Any feedback please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org - if you don't like the story, e-mail me instead of adding me to some other stupid mailing list, I get enough of those anyway.
My website at http://winterblade.hypermart.net is up and running. Chapter 4 will be my last post to the Nifty Archive - the rest will be available on the website. Currently, up to Chapter 18 is shown there, but, due to the way Nifty works, I'm having to convert all the chapters that I submit to them into a non-Word-html format - so the ones i'm posting here take a lot longer. Longer than I'd prefer, for that matter, because the more time I spend on converting the chapters I could be spending on writing them.
Chapter Three - The Ruined Temple
Unlike the last pass through the Portal, this time the group managed to stay conscious. Yet, perhaps their lack of consciousness was for the better, for immediately after the Portal energy had ebbed, leaving them in a large, circular room, Tyler had to excuse himself to deal with problems concerning the re-familiarization with his last meal. Seeing his situation, and having had large amounts of experience with it himself, due to a small issue concerning social anxiety, Jeremy moved to Tyler's side to comfort him as Tyler continued to empty his stomach contents into a nearby fountain that had dried up seemingly ages ago. Meanwhile the rest of the group set about examining the rest of the room with an increased interest. The first analysis was that of defensibility, done by David with the help of the spirit known as Wintereagle. Wintereagle, communicating telepathically through the link of the Shanari, taught David about the various aspects of defending a position. *This, my student, is my area of expertise. Taryn may be good with making offensive rushes and all, but I was always there to protect his backside* the voice spoke with a hint of a smile. *I can't tell you how many times he'd get us stuck in a jam with his rushing tactics. He was good... incredibly good... but... he just ended up being more offensively minded. Now, first things first, how many exits does this place have?* Wintereagle questioned, though it was more of an exercise to get David to notice these things, rather than out of not knowing. However, as David was about to open his mouth to respond, the spirit chided him, *My dear child, you need not speak to speak with me. Simply think it*.
David blinked, then said, in his mind, to the sword spirit, Think it... uhh... okay... there is only one door out of here.
*Very good* the spirit applauded him, the mind-voice was even accompanied by a brief hint of applause. David would have been putout, had Wintereagle not continued, with a laugh. *Oh... ohh no no, I wasn't being sarcastic or thinking you were dull minded or anything, its just that, look around, and listen*. David did this and realized why the spirit had applauded him, two of the others were muttering things like 'How am I supposed to think it and not say it' and 'I must be insane, talking to a short sword.' At realizing Wintereagle's meaning, he had to suppress a chuckle. *Now, back to the lesson... There is, unless you count the one that Kavil is pointing out, one door out of here. This is both good and bad. It is good because it means that this place could easily be defended by one person. It is bad because you could also be trapped in this room by a clever enemy. Now, as for that, there are no windows except those set high up near the ceiling, and that's nearly twenty feet up, so I wouldn't plan on being able to escape, should an enemy trap you, through there.* Wintereagle chuckled dryly, then continued, *Forget that last part, I see that Storm is already instructing her pupil on the uses of a small floatation charm that could get you out that way, as well as teaching her about the simpler cantrips for magical lights and fires that heat but don't require fuel or catch things on fire... good for roasting rabbit, actually. I think Kavil also has multiple tricks that he's putting up Shaun's sleeve for getting out of here.*
*You're probably wondering about why we're telling you about this now. Well, that's because, as Tyler would be learning about right now, in his lessons on scouting, a very large problem sitting right outside that door you pointed out. Daeron wasn't aware of the problem, or he would have chosen one of the other, nearer, Portal termini. I'm stalling,* David could sense Wintereagle shaking his head at this point *There's a dragon that's taken up residence in the main part of the temple. Thankfully, dragons, while sensitive to nearly every form of magic imaginable, are completely oblivious to Portal energies.* Wintereagle actually laughed at this point, *Strange, isn't it, they could sense the tiniest pinprick of a light bringing spell, yet you use something like a Portal, which hits the unshielded mage like a frying pan, and they'll not even notice it. Don't panic, however, about the magic part, Storm learned over the centuries to blind their Mage Sense, or their ability to see the magical currents. The dragon wouldn't know it if we conjured up all the magic in Daeron's keep now. But, unless you people want to become a nice char broil, I'd not suggest going through that door. We'll be having a group discussion about the possible options as soon as Jeremy and Tyler, along with Taryn and Laen, get done over there.*
David saw various looks of fear and anxiety set upon the others as their spirits informed them of the problem, in their own ways. Wondering what was taking so long, he turned towards Jeremy and Tyler. Tyler kneeling on the floor, leaning over the edge of the dried fountain, and emitting dry heaves. Jeremy was next to him, with an arm still places firmly about his shoulders, comforting him. David had a slight pang of jealousy; Jeremy was holding another boy, and directly in front of him. Feeling David's gaze, Jeremy turned his head and looked deeply into David's eyes, It's not what you think, love. David visibly jumped as he heard Jeremy's voice inside his head. I will always love you, and by being able to communicate like this, I can tell you, from what Taryn told me, that we're forever bonded by our love. Its something the people of this land consider more holy than anything, a bond formed by two lovers, the Ver'tisn. As for Tyler, he needs my comforting now, Laen, through Taryn, told me that only part of this is due to the vertigo of the Portal crossing. We all, in some way, I think, fear that we'll never see home again, but Tyler feels it even more so, everybody here has somebody they love, in some way or another, except Tyler. There's something else, but Laen wouldn't tell me what it was, some type of sorrow that is affecting him like depression once did to me. Before you came to love me, nearly every day lit to me doing this. Thankfully, it almost always hit early on, before I had food, so, it wasn't as bad.
David gave a brief smile, I'm sorry for doubting you... has Taryn told you about the dragon?
Yes... but Tyler doesn't know yet... I wish he didn't have to know. Jeremy replied. David only nodded at this; he could imagine if Tyler was upset already, how much more so he would be once he heard about the impending dragon problem. Still looking at Jeremy and Tyler, he saw it when Tyler's body heaved once more, then collapsed back against Jeremy. Jeremy continued to make his presence known, and David quickly crossed the stone floor and added his support. Tyler lay weakly, held in their arms, his breathing rapid and his face flushed with sweat.
He looks so helpless, David thought towards Jeremy, to which Jeremy replied with a smile.
I was thinking much the same thing, love. I never noticed it before, but he's really quite fragile, both physically and emotionally. David was about to add in his comments, when Tyler began to stir out of his weakened state. As he noticed who he was being held by, he blushed slightly.
"Thank you two, I guess I was thinking about all the people I might never see, back home, if we couldn't get back. Then that... Portal... thing," Tyler was saying, accompanied by gesturing of his hands in between pauses, "decided to finish doing a number on my stomach."
"Don't thank me, I just got jealous when I saw my lover holding you and I had to come over and assure his intentions," David said with a wink. This elicited a weak smile from Tyler and an increase in the grasp Jeremy was using to attach David to his side. After a moment more in the embrace, Tyler sat up, paused, then stood and slowly moved over to sit on an ancient bench near the others. Jeremy and David followed him, sitting down on the same bench, and then they waited. >From the look on his face, it was obvious that Laen was filling Tyler in about the situation. All too soon, Tyler paled, and David immediately moved to his side. "Its alright Tyler, we'll get out of this safely."
Tyler just nodded, and Jeremy decided it was time to discuss their options. "Alright, according to what Taryn has told me, we've got three ways out of here, and one of them is past the dragon. I'm all but ruling that one out, agreed?" His question was met by a round of nods, "That leaves us with only two other ways out, one, is through the windows up there using a levitation spell. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not take my chances with using mage craft near the dragon, if its true that they can sense magic from miles around. Also, I don't... uhh... like the idea of trusting a spell to get us up there safely." From the looks on everybody's faces, including Crystal's, it was obvious that they didn't either. "That leaves us with one other option, Shaun, since it's your area of 'expertise', I'll let you explain."
Shaun nodded curtly before beginning, "Kavil tells me that there's a hidden door out of this room. Supposedly, judging by the symbols surrounding the door, it leads to an underground passage out of here. It should, keyword here being should, lead us out closer to our destination."
"Without using magic, and without fighting off the dragon, that's our only way out," Jeremy stated, "I think we have no choice." With a round of nods, the party grimly shouldered their packs and moved closer to the hidden doorway that Shaun pointed out. After a few minutes of work, due to the newness of his knowledge as a thief, and caution on Kavil's part, Shaun pushed a final release trigger and a section of the wall swung out revealing a staircase spiraling downwards. Moving in single file, the group slowly descended into the depths of the temple, passing numerous doorways that led into small sepulchers. Finally, at the base of the stairs, they discovered what they had begun to fear; their only way out led them through the burial chambers of the temple. Far off in the distance, the group heard slight scraping sounds, the role-players all paled, "Those are rats... right?" asked Tyler.
"Yeah... rats..." Jeremy replied distractedly. The dim light that had been illuminating the stairwell did nothing to allay their fears of the horrors that the tomb portended, and none of the fear stricken party moved until Crystal, with the aide of Storm's knowledge, called out "Sivar'lis" and a bright blue ball of energy shot up over their heads. Blinking, the party took in their surroundings better. They were standing at the beginning of a long hallway that stretched out of the sphere of the Mageglow. From this passage opened many arched doorways in which, judging from the nearest few, lay the sarcophagi of those entombed at the temple. Shaun quickly moved into the nearest room and examined one of the sarcophagi, "According to these runes, the people interred here were mostly low level nobles and their knights and retainers... basically not too much treasure, and a low chance of traps, but shoddy craftsmanship too." Jeremy nodded at the information, and motioned the party onward.
As they moved further down the hallway, the scrapping sounds continued to grow louder, until they finally came to the side of a vast room. Inside, gathered around a crowned skeletal figure were the reanimated corpses of his knights. Many of the small party stifled a gasp at the size of the undead horde, as the heads, or what was left of them, totaled beyond counting. "Dragon's looking mighty better, isn't it" Shaun muttered. Jeremy motioned for the group to move into a nearby antechamber to discuss the situation.
"From what I can see, the way out is across that room." Jeremy stated the obvious, and received some scowls for it. "We're going to have to fight, unless Crystal can work up some form of invisibility magic for us."
Crystal shook her head, "I could, but it doesn't work against undead, since they see things on both the physical and spiritual planes."
Jeremy turned then to look at his mother, "You're the 'cleric', has Aislin taught you how to 'Turn Undead'?"
Sue smiled wanly, "Learning that now, but its pure force of will that allows a cleric to destroy the undead through turning, I'll be able to get some, but not all."
"Alright guys, let's prepare for our first battle the..." Jeremy was saying, but was cutoff by the sound of scraping right outside the chamber door. "Looks like we don't get that option, let's go, let's fight, and by god, let's win!"
The group was quickly taken over by the implanted battle instincts of their spirit-weapons, and soon they had accounted for most of the undead. All that remained was the skeletal king and a dozen of his followers. When they faced each other, the group heard, like the sound of nails against a chalkboard, "You fools, you think those pathetic peasants had even half the strength that even one of us has. You shall all burn in hell for thinking me so weak!" With that, the skeleton king lifted his arm and with a flash of light, a large halberd appeared in it. Outstretching this weapon of darkness, the skeleton king laughed once more, and his remaining knights shambled forth into the melee. Jeremy quickly found himself under the brunt of a triple assault, two of the undead knights and the skeleton king himself. His reflexes, greatly increased as a result of his battle adrenaline, were more than enough to parry the blows of the lumbering knights. With a few quick strokes, he had disarmed them, rather literally as their bones shattered under the impact of the flaming blade. However, as he was marveling anew at the strength of the blade, a dark arc moved into his field of view, and the tip of the halberd sliced through the thin layers of brigandine and leather protecting his ribcage. Quickly pain rushed into his awareness, and he only barely brought his sword up in a clumsy defense against another blow from the deadly polearm. Swing after swing rained down on his weakening sword arm, as he kept up the poor defense against the king's onslaught. Then, as if by a miracle, an opening for an attack appeared, and he took it. Yet, he realized his mistake only moments too late as he saw the halberd moving in for another attack. Bringing his arm up to fend off a blow that would surely split his skull, he heard a sickening crunch, as the pole of the halberd impacted on his forearm. All he saw was stars as he slumped towards the floor.
The skeletal king took no time in preparing his final attack, one that would cleave the head from the foolish boy interloper. As he was preparing to strike, however, he heard a noise of splitting bone, and felt, more than saw, the pike protruding through where his heart would be. He howled in agony, which was quickly ceased, as he crumbled into dust.
Having vanquished his adversaries, David had looked around for a new target, only to see Jeremy going down under the king's assault. David had run quickly to defend his lover, and had sunk his pike into the king's ribcage only moments before the final attack. He quickly fell to Jeremy's side, and cradled Jeremy's head in his lap, "Love, talk to me, are you alright?" David asked worriedly.
Jeremy smiles very weakly and stated, matter-of-factly, "This was my first broken bone."
David comforted him, as the others gathered around. Sue quickly moved to their side, and, with further guidance from Aislin, used her power as a cleric to mend Jeremy's injuries.
Meanwhile, Shaun had been poking around the battle-site, by the time Sue had finished tending to Jeremy, he had brought back several small trinkets, mainly rings and gems, but one stood out, a brilliant sapphire the size of a fist. This he handed over to Crystal, "I found this up by where the king was standing when we came in, what do you make of it?" he asked.
Crystal invoked her Mage Sense and analyzed the sapphire orb. "Well, there's something magical about it, but neither Storm nor I can figure out what."
Shaun was about to pocket the orb, when the entire group suddenly heard a melodious laugh and another voice inside their heads, *Younglings, thank all that's holy that you have freed me from my awful imprisonment! That skeletal brute had claimed me during the War of Sorrows, and I've been captive ever since. Pray tell, what year is it?*
Not knowing if the orb would hear his thoughts or not, Jeremy replied, verbally, for Taryn, "It is thirteen hundred and forty-three years after the War of Light, or just over two thousand years since the War of Sorrows."
*Oh... my... that's... oh.* the crystal spirit ended abruptly, and paused for some time before continuing, *I suppose I should introduce myself, I am Morandus, Grand Mage of the Shadow Court of Veran'is, though I suppose that none of that means anything anymore. Now I'll bet you're wondering how I managed to get myself stuck in a crystal orb, eh? Well, it's a long story, but lets just say that it was my sacrifice for the kingdom to end the War of Sorrows.* The crystal paused, and many sensed that it was done.
Taryn took this time, however, to inform Jeremy on the history surrounding the event, *The War of Sorrows was fought long before we were born; this guy makes us feel young. The War was the first battle and last battle between planes, namely this one and the Land of the Dead. It was known as the War of Sorrows because every time one of our side died, they would turn up in the ranks of the enemy. The War was finally concluded with the creation of the Sapphire of Life, which I assume we've just found. The Sapphire prevented any more crossing en masse from the Land of the Dead, thus ending the un-ending flow of undead warriors. Morandus was considered a hero, one of the few who is celebrated throughout the land of Veran'is. His position was considered the highest in the land, second to none, not even the High King of Veran'is, perhaps that is why he sacrificed himself.*
Jeremy heard a dry chuckle in his thoughts, and then Morandus spoke, presumably only to him and Taryn, *Yes, youngling, my duty was to my people, and since 'my people' consisted of all the people of Veran'is, my sacrifice was only part of my job.* When Morandus finished speaking, Jeremy could sense that Taryn was taken aback a little. *Oh come now, I've been sitting in an object far longer than you have, sword, I've learned how to listen in on mental conversations. Generally I mind my own business, but you weren't being too subtle about what you were saying*
At this point, Jeremy sensed a mental shrug coming in the direction of the scabbard and the sword that was once again residing inside it. *If the piece of glass is quite done, I'll continue my history lesson. Since his sacrifice, many mages have honored Morandus by recording their knowledge inside Crystal Memories, though not their eternal souls. Storm says that the Crystal Memories are vastly different than Morandus' crystal, which is why she didn't recognize it.*
Jeremy just rolled his eyes at the little exchange of words between Morandus and Taryn. 'Talking weaponry, talking crystals... what's next, talking horses?' Jeremy thought with a laugh, remembering a certain series of books his company helped publish these days.
Most of the rest of the group members were finishing their preparations to set off again, and Jeremy noticed Shaun handing Tyler the sapphire orb. Noticing his gaze, Tyler explained, "Morandus says he knows the shortest route out of this tomb and towards Hovar'thi, and I figured that I should start taking the lead now, since I'm supposed to be a scout" he finished with a slight blush and lowered his gaze.
When Tyler lifted his head again, Jeremy nodded and said, with a quirk of the lips, "Good idea, since I just led us into a horde of undead." Hearing his praise, Tyler blushed again, but seemed to straighten up a little and had more of an air of confidence about him. Noticing that the rest of the group was ready, Jeremy motioned for Tyler to 'lead on' and took his place with David in bringing up a rear guard, knowing that more undead might awaken, though it was unlikely. Walking side by side, Jeremy put his arm around David's waist, pulling him close as they walked, and being content in the simple closeness. David welcomed the embrace and as they walked, he rested his head against Jeremy's shoulder, also being content in showing his love through this simple touch. Jeremy broke the silence, though with his thoughts, rather than his voice, Love, how are you feeling after what just occurred?
I'm fine, but I'm worried that one of us might die in battles like that. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, and I don't want to make you hurt if you loose me. Why do we have to save these people anyway, maybe J'tari will be content with one plane of conquest. David replied
David, dearest, I understand that you're worried about one of us dying, but, we have to help these people, simply because we can. By our blood, we are meant to be the heroes of this land, and, I just couldn't... live... knowing that we, through our inaction, allowed the deaths of so many people. Besides, from what Daeron said, J'tari won't be content with just one plane, and what happens once she's stronger, and comes after Earth? We'd have to fight her then, and I'd rather do it while she's still weak. Jeremy sighed as he ended his mental speech. Beside him, David smiled, knowing that Jeremy would say something inspiring before he had asked. What?
Oh, its just I knew you would say something like that, and I agree, I just needed to hear it from you, David replied, causing Jeremy to swat at him playfully with his free hand.
Meanwhile, the party had advanced through many twists and turns in the passages, and had come to a long stairway leading upwards. Many faces around the group had lit up, knowing that every step upwards brought them closer to the surface, and closer to their destination, at least for now. Tyler motioned for the party to stop, however, and he moved slowly up the staircase, and was soon out of sight when the stair doubled back on itself, continuing its ascent. Tyler moved sure-footedly, aided by the enhanced night-vision his bonding with Laen had provided. Quickly he came to a closed door at the top of the stairs, and he pressed his ear against the cold stone. From the other side of the portal, he could hear guttural voices talking in harsh tones. By the sound of it, there were a score of creatures outside the doorway, and Laen quickly provided identification, *Goblins, just what we needed, what with the undead and now this, I'm beginning to think the dragon was a better proposition.*
*Oh lighten up, my good Laen, goblins are easily dealt with. It could be worse, after all, we could be dealing with Ogrin,* as Morandus spoke, Tyler noticed a shiver in his voice when he spoke of the Ogrin, *those things are more clever than the goblins, and more evil. You might be able to parley with the goblins, tell them that the undead are... well... dead... and offer them some of the extra trinkets your good thief picked up down in the tomb.* By the time Morandus had finished speaking, Tyler had moved back to rejoin the rest of the party and quickly explained the results of his first scouting foray.
"I like Morandus' suggestion, any encounter that we can overcome without combat is a plus in my book. Are we all in agreement with that?" Jeremy asked. As was usual when he spoke, the group all nodded their agreement. Seeing their consent, Jeremy moved towards the stairs, with the rest trailing behind him.