Skull and Shackles

Session 35: Serenity Now

Posted by: Jennifer

Bereft of their leader, the remaining cyclopes avoided contact, leaving the Crisis officers generally in command of Sumitha. Sandara healed the worst of their injuries while they surveyed the ruins.

“So, I guess we go look at the ‘wish woman’ now?” Feruzi asked.

“Aye, I reckon,” Chopper said. They approached the outdoor monument in the center of the ruins, a raised dais surrounded by decorative archways and alabaster columns. The triangular pool at the center shimmered and a vaguely female form—giant-sized—manifested.

“Welcome,” she said.

“So, what’s the what, now?” Chopper muttered.

“Greetings,” the woman said. “I am Vailea, the marid.”

“More ghosts?” Feruzi asked.

“I am no ghost, but a creature of elemental water, trapped here in the waning days of Ghol-Gan by ancient cyclopean magics.”

Feruzi crossed her arms over her chest. “And I take it you want our help to get loose?” She looked at Chopper pointedly. “I don’t suppose there’s any use in pretending we’re not going to help.”

“I will not deny that I greatly desire this, but I can only be freed if someone uses one of my wishes to free me.”

“Wishes?” Chopper asked. “Elaborate.”

“I may grant one wish a year. This, and my power to travel the planes, are why the cyclopes trapped me here. Why I suffered their abuse. Of course, the only elders powerful enough to command my services died or fled this place centuries ago. I have watched Ishtoreth and his tribe struggle with famine, fearful that they would completely die out and I would be trapped forever, truly alone, with no one to wish me free.”

“My mother always said that magical wishes were generally more trouble than they were worth,” Feruzi said.

“Your mother is wise, but it is the genie that will twist the words if she is so inclined.”

Reiko pursed her lips. “Perhaps we can come to a mutual agreement.”

“Could do that,” Chopper agreed. “Lookin’ ta exorcise a ghost down at the fort. Anythin’ you can tell us ta help with that? Said summat about a dreamstone. I think.”

“Ah, yes, that which once was the lens of revelation. The wizard corrupted it. Ishtoreth, knowing no better, returned it to the Eye of Serenity. That was a poor decision.”

“What’s in the Eye o’ Serenity?” Chopper asked. “Other than the lens-stone?”

“A guardian of some kind. Ishtoreth called it a gholdako. In addition, one must be blinded to enter the Eye.”

Feruzi blinked. “What, permanently?”

“Not necessarily. The cyclopes commonly used irthaval essence to temporarily blind themselves. If one blinded person approaches the barrier it will allow you all to enter, but simply closing your eyes or wearing a blindfold is not enough.”

“Irritating cleverness, there,” Chopper grumbled.

“The Lens was sacred to them. IT still is, but the thing that it has become now hungers for living souls.”

“The smashing option is looking better and better,” Feruzi said.

“So what happens if we remove the Lens?” Reiko asked.

“Removing it should keep it from trying to harm you—if you can reach it. Time is different in the Eye of Serenity. Slower. The ancient seers found it useful for their divinations.” The marid nodded at Sandara. “Your divine power might keep the gem’s magic at bay.”

“Do you know where we can find some of this ithravel?” Feruzi asked.

“There must be some still in the ruins.”

Feruzi nodded. “Well, then it seems to be time to move on. It will be dark soon and I don’t fancy spending the night here until we have that stone dealt with.”

“As you wish,” Vailea said. “I will be here if you have need of me.”

Feruzi looked over at Chopper. “Wish her loose and let’s go.”

He nodded. “Ye got one handy?”

Vailea’s blue eyes lit. “Truly? I am capable of granting a wish, effendi.”

“It might be better to wait until we have the stone dealt with,” Reiko objected. “It’s already been hundreds of years for her, what’s a few more days?”

Chopper made a face. “I wish you were free of the captivity lain on you by the cyclopes,” he said instead of arguing.

“Ah, freedom at last!” Vailea murmured. “I shall find a way to repay your kindness, Captain. You have claimed this island as your own, yes?”

“We’re working on it,” Feruzi said dryly.

“Then I will know where to find you.” Bowing deeply, the genie vanished.

Reiko sighed. “A few more days of slavery when I could end it now? Too long,” Chopper told her.

“That, and there’s always the temptation to put it off,” Feruzi said, seemingly to herself. “What’s one more year? One more decade? Very easy to get into bad habits that way.”

“That was not my intention, Ms. Feruzi. And you should know that.”

“Intentions are all well and good, but deeds are deeds.”

Reiko’s face when stony. “I will see you all back on the ship.”

“Aw, don’ go ‘way sore, Reiko, we still got work t’ do . . . " Sandara called as the samurai walked off.

Ezikial grunted. “The ‘wish woman’ is freed, the cyclops king is dead, we know how to get to the dreamstone, and I’m running out of whiskey. Can we go back to the ship now?” he asked in a bored tone.

“Nah, ye’ll shoot some o’ the crew in this state o’ mind,” Chopper said. “Let’s find some blindroot.”

They went exploring down the side passages, many choked with rubble from rock falls. One hall held a pair of runed circles and columns carved in the likeness of female cyclopes. Recent giant tracks disturbed the dust coating the floor. As the group approached, the statues began to move, reaching out toward them. Ezikial, always ready, pulled a pistol and fired, sending stone chips flying.

“Bollocks,” Chopper announced and whacked away at the other statue. The stone was hard, but somewhat brittle, and his enchanted weapons cracked it handily. The bullet-pocked statue swung a stony falchion at Ezikial, who dodged backward but not quite quickly enough, receiving a bloody cut that laid his forehead open. Cursing, he fired again, bursting the statue’s knee and sending it toppling to the ground, where it broke into several pieces. Chopper ducked by reflex as Feruzi fired directly over his shoulder, magical arrows wrecking the remaining construct’s torso, but its arms still swung, dealing Chopper a ferocious wound. Sandara winced and skittered across the floor to land a healing spell on him while Ezikial reload as quickly as he could. The statue creaked as it turned, aiming toward the fast-moving cleric, then its head exploded into rubble as Ezikial fired both of his pistols at once. Reiko walked in to see that everything was under control.

“Welcome back,” Chopper said, dabbing at his injuries and wincing.

“So was that the guardian or do we get an extra special surprise?” Feruzi asked. She looked around and pointed at the rune circles on the floor. “It’s possible we could use these circles to teleport between here and the fortress when Sandara gets a chance to fix the one back there.”

The next chamber was a great dome containing an interior structure that mimicked its shape, a thirty-foot egg with stone stairs climbing its side to a stone wall carved to resemble an immense eye. Runes traced the stone, glowing faintly. Two doors and another passage led out of the chamber. Skirting the obviously magical structure in the center, Feruzi opened the first door and found nothing but a wall of silent darkness. She blinked at it, slowly, and then closed the door again.

“Well, that just looks harmless,” she remarked. The other door opened into a storeroom filled with crates and a positive stench of musky incense. Ezikial took one sniff and nodded.

“I believe that incense is what we need, Captain,” he said.

“Perfect. Grab some.”

“It can be addictive and it makes you blind and opens the mind for an hour or so,” Ezikial added. Feruzi checked down the remaining hall, looking for anything dangerous, and discovered only a heavy door. There was no apparent mechanism, but it was solidly locked.

“I can get that door,” Ezikial said, coming up behind her. Feruzi blinked again and scurried back up the hall, ducking around the corner and covering her ears. Chopper grinned.

“Stand back, Reiko, ’s gonna get loud.”

Ezikial strategically set out a few grenades, then also ran for cover, his face stretched in an alarming expression. An appalling blast shook the hall, followed by a shower of door bits and a rain of dust and small pebbles. Ezikial pumped his fists, rangy arms projecting from their sleeve cuffs. “WHOOOO!” he screamed.

The ancient vault revealed behind the now-reduced door was full of urns, chests, and strange relics of a bygone age. Feruzi muttered a spell and surveyed the treasure, pulling out items that radiated magic and setting them aside.

Sandara frowned at the pile of booty. “Uh, d’ye want me t’ start identifyin’ this stuff NOW, or later on?”

“Later,” Chopper said.

“So do we attempt to assault the eye?” Feruzi asked.

Chopper scratched his chin. “Not rightly sure.”

“If I follow what that genie were sayin, then channelin’ kin keep th’ gem from hurtin’ us,” Sandara said. “But one of us needs t’ be blind t’ lower th’ barrier.”

“Shall I do this?” Ezikial volunteered.

“Blind the gunner?” Chopper asked. “Seems cruel. Nah, I’ll take this herb. Ye’ll just have to see me out safely again, aye?”

Ezikial actually looked disappointed. Or perhaps it was just his usual face. “It would be like a three day bender for me.”

“You can always keep some to try later,” Feruzi said.

Chopper lit the incense and settled down to wait for the effects. “This is a hell of a thing,” he said after a minute or so. “I can . . . well, see ain’t the right word, exactly, but I know where the doors be an’ I can pass through ’em now.” He stood and climbed the stairs toward the giant eye carving. Sandara winced and made a gesture of warding. Chopper walked up to the stone wall and kept going, passing right through. The room seemed to vanish around them in a flash of light and a new, oval chamber appeared. A single large crystal rested atop a silver pedestal. Two large statues flanked it, and beside it a withered cyclops corpse wrapped in bandages lay on the floor. The oppressive weight of evil and magic filled the chamber and the mummified cyclops rose to its feet.

Ezikial fired as Reiko drew her katana. The monster hissed as Chopper skirted it, bent on getting the Eye. Sandara followed him, muttering a prayer under her breath—the feel of evil lessened very slightly. The gholdako belched a cloud of noxious gas; Reiko held her breath and ducked, but Ezikial gasped at the stink. “BESMARA!” he screamed, raising his hands toward his eyes. The monster clawed at Reiko with filthy, diseased fingers and Ezikial fired blind, knocking it to the ground in a pile of disconnected bones and rags, but the respite was brief—a ray of golden light shot from the dreamstone and struck the gholdako. Slowly, the mummy began to knit back together. Reiko drew her wakizashi and attempted to further disrupt it, reeling as the light hit her and she felt her life drawn viciously away.

Chopper scooped up the stone and stiffened in shock—his scream was cut off as he abruptly vanished. The sound galvanized Ezikial, who staggered blindly toward the pillar. “What just happened?!” he demanded. “Captain?!”

“Not sure how long I kin keep this up!” Sandara cried, waving her holy symbol at the pulsing, glowing stone.

“Feruzi, get Ezikial out of here!” Reiko commanded.

“I’m moving!” Ezikial growled. “What happened to Chopper, dammit?”

“We’ll sort it out once we get away,” Feruzi told him, trying to edge him toward the door, but Ezikial was having none of it. Reiko ran toward the gem. She winced as her hand touched it, but she managed to dump it off the edge of the pedestal. Instantly the light winked out and the gholdako stopped moving.

“So, wha’ happens now?” Sandara asked. “Ezikial’s . . . blind? I can pray fer that in the morning. What happened ter Chopper?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Ezikial growled.

“I believe that was some variant of a soul-trapping effect,” Feruzi said. “Smashing the gem should—I think—free Chopper.”

“We should be certain of that before smashing anything,” Reiko announced, panting. “And will that help us with our other problem? We should be sure of that as well.”

“It will end the curse, but Otongu’s spirit will likely be furious,” Feruzi explained.

“I’m suren sommat this evil needs to stay outta his mitts,” Sandara said.

“I quite agree,” Reiko said.

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Jennifer

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