Finals at the Academy:Campaign/Chapter 06

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Chapter 6: Rage Against the Machine

"When we last left Our Party, they had all gathered around a table in the Town Library, to find out about the Tower they're about to go testing in from the supposed resident expert."

"Hmm, I know that we just sat down, but it feels like we've been here for weeks..." Khila'eru comments.

"And it's bloody freezing in here," Hiro adds.

Cassidy wryly pokes at his gloves and scarf and says, "I wouldna know, I'm afraid."

Ayaka nods a little, the Elven girl choosing to remain silent, but she does agree, hugging herself slightly now.

"You should close the door then," Khila'eru tells Hiro.

"I didn't leave it open," Hiro protests.

Khila'eru rolls her eyes, before getting up and closing the door. The night air, still not quite caught up with the summer weather, is finally closed out of the building. She sighs and sits back down.

Pyralis nods slightly. "Now that that's out of the way..." He lets his statement trail off, implying that somebody should commence with the speaking.

Ayaka chuckles very softly. "It should warm up in here soon then... now that the door is closed," she murmurs.

Khila'eru leans over the table and rests her chin on her hand, smiling slightly. Cassidy smiles slightly himself, then clasps his gloved hands in front of himself on the table and says quietly, "So, what do yeh ken about this place already?"

Hiro turns to him and answers, "We don't really know that much apart from the fact that the Tower is occupied by a powerful wizard, and that somewhere within its walls we will find a magical artifact of great power. We were hoping you could tell us more."

"That and the whole 'test' thing..." Khila'eru adds.

"Well, I cannae help yeh wi' yer test at all, that's yer own thing, I'm afraid."

Ayaka nods in agreement. "But you can tell us more about the tower yes... ?"

Cassidy nods. "I can at that."

"So that perhaps we might know what is not a part of the test?" Khila'eru says.

Cassidy thinks a bit. "Where ta start? Well, this whole matter actually starts wi' th' 'Cademy, too, so ta speak."

Pyralis raises an eyebrow. "It starts with the Academy? Well, of course it does... I mean, the non-test stuff starts with the Academy?"

Ayaka blinks a bit, stunned, but even so she remains quiet.

"Hmm, do go on," Khila'eru says.

Cassidy chuckles. "Yeh it does all start wi' th' 'Cademy. Years ago... I mean, a lot o' years ago, this town was just a little village. This tower..." He gestures with one of his hands, "... was out in th' middle a nowhere. Used ta have a wizard in it, it did, but he up and vanished a few years afore th' 'Cademy came along.

"Now, th' town an' th' 'Cademy, once they figured out th' fella was gone fer good, went in an' poked around, but they didn't find much, ya see. The wizard took all his stuff with 'im... or so they thought, anyway."

Ayaka is silent while she listens, the tip of one ear twitching. Pyralis leans forward slightly, listening intently himself.

"So, th' 'Cademy thought it would be a good spot fer doin' some o' th' tests for their first ever batch o' students. So they sent a Party in, an' that's when things went all pear-shaped."

Pyralis raises an eyebrow. "Things went... pear-shaped? How do you mean?"

Cassidy leans forward himself. "The wizard didna take everythin' with 'im... it's just that his workshop wasna part of th' normal tower, it was behind a portal! One o' th' students in that Party, a wizard himself, accidentally opened th' portal, an' stumbled into th' workshop."

Pyralis is definitely paying attention now, in case he needs to avoid repeating history, being an arcane caster himself. "What happened then?"

Khila'eru smiles. Ayaka listens even more intently, a worried look having passed over her face and gone again all in a matter of seconds. A lock of her hair comes loose then and falls over her eyes, the green orbs narrowing slightly as she continues to listen. Hiro sits still, listening to the unfolding story.

"He found some scrolls, a few wands, some low-level stuff o' th' Art like that. But the big thing was a magic machine. Some experiment, somethin' th' old wizard couldna move, I dunno what it was, but it was there."

Hiro narrows his eyes. "And, is it still there?"

"Oh, it's still there... an' so is th' wizard student who found it! Ya see, it's an immortality machine o' some kind. Yeh can... feed people to it, an' it takes their energy and puts it inta yeh. He used two o' th' other folks in th' Party ta test it out." Cassidy gets a dark and angry expression on his face.

Hiro wonders why the Academy didn't tell them about this important information, while Khila'eru says out loud, "How dreadful!"

Pyralis furrows his brow, partly in disgust and partly in apprehension. "And he's been there all this time... becoming more powerful... and more evil..."

"And the Academy, they knew about this?" Hiro asks.

Ayaka narrows her eyes now, and they glitter coldly as she listens. Her snake curls tighter around her neck and she mutters incoherently to it. "That's wrong. We have to stop him. Somehow."

Cassidy leans back in his chair and looks frustrated as he answers. "O' course, they did! But, yeh think th' 'Cademy's gonna say that, o, yeh, one o' our first bunch o' students vanished? Plus th' wizard student is crafty... he can make th' portal open fer only him, an' it's not like there's much about th' rest o' this place that's odd." He laughs without humor and finishes, "So th' other folks all think I'm dotty."

Pyralis grins slightly. "Yeah... we noticed..."

Khila'eru lowers her eyes and asks in a gentle tone, "Cassidy, why is it that people disbelieve your story?", before she looks him straight in the eyes.

Cassidy sighs. "I guess I cannae blame 'em. I mean, it's not like I got anythin' I can show 'em fer evidence. An'..." He trails off.

Ayaka narrows her eyes then as Cassidy trails off, and she says, kindly, "Go on... ?" She blushes.

Before Cassidy can continue, however, Hiro stands up, showing a rare sign of emotion. "This cannot continue - we will stop him! And then, the Academy will have a few questions to answer!"

Khila'eru sighs. "Hiro, please sit down, he's been here for hundreds of years, he's not going anywhere." She then asks Cassidy, "If this sorcerer feeds people to his machine, then why does no one notice?"

Hiro looks around the table embarrassingly and sits back down, clearly angry though, as Cassidy answers Khila'eru, "It's a big town, yeh ken, Miz Cleric? Th' constables keep th' peace mostly, but still, yeh get some... problems, where things happen ta people. Lots o' travelers goin' on through here... yeh cannae watch 'em all ta make sure they donnae disappear..."

Cassidy then addresses Hiro, "An, th' 'Cademy's been coverin' this up fer decades... they're not gonna listen unless yeh got somethin' ta show 'em... if any of 'em now even remember after all this time."

Ayaka says coldly, "Then we have to stop him and get proof." She seems fairly mad now.

"The Academy must have archives - there must be a record of the original students who disappeared," Hiro protests.

Cassidy shakes his head at Hiro. "Records are paper... paper can be lost, burned... Only record there is now prolly is what's in mah head."

Hiro looks at Cassidy with a sly smile. "Then we must make sure nothing happens to you."

Cassidy laughs a bit darkly. "Oh, yeh needn't worry... I cannae leave th' Tower... an' nothin' can happen ta me either."

"And how do you know all this then, Cassidy?" Khila'eru asks.

Ayaka raises an eyebrow, her bright eyes sparkling before she thinks over everything she's heard. She doesn't say anything though, her face empty of any emotion.

Cassidy leans forward and says sardonically, "That's another reason why nobody else believes me. Th' wizard used th' machine... but it was unstable... too much energy fer just one person. So, he killed two o' th' Party ta feed ta th' machine. But then he had ta connect th' last person in along wi' himself, so th' machine kept 'em both alive."

Hiro clenches his fists tightly. "So this machine is actually being powered by human beings?"

"Yeh, lots o' em. Th' machine only lasts so long before yeh have ta feed it again. Yeh can use other lifeforms too, but beings wi' brains work th' best." Cassidy looks a bit ill.

Ayaka eyes Cassidy now, her eyes narrowing a little more, and Khila'eru sits back in her chair. Hiro sits for a while in concentration, then suddenly says, "No, Cassidy, the Academy must know - why would they have sent us on this mission if they didn't think that we could put an end to this?"

Cassidy shrugs. "Th' town only recently got big enough ta build up ta here. Hardly anyone's alive by now that'd remember... an' those who do th' 'Cademy ain't gonna let tell. Fer all I know, nobody at th' 'Cademy even remembers now anyway."

Pyralis shakes his head slightly, then gets up and paces around a bit. He doesn't go out of earshot, though. Ayaka looks a little suspicious now, her eyes narrowing a touch more, glittering almost coldly now. Cassidy notices her look, and offers, "Hold out yer hand fer a mo', Miz Elf."

Ayaka blinks and flicks a look at everyone else before she follows his command, her snake slithering down her arm to rest at her wrists, staring at Cassidy.

Cassidy pulls off one of his gloves, then touches Ayaka's hand briefly with his fingertips. She stares at him intently before she jolts, pulling her hand swiftly backwards, her face paling. Swallowing hard, she pushes to her feet and edges away, pacing a little now, shivering uncontrollably, memories of her past surfacing in her mind.

Cassidy looks apologetic and opens his mouth as if to say something... then sighs and puts his glove back on. Finally he says, "I'm sorry, Miz Elf Lady."

Ayaka opens her mouth to say something, then closes it again, silent tears filling her eyes. "It's OK... I... I'm sorry..." she finally croaks.

Cassidy looks at the others and offers, "Th' machine has a few side effects, yeh see..."

Pyralis raises an eyebrow, slightly suspicious of Cassidy after Ayaka's strange reaction. "What... sort of side effects?"

"Th' machine turns th' folks it keeps alive inta lesser versions o' itself. If I touched a person long enough, I could take their energy outta them. That's why I wear these, yeh see." Cassidy indicates his gloves and scarf. "As it is, even me touchin' someone fer a mo' is a bit... troublin'."

Hiro stares at Cassidy. "God, surely it's not possible?"

Khila'eru, shocked by Hiro's complete lack of tact, kicks him under the table. Cassidy just looks at him puzzledly. "What are yeh askin' isna possible?"

"You've been connected to the machine?"

"Aye. Unfortunately."

"And you still live..."

"Aye, that I do."

Hiro places a hand on Cassidy's shoulder. "We will end this, Cassidy!"

Cassidy stiffens slightly at the touch, but says, "I thank yeh. And I wish yeh luck, he's a crafty one."

Ayaka smiles gently. "We will get you out of here," she says.

Khila'eru, however, is somewhat suspicious. "What do you want, Cassidy? Why do you tell us your story?"

"'Cause if I tell enough people, mebbe someone will believe me an' do somethin' about it. I donnae want ta live like this, and I donnae want ta see him doin' this sort o' thing either. Plus, ever since this Library was built, it's harder fer him ta sneak people in. Mebbe he'll take advantage o' th' test ta try ta... pull yeh in. Mebbe you'll have a better chance ta find some evidence th' Town can't ignore." Cassidy then looks at the ceiling, makes an odd gesture over his heart, and says, "It's not good o' me, but I'm outta ideas, I am."

Ayaka sighs and chews on her lip, swallowing harder now. She then shivers slightly, her eyes drifting closed. "We have to stop him and help you, Cassidy."

Khila'eru appears lost in contemplation for a while. Finally, she says, "May I ask what your 'ideas' have been in the past?"

"Well, I've tried tellin' everyone I can think 'a... an' tried stoppin' him sometimes, but I donnae have th' Art like he does... an' I can't leave th' Tower like he does, either. This place can see yer soul, it can."

Hiro turns toward Cassidy. "He leaves the Tower? Do you know when?"

Pyralis raises an eyebrow. "The tower can see your soul? How--" Lacking any coherent thoughts or words, he falls silent and listens.

Cassidy answers Hiro, "Usually when I'm asleep. One o' th' few needs th' machine doesna fill fer ya."

Ayaka shudders now, sitting down again.

"Maybe we can use this to our advantage," Hiro ponders.

"Mebbe. But, he hasna been able ta do anythin' now that th' 'Cademy's set up in here fer th' test."

Ayaka is silent now, thinking hard. Khila'eru asks Cassidy, "What were you before? Not a spellcaster, you said, but what?"

Cassidy reaches under his collar, pulls out a necklace, and hands it over to Khila'eru. It has a somewhat crudely carved wooden sun symbol on it. "I was... well, still am... a Paladin, if yeh can believe it. Though afore that... I was just a farm boy, as mebbe yeh could guess anyway by mah talk. They wasna that picky about their students when they first got started... motley bunch, we was."

Pyralis raises an eyebrow. He remains silent, but thinks to himself, "Hmm... stacking shelves and sorting books... an unconventional pastime for a paladin, to be sure..."

Ayaka is silent as she thinks, listening intently, though. Khila'eru continues her questioning. "So this wizard, is he evil?"

Pyralis chuckles. "No... he only sticks people into a machine in order to harvest their energy and make himself immortal..."

Hiro stares at Khila'eru incredulously. "Are you serious?"

"Should I say, was he always evil?"

Cassidy smiles a bit sardonically. "He was a Duke's son... th' youngest. Thought that an' th' Art in his blue blood made 'im better than th' rest o' us. But yeh ask me, his folks got rid o' him too, just like mosta us, 'cause they was afraid o' him."

Ayaka chuckles dryly, softly and ponders, as Cassidy continues.

"Th' 'Cademy's a big deal now, sure, but back then people thought it was a joke, mostly. So mosta th' students were kids their parents didna want around fer one reason o' another."

Hiro rolls his eyes. "Great, another spoilt brat to deal with!"

Pyralis chuckles dryly. "Look at it this way... before, you would have had to deal with multiple brats at one time. Now... you can handle this one individually..."

Hiro narrows his eyes. "I suppose you do have a point."

"Yeh know, I wondered what had happened with yeh all. I nosed at th' papers... wasn't there a Dwarf with yeh?"

Pyralis smiles grimly at Cassidy's question. He looks about ready to say something else sarcastic, but decides against it and restrains himself.

Ayaka shivers and looks away. "There was." Hiro tenses up noticeably, but says nothing.

"But is he evil," Khila'eru persists at Cassidy, "Or just mean?"

Cassidy shrugs slightly. "He's driven by th' Art. Wants ta use it ta be famous, ta have a reign o' his own. Mebbe he wasna a black tyrant, but... he's not afraid ta use people fer his own purposes, obviously. But, yeh, he's mean. An' by now even if he wasna evil afore, yeh cannae take this sorta mark off yer soul. Though considerin' th' sorta wizard that would make such a machine, an' that Thane found a portal no one else did... an' this place can see inside yeh... mebbe he was evil then, too."

Hiro closes his eyes in contemplation. "Everyone has a dark side within themselves - it is up to them whether they decide to follow it or not." Ayaka nods in agreement to Hiro's statement, twitching a little, then chewing on her lip.

"Have you ever fought him?" Khila'eru continues.

"I fought him a few times... but thanks ta th' machine, we cannae do much ta each other. Yeh cannae really kill a person connected ta th' machine... only knock them down good. Well, depends on how yeh hurt 'em, mebbe. I never... well... yeh know, mebbe if yeh..." Cassidy gulps and trails off.

Pyralis raises an eyebrow. "This tower can see inside you? You mentioned that before... but what do you mean by that?"

"Do you not know if he is evil?" Khila'eru starts getting impatient. Cassidy looks at her nervously.

"I think he's evil, yeh. And I donnae how this place can see in yeh, but there's places you cannae go, things that'll stop yeh, depending on who yeh are, if the person in charge wants it..."

Khila'eru stands up quickly, nearly knocking over her chair, and slams her hand down on the table. "What manner of paladin are you?! You are a coward who can not even detect evil!" She glares at Cassidy, her eyes burning with anger. "You are sworn to protect, to punish evil, and yet you sit here and stack books! How could you possibly defend your actions!"

Ayaka shifts uneasily but remains silent. Hiro, however, stands and confronts Khila'eru, grabbing her by the shoulders. "He does not know what he has done - his brain has been fried by that evil machine. Look at him - he is no fit state to do anything but stack books!"

Pyralis raises an eyebrow and also stands up, intending to help restrain Khila'eru if necessary. "Come on now... there's no need to get hostile..."

Cassidy cringes from Khila'eru and speaks in a rush. "I donnae know! I'm attached ta a machine that feeds offa people! Th' gods donnae speak ta me as much anymore, and most o' the grace they gave me doesna work, an' most 'a the stuff I came here with has been stolen... whatever! Do what yeh want, I donnae care!" He shakes his head and runs off from the table, behind the counter, and into the doors behind the counter. The nearby librarians gape slightly as he goes by.

Khila'eru pushes Hiro's hands from her shoulders. "I can abide him no longer!" She turns and strides out of the Library. Hiro looks confused and follows her.

Pyralis does not attempt to stop Khila'eru, but calls after her, "Hey! What's wrong?" He does not, however, follow after her. Instead, he stays and sighs. "What is her deal... it's not like he WANTS to be a bad paladin..."

Ayaka flinches, then sighs, her head in her hands. "Now what do we do?" she whispers. She stands and paces slightly, rubbing at her head. Pyralis shakes his own head slightly, then drops back into his chair with a small sigh of his own.

The Head Librarian nods at the perky librarian, who goes over and opens the office door that Cassidy disappeared into. She looks inside, then shakes her head over at the Head Librarian, who sighs.

Khila'eru stops a few paces outside the door and attempts to steady her feelings. As Hiro catches up, he waits and watches her closely. As she sighs and leans against the cool stone of the Library, he finally approaches her. "What is your problem? Surely you must realize that the cretin inside has had his brain fried by that abominable machine?"

The Head Librarian looks over at Ayaka and Pyralis. "He's a nice boy, really, usually. Just a bit..." She waves her hands a bit. "... unusual."

Ayaka turns towards the counter, nods slightly, then walks over and says, "Will he be OK... ?"

The other librarian offers, "I don't know if he'll be all right, he's taken off again." She looks unperky for once.

Ayaka sighs. "I hope he will be..." She turns away now, thinking.

Khila'eru looks up sharply at Hiro's comment, the sparkle of tears cooling some of her anger's fire. He sees that she is troubled and asks, "What is it?" as he hesitantly reaches out and places his hand on her shoulder. "Khila, I wish to help, if I am able."

Khila'eru shrugs off Hiro's hand. "The only hope I can hold for that boy is that he is a liar, because the punishment that he would deserve otherwise is..." She trails off and takes another deep breath.

"I don't understand - he was put in the machine and then left to live in an idiotic state - he needs our help! Surely you don't think that he would have wished this fate upon himself?"

"It matters not what he 'wishes' - it is his actions which carry the weight."

"All that matters now is that we put an end to this evil regime." Hiro holds out his hand to Khila'eru. "Come, let's go back inside and find a way to end this madness!"

"You don't even know what he's done!"

"I don't know what who has done?"

"That boy!"

"Then tell me - what has he done?"

Ayaka walks quietly outside the Library herself, as Khila'eru looks down and sighs. "He has all but forfeit his soul, and it is painful to see."

Hiro is calm now. "But you must see that it was not of his doing?"

Ayaka leans against the wall on the other side of the doors, as Khila'eru answers, "It is a great honor to be a paladin, and a great trial. It is not a path for the weak of spirit."

"But when you come against a being with such power as this evil wizard has, I feel there is little you can do," Hiro insists.

"And it is he who is responsible for his own actions."

"I really don't think so - he was just not strong enough to resist."

"To all but give up as he has done, it is an unthinkable action!"

"I think he understands that, and helping us is his way of trying to make up for the past."

"He is no weaker than us, and yet you wish to confront his 'oppressor'?"

Hiro stares questioningly at Khila'eru. "Don't you? I wish to end this as soon as possible!"

"Of course. But do you realize that he may well die if we should succeed?"

"I think that death may actually give him some sort of release!"

Ayaka doesn't hear this conversation at all, slumping a little before she moves further away. She slides down the wall, her head in her hands.

Khila'eru whispers, almost under her breath, "I fear for his soul... and the tragedy of it fills me with pain as well as anger."

Hiro places a hand on Khila'eru's shoulder. "I fear for it too, but we must destroy this wizard no matter what the consequences..."

Pyralis sighs inwardly as he watches Ayaka leave the Library. "Oi... it's been established that the test will occur in here, but everyone else has walked out..." He then stops speaking aloud, but continues his monologue in his head - "I know that they'll come back in... but it seems like everyone's getting awfully emotional..."

He rolls his head around a bit before getting bored. He then pulls out his quarterstaff and begins fiddling with it, rolling it around in his hands.

"Do you see now why it is I wish that he lies?"

Hiro closes his eyes. "Yes, I see..."

"Diol-lle. Now, would you mind giving me a moment alone to gather my thoughts?"

Hiro looks away rather embarrassingly. "Er, yes... of course, please, take your time..." He walks away toward the doors, and observes Ayaka slumped against the wall. "Are you okay?"

Ayaka gives herself a shake, then looks up at Hiro. "Cassidy's touch reminds me of someone... Someone I thought was lost long ago." She swallows hard. "Someone I hope is still lost." She trembles a bit and looks away. "We have to help him."

Hiro stares at Ayaka. "Who are you talking about?"

Ayaka smiles faintly. "When I was a child there was this strange Human... he hated Elves with a vengeance... if he got a hold of them the Elf was later found frozen solid, but nothing else wrong with them..." She shudders. "I don't remember his name.. I just remember the night I barely managed to evade him... He..." She shudders now, even harder.

Hiro crouches next to her. "Calm down; take a few deep breaths..." Ayaka nods slightly, inhaling, then exhaling quietly, and calming down. "Try and remember..." Hiro continues.

Ayaka licks her lips, shivering now. "He... did... unspeakable things to Elven children... he tried to do them to me..." She swallows hard, her eyes closing now. "He held me hostage for three months... at the least..."

Hiro looks at Ayaka sympathetically. "Do you think that the same creature is in this tower somewhere?"

Ayaka hugs herself. "I hope it isn't. I really do... But... There might be something in there that makes us face our fears..."

"I think we need to ground ourselves, both mentally and spiritually, and face our fears."

Ayaka nods in agreement. "I think so, too."

"OK, then, let's go back inside and resume our quest."

Ayaka nods then, rubbing at her nose, before she pulls herself to her feet. "Yes, let's."

Khila'eru, meanwhile, gathers her own thoughts, heads back inside, and sits at the table once more. She looks around and asks Pyralis, "Are the others not back yet?"

Before Pyralis can answer, Ayaka walks through the door and sits down again, silent now, her shape twitching. Hiro follows a few seconds later.

"Ah," Khila'eru says.

Pyralis also watches as the others come back in and thinks to himself, "Ah... perhaps we will get back to business, now."

As the four adventures gather once again, they see that most of the patrons look like they're about ready to pack it in. The once-perky librarian is still standing unhappily by the right-hand office door. The Head Librarian looks over at our party and offers brightly, "Feeling any better, young ones? I think your friend here is getting a bit bored." She nods at Pyralis.

Ayaka remains silent, shivering somewhat. Pyralis grins slightly, then realizes that he's still playing with his staff and, going a bit red in the face from embarrassment, puts it away. The various townspeople finishing gathering up their things, and bit by bit head out every so often as the minutes go on.

Hiro looks towards Pyralis. "I think that we are ready to move forward now."

Pyralis chuckles slightly. "I may think that's great, but don't tell me that... I'm not the one leading the party."

Ayaka remains silent, her eyes drifting closed, as Hiro continues, "I was just apologizing because you may have felt left out slightly."

"Hey, don't apologize, either... just because I don't have an interesting history doesn't mean you have to create one for me. I'm just here to graduate from the Academy and become certified... for me, THAT'S when the adventures begin."

Hiro lowers his eyes. "Its just that we three have a history together, so we tend to support each other in times of trouble - eventually we will see you in the same way."

Pyralis grins slightly. A bit of tenderness emerges, but he manages to retain his somewhat hardened exterior (mostly). "Well... until then, let's stick to business..."

Hiro looks to the group in general. "So, do we know how to enter the Tower?"

Khila'eru indicates the librarians with her head. "We could ask them, perhaps."

Pyralis clears his throat roughly, then listens to Khila'eru's suggestion. Hiro nods in agreement and heads towards the Head Librarian. He steps up to the desk and politely waits for her to notice him.

Pyralis watches as Hiro attempts to attain information from the Head Librarian. Ayaka rubs at her face now, her trembling ceasing as she calms fully. Khila'eru stands and decides to approaches the unhappy librarian.

"Is he all right?"

The unhappy librarian looks up at Khila'eru. "I don't know. He'd already gone off by time I looked in."

"I apologize if I caused a scene... being aligned with Chaos has certain... side effects."

Meanwhile, the Head Librarian smiles at Hiro, though it's still touched with a bit of worry. "Everything all set, young man?"

"Erm, yes... we were wondering, er, how to, er, enter the Tower?"

The Head Librarian says, "Ah, yes. You'll be going through the Office over here. Honestly, the Library will be closing soon, but you might be able to get some of your testing in still." She looks over at the librarian talking to Khila'eru. "Rosie, could you go talk to Miss Tate for me?"

"Sure, I will." Rosie then offers to Khila'eru, "It's OK. I'd be lying if I said we haven't been kinda... it's hard to believe him, you know? But he's a nice boy, so I feel kinda bad. I guess he'll come back down sooner or later." She then disappears into the Office.

Ayaka gives herself a shake, then pushes to her feet, walking towards the counter. Hiro asks the Head Librarian, "Is it OK for us to enter?"

After a few minutes, Rosie emerges. "They say they're willing to let them in. I can stay here and lock up afterwards..." Rosie unlocks the counter flap and gestures for our party to follow her into the Office.

Hiro answers Rosie's beckon. Ayaka follows, silent now, her shape twitching. Khila'eru enters as well and looks around the room. Finally, Pyralis gets up and heads into the Office himself after seeing everyone else go in.

They find themselves inside a small office. A pair of double-sided simple desks is in the room, as well as a larger and more ornate desk. All of the desks have a variety of books, scrolls, inkpens, and similar paraphernalia on them. A tall cherry wardrobe stands in one part of the room, while the north wall has a pair of double doors on it.

Ayaka sits down at one of the desks and rubs at her face, eyeing the doors. Pyralis walks over to a table and leans on one of the pushed-in chairs, not wanting to crowd the door (even though he's pretty sure that no one else will be coming through it anytime soon).

Hiro looks at Rosie. "I take it we go through those doors over there?"

Rosie nods at Hiro. "Yes indeed. Inside is the first side of the test. I'll wait in here for a couple hours."

Khila'eru, meanwhile, stares at the cherry wardrobe curiously. "Odd place for a wardrobe..."

Ayaka blinks a bit and nods. "I agree," she whispers.

Pyralis raises an eyebrow and eyes the wardrobe. "Hmm... yes... I agree, too."

Hiro, however, seems more interested in the pair of double doors. He goes over and opens one of them. "OK, let's go!" he says to the others.

Ayaka shivers and nods, pushing to her feet. "Let's." She follows, silently. Pyralis nods a bit, then follows Hiro through himself.

Khila'eru, however, hangs back and looks at Rosie while gesturing at the wardrobe, her earlier implied question hanging heavy in the air. Rosie grins a bit at her. "Yes, it is a wacky place for a wardrobe. Though it does indeed have some clothes in it."

Khila'eru asks, with a mischievous smile, "What kind of clothes?"

"Cloaks mostly." Rosie winks a bit.

"Might I... take a peek?"

Hiro looks inside the new room. It is a rather plain stone room, not as finished as the walls of the Library, with a pair of double doors on the far wall. He sees a young woman sitting on a bedroll on the floor inside. As the three party members enter she stands up and walks over to them.

Ayaka looks around the room, then licks her lips, eyeing the woman warily. She backs away a bit now. Pyralis raises an eyebrow as he looks around the room. He takes a step forward (as to not crowd the door), then sees the woman as she approaches. Hiro wonders where Khila'eru has gotten off to, but puts it out of his mind and concentrates on his surroundings. He also notices the strange woman walking towards him, and readies himself for trouble.

"Madam, might I ask you some questions?" Hiro addresses the woman.

Rosie shakes her head and looks a bit less coy. "There's really a secret passage inside one of the walls... well, if you can call a passage that everyone knows about secret! You can't use it for the test, though, sorry!"

Khila'eru smiles and nods. Aware of the goings-on in the other room, she then steps to the side so that she might get a better view through the door.

The Human woman sets her hand on her hip and grins. She has short reddish-blonde hair, and is wearing a tan-colored midriff-bearing bodice and a knee-length skirt of the same color. In her other hand she sports a quarterstaff, which seems to have large white rubber cylinders on either end of it, and is currently set on the ground as if like a walking stick. "Sure," she says in a cheery voice, "ask all the questions you like!"

Ayaka remains silent, eyeing the woman. Hiro eyes the woman up and down himself, taking in the red hair with a sly smile. "We are on a quest to enter the Tower, can you be of assistance?"

The woman twirls her staff a bit. "Sure I can be of assistance... but you'll have to best me in combat, first. You know how it goes." She winks and gives a sly smirk.

Ayaka blinks a little, shifting uneasily. Hiro appraises the woman and readies himself into a fighting stance. "OK, bring it on!" He smiles at his opponent, calm and ready for the fight.

Pyralis raises an eyebrow and thinks to himself, "We haven't even gotten to the Tower and we've gotten ourselves into a combat situation already?"

The warrior woman twirls her hair a bit and says, "All right, if you're all ready... let's have a rumble!" She pulls the quarterstaff up into a fighting stance and grins in preparation. Ayaka sighs softly, swallowing hard.

Khila'eru finally strolls into the room, after taking in the whole situation, and asks the warrior woman, "Do you by any chance have a map?"