A Distant Tomb
Finding themselves road-weary but fearful for the safety of their friend Brother Calumbias, our heroes debate on whether or not to rest up, or continue to seek out the missing monk. Concerned hearts won out over weary bodies, and a decision was made to at least examine the belly of this pit and determine what may have happened to Calumbias. It was also clear that Titan, the brother’s huge shaggy dog would not let the group rest until he was satisfied of his master’s safety.
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Close examination of the 2nd tier of the pit revealed few but singularly significant clues.
- Firstly: By studying the tracks on the soft cave floor, Cillean was able to confirm that a man of Calumbais’ stature entered this lower pit by rope, and walked over to the unusual stone plinth set into the ground at the back of the pit. Cillean determined that the long-dead corpse of the dwarf must have risen and attacked the brother, the undead warrior’s axe sending a spray of Calumbais’ blood across the floor and wall of the cave, yet leaving a total void of splatter where it should have landed upon the plinth. Also, said plinth was devoid of the dirt and dust found on all other surfaces of the cave. The scuffle marks adjacent to the plinth suggested that the good brother stumbled over, and must have landed sharply on top of the stone plinth.
It was then, Cillean noted, that Titan must have leapt from the opening above, landing on the skeletal dwarf and sundering the creature, obviously undoing whatever foul magic had animated his corpse. It was here, a week later (judging by the dried blood), that the party found the huge dog Titan, pawing at the plinth and barking and whimpering, pining for his lost master.
- Secondly: The party recalled the stone plaque they’d seen on the upper level, written in ancient Barutheran, and Hyacinth brought out the notes regarding its translation. She poured over her notes, and read the translation she’d formulated:
Below treads the passage, and the passage is fell.
Only the Chosen Ones may pass.
All others who walk the line shall be cursed,
Till the end of their days.
Putting their heads together, the party came to the conclusion that this unusual and plainly decorated stone plinth must a conveyance of magical transportation. Tavis recounted his previous and traumatic experience, confirming that it was indeed magical in nature. He’d earlier examined the flat, circular stone with his spell of aura detection. The magic had been so potent that he’d blacked out for a moment.
It was determined that this place predated the Baruth, and they’d placed the plaque as warning to others about the dangers of traversing past the upper chamber. Even the pixies had warned them that this place was a place of power, dangerous and not to be trifled with. The pixies themselves would not come anywhere near this “accursed place”.
Given that there was no blood on the stone, the party determined that blood must have been used to activate the magic contained within the stone. Calumbias’ blood sprayed over its surface moments before he landed upon it, and hence he was transported elsewhere. The fact that Titan had been pawing at the stone, even treading upon it, with no effect confirmed that it needed to be activated before use, and that blood was the likeliest trigger.
Cillean recounted that his ancestors, the druids of old, once used blood sacrifice for the life force power contained within, and that blood indeed was a requirement even in many of today’s druidic rituals. “Blood is power, and perhaps the blood is what opened the doorway,” he speculated.
Cillean’s companions were not so eager to use blood magic, for such a thing is expressly heretical and repugnant. If word of such use of blood magic were to come to the Church or its Inquisitors, the companions argued, they’d surely be burned as witches. In the end, it was decided that to save Calumbias, who they suspected of being the missing Prince Mark, they had little option.
“We’ve all spilt a little blood for this great cause already,” Fletcher stated, his smile wryer than usual.
“Aye,” added Cillean. “What’s a few more drops?” And with that, he drew his knife and drew it across his palm.
The party crowded atop the plinth, Titan included, and Cillean squeezed a couple of drops of his blood from his clenched fist. As the drops fell onto the hard surface of the stone plinth, each of them felt an energy surge through their bodies. It was a tingling, and the only word they could find to describe it afterwords was “blue”.
In an instant, they were transported to a very cold place which smelled of dust, ice and an overwhelming putrid rot. Looking about them, Tavis’ magical light still functioning normally, they saw that they were in a large room mostly filled by three rows of broken pews. One row lined the left side of the chamber, with another to the right, and a third running straight down the middle. Directly in front of the middle row and directly next to the party, stood a stone altar. The alter bore similar subtle designs to that of the stone plinth.
A mass of webs covered the rear corner of the room. There was large stone door on the wall near the webs, and it was plain that the webs had been recently cleared away from that door. Two bloated spider bodies, the size of small Bulldogs, lay near the door, their carapaces split open with rotting insides squeezing through. The stench soon became overpowering.
Looking around, they also noticed a narrow archway on the right wall. Titan set out immediately sniffing about, and quickly located the scent of his master. Cillean examined the floor, noting that it was thick with dust and debris from decades (or maybe centuries) of disuse. Alert for trouble, the group quickly noticed dark shapes in the quivering spiderwebs, and prepared themselves to dispatch any more spiders that might be lurking within that shadowy corner of the chamber.
What they did not expect, however, was the two spider corpses on the floor to animate and attack them. As Titan followed his master’s scent, which led to the large door, the two slain and grotesque spiders, now undead zombie spiders, righted themselves and scrambled to the husky dog, viciously rending into his fur with poisoned fangs.
Expecting trouble, the group quickly and without hesitation dispatched the two undead spiders as more, live spiders (no smaller than their zombie counterparts) flung themselves from the webbing, eager to have their first meal in a week. These spiders too, were slain with relative ease, only Nicola and Titan suffering any damage of significance. The venom was not terribly potent, and all in all, the attentiveness and coordination of the entire party helped to facilitate a swift and relatively painless end to the adversaries.
It was at this point that the party became slightly divided on exactly what course of action to next take. Tavis was most vociferous, stating that he wanted to explore the depths of this unusual structure, to seek out potential treasures that it may hold. Cillean also wanted to explore further before resting, if nothing else, to ensure that their rest would not be disturbed by any more vermin who might wish to dine upon their sleeping bodies.
Nicola and Fletch, however wanted to follow the tracks left in the dust, their owner obviously Brother Cal, who just as obviously left this shine through the big stone door, a door through whose cracks wind squeezed and whistled. They were here, argued Nicola, to make sure Calumbias was safe, and to return to him his sword. Needless to say, Titan showed his plain eagerness to follow his master’s tracks, which led out the door, by barking and pawing at the door. Everyone realized that it was likely they would get no rest with the huge dog making such a racket. Eventually they decided to at least check to see what was behind the door.
What they found upon opening the door was a twilight scene of arctic desolation. The party had indeed been transported far from their homeland, and the bleak, snow-covered mountains surrounding the entrance to this shrine rose ominously around them. The stars were just beginning to show through the thin haze of clouds, and Cillean recognized them as the ones he was familiar with, and the others agreed. As it was well past sundown when they’d left the pit, and here the sun had set within a score minutes ago, they determined that they were likely hundreds of leagues west of their former position, which would likely place them in the Kingdom of Drakus. Drakus was a place ruled by ancient dragons, who used men as their vassals, servants, and slaves.
A lone set of tracks could be seen leaving the temple, deep gouges in the hard, old snow. The bitter wind had done little in a week to erase them. Calumbias’ trail led down a slope, obviously seeking a lower elevation below a tree-line which could not be seen from this vantage. Nor was their any sign of civilization whatsoever. This shrine was isolated and long forgotten.
Despite the urgency of their situation, it was clear that after the sun set, they would be hard-pressed to succeed in this hostile territory. Despite Titan’s tugging at the rope they’d harnessed him by, an insistence to follow the trail and seek out Calumbias, the party decided that they would serve the monk better by getting a night’s rest and striking out fresh at the next dawn. Cillean to the last hour of daylight to enjoy the bitter chill of the wilderness, the better for him to commune with Gaea and ask her for her protection. Indeed, she blessed him with a few spells to ward himself and his companions against the cold.
Tavis, weary from the long day’s journey, found sleep impossible with Titan’s barking and whining, so he pacified the big dog and lulled him to sleep with magic. Once the dog succumbed to the spell, he did not awaken until morning, being so exhausted from a week’s pining over his master with little or nothing to eat and drink.
The morning found our heroes fairly rested, and again Tavis and Cillean suggested they do a little exploring inside this strange place. They examined the magical alter, and discovered a button on the underside. When pressed, an foreign-looking stone face appeared in the wall and spoke, “It helps us, it warms us, it gives us sight. It is a symbol of good, but sometimes it bites.”
The obvious answer of “fire” proved to be incorrect, and heads were scratched but the riddle went unanswered for a space. While looking around the alter, however, they also discovered a secret door on the wall behind, where the face had appeared. It was locked, and no keyhole could be found. Meanwhile, Tavis kept poking around at the altar, and when he pressed the button again, a magical golden key appeared. On a lark, the key was held near the secret door, and a keyhole appeared. Consequently, the key indeed unlocked the door, and beyond was a passage leading to a circular room containing a holy font.
The room was decorated with small sun motifs, and the small font was full of pure, clear water, which Cillean collected in his waterskin and a couple of flasks Hyacinth carried. It was fairly clear that this liquid was holy water, something they knew would be useful if they encountered any more undead. The spiders they had slain the night before had been burned, in anticipation that their corpses would animate into zombie spiders. They were taking no chances whatsoever!
“Sun,” Tavis uttered once he’d seen the font. “The answer to the riddle is ‘Sun’.”
No sooner had he uttered the word, three golden scroll cases appeared on the alter in the same red-yellow glow present when the key materialized there. Inside the cases were several scrolls, one of which was discovered to contain a healing spell. Tavis, of course, beamed and bragged of his insight and accomplishments. The others gave him flat stares. They’d warned him of meddling with unknown magic, and had been proved wrong. This time.
A door leading out of the font room revealed an unused, un-marred passage leading to yet another door. Nicola argued against pressing on deeper into the temple, for Calumbias’ sake, and the rest of the companions agreed. They were here, after all, to find their friend and return to him his sword. So they bundled against the wintry air, Nicola with her cloak, Hyacinth with her newfound cold weather gear, and the rest using the protection of Cillean’s spells.
Two hours of tracking in the bitter, snowy altitude proved effective, and Calumbias was found huddling in a cave nestled behind a cleft in the mountainside. He was unconscious, and had suffered badly. His hands and feet appeared blackened from frostbite, and his breath came in weak gasps. The remains of a fire and a slain hare indicated that he’d at least been warm and fed, but one hare in a week was not enough to keep the man hale, and he had succumbed to the cold.
Having saved one of his endurance spells for the brother, the near-frozen Calumbias was revived and carried back to the forgotten temple. Fletcher used his inspirational abilities, and his healing words, and soon the brother was conscious and able to take food and drink. Cal was grateful for the rescue, and happy that his sword was now safely returned to his possession. Titan, was also overjoyed to be back with his master.
Calumbias inquired as to how the heroes had found him, and they told him of their discovery of the plinth, the blood activation, and their findings in the temple. They also told him how, during the night, Fletch had tested a theory about how to return to Bekus’ Pit. He’d pricked his finger and hopped atop the alter. Sure enough, he’d been transported back to the pit, and another drop on the plinth had deposited him right back in front of the alter. The party, and Brother Cal, now had a secret retreat, where plotting enemies could not reach them.
Brother Calumbias then drew the sword, and disclosed its name, “Kingsblade”. He next confirmed the party’s suspicions, that he was indeed the missing Prince Mark. He’d been in hiding from the wicked usurper, and the man who’d murdered his father. Calumbias/Prince Mark expressed his eternal gratitude to his friends for saving his life, and offered them a bargain. Although he was currently unable to give them proper reward, he invited them to become his agents, to assist and aid him in his return to political life, and to help him attain his throne. He admitted that he’d been cravenly hiding and setting aside his duty as prince, but as he was indeed running for his very life (the usurper had put a price on his head), at the time he saw little other recourse.
Cal admitted that he earnestly joined the Brotherhood, and that it was no ruse. He had committed to its cause, and still intends to raise the shrine at Shepherd’s Rest. And, gods willing, will live a holy life, even if he must forsake his monk’s robes for princely attire. At the party’s consent, he officially enlisted them all, there at the alter to an unknown Sun god, and upon Kingsblade they all swore oaths of fealty to the prince, and he in return sword to protect them and reward them for their loyalty with positions of significance as well as other worldly rewards. Cal instructed them, however, that until he consents, Prince Mark shall remain the humble Brother Calumbias, and that they are not to breathe word to any soul of his true identity. The fate of the kingdom hinges upon his safety, and he will not be safe until he has protection and the support of his people.
The return to the pit was instantaneous. The trek to retrieve their steeds at Shepherd’s Rest and subsequent journey to Buckhorn Hold uneventful. But in the space of that time, the world had indeed changed for our heroes. Their course of their lives have taken a significant transformation. They are about to undertake a dangerous and hugely important role in the forging of a Kingdom. This is but the first step in ensuring that their friend, patron and liege, Prince Mark of Lakeland is JUSTLY THRONED.
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