MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 26 Beltor

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 91279

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


They traveled for four rises along the magical pathway through the forest, keeping strictly to it, not even Quickfoot wandering off from its course. Overhead they could see winged harpies that searched the day and deadly spirits that searched the night, but of the enchanted path of Fawsil's people nary a sign did they give of its sighting. To the outside world the travelers may as well have just dropped completely out of sight.

Arüdwo had always been known as the windy season and this time was no exception. Around them they could see the wind picking up in strong gusts, tossing the painted leaves of Fall around in colorful dust devils traveling through the forest, but on the path they followed, nary a wisp of wind was felt. They traveled in pleasant comfort during the day, and slept along the path at night. Thus it was, almost two kevs after they'd first entered the valley, that their path finally exited upon the base of a large hill.

The hill rose up its tall steep sides before them. Off in the distance they could see the large lake, waves pounding in the distance, stirred on by the rising winds. As the path opened up into a small clearing, they could now feel the cool wind in their faces, carrying with it the promise of a cold winter soon to come. Tall trees carpeted the hill for as far up as they could see, with a thickening of bushes and tall grasses lying low to the ground. They walked over to the hill, poking along its base for a bit in a search for the best way up.

"I don't see any sign of a city, " Quickfoot complained as he kicked a piece of gravel along with his foot.

"It has been five thousand rels since Th?r T?orca fell, " Sindar pointed out, "there may not be much here for us to find."

"You mean we could have come all this way for nothing?" Quickfoot kicked again at the dark gravely chunk as they walked along through the trees.

"If it were of nothing to be found, " Sheil-Bor(h) put in, "then of interest would there be naught."

"He's about as bad as Sabu, " Quickfoot said, kicking his black pebble on again. "What'd he say?"

"He means, " Sabu translated, "that if indeed this bodaln had nothing left that would be of interest to later generations, then the minions of our nemesis wouldn't be showing as much alacrity in their endeavors to connect us with the goal of our quest."

Quickfoot stopped short and looked up at Sabu, complete puzzlement on his face, as he uttered one word.

"Huh?"

"If Krey wants something here, " Eldar simplified, "then there's gotta be something here for him to want."

"Now someone's making sense, " Quickfoot said, and then drew back his foot to give one last kick of his pebble.

"Wait, " Sindar's mind reached out and stopped the small one's foot in mid-stroke.

Sindar came over, Quickfoot balancing on one leg, and bent down to pick up the small black pebble that Quickfoot had been kicking. He slowly stood up, turning the pebble over in his fingers, Quickfoot's leg still dangling in midair.

"Hey!" Quickfoot complained, trying to keep his balance. "If you wanted to kick a rock so bad you could have gotten your own stone! Now get my leg down."

Sindar casually released his mind's hold upon Quickfoot's leg, the small one almost stumbling to the ground as his leg came free. Sindar, still examining the small black rock, walked over to Sabu and Eldar.

"What do you make of this?" Sindar asked, showing it to them both.

Sabu took the pebble, turning it over in his fingers, rubbing the old crumbly black stuff between his fingers.

"It's asphalt, " he finally pronounced, "of the kind used in-"

The three made mutual eye-contact as they uttered the last two words together.

"Paved roads."

"Quickfoot, " Eldar said quickly, looking over at the small one, "where'd you get this?"

"It's just a rock, " he answered, "they're all over this place."

They slowly looked around them, at first seeing only scattered patches of smooth black gravel poking up from between the weeds, and then drifting their vision on up the steep hill before them. To the observant eye, it may have been more than just a coincidence that, in an almost straight line from where they stood to the top of the hill, no tall trees grew, only tall grasses and a few small bushes, for a width of perhaps a couple dozen yards. Like an old scar, it stretched on up towards the top of the hill.

Smiles slowly spread across several faces as all but Quickfoot realized what they were standing on.

"The luck of Indra is upon you, " Candol said, slapping the small one on the back.

"What?" Quickfoot asked, looking around at the scattered smiles. "What'd I do now?"

"Its construction must have indeed been masterful for it to have lasted this long, " Lorel nodded in appreciation.

Quickfoot scratched his head in puzzlement.

"Behold, small one, " Bronto said, catching Quickfoot's eye as he pointed out ahead of them, "a road. And where there's a road, there's a city!"

"Last one to the top of the hill is a Miro-lover, " Eldar smiled playfully, as he started jogging up the hill.

"That would probably be you, " Kilgar said to Mauklo as he jogged on up after Eldar.

Mauklo just grinned to himself as the others started on up the ancient road.

"Who's to say, " he said softly.

The hill stretched over a dozen miles across, its top being a tangle of tall trees, ivy-covered boulders, and tall bushy grass. To either side of their road rose tall ivy-covered rocky projections, some merely wide flat slabs standing tall against the wind, others round towers of stone broken off at the top.

"Some city, " Quickfoot commented.

"Give it hope, " Eldar urged, as they trudged on along the old weed-choked road, "there has to be more than just meets the eye after all."

"Like roaches?" Quickfoot offered.

"No, " Lindel put in, as they rounded a slight bend in the large road, "like that."

The road ended abruptly a dozen feet before them, along with the trees and bushes that choked the surrounding terrain. Ahead of them, with but a few scattered bushes and weeds to clutter it, lay the stone ruins of a city. They walked on up to where the road ended in a pile of scattered rubble and looked out at what lay before them, eyes looking on in wonder at the goal of their long quest. Even the birds were quiet, the wind stopping briefly its rustling through the trees, offering them a quiet stillness as they looked on. Kilgar, boyish form standing towards the front, was the first to utter the name of their hard-won goal, speaking in an almost soft whisper.

"Th?r T?orca."

The ruins went on for as far as they could see. Rubble lay scattered through the streets, the paved roads of the city sporting an occasional statue struggling to stay atop its pedestal, weeds growing in cracks in the wide walkways. Tumbled piles of rubble marked where old buildings once stood, while others stood only in half ruin, a wall or two still standing to mark the rough dimensions of an old structure. Most of the buildings, though, still seemed to be reasonably intact, their stone walls rising defiantly against time, their curved roofs shining brightly in the sun.

Several of the tall structures still shone bright and polished, gleaming a dull white against the ravages of time. Occasional glints of gold and silver shone forth from some of the roofs, the remains of valuable metal sheeting still lining curved arcs. From what could be discerned from the intact buildings, this city's architecture was that of curve and arc, structure and purpose combined with beauty and form. Tall gleaming towers rose a hundred feet into the air, to be each capped by a curved roof, pointed steeples lancing up through their centers. Even in death, this city had a look of grandeur about it.

Kilgar was the first to step forward, to place his foot upon the tired soil of Th?r T?orca, stepping over the rubble as he walked out into the open avenues. The others followed, looking around at the ruins of the legendary city.

As they advanced farther, they could now see that, all along the edge of the vast ruins ran a wall. Cracked and tumbled in several places it was, but of its course there could be no doubt. It ran off to either side of them, stretching far away, dotted with tall curved towers every hundred feet or so. Ten feet thick was the wall, and more than thirty feet high, taller still its towers. In its flecked and chipped surface could be seen the remains of a polish and smoothness that spoke of a people that cared even of the make of their walls. A caring for art and appearance lost for many a long rel.

"By Indra, " Candol said in amazement, "this place goes on for miles; and it's all stone."

"I haven't seen this much rock since the Harbor Of The World, " Eldar admitted, as they walked slowly on down the central avenue, "and the whole thing's walled as well. Does that thing go all the way around?"

"Yes, " Sindar nodded, "I can feel its length going on for many miles. It seems to wall in the entire top area of this hill."

"You mean, this city's that big?!" Shong exclaimed. "I'm impressed."

"That is why the prefix of 'Th?r' has not been used for a city in so long, " Sabu explained, as they picked their way along the rubble-strewn main avenue, "although even mere size does not merit one of that title; a city must be truly grand of stature and influence to be so named."

"I think, " Lindel looked on at a gold and silver covered pinnacle, "this one qualified."

"The art and knowledge that must be lost within these shattered walls, " Sheil-Bor(h) commented, "indeed a precious thing."

"More than you know, " Sindar said, pointing to one of the walls. "On all of these walls have I not seen a single seam or place of joining. However the method of their construction, they left nary a seam or blemish to mar the beauty of their homes."

"Indeed a shame was the loss of this place, " Lorel agreed, "but where now do we head in such vast ruins?"

"How's about there?"

Bronto was pointing on towards the center of the city, where, in the distance, there arose a tall pointed spire, rising up tall above all the other buildings, even part of a golden roof curving out from its base being seen above the other rooftops.

"For people that build so proudly on such a scale, " Bronto continued, "could they do no less for their main castle?"

"Center of town it is then, " Eldar agreed.

Thus, they struck out towards the center of the ruins. They passed by many a tumbled building, past statues that once adorned the sides of the streets but now lay tumbled and broken, and over streets once smooth and straight but now broken by time. They passed by a small park, its trees and plants once a place of beauty, now but a dark overgrowth of fear. But the plants in the park did not stray from their boundaries; in fact, nowhere, but for a few weeds, did Nature's growth overtake what was once its own, as if paying tribute to the lost city.

"There must be a magic about this place that preserves it, " Sabu noted as they walked along towards the central tower, "or else the trees would have long ago overtaken here. Thousands of rels is more than enough time for Nature to reclaim her own."

"The old Kingdoms lasted for five thousand rels, " Sheil-Bor(h) pointed out, "they built their city to last forever."

"That must mean that there's still some treasure left?" Quickfoot asked hopefully.

"No, " Candol disagreed, "I'm afraid that the people probably took it with them when they left, so long ago."

"Then what's the use?" Quickfoot said, kicking at a stray stone.

"We'll soon find out, " Bronto announced, "because we're here."

Before them lay a palace. Stretching on for hundreds of feet, its polished blue-grey walls shone in the sun, a tall curved tower arising from each of its four corners, with a larger central tower soaring up high from its middle, the roof curving down, delicate and graceful, between each of the towers. The roof seemed to be lined with polished platinum, pounded down to an almost cloth-like smoothness. The tops of the corner towers curved back, an opening looking out upon the streets below. Large windows looked down from several scattered positions about the grand walls, with many small doors and openings marking its base. The center of the side facing them was marked by a pair of large double doors inlaid in gold. As they walked closer they could see that these massive doors were more like gates, fully twenty feet high, yet standing out as small against the scale of the palace.

Nary a scratch was on the palace, not a single sign of ruin or decay, not one piece of rubble out of place.

"Five thousand rels, and that building still looks grand, " Bronto admired.

"If Man can but build like this, there may still be hope for the species, " Sheil-Bor(h) agreed.

"Even the small one is silent in the presence of such grandeur, " Lorel smiled.

"Silent, or absent, " Lindel noted. "Where is he?"

Quickfoot was nowhere to be seen. Around them lay large stands of strewn boulders and walls of rock, but no Quickfoot.

"He's probably wandered off to peel some of the platinum off of that roof, " Lindel smiled, "you know how he is."

While everyone else was almost ready to agree with Lindel's pronouncement, Kilgar's knife suddenly appeared in his hand, the boy standing in a crouch, tense and looking quickly around.

"We've got company, " the boy said, "very tall and smells like garbage."

"Okay, now that we don't have to guess what happened to Quickfoot, " Eldar said, pulling out his sword while scanning around with his own special sense. "Where is he?"

"There is one way to find him, " Candol said, lifting up his arms as he gazed skyward. "Mighty Indra, let the small one be revealed to us like unto the popping of a cork."

A loud 'pop' sound was heard, followed by an ear-splitting scream, as Quickfoot came flying up from behind a large pile of rocky rubble.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAk"

"I got him."

Bronto went running over to where the small one looked to land, putting out his large arms as Quickfoot arced downward. With a soft jolt, Quickfoot landed in Bronto's arms.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA."

"You can stop screaming now, " Bronto said, "you're safe."

"AAAAAAAAAAA."

As Bronto looked down at the screaming wriggling form, he could now see several gaping wounds in Quickfoot's arms and torso, as if bitten out by large teeth. Blood was gushing out from his wounds as he tossed back and forth feverishly.

"Candol, " Bronto called out.

The priest came over to Bronto's side and looked down at the small form as Bronto put him carefully down onto the ground. Candol placed a hand on Quickfoot's forehead while the latter continued to scream and wriggle.

"He's badly wounded and with fever, " Candol said, "but I can help him."

Candol closed his eyes in brief concentration and then opened them again. Quickfoot stopped screaming and closed his eyes as if sleeping.

"He shall sleep while he heals, " Candol explained, "he will be fine after about a couple of diids."

"Then we've got to get whatever did this, " Bronto said as he stood up.

"I shall take care of this unseen foe, " Lorel announced, drawing his sword and walking over to the pile of rubble that Quickfoot had popped out from behind of.

"No, " Sindar advised, "I sense great strength and danger in its presence."

Ignoring the others as they called out to him, Lorel disappeared behind the large pile of rubble.

All waited, as for a brief moment there was silence.

But this was quickly followed by a stabbing scream that lanced out through the air.

Which was in turn followed by the scrawny form of Schanter flying out through the air, screaming out in gleeful pain as he came down to land hard against a single standing rock wall.

"Well, " Eldar commented, "now we know that pain and trauma also triggers Schanter's presence."

"Is there anything that doesn't?" Lindel asked.

"Well, enough of this, " Sabu said, pointing his staff towards the large pile of rubble.

There was a loud zapping sound and the pile was instantly reduced to a small pile of sand. Standing behind the pile was a creature that could be described as Human in name only. A man it looked to be, but demented in form. It was eight feet tall, with scraggly hair hanging down past its shoulders. Its fingernails stood out like claws, eyes agleam with hunger. Arms rippled with muscles, looking like it could rend stone with its bare hands. Old rags it wore for clothes, clawed feet bare to the ground. It looked up at them, the shock of its sudden exposure quickly passing.

"Schanter want again!"

The green scraggly one was standing himself up, blood dripping from his forehead. He wiped a warty hand at his head, taking some of the blood off with it. When he looked at the blood on his hand, he jumped up and down with glee.

"Is that thing Human?" Shong asked doubtfully.

"Maybe once, " Lindel shook his head, "but not anymore."

"It looks as strong as an ogre, " Eldar commented, "and not too friendly."

The creature growled as if in challenge, flexing its muscles and gnashing its fang-like teeth.

"This one's mine, " Bronto said, stepping towards the creature.

Bronto walked towards it, with only his bare hands as his weapons. The creature growled at him as he came up to it.

"Now come on, " Bronto said, almost amiably, hands on his hips, "you don't want to put the bite on people anymore; it's not nice."

It slashed at him, claws raking a jagged tear across Bronto's dark-colored furs, but on Bronto himself, there was nary a scratch. The big man looked calmly down at the tear in his shirt, and then back up at the creature growling at him.

"Now I'm going to have to get a new shirt."

It growled in anger, its big muscles bulging, as it then leaped straight at Bronto. Bronto nimbly stepped aside, catching the creature by an arm and a leg and turned the creature's leap against him, as he spun quickly around once and then released the creature, sending it flying up over the ruins, landing far off in the unseen distance. Bronto walked calmly back to the others.

"I hope that didn't strain you too much, " Eldar quipped.

"Naw, " Bronto waved it off, "just a minor pest."

"Speaking of pests, " Mauklo spoke up.

A loud screech broke the silence of the ruins. They looked up at what Mauklo indicated and saw a winged horror swooping down out of the sky. Leathery of skin, even its wings a dull grey leather, its tail whipped back and forth behind it as it extended six-inch talons in deadly greeting.

Rings of light came streaking out from Sindar, encircling its arms and legs, binding back its wings, while a burning steel coil flew out from Sabu, snaring it about the head as it squeezed tighter. Though deprived of the use of its wings, it still hovered there in the air, struggling at its bonds.

"It looks like one of those things we encountered in the mountains, " Lindel commented as he notched his new golden bow.

"Not quite, " Mauklo said mildly. "I can assure you that this breed is much worse."

With a flex of its muscles, it shattered the bonds, just as Lindel unleashed his arrow. The flying menace straightened itself just as the arrow hit head-on with its forehead. But the arrow promptly shattered. Lindel glared up at it in frustration.

"I am real tired of everything being unaffected by arrows!" he exclaimed. "I might as well as give up the art for a plot of good farmland!"

It streaked down towards them, just as Mauklo aimed his own spell at it.

The creature stopped its flight as its skin suddenly began to bubble. It hovered in the air, puzzled, as it watched its skin begin to ripple and crawl. Then, as if a living thing unto itself, as a whole did the creature's skin begin to peel and crawl off, sliding down along the contour of its muscles as it began to slide off its body. The creature's scream of pain was possibly the only thing more sickening, just then, than the sight of its leathery skin crawling off, leaving blood-coated muscle behind. It screamed and struggled, whipping about through the air as its skin sought refuge elsewhere. Completely forgetting about the intended targets below, it went fluttering off into the distance, its cries echoing throughout the ruins.

"That was sick even for you!" Shong exclaimed, wiping some stray drops of the creature's green blood from his shirt.

"I'll take comments of gratitude later, " Mauklo smiled calmly, "but for now, that creature was sent by Krey; as were those."

Mauklo pointed up in the sky. Off in the distance were what looked to be a flock of creatures like unto the one that they'd just seen. The creatures flew over the distant ruins, making a straight line for where they stood.

"We can't handle all of them, " Sabu noted, "there's got to be over fifty in that flock. We need cover."

"The palace, " Sindar suggested, "it looks secure enough."

"The palace it is then, " Sabu said quickly, "come on."

Candol grabbed up the still-sleeping form of Quickfoot as they ran across the rubble towards the large double door that was the main gate. As they ran, they could hear the distant screeching of the creatures getting closer. They ran across a wide open area in front of the palace, past old and bent trees that once served as adornment for the palace grounds. The screeches got closer, the vile faces of the creatures now discernible, as they ran up to the palace gates.

The golden doors were carved with stylized figures and strange markings, its top towering up more than the height of two men above their heads. In its center appeared to be a single golden ring, attached to the large door like a handle.

"I hope this isn't as heavy as it looks, " Shong said as he grasped the ring and gave a pull.

The door wouldn't budge. Shong gave another hard tug.

"It's locked, " Shong said, "and probably bolted from the inside by the feel of it."

"From the look of those figures carved on it, it looks to be held closed with magic as well, " Sabu said. "And from the looks of its potency, it's no wonder that Krey hasn't yet gotten to whatever it is that he seeks in this place."

The creatures were now well under half of a mile away and closing fast, their screeches now loud and clear, their fangs shining in the late afternoon sun.

"Hurry, those flying turenyo are getting closer!" Lindel exclaimed.

"We'll never get them open in time, " Shong said, drawing his sword, "we'll have to fight them."

"Fight, fight, Schanter love fight!"

Bronto shoved his way by the others, going for the door and its single ring.

"Let me try, " he said quickly, grabbing onto the ring.

He was all ready to give forth with a strong pull, but when he grabbed onto the ring, the door gave a loud creak and drifted open a crack. Several tense faces looked at Bronto and the door in puzzlement.

"Its magic must have been triggered by your ancestry, " Sabu theorized quickly. "Perhaps only those of the old blood can open its doors. Bronto, give it a good tug!"

The creatures now swooping in for a dive, there was no time to argue. Bronto gave a strong heave at the golden doors. At his touch, they slid open as easily as if greased and as silently as a feather drifting upon the wind. Attached to just the right-hand side of the gate though it was, as he pulled back on the ring both halves of the huge gates parted and opened up. As they opened, their three-foot thickness could be seen, as well the precision of their workmanship.

A net of electricity did Sabu shoot forth from his staff, ensnaring the creatures flying in front, slowing down their charge.

"That won't hold them for long, " Sabu said as the creatures struggled about in the net, apparently little affected by its electricity.

"Got it!" Bronto shouted, when the gates were open far enough. "Everybody in!"

They ran into the palace, just as the creatures broke free. Quickfoot moaned sleepy awareness, stirring in Candol's arms as the priest ran through the opening. The last to enter, Sindar stopped as he then saw the formation of clouds overhead; a face was forming, the same face they'd seen on the night of the magical storm soon after when they'd first entered the valley. Its large puffy lips seemed to be forming words.

"MY CURSE WILL YOU FIND. RUN, BUT YOU SHALL NEVER LEAVE THIS VALLEY!"

"Come on!"

Bronto's shout snapped Sindar out of it. He looked up to see the creatures flying down at them again, not more than a hundred feet overhead. Sindar ran on in after the others, just as Bronto heaved at the door from another gold ring on the inside of the great doors. When everyone was inside, with a loud groan of effort, Bronto gave a tremendous heave on the heavy doors that were as but feather-light to his touch. The first of the creatures was just swooping down into the doorway, aiming its sharp claws straight at Bronto.

Bronto leaped straight back when he heaved at the doors, just as the screeching creature was reaching out for him in mid-flight. Like a tiny sparrow propelled by the tremendous power of a Roc's great wings, the gates practically flew shut, slamming swiftly closed with a loud crash that was heard all over the ruins.

The creature's claws were but an inch from Bronto's eyes as the great gates slammed shut on it, catching it full across the middle, reducing its midsection to pulp as the front of its body gave a surprised quiver and landed at Bronto's feet.

The creature looked up at the big man, face filled with shock and pain, as it tried to reach a hand quivering with death out towards its foe. It didn't make it though, as it gave one last shudder and died, what was left of its entrails dangling out behind what used to be its lower chest, blood streaming out onto the floor. Where the gates had met, closing in on the creature, was a small stain of blood dripping down the central seam, the only sign as to the rest of its body. Outside, could be heard the dim screeching sounds of the rest of its kind, scratching vainly upon the outer door.

"Now that's what I call timing, " Bronto said, as he turned around to join the others.

They were in some sort of antechamber, the walls being a blend of polished turquoise stones interlaced with sheets of silver, relief drawings of kings and warriors embossed in its surface. The grey stone floor had an inlaid pattern of red stones arranged as a large sunburst, with each of its different rays pointing out towards one of its six exiting corridors. The ceiling, some twenty or more feet above, was a curved dome, paintings of clouds and sky swirling around its borders, colors still vibrant as ever, even after so long a time. A dim light seemed to come down from the tall ceiling; enough apparently, to adequately see by. Bronto walked over towards where the others were gathered at the room's center.

"How's the small one?" he asked, at the sound of Quickfoot's groaning.

"He's coming round, " Candol answered, "he should be fine in a few moments."

"Ow, what happened?" Quickfoot asked as he slowly came awake, no sign of any wounds upon him. "All I remember is a wall of muscle and teeth."

"I think

ell that opened up the other doors, there was still a powerful magical barrier holding it shut, " Sindar explained, as the others gathered round. "It stopped any spell that I tried. I thought it unopenable until Bronto tried the doorknob himself."

"It must just be that old blood thing again, " Bronto grinned.

"To but follow Mauklo's own earlier supposition, " Sheil-Bor(h) offered, "if this be the only door here that need have Bronto's touch to open, then what Krey desires no doubt lies beyond."

"Then we have to get it before Krey does, " Candol decided. "We must see what it is that he wants."

"For once, the priest is right, " Mauklo said in his calm Sileesh accent. "We must put this all to an end."

"Very well, " Lindel agreed, "then if Schanter's finished playing around, we might as well get started."

Schanter gave a pouting look, looking as a child caught at doing something naughty.

"One thing first though, " Sabu came up to Sindar, holding out the rolled up scroll before him, "of what do your psychic powers make of this."

Sindar closed his eyes while Shong and Bronto drew out their swords in preparation for entering the treasure chamber. Sindar swayed back and forth as he concentrated, his strong mental powers trying to delve deep into the nature of the simple-looking scroll. Then, he stopped.

His eyes popped wide open, as if in extreme shock. Sindar nearly fell back, Eldar catching him by the shoulders.

"Sindar, what is it?" the elf asked, as he tried to lightly slap his friend awake.

Sindar put a hand to his temple as he tried to rub the shock out from his brain. Eldar helped him straighten up as he answered.

"It is old beyond belief, " Sindar said, "older than any history that I know of. Its age can probably be measured in dorels; not a length of time I can easily fathom. Where did you get that?"

"A subject for another time, perhaps, " Sheil-Bor(h) suggested. "As interesting as that map may be, of even more interest is our present circumstance. The map will wait."

"I suppose, " Sabu said, reluctantly putting the map away in his robes.

"I'll go first, " Bronto said, as he started to step into the short hallway.

"Wait, " Quickfoot said as he scurried over to Bronto's feet, "can't you people see anything?"

They watched as the small one took out one of his many daggers and casually tossed it into the hallway. It landed halfway down the short twenty-foot stretch, clanging once or twice. Immediately a shower of pellets began spitting out from tiny holes in the walls on either side of the hallway, landing against the walls and on the ground. Upon impact, each pellet broke open, releasing a bubbling fuming liquid.

"The small one's innate meuwmen does seem to have its uses at times, " Mauklo commented to himself, watching the rivulets of bubbling liquid.

"Acid, " Eldar said, as he casually strolled in, "you act like that's a problem, "

Eldar went in, walked partway down the hallway, and bent down, casually scraping up some of the acid onto his finger, putting it to his mouth as if to taste it.

"Hmm, " he said, licking his lips, "pretty potent too."

"If I might point out, " Lindel said, leaning in the doorway, "some of us don't have Hevon Gems."

"Details, " Eldar shrugged as he brought out his sword.

He aimed the sword down at the acid trickling along the floor, the acid pellets still shooting out of the walls, impacting upon the elf just washing off of him. As he pointed, a stream of yellow liquid jetted out from the tip of his sword. Like a hose, he sprayed it around the floor and walls, spraying it into the tiny holes out of which the pellets shot. When he was finished, the liquid around him was no longer bubbling or smoking. Instead, a fine white crystalline ash was forming along the floors, coating as well all down the walls.

"Did I mention that our Acid Gems also do alkali?" Eldar smiled.

"He means, " Sindar answered the puzzled expression on Quickfoot's face, "he just turned it all into salt. It's quite safe now."

Bronto stepped in first, fresh salt crunching under his heavy footstep, Shong following close behind. Eldar, already partway down the hallway, turned to skip down towards the door at the far end.

"Eldar, " Sabu shouted out, his voice stopping the elf but five feet before the door, "I'll give you odds on those suits of armor."

Eldar stopped, turning a thoughtful expression towards the twin suits of dark plate, looking like the ghostly remains of long-dead knights.

"Hmm, " he said, sheathing his old sword and taking out his new Evolin blade, "perhaps you're right."

Cautiously, he approached the large iron door. Two steps closer did he take, when both of the suits came to life. They turned to face him, drawing millennia-old swords out of their scabbards, black pools of night now filling their empty faceplates. Eldar dodged as one sliced down at him.

"Need any help?" Bronto asked, coming down the hallway.

"Naw, " Eldar grinned, as he sliced down at the one on the left, "this is fun."

His blow cleaved through the armor at the shoulder, separating the metal arm at that point as it was sent clattering to the ground. But, when Eldar looked up at his foe, there were now three suits of armor, two of them with only one arm.

"Now this could get tricky, " Eldar admitted, as he leaped back from three swinging swords.

He slashed at the one with the two good arms, this time slicing off its head. But the only result he seemed to produce was the presence of four of the suits of armor, two of them without heads, but fighting just as efficiently all the same.

"Uh, guys, " he said, backing up, "I'm open to suggestions."

"I just have one, " Sindar said, raising up his hand, "in that metal is rather conductive."

A stream of half-seen force seemed to go from Sindar's outstretched hand, around Eldar, and on towards the four suits of armor. They all seemed to briefly glow with a faint luminescence and then quiver. Realizing what was about to happen, Eldar leaped back towards Bronto just as all four suits came flying towards each other. They impacted at a common center, the force of their impact causing their number to once again double, but still leaving the entire group as a single magnetized heap wriggling upon the ground. Eldar smiled at the sight.

"I like that one, " Eldar said, eyes twinkling silver-blue, "but what about the pile? It's kind of blocking the way."

"Allow me, " Bronto said, as he walked on past Eldar.

The big man went over to the struggling pile, and placed a hand around either end, as if he were going to lift it all up. Instead, he pressed inward, carefully crushing and bending the struggling suits. He then moved his grip, crushing inward from a different location, and then repeated this, squashing and crushing, reducing it all into a smaller and smaller pile. When he was finished, all that was left was a compact metal ball no more than two feet across.

"There just has to be a way he can make money doing that, " Eldar commented as the others came up to join them.

They walked up to the iron door, Sabu surveying its work. All along its surface were glyphs and magical runes carved into it. Nary a gold ring did this one have, but a simple flat plate at its center. Sabu looked the magical writings up and down, while Eldar gave a slow appreciative whistle.

"If these runes are as potent as the magic I feel coming off of this thing, " Eldar said, "then this door is not coming open!"

"I can assure you that those runes are indeed potent, " Sabu noted, "but its solution is all but an intellectual problem. For instance; notice the flat plate at the door's center."

Sabu walked over to stand beside the door.

"It is obviously no larger than one's hand, " Sabu continued, finishing up by looking at Bronto.

Bronto shrugged and stepped over, putting away his sword as he drew up his right hand.

"Sure, it's worth a try, " he rumbled goodnaturedly, "by the power of the old blood and all that."

He placed his right palm against the flat plate. At first, nothing happened, but then a loud crack was heard, resonating throughout the short hallway. Then a slow grating, as if of long unmoved gears grinding slowly awake for the first time in eons. Then the door began to part down the middle, straight down the center of the flat plate, as it drew apart, recessing slowly into the walls. Bronto brought down his hand, readying his sword again as the door slowly parted wide enough to admit them through. Eldar, Bronto, and Sabu stepped forward.

A glittering spectacle were they admitted into. A room filled with the wealth of Th?r T?orca, from chests brimming full with bright shining gems, to shelves of ornate scepters, chalices, silver platters, golden candlesticks, and other valuable knickknacks. Gold was piled almost haphazardly around, making neighbors with small statues of marble and gems, propping up old forgotten paintings. Quickfoot ran right past the others and into the lavish room.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, as he dived into the nearest pile of treasure. "This has to be what Krey wants. I know I want it."

Sabu shook his head as the rest of them entered the large room.

"No, " he said doubtfully, "this can't be just about money."

"Maybe it's about that then."

Kilgar was pointing to what lay in the very center of the room: a tall crystal table, topped by a dome of glass. Sabu, Eldar, and Sindar walked over to what Kilgar had found, the others fanning out through the room. As they approached it, they could see what lay under the transparent case.

"It looks like the crown jewels or something, " Eldar said, as they looked down at it.

Inside, they saw a short golden staff topped with a small blue crystal ball, a crown of gold and jewels, and a small ceremonial dagger encrusted with a multitude of small gems. They looked down at it, each sensing it in his own unique way.

"There is great power about those items, " Eldar remarked.

"As well about the case that protects it, " Sindar added, "any magic that could get through that case might also harm that which lies within."

"I found another door over here, " Bronto said, walking over to them, "but this time it won't open for me."

"Hmm, " Sabu said thoughtfully, idea forming in his head, "I wonder. . ."

"Here it comes, " Eldar grinned, catching the look in his friend's eye, "we all know that look."

"Bronto, " Sabu said, "why don't you take a try at this dome casing, and then we'll try that other door."

"Something just occur to you?" Sindar asked, as Bronto came up to the case.

"Yes, " Sabu answered, "and I've a sneaking suspicion that it has already occurred to Mauklo's devious little mind a while back."

"Here goes, " Bronto said, grabbing either end of the small round dome.

The moment he touched it, the dome started to glow a bright yellow. When the light faded a moment later, so had the dome, exposing the items underneath it for all to see.

"Hey, " Eldar said, as he grabbed up the gem-encrusted dagger, "I've always wanted a knife that was too fancy-looking to be practical."

"I'm sure useless accouterments suit you just fine, " Sindar said, mild mocking in his voice, as he picked up the crown.

"Hey, " Eldar replied, swinging his new dagger around playfully in the air, "I resemble that remark."

"Now, " Sabu said, as he picked up the short staff, "where's this door?"

"Over here, " Bronto directed.

They walked past piles of treasure, around shelves of old artwork, and over to a wall with but a single door at its center. No handle was there upon this door, but more of a stone enclosure was it; a seal, as if someone wanted to wall in what lay beyond. Overhead was mounted a dark metal plaque, its lettering engraved in bright gold.

"That seal is quite a bit younger than the surrounding wall, " Eldar noted.

"And made of a different texture of material as well, " Sindar added, "it was definitely added a good while after Th?r T?orca was built. As well does it have the feel of deg soodra about it."

"That plaque is written in an old variant of Selgish, " Sabu said, looking up at the caption, "but I think I can read it."

Sabu cleared his throat, his voice ringing out loud and clear; the others in the room stopped looking around to hear what was to be said.

Mauklo just smiled to himself, watching as his own conclusions were being verified.

"'Disturb not that which lies beyond, '" Sabu intoned, "'let rest the Black One in his burning crypt of night.'"

"Sounds like they don't want anyone going in, " Quickfoot said after Sabu was finished. "Okay by me; all this lovely gold will do nicely."

"What Krey wants, lies beyond, " Sindar said. "We must get to it before he does."

"I just knew someone was going to say something like that, " Quickfoot complained.

"And I know how to open it up, " Sabu said.

Sabu brought up the short golden staff, its blue crystal top now swirling bright. Sindar followed by putting the crown up on his head, Eldar holding the dagger in his hand.

"But, what if it only works for a specific person?" Eldar asked. "I don't even think Bronto's heritage would do it on this one; it doesn't look like they wanted just anyone to open this up."

"That's why we're going to supplement, " Sabu said, as he brought up his own staff in his other hand, "with Hevon."

Sabu's Hevon gems began to show brightly on the tip of his staff, arranged in their half-formed ring around its top. Then he slowly brought the gold staff of Th?r T?orca to his own staff, touching them both together. There was a flash of multicolored light as they met, intense concentration showing on Sabu's face as he tried to control the opposing forces as they mixed and strained against one another. When the light had faded, only Sabu's staff was there left, only now with a faint golden sheen to it, the Hevon Gems already fading back down into the staff.

"If I'm correct, " Sabu explained, "that seal can only be personalized to open for a specific person if these items are so specific to one person."

"But, " Sindar picked up on the thought, "if the nature of the items was changed to be keyed to another person, then it could work for that other person."

"And, only with Hevon would there be the power to change them without harming them, " Eldar finished up in a quick intuitive leap, "by merging them with the power of whatever it is that is Hevon. Sounds great!"

Eldar quickly pressed the small dagger to his own sword and then, as an afterthought, took out his Evolin blade and pressed that to both of the other two. When the flash of colored lights was gone, Eldar was holding just the one sword.

"There, " he commented, "that should save on equipment as well."

As for Sindar, they watched as the crown upon his head simply melted down into him, seeming to merge with his skull until it was gone.

"Shakoo, " Kilgar voiced, as he watched the display.

"I'm with you kid, " Bronto agreed.

Even Schanter was too caught up in watching the three to do anything but stare.

"I think, " Sindar said, facing towards the sealed door, "that afterwards we are going to have to do some more research on just what these Hevon Gems are all about. Their nature would seem to go far beyond that of magic."

The three turned and faced the door, linking hands with Sindar in the center, Sabu on the left, and Eldar at the right. They looked at the sealed door, concentrating their efforts, as if willing the seal to break. Sabu held tightly onto his staff, Eldar to his sword, while Sindar just stared directly at the sealed door. The magic of the seal felt the power of the items which would open it, felt them and something more. For, the three weren't actually using the items so much as they now were the items.

The seal became a wash of colored lights; not only the golden power of the items found under the case, but also glowing with the prismatic colors that were of Hevon. The others watched as the seal became a cascading rainbow of color, washing down the surface like liquid light. As it washed down, the colors seemed to take with it the grey stone of the seal. The light ran off into little pools, quickly evaporating into the stone floor. What it left behind was not a seal, but an opening.

An open portal, wide enough for a single man to walk through, with carved stone steps, covered in layers of mildew, leading downward. As the three relaxed their concentration, as well their grips upon one another, the others approached cautiously, Kilgar, knife in hand, peering cautiously into the darkness that lay beyond.

"So, what's in there?" Shong asked, as he poked at the darkness with his diamond blade.

"That which Krey seeks, " Sheil-Bor(h) answered, "and of what we must find."

The smell of moisture came drifting up from the open portal, as did the faint sound of lapping water. Candol went over to the edge, looking down into the darkness beyond.

"If indeed Krey wants what lies beyond, then in the name of Indra should we seek it out, whatever it is."

"Let's hurry then, " Lindel said, readying his bow, "we don't know how long those palace gates up there can hold out against Krey since our going through them. We may have opened up the magics that kept him out."

"Agreed, " Eldar said, stepping towards the darkness, "we've got to hurry."

"What is it, though, " Shong asked as they all walked over towards the dark portal, "that could be so valuable to him in there?"

The sound of Mauklo's laughter caught them all off-guard. All eyes turned to see the dark-haired Sileen laughing a laugh that sent nervous chills up Quickfoot's spin, almost breaking Candol's spell of bravery.

"What's so funny?" Eldar asked. "I suppose you know what Krey wants in there?"

"Of course I do, " Mauklo said more calmly, smiling as he stepped over to the front of the portal, "I know exactly what he wants. I figured it out before we finally found this lost city."

Mauklo looked suggestively down into the dark depths, and then out at the others, slow smile curling upon his lips.

"He wants Beltor."

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