Landen sneaks up to the third floor, carefully letting each of his footfalls touch the ground like a feather. As he peaks the climb to the third floor, he sees the area is similar to the last; small bedrooms and a common area, except one thing different stands out. An elaborate curtain like the one behind the counter on the main floor hangs in a doorway across the common area. Stars and moons speckle the dark blue skyscape, and at the bottom is an alien landscape crawling with the giant worms Landen is more familiar with than he’d like. A thick fog rolls across the floor seeping out from behind the curtain.
He shifts the curtain aside and the room behind is completely concealed in the mist. He hears something clamber on the ceiling above and unsheathes his dual scimtars, the steel sending its ringing song into the room.
“Ahh, someone has snuck into my chamber? Who dares to be so foolish?” The voice tauntingly calls, its owner perfectly hidden in the dense fog.
“Show yourself!” Landen calls back. “I know who you are…”
“Hah!” The blessed defiantly laughs. “Show myself to the intruder? How about I call a friend to greet you instead?” With these words, the the room seems to shift under Landen’s feet. Without any walls for reference the vertigo makes him feel as if he could be standing upside down. He can see his feet however, and when he looks down he spots a thick blue slime creeping around his boots across the floor; that same blue slime from the street. Something massive screeches, and when he hears it lurch across the floor it’s clear purple body is seen writhing in the mist. The hooked limbs whip around it’s circular, toothy mouth as the worm lunges at Landen.
The memory of his last encounter with one of these creature is too fresh in his mind, and fear racks his nerves. But still he stands and fights, swinging his scimtars. The worm, with concealment on its side, seems to whip around his attacks, then suddenly a hook digs into his arm. A sword drops to the floor and he hacks at the grappling tentacle with his free arm. Two others latch onto him, then suddenly he’s enveloped in the sick creature’s grasp. It lifts him from the floor, and Landen sees its sucking mouth dilating to receive him. The tentacles hooks dig in, and the worms teeth cut into his flesh. Landen falls unconscious from its hungering attacks, and the worms slinks off into the mist to coil up and enjoy its meal.
Torea, Heroneous’ champion in training, covers her ears. The mad blabbering and gibberish that flooded from the closet as the cabalist opened the door was unbearable. Durgyn was closer and had a perfect view of the heap of flesh inside the closet under the stairs. It seemed to take no recognizable form, and it’s surface was covered with random eyeballs and fang filled mouths. The eyes looked everywhere, they were countless. All the mouths were screaming a horrible gibbering at once, in a unison of chaos. Durgyn stared in horror, and the noise grasped his brain in mind-numbing insanity.
Torea knew she had to act quick. She took her hands off her ears to lift her morningstar, then brought it smashing down on the blue robed man behind her. He was drawing a dagger, but the spiked head of Torea’s morningstar smashed into the soft head of the cabalist.
The other cabalist drew his dagger and came at Durgyn. The attack was enough to snap him out of the maddening place his mind had been grasped. The knife cut into his thick hide calling up the rage to fight back. Neither of them expected such an ambush; one that would utilize the strange mind numbing effects of an alien creature. But Durgyn desired to show their efforts meaningless as he revealed the war hammer held on his back.
The junior paladin and the minotaur made fast work of the two blue robed cultists, and Durgyn’s mind turned to his friend. This is where Landen followed the strange bookkeeper Jellik, yet when the old man returned his thief companion had not. If they had been ambushed here, where was Landen and what had he gotten himself into?
The gibbering mouther crawled from the closet and bit out at Durgyn. It’s teeth sunk into him and he returned the pain with a swing of his hammer. It smashed into the formless mass of flesh and a few of the creature’s mouths let out a harsh growl, yet the gibbering persisted from its other jaws. Torea came to his side, and together their used their implements of blunt force to smash the alien freak into silence.
Durgyn leads the charge up the stairs, walking cautiously into the mist that has now enveloped the entire third floor. A voice taunts them from deeper in the fog.
“So glad you’ve joined us. Your too late for your friend though.”
Durgyn thinks of Landen and Torea worries for Alein, her mentor. They hear the giant worm sliding across the floor, and it lunges from the mist at them. Durgyn swings, and the alien creature grasps Torea in it’s squirming tentacles. Its lamprey mouth latches onto her side and she screams.
“Save her,” she groans. “Use this…” She drops a wand at Durgyn’s feet, and he looks down to discover a pool of blue slime creeping across the floor. He feels the floor seems to sway underneath him, then Torea hits the ground with a painful thud. The minotaur looks up and sees the disgusting worm sink into the blue pool from where it came; it recedes and the room returns to normal, save the fog.
“How?” Torea wonders as she realizes she hadn’t become a second course meal.
“Shame my pet had to leave.” Durgyn’s keen hears hone to the voice. “I will have to kill you myself!” The words guide him to his foe’s location and he looses a small pouch from his belt. He tosses it up to the back corner of the room. On impact the bag splatters goo onto the walls, quickly thickening with its exposure to the air. The frustrated grumbles can be heard of the blessed struggling in the entanglement.
Torea lifts the wand she dropped to Durgyn when she thought death’s grasp had her and uses it to heal her wounds. The magic refreshes her and clears her dedication; finding Alein is her goal, and this blessed has her. A dart of magical acid flew into Durgyn’s shoulder, burning his fur and covering him with stinging pain. Torea runs past him screaming in a rage with her morningstar raised.
“Where is Alein!?” and a thud is heard as her blunt weapon contacts something. Durgyn moves forward to join the struggle just in time to glimpse the Blessed skittering across the ceiling, free from the tanglefoot mess. Torea chases and Durgyn tries to tune his ears to the scampering of the robed menace. Torea swings madly through the fog, not quite sure where her foe is. Then she stumbles across a bundle laid against a wall. She glances down and sees the unconscious face of a half elven thief: Landen Cale!
For just a moment, Durgyn thinks he lost the blessed, then a gibbering mumble sends him a signal as clear as day. He tosses another bag from his side, determined to not let this evil escape his hammer again. The vertigo returns, yet Durgyn presses the attack running across the room. The pool of blue slime begins to form once more at his feet, then he can hear the blessed struggling in the tanglefoot’s mess.
“Curses!” the cult leader grumbles. The blue slime and vertigo sensation leave as quickly as they had come on, and this time there is no worm. It seems the minotaur had interrupted the summon by breaking the blessed’s concentration. And this time Durgyn wasn’t disappointed. The tanglefoot bag struck right on target; its thick slime covered the ceiling corner where the blessed was perched, clinging to his legs and even tying an arm to the wall.
Durgyn’s hammer slams into the robed figure, smashing the skyscape of stars, moons, and galaxies into crimson.
“UgGGHH!!!” After another blow, Durgyn pressed his hammer firmly against the blessed’s chest. “This isn’t… how it was… planned.” The blessed was still attempting to free himself. “I was chosen… chosen to hear the speaker.” Durgyn saw a spark in his eye, a determination of a still dangerous enemy. “You cannot break the will of the Ones Beyond!” Durgyn pulled back his hammer and saw the blessed’s hand conjuring an arrow of flame. The minotaur did not provide enough time for the blessed to deliver his spell, because Durgyn sent his hammer crashing back into the madman’s skull, silencing his lunacy forever.
The fog began to dissipate and Durgyn saw Torea across the room. In actuality, now that things could be clearly seen, they had been fighting in two rooms that were open to each other: one the blessed’s personal quarters and the other his study. It was in the former that the junior paladin was tending to Landen’s body. Durgyn quickly approached.
“He’s alive,” she said. “But barely.” This was the second time Durgyn had to see his friend nearly slip into death’s grasp, both times resulting in combat with a giant, alien worm. Torea put her hands on the half-elf; one on his head and the other on his chest. “Heroneous, grant him the strength to survive. Heal his wounds with your power.” Her words were as soft as a breeze, and Durgyn saw a faint light glow from underneath her palms.
“What happened?” Landen whispered as his eyelids slowly fluttered open.
“You need to rest,” Torea replied. She came to her feet and Durgyn could see in her eyes what was on her mind. They still had to find her mentor Alein and there was only one place left: the basement. The minotaur led the way back to the main floor. The closet door was still open next to the stairs, and the bodies of their fallen enemies still lie cold on the floor. The door on the other side of the stairs was still closed, and more fortified than the closet door; this was obviously the way. Durgyn tested the knob and found what he expected: locked. With a swing of his hammer the door flew on its hinges, breaking the wooden frame on the latch side and revealing a small set of stairs going down.
That sense of wrongness that was ever present in the Reality Wrinkle suddenly seems one-hundred-fold when they enter the basement room. The room itself seems to defy the boundaries of space as they understand them: a grotesque affront to their sense of reality. Distance seems meaning less, angles that should not exist clearly do, and the walls seem to ebb and flow in time to an alien heartbeat. Curled into a ball on the floor at one end of the room — it is impossible to tell how far away — is a woman in a red gown, clutching her ears and covering her face with her arms.
“Alein?” Torea says. Trying to speak the words seems to make her nauseous in this environment, but she knows this must be her mentor. “Alein!” She tried to run across the room and falls to her hands. Durgyn, not blinded by concern, carefully begins walking across the room. “One step at a time” he thinks, and it feels as if he’s walking on a curtain drawn over water. Torea looks up and cannot regain her footing, but she watches confidently as Durgyn continues his sure strides.
When the minotaur reaches Alein, he tries to get her attention. She seems unable to respond to anything, so he lifts her onto his shoulder. Even after they return to the main floor, escaping from what seemed to be a breaking barrier between worlds, the Champion of Heronious was still in a comatose state. Her eyes open yet glazed over. Durgyn had no problem carrying her further, the weight was to his strength like a bag of feathers. He even considered that if he needed to carry Landen as well, it would be slightly more difficult yet still no struggle. Regardless, Torea said he should be able to walk by the time they returned to the top floor.
When they entered the blessed’s study, Landen was indeed on his feet. He surely wasn’t at full strength and still needed to recover from his wounds, but he was alert enough to search the room while his companions were fetching Alein.
He turned to face them and Durgyn noticed a paper in the rogue’s hand. “There’s some interesting information here about the Ones Who Hear.” He lifted multiple sheets of parchment and separated one from the stack. “Certainly this piece here.”
“What is it?” Torea asked.
“A list. And it happens to contain the name of your mentor, Alein.”
Landen paused as if a ghost crossed the room. “And the name of my mentor: Shadrach Alban Oswian.”
As Landen shared the stack of information with his companions many of the horrors that had been plaguing Brindenford started to become clear. There was a receipt for a two-hundred gold piece payment to Squim, the leader of the wererat band hiding in the bell tower; a series of messages regarding a group of grimlocks given refuge in an abandoned warehouse for their services to the Speaker; and the rest made up nonsensical babblings referring to “the bells will toll the end of time” and “they must be out of the way before the gate may open” and “the Speaker in Dreams” and “the Ones Beyond” and… nonsense.
The wererats and grimlocks had been taken care of and everything else summed up to the plans of a lunatic cult. The remaining piece of evidence that captured the group’s interest was the list containing two very familiar names. Fresh ink had struck through the name of Alein, the Champion of Heroneous, as it was obvious they had nearly done away with her for good. Then there was Landen’s mentor Shadrack. Beyond those two, eight names remained. Most of them were crossed out as well, indicating Those Who Hear had gotten away with a series of murders. All that didn’t seem to matter as much to Landen. The scene he discovered in his old friend’s house flashed through his mind as he considered that name on the list, or more so considered the black line that struck through it. Could his great mentor really have been slain by a mad cult in their plans to clear the way for some absurd gate?
At least now it was over.