Beyond the axe, they found another (quickly dispatched), and then jaunted to the northeast, finding a small room filled with rubble (and a chest, which Lopov surreptitiously looted of a golden ox). Shortly, however, the unsubtle hunters found themselves disturbing a terrible monster known as a Sss’ch’kinsa, a lizard/insect hybrid that pins its victims to the floor with terrible claws and deposits eggs in its victims’ stomach with an ovipositor (or “rape tongue”).
Once the hunters finished off the Sss’ch’kinsa, they moved on, only to encounter a Whiptree, a strange bush with an unusually pliable—and murderous—root system. They took some damage, but once they backed off out of the roots’ range, the whiptree went down fairly easily.
Fresh off their whiptree kill, the hunters tried to determine which way to go next. There was a corridor to the south and one to the west, but Yorgen’s “Discern” spell irritatingly spelled out directly southwest, leaving it obscure as to which was the route. They tried the southern corridor first, disabling another swinging axe trap. Meanwhile, Thalia darted ahead, swinging past another axe trap like Tarzan, and Rezilio came up behind and disabled the axe, keeping it still.
Thalia examined the door just past the axe, while Lopov walked under the disabled axe… only to fall into a concealed pit that Thalia and Rezilio had gone right past without noticing (swinging and flying, respectively). He caught himself before falling onto the spikes at the bottom, and slowly pulled himself up and out.
Suddenly, the door smashed open, and Thalia found herself face to face with a gaggle of giggling maniacs, armed with makeshift weaponry seemingly created from farming and hunting equipment. She managed to nimbly dodge the attacks for a time, as her fellow hunters started rushing to her assistance. Rezilio began to pull lightning from the air, burning the maniacs to death, while Lopov started launching arrows at them. Yorgen took some time to get there, but once he did, he began knocking the “twisted euphorics”’s ribs in with his great mace.
Akina, unable to push into the crowded corridor, reached out with her mind to find those of the euphorics. She determined that they were settlers from the village, who had wandered in while hunting and gone quickly mad with happiness, neglecting to eat or take care of their wounds as they just sat and enjoyed the joy of the ruins. Unwilling to reveal her great secret, her ability to Mindshare, Akina just shouted out that there were people missing from the village.
Unfortunately, Yorgen, the only one other than Lopov who knew of Akina’s talents, didn’t put two and two together, and continued beating the crazed villagers to death. Thalia took out another with her acrobatic fisticuffs, and Lopov finished off an additional one with a well-placed arrow. Akina managed to turn one of the euphorics, convincing him that the hunters were friends—and seeing this peacefulness, Thalia decided to leave the last one alive, merely knocking him unconscious with a strong uppercut.
Thalia began speaking with the friendly euphoric, who, still quite mad, was incapable of proper speech—but was generous with the hugs. A bit of guesswork and pantomime later, she got the basic history of the villagers, as well as that the source of their happiness came from the west.
The hunters headed to the west, only to find nothing but a small chapel, with five spaces for prayer, each set up with an altar using the same iconography of a serene, happy ox in the field. Additionally, they noticed additional iconography, of a scorpion, seeming to act as a disruptive, Satanic force, until it is crushed by the ox.
Finding no sign of the source of the happiness (and seeing it was still further west), they turned around and went down the other hallway, where they encountered another axe (handily dispatched)—and Yorgen, in front for once, accidentally stepped into another pit trap, falling painfully to the spikes below. Thalia created an invisible bridge of force, but Yorgen refused to use it. Lopov hooked some rope he had on a hook on the ceiling (which, he figured [used a Minor Declaration] was for moving the axe traps around the building, and had Akina swing across. She failed to make it across, finding herself swinging helplessly in the center, but she stood on Yorgen’s shoulders and he helped her out before climbing out himself. Finally, Lopov crossed the force bridge and they continued on to where Rezilio—having flown ahead—was examining gouts of flame pouring from the walls.
Rezilio and Akina determined the flames were controlled by a gas-fed mechanism and pilot light, and decided it must be fed by tanks of gas not far away. Backtracking to the pit, Thalia discovered the tanks and turned off the gas, disabling the trap. The hunters moved on, Thalia and Rezilio again outpacing the rest.
Thalia found herself at a locked door, so quickly decided to break it down. As she did so, she found herself faced with an ornate box sitting in the center of the room, open and spilling out overwhelming color and light. It struck her with extreme joy, but she managed to block it out… only for Rezilio to come in and become blinded with euphoria. As the rest of the hunters came up the rear, Akina shielded herself and her brother from the euphoric effects, and Yorgen set up a Nullcrafting shield for herself.
As Thalia headed for the box and slammed it shut, two things happened at once: Everyone’s happiness turned to sorrow, Rezilio even feeling suicidal; and six other people, dressed in explorers’ leathers and looking for all the world like other treasure hunters, Realmshifted into the room, tossing aside a rod as they did so. The leader sarcastically thanked Thalia and Rezilio for finding the “Euphorica” for him, and snatched it up.
Thalia and Rezilio began to fight, throwing punches and bolts of lightning, but they were easily outmatched by the more experienced hunters. A powerful smoke bomb damaged both of their lungs, and they were almost taken out before Yorgen came up from the rear and dampened the magical effect of the Euphorica, curing Thalia of her sadness and turning Rezilio from suicidal to merely depressed. After taking another pounding from the enemy hunters, Thalia pulled out a Flare and snapped it shut around the Euphorica, nearly taking the leader’s fingers off. As the Flare vanished, winging its way back to Mr. Fix, the rivals decided to retreat, and Realmshifted out as one (using some kind of device like a Journeyman, but larger and seemingly capable of transporting all six of them).
And on that note, the team rested for a moment before moving on…