FATE FELL SHORT THIS TIME: in which our intern takes the reins and, technically, a lock opens

Nothing was going to go smoothly here. I’d kind of gotten that vibe last night, but I more than had it confirmed when I woke up the next morning to a commotion from downstairs. It was the unmistakable sound of metal smashing on metal, and Felegum groggily saying, “Oh shit, what is that?”

Wearily, we descended, only to find the kobolds running this cotel, aircnc, or coliday inn, or whatever it was, trying to assemble a rollercoaster.

They were not doing this outside. No, this was happening in the common area, and the entire structure of the coaster was on its side.

“Is that…going to be inside the common room?” Felegum asked over a cup of coffee.

“I honestly wouldn’t put it past them to try,” I said, sipping my own cup.

Today’s offering was a “kontinental breakfast” of hardtack and jelly, which the kobolds were spinning as danishes. Iago appeared delighted at this prospect (“Ooh, pastry!”) but Tem, for reasons known only to Tem herself, grabbed all of it. I was pretty sure she was still fasting, so maybe she anticipated a mighty hunger later in the day but it was still kind of rude.

Zeno yawned, descending the stairs. “What are they serving, koffee?”

Indeed, that was the label by what Felegum and I were drinking. At the very least, these kobolds had their branding on point. The koffee cannister itself was pretty cool, sporting a ring of eternal flame keeping it warm. Completely baffling as to how the kobolds a) got that and b) had been lucky enough not to burn down their entire inn and/or Cemporium with it, but like, on second thought, utterly unsurprising that there’d be a powerful magical artifact just chilling under the koffee in this place.

Zeno looked out the window, then sipped his koffee and smirked at the kobolds assembling the roller coaster. “Kimbeciles.”

With that, the entire cotel crashed down around us.

Zeno sipped his koffee again with unshakeable sangfroid as a sheet of tarp floated down next to him and the dust of the collapse settled. Still nursing his beverage, he strolled over to the construction kobolds and asked, what, pray tell, they had been doing.

“We are building a new ride,” one said. “To build the libido and happiness of our lord the Firedrake, praise his leathery wings.”

“Do you…have a name for that ride?” the bard asked.

“Rising Dragon,” Felegum snickered from the wreckage of the bathroom.

“It’s actually Riding Dragon,” said another kobold. “But Rising Dragon works as well.”

“Seems like you’ve having some trouble erecting it.” Iago leered.

“Yes,” the original kobold said with a sigh, “trouble keeping it erect, actually.”

“Well, don’t let people ride it for more than four hours.” Zeno polished off his koffee. “Now, we need to talk to our client!”

Part of the agreement was that, in addition to pitching dragons to the Firedrake (praise his leathery wings), we would also escort up the latest shipment of supplies to his lair. Zeno called over “the help”, but the appearance of zombies only seemed to put the kobold more on guard.

“Perhaps,” they said, “you could elaborate more on your previous successes?”

Zeno puffed out an annoyed sigh. “Very well. We did cover some of this last night, you know, and I do have to keep the confidentiality of my clients as a top priority, so you’ll understand that I can’t reveal names, only a few pertinent details.”

The kobold nodded as Zeno conjured up– ugh– two blue dragons.

“Here’s a lovely pair in blue,” he continued. “One cuddly, one the intellectual, skinny type. Now they’re hanging out.”

He…wasn’t wrong, but yikes.

The image shifted to Nightscale, sans Aegis.

“Next, we worked with this young black dragon,” Zeno went on. “Much of our counseling involved bringing down her defenses.”

This pleased the kobold and they led us to the top of the spire. “If you spend more than two days up there, we don’t think we’ll be seeing you again.” The kobold nodded gravely. “You will probably be a snack.”

“An honor,” Zeno replied.

“It is the very highest a kobold can achieve,” agreed the kobold, and bade us farewell, telling us that the shipment would be in the employee area.

In true fashion, we headed basically the wrong way and had to turn around. The park itself was basically lifeless at this point, devoid of anything on its path except for the odd patch of barf and spilled ice cream. Felegum, Helli, and I pointed out to each other the grates on the pedestals along the walkways; this seemed to be a method for pumping in a more refreshing odor to cover up the trash smell.

I wasn’t sure whether Trash Man would have loved or hated that. Probably both. There was trash everywhere, and to top it all off we were being followed (not very well) by two kobolds who were likely suspicious of us.

More walking brought us to the warehouse that housed the handcart with the goods for the Firedrake.

“Follow me!” said Felegum gamely, leading us into the mouth of the beast.

The handcart itself was clearly of Egonian make, and I had weird-bad flashbacks to going down into the mines on something that felt…eerily similar. I covertly took the mine cart key out of my things and checked it against this new land vehicle. Not the same.

I exhaled in relief.

Helli was clearly also thinking along the same lines, as she’d pulled out her lantern from Egonia as well. It actually complemented the handcart quite well. It had also become clear at this point that Helli had stolen the ring of eternal fire from the cotel, as noxious fumes were emitting from the place where she’d stashed it and her hands were getting burned.

I admired the dedication.

The handcart we were supposed to haul to the top of the mountain had six boxes. “Handcart” was also a nice way of putting it– it was a manual pallet jack. Iago, for whatever ill-advised reason, had been given the key under the guise of being our intern and was struggling to insert it into the cart. All the crates fell off in his battle.

“Okay, morning breath,” Iago said. “You’re on this one.”

I was not sure why Tem chose to accept that nickname, but she did and carried one of the boxes down the hallway into the dark. Knowing that she was utterly blind in those conditions, I pinched the bridge of my nose and walked after her, tapping the back of her gleaming armor with a light spell so that she could at least see.

Behind us was the clatter of skeletons shifting boxes back onto the handcart. Some things never changed.

The hallway had gone from normal rock to hexagonal prisms emitting a red-gold glow into the room. Before Tem and me were three concentric platforms, like flat rings, each moving in different directions and at different speeds. The outermost one, the one closest to us, was moving clockwise, then the middle moved counterclockwise, and then the innermost was clockwise again.

At the center of the room was an intricate metal interlacing forming a cage over some of the machinery.

When the others caught up, crates and zombies in tow, we discussed strats. Felegum and I both conjured mage hands, his mechanical, mine invisible, and gave each other a high five with them.

Helli shook her head. “Don’t let Nisbit know you have extra arms!”

We had conjured the hands in the first place because we had spotted a door. On the other side of the outermost spinning ring, on the wall, was a padlock on a heavy iron door.

A lock was just an invitation, a promise that something really interesting was behind there.

The other thing was that the lock was massive. Like, I’m talking two feet across in addition to also itself being made of wrought iron.

I hopped on my broom and ascended, floating over the swirling rings and by the door. Handing off my lockpicks to the mage hand, I gingerly began inspecting the lock and trying to pick it remotely. Three things became clear. First, I could barely move the picks. Second, the entire lock was really heavy. And third, there was something at the back, something much finer.

Zeno and Tem spent some time yelling at each other back in the hallway about whether or not the zombies should be used to transport the crates. I flew back over to the others and reported back to Helli on the lock situation. We talked about it while Zeno bemoaned making his friends carry things and Iago poked fun at Tem for trying to rob the kobolds by opening one of their boxes.

“So I had my hand up there,” I said to Helli, still absently floating on my broom, “and like, I had to get really up there. But I kept thinking there was something just out of reach and–“

At this point I was rudely interrupted by a liquid hexagonal tentacle smashing into my side. Thanks to my superior dexterity, I was able to remain aloft, but damn, that had not been pleasant.

I turned, and a columnar basalt creature that had once been a stalactite swayed from the ceiling like a hagfish, grinding its interlocking teeth.

“Oh dear,” Zeno said, “you’re looking, whatever you are, quite flaccid to me.”

This made the thing deflate even more.

Then he turned to Helli. “Good luck, friend.”

After that, it was lizard time. Technically, now that I had Kheryph again, it was always lizard time, but I liked to think he relished getting to be the center of that spell, emitting winged, many-eyed duplicates outlined in gold that whirled in a sphere around us. I flew closer to the weird rock thing so that it would be in the salamander storm.

“Stop in the name of the law!” Felegum called from below. Two of his three bolts of energy connected with the stalactite, and then a deluge of lizards pounded it.

It lashed out at me, but was unable to hit me, either due to simply Too Many Lizards or me being very good at not being hit. Unfortunately, it did get Felegum (whose shoulder began to harden to a strange rock), though it also wiffed on Zeno and Helli. This last one was probably due to Zeno yelling “Look out!” to the gnome very loudly.

“And where was that for Felegum?” Felegum asked, woefully clutching his stony shoulder.

Iago drank something gross and just rode the rings.

For her part, Helli stepped back into the hallway and shortly after magic missiles shot out into the creature.

All in all, they were making a pretty good showing for people who sadly lacked the ability to be airborne. Tem, granted, fell over as she tried to step onto the ring, but she picked herself up and donned her helmet, once more emitting light. I’d felt a little bad, because going into lizard mode meant that I was no longer keeping her from being blind, but I had priorities, and one of them was being painfully cool.

Being above the rings and also surrounded by celestial reptiles, I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what it was, but something was also starting to smell off. Not great, but weirdly familiar.

“Dragonfire!” Tem yelled.

“Quit trying to blame other people!” Zeno called and somehow, though it seemed directed at Tem, the words themselves became whispers that chased the stalactite creature back into the ceiling. It retreated, and my lizards just sort of plapped against the roof of the cavern anticlimactically.

“All set, guys!” the bard called. “Tada!”

With that, he sat down on a box.

“Huh,” I said, looking up at the lizards hitting the rock and bouncing off like squeaky toys. I descended, hovering about ten feet above the outer ring. “So where do we go from here?”

“The door, obviously.” Zeno waved a hand.

“My hand,” I said with patience I did not feel, “can’t get in there.”

“Same, honestly.”

Felegum, meanwhile, had kept his eyes on the ceiling, ready to shoot anything that so much as thought of bamboozling us. Iago was rolling around on the floor now and back into the hallway. I don’t know; I’m not his keeper. It’s not my job to keep track of this guy.

I guessed in solidarity to Helli, who was still juggling the ring of eternal flame, he lit his pot on fire.

“Where’s the dragonfire?” she asked him. He shrugged.

She eventually took the ring out and placed it on the platform after a small series of misadventures with it, involving her getting burnt and also somehow bootie-ing some of Nisbit’s legs. Why? I don’t know. I had stopped trying to comprehend what was going on in the hallway at this point.

Tem was still looking around for incoming fire like she was having war flashbacks and then–

There was a bonfire in the center of the rings.

“Dragonfire!” Tem yelled again, as all the gears that had so mesmerized Felegum previously were wreathed in flame.

The hexagonal stalactite started to descend again.

“Man, you are just tinder for this fire, dude,” Zeno observed. “Nothing.”

The tendril, unwinding again to probably come after us, dripped off into the fiery gyre below. Felegum, presented with an opportunity to shoot his shot, shot it. Maybe he was too enthusiastic because only one very orderly block of energy connected with the stalactite.

Seeing that all was well at hand and that the dragonfire had subsided to mainly the center of the circles, Zeno sat down on one of the crates that was spinning around on the rings.

Meanwhile, I flew up to the ceiling and called forth divine fire in the direction of the stalactite monster. There was also enough regular fire that it was hard to see whether or not mine connected. Lizards still swarmed around me.

“I really don’t like this rock guy, so I’m going to shoot him again,” Felegum said, doing just that. Then he summoned a giant version of Dronie, who marched deliberately over to the lock that had so puzzled me and began smashing it.

I was horrified. Two massive blows from Big Dronie to the lock had rendered it almost unrecognizable. I was so caught up in this that I barely registered my lizards hitting the rock dude.

What I did register was getting hit again by the rock’s hexagonal tentacle arm. That hurt. In fact it hurt so much that I momentarily blanked out on what I was supposed to be doing. When I remembered that what I was supposed to be doing was lizards, the many-eyed, many-winged swarm had vanished.

“Oh behave,” Zeno said placidly from his crate, but the tentacle smacked him anyway.

It also hit the hulk that was Big Dronie as well as Helli. Luckily, it avoided Felegum and the old guy, until Iago tried to get ahold of it for some reason and then got pulled up to the ceiling. He gamely hit the creature with–a water jug?

“This is why you have two feet!” he yelled, and then kicked it while it restrained him. “I still have limbs!”

Below, Helli took the booties off Nisbit– a complicated endeavor– and climbed up a wall.

“The fire–” Tem said.

Zeno waved it off. “Is this a ride?”

“No one can get off Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride,” said replied, haunted.

“Yes.” Zeno did not seem particularly bothered by this and remained seated.

The fire turned off at this point, which was a relief, although its absence made the stony patch on Tem’s head stand out.

“I did it!” Iago yelled from above.

“You okay?” Zeno asked.

“Yeah?” came the somewhat uncertain response.

Zeno sighed. “I’m going to try something.”


Below, the bard did some complicated spell motion. There was no discernable difference, so I just slashed at the rock with my knife.

“My foe stands before me stunned?” Felegum asked from below with relish. He loaded his finger gun and shot again. “Dronie!” he called. “Attack that column thing!”

At this point, the stone creature relinquished its grip on Iago and the old man fell into the churning gears below. Even I had to admit that that was an unexpected side effect.

Also unexpected was the rock monster falling into the churning gears after him, looking very unalive.

Iago did not seem hurt or really phased by any of this. His arm, which had started to become encased in rock, he smashed to break the stony layer, and then took a drink before replacing his burning pot back on his head. That I was getting used to this behavior was almost kind of distressing.

Dronie continued to punch holes through the lock as all this was happening, holding the door aloft in triumph. Felegum clapped.

“Violence,” said Iago on seeing my expression, “is often the answer, Set.”

Around us, gears were crashing as the mechanism ground to a halt.

“Well, Dronie will only be around for a few more seconds, sooo–” Felegum dashed through the opening.

Helli calmly found a piece of metal to jam into the door to keep it open, and we all walked through.

“Set?” called Felegum frmo beyond.

“Yeah?” I asked, still looking at the wreckage of the lock.

“Can you be a dear?”

“No,” I said, vehemently. I had no idea why he was even asking. I was not a dear kind of person.

“I mean,” the sorcerer said, “can you lift the box?”

I looked at the heavy crates spinning around on the rings. “Felegum, I am a precision instrument.”

The zombies, meanwhile, picked up the dropped crates and put them in some semblance of order.

“What about HFVNN?” I asked. We never used that guy much these days.

“My skeletons cannot handle this,” Zeno moaned.

From someone’s things a small voice said, “So. Hungry.”

“Uh.” Iago looked around. “Who is that?”

While this uncomfortable exchange was taking place, Tem shotputted a piece of metal into the gears. At a rough estimation, it appeared to be zinc. On a more precise note, it stopped the gears completely. Everything froze.

“Do you guys always break everything you don’t understand?” Iago asked.

I caressed the lock mournfully. At the very back of it, smashed open and ruined, was a very small keyhole. Pergfect for Iago’s key.

“Zeno,” called Felegum, “do you want to get all this in there?”

I imagined he probably meant HFVNN, but I was still deeply upset about the lock.

“No, I don’t.” Zeno sighed. “Let the intern get on with it.”

Iago merrily drove the handcart forward, and thus we beheld the next mechanical horror awaiting us: a large square platform.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s