Part 59: Level Three: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The HerpetariumLevel Three: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Herpetarium
We've been in this maze a while, but rejoice! We are about to be done with it. Our final stop is that PoP in the white maze, on the east side. Like the sky battle, we have to loop around to reach it.
It's a bit like The Flintstones, except it's good and just that Fred is the one sleeping outside.
The fabled city of Cesauriensis, capital of the lizard realms! A flow of lizards journey in and out of the gates. As you approach, a lizard warrior bars your path.
We can talk, as far as I know. Nice cravat, by the way.
"Astounding!" says the lizard. "It talks!"
Oddly, this is the point where we must proffer the letter, or we don't get any opportunity to do so thereafter. So we'll do that.
We're given a list of names, but nothing interesting (picking the wrong one just says You have no such letter). Belisaurius it is!
Sure thing, pal. Hopefully this isn't one of those tricks where we're killed for bearing the letter.
The letter acts like a magic talisman. Less than an hour later, you stand before the Council of Lizards, receiving their heartfelt thanks for having saved the punitive expedition. In the days that follow, all the city's knowledge is opened to you. Scribes assist you as you search through the great library of Cesauriensis. Lizard scholars are at your beck and call. And the greatest wizards of the Sapiensaurs are happy to help you as best they can.
We assumed some of these things already, but the confirmation is helpful. Our path to the moon, inexplicably, lies at the bottom of the maze.
3. The Insectidae are mad for a substance called the Nectar of the Aphidae. If you were to bring some of this with you to the Insect Mother, she would be more likely to receive you. No Sapiensaur knows where this substance is found.
For once, we can thank Matilda for her help; we already grabbed a sample of the Nectar for ourselves after getting some for her.
4. Once you have braved the Prime Mother, you must enter the Pyramid of the Insectidae. It is filled with traps; no Sapiensaur has ever returned from there to tell what those traps are, or how they may be defeated.
And that's all there is to do in Cesauriensis... if we do everything correctly. See below for the many ways things can go awry.
Down to the next maze! We've seen this one before; we exited the Grove of the Aphidae into this maze, but skipped the PoPs within go check the ones upstairs. We'll get to them now, starting with the one to the northwest.
What is this, the third or fourth time we've seen this art?
It is a pool, a place of beauty, not unlike the enchanted pool you encountered in the first realm of the MadMaze. But as you approach, you see that it is not entirely as it first had seemed. The water is befouled, algae-filled and odiferous. Lily-pads still dot its waters, but they seem diseased, scrofulous. Perhaps the Mad One's power is somehow destroying this once-serene place.
Our only real options are to pass sadly by or use the Talisman. Surely magic can fix this befoulment, or at least help a little.
Most Elements: You feel better for having tried to do something for the pool, but your release of power has not altered its state.
Water: Bass voices chant, reaching a crescendo. And as they do, the water clears; and a clear soprano joins them. When the chanting is done, the soprano continues, saying softly, "Pity the mad, for the fault is not their own."
Spirit/Mind: In your mind, you hear a faint, fair voice. "Do not pity me, wayfarer," it says. "Death comes to all. Pity the mad, for the fault is not their own."
That's everything in this PoP. Clearly that line about pitying the mad is a hint, though it's unclear how it's supposed to help any. What's next?
Oh. Sorry I asked.
Have you ever looked at a praying mantis? They're pretty fearsome little things. They stand stock-still until they strike, quick as lightning, sawing off the head of some defenseless insect with their razor-sharp limbs. These are nasty, nasty predators. It's a good thing they're only an inch or so tall.
Better not make any sudden moves. But just to be on the safe side, what does the Talisman say?
Curiously enough, you sense that the mantis is not hostile to you.
That's... good? I hope.
We don't worship the Mad One. In fact, pretty much the opposite of that!
"Yes?" says the mantis skeptically. "Know that I am highly pious. My kind are not termed praying mantises merely for our posture. I have decided: I shall slay you unless we are coreligionists."
Huh. That's a tough one. I mean, in a way we worship all the gods. But we have little love for the Mad One, and frankly none of the gods other than the Lady have done so much as lift a finger to help us. If we had any one patron, it'd be The Lady, and she is the goddess of the beasts...
I doubt she'll harm us now, and we know for a fact she hates the Mad One, so there's no harm in telling her of our quest.
"Your way lies through the Pyramid of the Insectidae," the mantis tells you grimly. "There, one of my sisters is imprisoned and forced to guard the path through the pyramid. She is to slay all who come to her, save those with the password given them by the Prime Mother. If you should voyage that far, remember me to her, and she will let you pass. My name is Uktookuk."
Interesting. This might be useful if we don't manage to get the password from the Prime Mother. Speaking of which, are we at the bottom of the maze yet? There's only one ladder down on this floor, and it takes us to...
Jesus. We're near the bottom, as it happens, but there's a lot left to do before we head down another floor.
Alternate Solutions & Deaths
The first, and perhaps dumbest thing we can do in Cesauriensis, is quite literally play dumb for the guard.
Speaking up at this point will return to the normal conversation, but I'm really feeling that last option.
When you protest, you are severely beaten. Without Valterre and the Talisman, you are unable to escape. And thus you live out your remaining days, bereft of your own kind, a slave to lizards.
Only slightly less idiotic is to murder the gate guard.
Give Yourself Up: You surrender, are stripped of your weapons, and are taken into custody. You are thrust into a filthy cell from which you are, without Valterre and the Talisman, unable to escape. On the next day, you are tried. Despite your protestations, you are sentenced to death for murder (of the guard) and espionage. You are taken to the courtyard and beheaded.
Kill Them All: You kill scores, but there is a garrison of thousands in the city. Soon, a squadron of crossbowlizards forms up. Before you can close and kill them with Valterre, they turn you into a pincushion.
Using the Talisman provides a few additional choices.
Use To Escape: You use the power of Earth to tumble down a section of the city wall. Your way thus debarred, you escape into the countryside.
Use To Destroy Pursuers: With the powers of fire, lightning, and cold, you repeatedly lash out to destroy those who pursue you. But the lizardfolk have wizards of their own, wizards who do not take kindly to this destructive magic within their domain. Soon, you find yourself in a magical duel, facing dozens of adepts. Though the Talisman is an object of great power, your understanding of magic is slim, and it does not take long for them to destroy you.
Use To Convince Them: Using the power of Mind, you attempt to influence the minds of your pursuers, to make them believe that you are friendly to lizardkind, did not slay the guard, and should be given free run of the city. But the memory of the guard's murder is too recent, too brutal in their minds. You cannot expunge it. They continue to pursue you.
Oddly enough, if we knock down the city wall and escape, then come right back, nobody notices or cares. Thanks, lack of permanence! Or perhaps lizards just have very short memories.
Neither silence nor violence is the answer, so perhaps diplomacy will do what they could not?
The guard grows wary. "Only the lizard kind are permitted entry," he says. "For how are we to know you are not a spy for the Insectidae?"
I mean, do I look like a spy for a bunch of insects? Of course I'm not a spy.
"Yes, of course," says the lizard, "so you say. But you are an odd, misshapen monster, unlike either Sapiensaur or Insectida. Within, you may learn our defenses, our military secrets; and these we cannot allow the Insectidae to learn. We cannot trust you. I have my orders. Go!"
Perhaps this lovely Talisman could persuade you? We could also use it to cause an earthquake (and thus be destroyed by lizard wizards) or to murder the guard, but we've seen where that gets us. So let's try a little Mind...
Occasionally, someone more inquisitive questions you, but you use the Talisman as necessary to preserve anonymity. But you learn nothing of value. The city's library is a storehouse of information, some of which might help you; but you cannot decipher the lizard script. No one you question has information of much value; but you do learn that the Council of Lizards, the wizards and wise folk who rule the city, might be able to help. So they might; but do you dare to approach them? Could the Talisman preserve the illusion that you are a lizard in the face of wizards and the wise?
We can approach the council openly as a human, or try disguising ourselves. The Talisman has worked so far, so let's test it out against the best and brightest of lizardkind.
Oddly, surrendering gives the exact same message as if we'd murdered the guard, even though in this case we didn't. Using the Talisman doesn't help either. There is a slightly different message for killing the Council before the crossbow brigade shows up:
You decimate the Council of Lizards, slaying dozens. The entire species will mourn for the wisdom and magic it has lost to the edge of the Sword Valterre.
Right, so they can see through illusions. Let's try to just contact them openly.
They argue for hours. Eventually, they tell you, "We will assume you acted in good faith. But know this: the only known route to the Moon of Madness is through the lair of the Prime Mother of the Insectidae. We dare not give you information to help you find that place, or journey through it safely, for fear that you will tell our secrets to the Insectidae. So we will let you go freely, but will not assist you."
They then kick us out of the city. Technically an alternate solution, but one that misses several clues.
The pool has no alternate solutions that I didn't already mention, so let's skip ahead to the mantis. Trying to flee from her has quite the opposite result that it does in most PoPs.
The mantis responds instinctively to fleeing prey. Its limbs lash out, and your head goes tumbling.
It seems unlikely, but can we kill her?
Lucky. A moment's hestitation and we'd probably have been killed. If her sister is faster on the draw, that might not work a second time.
There's also, naturally, the Talisman. I covered the Mind/Spirit option, but the more offensive ones also do things:
Most Elements: You call upon the power of the Talisman to blast the mantis to smithereens. The way ahead lies clear.
Earth/Water: You release the power of the Talisman -- but it has little effect on the mantis, save to startle it into action. It lashes out, and your head tumbles from your carcass.
Time: You freeze time; the mantis is motionless. Do you use the moment to kill the mantis while it cannot move or to flee?
Either of those last options work; the mantis has no defense against a time stop.
Finally, if we answer anything but The Lady as our religion...
"Wrong answer," says the mantis, striking as she says the words. Your head tumbles to the ground.