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224 Ruins of Expectation

 Swept helplessly over the edge by the swift current, Dave screamed bloody murder as he fell for many long seconds until finally plunging into the turbulent water at the bottom of the falls. The pounding cascade pushed him under and kept him there, tumbling and spinning, until he was carried away into the calmer flows downstream of the falls.

Bobbing to the surface he swam across the current to the nearest shore. Exhausted, he finally staggered out of the water onto the sandy, grassy shore and changed back into his armor, re-equipping it while surveying his surroundings.

Steep cliffs rose up on either side of the river. So unless he wanted to climb the walls of the canyon it looked like following the river was the only way out. The ground on both sides of the river was lined with narrow strips of forest, hopefully nothing too dangerous lived in the confined areas. And just downriver from where he was Flanker and Fortress were drying their clothes at the shore. Dave jogged over to them but stopped when he saw Spike lying on his side, his massive body half in and half out of the water.

"Glad you made it, bro," Fortress greeted Dave.

Dave nodded to Fortress, "You guys, too."

"That was some epic shit, man. A swan dive off a mile high waterfall," Flanker said.

Dave gave Flanker a withering look, "You probably like roller coasters. What's wrong with Spike? And where is Perfect?"

"Perfect is scouting ahead. Look man, Spike is hurt bad, the rocks in the river and going over the falls did a number on him.

'Strange, we didn't get badly hurt. Maybe it's because he is so much bigger and heavier.'

Dave approached Spike and crouched down next to his large head. Long deep gashes in the forest fiend's side and hind leg bled into the water, staining it red. Seeing the suffering of the valiant creature that had carried them through so much made his heart ache.

"Why didn't you heal him?" Dave demanded, looking at Flanker.

"I'm sorry, man, I tried. I received a notification saying that I can't heal him for some reason. I don't think he trusts me," Flanker shrugged.

Dave stroked the fur on Spike's, "Sorry buddy. How about you let Flanker here heal you up?"

The forest fiend growled and shook his head.

***

The forest prong fiend is wounded and in an agitated state. You affinity must be at least 5 to approach the beast.

***

Dave shook his head, but took a red healing potion out and put it under the fiend's nostrils.

"C'mon buddy, drink this. It will heal you right up," Dave pulled the fiend's head up and poured the potion down the beast's gullet. A few moments after that the ghastly wounds started visibly healing. Soon the fiend had struggled awkwardly back to its feet, and nudged Dave with his muzzle, like he was thanking the player. Dave scratched the fiend under the chin affectionately, smiling.

***

Your affinity with the fiend has increased.

6/10

The forest prong fiend has deemed you a trustworthy ally and is now willing to fight for your cause as well as transport you and your allies.

The fiend will aid you in battle as long as his HP does not go below 75%

***

"Hey guys," Perfect's voice sounded form the party chat.

"What's up?" Fortress answered.

"I can see the city from here. We should get going." Perfect said.

"City?" Dave asked.

"Dave, you made it!"

"Yeah, a little waterlogged, but I'm here. What city?"

"The canyon leads to more forest, a jungle really. There's a city on a hill, walls, towers, everything."

Fortress explained, "Perfect saw the city when he went over the edge of the falls, probably thanks to his ranger class passive skills."

"Never heard of a city in the middle of the Wilds. Interesting. And weird. Let's check it out and see what we can find," Dave grabbed onto Spike and vaulted to his back. Flanker and Fortress jumped to their seats behind him.

Perfect came into sight from downriver, striding over and jumping up to onto Spike's back between Fortress and Dave.

"Ah c'mon, man. I don't wanna be stuck in the ass-seat every time." Flanker complained.

"We just have to follow the river, it flows right through the middle of the city."

They rode along the river bank until they came to the mouth of the canyon, the cliffs ended and the trees became a thick jungle.

Tall leafy trees blocked out the night sky. Glowing red eyes peeked out at the party from the darkness of the forest.

"This place is freaky man, I feel like I am on the set of a horror movie," Flanker said. "I just hope no more spiders or dragons appear."

"Keep your goddamn mouth shut," Perfect shouted.

Spike stopped suddenly.

"What's wrong buddy?" Dave said.

The foliage on one side parted the narrow snout of a creature emerged, followed by a pudgy rounded form covered in spines. It looked like a black hedgehog, but it was easily twice Spike's size. It looked at them in mild confusion and curiosity, wondering why anything would get in the way of it's nightly peregrinations.

***

Atelerix spinalapis giganticus (giant stone-spined hedgehog, mutated)

Level: 550

Base damage: 205,000-300,000

HP: 550,000

DN: 30,000

MA: 50,000

Skills:

[Roller Derby of Death] curls into a ball and power spins forward doing 200% base damage and inflicting a 20 second Bleed effect for 1% of the target's maximum HP per second.

[Make it Rain] blasts a circular area around itself with quills in a 10 meter radius, each quill does 5% of Base damage.

Bestiary

A harmless creature of the wilds that was mutated into this abhorrent form by the maleficent magic saturating the Wilds. While these giant spine covered monsters do not hunt prey or seek out conflict they are temperamental and easily annoyed.

***

"Anyone have duct tape?" Fortress said.

"How is duct tape going to help?"

"We put a piece across Flanker's mouth."

"Hey man!" Flanker protested as the others chuckled.

Meanwhile the hedgehog had gone from confused to annoyed. It shrieked at them, curled up into a ball and then started power-rolling toward them, spikes gouging into the earth and throwing up a rooster tail of dirt and decaying plant matter behind it.

"RUN!" Dave screamed at Spike.

The forest prong fiend bolted out of the way of the power-rolling ball of spikes and coursed between the trees like a loosed arrow. The players held onto their mount as they whipped through branches and vines. Eventually they lost sight of the pursuing monster and Spike slowed to a more normal bounding pace toward the city.

Perfect said, "I think we lost the hedgehog-from-hell Skelly."

"Yeah, but let's not let our guard down, we keep moving until we get to the city,"

"We haven't stopped running since we entered the Wilds, man. What the hell are we doing here anyway?" Flanker complained.

"We're helping Skelly play Tomb Raider while we wait on your sorry-ass quest cooldown. Things would be a lot better if SOMEONE would just keep his fucking trap shut."

"Aww man. That's superstitious nonsense. None of that stuff happened just cause I said something stupid."

"That shouldn't be an excuse to KEEP saying stupid things, Flanker."

The prong fiend crossed a bog that smelled of sulfur and rotting vegetation, leaping like a cheetah from one hummock to another over the swampy waters. Giant-sized alligators and pythons retreated into the murky fetid depths as the fiend passed.

On the other side of the bog their mount made a final herculean leap, clods of mud and dirt flew away as the fiend's hooves touched down on the higher leaf-covered floor of the forest.

"Ah, Spike is going to need to be brushed down again after this, he stinks of swamp now" Human Fortress pointed out.

"We'll give him a cleaning in the river when we reach the city, I hope he likes getting a bath," Dave suggested.

They came to a hard-packed trail going through the jungle in the direction of the city. As they travelled along it, the path slowly became the what remained of an old paved road. The cobblestones were worn and almost covered in dry mud and dirt, weeds pushing up between them. The few curbstones still visible were cracked or broken.

Gradually the road grew less worn and broken down until they stood at the ruins of a city gate. They entered the city, finding the interior in an even worse state than the road and the gates. The city looked like it had been pillaged and destroyed even before time had taken it's toll.

"What is this thing? They're all over." Fortress indicated a mound of black dirt that looked out of place.

There were mounds like it visible everywhere. Strangely not a single blade of grass grew on or near any of them.

Perfect knelt down and inspected the dirt, "It volcanic...Granite maybe."

"It's like there was a battle, or invasion," Human Fortress said, looking around the the destruction that had obviously befallen the city before the depredations of time had softened and worn everything down.

"let's look around, we might find something interesting." Dave said.

Flanker pointed at a building with only two walls standing. "That's a smithy over there, you can see what's left of the forge. Let's check it out."

The forge was indeed identifiable as well as a broken bellows and a half-destroyed chimney.

The players walked over to the smithy and checked the interior. Pots old crafting tools, rusted pitchforks and broken swords were littering the place.

There was a window sized hole in of the still standing walls of the smithy as if a cannon ball had shot through it. . Inside the smithy was a squarish silver block covered with runic writing.

Dave examined the boulder, but didn't get any information.

"I've seen this before, I'm sure of it. I just don't remember where," Dave mumbled to himself.

"What did you find Skelly?"

"This block looks familiar," Dave said.

"Oh yeah, it looks like part of a teleport gate," Fortress said.

"A teleport gate in the wilds?" Flanker asked.

"Well, this was a city. Without a teleport gate whoever lived here would have had to cross the Wilds every time they had to go somewhere. Teleporting would have been a necessity," Perfect said thoughtfully.

"I bet the gate blew up or was destroyed and this fragment smashed through the smithy wall. So the gate must have been nearby." Dave said.

"If we fix the gate we could use it to get back here without having to fight spiders or run from crazy dragons," Flanker said.

"We can try to fix it. I've never read about anyone building or fixing a teleportation gate in Conquest. We'll need all the stones." Fortress said.

"Fortress is right," Dave said, "Spread out and search every building. If you find a block mark it on your map and share it with the party."

"Let's try to move this piece first." Fortress put both hands on the square block, he leaned in and pushed, grunting. It didn't budge.

"It's heavy as shit."

"Leave it for now. Even if we find all the pieces we don't know if we can actually rebuild the gate. So let's see if we can find the rest of the gate and the original site, then worry about the next step," Dave said.

Dave jumped over one of the ruined smithy walls and looked around.

"There's another piece," Dave pointed at a square sprawled in the middle of the road.

"There's another over there, shit how are we going to get that?" Perfect pointed at the top of a building, the silver block was embedded in a high wall.

"Found another," Flanker said, "Under that tree."

They spread out and moved through the area but kept in sight of each other, following the cardinal rule: never split the party.

"I think that was where the gate was originally" Fortress asked.

He was pointing down a street between a couple of building to an open area, what may have been a city square. In the center of the open area surrounded by the ruins of buildings was a slightly raised platform of tightly fitted stone. A jumble of the silver blocks was scattered across it. Two silver blocks, taller than the rest, were set upright, parallel to each other, into the middle of the stone floor.

"Yeah, that's the original gate location alright. So the first thing we need to do is move all the silver blocks here."

"Counting the one under the tree, the one stuck to the building, the one in the smithy, and the ones here, there are eleven." Dave paused, "I think one is missing."

"Why do you say thay?" Flanker asked.

"Because you need twelve codes to activate a teleportation gate. I think each boulder with the unique rune symbol corresponds to one of those twelve codes. So we are missing one."

"Makes sense," Flanker shrugged.

"Alright, let's keep looking for the last one," Dave said.