Week 27,Meeting the Puzzle Keepers
We ended last week with three stone wolves shattered and two others apparently knocked out. Just then Cantrel spotted a tall, thin old man with a staff flitting from tree to tree in the distance ahead of us. He pointed him out to Tom, who hailed him, "Sir! We mean you no harm!" Pfusand therefore tried to look innocent as she pounded the remaining wolves into rubble with a handy boulder.
Cantrel approaches casually and waves. The man retreats behind a tree. Cantrel hears giggling from somewhere nearby. Approaching the tree, he finds the black cloak hanging on a simple tripod of sticks. Instant scarecrow. And more giggles. Alag spots a skinny little kid vanishing into the bracken.
We pause to bind and charm our wounds, then continue, eyes sharpened. That is just as well, because we start running into one trap after another. First Cantrel almost steps into a rope snare. He quickly pulls down on it and is rewarded with a startled "Wah!" from somewhere nearby. He laughs loudly and pointedly. He is answered with more giggles.
A few paces further, he has to parry a stick that came flying up from the leaves, in the manner of a rake when you step on the tines. A few minutes later and Cantrel (who is now remembering why he usually doesn't take the lead -- they get pounded on first) is attacked by a big gray bear. It stops a few inches from him, held back by a net of ropes.
Tom and Pfusand spot two little kids up in the trees, holding the ropes. "We mean you no harm," Tom calls to them. Daewen leaps to Cantrel's side while Wu casts a Sleep on the urchin. The kid falls out of the tree and unfortunately releases the bear. Cantrel gets mauled.
The old man steps out from behind a tree and tosses something at the fight. The bear freezes. So does Daewen. The something is a little top, black and transparent, spinning in midair.
Tom thanks the man while Wu casts a Sleep on the bear. Nothing happens. Cantrel nudges Daewen, who wakes with a start. The second kid descends from the tree, grabs up its buddy, and vanishes. A rather disconnected conversation follows.
Pfusand to the old man: "Oh, is it you?"
Old man: "No."
Tom: "We come in peace. We fight only to defend ourselves."
Wu: "We seek an audience with--"
Old man: "Ha ha! We all seek audiences!"
Wu: "Oh, are you a performer? Are you the master of this place?"
He announces that he is the Gameskeeper, and the two children are Gamin and Gameen. And he rhymes. Everything. In couplets, with the occasional quatrain. Wu and Tom are the only ones who even try rhyming back, while the others stare on in sickened shock. Cantrel wanders off.
The Gameskeeper makes it plain that he keeps the "games" as well as the game. Some of the games can be lethal. He refers to the spinning top as the Dradel and the bear in the ropes as the Cat's Cradle. Oh, and he seems to be speaking Earthron. Beygar and Alag can't understand him. He evades Tom's questions about how he knows our language. Meanwhile the two urchins do a complicated game with the rope and throw the resulting tangle over the sleeping bear. We invite the Gameskeeper & Co. to join us and continue down the road.
Cantrel, meanwhile, has climbed a tree. He sees more woods, with some movement in the distant brush. He rejoins the party and we come to a fork in the road. A two-way fork. We ask the Gameskeeper which way. After a little jiving, he tells us "the answer to the riddle is the one in the middle." Tom decides the only candidate for the middle road is the way we just came. And sure enough, going back that way takes us to geography we hadn't passed before.
Eventually, we come to a valley that looks like a lunar crater -- round, smooth, sharp-edged, with a spire of stone sticking up in the middle. The Gameskeeper remarks that it is dangerous to be in that valley at dusk. So we back up a few yards.
Cantrel uses the last of his magical energy to cast a Flight on himself and cruise around the crater at dusk. Because it has filled with a misty image of a black castle. The mist gets thicker and solider as Cantrel flits about. At one point he enters a tower window but is driven back by a highly plastic bird-thing. He escapes it with his ring of invisibility.
Meanwhile, Chris has been using his Dicing to shuffle a deck of tarot cards and tell the Gameskeeper's fortune. It is dramatic and highly colored. Also inaccurate according to the Gameskeeper, who seems to know all about Chris's Dicing talent. He says it is still no use at divination.
Chris, Pfusand, Wu, and Tom wait for the castle to solidify completely, then go up to the gates, which are nearby. A road leads up to them. We knock and the gates and hail them, with no result. Wu casts a Detect spell and gets nothing whatever. Since we just SAW it materialize, we figure this is because the magic is elaborately shielded.
Returning to our camp, we question the Gameskeeper. Is the castle re-forming each night, or just returning from somewhere else? The Gameskeeper says that is an excellent question and he knows not the answer. The Gameskeeper has never been in the castle and seems almost as carefully incurious about it as the dwarf at the gates.
Chris tries to use Alchemy to fix Victoria's spear, which Tom broke on the stone wolf. The spear is fixed materially, but the Tools trace is gone. A great pity.
We wait up to see what the nightly monster movie looks like from here. Around 11:00 the Gameskeeper leaves. We follow him. We decide to back up along the gate road about a quarter mile and get off it. We then unfold our tent, with the bottomless supplies of bread and wine, etc. The Gameskeeper eats with us, but sleeps in a lean-to he makes.
The storm starts brewing around 11:45. At 12:00, the semi-magical hear sounds of hoofbeats and marching feet and see troops going down the road, through the gates (which don't bother to open). Some are giants, some are riding war-cats or pegasi. It's all over in about half an hour.
The castle evaporates at dawn. We wait around for the next day, healing wounds and restoring magical energies. Next night,...
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.