Part 50: Level Three: Bears, Stars, And One Rat-Bastard DragonLevel Three: Bears, Stars, And One Rat-Bastard Dragon
This next floor will take cunning, grace, and careful routing. Here's a map update that offers none of those things.
Basically, we're hitting the PoPs in the order of Southeast > Northwest > Southwest > Northeast, and hopefully the reason why will be clear once we're done. There's nothing stopping us from going past this maze and up to the next, but as we'll see in an update or two, doing that is no help before we do something here.
Our first encounter looks scary, but is remarkably short and uneventful.
The huge white beast stands on its hind legs, sniffing the air. It senses you, turns, and snarls.
I don't think polar bears do that, but okay. We can kill it if we want:
Valterre makes short work of the creature; however fearsome it may seem, it is a mere beast, without magical powers or prowess. You stumble on through the snow.
But let's not do that. Either by using the Talisman or choosing to stand silently, we will receive a clue from the bear.
Talisman: You hold forth the Talisman... but before you may begin, the bear loses its snarl. It studies the Talisman, then says, in a rumbling voice: "Pride goeth before a fall." And then, it disappears into the wilderness.
Stand Silently: The bear watches you tensely, then gradually eases. Its snarl disappears. With small eyes, it studies you, sniffing in your direction. And then, it speaks in a growling tone. "Pride goeth before a fall," it says. And then, it disappears into the wilderness.
Weird. That's absolutely everything that can be done here, so we'll move on.
The aurora: You have heard of it, but never before have you seen it. Sheets of ghostly color glimmer across the twilit sky. Enraptured, you stroll across the tundra, eyes skyward. Not far away, warm light shines in a small cabin.
I wonder if somebody's home. Who would be living out here?
There is no one in the cabin. It is, by your standards, remarkably crude. There is no furniture, merely a pile of straw and a pillow. There is no fireplace, but a fire in a pit, venting its smoke directly into the room, with only a small smokehole overhead to provide ventilation. And the only foodstuff to be seen is sheets of dried salmon, smoking over the fire on branches.
I suppose we should go call for the owner of the place, if they're nearby.
Your voice is swallowed up in the vastness of the tundra. And there is no response, no sound save the wind.
Guess we'll help ourselves to some salmon then.
It has a sharp, smoky taste and a pasty texture, quite unlike anything you have ever eaten. You would not, you think, describe it as pleasant, but it is interesting. And the salmon proves filling.
Say, let's take a look at that pillow, since it's the only real furniture in the place.
The deerskin has been polished smooth, then painted with crude pigments. You can make out images of caribou, hunters with spear-throwers, bears, kayaks, and stars. In its own primitive way, the pillow is as gorgeous as any work of art you have seen.
Not that our hero has seen all that many. Ah well. Let's wait for somebody to show up then.
You wait for some time, and no one arrives. At last, tired by your journey and lulled by the peaceful cracking of the fire, you doze off, and slump back onto the straw.
You can see the spirits of the creatures burning about you, like candles in the night. Though they are not powerful, nor do they possess human cunning, still they are living creatures of this cold realm. Somehow, you realize they are doing something, something of the spirit; they are worshipping, you realize, worshipping the governing spirit of these cold lands.
And that, once more, is everything that can be done here. Still, I have a feeling that will be a very important clue right about... now.
The aurora has gone, and the stars come stealing out with the declining day. At last, the vestiges of indigo pass from the sky, and the silver glories of the night shine forth. You draw your cloak tighter about you, for with the night, the air turns colder than before.
Choosing any option other than to pray leads to the following:
Suddenly, the sense of a vast being above you is gone. There are only the stars, lifeless points of light, twinkling coldly amid darkness. The chill strikes bone-deep. There is nothing more for you here. It is time to go.
So let's pray. First, we'll be asked how we'll be praying.
If Father Whale didn't give us enough of a hint, the aurora dream reinforced it: We need to be on our back, face to the sky. We must then pray as we learned in the dream, beginning with No beast or bird in earth or sky, and...
The stars move, shimmer, move; form into a ghostly face, a face that spans a sky; a face with the same unearthly ghostliness as the Milky Way. It is a face with the high cheek-bones and epicanthic folds of the folk of this cold land; it is Star Woman. And you know, with a shiver, that this is also the Lady, in one of her many aspects.
Figures. She seems to be our patron of sorts, for all the help she usually provides.
You roll over to study the fallen object. It is a whale tooth, elaborately carved in fine-lined filigree; scrimshaw. The carving depicts a man in a kayak, paddling through leaping whales, toward a mountain of ice.
Hey, is that... us?
As you examine the tooth, the voice whispers, "Nine seven one." You roll back to ask Star Woman about this cryptic statement, but...
But she is gone, just like if we'd broken the spell earlier. I suppose this tooth counts as Star Woman's favor? I get the sense we'll probably need it one way or another.
Alright, I've dicked around enough; let's go meet us an asshole dragon with a dumb puzzle.
Look at that smug face. I hate him so much.
About you are drifts of snow. Before you lies a dragon, a dragon all of white, with eyes of darkest red. Coils of steam form about its nostrils. The coloration is startling, but obviously this creature is as mortally dangerous as its more southern cousins.
Let's talk to him, much as I hate to.
Ah-hah! Foolish dragon, the peasant gave us your secret ages ago! All we have to do is say 'September' to slay you!
"What, already?" says the dragon. "No, can't be. Why, it was just June... how many days ago was that? 30 days hath September, April, June, and..." It mutters to itself for a time.
Not quite what I was expecting to happen. So... small talk?
"Rather chilly weather we've been having," you say pleasantly.
"Personally, I find it uncomfortably warm," says the dragon. "Are you edible?"
"Err... No," you say.
"Hah. Well, unless you give me a good reason otherwise, I intend to find out."
I guess this is the part where we mention our quest, like we always do to absolutely everyone.
And, uh, you can teach me that spell, right?
"Perhaps," muses the dragon. "You see, there are four dragons in this hemisphere, in addition to myself: the Dragons of Fire, of the Plains, of the Peaks, and of the Forest. Each has a hoard: one of gold, one of silver, one of electrum, one of rubies, and one of diamonds. I wish to capture the hoards of the others. The only way I may do so is to learn their True Names, which would give me power over them. I asked that damned wizard to tell me the names of the dragons, and he did: Alain, Balparaise, Carange, Demout, and Ebert are the names. Yet the swine refused to tell me which dragon bears which name! He would only give me a set of cryptic clues and tell me I could deduce the identities if I were sufficiently clever. Well! What gall. I froze him, and he will remain frozen until I relent and release him."
Oh, and let me guess. If we figure it all out for you...
...Seriously? Alright, alright, fine. Time to solve your stupid puzzle.
Except wait a second, I don't think we can actually solve this yet. We're missing something important: What is your name and hoard type?
"What sort of fool do you think I am?" sneers the Dragon of Ice.
"Look," you say. "The Wizard knew that YOU knew your own true name and treasure type. So his clues probably take that into account. How am I to solve the problem without the information you possess?"
"That," says the dragon, "is your problem."
And now it's your problem as well. Solve this puzzle... if you even can.
Alternate Solutions & Deaths
Let's get this one out of the way here: Attacking the dragon on sight is not a sound plan.
Swiftly, you draw Valterre and plunge through the snow toward the monster.
The dragon grasps you in its claws and, wings laboring, rises with you into the air. Northward it flies, northward over the frozen soil, northward over the MadMaze itself. And then it spirals downward, toward a crystalline city, where spires and columns of ice stand. It deposits you on one column. From it you can see...
The Wizard of Ice, caught in the same predicament as you. And there you stand, for thousands of years, eyeing each other and unable to do so much as waggle an eyebrow.
So that's a bust. But that doesn't mean we can't do something to screw with things a little. There are two options to outright kill the dragon, both involving the Talisman. First, we could just nuke him with Fire:
A mighty blast of flame rips from the Talisman toward the Dragon of Ice... What happens next, you do not clearly see. But when you pick yourself up after the explosion, your ears are still ringing. The only thing that remains of the Dragon of Ice is a steaming puddle, gradually icing over in the cold.
We can also use Time to give ourselves a window to slay him.
Suddenly, everything is still. Time is frozen. The dragon lies there, unmoving. You know that the spell will not last long, but while it does, you have an advantage. You can flee, and it cannot pursue; or if you act swiftly, you may be able to slay it before it can fight back.
Swiftly you draw Valterre, plunge through the snow, and slice through the beast's neck. Soon, the snow is covered with its pale blue blood.
Awesome. Now let's look for that treasure hoard!
So that's one missing hint found. We can get a similar tip without killing the dragon using the Talisman's sneakier powers. Spirit won't help...
With a chill, you feel that somehow this creature has no spirit, no soul; though it may have intelligence, it is less than the beasts in the ways that matter. Now what?
What else? Let's read its Mind! It can't hide from us!
Aw shucks, it can hide from us. We were so close too. Well hey, maybe we don't need to know the Ice Dragon's true name in order to solve the puzzle? ...Maybe?