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.

The Box (XIII)

The sword was cold and unfamiliar in his hands, but it was a necessary inconvenience.  While he possessed many powerful magics for the coming battle, he still needed something that would open the creature for them to be more effective.

“I suppose I could have allowed them to live,” he muttered thoughtfully to himself.

Despite his words, he knew that he had made the right choice. They would have been useful against the Great Flame, their unique skills would have given him a greater chance for survival, but the overall risk of the box falling into their hands was too great.

He would rather face the venerable wyrm when it was at the height of its power than to allow for that to happen.

As he continued to close the distance between himself and the lair, he silently appraised the condition of the longsword.  The light blue substance Elladuer’d applied to the metal held.  Though he hadn’t heard what the elf had claimed it was, it appeared to have temporarily enchanted the metal for one purpose.

“To slay the dragon,” he breathed.

The words echoed softly from the stone, disturbing the silent denizens of the underdark, big and small alike.  Some acknowledged it with nary a glance, while others fled deeper into the nether.

“O’salum Na’eldraeya, Y’salonna Drak.”

As he incanted the words of the spell, he lightly drew the blade across the palm of his right hand.  It bit into his flesh, parting it with its temped edge and drank of his blood.  Not a single drop was spilled.  The blade absorbed it greedily, prompted by the power he gave unto it.

“Fly, Dragonbane, I command you,” he shrieked.  “Protect me from the abomination that is Malifgorranaka!”

At the pinnacle of his spell, he released the blade into the air where it hovered just as the hourglass had earlier.  Only, rather than keeping time, this object’s purpose was much more deadly.

His knees wobbled beneath him and for the next few seconds, he fought to regain his strength.  The magic was taking its toll on his body, years from his life and it threatened to consume him with every spell he cast.  It was a price he was willing to pay, for once he had the box, these worries would be no more.

Safely hidden in the shadows behind him, a single red eye narrowed.

The Box (Part XII)

From his perch, high above the intersection, Joeshan watched as the creatures feasted upon their kill.  His stomach lurched threateningly at the sight of his friend being devoured, but there was little else he could do at this point.  His body ached from his own recent attack and he had lost a lot of blood from his injuries as well.  If it wasn’t for the dark magic of the sorcerer, he most likely would have suffered this very same fate.

The Destrachan had continued to close in on him, breathing upon him its foul stench as it approached.  He had been paralyzed by its attack, a sonic blast so strong that it had stolen the air from his lungs and pinned him to the ground.  Slobber dripped off of its bottom lip, splashing first on his neck and then on his cheek as it drew ever closer to his face.

With a start, he realized that he could hear the voice of the sorcerer as he worked his magic from somewhere in the darkness around him, but to his dismay it was only echoes that he heard.

A long, snake-like tongue slithered past the creature’s teeth and over his face, smearing the drool over his cheek as it passed. 

He wanted to scream, cry, anything, but there were no reserves in his lungs with which to do so.  He trembled as the creature’s tongue suddenly forced its way past the eyelids of his right eye socket and wrapped itself tightly around the orb within.  He couldn’t scream, but his body reacted with motion for what his lungs could not do in sound.  

He’d lost all vision in the eye that the creature had imprisoned. Small lines of fire burned through his head as the creature first tugged, and then yanked on its small prize.  At the moment that he’d felt something give, his lungs suddenly expanded, sucking in the much needed oxygen that had been missing for too long.

As soon as it had returned, he expelled it with an anguished wail.  Blood filled the now empty socket and ran down the side of his face, while his one remaining eye watched the creature suck in the connective tissues as if it were a string of boiled pasta.

The pain was unlike anything he had ever felt, white hot, and crippling him as surely as the effects of creature’s initial attack. The Destrachan was toying with him.  Through his one remaining eye, he watched as it sucked on the other between its lips while pointing the pupil back at him.  

It was at the moment that it crushed the eye between its teeth that the creature’s attention had been drawn to Elladuer’s Last Stand, though he hadn’t known that’s what it was at the time. He was just thankful that he was safe, if even for a moment.

Now, as he watched the scene unfolding below, he understood why the creature had suddenly abandoned him its next meal. There wasn’t much left of his elfin companion.  The armor had been blasted to shreds by their sonic attacks and was scattered about the clearing.  Four of the Destrachan surrounded the elf’s remains, where they occasionally foraged from what little meat was left on his bloody bones.

They were well fed.  It was very likely that they didn’t eat this much in one sitting and their midsections were swollen to the point of bursting.  They rested close together, not so much as for warmth, but as if it were from habit.  Unlike any predatory creatures he had ever seen on the surface, these willingly shared their kill, that the next may have enough in its belly.

He began to cry, clear salty tears from his good eye and bitter blood-filled ones from his empty socket.  The pain had since faded to a dull throb, one which would be a constant reminder of what he had lost, but he would never forget the the next thing he saw.

Far below, where the creatures lazed near their feast, Oramiir strode across the clearing.  He paused only to take the elf’s weapon and entered the tunnel branching off to the left, from whence the breath of the dragon still emanated.