Towers and Titans
Cologne blinked as the board shuddered and began swelling upwards, until it was a cube rather than a flat board. That everything beneath the surface level of the board was translucent to one degree or another, allowing a termite-like warren of tunnels and chambers extending almost a full mile beneath the ground to be shown was just par for the course.
The problem was that the tangled web of tunnels was confusing as all hell to look at from the outside, and there was no way to just look at one small part without looking at everything behind it as well. Looking at it from different angles helped somewhat, but it was still enough to give the casual observer a migraine. From this angle, they could be in any one of a dozen places. From that angle, it was cut down to only three or four. And then was the fact that they wouldn't stop moving, making it even harder to pick out exactly where they were...
And that little trick of partially projecting herself into the game required that she know exactly where they were. If she didn't, she would end up overshooting, or looking at the wrong place, or more recently, given the underground setting, have dirt pressed up to her eyeballs so she couldn't see anything. Not at all amusing. Granted, she could move about freely through the dirt, being insubstantial... only partially there... but the maze of warrens was just as confusing from the inside as from the outside. Taking a deep breath, she projected herself into the game again... and once again overshot by a couple hundred feet, this time into a large chamber directly below them.
Her blood ran cold as she looked at what was happening there, and she forced herself out of the game, grabbed Ranma's paper and scribbled something on the bottom. No time to be subtle about this, as she projected herself into the game again, this time hitting her mark perfectly and landing herself directly in the middle of the, now thoroughly-lost, group's campsite.
"'Go in from beneath!' you said. 'It's like riding a bike... you never forget.' you said. 'Just follow the tunnel and we'll be there in no time' you said. You got us lost underground, Saotome."
"Well... technically this isn't the boy's fault, and you shouldn't be so hard on him. All the places we 'visited' that were set up like this... they just had a simple tunnel, leading to and from the basement. No turn offs, no complicated cavern systems like this, no underground rivers or sudden cave-ins... no monstrous creatures from the depths..."
Everyone shuddered unanimously in remembrance of the fish-monkey-thing with lobster claws they'd run into only minutes after enterring the cave.
"So really, it's not his fault at all. Of course, there were never enough luminescent molds to see by in those tunnels either, and if the roof fell we would have starved to death rather than having underground fish and mushrooms available like we do here..."
"Breakfast is ready, everyone. No miso soup available, I'm afraid, but these boiled mushroom juices are a pleasant substitute."
"Tarre helped, daddy! Did Tarre do good?"
Ranma paused in the rush to food, slightly confused as to what was expected of him. Then he smiled and ruffled her hair. Hell if he knew, so he'd just wing it.
"'Course you did. After all, you're my daughter."
The beaming smile hinted that he'd managed to say the best possible thing. And then the meal began, fish and mushroom soup, with the mushrooms sliced and fried as a side. They were very good-
Ranma coughed as he sprayed a mouthful of hot soup over the translucent specter.
"Dammit old ghoul, you gonna show up every time I eat a mushroom?"
"If I could smack you, I would son-in-law. No time though! I've taken the liberty of temporarily adding the Breaking Point to your list of techniques. The magic won't hold for long, you must break through the floor, now!"
"But I'm eating!"
Ranma shrugged, gulping down the rest of his soup, and thrust a finger downwards. Eyes widened, and Genma dived to grab hold of the pot of soup at the same time that Soun rescued the stone platter of fish. Then the ground erupted and they were falling.
Those two were the least scathed by the fall... after all, they had experience with this sort of thing, while training with the master. Sit down to eat a meal, only to discover that the whole setup was on top of a hidden catapult ready to launch them off a nearby cliff... or on top of a deep pit trap that wouldn't hold both their weight, with broken glass and tacks at the bottom... old news. The tricky part was saving the better portion of the meal as they fell. Fortunately, they only lost a couple of fish that went beyond Soun's arm reach and a little bit of the mushroom soup. The fried mushrooms had all already been eaten, so they allowed the stone they'd been sitting on to spiral away.
"Uuun... good thing I landed on something soft. Oh, hello Akane."
"Gerrof me 'Biki."
"I wonder how many of the bowls survived, Tendo?"
"Not to worry, there was a whole stack of them left sitting right... oh dear. It looks like they're still up there, Saotome."
"Ah, well, we can collect them later."
"Oh dear. Ranma-kun? Did you forget to use a 'Feather Fall' spell? Not to worry, I kept hold of your daughter."
"Thnx Kazmi... gimme minnit..." Ranma's spine and joints audibly crackled as he slowly sat up. "Mebbe that wasn't th' best idea I ever had... stupid old ghoul."
"My apologies, son-in-law, but I felt it important that you interrupt this ritual before it could continue any further."
"Ritual? What ritual?"
He turned around and took a look behind him where, in fact, there was a ritual, paused at the height of things, apparently, with two girls tied to an altar and a wrinkled old Drow holding a knife in her hand.
"Ohhh... THAT ritual. Yeah, I can kinda see your point there."
The matron was most displeased. It had taken years of effort and a great deal of gold to track down such perfect sacrifices. Twin moon elves. Moon elves themselves were a rarity, as they could be born to any species of elf that existed, with the provision that they be both concieved and birthed under the light of the full moon. Such a rarity, doubled with the rarity of any elf of any sort being fertile enough to birth twins?
They would be an invaluable sacrifice to the Spider Queen, guaranteeing her favor for the next millenia, and possibly longer!
Naturally, the preparation for such an important sacrifice had taken months. The choice of which would be the best location, which date would be the most pleasing in the Mistress of Webs' eyes, and exactly how the sacrifice would proceed. Whether to fashion the sacrificial dagger from silver, onyx, or obsidian, and whether to have their skin ritually flayed off of their body beforehand, and have their tongues and eyes removed, or to leave them whole before the sacrifice in the hopes of pleasing the Lady of Shadows with their beauty. All very important decisions to take into consideration, and to discuss, at length, just outside the twin's cell. Making sure to speak in languages they could understand.
A thoughtless and pointless cruelty, to be sure, but she had not survived drow society long enough to reach Matron status by skimping on the nastiness.
And now, at the height of the cerimony, just minutes before the main event, a group of adventurers had crashed through the stone ceiling. She grit her teeth and forced, through sheer willpower, her blood pressure to subside. That one there was obviously a Teifling, half-demon. And there were two drow as well. With any luck, she could just talk the adventurers into going away, and then send a hunting party or two out after them later. Then the mage (or was he just pretending to be a mage? What mage would have let himself fall to the ground like that without a spell?) had started talking to a patch of empty air, nixing the idea. The insane are seldom reasonable. So as he turned around, still talking to himself, she sheathed the knife and reached for her masterwork serpent-headed whip.
With negligent effort, she flicked it forward to get the madman's attention. Then everything went to the hells.
Ranma stared down at the ground. Where his hat was. His damaged hat, two holes sizzling at the edges where the snake-whip-thingy had bit down and pulled it from his head. Holes that were slowly spreading.
The old Drow flicked the whip his way again, but this time, still looking down at his hat, he caught it just behind the head.
"Nobody..." He hissed softly, yet just loud enough to carry through the suddenly silent cavern. "... Touches... THE HAT! GRAAAGH!"
As he shifted forms to hybrid, gaining a great deal of height and more than quadrupling his muscle mass, his lunge turned into more of a stampede, catching the wide-eyed Matron by the throat and hurling her into a group of confused and shocked priestesses, then leaping bodily into the fray.
Soun nibbled at his fish as he offered a commentary.
"It seems your son has gone into some sort of berserker rage, Saotome. Every ounce of skill has gone straight out the window."
"True Tendo, but it appears that this Hybrid form, coupled with that rage, has given him enough sheer overwhelming physical strength and speed to counteract that."
"And now he's using the sword... oh dear kami... that's gruesome..."
Genma paled slightly at the horrendous actions, but didn't stop ladling out and swallowing the soup. Until something arced in his direction, smacking the ladle out of his hand, and landing with a splash in the pot. He looked down and stared at the decapitated head of the drow Matron, staring wide-eyed back at him. He set the pot to the side, suddenly no longer hungry.
"DEATH TO THE DEFILERS OF MY HAT! DEATH I SAY!"
By this time, the few surviving priestesses had completely ditched the idea of using their clerical spells in favor of fleeing in terror from the enraged werebeast. It would have been better if one of them hadn't had the bright idea of snatching the matrons silver dagger from her headless corpse, as that only enraged him further. Now the dagger was buried to the hilt in a stone wall, the offending priestess had been torn in half with his bare hands, and he had completely forgone use of his sword in favor of tooth and claw.
"RUN, COWARDS, RUN! FLEE MY WRATH AND LIVE IN TERROR OF THE DAY THAT I TRACK YOU DOWN, DISMEMBER YOU, AND DEFILE YOUR CORPSES IN UNIMAGINABLE WAYS! NONE ESCAPE MY WRATH FOREVER! I SHALL TRACK YOU DOWN TO THE VERY DEPTHS OF HELL FOR THIS GRIEVANCE AGAINST THE HAT!"
Ranma's anger drifted away as his hat was replaced on his head and he shrank back down to his humanoid form. While he'd been ranting and raging, Kasumi had splashed a little water on the hole to wash away the acidic poison, then carefully stitched a small bit of torn red cloth that had come from Ranma's cape over the holes. It was now good as new, with no indication that it had been damaged in the first place.
Ranma blinked and looked at the swamp of blood and body parts before him, then glanced down to confirm that, yes, he was pretty much soaked in blood and his sword was somewhere in the middle of that mess. Then shrugged.
"Meh. I guess I went a little overboard. I'll just put off tracking down those dirtbags for now."
"Note to self, Tendo. The boy's hat is not a valid target during sparring matches."
Meanwhile, Ranma was fishing through the blood and muck, aided by Nabiki, who didn't mind getting her hands dirty in the pursuit of gold. The matrons whip found its way into her apparently infinitely large sidepack, as did her jewelry and the silver dagger. Ranma was looking for something more specific than just 'loot' though.
And with a wide grin he found it, dragging the iron ring of keys out from under the gore. And frowning as he failed to manage to pry the unattached hand off of them. Kasumi sighed, rattled off a spell under her breath, and snapped her fingers. The hand let go of the keys and dropped to the ground, where it began splashing through the blood, skittering like a spider, flipping the occasional dropped ring it found, or gold coin, Nabiki's way.
"Now that's creepy. Lets see... which key goes to which lock, I wonder?"
Staggering through the forest with torn clothes, Kuno reflected upon his position. He was Tatewaki Kuno. Brave, strong, intelligent. Hungry.
He was finding within himself a whole new level of respect for Samurai that had learned to 'live off the land'. He'd never bothered to learn such a trick, reasoning that the Kuno fortunes had never, and would never fail to keep him fed. He'd never even missed a single meal before this... incident.
As such, knowing no better, he'd passed by several plants with edible roots or fruit that he could have eaten if he'd realized that he could.
Kuno paused as he listened to something growl... but it was not his stomach. He slowly turned and looked down. The rabbit was back... and it had brought a friend. He raised his bokken to attack... this time he would win!
Fifteen minutes later, two rabbits cocked their hind legs up near Kuno's head.
"So... how's the weather like, then?"
"Lothorien el lenellien."
"Huh... well that's good to know."
"Detrorien ni elethelien sen..."
"You know... this would be a whole lot easier if I could UNDERSTAND ANYTHING YOU SAID!"
"Oh dear... it seems we have something of a language problem. And I won't get the 'Tongues' spell for another three levels..."
"E'etrimorien nes de?"
Eyes snapped to Tarre, who had begun talking in the language the elves used. Within seconds, the three were chatting up a storm. A storm that nobody else could understand. And for some reason the lyrical, musical tones of this language were giving certain members of the group a headache when they tried to comprehend it.
"Great..." Nabiki muttered. "... and not a single aspirin to be found in this place. Wonderful."
Cologne had long since withdrawn from the game to flip through the multiplying manuals. It seemed that every time she turned around, the pile got a little larger...
She was currently flipping through the manual on enchanting items, and had long since decided that Ranma had made a wise decision to sacrifice his armor at the very beginning in exchange for his new trinket. While it would be possible for him to make one himself without aid from the game at some point... it would be horrendously complicated.
Nothing like the simplicity of enchanting a club to hit harder, or a sword to cut deeper, or to add some elemental effect... the comparison would be like taking a five year old that had just learned simple maths and handing him a test on advanced geometry and calculus. Yes it was possible that he could blunder through it and score a decent grade... just like it was possible that son-in-law could have bound an effective spell like what was described to that amulet on his own. Just not likely.
The difference was if the child failed, it was just words on a paper. If son-in-law had tried and failed, the most likely result would be an invasion of screaming horrors from outside reality. Magic was picky like that... it either worked correctly, or lots of people tended to die. Lots of people had a tendency of dying even if the magic had been worked correctly.
She whistled softly as she turned a page and a complicated pictogram used to bind a minor demon into some sort of metal weapon was revealed. The result was nasty... it seemed to result in a weapon that was partially flesh and likely intelligent to one degree or another as well. With any luck, that sunken orb that looked like an eyeball was just a stylized gem of some sort... but probably not.
The next page revealed a similar description for binding... lesser divinity? It seemed like the result would be at the opposite end of the spectrum, but apparently, binding an unwilling divinity into an object would result in some sort of spiteful curse on its weilder.
Demons, apparently, wouldn't bother with such as being summoned and bound to things was something of a daily grind for them. Destroy a civilization or two, get bound into an object, wait for the thing to break, get released, either into the hells or on the spot, repeat as neccessary. If they were bound into a weapon of some sort... it was only a plus, as chances were that they would be used to kill things. And if they couldn't kill on their own, being used to kill was a close second place.
Divinities apparently thought differently of the matter, making the weapons they were sealed in much more dangerous to use. With a few noted exceptions, of course. Mostly being when the divinity in question had prompted a mortal into binding them for one reason or another in the first place. No reason to curse someone whose strings you, yourself are pulling, after all. Of course, most of those people ended up suddenly getting the idea to take a vacation in one hell-realm or another immediately after finishing their new weapon. Usually, they did not return.
She flipped the page again and reached a new chapter entitled 'Granting sentience to your blade.' This looked promising...
Meanwhile, Happosai was flipping through another manual... or at least, he looked like he was. In reality, he was hiding a skin mag behind it, and it's really rather surprising that he's managed to keep himself contained and quiet for so long. Moving right along...
Herb had picked up an encyclopedia of dragons. It was fascinating, learning more about his possible cousins. Although the book made it seem like most of them were little more than extremely large, ravenous beasts... absurd!
Then he frowned and considered... if the dragon who's blood he'd inherited had been terribly intelligent, how would the musk have herded it into the springs in the first place? Surely an intelligent dragon would have known the danger that cursed place represented?
And yet the idea of dragons being no more than mindless beasts made bile rise in Herbs throat, it was so repugnant to consider. And yet... the springs?
Herb would be caught in a circular loop of logic and mental conundrums for quite some time, it seemed.
Kodachi... had fallen asleep in the corner, dreaming of games that ate people.
Considered doing the dark elf thing, but I didn't like the idea too much. A few tweaks, however, and two moon elves replace the drow twins.
Oh, and the 'Elvish'... well... don't bother looking it up to see what it translates to. I actually made it up of the top of my head as I typed. It sounds right, but Tolkein would probably translate it to something like "the purple sky rains snails" or "Electromagnetic toilet brushes for hire" or something like that. Complete gibberish.