Finals at the Academy:Campaign/Chapter 05
Chapter 5: The Tower of Trials
"When we last left Our Party, they had just stepped outside the Goode-Knight Inn, in search of Quest info and replacement Party members..."
Ayaka is silent, thinking hard. Khila'eru starts heading back towards the Curl Up and Dye salon. Hiro looks at Ayaka, then follows Khila'eru.
Pyralis Hughes is walking up the street when he sees the three-strong party walk out of the Inn. Finding that they fit the description he was given, he walks up to them before they get very far away from the Inn. "Hi... is this the Party?"
Khila'eru stops and looks over the newcomer. Hiro also pauses, to address him. "I take it you are the replacement?"
Ayaka gives herself a shake, then spots the newcomer herself, her eyes narrowing slightly. Pyralis looks at Khila'eru as he is looked over, then turns to Hiro and replies, "Yes, I am. My name is Pyralis Hughes. I was moved up from my later testing time to replace the two who were involved in the... accident."
Hiro gives the newcomer a once-over himself. "Well, as long as you're a bit more mature than our previous colleagues, you should do OK."
Khila'eru bows slightly. "Welcome to our party, then. What there is of it."
"And what skills do you bring to our quest?" Hiro asks.
Pyralis answers Hiro, "I am a sorceror, like as to the one whom you lost... though I do hope that I turn out to be a better fit to the party than he was... let's just say that I have heard stories."
Khila'eru closes her eyes and sighs. "Likely everyone has."
Pyralis grins slightly at Khila'eru's comment, and she coughs a little. "Perhaps introductions are in order?"
Ayaka blushes ever so slightly. "I'm Ayaka Moon-Shadow," she whispers.
"I am Hiro, previously of the Order of the Monks of the Tree."
Pyralis nods to Ayaka first, then to Hiro in a salutatory manner. "It is nice to meet both of you." Ayaka smiles a bit and chews on her lip, as she rubs at the back of her neck.
"I am Amandil Khila'eru."
Pyralis nods to Khila'eru in a similar salutatory manner, then rolls back and forth slightly on the balls of his feet. "So... where to now? I was kind of rushed out of the Academy..." he queries, chuckling a bit weakly.
"This way." Khila'eru starts once again towards the salon. Pyralis nods slightly, then follows Khila'eru as she walks. Ayaka follows, silent again and lost in thought, and Hiro brings up the rear. Khila'eru and Pyralis talk a bit as they walk.
"This is certainly an odd test thus far."
Pyralis grins slightly. "Considering those who I have replaced, I can only imagine how true that statement must be..."
"At any rate, Mr. Hughes, we had not progressed far before your arrival."
"Well then, it is my hope that I can help reverse this trend."
Khila'eru smiles and gives a small laugh at Pyralis' comment. Hiro allows himself a small smile.
The four all head through the city and eventually find themselves back in front of the salon. The sun is starting to go down a little as it hits early evening.
Khila'eru enters the salon, as does Pyralis, following behind her. Ayaka is silent as she enters, chewing hard her lip now, and Hiro follows.
The door jingles as they all enter the salon. It looks much as it did earlier, except with a different contingent of customers. One fellow is sitting in the waiting area reading a book of some sort... he looks up as the members of Our Party all crowd into the shop. The elderly barber is cutting the hair of a male customer, while the Half-Elf barber is braiding the hair of a female customer. They glance over.
"Can I help you folks?" the elderly barber asks.
Khila'eru grins. "You very well may."
The elderly barber raises his eyebrow and returns the grin. "May I also have to guess what sort of help you need?"
Pyralis stands back towards the door, observing as Khila'eru takes charge of the party. His gaze wanders slightly, but his attention remains on Khila'eru and the conversation she is having.
"This party of students has been sent to this salon and would like to know why."
"Students? Say, you're the people who had that Teleport thingy earlier, ain't you?"
"Yes. That was entertaining wasn't it?"
Ayaka twitches and nods, silent still. Hiro snorts softly. "If they hadn't been messing about, then none of this would have happened."
The barber answers Khila'eru's comment, "Eh, well, maybe you could ask and warn me first, I'll hire you or something. Anyways, sent to my salon? Is the Academy referring me customers now?"
"Perhaps, we really do not know," Khila'eru says. She looks around the salon again to refresh her memory of it. Ayaka looks around herself, chewing hard on her lip.
By the door there is a counter with a sign hanging on it, which both ladies recall as being a price list, and in front of the counter is a waiting area with a few chairs, one currently occupied. Behind the counter are a few more elaborate client chairs, surrounded by mirrors and various counters covered in hair care paraphernalia. Two of the chairs are currently occupied by customers, who are having their hair done by an elderly balding man and an elegantly coiffed Half-Elf fellow.
Hiro looks at the elderly barber. "The Academy sent us here for a reason, are you having any problems?"
"Problems? Other than people vanishing in clouds of smoke? Not particularly. Hey, Rufus, you got any problems?"
The Half-Elf thinks for a moment. "I do not have any problems, Boss, but... didn't the Academy ask you to help them with some testing?"
The elderly fellow responds, "Eh... oh yeah, I forgot about that. Forget about almost everything, you know. Not crazy disappearing people, though, that's hard to forget."
Pyralis grins slightly at the elderly fellow's forgetfulness. However, he raises a hand to his mouth to cover it.
"Now, uh... testing script, testing script... where did I leave it? Rufus, you know where I left it?"
"Probably under the counter, Boss," Rufus says patiently.
"Oh, right. Eh, I'm cutting hair at the moment..." The elderly man casts about for a moment, then spies the customer sitting in the waiting area. "Hey, there, my good fellow, if you can get me my Academy script from under the counter, I'll give you a discount on that mop of yours."
Ayaka twitches a little, then smiles faintly, inwardly wondering what they have to to do.
The patron shrugs. "OK." He goes behind the counter and rummages around a bit. "1001 Hairstyles for the New Century, no. Four figure tab bill for The Last Call bar, no. Picture of... ew, gods, no, no. Oh, here we are, I think... 'Academy: Finals Test Quest Script'?"
"Yeah, that sounds right. Bring it over here."
Pyralis raises an eyebrow at the things the patron is pulling out, then lowers it as he begins to get ready to hear about his quest. Ayaka laughs very softly, then steps a little closer, listening intently. The patron stands up, walks over to the elderly man with the script, and hands it out to him.
The barber looks down at the script, then up at the patron. "Now, seriously, how am I supposed to take that while I've got scissors and a comb in my hands? Eh, uh, hold it for me, would you?" The patron sighs, rolls his eyes, and holds up the script.
"Yeah, right there." The barber alternates between looking at the script and cutting hair. "Ah, let's see. 'So, your Party is looking for a quest? A test for real adventurers like yourself?'" He looks at Our Party expectantly.
Ayaka nods slightly. "Yes." she says, clearly.
Pyralis chuckles slightly before replying, "Well... yeah."
Hiro looks impatiently at the barber, "Well, that is why we are here, is it not?"
Khila'eru raises her eyebrow incredulously.
The barber also raises his eyebrows. "Hey, cut me some slack, sonny... I didn't write this thing. If I did, it'd be much more entertaining and have dancing girls or something. Anyway..."
Rufus coughs slightly. Hiro quickly looks to the ground. "I apologize for my outburst."
Pyralis raises an eyebrow of his own and chuckles a bit before waiting for the formalities to continue. Khila'eru rolls her eyes and wonders what she can do next to open Hiro up more. Hiro looks around the room, and is silently ashamed that he let his feelings get the better of him.
"Apology accepted. Now, let's see..." The barber looks back to the script again and continues, "'Well, you're in luck. It just so happens there's a strange tower in town that might be up your alley. They say those that brave the Tower of Trials - and survive - will find an ancient artifact that will give them great power.'"
Khila'eru gasps, "Great power, you say?" She uses a rather more sarcastic tone than she intends. Ayaka chuckles ever so faintly, then narrows her eyes, pondering.
"Yep, that's what it... eh, I mean, I say."
Pyralis raises an eyebrow at Khila'eru's outburst, but manages to restrain himself from chuckling... at first. He can't help but laugh a bit when the barber responds.
Ayaka snickers a little herself. "Power, huh... I wonder..." She grins a bit.
Khila'eru and Hiro, meanwhile, both pipe up with questions.
"And what more can you tell us of this tower?"
"When you say power - do you mean magical power?"
The barber snorts slightly at Pyralis' outburst. "Eh, you think this is funny, huh? No respect from the young today."
Pyralis shakes his head slightly. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean it..." However, the fact that Pyralis is still stifling chuckles rather weakens the strength of this apology.
"Pah." The barber looks back at the script. "Hey, could you turn the page there? Yeah, thanks. Let's see... ah. The little lady's question first..."
Khila'eru glares at the barber - if looks could kill... Hiro notices and whispers to her, "Don't mind him, I think he's... eccentric."
"'The Tower is a strange place... it used to be a great wizard's workshop, until he vanished one day. He took most of his magical wonders with him... but they say there's still one magic item left. Unfortunately it's protected by all manner of guards, traps, and magical wards. You'll have to be very crafty to find it.'"
Ayaka smirks now, thinking hard, as the barber continues, "Now, for the other fella there, with the braid happening... nice braid by the way, Rufus'd probably approve. Eh, uh..." He scans the script. "They say that the item he left is the Magic Eightball of Truth... it has the power to let the possessor see all information in creation, both past and future. As to why he left it, one wonders... although it's said that the Truth can drive a person mad."
"This is surely an item that cannot be left to fall into the hands of just anyone," Hiro declares.
Pyralis gets all serious all of a sudden and nods in agreement.
"Yes, we should make sure that it falls into our hands," Khila'eru states.
Ayaka blinks, stunned, her lips quirking in a faint smile before she laughs softly. She becomes serious again, though, pretty quickly.
Pyralis gets a mischievous grin. "Though... I am glad that we will be making it fall into our hands now... and not before I got here."
Hiro looks disapprovingly at Khila'eru. "What I meant was, that it should be recovered and taken to the Academy."
"I would think that we would get to keep it, but..." Khila'eru shrugs.
"An artifact of this magnitude should be kept at the Academy where it can be observed."
Khila'eru rubs her temples. "Oh, Hiro..."
Ayaka nods. "It should be somewhere safe... not where it is... but... how to..." She trails off.
Khila'eru decides to change the subject. "And what of those who guard this tower?"
The elderly barber, who had been grinning slightly at the whole exchange, sobers up a little and looks back at the script. "Guards? Eh... here we go. 'The Great Wizard summoned the best warriors and monsters and tied them to his tower for all eternity to watch over his stronghold. They're tough, hard to kill, and rather cranky about being cooped up in a tower for all eternity. Caution is advised."
Pyralis chuckles. "I'd imagine I'd be cranky about being cooped up somewhere for all eternity, too..."
Hiro responds to Khila'eru, "Pull yourself together, we are on our final quest for the Academy - we need to complete our tests. The Academy has sent us here because they know about this artifact and they don't want it to fall into the wrong hands."
Khila'eru, who was listening to the barber and was distracted by Hiro, elbows him in the ribs. Hiro grimaces in pain. "What was that for?" he whispers to her.
Khila'eru ignores Hiro and asks the barber, "Might there be any other information that we may find useful?"
The barber looks over the script. "Well, I'll give you directions, of course... the 'Tower' really starts at the Town Library... although it is in a real tower. But other than that..."
Rufus suddenly speaks up. "I have some information for you all."
"Yes, sir?" Khila'eru responds.
Pyralis raises an eyebrow as he turns to Rufus and listens attentively. Hiro attempts to clear his mind and listen as well.
Rufus goes on, "Most of that information is true... the Library building is a tower, and used to be a wizard's workshop... and there's still dangers there that aren't things the Academy planted there."
"Interesting..." Khila'eru says.
Ayaka opens her mouth to say something, then silently closes her mouth again, thinking hard now. "Then let's go..." she finally says.
"Where is this tower?" Hiro asks.
The elderly fellow snorts, ignoring the students for the moment. "Oh, c'mon Rufus, you don't buy that boy's tall stories, do you?"
"Wait. What stories?" Khila'eru asks, perplexed.
"What tall stories? People have seen ghosts, Boss."
"Yeah, but only when that boy is around! Kinda suspicious, that. And nobody's found any evidence for what he says."
Ayaka narrows her eyes, taking out her brochure map and thinking harder.
"Who is this boy you mention?" Hiro asks.
"And what does he say?" Khila'eru adds.
Hiro nods. Pyralis continues to simply listen to what is said.
Rufus addresses Hiro and Khila'eru. "There's a boy in the tower, works in the Library now. They found him when the town first started building in the tower a year ago. Says that there's a crazy wizard... not the one who made the place, but another one... who's immortal by some kind of machine and has been stealing townspeople to feed it. Says the ghosts of some of the people killed are still there... and some people have seen 'em."
"Yeah, but only when he's around!"
"Shh, Boss, I'm talking here."
Khila'eru listens amusedly. Pyralis raises an eyebrow, but says nothing. Hiro wishes Rufus would carry on with the story.
"Anyway. The boy won't leave the tower... says he can't. And people have combed every inch of the tower and found nothing."
"Because there's nothing there to find... ."
"Boss, shut up. In any case, that's all I know... if you want more, you'd have to ask the boy yourself, I guess."
"If you want to waste yer time..." The elderly fellow insists.
"So, where is this 'boy'?" Hiro asks.
"The Library, perhaps?" Khila'eru guesses.
The elderly fellow sighs and nods. "Works in the Library in the tower, like Rufus said. Has red hair, goes by the name 'Cassidy'."
"Thank you both for your help," Khila'eru says politely. Ayaka nods, clearly grateful. She remains silent, though, thinking hard.
"You're welcome. The Head Librarian will send you to the quest part of the tower if you ask for her at the Library," the elderly barber says.
Hiro looks at the group. "I think our next stop is the Library."
"Lead on Ayaka, you have the map," Khila'eru suggests.
Ayaka nods and turns to walk out of the salon. Pyralis also nods, willing to follow the others wherever it is that they go... and then he does, as they leave. Khila'eru heads out with the rest, wondering what awaits them. Hiro waits patiently and then follows his colleagues out of the salon.
As they head out of the shop, they find that the sun has gone down a bit further, although there's still enough light to see by. They walk through the city, following Ayaka's brochure directions, and eventually come to a huge stone tower that goes up three stories. There is a pair of stone doors on one wall of the tower, with a sign that says "Clarksburg Municipal Library" hung over them.
Ayaka chuckles faintly before she enters the Library, her eyes narrowing. Everyone follows, as they push the stone doors open. It is a generously-sized space with stone floors and stone walls, lined with shelves packed with books. There are tables set up in the middle of the floorspace along the length of the Library, with a few patrons seated at them, reading and working quietly. At the back of the Library is a long counter, behind which a trio of librarians putter about working on things. Finally, a fellow stands near one of the shelves at the back, shelving books from a nearby cart.
Khila'eru walks over to the counter. As she does, the nearest librarian looks up at her. "Hi there, welcome to the Library!"
Meanwhile, Ayaka walks down one of the aisles, peering at the books thoughtfully. Reference... fiction categories... non-fiction categories... an entire wall of Harlequin Romances... She ponders and shakes her head a little, making her way to the back of the Library. The bookboy glances over at her as he continues shelving books, but doesn't say anything.
Pyralis also looks around idly, but not really moving towards one bookcase or another. It's quiet, and the various patrons ignore Ayaka and Pyralis as they wander around... however, the librarian not talking to Khila'eru keeps a watchful eye between them both.
Khila'eru, meanwhile, answers "her" librarian, "We are the students from the Academy here for the test."
The librarian perks up even more. "Oh, goody! Academy testers! Yay, the Head Librarian told us to look out for you!" She looks over at the Head Librarian, who smiles and steps closer to the counter.
Pyralis watches Khila'eru converse with librarians while he sits down at an unoccupied table. Ayaka continues to pace, silently, peering at the books intently... "The Joy of Hex"... "I Married a Succubus"... "There and Back Again: A Halfling's Guide to the Multiverse"... She chuckles very softly.
Khila'eru returns the Head Librarian's smile... while looking downward. The Head Librarian is a very old-looking Gnome wearing a blue robe and a hat almost taller than she is. She says to Khila'eru in a high voice, "You're here for the test? Good, good. The natives are getting a little restless." She chuckles.
The bookboy pushes his cart closer to the counter, sets some of them on the counter, and starts looking through them. Khila'eru makes a mental note to speak to him later.
Hiro decides to spend some time himself looking at the titles on the shelves to see if he finds anything interesting. He spies some encyclopedias... "How to Cook Almost Everything", with a volume for almost every type of lifeform in existence and then some... "The Cleric's Guide to Worship Without Being Killed and/or Excommunicated", with volumes for all the gods... The "Encyclopedia Britannia"...
Hiro wonders if there are any books about monastic orders and monk abilities. He goes over to the librarian that Khila'eru isn't talking to and asks after what sort of books monks might like. "You'd want the bookshelf about three left from the door, there..." The librarian points. "That's the section on martial arts-related tomes, if memory serves."
Hiro bows. "Thank you for your assistance." He then goes over to the shelf in question. It is indeed full of various books related to the martial arts and those who practice it. He salivates as he browses the titles about martial arts forms, picking up a few and trying to memorize some of the techniques illustrated within the pages.
Khila'eru looks about, notices her Party's wanderings, and says, "Well, my companions seem a trifle preoccupied at the moment..."
The Head Librarian chuckles at her. "Oh, well, I'm always gladdened to see young folk filling their minds with knowledge! The 'testing guards' can sit tight a little longer. Let me know when you're ready!"
Khila'eru smiles. "Diol-lle," she says, as she moves away.
"Lle creoso!" the Head Librarian responds, then goes off to her work again.
Khila'eru turns her attention to the bookboy and looks him over. She finds that he's not really a boy, technically... he seems to be in his late teens. He has copper-colored hair, white skin, and plain clothes made of thick cloth, and is also wearing a scarf and gloves. The bookboy notices Khila'eru's scrutiny, swallows, and pretends to be occupied looking at his pile of books.
Pyralis finally gets bored and gets up, perusing an unoccupied shelf at random. Meanwhile, Ayaka decides to head over to the librarian Khila'eru had been talking to and query about books pertaining to her profession.
The librarian purses her lips slightly as she thinks. "Oh, well... I think that the shelf in the corner there..." - she points - "Might have some stuff on traps and doors and all that completely fun stuff! But we don't have anything on, you know, picking pockets and stuff, 'cause that would be bad and the constables would get all mad at us and stuff and that wouldn't be good at all!" Ayaka laughs, smirking in agreement, before she nods in gratitude and goes off to examine the books in question.
Khila'eru ignores the bookboy's reticence and asks him, "Would your name be Cassidy, by any chance?" Hiro pauses in his book studying as he notices Khila'eru talking to the bookboy, and heads over to see if he is in fact the boy that the barbers mentioned.
As Pyralis looks at his random shelf, he finds himself managing to have stopped by the Romances wall. He looks it over and wonders just who in their right mind would really want to read "The Orc Bunny of Love" or "My Night With the Prince of Tieflings". Then again, maybe that's why the wall is unoccupied.
Pyralis raises an eyebrow. "The Orc Bunny of Love?" he mutters under his breath. Shaking his head, he moves down the shelves, looking to see if there is anything... more reasonable.
As he wanders his attention again, he finds there's a nice wall devoted to book series... Paladin Peter's crusade to right wrongs and save distressed damsels... The Clever Cleric's series of solving unsolved mysteries by speaking to the dead... The Power of the Planes, all about a dashing rogue and his sorceror sidekick's adventures through the multiverse... Pyralis grins slightly. "Hmm... some rather alliterative authors in this section..."
After staying quiet for a few moments, the bookboy finally says in a soft voice, without looking at Khila'eru, "Yes, I'm Cassidy. Why?"
"Well, I had just heard that you might know some interesting things about this tower. And I like learning interesting things." Khila'eru smiles at the boy in a reassuring way, while Hiro watches her "flirtations" with amusement.
Cassidy finally looks up at her and says, "Aye, I do ken... some things about this tower. Not that anyone believes 'em, mind yeh..."
"Humans have a habit of labeling that which they do not understand as 'impossible' or 'untrue'."
"Aye, that we do."
"Not all species have such a narrow view of the multiverse."
Cassidy swallows. "Well, I s'pose I'll tell yeh... yeh need to know anyway if yeh'll be questing abou' in the tower."
"Anything you have to say may well be of help to us."
Cassidy looks over to the nearby librarians. The Head Librarian and the perky librarian are watching with faintly disapproving looks on their faces. Ayaka notices the proceedings and wanders over from her book browsing, one ear twitching.
Cassidy gathers the pile of books back off the counter and onto the cart again, then says, "Well, not here, then. Over to another part of the Library."
"Perhaps we could step outside and enjoy the sunshine?" Khila'eru suggests.
"No!" Cassidy says, a little overloud. The librarians and the patrons in the tables nearby all go, "Shh!"
Cassidy looks slightly abashed and says in a quieter voice, "No, I can't, I'm sorry. I can't leave this tower."
Khila'eru says, "Oh dear! I am sorry."
Hiro steps closer. "Do not worry, we just need information about the wizard."
"It's all right." Cassidy gestures towards the empty table nearest the door. "Let's go over there... pull over a few chairs, yeh?"
Khila'eru nods and moves to sit at the table. Ayaka also nods silently as she moves to sit at the table, too. Pyralis hears Cassidy's outburst and, consequently, the invitation to the table. He pulls a chair up and sits down. Hiro also grabs a chair of his own. Cassidy finally sits down himself, a slightly nervous look on his face.
Our Party gathers together to listen to Cassidy's story of the tower and decide for themselves whether it's true or just malarkey...