Authors: Michael J. Ward
Tags: #Sci Fi & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fiction & Literature
|Will you:|| |
|Follow the trail to the ruins?||34|
|Continue down into the denser woodland?||59|
You push against the door, gritting your teeth against some unseen force. At first you wonder if it is supernatural in origin, but as the crack widens you soon realise it is the result of a strong wind, gusting in from an open balcony.
With effort, you manage to hold it open just wide enough for yourself and Anise to enter.
Like the rest of the tower, the room has been ransacked. There are the remains of several cupboards and trunks pushed up against the right-hand wall, where a few tattered strips of clothing snap and wave
like trapped ghosts amongst the broken wood. In the far wall, there is another closed door.
|Will you:|| |
|Search through the debris?||490|
|Step out onto the balcony?||325|
|Leave through the opposite door?||392|
A man’s cries draw you to an archway cut into the tree trunk. Passing through, you find yourself in another winding passageway. The distressful sounds grow louder until you find yourself standing outside a cell, barred by a wall of gnarly roots. Peering between the spaces, you see a Skard warrior held prisoner, his body wrapped in a cluster of branch-like arms extending from the far wall. Your immediate thought is that it might be Skoll, but the warrior is slighter of build, with flame-red hair shaven into runic whirls. He is struggling against the branches, his pale hands reaching forward to try and grab a dagger resting on a plinth only inches away. Each time the warrior’s fumbling fingers almost reach the weapon, he is yanked back by the branches.
‘Wait – I can free you!’ You put your hands to the root bars, trying to prise them apart – but as soon as you apply pressure to the strange roots, you hear a choking gasp from the Skard prisoner as the branches tighten around him. When you remove your hands the branches loosen again, allowing him to breathe.
You look around for another means of opening the cell. In the opposite wall you notice a slight hollow, with a hand-shaped depression set into the back of the hole.
|Will you:|| |
|Place your hand inside the hollow?||532|
|Attempt to chop through the barrier?||439|
|Leave and continue your journey?||6|
You recognise the game as ‘Stones and Bones’, which had once been a favourite of your brother Lazlo. It involves players taking turns to pick a stone from a bag, then deciding which stones they keep and which ones to discard in order to create the best ‘hand’. A number of games are currently underway along the table.
Blinded by the buzzing, snapping insects, you cease your attack and concentrate on breaking free. Diverting your magic, you pour strength and speed into your craft, urging it towards the far side of the chamber. Luckily, you spy a nearby tunnel. Once inside you aim a blast at the ceiling, causing a cave-in to seal off your escape.
You may have avoided the angry swarm, but their razors and mandibles have caused considerable damage to your transport. (You must lower your transport’s
by 4.) When you have updated your hero sheet, turn to
You approach the young mage and ask him his name. He recoils slightly as you near, waving the air in front of his face. ‘If you must know, my name is Harris. I’m Segg’s nephew – so you can’t bully me. Okay?’
You slip into the chair opposite, enjoying the mage’s discomfort. You pick up the nearest book, studying the title.
Perinold’s Runic Ruminations
. Flicking through the pages, you are presented with a dense array of text, punctuated by the occasional arcane symbol.
‘That’s an original,’ the mage glowers, snatching it away from you. ‘Have you no clue of its worth?’
‘Actually, the original is in the palace library,’ you shoot back with a grin.
‘Then I got it on loan.’ The boy sticks out his tongue.
Seeing that he won’t back down, you shrug diplomatically. ‘Well, magic really isn’t my thing.’
‘Really?’ Harris frowns, pushing his glasses back up his nose. ‘I bet my uncle would disagree. I can feel it around you, really strong . . .’ His hand absently goes to the chain around his neck. Dangling on its end is a prism-shaped object, fashioned from onyx or some other dark material. When he sees your eyes upon it, he quickly hides it beneath his collar. ‘I’m just the apprentice,’ he snorts with derision. ‘What would I know?’
|Will you:|| |
|Ask what he is reading?||105|
|Ask about the prism?||64|
|Examine the shelves?||577|
|Talk to Segg?||328|
|Return to the main courtyard?||113|
The blood leads you into a side tunnel, narrow and edged with broken ice. After a hundred metres you come to the remains of some creature; an ugly mass of scales, hair and long pale tentacles. Stepping around it, your eyes are drawn to the far wall. There, frozen into the ice, are a pile of human bodies. It is hard to tell how many – the ice has closed over them, binding the tangled bodies into a solid block. You glimpse faces, coats, mitted hands, a weapon. On one of their coats, a name has been stitched into the leather.
As you back away from the nightmarish sight, your foot hits something. Turning, you watch as a small glass sphere rolls across the ice, clinking into the wall then rolling back. You crouch down to catch it, surprised to feel the unearthly chill emanating from within. (If you wish to take the
, simply make a note of it on your hero sheet, it doesn’t take up backpack space.)
When you return to the main hall, you find the man waiting for you. ‘Well?’ he asks.
You shudder, still picturing the frozen faces staring back at you, preserved in expressions of terrible agony. ‘Bodies . . .’ you stammer. ‘They were . . . explorers.’
‘I know, I was sent here to find them too.’ The man sighs heavily. ‘But you saw what I saw. For the ice to take them like that, those explorers must have been there a very long time. Months, I’ll wager. Maybe even longer.’
‘Months?’ You baulk, glancing back at the blood trail. ‘But Reah . . . Diggory, they . . .’
‘This place isn’t right.’ He looks around, his face twitching nervously. ‘I should have turned back when I had the chance. Maybe we both should have.’ Turn to
Skidding round a particularly tight corner, the sled loses traction on the slippery ice. Unable to right yourself, its bone frame slams against the tunnel wall, splintering one of its runners and sending you zigzagging out of control. Your dog-team continues to slog up the next slope, but the steepness of the grade coupled with the drag of your damaged sled slows them to a crawl. Unable to recover, you realise that the infamous corkscrew has beaten you.
You have failed to complete the race and are now disqualified from the tournament. Replace the keyword
. Return to the map to continue your adventure.
You make to leave, but are brought up short when you hear a squelching sound coming from behind you. Spinning round, your eyes sweep across the ring of toadstools, looking for the likely cause. But the noise has gone and there is nothing there – although you are almost sure the toadstools have shifted position, standing a little closer to you.
Another squelch from somewhere behind. A quick look confirms
there is nothing creeping up on you, but again, those toadstools . . . They look even closer now, their black bodies almost touching as they form a dark wall around the clearing. Turn to
The passageway slopes downwards, sweeping into a gentle curve. The walls and ceiling are perfectly smooth, without any imperfection or unevenness. You wonder if this is the work of the ancient Dwarves, who used their magic to manipulate and sculpt stone into fabulous structures.
Your eyes adjust quickly to the gloom, allowing you to progress at a fast pace. The tremors appear to have stopped – for now – but you are still keen to find a way back to the surface as soon as possible, rather than become trapped underground.
To your relief the passage soon levels off, widening into a circular chamber. It is bordered by a ring of stone statues, depicting squat humanoids bedecked in various styles of armour. They all face inwards, towards the centre of the room, where a large circle of bronze has been sunk into the ground. A plinth of black stone stands in the middle of this circle, faintly glowing with magic.
The only exit from the room is provided by another archway. Rubble spills out of it, suggesting a rock fall in the passageway beyond, but perhaps it will still prove navigable.
|Will you:|| |
|Investigate the stone plinth?||110|
|Continue onwards into the passage?||2|
You raise Anise’s head to the lip of the canteen. ‘Here, try some of this.’ You watch as she sups greedily at the water, her thirst forcing her to drink too fast. She pulls back, wracked with a fit of coughing.
‘More,’ she manages to gasp, once her breath returns.
Carefully you place the canteen in her trembling hands, helping
her to guide it back to her mouth. ‘Easy, Anise. Not too quickly.’
You glance over your shoulder, to where Skoll is chewing vigorously on a length of cured meat. He pushes more into his mouth, stuffing it full.
You rise and move toward him, putting out a hand for the bag he clutches to his chest. He glares at you, then grudgingly surrenders the rest of the meat. You snatch it from him and return to Anise, all the time feeling the paladin’s eyes watching you.
‘How long have you been on the road?’ he asks.
‘We lost track,’ you reply. ‘Two weeks, perhaps longer. We weren’t prepared for the lack of hunting. The land is so dry and barren.’ You break off a small piece of meat and offer it to Anise. ‘Careful now. Chew it.’
The sounds from the nearby cave suggest the bird is doing the same, steadily devouring its own meal.
‘A hard journey,’ the paladin nods. ‘I have witnessed the destruction. It spreads far and wide, from the westlands to the Circle Sea. I heard tell that the Holy Lands were the first to fall. Whole mountains gone. Such destruction. Is the cause of it here, I wonder?’ He lifts his eyes to the ceiling as if seeking to penetrate the layers of rock, unlock its secrets.
‘If I told you, I’m not sure you would believe me.’ You tear another strip of meat and give it to Anise, finding comfort in seeing her chew with renewed vigour.
‘I had half a mind to seek succour at Bitter Keep,’ says Maune, his stare remaining distant. ‘I would have liked to have seen my daughter again.’
‘Daughter?’ You fail to hide your surprise, turning quickly. ‘You had a daughter at the keep?’
He smiles. ‘Yes, Henna. The posting was her choice. I tried to . . .’
‘The keep has fallen.’ Your words carry across his own, drawing him to silence. ‘I was there. It was taken into the rift, and everyone with it. We,’ you gesture to Anise, who is watching the paladin with a worried expression, ‘were the only ones to survive.’
Maune frowns, then looks away, his mouth moving, searching for words. He glances sideways at you, raising a finger, trembling. ‘Do not lie to me.’
You rise to stand before him. ‘I would not lie. I fought by your
daughter’s side. She held her faith to the end. Her actions, her strength, were what rallied the men. We were attacked by creatures from the underworld – the Nisse. Before the keep was lost we fought them for every stone, every soldier that fell.’ You lower your head. ‘I’m sorry.’
Maune blinks, tears glistening at the corners of his eyes. Angrily he brushes them away, setting his jaw straight, trying to reassert control over his emotions. ‘War has casualties.’
‘I know.’ You turn your hands over, noting the frost-bitten skin, the jagged scars.
Maune tilts his head, frowning. Then he reaches out, taking the edge of your hood. You flinch, feeling the heat from his inscribed flesh as his arm passes close. It is an effort but you manage to hold your ground, letting him reveal your ravaged face. He drops his hand away, releasing a sharp intake of breath.
‘Lord of light . . . .’ He touches his cross.
‘I must be an affront to your faith.’ You avert your eyes, trying to avoid the man’s look of disgust and horror. The holy cross sparkles against his breast. ‘You are a better man than me, to stay your weapons.’
Maune takes a step back. ‘A better man knows to keep his steel in check. A blade cannot make reasoned judgements.’
You pull your hood back over your face.
‘There is no light inside of you,’ states Maune carefully. ‘Neither of you.’ He casts his gaze to Skoll, still feasting on the meat as if it was his last supper. ‘You have the taint of the shroud. An evil darkness . . .’
From the adjoining chamber there is a sudden, piercing squeal.
‘What was that?’ Anise asks, alarmed.
Maune is already hurrying into the passage, his sword in his hands. ‘Gwen? Gwen!’
You nod to Skoll, telling him to follow. The warrior pushes the last of his meat into his mouth, then draws his axe and races after the paladin. You turn to Anise, helping her to stand.