In the Necromancer's Lair
They tied several pieces of rope together, fastening one end to an arrow. Iriel loaded her bow and waited for a metal cylinder to swoop down. As soon as one of the cylinders moved, she followed it briefly and then fired. The arrow went through the space between the cylinder and the wire and fell to the ground, threading the rope through the opening.
Evan pulled on the cord. The cylinder changed direction temporarily; but it quickly adjusted to Evan’s interference and resumed its original flight path.
He tugged on the line again and said to James and Daniel, “Help me bring it down.” They ran over. All three yanked on the rope and slowly forced it to the ground. The cylinder finally stopped fighting them when it touched the floor.
Evan ran up to the metal flotsam and took a closer look. The cylinder had a pin at one end and a matching notch on the other. Brashani had been right; it should be possible to assemble the object by fitting one piece into another.
Iriel retrieved her arrow and got ready to fire again. Another piece of the key came flying across the chamber. The elf aimed and fired. The arrow sailed through the air carrying the rope with it, but missed the target.
“This one is moving faster,” said Iriel. “I’ll have to track it as if I were hunting deer.”
She tried again; this time she anticipated the motion of the cylinder and when it was in position, she fired. The arrow and rope sailed through the handle. Immediately Evan, Daniel, and James pulled on the rope. The cylinder fought back harder, but they slowly managed to reel it in.
By the time Iriel aimed at the fourth cylinder, it was speeding through the air too fast for Iriel to follow it. She tracked it, fired, and missed. She tried again and missed again.
“It’s moving too fast,” she said.
“Know any magic to slow the cylinders down?” Evan asked Brashani.
“Hmmm,” said the fire mage, “not exactly. I could thicken the air. That should make it harder for the cylinders to fly.”
“Thicken the air? How?” Evan asked.
“By absorbing heat.”
“That thickens the air?”
“Yes, I saw it done once years ago. Before the air even thickens though, frost should form on the cylinders, which should affect their ability to fly.”
“Will it affect the air we’re breathing?”
“I don’t think so. I should be able to contain the effect.”
“All right, try it.”
Brashani closed his eyes and gestured with his hands. Nothing seemed to happen for several minutes; the cylinders kept zipping through the air too fast for Iriel to follow them.
“It’s hopeless,” Iriel said. She shook her head and placed her arrow back in her quiver.
“Look,” James said, as he pointed.
Evan glanced in the direction that James indicated and saw frost forming on the walls along the room’s ceiling. He looked at the cylinders; they had frost on them too.
“Try again,” said Evan.
“All right,” Iriel sighed. She pulled an arrow out, aimed, and followed the flying metal. She fired; the arrow hit the edge of the handle and bounced through the loop. Evan, James, and Daniel pounced on the rope. The cylinder fought back hard, yanking the rope out of James’s hand at least once. Evan, too, almost lost his grip. Daniel felt the rope dig into his hands, but he focused on holding the cord tightly and controlled the pain. After struggling with the rope for about a minute, the cylinder was close enough for Evan to reach out and grab it.
Encouraged, Iriel tried again and succeeded on the first shot. Bringing down this bit of metal was easier, and soon Iriel aimed at the one remaining cylinder. It was more like a vibrating snowball hanging in the air, as if trying to move but unable to.
She loaded an arrow into her bow and released it. The arrowhead buried itself in the frost around the cylinder. Evan, Daniel, and James pulled on the rope and the snowball crashed to the ground.
“You can stop your spell, Brashani,” said Evan.
The wizard opened his eyes and lowered his arms, then wiped sweat from his face. “Good. Give me a minute to cool off too.”
They waited for the frost on the metal bits to melt and for Brashani to cool down before they tried to assemble the parts. One of the pieces was clearly the part that would be inserted into the lock to open the door. Another piece had a flat circular end; it was the key’s head, used to turn it in the lock. The remaining four pieces made up the shaft of the key.
As they started to put the pieces together, they found that each piece fit only a specific pin or notch. So, it took a few minutes and several attempts to determine the exact order in which the pieces fit. But once they had assembled the key correctly, it shimmered and fused together into a solid single object.
Evan put the key into the lock of the door and tried to turn it. It wouldn’t move. He struggled and tried again. Slowly, it yielded … until he finally heard a click and the door opened just enough to see inside.
The chamber beyond the door was large like the audience hall of a king or duke. The air smelled stale and musty.
Evan opened the door wider. The walls were rough-hewn stone and the Michaeline priest saw no windows, only small rocks set into the ceiling every few inches glowing with a soft warm light. Stones enchanted with Light magic, thought Evan.
Along the left and right walls hung long wooden shelves holding old leather-bound tomes covered in dust. Three long tables filled much of the chamber. One table stood along the left wall and another along the right wall. The third table was at the far end of the chamber, perpendicular to the others. On the tables to Evan’s left and right, potions boiled or dripped into glass vials from copper tubing.
The floor was dusty and hard, as if sand had been thrown over a stone floor. To Evan’s right was a portal stone identical to the one that had brought him and his companions to the Fire Mountains.
Finally, a way home, he thought.
He moved into the room and doused his torch; the others followed behind him and extinguished their torches too.
Brashani gazed around the room and whistled softly in amazement. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they do have endless resources. Look at all this stuff.”
“Yes, and any of it could be dangerous,” replied Evan. “So let’s remember why we are here and what we are after. Touch nothing unless you have to.”
“Fine by me,” said Brashani.
“To start, are there any traps, magical or otherwise, that we need to avoid?”
Brashani scanned the room, careful not to touch anything on the tables or the bookshelves. After a minute he said, “No, I don’t see anything.”
“Good,” said Evan. He turned to Daniel. “Do you sense the gem?”
“No,” Daniel answered, sullenly.
“Okay, well, lets see what’s on the far table and examine the other two tables as we go. With luck, it is here and we’ll find it. If we can’t find it, we’ll wait for someone to show up and interrogate him or her about it.”
They moved cautiously up the chamber to the table at the front of the room. As he scanned the paraphernalia on the tables to the left and right of him, Evan saw a wide assortment of copper tubing and liquids of every imaginable color in flasks bubbling away without the benefit of fire. The flasks and tubing were held in place by metal clips attached to a wooden frame. Evan counted at least twenty work areas of flasks and wooden frames on the tables and realized the necromancers were working with alchemists on a grand scale. He would have destroyed them all but he knew that mixing strange potions together could be dangerous; the resulting concoction could easily explode, killing them all. Best to ignore the potions for now. He could always come back and deal with them later.
About halfway up along both walls were two portal stones. They each had the same seven-pointed star, similar to the one Evan had used, but on these stones the star was white and the ceramic dark green.
Evan could see, as he drew near the front table, that it was covered with various articles of clothing and weaponry. Cloaks, gloves, boots, shields, swords, and helmets of different styles were spread out. James reached out to turn over a pair of gloves when Evan put his arm out to block him.
“Let’s have Brashani examine these first,” said the priest.
“I can’t do a detailed analysis of each item,” said the wizard. “It would take hours and I don’t have the strength.”
“Understood,” said Evan. “But these are all magical, right?”
Brashani concentrated for a moment before responding, “Yes, and that helmet …” He pointed. “… is particularly strong.”
Evan looked at it. The helmet was cylindrical with a thin metal strip, like the fin of a great shark, running from the top of the headpiece down the back. Set into the helmet at the top, just under the metal fin, was a small, perfectly round topaz. It looked like a dark mustard marble.
Daniel’s heart jumped when he saw the stone.
Aure? he thought, but got no reply. His lower lip quivered.
“That gem looks like Tindolen’s,” said Evan. “Is there anything else on the table with a gem set into it?”
Everyone looked, and after a few minutes, they all shook their heads, seemingly in unison.
“There doesn’t appear to be,” said Brashani.
“I don’t see one,” said James.
“No,” said Iriel.
“Brashani, examine the helmet carefully. Is it safe to take?”
The wizard gazed at the helmet; he looked away and blinked several times after about minute, as if he had been staring at a bright, intense light. “Amazing,” he said. “The helmet is being powered by the gem. Somehow, they’ve tapped the power of an Aglari and used that power to create a magical helmet. It’s one of the most incredible adaptations of one item into another I’ve ever seen.”
“Is it safe to take?” Evan repeated.
“Yes, I think so.”
“And you’re sure this gem is an Aglari?”
“Absolutely. The power level alone gives it away. So does the cut of the gem. It is perfectly spherical. No other gems are cut like that.”
“Why doesn’t it talk to me?” asked Daniel.
“The enchantment on the gem prevents it. That’s why you suddenly lost the signal. The thief had to get the gem back here so that the gem could be enchanted.”
“Can we remove the enchantment?”
“I don’t know,” replied Brashani.
“We’ll need to deal with that later,” said Evan. “Right now, let’s take it and get moving.”
Daniel grabbed the helmet and tried to pull the gem off. It wouldn’t budge.
Evan prodded the lad forward, but he didn’t move. “Time for that later, Daniel. We need to leave now. Before anyone shows up.”
The others agreed and began to move toward the back of the room. Evan waited with Daniel.
“Daniel, please,” Evan said. “We must be going. There will be time to figure out how to remove the gem from the helmet on the way back to Clearbrook.”
“And if we can’t?” asked Daniel.
“Then there’s no point waiting here to be caught.”
Daniel sighed and nodded slowly. He ran after James and Iriel; Evan followed.
Daniel stepped out of the shack and looked around. The swamp looked much the same as it had before. By the sun’s position in the sky, he could tell it was past midday but otherwise nothing else had changed. As he examined the flying basket, Daniel noticed that the canvas bag had deflated completely and the basket had sunk into the mud a little more. He doubted the basket would fly again but that was of little concern. They would find another way home. Perhaps they could take the sailor’s ship.
Daniel looked down at the helmet and pulled on the topaz stuck to the front of it. It didn’t move. How am I ever going to free Aure? he wondered.
Iriel came out of the shack. Her intense gaze softened and she gave Daniel a little smile.
“The gem could be attached magically,” she said. “Pulling on it will not detach it.”
Daniel looked at her. “But I’ve got to free Aure.”
“We will. Magus Khumesh might be able to dispel the enchantment that was used.”
Daniel sighed and waited for the others. James strode out of the shack a second later, followed by Brashani. They waited a few seconds for Evan, but he did not appear.
“Where’s Father Evan?” asked Iriel with concern.
James pursed his lips in thought. “Maybe he found something important to take back with him.”
The elf nodded her head. “That might be.”
“Give him another minute,” said Brashani. “If he’s not back by then, Iriel, we’ll both go back for him.”
“How can you?” asked James. “The portal stone won’t take you back to the work room and it will take too long to go through all those caves again.”
“Now that we’ve used the portal stone to come back here, it should know who we are and allow us to go directly to the work room,” Brashani explained.
“It had better,” said Iriel. “Father Evan could be in big trouble.”