Chapter 6: Shattered Dreams
It did not take long for the remnants of Kandar's regime to fall. A sizable portion of Kandar's force had been made up of regular citizens who had been pressed into serving him, thinking they would incur the wrath of the Empire otherwise. When Kandar was replaced by a small band of warriors, showing the crown to the crowd and proclaiming him to be false, riots erupted quickly. Many of the criminals and villains who knew that Kandar was not the true Duke fled quickly. Those that remained were cast down by the superior numbers of the crowds.
Although they would have liked to help the region calm down, the four did not have time to waste. If Kandar was to be believed, they had only three days to teleport to Kanave and then travel north to the village Kandar spoke of. The group found a volunteer to send the crown and a message to the Emperor describing what had happened and then they set off. After teleporting to Kanave the team set off immediately, without stopping to rest. The decision was reckless, they still needed to recover from the battle with Kandar, but they decided they had little choice. There were still a few hours of daylight left and the village was about a day and a half away.
"You're in a cheerful mood today," observed Suzanne.
It was true, Alice had a grin going from ear to ear, "Why shouldn't I be? I don't see how the guys can mope after what we pulled off yesterday. And now we don't have to stay undercover in enemy territory anymore. We can walk around freely and make as much noise as we want!"
"Yeah, that is nice. I was worried we were going to start killing each other for a little while there," replied Suzanne.
Alice laughed, "Surely it wasn't that bad! We had a few arguments but we never were actually going to hurt each other."
Suzanne was sporting a grin now, "This is coming from the one who was probably the most angry? Even Tom was nowhere near as sour as you were."
"That's because the situation didn't affect Tom," Alice protested. "He never wants to talk or make noise. Those few weeks were probably a dream come true for him."
"Oh don't say that," said Suzanne. "You make it sound as though he hates people."
"Well he sure doesn't love them," replied Alice.
Suzanne sighed and said, "He has his own way of showing concern. He wouldn't be so sour today if that wasn't the case."
Alice looked confused, "I didn't even notice he was worse than usual today. What is it this time?"
"You do realize that we actually killed people yesterday, right? Not just monsters, but actual people as well." Suzanne asked.
"What choice did we have?" asked Alice. "They were the ones who abused and killed all those people. And don't you remember, you gave them a chance to surrender. They could have dropped their weapons and given up, made amends for all they did. If you ask me, they weren't much better than monsters."
"I know that, and I've made my peace with it. But Tom takes the pain and death among humans very seriously. Despite his grumpy attitude, he is still a cleric," Suzanne explained.
Alice shook her head, "Men. They just can't accept that everything isn't going to be their way. Ron is still pissed off at how we let Kandar go. He thinks we're wasting our time and that we let a mass murderer trick us."
"Can't say I really blame him either," Suzanne replied. "But before you say it, I know we have no choice here either. Really, if there's one thing that makes me mad it's that fact: that we didn't have a choice in anything yesterday. We couldn't beat Kandar without killing and we couldn't apprehend him either. We accomplished our objective, but it seems like we couldn't have done any worse a job at it."
Alice's smile returned, "Oh sure we could have! Remember, those guys we killed were corrupt knights, maybe even the evil masterminds of the operation if Kandar was telling the truth. We didn't kill innocents and we learned of those poor people under a curse. In the end, we helped and are going to help far more people than we've done harm to. Really, how could we have done any better a job?"
Suzanne's smile returned now as well, "You're right Alice."
The party made it to the village Kandar spoke of late that day. As they came upon the village, they found it was just as Kandar had said: everyone in the village was asleep. Curiously, every person was still standing, but their eyes were closed and they breathed as though asleep. The four wandered through the surreal scene looking for any clue as to how they were supposed to undo this condition. They came upon a house on the outskirts of town and went inside.
"This is hopeless," said Thomas. "The only people that could give us a clue as to how to help these people are the victims."
"If only one of them had escaped whatever it is that did this," said Ron.
"Is somebody there?" a voice called from above. The group was shocked to hear the voice.
"We're sorry for having intruded into your house," Suzanne called upstairs. "We were wondering what happened here."
There was a pause for a moment and the group wondered if they would get thrown out. Then the voice replied, "Come upstairs."
The four did as they were told and went upstairs. They came upon an awake old man sitting at a table by himself. He acknowledged the group with a sigh and motioned for them to sit. There was only one chair in the room, the one the old man sat on, so the group sat on the floor.
After another brief pause, Suzanne spoke up again, "Once again, we are sorry for intruding. I'm Suzanne. This is Ron, Thomas, and Alice. We were wondering what made these people fall into this standing sleep."
The man sighed again and began his tale, "My name is Sam. It was the elves. They came here about three weeks ago in a frightful fury. They put a powerful sleeping spell on the village. Everyone was frozen to the spot instantly, put into their slumber. I was just out of town at the time so I was missed. I came in just as they were leaving. A few saw me, but all they did was yell at me and keep walking. Perhaps they decided I wasn't worth coming back for."
"We heard about this village from a man named Kandar," Suzanne said. "He said that if the people weren't cured soon, they would die. Do we have to find these elves to cure the people before they die?"
Sam looked confused for a second. "I don't know who this Kandar is, but it sounds like he embellished the story. Or maybe it was my messenger. A traveler came by about two weeks ago. I told him what happened and asked him to seek help for Noaniels, as this village is called. As far as I know, this curse only puts the people in a never ending sleep. Even when angry, the elves are not the type to take life."
"That lying bastard," Ron muttered under his breath.
"So you say the people will be alright, but will never wake up?" asked Alice.
"As far as I know," answered the old man. "I really don't know anything about the curse. I just made some assumptions."
"It sounds an awful lot like death," Thomas mused.
"Do you know why the elves did this?" Suzanne asked.
"Humans and elves have never gotten along well," explained Sam. "In this case, the elves kept yelling about some injustice we apparently inflicted on them: something about some girl's murder and a Dream Ruby."
"So they've accused everyone in this village as party to robbery and murder?" asked Ron.
Sam shook his head, "To the elves, one human's offense is the offense of all humans. The elves only see the bad in us. I don't know who did what to them or why, but the elves would associate the evil deed with all of us."
"Maybe if we told the emperor, he'd negotiate with the elves," suggested Alice.
The old man shook his head again, "That would backfire. There are a number of treaties between Romaly and the elves. Most of them state that Romalian officials are not to enter their lands. If a single one entered their territory, they would consider it an act of war."
"Is the elve's magic strong enough to challenge the Empire?" asked Ron.
"No," replied Sam. "But I believe the Emperor wants to avoid any further bloodshed between humans and elves. There's certainly enough going back through history."
"What if we went into their lands?" asked Suzanne. "What would they do?"
"As far as I know, not a whole lot so long as you don't brandish those weapons of yours too much. They'll yell at you to leave, but they won't take much action. One man has already gone to talk with them. Since they haven't come forward and attacked another village, I'm guessing he didn't anger them too much," answered Sam.
"Well then, that's what we'll do. We're going to go into their lands and have a word with them. Hopefully we'll at least find out why they did this," said Suzanne.
The team stayed the night at the inn. They set out early the next morning and went west, the direction that Sam said the elves lived. The old man said that it was about a day's journey to the forest the elves claimed, but had no idea where in the forest the elves actually lived. The team camped on the edge of the forest after one day and went inside the forest the next morning.
The four felt they had overstayed their welcome almost immediately after entering. They constantly felt as though they were being watched and even caught a glimpse of a figure running away every so often. Sometimes they tried to call out their peaceful intentions, but they were greeted with only silence. The team tried to discern the location of a settlement by judging the general direction the elves were coming from, but quickly realized that the elves were coming from all directions.
Eventually, the party finally came upon a settlement. The place had clearly been warned of their approach, there wasn't a sign of a single elf inside the settlement. Once again, the team voiced their peaceful intentions.
"We come in peace!" Suzanne called, her arms raised in the air to show that she currently was not wielding a weapon. "We only wish to help the village of Noaniels, to the east of here! Please tell us why they were cursed!"
The four could sense a stir coming from around the area. Whispers and random noises came from the small houses around the area. Then suddenly, a high pitched voice came out, "Stop bothering us humans! Your village deserved what they got!"
The four turned to the house the noise came from. They could see nothing in the windows, but the whispers rose in volume and the whole area seemed to get even tenser. They thought they heard somebody shush the speaker. As if the confirm that suspicion, the voice called out again, "I will not be quiet! Consider what that human did to Anne!"
Suzanne called at the house the voice came from, "What happened to this Anne you speak of? What can we do to make amends?"
The voice laughed at them, "Ha! Why don't you go find the queen? See if you can 'make amends' to her! I hope she puts every one of you to sleep! It's more than you deserve!"
"Well then, where is this queen of yours?" Suzanne asked.
"Walk north of here, if you dare!" called out the voice.
After that last shout, several other shouts of "You fool!" and "You would betray the queen!" came out, obviously at the voice that Suzanne had been conversing with. The mood of the area was near bursting point now.
"We better get out of here quickly," said Suzanne.
The team headed north as they were directed and found another settlement that was a bit larger than the other one they had visited. The elves in this settlement were not quite as afraid as in the other, they stood their ground as the team walked by. The team decided to walk towards the largest house in the area, deciding that was a good place to start. They were relieved when they found the house had no door, and as they looked inside they could clearly see a grand wooden throne, upon which sat a beautiful elf woman.
As the four approached, the woman shook her head at them and said, "More humans. The very sight of you sickens me. Let me guess, you are here to get me to lift the curse on your filthy village."
Suzanne made sure to keep her voice calm, though the queen's words were vile and infuriating, "Yes, your Highness. We wish to know what the people of that village did and what we can do to make amends for that."
The queen's voice had even more venom, if possible, when she replied, "Just like you, another vile human has come here seeking the same thing. But you say you do not know the latest despicable deed your kind has committed? Well allow me to enlighten you. My daughter, Anne, was put under a dark spell by one of your evil kin. Convinced that she was in love with such an ugly thing, she took the Dream Ruby, a beautiful treasure of our people, and eloped. No doubt the coward has taken the ruby and is long gone, and who knows what he did to my daughter?"
"Forgive me for asking, your Highness," Suzanne began to ask, "but is it possible that they were genuinely in love?"
The queen's face grew into a terrible picture of rage at the suggestion, "Do not insult me, human! Unless you want to share that village's fate, you will be gone from my sight!"
The four left the house and walked through the settlement. Suzanne was hardly able to contain her anger as she said, "I haven't had such a charming talk with royalty since I talked with our own king."
Ron was equally angry, "Bah! What can we do about something like this? I say we just go back and tell the emperor. He'll handle the situation however he thinks is best."
"Didn't the queen say there was another human here?" asked Thomas.
"You're right. Maybe if we find this other person we can get a different side of this story," suggested Suzanne.
It did not take too long to find the other human in the elf settlement. All the team had to do was find the other spot receiving heavy looks and being avoided by elves. They found the human by a pond looking at the water sorrowfully. The man was younger than Sam, but a little older than middle aged. As the team came near the man, he looked up in surprise.
"Well it's nice to see people who don't glare or shout at me. Who might you be?" asked the man.
"I'm Suzanne. My companions are Ron, Thomas, and Alice. We hear you are here on behalf of the village of Noaniels?" replied Suzanne.
"You heard right. My name is Zelt. I came here to convince the queen to get rid of her damn curse, but she won't listen to reason," said the man.
"She believes a human tricked her daughter. Do you know the man accused of doing so?" asked Suzanne.
"I better, he's my son. Vince is his name," Zelt explained. "Damned fool. He should've known better than to get involved with these people. He never did listen. Now the elves are saying he worked some sort of dark magic on their princess and blame not only him, but the whole village."
"Do you have any idea where he is? Finding him and Anne could save the village," asked Suzanne.
"If I knew where that boy got off to, I'd go in bring him in myself," said Zelt. "Can't ask the elves for any clues either, as I'm sure you've noticed. All I figure I can do now is stay in their territory until they either break the curse or put me under it."
"Well, thanks for the info. Will the elves mind very much if we stay the night in the forest? We won't stay in their settlement," said Suzanne.
"Hell, I've been sleeping right here day after day. They may hate us, but they won't kill us without reason. They're a strange bunch," replied Zelt.
The team set up camp just outside the settlement that night. They decided to continue their usual watch routines not only because of the hostile elves, but because there were still some monsters in the forest as well. After almost scaring herself to death the night before, Alice was given the first watch since the team had gone to bed a little earlier than usual, so there was still some light out for a portion of Alice's watch.
After Alice's shift was done it was Thomas' turn to keep watch. Thomas found this particular shift extremely annoying. Even though it was past midnight and yet nowhere near dawn, elves still milled about in the trees. Thomas found it aggravating to have to keep track of so much motion in the trees. Apparently the elves had less stringent sleeping schedules than humans. Either that or the elves still considered them enough of a threat that they had spies running around watching them.
After a while, Thomas noticed some movement that seemed quite a bit closer than all the previous movement had been. The elves had still kept their distance from the group even while they slept. But this figure actually seemed to be approaching the group. However, Thomas did not want to alarm the group right away, lest it prove to be a false alarm such as one Alice made from time to time.
Before Thomas could ponder the issue further, the figure had already walked up to their camp. Thomas was surprised at how fast the figure had crossed the distance between them. Upon seeing the figure was indeed an elf, he decided that elves must be able to cross the forest remarkably quick. Thomas did not dwell on the fact though. His hand reached for his weapon and he warned the figure, "State your business."
Seeing Thomas reaching for his weapon and the warning in his voice, the figure gave an audible gasp and put its hands in the air. It almost turned and fled on the spot, but managed to stand its ground. The figure gave a nervous reply, "I-I-I mean you no harm." The figure was definitely an elf, and also a female by the sound of the voice.
Thomas' hand remained ready to draw his weapon, "You'll have to forgive me if I don't take your word for it."
"Please, hear me out," the elf requested. "I know where Anne and the human are."
"Then shouldn't you tell your queen so she can rally your forces to apprehend the human who tricked your princess?" Thomas asked coldly.
"I know the human didn't trick her," said the elf. "I was Anne's best friend. She did love him."
"Then I ask again: why not tell your queen? You could save a lot of trouble by doing so," said Thomas.
The elf was just about near hysterical now. "I can't!" she cried. "You talked with her! You know she won't believe anything else! She needs proof!"
Thomas stayed silent for a small amount of time, then took his hand off his weapon and relaxed. When he spoke, his voice lost some of its edge, "I'm sorry. We haven't had the best of welcomes here. So where are Anne and Vince?"
The elf was crying now, "They went to the cave to the south! Anne said she was going to find a world where they could be together! She sounded like she was going to do something drastic!"
"Calm down. They might have just gone to the cave because they thought they'd be alone," Thomas suggested. "Is the cave often visited?"
"No! There are monsters in the cave!" the elf cried. "It's really dangerous!"
"Okay then, my companions and I will head over there. They've probably just moved on by now. But if they're still there, we'll make sure they aren't in trouble. Meanwhile, it'd be really helpful if you could tell the queen what you know. Though I do agree with you, the queen probably won't listen," Thomas said.
"Thank you!" the elf replied.
"Could you mark on a map where this cave is?" asked Thomas.
Thomas took out a map of the area and gave it to the elf. She put a mark on it, gave the map back, and ran away back into the forest.
Thomas watched the elf retreat and then went back to trying to track the rest of the movement in the forest. "This is still the most aggravating watch I've ever had," he muttered to himself.
The next morning, Thomas recounted his encounter with the elf and the team headed south to the cave she had marked on the map. Since the only map the team had of elf territory was one of the entire continent, the mark was still not precise. It took a few hours of searching in the general area to find the cave. The team went inside.
"Another search mission conducted in a hostile environment," said Ron gloomily. "Why can't we ever just walk straight through these places?"
"At least we shouldn't have to deal with any human hostiles," said Alice. "We've had to fight cultists and criminals in the last two."
The group had descended first into a hallway of sorts. The hallway branched into rooms in a few places. In a couple of rooms the team found items in containers on the floor: a wing of wyvern and some gold. The group proceeded to find a descending staircase in the next room. As usual, they decided not to descend until they checkout out the entire floor.
As they neared the next room, they were greeted by two large red dogs. The dogs looked as though they had been killed and then brought back. They sported numerous gruesome injuries such as missing eyes or having their ribs showing.
"Undead!" Thomas shouted.
The team had their weapons at the ready while one of the dogs instantly charged them. The other dog stayed back and started growling and moving in an odd fashion. Just as the charging dog reached the group, all four humans were engulfed in a strange purple light. The charging dog went at Suzanne and tore a nice gash across her torso.
Suzanne tried a counterattack but missed as the dog jumped backward. Ron ran forward and slashed the dog across the face, almost cleaving its head in two. Surprisingly, the dog barely flinched at the pain. Thomas sent a healing spell at Suzanne while Alice cast a spell that engulfed the team in a bright yellow light.
The other dog joined in the melee this time. The dog used its great agility to slip past Suzanne and Ron and right for Alice. Alice took a bite to the leg as Thomas and Suzanne went over the return the dog's favor. The two managed to dispatch the dog with two deep cuts to the torso. Ron took a bite to the leg from the remaining dog, but returned with a thrust through its body. The dog fell to the ground motionless.
"Magic using zombie dogs?" Ron wondered. "What was that purple light? I felt terrible when that hit me."
"That spell makes a person more vulnerable to physical harm," Thomas explained.
"Luckily I know the spell that counteracts it!" Alice beamed.
"Can't that spell be used to reduce damage from physical harm as well?" Suzanne asked.
Both Thomas and Alice nodded. "We should have used that against Kandar and his men," Suzanne said. "It would've been nice to take less damage from them."
"Sorry Susie, I didn't think of that," Alice apologized.
"Don't worry about it, let's just remember that for next time," Suzanne said.
As the group entered the final room on the floor, they found two more staircases going down. They decided to take the staircase on the left. They came into a small room with a large puddle of water in the corner to their left. There was another zombie dog and two large, purple toadstools huddled over something in the middle of the room. The monsters quickly took notice of the group.
The dog quickly used its spell and the team was once again subject to the draining purple light. As Suzanne and Ron charged forward and Alice started chanting the counterspell, one of the large toadstools let out a great purple mist on the group. The mist smelled very sweet and put Alice and Ron to sleep.
"This isn't good!" shouted Suzanne. "We have to take care of the dog first or it'll chew those two to pieces!"
Suzanne and Thomas went up to the dog and struck it with their weapons. Unfortunately, the dog was still moving and bit Thomas in the arm. One of the toadstools marched up to Ron and rammed him with its head. Ron, woke up by the pain, started to get up only to get rammed by the other one and fall back down.
Thomas finished off the dog while Suzanne went over the help Ron. Suzanne sent a slash across one of the creature's middle. Both the toadstools turned to attack Suzanne now. She blocked the ram of one with her shield, only to be caught by the other. Suzanne fell to the ground.
Thomas rushed over and finished off the toadstool Suzanne had wounded. The other one caught him in the arm and Thomas fell to the ground. The toadstool started beating on Thomas while he was on the ground only to be hit by a large stream of fire. Alice had woken up. The creature was burned to death by her spell. Alice began waking up her companions.
"Dammit!" cursed Ron. "I woke up only to get hit by that thing in the stomach. Then I couldn't keep my eyes open at all!"
After healing the team of their injuries, Thomas examined their fallen foes. "They're covered in sleeping powder," he explained. "When they attack, a bunch of it falls off on what it attacks. They also have that sweet breath too."
"This seems to be a dangerous place," observed Suzanne. "I can't help but think those two had a death wish, coming here."
"Or maybe they just came here to hide! Or better yet, didn't actually come here at all!" said Alice hopefully.
"I hope you're right," said Suzanne.
"Hey guys!" called Ron. "These monsters were huddling around these acorns here!"
Ron showed the acorns to the rest of the group. Thomas examined them and said, "Acorns of life, they're called. They say whoever eats them will live longer."
"Really?" Alice asked. "Let me see!"
Ron handed the acorns to Alice and ate them. She started wincing and almost spat them back out. The rest of the group laughed at her.
"Apparently they don't taste very well," said Suzanne.
"It's not that, these things actually hurt to eat! I feel like my mouth is bleeding!" Alice complained.
"That is supposed to be one of the side effects," said Thomas. "Ironic really."
The team pressed onwards up the other staircase in the room. They came to another hallway with another staircase going up.
"I think this is the first staircase we found," Suzanne observed.
"Should be," said Alice, who was drawing a map of the dungeon as they went along.
"Hopefully that means they're right down that one we haven't tried yet," said Ron.
"Somehow, I doubt it'd be that easy," said Thomas.
The team went back to the room with the two staircases and went down the one on the right this time. They were greeted by a small creek of colorful water that wound around and surrounded a few large stones.
"How beautiful!" Alice exclaimed.
"Hmm, I wonder…" Thomas thought aloud. He went over and examined the rainbow water. Then he took a drink from it.
"How remarkable!" he exclaimed. "This is a spring of healing! Drinking from it not only restores health and erases wounds, but it refills your magic too! I never thought I'd see one in my life!"
"Really? Let me take a drink!" Alice said.
The whole team took a drink from the spring of healing. The magic waters made them feel refreshed, as though they had just woken up from a good night's sleep and had not been fighting at all.
"Maybe this is why they came here!" Alice theorized. "With this spring, they could keep themselves safe and hidden for a little while. All they'd need is some food and they'd be set!"
"But there's no sign of them here," Suzanne said. "This is probably the only safe place in here. Why would they leave?"
The group continued to explore the floor. After the room with the spring, they came to a large hallway with two other ways out. In one way they found some zombie dogs, which they managed to mop up without incident, and two items: a knife and a seed of sorts. Thomas explained that the seed was similar to the acorns, but it increased strength. Ron decided to take this one and reported no ill effects of this seed. Alice took the knife, saying that it was a magic knife, one that would do more damage. None of the other three preferred to fight with a knife, so they let her have it.
The group proceeded back to the split and went through another hallway to find a staircase leading down. They came to a large corridor with another descending staircase in the middle of it. As they explored the rest of the floor, they found some gold around the place. This floor was very large, with several rooms and hallways. They found another descending staircase with a bottle of fairy water in it. Fairy water was often used as a monster repellent. However, monsters had grown increasingly resistant to it recently so its use had dwindled.
As the group came to the last room, they were greeted by two men-bats, similar to the ones they encountered in the Tower of Shanpane. These were very dark in complexion and dress, however.
One of the bats charged the group and tried to fly over Suzanne and Ron to try and get at Alice, but Suzanne made a jumping slash at it tore one of its wings off. It fell to the ground hard. Ron tried to rush the other one only to get blasted by a bolt of ice. Alice finished casting a spell and a large stream of fire burned through the air and scorched the creature. It fell to the ground. Thomas finished off the creature Suzanne had wounded.
"That one went pretty well. Good job guys," congratulated Suzanne.
Thomas healed Ron of the wound the creature gave him. "I am sick and tired of magic users!" Ron exclaimed. Both Thomas and Alice gave him a look and said, "Oh come on, you know I don't mean you guys!"
"The stream of fire spell seemed stronger than usual, Alice," Suzanne said.
Alice giggled and explained, "That's because it is stronger. It takes some more power to cast but you can't argue with the results!" Indeed, the monster she hit was pretty thoroughly scorched.
Suzanne laughed, "I just learned your first fire stream spell not too long ago too. And here I thought I was catching up with you!"
The team found that the creatures had been guarding some more gold. Having explored the entire floor, they went down the closest staircase, the one in the adjacent room. They came into another hallway. However, the hallway opened up into a massive room filled with water. There was a bridge leading to a small island in the middle of the mass. On this island were some large stones and a chest.
"Wow!" said Alice. "Where did all this water come from?"
"Could it be from the ocean? We're not that far away from it," suggested Ron.
The group went over the bridge and up to the chest. Inside the chest they found a beautiful, large red ruby and a small piece of paper.
"That's a pretty impressive jewel there," said Suzanne.
"What does the paper say?" asked Alice.
Suzanne began to read the paper out loud, "Forgive me, Mother, for departing this world ahead of you. If my love for him, that of elf for human, is forbidden in this world, at least I can be with him in the one beyond. Anne."
The group was speechless at first. Suzanne was the first to speak, "Well, they must have come down here to throw themselves in the water. I'm guessing this is the Dream Ruby."
"It would seem we don't have to search that last staircase," Ron said grimly.
"We should anyway. Maybe they didn't go through with it, and that's where they are!" Alice said, though the group could tell she did not believe what she said.
Indeed, the group backtracked to the other staircase only to find themselves in the same area, just on another small body of land. There was no trace of the two.
"Well, so begins the long backtrack out," said Ron.
"No, I can teleport us out," said Alice.
"I thought you could only do that in the open?" asked Ron.
"There's a special spell for indoors. It's great for caves like this!" said Alice.
Alice cast the spell and teleported the team out of the cave.