Deep Into Ancient Dust

I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but one time we fought a god.

It was Cyric.  You’re probably familiar with him, but in case you aren’t, he was god of death.  He was the embodiment of the end of all things.  He was the laughing, blood-mad icon of murder and betrayal.  He was not the cold of the grave, he was the screaming terror of entry into it.

I had a special sword, when Rock and Telessarin and G’dam and Gerhard and Berol and I went to face Cyric.  I broke that sword when we actually faced him.

But when my sword broke, so did his – and with it, his power.

At the time, I figured that was sort of… it.  I’d seen the deepest secrets I would ever see, the most ancient evils, the dustiest caverns.  It was a god.  What could be more ancient than a god?

Today I walked into a tomb so old that even the queen of Evermeet – ancient retreat of the elves – didn’t know it existed until twenty years ago.

The high druid of Evermeet asked us to wait in his home – a fancy jail if ever one there was – while he petitioned the queen on our behalf.  In time, she called together her court and sent an escort to bring us to her.  We presented her with our story so far, and the letter from the wizard-general who had sent her word from the Prince.  She read the letter, lingered over the page for a moment, then made a single pronouncement before sweeping out of the court:  “Let them do as they wish, as long as they are respectful.”

The tomb itself was thick with dust.  There were a few obvious tracks that Rock could find – the Prince, two decades ago, but others, also, probably Alec’s.  We had picked up one of the halflings who came here with Alec all those years ago, and he is with us now, helping with the finding of traps, the opening of doors.  He had no idea what Alec really is, and seems a good sort.  As we searched the floors, he and Rock and Badl have been side-by-side the whole way, checking here and there for signs of others’ presence.

The tomb is an enormous structure, much like the tomb of the dragon in the Cormanthor.  Rather than an alloy of starmetal and iron, however, it is an alloy of adamantine and iron.  It’s also rather obviously a product of The Font’s trick of turning whatever’s around into a building.  This place must have at one time been a huge adamantine and iron deposit, lying in the ground, waiting to be discovered.

We explored the first level and found it dropped at each end into largely open shafts with huge statues of ancient elven warriors peering down them.  As we climbed the ladders to the sublevel, we were all a little surprised by the stream of ghosts that would appear and plead with us to rescue them.  They didn’t seem to be intelligent, however – just spirits trapped on this plane, stuck in their moment of greatest tragedy.  We asked Snowdown if she could speak with them, but they ignored her.  They lacked none of her self-awareness, and we moved on, further into the tomb, unable to help.

On the sublevel to which the shaft led, there were paths leading off in more than one direction but most footsteps led towards what we figured was roughly the center of the complex.  We made our way along further dusty, empty hallways until we entered into a larger hall with four large statues of elven warriors crouched on the floor, their hands held up to the ceiling.

“I bet these are going to come to life,” Rock said, and we all sort of sighed and nodded.  It was very likely, we had to admit.

Very shortly, however, we had other problems on our hands.  Namely, more of those constructed guards like at The Tomb of the Dragon were coming up the hall towards us, but this time a good number more of them, and some of them looked like spellcasters.

I climbed up on the lap of one of the giant statues, to keep a good view of things, with Greebo standing backwards on my shoulder to watch our flank.  Rock and Badl stepped forward – Rock having been polymorphed into a Stone Giant, Badl having taken the shape of a Dire Bear – and as the helmed horrors ran forward and their mage compatriots began dropping fireballs, I set about obliterating those I could with magic of my own, Adric brought down his own holy vengeance, and Badl and Rock simply sliced through the constructed guards like paper.  The fight was over almost before it started, but one mage standing after only a few seconds.  As I lifted my finger to cast a spell, a glyph glowed in its own hand and it spoke a single word:  “Reverse.”  On command, the giant statues’ hands started to move, turning the circular walls of the hallway where we stood so that the floor began to tilt, then turn.

We all scrambled forward to get away from the floor – designed to entrap its victims in a sealed chamber underneath – and Rock and Badl destroyed the constructed guardian before it could do anything else to hamper our progress.  A quick catching of our breath and a few moments to check the floor for tracks, and then we were off on the upward arm of a spiral hallway, still following what we assume to be the prints of the Prince (get it?) from twenty years before.

What we found ahead of us was something none of us could have expected.

A door blocked our way, sealed magically.  The corpse of the one who had sealed it lay before it, the ravages of waste or rot entirely absent from its body.  Its blood had been the agent that sealed the door, and written on the floor beside it – still in its own blood – were the words, It is done, and by my blood I have sealed it inside for all eternity.

The “it” in question was, to put it simply, an elven angel.  Its body was covered in wounds, and its eyes had been plucked out.

“I bet this is going to come to life, too,” we all agreed.

Still, the Prince had come this way, and so would we.  The blood of the angelic being seemed to have magically locked the doors shut, and though Adric was able to dispel a number of wards on the door, that seal remained in place.  Finally I simply disintegrated the door with a spell, and we went through, careful to keep an eye on the angelic corpse on the floor.  It never stirred, and with some trepidation we finally turned our backs on it and proceeded even further into this ancient place.

Ahead of us, around the curve of the spiral hall, we found an observation deck not unlike the one in The Tomb of the Dragon.  This one had no pre-recorded message, no self-contained history to show us, but it did overlook a sort of arena.  In the stands which surrounded the main floor were hundreds of ghosts and spirits of mutilated and ancient elves.  These, two, were locked in their moment of worst defeat – weeping, searching endlessly and emptily, seeking something they couldn’t express and we couldn’t satisfy.

One being, in the center of the arena, was made of more tangible stuff, however:  an enormous being who might as well have been made of armor, a sort of demon-monster, enormously tall.  It stood holding a tremendous, black scythe, a chopping block before it, and we realized quickly that this was no mere arena; it was an execution chamber.  A hallway led off and out of the arena, and it appeared to be the only way the Prince could have gone.  Unsure whether the executioner was still alive, or aware, we decided to risk descending to the floor of the arena and trying our luck.

“I bet that thing’s going to come to life as soon as we’re down there,” Adric said.

He was right, of course.

No sooner had we set foot in the ancient soil of that dark chamber than the being began to move towards us.  Prepare to meet the justice of the realm, it said.  For you are not elves, not nobles, and thus you must be here to die.  I called out that we were there by invitation of the queen of the elves, but it either could not hear me or did not care.  It lifted its scythe, walking calmly in our direction, and I turned Rock into a Stone Giant again so that he could run forward and engage it.  He, Badl and Adric all turned their various talents against it and opened a number of wounds in its flesh, but each of these mostly closed just as soon as they were made.  Either the being healed supernaturally quickly or was resistant to damage, or both.  In any event, it was apparent that it would be slow going to wear it down bit by bit, so I raised my fingers and waited until a few more wounds had been cut before simply saying, “Disintegrate.”  A shot of green energy fired from my hands and in a flash of light the being was gone, a pile of dust with an enormous scythe spinning on its end before crashing to the ground.

Rock lifted the scythe for a moment, feeling its weight.  “I think I could use this when I’m a Stone Giant,” he said with a little smile, and I agreed.  For all that time has changed us and our view of the world, Rock is still in many ways that fresh-faced boy who simply loves a good fight.

Now a bit more wary, we made our way across the arena and into the hallway where the Prince’s tracks led.  We didn’t have far to go, as the passage ended in three doors – one at the very end, and one to either side of it.  Wards protected each of them – insanity, death and pain, to be precise, so the people who had put them there were obviously serious about keeping it closed up.  The Prince’s tracks still moved forward, however, so he must have had some way beyond them.  As we studied the door, Badl and I realized there was an enscription over the main portal that read, in ancient elven, Bow your heads, ye who enter here, for this is the tomb of The Great Hero, Faerath.

And so we made our camp there, and took our rest, because gods only knew what we would face after that.

As we rested, I cast a quick Identify on Rock’s new scythe and found it had the special quality of severing heads if it’s wielded just right; a fitting enchantment for an executioner, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Rock watched us in our sleep, and told us of a strange event that had passed in the night:  a ghost that looked remarkably like the murals of the Faerath we’d seen scattered around the place had emerged from the main door, weeping and repeating I’m sorry, I’m so sorry over and over again.  The ghost of the Faerath, we figured, but that didn’t explain a thing about what had happened so far, or what the Prince might have seen here that was so important his own wizard-general had sent us here to see it for ourselves.

The next morning Badl cast a few spells and quickly disposed of the wards protecting the entrance to the tomb.  Bending on one knee, each of us quickly paid our silent respects to the dead that lay within, then opened the door.

We found a smaller, round chamber, like a miniature version of all the Font-related rooms we’ve found so far, with three doors.  On the left, an enscription marked the passageway to the tombs of the children of the Faerath; on the right, a passage marked as leading to the tombs of the companions of the Faerath.  Faithful even in death, it read, and I have to admit my first thought was to wonder how willing they were in joining him. Did they have any liberty when the Faerath was entombed?  Or did they come here after living their natural lives, to join him by choice?

The portal directly ahead, however, marked the tomb of the Faerath himself, and so we didn’t waste any time on children or friends – we moved directly to it, headed up another, smaller spiral hallway.  At one point both Badl and I felt we’d caught a hint of something odd about the murals along the walls, and a quick scan for magic showed two spots on the wall that radiated with enchantment.  No sooner had I pointed this out, however, than the spots in question stepped out of the walls and showed their true forms:  large, chitinous spiders that could apparently meld into the alloy walls and emerge at will.  Rock and Adric attacked one, while Badl and I focused on another. We soon had ours destroyed, and as I turned to wipe out the other it leapt back into the wall and beat a hasty retreat.  Gods only know how those things got to be in here, but there they were.

We all sighed again with relief, and proceeded forward up the stairs.  By now Franklin, the halfling who had come with us, was terrified of this place, and desperate to stay by our side.  We walked in silence, as light began to show itself ahead, further up the spiral, and as we reached the apex we stepped into a brilliantly lit room:  the tomb itself.  There we saw a huge sarcophagus, obviously that of the Faerath, with gems and gold and platinum and every precious material you can name worked into every inch of the room.  The lights glared off the walls like a hundred torches, and Rock had to mostly sheath his sword to get the light dim enough for us to see.  Once we could see, however, we were shocked by what we saw:  the sarcophagus lay open, its lid askew on the floor.  Beside it sat the ghost of the Faerath, as Rock had seen him the night before:  weeping and apologizing for sins unspecified, over and over again.  Now we could also see that his throat was slit, as though he’d been murdered.

And over him, against the ceiling, swarmed dozens of the same sort of mindless spirits we’d seen elsewhere in the tomb, but these were not sad.  They were angry.  They hissed and screamed for revenge, for justice, unable or unwilling to touch the ghost of the Faerath themselves but shrieking and writhing in agonized anger nonetheless.

And that’s why  I bring up Cyric yet again.  There was a time in my life when I thought I had seen it all.

I hadn’t even seen the half of it.

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