Phoenix walks through her door into a short hallway that opens up to a room that seems to be in the same carved sandstone as the previous room. That reassures her. Even with the weird thing of the others not seeing the door, it hadn’t teleported her somewhere else. She walks forward and, as she does, the stone around her changes. The browns of the sandstone darken and the edges smooth together, appearing more like a cave wall. As she walks through the large room, she starts to see etchings in the wall. Names carved into the dark stone. It reminds her of the Cave of Warriors, a place she had only been in once three years ago. But she couldn’t possibly be there. That place was hundreds of miles away in the Aur Mountain. She recognized names as she passed, though. Jausmai, Naves, Syllu, Sihir. Each one brought back an old sadness and sharp sense of loss she had thought she had buried with her tribe.
Phoenix shook her head and forced herself to ignore the pain, attempting to stick it back into the container it had been in, telling herself the walls around her had to be some sort of magic trick. It was just an old memory that was being used to test her. She could pass this test, just like she had passed that one where she proved herself as an adult. Otherwise her name wouldn’t be on the wall in the Cave of Warriors, a fighting prodigy at the age of five. If she hadn’t accomplished that feat three years ago, she would have been caught in the murder of her people and wouldn’t be traveling so far away in the hopes of keeping the Askari clan alive somehow. A heavy burden for someone as young as her.
Phoenix reaches the end of the large room. It narrows into a hallway before opening up to another room, this one even more like a cave. The dark stone of the round room and the domed ceiling was painfully familiar. As was the short silhouetted figure across the room. A dull sheen of dark metal on his face highlighting the metal mask of a dragon skull. Any attempts she made to remind herself that this wasn’t real fled her mind as the fear washed over her.
Phoenix grabbed hold of her hammer, the weight not doing much to reassure her as she stumbles half a step closer. The shock and terror from those memories of three years ago returning.
“Who are you?” Phoenix calls out, her voice trembling. He couldn’t be the same person. He’s supposed to be dead. She saw him die. He couldn’t be here. Yet here he was, standing in front of her. Mordrick. The dwarf who had led a party to kill her entire tribe. The original owner of this hammer.
The masked dwarf stands facing her. “I have come to finish my work. You, the one that got away. You must die!” His voice is muffled and hoarse, but it echoes ominously around the cave.
“Why are you doing this?” Phoenix demands. Why is this happening again?
“You are the one that got away!” he yells at her before wildly running towards her. There was an obvious limp in his step and he was clinging his right arm. The only difference this time and last time was the hammer was now in her possession. She holds it out in front of her to block him, but he grabs it. She sees his eyes, glossed and wild, shining through the slits in the mask. She lets go of the hammer as he wrenches it out of her hand, kicking her in the stomach. She falls to her knees, overwhelmed by the fear of this dwarf, confusion at what was happening as things took a different turn, and sadness of losing her family. Perhaps now disappointing them at her weakness. She sits there, paralyzed, not knowing what to do as the dwarf in front of her raises the hammer to bring it down on her.
“Is this what one of the Askari would fall to?” a soft, gravelly voice murmurs through the air. “Frozen by fear? Is this the child I let pass?”
“Guardian?” Phoenix is barely able to speak the word as she sees the silhouette of the aged dragonborn warrior standing behind the dwarf. The blood stained bone sword slashes through the dwarf and he falls to the ground. The Guardian stands there, a soft look on his face as he watches her staring up at him in shocked awe.
“Little one,” he says, the soft tone of his voice resonating inside of her, “you are strong. Do not let fear overcome you. You have much left to do. Take your weapon and know that your family and tribe stands behind you.” Phoenix’s eyes burn as she looks at the wise, kind eyes. “There is more in this world than these radicals. Move forward. There is much left in store for you.” His body shimmers out of view, leaving Phoenix crying on the floor, the body of the dwarf on the ground to her left.
Phoenix forced herself to calm down, catching her breath before she stands up and picking up her hammer. She takes a deep breath, then steps on the body of the dwarf a couple times before heading out of the room. She was ready to forget this time in her life again.
Through the door, Phoenix finds herself in a rectangular room with the carved sandstone walls again. Along the wall in front of her are four large carvings, with one on the left wall and one on the right side of the room, depicting scenes. Phoenix looks at them and the have an obvious aura of magic, whether it was obvious because there was a strange shimmer to them, or it was a feeling for her, or she just expected magic to be there. The carvings also seemed to be connected, since a diamond like symbol was above one of the figures in several of the paintings.
The carving on the left wall was a guy with the symbol above him, standing on the horizon with a large sword. The second was the same guy with the symbol and his sword, but with a wolf and other vague individuals fighting a man riding a dragon. In the carving, there was a shape around him that Phoenix guessed meant he was using magic. The third carving showed the same guy fighting against a man and a woman.The carving somehow showed the woman as enveloped in a dark magical aura, and the guy was shown to be wearing a horned helmet and holding a very large sword.
In the next carving, the guy in the horned helmet is chained on a small, isolated floating island, his sword also chained a couple feet away from him. The man with the symbol was standing close by. The fifth carving, and last on the back wall, didn’t have the guy with the symbol, but it was the same floating island as the one before, showing that the guy with the horned helmet was breaking free. The last carving, on the right wall of the room showed the guy with the horned helmet and the woman with dark magic, with another strange figure that didn’t have any details, standing above the world. Symbols that Phoenix understood to mean ‘death’ were written at the top of the carving.
For some reason, Phoenix is reminded of the book from the green tower. She wonders if she touches the carvings, would she be transported to the places that the carvings showed? Even though these seemed like they were showing a history, she couldn’t tell what the magic of them would do. She walks up to the one where the guy with the horned helmet is breaking free and cautiously runs her fingers across the bottom of it. There was no rush of wind or any sense of pulling, but suddenly Phoenix’s vision showed her something completely different than where she should be standing.
As if she was standing in the air, several spaces from the guy in the horned helmet chained on the island. He was struggling against the chains holding him down. A dark figure that Phoenix wasn’t able to look at directly approached the island and a flash of sword cut through the chains holding the other sword to the ground. Sparks flew as the metal struck metal, and the guy in the horned helmet broke free at the same time. He held his hand out and his sword flies into it. He swings it to break the arch that stood over him, destroying the last magical defense of the prison. He straightened up and Phoenix felt a shock run through her fingertips. She jerked her hand back involuntarily and she saw the carvings on the sandstone wall again as if nothing had happened.
Phoenix figures that whatever the magic in this room is, it is simply to show the history of what happened. She turns to the left wall, where the first carving was of the guy with the diamond symbol over his head was standing by himself on the horizon. Phoenix recognized the symbol as that of the god Silvershard. Perhaps this was his history. She didn’t know much about him, since he was a god of magic favored by humans.
Phoenix reached out and touched the bottom of the carving, like she had the one before. The images appear in front of her and she sees the young man, an obvious magician. Wind is blowing the grass and his robes ripple out behind him. Several figures and the wolf from the second carving walk up into Phoenix’s view, joining the young man and they walk towards the setting sun. The shock that causes her hand to pull back wasn’t as intense as the images fade.
Phoenix moves to the second one, with the dragon rider, and reaches to see what it shows. It’s a fight between the group of the young Silvershard, with the group that joined him in the first carving, and a group of bandits on the ground, with the guy on the dragon hovering above them. Magic attacks are sent up to the dragon rider, while the bandits on the ground are slowly defeated. Finally, only the dragon rider is left. A large magic attack flies towards him, and the dragon disappears. The guy falls to the ground and magic envelopes him and then he is gone as well.
Phoenix blinks at the carving. “Okay, this is getting really weird,” she says to herself as she moves to the next carving. It’s Silvershard, wearing different clothes than before. He’s standing in the middle of the guy in the horned helmet and a woman wearing a long black dress that expands out behind her. The dress seems to shift and shimmer, as if she was wearing shadows. Silvershard is casting spells and swinging a rapier, trying to fight the two of them.
The fourth carving, just to the left of the one Phoenix looked at before, shows her images of the prison, the archway above where the guy in the horned helmet would be chained. In this one, Silvershard is there, again in a different outfit, with a robe of magic over his clothes, looking older. The guy in the horned helmet is attempting to fight him, but magical chains are slowly wrapping around the guy and tying him down.
Phoenix passes over the one of the guy in the horned helmet escaping and goes to the last one on the right wall. The guy in the horned helmet is standing above the world with the woman in the shadow dress. Another figure, the same as from the carving of the guy in the horned helmet escaping, is standing with them. Again, Phoenix can’t look at him directly and can’t make out any details. As she watches, the guy in the horned helmet pulls out his sword, swinging it at the world and cuts it in two.
The shock from the end of that vision was more severe and Phoenix steps back from the carving. Her mind is tumbling with all the information. This was obviously a history, and it was about Silvershard before he became a god, but she didn’t know about the other people in the carvings. And there seemed to be a symbology of it. Was it about the Shattering of the Astral Plane?
Phoenix looked around the room again and noticed that there was a door in the middle of the carvings on the back wall. She keeps thinking about the carvings as she knocks on the back wall and walks down an extremely long hallway, like the one they walked through when they first came in here. She hopes it means that this strange place was coming to an end. At the end is another door that she knocks on and it slides open.
The next room is a large round room with a domed ceiling. In the center of is an old gentleman sitting cross-legged. He was wearing a poncho and a wide brimmed wicker hat. There’s scruff on his chin that was graying at the same rate as the long ponytail he has. In front of him is Quinn, also sitting cross-legged, and the two were chatting. As the door shuts behind Phoenix, the two glance up at her, but then go back to talking. They glance up again when Rysarian walks through a door on the right side of the room, but don’t pay much attention to him, either. Phoenix looks to the left side of the room where there was another door, but Meadowlark doesn’t come through it.
Meadowlark walks through her door, leaving Quinn and Rysarian in the room with the platform. She finds herself in a corridor so long that she can’t see the end of it. Candelabras on the walls every couple of feet provide dim lighting. She walks along the corridor and it opens up to a large oval cavern that is lit from above by yellow crystals clustered in the ceiling. It’s a smooth, mellow light, not harsh like a sun. As soon as she steps into the cavern, she feels soft dirt under her feet. There’s grass growing up from the ground and even patches of small white flowers. As she looks down, she sees an obvious dirt path winding its way through the greenery. Uneasy at the strangeness of the normal plant life in the cave, and extra careful without the others, Meadowlark checks for magic around her. The light crystals give off a lot of magic which seems to be imbued in the grass and flowers, even reflecting from the walls of the cavern, giving everything a soft magic to the whole cavern. With no hiding places for any monsters to ambush her, Meadowlark slowly meanders her way to the other side of the cavern.
The path leads Meadowlark to a door in the wall. But it’s not the same smoothly carved stone. This one is made of wood and looks like a house door. The stark difference and unexpectedness makes it look very out of place, yet somehow seems very familiar to Meadowlark. She reaches out, twisting the iron door handle and the door swings inward easily. The light scent of lavender and freshly baked bread tickles her nose and she walks through the door, experiencing a wave of nostalgia. Somehow she had just walked into her childhood home. Before it was destroyed. Before her entire family and everyone she knew was killed and she had to run for her life. The door creaks softly as it slowly closes behind her.
As Meadowlark walked into the foyer, the windows letting in a stream of impossible sunshine, the house stays eerily silent. No sounds of the servants moving around, cleaning, cooking. No one walking through the room and greeting her and asking how her day is going or if she needed anything. The soft, bubbly feeling she had when she walked in slowly sinks into her stomach, becoming a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia mixed with grief.
The childhood memories tempt Meadowlark up the stairs and down the hall to her bedroom, her large canopy bed made perfectly, the soft white covers and the gauzy white canopy above it, the ends hanging down the sides always making her feel like she was sleeping in the clouds. She goes and sits on the corner of her bed and it sinks underneath her.
A flicker of movement in the corner of the room draws Meadowlark’s eye. It’s her dollhouse sitting diagonally in the corner across from the door. A perfect scale replica of her own house, with the back wall open and dolls positioned in the different rooms. Meadowlark stands up, feeling a twinge of uneasiness, but she doesn’t notice anything out of place. The house is the same as the one she had as a child, but the dolls are different. There are dolls that look exactly like the cook, the maids, even one for the gardner positioned through the house. Dolls of her parents are sitting on a couch in the front room. In her room, and there’s a doll that looks like her when she was 10. She smiles as she thinks of all the good memories, but her eyes are watering with wistfulness.
In the small hallway next to her doll’s bedroom, a doll that’s completely covered in dark cloth stands by itself, out of place with the other dolls. Meadowlark jumps up, quickly backing away from the dollhouse. She hits the wall next to her door, sliding down to the floor and curling in on herself as she sobs. Loss and fear overwhelm her. A sliver of cold metal is pressed to her neck and she freezes, blood rushing from her face.
“You are the one that got away,” a husky, female voice whispers in her ear. Meadowlark knew that this was the assassin that killed her family. But she had never heard the assassin speak. The sound of the woman’s voice jolted her out of her fear, but she still couldn’t move with the knife against her neck. Thinking quickly, she summoned her cat, having it appear at the top of the canopy of the bed. The cat doesn’t see anything behind Meadowlark crouching against the wall and the cold blade vanishes from her neck.
Meadowlark quickly stands up and walks out of the room, calling her cat back to her at the same time. She goes down the stairs to the dining room, liking the large open room. The outer wall was mostly windows that glowed with the light from the setting sun. She could see the flower gardens, the cobblestone path winding through the white rose bushes, the ivy covered fence in the distance that encircled the house, and they all helped her relax. Even if this wasn’t real, the familiarity was still comforting. She circles the dining room table, running her hand over the tall back of the chair at the head of the table, where her dad always sat. He was a wonderful man. Kind and generous. He would do anything for his little girl.
Meadowlark stops at the chair she would always sit in, next to her mother. She liked that seat because she was facing the door that the servants would come in through, bringing dinner. She would always look for the maid with her black hair in a bun. Jessie. She was an older maid, about the same age as Meadowlark’s mother. Jessie would always bring her an extra dessert at dinner, or stop anything she was doing if Meadowlark needed anything. She was the maid that had saved her.
Meadowlark’s eyes water and she walks out of the dining room, catching her breath as she walks through the house towards the other side of the house. To her favorite room. The library. Inside, the bookshelves were up to the ceiling. A rolling ladder was attached to the wall to get to the higher shelves. In the corner, close to the window, was a small nook that she would sit in and read while her dad worked at his desk. Usually it had stacks of books and papers, a couple bottles of ink and a handful of candles at different heights, the wax dripping onto the table as her dad worked on something, losing track of time. The servants knew not to touch anything on his desk. Right now, though, the only thing on the desk was a single lit candle in the darkening room and a book that was opened right in front of the chair, as if someone had been in the middle of it before leaving it. Meadowlark walks over and sits in the large leather chair. It was the first time she had done so where she could easily see the top of the desk without having to sit in her dad’s lap. The book was opened and there was handwriting that she immediately recognized as her dad’s. The date at the top was marked for her tenth birthday party. Ten days before her family was killed.
In the journal entry, Meadowlark’s dad mentions the huge feast. ‘Everyone came to wish my darling little princess a happy birthday. She was beaming the whole time. It was wonderful to see her so happy. Sadly, I missed the cake coming out. I was looking forward to seeing her face when she saw the magnificent cake that Jessie made just for her, but Kelthir pulled me aside. Business as usual, but it took a while to deal with. Kelthir must have seen how anxious I was and as soon as I told him what to do, he was off to try to fix it. Luckily, it worked out well.’ The entry continues on as her dad describes her reactions to the presents he had gotten her.
With her dad calling her his ‘little princess’, Meadowlark is reminded of her favorite book that her dad would read to her when she was young. The title was simply “The Little Princess”, and she walked over to the bookcase, easily finding the worn book on a lower shelf. The corners of the leather cover was scuffed and the binding was unraveling. The pages were yellowed and some were wrinkled. Meadowlark read through the book, the pictures sparking even more memories for her as she read about the little princess and her family going on vacation. While traveling, she was separated from her family and then at the end, the dad finds her, scoops her up in his arms, and takes her back home.
The corner of a page close to the end was turned down. Meadowlark flipped it open, expecting to see the picture of the dad picking up the little princess, since that was her favorite. But the picture was wrong. It was a shadowy figure that was picking up the little princess, blade flashing under the black robes. Meadowlark drops the book in shock as the picture seemed to move. As the book hits the ground a strong gust of wind blows through, the candle goes out and the window behind the desk shatters inward. Meadowlark covers her face and then looks up, seeing the silhouette of the assassin against a dim pale blue light, as if the full moon was shining outside. The cloak’s hood was up, shadowing the figures face even more. Meadowlark can make out normal clothes, though all black, under the cloak, and the glimmer of a blade in each of the figure’s hands.
Meadowlark straightens her shoulders, unwilling to let this possible figment scare her. “You failed in killing me,” she calls out, pushing past the slight quiver in her voice and infusing the words with magic. “That must mean that you are a failure. I can defeat you.”
“You getting away was a mistake that will be quickly remedied,” the assassin says with easy dismissal. The assassin disappeared, reappearing next to Meadowlark. She only saw a quick flash of silver before pain shot through her shoulder. Her blood soaks through her shirt instantly as the assassin pulls Meadowlark’s sword from her scabbard and pushes the girl backwards. Meadowlark allows herself to fall backwards, landing hard on the ground and the keeping perfectly still. She doesn’t make a single noise or even breath, hoping that the assassin will assume she’s dead and leave. The assassin stabs Meadowlark again, who can’t help but gasp at the severe pain. With another stab, Meadowlark falls unconscious, lying on the floor as blood oozes out of her stab wounds.
The corridor through the door that Rysarian walks through leads to a large octagonal room. He looks around, only seeing a pedestal and something shimmering on the floor in the middle. It seems safe enough for him to go in. Crystals light the large room from the ceiling, giving everything a faint blue tinge to it. On the other side of the room is a door. As he approaches the carved stone pedestal, he sees four small statuettes in a line on it. He’s also able to tell that the shimmering on the ground is a large round pond, about 25 feet across.
A dark shadow passes underneath the surface of the water and a body of dark blue scales breaks the surface. A serpent’s head rises up, intelligent yellow eyes look at Rysarian. Long whiskers hanging from it’s face twitch as the head moves side to side, constantly keeping sharp watch while Rysarian stares up at it. Starting at the back of its head and following down the length of its back are spiked scales. The dragonlike serpent opens its mouth with a slow hiss, showing long, sharp teeth.
“Welcome traveler.” The voice slithers through Rysarian’s mind, quiet and whispery.
“Uh, thanks. How are you doing?” Rysarian asks hesitantly.
“I m doing quite well,” the serpent replies genially.
“Just taking a nap in your pond,” Rysarian asks with a wave.
“Yes,” it agrees with a bob of its head, its eyes unblinking. “I have been waiting for those who seek passage through this place.”
“Where does this lead to?” Rysarian asks, looking back at the door in the wall behind the serpent.
“It leads to a friend of mine.”
“Who’s your friend?”
“You would know him perhaps as the Master of the Monastery,” the serpent replies. It tilts its head and its mouth widens, as if it was smiling. “I must tell you that to leave this room, a sacrifice is required. As you see before you, there are four statues. You may examine any of the statues in any order. Touching a statue will let you see the reality the statue symbolizes. Once you have made your choice, throw the statue into my pond,” the serpent explains.
“Can’t I just hand it to you?” Rysarian asks.
The body of the serpent writhes under the surface of the water and its mouth snaps at him. “Do I look like I have hands?” the voice asks harshly. “You must throw it into my pond. And if you take too long in deciding, then I will eat you as your sacrifice.”
Rysarian nods in understanding, deciding not to ask any more questions. He stands in front of the pedestal and looks at the four small statues. The one on the far left is a chest, next to it is one that looks like Meadowlark. A statue of Quinn is beside that one with one of Phoenix on the far right. The treasure chest on the left is the most tempting for him, so he picks it up. The room lightens significantly and the blue color of the room is overpowered by yellow as the walls of the room turn to glass. Beyond them is an ancient dragon’s horde of gold, jewels, weapons and armor with runes carved into them. All types are set on top or half buried in the mountains of gold all around him. Rysarian takes several moments just to turn in a circle, trying to take it all in. Eventually, he puts the chest back down, thinking he could come back to it, just to look at the wondrous beauty of it.
Rysarian moves on to the next statue, the one of Meadowlark. He picks it up and the surface of the pond shimmers and he sees Meadowlark laying on her back on a carpeted ground in a library, a book on the ground beside her. It looks as if she fell asleep while reading. Rysarian puts the statue back down and picks up the statue of Quinn. The image on the pond shows the wizard sitting cross legged across from an older man sitting in a similar fashion. The two seemed to be chatting contentedly with each other.
“Hmm,” Rysarian is tempted to throw that one in just for the fun of it, but he puts it back down and picks up Phoenix’s. The image shows the dragonborn kneeling in a dark cave, as if she was deep in thought. He sets that one down, too, thinking about the bloodbond. “What happens when one is sacrificed?” he asks the serpent.
“In the case of a living creature, the creature dies and the body is removed from this world,” the serpent answers calmly.
“What world does it go to?”
“None. It no longer exists. In the case of objects, it is merely obliterated.”
Rysarian picks up the statue of the treasure again, the gold light reflecting around him so tempting. “Well, I know what choice I should make,” he says to himself. “Um, hypothetically,” he begins, looking up at the serpent. “If one of the sacrifices is blood bonded, would the other person involved in the blood bond also die?” The serpent tilts its head, intrigued.
“Hypothetically, in the case of a blood bond, the other would also die. I have never run into that before, but that would be my best guess,” the serpent tells him.
“I thought so,” Rysarian mutters. He picks up Meadowlark’s statue in his other hand, holding her statue and the treasure chest in either hand. If Phoenix dies, he dies, so that was an obvious no. If he threw in Quinn’s, then he would take with him the understanding of the path of fortune. And any possible chance of removing the blood bond, probably. So he was left with Meadowlark and the chest as his two options.
“Would you help me carry the treasure?” Rysarian asks the serpent.
“I can help you move the treasure,” the serpent nods. “”I would be able to teleport it to a specific place, if you could accurately describe the exact place you wanted.”
Rysarian looks down at the two statues, wondering if he could throw both in at the same time so he wouldn’t have to make the choice. Or maybe the serpent would only take half of each. He could still get half the treasure, and Meadowlark would only be half dead. The serpent’s body shifts restlessly in the pond and it hisses impatiently at him.
“Alright, fine,” he says, throwing in the treasure chest. It barely causes a ripple in the pond.
“Very well, you have made your choice. Forgoing a lifetime’s worth of wealth, enough to buy a kingdom and equip an army, the chance of having anything you could ever desire, for the life of an acquaintance. You may continue on,” the serpent said, dipping back under the surface of the water. The walls had returned to stone as soon as Rysarian let go of the chest statue.
“You don’t have to rub it in,” he mutters to himself, pulling out a piton and hammer and walks over to the closest wall and hits it against the sandstone, hoping that it was actually glass. It wasn’t. Rysarian sighs and goes back to the pedestal, grabbing the three statues to take with him through the door on the opposite side of the room. He finds himself in a very long hallway and, when he reaches the door at the end and knocks, it leads him into the room that he had seen Quinn and the old man in the straw hat sitting in the center and chatting. Phoenix is on the left of him, as if she had just walked through a door as well. The wall opposite him had another door that stayed closed.
Meadowlark slowly wakes up, her whole body feeling stiff and filled with varying degrees of pain. She squints up at the ceiling of her family’s library, lit with an early morning light. She panics for a second, checking her sheath, but her sword isn’t there. She struggles up to a sitting position and looks around. Her sword is stabbed into the ground next to where her head was. She grabs the hilt and uses it to stand up. No one else was in the room. She hobbles out of the room and goes to the back door of the house, leading to the garden that surrounded it. Somehow, the bright, morning like light, the smell of flowers and the different colors of the blooms around her, the familiar white elegance of the patio and wrought iron tables and chairs did nothing to help Meadowlark’s desire to leave this place. She walked through the garden to the back gate and stepped out. The light dimmed and she could see the yellow crystals on the domed ceiling above her again. She was on a dirt path with the patches of flowers around her, like she was before. She winces as she walks, but makes it to the door at the end of the path. It was stone like the ones before. She knocks, entering a long hallway. She groans, leaning against the hallway wall as she walks down it, wondering if it was somehow even longer than the first one.
Finally, Meadowlark reaches the door at the end of the hallway. She knocks on it and stumbles into a large round room where Quinn and an old man in a straw hat and a white poncho with black, fire like designs edge it, are sitting cross legged in the middle of the room. Rysarian is sitting next to Quinn and Phoenix is laying on the ground next to them, staring at the ceiling, half listening, half thinking about the carvings.
Meadowlark catches herself on the wall and slides down to the ground as the others look over at her. The master looks back at Quinn and nods before standing up and clapping his hands. “So! You’ve all finally arrived! I’m so glad that you all could make it! Welcome! Welcome!” He starts walking over to Meadowlark. “I seems like one of you didn’t fair so well, here let me help you,” he says, holding out his hand in front of her. The skin on the palm of his hand is lit with a greenish light that forms into pink petals that fall onto Meadowlark and glow as they fade into her, healing her. The Master helps her up and walks back to the center of the room, where the others have stood up. “Well, now that this young lady is all healed up, are you ready for the challenge?”
“Wait, that wasn’t the challenge?” Meadowlark asks, following behind him. He looks back at her, confused.
“You don’t have a pet serpent?” Rysarian asks.
“Nope. Not at all. I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” the master says cheerfully.
“How did you get here?” Rysarian asks. “Obviously it wasn’t the same way that we did.”
“Oh, I know my way through this place. I have some traps, if that’s what you’re talking about. Like enchanted bows and pressure plates, of course.”
“Ah, of course,” Rysarian agrees. “Oh, yeah, I found statues of you guys,” he adds, reaching into his bag and searching for the statues, but he doesn’t find them.
“So are you guys ready to go?” the Master asks, flipping up his poncho and pulling out his sword. It was still wrapped in its sheath, with different magic wards stuck onto it. The others don’t seem to pay him much attention, though.
“What are we even doing here?” Meadowlark complains, stretching out her tense muscles.
“Yeah, is this really worth it?” Rysarian adds, dropping the pebbles back into his bag. He didn’t get any treasure and he couldn’t even keep the cool little statues.
“Well, we came for the sword,” Quinn speaks up. “He’s only challenging us to make sure that we can handle it. It’s holding a demon.”
“Ah, then yes, let’s fight this guy who can control a sword possessed by a demon. I’m sure that we can do it,” Phoenix mutters.
“We’re all going to die,” Meadowlark says to herself, her confidence very low.
Rysarian moves to the side of the Master and tries to attack, but the Master has plenty of time to dodge. Meadowlark takes the other side of him and cuts into him while he’s still distracted. Phoenix takes another side of the master and swings a heavy blow onto the trapped man. Quinn tosses in his spiked wire, wrapping it around the Master. The man just takes the attacks, but then he lashes out at all of them. Rysarian dodges a punch, but Meadowlark is hit by an elbow and Phoenix receives a kick in the shins as the Master steps out of their circle. He takes a second to focus his energy, and then strikes out with his palm in a rapid fire succession, hitting each of them and knocking them all back. Rysarian has a busted lip, Phoenix’s nose is bleeding, and Meadowlark’s eyebrow is cut.
Rysarian positions himself behind the Master and strikes out at him. Rysarian attacks again when he sees the Master’s blood seeping into his white robe. Meadowlark steps up to the other side of the Master, attacking him and pushing him backwards next to Rysarian. Phoenix takes a position on the other corner of him and swings her hammer, missing the first time but using the energy from her anger to swing again. Quinn keeps his distance and attempts to use his static shock, but it misses.
The Master shifts, putting himself in the middle of Phoenix, Meadowlark, and Rysarian before he attacks, using his quick punch and hitting both Meadowlark and Rysarian, but missing Phoenix. Rysarian falls to the ground, unconscious. He attacks again, but this time he misses Meadowlark and hits Phoenix. Meadowlark attacks, but the blood from her cut eyebrow gets into her eye and she misses. She shifts away from them, hoping the get space to heal Rysarian and herself. Phoenix, frustrated at the whole day, gathers her strength as she looks at this old man. In her mind’s eye, she sees the dwarf and she steps forward, swinging her hammer with as much force as she could muster. She was not going to be scared. She was an Askari. Her hammer lands solidly on the Master’s chest, slamming him backwards into the wall. His straw hat flies off and slowly floats down towards the Master’s body, but it explodes into a pile of petals.
“What?” Meadowlark asks, stepping forward in surprise. “Did we kill him?”
“No!” Phoenix turns around angrily. “You don’t understand! He wasn’t even real! None of this has been real!”
“Wow, that was a really good fight.” Phoenix and Meadowlark turn to see the Master leaning on Quinn’s shoulder.
“You’re kidding me!” Meadowlark shrieks. She looks around, seeing Rysarian on the ground and she digs through his bag, pulling out two of the pebbles. She throws them at Quinn and the Master, but her aim is off in her anger and the first one flies way above Quinn’s head. The other is close enough to the Master that he catches it and tosses it in the air as he talks.
“You all did really good. I’ll heal you all up again, no worries. And I have some gifts for you, too.” The Master walks to each of them, his palm glowing green and the flower petals flying out to heal each of them. He walks back to Quinn. “I believe that you can handle this,” he says, giving him the sword. Quinn nods. “Now if you’ll all follow me?” he asks, looking back at the three that were still annoyed. “I did promise to give you gifts, remember?”
Rysarian is the first to follow and Phoenix and Meadowlark slowly walk after them as the Master approaches a normal looking wall. He touches it and an unseen door opens. The master walks through and beckons the others to walk through after him. The walk into a smaller room with a pedestal in the middle.
“Of course,” Rysarian says, looking at the pedestal, an exact copy of the one he had seen earlier. On top of it, however, there aren’t little statues, but there are a couple pouches. The master looks at the pedestal and back at the group, he picks up a pouch with a silver symbol that looks like a coin and takes it over to Rysarian. The master goes back to the pedestal and pulls out something from another pouch and hands that to Rysarian as well. He looks at his hand and sees a perfect sapphire filling up most of his palm.
“Go ahead and put that in the pouch,” the Master says. Rysarian does as he’s told. When he drops the gem in, he hears a small jingling sound. Confused, he opens up the bag and sees a single coin instead of the sapphire. He pulls it out and realizes that it’s a platinum coin. “Oh, and,” the Master starts, going back to the pedestal, picking up the pouch off the top and lifting up the top of the pedestal. He puts the pouch down inside and pulls out a small barrel, setting it on the top of the pedestal. He pulls out a flask and pours some out of the barrel, taking a sip before gesturing to the barrel. “You can have that, too,” he tells Rysarian.
“Uh, okay,” Rysarian says.
“Ah, yes, to let you know, that’s what they call a cask of liquid gold. Every day it replenishes. It’ll never run out of Dwarven Ale.”
“Thanks,” Rysarian says.
The Master then looks around at the others, a confused, distant look on his face that reminded them of Quinn. The Master scrunches his nose as he looks at Phoenix, who doesn’t know what to do as he approaches her. He reaches out and touches her hammer, making it glow red for a couple of seconds before going back to normal. “Yes, yes, that should work. Now, I think that,”
“Wait,” Phoenix interrupts him, “What did you do to my hammer?” Phoenix asks.
“Oh, yes, that,” the Master touches another wall and a door opens before he looks back at her. “There was an enchantment on it. I just activated it.”
“Oh, thanks,” Phoenix says before walking out the door to a staircase. The others follow her out and up out of the cave system. They were all happy to see the sky again.
“Is there anything that I can help you guys out with?” C asks them as they head out of the monastery.
“No, I don’t think so,” Rysarian is the only one to answer. Quinn was focused on the sword and Meadowlark and Phoenix weren’t acknowledging the existence of other people while they were trapped in their own thoughts.
“Okay, you are welcome to come back any time,” C says with a smile. Rysarian nods and they head back to the boat with Ted and head back to the ship.