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Slank44

A key to Any Door

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“Yes, yes...you concentrate on driving this damn thing!”

Malik can't help but smile, just a little bit, at Elisa's reactions. He hadn't thought anything could disturb the somewhat intimidating woman. He was glad she and Princeling seemed to be getting along. Bringing his focus to the task at hand, she did have a point after all, he fell into his magic, focusing on safe, efficient travel.

That evening, he brought the boulder to a stop. He has exerted himself enough that his arms and legs are trembling. He is sweaty and slightly clammy. Despite his exhaustion, he slowly lowered the boulder into the ground, and (with Elisa's help) gathered deadwood for a fire. Once the fire was lit and the sleeping bags were laid out, Malik said "I suppose it's time for the tell-all. My powers are limited in that I cannot deliberately, consciously harm another living being with my elemental abilities." He paused for a minute and took a deep breath. "Well, technically I can, but there are debilitating consequences."

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The fire was lit, and the woman sat crossed legged upon her sleeping bag. She was watching him carefully now, listening to him tell his tale. It would be a lie to say she wasn't curious, but at the same time she understood the need for privacy. She wasn’t going to ask, but now that he was offering the information, she drank deeply of the knowledge. She was a soldier of the Black Queen’s military, first and foremost, and the idea that there were creatures as powerful as Malik made her wonder why they had not been recruited into the knighthood.

 

“It’s still a very impressive power,” she offered after he explained that he could not use his abilities to harm another. “I am sure you could cause quite a bit of damage if you used your powers indirectly. Perhaps digging up a trench in front of a charging opponent. It wouldn’t be your fault if he went on to fall in and break his neck.”

 

Elisa smirked and shook her head.


“And how did you come to attain such power, if you don’t mind me asking? I knew, ever since the awakening of La’Ruta that we would see more people coming into their abilities. But what you possess is short of fantastic...it’s as if you’ve had La’Ruta with you all of your life, and not just the past few years.”

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"What if La'Ruta never actually slept?" he said softly, "What if it merely retreated, like any wounded creature, to a few secret, safe, sacred places?" As he said this, his youthful vigor seemed to fade a little. While he did not age physically, the weight of centuries of living seemed to show through.... Then, in a moment, it all fades away. He looks at her with a smile and says "my apologies m'lady for the momentary laps into moodiness, It's been quite the a day."

Inside himself, Malik was conflicted. On one hand, he had come perilously close to revealing a secret he was sworn to keep for the good of Haven. After all, if word got out that there was a place one could gain immortality by simply living there, that place could easily get overrun. It did not even seem to be true anymore, as a few of the dragon's pet humans had lived in Haven for a while and died like any other human. Yet, he almost felt he could trust his human companion. She had the air of someone who was reliable through thick and thin, and she would certainly understand the need for security, after all this whole quest was about returning security to her sovereign's household, but he knew her first loyalty was not to him or his people. He simply couldn't know what she would do with the information, and this particular secret was more precious to him than his own life.

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“It has been --quiet the day,” she agreed with him. The change in him did not go unnoticed, though she seeemd to decide that it was better not to pursue the weary expression that crossed his face. If there was one thing the new Queen had taught her, it was that the world was that not everything was as it seemed. The newly deceased monarch appeared to be a young woman of some 23 years of age, and she had lived more than three hundred. Everything was possible in this new world the Black Queen had created.

“There are rumors of such things,” she then went on to say, speaking to his comment regarding the possibility that La’Ruta was never actually gone. Once upon a time, those who believed such a thing were considered crazy -- now everyone is turning to them for guidance.” She shrugged her shoulders.

She went about her business after that. While he stood and contemplated how much he actually wanted to reveal she fixed her sleeping bag and got comfortable.

“You should try to rest. We’re close now. Tomorrow we’ll travel by foot for the rest of the way. You don’t want to accidentally walk into a patch of poppies.”

Elisa crossed her arms behind her head and closed her eyes.

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Malik decided to fallow his companion's example. He created a small stone shelter for himself, arranged the earthen floor to his liking, settled down and allowed himself to sleep.

 

The next morning, shortly after sunrise.....

 

Malik has the fire going again and has shaped stone into a sort of crockpot. He is using it to rehydrate some of his beef jerky into a beefy broth.

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Elisa awoke to the smell of cooking meat, which she found oddly heavy for the early hour. Still, she got up and after a brief and pleasant exchange of ‘good morning’ she went about packing up her bedding and supplies. Although Malik offered food, she declined and settled instead for a small breakfast of dried dates, toasted bread and butter, and some fresh water.

When they were done she glanced at him expectantly.

“There’s something else… The effects of the flower’s pollen on humans is deadly in that it puts us to sleep and it’s near impossible to wake without being cleared of the poisonous air. Most who fall asleep die there out in the open, exposed to the elements. It doesn’t have the same effect on animals however. For them, the flowers seem to have a similar result as what the flowers use to be. The animals that consume the flowers die, and then are reanimated. The dead animals remain in this state so long as they are within the fumes of the flowers. So not only will be trying to avoid these deadly flowers, we’ll also be trying to avoid and possibly fend off undead animals with a taste for living flesh.”

She frowned at him.

“Are you ready for this?”

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Malik took a deep gulp of the broth he had made. While not exactly the most flavourful meal, it was nearly dried meat and water after all, it warmed him to and from his core, and the meat would provide energy to sustain him for a long time. 

"Are you ready for this? His traveling companion asked.

"I believe I am" he responded confidently. "I have worked out how to allow us to breath without fear of the pollen. So long as we don't get too much on our skin, we should be fine." He took another few sips of the broth and, not wanting to waist any, sealed his makeshift crock pot shut. He hoped to consume the remainder of the broth when they returned to camp after retrieving the key. Aware of his companions potential impatience, he gathered a few of his things, gently woke Princeling (who went hunting for his morning meal), and stood up. "If you will allow me, I will put some magic on you." He said once he was ready to leave.

Edited by Slank44

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“Magic will be tricky in these parts,” she replied. “Because it was a Magestorm and the power of the High Lords that changed the undead into the flowers, and along with the influence of La’Ruta -- things are a little wonky in there.”

 

She regarded the man with care as he packed up his things. It was a wonder how he seemed to save the last of his odd little stew, as if he beieved they’d be back before sunset and he would have it for supper. Elisa shook her head and turned away. She had been busy preparing the small hankerchiefs they would wear over their mouths and noses.

 

“The apothecaries in the castle were able to figure out a concotion that put up a resistance to the stench of the poppies. Oddly enough it’s just a simple mixture of jasmine oil, dried rosmary, and crushed mint. These pieces of cloth have been soaked in the stuff for days, we just put them on our face and pray they don’t fall off.”

 

She handed him one -- whether he took it or not was his problem. She tied her own around her face and soon looked like a bandin about to commit some robbery.

 

Her nose scrunched up at the strong smell before she turned and began to trek into the forest. “The mixture isn’t foolproof, it will still make you a bit sleepy. You have to push past that.”

 

No sooner had she issued the warning than they came upon a vivid flower bed of crimson poppies. Elisa stopped a good distance away and waited for her companion to catch up. “There they are -- those are the little suckers we’re going to try to avoid, but the closer we get to La Cierra the harder it will become.”

 

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Somewhat disgruntled at her distrust in his magic, Malik shrugged and donned the handkerchief. The added protection did not prevent him from putting a sphere in place over his nose and mouth in order to filter the air. He figured it wouldn't hurt and quite possibly it would help. As he got his first look at the potentially deadly flowers he could only think that they did not look at all dangerous aside from their bright read coloring. He half wanted to burn the patch of poppies into ash but decided he was better off not doing so considering the poppies were the side effect of powerful necromantic magic and the consequences of attempting to burn the flowers was probably deadly. "Understood" he responded to her instructions, his voice lightly muffled by the handkerchief. "What happens when the flowers grow so dense that there is no path through?"

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“The flowers don’t grow,” she replied -- her voice taking on a dark and hard edge. “Each flower you see, it’s a person. A man, a woman, a child. They are scattered about and rooted to the ground in the same place upon which their feet held them when the power of the magestorm was released. It is for that reason that we do not simply remove the flowers, and why it is a crime -- a high crime -- to come and pluck them. These are our dead. Dangerous or not, they deserve our respect and so we leave them in peace.”

 

The sphere of magic around his face was working perfectly, filtering the air to a much better degree than the little handkerchief she had given him. That is of course, until it stopped. It wasn’t La’Ruta that fed the magic in this small territory, but the strange and chaotic magic of the High Lords and the power they brought from faraway in the mainland. Their magic had a way of turning things around. The bubble that was meant to protect him suddenly began to attract more and more of the heavy perfume that came off the poppies. Would he feel the effects or notice in time? Too much of the flowers pollen resulted in severe sleepiness.

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Malik felt a force rise from the ground and twist his magic from his control. Almost instantly, he felt his spell begin to do the opposite of it's original intended purpose. He very quickly cut off the flow of energy to the spell, causing it to dissipate. He quickly glanced over to his traveling companion, hoping she hadn't noticed the trouble he was having with his spellcasting. While he probably could pour more of his internal energy into the spell to insulate it from whatever was causing it to go awry, he wasn't willing to allow that much of his power, both the initial spell and the energy to insulate the spell from the environment, to start being constantly drained this early. 

"It's interesting that they don't actually grow, but what I meant was what happens when the flowers are so close together we can't go around? you said that they become more numerous as we get closer to the key." he said as he carefully picked his way through the flowers.

Edited by Slank44

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She hadn’t noticed his troubles when she was having so many of her own. Though she wasn’t using magic, the strong and deadly perfume of the flowers seemed to seep through her mask. She had stopped to ensure that her cloth was bound as tight as possible around her mouth and nose. By the time she was ready, he had overcome his own bit of danger.

 

“It’s interesting that they don’t actually grow, but what I meant was what happens when the flowers are so close together we can’t go around?”

 

“I suppose we’ll have to use our wits to come up with a plan. I am not entirely sure what we do from that point on. Maybe pick our way more carefully? Or just bite the bullet and walk around trying to find a break in the flowerbed. The reason they don’t grow is because each flower is...or rather was… a person. There isn’t any more or less flowers than those who perished.”

 

It was an eerie thought -- that they were picking their way through a field not of flowers, but of bodies.

 

And as they went their way, moving carefully in the direction of the ruined village of La Cierra, a pair of dead and glossy eyes had taken them in. A creature stood at quite a distance, still as death, staring from the shadows of a dense canopy. Before the adventurers could turn to look for whatever it was that had given them goosebumps, the creature moved back into the thicket and disappeared.

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"So this is a graveyard" thought Malik, "how...grim." 

As they continued on their way Malik began vocalizing a wordless tune. While he was not excessively loud, the song itself seemed to have a force of it's own. It rose and fell in what was almost a pattern. Each verse of the music was similar but not the same. The basic tune was in tact, but there were different flourishes each time. Over the whole song was a feeling of bittersweet joy, deep pain, and crushing loss. He sung ten verses of the haunting melody and, suddenly, stopped. While he was not weeping his eyes were certainly not dry. "I apologize. Nothing is held more sacred to my people than life itself. Knowing that all of these," here he gestured to the surrounding flowers, "were once people affected me deeply. It reminded me of a great tragedy in my people's past. The first time we ever sung our funeral dirge."

 

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