The companions had reached a small cavern further up the narrow corridor that had been behind the door. Convinced that they were indeed safe from the Lurker, Mythran had decided to set up camp for an ebb or two. Devon, still somewhat shaken from his confrontation with the lurker, rested. Cyrrus began tending a few of the cuts and bruises he had taken in his recent adventures. Beren was quite bored, and began pacing up and down the cavern. Mythran sat on a log, reading his spellbook quietly, and Darion was cleaning and polishing his sword. All was silent save for the sound of Beren's feet.
Darion looked up, "Mage. Will you desist from that?"
Beren, not being used to being spoken to in that way by a Tenebraen replied, "No. Get back to your sword warrior."
Darion scowled and said, "That was not a request, fire mage. Stop!"
Beren opened his mouth to speak, and was silenced by Mythran, "Will the pair of you stop bickering. Darion, continue your tasks. Beren, if you feel the need to stretch your legs, why not scout ahead?"
Beren laughed, "You seriously expect me, the High Sorcerer, to risk myself scouting ahead? No thank you, old man, I shall stay here."
"Then be quiet!" said Mythran.
Beren started pacing again, and the old mage scowled at him.
"Fine! Fine!" said the sorcerer, "I shall be further down the corridor."
Muttering to himself, Beren did indeed slowly stroll down the corridor at the end of his . He was wary of any more pit traps, as he did not wish to find himself staring face at the Lurker in her new domain. He had taken the Staff of the Master from his bag of holding, a device which he had found during his test in the Obsidian Fortress. He had always considered it one of the most useful items he had in possession. It held all his foci, which were considerable, in some sort of compressed Ethereal Void in the bag. He had all the foci that the late Master had stashed in his lair, and his own considerable cache which had been hidden in both his dwellings in Tenebrae and the enclave. He was carefully tapping the floor in front of him to see how strong it was. Convinced that the floor was solid, he advanced a few paces. And so it was for ten minutes the Sorcerer cautiously made his way down the corridor, stepping at snail's pace with his staff. After that, Beren's patience ran out and he started to walk at a swift pace.
The lighting in the passage way ended abruptly. Beren halted, wondering why it had suddenly descended into darkness. None the less he opened his bag and pulled out a red candle. Invoking a spell to ignite it, the faint glow from the candle allowed him to examine the floor as he walked forth with renewed caution.
For five minutes Beren groped through the passage way with his candle. The only sound he could hear was the sound of his footsteps on the stone floor. Then the uneasy peace of the corridor was shattered by the sound of a gust of wind. Beren's candle flickered and went out.
The sorcerer cursed, and fumbled in his bag of holding for another focus. Then his eyes fixed on the red light he could see ahead.
When he finally relit his candle, Beren could see he had reached the end of the corridor. But at the end, there was a stone altar and in the wall behind the altar lay a glowing heart, apparently imbedded in the wall. While a normal person would have been repulsed by such a sight, Beren was not, and he clambered behind the altar. He reached out to touch the heart, and there was a click. The heart fell back into the wall. There was a loud rumbling, and the floor beneath Beren gave way. With a thud Beren hit the ground and his limp body faced the ceiling.
Beren regained consciousness very quickly, but kept his eyes closed, for fear of them opening and finding Hydros's tentacles about to wrap around him and drag him in the water. Then again, Beren mused, as he lay at the bottom of the hole, perhaps it was Pyros himself, who had come to destroy him. When he finally decided to look up, Beren found himself staring into a dark grey humanoid shape.
"Great," muttered Beren, "I was wrong! It's the Mountain King himself!"
"Excuse me sir," said a deep voice. "But do you require assistance?"
Beren frowned. He didn't think the Mountain King would be so polite.
"I assume, sir, that you like the rest. I would have noticed you before. Besides your skin looks quite fresh."
Beren moaned, and forced himself to stand on his shaky feet. Before him was what was best described as a statue of a humanoid figure with an enormous body and head which were square in shape, matched by the rectangular stumps it would call feet, and the blocky arms and jagged, pointy feet.
"Can you talk, sir?" said the golem politely. "Are you okay?"
Beren groaned again, and said, "Yes... yes. I am fine."
"That is good, sir. It is quite refreshing to have someone to talk to."
"What do you mean?" asked Beren, confused.
"Well, sir. The things is, the people around here. Something happened. They all just lie around here and do not talk much. At least I assume so. Do you think they fall silent when I enter? Perhaps that is it. My master said that people are suspicious of Stone Golems."
"Stone Golems?" asked Beren.
"Why, yes, sir. Oh, how foolish of me. My name is Rokko Decamorono, butler to the King himself."
"The King? Who, the Mountain King?" asked Beren, more confused than ever.
"Why, -the- King!" said Rokko. "You do know the king don't you?"
"No," said Beren, with renewed boldness and arrogance. "We Pagans have no king, except Lithos the Mountain King. Some Pagans follow the Tempest, others like I acknowledge no king!"
"You are not a Zealan then?" said Rokko Decamorono, confused. "How very odd. So you must be one of those odd folk... oh what did you say... the Pagans? I have heard of such a group, a band of dissenters from the King's rule."
"So, where am I then?" said Beren.
"You are in the King's throne room. Once Kumash-Gor himself once sat on this throne, but that is long past. Sadly, the King himself is too busy with the war against your kind to spend time in this castle. Still, he will return triumphant for the feast. In fact, I wish you Pagan's would surrender now so we could get it over and done with. I do not see the point in the killing myself."
"Yes, yes..." said Beren, waving off the Golem's polite attempts to chatter away, "So if this is the throne of the throne room, where are the people?"
"Well sir," said the Golem, "in recent years this castle became a guard tower. I didn't like that, but I still kept it nice and tidy. It was the staging point for the invasion of the Pagan lands. But you see, sir, one day there was a lot of chanting, and the ground shook. The next thing I know, everyone was lying still. Quite unseemly for guards to fall asleep on duty. And they made such a mess of my liege's throne room, so I had to carry them all to the barracks. They still haven't woken up. And the Commander, why he's been sat at his desk all this time working on that report for the king. More dedicated than his command, I'll tell you, sir. And they don't seem to eat the food I prepare... waste of good rations. Still, with this magic food dispenser my creator made for the castle I suppose they can afford to..."
"That's very fascinating I'm sure!" said Beren, waving his hands up and down. "But what do you know of your creator." To Beren's knowledge, there had only been one type of golem, one made of Earth through the Necromancer's magic.
"Sir, my creator was the Priest of the six, in the reign of Kumash-Gor. That was many years ago, and there have been many kings since then. But since the Pagans came I have not seen the king. Commander Karag-Xen might be able to tell you more, sir..."
"Beren!" came a voice from above, it was Darion.
"Down here!" said Beren, and he saw Devon and Darion's faces appear by the hall. "It seems the passage way ends rather abruptly up there. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the fall down here, so I took a bit of a bruising. Nothing I couldn't handle with my enchantments but I doubt you lot could survive it."
Up above, Mythran's chanting could be heard, and then the magic ladder he created allowed him, Devon, Darion and Cyrrus to descend into the throne room.
"Ah," said Mythran, who was the first to descend. "A Zealan stone golem, and in remarkably good shape."
Beren, pleased with the apparent treasure he had found, said, "Yes. His name is Rokko Decamorono. Ex-Butler to the Zealan king."
"Delighted to meet you, sirs," said the stone butler. "It has been so long since we have had visitors. Perhaps I could show you to quarters, and inform Commander Karag-Xen of your arrival."
Devon, confused, said, "Umm... I guess we could use some food and drink. It would save the food in our packs at least."
"Excellent!" said Rokko. "At the moment the kitchen staff are dining. They have been doing so for so long... but they should be gone now."
"How long has it been since they sat down to dinner?" asked Cyrrus, timidly.
"Oh, I don't know. First the clock in the kitchen said Last Ebb, then the next time I checked it said Eventide, and then Last Ebb again. I think its been doing that often. They should be gone by now. Now, sirs, if I could have your names, and what it is you wish from the kitchen, I shall go and see what I can do."
Each of the five travellers gave their name and Rokko asked them politely to stay here, while he checked on the kitchen staff in the dining room.
"Any specific observations?" asked Devon to his companions as they waited.
"This is definitely a Zealan stronghold," said Mythran. "I recognise it from my studies, and the tapestries in particular are definitely Zealan. I must say," and Mythran began to sound uncharacteristically excited, "that I never expected to see a Zealan Castle of this age in such good condition."
Beren laughed, "That fool, Rokko, has been slaving away in the castle for centuries."
Cyrrus meekly added, "He's done a good job of it though. He's certainly dedicated."
Darion smiled at the lad, and then his face became more concerned, "Milord Devon, I don't like this. We Tenebraen guards have not encountered a Zealan raiding party in centuries, and now here we are in the heart of a Zealan fortress. We had best either escape the way we came, or make a stand. That Rokko may be fetching a horde of Zealans, dead or undead. That Rokko looks like a formidable opponent himself, I doubt I could best him in a one-to-one..."
Just then the doors to the throne room were swung open, interrupting Darion in midst sentence and in stepped Rokko. Across the golem's face the emotion of irritation showed.
"They were still not done!" said Rokko. "But I told them to hop to it, and gave them your order. It should be ready in a few minutes. I shall escort you to the dining room."
Rokko beckoned for the companions to go through the doors. Darion protested, but Devon shook his head and silenced him. Rokko led them down a narrow hall, and through the first double door on the left, into the dining room.
Cyrrus, the first to enter, gave a gasp. He saw on the benches the bones of long dead Zealans, arranged chaotically across the dining room table. Apart from these skeletons, the room was still neatly arranged. As each of the five companions gazed on the room, Devon and Cyrrus in disgust, Darion and Mythran with disapproval and Beren with a silent humour, Rokko spoke up from behind.
"I told them to be out of here before you came," he said. "I am sorry Milords. I must apologise for this. You just cannot get the staff these days!"
"Are you insane!" said Cyrrus, turning red with frustration. "These people are dead!"
Rokko gave a deep laugh, "Only once I am through with them."
Devon said, "No, Rokko! They are really dead!"
Rokko said, "Are you sure? I can have the Castle healer check them."
Darion replied, "Young Cyrrus is a healer, Rokko, and it does not take him to realise that these people are dead!"
"Dead?" said Rokko. "But... but..."
After much calming down, Rokko decided that perhaps the companions were correct in their assessment. He took them to the kitchen, which thankfully was empty, and using a magic food dispenser gave them all the food that they needed for a pleasant and hearty meal. After this, while Rokko was busy burying the bodies of his former masters, the companions went for a walk through the castle. Darion and Beren had already left the companions in the midst of their meal. As Devon, Mythran and Cyrrus began strolling down the corridor, Darion approached from one of the doors.
"The Commander's room," remarked Darion.
"Indeed?" asked Devon. He noted that Darion held in his hand a green covered book.
"Read this," said Darion, thrusting the book into Devon's hand.
Devon read, and his eyes went to the ceiling, "Is this recent?"
"I really don't know. Rokko was unclear how long these people have been... dead. If it was recent, for magic could explain the state of the bones, then this document is worrying. If not... then it does show an interesting side of the Zealans."
"What does it say?" asked Cyrrus, as he could not see the book for Mythran and Darion crowded around Mythran.
Devon put the book in Cyrrus's hands.
"Yes," said Cyrrus, "this is most interesting..."