PADRANA ALLESE V.S. IRRAI DALLUMA
Irrai Dalluma held her breath as she inched ever closer to the black gem before her. This had been the worst experience of her life. Already three friends had died horrible, two torn to pieces by hordes of undead. The third was simply missing, except for a few bits of bloodstained armor and his massive maul. Whatever had taken him had done it so quickly he hadn’t even had time to scream.
Slowly she reached up and wiped the sweat from her eyes. Taking a deep breath she held her arms and legs out, steadying herself as her companions lowered her slowly to pedestal below. They had searched this crypt for over a week, without finding this room. It had been the valiant barbarian’s last desperate which had inadvertently revealed the hidden room. The floor stones shattered from the force of a single blow from Hrothgar’s hammer. Irrai silently prayed that he was with his gods now, wherever they were.
She focused now on the black gem before her. It alone glittered in the darkness that surrounded her. The small lightstone in her hand glowed feebly, it’s normally bright halo of light somehow muted in the oppressive darkness.
Shadows flickered in and out of the edges of her vision. “Come one.” She muttered under her breath. “Almost there…” Stretching, her fingertips brushed the top of the gem. The rope lowered another fraction and she rested her hand on the gem with victorious grin.
“At last!” Carefully she lifted the gem, surprised at it’s weight. She held it up to her lightstone, and could see something swirling within.
“What the…” She began to wonder, but any thoughts were cut off as the rope jerked sharply, nearly making her drop the gem.
“Watch what you’re doing?” She shouted up angrily. Momentarily forgetting where she was. Terrific, she thought, now everything knows we’re here. The rope had dropped her over a foot and a half, leaving her roughly eye level with the pedestal in question. She could now see the ring of long wicked looking barbs that had held the gem aloft. She held her light as low as she could and squinted in the darkness, picking out shapes where she guessed the floor would be.
Irrai frowned. Something about the floor was definitely wrong. It looked… irregular. She gasped as she realized what it was. Bones. The floor was covered with hundred, no thousands of bones of various sizes. A morbid part of her mind wondered how many of them belong to previous adventurers.
Suddenly the rope jerked again, and this time the gem went flying. Before she could draw breath for a curse, the rope went slack and she plummeted to the floor below.
“Slowly, Ulric.” Padrana berated. “We don’t want to drop her.”
Ulric gritted his teeth and grunted his assent. The rope was ripping the flesh off his hands and his arms were burning from the strain of lowering the diminutive thief.
“If we lower her any slower, we’ll be pulling her back up.”
Padrana grimaced but did not reply, her arms and legs were starting to get tremors from the strain. She breathed in deeply and focused. Forcing herself to forget how weary she was and how much danger they were in.
Behind her, Syrak was huddled in his black, ragged robes, poring furiously through the tome they had discovered in a hidden compartment two days earlier. All the necromancer’s attempts at translating it failed thus far. Padrana knew that Ulric blamed the frail mage for the deaths of his friends. Often complaining “If not for him, we would not be here.”
That in part was true. The necromancer had approached them, spinning a tale of a desecrated temple with a vast treasure hidden within it. The rest of the party had agreed all too readily to the necromancer’s tales of riches. Padrana had not been interested in the money. She had hoped to discover the truth behind the temple itself. Since they had set foot within the halls they had been besieged by hordes of hideous, decaying undead. Thus far, for all their loss, the book was the only thing they had found. The only real benefit to the moldy tome was that the undead had ceased attacking them. Apparantly vanishing into whatever holes they had crept out of without a trace. Three lives for a stupid book.
“A find beyond measure.” He had guaranteed. Promising them gems and gold if they would just search a little harder. And now Hrothgar, Verdug and Markos were dead.
“I found it!” He shouted. Padrana’s grip slipped a fraction in surprise. Steeling herself, she braced her feet, becoming immoveable.
“Found what?” Ulric grumbled, wanting little more to pull Irrai up so he could strangle the scrawny necromancer.
Syrak smiled coldly. His eyes flat. “The key to unlocking this place.” He traced the writing across the page and began to read aloud. “V’sithak Han’graden Du’Thek…”
No sooner had he started chanting than the hair on the back of Padrana’s neck stood up. Her holy symbol began to glow with a weak light.
For a moment it seemed to drive back the shadows around her, and even the torches flared brighter for a moment. Then Syrak finished the incantation and a heavy silence loomed throughout the crypt.
“Is that it?” Ulric griped. He leaned forward slightly and glanced into the hole. He could make out Irrai’s form, barely, outlined by the glow from her lightstone. “She’s been down there a while, think we should pull her up?”
Padrana started to tell him to let her have a few more minutes when an earsplitting shriek made her stumble, jostling Ulric and sending the startled fighter tumbling to the floor. Padrana’s arms screamed in protest as they now bore the full weight of the suspended thief.
At her feet Ulric swore. “What was that for? You nearly dropper her.” Suddenly his eyes flicked past her and his mouth opened wide in horror. Padrana spared a glance back over her shoulder.
The shriek had come from Syrak. A towering gaunt figure composed of inky blackness had risen from the shadows and now had the necromancer by the throat.
His arms and legs flailed uselessly as the color drained from his face. The book lay open at his feet, most likely dropped in surprise.
Ulric shoved himself to his feet and drew his sword. With a roar he threw himself headlong at the shadow.
“No, Ulric don’t!” Padrana shouted, releasing the rope, but it was too late. The charging warrior had already plunged headlong into the blackness. Syrak was thrown aside from the force of the warriors charge and lay gasping on the floor, clawing at his throat. His lungs refusing to draw air. Padrana could see his once black hair was stark white, and the deep lines on his face had turned into wrinkles. He looked as though he had ages a decade or more.
Eyes wide with horror, Padrana could only watch helplessly as Ulric flailed within the shadow. Desperate she grasped her holy symbol and thrust it forward. “In the name of the Lightbringer I banish you from this place!” No sooner did she speak than her holy symbol blazed with a blue-white light, forcing the shadow back. Ulric stood now free of the shadows grasp, Padrana nearly shouted with joy until he turned around. The warriors once powerful frame was now gaunt and wasted. His once muscular arms were now so weak he couldn’t even hold his sword. As she watched it clattered noisily to the floor. His eyes were pale and rheumy, he stretched one hand out to her, making inarticulate choking sounds. Awkwardly he staggered towards her, desperately trying to speak.
“Pa… Pad… Pad-ra-na…” He gasped before collapsing heavily to the floor. As she watched in horror, his body shriveled and dried until it crumbled to dust.
In shock she took a step back and stumbled landing heavily on her back. Her hand landed on a short section of rope, the rest having slid down the hole until it had wedged itself in a crack.
“Irrai.” She muttered numbly, only now realizing what she had done.
To her right Syrak rolled over and crawled hand over hand to the discarded book. Finding his breath he focused on the writing and started the incantation again. “V’sithak… Han’graden…”
Cold, mocking laughter startled both of them and Syrek lost his place.
“Fools.” Hissed a sibilant but strangely familiar voice.
Padrana turned towards it and gasped in surprise. “Irrai” She stuttered in disbelief. Almost immediately she knew it wasn’t Irrai. The thief, or whatever she was, was floating almost a foot off the ground. Her normally brown eyes were now completely black, without pupil, iris or whites. Around her head floated a black gem, exactly as Syrak had described it.
Slowly it floated backwards, the shadows flickering and dancing about her.
Syrak pushed himself to his knees and clutched the book to his chest. “Get back, demon! The gem is mine!”
The thing in Irrai’s body threw its head back and laughed hollowly.
“Come and take it then, if you can.”
Syrak grimaced and muttered the words his most powerful spell. Blue ghostly flames flickered into existence and engulfed her.
It threw its head back and howled in unearthly agony.
“Now, cleric.” Syrak snapped. “Pray for us!”
Horrified, Padrana nodded and did what she was told. Shakily she clasped her holy symbol between her hands and feverently prayed. “Oh please glorious Lightbringer. Hear your humble servant in her direst hour of need.”
Over and over again she prayed until finally, the light from her god’s symbol pushed the shadows back. All the while the corpse screamed and thrashed, the blue flames flickering eerily. Finally, after an eternity, the corpse stopped thrashing and lay still.
Syrak let out a deep breath and staggered weakly to his feet. Still clutching the book to his chest, he took one faltering step towards the still burning corpse.
“Excellent work if I do say so…” His words trailed off as the smoldering corpse sat up.
“Now it is my turn.” It growled. With a gesture, a hundred tiny slivers of shadow broke free and formed a whirling maelstrom around the necromancer.
Syrak screamed as it tore through his robes and the flesh underneath.
Padrana pushed herself away in horror as the necromancer’s blood splattered everywhere. In seconds his flesh was stripped from his bones and the shadows returned from whence they came. Letting Syrak’s bare skeleton fall to the ground with a moist clatter.
The thing that was Irrai turned towards the cleric and smiled. “Your turn…” It grated as it stalked towards her.
Padrana screamed in terror and scrambled franticly to get away. She slipped in the gore and landed heavily on her side, bruising her ribs on something hard. Gasping in pain she grabbed reflexively and her hands wrapped around smooth wood.
Hrothgar’s hammer flared to life as she hefted it. Panic left her body and a calm swept over her. He mind was suddenly clear and a realization struck her. Irrai had been carrying vials of holy water! Padrana was not sure whether or not they had survive the flames, but she did know where the thief kept them. As the charred corpse stepped closer, Padrane hefted the hammer and swung with all her might. The maul felt as if it were suddenly light as a feather, until it crashed into the corpses side. Bone and glass crushed and the thing screamed as holy water soaked it’s flesh. With an incoherent shout, Padrana reversed the hammer and brought it around in a wide arc, catching the corpse on the opposite side, crushing the remaining vials and knocking the corpse to the ground. Padrana fell heavily to her knees, the hammer suddenly too heavy for her. Beside her the corpse rose, grasping her by the throat as it did so. She flailed helplessly at the corpses iron grip, but to no avail. At last her hand hound her holy symbol and she shoved it into the corpse’s face. The thing laughed and battered her arm to one side. It stalked over to the hole in the floor and held her in mid air.
“Foolish priest. Did you think your god would save you now? How could you hope to succeed where dozens of your order failed?”
Padrana could only gasp as it slowly crushed her throat.
“Hundreds of years ago, this was a temple to your god. I took it as my own and slaughtered all who lived within. Turning his most devout into my servants.”
Padrana gasped and tried to form words, but none would come. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
It leaned closer, it’s fetid breath making her swoon. “Know this, as you die. You will join your friends. Your soul and theirs are mine.”
As her eyes rolled back she looked into the gem and saw. Hundreds of tormented souls trapped within, screaming for release. As she watched she saw Ulric’s face drift by.
AS blackness crept in her vision, she knew what she must do. Forgive me. She mouthed as she reached up and swept the gem from the air above the corpse’s head. Kicking with the last of her might she broke free of it’s grasp and tumbled down the hole.
As she tumbled a prayer came to her mind, unbidden. “Oh glorious Lightbringer, hallowed be thy name. Cleanse this place of evil and let your servants return to their rightful place.”
As she finished her body slammed onto the pedestal, the barbs impaling her. Padrana gasped in surprise but felt no pain. Above her she could hear hollow laughter of triumph. For one brief instant Padrana thought she failed then slowly warmth suffused her and a glow radiated outward from her body.
“Thank you…” she whispered, gratefully as the light faded from her eyes. Above the thing that was once Irrai cackled in glee. Then, slowly, almost reluctantly, the gem tumbled from the dying clerics grasp. The possessed Irrai watched in horror as it struck the floor and shattered into billions of tiny fragments. At the same instant Padrana died. Light exploded outward and A whirlwind of freed souls lead by the fallen priest rushed upwards and outwards.
The thing still standing on the lip of the hole shrieked in rage and fear as the tornado of light and souls swept over it for one instant it held it’s form tenaciously then screaming it imploded into nothingness. The light continued to expand, filling the dusty chamber blowing dirt and debris away and leaving pristine marble behind.
Relief carvings that had been defaced were now newly carved tapestries hung where once was only thread. The ground trembled and the light and whirlwind engulfed the entirety of the temple and slowly, then with greater force the temple surged upward, bursting from the earth. Great chunks of rock and earth fell from the rising temple in waves. Leaving a glorious edifice to the light. Finally the ground settle and the brilliant light faded. Inside a cool breeze swept through the temple, now cleansed of all traces of the horrors that had gone on. At it’s very center, a single marble statue of a young woman stood. Her arms swept upward and a peaceful look on her stone face. At the base of the statue laid a heavy maul.
By: Jason Haley