< Return to It’s a Trap! Part 2
I had such glorious plans for articles today. Instead, I spent most of the holiday playing Dota. Now I’m super behind on my writing.
So here’s part 3 of the D&D story!
Amber gave the rod a gentle shake. In the dim torchlight, it glowed golden and twinkled from the priceless gems inserted in its tip. It was almost three feet in length and slender in girth. But it looked undeniably valuable – a relic from a bygone era and almost forgotten by all save the most devious.
“What shall it be then? Should I just let this slip and fall into the empty void much like our relationship?”
“I can’t believe you’ve had that all this time,” Jeremiah said. “We’ve been risking our lives searching this forsaken place and you’ve just been quietly carrying it in your pack. How typical.”
“Please, you’re nothing more than common grave robbers,” Amber scoffed. “This place is sacred to one of the blessed Vanir. I’ve been sent on a holy intervention to preserve its purity.”
“You’re one to talk about divine sanctity!”
Amber shook her head.
“I knew it was a mistake coming. I should have left you all to be buried here with your misplaced greed and heresy. I thought maybe we could rekindle that which was lost. But it’s clear to me what you are and what you’ve always been – selfish, self-loathing denouncer of the gods.”
“Gods damn clerics. Will someone just shoot her already?!” Keirn cried.
Jeremiah felt a pang strike his heart. This is not what he had envisioned. This is not how he saw his life unfolding. He was meant for simpler things: a small farmstead and apothecary in town, a roasting pheasant over a fire spit and a loving wife to return home to in the evening. Even with her face contorted in anger and spite, he couldn’t help but see that first beauty that had made his mind blank and heart stop.
With great reluctance, he drew his longsword and pointed it towards the woman.
“Drop it or I’ll drop you.”
Amber laughed. It was a shrill sound devoid of any mirth.
“And now the coward finds his spine? Spare me the dramatics, Jeremiah, you were never good at them.”
“I’m not the same man you left.”
Curiosity coloured her features as she re-appraised the armoured man. For but a moment, Jeremiah considered whether he was capable of running her through. It shouldn’t be difficult. She had only the barest of leather protection padding her simple travelling clothes. And it wasn’t like she would be trained in the use of her walking stick to defend herself. No, she was the daughter of a priest with little knowledge than some outdated religiosity and the most effective methods for gutting a man’s heart.
She took a step back, her boots pressing slowly against the tile behind her.
“Then go ahead, love, show me how much you’ve changed. Run me through on your blade. Let my blood stain your hands and this temple. Leave my body as some forgotten sacrifice to this nameless deity!”
She leaped from tile to tile, picking her safe path across the board. Jeremiah just watched her go, watched the bob of her fiery hair as it trailed behind the priceless artefact they were tasked with salvaging. Only three columns from the end, she turned back to smile wickedly at his frozen advance.
“You see, you may put on armour and play a warrior but you’re still that lost silly boy from the glade. A sword doesn’t make you a soldier. A codpiece doesn’t make you a man.”
She turned towards the exit, pumped her arms, and leaped the last few rows. She fell short of her target, landing heavily against a pair of runes that crumbled immediately beneath her weight. She scrambled for the ledge, the rod slipping from her hands and rolling across the floor with a clear ringing tingle. She pulled herself up the ledge, brushed dirt off her clothes and retrieved the rod.
She turned back to the company, giving them a soft wave as she moved towards the exit.
“Do pass on my regards to Alfather. However long that may take for you to run out of food. Or for our friend to come through the door.”
The pounding on the lowered door reminded them of the company that awaited them in the dark. The company that had only begun stalking them when they ran into the fiery priestess. Amber bent to crawl through the gap on the other side, but as she extended her arm to scramble through Keirn gave a great shout and released the stone in his grasp.
The door smashed to the floor, a great clatter indicating the hidden lock slid into place. The pulleys and chords overhead shifted and groaned as the change in position was transferred across the room. Amber cried, looking up at the network of balances before trying to squeeze through as quickly as she could. After a few seconds of realizing she wouldn’t make it in time, she pulled herself quickly back as the exit slammed before her face.
“What did you do that for!” Aliessa cried. “Now we’ll be trapped!”
Keirn glared at the other woman, his face flushed a deep red as he gripped his knees panting for breath.
“If we’re… going to die… then she’s going with us.”
Amber drew to her feet across the room.
“Figs for cods! Have you any idea what you’ve done, you muck sucker?!”
Kait raised her brows.
“Quite the mouth on the priest’s daughter,” she muttered. “Honestly, Jere, I have no idea what you saw in her.”
Jeremiah sheathed his sword.
“It matters not. What’s done is done.”
He watched Amber slap the rob against her palm to remind them she still held the artefact. But Jeremiah knew it was an empty display of rebellion. There was nothing to be done about it for the moment.
Derrek gave a spurt and spasm on the floor. Aliessa stirred, holding his golden head gentle as he slowly lifted himself to his elbows with a cough. He looked curiously around the room before turning to Keirn.
“The door’s closed.”
“We had some… complications while you were out.”
Derrek struggled to his feet, Aliessa helping as best she could. He leaned heavily upon her as he looked over the tiled board from this new perspective. His eyes settled on Amber and he gave a crooked smile.
“Oh good, you’re still here. Keirn would have been so mad if you’d left with the rod.”
“You know she had it?!” Aliessa exclaimed.
“Of course. It’s the only reason she came here.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?!”
“I thought the rest of you knew.”
Derrek blinked at them. Jeremiah sighed, shifting his feet beneath a clattering of metal rings.
“Can we just get me across this damn thing?”
“No point now with the doors closed,” Derrek said, pointing to the pulleys above them. “The counterweights are situated in small alcoves in the adjoining rooms. You can see the holes where the chords diverge there and there. Without someone to displace the weight on the other side there isn’t anyway to open them.”
“Can’t we just lift them?” Keirn asked.
Derrek shook his head.
“They’re weighted down to prevent precisely that. You’ll notice there are no handles or locks on these doors. Rudimentary precautions probably installed to safeguard against temple thieves.”
“So… us,” Kait said.
“More of the temple-temple kind. What with the war between the two divines, some clergy turned to their own number to steal into rival temples and snatch their holy relics. Helped shift the balance usually in favour of the Aenis since the Vanis were so unlikely to take such actions. Or so they say.”
“Whole bunch of nonsense,” Jeremiah grumbled. “And now we’re all going to starve to death because of some foolish belief in sky wizards?”
“At the very least it seems pragmatic,” Kait said. “I mean, it stopped us from stealing.”
“Which brings us back to the original problem. Any idea how we can get out of this, Derrek?”
The bard looked at the sorcerer while he considered his words.
“I suppose we could wait for whatever is still prowling these corridors to smash down the door.”
The pounding had subsided for the moment, but Jeremiah wasn’t a fan of facing some fantastic beast with the strength to tear through the thick stone containing them inside. Especially given the limited terrain they were offered with the tiled floor taking up much of the room.
Not to mention the large holes now spread across its surface because of their attempt to cross.
“Honey, you can’t think of anything else?” Aliessa asked.
“Well, there is one other option we haven’t considered.”
“We jump down the hole.”
Keirn laughed. Then abruptly stopped.
“It has to go somewhere.”
“But what if it’s a deadly pit filled with sharp spikes!” Kait cried.
“I guess we can wait then,” Jeremiah said. “Who shall start splitting the rations.”
“Fine but we throw her down first.”
Keirn pointed across the room at Amber.
“No! I won’t do it!” Amber screamed
“This isn’t a negotiation.”
Amber held the rod out over the hole.
“I’ll drop it!”
“Then you can pick it up again when you land,” Keirn said. He took the tiles slowly, trying desperately to remember which ones were safe from the earlier crossings. As he got near Jeremiah, the other man couldn’t help but speak.
“I don’t think this is a really good idea,” he whispered.
“Are you volunteering?”
“What if she dies?”
“Then we know it’s not a valid route. Gods, you two were just shouting how much you hate each other a moment ago.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t mean that I wanted to see her dead!”
“Can we possibly put this to vote?” Aliessa called.
“Oh, good idea. All for?” Derrek asked, immediately shooting up his hand. The woman at his side gave him a horrifying look.
“I, personally, am not comfortable with this,” Kait said from her tile.
“Do you have a better course?”
“No, I just wanted to say my part.”
“What is this?!” Amber cried as the last objections were raised. Keirn continued his approach and she stumbled back. “You can’t be serious about this!”
“Don’t struggle, you’ll only make it worse.”
“I knew you were trouble!” Amber shouted. “The moment that whore of your mother came to the village, we knew you were no good. My father was right, only rot grows from spoilt earth! The whole lot of you should have been strung up in the town centre for the crows and maggots!”
“You know what, I’d like to change my vote,” Kait said.
Keirn paused before the last three rows, readying his jump. Amber raised her staff, pointing it aggressively towards the sorcerer. Undaunted, he jumped the distance, landing upon the other side. Amber gave a great shout as she charged forward. Keirn merely crooked his lips before side stepping her clumsy lunge, grabbing her stick and knocking her to the ground.
She coughed up some of the ancient dust, rolling on her back and glaring up at him.
“Know that the gods will thrice curse you for your transgressions!”
“Says the girl who snatched the holy relic,” Keirn said. “Speaking of which, want to hand it over before you’re sent in. I’d hate for it to break and the entire point of this stupid adventure ruined.”
“Never!” she spat.
Keirn shrugged and merely whacked her with her stick. She cried out but refused his demands. So he struck her again and again. This continued for a bit, with Keirn pausing after every strike to ask for the relic but Amber refused to acquiesce. After enough beating, however, she eventually cried out.
“Fine, fine! I can’t believe you all just stood there,” she hissed, struggling to her hands and knees. “In my mind, you’re all culpable for this.”
“Yeah, yeah, save your sacred indignation for a captive parish. The rod please.”
Keirn held out his hand. Amber’s face contorted into a horrible mask of fury and malice. Keirn just waited and she finally slapped the rod into his outstretched palm.
“I hope you’re happy.”
“Not yet,” he said as he began prodding her with the butt of the staff towards the pit.
“Know that if I die, my god will strike you down for your impertinence.”
“Amber, dear, you’ve been wagging that threat for as long as I can remember. If I was going to be punished, it would have been a long time ago. Not quit stalling and jump into this dark and potentially lethal pit.”
She stood at the edge of the broken tiles, looking into the gloom. Her hands fidgeted, clearly anxious about the possibly inglorious end that faced her. She looked to each gathered face, quietly pleading for someone to take her side or stand in defence. Aliessa merely turned to the ground. Derrek seemed honestly curious about the outcome of their little test. Kait glowered back at the other woman.
Thus, it was with a heavy sigh that Jeremiah finally stepped forward.
“Alright, you’ve had your fun. But this can’t continue.”
Keirn rolled his eyes.
“You can spare your conscience, she was going to leave us all for dead.”
“That’s not how morality works. It doesn’t bend to whatever is convenient to you. It’s wrong to force her down the pit and I won’t let you.”
“So what then? Should we send you instead.”
Keirn laughed then stopped abruptly.
“Oh, you’re serious. Was there some sort of crazy draught that I missed this morning?”
“Of course I am serious! You’re not forcing her down there.”
“Aren’t things over between you two?” Derrek called from across the room. “Might as well just dump her!”
Aliessa slapped his arm.
“There will be no dumping!” Jeremiah cried. “If we’re so determined to have someone go down, than I will be the one.”
Silence fell between everyone gathered as Jeremiah looked to each challenging them to contradict him. Keirn merely shrugged.
“Fine but I really think this would have been best for you – you know, emotionally and what not.”
He removed the staff from the small of Amber’s back and the girl waved her arm angrily at the retreating stick. She brushed her clothes and stepped back from the pit making sure to fire one last withering look at Keirn.
Jeremiah made his way slowly to the other side, pausing before the jump over the last three rows. Amber sheepishly stood across from him, looking down at her hands in what he could only assume was a mix of awkwardness and shame.
“Look… you really didn’t have to step in on my behalf. I do appre-”
“Stow it,” Jeremiah said. “I’ve had your maiden act before. This isn’t for you.”
Amber sneered and shook her head.
“Of course it isn’t!”
She stomped off to a corner to hunker down and sulk. Keirn took her place, holding the staff out for Jeremiah. Jeremiah stretched, taking a hold of the opposite end. He then jumped forward, clutching the staff tightly as the other man pulled him forward. His feet struck the tiles, each crumbling beneath him, but the momentum generated by the two brought him tumbling to the other side.
“I still think we should toss her.”
“I’ll pretend that’s out of some misplaced concern for my well-being.”
“Also, she’s a thrice cursed brat.”
Jeremiah stood to his feet, brushing dirt from his hands and carefully approaching the edge. Not many of the tiles were broken on this side and it seemed the pit just yawned down into endless nothingness. A soft cloud of dust rose from Jeremiah’s hurried crossing to the other side. He poked at one of the nearby tiles, listening as the pieces tinkled as they fell through the gloom. He counted the seconds, straining his ears for the telltale sound of them striking something underneath.
“All the time.”
He poked at a few more tiles, widening the hole for him to fall down.
“Look, if we’re going to go through with this foolishness, we can at least not be stupid about it. Take off your armour.”
“What are you on about?”
“Trying to not get you killed,” Keirn said turning to his sister. “Kait! Toss me your rope!”
She sighed as she stood and began the acrobatic technique of searching her numerous bags without falling from her square. While she was busy with that, Keirn lent a hand in unbuckling the straps keeping plates of Jeremiah’s armour on.
“This is looking in pretty rough shape.”
“We haven’t really had the chance to fix it. Or buy a new one.”
Keirn held up one piece with a clear cut run right through it.
“Does this even protect you anymore.”
“It’s not always about protection,” Jeremiah replied, snatching it from his hands and placing it gently on the ground next to its kin. He looked at the makeshift suit spread before him. “Sometimes, it’s just about the image that you portray.”
“Oh really?” Keirn asked motioning for Jeremiah to lift his arms as he helped slide the thick chain shirt off. “And what image are you looking for? Hedge knight?”
Jeremiah didn’t respond.
“Truly? But you… you are…”
“Am what?!” Jeremiah growled.
Keirn backed off.
“You were just so reluctant to leave, I guess. I don’t know. I always assumed you were resentful that I dragged you from your home. That I convinced you to leave everything you enjoyed for this dung heap of a life wandering aimlessly from town to town.”
Jeremiah opened his mouth to protest. He tried to force out the denial of his friend’s words but nothing seemed to come. Instead, he just unstrapped his scabbard and placed his sword at the foot of his equipment.
“Here it is!” Kait called, tossing the snaking rope towards the men.
“Well, let’s get you ready then,” Keirn said, motioning for Jeremiah to lift his arms as he tossed the rope about his chest.
Continue to It’s a Trap! Part 4 >
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