“I suppose,” said the old blacksmith Karl, “you three are the ones who have accepted the job?”
It seemed too good to be true. This old man was offering 2,000 gold pieces for the retrieval of one item. Even split among the three of them, that would last some time. It was especially fortunate as they had been on their way to the capital, but had found themselves low on supplies, food, and money.
“Yes… well, would you mind telling us more? About what we’re looking for, and where it is?” the group’s spokesman, a hard-faced shaman, responded guardedly. He knew it was too good to be true, and usually, if that’s the case, it isn’t.
“Oh, well, it’s my belt, you see. It’s very important, it’s enchanted to improve the quality of my metalwork, but I misplaced it in the woods, about a day out.”
“And what were you doing out there?”
“Well, I was visiting some ruins… you’ll know them when you see them… I must’ve taken my belt off and set it aside somewhere, because when I left I didn’t have it.” The old man shrugged. “Well, at any rate, I’ve arranged for a few days’ rations… ah, that must be it now,” he said.
A sound outside caught their attention. The scout checked and saw a halfling bard playing a banjo. He looked back at the blacksmith, then turned to the bard. “Er, do you have any food?” he asked.
The halfling reached into his pocket, then stood and presented the scout with some caramels. As he did so, he revealed a sack full of rations sitting beside him.
“So,” said the blacksmith, “I hope you hurry back. I would like my belt back by the end of the week.”
And with that, they were off.
The woods were quiet; the scout pressed ahead, followed closely by the shaman and the druid. As Karl had told them, they arrived at a structure that was unmistakably manmade. It bore eerie resemblance to a face, made entirely of metal, with an entrance that called to mind a mouth and two hollows on either side like eyes. Listening, the druid noticed an owl had made its nest in one of the eyes. The group was unnerved, but the scout tentatively stepped inside, and moments later returned, signalling that there was no danger.
Inside was a large room, with two doors near the back. Walls, ceiling, floor, and doors, all again metal. Each door led to a lever, and there was nothing else to be found. The bard gave the first lever an experimental pull; there was a crashing sound from below the middle room. Uncertain of the implications, it was decided that they should pull the other lever, and when they did, with another crash, a stairway opened up.
Again the scout stepped forward, inspecting every stair until down below, he found one that looked as though it had a pressure-sensitive plate on it. Returning to his allies, he informed them of his findings. “Wait here,” the druid said, stepped outside, and came back with a rock. He threw it down the stairs, and it landed on the plate. A jet of steam issued from the stair, then subsided. “Now it should be safe,” he said, and they proceeded down.
At the bottom, they entered a room much like the one above, but here, ominous-looking slots crossed the walls and floor. Little light filtered in from above, but a faint glow came from the walls, where small insects wriggled. The druid collected a number of them in a flask. The rooms on each side again had levers, and had similar slots throughout. The shaman approached one of the slots, and peered in with a lantern. Inside he caught sight of a metallic glint. “I’m not sure what I’m seeing,” he told the others, “but I don’t like it.” After some discussion, it was decided that the druid and the bard would each pull a lever.
The moment the levers were pulled, a strange noise filled their ears and large blades slowly began to turn. The druid and the bard both turned to find that the way out of the room would take them right between two of the blades, without room to stand. It would have to be taken at a run.
Steeling himself, the druid stood facing the door, and charged. He dodged the blades and got out unscathed, and as he did, he saw the bard twist – a blade had dug into his arm. “I’m alright,” the bard informed them quickly. Again a stairway had opened. Expecting more unsafe stairs with steam below, the scout identified the locations of two; the shaman then raised a spear and pressed the blunt end against each, releasing the steam safely.
Once more, the scout disappeared into the lower room, and came back. This time, he looked a bit worried. Wordlessly, he motioned for the others to follow.
In the corner of this next room, a strange beast lay sleeping. It possessed a wicked-looking tail, and two long antennae. Its body was covered by a chitinous carapace that was a peculiar shade of orange. “I’ve heard of such things,” whispered the shaman. “They’re able to rust metal away, and then eat it.” Indeed, it looked as though the creature had been taking bites out of the walls of this room.
They edged carefully to a door on the left, and found another lever inside. “I see why he was paying so much,” said the shaman.
The scout looked at the bard. “Say, don’t bards have some magic in their songs?” he asked.
The bard brightened. “Oh, of course,” he said. “I can play a lullaby that will ensure it sleeps through even an earthquake!”
The scout nodded. “Then that’s what we do. With luck we can kill it in its sleep.”
As the bard played, the shaman returned to the floor above and fetched the rock the druid had thrown previously. The druid and the scout together threw the levers, and a deafening crash resounded through the room as the stairs fell open. The creature, however, did not so much as stir. Then the four gathered around the beast. The druid readied his bow and the scout drew a crossbow before the shaman used the rock to hack off the antennae. The creature woke with a loud roar, and was quickly put to death before it could turn its ire on the four. The antennae were wrapped in cloth, and the druid and the shaman each kept one.
Below was a different kind of room. This time there were no doors, but a single lever barely visible by the lights they had brought in the middle of the room. In the corner was a vague shape.
Pull the lever.
The shaman looked around in confusion. “I get the impression that’s not a good idea,” he said aloud. His allies just looked at him, nonplussed. “Not you,” he said, “the voice. The one that just told me to pull the lever.”
Shrugging, the druid approached the shape in the corner. It was a belt, hanging from a hook in the wall. It looked like a normal leather belt, but on one side a metal chain ran the length of it. The druid picked it up.
So I take it old Karl sent you?
This time, it was speaking to the druid. After a moment’s hesitation he nodded.
I am the belt of Karl. I’ve been waiting some time for him to claim me. Before we go, though… could you pull that lever over there?
“Uh, guys?” the druid called. “I think this belt is talking to me.”
“I told you,” said the shaman. “So I’m not crazy after all.”
“For a change,” said the scout, walking over to the druid. “Let me see it.” The druid handed over the belt.
Ah, perhaps you’ll listen. See that lever over there? Pull it. Something good will happen.
“What will happen?” he asked skeptically.
I don’t have time to explain.
“…is this belt getting impatient?”
Suddenly, the scout felt a strange compulsion to pull the lever. He fought it back, and handed the belt back to the druid, who packed it away.
“Now let’s get out of here-”
At that moment, a sheet of metal slid down in front of the opening to the stairs. The group gave a collective groan before the druid reached back into his pack and pulled out the antenna from the monster on the floor above. Holding it to the metal, he rusted a hole through, and they were able to escape.
As they reached the surface once more, they were met by the back of Karl. In his hand was his hammer, a finely made thing, but unusual that he should be carrying it here. “I trust you have my belt?” he said.
Suddenly, the ruin lurched beneath them and they struggled to remain standing as they felt themselves rise. They were soon in the treetops, atop a metal platform. Looking down over the edge, they could see arms and legs; they were on the shoulder of a great metal man.
“Hey guys,” said the bard, arriving late. “I pulled that last lever down there.”
They shook their heads at this. “Do you have our pay?” asked the druid.
Karl held up a pouch. “Right here,” he said. “Give me my belt and I’ll give you the gold.”
“Hold on,” said the shaman. “What are you going to do with… this?” he said, gesturing to the towering thing.
“This?” echoed Karl. “This is my life’s work… in my youth, I constructed this, a colossus, one hundred feet high. My mentor didn’t approve of it, though, so I hid it here in the woods, until he died. That only happened recently, in fact. Now that I have it back, I’ll do what I meant to do in the first place. You see, I feel I should have much more than what a blacksmith gets. So I’ll use this to take it.”
The shaman shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t let that happen,” he said.
Karl’s face darkened; then, in fact, it seemed as though his skin was coated in writhing shadow, or something else, more hideous than men have a name for. The bard lunged at him, but he stepped aside and, with the long handle of his hammer, tripped the unfortunate halfling, who was unable to steady himself and dropped over the edge. “I knew it was useless to rule the world,” Karl said, “if I died at the end of my human lifespan. So I undertook a ritual to become one with a fiend. It also had the effect of granting me power…”
Now Karl looked to the others. An arrow collided with him without much effect, and he simply leaned out of the way of a crossbow bolt. The shaman’s spear poked at him, and in retaliation, he drew out a bola. He threw it, but missed, and it flew into the eye of the colossus.
The scout produced a small gem, a gift of favor from a nature spirit. With it, he quickly summoned a giant wasp, which flew into Karl’s face. He swatted at it with his hammer, but was unable to drive it off as it stung him.
This provided a distraction as the druid chanted a spell. From his waterskin, an elemental flowed forth; it placed itself at Karl’s feet. Throughout the spell, the belt was whispering, Hand me over, quickly! The druid felt the compulsion now, but brushed it aside. As the shaman drove again with his spear, the blacksmith struggled to keep his balance; and finally a crossbow bolt from the scout struck him in the chest. He slid back and fell, blood from the wounds falling behind him all the way down. After a long moment, a thud confirmed his death.
The druid raised the belt to his face. “Your master is dead.”
Yes, I know.
“Now, tell us how to control this thing.”
It’s simple. Just go back to the room where you found me and put me on.
The druid looked uneasily at the others. “I’m really not sure that’s a good idea…”
Or, if you just want to get down, try standing on one of those platforms in the back.
They looked and there were indeed two projections. When the three stepped onto them, they were lowered to the ground, where they cringed at their handiwork.
“Let’s destroy this thing,” said the druid. “It’s wrong for it to be here.” He reached for the antenna.
I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
As the antenna drew near the colossus, it shuddered.
You see, Karl wasn’t stupid. He didn’t design this thing to just stand there when it’s being attacked.
“Well then, what if we destroy you?”
Do you want to take that risk?
After some thought, the druid sighed. “I guess we just have to take you with us, then.”