Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Long Game: Escape from The Iron Tower!

Last time, in The Long Game, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar defeated the dragon! Through unbelievable odds, they enraged the Iron Dragon to attack them, thus breaking the rules of the game, and through sheer luck, they were now left standing over a mangled dragon corpse. Not able to rest, our adventurers heard the sound of wild beasts in the levels below, and felt the rumble of an awakening, and angry, tower beneath their feet. They knew they had to escape, but to do that, they would have to fight their way out.
Dallas Kasaboski

The penultimate floor of the tower had been full of glass tubes containing creatures of seemingly powerful design. They were the results of experiments conducted by the Ironness in order to create the perfect assassin. When Tong si Gong used his psionic abilities to block the dragon's connection with these creatures, he heard the sound of glass crashing below. He knew that the monsters had escaped and would be there to greet them.

Alvyn cut off the Ironness' head and tossed it to Kalgar. The contents of the dragonborn's bag of holding would make for an odd display indeed containing dozens of weapons, some magical items, hardtack, the heads of severed dragons, and a hammock. But, it was a magical bag and the best place to keep things out of sight, so he stuffed the mutated dragon's head into the bag.

Moving to the next floor, our adventurers faced off against many foul beasts including the deadly beholder. Narrowing avoiding its gaze, and overthrowing the ferocity of the other beasts, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar made experienced work of this floor before moving on to the next.

In an homage to his far-slaying kin, Tong si Gong decided to adorn himself with teeth of the beholder, to remind himself of his necessary victories over these foul creatures.

Tossing the corpse of the beholder down to the next floor as a warning to all which lurked below, they found piles of corpses everywhere to be seen. Standing in the centre of the room, covered in blood, there stood the cybernetic gorilla with a crossbow for an arm the party had called BallistApe. Seeing the beholder's severed head, BallistApe looked up to the party, and nodded. He then dove into the tube in the centre of the room, roaring furiously as he descended the tower.

"He's truly a free spirit." Tong said.
"Looks like he's done some good work here," Kalgar said, inspecting the bodies.
"I should have given him my card," Alvyn said, a glint of good humour back in his eyes.

"Alvyn, would you really want someone, a creature of that magnitude, under your influence?" the human monk asked.
"Have you looked into a mirror lately?" Kalgar's crooked teeth met in a grin.

Poking around the corpses, Kalgar suggests a rest to regain their strength. Tong agrees and stands in a corner, practicing his breathing exercises, and meditating. Alvyn and Kalgar realized that Tong's power was indeed improving since his ability to meditate was not limited by the need to find a corner, a meditation niche. Alvyn, continuing his gruesome resourcefulness, harvested the stomach from one slain creature and filled it with glass and reagents, hoping to create some sort of weapon. Many of his tools and weapons had been destroyed in previous fights, leaving him to such drastic measures.

Tong and Kalgar exchanged a look, and then looked at Alvyn. His clothes had been completely destroyed, and he was now wearing only a text of Ioun. Tong was clearly uncomfortable with this, but uncomfortable with Alvyn's nakedness even more; some knowledge should not be learned. Reaching into his bag, Kalgar pulled out his old bed roll, cut holes in it with his katana, and handed it to Alvyn, "There, you have pants."

"Finally!" Tong said as the holy text disappeared off of the gnome.

Moving quickly through the next few floors, our adventurers found little to nothing of note. At one point, Tong stopped the party. Sensing the rumbling of the tower, he warned the party that the tower's patience was wearing thin. Taking a solid stance, Kalgar looked into the tube in the centre of the tower. While they had seen a glowing sphere below them before, he now noticed that it was above them. 

"I feel no aberrant cause," Tong said, reaching out, looking for a psionic presence.
Reaching out with his arcane senses, Alvyn realized it was the core of the tower, its living brain.

"Hmm, should we go in diplomacy blazing? Or shoot first, ask questions never?" Alvyn looked at his friends.
"I say we just escape this place. I've seen too much distortion of knowledge." the monk did not want to delay any longer.
"I say we find out what it wants. If it's a fight it wants, we'll give it one." Kalgar said, tapping his scabbard.

Putting his head in the tube, Alvyn looked up at the sphere. "Hey! Brain! Mimic-brain, yeah, we would like to speak with you."
"Subtle, Sehanine." Tong said, only using Alvyn's last name in times of stress.

The brain core screamed back at them.

"Can you speak quieter?...I think it may be ignoring me." Alvyn said.
Trying to open the quiet door between minds, Tong reached out psychically. 

Suddenly, the core flew town the tower, screaming the whole way down, knocking Tong back as it passes beneath them. Holding his broken arm, Tong passed two fingers along it, using healing powers of the Idolawn to fix his injury.

"That is a handy trick, you're going to have to teach me that." Alvyn said.
"Are you prepared to spend 15 years training-" Tong asked, interrupted.
"I have 15 minutes." Alvyn smirked. 

"This thing is starting to piss me off." Kalgar said.

On the next floor, Tong decided to move with stealth. Whispering this to his comrades, he noticed that Alvyn was nowhere to be seen. Kalgar snorted, and drew attention to himself. Moving loudly, holding the sunrod on the end of his javelin, Kalgar was tired of this tower and didn't think hiding would solve anything.

The shadows of Kalgar's sunrod flickered off the walls of the laboratory chambers on this floor. Here, as you may recall, the party had encountered gibbering mouthers hidden in the chambers, the result of grotesque mutation and experimentation. This time, the only evidence of the mouthers was their corpses, lying here and there, scattered on the floor.

Our three adventurers were not alone, however, as sitting in the centre of this floor was a four-armed giant, and a manticore. The giant was busy playing the the bones of corpses, and while Kalgar couldn't see it that well, he thought the giant looked simple-minded. The manticore, the winged beast with a lion's body and a human face, was growling and trying to force its way into one of the chambers.

Suddenly, Tong and Kalgar heard a voice from the shadows, "Oh, I wonder if our half-orc friend is on the other side of that door."

Kalgar stopped at the top of the stairs, fully illuminated by the sunrod's glow. Tong and Alvyn stood in the shadows at the bottom of the stairs and considered their options.

"Should we sneak by? I don't think talking is going to work here." Tong asked, poised on one foot, ethereal robes flowing without wind.

"I say we just kill them. A) That'll make Kalgar real happy. B) It's going to be hard for Kalgar to stealth. Ever."

A hmph of agreement from their dragonborn friend above.

"Plus, I want to know what's on the other side of that door." Alvyn nodded toward Tong.

Closing his eyes, Tong recalled the Idolawn Fortress and its impossible geometry. He crawled stealthily up the wall and across the ceiling. As soon as he came into view, the giant looked up, seemingly disinterested. It pulled an arm off of a nearby corpse, dwarf, Tong thought. He then opened a portal between worlds and teleported to the far end of the floor. There were no stairs in sight leading to the next floor. They were trapped!

After all their adventures together, Tong picked up much of the Doomguard sign language. Or he thought he had.

"I...I have no idea what he's saying, " Alvyn whispered up to Kalgar, "I think he's having a stroke. No, just kidding, there's no stairs, that's what he's saying."

As Kalgar moved closer to Alvyn, the stairs behind him folded away into the ceiling.
"Okay, new objective. What's behind that door?"
Kalgar turned his head to the side, "So, you want me to run interference?"
"Um, yeah, actually. Hold on, I'm going to toss out a grease grenade, try to clear a path to the door for Tong." Alvyn signaled these plans to Tong, who nodded.

Tink tink tink, splat! the grease grenade bounced along the floor, exploding right under the manticore. Fighting for stay on its many feet, the manticore was smashed out the way by a flying, charging, dragonborn. "You! Manticore, you're mine!"

The human-faced manticore roared, Kalgar roared back. Tong slides around the corner, past Kalgar, into the room. There, he came face to face with Primus, the half-man, half-orc they had met earlier. Tong leaned against the door, looking out, ready to brace the door against enemies.

The manticore leans back and fires spikes at Kalgar, which bounced off his armour. The giant, looking angry but still disinterested, smashed another carcass off the floor. Alvyn crept in, averting the notice of the giant and the manticore. Reaching into his satchel, he pulled out another vial, one of Alchemist's Fire.

Kalgar swept his wings across the manticore's face, blinding it while Kalgar retreated into the room with his allies. Just as the dragonborn slid into the room, Alvyn tossed the vial out. It bounced once, twice, and then exploded outward in a small, but terrible rush of flames, catching the manticore off guard.

"What am you going to do with Alchemist's Fire? I don't know, Trixie, maybe light some fools on fire." Alvyn muttered to himself, remembering arguments long passed.

The giant, lumbering to its feet, wandered over to the manticore, grabbed it out of the air, and smashed it to the floor, crushing its bones.

Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar stared at the scene, without blinking.
"Uh...let's not fight the giant, guys."
"Such power!"
"Kalgar, if you could lean against the door in a 'it won't open kind of way', that'd be great!"

Just then, the giant smashes a foot down just outside the door. Tong and Kalgar lean on the iron and brace themselves. Pushing with all of their strength, they are just barely holding the giant off.

"Kord's blood! This guy is strong!" Kalgar braces himself.
"Just. Keep. Pushing." Tong responds.

After a few hard shoves, the giant's foot moves away from the door.

"Let's wait 180 seconds, it should be gone by then. At which point, I say, let's open the door, gingerly, see if the giant is still there, see if it still has the murderous, 'man I wonder what you look like on the inside' look, and if not, then we just go down a level." Alvyn nods, as if to himself.

"And if that behemoth with the mind of a child is still there, waiting for us?" Tong si Gong asked.

"Wait him out, he has to sleep sometime."

Kalgar looked at the half-orc-man, "You, Primus, are you okay? Yes? Fine. Did you try to sneak past this thing? And were you alone at the time? Okay." Primus nods and looks relieved that things are quiet now.

Precisely 180 seconds later, Alvyn leaned out to see the giant, sitting on the floor, holding the head of the manticore. "Alright, let's get out of here."

Tong jumped up, "Let's make light the Four Winds and...get out of here."

Reaching the far end of the room, they noticed that the stairs had returned, and the three plus Primus descended another level.

Crossing the threshold of the door, they saw BallistApe, the mutated cybernetically-enhanced gorilla roaring in rage as it stood fighting the room of furniture mimics.

"Kalgar, would you mind assisting our ape-friend here?"

The dragonborn smiled a crooked grin, unfurled its wings and took to the air, landing on a couch mimic. The dragonborn and the gorilla made quick work, leaving splinters everywhere.

Brushing himself off, Kalgar looked over at the gorilla. Recalling some brief stories told by Aesian sailors, supplemented by stories from Tong's old Canitian hunting days, he recalled that large, extremely territorial gorillas still roamed the jungles of Cyfandir, the world continent. Often wearing jewelry, more than often consisting of teeth of those they have slain, these gorillas seemed of an intelligence less than man, but far greater than beast. Kalgar nodded at it and said, "Good work."

Tong, wanting to get out of the tower more quickly, looks into the tunnel in the centre of the room, from which they had came. The tube dripped with blood.

"What could this mean?" Tong mutters, "Maybe the tower mimic needs us to kill the ape-man."

"What? Woah" Kalgar begins...

"Just conjecture!" Tong shrugs.

"No! Those are ideas, that you keep to yourself, when there's a giant ape-man with a repeating crossbow for an arm."

"It doesn't understand Common." Tong defends.

"You don't know that! I'm not taking chances."

Looking back into the tube, Alvyn noted that the bottom was blocked, and whatever had blocked it was covered in blood. "Hmm, we're not getting out that way."

Just then the glowing core of the tower screamed its way down the tube, smashing into Alvyn before retreating back up!

Sitting back to tend to their wounds, and determine their next step, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar considered the tower, and its motives. The blood continued dripping down the tube. That's when Alvyn made the connection.

The iron tower was feeding off the iron from the blood of the creatures within, slowly getting stronger, slowly waking up, and it likely made a deal with the Iron Dragon to eat the remains of any of the dragon's experiments.

After relaying this to the rest of the party, Alvyn asked Kalgar what he had in his bag. Opening up the magical bag, Kalgar sorted through an entire armoury of weapons, rope, some food, hammock, extra magical weapons, as well as the heads of each dragon they've killed.

"We need to hold it, stop it from retreating. Any suggestions?"

Kalgar and Tong made quick work, fastening some simple weapons to some dead furniture mimics, hoping to lure the tower core down to become impaled on said weapons. Alvyn sought out with his arcane knowledge, trying to gain more insight into the tower, but he found nothing.

Tripping the trap, Tong stuck his head in and out of the tube. As he quickly backed away, they all could hear the scream of the mimic core as it flew down the tube, impaling itself on some old weapons. It tried to struggle away but, just as it looked like it might break free, Alvyn tossed another vial of Alchemist's Fire onto it.

The core froze and turned around, and now the party could see it for what it was, a giant eyeball.

"Ugh, it's awful!" the human monk exclaimed.
"I've already killed one of these today," Kalgar said, remembering the beholder.

Dripping with pus and blood, the eye stared at them menacingly. Flipping his goggles down, Alvyn knew that a couple of quick strikes would finish it off. He nodded to Tong who reached an arm through the planes, grabbed the eye and teleported it out onto the floor in front of Kalgar, whose katana was drawn and ready.

"Alright Kord, let's finish the job!" With that, a bolt of lightning appeared and struck the mimic core eyeball, which popped, oozing everywhere.

Then, the floor opened up beneath Kalgar's feet and he fell straight through! Bracing his impact with his wings, Kalgar lands, one knee on the ground, with blood all around him.

"Ugh, disgusting."

"You okay down there?" Alvyn and Tong were leaning over the hole.

Finally, after so much misadventure, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar, along with Primus and BallistApe, escaped the tower, climbed the many levels of stone, and emerged safely on the hilly terrain just outside the tower. While Kalgar hailed the Shockrosia, Tong pointed out some signs of blood on the ground; some of the monsters seemed to have escaped.

"We should hunt these vile beasts!" the Canitian monk declared.
"Or at least warn someone." Kalgar chipped in.

The airship circled the skies, as the Sun was about to set. Climbing aboard, the crew were all accounted for, but seemed different. Kalgar could hear a familiar voice farther on deck.

"Who's that?" Alvyn asked.

One of the dwarves pulled him through the crew, "So, we were bored, and well, we decided to build this!" There, on deck, were a bunch of random machine parts, and a small sphere. The voice from the box was oddly familiar and that's when Kalgar recognized it as Mountainface from the CWNN news-casting network; it seems the dwarves had hacked into the network.

Alvyn, wearing only a bedroll, grabbed the nearest dwarf and said, "Build me a shower. Right now."

"Tong, listen to the newscast, make a report within the hour on what's going on." Kalgar orders some food be brought to him.

"It is done, as the scrolls say, 'Bored dwarves are the ministers of double Orcus!' Scroll 5136."

Bringing some food down the gangplank, Kalgar helped BallistApe aboard, finding him a place below deck.

Crossing his legs in front of the news sphere, this is what Tong observed. Mountainface, the half-goliath who reported the news, had toned down his joviality in light of recent events and was finishing his report:

...and after the fall of the Valley of Glass, last month, the forces of Adamantina have secured all of Albus. No longer a sovereign nation, it is now a fortified territory of Adamantina. 

During the newscast, the picture and sound were cutting in and out. Tong and the dwarves thought it was the equipment at first, as they gathered around it, suggesting things to try, when suddenly the picture changed entirely.

There sat a bronzed dragonborn in a hood, who said, "Kalgar Drakeswynd, it has come to our attention that you yet live. Come home and turn yourself in, or face the wrath of the Angrimich Shivi. You have 30 days."

The broadcast flickers and returns to Mountainface, who looks momentarily stunned. "What was that? Whoever that was, I don't approve of this...I...this has better not happen again or, or you're going to have to take it up with my face!" And with that, the broadcast was over.

The dwarves stared at Tong, who felt a chill running up his spine, "Drakeswynd's not going to like this."

Standing up, he walked over to Alia the Stubborn, his friend and former lover, and said,
"Alia, what we shared that night, was necessary passion, but it cannot continue. The Edge of Sanity tied my sins to my back, but my wife and child are still tied to my heart. And even though we had a night of martial passion, we cannot allow this to continue."

"Fine." she said, and walked away. Alia was always one of few words.

Moving to the other end of the ship, Tong gave Kalgar his report.

Standing straight and tall, Kalgar looked past Tong and said, "I always knew this day would come."

Tong had a strange ability to stand completely motionless, yet seem full of movement. The ethereal mists surrounding him helped with this paradoxical illusion.

While Tong si Gong knew some of the details of Kalgar's past, the dragonborn felt it necessary to update his friend. "I was in my second tour of duty. All of Aes lives and dies by the law of the navy. Dragonborn, we age faster, we are recruited earlier. We live and die by their rule, the only way to leave the navy is to retire. But when I saw those superweapons, what they could do, how dangerous and sinful they were, I had to leave. So I faked my death. I thought it would be easier that way."

"It is a cruel society in which you have been born, cruel but effective."

"Cruel? No, they did what they had to do. Until this superweapon business. Since the Great Betrayal, Aes brought itself back together and has been one of the world's most impressive forces, and the service, it speaks to the core of every Aesian. So, abandoning that way of life was necessary for me, but they have reason to hate me."

Tong put his hand on Kalgar's shoulder, "While it is true that strength must be checked, but do you intend to face this false fate, brought to you by your kinsmen?"

"When I was taken by the monkhood, I too took a death and was reborn, as you have reminded me. I cannot blame you for this choice, nor can I blame the government for wanting your head."

"The way I say it, if we don't go back, the Angrimich Shivi, are going to cause havoc trying to find me. And to be honest, I've wanted to go back to Aes for some time, to settle the score. So, it's really up to you whether you want to come with me. I need to go back to settle this and to bring Aes back to the way of the people. I have been chosen and I have chosen."

"You did not lend your strength in my final battle with Vatharxos, and you may find this surprising to hear, but you helped me more with your words, so I think it is time I helped a friend."

Nodding, Kalgar stepped past Tong and issued a few commands. He called Dwight to report, and ordered the crew make ready to depart. With sections reporting in, gangplank closed, BallistApe secured, cannons undergoing service, electrodynamicators to full, the Shockrosia took to the skies,

Just then, without warning, Mercury landed on the ship. Swooping overhead, the wings of her wyvern were staying just out of cannon range. Careful to hide her heritage from the crew, she approached Kalgar and Tong. Alvyn, emerging from his shower, wearing only a tower, sat on a barrel on deck.

"You may have a problem."

"Yes?" Kalgar replied.

"You have killed two of the Game's players, you haven't broken the rules, but you have killed some of the players, technically you are safe, having not broken these rules, but the other dragons are taking notice."

"Yeah, that'll happen." Alvyn munched on an apple.

"Do you mean to say that the other dragons are summoning forces against us? The Vanguards of the Night?" Tong's eyes burn bright with otherworldly knowledge.

"Not quite" the woman replied, "but someone has hired the Brass Company to track you down."

"What fair-weather friends those are." Tong crossed his arms.

"Well, they are mercenaries, they're friends with no one." Alvyn answered. "But we didn't kill the Iron Dragon. There was an accident, things happened, that's what you get for living in a giant mimic."

"Needless to say, there have been other incidents, I can try to delay things, but watch yourselves. I would appreciate some information on the Copper, Purple, Orium, and Black dragons when next you have the chance." and then she jumped off the ship.

Staring at his right hand, where the Mark of Mercury still sat etched, Tong pressed his nails into his palm, drawing blood.

And what happened next is a story for another time.

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