Swamped Chapter 55 Page 2

Well. Step one, get the prisoner to someplace more secure. You’re not sure what they can do without the mask, but you’re not one to take chances. You start dragging them towards the cells.

“Wait,” Mantis says suddenly. Oh, hells. Is he going to do one of his weird religious things again?

“What am I waiting for?”

“It will be much easier to sever the link between mask and wearer if the wearer is nearby. I will tell you when I am done.”

Okay, it’s something weird all right. But at least it’s a weird thing that sounds good.

“Well. Why didn’t you say so before?”

He’s already gone back to whatever he was doing. If he did answer you, though, he’d probably say something like “there wasn’t any need until you were about to move them”. What a pain.

Too bad there’s no one here you can give orders to. You want to know how Stinger’s doing. Hells, maybe you’re very lucky and this intruder is from his homeland and he can translate. You’re not going to find out any time soon while you’re stuck here.

Well. While you’re mulling over that, Bigfoot walks in.

“What’s the delay, Mantis?” she asks. “Where’s the…”

She glances at you and the tied up intruder, and then back at Mantis and whatever he’s doing with the mask.

After about a minute of trying to figure out who to turn to, she settles on you.

“Crosswinds. You mind telling me what in the hells is going on here?”

“Someone with a magic mask attacked Stinger,” you say. “I chased them over to here and caught ’em. Can’t understand a word of their language. Mantis is doing something with the mask and says I shouldn’t take the prisoner too far away until he’s done. So that’s where we are.”

Bigfoot doesn’t look very happy.

“How long’s that going to take, Mantis? We need you back at the meeting. Come to think of it, Crosswinds, you ought to be present for this part too.”

“Find somebody to watch this fool and I’ll be happy to come along,” you grumble. Except, you’d really rather not. Even if it does turn out to be important.

“That might not be so easy,” Mantis says. “It is difficult for untrained minds to resist a sleeping spell this potent.”

“A what now? Maybe you should just explain the whole damn thing already,” Bigfoot sighs. “I know you like being cryptic and all, but I’ve never been good at riddles.”

“The mask has no magic of its own,” Mantis continues, barely acknowledging the question. “Rather, it stores a few specific spells. Evidently, this consists of a sleeping spell which has somehow been augmented to cover most of this wing of the fortress, a transformation spell which requires the presence of a nearby animal, and a few defensive spells. I believe the sleeping spell was intended to cover some other objective – perhaps the attack on Stinger, perhaps something else. Everything else I’ve found simply seems to be oriented on defense. I would guess it is entirely contingency plans in case someone evades the sleep spell.”

“Well, hang on,” you say. You haven’t quite grasped the whole thing but you don’t want to get into that. “Didn’t you wake up? Shouldn’t the sleep spell be broken now or something?”

“Not precisely. The transformation augmented the spell’s power. When that was dispelled, it was not strong enough to hold me any more. But anyone who was asleep before then would likely still be under its influence.”

Wonderful. That’s… hang on a second, Mantis just reminded you of something. You turn to the prisoner.

“You know the word ‘sleep’,” you say.

They react to the last word a little, but otherwise seem confused.

“Most likely, they were told that as an activation word and nothing else,” Mantis says. “They may not even really understand what it means.”

“I think I liked the riddles better,” Bigfoot grumbles. “I’m barely following this. Are you saying everyone in this part of the fortress is asleep, and they’re not waking up until you finish messing with the mask?”

“Not everyone. But most of them, yes. And there are other ways to break the spell, but this is the easiest short of killing the caster. Which, even laying aside the moral objections, would prevent us from questioning them.”

“Not that we’re having much luck with that anyways,” you grumble. “Still, this whole mess gets easier if we’ve got more people around to clean it up. Do we have any options for just waking up specific people?”

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Bang pots and pans in the largest room, for the echo effect.