The Realms: A World Apart

Rogue’s Gauntlet II

Rogue’s Gauntlet, Part Two

“Melias! You’re back again!” Arianna shrieks, as she throws her arms around his neck, hugging him just shy of tight enough to hurt him. As they separate, in a less excited tone she says, “We were worried about you.”

“Come on, Arturus, er – Arianna. People are staring . . .” Melias says, as he pushes her away. “Stupid oozing thing. I should have figured it would show up as soon as I stopped looking for it. At least we don’t have to worry about it anymore.” He looks around at the others and decides they look dejected with a hint of hopelessness. “I have been thinking while I’ve been indisposed – since that’s pretty much all I could do. I have come up with several ideas.”

He paces a bit and rubs his chin, until he is certain he has all their attention.

Pointing to the Cleric, he says, “First of all, SeLiem, you’re an ass for not reversing my paralysis. You’re also as slow as molasses in January. Ask that corpse the stupid questions your Speak With Dead spell grants you, already.”

“Secondly, the answer to your Augury spell concerning escaping this area below Taber’s Keep directed you to the ‘end of the cells’ and that must be in the other room. This church is clearly not a cell. So, there must be another way out. Maybe that small ‘air-vent’ I saw is more than an air vent. I could shimmy in there and find out what there is to discover.

“Thirdly, what about where that spider-humanoid crawled down from? Perhaps there is a trap door in the ceiling right there.” 

“Finally, it occurs to me that the ‘end of the cells’ might mean just that. Let’s check the end of the cells, the wall that separates the furthest two cells. Has anyone checked right there for a secret door or compartment? Come on people, we’re not getting any younger.”

Melias quickly spots the other end of the ‘air vent’, it is too small for him to enter, but, based on what he saw from the cell side of the wall the angle is right for the two ends to be connected. It seems most likely to be an actual vent connecting the cell to the chapel.

Rastorn rubs his hands together, “Finally . . . !”

Arianna remarks, “That’s our problem, everything has been checked out as well as Elvenly possible.” 

SeLiem shrugs and asks his next question. “We came from that direction, yes, but the stairway has been blocked by rocks and we cannot exit that way. Please tell me where and how we can escape if there is an alternate exit, and please try to be descriptive. I beg of you.”

SeLiem gets his answer: “I do not know if it leads out, but I was injured by a trap within the secret crawl-space at the end of the cells. Those tunnels which are known as ‘The Rogue’s Gauntlet’.” 

Walking to the end of the cells, Kafeera says, “Let us put our energies into the task at hand. I’m afraid my human sight is useless here.” She sighs heavily.

While Melias is busy looking, Kafeera steps beside Rastorn. Using her new axe, she begins scraping the walls to see if they can be easily damaged by the magical weapon. As she feigns interest in the wall and her axe, she makes a rather pathetic attempt at a pep talk and asks the wizard casually, “Have you any exploding magic within your books? Perhaps something that moves the earth? My brother was able to make large holes with just the flick of his wrist. Perhaps you have a way to send a message to the outside? If not, no worries, we’ll just tunnel out. It may take a while longer, but, hey, my date ain’t goin’ anywhere – your’s?” She laughs loud – but it is genuine.

“Let’s just see where the Elves lead us. Hopefully, there will be drink ahead,” Rastorn replies, with a wink, as he pats the large woman on her shoulder.

Kafeera’s smile broadens at the mention of drink and the fact that Rastorn touched her. People have rarely done so – willingly. Not even as a simple, friendly gesture. 

Salivating at the prospect of a good drink, she prods Melias to move faster, “Come on, I’m getting thirsty down here, and I ain’t referring to no man’s water, either!

Melias searches the wall between the last two cells at the end of the aisle between the cells and quickly spots a secret door seven feet up.  

Rastorn looks at Kafeera and smiles his semi-demented looking smile. “Why don’t you give the little guy a boost?”

Kafeera is able to act as a platform for Melias to study the secret passage. He finds no traps and is able to pull himself into the part-disguised, part-illusionary entrance. Within, he finds a small tunnel he will have to crawl through. It curves left, but takes a slight dip that blocks his view, allowing him to see only a few feet down the tunnel. 

“Sorry to have held you all up so long, but I do believe our way out is through here. Kafeera, my dear, you’re going to have to put that large weapon away if you intend on squeezing through. I’ll go first, to make sure it’s safe, but please keep some room behind me in case it’s trapped.  I’ll tie a rope around my waist in case there’s a pit or something that disables me.” 

Arianna paces back and forth while Melias is up in the passage. She mumbles to herself, “I don’t like it. This place. Melias alone. Smells of danger.”

Melias makes his way through the tunnel. When he passes the dip, he sees the passage continues straight with a light ahead. It may be natural light. He figures he should reach the light source about the same time the last person in line reaches the dip.

Kafeera wonders out loud as she crawls through the all too small tunnel, “If this is the way out, then where is this Cube of Power everyone’s been worrying about?”

“One question left,” SeLiem tells the corpse, “Thank you for all your assistance. Exactly where and what type is this trap in the crawlspace and any others you might have seen there?”

SeLiem gets his answer: “It was a Reverse Gravity trap, just past the unclimbable shaft. There were others, with fire and blades, but I am not clearly recalling their exact locations. There were many traps in succession.” 

SeLeim nods and says, “Thank you, may you rest in peace.” He lets the spell finish and prays for the woman. 

“Let’s hope these traps don’t reset if they activate,” he tells the party, after relaying the answers he received.     

As she crawls behind Melias, Arianna is convinced something bad is going to happen. After all, it’d been at least a few hours since something bad had happened. 

Kafeera and SeLiem had already followed Melias and Arianna into the tunnel, climbing a chair to reach the entrance. Rastorn is next to enter, followed by Claire with Deathwish taking up the rear. 

The party crawls slowly along the stone tunnel, with Melias nearly constantly checking for traps. They continue with no delays, until they hear a scream from the back of the line. Claire turns her head back in time to see Deathwish convulsing from the touch of a partially insubstantial, but beautiful, female with snow-white skin covering her torso and arms. Her lower body is skeletal and partially within the floor of the tunnel. 

The creature glances at Claire with the dark, empty pits which are its eyes, before gracefully drifting back down through the floor. Claire has no time to react and barely enough time to turn around in the small tunnel, before the creature has completely disappeared. 

One look at Deathwish, and she is certain he is dead. His eyes are wide with terror and his mouth is frozen mid-scream. Turning around in the narrow tunnel is very difficult for everyone and nearly impossible for Kafeera. Except for Claire, no one got a clear view of what happened.

A moment after the monster sank away, the tunnel brightened considerably, as everyone had various items begin to glow with a white light. Melias’ armor, bow, and swords glow. Arianna’s swords and bracers glow. Rastorn’s rings, robe, and broach glow. SeLiem’s weapons glow.  Claire’s dagger, armor, and crossbow glow. Kafeera’s hand axe glows. Other items that are packed away also glow, although the light is dimmed by their cover.

Kafeera, already uncomfortable with the thought of being trapped within an enclosed space, shouts, “What the hell’s going on back there?”

“Someone just killed Deathwish! This thing rose up through the floor, grabbed him, and sucked all the life out of him!” Claire yells. “His body’s just . . .” As her voice trails off, she realizes this is affecting her on emotional levels she didn’t even know she had. Now who was going to make sure her stuff didn’t get stolen, and cover her mouth when she almost said something stupid, and hold her head when she needed to throw up? “Dammit, I kinda wanted to keep him,” she mutters.

Arianna isn’t quite sure what to say, so she ignores the situation with Deathwish and says, “Can anyone answer why our gear is glowing? That can’t be good.” Suddenly feeling bad about Deathwish, she remarks, “I’m sorry, Claire, for your loss, but we need to get whatever we need off his person and get the hell out of here. If that thing returns, we could all wind up dead.”

Melias doesn’t bother turning around to see what happened. Likely, he wouldn’t see past Kafeera’s. “SeLiem, get that holy symbol ready,” he suggests, as he pushes forward looking for traps as fast as he can without adding to the hazard.

SeLiem nods. “It’s probably the most used item in the party. Let’s make haste, hopefully we’ll get to an exit before this thing tries to get another one of us.”

A ghostly female figure drifts quickly and silently out of the side of the wall yards in front of Melias and points its deathly white finger at him. A wispy, white ray shoots from its hand to the startled Rogue. He is unable to crawl closer quickly enough or move back with all those behind him, but he does attempt to dodge. The cold light ray is deadly accurate and Melias is struck. Although he manages to avoid the full force of the spell-like attack, he does instantly feel its freezing effect. He discovers his body will not move as quickly as he could prior to being hit and is chilled in a way not related to natural cold.

  The creature hesitates a moment, scoping out its prey before it begins to move again, this time straight up through the low ceiling of the tunnel. Melias and Arianna, behind him, have the briefest of time to react before it disappears again.

Unaware of the silent attack at the front of the group, Rastorn shouts back to Claire, “What happened to him? Blast it! Move back, so I can take a look!” He tries to turn, but keeps getting caught in his robes. “What grabbed him? Was it a Xorn?”

Arianna shouts back, slight panic is easily identified in her voice, “It was some damn white trollip! She shot Melias with something. He’s alive but he doesn’t look well. What the hell is that thing?” 

She grabs Melias and helps him move as quickly as they can. “We need to get the hell out of this damn tunnel or we’re all going to die.”

Extremely uncomfortable and becoming quite nervous, Kafeera urges those in front of her to move forward, then shouts to SeLiem, “Can’t you do that prayer thing you did earlier that kept the other living dead back? To hell with the traps, let’s get the hell out of this forsaken death trap! Hey, Rastorn, you seem to have the most knowledge of the dead, what can we do to help?”

SeLiem replies sharply, “I am assuming it’s too far, Kafeera. That ability can’t save us against everything. That ability is instantaneous. Besides, if it killed Deathwish it’s probably strong enough to resist my Turning. I think we should crawl as fast as we can out of here. If possible, Claire, try and bring Deathwish’s corpse with you. I’ve got a scroll that can bring him back to life.”

“I’m trying to recall what that creature might be. Right now, all I want is for people to keep moving so the damn thing doesn’t get us all,” Claire calls back. “I’m not sure if it’ll respond to holy magic, either.”

Melias shivers from the touch of death he felt shoot through his veins, but pushes his fear of the spirit aside and continues forth – albeit at half normal speed. “L-l-leave us alone, ghost w-w-woman!”

Arianna does her best to speed Melias along, but his slowness is keeping everyone from leaving the tunnel as quickly as they’d like.  

Rastorn answers Claire, “I didn’t get a look. It could be a Lich, but I doubt it. If it killed your henchman with a touch, then I’d guess it drains life energy.” He hesitates for a moment, then says, “No, it sounds like a more advanced form of Undead. Casting spells . . . I never heard of such a creature. Frankly, I would rather not learn more in this case!”

SeLiem would find it difficult to cast any spells that include a somatic component, but any verbal only spells would be easy. He can attempt to Turn Undead, if he gets close enough, but – like he said – this spirit may very well be beyond his power.

A face briefly appears in the wall to Kafeera’s left, but quickly disappears back into the solid stone. It is the same creature, again.

Rastorn looks over his shoulder at Claire, “Leave him! Save yourself! Flee!”

Claire takes what she can off Deathwish and crawls after the party with all the speed she can muster.

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Undead casting spells?” SeLiem says, as she quickly crawls forward. “You just were talking about a Lich in your previous sentence. What do you think Liches do, sit around all day?”

Arianna, listening to Rastorn and SeLiem, shouts, “Burn!”

“They do ‘sit around all day’! When was the last time you heard of a Lich actually taking action and doing something, instead of having its minions do it? Don’t bother lying.” Claire yells, still beside Deathwish.

“You are confusing two separate lines of thought, SeLiem,” Rastorn replies. “Liches do not kill with a single touch, nor would one use a physical attack at the start of a battle, nor do they normally act the way this creature does, yet there are no other spell-casting Undead of which I am aware. Quit questioning everything I say and second guessing me!” he shouts, as he pulls his robe up to his chest to free his knees. “As a Priest, you are supposed to be the bane of Undead, yet you don’t recognize this creature any more than I do!” He crawls along, on bloody knees, giving Claire a clear view of his bare behind.

Claire is too busy to notice, as she scoops up Deathwish’s spear, dagger, and coin bag.

Seeing the face of the ghostly woman inspires Kafeera to pick up the pace and shout, “Move your asses! I’d rather die with an arrow in my head or spike in my gut than have that bitch lay a single finger on me!”

The ghostly figure’s arm shoots out from the wall stretching to touch SeLiem, but he narrowly avoids the contact. 

Behind SeLiem, Rastorn screams, “By the nine gods, what is that?” and crawls forward.

Melias can see light shining down from two vertical shafts just a few yards ahead. The light is dim, but does not flicker like torchlight and creates two squares on the floor below. Very soon he will be entering the space below the shafts. Beyond that he cannot clearly see where the tunnel leads. Arianna keeps pushing him forward, so even if there is a trap there, he will have no chance to disarm or avoid it.

Those wearing armor are now gritting their teeth from the pain in their knees and other areas not cushioned for such a position or action.

Unable to forge a counter-attack with everyone pushing each other forward, the group is soon near the area with the light from above. Melias tries to slow down, but is pushed forward by those behind and is soon directly below the first of the two shafts. Looking up, he can see it leads up at least thirty feet. There are no clear foot or hand holds. This would be a difficult climb for a skilled climber like him, but impossible for anyone else in the group, except Claire. With their attacker ready to pop out any time, climbing while they wait would be a questionable option, too. The decision is soon made for him, when the group pushes him and Arianna even further down the tunnel. Passing the second shaft, he sees it is the same as the first, with light coming from all sides near the top. He guesses the top is covered, but has arrow slits or something of that sort on the sides. It does look like a possible way out of the dungeon, though. 

 He is pushed again as the panicked people behind him try to get as far away from the ghostly monster as they can. He finds himself in the area past the shafts and looks around. The way continues, after a sharp right turn. Rather than be smashed against the end wall, he takes the turn. There he sees that the tunnel continues and there are more shafts going up every ten feet, but no light comes from these shafts. Beyond that, the tunnel dips, blocking his view of what lay further.

At the end of the line, Claire has fallen a bit behind and looks back. The Undead woman, with her pristine upper features and skeletal lower half, floats up through the floor just yards behind. The creature squints its solid black eyes and points at the hurried Bard. A white light forms around its hand, as it prepares to blast Claire the same as it did Melias. Abruptly, it halts the action, smiles wickedly, and lowers its arm. As the creature gracefully raises through the ceiling, Claire notices she is somehow in better light. She looks up and realizes she is directly below the first shaft. Rastorn hollers to her, “Hurry, Bard, we have reached a new section, perhaps it will be safe there!”
Claire looks down at the items she is carrying, her items still glow, as does Deathwish’s dagger and spear, but also something within her coin bag.

Claire frowns and looks in her coin bag for the source of the glowing. She takes out a glowing gem. It is one of those she had found in the chapel.

As his breathing returns to normal after being attacked, SeLiem responds to Rastorn. “What do you mean they can’t kill you with one touch, they are damn Liches: epic spellcasters of Necromancy. Don’t lecture me about what the hell this thing is – you are the Undead-happy Mage around here.”

The line slows when Arianna reaches the corner and SeLiem finds himself pushed close to Kafeera. “Damn that thing is quick,” he tells her. “What are the chances a ghost thing would encounter us randomly in this tunnel and how can it even sense us through these walls? I don’t recall anything having the ability.” He looks around her to Rastorn and asks, “Do you want to explain that to me, Rastorn?”

Arianna looks over her shoulder and says to the Priest and Necromancer, “Is it possible for a new type of Undead creature to come into existence? Can they be tailor made, so to speak?”

“I suppose that it could be possible, although I’d have little knowledge of it . . . evolution, stuff like that. Hey, I’ve got an idea. If I can move back a bit and get within ten yards of him, I can cast Animate Dead on Deathwish.”

“Don’t do that!” Claire yells. “Let him rest a little longer.”

“I’ll release the spell once we’re out and then raise him from the dead. The longer we wait, the riskier this becomes.” 

To be continued . . .

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