The first to reach the far right door was the monk, Oren. I was still too far to hear or see inside the door as Rila snuck past him—disappearing beyond my sight. I stood, tense, waiting for a reaction while the rest of the group continued past. Pentaros, Sarin and Cedrick struck out for the other door, the remaining keeping to safe routes in Rila and Oren’s wake.
I support safe routes—it’s something I noticed Caramipnar kept to religiously. The longer I find myself traveling with the group the more I feel I understand the personalities of each party member. This is a good skill to use, particularly if ever the need to anticipate your party’s behavior becomes necessary.
Caramipnar likes to “play it safe,” preferring the quiet observer than a charging leader like Rila. She would be perfectly content staying behind—going first implies a giant risk. Of course, this may also be in part due to her size. She has a difficult time keeping stride with the likes of elves (as most of us are). Were we to be in the wilderness and not in the bowels of a terrible torturous tower, I should think she’d have a much clearer opinion.
For the time being, however, Cara is a follower…but I will take special care to watch her through our journey to better discern her character further.
Back to the problem at hand…Rila leaned out of the door toward Oren as he came close, announcing with brunt simplicity, “We got a crazy person in here!” A crazy person? I have the sense to wonder if it isn’t Clarice. The woman spends years—or days? The tower is timeless, so I haven’t quite the understanding of how that must feel for the residents. In any case, the woman spends her time in a tower full of painful puzzles. I would not be surprised to find her more than slightly cracked.
Cristman followed the two into the room, his lyre still in hand. It wasn’t a moment he disappeared into the room, however, when we began to hear screaming. It was frantic. Insane.
“My death won’t be easy! I will only be free when the world burns!” came the scream, ripping through the already tense scene. Everyone but the three heading for the other door must have been able to hear it. To say that it gave me chills would not suffice. Every feather on my wings was put on edge, fluffed twice in size. Cristman—I knew it to be his voice, melodic as the agonized screams were—continued. “Get it out of my head! Get it out!”
I glanced back, hoping there would be someone else to rush to Cristman’s aid. To my general dismay I realized I was the closest to the door, and as the screaming continued I could either stay or reach the door—only about thirty feet away. Of course, about the most I could possibly hope to do was gather information. I’ve not much knowledge in healing. I suppose it would be best to take the time to learn such an art.
“Someone help me! I can’t move!” I heard Cristman explain as I slipped into the doorframe. I did not see him right away, as the room itself stole my breath. The room expanded fifty feet across, a ceiling close to seven feet, but it was not its size that was remarkable—its floors were smeared in red. Written in intricate characters, the smell of it and the sticky, thick feel of it as I pulled my foot away could only mean blood. At the center was a woman, an unclean woman with a distant look in her eyes as blood poured from cuts in her arms.
I watched as Rila stepped back from her—I can only assume she’d healed the woman with a potion or spell—to see the cuts dry and the woman’s bewildered eyes drop to her arms.
“Now how shall I write?” she murmured. Her voice was thin, but calm. Like the still air before a distant storm, it did not have much power, but just the sight of her and the work she’d done using her own blood as ink warned of something dangerous looming in those far away thunderclouds.
“Too much insanity in my head!” Cristman was still screaming and I turned to see him struggle from his knees. He made for the door, Oren behind him with a determined look in his eyes. Cristman’s grip on his head was strong and his struggle to the door faltered. Oren stopped the elven bard, punching him, driving him back into the room. Stunned, I at first considered Oren to be compromised, but I quickly realized that punch had given Cristman little damage, and he righted himself…perhaps just as confused. Oren hit the elf again, and again. He was attempting to the knock the elf back to his senses, or at least that is the only conclusion I could come to on my own. At the very least I felt Oren was trying to drive the elf into unconsciousness and silence the terrifying screams. They didn’t stop, only doubled with groans as the monk’s fists made their targets and Cristman did little in defense.
Meanwhile I could hear the woman explain to Rila that she was writing to keep records—that she had always kept records these past five years in the tower. The writing on the floor is a record?
Surely, I think, there is some magic at work here. The writing on the floor looks suspiciously like a mixture of script often used in holy and magic texts—all in dialects of elven, to be precise. I reached into my bag of holding and produced a pinch of a needed component, concentrating on the room and feeling for magic. I expected to spend half a minute detecting the magic and its location, but opened my eyes in surprise when I felt nothing. I reconsidered the writing, crouching to get a better look.
Curiosity is easily my greatest weakness. The way the world works is imperative to my very nature, and as I studied the writing I felt tranced due to my intrigue. The writing was indisputably elven, but even with my fluent knowledge of eight languages I could not read it in its entirety. I despise being unable to decipher texts…I consider it a specialty of mine, along with my many divination spells. Knowledge certainly equals power, by my accounts.
Refusing to be bested by the bloodied mess and only able to read short snippets—most repeating the very words Cristman still screamed over my shoulder—I reached again for my components. I spoke the incant and placed the spell on myself, feeling the effects that tickled the back of my mind. Comprehend Languages is a spell that makes it possible to understand and read any language for a limited amount of time. My own spell has the strength to last thirty minutes, though one day I should like to make it permanent.
I admit with embarrassment, but with no acceptance of responsibility, that in my crazed state for knowledge I did not hesitate to touch the bloody writing. In order for the spell to work you must be in physical contact with the writing, and as I inched my fingers along the writing, careful not to disturb its outline, I came to understand the greater meaning of the woman’s handiwork.
Over and over I read the words: I need to die. Even more disturbing, You will all be my vectors, and you will make the world burn. You are a pitiful –. You will burn, burn with the rest of this pathetic existence. —. This world is a cage. You, your death will not be easy, faithful Clarice. You will be —. My voice and first vector. Despair and chaos… I want to die I want to die I want to die…I want to die shall spread where you walk. There were smudges that obscured some of the text, places where Clarice must have written over it, unconcerned for the writing’s neatness.
My fingers trembled and I hardly noticed when Rila spoke to me. I’d forgotten the group entirely.
“Do you hear something?” Rila asked, her eyes meeting mine as I looked up. I noticed Cristman’s screams were gone, and a glance in his direction suggested that he was knocked unconscious and left by the entrance. Oren must have finally been successful. Beyond this I heard nothing out of the ordinary, though I suspect it was due to my distraction with the floor. I shook my head and went straight back to reading every line I could get my hands on.
I caught pieces of Rila and Oren’s conversation. They argued about whether or not to punch each other out due to hearing something that must have also caused Cristman’s insanity. They seemed to keep their composure and there were no further screams, though I still admit I barely paid them any attention. I remember the rest of the group joined us in the room and I caught more snippets of their conversation as Oren explained everything to Pentaros. The woman was, in fact, Clarice—or at the very least a woman who claimed to be Clarice. She opened a door in the wall to a separate room, and the next time I glanced up I found that I’d been left alone with the unconscious bard. Rila yelled something about being back soon.
Good for nothing adventurer-types. They left me in a scary tower alone and defenseless! It is no easy task to read and watch one’s back at the same time.
Cristman screamed again in his sleep, “No, not the squirrels…someone put out the fire on the squirrels…” He stirred, and I fluttered up onto my feet, pulling off my cloak. Oren and Rila worried the insanity came from a sound. Personally, I am not fond of screaming elves, and I felt that with some added defense the elf could defend his mind from whatever caused his fright—be it voice or terrible animal. My cloak is a magical item (an article I prize, especially since it was a present from my father) and it has the power to resist both spells and physical dangers.
I draped the cloak over Cristman as he woke and was much relieved to see his calm gaze. I wonder if this party I travel with understands how I could benefit them. They ignore my quests for knowledge, hardly acknowledging my intellect and blindly following a child wild elf without a pause to consider a possible (and better) route.
But why do I worry over this? I should not concern myself with their thoughts toward me or who they choose as leader. I will be gone the moment I can find my own people…and for the better!
I replaced the cloak on my shoulders, satisfied that I’d saved the elf from further anguish, and realized my hands were covered in Clarice’s blood…the remnants smeared into my beloved cloak. I am sick still thinking about it. I did not have much time to fret, however, as the rest of the group joined us. There was a pause from the gnome as she neared me at Cristman, however, and I noticed as they both looked up to the ceiling.
Small bronze spheres began to drop from the ceiling, blades poking out from their centers and beginning to spin like grinding windmills. The group, needless to say, rushed for the exit into the previous room only to pause in greater fright. What had once been a giant gridded puzzle with columns of fire was turning into a burning inferno. Where the columns had once been contained they now grew, spreading alarmingly fast to block our exit. Admittedly, this may have been one of the few times running without much thought made great sense.
The entire group bolted for the exit, a mass of frightened legs and arms jumbled together as we dodged new eruptions of fire. I could hear Cristman’s song of confidence and as we raced through the searing heat I surprised myself with agility I’d never before shown. Wings tucked in tight at my side I spun aside, dodging more fire that could have just as easily caught my feathers like dry tinder. I was scared, don’t misunderstand me, but for the first time in my life I was running with grace. Avariel seldom run, but I dared not fly with the fire so close!
I heard Rila yelling at the back of the group, “Keep running!” I looked back at her, catching a glimpse as she dove into flames. For an instant I nearly stopped short, stunned by the clear wild elf suicide, but then Rila and Cedrick fell through the other side, rolling and jumping to their feet. I could hardly believe the sight, but I had little time to contemplate the evidently selfless rescue.
I faced forward and stifled my own scream. Below me the floor gave way. It was instinct that must have gotten me across the gaping hole, my wings acting without thought and spreading to their great length. I could feel the singe of fire on my feathers as I glided over, a cry tore through clenching teeth at the pain and the thought of my beautiful wings charred—the thoughts of becoming a lame avariel through this ordeal enough to paralyze my lungs.
I had to continue my scramble for the exit, and the most I could do for my wings was to pull them close to my body and hope they hadn’t caught on fire. I was in pain, but the terror of being left in the burning room kept me forward. I heard near me as Cedrick in all his armor slipped into another piece of fallen floor. I’d enough of a glimpse to see Rila again help save the half elf, along with the half elf’s brother, Sarin. One for each arm they grabbed Cedrick and kept running. Over one more fallen chasm in the floor the group fought for space inside the next room.
I should remember to give the bard my sincere thanks, as he must be the only reason I survived the ordeal. I looked to my wings and found them only blackened, but still hurting badly, trembling. More worried about my wings than why we’d stopped inside the room, I only noticed as Cristman reached over and touched my burns and healed them. Immediately the pain passed, the only remembrance that there had been a wound at all was my blackened feathers.
With the pain gone I was able to realize our surroundings. This was the room with the massive waterfall—and the waterfall was back, but flowing with blood. We stood on a five foot wide cliff, forty feet from the landing to the door. I felt immediate relief, testing the strength in my wings and finding no problem flying across on my own—but I gave pause, looking to the group. I could not carry them across. My fragile arms, never used for more than a heavy book at a time cannot even carry the gnome. Still, the prospect of leaving them to die seemed far from decent.
“It shouldn’t be like this. It should just be flat!” Clarice argued, clearly confused by the random bloody waterfall in her tower.
“Starting to realize that something is wrong here?” Rila asked.
“I think it’s you guys…it didn’t do it before you came,” Clarice clarified. Well, if she thinks her terrifying puzzle tower is trying to kill people because of us, she obviously doesn’t understand much about her own tower. Dumb…woman.
Though, perhaps the words she was writing in blood could be true, and with Clarice we are actually in more danger simply from her presence. I need some time to think on this.
Regardless of that now, I simply had to help the poor group out. I flew across the chasm, taking care to examine it for its realism (and I assure you, the waterfall was no illusion!). Rila suggested moving the torches. Not that I needed Rila’s suggestion, mind you…it was clear that something should be done. As I returned them to their natural origins the water changed from blood to water, the path still broken. The idiots insisted—was it Pentaros? Yes, I think it was that sun elf that insisted I arrange the torches again to spell despair. Of course the water turned red with blood yet again!
Rila, and now I am certain this wild elf is no dim-witted ground creature, suggested rearranging the torches to spell “Spared.” As I finished these tedious rearrangement (and I do mean tedious—picking up and replacing torches takes time, particularly when I am being so careful not to burn myself) the water flowing from Mystra’s symbol dried, the symbol rising up out of the ground. I looked up warily to see the bronze orbs once again. I considered bolting for the portal outside when I realized the bronze orbs were not the same as before, flying across the cliff to the group—bladeless.
Cedrick, the “brave” half elf grabbed one and was pulled across safely. The rest followed, pausing only at the portal with Cedrick in the lead.
“Okay, okay, guys…I remember this word!” There was a great pause as we all waited for the half elf to speak the password and get us out of this hell. “Mystra!” Finally! The portal opened and we made it through.
Outside the tower, now feeling much safer and having accomplished something—though, in fact, we have not yet accomplished any of the tasks that sent us to this tower except to find Clarice—Cristman voiced all our opinions.
“I could use a good long rest. My head hurts.”
I could not agree more.