Chapter 34: No Magic Allowed
"Could it really be your dad, Susie?" asked Ron.
"It was said that he fell into a volcano in the Necrogond," said Alice. "We don't know where all the portals to this world are. Your dad was a tough warrior, Susie. He could've survived the flames of the volcano and been saved by a portal."
"Or that woman could be lying," suggested Thomas.
"How could you say that, Tom?" asked Alice. "What possible reason could that woman have for lying to complete strangers like us? How would she even know that Susie is Ortega's daughter?"
"Zoma," answered Thomas simply. "Welcome told us that Zoma delights in tearing down the greatest. It attacked Aliahan Castle and I still believe that was targeted at us. And we've seen how desperate some of the people of this world are. So Zoma gets a nurse at the castle to come up to us and tell a story and it plants an idea in Susie's head. And then at some critical moment, it plants another story in her head and leads her into a trap. Maybe even conjures up some phantom Ortega."
"Tom, do you always have to be so negative!?" yelled Alice. "This is her father we're talking about! If there's any chance he's still alive, we have to find him!"
"Not if it gets her killed!" retorted Thomas. "Remember what happened in Samanao! An entire nation given to tyranny over a deception. And the deceiver was a mere underling of an underling of Zoma, if not even further down. He wasn't particularly smart, either. If a minion like that can cause such strife to an entire nation, how much more capable is Zoma?"
"That's enough, both of you!" cut in Suzanne. "I appreciate the concern but I'll be fine. I don't know whether or not to believe the woman we talked to. But right now, that's irrelevant. She didn't tell us where my father went anyway so I couldn't pursue if I wanted to. And we have more pressing work at hand."
The heroes spent another week around Brecconaly gathering information about Alefgard and their surroundings. During this time they also left the city limits and trained against the local monsters. Some of what they found was quite surprising.
"So, what do you guys make of this?" Ron asked one day.
The group had run into four liquid hand monsters. The monsters looked like disembodied hands rising out of small puddles of mud. The most curious thing about them was that the four encountered them in an open field with no other puddles around. As the hand monsters moved forward the puddles from which they seemed to originate moved forward as well.
Alice used her staff to burn the hand creatures. Despite being covered in mud and water, the hand creatures all suffered burns. The other three ran at the hand creatures. Instead of meeting the three, each hand creature made an odd motion; a motion like one would make when gesturing for another person to come forward. The three fell upon the monsters with their swords and each hero dispatched one monster. Then Alice used her staff again to finish off the last monster.
"Well, that wasn't too bad," said Alice.
"Alice! Behind you!" warned Thomas.
Alice whirled around and barely brought her shield up in time to block a punch thrown by a hand monster that had snuck up behind her. Although the hands had appeared to be the same size as human hands, this hand had grown to a large size when it punched Alice. Alice managed to squarely block the blow with her shield but the combination of force and surprise sent Alice to the ground. It was then she realized that there were three other hand monsters that had snuck up behind her.
The other three rushed to help Alice but fortunately only the hand that had hit her was pressing the attack. The other three monsters made the same hand motion that the first four monsters had made. Ron noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to look and saw three more hand monsters had come out of seemingly nowhere and were converging on them.
"We have more company!" yelled Ron.
"Every time they do that hand motion more monsters come," said Suzanne, realizing the pattern. "We're going to have to try and take them all out at once! Ron, Alice! Make your explosions! We'll keep them off you!"
Suzanne ran towards Alice to protect her while she was still on the ground, beginning to cast her spell. Three hand monsters moved towards the two but Suzanne positioned herself so that they could not get through to Alice. She sliced open one hand with her sword and blocked a giant fist with her shield. She managed to stay on her feet and roll away from the other monster.
Thomas was met with four hand monsters. He managed to cut one of them but two others managed to punch him, both getting past his shield. Thomas was brought to the ground and another monster made it to Ron. The monster gave Ron a direct hit but Ron was strong enough to stay on his feet.
Ron raised the Thunder Sword into the air while Alice finished her spell. Two large explosions covered the area. When the spells dissipated all the hand monsters were laying on the ground dead. The four looked around to see if more monsters would appear. After a couple minutes no monsters had appeared.
"You must be right, Susie," said Alice. "Those monsters must have been summoning more."
"They weren't very tough on their own," said Ron. "But if they kept summoning their friends this could've gotten out of hand real quick."
"We'll have to remember to use large group tactics on them in the future," Suzanne said.
After a week of training the four decided to check out the cave they had heard about. The cave was about three days north of Tantegel Castle. The group encountered more hand monsters and slimes on the way but managed to defeat their opposition with little incident. As soon as the group descended into the cave Alice could tell something was wrong.
"Wait, everyone! Stop!" warned Alice.
"What is it?" asked Suzanne. Instead of answering, Alice cast a quick spell. However, her spell did not work.
"My magic is sealed," declared Alice. "Susie, Tom, try casting spells to see if it's affecting you too."
Suzanne and Thomas cast spells of their own but, like Alice's, the spells were stopped.
"So there's some sort of magic seal in this cave?" asked Ron. "Do you think the magic in my sword will still work?"
"I doubt it," said Alice. "It wouldn't make any sense for –" Her statement was cut off by a large explosion conjured up from Ron's sword. Alice then tested her staff and found that it worked as well.
"Well, as I was saying," began Alice, "since the magic in our items comes from a different source it makes perfect sense –"
"Oh, no you don't!" cut in Ron. "You were wrong! Imagine that, the great sage Alice was mistaken! And I believe I was the one that corrected you!"
"Oh come on!" protested Alice. "Can't I be wrong once in my life without you throwing it in my face?"
"I believe you once gloated over me for something I said months ago," said Thomas. "Surely, Ron is entitled to some gloating over you in light of that?"
"No!" shouted Alice. "He most surely is not! And neither are you!"
"I think Tom's right Alice," said Suzanne with a smile on her face. "I believe, on this momentous occasion on which you were wrong, it is only right that we lesser mortals are allowed to have some fun with it." The other three chuckled as Alice pouted.
"Alright, everyone," said Suzanne at last. "Enough games for a while. Are we all ready?" She was met with confident nods from her companions. "Okay then, let's get to it."
The heroes descended into the cave. From the moment they entered the cave there was a split in direction. However, one direction quickly led to a dead end. As they walked through the cave they found it to be filled with small hallways and intersections that quickly ended in dead ends.
It was not long before the four found a descending staircase. As usual, they skipped the staircase at first and explored the entire floor they were on. Despite all the dead ends, the floor was so small that it took very little time at all.
"Anyone else notice something missing here?" asked Ron.
"Monsters?" suggested Suzanne. "We've seen no opposition since we came down here."
"Maybe Bert was wrong and there are no monsters here?" said Alice.
"Don't bet on it," replied Thomas.
"We did make some noise when we arrived here," said Suzanne. "We shouldn't have done that. We made our presence known and it could be that our enemies gathered on the lower floor to ambush us. Be ready, everyone."
The heroes went down the staircase and ended up in another large chamber leading to a hallway. There were still no enemies about.
"Maybe everyone was just too afraid of this cave to explore it?" said Alice hopefully.
Her hopes were dashed when the four turned the next corner. Standing guard in the large hallway were two trolls. Unlike the trolls the group had previously encountered, these trolls had purple skin and carried enormous clubs.
"I hope these things aren't as tough as the imposter in Samanao," said Ron.
"If they're like other trolls, they're going to regenerate," said Suzanne. "Go at them with weapons, everyone! Focus on one at a time!"
The four rushed at one of the trolls, keeping in step with each other rather than separating. The troll they were running at readied a vicious blow to hit several of the group at once. But the four anticipated the strike and were each able to dodge the hit.
Alice rolled forward and stabbed her sword into the creature's right leg. Thomas rolled to the side, got back to his feet, and slashed the troll's left leg. The two attacks caused the troll to stumble and, unlike other trolls, its wounds were not regenerating. Suzanne and Ron took advantage of the troll's stumble to score wounds to its midsection. Suzanne jumped up and stabbed the troll in the chest while Ron jumped onto its back and buried his sword there.
Meanwhile, the other troll had been casting a spell. With a laugh, the troll finished its spell, obviously expecting something bad to happen to the heroes. However, just as the group was unable to cast spells, the troll's spell had no effect. The four took advantage of this to bring down the troll in the same was as they had the other. Thomas and Alice went for the legs and as the creature staggered Suzanne and Ron finished it off with punishing slashes to the midsection. The four made sure the trolls were dead but they still showed no sign of regenerating.
"Well that went well," said Ron. "They didn't even regenerate like trolls in the upper world."
"Did you see that one trying to cast a spell?" asked Alice. "It seems the trolls here aren't much more intelligent either."
"Don't get cocky," cautioned Suzanne. "We can't use magic to heal ourselves while we're here and we can't teleport out. It's going to be very important for us to finish fights without being wounded like we did with this one."
The four continued their exploration. As with the first floor, there were many spots where the path split to the side but any dead ends appeared quickly, minimizing the amount of wasted time. There also did not seem to be many monsters around.
"I don't like this," Thomas said. "It's far too quiet here."
"It is a bit unnerving," agreed Alice. "Every time we turn a corner I'm expecting an ambush."
"Like that time we were walking through the inn and Susie ambushed us with flour out of nowhere," said Ron. Alice stifled a laugh while Suzanne chuckled. Even Thomas smiled.
"In my defense, the hallways in that inn were very narrow and it was night," said Suzanne.
"But they had torches lit all over!" protested Ron. "Shouldn't you have seen our shadows approaching?"
"I could ask you the same question," replied Suzanne.
"It was a day the bards would sing of," mused Thomas. "The heroes that would go on to defeat an Archfiend bested by a bag of flour!" The other three had to silence their laughter at Thomas' comment.
"Susie, you didn't even help us clean it up, either!" complained Alice.
"I tried but you guys wouldn't let me!" answered Suzanne.
"No offense, fearless leader, but I've never seen someone as inept at cleaning as you," said Ron. "I think you were somehow adding more flour to the mess."
The four shared another laugh, still being careful to be quiet so they would not alert monsters to their position. Then Suzanne gave the signal to continue onwards. The heroes proceeded cautiously through the cave, still careful every time they turned a corner.
After several more minutes without any life the group finally came across another monster. This monster looked a lot like the Orochi the heroes had defeated in Jipang. It was a dragon with no wings but five heads. It was a bit smaller than the Orochi had been and its scales were turquoise.
Alice advanced forward with her sword but decided not to run too far forward so that she could engage the creature with her companions. However, the creature took advantage of her delay as one of its heads took in a breath, and unleashed fire upon the heroes. Another head was inhaling for a breath attack as well.
"We have to charge it!" shouted Suzanne.
The four fell upon the beast. Suzanne leapt up onto the dragon's back and slashed into the neck of the head that was about to breathe fire. Some flames still came out but they died before reaching any of the group. The dragon's neck was severely wounded and Suzanne was glad to see its wounds were not healing themselves, unlike the Orochi. The wounded neck caved to the ground, unable to support the head attached to it.
Alice slashed one of the other heads across the mouth but her guard was left open and another head came in and bit at her side. Alice was able to spin away, avoiding the worst of the blow, but some of the dragon's teeth sliced into her side. Ron and Thomas took advantage of the opening the dragon left and took off the head that had attacked Alice.
The head that Alice had wounded pulled back, apparently too pained by its wound to bite or breathe fire. The creature began to turn itself around so its two unwounded heads could get at the heroes. But it was unable to turn fast enough. Suzanne, still on the dragon's back, went to work on another of its necks. She dealt another well placed blow and another neck fell to the ground.
Ron baited the remaining head by bringing himself into its view. It snapped at him and Ron was able to jump backwards and block its teeth with his shield. The force shoved him back but he was hardly wounded. It also left the neck wide open to counterattack, as Thomas and Alice closed in on it. They slashed the neck and head several times with their swords. Now all the creature's heads were critically wounded and the dragon fell to the ground defenseless. The four easily finished it off.
"Is everyone alright?" asked Thomas.
"Alice took some teeth to the side," said Suzanne. "How are you doing?"
"I've still got a lot left in me!" replied Alice confidently.
"If you need it, I do have some medical herbs with me," offered Thomas. "I don't have many though."
"I hope we don't see too many more of those things," said Suzanne. "If we could use magic they wouldn't be too horrible to deal with. But it'll be very difficult to fight those things without being wounded."
The four proceeded through the cave. Their next turn took them to a much longer hallway than any they had yet seen. The hallway took them to a descending staircase. The staircase took them to what looked like a vault. There was a wall and a heavy door blocking access. However, there was also a gap in the wall.
"I'm curious to see if the Final Key's magic still works here," said Alice. They tried the Final Key on the door and found the key did still function. In the next room they saw a bunch of treasure chests. There was also a large tear going through the floor and northern wall. The group walked up to the tear to examine it.
"This must be the fissure Bert was talking about!" exclaimed Alice.
"I do get a bad feeling gazing at it," noted Ron. "Even I can sense some sort of malevolent energy coming off of it."
"How long do you need to examine it, Alice?" asked Suzanne.
"I don't know," said Alice. "Without my magic, I won't be able to learn much from it. All I can do is stare at it. And there's not much to see."
"We should also examine these treasure chests," said Ron.
"I can't use my magic to check for traps," warned Alice.
"Of course, that means if there are mimics here they can't use their terrible magic either," said Suzanne. "Let's open some of the chests. If it looks like they're all mimics we can stop opening them."
The group began opening the treasure chests. The first chest they opened had some gold in it. However, when they tried to open the next chest it sprang to life and tried to bite off Suzanne's hand. She managed to retract her hand in time though it still raked its teeth through her armor and the skin beneath. With its great agility, the chest jumped up and tried to bite Suzanne again. Suzanne managed to block it with her shield but its surprising strength knocked her back.
The other three rushed to Suzanne's aid. Thomas and Alice tried to slash into the chest before it closed it after attacking Suzanne. However, their swords hit the wood of the chest, doing little damage. Ron decided not to deal with going for the creature's weak point; he went behind the creature and aimed a two-handed blow at the back of the chest. His sword crashed through the wood, creating a new weak spot to hit the creature with.
The creature responded by flying at Ron. Instead of trying to bite him, it slammed into his midsection. Surprised by the attack, Ron fell to the ground with the wind knocked out of him. Alice ran forward to try and take advantage of the hole Ron made. But the creature jumped at her and bit into her arm. Fortunately, Thomas launched a well-timed strike and was able to hit the creature inside the chest before the chest closed. It fell to the ground destroyed.
"Excellent move, Tom!" congratulated Suzanne.
"Yeah, good job man!" said Ron. Then he turned to Suzanne. "So you took one of these things on by yourself, Susie? Those things are damn tough; we had four of us and it couldn't use magic and it still was trouble."
Thomas took out the medical herbs he had and shared them with the group. The herbs helped the other three recover from some of their wounds. The four then went back to the treasure chests. They found some more gold in one and a beautiful stone in another.
"Looks like another Stone of Life," said Thomas, examining it. "I presume we shall do as before and I will hang onto it?"
The other three agreed. There was one chest left to open, behind the fissure. The four carefully made their way around the fissure. They opened the chest and inside found a marvelous shield. The shield was blue with a gold trim. On the front of the shield was a golden bird with a ruby in its torso.
"Well, now, this is a marvelously crafted piece of equipment!" exclaimed Ron, examining the shield.
"Why don't you practice with it a little bit, Ron?" asked Suzanne.
Ron, obviously excited, strapped the shield onto his arm. However, his face, and his arm, fell. It seemed as though he struggled to even lift his shield arm.
"What is this!?" asked Ron, upset. "I swear the shield seemed light and maneuverable when I was just holding it! Now I can't even lift my arm!"
"Really?" asked Suzanne. "Let me see."
Ron unstrapped the shield from his arm. He was amazed that the shield once again seemed light while he handed it to Suzanne. Suzanne strapped the shield to her arm.
"That's odd, it seems fine to me," said Suzanne. "And you're definitely stronger than I am, Ron. Yet the shield feels so light it's almost like an extension of my arm."
"Let me see!" said Alice. Suzanne unstrapped the shield and gave it to Alice. After strapping on the shield Alice was forced to take a knee for she could not life the shield off the ground. She gave the shield to Thomas but Thomas had no more success. Suzanne decided she liked the new shield more than her old one and re-strapped it to her arm.
"This is mysterious," said Alice. "We've seen that the magic in enchanted items is preserved in this cave. There must be something at work that keeps the rest of us from using the shield. Some sort of guarding magic for the shield. But what does Susie have that undoes this magic? I'll have to examine it outside when I can use my magic."
"So what about the fissure?" asked Suzanne. "We can't take the fissure out with us."
"I'm going to strongly recommend that we don't just jump in," said Thomas.
"I don't know what to do," admitted Alice. "There's definitely some power at work here. We can all sense it. But I don't know how to study it."
"What if we just throw something in?" asked Ron.
"How do we know this fissure won't have some sort of violent reaction if anything falls in it?" asked Thomas.
"Tom, you're always thinking the worst," said Ron. "Surely something like a rock couldn't do that." Without further delay, Ron picked up a rock and threw it into the fissure.
An earthquake soon ensued. The four were unable to stay on their feet. The fissure seemed to simultaneously expand and contract. A small object flew out of the fissure, almost hitting Thomas. Then the earthquake abated as soon as it had started. Thomas examined the object that had flown out of the fissure.
"I'm guessing this is the rock you threw in?" asked Thomas.
"Wow, I had no idea that would happen!" said Ron.
"I'm going to insist that we don't throw anything else in there," said Suzanne. "If we could get a better idea of what we're dealing with I would feel better about experimenting with this fissue. But it's too dangerous for us to just haphazardly mess around with."
"So what are we going to do, Susie?" asked Alice.
"I think we should head out," answered Suzanne. "We found some valuable items here so the trip wasn't a total waste. And Alice, maybe you'll find a technique that allows us to use magic in this cave. But until then, we're not going to put ourselves in unnecessary danger."
The four began to leave the vault when they heard a roar from behind them. As they turned around they were met with a wall of fire, burning all of them badly. After the fire cleared they saw their attacker: a long, spindly purple dragon that flew without wings.
"Charge it!" ordered Suzanne. "We need to keep it from breathing fire again!"
The heroes surged forward to meet the dragon. The dragon began to fly into the air. Thomas and Alice tried to slash the beast but it flew out of their reach.
"Susie!" called Ron. He knelt to the ground, dropped his sword, and cupped his hands. Understanding what he meant, Suzanne ran at Ron. Ron gave Suzanne a boost and she was able to grab onto the dragon's long tail. Agitated, the dragon began to try and get Suzanne off of it. It flew erratically to try and shake Suzanne off. But Suzanne held on.
Then the dragon slammed Suzanne into one of the cavern walls. Suzanne had to use all her strength to hold on and she dropped her sword. The creature used its unnatural flying abilities to curl itself around, bringing its head into a striking position against Suzanne. The creature lashed at Suzanne. Instinctively, Suzanne raised her shield arm to block the blow but she was unable to grasp the back of the shield or to put any force behind her arm.
Suzanne expected the creature to lash right past her feeble defense and bite her head off. Clearly, the creature expected that as well. But the creature hit Suzanne's new shield straight on and instead of pushing through and bringing its teeth into Suzanne's flesh it was unable to move the shield. Frustrated, the creature lunged again. But this time Suzanne was ready and pushed her shield arm forward, bashing the dragon in the mouth.
Dazed, the dragon got careless and dropped a few feet. That proved to be just enough. Suzanne's friends jumped up and brought their swords against the dragon. Steel found its way through scales and cut into flesh. The dragon screamed in pain and tried to fly out of their reach but was too weak to do so anymore. It succumbed to the heroes.
Thomas distributed the last of his medical herbs. However, each of the four was still badly burned.
"I don't think I could take more flame breath like that," said Alice. "That's the strongest flame I've ever felt."
"Let's get out of here quickly," said Suzanne. "We won't be able to take much more in our condition."
The four managed to escape the cave. They met some more trolls on the way but they took advantage of the monsters' lack of smarts and defeated them while taking minimal damage. As soon as they left the cave Thomas healed the group of their wounds. Alice then began examining Suzanne's new shield.
"This is a powerful shield!" exclaimed Alice. "It's enhanced to be lighter yet stronger for its chosen wielder."
"Chosen wielder?" asked Suzanne.
"I had read about such enchantments before but I've never seen anything like it," answered Alice. "This shield will not allow just anybody as its wielder. When Ron, Tom, or I use it the shield rejects us. But it has accepted you, Susie."
"Why?" asked Suzanne. "What about me makes the shield accept me?"
"That I don't know," said Alice. "I'll have to study the matter more."
With the ability to use their magic again, the trip back to Brecconaly was comparatively easy. However, this time the guards took more of an interest in the group as they tried to walk into the city.
"Hold!" ordered one of the guards. "What is that you have there?" He was gesturing to Suzanne's new shield.
"Is there a problem, sir?" asked Suzanne.
"What's going on Larry?" asked the guard's partner.
"Miss, may I examine your shield?" asked Larry.
"Are you confiscating it?" asked Suzanne.
"I just want to look at it," answered Larry.
"Dude, what's going on?" asked Larry's partner. Larry shushed him and looked at Suzanne's shield.
"Is this what I think it is?" asked Larry.
"It certainly looks like it," answered his partner, suddenly breathless.
"What's going on?" asked Suzanne.
"Miss, do you mind if I try putting this on?" asked Larry. "I'll give it right back to you, I swear."
Suzanne agreed. Larry strapped the shield to his arm. Larry was unable to lift the shield. His partner was awestruck. Larry gave the shield to him and he was also unable to lift the shield.
"What is this, some sort of show?" asked Ron. "What are you two doing?"
"Where did you get this shield?" asked Larry.
"First I want you to tell me what's going on," said Suzanne.
"I think this shield is the Shield of Heroes," answered Larry. "It is said to be one of Alefgard's most prized treasures and a very powerful piece of equipment."