It was with great difficulty – and one eye open – that the party finally caught some rest. Ugarth and Thoradin’s arrival moments earlier eased some of the tension, although it was not the most common of appearances. Leaning against each other, both the half-orc and the dwarf seemed ready to drop unconscious, if not for the other: Thoradin was still half-dazed, half-bloodthirsty-zealot. ugarth was having a rough time coping with his injuries. A small spot in his arm was nearly necrotic, and he appeared to be developing some sort of fever. When confronted by Claid, he dismissed it with a shove.
“Dass me business Claid. Shoulda worry about yours.”
Occam noticed how Claid tried to hide the shiver that followed. His hides were doing a lousy job at keeping his temperature stable, and were steadily getting drenched in sweat. Though Occam was, at the time of the happening, having his senses beaten out of him by a bloody demon, he could sense the spreading of the rats’ disease the moment they sat to rest.
He made no remarks about it.
He let Claid and Ugarth keep at their bickering, smiled at the thought that the orc had caught filth fever, and got ready for the first turn of keeping watch.
The silence of his vigil was broken by a body crawling out of a blanket.
“You are silent, Ser Occam.”
“I am no Ser. Claid uses such honor for the ones he trusts.” He paused. “Everyone sleeps, Lady Jalissa, so I must be silent. You should, as well.”
The girl nodded, something that went quite unnoticed in the dark. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Then I am no Lady either, Ser Occam. I am just an acolyte, an..”
“You are not”, he interrupted.
Her blank stare told him to finish. Despite the dark, Occam felt the eyes. “Just an acolyte, that is. I know.”
Jalissa’s mouth opened and closed for no apparent reason. This was not, like in most people, a sign that no brain activity was occurring. Jalissa’s case was one where so many questions, and attempts of answers, rushed back and forth across her head, it actually forgot how to properly behave to save power.
For once, Occam was actually compelled to talk to someone. “Pelor’s guidance sheds his light over even the darkest mysteries. You belong to Ioun, you say, so I’ll bet you are either a sage or a prophet.”
“I.. I just…” It all made little sense to the young elf. “…know stuff.”
“A sage, then?”
“Not like that. I… knew your name the second I saw you. And everyone else’s.”
Occam considered the thought in silence. The girl was not so easily sated, though.
“Are all godtouched like this?”
“Godtouched”, Occam said to himself, smiling at the regionalism. “I’ll take you haven’t awakened your spark yet. Well, some of us will have some power, but for most, it is but fireworks, or a nice memory.”
She felt like she couldn’t ask any more of this matter today. She sat there, in the bare floor, until he spoke.
“We should sleep, Lady Jalissa. We must walk home after this is over.”
She nodded and crawled back to her blanket. The moans and murmurs that still echoed in the stone castle walls kept Occam company throughout his watch.
Occam didn’t pay much attention to it when, one hour later, Claidheamh climbed out of the very same bedroll to take his turn in keeping watch.
The new day dawned with a kick – Thoradin’s steel-tipped kick to everyone’s ribs, to be exact. “Dawn” was, either way, quite the relative term inside the windowless second story of an age-old abandoned castle. It was the time of the day (or, likely, the night) when everyone had finished resting, and all the rats and skeletons stirred and cracked more loudly, making it less likely to be ambushed.
This was such time, and Thoradin’s boot was great at reminding everyone of this. When everyone was ready, Wil dashed for the north passage. There were treasures to be found, and skeletons’ heads to be bashed together. Wil turned at the corner.
He ran head-first into a stone wall.
This time, even Occam allowed himself a jest. “Indeed, it is Wil, He WHo Walks Into Walls!”
“Heh”, Claid laughed, “behold Wil, the Wallwalker!”
Wil did not answer. From his advantageous position, flat on the floor, Wil had a perfect view of the block that so rudely denied him passage. An arch was formed by a string of letters from some ancient language none could understand. Everyone turned to Occam. He had barely closed his eyes when he felt it.
“Magical yes. No source, low power. Probably just a magical door to the cellar.”
Wil got up and touched the stone.
Wil was engulfed in light and lifted in the air. Everyone saw, quite in awe, the light gently lowering him back to his feet, where he stood as if he had found his god. He paced back and forth along th corridor, without a word, until he seemed to have an idea. He went up to the wall and touched it again.
He was engulfed in light and lifted in the air. And, when the light faded, Wil was gone.
Instintively, everyone stepped forward to grab the man that was no longer there. Occam was the first to the wall. He felt the world around him grind to a halt. The writing on the wall grew brighter, until a beacon of cold light was all around. He was floating, a foot above the ground, and he heard a voice.
“With the right answer I will open before you”, a deep, monotonous voice resonated everywhere. “Search inside your soul. What is the question?”
As the last echoes of the voice faded into nothingness, dozens of boxes appeared around him. White boxes, about the size of those used to hold one’s glasses, were each adorned with a red silk ribbon that fluttered towards Occam in the non-existent wind.
Occam reached for the ribbons. His hand disturbed the ether, and the ribbons waved away. Occam took a deep breath. He hadn’t quite grasped the meaning of all this yet, but he knew he needed a box. Off in the distance, he saw: a ribbon, not as red as the others, yet so much more red than the others. It was not his color, or its lenght, or its texture that was odd. Its existence, rather, is what Occam saw in the field of blinding light. He beckoned for it. When he finally touched it, the voice returned.
“Tell me, then: What is blind, deaf, and a fool, yet always tells the truth?"
The cold warmth of the light began to fade, and Occam found himself staring at a stone cold door-wall. Ugarth and Claid were beside him. They were silenced by an unspoken rule, knowing the others had experienced what they had. Thoradin was in a corner, rocking gently, muttering to himself. His armors clanged in the waving motion, an annoying metronome that seemed to disturb everyone but him.
Occam turned to himself and his riddle. It must not be a person, he thought. Only a mute can say nothing but the truth, and even then he can not say the truth (this also happened to rule out Ugarth, who filled a pretty important point). What, then? A book… But one can write falsehoods upon one, so…
Ugarth stepped up, and touched the wall. Again the light came and lifted the orc. And whe the light suddenly disappeared, Ugarth was thrown to the ground without the least caution.
“You have failed, Ser Ugarth!” Claid broke the silence, visibly amused.
“Dat wuz only my first choice”
He got up, and touched the wall. The light took very little time to think about the answer this time. A large shockwave propelled Ugarth back, who rolled his way into the opposing wall.
Occam was making progress. All that talks can lie. That meant no words: no type of language, not spoken, written, or… gestured. Occam had been
fiddling with his stick, messing around with his implement, twirling his rod about in his hand, when the faded red jewel caught the fleeting light of Ugarth’s third try. He got up and went to the wall. The familiar light came and went. Except when it went away, all of it did. Occam found himself in complete darkness, except for the faint outline of a door right ahead. He felt a hand on his back.
“Occam?”, Wil’s voice scanned. The palm on Occam’s back turned to a firm hold on his shoulder. “Wait. Something’s there.”
Indeed, Occam could now feel a low humming noise coming from behind the door. “We wait.”
For a while they waited, in silence and in darkness. With a low crack, Claidheamh made his appearance.
“What a stupid riddle”, he ranted. “A stove? What’s it got to do with anything?”
Occam knew perfectly well stoves had nothing to do with his mirrors, but shrugged and let the rant on. Another crack signaled Ugarth’s arrival. The short-tempered hulk bashed the door open the moment he saw there was one, before someone could grab a hold of him.
Blinded by the sudden brightness, Occam relied on his mind’s eye to assess the situation: braziers provided the room with all the light they could muster; about a dozen of pews lined the room in two columns. Occam was quick to find a wererat that jumped behind a pew to hide, and another one that didn’t, and instead morphed into a dire rat and got ready to fight. Occam thought that he had had enough of having his eyes closed, so he opened them for the fight. He found very odd that, suddenly, a tree stood before him, the first of a small patch of dense forest that stretched for a few yards. Ugarth, Wil and Claid darted off in different directions through the trees. And in more than one occasion did someone go through a single tree, which was deemed rather odd by Occam’s shrewd mind. It was strange how they would dodge a tree and run into the next, being no more unsettled by it than if they had walked through a very thick fog.
Wil rammed the nearest rat, throwing it off-balance. A Fang pierced his chest a moment later, a brutal stampede that gave no chance for a second breath. Ugarth had lunged at the rat in hiding, but at the last moment was thrown aside by a ghost wind. The orc tumbled away from the rat to avoid a bite to his leg and quickly got back to his feet. He focused on not getting bitten again.
The rat focused on his next meal. He shifted back, so he wouldn’t have such a disadvantage against a rapier’s reach.
Unlike werewolves, who can take up to a minute, rat-men can shift in and out of any of their three shapes quite rapidly, usually faster than the time it takes to draw a sword. This one started shifting into ratman shape, thinner and faster, but in this case, the transformetion was only fast enough to have his ugly mousy face completely transformed when Wil grappled it from behind and smashed it into the ground.
Occam had yet to see a reason to intervene. He showed himself out of the small forest – actually, just 6 or 7 steps across – and surveyed the room more clearly.
The pews were indeed aligned as in a temple. The braziers burned
fiercely … dully? There were three of them, for the four corners of the room. They retained their orange flames and normal height, but the light was drawn into itself, not unlike it would behave in the dark sun’s room. Near the northern wall was the likely cause for all the weirdness in the room. A large pillar, an obelisk, was carved from a black, marble-like stone and rested there, being all big, and dark, and weird (and weirdly phallic, as Ugarth would rather point out..). Light around it faded into a dim phosphorescence. Shadows, the wavering of the braziers, broke through the creepy ambient lighting. Occam’s eyes focused on the flash that oddly came from the darkness near the obelisk, before it became a shiny dart on his shoulder.
Seconds later, the gnome illusionist that had fired it lay dead on the floor, still twitching due to the knife at his spine.