Heart thudding and out of breath, Solaris leans against an old pine tree. Through the needle leaf canopy, the sky brightens in shades from black to gray. The morning’s sunrise is still many heartbeats away.
She growls, shaking her head and clutching her fur-edged cloak. Water drips from skeletal branches and the tip of her nose. She wipes and breathes in the damp air, face relaxing and lungs refreshed.
Crackling underbrush jerks her head. Smithmage Martle scrambles clear of a thicket wearing a voluminous robe covered in twigs and sticky seeds. Legs wobbling, he falls and struggles on with knees and palms.
“Calm down!” Heart steadying, Solaris holds up her hand. “It’s a mystic fear. Pause, and let it clear.”
“No!” Martle recoils with wide wild eyes. “Run! He Comes!” The older man staggers to his feet and stampedes into more underbrush.
Messoack wipes his face with a dripping rag and drops it on the floor, missing the wash-bin he took it from. “I am the candle in the dark for fluttering thoughts.” He kisses his smooth, blue-gray knuckles. “I am the eye within the maelstrom for argonauts.”
The barkeep is draped over the bar-top, a cauterized hole through his neck and red foam covering his lips. A pair of wenches lean against each other at the door, holes through their buxom chests. A minstrel is slumped over his mandolin on the stage, and a half dozen patrons are scattered about the floor. Everyone in the inn is dead, and Messoack doesn’t remember what compelled him to kill them all.
“I am Voice for the Unnameable, but my mind is my own.” He straightens his collar and strides outside.
With swift, sandaled feet and loose-fitting tunic and trousers, Jacob scouts his squad of mounted adventurers through the night, reaching a lonely inn during the quiet dark before dawn. A cramping calf makes him wince, and he stretches it as his companions rein in around him.
Shortsword in hand and armor clinking, Beorn hops off of Theros, his giant gray goat. “If we hurry, we can loot and escape before sunrise.”
Jacob gestures up to the dimming stars as the sky gains a hint of blue. “The sage warned that our enemy controls flying spies.”
Leather armor creaking, Sylyca dismounts her sweaty horse and spins thin elvish hands about with a hypnotic flair. “I can cloud our travel. No tracks, and blur eyes looking our way.”
“Nice.” Jacob smiles at the petite elf who makes him regret his vow of celibacy as he fingers a blocky stone key. “The secret entrance should be under a stall in the stables. Follow me.”
Torchlight makes shadows dance as the adventuring band tiptoes deeper into the Undersea maze. Built by a giant race, the place shrinks the veterans into children. They are like puppies and kittens with trinkets and charms, exploring an endless dungeon with fur raised and ears twitching.
Breath hushed, the band of five pause where the yellow ribs of something colossal blocks an entry like a portcullis.
Solaris runs her hands along a carved bone thick as her arm. “Could you break through this?” She gestures to Belazar. “Without too much noise?”
The bulky orcelf saunters over and grips the bone bars. “Maybe.” His dark gray skin flushes and tiny tusks poke from his lips as he grits his teeth.
Spiders: Featured spider color altered from original: taken by Thomas Shahan. Used with permission.
Still under the docks of Titantale City…
The empty bookshelf swivels open to a passage, a short tunnel through the Undersea’s speckled blue granite.
Solaris runs her soft fingers across the rough cut stone. “Not titans’ work. It is old though. Maybe chiseled through by the first people that took advantage of the scaled giants’ disappearance.”
Jacob rubs his hands together. “Let’s get some treasure.”
Solaris taps his back with the base of her torch, and the martial artist leads her and the rest of their party into another dark room. The floor is dusty instead of damp and webs cover the walls all the way up to the ceiling, a tree’s height above Solaris.
The walls are a mixture of porous and smooth, hard granite and fossilized coral full of holes. Solaris swings a flaming torch from side to side. Blues, blacks, and whites, all swirl together, and the wide corridor echoes with skitterings and clickings coming from inside the stone.
“Crabs are fine.” Solaris kicks at a foot-sized claw poking through the wall. “It’s the beetles, bats, and spiders.” She shivers. “Especially the jumping spiders. Those things look like a nightmare ate a teddy bear and grew eight legs, too many eyes, and huge fangs.”
The crab she had kicked snaps at her. Shell striped, purple and gray, with cyan barnacles adding a spiky layer, it is a giant crustacean that has survived many seasons. Solaris makes a circle and slash motion of her overgoddess to show respect and then jabs with her torch until the creature skitters deeper into the nether behind the carved stone.
Sylyca, the diminutive elf holding the parties’ other torch, points back at the oversized stairs they’ve descended. “We are below sea level, aren’t we?” She lowers her voice. “Have we entered the Undersea? Is that dream demoness close?” Continue reading The Undersea Party: Part 2→
The many windows of the gothic mansion are curtained, blocking the late afternoon sun with thick midnight-blue canvass.
Colgrevance settles his horse as a dozen men from the Pale Crusade form up to either side. The soldiers plant shields and kneel, peeking over with helms on and heavy crossbows aimed at the tall doors of the ballroom’s entry. Their holy man stands before them, hands clasped, mumbling in Celestial until a white light glows through his palms. Behind, their leader slips on a helmet to seal plate armor fancy enough to rival Colgrevance’s and strides around humming hymns of the angel’s tongue.
“Tristen?” Colgrevance puts on his own helmet.
His armored peer pulls a greatsword off his back and rests it on his shoulder. “We’re ready. Where’s your wearebear?”
“Beorn’s fetching the big lout.”
Tristen taps his breastplate and whispers a word. A white glow spreads across his suit, like moonlight shining through a metallic window.
Colgrevance drums his fingers on his saddle. “Messoack!”
“I am present.” The gray-skinned magician steps out of the shadows of the alley behind them.
Bodies bleed. Some moan, most breathe, all are dressed in finery.
Colgrevance crouches over Beorn. A matching pair of shortswords stick out of the warrior’s gut. Blood leaks out like the sap of a tapped maple tree.
Clapping his gauntlets together, Colgrevance says in Celestial, “Stable.” The silver metal encasing his hands flickers a light green, and he uses its minor enchantment to stall the bulky half-elf’s bleed and ease his gasps.
“Sorry, I froze,” says Colgrevance. “I’ve never been caught by a hypnotic rune before.”