Highsun, Year of the Defiant Priest
Rayne patted the eladrin gently on the cheek. “Les… Les, wake up.”
“Mrrmmm…” she murmured, coughing once. Her eyes fluttered open and at the sight of Rayne, she offered a small smile. Then her eyes flicked to Kikrik and she frowned, confusion wrinkling her brow. The kreen simply nodded and moved away to tend to his own injuries. Les watched him go, then looked back to her friend and smiled again. “Thank you,” she said softly before repeating it more loudly for Kikrik’s benefit.
“Sure,” said the assassin. “Don’t get up just yet. You scared me to death there.” Les lay back for another moment, resting.
Hawk breathed a sigh of relief. “I am glad to see you up. I was worried.”
Still fairly unscathed, Rayne pick up the pieces of the disc that had fallen from the golems, keeping a wary eye out for any more pressure plates. Spotting several more, she marked the edges of each with whatever debris she could scrounge, then turned her attention to the relics. The others heard her gasp from across the room.
“What’s wrong, Rayne?” Kikrik asked.
Rejoining the others, the assassin held out a hand full of gemstone trinkets. “Nothing at all,” she said in awe.
“They are valuable?” the kreen said dubiously.
Rayne nodded enthusiastically. “These are probably worth 600 ceramic!”
Kikrik inclined his head. “Finally something good comes of this. If we survive long enough to get to an outpost, then I suppose we should sell them and split the earnings. I will need some funds.”
“Agreed,” said Rayne.
Les’ eyes gleamed at the sight of the valuables. “Well, there is enough to be comfortable for a few days at least.” She smiled from her resting place.
Rayne looked uncertain for a moment. “Um… does everyone want me to hold onto these trinkets?”
“Seems safe that way,” Les offered with a gentle smile.
“That is okay with me,” Kikrik agreed. The half-orcs grunted and nodded their assent as well.
When they had recovered from the fighting, Rayne said, “I’ll see if I can get this gate open.” She took the disc halves in hand and headed for the depression she’d seen earlier. Connecting the two halves with a satisfying click, she placed the whole in the depression. The rusted gates groaned, but began to recess into the walls on either side. She smiled back at her companions.
Kikrik brought the light over to the corridor beyond, which cut sharply to the right a few yards in. While he examined the hall, Rayne backed up a bit and gestured to Les with her head to come closer. They began to speak in whispers. Vrack and Hawk shrugged and chatted a bit themselves about various martial accomplishments.
The kreen had crept down the hall several yards, but paused when he realized that no one was following him. He returned to the chamber where he found the others paired off and talking. “There are voices,” he said, causing Rayne and Les to stop looking at one another abruptly. Kikrik noted their hands clasped but dismissed it. “Several voices up ahead. They may have noticed the light. I can’t tell.”
“Sorry, Kikrik. We’re coming,” said Rayne, chagrined.
The group moved down the corridor together, and down to another gate that lay open to a darkened chamber. Kikrik’s light illuminated the remains of a long dead reptile, the jagged bones sticking up at odd angles. They all heard the sibilant whispering Kikrik spoke of until the light rounded the corner. Then the room ahead went silent. The kreen moved to the end of the hallway to take a look at what was beyond.
Four pillars in the center of the room held the ceiling aloft, and a large crack split the room almost in two on the far side of these columns. Alcoves lined the west and north walls, filled with what appeared to be broken ceramic jars. Several hunched, hairy figures with unusually tall shoulder bones jutting from the tops of their arms lurked within. He recognized the mutants as craven, greedy creatures known as hejkin. They stared hatefully at the kreen’s light and hissed with open hostility.
Vrack led the adventurers into the chamber, leaping toward the nearest hejkin and bringing his flail down on its arm. Using his momentum, he spun and tossed his axe at another, though the missile flew wide. The injured mutant and another raked at Vrack with their claws, but he evaded their filthy talons. Kikrik summoned Rage, who flew into Vrack infusing the warrior with power. The half-orc swung his flail again, striking the newcomer hard. Then the fiery ant spirit left Vrack’s body to float menacingly between the hejkin threatening him, while the Spirit of Athas manifested to the gladiator’s right. Les entered the chamber and tapped into the nearest enemy’s shadow, converting it into killing shrouds in anticipation of her own attack.
Hawk sprinted into action, moving like a gusting wind. As he advanced on one of Vrack’s foes, he leapt into the air, feet leading. His kick struck the hejkin hard and blood flowed freely from its broken nose. Two more creatures moved through the floor, and emerged closer to the companions. They each took a deep breath and wailed with a voice like the earth beneath them. Kikrik, Vrack, and Hawk were all blasted back and knocked from their feet. The remaining two hejkin moved up to menace the spirits, but this proved ineffectual. Shaking off distraction, Rayne dashed forward, striking at Les’ target’s mind. The creature’s eyes grew wide at unseen tormentors, distracting it long enough for Rayne to then slip a shadowy noose around its neck for the kill.
The adventurers dispatched four of the hejkin with little trouble, only suffering from the far more competent mutants with the unearthly deep voices. They even used the ground itself as a weapon, sucking the heroes into the floor and moving them across the battlefield. Though they beat bloodied most of the group, even their voices could not save them for long. Hawk made the killing blow on the final hejkin, and sparks arced harmlessly from the body as it fell, gibbering, to the floor. Then the chamber was silent.
Les hurried to Rayne’s side to tend to her wounds, and the assassin was too banged up to put up any trouble. The bard accompanied her mundane medical efforts with a soothing tune that somehow made them all feel a little better.
“Thank you, Les. How is everyone else?” asked Rayne, looking around at the others.
“Vrack a bit scratched up, but okay.”
Hawk held up a hand. “I am fine now, thank you.”
Vrack looked at the giant lizard skeleton, nudging it with a boot. “Glad we didn’t run into this thing,” he commented. Hawk nodded in agreement.
The eladrin stood and walked over to Kikrik, who sat against the wall. “Are you all right?” she asked the kreen, kneeling down to begin bandaging. Rayne’s eyes locked on the pair, concern evident on her face.
Kikrik looked uneasy with Les so near. “I will be okay,” he said. “I was not cut, just pounded with that thundering earth song.”
Les looked over Kikrik’s carapace appraisingly, then shrugged and stood. “If you’re sure.” She stepped away to tend to the others.
To break the tension, Kikrik said, “I might suggest learning how to sing like those creatures do. It was as strong as any other magic I have seen.” No one really responded.
Once they’d recovered, Rayne once more surveyed the room. Les walked up to her and asked, “Did you find anything?”
“There’s some food and water, and some healing fruits over here,” Rayne reported. “And a few trade stones.”
A warm breeze flowed up from the cracked floor. There appeared to be a tunnel below if they didn’t mind squeezing through the floor. But first Rayne moved over for a closer look at what seemed to be a big stone coffin in a small alcove adjoining the hejkin’s chamber.
Suddenly, everyone felt a psychic drone in their minds, and every eye was drawn to the sarcophagus. It was plainly adorned with ancient symbols beyond their comprehension. As Rayne studied them closely, her vision began to blur. When the fog cleared, she could see a human-like figure standing before her in archaic robes that flowed into the room like a mist. Its fingers extended into long, sharp claws, and its jaw jutted forward as it opened its mouth. Words infiltrated the companions’ minds: “You should not have come here. The time is not yet right.”
Rayne could only stand and stare in terror. “The time… The time for what?”
Politely, if impatiently, Kikrik said, “We have not been given much of a choice, spirit. Trust me, I would not be here otherwise.”
With no further explanation, the room filled with restless spirits.
“Aw, silt,” Rayne swore.
The wind spirit closed with Rayne and its teeth flashed swiftly, taking two large bites of the assassin’s flesh. The mist made it hard for her to see the spirit clearly, and those farther away could not really see it at all. One of the tomb motes attacked Kikrik, while two others flanked Les. The animates’ teeth were sharp and began to drain the adventurers’ life force away. Vrack moved to a nearby ghost, swinging his flail. Though the wraith resisted the physical weapon, the flail still tore through its from and it dissipated. Whirling around he flung his net on top of one of the tomb motes threatening Les, crushing it to the floor.
Hawk cursed and went into action, moving to flank the other mote on the bard. A vicious axe chop made an end of the animate. Another ghost floated over to Vrack and reached its misty claws into his chest, stealing some life energy and slowing the big man. Rayne shadow stepped away from the wind spirit and attacked the remaining tomb mote, but her near escape left her shaky and the blade swung too high. Kikrik summoned Rage once more and channeled healing energy through the spirit for Rayne and himself. Then he brought his spear against the tomb mote and took it down, though the pain of its bite lingered a bit longer. He then boldly approached the entrance to the sarcophagus, attempting to bar the wind spirit’s path. Les moved up past Rayne to the wall, trying to remain out of the wind spirit’s line of sight.
Ignoring the fire ant, the wind spirit shifted forward to engage the kreen, its jaws flashing again. All three bites landed, puncturing Kikrik’s thick hide. The pain of his injuries rendered him senseless and he dropped to the floor. “Kikrik!” shouted Rayne in alarm. A mournful howl emanated from the thick mist.
Vrack finished off the remaining ghost, and then he turned his attention to the wind spirit. Rushing across the room as fast as he could considering the ghost’s cursed touch, he brought the full force of his momentum behind his flail. As fast as the gladiator was, the spirit was faster still. As the half-orc’s flail came down, the spirit’s claws caught his arm, puncturing it. Then it vanished before his blow could land, reappearing beside Rayne. “Rargh! Where it go!?” he shouted.
“Shadow’s teeth!!” Rayne cried.
Hawk moved forward cautiously, trying to locate the wind spirit in its mist. Upon finding the creature, he lashed out with a quick strike, but it ducked the blow. Rayne lay a shroud on the spirit and channeling the magic of the ki focus stabbed it deeply with her scimitar, tearing open the wound and causing its vital energy to continue to flow. As the spirit fell to the floor in pain, the assassin assumed shade form, fading into insubstantiality.
Seeing the shaman dying on the floor, Les made a decision. “Kikrik, you can hate me later…” She spoke a majestic word, and then cried, “Stand up, kreen! The fight isn’t over yet!” Then she hissed as shadow leapt from her mouth and eyes, pouring into the wind spirit. “Shadow take you, beast!” she snarled, stabbing it in much the same way as Rayne, invoking her shrouds to further harm the spirit. Then she swiped the blade back across the creature, shouting to her companions, “Strike true, friends!” Her spell-empowered sword drew more spiritual essence, and she hissed, “This world will not miss you.” The spirit flowed to its feet, and its teeth flashed at each adjacent foe, drawing blood and flesh from Rayne and Les, both of which looked a little worse for wear.
Vrack stepped forward and swung at the spirit, though his hesitation at expecting the counterstrike prevented the strike from falling fast enough. The wind spirit tried to intercept Hawk’s arm as he launched an eagle claw strike, but the monk had figured out the timing from watching Vrack’s first failed attempt. His fist drove into the spirit’s form, and followed up with a furious kick learned in the wastelands. Rayne, having learned a similar dirty trick, followed up on Hawk’s effort with another scimitar slash. As she struck, the mist faded, and they could all see the spirit clearly. She struck at its mind once more for good measure and shouted defiantly, “Time’s not right for you!”
Kikrik stood slowly and, exerting an immense force of will, summoned Rage next to the spirit, using Sadness to heal himself…and Les. Then the shaman directed Rage to release his anger upon the wind spirit. The scorching sands singed the wind spirit, but then a fiery ring erupted around it, burning away the primal magic that would have made it more vulnerable to flames. Shadows swirled up from Les’ feet to her head, cloaking her in shifting shades. Thus concealed, she struck with all of the nearby shadows empowering her blade, a veritable storm of dark power. The blow struck hard, and she danced back from the wind spirit.
In retaliation, the spirit released a frenzied whirlwind that lashed at every one of the adventurers. Then it found more energy and gnashed out with its sharp teeth at Vrack, Kikrik, and Les. The bard fell senseless to the floor, overcome by her injuries. The eladrin’s blood dripped from the wind spirit’s jagged maw. “No,” Rayne growled. Grunting from bite, Vrack retaliated with mighty effort, faster than the spirit could intercept. His flail crushed more essence out of the wind spirit. Rayne shadow stepped to Les’ side and force-fed her one of the healing fruits the party had secured in their flight across the desert. Then she took a steadying breath herself, shaking off the pain of her injuries.
Kikrik desperately lashed out at the wind spirit in a frenzy with all of his claws, tearing into its form. Then he shifted to provide Vrack with a flank, summoned Revenge and empowered the gladiator to attack. The half-orc did not disappoint, his furious swing finally making an end of the corrupted wind spirit, causing it to fade into a clinging mist. A heartbeat later, two figures emerged from the haze of the sarcophagus: a male with skin like stone – an earth spirit – and a female with flowing blue hair – a water spirit. Both were vaguely human, but insubstantial.
In their heads the adventurers heard voices speaking in harmony. “Our Wind brother became one of the cursed defilers and brought death and evil to this peaceful place. But no matter, the time is not right for such trifles. You have proved worthy and should you accept our charge, we would ask you to carry our message back to the surface to show others that not all arcanists are defilers.”
Rayne looked from the spirits to her companions, unsure of what to do or say. Hawk bowed to the spirits and said, “I will take upon this quest, mighty spirits. Anything to try and heal this scarred land.” They inclined their heads to the monk respectfully before continuing.
“You can become examples by preserving the arcane knowledge our people once held. This path might one day repair the damage done. We can only wait and hope the elemental prophecies are indeed true. Go, now and show the misguided that arcane energy can be used to preserve instead of destroy. Know too that the one who hunts you is not entirely lost; he can be reformed.”
Les ventured a hesitant question. “But… Spirits… How?”
“Overcome his hate…as you have begun to overcome your own.”
Kikrik’s blood flowed freely, and he was barely conscious. An agitated look crossed his face that his companions had come to associate with the kreen’s conflict with his own spirits. He covered his earholes with two of his clawed hands. Les gave Kikrik a concerned look. The elemental spirits looked to the shaman as well, and as one they said, “Be still.”
Kikrik calmed abruptly, looking around and then back at the elemental spirits in wonder. The spirits continued, “Our Flame brother’s message was for you, shaman. One who need not be your enemy knows it. The rest is up to you.”
Kikrik sighed. “I will do as you ask spirits. It was already my forced path… but maybe it is also becoming my chosen one.”
Turning to Vrack, the spirits said, “The freedom of Tyr is not an empty promise. But it comes with a price.”
To himself, the gladiator said, “Vrack will pay whatever price. He will not be caged again.”
Les leaned on Rayne and said, “Thank you again… I… It’s good to know someone cares…”
Rayne shifted to support her friend’s weight. “Of course. Just don’t forget to do the same for me when it’s my turn,” she said with a smirk.
The bard looked at Rayne, her tone as serious as any of them had ever heard it. “Never would forget this debt…” Rayne grinned openly at the sincerity.
Les looked from Rayne back to the spirits, who stood there impassively. “Is there a way to preserve?” she asked.
“You know the answer already.”
The eladrin hung her head. Very softly she said, “I’ll try…”