The man who lay convulsing on the ground was wearing a dirty old set of matching white cloth trousers and jerkin. They were now muddied with much travel in the wet mud, and now were bloody brown from the explosion of the mushroom which had sent him flying into a tree. His limp body now lay beneath the tree, and barely conscious, all Gwillim could do was groan.
"Hold on, father," said Cyrrus, as the young healer raced to his father's side.
In response, all Gwillim could do was groan. Cyrrus reached into the pouch in his robes and pulled out his herbs in one hand, and a clear bottle of water in the other. Gently he ground the herbs into dust with one hand, and sprinkled them into the water. The water turned from clear to faint blue, and he raised the bottle to Gwillim's lips. The potion took effect immediately, and the convulsing stopped.
Gwillim fell into a deep, soothing sleep as the potion's effect began. He was now completely oblivious to the pain, thanks to Cyrrus's alchemy skills learned during his time as a theurgist. The young blond man, now dressed in clothes with the same level of decay, knelt down by his father, and tried to pick up his prone body.
He and his father had never strayed so far west into the plateau before. Peasants had told tales of the ghost of those who had died under the harsh climates. The fire mushrooms here seemed to grow out of nowhere... sprouting up on a man and exploding, sending him hurtling into a recently grown patch... and eventually certain death. Just then there was a loud rumble, and a crunching sound. The ground beneath Cyrrus began to tremble, and he looked down to see the brown earth of the plateau turn slowly red.
Cyrrus, dragging Gwillim, turned in alarm to see a patch of fire mushrooms behind him. Turning again, he made his way slowly towards the edge of a mountain. A path of mushrooms sprung up behind him as he strode with difficulty. A dark, dismal cave loomed in the distance. Cyrrus, looking back at the immense line of fire mushrooms rushed into the cave - throwing caution to the wind.
As the trail came to an end the five travellers gazed into the blood red sea of mushrooms. The lead two, a young man dressed in what had once been fine clothing, and a warrior dressed in a worn suit of plate mail, looked concerned, while the old, white haired mage and the young sorcerer looked unconcerned.
"My lord," said Captain Darion, "there is no possible way any of us could cross that!"
From behind, Beren laughed, "Don't be a fool, Darion! Do you think we fire mages have trouble with these vegetables."
In his hand he held a rod which he cast on himself. A blue flame surrounded his body, as the armour of flames spell took effect. He stood on the first mushroom, which exploded. Devon flinched, and his arms instinctively shielded his eyes. When he finally moved his arms, there were bits of mushroom all over his clothes, and in the center of the dense concentration of mushrooms stood Beren in an island of scorched earth. He stood there, laughing at his companions.
Darion swore under his breath, Devon stood there, almost embarassed by what had happened, Mythran seemed to care little about the red dye that had coated his dirty clothing. Xavier, on the other hand, was mortified. His mouth hung open, and his hand gripped the sword by his belt.
"That was one of two ways I could have crossed!" said Beren, grinning with glee at showing off his powers. With a loud bang and a flash, Beren appeared before the travellers again. "That was the other. Now, let me get you across."
Xavier finally snapped, "I shall not be transported using any of your damned sorcerer magic!"
Beren stood defiantly, and laughed heartily, "If you wish to stay there like fools, so be it. I shall continue on to the cave."
Devon glanced at Xavier and stepped forward, "Beren, wait. We're not splitting up now. We will travel across the mushrooms with the aid of your magic."
Xavier muttered something under his breath, but nodded in agreement reluctantly.
"Form a circle around me," ordered Beren finally, and they did. The fire mage revealed a circular symbol with the image of a pentacle engraved in a red that seemed to have a life of its own. He muttered some arcane words, and there was a loud whoosh. Devon looked around and discovered that they were now by the mouth of the cave. Beren smiled smugly, and Xavier scowled.
"Well," said Mythran, breaking the silence, "that was indeed an interesting experience. The flash spell, Beren?"
"A little concoction of my own," Beren said. "Greater flash, teleporting both caster and his companions over two hundred feet."
"Let us not waste time!" said Xavier, and he began to wander into the cave. Devon and Darion followed, with Mythran and Beren bringing up the rear. The cave soon became a narrow passage way leading north for a few feet, then forking to the east. As Xavier turned east, Devon stopped.
"Do you hear that?" he said.
"Hear what?" whispered Darion almost completely silent.
"Be quiet, fool!" said Beren. He heard the sound of an arrow being fired, and then a loud explosion, mixed with a second arrow being fired, and then the second explosion was uninterrupted. About a second later there was the sound of the first flame arrow again, and then the explosion mixed in with the second arrow being fired.
"I'd say," Beren remarked in a louder voice, "that ahead there is some kind of exploding arrow trap system. To be precise there are two devices, each one further down the tunnel. I've rigged a few of these traps up in my time, and if we are dextrous enough we should be able to cross unscathed."
"I thought Sorcerers had spells to protect the individual from fire based attacks!" said Xavier, "or were the stories of your powers as exaggerated as I thought?"
"I have spells of that nature prepared," said Beren, "but we may need them later..." he looked at Devon, "We do not know where this journey may take us."
"That may be so, Sorcerer, for you younger lads," said Mythran. "But I am not blessed with the dexterity I once had." Beren opened his mouth to protest, "Fear not Sorcerer, you need not waste your precious foci on me. I am powerful enough to defend myself."
"You weren't powerful enough to get us across the mushrooms. We had to rely on the Sorcerer," remarked Xavier dryly.
"Stop your bickering, all of you!" said Mythran, and he hit his staff against the stone floor. "There is much to do, without debating about each others abilities."
Darion was the first to cross the trapped corridor. He deftly sprinted past the first flame arrow trap, shuffled forward and waited for the second to fire before sprinting across again. Devon stepped carefully past each trap after they fired, then joined Darion at the other side. Then Xavier sprinted without stopping and by some miracle managed to avoid being hit. Beren, oblivious to the theurgist's predicament invoked a spell which surrounded him by blue flame. Mythran, muttering words of power, strode through the traps at a leisurely pace, but the arrows seemed to pass through him.
The passage opened into a large cave, and lying by the embers of a campfire was the decaying corpse of a troll.
"Trolls," said Darion. "I'll certainly thank the warrior who did this. I obviously trained him well."
"This troll has been dead for several weeks. Darion, I think you do know the warrior... or at least you did," said Mythran with a wry grin. "And he probably fattened your money pouch on several occasions."
"Stratos's mercy!" said Xavier, as he held his nose. The Theurgist found the scene quite sickening.
"What is the matter, Theurgist?" said Beren calmly. "If you cannot stand these sights perhaps it is not safe for you to travel in these catacombs."
Xavier said nothing, but followed Devon and Darion as they continued east. After a narrow tunnel, which contained three flame arrow traps which Beren noted had ceased to function, a second cavern lay before them. Once again, Devon stopped.
"Do you hear that?" Devon said, and they all froze.
"Now what?" the new silence was broken when Xavier said, "First arrows of flame, now what can it be?"
"I hear it!" said Darion. "The sound of footsteps... near, yet we are all still, except for Xavier's tongue."
Darion and Devon slowly stepped forwards, whilst Mythran flanked by Xavier and Beren followed. Suddenly, without warning there was the sound of a sword swinging. Xavier yelled in pain as a blow to his left arm resulted in his arm turning crimson.
"Invisible foes!" said Darion, and he drew his sword and adopted his fighting position. "Quickly milords, make them visible and I shall strike them dead!"
Mythran calmly reached into his pouch and produced a scroll. Reading it aloud it vanished in his hands. Alas, nothing else happened.
"I fear the invisibility on these individuals is permanent and irreversible," he said. "Back off into the other cave!"
After leading the strategic withdrawal Darion scanned the battlefield as Xavier moved in towards him for protection. Then he nodded and stepped forward, swinging his blade. His blow was met by a crunch and a cry of pain. Triumphant the warrior yelled, "Sires! We can see their hearts! Look, their dark hearts glow gently!"
"I cannot see them until they are too close to use my magic," said Beren, who was now further south than the rest of them in this little cave.
"Then fight with your hands," said Xavier, who drew his sword with his good arm. "Or have you forgotten how to do that?"
Xavier glanced over at Beren, and then his face became serious. "Behind you, Sorcerer!"
Beren turned to see the crimson glow of a heart, and he stepped back. The sound of a blow being swung was heard, but nothing came of it. Beren stepped back to Xavier's side. "Use your blade then Theurgist! It is all you are good for now!"
Xavier nodded, and swung his blade wildly, hitting nothing. In the meantime Devon had gotten his dagger from his boot and was looking around for a heart. Mythran seemed unconcerned by the events unfolding. He stepped back into the middle of the first cave and took his spellbook from in his pouch. He began to read it quietly.
Devon received a blow to his right side, but it was mostly superficial. It had dug into his leather armour, leaving only a scratch. He in turn hit with his dagger, striking the heart of his opponent. Momentarily, the invisible warrior's outline could be seen, so Devon swung again at where the outline of his opponent's stomach had been. Darion's mighty blow with his sword hit his opponent hard. There was a crunching sound as the body hit the ground, although no body could be seen. The warrior strode confidently, brandishing his sword quickly in all directions. Finally he found another invisible warrior, and struck him dead with one blow. The fool had not even bothered with a defence.
Xavier too dispatched his foe, to Beren's amazement. With a good blow he had successfully estimated where the neck of his opponent was. Fortunately there was no blood, and only the sound of the body hitting the ground, and then a short delay before the head hit the ground, marked the passing of the invisible warrior.
"Lucky blow," remarked Beren. He looked up and saw Xavier advancing on him with his sword drawn. "Stay thy hand Theurgist." But Xavier persisted, "Fool! I can easily..."
Xavier's blow was still swung, and there was a cry of pain as the invisible warrior to Beren's right fell to the ground.
"You were saying?" said the Theurgist.
Just then, as the battle continued, there was Mythran's voice, booming through the cave, "KAL VAS CORP!" At least ten bolts of lightning struck various points of the room, as the Call Destruction spell took effect. The invisible warriors hit the floor instantly, but none the less, Darion remained on guard, with his sword out.
"Look!" said Devon, finally, as he pointed to the north end of the room. There was a pile of bones up to the north, and a large set of double doors. "This is what we seek. Am I correct?"
Mythran nodded. Just then Darion's eyes moved. There was a cry for help.
"No!" said Beren. "Leave it! It's probably a trap! Unlock the door!"
Xavier snapped, "Typical Sorcerer behaviour! Suspecting foul play. You have been around your peers too long."
"Silence," said Devon. "I say we go investigate."
"I'm with you milord," said Darion, and Mythran nodded.
"Who am I to disobey the Tempest?" said Beren, "We go then."
To the east the yell had come, and sure enough there was a passageway to the east in this cave. In the distance the swooping sound of an axe came.
"Skeletons, Tempest!" said Darion.
Sure enough, slumped against the wall were two figures, and in front of them was a skeleton, whirling its axe. Darion advanced. The skeleton turned and saw this new warrior figure. Darion's swordplay soon proved to be as good as ever, and he soon dispatched the skeleton. He extended his hand to the small man dressed in what had once been fine white robes and the larger man in dirty shepherd's clothing. "No time for words! We must go! Only a necromancer could permanently defeat one of those things!"
Both Cyrrus and his father Gwillim ran, or at least Gwillim tried to. The severity of his burn wound caused him to collapse into the arms of Darion. Dragging Gwillim back into the cave with the others, Darion moved as quickly as possible, ignoring the chest that lay beyond its bones.
"Holy Cyrrus?" asked Xavier to the young lad who stood exhausted before him. "What are you doing here?"
Panting for breath Cyrrus said, "Milord Xavier? Were you seeking us?"
"Nay, but it is fortunate for you that we came here... we are seeking a great door."
"Could you help us return to the camp?" asked the young theurgist. "My father needs healing. Is there aught you can do for him?"
Xavier walked over to Gwillim, who was still being dragged by Darion. He took the herdsman from Darion, and lay him gently on the cavern floor.
"Did you give him the ginseng mixture?" he asked.
"Aye, milord, but it did not heal him much."
"The burn wounds are incredibly severe...we are going to have to get him back to the camp for him to get a full recovery. Naught but our strongest restoration spell would have helped him. But 'tis beyond us now. He will live if he does not see any more action. Now tell me what brought you to these caves." In the meantime, whilst Cyrrus told Xavier of his escape from the mushrooms and how he had spent almost two hours dodging the traps and fleeing from the monsters of the caverns with his badly injured father, Devon stood before the great door.
"Now it is time," said Mythran, from behind Devon. "Unlock the door with the key."
Devon took the key from where it hung around his neck. He placed the small key into the lock, and turned it. Nothing happened at first. Then there was a loud rumble, and the earth itself shook. All were thrown off their feet, as stalagtites and rubble fell from the ceiling. By sheer chance none of these hit anyone. Dazed, Devon got to his feet.
"Help me up, young friend," said Mythran.
"By the Titans!" said Beren, "the exit of these caves are blocked by the rubble!"
True enough, where once the entrance to the first cavern had been, there was a massive pile of rocks.
Xavier, carrying Gwillim, approached Beren, "This man needs to get out of here now! Use your magic to..."
Beren thrust his hand into Xavier's stomach. From where he stood, Devon thought Beren would remove his hand, with Xavier's still beating heart. For almost five seconds Beren and Xavier seemed frozen. Then Beren spoke, "Recall to the Plateau."
Both Xavier and Gwillim disappeared. Beren said to himself, "Now we are equal for him saving me earlier!"
Mythran frowned. Beren said with a grin, "While I was at your house, I noticed your teleporter, and activated it. In all honesty I intended to use the device on myself if we got in too much danger... but his complaining was beginning to get on my nerves."
"Very well," said Mythran with a scowl. "Let us enter this great portal."
Devon led, as the door opened to a narrow cavern leading north. Behind him walked Mythran, Beren, Cyrrus and Darion was bringing up the rear.
He got three steps, and then the ground crumbled beneath his feet. Devon yelled, as he found himself falling from a great height into a dark cavern below...