Rogue’s Gauntlet IV
Rogue’s Gauntlet, Part Four
As everyone else follows the scream, Deathwish calmly looks up at SeLiem. “While that’s great, you’re focusing on the wrong person. It doesn’t really matter to me all that much that you care about me. I mean, I don’t really care about me, so why should anyone else?” He shakes his head, as SeLiem helps him into a kneeling position.
The Half-Elf girl who had let out the scream moans and turns her head slowly towards Melias. “Huh? ‘Alright’? I’m not sure. Be careful. That shaft by you has spikes on top.”
She looks young. Her leather armor is so damaged it is falling apart and she has large gouges in her left underarm and shoulder. Her eyes are sunken with dark circles around them. The skin on her face is taut, stretched over her features, and her lips are dry and cracked.
SeLiem crawls forward and asks, “What’s going on?”
“Stay put,” Melias tells the girl, hoping she won’t be nearly as headstrong as his parrty. He turns around in the narrow tunnel and scoots toward the last shaft he came down. Seeing Arianna coming forward with a sense of purpose he shouts, “No!” Pointing up the shaft, he says, “Think about it!” Due to the Watchghost’s attack, all these warnings take longer than normal to say. Frustrated, he shouts, “The rope!” This comes out normal and he waves his hand to verify he is no longer under the effects of the Slow spell.
“What happened?” Claire asks. “Who screamed?”
She moves close to SeLiem and says, “Look, I’m sorry I don’t think before I act. It always works out for me that way and every time everyone thought about their actions I seemed to get hurt or sick or near death. I figured my methods were yielding better results. I’m sorry for what I said about your church, but I kind of started hating them ever since they started backing Howges.”
The unknown woman shifts uncomfortably, muttering weakly, “No problem . . . I think I might have broken something. I could really . . . use some water.”
Arianna crawls to the first shaft and leaps like a frog, but is caught by the trap and hurled up and landing hard at the top. For a stunned moment she remains there, disoriented and in pain. The glow of her magical items allows her to see she is at the top of two intersecting shafts, although the slant of the ceiling and the shafts will cause her to be directed to the second shaft when she falls. Her mind clears and she realizes the effect will end shortly and she will be dropped thirty feet again – and possibly again and again and again.
SeLiem was able to pass people at the light shafts and the corner, but now that he is in the second tunnel he cannot get to the front.
Rastorn hisses, “We have got to get his genitals back to normal.”
He casts a spell on himself.
Claire sighs, “We’ve got to get her to pick a gender.”
She casts Armor on Deathwish and gives him all her healing potions.
Seeing activity down the tunnel, the Half-Elf woman croaks, “Watch out. The shafts . . . they’re traps.”
Rastorn climbs on the side of the tunnel wall, pushing his way past those in front of him and past the first shaft. He moves slightly more quickly than he had while crawling on the floor – except when compared to his movement when he was attempting to escape the Watchghost.
Arianna crashes to the floor in front of him.
“Arianna, I’m casting Spider Climb on you so you won’t be sucked up into the shaft again. Slip off your boots.”
As he readies the spell, he shakes his head toward the unknown Half-Elf woman further down the tunnel and whispers, “Evenliir?”
The idea of being able to climb like a spider is appealing to Arianna. It sure beat all this up and down with which she has been dealing. “Thank you Rastorn,” she replies.
“Are we proceeding?” Kafeera asks them, rope in hand. “If so, you are going to have to move forward before we can cross. Do you have rope?”
While Kafeera is talking, Claire asks Deathwish, “So, er, what did SeLiem talk to you about when he whispered to you?”
With awkward and naive honesty, he tells her, “He’s trying to recruit me.”
“He what?” she says, feigning surprise. “Look, are you feeling alright? Is there anything I could get you?”
“Well, you could help us to get by these traps without further harm ,” he sheepishly answers.
“Arianna and I should be able to safely crawl the walls for a little while longer, but I have no idea how to connect ropes if we need to or how to use them to allow us all to pass safely,” Rastorn shouts to Kafeera. “Perhaps the only honest Thief in The Realms can figure it out,” he adds, looking toward Melias.
“Who has more healing? SeLiem, Melias, Arianna, and Deathwish are all in pretty bad shape,” Rastorn calls. “Oh, and the new ‘long-ear’,” he says, smiling.
Kafeera, clueless to what Rastorn is smiling about, simply returns the smile and asks, “Does anyone have a thought on how to attach the rope to the top side of the passage between the shafts? Like one here.” She gestures to the low ceiling above them just outside the shaft. “And one the opposite side. Then we could just shimmy across the rope without touching the floor.”
“How long does your Spider Climb spell last, Rastorn? We could position some strong people on either end of these upside down pits and have them hold the rope tight. Kafeera’s plan could work, so long as the first and last person could shimmy across without concern. I propose Rastorn takes one end of the rope over to that Half-Elf woman and they attempt to hold it tight. Arianna could head back and hold it on that end,” Melias suggests. “With strong anchors on either end, the rest of us should be able to cross without concern.”
SeLiem glances back at Claire and Deathwish. As usual, they are useless, he tells himself, before asking Kafeera, “How much weight can your poleaxe hold? We might not need to string rope the length of this section, if we can just climb across that seven foot handle.”
“Our spell will only last a few more minutes, so we need to be positioned before then,” Rastorn says, “I don’t think I understand the plan, though. Are we supposed to be able to hold a rope taunt from this great a distance or if the rope is slack will that be alright?”
Gathering all her strength, the Half-Elf woman says, “Get a rope . . . over here . . . two anchors on each side . . . leave the strongest for last . . . secure one person . . . at a time . . . to the rope . . . one at a time crawls over . . . the rope will keep them from falling up if they can climb along it. Second to last will have only one anchor at your end . . . and the last . . . the strongest . . . will have to be pulled over by the rest of you.”
“What a thoughtful girl, that stranger,” Melias says aloud to himself, as he nods with a smile to the battered woman. He calls to the others, “Did you hear what she said? Taught enough so that there’s no excess rope between the two ends. I don’t think it will matter if it is a little loose, as long as you don’t let go of the ends.”
In answer to SeLiem, Kafeera shakes her head. “Can’t use the pole arm without activating the trap, and I’m not certain it will hold under that force. No need to risk it, if we don’t need to.”
She ties one end of the rope around her waist and holds the other end, preparing to toss it to the other side.
“If nothing else, we can just hold it like you said and so long as we hold fast it should be fine. If we hurry, Rastorn and Arianna can aid the last person across. Rastorn, you got anything up yer sleeve to hold the rope to the ceiling?”
“Tie something in the center and let it activate the gravity trap. The result should keep the rope hanging in the air and the two people pulling it should balance the whole thing out,” Claire says. “You just have to make sure to hold on tight enough to either end.”
Kafeera says, “Sounds good! Although, Melias, you, Arianna, Rastorn, and that girl will have to do something similar to move down the tunnel so there will be room for us.” She tosses the end of the rope to Arianna, then lets Claire, Deathwish, and Seliem get in front of her, so they may cross first.
As the last to cross, she uses her polearm to do as SeLiem suggested as an added brace.
Adjusting the plan here and there as they progress, the group makes it to the end of the tunnel. There is a partially open small door at the end and the group had to back through it to make space for everyone. Once they are all safely beyond the door, they stand and study the 10’ x 15’ room, with a 6′ ceiling. There is another short door in the far corner and odd carvings on the opposite wall. The relief carvings are of four Human-shaped outlines, each with a hole where their hands should be. Other than that, the room appears empty.
Melias looks into the holes and discovers they are impossible to see into, even with his night vision. He tells the group and then points out there is enough space at the end of the wall for one more figure to have been carved, but that part of the wall is blank.
He chuckles. “Yeah, well. It looks like some four volunteers need to stick their hands in those dark holes. Luckily, by the looks of things, it has to be humans or human-sized individuals at least. Darn my Elf stature.”
Spinning on his heels, he faces the Half-Elf woman and silently studies her, assessing her physically. She doesn’t look like Evenliir, but that really doesn’t mean anything, as his evil sister now has the power to perfectly disguise herself as anyone. Resolving not to live his life in fear of the unknown, he grants the newcomer the benefit of his doubt for the time being.
“Hi, I’m Melias. If you don’t mind me asking, who are you and what are you doing in this god-forsaken place?”
As he says this, Claire sticks her hands in two of the holes.
Melias rolls his eyes and says, in a tired and monotonous tone, “No . . . don’t . . . stop.”
The unknown woman blinks hard when she sees Claire take such reckless action. She leans on the wall for support and looks back at Melias. While pressing her hand on her hip to stem the bleeding, she hoarsely replies, “I’m Raven. Please, do you have any water?” Her voice is desert dry, but Melias detects tell-tale qualities in her pronunciations that hint at a High Elf accent. This is the same dialect he and his kin share – including Evenliir.
Before she finished her second water request, Rastorn had his waterskin held in front of her. He smiles (which, given his appearance, looks more frightening than friendly) as she takes it, then turns away to study the carvings and see how Claire has fared.
“I believe we are out of healing magic, Raven,” he says, over his shoulder.
Claire has learned she can reach her hands into that hole freely, although she cannot feel anything within the holes. It feels cool within and her arm fits almost to the elbow. She feels as if she has reached into a void.
Having unsuccessfully searched the room for anything hidden, SeLiem was grateful to have all the glowing items, since they shed light through the entire space. He had only to hold up one of his magical weapons to see in any area darkened by one of the many sharp, angular shadows he and his companions created with their multiple glowing lights.
Taking off his rings and placing the one from his left hand into his pocket and the one in his right hand in his mouth, Rastorn smiles and sticks his hands into the holes on the fourth carving.
He feels around a bit, then pulls them back out. Placing his rings back onto his fingers, he looks to Melias and says, “This place is named after the famous Thief who lived here; perhaps it only works for people with the type of skills you possess.”
Raven catches his eye, as she finishes gulping water from his waterskin. “Thank you,” she says, through coughs. “Do any of you happen to have some food, as well?” When Rastorn turns from her to again look at the carvings, she turns her attention to Melias.
“Melias,” Melias, responds, as he searches his backpack, taking out what rations he has left. There is only a day’s worth, but he hands it to Raven and says, “Here, you look like you could use it more than I can.” He smiles. “Let me introduce you to our party.”
He starts near the back and says, “Kafeera is the tall, half-masked woman with that hazardous-looking axe. SeLiem is our messenger of the gods, so to speak. Arianna is our kinsman and slightly confused, for she was a male only a couple days back. You know Rastorn, the water bearer. There’s Deathwish, retainer of Claire, the Green Bard – the one who likes to hastily stick her hands into holes.”
The right corner of Claire’s lip rises into a half-smile and she winks at Raven.
Facing Rastorn, Melias rolls his eyes and says, “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How many times do I have to tell you, I’m not a thief? What would my skills have to do in determining my essence? Besides, I just played elevator out there without a tumbling net and don’t really fancy sticking my hands somewhere they can be so easily cleaved from my arms. Not without a little more information, at any rate. Thanks anyway. We are not all so eager to meet our deaths down here.”
Rastorn smiles his wicked smile at Melias, pulls the ring off his left ring finger with his teeth and begins sticking his left hand in and out of the first three holes, mockingly.
Removing her hands from the holes, Claire offers one to Raven. “Greetings. I am a bit reckless, usually. They don’t really accept that.” She looks Raven up and down as they shake hands. Even though she is dirty, worn out, and bloody – Raven is still exceptionally beautiful. Claire looks at Arianna, then back at Raven. As she slowly spins to face the wall and search for markings on the carvings, her smile grows.
Raven slides down the wall to a sitting position, then tears into the food from Melias.
“Nice to meet you all, especially since you brought food,” she says, with a half smile. “I was stuck in that trap for a while and really worked up an appetite.”
“Hello, Miss Raven,” SeLiem says, leaning over her. He smiles at her for a while, then stands straight again and surveys the room.
“You know, perhaps we need something else before we can finish this puzzle. Perhaps that something else is in the next room. I don’t really think placing our hands in the holes is going to help us, anyway. For all we know, some of the untouched holes could be trapped,” he says.
“Well, there’s only one way to find that out and since it was your idea they were trapped, you can go ahead and do it,” Claire says.
SeLiem looks at Claire, smiles, and says, “Oh, but ‘ladies first’.”
“That doesn’t work, for two reasons,” Claire says back, smiling even wider. “One, you already know I’m not a lady. Two, I already did.”
SeLiem pauses and replies, “Point taken.”
Raven studies the group while she eats, to try and determine whether or not they’re a threat to her. They have been friendly enough, but that can be faked. She glances at the holes in the wall as well, wondering what the figures mean. Her stomach cramps up after a few bites of food, so she turns her attention to the many areas on her body where her skin has been scraped away by the various traps. Taking her knife, she cuts strips from her blouse and bandages the wounds, stifling a scream the second the fabric touches her bloody flesh.
Kneeling near the door from which they entered, Kafeera guards the group. The ceiling is just low enough to make it uncomfortable for her to stand. Stretching slightly in relief, because of the open space, her attention is focussed mostly on the position of each member of the group, especially Raven.
Witnessing an entirely different reaction to the stranger’s appearance than when she arrived, Kafeera can’t help but comment,”I guess you have to be under six feet tall to not be considered the enemy around here.”
Claire shrugs, then places five gold pieces in her hand and puts both her hands back into the second set of holes.
Rastorn nods slightly at Kafeera’s comment, then turns away quickly. He notices Raven bandaging herself and asks, “Doesn’t anyone here have skill in medical aid?”
Melias and Raven hear a very slight ‘thump’ noise come from opposite corners of the room.
Raven raises her head. “What’s that sound?” She glances at each corner of the room.
SeLiem looks at Raven, “What sound?”
She shakes her head, unsure.
Melias holds perfectly still, expecting another sound and hoping he can detect the source this time.
Claire pulls her hands back out, but nothing has changed.
Rastorn goes back through the carvings and makes certain he places his hands inside each hole, with his rings off, as before. Once done, he shrugs and sits down next to Raven.
“SeLiem, do you have a Detect Magic spell still available? We could find out if this puzzle is mechanical or magical in nature.”
SeLeim shakes his head, “No, I ran out of that clerical level of spell when I went on that healing spree.”
Kafeera raises into a squatting position, with her weapon at the ready.
“It was a thump,” Melias says. “Like a thump of an Elf falling down a 30 foot shaft. Like the thump of an Elf being lifted, then dropped by a spider-creature thing. Like the thump of the Elf falling over near dead from contact poison. I’m quite tired of this place, and all it’s insidious traps. I’m sure that thump is just the heralding of our doom in just another form.”
He steps to where Rastorn had just put his hands and with a sigh sticks his hands into the same holes, feeling around the darkness within and feeling he’s going to regret it.
Claire tries to open the small door to the next room. It wiggles, but does not open. It should push open into the next room, but it is as if it is blocked – not locked, but blocked.
Seeing Claire’s issues, Rastorn tests the door they had passed through to get to the current room and discovers the same issue with that door.
“Uh-oh, I think we must have triggered some sort of locking mechanism. I think your thumping noise may have been a bolt falling into place beyond the doors,” he says, then looks back at the carvings, this time with a more determined expression.
Raven sighs and tries to eat and drink some more.
She looks towards Kafeera, remembering her snide remark.
“Do you really think I pose a threat to anyone while I’m in this condition? That’s flattering, I guess.” She half smiles. “But, if anyone should feel worried here, I think it should be the outnumbered one. Not that I worry, of course. Unless I should. I think I will worry a bit about the trap, though. The last one was no fun.”
“Well if it were a trap, the purpose of it would be to protect something or hurt us, not to be fun,” Claire muses. “Hey, how many of those gems were there? The weird ones that glow.”
Claire digs in her bag and finds that she has the only glowing gem. It only started glowing after their other items started glowing and with the same soft, white light.
She puts the gem in her hand and starts placing her arms back into each of the holes.
After swallowing a few more mouthfuls of food and water, Raven returns to the painful task of bandaging herself. As she begins, she watches the green haired Bard experimenting with the wall. Her attention lingers on the glowing gem in the woman’s hand.
Arianna tests the second door. She can’t budge it. She thinks, I hate this godforsaken place.
Kafeera tells Raven,”I never considered you to be a threat. I stated a fact. Just days ago, when they found me, they were ready to hogtie me on sight. You, on the other hand, are given food and drink.” She smiles. “Personally, I couldn’t perceive you as a threat on your best day . . . or my worst.” She laughs her loud, goofy laugh.
“That’s my point,” says Raven. “You look considerably more dangerous than I do. And I wouldn’t dream of taking you on – even if I was my old self. But, I think I left my old self in that trap about a week ago . . . and some of my new self I left there just minutes ago.” She looks at the skinless areas on her body. Shaking her head slightly, she says, “That’s just it, even the prettiest flower can be made into a deadly poison.”
When Melias glances her way, Kafeera says, “I wonder what would happen if three people put their hands in the holes at the same time.”
Melias chuckles, “I would say she’s at least part Elven! Insinuating that would normally be a saving grace, but then most of you have met my sister.”
When Claire reaches Melias, he quickly pulls his hands out, so she can continue shoving her hands in each hole.
“Claire, do you ever think that maybe you’re supposed to look into or through the gem for its magic to work?”
To the others he says, behind his hand, “I’ll bet five gold she is the first of us to lose an appendage. Any takers?”
He shoots a glance at Arianna and chuckles again, “Whoops, sorry, excluding you of course.”
After Claire passes through, he steps back to look at all the carvings at once and says, “That’s not a bad thought, Kafeera. For a Human, you’re pretty smart sometimes.” He winks at her. “But there are four engravings . . . and a space for a fifth. So, this is my suggestion. Four of us stick our hands through the holes and the fifth one attempts to put his or her hands through holes that don’t seem to be there in the fifth spot. Maybe there’s some sort of mechanism that opens for the fifth person that will allow us to open the door and get the hell out of here.”
When she catches Melias’ eye again, Arianna glances down at her groin and then back at him. “I might have lost my pecker, but I grew a really nice set of boobs.” She looks down at her chest, then back at Melias. Smiling broadly, she says, “Oh, and yes, I know your sister really well!”
Raven looks at Melias. “Who are you talking about? Me? Insinuating what?” She looks to Arianna, then back at Melias during their exchange. “You people are rather strange, do you know that?”
“It is a very long story. Perhaps tonight when we rest, I’ll catch you up,” Melias offers. “But what about you? Why are you here in Taber’s Keep? How did you happen upon this place . . . and why?”
Done checking all the holes, Claire holds up the glowing gem for a closer look, but it is still glowing too brightly for her to look too carefully.
Raven answers Melias, “I heard a song about the treasures here. So, I followed the clues in the lyrics and here I am. I mean, that is why you’re here as well, right? The king’s ransom?”
Melias recalls the riddle that helped them locate the Keep and grins. “Sort of. Let’s just say it was a motivating factor for some of the group.” He looks to all the others and then back to Raven. “We don’t really have a leader, though in an effort to keep us focused on our purpose I’ve frequently spoken out for the group and I’m going to do so now, as well. If you are willing to help us make it through this hell-hole and to the king’s ransom, you are welcome to a fair share of the take. I know, you came in here expecting it all for yourself. By all means, if you think you stand a chance alone, you’re free to leave us as soon as we get out of this room and head out on your own way. But, there is power in numbers. You would be safer sticking with our group. Is this something you can agree with? Assist us and put up with our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities and in exchange you have a greater chance of remaining relatively safe, but will receive a smaller take of the treasure. A treasure we might beat you to, anyway. It’s a fair offer and I trust the others won’t mind the terms of the agreement.” He looks at them again to make sure he isn’t overstepping his bounds.
Rastorn nods when Melias makes his offer to Raven. He sits down in the corner by the far door and refuses to stick his hands in any more holes. “If this door does open, someone will need to be waiting in case some monster is on the other side. I’ll take that task as my own,” he says.
Kafeera shrugs in agreement with Melias’ offer to Raven, for she’s already come to the conclusion there is no real treasure here. When she sees Arianna tentatively placing his off-hand in a hole, she guffaws, then says, “And they said I was the slow mule in the pack!” Catching her breath, she continues, “Since she is now considered to be a part of us, I suggest she take the risk as well.” Turning to Seliem, she says, “Don’t suppose you want the honors of number four or five? If you’d rather stand with Rastorn, I’ll take your place at the wall. You decide.”
“I really wish to avoid putting my hands in those holes, for all we know a trap may spring at any second. Any seconds a hand could be cut off,” SeLiem answers.
Raven considers what Melias said. Was a kingly treasure divided by seven or eight still kingly? On the other hand, a part of the treasure is better than no treasure at all. She looks at Melias and says, “If the others don’t mind, I think I can agree to those terms.” She smiles.
Claire makes a mental note to poke Melias in the rear with a dagger for stealing all the women. “Wuss,” Claire taunts SeLiem.”No one else had anything happen to them when they did it, so what do you have to fear?”
Melias tells Claire, “Let’s give the healer a break here. He wouldn’t be able to heal us with no hands, after all. What about your slackey, Deathwish?”
“Can’t you have some respect for the dead?” Deathwish moans, “I mean, if you’re not a Thief and actually care about doing the right thing and all.” He places his hands in the third set of slots. “Nothing’s going to happen or I’m going to get hurt . . . again. All because of you.” He stares angrily at Melias.
Claire scoffs, “And all the non-wussy healers do things like this. Why should he get special treatment?”
“How about because he was kind enough to waste our only Raise Dead spell on your retainer, you thankless little bitch?” Melias spouts, his arms waving angrily.
Arianna shrugs, feeling extremely weak herself. “Yeah, I have to agree. It was a waste of a spell.”
Melias has his hands in the first set of holes.
Arianna’s hands are in the second.
Deathwish is in the third position.
Claire is in the fourth.
Rastorn looks to Kafeera. “Well, if you’ve got the door, I’ll take the fifth spot.” He walks to the blank area of the wall, where he assumes the pose he sees on the carvings and slowly steps closer to the wall.
Once each hole has a hand in it, prior to Rastorn even taking his spot, the group feels their arms get pulled in up to the elbow. The carvings light up magically and the outline of a fifth figure appears on the wall before Rastorn. On the opposite wall, Raven is startled when a section of that wall glows, as well. Simultaneously, the four at the wall fall back away from the wall, the fifth figure – in front of Rastorn – takes physical form, a magical door opens on the opposite wall, and the doors out of the room both open.
Once the magical happenings all end, the party finds themselves quickly glancing about trying to note all the changes. The doors are open, but nothing moves to attack. There is a small space open in the opposite wall and a small pile of treasure awaits inside. Eight potion bottles, a lyre, and a small statuette of an Owl are among the coins in the pile. Each of the four who placed their hands within the holes discover their hands are now gloved. Melias has a light pair of long leather gloves, Arianna has an armored pair, Deathwish’s are armored, and Claire’s are similar to Melias’. Oddest of all the magical effects is the young, full-blooded Elf female who now stands before Rastorn. Even Kafeera can look at Raven and then the new woman and tell the differences between Half and full Elves.
Rastorn whispers, “Evenliir . . . ?”
To be continued . . .
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