Monthly Archives: December 2010

Unraveling Mysteries

Stephan listened, half awake, as Yousef described the tapestry he knew too well. He tried to speak loud enough for the others to hear, but did not lift his head or even open his eyes. “I know of what he speaks. It has hung in the great hall for many years. Good thing we stopped the gobs before they got a look at it.”

“Interesting. Thank you Yousef, you have been most informative. May I?” Miklos took the parchment and studied the writing.

“Similar to the writings in the Library below think you not? About the same age as the statues perhaps? Things are beginning to make a little more sense to me.”

“Golthar is searching for something. No not tapestries…something, or somewhere else. The tapestry is some kind of map, you said? Inert without the key to reveal their secrets, or the Sukiskyn would have investigated it long ago.”

Miklos thought for a moment. “Golthar was asking for only the whereabouts of the tapestry. He must then have or know where to find the key to unlock it.” His eyes strayed to the box with the glowing needle and thread. “Or perhaps he has left it behind in his haste to escape?”

The mage called to Ludo, ” Can you decipher the writings on the parchment? It might prove useful to know what it says.” He handed the parchment to him.

“So, Golthar knew of the Tapestry and its purpose. He…hired?… the goblins to raid and Dymrak homesteads, thinking it might be in their possession. But, notice these other searches. Sevastian’s Castle. Dentiata’s Tower. These all point toward a connection with the Sons of Night. Perhaps that is his ultimate aim? But we have the steal on him for a short while, because we have the key to what he seeks. It will not be long before he returns to claim them. Remember, he did not successfully raid Sukiskyn and if he has access to say—the Iron Ring, it would not take him long to raise another force and raid there again…But that approach has failed him before, so he may try something more subtle. Possibly have us followed as we reveal the path to him?”

“Yet we cannot risk leaving the tapestry within Sukiskyn, because while it is there they are at risk and we are at risk of Golthar getting it. We have little choice but the return Yousef and claim the tapestry and see what the secret is that Golthar so yearns for.”

“Miklos. Did you say that the tapestry, the parchment and the statues are the same age?” Maruc looked at the map. “Look at the sites he has visited. Stephan had that Jackal trinket here, the map was here, the mines here, not to mention Xitaqa itself here. An interesting spread, almost like a long gone ancient Duchy with an usual Jackal-god culture. I doubt one man or even a small group would spread ancient magical statue-guards all over the place and just look at what we destroyed in the gallery – solid jade weren’t they? Not exactly cheap to produce. No this is the work of a power ancient race. But were they good? or evil? What happened to them? Did they discover the secrets of the Book of Night to their eternal damnation? Is that what Golthar seeks?”

“Not a pleasant thought. But a thought for another day. Today we rest. Tomorrow we depart for Sukiskyn.” The priest returned to him meditation and rest.

Feldard missed the entire explanation while he sleeps, not that the dwarf could have made much sense of it all anyways had he been awake and paying attention. Unraveling these mysteries, was best left to the thinkers of the party.

Ludo said to Hasan, “as the healthiest person here, I will take the first and third watch. Hasan, can you do the middle watch so our more injured comrades can get as much sleep as possible?”

* * * * *

Ludo and Miklos jointly studied the ancient parchment. Using their combined knowledge of ancient languages and code breaking, they were at last able to come up with a reasonable translation.

I, Baistqet, high priestess, do command your return to Hutaaka. The stars have changed and out power wanes. Strange creatures harry us from the mountains and our people grow restless. We are stretched too thin. Bring the treasures of the temples and the people of the lowlands to feed the one. The sacred tapestries and your silver needles show the path.

* * * * *

The group rested in the top of Golthar’s tower. They had much time to speculate on the nature of their latest findings while they addressed their wounds incurred during the many battles that had led them to this point. The remaining hobgoblins that lived in the shadows of the tower kept their distance. They were leaderless and were firsthand witnesses to the destruction of the top of the tower and the lightning bolt that ripped through the entrance. As they fought internally over who would be Vlaak’s replacement, the heroes were provided ample time to recover. They were able to identify the potions obtained from Golthar’s stash—a potion of strength, another of control over animals and last one that granted the imbiber the power of clairvoyance

The group embarked on their return trip to Sukiskyn. Along the way, the group had various encounters typical of traveling in the uncivilized portion of the Dymrak Forest, but none that they could not handle. Eventually the group once again returned to the area of the human settlements and Sukiskyn proper.

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Golthar’s Room

Maruc swiftly stepped through the broken masonry and threw the coin away. He yelled the command word of his holding enchantment and watched as the tendrils for magic leapt to greet the fleeing mage. The yellow robe started to stiffen he thought he had him, but his grin turned to consternation as the mage slipped out of reach. He made a mental note of his direction. “Another time Golthar!” he cried.

“Morndu!”, Stephan bellowed the old Traldaran curse upon seeing the fleeing Golthar. In frustration, he kicked a piece of the broken wall out into the night.

Hasan joined Ludo and Maruc. “There is no catching him. Flight leaves no tracks,” the elf intoned grimly. “We shall have to pursue him later. For now we need to rebuild our strength, and learn what this Yousef has that is so valuable. We should rest in the manacled room below. That has but one entry, and so should be easily defensible, should any of the hobgoblins below the tower have escaped.”

Ludo retreated back to the room with the statues, picking his dagger up on the way, he was tired—it had been a long night. It was a pity that Golthar had escaped, but he was sure that they had not seen the last of him.

Upon reaching the statue room, he went to Miklos and started some first aid, and tried to revive him splashing a little water on his face. “Hold on Miklos. Maruc will soon have you on your feet,” Ludo looked at Maruc and whispered, “is there anything you can do?”

Miklos woke with a start, water dripped from his face. “Thanks. I think,” he said as the slowly and painfully picked himself up.

“The yellow robed man?” he asked.

Ludo shook his head. “He fled using some kind of flying magic.”

Miklos sighed. “Nevermind. It could have been much worse he could have blasted us all away. But you kept him on the back foot. Well done my friend. You say he went up the stairs?” Miklos eased his way to the stairwell and climbed the stairs. The breeze made a hollow noise through the fresh hole in the side of the tower. “Well I for one and glad he didn’t use that fire magic against us.” said to Maruc who looked particularly upset. “Whats wrong?”

“Golthar was out of range.” he replied.

“Oh well, I have a suspicion that this will not be the last we see of him. I also imagine he will be better prepared.” Miklos glanced around the room. “At least most the the rubble went outside. Stephan would you mind asking what tale Yousef has to offer in explanation?”

After Maruc started his healing work, Ludo waited for the others to join them and stood aghast when Feldard stumbled into the room in his badly injured state. He made it up the stairs only with Yousef’s aid. Feldard slumped against the nearest wall at hearing that the yellow-robed man had fled.

Stephan was overjoyed to see Feldard up and about. “By the grace of Halav! You live!”, he couldn’t help saying. But the dwarf seemed in no mood for happy reunions and the human shed his obvious delight out of respect.

With the threat gone, the dwarf could let himself rest up. Sure there might be more hobgoblins in the tower, but Hasan and Ludo could handle those, at least long enough for him to get some much needed rest. And with that the dwarf slept—right there… right then.

Upon seeing Feldard, Maruc understood how close Golthar had come to overcoming the party, the consequences of that happening sent shivers down his spine.

“Maruc, I agree with Hasan,” spoke Ludo. “We can all rest and recover in the room with the beds. It will be a while before we are in any state to pursue Golthar.”

Maruc turned and stared around the room. “Golthar left in a hurry, so he can’t have taken much with him. Let us see what evidence he has left as to his schemes.”

“Maruc what are you doing?”

“I’m seeing what he has left behind, Miklos.”

“I can do that, I’m sure the others will help. You however are going to do your job and put us back together!”

“Ahh Feldard nice of you to join us. You look almost exactly the way I feel. Still whilst we are waiting the Maruc I suggest we start over there. If anyone finds a book like this one.” Mikos proffered his spell book in the air, “Do let me know.”

And so, with the party all together again, the investigation of the room began in earnest. They searched every nook and cranny for treasure that Golthar had left behind and for any traps. As they searched, they wondered what a powerful mage wanted with Yousef—a mystery they hoped would be answered soon. Despite feeling lightheaded, even Miklos meticulously sectioned and searched the room.

Golthar’s room was distastefully furnished with a bed, badly damaged by the explosion, that was made from the splayed jaws of a black dragon, a triangular table of green-stained oak and two orange wooden chairs carved to resemble crouching humanoids. On the wall there was a map showing the positions of the various homesteads and human settlements that had been massacred by goblin assaults. There were also two other locations on the map, marked with question marks that were then crossed out. These locations were familiar to the group. One was the gnomes’ mine and the other was the location of the necromancer Sevastian’s dungeon that the group had cleared some time ago.

In his hurry to escape, Golthar left behind treasures locked inside an iron-bound chest. Ludo determined it was untrapped and after a time was able to unlock it. Inside they found two large sacks overflowing with gold cronas, three potions, a jewelled silver casket containing an assortment of valuable gemstones, a small ebony box, a carved ivory scroll case.

Inside the scroll case was a fragile, ancient scroll. It was written in the language of the same lettermarkings as they had seen on the various ruins and items of the jackal-headed men.

In the ebony box, there was a silver needle and a spool of golden thread.

About two minutes into his search Miklos chuckled to himself. He opened his spellbook and calmly read and recited his Detect Magic incantation. If anything would help, that would.

The potions and the needle and thread all glowed before the spellcaster’s magicsight. The ancient scroll did not, and neither did anything else in the mage’s quarters.

As the group searched, Yousef was able to share his tale. After being captured by goblins during the attack on his settlement, he was taken with others to the Wolfskull lair, and thence to Xitaqa. Here in his tower, Golthar interrogated the prisoners, demanding to know where the ‘golden tapestries’ were hidden. Yousef realized that he had seen a tapestry matching Golthar’s description in the hall at Sukiskyn. Though he did not divulge this, he could not conceal the fact that he knew about it. None of the other prisoners knew, however, and they were taken from the tower. Yousef did not know where.

From the questions posed during his interrogation, Yousef was able to determine that there was some sort of map hidden in the tapestry. The map provided directions to somewhere of great importance to Golthar.

When the search was complete, Ludo and Stephan moved some beds to barricade the door to the stairway leading down, just in case some any enemies decided to investigate the exploding wall that Golthar created in his escape. Taking another look at the blissfully asleep Feldard, Stephan felt a great weariness and chose one of the cots for a bit of a rest.

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Tower Escape

Ludo, pursued the fleeing mage. He knew he had to catch the mage before he had time to turn and cast more spells. As he ran, he drew his dagger and threw it underhanded at the retreating back of the mage. Unfortunately it missed and clattered against the wall of the corridor. A thought flashed through Ludo mind, he heard the knife clatter, he was outside the spell of silence, things could get ugly now. The good news was that he was fast approaching on the wizard. Again, Ludo yelled out.

“Surrender or die!”

Ludo hoped that the rest of the group was close behnd.

Satisfied that he had done the best he could for Miklos, Maruc lept to his feet summoning the final spell he had in his arsenal. He hoped it would be enough to stop Golthar. He sped after the rogue pausing only briefly to pick up the coin. There probably very little power left to the enchantment but he hoped it was enough. Ludo was already mounting the stairs two at a time. Maruc was just behind him.

Miklos was groggy with inexplicable tiredness. He tried to get his feet under his weight but struggled as his knees gave out.

He idly wondered where Feldard had got to. This stone floor was cold and his eyelids felt heavy. Maybe just a small rest, he thought, then he would feel better. Miklos slumped into unconsciousness.

Hasan joined the pursuit of the fleeing mage, envying Ludo’s lightweight armor as he pushed ahead. The elf sheathed his sword and readied an arrow as he ran.

Stephan was worried about Miklos, but saw the Maruc had done what he could. He followed the others in the chase of Golthar the Fiend. ‘But to not have Miklos with us….’, he worried to himself. ‘You fight a mage with a mage’, is what old Protner used to say back in his militia days. He tripped on one of the steps, losing a half-beat of time. This focused his thoughts to the pursuit and he continued up the stairs.

Yousef tried to argue with Feldard about going after the others but the dwarf with his heavy scowl quickly silenced the complaints. Leaning heavily on Yousef, the dwarf got to his feet, nearly blacking out in the attempt but still refused to see the truth of the situation. Together the two made their way back into the enchanted room.

The gods must have been amused and favored the dwarf and his stubbornness, because mid-way through he stumbled on his axe, which they picked up before continuing on towards the steps.

At the top of the stairs, an explosion sent tiny particles of rock flying into the room. Through the dust, Ludo saw there was now a gaping hole in the wall of the tower. The cleric joined Ludo, and together they witnessed the yellow robed figure of Golthar flying away in the distance.

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Surrender You Fiend!

As all sound of battle suddenly stopped Feldard glanced towards the stairwell uneasily. The only noise he could hear beyond his own wheezed breathing, was descending footsteps – likely Yousef, but just in case – he would be ready. The dwarf glanced about for this battle axe, but could not see it. Dammit. It must have been left in the enchanted room. He unstrapped his crossbow and began loading it just as the figure of Yousef appeared in the far stairwell doorway.

Feldard nodded to the unthreatening figure but continued loading his bolt. “On your way through the room, see if you can feel for my axe,” he called out to the former prisoner. He grunted with the effort needed to pull back the crossbow, then set the safety. Yousef had disappeared in the room. “Don’t dawdle in your search. I’ll need your help walking.” He was loathe to leave his axe, but his friends might need him. He could always return and find it after the yellow-robed man had been found and dealt with.

* * * * *

In a battle frenzy, Stephan fought on. The veritable explosion of one of the animated statues renewed his strength.

“For Feldard!” he kept repeating as he dodged and parried the frightfully alive statue. The statue slashed at him and Hasan with mechanized efficiency. Stephan felt a massive impact from the thing’s claw. A searing pain followed the impact. He wheeled and managed to slam the statue with his shield. The animated stone possessed an incredible mass and was not easily toppled. But his shielded body slam caused at least a hesitation in its attack. A hesitation which afforded his fighting companions an opening.

Maruc spun to face the other foe in time the see it stumble. His chain flail arced again and again spraying splinters of pink stonework about the room. What dark power that had driven this creature was fading from its eyes

Hasan rejoined the wordless, soundless fight. Seeing the man entangle himself in the statue, he waited for the perfect moment. When the jackal’s head lifted up in exertion, the elf’s sword whistled horizontally, carving a gleaming arc through the air, punctuated by a shower of quartz-like at its apex, where the sundered neck had been. The statueman collapsed, and Stephan drove it into the ground. The warrior choked as the it disintegrated into powder.

Miklos ached. The vicious blow from the first magical assault had taken him off his feet and almost dashed consciousness from him. His head swam for a moment as his body registered the burning puncture holes. Thankfully his sharp cry silenced by Maruc’s spell. Still, he didn’t doubt the wisdom of the cleric for an instant the spell had saved his life.

He looked down at his robe. He sighed, that was going to take some fixing. He slumped back against the wall. He felt far too shaky to stand.

Maruc caught Hasan’s attention and gestured him to help Ludo look for a way forward – the most sensible place to start being opposite to their entrance point as all the previous room in this tower had been designed.

He then went over the Miklos and checked his wounds. It was fortunate Yousef had got here in time. Things could have turned out very differently. He spent a few moments binding Miklos. The scotch marks left very little to sew so he did what he could and knew without the aid of Immortal Halav this man would succumb to infection.

He hoped Ludo would find a way forward soon. He didn’t like the idea of another trap.

Ludo rushed through to the back of the room where he had heard the sounds of magic being invoked. He looked at a painting, a portrait of one of the jackal men, and saw that there were two holes cut in the painting in place of the creature’s eye.

Ludo did not hesitate. He slashed his sword across the painting then jumped into it. As he had suspected, there was no wall behind the painting. The magic user had been hiding here to cast his spells upon them.

He saw the evil mage, with terror on his face, from being discovered and knowing that his magic would not work from the enchantment placed within the room. He was already fleeing up the stairs.

From habit, Ludo yelled “Surrender you fiend!” and was a little surprised that he did not hear his own words.

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More Cursed Jackals!

Maruc quickly dashed the tear from his face and smiled warmly as colour returned to the dwarf. “What are we to do with you?” he grinned. “No!” he cried as the dwarf tried to sit. “You are in no fit state to move. I command you to rest. Halav has guided you back to the light but you must make the rest of the journey yourself. Be at peace. The others have given chase to Golthar, I have some magic left that will aid them. I must help them if I can. He is a dangerous opponent but I think this might help.

“Yousef.” Maruc produced a copper piece and addressed the woodsman. “I shall cast a silence enchantment on this coin. No one can speak, or more importantly, cast spells within its aura. Give it to Miklos, he will understand and return at once. Be swift!”

Maruc summoned the will of Halav Incarnate and blessed the coin in his palm with the aura in which no sound could pass. He handed the coin to Yousef. The woodsman nodded and vanished.

* * * * *

Miklos peered into the room. The statues reminded him of the ones in the Gnome tunnels. The ones that came alive. “There seems to be a lot of these statues about,” he said uneasily. “If the Yellow robed man is a powerful conjurer we will be in trouble. Where is Maruc? He could lay a peace on these creatures perhaps?” Miklos was not one for priestly magic but he guessed that if he could do little then Maruc might be able to do something? No matter. “They did not move until they were disturbed last time. I’d advise not touching them.”

He rubbed his stubbled chin in thought. Ludo’s instincts were right. Best not to rush into things, but he felt keenly the pressure of time.

“This feels like a trap. There is no apparent way on.” he felt the presence of the elf next to him and an idea formed in him mind. Very few things passed the sharp eyes of an elf. “Ahh Prince Hasan. Before any of us venture forth what do your elven eyes see? Whilst you gaze I shall prepare a sticky incantation that might slow any horrible surprises!”

Stephan took stock of the room and its contents. The jackal statues enraged him. “Jackals! More cursed jackals!”

Seeing the mage begin to flip through his spellbook, Stephan huffed and charged into the room running straight for the statues.

“But…” Miklos’s voice died in his mouth.

“For Feldard!!!!” the warrior bellowed as he ran heedlessly into what could only be danger. It was clear that he meant to topple the statues and scatter the bits. He was possessed. Any sense of reason had fled him after the seeing the fallen Feldard.

Hasan joined Stephan’s charge, shrugging at the studious mage. The elf filled his slender chest with the chamber’s ancient air and echoed their battle call. “For Feldard!” rang through the chamber.

Neither the elf or the human were all too surprised when the jade statues became animated and prepared to fight back.

Ludo, stood back mouth open stupefied, something had happened obviously to Feldard, he was not sure what. Still he would not leave his new friends in danger – he too charged in sword in hand, looking for danger. The statues were unnerving but of the man in the yellow robes there was no sign.

Maybe he was invisible, or hiding behind the portraits, Ludo frantically went to work searching for hidden doors and other exits from the room.

The mage’s attention returned to his spellbook. It would be difficult to concentrate enough to cast a spell given the commotion. Then, he heard a voice somewhere in the background start to invoke a spell. Suddenly, three glowing arrows appeared in the room. Again, the voice shouted an arcane command and the missiles flew straight at him!

The keen ears of the rogue triangulated the source of the voice. It was coming from behind one of the paintings.

* * * * *

Feldard felt as weak as a newborn kitten as he struggled to sit up. He ignored the priests protests and just barely managed the seated position, when shouts in his name were heard echoing down the stairs. The dwarf stubbornly rolled to his knees and tried to stand but couldn’t and slumped back to the floor. “Dammit! Go to them Maruc. They need you more than I.”

Maruc looked into Feldard’s earnest face. He looked across to the stairwell rising toward the sound of ringing swords. He looked back and made a brief nod. “Yousef will be back soon. I am not happy leaving you unattended but you are right. Farewell!”

Maruc lept to his feet and sprinted toward the sounds of battle.

* * * * *

Another set of three glowing arrows appeared in the room, as Miklos writhed on the floor in pain from the first strike. Suddenly, the sound of his quickened breathing went silent. Yousef appeared before him carrying a copper coin. He was speaking, but the mage could not hear him. Miklos was a sharp young man though, and he quickly deduced that the coin had been dweomered. He pointed toward the statues and Yousef flipped the coin into the room.

He looked in frightful anticipation at the 3 missiles in the air, but they did not move. Their enemy, this Golthar, was not able to complete his spell. After a few moments, the missiles dimmed and then disappeared.

Breathlessly, Maruc made it to the top of the stairs in time to see the coin tossed into the room at the feet of the statues. He gestured to Yousef to go back to look after Feldard, Yousef nodded and turned to go. Raising his shield, he charged soundlessly into the fray.

The statues fought ferociously with sharp claws. Stephan and Hasan had both sustained wounds, and were most grateful to see the cleric come to their aid. As one of the statues turned to face the new attacker, Hasan stabbed his sword directly into it. The statue cracked and then crumbled into powder.

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Gallery of Faded Glory

Stephan when pale. He rushed to find Feldard.

“Feldard!” he called but the dwarf did no respond. He found the crumpled form of Feldard and felt around to drag him out of the invisible room. It was difficult getting a grip on the blood-slick armor.

“Maruc!”, he called once he had the dwarf out. He leaned near to hear if the dwarf still had breath. He did! The dwarven heart seemed to still beat with a vengeance! But even as he noted these, the breathe of the dwarf faltered.

“Maruc!”, Stephan called more loudly than necessary. He started staunching Feldard’s wounds with cloth from his pack. He was familiar with battle wounds and knew in general how to stop the bleeding but his companion needed better attention.

“Maruc!”

“Forgive me Yousef. Stay here.” Maruc turned into the room. He swiftly located the sound of scraping armour on stone. He reached out and grabbed a flaccid muscular arm. “Peace Stephan, I have him. You must go and give what aid you can to Miklos and Ludo. I fear they are in great danger. Leave him with me. I shall do what I can.” Stefan started to protest.

“No.” said the priest firmly, you cannot help him anymore. See to the others. Bring back Golthar, he has much to answer for.”

“I will,” he said to Maruc’s instructions to find Golthar and bring him back.

Maruc heaved the bulk of the dwarf to the landing. As the enchantment left him her appeared. A great dent in his breastplate spoke volumes of the titanic battle he had fought. Maruc pulled Feldards eyelids open, they were dilating. Maruc felt a sinking feeling, one hour? Two at most, but the dwarf was a sturdy creature – he doubted he’d make four hours though. That was what Maruc needed to make the proper preparations. The dwarf was going to need more help that he had to offer. “Foolish Dwarf. Why so keen to die?” He hefted the bulky body to one side and frantically pulled at the straps. He cast the plate away and rested Feldard on his back. He shrugged off his back pack and hunted for a moment, an old tunic would have to do. He tore a wide strip from it and bound the seeping chest wound. A welt was forming in his abdomen. Internal bleeding. The tattered leg wound would have to wait. He bound upper part of the chest slash and gathered his sewing needle and thread and sewed it shut as best he could. “That’ll leave a fine scar my friend. ” he said, ‘I hope’ he added to himself. The dwarf stared vacantly at him in reply.

Maruc did not despair. He covered Feldard with his blanket and collected his small incense burner he used for his meditation rituals. He lit it and set it at the dwarf’s head. He dabbed some of his precious holy water across his brow and sat cross legged next to his friend.

Hasan followed the sound of the Stephan and Maruc’s voices, though the awful maze. When he finally emerged, he was stunned to see Feldard fallen, with funeral bier already upon his breast. “NO,” the elf sobbed, “the was a good man. Stupid and dwarfish to his core, but good as well.” The elf put his hands gently on the elf’s brow and prayed to his own god, Ilsundal — all the while acutely aware of the great mystery that he, an Elyan, would feel so strongly about any outlander, but especially a dwarf.

“Lord,” he prayed. “Gather not our brave friend Feldard into your embrace yet. His task is unfulfilled. He has been loyal and honourable, steadfast and true. If there is any way in which I could take his place let it be so. Lord in your mercy grant me the power to save him. In his efforts as my companion he as selflessly followed your cause. Bestow upon me as your servant the blessing of your divine grace.”

Stephan felt the power of Halav at Maruc’s words and had faith. The priest’s wise eyes lent the fighter strength and he quickly rose to fly up the stairs. He genuflected. “Halav be praised.” And looking up, “Heal thy servant.”

Seeing Yousef, “Godspeed, my friend! We will drink again in the Halls of Hokol and Sukiskyn!” He raced up the steps to join the others in the pursuit.

Maruc’s gaze dropped to the pale face before him. “Please Lord….”

A tear ran down his cheek.

He remained motionless, and waited for his Immortal to answer.

* * * * *

Miklos almost collided with Ludo at the top of the stairs. He fervently hoped the others were close behind. “Quick man! We must stop him laying enchantments to snare us!”

Ludo waited at the top of the steps for the others to catch up. He was worried, the escaping mage had a decent head start and the time to prepare a nasty surprise for any pursuers. Still if this evil was to come to an end, something had to be done. Holding his breath he willed his heart to stop pounding and listened for Miklos and the others coming up the stairs. Ludo decided to chance it and tried to open the door at the top of the stairs. It was locked.

Stephan and Hasan arrived as Ludo was at work on the lock. It wasn’t long before it was solved and the door was open. Inside, a gallery of faded glories. Flaking portraits gazed out from dusty frames into a sullen room whose only occupants were a pair of pink, jackal-headed sculptures, frozen in attitudes of contempt

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Thunk!

“Ahh! Yousef. Come, come follow my voice.” Maruc led him into the stairwell that seemed to be beyond the ward engulfing the room. The man revealed looked exhausted, drawn but grimly determined, resilient and noble in a homely way. Horrible welts were etched across his chest and upper arms, he walked with a limp. Maruc appraised his wounds, severe but not life threatening.

“You’ll live.” he smiled, “No hard labour for a while though. So you know Stephan? You have the look of a woodsman about you, same clan perhaps? What on earth did …Golthar?…want with you? He sounded pretty upset. Not that I care about his sanity mind you.”

“Stephan will be with us shortly no doubt just as soon as they have dealt with the minotaur.

Miklos bumped into an invisible man crouched by the door. He heard Ludo complain, “Hey!”

“Sorry,” Miklos said shortly and stood back to let the rogue do his work. He realized he was tapping his foot impatiently, and stopped himself.

Feldard staggered back a few steps at the serious wound – grunting with the effort it took not to lower his axe. There was no time now to staunch the wound or take a breather – that would have to wait til after the beast was felled. The dwarf listened a moment, Stephen had joined the fray and he could hear the man’s sword make contact with the minotaurs blade – again and again.

Steeling himself for the assault, the dwarf hefted his axe and charged where he believed the minotaur to be. He let out a loud dwarven bellow as he swung overhead. He hoped his strike would hit but if nothing else it should distract the beast long enough for hopefully one of Stephan’s attacks to make it through.

Ludo upon opening the door rushed forward, yelling to Miklos come on, lets get him, he leaped up the stairs taking two at a time. With their prey so close he did not want to give him time to prepare another trap or to escape once again from their clutches. “Miklos gasped Ludo, be prepared, he could be cornered now and I suspect will fight savagely if he is”.

Stephan could not reply to Yousef at the moment. Remembering some of Feldard’s moves, he guessed the dwarf, although wounded, would charge directly at the minotaur. The beast would be focusing a bit low given the dwarf’s stature and Stephan used this to his advantage. Placing himself outside of what he believed to be Feldard’s attack area and using his ears and nose to judge where the creature was, he made his attack at what he hoped was the monster’s back. He swung in such a way that any follow through from sword would not go toward Feldard.

Thunk! Stephan felt the satisfying plunge of his blade deep into what must be the minotaur’s torso. The beast turned his attention to the human warrior. Enraged by its wound, it brought its sword and struck Stephan with such force that it knocked him off his feet.

Stephan rose back up quickly. The minotaur was once again attacking Feldard. With the beast now positioned between the two warriors, they could now triangulate their attacks. With axe and sword, they struck at the minotaur, and a sickening, grating bellow erupted in the invisible room. The creature could be heard staggering and soon fell with a thwack on the flagstones. It rolled about and Stephan joined what he believed to be Feldard in slaughtering the downed beast. In its death throes, it flopped part way out of the invisible room, giving those on the outside what must be a strange and horrific sight.

“Yousef!”, Stephan exclaimed when he finally had a chance. “Halav works in strange ways, indeed!” He clasped the fellow Dymrakian in a man hug smiling despite the party’s predicament.

“You must have some tales to tell! I attended your memorial. Your axe and boots now hang in Dramr Cave with the other elders of your clan. Your kin will be pleased to know you yet live!”

But the smile on Stephan’s face quickly faded. “Are you fit enough? We are in the depths of darkness here. If you can join us, we could use the help. But if you seek escape now, there’s no dishonor in it.” He looked Yousef up and down with sad eyes. “You seem in a bad way my friend.”

“We must keep him off balance!” Miklos cried urgently. Hitching up his robe he bounded up the stairs two at a time to keep up with the lithe rogue. “I hope he has no allies up there…” He readied his staff just in case. But that he’d had the chance to ready a spell! He cursed inwardly. He fervently hoped his guess was not true and that the yellow robed man was just a noble. Hopefully he would attempt to bribe his way out, this wouldn’t work of course.

What he didn’t want was a cornered magic user. Magic users can be many things, but what they are not is stupid.

“A man trapped is a friend of mine,” the elf soothed as Maruc and Yousef emerged from the cursed room. “Welcome, noble friend. Rest easy, now, as you are with friends. We will find the meaning in your tapestry soon, but for now, my friends await.” And the elf slipped into the room and became quick lost in the invisible labyrinth. It seemed Stephan and Feldard were less troubled by the maze than he, and that they had succeeded against their fearsome enemy. The elf wandered helpless nonetheless, increasingly uncomfortable as he turned, stumbled and crashed against each invisible wall.

Meanwhile, Stephan was about to join the others when he heard a loud thud, the sound of armor crashing onto the floor. The dwarf had succumbed to his wounds, falling into a heap on the floor.

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