September 8, 2010

Karnak the Killer

Chapter 3 - The Tower of the Magi

Karnak was disappointed. They had been escorted quickly through the tower with barely a chance to see anything beyond brief glimpses of the building’s impressive architecture and into this non-descript room with a single window. He stood, squeezed between Aardaal and Carrick, in one corner of the small room. Juniper dressed in her Elementalist’s robes, with her staff held in one hand stood before them on one side of a small plain table.

On the other side sat three old men, all mages. Although of which exact discipline, Karnak could not tell. They were explaining the rules of the initiation to Juniper. She would have one full day to complete the task. She could take as many companions with her as she wanted, although they would face the same dangers as she did and would need to sign a waiver that they accepted these risks of their own free will.

With the paperwork out of the way they were led down narrow twisting steps to a dusty cellar under the Tower. With a few formal words, a young apprentice presented Juniper with a necklace containing four different coloured gemstones, then pulled a lever and a section of the wall slid back. The four entered cautiously and the panel slid back into place behind them.

The hallway ahead of them was dimly lit with fading light quartzes. The walls and floor were bare stone and the passage was just wide and high enough for Carrick to pass through. The only feature was a large rune on the floor halfway along the corridor. As they approached the rune, one of the gems on the necklace flared into life, giving off a faint red glow.

“This is the symbol for fire” explained Juniper to the others.

As they approached the end of the corridor, they could see another fire rune on the wall, which slid aside revealing a four-way junction. At the centre of the junction was another rune. As they entered, the door with the fire rune slid silently back into place behind them.

“This one is water.” confirmed Juniper as the blue gem on her necklace flared into life. The walls of the other passages also showed runes and Juniper pointed them out for the others.

“Fire behind us, water to the left, air straight ahead and earth to the right.”

“Only fire and water are glowing on the necklace” said Karnak, thinking out loud. “We came through fire, so I guess that means we go through water.”

Juniper approached the door with the water rune and indeed it slid back into the wall. Ahead lay another corridor similar to the first. The rune in the middle of this one was the symbol for earth.

“Mayhap, we simply need to activate all four gemstones to complete the trial”, suggested Aardaal.

“I hope it is as simple as that”, muttered Juniper with a frown. “But I fear it may be more complex. And more dangerous.”

The third gem, an emerald began to glow with an green light as they passed the symbol for earth. With three gemstones glowing they had high hopes of finishing the trial quickly. But the next junction contained the symbol for water and as they entered it, the light faded from the blue gem.

Over the next hour, the four explored several corridors and junctions, often backtracking to activate one or more of the gems. They made slow progress through the maze until they realised they were in danger of having no gems active.

“What happens if they all go out?” asked Karnak.

“I suppose we fail the trial.” rumbled Carrick.

“You mean we will be stuck here forever? Won‘t they let us out?” demanded Aardaal.

Juniper gulped as the true danger of the trial became apparent, “I-I don’t think so.”

With their lives on the line, the party took a moment to consider their options. Karnak had picked up some fish pies on the way to the tower that morning and offered the still warm pastries around. Carrick had mapped out the maze on a piece of parchment and they studied it carefully, while they munched on the pies.

“There must be a solution,” muttered Juniper, her brow furrowed in concentration.

Karnak picked at his tusks, deep in thought. He looked carefully up and down the bare corridor.

“Maybe we missed something” he grunted as his eye caught what looked like the outline of a doorway on the opposite wall.

“A hidden passage”, declared Aardaal. “Carrick help me open it.”

The obsidiman pushed at the wall where Aardaal indicated and a section of the wall twisted open.

Aardaal slipped through the opening. Beyond was a large dimly-lit room. He could hear water lapping against stone and a damp, musty smell assailed his nostrils. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he could see a narrow strip of stone leading across the room to the far wall, black water on either side.

However, more worrying was the hunched figure in the middle of stone walkway. Its head cocked up as he entered, sniffing at the air like some beast. Studying the figure, Aardaal could now see that’s the creatures eyes were sewn shut and it’s arms ended not in hands but short, broad blades.

Back at the entrance, Carrick gulped. He was more concerned by the dark water on either side of the narrow walkway, than the creature on it. Obsidimen could not swim.

Aardaal edged cautiously out along the walkway towards the creature. As he got closer, he could see that it was tethered to the middle of the walkway by a chain. The creature hissed and lunged at him, only to be pulled up short.

Aardaal dropped into a crouch and edged closer. When the creature lunged again, he waited until the chain pulled it to a halt then slashed at it with his father’s sword. The beast howled in rage. It thrashed against it’s tether and to the shock of the four adventurers, ripped the chain clean from the floor. It immediately charged at Aardaal in a blind rage, but the sword master kept his cool. As it reached him, he twisted to the side and gave it a gentle push that took it off the side of the walkway and into the dark water with a loud splash.

The water settled and of the creature there was no sign. The four edged carefully across the walkway to the other side, the obsidiman on his hands and knees. With some pushing at the wall they managed to open another concealed doorway that took them back into one of the corridors they had previously traversed. This gave them some additional possibilities for changing which gems were lit. While Carrick waited, for he was not keen to cross the walkway more than necessary, the rest of the party moved back and forth between the passages and corridors until they had the right combination of gems activated to move deeper into the maze.

They returned to water room and called out for Carrick to join them. As the obsidiman stepped onto the walkway, Aardaal‘s keen eyes spotted a movement. The creature they had thought dead, was climbing out of the water and up the wall at the obsidiman’s feet.

“Carrick, ware! The creature is still alive.”

Carrick backed out of the room, setting his shield and drawing his heavy spiked mace. Dripping with water, the pale cadaver crawled onto the walkway. It sniffed at the air and turned towards Aardaal at the other end of the walkway. Spotting his chance, Carrick smacked it on the head with a bone crushing blow. The creature roared as the obsidiman’s blow crushed the back of its skull, then turned and lashed at him with a frenzy of blows.

‘Too fast’ were Carrick’s last thoughts as the beast’s blows stung his flesh. A normal man would have been flayed alive, but his training allowed him to parry some of the blows and his thick skin absorbed the worst of the others. Still the pain and shock were overwhelming and he sank to his knees and toppled sideways.

Juniper’s earth dart hit the creature in the back and it spun towards the others. Aardaal and Karnak were already edging out onto the walkway. Aardaal had his sword at the ready and Karnak followed banging his sword on his shield and shouting, “Hey, blind and ugly. Over here.”

The creature charged again. Aardaal set his footing and drove his blade hard into it’s chest as it reached him. There was a squirt of liquid from a pouch sewn into it’s chest and it stopped with a croak, then tumbled slowly into the water. They rushed to the other side and checked on the fallen obsidiman.

“Still breathing,” sighed Juniper. “His wounds are not deep. He will live.”

While Juniper patched him up, the two men watched the water for signs of movement. This time the creature did not resurface. They rested for what seemed like hours, but could not tell for sure. Then, with a soft moan, Carrick’s eyes flickered open.

“Welcome back my friend,” grinned Karnak. They helped the obsidiman back to his feet and proceeded slowly onwards.

However, they had no sooner gone past the next junction when they realised that they could again go no further without being trapped. While Juniper and Carrick studied the obsidiman’s map, Karnak and Aardaal checked the walls for concealed doors.

“Here” announced Aardaal and Carrick pushed at the wall where he indicated. A cold mist billowed from the hidden room as the door swung open. Karnak and Aardaal slipped inside. The room seemed to soak up the light from quartzes in the hall, so even with their sensitive eyes, they could only see a few paces into the room.

“I like this not” uttered Karnak. They edged across the room, but could see no doorway in the opposite wall. Then Karnak shivered at a cold touch on his shoulder. Spinning around he could see nothing. “There is something in here.”

The two hurried back to the door and Carrick pushed it closed behind them.

“No way out that way,” wheezed Karnak, his heart pounding more from fright than exertion.

The group huddled together in silence, while Juniper studied Carrick's map. Quite some time later, she finally looked up. “I believe I have the solution." She explained the sequence of corridors and junctions they needed to follow to activate the gems to get them through the next door.

“The only problem is that once we go through it, we will be unable to return.”

The group was silent for a moment. Aardaal stood statue-still, Carrick seemed lost in thought and Karnak picked nervously at his tusks.

“Well, we can sit here and die or go on. I vote we go on.” he offered at last. One by one, the others nodded.

Juniper walked the planned route and came back to them with the required gems lit. They stepped into the junction and the ruby dulled, leaving only the sapphire representing air lit. She approached the door with the air symbol and it slid aside revealing a set of stairs leading upwards. Behind her, the three men breathed out a collective sigh of relief.

At the top of the stairs, the same young novice who had let them into the maze was sitting at small reading desk. He looked up from the heavy book he was poring over and raised an eyebrow.

“We were on the verge of giving up on you. Initiates normally complete it within the first couple of hours or not at all.”

“And what happens to those who don’t make it in the allotted time,” questioned Karnak.

The novice shrugged and nodded towards the injured Carrick. “Looks like you already found out.”

Closing his book, the novice stood up from the desk and escorted them back to the room where they had first met the Tower’s mages.

They waited for about an hour before the mages assembled. Karnak yawned realising that it was approaching dawn and that the novice was probably rousing the mages from their beds. Once they finally arrived, they sat conversing in hushed whispers amongst themselves for a few minutes before the eldest turned to them and addressed Juniper.

“Juniper Elderberry”, he intoned. “You have successfully completed the trial of elements. We welcome you as a novice of the Tower.

Nodding towards the necklace she still wore, he continued, “Your token of completion will allow you access to the tower at any time. You may freely use the library, but for now the rest of the tower is off limits. For your own safety, of course.”

Juniper nodded. She was glowing with pride and could barely contain her excitement. When the old mages finally shuffled out of the room, she jumped up and hugged first Carrick then Aardaal and finally Karnak.

“Thank you,” she gushed. “This means everything to me.”

“Carrick deserves most of the credit”, laughed Karnak. “He took on that creature on his own and has the bumps to show for it.”

Carrick nodded, rubbing at his bandaged arm.

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