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Ari carefully retreated from the stairs. Whatever was down there, they weren’t ready to fight it yet. Killian stirred on the floor, and Tasia helped him sat up and gave him a canteen filled with water. The archer’s hands trembled while he drank greedily.

“Watch the stairs,” Ari whispered to the woman, and she nodded. “How are your reserves?”

“Nearly full,” replied Elijah. He still sat with his back against the wall, and his sword lay on his lap. “But I’m so tired, I can barely stand.”

“Same here,” Tasia said in a hushed voice. “The boss must have used a curse or something, we need to kill it fast, or we’re done for.”

Ari swore under his breath. “Let’s wait for Killian to rest a bit.”

“I’m fine,” the archer said. He tried to stand up, but his legs gave in, and Ari caught him in time.

“You’re not, but we still need to go,” Ari said regretfully.

He healed Elijah and Tasia, but their wounds weren’t serious — just a scrape or bruise here and there. Next, he summoned the squirrel and eyed it with curiosity in his eyes. The rodent sacrificed itself to let them escape, and he wondered if it remembered the act. It certainly didn’t behave like it did, because it joined Tasia and started tugging at her cloak to get her attention.

It was getting too hard to breathe, and after a minute, Ari told them to move. Tasia picked the lightning stick and descended the stairs first. The rest followed, carefully planting their feet on the uneven steps carved out of bones. While Killian still looked terrible, at least he could move on his own, but he kept his hand against the wall as he walked. When the group reached the bottom, they paused, staring into the ominous opening.

The dome-like ceiling was broken in several places, letting the moonlight shine through the cracks, basking the large circular chamber in blue light. Several ornate crypts were built into its smooth walls, and a lifelike statue leaning on a weapon stood in front of each one. The statues faced an immense pile of human bones and skulls at the center of the room.

Ari used his Sense to scan the chamber, but neither the statues nor the bone pile responded to it. Still, after what happened outside, he knew the creatures here had a way to hide their presence before attacking. But he found something weird just in front of the entrance — a broad strip of the stone floor was slightly raised and covered in essence.

Ari made an ssh gesture, and Elijah nodded and placed a silencing ward around them. Tasia’s mouth opened slightly, but she hadn’t said anything.

“Don’t step on that thing,” Ari said and pointed at the suspicious-looking spot on the floor.

“Let’s go around and destroy the eight statues first. We’re fucked if they all come to life at the same time,” Tasia said and narrowed her eyes at the bone pile. “And don’t forget about the boss.”

“Wait,” Elijah said. “We should try to destroy at least two at the same time.”

“Why?” Ari asked. “We will have to split up to do it.”

Elijah paused as if he was looking for the right words. “I’ve got a feeling that the moment we destroy one, the rest will attack us,” he said and stared intently at Ari.

He was right about the gargoyle outside, Ari thought. “Agreed, this looks like a great spot for an ambush. If not for Killian killing all the draugrs, we would run straight here with them on our heels.”

“Tasia, Elijah, get the two closest to us,” he said, and the pair nodded. “I will send my summon to destroy as many as it can. Watch your step for more of those traps and wait for my signal.” Then, he turned toward the archer, who was leaning against the wall. “Stay and support us from here. Don’t use the Lightning Arrow spell unless it's absolutely necessary.”

The brown-haired boy wanted to protest, but after seeing their expressions, he nodded and readied his bow.

They split up, walking as close to the wall as possible. Ari followed Tasia but stopped after a few meters when he was sure he wouldn't miss his target. Then, he commanded the squirrel to move toward the furthest statue from here he stood.

When everyone was in position, Ari pointed the scepter at his target. “Now!” he shouted and discharged the weapon.

Immediately after, four statues exploded after the spells and attacks hit them. The remaining ones started coming to life as they shook themselves out of their slumber. But one got hit by another flaming acorn, and it shattered together with the crypt entrance behind.

“Gather on me!” Ari shouted as he ran back toward the entrance.

The floor shook, and pieces of the stone ceiling began falling, letting in more moonlight. A rattling noise filled the chamber. A moment later, a two-meter tall skeleton emerged out of the pile of bones and hovered above them, staring with its glowing blue eyes at Ari. It was clothed in a black robe with intricate purple stitching along the edges. A crown of gold, adorned with small blue gems sat slightly tilted atop its skull, and a quickly dissipating smoke billowed out of the gems.

“You’re smarter than the last group,” the skeleton mused and pointed a wand made out of bone at Ari.

The tip of the wand blackened as essence surrounded the weapon. But before it was able to launch the spell, the skeleton’s skull jerked backward when an arrow lodged itself into one of its eye sockets. It roared, and a black ray shot from its mouth. Ari threw himself to the stone floor, barely avoiding it, and rolled away from the debris falling from the wall behind him.

Immediately after, a stream of fire hit the skeleton in its side, but it shrugged off the spell, and flames engulfed the wand it held. The mage waved the weapon at Elijah, and a similar-looking stream shot toward his surprised friend. He balked, but a set of barriers shimmered in the air, saving him.

As soon as the flames died down, Tasia appeared behind the skeleton and swung her glowing sword upward. Just before her weapon connected, the boss hovered away from the attack and launched a barrage of small fireballs over its shoulder. The woman managed to dodge a few, but one splashed against her barrier, throwing her back after it was destroyed.

Elijah pointed his sword at the skeleton, but one of the statues charged at him interrupting his spell. It tried to bash his head open with a two-handed mace, and he barely blocked the attack with his sword as he was brought to his knees. The man shouted in a fury. A thin layer of flames enveloped both him and his weapon before he started slashing at the statue like a mad man. He moved much faster, and his opponent was driven back instantly, desperately trying to parry the attacks.

At the same time, Killian fired arrow after arrow at the skeleton floating above the bone pile, but it was constantly moving now, and most of the shots missed.

We need to attack it at the same time, Ari thought and commanded his squirrel to use its spell. A moment later, a flaming acorn hit the skeleton in his back, hurling it through the air. It spun around, and orange flames surrounded the wand. Instantly, the ground near the squirrel detonated, sending debris flying everywhere.

It’s using our spells against us, Ari thought as he fired another blast at the skeleton. Once, it could be a coincidence, but twice?

“Don’t use your spells!” Ari shouted.

“Can’t you see he’s fucking flying?” Tasia shouted back. “How else do you want to reach him?”

The skeleton turned its attention toward her. She cursed as she ducked left and right to avoid the explosions that followed.

Ari glanced at Elijah, who now fought two statues at once—whirling between them as he dodged and parried their attacks. Suddenly he retreated, pointing both hands at the stone monsters. Two streams of fire pierced straight through their chests, and they crumbled to the floor.

“Elijah, whip!” Ari shouted toward him. His friend nodded, and the flaming weapon appeared in his outstretched hand.

The skeleton was too focused on Tasia and hadn’t noticed Elijah rushing from behind. It let out a shriek when the thong coiled around its neck a moment later. Elijah tugged at his weapon and the boss crashed to the ground, rising clouds of dust.

“Don't let it get up!” Ari shouted.

Killian joined them, and they surrounded the downed skeleton, slashing and hammering with their weapons at its bones. It flailed, shouting as it tried to get back up, but it wasn’t strong enough. After firing a spell, which crashed into the ceiling high above them, Tasia managed to cut off the arm with the wand and kicked it away. Finally, the woman brought her sword down on the skeleton’s skull, piercing through it. The moment the blue fire in its eyes snuffed out, the heaviness in the air vanished, and they could breathe far easier.

“Fucking skeleton. Guess we were smarter than you,” Tasia said and kicked the skull away.

They laughed, but Ari’s smile froze on his lips when he Sensed a surge of essence coming from beneath his feet. Before he was able to shout a warning, the golden crown detonated with blue viscous energy.

A barrier shimmered in front of Ari, absorbing part of the blast. They were flung back, and their bodies sailed through the air, till they slammed into the wall. The impact cracked the surface apart, and Ari let out a pained moan as he landed. There was a buzzing in his ears and drumming in his skull, and it took him a few seconds to shake himself out of it.

Tasia lay close to him; her forehead split open. Blood gushed from the wound. Ari crawled toward the woman and started healing her first. His own injuries were minor, thanks to the barrier she placed in front of him. You saved me, instead of yourself, he thought, staring at the woman’s battered face.

While healing her, Ari focused on what was going on around him. It seemed Elijah and Killian were thrown far away from where he landed as he couldn't see them.

A whirlwind made out of bones raged in the center of the chamber. After a few seconds, some of them clattered to the floor, revealing the floating figure of the skeleton. Its crown was gone, and there was a large hole in its skull where Tasia’s sword pierced it, but besides that, it looked the same as it did at the start of the encounter.

A black-red stream of fire struck the skeleton from behind, and the color of the wand changed again. It waved its bony hand, and Elijah’s groan resounded through the chamber.

“Bah, wait for your turn,” the skeleton said. “The girl will die first.” It seethed with anger, and its blue eyes turned red. Flames engulfed the wand’s tip after it pointed the weapon toward Tasia’s unmoving figure.

Ari stopped the healing and stood between her and the skeleton. He gazed at it with hatred in his eyes and retrieved a ring from his pocket. I need to buy them some time...

The skeleton cackled as if his heroics amused it, and unleashed a torrent of fire toward him.

When it was about to hit Ari, the squirrel jumped in front of him, and its mouth opened wider than it should be possible. The spell hit the summon, but instead of piercing it, the fire vanished in the depths of its mouth.

Silence filled the chamber after the sound of the sizzling flames died down. Both Ari and the skeleton stared dumbfounded at the summon, not believing what just happened.

Suddenly, the squirrel’s tail doubled in size, and a thick stream of fire shot out of its mouth. The skeleton tried to dodge, but the spell was too fast. Part of its shoulder disintegrated, and it howled in rage as it clutched at the wound with its one remaining arm. The squirrel turned toward Ari and chittered merrily before vanishing in a ball of flame.

Behind him, Tasia said something in a language he didn’t understand, but it sounded like cursing. The woman stood up and wiped the blood trickling from her mouth. Her lips were cut and bruised, and one eye was swollen shut. She caressed the silver ring on her finger, extended her hand to the side, and started walking toward the raging skeleton. She whispered more foreign-sounding words, but the last few she shouted and Ari heard them clear enough.

“Lavari in lumine mundi!”

A bright light illuminated the chamber, forcing Ari to close his eyes. When he opened them, a few golden streaks appeared in Tasia’s raven-black hair, and a faint golden aura surrounded her body.

A weapon, nearly as tall as her, materialized in the woman’s extended hand. The shaft was made out of some kind redwood, covered in strange letters. The head of the weapon featured a broad axe made out of a golden metal on one side and a hammerhead on the other, as well a long, sharp spike on its end. On the axe’s blade, there was a red eagle with spread wings engraved.

She gripped the poleaxe in both hands, and the aura around her flared. Then, her figure blurred and she charged with her weapon held in front through the skeleton, leaving a gaping hole in its abdomen. It whirled and tried to point the wand at the woman, but she swung the poleaxe nonchalantly, severing the arm. The boss shrieked and started launching small fireballs from its mouth.

Tasia avoided them with ease, simultaneously striking at the skeleton’s body from all sides as she danced around it. Pieces of its robe and bones fell to the ground wherever the poleaxe hit. A fizzling sound accompanied each hit, and soon a white smoke wafted from several places on its body.

The skeleton panicked and tried to run, but it was too beat up, and it only floated half a meter in the air. A smirk appeared on Tasia’s face, and she jumped, bringing the hammerhead down on the skeleton’s skull. It caved in with a sickening crunch. Bone splinters flew everywhere as the skull was pulverized from the force behind the strike, and the headless body fell apart into a heap of bones.

The onslaught lasted no more than fifteen seconds, and now the woman fell to her knees, panting hard. Her hair returned to normal, and the poleaxe vanished.

Ari stared at Tasia, not believing what he just saw. He knew she could move fast, but that was something else. The way she fought with the poleaxe looked as if she trained for her whole life with the weapon.

Now’s not the time for that. Ari shook himself out of his thoughts and shouted, “We can’t let it regenerate!”

Elijah and Killian were already rushing toward the center of the chamber. Their faces were bloodied and clothes torn.

“Killian, trap. Tasia, dome,” Ari commanded when they were closer.

The archer said a few words, and a blue circle with complicated runes inside flickered to life beneath the pile of bones where the skeleton fell. A golden dome, at least four-meter tall, shimmered over it a moment later.

“Release it at full power,” Ari said, looking at Killian. He knew it would take a toll on the archer’s body, but they couldn't risk it. There were too many bones in the chamber, and if they would have to fight the skeleton till all of them were gone… Ari shuddered at that thought.

Killian frowned, but nodded, and stared at the circle on the ground, muttering something.

“Hide!” Ari shouted after the archer was done, and they ran toward the entrance. He and Elijah helped him as the boy was too exhausted to move on his own.

Just when they reached the hiding spot, every hair on their body stood up. The air started crackling and buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. A small ball of lightning rose from the bones inside the shimmering barrier, growing in size as it drifted upwards before stopping beneath the ceiling of the dome.

The buzzing ceased, and everything was silent for a second.

Then, a deafening roar echoed through the chamber as thunder after thunder struck the area inside the dome. The impact was so great that the floor billowed and heaved, and dozens of fissures appeared all over it. The lightning coiled inside and the golden barrier started cracking, but before it broke, the assault ended. The dome vanished, revealing a large crater in the floor, and only a few bones scattered here and there.

Ari let out a breath of relief and approached Tasia. She sat on the floor leaning against the wall with her eyes closed. He started healing her, and she muttered something, but too quiet for him to hear. Her eyes shot open, and she stared at Ari before grabbing his shirt and pulling him closer.

“Don’t ever tell anyone about the weapon. Promise me!” Tasia said through her clenched teeth, and Ari nodded. Her tone was cold, but her eyes were pleading with him, saying what her lips would not.

“Say it out loud,” she added in a weak voice.

“I promise,” Ari said, and only then she let go of his shirt.

He continued healing her, but his thoughts were elsewhere. It seems I’m not the only one having secrets… Something stirred inside of him, and he checked the boxes appearing in his mind.

The Crypt of the Rejected Marsh has been cleared
Your rewards will appear shortly
Essence Rank progress: 31% -> 38%
Requirements met - Osmosis has been activated
Your Lesser Fire Elemental learned a new spell: Fire Eater
You have learned a new active spell Healing Mist
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Antillar

  • Poland
  • The Weaver

Bio: A web designer by day, a Dungeon Master, and a writer by night.

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