The rough seas pitched the ship to and fro and after the latest wave nearly capsized the ship even Hunter was beginning to second guess his decision to continue onward. If the chart he had been given was not perfectly accurate, the ship would be bashed into flotsam among the rock outcroppings that surrounded the island of Aaros even should they survive this storm.
He was lying in his cot, staring at the lone lamp secured to a beam in the center of the room. Reav was lying in a similar cot on the opposite side of the small room, whimpering to himself after every new wave crashed against the ship. Reav was short on brains and bravery but he was loyal, an attribute no amount of gold could buy.
There was a knock on the door and Hunter looked over to it. “Answer that.”
Reav slowly rose from his cot and made his way to the door. He stumbled every time the ship pitched. He eventually reached the door and pulled it open.
Mij, the ship’s short and stocky captain, walked into the room. His co-ordination didn’t seem affected by the rough seas. Years of sailing the seas most likely hardened him to these conditions.
“Hunter, I implore you to re-consider your decision. I don’t like the look of these waters, we really should turn back.”
“You are being handsomely compensated for the danger you are enduring.”
“You can’t spend gold if you are dead.”
“You knew the risks before hand.” Mij could cry all he wanted, he wasn’t turning back. Hunter was hired for this task because he was one of the few people who would carry through with it.
“My family name of Broaress is known up and down this coast. We’ve navigated these waters for generations. And not once has one of us been fool enough to make for Aaros.” He frowned. “Curse your gold!”
“You are the one who accepted it.”
“That I did.” He had a tone of resignation. “But now it is as if the Gods themselves are against us. They send these storms as a warning.”
“If it is the will of the Gods to stop us, then so be it, but I’m not turning back.”
“I cannot guarantee my men will continue to hold course. There is a reason no ship sails for Aaros.”
“They will hold course or taste the steel of my blade.”
Mij’s frowned deepened. “Have it your way mercenary.” He turned and left the room slamming the door behind him.
“He has a point.” Reav said after the captain had left. “Maybe turning back isn’t such a bad idea.”
“We are being paid well for this excursion. I don’t know about you but I have no plans on overstaying my welcome on the battlefields and ending up dead somewhere. You can only stay on top of the game for so long. I just need to make enough gold where I can live comfortably and afford to keep my enemies off my tail.” Hunter turned to glare at Reav. “It’s not as if some Goddess is going to appear and take care of me.”
Reav lay silent for a moment. “Speaking of Goddesses, did you see that woman who ran the inn by the docks? The blonde with those long legs? I only wish we didn’t have to push off so soon.”
“She was one to look at all right.” He grinned as he stretched out on his cot. “But she looked expensive. Give me a woman who doesn’t mind working up a sweat over one like her any day. If I ever become involved with the sort of woman who needs constant attention, Reav, by all means, just run me through with your sword.”
Reav chuckled. “I may not be the brightest person around, but no way would I be foolish enough to pull a sword against you.”
“You would be doing me a favor.” He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. The storm did not make it easy, but eventually he drifted off to sleep.
Morning brought a calm sea and he left his cot and walked up to the ship’s main deck. The sky was clear and there was nary a hint of the furious storm that had raged overnight. With a little luck, the weather would stay this way until they reached Aaros. Rough seas around the rocky shoals of that island could prove disastrous.
He walked over to the railing next to where Shannie was standing. This woman wasn’t much to look at face wise; she had quite a few scars marring it. Even without those scars, she wouldn’t have rated any higher than ordinary in looks. He didn’t find her short, curly brown hair all that appealing either. She had a nice figure however, and for most men, that was enough. She was good at finding and disarming traps, a skill that would be most necessary while navigating the ruins of Aaros and the reason he had brought her.
Normally having a woman on a ship full of men would be trouble, but the sailors feared the mercenaries Hunter had brought with him and they knew if they gave her trouble, they would have to answer to these mercenaries.
As for the mercenaries, Marus was a straight forward man and he in turn kept his men in line. Their fear of him, and of Hunter, kept them from bothering this woman. He needed Shannie to concentrate on the task at hand, not dwell on some mishap that might have occurred on the ship. Their lives most likely depended on her expertise.
“Morning Hunter.” She turned to smile at him.
“Morning.” She had a pleasant disposition which was a good thing. It was bad enough he had to put up with Reav, if he had to deal with a moody woman as well, he probably would have jumped overboard by now.
“Quite the storm we had last night.”
“I didn’t really notice.”
She laughed. “Have to keep your guard up at all times.”
“I have gone over those maps you gave me a hundred times, so if the layout is true to what we find, I can get us there in the dark.”
“Instead of standing here looking out at the sea, you should be pouring over them a hundred more times.”
She gave him a curious look. “I didn’t figure you to be the sarcastic type.”
“Sure you are.” She smiled. “Just remember, your life is in my hands. Perhaps I’ll accidently send you through a door I haven’t disarmed.”
“That’s what I have Reav for.”
She looked back out into the water. “Since you brought him up, he…attempted to convince me to…well…Let’s just say he wanted me to use a certain part of my body to entertain a certain part of his body.”
“Did he now?”
She looked back to him. “Yes, but he stopped when I told him to so you only need to twist his arm a little bit.”
“I’ll take care of him.” Loyal, but too stupid to follow a few simple rules.
Marus had walked up on deck and he came over to the pair. He was a broad shouldered man who matched Hunter in height. He had a reputation as one of the most feared fighters in the Kingdom. He wasn’t a complainer and if he had opinions on anything, he usually kept them to himself. Hunter considered himself fortunate for having been able to acquire this man’s services.
“Morning.” He put his hands on the railing and stared out into the water. “The captain came to see me last night. He tried to convince my men and I to force you to give the order to turn back. Gave us some yarn about the Gods sending our ship to the bottom of the ocean should we continue. Superstitious lot those sailors are. Offered us the gold you had paid him.”
Hunter looked over at Marus. “Mij had come highly recommended. I will have to have a chat with a certain friend of mine once we return to Gajjeon.”
A sly smile formed on Marus’ lips. “I did warn you about Haphal.”
“You did, but his information always proved reliable in the past.” He frowned. “And it would seem he was correct in recommending you.”
“I renege on one job I’ve accepted gold for and my reputation is finished.”
Hunter was in the same boat, if he had turned back last night, his reputation would be finished. “I appreciate you bringing the captain’s actions to my attention.” Hunter turned to leave. “I’ll deal with him later. Right now I need to have a talk with Reav.”
Marus laughed. “No doubt about his bravery. I could hear his crying last night in my cabin.”
“No doubt.” Hunter left the ship’s deck and returned to his cabin.
Reav was still in his cot and Hunter went over and dumped him onto the floor. The surprised man rose to his feet and cowered from Hunter’s anger.
“What did I do?”
“You have been bothering Shannie.”
“I was just trying to…” He backed away further. “We’ve been out here over a week! I didn’t mean anything.”
“You idiot! I gave her my word that no one would bother her during this voyage. You are making me look bad.”
“I should throw you overboard.” He came forward and shoved Reav into the wall. “I don’t plan on dying on Aaros. I need her focused to insure this doesn’t happen. I don’t need you.”
“I…I won’t bother her again.”
Hunter shoved him one last time. “See that you do not.”
Hunter sent Reav away and he spent the next few hours alone in his cabin. Aaros was not a safe place and if Shannie made one mistake or any of the maps were not accurate, there might be no return voyage.
He also had a copy of the maps and he looked them over again. He wouldn’t be able to find or disarm all of the traps, but he wanted an idea of the general layout. If something did happen to Shannie, he at least wanted to be able to back track. Not that he planned on letting anything happen to her, but in unknown territory, nothing could be taken for granted.
Marus had mentioned one of his men, Carbal, was efficient in disarming traps so he had the option to consider as well. And he always could send Reav on ahead…
By midday the island was spotted and within another hour Mij had the ship anchored offshore. So far so good, the navigational charts had pointed a safe passage through the rocky shoals that lay underwater around the island.
They would take a rowboat to the island; it was surrounded by steep cliffs but directly ahead of them was a small beach. A cave set into the rocky facing would lead them into the island’s heart where the ruined city of Aaros lay. Within this city, according to the mage that hired Hunter; was a magnificent scepter that was priceless in value. It also had powers of which the mage was hesitant to reveal.
As the sailors prepared the rowboat for the journey to the island, Hunter went over to Marus. He motioned to him to follow him to a spot where no one else could hear them. Once Hunter was sure no one was listening he spoke.
“I’m bringing Mij with us. I do not want him convincing his crew to shove off while we are on the island…still, I don’t like the looks on the faces of those sailors. Fear can make a man do strange things. I want you to leave a few of your men onboard to persuade these sailors not to do anything rash should they have a mind to.”
“Thale is my most trustworthy man. I’ll leave him behind with Roeth and Ercen. I can guarantee this ship will not leave without us.”
“Three should be enough to keep these sailors in line.” That left Vordayden, Carbal and Laos to accompany them to the shore. Vordayden and Carbal seemed capable enough, but Laos had the look of inexperience. If they did encounter anything dangerous, he didn’t feel that man would be any use.
Marus looked out over the deck. “Thale knows what he’s doing. I do not like the idea of being stranded on Aaros any more than you do.”
Hunter left Marus and went over to where Mij was standing with a few of his crew. The captain was sporting a large frown. He glanced up at the sky and then to Hunter.
“I do not like the color of that sky. We really should not have come here.”
The sailors standing with him nodded in agreement.
“I wouldn’t worry about the sky if I were you, you won’t be seeing much of it.” He motioned to the rowboat being lowered into the water. “You are coming with me.”
“I need to stay with my ship.”
“So you can convince your men to set sail the minute we are on shore? No chance.”
“Darvess take you Hunter.”
“Not before it takes you. Now let’s go.” He grabbed Mij and shoved him towards the rowboat. “Any more lip and I’m going to remember that you attempted to bribe Marus to have his men take command away from me. You really do not want that.”
Mij muttered something under his breath, but he took the hint and went over to the rowboat.
They piled into the boat and Marus’ men rowed it to shore. They pulled it up on the beach so it wouldn’t float away and they prepared to enter the cave.
After everyone was assembled, Hunter addressed them. “There are just two rules. No one touches anything and listen to whatever Shannie says. I’ll kill anyone who fails to follow either of those rules.”
Marus walked over and stood before Hunter. It was hard to see what he was thinking as his face was stoic. It was possible he didn’t take kindly to Hunter threatening his men.
For a moment, both stood their ground, neither one saying a word.
Finally, Marus spoke. “These are my men. If they do not follow the rules, I will kill them.”
Hunter turned towards the cave and then glanced over to Shannie. “Whenever you are ready…”
She nodded and walked towards the darkened entrance to the cave.
“Stay close to me.” Hunter walked up beside her. “In case there is any trouble.”
“Will do.” Shannie took the lead as they entered the cave.
The cave was about eight feet high and had a width of about six feet. There were a few loose rocks on the floor, most were fist sized or smaller, so navigating the cave was not a problem. Shannie kept a brisk pace and didn’t seem concerned about running into any trouble at this point.
“Just what does this scepter we are searching for do?” Reav said, his voice breaking the eerie silence.
Reav had been unusually quiet since Hunter had yelled at him and he was surprised the man found the courage to speak now. “Darkborne did not say and I did not ask.” Hunter replied. His curt tone indicated he wasn’t happy to hear Reav opening his mouth.
“It is part of a key.” Shannie said.
“How do you know that?” Hunter shot her a curious look.
“The map you gave me. Whoever drew it scribbled a few notes along the borders.”
“You could decipher that?”
“Yes, it is a dwarven dialect. My mentor was a dwarf and I learned to read their language from him.”
“What does this key open?” Reav said.
“Apparently if this scepter is reunited with its brethren, how many more there are it doesn’t say, they form a key of sorts that will show the wielder how to access the Library of the Gods.”
“Wow!” Reav sounded impressed. “Imagine what you could learn in there.”
“Like you would understand anything from the books in that library.” Hunter said. Reav was too stupid to realize how annoying he was.
“I’m sure someone could.” Reav said. “And I’ll bet they would pay a lot for those books.”
“Like the Gods would leave a place like that unguarded. Reav, you would not make it through the door.” He wouldn’t make it back to the ship if he continued to talk.
Marus laughed. “Library of the Gods? God this, God that…where are all these Gods people speak of? I have yet to see one. I’ll tell you what that scepter opens…nothing. But we are being paid nicely to acquire it, so acquire it we will.”
“You should not mock the Gods.” Mij said. “They might just not take kindly to that.”
Marus laughed again. “They know where to find me.”
Mij shook his head.
They continued through the cavern, the light from the torches casting long shadows. A dull, roaring sound could be heard in the distance. This was most likely from the waterfall that marked the end of the cave.
The sound grew louder and before long they were standing behind a cascading waterfall that covered the mouth of the cave. There was a slight path to the left that looked difficult but navigable. Shannie held her torch as she studied the area.
“I’ll go first.” She handed the torch to Carbal. “Hug the wall and watch your footing.” She approached the waterfall.
Hunter did not like the idea of her going first. The map had indicated this was the path but if it was wrong and they lost her…He took a step towards her but she waved him off. Apparently she was confident in her abilities.
She hugged the left side of the cavern and shimmied her way through the waterfall. After a few moments she was gone from sight. Hunter waited a minute and then approached Reav.
“I want you to go last. Whatever you do, make sure Mij goes before you.”
“I mean it Reav.”
The man nodded. “I can handle it.”
Hunter gave him one last look and then went to the mouth of the cavern. He grabbed an outcropping and made his way through the waterfall. The rocks were slippery and the roaring water threatened to carry him away. He proceeded slowly and eventually the path widened and moved away from the waterfall.
He soon found himself on the other side of the cliff facing. Before him was a valley, the waterfall fed into a river that cut across this valley. The river led through the canyon and eventually to the ruined city of Aaros. In the distance, he could see a great, towering statue of a man that was constructed to straddle the river, one leg on either side.
Shannie had made her way down the path and to the bottom of the valley. She was kneeling down, examining something in the dirt. He followed the path to the bottom and approached her.
She rubbed the dirt off her hands after dropping a rock that she had dug out of the ground. “That stone isn’t part of this natural setting. Just making sure it wasn’t anything to worry about.” She glanced towards the giant statue and to the city that lay behind. “Someone must have dropped it here at one time.”
They heard a splash and they looked to the river. A body belched out of the swirling froth that collected at the foot of the waterfall. It was Laos; the man was as green as Hunter thought. Poor fool couldn’t even navigate the tricky path through the waterfall. Now they were down one fighter.
Marus came down the path and he had a forlorn look. He glanced at Hunter and then waded into the river. He fished out Laos’ body and dragged it to the shore.
The rest of the men made it down the path, Reav actually listening to Hunter and appearing last. His face was white; obviously the trip down had frightened him.
Marus stared glumly at the body after everyone else made it down. “The least we can do is bury him.”
“Alright Marus, but make it quick.” Hunter walked over to the river and stared into the water. With the way the sun was shining onto it, he was able to see his reflection.
Shannie walked over by him and glanced into the water. She quickly turned away and put a hand to her face and ran it over one of her scars.
“Are you okay?”
She managed a weak smile as she put her hand back down. “Every time I see myself I’m reminded of a past I do my best to forget.” She looked past the river, towards the cliffs that lay on the other side. “My husband turned out to be quite the bastard. It’s a shame there is no way to determine how a man’s going to turn out five years after you take your vows beforehand.”
One could say the same thing about a woman, but he didn’t feel it appropriate to point that out to her. He could tell by her voice these memories were particularly painful.
“He would stay out late drinking and then come home and take his frustrations out on me. One night he came home and attacked me with a knife.” She pointed to her scars. “In case you’ve been wondering about my pretty face…” She frowned. “I’ll make no claims on being the perfect wife…but what he did to me that night…he beat me pretty bad. He must have thought he killed me because when I awoke a few hours later, he was sleeping on the floor nearby.” She was silent for a minute. “I’m still wanted for his murder.”
He put a consoling hand on her shoulder. “I am sorry you had to go through that.”
“I didn’t mean to regale with my troubles. I just felt like getting it off my chest and you are the only person on this island that I…” Her voice trailed off.
“It is okay.”
She knelt down and splashed some water on her face. “I do appreciate you keeping to your word and having the men off my back.” She glanced over to him. “I believe some of those rumors out about you are…exaggerated.”
“I’ve done my share of bad things. But I try and make sure these…bad things are done to people who deserve them.”
“I have to admit I was wary at first, but I needed the gold…”
“I gave you my word Shannie.”
“Not every man’s word is worth anything. My husband gave me his word he’d never hit me. But old Nathen said I could trust you. What’s the deal with him anyway? I know he served in the Imperial Guard, but he never said where he knew you from.”
“You are not the only one with a past they wish to forget.”
She stood back up. “I won’t prod you then. I see you’re the type who likes to keep everything bottled up.”
He did not like to speak about his past. He did not feel comfortable around anyone enough to broach it. He doubted he would ever find anyone with whom he could freely speak about it.
Shannie took a few steps along the river’s edge. “We won’t have anything to worry about until we reach the city. Once there we will need to proceed with caution.”
“Once they are done burying Laos we’ll continue.”
“I am going to scout ahead.” She continued to follow the river.
“Do not go too far.”
She laughed. “If only my husband had your concern. I might not have had to kill him…”
After Laos was buried, the group followed the river that led to the ruined city. The ominous statue in the background grew ever closer. Shannie kept scouting ahead and this made Hunter nervous. If anything happened, he might not be able to reach her in time. Most of this worry was due to the fact that if anything happened to her, this little adventure would come to a quick end. He also had some concern for her though, she was a good person and he would hate to see anything bad happen to her.
This wasn’t necessarily a good thing, having concern for the well being of another in the group could distract him and cause him to endanger himself unnecessarily. He wouldn’t lose any sleep if anything happened to Mij or Reav, but if Shannie died due to this, he’d feel somewhat responsible.
They drew nearer the statue and Hunter could gain an appreciation for just how large it was. He wondered who it was supposed to represent, some god perhaps or possibly someone important to the history of Aaros. Whoever it was, they must have had some influence at one time to have such a massive tribute built for them.
When they finally reached the statue, Shannie went over to examine it. She barely reached the structure’s ankle. Hunter motioned for the others to stand their ground before proceeding over to the rogue.
“This is amazing.” Shannie stared up at the giant man.
She had yet to touch the statue so Hunter refrained from putting his hand on it.
“It is a good thing certain parts of him are covered or he might make you boys feel inadequate.”
Hunter motioned to the men standing aside. “Those boys maybe.”
She laughed. “I have not heard any rumors to confirm or contradict what your words imply. If I am curious enough, I can always track down one of your ex-girlfriends and ask them. You don’t look like the type who ends his relationships by killing off your partner.”
“I only killed the ones that would talk.”
She laughed again. “Well…I’m pretty good at keeping a secret.” She turned and gave him a wink before curling her hand into a fist and giving the statue a few sharp raps. “Hollow.”
Shannie was flirting, but how serious was she? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer to that. “Is it safe?”
“I can spend half the day checking out the entire perimeter, but do we really want to waste all that time? I say we avoid it.”
“Avoid that statue it is.”
She continued following the river. After a time they reached the city, although by this point in time it was not much to look at. The area was littered with stones of varying sizes and most appeared to have been carved and part of a building at one point in time. There were no complete buildings standing, just a few foundations dotted the landscape here and there. Massive undergrowth had overtaking most of the area, whatever glory this city once held; it was long gone.
Shannie turned to address everyone. “This is where do not touch anything becomes really important.” She reached the perimeter of the city and crouched down and examined the area.
Hunter let her take her time as she began a slow, methodical check of the area. She knew what she was doing, best to let her do her job her way. Among the tools at her employ, he noticed she had a large, clear gem. Most likely it was a scrying device to detect any magic at play. He hoped any magic the people of this city employed would be long faded, but realized that was most likely not the case.
While Shannie did her job, he walked over to Reav. The man had a fearful look on him; he was probably worried that Hunter was going to yell at him for something.
“Reav, I am giving you one job here. I want you to keep Mij in sight at all times, I don’t need him making a break for the boat and leaving the rest of us stranded here.” Making sure Shannie stayed safe, making sure he stayed safe and keeping an eye on Mij was pushing it. He had to hope Reav was up to the task.
“You got it.”
“At all times, no matter what happens. This city caves in around us, you stay with him.”
Reav fidgeted nervously. “There is no way he is getting out of my sight.”
“If you manage this, I’ll forget you were bothering Shannie.”
The man’s eyes lit up. “Thanks Hunter. I will not let you down.”
He was fairly certain Reav could manage this. He could certainly overpower Mij if it came to it, Reav was a capable fighter.
He walked back over to the city’s perimeter, Shannie was no longer in sight, she had moved behind a tall pile of broken stone blocks. Carbal was kneeling by the perimeter, doing some checking on his own. He wasn’t actually touching anything so Hunter left him alone.
Shannie presently returned and she walked over to Hunter. “The way to the door that will lead us into the catacombs is clear. Follow me and do not stray far from where I walk.”
“Let’s go.” Hunter addressed the group and they all fell in line behind Shannie.
They made their way across what was once the city, stepping over various sized stones as they went. She led them onto a stone foundation, one wall of what was once a building had not yet completely crumbled. In a corner of the buildings layout was a set of stone stairs that led down. A few large stones had fallen into the stairwell, but it was still navigable.
Shannie went to the stairwell and with her slim size she easily slid between the stones. She reached the bottom and began working on the large, metal door that barred access into the lower bowels of the building.
Hunter lit a torch and went halfway down the stairwell, hoping the extra light would help Shannie disarm any potential traps easier. He watched her work on the door, carefully checking every crevice with the tools of her trade. Eventually she produced a lock pick and a few minutes later the door swung open. A strong odor of stale, musty air wafted up the stairwell.
“You coming ahead with me or you want to send someone expendable?” She turned to Hunter and smiled.
“I’ll come if you promise to watch your hands in the dark.”
She laughed. “I can’t promise that.”
She had a cute laugh, it was soft and genuine.
He turned back to the others who were gathered at the top of the stairwell. “We’ll be right back. Nobody do anything foolish while we are gone.” He focused his attention on Reav. He had an idea if any of these men were going to do something idiotic, it would be Reav.
He followed Shannie into a dark passage. He could feel that it inclined downward. He cast the torch against the walls and saw they were nondescript, gray stones covered with a light moss overgrowth. Shannie examined the floor and convinced it was okay, she moved on to the door at the other end of the passage. It was the same as the door that gained entry into the passage, dull grey in color but in remarkable shape for the amount of time it must have been here.
Shannie unlocked the door and pushed it open. A strong breeze came forward from the opening and extinguished the torch, leaving them in complete darkness.
“That was weird.” Shannie announced. “Oh and do not move.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
He felt a hand rest against his upper leg.
“I don’t think you’ll find any traps there.”
“You never know.”
Her hand drifted slightly higher.
“I like to be thorough.”
There was a spark and the torch was re-lit.
“There we go.” Shannie pocketed the flint she used to light the torch. “Sorry to get your hopes up, but I was just looking to relight the torch.”
“So why is your hand still on my leg?”
“Oh…” She removed it. She turned around and crept up to the open doorway. She cautiously peered into the darkness and then made her way forward. “No sign of where that breeze came from.”
She entered the other room and Hunter followed her. This next passage was wider and both sides were lined with life sized stone carvings of soldiers in full armor. They were holding spears in one hand and shields in another. There were ten in all, five on each side. The detail was extraordinary, if not for the dull grey color of the stone; one would almost think they were alive.
“I don’t have to remind you not to touch them right?” She carefully approached one. “Yes…don’t touch them.”
“That is an understatement. Fortunately we can bypass them. I’m going to check the floor out; you can go back and bring the others.”
“Don’t you need light?”
She held up a small stone that gave off a soft glow and illuminated a small area in front of her. “I’ve got this.”
“So why didn’t you use that before?”
“And miss the opportunity to grab your leg?” She smiled at him in a flirtatious way.
“Next time I’m sending Reav ahead with you.”
“You know you liked it.”
He didn’t answer her; he turned around and went to get the others. He was in a dangerous place; he didn’t need to be distracted with thoughts of the female persuasion. All it would take is one stupid mistake and this entire trip could end in disaster.
He went back to where the others were huddled around the stairwell. Carbal had traversed the steps and he was standing in the doorway. He was holding a torch and surveying the area.
“You can move ahead to the other doorway.”
Carbal nodded and slipped down the passage.
Hunter had to wonder just how skilled this man was in finding traps. He could tell by the look on his face that the man was not satisfied with Shannie’s word that any particular area was safe. His eyes were constantly checking out every crack and crevice he came across. As long as he did not try anything stupid, Hunter was not going to tell him to knock it off.
Marus walked down the stairwell. “Took you long enough, I was beginning to wonder if the two of you found a…trap…that needed disarming.” He gave off a sly grin.
Hunter frowned. “I am going to ignore what you are implying.”
“She has her eye on you, only a fool passes up a welcoming port.”
So he wasn’t the only one who noticed Shannie was flirting with him. “And only a fool would continue a line of conversation that will only serve to annoy me.”
Marus laughed. “She’s a sweet girl; you pass on the nice ones you may end up with a royal pain.”
“I can guarantee you’ll never find me with a difficult woman, I am not that crazy.”
“That’s what we all say.”
“I mean it.”
The man shrugged and then proceeded into the crypts. Vordayden followed him. Reav took up the rear, making sure Mij stayed in front of him.
Hunter went back to the front and found that Shannie had already gotten the door she was working on opened and was in the passage beyond. Carbal had stepped into the passage and he was examining the nearest statue with his eyes.
“Do not touch that.”
The man nodded. “I was not planning to.”
“Have everyone move up to the next door and make sure they understand not to touch the statues.”
Carbal looked pleased to be given a minute role of authority. He took his eyes off the statue and turned to lead the others across the room. Hunter went ahead and found Shannie in the following passage.
The group proceeded with caution through a maze of nondescript passages. Shannie never referenced the maps she had studied as she led them deeper into the crypts. Hunter was not confident on their chances of finding their way out if something happened to her.
They eventually reached a room that had a stone stairwell that led down in a circular fashion at the far end. Shannie went over and examined the doorway.
“Clever.” She said aloud. She took something out of her pocket; it looked like a small knife, and shimmied it into a crevice between two stones. “They wanted us to make it onto the stairs; they did not want us to be able to come back.”
Hunter watched her play with the device.
“Somewhere along that stairwell, one of the steps has a pressure plate that will release a door to block this entryway.” She pulled the device out and pocketed it. “Its seamless, I almost missed it.” She ran her fingers across the stones, feeling every crevice. “I think I can disable it from here.”
“So they wanted us to make it this far, that means they must have a surprise waiting for us below.”
“Correct. Hopefully this is a surprise that I can outwit.”
“I have every faith in you.” He had no choice, if she failed, they would all likely die. All this risk for a cachet of gold, was it really worth it?
Everyone was watching Shannie intently, Carbal more so than the others. Hunter had a growing concern that this man was going to pull something foolish. He had a look like he should be the one leading the group.
Mij coughed a few times and afterwards he glared off into the shadows of the passage. “Curse this stale air; I should be on my ship enjoying the grace of the ocean.”
“Grace of the ocean?” Vordayden tilted his head towards him. “You mean the stink of the ocean.”
Mij faced him and gave the man a look of disgust. “Why don’t you throw your sword aside and say that again?”
Hunter grabbed Mij by the shoulder. “Easy there.”
“I’ll take your insults about me, I’ll take your insults about my crew, but I will not abide insults to the lady of the sea.” Mij continued to glare at Vordayden.
A smirk crossed Vordayden’s face. “If the sea is a woman, well, that’s one ugly lady.”
Mij attempted to reach for him but Hunter held him back. Marus went over and confronted Vordayden.
“That is enough.”
The man scowled but backed down.
Shannie went over to Hunter. “If you boys are done quarreling, I believe we can make our way down the stairs.” After making this announcement she returned to the stairs and began to work her way down.
They proceeded down the spiraling staircase and at the bottom they found themselves in a large room. Life size statues similar to the ones from the earlier room above stood on either side paced at five foot intervals. There were ten in all and they depicted warriors standing at attention, sword in one hand, shield in the other. The glaring difference between the statues from the room above and these was the large diamond encrusted in the center of each shield.
“Look at those diamonds.” Carbal went over to the nearest statue and gave the shield a close up look.
“There is our surprise.” Shannie said as she looked over the statues. “They meant to use our greed against us.”
“I can disarm the traps on these.” Carbal could not take his eyes off the diamond. “These gems are too valuable to pass up.”
Hunter went over to him and pulled him away from the statue he was gawking at. “I do not care how good you think you are; you make one move to touch this statue I’ll kill you where you stand.”
Vordayden walked over to them. “He knows what he is doing and those gems would fetch a handsome price.”
“See?” Shannie shook her head. “Greed is a trap most men cannot resist.” She turned and walked towards a locked door on the far side of the room.
“This one diamond is worth far more than what we are being paid for this excursion.” Carbal looked over to Marus for support.
Marus momentarily debated Carbal’s words. “Leave those statues alone.”
Carbal frowned and turned his attention back to the statue closest to him. Vordayden continued to stand beside him and the two men gazed longingly at the diamond encrusted into the shield.
Hunter went over to Shannie. “Try and make this quick.”
“That’s the problem with you boys, always wanting it over with so fast.”
“Shannie, this is not the time for your humour, the longer we delay, the better the chance one of those fools tries to grab a gem.”
She laughed. “Sorry, it’s just how I handle my nervousness. I know a look of greed when I see it, and Carbal’s eyes are alight with it. The last thing you want is for anyone to touch one of those gems; you can take my word on that.”
She opened the door and waved the stone she used for light in front of her to illuminate the next room. From what Hunter could see, it was a small room with a stone pedestal in the middle. A chest was sitting atop the pedestal and if he had interpreted the maps he studied correctly this held the scepter they were after.
After checking the doorway, she proceeded into the room. She checked the floor and made her way to the pedestal. She produced a few tools from her pockets and went to work on the chest.
Hunter stood by the doorway, keeping an eye on Carbal. So far the man had made no moves to take one of the diamonds. He was however, still eyeing them intently.
She succeeded in opening the chest and she triumphantly held up the scepter. It was gold in color and was topped with a clear globe. A strange green mist swirled around inside the globe. She held it out and Hunter walked over and took it from her.
“Guess I was worth the gold…”
“We are not out of here yet.”
She smiled. “You only paid me to take you to the scepter. You want more it is going to cost you extra.”
Her tone clearly revealed what the intent in her words meant.
A scream from the previous room interrupted any further thought of conversation. He went back to the doorway and saw that one of the statues was now moving. Carbal must have attempted to take the diamond and triggered some sort of trap. The now animated statue had run its sword through the man’s chest.
The other nine statues sprung to life and then turned on anyone living. Mij was by the stairs and he took off up them. Reav immediately followed him. Hunter started to curse the man’s cowardice when he remembered he had told him to stay by Mij no matter the circumstances. Reav was following orders; he couldn’t fault him for that, especially when he had given the orders.
Vordayden made a bid for the stairs but was struck in the back trying to make his escape. A sword pierced him between the shoulder blades and he dropped to the floor. Marus withdrew his weapon and tried to defend himself from the statues’ advance.
A few began to make their way to the room that Hunter and Shannie were in. He handed her the scepter and switched the torch to his left hand. He withdrew his sword and stood in the doorway. He glanced back to her.
“Yes.” She sounded frightened.
“Stay behind me and do not stop for anything.” They were outnumbered and it was most likely his weapon would do no damage to these creatures, but they had the advantage of speed. The monstrosities did not move fast, with a little luck they could make it to the stairs.
He rushed into the room and knocked away the blade from the first statue to assault him. The powerful force of the creature’s strike reverberated up his arm. He tried to avoid the rest, dodging those he could and using his sword to knock away any strikes that came too close.
Marus saw them coming and he attempted to clear a path for them, using his strength to try and push a heavy statue to the side. As strong as he was, he was unable to budge the animated statue. He had to duck as the creature swung its weapon towards his head.
Hunter blocked the strike of another statue and the impact broke the blade of his sword. His arm stung from the blow, so much for the expensive enchant on that blade. He threw the remainder of his weapon at another creature but it bounced harmless off its body.
He dodged away from another and made it to where Marus was. The two turned and headed for the stairs. He heard a yelp and turned to see that Shannie had stumbled. An advancing statue was already upon her.
He turned and not having a weapon, prayed the enchant on his bracer was strong enough. He thrust his arm forward and the weapon glanced off his bracer. The impact hurt, he hoped he did not break anything, but it was enough to cause the weapon to miss Shannie.
Marus had come over and he helped her to her feet. The three ran to the stairs and quickly ascended them. They only stopped when they reached the top.
Reav and Mij were there, the former holding his blade to the throat of the latter. Both of them sported numerous bruises on their faces, apparently Mij tried to fight his way to freedom.
Hunter held his arm as he walked across the room.
“Are you okay?” Shannie stole up next to him.
“I’ll be fine, just a little sore from the impact.” He continued to hold his arm. “A broken weapon enchanted by one mage and bracers that held enchanted by another. I now know which one is going to receive my business in the future.”
“The one that charges less?”
He shook his head. “Yes…naturally.”
She was quiet for a minute. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me.”
“How could I? You had the scepter.”
She cracked a smile. “Did I mention I’m fairly good with poisons? You might want to be careful with what you drink from here on out.”
“And I was just starting to like you.”
Marus walked up to the two. “I hate to break this up, but we should be going, no telling if those monstrosities can climb stairs.” He glanced back to the stairwell. “I can certainly hear them attempting to.”
Hunter nodded in agreement. “Shannie, if you do not mind…” He gestured towards the doorway that led away from the stairs. “And I’ll take the scepter.”
She held it out and he took it in his hand that was not attached to his arm that was still throbbing in pain. His bracers were enchanted with a healing aura, so even if a bone was broken, before long it would be like new. In the meantime however, he would have to deal with the pain.
He walked over to Reav and Mij. He addressed the captain. “If you attempt to run away again, I’ll order Reav to kill you.”
Mij glared at him but said nothing.
Reav grabbed the captain and shoved him towards the door. Not the bravest or best of fighters, but he was loyal and he followed orders for the most part. Hunter would let his transgression against Shannie slide.
Shannie led them back through the crypts and eventually they reached the exit. They heard a few noises, but did not encounter anything else. They returned to the beach and once aboard the ship, the captain was ordered to set sail.
With a little luck, the sea would remain calm during the return voyage. Before turning in for the night, Hunter went to check on Shannie, she seemed genuinely frightened by the events in the crypt and he wanted to be sure she was okay.
Hunter rapped on her door and then entered the room. She was sitting on her cot and she smiled at him.
“I just wanted to make sure you are okay.”
“I am fine, thanks to you. I appreciate what you did,” She paused. “I’m not grateful enough that I plan on refusing the gold you are paying me. I’ll just have to find another way to pay you back.”
It was more than obvious what she was implying. “That is not necessary.”
“I had a feeling you would say something like that.” She stared at him for a moment. “I wouldn’t offer if I did not want you to stay. I’m not looking for anything permanent, so don’t get your hopes up too high…”
She was a sweet girl and she did have a nice body, there really were no drawbacks to this. He stared at the door he was still holding open with his left hand. He could bid her goodnight and leave or he could close the door and stay…