“Forgive me for interrupting…my lady…goddess…umm…Lady Arche? How did this sorceress steal the gem? And if a god can not protect it on his own, what possible help can we be?” Aileen asked.
“Many things have changed since the King of Gods has awoken. The Pantheon has caused an imbalance in this modern world. Chaos has been stirred back into the equation, so much so that even the Fates struggle to keep up. Lord Hades cannot be expected to remain unaffected or without disorientation. You must go now and aide him in retrieving the Gem of Tartarus—the sacred gem forged to contain the vilest of creatures in the depths of the Tartarus Correctional Facility. For without it, not even the Hundred Handers can keep it secure indefinitely.”
Her lips mouthed a single word silently, over and over: “Beware…beware…”
In terror, we grabbed our belongings and scrambled out into the night. Though the warning continued to echo in our ears, we didn’t know where we were going. It didn’t matter though, and the warning may have come too late. When we emerged from Arche’s temple, the graves were gaping wide. Fragile monuments shook and crumbled to dust and rubble. The inhabitants emerged from their long sleep. With loathsome movement, they moved towards us from every direction.
“Heh. Uplifting locker room speech in there, but looks like we are going to get creamed anyway,” Darien muttered, unable to contain his thoughts.
Blocking our path, a figure shrouded in a tattered black cloak stood with its menacing arms outstretched. The folded flaps of its hood obscured nearly everything else. Only a beautiful golden mask twisted into a sardonic grin gave form or understanding to the person before us. This must be the sorceress. Would the goddess help? Before I scarcely finished my thought, we were enveloped in swirling blue light.
The seconds passed like hours and I could feel the agitation growing inside of me. Every instinct told me to emerge from my hiding place and confront whatever it is that might come through the portal. Unable to fully resist, I peered over the altar and there was the same pulsating light. Lines of energy rippled from its pure white center. With each pulse, the light darkened in gradients until it reached deep sapphire blue edges.
With a grunt, I began to lower back into my crouched position. If things didn’t happen soon, I was going to lose my cool. Then there would be no hiding behind a simple stone block. The ethereal blue flames would erupt from my core and I would light up the place like a Vegas spotlight. Just before the room was erased from my field of view, I caught a glint of something.
“No, it couldn’t be. Could it?”
My eyebrow arched above the altar one more time. “Well, I’ll be damned…the Gem of Tartarus. I haven’t had enough coffee today to put up with this much shit.”
With a crackle of synergistic energy and the pungent aroma of ionized air, the light of the portal spilled out onto the litter strewn floor like the warming glow from a harvest moon bonfire. Darien, the first of the adventurers, tumbled out onto the floor in a disoriented mass of flesh. His long, auburn colored hair thrown askew, blinding him temporarily from his new surroundings. With a backhanded sweep, he cleared the offending obstruction, but not nearly in time. A hare’s breath behind him his companions seemingly leap from the nothingness of the light. Sending Darien crashing to the floor once again, the five made a pile of bent limbs and arched torsos.
“I don’t know where or when we are, but we have to work on that landing,” Belen murmured to no one in particular.
“At least there doesn’t appear to be a welcoming party this time,” Darien said in return.
“You two clowns say the same exact thing no matter where we go. Why don’t you guys hire some new writers already,” Alastair added.
Despite the redundant interlude, everyone knew the two had it hit right on the button. After all the places we had been, it’s hard to come up with fresh lines. For some reason though, they always seemed to fit. I guess there was no harm in adding a little familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar place. Yet, I still cringed every time. With a side-eye, I glanced over to Darien, “See. I’m not the only one that thinks so.”
“Yeah. Yeah, Galena. No need to beat the horse anymore, the dwarf already has it covered,” Darien said with a laugh. “Now, can you all get off me already?”
Aileen, the tallest of the group, was the first to arise and banged her head on the rock ceiling above. Alastair and I, finally untangled, rose to our feet and began gaining our bearings. The air was cool and somewhat stagnant, much like being in an underground cavern where the breath of the wind cannot reach. However, it lacked the dampness you would expect in such a place and it was unusually warm, too.
The time for levity seemed to pass instantaneously. Alastair opened his mouth to speak, but words never formed. Instinctively, he raised his pickaxe menacingly. The portal pulsed rhythmically, causing a hypnotizing strobe effect on the eyes. Eyes that once were of cunning and courage now show the faint emergence of fear realized. From the portal, four bodies crashed to the floor at the travelers’ feet. Four who did not escape the wrath of their pursuer.
Darien gingerly poked one of the charred bodies with his staff. It didn’t move. “Looks like one of those lumbering undead hulks from the cemetery. Guess the goddess doesn’t like stiffs.” He paused for a moment and scratched his head. “Ok, too much stress for one evening, even I am starting to rethink my jokes.”
We waited, but nothing else emerged from the portal. While we were mesmerized by the portal and our new companions, Belen took the time to scan our surroundings. The chamber was scarcely the size of a large room totally encased in coarse granite with streaks of black obsidian emerging from the floor and disappearing beyond the low ceiling.
Just then the portal blinked from existence. Aileen produced a witchlight in her hand and looked around. “Guys. I think we are inside a mountain…”
“And there’s no way out,” Belen somberly finished her sentence.
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