(Since I have yet to actually get anyone to publish one of my short stories, I figured I would just start posting them here. Hopefully someone will read em and give me some honest feedback.)
This is an excerpt from the journal of famed explorer and treasure hunter Argoth Steelsoul. This writer does not confirm or deny the validity of anything written here, nor has anything been altered or omitted
A single cricket chirp pierced the stillness of the night and I paused. Not out of fear, mind you. I knew what a cricket sounded like. But rather out of caution. I was on the edge of the map as it were, in an area left alone for supposedly centuries, and I was not certain what that chirp could attract. Given that until then the only sound was that of the wind, I wondered if it was even a normal cricket.
Through the trees and the gloom I could see my goal ahead of me. A deep black cavern. The enchantment I had cast on myself as night had fallen, a simple Vision Spell, was still active, heightening my sense of vision so the little bit of light from the moon was enhanced to that of a torch. The trees were close, and the branches felt as if they were reaching out to me. All in all a very unnerving feeling.
I stopped and sat on a rock for a moment, staring at the opening through the leaves and the subtle moonlight. Nothing stirred in the forest, no sound, no motion. Nothing.
Several months earlier I had ran across an old book detailing information about the lost kingdom of Elimr. In that tome it had hinted at a hidden crypt, deep in the Unnamed Lands, where one could find the resting place of the first King of Elimr (and all his treasure of course). Originally I had scoffed at such a notion, but I am nothing if not curious. So I loaded up on provisions, grabbed my gear, and headed out into the wilds.
And here I was, staring at the opening to a cavern, which according to the book led to the entrance to the crypt. I pondered setting up camp for the night and making a go at it in the morning, but decided against it as my burning curiosity made it hard to stay settled. Perhaps if I had waited till morning I could have avoided some of the unpleasantness that was to follow.
The moon hung in the night sky, only a sliver visible, bathing the open ground between the edge of the forest and the cave in soft silver light. I stood hidden at the edge of the forest, trying to figure out how to cross without being seen. It then occurred to me that I was probably being a bit too cautious.
“Argoth,” I muttered to myself, “stop being a twit and get over to that cavern!” I admit I talk to myself sometimes. Doesn’t everyone?
Confident that I was safe for the moment, I strode out into the clearing and made my way to the cave. It was DARK. I mean that sort of absolute darkness that seems to absorb light. Sadly, this meant that the enchantment which allowed me to see in low light would be of no help in that deep darkness. I stopping concentrating and felt the enchantment drop and the world got dimmer. With that, I stepped into the blackness.
To say it was black would be an understatement. This is what I imagine the color black to be in its purest form. It’s what I imagine being blind must be like. It made the hair on my arms stand up and I knew it was nothing natural. I have always had a sense for magic. As I had no walking stick, I unhooked my scabbard from my belt and began to use it to feel my way forward. Several times this saved me from falling into pits, and once from running headfirst into what appeared to be a column or pillar of some sort. The path seemed to twist and turn, and the only sound in that blackness was the scuffing of my scabbard on the ground and the thumping of my boots.
After what felt like fifteen minutes of stumbling around in the dark, I suddenly stepped out of the blackness and into a well lit antechamber. The transition was very sudden. It threw me momentarily off balance and I had to steady myself on a nearby wall. After a moment of rest I straightened, buckled my scabbard back on, and began to take stock of my surroundings.
The first thing to catch my attention was the walls. This makes sense as I was touching them at the time of course. The walls were smooth, but not that rough smoothness that comes from the passing of time and the action of water wearing it down. They were smooth in the way that only tools can do, perfect and unblemished. Adorning the walls were what appeared to be murals. Once they would have been bright and cheerful, a riot of color. Now however they were very faded and I could barely make out a few of the scenes. A man with a sword and crown leading a charge against…something. Another with what seemed like the same man sitting on a throne, this time with a scepter, presiding over a trial? I couldn’t really tell. And many more that I could not make out.
Next my eyes fell on the other side of the chamber, where a set of double iron doors with an ornate lock stood. Next to the pair of doors, on either side, were globes that glowed with a bright unwavering light. As I neared them I felt the faint telltale signs of magic emanating from the both of them. Everburning Lights, of course. The people who built this crypt would want to provide the very best for their king and show him the proper respect in the afterlife.
I quickly checked to see if I would be able to remove the lights as they could fetch a fine price, but alas they were firmly (and I do mean FIRMLY) attached to the wall in a way that would prevent me from removing them without damaging them. And so I turned my attention to the door.
The very first thing I saw was the inscription. It was written in ancient Elimr, which I only have a basic understanding of. Its one of those dead languages that only scholars and explorers bother to study. Roughly translated the inscription came out to the following.
Here lies the first divine lord of Elimr, Divine Triviurm, 1st of his name, Lord above All. May he rest for a thousand thousand years till the time comes for him to be reborn.
“Well, looks like I found the right place after all.” I smiled to myself. For once, things seemed to be going easier then usual. Then I saw the lock.
To say it was large would be a gross understatement. The lock took up a good three foot square block in the center of the two doors. It appeared to be made of solid bronze, and shined as if it was brand new. What startled me the most however was the fact that it was not a standard key based lock. It was a combination lock.
A four piece combination lock.
I had seen regular small combination locks in a few shops back in the city. The locks had not caught on yet, as most people who could afford them did not want the trouble of having to remember a code just to open them. I roughly knew how to crack them of course, what self respecting treasure hunter doesn’t know a thing or two about locks, but I was better with key locks.
To see a combination lock with 4 distinct tumblers though? That was going to be a problem. A big one.
So the first thing I did was try my Open spell. A simple thing, I learned it just in case I came across something that I couldn’t open through normal means. Just like anyone else, using magic drained my strength, so I tended to avoid using it unless it was absolutely needed. And not being a professionally trained mage made it worse. However, I felt that this was the exact situation for which I had spent my time learning the spell so I concentrated, muttered the incantation, and pointed at the lock.
I really wish I had not done that.
Instantly I felt a backlash of power slam into my mind. A counterspell, I should have realized it. The sudden surge of power ravaged my brain, and I clutched at my head in an attempt to still the throbbing. Thankfully the Open spell was a small one. The backlash that hit me had given me a splitting headache, and I suspected if I had tried another stronger spell I might have killed myself with the backlash. This sort of thing is exactly why I prefer to rely on my wits rather then magic.
After the ringing in my head stopped and the throbbing went down to a dull roar, I began the tedious process of cracking the locks by hand.
I won’t bother with the tedious details, but I will say it took me the better half of four hours to break the combination, and I am pretty sure I simply got lucky near the end. Turns out I had to get each of the four locks open in a specific sequence, and to make matters worse, attempting to open the lock cause all the tumblers to reset if it was the wrong combination.
But crack it I did, and the door I did open.
A hallway stretched before more, with more of the Everburning lights attached to the wall at regular intervals. The hallway went on straight ahead and then branched off to the right and left. I couldn’t see any doors along the walls. I stepped into the hallway, and then had the bright idea to use my scabbard again to prod along in front of me, just in case any traps lay in wait.
It was a good thing I did that, as I had made it halfway down the hall when I felt my scabbard hit something in the floor that moved. I pressed lightly, and realized it was a pressure plate. I had no urge to find out just what manner of painful and most likely lethal surprise that plate triggered, so I hopped over it. The rest of the hallway was clear, and I soon found myself at the end, where I could go left or right. More of the Everburning lights were on each hallway, and to the right I could see several doors, and far down the hallway made a left turn. The left hallway curved around to the left and I could not see anything of interest that way.
I went right first, checking the doors carefully and prodding the floor ahead with my scabbard. I was rewarded with locating two more pressure plates. The doors I found led to small chambers that held what appeared to be the king’s belongings. Furniture, clothing, some food that had long since rotted but nothing that resembled a real treasure though. I did make sure to mark down which room held what though in my logbook, just in case I could find a collector back in the city who would be interested. You never know with the old stuff.
I should probably explain this before I go further. A logbook is something most licensed treasure hunters carry with them. In my case, I generally had one book specifically for each site I explored. Logbooks are used to catalog items in the site that we treasure hunters cannot take with us, so at a later time we can reference back and see if there is anything worth hiring an excavation team from the Adventurers guild to go and extract.
I continued until I reached the end of the hallway, and found myself facing a short little hallway to the left which ended at a door. I checked the door quickly, noticed it was made of wood bound in iron and appeared very sturdy. I decided to check the other side passage before heading through there.
Avoiding the pressure plates I walked down that passage and found that it curved to the left constantly, moving me in ever shrinking circles. After a few moments I found myself staring at an altar. Made of what appeared to be solid gold. Glancing at it, I didn’t recognize what god this might have been an altar for.
The altar was a solid square block, unadorned. Behind it stood an idol that I did not recognize. I tried to lift the block, just to test its weight, and found that I could not. It was extremely heavy. It was clean though, so obviously whoever this was dedicated to did not believe in ritual sacrifice. Always a good thing. It’s hard to sell an evil altar.
I then took out my Logbook and made a notation in it, as the altar definitely warranted it.
I quickly made my way back to the iron bound door then, and opened it carefully. And I found myself looking at a stone spiral staircase going down.
“Well,” I said, “looks like there is only one way to go! Onward, to adventure!” I chuckled at my own joke, as stairs were hardly an adventure. However, after I took two steps down the stairs there was a whirring noise. I felt the stairs drop out from under my feet and as I fell flat on my rear and slid down into the darkness, I cursed loudly.
I am not sure how long or far I slid. The stairway was not lit, and when I hit the end of the stairs I was shot out into a dark room and slammed into a wall. I slide painfully down the wall and hit the floor. After a few moments of shaking out the cobwebs I stood. Noticing the darkness I then got a torch from my pack and reattached my scabbard. I lit the torch with a quick Flame spell, and took stock of my surroundings.
I looked down and saw that the floor was clean of debris. Above me I could see the hole where the stairs were, at least ten feet above the floor. “No way am I getting up that way” I said. I then noticed that the walls here were bare stone, and set in the wall in front of me was a simple wooden door. I walked over and found it locked.
Normally this would have been a problem. Normally I am much more cautious of locked doors. However, this door had been down here unattended for countless centuries and showed signs of rot and decay. I was, and am, a strong well built man so I simply raised my foot and proceeded to batter the door down. After the slide and the fall I was not in a great mood, but kicking that door made me feel a bit better.
In front of me a hallway stretched out into the darkness and with no where else to go I started walking. I gently checked for pressure plates as I walked with the tip of my boot and was happy to find none as I progressed. The dust was thick here and as I walked I noticed more murals lining these walls, faded to the point where I could only make out the colors but nothing else.
Eventually I started to hear a noise. Considering this was the first noise I had heard since I had entered the tomb that was not of my own making I perked up. It was a rhythmic, steady noise. As I went farther the noise got louder, and more distinct.
It sounded like…breathing.
Eventually I found myself facing a door where the sound came from, and it could have only been made of gold. Thankfully it was not locked however and I gingerly opened it. What I saw will stay in my memory forever.
First, there was the treasure. Mounds of gold, heaps of silver, piles of diamonds, rubies, emeralds. Weapons, armor, and all manner of other strange objects. It was beautiful. Secondly, there was the sarcophagus. It stood in the center of the massive cavern that housed the treasures, standing tall on a tiered platform. High above a large hole was cut and through that hole moonlight shone down, ringing the sarcophagus with a pale silver glow.
And finally, there was the source of the noise. A fully grown blue dragon. The pictures in textbooks and things all try to show what a dragon looks like, but I have seen several in the flesh and let me say this: The books are wrong.
For starters there are the scales. This dragon was a deep blue, like the ocean. Along its back a row of black spikes stood, following its spine down to the tip of its tail. At the tip of that tail was a large spiked ball, almost like a mace. If one can imagine a mace large enough to put a hole in a house that is. Its wings were folded and more of the spikes ran along the outside of them.
And its face. Its face was…beautiful. But not in the way a woman is beautiful to a man no. It’s the beauty of a predator. The grace of a mountain cat. The fury of a grizzly bear. It was breathtaking. Thankfully the dragon appeared to be asleep.
However, the blasted thing was sleeping right on top of the biggest mound of treasure, dead in on the middle of the pile.
I knew there was no going back. Even if I made it up to the hole where the slide was, trying to get back up that way would take forever. And it would mean leaving all this treasure! Those who have met me will tell the world that there are two things that others should be aware of in regards to me. One, I am stubborn as a mule. And two, I am as reckless as a child when there is treasure to be had.
I quickly doused my torch to keep from waking the dragon, and gave the cave a good hard look. It took several tense moments but I finally saw a ladder, carved into the right side of the cavern, leading up to a hole. That had to be the way out of this place.
I decided then and there that I was not leaving that cave without something.
So, first things first. I started to slowly sneak my way around the piles of treasure, looking for something that I could lift without making a sound. I will be the first to admit that I am not the best at sneaking, but I am certainly not the worst.
Of course, sneaking is easier when you pay attention to your surroundings and don’t miss holes in the ground. My left foot fell into such a hole that and I dropped to my knees on the ground, hard. I cursed loudly, automatically, and then quickly covered my mouth.
Unfortunately, the cavern had a nice echo to it, and the impact of my steel greaves hitting the stone floor, coupled with my curse rebounded quite loudly in the cavern. And the dragon woke up. It quickly uncurled and got to its feet and began to look around. I wasted no time in standing and beginning a dead run towards the ladder. It was an easy hundred or more feet ahead, but there was some cover between me and the ladder in the form of piles of coins. I heard the dragon begin to inhale and I dove behind a pile of what appeared to be silver coins.
The dragon breathed. Again, pictures do not do this justice. A huge blast of lightning shot from the creature’s mouth directly at the pile of coins I was behind. It slammed into them and the force of the blast scattered the coins, causing them to hit me and knock me backwards. Good thing they did because the lightning slammed right into where I had been kneeling. I quickly scrambled to my feet and looked around, trying to find a place where I might be safe.
The doorway I came out of! It was still open. I stood and sprinted towards it, casting a Quickening Spell. This spell speeds up a person’s reflexes and was one of the harder ones for me to cast. To maintain the enchantment would cost me dearly, but I needed the boost. The dragon however seemed to notice what I was up to, and like a very large cat it bounded forward and slammed its tail into the doorway causing the tunnel to cave in.
I stopped as I saw this and turned. It looked like I was going to have to face the dragon.
Let me be clear, I had fought dragons before. Generally however I was with a team, and we fought ones smaller then this. It was easily the size of a small manor. Its mouth looked big enough to swallow me whole.
I knew my only chance was to maintain the Quickening spell and strike at its soft underbelly. Thankfully my sword had been enchanted to be extremely sharp as well as return to my hand if I dropped it. That cost a pretty penny to do, but I considered it a good investment.
Time to see if it would pay off.
For a brief second I and the dragon eyed each other. It’s hard for me to say who made the first move, me or it. Without warning I dashed forward, drawing my blade. The dragon snapped itself forward as well, its mouth open to swallow me. At the last possible instant I dove forward and felt the mouth pass over me, disturbing the air. The neck was within reach, so I planted my free hand on the ground as I shot forward and flipped myself up. Quick as I could I stabbed upward and was rewarded with a cry of pain and hot blood squirting out. I had no time to savor my victory however as the dragons left claw came flying out of nowhere. I dodged backwards and avoided the talons but was hit on the backswing, and I flew back and landed hard against a nearby stone.
The dragon wasted no time and leapt at me like a cat again. The Quickening spell was still active and I lashed out and cut the tip of its snout. It was superficial damage, but I knew how sensitive its nose was. Its head reared back and it let out a shrike of pain and a blast of lightning. Good, I thought, let it burn its fuel.
Fighting a dragon is all about movement. You have to dodge quickly and decisively. Even against a smaller one they can still tear you apart if you are not quick. I chose that moment to try something daring. My friends would later say it was crazy, but what do they know! I was the one fighting the dragon in the tomb of an ancient god-king!
I surged forward and jumped, and grabbed a hold of the dragon’s scales. I felt them cutting into my hands, and I quickly scrabbled over and got on its back. It was starting to shake off the pain of the snout wound, and I began to run up the length of its neck. And then the bastard dragon began to writhe and wiggle.
Having never ridden a bull or a bucking horse or anything of that nature it’s hard for me to describe the sensation of gripping on to a spike that sticks out of the back of a dragon as it writhes and shimmies and generally tries to throw me off. Thankfully it could not reach me with its claws, and could not slam me into the ceiling without hurting itself.
I managed to maintain my grip on the spine, but eventually the dragon shook me hard enough that I lost my grip on my sword, and it tumbled to the floor. The dragon stopped bouncing long enough to let out what I can only imagine is the dragon equivalent of a laugh. I growled but could do nothing more then hold on as it began to buck and writhe again.
As I clung grimly to the back of the wyrm, I felt my body beginning to feel heavy. A sure sign that I was overusing magic. I knew that I had to end this fight, and quickly. I began to slowly drag myself along the back of the beast’s neck, using its own spines as a sort of makeshift sideways ladder.
As I neared the back of its head I gripped the lower spine with my legs, held out my hand, and summoned my blade. Sure enough after a moment the hilt appeared in my hand and I smiled. Yes, the enchantment on the sword was definitely worth the money.
After struggling a bit more I finally managed to make it to the top of its head and without waiting I slammed my sword straight into its left eye.
The scream it gave off was earsplitting, and I had to grab a hold of what I think was its eyebrow to hold on as the bucking and shaking became much more intense. I drove my blade as deep as I could, the shaking causing it to cut deeper into the eye. Blood poured from the wound, and the dragon began to slow down. It closed its eyelid in a futile attempt to get me to remove my arm but thankfully my armor protected me. I held tightly and did not remove the blade, but I could feel my body growing heavier as I held onto the Quickening Spell.
After a few moments the dragon fell down, panting from the exertion and the pain. I still refused to let go of either it or my sword. A few moments more, and the beast stopped breathing and sagged. I finally let go and fell to the ground limply, my energy spent. No longer having the energy to maintain it the Quickening spell dropped and I fell into unconsciousness.
I couldn’t tell how long I was out. I only remember waking up next to the head of a very large dragon missing its eye, panicking for a moment, and then realizing that I was covered in its blood and bruised just about everywhere. I stood wearily, and began to inventory the room, my natural treasure hunter instincts taking over. This took several hours, and I won’t bother to put down the boring details. I did include the dragon though. Its organs, and skin, are highly prized items after all. I made sure to grab some of the diamonds and gold during my inventory, knowing I would need to hire several excavator teams for a haul this large. I also made sure I stopped for lunch midway through, the food giving me a bit of energy back. After lunch, I made ready to leave the crypt.
Before I left however, I went to the sarcophagus and said a few words.
“Well Triviurm,” I started, “I don’t know if you will ever be reborn. But I do want to thank you. This money will set me up for a long time and help a lot of people as well. And the world should know about you, this tomb, and the history held here.” I patted the sarcophagus for emphasis.
With that, I climbed up the stone ladder, entered the opening, and followed the hallway to another ladder. I climbed that ladder and found myself coming out of a hidden door in the altar room. I laughed a bit sheepishly for missing the door, and made my way outside, back through the deep darkness and into the afternoon light.
It took me a few weeks to get back to a town large enough to have an Adventurer’s Guild outpost. I hired three teams and led them back out to the tomb. Over the next few months I spent my time cataloging pieces, putting gold into investments, selling some pieces, and giving historians who had heard about the tomb a tour. I had the dragon’s head stuffed and mounted as well, to put in my home. That cost a pretty penny. But it was worth it. I hung that head in my study, so that I would always remember what I had to go through, the pain and the trials, to discover the Lost Tomb of Elimr.