanne mused. "Thank you, you have been very helpful. I believe we'll be trying to find your key soon. If we do, I promise we'll come back and give it to you so you can negotiate a lighter sentence."
Baker did not seem convinced. "Yeah, whatever lady."
As the group walked out, Thomas summed up the situation, "How convenient. It appears Nathan took Baker's key and went to the Tower of Najima. To open the door to their house, it seems we must climb the tower ourselves. However, if I remember correctly, it is rather difficult to get to the tower these days. And once we get there, word says that there are plenty of monsters in the tower."
Alice, apparently having forgotten yesterday's encounter, did not seem deterred by the idea of monsters. "Hey, now we know what we have to do! We just go in that tower and find Nathan!"
The Tower of Najima was made after the first Great War to commemorate those that died in the war. It became a place of worship to the people as well. However, in the second Great War, Desmond would hold his final stand in the tower, cutting off all bridges and tunnels to the tower to make it inaccessible. However, the rebels of Aliahan cut a tunnel of their own to the tower. They put the entrance to the tunnel far away from any towns or villages, on the southwest tip of the island nation.
When the group visited the castle library, they found an old map of Aliahan from when the tunnel was being constructed. After finding out about the tunnel, the group decided it was their best choice for reaching the tower. Unfortunately, this would prove to be quite a journey. It would take them three days to reach the tunnel, and then they would have to fight their way through both the tunnel and the tower. Nevertheless, the team stocked up on supplies, making sure to pack plenty of medicinal herbs.
The journey to the tunnel went routinely. Although the team was forced to go through the southern forests of Aliahan in order to get to the tunnel, Ron was careful not to lead the group into an ambush this time.
"This tunnel is in surprisingly good shape for a tunnel made five decades ago." Thomas noted as the group entered.
"Yeah I know! This is awesome! We're crawling around in history right here!" Alice exclaimed.
Thomas did not seem so elated. "A rather shameful part of our history."
"Hey, lighten up a little bit Tom! I'm telling you, this is—" Alice began.
"Heads up! Monsters!" Suzanne yelled.
Ron and Suzanne already had their copper swords drawn and their leather shields on their arms. Thomas quickly drew out his club while Alice took out her quarterstaff.
The group found their path blocked by a group of giant frogs. The common term for them in Aliahan was "froggore." They usually favored the wild lands on the eastern side of Aliahan.
The group went straight into action. Ron and Suzanne immediately went up and engaged two of the frogs. Ron met his foe with a vicious horizontal slash meant for the abdomen, the froggore managed to dodge part of the blow. Nevertheless, the frog sustained a vicious wound. Suzanne came up to her foe only to barely block the froggore's tongue lashing attack with her shield. She countered the attack with an upwards slash to the creature's mouth. If the froggore had not been able to retract its tongue so quickly, it would have lost it. As it was, its mouth was almost cut in half.
As another froggore came in to try and surprise the two warriors, Thomas and Alice launched a sneak attack of their own. The froggore did not notice them until it felt the bludgeoning force of a club and quarterstaff upon its head. Having almost incapacitated her enemy, Suzanne turned to her side and delivered the finishing blow to the spellcasters' foe. While she did that, Ron pulled off an awesome maneuver of blocking his foe's attack on his shield while spinning around the finish off Suzanne's foe. He followed up by bashing his froggore's head with his shield and plunging his blade into its skin.
The group took a moment to catch their breath, clean their weapons, and search their enemies for anything they might be able to sell in town.
"Since when do froggores come anywhere near this side of the island!" Alice demanded.
"That is very strange behavior. Nevertheless, I hope froggores are the least of our worries," commented Thomas.
The group proceeded through the tunnel pretty routinely from there. They did encounter some more froggores and although the creatures were tougher than what the group was used to, they dispatched them with minimal injuries. The group also took a wrong turn but found a small chest with 16 gold pieces in it for their trouble. Besides that, they also found a set of traveler's robes.
After a few hours of going through the tunnel, the group came to a staircase. As they went up the staircase, they noticed a drastic change in the architecture of the walls.
"Hey, this looks a little different," Ron noted. "Are we almost in the tower?"
Alice took out the maps from the castle. "According to this, we're technically in the tower already. Underneath the tower is a basement, which we're in now. Looking at this, the basement served as a tunnel itself. One end went to the northern side of the island; the other end went right to the castle. However, Desmond cut off the ends of the tunnels. Besides transportation, there were also a couple storerooms down here."
"It's too bad that the tunnel underneath the castle got cut off. That would've saved us a bit of a trip." Suzanne mused.
Using Alice's map, the group easily found their way to another staircase. However, as they approached it, Alice warned them, "We're about to enter the main portion of the tower. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any maps of this part."
"So we're pretty much going in there blind?" Thomas asked.
"Oh well. We were pretty much blind in that tunnel as well," said Ron.
"That may be true, but tunnels are usually small and simple compared to towers of several stories," Thomas answered. "Besides that, there may or may not be a wizard in this tower whose goal it is to test us. If there is a wizard testing us, I'd rather not be lost while navigating through his traps."
"You bring up a good point. But if we're lucky, maybe the test is simply finding him." Suzanne suggested.
"Wow! I'd heard the stories but I guess I never really thought about what this place looked like. This place is gorgeous!" Alice exclaimed.
Although there was some damage to the tower for having not been used for decades, it was still in great shape. Most of the decorations and furniture that once had been in the Tower of Najima had been destroyed, but much of the architecture remained. The main hallway had several large dragon statues, each looking very lifelike.
"I agree with you, but let's keep our eyes open for things besides architecture," Suzanne warned.
The group scouted out the main hallway first. Aside from the statues, it seemed pretty basic. The hallway split into six rooms, three on each side. There was also an exit on the north and south sides of the building. The group began inspecting the rooms themselves, starting on the west side. There was nothing of note in any of them, except for a staircase in the north most room that led to what looked like a bedroom. The team then inspected the rooms on the east side. The north room had a staircase, which the group decided not to go up until they checked out all the rooms. They then entered the middle room. Nothing was in there but there was surprise waiting for them as they exited the room.
Suzanne got hit hard by the lashing tongue of a froggore. There were three this time, and apparently they were smart. The group hadn't noticed them as they entered the room but it seemed as though they had waited for the group to exit before launching an ambush.
The group wasn't going to fall into disarray; they immediately went into action. Everyone drew their weapons and Ron and Suzanne went up to engage the giant frogs in melee. While they did that, both Thomas and Alice prepared spells. Thomas sent a small beacon of light at Suzanne, healing the wound she received from one of the froggores. Alice sent a fireball at one of the froggores. The spell didn't kill the froggore, but surprised it enough for Suzanne to finish it off.
The froggores weren't done yet though. They both double teamed Ron. Ron blocked the attack from his left with his shield and tried to duck under the one from the right, but the froggore partially anticipated the duck and still caught Ron on the shoulder. However, now the froggore was alone. Ron sent a vertical slash at the froggore designed to make the creature dodge to its right, straight into Suzanne's sword.
Thomas spoke up first, "Is everyone alright? Ron, how's your shoulder?"
Ron laughed, "Don't worry about me. A bruise here or there won't kill anyone."
Alice appeared to be very sick of froggores at this point. "Here too! What is with these things!"
"Smart ones too," Suzanne commented. "I think they planned that ambush."
After doing their routine check on their vanquished enemies, the group pressed onwards. They checked the last room and proceeded up the staircase.
The tower turned out to be confusing. The group's determination to search the whole tower led them to find several items scattered around, including some gold and a wing of wyvern, a magical item that could teleport the user's to a place they had been before. The group had bought one before leaving, just in case they needed it, but it was nice to find another one. The second floor consisted of several rooms and had two staircases. Luckily, one of them led to a storeroom. The third floor was the most confusing. The hallways zigzagged for no apparent reason and there were a few rooms, as well as two more staircases. One of the staircases was reached by going around a balcony of sorts outdoors and then back inside. The group proceeded up this one.
The group came to the roof of the tower. The top of the tower was pretty big but didn't have much on it, besides a large room in the center.
"Well this looks like the top. If I had to guess, our man is in that room," Ron pointed out.
"Be ready guys," Suzanne warned.
The group kept formation as Ron went up to the door. The door was quite large, too large to be forced by the looks of it. Ron grabbed the handle and tried to open it.
"Damn it! It's locked!" he shouted in frustration.
Suzanne tried to keep their spirits up. "Don't give up yet. We still haven't gone up that staircase on the last floor. Maybe that'll take us somewhere."
"Like another useless storeroom," Thomas muttered.
"Incoming!" Alice yelled.
The other three spun around to see what had grabbed Alice's attention. Four large moth-like creatures had descended upon the group. Each one had a face that made it look like the creature was wearing a mask.
Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas charged the creatures. Ron and Suzanne easily felled their foes with powerful jumping strikes, splitting the creatures in half. Thomas got a good blow on his foe that almost killed it.
"Guys, that one is casting a spell!" Alice warned.
The moth that hadn't been hit had flown away from the group and was indeed casting a spell. As it finished, a purple mist covered the area. The group was unprepared for the spell and tried holding their breath to avoid any sort of poison. What they didn't count on was that there were now no less than two dozen of the moths now.
"What is this! There's so many of them!" Ron yelled. The group looked around wildly at all the moths. A dozen of them went in for an attack and one of them bit Thomas in the side. He somehow managed to dodge the worst of it, but as he tried to counterattack, his club went right through the moth.
"Guys, calm down! It's an illusion spell! There's still only two of them!" Alice yelled.
"But how do we figure out where they are!" Ron yelled back.
"Fight magic with magic! Alice, we need fireballs now!" Suzanne suggested.
Both Suzanne and Alice prepared spells while Ron and Thomas tried to protect the group from the moths and illusions. One of the moths nicked Suzanne but she kept chanting her spell. The two finished their spells and sent a pair of fireballs out. Because magic does not depend entirely on sight, the two did not need to know which of the moths were real. The fireballs sought out and homed in on the real moths and burned them, killing them.
After the illusion wore off, Thomas healed himself and the group checked the moths. Suzanne refused healing since she suffered only a small nick, she was barely even bleeding.
"That was pretty intense," Ron said. "Monsters that use magic? Since when could they do that?"
"Actually," Alice answered. "Lots of monsters can use magic. Though, I never expected to actually fight any!"
"That was actually a good idea in using magic Susie. I forgot that spells seek out their targets despite illusions." Thomas congratulated Suzanne.
Ron congratulated her as well. "Yeah, I forgot you could even use magic Susie!"
"Well, I'm not as good as Alice, but I can cast a fireball spell. I think I've even got a healing spell figured out, but we should definitely keep Thomas as our primary healer." Suzanne said.
"Pride is not something I worry about. If you want to heal someone, you go right ahead." Thomas said.
The group made their way back towards the staircase they had skipped on the third floor. The staircase had been in a room near the center of the tower. They had not realized that at first due to the zigzagging hallways. And since the staircase went up, the group also realized that this staircase may take them straight into the room they couldn't reach. However, as the group entered the room with the staircase in it, they were greeted by what appeared to be six bubbling green puddles on the ground, each one with a face.
"What are these things?" Ron asked.
"They look like green slimes that have been melted," Suzanne said.
"Well, let's just hit the things then! Come on Susie and Tom!" Ron said as he began his charge.
Thomas however, remembered that he had read about these creatures before. As Ron shouted and ran at them, Thomas remembered something very dangerous about these creatures.
"Wait guys! Don't let those things touch you!" Thomas shouted.
Suzanne halted her charge, but Ron kept going, saying back, "What are you talking about? These things look like they're weak!"
Ron met two of the bubble things and struck one with a good blow. Somehow, the creature survived. Both the things lurched at Ron. He jumped out of the way of one, but another one sprayed part of itself on Ron's leg. The liquid burned him and he leapt backward again, now very angry.
One of the bubble things came up to Suzanne. She managed to get out of the way and return a strike of her own, but it too did not die. Thomas came in and finished the thing off. Meanwhile, a fireball from Alice hit another bubble, but it didn't die.
"Never mind what I said, these things are tough!" Ron shouted. He launched another attack down at the bubble thing he wounded, finishing it off. The other one lurched at him again, but Ron barely managed to dodge. Suzanne and Thomas came in to help him out and the two managed to kill the bubble thing.
However, the remaining two bubble things came at the three melee fighters. One hit Suzanne with an attack while Ron got caught by another attack. Ron and Thomas ganged up on one bubble thing and killed it while Suzanne and Alice, with another fireball, killed the other. After the battle, Thomas didn't even stop to catch his breath as he healed Ron and then started checking Ron's wounds. Suzanne healed herself as well.
"Tom, what are you doing? You already healed me, I'm fine." Ron said.
Thomas shook his head and kept checking Ron's leg. "Those things are called babbles. They're poisonous. I'm checking you for poison."
The rest of the group looked surprised. Thomas continued looking at Ron's leg, and then swore loudly.
"What? What is it?" Suzanne asked.
"He's poisoned." Thomas said. He then went to Suzanne and started checking her leg where the babble hit her.
Alice gasped. Ron didn't seem too fazed though.
"Oh well. They can cure poison back at the castle. I'll be fine in a little while."
Thomas finished checking Suzanne and replied, "Susie's fine. But we have to leave now and cure Ron."
"I'm fine Tom!" Ron protested. "We're almost to the top now anyway! It'd be a shame to leave now!"
Thomas was unconvinced. "That is unacceptable. Alice, you have the wings of wyvern right?"
"Fine, you all can leave. But you need me to at least be touching the person using the wing and I'm not agreeing to teleport out of here until we check that room," Ron protested.
Before Thomas could continue the argument, Suzanne cut in, "I don't like it either Tom, but he's not going to leave. It's just up the stairs anyway. Let's go."
The group proceeded up the stairs and, just as they though, ended up in the room they were denied access to earlier. In the room was an old man wearing some expensive looking red and orange robes. He greeted the group, "Greetings! I dreamt that you would come here today. And in my dream, I gave you this key. Come now and take it from me."
The wizard held out his hand and in it was the key. Ron walked up to him and took the key and examined it. Indeed, it looked just like a key, but there were buttons on the side that activated a number of gadgets on the key. It looked convincing enough.
Suzanne spoke up. "Thank you sir wizard. Is your name Nathan Drasoran by any chance?"
The wizard replied, "That I am, kind miss. You have nearly completed your test. Now, go to my brother's door and claim your prize."
The group all gave their thanks and went to the door, only to find it was also locked from the inside. The wizard chuckled to said to them, "Use your new key."
Ron tried the key and, after trying a few buttons, got the door to open. The group walked outside when Ron suddenly puked violently right outside the door.
"Dammit! Alice, we need that wing now!" Thomas shouted.