“Blast it! I’m blind! You bastard!” Jaxom groped against the wall for support, tears streaming down his cheeks. When he lifted his face, his eyes were glowing blue orbs. Ignoring him, Growgash instead focused on the priest and the wicked blade in his hand.
“Why?” she asked. “Why bring us so far, only to kill us all?”
The half mad man gritted back, “some doors have many locks that require many keys. This door was very difficult to open.” It was then, Growgash noticed the raised dais behind him, and she started edging into the room over to Jaxom. As she knelt over the blinded man, she reached slowly down, grabbing a handful of dust and pebbles.
“What have you done to him?” An unearthly pale blue light streamed from beneath Jaxom’s eyelids.
“I gave him a gift. Now he may see… See the wonders of Kumas!” His blade was over the boy’s head when the gravel hit his face. He howled and began clawing at his eyes.
“You’ll know the gift of death, fool!” The half orc woman rushed him as the apprentice dodged out of the way. The older man recovered quickly. His dagger was short, his form small and wiry. Yet he stood against all her blows as if he were made of the rock of the tomb itself.
Growgash felt the anger rise inside her. How dare such a weakling use magic against her! Tricks used by cowards like her mother and the other clan sorcerers. Illusions and dreams could not, should not, hold against things as true as wood, stone, and iron.
Her sword hammered down upon him, sending shivering sparks into the shadows. What thrusts did not land, he avoided with parry, feint, and counter. Thus they spun through the chamber. In a moment, Growgash saw Jaxom’s face and bloodied fingers, saw the boy apprentice crawling over the curving surface of a wall, saw the man in front of her raise his hand over his head. He was smiling, celebrating his imminent victory over her brutish strength.
A flash of pain through her shoulder forced her to lower her blade, although her grip remained sure. She could feel hot blood streaming from the wound inflicted by the dagger, and vaguely wondered if it had been poisoned as well. The air felt heavy around her when the walls of the tomb began to shudder. She saw the boy back away from a headless statue, now glowing with the blue light of the skull resting on its shoulders.
Glowing blue veins stretched down the length of the arms and slowly the thing flexed to life, raising itself up from a granite throne. It’s head, which resembled that of a great elk, turned to look at them all. Large blue eyes radiated with light and came to focus on the priest as it descended the short steps down to the fighters.
“You seek the path to Kumas? ” it rumbled to the man. Falling to his knees, the priest began stammering like an idiot. A clawed hand reached out, its long slender fingers wrapping around the man’s head. Blue mist surrounded them both and in a moment a blue humanoid form stood next to the creature. Where the priest once knelt, there was now a stone figure in the same pose. In a flash of cold light, the ghost of the priest was gone and its stone counterpart crumbled to a pile of dust. The half-orc woman stared in disbelief, sword at the ready, as the thing approached her.
“What evil is this?” she growled.
“He would have killed you and your companions all for naught,” it responded in a gentle, almost human voice. “One could spill an ocean of blood and the way would remain closed. He is a descendant of those who stole our power long ago. I have merely returned that power to its source. It is the only way to Kumas.”
“And what now demon?”
“I suppose I must return you from whence you came, orc. But these others,” it gestured to Jaxom and the boy, “are not to be left alone. I shall travel with them until we can find safe passage to my people. The boy must be further tutored in his abilities and the man will need to be taught how to live with his new gift. But I cannot go forth into your world looking like this.” With that, the light from the being suddenly went dull and the creature shrank to a small dark form. Before her now stood an old man, robed in simple cloth. “This form should be more suitable. And now, our paths diverge.” A shimmer appeared next to the old man and an oval window revealed the interior of the tavern Growgash had visited last. From his sleeve, he produced a small coin purse and tossed it to her. “A reward for your efforts and safe passage back to the inn. We may meet again, but for now, farewell my friend.”
She hesitated, briefly. Then sheathed her sword and stowed her payment. She would never be able to stand against this creature, if this was indeed a trick to separate her from the boy and Jaxom. In the end there was nothing she could do for them. The “door” before her could lead to oblivion, for all she knew. But the boy, looking sorrowful, nodded approvement as Jaxom whimpered in a corner somewhere.
Cautiously she stepped through… and into the inn. The walls stood firm, the warm glow of a hearth fire crept upstairs. The room she had occupied was to her right. Still, had she left them to a fate worse than death? Had she truly fulfilled her duties?
“Back so soon?” She snapped out of her reverie to find the healer from the other day gazing up at her from the door to his own room. She remembered now, Lankus Mistletoe was his name. And while he was a high elf that stood tall, slender, and blonde, he was still a foot shorter than her own dark form.
“You look harried. What say we have a few pints and relax? The stew is fresh downstairs and the fire is warm and bright. Unless…You prefer the one in my room.” He gave a sly wink at her as he wrapped his silk robe about himself and made his way down to the pub.
As the scent of jasmine wafted past her, she thought that perhaps everything would be okay. Maybe food and drink, and another warm body, were all she needed. She followed him downstairs, hoping to achieve all three of these needs. Hoping to forget these feelings of regret and impending doom.