Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

The Crypt of the Cobra
(Part Three)

By C.L. Werner
About the author

'YOU WILL DEPART WHEN I have no further need of you and not before,' snarled the wizard. Sullenly, the Isicarites turned about and descended past the reptilian bodies and beyond the bloody marker of their comrade's fate. Grenulf studied the Khemran's cruel, commanding gaze for a moment before following the thieves in their descent. Bloodthirsty goblins were not his only concern, the Wehrlander decided.

At last the stairs gave way to a flat-level corridor and Grenulf could almost feel the sense of relief which possessed his companions, as they became aware that they should descend no deeper beneath the desert sands.

Sa-ank-met's voice boomed through the dark halls and the company turned to behold the Khemran's right hand held before him and above his head, the fingers spread outwards as though grasping an invisible sphere. Slowly, an orb of pale blue light materialized between the clawed brown fingers. The orb continued to grow in size and brilliancy until it entirely filled the sorcerer's hand and bathed a large section of the corridor in light. Grenulf caught Kascus' frightened voice muttering, 'To think I mocked his magic!'

Grenulf looked upon the hall whose darkness had so recently been dispelled and repressed a shudder as a cold chill came upon him. The wizard's orb seemed to illuminate several hundred feet of the black masonry and still the far end of the hall was yet hidden within shadow. The walls were covered in hideous writings which seemed to crawl across the stone. Interposed between the abominable characters were even more vile paintings depicting elves and men battling foul serpent-headed beings with the inhuman monsters always having the upper hand. At regular intervals, diamond-shaped doorways gaped like the mouths of great vipers, above each opening a golden plaque inscribed with more of the crawling glyphs.

Sa-ank-met gave the scribe Azhid a savage kick and motioned with a sidewise jerk of head and neck for the scribe to translate what was written above the nearest door. The scribe moved forward with a nervous look at the darkness beyond the door and an even more frightened look back at the waiting sorcerer.

'Ssladiss-ar, magi of bones,' the scribe announced in a hoarse, fear-choked voice as he bowed low to Sa-ank-met. The Khemran laughed and moved to Azhid's side.

'A necromancer! As good a place as any begin our pillaging of this place.' Sa-ank-met stepped aside, pointing into the tomb. Nervously, all obeyed the Khemran's command.

The crypt beyond the doorway was massive, with walls crafted of enormous black stones, every inch covered with crawling script and ophidian-headed pictoglyphs. A chill went down each man's spine as their eyes fell upon the horror which rested in the center of the chamber - an immense sarcophagus of black stone, its lid carved in a horrible figure blending the qualities of man and viper in obscene and maddening fashion. Sa-ank-met raced to the sarcophagus, dragging the protesting Azhid behind him.

But the sarcophagus with its monstrous lid was not the only denizen of the crypt. Everywhere golden objects rose from the floor, glittering weirdly in the blue witch-light. Piled gems sparkled from silver caskets; a sapphire-eyes serpent loomed above a gold-bricked pyramid. Swords and weapons of curious shape and craft lie atop jeweled urns and crystal jars. As one, the men forgot their terror and fell upon the gleaming hoard like famished wolves. Let the sorcerer examine nightmares, they would capture dreams.

Grenulf watched the greedy ecstasy of the Isicarites as they squabbled over the golden necklaces and silver armbands. The Wehrlander did not allow his greed to overcome the warning which his senses impressed upon him, despite the wealth's temptations. His eyes held the figures of Sa-ank-met and the scribe as they pushed the heavy lid from the sarcophagus, sending it to the floor with a thundering crash. Grenulf winced as he listened to the roar echo through the black halls beyond the chamber, contemplating the dark slumbers which might be thusly broken. Sa-ank-met's face grew pale as the wizard beheld the inmate of the stone sepulcher while the ancient scribe at his side shrieked and fled to a corner of the crypt, cowering and whimpering like a frightened child. The wizard set his pale face into a mask of determination and reached into the sarcophagus with both hands. At last, his will broke and Sa-ank-met looked away, his hands yet within the grave. Presently, he drew forth a heavy metal object, an object which appeared to Grenulf to resemble nothing so much as a large book with pages of iron. The wizard looked at his prize and the unholy light returned to his dark eyes and the pallor left his skin. His face broke into a ghastly smile and the Khemran strode with purpose to where his slave lay cowering.

Indeed, what the Khemran had claimed was a book, Grenulf decided, as Sa-ank-met struck the terrified scribe time and again about the face until the ancient ceased his protestations and, like a broken thing, bent over the iron paged tome. Sa-ank-met laughed as he read the words Azhid put upon parchment for his master.

Suddenly, a cry went up from behind the mercenary. Spinning about with the speed of a surprised wolf, Grenulf saw the doorway of the crypt swarming with pale, scaly dwarfish shapes. An Isicarite who had decided to lay the wealth he claimed as his own beside the doorway lay dead, his life's blood pooling about the gold and silver of his life's dream, seven white, degenerate beings hacking at his unmoving body with copper blades and bestial frenzy.

Grenulf shouted warning to the others, lost in their greed, as he removed the head from the first of the monsters that closed upon him. The Wehrlander's stomach grew sick as he watched the headless body flop and writhe in a fashion horribly familiar and reptilian.

Then they were upon him, an unblinking horde of hissing madness. They slashed at him with copper swords and clawed at him with taloned fingers. Grenulf's sword lashed out again and again like the very finger of Death, each blow crushing bone or hewing limbs, each thrust leaving another of the snake-creatures flopping upon the bloody floor, maimed or dying. Yet still they came, like an endless wave of horror. His body cut by dozens of superficial wounds, Grenulf decided that here he would die, drowned in the thin blood of these reptilian goblins, for their numbers grew despite the heap of bodies about the Wehrlander's feet.

Then Sa-ank-met's voice rose above the clash of swords and the cries of the dying. One of the serpent-beasts closing with Grenulf shrieked in a voice which was unsettlingly kindred to humanity and its body went rigid. While still parrying the blows of his other antagonists, Grenulf watched as the creature's body shriveled and blackened like a toad beneath the desert sun. Grenulf could hear the wizard laughing as the withered husk fell to the floor.

Still the monsters came on and Grenulf found himself being pressed backwards, trying desperately to keep the goblins from flanking him and striking his back. Slowly, his sword now an unbearable weight in his hands, Grenulf fell back, each step bringing with it another copper blade that bit into his skin.

Again Sa-ank-met's voice rose above the din of battle. A purple orb spiraled about the crypt, an orb of cold, evil light. The ghostly apparition danced about, striking the serpents whenever it drew near them, each time leaving behind it a still corpse. Over and over the orb struck a reptilian beast, wringing from the dying creature a human sounding scream of agony until at least a dozen of the creatures had so perished and the orb's once brilliant purple light was feeble and faded.

But it had served its purpose. The wizard's assault had broken the berserk courage of the creatures and the remains of their horde broke and fled the crypt, heedless of their dead and dying.

Grenulf sank to the floor, breathing heavily. Here had been fought such a battle as no legend or myth dared to evoke. The floor lay heaped with reptilian bodies, their thin, pale blood mingling in a veritable lake upon the stones. Yet, the battle had not been without its price. Of their number, only Grenulf, Kascus, the wizard, Azhid and one of the Isicarites remained.

The Taliosian and the remaining Isicarite, a hulking brute named Kormaz, were watching one of the snake-creatures which had not fled with its comrades. The monster was striking at a fallen torch, hacking at the flame with its copper sword. Grenulf looked at the hacked and mutilated bodies of the fallen Isicarites and understood. The creatures were blind, born into a world of eternal darkness. Blind, yet they could sense heat and warmth, sense it and strike at it, attacking dead flesh time and again until all warmth had bled from the corpse.

Kascus slunk up to the reptilian dwarf, stabbing the point of his blade deep into the creature's back. The viper-headed horror sank wearily to the ground, its thin blood bubbling between its scaly lips. Kascus stooped and wiped his blade of the beast's ichor.

'We should thank these beasts,' the thief laughed. 'They have made us much wealthier than we should have been without them.' The Taliosian looked at each of the mutilated corpses in turn.

'I wonder if you will view them with such affection when they return?' Grenulf stated in a voice as cold as steel. Kascus paled at the suggestion and then smiled once more.

'Our wizard shall make short work of them, Wehrlander!' Kascus boasted. Grenulf followed his gaze to where the Khemran stood. As though nothing had happened, as though there had been no battle and most of their company slain, Sa-ank-met once more stooped over the shoulder of the scribe as the man slowly translated the iron-paged grimoire.

'We should not tarry here,' stated Grenulf, addressing his words to the sorcerer. 'We should take what we can carry and flee these cursed halls before the scaly demons return.'

Sa-ank-met raised his eyes to meet the freebooter's. 'You are too few to leave these vaults alive without my magic to protect you and I am not yet ready to leave this place. There are yet secrets I would learn, knowledge I would steal from the dead of this place.'

Grenulf looked in the icy fire of the wizard's eyes and realized that it would be hopeless to challenge his decision. To brave the long stairway in total darkness and with only three blades would be certain death. They were once again prisoners, slaves to the will of Sa-ank-met.

Click for Part Four (Conclusion)
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The Crypt of the Cobra is copyright C.L. Werner. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)