The Box (Part II)

The flames sucked greedily on the end of the torch, quickly consuming what precious little fuel available to them.  As the companions prepared for the battle that lay ahead, the flames crackled and sizzled, one element symbolically overpowering the other.
 
Elladuer sat upon a large stone, his sword laying across his legs.  In one hand he held a small bottle, inside of which is a glowing light blue substance.  Reverently, he removed the stopper and tipped a little of the liquid onto the small cloth in his other hand.  Softly, as to not disturb the spell casting of the sorcerer, he begins to apply the glowing substance to the blade of his longsword.  
 
“What is that you’re putting on there,” Joeshan asks curiously.  Unbeknownst to the warrior, his halfling companion had been raptly watching his every action.
 
“It’s an oil that has been harvested from a frozen merman.  It’s said that the oil is so cold that it will inflict twice as much pain to creatures born of fire.” 
 
He looks thoughtfully at the blade, which has now taken on the hue from the oil.
 
“Elladuer?”
 
“Yes my friend?”
 
“I’m more than content with the promise of riches that we’ll gain in the spoils, the gods know that I shall never want again, but I have to know something…”
 
There was a pregnant pause while Joeshan looked to the hourglass, and during this time more oil was massaged into the blade of the longsword.  At the edge of the makeshift camp, Oramiir chanted softly, his fingers tracing glowing sigils into the air.
 
“Why is this box so important to your King’s campaign?  Isn’t it supposed to be an evil artifact?”
 
As Elladuer wrestled with the answer to his question, Oramiir’s voice rose to uncomfortably loud levels.  His hands deftly created a small squadron of glowing sigils, all of which hovered in the air between the companions.  Their attention raptly enthralled for the moment, they watched as he grabbed onto each arcane writing and flung them to various positions around the camp.  They watched in wonder, frozen by the spectacle before them, as the sorcerer then drew a small blade from his belt and, before either of them could protest, sliced a large groove into his palm.  The sigils flared with power as he flung droplets of his blood in their direction, shouting a command to each.  With each shout, the sigil would glow blindingly for several seconds before vanishing.  
 
At the end of his ritual, a crimson dome appears around them, momentarily obstructing the view of anything outside of their small camp, and then vanishes.
 
“That should help protect us, as long as you stay within the boundaries of the spell,” Oramiir quietly iterated.  “It should last the entire battle, so mind where you are.  I’ve centered the spell on all three of us…”
 
“You mean, we each have this protection,” Joeshan asked timidly.
 
“Yes, it’s weaker individually, so mind where you are.  When we are together, the wyrm’s magic should only have minor affects on us.”
 
As the sorcerer began putting his components and spellbook away, Elladuer also finished his preparations.
 
“You wanted to know about the box, little one?”  
 
The question forgotten, Joeshan found himself startled when Oramiir spoke.
 
“Y-yes, I guess I do.  I mean, I’ve always heard about the box.  The stories were told countless times to my brothers and I as we were growing up and it just doesn’t seem like it could be real.”
 
Oramiir looked thoughtfully at the hourglass, now just a little over half full…or half empty, depending on how one was looking at it.  In this case, and with what lay ahead, the latter seemed to be more appropriate, he surmised.
 
“Several hundred years ago the plains beyond the Northern Pass ran red with the blood of the innocent.  It was a dark time; a time when the gods had abandoned their peoples.  For every creature of good, there were six of ‘his’.”
 
“You mean…?”
 
“Yes, the Lich Necrodemus.”  At the mention of the foul name, Elladuer quickly makes a gesture to ward against evil and utters a soft prayer, while at the same time, a shiver travels down Joeshan’s spine.
 
“It was a time when hope was something one dreamed about and faith had to be created, rather than maintained.  There were few heroes left during that time and it was their studious dedication that brought an army against him.  However, it was at a price.  Of the thousands whom stood in battle, only dozens walked away.”
 
“That’s horrible…  Why so few?  How could there be so much devastation?”
 
This time it was Elladuer who answered the question.
 
“What too few know these days, is that the Lich had ascended into godhood.  In the absence of the other gods, whom some say he had slain, he took claim of their pantheon and their immortality.  By the time the war had begun, there was only one way to defeat him.  Two brave heroes, a Dwarf and a Drow warrior, stood before him with a secret of their own.  You see…they had faced him in the three wars that proceeded this final apocalyptic one.  They knew his secrets.  They had already felt the sting of his magic and they held the key to defeating him.”
 
“But how to kill a god,” Oramiir mused as a light smile curved the sides of his mouth upward.
 
“Ah, but that’s another story as well.  The Drow had become a collector of sorts.  Over the course of his journeys, it is said that some of the old gods had spoken to him and given him a most holy duty.  Whether or not that is true is not for any of us to say, but what IS certain is that he, with the aid of some of the most powerful wizards of that time, created a magical building to house the things that he collected.  A museum, if you will.  In it were some of the most evil devices, the most powerful magical items and the most powerful of artifacts, all locked away inside of this safehouse which existed in several planes at once.”
 
“But how does that explain…”
 
Oramiir chuckled softly, sadly, and when Elladuer didn’t answer, he offered the final conclusion.
 
“The only way to kill a god is to remove from it its immortality.  To do that…”
 
“To do that, you have to destroy a very powerful artifact of opposite alignment to the god in question,” Elladuer concluded.
 
“I know not which one it would have been, but history tells us of what was left from the resulting explosion.  While the heroes and the Lich had survived the blast, those others who were closest to it were either wiped from existence or horribly changed forever into something unlike anything anyone has ever seen.”
 
“And the box?  Where does that come in?”
 
Elladuer sighs softly as he slides his sword into its scabbard.
 
“From the battle that ensued between the two remaining forces.  Both sides traded blows, each more devastating then the last, and they remained locked in battle for days.  Several of the heroes fell, but so too did the generals of the Lich God.  In the end, only a handful of heroes remained and it was only by destroying the fetter of the Lich that they were able to win.  Their enemy turned instantly to dust, collapsing into a pile at their feet with only the skull remaining.  In the skull, one eyeball somehow remained intact and impossibly alive, turning madly about as if searching for a path of escape.”
 
Joeshan gasped in horror and trembled at the thought, looking over to the sorcerer for confirmation.  The latter only nodded as he finished wrapping his hand with a bandage.
 
“You mean it was still alive?!”
 
“Yes, and no.  His soul had forever been released from our plane, that much is true.  However, enough of his essence and malignant force remained in that one eye to effectively and forever corrupt those who touched it, as well as give the bearer the powers of the eye’s former master.  Much deliberation would come of what to do with this eye; the Dwarf wanted to crush it beneath his boot but the Drow insisted that the eye go into his Museum for safekeeping.  They argued for months over what to do with it until finally the Dwarf had had enough and forever parted ways with his friend.”

Oramiir softly cleared his throat, signalling their attention as Elladuer paused.
 
“We must prepare now, the sands have nearly drained.  When they all reach the bottom, the final spell will be in place!”
 
The companions nodded and each began gathering their belongings together.
 
“So then, what did the Drow do?”
 
“History hides most of what happens next, only that it was nearly a century later before the he would again be seen.  It is written that a shrouded figure would appear before a small group of dwarven craftsmen, asking for an impossible task.  He had wanted a box that could be seen into, but not ‘out of’, and it was only to be big enough to contain a small rock.  Naturally, the dwarves thought he was mad and were quick to turn him away, but it was the offer that he made which quickly changed their minds.  Mad or not, when he laid before them a magical pouch containing a dragon’s treasure, they took to their work very seriously.”
 
“Wait…  Are you saying…”
 
“Yes Joeshan, we have come here today because this is the resting place of the eye of the Lich God, Necrodemus, and Malifgorranaka the Great Flame is its eternal guardian.”
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The Box (Part I)

Oily black smoke from the torch floats lazily against the rock, pooling beneath the ceiling of the narrow passage and stinging the eyes of the adventurers traveling below.  The air is warm and fetid, and except for the occasional lazy gust it sits thick and almost malleable around them.
 
“We’ve got to be close now…right?”
 
Of the three companions, the first to speak is the smallest and most out of place.  He is portly, easily weighing over three stones, and only at thirty-nine inches tall he looks like he would be more comfortable sitting before a fire with a book in his hands and a warm meal on his lap.  He is wearing a dark blue tunic, over which is a fashionable, if functional, leather chestplate.  Strapped on his hip are a small jewel encrusted dagger and several small pouches.  Just below his maroon breeches, his hairy feet are naked and appear the most vulnerable of the companions.
 
“We should almost be there my friend,” answers the most formidable of the three.
 
At seventy-eight inches and over twenty stones, one would be hard pressed to stand against this warrior.  If every inch of his body weren’t covered in thick and heavily enchanted steel, you would easily notice his conditioned physique.  His armor, the full plate of the royal guard, shines even in these dark tunnels of the deep, and is a reflection of his pure heart.  Covering every inch of the rare armor are elven runes and glyphs of enchantment, some which were scribed for the very purpose which was the object of their quest.  On his left arm is a large kite shield, the herald of which is a Gryphon bearing an elven rider.  The image depicts the rider soaring in the clouds with a floating castle in the background.  Only those in the royal guard could possess the herald of the Gryphon Riders of King Altherak, High Elf Lord of the Elven Kingdoms.
 
The final member of the party, who has been standing silently out of the range of the torch’s light, silently steps from the shadows.  Unlike the others, he is slender for his sixty-two inch height, weighing only six and a half stone.  He is enshrouded in grey robes, most common to the Mystics of the Mountain, who reside far to the north, and his slender hands are wrapped around a large oaken staff which stands a head taller than he.  Hanging from the top of the staff are various feathers, a small brown pouch and two thin leather straps with animal bones tied into them.  The cowl of his robe is pulled low and only his chin is visible under the shadows it produces.
 
“We must pause here, that I may call to the Gods for protection.”  
His voice is deceptively deep for his frame, though not unpleasantly so.  It carries in it the power that he has channeled through it all of his life and is smooth and pleasing to the ear.
 
“H-how long will it take, Oramiir?,” the halfling asked nervously.  
 
“I will need the time that it takes for this hourglass to pass the sands through its portal,” he sighs softly.  
After he finishes speaking, he produces a small hourglass from his robes, holds it to his lips and whispers softly before releasing it to float just inches before him.  Behind the glass, the sands began to slowly trickle, one grain at a time, to their resting place below.  As the others make themselves comfortable, he reaches into a magical pouch, which hangs around his neck, and pulls a small leather tome from it.
 
“Fear not Joeshan, for what I must do will not disturb ‘its’ slumber before we arrive.”
 
As he began reading from the tome, chanting softly to himself and occasionally gesturing towards each of them, the warrior handed his torch to Joeshan and then lifted the visor on his helm before taking a drink from his wineskin. Like most of his elven brethren, the face is angular with high pronounced cheekbones.  Moist with sweat, his golden locks hang limply over his pointed ears, though one would have to be standing directly in front of him to notice.  His eyes are the color of life, as green as the leaves of his nation’s trees, and yet full of sadness.
 
Joeshan reaches over with his free hand and pats his arm in a gesture meant to comfort him, though to an outsider looking in would look completely ridiculous due to their height difference.  
 
“Just think…  At the end of the day, I’ll be warming my toes before my hearth and you’ll be getting scales fitted for your new armor.”
 
Elladuer nodded silently while watching the tunnel which would lead them to their destination.
 
“Tell me Joeshan; have you thought about what lies ahead?”
 
He turned to his small friend, studying the reaction to his question and waited for an answer he already knew
 
“I-I have not, other than we will go in to ‘it’s’ lair and do battle.  I know that you will stand before it while I sneak around for a silent attack.  During this time, Oramiir will be casting damage spells that will directly, as well as indirectly, help us.”
 
Elladuer nodded impatiently and waved for him to go on, but the halfling only looked at him with confusion.
 
“There is something more important at stake here than our own needs and desires my friend,” he began slowly.  As he spoke, he turned his head once again toward the direction they were travelling, but not before Joeshan noticed the profound sadness that had seemed to well up in his voice and had begun to leak from the corners of his almond shaped eyes.
 
“This day we are stepping into the lair of a proud and majestic creature that has been around longer than either of your peoples.  It has seen kingdoms rise and fall.  Beneath its crimson wings, it has felt the smoldering heat reflected from the deserts to the south.  It has glided upon the crisp, frozen air above the plains far to the north.  It has crushed villages in its youth and slain heroes with more renown than you or I.  This day, we stand before ‘Malifgorranaka the Great Flame’ and may the Gods grant us favor before it.”
 
The halfling trembled in fear, unconsciously moving closer to his bigger friend, and glanced over to the floating hourglass.  The sands still tumbled into their new location, each grain adding to the small pile quickly forming at the bottom.
 
“Not long now,” Elladuer announced softly.