Eft stood at the base of a mountain, the treeline behind him. A red glow at the peak was ominous and foreboding. Dark and black rocks of various sizes lay scattered along the slope, making a difficult trek.
Pulling out a parchment, Eft looked at the wording, ‘Please meet at the marker on the east side of the mountain’. Glancing left and right, Eft saw a black monolith to the south. Using his cane he hobbled slowly towards it.
After a minute of slow going, a lady dressed in all black appeared a few feet in front of Eft. She was tall for a human, but her robes cloaked her feet so she could have been hovering. Eft stopped and gave a little bow.
“I can’t wait until the fourth age for you to get to the sign.” The lady said. Black tendrils of shadow escaping her mouth as she spoke.
“I apologize, I was saving my magic for any demonstrations of our product. I…” Eft said and the lady interrupted him.
“You’re the best salesperson Mortis Operandi has?” the lady said.
“I’m the owner and operator of Mortis Operandi,” Eft said giving another little bow. When he straightened he pulled his new shirt down to make sure it looked it’s best.
“I thought a dragon ran Mortis Operandi,” the lady said then she paused and shook her head. “I apologize I should introduce myself at least. I am Lady Morticia Leatha, mistress of the Ember Mountains.”
“My pleasure,” Eft said giving another bow, this one much deeper. He pulled his shirt down after he straightened again. “You are correct, a dragon used to run the company, but a change of leadership occurred recently and I stepped up.”
“Well, I do love ambition.” Lady Leatha said. She beckoned Eft to follow her up the mountain. “While my home is far away from civilization, and quite unfriendly to visitors, I still find people sneaking in.”
Like stirring a pot of soup, Leatha made a circle with one hand. The loose dirt beneath Eft became stiff but his shoes were not affixed to it. A ten-foot round disc lifted in the air with Eft standing on it. Slowly, but faster than Eft could have hobbled, the disc carried them up to the incline of the mountain.
Behind a boulder, the size of a house was a stone entryway. The opening was big enough an ogre could walk in without having to hunch over. The stone steps lead downwards into black, even the darkvision of Eft couldn’t pierce it. The lady stepped in front and held a hand out to her side. The long delicate white fingers didn’t seem human, but they were too pale to be elven.
“Take my hand, the entrance blocks all sight and I don’t want you falling down.” Lady Leatha said.
Eft reached out a hand and gently grasped her hand. The lady closed her fingers around Eft’s and while not crushing, he couldn’t even wiggle his fingers. Remembering the experience with Rachel Shaddow, Eft started pooling some power as he stepped into the black with Lady Leatha.
Eft struggled to contain a scream. The darkness threatened to invade his very being. Like oil being poured on him, the black coated and his skin felt like it was soaking it up. Focusing on his footsteps, he ground his teeth as he maintained control.
The darkness ceased. A well-lit tunnel came into view. Standing next to Eft was Lady Leatha who still held his hand. He could finally see her face, bone white and flawless for a human. Eft felt something tugging at his heart, but it felt like Sandra the HR person. Once he realized it was a magical related compulsion, he was able to focus and push it aside.
“Most scream before they pass through the black. I’m glad to see you're stronger than you look.” Lady Leatha said. A thin smile working appearing on her face.
“I’ve been doing this for a while now. It is effective but experienced visitors won't be deterred.” Eft said. Together they started walking down a long hallway. Pausing for a moment Eft activated his shoes to prevent him from falling down a pit or activating any floor traps. He tried to make it look like he was fixing the strap on his boot.
“Is there any tripwires I should worry about?” Eft said as he hobbled a step behind.
“No, nor any pit trap, have some laborers who are not too bright.” Lady Leatha said.
“We do too, difficult to find good help.”
“Just as hard to make it as well.”
Along the hallway every thirty feet or so there was a stone door. A couple of times Eft viewed the magical spectrum to get an idea of what was there. Some doors were illusions, others some teleportation. The whole hallway was infused with necromantic magic. The lady was not obviously undead and didn’t show up on the magical sight.
“So what type of defense are you looking for? Magical doors to delay and possibly kill? A trapped room that punishes greed? One of our biggest sellers of late is what we call the Bucket room OR-5651.”
“An acquaintance of mine has some of those, ‘bucket rooms’ and I like how they function. I’m open to some other ideas if it won’t interfere with my workers.”
“Oh, we do offer a referral program, if you can write down the name of…”
“They wish to be anonymous,”
“Alright, then do you understand the intent and design of the bucket room?”
“The basics, but do tell me the full details.”
The lady motioned to him to step onto a slightly raised stone slab. It lifted up and carried them through the dungeon. Eft reviewed the bucket room details with the lady as they continued. The end of the hallway split into a T shape, they took the right, then through a door on the left, down some stairs, another hallway, door to left, fork on right, stairs going down, left, right, left, left, up, right, and finally a single room with a desk and some chairs.
Eft hobbled to the nearest chair and sat down. It creaked a little and groaned as he settled down. The room was dimly lit but it grew brighter after a few seconds. From a pocket, he pulled out some parchment and unrolled it on the desk. The diagram and information reviewed what he had just told her.
“If you need blood, the bucket room is excellent to extract a tribute to make them weaker and yourself stronger.”
“Oh, I don’t consume blood, but some of my workers and spells do.” Leatha moved around the table and sat down opposite of Eft. The shadows around her parted and a beautiful pale human woman wearing a fine black dress sat in front of him. The compulsion obey her was strong, but Eft familiar with such resisted and mentally reinforced his defenses.
“Excellent, you can see here the prices for installation and our optional service contracts.”
The lady smiled and leaned forward, looking at the paper and the figures. She pulled back, reached into an empty space next to her. Her fingers and hand disappeared as she reached through reality. A moment later she pulled out a large silk sack and placed it on the desk. The top fell towards Eft and opened up. Inside it was dozens of flawless diamonds each the size of a walnut.
“That is much more than the cost of the room,” Eft said once he could speak.
“It is for Mortis Operandi, as a whole. I’m buying it.”
“I… I’m sorry but it isn’t for sale.” Eft started to stand up, an invisible force pushed him back into the seat.
“I want to do this the correct way, please.” Lady Leatha’s face grew darker until shadows enveloped it. “You are no dragon and from what I hear the business will lose its workers soon,” She paused and made her way around the desk. Eft still couldn’t move from the force pushing down, he turned his head to watch her come closer. “If you can’t pay people or give them what was promised, they started to look towards better leadership.”
“It saddens me to think an employee was so disgruntled if you could have them meet with me,” Eft said and his voice slowed as the weight increased making each breath difficult. “I’ll be more than happy to address their concerns.
“Oh you will, but first agree to sell the company to me. You can live the rest of your life as a king, or you can serve me as undead.” Leatha said the whole room grew dimmer.
Eft still held a little bit of power, not enough to negate the invisible force. The weight and pressure upon his chest felt like an ogre sitting on him. Briefly, he wondered how much weight the chair could support. Since it hadn’t broken already Eft came up with a different plan.
Deftly using his power, Eft conjured a small tear in reality. A hole opened below back legs of the chair and behind the head of Lady Leatha. The back legs fell into the hole and exited into the back of the lady’s head. She gave a grunt as it thumped her. The pressure on him pushed him back with the chair and Eft rolled backward out of the chair.
Eft rolled into a sitting position and started gathering power. Leatha with a wave of her hand swept away the chair, the legs breaking off and falling behind her. Rather than going for his cane, Eft rolled back through the door of the room. Once he was through the door he got to his feet and ran. The pain and stiffness reminded him he was too old for this.
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Life long gamer and geek, after decades of RPG's, decided to start telling his own tales. Ones where the players can't derail.
I love fantasy and sci-fi. Have for decades, from the first time I read Dragons of Autumn Twilight to Stormlight archive, the worlds created have entrapped me. Now after years of attempting to complete a story, I've finished a few and am working on a new ones.