Liberty and Xan dropped by Drake’s place again, but there was no answer to their knocking. “If he doesn’t come to the door next time, I’m going in there to make sure that little bastard hasn’t eaten him,” said the sorcerer.
“I doubt it,” said Xan. “I can’t imagine that after the first bite of Drake, it would actually want to continue.” Liberty laughed aloud.
The pair caught up with Mom before he made it to the abandoned mine office and helped him carry the loot the rest of the way. Once it had been stashed, they took the sacks of bones and returned to the old Land farmstead to bury the bones of Alastor’s family. After putting the last shovelful of dirt over the graves, the cleric said a few words over the graves in an attempt to appease their spirits. Then they returned to the Whispering Cairn to see if their efforts had paid off.
* * *
There was no sign of Alastor Land, but the metal door that had prevented them from delving any deeper into the true tomb was open. Beyond was a cavernous chamber consisting of a large stone walkway encircling a deep chasm. Four platforms led from the walkway to a central ring, but two of those were broken. Bright light, reminiscent of the summer sun outside, filtered down from the ceiling about forty feet above. Four wide galleries extended from the outer walkway, their far walls covered with enormous bas-relief vistas. A sighing wind emitted from a huge pillar of rushing air at the center of the chamber, which extended from the floor to the ceiling and cut through the room’s central ring.
“You wanna check it, Xan?” asked Mom. “I thought that might be a hobby of yours.”
The rogue smirked. “As a matter of fact, it is. Let’s take it slowly.” The half-orc snorted.
He led his companions on a clockwise circuit of the outer walkway. The sculpting on the walls of the galleries appeared very crude from a distance – figures were blurred and distorted, and it was impossible to tell what the images were meant to represent. But as they drew near to the first, valves breathed forth a smoky sheet of steam that covered the entire wall. As the steam eddied and played about the rough carvings, distinct impressionistic images became apparent on the walls. These images shifted and moved, making them come alive with action.
The first motion sculpture depicted a peaceful scene featuring several figures relaxing in an idyllic country scene. Dozens of perfect circles filled the sky above the frolicking figures. As the steam ran over the image, dark, twisted shapes emerged from the sculpture’s edges. The shapes coalesced to form monstrous creatures that looked like a cross between spiders and wolves. As the creatures approached the figures, the circles in the sky began to burst one by one.
“Must be some long past event we are witnessing?” said Xan. Mom grunted.
“This reminds me of something, but I don’t know what,” said Liberty. They paused a few moments while she sketched one of the spider-wolves into her journal, and then the continued around.
The second gallery image showed a group of seven proud noble figures presenting a staff-like rod to a council of superiors. As the steam filled the bas-relief’s contours, the central figure raised the staff above his head, where it split into seven irregular parts.
“This is more familiar,” said the sorcerer, thinking a moment. “Oh, right! I think this is related to the Battle of Pesh that I was telling you about the other day.”
Xan pointed at her staff. “Does that thing split into parts?”
She looked down at it. “You know, I have no idea.” She tried separating the sections, but they did not budge. Shrugging, she followed Xan and Mom as they proceeded around the circle.
The bas-relief in the third gallery depicted a massive battle. As the steam moved about the image, a warlike figure bearing a sigil they hadn’t yet seen used a large rod to impale a four-armed demon with a three-headed torso sticking out of a giant spider body. The fiend’s central head appeared human, but the heads on either side resembled wolves. As the demon, rod, and warrior vanished into a planar rift, a figure bearing the symbol of Icosiol was struck by a beam from the demon’s eyes and slumped dead to the ground.
“I know this, too,” said Liberty. “Or at least I used to.” She sketched the demon.
“I see similar marking to the mirror at the entrance,” said Xan.
“This must be how he died, then?”
The rogue shrugged. “All of this is beautiful and interesting, but I don’t see a profit in it. Unless we open a tour to this place.”
Mom was glancing over the edge of the walkway into the chasm below. “Do you see anything down there?” Liberty asked.
“It’s just a stone pit. About sixty feet,” he said.
They continued to the fourth and final image. It depicted a towering figure wearing the glyph of Icosiol standing over a legion of lesser warriors. The central warrior bore the symbol of Zosiel, and each other figure wore a distinct glyph.
Frowning, Liberty sketched all of the symbols. She looked thoughtful for a few moments after her pen stopped moving, then she turned to the others. “Okay, now I see the patterns. This looks like Vaati. Some people think it was the original written form of Auran.” Mom grunted, his eyes widening.
“Ahh… Fascinating,” said Xan.
“‘Vaati’ means ‘Wind Duke,” she continued. “The Wind Dukes of Aaqa forged the Rod of Seven parts!”
“Rod of Seven Parts?” asked Mom.
“Or what used to be called the Rod of Law, I should say. So that demon over there,” she pointed at the third mural, “is Miska the Wolf-Spider!”
“Not the most original name,” said Xan. “But tell us more of this rod, my dear.”
“Well, the Wind Dukes made it to end the war in the Age Before Ages, against Miska and his Queen of Chaos. And I could be wrong, but I think it got shattered, then scattered, at the Battle of Pesh.”
“Oh… So a broken, lost, ancient, powerful artifact.”
Liberty nodded. “There was a book, called the Chronicle of Chan – it isn’t written by an archomental, no matter who tells you otherwise – that records all of the Wind Dukes who were at the Battle of Pesh, and a record of what happened there.”
“Looks like the people that built this cairn were fans of this book, I guess,” said Xan.
“Or else, what if this is… What if this is a Wind Duke’s tomb?” she said, practically shivering with excitement.
“Enough wind for that,” said Mom. “Maybe.”
Xan shrugged. “If so, where is the actual body laid to rest?”
“I think I need to know,” said Liberty.
Their eyes were drawn to the column of wind. “It would have to be in the center here,” said Xan. “Let’s try that platform.” They circled around to the nearest unbroken platform leading to the central ring. “Any thoughts on getting through the air column?”
“Closer look first?” said Mom.
“Well, it’s not like I’ll get hurt if I fall,” said Liberty.
“Okay,” said Xan uncertainly. “After you, then.”
The sorcerer swiftly crossed the platform, but as soon as she reached the central ring, a tall humanoid figure arose from within the column of air and stepped out onto the stone. It wielded twin swords and wore ancient ceremonial armor festooned with red pennons that twisted and bobbed in the fierce wind.
Liberty cursed as the wind warrior slammed its swords together. A keening wave of pain passed violently through the sorcerer and Mom and left their ears ringing. Xan vaulted over to try to flank the creature, stabbing it with his enchanted sword. The blade came back bloodless, and he could see that the armor was supported by nothing but ambulatory wind. Liberty took a cautious step backwards and scorched the armor with a burning ray. The cleric spoke a prayer and advanced on the elemental.
The creature’s gaze fell over the two men, and its swords lashed out with preternatural grace. Mom just managed to deflect the wind warrior’s slash, but Xan was not so lucky. “Mom… Move over,” he said through gritted teeth. “I need to get behind it.” The half-orc obliged as Liberty’s flames kissed the floating armor again, and then Mom struck a solid blow, shattering one of its pauldrons. Xan followed up by jabbing it deep in the grieve. The elemental spun, swords flashing. Xan ducked under the swing meant for him, but Mom took a shallow gash. A magic missile smashed into the helmet, and then the half-orc raged again.
“Blood Makes Noise!” he cried, putting all of his strength behind one downward swing, cleaving through the chest plate and scattering whatever animating force held the creature together. He felt the exhaustion begin to creep over him immediately, but his rest was to be delayed; a second wind warrior rose from the column of air. “Bugger,” he said.
Liberty didn’t mince words, lashing out with another magic missile, but in his weakened state, Mom’s clumsy swings were easily batted aside. The counterattack was devastating, and neither Mom nor Xan could avoid the vicious blades. More magic filled the air while the two men struggled to contend with the new threat. It circled the cleric and slammed its swords together to produce the killing tone, and Mom could feel his ears bleeding.
Then Xan fell to the stone, his blood staining them bright red. “No!” cried Mom. He took a step back and prayed for Kord’s healing strength as he touched the rogue’s stricken form. For his part, Xan had the presence of mind not to alert the elemental to his renewed consciousness. Unfortunately, this opened the creature’s path to Liberty, and a single slash laid her low as well.
Blood made Mom’s grip on the greatsword tenuous, and he could not seem to bring the weapon to bear usefully. While he distracted the wind warrior, Xan took the opportunity to quietly quaff a healing potion. Then Mom fell under the two-bladed assault, and the rogue closed his eyes and lay still, hoping for a miracle.
Silence reigned for a pregnant moment, and when he opened his eyes, he saw that the wind warrior was gone. He wasted no time digging through Liberty’s bags, finding a healing potion, and carefully feeding it to her. She choked as she regained consciousness, and her eyes met Xan’s. He whispered, “Lib, it went back down. Quietly back away, and I’ll syringe Mom as carefully as possible.” She saw Filge’s unorthodox potion-delivery apparatus in the rogue’s hands. Nodding, she stepped softly toward the outer walkway.
Mom’s eyes burst open as Xan jabbed him with the needle and pushed the plunger down. Despite the rogue’s signals to remain quiet and calm, the half-orc lurched to his feet. The jingle of his chainmail must have drawn the wind warrior’s attention, because a moment later it appeared again swords leading. The desperate melee resumed, and Liberty used the last of her spells to distract the creature long enough for Mom to finally land a killing blow. They stood there a moment, panting and bleeding as the shards of armor drifted upward in the column of air.
“Are you guys all right?” Liberty finally asked. Mom grunted an affirmative, approaching the rogue and using the last of his prayers to heal the worst of his wounds.
“I can’t believe we survived that,” said Xan.
“Me neither,” said the sorcerer, examining the whirlwind column.
“What now?” asked the cleric.
“Are there any more down there that you can see?” said Xan.
“I don’t see any.”
“The seemed to come up from below. Maybe we need to drop a rope.”
“What if we just step into the wind?”
“Those things could fly, Mom. Can you?”
“Do we have anything we can put into the column, to see what happens?” asked Liberty.
Seizing on the idea, Mom pulled out a roll of string and fed one end into the whirlwind, where it swirled upward. He grunted thoughtfully.
“If we wait ‘til dark, maybe we can smuggle some of our goods back into town, get a rope, then come back here,” suggested Liberty.
Xan nodded. “I hate to say it, but we need to rest and resupply.”
Mom turned toward them purposefully. “Liberty, will you let me borrow your ring?”
“Sure,” she said uncertainly. “Just don’t get yourself killed.” She took it off and passed it over.
Without preamble, Mom put the ring on his finger and stepped over the edge of the platform between the central ring and the outer walkway. He drifted down to the bottom of the pit where he landed safely. He looked around for a moment, but saw nothing of note other than the column itself. Grunting, he stepped into the whirlwind, and found himself rising gently.
His ascension paused for a moment at the central ring and he stepped out of the column to rejoin his companions. With a shrug, he gestured for his companions to follow him and stepped right back into the wind. He floated up into the light above and there vanished from sight.
“Oh, wow,” said Liberty, jumping in after him without hesitation. Xan followed reluctantly.
They found themselves in a smaller chamber; the pillar of air dominated the northeast half of the rectangular room. Opposite the pillar and up a set of three short steps rested a white marble sarcophagus identical to the one in the room with the colored lanterns far below, complete with a sculpture of a Wind Duke carved into the lid. A beautifully carved bas-relief on the wall near the sarcophagus depicted the same figure as a bald, androgynous warrior wearing a simple ancient garment and wielding a mighty longsword. To the warrior’s left stood a cloaked demoniac figure with two long curved horns tipped in darkest red. The horned figure held a device composed of a handle and small loop, seemingly using it to control a globe of absolute blackness about two feet in diameter. This globe touched the bald warrior, who had his arms raised in surprise. The warrior was depicted as though fading from sight. A slim diadem upon his brow bore an elaborate ovular glyph identical to one carved upon an amulet worn by the figure on the sarcophagus lid.
While Xan considered the sarcophagus, Mom returned the ring to Liberty, who accepted it before moving to examine the demon in the fresco. A few moments later she said, “I’m not sure if this represents a particular demon, but I think this globe is supposed to be a sphere of annihilation. They were created during the great war; now they’re just the stuff of legends.”
“A sphere of what?” asked Xan.
“Annihilation. Anything that touches one is just…erased from reality.”
“Ouch… Glad those aren’t around anymore.” Mom grunted and scratched at his facial scars.
Xan decided the steps, at least, weren’t trapped and so he ascended them to get a closer look at the sarcophagus. It was completely sealed, exhibiting not even a seam under the lid. When he stepped upon the top stair of the dais, the bas-relief sculpture animated and the warrior looked directly into his eyes. “Speak my name,” it said to him in Auran, before fading back into the wall.
“They used talismans to control them, and…” Liberty was saying.
“Lib… What was this warrior’s name again?” Xan asked, indicating the sigil depicted in the fresco.
“Zosiel,” she replied.
He nodded and stepped up to the sarcophagus. “You are Zosiel,” he said to the mural.
Bright blue light shined around the sarcophagus lid. It faded a few seconds later, revealing a seam between the lid and the rest of the sarcophagus. Mom’s eyes widened at the sight, and Liberty immediately cast a spell to detect magic.
Xan looked back to his companions. “Did you not see him talk to me?” he asked.
“See who? I didn’t see anything,” said Liberty. Mom grunted negatively.
“The warrior in the mural… He looked right at me and told me to tell him his name. Before that, there were no seams in the sarcophagus.”
“Incredible,” Liberty breathed, approaching the dais to stand beside Xan.
“Open it?” asked Mom
“Let’s see what’s inside,” said Xan, giggling a bit.
With a bit of heaving – and a crowbar – Mom was able to lift the lid, revealing the treasure inside. Within the sarcophagus were all that remained of Zosiel: a slight silver diadem inscribed with his personal glyph, two long slightly curved black horns with red tips, and a pewter box inscribed with alien, writhing letterforms.
Liberty pointed at the box. “Those are the glyphs of the Queen of Chaos.”
“I wonder why the horns and the evil box would be interred with Zosiel’s diadem,” said Xan.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I wish I remembered more about the Battle of Pesh and all that..stuff.” The sorcerer lifted the diadem out of the sarcophagus and gave it an appraising gaze with her magical sight. “This is a circlet of wisdom, but I think it’s more than that, even.”
“May I try the circlet?” asked Mom.
“Sure…” said Liberty, handing it to him.
He cautiously placed the diadem upon his head. “I feel that my common sense and perceptions have increased,” he said a moment later.
“Nice!” she exclaimed. Mom removed the circlet and held it out for Liberty to take, but she held up her hands. “Nah, you hang on to it. It looks pretty good on you.” The half-orc grunted and replaced the diadem on his head, batting his eyelashes at Liberty. She laughed.
“Do you want the box opened?” asked Mom.
“Yes,” said Liberty immediately.
“Well… I would like to see what’s inside, yes,” said Xan. “It could be trapped, though.”
It proved not to be, and a decent application of force was sufficient to snap off the top. Inside was a long, thin handle attached to an adamantine loop.
Liberty glanced from it to the talisman held by the demon in the fresco, and saw that the likeness was uncanny. “Interesting,” she said. Mom grunted.
Xan saw the connection as well and stumbled back a bit. “This is a powerful artifact from a well-known historical event? This is worth more money than any of us has ever seen in our lives… Combined! Who would have thought that a random map that Drake stumbled upon would lead to something that could make us rich for the rest of our lives? Even the diadem must be worth a fortune in and of itself.”
“The talisman would be that much more priceless if we ever found a sphere to control with it,” said Liberty.
Xan turned toward her and cocked his head to the side. “Wait… You actually want to try and use it?”
She shrugged. “I’m just saying, if there are any spheres still around… I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Besides, it’s not like there’s anyone in Diamond Lake who can afford to buy these off us.”
“Of course not,” said Xan. “Maybe not even in the Free City.” He paused a moment, looking thoughtful. “I respect that you might want to keep it, Lib. But we are partners in this. You would have to buy out our shares.”
“I see,” she said flatly. Then she looked back to the sarcophagus. “Is there anything else in here?”
“Lib, I’m getting a strange vibe,” the rogue pressed. “The whole point of this was to find valuables and sell them, right?”
She turned back to him. “I suppose so. Why?”
“Some of the items would be even more valuable than any gold, if they help us stay alive while we gather more gold,” said Mom.
“Well, that’s what I mean, Mom. We are holding items that eliminate the need to ever go and get more money. There is no need,” said Xan. “So, my question to the tow of you is this: Are we done adventuring, or are we not?”
“I don’t feel done, no,” said Liberty. “For one thing, we have to turn these things into money. For another, I don’t like the idea of something in the mines moving against our town.”
Mom nodded. “That is something to think on, but from a financial standpoint, will just one tomb be enough? Or is it enough to outfit us well for an even more profitable adventure? I am leaning…towards the latter.”
“These are relics, Mom. Worth more than that and then some to the right people,” said Xan. Then he turned back to Liberty. “The mines, eh? That’s not treasure hunting anymore. That’s… Well, I don’t know what that is, other than crazy.” He sighed heavily, and then smiled. “I’m in.”
Mom laughed. “Me too. We should sell what we can in Diamond Lake and take the rest to the Free City.”
Liberty nodded. “I’m okay with that, sure. I’ve got to follow up with Allustan about some of the things we learned here.”
“Let’s get back to the mine office,” suggested Xan. “We have much to plan.”