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 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!”