Alaiya shrank beneath to ferocity of Stoyan’s glare. He had not spoken a word to her since the temple incident, avoiding her optimistic attempts at reconciliation. The night crowd that bustled around them was sparse, the Prancing Stallion more out of the way from the mercantile area. Alaiya, however, was thankful for any noise with which to distract herself from Stoyan’s disapproval. Her only other hope was that this alternate solution of Orcen’s would actually work. She could not be sure what she would do if she alienated one of the few people in the world she felt comfortable with.
As time drug on waiting for Orcen, the patrons slowly dwindled and returned to their rooms or left for other earthly pursuits. A few of the patrons had returned with the pursuits in hand, giggling as their trailed up the stairs. The entire situation made Alaiya uncomfortable as she wondered if Stoyan or Veth, or even Cyrxx had ever indulged. It was only when Stoyan rose from the table that these thoughts fled her mind. Her eyes followed Stoyan’s just in time to see Orcen pull back out of the doorway and into the night air. She was the last one up as the group followed, never speaking.
Outside, Orcen stood chatting with a few passer-bys near the edge of the inn. As the High Priest’s assistant recounted a humorous tale to the listeners, he made slight, subtle gestures toward the alley to his right, his robes twirling about him gently despite the lack of a breeze. As he wrapped up the conversation, he led the men away, and with a bow, slid one of his legs back toward the alley. He strode further out to meet another individual, leaving the way clear for the others to duck into the darkened alley unnoticed.
As Stoyan walked to the corner of the building he noticed markings on the ground where Orcen had recounted his story. Craning his neck as he walked, he read the word, “Uthal”, with a line drawn underneath in the direction of the alley. Stoyan smiled, silently thanking Orcen as he turned into the alley.
The alley was pitch-black, save for the rectangular patches of light emanating from the windows of the Prancing Stallion. A faint light shone from behind them as Gregor’s eyes illuminated the alley.
“Cyrxx, turn off that light. We don’t need to attract any unwanted attention to us or Orcen.” Stoyan’s voice was hushed but firm still. He wanted more than anything to save Veth and was determined to play any game he would have to in order to see that happen.
Cyrxx turned and looked up at Gregor, who looked down back at him. Raising a finger to his lips, Cyrxx let loose a soft “shhh” as Gregor spun acceptingly. The faint light lessened quickly before completely vanishing.
Stoyan and the others wandered down the alley, past the windows of the first floor of the inn, about three-quarters the length of the building, before realizing it dead-ended into the side of another structure. Confused, Stoyan turned around and took a step forward, intent on talking to Orcen.
“You’ll never get what you want if you leave so soon.”
There was a collective gasp from Alaiya and Cyrxx as a figure emerged from behind Stoyan, the shadows parting before the massive man. Stoyan, his hand instinctively on the hilt of his sword, composed himself before turning around.
“Are you Uthal?” Stoyan had to look up to peer beneath the man’s hood, which only reminded him more of Veth. His heart ached at the thought of his mentor.
The figure replied, “Information is costly, and I’m not quite feeling generous tonight.” His voice was husky and deep, devoid of emotion. To Stoyan, it seemed cold and calculating.
“Orcen said you could hel-” but Stoyan was cut off, the sight of Alaiya reaching for the large man’s cloak catching him off guard before he realized what she was doing. “Good on you, Alaiya. Good on you.” Stoyan placed a hand on her shoulder and guided Alaiya away from the man. “You must excuse my friend. We are in need of caution at this time. Before we continue, would you mind showing us your forearms?”
A soft snort escaped the hood as the man flung his arms dramatically through the air. Cyrxx gave a soft gasp of amazement at the theatrics as the man thrust arms out for all to see. His arms were long, full of muscle that rippled as he clenched his fists for effect. Among the pulsating flesh, Stoyan noticed nothing save for scars.
“I am not one of the Light, if that is what you are worried about.” There was a hint of mockery in the man’s voice as Stoyan and Alaiya nodded. As he thrust his arms back beneath his cloak he turned to Alaiya, dwarfing the little lady. “And I would not dare risk the wrath of one who so defiantly slaps a High Priest.”
Alaiya’s eyes widened in embarrassment as she instinctively shrank to Stoyan’s side, clearly taken aback.
“How did you…Never mind,” rushed Stoyan, clearly anxious to get what he came for. “Can you help us, Uthal?”
“As I said before,” and a smile broke from beneath the hood, “I am not feeling generous with my information. Fifty gold pieces and we shall speak.”
Anger rose among the members of the group, obviously upset with this rash turn of events. “Orcen said you could help us!” demanded Stoyan.
“And my help does not come cheap. But if you do not have what I require, then I do not have what you require.”
His temper beginning to flare, Stoyan shot back. “And how is it that you even have what we need? How do we know you can actually help us? Can you guarantee this?” The lividness of his speech echoed through the night.
Uthal shrugged, his shadow dancing upon the walls. “You do not know. That is the risk. But, Orcen would not have arranged this meeting if he did not think it beneficial – to both of us.”
Stoyan stood, frustrated to the point of speechlessness. “I should have known. Why did I not consider there would be payment involved?” Stoyan, helpless, began to plead. “But, we cannot afford your price. We don’t have that much.”
Uthal paused and considered for a moment. Looking over each of them briefly, he offered a compromise. “Then something of value,” he said, eyeing Gregor. “That magick skull should fetch a fair price I presume.”
Gregor’s eyes flashed in astonishment, illuminating the alley, briefly blinding everyone. Cyrxx whimpered as Gregor flew into the Gnome’s hands. “No…Not Gregor. We need him!”
Stoyan, however, seized the golden opportunity. “Cyrxx, this is for Veth. Your friend. You swore, as did we all, to help him. We can try to find another friend for you. Gregor will understand.”
Cyrxx turned the skull over in his hands and looked into the vacant slots of its eyes. A small light appeared within, soft and comforting, bathing Cyrxx in its glow. “Know that you do this. It is not for us, Gregor. You do this, understand?” Cyrxx looked on, silently awaiting a reply, when Gregor rose up from his hands and nodded.
Spinning in the air before the Wizard one last time, the skull bobbed up and down as it slowly floated to Uthal, settling in his outstretched hand. The man looked and waited as Gregor’s eyes burned with a show of power and then tried to raise itself into the air before Uthal grabbed it. “Very well,” he said, pleased with the trade, “you shall have your information. But first, I need to know about this poison.”
Stoyan recounted the experience with Lan in Fareen to Uthal, occasionally interrupted by Gregor trying to break free of the large man’s grip. Elias, who had been hanging back, merely observing, listened intently to Stoyan, comforting Cyrxx with pats on the back when he broke into whimpers. Uthal nodded as Stoyan described Veth’s condition, stopping him sporadically to verifying characteristics. When Stoyan had finished, there was a deep silence as Uthal organized his thoughts.
“I have seen similar conditions before, during the Reckoning. It seems the poison your friend has been infected with is a corrupt form of vernalbloom, a very potent healing herb. The Horde, they turned victims into walking monstrosities with it. You’re friend does not have long to live.”
“How long?!” demanded Stoyan, relieved Uthal knew something about the poison. “How long does he have? How do we cure it?”
“A few weeks, maybe longer. Those that I saw ingested the corrupted vernalbloom directly. They were beyond saving within a matter of days. However, this is diluted to a poison.”
“And the cure?” Stoyan took an anxious step forward, losing his composure to the humor of Uthal.
“This man must mean much to you, Paladin. And as for the cure, that is simple. One only needs the bulb of an untainted specimen.”
“Where can I find it? Do the Clerics of Pelor have such a thing?”
At this, Uthal laughed, a deep and eerie sound that caused the hairs on Alaiya’s neck to rise. “That is not for me to say, Paladin. The outcroppings were destroyed as to prevent the corruption from spreading. Some within Pelor say it was key in turning back the Horde. But it cost them dearly.” At this, Uthal fell back against the wall of shadows. “And this brings our arrangement to a close. Thank you for the skull.” Before their eyes, the shadows seemed to swallow up the man as he disappeared from sight.
Stoyan held on to the little hope he had as they emerged from the alleyway. Orcen was still there, conversing with the people passing by, greeting them cordially. When they appeared, he offered them a bow, which the companions returned.
“Was Uthal helpful?”
Stoyan nodded, though it was listless. “We now know from what our friend suffers, but he seemed to not think there was a chance to save him.” Stoyan met Orcen’s eyes, the faint speck of hope buried deep within. “Have you heard of an herb called vernalbloom? He said it was destroyed during the Reckoning.”
Orcen’s body language betrayed his usually composed demeanor. “I have not heard of that in years. And, yes, that might do the trick.”
“But he said it had been destroyed – to prevent further corruption,” but Orcen waved his hand dismissively.
“We are not so short-sighted, Paladin. It is true it was destroyed, but we do manage one outcropping in the Kaliois to the north. I will have to work on this, however…”
As Orcen turned to leave, Stoyan stopped him. “Why do you aid us so much Orcen. We are not even of your faith, and some,” he gestured to Cyrxx, “do not even put much stock in the gods.”
Orcen’s smile was so kind and gentle that Stoyan felt immediately at peace. “Your faith is not of consequence to me, Stoyan. I seek to help those in need. This time we find ourselves in is a time of rebirth and rebuilding. We cannot forgo people general courtesies if we have the power to help. And I find myself in such a situation now.” He began to turn when another thought struck him. “And who knows, Paladin of Tempus, there may be a time when I may be in need of you. Now, wait for me on the morrow. May the Light bless you.”
With a deep bow, Orcen excused himself from the companions. As the group filtered back into the Prancing Stallion to greet their beds, the chime of a clock tower greeted the changing of the days.
It was well into the morning when the group headed for breakfast. The innkeeper, a jolly, balding man, was wiping down some recently vacated tables when he saw them and motioned for Stoyan. Stoyan, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, headed over to the man, who handed him an envelope.
“Pelorian courier brought this ‘ere by with ‘e mornin’ crow. Says it were fo’ ‘ou, but not who from.”
Stoyan took the letter and broke the seal of Pelor on the envelope. A second envelope was enclosed inside, also sealed with the insignia of Pelor. Reading over the first letter quickly, he turned it over before calling for Elias.
“You know these roads, don’t you?” Stoyan handed him the letter. “There is a map on the back leading into the mountains. Do you know of the roads there?”
Elias looked over the letter before turning it over and studying the map. “Sure do, but why do we need to head to a tomb? Not sure my cart should try to handle that.” He held up the paper to his nose and inhaled. “Hmm…Elder sap, good stuff.” Handing the letter back to Stoyan, the Gnome awaited the Paladin’s response.
“Orcen says the church protects an outcropping there. We need that to save our friend. And your cart can stay here. It should be safe enough.”
Elias nodded as he hiked himself up onto a chair. “Well then, I think we should get going. Immediately would be best.” He motioned for one of the serving girls, who bustled to the table. “After breakfast,” he said with a grin.
With the aid of the map, the road through the woods was easy enough to navigate. It was not hidden, but it was not obvious either. The trail split multiple times which would have slowed them down if not for Elias’s familiarity with maps. As they climbed up the Kaliois, the pines thinned and the rocks grew. Aside from Cyrxx’s constant mumblings about his lost skull, the journey was enjoyably peaceful.
Eventually the pines stopped and a large clearing cut into the side of the mountain lay before them. Four Paladins, armed with spears, shields, and swords, stood at the far end of the clearing, near a carved monument inlaid in the side of the rock face. Two approached as the companions emerged from the trail, Stoyan moving to the lead. The mark of Pelor was clearly visible upon their plate armor.
“Halt!” one of the guards commanded. “Who approaches the Tomb of Pelor?” The Paladin’s spears were lowered chest high and pointing directly at Stoyan.
“I am Stoyan Mihaylov, Paladin of Tempus.” Stoyan placed his right fist over his left breast, as was customary when greeting fellow Paladins. Cyrxx began to raise his fist as well before Alaiya stopped him. “We come on official business from Orcen Valingard, the assistant of the High Priest of Pelor.” Stoyan held out the second envelope he had received. “You will find within that missive that we have permission to enter. You have my word that nothing will be disturbed, while we conduct our business.”
The two men returned the gesture. Then, then man with the envelope broke the seal, reading the second missive and showing it to his fellow Paladin to validate. “I am Ferrin uth Gol, Watcher of the Tomb of Pelor. You are welcome here, Stoyan of Tempus. As are your friends, Cyrxx, Alaiya, and Elias.” He motioned for them to follow as they returned to their post. Ferrin nodded to the other two guards who lowered their weapons and greeted Stoyan, which he returned. “Vernalbloom, huh? There is an outcropping within. It is the only known one left in Delagraad. If you have been given permission, be careful with it. The loss of such a vital herb would have devastating effects.”
Stoyan nodded, full well knowing that without this plant, Veth would perish. “We shall be honored to be within such a hallowed and revered place. You have my word, nothing will be disturbed.”
Ferrin gave Stoyan a long, hard stare. “Do you require assistance within? It is not a complex tomb, but, by the sight of your companions, you look as though you may need the assistance. We do not permit the use magick within our sanctuary, either, so be sure to take a torch.”
“Thank you, you are most generous with your men, Watcher. Two escorts will suffice.”
Ferrin nodded to the two men closest to the entrance. “They will go with you to keep watch. Stay close, lest you get lost. Good luck.”
The men exchanged greetings once more as Stoyan and the others were led inside. The escorts flanked the group, their torches illuminating the hall. Etched into the sides of the corridor were alcoves, three carved atop one another, twelve feet high. Within each alcove rested a sarcophagus, with a carved figure adorning the top of each. The figures were carved with such delicacy and precision that they seemed life-like, resting there in the cool darkness of the tomb. The names of the deceased carved tenderly into the base of each monument, Stoyan noticed that it was not only Paladins that resided within the tomb, but Clerics as well. As the shadows cast by the torches danced off the features of the statues, Elias became entranced by the detail and craftsmanship. Between the sets of sarcophagi stood imposing statues of followers of Pelor. Their weapons at the ready, they stood guard over their brethren, threatening to exact vengeance on any who would desecrate the hallowed ground. Stoyan was filled with a sense of awe and respect.
As they descended down into the depths of the Kaliois, the sarcophagi began to degrade. The detail faded as the shadows lumped together on their faces. Their guardians, too, fell into wear as the menacing sentinels grew tired with age. Their armor and weapons became notched and broken as they could not hold back the force of time on their charges. The atmosphere of the corridors changed from reverence and pride to one of sadness.
Silently, the march continued, the escorts neither speaking nor the companions, each obeying the sanctity of the tomb. As the statues continued to wear, turning into broken slabs and crumpled rock at points, the fascination with the design became moot. The shear fact that they honored those who took up the duty was more than felt by Cyrxx, Alaiya, and Elias, none of whom had ever experienced anything of this magnitude.
Eventually, among the decaying guardians, one magnificent statue stood. Surrounded on all sides by the remains of his brethren, this one solitary Paladin remained perfectly preserved. As each escort passed, they bowed their heads in reverence, and the others followed suit out of fear of disturbing the dead. Beneath its hands rested an intricately carved longsword, carved to a point as sharp as any metal. Upon its base lay the inscription:
“In death we honor you, unworthy to speak your name."
“Continue your charge that led to our salvation, Paladin of Pelor, Hero of the Reckoning, Guardian of Zolostran.”
After another fifteen minutes, the corridor opened up into a large circular room, flanked on all sides by sarcophagi. These were as decrepit as those in the corridor, wasting away to rubble and stone. However, perched in the middle of the room and raised on a dais, stood a magnificent sarcophagus, adorned with exquisite engravings of Pelor. Along each side was etched a ferocious battle, a lone man, sword in hand, surrounded. He staved the attackers, retreating through woods, mountains, and plains. He battled along cliffs, in caverns, and in the open beneath the eyes of the heavens. When he was finally overtaken, where all the land seemed to converge, a great light streaked down from the heavens and enveloped him. When the calamity subsided, the land had been purged of the threat. The man, for his courage and valor, ascended to the sky above, where he was given a final place to rest.
No writings adorned this sarcophagus, the etchings more than enough to convey the story. The escorts flanked the tomb, staring solemnly at one another. Stoyan stood transfixed, a sensation of divine spirituality rushing over him. He did not know why, but his body instinctively moved to the dais, overcome with a burden he had never felt before. As he neared the tomb, he noticed the statue atop the sarcophagus lacked a weapon, its hands resting on its chest, gripping nothing but air.
Stoyan became clueless to the others in the room as he moved, sliding the lid off from its resting place. The scrapping of stone upon stone bellowed in the silence of the chamber, but it did not halt his actions. As he looked inside, a skeleton of a great man rested peacefully, his armor and helmet still polished. Afraid he speak, Stoyan waited for something, anything, to happen.
Confused, Stoyan turned back to the others. Immediately, they began searching the room, looking for a latch or a switch or a door. Stoyan turned to one of the escorts. “We are here, now.” He spoke barely above a whisper. “Where is the vernalbloom?”
The Paladin merely looked at the tomb, saying nothing. Turning back, Stoyan examined the sarcophagus intently when it finally dawned on him. “He is weaponless.”
The words engrained into his head during his training came rushing back to him. “The Paladin’s strongest weapon is his faith. His faith in his god, his faith in himself, and his faith in his comrades. However, on faith alone, one cannot smite the evil of this world. One must wield a weapon of flesh and blood, a weapon that will be as essential to the body as our faith is to the soul. We hone our weapons through our faith. Remember that, and it will serve you well.”
“His blade. We must return his blade.” Stoyan scoured the room, moving stone after stone, but found no weapons intact. Finally, in a desperate attempt, he unsheathed his own blade and placed it between the fingers on the statue. When nothing happened, he begged the escorts for their blades, thinking a Paladin of Pelor’s weapon was needed. The escort handed his weapon with a faint smirk in his lips. When that failed, Stoyan racked his brain for the answer. He was sure a sword needed to be lain with the statue. Then it occurred to him – the intricate sword among the rubble of the fallen guardians.
Telling the others to wait, Stoyan took an escort back through the corridors, arriving at the pristine statue heaving heavily, sweat pouring down his face. The escort looked on, saying nothing, as he examined the statue. Anxiously, he grabbed hold of the stone blade and waited for something to happen. When nothing did, he removed the weapon, hearing a soft chink as he did. As he turned back down the corridor to leave, the sound of cracking stone caught his attention. His heart leapt into his throat and his stomach churned upon itself. Bile raced its way up as the thought of what he had done pierced his mind. He looked back over his shoulder as the crack escalated from the base of the statue, cutting through the middle of the torso, and ending through the temple of the head. As the cracks branched out, flakes began to fall from the pristine face, shortly followed by small chunks of rock before finally crumbling into a heap on the ground suddenly indistinct from the other statues of the past.
Horrified, Stoyan immediately found the escort glaring through his eyes, rage mounting ready to explode. Speechless, Stoyan was frozen, unable to apologize. The escort simply looked on, distraught written all over his face as his looked longingly upon the remains of the beautiful statue that had been standing before him.
“I-I’m sorry,” Stoyan offered. “I did not mean…,” but he found his words worthless, unable to make up for what had been done. With nothing more to do, he turned back down the corridor. As he did, ne noticed the escort’s torch penetrating deeper into the wall from behind where the statue had stood. In the wall was a small crevice barely large enough for a man. Fighting the urge to explore, having brought enough on himself, he hurried back to the others.
When Stoyan returned, the others had asked what had happened. He told them, head held in shame, as he strode to the dais. Placing the sword within the hands of the statue, Stoyan waited, hoping and praying that it was worth the wrath of Pelor. As he stepped away from the dais, the lid rumbled and slid back to its original position. A wave of relief swept over Stoyan, finding some solace in what he had done.
A wave of spiritual power rushed over Stoyan as he looked back to the escorts, but they were gone. “What? When…?” but the power forced Stoyan to close his eyes and abandon his question. When the power subsided, a feeling of horrible unease filled the room. The lid of the sarcophagus slowly slid back open coming to a grinding halt with everyone looking on. As they watched, a skeletal hand wielding a sword clasped the edge of the tomb, followed by another holding a shield. They watched in horror as the long dead Paladin arose from the depths of his tomb, hollowed, empty black eyes staring at Stoyan, eyes as black as the Forbidden and full of death.
“No,” managed Stoyan, but his voice was drowned out by an excited Elias.
As the skeleton emerged from the tomb, it stood, silent and still, simply watching those that had entered its tomb. A crack of flame from behind Stoyan pulled his attention away from the creature and before him, standing guard over the corridor, was a massive floating skull engulfed in flame. Stoyan did not have enough time to even yell before Cyrxx charged.
“Gregor! You’re back! I’ve missed you!” The Wizard, overcome with ecstatic joy, rushed forward, his arms thrown outward in a welcoming gesture.
As the Gnome neared the skull a blast of fire shot forth out of its mouth, burning the flesh from the mage’s fingers. Cyrxx screamed out in pain, alerting everyone in the room to the floating threat. A bright glow radiated from the skull as it flew around the room, bathing Alaiya, Elias, Stoyan, and Cyrxx in its fiery light.
Alaiya flung a spell at the skull and pulled back to a wall, confident of what was about to happen. The spell hit, causing the flames to part briefly before the converged again. Elias rummaged through his pouches and withdrew a flask with a light blue cloudy mixture within. He flung it, but it missed, shattering on the floor beneath the skull. As the cloud stretched up, the flames beneath the skull started to fade.
Stoyan charged, slashing at the skull, creating room for Cyrxx to retreat. The Gnome did, cowering beneath one of the alcoves, muttering insanities to himself, clasping his head in his hands, visibly shaken.
“Foolish Gnome!” shouted Stoyan, more upset than angry. “It isn’t Gregor! Pull yourself together!” The words did nothing though, as Cyrxx retreated further and further into delirium.
The skull then screeched as everyone could feel air, ripe with heat, begin to suck into the flying object. Stoyan did not even have time to raise his shield to protect himself before he was enveloped by a wave of flames. Cursing his stupidity and the obviousness of the attack he swung fruitlessly at the skull, nicking the side with his blade. Another spell struck it from the left as Stoyan saw Alaiya, hands outstretched, surrounded by an unknown aura of her own power. Another vial shattered on the frontal lobe of the skull, dousing some flames as a green liquid dripped from its chattering teeth. A joyous shout denoted Elias’s pleasure, and offered Stoyan another opening. He swung again, but the skull weaved out of the way, circling around the room.
The pain in Stoyan’s hands bit through the adrenaline in his body, but he pushed the pain aside. He could feel hot air rushing around him again and hit stopped and prepared for the immanent blast. Bracing against the wave of fire, he caught a glance of the skeletal creature, unwavering in its post before its tomb. As he looked, tendrils of darkness lashed out from the shadows, fastening onto the boney frame. “Finally,” he thought, “Cyrxx has found himself.” As he watched, the skeleton turned to its left, facing Cyrxx, who was tucked away in the corner. But it did not move.
When the blast stopped, Stoyan could see the skull flying to the other side of the room. Yelling for the others to get away, he charged, his blade held high. The skull wavered beneath another volley of spells and liquid magick and sank low enough for Stoyan to attack, with a downward strike, through the entirety of the creature.
With an unearthly wail, the skull was cleaved in two, falling helplessly to the floor. Remaining floating, however, was an orange essence that circled the room, searching. As it continued to spiral throughout the room, the movements grew tighter and tighter, becoming centered on the skeleton. In a dizzying display of color the essence crashed into the emptiness of the skeleton.
A haunting voice, deep and ethereal, boomed throughout the chamber. “You…are…not…worthy.”
The guardian Paladin stomped forward, finding Cyrxx huddled in a corner. It unleashed a flurry of strikes that nearly tore the Gnome to shreds. Cyrxx lay slumped against a sarcophagus, tatters of his robes hanging loosely by threads, hanging from his small frame like icicles in winter.
Alaiya, sensing the danger, sent a force orb between the two and ignited it, pushing the skeleton back away from her master. Turning upon the new threat, the creature raised its blades to strike only to be zapped by a dancing bolt of electrical energy.
The delay caused by Elias’s concoction bought enough time for Stoyan to intercept the guardian, slamming into it with his shield. The move worked, knocking the skeleton backwards away from the others while simultaneously knocking away its shield. However, the move was detrimental to Stoyan as it left him vulnerable to a counter attack. The guardian unleashed a series of slashes and strikes, each more devastating than the previous, bringing Stoyan to his knees. Barely managing to keep his shield above his head to deflect the blows, he wondered if he would die without fulfilling his promise he had made to himself, to save the one person who had taken him under his wing. As the blows continued to rain down upon his shield, his thoughts fled back to Fareen. “I am…I am sorry, Veth. I failed you.”
It was then that the first of the bones clattered to the floor. Stoyan held his position, feeling the blows raining down on him begin to lessen in both frequency and force. As more and more bones began to fall around him, he pushed himself upward, the pain shooting through his legs. As he rose, the blows creased altogether, granting him a cautious reprieve as he stilled his racing heart. When he finally peered out from behind his shield, he saw a grinning Cyrxx, hands on his knees, sucking in the cool, damp air of the tomb. Above him floated a skull, light radiating from its eye sockets, swirling in approval.
“Gregor’s back,” managed Cyrxx between breaths. “He didn’t like that other man. Much prefers us.”
A faint smile brushed Stoyan’s lips as he looked down and surveyed the pile of bones around him. A skeleton lay, dismembered and strewn about, with everything but it’s skull present.
He found the others, more or less, in adequate shape. As he was surveying the damage to the tomb, a rumble burst forth out of the middle of the room, spilling out of the sarcophagus like a cup overflowing with wine. Suddenly a cloud of dust flew into the air and the rumbling stopped. Stoyan carefully walked over and risked peering inside. What stared back was a set of stone stairs descending into the darkness beneath the tomb.