Psubtle: (p’-sut-el) adj. piss-poor at subtlety.
Well, we made it through the wax-works… kinda. We never left the first floor, really. But we made it out alive, and that’s something. Never have I been so grateful that Kenari is still traveling with us as I am today.
The “Man Molds,” where presumably all the Story-Kin were resurrected when they die (or when the story is started over, whichever it happens to be), looked to be nothing more than an old, boarded up building. It would have seemed totally abandoned if not for the multitude of tracks that surrounded the place, and all of them coming from within.
The place was booby-trapped to high heaven. We chose to enter through the back, like good little trespassers. What greeted us there was a similar trap to the front door, which Kenari handily disarmed. Instead of a doorbell, the door greeted visitors with a shower of hot wax, with a welcome sign for people INSIDE that first hallway, stating that visitors would be boiled alive. Way to put the cart before the horse, Marselee. It was pitch-black inside. Some of us can see in the dark, but I can’t. Ef used his glowing katana as a torch. Creepy, man-sized molds of people dotted the place, lining the hallways. Marselee’s idea of interior decorating left much to be desired. If these molds were for bringing people to life within the story, it would seem that the conspirators were trying to build an army. Secret doors were everywhere, and those were booby-trapped, too. Even after Kenari had taken apart a trap from one of those secret doors, the door had slammed shut when one of us trod on a pressure plate. The boom of the door was so loud, we ran outside again to have more room to fight whatever was coming out to investigate.
“It’s quiet,” Ef said.
“Too quiet,” Melchior agreed.
They shared a macho-man look and nodded their heads.
“Well, whatever it is,” Kenari declared, “it’s not coming out.”
“Either Marselee is so deep down that she didn’t hear, or she’s not even remotely concerned about whatever made it,” Lenata supplied.
“What makes you think she’s underground?” I asked, adding, “Aside from the fact that she’s an ant.”
“Look at all the boarded-up windows. It’s pitch dark in there. Something tells me she doesn’t like sunlight much.”
“What if she is coming, but she’s just so far away that it’s taking a long time?” Kenari wondered.
“How much time do you think we have?” Ef grinned suggestively. I knew what THAT look meant.
I huffed. “Why is it that you only proposition us when you think we’re about to DIE?” Damn him. I was beginning get over all of the angst from that first time and come to grips with the idea that it would probably never happen again. I mean, he DID say he just wanted to be friends. At least, that’s the idea that I got from his letter.
“I’d just rather go out with a smile on my face!” He shot back, laughing. I rolled my eyes and shared a ‘look’ with Lenata. Finally, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Traitor. I thought we were in this together. Apparently, she’ll never be as messed up about it as I am. Was. Ugh, just shoot me already.
Kenari coughed to get our attention, and we sobered. Back to business.
We went inside again, ready to get things over with. Through another secret door was a room with three more molds inside. Kenari told us not to go in. The whole room was rigged to kill us. We had to leave Kenari alone to work the room over for a full hour and find something else to do. While we waited for her to disarm that room, Ef, Lenata and Melchior were checking out a tapestry that was around the corner and down the hall from the room Kenari was in. It was an image of the Spelljammer, was probably done by the same artist who did the one in Sigil. It hung from the ceiling from two braided cords, and was framed by a pair of cutlasses. After a while, Lenata called me over to look.
When I arrived, she smiled at me and said, “It has an aura, but it’s not magical. It’s Psionic.”
I approached to stand next to her, suddenly fascinated by the artwork. I pulled out the psicrystal necklace that Luigi had given me and activated it. He said it would help me detect psionics and I’d used it once before on the Illithid ship and the whole place had lit up with lines of power. I concentrated on the tapestry, and did my best to discern the differences in the auras.
It was ninth-level stuff, a mixture of psychoportation and clairsentience energies. Beyond that, it was too complex for me to tell. I told them what I’d found and explained the difference in the schools and what they were for. Psychoportation translated to teleport and planar travel and clairsentience translated to divination, and so on. I urged them not to try anything with it or we could all end up transported somewhere else before we were done here, possibly somewhere more dangerous. As an afterthought, I suggested that we wait until Kenari finished with the other room before even touching the tapestry, in case it was trapped, just like everything else. When she finally shouted “Eureka!” and let us know she was done, we called her in to look at the tapestry, too.
She looked it over, and shook her head. “The tapestry itself isn’t trapped, and neither are the swords.”
I worried the tapestry was in itself a trap.
“Oh, for the love of—I’ll do it,” Ef said, and used his sword to move the tapestry aside. It didn’t react, but a few inches off the floor, set into the wall, was another door. It had been completely hidden by the tapestry.
“Now THAT,” Kenari said, pointing to the door, “is trapped. Get the tapestry out of the way so I can see how badly.”
We worked to clear the wall in front of the door, taking down the tapestry and stowing it in Kenari’s haversack. It would be worth a LOT of cash were we to find the right buyer in Sigil. I had no need of a cutlass, and neither did Ef, but he suggested that we take them and give them to Takero and Hatuk. I agreed it was a good idea, so we each strapped one on.
Kenari looked it over and I swear she turned a little white under her fur. She blew out a breath and continued staring. “That’s going to be tough,” she murmured to herself. “Oh, boy, that’s NASTY,” she muttered again. After a while, she shuddered. “I can’t bypass all that,” she admitted. “There are too many magical traps at too high a level for me to even try. I suggest we figure out another way to get into it. But first, we should go deal with that room you all just had me spend an hour making safe.”
What greeted us was a room with some of the paneling removed to reveal nozzles that she’d stopped up with rags, wires pulled aside and marked with bright strips of cloth, chalk lines and ’X’es telling us where we could step and where we could not. At the far end were three more molds. At each of the molds’ feet were large canopic jars. The real shocker here was that the jars were trapped, too. Kenari said that they were beyond even her ability to bypass, and that they’d likely explode in her face if she tried. We all agreed that whatever was inside those jars was not worth her life.
Lenata and Ef both recognized the figures on the molds. Even Kenari said she knew who Bigby was. All three of them were legendary arcanists. None of us wanted to see these molds bring them to life. Can you imagine? Three legendary wizard/sorcerer/illusionists on the same level as our late Imaskari? Who would want to go up against that?
We didn’t, that was for sure, so we ended up going around the corner with a rope tied to a jar and setting off the trap from a safe distance. The jar went “Boom!” We figured that no matter how much noise we made, nobody was going to come get us. They already knew we were here. We did it again with each of the jars, until we were relatively sure that the molds and the jars were destroyed. No one was using the legendary Bigby to consolidate their power or for any other reason. Pottery shards, melted wax, and artificial organs littered the room. The ‘Booms’ had set off a few more traps in a chain reaction. There wasn’t very much left in there, and the room was obviously structurally compromised.
That left secret door number two to contend with. We had the idea of dealing with the trapped door in the same way as we did with the jars, so we sat down and brainstormed how we could blow the door. I thought of alchemist’s fire, and Melchior thought of lighting a fuse from the gunpowder our gun-toting members had on hand. In the end, it was decided that we’d set up a couple of bottles of the alchemist’s fire in a pile of powder at the base of the door, with more gun powder acting as a fuse leading out the doors to a safe distance away, with a string tied to a lit candle at the end of the powder. Kenari set the pile, Melchior set the fuse and lit the candle, and Lenata pulled the string to topple the candle onto the fuse. Ef and I stood guard at the doorways leading outside to make sure they didn’t slam shut and trap anyone inside.
The scenario was set up perfectly, and went off without a hitch. After the ensuing ruckus died down, we rushed back inside to find the door still intact, the walls scorched with fire and lightning marks, and a tiny forest of needles dotting the hallway. Kenari went to disable the locks on the door as fast as her nimble little fingers could move, because the traps were magically re-setting.
The last lock clicked open and she breathed a relieved sigh as the traps were aborted and the door creaked outward.
The room was no bigger than a closet, lined in lead. Inside was nothing more than a scroll held up on a stand. Kenari found that the scroll wasn’t itself trapped, but the stand holding it was. Back around the corner we went, and Ef tried using telekinetic fist, Mage Hand, and a few other spells to grab it, with ordinary hand mirrors (supplied by Kenari and Lenata) allowing him line-of-sight while remaining behind cover. The lead-lined closet stopped all magical attempts to grab anything inside it, like there was a force-field at the door.
In a display of expert marksmanship, Melchior shot a bullet off the inside wall of the closet to knock the scroll out into the hallway. Ef swiped it out of range of the ensuing blast and whipped it around the corner to us with Mage Hand. Apparently, the building couldn’t take any more abuse, and with a rumble, the walls, ceiling, and floor began to crumble apart.
We ran to try to escape the geysers of molten wax shooting up from cracks in the floor and rubble falling over our heads. Kenari and I were outside in seconds, trying to catch our breath. It took me a moment to notice that we weren’t being followed. I couldn’t see any sign of Lenata, Melchior, or Ef. Panic set in that something had happened to them, so I readied a power and rushed back inside, with Kenari yelling after me.
I made it around the corner in time for the iron band of Ef’s arm to catch me in the middle, hoisting me back and off my feet. He looked like hell, but he was alive, and strong enough to run with my three-hundred-sixty pounds across one shoulder. Lenata and Melchior were right behind us, also alive if not a little banged up, and were gaining. I had a front-row seat to see the rest of the walls fall in on themselves just as we gained the outside.
I watched another geyser of molten wax burst through the roof, cold crackling at my fingertips, ready to blast back a wall of fire should it come for us. I adjusted my aim upward and blasted away the falling wax, suffering another headache, but protecting my friends from the worst of the raining death.
We regrouped at the edge of the clearing to get healed and watched the wax-works burn. It was fast becoming a pile of burning rubble, with the fire licking at the walls and bursting forth from other rooms, fed on air, wood, and wax. The blaze was going to last hours, maybe days. It seemed to be contained, though. The clearing was big enough that the flames wouldn’t threaten the brambles.
We didn’t hear any screeches of pain or rage from Marselee, though. Perhaps she was deep underground, like Lenata thought. We searched the clearing for any signs of tunnels to the underground, as any tunnels inside the wax-works were blocked with wax and rubble. Melchior wanted to sift the wreckage for another token, but it looked as if the token was lost to us.
The scroll we’d almost died for, however, proved to be worth it. It took some careful scrutiny, a little bit of singing, and a little creative thought from Kenari to get the scroll casing to pop open. When it did, though, Lenata read what was inside, her mouth dropping open and her eyes growing wide.
The scroll held two spells. One was a spell of ‘create demi-plane,’ presumably the same spell that made this place. The other was a spell of summoning a five-ton frog. This would be a frog big enough to eat the mantis that was chasing us, back in that bigger-on-the-inside dome. Both of these spells were high enough level that none in the party would be able to cast them for some time, but Lenata jokingly asked, “Anybody want a vacation home?”
Happy with our spoils, and sure that we’d be able to find three of the five tokens that remained, we set off back into the brambles to our next location. Six hours of walking later and it was growing dark. My stomach gave a loud grumble. We realized then that we hadn’t eaten or drank anything for hours, and with night approaching, found a spot to camp.
Lenata conjured prime rib for dinner, but Melchior chose to eat his own gruel instead. (A religious thing, perhaps?) I tucked into what she made happily, as did Ef and Kenari. Melchior pulled some high-grade hobbit weed from the compartment in his boot and offered it to Lenata in thanks for her offer.
“You’ve been holding out on us!” Kenari accused jokingly. “This is some good stuff!”
I begged off on the weed. I have no plans on getting addicted to anything in the near future. Elven absinthe was enough. We divvied up the watches and I sat down to write. Kenari’s on first watch and I’m on second. As soon as I’m done with this, I’ll do my meditations and prepare my mind for whatever may come. Lenata has the watch after me. I’m trying not to think of the burning wax works and whether we’ve just doomed all of the Storykin to extinction, or whether it will simply re-set in the morning like we were never there. That much destruction should have gained some attention. We are so psubtle.