The Five finally managed to reconvene an hour before sunset. The sun dipped low but still shined brightly upon the still-bustling port town of Eaglefell. The streets were more Orc than Human now, the latter having relegated themselves to their homes for the evening for relaxing or festivity preparation. Their enslaved Orcs were left to finish the day’s chores and errands. The party the Five were to attend, it seemed, was no small affair.
In the time between his meeting with the shady gentleman and the arrival of his new found companions, Mat had accomplished quite a bit. Chiefly he had drank much more than a moderate amount of beer, but more importantly he had learned quite a bit about The Blight Festival. He regaled his sober friends with the information he’d learned as they settled in around him.
Established over a century ago, The Blight Festival was intended to be a single party in celebration of the bicentennial of Doreni’s victory over the kingdom of Tuw. Thrown by an aging Great Grandfather of the current Blight, it brought people from all corners of the kingdom to the capital. The event, scheduled to last one night, ended two weeks later as the last dregs of well-wishers and party-goers finally packed up the lives they’d brought with them and returned home.
The small economic boom that happened in those two weeks for Eaglefell firmly planted its roots as the one true capital of Doreni, a title previously disputed between itself, a port town further north, and a small grass-fed town dead center in the kingdom. The coastal hamlet flourished and, hoping to build upon the success, the Great-Grandfather Blight threw a much grander festival the following year. He planned it to last for a full week to ensure it remained free of the logistical issues presented by the initial celebration.
It too was a rousing success and much more eloquently managed.
So the tradition was born with the festival being held the same week every year for half a century before Doreni fell on difficult times. Due to mismanagement by the then-King and rampant racial and social divide between the descendant slaves of Orc prisoners of war and the Humans, the most distant towns from Eaglefell collapsed first. Eventually conditions grew so grim that Eaglefell managed to somehow wall itself off from the rest of the kingdom. A rigid caste system was put in place, leaving only the wealthy and affluent (and their slaves) inside the city and the rest of the kingdom unattended to. The city had grown so large and sprawling, with an economy supported primarily by the ocean, that it quite effectively became a very small nation-state.
It was now ruled by King Melor, a man whose life motto amounted to ‘why fix what isn’t broken’. The Blight Festival was still held every year by the current Blight, a man named Evrett, but due to the drastic population decline once the city walled itself off the celebration lasted only one night and was attended exclusively by those with the most social and political pull.
“You said you had how many beers?” asked Raelyn.
“I’ve lost count, but I’ve been three times drunk and sober twice,” came Mats slurred reply.
“How did you remember all of that so easily with blood that is likely flammable?” Mat shrugged.
“Genetics.” He hiccuped happily and patted his belly.
“We will have to dress finely for this event. I’ve brought no proper vestments and I assume the same of you all. We would do well to make haste before the final shops close,” said Balthazar. Reverence brushed him off.
“I am always prepared,” she said and promptly pulled, as if from nowhere, a fine evening gown. She folded it gently and laid it on the table in front of her.
“Could you not have simply waited to summon it until you were ready to change?” questioned Maximus. She quickly redirected the conversation.
“Before we go, Maximus, you have not told us of the barracks. Did you find anything of note?”
“Little more than propaganda, the rank and file, military bedding and bland nosh.”
“What kind of propaganda?” asked Raelyn, genuinely interested. Maximus spat his answer in disgust.
Reverence and Balthazar shared a brief look of worry. They had decided on their journey to the Tavern to not yet inform their troupe of their own discoveries. They’d been queried upon arrival but had managed to deftly side-step the issue and redirect the conversation. It was a matter of morale and trust. They knew neither each other nor the others, and all information was privileged. Reverence recalled the scarecrow, warning against trusting anyone but her companions.
The problem was she couldn’t find a reason to trust these people either.
Balthazar broke the momentary silence that had fallen over their table. “You four will attend the festival. My devotion is first to nature and the Fey must be tended to.”
Raelyn, looking puzzled, asked, “What must be tended to about it? A plane of existence typically needs little—”
“You would do well, Elf, to know your own devotions and refrain from digging into others’,” Balthazar coldly replied. Raelyn blushed slightly and almost corrected him on his assumption of her race. Balthazar stood and left the table, leaving through a side door and disappearing into the woods beyond.
“Dragon-face needs a drink,” said Mat with a frustratingly empty pint.
“It is common knowledge that Druids are highly devoted to their cause, sometimes blindingly so,” advised Reverence. “How does his response surprise you?” Mat leaned forward and put his elbows on the table, hands open and fingers pointing across the table at her.
“Listen, I’m not from around here. Your magic makes me itch, your women all look the same, but your beer is strong like bull piss.”
“You’ve drank the urine of a bull?” laughed Maximus. “Surely it was a lost bet.”
“You do a lot of things growing up on a farm, oak-for-bones,” Mat said, eyeballing the towering fellow. Maximus’ face turned a little beet and he dropped his club-arm onto the table with a loud THUD.
“Oak is to wood what steel is to metal, farm boy.”
“Easily dismantled by the proper application of heat?”
Maximus stood up and pointed his club-arm at Mat, the bulbous end hanging in the air only a few inches from his temple. “You’d be wise to mind yourself in the presence of your superior.”
Mat leaned back lazily and threw his hands into the air in exasperation. “I don’t recall a vote being cast. Was I not given a fair shake? I demand we draw straws. You go first.” Maximus’ face flushed further. Before he could retort, Reverence stood and her eyes, normally calming silver, glowed a dim, dull red.
“You would both be wise to focus on our mission.” She stood commandingly, staring down first Maximus, then Mat as the former settled back into his seat. The light in her eyes faded slowly to their normal sheen. “We have little time to prepare. Matrim, go and procure finer vestments. You cannot attend wearing the garb of a farm hand.”
“I’ll have you know my moth—” Mat tried to interrupt. Reverence continued.
“Maximus, you’ll not be allowed in full plate. You’ll need to find some military dress.”
“I will return to the Barracks.”
“Fine. We will all meet at the festival grounds—”
Raelyn, with her soft voice, spoke up as she looked over one of the invitations. “This address actually belongs to a home. A very large home, of course, with grounds to match, but to avoid any confusion…” She trailed off as she started to needlessly ramble. They all nodded their heads in understanding.
All but Raelyn stood from the table and left, Reverence first to the bar to purchase a room and then up the stairs to the left, and she sat there alone in the steadily increasing roar of the bar. She summoned Mischief after a few long moments, hiding her in the shadows next to her as she ran her hand comfortingly down the tiny beast’s spine. She lost herself in thought, already dressed in robes fine enough for a party or a relaxing evening with some wine.
Speaking of which, she flagged down a waitress and ordered herself a glass of Elvish Wine. She had nowhere to be for at least an hour. It soon arrived and she sipped at it, yearning for the time when this was all over that she would be released back to her endless studies.
As she let her mind wander flashes of memory began to come back to her. Though confusing at first, she soon realized they were from the days preceding her being taken. She tried to pin down details but found it too arduous. Some small, ambiguous town far from here. Stacks of journals, her telescope and the sky. She remembered how brightly the stars had shined. A smile touched her lips as she traced the constellations and then, suddenly, they started to go out. One by one.
Raelyn snapped out of her daze and her heart began to race. Stars blinking out had only been mentioned once in the lengthy recorded history of this world, many millenia ago when the first bits of modern life had begun to write. She recalled the various tales and legends, all leading up to the star extinction, none of which were immediately useful as they were all blatant hyperbole. What mattered more was what they’d lead up to. A cataclysm.
A near destruction of all life.
They arrived with the event in full swing. They could see the lights and flashes from the opening celebration from a couple of miles away, the music a bit closer, and the cacophony of voices remained a dull unintelligible roar until they were nearly upon the massive estate.
Evrett Blight, it seemed, was a man of great means. A great, perfectly trimmed hedge lined the front of his property along the street like a wall. It stood as tall as a man and was twice as deep, extending almost half a mile from one end to the other, running along the street. One could make out the upper floor of the mansion while standing 50 feet or more from the hedges and it was nothing if not extravagant. Pure white with a angled roof that dipped very slightly in the middle of either side. It was 20 windows across on the top floor alone and appeared to only widen as you went further down.
The lone entrance to the grounds was a highly-polished golden gate. The lock fit centrally within the gate, just above chest-level, emblazoned with what one could only assume was the Blight coat of arms. The gates parted right down the middle of the seal, Reverence noted, much like the Peloran symbol on the doors of the local temple. Two guards stood stoic, fully-plated and with great swords sheathed on their hips. As the group approached, dressed in the best they could find this late, both guards tensed and the one on the left held out his hands.
“Invitations, if you would,” the Left Guard said.
The four, minus Balthazar who had stayed in the woods to communicate with the wilds, withdrew their invitations. All were still fairly pristine save for the wadded up mess that came from Mat’s pocket. The guard took the flat three first and then, apprehensively, grasped Mat’s from his open palm. He tossed it to the Right Guard who set about unwadding it to inspect its authenticity while the Left Guard checked the other four.
After confirming the invitations, the Left Guarded regarded them with an air of disdain. “The normal crop to attend this party know the proper social expectations. These…drapes you’ve all chosen will do, if only just.” The guards stepped to either side and waved their hands toward the gate, beckoning the group through as both carved slabs of metal swung wide inward.
They crossed the threshold and were met with only more extravagance. A long reflecting pool ran from the gate entrance all the way to the steps leading up to the front door of the Mansion. Fine gravel lined either side of the pool, with perfectly manicured dirt paths branching off on either side into the grounds. Trees and general flora lined those paths but otherwise the grounds were empty, covered only by exquisitely kept viridian grass.
The area around the reflecting pool was absolutely filled to bursting with people. Waiters and Waitresses, none of them Orc, moved with great difficulty through the crowd. They would barely press into the throng before having to retreat back to refill their hors d’oeuvres trays. A few people meandered the dirt paths that led their circuitous paths around the grounds but most remained near the reflecting pool and, in particular, toward the end near the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, standing by their lonesome, were two men of obviously great caliber. On the left a tall, angular man dressed sharply with hair the color of empty space. To his right a man in contrast; squat, rotund, and red-face, dressed in regal purple with long brown hair. Both spoke jovially, a drink in one hand each. The squat one spoke more animatedly, almost spilling his drink on multiple occasions over just a few seconds, while the taller one simply smiled and nodded, adding a comment here and there while keeping one eye on the mass of bodies below them.
“I’ve got five on fatty for king,” said Mat as he grabbed a meat-wrapped prawn from the nearest waiter’s tray.
“Your tact and wit is truly endless. Long may your reign be as advisor to the Gods,” Maximus spoke as he eyed the hundreds and hundreds of people that stood in front of them.
“You’ve never seen me on a battlefield, Woody. I make up in tactical ability what I lack in subtlety.”
“Subtlety is a virtue of the battlefield. To circumvent your opponents expectations is to all but guarantee a victory.”
“Sure, as long as your men agree with what they’re fighting for.” Mat bit into the juicy prawn and grabbed a glass of fizzing liquid from another passing tray.
Raelyn leaned over to Reverence and spoke with no hint of stealth, “It would appear the men came to discuss the coming war. Perhaps we should take care of the current mission while they are otherwise indisposed?” She had withheld her recollections regarding the disappearing stars until she could further ground her memory in fact. She had not had a chance to check the skies with any severity, but was planning to at next chance. She’d hoped they would be in and out of this place quickly, that she may take to the roof of the local temple and better scout the skies.
Reverence nodded, distracted. Lliira was here tonight. Not in physicality but in the spirit of the event. These people were bleeding joy like sweat and it warmed her heart. A smile spread across her face. It was rare, even a priestess of the Goddess, that she got to experience this degree of celebration. Her temple found funding difficult in their province, a hindrance only furthered by the constant political turmoil between the two majority worshipers in the region, neither of which found belief in Lliira.
She refocused and let the joy wash over her once more, touching the triangle pendant around her neck. She spoke under her breath, “I will not disrupt this occasion. These people will celebrate your name, even though their reasons may be grim.”
Raelyn glanced at Reverence, seeming to be the only one who’d heard her. He spoke quietly so the others could not hear. “I do not think Lliira would find qualm with disrupting a celebration of enslavement.”
Reverence sighed and nodded. “In her name I still must try to keep this joy alive. These people are…misinformed, yes, but they know only happiness in their hearts right now. That is something that all should have.”
Raelyn spoke grimly, “Few presented with such joy would question the poisoned well it pulls from. Perhaps we would be best served removing the offending pollutant and retaining the well.”
Maximus nonchalantly moved closer, “A stealth operation in a crowd this size would be nigh impossible.”
Raelyn added, “I can turn invisible.”
All but Mat turned to look at her, surprised. Mat was preoccupied with a rather scantily clad female Human who wobbled on her feet with glazed eyes. Her laughter begat the fuzziness of her mind, not to mention her choice in men.
Raelyn continued quietly, “I know nothing of murder, but I can certainly eavesdrop and gather information before we make our move.”
Reverence pondered for a moment. “Perhaps it would be best to wait until after the party. We could easily track him with Raelyn’s abilities and some sort of trail. Complete the mission before he returns to his palace.”
“Not advisable,” Maximus added. “The longer you wait to drop the target the higher the risk of failure. Each passing minute compounds the possibility of poor decision making or occurrence of unplanned events.” He looked around, suddenly confused. “Where is the drunkard?”
Mat had disappeared into the crowd. Even Maximus, towering with the god-given sight of a Paladin, could not pick the man out of the pulsing masses.
Reverence acted first. “We must find him before we continue, if for no other reason than to ensure he doesn’t cause havoc. Maximus, we will fan out to find him. Raelyn, use your magic to get close to the men on the stairs and advise us of the situation when we reconvene.”
The warrior and the priestess, dressed in fine linen vestments, entered the legion while the quiet half-elf grabbed a glass of fizzing liquid off a passing tray and leaned against the hedge behind her. A group of humans passed and suddenly she was gone, a newly emptied glass sitting on a nearby table.
Finding Mat in the crowd was proving to be quite difficult. Though Maximus was tall enough to see over the heads of most it was like trying to find a very hay-like needle within a hay-stack. Reverence had a slight disadvantage, being quite short, but her diminutive size allowed her to move more easily. In the time it took the taller to press 10 feet into the group she was already at the edge of the reflecting pool.
Raelyn had perhaps the easiest time. She needed to rudely elbow and shimmy past quite a few people but because of her invisibility drawing attention to herself was less of a concern. Everyone was so tightly packed into this place they all assumed any bumps or shoves were purely accidental. She soon found her way to the base of the stairs and made her way up them, taking a comfy seat on the top step just a few feet from the conversing gentlemen.
They talked about nonsense for what seems like ages. She kept her ears attentive for anything that might be useful but they seemed to be regaling each other with tales of stories past. A few minutes after her arrival, their conversation hit a natural lull and the taller man stepped toward the edge of the top step, holding up his hand palm-outward. Amazingly the entire party fell silent almost immediately. He smiled out upon his gathered neighbors and spoke with a voice obviously magically amplified.
“Welcome, one and all, to The Blight Festival!” A round of thunderous applause and whistles filled the air. He spoke again once they had finished. “Today we celebrate that which is most central to Eaglefell’s ideals: Victory!” The applause began again but he spoke over it. “Victory over an enemy most barbaric, against that which we hold most dear. A filthy dominant beast of a civilization that we crushed into submission through the glory of Pelor!”
The whole place erupted into cheers, whistles, and applause. It lasted for two complete minutes before everyone regained control of themselves. “Tonight we celebrate in His name!” The man smiled wryly and held his drink, stowed in his other hand, high into the air. “Make merry, you mongrel dogs, and let us wake the Gods!”
The crowd cheered and the music started up again. If the party thrived before the speech it now grew beyond its bounds. It was excess in its most pure, unadulterated form.
One step down from an orgy.
It was a few minutes later, with the search party still fruitless, that Raelyn noticed a man separate himself from the crowd at the bottom of the stairs and put on a dark black farmer’s hat. He adjusted it and then touched the brim before starting up the steps.
“Oh no,” whispered Raelyn. She reached out to Mischief telepathically and asked the dragon to appear to the other two and advise them of the situation. She stood, unsure of what to do, and crossed her arms. She was not a fighter, and surely if she revealed herself now she would draw much more attention that even Mat would be.
The crowd didn’t seem to notice his assent but the two gentlemen at the top of the stairs most certainly did. As soon as Mat began to climb two guards appeared from behind the pillars that flanked the door and lined the porch of the mansion, halberds drawn and pointing at the approaching stranger. They met him halfway up the stairs. Raelyn couldn’t quite hear the exchange over the sound of the party, but soon the tall man called to one of the guards.
“Let the enthusiast through! He only wants to speak.” The squat man looked a little uneasy, but that may have been the booze. He was on his fifth drink, after all, by Raelyn’s count.
Mat ascended the steps grinning broadly. He wiped his fingers on his pant leg and held out his hand, introducing himself to the two men. The tall man introduced himself as Evrett Blight and the squat man did not provide a name. It would seem Mat’s companions now owed him a small debt.
“So, Matrim,” Evrett offered. “What brings you to us this evening? Something of great importance I hope!” The three men shared a hearty laugh. Mat touched the brim of his hat and adjusted it awkwardly as the laughter subsided.
“Well that would depend on with whom I’m speaking, I suppose,” he said happily. “Just between you two and myself, I hear there’s someone out to kill the king.”
Maximus was getting fed up. The drunk shouldn’t have wandered off in the first place, now it was his obligation to find the damned fool. He frustratedly moved passed a particularly immobile group of people and was met with more of Mat’s absence.
The moments before he was taken were starting to come back to him. It’d been slowly returning over the course of the day. He’d been on a mission at a nameless compound. It was suspected to house a number of high-level officers within the Necromancer’s army; the same Necromancer who had done in his father so many years ago.
Maximus had hand-picked his small operations team and they had decided to move in the dead of night. Slowly and quietly they had all but cleared the compound. One building remained and they had yet to identify any of their kills as high-ranking officers in the Necromancer’s army. As they moved to breach formation he remembered the sound of wings and then that familiar blackness.
He scowled as he brought himself back to reality. He found himself incredibly frustrated with this situation, more so than any of the others it seemed. Though as a Paladin he was obligated to rise to the occasion if the information they’d been fed was true, there was no way to confirm its veracity. The other four seemed so happy to passively accept it as truth but he required answers. All orders come from somewhere and he only respected authority that had earned such a designation. Tall men in strange dark clothes did not get to inform him of his obligations.
He did have one thing to be thankful for, he supposed. Though his arm seemed to be permanently clubbed, he was capable of making it invisible. He had done so earlier in the night, before they’d come to the party. At this point it simply looked as if he were an amputee.
While Maximus grumbled some distance away, Reverence found it very difficult to concentrate on much besides getting bustled to and fro. Though initially her size had been her aid, after Evrett’s speech the entire crowd seemed to get more lively and she was now being tossed around more than moving of her own accord. She managed to pull herself from the ranks and off to one side in order to get her bearings.
Doubt filled her from a bottomless well deep within. Here she stood, a priestess of Lliira, in the midst of a joyous celebration and she refused to partake. Instead she filled her time with plotting and searching. She felt herself a failure as she leaned against a tree that lined one of the dirt paths. She needed a break from the endless heat of the swarm of people and she fiddled with the triangle pendant on her neck.
Each point had a star, all warm colors. One red, one orange, one yellow. It was a very simple pendant, one most people never noticed, but it was Reverence’s connection to her new goddess. Lliira hadn’t always been her deity. She was still her parents child and a traditional upbringing called for a much different lifestyle. She’d torn herself away from that at a relatively young age, searching for something more. She’d found a sense of one-ness within the goddess Lliira and had devoted herself to her ever since.
As her thoughts drifted, a nagging desire to continue her search pulling at the back of her mind, a small dragon creature appeared in front of her. It hovered at eye level, not quite tangible but opaque enough for her to see. It spoke with Raelyn’s voice.
Maximus experienced the same phenomenon a couple hundred feet away, trapped in
a sea of bodies. The dragon told them Mat was walking up the steps toward the house and that they must hurry. Reverence made fast for the stairs, sticking to the less-populated edge of the party, and Maximus b-lined for the same location. His massive stature and body aided him in simply moving past all but the most sturdy of party-goers.|
They both reached the bottom of the stairs as Mat and the two men shared a hearty laugh. Seeing no other option, and noting the guards between them and their quary, they both glanced at each other and started up the stairs.
Then they heard Mat give away their mission.
The two guards on the steps were on them unreasonably fast, one suddenly behind Reverence with an arm around her neck and the other keeping his distance from Maximus but with the tip of his halberd pressing against the paladin’s throat. Evrett snapped his fingers and the air seemed to shimmer. The sound of the party became muffled and another guard came as if from nowhere, standing between Mat and Evrett.
“That is certainly interesting news,” said Evrett, his eyes narrowing. “No need to disrupt the party.”
Reverence had a sudden realization. “A distraction spell. You’re a caster.”
“I take exception to such crass vocabulary. I prefer…well, I don’t prefer anything actually. I don’t tend to make my studies apparent to much of anyone.” Evrett took a step around the guard, keeping about five feet from Mat and locking eyes with the farm boy. Behind him, the drunk and confused King was escorted into the house quickly by yet another guard.
“I think there may be a misunderstanding,” Mat plead. “We know of a plot, but we are not the perpetrators.” Evrett stared him down for a long moment, then considered them all in turn.
“You’ll understand my apprehension in believing you. It would be quite foolish for someone with any such knowledge to so openly admit to it without a proper preface.” They stood in silence for another long moment. No one knew how to respond. Evrett eventually clapped his hands together. “Well, no sense staying out here in the open. I’ve certainly got some questions that need answered, not the least of which is who you all are and why you’ve decided to infiltrate my party, but there’s no reason we can’t be civilized. Come, we will meet in my sitting room and discuss this further.”
Evrett beckoned them into the home and each guard stuck close to their prey. As the last one entered and the door began to close, Raelyn managed to squeeze through and maintain her invisibility. Her stomach was rolling unpleasantly and her mind raced as she tried to think of a way out of this.
The room they walked into was overwhelming. The vaulted ceiling made of marble, the decorative pillars along the walls, the grand staircase that led straight up to the second floor directly in front of them. The floor was hardwood and two separate hallways formed on either side of the staircase, reaching deeper into the house.
“You’ll find the sitting room down the hall on the left, first doorway. I’ll be right in.” Evrett disappeared down the right hallway, toward what sounded like the kitchen. The guards pushed them all down the hall on the left. As they made their way to the sitting room, Reverence noted a door in the hallway with the symbol of Melora expertly burned into it. A strange symbol to have in a home, rather than on a boat, but she supposed this was a port town.
The sitting room only made them more uneasy. The walls were lined with the taxidermied heads of various large beasts, but the décor seemed to hearken to the warm safety of a grandparents home. There was a large fire place on one wall, bookcases lining the rest, and the entire floor was covered with what appeared to be a very large rug. The fire was already burning and a handful of plush couches and chairs faced the warmth. The guards sat them each on separate couches.
Maximus glared at Mat from across the room. “You’ve put us in a fine place,” he growled.
“It’s not my fault they were so quick to assume. I never said we were here to kill the king.”
“I think it best that both of you shut up,” said Reverence. She crossed her arms and they sat in silence until Evrett returned. He stood between them all and the fireplace. The flames behind him seemed to roar a little as he stepped in front of them, casting him in shadow from his guests’ point of view.
“I assume you’re all working in tandem,” he asked. No one responded. “No need to respond, I suppose. The timing was too perfect for it to be anything else.” He looked at Mat. “So, you say someone is out to kill the King? I need a name.”
“Should this not be a conversation had with the King? Or even the King’s protective guard?” Mat asked. “Forgive me but I fail to see how telling you will prevent anything.”
A menacing grin spread across Evrett’s face. “I am the King’s protective guard. My personal militia answers only to myself and the King. Trust me, the information you’re here to provide is best fed to me.”
“You’ll understand our apprehension,” parroted Maximus, “as we’re not from here and know little of the workings of this place. You could be some form of maniac hell-bent on corruption.” Reverence and Mat stared daggers at Maximus. He was liable to get them all killed at this rate.
Evrett brushed off the accusation. “It seems we have a trust issue here. I apologize and hope you’ll understand why I must get so aggressive.” Evrett waved his hand and every guard drew a dagger from their hip, holding it at each of their captive’s throats. “I have little time and a party to attend to, so let me be as clear as possible. You will tell me who is trying to kill the King, or I will assume it’s all of you and end the threat as I see fit.” He clasped his hands behind his back and watched them all thoughtfully.
Mat spoke first, “There’s no need for violence, we’re happy to co—” The dagger pressed a little harder into his neck and he stopped mid sentence.
“Pleasantries will get you nowhere. You have five seconds.” Evrett held up one hand, counting down from five with his fingers. As he approached one second, Maximus groaned in frustration. His club arm suddenly blinked into existence and he flung it out behind him, the bulbous end slamming into the temple of the guard. The fully-plated foe fell to the ground, dagger dropping to Maximus’ side harmlessly.
Seeing their opportunity, Reverence and Mat leapt into action. The guards having been momentarily distracted, it was easy for the farm boy and the priestess to relieve them of their daggers. Reverence jumped to her feet and turned around, flinging an open palm toward her aggressor while shouting a short infernal incantation. The man who had formerly held her suddenly burst into flames and began to scream in agony, clawing at his metal armor.
Mat had less success. He jumped to his feet after disarming his own captor and suddenly realized he was without a weapon, having let the dagger drop to the side. The guard got his wits about him quicker and brought the butt of his sword up to Mat’s temple, hard, and Mat suddenly found himself unconscious on the ground.
Evrett began to laugh and moved toward the fireplace, quickly pulling one of the fire pokers as if it were a lever. “A fight it shall be!” The two bookcases to one side of the fireplace began to turn, exposing a hidden stone tunnel behind them.
Raelyn, at first impressed by Reverence’s infernal abilities, refocused her efforts on aiding Mat’s dire situation. She spoke her own incantation and, finally breaking her spell of invisibility, threw her hands out in front of her, launching a purple blast that landed square in the chest of Mat’s guard. The man fell to the floor but was quick to try and return to his feet. She cast the blast again and this time he stayed down.
Maximus pointed his club arm at Evrett defiantly. “You’re outmatched and outnumbered, Blight. Tell us the King’s location.” Evrett continued to laugh and moved a little closer to Maximus.
“Outnumbered? Fools. I am never outnumbered.” Four men in linen robes poured out of the secret hallway and into the room, kneeling in a line to the right of Evrett, one hand on the rug. The four heroes looked at Evrett, confused.
“Surely you’ve more guards?” Reverence queried, hand raised in front of her ready to summon her magic.
“Why use more guards when I simply—”
Raelyn interrupted him, her eyes going wide with understanding as she shouted. “THE FLOOR IS TRAPPED.”
Evrett rolled his eyes, “It’s very rude to interrupt.” Raelyn moved her hands in a familiar pattern and threw another purple blast at him, but he quickly ducked and slapped his own hand on the carpet. Evrett and his four robed cronies spoke two words in tandem as Reverence began the incantation to set the man ablaze, but it was too late. The floor flashed with brilliant light and a familiar, foreboding symbol burned into the carpet from beneath. Reverence stopped mid-incantation, distracted by the sudden flash, and gaped at the floor.
“Lolth,” she whispered in terror. The floor flashed again and with a loud CRACK they all felt the earth shift beneath their feet.
As Reverence and Raelyn’s eyes readjusted, they came to realize they were in quite a different place. The floor and walls were made of large stones, sealed against intruding water. A single, simple wooden staircase led up one wall to a door that had the symbol of Melora expertly burned into it. Mat laid in a crumbled heap on the floor a few feet away from them, still unconscious.
Maximus picked a pebble up off the ground and waved his hand over it. The pebble glowed brightly and he tossed it into the center of the room, effectively lighting the cellar. A waterlogged table stood against one wall. A piece of parchment and a glass of liquid sat on top of it, but it was remarkable the thing was still standing at all. One of the legs looked as if it had been chewed upon.
As Raelyn took in their new surroundings she gasped, the first to notice the skeleton shackled to the wall behind them all. Reverence turned and could not stop herself from showing her sadness. She kneeled down and took the hand of the skeleton in her own, closing her eyes as she laid her other hand on top, and began to mumble a spell under her breath.
Maximus took this moment to make for the table and read the note. It was from a woman named Maribeth Devroux, denouncing Evrett Blight as a horrible man, though her word choice was a bit more unseemly. Perhaps deservedly so.
Mat began to stir on the floor, rolling over with a groan. Maximus quickly made his way over, kneeling down and putting a hand on his shoulder. Mat’s shoulder glowed golden for a brief moment and his eyes went wide as he felt an unsettling queasiness, and then nothing. He felt good as new.
Meanwhile, Reverence finished her incantation and opened her eyes. “Who are you?” she said to the skeleton. Though obviously weak, the skeleton’s relaxed head began to turn toward her, its jaw creaking from disuse.
“Who put you here?”
“Maribeth, you’ve passed from this life. We need your help. Who put you here?”
“How do we get out, Maribeth? We can stop him if you tell us how to escape.”
The skeleton suddenly went slack and Reverence let its hand drop to the stone floor with a clatter. She hung her head in disappointment, obviously hoping for more useful information. Raelyn watched with grim fascination. She’d never seen such necromancy before, and she’d hoped she’d never have to. Across the room Maximus stood up, scowling. He had seen such foul magic, and he had only one opinion on the matter. An opinion that did not bode well for Reverence.
Mat’s eyes were wide and his jaw hung open. As the skeleton went limp he looked around the room before breaking the silence. “Hey, guys? What in the actual fuck is going on?”