Friday, 9 January 2015

The Nightmares of a Dragon: The Iron Tower Part 4

High within the Iron Tower, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar, continued toward the top. So far, they had seen simple and complicated monstrosity, but what awaited them at the very top?

Moving into the next room, Alvyn noted that the equipment and setup here were more sophisticated than the previous floors. There were clear tubes full of creatures of various kinds covering the long walls of the Iron Tower. It was not easy to tell at first whether the creatures were alive or dead, or even what species they were, as each one looked like a unique experiment, mutated lifeforms covered in extra, unrecognizable, parts.

Tong si Gong was visibly agitated by this. His god Ioun, praised knowledge above all, but this pursuit was unnatural, abominable.

Kalgar saw no immediate threat or challenge, and Alvyn was exceptionally calm.

Recalling his lessons, and the stories told by sailors, Kalgar could not recall anything resembling this happening at any time before, anywhere. There were stories told of isolated wizards who had done some crazy things, but not for some time, and nothing like this.

The nearest creature they examined appeared to be a large gorilla covered in metallic parts, rubber tubes, and where its right arm should be, was attached a crossbow of some kind. Alvyn tapped on the glass, the creature stirred awake, but did nothing.

Moving on to the next tube, tapping on the glass, many of the creatures were unresponsive. Then the three came upon a tube which housed some sort of half-human half-orc creature. It looked like two creatures had been cut in half and stitched together. It was grotesque, and clearly in pain. Tapping on the glass, the frowning creature punched the glass with surprising force, but did not break through.

"Can you hear me?" Alvyn asked.
No response.
Writing it down and holding up the question, the creature shook its head, no.
Are you in pain?
A hesitant shake of its head.
Will you kill us if we let you out?
They noticed a slight hesitation in the creature before it shook its head.
Kalgar studied it closely. "He isn't lying, he seems unsure."
Can you speak Common?
Another hesitant headshake.
"Maybe it can't speak." Kalgar suggests.
Alvyn erases the word Common from his board.
A confident headshake.

Alvyn sighed, then looked over to Kalgar.
"You want to let it out? Tong speaks Supernal so we'd have half a reads Common but it can't speak it, it must not have any vocal chords or something..."
Reaching into his bag, which at this point was not much more than a mobile armoury, the dragonborn pulled out a warhammer, simple, effective, made with skill by a dwarven smith, and smashed it hard against the glass tube.

The glass shatters, bonding agent fluid pours out. The creature hesitantly steps out, slipping a little on the fluid, catching his left, orc, hand on the glass, and he shouts in graveling, gasping pain. He waves the three away, trying to calm himself.

Alvyn pulled out his last sedative and injects it into the orc half. Unfortunately, the human half seemed more susceptible to the sedative than the orc half. The creature became agitated and yet lethargic.

"Should we knock him out and start over?" The gnome asked.
"I say we kill him." The human responded.
"Maybe keep trying to talk to him?" The dragonborn suggested.

The three stood almost too casually by as the creature tried not to attack them. Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar had seen so much danger that one half-paralyzed, raging creature wasn't enough to cause them any concern.

Kalgar took a step forward, and knocked the creature out with a solid hit from his warhammer. Alvyn grabbed a set of manacles from a previous chamber, and restrained the creature.

As they stood waiting, Tong noticed every creature in the room open its eyes, and stare at him with pure malevolence. "I feel a presence here."

"You feel a presence everywhere." Alvyn said, rolling his eyes.
"This is different, did you not see? They opened their eyes and once and-"
"Kalgar, you see anything?" the gnome warlord asks.
"I don't know what he's talking about, as usual."
"I'm telling you! These beings, I felt evil, in their aura."

Alvyn sauntered over to the next tube, knocked sharply. The creature barely stirred.

The man/orc finally woke up, seemingly more calm than before.
"Can you understand what I'm saying?"
The creature nods.
"Can you write?" Tong asks.
The creature nods.

"How long have you been here?"
The creature looks uncertain.
"Were you a volunteer? No? You were captured? Okay. Were you taken from here? Far away? Hmm."

Kalgar leaned forward, "Did a giant beast do this to you?"
It was hard to read its reaction, but the creature seemed to be suggesting that the question wasn't specific enough.

"Have you seen your tormentors recently?" Alvyn asked.
A shrug and a nod.
"One or multiple people?"
A shrug.
Tong turned back to the creature, "Do you want to escape?"
The creature shakes its head.

After an intense line of questioning, Alvyn finally just said what was on their mind.
"Dragon? Did a dragon do this?"
The creature looked confused; it didn't know the term.
Flexing his wings, Kalgar reminded them, "The common people have not seen a dragon for 1000 years, this creature may not know about them."

Alvyn took back his board and quickly drew a dragon. The creature considered it and gestured for the pencil. After a few scribblings, this is what they saw.

" that?" Tong asked.
The three looked at each other, noting the extra wings, Illithid head, and spiked neck and tail.

"Well, that's just goddamn horrifying, and honestly, should have been expected by all that we've seen here. I was really hoping he hadn't progressed to the final stages in that kind of plan." Alvyn's eyes had the semblance of a plan.

"Hmm, the purple dragon, is missing, and it dealt with mind control, I think." Kalgar was muttering. "You, creature, was the dragon grey in colour? Mostly? Blue? Not sure...purple? No? Good."
Recalling their adventure underground, where a mindflayer had crawled into his brain and tried to kills his friends, Kalgar was relieved to hear that the dragon wasn't purple, and possible affiliated with that. As relieved as one can be to know that your enemy is a dragon, just not that dragon.

"So, what? Should we just leave him here? He can break out other creatures as he sees fit, form a society of gross mutants." the gnome asked the party.
Coming back into focus, the human monk replied, "Alvyn, that has got to be...the most intelligent plan, it is perfect!"

Looking back at the creature, Alvyn said, "Look, friend, I'm not going to tell you much. This creature that did this to you, there are others like it, others which will try to do the same or worse things to other people. If you'd like to help us stop them, I have a proposition for you."

The creature just stared at him.

"These guys, in the tubes around us, they might not feel the same way that we do. But some of these other ones, are worth a shot."
The man/orc seemed to disagree.

"Well, looking at our gorilla friend over there, it may be possible to remove some of these mutant grafts and attach other kinds on there, like remove the orc bits and replace them with warforged bits, or whatever floats your boat, I don't judge."

Lapsing in attention, Kalgar refocused and said, "Water floats boats."

Even Tong, who had spent so many years isolated in a monastery and had trouble with the simplest of social conventions, looked at Kalgar and back to Alvyn, and shook his head in laughter and confusion.

"You're not wrong Kalgar, anyway, it's up to you." the gnome continued, gesturing to the creature. "We want to gather a collection of creatures we can trust to help secure the lower levels, and I'd really like you to be with us. Plus, we have our own anger-management expert." he says, nodding toward Tong.

Tong shrugs in a very relaxed sort of way.
"He can read, so you know, he could read your Ioun book-"
"My friend!" Tong showed interest in the creature for the first time.

"Arg, no! Enough of that! He's going to need strength to survive." Kalgar's patience was wearing thin.
"He needs knowledge because strength without knowledge is"

"Look you, I'm right, I'm taller than you, we've been in this tower for too long. You! Man orc, orc man, I don't care, you can either help us out, or...choose to sit here and do nothing, and I think sitting here and doing nothing would be a pretty big waste of whatever life you have left. Alright? Fine, you seem enthused. What do we want him to do?" Kalgar looked to Alvyn for leadership.

"The rest of these tubes? Collect as many people as you can who think similarly, who are prepared to defend people from the fate that's befallen them. Kill anyone who disagrees. We'll meet you outside the tower. Someone will come and get you. Kalgar, give him a sword, Tong, give him a book!"

Reaching into his bag, Kalgar handed the creature the warhammer for breaking glass. He also gave the creature a sword Alvyn had made for him. Inscribed along the blade, the sword could be divided in twain, making two swords. Seeing it fitting, two halves making a whole, Kalgar said, "Strength must be checked, weakness is its own punishment." And he moved on.

The creature frowned at him.
"I'm saying you have strength in you-"
The creature held up its orc hand when he says this.
"-and weakness is its own punishment."
The human hand is held up when he hears weakness.

The creature looked uncertain. "Just...just used whatever strength you have. The strength you can find here!" Kalgar put the sword in the human hand. "Strength isn't measured by the size of your arm, but it does help."

Tong nodded solemnly and said, "Flesh is like, a quick exhalation, passing fruitless, but inside the mind, that's where destiny truly lies."

Kalgar flexes his wings and says, "Can we go kill a dragon now?"

Alvyn asks, "Do you have a name? You did? But not now? You cannot remember? Primus. First, but not the last."

Tong, Kalgar, and Alvyn nodded. "Alright, let's go kill that dragon."

Moving toward the stairs at the end of the room, they noticed a set of 7 tubes, stuffed under the staircase. These were about half as tall as the others. Moving cautiously, Kalgar and Tong were able to see labels on each of the tubes saying "Experiment failed, results unstable", and Kalgar saw something truly unnerving. Inside each of the tubes, was a gnome, and each one looked exactly like Alvyn. They were naked, appeared younger, and had facial hair, but they were definitely copies or versions of Alvyn.

"Uhh...these could be dangerous." The dragonborn halted the party.
Reloading his weapon, Alvyn said, "What kind of dangerous?"
Delicacy was not Kalgar's way, but he was trying, for his friend's sake.
"I don't think they're going to be dangerous to us, anymore, but they could be, they could affect you." And then he moved aside.

Alvyn cracked a sunrod and threw it under the staircase. As the shadows moved apart and the dust settled, all three saw what Kalgar had first seen.

"What is this?" Tong asked, mystified.

Alvyn stood silently stoic. Always putting a fine point on things, Tong walked up to one of the tubes, placed his hand on it, looked between the tubes and the party and said, "'s you!"

Setting his jaw, Alvyn reached into a tube, yanked a gnome out by its hair, dumped it onto the ground, pulled out his surgical tools, and began checking, to see if this was really him.

Kalgar reached forward, "Whoa whoa, is there any magic in there? Are you opening a bomb right now?"

Alvyn sensed only residual magic, and slapped the three-fingered dragonborn hand away. Without speaking, he continued, pulling out organs, dropping lungs, heart, spleen, onto the floor.

Tong, who struggled with pain for a very long time, recognized a coping mechanism when he saw one. He turned away.

Breaking open the rib cage, Alvyn could not believe it was real, he was looking for the mechanism behind the creature. "Hammer. Hammer! HAMMER!"

Kalgar handed him a hammer, Alvyn used it to crack open the skull. With his small, but dexterous hands, he pulled out the creature's brain, examined it, then reached back into the next tube.

"Alvyn! These are not you, this is not you!" the monk had returned. "It is just a shell, it is not what you have in here!"

"Why is this here? It's not supposed to be here!" Alvyn's question, like the best of rhetoric, could not be answered.

Scratching his scaly head, Kalgar asked, "Are they working together? Could Aes and Ferrum be working together?"

"Sometimes we have to survive with not knowing, but you will not find it in the guts of this thing" Tong's words of wisdom fall short.

"I can use these, yes, I could use these."
"No, Alvyn, no!" Tong could not separate Alvyn from the tubes.

"So, there are 8?" Kalgar said, counting the 7 tubes.
"No, because I'm not from here."
"I'm the original, so there's 7, right?"
"Yes, right, sorry."
"How much room do you have in your bag?"
"Umm, I have a lot of weapons in there."
"So, discipline is required of a soldier." And with that, he began opening Kalgar's bag.

Tong tapped his staff to the ground, "I know what must be done." The Reverie opened before them and disciples of Ioun walked out, grabbed the vials and continued back to the other place.
"Take care that these...shadows, are kept in tranquility until they are needed."

"Hmm, Ferrum is a wild territory...I don't recall anyone ever claiming this land, or of any alliances or trade routes established between the east and west coasts. Strange." Kalgar flexed his hand, curling up his lips in thought.

Looking closer at the surgical tools, Alvyn realized...they looked familiar. Dropping them in shock and disgust, he said, "Let's go! We've got a dragon to kill. Really kill. Really."

Climbing the stairs, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar saw the penultimate floor of the tower. Here, similar tubes as before, but most of the creatures were extremely aberrant. Owlbears, beholders, creatures they had never seen nor imagined before were here. In the midst of this strangeness, Tong raised an eyebrow at the one, seemingly normal-looking dog, wondering what secrets it was holding, why would there be a dog here, among such monstrosity?

Approaching a mindflayer, Alvyn held up a piece of paper which said, "Do you want to kill a dragon?" The creature did not respond. None of the other creatures responded to the question either.

"What are you doing?" Tong asked.

Recalling the rules of The Long Game, Alvyn reminded them that they could not kill the dragon. "It has not broken any of the rules, we cannot intervene."

Kalgar had forgotten this, he was very disappointed. He wanted a fight, and he wanted to end this monster's actions. "But, if we could anger would attack us!"

"Oh great." Tong clapped a hand to his head.
"No, it is great! If the dragon attacks us, we're allowed to defend ourselves, especially because we are adjudicators of this game." Alvyn smiled.

"I'll go up, talk to it, and lead it back down." Alvyn suggested.

"You're not going up there alone." Kalgar said, a hand on Alvyn's shoulder.
"I need you down here to smash as many of these tubes as you can, while I lead the dragon back down."
"Alvyn, we showed these creatures your sign, none of them reacted at all, in any way. What makes you think that they would help us, in any way?"
Surveying the room, Alvyn realized that the dragon must have some sort of failsafe against these creatures, but he says nothing.

Laying his hand on Alvyn's shoulder, Tong said, "This is something he has to do alone."

Kalgar took his hand back and stayed silent.

Stopping in thought, Alvyn noticed that the nearest creature had an incision on the back of the neck. "Damn." Checking the other creatures, and recalling something he saw earlier, he realized that all the creatures on the top three floors had a similar incision, likely to be used for mind control."

"Okay, change of plans. Come on."

The final door. A giant, ornate wooden trapdoor.
Kalgar looked back at his comrades. They had gone through so much together, and it wasn't even Tuesday yet.
Grim, but determined, Tong and Alvyn nodded.

Throwing open the doors, Alvyn rushed forward, losing some of his tactical edge in the face of his wrath from earlier.

The chamber was very dark. The walls were lined with shelves and tables, and the ceiling was domed. On the far side of the room stood a big, bulky silhouette.

Pulling his sunrod out from earlier, Alvyn tossed it farther into the room.

There, standing in all its monstrous glory, was the Iron Dragon.
N.B. The figurine does not come close to matching the horrifying nature of the mutated iron dragon
This miniature excellently painted by our Dungeon Master, Dominic Matte.

The picture they had received from the man-orc below had not done this mutated monster justice; it was much more terrifying in person. It had 6 legs, an extra pair of wings, large spines on its tail, glowing lines running along its body, centipede legs along its lower body, antennae on its head, its jaw was replaced with tentacles, armour plating on its back, and smaller, extra limbs protruding from its chest. It stood 30 feet tall, and without turning to look, she says, "You're the ones that have been messing with my experiments!"

The quivering nature of her voice, the three noted, was due to tentacles acting as her tongue and cheek.

"Yeah, well, the welcome mat wasn't so hot." Alvyn said.

"We are arbiters of that which you are familiar with. We were simply observing your...playpen. We'll be leaving soon." Tong tried his hand at diplomacy.

The dragon returned to her work, ignoring them. Alvyn surveyed the room. No fail-safe was visible, and the vials all appeared to be extracts, of different creatures. Combined with the bonding agent seen earlier, the extracts could be used to combine traits of different creatures together.

Spotting an interesting vial, Alvyn picked it up casually, Extract of Beholder.
Without looking at them, the dragon said, "Don't touch that."

Tong appeared agitated. This entire tower, and all the experiments, seemed the antithesis to the good-natured collection of knowledge. This was perverse, and he could not understand it.
"Why are you doing this? Why do this, your Ironness."

The three approached closer, the dragon turned.

Looking over them, she said, "I supposed Mercury was going to find me eventually."

"Not hard, hiding in a giant iron-" Alvyn quipped.
"Tower! He was going to say tower!" Tong cut him off.

"I am working on creating the perfect assassin to win the Long Game." And with that, she turned back to her work.

"That...yeah, that would work pretty well actually." Alvyn scratched his head.
"Is this knowledge you seek? This refuse you've left, is it the side-effect of your pursuits?" Tong was stammering.

"Knowledge is only a means to an end." the Ironness said.

"So, instead of using your own formidable strength, you're trying to make an assassin to win the game for you." Kalgar mused.

Alvyn interjected, moving closer to different vials, "Yeah, it makes sense. Why not use the resources at hand, to your best tactical advantage."

The dragon's tentacles twitched as the gnome picked up and put down various vials.

"Putting aside that these resources are lives, she has already used a lot of resources already. She's already created a lot of waste."

"But if knowledge is only a means to an end, does that mean there's an end to knowledge?" Tong philosophised in the corner.

Approaching the table behind the dragon, Alvyn was carrying extracts of behir, beholder, banshee, and troll. It appeared that the dragon was dissecting an oni, a variant of ogre, known for their expert stealth and spell-casting.

Looking at her table, and back at Alvyn, she said, "Oh! One survived."
Grinding his teeth, Alvyn said, "Of how many?"
"Irrelevant. How did you overcome the instability?"
"I asked you first."
"Like I said, irrelevant. Given enough time, I could guess."

The trapdoors closed behind them.

Alvyn suddenly saw another vial, extract of griffin. He reached for it. The dragon followed him, her movements more fluid than it should have been, giving the mutations. The dragon squeezed between Alvyn and the shelves. The gnome backs off.

"Well, we came here to learn your intentions, we have done so, now we'll be leaving." Tong said, backing away slowly.

"You can leave, when you return my vials." The dragon's gaze was suddenly very focused on Alvyn.

"Alvyn", Tong prompted, "Do you have something that isn't yours?"
"I do. I really do." Alvyn's tone had Kalgar reaching slowly for his katana.

"But she has something of mine. Knowledge of my past." Keeping his eyes on the dragon, Alvyn moved away to different shelves. The dragon followed.

Alvyn began mixing vials together. The dragon looked greatly upset but did nothing.

Kalgar could take it no longer. He had held himself in check in all the other rooms, even after seeing the contemptible nature of them. Moving direct up beside Kalgar, leaning closely to the dragon, he said, "You're pathetic. You have to make some little assassin, fine, but what's the point of making modifications to yourself?"

"You've met other dragons, have you? Imagine that level of power, multiplied."
"But you have to add essences of animals? You have no other option?"
"Dragons gain strength over time, I don't want to wait another 1000 years."

"Everything below this room is an abomination, I will not allow it to continue."
The dragon looked at him, as one does a foolish child.
"I will stop your experiments, and I will destroy everything you've done."
The dragon shook her head, "Do you think you could handle even a single beholder? There are dozens, hundreds, of creatures below, do you really think you could handle that?"

Without blinking, Kalgar said, "Yes. You're not familiar with the three of us, and that's fine, but one thing we're good at is making a mess. And at the very least, we are going to mess up your little business here, and if you can't wait for your strength to improve, you're definitely not going to like what I do downstairs."

"You apparently don't realize you are over your head here, you can leave now, or you can kill yourselves."

"Okay." Kalgar walked over to the oni on the table, picked it up, and threw it down the hole. A sound was heard far down below, and a moment later, a platform was raised, putting the oni back on the top floor.

"To illustrate how much danger you're in, let me just tell you...this isn't a tower. Do you remember the first floors of mimics? Why do you think I stopped working on them? Because I succeeded in my work."

Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar looked at each other. Still swirling the cocktail of extracts in his hand, Alvyn said, "So, the tower is a mimic?"

The dragon nodded.

"Wow...that is a really good tower." Alvyn seemed impressed.

"Return my property, and then leave." The dragon almost looked smug.

"To hell with you, your species, your plan, I hope you all die. Kalgar, start breaking things."

Below, through the trapdoor, they could hear entire floors of shattering glass.

Inspiration struck! Alvyn turned to his human friend.

"Tong, I need you to listen carefully. Right now, this monster is controlling a bunch of creatures down below, ordering them up here to kill us. I need you to take the air around us, and stop her. I need you to ruin thought, destroy thought. Can you do that?"

"Then do it!"

Tong si Gong, Mist Knight, disciple of Ioun, who has trained his mind to transcend the ultimate of human capability, concentrated on Gale Force Sutra, concentrating his entire psionic ability into a single shout. A rift opens into the Reverie and Tong said, "Now hear me! Lend me your strength! We must inculcate the invocation to awaken these beings' minds. They are no longer slaves, they have free will and a desire of knowledge." At once, all the disciples shout at once, reverberating a shockwave which knocked Tong prone.

The dragon flinches, the trapdoor shuts, and she charges Tong.

And that's all for today! Thanks very much for reading, stay tuned for the conclusion of the investigation of the Iron Tower, in The Long Game campaign!

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