See Attle landed gently on the ground beside his fellow adventurers and folded his wings behind him. Khalisee opened a coin purse that didn’t belong to her, extracted the money, and tossed the empty bag into the lava. Kratos and Byazz looked ahead at the wondrous village before them. The homes and roads were carved from stone jutting up from a vast pool of lava.
The dwarven guards stopped the group, they were expected, and the guards ushered them straight to the Town Hall in the center of town. Kratos spit over the railing and watched it evaporate before it reached the lava bellow. The Town Hall, ornate with statues of regal looking dwarfs carved into it’s walls, was the tallest building in the village. Inside the acting mayor explained the villages plight. Villagers had been disappearing. The mayor had insisted the problem lay within the Forbidden Cave. He entered it a week ago and had not been heard from since. The party agreed to enter the cave, find the mayor, and find the cause of the disappearances.
Hours after entering the cave the party was looting the body of six foot tall spider. Byazz was wiggling his fingers trying to shake off the paralysis he had suffered during the fight when Khalisee returned from scouting ahead. She reported one way led to a lava fall that seemed impossible to get around. The other way was blocked only by a wooden door. The party chose the path of least resistance. On the other side of the door lay the decomposing body of the mayor. Covered in claw and bite marks that resembled the spider they had just fought.
“We found the mayor!” exclaimed See Attle. He spread his wings in triumph. “Let’s go back and collect our reward.”
“A shame he’s dead.” Khalisee said. “They would have paid us more if we could have saved him.”
“Shouldn’t we explore the rest of the cave? We said we’d try to find the cause of the disappearances.” asked Kratos.
“I can’t see anything!” Byazz shouted. “The paralyzing spider venom has blinded me!!!
“Your torch went out.” Khalisee explained. She lit a new one and Byazz looked amazed and relieved.
“I can see!”
“Should we bring them back the body of their mayor?” See Attle asked.
“Let’s just take his insignia and continue exploring.” Kratos answered.
The did so. Further in the cave they came to a large hallway with five foot by five foot tiles lining the floor. See Attle poked one with his sword and nothing happened. Before he stepped on it though Byazz slammed his glaive into the tile, penetrating the tile which crumbled on impact. A hole underneath went far beyond what their torchlight could illuminate.
“I’ll fly across.” See Attle said.
“That won’t help the rest of us.” Kratos replied.
Byazz slammed his glaive onto two other tiles. Both remained firm. Gingerly See Attle stepped on one and it held his weight.
“It’s a puzzle, we need to find which of these we can walk across.” Khalisee said.
“I’ll fly across.” See Attle said.
“Go ahead then. But you’ll have to wait on the other side for us to find a way across.”
“No, I’ll hover across like a humming bird. That way if you step on a false floor and begin to fall I’ll catch you.”
“You can’t hover like a humming bird.” Kratos said. “Humming birds flap their wings a million times a minute. You can barely flap your wings enough to get off the ground at all. You’re more of a seagull, built for gliding.”
“Oh yeah? Watch this!” See Attle exclaimed as he began furiously beating his wings.
“You’re not even getting airborne.”
“How about, ugh, now?” See Attle asked as he beat his wings harder and faster than anyone had seen before. Unfortunately, without a running start, his body stood there planted on the ground.
“You’re just not a humming bird.” Kratos told him. “Here, I’ll find a safe path.”
“Just … a little … faster ….” See Attle mumbled to himself as he kept trying to levitate.
Minutes later Kratos was looking across a gap and wondered if the next tile would hold his weight. “Wait here.” He told the group and ran back towards the entrance of the cave.
He returned with the mayors corpse.
“What are you doing?” Khalisee asked.
“I need to know if the tile on the far side will support my weight. Byazz, help me throw this body across the pit to that tile.”
“Sounds good.” Byazz said, he grabbed a leg.
“No! This isn’t good at all!” Khalisee exclaimed. “We can’t just throw the village mayors dead body across a bottomless hole to see if the far side is solid!”
“Why not?” asked Kratos.
“Because I haven’t checked the body for loot yet! I was going to do that on our way out of the cave. But here, let me loot it before you toss it down the hole.”
Khalisee rifled through the dead mayors pockets and found a note. She translated it and read it to the party.
“What is real? Life is a dream. If the Beholder wakes the village will vanish. I must wind the clock.”
“What in the multiverse does that mean?” Khalisee asked.
“I dunno. The mayor was off his rocker.” Byazz said.
“Well, let’s test that tile.” Kratos said.
Byazz and Kratos heaved the dead body across the pit and it landed with a thud on the far tile. It held firm.
“I’ll jump across.” he said. “That tile seems solid.”
“Shouldn’t we let the bird man do this?” Khalisee asked.
“He’s still … he’s trying to hover. I’ll go. I’m a barbarian, a five foot jump like this is easy for me.”
Byazz held out a rope, “Tie this around your waist just in case.” Kratos did, Byazz and Khalisee held the rope tight. They wished they could find something to tie it too. Kratos ran forward and leaped in the air.
His hands grabbed the edge of the tile on the other side. He tried to climb up but his hands slipped. Kratos fell. Khalisee and Byazz pulled on the rope with all their strength but they couldn’t hold him. The rope burned as it slid through their fingers. Kratos and the rope disappeared into the inky blackness of the pit.
“That’s a shame.” Khalisee said.
“Looks like he knocked the mayors body off too.” Byazz commented.
“Good thing I looted it already.”
Hours later the party, except for Kratos, had managed to jump across the pit and were exploring the rest of the cave. The loss of their friend, another spider fight, some doors that were trapped with venomous spiders that rained from the ceiling when opened, and the discovery of another dead dwarf had put the party in a foul mood. They bickered with each other even more than usual.
“Let’s just return to town. We can give them the mayors amulet and explain he died. Then we can collect our reward and leave this horrible place.” See Attle told the group.
“It’s not an amulet. It’s just an insignia.”
“No, they are different things. At least in the language of men and dwarfs they are.”
“They’re the same.” See Attle insisted.
“Hey!” Khalisee shouted from up ahead. “There’s a spiral staircase here. It goes down really far. Too far down to see the floor!”
“I’m exhausted.” Byazz grumbled. “I don’t want to climb a bunch of stairs.”
“We’ll be going DOWN the stairs.” See Attle said. “Not climbing them.”
“Going down stairs is hard work too.”
“Naw. Just fall down them. Easy.”
An hour later they reached the floor at the bottom of the stairs. More giant spiders waited for them. While Khalisee was looting their bodies, removing their venom sacks for reasons only she knew, Byazz search the room. Looking for anything, treasure, secret passages, clues to the villagers disappearances, whatever he could find. It was his habit to always searched every room but he rarely found anything.
This time, he did.
An outline of a door cleverly disguised in the rock wall indicated a hidden passage. The party opened it and stepped in cautiously. Soon, they found the splattered corpse of the mayor and the body of Kratos.
Kratos still had a pulse.
After administering some first aid Kratos was awake and cranky.
“Why didn’t you hold the rope!??!”
“We tried! You’re very heavy!”
“Muscle. All muscle.”
“Yeah, all that heavy muscle made it hard to hold the rope.”
“You’re a bunch of babies. I could have died!”
“We did find your body, and saved your life, you could say ‘thank you’ for that.”
“You wouldn’t have needed to do any of that if you’d just HELD THE ROPE!”
“I was going to hover acr…” See Attle said but the others stopped him.
They slept. Had a nice breakfast. And continued exploring the cave.
Eventually they found a large chamber, in the center of which lay a Beholder. Asleep. His many eye stalks twitched though, his multiple eyelids fluttered almost opening. The Beholder was waking up.
There was a clock on the wall. Large and strange looking. Byazz, having some experience with magic, could sense latent magic powers on the clock mechanisms.
“There’s a sign by the clock.” Kratos said. “It reads, ‘While the clock runs all inside will sleep’, that must be the clock the mayor’s note was talking about.”
“I’ll go inside and wind the clock.” Khalisee said.
“Let’s just kill the Beholder.” Byazz said.
“I’ve heard Beholders can shoot Disintegration Rays and Death Rays from their eyes.” Kratos told them. “And it’s got a lot of eyes so … I don’t want to fight anything that’s going to shoot Disintegration Rays at me. Just wind the clock.”
Khalisee crept over to the wall and found the crank that winds the clock. As she did the clock began to tick and she became very sleepy.
“Crud! She’s in the room, the clock is putting her to sleep too!” exclaimed Kratos.
“Let’s go grab her and pull her out!” See Attle said.
“If we go in we’ll go to sleep too! Hurry, Khalisee! Get out of there!” Kratos shouted.
Khalisee was nearly passed out, crawling on her knees by the time she reached the door. Her friends reached in, grabbed her, and pulled her out of the room.
“I could just shoot it with arrows from here.” Byazz said. “I bet I can kill it without entering the room.”
“What if you wake it up?”
“Then the clock will put it back to sleep.”
“Still seems risky.”
“Come on guys! I really want to kill that Beholder! You never let me do anything FUN!”
From behind them a voice boomed out, “YOU SAVED US ALL! THANK THE GODS!” The party turned to see the mayor, in one piece, alive and well.
“You were dead!” Khalisee said.
“I was healed when you put the Beholder back to sleep.”
“This doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to kill that thing and be done with it all!” Byazz exclaimed.
“NO! Kill the Beholder and you’ll kill me too, and my whole village! Here, let me explain.”
“Long ago that Beholder ran loose in these lands terrorizing all. The dwarfs who lived in this region fought the Beholder for years but could not defeat it. Finally they found a wizard who worked with them to create this clock. The dwarfs built the mechanical parts of the clock and the wizard imbued it with magic enchantments. It pulls mana from the ley lines of the area and uses that mana to keep this whole room under the affect of a powerful sleep spell. The dwarfs lured the Beholder down here then started the clock. The Beholder has been trapped here asleep ever since.
Beholders are strange creatures, aberrations from another plane. They warp reality, they can dream other Beholders into existence, and this one dreamed me and all the dwarfs of the Lava Village into being. Perhaps he dreams of dwarfs because it was dwarfs he fought for all that time, dwarfs who trapped him here. But he dreamed of dwarfs for hundreds of years until his dreams became real, became me and my villagers. In time, we’ve taken on a life of our own. But we are not ‘real’, we are the dream. If that Beholder wakes up me and my village will disappear.
The clock has the power to drape that whole room with powerful sleep spells for as long as the clock is running. But the mechanical part of the clock, which is necessary to pull mana from the ley lines and power the spells, cannot run forever. Like any clock it must be wound periodically. Once a year to be exact. I have wound the clock every year for as long as I have existed. I was unable to wind the clock this year, the Beholder began to wake up, and villagers began to vanish as a result.
By winding the clock you saved me, you saved us all! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome.” See Attle answered.
“Well that’s ridiculous!” Byazz shouted. “I’m going to kill that Beholder.”
“STOP!” Everybody else exclaimed, and they grabbed his bow and pulled him away from the door. “Let’s just go. We’ve saved the town and everything. Maybe they’ll reward us.”
“Yes.” The mayor said. “Free Ale for everyone once we get back to town!”
And so it came to pass that the village of the Lava Lake was safe for another year. Probably. Unless Byazz returns to kill the Beholder.