The Box (Part X)

“…get a grip, rider…”

The elfin words rebounded off of the walls around him, forced backwards by the spell he had previously placed on his companion.  The words trembled with fear, something that he had not known was possible in his companion, and were spoken by the lips of one who was no longer sure of himself.

It had been only a few moments since the gaping maw had been inches from his face. He could still smell the foul odor it had breathed onto him, coating his senses with its rotten promise of death.

He walked in long strides, the only sound from him being the soft whisper of his robes as they rustled with each step, following the path that the smaller creature had taken. The creatures were visibly agitated, but he had already expected that they would be.

“…gods…”

A sinister smile slowly placed the evil on his expression when he heard the single word prayer spit out by the elf.

It wouldn’t be long before the creatures swarmed in on the one he had scented as the intruder in their tunnels.  The ruse had been easy enough.  They had expected him to place wards against the dragon’s fire, but they knew very little about the nature of his magic.  He had drawn the knife across his palm in the beginning of the ritual and spread his blood on the back of the elf’s armor.

Later, during the ‘show’ of silencing each of their loudest parts, he had enchanted the blood sigil with a scent that would drive any nearby predators mad with rage.  It had worked sooner than he had expected, but then, he hadn’t thought of the Destrachan being the first creatures to come within range of the scent.

From what he knew of the creatures, they were more suited to the deeper regions of the underdark, where sounds were a precious commodity and smells got you killed.  It was curious that they had wandered this close to the surface.  More curious still that they hunted this close to a dragon’s lair.

“…give me strength…”

The desperation in the voice of the elf amused him.  He had seemed so strong, so capable.  And yet, the panic in his words betrayed him.  It was the sound of one who had just realized how utterly alone he truly was.  The words were of one who knew that he had little chance of winning.

He reached into a small pouch hanging from his right hip and produced the hourglass he had shown his companions earlier.  What he had told them was that it revealed the remaining time on the Ward vs. Dragon Fire spell he had cast.  What it showed him was the time remaining on the silence spells, for which was its only purpose.

As before, when he opened his hands, it drifted a couple of feet away where it would float until he willed it to return.  There were very few grains of sand left in the upper portion of the device and his grin grew to demonic proportions.  Had either of the two seen his expression just then, they might have had more than a second thought about the sorcerer.

He left the enchanted timer to float where it was, it would continue maintain its position even when he was moving.  He didn’t often do this, for it drained the enchantment much faster when it was out, but he wanted to watch the last grain of sand fall to the small pile on the bottom.  There was a grim satisfaction in knowing that he would soon be the only one who would know the secret of The Box.

The Box (Part IX)

The effects of the magical enchantments threw off his battle senses.  He could hear his breath and the subtle creaks from the padding beneath his armor, but no other sound emanated from him.

The enemy was all around him.  He had yet to see his attackers, but he was able to discern that there was more than one based on the simple whistle-click system they used to communicate.  Unlike his companions, their tactics had no effect on him. Decades of service under the order of King Altharak had tempered him to the ways of battle.  He had faced armies of human invaders from the front lines.  Atop his Gryphon mount, he’d engaged in aerial combat against dragons.  His blade had spilled the blood of the living and the dead and he had the utmost confidence that it would do the same for the creatures flanking him.

For all his experience, however, Elladuer had spent very little time beneath the ground. Much like the noble creature he fought upon, his place was in the open sky.  His heart longed for the icy winds of the north.  His soul craved the view of the ocean as it sprawled endlessly beneath him, far to the west.  Because his elfin blood gave him a greater resistance to the elements than the lesser races, he wasn’t happy unless he was pushing himself and his mount to their absolute limits.

In the few hours since leaving the open sky behind, he had found himself fighting a new kind of battle.  With the walls so close and the darkness pressing against the meager light his enchanted armor gave off, his imagination created an enemy which he had never before faced; claustrophobia.

He stood in the center of a ‘y’ junction, with the tunnel he just exited yawning silently behind him. The chamber was thirty feet in diameter, giving the monsters just enough room to circle while under the cover of darkness, from which they were also allowing glimpses of themselves to peek.

They were toying with him, feeding off of his fears and becoming more frantic in their communications.  Each whistle took only a couple of seconds to complete, but they began softly, quickly rising to a pitch that caused his delicate ears to ache.  The change of volume had another effect as well.  Combined with the echoes from the natural caverns, it gave the impression that there were many more of them than there actually were.

Though it wasn’t happening, his mind convinced him that the range of light was diminishing, allowing for the darkness to creep ever closer.  He could feel the walls around him amplifying their shrill calls.  They were pressing against him, narrowing his only means of escape from this room and threatening to crush him beneath their infinite weight.

His sword arm faltered.

“Get a grip Rider,” he muttered to himself, “you’ve faced worse than this.”

The sound of his voice was unconvincing.  Much like his arm, his voice wavered and cracked.  His mouth had suddenly gone dry, choking the words off as quickly as they were spoken.

A sudden shriek to his right startled him and he jerked his body in that direction, leading with his sword.  For the first time since he was apprenticed to his king’s army, he found himself off balance and out of stance, and had he been facing a more intelligent being, he might have found a new piece of steel protruding form the opening where his shield should have been.

“Gods,” he sputtered in anger and disbelief.  He knew that what he was experiencing was in his mind, but this was an enemy he had never before faced .  It had grown so strong, so fast, and left him vulnerable to the real threat around him, which, for as far as he could tell, consisted of several dozen of these things.

The air tasted stale on his lips.  It reeked of fungal growth, a hint of purification and other more sinister smells which he could not imagine.  It was hot against his skin and stirred only with the breath of the one they had come to slay.

“Give me strength,” he pleaded, finishing his thought.

It was a useless prayer, one which fell from disbelieving lips and quickly faded into the darkness.  He could now hear the soft clicking of the creature’s claws as they closed the distance to him, scratching and tapping on the stone floor with each pass.

“…Elladuer!”

As before, he turned ungracefully towards the source of the cry, again exposing himself for attack.  This time, one of the Destrachan took the opening and attacked.  He had only enough time to see the conical opening of its mouth as it appeared from the darkness before it released the attack.

One of his first battles under his king’s rule had been against a banshee.  He had led a small group of soldiers against the creature and had felt first-hand the force behind its wail. With the banshee, the attack had spread over his body, attacking him all over. This creature’s attack was concentrated and it smashed into the buckles which fastened his shield to his shield-arm.

When he had turned, he hadn’t kept his shield against his body as he should have, and the Destrachan had noticed.  The straps shattered and his shield fell to the floor.

Now vulnerable on his front-left flank, Elladuer watched helplessly as the creature stepped fully into his circle of light and prayed that Joeshan could hold on long enough for him to face his own battles before getting there.

The Box (Part VIII)

As they crept through the dark tunnels, Oramiir began unconsciously falling farther behind the rest of the group.  His thoughts were wandering as he recounted his spell components.  Even though he had thought enough ahead to bring ample materials, his discipline demanded that he recall his inventory without error.

He wasn’t completely lost within himself.  Though he had grown unaware of his slowing pace, he’d still kept an ear open to the tunnels around him.

Earlier, he had used his power to project the sound from the noisiest parts of his body several yards behind him.  He had perfected this version of Sound Projection many years ago as an apprentice for his former master, a spell that he was quite fond and proud of.  While it didn’t protect its target from being detected at the rear of the party, it ensured that one could remain perfectly silent while still being able to hear the sounds around them.

It was his semi-state of alertness that saved him.  As he was passing by a small side tunnel, a soft whistle brought him to full attention.  The sound bounced off of the walls, amplified by the natural structures of the rock.  His first thought was that Joeshan was trying to signal him, but this was immediately dismissed when the whistle was answered from somewhere close behind.

He didn’t think about his next action, and acting purely on instinct, he stopped mid-stride with his right heel planted solidly in front of him.  Several thoughts ran through his head in the next split second; should he cast an illumination spell?  Should he make an attempt to warn his friends?  Or, would it be best to activate some type of defensive magic?  In the end, it was his instincts that forced his next move.  His right hand reached quickly over to his left, the thumb and index finger clamping on the sides of a ring he wore on his pinkie and he uttered a soft command.  Instantly, the ring’s magic coursed into his eyes, allowing him to see just a few feet around him as if it were day.

Just inches from his face, the drooling maw of a Destrachan quivered with hungry anticipation.  Its sightless eyes blinked, an action he would later ponder if he made it out of this alive.  The creature had two droopy ears hanging from the side of its head, and he held his breath when its right ear suddenly lifted and pointed directly at him.  As he looked into the three deep canals that allowed for the creature to ‘see’, he tried to remember as to whether or not he had placed the Sound Projection over his nose and mouth.

The right ear continued to point directly at him, twisting slightly to the right and left.  If he didn’t know any better, he’d say that the creature was studying him!

Just at that moment, however, there came a slight grumbling from somewhere deeper in the tunnels.  Much like the warning this creature had given, it reflected off of the walls with gleeful abandon, happy to share the hungry plight of its messenger.  Both of the creature’s ears twitched as they traced the sound back to where it began and the creature loped off, following the path he had only moments ago traversed.

A second Destrachan burst out of the darkness.  It was smaller than the previous one, but its hide was darker in color.  Whereas the first had been like that of a pale eggshell, this one’s was more the color of the stone around him.  Before it vanished into the tunnels ahead of him, it lifted its head and shrieked.  The sound was feminine, yet inhuman, and despite his preference for all things dark, it sent chills down his spine.

Once he was sure there were no others, he quickly gave chase.  If there was to be a battle, they would have to quickly end it, lest his magical wards wore off before they reached their destination.

As if to remind him of the urgency, the breath of the dragon rushed around him, much as the river would around a lonely stone.