On the back of very scant evidence, the group have travelled to Ardeyn to find Dona Ilsa’s five missing eggs. Purported to be hidden in the Mouth of Swords, a forbidding place out on the plains of Ardeyn. The party don’t know what to expect from the Mouth of Swords, but its name and appearance do not strike them as encouraging.
On the plains of Ardeyn, far from the highlands, was a plateau the size of a small town. On its southern side lay an entrance to a cavern decorated with broken and rusty swords. The Mouth of Swords is well named. Standing before it, the cave looks like the mouth of a giant predatory worm frozen in mid-attack. Nothing could be seen beyond the points of the blades beckoning adventurers in.
Bruce pulled a log of the breakfast fire and threw it past the blades to light a corridor. The sword blades continued further down the corridor to a set of stairs shrouded in darkness.
“Why has no one knocked off all these pointy bits? They’re a hazard, aren’t they?” He said, looking around the group.
Peggy examined a headless statue by the mouth of the cave while Algernon tried to scan the plateau’s top from the ground. Tobias was off to one side. His slender Qephilim arms wrapped tightly around his torso, seemingly in his own world.
“I would have thought that was the point,” He said suddenly and without his usual good humour.
“Can anyone see this statue’s head? I want to see what he looked like,” Peggy asked, and Bruce found it behind a bush not far from the statue’s feet.
Lifting the heavy marble into place, the statue began to speak,
“Enter here and die!
The swords that adorn the mouth
Were taken from those who failed
To heed my prophecy.”
“But we don’t have swords,” Tobias replied absently, flicking on his mythlight and passing it beyond the first rows of swords into the cavern.
“Is that so,” Bruce said to the statue.
It didn’t reply.
“So, are we suppose to knock his head off again?”
Still, no reply.
He tried taking the head off. It was now stuck in place.
Tobias sighed and sidled past the blades and into the cavern.
“Oi! Dammit, Rain!” Bruce called as he realised the sorcerer had gone ahead. Inside he could see Tobias at the foot of the steps brushing his hands across a set of engravings.
“Careful when you come it,” He said, not looking up from the carvings, “The path through the blades narrows.”
“What have you got there?” Bruce followed in after Tobias and looked over his shoulder at the faintly glowing runes lining the steps.
“They form a barrier to unclothed spirits from reaching further into the complex.”
“Unclothed?” Bruce was not enjoying Tobias’ newfound fascination with soul magic. Spirit possession and magic did not sit well with his southern baptist upbringing.
“Like Avel,” Tobias replied, “But inside me, she’s safe.”
Outside, Algernon walked past the statue, and the statue spoke a second time. He made a blindfold from an old rag and tied it across the statues face before walking past once more. It remained mute.
Peggy walked in front of the statue, and again the figure spoke.“Maybe it detects that it has already given you the message,”
Bored of the statue, Algernon refocused his attention on the top of the plateau. Approximately forty metres above them, he could just see the tops of trees. With a thought, he pushed off the ground and levitated himself into the air. As he breached the lip of the cliff, he saw a large winged creature basking itself on a low flat rock in a clearing of trees. His movement drew the creature’s attention to him as it swivelled its huge Qephilim head in his direction. Its lion’s body responded to the new stimuli flying towards it. With the chance of a meal hovering nearby, the creature leapt into the air and charged.
“I evoke the Armour of Atrocity!” Algernon called and his gambeson frosted over as the creature’s claws struck. The blow knocked the wind out of Algernon and sent a blast of cold damage through the monster’s claws. The beast roared and dived back towards the plateau, throwing Algernon into a tree. The armour took the blow this time. He was on his feet when the beast landed not far away and stared at the intruder.
“I’m sure I’ve seen a documentary about creatures like you,” Algernon said to the beast before bowing formally, “Do you understand my talk?”
Surprised, the creature’s head shot up, tilting to one side as it tried to get a better view of Algernon. When the bow wasn’t received as he expected, Algernon read the creature’s mind.
Odd food. How hurt me when touched? Touch again?
Before the beast could make good its last thought, Algernon brought around his crossbow and shot. The shot went wide, the creature sprung on Algernon, claws this time not making it through the armour, though the cold seeped into the creature’s limbs. From point-blank range, Algernon shot once more, and this time the bolt flew true, straight for the creature’s heart. A claw poised to strike fell. The whole beast collapsed into a heap of fur and feathers.
Algernon withdrew his hunting knife, a souvenir from the group’s first recursion into the Wastelands. He hacked and slashed at the muscle tendons and bone that held the large qephilim’s head to the lion’s body. Once free, he smeared its blood in lines down his face, warpaint for the victor. The wild space on the plateau was now quiet. Algernon took no more notice of it, he picked up his trophy and levitated back to the ground in front of the Mouth of Swords.
Bruce had been busy breaking away swordpoints from one side of the passage when Algernon arrived back battered and covered in blood.
“Are you all right? Is that your blood?” He said, dropping his crowbar to check Algernon for wounds.
“Some of it,” Algernon replied, pointing out areas where the creature’s claws had broken through his armour.
“But what happened? Last time I saw you, you were fooling with the statue.”
“It just attacked me,” Algernon replied, holding up the head without the less noble details of flying off without letting anyone know.
Bruce sat Algernon down and soon had all the small punctures and scrapes cleaned up.
“Hey, you can heal!” Algernon said as he got up, feeling better for the first aid treatment, “Thanks, Mr Bruce.”
“Now go clean up. You’re going to stink after a while with all that blood on you.”
“But I like it,” Algernon pouted, revelling in the gore of his victory.
“You can keep your warpaint, just clean off the other mess from your butchering job.”
“No,” Algernon replied and entered the cavern. The head of the creature floating along behind him.
“Urgh! I can’t look at you!” Tobias had been sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting for the others. When Algernon walked through the gloom of the passageway covered in blood, the sharp metallic tang rose in Tobias’ mouth, and he had to turn away. Avel moved to soothe him, and he leaned back into her embrace, his arms once more wrapped tightly around himself.
“So you can take the rat mauler out of Railsea, but you can’t take Railsea out of the rat mauler,” He said dryly as Algernon stepped past him and up the stairs.
“Seems like it,” Algernon glowed and led the way up to the next chamber.
A large open plaza-like chamber lit by a single fire burning in a copper vessel lay at the top of the stairs. The flame flickered and guttered but never went out and without a breath of wind to disturb it. Around the outside of the plaza, seven massive stone doors stood, all decorated with the images of Qephilim in different poses and scenes. A mosaic tiled floor spiralled out from the copper vessel that held a flickering flame. Standing alone and out of place among all the opulence was the figure of a man in tattered robes. As the group approached, he spoke in a low monotone,
“What treasure have you brought for me to keep?”
Tobias scrambled to find a treasure to offer. This was a depository, a place for keeping valuable items safe. With a treasured item, they could follow the keeper and see what else the vaults had stored. Unfortunately, he’d handed his cards to Dona Ilsa and his very last possession, the puzzlebox, to Algernon. Algernon had a solution, though, and held up the creature’s severed head, still dripping blood.
The figure looked at the head, “Fifty gold,” It said and held out its hand. Algernon paid, and the man also took the head.
“Can we go and see where it will be placed?” Tobias asked.
“I will see that it is stored carefully,” The figure replied in its monotone voice. Tobias looked closely at the figure and noted a transparency to its outer edges, a lack of spark in its voice. Whatever it was, it wasn’t alive and may never have been.
Opening his robes, he cast a spell and somehow pushed the head and gold through himself into another space. Certainly, the head was gone, and in its place, a small stone statue of a Qephilim was presented to Algernon. Over Algernon’s shoulder, Peggy examined the statue.
“It’s not magical, no matter how it was made,” She confirmed.
“Is there something else you wish for me to keep?” The figure asked again. This time Algernon tried to read its mind. All he heard were whispers and the voice of the figure coming over clearly through what it had for a mind.
“We’re here for eggs,” Tobias confronted the keeper, “About this big, blue with white speckles. We want to make sure they’re safe.”
The keeper held out his hand for the token. The group looked at each other and wondered if they’d left Crow Hollow a little too soon.
“Do you think we’re meant to fight through?” Algernon asked the group.
“Do I ever try to fight through?” Replied Tobias, stumped for ideas. There was no persuading a construct.
Algernon wandered over and watched the fire. Flames roared out of a copper vessel as if battered by unseen gusts, but the air wasn’t stirring. The flame seemed to be pointing towards the first of the seven doors, clockwise from the staircase.
“What if the treasure did not belong to those who brought it?” Bruce said to the keeper. The keeper did not answer. Such a morally ambiguous question was beyond its bounds of understanding. Instead, Bruce tried a simpler question, “Who brought the eggs?”
“A creature shaped of man, but never was. Robes like mine stained with blue dust.”
“Well done, Bruce. The one behind the kidnapping was also linked to Spiral Dust.” Shame it doesn’t get us any further with this thing.” Tobias dismissed the keeper from his thought and concentrated on Avel and what she could do to help.
“I’d like to withdraw the eggs.” Bruce persisted though, and the keeper focused their attention on him.
“You have the token?”
“Nothing can be withdrawn without a token.”
Bruce changed the subject, “What’s behind the doors?”
“The many vaults.”
“But, what’s behind that door?” Algernon asked from across the room, pointing at the door the flame was indicating.
Now drawn to his attention, Bruce could see a stone door maybe eight times his height with the relief of a Qephilim surrounded by wispy spirits. He started towards it when Peggy turned abruptly to the Keeper.
“I need protection,” Peggy and all eyes turned to her.
“No, Peggy…” Tobias said. She touched his shoulder, and he understood her plan. Bowing his head, he remained silent.
“You wish to be kept?” The keeper asked, now focusing its attention on her.
“Yes, I don’t feel safe…or I certainly won’t until you come and find me,” She said the latter to the group with a nervous smirk.
The keeper thought for a moment, “One hundred and fifty crowns,” It finally said and held out its hand for the payment.
“I’ll pay it,” Tobias offered the requested coins, and the keeper opened his robes for Peggy to walk through.
“I’m going to need that token ahead of time to ensure I can be properly returned…if need be,” Peggy said, no sign of fear or trepidation. The token was provided, and without another look back, Peggy walked into the keeper and disappeared.
Tobias noticed the Keeper was getting agitated at the group’s attempts to get past their security. So was he. With Peggy trapped, who knew where Algernon’s suggestion was sounding better every minute.
“I think it is time for you to leave,” The keeper said to no one in particular.
“No,” Tobias rounded on the keeper, determined to get Peggy back as soon as possible.
“What is your purpose here?” The keeper asked in their insistent monotone.
Tobias wasn’t one to lose patience with bureaucracy. The grinding pedantic nature of systems were usually something he enjoyed subverting. But, something about the location, his current mental state, and Peggy’s loss all had their effect.
“We’re here for the eggs, and we won’t leave without them,” He said more directly than he meant to.
The keeper flicked out their tattered robes with an arcane gesture, attacked. Their mouth and eyes filled with a bright white light. Tobias and Algernon were able to look aside in time to avoid looking at the light. Bruce, who was setting up his first attack on the Keeper, was staring at his target’s eyes. The light bore into his soul, draining life and energy from his very being. The attack staggered him and gave Tobias a moment to reach out and touch his bigger companion. The Strange flowed through Bruce’s body and mind, reinvigorating his attack. Bruce went for the head and hit! The Keeper’s light faded to a pilot light, ready to strike again if the group let it. Algernon moved around behind the Keeper, putting them between him and Bruce. Concentrating on the Keeper, he twisted reality in that spot and Warped world, making it harder for the Keeper to attack.
The keeper would not be intimidated. A skeletal hand wreathed in cold smoking vapour reached out from under the robes and towards Bruce. He batted away the hand with his crowbar, sensing the intense cold of the attack as it brushed past.
“Cool!” He punned, pleased with himself.
Peggy was in the dark. Her mythlight showed a stone surface right in front of her face, and she could feel the cold stone to her sides and back. She was in a sarcophagus deep in the vaults. She reached out to Tobias, who she had created a mind link before stepping through.
Rain, I’m in a coffin. Feel free to come and find me now.
Oh god, He swore, unusually for him, We will find you, Peggy. I may have started a fight with the Keeper, though, so we may be a little while.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to save myself,” She said out loud in the enclosed space of the stone box and thought back to the spells she had learnt so far from her book. There was one, she was sure, that would be very useful in this situation. Recalling the words and gestures required for the summoning, she cast the spell. A tiny dragon head the size of a large fist appeared in the sarcophagus above her. With a thought, it pushed up and popped the stone lid away as if it were made of cardboard. It crashed and smashed to one side and onto the ground beside her resting place, giving her the first view inside a vault.
In the main chamber, Bruce received another boost from Tobias before smashing his crowbar into the Keeper’s body. Algernon shot the keeper in the back, and the tattered robes dissipated, a plain gold ring dropping to the mosaic floor. At the door marked by the cauldron fire across the room, a metallic clang could be heard.
Was that you, Peggy? Tobias asked as all three looked towards the door.
The room was opulent. Ivory carvings decorated marble walls that intersected with rock crystal tiled floors. The room held five sarcophagi, including Peggy’s own. To one side, an iron urn stood that constantly issuing smoke into the atmosphere of the enclosed space. On the side of the urn, the words Breath of Lotan were engraved.
The oddest feature was the ceiling. It rippled and quaked like the surface of a pond. The more Peggy looked at it, the more she realised it was a layer of water somehow defying gravity across the ceiling. Nearby there was a clang as a huge metal plate crashed down in front of the door to the room, followed by the sound of water trickling. She could see it now, making rivulets down the walls. The water from the ceiling was filling the room.
Ah, I’m going to need finding before I drown. She thought and climbed out of her sarcophagus. Oh, and any thoughts about Lotan? I seem to remember that name.
“Drowning?” Tobias repeated to the others, “We have to find Peggy now! Anyone remember Lotan?”
“Lotan, I remember that name from the mythology of Ardeyn,” Algernon said out loud, “I’m sure he was some good guy, a hero…” He didn’t sound very sure to Tobias, who relayed that information back to Peggy.
Peggy had had a moment while climbing up onto her sarcophagus to remember that Lotan was the enemy of the Maker and had been imprisoned in Ardeyn for all eternity. There was no way she was getting closer to the fumes from the urn than she had to. Still, the water was getting closer to her and was already spilling into her empty sarcophagus.
Bruce had been contemplating how heavy a stone eight times taller than he would weigh. He then decided that knowing would not help to get it open, so he just pushed against it instead. Dust shifted out of the cracks around the door as it ground against the floor. Algernon and Tobias came to help, but by that time, a decent gap was made, and they could all squeeze through into the next room.
Ahead, the statue of a horse with a single horn on its head reared up in front of them. The statue was worn and looked like it had been the victim of some vandalism in its time. Beside it, a doorway leading to a hallway lined with twelve alcoves of marble and bronze greeted them. In each of the alcoves stoppered ceramic urns rested.
“Tell Peggy to make a noise,” Algernon said as they entered the silent hallway. Tobias repeated the message and they waited until they heard a crash from the other end of the hall.
Okay, we hear you. We’re on our way. Tobias sent more confidently than he felt.
The water was now up to Peggy’s waist and rising. She had been amusing herself by lifting the lids on the other four sarcophaguses with her Dragon maw conjuration. She had so far found a beautiful statue of a woman, a set of mouldy leather bags, two small pots and many intriguing cyphers that she had yet to put her mind to identifying.
We’re past the first door. Algernon suggested you make a noise for us to hone in on. She received from Tobias.
“Nothing simpler, “ She said out loud and commanded the Dragon Maw to pick up the lid of her sarcophagus and throw it at the metal door. The clang that resulted made the floor and ceiling water ripple, and Peggy clutching her ears.
Okay, we hear you. We’re on our way.
“I should hope you do!” She replied to herself and continued her tomb raiding while she waited.
Algernon was first to the door at the other end of the hall. It looked very much like the first, with an engraved Qephilim surrounded by spirits. Touching the stone, he sent the energy of the Strange between the particles and molecules of the stone. The dense material disintegrated into sand, then dust and eventually nothing. Water started pouring out the hole he’d made and then, reverse, withdrawing again.
Inside, Peggy was surprised to see not just the metal plate in front of the door but also the water start receding up the walls and back to the ceiling. She collected the items she’d discovered so far and prepared to leave her tomb as the door itself opened. On the other side, the smugly pleased Algernon, stoic Bruce, and relieved Tobias stood looking back at her.
“Don’t just stand there. Help me with this stuff,” She said, handing out the pouches and pots while keeping the cyphers for herself. Two green potions seemed to be for healing, a condition remover for addictive substances and a speed boost amongst the cyphers. Algernon found a small gold statue in the first pouch, a work of art but nothing more. It meant nothing to him, so he opened the second thoughtlessly. Inside, though, a large round egg the size of a small melon rolled out, blue with white speckles. The first of the Cro eggs.
“So, they’re scattered all over the vaults? Great!” Bruce exclaimed, “We’ll be here for years!”
“The keeper will probably spawn before then, and we’ll have to fight him again,” Algernon added as Peggy flipped open the last of the sarcophagus. Suddenly the door and the water started falling once more. She put the lid back on, and the door rose back into the ceiling. She took the hint and left the room for the relative safety of the hallway.
“Say, we can put those ominous pots from the hall in here and try opening one,” Algernon suggested, “If something happens, we can trip a sarcophagus lid and shut whatever in.
“I don’t think I want to play with the pots,” Tobias said, drawn toward the unicorn statue down the hallway. He could see something curious about the horn and went to check it out.
Algernon disregarded Tobias’ words and picked up the nearest pot with his levitate. It wasn’t like Algernon to drop an item he levitated. Maybe he’d got cocky from his victories that day. Maybe there was something about the pot that wasn’t meant to stay still. Certainly, when it hit the marble tiles, instead of cracking, the cork popped out, and a flickering green light spilled out. Moaning wails echoed down the hall as, one by one, each of the other eleven pots started popping their corks.
The group raced the pots to the door and slammed it shut as something started coiling from each of the unstoppered lips.
“Messing with things you shouldn’t touch,” Murmured Tobias as he climbed the statue. He was sure the horn was made of another substance than the statue. He twisted the horn and found it was loose in its socket. There was also an audible click, and something other than the statue was now connected to the horn. Something not altogether alive and breathing. A spectral horse made of the same ghost stuff as the keeper reared up and charged. It plunging the horn through Tobias before pinning him to the opposite wall.
Peggy acted first, throwing her Dragon Maw at the unicorn, hoping to push it off Tobias and get him free. The unicorn held its ground as the Dragon Maw missed. Circling the creature, Bruce created a distraction as Algernon cried.
“It’s a unicorn, and I’m a virgin!” He placed a calming hand on its flanks in the hopes of stopping the fight. A hoof in the chest sent him flying backwards, winded and wary.
Let me help you, Avel said to Tobias through the fog of pain and shock, I can make you strong.
Strong…? How? Avel? His thoughts were disjointed, and he found it hard to focus, If you think you can help…
As soon as he said those words, he felt her take over. She was strong, stronger than him. She soon found the link to Peggy and also took possession of her as well. A wail of despair, pain and rage echoed through the halls. Lost in the raw emotion that was Avel, Tobias flicked out a dagger and stabbed the unicorn’s neck, and Peggy pulled out a hand crossbow and pointed it towards Bruce.
The sudden shift in the battle put Bruce off his attack, and his feint failed. Sprawled behind the spectral unicorn after being kicked, Algernon caught his breath and stood up. This creature was more dangerous than he realised and would need a new strategy. He stepped back out of the way of the flailing hooves as the beast returned its attentions to Tobias. A fire burned in Tobias’ eyes as the front hooves gored at him again and again. He lashed out with the dagger and missed, the second wind of Avel starting to wain.
“NO!” Peggy said out loud and shook her head, surprised to find her crossbow out. She quickly put it away and sent the Dragon maw once more to hit the unicorn. Right behind, Bruce charged in, his crowbar ready! He struck the creature’s side, and the crowbar went straight through, the spectral unicorn dissipating at the final blow. A set of saddlebags appeared out of nowhere, and the horn remained, embedded in Tobias’ shoulder. He dropped to the ground, his knife still firmly held in his hand.
“Come on, let’s get that thing out of you…” Bruce said, moving to help Tobias up. The Qephilim turned on him, the eyes menacing, their colour now hazel instead of Tobias’ usual violet. The knife hand moved into an attacking position before the Qephilim swayed and blinked. The eyes returned to their regular colour, and Tobias cringed as he realised the knife was in his hand. With a clatter of steel, the knife dropped to the marble floor, soon followed by its owner.
“What was that?” Bruce asked, his crowbar still poised to defend against a surprise attack, “What happened?”
“I…I let Avel take control…” Tobias panted as he took hold of the horn still lodged in his shoulder and braced yanking it free. Algernon stood silently by, holding out one of the healing potions they’d only just acquired. Tobias took it thankfully in shaking hands.
“Next time, check that someone else isn’t already linked to your crazy head!” Peggy roared, ”I nearly shot Bruce!”
“Next time…I’m attacked by a unicorn…I’ll remember…” The words were jesting, but his expression was contrite, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t…I’m sorry.”
As Tobias threaded the unicorn horn through his Qephilim belt, the others examined the saddlebags and found even more cyphers. They were reaching the limit on cyphers each of them could carry. Tobias used a displacement cypher he’d been carrying for a while to make room for something else. His form now shimmered, making it hard to focus on him. Beaten but not defeated, the group left the first vault behind and returned to the main chamber.
Looking grey and tired, Algernon sat down near the copper urn, the fire roaring above his head. He pulled out the ring he’d collected off the keeper and now took the time to examine it carefully. The rest collected around Algernon in the light of the fire and took stock. No one was in the mood to jump into the next round of whatever this madhouse had to offer, but if the five eggs were scattered throughout the complex, they would have to scour each vault for hidden secrets if they hoped to find them all.
Algernon was still revealing secrets. The ring, cold when he first picked it up, was still cold to the touch. As he rested against the warm side of the copper urn, he noted the images on the ring matched those that encircled his resting place.
Seven symbols, seven different Qephilim on seven doors.
He put it on. The fire moved to the next door along, and a heavy ‘clunk’ rang through the chamber. This door was decorated with the lovely form of a female Qephilim in a provocative pose.
When they felt rested enough to continue, Bruce pushed open the second door to reveal a circular chamber built around a statue of the Qephilim from the door. She was a piece of fine art, a sculpture of stone that somehow captured its subject’s movement and life. As they walked in, Peggy and Algernon noticed three figures sitting in the shadow at the back of the room.
“Hello?” Peggy called into the room, hoping to catch one of the figure’s attention.
Tobias and Bruce could see nothing but the wonder of the statue. It was as if neither had recognised true beauty before that moment. As they neared, all they could do was to gaze in awe of the lady. Peggy and Algernon also edged into the room with a lot more caution. As Peggy brought her mythlight within range of the three figures, it was clear that none of them would answer their greeting. In rusted chain mail, sitting slumped against each other, three mummified humans sat, their backs against the wall, their last actions to fix their dead eyes on the statue.
Peggy didn’t hesitate, swung a hand back and slapped Tobias in the face.
“Ooow! I guess I deserved that, somehow…” He said, coming to his senses.
Algernon, a wicked little grin forming on his face, jumped up and whacked Bruce in the back of the head.
“Oomph! Oh, how embarrassing,” Bruce quickly turned from the statue, now the fascination had lifted.
“You think?” Tobias asked, rubbing where Peggy had hit him, “At least you don’t have your mother watching.”
Amongst the dead adventurers of times past, a partial map of the vaults was found. Unfortunately, it was mostly the parts they had already explored, but did show that the vaults were occasionally sacked by others and reset themselves over time.
“For them to be here, they must have fought and defeated the keeper, “Bruce surmised, “Algernon was right. We may yet face the Keeper again.”
“I hope so,” Algernon said, pulling out his stone token, “I want my griffin head back.” The thought gave him an idea, and he walked back out into the main hall and threw the figure into the fire. Nothing happened. That experiment done, he plucked it out of the flames with his levitate and returned it to his pocket for later.
While he was gone, the others opened a small door off the lady’s alcove. Inside were three statues. One, muscles rippling, was throwing a hammer. The second was of a lighter build and was athletically leaping out of the way to dodge a pendulum. The third was bent over a hefty tome. The three characteristics of humanoid life: Might, Speed and Intellect.
Peggy moved up to the statue for Intellect, and the stone of the arm moved, reaching out as in offering, a gesture of good faith. Peggy took the hand and was rocked by a bolt of energy that left her mind and senses reeling. As she yanked her hand away, a small chest filled the open hand—a gift for a gift.
Bruce bounded up to the Statue of Strength which offered out a burly arm. He took it and felt weakened by a draining force through the touch. In return, a present materialised on the statue’s hand, the severed head of Algernon’s monster. Tobias stepped up to the statue of Speed. Before the statue could respond to him, however, Bruce pushed him out of the way and received the shock and the gift of the second Cro egg.
“Why did you push me aside?” Tobias asked as Bruce put the egg away in their cushioned box.
“Because I could take it?”
“What? But I could clearly do that one too. I was there. You didn’t have to push me out of the way?”
“Look, face it, I heal quicker than you. Say thanks, build and bridge and move on.”
While the other bickered, Algernon searched the first room and found a small secret door made of crystal tile. Behind it was an old stone token, just like the one he’s received for his monster head, though older and cruder. “Algernon, help me with this?” Peggy called, and he quickly tucked away his new-old token and went to see what Peggy had found.
Her little box was locked, and after a brief examination by Algernon, he confirmed trapped. Bypassing the trap with a stimulate for Tobias, they opened the box to reveal and an artifact, the Spellbook of the Amber Mage. Peggy snapped up the tome greedily and started pawing over its pages.
When traps were cleared, rooms checked, and the last statue grappled, the group returned once more to the main room, and Algernon advanced the fire to the next door.
Bruce looked at his young charge warily. Though they had taken a short break , Algernon was still grey and favouring his side.
“You don’t look so good, maybe you should take a break before opening another door.”
“Something will happen. The Keeper or something else,” Algernon fussed with a bag he kept his cyphers in. He’d also used one to make room for the new acquisitions and Bruce wondered if the cypher’s timer was a deciding factor.
“Not if you stop fiddling with everything,” Bruce replied gruffly. Algernon had always been curious, but had he been so cavalier with himself before now? Regardless, Algernon turned back to the door as if to open it himself and Bruce grimaced silently and stood beside him as they pushed the door.
This one was a Qephilim with a tome. Inside, another statue awaited the group. As soon as it detected movement, it opened its mouth and started telling a story:
A spirit wished to escape the court of sleep but did not know the rules to the trials for that day. It hid in the shadows and listened to a few other spirits answers as the Umber Judge questioned them.
“The judge said, “Twelve,” and the first soul answered, “six.” They were granted their leave.
The judge said, “Six,” and the second soul answered, “three.” They, too, were released.
The lost spirit, sensing a pattern, approached the Umber Judge and asked for their freedom.
The judge said, “Ten, “ and the lost soul replied, “five”, for it believed the answer was half the original number. It was incorrect. The judge was furious that the spirit would try to escape and instead consigned the lost spirit to the Umber wolves where the soul was torn to pieces.”
“Now,” The statue said, and the group felt its attention shift to them, “What was the correct answer?”
A knife appeared in Tobias’ hand, and he quickly scratched the clues into a nearby tile.
“Okay, so it has nothing to do with halving the numbers. Is there any other pattern 12, 6 and 3 fit?”
“They’re all on a clock, “ Algernon suggested, and Tobias quickly sketched a clock face with 12, 6 and 3, adding the 10 and shared it with the others.
“A line from 12 to 6 is half a clock face, and 6 to 3 is a quarter of a clock face,”
“So, from ten an eighth of a clock face takes us to eight? Does that sound right?”
“Seems too complicated to me,”Bruce said over Algernon and Tobias’ shoulders, “Usually the answer to a puzzle is simple, just hidden or said differently to how you expect. Maybe you should look at the puzzle another way. This is a word puzzle. Look at the numbers as words and see what you get.”
“So, for a third time, Tobias found a clean tile and scratch,”
This time the answer was clear to everyone.
“Six letters in the word ‘twelve’, three letters in the word ‘six’..so three is the correct answer as there are only three letters in the word ‘ten’. Three!” They sais together, and a door at the far end of the room unlocked.
In the next room, a silver altar with a deep green jade leaver on the front stood before them. To either side stood deep alcoves with shallow metallic dishes embedded in the floor.
Algernon, who had been pleased to get his head back, levitated it over to the left-hand plate and flicked the switch to the right. The switch clicked, but nothing more.
“Maybe you need something on both plates, something that approximately balances,” Peggy offered as a suggestion. As Algernon wasn’t keen to put himself on the machine and all three of the others would be needed to balance out Bruce, it was decided that Peggy and Tobias would stand on a plate each while the lever was flipped.
“This is insane,” Tobias grumbled, then thought of the eggs and gritted his teeth.
Algernon flipped the jade switch, and both of them felt a tidal pull, their minds being drawn away. By force of will, they held onto the consciousnesses and behind them heard a click.
“Did you pass a test, or was something supposed to happen?” Algernon asked.
“Yes,” Both Peggy and Tobias answered together. Whatever it was, it was better than teleported into sarcophaguses or being skewered by a horn, and both were happy when the next door was opened.
In this seemingly forgotten room, a tableau was unfolding. A stone golem swung a huge mallet left and right, trying to force away a group of spirits haunting him. So caught up in his ghost-busting, he failed to notice the small group sneak through one door and into another at the far end of the room.
Like the last, this was a forgotten room. Either past raiders had failed to get this far or never thought it worth their while. The only thing waiting on dusty shelves was a thick wad of paper documents inside a small metallic box. The documents were line drawings of different races native to Ardeyn, including a Qephilim and human. Along with the drawings was another piece of paper with one question written on it.
Seven Soul gems?
Bitterly disappointed and knowing they weren’t even halfway through the vaults, the group headed back to the main room to try their luck on another door.
To be continued…