The Forgotten Temple
“What do you think that was?” asked Kharstov.
“Nothing good. It scared the hell out of those goblins,” said Jorvar. He pulled the arrow out of the Sergeant’s leg, and bandaged the wound. He gave the captain a healing potion to stop the pain and help the wound close faster. He turned to Finn, and handed him the box and wrappings of the PainBlade. “I’m always cleaning up after you, cousin.”
“Just like when we were kids.” Finnbjorn grinned, and took the bundle. He started to put the sword away when the Sergeant stopped him.
“Best leave it out. Finn,” said the Seargent. I don’t know what’s happening, but everything in this city except us is deathly afraid of something. We’re probably going to find out what that something is.”
“I will go first,” said Finnbjorn. “Whatever it is, the PainBlade is the best tool to deal with it.”
“You’ll get no argument from me, at least not while you’re holding the damned thing,” said the Sergeant. Finnbjorn laughed, and the others grinned. He continued, “Finn goes first, then me, then Durge, Kharstov, and Jorvar brings up the rear.”
The interior of the temple was dark, and they took a few moments to let their eyes adjust. They found themselves in a large room, devoid of furniture except for a broken altar against the far wall. Several braziers had fallen from the ceiling and now lay littered on the floor, along with shards of broken stained glass from the windows, and piles of dirt and old leaves.
Kharstov started to speak. “Where’s the…”
A sudden commotion interrupted him from the far end of the room. The floor underneath the altar exploded upwards, sending debris flying everywhere. As the dust cloud settled, a large skeletal beast climbed out of the hole. It was about twenty feet tall, and humanoid. A pair of bony horns protruded from its skull, and its eyes blazed with red fire. It didn’t have wings, but a bony tail with a large barb on the end whipped back and forth behind it. Bits of rotting flesh hung off of its skeletal frame, and a putrid green discharge dripped from its bones. It was wearing rotting leather armor, and it carried a sword that was almost seven feet long with a serrated blade.
“Jorvar, Durge, arrows!” shouted the Sergeant. “Finn, front and center. Kharstov, flank it.” He tried to get up so that he could join the attack, but fell down when he tried to put weight on his leg. He resigned himself to sitting this one out.
Finnbjorn let out a savage, primal scream, and charged straight at the monster with the PainBlade held high. Kharstov moved to the side of the creature, trying to flank it, while Durge and Jorvar started firing arrows.
The skeletal demon grasped its sword in both hands, brought it over and behind its head, and then swung it straight down at Finn. He managed to block it with the PainBlade, but the wound he had suffered earlier against the boar betrayed him, and his leg buckled. The large warrior was driven to his knees.
Finnbjorn pushed the demon’s sword back and got back on his feet. He put his guard up immediately, expecting another blow, but the demon had already turned its attention to the Sergeant. The Sergeant scrambled backwards as It swung its sword in a tight arc. The sword connected, splitting the Sergeant’s armor apart and opening a deep gash in his chest. The Sergeant fell unconscious, seriously wounded, but alive. The creature lashed its bony tail and knocked Kharstov back nearly twenty feet.
Seizing an unexpected opening, Finn swung the PainBlade with both arms and connected with the demon’s knee. There was an explosion of bone, and the creature’s leg split in half. Howling in fury and pain, it toppled over to one side.
Kharstov recovered from the blow he had received earlier and rushed in to attack the fallen demon. Using both his longsword and dagger, he struck the beast several times in quick succession. However, his blows seemed to have no effect on the creature.
Seeing that his arrows weren’t causing any damage, Durge slung his bow across his back, and unsheathed his sword as he ran over to join the fight. Jorvar followed suit, but moved more slowly and cautiously. It paid off, because as the demon thrashed, its tail lashed upwards and caught Durge under the chin, taking his head off and killing him instantly.
Finnbjorn brought the PainBlade crashing down into the demon’s eye socket and shattered its skull. Magical energy crackled along the length of the blade, and the temperature dropped significantly. The demon turned to dust as the PainBlade absorbed its ghostly remains.
From below the temple, they heard the deep gong ring out again.
“Shit! Another one!” yelled Kharstov. “Grab the Sergeant, and let’s get down there and see if we can turn the damned thing off!” Jorvar and Finnbjorn carried the Sergeant between them, and the four of them moved to the hole in the floor caused by the explosive entrance of the skeletal demon.
Most of the rubble had fallen back into the hole. Quickly, but carefully, they used it as a makeshift staircase, and entered the chamber below the temple. A large metallic pentagram was engraved in the floor. It was pulsing with a purplish-black light, which intensified as the gong sounded for the second time.
A metal disk hung suspended from the ceiling, connected to a series of chains and a lever set into one wall. Sensing its purpose, Jorvar ran over and pulled the lever. The metal disk began to descend, but it wasn’t quite fast enough to seal the portal. The gong rang out a third time, and a huge demonic claw, easily ten feet across, rose through the portal and slapped down on the edge of the metal ring.
Finnbjorn leaped into the air and drove the point of the PainBlade deep into the demonic hand. There was a cry of pain and confusion from beyond the portal, and the hand retreated. Finn barely retrieved the PainBlade, and almost got pulled into the portal himself as it was closing. The cover locked into place, sealing the portal shut.
Jorvar started tending to the wounds of the Sergeant while Kharstov and Finn sat down to rest.
“We can’t stay here long,” said Kharstov. “It won’t take the goblins long to realize that the portal is closed, and the temple is safe for raiding.”
“We came here for the Amulet of Kirath. We can’t leave without it. I didn’t see it anywhere on the way in, but I was distracted,” said the Seargent.
“It wasn’t anywhere to be found,” said Finn. He had a reputation of remaining fully aware of his surroundings, even in the heat of battle. He continued, “It must be on a lower floor. We need to find the passage down.”
They found a small, black door hidden behind the rubble of the collapsed ceiling.
“Well, let’s get inside,” said Finnbjorn. “It feels like a storm is coming, and we need shelter. This entrance looks like it hasn’t been used in a thousand years. It should be safe for the night.”
He entered the door, and the others followed him.
After closing the door behind them, they found themselves in a small room, with a single staircase descending into darkness. They barricaded the door behind them and sat facing the staircase. They ate some cold rations, and sat in silence, each one lost in his own thoughts.
Finnbjorn wrapped the PainBlade in the black silk and placed it back in its wooden box. He locked the box and wrapped it up in furs again. Once he had assembled the whole package, he slung it over his back and hung the key back around his neck. He closed his eyes to rest silently.
Kharstov, being a long-time military man, used the time to inspect and make minor repairs to his equipment. Jorvar sewed the Sergeant’s chest back together, then used a magical healing ointment to seal the wound. He poured a healing potion down the man’s throat, and the Sergeant took a deep, ragged breath before sinking into a peaceful sleep.
The stairway descended into darkness, and dropped them into a narrow passage. They followed the passage for several hundred paces until they came to a small chamber. Murals depicting great battles covered the two opposing walls. The far wall was bare except for two doors, each flanked by a statue.
To the right, the mural depicted a heavily armored warrior leading a charge from horseback. The warrior was not wearing a helmet. Instead, he wore a cowl over his head, disguising his features. The horse was as black as midnight, its eyes glowed with a hellish light, and flames were shooting from its nostrils. Behind the man, a horde of demons and skeletal undead warriors massed for invasion. The statue beside the right door looked like the same man, striding forward triumphantly with a sword held high.
To the left, the mural depicted a great dragon bursting out from within the earth. A great fortress was crumbling to the ground, knocked over by the dragon’s emergence. There were other dragons flying near the great beast, but it dwarfed them. People on the ground, even warriors on horseback, looked like insignificant insects in the mural. The statue next to the left door resembled the large dragon from the mural.
“So apparently, we can choose the path of the warrior, or the path of the dragon,” said the Sergeant. “Which way to the amulet?”
Kharstov said, “Well, to the right, we have a mural of Kullervo, a former champion of Creation. Exterminis corrupted him and tricked him into unleashing hell on the mortal world. That’s him leading the hellish horde against the armies of man at the beginning of this age. I’m not sure what the dragon represents.”
Finnbjorn answered him. “Our people say that this world will end with the coming of Abbadon, the Devourer. Abbadon will be a great dragon capable of leveling mountains and boiling the seas with his fiery breath. I believe this mural represents the coming of Abbadon, and that statue is the Devourer as well.”
“So it seems,” said the Sergeant, “that we have a choice between the beginning of time, and the end. Which shall it be?”
“Or it’s the choice between fighting a man, or fighting a dragon,” said Jorvar.
“I’d much prefer a dragon,” said Finnbjorn. Everyone looked at him as if he had lost his mind. Seeing their questioning looks, he added, “A dragon is just a dragon, but a man could be anything.”
“I don’t think it matters, really,” said Kharstov. “They’re both incarnations of Exterminis, and symbols of destruction. I’m willing to bet they end up at the same place.”
“If that’s the case, then I say we follow Finn’s advice and go for the dragon,” said the Sergeant. “Any objections?”
No one objected, so they approached the door next to the dragon. They inspected it carefully, looking for traps, but couldn’t find anything. Bracing themselves, they watched as Finn opened the door. When nothing bad happened, they stepped through it. Behind them, the door disappeared.
They entered a large, mostly empty room. In the center of the room, a gold sarcophagus rested upon a raised dais. A single light from an unknown source shone down on the sarcophagus, bathing it in a golden light while leaving the rest of the room shrouded in darkness. The door they had entered from disappeared behind them, and there were no other visible exits. A heavy, unnatural silence filled the room, and the air was thick and stale, making it hard to breathe.
“This must be the place,” said Jorvar, breaking the silence.
“Indeed,” said the Sergeant. “Let’s go have a look. Weapons out, lads. I don’t like this.” They approached the dais cautiously. As they got closer, they spread out in a semi-circle to give themselves more room to fight, should the need arise. They relaxed a bit when they stepped onto the dais, and nothing happened. They stood around the sarcophagus, but none of them dared touch it.
“What’s that writing say?” asked the Sergeant. “Jorvar, Kharstov, can either of you read it?”
“I cannot,” said Jorvar.
“Nor can I,” said Kharstov. He continued: “It probably doesn’t matter. My best guess is that it’s a warning which we intend to ignore anyway.”
“Then let’s ignore it,” said the Sergeant. “Open it up. Kharstov, Finn, you get on the other side. Me and Jorvar will lift from here. With a little luck, maybe we can get out of here without a fight.”
They weren’t that lucky. As soon as they touched it, the sarcophagus exploded with a loud crack, sending them all flying backwards. They landed about twenty feet away, with their weapons scattered. The sarcophagus had cracked in half. A skeletal figure wearing ghostly priestly vestments climbed out of the rubble. From the surrounding darkness, they could hear chittering and scraping noises.
The skeletal priest laughed maniacally, and blue flames filled his eye sockets. He raised a staff high into the air and spoke a word of command. At his command, hundreds of skeletons came rushing out of the darkness and attacked.
The Sergeant, Kharstov, and Finnbjorn scrambled for their weapons. Jorvar touched a rune that had been tattooed on his shoulder and spoke a trigger word. A ball of flame shot out of the rune and exploded against the far wall, sending several skeletons flying. Many exploded on contact, spraying the room with bits of bone and rotted skin.
The skeletal priest pointed his staff at Jorvar, and a blue flame soared towards the man. He was too quick to be caught, though. He dove and rolled under the flame, and stood up, unhurt.
Finnbjorn scooped up his battleaxe, and charged into the skeletons, swinging wildly. With every swing, he cut into several nearby skeletons. However, these were not goblins, and his axe was not the PainBlade, and so his progress was much slower than it had been the day before.
Kharstov reached his longsword, and rushed to attack the skeletal priest. He swung the sword in a high arc, but the priest used his staff to knock it aside easily. The priest counter-attacked by jabbing Kharstov in the chest with the head of his staff, knocking the wind out of him.
The Sergeant had almost reached his sword when a skeletal foot kicked it away from him. Cursing, he scrambled after it, dodging blows by the skeletons.
The priest reached up to his chest and touched the Amulet of Kirath. The amulet glowed red and began pulsing like a heartbeat. The priest laughed and pointed his staff at Kharstov. Blue flame enveloped him, and he screamed in pain.
The Sergeant finally reached his sword and immediately started fighting the skeletons. He was surrounded, and avoiding blows required all his effort. He was parrying so furiously that he couldn’t launch any attacks of his own against the skeletons.
Kharstov took a swing at the skeletal priest, but again, the priest blocked his sword with the staff. He reversed his direction of attack and connected with the priest’s ribcage. A chunk of bone flew out, and the priest howled in pain.
Jorvar sent another fireball into the skeletal horde, and another dozen skeletons burst into flames. Without missing a beat, he fired off another one, and another dozen skeletons exploded.
Finnbjorn continued thinning the skeletal army with his battleaxe. He hacked and slashed his way through them, ignoring the many cuts and bruises they inflicted on him.
The Sergeant saw that Jorvar and Finnbjorn were handling the skeletal army easily, so he began withdrawing, backing towards the center of the room where Kharstov was engaging the priest.
A loud roar echoed across the room. From out of the darkness, a demon charged into the room. It was roughly twice the height of Finnbjorn, with bull’s horns sprouting from its head. Bony protrusions, sharpened into wicked spikes, grew from its red skin all over its body. It charged straight at Kharstov, knocking several skeletons out of its way to get to him.
Leaving Finn to deal with the remaining skeletons, Jorvar repositioned himself to attack the demon. He touched a rune on the side of his head, and a spear of ice streaked through the air. The ice spear struck the demon and impaled it through the shoulder. The beast howled in pain.
Finnbjorn realized that he had made a mistake by not choosing the PainBlade earlier. He tried to correct it now by taking it off his back while swinging his axe one-handed. The axe was too heavy for him to attack effectively with one hand, so he used it defensively instead, parrying blows while trying to free the PainBlade.
After an eternity, Finn finally got it free. He unwrapped the box, unlocked it, and took the black silk wrappings off of it. With a loud roar, he thrust it into the air.
Kharstov swung low and connected with the priest’s leg. It was a good hit, but he paid for it. The priest swung his staff down and connected with the base of Kharstov’s skull. Kharstov slumped to the floor, dead.
Fortunately, the Sergeant was there to take Kharstov’s place. He swung at the priest’s head, but the priest jerked his head backwards and avoided the blow. The priest spun his staff around and jabbed the back end into the Sergeant’s chest.
The demon reached the Sergeant and punched him in the side of the head with a bony fist, sending blood spraying into the air. The Sergeant fell back, visibly stunned by the blow.
Jorvar was out of runes, and so he reached for his bow. He fired three arrows in quick succession and scored three hits against the demon.
The priest took advantage of the Sergeant’s stunned state and drove the head of his staff straight down into Kharstov. The blue flame flared, and Kharstov’s chest split wide open, spilling his entrails onto the floor.
Jorvar fired another three arrows and hit the demon three more times. The beast howled in rage and turned to face his attacker. Snarling, it ran towards him.
The demon reached Jorvar and knocked him aside with a bony arm. Jorvar flew across the room and landed about ten feet away.
Seeing Kharstov murdered so cruelly enraged the Sergeant. He jumped at the priest with his sword held high, and swung the blade down in a furious stroke. He connected with the back of the priest’s neck. The blow would have killed an ordinary man, but the undead priest shrugged it off. Undeterred, the Sergeant hacked at the priest’s neck again and again.
Finn charged the priest. The Sergeant saw him coming and fell back. The priest barely had a moment to look up before Finn took his head off of his shoulders with one powerful swipe of the PainBlade.
When the priest fell, so did the skeletal army. Finn and Jorvar turned to face the demon as the Sergeant lifted the Amulet of Kirath off of the priest’s neck. With great care, he placed the amulet over his own head. His body convulsed, and he broke out in a sweat, but after a few seconds, he regained his composure. Looking at the demon, he spoke a single word: “Begone.”
The demon vanished in a cloud of black smoke. With all of their enemies defeated, and the Amulet of Kirath in their possession, the three survivors slumped to the floor, exhausted.