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  1. #381
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  2. #382
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  3. #383
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    Chapter 289

    The giant ape reached for Rodan, but the tiefling jumped aside and slashed out with his sword, slicing open the flesh along its knuckles. The creature roared in pain and swept out its other lower arm, knocking him flying. He hit the ground and skidded to a stop about ten feet away, dazed by the impact.

    The ape turned toward Xeeta, who had made no move to retreat. Instead she lifted her rod and pointed it at the creature’s head.

    Burn,” she said.

    Flames erupted at her command, engulfing the giant ape. The creature screamed and tried to smother them with its hands, but they only intensified and spread. Blinded by the inferno that had enveloped it, it tried to swing at Xeeta, but only managed to stagger off to the side, missing her by a good margin. A nimbus of flame surrounded her as she maintained her focus on the immolate spell, searing the creature as it flailed blindly about. She kept burning it as it slumped to one knee, and then as it fell to both, before toppling over to its side. She did not let up until it had stopped moving, the flames transforming it into a gory, smoking mess.

    When she finally released the spell, she staggered back a step, gasping as she took a steadying breath.

    Quellan ran over to the fallen body of Kosk. It took only a moment’s examination to confirm that he was dead. After what he’d witnessed, any other outcome would have been a miracle. Kneeling beside the corpse of his friend, he quickly unslung his pack and begun digging through it.

    “Is he…” Glori asked. She too looked more than a bit dazed, and her eyes kept traveling back to the huge hole in the plaza. There was no sign of Bredan or the others.

    “I may be able to call him back,” Quellan said. He found what he was looking for, and opened a tiny pouch that spilled a small handful of glittering diamonds into his hand.

    “Bredan…” she said.

    “One at a time, Glori,” the cleric said. The pain in his own voice shook Glori from her grief, and she nodded. Rodan and Xeeta came over to join them, the ranger clutching his side where the giant ape had hit him.

    Doing his best to drive all distracting thoughts from his mind, Quellan focused on the divine link that connected him with his patron. He had never attempted this spell before, but it had been in the back of his mind ever since they had left Severon, the fear that this day would come. Calling the spirit back from across the veil that separated life from the worlds beyond was never a simple matter. The spell he was attempting would only work if he caught that departing spirit quickly, but he forced himself to proceed through the steps calmly. The diamonds flashed with light as he spread them across Kosk’s broken body, then dissolved as a golden glow surrounded and then seeped into his body.

    Glori, Xeeta, and Rodan watched as the cleric worked his magic. They held a collective breath for several heartbeats, then let it out together as Kosk’s body twitched and then he opened his mouth in a struggling gasp.

    “You brought him back to life,” Rodan said.

    Quellan slumped back onto his haunches. “Yes,” he said.

    “Could you do the same for Bredan?” Glori asked.

    The look on the cleric’s face told her the answer. “We don’t know that he’s dead,” Xeeta said. “He could be trapped under the rocks, or…”

    “You saw what happened,” Glori shot back.

    A howl interrupted them, echoed a moment later by another from the other side of the plaza.

    “We’re not safe here,” Rodan said.

    “We can’t just leave him,” Glori protested.

    “We won’t,” Quellan said. “But we’re too beat up for another fight, and we don’t know how many of those things are left. We need to get to shelter. We’ll be back, I promise.”

    “Help me up,” Kosk said, his voice weak.

    The others assisted the dwarf. Quellan’s spell had restored him to life, but he was still in very rough shape. The cleric invoked a mass healing word that bolstered them somewhat, but the spell couldn’t fully offset the beating that all of them—save for Xeeta—had taken in the fight.

    Rodan was watching the rubble surrounding the plaza carefully, but no more of the girallons showed themselves. But the angry howls continued as they made their way toward the shelter of the building on the far side of the square. They echoed through the ruins as the battered companions disappeared into the shadowed interior, leaving the plaza empty save for the mangled and broken bodies of the girallons and the two dead sailors. Smoke continued to rise into the sky from the smoldering corpse of the giant ape, forming a grim memorial to the carnage that had been wrought there.
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  4. #384
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    Chapter 290

    Bredan woke suddenly with no idea where he was.

    It was dark, and the air was thick and stale. He felt pain, a lot of it, but it was diffuse and he didn’t feel as if anything was broken. There was a pressure on his body, as if something was holding him down.

    He tried to move. The surge in the pain was about what he’d expected but it was bearable. Whatever was on top of him fell away and the pressure eased somewhat. But there was something else; a subtle shift a few steps away that suggested movement.

    His hand came up and he reflexively summoned his sword. It was useless, he still couldn’t see, but as if in response to the thought the runes marked upon the blade began to glow softly. The illumination was faint, barely brighter than a candle’s flame, but it was enough to reveal Kalasien standing just beyond the tip of the steel, his hands raised.

    “Peace, Bredan,” he said. “It’s just me.”

    Bredan pulled himself the rest of the way up. With the light coming off the sword he could see that he’d been half-buried in a heap of loose rock and dirt. The mound rose all of the way to the ceiling of… wherever this was.

    “Where are we?” he asked.

    “We’re in some kind of underground chamber,” Kalasien said. “I think the roof gave way when that big ape dumped the pillar on us.”

    His words reawakened Bredan’s memories. He felt a sudden and intense worry for Glori and the others, but first things first. “Where’s Kavek?”

    “I was just starting to look for him when you woke up,” Kalasien said.

    The two moved around the perimeter of the mound, which filled one entire side of the chamber. They were in some kind of vault made of stone blocks, with buttresses that supported the ceiling above. The light from Bredan’s sword was just barely enough for him to make out the breach in the ceiling and the large block of stone—probably a fragment from that pillar that had almost killed them—that was wedged into place there. He had no idea how much additional stone and dirt was above that blockage, but he guessed that any rescue would not be immediate.

    “Over here,” Kalasien said.

    Bredan hurried over to find the sailor lying half-buried in the collapse. Kalasien was already checking him over. “He’s alive,” the Arreshian agent declared.

    “Should we pull him out?” Bredan asked.

    “Moving him might hurt him worse. Do you have any healing magic?”

    Bredan shook his head. “Used it all up. We’ve been relying on Glori and Quellan for that, but…” He gestured toward the ceiling, and Kalasien nodded.

    Kavek groaned, and the two men turned back to him. “Don’t try to move,” Kalasien warned. “You took a nasty spill. Bredan is here.”

    The sailor blinked and squinted at Bredan’s sword. “Where are we?”

    “In a chamber somewhere beneath the plaza,” Bredan said. “Are you okay? Can you get up?”

    With the others’ help Kavek managed to extricate himself. “I think I’m okay,” he said.

    “What about the leg?” Bredan asked.

    “I wouldn’t want to try to run on it, but I think it’ll hold up,” Kavek said. “How do we… how do we get out?”

    “That stone looks pretty solidly wedged in there,” Bredan said. “There must be a decent amount of stuff on top of it, or we’d see some light, hear noises from up above, something.”

    “I’m not sure how long we can wait here,” Kalasien said. He sniffed the air. “I think the air down here is bad. Some fresh air probably made it down here with us, but sometimes toxins can build up in underground places like this.”

    “Well then, let’s look at our options,” Bredan said.

    It did not take the three of them long to search the room. The place was mostly empty, but they found an archway in the far wall that held a stone slab that looked like it was separate from the surrounding wall.

    “What kind of door is this?” Kavek asked. “There’s no hinges or handle.”

    “I’ve encountered these before,” Bredan said. “We have to lift it up. Let’s just hope it isn’t too heavy for the three of us.”

    The slab was covered in a relief that had worn down beyond recognition, but there were still subtle ridges where they could get traction. The three men spread out and placed their hands against the rough surface. Bredan put down his sword, which thankfully continued to provide enough light for them to see.

    “All right, on three,” Bredan said. “One, two… three!”

    The three men pushed at the slab, grunting with the effort. At first it refused to budge, but then it slowly shifted in its slots, rising a scant inch, then two. The men redoubled their efforts, muscles bulging from the strain as they pushed up and into the heavy stone. When it had reached a foot in height Kalasien reached down and grabbed hold of the bottom, giving him a better hold. Kavek quickly joined him, and together the three of them were able to push it up to waist-high.

    “Go through!” Bredan gasped. Kavek ducked under, quickly grabbing hold on the other side, then held it for Kalasien to do the same. The two shared a quick look before Kavek said, “Come on, Bredan!”

    Without letting go of the door, Bredan slid under it and shifted his grip to the other side. He used his foot to slide his sword over, although technically that wasn’t necessary, given his ability to summon the weapon instantly. The far side of the slab had similar markings on it, but while they tried to ease it back down it still landed with a solid thud.

    “Well, if there’s anything down here, they probably know we’re here,” Kalasien said.

    “If they didn’t hear the collapse, then they’re deaf or dead,” Bredan pointed out.

    “Dead would not surprise me,” Kalasien replied.

    They turned to an examination of their immediate surroundings. They were in a small antechamber, maybe ten feet across and fifteen feet wide. There was a deep crack in one of the walls that rose all the way to the ceiling. Bits of shattered masonry lay scattered on the floor underneath it, but it looked like an old wound rather than damage wrought by the collapse that had brought them here. Bredan went over and shone the light from his sword into the crevice just in case it was a possible route of escape, but while it was wide enough to shove his arm into, it narrowed to a close after just a few feet. Bits of stone crunched under his feet as he returned to rejoin the others.

    There was one obvious exit, an arched passage opposite the door. The corridor was unremarkable, rising to a peak about twelve feet above the floor. From the dust and the few old cobwebs that were visible, nobody had come this way in quite some time.

    “All right, let’s go,” Kalasien said, but as he started into the passage Bredan grabbed hold of his arm. “What is it?”

    “There’s something not right here,” Bredan said.

    “Can you be more specific?”

    Bredan shook his head. “Just a feeling.”

    “This whole place gives me a bad feeling,” Kalasien said, but he waited while Kavek went and picked up one of the larger chunks of stone under the crack in the wall. The other two men watched while he heaved it into the corridor.

    The piece of stone landed heavily, bounced, and then skittered up against the left wall. At first nothing happened, but then, so suddenly that all three of them jumped, flames filled the space. The firestorm came and went so suddenly that they couldn’t tell where it had originated, leaving just a haze of smoke behind.

    Kavek looked at Bredan. “I think we should trust your feelings,” he said.
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  5. #385
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    Chapter 291

    They followed Bredan through the trapped corridor, Kalasien and Kavek duplicating the warrior’s steps. Either through the guidance of his vague feelings, or because the trap was unable to reset, they made it to the far end of the passage safely. Once there they found a staircase that led down.

    “The air will likely only grow worse in quality as we descend,” Kalasien said.

    “I don’t see any other options,” Bredan noted.

    They made their way down carefully, alert to any additional traps. The steps were worn smooth, suggesting that at some point in the distant past this place had been populated and busy. Now it felt like some forgotten tomb. Bredan could not shake the connection to the slab door and thought back to the other sites he and his friends had explored back on Voralis. They had barely survived a few of those deadly places, and that was when they had all been together. Again he thought of his friends and hoped that they were still all right. Likely they thought him dead; it was only pure luck that the three of them had survived that rough descent.

    Or had it been luck?

    Distracted by his thoughts, Bredan didn’t realize that the stairs were coming to an end until Kavek made a comment. He held up his sword to illuminate the near edges of what looked like a large underground vault. The place had a low ceiling, about eight feet high, with pillars that buttressed it at frequent intervals. From the echoes that their footsteps returned the chamber went on for quite some distance.

    “Stay together,” Bredan said as they started forward.

    It looked as though at one point the walls and the pillars had been decorated, though the paint that remained was so faded and flaked that they could not make out any of the designs. Narrow channels extended across the floor, just an inch or so deep, but there were not enough clues to indicate their initial purpose. The air was sour, and Bredan tried not to think about the poisons that he might be taking into his lungs with each breath.

    Kavek had shifted off slightly to the side, and as they progressed past the first pair of pillars he said, “Hey, over here.” Without waiting for a response, he hurried off in that direction. Biting back a curse Bredan hurried after him. The sailor had bent over something by the next pillar over.

    “What is it?” Bredan asked.

    Kavek straightened and held up his find. It was a mace, heavy and flanged, crafted out of a black metal that showed no sign of rust or decay. Bredan frowned as he ran a finger along one of the flanges.

    “Odd, to find such a thing here,” Kalasien said with a look at the sailor.

    “Well, better to have a weapon,” Kavek said. “I lost my spear in the cave-in, and you might need me to do more than just throw rocks if we run into anything down here.”

    “Agreed,” Bredan said. “Keep it, let’s just hope it isn’t cursed.”

    Kavek gave the weapon another look, but held onto it as they continued forward. They could see now that the vault was about thirty feet wide, the side walls just barely visible from the faint light coming from Bredan’s weapon, but it continued forward into darkness for as far as they could see. They’d gone maybe forty feet when Kalasien drew their attention to the wall to their right. “Something this way,” he said.

    They followed him over to the wall, where Bredan’s light revealed a shallow alcove, maybe ten feet across and half that deep. Embedded in the wall there was a huge stone plug, a disk a good eight feet across that protruded out a few inches from the surrounding surface. In the center of the plug there was a small hole, just a few inches across.

    “What is it, do you think?” Kavek asked.

    “I’m not sure,” Bredan said. He approached carefully, his sword at the ready. He was about a foot from the opening when he paused. “There’s air moving here,” he said.

    Kalasien came over and took a look. “Fresh air,” he said. “There must be a cavern or some other tunnel on the other side.”

    Bredan held up his sword. It wouldn’t quite fit into the opening, but he used its light to take a closer look. “It goes for several feet, at least.”

    “Is there a way to move the plug?” Kavek asked.

    They all spent a few moments examining the stone disk and the surrounding wall, but found no mechanisms or secret panels. “Nothing,” Bredan said. “Let’s keep looking.”

    They continued their search, only to find that the vault ended after another twenty feet or so. There was another one of the slab doors there, but they found no other obvious exits or notable features.

    “We should rest before moving on,” Kalasien said. “We’re all injured, and there might be greater dangers ahead of us.”

    “What about the poisonous air?” Bredan asked.

    “The air is fresher near that vent,” Kalasien pointed out. “We should take advantage of it.”

    “What do we have in the way of supplies?” Kavek asked.

    They did a quick inventory of what they had in their packs. The results were not especially promising. They had all been carrying some of the tabaxi rations, but Kavek’s water flask had been crushed falling through the sinkhole, and the other two men only had a few pints left between them. “We’ll share what we have left,” Bredan said.

    They went over to the perforated disk and sat down. They limited themselves to just a bite of food and a swallow of water each, but even that made a noticeable dent in their remaining cache.

    “We’ll just take a few minutes,” Bredan said, leaning back against the edge of the alcove. He rested his sword in his lap, careful of the sharp edge. The others arranged themselves so they could watch all angles of the room. Once they had all stopped moving, they could hear just the faintest of sounds of rushing air coming from the hole in the plug.

    Bredan closed his eyes. He intended to just allow himself a minute’s rest, but his exhausted and battered body caught up to him and dragged him over into sleep.

  6. #386
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    Chapter 292

    When Kurok felt a soft pressure on his arm he woke instantly. It was utterly dark in the vault; the light from Bredan’s sword had faded. He could see Drekkath kneeling over him, but he had gotten so used to hiding his darkvision that he whispered reflexively, “Who’s there?”

    Drekkath’s lips twisted in a smile. “It’s okay, Bredan is sleeping deeply. Come.”

    Kurok rose silently, leaving his mace where it lay. It was again reflex to refresh the illusion that concealed his features. They made their way to a spot over by one of the pillars, where they could still see the alcove but were unlikely to wake the slumbering warrior.

    “How long was I asleep?” Kurok asked. His mind felt sluggish and it felt as if he’d only just laid his head down a few minutes ago, but he was well used to ignoring his body’s demands for rest.

    “About an hour,” Drekkath said. “I judged that you could use the time.”

    But you didn’t, Kurok thought. The creature never seemed to sleep, at least where Kurok could see. The doppelganger remained a cypher, mysterious in its behavior and motivations. When they were alone it did not bother to conceal its disdain for the warlock, and there had been more than one occasion when Kurok had nearly blasted the thing, their mission be damned.

    “Do you think that this complex connects to where the book is located?” he asked.

    “Perhaps,” Drekkath said. “But the question that preoccupies me is whether now is the time to put an end to him.”

    Kurok looked over at the alcove and the still-slumbering figure. “That would be a mistake. We need him. He has already demonstrated useful instincts with regard to this place, and his fighting skills cannot be discounted. We are likely to encounter more than just ancient traps before we get to the book.”

    Drekkath studied him for a long moment. “I wonder if you are not beginning to feel empathy for him,” it finally said. “I hope that you have not forgotten why we are here.”

    Kurok’s expression twisted into a fury. “You…” Realizing that he was being loud, he leaned in close and hissed, “You dare to question my motives? You were there when we traveled through the human lands, through their lush kingdom, surrounded by wealth and food and prosperity. I did not truly understand the depths of my people’s poverty until I saw Severon, or Li Syval. You do not know me, creature, or understand the life that I have lived. So be careful when issuing judgments.”

    Drekkath made a slight bow, and Kurok got the decided impression that he was being mocked. “Forgive my presumption,” it said. “I would have known better, had you not prohibited me from scanning your mind.”

    Kurok definitely doubted that was true, but he kept silent. Instead, he pointed toward Bredan and said, “We need to find the…”

    He trailed off, for as he glanced over he saw that something had changed. Bredan was still there, a slumped outline against the wall, but directly above him, oozing out of the hole of the wall, was a bulging orb of glistening black substance. It was already twice the size of the sleeping man’s head, and as the two conspirators watched it distended and extended a gooey tendril toward him.

  7. #387
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    Chapter 293

    Kurok extended his hands and unleashed a pair of eldritch blasts that tore into the substance of the thing. The magical pulses were absorbed by its mass, and they could not tell if they had harmed it. It continued to swell as more of it issued through the tiny hole in the wall, and it formed a fresh pseudopod as Bredan sprang up and stared around in surprise.

    “Bredan, get away from the wall!” Kurok yelled.

    Bredan was clearly disoriented in the darkness, but he pushed off from the wall just as the creature slammed its tendril where he’d been standing. It hit the floor with a meaty smack. The thing’s mass now extended from the hole to the ground, and it was still expanding as more of it emerged from the opening.

    Bredan summoned his sword into his grasp, and it immediately began to glow. On seeing the black monstrosity in front of him he immediately raised the weapon to strike.

    “Bredan, no!” Kurok warned, but he was too late; the warrior was already swinging. The blade tore through the still-thickening center of its mass and cut it in half. The upper portion rebounded against the wall, while the lower fell into a clump on the floor. But any hope that he had harmed it faded when that lower portion formed a new pseudopod and slammed Bredan hard in the leg. Kurok could almost hear his skin sizzling as the acid penetrated his armor and clothes. Bredan staggered back, looking with dismay at the damage that the impact had wrought upon his dwarf-forged plate.

    Kurok had lifted his hand for another strike, but hesitated. Instead of unleashing another spell where Bredan could see, he ran forward and grabbed hold of his mace. The upper half of the ooze had finally emerged fully from the hole in the wall, and it began to slide along the side of the alcove toward him.

    “We cannot defeat this foe,” Drekkath yelled. “Run!”

    Bredan was already moving. The ooze was following him, but it was slower than him even in his heavy plate armor. The other one detached from the edge of the alcove as Kurok retreated. Glancing back at the fleeing warrior, the warlock quickly unleashed a poison spray that struck the ooze but only slowed it for a second before it resumed its pursuit.

    Drekkath ran ahead to the far exit and the second slab door. This one was much like the last, but they were all quite aware of the black things that were sliding forward in pulses across the chamber toward them. Bredan joined the doppleganger in heaving at the door. Now that they were more familiar with how the doors operated, they were able to push it slightly upward even before Kurok joined them.

    “Up, up, damn it!” Drekkath hissed. Bredan’s muscles were already like taut cords from effort as they heaved the door inch after stingy inch upward. Kurok could not help but look back to see the oozes about twenty feet away and closing at a steady pace.

    “Kavek!” Bredan hissed. “My sword… prop it under the slab!”

    Without letting go of the door, Kurok bent and grabbed the sword. It was heavy, and awkward to manage in his current position, but he was able to wedge it into the gap. There was not enough space to stand it straight up, but the pommel caught in the jam and the point found one of the subtle gaps that separated the slabs that made up the floor.

    “It’s good!” Kurok said. Bredan and Drekkath immediately eased the door back down until its weight rested on the sword. There was a tense moment where Kurok thought the metal blade would shatter under the pressure, but it held.

    “Through!” Drekkath commanded. He and Kurok darted through the space between the sword and the far side of the threshold. Bredan came last, diving through the gap. Kurok turned to see the oozes a scant five feet away; the nearer one was already forming a pseudopod to attack.

    Kurok tensed, but even as the things lunged forward Bredan kicked out. He struck the sword, which flew out into the vault. The door slammed down hard, plunging them into darkness.
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    Chapter 294

    For a long moment Bredan lay there on his side in the dark, breathing heavily. He could hear Kavek right next to him, but strangely Kalasien was silent.

    Finally, reluctantly, he held up his hand. For a moment he thought that the sword would not appear, but then its familiar weight rested in his hand. The glow erupted from the runes marked in the blade, and he took a look around.

    The door was right in front of him, scant inches from his foot. If he’d stumbled a bit it would have crushed his ankle and held the door open enough for the creatures to get through.

    He scanned the threshold carefully, looking for any sign of the things, but there were none.

    “Think that will keep them out?” Kalasien asked. Bredan craned his neck and saw the agent standing a few feet away. The man could definitely be quiet when he wanted to be.

    “It would appear so,” Kavek said. He leaned over and offered Bredan a hand up. “Are you all right?”

    “A bit singed,” Bredan said. He inspected his leg where the thing had struck him. “What happened? I thought I saw a flash, and then that thing...”

    “It came through the hole in the wall,” Kalasien said. “I heard something and got up. I tried to make a light with flint and steel, that’s probably what you saw.”

    Bredan turned to Kavek. “You warned me not to hit it with my sword.”

    Kavek nodded. “We have those things in Zesania, though thankfully they’re rare. You can’t hurt them with cutting weapons, it just makes more of them.”

    “What are they?” Bredan asked.

    “We called them ‘black puddings.’”

    “How’s your armor?” Kalasien asked.

    Bredan examined the damaged plates again. “Can’t do anything about it now,” he said. “Unless we happen upon a smithy down here.”

    “Might as well hope for a tavern,” Kavek said.

    “Yeah,” Bredan said. “How long was I asleep?”

    “I don’t know,” Kalasien said. “I sort of drifted off myself. I know we should have had at least one of us keep watch…”

    “It’s all right,” Bredan said. “We were all exhausted. At least now our bodies have had a little chance to recover, at least.”

    “No way back, now,” Kavek said. “And we’re already too far away to hear if the others are able to burrow down to where we started.”

    “Then we have to go forward,” Bredan said.

    He held up the sword to illuminate the room they were in. It was another antechamber, maybe fifteen feet by fifteen, with another arched corridor leading away. This time the other two men waited to see if Bredan would have any more “feelings,” but nothing came to him when he stared down its length. With the light source in his hands he led the way, Kavek and Kalasien following just a few steps behind.

    The corridor extended for about fifty feet before it opened onto a larger space. This one looked to be a hybrid of a natural cavern and a worked room, with a curved wall to their left and an uneven ceiling that rose to a peak about fifteen feet above. There were more crevices and cracks in the walls, and more scattered debris, but their attention was drawn to three worked tunnels that radiated out in different directions from the far side of the chamber.

    “It looks like we have a choice, now,” Kavek said.

    “I’m not detecting any noises or air flow from any of them,” Kalasien said.

    Kavek turned expectantly to Bredan. “Any idea of which way we should go?”

    The warrior came forward and stood at a point where he could turn to face each of the passage openings in turn. He closed his eyes and lifted his sword. He turned around, slowly, turning a full circuit until he came to a stop facing one of the tunnel openings. It was the one on the left.

    “This way,” he said. Without looking back, he started down the passage.

    The other two shared a quick look and then followed.

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    Chapter 295

    “This place is a maze,” Kavek said as they turned into yet another passage.

    Bredan didn’t say anything. He was starting to doubt himself, and the subtle twinges that he’d been using to guide them. Clearly something had warned him about the fire trap in the first corridor, and he’d thought he’d felt something when he’d lifted his sword at the first three-way fork, but they’d been wandering for what felt like at least an hour and he was starting to feel that maybe they were just lost.

    He still did the ritual at every branching, but he suspected that his companions were starting to come to the same realization. Clearly the ancient city was huge, and this network of caverns, worked chambers, and connecting passages extended under a good portion of it. But thus far they had not come to anything that looked like it could be an exit or a route to their ultimate destination.

    At least they hadn’t come upon any more traps or creatures like the black pudding. There had been a few hazards, including a chamber with a collapsed floor that they’d finally just given up on, retracing their steps to the previous fork and selecting the other option. Once they had found themselves back in a room they had already explored. Bredan could almost feel the looks shared behind his back when they’d realized that they had just looped back around.

    They had stopped once more to share around a swallow of water and a few bites of their remaining rations. There wasn’t much left of either now. The air remained stale, but Bredan wasn’t sure if it was slowly poisoning them. He had a bit of a headache, but that could have just been the lack of rest and the repeated battering that he’d taken over the last few hours.

    His mind had wandered so thoroughly that he didn’t realize they had come into a new chamber until Kalasien touched him on the arm. With a start he came back to the present and looked around in surprise.

    This place was definitely new. The chamber was irregularly shaped, its walls meeting at angles that didn’t quite match. It was spacious, its far side lost in darkness beyond the limited radiance of Bredan’s sword. There was a large mound of rubble in the center of the room, tall enough that it looked like it would take a considerable effort to scale. Above it the ceiling rose in an inverted funnel to what might have been an opening, but it was impossible to be sure in the weak light.

    “Anyone see another way out?” Bredan asked.

    “Our eyes are no better than yours,” Kalasien said.

    Bredan shot him a look. Kalasien’s mood seemed to be souring the longer they spent down here. It was a notable change; the Arreshian agent had hardly seemed to feel emotion at all since they’d departed Li Syval. It was understandable; Bredan himself had felt on edge ever since they’d arrived on the shores of Weltarin. But if the man was close to losing control that was something he needed to know.

    They were moving slowly into the room, and Bredan was about to say something to Kalasien, when a rumbling sound froze them in mid-step.

    The sound was coming from the mound in the center of the room. It became a vibration, then a cascade of dirt and stone as the rubble shifted. Bredan was not entirely surprised when it rose up and took on the form of a giant humanoid creature, a heap of living rock that stood a good ten feet tall and loomed over the companions like an avalanche.

    The floor shook as it took a step toward them.

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