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Deep in the warlock’s lair, a miserable servant discovered a strange item while sweeping the floors in the study…
Ksh, ksh, ksh, bump.
The weary old hag (Alina) switched her attention from the dirt she was sweeping to the table she had just bumped into. She moved away from it to avoid another collision.
Just as she was about to continue sweeping, she noticed something. Having great size with a peculiar cover, a dark blue book on the table stole her attention; she grabbed it and scooted it towards her.
Clearing the dust off the old book, she gazed in astonishment at its bewildering cover. Though, before she could continue with her curiosity, she had to make sure she was alone. She rushed to the study’s door and poked her head out to check for any other presences; lucky for her, she was all by herself. She gently shut the door and made her way back to the book.
Pulling up a chair, she took a seat and turned to the first page; “Weird tales from Foreign Lands” appeared up top in big bold letters.
She took a pause to think about what she was doing for a second, “Wouldn’t hurt to take a small look… better than working for that slit-faced bastard…” but she decided it was worth the risk to enjoy a simple little tale.
Immediately, she stood the book up, put her fingers in the middle, and divided it open. She skipped to the middle and flipped pages until she found a story.
Translated from Old English, the title means “secret”; it’s not the most foreign to her, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Without a moment to lose, she dove in—word by word, page by page. The story slowly, but surely, developed itself.
The small flame on the torch crackled subtly to itself as if it was in a world of its own. Held high above his head, Frederick used the torch as a light to help guide himself up the cold, dark, stone spiral staircase.
Frederick’s voice sliced through the silence of night.
Accompanying him was a fellow "expeditionary."
“Make sure you’re watching our backs. It’d be a shame if we were to die this far in.”
“Don’t worry, no crockhead’s going to do us in."
“Good, we’re getting paid to rob an old man’s grave, not get slaughtered by some ‘crockheaded’ bastards.”
Fredrick and Elric were hired by a fairly wealthy man to seek out the lost inheritance of a great king. Defeated over a century ago by Germanic invaders of the west, it is rumored he left behind a fortune before being brutally struck down.
After about thirty more steps up, Frederick stopped walking.
Elric spoke up.
Frederick lowered his torch. He had found a door.
“We’re here, get ready.”
Elric checked behind him once more then shifted his attention to the door. Gripping his spatha, he got into his defense stance. He drew his sword and pulled his shield off from his back to the front of him. Cautiously he grabbed the handle then threw open the door.
Unsurprisingly, the only thing revealed to them was the desolate innards of a decaying castle—Demolished rooms, obliterated roofs and decimated walls with gaping holes characterized the old place well.
“Holes that size could easily fit Eglon of Moab, eh Fredrick?"
Fredrick ignored his comical relief.
“Keep your shield on your back and stay behind me. Continue to watch our rear and keep a close eye on blind spots. Stay close and be fully aware of your environment.”
“I know, I know. It’s not my first time ya know?
They proceeded inside and Elric closed the door behind them, as he closed it, it let out a loud eerie creak that paralleled the moan of a haunting willow.
With chunks of the roofing gone, silver moonlight poured itself inside the old structure bringing howling wind and other malevolent noises from the outside with it.
Thump, thump, thump...
A strange deep groan resonated throughout; Elric began to fell his stomach drop a little bit.
“Fredrick, what was that?”
“I don’t know—it was probably an animal from outside. Keep focused."
Elric dismissed the sound and got back to progressing.
As they trekked on, Elric took notice of the damage caused by the invaders. A once beautiful residence of a mighty king, was reduced to a pile of rubble reserved for rats and other wandering scoundrels in need of a temporary stay. In his mind, Elric could imagine what life was like over a hundred years ago. The king and his royal guests feasting the night away in hearty laughter, the queen and her friends gossiping over rumors while telling secrets from inside their kingdoms. The kids running around then getting chastised by the family servants, and lastly the sound of great applause and praise from people happy to be under such a great ruler (or at least forced to be happy under such a “great ruler”).
A loud sound interrupted Elric’s daydream and made him immediately put up his defenses.
“Relax, it was just a shelf.”
Fredrick pointed to a huge, fallen over wooden shelf.
“What if something pushed it down?”
“There’s nothing behind there but wall. You’re a little too scared to do this job, don’t ya’ think?”
Elric didn’t fancy his comment too well.
“Like hell I’m scared.”
When Fredrick turned his back and resumed walking, Elric shook his head trying to discard the absurd paranoia and ignore the unsettling atmosphere.
As they continued on, they stumbled upon the entrance to a once hidden room. Revealed to them by toppled walls made to conceal it; the entrance was a big, round metal door, possibly made of iron. Scattered in front of the door was a collection of remains and blood stains. Some looked like they were from the invasion; others looked like leftovers from not so distance skirmishes.
“What the hell happened here!?”
“I don’t know, but I’m damn sure this is the room.”
As Fredrick proceeded for the door, Elric took a pause.
“Wait. Are you sure you want to go in with just the two of us?”
“Why? Are you scared? Look around you; most of these remains are skeletons obviously from the war. The other ones are probably from recent fights. Possibly fights to get inside this room. Place isn’t that much of a secret ya’ know.”
Elric couldn’t argue with his logic.
“Alright, let’s do this. You open the door again, and I’ll cover you.“
“Well, alright then.”
Fredrick walked up to the door and spun the handle until it popped open.
The door cracked open and they walked inside. Like the stairwell, it was pitch black, but this time the silence was hostile rather than ambient. Immediately, the foul order of decay caught t their noses by surprise.
“Ugh. What’s that smell?”
“Smells like more corpses, somebody may have beat us to a punch. In any case, make sure you’re sticking close as said before.”
They proceeded to inspect the proximity for any clues of treasure or valuables. Wandering for about thirty minutes, the only thing they found was a piece of clothing and some stray bloodstains, similar to the ones from outside.
“We’ve been at it for a good while, in fact, how big is this place?”
“Be patient, you know what they say—If you look, you will find.”
They resumed their search and for a good while, the only they saw was nothing useful and the only thing they heard was the flame from Fredrick's torch and the loud clacks of their boots. But that would cease to be true.
The sound quick, soft footsteps rang out from a distance.
Elric's nerves shot up intensely. His heartbeat started getting faster as his emotions started to grow ill. His newfound boldness was chopped down to a nervous intimidation.
Unlike Elric, Fredrick maintained his integrity.
"We got a live one here. Get ready."
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap
The footsteps got faster, whoever or whatever it was, realized their presence. The probability of confrontation spiked in percentage.
"Elric, you're going to have to be my sword, I cannot use my weapon with the torch."
For a cold second, everything went quiet, the only sounds audible was the cracking fire on the torch and the soft breath exhorting from their mouths. Anxious and struck with dread, they found themselves in a tightrope situation. They could either continue their venture or risk dying and finding nothing, or they could go back and survive.
Elric stood fast with strength in his hands but weakness in his heart, uncertainty was a valiant foe. Fredrick stood behind him, still holding the torch. His confidence started to sink and his mind began to second guess itself. The darkness slowly began to enclose on the men.
A loud hiss sounded off from the abyss in front of them, subsequently, a patch of red lights began to bloom in the same direction.
Fredrick began to tremble; in response to what was before his eyes, his mouth blurted out the appropriate...
“What the hell is that!?”
Elric, short of words himself, could only muster up:
The two men dashed back to the doors as fast as they could, but it was too late. An unfamiliar figure jumped to the door, and slammed it shut. The figure was a humanoid with a skeletal body and thin, brown leather-like skin. This thing, whatever it was, had red eyes like the lights they saw behind them.
Creatures of the same species emerged from the blackness behind them…
Fredrick dropped his torched on the floor as doubt and vulnerability began to flow through him; they were now fresh meat and good as dead.
One of the monsters lunged at Elric and slashed at his face, knocking him down. The rest of the hell-spawn followed in suit, making mincemeat into Fredrick. The one standing before Elric opened its mouth to reveal instruments of torture and pain that was its teeth; it lowered itself down to Elric’s level and…
Alina raised her head up sharply and turned her attention to the door.
“Alina! Alina! ALINA! Get your ass over here! You broken old wretch!”
Speedily, she slammed the book shut and scooted it back to its original position. She grabbed her broom, put the chair back and opened the door.
The old wooden door creaked itself open to reveal a nasty old warlock with power in his command, yet hatred in his eyes.
“Dammit! You were supposed to be in the kitchen half an hour ago! What the hell are you doing in here!?”
Shaking in fear, Alina looked up in the eyes of her master and tormenter, trying to assemble the best group of words to respond with.
“Oh nothing Mr. Gravestone, I was just sweeping up extra, I know how much you like 110% to be put in the efforts of your slave-servants, master.”
The menacing old man gave her an unsure look. A brief moment of heated intensity came by, though eventually, the warlock swallowed his pride and believed her story.
“Well, alright. I’ll believe you. This time at least.”
The warlock then made his way back to the laboratory to perform heinous experiments on poor innocent peasants.
“Make sure when you get done, you head to the kitchen. It’s not going to sweep itself up, ya know. Ha-ha!”
The bent over bastard had to make one last remark in the hall before he vanished, but Alina had words of her own.
As she composed herself, she muttered a curse. “I hope you burn in hell you ass faced toad!”
Behind her, the warlock appeared! Making her jump and drop the broom. Her eyes were wide-open and her body was stiff from movement in shock. He put his lips up to her left ear and said:
“I heard that.”