Some time passes and the commotion beyond the confines of the cage lessen. Trying to gauge the location of the angels through the bars is impossible. I know we must venture out to find Luc and the others, but we are in no shape to do so. Given Stormlit’s ability to attract attention, the risk would too great. I tell her I will search for the others and that she should remain here and recuperate. I know being surrounded by slaves again must torment her – conjure a past she would rather leave behind. I know I would hate it. But we must locate the others and we have better odds if I go forth alone. I remove my Assassin’s Cloak and give it to her. The cloak is tattered and dark with a low hanging hood that should help conceal her features. Remaining hidden is of the utmost importance now. She gives me her amulet, saying that its magical properties may aid me. An unexpected and generous offer from the Genasi woman; she may be warming up to me. Before I leave, she offers a song to sooth my weariness and calm the slaves. Another wise and strategic move on her part.
Her voice is deep, but soft. I do not comprehend the words, but I understand the meaning; and it is beautiful. I close my eyes and lose my thoughts in her song. My heart swells and worry vacates my mind. The tension releases from my muscles. I feel…relaxed and at peace. Reopening my eyes, I meet hers. Her expression remains as stoic as ever, but her eyes, there is a softness hidden in there that I hadn’t noticed before. She finishes her song and I find my ears not wanting to let the sound of her voice go. I have never felt so comforted in all my life.
I emerge from the slave pen and begin to track down the others. They were on the south-western side of the main thoroughfare, though I cannot be sure of their exact location. Wanting to be as quick as possible, I start at the tents nearest to us and trek in a northwestern fashion. Listening closely for hushed or panicked voices, I peer into a smaller tent, finding two chests. Knowing the direness of our situation, I check to see if either are unlocked (time is of the essence!), and, low and behold, one was. Giving a speedy one over for traps, and seeing none, I pop it open. Apparently, I was too speedy. A faint, yellow gas explodes in my face, and I immediately start hacking. Wonderful, it’s Grendal gas. After a brief rest, coughing out a lung, I grab the massive amounts of coin (50 silvers worth of copper!) and some slave documents. Who knows when I’ll need to be a slave trader?
I stare longingly at the other chest, but seeing as how I must find the others, I just make note of it and vow to return. I do have some friends relying on me after all! I approach a few more empty tents before I come across a fairly large one. Peering in, I find an unusual sight – a large green frog, not unlike the one hawking slaves in the main tent earlier, stuffing food down its throat. However, this “delicacy” is attached to a boot! Now, I’m not too familiar with these frogs – they may very well enjoy eating discarded accessories – but as he removed the boot with a look of satisfaction, the white bone sticking out made me hesitant to ask how much he enjoyed his meal. With a raucous burp from the beast, I decided to try my luck elsewhere.
As I near the southern portion of the vicinity, the number of tents start to thin out. Maybe they are here. I pull back on a flap, hoping to sneak a peek without spilling too much daylight into the dark environs when I’m blasted with a dazzling display of sparks! Cursing, I pull back in surprise, shield my eyes, and try to maintain my surroundings.
“Katryol?” Half shock and half surprise coat my name.
Rubbing the glare out of my eyes, two shadows start to come into focus. Before me stands Kalleron, a mischievous grin sliding out across his face. Behind him sits Luc, looking completely wiped.
“Ugh. Thanks for the greeting. Remind me again why I hate magic?” I shoot him a look. I’d rather shoot him a – well, just shoot him right now. “Where’s Kaela?”
Apparently she has gone out to look for us. After briefing the two on our situation, I tell them to stay put while I get Stormlit. Being separated is never a good thing, though sometimes it is inevitable. Returning back to the slave pen, I notice the Fimorian from before, as well as two crystalline guardians in front of the cage. The giant seems to be “talking” to someone and it doesn’t seem to go well. Getting Stormlit out is not happening, not now and not by myself. Keeping hidden near the rear of the cage, I call for the bard. She emerges, and I tell her that I found the others. A look of relief washes over her and I feel a sense of pride. Unusual. Heading back to get the others, I find Kaela has returned. Before we head out, I ask Kalleron a favor. He doesn’t seem able to follow through, but understands my concern at the moment. He does have some combat sense after all.
Returning, again, once more, for the twelfth time it seems, to the slave pen, I notice the giant and his guardians gone. Immediately, I think ambush. The lock on the door has been changed, this one with a faint light emitting from the mechanism. Kalleron looks it over, mutters something, and the light fades away. Eager to open the cage, I hurry to unlock it, but am butted out of the way by Kaela. She seems keen to actually contribute something, so I let her have at the lock. As it clicks and slides open, a glittering stream jumps from the lock and fades off to the distance. Stormlit emerges out of the cage and, for the first time in what seems like hours, we are all reunited.
We rush out of the camp, hurrying to get to the Clock of Midnight. I suggest we rest, as does Kalleron, but Luc seems insistent that resting here would be a folly. His logic, though sound, is folly too, since we’re completely exhausted and at our physical and mental limits. Right now though, it’s a matter of picking our poison. Still, I’d choose the one that would let me sleep.
Approaching the outer edges of the Clock of Midnight I’m brought to a ghastly sight. Before us looms a large lake, tinted in a grotesquely yellow-green hue. Standing beside the lake are large demons, their black bodies getting distinctly more foreboding in the mirror of the lake waters, holding cages above their heads. From within each cage can be heard the screams and pleading of people, begging for mercy. Cackling can be heard among the demons, and, with cheering from the smaller demons lining a large bridge, the cages are chucked into the lake. The cages sink and the people disappear beneath the surface as crucibles are dipped into the lake and collect the water. The crucibles then pour their contents into sets of mechanized armor, which come to life, file themselves, and are taken across the bridge. Are they creating an army?! Pondering what to do next, we sit for ages. The sight disgusts me. The casual demeanor with which the demons dispose of life infuriates me. The sight of our inaction irks me to no end either.
There is something strange, though, about this whole predicament. We have sat in front of this massive army of demons, the five of us squishy, yummy morsels, and none have approached us. I look to my left and see a crate. I just want to walk over to it, slump down, and rest. And, of course, that’s when it’s decided that we should just walk across the bridge. Ugh. I’d rather just run across the underside of the bridge with my Wallwalkers. Now, that would be a challenge! As we start, two demons approach us and prevent our passage. Luc tries “sweet-talking” them, Kaela throws a fit, and I try to use the slave papers I grabbed from the chest. The demons “laugh”. They want our souls to pass. Good luck – mine’s promised to Sehanine already you greedy bastards. Seeing no other way around, we turn to go back and are stopped again. Great, payment to come, payment to go. This time all they want are gems. Again, the others protest. I laugh to myself about their naivety. Removing a ruby from my pack, I toss it to one and walk away. This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to find a bed and sleep.
The others must have clued in and followed, because we were all soon plopping into a tent and asleep.
Waking up, I head out of the tent and see the Fimorian and his guards perusing goods in the market. I set out to replenish my supplies and get some breakfast. The others slowly wake, likely thankful for the much needed rest, and move outside. As I purchase some skewered Pumplik from a nasty-looking Orc in the main thoroughfare, the Fimorian yells, catching my attention. Though I couldn’t see him, I had heard enough of his incessant complaining to know it was him. Scaling the main tent, I see him and his guardians move toward the others. Stormlit looks particularly taken aback. She yells something at the giant, and he responds back in turn. Great – I don’t even get to enjoy breakfast.
Stuffing the Pumplik into my mouth, nearly choking, I load the skewer into my crossbow and fire at the Fimorian. The skewer digs deep into his right shoulder. Mmmm…for breakfast I guess I’ll have skewered Fimorian.
The crystal guardians float closer to the others and light flashes, enveloping the party. Kalleron slips away and that’s when I notice two more figures closing in on the group. A closer look and I see what’s approaching are two frog-like beings.
“What the hell are those?!” I yell, pointing at the approaching figures.
“Bandarhops!” responds Kalleron.
Ah, so the little frog was referring to himself. Katryol thinks that is a good idea.
Keeping as far from the commotion as possible, I pelt the Fimorian. Bolts litter its body, sticking out like porcupine quills. The others are tackling the crystals and Bandarhops. Kaela lands a shattering blow on a crystal and a large, midnight-black, cloud erupts from its fractured shell. No longer able to see the others, I return my focus to the giant and move atop the slave pen to maintain my barrage. I see the others emerge from the cloud – foul magic that cloud – and start bashing the other crystal. Just then, a large appendage wraps around my leg and drags me across the roof of the pen. Grabbing onto a bar, I barely prevent myself from sliding off the edge. What the hell was that?! Repositioning myself on the roof, I continue my assault on the Fimorian, more of my bolts tearing into its back. I really do make beautiful portraits.
As soon as I released my bolts, a Bandarhop leaps up onto the slave pen and bounds toward me. Ugh, great. As I move to slide off the pen and dash into the tents, I feel a restraining tug hold me tight. I look down and see an old man pulling on my gear.
“Help me. Don’t let the demons take me. My soul, it cannot be theirs!”
“You crazy bastard! You should have run when I tried to free you! What in the nine Hells are you doing!? Can’t you see that –– !”
I stare up and see the Bandarhop gleaming at me. Wrapped in its tongue, its arms squeezing tight for good measure, an image of a boot flashes into my mind.
I finagle my arm to fire my last loaded bolt into the giant. I try to heave myself off the Bandarhops belly to escape, but the tongue clenches tighter. A whooshing sound is the last thing I hear as I am encased in darkness. My surroundings smell acidic and are squishy now.
My confines are…confining. I try to squirm my way up, but am unable to grab onto anything. My footing slips and sloshes through stomach juices. I’m unable to reload my crossbow, so I strike the stomach lining with my dagger. Nothing. I strike again and still no reflex. You would figure slashing at the innards would cause, um, I don’t know, INDIGESTION. What are these things made of?! I strike again and the belly quivers. Oh, must have hit something vital or at least important. Maybe I gave him gas.
A pummeling rings throughout the gut and I can imagine the others striking at the fatty. Hoping to aid from the interior, I try to strike at the stomach again, but the fumes are starting to make me nauseas. I wonder about the irony of throwing up IN a stomach.
The thought doesn’t last long as I feel a quick constriction on my body before a pulling sensation rattles my mind. The pull feels similar to the spell Kalleron cast on the boat, though not as intense. Suddenly, I regain my internal balance, and gain a feeling of stability. A quick stab from the back resonates through the body and I feel the body cease moving. For a moment, the insides warm, but that sensation quickly fades. Pummeling resumes and I can feel the muscles surrounding me loosen their grip. Finding some inner strength, I strike out at the stomach again and again. A teetering sense overcomes me and I feel like I’m falling over. Stomach acid jumps up my nostrils, burning the cartilage and causing blood to gush out. The muscles holding me shudder and relax. They must have felled the Bandarhop. Took ’em long enough!
I worm my way out of the throat and stand before the others, intestinal gunk dropping off my clothes. At least they won’t smell my urine – or at least give me crap about it. I let loose a deep sigh, turn around and cut off a chunk of the Bandarhop.
“Let’s see how you like it…”
Breakfast is gratifying.