Seven Facets of Quandary
an Adventure Of Your Choosing
This episode of Flaky Pastry is not like other episodes of Flaky Pastry.
This one time, your choices guide the story. It's as easy as clicking on numbers! However, many people (yourself included) may end up severely inconvenienced through your actions. Or it might turn out alright! Whatever happens is entirely YOUR fault.
Remember. YOU did this.
Seriously, though, if you're not happy with an outcome, your browser has a Back button.
Turn to section 1.
It’s early in the morning. This is usually a bad time for most people, but for you, today, it’s exciting.
It was only a few days ago that you and your friends went on an expedition to recover the fabled Black Heptagon, a mysterious gem spoken of in legends. The journey was arduous and eventful, but finally you reached the gem’s resting place, only to find that someone had beaten you to it! From there, it was even more tricky to track down this person, but you managed to get ahold of an address where you think your unknown competitor might reside. After traveling back home and resting up, today is the day you’re going to check it out!
You’re not really sure what you want the Heptagon for. Some rumours say that it will grant any wish, others that it will liberate a demon to destroy us all, or open a portal to a new and different reality. For you, it’s mostly about deciphering the clues, solving the mysteries, and untangling the enigmas.
You can’t wait to get started! But looking out of your bedroom, you see that the rest of the apartment is empty and quiet. Your two adventuring partners – your roommates – aren’t up yet. Maybe they’re not as excited as you are! What is a discerning protagonist to do?
If you wait for them to get up and join you, go to 8.
If you decide to just go ahead and investigate the address on your own, go to 12.
If you just shake your head and go back to bed, go to 23.
The address you're looking for is a good thirty-minute walk away from your apartment, but time flies as you listen to your roommates chatter. Those two never see eye to eye on anything – as much because of their different heights as because of their different outlooks.
While Mona's interest in the Black Heptagon is mainly to keep its potentially sinister powers out of the wrong hands, Morgana speculates on its mystic significance – who created it, how long ago, and why; she imagines there's probably a bone-chilling story there. You figure both aspects are important; insofar as your hands are definitely the right hands to keep the gem safe and discover its secrets.
Before long you're walking down the street of your destination. Mona excitedly points out an office building further along the way, its roughly seven floors towering over the lower buildings in this neighbourhood.
"Aha! There it is! The street number we're looking for is sixteen, isn't it?" She indicates the number emblazoned on its front face in imposing, person-sized roman numerals: XVI. It sure seems like the right place.
"Hmph. No, that's not it," Morgana counters. Surprised, you lower your gaze to watch her shake her head adamantly. "Trust me, I've been this way before!"
"What!" Mona gasps, incredulous.
That does seem far-fetched. Is Morgana just being contrary to make herself interesting? Honestly, it wouldn't be the first time. What'll you do about it?
If you just ignore her and keep going toward the office building, go to 11.
If you decide to humour her, heed her advice at 47.
"Just a minute!" You hear from inside. There is some indistinct shuffling as you wait patiently. Maybe she's hiding something! It is almost an entire minute before the door finally opens. "Ye… H-Hello again! Uhm… What can I do for you?" Unsurprisingly, Marelle is surprised to see you again so soon. Her eyebrows lift up as she looks you up and down inquiringly.
You quickly take in the living room behind her, and see nothing out of the ordinary… Except! There's a cup of coffee on the living room table, which in turn leads you to spot the corner of a cardboard box underneath it. The colour seems familiar.
"Well." You say, to keep Marelle waiting a few more seconds. Glancing at her bright, open face, you notice a slight hint of powdered sugar on the corner of her mouth. Ah. That's what the box is. That colour is characteristic of a local donut store. Marelle is having donuts for breakfast. That's what she was hiding behind her back earlier.
Disappointing. Not the big secret you were expecting. Was this all just a waste of time? Marelle might like pastries too much, but you know she's also smart. Maybe you can get her to assist in your search for the Black Heptagon?
If you tell her about your clues and get her opinion on the case, go to 46.
If you make up an excuse for bothering her and get back to the search on your own, go to 37.
Your intention was to run back and find your friends, but as soon as you pass the intersection, the mist rises up and surrounds you. Your vision completely obscured, you take one more step, blindly reaching ahead with your hands. Unfortunately, your foot fails to find a floor under it, and you plunge forward. You brace to hit whatever is down there – stairs, you imagine? – but instead, you just keep falling through the swirling clouds, as they shift from red, to blue, to yellow, to purple… You fall and fall…
Go to 32.
You make your way across town to your destination. It's a bit of a hike, but not too far. Though you haven't been this way often, you find the street without too much trouble. From there just go to number… sixteen? Your destination is kind of easy to spot.
You now stand before a large, blocky office building, seven stories tall, with huge roman numerals that read "XVI" hanging on the front above the entrance. Hmm… this is definitely the place, but the address you found doesn't have a number for a suite, office, apartment or anything. There are likely to be dozens upon dozens of people working in there. Hard to know who you're looking for.
Guess you have more investigating to do!
If you walk in to have a look around, go to 21.
If you prefer to go hang out inconspicuously at a nextdoor eatery while you remotely hack into the office building's wifi network, take a seat at 30.
A tiny bell rings as you pass the threshold into what must be the most densely packed store you've ever visited. The tiny floor space is crisscrossed by tall multilayered displays of more or less identifiable paraphernalia, barely accessible through narrow aisles. Whoopie cushions and itching powder share this space with decks of playing cards, top hats and "magic kits" – many of which ironically bear a logo proclaiming them to be "100% magic-free!" for safety reasons.
Morgana quickly slips in between an assortment of different-sized metal rings and a shelf full of stuffed animals. Expertly navigating the maze of widgets and doohickeys, she guides Mona and you toward the check-out counter, unintuitively situated at the back of all this.
When you get there, you've only moved about ten meters, but it feels like you could have gotten lost at least three times. The seat behind the counter is occupied by a bored-looking man. You… know him. His handsome – if slightly flaky-looking – face and disheveled white hair are pretty unmistakable.
"Hello, neighbour." Morgana greets him, as if his presence here was not at all surprising to her.
"Hey, Morgana." He greets your roommate back. "Oh, you brought your friends today? What can I help you all with?"
Behind you, you hear Mona take in a deep breath, and you just know she'll go straight to the point and ask him about the Black Heptagon, without preamble or subtlety. As usual. You have about three seconds to intervene.
If you cut her off and try a more discreet approach to finding out what you're after, go to 42.
Or maybe nah, you'd rather see what's going to happen? Then try 13.
"Hold on," you ask. "How do you know all this? It's a nice story, but where does it come from? Why should we just trust you?"
"Oh yeeeah… How do we even know any of it's true? And why should we believe you can do anything about it if it is?" Morgana doubles down after you. "You, a clerk for a non-magic magic store!" Wow, Morgana's on fire. Meanwhile, Mona looks back and forth between the rest of you with a worried look on her face – you think the idea of people lying makes her uncomfortable.
"Well… I…" your neighbour begins, then pauses, furrowing his brow and ruffling his own hair restlessly. Maybe he's concentrating in order to come up with believable lies – or maybe he's just frustrated that you're challenging his earnestness. "I'm a historian. I have long studied this time period. I've read many ancient texts, done a lot of research. And, as a concerned citizen of… well… physical reality, I feel I should do my part to ensure its continued existence."
"I don't know, guys!" Mona pleads with you. "This whole story seems too well-rehearsed to be made up!"
You turn back to the white-haired self-proclaimed historian. "Would you let us study the gem for a while? We would definitely keep it safe. Maybe we'll be able to see something you overlooked."
"Look, the Black Heptagon is dangerous. Very very dangerous. If you want to help, I can tell you my plan, but I need to know you're willing to take some risks. Otherwise, I'm gonna have to use this box to try and destroy it." He means the shabby one at his feet with all the cautionary stickers. "I trusted you by telling you all of this backstory; I ask that you trust me when I say I've thought about the problem a lot, and I'm convinced that those are the only two options." He looks at all of you. "Please?"
If you're still not convinced, you may take matters into your own hands at 68.
If you'd like to collaborate with him on this issue, go to 74.
If you decide to let him deal with it using his mystery box, go to 34.
You should give them some more time to rest. If they're tired, they'll be less effective in the field. As for you, you can use this time to finalize your preparations. You boot up your wrist computer and double-check the address. You verify that you have all your detection devices primed and ready. You organize your weapons.
When you check outside your room again, the other two are now up and about. You first run into Mona in the living room, doing her morning stretches. She's the muscle of the group, as strange as it is to say this about someone figuratively the width and height of a lamp post. You're no slouch yourself when it comes to fighting, but the way Mona swings a giant claymore, with skill and gusto, despite her skinny arms, is a marvel to behold. And yet, most of the time, she's the sweetest human being you'll ever meet.
"Good morning!" she chirps at you. "Today's the day, huh? I'll be ready to head out in a minute!"
You nod and continue into the kitchen, where your other roommate, Morgana, is on her stepladder next to the stove, frying bacon and potatoes. The stepladder is necessary because Morgana is three and a half feet tall – a perfectly normal height for a halfling. Just like it's perfectly normal for her to have a four-course breakfast every morning.
"Will you be ready soon?" you ask.
"Ready for …?" she begins. But realization soon dawns on her face. "Right! We said we were gonna try to find that thing again. Uhm… Sure! I guess I can skip the fresh-squeezed orange juice today. Give me fifteen minutes!"
If Mona is the muscle of this team, then you're definitely the brains, and Morgana is… the emotional support? You're not sure what skills she contributes, but she pays her third of the rent, and that's what counts. You think she might have some knowledge regarding arcane matters. A kind of witch, she claims. But that's something you've never been able to ascertain.
Gather your party and head to 2.
The mist parts suddenly in front of you, revealing a grandiose city plaza, ringed with towering glass skyscrapers, sparkling in the noonday sun. People of all shapes, sizes and colours walk around you, going about their business without paying any attention to your arrival – lending weight to the theory that was forming in your mind: that you're not actually here.
This isn't any city you've ever visited… Everything here is clean, shiny, clearly built to dazzle – and the citizens are loving it. There is a smile on every face as they pass you by. Everywhere you look, there is a new wonder: a great fountain whose artful jets reach fifteen times your height, a display of gravity-defying architecture, a floating billboard showcasing the latest fashion trend in holographic 3-D, a person of a species you've never even heard of, a dizzying procession of multi-coloured flying cars… Flying cars?!
You want to go exploring… see everything this city has to offer… you want it all! But you feel quite certain that taking just one step will send you hurtling through the mist to a completely different place again.
Only one way to find out.
Forwards to 27.
Sideways to 54.
Backwards to 66.
You check around the door for a small gap of some kind… It's not unlikely, in these old apartment buildings. You find what you need: the bottom right corner is just worn down enough that someone might insert a tiny camera in there. The kind of tiny spy camera an expert at information gathering would use. The kind of camera you have.
You take out your camera, extend its articulated cable, and slide it through the tiny opening. You gradually feed the cable as the camera slides into Marelle's apartment. The image you get isn't immediately useful: the distant, blurry outline of a purple couch… But as you slide the camera further and further into the room, you begin to discern more detail. You slightly shift the orientation of the cable to go around the couch.
There! Angling upwards, your camera starts to pick up the unmistakable shape of your rival's fuzzy cat ears! Just a few more seconds and you can find out what she's up to, then recover your camera before anyone is the wiser.
Suddenly, a red mass obscures your camera's field of view. What a pain! You back up and try to adjust the focus. What could have suddenly moved into your line of sight like that? When you get the image clear again, you kind of wish you hadn't. A weird creature, looking like nothing so much as a furry red head with arms and legs attached directly to it, is staring straight into the camera with its beady yellow eyes.
It shakes its head disapprovingly, and you hear it speak through your camera's microphone: "This won't end well."
You hesitate a second or two, wondering if that strange creature is actually talking to you, when a noise from the door beside you, not the spy camera's feed, causes you to refocus your attention.
"I'm going out, Marelle! See you later!" says a voice as the apartment door flies open. You don't have time to hide as a tall elf steps out into the hall beside you. You recognize one of Marelle's roommates… Zintiel. And she's carrying a large, oddly-shaped metallic object… possibly a weapon?
Apparently, she was not expecting to find you, crouching beside the door like a creep. Startled, she swings the maybe-weapon in your direction. As a wave of energy washes over you, vaporizing you into a fine mist, the last thing you hear is Zintiel chiding you: "Sheesh, you shouldn't sneak up on people like that!
It may or may not comfort you to know that a sizable chunk of the building was vaporized along with you.
"Wh… Hey!" Morgana protests. But you just head straight for the office building with Mona in tow. Morgana eventually follows along, grumbling all the way.
As you approach the building, you notice some unusual details. The doors are blocked off with red tape, and there are black-suited individuals milling about. Several pairs are dodging the tape blockade back and forth, carrying off equipment into a van as black as their suits. At least four more are keeping watch. They look like the stereotypical shady government agents.
You slow down your pace, thinking it would probably be best to rethink your approach and not get involved with these people. But before you can stop her, Mona overtakes you and draws the attention of the closest agent. The young man with brown hair and dark shades takes a few steps towards you and motions for Mona to leave.
"Move along, citizen! There's nothing to see here."
"There isn't? But we have to—" Mona's characteristic earnest plea is cut short by the agent's repeated objections.
"Keep moving. This area is off-limits to civilians. Official, classified business." He keeps trying to shoo her off. He's very dedicated to his job, but you feel he might be lacking some experience. You catch up to Mona, resolving to get what information you can out of him.
"What business?" you ask nonchalantly. Seeing he now has two people to contend with, his tone grows more impatient.
"None-of-your business! That's what classified means! Besides, the business is over! Operation successful. Just the clean-up crew here. Now move along!" he articulates with extreme finality.
Drat. If what he says is true – if this secretive government agency has already finished an operation here this morning… Then that time you took to wait for your roommates made all the difference, and not for the better. If only you'd gotten here sooner, then the Black Heptagon wouldn't be—
"This isn't even the right place! I keep telling you!!" You turn around to find Morgana raging as she catches up. What is she going on about now?
Blink at 47.
For all you know, your culprit might be getting ready to skip town right now. Maybe they already left! What's certain is that the longer you wait, the less chance you have of catching them and recovering the Black Heptagon. You're sure your teammates will understand.
You quickly grab the gear you think you will need and step out of the apartment, starting down the stairs. As you make it to the lobby, you stop just short of bumping into someone. That person, obviously distracted, immediately proceeds to bump into you.
"Oh! I'm very sorry!" she says.
You recognize her silvery-lavender hair and her cat-like ears at once. There's no mistaking who this is. Marelle, at once your neighbour and your rival. Well, kind of. Just because she bested you all of one time in a battle of wits, she thinks she's your equal now. It's a little irritating. But you have other things to worry about.
"Ah! It's you! Good morning." She backs up and smiles, then just goes around you and climbs the stairs, up the way you came. "Have a nice day!"
And she simply leaves, paying no more attention to you. The cheek of this woman!
Well, that's that. Let's keep going to 5.
But wait… was she trying to hide an object of some kind behind her back? If you want to try and find out what Marelle is up to, go to 17
"Did you take the Black Heptagon?!" Mona blurts out. As expected, she just went for it.
Your white-haired neighbour slowly raises one eyebrow, looking between Mona, Morgana, yourself, and back again… He opens his mouth to say: "Uuuuuuuh…"
There is a moment of general hesitation. He's looking quite nonplussed about the whole thing. You're starting to wonder whether he even understood the question.
And suddenly, he's running into the storeroom behind the shop. You didn't think it was possible to go from a bored slouch to a sprint so fast. Your teammates and yourself are left gaping dumbfoundedly at the spot he used to occupy behind the counter.
You're the first to recover: "After him!" you shout.
Run, don't walk to 33.
"Morgana, you're familiar with this shop and whoever works here, correct?"
"It's just a hobby, alright!" she starts to protest again, but catching your look, she relents: "Y-Yeah. Familiar enough."
"I think our best bet is if you go in, by yourself." You start to explain your plan, holding up a hand to stall any protests from Morgana. "There, you do your best to get information about the Black Heptagon. Mona and I will be keeping watch at the two entrances, ready to rush inside if you need help, or to intercept anyone trying to run away. Mona will take care of the front entrance. That's where the action is most likely to happen. I'll stay back here." You look at the two of them to gauge their reactions.
"Oh, I like that much better! Right, Morgana? You get to be the main character!" Mona claps her shorter comrade on the shoulder excitedly.
"Y-Yeah… Yeah!" Morgana seemed unsure at first, but her confidence seems to build up rapidly. Good, you hadn't seen her like this in a while. "Just leave it to me!" She proclaims.
"Excellent, now get into position." You watch the two of them go up the alley, returning to the street, then you turn to face the back door. You wait a minute or two. You check the time. The plan should be getting into motion over there.
Now… be honest. Are you really gonna stand guard here beside the dumpster, or did you just plan to break into the store after you got Mona out of the way?
Perish the thought! If you will stand here and stare at this door until you're called upon to do something else, put down roots at 40.
If you'd rather take matters into your own hands by getting this door open and sneaking in, go to 49.
It feels like you're swimming through the mist… This time they part to reveal a wide courtyard, surrounded by high stone walls. You find yourself awkwardly sprawled on the branch of a large cherry tree in full bloom.
Below you, the floor of the courtyard is occupied by a well-tended rock garden and a series of tiled alleyways. An elvish-looking gentleman is sitting on a boulder near the center, meditating. Since, looking at his face, you'd judge him to be old by human standards, he must be very old indeed, even for an elf.
In barely the time it takes for you to blink, three masked figures appear around the elf: one is dressed in white, another in blue, and the last one in red, and all three rush in to attack the elf with ninja weapons. The elf suddenly spins his body in a circle and avoids all three blades, while simultaneously scissor-kicking the white and red figures to the ground. Those kicks were fast as lightning! And that's just the opening move of this all-out brawl.
For now the three-on-one fight seems evenly matched. You're curious how it will go, but you feel the mist calling you again. You have just enough time to push yourself in a direction of your choice before they swallow you.
Forwards to 32.
Sideways to 60.
Backwards to 27.
You quickly fish your computer out of the mug and shake off most of the water. You should be leaving. "I don't have time for this. I have much, much bigger problems to worry about."
As you turn your back on the guy – whose name you still don't know – you see that across the street, the office building has gone into total lockdown. Some security system has barricaded the doors and windows. No doubt they'll send someone here any second to apprehend you. There's not much more to hope for from that direction. It seems like your quest is at an end.
From behind you, the man calls after you: "Well… uh… if you have a really big problem you can't seem to do anything about… maybe you can try seeing the wizard?"
You pause and glance at him over your shoulder. "The wizard? What wizard?"
"Y- You know! Cryptos the Omnipotent. He has this weird tower at the corner of 7th and Rome. He can do a lot of stuff, just…" He hesitates and shrugs. "Be careful what you wish for, I guess?"
You frown. It's not like you have anything better to try at this point.
You're off to see the wizard! Go to 52.
Waiting until she's rounded the corner, you creep up the stairs after Marelle. She makes her way to the second floor – where your apartment is – and continues upward. You follow her to the third floor, where her apartment is. You just barely catch a glimpse of a door closing as you peek into the hallway. And wouldn't you know it…
It's the door to her own apartment.
You suppose that was her most likely destination. Your brief shadowing operation did not reveal what she was up to, or even what she was carrying. So. You've come all this way. What next?
If you want to just knock on the door, go to 3.
If you prefer not to reveal yourself so hastily, maybe you can find another way into Marelle's apartment, starting at 10.
You turn back to your computer screen… and it's a good thing you did. An alarm pop-up has appeared, signaling that someone – probably from inside that office building – is attempting a counter-hack! You immediately switch metaphorical gears, devoting your complete attention to protecting your device from invasion.
Whoever is doing this, they're good. It's all you can do to stay one step ahead of them. In the end, you have no choice but to cut the connection. A quick diagnostic reassures you that your files and programs likely haven't suffered from the attack, but you need to get out of here now.
There is a strong probability that Gears For Years will have contacted some form of authority, unless maybe they have their own security force.
As you exit the diner, quickly but discreetly, you're more inclined to believe the latter: the "XVI" building seems to have gone into some kind of full alert mode. The windows around the entrance have been covered up with metal panels that dropped down, and the door itself is similarly barricaded. You're certainly not getting in there anymore.
There's no choice but to cut your losses and head back. You're not even sure you can hack into their network again, as they'll be ready for you next time, and maybe you'll come out worse than this.
In the meantime, you have to forget about the Black Heptagon.
You slide the autographed paper back toward him. If he can give you an outrageous fake name, so can you.
"Can you make it out to 'Befo Getter'," you say, recalling the text of the note you found and trying to use a maximum of letters from it without being too obvious.
The cashier/neighbour raises one eyebrow. Then raises it further. Then he rolls his eyes and sighs. "Okay, I get it, you're really clever." He shakes his head, seemingly annoyed and amused at the same time. "But what is it you actually want from me?"
"We're trying to prevent an evil artifact from falling into the wrong hands!" Mona cuts in. Ah, she's being a little less direct than usual. Perhaps she can learn!
"And we think you might have taken it!" Morgana contributes.
He looks between the three of you warily. At this point you've become sure that he's the one who left the note and made off with the Black Heptagon. But you can tell he's still calculating whether he can just deny the whole thing and get away with it.
"Please," you say "We just want to talk."
He takes in a deep breath, then lets it out as a sigh. He nods: "Better come with me. I'll explain more about this thing." Then, almost casually, he pulls out an object from his jacket pocket and holds it up for all of you to see.
So this is the Black Heptagon! It… surely has seven sides, but the utter irrepressible blackness of its form makes it impossible to discern any volume. It's like a hole cut out from reality, sucking in the light. You feel a power emanating from this weird object… What you mostly feel, though, is your quest nearing its conclusion!
If you follow this man and listen to his explanations, go to 51.
If you prefer to make a grab for the Black Heptagon and run for it, go to 64.
You hear the sound of laughter from somewhere in the mist. You head toward it and catch a glimpse of a bright, sunny forest clearing. As the vision solidifies, you make out the source of the laughter.
Hanging from a large, picturesque tree in the center of the clearing is a rope swing. A young elven woman laughs with blithe mirth as she swings back and forth on it; her curly, shoulder-length golden hair forming a luminous halo around her head.
Behind her, periodically pushing the swing, is another young elf – a male with dark hair. His demeanor, however, is quite a contrast to the girl's: Not exactly sad, but he's certainly not laughing. His eyes occasionally dart around, as if wary of his surroundings, but most often they stay fixed on his blonde companion's back. You get the impression that his steely gaze mellows a little when it returns to her, before getting cold again. If anything, he certainly seems loyal.
Beyond this odd couple is a third elf, another young woman. She's partially hidden behind a large easel, busy painting the idyllic tableau in front of her. When she leans sideways for a better view, you get to see her most striking feature: a full head of untamed, rainbowy, iridescent hair. Her canvas is facing away from you, but you like to imagine the painting she is working on is just as wild and vivid.
The whole scene radiates carefree happiness, but that just gnaws at the back of your mind all the more. You don't know any of these people. You don't know why you're seeing this. You're starting to lose your sense of self in these endless misty visions.
Maybe… if you could find a vision that resonates with you – a time and place linked to your own fate. Maybe then you can find yourself and find a way back to reality. To the present.
For now, you can only keep wandering.
Forwards to 27.
Sideways to 9.
Backwards to 75.
You approach the front door of the building. The entire first floor is encased in glass, so that you have a clear view of the lobby before even entering. It's a wide, open area with some potted plants and a reception desk; just what you might expect from any regular, everyday office building. The only noteworthy detail is that there is no one occupying the reception desk at this time.
Your eyes dart around the room as you step inside, quickly spotting the various security cameras. They also spot you, presumably, but that's unavoidable at this point. You step forward, noting the elevator doors at the opposite end of the lobby. It is flanked by a small, unassuming door leading to the stairs. You suppose it's always good to give employees the option to get in some exercise.
When you reach the desk, you quickly find out why no one appeared to be there to greet visitors: the receptionist is lying on the floor behind it, hidden from view, motionless. That gives you pause. What also gives you pause is that the receptionist is not, as you may have been expecting, human. Rather, it appears to be a robot of some kind – all metal and plastic. Why it's just lying there, you can't tell, but that's clearly not where it's supposed to be. There is a computer on the desk, but it is just as unresponsive as its erstwhile user.
Something happened here. A new mystery to solve.
You make your way to the other side of the room and, finding the door to the stairs locked (so much for employees getting exercise!) you push the call button for the elevator.
Slide on over to 35.
As you turn the corner, it becomes obvious that this area is, indeed, suffused in a growing cloud of mist. You and Mona both race to the next intersection and look around for signs of the runaway neighbour. You look left: nothing. Beside you, Mona suddenly shrieks."
"Polly?! You fiend! I knew you were behind this!"
Polly? Mona's evil twin sister? You turn to look down the opposite aisle and there you see her – just past a glaring Mona. The two are identical, at least in theory. While Mona is a straight-laced champion of purity, Polly is dressed in gaudy robes and arcane jewelry, and has a malicious smirk on her face. Without a word, she turns around and heads away from you, disappearing into the mist.
"I won't let you get away!!" Mona screams as she rushes after her sister before you can say anything, and immediately disappears as well.
This is very strange. The exact same thing happened to both Morgana and Mona just now: a figure from their past appeared to distract them and turn them away from the correct path to follow. Surely this is no coincidence? Perhaps it is that neighbour's doing…
You need to decide what to do next, and quickly! You could try to go after Mona and Morgana, and perhaps rescue them from whatever trap they might have gotten themselves caught up in. Or you could stick to your quarry – these distractions must be a sign that the other way is the correct way.
If you go after your roommates, go to 4.
If you are undeterred, and continue to chase the man who undoubtedly has the Black Heptagon, go to 48.
Maybe those other two are on to something. You don't really need to go traipsing around the city, fighting wizards and trolls and who knows what else for a trinket that may or may not serve any purpose.
You turn around, close the door to your room and slip back under the covers. An hour or four of additional torpor wouldn't hurt. Or maybe you'll find some new series to binge watch. You seem to recall an in-depth documentary about semiconductors that came out not long ago. Yeah.
No adventure for you today!
"Aww. Well, alright," she says, sounding mildly disappointed. She leans back against the thin stretch of wall beside the elevator door – still ostensibly blocking you from going back that way, you note. "So… what are you doing here?"
"You first," you reply with narrowed eyes.
"I asked first." She shrugs, still grinning. "But fine. We're here because we found out this building was owned by a very bad person, and it became necessary to put a stop to all that naughtiness. That person wasn't here when we arrived, but we're making sure the facilities can't be used for all that bad stuff anymore. Now, your turn."
That didn't tell you much. On purpose, naturally. It does make you doubt whether anything in this place has any link to the Black Heptagon after all. You don't like giving away information to this grinning weirdo, but at this point, you just have to make sure.
"I'm looking for the Black Heptagon. Do you know what happened to it?"
"The what?" The slightstart, the drop in her perpetual smile, the instantaneous response… that was too genuine for you to think she's leading you on. She really doesn't know about the gem you're after.
"I see," you muse. "Well, then I'm sorry for wasting your time. It seems like our objectives are unrelated. I'll get out of your way."
With that, you head straight for the elevator, but she stretches her arm across the door to bar your way and shakes her head.
"Nuh-uh. I didn't say you could leave." Just as she says those words, the elevator door slides open, revealing another similarly black-suited woman.
"My partner is correct." says the new arrival, adjusting her glasses. "We were already going to have to take you into custody, of course, but doubly so now that my partner has told you about our confidential operation here." The new arrival, a redhead, glances reproachfully the brunette you've been talking to. Ah, so those two have had an open comm link this whole time.
"Eh, I barely said anything." The grinning one takes her arm away from the elevator door. It seems now they want you to get in there. And it doesn't seem like you have much choice in the matter.
"You are going to be telling us a lot, however. This Black Heptagon thing sounds interesting, to start with."
You get up and walk around your table and down the aisle, heading toward whoever that guy is. Who does he think he is, staring at you like a creep? You can see the sweat forming on his brow as you approach, his eyes darting between you and the picture of a slice of cheesecake he's holding up.
"So?" you ask as you stand next to his table, hands on your hips. "What do you want?"
He looks like a pretty average human. Maybe a little on the short side. Brown hair, brown eyes, big nose, kind of silly sideburns… He hastens to drop the dessert menu and turns to you, failing to hide his mounting panic.
"Nothing! I… uh… I didn't mean anything. Sorry, haha! I was just… trying to remember where I might have seen you before, that's all!" A likely story.
Just as you start to raise a finger to admonish him, a flash of red from your wrist catches your eye. The screen of your wrist-computer is going wild, filled with multiple layers of warning pop-ups! You focus your attention on it and quickly realize that this is very bad. While you were distracted with this bozo, someone – probably from the building you were hacking – has hacked you right back! It's already too late to mount a defense; even your computer's shut down button isn't responding!
Refusing to lose your cool, you rip the computer off your wrist and look for the quickest way to forcibly shut it down and prevent your secrets from being exposed. Your gaze falls on the man's half-full mug of tepid coffee. You expertly dunk the computer into the cup, where it sinks with a satisfying bloop.
There is a cartoonish flash of electricity, and you know your computer is dead. Unfortunate, but it can be replaced. And your files have backups elsewhere, naturally. So all in all, acceptable losses, compared to what could have been.
The man stares at his coffee. Then at you. Then at the coffee again. Then back to you. "What! WHAT! WAS THAT!" You start thinking up a palatable explanation to offer when he opens his mouth again: "I am so… SO! Sorry! About that! I don't know what just happened, but I want to make sure that you know… I absolutely didn't mean for whatever just happened to happen!"
Interesting. Despite the evidence of his own eyes, he seems to believe this mess was somehow his fault. Well, you suppose it was, from a certain point of view.
If you try to get him to pay for your ruined computer, go to 43.
If you decline to waste any more time with this person, go to 16.
"We don't know who or what is waiting inside. We should proceed with caution." You motion for the alley nearby. "Let's try going in this way."
"I could tell you what's in there. Most days, anyway. It's just a store! But alright." Morgana just shrugs and follows you. Mona falls into step, but with a concerned look on her face.
You soon reach the back of the store, skirting around a large trash bin to reach the service entrance. But when you grab the handle, Mona stops you.
"H-Hold on! We're not going to break in, are we? We don't even know if who we're looking for is in there! Or… you-know-what! It'd be wrong!" Oh, that's right. Sometimes you forget – possibly because of all the brutal sword-slinging – but Mona is something of a champion of justice.
The whole reason you three are looking for the Dark Heptagon in the first place is that Mona's evil twin sister supposedly plans to use it for nefarious purposes, and Mona has vowed to stop her.
"We're trying to find out if it's there," Morgana contributes. "We have to go in somehow. And they're not likely to have it in the front of the store."
But Mona rejoins impassionedly: "There has to be a better, more morally upstanding way!"
Looks like it's up to you to think of something again.
If you appeal to Mona's sense of justice to convince her to break in, go to 31.
If you try to come up with a different plan – one that won't involve any breaking-and-entering – go to 14.
The mist around you seems to grow thicker and thicker as you wander through this featureless, vaguely red-tinged white void. You don't know how long you've been here, but it feels like forever. You haven't even had any of those strange visions in a long, long time.
"Excuse me. Hello!" It takes you a minute to even register that a soft, quiet voice has been calling to you. "I couldn't help but notice… you appear to be lost. Could you use some help?"
You blink and try to find the source. You turn around… and around… you're quite sure you've gone more than 360 degrees when your gaze finally focuses on a humanoid shape. It's a girl, floating beside you in the void, smiling calmly. Her pale complexion and equally pale blonde hair barely stand out from the misty background. You might have missed her completely if not for her large violet eyes and the strange dark shapes tattooed on her cheeks.
"I… Where am I?" you manage to say, when you finally remember how to speak words. The mist in this place is starting to fog up your very mind. It's all you can do to not lose track of the girl's thin voice and ghostly form in this fog-choked expanse. You concentrate all your attention on her.
"That's a good question. But a better one would be: When are you? You see, you've become unstuck in time – Bouncing between the past, present, and future. You've wandered too far and ended up losing your way."
"How… how is this possible?" you ask dubiously. "Is it an effect of the Black Heptagon?"
"Sure!" She shrugs. "Let's go with that. Now, I can lead you back home if you'll only follow me." She gestures in a seemingly random direction.
She seems trustworthy enough, or at least you can't think of any worse predicament than your current one that she could be leading you into. You nod and fall into step behind her. Or whatever the equivalent is when you're just hovering in endless mist with no discernable features – not even a floor. You don't think there's any way you'd be able to get out of here without help.
It takes a while, and you don't know how, but you eventually do get home. The girl is nowhere to be seen.
The elevator doors open to reveal a gray hallway lined with open doors. As you make your way forward, you can see that all these rooms appear to have been used for storage at some point, but are now almost completely empty. They seem to have been cleared in a hurry, too – as empty boxes, power cables and other small discarded items litter the floors and shelves here and there. As far as you can tell, everything important has been removed.
After fourteen rooms like this, the hall ends with another open door. The humming sound you hear behind it tells you this next room is different, even before you enter it. It's wide and square, with no shelves or cardboard boxes – just a hefty array of power generators and computer consoles, all hooked up and ready to activate the big teleportation pad in the center.
Teleportation technology is fairly new, but you like to stay informed about these things. You didn't expect to find this in the basement of an office building, however. Examining the monitors, you find the whole system is locked… except the teleporter activation sequence. With one press of a button, you could end up at a pre-set location entered by whoever last used this device.
You could probably just hack into the system and teleport wherever you wanted, but there isn't any specific location you need to go for now. This pre-programmed location, though… someone wanted to go there easily. Or to send someone else there. Is that helpful? Or is it just a trap? You're really curious now. And there certainly isn't anything else of interest in this basement.
If you roll the dice and try the teleporter, go to 53
If you prefer to return to the elevator and explore a different floor, go to 35.
On second thought, you'd rather not.
After politely declining, you head back down the elevator. The wizard was slightly nonplussed, but let you go without a fuss.
Sure, it's possible that Cryptos the Omnipotent could locate the Black Heptagon for you. Judging by his name, at least. But is that what you really want?
The more you think about it, the more you realize the gem itself doesn't matter to you. It's like you were telling yourself this morning: it's all about deciphering the clues, solving the mysteries, and untangling the enigmas. You almost forgot that along the way.
You might not find the Black Heptagon today. You might not find it tomorrow. Or next week. Or ever!
But when you do find it, you'll have done so through your own intellect and perseverance.
Public wifi is a wonderful invention.
You slide into the diner, order a coffee and some random chow you have no intention of eating, then sit down nonchalantly. Once convinced of your inconspicuousness, you boot up your wrist-mounted computer and get to work. The building's network security isn't too terrible, but it's not good enough to keep you out. Within fifteen minutes, you've already learned a number of things:
One – the entire building is occupied by just one company, a mechanical parts contractor called Gears For Years.
Two – despite it looking like just a regular office building, most of the floors are actually occupied by a manufacturing plant.
Three – and this is the most peculiar thing – the company's employee roster contains no names whatsoever. It's like no one works there.
This is definitely intriguing. You can't yet figure out what a technology-oriented company (with no employees) would want from a most-likely-magical relic like the Black Heptagon. You're about to start probing further when, out of the corner of your eye, you notice another diner patron staring at you.
You turn to find out what that person wants, but the man looks away immediately. You frown at him for a few seconds as he absorbs himself in the dessert menu in his hands with somewhat painfully-feigned concentration.
If you ignore the random stranger and keep doing your thing, go to 18.
If you prefer to go up to him and find out what his deal is, go to 25.
You let go of the door handle and turn to face Mona head on. You'll have to bring out your most persuasive rhetoric to change her mind.
"If we don't break into this store, then Polly wins."
"Wh-wh-wh-whaat!" Mona's body tenses and her eyes widen in alarm. You knew bringing up her twin sister would be effective.
"We have to secure the Black Heptagon before your nefarious sister does – for the safety of all that is good and pure. You know this! Any delay, any further digression, could mean she picks up the trail and beats us to our goal. Do you want to take that chance? Shouldn't we do everything in our power to succeed as quickly as possible? Isn't this small transgression insignificant in the face of the greater good?"
You don't mention how long this little speech is taking. Or how going through the front of the store would have been faster. That's not important right now. You're just trying to bring Mona on board. She's still conflicted, however. You can almost see the perspiration forming on her brow. Morgana, standing off to the side, is shaking her head, perhaps thinking you're going too far.
"I… I err… That is…!" Mona bites her nails as her panic grows. This actually goes on for a handful of minutes. You think she might explode any second now. But suddenly…
With a click and a grind, the store's back door unlocks and swings open right beside you. All three of you turn toward it incredulously. Emerging from what appears to be a dark storeroom is a man with white hair. He whistles absently as he leans his back against the door to prop it open. You know him; he lives in the same apartment building as you do. That's odd – does he work here? You had no idea. In one hand, he's carrying a mostly-full trash bag, which he tosses into the bin nearby. Then he turns his attention to his other hand, in which he holds… the Black Heptagon.
"Now, what am I going to do with you?" He says, musing aloud to the geometrical shape in his hand, composed of a black so pure it has no shadows or highlights.
You all stare at him dumbfounded for a good fifteen seconds before he happens to glance your way. He gives a start, naturally not having expected to find anyone in the alley as he was taking out the garbage.
"Uuh…" he begins.
"Hand that over!!" Mona screeches. Already agitated, she lunges at him wildly, but he immediately retreats inside, trying to close the door.
Being the closest, you quickly put your foot in the opening to prevent that. Thwarted, he simply starts running. Pulling the door open wide, you hurry in after him.
Tally Ho! Go to 33.
You make your way through the mist, and slowly you begin to distinguish shapes within it. You think those are… trees?
A minute or so and you are certain – you're now in a forest of some kind. It's dark, possibly nighttime, and still misty. This mist, however, while still eerie, seems to have a less otherworldly quality than what you previously encountered. You notice a light up ahead, down in a shallow bowl-shaped clearing. You approach it silently.
You take position behind a large oak tree and sneak a glance into the clearing. The light comes partly from a roaring fire, and partly from the bubbling green brew in the cauldron atop it. Three figures in dark hooded cloaks stand in a circle around the fire.
The figures begin chanting in a strange rhythm with words that hold no meaning for you. They raise their arms in some kind of prayer? Or a spell? The cauldron bubbles wildly and shifts colour to blue, then orange, then pink… The light intensifies and the three figures' shadows begin to distort on the slopes surrounding the clearing.
A wave of the same reddish mist from earlier washes in and you feel it pulling at you, trying to drag you away from this scene. But at the same time, this strange ritual exerts its own gravitational pull on your psyche. It's becoming impossible to stay in your hiding place. Which direction should you go?
Forwards to 36.
Sideways to 66.
Backwards to 70.
You burst through the door, your two roommates only a second behind. Immediately, you feel something is off in this dimly lit storeroom. Cardboard boxes are piled up to the ceiling, forming walls that seem to lean in menacingly. The air is heavy with some kind of energy, and you could swear there's a red mist swirling on the floor as you run. Your eyes are locked on your fleeing neighbour, though.
Or rather, they were. He turns the corner ahead of you, disappearing to the left behind a stack of boxes. You reach a three-way intersection and pivot to follow him, but after a few more steps you realize you're headed for another intersection. This place is a maze!
Your quarry has already gone on ahead – you don't see him anymore. You're pausing an instant to find some sign of which way he went when you hear a loud exclamation behind you.
"Ah! Carnior?!" You whip around to see Morgana, standing in the intersection, looking away from you. Down the opposite alley – the one your neighbour didn't take – is a man… a halfling like Morgana. He is short (of course) and barefoot, wearing a set of worn leather armor, a cape and a sword – adventurer's gear. His messy curls partially hide his face, but you do make out a large round nose and an eyepatch. You've never seen him before, but Morgana seems quite agitated to find him here. Without a word, the halfling man turns and walks off into the shadows between more piles of boxes.
"Wait, Carnie!" Morgana cries. She starts to run after him! You exchange glances with Mona.
"Morgana will be fine! We have to go after that suspicious neighbour!" And she resumes the chase.
What's that old saying? Don't split the party?
If you resume the chase along with Mona, go to 22.
If want to go after Morgana to make sure she doesn't get lost, go to 61
"If you already have a way to solve the problem, what do you need us for?" you ask him. Mona lets out a gasp. She was probably about to offer her – your – help. Morgana just looks relieved that you spoke first. You go on: "It's not going to rip apart the fabric of space-time and destroy all reality, is it? Why would you be considering it, if that were the case?"
"No, no." He scratches the back of his head, looking a little embarrassed. "It's hard to predict the exact side effects, but there's no real chance of that."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"Alright, alright," he sighs. "You might want to stand back." He motions you away as he carefully slides the taped-up box at his feet toward the center of the area. You all back away from it. "Further."
He bends down to fiddle with the outside of the box, eventually unwinding a kind of ripcord which he extends all the way to where you're standing. He gets into position to pull on the cord from a safe distance. Before he does so, he turns to the three of you for a final warning.
"Alright, I'm going to start up the Time Shredder." The what? You catch sight of Mona and Morgana exchanging worried glances. "While it's active, you may experience a temporary distortion of reality. You may see random images from the past, present, or future. These shouldn't be able to hurt you." Oh, good. "Probably."
Without giving anyone time to protest, he yanks on the rope. The box flies open and is immediately engulfed in a swirling tempest of energy. Lightning arcs in random directions and waves of reddish mist gush toward you. Your neighbour stands there, shielding his eyes from the light with one hand, while getting ready to throw the Black Heptagon with the other.
It's impossible to accurately gauge how long it takes him to actually throw the thing. As the mist washes over you, you feel transported to different places and times… A dark room with a glowing green tube at its center, an indistinct humanoid shape floating inside. An idyllic sunlit beach, where you and your friends are playing volleyball. A lush countryside, suddenly disturbed by some kind of meteor impacting into it.
But the most vivid of these visions shows you a desolate landscape, only adorned by a handful of long-dead, dessicated trees. Above, the sky appears to be made of dark clouds, constantly roiling and billowing – until you look straight at it. Then you realize the movement you're seeing isn't made by clouds, but by a kind of gigantic creature far in the distance. At least you think it's a creature. Its outline is blobby and shifting, but you can make out some arms coming out of it. So many arms – all shapes and sizes, going off in every direction.
The thing turns a single enormous eye straight toward you. You tell yourself that this is just a hallucination; that this entity can't really see you. It couldn't, right? Its giant eye blinks once. Then the colossal being starts to descend in your direction, advancing like a horrible flesh tsunami.
Funny how the elevator for a seven-story building only has four buttons aside from the ground floor. You're not going back there until you've found something worthwhile in this place. So, where to?
For the basement, go to 28.
For the second floor, go to 41.
For the top floor, go to 50.
For the roof, go to 63.
You stumble forward and the reddish mist releases you. The attraction exerted by this strange bubbling cauldron ritual turned out to be stronger. You worry about the reaction of the three chanting figures to your impromptu arrival, but you soon realize you are not the only one that was drawn here by their spell.
Oddly intelligent-looking birds, badgers, snakes; a sphinx and a manticore; even sharks floating in mid-air; a slew of outlandish spectral creatures enter the forest clearing in various ways and take positions on either side of you, forming a loose circle around the hooded trio. If you thought nothing here was magical and they were just making soup in the forest, that notion has been dispelled. None of the strange beasts pay any attention to you, thankfully – everything in the area is painted a single colour by the light of the effervescent brew, and you blend into this disparate crowd easily.
"Spirits! We have gathered you here once more to harvest the fruits of your diligence." The three figures turning outwards to face the assembled throng and speaking intelligibly takes you by surprise, but not as much as the face you glimpse beneath the hood of the nearest among them. It's the face of your roommate Mona! Or rather that of her identical twin, Polly. You've only seen her two or three times, but it's easy enough to tell them apart for anyone with a minimum of discernment.
What is she doing in this forest? Where is this forest? And what was that ritual all about? You recall hearing Mona rant many times that her sister's an evil witch; dangerous and not to be trusted. You only have Mona's word for it, but it might still be best if you skedaddled before she sees you.
Meanwhile, the trio spread out, slowly walking around the clearing, addressing the creatures: "What news bring you of our quarry? What information have you gathered about the Black Heptagon?"
Wait. Did she say the Black Heptagon?
It dawns on you that the witches sent out all these spirits to scout for information about the gem. This makes sense; both times you met Polly before, your roommates and yourself were competing against her in the quest for the Heptagon. You thought you had taken a comfortable lead in this race, but after getting bamboozled by that white-haired neighbour, you feel that lead has all but evaporated.
As the three hooded witches each lean in toward the summoned critters and one by one listen to their reports, you ponder your next move. Spying on these proceedings might give you valuable clues, but if you're found out, you're done for. You've been hiding in plain sight up to this point, because no one expects you to be here… but that can't last.
What should you do?
If you try to remain unseen and gather more data, go to 56
If you hightail it out of here at the first opportunity, go to 72.
"On second thought, never mind." You start to turn away and head toward the stairs.
"Err… A-Alright. Uhm. Have a nice day? Again?" Marelle tells you with a puzzled look on her face. You're almost certain she already thought you were a weirdo, so this is fine.
You make it to the second floor just as you hear the sound of her door closing. The following instant, a different door opens in front of you – the door to your own apartment.
"There you are! I thought you might have forgotten!" That's Mona, your roommate, with her blond hair, blue eyes, and energetic personality. "We're supposed to recover the Black Heptagon today! Remember?"
She turns back inside your apartment for a moment, and walks out pushing a grumpy halfling around half her height. That's Morgana, your other roommate. "I'm coming! I'm coming! Ugh." She has more of a glum personality, as well as dark eyes and long, curly black hair – dyed to match her mindset.
Looks like they had the time to get up and get ready while you were distracted by the whole Marelle incident. Good. You look between the two of them. They both look at you.
"Let's get going," you say. Off to 2.
You make a grab for the nearest drone, which effortlessly glides out of your reach. Fair enough. Anticipating a beam from it, you spin your body toward the opposite side of the corridor and attempt to dive under the pair blocking your way. You run.
Instead of shooting straight at you, they fire their beams at the floor, forming a wide "X" to bar your way. You dive underneath, slide across the floor, and scramble to your feet on the other side. You're about to take off again when a new beam shoots down from somewhere above you. Interesting – they seem to want to block your way more than to straight-up shoot you. Maybe you can use that to your advantage.
You jump left, but your way is immediately blocked by one of those beams. You step to the right – same result. Then you quickly turn and dash at a group of three that were closing in from behind.
Their three beams form a curtain as you head straight for them. You slow to a calm walk and stare up at the middle drone, straight into the camera on its front. You keep eye contact with the drone, your expression impassive, as you step directly into the beam curtain.
The beams shut down at your approach. Aha!
You walk on calmly, listening to the drones regrouping in your wake. You've won a round, but you don't think you can press your luck much further. You got turned around a lot during the scuffle, but you manage to find the elevator again. You quickly duck inside and leave this floor. About a dozen drones are hovering outside as the elevator doors slide closed.
Strange, you haven't pressed any button yet, but the elevator has started to rise on its own. Almost like someone is controlling it from afar. You escaped the drones, but where are you being led now?
Ascend to 63.
"There she is!" Mona waves excitedly as she runs up to you from across the street. "We were just waiting for you! Can you imagine? It turns out Morgana already knows this place!"
You peer at Morgana, standing on the opposite side of the street… beside a small shop with the number sixteen next to its door: Al Bino's Prestidigi-Nation. Wait… wasn't number sixteen that large office building you've been exploring? You hold back the urge to turn and check. But glancing at the other buildings on Morgana's side, you note they all have even street numbers. So… it makes sense that sixteen would be on that side.
"I kept telling her… that you would be here before us!" Mona smiles at you genuinely. You nod and follow her back to the correct address, just happy to save face despite your mistake.
That office building may have been a pointless detour in your quest, but there is definitely some mystery there that you'll need to unravel later.
But for now, go to 6.
Three minutes. Four minutes. Five minutes. It's fine; you can wait. You're patient. You flex your fingers, shift your weight from foot to foot, keeping your attention focused on the door. Then you hear a muffled crash, from all the way on the other side of the store. You wait a few more seconds, then you hear a shout: "I got him!" Him? "We got it!"
There doesn't seem to be anything happening back here, and those were rather enthusiastic shouts from your teammates, so you decide it's safe to run back around to the street. When you arrive, you are puzzled by what you see.
Mona is crouched on the sidewalk, pinning down a man with white hair… you recognize him as your upstairs neighbour. But what is he doing here? As for Morgana, she spots you and runs up excitedly.
"See? He just had it in his pocket! Can you imagine?!" You look down and blink. Right there, in Morgana's tiny hands, is the Black Heptagon. You've never seen it before, but that's the only thing it could possibly be: a seven-sided hole in the fabric of reality, made up of absolute darkness, even absorbing the light around it into its depths. It makes your eye twitch to stare at it for too long.
"Be careful with that!" your neighbour pipes up from the ground, under Mona's knee. "It's… really quite dangerous, you know. Ow!" He flinches as Mona presses her knee down on him further.
"Quiet, you!" She chides him. Then, turning back up to you: "We did it! Morgana was great! She—"
"No, you were great!" Morgana interrupts her.
Well, that's great. "Can I examine it?" you ask, stepping forward and reaching for the Heptagon.
"Maybe later." Morgana says, dancing away gleefully.
"The next step is finding a way to destroy it!" Mona says, immediately swatting down the neighbour's hand as he raises it to interject. "So that it can't be used for evil!"
Well, looks like you managed to obtain the treasure you were after. And it was thanks to your plan, probably – even though you didn't really do anything yourself. Maybe your teammates will let you look at the gem eventually.
Ah. That would be why the elevator has no buttons for the floors between here and the top. There are no floors between here and the top. You step out of the elevator and your gaze is drawn upwards, to the far-off ceiling, well over twenty meters above. The walls are no closer – it seems like this entire space is just one large room. But it's not empty. Far from it.
The massive space is filled with machinery, conveyor belts, walkways; a series of assembly lines, it seems. None of it is active at the moment, but if you had to guess, you could easily imagine it churning out robots like the one you found at the reception desk. You have no idea what, if anything, any of this all to do with the Black Heptagon.
There doesn't seem to be anyone around. The place is eerily quiet and dark, as if abandoned. While the production facilities themselves would be fascinating to explore, you don't see anything that might directly relate to your current quest.
Who knows? It might still be worth checking out.
If you decide to go exploring in this industrial ghostscape, go to 59.
Otherwise, all you can do is get back on the elevator and try a different floor. Go to 35.
You touch Mona's arm to stop her – at least long enough for you to say something. "Are you… uh… Al Bino?" you ask your cashier of a neighbour, indicating the store around you. "Is this your… Prestidigi-Nation?"
"Oh, no, no, not at all. People often make that mistake. I suppose he and I do look a little bit alike." He points to his face and grins. " But no, I'm not Al Bino, the multiverse-touring stage magician. This store just uses his brand. And really, I just work here part time." He laughs and shrugs. "I'm afraid my autograph isn't worth anything!"
An idea occurs to you. Aside from the address you painstakingly discovered, you had one other clue on the person you're trying to track down. When you found the Black Heptagon missing, there was a handwritten note addressed to whoever came next – either taunting or apologetic, it wasn't clear. You wonder if you could get the clerk to write something so you can compare his handwriting to the note… "Well, then you won't mind if I ask you for your autograph anyway."
Both your roommates give you a puzzled glance. You pull a piece of paper from your jacket pocket and present it to the clerk to be signed. His brow furrows as he stares at you dubiously. But he still reaches for a pen from the top-hat-shaped cup on the counter. He spends a moment in concentration, staring absently at a point right above your shoulder, before scribbling onto the paper and sliding it back to you.
"You can call me Xvi."
You take a look at his signature. Sure enough, it reads "XVI", in capital letters… just like the giant roman numerals on the office building across the street – the same that is clearly visible through the store window behind you. A poorly improvised fake name, then. But more importantly, it doesn't have many letters in common with that note you found, and thus doesn't tell you anything.
You hear Morgana whisper to Mona behind you: "Is that his name? I always wondered."
If you try to squeeze more information out of him, go to 19.
If you flip the paper over, revealing it to be the note you found and have been carrying all along, just to gauge his reaction, go to 57.
You pluck your computer out of the coffee cup and let it fall on the table, pointedly allowing drops of the beverage to splash onto its owner.
"You bet your sideburns you're sorry! This is – or rather was – an expensive piece of equipment. Top of the line. Custom-made. And now it's ruined. Do you have any idea how much it cost? Because that's the amount I'll be billing you. Plus damages!" you harangue him dramatically, with an emphatic arm flourish.
"L-Look, I… I want to help you, I really do, but…" His gaze shifts from the shorted-out husk on the table to you and then back again. He frowns. "But you… kind of threw that into my coffee yourself. Unprovoked!" Ahah. So he's not a total idiot.
You're about to unleash another round of diatribe when you catch him staring quizzically past you, toward the diner's entrance. You hear the door swing shut, and a voice at your back clearly calls you out.
"Hey-hey, you! When my partner said someone tried to hack into our mission objective, I admit you weren't my first guess."
Curses! You wasted too much time and someone came to investigate your hacking attempt in person. Should you try to run? Turn and fight? Deny the whole thing? You haven't had time to move yet when a kick in the back of your knees tips you off balance. Before you can recover, a hand finishes pulling you to the floor. A cold metal disk of some kind is slapped onto your neck, and you're instantly wracked by an electric discharge.
Your body tenses up, and though you struggle to move, your efforts prove ineffective. As you lie on the floor, paralyzed, a face lean into your field of vision. A woman with a ponytail and a baseball cap? She grins cheerfully over you.
"Who… are… you…?" You manage to hiss through gritted teeth.
Her smile turns into a playful pout: "Aw, you don't remember me? That stings. Well! We'll have plenty of time to catch up once you're safely in custody."
With that, you black out.
This place looks like it would be easy to get lost in. It's much larger than you would have expected for such a small establishment, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the aisles. But, following the distant but ever-approaching sound of voices, you manage to find a door leading to the shop proper.
You quietly open the door just a crack and have a peek. You see the back of the counter, currently unoccupied, and rows of merchandise beyond it. You also see the messy white hair of an upstairs neighbour you know from your apartment building. Huh. He's looking downward, and you realize he's talking to Morgana, who is too short for you to see over the counter.
"This one? Or… this one?" He seems to be presenting various products from the higher shelves to Morgana, but never getting quite what she wants – not surprising, considering the haphazardly arranged, overstuffed shelves that make up the store. After a few more rounds of this, he sighs and scratches his head, embarrassed. "Maybe if I, uh… lifted you? You could get it yourself from the shelf?"
There's a slight pause, but Morgana agrees. He gingerly picks up your tiny halfling roommate and brings her level with the top shelf he was previously picking from. You can see her face now. She's smiling. Apparently things are going according to plan for her! While looking over the shelf, her gaze happens to meet yours. You raise your finger to your lips to imply she should keep doing what she's doing, but her beaming expression immediately turns to anguish.
You can guess what's going through her head. You'd given her the task of investigating the shop by herself, while you waited until she called for backup. You'd trusted her and that had boosted her confidence. But now you've shown up to check on her or, worse, take care of things yourself – making her just a decoy. No wonder she's so crestfallen. She starts to stammer dejectedly and soon professes that whatever she was looking for isn't on the shelf after all. Your neighbour puts her down and you hear the shop's entrance bell ring as she leaves.
"Huh. I don't know what that was about. Well, too bad," the white-haired man bemoans to himself. You finally realize he's a store employee as he steps behind the counter – right next to the door you're hiding behind. You freeze, not wanting to draw his attention. A few seconds pass. Then he says: "Guess this is as good a time as any to go and take out the trash."
He suddenly turns and reaches for the door handle. You only have a fraction of a second to do something!
If you try to find someplace to hide and let him pass, go to 58.
If you try to take him by surprise and knock him out quickly, go to 71.
You lose your footing and tumble forward. The mist not only obscures your vision, but also dull any pain from the fall. You begin to get back to your feet when you notice a dark gap in the featureless blanket you've been trudging through. You eagerly head for it.
You slowly emerge… in a place that looks a lot like the storeroom you originally came from! The same kind of shelves surround you, but the space is somewhat wider than the claustrophobic alleys you'd wandered through previously. While you had gotten used to the light in here having a slight reddish tinge, it's now positively crimson. At the far end of this space stands the one you've been chasing after. The neighbour.
You did it. You caught up to him.
"I see you've caught up to me," he says. Yes; yes you did.
He gestures to the thing in the middle of the room, between you and him. You've been trying not to look at it, but it's kind of hard to ignore. It looks like nothing so much as a chaotic, glowing whirlpool of crackling blood-red energy. Only more sinister. It hurts your brain whenever your gaze stays on it for more than an instant. It's also the source of the mist permeating this place, and it's pouring out more and more onto the floor at an alarming rate.
"This is an Aggregate Chronal Dissociation Coil," he explains. "It cycles through staggered arrays of randomly fluctuating micron-diameter temporal apertures, feeding back into itself seven thousand times a second, then radiating into every possible era simultaneously, diffusing matter at the subatomic level." You blink. He shrugs. "You could say it's a Time Shredder."
You certainly don't want to get any closer to that phenomenon, but you're probably going to have to. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out what can only be the Black Heptagon… a seven-sided sliver of pure darkness amidst this red haze. He holds it up at eye level, fully commanding your attention.
"This whole thing was my backup plan. I would honestly have preferred to find some other way to destroy this little gem… or at least neutralize the threat it poses. I mean, you've probably noticed the Time Shredder's unpleasant side effects." He gestures a bit too dismissively at the mist-choked shelves around you. You shudder and think back to all the time-hopping you went through to arrive here. You could easily have gotten lost, with no way to ever return. "I wanted to avoid all that if at all possible. But I daresay you've forced my hand."
He lets out a resigned sigh and winds up his arm… He's going to throw the gem in! You're not sure how much you understood of his explanation, but with a name like "Time Shredder", you're pretty sure you'll never get the Black Heptagon back once it's in there. He's too far away for you to stop him in time. What can you do?
If you dive over the Time Shredder and try to catch the Black Heptagon before it falls in, go to 67.
If you just let it go, then head to 76
Backwards to 69
"There's a problem I'd like to get your thoughts on," you begin.
Her eyes light up immediately. "Really? I'd love to help! Come on in." She seems eager. Probably wants to show you up again. The nerve.
She leads you to the living room proper, quietly pushing the donut box completely under the coffee table with one foot as she offers you a seat. You tell her how you got involved in the search for the Black Heptagon: your roommate Mona's sister, a newsworthy witch, had excavated some ancient ruins, and thought she needed Mona's assistance to recover the gem therein. She was wrong, but when the seal was lifted anyway, it turned out that someone else had somehow gotten there beforehand.
That person had left a note behind, ostensibly as an apology for making you go through all that trouble for nothing. You explain the lengthy and convoluted process by which you used the unsigned note to track down its originator: analyzing the paper it was written on, tracking down where the paper was produced, examining the sale records for anything with the same handwriting, and finally discovering the address you were intent on visiting today… You see her nod, impressed despite herself. You smirk inwardly.
As soon as you show her the note, she says: "Oh, I know that handwriting."
"Yes, yes, there's no mistake!" She grins widely. "I know exactly the person you're looking for! They're not around right now, but stay here until the afternoon and I guarantee you'll find this Black Heptagon!"
All your hard work and she just… knows the person you're trying to find? Well, darn. You're not impressed, but you can't ignore this stroke of luck. You spend the rest of the day here, just passing the time. You two trade narrow victories back and forth at trivia board games. She generously shares her donuts.
Near the end of the afternoon, her catlike ears twitch suddenly. A second later, you hear a door open and close just outside the apartment. She smiles.
"He's home. Come on, let's go talk to our neighbour about an artifact."
Your quest is complete, all thanks to your rival.
Now you owe her a favour.
"See the faint outline to the right of those numbers?" Morgana points out, indicating the front of the office building, "that place is actually the XVII. There's a 'I' that fell off a while back and nobody's ever bothered to replace it. This way."
Now that you're closer, you stare at the giant address, squinting. Sure enough, you can make out a trace that there used to be an additional numeral there. What do you know! You exchange glances with the dumbfounded Mona; you both almost made a very silly blunder. Guess you can't be too hasty with these things. That and give Morgana more credit.
Morgana leads you across the street to a little out-of-the-way shop, almost hidden between a loudly coloured greasy spoon diner and a trendy tabletop gaming store. A tiny rectangular sign bearing the number sixteen adorns the side of the entrance. Above it, a flashy red and white neon atrocity proclaims in boisterous cursive: Al Bino's Prestidigi-Nation – Tricks, Illusions and Pranks.
You raise an eyebrow at Morgana.
"Wh-What?!" she protests, turning bright red. "We all have our hobbies, okay?"
"Alright, let's go in, then!" Mona says as she steps toward the little magic shop. Has she learned nothing from this misadventure?
"Wait," you say, "let's carefully consider our options."
If you think the direct approach is the best approach, follow Mona to 6.
Otherwise, you might try to go around the back and slip in stealthily. If so, go to 26.
Catching that neighbour takes priority. You continue to advance, but aren't sure where he went. You try to listen for sounds of running, but the strange mist surrounding you seems to blanket all sounds. In fact, it soon becomes so thick you can't see where you're going at all. What could be causing it? You keep walking, but as you go, you become more and more unsure whether your feet are actually making contact with any kind of floor…
Go to 66.
It's simple enough to get the door open. You take a peek inside and, seeing no one, slip in unnoticed. You're now in some kind of storeroom packed with rows and rows of shelves, holding boxes of what you assume is merchandise for the shop in front. It's dark in here, but not so much that you can't make your way around.
There's an aisle ahead of you, presumably leading toward the front, though there seems to be a number twists and turns between the rows of shelves on the way there. You can faintly hear voices in the distance. Morgana and some cashier, no doubt.
So what next? You could try heading closer to the voices. Or maybe the Black Heptagon is hidden right next to you, in one of these dozens of nondescript boxes?
If you make your way toward Morgana, go to 44.
If you prefer to start going through boxes, go to 62
You exit the elevator into a brightly-lit office space, exactly the kind you would expect to find in a building like this one. A copy machine and a water cooler, glass-panelled meeting rooms, rows and rows of cubicles with desks and computers… The only surprise is that there doesn't appear to be anybody here.
You make your way down one of the aisles, inspecting cubicle after cubicle. Soon you realize there's another thing out of the ordinary: none of these working areas seem to have ever been worked in. Each has a computer, a phone, a pen holder, a filing cabinet… all identical. No post-its, doodads, knick-knacks or other personalized decoration. It's like this office space was carefully set up and then never used. Peculiar.
You reach the opposite side of the building and peer out the window. Six storeys below is the street you came from. From this height, the people down there are tiny. Wait, those two over there, coming closer. You recognize them. The tall, skinny one and the short one with dark hair… they're your roommates, Mona and Morgana! Looks like they finally got out of bed.
Well, you better take the elevator back down to meet them and get them up to speed. Maybe they'll have some ideas about this strange building.
Descend to 39.
"Do you know what a Nelphe is?" Your neighbour asks as he leads you into the storeroom behind the shop.
"Sure we know what an elf is!" It is Morgana who answers, but any of you could have made the same reply.
"No, not an elf. A Nelphe." Ignoring your puzzlement, he continues: "In aeons long past, these beings of pure magic walked like gods among us mortals. Or hovered, I guess. Their power was absolute; their every whim instantly made manifest. They couldn't be opposed, only appeased. That is, until the Ancients showed up."
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the theological implications of this story!" Mona mumbles behind you, half-muffled as you turn a corner past some shelves stacked with cardboard boxes.
"The ones who'd later be referred to as the Ancients were half mortal, half Nelphe – born of some of the Nelphes' own random whims. They possessed some measure of the Nelphes' power, but their mortal reason allowed them to wield it more subtly. More artfully. More efficiently. There were many conflicts, but in the end the Ancients gathered and together weaved a spell the likes of which had never been seen. They altered the very fabric of reality and imprisoned the Nelphes so that we mortals could live on and thrive; to liberate us of the constant fear that these old gods' chaotic urges cast over us."
"And the Black Heptagon has something to do with this?" You frown. "It's the key to the Nelphes' prison?" Seeing him shake his head, you go on: "Then it is their prison."
"Correct. Each of the seven sides of the gem is made up of an entire world. All its land, people and magic compressed into an opaque, impenetrable black wall. Except, you know, nothing is fool-proof. There are many more details I could go into – about how all the different Nelphes ended up merged as one, how the gem and its occupants were used by people throughout history to gain power, and how it was itself locked away for a long time… but the most important part is that the Black Heptagon, as a prison, has been progressively weakening over these countless generations. As long as it continues to exist in its current form, the possibility that its inmates may be released someday only grows."
At this point he stops. He's led you into a kind of clearing amid the shelves, wide enough for all of you to stand side by side. Near one corner of this "room", on the floor, is a lone messily patched-up cardboard box covered in tape and warning stickers. Your neighbour looks at it for a few moments before turning back to all of you.
"So what can we do about it?!" Mona asks anxiously. "We can't let it be used for evil!"
"Oh, I completely agree," he replies. He waves a hand over his shoulder, as if indicating the box on the floor. "I've devised a way to destroy the gem, or something like that. Without releasing the entity or entities inside, of course. But it does involve… messing around with the space-time continuum, just a little bit."
"However… there might be another way… if you're all willing to help." He coughs. "This one might involve risks of a more personal kind. That and it's not absolutely sure to work. Neither option is perfect, to be honest." He looks at you expectantly.
If you tell him to just use his existing plan to destroy it, space-time be darned, go to 34.
If you and your friends will accept the risks and do whatever it takes to assist, go to 74.
If first of all, you need to ask how he knows all this stuff, go to 7.
That man – whom you never did bother to get the name of – was right when he called this a weird tower. It is very weird. Even weirder is how you never noticed it here in town before today. Its gray-brick form, instead of shooting straight up like most towers, zigzags left and right, branching into subtowers here and there. You're almost certain this unstable hodgepodge shouldn't even be able to stay upright. You suppose its occupant being a wizard is all the explanation you're likely to find.
The front double doors move easily at your prodding. The sign beside the entrance proudly proclaims: "Fortunes told! Wishes granted!" You're skeptical, but resolve to keep an open mind.
The torchlit entrance hall – torches! – is barely decorated, but what is there continues the theme of the tower's exterior. A handful of bizarre statues line the walls: a rhino with a mermaid's tail, a man holding up an orb larger than himself, a cube with glowing blue veins… There is no other furniture, just a long off-mauve rug showing the way to a wide set of stairs leading up.
The stairs are cordoned off with a sign that warns: "Stairs closed for de-deviling. Kindly use the elevator." You glance around and, sure enough, an elevator door is tucked away between two of the outlandish statues. You press the call button and get in.
As the doors slide closed, you realize there are no buttons on the inside. But that doesn't seem to be a problem, as the elevator starts its ascent unprompted. After rising past a number of intermediary – though not always sequential – floors, if you believe the numbers displayed above the door, the elevator comes to a stop and lets you out.
The area you enter is dimly lit, and you can hardly make out anything. Before you get very far, an echoing voice booms at you from every direction.
"Welcome! I am Cryptos the Omnipotent. For what have you come?"
"I seek a treasure that was lost!" you call out to the void noncommittally. You suspect his epithet is hyperbolic.
"Ah! That's simple enough." The room brightens abruptly, and at the far end, rising up from a throne-like chair, is the wizard: a spry old man with a neatly-trimmed gray beard, wearing absurd sunglasses and a tall, pointy hat adorned with golden stars. "If you'd like to step into my study to discuss the specifics – and my fee – I'm sure I can scry the item's location for you."
If you accept, and finally get back on track to finding the Black Heptagon, go to 55.
If you've changed your mind, turn around and go to 29.
You activate the startup sequence and step onto the teleporter pad. It should take 15 seconds before activating. You don't know what to expect at your destination, so you try to loosen up; to be ready for anything. 4… 3… 2… 1… You've never been disassembled into your constituent atoms and beamed to a distant location to be reassembled before.
It kind of tingles.
In the hierarchy of things it's hard to be ready for, three dozen robots surrounding you from every side with guns primed to fire is among the hardest. Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation you find yourself in when you rematerialize. You hesitantly lift your hands in as non-threatening a surrender as you can manage.
"Well, this is a surprise! I was mostly expecting some of those government agents. Those… goody-two-gumshoes," a voice echoes from somewhere above.
You raise your head to see a large monitor hanging from the ceiling showing the dark silhouette of a man from the shoulders up. You can't make out much of his face, but he seems vaguely familiar.
"Always hunting after all my different operations… trying to dismantle my criminal empire. How's a man supposed to turn a profit like this? That building was only one of my minor factories, but it had a premium location right in the middle of town! And I had to abandon it just like that…" the shady man on the screen rambles on and on, ignoring you completely.
It's not like you could slip away while he's distracted, unfortunately. You're still surrounded by robots with guns.
"But instead… it's you!" he says, returning his attention to you. "I must say, this is a surprise and a disappointment. Well. Since you're not them, my robots didn't immediately riddle you with holes. Isn't that nice? That means you now have a choice! Join me! Become a pawn for my organization! Or become a sieve. You know. Because of all the holes."
Simultaneously, all the robots take a step forward and reassert their grip on their guns. Serving an evil criminal empire doesn't sound too bad right now, considering the alternative.
Whatever you decide, this adventure ends here.
You emerge from the mist into a desolate wasteland. The crumbled ruins of buildings litter the landscape around you. The ground is dry and cracked, no life or moisture to be seen anywhere. It seems to be dusk, and in the distance the searchlight of a hovering drone is the only perceptible movement.
You watch its progress across the horizon, transfixed. Eventually, its beam meets a gleaming metal bunker. This structure is quite different from the husks surrounding you – it appears brand new, in fact. A wide set of double doors on its front slide open, revealing a small squad of humanoid figures. They stand to attention below the surveillance drone's presumed gaze, and suddenly all their eyes light up in cyan and magenta.
You're certain they're staring straight at you, as if expecting something. Perhaps orders? There is a sense that you belong in this dreadful place – or perhaps it belongs to you? But you don't think you're ready; you're not sure you want to associate with this wasteland or its glowing-eyed inhabitants. Before you can figure out what they want, you realize the mist is rising around you again.
You need to move.
Forwards to 27.
Sideways to 20.
Backwards to 45.
You take your seat on the wide, plush sofa of the wizard's "study", and tell him about your quest. As soon as you mention the Black Heptagon, he raises his eyebrows in surprise. Then he laughs.
"You're trying to find the Black Heptagon? Hah! You and every archeologist, treasure hunter and antiquarian of the last century! Its hiding place has been lost for so long, I don't think I can do much to help you…"
"I have it on good authority that it has been moved from that place. In fact, I believe it to now be kept in this very city, only a few blocks from here." You explain the broad strokes of your journey up to this point, and point out to him the address you've been investigating.
"Truly? This is quite exciting! With such a narrowed scope, my scrying should be able to reveal the artifact's precise location in short order."
He stands and walks over to a covered pedestal near the window. He removes the cloth over it with a flourish, revealing a crystal ball. He starts waving his hands around it, his face scrunching up with concentration. Strain as you might, you aren't able to see anything in there.
"Aha! You were right! I've found it!"
"Already?" You stand and move to join him. "Where is it? Who is guarding it? How best should I approach it? How much do I owe you?"
"For my fee…" He quickly raises two fingers. "This one's on the house."
You blink and find yourself just outside the wizard's tower. You wave away a small cloud of purple smoke clinging to you. It takes two or three seconds before you realize what just happened. You run to the doors and try to get back in, but of course they're locked, now.
The wizard double-crossed you. He used a spell to teleport you outside and out of his way. You helped him figure out exactly where the Black Heptagon is, and now he's going to acquire it for himself. Nice going.
You can't trust anyone these days.
You watch the witches.
You do your best to stand behind some of the larger creatures and stay out of sight while you eavesdrop. Many of these reports are delivered quietly to each witch's ear, so you can't actually get any information unless they're uncomfortably close to you in their circuit around the clearing. And even then, you soon realize most of the spirit beings speak in animal noises rather than human speech. Their summoners appear to understand them, but you certainly don't!
After fifteen minutes, you've only overheard a handful of useful snippets from random spirits that happen to speak your language. What you've gathered is that they have not found the Black Heptagon yet, but have greatly narrowed down the area where it could be – much like you have. They'll be making a decisive move tomorrow; you need to know more! You crane your neck and strain your ears to hear one winged eel's sibilant utterances…
"Hey, which one of you summoned this one?" a squawky voice yawps from behind you. You were so absorbed that one of the witches snuck up on your blind side. Drat! Now she is pointing a menacing talon at you, drawing the attention of the other two conjurers and their entire creature crew. This could be bad.
"An intruder, you say?" Polly grins smugly as she and the third witch join the accusing one near you. "Aaah, I know you. Sisters, spirits, please. Give this person some room." Ah, so they're not going to kill you instantly. Good. Good. "You work with for my accursed sibling Mona, don't you?" Less good.
"I don't work for Mona. We simply collaborate." You glance around at the dozens of eyes fixed on you. Gulp. "Occasionally."
"Really! How fascinating." Polly stalks around you calmly, watching your reactions. She puts on a charming smile – charming like a snake. "If you don't work for Mona, then maybe we can be friends! Tell me, how did you find this place?"
"That's an excellent question to which I have no answer." You think back to the chase through the dark, labyrinthine storeroom, then your trek through the ethereal reddish mist. You still have no explanation for what happened there. "I… I got lost."
"Ah, yes. The forest will do that to the best of us sometimes, isn't that right my comrades?" The other two witches exchange puzzled glances. Polly delicately wraps her arm around your shoulders; the familiarity is somehow more unnerving than a threat, coming from her. "Of course, I know what you're thinking. You're here in our turf, surrounded by so many of our spectral servants… We could just kill you any time." Here we go. "But I don't want you to think about that. I know you've been on the hunt for the Black Heptagon, just like us. I want you to think about the advantages of… collaborating… with me, instead of Mona."
One of the more obvious advantages is still not getting killed.
"My dearest newest friend," she goes on, "we would greatly appreciate your enthusiastic assistance in this matter. Have you ever considered taking up witchcraft?"
You hadn't considered it until now. But you're going to have to.
His eyes momentarily go wide when he sees the note. When he looks up at you his expression is composed again, but his initial reaction didn't escape your piercing gaze.
"I don't know what that note is supposed to mean." He lies boldly.
You can hear Mona beside you dancing in place from one foot to the other, barely containing her excitement. You tilt your head to the side, as if to tell the cashier: "Really?" He slowly takes a step back from the counter.
"Nobody's buying it!" Morgana exclaims testily from beside you.
"I… If you'll excuse me, I need to check on something in the back." He takes three more steps backwards and fumbles for the door handle behind him.
You quickly dart around the counter to try and catch him, but he slips away through the door. Mona swiftly picks up the much smaller Morgana and vaults over the counter with her. In an instant, you're all running.
It's a chase!
Hurry to 33.
Your gaze sweeps across your surroundings… there! A gap where a crouched person might fit in one of the overstuffed shelves, at ground level right between two stacks of boxes. The door is already opening; no time to look for something better! You leap right for the space and tuck your legs in.
Just in time! Your white-haired neighbour whistles as he walks past you, completely oblivious to your presence. The door clicks shut again. You breathe easier once you hear his steps growing more distant.
Good. Now you just need to slide back out and…
Alright, it's not as easy as you had hoped. You're a little bit stuck. You don't have room to unfold your legs or push out with your arms. Maybe if you… no, that doesn't work either.
You try to push aside the nearest boxes, maybe twist your body sideways to see if… what was that clang?
It looks like your struggling has given the thin metal frame of these shelves a little push in a direction it wasn't meant to go into. From where you are, you can barely see one of the vertical beams bending at an alarming angle, straining to hold up the weight of all this merchandise… and suddenly, it fails. Three layers of boxes fall on top of you, crushing your body in a flatter version of its current awkward position.
Your last thought is to wonder: what do they sell here anyway? Bowling balls?
You step forward into the gap between the huge machines. The one on your left seems to be a moulding press, where a sheet of material is extruded into… judging but the shape of the mould, it seems like the front chest panel of the robot from earlier. The installation to your right has several arms with tools, waiting for something to carry off and assemble. It's all quite intricate, and you're starting to see how each conveyor feeds into the next. Various pieces are brought together from all corners of the massive room, assembled, then joined to other assemblies in a complex web. Like a reverse tree.
You're about to turn the corner into a new section of the plant when you catch something moving at the edge of your vision. You whip around to see what it is, then immediately flatten against the wall of machinery beside you. A stone's throw away, a tiny hovering drone is heading in your direction, sweeping a beam of light left and right as it avances. A sentry of some sort? Looks like this place is not as deserted as you thought.
You retreat into a shadowy alcove and allow it to pass you by before continuing on your way. But just around the next corner, you see it again. Or is it a different one? You think of backtracking, but another beam of light is coming down the alleyway behind you. You spin on your heels again and head down a different path – the only droneless one currently available.
Immediately you start to see two more lights approaching the next intersection. There seem to be quite a lot of these drones. You couldn't see any trace of them when you first arrived on this floor, but now they're converging on you and boxing you in.
If you want to get out of here, you'll have to risk being seen. After all, if they are indeed coming for you, they probably already know where you are. You decide to double back at the next opportunity and head for the elevator. There's a drone blocking your way, naturally, but you duck under it and get ready to make a break for it. You are stopped in your tracks as a bright flash etches a scorch mark just in front of your feet.
These drones have beam weapons?!
You retreat back the way you came, only to come face to faceplate with two of the drones you'd left behind earlier. They each lower a targeting laser at your chest. You can hear the whirring from more of them closing in. Looks like they've got you.
To not go down without a fight, go to 38.
If you think bodily integrity is the better part of valor, surrender to 65.
Mist. More Mist. Then a park.
You find lots of grass, a few trees, and a group of people having a picnic, all on top of a sea cliff, with craggy mountain foothills rising into view on the other side. Not a very good day for a picnic, though – dark clouds are gathering overhead; it could rain any minute. The group seems to be feeling this as well and are staying near the road where a large van is parked, ready to leave at a moment's notice.
After a minute's observation, you start to figure out the dynamics of the group. It seems to consist of five mother-child pairs. All of them are different ages, and there's nothing obviously linking the mothers together, but all five children have the same black hair. You wonder about that. A tall, serious boy in his late teens; a soft-featured, smiling girl of about the same age; a younger, edgy teen boy with a permanent scowl; a lively girl of around ten, her curious eyes darting around all the time; and a small, skittish boy clinging to his mother's skirts.
Just as you finish your mental inventory of these possibly-related youngsters, the expected rain breaks out in earnest. The mothers and children hurry and pile into the van. Before long, they're driving off into the mountains. Surely that can't be prudent in a storm like this?
You hope they find their way safely. As for you, you're not sure where you're going. As long as you wander randomly, it's likely you'll only get more and more lost. But surely somewhere out there is one correct path that'll lead you back to where you came from? While the mist envelops you again, you ponder which way to go.
Forwards to 66.
Sideways to 70.
Backwards to 27.
"Morgana, wait!" You call after her as you start down the same path.
This path is noticeably darker than the other, so you're careful not to trip on anything. The light mist you noticed before is up to your knees now. It's slightly worrying, but you actually appreciate it, since its eerie luminescence is the only reason you can see anything at all in here.
You reach a wall – or rather a shelf lined with boxes, your outstretched hands tell you. You look around and are able to discern that this alley keeps going to your right. No sign of Morgana, though.
You turn to head that way, when something in the corner of your vision causes you to look back the way you came. A large wave of mist is rushing down the passage right at you! It's just mist, though, isn't it? Nothing to worry about. And yet you begin to hurry down the corridor after your roommate.
The mist soundlessly crashes against the shelf behind you, continuing to roil along at your back and quickly filling every available space. The blackness surrounding you turns to a pale reddish gray… You can't see anything; there's no way you can even be sure you're still in the storeroom. All you can do is go forward…
Go to 70.
There are so many boxes back here… Where do you even begin? You shrug and pick one. It's labelled "Wands" and it contains… wands. Or rather painted sticks, since most of this stuff isn't actually magical. In places like the Elven Kingdom, magic very commonplace, but it's a lot rarer here in Human lands. Some do become wizards, but for most, stage magic – prestidigitation – is the closest thing they're likely to experience. Stage magicians are a popular form of entertainment and they derive quite a lot of pride from performing their tricks and illusions without using "real" magic.
This doesn't help you, though. You're almost certain the artifact you're searching for, the Black Heptagon, is highly magical. Now that you think of it… if the Heptagon really is here, it's likely to be much more magical than everything else. You don't have a magic detector per se, but perhaps some of your gear can pick up energy signatures at close range?
You quickly scan for unusual radiation… and find nothing. This is a big storeroom, so maybe you're just not close enough. You set up a program on your wrist computer to keep scanning as you move and alert you if it finds anything out of the ordinary.
You walk around, checking out boxes and opening one every now and then. Marked cards, ropes, trick lemons, rabbit food, fancy coins; there all sorts of things back here, but no ancient lost gem of unfathomable power. And this place is definitely larger than it appeared to be at first; you think you may have gotten lost. You don't hear Morgana's voice in the distance anymore. In fact, it's been a long time… you wonder what she and Mona are doing right now. Have they finished their operation up front and come looking for you in the alley?
Those thoughts vanish as you round one more corner and your wrist buzzes quietly. You check your computer, and see a massive spike in the Eta band. You follow the signal and your eyes fall on a shabby cardboard box, overzealously wrapped in tape, and bearing several mentions like "Don't touch!" and "Stay away!"
Not very subtle, but with these readings, you're sure this must be the Black Heptagon! You pull out your trusty knife and slice the box open. You look inside eagerly, but what you find is some kind of machine, not a gem. The machine makes a clicking noise.
You couldn't say exactly what happened next. There was a sensation of tearing, of your feet no longer touching the ground, of travelling very fast without moving at all. There was a sensation of separating into thin slices. You couldn't say what happened, because you stopped existing at that point. Guess those warnings on the box weren't just for show.
Why would this little shop keep an infernal machine like that in the back?
You step out of the elevator and onto the roof of the office building. It's empty, aside from the usual ventilation equipment and the small, blocky extrusion housing the elevator. What were you expecting?
"I certainly wasn't expecting you here!"
You whip around in time to see a woman dressed in a black suit step down from above the elevator to stand between you and the door you just exited. She dusts herself off, readjusts her cap and beams a grin at you. The words "Mostly Harmless" are written on the front of the cap.
"We've got an unannounced bogey, moving to engage, over." She holds a finger to her ear as she says this, and you figure she's communicating remotely with one or more colleagues. She then turns her full attention back to you – at least you think so; her smiling eyes are so narrow you can't see where she's looking.
Her pose is relaxed, and in fact she puts her hands in her pockets as she takes a step toward you. But something about her makes you extremely wary. Not to mention her talk of "engaging" you, a "bogey".
"Who are you?" you ask her. "What's going on in this building?" Despite yourself, you take a step back as she approaches.
"Who am I?… Who am I?" She seems almost offended at the question, though she could just be mock-offended – her perpetual grin makes it hard to determine. "Seriously, though." Seriously? "Did you come here to talk, or to fight?"
If you tell her you want to talk, go to 24.
If you choose to fight, go to 73.
You spring forward and reach over the counter to snatch the Heptagon from your neighbour's hand. You immediately turn around, cross the store at full sprint, and burst outside.
Only now does your brain register the surprised look on everyone's faces that you glimpsed before leaving the store. Actually, your neighbour seemed less surprised than Mona and Morgana were. Still, when you glance over your shoulder as you barrel down the street, you see your two roommates emerge from Al Bino's Prestidigi-Nation and follow after you. When you look again a few moments later, you don't see the neighbour-clerk also chasing you. Huh. Strange. Looks like you got the Black Heptagon, and nobody's trying to take it back! Good job!
You can't help but wonder why that shop clerk had a legendary artifact like this in his pocket. He could have had an interesting story to tell. Guess it's too late now! As you turn the street corner, you finally start to think about where you're running toward…back home, probably? …Where the man you just stole from also lives, right on the floor above.
Huh. That sure won't be awkward.
You lift your hands above your head in surrender. The drones hover nearer and move to encircle you. You can tell their weapons are still aimed at you, but they don't fire.
"Thank you for your cooperation," they all say in unison from speakers somewhere on their metal and plastic bodies. That sounded natural enough, but you can't be sure yet whether they're just transmitting a person's voice, or are producing it digitally. When the voice speaks again, only one of the drones is emitting it: "Please, come this way."
The drone that spoke this last sentence starts moving away, opening up the circle and inviting you to follow. You don't really have much choice, so you step forward. The rest of the drones move along at the same pace, maintaining the semi-circle of looming death around you.
They lead you down alley after alley, all the way to the opposite end of the factory space. There, like a building inside a building, you behold a small office complete with windows and a door. The group of drones maneuvers you to the entrance and stop, reforming a complete circle.
You try to crane your neck and see through the window. There's a red-haired woman wearing a dark suit and glasses, sitting in front of a laptop. She's talking to someone you can't see. The drones are silent enough, as drones go, but still whirring too loudly for you to hear what the woman is saying. Squinting, you manage to make out some of it by reading her lip movements.
You see mentions of a "mission", and a "prisoner" (you assume that's you)… At one point you think you see her pronounce your name – but there's no way she could know it, is there? It isn't much longer than a minute before she stands up and heads to the door. She emerges and addresses you – her voice is the same as the drones earlier.
"You have intruded upon the site of a confidential mission. I'm afraid you will have to be detained until… a number of things can be ascertained. Your compliance is noted and will count in your favour."
You assume she says that to be reassuring, and yet you still spend a very very long time behind bars. You never learn what was going on in this building, and you never find the Black Heptagon.
You bump into something. You extend your hands to feel what it is when the mist enveloping you suddenly clears as if by magic. You find yourself in what appears to be someone's living room, strangely enough. You bumped into the back of a couch or futon occupying the middle of the area. You don't really know this place and your presence here is hard to explain.
You let your hand rest on the back of the futon as you take in your surroundings. There's a television set at the opposite end of the room and a large window to your left. Looking down at the futon, you see a strange gelatinous mass resting on the cushiony surface. You tense as this gross blob starts to stir and pulsate as though waking from a deep slumber.
You stand transfixed as the …thing… turns over, spreading its short, chubby arms and legs. Something akin to a head flops into place, its dark eyes staring up at you. A set of tentacles wriggles over where its mouth should be. It blinks one eye, then the other.
"Quoi," it seems to say in a deep, squelchy voice.
You need to go. The eerie mist seems to agree with you as it mysteriously returns and enfolds you once more.
Forwards to 20.
Sideways to 75.
Backwards to 15.
"There, it's don— WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING?!" the white-haired man exclaims, staring incredulously at you as you dive for the Black Heptagon.
For a moment you sail in the air above the crackling, swirling maelstrom of the Time Shredder, and it seems to slow down time rather than shred it. Seconds lengthen to feel like minutes as your fingers reach for the coveted gem. Closer and closer they inch, until finally you grasp the Black Heptagon in your hands. It's yours! You did it!
Then the normal flow of time reasserts itself as the curve of your leap drops you right in the middle of the glowing red vortex, along with the object of your quest. Bits of you start spinning in a wide arc, going round and round the room before sinking into the Time Shredder. For half a fraction of an instant, you think you can see your own butt.
Unfortunately, that's the last thing you see before your vision fades to red, and your atoms are forcibly separated from each other and smeared evenly across the entirety of space-time like the thinnest coat of varnish. For all intents and purposes, you are erased from existence.
At least you accomplished your goal before you died.
"No," you say, frowning, "I don't think you're telling us everything."
The man scratches his head, appearing to consider this. "To be fair, that would be a lot to tell. I — What? Hey!!" You all start as Mona grabs the Black Heptagon out of his hand.
"I'm sorry! I want to trust you, but I trust my friend's judgement more!" she exclaims, almost in tears. She steps back in your direction, handing you the gem. "Here, you hold on to this! It gives me the creeps!"
"Come on! You can't just take that." He moves forward, but Mona draws her sword to bar his way. That's right, she has that. You had almost forgotten.
"We can. And we have." You close your fist around the Black Heptagon as you prepare to leave.
"And if you even think about trying to take it back, well there's three of us and only one of you!" Morgana warns, shaking her stubby Halfling finger at him. You don't think she'd contribute much to that hypothetical fight, but you appreciate the sentiment.
"Don't worry," you tell your neighbour, "we'll keep this thing safe. We'll study it and figure out how much of your story we believe. Perhaps we'll figure out our own way to harness its energy without risk. Whatever happens, we'll be in touch."
You begin to head back down the storeroom aisles to the front of the shop, with Morgana trotting behind you and Mona guarding your rear. The white-haired clerk watches you go angrily, but doesn't interfere. He won't be coming around in the morning to gift you freshly-baked crescent-shaped breakfast rolls any time soon, that's for sure.
As you make your way out, you savour the feel of the Black Heptagon in your hand. It's heavier than you would have expected for a gem this size. It's slightly warm. You're no wizard, but you can still feel the power within, seeping into your skin. And that power is now yours.
You take one step back.
The scene in front of you, with the turbulent disc of the Time Shredder, and the Black Heptagon falling toward it, fades back into the mist – just like so many other scenes before it. The last thing you see is your neighbour raising an eyebrow in puzzlement.
You are now back in the endless whiteness. All is quiet. All is still. You've made it out of here once before, and now you understand where all this mist and all these visions come from. They are portals to other places and times created by the chaos of the Time Shredder. With your experience, you think you should be able to navigate these pathways; to go to the time and place of your choosing.
Find your way to the past, and you can alter the timeline to your advantage. You might even be able to go back to the Black Heptagon's original hiding place before that smug white-haired guy gets to it. Then instead of him leaving a condescending note for you to find, you can leave your own message to taunt him! Hah!
You don't know how many tries it'll take for you to find the right path, but it's not as if the passage of time worked normally in this place – if it can be called a place. You won't age. The timeline in regular space won't go on without you. You're travelling outside all that. You have all the time in the world!
You start walking.
You flinch when the mist suddenly splits apart before you. You have arrived in a small village with nothing in common with where you were previously. Not only is the village small, every house in it is also small – you'd have to crouch to enter any of them. A halfling village, perhaps?
The sun is just dawning on the horizon, and no one is out and about yet. As you look around to get your bearings, something incongruously large moves into your field of view. Taller than a nearby tree it's partially obscured by, it looks like nothing so much as … a giant spider? What is that doing there?
It seems to be in something of a hurry as it scurries in toward the village. All these houses and trees get in its way, but it does its best to step around them. Unfortunately, it happens to poke one giant leg, as wide as your entire body, right through the roof of the house next to you! Startled, the creature pulls its leg back up, but only manages to further collapse the tiny house. It stamps left and right in mounting panic.
Soon the house is nothing but rubble and the spider, probably peeved at the whole situation, changes its course to steer clear of the village instead. You shake your head in wonder at what you just witnessed. Hopefully no one was in that house!
The moment you think about moving from where you're standing, the mist from before rise around you in waves… Where do you want to go?
Forwards to 75.
Sideways to 15.
Backwards to 27.
You position yourself to get in a good, clean hit as soon as the door opens. You hate to do this, but you can't be found sneaking around back here. Here he comes! You let your fist fly.
"Woaah, hey watch it!" he says as he deflects your blow sideways. Inconceivable. Maybe he got lucky? You try with your second fist. Same result. "You almost hit me, there! Twice! I'd almost think you were trying to. What're… What're you even doing back here?"
"I … got lost?" Great. This is exactly the kind of awkward situation you wanted to avoid by hitting him!
"Well, this area is for employees only! So go on, get out." He moves aside to let you pass and points toward the shop's front door. It's nice that he's just letting you leave, but you did have an investigation to run here…
"Can I… get a job here, then?"
"What? No! Just go away before I call the cops!"
Well, it was worth a shot. He seems really angry now. You're doubtful that you'd be able to get anything more done here. He certainly won't answer questions, and will be on the lookout for further snooping. You sigh and make your way out of the store, via the normal, licit exit.
Outside, you find Mona comforting the distraught Morgana. Morgana avoids your gaze as she moves behind the taller woman's legs. Mona glances at you reproachfully. There's no arguing that you kind of messed things up.
Better luck next time?
You carefully inch backwards, hoping none of the witches or their many familiar spirits will notice. Little by little, you make it to the outside edge of the circle. So far, so good. Alright, no one's looking at you… you make a dash for the woods outside this clearing.
You're scrambling up the slight incline to the tree line when a screech resounds behind you. No need to turn around – you know you've been spotted.
"Who's that? Catch that intruder!" a shrill voice calls out, soon followed by a whole menagerie of animal cries. The wild hunt begins.
You weave between the thin trees, unsure of where you're even running to. You have a head start, but you don't doubt for an instant that many of the beasties on your tail are faster than you. So for now, nonstop sprinting takes precedence over asking for directions.
A handful of smaller, faster, more airborne creatures have started to overtake you, but you swat them away or sidestep them. As the general sound of the hunt draws closer, you glance over your shoulder, and immediately regret it. First, because your pursuers are much more numerous than you had expected; they practically form a writhing wall, steadily swallowing up the trees and threatening to catch up at any moment. Second, because then you run right off the edge of a steep drop.
You lose your footing and tumble down the slope, shielding your face with your arms. You roll and roll but miraculously miss any large trees or rocks, eventually coming to a stop in a ditch at the very bottom. Your whole body feels like a giant bruise, but it could have been worse. Oh, wait. It will be worse when the witches' pets catch you!
You get to your feet, but there's nothing coming down the hill after you. You pause. Everything is quiet. It's like you've just emerged from a dream – a fairly painful one. Did any of that really happen? The mist? The ritual? The witches? The wild hunt? There's no denying that you're in a strange forest far from home, though. How far, you wonder?
You're brought out of your reverie by the sound of a car speeding past. You blink and climb out of the ditch, realizing that on its opposite side from your unfortunate descent there runs a wide paved road. Now that you have some respite, you check your devices; though the network signal is weak, you're able to pinpoint your location, at least.
It turns out you're a moderate distance out of town. How you got here is still a complete mystery, but it could be worse – you could have ended up on the other side of the world, or in another world entirely, for all you know. Now you just need to hitch hike back home.
And hopefully forget this day ever happened.
"Yeah!" the woman in the black suit exclaims. "I thought so!" She seems unnervingly happy about it, too.
She cracks her neck left and right and crouches into a fighting stance. It resembles several you're familiar with, but matches none exactly. You suspect her style is original. You maneuver into your own fighting stance and get ready. You like to think you're pretty competent in the martial arts, though you see yourself more as a thinker than a fighter.
"Let's do this!" you both say at the same time.
She is a tough opponent – particularly quick and agile – however you have no choice but to fight, since she is standing between you and the only (non-suicidal) way off this roof. You trade blows back and forth for several minutes, neither of you truly gaining the advantage.
She's really good, and you're starting to tire out. You need to finish this quickly! When you spot an opening in her guard, you have to go for it. You wind everything you have into one powerful punch which sends your opponent reeling. She skids backwards but narrowly manages to maintain her balance.
"Haha! Nice! I really felt that one." That smile of hers is starting to annoy you. "Alright! That was a good warm-up. Now let's fight for real!"
Wait. What? A warm-up? Utterly exhausted, you stare at her blankly and begin to painfully raise your fists into a fighting stance again, unsure of what to expect. She crouches into a sprinter's start position… then zooms at you with ludicrous speed. You just have time to flinch, and then just before impact, she's gone. You spin wildly around, trying to see where she's veered off to.
And then you receive a hard kick in the middle of your back that sends you flying… right over the edge of the roof. As the sidewalk below races up to fatally meet your face, you think you hear the woman in black's voice far above you saying: "Whoops! I didn't mean to do that…"
Not that that's much comfort to you.
"What do you want us to do?" you ask.
Morgana's head snaps in your direction and she stares incredulously. These "risks of a more personal kind"… she's not a fan of them.
"Whatever it is, we'll do it!!" Mona fervently appends. That might be going too far, in your opinion.
Morgana alternates between staring at the two of you before eventually letting out a sigh of resignation. She turns to your neighbour and nods with very little enthusiasm.
"I think if we could further strengthen the walls of the Black Heptagon, it might be able to last a lot longer. Thousands, millions, maybe billions more years. If I'm right, we may even stop it from leaking out as much power as it does, greatly limiting the temptation it exerts on certain power-hungry individuals."
He looks at each of you in turn, raising his eyebrows. You wave your hand, urging him to go on.
"There are a few challenges with that, of course. Not with the strengthening itself; I believe I can come up with some good enchantments. No, the problems are logistical. First, each of the seven facets needs to be strengthened equally, and simultaneously. The containment power of the Black Heptagon depends on a precise balance of each of its sides. If one were to become stronger or weaker than the rest, it might throw the whole thing out of balance."
"That sounds… bad?" says Morgana.
"Oh no, we don't want that!" Mona agrees.
"Second, and perhaps more importantly," your neighbour continues, "this strengthening needs to happen from within. Anything we add onto the exterior of the Heptagon can easily be removed. No, seven different people need to each go into one of the seven worlds inside the gem and install the modifications at the very heart of the structure. They must keep in contact so that they do it all at the same time, and then… and then they must get out quickly."
"Those compressed worlds still exist?!" Mona gasps.
"A-Are they dangerous at all?" Morgana asks with a quiver in her voice.
"Hold on. With you and us, that makes only four people," you note.
"Yes." he nods. "Yes, and yes. You see the difficulty! People have to be willing and have some skills… but not be powerful mages who may be tempted to grab the Black Heptagon's power for themselves? Preferably? Well, now I have you three to help me. And our first task is to find three more people. Any ideas?"
Mona, Morgana, and you trade glances. None of you really want to say it, but you're all thinking the same thing.
You know just the three people for the job.
You step out of the mist and directly into someone's kitchen.
You blink. It's a perfectly normal kitchen – perhaps a little higher-class, with lots of stainless steel. There's a pinkish-haired woman standing there, but she doesn't seem to notice you. You're not sure anyone can see you in these places. Anyway, her attention is entirely focused on the toaster in front of her.
She pushes down the lever on the appliance, which pops back up immediately when she releases it. She stares at the toaster thoughtfully for a good fifteen seconds, then repeats the process. After three or four iterations of this, you kind of want to scream at her that she needs to put bread inside for it to do anything. But you keep quiet. What if she actually did hear you? You haven't exactly been invited into her home.
As she calmly fights with the toaster some more, you reflect on your own predicament. It feels like this strange mist is sending you to random places… and possibly time time periods? Maybe you should talk to her and at least find out if you're really here, or if it's just a vision.
You do a double take when a movement at the edge of your vision turns out to be a short, pink, dragon-like tail attached this woman's rear end. It's only then you notice she also has tiny horns on top of her head. A moment's hesitation is all it takes for you to lose your chance to approach her as the mist covers you from head to toe once more.
Forwards to 9.
Sideways to 32.
Backwards to 60.
"There, it's done," intones the neighbour after tossing the Black Heptagon. It flies in the air 2.65 seconds before making contact with the Time Shredder… and immediately becomes a black smear across the pulsating red mass. It streaks into a circle and vanishes.
Three more seconds and the vortex pops out of existence. Even the off-white mist the Time Shredder was generating disappears without a trace. You stand there staring at the spot on the floor where it used to swirl and churn. You've spent a lot of time and energy, brought to bear all your deduction and information-gathering prowess, and even powered through a series of temporal anomalies… all to get here and see the object of your quest vanish before your eyes, forever out of reach.
Your neighbour walks calmly toward you. You don't react when he puts his hand on your shoulder.
"Hey. Don't be too disappointed. Trust me, that thing was evil, and it's better off gone." Pat. Pat.
Was it, though? Maybe it was. Maybe not. All you have is his word for it. You would have preferred to gather your own data and made your own assessment. But now you'll never get to.
"Oh, and…" he continues, letting go of your shoulder. "This area is for employees only. So… if you could… y'know." He gestures with his head, indicating the way back out of this storeroom.
You sigh. Hopefully there will be other adventures for you in the future.
You snap back to the present. You see the Black Heptagon enter the Time Shredder and dissolve into a black streak that soon disappears completely. A second passes. Another one. Then the vortex itself is gone. The Time Shredder – which you can only presume must have been some kind of device – has even destroyed itself. All that's left behind is a few scraps of cardboard and tape on the floor.
"Sooo… it's over?" Morgana asks.
The familiar voice snaps you out of a kind of trance, and you look around at the others. Morgana seems cautiously optimistic. Mona is trembling with barely contained glee. Your neighbour lets out a sigh of relief. He puts both hands in his pockets and smiles, nodding to the three of you. "It worked. It's over," he confirms.
Mona immediately lets out a shout and jumps for joy. Even Morgana's perpetually gloomy face lights up.
Everyone's happy. Your quest is at an end. So why do you feel so uneasy? Why do you feel like that giant eye in the sky is still watching you? Across dimensions and from a different timeline, is it linked to you somehow? What was that entity anyway?
Mona gives your shoulder a light shake. "Hey, are you okay?"
These are questions you'll have to investigate. In the future.
You open your eyes. You sit up, progressively reconnecting with the input from your senses, reasserting your mental grip on the world around you.
You are sitting in your room. This has been a success. Well, in the sense that it worked. The Prismatic World, your new on-board virtual reality simulation and prognostication engine has done its job: showing you one of many possible futures, as real as if you were there. Whether that theoretical future was the best possible one, you don't know yet. You may need to run further simulations to gather more data.
In fact, if you have nothing else to do for a while, you could just start up the simulation again right now.
To run another simulation, go to 1.
To all my fans, old and new.|
Thank you for choosing the Flaky Pastry adventure with me. <3
Aiko, Carnior, CJ, Claudia, Cryptos, Daran, Iodile, Kemille, Kurt, Marelle, Minnie, Mona, Morgana, neighbour, Pierce, Polly, Querque, Razor, Sando, Schlomp, Theodore, Vivaneau, Zintiel|