Circle Quest: Winter of 2007
Atop the clock tower, the wind stills. Rain drizzles from the night sky. Far below, the muddy hedgehog moves away, heading southwest around the pool. Feeling time slipping away, Claude, Tony, Roque, and Elysa hurry back down to the street.
Elysa looks back at the glowing clock face. Its hypnotic power has faded, now just a giant timepiece: The time is 8:35 pm.
The companions start off to the southwest, around the pool. The next building they pass is a church, a large Gothic building with two towers framing its front facade. A eight foot tall fence of iron protects the church and extends to the edge of the pool. But the gate is open, and doesn't block the companions path around the pool.
Between the church and the pool, Elysa has an idea: She remembers how the magic tiles reacted to the pool earlier, when she approached its edge. She approaches the pools again, descending a stone stair to the water. Reaching the water's edge, the bag of tiles starts its subtle shaking. But a glow under the water warns of approaching enemies. A humanoid head raises from the pool, shrouded in a water soaked hood. The enemy screams, and the noise is deafening, loud enough to rupture eardrums and internal organs.
Claude, angered by the attack, charges into the water as the enemy moves away. He takes the bag of tiles from Elysa as he passes, and plunges chest deep into the pool. The rest of the party follows. Ten feet into the pool the bag of tiles shakes violently. Claude pulls three active tiles from the bag and gives one to Elysa and one to Roque.
The three tile holders look to each other, and in unison raise their hands to their heads. Only one tile -- Elysa's -- responds, bursting into flame and crumbling to dust. A wave of power spreads outward, restoring all the companions vital energy and more: With the power comes a wave of memory. Knowledge of each of their pasts is restored, coming in a confused jumble that will take several minutes to absorb.
There is no time. The watery serpents that attacked Elysa earlier in the evening attack again. Weapons are largely ineffective, and Roque is pulled beneath the surface. It is lucky that a water breathing, cast hours before, is still effective. Claude casts another spell and a region of the pool tens of feet in diameter is lowered all the way down to its muddy bottom.
The serpents retreat, but the robed and hooded figure stands on the mud nearby. Spells are cast at the figure, but are ineffective. Tony attacks, but can do no damage. The figure draws water from the mud into itself, growing in size, and it slams Elysa for massive damage. And then a truce -- the companions back off and the figure does not follow.
"Restore my pool and return to your quest," whispers the figure, projecting its voice to Claude's ear by magic. The voice is female. Claude resists and turns back to the stairs at the pool's edge.
"Remove you spell and complete the quest I have given you," whispers the figure with more anger. Claude still resists this command, and casts healing magic on his wounded companions instead.
The figure is obviously enraged. She makes a gesture at Claude, who expects to resist yet another mental assault. But this enraged spirit is through with commands and threats. First a numbness spreads up Claude's limbs, and then his flesh turns white and hard, as he is turned to stone. The hooded figure turns away and walks slowly to the water at the edge of the magically lowered area.
Roque, cloaked in magical invisibility, follows the figure. Even though he
is invisible, he is seen. Roque abandons his plan to back-stab the figure, and
taunts her instead. So before she returns to here watery domain, she casts one
last spell, forcing Roque to become her loyal, but unwilling friend. She tells
him to return to his companions and finish her quest.
Two figures approach from the South, walking through the mist. They look like patrolmen -- local police -- but these figures have the heads of dogs. The bark out a challenge, but quickly become deferential when the notice Tony's obvious rank. Tony commands the patrolmen to carry Claude's' petrified body to the temple, but it is very heavy. Instead, the two patrolmen leave to fetch more help.
Tony, remembering important possessions that he had before the start of this adventure, summons his holy mount. His heavy war horse canters up, and Tony draws his holy sward from behind its saddle. Using the holy power of his gleaming blade, Tony tries to restore Claude to life, but to no effect. After this failure, Tony mounts his horse, promises to return shortly, and leaves to fetch the remainder of his and Claude's equipment.
Tony returns to the museum, where the quest began, and dismounts. He hurries inside, looking for his gear. Inside he encounters the same animal headed noblemen who he and the other companions had battled before. This time, Tony realizes he knows these people: they are assorted guests at a party that Tony and Claude had been attending. He make polite conversation while Claude's and his own possessions are brought to him by a servant, and then he leaves peacefully to return to the others.
Not long after Tony leaves, the patrolmen return with reinforcements. A squad of guards, led by Lt. Gilbert Burns, arrive to take charge of the situation. Roque sees them first, but chooses to hide in the darkness. Elysa greets the guards, but is rudely ignored. Lt. Burns and his men take note of the statue (Claude) and secure the area.
While Roque continues to hide from the guards, Elysa turns herself invisible. She then magically alters Claude's statue into a small piece of cloth that she picks up, and moves away from the confused guards. Lt. Burns is notified, but can do nothing. He goes to the temple to talk with the priests there.
Tony returns. Roque and Elysa come forth to join him, as several guards also move towards him. Tony take charge and leads Roque and Elysa, and several guards carrying Claude, up to the temple. They encounter Lt. Burns and the priest -- Father Kirk -- who had succored Tony earlier in the evening.
Lt. Burns is inquisitive, but deferential to Tony. The priest is concerned by seeing a fellow servant of Ademis (Claude's god, and the god of this temple) turned to stone. Father Kirk directs the companions into the temple's main hall, and sends an acolyte to fetch the high priest.
The high priest -- Father Nian Pristan -- soon arrives. He too is horrified by what has befallen Claude. After a moment's hesitation, Father Pristan tells the party to wait, while he goes to find a way to help Claude. Lt. Burns tries to interrogate the companions, but his forceful manner is not well received; He learns little about what has happened.
After some time, Father Pristan returns with a pottery flask. He pours an oil from the flask on to Claude and rubs the oil over the stone. Then he quietly says a prayer, and the stone statue that is Claude softens and returns to life. Only Elysa heard the prayer he spoke: "In Lyso's name, I invoke this healing power."
They soon leave the temple. Lt. Burns is frustrated in his attempt to take control of the investigation of this night's strange happenings, but succeeds in assigning a small squad of guards to follow and guard the companions.
After a brief discussion, they decide to return to the museum again. They enter through the kitchen and climb up the stairs inside the museum's tower. Atop the tower, they are disappointed: The strong winds and magical distortions encountered before are gone, and the enchanted wooden tiles do not respond.
Back downstairs, Claude speaks to one of the many strangely animated statues in the museum's front hall. By a great act of will, he temporarily breaks through part of the enchantment: He can see and talk to Mary, a lady in waiting to one of the noblewomen attending the party. Mary leads Claude into the other room, and introduces him to her mistress -- a crane headed woman. They talk briefly.
Little more is accomplished here, so the companions leave the museum. Not sure where to go next, the party speculates that the need to find a large fire -- the one element they have not encountered in quantity yet. Overhearing this discussion, one of the guards mentions an inn on the South shore of the pool -- called the Flaming Bell Tavern. But the guards say this place is off limits tonight, as to not disturb some important visitor.
The clock in the tower to the North reads 10:45 pm.
To the South, hundreds of yards across the pool, torchlight can be seen outside several of the buildings. The companions turn left and walk purposefully around the pool, toward the southern shore. But the road between the museum steps and the torch-lit buildings is dark, with the eery lake on one side and dark narrow buildings on the other.
Halfway though this dark district, a rock is thrown from the shadows between two buildings. It hits one of the party's police escorts. The assaulted guard gives chase. But soon after he disappears into the alley, his whistle blows in alarm.
Suddenly, the handful of guards that accompany the party become dozens of identical dog headed men, who rush to their fellow's aid. Before long they have subdued a jackal header youth, but at the cost of serious wounds to one of their own. After the battle only the original handful of guards remain -- the others having disappeared as suddenly as they has appeared. Only two policemen accompany the party as they depart.
The companions arrive outside the Flaming Bell Tavern. The two policemen who accompany them are against entering the tavern, but cannot overrule Tony or Claude's authority. They depart to report the companions' intentions to their superiors.
Inside, the tavern is crowded with people. The patrons at one table stand out: two beefy fighters, a cloaked woman, and a large jolly man in fancy glittering clothes -- Glitterstore the merchant. The companions nonchalantly approach Glitterstore, and ask to join him at his table to talk.
The companions question Glitterstore about the pool, the spirit of the pool, and the jewel they have been sent to retrieve. Glitterstore's answers about the jewel are evasive, but he tells the companions a story about the pool and its guardian: An encounter he had many years ago, where Albunea attacked a group of polluters. Glitterstore was almost drowned, but managed to escape with some of her treasure.
To conduct more serious negotiations, Glitterstore invites the companions up to his room. His female companion -- Shiv -- stands to help Glitterstore rise (from his bearing, it appears Glitterstore is blind). Under her hooded robe, Shiv seems to be a lithe woman encased in tight fitting full plate armor. With Shiv's help, Glitterstore leads the way up stairs to his room on the tavern's second floor.
Passing the tavern's large fire pit on the way to the stairs, Elysa feels the bag of tiles begin to shake. A tile is chosen and it crumbles into dust, re-invigorating the companions as before. This time, in addition to feeling refreshed, knowledge of the geas is granted. While interesting, this information is too late to be of use. Only four tiles can be activated, and all four activation have already occurred.
In Glitterstore's room, negotiations are tense. Before long, Roque is looking for an opening to assassinate Glitterstore. But he is too late, as Roque attacks, Glitterstore is ready and he fights back. But the main challenge is Shiv: a rapier slides out from her gantlet and she attacks with amazing speed and precision.
Glitterstore is defeated before he can escape. His bodyguards, caught off guard, are unable to protect him and are soon defeated. Shiv is a much more serious challenge. The companions soon realize that she is not human, but a surprisingly dexterous construct -- a killing machine. She is difficult to damage, and very deadly. Finally, with Glitterstore's death, Shiv evades the party, and escapes.
Roque searches Glitterstore's corpse. He finds a large gem in a bracelet on Glitterstore's wrist. When he touches the gem it begins to glow. After a moment the gem flashes, temporarily blinding Roque. While blinded, Roque has a vision: he sees a demonic head, and the demon speaks to him. The demon answerers questions, but Roque is unprepared, and little useful information is gleaned from the demon's misleading responses.
With the "jewel that is light" in their possession, the party debates what to do next. After some discussion, and with time running out, they decide to return the jewel to the spirit of the pool. The companions leave the tavern, ignore the police who have gathered outside, and enter the pool.
They swim to the center of the pool and drop the jewel and its bracelet setting into the water. As the party returns to the South shore, Albunea -- now in the form of a beautiful young woman -- rises partly out of the water. Albunea's anger has cooled, and she thanks the companions for fulfilling her quest.
Albunea offers some recompense for the companion's efforts. Elysa asks for aid for her people -- the Elves of this city -- and Albunea tells Elysa to bring them to her pool. Roque asks for treasure, and Albunea tells him to return in one year, and she may grant his request. Before others can make their own requests, Albunea departs, leaving the companions their freedom and the experience of the night's strange adventure.