Chapter 2 Continues on the Lost Island of Mopri
Sikil woke to a heavy pressure covering his chest, making each breath taken more painful then the last. Dots began to spin before his eyes before long and it took a moment for him to orientate himself. He had been walking through a rock covered field, that much he could recall clearly, and had kicked at one such stone with the toe of his foot.
The memory of that seemed to make pain flair in his right foot, a reminder of how hard he had kicked the stone, and with that more memories seemed to flood through him, splintered but clear as daylight.
The stone had flown quite a few feet.
He had been travelling somewhere.
Strange markings covered the walls, each seeming to shine to his eyes.
The ground opened up, swallowing him, and he was falling.
Closing his eyes, Sikil tried to reorientate himself and take stock of his situation. He could moves his toes and fingers, though the pain in his left arm told him that it was most likely broken. The slab of rock on his chest was heavy, a remnant of the roof of the structure he had he fallen into, but it wasn't going to be heavy for him to move even with the broken arm.
At least I'm still alive, he thought to himself, but wasn't sure how much of a good thing that was. His throat was dry from the dust and the small waterskin he carried with him was nowhere in sight. He had no food, having only planned on beging out for a short while. Worse was the hole, too far for him to reach and the light filtering through it was fading quickly.
Night was coming.
Okay you lazy piece of cow dung, time to get working. With that thought in mind, Sikil reached up with his good arm and began pushing the slab to the right, using his left shoulder to push it further without damaging his arm even worse. The rock slid easier then he thought it would but it still did take quite a bit of effort. By the time he was done, he was out of breath and his palm and arms were covered in scratches and cuts.
As he pulled himself into a sitting position, he examined the wounds. Most were nothing to worry about, nothing more then a rinse in a stream wouldn't fix, but a shallow cut on his palm had him worried. The Gods knew how long it was since someone had been down here and what kind of infection he could get. Not to mention his broken arm. It pained him to move it, sending needles of pain racing along his entire arm, but the bone hadn't broken the skin which was a blessing.
"Bloody fool you are," he mumbled to himself as he looked up to the hole above him. He cursed himself silently for even taking the shortcut across the forest. The locals had said that the forest was haunted by ghosts from an age long ago and was dangerous, but he had ignored them. He had picked his way through the dense underbrush for hours before coming to a field and had taken out his frustration for his poorly chose 'shortcut' on the wrong stone.
"Blasted fool! Could be at an inn by now if you followed the road, but no, you had to cut across this bloody forest," he said, his voice seeming distant as it bounced off the ruins. "And now you have to wait till day to see if you can find your bloody way out. Bloody, bloody, fool!" He banged his head against his palm repeatedly, cursing himself over and over.
The shadows lengthened, covering the small room he was in in darkness. He hoped to find a way out when there was light enough to see, maybe a doorway or stairway that led to another opening, but in the fading light all he could make out was the runes on the walls, glowing softly.
He cradled his broken arm against his chest, took one last look at the cut on his palm, and then slumped his head down, intent on finding some escape from there, if only in his dreams.
It was older then he had first thought, the decals on the wall faded and cracked beyond recognition. He was saddened to discover that it wasn't just his strength that had moved the rock slab of himself, but simple gravity. He had fallen near a stairway that led down into the darkness and the rock now sat on its third step.
Sikil felt extremely lucky that he had fallen where he did, a few more feet to the left and he would have tumbled down those steps and would more then likely be dead.
Arm still aching, he pulled himself to his feet and leaned against the wall.
He had gotten himself into many scrapes during his few short years. Having run away from a life of pulling weeds and milking cows, he had made his way south and quickly came upon a way of earning coins. The small towns and hamlets that dotted the landscape around the much larger cities were without a way of communicating with each other without the messengers that moved from one to another, but the problem was that the messengers moved from town to the city and then to another city, slowing down the lines.
He had offered the mayors a simple solution. He would make circuits around the smaller towns, dropping off mail and picking them up as he went to the next town. Nothing important, mainly just birth and death announcements, but it helped fatten his purse.
It was an easy life, even when news was slow. Some days he would just venture out without no mail, just enjoying the feeling of being on the road.
Wanderlust, his employers called it.
Boredom was more like it.
He hadn't found his calling, merely making his way from place to place, hoping that he would stumble upon it. Something that would fill that hole in his chest, something that would give his life meaning.
And now he feared he would never get to do that.
Running his hand over the wall, he slowly began to make his way around the room, being careful to avoid the markings that still glowed with their own inner light on the walls. It only took him a short moment to discover what he already felt. The only way out was down or up. No choice now but to wait for daylight to see if he could scrounge something to use as a makeshift torch.
His pouch held a tinderbox an a few pieces of dried meats that had sifted towards the bottom as well as his coins. Not knowing how long it would be before he got out of this place, he decided to not eat yet. He might need it later.
He looked up through the hole and, for a moment, thought of yelling for help. He quickly dismissed that. Who would be out here, in the supposedly haunted forest, in the night.
Just as he was about to scour the room again, some movement above caught his eye; a shadow moved just at the edge of the hole.
A cry for help was just about to escape his lips when the shadow moved again and he felt a cold hand grip his heart. Something wasn't right and his instincts cried for him to run. But there was nowhere to run. There was only the hole in the ceiling and the . . .
His eyes moved towards the stairway and then back towards the hole. The shadow was still there and then he realized why his gut had told him not to call out. Whomever or whatever was up there made no sound as it circled above him. Not the faintest whisper of grass moved as the shadow moved and even the world above seemed to have silenced. No crickets chirped, no birds called to their mates. He knew that they had been making noise before, having heard them all as he walked through the field.
But now, nothing.
Fear gripping him tightly, he backed his way towards the stairway, his good hand moving against the wall, not daring to take his eyes off the hole.
Was this how it was going to end? Not starving to death, nor dying of thirst, but killed by... by what? He didn't even know but his imagination began to run away from him. The ghosts of the ruins were coming for him. No, it was a kara, a shadow demon that his mother had said haunted underneath the house waiting for bad little boys and girls. It was Death himself, coming for him.
All these flashed through his mind and a soft gasp escaped his lips as his blood pumped loudly in his ears. It was barely audible, no more then a whisper in the wind, but the shadow above stopped circling and seemed to loom closer above him.
Not content with only gripping him, his fear took full control of his body as he stumbled backwards and cried out. He was going to die. Oh, Gods, he was going to die, and what had he done with his life? Delivered a few measly letters and shared his bed with a few of the prettier girls in the hamlets? This was going to be his legacy?
Light, blinding in the darkness, flashed from his right hand, and a cry filled with shock and pain echoed through the room and then he was falling down the stairs, his feet knocked out from underneath him as he came up against the block of stone.
He must have have hit something on the way down because dust billowed from the stairway above him, following his crazy descent down the stairs. He caught flashes of images as he fell head over heels; a rune near the stairway glowing bright, a massive shadow clawing at the hole in the roof, making it larger, and then steps. Oh, countless steps. The pain from his arm grew with each bounce and soon darkness enveloped him again.
Not the darkness of night, but unconsciousness.
Stories of strange flashes of light, unexplained noises and other "supernatural" occurances had drawn the Sidhe to the area, which seemed to mostly boast one, large "haunted" forest ringed by a series of small villages and hamlets. Toph knew there was no such thing as ghosts, and what was likely causing these disturbances was some ancient, defunct (or nearly so) magical object, that would serve a better purpose being studied than lying in some scummy pond in the middle of nowhere.
His arrival in one of those small villages had been met with little fanfare. Unlike a century prior, when he had been one of the last Sidhe living among the rest of the world, the sudden reemergence of his people meant he no longer had to deal with the constant pointing and gasps of surprise that his olive-skinned self had once raised. It was good. He had grown tired of being a being of legend... for he was no such thing. A passable mage among the Sidhe meant that he had more power than most other mortals could hope to possess, but compared to the masters of his youth, his power was as the embers of a raging fire.
Word in the inn had been slightly concerned. Their mail, which was always on time, had not arrived today. Most assumed that the courier had just gotten delayed and he would arrive tomorrow, but a few voices pointed out that Sikil had never been late before.
The lateness of a courier didn't concern him, however. Perhaps if the man did not appear by the time he was ready to leave, he would assist in the search, but Toph had lived too long to worry about someone missing for less than 12 hours. He asked, and was directed towards a rock-strewn hillside and a cave where the 'supernatural' events seemed to happen most frequently.
Undaunted by the darkness, Toph snapped his fingers and a small globe of light appeared next to his head, bobbing in the night and casting an eerie light over the stones. Nodding to himself, he stepped into the cave, and discovered to his surprise that, after picking his way over some fallen stones at the entrance, the cave turned into what appeared to be a constructed tunnel. He began to walk.
His memories were interrupted by a sudden flash of light to his right. He looked over to see the fading afterimage of some sort of rune, then threw himself forward as the tunnel collapsed with a roar behind him. Cursing, he got to his feet and examined the cave-in. He experimentally tugged at a stone and cursed again as the ceiling rumbled an ominous warning. Turning around, he realized the only way to go now was in... he was sure he could find another exit eventually...
The voice seemed to echo from the darkness and Sikil struggled to see through it, to find the source of the voice. It reminded him of an old man he had met on the road, a herbsman who had seen too much in his lifetime but still managed to somehow keep going.
"Who are you?"
Again the same question, and he gave up trying to find the speaker. It was too dark, he couldn't even see his hand in front of his own face.
"Sikil," he replied and wasn't surprised when his voice cracked in fear. Too much had happened already and he knew the breaking point was near.
"Who are you?" the voice asked again, the tone changing slightly as if he was a puzzle to be solved.
Running a hand through his thick brown hair, cut short haphazardly with his knife, Sikil frowned. He had answered the question. He had given the stranger his name. Why was he asking again? He was Sikil, a wanderer of the road and a deliver of mail. What else did the voice want from him?
"Who are you?"
Frustrated, he yelled, "I'm Sikil! Who in the bloody nine hells wants to know?!" As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them. He was always quick to anger, but he was also quick to calm. His father had said he was like a box of tinder being lit afire and then dunked in a river only to repeat the process. It was one of the reasons why he took to the roads so well. He could vent his anger out with only the uncaring trees to bear witness.
"Who are you?"
Sikil opened his mouth to yell again but dust choked him. He lay on a floor of a tunnel, his head resting on the bottom stair, and realized that he had been unconcious. Again.
The pain in his left arm flared and a dull throbbing in his head made him want to throw up. The tumble down the stairs had caused a bone to break through his skin and he looked at it with morbidly curiousity, noting how it glistened white in the faint light and how blood had already begun to clot around it, black with dirt. If it wasn't infected already, he knew it would be shortly.
At least he was alive. For now.
Pulling himself to his feet, he looked around him. Light, glowing faintly from those strange markings he had seen above, gave him enough light to make out that he was indeed in a tunnel, the floor covered in thick layers of dust and the walls plain fitted stone. The tunnel itself curved slightly ahead and begin him and the way behind him was blocked by a cave in.
He could see dirt sifting through the ceiling and wondered if this was the way he was going to go. Buried alive in some gods forsaken hole in the ground. His ears picked up the sounds of other cave ins, in both directions the tunnel offered him, but they seemed distant.
Who are you?
The question floated in his mind, begging to be answered, but he shoved it off to the side. He had other things to think about and those were more important.
Like how he was going to get out of there alive.
"Gotta keep moving," he said to himself and was surprised when he heard his voice echo down the tunnel. He grinned. You want an answer, I'll give you an answer. "You want to know who I am? I'm the bloody bastard that's getting out of here alive!"
As his last words bounced off the stones and faded into the distance, he began heading down the tunnel, picking a direction at random, clutching his arm close to him but moving with a determined step.
" YOU *something NO *something...* GETTING OUT OF HERE ALIVE!"
Toph frowned. Had he somehow managed to disturb some recluse who lived in the ruins? Taken at face value, his presence wasn't welcome. Reaching down to his waist, he pulled out the small curved dagger he kept for just these sorts of encounters, and willed his globe of light to go out as he settled himself into a small alcove in one of the walls where an old tree root had knocked away some of the wall. He waited as slow footsteps made their way up the hallway...
As he walked by one such marking, he reached out towards it. The light grew noticeably brighter and for a moment if he wondered if these markings were like lamps, allowing travelers to go through the tunnel without bearing light of their own.
His pace, once strong and steady, now began to slow and he began to feel every ache and pain in his body with each step. His arm had become a roaring fire and he wondered whether or not if he will be able to use it again. He would have been happy to get just get out of there, the tunnels were causing an itch go up his spine.
Putting one foot in front of another, he continually moved forward. The tunnel here was in worse condition then the one behind him, the carvings on the wall all but scratched out in their entirety or broken. Maybe an exit lay this way, he dared to hope. Or at least he was closer to the surface.
Moving cautiously in the diminishing light, he placed his right hand on the wall to guide him. The wall was rougher and he could feel some thin roots of trees. Looking up, he hoped to see light breaking through the ceiling, showing him that he was close to freedom.
He could hear whoever had threatened him growing closer, slow footsteps echoing down the hallway. Closer and closer, until, with a cry, the source of the footsteps fell into Toph. The Sidhe sprang into action, pushing his attacker off of him and sending the man sprawling onto the floor of the room. Drawing his dagger, Toph summoned light to shine directly before his assailant's eyes.
Dismayed, Toph quickly put away his knife and pulled the light back. Instead of some cave troll or bandit, it appeared he had been beating up a... badly wounded man. Toph winced at the sight of bone protruding from flesh, and began to pull out a few herbs and salves from his pockets.
"I am so sorry.... I had no idea that... I know some small healing magics... can I help you?"
What was this man, no, this Sidhe, doing here in the first place?
He couldn't be picky though. He was as good as dead without the help he was being offered and possibly could even be shown a way out.
Extending his arm slowly, he gritted his teeth as pain shot up his arm and nearly caused him to pass out. "Anything you can do would be helpful," he said warily. "Not that I'm ungrateful for the offer, but you wouldn't happen to know a way out, would you?"
"Well, if you know a way to dig through several feet or more of collapsed stone and dirt, there's an exit just down this corridor." he said, frowning as he gingerly touched the area around the broken arm, and pulling back as his patient winced and hissed in pain.
"Sorry." he muttered. He spent a few minutes going over the other wounds, looking at the cut palm with some concern, then sat down and started mixing some herbs together, crushing them into a thick paste.
"So, as I'm sure you've been able to tell yourself, the worst injuries you have are that cut on your palm, and, obviously, your arm... [color=olive] The Sidhe's voice dropped to a muttering as he channeled some of his Art into the paste, which turned a warm reddish color.
[color=olive]"This is for your hand. It'll sting like crazy, but it will help it heal faster, and prevent infection from setting in. As for the arm... We can try and set it, but I will not lie and say it is without risk. What do you think?"
No, stop that, that doesn't make any sense. These tunnels were the perfect place for a dwarf. Any sane, sensible dwarf would be just fine down here. Pickaxe over one shoulder, interesting rock in hand, yes any sane, sensible, underground-loving, axe-weilding, diamond-mining dwarf would be as happy as a...as a...well as happy as a dwarf down a mine shaft.
"Shame really that it's me and not them down here then, isn't it?" Rhoslyn muttered to herself, peering into the gloom ahead. Above her head some random-looking squiggle glowly dimly but it didn't seem to be doing much to dispel the thick shadows. "Lucky, lucky, lucky me, dwarf down a tunnel, just in my element aren't I?" She swore darkly under her breath about all those who thought tunnels were a good idea. Then she swore again, aiming her words mentally at the elf and goblin who had thought it a good idea to suggest that this dwarf should enter the tunnel. "Of course, that pair of reprobates are still fine and dandy above ground, probably gone back to the pub". There were times when she really had to question herself for teaming up with that pair.
Of course, there was quite some distance between Rhoslyn and her 'friends'. It seemed like she'd been walking down this tunnel for an age, and for what reason? Because that thrice-damned elf had thought she'd heard something down here. Of course there was something down here, there were all sorts of things that lived underground, and on consideration, Rhoslyn had no wish to meet any of them. There were any number of very good reasons why the people hereabouts had spoken fearly of the forest and the tunnels it hid.
The tunnel had twisted and turned, split into multiple shafts and dizzily turned around upon itself. She had no idea where she was any more...well except for generally being in the last place she cared to be: underground. When she got out of here, she was going to strangle her companions.
Provided, of course, that she ever did get out of here.
Rhoslyn squinted once more into the shadows, hands straying to the knife hilts at her belt. Had that been a rock falling? Some creature moving about in the darkness? The voice of some fellow underground traveller who'd been stupid enough to listen to an elf and a goblin? The traditional image of the fearless dwarf warrior charging into the black unknown, battleaxe swinging was all well and good. However, given the choice, Rhoslyn prefered to be the sly figure sneaking up behind the target that the traditional dwarf was charging at.
People didn't expect dwarfs to be sneaky and steathly. It was amazing what you could accomplish when people didn't expect you.
The voice came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time and Sikil swung his head around frantically, trying to find its source. Eyes wide, he realized that it hadn't been spoken out loud, but within his own head. He was going bloody insane, that was it. Next he'll think he'll see a goblin juggling live kittens while balancing on the back of a bucking bull.
"Um, yeah," he said quickly when he looked back towards the Sidhe. He straightened up and tried to look calm. Tried to look like he wasn't hearing things. "I don't think I have much of a choice. Just be quick about it." He paused and then offered his other hand to him. "Thanks. Name's Sikil. If I don't die down here, consider me in your debt."
Or she could trust to blind luck. Innate dwarfish or blind luck, so long as one of them got her out of here she didn't particularly care which it was.
The dwarf woman crept forward, the rune above fading as she passed from its sphere of influence. Another ahead of her dimly pulsed as she drew closer. "Now that could get annoying", Rhoslyn said, rising up onto the balls of her feet to try and get a closer look at it. In her line of business having squiggly runes glow whenever you got close could be more than a little inconvenient. Not that she would ever claim, in the presence of polite company, to be anything less than an honourable businesswoman.
In impolite company...well a smuggler can always find impolite company.
As she stood beneath the newly shining rune she sensed something off to the left. It was only the faintest of feelings but Rhoslyn could almost swear that somewhere in that direction was a larger area; a room perhaps, leading off from the tunnel that she found herself in? She dithered for a move before curiousity got the better of her and she moved towards that area. Unsheathing her long daggers, Rhoslyn held one out gently before her, probing for some point where the tunnel might give way to something more. The steel point kissed the stone walls of the tunnel, rasping slightly as she moved along. Not there...no...nor there...still solid wall...had just just imagined it?
The tip of the blade skipped slightly in her hand as the stone wall ended and became something else. Rhoslyn re-sheathed the dagger from her left hand and rand her fingers gently over the area. There was something there, her eyes might betray her but those innate dwarfish senses apparently (and surprisingly) hadn't. There was definitely something there, infuriating close but impossible to see even in the light of the rune. Someone had hidden something there - a door in all likelihood - and hidden it well.
"I'm Toph. I understand you'd rather not have to have a somewhat major medical emergency and triage occurring in the middle of a dirty, dark tunnel, but no, I don't think we have much of a choice at all. Things could get a lot worse, and we have no idea how long we're going to be stuck in here, and if you think it hurts now..." The Sidhe shrugged and his lips twisted into a wry smirk.
Toph reached out and gingerly took the broken arm in his hands, examining the break more closely. Even now, blood oozed out from around the white bone, although a scab had begun to form. He glanced up to meet Sikil's eyes.
"Okay. I'm going to do it now. This will hurt."
He waited a moment, then, holding Sikil's upper arm above the break with his left hand, he pulled down firmly with his right. With a sickening SLORPing sound, the arm extended unnaturally and the bone slipped back into the muscle as blood began to pour out of the wound. Toph let go and quickly went to work on the now-open wound, caking a large layer of the sticky, pasty salve all over it until the bleeding slowed, and stopped.
"Okay. As long as you don't move it too much, the salve should help it to heal quickly. I'm going to actually reposition the bone now so it won't heal the wrong way, and then I'm going to cast a spell to immobilize it in place so it doesn't get knocked out of alignment again."
Toph grabbed the blood-slicked arm of Sikil and carefully rotated it until he felt that the two halves of the bone were properly back in place. Holding Sikil's arm with one hand, he placed his other directly over the break and opened himself up to the Art once more.
Strangely, he felt some sort of resistance, the Art not flowing into his conscious control as it usually did. Frowning, he pushed through the resistance and moments later felt a sheath of magical energy surround Sikil's arm, holding it firmly in place and preventing the bone from coming loose again.
The Sidhe rocked back onto his heels.
"Should be safer now. That arm is going to take quite a while to heal. Have you broken a bone before?"
Toph paused, then continued. "Actually, what are you doing in this tunnel anyways? You're not the one causing trouble for the villages nearby, are you?"
"No," he said softly as he studied his arm. After a moment, he looked up towards Toph and realized that he was still waiting for an answer. He had asked too questions. Sikil smiled slightly and then shook his head. "Er, no to both. Delivering mail isn't too dangerous of a profession, even with the wars." he paused and then looked back the way he had come and bit his bottom lip nervously.
"I took a shortcut and fell down here. If I did cause problems for the villages around here, I wouldn't have much of a business left." He frowned again as he looked down the passage. "Though I think that the locals were right. The forest is haunted. Something, and I do mean something, tried to follow me through the hole."
Pulling himself into a sitting position, he glanced around the tunnels again and felt a shiver go up his spine. Something had tried to follow him down here and it was only thanks to something happening with the markings on the walls that had stopped it. But was it still out there? Or was is it already here, hunting him?
No, not him. Them. He wasn't alone in these tunnels anymore. Toph was here as well and just in as much danger as he was.
"There's something else in these tunnels, though," he said slowly, clearly embarrassed. "Either that or I've lost my mind." A soft chuckle as he pulled himself to his feet. "Looks like we have only one other way to go now."
Not one, but many. The voice echoed in his head and he could have sworn it sounded louder, more distinct.
He put his good hand to his head. "Definitely loosing my mind."
OOC: Just setting the scene for what I had envisioned for the layout and such of the tunnel complex. No god-moding intended.
IC: At Rhoslyn's touch, an area roughly the shape of the door began to form over the stone. Carved in symbols and arcane marks, the door glowed faintly brighter then the markings in the tunnel and was securely placed in the stone. No seam seemed to separate the wood from stone almost as if they were one material. Even more odd was the fact that the door had no handle or obvious way to open it.
But the door opened anyway, its magic sensing that it was discovered and opening the way for whomever had.
Beyond the door was another corridor, much more richly decorated then the one Rhoslyn was in. Tapestries, faded beyond recognition, littered the ancient stone-worked walls, and a thick layer of dust covered the floor. Obviously this corridor hadn't been used in decades, probably even longer. Doors lined both sides of the corridor, these one with doorhandles.
Faint echoes of voices drifted down the corridor she was in. Two, from the sound of it.
There was no time to ponder over the unceasing oddness of the taller races though. No time even to consider what lay before her. Not even time to draw breath before she heard voices floating down the corridor she stood in. "Just what I need", she said, "Or is it?" And there was the truth of it? Did she want to meet other people who wandered these tunnels? They might be fellow lost souls like herself, "Or rather, they might be idiots like me who listened to a damned elf. When will I learn not to?"
It wasn't the first time that she'd listen to that silly elf and...well was crazy too strong a term to use for her goblin companion? Not not really, after all she was talking about a goblin here. Crazy was about normal for that species.
Still, she couldn't stand there in the corridor. The voices might belong to others who'd got lost, or even better to some sort of rescuers. Or else they might belong to someone or something else altogether. She took another quick look at the new corridor; dusty and disused where the first words that came to mind. Dusty she could handle, dirt never bothered her. And 'disused'? Well it was less likely that something lived down there.
Her instincts screamed at her, they practically were pulling at her britches to try and get her to run and hide. Every sensible thought in the dwarf's head told her that there was no chance that the voices belonged to some form of rescue. Her eyes darted back and forth from the old corridor to the new. Stay and find out the source of the voices? Go and discover what sort of creepiness lurked in the tunnels ahead?
"Oh sod this", Rhoslyn said suddenly. She grabbed her courage with both hands and plunged into the newly revealed corridor.
In moments she stood at the closest door that nestled between the aged tapestries. She reached out for the handle, turning it quickly, half-afraid it would squeak or that the door would creak as she opened it. The dwarf woman threw herself through the open door and pulled it closed behind her.
Darkness settled around her, "This might have been a really stupid move on my part".
IC: The dark in the room was almost palpable and it felt heavy, unnatural. Her voice sounded too loud to her ears in the silence and seemed to hang even after leaving her lips. The size of the room was hard to feel to Rhoslyn, indeed, it felt as if she had stepped out of the physical world completely as the room felt as massive as a dwarven hall and yet as cramped as a closet. A man's closet at that.
Seconds passed, seeming to drag out forever, before a single light broke the darkness. If the darkness was absolute, so was the light. It was the light of the sun and the moons combined into one brilliant flash and then was lessened gradually until it became comfortable.
With the light Rhoslyn became aware of the room and its furnishings. A single cot, its fabric looking paper-thin and brittle, sat against the wall with a footlocker at its base. A large stone table big enough to sit four comfortably dominated the center of the room and beyond it was a weapons rack, fully stocked with swords, axes, and pikes. At first glance the room seemed to be simply a guardroom and it seemed to make sense since it was the first door in the corridor.
Again the light flashed and as if faded, three forms, roughly human in size stood around the table. They were indistinct, no features clearly visible, and the table and the walls were clearly visible through them.
"The war is lost, mi'lord." The voice was male and clearly exhausted, but of the three shapes, it was impossible to see which one had spoken. "We have been forgotten and our city has been overrun."
A deeper voice answered. "Seal the tunnels then. We'll survive down here until help arrives."
"At once!" The shape closest to her turned and headed towards the door, passing right through her! If a ghost was to feel cold, this one got the wrong handbook. It felt warm as it passed through her, somehow revitalizing.
"Do you think the flame still holds?" the first voice asked.
A soft sigh, like wind, echoed through the room. "It better. If not, then that bloody bastard of a God can go get it himself. I'm done doing his bidding."
The two remaining figures slowly faded, once again leaving the room empty except for a dwarf who had listened to a stupid elf...
"You're the mailman? They were talking about you at the tavern, said you were late. Given whats happened, I think they'll forgive the late mail." Toph grinned.
"So... You were actually followed by something?" The Sidhe frowned. "Well, this might have just gotten more interesting. I actually came because of this haunted forest. I'm..." he trailed off, trying to come up with the right word. "I guess you could say I'm a bit of an afficionado of haunted things, more often than not because the source of the 'spirits' is something entirely mundane. Oh, its magical, seventy five percent of the time, but, you know, not actually supernatural."
Toph smiled as he and Sikil began walking down the tunnel back the way Sikil had come.
"The rest of the time its someone dressing up and trying to scare people for some reason... property dispute, revenge... that sort of thing. If you were followed, well... I guess I won't be adding any more artifacts to my collection this trip."
They walked in silence for a few moments, the light from Toph's globe bobbing in front of them.
"So... how long have you been down here, Sikil?" Toph asked as his eyes began to pick out with increasing regularity runes that lined the corridor.
Slowly, so slowly, she willed her left arm to move, waved it vaguely before her as if to convince herself that there was nothing solid before her. The figure - the ghost? - had stepped through her, never seeing her, leaving only that strange warmth of his touch. She had seen many things in her travels since leaving the tunnels of her birth, but they had mostly been mundane. Never had she witnessed shadows of the past playing out their lost lives. Well in truth, how many folk could say that they had? It wasn't the sort of thing that happened everyday in towns and cities across the lands, now was it?
The ghosts had gone now, perhaps they had moved on to some other place to play out another part of their last hours. She shivered, despite the warmth of the ghost's touch, the thought of the spectres endlessly playing out their final moments raising the hairs on her neck. How often had the scene before her been played out with no one to watch it? How many centuries had the ghosts been but players on a stage without an audience?
Rhoslyn shook off the melancholy that had fallen over her, "No way for a dwarf to behave". Not even for a dwarf who eschewed most of the traits that people tended to stereotype her race with. She gathered up her courage and walked across the room, half certain that the ghosts would reappear at any moment, but she reached the stone table without incident. Dust thickly layered surface, but she thought she could just make out thin pieces of card or paper beneath it all. Cards or something similar, guards were guards the whole world over and she had never met one who didn't like to pass their time gaming and gambling.
She looked around the room again, dismissing the cot as unlikely to hold anything of worth or interest. Her eyes briefly fell upon the weapons rack before she shook her head. Those weapons had not helped the guards to escape their fate down here, they would do nothing for her. She looked again to the cot, or more specifically to the footlocker beside it. "No harm in looking, when I get out of here I might as well have something to show for it."
The locker opened easily beneath her touch, she opened more complex locks in her sleep before. A spare tunic lay within but as she reached for it the fabric crumbled to dust under her fingers. She pushed onwards, scooping the dust to one side and feeling other clothes join the after of the tunic as she did. At the bottom of the locker she found a comb, a few gaming pieces, a couple of coins of uncertain denomination (which disppeared into her own pockets quickly) and a leather pouch strangely untouched by the passing of time.
Rhoslyn sat back on her heels with the pouch and worried at the knot that held it closed. The pouch itself was slightly larger than her hand and she could feel something slight and thin moving instead. Several things. Finally the knot gave way and she reached in, pulling out...flowers?
Two daisies, a golden buttercup and a stem of nodding bluebells. "What kind of a guard stores flowers in his locker?", she asked incredulously. Perhaps they had been a token of affection from a young girl? Something felt wrong though and Rhoslyn slipped off her gloves to get a better feel for the oddly age-untouched flowers."They're glass?", she couldn't believe what she felt and what what saw. Her eyes told her that she held flowers in her hand, but her hands told her that they were glass. These weren't just some artist's shoddy reproduction of what a flower should look like, they really where the flowers themselves. But, where in all the lands did flowers grow of glass?
It had been something. He didn't know what it was or what it wanted, but he knew one thing and he knew it down to the very core of his being.
It was evil.
Something nibbled on the back of his brain and Sikil tried to remember what it was. It was about the creature, that was evident as his train of thought nearly always brought him back to that. But it was also about the room he had fallen into. Something about the room, but he couldn't place his finger on it.
Glancing up at Toph's question, he pushed that thought to the back of his mind. "That depends on what day it is," he said with a weak smile as he rubbed the back of his head. "I have gotten more head injuries then a goblin who got in the middle of an Elemental soccer match." He tried to laugh but it wouldn't leave his throat. It just hung there and he was forced to swallow it before he could continue. "If I knew how late the mail was, I'd be able to tell you."
The stairway that Sikil had fallen down from loomed up on his left and he felt a shiver race up his spine. It was clogged with debris but he could almost imagine that thing on the other side picking its way through. His eyes drifted down towards the bottom step and wasn't surprised to see the remnants of a sizable pool of blood. The sand had absorbed most of it but it had stained the grains. This is where his life had nearly ended.
He shivered again and continued walking past it, forcing one foot in front of the other.
Death is an illusion.
Eyes wide, he hadn't realized he had stopped. The bloody voice was back. He was still going insane! "Who in the bloody nine hells are you?" he asked, so wrapped up in his fear of loosing his sanity that he spoke it out loud.
A remnant, a memory, a shadow. Forgotten by most, friends with the dead, and keeper of some secrets. The voice was that of a young man, rich and vibrant, but it was weighed down with exhaustion. But now is not the time for that. Just know that I'm with you, for now. The answers to questions lies ahead but be wary, for answers lead to more questions.
"Oh, bloody hell," he muttered and then looked up towards Toph. His expression clearly showed that the Sidhe had some questions. Sikil did his best, starting from the first time he had heard the voice and repeated what was said, word for word.
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