Fort Nox: An Apshai Adventure
Senhal's golden plush mane whipped in the autumn air as he dragged his Mutant Hissi friend up the walkway to the Neohome door. "Pystry, I am so excited! I can't wait for you to meet Apshai. She runs the best dungeon crawls ever." The Kyrii knocked eagerly.
The door opened, revealing a smiling Buzz with delicate orange skin and a colourful Crayon Wrapper Dress. A Lost Desert Buzz Headpiece framed her bluish-green compound eyes. "Senhal! How wonderful to see you again. And you must be Pystry. Senhal tells me you're a real puzzle enthusiast. I think you'll enjoy today's game."
"I'm looking forward to it," answered Pystry politely. "I've played both NeoQuest and NeoQuest II quite a bit, but never the home version."
"I'm sure you'll be a natural. Do come in; your friends are waiting."
Pystry gave a quiet sigh, and then steeled himself as he stepped indoors. It was always a pleasure seeing his new friend Frimdy, a Brown Hissi who had boosted his spirits when he most needed it. Garjan, on the other hand, was not exactly a friend. More of an acquaintance, really. You know, come to think of it, maybe it would be better to skip the game and get started on next year's paperwork for the Tax Beast instead...
Pystry inhaled, and tasted the warm air with his tongues. "Is that vanilla I smell?"
"There he is!" Frimdy emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray with five steaming mugs. "Help yourself to some Vanilla Flavoured Borovan."
Pystry lifted a mug, and smiled as he recognized the NeoQuest II logo emblazoned on the side. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
A tenor voice, with the distinctive lilt of a native Qasalan, interrupted Pystry's reverie. "About time you two arrived. It's so inconsiderate of you to make us wait." A Cloud Hissi flew into the room, beelined for the mugs, and quickly took the largest one.
"Nice to see you, too, Garjan," hissed Pystry.
"Come on back, boys," called Apshai. "Bring your things."
The three Hissies followed Senhal to a spacious room lined with Bone Shelves, packed with hardback tomes. In the center, five chairs surrounded a long rectangular Esophagor Table, embroidered with the Esophagor's glowing red eyes and gaping mouth on the side. Apshai set her mug down on the table, and gestured to her guests to sit.
Apshai's eyes matched the tablecloth's colour almost exactly, making them gleam eerily. "As you know, it's been exactly three years since the Faeries' Ruin and Hubrid Nox' untimely demise. In his honour, I've put together a little campaign for you tonight." She set a binder on the table, patted it, and placed a paper screen between herself and the four boys.
Senhal brought out the helpfully titled "NeoQuest II Map Notebook," a Pad of Graph Paper, and a small drawstring pouch carrying a set of purple geometric Darigan Dice.
"What do we do first?" asked Pystry, ignoring Garjan's superior smirk. "I read through the rules in Senhal's copy of 'NeoQuest II: The Board Game,' but I'm not really sure what I'm doing."
"Let's start with your character sheets. We'll have a standard four-member party, starting at around level 50. We'll need a warrior, a spellseeker, an archer, and a healer."
"Dibs on the spellseeker!" interjected Garjan.
Frimdy gestured towards the bookshelves. "I was looking through some of your books earlier, and I ran across a NeoQuest 'booster pack' with new kinds of spells. Can I play as a healer with the Sleep spells?"
Pystry's brows furrowed. "Wait. We're not playing by the 'NeoQuest II: Board Game' rules?" he asked anxiously.
"We'll play by house rules. Don't worry, it'll be fine," said Apshai, pausing to savour a sip of borovan.
Pystry's minds raced. "Frimdy, can I look at that booster pack?" The Brown Hissi handed it to the agitated Mutant.
Senhal scribbled furiously on his character sheet. "Pystry, you should play the warrior. It's a lot of fun, and easiest if you're worried about the rules. And I," he added, flourishing his special gaming Sword Pencil, "will play the dashing, roguish archer." His pencil flew across the page. "Evil Faeries blighted the crops on my family farm, so I had to spend my childhood learning to drive them away with slings and arrows, honing my marksmanship until the day..."
"Excellent, excellent," Apshai interrupted. "Background detail fleshes out your characters, and I do take that into account in the game. Why don't you all give me your characters' names and basic info, and I'll let you know what equipment you're starting with. Senhal, why don't you get us started?"
Senhal flipped back his mane, imagining a heroic medieval tableau. "My character is Kyera Cordenoil. She's a Blue Shoyru, seventeen years old, from White River City."
"You're playing a girl?" asked Garjan incredulously. Pystry glanced at Apshai, whose expression belied neither amusement nor offense.
"Sure, why not? She favours the longbow, because of the training she received from her grandmother, who herself once undertook a great quest..."
"That's fine for now, Senhal," said Apshai. "You have a walnut longbow, which does 40 damage, and a cured leather tunic, with a defense of 40." Pystry took note how Senhal added the information to his character sheet.
Apshai turned to the Cloud Hissi. "How about your character, Garjan?"
Garjan smiled ingratiatingly. "Faramond is a Buzz; a Cloud Buzz, if you don't mind. The simple villagers fear him, as his mighty powers shake the heavens themselves."
"A thunder mage. Got it. You'll start out with an oaken wand, with 24 damage, and a wizard's robe, with 21 defense. Frimdy, are you ready?"
The Brown Hissi nodded. "Oswin Edwardson, milady, a Red Tuskaninny Sleep Healer."
"All right. That's a NeoQuest I booster, so I'll have to adjust your stats for a NeoQuest II campaign." She rolled two dice with inscrutable code symbols, and clicked her tongue in thought. "You have a Torpor Staff. It only does 30 damage, which is low for your level, but also has a chance of slowing your enemy 50% each time you hit." Garjan looked decidedly put out by this turn of events. "You also get special armour, unique to your prestige class: a Cloak of Security, which has a defense of 50." Frimdy added this to his character sheet. "Pystry, how about you?"
"Pysterius, a White Lutari."
Garjan snickered. "Pysterius?"
"What's wrong, Garjan, afraid I'm going to steal your thunder? It's a classic Altadorian name for a classic white knight."
Apshai nodded approvingly. "Very good. You'll start with a steel greatsword, 56 damage... just write '56' next to where it says 'dmg,' that's right... and full plate armour, 48 defense." Senhal pointed to the spot for armour on Pystry's sheet.
"Excellent!" concluded Apshai. "Now roll 4d20 for your skill points, decide how you're going to allocate them, and we'll begin."
Once the four boys had finished, Apshai dimmed the lights. "You've all ended up at Furver's Inn in Shadow Gulch, on the outskirts of the Haunted Woods. Tales of Rohane and his team have spread across the countryside, bringing you adventurers together to seek your fortunes. As you settle in to dinner, a man wearing a hood, possibly an Acara, approaches your table."
"Um, roll for initiative?" asked Pystry, quickly thumbing through the manual.
"No need. Just respond, in character."
"Hello. Can we help you?" said Frimdy.
"The stranger pulls a chair up to your table and leans conspiratorially." Apshai's voice dropped to a smoky whisper. "Hubrid Nox. He took something of mine, and I want it back."
"What's in it for us?" drawled Garjan, with an air of practiced indifference.
"Gold, and plenty of it. Enough for you to get yourself a real arcanist's wand, little Buzz, unless you enjoy working with druid trash."
Garjan glowered. Pystry couldn't tell whether he was acting in character, or not.
"And, of course, the satisfaction of thwarting an evil fiend bent on world domination."
"Surely such base perfidy must not go unpunished!" exhorted Senhal, brandishing his pencil fiercely. "Pray tell, what precious heirloom has the blackguard pilfered?"
Apshai's eyes narrowed. "A spatula."
Pystry suppressed a smile as Senhal gasped in horror. "The fiend! Is there no end to the depths to which he will stoop?"
"A spatula?" Garjan sneered. "Save yourself some gold. I'll sell you one for 50 gold pieces."
"This spatula was enchanted by Edna herself. It is of extraordinarily fine quality."
"Besides, you don't want Edna to find out you've lost something she made for you," Pystry added.
Apshai nodded in assent. "You show wisdom beyond your years, young Lutari."
"How will we recognize it?"
"The blade is metal and has a distinctive heart shape."
"With a black handle? I know that! That's a 'Spatula of Wondrous Cooking.' They're hard to find." Frimdy paused, breaking character. "Wait. I know that. Does my healer know that, too?"
"I'll allow it," smiled Apshai, speaking in her normal voice.
"Where do we start?"
Pystry's heads looked at each other confidently. "That's easy. Hubrid Nox's Fortress, in the heart of the mountains."
It didn't take long for the team to fall into the rhythm of random encounters.
"As you emerge from the woods, three corrupted faeries and an amethyst dervish set upon you." Apshai rolled her mysterious coded dice.
"What kind of faeries are they?" asked Senhal.
"Dark faeries, it looks like."
"Dark faeries? The kind that tormented my poor, colourblind little brother?" Senhal's eyes swam with tears. "Multiple targets. Triple nock."
"There are four enemies. Which three are you aiming for?"
"The faeries. The faeries. I'll use my Shoyru wings to get above them." Senhal's voice rose. "Foul harridans! Taste the pointy arrows of justice!"
Apshai glanced at a chart, hidden from the boys' view. "They scatter, but two are severely wounded and the third is heavily wounded."
"Way to go, Senhal – I mean, Kyera!" Frimdy gave the triumphant Senhal a high five.
"The archer's not that powerful," complained Garjan.
Apshai rested her head on her chin. "She had a superior position, in part because you hasted her. She got a bonus because of her years of practice targeting faeries."
"Oh, that's right," remembered Pystry. "You did mention that."
"Did I mention my lifelong hatred for Hubrid Nox?" wheedled Garjan.
"Mmmmm-hmm. Pystry, what does Pysterius do?"
"Attack! I swing my greatsword at the dervish. Did I mention an amethyst dervish once stole my binky?" Pystry winked at Senhal.
Apshai chewed the tip of her pencil. "Style points for using a sentence never before used in the English language. No combat bonus. The dervish sustains light damage, and claws at you for... 35 damage. Frimdy, it's Oswin's move."
"Pysterius, do you need healing, or are you okay for another round?"
"Take them down, Oswin!"
"I strike the dervish with my staff. I reckon the fliers will be harder to hit. Besides, the bowyer seems to have them well in hand."
"The dervish is critical, and appears to have trouble deciding what to do. Garjan, it's Faramond's move."
"Direct Damage on the dervish."
"Killstealer!" accused Frimdy.
"The dervish shatters. In the center of the pile lies a single, perfect chip of amethyst."
"I fly down and claim it," interjected Garjan.
"Not your turn!" objected Pystry. "Besides, it should go to Oswin! I read somewhere..." Pystry quickly flipped through the expansion rulebook. "Here! There's a powerful 'Dreamwave Staff' he can use, and an amethyst is one of its components."
Apshai scratched out something on her pad. "And, in faraway Happy Valley, an oracle suddenly realizes he doesn't need to journey to the Haunted Woods to provide some plot exposition after all."
Pystry looked confused. "Did I do something wrong?"
Senhal grinned. "Not at all. The universe – " he tilted his head towards Apshai – "has decided that you're a fighter who's fascinated with Sleep Spell lore despite having no personal talent for it." His eyes darkened. "And now, for those faeries. Attack! For the honour of Cordenoil!"
Apshai rolled her dice, and her eyes flew open in surprise. "Ooh! That was a lucky shot. The closest faerie was highest up, and was stunned; she fell and crashed into the faerie below her. Add falling damage, and... both are vanquished. Pystry, there's one faerie left."
"Swoop and attack!"
"No, wait!' blurted Senhal. "Let her go!"
Senhal struck a heroic pose. "Flee, malefactor! And spread the word that evil faeries will answer to Kyera Cordenoil! And her stalwart companions!"
"Rrah!" grunted Garjan. "I wanted that faerie's experience points!"
"How many floors does this tower have again?"
Senhal counted the letters on his fingers. "H, U, B, R, I, D, N, O, X. Nine. And we just finished..." He glanced at the map. "Level O. Only one left. Here shall we find Hubrid and complete our noble quest!"
"About time," groused Garjan. "These Nox minions are a pain. I swear, if I see one more Heart of Nox, or Hand of Nox, or Eye of Nox, I'm going to scream."
Apshai smiled. "I have good news and bad news. As you climb the stairs, you see pillars spelling out the letter 'X.' In the northwest corner stands a tripod, holding a glass orb that pulses with translucent blue light."
"We know the drill," piped Pystry. "That's a teleport orb that will take us out of the tower once we've defeated Hubrid Nox."
"Expertly deduced, Pystry," grinned Apshai, "except that Hubrid Nox isn't here. Blocking your way to the orb stands a regal Purple Chia wearing a white tunic, a purple robe, and a gold circlet. He's holding a longsword with a silver blade, resting the tip of the sword on the floor in front of him."
The boys looked at one another in confusion. "That's not Hubrid, but it's none of the standard minions, either," fretted Pystry, paging through his NeoQuest II notebook.
"He still might have something to tell us. Let's take a closer look," suggested Frimdy.
"That's my cue." Senhal faced Apshai, and sprang into character. "Good sir, we come in the name of justice, to retrieve an errant utensil, which we have cause to believe lies within these very walls. Will you surrender our stolen spatula peacefully?"
Apshai sneered, and spoke in tones of condescension. "The spatula you seek is no longer here. My eminent master, Hubrid Nox, in his peerless wisdom, has undertaken the conquest of a singular land whose special virtues will allow him to preserve his life indefinitely."
"What? We crawled through nine floors of minions for nothing?!" Garjan moaned.
"Where has your master gone? We must seek him."
"I cannot say. The land suffers from a curse most vile, that none may utter its name outside of the land itself. Many question its existence altogether, but my master knows better. Should you wish to find him, you shall have to go through me, and none may stand against the might of the Crown of Nox. En garde!"
Apshai, in her normal voice, addressed the boys. "The Crown of Nox is attacking, but you have initiative. Garjan, what does Faramond do?"
"The Crown of Nox slows down your party, effectively negating your haste. Pystry, how about Pysterius?"
"Attack. No, wait. I throw a Slumber Potion at him."
Apshai rolled her dice. "He resists your potion. Frimdy, what does Oswin do?"
"Senhal, Kyera is within arm's reach of him. What does she do?"
Senhal squinted pensively. "I fly straight up and snatch the circlet off of his head."
Apshai smiled with surprise. "Interesting tactic. Let's see what happens..." The dice clattered out of view. "His Damage Shield activates, costing you... 25 hit points, and the subsequent fall stuns you for a round. Garjan?"
Garjan scowled. "He's magic-resistant, unaffected by potions, and our attacks will repel and strike us. What's nearby?"
"The orb is behind him, and he's flanked by two pillars."
Garjan gave a crooked smile. "Direct Damage attack, focusing my wand's energies to knock the pillar over onto him."
Apshai considered this. "Garjan, how many skill points do you have in Direct Damage?"
"Twenty-... five." Pystry glanced at Senhal; that didn't sound right.
"Twenty-five, hm? Very well. Success! The pillar topples onto the Crown of Nox, who sustains moderate injuries. Pystry, you're up."
"The Damage Shield should be down now, right? Attack. With prejudice."
"A stunning strike. The Crown of Nox is still moderately wounded, but still unable to move. Kyera... is still out for this round. Oswin?"
Frimdy mulled it over. "A Hammer strike would hurt more, but the staff might slow him down more... Does anyone need healing, instead? Kyera?"
Senhal silently waved him away.
"All right then, the Hammer it is."
"The Crown of Nox isn't looking too good, but he's back on his feet. So is Kyera. Kyera, you have less than a second before he acts. What do you do?"
Senhal ran his fingers through his mane. "Fly right at him and make a ranged attack."
Apshai made a quick calculation. "He fell for it. He's firing at you, Kyera, but your ranged attack slowed him down. Still, you take 70 damage. Getting a little low on hit points. Pystry?"
"I need to protect Kyera. Battle Taunt."
"How exactly do you taunt him?"
"Um... hey, Xantan! Oh, sorry, Crown of Nox, I thought you were Xantan for a second. You know, because of the sludge. And the smell."
Apshai frowned. "He's not buying it."
"You call that a crown? I've seen better crowns on Grarrl Teeth!"
"Better. You've drawn his fire. He slashes at you for 120 damage."
"Wait, what about my turn?" objected Garjan. "I thought we'd slowed him down."
"You did," replied Apshai. "That was the slowed-down version. Garjan, Faramond is up."
"Typhoon Potion down his gullet."
"Ooh, lucky. That potion got him. He's almost down for the count. Oswin?"
"Smite his evil hide with my staff."
"Oswin, no!" cried Senhal, staying in character. "His Damage Shield is back up!"
"Too late," sighed Apshai. "The Crown of Nox is defeated, but Oswin takes 85 damage, and your Torpor Staff..." Apshai rolled her dice, and shook her head. "Your Torpor Staff is no more. Small burnt shards of your former weapon smolder on the floor."
"NOOOO!" cried Frimdy, shaking his fist at the heavens. Senhal nodded in approval.
"On the plus side, you find 2,000 gold, two Constitution Potions, and a gleaming gem. You also claim his sword, which on closer inspection proves to have streaks of mithril in its blade. It's effectively a Royal Sword, with a damage of 64, and gives small boosts to your innate melee haste and innate magic resistance while you wield it."
"Can I wield it?" asked Frimdy hopefully.
"Sorry, Pysterius is the only one of you proficient with swords."
"No, no, Frimdy – I mean Oswin," stammered Pystry excitedly. He riffled through the booster pack impatiently. "Here! Remember this? The Dreamwave Staff. We need an amethyst chip, a coruscating gem, and an ash staff to make one."
"Amethyst chip, check;" said Senhal, poring over his carefully maintained equipment list. "No coruscating gems or ash staves, though."
"What about the gem we just found?"
"She said it's a gleaming gem, not a coruscating gem."
"What do you think coruscating means?!" laughed Pystry. "That's a coruscating gem! And I'll bet that in a mad sorcerer's inner sanctum we'll find an ash staff somewhere."
"Roll d20, everyone, please," Apshai requested. "Oh yes, in the cabinets lining the south wall, you find several staves, including a nice sturdy ash staff suitable for Oswin's height. Oswin, as you assemble the components, your staff glows with a warm amber light, causing everyone in the room to fall asleep. When you awake, your entire party feels healed and refreshed."
"This hardly seems fair," grumbled Garjan. "Pystry gets a magic sword, and Frimdy gets a souped-up staff. I figured out how to get past the Crown of Nox's defenses. Where's my reward?"
"Well, now that you mention it, the Crown of Nox was wearing a Royal Wedding Ring, a powerful, hypnotic artifact. Seems it got crushed by the pillar, though. Too bad, really. If only your Direct Damage had been a little less powerful, like it says on your character sheet, the Ring might have survived. Garjan, you really must be more careful with your stats in the future."
Garjan's Cloud scales deepened to a lovely periwinkle, but he said nothing.
"This seems like a good time for a break. I've got Tonu Cheeseburgers for everyone, and a nice Vegetarian Cheeseburger for you, Garjan."
Garjan gave a weak smile.
"So we're ready? Let's touch the orb and track down our quarry."
Apshai flipped open her notebook to a new page. "You find yourself in a strange landscape. The ground feels slightly springy beneath your feet. The sky is a melon colour, the horizon framed by forbidding brown volcanic mountains to the south. In the distance you see buildings, and on closer inspection you realize you can see through the buildings."
"That's not right," murmured Frimdy. "The hills are to the north..."
The other players looked at him in puzzlement. "Never mind," he managed. Apshai shook her head and continued.
"Immediately before you, you see a fortress under construction. Diminutive Hearts of Nox are hauling translucent, rubbery blocks to build walls and turrets. Before you, supervising the work, stands Hubrid Nox himself, surrounded by several Gelatinous Non-Cubes. Before you can react, he twirls his pencil-thin moustache and addresses you."
Apshai's voice became deep, velvet, menacing, and yet strangely captivating. "Oh, how charming. A team of ragtag adventurers, just in time to witness my greatest triumph. Welcome to the secret realm of Wobbleshire, the future capital of the world."
"Shouldn't we be attacking?" whispered Pystry.
"Shhh!" hissed Senhal. "Hubrid Nox is a classic villain. You've got to let him monologue. That's just how it's done."
"Long have I plotted to create ever more fearsome minions: the Blood of Nox and the Bones of Nox. Here, in this gelatinous land, my plans can finally take shape. Encased in gelatin armour, my animated skeleton warriors will literally bounce back from attacks. Through foulest necromancy, drops of my most precious blood allow me to transform mindless Gelatinous Non-Cubes into great Agar Khans, giving me control over an army that feels no pain. My little Hartleys will soon assemble these Nox Blocks into a fortress impregnable by virtue of the fact that no one will even admit this realm exists! And finally, with the help of my Transfabulator, I shall soon perfect the experiments that will allow me to preserve my own person indefinitely. Soon, all shall me mine: eternal life and absolute power! And you meager striplings are powerless to stop me! MWA-HA-ha-ha!"
Senhal raised a plushie eyebrow. "Gentlemen, cover me. I'm going to try something." He turned to Apshai, saying, "Kyera uses her Innate Melee Haste to get within arm's reach of Nox... and pulls on his moustache."
Garjan and Pystry, for once in agreement, recoiled.
Apshai giggled. "Hubrid's moustache peels off in your hands, and you realize they are black licorice sticks." From behind her screen, Apshai withdrew two sticks of licorice, and handed them to Senhal.
Frimdy choked. "You mean to say..."
Senhal chomped triumphantly on a licorice stick, with a grin. "Hubrid Nox, in his mad quest for eternal life, has transformed himself into a Licorice Chia."
Pystry's eyes widened. "Which means... to defeat him..."
"All we have to do is eat him," Garjan concluded.
Apshai beamed. "Hubrid Nox, realizing his dire predicament, teleports away, vowing revenge, but living to plot another day. The spatula falls and bounces on the footpath. The Gelatinous Non-Cubes pose little threat without Nox to control them. You've finished the campaign, unless you want to explore this fantastic new world... but that's a story for another day."