Open Heart

Swamp in a Sand Castle? I never.

Ah… so we head to the desert. Hiro, the mechanical man… the man-like machine… whatever, directed us to the deep ruins. I have my reservations about him, however. He is the first of his kind that I have laid eyes upon, and if my companions are to be believed, I am not the only one receiving messages about even greater hands at work to hasten our undoing. Hiro may seem docile and helpful now, but who is to say what end he means to serve? In any case, with the time growing shorter for the world's fate, any lead, even if it may be a trap, is better than none. If anything, we may get closer to learning who is behind these machinations. Hiro, hmm? We shall see.

Eido has been stranger and stranger as of late. And, if I am not mistaken, has been dabbling in the arcane. While I am not up to speed on all the different faiths out there, I am pretty certain that no god grants servants to carry keys… If this is not a divine gift then, as much as it pains me, I will have to report this. No chances can be taken with the arcane and the untrained. But that is neither here nor there. And where are we? The desert.

The locals have informed us that there have been an unusual amount of sandstorms as of late. At the mention of this, Lucien broke out into an unfamiliar tune. He did this as we were being told of the storms. Taking offense, the locals started to refer to him as "Da Rude." Indeed. Despite this, we learned that it was our misfortune that many of these storms had affected the area where the supposed deep ruins were located. Not only was there a danger that the roadways would be blocked, but even if we were to get there, the ruins could be covered in sand.

Luckily the road was not as difficult as anticipated and our travel, thankfully, was uneventful. Soon we came upon, what looked to be, parapets jutting out of the dunes. Saldo took a quick survey of our surroundings and quietly announced, "Someone or something has taken occupancy here recently." In response, Lucien sent out his owl to inspect further. After a few minutes the owl returns and Lucien reports, "There is smoke coming from a building in the distance. There are also some guards on the lookout. We can't see them from here because they are taking refuge in the shade."

Saldo, in his fashion, took the form of a giant cat and furtively headed towards the structure. Taking his cue, Lucien and Onari, give me and Eido a quick nod and instruct us to create a distraction when we get the signal. Before I can ask what that means they are gone without a sound. Eido stared at me for clarity. I shrugged.

What seemed like hours passing is interrupted by Lucien's owl. Ah, the signal! Eido and I shake off our restlessness and head towards the gate of the half buried fort. A distraction? Well, of course! While a simple trick, I focus my mind on the image of a horn blaring out the arrival of royalty. The sound of fanfare erupts from our direction and the guards, formerly oblivious, were now at attention and headed towards the part of the parapet above what would have been the entrance.

"Who goes there?"

Eido answers before I can respond, "We are here on official business and you must let us in!"

"Oh, are you here to help with the mining?" Ah, this is curious, I thought.

"Uhh… yes, I mean, no!" Eido was sounding less convincing. "We are here to investigate some magical disturbances. You are hereby ordered to grant us entry!"

"Oh, is that so?" And that is when the first arrow flew passed my face. A horn is sounded and more guards appear. I will have to remember to enlighten Eido about subtlety and obfuscation at another time. For now, run!

Eido is less inclined to retreat and works his way up to the guards. Luckily, they are quickly being dispatched by our companions. Some silently, others, rended apart by giant feline claws. We try to reason with the last of them, but he refused and jumped off a ledge, using a spell to slow his descent. Unfortunately for him, giant cats are no stranger to dropping from great heights, and his slow descent meant a lifetime of terror as he haplessly awaited his doom at the fangs of Saldo patiently waiting below.

Behind the fortification we find more buildings, particularly, the one which had been described as emitting smoke. There was a chimney and Lucien was quick to suggest plugging it to smoke out its inhabitants. After a good amount of time, no one emerged. We unplugged the chimney and headed reluctantly into the building.

Inside we find what seems to be an empty building, a clever ruse, except that no abandoned building would have traps like this one did. These contraptions were no match for Saldo and Lucien's cunning, however, and we soon found ourselves in a hallway lined with urns. These were placed methodically along the walls every ten feet. And they stunk. The smell was familiar, and one that I would soon not forget. It was "water" from the swamp, and whatever strange effects this water had to exaggerate incendiary effects was not relegated to location. It seemed as though the effect was a property of the "water" itself and I found myself, again, quite useless. My magic hampered and unpredictable. Curses.

If the traps and the urns had not been enough indication that this was not an abandoned building then the sudden ambush from behind certainly confirmed it. Lucien uttered a spell and a wall appeared between us and our attackers. He put his finger to his lips, "Illusion." I rolled my eyes at him, "I know." A short sortie later and we are left with one ambusher left, an acolyte of sorts. Eido and Lucien try to interrogate him, but to no avail. We do, however, are able to get out of him that this "place of power" had been used for many divine purposes and there's was only the latest.

We continued to explore and Seldo finds and opens a hidden door. Within is a holy symbol consisting of a hammer and chisel, a "maker" god as Eido put it. Hiro is nowhere to be found.



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