The Box (Part XX)

From the shadows nearby, another set of eyes watched as the remains of the box crumbled through the hobbit’s fingers.  Shards of the enchanted material clattered across the melted gold at his feet, while a clear viscous liquid oozed down from where the container had once been.  Resting over the crack where his hands met was the eye of the Lich God, Necrodemus.

It was as one would expect an eye to be, a soft white orb with a long nerve trailing behind it.  There was no coloring around the pupil.  In fact, the pupil itself was narrowed very much like that of a venomous snake!

The cavern rumbled from the battle taking place on the opposite side, where the great red Wyrm and Sorcerer continued to battle the other’s wills.  Even as the eye was freed from its prison, one of the two combatants was nearing the end of its life.

The watcher gasped as the eye began to levitate from the hands of the diminutive figure before him, so surprised was he that it still possessed any magic to do so.  The nerve straightened like an arrow as the orb turned to face away from the hobbit, aiming for the empty ocular cavity.

What came next happened in a matter of seconds.  The eye slammed into the skull of the hobbit, who in turn began to scream as his very soul became forever corrupted by the power of the long dead deity.  His small head slammed backward, projecting the last display of pain and suffering he would ever feel unto the cold stone ceiling above.

Even as the little man shrieked, was he beginning to levitate slowly into the air.  His clothes began to rot away from his skin, falling away in patches that in turn fell apart like ash when they hit the stone below.  As the observer continued to watch, horrified, the pale skin of the hobbit became emaciated, withering inward until he was no longer recognizable as a male or female creature.

The sound of its screams became something inhuman, no longer reflecting anything even remotely like pain, but more akin to pure rage.  A black oily smoke formed beneath its feet, swirling lazily around the mummified hobbit until it was covered with a robe born from the darkest pits of hell.  The smoke rippled over the creature’s form, gradually smoothing into a material that to look at for too long was to become lost in its starless void.

It was then that the observer realized that the shrieking had ceased.  He looked upward, seeking the facial features of the reconstituted Lich and was shocked to see that it was staring down at him.

“Ahh,” it sighed with gusto.  “You have no idea how long I have waited for this moment.”

The Lich had been facing the battle when it began to rise from the ground so only its head was turned toward him.  The eye that was once confined to a magical prison focused on him while the other darted about madly in its socket.  To the observer, it seemed that all which was left of Joeshan was imprisoned inside.

“It’s been too long since last we met, drow.  I have been thinking about you for an eternity!”

The observer, having been identified by the evil creature before him, stepped into light reflected from the battle between man and dragon.  His features were elfin, but his skin bore the color most commonly attributed to his people.  He wore clothing from the surface, bright and vibrant forest colors that complemented the color of his eyes. A bandolier was slung from his left shoulder to his right hip, from which hung a small hand crossbow and several bolts.  Two longswords were sheathed from his waist, on a belt from which several small pouches were also fastened.  The pommel of one was encrusted with a black diamond, while the other a deep magenta.

“Indeed,” the drow answered softly.  “As have I.”  He hooked his thumbs into his belt and tilted his right knee slightly outward, striking a neutral pose as he contemplated what to do next.

 

Thus ends the story of the adventurers three.  Each came searching for The Box with motives hidden from the other, and it was their hidden agendas that brought them down.  We have reached the end of one story, but we find ourselves at the beginning of another.  

Who will prevail in the battle between dragon and man?  Who is this mysterious drow and what is his relationship with the Lich God?  And, with Joeshan seemingly imprisoned in his remaining eye, is there a chance that he will ever be rescued?  

These are all good questions, but I’m afraid that’s an entirely different story.

~ END ~

 

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The Box (Part XIX)

Joeshan’s eye narrowed and he grinned mercilessly when the dragon countered the sorcerer’s magic.  He could only imagine the helplessness that the man was feeling and he prayed it was ten times the horror as when he had lost his other eye.  Malifgorranaka possessed about it an aura of power that he could feel even from this distance.

It terrified him beyond words.  His body shook with fear and a light perspiration had broke upon his skin.  It was as if the wrym had placed one of its mighty claws upon him, pinning him where he lay.

From across the cavern, the Great Flame had launched an attack of its own.  Its spine arched, much like that of an angry cat, and there came the sound of a large intake of breath being taken.  It was drawing upon the instinct of its race to attack with the strongest weapon in its arsenal, the fiery breath of the Red, a flame so hot that it could melt through the most stout of magical protections.

His hair lifted from his scalp as it was pulled toward the head of the dragon.  The clothing on his skin began to flap lightly against his skin, rippling as if he where enveloped by the fierce winds of the Great Northern Pass.  Worse still was the feeling that the air around him was growing thin, making it hard for him to breath.

There was no need for him to continue watching the battle unfold.  He knew enough of the stories to know what was going to happen next.  Even so, it took a tremendous amount of will for him to turn his attention back to the box.

It sat atop a small pedestal, an evil looking piece of stone decorated with countless screaming faces.  Each image depicted a different state of agony so lifelike that for a brief moment he wondered if the sculptor had used a living model for each likeness.  The box itself was just as the stories had told.

There was no lock.  Each side of the box was a transparent crystal, surrounded by thin platinum bars that locked into each adjacent side.  Behind the crystal, the interior of the box was filled with a clear viscous gel, floating inside of which and regarding him without emotion, was the Eye of Necrodemus.

Just as the intake of the dragon’s attack pulled the air away from him, the eye’s pupil drew him in.  He could feel his mind slipping, not so much moving to the side as it was being obliterated.  The longer he stared into the pupil of the artifact, the less of him there remained.  His hands clawed at the melted gold beneath him, pulling on the fused gems and treasures as if he were scaling the world’s most horizontal wall, quickly closing the distance between himself and the pedestal.

There was no fanfare.  No angelic chorus filled the air as his hand lifted on its own accord and touched the small enchanted prison.  There was only silence, because at that exact moment the dragon’s boilers were full.  As the dragon god expelled its mighty attack upon sorcerer, the shell of Joeshan mindlessly lifted the box and crushed it between his small hobbit hands.

 

The Box (Part XVI)

The words rolled off of his tongue before he was able to stop them, fleeing as quickly as they were born, only to be reflected back unto him by the stone on the opposite end of the large cavern.  Even as they bounced off of the wall behind him and returned in the direction his mouth had originally flung them, was great wyrm beginning to stir.

It was the mountain of gold within which the dragon lay, nestled beneath a weight so massive that were it any other creature, it would have been crushed.  Coins, gems and magical treasures endlessly poured away from the beast, a sight both beautiful and terrible to behold.

“…the gods…the gods…the gods…done?…done…done?”

Even over the cacophony of noise, his words continued to reach his ears.  A seed of doubt took root in his very soul as he glimpsed the first slash of red through the riches before him and he began to tremble in fear.  Even from this distance, the creature’s size was intimidating!

But more horrifying than the brief peek at its crimson scales was the sheer presence of the monster.  Here was a creature that had conquered cities.  Armies had fallen before its might and he dared to face it alone?

Two great horns began to cut their way from beneath the fortune.  They were scorched near the tips, tempered from years of bathing in the drake’s furnace.  His vision blurred, and he nearly swooned with fear as the eyes of the dragon set their calculating gaze upon him.

“THERE ARE NO GODS HERE, LITTLE MAN.  ONLY MALIFGORRANAKA.”

The last of the world’s most expensive blanket finally fell free from the wyrm as it rose to it’s full height.  Here was a beast which had survived the world’s finest warriors.  It had outsmarted the land’s most reviled villians, and now he stood before it feeling every bit as an ant would against him.  Indeed, this creature had only to raise one massive foreleg and with the tiniest flick of one claw, it could send him rocketing into oblivion.

“IT’S BEEN LONG SINCE I HAVE FEASTED UPON THE FLESH OF MAN.  TODAY I SHALL NOURISH MY OLD BODY WITH YOURS.  TONIGHT, I WILL SUCK THE MARROW FROM YOUR BONES.”

The words still held enough power that they very nearly shook him apart!  His mind screamed in protest.  His nerves were broken and he wanted nothing more to do with this foolish quest.  Before this crimson god, he had lost all will to continue.  His had forgotten all that he had come prepared with and the sword was an unfamiliar burden that pulled his hand down.

“…by the gods…”

The sword!

As if awakening from a dream, he blinked his eyes and looked down to the hand which held the…

It was gone?

“It’s gone,” he asked incredulously.  But that’s impossible!  He had only been holding it just moments ago!

“…what have I done…”

His words taunted him, reminding him of the imminent doom that was now upon him. The Great Flame yawned and stretched it’s wings as it began moving forward.  It moved from side to side, much like a cat, as it stalked him.  There was now only a few moments left for him to act.

“Damn,” he muttered softly.  Without the sword, his magic didn’t stand a chance of defeating the beast.  At best, he would only anger it even further!  And with the blood he had already spilled this day, there was only a little left to use before he became too weak to escape, should the opportunity even present itself.

“It appears I have made a grievous error,” he admitted softly.  As he began to prepare one of his most powerful spells, he watched as the dragon god closed the final dozen yards between them.  Regardless of what happened next, he knew that it would soon be over.