Chapter 39: The Once Proud Tower
That night the four gathered near the public bathhouse in Kol. There were few in the area at that time though the group was sure to post discrete lookouts to be sure. They began digging just south of the bathhouse, as the widow in Hauksness had told them. They had to dig quite a few holes around the area but the widow's instructions were fairly accurate. Before long they found a flute that had been buried in the ground. The flute was made of wood and at a glance looked to be of ordinary make.
"Do you think this is it?" asked Suzanne.
"This little thing? This is what the widow felt we had to find?" asked Ron, unimpressed.
"Don't let its appearance fool you," said Alice. "Not all powerful artifacts are magnificently designed. I can sense a power coming from it. Let me examine it with my magic. I'll figure out what this flute can do."
The next day Alice went to work. After her examinations she shared her findings with the rest of the group.
"No doubt about it, there's a great power within this flute," said Alice. "Curiously, it seems like a power we have seen before. I want to go back to the Great Pit of Giaga and study it."
"Why Giaga?" asked Suzanne.
"The power in this flute seems tied to the power that kept Ramia from going through the Great Pit," answered Alice. "In fact, the power is much like the power that comes from Ramia herself. I want to work with Ramia for a little while and study this flute there. Who knows? Maybe we could dispel the magic that keeps Ramia from coming here!"
"Getting Ramia to Alefgard would be a great help for us," said Suzanne. "Okay, Alice, we'll all go. I don't want to risk stranding us here and I don't want to risk sending you off alone."
The heroes reunited with Ramia and worked to study the Fairy Flute. Despite Ramia's insights the exact power and purpose of the flute remained a mystery to them. The power was tied to the seal keeping Ramia out of Alefgard. Unfortunately, Alice and Ramia concluded that it was unlikely the flute could be used to break the seal.
"Basically, there are two magical signatures at work powering the seal keeping Ramia out," explained Alice. "To get Ramia into Alefgard both of these signatures would need to be undone simultaneously. We believe this flute would undo one of these signatures."
"What exactly are these signatures?" asked Suzanne.
"That is what is most mysterious," answered Alice. "One of them is a signature of malice and darkness. No doubt this signature is born of Zoma's own malignant power. But the other signature seems like that which comes from Ramia herself. The two signatures should be at odds with each other yet they are interwoven and work together in harmony."
When I try to enter the portal the two signatures serve different roles, said Ramia. The malignant signature is what denies me entry. However, the signature tied to me provides identification. It supports the seal against me and me specifically.
"We tried to use the flute to break the seal," continued Alice. "But the flute only combats the malignant signature. With this 'identification' signature supporting it, the seal holds against the flute's power."
This is powerful and complicated magic, said Ramia. The flute may be unable to combat this seal on its own but I suggest you keep it with you. It may be able to undo some other of Zoma's spells.
"Damn! I was really hoping that would work!" said Ron.
"It was a long shot," said Thomas. "The nature of this seal makes it seem intentional. Zoma likely went to quite some trouble to keep Ramia from interfering in Alefgard."
What do you intend to do now? asked Ramia.
"We still have no leads on the Armor of Radiance," said Suzanne. "And we recently learned that the Sword of Kings is likely destroyed. Our mission to reunite the three pieces of equipment legendary to Alefgard may be doomed."
"Don't give up so easily, Susie!" said Ron. "We met that swordsmith from Jipang that said he could make a new one! If he made my sword he must be capable of making a legendary sword!"
"We need some oricon for that, though," said Thomas. "Where would we find that?"
"That man we met when we first got to Hauksness said he was looking for some," mentioned Alice.
"The man who was randomly digging around town like a fool?" asked Thomas. "And if he found some, why would he share it with us?"
"It's worth a try!" said Alice.
Suzanne turned back to Ramia. "Other than that, our only other lead is a tower west of Kol. Rumor says that a spirit named Rubiss is sealed there. Some scholars in Tantegel claimed that Rubiss created Alefgard."
Rubiss? echoed Ramia. That name sounds familiar to me.
"You've heard of Rubiss?" asked Ron. "How is that possible? Isn't that a name specific to Alefgard?"
"Ron has a point," said Suzanne. "Alefgard is unheard of here. Ramia, how do you know that name?"
I cannot explain it, answered Ramia. Memories from my past life elude me still.
"Could it be that Ramia somehow visited Alefgard in the past?" asked Alice. "It would make sense in a way. Perhaps Ramia went to Alefgard and presented a threat to Zoma there. And maybe that's what made Zoma seal her out of Alefgard."
"This makes me very curious about what's in that tower," said Suzanne.
"It will likely be extremely dangerous," warned Thomas. "If Rubiss is as powerful as we've heard and if she's sealed in that tower then Zoma will not have just abandoned the tower. It will be filled with its minions, perhaps even checked on periodically by the Archfiend itself."
"I believe it's a risk we have to take," said Suzanne. "But you bring up a good point. We will need to be extra prepared for this."
The four teleported back to Kol. They made their way back to the Shadow Ferry and sailed west to the tower. The tower looked as though it had at one time been a beautiful structure. All along the walls were tattered banners, many of them with Alefgard's symbol of the golden bird. However, all these banners were torn up or had been defaced in some way.
"Why would a tower of Zoma's have so pictures of that golden bird on its banners?" asked Ron. "I wouldn't think it would enjoy seeing that."
"Look at the condition of those banners," said Thomas. "Most have been torn up. Others have obscenities written on them."
"Why not just remove the banners?" asked Ron.
"At one time this tower may have served as a symbol of hope or strength to the people of Alefgard," replied Thomas. "Perhaps before Rubiss was sealed this tower was made in devotion to her. But now this tower and these tattered banners only serve as a reminder of the Master Archfiend's victory."
The group had little time to continue their musings on the tower's original purpose. Alice spotted three figures gliding down from one of the upper floors of the tower. The figures were three lion creatures. They had grey fur with bright red manes. On their backs were red wings.
"We can't wait for them to come down," said Suzanne. "They might have magic. Blast them out of the sky!"
The two opposing forces let out bursts of magic simultaneously. The three lion creatures all cast spells on their descent. Their combined spells turned the ground around the heroes into a horrific ice field. The grass was uprooted and sent flying as jagged spires of ice emerged from the ground. The four were sent flying into the air by the force of the ice field's emergence. And as they began their return to the ground the jagged ice spires waited there to impale the heroes.
Meanwhile, a powerful storm of fire was created to engulf the lion creatures. A large, tornado-like whirlwind carried two streams of fire, one so powerful that flames bounced all around it, to the lions. The cutting winds and scorching flames seared the monsters and then a large explosion finished them off. Their badly damaged corpses hit the ground.
Suzanne and Ron took out their shields and did their best to acrobatically roll themselves away from the spires. The Shield of Heroes again proved its worth as Suzanne rolled harmlessly off one of the ice spires. Ron took a cut to his side but it was not as bad as it could have been. Thomas conjured up a small wind gust to save himself though he took a blow to the shoulder. Alice used a spell to slow her descent.
The ice field dissipated slowly and the four crawled out of it. They immediately saw that their quick fight had not gone unnoticed; numerous lion creatures could be seen emerging from the tower.
"We can't handle many exchanges like this one," said Suzanne. "Into the tower!"
The group rushed to the tower. Fortunately, the lions did not have very good maneuverability in the air. Some had launched themselves from the tower at the heroes however as the heroes ran underneath them they had to take a wide arc to turn around. The four arrived at the entrance of the tower. The door was locked but they quickly used the Final Key to get inside and shut the door behind them.
The room the four found themselves in was a narrow entrance hallway. At the other end was trapped floor that shot up sparks. The group hid themselves to the sides of the entrance door and waited for their pursuers to arrive. Thomas did not have time to heal everyone individually so he cast a single spell that healed some of the wounds of all four of them.
The lion creatures soon opened the door and rushed inside. Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas all rushed upon the monsters. Though they were still dangerous in melee fighting them up close proved to be less dangerous than feeling the wrath of their magic. The three cut through several of the lions taking only a few minor cuts for the effort.
Unfortunately, another lion at the back of their formation cast a spell. The group was again struck by a field of ice with spiky ice pillars. However, since it was only the one lion casting a spell the ice field was not nearly as dangerous. The group took some cuts and continued slicing through their attackers. Alice rewarded the lion who had cast the spell with her newly improved fireball spell, sending a tower of flame its way. It tried to cast its spell again but by that point Ron broke through the lions' front line and destroyed the spellcaster.
"Quite the welcoming committee," said Ron.
"We'd best keep on the move," cautioned Suzanne. "That group was clearly organized to some degree. And if we continue having fights like that we'll waste all our magic. Best to move before the tower defenses can organize and find us."
The four proceeded forward. Alice used her levitation spell on the group as usual to bypass the dangerous floor. The group came to a three-way fork and chose the left path at first. They found an ascending staircase. As was their custom, they skipped the staircase at first and explored the rest of the floor. They found a dead end and a small treasure room in the rest of the floor. The treasure room had some gold and, as Alice found out using a spell, a mimic.
The heroes were hounded by monsters as they progressed. Many of the monsters had command of dangerous magic. The group quickly adjusted their tactics to try engaging all foes in melee as soon as possible as most of their foes were at their least dangerous close up. There were many more of the lion creatures. Inside the tower they had less room to move and so were easier to get close to. They also came up against some winged, purple-skinned humanoids with long tails. Up close they only had some daggers to fight with but from afar they could conjure powerful fireballs.
Among the most dangerous foes were more of the weird flying bird-worm creatures, like those the group had fought near Hauksness. Alice had come to find in her research that these creatures were called wyverns.
"Oh like the wing of wyvern?" asked Ron. "Wait, if wyverns only show up here in Alefgard then how do we get their wings in our world?"
"A good question," said Alice. "Wings of wyvern are not actually wings of true wyverns. They are imitations made in the likeness of a wyvern's wings. Long ago, when teleportation magic was first being discovered, it is said that it was discovered during experiments using the wings of wyverns. At the time, the only way to teleport was to imbue the magic in an actual wyvern's wings. Because of this, the wyverns were eradicated from our world. Before that happened, other ways to teleport were discovered. However, craftsman would still make likenesses of a wyvern's wings for their teleportation merchandise as by that time there was cultural significance linking wyvern wings and teleportation."
"I wonder if the wyverns weren't eradicated from our world but instead fled here," said Suzanne. "We've certainly seen a few wyverns here."
"That isn't a bad guess, Susie," replied Alice. "Honestly, it is very surprising to find actual wyverns in Alefgard!"
"Well, we better keep our guard up around them," cautioned Suzanne. "Knowing a bit about their history isn't going to make them less dangerous."
Unlike the wyverns around Hauksness, these wyverns never breathed fire. Instead, they would turn the heroes against each other using confusion spells. Thus, it was imperative for the group to corner them and take them out early. However, they were fast and agile. Even in the confined spaces inside the tower they were adept at flying out of melee. They were resistant to having their spells sealed too.
The four eventually made their way back back to the staircase they found and went up to the second floor. There they came across a curious sight: part of the floor was rotating. There were many circles in the floor which were rotating at a fast pace.
"What do you guys make of this?" asked Suzanne.
"A trap, I think," answered Thomas. "See the opening in the wall next to the rotating floor here? If you cross over the rotating floor you may get so dizzy you accidentally fall out of the tower."
"Not a very good trap, then," said Ron. "We have a clear path to the side! We can just go around!"
North of the staircase was a large room with more rotating floors. Here, the purpose of the floors as a trap became more apparent. There were four sections of dangerous, sparking floor in the room. If one tried to avoid the sparking floors they would have to go over rotating floors here.
"Still a bad trap," maintained Ron. "Alice can just levitate us over the sparking floors!"
"I think we should give the rotating floors a try," said Suzanne. "We may find a spot in this tower where we can't avoid them. Best to get used to them now while we can still avoid them."
"Won't we always be able to avoid them?" asked Ron. "Alice, could you levitate me? Then I'll just hover over the rotating floors just like the sparking floors."
Alice did as Ron requested and Ron walked to the rotating floors. To the group's surprise, even though Ron's feet were not touching the rotating floors he still found himself getting spun around. Surprised, Ron quickly lost his balance and fell over the sparking floors. Thankfully, Alice's levitation spell kept him hovering above the deadly floor even though he had fallen down. Since Ron was unhurt by this exchange, the other three shared a soft laugh.
"Okay, this is ridiculous!" said Ron indignantly. "How did it still spin me around without touching me?"
"Magic," answered Alice simply. She knelt down and began examining the rotating floor. "This floor has been enchanted so that it catches people who are under a levitation spell."
"Good thing they didn't put the same enchantment on this sparking floor," said Ron.
"We might find a case where they did," said Suzanne. "Let's practice on these spinning floors."
As Suzanne suggested, the four spent some time trying to walk on the spinning floors. At first, their attempts met with little more success than Ron's did. However, after a few tries they began to keep their balance on the spinning floors. Unfortunately, they lingered in the area for too long and drew the attention of some monsters.
Out of the ground appeared four shadow monsters. These shadow monsters looked a lot like the shadow monsters the group had encountered in the Necrogond; the shadow had large wings, horns, long wiry arms, and a lower body that gradually disappeared. These shadow monsters were of a crimson color.
The shadow creatures managed to get the drop on the four. Two of the shadows breathed out a sweet, purple smoke that covered the area. The smoke made the whole group drowsy and caused Thomas and Alice to fall asleep. The other two shadows cast spells. Clouds of thick, purple smoke engulfed Ron and Thomas. Unlike the sweet purple smoke that the other shadows had exhaled, this smoke was dark and sinister. It was the smoke created by the spell that tries to pull a soul away from its body.
Fortunately, Ron was able to fight off the effect, though he visibly paled at having to go through the horrible ordeal again. Thomas, still asleep, twisted and turned as though in some horrible nightmare. Suzanne knew this to be a good sign: when one succumbed to the spell they typically did not move but were instead locked wearing a face of horror. However, the group was still in a bad situation.
"Ron, we need to take these guys out quickly!" shouted Suzanne. She cast a spell and a stream of fire lit up underneath the shadows. Each one recoiled at the touch of the flames, indicating that they were hurt by it. Ron used the Sword of Thunder and an explosion engulfed the shadows. The shadows grew dimmer and puffs of red smoke emerged from them. However, they had not been destroyed.
One of the shadows breathed out another dose of the sweet aroma. It was all Suzanne could do to stay awake and she saw Ron fall asleep next to her. The other three followed up by casting more of their terrible spells. Now Suzanne had a turn to feel her soul being torn away from her. The experience was unbearable as every other time she had been subjected to it. Somehow, she managed to persevere. She took a quick look at her comrades; Ron was turning fitfully in his sleep but was still okay. Alice, however, had a look of terror etched onto her face, her eyes now wide open, and she was not moving.
Another gale of the sweet aroma hit Suzanne. She could barely stay awake and she knew if another shadow breathed forth that smoke that she would succumb to sleep. Then the shadows could pick off the group with their magic completely unchallenged. There was nothing she could do to prevent the shadows from breathing out the sweet smoke but there was something she could try for their magic.
Suzanne cast a spell. Yellow and purple lights hit the shadows. Two of them were in the process of working their magic. As they finished their spells Suzanne was relieved to find that nothing happened; the shadows' magic had been sealed. Her relief soon turned to slumber as one of the other shadows gave out more of the sweet breath.
Suzanne was awoken by a spell of Thomas's. Ron and Thomas had woken up on their own. Suzanne was relieved to see Alice on her feet as well; Thomas must have healed her already. Ron was in the process of cutting down the shadow monsters. The two remaining shadows angrily tried to work their dangerous magic but still to no effect. They were easily dealt with from there.
"Damn! That was a close one!" said Ron once all foes had been cleared out.
"Susie, did you seal their magic?" asked Thomas.
"Yes," answered Suzanne. "I didn't expect it to work on all of them in one try. But I knew they were going to put me to sleep the next time they breathed that gas of theirs so I had to try something."
"They must be vulnerable to that spell," said Alice, her voice still shaky from the ordeal.
"I hope so," said Suzanne. "They are quite dangerous otherwise. From now on, when we see those monsters, we should try to seal their magic right away."
"I also think we've had enough experience with these floors for now," said Suzanne. "We'd best keep moving."
The four found a number of treasure chests in the room they were in. They carefully checked and avoided any mimics and opened the safe chests. They found some money and some Acorns of Life. A few of them choked down the painful seeds.
The heroes finished their exploration of the floor and then traveled upwards. They quickly found another ascending staircase but bypassed it for the moment. This floor took them to a series of chambers working their way clockwise around the building. At one point the path branched off to the middle of the building where there was a large room. The room looked to have been beautifully decorated at some point. However, like the rest of the tower, these decorations had been destroyed and defaced.
"This room was likely used for ceremonies at one point," said Thomas, looking around. "I imagine the Archfiend and its minions enjoyed trashing this room."
"We'll see who enjoys what when we trash Zoma," said Ron confidently.
"Hey guys, look above us!" said Alice. Above the room one could see a balcony jutting out on the floor above. There was a narrow portion of the balcony encircling a wider portion. However, the four could see from below that the wider portion of the balcony featured more of the rotating floors.
"There's an example of when the rotating floors can't be avoided," noted Suzanne. "The jump between those two portions is too long. If we have to reach the end of the balcony for any reason we'll have to cross the rotating floors."
"There's probably nothing there," said Ron. "Looking at it, there's not much balcony left after those rotating pieces. And I don't see a staircase going up from there."
The group continued around their current floor. They found another mimic and some more rotating floors on the north end. The rotating pieces were near a gap in the wall through which someone could fall out.
"See, they're not even trying now," said Ron. "Sure, it'd be difficult to reach the other side of this hall but why would we want to? We can clearly see there's nothing there."
"I want to investigate this gap," said Alice. "According to my map, we're actually north of any area we reached on the last two floors."
Alice carefully made her way across the rotating floors and tried to observe the gaps in the wall. She had a tough time keeping her balance and trying to see what was below at the same time. After a few moments she returned to stable ground.
"There's a walled off courtyard below," she reported. "The only way to reach it that I can see is through these gaps."
"Probably a trap," said Thomas.
"Why would they make a trap so difficult to get to?" asked Suzanne. "Though I do agree we shouldn't jump out of the building just yet. Let's continue upwards but remember this spot for later if we have to."
The group continued their exploration of the tower. They went upstairs to the next level. There was another hole in the wall on that level but this one would just lead them back to the entrance. Alice noted that again they were denied from accessing the northern part of the building. After exploring the rest of the area, they made their way over to the balcony they had seen from the floor below.
As they had seen, there was one thin portion encircling a wider portion. However, the wider portion had two sets of rotating floors that covered it. The balcony was a dead end but there was a treasure chest at the end of it.
"Alice, do you have confidence in making it to that chest?" asked Suzanne. "You're the only one who can ensure it's not a mimic."
"I can certainly do a better job crossing this than Ron," said Alice.
"Hey now! I was getting the hang of these a couple floors ago!" protested Ron.
"Getting the hang of how best to fall down," said Thomas. The other three gave a chuckle.
"Alright, guys. Let's watch Alice's back," cautioned Suzanne. "We don't want her getting attacked while this happens. Also, if she falls we'll need to go after her. Otherwise, she might get swarmed by monsters. Alice, have your spells ready to slow our descent. It'll be tricky if you're spinning and falling."
"Don't worry, Susie! I won't fall!" said Alice.
The rest of the group agreed and readied themselves. Alice carefully began making her way across the tricky floor. She almost stumbled right away but somehow managed to right herself and keep going. After that, she seemed to have figured the floors out. Slowly and carefully she made her way across the first set. She took a moment to rest and then continued through the second set. Finally, she arrived at the treasure chest. She checked it quick and found it not to be a mimic. She gave a thumbs-up to the other three and opened the chest.
Inside the chest was a beautiful suit of armor. It was colored blue and of very fine craftsmanship. It had gold trim which branched out at several spots as decoration. It came with a helmet of similar design that had two large orange horns coming out from it. But most striking about the armor was the large circle on the front of both the torso and the helmet which had the symbol of the golden bird inside, the same symbol that appeared on the Shield of Heroes.
Alice held the armor up for the others to look at. Suzanne suggested they all jump to the floor below to better inspect it together. After they did so, the group examined the suit of armor.
"It has the same symbol as the Shield of Heroes, the symbol of Alefgard," observed Alice. "I can sense a great power coming from it, too."
"Do you think it's possible this is the Armor of Radiance?" asked Ron. "It would make sense for Zoma to stick it in a heavily guarded tower that nobody would dare wish to climb."
"Let's go back to Kol to examine it further," said Suzanne. "I don't want us switching armor while in hostile territory."
The heroes returned to Kol. They were careful to cover up the armor so that they would not cause a scene. They went to the inn and began examining the armor.
"Alright, let me try it!" said Ron.
"Sick of your Swordedge Armor?" asked Thomas.
"I still love the Swordedge Armor," said Ron. "But I want to see what this suit is like. I love trying out new pieces of equipment."
The others helped Ron begin donning the armor they had found. It ended up being an exercise in frustration. Some of the buckles were slippery and some simply refused to fasten. Several pieces of armor were so loose they would fall off at the slightest movement. Others were tight to the point of being painful. The helmet was so small that Ron could not get it on his head no matter what he tried.
"That's weird," said Suzanne. "It seemed like it would be a fine fit when we got it."
"If it's the Armor of Radiance then it could be it isn't choosing me," said Ron.
"The Shield of Heroes chose Susie," commented Thomas. "Perhaps the Armor of Radiance will too."
The armor was removed from Ron and then the group tried to put it on Suzanne. It proved to be extremely easy to get the armor on her. Every piece seemed to fit just right.
"I swear a lot of these pieces are a different size then when we tried to put them on me," complained Ron.
"It's the armor!" said Alice excitedly. "This must be the Armor of Radiance! It has chosen Suzanne just like the shield!"
"Aww, why does Susie get all the cool equipment?" complained Ron.
"Have you looked at your sword and armor recently?" asked Thomas.
Ron laughed. "Yeah I know. I was just kidding."
"I wonder why both pieces have chosen me?" said Suzanne. "King Raosu was just hoping one of us would be able to use the armor."
"That is very interesting," commented Alice. "I would like to take some time to study exactly what effects are occurring here."
"Perhaps later," said Suzanne. "Tomorrow we go back to that tower. I don't want to give the monsters there too much of a chance to reorganize and prepare for our return."
"We're going back?" asked Thomas. "Why? After all this searching we finally found the Armor of Radiance! We've completed our task! We should go back to the king and let him know the good news."
"Think about it," answered Suzanne. "There is no doubt that this armor was well guarded. But Alice's map has revealed there's more to the tower. We never even reached the top. If this armor, said to be the most amazing armor in the land and one of the keys to beating Zoma, isn't even in the most guarded spot of the tower then how much greater must be whatever's at the top?"
"It could be a trap," said Thomas. "Place the most valuable prize in a lesser spot to draw the enemy into an ambush."
"I don't think so," replied Suzanne. "Everything we've heard about this tower indicates that nobody has dared go there for a long time. There's no point in setting a trap that will never be sprung. I think the tower's reputation has contributed as much to its defenses as anything else. So tomorrow we're going in again and we're going all the way to the top. Maybe we'll find this Rubiss we keep hearing about."