The storms of fire and water had stopped for five days. At the top of the highest point of the plateau sat two individuals, a young man dressed in the faded clothing of a fisherman, and an old man dressed in dirty, ragged robes.
"What is to be done now?" asked Devon, breaking the silence as they stared down the cliff. "The people cannot stay here. The land is too harsh, too craggy, and the fire mushrooms have claimed many victims."
"I know, lad," said Mythran. "There is naught we can do to reclaim the land below, it is lost to the floods of the Titan's rage."
"I still fear this, life without the Titans. We have lived with them for so long, they gave us so much stability."
"Aye, but they took much also. Think of those claimed by the madness of sorcery, those lost in the initiation rites of the Theurgists and the Necromancers, and those killed by the mad Tempest, Mordea. My friend, I see we will be better off without them."
"Try telling all those people down there. They're scared," he said, as he made a sweeping gesture with his hands, indicating the crowds of people below.
"Come with me, my friend," said Mythran, as he jumped down the mountainside with remarkable agility and began striding up the path, deftly avoiding the deadly red mushrooms.
Devon, even though he was much younger, found it difficult to keep up with Mythran. For an old man with a crooked back he was indeed fast. With his staff in both hands he looked like a cripple, and many of the Pagans gave him plenty of space, almost stepping onto the mushrooms in the haste to get out of the way of this odd old man dressed in dirty brown robes.
He came to a halt outside the doorway of his home, and waited for a few second to allow Devon to hasten to his side. Then Mythran stepped in first, disappearing as he walked through the door. Devon looked about and throwing caution to the wind ran in after the old man.
Standing by the staircase in his interdimensional abode, Mythran spoke the words, "An Sanct Lor" and a chest appeared before him. Unlike the other wizards of Pagan, Mythran had not drawn power from any of the four titans. He was a thaumauturgist, a follower of the fifth element, Ether, and that element was now best represented on Pagan.
"I found this chest in a cave in the plateau, surrounded by piles of skeletons. There was a scroll with it, it was destroyed when I read it, but it said that only one man may open this chest, one who will pay a great role in Pagan's future."
"You could not open it?" said Devon.
"No," said Mythran. "But it is fairly obvious that person is you, Devon. You have great powers."
"I lost my powers..."
"Don't be a fool!" said Mythran. "Have you learned nothing. You don't need the Titans. The Titans made this place a backwater world. Now they are powerless. This is the Age of Mankind. You, Devon, have the power to shape Pagan's future... for better or worse."
Silently Devon knelt before the chest, and began to open it.
"It's a key," said Devon, as he crouched by the chest. "A very large key."
"Indeed," said Mythran, almost unconcerned.
"It has these strange glowing green runes on it."
"Yes..." said Mythran, as if he were growing tired of this conversation. "Those runes are Zealan in origin."
Just then there was a whooshing sound behind the two, and a man dressed in chain mail and wearing a blue tabard with the symbol of a gust of window appeared behind the two.
"Brother Xavier!" said Devon, "Mythran did not give thee permission to enter his domain."
"As your equal on the council, I thought it only fair that I should be present at whatever discussions you and... Mythran..." his voice lowered as he said the name, "hold. You made it no secret that you were meeting here. I heard every word you said on the plateau, the air brought it to me. Now I make no bones about my presence."
Since the move to the plateau, many of the lands leader-types had began stamping their authority. There were three who were respected or feared enough to be "elected" to the council, Xavier, now leader of the Theurgists, Devon, as Tempest of Tenebrae and Beren, as the highest ranking Sorcerer who had survived the trials of the last three weeks. The Necromancer had not been accounted for, it was presumed he had died on his "consecrated" earth.
Each of the leaders commanded an almost equal number of followers, but Devon had the majority as most of the Tenebraen people still respected his judgement but there were plenty of Sorcerers and Theurgists, and the Sorcerers still commanded a few of their powers which had been stored in talismans before the loss of the Titans. Devon seemed to spend most of his time keeping Xavier and Beren away off each other's backs.
"We have found this key," said Devon finally, "Mythran thinks it is Zealan."
"Indeed," said Xavier.
"Call Beren," said Mythran, as both Devon and Xavier gave him shocked glances. "Let your council hear what I have to say. We shall ajourn until Last Ebb."
The darkness hung over Mythran's house as a huge number of refugees began
to set up camp. On the western side of the plateau the Camp of Air was set.
The theurgists lay in the ragged tents and bedrolls they had saved from the
floods of Argentrock Isle. They were relatively safe in a square formation
which was empty of fire mushrooms. In the center of the plateau the residents
of Tenebrae lit campfires and began to cook torax ribs. Their herds had been
killed in the great firestorms of Pyros, and they had brought as much meat
as they could carry in their great Exodus to the plateau. Then to the east
on a high mountain the Sorcerers, separated from the rest of the refugees,
went about their mysterious ways. The people of Tenebrae frightened children
who asked too many questions with tales of the hideous rituals they speculated
Beren's red robed men were concocting, hidden behind the mountain. But tonight
they frightened them with tales of what the three leaders were doing in the
house of the mysterious Mythran.
Inside the house, at the dinner table, Devon, Beren and Xavier sat, the Theurgist next to Devon, and the Sorcerer at the other end of the table.
"Where is that old madman?" asked Xavier impatiently. "He said be here at Last Ebb."
"I think you'll find," Beren said. "That like we sorcerers if he did not wish us here... we would not be here... alive that is."
"Not all men are as merciless as you sorcerers," said Xavier with clenched teeth.
"Nor are all men as weak and helpless as theurgists," said Beren with a wry grin on his face.
"Gentlemen!" said Devon. "Gentlemen calm down!"
Just then there was the sound of a bell ringing, and Mythran stood before them.
"You would do well to listen to Lord Devon," grinned Mythran, and he rose his staff and intoned the words, "In Mani Ylem!"
A great banquet appeared before the three leaders, a meal unlike any they had eaten since they had arrived at the plateau. There were foreign foods, exotic looking meats and strange fruits. Over to the right were cheeses, mushrooms and large torax ribs. Mythran sat down and began filling his plate with something he called "Potato Salad". Devon began slicing cheese, and Xavier helped himself to some mushrooms.
"Very impressive wizard," said Beren, who refused to eat. "But why did you summon us here?"
"I'm sure you are aware that today Devon found a key."
"Yes," said Beren. "I've been told."
"What I have been doing," said Mythran, "is testing out a theory."
Beren, losing patience, hit the table with his fist and knocked a goblet to the ground, "Get on with it, mage. I lose all patience."
Xavier opened his mouth, but Mythran silenced him with a look, "It will unlock a great door in the plateau which leads to an unexplored part of Pagan."
"I've heard of such a door," said Devon. "Something in Bentic's books about a great valley."
"'Tis true, there is a valley behind the door," said Mythran. "A valley of great beauty which the Titans created as a demonstration of their powers. There is the purist of waters, the hottest of firewood for cooking, the purest air and solid, unspoiled earth. It is said that this was once a resting place of holy sanctuary for the Titans, where they swore to leave their arguments behind."
"A valley..." said Xavier. "If such a valley exists."
"Yes," said Mythran. "We Pagans could settle it."
Devon said, "Then tomorrow we shall try the key in the door."
The man who lay convulsing on the ground was wearing a dirty old set of
matching white cloth trousers and jerkin. They were now muddied with much
travel in the wet mud, and now were bloody brown from the explosion of the
mushroom which had sent him flying into a tree. His limp body now lay beneath
the tree, and barely conscious, all Gwillim could do was groan.
"Hold on, father," said Cyrrus, as the young healer raced to his father's side.
In response, all Gwillim could do was groan. Cyrrus reached into the pouch in his robes and pulled out his herbs in one hand, and a clear bottle of water in the other. Gently he ground the herbs into dust with one hand, and sprinkled them into the water. The water turned from clear to faint blue, and he raised the bottle to Gwillim's lips. The potion took effect immediately, and the convulsing stopped.
Gwillim fell into a deep, soothing sleep as the potion's effect began. He was now completely oblivious to the pain, thanks to Cyrrus's alchemy skills learned during his time as a theurgist. The young blond man, now dressed in clothes with the same level of decay, knelt down by his father, and tried to pick up his prone body.
He and his father had never strayed so far west into the plateau before. Peasants had told tales of the ghost of those who had died under the harsh climates. The fire mushrooms here seemed to grow out of nowhere... sprouting up on a man and exploding, sending him hurtling into a recently grown patch... and eventually certain death. Just then there was a loud rumble, and a crunching sound. The ground beneath Cyrrus began to tremble, and he looked down to see the brown earth of the plateau turn slowly red.
Cyrrus, dragging Gwillim, turned in alarm to see a patch of fire mushrooms behind him. Turning again, he made his way slowly towards the edge of a mountain. A path of mushrooms sprung up behind him as he strode with difficulty. A dark, dismal cave loomed in the distance. Cyrrus, looking back at the immense line of fire mushrooms rushed into the cave - throwing caution to the wind.
As the trail came to an end the five travellers gazed into the blood red sea of mushrooms. The lead two, a young man dressed in what had once been fine clothing, and a warrior dressed in a worn suit of plate mail, looked concerned, while the old, white haired mage and the young sorcerer looked unconcerned.
"My lord," said Captain Darion, "there is no possible way any of us could cross that!"
From behind, Beren laughed, "Don't be a fool Darion! Do you think we fire mages have trouble with these vegetables."
In his hand he held a rod which he cast on himself. A blue flame surrounded his body, as the armour of flames spell took effect. He stood on the first mushroom, which exploded. Devon flinched, and his arms instinctively shielded his eyes. When he finally moved his arms, there were bits of mushroom all over his clothes, and in the center of the dense concentration of mushrooms stood Beren in an island of scorched earth. He stood there, laughing at his companions.
Darion swore under his breath, Devon stood there, almost embarassed by what had happened, Mythran seemed to care little about the red dye that had coated his dirty clothing. Xavier, on the other hand, was mortified. His mouth hung open, and his hand gripped the sword by his belt.
"That was one of two ways I could have crossed!" said Beren, grinning with glee at showing off his powers. With a loud bang and a flash, Beren appeared before the travellers again. "That was the other. Now, let me get you across."
Xavier finally snapped, "I shall not be transported using any of your damned sorcerer magic!"
Beren stood defiantly, and laughed heartily, "If you wish to stay there like fools, so be it. I shall continue on to the cave."
Devon glanced at Xavier and stepped forward, "Beren, wait. We're not splitting up now. We will travel across the mushrooms with the aid of your magic."
Xavier muttered something under his breath, but nodded in agreement reluctantly.
"Form a circle around me," ordered Beren finally, and they did. The fire mage revealed a circular symbol with the image of a pentacle engraved in a red that seemed to have a life of its own. He muttered some arcane words, and there was a loud whoosh. Devon looked around and discovered that they were now by the mouth of the cave. Beren smiled smugly, and Xavier scowled.
"Well," said Mythran, breaking the silence, "that was indeed an interesting experience. The flash spell, Beren?"
"A little concoction of my own," Beren said. "Greater flash, teleporting both caster and his companions over two hundred feet."
"Let us not waste time!" said Xavier, and he began to wander into the cave. Devon and Darion followed, with Mythran and Beren bringing up the rear. The cave soon became a narrow passage way leading north for a few feet, then forking to the east. As Xavier turned east, Devon stopped.
"Do you hear that?" he said.
"Hear what?" whispered Darion almost completely silent.
"Be quiet fool!" said Beren. He heard the sound of an arrow being fired, and then a loud explosion, mixed with a second arrow being fired, and then the second explosion was uninterrupted. About a second later there was the sound of the first flame arrow again, and yjen the explosion mixed in with the second arrow being fired.
"I'd say," Beren remarked in a louder voice, "that ahead there is some kind of exploding arrow trap system. To be precise there are two devices, each one further down the tunnel. I've rigged a few of these traps up in my time, and if we are dextrous enough we should be able to cross unscathed."
"I thought Sorcerers had spells to protect the individual from fire based attacks!" said Xavier, "or were the stories of your powers as exaggerated as I thought?"
"I have spells of that nature prepared," said Beren, "but we may need them later..." he looked at Devon, "We do not know where this journey may take us."
"That may be so, Sorcerer, for you younger lads," said Mythran. "But I am not blessed with the dexterity I once had." Beren opened his mouth to protest, "Fear not Sorcerer, you need not waste your precious foci on me. I am powerful enough to defend myself."
"You weren't powerful enough to get us across the mushrooms. We had to rely on the Sorcerer," remarked Xavier dryly.
"Stop your bickering, all of you!" said Mythran, and he hit his staff against the stone floor. "There is much to do, without debating about each others abilities."
Darion was the first to cross the trapped corridor. He deftly sprinted past the first flame arrow trap, shuffled forward and waited for the second to fire before sprinting across again. Devon stepped carefully past each trap after they fired, then joined Darion at the other side. Then Xavier sprinted without stopping and by some miracle managed to avoid being hit. Beren, oblivious to the theurgist's predicament invoked a spell which surrounded him by blue flame. Mythran, muttering words of power, strode through the traps at a leisurely pace, but the arrows seemed to pass through him.
The passage opened into a large cave, and lying by the embers of a campfire was the decaying corpse of a troll.
"Trolls," said Darion. "I'll certainly thank the warrior who did this. I obviously trained him well."
"This troll has been dead for several weeks. Darion, I think you do know the warrior... or at least you did," said Mythran with a wry grin. "And he probably fattened your money pouch on several occasions."
"Stratos's mercy!" said Xavier, as he held his nose. The Theurgist found the scene quite sickening.
"What is the matter, Theurgist?" said Beren calmly. "If you cannot stand these sights perhaps it is not safe for you to travel in these catacombs."
Xavier said nothing, but followed Devon and Darion as they continued east. After a narrow tunnel, which contained three flame arrow traps which Beren noted had ceased to function, a second cavern lay before them. Once again, Devon stopped.
"Do you hear that?" Devon said, and they all froze.
"Now what?" the new silence was broken when Xavier said, "First arrows of flame, now what can it be?"
"I hear it!" said Darion. "The sound of footsteps... near, yet we are all still, except for Xavier's tongue."
Darion and Devon slowly stepped forwards, whilst Mythran flanked by Xavier and Beren followed. Suddenly, without warning there was the sound of a sword swinging. Xavier yelled in pain as a blow to his left arm resulted in his arm turning crimson.
"Invisible foes!" said Darion, and he drew his sword and adopted his fighting position. "Quickly milords, make them visible and I shall strike them dead!"
Mythran calmly reached into his pouch and produced a scroll. Reading it aloud it vanished in his hands. Alas, nothing else happened.
"I fear the invisibility on these individuals is permanent and irreversible," he said. "Back off into the other cave!"
After leading the strategic withdrawal Darion scanned the battlefield as Xavier moved in towards him for protection. Then he nodded and stepped forward, swinging his blade. His blow was met by a crunch and a cry of pain. Triumphant the warrior yelled, "Sires! We can see their hearts! Look, their dark hearts glow gently!"
"I cannot see them until they are too close to use my magic," said Beren, who was now further south than the rest of them in this little cave.
"Then fight with your hands," said Xavier, who drew his sword with his good arm. "Or have you forgotten how to do that?"
Xavier glanced over at Beren, and then his face became serious. "Behind you, Sorcerer!"
Beren turned to see the crimson glow of a heart, and he stepped back. The sound of a blow being swung was heard, but nothing came of it. Beren stepped back to Xavier's side. "Use your blade then Theurgist! It is all you are good for now!"
Xavier nodded, and swung his blade wildly, hitting nothing. In the meantime Devon had gotten his dagger from his boot and was looking around for a heart. Mythran seemed unconcerned by the events unfolding. He stepped back into the middle of the first cave and took his spellbook from in his pouch. He began to read it quietly.
Devon received a blow to his right side, but it was mostly superficial. It had dug into his leather armour, leaving only a scratch. He in turn hit with his dagger, striking the heart of his opponent. Momentarily, the invisible warrior's outline could be seen, so Devon swung again at where the outline of his opponent's stomach had been. Darion's mighty blow with his sword hit his opponent hard. There was a crunching sound as the body hit the ground, although no body could be seen. The warrior strode confidently, brandishing his sword quickly in all directions. Finally he found another invisible warrior, and struck him dead with one blow. The fool had not even bothered with a defence.
Xavier too dispatched his foe, to Beren's amazement. With a good blow he had successfully estimated where the neck of his opponent was. Fortunately there was no blood, and only the sound of the body hitting the ground, and then a short delay before the head hit the ground, marked the passing of the invisible warrior.
"Lucky blow," remarked Beren. He looked up and saw Xavier advancing on him with his sword drawn. "Stay thy hand Theurgist." But Xavier persisted, "Fool! I can easily..."
Xavier's blow was still swung, and there was a cry of pain as the invisible warrior to Beren's right fell to the ground.
"You were saying?" said the Theurgist.
Just then, as the battle continued, there was Mythran's voice, booming through the cave, "KAL VAS CORP!" At least ten bolts of lightning struck various points of the room, as the Call Destruction spell took effect. The invisible warriors hit the floor instantly, but none the less, Darion remained on guard, with his sword out.
"Look!" said Devon, finally, as he pointed to the north end of the room. There was a pile of bones up to the north, and a large set of double doors. "This is what we seek. Am I correct?"
Mythran nodded. Just then Darion's eyes moved. There was a cry for help.
"No!" said Beren. "Leave it! It's probably a trap! Unlock the door!"
Xavier snapped, "Typical Sorcerer behaviour! Suspecting foul play. You have been around your peers too long."
"Silence," said Devon. "I say we go investigate."
"I'm with you milord," said Darion, and Mythran nodded.
"Who am I to disobey the Tempest?" said Beren, "We go then."
To the east the yell had come, and sure enough there was a passageway to the east in this cave. In the distance the swooping sound of an axe came.
"Skeletons, Tempest!" said Darion.
Sure enough, slumped against the wall were two figures, and in front of them was a skeleton, whirling its axe. Darion advanced. The skeleton turned and saw this new warrior figure. Darion's swordplay soon proved to be as good as ever, and he soon dispatched the skeleton. He extended his hand to the small man dressed in what had once been fine white robes and the larger man in dirty shepherd's clothing. "No time for words! We must go! Only a necromancer could permanently defeat one of those things!"
Both Cyrrus and his father Gwillim ran, or at least Gwillim tried to. The severity of his burn wound caused him to collapse into the arms of Darion. Dragging Gwillim back into the cave with the others, Darion moved as quickly as possible, ignoring the chest that lay beyond its bones.
"Holy Cyrrus?" asked Xavier to the young lad who stood exhausted before him. "What are you doing here?"
Panting for breath Cyrrus said, "Milord Xavier? Were you seeking us?"
"Nay, but it is fortunate for you that we came here... we are seeking a great door."
"Could you help us return to the camp?" asked the young theurgist. "My father needs healing. Is there aught you can do for him?"
Xavier walked over to Gwillim, who was still being dragged by Darion. He took the herdsman from Darion, and lay him gently on the cavern floor.
"Did you give him the ginseng mixture?" he asked.
"Aye, milord, but it did not heal him much."
"The burn wounds are incredibly severe...we are going to have to get him back to the camp for him to get a full recovery. Naught but our strongest restoration spell would have helped him. But 'tis beyond us now. He will live if he does not see any more action. Now tell me what brought you to these caves." In the meantime, whilst Cyrrus told Xavier of his escape from the mushrooms and how he had spent almost two hours dodging the traps and fleeing from the monsters of the caverns with his badly injured father, Devon stood before the great door.
"Now it is time," said Mythran, from behind Devon. "Unlock the door with the key."
Devon took the key from where it hung around his neck. He placed the small key into the lock, and turned it. Nothing happened at first. Then there was a loud rumble, and the earth itself shook. All were thrown off their feet, as stalagtites and rubble fell from the ceiling. By sheer chance none of these hit anyone. Dazed, Devon got to his feet.
"Help me up, young friend," said Mythran.
"By the Titans!" said Beren, "the exit of these caves are blocked by the rubble!"
True enough, where once the entrance to the first cavern had been, there was a massive pile of rocks.
Xavier, carrying Gwillim, approached Beren, "This man needs to get out of here now! Use your magic to..."
Beren thrust his hand into Xavier's stomach. From where he stood, Devon thought Beren would remove his hand, with Xavier's still beating heart. For almost five seconds Beren and Xavier seemed frozen. Then Beren spoke, "Recall to the Plateau."
Both Xavier and Gwillim disappeared. Beren said to himself, "Now we are equal for him saving me earlier!"
Mythran frowned. Beren said with a grin, "While I was at your house, I noticed your teleporter, and activated it. In all honesty I intended to use the device on myself if we got in too much danger... but his complaining was beginning to get on my nerves."
"Very well," said Mythran with a scowl. "Let us enter this great portal."
Devon led, as the door opened to a narrow cavern leading north. Behind him walked Mythran, Beren, Cyrrus and Darion was bringing up the rear.
He got three steps, and then the ground crumbled beneath his feet. Devon yelled, as he found himself falling from a great height into a dark cavern below...
Devon stood, looking at the ceiling of the vast cavern, hoping to see the faces of his companions who were his only hope of escape. He did not see the silvery tentacles in the water glide gracefully over to him.
"Devon," said the feminine voice, echoing through the cavern. "We finally meet."
Devon froze. He knew the voice. He had heard it in his darkest nightmares, in his most horrifying dreams. It had haunted him for years, before he had become the Tempest. He had told no-one of these dreams.
"Are you Hydros?" asked Devon finally.
"Yes, mortal," said the voice. "I am Hydros. I am she whom thy fathers imprisoned."
Devon backed away from the water. Although the Lurker possessed no magical abilities anymore, not since the Avatar had defeated her with the Tear of Seas, she did command an effective physical presence.
"Well, Devon," said the Lurker, "I am no longer a threat to humanity. I have no powers anymore. I am a defeated god."
"Why are you here?" asked Devon, backing off into a corner despite Hydros's reassurances. "Your temple was on the other side of Pagan... by Carthax Lake."
"Let us say..." said the Titan, slowly, "that I have a second lair in these parts which I have not visited since my imprisonment."
"What do you want?"
A tentacle shot out the water and hung over Devon's head. The voice of the Lurker sang, "Beyond these caves lies a second door... this door leads to the valley you seek. You must go no further though for beyond lies the death of every Pagan."
"You are responsible for the deaths of many Pagans," said Devon, trying to take a stand. "I will not let you dictate what my people do any more."
"Fool!" hissed the Lurker. "Then I shall kill you!"
The tentacle lunged for Devon, who dived to his left, allowing the tentacle to fly into the wall of the cave. Then Hydros moaned in pain, as three more tentacles came at Devon. The fisherman dodged the first, but he had rolled out the way, in time to see the second descend upon him. He reached for the knife in his belt, and sliced the tentacle. Once again Hydros made her pain known. The third tentacle grabbed Devon by the waist, and lifted him off the ground.
"I have revenge on my jailer!" exclaimed Hydros as she held Devon over the pool of water.
Devon swallowed as he looked down at the dark depths of the pool. But he did not have time to reflect on his fate, as there was a loud explosion, and Devon realised that he was now hurtling down into the pool of water.
Devon hit the water with a loud splash. He mused that two weeks ago he had discovered the ability to walk on water. Now that he had lost it he was prey for the Lurker, his family's age long foe. Devon was now about to face death by drowning.
That was not to say he was not a good swimmer. In fact he had become quite accomplished in swimming since his youth. If it was not for the fact that a hostile, water-bound ex-god was about to plunge him into the depths of a watery grave he would be able to swim to the surface. He looked up, and could see the surface was a few meters away from his head. He started to swim up when he felt a tentacle wrap itself round his left leg. He had lost his dagger, so he started to kick with his right foot. A second tentacle scurried up, intending to wrap itself around his free foot. At that time there was a second explosion as a yellow bolt flew from the ceiling, and into the second tentacle. Even under the water Devon could hear the Lurker moan in pain yet again. A third bolt of fire hurtled down and struck the tentacle holding him. He was free!
Devon began to kick free, realising he was running out of air. He frantically swam upwards, all the while listening to the curses of the Lurker. He reached the surface and looked up the hole. There he saw it was Beren who had saved him, as the sorcerer crouched down the hole with a rod of flame bolt glowing in his hands.
Beren's welcome face moved out of sight as he allowed Mythran to peer down.
"Devon," said the old man, "I hope that fool Beren has not cooked you too much! Ascend the ladder, my friend, and we shall leave this place."
Mythran spoke words of magic and a glowing ladder lowered itself down the hole, allowing Devon to ascend. As he climbed through the hole, he heard the Lurker's voice:
"Take my advice, Tempest! Do not go any further!"
At the top, friendly hands were extended.
The companions had reached a small cavern further up the narrow corridor that had been behind the door. Convinced that they were indeed safe from the Lurker, Mythran had decided to set up camp for an ebb or two. Devon, still somewhat shaken from his confrontation with the lurker, rested. Cyrrus began tending a few of the cuts and bruises he had taken in his recent adventures. Beren was quite bored, and began pacing up and down the cavern. Mythran sat on a log, reading his spellbook quietly, and Darion was cleaning and polishing his sword. All was silent save for the sound of Beren's feet.
Darion looked up, "Mage. Will you desist from that?"
Beren, not being used to being spoken to in that way by a Tenebraen replied, "No. Get back to your sword warrior."
Darion scowled and said, "That was not a request, fire mage. Stop!"
Beren opened his mouth to speak, and was silenced by Mythran, "Will the pair of you stop bickering. Darion, continue your tasks. Beren, if you feel the need to stretch your legs, why not scout ahead?"
Beren laughed, "You seriously expect me, the High Sorcerer, to risk myself scouting ahead? No thank you, old man, I shall stay here."
"Then be quiet!" said Mythran.
Beren started pacing again, and the old mage scowled at him.
"Fine! Fine!" said the sorcerer, "I shall be further down the corridor."
Muttering to himself, Beren did indeed slowly stroll down the corridor at the end of his . He was wary of any more pit traps, as he did not wish to find himself staring face at the Lurker in her new domain. He had taken the Staff of the Master from his bag of holding, a device which he had found during his test in the Obsidian Fortress. He had always considered it one of the most useful items he had in possession. It held all his foci, which were considerable, in some sort of compressed Ethereal Void in the bag. He had all the foci that the late Master had stashed in his lair, and his own considerable cache which had been hidden in both his dwellings in Tenebrae and the enclave. He was carefully tapping the floor in front of him to see how strong it was. Convinced that the floor was solid, he advanced a few paces. And so it was for ten minutes the Sorcerer cautiously made his way down the corridor, stepping at snail's pace with his staff. After that, Beren's patience ran out and he started to walk at a swift pace.
The lighting in the passage way ended abruptly. Beren halted, wondering why it had suddenly descended into darkness. None the less he opened his bag and pulled out a red candle. Invoking a spell to ignite it, the faint glow from the candle allowed him to examine the floor as he walked forth with renewed caution.
For five minutes Beren groped through the passage way with his candle. The only sound he could hear was the sound of his footsteps on the stone floor. Then the uneasy peace of the corridor was shattered by the sound of a gust of wind. Beren's candle flickered and went out.
The sorcerer cursed, and fumbled in his bag of holding for another focus. Then his eyes fixed on the red light he could see ahead.
When he finally relit his candle, Beren could see he had reached the end of the corridor. But at the end, there was a stone altar and in the wall behind the altar lay a glowing heart, apparently imbedded in the wall. While a normal person would have been repulsed by such a sight, Beren was not, and he clambered behind the altar. He reached out to touch the heart, and there was a click. The heart fell back into the wall. There was a loud rumbling, and the floor beneath Beren gave way. With a thud Beren hit the ground and his limp body faced the ceiling.
Beren regained consciousess very quickly, but kept his eyes closed, for fear of them opening and finding Hydros's tentacles about to wrap around him and drag him in the water. Then again, Beren mused, as he lay at the bottom of the hole, perhaps it was Pyros himself, who had come to destroy him. When he finally decided to look up, Beren found himself staring into a dark grey humanoid shape.
"Great," muttered Beren, "I was wrong! It's the Mountain King himself!"
"Excuse me sir," said a deep voice. "But do you require assistance?"
Beren frowned. He didn't think the Mountain King would be so polite.
"I assume, sir, that you like the rest. I would have noticed you before. Besides your skin looks quite fresh."
Beren moaned, and forced himself to stand on his shaky feet. Before him was what was best described as a statue of a humanoid figure with an enormous body and head which were square in shape, matched by the rectangular stumps it would call feet, and the blocky arms and jagged, pointy feet.
"Can you talk, sir?" said the golem politely. "Are you okay?"
Beren groaned again, and said, "Yes... yes. I am fine."
"That is good, sir. It is quite refreshing to have someone to talk to."
"What do you mean?" asked Beren, confused.
"Well, sir. The things is, the people around here. Something happened. They all just lie around here and do not talk much. At least I assume so. Do you think they fall silent when I enter? Perhaps that is it. My master said that people are suspicious of Stone Golems."
"Stone Golems?" asked Beren.
"Why, yes, sir. Oh, how foolish of me. My name is Rokko Decamorono, butler to the King himself."
"The King? Who, the Mountain King?" asked Beren, more confused than ever.
"Why, -the- King!" said Rokko. "You do know the king don't you?"
"No," said Beren, with renewed boldness and arrogance. "We Pagans have no king, except Lithos the Mountain King. Some Pagans follow the Tempest, others like I acknowledge no king!"
"You are not a Zealan then?" said Rokko Decamorono, confused. "How very odd. So you must be one of those odd folk... oh what did you say... the Pagans? I have heard of such a group, a band of dissenters from the King's rule."
"So, where am I then?" said Beren.
"You are in the King's throne room. Once Kumash-Gor himself once sat on this throne, but that is long past. Sadly, the King himself is too busy with the war against your kind to spend time in this castle. Still, he will return triumphant for the feast. In fact, I wish you Pagan's would surrender now so we could get it over and done with. I do not see the point in the killing myself."
"Yes, yes..." said Beren, waving off the Golem's polite attempts to chatter away, "So if this is the throne of the throne room, where are the people?"
"Well sir," said the Golem, "in recent years this castle became a guard tower. I didn't like that, but I still kept it nice and tidy. It was the staging point for the invasion of the Pagan lands. But you see, sir, one day there was a lot of chanting, and the ground shook. The next thing I know, everyone was lying still. Quite unseemly for guards to fall asleep on duty. And they made such a mess of my liege's throne room, so I had to carry them all to the barracks. They still haven't woken up. And the Commander, why he's been sat at his desk all this time working on that report for the king. More dedicated than his command, I'll tell you, sir. And they don't seem to eat the food I prepare... waste of good rations. Still, with this magic food dispenser my creator made for the castle I suppose they can afford to..."
"That's very fascinating I'm sure!" said Beren, waving his hands up and down. "But what do you know of your creator." To Beren's knowledge, there had only been one type of golem, one made of Earth through the Necromancer's magic.
"Sir, my creator was the Priest of the six, in the reign of Kumash-Gor. That was many years ago, and there have been many kings since then. But since the Pagans came I have not seen the king. Commander Karag-Xen might be able to tell you more, sir..."
"Beren!" came a voice from above, it was Darion.
"Down here!" said Beren, and he saw Devon and Darion's faces appear by the hall. "It seems the passage way ends rather abruptly up there. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the fall down here, so I took a bit of a bruising. Nothing I couldn't handle with my enchantments but I doubt you lot could survive it."
Up above, Mythran's chanting could be heard, and then the magic ladder he created allowed him, Devon, Darion and Cyrrus to descend into the throne room.
"Ah," said Mythran, who was the first to descend. "A Zealan stone golem, and in remarkably good shape."
Beren, pleased with the apparent treasure he had found, said, "Yes. His name is Rokko Decamorono. Ex-Butler to the Zealan king."
"Delighted to meet you, sirs," said the stone butler. "It has been so long since we have had visitors. Perhaps I could show you to quarters, and inform Commander Karag-Xen of your arrival."
Devon, confused, said, "Umm... I guess we could use some food and drink. It would save the food in our packs at least."
"Excellent!" said Rokko. "At the moment the kitchen staff are dining. They have been doing so for so long... but they should be gone now."
"How long has it been since they sat down to dinner?" asked Cyrrus, timidly.
"Oh, I don't know. First the clock in the kitchen said Last Ebb, then the next time I checked it said Eventide, and then Last Ebb again. I think its been doing that often. They should be gone by now. Now, sirs, if I could have your names, and what it is you wish from the kitchen, I shall go and see what I can do."
Each of the five travellers gave their name and Rokko asked them politely to stay here, while he checked on the kitchen staff in the dining room.
"Any specific observations?" asked Devon to his companions as they waited.
"This is definitely a Zealan stronghold," said Mythran. "I recognise it from my studies, and the tapestries in particular are definitely Zealan. I must say," and Mythran began to sound uncharacteristically excited, "that I never expected to see a Zealan Castle of this age in such good condition."
Beren laughed, "That fool, Rokko, has been slaving away in the castle for centuries."
Cyrrus meekly added, "He's done a good job of it though. He's certainly dedicated."
Darion smiled at the lad, and then his face became more concerned, "Milord Devon, I don't like this. We Tenebraen guards have not encountered a Zealan raiding party in centuries, and now here we are in the heart of a Zealan fortress. We had best either escape the way we came, or make a stand. That Rokko may be fetching a horde of Zealans, dead or undead. That Rokko looks like a formidable opponent himself, I doubt I could best him in a one-to-one..."
Just then the doors to the throne room were swung open, interrupting Darion in midst sentence and in stepped Rokko. Across the golem's face the emotion of irritation showed.
"They were still not done!" said Rokko. "But I told them to hop to it, and gave them your order. It should be ready in a few minutes. I shall escort you to the dining room."
Rokko beckoned for the companions to go through the doors. Darion protested, but Devon shook his head and silenced him. Rokko led them down a narrow hall, and through the first double door on the left, into the dining room.
Cyrrus, the first to enter, gave a gasp. He saw on the benches the bones of long dead Zealans, arranged chaotically across the dining room table. Apart from these skeletons, the room was still neatly arranged. As each of the five companions gazed on the room, Devon and Cyrrus in disgust, Darion and Mythran with disapproval and Beren with a silent humour, Rokko spoke up from behind.
"I told them to be out of here before you came," he said. "I am sorry Milords. I must apologise for this. You just cannot get the staff these days!"
"Are you insane!" said Cyrrus, turning red with frustration. "These people are dead!"
Rokko gave a deep laugh, "Only once I am through with them."
Devon said, "No, Rokko! They are really dead!"
Rokko said, "Are you sure? I can have the Castle healer check them."
Darion replied, "Young Cyrrus is a healer, Rokko, and it does not take him to realise that these people are dead!"
"Dead?" said Rokko. "But... but..."
After much calming down, Rokko decided that perhaps the companions were correct in their assessment. He took them to the kitchen, which thankfully was empty, and using a magic food dispenser gave them all the food that they needed for a pleasant and hearty meal. After this, while Rokko was busy burying the bodies of his former masters, the companions went for a walk through the castle. Darion and Beren had already left the companions in the midst of their meal. As Devon, Mythran and Cyrrus began strolling down the corridor, Darion approached from one of the doors.
"The Commander's room," remarked Darion.
"Indeed?" asked Devon. He noted that Darion held in his hand a green covered book.
"Read this," said Darion, thrusting the book into Devon's hand.
Devon read, and his eyes went to the ceiling, "Is this recent?"
"I really don't know. Rokko was unclear how long these people have been... dead. If it was recent, for magic could explain the state of the bones, then this document is worrying. If not... then it does show an interesting side of the Zealans."
"What does it say?" asked Cyrrus, as he could not see the book for Mythran and Darion crowded around Mythran.
Devon put the book in Cyrrus's hands.
"Yes," said Cyrrus, "this is most interesting..."
'The day of the final battle draws near, as I feel the excitement and enthusiasm this new alliance begins. This new hope does not just flow in my veins, but in the veins of my soldiers, as the first dignitary of the Troll races hath demonstrated his mystic powers by destroying a tower door with just the power of his mind. Tomorrow, the leader of the trolls is coming to Castle Thanath-Gor, and on the day after that our reinforcements shall arrice. We shall crush these Pagans. We shall see how they and their powerful Titans fare against our fine soldiers, and the power of the Trolls! -Karag-Xen'
Beren stood in the bedroom of the Zealan High Priest, and examined the
chest at the foot of the bed. The lock had been rusty, and his magic soon
finished it off. Hastily opening the chest Beren saw three old cloth bags.
Opening the first he found a scroll. Without the characteristic blue glow,
he deduced it was not magical. It was merely meditation mantras. In the second
bag he found various wooden trinkets, at least he presumed they were magical.
Beren opened the third bag, and it there was a loud whoosh as a ball of yellow light hurtled past the sorcerer. It stopped in mid-air above Beren's head, and began to hum. Beren stared into it, and there was a loud flash of light.
Beren was floating in a great white cavern. There were great pillars on either side of him. He saw three tiny fireflies floating around him. They were concentrating on his face, and he was certain that he could hear whispering. Then, all of a sudden, there was a flash of white light.
At first Beren's vision was very blurred. Then finally he saw he was standing in a square room which was fairly dimly lit. Before him was a tall, thin man dressed in grey robes. Behind him were several warriors, dressed in green and with some strange symbols on their tabards that Beren did not recognise.
The robed figure spoke, "Once again, Felicitar, Dolores and Timyra, I bring thee the shield of the Lesser Gods. Will you give me your powers?"
The torax headed god to his left came to life, "No, Sargon-Poh. I regret we cannot allow your request."
The statue of the woman finely dressed woman behind him spoke to him cheerfully, as if he were a scolded pet, "Dear High Priest, we ask you to cease your quest for power. There is no need for…"
"Enough!" yelled Sargon-Poh, daring to interrupt the god in mid-sentence. "if you will not give me your powers, then you shall not be able to use them!"
He took out a blue shield, and held it above him, and began to chant, "An Jux, Thuo Felicitar, Thuo Dolores, Thuo Timyra! An Sanct Por!"
"No!" said the final god, a small, thin man, with fear in his voice., "I did not believe that this could be done! NO!!!"
He crouched on the pedestal, and placed his arms over his head. Sargon-Poh's chanting echoed through the room, and Suddenly three yellow forcefields fell over them.
"Now," said Sargon-Poh, "to be rid of them forever... "Kal Vas..."
"My liege," said a voice behind him, as warrior behind Sargon stepped forward. "You cannot destroy the gods. You only said you would imprison them until your need was over…"
"Silence Dnumed-Nagirrek! You are but an initiate in the Order of the Three."
"Aye milord," said Dnumed, "but 'tis dishonourable to do the ultimate punishment."
"Be quiet fool!" said Sargon, and he began to chant again.
"No! I cannot!" said Dnumed. He drew his sword, and lunged for Sargon-Poh. The other three warriors responded swiftly, drawing their weapons too.
"Fool," muttered Beren to himself. "He should have confronted the priest before this…"
Beren himself remembered the way disobedient sorcerers were destroyed by Malchir, the now-dead master of Morgaelim isle.
Dnumed swung wildly with his sword, but he sliced into Sargon, and the shield fell to the floor with a loud smash. It stood upright for a few seconds, and then there was a loud thunder, and both Sargon and his three henchmen were knocked to the ground. Earthquakes started, and Dnumed picked up the shield and fled.
Beren felt dizzy, the earthquake had not affected him, he had remained standing, and somehow invisible. Yet all went white. When his blurry vision came to he saw the cave the adventure had began in, with the large double doors to the tunnel that had led to the Castle. But the doors looked new, and through them there emerged a small unit of men dressed in green tabards, with the symbol of a blue shield with three symbols on it. These were the same type of warrior as those who had stood behind Sargon-Poh at the ritual. They carried evil looking spiked shields, and cruel looking longswords. Their faces were hidden by steel helms, and they looked quite imposing. Behind them came two trolls, each carrying a large staff. Then, with a cry, a group of twenty of the Tenebraen guard, whom Beren identified by the uniforms they still wore to this day, charged into the cave in formation. The green uniformed warriors stood aside for the trolls, who pointed their staffs at the Tenebraen guards, and the first rank fell dead instantly.
The green Zealan warriors charged, though they were outnumbered by the Tenebraens. Many of their number fell, and yet they fought on. Then the trolls pointed their staffs again and the dead Zealans rose from the ground to begin the fight anew. One of the Tenebraen's decapitated the Zealan attacker, and he fell dead, and did not rise. Still, despite this weakness being found, more Pagan warriors succumbed to the mystic powers of the trolls.
At this point there was a loud rumbling in the cavern. Lithos, the Mountain King appeared.
"Live ones! The time has come for you to die."
The earth shook, and both Pagan and Zealan were knocked off their feet. The Zealan warriors soon stood up again in a straight-line formation. It was at this time that a pile of debris fell from the roof of the cave onto the Zealans and trolls. The Zealans were killed instantly. The trolls groaned, and lay still under the pile of debris.
The door closed, and the Earth shook once more.
"This day is yours, Live Ones! I claim these shells as my own! Begone now, for no Pagan shall ever need to enter the Zealan lands while I reign supreme over Earth."
With a shake the flesh of the dead Pagans and Zealans alike vanished, leaving skeletal remains. The door was locked, and Lithos vanished.
Beren saw what followed, the troll clutching the key who had survived. The titans feasting upon the powers of the trolls, leaving the unintelligent barbarians that had roamed the lands near Tenebrae. He also saw the mountains and sea level rise in the Zealan lands. He saw the deaths in the Zealan capital, the Earth swallowing it up instantly, he saw the ocean cover the empty land… except for one pocket. Hydros and Lithos spared but one pocket of land. Beren could see the green land, fresh and clear, and he could just about make out a few huts…
Then the vision ended. The ball of light flew away, leaving Beren comatose on the floor.
A large hand fell on Devon's shoulder as he stared at the massive double doors.
"Master Devon," Rokko began, "I would strongly advise that you keep out of there."
Devon looked confused, "Why? What is in there, Rokko?"
"Much death," the stone golem said. "The door leads to the underground caverns beneath the Castle. These caverns eventually lead to a shrine, but only the High Priest of the King, and the pilgrims ever went in there, and quite a few pilgrims never returned. The High Priest was the only one with a key to avoid all the traps. He is long since gone."
"I see," said the fisherman, and he shrugged, and turned to his companions, "Naught but traps down this way."
Cyrrus emerged from searching an acolyte's room. "There is nothing of import in here."
Mythran had been examining the Magister's room, and shook his head, "No… but I feel we should not discount the trapped shrines. The Zealan's once…"
Darion emerged down the corridor, interrupting Mythran in mid-sentence. He was carrying Beren in his large arms, and he yelled across, "I found him in the High Priest's room like this."
Cyrrus met Darion swiftly, and asked the warrior to lay Beren down gently.
"Aye, lad," said Darion. "If you think you can help."
Cyrrus felt Beren's forehead. "He's burning up."
"I would have thought that was normal for him," said Darion to himself.
Cyrrus fumbled in his dirty robes, and pulled out a bag of herbs. He began to add them to an empty jar he kept by his belt. Finally the potion turned a sickly blue, and he raised it to Beren's lips. The Sorcerer coughed for a moment, and then he raised his hands up to Cyrrus.
"By the Titans!" said Darion, "He's dying! Cyrrus, he wants you to hear his last words."
Beren nodded solemnly, and motioned for the Theurgist to lower his head.
"What is it?" Cyrrus asked.
Beren groaned with great pain, "No more… of that please… or I shan't be able to eat for a week..."
Cyrrus grinned, "It's okay… that's just an effect of the potion. He'll be alright in a few moments."
Sat in the dining room, the companions listened as Beren told them what little he could remember of his visions, the bright lights, the Zealan shields, and the battle at the gates.
"This shield is of great significance," said Mythran, once again reminding all that he was an expert on Zealans. "It was a way of speaking to the Zealan gods in their shrine, but almost all these shields have been lost… except for the one in my house that is. Shame we cannot get it, since someone used the only recall device."
Beren looked shocked, "You are actually blaming me for our predicament?"
"Not at all lad," said Mythran, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand. "In fact I was quite impressed by your uncharacteristic decision. Besides, these things have a tendency to resolve themselves."
Devon said, "Perhaps the only exit is beyond the Shrine of the Zealan Gods."
Mythran shook his head, "I somehow doubt it. However, without exploring below there, I can not discount it."
"Much of what we know of the Zealans has been lost," said Darion, "I'd like a chance to reread the old logbooks of the past Captains to see what kind of traps are in store for us."
Mythran laughed, "Quite a few I'm afraid. The Zealan Priests were notorious for being responsible for the deaths of many of their followers."
"Seems strange," said Cyrrus.
"Not at all," said Mythran. "Think of Stratos, how many died trying to reach her through the tests? Or the tests of the Sorcerers. The Titans were just as bad."
Cyrrus was silent, as he thought of poor Torwyn, who had died trying to reach Stratos.
Devon nodded, "You have a point there, Mythran. So we should…"
"Sirs," said a voice from behind the door, and Rokko emerged, carrying a very large tray of foods and drinks, "I could not help but overhear your conversation. Please do not tell me you intend to risk the journey to the shrine. I have prepared a feast for you. Stay a while."
"No offence," said Cyrrus, "but I for one have no wish to remain in this dead castle."
Devon stood up, and said, "Rokko. I'm afraid we cannot stay. We must move on with our quest, and the only exit to this place seems to be the Shrine, since the Castle seems to be sealed in."
"But sirs, I really do not wish to see you dead. Perhaps I might join you?"
Beren said, "But the monsters will hear you coming a mile off."
Mythran glared at him, "Remember, Sorcerer, all creatures have their value!"
Devon, agreeing with Mythran again, said, "He is right, my friend. Indeed you may join Rokko, if you can be of use."
The Golem's expression became that of a smile.
So it was that Rokko was able to open the massive double doors to the shrine, and all six descended the steps, into the catacombs below. Where the steps ended, the companions began to walk down a wide corridor.
They had not gone five steps when Devon stopped, and said, "I hear something!"
Darion said, "Milord, I am beginning to wish you would stop saying that."
"What does he mean, sir?" said Rokko to Cyrrus.
"I have no idea," replied Cyrrus.
"For the last time, will you be quiet when I hear something!" snapped Devon, and the others were silent. Devon's ears picked up a faint banging noise.
"Metal," remarked Darion. "There is the sound of large metal balls banging together!"
"Ah," Beren noted, "the old iron balls trap. Very easy to dodge once you spot the sequence and if the sequence does allow you through…"
Further down the corridor, the companions saw a large cave began where the stone floor of the corridor ended. There were two spiked iron balls moving parallel to each other and alternating between north and south when they hit the walls. In between the balls there was a small skull candelabra. It lit up at the sight of the six of them, as if by some strange sense it knew they were there.
"The balls are going very fast!" said Cyrrus. "I think we could get through, but Rokko and Mythran may be a bit slow…"
Mythran looked at Cyrrus. "No offence, sir," said Cyrrus, "but you are not as young as the rest of us, and Rokko is incredibly heavy, even for a golem."
"I grow tired of the debate every time we reach a trap," said Mythran, "this time, let us do it the easy way. I must see what lies beyond."
Mythran pointed his staff at the ceiling and yelled two words, "AN TYM!"
The balls stopped, Devon noted, but so too did the flicker of the candlelight.
Beren gasped, "You froze time!"
Mythran nodded, "A powerful thaumaturgical spell. Quite useful for we older people."
Cyrrus smiled, and began to walk across the corridor, avoiding the stationary balls. Devon and Darion followed, as did Beren, Mythran and Rokko. Devon stopped half way, and picked up the candelabra.
"Quite wise, Devon," said Mythran. "I think we shall need that."
The room ended in a door which Darion opened. There was a narrow tunnel stretching to the north, and ending in a large chamber. The six entered it carefully, and looked around. There was no apparent way out, and the only feature of notice was the set of four levers around a metal cage which housed a fifth lever.
"Hmm…" said Beren, "our only hope is to pull one of these levers."
"Not so fast, Sorcerer," said Mythran. "At least one of these will set off a trap. We must be careful."
"Yes, sir!" said Rokko, "do be careful. I've heard stories of these traps."
"Enough!" said Darion, "We've no way of deciding. Stand back! I'm going to pull…" his eyes met the nearest lever, "this lever."
The four humans and the Golem backed into the doorway as Darion spat on both gauntleted hands and rubbed them together. Finally, nodding, he pulled the lever.
"Aaaahhhh…" the warrior yelled, and fell onto the ground.
"What's the matter, warrior?" asked Beren. "We saw nothing."
Darion spoke with great effort, "The room… it's gone… upside… down."
"What?" said Cyrrus. "I've never heard of that condition."
Mythran snorted, "Pull the lever again, Darion."
"No way!" said the warrior on the floor.
Darion struggled to his feet, looked dizzy, and began to slump again. Devon and Cyrrus rushed forward and caught the warrior.
"Thank you, lad," he said to Cyrrus. "Milord…"
With great effort his shaking hands probed the lever and eventually he pulled it.
"Better?" asked Mythran.
"Why… yes…" said Darion.
Beren marched forth, "Leave this to me… I am by far the most familiar with these traps."
He chose the next lever, and the others backed away again. This time there was a strange whooshing sound, and five fireballs surrounded Beren. Wide-eyed with alarm the sorcerer pulled out a focus from his bag hastily, and invoked the spell. Blue flames surrounded him, and the fireballs hit, and exploded. When the flames died down, Beren still stood defiantly, as he stood unscathed from the attack.
"Right… it must be this one!" said the Sorcerer, and he moved to the third lever. There was the sound of metal moving as the bars on the cage lowered, allowing the Sorcerer to gain access to the fifth lever. He pulled this too, and there was a loud shaking. The north wall lowered, to reveal a narrow passageway. There was a beam of light stretching the length of the corridor right at the very start of the corridor, and beneath it was the skeleton of some unfortunate soul.
"We can go!" said Beren triumphantly. He started forward.
"Beren! No!" yelled Mythran. "It's a trap. The bolt of energy is lethal."
"How do you know?" asked the sorcerer.
"I've read of many Zealan temples and their defences," said Mythran. "Trust me… the bolt is lethal, and your armour of flames that saved you last time is no use."
"How do you propose we get through then?" asked Beren.
"Well," Mythran said, "I only know of three methods. One was the necromancer spell Rock Flesh, the other the Intervention spell of the Theurgists, and the third was a purple potion of protection."
"I see…" said the sorcerer. "Those methods are not much use to us now."
"Rock flesh?" muttered Rokko.
"I could brew the potion back in my house," Mythran said. "But not here. And I used all my potions healing the injured on the Plateau."
"I wish I hadn't used that blasted recall device!" said Beren.
"Let's try crawling under it!" suggested Cyrrus. He walked up to the beam, and knelt down. The beam fell down to his head level.
"Damn!" said Darion. "It's an intelligent spell."
"Can't you dispel the magic?" asked Devon.
"I'm afraid not," said Mythran. "The spell is permanent."
"Sirs," said Rokko. "I am made of rock… perhaps you could use me as a shield."
"Interesting…" said Mythran. "But I doubt it would work. The Rock Skin spell makes the caster indestructible… you are quite destructible."
"I am willing to try sirs," said the golem. He broke the beam, and the room began to shake again.
"Sirs!" he said, opening his legs, "Quick! Through my legs! Hurry!"
Darion quickly moved through the golem's legs, as the beam lowered itself, but both ends struck a different stone leg. Devon followed, then Beren, Cyrrus and Mythran.
"Hurry, Rokko! Get into the corridor now!" yelled Beren once he helped Mythran through.
"Sirs…" said the golem, "I… cannot… move…"
The golem let out a low moan, and slowly he began to fuse into the floor, with his arms up in defiance. Soon there was nothing left of the golem.
"He's… dead," said Cyrrus.
"Not quite," said Mythran. "He was summoned… and now he has returned to whence he came from."
Beren, who was now silent muttered, "He gave his life… I'm going to miss him."
Devon looked at the Sorcerer.
"Well," Beren said, "He was a loyal servant… much more loyal than the summoned creatures I was used to dealing with."
Devon allowed himself a half-grin, and muttered, "Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Beren."
The companions, now numbering five, strode down the corridor, and came to a set of large tower doors. Loudly the double tower doors opened. Behind were the bones of two long dead Zealans.
"This room is probably trapped too, and I do not wish to see anyone else lost!" said Darion, as he kicked the bones aside and cautiously entered the room.
The room was tiled like a game board, with blue and red squares, and no identically coloured squares adjacent. In the north end of the room was a sarcophagus. Darion was joined by the other four, as they stood at the square on the south-eastern end of the board, looking at the door which lay in the north-west wall.
"I don't like this," said Devon.
"Yes," said Mythran. "It's like some kind of insane game."
"Look!" said Cyrrus, pointing to the skeletons Darion had kicked, and kneeling down, rummaging in one of the bones and pulling out a scroll.
"What does it say?" asked Mythran.
Cyrrus read, "What a colossal jest… Sik-Raal has sealed the access to the Shrine of the Ancient Ones with a game of… I cannot make this out… like we used to play. He who hesitates falls, he said, and he who rushes dies. Is there no end to this madman ar… The scroll ends there."
Just then the square next to the heroes made a scraping noise, and it fell, revealing void.
"Aaaahhh…" said Cyrrus, looking down into the void, and feeling sick.
"Breathe easy lad," said Darion, grabbing the theurgist.
"Don't you see?" said Beren. "If we remain here we shall be in the void!"
Beren took one step north, onto the next square. Again the sound was heard of metal scraping. The square to the north-west of the sorcerer fell.
"Beren!" said Devon. "Stop before we lose all the squares. Wait for us."
The other four travellers stepped onto the northern square. There was a flash of light, as the sarcophagus opened, and a daemon appeared.
Cyrrus almost stepped back on to the first square in alarm. Darion drew his sword.
"Calm yourselves," said Beren, putting his hand out. "I shall save us… again."
He pulled out the glowing daemon symbol, and pointed at the daemon. It snarled defiantly, but nothing else happened.
"It was supposed to be banished!" Beren gasped.
"Perhaps Pagan magic does not work in here," said Mythran.
There was another flash as another daemon appeared in front of the northern doors. Darion said, "We'd best hasten towards the door while it only holds one daemon!"
He took a step north east, and again light flashed. Darion was teleported to the same square as a daemon. The warrior's sword swung into the daemon and it moaned in pain. It then responded by striking with its clawed hands and managed to pierce Darion's breastplate and hit flesh. The warrior howled in pain, and fell on to the ground.
Oblivious to Darion's apparent demise, Mythran intoned a few words of magic, and smiled to himself.
"What is it?" asked Devon.
"Apparently MY magic works in here, for it is not of Pagan in origin." The wizard intoned a few words of magic, "Uus Por!"
Suddenly Beren, Cyrrus, Devon and Mythran found themselves two squares from the north western door. The demon guarding the door took one stride which brought it onto the square in front of the four.
"Perhaps you might like to banish it then," yelled Beren, "before it rips us to shreds!"
"Calm yourself Beren," said Mythran, as the squares behind them, and to the left and right, fell away to reveal void.
Mythran strode onto the square with the demon, and raised his staff high in his hands. The demon growled, and raised its claws to swing.
"Mythran!" yelled Devon. "Get out of the way!"
The daemon's claw was swung, and the red hand went straight through Mythran, who seemed oblivious to this. The thaumaturgist simply stood as the daemon swung again, and again, going through him. Then finally he yelled, "VAS AN QUAS!"
The daemon roared, but Mythran persisted and again yelled, "VAS AN QUAS!"
Then suddenly the room went black, and then Devon looked around. He and his companions were in an empty room, devoid of all but a solid stone floor, the two sets of tower doors and the four walls. Darion lay perfectly still on the floor. Cyrrus rushed over to the warrior, and felt for a pulse.
"He's unconscious," said the theurgist, "the illusion left him thinking he was dead, yet he still lives."
"True," said Mythran, "but I believe were he a man of lesser steel he would have been very dead."
"Come on you big fool," said Beren, kicking the fallen warrior, "On your feet!"
A moan came from Darion, and yet he still stood, and murmured, "Do that again Sorcerer and you shall see your throat ripped from your body."
After resting the five passed through the double door in the northern end of the room. They found themselves in a corridor. There were two doors, one in the western wall, and the other in the eastern wall. They elected to take the western door first, and Darion opened the door. The room was about fifteen feet wide each way, and its sole contents was a desk with a chair pulled over to it, and a chest.
Beren immediately tried to open the chest. Mythran and Devon began to examine the desk, while Cyrrus and Darion stood watch.
"Locked," the Sorcerer said after a few seconds, "and I can not find the keyhole."
Darion nodded, "I'll try to force it open." The warrior gave the chest a good kick with his foot, and there was a loud bang as his metal boots struck the chest, but it did not give way.
"Milord," said Darion, "the chest is fixed to the ground. I believe there is a mechanism to open it somewhere."
Devon had found the desk to be strange. There were some hastily scrawled notes which had burned away, but there were no drawers, only what appeared to be a circular piece of metal, which looked much like half of a set of weighing scales.
"Did you hear that?" said Mythran, after Darion fell quiet.
"No," said Devon. For once, he could hear nothing.
Just then the door slammed shut and the lights went out in the room.
"Damn!" said Devon, "has anyone got any light?"
Beren sighed, "I do… and I can get it right away." In the darkness no-one saw him reach into his bag of holding and pull out a red candle. He intoned the words, "In Flam!" and the candle lit. Almost disappointed, everyone in the room realised that nothing had changed.
"Can I have that for a minute?" said Devon, and when the sorcerer reluctantly surrendered his candle, Devon placed it in the skull candelabra he had found. He crouched under the desk to check for mechanisms. Still finding nothing, he decided to look behind the desk. By sheer chance he placed the candelabra on the metal plate, and the plate sunk.
"That did something," said Mythran. "Interesting."
All eyes fixed on the chest, which was sinking into the ground, revealing a small hole in the ground. Devon removed the candle from the skull candelabra and lowered it down the hole.
"There is a tunnel down there going on for a few feet. It looks a bit on the cramped side, though."
"I'll go," said Cyrrus. "I'm the smallest out of us."
"Aye lad," said Darion laughing, "We'll make a guardsman out of you yet!"
Cyrrus nodded, and lowered himself down the hole. Devon handed him the candle as Beren lit yet another. Waving the candle around, Cyrrus found that the tunnel only went about ten feet, and then stopped. But his eyes fixed on something. It was something shiny.
Closing in on this thing, Cyrrus saw it was a blue shield, with the symbol of an open palm in the top left side, a reddish scimitar on the top right and in the center at the bottom was a heart. Reaching forward, Cyrrus grabbed the shield and hauled it back to the four who were waiting.
When Mythran saw the shield sweat dripped from his forehead. "Great Titans!" he exclaimed, "I had never thought to see another of these!"
"What do you mean?" asked Devon.
"Do you not recall seeing one of these in my house?" said Mythran. "These are no ordinary shields. They are made of a strange blue metal, and could act as conduits to the Zealan Gods."
"Zealan gods?" said Cyrrus.
"Yes," said Mythran. "If I recall correctly there were three. The one whom the scimitar represents is… was Odion - he stood for hate, then there was Amoras, and she represented love and thus the heart at the bottom. Finally Apothas stood for indifference, and the open palm."
Beren was silent, and his face frowned, "This is not the same as the shield I saw in my vision."
Mythran looked puzzles, "Really? There was only one type of shield to my knowledge. Are you sure?"
"My memory is most hazy…" said the sorcerer.
"Never mind," said the wizard. "The shrine cannot be far if this is where the shield was stored."
"Yes… enough of this idle banter," said Devon. "We must get to the shrine."
"I agree," said Mythran. "Do you mind if I keep this shield?"
No one objected, so Mythran kept the shield. As if in response to the decision to leave the door to the room opened again, allowing them into the corridor.
"Now that is spooky," said Cyrrus.
The next door led to another corridor that ended in a set of double doors. Darion tried the doors, but cursed as they were locked.
"Milords, we shall have to backtrack and find the key."
Mythran shook his head, reached into his robes and pulled out a scroll. "Finally an excuse to use these scrolls!" he said, and opened the scroll. He mumbled something and the scroll glowed. Finally the doors opened.
"By the Bonecrusher!" said Darion, as he saw that the rough stone floor gave way to plush red carpet. Before them a large room stretched out, with the walls decorated with ornate runes. To the north of the room stood an altar, and behind this altar there were three statues. To the left was the statue of a woman dressed in an ornate breastplate, to the right was a very well built warrior in full battle armour, who was reaching for his sword. Finally, a thing man wearing a cloak with folded arms and a face that showed little emotion stood behind these two.
Mythran laughed, "Come on! Long have I waited for an opportunity such as this!"
"By the Titans!" said Darion, as he looked at a table full of obsidian coins, and the chests behind it. "There is enough treasure here for me to retire comfortably!"
"Well," said Beren, "there would have been, had we a city to spend it in. Now it is just a pretty display which cannot even be used as a reagent."
"I would not touch the Zealans' tributes anyway," said Mythran, "for the Gods will be surely annoyed with that action."
The old man seemed to move with great speed, and he was running ahead of the other four men, and stopped at the altar, and ran his fingers around it. He examined it from every angle, and seemed to read some invisible message. Finally, with his back turned to the statues he said, "I understand finally!"
With that Mythran placed the blue Zealan shield on the altar and it began to work its magic...
"We have travelled far to reach you!" said Mythran. "The road has not been easy!"
The statue of Amoras looked down on Mythran with a smile, "The road will not get any easier here on. Before you…" the stone hand of the woman waved to a double door behind her, "is the door to what you Pagans call the Lost Vale."
The strong masculine voice of Odion interjected, "And in there you will face the greatest quest any Pagan has undertaken…"
Apothas this time spoke, his voice an unconcerned monotone, "This quest will take you across the Lost Vale. It will mark the beginning of the age of mortals, and the end of our type of being on this planet."
Amoras continued, "We are tired of this existence, bound to this planet. We are bound here as a reminder that the Destroyer stole our powers, and gave them to the beings known as the Titans."
"You lie!" said Beren, "this is heresy. The damnest thing I had ever heard!"
"Be still Sorcerer," said Devon, "the titans have done us little favour in the past. Alright, they saved us from the Destroyer, but they exacted a terrible price for their services."
"You speak wisely," said Amoras.
"But wisdom is not all you will need to succeed," Odon said sternly. "You will need faith in your abilities. Man made the Titans… man can destroy them, or man can give them their powers and supremacy again."
"Beyond this door lies the great stair. And beyond that…" Apothas said, sounding unconcerned as usual, "lies the Lost Vale you seek."
"There on the Lost Vale, among the Zealans you should seek two halves of a shield," said Odon. "And a portal to the Ethereal realms. There you will all see power beyond imagination."
"The shield is similar to the device before you, but with a symbol of our other brethen," said Apothas.
"I have seen that," said Beren, "in my dream!"
"Yes," said Odon, "the other three must be trying to contact you!"
"Eons ago an ambitious priest and magic-user had gained too much power. We allowed him to imprison the other three brethen. We thought our influence would grow with their destruction," Amoras confessed.
"But, the timely intrusion of a valiant zealan warrior stopped their destruction and the other three remain imprisoned somewhere within the caves of the valley," said Apothas.
"It is up to you to find them! Once you do they will reveal your final goal! A goal which will unite the peoples of this world, and allow them to reclaim the lands devastated by the Titans and the Destroyer!" Odon raised his fist. "To one of you will go the ultimate power that this land contains."
"You must use it wisely to bring freedom to your people, and the peoples of the Lost Vale," Amoras's sweet voice spoke sternly.
"For beyond lies the Trolls, and the last of our followers. Seek out Lord Traust-Nagirrek! You can trust the Lord of the Zealans, for he is indeed a good man, and he possesses one half of the shield. The other half belongs to Pothos, leader of the good Trolls. Alas, through feuding in wars each side believes their half of the shield to be a holy relic, and have secreted it well."
"And one final thing," said Odon. "We have sensed a power rising in the valley beyond. Beware of it, for it seeks the enslavement of one of you… now go! This power draws near!!"
All three statues raised their hands, and the room began to shake violently. The walls collapsed around the treasures of the room, and at the end, the wall revealed a crevasse, and a great fall to the bottom.
"Quickly!" said Mythran, "through the new exit!"
The companions raced towards the opening, soon they were teetering on a narrow ledge, back to back. Devon and Cyrrus faced south, Mythran, Beren and Darion north.
"Don't look down!" said Darion.
"I just did!" said Cyrrus, "I feel sick."
"That's no way for a guardsman to act."
"I'm not a guardsman, I'm a healer."
The cave shook like the room had done previously.
"This is hopeless," said Beren, "we are going to fall to our doom!"
Mythran took out a scroll, and began mumbling some spell words.
"What is he casting?" asked Cyrrus.
"Interesting," said Beren, "a spell called Feather Fall. If it is successful we can float to the ground. But still, if we're going to float, I'm jumping this way." He nodded to the north, where looking down, the companions, fighting back the nausea of the height, saw a shallow pool of water. "It's a much easier fall. We can actually see what's down there."
A voice from behind the sorcerer called, "So, trapped groundlings, who shall fall to me! You first, old one."
With a rumble, Mythran stooped over the edge. Darion's arm caught the mage. Then the ground shook again, and Darion found himself with a fist full of brown robe.
Mythran lurched forward, knelt down, still chanting, and fell off the crevasse. With a crunch and a splash his body hit the shallow water below and stay still. The air around the companions chimed.
"The old fool's spell has worked!" said Beren, amazed. "He's dead but the spell remains!"
"Excellent!" said the Lurker, "so I can claim you all undamaged."
The ground shook again, and both Devon and Cyrrus slipped off the crevasse, and slowly floated into the darkness, just beyond the reach of either the warrior or the sorcerer...
Devon fell to the ground. Instead of a painful crunch, he was treated to a splash again. Mythran's spell had worn off, but only while he was about ten feet above the ground. Poor Mythran's timing had been a little off, but then again Devon thought, no-one is perfect, or in this case was perfect.
"Devon," said a harmony of voices, "so good of you to drop in."
Then there was a loud bang as a luckless Cyrrus fell on the stone floor of the cave, face first. With a groan the theurgist rolled over, and the blood covering his face shocked Devon. Apparently, his descent had been much slower, so he had fallen quite a height.
"Well, well," said the voice with renewed sarcasm. "If it isn't two of my favourite boys…"
"Hydros!" said Devon, scrambling to his feet. "Again!"
The tentacle in the water waved back and forth with wry amusement. "Indeed, groundling. It is I, again. And this time I doubt your precious friends will be able to save you."
Devon, on his feet, looked around. The cave was incredibly dimly lit. He could make out Cyrrus next to him, and beyond him lay a rusted scimitar of some poor sod who had drowned here many years ago. He could not even see the walls of the cave, so Devon could not even estimate the size of the cave.
"So…" said Devon, "you intend to kill us."
"Oh, no…" said the Lurker. "Not quite. That was a temporary phase I was going through. Losing ones immortality can do a thing like that to a person. No… I intend to… complete the set as it were."
Devon slowly backed away from the Lurker, and he was soon by Cyrrus's side. He could see the young theurgist was awake, and looking around concerned, but he was too weak to move.
"My legs…" said Cyrrus, "they're broken I think!" He tried in vain to stand up, and only ended up back on his back.
"Rest easy, friend," said Devon. "I'm doing what I can."
"What does she mean, complete the set?" Cyrrus asked, concerned.
Devon looked about, and in the dim light of the Titan's aura, he could see shadows moving about.
"Well," said the Lurker. "Why not see for yourself. IN LOR!"
With that the entire cave was lit up. It ended fourty feet to the north, where Devon was, with the great staircase they had been ascending. At the top, somewhere, were Beren and Darion, probably despairing at the loss of their three friends. The shadows he had seen, now illuminated, were a mob of sickly green corpses, shuffling pathetically towards the two men.
"Well, groundlings! Lithos did not put those that he received to waste, so why shouldn't I?" said the Lurker's harmony of voices.
"But…" said Cyrrus to Devon, blood dripping down his face, "she cannot do that!! She should not be able to!"
"Oh, it wasn't all my doing!" said the Lurker, the sarcasm in her voice obvious. "You two helped me a lot."
"What do you mean, Lurker?" asked Devon, fear in his voice.
"Look closer, fool!"
Devon looked at the pile of zombies that staggered towards him. Then, at the back his eyes widened. There was one who did not look like the rest. She was a slender woman, dressed it what had once been fine white robes, but were now coated in green seaweed, like the flesh of the other corpses.
"Remember now," said the Lurker, "when you gave her to me?"
Devon remembered. He had been slated for execution, he had faced death at the hands of the executioner, at the order of his sister Mordea, for he had been the true ruler of Tenebrae. Then the guards had caught the Avatar, his friend, who had been investigating the reason for his imprisonment. A series of clues had led the Avatar to the evidence chamber, where a book by the late Bentic had informed the Avatar of Devon's lineage. The Avatar bluffed Mordea into thinking that he now possessed the evidence. Mordea grew enraged, and attacked everyone. In a great battle Devon, the greater Tempest, had knocked her off the pier, and into the waters.
"I must say," said the Lurker, "that you were a much more promising Tempest than your sister. At least you gave me your victims whole. Saved putting their heads back on again."
"Damn you!" said Devon, as Mordea's zombified corpse struggled to keep up with the rest of the mob. In his mind, as he had contemplated his life on Stone Cove, after that great battle, he had wondered what… what if things had been different? If he had been born in the palace? If he and Mordea had grown up together, perhaps she would have been shown a conscience… perhaps they could have loved each other as brother and sister.
Just then, he looked behind to see one of Hydros's zombies lunge for him. He dove out the way, and landed with a splash in the shallow waters of the pool. Reaching forward he grabbed the scimitar.
"Oh, and…" Hydros began, "Cyrrus… I almost forgot about you. You too have a friend here. Remember your friend Torwyn? Thanks to your deceit I received your friend Torwyn hale and whole. He will make a much better recruit than his father, whose damned head keeps falling off. And let us not forget the women…"
Cyrrus, lifting his head gently, saw two forms pushing their way to the front. His eyes widened in recognition.
"Yes, Cyrrus… your mother, and Torwyn's too… they never knew what hit them when my waters hit them. Think of it, your mother, comforting Torwyn's because you killed his son… poetic justice."
Cyrrus began to cough, and blood came out. His body jerked in spasm.
"Yes, Cyrrus… you killed all three of them… thanks to you, they are mine! Aside from another, and the Tempest line, I think you are my major contributor."
Cyrrus, barely able to speak, whispered, "My mother… used to… sacrifice to you…"
"Yes, groundling! And now she has made the ultimate sacrifice."
By now, Devon was on his feet. "Cyrrus… don't believe that thing… she killed them all…"
Cyrrus moaned once, and then fell on the floor.
"Do the same, Tempest! Lie down and let my minions come to you."
Devon, scimitar in hand, lept to his feet and yelled, "Come and get me then, Titan! I know not how you got your powers back, but I will die before I find out."
"As you wish Tempest… as you wish…"
Devon swung at the zombie behind him with the scimitar. The scimitar easily lopped off the head of the first one.
"I'm not sure if Bentic would have appreciated that…" said Hydros, as Devon looked down on the misshapen, swollen, pulp that had once been the scholar's head. The zombie fell to the ground.
Devon stepped next to Cyrrus's prone body. The lead zombie lunged at him, and its talons raked his chest before it realised that Devon's sword was in its heart. Oblivious to the pain, the creature tried to claw at Devon's heart, but Devon pulled the sword up, and found it frighteningly easy to rip the flesh of the zombie apart, from the chest up through the neck to the head. Green ooze spilled over Devon, blinding him, as a second and third zombie lunged at him, knocking him on the ground. The scimitar fell with a loud clatter.
"Is this getting you down, groundling?" asked Hydros with mock concern.
As Devon tried to clear his eyes, he could smell the foul interior of the second zombie's mouth as it drooled all over him, attempting to rip out his heart. Devon frantically struggled, his questing hand finally gripped the sword, and he hit the zombie on the head with the hilt. It spat more goo onto his body, but its hold on him was weakened enough for him to kick the zombie off. Standing up, he realised that the other zombies had only circled around him, instead of all pinning him, or even, he hoped, finishing off poor Cyrrus.
Devon lunged at one of the zombies, and severed its head off. Then another, and another. Finally, as the sweat blinded him, and his heart beat incredibly quickly, he brought his sword down on another zombie. There was a clash, as the zombified Mordea's dagger blocked the blow.
Devon frantically swung at the zombified remains of his sister, but she retained the deadly proficiency she held in the knife during her mortal life. It could have been worse though, Devon thought, she could have retained her powers.
Left, right, thrust, parry. She matched all those blows. Devon found, despite the lack of reach she possessed, Mordea was not going down without a fight. In fact, if anyone were to go down, it would be him soon. Exhaustion was slowly creeping in. The last time he had rested was back when they met Rokko. His breath was ragged, irregular and shallow. Sweat almost blinded him, he was seeing clouds in his eyes.
Then Mordea stepped back. She silently gripped her dagger with both hands and ran at Devon. Devon lethargically attempted to side-step, and his right foot, still vulnerable, tripped the zombie up. With a loud smack, Mordea hit the ground, and lay there, her two legs had fallen off. Devon stepped forward, as his dead sister looked up at him, with no emotion on her face. Devon closed his eyes, and swung. He heard her head splash into the water.
"Excellent show, Devon," said the harmony of voices behind him. "The first-born Tempest will make a fine addition to the army, unlike his pathetic sister."
Devon, his face filled with hatred, stood, looking at the army of zombies. The four by Cyrrus, his mother, Torwyn, Rhian and another pathetic form were slowly dragging his body away. It seemed hopeless. Slowly the Tempest staggered towards the single tentacle, with sword drawn.
"You're not getting me that easy!" he said. He hit the water with a splash, and was soon up to his waist. Then his neck.
"Death by drowning, if you so choose…" said the Lurker. Devon felt a tugging on his leg, as a tentacle belonging to the Lurker dragged him down into the depths… again.
Devon, underwater, tried a final act of defiance before his oxygen ran out. He swung at the tentacle that dragged him. However, it was a poor swing, due to the fact that he was underwater, and half conscious. None the less, when the blow struck the silvery blur before Devon a bolt of electricity shot forth from Hydros into Devon. Devon felt power coursing through the veins in his arms. He felt better than he had done since the flooding… since he had lost his powers. He felt air in his lungs. Air, underwater, when he had been drowning only seconds ago. Not only that, he could now see the silvery body of the Lurker, a great cylindrical dome from which the tentacles came from. He could see perfectly underwater.
"What?! What is going on? This is not possible!" the Lurker cursed.
Devon's eyes closed. Ghostly visions appeared before him. He heard the voice of Odion, "Man made the Titans… man can destroy them, or man can give them their powers and supremacy again."
"I understand now!" Devon yelled, his voice barely audible underwater. "Someone has given you power! Power not just of your own, but another kind of power… and in doing so, has given me my powers back!"
Hydros shrieked, and said, "Know that this is not permanent groundling! This was but a test of my powers! He shall fix this flaw!"
There was a mighty flash of light, and Devon found the Lurker had vanished. He outstretched his hands, and in a second flash of light he was standing atop the pool of water. Turning, he saw the zombies clawing at poor Cyrrus. With a yell, Devon summoned up lightning which struck the zombies, reducing them to nothing but ash. Then Devon waded across the depths of the pool, until he reached firm stone ground. Finally the Tempest stood by the Theurgist. His body was limp, there were many scratch marks, and he lay facing up, his eyes unstaring. His stomach was exposed, and the flesh had been ripped off, exposing the organs. Yet he still lived… his eyes watered, he whimpered, as his eyes looked at the puddle of slime that had once been his mother Corinth.
Devon followed his gaze, and looked from the puddle of slime to the headless corpse of his own sister. Then, he remembered a story of a fisher woman who had brought her daughter to Mordea for healing.
"'Tis time to see if you could indeed have saved Kilandra's baby," Devon whispered, and he knelt over the prone body of Cyrrus.
"So they’re gone," said Darion, as he looked over the edge of the ledge
into the darkness.
"Seems it’s just you and I," said Beren. "And if I hadn’t given away my recall device, we could have got back to the Plateau."
Darion scowled, "We can’t give up now it seems, even if we want to."
Beren nodded, "Come on, warrior, let’s get going before this place shakes again…"
With that Beren began walking across the narrow ledge.
There was almost no sign of where the wounds had been previously. Pleased with himself, Devon helped Cyrrus to his feet. The theurgist said, "How did you…"
"The power of Hydros has returned somehow… but it is different this time. When I struck her, the power that belonged in my veins came back to me. But I feel it growing fainter as she grows further away."
Cyrrus nodded, "Where to now?"
"We should try to look for the others. Perhaps if Mythran is still alive he is around here somewhere."
Cyrrus looked up, and said, "Look Devon, there is a ledge in the wall over there we can climb up, and it seems to be the start of a passage-way."
"Seems to be the only exit from here," said Devon. "Okay, let’s take it."
Cyrrus pulled himself up the ledge, and then helped his friend up. Taking one last look at the cavern filled with charred green corpses of their friends and family, both comrades began down the narrow corridor.
Darion stood atop the ridge, feeling the cool air of the valley on his face. It felt good after an hour in that cave, fumbling about. They had found an exit, and now they stood atop. The entire valley was before them. They could see, in the distance, the stone walls of a city. They could see the mountains surrounding the valley, and the lakes below. They could see several caves dotted about, as well as the occasional hut on the road to the city.
"It looks like quite a trek to the city," said Darion. "And I can’t see any way down from here. Do you have a rope, sorcerer?"
Beren laughed, "A rope? I have no need of rope. Here!" he produced a wand and pointed it, "This will get us to the city immediately."
Darion’s vision turned brilliant white, and he and Beren both became fireballs, hurtling towards the city under the effect of the Flash spell.
Devon stopped, and Cyrrus nearly walked into him.
"The power is gone," said Devon. "I have lost my Tempest powers, again."
"Perhaps that is not so bad," said Cyrrus. "Maybe Hydros has lost her powers as well."
"I doubt that somehow," said Devon, a solemn look upon his face.
Soon the passage came to an end and the two friends found themselves standing at the mouth of a cave, staring down at a very high and very steep descent. At the bottom the rock gave way to grass and on that path there was a dirt trail. Devon's eyes followed the dirt trail northwards where there were the occasional huts and then his eyes fixed on a stone wall. It was a city.
"Well," said Devon, "we should get down from here and journey towards the city."
Cyrrus nodded, "I don't suppose you have any rope?"
Devon shook his head, "We will just have to try and find footholds down."
The fisherman promptly placed his foot on a reasonably flat piece of rock and turned around, found a handhold and began to lower himself down. Cyrrus soon followed. For about ten minutes they lowered themselves down the side of the mountain, until a groan was heard from Devon.
"What's the matter?" asked Cyrrus, and looking down he saw Devon sat on a ledge.
"Sorry Cyrrus. I just landed on my backside. I think we should rest here for a while. We're not making good progress."
Cyrrus nodded, and lowered himself onto the ledge also. Devon opened his pack and shared some rations that Rokko had packed them with Cyrrus. Most of Cyrrus's food had been damaged when he had hit the ground in Hydros's cavern. They were not half way through their meal when the earth began to shake.
"I thought we'd seen the last of these earthquakes when you beat Hydros!" yelled Cyrrus, his fist (which contained a half-eaten ham sandwich) raised to the sky in defiance of the Lurker.
"It's not her…" said Devon, almost as if he didn't care.
Cyrrus slowly began to rise, as the ledge shook beneath his feet. He was on his feet, and Devon was just about halfway towards being ready when the ledge slowly tipped downwards. Cyrrus, almost in slow-motion leapt in the air, and grabbed a handhold as the ledge fell to the ground, with Devon on it…
"My legs!" said Devon as Cyrrus stood over his prone body that had a large broken part of the ledge stuck in its equally broken left leg. "I can't feel my legs!"
Cyrrus nodded, "It's alright. I shall clean the wounds and we should find a place to rest. After a few days you will be able to walk. I regret that most of the components I could have used to brew a potion of healing have been lost when I fell."
Devon cursed his luck than an injury, an injury either one of them could have healed in the past, was going to prevent him and Cyrrus from exploring the Lost Vale. More time would be wasted in which the Pagans were in danger from the shrooms on the Plateau. Perhaps worst of all Darion and Beren, if they were still alive, would be getting further and further away…
Devon sat on a log. Cyrrus had been able to jimmy a splint for the foot, and had gathered up wood for the now lit fire. The finest healer on Pagan (as Devon now called him) was serving up some more of Devon's rations. It was then that Devon heard a whisper.
"Did you say something?" asked Devon to Cyrrus.
"I thought I heard you say my name, that is all."
Again Devon heard the whisper.
"I did hear a whisper!" said Devon.
"Calm down," said Cyrrus. "We are in a strange place, we know nothing about the flora and fauna of this place."
"Devon… Devon… Devon…" the voice rasped continually. In the distance a shadowy figure could be seen but even though there were no day or night on Pagan, this figure only appeared dark.
"Who's there?" asked Cyrrus.
"'Tis I young lad, Darion!" yelled a boisterous voice.
Cyrrus smiled and walked towards the shadowy figure. It was at this time that Devon saw something pale-green in the corner of his eye.
It lunged at him, snarling, "Deeevvvvoonnnnnn!"
It lunged at his leg, and he yowled in pain as claws widened the scar on his leg, and yelled, "Deeeevvvvoooonnnnnn."
He stared into the form of his attacker. It was like a ghost, floating in mid-air without any feet. Yet it was pale green, not black and grey. And its talons were dripping some kind of green ooze… dripping into the scar on his feet.
Cyrrus noticed the figure disappear, and he turned to see the onslaught of the ghost. It's job complete, it turned to Cyrrus and snarled once. It was then gone, leaving a festering, infected wound where once there had been a broken leg healing nicely…
The wound festered and boiled as Cyrrus struggled to carry Devon over his shoulders. He had hoped to see some sign of travellers using the trail he now followed, but alas there was no living being in sight.
Eventually though, Cyrrus’s eyes settled upon a hut to the east, tucked into the corner of the mountain so that they had not been able to see it from their vantage point. Cyrrus changed direction and began to walk towards it.
Several tense hours later Cyrrus was almost at the hut. A small garden of mushrooms provided an excellent hiding place for the now unconscious Devon. Leaving Devon amongst the mushrooms, Cyrrus walked up to the hut. Outside was a stooped figure, holding a staff and muttering.
"Mythran?" asked Cyrrus. The figure ignored him and he walked over to this person and boldly touched its shoulder.
A haggard, old white haired crone faced Cyrrus. The face resembled Mythran in many ways.
"Who? Who? Who are you? Mythran did you say?" said the old woman.
"No… I am Cyrrus… I thought you were Mythran."
"Thought I was Mythran did you? No – haven’t seen that fool for many years. Probably dead by now. Him and his studies. No – when we split our ways in the olden days he wandered off to be with some people who he said would thank him some day. The fools probably killed him as a heretic, like they did almost all the rest of our people."
"Why, Zealans, like you and I. Worshippers of the… the… six… or is it the three? Anyway who are you?"
"I am Cyrrus and I need your help. My friend…"
"Oh I know all about your friend. I felt his power getting nearer."
"So you can help him?"
"Take me to him," said the old crone.
Devon finally came to in the small garden of mushrooms. He felt an odd sensation on his lips. It was a stone bowl.
"What… what happened?" asked the Tempest.
"One of my nastier spells, a Plague Bearer, must have got you," said an old woman who looked a lot like Mythran.
"What?" said Devon, looking into the eyes of Cyrrus. "What happened?"
"I don't know," said Cyrrus. "All I know is, this woman has saved your life! Her name is Mystell, and she seems to be a mage like Mythran."
"Did you cast the spell?" asked Devon rising to his feet, "The thing… that tried to attack me?"
"I… I…" the old woman held her head, "There was another… what spell?"
"The plague bearer! Did you send it?"
"To summon a plague bearer you must know the target by sight and its name. Who are you?"
Devon looked puzzled, "What is it?"
"The ether… my ether receiver is broken. It was so in the duel… now I must defend the magic."
Cyrrus looked worried, "What is she talking about?"
"Master of the magic and now he draws from the Titans. He claimed to be in search of enlightenment but he stole. His potential was great, but he was not dedicated. He sought it all. On this world few can take it all… but he has, and he uses it for his own gain… to control… to dominate. He is all but a god now with the Titans gone."
"Who?" asked Devon concerned.
"You… your potential is great… your bloodline contains unnaturally strong elements of the Ether!" Mystell pointed at Devon accusingly. "You must be he returned! Returned for the key, but you won't find it. None of my spells will locate it now that your forefathers lost it. You cannot tap into the power of the lost three and complete your powers!"
"What are you saying? I do not understand lady!"
"You cannot understand the evil you are! Then prepare to feel my wrath!" Mystell yelled, and she began chanting.
There was a flash of light, and both Devon and Cyrrus fell to the ground. Two ghostly figures appeared, one of a man, and one of a woman.
"Servant… calm yourself…" said the man, "for this is not the infidel we seek to destroy, but rather one who is destined to play a part in his destruction."
"I am Siren-Nepity, the last High Priestess of Felicitar, goddess of Joy."
"I am the warrior Dnumed-Nagirrek. The person who this servant of the six refers to was a Snik-Poh, one who sought to master the powers of the Thaumaturgists. He soon became more powerful than the teacher, and defeated Mystell in a battle of wits."
The ghost of the priestess spoke, "When the Titans were defeated Snik's power became more dominant. He was the one who was able to restore Hydros's power by use of the spell Ethereal Travel, which he has partially mastered. Only his consciousness can roam the Ethereal Realms, yet he has established a partial link between Hydros and the Great Obelisk."
"Snik-Poh seeks the power of the remaining three Zealan dieties. Long ago his ancestor, Sargon-Poh froze them with a powerful spell. Only by reuniting the shield-key can their powers be set free. But we know not where the key is, nor does Snik-Poh. He who finds it first will be able to access the ultimate power of both Pagan and Zealan, and set them free."
"We know where the shield key is," said Devon. "The Three in the shrine we passed through told us."
"Then you are blessed," said the ghost in unison, "You must succeed for all our sakes."
With that the ghosts vanished...
Irix-Nilbun stood on top of the battlements, the wind biting through the visor that hid most of his face, making him seem almost inhuman to the beholder. He wore full plate mail armour, and a breastplate coloured between green and blue. The armour was antique, and the breastplate showed signs that it had once contained a cloth emblem or badge but some time back this cloth had been ripped off. To the left of him was a man of similar height, dressed in an identical uniform. Both guards even clutched identical cruel looking hammers. If not for the fact that their faces beneath the masks were completely different they could have been twins.
"By the Triumvirate," said Irix, "Another tide has passed and nothing. Not a thing to enter in the journal. I could get used to coming up with new and inventive ways of writing, 'Nothing happened' in the logbook, even for the measly five emerald coins an hour."
The other warrior, Xaron, nodded in agreement, "There's no denying it, Irix, it feels odd. I keep expecting to find some troll's fire gems that they've placed down on the ground while using their damned spells to make them invisible."
"Joran's father went that way didn't he?"
Xaron nodded, "Damn shame. He was a fine commander. Joran named his sword after the father. Talk about…" Xaron looked to the left, and in a quieter, more subdued voice said, "Shut up. Here he comes."
A third, similarly armed and attired figure marched towards the two guards. When he reached their sides he stopped, stomped on the ground, and placed his hand on his helmet in salute.
"No need to stand on ceremony for us," said Irix.
"Indeed," said Joran, "Perhaps you are correct. Very well First Blades Irix-Athania and Xaron-Adaria, I am to relieve you when your shift ends in precisely five more drops."
Irix smiled behind his helmet at what he thought was this pompous young warrior who followed the rules to the letter.
The militaristic Joran nodded, "Requesting your entry for the logbook."
Irix said, "No events occurred worth mentioning."
Just then, about thirty feet below the three Zealan guardsmen, there was an explosion. The explosion was so large that it reached and singed the gargoyle in front of Irix.
Joran remained motionless, and joined the other two in standing at alert, watching as two figures were flung through the air by the force of the explosion… two figures who had not been at the gates of Traustumbrae before the explosion occurred.
Finally Joran broke the tense silence by saying, "Gentlemen, I would hardly call that no events worth mentioning."
"Do you see them?" said Devon, to the old hag.
Mystell gazed into the crystal ball and in a hoarse voice said, "I see them." The vision had calmed her, but she was still very shaky and erratic.
"Where are they?" asked Cyrrus.
"The city. Wait... I see they will be led into great danger. At least one of them will..."
Beren was the first to stand. He grinned, then broke into a manic laugh. This laugh gave way into an ecstatic cry of, "That was GREAT!"
Darion was lying face first in a square bundle of hay, slowly sinking into it. Beren could only hear his muffled voice say, "You meant for that to happen?"
"No," said Beren, "I must admit I did not anticipate that result. It would appear that sorcery spells do not work quite the way they did back home. But no matter, it got us here in one piece."
Darion was now on his feet, and muttered, "Yes, but now whoever lives here knows we are here."
For the first time, Darion surveyed the city walls. They were of the same stone his beloved Tenebrae had been made of, except for the fact there were burning runes embedded in the front of the wall. There was also a heavy iron portcullis in front of the gate, barring their only access to the city.
It was only then, looking up, Darion saw the evil looking helmets of the guards…
"Surrender immediately," said one of them, pointing an evil looking hammer down at the warrior.
Darion wondered what a warrior could do with a hammer up there, besides trying to throw it on the warrior's skull. Even then it would be unwieldy. He remained defiant.
"Do you surrender?" called the Zealan.
"I see little purpose in surrendering," said Darion, "because you are up there, and I am down here. I have a magic-user on my side, and besides if you wished to fight me you would have to come down from there…"
Darion winced as he heard the sound of a hammer hitting his breastplate. True enough, there was a dent in the breastplate.
"I should warn you," Irix said, "that these warhammers are enchanted by the High Cleric, whom we can summon to our aid by calling his name, and he enchanted them so that by sheer force of will alone we can throw them at our enemies and never miss. That was aimed at your body, and to do you no harm. If you do not desist, the next hammer we throw shall crack you skull."
Darion nodded, realising his tactical appraisal of the situation had been in error somewhat.
"Furthermore," said Irix, "the maces work as wands of holding, as you are now finding out."
Sure enough, neither Darion or Beren could move their arms or legs using their own will as the gates of the city were opened and five guardsmen marched the two Pagans into the city…
Darion noticed several things about the magic he was held in thrall with. First of all, he was moving against his own will. Second of all, he could still speak. Third of all, the guards were silencing all of his questions. Darion noticed that the buildings of the town were made primarily out of wood, while the outer wall had been made of stone. He noticed various signposts as he was led down what he presumed was the main street. There was a tankard, a drinking establishment he presumed, a sword, a trainer or weapon smith, a shield, an armourer he mused, wandering if perhaps the armourer could repair his dented armour. There was a food store, with a loaf of bread as its sign, and various residences without signs. At the end of the street was a large green building stone building that the guards were apparently leading them to.
Upon uttering a word of command, the two giant doors to this stone building, clearly the centre of the town, opened, and the seven walked inside. The door slammed shut behind them.
"Where are we?" asked Beren.
"Silence fool!" said Irix, the leader.
They marched down several hallways until they reached a smaller set of double doors. Knocking on the door, Darion heard a voice behind the door say, "Enter."
The lead guard opened and held the door as the other four guardsmen and the two Pagans stepped inside. Beren, looking around the room they entered, which was at least twenty feet wide and forty feet long, centred his vision on a haughty armoured figure with blonde hair who was striding next to a stone throne. His face was wracked with worry, yet it did not change when he faced his guardsmen.
"Yes, guardsmen?" he said, without considering the group before him, "What do you want?"
The nobleman's eyes shifted from the five guards to the two strangers before him.
"High Warrior, these two strangers appeared outside the city gates, milord," said one guard.
"Aye milord! 'Twas clearly troll magic. They appeared with a fiery explosion that took us by surprise. We quickly subdued them with the enchanted hammers of the three."
The High Warrior rolled his eyes at the mention of the hammers, but listened without audible comment.
"Methinks," said a third guard, "they were troll spies. They've been made to look human, and were to be snuck into the city without us noticing. But they're magic went wrong…"
The High Warrior then interjected, shaking his head, "I do not think you are correct in assuming these are trolls. For one, the trolls, to our knowledge, have been unable to perfect the art of shape-changing. For two, troll magic does not ever go 'wrong'. Lastly, they do not look like they belong in Traustumbrae. Now could you please let them speak?"
"Yes, Lord Traust," said the guardsman, subdued.
"Dismissed," said Traust.
The guardsmen left, realising that with the power of the hammers the High Warrior was in no danger.
"Now," said Traust, turning to Darion, "what is your name warrior?"
"Darion," said the warrior.
"Greetings Darion. I am the High Warrior of Traustumbrae. Lord Traust-Naggerik"
Beren coughed slightly, but Traust ignored him.
"I address you as a fellow warrior. Will you tell me of your purpose in Traustumbrae?"
Darion looked at Beren, who looked back at him, obviously waiting for him to speak first.
"We are not from here. We come from a land on the other side of the mountains."
"Ridiculous!" said Traust, "there is no other land past the mountains! Not since the end of the Pagans, who could not control the elements they worshipped, and destroyed all but those who were in my village."
Darion opened his mouth to protest, but there was a flash of light, and a grey robed man appeared before them, not only startling the two Pagans but the High Warrior also. His look of surprise soon turned to a frown, "Snik-Poh! I have told you before not to enter my chambers with your magic. Be gone!"
"Apologies, High Warrior, but I sensed the presence of foreign powers before you."
Snik-Poh pointed at Beren, "Him!"
Beren asked, "Me?"
"I wish to take this one," said Snik-Poh.
"Very well, High Cleric. He is yours to interrogate. I shall deal with the warrior here."
Before Darion could protest, both the High Cleric and Beren were gone.
The cavern contained all the creature comforts, a bed, a pantry, and a bookshelf -which Beren noted contained several familiar and unfamiliar books - as well as several chests, an altar, and on the floor a glowing square cube. To be honest, Beren found the entire cavern somewhat familiar.
"Well, sorcerer," said Snik-Poh behind him, "I brought you here because I wished to talk to you, as one practitioner of magic to another." The High Cleric waved his hands, "Please feel free to browse."
Beren felt the effects of the hammers fade, and he was able to move again. He walked gently over to the bookshelf and looked at the titles. "On Sorcerous Ways" by Corodin of Argentrock was one of the first that greeted him, then, and more importantly he read the title "The Tongue of Flame". Other titles Beren recognized included "Earthen Magic", "The Destruction of the Temple" and "An Objective History of Pagan" by Mythran. There were some that Beren did not recognize such as "A Journey of the Mind: The Ethereal Realms" by Corwin, "Alternative Travellings", "Foci: Truth or Fiction", "Theology: Three or Six", "The Old Gods" and "Ascension".
"I keep an extensive library, both titles written in our land and, what -was- your land," said Snik-Poh suddenly.
"I see that," said Beren, "but where did you get…"
"Tell me Beren, is it true that your sorcery comes through the power of foci, and that magical energy from the caster is only used in the creation of these foci."
Beren scowled, and said, "You tell me. You appear to have the correct reading materials."
There was a snickering sound from behind Beren. "True. I already knew the answer to that. Now tell me, do you have foci with you?"
Beren intended to say, "No. What foci I had back in Pagan was destroyed in the flood" but instead found himself saying, "Yes, in the enchanted bag of holding I possess."
"Indeed, now tell me what you know of the Ethereal Realm."
"What is this?" asked Beren. "Why are you asking me these questions? How do you know so much of my people?"
"I shall answer your questions but in return you must let me show you something," said Snik-Poh. "I must first prepare… I shall see you soon."
Snik-Poh cast the spell he had used before Lord Traust. He disappeared. Grumbling Beren made his way to the bookcase. He idly picked up a book, "The Hierarchy of Traustumbrae" and idly flicked through it.
'Social Starus in Traustumbrae (Festyear)
While the position of High Warrior is filled by another Nagerrik as has been the tradition since the Great Disaster, our honoured leader Traust-Naggerik has chosen a second-in-command among one of the old religion of the six or three. The High Cleric as the new title goes, fulfills the role of High Priest and Holy Warrior in one.
High Cleric Snik-Poh was a relative stranger in Traustumbrae until he struck down Troll Warrior Adabis with one mighty prayer to the Ancients. The warriors all agreed he should be honoured thus the High Warrior agreed. Snik-Poh promises to learn of, and renew the old faiths.'
After a few minutes pondering the book, Beren finally snapped it shut. That was enough insight into Zealan society for today, he thought. A whooshing noise distracted him, and there on the floor pad stood Snik-Poh.
"There," said Snik-Poh, "we are ready now."
"What is ready?" asked Beren, becoming exasperated with all the mystery. Snik-Poh did not answer, he simply waved his hand and Beren appeared in a square, stone room. Alone.
There were no exits apparent, only huge stone walls and on the floor was a silver pentagram. All over the silver pentagram were scattered bones and the occasional rusty sword.
"I hope you do not mind," the booming voice of Snik-Poh said, "but I would appreciate your insights on what you will experience."
With a loud crack and a loud flash of light, Beren found the skeletons were gone, and in place was a gargantuan skeleton warrior armed with a very large sword! Beren reached for his bag of holding. Thankfully Snik-Poh had not removed the pouch. Beren soon found the foci he needed, and began to invoke the spell - Flame Bolt. At his command, a bolt of flame shot from the rod and hit the giant skeleton.
Something unexpected happened. The skeleton stepped back, but seemed undamaged. Then the bolt shot back, and narrowly missed Beren.
"Enough!" said Snik-Poh, appearing between both skeleton and human. With a wave of his hand he cast a spell which dispelled the skeleton.
"What were your thoughts on that creature?" said the High Cleric finally, "What did you think of them?"
Beren scowled, but then looked thoughtful. "Powerful. Magic resistant?" Snik-Poh nodded and the sorcerer continued, "From what I saw the sword could cut two ranks in half."
"Good," said Snik-Poh, stopping him there.
Beren thought that only the now-dead Necromancers could summon undead. But he had never heard of, or encountered, a skeleton so big, or so powerful. Think of what an army of these skeletons could do.
Snik-Poh appeared to read his thoughts and grinned as Beren strode to join him, "Perhaps you would like to know how I summoned that creature."
"See the silver pentacle on which we stand," said Snik-Poh, pointing at the pentacle. "There are three of these in existence. The first of these rests in the Ethereal Realms, an area which only the most powerful of magic-users can reach. I myself have not reached it yet. It is there that the famous Pagan obelisk was created, destroyed and…" Snik-Poh paused, thoughtfully and continued, "well, when the lands were ripped apart, one of the reasons this area was spared was that there were two high ether areas. One of these areas is here, and the other is in the lands of the Trolls - who you should understand by now are dissimilar to the Trolls of your land. They are intelligent and powerful magic-users."
Beren looked at the tall High Cleric from head-to-toe. He suspected that there was troll blood in Snik-Poh's ancestry.
"At any rate, when I, through recent events, came in contact with one from your land this person offered to give me what was left of your knowledge. This person had access to an extensive library that was left behind in the move. At any rate, I learned of the focus based magic, which enhanced my existing magic. I was able to channel my power into the gate before us and use it as one giant focus."
Beren scowled, "What 'existing' magic?"
Snik-Poh's voice became a whisper, "Have you ever heard of Thaumaturgy? For years my family harnessed it. One of my ancestors once used it to bring down the three lesser Zealan gods. Eventually, after the disaster, the people of Traustumbrae thought the other three had abandoned them to the Titans. With my existing magic I was able to convince them I was a 'chosen one' by the three…"
"…and you became High Cleric."
Beren said, "I have more questions. What do you intend to do with the gate? And how did you know it was here?"
Snik-Poh coughed, "When one of my ancestors defeated the Zealan gods down in these catacombs the portals were created here and in the Troll lands."
Beren blinked. Memories of his vision came back. Sargon-Poh was Snik-Poh's ancestor.
The High Cleric continued, "I intend to enter the Ethereal Realms through this portal, and investigate what lies beyond. It will be quite an adventure and will give me more power… However, the components necessary to cast the Ethereal Travel spells are beyond our means, which is why I employ these two gates, portals or pentagrams… but before I tell you how I will achieve this I must ask you if you will aid me."
"That is why you brought me here!" said Beren, "To aid you."
Snik-Poh nodded, "As a fellow magic-user. And as a sorcerer. You will… appreciate… no understand… my methods."
"So, Beren, do you pledge to join me or not?"
Lord Traust pointed at Darion accusingly, an action that he had done repeatedly in the last hour, "You are a blasphemer! How dare you make such lies."
"On my honour as a warrior," said Darion, "I come from the people called the Pagans."
"Lies!" yelled Traust, banging a gauntleted hand against his throne, "The Pagans died out years ago. Very few left here remember them and they are a forbidden subject. By order of both myself and the High Cleric. Now desist from talking about them, warrior, and the matter shall rest here!"
"I cannot, High Warrior," said Darion, "for I speak the truth. The man who was with me, the one that priest took, he was a sorcerer of the flame. He could prove I speak the truth."
"If he speaks the same way as you do," said Lord Traust, "he is dead."
Darion shuddered, "What do you mean dead?" Darion calmed himself, reminding himself that he had lost comrades before, but the sorcerer had always instilled law and order upon Tenebrae, and like it or not Darion had depended on him, in the same way he had depended on Beren when he had brought them here.
"If he was a blasphemer the priests will have executed him outright…"
There was a loud whoosh, as Snik-Poh once again appeared before Darion and Traust.
"Forgive the intrusion, milord," said Snik-Poh, "but the one named Beren is dead."
Darion mumbled a curse, and Traust said, "Indeed. For what reason?"
Snik-Poh said, without emotion, "He was a blasphemer, and kept threatening me with the power of his flame. Quite pathetic really when you consider how minuscule his magical abilities were. The Three protected me from his most powerful spells, and with one gesture I reduced him to ash. No body remains."
Traust looked at Darion and said, "If High Cleric Snik-Poh says so - it has been done already. I have seen the spell used on law-breakers before."
"Perhaps," said Snik-Poh, "I should demonstrate on him…"
"Nay, Snik-Poh," said the High Warrior solemnly, "I think your entry alone demonstrates your powers effectively."
"Talk is already spreading of these strangers in Traustumbrae," said Snik-Poh, "Let us curb the rumours by letting the oracles decide."
"Aye," said the High Warrior, "the oracles!"
"We shall hold the prisoner in the temple," said Snik-Poh.
"Nay," said Traust, "the temple is for commoners. Darion appears to be a warrior of prowess. War and death has addled this fighter's brain and now he believes he is a member of the outcast religion. He shall stay here, in the castle, in the Honoured Prisoner's room until his trial tomorrow."
Snik-Poh clenched his teeth, and was about to object when a look from Traust silenced him.
"As High Warrior it is my authority," said Traust. "Now, we have reached our decision."
Snik-Poh nodded reluctantly. "Very well. This is a matter of the warriors. Tomorrow at Day Tide the oracles shall be consulted as to what is to be done. Farewell High Warrior."
With that, the High Cleric was gone.
Upon emerging from the pentacle, Snik-Poh chuckled to himself. A shadowy figure emerged in the light of the cave.
"How goes the plan?" asked the figure.
"As was expected, the Zealan Warrior code overrules the Priesthood in matters of justice to one deemed a 'warrior'. Darion shall be put on trial before the statue of Odion, and its verdict shall determine what happens to the Pagan."
The figure snorted, and Snik continued his chuckling.
"I see the warrior," said Mystell, "he is in some sort of cell. He needs your help. You must save him."
"What of the other?" said Devon, "Where is Beren?"
"I cannot see him… another shields him from my farsight. It may be too late for him, but not for Darion. If you leave for Traustumbrae tonight
The Honoured Prisoner's room consisted of a comfortable bed, a full hot meal, and curtains to go over the cell bars. Darion soon resigned himself to his fate, and sleep came very easy. By the time he woke up, Darion found the clock beside him read First Ebb. There was only one more ebb until Day Tide!
Breakfast was served to the warrior, a fine breakfast of meat - which Darion could not identify, and made certain he could not recall what it looked like in case he inadvertently identified it - and something the servant had called potatoes.
Darion had considered attempting to escape, but he noticed that the servant and the guards that patrolled by his cell all had the enchanted hammers he had fallen victim to yesterday.
Finally, as the clock neared Day Tide, Lord Traust came to his cell.
"Greetings, Darion," said the High Warrior, "it is time for you to be led to the Hall of Justice. I shall be your personal escort."
"Just you?" said Darion, "That is a considerable risk is it not?"
"If anything were to happen to me, it would prove you were a dishonourable man, as well as one who is insane," said Traust. "Now, to the Hall."
Not wishing to dishonour himself, or his people, Darion complied with Traust, and soon he was being led down a main street in the town. Peasants from all over gathered to watch as the stranger, though few commented. In Tenebrae, Darion had witnessed the treatment of several of Mordea's prisoners. The peasantry had usually jeered, insulted and pelted with dirt the unfortunate soul while on his route to the jail, or the block.
The two warriors, and a procession of peasants entered a large stone building. Atop the door to the building was the emblem of a shield with a reddish scimitar on the top right side, a palm which seemed to hold a heart on the top left, and a set of scales on the bottom. Darion knew the emblem was more than a little familiar.
Traust uttered an incomprehensible mantra and the double doors of the building opened up to admit both he and Darion. They stepped into a great hallway. All along the hallway were Zealan guards, similar to the ones Darion had seen so far except these bared the emblems that had been on the doorway. At the end were several brown hooded robed fellows - and one who was not hooded. Their leader was Snik-Poh. Behind them was one of the statues Darion had seen in the Zealan shrine - the warrior god, Odion.
Traust scowled, "I thought this was a matter for the Warriors."
"Indeed," said Snik-Poh, "I have brought my warriors."
"The temple guard?" said Traust, motioning to the guards present. He paused thoughtfully for a minute and said, "Very well. Let us begin."
Snik-Poh pulled one of the Zealan shields out of his robes. "The sacrifices have been made. The oracle shall speak now."
"Wait a minute…" said Darion, "this is the trial?"
"Indeed!" said Snik-Poh. "Odion himself shall judge you."
Traust muttered to Darion, "Snik-Poh himself, after saving our village from trolls, found three of our gods' statues. You really are not from around here are you? The tales of that quest are legendary."
Darion remained silent, as the High Cleric waved a Zealan shield high in the air.
"Oh great Odion, Master of the Emotion of Hatred. We ask you to judge the warrior, Darion, whom claims he is a follower of the Pagan ways… Does he speak truth?"
The statue, in a deep, masculine voice said, "He speaks the truth."
Darion's face displayed no emotion. There was something wrong here, the warrior thought.
"What should we do, Lord?" asked Snik-Poh, "Should we punish him, or welcome him into our town?"
Odion paused dramatically for a moment, "Darion must die! The rest of his kind must die! Darion's blood must cleanse the way to the removal of the Pagans. Let him be the first, but not the last!"
Darion said, "He lies!"
"High Cleric Snik-Poh, I give you an omen. In one night the forces of the Pagans shall summon untold horrors which will destroy your town. Already Darion, in your midst, has placed the seed of destruction upon Traustumbrae. Only the destruction of the Pagans shall prevent the extinction of the Zealan way."
"Infidel!!" said Traust, drawing his sword and pointing it at Darion's throat.
"Leave him be," said Snik-Poh, placing his hand on Traust's shoulder. "He shall be the sacrifice at Bloodtide. At Bloodtide later, Darion's blood shall cleanse the land!"