A large hand fell on Devon's shoulder as he stared at the massive double doors.
"Master Devon," Rokko began, "I would strongly advise that you keep out of there."
Devon looked confused, "Why? What is in there, Rokko?"
"Much death," the stone golem said. "The door leads to the underground caverns beneath the Castle. These caverns eventually lead to a shrine, but only the High Priest of the King, and the pilgrims ever went in there, and quite a few pilgrims never returned. The High Priest was the only one with a key to avoid all the traps. He is long since gone."
"I see," said the fisherman, and he shrugged, and turned to his companions, "Naught but traps down this way."
Cyrrus emerged from searching an acolyte's room. "There is nothing of import in here."
Mythran had been examining the Magister's room, and shook his head, "No… but I feel we should not discount the trapped shrines. The Zealan's once…"
Darion emerged down the corridor, interrupting Mythran in mid-sentence. He was carrying Beren in his large arms, and he yelled across, "I found him in the High Priest's room like this."
Cyrrus met Darion swiftly, and asked the warrior to lay Beren down gently.
"Aye, lad," said Darion. "If you think you can help."
Cyrrus felt Beren's forehead. "He's burning up."
"I would have thought that was normal for him," said Darion to himself.
Cyrrus fumbled in his dirty robes, and pulled out a bag of herbs. He began to add them to an empty jar he kept by his belt. Finally the potion turned a sickly blue, and he raised it to Beren's lips. The Sorcerer coughed for a moment, and then he raised his hands up to Cyrrus.
"By the Titans!" said Darion, "He's dying! Cyrrus, he wants you to hear his last words."
Beren nodded solemnly, and motioned for the Theurgist to lower his head.
"What is it?" Cyrrus asked.
Beren groaned with great pain, "No more… of that please… or I shan't be able to eat for a week..."
Cyrrus grinned, "It's okay… that's just an effect of the potion. He'll be alright in a few moments."
Sat in the dining room, the companions listened as Beren told them what little he could remember of his visions, the bright lights, the Zealan shields, and the battle at the gates.
"This shield is of great significance," said Mythran, once again reminding all that he was an expert on Zealans. "It was a way of speaking to the Zealan gods in their shrine, but almost all these shields have been lost… except for the one in my house that is. Shame we cannot get it, since someone used the only recall device."
Beren looked shocked, "You are actually blaming me for our predicament?"
"Not at all lad," said Mythran, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand. "In fact I was quite impressed by your uncharacteristic decision. Besides, these things have a tendency to resolve themselves."
Devon said, "Perhaps the only exit is beyond the Shrine of the Zealan Gods."
Mythran shook his head, "I somehow doubt it. However, without exploring below there, I can not discount it."
"Much of what we know of the Zealans has been lost," said Darion, "I'd like a chance to reread the old logbooks of the past Captains to see what kind of traps are in store for us."
Mythran laughed, "Quite a few I'm afraid. The Zealan Priests were notorious for being responsible for the deaths of many of their followers."
"Seems strange," said Cyrrus.
"Not at all," said Mythran. "Think of Stratos, how many died trying to reach her through the tests? Or the tests of the Sorcerers. The Titans were just as bad."
Cyrrus was silent, as he thought of poor Torwyn, who had died trying to reach Stratos.
Devon nodded, "You have a point there, Mythran. So we should…"
"Sirs," said a voice from behind the door, and Rokko emerged, carrying a very large tray of foods and drinks, "I could not help but overhear your conversation. Please do not tell me you intend to risk the journey to the shrine. I have prepared a feast for you. Stay a while."
"No offence," said Cyrrus, "but I for one have no wish to remain in this dead castle."
Devon stood up, and said, "Rokko. I'm afraid we cannot stay. We must move on with our quest, and the only exit to this place seems to be the Shrine, since the Castle seems to be sealed in."
"But sirs, I really do not wish to see you dead. Perhaps I might join you?"
Beren said, "But the monsters will hear you coming a mile off."
Mythran glared at him, "Remember, Sorcerer, all creatures have their value!"
Devon, agreeing with Mythran again, said, "He is right, my friend. Indeed you may join Rokko, if you can be of use."
The Golem's expression became that of a smile.
So it was that Rokko was able to open the massive double doors to the shrine, and all six descended the steps, into the catacombs below. Where the steps ended, the companions began to walk down a wide corridor.
They had not gone five steps when Devon stopped, and said, "I hear something!"
Darion said, "Milord, I am beginning to wish you would stop saying that."
"What does he mean, sir?" said Rokko to Cyrrus.
"I have no idea," replied Cyrrus.
"For the last time, will you be quiet when I hear something!" snapped Devon, and the others were silent. Devon's ears picked up a faint banging noise.
"Metal," remarked Darion. "There is the sound of large metal balls banging together!"
"Ah," Beren noted, "the old iron balls trap. Very easy to dodge once you spot the sequence and if the sequence does allow you through…"
Further down the corridor, the companions saw a large cave began where the stone floor of the corridor ended. There were two spiked iron balls moving parallel to each other and alternating between north and south when they hit the walls. In between the balls there was a small skull candelabra. It lit up at the sight of the six of them, as if by some strange sense it knew they were there.
"The balls are going very fast!" said Cyrrus. "I think we could get through, but Rokko and Mythran may be a bit slow…"
Mythran looked at Cyrrus. "No offence, sir," said Cyrrus, "but you are not as young as the rest of us, and Rokko is incredibly heavy, even for a golem."
"I grow tired of the debate every time we reach a trap," said Mythran, "this time, let us do it the easy way. I must see what lies beyond."
Mythran pointed his staff at the ceiling and yelled two words, "AN TYM!"
The balls stopped, Devon noted, but so too did the flicker of the candlelight.
Beren gasped, "You froze time!"
Mythran nodded, "A powerful thaumaturgical spell. Quite useful for we older people."
Cyrrus smiled, and began to walk across the corridor, avoiding the stationary balls. Devon and Darion followed, as did Beren, Mythran and Rokko. Devon stopped half way, and picked up the candelabra.
"Quite wise, Devon," said Mythran. "I think we shall need that."
The room ended in a door which Darion opened. There was a narrow tunnel stretching to the north, and ending in a large chamber. The six entered it carefully, and looked around. There was no apparent way out, and the only feature of notice was the set of four levers around a metal cage which housed a fifth lever.
"Hmm…" said Beren, "our only hope is to pull one of these levers."
"Not so fast, Sorcerer," said Mythran. "At least one of these will set off a trap. We must be careful."
"Yes, sir!" said Rokko, "do be careful. I've heard stories of these traps."
"Enough!" said Darion, "We've no way of deciding. Stand back! I'm going to pull…" his eyes met the nearest lever, "this lever."
The four humans and the Golem backed into the doorway as Darion spat on both gauntleted hands and rubbed them together. Finally, nodding, he pulled the lever.
"Aaaahhhh…" the warrior yelled, and fell onto the ground.
"What's the matter, warrior?" asked Beren. "We saw nothing."
Darion spoke with great effort, "The room… it's gone… upside… down."
"What?" said Cyrrus. "I've never heard of that condition."
Mythran snorted, "Pull the lever again, Darion."
"No way!" said the warrior on the floor.
Darion struggled to his feet, looked dizzy, and began to slump again. Devon and Cyrrus rushed forward and caught the warrior.
"Thank you, lad," he said to Cyrrus. "Milord…"
With great effort his shaking hands probed the lever and eventually he pulled it.
"Better?" asked Mythran.
"Why… yes…" said Darion.
Beren marched forth, "Leave this to me… I am by far the most familiar with these traps."
He chose the next lever, and the others backed away again. This time there was a strange whooshing sound, and five fireballs surrounded Beren. Wide-eyed with alarm the sorcerer pulled out a focus from his bag hastily, and invoked the spell. Blue flames surrounded him, and the fireballs hit, and exploded. When the flames died down, Beren still stood defiantly, as he stood unscathed from the attack.
"Right… it must be this one!" said the Sorcerer, and he moved to the third lever. There was the sound of metal moving as the bars on the cage lowered, allowing the Sorcerer to gain access to the fifth lever. He pulled this too, and there was a loud shaking. The north wall lowered, to reveal a narrow passageway. There was a beam of light stretching the length of the corridor right at the very start of the corridor, and beneath it was the skeleton of some unfortunate soul.
"We can go!" said Beren triumphantly. He started forward.
"Beren! No!" yelled Mythran. "It's a trap. The bolt of energy is lethal."
"How do you know?" asked the sorcerer.
"I've read of many Zealan temples and their defences," said Mythran. "Trust me… the bolt is lethal, and your armour of flames that saved you last time is no use."
"How do you propose we get through then?" asked Beren.
"Well," Mythran said, "I only know of three methods. One was the necromancer spell Rock Flesh, the other the Intervention spell of the Theurgists, and the third was a purple potion of protection."
"I see…" said the sorcerer. "Those methods are not much use to us now."
"Rock flesh?" muttered Rokko.
"I could brew the potion back in my house," Mythran said. "But not here. And I used all my potions healing the injured on the Plateau."
"I wish I hadn't used that blasted recall device!" said Beren.
"Let's try crawling under it!" suggested Cyrrus. He walked up to the beam, and knelt down. The beam fell down to his head level.
"Damn!" said Darion. "It's an intelligent spell."
"Can't you dispel the magic?" asked Devon.
"I'm afraid not," said Mythran. "The spell is permanent."
"Sirs," said Rokko. "I am made of rock… perhaps you could use me as a shield."
"Interesting…" said Mythran. "But I doubt it would work. The Rock Skin spell makes the caster indestructible… you are quite destructible."
"I am willing to try sirs," said the golem. He broke the beam, and the room began to shake again.
"Sirs!" he said, opening his legs, "Quick! Through my legs! Hurry!"
Darion quickly moved through the golem's legs, as the beam lowered itself, but both ends struck a different stone leg. Devon followed, then Beren, Cyrrus and Mythran.
"Hurry, Rokko! Get into the corridor now!" yelled Beren once he helped Mythran through.
"Sirs…" said the golem, "I… cannot… move…"
The golem let out a low moan, and slowly he began to fuse into the floor, with his arms up in defiance. Soon there was nothing left of the golem.
"He's… dead," said Cyrrus.
"Not quite," said Mythran. "He was summoned… and now he has returned to whence he came from."
Beren, who was now silent muttered, "He gave his life… I'm going to miss him."
Devon looked at the Sorcerer.
"Well," Beren said, "He was a loyal servant… much more loyal than the summoned creatures I was used to dealing with."
Devon allowed himself a half-grin, and muttered, "Perhaps there is hope for you yet, Beren."
The companions, now numbering five, strode down the corridor, and came to a set of large tower doors. Loudly the double tower doors opened. Behind were the bones of two long dead Zealans.
"This room is probably trapped too, and I do not wish to see anyone else lost!" said Darion, as he kicked the bones aside and cautiously entered the room.
The room was tiled like a game board, with blue and red squares, and no identically coloured squares adjacent. In the north end of the room was a sarcophagus. Darion was joined by the other four, as they stood at the square on the south-eastern end of the board, looking at the door which lay in the north-west wall.
"I don't like this," said Devon.
"Yes," said Mythran. "It's like some kind of insane game."
"Look!" said Cyrrus, pointing to the skeletons Darion had kicked, and kneeling down, rummaging in one of the bones and pulling out a scroll.
"What does it say?" asked Mythran.
Cyrrus read, "What a colossal jest… Sik-Raal has sealed the access to the Shrine of the Ancient Ones with a game of… I cannot make this out… like we used to play. He who hesitates falls, he said, and he who rushes dies. Is there no end to this madman ar… The scroll ends there."
Just then the square next to the heroes made a scraping noise, and it fell, revealing void.
"Aaaahhh…" said Cyrrus, looking down into the void, and feeling sick.
"Breathe easy lad," said Darion, grabbing the theurgist.
"Don't you see?" said Beren. "If we remain here we shall be in the void!"
Beren took one step north, onto the next square. Again the sound was heard of metal scraping. The square to the north-west of the sorcerer fell.
"Beren!" said Devon. "Stop before we lose all the squares. Wait for us."
The other four travellers stepped onto the northern square. There was a flash of light, as the sarcophagus opened, and a daemon appeared.
Cyrrus almost stepped back on to the first square in alarm. Darion drew his sword.
"Calm yourselves," said Beren, putting his hand out. "I shall save us… again."
He pulled out the glowing daemon symbol, and pointed at the daemon. It snarled defiantly, but nothing else happened.
"It was supposed to be banished!" Beren gasped.
"Perhaps Pagan magic does not work in here," said Mythran.
There was another flash as another daemon appeared in front of the northern doors. Darion said, "We'd best hasten towards the door while it only holds one daemon!"
He took a step north east, and again light flashed. Darion was teleported to the same square as a daemon. The warrior's sword swung into the daemon and it moaned in pain. It then responded by striking with its clawed hands and managed to pierce Darion's breastplate and hit flesh. The warrior howled in pain, and fell on to the ground.
Oblivious to Darion's apparent demise, Mythran intoned a few words of magic, and smiled to himself.
"What is it?" asked Devon.
"Apparently MY magic works in here, for it is not of Pagan in origin." The wizard intoned a few words of magic, "Uus Por!"
Suddenly Beren, Cyrrus, Devon and Mythran found themselves two squares from the north western door. The demon guarding the door took one stride which brought it onto the square in front of the four.
"Perhaps you might like to banish it then," yelled Beren, "before it rips us to shreds!"
"Calm yourself Beren," said Mythran, as the squares behind them, and to the left and right, fell away to reveal void.
Mythran strode onto the square with the demon, and raised his staff high in his hands. The demon growled, and raised its claws to swing.
"Mythran!" yelled Devon. "Get out of the way!"
The daemon's claw was swung, and the red hand went straight through Mythran, who seemed oblivious to this. The thaumaturgist simply stood as the daemon swung again, and again, going through him. Then finally he yelled, "VAS AN QUAS!"
The daemon roared, but Mythran persisted and again yelled, "VAS AN QUAS!"
Then suddenly the room went black, and then Devon looked around. He and his companions were in an empty room, devoid of all but a solid stone floor, the two sets of tower doors and the four walls. Darion lay perfectly still on the floor. Cyrrus rushed over to the warrior, and felt for a pulse.
"He's unconscious," said the theurgist, "the illusion left him thinking he was dead, yet he still lives."
"True," said Mythran, "but I believe were he a man of lesser steel he would have been very dead."
"Come on you big fool," said Beren, kicking the fallen warrior, "On your feet!"
A moan came from Darion, and yet he still stood, and murmured, "Do that again Sorcerer and you shall see your throat ripped from your body."
After resting the five passed through the double door in the northern end of the room. They found themselves in a corridor. There were two doors, one in the western wall, and the other in the eastern wall. They elected to take the western door first, and Darion opened the door. The room was about fifteen feet wide each way, and its sole contents was a desk with a chair pulled over to it, and a chest.
Beren immediately tried to open the chest. Mythran and Devon began to examine the desk, while Cyrrus and Darion stood watch.
"Locked," the Sorcerer said after a few seconds, "and I can not find the keyhole."
Darion nodded, "I'll try to force it open." The warrior gave the chest a good kick with his foot, and there was a loud bang as his metal boots struck the chest, but it did not give way.
"Milord," said Darion, "the chest is fixed to the ground. I believe there is a mechanism to open it somewhere."
Devon had found the desk to be strange. There were some hastily scrawled notes which had burned away, but there were no drawers, only what appeared to be a circular piece of metal, which looked much like half of a set of weighing scales.
"Did you hear that?" said Mythran, after Darion fell quiet.
"No," said Devon. For once, he could hear nothing.
Just then the door slammed shut and the lights went out in the room.
"Damn!" said Devon, "has anyone got any light?"
Beren sighed, "I do… and I can get it right away." In the darkness no-one saw him reach into his bag of holding and pull out a red candle. He intoned the words, "In Flam!" and the candle lit. Almost disappointed, everyone in the room realised that nothing had changed.
"Can I have that for a minute?" said Devon, and when the sorcerer reluctantly surrendered his candle, Devon placed it in the skull candelabra he had found. He crouched under the desk to check for mechanisms. Still finding nothing, he decided to look behind the desk. By sheer chance he placed the candelabra on the metal plate, and the plate sunk.
"That did something," said Mythran. "Interesting."
All eyes fixed on the chest, which was sinking into the ground, revealing a small hole in the ground. Devon removed the candle from the skull candelabra and lowered it down the hole.
"There is a tunnel down there going on for a few feet. It looks a bit on the cramped side, though."
"I'll go," said Cyrrus. "I'm the smallest out of us."
"Aye lad," said Darion laughing, "We'll make a guardsman out of you yet!"
Cyrrus nodded, and lowered himself down the hole. Devon handed him the candle as Beren lit yet another. Waving the candle around, Cyrrus found that the tunnel only went about ten feet, and then stopped. But his eyes fixed on something. It was something shiny.
Closing in on this thing, Cyrrus saw it was a blue shield, with the symbol of an open palm in the top left side, a reddish scimitar on the top right and in the center at the bottom was a heart. Reaching forward, Cyrrus grabbed the shield and hauled it back to the four who were waiting.
When Mythran saw the shield sweat dripped from his forehead. "Great Titans!" he exclaimed, "I had never thought to see another of these!"
"What do you mean?" asked Devon.
"Do you not recall seeing one of these in my house?" said Mythran. "These are no ordinary shields. They are made of a strange blue metal, and could act as conduits to the Zealan Gods."
"Zealan gods?" said Cyrrus.
"Yes," said Mythran. "If I recall correctly there were three. The one whom the scimitar represents is… was Odion - he stood for hate, then there was Amoras, and she represented love and thus the heart at the bottom. Finally Apothas stood for indifference, and the open palm."
Beren was silent, and his face frowned, "This is not the same as the shield I saw in my vision."
Mythran looked puzzles, "Really? There was only one type of shield to my knowledge. Are you sure?"
"My memory is most hazy…" said the sorcerer.
"Never mind," said the wizard. "The shrine cannot be far if this is where the shield was stored."
"Yes… enough of this idle banter," said Devon. "We must get to the shrine."
"I agree," said Mythran. "Do you mind if I keep this shield?"
No one objected, so Mythran kept the shield. As if in response to the decision to leave the door to the room opened again, allowing them into the corridor.
"Now that is spooky," said Cyrrus.
The next door led to another corridor that ended in a set of double doors. Darion tried the doors, but cursed as they were locked.
"Milords, we shall have to backtrack and find the key."
Mythran shook his head, reached into his robes and pulled out a scroll. "Finally an excuse to use these scrolls!" he said, and opened the scroll. He mumbled something and the scroll glowed. Finally the doors opened.
"By the Bonecrusher!" said Darion, as he saw that the rough stone floor gave way to plush red carpet. Before them a large room stretched out, with the walls decorated with ornate runes. To the north of the room stood an altar, and behind this altar there were three statues. To the left was the statue of a woman dressed in an ornate breastplate, to the right was a very well built warrior in full battle armour, who was reaching for his sword. Finally, a thing man wearing a cloak with folded arms and a face that showed little emotion stood behind these two.
Mythran laughed, "Come on! Long have I waited for an opportunity such as this!"
"By the Titans!" said Darion, as he looked at a table full of obsidian coins, and the chests behind it. "There is enough treasure here for me to retire comfortably!"
"Well," said Beren, "there would have been, had we a city to spend it in. Now it is just a pretty display which cannot even be used as a reagent."
"I would not touch the Zealans' tributes anyway," said Mythran, "for the Gods will be surely annoyed with that action."
The old man seemed to move with great speed, and he was running ahead of the other four men, and stopped at the altar, and ran his fingers around it. He examined it from every angle, and seemed to read some invisible message. Finally, with his back turned to the statues he said, "I understand finally!"
With that Mythran placed the blue Zealan shield on the altar and it began to work its magic...