Likovya was just about done with this place, whatever it was. If this was part of the castle -- which she had to admit was likely, given all the strange things she’d heard about the castle and all the strange things she’d seen in this place -- then she was ready to leave the castle and get back to her walk around the world. She wasn’t sure where she would go next or what she would do. She had been finding herself, she supposed, or maybe trying to lose all her shadows. It was hard to tell.
Whatever would happen, though, she didn’t care. She just wanted to be gone. As soon as she could, she packed up some food from the kitchen, including a bit of cheese which she ate on the way out, and went on the hunt for a way to escape. She was armed with the knives she’d found and the sword that was, strangely, useful to her, even though she couldn’t remember using a sword once in her life. Maybe that was part of the magic of this place: it gave her some useful skill. Whether she lost it when she left was another matter, but even if she did, she could always sell the sword. From what she could tell, it was made of a good metal, and it looked fine as well. There had to be someone in the world willing to take it.
The place was larger than she had expected, and apparently she was more skilled at losing herself than finding places, for it took her several hours to even find something that looked like a gate. By that time, she was annoyed from ducking out of sight of different people and trying to cling to what little shadows there were in the middle of the day, and her annoyance only grew when she saw the thing standing in place of the gate.
It was like a man, but not a man, and if such a thing existed outside of the castle, she had never seen one. But then, she rarely stayed very long in whatever countries she had passed through, so it was entirely possible she had missed hearing stories about a man-shaped giant that looked to be made out of earth. It stood in a gap in the wall, staring unblinkingly ahead, and she couldn’t tell whether it was a statue or somehow alive. If it was alive, it had to be through magic, and Likovya decided right then that she hated it. If her knives could do anything to hurt it, she would destroy it.
With a savage cry, she drew a knife in each hand and charged.
Fern was following a wall. It was a process that was as exciting as it sounded, which is to say that it was about as boring as most things could be. When he and Lori had found what appeared to be the wall of this place, she had shooed him off in one direction, saying something about meeting on the other side. Which meant that he was walking widdershins around the compound (or that was the direction he judged himself to be walking).
The walls themselves were pretty interesting, at least by wall standards. They were tall - at least a few dozen yards high, and curved slightly inward. Plus, he was pretty sure that there was some kind of magic moving through them. He did not have any of the tools or supplies to do any sort of reliable check, but he thought he could feel something if he pressed himself against it. Another mystery of this place, and hopefully one that he would be able to figure out in time. Or at least learn about, if whoever was responsible for the walls was still around.
He stopped walking for a moment, straining his ears. Yeah, it definitely sounded like there was something going on up ahead. Some sort of clashing thing? He wasn’t quite sure at this distance, but it was hopefully indicative of someone that he could talk to. And that wouldn’t do horrible things to his body for trespassing somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. So he hurried on ahead.
A few minutes later, he could definitely make out the sounds up ahead. Some sort of clashing noise, metal against rock maybe? He hurried up, and rounding a building attached to the wall, abruptly found the source of the noise. A young woman, bearing a knife in each hand, was attempting to fight what appeared to be a stone golem of some kind. Her blades weren’t able to do much against the creature; the best she could do was to avoid its counterattacks, and some of those came very close to striking her.
He frowned, not wanting to interrupt her for fear of disrupting her concentration, and yet wanting to make himself known to her. He glanced around, once more wishing that he actually had stuff on him, or had found some place to pick up any sort of usable supplies. Poking his head into the small building, he found a rack where a sword and spear were laying. After a moments hesitation, he grabbed the spear, and jogged back out. Now, to distract the golem without being squished.
Fortunately for him, it seemed to be focusing the entirety of its attention onto the young woman, either unaware of his presence, or ignoring it. He gripped the spear with both hands, stepping around to one side of the golem before taking a deep breath in.
“AAAAAAAAAAAA!” Taking a few steps forward he did his best to strike at the golem with the spear, swinging one end like a staff.
The woman sprinted to his side, moving as though she was trying to defend him. “What are you doing?” she shouted, dropping to one knee to avoid a swing of the golem’s hand. “Have you ever used one of those things before?”
“I have not used a spear before, but I do know the basics of staff fighting, and a spear is a bit liiiaaaaaAAA-” he backpedalled fast, barely avoiding the golem’s arm swinging around. “-bit like a staff, right?”
The woman swung one of her knives up, and the blade connected with the golem’s wrist but did no damage aside from making her stumble from the impact. “With a spear, you’re supposed to use the pointy end,” she said in a voice that sounded as though she was trying very hard to be patient. “Maybe you ought to stay out of the way. I can handle this.”
Fern backpedaled further, a bit glad to not be within arms reach of the golem anymore. “Are you certain? I do not think that you are doing any significant damage to it, unless you have some tool other than those knives?”
“I’ve got a sword,” the woman growled in between darts and attacks. “I don’t exactly have time to get it, though.” She dropped to a shoulder roll and popped up at once, as soon as she thought she was safe from an attack. “Do you have some better plan?”
Fern tilted his head, looking at the golem pensively. “It likely has a core of some sort, that animates it and keeps it from being something other than a stone statue. Should that be damaged or destroyed, the functionality of the golem should be degraded or removed altogether.”
The woman leapt backward just before the golem’s hand landed on the ground where she had been standing. “Right. So how do I reach the core? I can’t get past its feet.”
“Well, determining where the core is located in or on the body would be the first thing to do.” Fern skirted the edge of the battlefield, trying to get a good look at the back of the golem’s body. “Could you possibly try to get it to rotate some? I cannot see anything indicative of a core on the front, and I do not have a good angle to view the back at the moment.”
The woman shot him a glare but did as he asked, running to the side and shouting curses and insults at the golem. Whether it understood her words or not, the golem slowly turned to keep up with the woman, who darted against it again and again, striking at its legs and hands in a frenzy. “Don’t take too much time!” she yelled. “Even if these aren’t my knives, I don’t want them to dull them against this thing!”
Fern nodded in response, eyes flickering over the back of the golem. “Well, I have good news and bad news. I know where the core is, or at least the exterior element of it. However, it is located on the back of the head. Thoughts on how to get at it?”
The woman’s first response was something that Fern guessed was a curse, but then she said, “If I had some way of climbing it, I could reach it. I don’t suppose you’ve got any rope?” After a moment, she added, “It’s long and windy, and made up of different strands woven together. Sound familiar?”
He frowned, and carefully jogged around the field to poke his head back into the building, glancing quickly through what he could see. “I do not think so? I will see if there is any in here, but there might not be. What were you going to do with it?”
“Climb, obviously,” the woman yelled in response. “What do you think I would do with it?” She grunted, then called, “Have you got a better idea?”
“Several, but none of them viable due to the lack of any equipment I could use to carry them out…” he called out distractedly, opening up a barrel to check inside.
“What about an idea that can work?”
“...yours? I am heavily dependent on my tools to be useful in this kind of situation, and without them I am afraid any assistance that I can offer is limited to my rather unimpressive physique and physical skills..” he trailed off, flipping the lid off of a crate to reveal rope wound into a tight bundle. “I have found some rope!”
Grabbing the rope out of the crate, he hefted the bundle and dashed outside. The woman was still holding her own, though getting pushed back in the process. “What should I do with this rope?”
“Do you know anything that can pierce stone?” the woman called. “I need to get it attached to this thing’s head!”
Fern frowned, unraveling the rope to lay on the ground as he thought. “I do not think I have anything that could help with that….” He considered the rope for a moment, and then began working one end of it. However crazy and unsafe Pliny was, he had made sure that Fern knew his knots. “Would throwing a lasso over its head suffice?”
“It’ll have to! Can you throw, or do you need me to?”
Fern glanced around, eyes alighting on the building that was turning out to be much more handy that one might think. “I believe I will be able to do it? When I let you know, could you try and lure adjacent to the building attached to the wall? Being closer will make it easier for me to throw it.” Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the rope and ran back inside the building.
A couple moments later, he emerged again, pushing a barrel ahead of him. Maneuvering it to be against the wall next to the door, he climbed up on top of it, and stretched toward the top of the building, managing to just barely grab the top with his hands. A not-terrible toss put the rope mostly on top of the building, and he grabbed the top and started trying to pull himself up. To his surprise, it was a bit easier than expected, and he managed to wiggle himself up onto the roof after a minute of effort. Grabbing the end of the rope with the lasso, he ran to the edge. “Could you bring it over here now?”
Letting loose something that was almost a war cry, if a war cry could sound exasperated, the woman ran toward the building, pausing every now and then to turn and strike the golem with her knives. The golem followed her, but slowly, as though loath to leave its position. “How close do you need it?” the woman called.
He frowned, swinging the lasso a little in his hands. “A bit closer would be best, I believe?”
The woman sighed, but managed to coax the golem a few feet closer, then glanced over her shoulder. “Now?” She sounded slightly desperate, and the next swing nearly caught her arm.
Fern began winding up his throw, attempting to judge the distance properly. “It will do…” He threw the rope out, lasso opening wide in a perfect throw that was about 2 feet to the left of where it needed to be, sliding off of the golem’s shoulder, and fortunately not getting tangled in its arm. “Sorry, sorry!” He quickly pulled it back up, and winding up again, this time managed to land the rope on top of the stone figure’s head. “Done!”
Tossing the rest of the rope off the edge of the building, he knelt down on the wall. “What should I do now?”
“If you still have that spear, you could try to distract it,” the woman called. She tucked one of the knives into her belt, grabbed the other end of the rope, and began to pull herself up the golem. The rope swung and rocked, but with the rest of it coiled on the ground, it was stable enough for her to keep her feet pressed against its chest. “Use the pointy end!”
Fern frowned, and slid off the building with a thump, doing his best to dash around to where the spear had been dropped on the ground. He picked it up, and hefted it for a moment, before turning his attention to the large golem. A moment’s contemplation, and a large gulp, and he advanced towards it, pointy end of the spear pointed outward. “H-hey! Over here!” He jabbed at the back of the golem with the spear, jumping backwards almost immediately. “I am a target! Look at me!”
Partially distracted from the woman trying to climb its chest, the golem turned, swinging an arm at the now yelling man.
“Careful!” the woman called, and she scrambled onto the golem’s shoulder, still clutching the rope with one hand. With her other, she drew a knife and crept around to the back of the golem’s head before letting out another string of foreign curses. “And what do I do with this?” she asked, tracing the tip of her knife over a glowing vein, following whatever pattern the line made.
“Disrupt it? Stabbing it ought to do sometheeeeeeeeeing!” Fern called out, being temporarily interrupted by a close shave with a swinging stone limb, causing him to scramble back more. He still tried to hold his ground, waving the spear at the golem and shouting whatever popped into his head.
“Stabbing sounds useful,” the woman said, and she drove her knife into the nearest line. It slid in easily, far more easily than it should have considering it was stone, and the golem stopped with a jerk. The woman drew the knife out, and it started moving again, though it would suddenly stop and shudder, as though something were crawling under its skin. The woman struck again and again, and each time the shudders grew more violent, until the only thing keeping her from falling to the ground was her grasp on the rope. After several more strikes, the golem stopped, and the woman slid down the rope, landing hard on the ground. “Was that it?” she asked, gasping and looking at her reddened palm.
Fern slowly lowered the spear, cautiously approaching the golem. Seeing no reaction from the golem, he put the spear down and reached out to touch it with his hands. Closing his eyes, he leaned his forehead against its body, attempting to reach out. A minute of concentration later, he stepped back. “I believe so? It neither looks active, nor does it feel active, although my skill in determining such things is very limited and uncertain…” He frowned up at the head. “I would like to try and remove the core, but I do not think that is an especially viable course of action at this moment.”
“I could try,” the woman said, grabbing the rope and wincing as her left hand closed around it. “How would I go about getting out?”
“Well, it appears to be encased in the stone head - the part you were stabbing is mostly just an exterior element for easy access should something go wrong with the core or what have you. Actually removing it would necessitate breaking the stone, and that does not appear to be something that you can do, unless such an act is nonviable for you to perform in a combat scenario.”
The woman wrinkled her nose and released the rope. “I guess the core’s staying there, then.” She turned to the hole in the wall where the gate would otherwise be, took a step, and paused. “Were you planning on leaving this place?”
Fern shrugged. “I have no particular plans for the near future aside from attempting to figure out where my supplies were taken so that I can regain them, or possibly find new supplies. Or both, I suppose. As I am certain was very much demonstrated, my useful skills without them are...limited.”
“Well, I suppose this is good-bye, then.” The woman held out her non-ropeburned hand. “You did well. I’m sorry I was snappish.”
Fern took the hand, shaking it. “You were under a not-insignificant amount of stress in a situation that I am sure required quite a bit of focus. In light of such trying circumstances, such reactions are understandable.” He paused. “Oh, ah, yes. I am Fern.”
“My name’s Likovya, in case we ever meet again.” She gave him a quick smile and headed for where the golem had been standing. A simple gate stood there, and, after taking a deep breath, she pulled it open.
Fern turned to head back into the compound. Maybe Likovya was a member of Severed Stor-
He stopped. Severed Storm? How did he kno-Nova’s guild, Nova who wasn’t Nova she was Anji but was also Nova when she was a Lore Knight, and that was who he was a LoreKnightandLorinotheLoremasterinthetownonthefirstflooroftheCastlehewasstuckwithpeopleinthecastleLoriNovaMorionmenEliziya peoplethatheknewandcountedfriendsinthestuffhehaddoneratsmonstersthatturtlealienandflathowdidthathappenhowdidheforgetwh-
He came to kneeling on the ground, apparently having fallen there in the rush of memories. His memories, in fact, that he had forgotten. Why? This wasn’t the City, was it one of the floors? Perhaps a floor that took away your memory of the time in the castle? That would make sense, and it wasn’t like he’d have noticed any particular difference, though he was in a tad better shape than when he entered the castle. He shakily stood up, and glanced over his shoulder to where Likovya had been.
Likovya must have stepped away from the gate, for now she leaned with her back against the wall, gasping and holding her sword. “I remember,” she said. “I remember everything. How did… how could I have forgotten?” Shaking her head, she sheathed the sword and pushed herself away from the wall. “You’re all right?”
Fern nodded slowly. “I believe so, yes. The only change..well, I did not and do not notice anything different aside from the memories. Logically, since we are not in the city, we are in all probability on one of the floors of the Castle, though I do not remember anything that would indicate how we got here, or were transported here.”
“There’s enough about the Castle that doesn’t make sense that I don’t think I’ll question this. I’m just glad to be myself again.” Likovya set a hand on her knife and laughed. “I’d forgotten how sharp and angry I was when I came here. I hope I didn’t insult you too badly.”
Fern shook his head. “You did not. While I do not think I have undergone quite that much of a personality shift between entering the Castle and the present, there were several opinions that I held when I entered that I no longer do.”
“I suppose fighting a golem together makes us friends, then,” Likovya said. “Are you any good at finding things? I had a set of knives when I came to the Castle, and I’d rather have them back.”
Fern shook his head. “I would only be able to assist you in finding them if you had something connected to said knives, such as a piece of them. Though, I would think that they would be somewhere in this...Floor, I guess? I am still planning on trying to find the supplies I had on me if at all possible, so I could help you look for your daggers at the same time.”
Likovya grinned. “If you want my help finding your things, I wouldn’t mind giving it.” She strode up to him and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “I couldn’t have taken that thing down without you, so I guess I owe you a little help, if nothing else.”
Fern blinked and flinched a tiny bit at Likovya’s clap. “Oh, um, that is most appreciated, yes. With the two of us it should go much faster.”
Jubilation and despair are two sides of the same coin.