Chapter 44 - Extreme Measures

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CONTENT

Scene 1 - Belly of the Beast

Arthus clung to the slimy rocks trying to survey the land around him without alerting the countless nagas slithering just below the water. There was little else to Aragonia besides swampland and the pervasive feeling of being utterly severed from the rest of the world.

Arthus perched himself on the peak of the rock formation and took a deep breath. His heart was pounding and he spent several minutes trying to gather his wits. For him this was the worst part of it. It had been so long since he had felt real, honest, and total uncertainty that he forgot how much he didn’t like it. It wasn’t the same as ordinary indecision or confusion; this was an almost paralyzing force. Normally when these situations presented themselves Arthus had no trouble relying on his instincts or whimsy to carry him onward. Pick a direction and go, choose a course of action and stick to it until you need to pick a new one. No problem. Life was always an adventure in this way, but not now. Arthus could almost physically feel the weight of the consequences for his failure here and it was more than he had bargained for.

Just then a huge naga burst out of the water only a few feet from where he was crouching. It dragged its head back and forth flaring its nostrils and flicking its tongue before plunging back into the water and speeding off. Arthus just about died. He swallowed hard and sheathed his swords which he hadn’t realized were halfway drawn. He played at the pommel of his saber with his thumb and that was enough to remind him of why he was doing this. He shook his head and thought about the naga he just saw.

It was similar to the nagas he had seen before, but different at the same time. This one was more serpentine, more sinister in its demeanor, worse if that was at all possible. Then it dawned on him: What did he really know about these creatures? A question he might have asked before he was stranded alone in their homeland. They were naturally fast, sturdy, resilient, and perceptive. However, with all of those advantages, there were some drawbacks. They could sense vibrations on the ground to track their prey, and they had a keen sense of smell, but their eyesight was wanting. Could be useful he thought. He mulled a few things over trying to come up with a plan to advance on the fortress in the distance, but those things quickly vanished from his mind as a massive reptilian bird circled overhead.

Instinctively Arthus dropped flat and threw his cloak over himself. He peered up as the bird circled wider and wider. It gave no indication that it had seen Arthus to which he thanked Velenia’s mother for the superlative craftsmanship of his elven cloak. Arthus spied the huge bird from beneath his cloak and for an instant he felt as though he was in a teeming jungle. Once again he was dressed in hunting attire and he was kneeling in some tall grass as an enormous silhouette moved in the sky hundreds of yards away. He reached back and Motumbu handed him his long rifle.

Arthus snapped back to this reality few moments later as the massive bird plunged into a powerful dive and crashed into the water disappearing below the surface. Without a thought, Arthus leapt off the rocks and ran as fast as he could trying to take advantage of the disruption. If anything would mask his approach from the naga tremorsense, this would be it.

Arthus slid to a stop just as the wake of the strange creature began to ebb. He grabbed hold of a long dead fig tree and swung himself up on top of a sandbar that was covered in muck and slime and who knows what else. He made it a fair bit closer to his goal, but had several more obstacles, and at best hundreds of naga, to negotiate before he was there.

It was that quick burst of excitement that had Arthus feeling like himself again. Reacting to his surroundings, taking in the details in a heartbeat and springing into action.

He traveled along the exposed earth wherever he could and hiding from the all too frequent naga that passed his way. With some luck and no small measure of acrobatic wizardry he landed on a final sandbar about fifty feet from the maw of Jennesta’s fortress.

The building, if one could call it that, was made of a strange, porous looking black substance that Arthus couldn’t identify. It looked dry at first, but as he studied it he thought that it seemed to have some sort of coating over it. More disturbing than that was the unsettling pulse that seemed to run through the place from time to time.

Arthus shivered and examined the exterior to get a lay of the land before heading inside. The exposed portion of the fortress was huge on its own and had large chambers and towers that stretched at odd angles. Some of the towers were impossibly thin toward the top, others had rooms that hung from the sides that couldn’t possibly hold themselves up, but they did.

Arthus knew just enough to know that from an engineering standpoint, this place was all wrong. He shrugged and turned his attention to the entryway that was looming in front of him. The opening was a long tunnel with swamp water pouring in down a slope into a large chamber below. The slope wasn’t terribly steep, but the volume of water made the entrance a gentle rapid. Not bad for a fun swim, but a real problem for gaining a cautious entry. Add to that the more than occasional naga coming in from the swamp and this was starting to look like a bad idea.

Arthus waited for the right moment, knowing full well that moment was never going to come, and dove into the water. The current pulled him into the chamber and he slowed himself with an underwater flip. In that moment he realized just how much of the fortress was submerged. It could very well stretch on for miles under the swamp, in fact it might be the size of Aragonia itself.

Arthus righted himself and noticed a naga swimming toward him. He pulled himself up onto a ramp leading to the upper levels, and as the naga guard got closer it ran right into a large piece of driftwood and quickly turned away and swam below.

Arthus exhaled and thought “Better lucky than good!”

Arthus realized that now things would get tricky. He followed the series of ramps with his eyes up to a long walkway high above the chamber he was in. It was hard to make out the details as the ramps disappeared behind walls and reappeared further away. This whole place was a bit of a maze, and it didn’t help that everything was covered in a heavy white mucous. It would be slow going around this place, but first he needed a direction to go.

Arthus concentrated on the image of the Instrumentality. He could picture Jennesta’s chamber, the stone, the fine black hairs that held it suspended, even the powerful arcane symbols that swirled around it. As the image crystallized, his mind’s eye drew him up several ramps, across long dark hallways, through several chambers, and finally up a narrow spiral stairway into the chamber.

Arthus made his way carefully up the ramp to the first landing. He moved mostly on all fours to keep his balance. After several minutes of ascent, he came to a long narrow catwalk. It would be difficult to cross without falling, for someone else, but Arthus was brazen in his confidence and moved across undeterred.

About halfway across, Arthus got a bad feeling. He looked back over his shoulder and saw a naga just coming into view from the ramp below. He looked quickly to the end of the catwalk and then back at the naga. There was no way he would get to safety before the naga overtook him, so he dropped off the edge of the catwalk.

Arthus’ hands sunk into the thick ooze that covered everything here, and for a moment thought he would not be able to hold on. Thankfully, he was able to dig his fingers into the walkway and breathed a sigh of relief as the naga slithered by and then out of sight. Arthus kipped himself back up onto the catwalk.

He continued until he arrived in a small oddly shaped room with yet another ramp leading up. He stayed close to the wall here and noticed another chamber about halfway up to the next landing. Just as he approached he heard the telltale sounds of the shadowhounds entering the room.

Arthus stopped just outside the door trying to judge from the noise inside just when to move past, but then he heard something he never expected, the hounds began to speak! All in unison they recounted their findings to a naga inside the room.

At first Arthus smiled to himself as they told of how the Imperial City was lost, but his demeanor quickly changed as more news came forth. While they were unsure of William or Alisaar’s whereabouts, or Arthus’ for that matter, they were quite clear on those of Fizbin and Alec. “The wizard is dead, we saw the body.” “The tiefling’s been delivered to Lady Fierna.”

Arthus cursed himself as an idiot and prepared to exact vengeance for his friends. He drew his swords without so much as a whisper of noise. Then he peered into the room, ready to pounce, but what he saw stopped him dead in his tracks.

The naga inside the room was enormous. The only things Arthus had to compare its size to were Aurax and Baan. It sat tall on its own coiled body, and the face that looked down, somewhat disapprovingly, at the hounds was that of Orcus.

Arthus pinned himself to the wall again and did a double take, then another. It couldn’t be… could it? Arthus knew, somehow, that it was. He found himself sheathing his weapons and reexamining his plans. He hated himself for it, but Fizbin’s and Alec’s vengeance would have to wait, for now.

Arthus waited until the hounds once again exited the room and when he felt it was safe, he scrambled up the ramp to the next floor. He moved quicker now, dodging patrols as they came, following hallways and ramps that double-backed over the same ground until finally he came to where he thought he would find the spiral staircase to Jennesta’s chamber.

Instead what he found was several tubes running from above to somewhere far below. Every so often he would see a naga descend a tube, and when it did the tube swelled to accommodate the size of the creature. More and more Arthus was coming to the conclusion that this place was alive, not just organic like a tree, but a living creature. He examined the tubes and his eyes landed on the one that seemed to correspond to the stairway he expected to see. Arthus put his hand on the tube and was shocked to notice that it was slightly warm to the touch. As he pressed his hand down part of the membrane gave way to allow him inside. Arthus pulled his hand back and stood with his hands on his hips.

“Maybe we can do this with four Instrumentalities.” Arthus quipped under his breath. Unfortunately he just couldn’t resist, so he took a deep breath and pressed both hands into the tube.

Arthus climbed into the tube with surprising ease. The natural rhythm of the tube seemed to help him along, and up the length until he spilled out about thirty feet up.

Arthus found himself standing inside Jennesta’s laboratory. Suspended in similar looking tubes were all sorts of interesting and obviously powerful objects as well as a magnificent array of alchemical components, reagents, and experiments. Arthus thought that he might never be able to get Fizbin out of here if they had pulled this together.

Arthus spotted the Instumentality not more than twenty feet from him, and he was so enthralled be the thought of retrieving it that he almost didn’t notice the multi-faceted eye that was scanning the room as it dangled from a sinewy protrusion from the ceiling.

Arthus knew he was discovered but he would deal with that later. He reached down to his belt where the Dead Man’s Hand was hanging from a short leather strap. He muttered a word that he wasn’t sure David ever told him and the thumb of the wax covered hand folded into the palm.

Arthus was soon covered in the same wax as the hand, and without stopping to wonder about it, he reached into the slender tube that held the Instrumentality. He let the stone play on his fingertips as it spun, just for a second, this type of anticipation had to be savored. Then he clutched his fingers around it and found himself instantly someplace else.

Scene 2 - Little Miss Fizbin

Fizbin kills a naga who has attacked an elven family outside of the Imperial City. The teenage daughter is killed and Fizbin polymorphs her to look like him and vice versa.

Scene 3 - Love and Canonballs

William and Marlene vs. the Orcs… This time with Cannons!

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CONTENT


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last edited by CaptainMonstrousCaptainMonstrous


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