A grunt of pain to her left got Barbs’ attention. Grash was sitting with his back against the altar. The bodies of the slain lay scattered around the room, the body of the Ogre necromancer lay in a puddle of it’s own decaying refuse.
“Gods be damned, that hurts” mumbled Grash. “Well, at least you have your book, right? Now we can get the hell out of here.”
Barbs stood up from the pile of clutter she was sorting through, looking for more loot, and looked at Grash. He seemed hurt, that much was obvious. But how hurt she wasn’t sure.
“Yep, got my book, that’s right. Now we can get out of here, huh Grashy old boy?” she replied. She took a few steps towards Grash. “Now that I have my book I’ll be out of debt, and then i can finally get myself back home.”
As she walked towards him she could see that he wasn’t giving her his full attention, he seemed to be staring vacantly at a point ahead of him. She slowly took out one of her hand-axes and took a few more steps towards him. “Hey Grash, if you’re just going to sit there, how about you give me all of your gold?” she laughed, whilst again taking a few more steps forward and waggling her axe at his face.
Before she reached him she caught a flicker of movement near the entrance to the room, a swift shifting of shadows that seemed to desolve down the passageway towards the entrance to the tomb. She looked back at the still form of Grash to see his image fade away like smoke in the wind, she heard laughing in the distance and heard whispers you’ll have to catch me first
She ran out of the room, stepping on a makeshift trap, missing most of the darts that shot from the wall, and ran towards the giant stone entrance to the tomb, but it was too late. The giant stone disk was almost closed and completely blocking all light from outside. She beat her hands on the stone slab and screamed at the slippery rogue to let her out.
“Damn you, you bastard! I hope you rot in hell! I wasn’t going to take your damn gold anyway! RRRaaaaaaaah!!!!!”
She eventually calmed down, and took stock of her situation. She pulled a torch out from her pack and lit it with the flint and tinder in her pack. As the flames grew brighter as the torch took light she held it ahead of her and suddenly found a figure standing at the edge of the shadows, still, and making no sound.
“Who goes there?” she yelled, showing no fear at the sudden apparition and hefting her axe.
After some silence, the figure took a few steps forward and replied “I’m here for the book. My name is irrelevant. Give it to me.”
Bristling, Barbs didn’t appreciate the way that this man evaded her question, “I don’t think I like your tone, mister. My name is Barbs and I’m not giving you this book. I actually really need it, and I don’t mean I want to read it myself. So if you want it for any reason, we’re going to have to work together to get out of here.”
The figure stood and appraised the short dwarf, she seemed tough, she would put up a fight and he wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive. He’d have to take his chances and team up with her. For now.
“My name is Ekemon, and like I said, I’d really like to have that book. But for now, it looks like your friend made sure that we wouldn’t be taking the front door out of here.”
He looked about and motioned towards the passage leading further into the tomb, “We’ll need to find another way out.”
Barbs assessed the situation as well as she could, and with a moments thought decided the best thing she could do was trust this creepy stranger for the time being, “Fine, let’s get out of this hole.”
They made their way back to the entrance to the room where Grash and Barbs had fought the Ogre zombie. “I want to check this room for an exit, follow me” said Ekemon and lead the way into the room. He approached the large polished stones that the zombies were chanting over and put his hand on one of them. He knew these, they were black dragon eggs. “Don’t touch these, they are very dangerous…and valuable.” he advised the dwarf as he left them and explored the rest of the room.
“Hmmm….valuable you say…” whispered Barbs as she stroked the egg. As she turned to look about the room, a cracking noise echoed across the room and she turned back to the cluster of large eggs. “Damn it…” muttered Barbs as she hefted her axe.
She watched in fascination as a large beak smashed through the rock hard shell, curled sharp black talons followed, pulling apart the rock from the inside. Could this be a dragon? She drew on memories of tales of dragons, having never actually seen one in the flesh before. She knew that dragons were born from eggs. As she was piecing together the evidence unfolding before her eyes, the baby dragon had almost fully emerged from the huge shiny black stone. It didn’t look like a dragon she had been described, instead of a majestic, crisp scaly beast, before her this creature was slimy, green mucus oozing from its orifices. its limbs and chest was especially thin and it appeared to be sick. But through its weeping eyes Barbs saw evilness. This creature did not desire a mother to be nurtured. This creature was angry and wanted to kill.
Ekemon had just caught eye of something exquisitely shiny in a pile of cloth. Just as he was reaching for it, chuckling to himself that the others could miss something like this, he heard Barbs yell “It’s a dragon!”
Shit, he thought. No time for treasure now. Making a note to come back for the treasure, he raced across the room to the dragon.
Disgusted by the foul creature he found, he lunged in to knock out he creature. A flurry of blows followed. The dragon was stronger than he anticipated from the look of the sickness on him. He landed a few blows but realised he had barely injured it, as quickly as he attacked, he retreated a few feet away to assess the situation. Barbs had watched the monk dancing around the baby dragon. His speed was impressive, she could barely keep up with his moves and he was certainly keeping the dragon occupied. She raised he axe and sliced down on the dragons neck.
The two heroes battled the ever increasing number of dragons hatching from the eggs. More and more kept escaping after Barbs’ axe and Ekemon’s fists and elbows kept hitting them. After the final hatch-ling was defeated, the bodies started to putrefy and liquefy. The stench was almost overwhelming. “You fought well.” advised Ekemon, after cleaning the viscera and bile from his hands and face. Barbs grinned up at him and replied “You fight like a scrapping child.” and then made her way back towards the entrance.
Ekemon glowered after her, but decided to leave it. He picked up the loot that he’d found behind the altar and followed her to the entrance to the room. “We need to go down this path, but I’d rather not see you end up as a pin cushion after setting off ever damn trap.” advised Ekemon.
“I eat traps for breakfast.” replied Barbs, however she didn’t look too happy about going down yet another untested pathway in this damn tomb.
Ekemon crouched and examined the floor. He found that the sand and stone seemed to be looser about ten feet ahead of them. He touched a stone that seemed to be out of place, and a rumbling proceeded the floor dropping out completely ahead of him. The stone and sand vanished in to blackness and a twenty foot gap appeared ahead of them.
Ekemon stood back up and sighed. “We’re going to have to jump across” he said, then after stepping back a few steps and centering himself he flew more than leapt across the chasm, robes swirling behind him. He landed on the other side of the chasm and turned to smile at the dwarf on the other side. “That’s how you -” he began, before noticing that he’d landed on some kind of pressure pad. The deep rumbling and breaking of stone behind Barbs told them that the cavern was coming undone. “Oh shit” exclaimed Barbs. “I’ll catch you! Just jump! Now!” yelled Ekemon.
Barbs took a few steps back, then ran as fast as her little legs could take her and leapt across the chasm, time seemed to slow down as the passed above the gaping chasm, below her the yawning darkness that seemed to pull at her.
Just as she landed with two feet on the lip of the chasm edge she reached out her hand to Ekemons, and missed.
She tumbled backwards and the last thing Ekemon saw was the confused look on her face that hid behind it hurt and rage.
“This is not how I planned this..” grumbled Ekemon to himself, before throwing himself down into the darkness like a predator bird diving after it’s prey. Catching her in mid-fall and arresting their decent speed, he righted their falling bodies and after what seemed like forever they reached a sloped surface, and they slid more than fell for some time before coming to a rest.
After they got their breath back and realised that they’d been plunged into darkness, Ekemon tried to steal the tome from Barbs, it didn’t work and she hit him. “Keep your filthy hands to yourself, demon-spawn, or I’ll rip them off you.”
“My apologies, but you can’t blame me for trying” replied Ekemon.
They started down the corridor, opening a door and finding more passages. They heard the passages above them being destroyed and saw sand and stone tumbling down the chute that they’d just come down. “We need to hurry, this whole damn place is coming apart.” growled Barbs.
“Follow me, and be careful, this darkness is no impediment to such as I” advised Ekemon, before leading Barbs down the corridors. A room was ahead, and in it an altar. Ekemon felt more than saw an image, almost like that when staring at a torch and then into the dark. An afterimage.
He approached and heard whispering. noooooo…..liiiiiiight
Ekemon edged closer, trying to see the source of this whispering. Behind him he heard muffled rustling and then saw the room brighten. Swinging around he saw Barbs with a freshly lit torch.
“That’s better!” she said, with a grin on her face.
Ekemon turned back around and saw a figure wreathed in shadow standing at the foot of the altar, the shadows of the room had coalesced into a sentient form, and they both knew that it was not going to be friendly. Ekemon gallantly swept to the side as the shadow demon charged at Barbs, who was surprised to say the least. Her axe leapt and her rage at being surprised burned inside her. The melee was short and Ekemon’s attempts to attack were thwarted as the demon disengaged and retreated further down the corridor.
“Lets get that fucker!” yelled Barbs as they made their way further down the maze of tunnels. After a few corners they came to the entrance to a very large and seemingly empty room. Ekemon held Barbs back and after she tried to push past her hit her in the face with the back of his hand. Barbs was stunned “I’m behind you” she said. Out of confusion or rage Ekemon did not know.
They took to the room with caution. Standing carefully, but it was all in vain as the shadow demon poured itself back into their realm and its form caused much of the floor to crumble again into a further darkness.
They battled their way across the falling floor whilst being harassed by the demon, making their way across several rooms. Ekemon, like a shadow himself, swept across the rooms to the source of light at the end of the tunnel. Turning around he saw Barbs running at full speed towards him, being chased by shadows and laughing demons. As she ran the floor beneath her fell, again, from underneath her. She made one last leap through the air and caught onto Ekemon’s hand, however she under balanced and almost fell backwards into the abyss, something told her that the bottom to this one was not going to be more easily survived.
Holding Barbs hands, Ekemon saw the book underneath her tunic. His eyes went from hers to the book and back again. “Give me the book” he whispered, his voice somehow rising above the crashing of the cavern.
The look on Barb’s face went from shock of almost falling to a rage that went past simple anger, she stared him right in his eyes with a gaze that would pierce steel “If I go down there, the book is coming with me. I will find you, in this world or the next, and end you.” She started to let her grip loosen, daring him to let go.
Ekemon stared down at Barbs, with pieces of the cavern falling between and past them into the deep, gouts of sand and rubble streaming past them, crashing against the side, the sounds of crashing rock and debris was loud, but Ekemon rose his voice to be heard over the din. “You are a fool, Dwarf.” Then he smiled, and tightened his grip on her hand and hauled her up onto the ledge beside him. “But I’ll be damned if anyone would call you a coward.”
Barbs pulled her hand free and stared at him, saying nothing. She pushed past him and started making her way up the cavern to the light. She felt more than heard Ekemon following her up the increasingly steep path to freedom. Passing multiple passageways off to the side, they could see that they were also collapsing and pushing more and more sand and rubble into the upwards leading passageway.
“We haven’t much time! This place will be our tomb if we don’t hurry!” yelled Barbs as she sprinted the last few yards to the exit, she saw Ekemon to her right keeping pace with what looked like a grin on his face as he made his way to the small opening a the end of the tunnel, where the light of day entered the darkness.
From outside the small opening was a bit of shade against the backdrop of a cliff, desert surrounding all. Two figures were expelled from the opening onto the sand, bits of rubble and debris exiting with them and with a crash the entrance was closed.
They lay panting on the sand, on their hands and knees, catching their breath. Ekemon rolled over onto his back, eyes closed and the midday suns streaming over him. He laughed.
Barbs stood, using her hand on her knee to bring herself to her feet. “I am really hungry.” she said after some concerting with herself. She fumbled about on her belt until she found the small pouch containing the small brown balls that twitch and squeaked like tiny animals. She took one out and threw it ahead of her about 15 feet. It squirmed in the sand and like a blossoming flower it took the shape of a wild boar. The thing seemed a little confused as to where it was, however immediately started to snuff about in the sand looking for roots to snack on.
They both stared intently at the boar, salivating and making smacking noises with their mouths.
“I don’t have a knife.” said Ekemon, standing still next to Barbs “Use your hand-axe?” he suggested.
Without a word, Barbs took out her hand-axe and ran at the animal, immediately slashing it’s throat, then dropped the axe and began to rip at the animal with her bare hands, shovelling parts of the animals flesh into her mouth. Ekemon waisted no time in joining her, he got down onto his knees and began tearing large chunks of the animal off and chewing on it before swallowing.
Whilst they were on their knees, hands and faces covered in the slowly dying animals blood and viscera, they heard behind them the sound of someone clearing their throat.
They both paused hands halfway to their mouths for another bite. Turning around they saw that they were almost surrounded by men, on camels or on foot, there were about two dozen of them. They were dressed in the garb of Dharma guard. The two of them dropped what part of the animal they had in their hands and stood. Cleaning her hands on her clothes, Barbs replied to the mans attempt to get their attention by reaching for her hand-axe.
“Touch your weapons and die.” said a man, obviously in charge. “What business do you have here, crawling out from the latrine and eating this strange animal?”
Ekemon looked non-plussed as he tried to wipe the blood from his face, he tried to think why he was just on his knees, eating this animal. Maybe the barbarian was starting to rub off on him…
Barbs cleared her throat and put a bit of gusto into her voice as she replied “We are but simple merchants, looking for a place to sell our goods.” she smiled her most winning smile.
It didn’t work…
“You are merchants, in the middle of the desert, eating this…pig….and living in our latrine?” he motioned towards the exit that they’d been thrown from. They could see that they were thrown from some pit that seemed to have a drain above it leading from a small outpost above the cliff that the men were perched upon. Ekemon and barbs realised then why that passageway was so slippery on the way out…
“You will let us leave, we are of no concern to you. We will go in peace and suggest you do not interfere with our passage.” voiced Ekemon, attempting to put some command into his voice.
The guard captain laughed, “You…suggest we let you go? I think not, I think you’ll be coming with us.” then to his men he added “Seize them.”
Some mounted guards began to come towards them, spears levelled threateningly. Men on foot came behind them and began to tie their hands behind their back. Then forced them to their knees. When they were bound and subdued, Barbs attempted to explain why they were there.
“I mispoke! I meant to say that we are archeologist, on a mission to find out what was in that cave. What I mean to say is that we are adventurers, just looking for a good time. As in…we are…merchants I mean to say..” she fumbled on.
“Shut up….shut up…shut up….” mumbled Ekemon, knowing that she only made it worse for themselves.
“I agree, you will both be silent now” said a voice behind them, then with two simultaneous hits to the backs of their heads they saw only blackness.
Ekemon awoke in a cell, with his hands unbound, lying in the corner. He looked about and realised that Barbs was in the cell opposite his, prowling from one side to the other, cursing their captives and muttering oaths of vengence. “I’ll have your guts as a waistbelt! I’m going to use your mothers head as a cushion when I get out of here, I swear it!” she yelled.
Ekemon made her aware that he was awake by sitting up. “Took you long enough. Nice nap pretty boy?” she muttered, only giving him a little of her attention.
“Where are we?” he asked, clearing his mind with deep controlled breaths and reciting mantras in his mind to still the pain that throbbed there.
“In jail, genius.” she replied. “And they know who I am, and who’s looking for me. Corrupt bastards the lot of them!” She yelled into the passageway.
After some time, they heard footsteps coming, and he entered their view with the swagger of one who knew he’d caught the rat that he’d been hunting for some time.
“Allo Barbs, old friend. ’Owd you git yerslef into this mess, aye?” he asked, flicking the lock of red hair away from his face, revealing the two scars across his face.
“Ah, you, I could have known. I guess you’ll be wanting the tome? Well guess what, I don’t have it. They took it from me.” she replied, nodding her head towards the guards at the end of the passage, who were out of earshot.
“Ah, Barbsy, I already asked them, they said they don’t got the tome either. You playing some kind of game, lass? Don’t mess with me girlie, I’ll ave your gut’s in a heartbeat.” he said.
“I don’t have it. But I can find it, I think I know who might have taken it.” she said, staring levelly at the man. “Tell the Upright Man that I’ll get it back.”
He took measure of her then replied, “Alright, you have till the end of the week.” then turned about and made his way out of the passage. In a few minutes a guard came and advised them that they were found innocent and were free to go.
They made their way back to the empty shop and took a long hard look at their recent decisions.