* * * CONIMBRIGA – ARENA OF BLOOD * * *
Grey turned to look towards the entrance of the dungeon. He looked scared, “Shit! Come on gather everything up and lets get out of here. The guards are coming, guess our five minutes are up.”
With an “eeep” Fingers darted into the tunnel that led deeper into the dungeon. After letting off a rippling snarl towards the entrance, Ana stalked down the centre of the tunnel after Fingers. Lia and Ax looked at each other and moved after her. Finally Mesca and Grey followed.
Almost as soon as Grey disappeared around the first bend the squad of slave-soldiers arrived. They swept the entrance room, collected the mage collar with its embedded key and withdrew back to the entrance.
“Guess that’s the last we’ll see of those jailbirds Corp,” said one as they were reaching the exit.
“Shut it you horrible little man,” replied the corporal. “Right, pull back! Let’s get out of this hellhole.”
The iron-collars withdrew, making sure not to turn their backs to the dungeon. They left an empty chamber in their wake.
= = O = =
Frog felt a stir of interest. This looked like something new. With a flex of his dungeon muscles he slid a few barriers around reconfiguring his first level. Strelitzia peered through his eyes at the rag tag bunch of adventurers that were now entering their alternate first level.
“That Ax looks dangerous. His level is almost higher than all of the others combined,” murmured Strelitzia.
« True my love, but check the tag, he is suffering from brain damage due to inadequate healing. »
“He is, isn’t he? The mage is quite good but – um.”
« He’s a weather mage, he’s not a combat mage. Not a real challenge. We can challenge him though; let’s see if he can grow. »
“Accountant? The werewolf is a level 4 Accountant? And that goblin’s only four-years-old!” Strelitzia sounded outraged.
« She’s a level 2 thief, and she’s the equivalent of an eleven-year-old human. This probably seems like a great adventure... But I agree. This is outrageous, » fumed Frog.
« Level 6 Farmer dual classed with Fighter level 2. And finally we have a level 4 Cleric. »
“They are working well together,” said Strelitzia as she watched the party healing up and looting the room they were in, they weren’t skinning the four wolf carcasses but that wasn’t too surprising.
« I’m toning down some of the challenges. It’s tricky or Ax will do everything with a bit of help from Ana. Will you keep an eye on things? I think I should send a message to Lewis for Mary. »
“Because of Ana?”
« Yes, she hasn’t given way to bloodlust. And that means she’s one of Mary’s. Not that that would mean much in most circumstances. »
“Go ahead Frog, I’ll keep an eye on things. It won’t take you long after all.”
= = O = =
They had been at it for hours and Fingers was getting tired. She stopped, she felt that something was wrong but everything looked normal. The corridor in front of them was dead straight and about thirty yards long. She turned to look at the group, “Something’s not right. I’m not sure why, I think we should go back.”
Grey sighed in resignation, “We barely got past those big spiders in the last room. If we go back they’ll be waiting for us. Any ideas?”
Ax just looked blank but Lia blanched at the thought of facing the spiders again. “How about we continue, but carefully?”
Ana shrugged her shoulders while Mesca said, “I vote for continuing.”
Grey looked glum, he glanced back and then looked at Fingers. “Sorry Fingers, it goes against the grain not to accept the advice of the scout but—”
Fingers nodded her acceptance, “Yeah, I understand. I’ll be extra careful.” And in a lower tone of voice she murmured, “but those spiders were so cute...”
They were about two thirds of the way through the corridor when with a muted set of snaps the end they were moving towards dropped knocking them off their feet and connected with a steep ramp. They all slid down the ramp. Behind them the corridor once relieved of their weight swung back into the air cutting of their chances of returning.
The group sorted themselves out; they now found themselves in a high ceilinged corridor not far from a two way intersection.
“Sorry Fingers, we should have listened to you,” apologised Grey.
“Saright Grey. My detect traps has gone up, but how are we going to find the entrance again?”
“I don’t know, but we will.”
Fingers just nodded, she checked on her gear and sighed in relief. Her little improvised tool for looking round corners was not broken. She moved silently to the intersection and crouched down. She used the scrap of mirror she had found earlier and fastened onto a stick, and holding it near the floor, used it to check the new corridor.
Very carefully she backed from the intersection and returned to the group. “Two lizardmen with rifles. To the right. They’re waiting for us. They must have heard us arrive,” she reported quietly.
= = O = =
“Do you think they’ll head down the other way?” asked Strelitzia.
« Think so. They can take out the guards but not without losses. That Grey is remarkably cautious. The safe room will help them. »
* * * CONIMBRIGA – ADVENTURER’S GUILD * * *
Bartold Kennings dragged himself out of his bed. He looked back at the bruised weeping slave girl who was chained to it. He licked his dry lips and rubbed his aching head. He stumbled to the cabinet by the window, he filled a glass with gulph wine and drained it with relief. Immediately his hands stopped trembling and his head cleared.
After splashing some water on his face and dressing he headed for his office. He had been glad to reclaim the guild house after those stuck up prigs from head office had left. He felt bitter that they had destroyed his portrait, it had been painted by Heliophel el-Beltrrasive and had been worth a fortune.
He settled himself and poured himself another glass. He sipped it and opened one of the drawers on his desk. He drew in a sharp breath as he removed the six glowing life gems and placed them on the blotting pad in front of him.
‘Not good. How can those losers still be all alive? Old Doon is going to be pissed!’
He jerked his head up at the sharp rapping on his door, he checked himself quickly and said, “Enter.”
The door opened and Leanna Fireseed stepped into his office, she sneered at him and said, “Meerina Alagarina has arrived guild master. She’s here on behalf of Almergaron Doon.”
Bartold gritted his teeth, knowing the former gladiator would not betray her paymaster, but still, he intended to pay back all those sneers when the time came. “Please show her in Leanna.”
Meerina Alagarina swept into his office with what Bartold recognised as a false smile. He acknowledged that the woman was an excellent actress and he knew her to be dangerous, so he was cautious.
“Welcome lady, and what can I and my guild do for you today?”
“You can assure me that that el-Fordoran bitch is dead.” Meerina smiled maliciously as she examined the unkempt looking guild master.
“Unfortunately none of them have died yet. But even if they get out of the dungeon alive,” Bertold gestured dismissively, “They won’t last long. Will they?”
Meerina lost her smile, “That’s not the point. Darintus wants her dead, it will hurt her father and stain the reputation of the first councillor. You know this. The bitch was awaiting trial and the old fossil would have made sure the case was buried. He might even have rid her of the ‘el-’. Made her legitimate. We need her to disappear. To vanish. See to it.”
“This was you uncle’s plan Ms Alagarina. I warned you dungeons are tricky.”
“You’re the guild master. You see to it. It wiped out your raid, and it saw off the iron collars with grapeshot. How can five losers still be alive after six hours.”
Bartold shuddered as the true Meerina Alagarina revealed herself. “Six. There are six of them. Kee-a-ran ordered me to include the half-troll. He said something about non-humans in the priesthoods.”
“So what? It’s only a low level priest.”
“He is a scholar. He probably knows enough about wild dungeons to keep them alive. So blame the girl’s great uncle for them still being alive.”
Meerina’s eyes narrowed and her mouth became a thin-lipped slash as she fumed. “The girl has to die and vanish. See to it. Gather another group and send them in. Offer them a bounty if they kill the losers.” Then she stood and stalked out.
Bartold looked at the empty doorway, glanced at the glittering life jems and emptied his glass of wine.
* * * SHAG’RILAN * * *
Tsomo Ryatem was paying full attention to young Lhekshey Oratem. “So you are saying that this new goddess and her followers know our trees are dying. And they are buying up our product because ‘the trees take years to grow before reaching a useable size’.”
“Yes master Ryatem.”
“From that I gather they can’t save our trees but they think they can help us grow new.” Tsomo looked grim. “We might be able to live with that. But it could mean our end when the world realizes there will be no liftwood or brandy for at least five years.”
Lhekshey looked worried, “They don’t want anything to do with our brandy master. I wouldn’t count on the new trees being good for that.”
Tsomo’s head jerked up, “What!”
“I think you need to talk to the champion and the priestess. They are the ones who can speak for their Mother.”
“Yes, yes but, but I need to know as much as possible before then. Our very lives depend on this. Do you have anything else for me?”
“We flew over a valley with a wild forest. We could probably tunnel to it. It’s beyond the red ridge. It is completely surrounded by high hills. As it is the spoiled air from the lowlands that is poisoning our trees... We would have to be careful how we did the breach.”
“The air? You are sure? We suspected but...”
“Yes. That much Rich Burton confirmed.”
“Hmm... You’re doing well Lhekshey. Go now and see your family. I’ll go and see what help we can buy from our visitors.”
= = O = =
Rich Burton was lounging by the pool with Minnow and Cinders. They were looking through the big widows that lined the poolroom. Shad’rilan was a dreary looking place with no shops of any interest. Their storage space holds were empty now. Everything Lhekshey had bought had been off loaded and they were ready to leave.
They had their samples, Eldaan was really a remarkably talented ex-thief. Rich glanced at his wristwatch. “Five more hours and we’re gone. I’m not waiting for the youngster. Mother doesn’t care whether this lot get improved trees or not.”
“But, even the improved trees won’t last. Will they?” asked Minnow.
“Not if the air keeps deteriorating. But as things are it would grant them ten years or so of hope.”
“And then they’ll come running back to us,” said Cinders.
Rich grinned. “We’ll warn them. But I’ll be surprised if they do anything about it.”
“Can they?” asked Minnow.
“Yes. They can wall themselves off, and use airlocks. But it would be a herculean task to get the walls high enough.” Rich looked up at the crewman who had just entered the poolroom and was making his way towards them. “Yes, what is it Tommy?”
“A messenger has just arrived with a message from the chairman of the liftwood growers association. They are asking you go and meet the heads of the association.”
Rich glanced out of the window and shook his head. “I’m not going out there again. The air is far too thin and dry. Give the messenger my apologies but no. If they want to meet me they are welcome to come here.” Rich grinned at Tommy, “We don’t need them after all.”
Tommy grinned back and his tail wagged. “I’ll let him know sir.”