The Box (Part XVII)

The hobbit watched silently as the events unfolded before him. He was hidden, but only from the sorcerer.  He would be a fool to think that the great red knew not of his presence.

He blinked slowly, wearily, the eyelids over his sunken eye socket smacking wetly together, reminding him that there was very little time before this scene was finished playing out.  Even though the wyrm stalked the other with deadly focus, he shuddered when it he saw one mountainous eye mark his position.  Though its gaze only fell on him briefly, it promised of a dark eternity soon to be bestowed unto him.

He paid one more glance to the sorcerer and smiled when the other noticed for the first time that the elf’s blade was missing.  If only he could witness the expression on the other’s face, perhaps he would be satisfied for the loss that he placed upon him and Elladuer!

Joeshan shifted his weight, quickly checking the bindings that held the sword against his back, and began to make his way to the ground.  The dragon was enraged, its attention was solely on the spellcaster it was now preparing for attack, but it had made one mistake. In passing him over, it had secured its own place in the afterlife.

His bare feet padded softly across the cavern floor.  He ran across a king’s treasure, making a sound no greater than a whisper.  Not a single coin shifted beneath his gift of grace.  No treasure was disturbed.  He ran doubled over, that he may be closer to the ground.  As a ‘finder’ of things unique, he had learned that the larger folk overlooked him because of his short stature.  More difficult to see him, still, when he hugged the ground as he was now!

Occasionally, one of his deft hands would pluck a gem from the horde around him.  Some were cut while others were untouched by a jeweler’s skilled hand, and before he was halfway to his goal, he carried a king’s ransom in one pouch alone!

There were more coins in this one cavern than water in his fishing hole back home!  They were beautiful.  Gold, silver, copper and even platinum coins were heaped into careless mountains.  He could spend the next ten years filling his magical pouches and not even empty a quarter of the beast’s lair!

“By the gods…”

The sorcerer’s words startled him from his thoughts as they continued to echo through the dragon’s domain.  They were fading, and it wouldn’t be long before they were gone altogether, but they reminded him of the one thing he was here for.

It waited silently, less than a giant’s stone throw away, watching for the one who would free it from its confinement.

The Eye of Necrodemus.

There were legends around the one whom the eye once belonged to.  Many people still huddled in fear beneath the darkness of night, hidden behind spells of protection and countless traps designed to keep intruders at bay.

So many lifetimes had passed since the Lich God had been defeated, but the land also slow to recover.  In the places where no man or beast still dared to tread were the abandoned camps of his armies, still protected by the undead he had resurrected all those years ago.

The Eye was the last relic of a time when gods walked amongst men.  It was the only piece of the Lich to have survived its defeat and it possessed enough of the creature’s power to embolden one, no matter what path they walked.

His mind churned as he drew closer to the box.  It sought him, much as he did it, desperately calling for his attention.  He could feel the Eye focused on him, using every bit of its magical will to pull to where it lay.

“No,” he grumbled angrily.  “You.  Won’t.  Have.  ME!”

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The Box (Part XV)

The tunnels began to widen as he drew ever closer to the lair of the beast.  The darkness fled before a soft golden glow which spread into the tunnels as if to reach for the one approaching. The breath of the dragon stank of rotten flesh and grew unbearably hot as he closed the distance between himself and its lair.

All of these things he noticed with only a passing interest.  His mind had turned within itself as he reviewed what magic he had prepared to use.  His arm shook beneath the weight of the elf’s sword and he absently shifted it from one hand to the other as he pressed on.

He knew full well the power of the creature he was about to face. After claiming his master’s tower for his own, he’d spent many hours pouring himself into the research necessary for such a confrontation.  Many books had succumbed to him their knowledge.  Through trial and error, he’d summoned different creatures from various planes of existence, including (but not limited to) demons.  It had taken many years off of his life to do so, but he’d finally coerced the answers he needed.

The ancient dragon was looked upon as a god amongst other creatures.  It had lived for many millenia, consuming man and magic alike, gaining as much knowledge as it had in power, over those beneath it.  Malifgorranaka had become a name that was not only feared by every other species, but of its own as well!

There was very little to be found in the books.  Most were stories of the creature’s deeds, of how it had leveled entire nations as it sought to placate its hunger.  They were of heroes who stood before it, giving their lives so that others might live.  Or they were of villains who sought it out for their own power, never to be heard from again.

One thing remained consistent in these stories; Malifgorranaka’s hunger.  It was written to be a beast even greater than the monster itself.  For nearly a thousand years, it decimated entire landscapes in order to quell the ache in its midsection.

But it was not just a hunger for flesh.  It was the hunger for knowledge, for power, that drove it as well.  It was said that as the creature consumed its enemies, it absorbed its knowledge as well.

It’s not known if The Great Flame retained said knowledge, only that the next time it was seen, it used whatever magic or power it had taken from its previous victim.

Oramiir again switched the blade from one hand to the other as his mind replayed the things he had learned.  The books had been easy enough, his former master had done all of the work for him.

The summonings were slightly more difficult.

He didn’t spend enough time creating the protection glyphs around the circle and as a result, it was a Pit Fiend which nearly killed him.  The cambion, a half fiend/half human, had found the weakest point of the circle and had broken it with-in seconds of the summoning.  It not for the contingency spell hidden in his former master’s cloak, which he had been wearing at the time, he would have been consumed by the creature’s magic.

The contingency, however, was a defense against other worldly creatures, and when it sent its flames against him, reacted with a spell designed to paralyze such beings.

He had tortured the creature for the entire duration of the spell, by which time he’d also prepared the banishing ritual needed to send it back to its plane.  From the foul demon he’d learned of the dragon’s weakness against elfin steel.

“STEP FORTH INTO THE LAIR OF MALIFGORRANAKA AND BEAR WITNESS TO THE END.”

The voice of the dragon thundered off of the walls, bombarding him with its fury and pulling him back to the present.  His arm faltered as the blade suddenly became too heavy for him to bear, and its tip lowered to the ground with a dull metallic clank.

The tunnel had come to an end and before him was the lair of the ancient red he had come to slay.  Whilst lost in his thoughts, it had widened until it was nearly twenty paces across, with the ceiling being nearly as high.  The edges of the wall rounded smoothly at the tunnel’s end, seamlessly becoming a part of the cavern beyond.

The lair was massive.

It spread out further than he could see and for a brief moment, he thought he had returned to the surface, albeit, at night.  The floor was littered with gold, gems and treasures, and there was not a single bit of stone visible beneath all the riches.

While the treasure was stacked into various piles around the cavern, none were so large as the mountain on the farthest end. The gold stretched along the wall, where it was piled higher even his former master’s tower!

“By the gods,” he muttered in awe.  “What have I done?”

The Box (Part XIV)

There was a deep burning sensation in the empty cavity where his eye had once been.  It felt as if a thousand ants were feasting upon the newly exposed flesh, breaking it down piece by piece to return to their nest for later consumption.  Added with the dull ocular throbbing of the broken nerve, he found himself struggling to remain conscious.

It had been several minutes since the sorcerer had passed through the cavern below but he didn’t yet feel strong enough to continue. He needed some time to think.

Oramiir had betrayed them!  His magics had lured the Destrachan from the depths of the underdark for the sole purpose of getting them out of the way!

It had been pure chance that he was alive, but the poor elf hadn’t stood a chance.  Even now, the creatures were gnawing at the bones of the once proud warrior.  The sound of the teeth scraping against them sent shivers down his spine.  One would occasionally lift its head as if scenting the air, but they seemed content to laze near their dinner.

Another blast of hot air passed through the junction, reminding him that even as he perched above the elf’s remains, the sorcerer was drawing ever closer to the lair of the dragon.

“Perhaps it’s time I use some magic of my own,” he spat venomously.  Below him, each of the four creatures turned their heads in his direction, suddenly interested in the small bag of fresh meat dangling from the ceiling.  One of them whistled softly, testing for a reaction from the small hobbit, but he seemed to be paying them very little notice.

As they continued to ‘watch’ him from below, he reached into one of his many hidden pouches and removed a small crossbow. Unlike the hand-crossbows of the Drow, this small folding instrument had very little use as weapon.  He’d had it specially crafted some years ago as a tool to aid him in his more discrete activities.

A flick of his thumb and the tension bar snapped into place.  With his other hand, he reached into another pocket and carefully removed a small cloth bundle.  Careful as to not drop it or the contents inside, he opened it and loaded a small bolt into the small crossbow before replacing the bundle into the pocket from whence it came.

His stomach gurgled once again, a painful reminder that he was missing yet another meal, drawing the attention of the creatures back to his position.  He needed to find a way out of this junction, soon, before his presence became enough of an annoyance to them that they decided to do something about it.

Moving slow and deliberately, he shimmied out from his perch and along the wall.  It was over a half a dozen yards to the floor, but he was never one to be bothered by heights.  Even as the creatures began to stir beneath him, his toes and fingers were expertly digging into even the smallest of cracks that only he could manipulate.

It was painfully slow going.  There were a couple of moments where the hold he had gained crumbled, nearly sending him tumbling to the ground, but several minutes later he found himself resting outside of the junction.  The Destrachan had either decided that he wasn’t big enough to be a threat, or were content to remain with their meal, and he was able to breath a sigh of relief.

He fished through his pouches before finding a suitable enough snack to placate the angry grumbles in his midsection, but his heart wasn’t in it.  He slowly chewed on a bit of rabbit jerky as tears fell from the corners of his eyes, and he mourned the loss of his friend.

Every so often, he would look in the direction the sorcerer had traveled and absently touch the handle of the crossbow now hanging from his belt.