The monsters continue to claw and push against the door, but I keep myself braced against it, doing a quick check to make sure I’m still in one piece.
My ankle hurts, probably sprained in the trip, but I could still walk on it. My forearms are cut to bits, glass still poking out through my skin, it slightly burns to move my arms, I will need to deal with that quickly. The spear was outside, jabbed into a dying or dead monster, I’ll have to retrieve it after the gathering monster crowd leaves. My boots are stained a dark green as opposed to the light brown they were originally, and there’s noticeable gore on my pants. It smells foul enough that I slip my boots off and roll up my pant legs, tearing the bottom fabric off. I kick the smelly items further away, it helps, but not a lot.
Slinging my backpack off I carefully dig around until I find the scarf I found earlier, using my teeth I tear the scarf into smaller sections of fabric. Now that I was prepared, it was time for the hard part. I don’t have tweezers or any ointments to help with the healing, thankfully I do have semi-long nails. Carefully I start pulling the tiny pieces of glass out one by one. It is a slow and painful process, one that takes considerable concentration. Which is hard, when there is a pack of ravenous lizard-porcupines swarming just beyond the door, who shove and claw at the door every few seconds. I push through and 30-some minutes later I’m wrapping the scarf turned bandages around my arms.
As patched up as I’m going to get with my limited medical knowledge, I turn my attention to the chamber I nearly risked my life to access.
Just like in every part of the Castle of the Lizard, the lanterns are magically lit, covering the room in a warm red glow. Tables covered in diagrams and shelves nearly bursting with books, bottles, and boxes line the walls. The books are all falling apart at the seams, the heavy smell of rotting paper thick in the air. The bottles have lost their water decades ago leaving weird slug-like remains and a faint too sweet smell. Many of the boxes are broken, spilling mechanical parts across the floor like a weird metallic rock slide.
Limping further into the room, I scan the walls and tables for anything of note. The diagrams and notes covering the tables are written in a language I don’t understand, outlining items that look vaguely like weapons but could also just as easily be fancy light fixtures or toys. There are a few strange-looking pieces of equipment on the tables, all covered in a heavy layer of dust, but from just a quick glance none of it appears to have an obvious function or to still be usable.
I flip a few pages of a book experimentally and the whole thing crumbles to chalky dust in my hands.
“Note to self, don’t touch,” I tell myself out loud, shaking my hands off of the gross residue, and when that doesn’t work, I dust them off with a forgotten cloak laying in one of the chairs. Hands now free of weird decomposing book remains, I head towards the largest desk in the back of the room.
It’s just as cluttered if not more cluttered than the rest of the room, with piles of books on the floor around it, scattered paperwork stuck to the feet of the rickety chair, and half-assembled machines kicked under the desk. A broken lantern lays shattered against the tile, my arms throb at the scene, and I take a second to carefully kick the larger pieces under a nearby table, paying extra attention to not step on any of the shards with my sock-clad feet. Shuffling to the other side of the desk I lean over to scan what’s on top.
Even though I can’t read anything of what is written, I can tell it is something scientific and official, there’s a crest at the top of the pages, a symbol of a dragon wrapped around a glowing red stone. I wonder if the stone is supposed to be the artifact I had found, it might be a worthy clue to follow up with later. Though I have no one to ask that about right now, so I busy myself with shifting through more of the reports, most of them don’t appear finished, probably in the process of review before… whatever happened here happened.
I move on, starting to check the numerous drawers. The top two are filled with more paper and dried bottles of ink. The second two are a bit more promising resulting in a small change purse that I quickly open, finding 5 silver-colored coins. I have no concept of how much money it is, but it does feel weirdly nice to have money again. The bottom drawer gets stuck, and I have to jiggle with it for a good few minutes before I’m able to force it open.
The drawer goes flying out, scattering its contents all over the floor. A few sludgy potion bottles break, sending glass shattering under bookshelves and bouncing between chair legs. A weird compass-like instrument shatters on the title with a concerning fizzling sound. I probably just broke something magical, but I’m going to pretend I never saw it. The last item is by far the weirdest and most notable, a wax-sealed envelope. I pick up the letter, breaking the seal and pulling out the contents.
A thick folded piece of paper. Slowly I unfold it, revealing what appears to be a layout of a maze. Wait. Is this-
[Player has acquired key item [Piece of Castle Lizard Map – Floor 1]. Would player like to use item now?]
I look down at the map now resting in my hands, uncertain how I got so lucky. Even though the system gave me a prompt, I’m not so far behind the times that I can’t read one, honestly, it is far simpler than the highway maps my dad would hand back to my brother and me for us to decode during family trips.
“But where am I on this thing?”
[Would player like to activate [Castle of Lizard Map – Floor 1]?]
“Quiet,” I grumble tilting my head to get a different angle on the map. Suddenly remembering all the adventure tomb-robbing shows I watched as a kid, I carefully hold the map up to one of the lit lanterns on top of a nearby table, looking for secret messages.
Just as I’m squinting at a weird stain trying to figure out if it means something there’s a loud insistent ding! And a blue text box appears in my face.
[Would player like to activate [Castle of Lizard Map – Floor 1]?]
“Fine,” I agree with a huff, putting the map back down on the table, probably harder than I should, “why ask me at all if you’re just going to keep asking till I say yes?”
The window does not respond, but it does static, and a holographic overlay appears on the map, including a blinking purple dot towards the far-left side. I tap on the dot and a little window appears above it,
[Player’s current location]
“So, you can be helpful,” I note, glancing over at the yellow cursive window hovering next to me, “well thanks I guess.”
The window as always does not respond but it does ding with a new message-
[Level map to unlock more functions. Possible unlockable functions are: enemy tracker, quest item locations, marked safe rooms, and secret passage identifier.]
That really was incredibly useful for a change, “You can’t tell me where the other pieces of the map are can you?”
The notification window hovers awkwardly for a few more seconds before it closes due to inaction. I sigh, carefully laying down the map on top of a nearby table, “should have expected that honestly.”
I spend the next few minutes carefully looking over the map, trying to notice anything else different about how it is designed. There’s a large door at the bottom, which I assume is the entrance and there’s a stairway pointing down in the top right section, supposedly how I’m supposed to move between floors. Chalice’s room isn’t marked at all, nor are the rooms I’ve already been in, which must mean the map either doesn’t count actions I’ve taken before gaining it or is only used as a layout.
“Still useful,” I reason, folding up the map, sliding it back into its envelope and carefully putting it into my bag. I’ll have to stay here tonight, but once the monsters get bored and wander away, I’ll head for Chalice’s room, maybe it will have a few more rations it will be willing to part with, I do have money now after all.
Settling in a chair I begin slowly trying to make sense of some of the diagrams. The one in front of me looks like a weird combination of a mixer and a fan. Just as I'm starting to theorize what it could possibly be used for-
Slowly I get to my feet, hand moving to unhook my mace, testing the now familiar weight in my hands as I inch closer to the door. The sound echoes again, a weird whistling sound that ends with a weird wet thunk-ing. The lizard monsters outside start growling loudly and clawing at the door. I hold my ground as the sound echoes two more times, before it goes deathly silent.
I wait, unsure of what’s happening beyond the door and-
“KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.” Something taps three times on the door, in a slow steady rhythm.
Squaring my shoulders I raise my mace, curling two hands around it, ready to swing at whatever comes through. There’s a long moment of silence, where I wait impatiently for something to happen-
“I know you’re in there,” a voice says, sounding mildly annoyed, “neat trick with the lanterns. You going to let me in?”
It was a person. My shoulders untense on their own before I’m vividly reminded of Night, it would have been more than enough time for them to follow after me and start trying to solve the maze.
“Why should I open it?” I counter, keeping myself ready to attack.
There’s a sigh loud enough to be heard through a metal door, “If I wanted to hurt you why didn’t I just wait for you to come out and ambush you? Or push this door open myself?”
They had a point there. “Fine I’ll open it, but any funny business and you end up like the monsters outside.”
Hesitant, but excited to meet another player, I slowly tug the door open. I don’t put my mace away, just switch it to my off-hand, reading myself to swing if need be. Whoever is on the other side must be pushing because it opens with far less effort.
And a humanoid figure slips in through the gap.
She’s not much older than me, perhaps around 25/26. Dressed like a real adventurer, with a chainmail shirt, metal bracers, and thick leather pants tucking into tall riding boots covered in familiar green stains. She’s obviously not human, with dark wavy green hair that looks almost like some sort of plant, a scatter of iridescent scales across her nose, with wide rounded eyes like a fish. There’s a stuffed bag at her hip and a bow and quiver slung over her shoulder.
She obviously sizes me up herself, pausing on the gory mace in my hands before giving a little nod in my direction.
“So, what are you doing here?” I ask, curiosity winning out over my caution.
She crosses her arms, leaning back against the metal door, “That was going to be my question,” she huffs, a smirk twisting her face, “I mean what’s a newbie like you doing in the castle all alone?”
“I asked you first,” I remind, switching my mace to my dominant hand.
She watches the movement with open amusement, “You would regret doing that.”
I give her a smirk of my own, resting the mace on my shoulder like a bat, relaxing my stance, “Do what?” I question in false obviousness, “Bust your skull open?”
She huffs, pushing herself off the door, I hold the mace out threateningly, leveling it at her face like a challenge. I have no desire to kill another person, but I already know this game is kill or be killed. She raises her hands in mock surrender, still looking more amused than any person being threatened should look.
“Listen I’ve just got one question. Answer that and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Anything?” I ask, trying to not let my curiosity show.
By her widening smirk, I failed. “Anything,” she agrees, keeping her hands in the air.
It’s a rather tempting offer, what’s the harm of answering one question? I scan her face again, I can’t identify what kind of background she has, but it’s probably something fish related. It should be fine. And if she does try something, I’ll have the advantage as she’s a bow user. “Then fine, what is it?”
Her entire stance shifts, amusement peeling away into something dark and dangerous, smile sharp and eyes calculating, “Who’s your god, little Acolyte?”