Sunday, August 4, 2013

Paradoxes, Pellets, Puzzles and Puft

Look! It's not three o'clock in the morning! I actually managed to finish this one before midnight. Go me.
Anywho, here for your entertainment, is the next installment of the Passage of the Planeswalkers.
It might also be the last for quite a while as I am starting a new fatansy character in a campaign we are going to call The Seeds of Ragnarok. My new character is a warlock by the name of Bubbles the Bloodletter. Dis gon' be gooood...

The weird sorcerer, Orin, was back. He had an elbow in the crystalline gates of Lisseth, effectively keeping them open. He was focussed however, on the two butterflies he held gently between his fingers. He appeared to be trying to make them mate. Lereahl, Rathalohse and Mulch watched in amusement as the newcomer to their group, a small gnome druid named Glo Shortcloack who had black eyes, green hair and a saucepan on her head, offered to help the man. With surprising skill, Glo was able to make the two reluctant insects get down to business quite successfully. Orin seemed delighted and sent the travellers on their way through the portal, only after gratefully kissing Glo.
The white magic sizzled around the planeswalkers, drawing them forwards them into some new, mysterious world. In unison, the four felt that they had somehow passed through a doorway. Their vision cleared to see that a huge door had indeed swung shut behind them. Rath and Lereahl glanced knowingly at each other and drew their weapons immediately. The two gnomes looked at them in confusion.
“We’ve been here before,” explained the ranger.
“This plane is called Parallelodox. I don’t know how it came to be, or why it does what it does, but every time you open another door, uh, interesting things are bound to happen,” added Lereahl.
They took in the room before them. The walls were made of smooth, black stone bricks. Out of the corners of one’s eyes, they appeared to bleed. In the middle of the room was a huge stone bowl of deep red blood, held up by a hideously carved claw. Surrounding it in seductively glinting piles, was a mountain of gold and jewels. Mulch gasped. Before anyone could stop her, she had thrown herself at the treasure. She stopped however when the room was suddenly filled with soft, menacing laughter. Wisps of darkness swirled, forming into a humanoid shape in front of Mulch. The creature was eight feet tall and had the head of a vulture. It hunched down, peering with beady eyes into Mulch’s face.
“Greetings... adventurer...” it croaked.
Mulch stared coldly back at it. The others were silent in shock.
“I have a question,” the gnome said.
The vulture demon cocked its scaly head.
“Go on?”
“If I take some of this treasure, do I have to give you anything?”
The vulture smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile.
“Trade anything?”
“Give up anything at all?”
Mulch eyed the demon bird warily, then bent down and picked up a single gold coin.
The vulture demon laughed.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t take anything from you. And so I shall take your life...” it hissed. It gestured and suddenly the whole room was plunged into a complete magical darkness.
“Damned,” muttered Mulch.
Lereahl heard a sharp intake of breath on his right, then felt a small hand on his rear. Glo had reached out to find him and Rath in the darkness. Up ahead, he could hear Mulch cursing and stumbling around, causing clinking cascades of gold. The creature screeched and Lereahl raised his bow, hearing Rath do the same, and aimed for the noise.
Something swiped at Mulch in the darkness. She swore again and backpedalled quickly. She couldn’t see even her hand in front of her face in this inky blackness. She reached into her backpack for an item she’d picked up on a recent adventure. She thrust the glowing banner up into the darkness, creating a tinysmall globe of light. The demon screeched again at the light and then again as two arrows whizzed through the darkness, burying themselves in its flesh. Glo had run forwards now, slipping and sliding across the gold. She swung her hammer at the monster, connecting with a sickening thud. Mulch lashed out with a dagger, and narrowly avoided the talons that clawed at her face. She cried out as the hooked beak sank into her shoulder. She turned and dove into the gold pile, the creature’s claws raking across her back. In the darkness, Glo had lost her sense of direction and could no longer reach the demon. Mulch on the other hand, had turned again and leapt from her hiding place in the treasure, hoping to surprise the demon, but instead had leapt into its waiting arms. Another arrow found demon flesh as it gave a triumphant cry. Mulch cried and struggled free of the claws, avoiding the snap of the beak this time. She dove back into the gold pile. With a soft whisper, the darkness around the planeswalkers began to dissipate. The demon gave a displeased growl and then spun at Lereahl as he shot it again. There was sudden movement from behind the demon. Like some strange gold-dwelling shark, Mulch leapt from beneath the surface of the treasure, glee on her face, a dagger in each hand. The demon screamed as she sank them both into its spine. It collapsed in a flurry of hissing darkness.
“So, which door?” asked Glo, looking around at the four doors. They’d just finished divvying up the treasure. Lereahl shrugged and strolled towards the door straight across from the one they’d originally stepped through. He grasped the huge brass ring and pulled. The room beyond had another stone bowl of blood in the middle. The walls were black stone too. There were people standing looking through a door on the right hand side of the room. One was tall and blonde, another had a top hat, and the last two were short. The shortest wore a saucepan on her green hair.
“Uh...” said Lereahl. He turned around to see his fellow companions right beside him and staring confusedly back at him from the door on the right in the room behind them.
“That’s us...?” asked Glo, scratching her head.
“I, uh, think so,” said Lereahl, looking again through the door at the other ‘him’. “We’ve created a paradox. This door leads to, well, this room again.”
Rath, however, narrowed his eyes at the other figures. He drew back his bow and fired at the other version of himself – and received an arrow in his ribs from the Rathalohse behind him. Lereahl shut the door quickly as Rath turned and began yelling at himself. The half-elf shook his head, as if to clear it.
“Well. That was weird,” he said. Glo and Mulch nodded, still a bit dumbfounded. Rath just glowered and pulled his arrow out. As they went to open a different door, Lereahl was suddenly struck by how sexy he looked from behind.
This room was much easier to adjust to. Growing from an earthy floor was a small forest. The trees were huge and quite shady, and a clear path seemed to lead from their door to the others. Along the path however, were strange bundles. When examined closely, one could see the bones of all sorts of animals, or occasionally a humanoid skull and metal armour. Glo had knelt next to one and was poking it with a stick.
“Pellets,” she said.
“Excuse me?” asked Lereahl.
“Pellets. Owl pellets. They cough them up,” the gnome explained.
“Huh. Well, I don’t see how a little owl could cough up something as big as that. That would have had to come from an owl that’s, what, about ten feet tall?” said Rath. He began to laugh at the idea but then paused mid-chortle, realising what he’d just said. Lereahl’s brow creased.
“Eyes on the sky,” he said warily.
They walked along the forest path, weapons trained nervously on the curiously bright ceiling far above them. The pellets were many here. Lereahl didn’t want to think about how many giant owls had made them. Without warning, the half-elf felt a strange tingling shoot across his chest. He rubbed at the area, looking under his shirt to see the strange magical tattoo there squirming slightly on his skin. The silver owl’s feathers seemed to ripple. There were gasps of fear from the rest of the group and Lereahl was startled as he looked up to see an enormous black owl land silently in front of them. It was, as Rath had guessed, about ten feet tall. Its wingspan was a breath taking thirty feet wide. They all drew their weapons, waiting for the creature to attack. It didn’t however. It looked at Lereahl, head bobbing, huge silvery eyes wide and curious. Lereahl was stunned as it hopped closer. It lowered its enormous head and nuzzled at his chest, knocking him over.
“Er, hi,” he said, stroking one of the white streaks that ran from the corner of its eye up to the tip of its ear feathers. The great black owl twittered softly, seeming to enjoy the petting.
“Why’s it doing that?”  asked Glo.
“Perhaps it likes his owl tattoo,” joked Rath, who’d noticed the half-elf clutching his chest moments before.
“Lereahl has an owl tattoo?” asked Mulch. “How do you know about this, ranger?”
“I uh...” Rath mumbled, his face turning rather pink, but the group was distracted by a soft whooshing noise coming from behind them. Another huge owl, a tawny, was diving towards them, gleaming talons outstretched. The black owl leapt to intercept the giant tawny. The two enormous birds collided with and odd crunch. The tawny shrieked as the black owl’s claws raked its breastbone, spattering the companions with drops of hot blood and feathers. There was another screech behind them and they turned to see three more owls swooping overhead. There was a grey, a brown and a pure white one. Rath, who’d already drawn his bow back when the black owl had landed, turned his arrow instead on the brown one. It hit the owl and sent it plummeting into the trees. His next arrow was true too, downing the huge grey owl as it swooped low, snatching at Mulch and Glo. Glo wasn’t interested in trying to hit the enormous creatures. Instead she ran towards the black and tawny owls who were now screeching and wrestling on the ground, kicking up plumes of dust and knocking down small trees. The tawny threw off the black owl, who then backed down slightly. Glo had her hands up in a peaceful gesture and was calling softly to the tawny owl. The black owl returned to Lereahl. Glo continued cooing to the tawny owl. It stared at her, its intelligent amber eyes cold, but did not attack her. Lereahl had turned now too. He fired and arrow at the pure white owl which had just dived low to claw at him. The white owl was winged and crashed to the ground. It screeched horribly, thrashing and fluttering, its wing dragging behind it. It lashed out, clawing Rathalohse. The ranger strung another arrow and put the creature out of its misery.
Mulch handed Glo a nice fish he’d been saving for a snack. She took the fish and laid it down in front of the tawny owl. The great bird eyed her warily, but then bent down and snatched up the morsel. After a little more coaxing, it allowed itself to be petted, and eventually followed Glo, Mulch, Rath and Lereahl and his black owl towards the next door.
The door was a little stuck, seeming to have not been used for some time, despite the well worn path leading to it. They managed to push it open when Lereahl’s new friend gave it a nudge with his head. The room beyond was a dazzlingly white. In the middle of the room, a large white sphere hovered. It was covered in flowing, shifting, spinning gold lettering. The words seemed to be written in every language imaginable and occasionally they could catch one in common as it flitted past. They were words like dreams, happiness and wishes. Lereahl was immediately a bit wary of the room and the sphere. He looked closer at both, but really couldn’t sense anything bad at all. In fact, the room seemed to give off rather pleasant vibes.
“What is it?” asked Mulch, looking starry eyed at the sphere.
“I don’t know,” murmured Lereahl. He began to walk towards the sphere, his arm outstretched. Rathalohse had seen the flickering word wish and begun wondering what his most dearest wish would be. He immediately thought of cheese. He smiled as he imagined having a block of the most delicious cheese ever created. As he imagined this, he suddenly became aware of a lump in his pocket. He put his hand in the pocket, and pulled out a lump of nice yellow cheese. He stared at it in confusion, broke a tiny crumb off and tried it. He almost swooned with delight.
“Guys... It’s a wish machine,” he said groggily, his eyes half closed with happiness.
“A wish machine?” said Mulch, turning back towards the sphere, a thoughtful look on his face. Immediately, the gnome began wishing to be a male again. Somewhere in her adventures, Mulch had once been a he. Through a mysterious and unlucky series of events, he’d been turned into a woman, and cursed to never be able to wear pants again. But no matter how hard Mulch wished, she did not become a man again.
“Damned. It’s not working,” she said grumpily. “You’ve used up the wish on that stupid cheese! I could have been a man again!” she yelled at Rath. Rath looked highly offended.
“Never insult the cheese!” snapped the ranger.
“Guys, stop bickering. I think I know why your wish didn’t work,” said Lereahl. He’d approached the sphere and placed his hand on the swirling gold and white surface and his head had suddenly been filled with images of all sorts of weird and wonderful contraptions. There were incredible folding ladders, amazingly fine suits of armour, the most beautiful weapons imaginable, dazzling, delicious looking foods – but none of these things were magical.
“Your wish was a magical one. I don’t think the machine grants magical things,” Lereahl said, removing his hand from the sphere.
“Oh...” said Mulch. Instead, she began thinking of her second dearest desire. A pair of pants so good that she’d be able to finally wear them again. Suddenly, she was wearing pants. She laughed in delight. They were the softest, most well fitting pants she’d ever worn. As she investigated further, she found that the pants were covered in many zips and pockets and seemed to be infinitely customisable. The gnome beamed with happiness.
Glo was thinking hard about what she might want. She looked up at the half-elf and the human ranger, realising again how short she was as a gnome. She wished that she had some way to be as tall as them. A pair of stilts appeared on her feet. They were comfortable and instantly easy to use. They were also quickly adjustable, allowing her to be as tall or as short as she wanted in a matter of seconds.
Lereahl took a long time to decide. There was really nothing he wanted or needed currently. He had plenty of gold and treasure and his magical bow was something that probably wouldn’t be surpassed by anything the machine could give him. He stroked the black owl’s head thoughtfully as it bent towards him. Then he had an idea. Instantly, the huge black owl was wearing a fitted saddle, tack and barding armour. The armour was silver, black and white, matching the huge owl’s colouration perfectly. The owl was surprised at first, but as he swivelled his head all around, examining the new additions, he hooted in an approving sort of way. The white sphere’s swirling golden words changed to read things like thank you and farewell. The companions chose their next door feeling incredibly happy with their amazing gifts.
The next door they pushed open revealed a huge swamp. In the middle of the marsh, they could see a tall, sinister looking tree. Vines hung down from its branches. They swayed in a nonexistent breeze, occasionally coiling like snakes.
“Ooh. We probably shouldn’t go that way,” said Glo. “Those are Assassin Vines. They’ll wrap themselves around you and choke you to death. But they’re the least of your worries. See that tree? That’s an Umbral Banyan. It will grab you and then shift into the Shadow Plane – and then beat you to death there.”
“Huh. Well. Shall we walk around it then?” asked Rath. There were nods from all the others. Although difficult, they did manage to make it through the marsh, avoid the sinister tree, and open another door.
This room was dark. Sitting on a glowing throne of embers on the far wall was creature made of fire. He had the torso and head of a man, and the serpentine tail of a snake. Upon his head and glowing white-hot were a pair of antlers and a crown. He roared and sent a huge fireball towards the four, striking Rathalohse with a sound like mountains colliding. The ranger gave a cry, fell to the ground and stopped moving. The others rushed towards him. His skin and clothing was charred and smoking. He had no breath – no heartbeat. The ranger was dead. The others could only stare in shock. They were brought sharply back to reality as the salamander king bellowed, preparing to fling another fiery blast at them.
“Help me get him out of here,” Lereahl said to the gnomes, hooking his arms under Rath’s shoulders. The gnomes grabbed a leg each and they dragged the body through the nearest door, slamming it in the livid salamander’s face. The two giant owls shook soot from their feathers and looked on curiously as the three companions laid Rathalohse in the grass. They appeared to be in a quiet garden, not that the three really noticed. Mulch reached into her pack with a shaking hand and pulled out a health potion.
“It won’t work,” murmured the half-elf. “He’s already gone.”
Mulch put the potion back. There was silence in the garden. Even the owls had become still, sensing the sadness in the group. Glo had not known the ranger very well, but she was still shocked at how suddenly his life had been extinguished. Mulch had known him for longer. She couldn’t believe that the skinny human was gone. She sat in the grass just staring uncomprehendingly at the body.  Lereahl’s face was screwed up in anguish. He’d known the dairy-loving lunatic longer than any of the others. Sure, he was an adventurer; a warrior; a planeswalker. This sort of thing was expected. Just the other day, they’d mourned Jet and Mange, the seemingly unstoppable shield wielding dwarf, and cannonball-like barbarian halfling. The pair had gone up against demi-gods together. They’d fought valiantly, but had perished. But never had Lereahl seen a companion die right in front of him. He cringed at the thought of burying his friend.
“Uh, guys... I think I might have a way to save your friend,” said Glo. Mulch and Lereahl looked up at her.
“Well, I am a druid. Technically we can, uh, reincarnate people,” she said, wringing her hands.
Lereahl just stared at her.
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” asked Mulch, getting up and wiping at her eyes.
“Well, because I haven’t, you know, actually done it before,” muttered Glo.
Lereahl  got up too.
“Don’t worry. We have faith in you,” he said, taking the small gnome by the shoulders and smiling encouragingly at her.
Glo had warned them that the reincarnation process would take a while. When the blinding white dome of light had finally fallen away, Rathalohse struggled to sit up.
“Whoa, calm down, calm down,” said Glo, running forwards to catch him.
“Wha... What happened?” Rathalohse mumbled, looking incredibly dizzy. The other gathered too, expressions ranging from curious to downright alarmed.
“You were hit with the fireball. You, uh, died. But don’t worry! I’ve just finished reincarnating you!” explained Glo. She sounded quite exhausted.
“You didn’t say he’d have a different body!” exclaimed Lereahl. Glo had indeed neglected to mention to them that Rathalohse wouldn’t be the same person, let alone the same species.
“Different body?” asked the groggy Rath.  He looked down to find that his lower legs were slim and covered in brown fur. Curling from his new long, brown hair was a pair of spiralled horns.
“I’m a faun?” he asked in shock.
“Er... A little more than that...” said Glo, pointing behind Rath. He twisted slightly to see that he had hind legs as well as fore.
“You’re a Bariaur,” said Mulch, now trying to suppress a giggle. “A goat centaur!”
“Also, you’re quite busty...” said Lereahl, picking up Rath’s now tattered and burnt swallow-tailed jacket and top hat and handing them to him. Rath looked down.
“I’M A GIRL!?” Her new, angular face was filled with horror.
The four decided to rest for a while longer. Rath had collapsed in the grass in shock, her four legs splayed. Mulch sat with her, trying to console her.
“It’s not that bad,” said the gnome. “You’ll get over it after a while. And besides: boobies.”
Lereahl and Glo had left them alone to recover and were now scouting the garden. It seemed very calm here. The owls seemed quite happy to trot along behind their new keepers. The pair eventually came upon the centre of the garden. Here, carved upon a great wooden table, was a riddle.
I start as a box, with no lock or key.
Nothing but time and space can open me,
All my life I push towards heaven’s front door,
But I push towards hell just as much, if not more.
I drink of the waters, I breathe from the sky,
But I don’t move an inch till the day that I die.
What am I?
Beneath the riddle was a small thorny pencil. Glo scratched her head.
“I’ve always like riddles,” she said. “But they can sometimes stump me really good.” She laughed. Lereahl put a finger to his chin.
“Hm. Stump...”
Then he picked up the pencil and wrote beneath the poem: I am a tree. The riddle vanished. The tabletop then clicked and slid backwards, opening to reveal a hidden compartment. Glo reached in and pulled out their prize. It was a flail. There were four heads and each glowed with a different colour. It felt very magical.
“Here, you should have it. You solved the riddle,” said Glo, trying to hand the flail to Lereahl. The half-elf shook his head however.
“Nah. You keep it. You gave me the answer anyways when you said ‘stump’. It made me begin to think of trees,” he said.
Glo laughed and nodded.
“Fair enough,” she said.
They made their way back to Mulch and Rath. Rath had finally been able to stand up again on her four new legs. She looked grumpy, but definitely less stunned than before. She led the group towards the next door.
“Feel so weird not wearing pants...” she grumbled.
“Tell me about it,” said Mulch, who then surreptitiously patted her incredible new pants as if to check that they were still there.
The sweet scent was enough to knock over a fully grown man and send children into sugar comas. Lereahl pushed to door open wide to reveal the incredible landscape beyond. The earth was made of chocolate, the trees of striped candy. The rocks were enormous sugared lollies, the river of liquid chocolate. The four companions walked inside, looking around in wonder. Glo snapped a sugared flower off a tree and put it in her mouth.
“’s real!” she said around the candy.
“Sweet,” said Mulch, grinning and reaching for a chocolate pebble. The rest of the group were about to dive into the sugary magic too when they heard a strange sound behind them. It was a crunchy marching sound. The four turned to see a large army of five foot tall gingerbread men marching towards them. The ones in the front were smiling and giggling. The ones in the back however, had angry faces iced onto their heads. They were faster and more agile, leaping and flipping through the others.
“Hah! Ninja bread men!” said Rath, pointing. Beneath the rumbling of the gingerbread footsteps, the group could hear the bass thud of something much larger moving through the candy trees. The four gasped as a huge man, made completely of puffy white marshmallow stomped into view. He roared at the sight of the four Planeswalkers. Lereahl drew and arrow from his quiver and grinned at the others.
“Anyone hungry?” he asked slyly.
The four sat around the crackling fire as the sunlight dimmed in this strange candy world. They’d made a bonfire of the candy trees, which burned surprisingly well with blue and pink flames.  They were now roasting bits of the marshmallow man over the fire on long candy sticks.
“Well,” said Rathalohse, “that was the most delicious victory I’ve ever had.”
The others laughed. Lereahl turned to his new avian friend and held up a large piece of a ninja-bread man’s head. The black owl leant down and snatched up the treat, seeming to quite enjoy the taste of the ginger bread.

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