The Realms: A World Apart

Rogue’s Gauntlet VI

Rogue’s Gauntlet, Part Six

This tunnel is the same size as the last section. Two people can squeeze in next to one another, but since it would be cramped and they would not be able to move very quickly, the three go in one at a time. Melias takes the lead, with Claire looking over his shoulder, while Claire moves up close behind Raven. Claire is at first happy to take a position where she is nearly touching Raven, but then she gets a whiff of the woman’s stench. Spending days unable to move at the top of a shaft has left her overly ripe.

Melias reaches the edge of the fire pit and trips an unseen trigger on the floor. A lead panel slams down behind Claire, cutting them off from the rest of the group. Looking into the ten foot square pit, Melias can see the fire burning with no fuel source.

Claire looks through the Gem of Seeing.

“I don’t see anything out of the ordinary,” she tells them. “What’s more, the fire seems normal when I look at it through the gem.”

Melias rolls his eyes and punches the floor. “Damn it. Sorry, ladies. Now we’re stuck between a rock and a hot place.” 

He searches for any loose stones or writing or anything that would be generally useful in their predicament. Beyond the pit is another twenty feet of tunnel, then another pit. That one is dark and only five feet across. He sees another pit the same as the second ten feet beyond that one. The tunnel ends at the last pit.

Melias sighs, “I’m not sure how to get past this without cooking ourselves.” He turns around to face the two women and asks, “Any suggestions?”

“How’s it going down there?” they hear Arianna shouts, her tone slightly accusatory. 

“Well, we’re a bit stuck at the moment,” Claire answers.

From the room, Kafeera barely hears the response, partly because her focus is on the owl statuette that apparently turns into a living owl. She sighs and rolls it around in her hands. Others got magical gloves granting them protection or improved skills and she got a bird. What can she do with a bird? She slowly shrugs and slowly exhales, as she packs it in her pack.

“I never forget,” she tells Rastorn, hiking her unmasked eyebrow to a point as she finishes, “thanks . . . Rastorn.” Walking toward the tunnel, she slips the ring on her finger.  

Inside, Melias waves Claire forward. “I’m not that big, come on up. I want to see if I can get that trap door behind us open.” 

Crawling backwards, he squeezes past Claire and Raven, then spins around to get a good look at the panel. He doesn’t see any levers or other ways to reopen the passage and quickly learns he doesn’t have the strength to lift the lead slab.

Raven turns to face him and asks, “What if we both try to lift it?” 

She tries sliding her fingers under it, but fails. 

“I’m really starting to hate this place.”

Melias chuckles. “Welcome to my life, sister.” 

The two kneel next to one another and attempt to push the panel up.  

“I don’t know how to get a better grip on it,” Melias remarks. “Maybe if we can lift it a little, we can slide something underneath?” 

He pulls a dagger and lays it in front of him, so he can push into place with his knee.  

“Ok, ready? On three. One. Two.” 

When he takes a deep breath through his nose before completing the countdown, her pungent scent assaults his sense of smell. Plugging his nose, Melias looks at Raven. “Oh dear Kurosaw! Ugh! My eyes are watering! The first pond or wash room we come to – we’re taking a serious break.”

“How very gentlemanlike of you to bring up my less than lily fresh smell- of which I am painfully aware. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the side effects of being glued to the roof of a shaft for eight days. I realize I might have made a mistake in my priorities when I chose to drink the water I had instead of washing up, but I didn’t realize I’d have company. I’ll be happy to take a bath if we find one, but in the meantime, I’m afraid I’ll just have to stink. At least I’m still pretty.” 

She grins and takes hold, ready to lift on ‘three’.

Together, the two are able to lift the lead door. Melias knees the dagger into place, but discovers it is easier to continue lifting the weight all the way up. The two Rogues are able to locate the mechanism which holds the perfectly fitted trap in place and reattach it. 

“Pretty . . . and luckily your strength extends beyond the nostrils, too,” Melias says, smiling.

Claire notes the trigger clicking back into position.

While those in the tunnel have been dealing with the trap, Rastorn has been speculating about the fire pit Raven had described.

“I can get one of us past the fire with Spider Climb, if the fire is not too hot for them to climb over it. If we camp, I can get enough spells to get everyone over. Perhaps SeLiem has spells that protect against fire or heat.” 

Deathwish, who had been staring into the tunnel, cheerfully interrupts. “They’re unstuck!”

Arianna looks at Rastorn and answers, “Sounds like the only plan we have. I say we camp. Here, separating the group is a really bad idea.”

“I’ve got Flame Walk, but I can’t cast it that many times,” SeLiem notes.

Kafeera shrugs at the suggestion of camping, relieved to have a bit more of a reprieve from the cramped crawl. She positions herself by the section of wall the mysterious female Elf appeared from earlier, so anything else venturing through will be properly greeted with her shiny, new ax. Eating some of her rations, she complains about not having a proper drink to go with it, before tinkering with the owl statuette, again.

“I realize I’m new to the group, but if you think you can trust me, I’ll take the first or second watch,” Raven says, as she rejoins the party.

Rastorn nods almost imperceptibly to Melias. 

Noting Rastorn’s nod, Melias shakes his head in return.  

“You know, Raven, it’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s that I don’t trust this place. I think we should pair up during watches. We have enough people that it shouldn’t pose that big of a problem for us.”  

He points at Kafeera and says, “Remember? It was at night that Kafeera was slimed by that gooey-glob-o-suck-you-dry. An extra pair of eyes while we sleep is beneficial, maybe even necessary, in this hell-hole.” 

“I’ll take second or third watch. Either way, I’ll take the one after Raven,” Claire says, while plucking random notes on her new lyre to hear if it is in tune.

“Why don’t you call your owl, Kafeera?” Rastorn asks, his eyes holding on Melias for a moment longer, before switching to Kafeera. “It can get to know its new master.”

Kafeera does not appear to hear Rastorn when he first speaks to her. Near the end of his sentence she looks up. Brow furrowed and beaded with sweat, she says, “Huh? Did you say something?” Not giving him an opportunity to repeat his sentence, she stuffs the owl back into her backpack. 

He notices her hands are trembling as she does this, so he slips away without further discussion. 

She sits leaning back on the wall and draws her knees up so she can rest her arms on them. Staring in the direction of the latest shaft, she mumbles to herself while absentmindedly rubbing her silver lightning bolt charm.

“I could take first watch with Kafeera for an hour or two and still get enough sleep,” Rastorn comments.

“Allright, then I’ll take second watch with someone, maybe the gentleman with the refined nose. If there’s enough water, I wouldn’t mind a wash, either,” Raven says, as she removes her leather armor to repair it. During her watch, she plans on washing with her soap and what water they can afford. She’ll get Melias to turn around then and while she changes into her spare clothes, leather pants and a soft leather top over a dark, tightfitting blouse.

During their watch, Melias does turn to offer her privacy. She is attractive, but the more he thinks about her, the more his thoughts drift back to the Elf maiden who stole his heart in the Elven Nation. He wonders how she has fared since he left. 

Claire plays her lyre softly while she is guarding the party, keeping everyone calm while they sleep. Everyone, except Kafeera, who sleeps little. Those on watch see her squirming restlessly. On the rare occasion when she sleeps, she freetfully moans and groans.

Claire is amazed how much better she can play her new instrument. The sound is far sweeter than she had been able to produce before. Unfortunately, the distorted sounds she likes to play don’t translate well on the new lyre.

Raven was able to alter her armor enough to make it work and Rastorn spent his time awake gathering extra spiders as spell components.

The next day, the party eats, prepares their weapons and spells, and awaits Rastorn’s casting. 

Rastorn pulls Arianna and Melias aside and whispers, “Have you noticed how nervous Kafeera is acting? At first, I thought it was a fear of cramped places, but now I think it may be a reaction to a lack of wine or stronger drink. What do you think?” 

Melias looks at her, curious how someone so powerful could be so powerfully affected by an addiction.  

“Do you think so?” he whispers to Rastorn. “She has been acting a bit queer. Maybe it’s a side effect from something she drank in the wine cellar?”

Arianna nods. “Aye, I’ve noticed it as well and it’s getting worse the longer she’s without. I wonder if Seliem can cure her. Maybe what she drank was poison or contained a disease.”

Claire steps within earshot, so they end the discussion and disperse.

Rastorn steps to the middle of the room and draws everyone together. 

“I’ll have to cast in here and send you out one at a time. The spell has a short duration, so you should cross the fire in the order you are granted spider climbing. Are there any other spells or preparations we need before I start casting?”

“Didn’t someone say something about fire protection?” Melias asks.

Both questions are met with silence, so Rastorn nods and plucks out the first spider from a tiny box drawn from his pocket.  

As preparations are made, Melias, Arianna, and Rastorn note Kafeera grows increasingly nervous. 

Rastorn pulls Melias aside and whispers to him, this time not caring if Claire or others overhear, “Perhaps Kafeera should stay near the middle, so we can keep an eye on her.” Raising his voice, he announces, “We’ll need a marching order for crossing the fire pit. Since there are additional pits beyond that one, perhaps Melias and Raven and Claire should go first or SeLiem with a Detect Traps cast. I will have to go last or next to last.”

“That’s fine with me. There’s at least one trap we’re aware of, the lead door,” Raven says. She had overheard the whispering about Kafeera and decides to ask her, “Are you alright?”

Kafeera, without looking at Raven, says, “I’m just-” She lays down her backpack and rummages through it, then finishes the statement. “Tired. I didn’t sleep well . . . in this stuffy hole.” She sits down near the corner she had laid the prior night and continues looking for something in her pack. Without looking up, she says, louder, “I’d prefer to be near the end. Last, if possible. I want behind Rastorn in case something attacks . . . from behind . . . like the she-ghost.”

Raven blanches. “You met the ghost, too?”

Claire had been casually playing her instrument, but she stops and frowns at it before strapping it on her back. She decides to worry about her lack of distortion and hard sound later. 

“I’m a little worried about using Spider Climb,” she says. “I’m afraid it might set off the locking mechanism.”

“Claire, just point out the triggering mechanism and we’ll all do our best to avoid it as we move by. You saw the trigger, right?” Melias asks.

“Yeah. The Gem of Seeing revealed it for me,” Claire replies.

“Alright,” Melias says, pulling out a piece of chalk from his backpack and handing it to Claire. “You take the lead and draw a nice, big circle around the trigger, so everyone can see it easily.”

Claire immediately crawls into the tunnel and draws a circle around the trigger mechanism, using her magic gem to locate it. 

“All marked out for you!” she calls back.

Rastorn yells to Claire, “Come on back here and I’ll cast on you. It is a touch spell.” Then he looks to the party and says, “If anyone has any protection versus fire spells or healing, now would be the time to use it. At the most, I can be third from last and safely make it through, but I want Arianna in the rear, since she’s experienced the spell before. So, Kafeera, you are second from last. Everyone needs to take their boots off. You will be climbing on the ceiling. It is discombobulating at first, but if you enter the tunnel on the ceiling, you will be comfortable with the effect by the time you reach the fire. Be sure to tie up or remove any cloaks or robes that may drag down and catch on fire.”

Raven ties up her hair, takes off her shoes, and puts them in her backpack, making sure everything is tight and fits closely to her back. 

When she is back, Claire pulls off her boots and ties her hair into a ponytail with a strip of cloth from her backpack. She also takes off her chainmail so it doesn’t burn her as she climbs across. She tells Rastorn, “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

“Before we waste all the spells right here in this one passage, maybe we should send a couple across to check for some easy shut-off valve or something,” Melias suggests, as he makes preparations.

Kafeera stops searching her backpack to say, “Yes, some of us should stay here. At least till the others look about the other side.”

Claire shrugs. “I’ll do it. I can look for those things now, anyway.”

“I can go on ahead, as well. I’d rather cross that fire sooner than later,” Raven says, as she wets down the outside of her backpack and her headcloth.

There is something about Kafeera’s eagerness to agree with him that strikes Melias as odd. He approaches her and asks, “Are you going to be alright? You know going back is not an option. Why are you so eager to break away?”

Looking at Melias, Kafeera wipes sweat from her brow and snaps, “Must everyone in your presence have an ulterior motive? I’ll repeat it so that even you can understand. I . . . want . . . to . . . be . . . at . . . the . . . end . . . near . . . our Wizard . . . in case . . . we . . . are . . . attacked by . . . something . . . from . . . behind . . . again.” 

Wiping more sweat from her brow, she continues, “In case that is not reason enough for you, I am in no hurry to return to those even more cramped quarters!” 

With that said, she quickly stands, forgetting the low ceiling and banging her head. Grumbling under her breath, she sits back down and returns her attention to her backpack.  

“Fine,” Rastorn says, then casts Spider Climb on Claire and prepares to cast on Melias.

Claire is able to crawl along the ceiling and cross the fire with no problems. She reaches the other side and spots nothing unusual. Pausing at the twenty foot space on the other side of the pit, she looks around. Even without the Gem of Seeing, she spots a lever on the floor beyond the second pit. Looking down that second pit, she sees it runs forty feet straight down. The third pit is twenty feet past the second, but she cannot see into it unless she continues past the first.

“You seem so angry, so agitated,” Melias tells Kafeera. “You aren’t behaving like you were just a couple days ago. You were proud and fierce, sure of yourself. Now you’re a fragment of what you once were. All I want to know is, why?” He shrugs and says, “Whatever, your secrets are yours to keep. But, we’re all concerned for you. Believe that or not.”

He steps away from Kafeera and shouts to The Green Bard inside the tunnel, “I’m about to have Rastorn cast on me. Are we still on track with the plan, Claire?”

Kafeera flinches slightly at Melias’ words. She leans her head back against the wall and takes several deep breaths. After wiping her wet forehead, she closes her eyes and whispers, “Just let me know when it is my turn.” 

The usually gung-ho Warrior is battling something she cannot defeat with her blades. She keeps her eyes closed and rubs the silver lightening bolt on her wrist, waiting for her name to be called. 

To be continued . . .

To be continued . . .

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