Chapter Thirteen, Part One
Once they are all gathered in the stairwell, Rastorn hands the candle from the master bedroom to SeLiem and has him place it inside his modified lantern.
“This candle never went out and never got any smaller while we were putting out the fire. It may have been burning for weeks or months, since we don’t know when the trap was set. My guess is that it is magical and won’t go out for a long time – if ever.”
At the top of the stairs the party finds a closed door on each of the four walls.
Holding up one of their discoveries from the library, Rastorn whispers to Melias, “There is a timeline of events which dates all the way back to The Nation of Elves crowning Misty Gentlebreeze the leader of the Elves in Year Zero! It tells of Oasis Prime, a city in The Desert which was destroyed! That could be ‘The Lost City in The Desert’ that is spoken of in fables. According to this, it may have actually existed! Who else here can read? You have to look this over – it’s unbelievable.”
He riffles through the documents and holds a handful of papers in front of SeLiem.
“You may be interested in this, it is a few partially eaten pages from a book entitled ‘The Whole Half-Elf’ and it tells you how to gain full privileges in The Nation of Elves if you are a Half-Elf. Since you dwell with Humans, you can’t stay in The Nation or have any real rights there, but this tells how you can gain equal status. Can you read?”
SeLiem pauses for a moment, “Ah, whatever, give me the pages.” He flips through them, then crams them into his backpack.
“There was a book about Lichdom, but that was sadly destroyed by those Bookworms,” Rastorn continues. “What else, ‘Using Slaves to Increase Business Profits’, ‘How Eldar and Pearl Gained Control of The Islands’, ’15 Different Locks’. How about this one, ‘How to Design the Perfect Underground Laboratory for Magical Studies’. Hmmmm. Here’s another, ‘Why Teleportation is the Most Underrated Magic’ by High Wizard Copa Stetic! This one was written by Onif the Diviner and here’s another about nation building by someone named Hoges and one about a legendary sword of the Golden Age named Iflander. Anyone want to peruse any of this?”
“Whoa, wait. One from Onif? What are the odds of that? What was the title of that one? Maybe it’s important?”
“The Onif book is called ‘The 20 Greatest Magical Discoveries of Cultury’,” Rastorn answers, smiling wide-eyed and bobbing.
Amused to witness the change of spirits in Rastorn, Melias decides he might even become happily accustomed to interacting with him in this personna – despite his melted facial features.
Arianna cocks her head at Claire and asks, “Do you really want that junk I found?”
“Shiny junk. Shiny junk that can be sold easily,” Claire answers. “Small shiny junk that can be sold easily.” She spins away from Arianna and takes the timeline from Rastorn, looking it over before stuffing it away. “And it’s rather odd that there’s no large, brutish, overbearing woman in front of us, but that’s not all that bad, is it?”
Gathering on the second level, they realize they are one member short. Kafeera is nowhere to be seen.
Melias stretches his arms to the side. “What the heck; how can you lose a seven foot tall woman?” He sighs and shakes his head. “Remember, the ugly people downstairs said there was something that ate one of their friends up here. I would highly suggest we stick together. Be alert – stay alive.”
“I think Kafeera headed toward the kitchen. Someone that big has to eat often,” Rastorn remarks.
Looking at each door in turn, Melias says, “Does anyone have a preference for which door we check first? If not, let’s just check this direction.” He pulls free his bow and notches an arrow, then points northward.
“East,” Claire says, hefting her crossbow again.
Looking smugly at Claire, Rastorn says, “So, Melias says ‘north’ and Claire says ‘east’. Hmmmm, should we follow the founding party member with the uncanny sense for detecting secret doors or the packrat who busts open doors randomly risking all our lives each time she does so?” He heads to the northern door and stands off to the side so Melias can check it.
Melias snickers at Rastorn’s comment and winks to the Mage in agreement as he begins checking the door for any traps.
“You should all step a few paces back while I do this . . . just in case I sneeze or something.”
He inspects the door from nearly all angles, checking for tripwires, gadgets, springs, gas, needles, razors, or other widgets triggered by the slightest movement.
Claire chuckles for a different reason, mostly because Rastorn himself, she decides, will later suffer repercussions for his comments. She can’t help that she is reckless. To her thinking, it works better than constantly checking everything so meticulously.
“In the stories, they always pick north. That’s why they all end badly,” she mutters. Well, they’d certainly missed that nice little tid-bit of information. More fool all of them. Her, too, for sticking with them. She shakes her head, slings her crossbow back across her back, and crosses her arms.
Outside, behind the keep, Kafeera kneels and cries in the pouring rain.
Percy rushes to her.
“We had one of the new fellows keep an eye back here and he said you had run out the back door. I just left the keep, so I know that it wasn’t from an attack. What happened?”
She looks up into his soft blue eyes and can clearly see the overwhelming concern and empathy in his expression as she replies to him between sobs. Overwhelmed by memories, anger, frustration, grief, pain both physical and especially emotional, and the sincerity in Percy’s eyes, she can’t help but blurt out, “No beast on this land could ever dare cause me to shed a single tear! They on the other hand-” She jerks her head toward the heavens. “I’m so confused.” Slumping against the wall and shaking her head in the rain, she sighs deeply then says, “Trouble yourself no longer with my petty ramblings.” She looks aways in obvious embarrassment.
Percy helps Kafeera to her feet and pats her on the back.
“Listen,” he says, in a calming tone, “I am not a wise man, but I do recognize when someone is in need of spiritual guidance. SeLiem is a law-abiding person, but his heart is not as pure as many in our group. Perhaps we should pray together, you and I. Here, now, let us kneel down and beg for assistance in your moment of confusion.”
The large man kneels down in the mud beside Kafeera.
“My guess is it has something to do with the mask with which you hide half your face. Shame is not in itself sinful, but a side effect of sin. Forgiveness of sin will therefore lead to removal of shame.”
Melias finds no traps.
Rastorn smiles (again, looking more like a skinny, blue jack-o-lantern than an actual person) and whispers to Melias, “Watch this!” He opens the door a crack. “Look at me – I’m a reckless musician!” he says in a hearty voice, as he kicks the door the rest of the way open.
Inside, the room is empty, except for a bed, dresser, full-length mirror on a swivel stand, and a fireplace. Rastorn peers down at the floor and decides it is safe. He tip-toes into the room and peeks around the corner, holding his lantern up so he can see clearly.
“All’s clear!” Rastorn announces, before he looks back at Melias and says, “Alright, I’ve done my brave act for the day. Now I’ll be moving back to the middle of the group.” He cautiously investigates the fireplace, as the others enter.
Not having expected the warrior’s piety, Kafeera is momentarily rendered speechless. Finding her voice once more she says, “I had not taken you for a man of faith.” Stepping back slightly she continues, “Perhaps it is not wise for me to ask anything of them. For I, too, am obviously not such a wise person. I am sure that is their opinion of me, for they continue to remind me of my idiocy. Yet they force me to continue on and on . . . clueless to their plans.” Again she shakes her head and sighs deeply.
Percy cranes his neck to regain eye contact.
Taking a deep breath and looking at the covered half of her body, Kafeera continues, “You are at least partially right. This all does not have anything to do with the mask I wear, but instead with the events that led to my acquiring it. I bare the scars for it is their will and I accept that. I deserve this deformed body and ask not for pity. There are times when I wish to be rid of them, but if I were ever granted a Wish I surely would not waste it on such – not when there is something more blessed to be had.”
Percy notes how she rubs the lightning bolt on her bracelet as she makes her last statement.
“You must think me mad? I guess my sin, if you will, is my persistent questioning of them.” She gestures to the heavens. “Praytell, you are an apparent man of faith, do you ever question them? I have, obviously, many times.” She points to the new burns on her body from the trap inside the keep. “Why do they see fit to torment me? I have done all that I know to be good and decent in my youth and now. They refuse me true parental love. I accepted. They made me different from those in my home and reminded me daily that I was a disappointment to my family. Again I accepted without question. Just when I thought they had removed their eyes from me, they stole that which meant more to me than life itself,” she squeezes the bracelet on her arm, “my beloved Krystorm, my one brother that-” Again she begins to sob, but her tears are quickly replaced by anger. Pulling the waterskin from her pack, she chugs it thirstily. Pacing, she snaps, “As if that weren’t enough I am forced to carry on.” Her voice softens and becomes distant. “Alone; forever alone.” Flopping against the building, she turns up the waterskin, swallows hard, then says, “Even after all of that I truly thought I could carry on. And I did! I did well in Lord Targon’s service. I found those five years of servitude so much easier than this past year out here . . . free.” She closes her eyes slowly, then quickly reopens them and stares at Percy, looking much like a convict awaiting sentencing.
Percy patiently listened to Kafeera’s rant, not moving from his muddy pose. Finally, he stands and looks down at her with a furrowed brow. “I think I understand,” he begins, “you are a worshiper of the lawless god Raim. Your thoughts and emotions are a reflection of his chaotic teachings. Take note, friend Kafeera, that you only found peace when you were in the lawful service of others. With structure comes the calming and clear path to enlightenment and joy!” He smiles. “You are in turmoil because you follow the wrong god, my friend. You should follow Capra, as I do.” He pauses, then falls to one knee before her, “Again I ask, will you pray with me?”
Orjulun comes jogging around the corner.
“Is everything alright?” he shouts through the rain. He holds a short board scavenged from the barn over his head to guard against the downpour.
Percy holds his hand out to Kafeera just as firmly as he holds her in his gaze. “If it is answers concerning our Quest you wish, then the good Wizard Orjulun can help you, but only Capra can answer the questions in your heart.”
Melias wipes tears from his eyes as he stands after rolling on the floor laughing at Rastorn’s antics. Smoothing the grin from his face, he says, “Very good, Rastorn. Some day you can also be a Bard. All you have to do is tune up your singing voice.” He starts searching the furniture for anything of note – especially things that are cube-shaped. He starts with the dresser, checking for traps on the drawers. Squatting, he looks over his shoulder at Claire and asks, “Did you want to fling these open quickly? I can step back if that’s your desire.” When he looks back, he spots a secret door just to the left of the doorway into the room. It is little more than crawl space size and set about six feet from the floor. He casually points out the secret door to the others as if it is as obvious to them as it is to him, but knowing damn well it isn’t.
Claire makes no effort to look toward the secret door, instead staring at Melias hoping he will look at her. When he doesn’t, she makes an incredibly rude gesture at him, then steps away to investigate the mirror.
Deathwish, meanwhile, approaches Rastorn. “Treat my lady with respect or suffer the consequences,” he mutters so only the Necromancer can hear.
Rastorn seems nervous when Deathwish threatens him, but squints his eyes in a wicked glare after the Fighter walks away.
“You know, I hear it’s much easier to survive during adventures if you don’t slit each other’s throats, physically or mentally,” SeLiem comments. He looks around at everyone and shrugs when he gets no response. “How can we overcome enemies if we can’t act united and work as a group? I ask you all very kindly to please keep one another’s limbs intact until we get to the next town, eh? Melias and Rastorn, please, keep the insults to a minimum. Claire and Deathwish, try to not command or force people to think your way, and not their own. In this group I don’t think it’s really even possible, but you can try.”
Melias rolls his eyes.
“What the hell’d I do to deserve that? I never tried to ‘impress my views’ on anyone!” Claire shouts.
Melias scoffs and then with a shrug says, “Well, that’s true, because if we had her views, she’d just adopt some other ones.”
SeLiem steps out of the room, yawns, then casts a Glyph of Warding on the stairway, “There we are.” He smiles. “I recommend you do not touch or even think about touching this Ward, for touching it wouldn’t be the delight you thought before you touched it.” He winks. “And if you do touch it don’t look to me for healing for your own stupidity.”
Melias stands and asks SeLiem, “Um, how are we supposed to use those stairs now?” He chuckles and adds another quick question, “And what if Kafeera decides to come up after us?”
SeLiem’s jaw drops. He had not thought of that. After a moment’s thought, he says, “You need a password to cross it. I guess the password would have to be, ‘Unite’, simple enough for someone in a party to guess, but it wouldn’t make much sense for a lone person to say.”
Having uncovered absolutely nothing of value in the room, all the dresser drawers were empty and the fireplace and mirror hid no secrets, all that is left to search is the secret door.
Melias drags the chair from the dresser to below the secret door, so he can reach and study it.
“Quite a strange place for a secret door, if you ask me. There might be a switch or lever at ground level that activates it, so you might consider pushing stones, turning sconces, whatever. I just ask that you let me finish checking for traps first. For all we know there’s a chute full of rattlesnakes just beyond this stone door.”
Kafeera gives some thought to Percy’s theory and allows a brief moment for the alcohol from her waterskin to calm her rattled nerves. She is desperate for peace of mind and unable to resist the gaze of the Warrior. She rises to her knees and takes Percy’s hand. After swallowing hard she says, “I’ve only prayed to any god for Krystorm’s sake and those prayers were refused. How do I now look to them again in hope they will listen to such a petty demand when they have their own purpose for my petty existence?” She shakes her head. “Perhaps I’m being punished for my lack of faith.”
As Percy pulls Kafeera to her feet, Orjulun steps closer so he can better hear their conversation.
Maintaining eye contact with Percy, Kafeera says, “According to your friends, you are all out to save the world for them . . . and here again I dare question my own life whilst you and yours aim to save lives. Pathetic. I intend to repay my debt to you and your friends as I promised Melias.” Rubbing her still sore wounds she adds, “I believe I am well on my way of doing so, but then what?”
Orjulun shifts his gaze from Kafeera to Percy, but Percy is slow to answer and Kafeera quickly fills the silence. Loosening her grip on his hand, she slumps down to her bottom, still holding his gaze, and says in a defeated voice, “Do tell, how dare I ask anything of them? They, who apparently have a sense of humor beyond anything I could ever understand. They salvage my body from the flames only to forever remind me of this with scars over half my body. How close I came to peace, just to have it taken away. I just don’t get it. Again, I bid you, how do I dare pray to your Capra? How do I make things right with them?”
“Who are we to question gods?” Percy asks in answer.
“I know this isn’t really any of my business, but let me tell you my view of the control gods have in our lives,” Orjulun says. “I know Capra teaches that everything has a purpose and there is absolute structure in the cosmos. Serve him and he will protect you and lay out a glorious life for you, right?”
Percy nods and shrugs, as if that is obvious for anyone to see.
“Well, I follow Scorces The Lord of Light and Scorces teaches that although the gods may nudge us here and there, nothing is preordained. We have freedom to change our own destiny, be that by following society’s rules or opposing them. What ultimately matters is that good people must prevail over evil, the rest is just methods to reach those goals. It is not the gods who decide your fate. It is you.”
Orjulun looks deep into Kafeera’s eyes and she can see he is also a deeply religious man with strong convictions and true empathy for her plight.
He says softly, “If you feel the gods have forsaken you or are toying with you, I believe you are giving them too much credit.They may set the scene, but it is up to you to act within that situation. You can cry and feel sad for yourself or stand up, go back into that building, and kick evil in the backside!”
Percy cheers at that, then calms and says, “I’m all for kicking evil’s backside, but I think you are wrong about how much the gods interact with us in our daily lives, Orjulun. Capra teaches that-“
Orjulun raises his hand to silence Percy and says, “We can debate that later, my friend, what I want to know is . . . are you ready to return to the keep, Kafeera?”
Melias detects no traps and easily discovers how to open the door. Opening it, he sees it leads to a very small crawl space which follows the path of the wall, heading straight west. From what he can see, it continues to the next room, before turning south, which means it follows within that wall, too.
As she is wandering around the room, Arianna locates another secret door – one Melias didn’t see! It is at floor level, four feet high, and in the south-east corner of the room on the south wall. She also sees how to open the secret door.
With everyone except Arianna surrounding him, Melias peers into the crawl space and says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this little tunnel follows the walls all the way around this floor. I could crawl in and see if it opens up in the next room as well. Do you want me to meet you all over there?”
Kafeera can not help but smile slightly at Orjulun’s pep talk. She is eager to continue the conversation about higher powers, however, as Orjulun has reminded her, the others are still in the mansion and could very well be in need of her help. Wiping her face with her gloved hand, she stands. Clearing her throat slightly, her voice regains some strength as she says, “I’m all for kicking evils backside. You are right, this is not the time nor the place for my religious breakdown. It has been quite a day, magically sealed in a light, chewed on by a Troll, gnawed on by an invisible ‘skeeter’ from The Abyss, torched, and reduced to a blubbering fool in the pouring rain . . . not to mention encountering those who claim they’ve been sent to prevent another Undead War. I suppose to look on the brighter side the Troll and ‘skeeter’ are dead, I still have my hair, and the dead have not risen – yet. Most importantly, it appears I’ve made excellent company. Orjulun, you are right. Perhaps this conversation should continue at a more appropriate time.”
They smile in unison.
“I do wish to know more about this Capra, but first I must see to the safety of your friends.”
She picks up her halberd and heads back through the door.
Heaving himself into the crawl space, Melias asks, “Anyone want to join me?”
“That fire thing wasn’t even my fault,” Claire mutters to herself, then tells Melias, “That’s actually the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in the past two days: ‘want to join me’. With you there, I don’t think I’ll get into anything, so – sure.”
“Good, at least you smell better than Rastorn.”
He offers his hand to her for a boost up.
“That’s a good idea. It is almost night,” Orjulun tells Kafeera, as she waves good-bye to him and Percy.
Just before she closes the door, Percy adds, “If you need to know more about our Quest, then ask Melias or check back with us.”
Kafeera finds her way through to the hall and to the stairwell. Climbing the stairs by the light of her lantern, she can hear the voices of those above. They are arguing, as usual.
Standing at the top of the steps, SeLiem can hear and see Kafeera ascending the staircase. In a few seconds, she will set off his Glyph.
Unaware of this, Melias and Claire crawl through the hidden space in the walls and reach what they believe to be the next room. There is no exit door, but in two different areas they find a small slit they open to see inside the room. The room is very similar to the last one, except the window is broken and the room is filled with Giant Bats. They count eighteen, all hanging from the ceiling and awake.
Outside the door to that room, Deathwish followed orders and was preparing to open the door. Rastorn stood near him, bur to the side.
Deathwish reaches for the handle to the door to the next room, unaware of the Giant Bats.
Claire and Melias are in position to see it all happen, but unable to warn him.
Arianna decides the secret door she found is a much more promising item to inspect. After all, someone hid it for a reason.
Melias whispers to Claire, “Well, your bodyguard is about to be sucked dry by these bloodthirsty bats. I hope he’s as tough as he makes himself out to be. Do you think we can shoot missiles through these slits?” He takes out an arrow and tries to fit the head through the slit.
“Stop! Don’t move!” SeLiem shouts at Kafeera. “Unite! Say ‘Unite’!”
“Well, here’s where a crossbow-toting, reckless musician might come in handy,” Claire says, maneuvering her crossbow in front of the slit. “The bolts are smaller than your arrows. It might work a little better. Do you want me to get his attention or warn him? He’d respond better to me than to you.”
“The best way to get his attention is to stir the bats, I would think. By the time you shimmied back to warn him, he’d already be inside. Go ahead and see if you can get a bolt out and hit one of them. That should cause a commotion,” Melias suggests, as he crawls away from her.
Claire braces herself to steady her aim at one of the Giant Bats.
“Let’s hope this works,” she sighs, as she pulls the trigger.
Kafeera says the magic password and continues up the steps. As she and SeLiem turn toward Rastorn and Deathwish, they are just in time to see the door opened.
Deathwish pushes the door open and sees a bat with a six foot wingspan drop from the ceiling with a crossbow bolt in its heart. The other bats drop down and begin flying around the room, many of them head straight toward Deathwish.
Rastorn yells to Deathwish, “Stay just outside the doorway, so they can only attack you one at a time, I’m preparing a spell for them!”
The first bat reaches Deathwish, but he is able to swing at it before it can land on him and bite.
Rastorn’s spell goes off a second later.
In the other room, Arianna opens the secret door she found. It leads to the south-east bedroom, is larger than the other room, and looks almost exactly the same, except for some minor details and a much larger fireplace. Her eyes are instantly drawn to a large, ornate cube sitting atop the mantle.
Chapter Thirteen continues next week!
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