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|Merik, Alinel, Jaeden, and Nerrin are commissoned by the Epolan crown to investigate a ruined temple.||
The great gates of the ruined temple loomed before them. The old building was pitted and scarred across its walls. Four towers stood at the corners of the roughly square building, hewn from a different stone than the rest; the walls of the temple looked to be something akin to marble, while the towers were solid granite. Runes and sigils of protection and warding were etched - yards tall and wide - along the walls. Most were worn away, nature destroying the magics that man could not, and the wall was collapsed in some areas. One of the towers was blasted out, as if several catapults had each brought a flaming payload to bear all at once.
Alinel glanced up at the tower, then to the party's mage. "Merik," the druid whispered, "what do you think happened here?"
The human gently tapped his staff against the gates. He closed his eyes, trying to sense the paths magic took in the conflict there some six centuries ago.
His eyes snapped open. "War came here. Someone... A powerful mage, I would think... He..." His head tilted, as if listening to something far off. "Yes... He. Him. He cast a fireball upon the tower." His voice dropped, just above a whisper. "A tremendous outpouring of power. I think it killed the mage."
The dwarf looked over at them, his attention drifting from the ancient runes. "Mostly right. I recognize these markings. This was a temple to Penet. I saw the Abbot's archives before we left Meddon." He gestured vaguely, seeming to indicate the runes themselves and the whole building at the same time. "One of our order cast down the mage with a bolt of the divine flame soon after."
Merik looked at Jaeden, the dwarven priest to Penet. "It really was a temple to Penet?"
The dwarf looked sorrowful a moment as he placed his hand on the gates. A halfling moved up next to Jaeden, staring at the gateway.
"What happened," the halfling asked.
"War, Nerrin. War, just as Merik said." He seemed to want to say something more, but held back.
The mage stirred himself from his thoughts and looked northeast. "Alinel."
The half-elf looked to the mage, a little startled. She absently pushed back a strand of hair that drifted in front of her face. "What is it," she asked, stepping next to him.
Pointing northeast, he said, "That storm is coming up fast. Too fast."
The druid nodded slowly, drawing her holy symbol from somewhere within her cloak. Far to the northeast was the Brekol Desert, whose severely dry air kept any such storm from sweeping in from that direction, despite the distance.
She carefully moved the creeping vines and plants until there was a clear spot on the ground. She sat, grasping her symbol tightly. It was wood, carved in the shape of a sprig of mistletoe, and shone slightly silver. She weaved her hands in the air a moment, whispering a series of quiet pairs, and a strange green light followed her gestures. The runes burned in the air a moment before fading. Alinel summoned the nature spirits she worshipped.
Merik could sense the magic, the slight chill, and saw the young woman's half-open eyes glow silver, the same as her symbol. She wavered about a bit, as if about to pass out, and Merik moved to her side.
Alinel slumped forward a moment, the symbol falling from limp hands. She twitched, then carefully grabbed it. The symbol disappeared inside her cloak as she stood.
She looked back at the mage, then to the storm clouds.
"It's not a natural thing... It was... It was created by the magics of men... Or close to. There is almost a... malevolence... behind it." She considered the storm clouds a moment. "We had best get inside as soon as possible. No matter what might await us."
Overhearing, Nerrin began pulling on the gates. He strained a moment, then fell back on his rump as his grip gave way. "No good," he called back. "Sealed, but I don't see anything keeping it closed."
Jaeden examined the gates closely. His eyes darted back and forth as he considered. "Magical," he said after a moment. "No locks, no chains, no bar on the other side. A prayer of opening might break the seals, or blow up with enough force to leave a trail of body parts from here to Pelen."
Merik slipped a heavy-looking book from his travel pack. He searched the pages, then began incanting a spell. He felt the power rush through his mind and body as he focused the energies of the lands around him.
He let the lesser enchantment settle itself on his mind after a moment. Merik's eyes focused quickly, and to his sight the area glowed with centuries-old magic.
He sighed. "There is much clerical magic here I cannot trace. The arcane energies I can usually follow are far too decayed, though."
Jaeden stared up at the human, wide-eyed. "For there to be any arcane powers at all left to trace..."
"It must have been an incredible battle, indeed." Merik nodded, falling silent.
He shook himself from his thoughts, looking over the magical paths. "I can't follow the divine magic sealing this place."
Merik flipped through his book again. He slowly incanted another spell, letting his mind fall into the unfamiliar patterns. The energy gathered quickly from the lands, and he shaped it into a hooked stream, casting it at the gates.
The energy poured into and pulled against the seals on the gates. The clerical magics, too long without any sort of support, collapsed before long. The magical stream still moved, though, and the gates were soon pried open.
Jaeden stared at the gates. "Apparently the seals have weakened."
A faint light appeared at the end of Merik's staff as he walked into the ancient temple. "Time to do what we were hired for."
The light played over the stone walls of the temple. Nerrin moved forward, seemingly casually, though it took every bit of his skill to manage keeping to the shadows and staying perfectly silent. He drew his dagger from its ankle sheath, hurrying silently into the darkness.
A muffled thumping noise drifted back to the waiting party. Nerrin followed soon after, dragging a body with him. The creature was roughly human in shape, its skin solid white, and red eyes that stared unseeingly at the ceiling.
Merik let out a breath with a hissing noise. "The duke was right... Damn, but he was right. The Telesk are here."
The Telesk had just recently invaded the human kingdom of Epoly. The southwest of the continent was being overrun by these invaders, and the kingdom was near to bursting keeping the word from spreading. The party had been commissioned, among others, to help in the war effots. Reports and messages from the army's scouts and independent "information brokers" had indicated someone had found their way inside the ruined temple. Now, Telesk wizards were thought to be scrying on Meddon from the temple.
Merik related all this to the group, then watched them as he tryed to gauge their reactions.
Nerrin sat silent, occassionally looking at the corpse of the alien creature he had killed.
Jaeden seemed to have entered contemplative meditation, mulling over the matter at hand.
Alinel stared daggers at Merik. She stepped closer, and in a harsh whisper asked, "Why didn't you tell us these things were here?"
He shook his head. "Royal orders. If nobody was here, then it would look like we had just been trying to loot the temple."
She turned away, going to check the body.
"Stop," Nerrin hissed at the group. He made a slashing motion with his hand, and the light coming from Merik's staff disappeared.
Nerrin, Alinel, and Jaeden stared into the gloom. Their heritages as halfling, half-elf, and dwarf, respectively, allowed them to see the heat radiating off the members of the party. And a pair of forms, farther down the passageway.
Nerrin gestured to Alinel, and they moved forward silently. Jaeden could see their heat forms seem to merge with those ahead, then two human-sized forms collapsed.
Nerrin moved quickly and tied up the Telesk he had knocked out. Alinel had killed the one before her, and a murderous look was in her eyes as she stared at the unconcious one.
The druid helped the halfling drag the Telesk back. Jaeden called out to Merik, and the light appeared again.
The Telesk was dressed in elaborate robes, a travel pack slung over his shoulder. Merik pulled the pack open and searched its contents. He handed a pair of packages to Alinel, which turned out to be dry ration. She stuck them in her own bag. The pack also contained a pair of scrolls and a single piece of parchment. Merik set aside the scrolls and carefully read the parchment.
To his surprise, it was written in Epolan script. He shook his head a moment, wondering, then finished reading. A rarely-seen look of alarm crossed his features. "They're getting ready to push into Meddon," he whispered. "Once outside, he was going to use one of the scrolls to send the information for the attack... And the other would be used to open a gateway from Meddon to some other end."
"Then we have to stop them," Jaeden said, taking his warhammer from his belt.
Merik whispered the words to the lightning spell, binding the energy in his mind. Alinel's hands were weaving another intricate runed pattern, and she closed her eyes, as if in pain at holding back the power in her own mind. Lightning crackled from finger to finger on Merik's hands, and he began to twitch convulsively. Vines sprouted at Alinel's feet as the energy of her spell leaked.
Jaeden nodded to Nerrin. "Now."
The door swung open.
"What in the Hells," hissed the First.
Then a bolt of energy shot into the room and slammed him in the chest. The Second and Third could smell ozone and feel a static charge to the air just before the First fell back into the Third. His chest was a smoking ruin, his face contorted in pain.
Another stream of magical energy, green and writhing, slipped in through the doorway and struck the First and Third. Creeper vines formed fromt the energy, wrapping around the struggling Telesk.
The Second stood, a wand in his hand. A blast of raw energy came from the wand, which resolved into magical force missiles. They flew out the doorway, striking one of the magical attackers beyond. The Second heard a cry of pain, and the dull thump of a body hitting the ground.
Then the Second saw a very strange sight. A being little more than half his height bolted into the room. It carried a short sword and waved it about like he was drunk. The being let out of a squeak of a warcry. The wand spat missiles again, streaking past the being and splintering the stone floor. The small being crashed into the legs of the Second, never noticing the missiles.
A distinctly female being, only slightly shorter than the Second, followed, brandishing a curved sword. She considered the sight before her only a moment, and then bashed the Second with the flat of her blade.
Merik limped in, his staff now doubling as a crutch. The missiles had struck his leg, flaying flesh down through layers of muscle. His face was almost as white as the Telesk's, and Jaeden was muttering something about shock and first aid.
The human ignored the dwarf, examining the room. "Check the other rooms, grab all you can. Books, scrolls, and food. Burn what you can't." He sighed deeply. "The king needs to know about this."
|Guest of Honor|