Once again, we rose to the smell of coffee wafting up from downstairs. I drank Zeno’s creamer as usual, and the bard set about writing a letter to Sylla Plumeria:
To Sylla Plumeria:
Hail and well-met. I have traveled from the south, and have carried with me from the shores of Lake Norca word for you from one of your old friends. If you please, meet me at the Axe of Fire at sunset. I will be staying here for the better part of the week, but I assure you this missive I carry is worthy of your haste.
Zeno, the bagpipes-playing Bard
We had poached eggs, bacon, bread with a swirl in the center, nuts, and various berries. After a quick chat with Felegum, we’d determined that the people with the weird mark that drow had put on us were me, Harry, Helli, and Zeno, and that Awk and Felegum had escaped unscathed. We finished our meal and split up to run errands.
Zeno went to Glorg to buy some diamonds, and the firbolg seemed pretty amped about us selling the soulstone to him. Helli and Awk took a stroll through the undercity again, looking for and unable to locate the catacombs. Originally, we’d thought that Paripas might be a location of one of the conduits on the list we put together from the tablets. Specifically, we’d thought maybe the one about catacombs might be under Paripas, given its giant undercity, but Awk and Helli reported nothing.
Apparently, all the dead people here are cremated and there’s a scenic park or whatever and it’s peaceful. No catacombs in this place.
I, meanwhile, planned ahead and had Felegum draw me a map (he’s always saying that his parents were mapmakers so I thought I’d take advantage of it) so I could go back to the point by the Mage’s College that turned into an infinite magical loop. My plan was to test whether the mark that the drow had put on us would be enough to allow us to pass through the barrier. All Felegum had told us was that the spell just marked us as being “of interest” to the Mage’s Guild, not that we were bad or anything, but maybe interesting was enough for the loop.
I tried several times: it was not. The map worked great on the way there, though, which was a pleasant surprise. I’ve asked people about this and almost everyone assures me that the maps I use aren’t magical, but it seems like they only work once, if they work at all. At the loop point, I ran into a guy walking back from the college and talked to him about the Mage’s Trials. It’s not just Felegum versus other mages, one-on-one style: it’s teams. And according to the dude, it’s very popular entertainment for the denizens of Paripas.
Meaning: even if we don’t win, we could still get noticed enough for being cool and get a pass in to the Mage’s College anyway. We were trying to become members to get to Letitia and Milto’s stuff, but there were other benefits too, like reduced prices at stores and various nice guild privileges.
I thanked him and set off to my next destination, the temple of Pelor. The facts were these: I needed divine magic. No one I knew had divine magic. Therefore, I needed to talk to someone who did. Pelor seemed as good a place to start as any.
But the map must have broke after I used it once, because I couldn’t get there. I wandered around the city, getting angrier and hungrier as it got dark, annoyed that even Felegum’s map had betrayed me. I’d kind of known that maps were not be trusted, but Kheryph was getting anxious and we only barely made it back to the inn when the sun set.
Felegum, as you might expect, had used his time to learn about bureaucracy and took Harry along for the ride. He’d also heard that the Mage’s Trials were a team event, as well as some stuff about Paripas’ Council of Twelve or whatever for the system of government. Harry meditated behind him the whole time at the clerk’s office, a mood.
Anyway, the Axe of Fire continued to be good. Tonight’s offering was a venison rack of ribs with an iceberg lettuce salad and some clam chowder. Harry and Felegum were talking about Dronie when I walked in, exhausted and grateful to be back. But obviously not showing any of my deep inner turmoil over the map incident.
“Dronie is not alive,” Felegum cut into his rib.
“No, he is. He has ki in him,” Harry countered. He took a bite of meat and contemplated the universe. “Dronie flows in his own way, but he flows.”
We caught up on the pearl situation: Felegum had also learned that the Guild would happily buy oversize pearls for 85% the value of the pearl. So it wasn’t illegal to have a huge pearl, just not so much to steal it to other people besides the Guild. Zeno had learned from Glorg that the Guild used the massive pearls for something, but hadn’t been able to say what.
Harry, who had been itching to find an excuse to try to punch the enchanted machinery holding Paripas’ shield together since we’d entered the city, perked up at the prospect of a connection. Awk said that our best bets on conduits and mysterious items probably did indeed lie with the college and its tower.
It was about at this point that Felegum received a letter through Paripas’ postal system from Letitia.
I was more than a little bit intrigued to receive your letter. It has been several years indeed since I have been tasked with the ritual sealing in The Archives and I have never been asked to help remove something once inside; let alone by a third party. I shall discuss precedent with the archivists in the mage’s college, then I might be willing to meet you. Though I believe I know of whom you speak, I do not want to make any mistakes by assuming. If you could be more forthright about who entrusted you with this task, it would go a long way to speeding up the process.
As you are likely unfamiliar with our policies in the College, know that to seek an audience within the district you must have a specific invitation. Without knowing more, I am not willing to provide you with one or to meet with you in person. I shall contact you again once I have sufficient information from the Archivists about how these things are done. If you can’t wait that long, you might try entering into the Mage’s contest. If you are as skilled as you purport, you shouldn’t have any issue passing the trials, then it would be very difficult for me to ignore your request for a meeting.
Felegum finished reading the letter and put it down. “I think that drow was super sketchy.”
It was nice to have someone else say that. Between home and the smaller towns I’d traveled through, I’d never really run into a place that was so… governed as this city was. Still, it was odd that we hadn’t heard from her again.
“Maybe she legit didn’t tell anyone!” Zeno smirked. “Maybe my Suggestion worked.”
Later that night, Zeno also received a letter:
I am currently busy with a task which will require my attention for the next two days. It would please me to meet you at high noon in three days time, if you do bring news of one of my previous acquaintances who was forced to relocate. Meet me at the temple of Savras beneath the crystal ball, and I shall hear what you have to say.
And so, we waited and prepared for both the meeting with Sylla and the Mage’s Trials. Awk went back on the hunt for the conduit, Zeno found supplies for making a stout, Helli asked after enchanting items, and Felegum found a spell scroll he was after about floating disks or something.
I took the opportunity to go shopping. Felegum had said that the Mage’s Trials were part sporting event, part “thinky-puzzle,” which sounded to me like we’d need stuff. I found a healing potion, which was good, and, having heard about the stay-warm-always socks from Helli, I tried to find those.
But instead I got sidetracked and found one shop that was selling moderately warm boots for 80g and another that sold boots with a resistance to cold damage for 1000g. They’d also be a-okay at temperatures up to fifty below. It sounded perfect for Kheryph when we traveled out of this place, but I did not have fancy boot money.
I marked the shop on the crayon map and hoped it wouldn’t be broken the next time I tried to find this place.
Days passed, and we all accompanied Zeno to see Sylla because 1) it was something to do while we waited for the Mage’s Trials to begin and 2) we all wanted to know what, if anything, was going down between Milto’s former love and the bard. Zeno made us stay outside, in a bar, across the street so that we wouldn’t interrupt his vibe or whatever, but even sitting at the Scaled Dragon we could make out Zeno and Sylla discussing things and then her vanishing under the giant orb.
According to him, she’d wished us luck in the Trials after he’d delivered the letter to her and said that she’d show us the way if we gained access to the guild. Felegum took the opportunity to head back to the magisterial offices to (surprise) file more forms and change his registration to having all of us on his team. A cute elf clerk at the office (Beauregard, or Beau) said he’d be rooting for him.
The next day was the trials. We had a nice fruit plate with mangoes, some yogurt, breakfast sausage, and this really nice chocolate croissant pastry. We headed down to the arena that had been being constructed over the last week in the park, and checked in.
There were sixteen teams competing this time around, and we were the sixteenth. The Trials would be a series of challenges where we could use our wits, talents, and selves…but no items. Not even things we had equipped.
That made sense, even though I didn’t like it.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t a fan, as Zeno said “Alakazabulous,” turned his usual smoking-jacket armor into a bikini, and peeled it off to place in the chest we’d been given. Kheryph, who had not been registered on our sheet, also needed to be left behind. However, having learned from the past, I placed him on top of the chest and not inside of it.
He sat there guarding our stuff, and so began the Trials.
I hadn’t really gotten an idea of how big a deal this was for Paripas until we walked out into the arena. The stands were full of people– Felegum had mentioned Beau taking time off work to watch– and between the roar of the crowd and the magically amplified voice of the announcer introducing the various teams, it was hard to even hear yourself think.
I couldn’t remember all the teams, but a few stood out: Peaches and Watermelon, a pair of halflings; the Black Carnival, who had to be pretty metal; Stagger Lee’s Gang, whatever; and the Northern Knife, which everyone wanted to spell Knorthern Knife.
The teams dispersed to various challenges and a dwarf led ours to a teleportation area.
After the teleport, we were in front of a huge pit, fifty feet across and one hundred feet down. There was a desk to the side that we could go to with some ink, a riddle, and a pen, and we needed to get to the other side of the pit and through the door there to succeed within fifteen minutes.
I took a stab at solving the riddle, hoping that maybe there would be something magical that would boop out at us, but Harry had better plans: he grabbed the ink, flicked it over the chasm, and noticed that there were some pillars that were disguised to look like chasm but were really solid.
I took note of a letter “R” on the paper that looked strange, and we all followed after Harry’s ink trail to the door. I got a little worried because I nearly fell off a block and did not wish to fall to my doom immediately, but luckily I managed to catch myself and make it across.
The second room was a scale puzzle of some sort. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really get it. We had to balance some scales across a pit of acid somehow with a ring of telekinesis and three charges and some bags of weights, but no one know what the weights were that were needed. There was also a rope hanging down from a tunnel above that we wanted to grab, but it was just out of reach of the ring’s range.
We tried to balance the scale with one of the bags, failed, and Harry leapt over the acid to balance it himself. He couldn’t make the leap back and disappeared, and we headed up to what we thought would be the door but was a long hallway before the door, just as time was running out. We all sprinted but somehow only the bard and Helli made it through before time elapsed.
Pleasantly, we met up again with Harry in the waiting room before the next challenge, looking no worse for wear.
The third puzzle was a half-dark, half-light room, where the balding half-orc in charge gave us a Cloak of the Bat and a crystal ball and said that if we found a Rope of Climbing then we’d be doing well at this puzzle. The cloak had a “D” sewn onto it, and it also turned you into a bat so you could fly around, useful, given that the door out was atop a ledge beyond anyone’s jumping distance.
Inconveniently, the bat cloak didn’t work in the light, and the door out was on the lit side of the room. There was also a room on the other side of the one we were in, and a quick scry revealed the rope we wanted in the room beyond.
Awk put the Cloak of the Bat, flew around, and tried to fit through one of the holes that led into the room with the rope. Something didn’t work though– he vanished and the cloak was returned to us. Zeno put on the cloak, tried getting through the hole again, and determined that there was one more thing in the room with the rope: a gelatinous cube.
Awk, we figured, had gotten himself nuked by flying right into the cube. However, since it had moved Zeno was able to feed the rope out through the hole to us, get back out, and then we all used the Rope of Climbing to get to the door.
The fourth puzzle came with a story. There were four friends (represented as statues: a dwarf, elf, halfling, and half-orc) who had gotten into a fight (the statues all had their backs turned to one another) and our job was to mend the fence. The room itself was circular, and had various animals painted on the eight doors around it: an elephant, a horse, a fox, a lion, etc. Only one door of the eight would be the exit and the rest were instant death.
There was also a red “H” on the floor. Awk took this as a sign that the horse door was the correct one, opened it, and a very tired mage in a red dragon costume led him to a waiting room to chill, as he was officially out.
Someone else (probably Helli or Harry, they were killing it) said that the common letter between all four of the friends’ races was “f” and we opened the fox door, which was the exit.
The fifth trial was the last one of the morning. We were given a chime of opening and twenty keys on a key ring as we stood in another circular room with twenty treasure chests. The only problem?
Everything was silent in here.
So, if we wanted to coordinate, we couldn’t talk. At first, we tried opening one chest, saw it was empty and then, after I was trying to figure out the second one– none of us had our lockpicking tools or anything– Felegum or Zeno got the smart idea to start overturning chests to find one that wasn’t empty. We found that one, unlocked it, (it was also empty but felt different), and saw beneath it was a hole that led down. Zeno climbed down, rang the chime, and the door back in the room opened.
We made it out into the arena’s center again, and it was clear that images of our and the other teams’ adventures had been magically broadcast for the spectators to keep track of us. There were loud cheers as the scores were announced for the top three teams:
The Sovereign Dungeoneering Company: 230
The Bloody Bunch: 200
Northern Knife: 190
The Lovermen: 170
Somewhere in the middle of the pack were the Black Carnival, which Zeno and I both were surprised at (metal things tend to be capable), and at the bottom of the leaderboard were the Rouge Rogues (two dudes dressed in red and not very good at puzzles, relatable) and Peaches and Watermelon.
The nice people at the Trials brought us lunch and we ate, wondering if we could hold onto our lead.