AND WHEN I FEEL THE WIND I WON’T LOOK BACK NO MORE: where a lock is challenged and Zeno finds a solution to doors

Being presented with a flat platform and a complete lack of instructions might have worried some, especially after the debacle of our last encounter with a complicated machine. Luckily, we were not like most adventurers.

Tem looked at it, clearly confused.

To be fair, it was a wooden platform held up with metal chains. Three levers and a control panel adorned one side of the platform, and Zeno strode over to take a look.

“I think I recognize these,” he said, no doubt applying his mastery of land vehicles. He pointed to the left one. “Balance control.” Then the middle. “Power input.” And then on the right, almost reverently: “The clutch.”

We had all gathered around on the lift as Zeno experimented by jiggling the middle lever. While I’d been confident in my friend’s ability to make anything go, I was also grateful that I had both my broom and my wings in reserve when the platform dipped sharply by five feet on one side.

The air smelled like we were drilling into concrete. So, not great.

“I thought,” I said through gritted teeth as I fought to hang on, “that you said you knew what you were talking about.”

“Don’t worry about it!” called Zeno. He tried to go in the other direction by pulling balance control. This somewhat evened things out, and Iago took the opportunity to climb up the chain. Eventually, Helli got brought on to man the balance control lever, but even this presented new problems.

“Now I’m just concerned I’m going to squash Iago,” she said, squinting into the darkness above.

“He knew what he was doing!” Zeno hastily compensated with the clutch.

“He chose his fate,” said Felegum.

We were still dropping and the loud noise continued. Soon, we made the transition from descent to fall and then smashed back into the ground. Tem watched all of these antics from the side.

Felegum had a brief look around and returned confident in the fact that there was no instruction manual. This made sense, both that Felegum would look for it and that the kobolds wouldn’t have ushered it into existence.

Helli and the sorcerer had some debate about moving the boxes around and whether or not that would be a good idea, but then Zeno returned to the platform with fresh zest. “Okay, I have an idea,” he said. “I’m going to push in the clutch.”

Felegum’s head jerked up. “No, no, I don’t think that’ll be–“

“Nothing will move,” Zeno continued, master of land vehicles, “if we don’t use the clutch.”

He did it. The entire platform began to shake. Helli pushed the balance control lever in the opposite direction of wherever the clutch was going and things evened out. Zeno at this point was working very hard to try to get both power and the clutch to be in the same direction, and it was taking a lot of effort. Helli measured with one of her protractors the precise angles of this “:good” configuration for future reference.

Meanwhile, a piece of wood clattered down from above.

So yeah, things were going great.

It was at this point in the operation that I got brought in, somehow. Zeno assigned me the clutch.

“You’ll do great!” He slapped me on the back.

I apprised the mechanism. I was not well-versed in land vehicles, but air vehicles? Whole different story. If I just thought of it like a really weird broom, then–

“Oh.” It all snapped into place. “You just have to let out the klutch,” I said and did just that.

The platform ascended. For a few precious moments, I was so proud and so cool.

Then everything abruptly stopped. Tem had stepped on a button below, and I yelled at her for ruining my moment in the sun.

Anyway, annoyingly, we were still below where the original room was. When we’d fallen the first time, we’d not only crashed back to the original level but actually into the basement beneath it. Our goal was, of course, going up, and it was frustrating to not quite be back to where we had even started out.

Helli abandoned ship and scuttled up a wall while Zeno drank. Felegum had been having heart palpitations over me being on the klutch– Felegum seemed to have a lot of opinions on complex machinery– so we adopted a new configuration with Zeno on balance (slightly tipsy), Felegum on the klutch, and me on power.

That was fine. I liked power.

We did not make much progress. A terrible sound started up, though. Felegum pushed the klutch in more. I added power, about a third. With a jerky ascent, we made it to the platform. This was good because it was getting hard at this point for us to hold onto the power, so Tem had to be called in to help us hold down the levers for klutch and power. With the five of us (basically, everyone except Iago) helping, we managed to get the lift to the top.

It was really loud, though. So loud that it hurt.

The top of the lift opened out into a dome supported by pillars of rock and stone. Everything was intricately carved into the stone. In the distance, a dragon head glimmered. This was made out of metal with gleaming red eyes that seemed to follow you as you walked through the vast space.

Was it a trick of the light? I didn’t like it, so I looked in that strange gold-amber vision that let me figure out what was a zombie and what wasn’t. The metallic head, at the end of the day, was just a head. A little overdone (eyes too big, mouth too big), but nothing sinister. Further, there were no more undead around than already accounted for.

Helli also examined the dragon head while Zeno strode up to the door and looked at all of us. We all knew this was coming. We also all knew that it was useless to try to stop it.

“YOOHOO!” he called and knocked.


Zeno huffed. “Well, if they don’t answer to that then they must be dead.”

Tem pushed on the door.

“Oh look,” Zeno said, “a dragon did answer.”

Even with her divine strength, Tem was unable to get the door to budge.

“Well, help her out!” the bard cajoled the rest of us. In retrospect, this made sense: Tem hadn’t slept and hadn’t really been eating much either to prepare for this ritual and she was not in the best shape. It also seemed logical that there was something holding the door shut from the other side as well.

“Is that a lock?” I asked, examining the dragon head more closely.

“If only we had a ROGUE,” Zeno lamented, earning him daggery glares from both me and Helli.

I looked for a lock. The panels of wall were very flat, and they also didn’t match with the rest of the anteroom. They weren’t as intricate and showy as the dragon head itself, that was for sure. A new addition, maybe? But why?

I wasn’t sure where Iago had gotten, but remembering the lesson of the last lock I tracked him down and asked about the key. He had, in true Iago fashion, simply jammed it into the handcart. It was not in good shape. I mean this to apply to both the handcart and the key, but especially the key. I could not see this key opening anything anymore.

But I did locate the lock inside the dragon head’s nostrils, so that was something. I conferred with my professional colleague on its location and offered to let her have first crack at it, since I’d tried the last lock (before Dronie smashed it). Helli, always up for a challenge, accepted, and got to work.

It actually looked like a fun puzzle to solve: you had to have one hand up each nostril of the dragon head to pick the lock inside. Lots of doing things by feel.

Anyway, it looked fun until Helli let out a surprised sound and explained that the lock had manacled her. That was bad.

Then the dragon head emitted a stream of fire. This was worse.

Luckily, Iago and I were able to mostly get out of the way of it, but Zeno and Helli were less lucky. Helli’s kelp armor did make angry slapping noises at the dragon head, though.

But the worst part was that the door slid ten feet away from us, pulling Helli with it, revealing four holes in the walls with tubes in them and then a pool of acid, which Helli and Nisbit were being dragged through.

All in all, not a great situation.

“Helli,” a burnt Zeno called, “are you okay? You want a way out? I can give you a way out!”

“Will my arms come with me?” Helli asked.

Zeno paused. “Don’t resist!” he called.

Then Helli became a bat. Nisbit dropped into the acid, which had to be not great for him, and the manacles on Helli shrunk to bat-size, but she was a bat nonetheless and could get out of there. She swept around the legs trying to save Nisbit, then fluttered next to the dragon head, her thieves’ tools still stuck in there.

Iago was holding up our rear flank, offering the zombies something to drink and generally being useless, typical for an old man. I was still not sure why we were traveling with him, but here we were.

Anyway, committed to being useful, a precision instrument as it were, I inspected the door and found three distinct traps. First, there was the fire mechanism. Then there was the acid below. The third trap was the four exposed holes. This was new, so I shouted that out to everyone and moved away from the fire zone when I fomented a plan.

Felegum was sweating again. Using some of this moisture to cast his spell, he created a watery sphere around Nisbit, sheltering Helli’s leggy companion from the worst of the acid. This done, Felegum also moved back.

Tem tried to cast a spell to determine how the acid trap could be shut off, and while this was happening the four holes that I’d warned everybody about turned and pointed to the four of us who had stepped away. Sticky globules shot out of them, pungent and gross. Two affixed themselves to Zeno’s zombies and Iago dodged another.

Thus incensed, Zeno cast a spell on the dragon head. To his surprise, it seemed to have done something even if this did not appear visible. “I did a thing!” he said. “I don’t know what!”

The eyes of the dragon were indeed no longer glowing, so that felt like a positive change.

“Take that, head!” the bard crowed.

Helli flitted to Zeno and performed a dance around his head. Zeno took in this spectacle and then released Helli from her bat form.

“Everything hurts,” she said.

“We have to go out across the acid?” Iago asked.

“If only we had Harry,” Zeno said.

“R.I.P. Harry.” Felegum sighed.

Helli looked wistfully into the distance and held the ring which (once) had held Harry’s soul. “He’s still in there.”

Capping off this tender moment was Iago running at the door instead. A pitch blob attached itself to him and he tried to pry it off to little success: it was stuck to his head.

“Okay,” he said, “so in the nose.”

He was, I think, trying to pick the locks using Helli’s tools. I mean, good luck. We are professionals for a reason.

A waft of fire expelled into his face and the door slid another five feet back. Now six holes shot pitch blobs at Iago.

As I said. Professionals.

“You okay, Iago?” called Zeno, as was becoming tradition for anyone trying to open the door.

“Eh, I’ll be fine!” he yelled back, slightly burnt and covered in stinky goo. To his credit, he did keep trying to pick the lock.

“Uh, good luck!” Zeno said as Iago promptly got covered in acid. His robes were really not looking great at this point. Two more bursts of acid and he left the dragon head.

Tem breathed fire into one of the pitch tubes and this, I think, disrupted it enough into not functioning. However, we still had five more of those to worry about.

This time, I stepped forward. I had to be within a certain distance to be able to maneuver my mage hand to the lock, which meant being in acid, fire, and pitch range, but whatever. Time to show them how it was done.

I will spare you the details, but I got hit by a lot of things. There were two main problems: first, that this was really a two-handed job and second, that doing it long-distance was harder. Getting hurt every time I messed up also did not improve things, and neither did Iago coming by to whisper in my ear about something snarky.

In a flash of rage, I lost concentration on my mage hand. Two pitch spheres were stuck to me. I said something snappish to Iago to get him to go away, recast the hand, and tried again. Zeno cheered for me, but in the worried way you cheer for someone so that they stop doing what they’re doing.

I tried again. Still nothing.

This time, Felegum gently approached with the idea of maybe sending Helli in inside a water sphere, since she could swim really well in those and that that might shield her from the traps. This seemed much better, and she was able to get through the lock perfectly. The only problem came when the dragon head breathed fire on her water sphere and she started to boil a bit.

Felegum quickly spirited her away, and once returned she began to assess the damage on Nisbit, who had by this time been pulled out of the acid.

Unfortunately, we still needed to actually get the door open.

“Is it unlocked?” Zeno asked.

“I am hurting, but yes,” Helli said, “it is.”

“Well, I’ll open it,” he volunteered.

He did not make immediate movements toward the door. Instead, he talked with Felegum about something, who sighed. Iago continued to try to wrestle the pitch blob off of his head, and Zeno inspected the acid. It was one or two feet deep, which doesn’t feel like a lot for liquid but is a lot for acid.

Something was decided in that moment.

“Clear a path!” Zeno called.

“Oh no,” Iago said.

Zeno became a mammoth and charged, right through the acid, past the pitch blobs, right into the door.

And well, it opened. The blinding light of the sun from atop the Dragonspire filtered through, and we were hit with a blast of wind.

We’d made it.

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