There were three paths laid out for them. But, from the look of the door in front of them, only two were going to be accessible. Marie ran her hand over the stone, feeling each indent in its unusually smooth surface. Something would need to be placed inside it – a gem or rune.
“Well?” Bender asked gruffly, his patience wearing thin.
“We can’t go through this way,” Marie replied, “we need stones or gems of some sort to open them.”
“Then this way it is,” Bender pointed to the right of himself, where a tunnel lay cut perfectly square.
“I have no problem with that,” Chrom affirmed.
“Then let me go first,” Marie offered, “these places tend to have all sorts of traps laid out, if I can spot them first I’ll be able to trigger them without doing us any harm.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Bender snorted gruffly and headed down. He’d made it halfway across to the entrance when spikes shot up from the floor and almost turned him into a dwarven kabob. Only Diarus’ quick reflexes pulled him out of the way. Angrily, the dwarf humphed, picking his way through the spikes and continuing on.
“D-d-don’t mind him,” Jim laid a reassuring hand on Marie’s shoulder, she flinched slightly but he didn’t seem to notice, “he’s just stubborn.”
“Come on,” Chrom motioned them after the dwarf. Diarus was tightly at his heels with Haro not far behind. Despite the torches, the darkness around them was thick and heavy. Marie knew it wasn’t natural, but she didn’t have anyway to combat. Their best bet was to get in, get whatever they needed, and get out. However, simple plans often become much more complicated when put into practice.
“There’s a door here,” Bender muttered.
“It may be trapped,” Marie insisted.
Grouchily, Bender forced open the door and stepped in with Diarus. The door slammed shut, leaving everyone else outside.
“Damn it!” Marie snapped. She pushed her way to the front of the group and tried pushing on the door. It wouldn’t budge. Haro joined in, trying to pry it open, but it wouldn’t budge. Even Chrom’s spells were ineffective.
“What now?” Haro asked.
“I think it’s best we wait awhile,” Chrom reasoned, “they may be able to open it from the inside.”
“And if not?” Haro asked.
“Then, we’ll have to try some other way,” was Chrom’s firm reply.
Hours passed by. The party waited, there was nothing from the other side. It passed mainly in silence as no one wanted to admit that their companions might be dead. Marie internally theorized that the door would probably open should they die, but it didn’t seem like a thing to share with the others. They were somber. Besides Bender, and perhaps Adalos, they didn’t seem like seasoned travelers. They were merely a band of misfits thrown together by fate.
Taking a break from the others, Haro wandered back towards the room where they’d battled the frog. Nimbly, she moved out of the way of the spikes Bender had set off. A commotion ahead caught her attention. She recognized the voices.
“Are you worthy?” the frog asked. He had taken his enormous form once more and now glared menacingly at Adalos.
“I sure hope so,” was all Adalos replied.
The frog leapt forward, trying to catch Adalos with his tongue. By now, the others had heard what was going on and stood alongside Haro.
“Haven’t we already proved ourselves?” Marie shouted, drawing out her morning star wearily.
“He hasn’t,” the frog chortled. Jim rushed in, wielding his broadsword fiercely. He wasted no time attacking the frog now that he wasn’t busy trying to swim in heavy armor.
The frog’s tongue lashed out at Adalos again, he caught him and pulled him halfway into his mouth. A burst of white fire burst from nowhere into the room, engulfing the frog in flames of pure white. He spat out Adalos and shrunk again.
“Fine, fine,” the frog sighed, “you’re worthy.” Again, he instantly disappeared leaving the party to their own devices.
“What was that?” Haro asked, but no one seemed to know or really care. They were safe, reunited with one lost friend, and tired.
“I say we set up camp,” Chrom insisted, “we can camp out by the door that Bender and Diarus went through. If we can’t open it, we shouldn’t have anything trying to bother us from that end.”
“That’s fine with me,” Marie said, already making her way back.
Jim began explaining what was happening to Adalos who was just confused. “We’ll need to take watches,” Adalos said, once he’d heard everything.
“I’ll take first,” Haro said. With that they scheduled watches and prepared for a night of sleep on the cold, hard ground.
⊕ ⊕ ⊕
Diarus watched as Bender stalked around the room. He wasn’t talking nor did he mention the misfortune of leaving their companions behind. All he cared about was the stupid sand timer that sat in the middle of the room. It wasn’t exactly the best situation, especially since the gruff dwarf glared at him every tim he tried to help.
Fed up, Diarus when and read the inscription for himself, “Turn me to reset.” He snorted, glancing up at the spikes that were slowly descending with the ceiling. Already they had come close to crushing them, but each time Bender would turn the hourglass so that the ceiling would rise up and slowly begin its descent once more. It didn’t make any sense. There was nothing else in the room to clue them in on their way to escape. At least nothing immediately noticeable. Diarus began searching the room, being careful to keep out of the angry dwarf’s way. He searched the walls and finally found what he was looking for.
On the floor, in the far right hand corner of the room, was a strange groove. Diarus immediately recognized it as some sort of trap door. However, there was nothing lying around for him to trigger it. Glancing up at the ceiling that was now no more than two feet above his head, he sighed. It was risky, but it was something they hadn’t tried yet.
“Bender,” he said, motioning him over, “look at this.”
“It’s a trap door,” Bender said, recognizing it as well.
“I think we’re going to have to let the ceiling drop and then it will open,” Diarus offered.
“Perhaps,” Bender humphed gruffly, “but if you’re wrong, it’ll be your elven head that’s crushed before me.”
“I know, let’s just try it.”
The two waited, crouching down. The sharp metal spikes descending ever so slowly. Diarus’ mind wandered back to his beloved forest that was dying. His whole reason for questing out into the world was so that he could save it. Would this trap stop him before he’d even really begun? Diarus shook his head, now wasn’t the time for reminiscing. Should the ceiling fail to stop, he’d have to rush to the center and turn over the hourglass once more. It inched down and suddenly, there was an odd clicking. Diarus rolled out of the way as the trap door swung open and the ceiling remained a few inches above his head.
“Let’s go,” Bender said, beginning to climb down the ladder that lay just inside the trap door. Diarus followed, his staff at the ready for whatever was lurking in the darkness below. The air was ominously chilly below. Fighting off a reflexive shiver, Diarus began to explore with staff in one hand and torch in the other. Through the darkness he could make out a high ceiling with several pillars reaching the top. In the corner of his eye, Diarus swore he saw something skitter through the shadows, but he paid no attention. He had to keep up with Bender.
The dwarf was making quick time, barely stopping to inspect the stone and structure of the place until he found a statue. It was of a cloaked being about Bender’s size. In its hand was a great axe, it seemed untouched by the darkness below and it’s blade showed no signs of rust or decay. Taking his own axe and holding it up, Bander seemed to be comparing the two.
Another shadowy figure crept on the outskirts of Diarus’ vision, “I don’t like lingering here,” he said, “I think we should try to find a way back to the others.”
Bender grunted, taking the axe from the statue. He began wrapping it with cloth that he produced from his pack. Tying it to his back, he motioned them onwards. Every step forward got colder and colder until they were standing before another door. Without hesitation, Bender opened the door and Diarus scuttled after him to avoid being left behind. Immediately his torch went out. He felt something brush against his legs.
Instinctively, Diarus went to put his back to Bender’s. Something was surely trying to get to them now. When he stepped back, Bender wasn’t there. Diarus kept his mouth shut, closing his eyes as he tried to listen for footsteps, a voice, or even Bender’s breathing. There was nothing. After a moment he urged himself to move. Bender couldn’t have gotten far. He walked forward and instantly regretted it. Something snaked around his foot and slipped forward. The las thing he saw was his quarterstaff coming toward him at lightning speed. Then his senses dulled and he found himself in a new, more unsettling kind of darkness.
“The druid,” a deep, aggravating voice spoke. All Diarus could see was glowing eyes in the distance. Their light wasn’t kind though, it was menacing and piercing like a savage beast stalking him.
“Who are you?” Diarus asked.
There was gruff laughter that seemed never to end and then the voice spoke once more, “I can send you back to the world of the living,” it offered.
“I’m dead?” Diarus asked, though he already knew it was true.
“I can send you back,” the voice repeated, “but you’ll be my servant and must do my bidding as I command.”
“Will I still be able to save my forest?” Diarus asked.
“You can do whatever you want as long as it comes second to my commands,” the voice answered.
Something told him that this wasn’t right, that if he allowed this being to control him that bad things would happen. But, who would save his home is not he? Who would look out for Bender now alone in the dark? And, what about the others? Sighing, he relented. “I will do it,” he answered.
“Good,” the voice croaked in pleasure. Diarus felt an odd sensation throughout his body – his body. Once more he could feel it. The pain of healing was intense and Diarus wanted to scream as he watched his chest seal from the hole the quarterstaff had left. His head got fuzzy and his arms light. He collapsed once more, this time into unconsciousness, nightmares plaguing his mind.