Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest
“The only way out is up. That seems promising,” said Les.
Hawk looked up at the two ledges and shrugged. “I suppose one is as good as the other.”
Rayne approached the bottom of the ledge on the right side, but could not find any handholds that would serve. She slumped at the foot of the cliff, her sailor’s background evident in her colorful commentary.
Les looked over to Vrack. “Would you?”
“Huh huh. Vrack help. No problems.” The half-orc stepped up and easily scaled the short ascent, finding himself on a small, dead end ledge. Before he could even comment on it, the bard stepped through the shadows to end up by his side. “Uh…there is no where to be going,” he reported.
“Ah,” she said.
Hawk scratched his chin. “Then I guess that leaves us the other path to take.”
The pair descended, then Vrack muscled his way up the left cliff face in a matter of seconds. In the shadowy illumination offered by Rayne’s sunrod, he could see a natural stair carved into the tunnel floor, which sloped downward again. The gladiator could feel a slight breeze coming from somewhere ahead. It felt…wrong. He described it to his companions.
The ladies used the half-orcs’ shadows to ascend the cliff, and then Hawk followed them up more conventionally. Kikrik brought up the rear, having taken the extra time to heal his own injuries. Hawk tilted his head to the side as he felt the breeze. “This appears to be a good sign,” he said dubiously.
“Feels more like a deadly sign to me,” commented Les.
“It just breeze. How bad can it be?” Vrack asked.
“It’s our only way out,” said Kikrik with finality.
“Then let’s be on our way,” suggested Rayne.
Kikrik took the light from Rayne and led the group through the twisting tunnels. The women lingered in the back of the group and carried on a quiet conversation, while the half-orcs and kreen scouted ahead. After several minutes of walking, they rounded a corner into a small cavern. The light reflected from purple crystals that had formed there, and they could see the shadows of broken bones in the room ahead.
The shaman surveyed the room with multifaceted eyes, noting a large patch of what appeared to be a crystalline spiderweb on the floor to the north. Les entered and said with a mild choke in her tone, “Wary of your step. Webbing to the left.” Examining the gems, she continued. “Hrm… Crystals are like… power sources.”
Hawk turned to the eladrin. “Power source for what?”
Rayne froze as the bones stirred at the explorers’ approach. “For those?” she said.
Three mostly complete skeletons rose, while the armored extremities of half a dozen pieces also animated. While they were focused on the undead, a large crystal spider leapt across the webbing and emitted a light bright enough to blind those nearby. Still, the unnatural predator and the animates were no match for travelers hardened by cruel lives and life in the unforgiving desert. Within seconds, the adventurers stood over broken shards of bone and crystal.
Hawk relaxed his stance and looked to the others. “Odd creature, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yuh, like he made out of glass,” said Vrack.
“I’m just glad it was as fragile as it looked,” said Rayne. Then she frowned as she turned to face Les and Kikrik.
Despite the lack of enemies, the Spirit of Athas seemed ready to attack the eladrin. The shaman’s will, evident upon his face, was the only thing restraining the wayward spirit. A shadow flitted across the blue orbs of Les’ eyes. Her voice strained, she said, “Please have your spirit stand down.” For a long moment the shaman chattered in Kreen, apparently oblivious to anything but the spirit. After the tense moment passed, the spirit faded and Kikrik slumped into a corner of the cavern to rest.
Rayne sheathed her weapon with a sigh of relief, and Les did the same. “Thank you,” she muttered.
While they rested, the human approached the kreen. “Kikrik? Are you all right?” Les’ eyes narrowed in their direction almost imperceptibly for a brief moment before she turned away again.
Wearily, Kikrik replied. “It’s very hard to keep my masters calm, Rayne. They are very, very angry. Les continues to use defiling magic, even though the threat was not as great as before. ‘She’ thinks that I am out to get her? Trust me, ‘she’ is the least of my problems.” Rubbing his four hands together nervously, he continued. “I can control them most of the time. But my actions have consequences. I pay the price for my disobedience. While I rest…they have the power to punish me.”
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” Rayne offered.
Off to the side, Les muttered, “Master and servant… Which is which?” With her finger, the bard scribbled on the cavern floor the words that the Fire Spirit had scorched into the ground.
“Nothing is your fault,” said Kikrik blandly. “It is my burden, and the price I paid for my breath.”
Rayne nodded. “I understand… Les has agreed to try the preserving magic that Ralo showed us. Maybe that will appease your masters.”
Dubiously, Kikrik said, “Maybe it will.”
“Right now,” interjected Hawk, “we need to agree to work together if we are to survive, yes?”
“Yeah, Vrack agrees with the new guy,” said the gladiator.
“Yes… I am trying…” Kikrik said before rising slowly and looking for an exit.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she told Kikrik, with a sideways glance at Les.
There were no hidden exits along the walls of the cavern, but upon closer inspection of the crystal web, they noticed a pit in the floor beneath the pointy shards.
“Ooo, we smash?” asked Vrack hopefully.
“Please,” Rayne said, gesturing for him to proceed.
With a smile of delight, Vrack reared back and gleefully smashed away at the crystal webbing with his triple-headed flail. Within a minute or so, he had cleared a path allowing entrance to the pit. Rayne approached the pit and looked down the shaft. She could clearly see an open space about twenty feet down, as though the tunnel exited the ceiling of a lower chamber. Squinting, she could swear there were evenly cut flagstones on the floor way below.
“I think there’s a way out down there,” she reported.
Some discussion over how to descend occurred before Kikrik grabbed hold of Vrack’s rope and began to climb down while the gladiator anchored him from the top. As he left the pit shaft into the open area below, he realized that he’d entered what appeared to be a tomb. The walls were finely worked stone inscribed with the symbols of a lost language. On one side of the room, clay relics had been smashed into tiny pieces near two stone slabs, each bearing a reclined statue of a warrior with banded armor. On the other side, a short flight of steps led up to an undisturbed stack of clay relics. Nearby to the south, his light played upon a rusty iron gate that blocked entrance into a passage.
“Seems safe for now,” he called up. “Come down.”
When they’d all safely descended, they took in their surroundings. In a hushed tone, Rayne said, “How long do you think it’s been since a living soul has seen this place?” She ran her hand along one wall and said, “The damage here was done decades ago…” She moved to examine the rusted gate, though the locking mechanism was beyond her experience. “I don’t think I can open this,” she reported.
“I guess we are trapped,” said Kikrik. “At least those of us that cannot teleport.”
“Anyone see a disc? About this big?” asked Rayne, making a circle with her hands.
Shaking his head, Kikrik pointed at the floor in front of him. “No, but this brick seems out of place.” The kreen circumvented the flagstone and moved to examine a tiny hole in the wall beside the flagstone. He held the light up to illuminate it and noted a bit of dull metal within. “There is something in here, but I do not understand such things. Kreen do not create such places.”
Les spoke up in a sing-song voice, “The dark is home to many unnatural things…where undead wail and death itself sings…”
Meanwhile, Vrack donned some hide armor that Rayne had found on one of the skeletons above, grinning about the magical treasure. Hawk turned his attention to seeking the disc that Rayne had described. He noticed that the banded armor on the statue seated upon the nearby slab had a stylized half-circle as part of its design. The monk moved toward the slab, and as he drew near, the statues stirred. “I think I found something…damn,” he said as he noticed the threat.
“It wasn’t me…” said Les.
The dust covering the statues sloughed off to reveal crystal bodies beneath the stone armor. The adventurers leapt into action against the constructs. Expecting a straight up melee, they were unpleasantly surprised to find their minds under assault. Even as the gem golems’ fists impacted them, their thoughts were scrambled as the psychic attack caused synapses to misfire. The damned things also emitted a burst of psionic dissonance almost constantly.
In short order, Les slumped to the floor, bleeding from her ears. Rather than attempting to heal the eladrin, Kikrik focused his attention on bringing the constructs down. As luck would have it, the golems’ attacks washed over the incapacitated bard harmlessly.
They focused their attacks on one at a time, and with determination the first fell. A half-disc fell out of the shattered crystal and clattered along the floor. Recognizing it as half the key they needed to open the gate, Rayne shouted encouragement to her companions as the desperate fight continued. In the end, the second golem crumbled and the other half of the disc key was found.
“RAWR!” Vrack growled in triumph.
With the danger passed, Rayne staggered over to Les to survey the damage to her friend. Bleeding badly, Kikrik looked at the pair from afar, then limped over with bandages to help stabilize the dying eladrin.