Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 30
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    Grains of Sand - Part 4b: The Road to Nowhere

    After dark, the hobgoblins made a brief stop to wear their armor. Then they pressed on.

    “It’s been four hours,” said Ilmarė. “If they don’t do something with this caravan soon I’m just going to shoot one of them.”

    The hobgoblins led the wagons between yet another set of massive stone outcroppings, into a large flat area that was bounded by a rough ring of rocky pillars. They led the wagons into a circle.

    “Well,” said Quintus, “it looks like they’re going to make camp for the night.”

    After a few minutes of drinking water and resting by the wagons, the hobgoblins set off again. With hardly a backward glance, they headed eastward into the darkening desert—sans wagons, horses, and cargo.

    “Should we follow?” asked Vlad.

    “I’m not sure,” said Quintus. “Perhaps we can track them…”

    Left alone and unguarded in the middle of the moonlit Wastes, the horses whinnied softly to one another as the hobgoblins hiked off into the desert.

    “The shifting sands will cover their tracks,” said Beldin. “We will never find them.”

    Kham wheeled his mount around. “Look. I didn’t travel all the way out here just to attack those things now. They left the wagons in this stone circle for a reason. I say we wait.”

    Quintus was about to say when Ilmarė pointed. “There!”

    A face peered out from one of the stone columns above them. It appeared to be a man, looking down from inside the rock itself through a small and previously unseen hole, perhaps thirty feet above the desert.

    “Down!” hissed Quintus.

    “Did he see us?” asked Vlad.

    Suddenly, a human voice echoed through the still night air from somewhere above: “KHABAT MERAH APESH!”

    There was a faint rumbling. The ground vibrated as the sand in the center of the stone circle began to shift, as though something huge and ancient was stirring beneath the earth.

    “That’d be a no,” said Kham.

    After a moment, a huge shape began to emerge from beneath the sands. Twenty feet wide and a hundred feet long, it jutted up from beneath the sands at an angle, like some ancient serpent rising to wakefulness after centuries of sleep. The horses stared stupidly at it, but did not run.

    “That’s our signal,” said Quintus. “I’m going in.” He popped the cork off a vial.

    “Where did you get that?” asked Kham. He looked at the others. “Who let Quintus play with potions? Only I’m allowed to do that.”

    Finally, after rising some twenty feet at its highest point, the shape stopped.

    “It’s a stone lid,” said Beldin. The lid was a huge, rectangular box of yellowed stone, carved with worn glyphs and ancient runes.

    At one end of the box, a massive set of double doors swung soundlessly open. A group of perfectly ordinary looking humans emerged from it. Fifteen in number, they moved directly toward the wagons. Behind them gaped the torch lit entrance to a stone corridor, sloping down below the sands.

    “This is my mission,” said Quintus, “so I will investigate it personally. I won’t risk all of you going in without some intelligence as to what’s inside.” Then he swigged the potion and faded from sight.

    “Yeah, real stealthy.” Kham pulled a potion from his coat. “I can still see your footprints in the sand, Quintus.” He drank his own potion and disappeared.

    “Great,” said Ilmarė. “Now we’ve got two idiots running around in there. I guess that leaves…” she looked for the dwarf and the Milandisian, but they were already sneaking towards the opening.

    Ilmarė rubbed her temples.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 4c: The Road to Nowhere

    Several of the workers went immediately to the horses, giving them small amounts of food and water and checking their hooves for stones. Two others checked the back of each wagon and soon found the pay chest, which they hauled out and laid on the ground.

    “Oof! This is a heavy one,” said the younger of the two. “You sure we can’t just keep a bit of it?”

    “Bite your tongue lad,” said the older of the two. “This will keep the hobgoblins doing our work for us. Or would you rather take the blame for this yourself? We’ll be well rewarded soon enough…in the meantime, keep your mouth shut.”

    “That goes for you too, Alban,” said a third man who checked the horses on a nearby wagon. “Less talk and more work. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we’re out of this blasted wasteland.”

    In short order, the horses were all checked and the newcomers boarded the wagons. They drove them into the massive stone tunnel and down into the desert below.

    Once again, the voice echoed from above, “KABAT MERAH SHUUL!”

    The stone doors at the end of the newly revealed passage swung soundlessly shut and the entire structured groaned as it began to sink once more beneath the sands. In less than a minute, there was no sign that the passageway, or indeed the wagons, was ever there.

    Inside, Kham whispered to Quintus. “I’ve heard of this place.”

    “Kham?” Quintus whispered back. “Is that you?”

    “You’re new to this whole stealth thing aren’t you?” asked Kham. “Yes it’s me. Doesn’t it sound like me?”

    “Well, yes, but…”

    “Yeah I can’t see you either. But I can see your footprints. Try to avoid stepping too heavily in the dust.”

    “Easy for you to say.”

    “Listen, this place…I remember it from the legends of Matesh. It’s a hidden Myrantian fortress that controlled the lands around the Wastes over two thousand years ago. Enemies never took the fortress because they could never find it. Nobody believed it even existed anymore. I thought it was a myth…until now.”

    “Very interesting,” said Quintus. “We’re looking for a particular wagon with blue wheels. It will have a secret compartment beneath it. Inside is a box. We must find that wagon.”

    “Why?”

    “Because I require the box. That’s all you need to know.”

    “Oh really.” Kham felt Quintus’ hand on his shoulder.

    “Kham, this is very important. You must not, under any circumstances, open that box. Do you understand me?”

    Kham pulled away from him. “Yeah, yeah,” his voice came from beyond a wall to Quintus’ left. “Don’t open the box.”

    “Kham? You’re inside a wall.”

    “That’d be an illusion,” said Kham. “If you bothered to use your eyes, you’d notice there’s no dust on the wall. It’s fake. You can walk right through it.” There was the sound of thumb on metal. A coin flipped through the air and appeared at the border of the wall, glistening in the sand between illusion and reality. “Hopefully, the elf will notice the coin when she comes through.”

    “Speaking of which,” said Quintus, “I’m not sure how we’re supposed to get out of here.”

    “Me neither,” said Kham. “But it might interest you to know that I just found a room full of wagons.”

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    Grains of Sand - Part 5a: Castle in the Sand

    “Khabat merah apesh,” said Ilmarė.

    The great stone lid slowly ground up again.

    “I still don’t think this is a good idea,” said Beldin. “They’re going to hear the walls open.”

    “You two don’t seem to have any better ideas,” said Ilmarė. “So this is how we’re going in. It’s been long enough that they should be away from the entryway by now.”

    She darted down towards the opening. Vlad shrugged at Beldin and followed after her.

    Sand crunched underfoot in the long stone corridor. Its cracked walls and floors were covered with yellowed Myrantian hieroglyphs.

    “Kabat merah shuul,” said Ilmarė. The opening began to close.

    Beldin huffed in behind them just as the doors shut.

    “I thought you’d never make it,” said Ilmarė with a bemused smirk.

    “And miss this?” asked Beldin. He pointed at the wall. “You’ll need a dwarf’s eye if you’re going to survive this place. It looks as if those hieroglyphs were designed to ward off invaders from the fortress.”

    Vlad froze in mid-step. “Uh…”

    “Don’t worry,” said the dwarf. “They no longer have any magical power.”

    The walls, floor and ceiling of the passage changed from the yellowed Myrantian hieroglyphs to strange tiled square containing an unsettling carved image of a many-tentacled creature resembling a starfish.

    “Something feels wrong,” said Ilmarė.

    When they were a ways in, the stone tiles began to hum and glow a pale violet color.

    “A dwarf’s eye, huh?” Ilmarė shot Beldin a glare.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 5b: Castle in the Sand

    The walls and ceiling of the massive room were plain and unornamented, but the sheer size of the place made such decoration unnecessary. Several dozen grain wagons were lined up in neat rows along the walls, with enough space for many more. There were no horses hitched to the wagons.

    “Oh, man…” said Kham.

    Quintus understood what the val meant. Every one of the wagons, except for the most recently acquired caravan, had blue wagon wheels.

    A woman dressed in leather with a scimitar at her hip conversed with a man dressed in lorica segmentata. Two men, twins from the look of them, stood idly off to one side. A fifth man dressed in spiked chainmail stood at an exit to another room, overseeing the unloading of the wagons.

    Quintus and Kham, incapable of seeing each other, padded off in different directions.

    The new wagon was taken off down a different corridor, while horses were unhitched and taken away towards the man in chainmail.

    Kham darted from wagon to wagon, his fingers playing over the sandy planks of wood that made up the bottom of each of the wagons. He rapped on each one, listening carefully to the sound.

    Finally, he hit something that sounded hollow. Kham dove underneath the wagon and discovered a small lock. He pulled out his trusty dagger and twisted the pommel, releasing a series of lock picks. A few seconds later, and the panel slid back to reveal a small box of carved gray stone.

    Kham pulled the box out and scrabbled to his feet. It was roughly eight inches on a side and weighed maybe five pounds. Its lid was sealed with reddish-brown wax on all sides and the wax itself was incised with arcane marks.

    “Hey Quintus!” whispered Kham to nowhere in particular. “I think I found…” he locked gazes with the man in spike chainmail, “…it. Uh oh.”

    “What do you mean uh oh?” whispered Quintus. “Give me the box.”

    “I can’t see you,” said Kham out of the side of his mouth. He slowly reached for another potion in his coat. “But I think someone can see me.”

    “INTRUDER!” shouted the man at the top of the lungs.

    “Yep,” Kham swigged another invisibility potion. “He saw me.”

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    Grains of Sand - Part 5c: Castle in the Sand

    “No help for it now,” said Quintus to no one in particular, but possibly to Kham if he were nearby, invisible. He grabbed one of the globes from the necklace around his neck and hurled it at the cluster of enemies.

    The ensuing explosion rocked the cavernous room. Several of the wagons caught on fire.

    “Whoa,” came Kham’s voice from behind Quintus, scaring the daylights out of him. “I want one of those!”

    “You can’t have it,” said Quintus. “Now give me the box.”

    “In a minute,” said Kham.

    Quintus’ reply was cut off as a vertical column of fire roared down around him.

    Kham spun to spot the source, but he wasn’t looking at their opponents at the time. The man in spiked chainmail was shouting and waving on the workers into another room. Each time some of the workers passed behind him, a ring on his left hand would flash and the workers disappeared, gated to some unknown destination.

    Kham decided he was a likely candidate.

    BLAM! BLAM!

    The man stumbled backwards as two pistol blasts struck him in the chest. He shouted, “Keep going!” over his shoulder and then turned back to face the now visible Kham.

    The twins were at the center of the Quintus’ blast were relatively unharmed. They spread out, gladiuses at the ready, just in time to meet the charge of Vlad and Beldin.

    The large man dressed in lorica segmentata immediately ran off down another hallway.

    The woman whistled. “Soma!” she shouted. “Come!”

    “I don’t like the sound of that at all,” said Ilmarė

    Unlike Kham, she saw who had unleashed hell on Quintus. It was not the man in spiked chainmail at all, but actually the woman who, Ilmarė guessed, had just called to something big and ugly.

    “There’ll be no more whistling,” said Ilmarė. “Dîn!”

    Then all became silent.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 5d: Castle in the Sand

    Quintus was still trying to put out the flames around him when he suddenly couldn’t hear his own heartbeat. He saw something metallic flash out of the corner of his eye and ducked just in time to avoid being beheaded by a scimitar.

    Quintus drew his own gladius. He parried blow after blow, but it took all his concentration. For one, he had only recently put out the flames on his tunic. For another, he couldn’t hear a thing. He was fighting in utter silence.

    The legionnaire thrust his gladius at the woman’s head, but she batted it away with a wooden shield. She was dressed in leather armor—no match for Quintus’ lorica segmentata, but flexible enough to give her a slight advantage. Judging from her clumsy blows, she wasn’t a trained warrior.

    If only he had his scutum and signum! He would never have let her get so close.

    The silence meant no prayers to Illiir. So then, bare steel was how they would finish their quarrel.

    Quintus caught the sight of a great striped cat leap with all four claws onto Vlad’s shield. It nearly bowled the big Milandisian over. It was all he could do to keep it at bay.

    The distraction almost cost Quintus his life. He twisted just as the scimitar silently thunked into the wooden wagon near his head. He would have to pay more attention.

    Quintus made the woman pay for her bold attack with a series of wide swings. Her wooden shield easily blocked the attacks, as he intended. The gladius wasn’t meant for large gashes. It was a stabbing blade, and Quintus knew how to use it.

    Behind her, Vlad and Beldin made short work of their opponents. Ilmarė’s arrows stuck out of several of them.

    Quintus pressed the attack, forcing the woman to raise her shield up again and again. The shield was heavy, even a wooden one. Her upper body strength was no match for his. It was only a matter of time.

    He waited. One of her shield blocks was a bit lower than the first. Quintus kept up the brutal pace, hacking away at her shield with steady, measured blows. His hand was starting to numb, but he was sure his opponent could barely feel her arm.

    Then he saw it: her shield arm faltered from exhaustion. He stepped into her reach.

    The scimitar’s wide slashing motion was halfway completed, but Quintus was too close and his aim too practiced. With a practiced stab, he shoved the gladius through her throat.

    She fell to the ground in a silent gurgle. With her death, the magical cone of silence dissipated.

    “—OOOOOOOOOOOOO!” screamed the man in spiked chainmail as he watched the woman die at Quintus’ hands.
    Last edited by talien; Tuesday, 17th July, 2007 at 08:30 PM.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 5e: Castle in the Sand

    Vlad threw the tiger off of him and incapacitated it with one fast stab to the abdomen. The beast wailed until Vlad put it out of its misery.

    Beldin hurled an axe down the hallway towards a fleeing man. Judging from the dwarf’s satisfied expression and the subsequent yelp, Kham guessed he hadn’t gotten far.

    Kham clucked his tongue as his opponent screeched in horror at whatever it was he just witnessed. Kham didn’t know what happened, but guessed it had something to do with Quintus. Which wasn’t that surprising, as Quintus tended to have that effect on people.

    Kham lined up the shot. It was too easy.

    BLAM! BLAM!

    And just like that, it was over.

    “Well, that’s a first.” Kham began picking up one of his emptied pistols. “I unloaded all five of the ladies at one target. He was a tough one.”

    “I think I heard someone crying for help down the hallway,” said Beldin. “I’m going to go check it out.”

    “I’ll go with him,” said Ilmarė. She nocked another arrow and followed after the dwarf.

    Vlad kicked over one of the twin’s corpses. “They’re well-equipped for mercenaries.”

    “Too well-equipped.” Kham took a copper ring carved in the shape of two clasped hands off of the man’s body. The clasped hands held the symbol of a black cat. “I think we just killed some legionnaires, Quintus.”

    Quintus didn’t respond.

    “Quintus? The elf’s silence wore off.”

    Quintus was on his knees, staring at the corpse of the woman he had slain.

    Kham walked over to Quintus. “What’s wrong?”

    “They’re not legionnaires,” said Quintus. “Legionnaires can’t marry.”

    “What’s your point?”

    Quintus gingerly held the dead woman’s hand in his, almost as if he were proposing. On her second finger of her left hand was a similar copper ring, carved in the shape of two clasped hands holding the symbol of a black cat.

    “This is a wedding ring,” said Quintus. He slowly turned to look at the dead man, his spiked armor still smoking from Kham’s shots. “I just killed that man’s wife.”

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    Grains of Sand - Part 6: Enter Jarel

    As the door swung open, a black-bearded dwarf looked up. He was manacled to the rear wall, but still had an aura of dignity about himself.

    “And just who are you, now?”

    Beldin peered curiously at the middle-aged dwarf. “Encali, hmm? I’m Beldin Soulforge of Solanos Mor. What are you doing here?”

    “I am Jarel of Encali.” He wiggled one of his manacled hands. “I don’t suppose you can help me out of this?”

    Beldin grunted. Then he lifted his axe overhead.

    To Jarel’s credit, he didn’t flinch when an axe blow came down on each manacle, severing them neatly without harming the dwarf’s wrists.

    “Thanks.” Jarel stroked one plait of his forked beard. “I’m a jeweler by trade. I was captured by House Otrecto to craft magic rings for them.”

    “Magic rings?” asked Ilmarė, stepping in behind Beldin. “What kind of magic rings?”

    “A few months ago, I was contacted by a Coryani family, and shown a very old, strange ring. It was Myrantian in design and obviously enchanted; it looked like it was created to activate some particular magical effect. Calvus wanted me to make more rings that would activate the same effect, but only for members of his family.”

    “His family, hmm?” asked Beldin. “What family?”

    “House Otrecto,” said Jarel. “I told Calvus I’d do it—he certainly offered to pay well enough–but that I’d have to see whatever the ring was intended to activate, so I could match the dweomers properly on the new ring. He wasn’t happy about that, but he agreed, and once I had the new ring almost completed, he brought me here.”

    “You didn’t get suspicious?” asked Ilmarė.

    Jarel shrugged. “It was a tedious trip, but I’m not comfortable with the outdoors so I stayed inside my wagon. They were all very secretive about it too.”

    “We saw Calvus use the ring to transport people away,” said Beldin.

    “That’s right,” said Jarel. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s vaguely similar to a portal of Anshar in some ways, though not nearly as powerful. Once I saw the room they used to transport people, I was able to complete the ring in a day or so.”

    “And this is how they repay you?” asked Ilmarė.

    “I turned the ring over, expecting to collect my pay and go home.” Jarel nodded at the broken shackles on the ground. “That was the thanks I got. I don’t know what they were up to, but they were almost apologetic about the whole thing. Calvus promised that I could go home soon and that he’d pay me extra for my troubles. Not that I really believed a word of it, mind you, but they fed me and kept me alive, so that’s something at least.”

    “Well, let’s get you out of here,” said Beldin. “I’ve seen enough of this place to know that I don’t like it.”

    “Agreed.” Jarel hesitated. “I assume you’ve freed the girl too?”

    “Who?” Ilmarė arched an eyebrow. It was obvious the room was empty.

    “It’s…hard to explain. You’ll have to see her to understand what I mean. If she’s still alive, that is. Follow me.”

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    Grains of Sand - Part 7: The Well of Visions

    The small circular chamber was covered in handwritten verses, scrawled by a mad hand. Sheets of paper lay strewn upon the floor, in some places inches thick, covered in the same rushed script.

    “What the…” said Beldin. A sheet of paper floated down from above.

    Above them was a young woman, her head cast back, swirling high around the chamber. She was writing madly upon a sheaf of paper, stopping only long enough to rip off one sheet to scribble on the next.

    “That’s her,” said Jarel. “They don’t like to talk about her much, but I think she’s a Larissan priestess.”

    Beldin reached for the girl.

    “Wait,” Jarel’s hand grabbed Beldin’s shoulder. “Can you feel the energy in the room? She’s trapped. She’s been doing this for weeks, without food or water. Sometimes they throw writing materials in.”

    “But not ink,” said Ilmarė. The woman was dipping the stylus into her arm. Both forearms were a mottled mess of fresh bruises.

    “We can’t just leave her here,” said Beldin.

    Jarel shook his head. “She’s already dead. Whatever that well is doing to her, it won’t release her. I’ve seen men try to drag her out and they were fried on the spot. It’ll take powerful magic, magic I don’t think you have.”

    Beldin bent down to pick up some of the paper that had been strewn on the ground. “What’s she writing?”

    “Good question,” said Ilmarė. She picked up a piece of paper and read aloud:
    “One million grains of sand can wear away a diamond.
    The cat plays with the bird until it is ready to pounce.
    One thousand years is not forever.
    When the sword sows only bones, the scythe reaps only blood.
    One whisper in the silence can shake the pillars of heaven.”

    Beldin was still focused on the girl. “Perhaps if we throw a rope around her…”

    Suddenly, the walls around them rumbled. Rocks and dust rained down around them. It was followed by intermittent, wet sounds of something heavy heaving and lurching through the halls.

    Ilmarė and Beldin exchanged worried glances. Then they sprinted off to join their companions.

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    Grains of Sand - Part 8: The Spawn of Tizzhet

    Writhing purple tentacles with no discernable body strained and struggled to drag a bloated mass into the room.

    Kham gaped in the midst of bending down to pick up his last pistol. It was an eldritch horror the subject of nightmares. The purple tentacles, slick with slime and marbled with red veins, pulsed and writhed as the creature pulled its bulk towards it prey with terrifying speed.

    “Kham, look out!”

    Quintus slammed Kham out of the way just as a tentacle lashed out, arrayed with triple rows of suction cups. It wrapped around Quintus’ legs with terrifying strength.

    Quintus hacked at the thing, but another tentacle shot out and grabbed him by the head. “Use the neck—“ was all he got out before slime foamed over his mouth. The thing lifted Quintus up like a rag doll and dangled him overhead.

    “A Spawn of Tizzhet!” Beldin skidded into the room. “It must have been awakened by the glowing tiles!”

    “Spawn of whozit?” asked Kham.

    “Tizzhet of the Many Limbs, an ancient being from the far realms,” said Ilmarė. She fired two arrows into it, but they melted and smoked in the acidic flesh of the thing.

    “How do we stop it?” asked Vlad.

    Kham dove to the side as more greedy tentacles grasped for him. What was it Quintus was trying to tell him? Use the neck what?

    Upside down, Quintus’ flesh was seared red from the acid where the tentacles were gnawing away at him. Smoke spiraled from where it touched his armor. And Kham had made fun of him for wearing his lorica segmentata in the desert. It sharply contrasted with the necklace he attacked the…

    The necklace!

    Kham hopped over another tentacle swipe and snatched the necklace off of Quintus’ throat. It came apart easily, weakened by the acid from the Spawn’s tentacles. Two globes were left. They would have to do.

    He tore both globes from the necklace and hurled them into the hulking starfish-like monstrosity. With frightening speed, two tentacles snatched them out of the air.

    Kham dove to the ground and put his hands over his ears. “Everyone down!”

    By now, his companions knew better than to question Kham warning of an impending explosion. Vlad and Beldin hunkered down behind their shields. Ilmarė stood behind them, biting her lip.

    There was a small flash inside the Spawn. A shockwave rippled through its body, causing all the tentacles to grotesquely shudder. Some acid seeped from its many mouths.

    The second explosion was much larger. A bright yellow and red blast, muted by the body of the Spawn, ballooned inside of it for a split second—then it burst free, spewing gibbets of purple and red gore in every direction.

    Ilmarė ran over to Quintus. He lay in a heap of smoking flesh. The elorii placed both hands upon him. A whispered plea to the spirits of the air, and Quintus’ eyes fluttered open.

    Kham wandered over, having finally found his last pistol in the mess. “He okay?”

    “He’ll live,” Ilmarė sad softly. She wiped some ichor away from Quintus’ face, which was covered in red splotches.

    “Oh yeah.” Kham dug out the box from his coat and tossed it onto Quintus’ chest. “Here’s the box you were looking for.”

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