Rozak and Tarajel, two sword wielding thieves, find themselves battling more than foul weather when they go in search of...
Storm in the Jewel
By Martin E. Stephenson
About the author
Both had sheathed their weapons instinctively before the chase and fall, but the she-thief's razor-thin blade had pierced its holder in the fall, nearly puncturing her unwanted partner's kidneys as she came to a stop. Both stood up, shaking from the ordeal and the biting cold. But as their eyes adjusted to the eerie blue light about them -- as dim as it was -- the sight before theem stunned them still -- the horrid Shambler, its shattered head impaled upon a towering obelisk. Its oversized tongue lolled out in an oily gush as its massive tail gave a ground shuddering death-rattle. Streams of black blood oozed down the heaps of rubble that surrounded the awful sight. Rozak felt a small (very small) bit of sorrow for the giant lizard-thing. Pitiful way for such a legendary creature to die.
They were in the basin of a great bowl that seemed to be carved directly out of the earth's crust, its surface glazed over, walls and floor, with some strange blue glasswork, dimly reflecting the faint light from high above the cold mists that drifted above them. It was a stone's throw to from either side of the rubble pile to the perimeter, the impaled Shambler at the center of the basin. The obelisk that the great gory thing rested on was black like obsidian and the adventurers could see no markings upon it. Both knew it was useless to attempt a climb, the gradually sloping walls giving way to a sheer vertical face that disappeared into the mists above.
Tarajel's eyes locked on Rozak's. All her frustration, fears and anger came to a head on her face, her hand slowly moved toward her scabbard.
"Why don't you hold that thought and we can finish what we started when we get out of here?" Rozak suggested.
She sighed and her hand fell away. The battle-tested she-thief had done much bloodletting in her life, stolen treasures, cut purses and ransacked burning villages. But right at the moment she wanted to kick and scream and cry like a spoilt child. But that would satisfy this dog of a Northman, she thought. Yet, he did try to save me, didn't he? She liked this man but wasn't going to tell him.
She shook her head to banish her thoughts. "Why don't you work on finding a way out then?" she replied. "And I'll see if I can find a way to fight this damnable cold. Something to burn."
"That I will," the Northman said, "and so you should. But mind you keep that blade of yours drawn. It's been a strange day so far." He barked a laugh.
"Very funny," she grumbled. He heard her sword leave its scabbard as she walked away.
Rozak noticed that the mists that swirled about them didn't give the slightest hint of wetness, and as slick and as polished as the floor and walls were, they weren't wet to the touch either. The only dust present appeared to have just fallen with them. But near freezing it was -- chilling to the bone. He didn't want to think what type of sorcery produced a fog without water or cold without frost -- but this place reeked of dark play. The only benefit of their situation was that they most assuredly had stumbled into what they had been looking for. This place had to have something to do with the old Dark Mage of legend. If not, then things were probably about to get worse, if that were possible.
"Over here, Rozak," Tarajel called from the dark. "A passageway, I think." He made his way cautiously towards her voice.
Before them was what appeared to be an arched corridor wide and tall enough for even the Shambler to enter. Through the dim light, they could make out strange shapes and symbols on the tiles decorating the edge of the entrance. Tall velvety curtains hung from above blocking the view of what lay behind them. Rozak moved forward and parted them with his blade. It was a corridor indeed. More of the same glossy stone traveling gradually downward into more mist. Yet there seemed to more light down there -- a pulsation of light, like observing lightning at a distance, unable to see the strike itself but knowing that it's there. He grabbed a handful of curtain and gave it a strong tug, pulling it away from its fastening. It drifted down to them like a phantom.
"What did you do that for?" Tarajel questioned.
"Aren't you cold? It's not down stuffed but it's better than nothing."
She murmured something in embarrassment as he tore the cloth in two, handing her half. She thanked him under her breath and both cloaked themselves with the soft material.
"Well, we can stay here and maybe burn the other curtain, roast some lizard-flesh or we can continue head on," Rozak said pointing a down the corridor, "and see what awaits us." He smiled at her from beneath his makeshift hood. She managed to return it. "I've a feeling we're closer to your accursed jewel than we were an hour ago, and I do hate suspense."
"Let's go," she said. "I don't care much for waiting either."
They entered the polished tunnel, cautiously proceeding through the ethereal mists -- mists that more ghost than fog -- pausing their steps at each pulse of the ever-increasing light ahead. The cold increased as they went deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth, a cold that permeated the soul as well as the flesh.
The unearthly mists parted and revealed an abrupt end to the corridor. Another set of curtains lay just ahead, and just beyond that, the source of the pulsating light. With each flash they increased their pace, quickly reaching the drapes. Swords extended, they parted the curtains simultaneously. A gust of icy air hit them. But what they saw before them took their breath away.
The chamber was a near duplicate of the one they had just left, minus the strange mists. At its center another black obelisk rose up from a sea of silver and gold, ingots and coins, glittering stones and jewelry that filled the room. At the pinnacle of the obelisk, floating in the air a hand's breadth above it, what could be none other that the Storm Jewel itself, as large as a human head, pulses of white electricity emanating from the multi-faceted crystal, alive with vibrating energy, a tempest at its core. Rozak felt as if the weird glow of the jewel was mimicking the ever-increasing race of his heartbeat, growing stronger and faster as he and his companion descended the wide, stone-carved steps into the chamber. They hesitated, then waded into the treasure trove.
"Look!" Tarajel yelled, her breath fogging in the air.
Just beyond the captivating glow of the jewel, the shadowy figure of a man sat upon a tall black dais, its seat as high as the jewel, carved from the same obsidian-like material as the obelisk. The figure was cloaked, its face hidden under a black hood. Over-length sleeves covered hands that rested on the arms of the seat, the rest of its frame hidden beneath the robes that draped the column. No breath rose from beneath that hood nor did the figure stir.
"The Dark Mage," Tarajel whispered.
"Looks dead enough to me, " Rozak said as he noisily tossed handfuls of coins into the air. Their scattered clinking echoed off the walls of the chamber. "Help me gather up some of this booty, so we can destroy that evil stone andů" They both looked about the chamber. No exits. The Northman sloshed through the hoard pressing against the freezing walls. He looked at his companion. "Damn!" He kicked aside a gem-encrusted silver goblet with a spray of coins. "Wealth enough to by a kingdom and we'll die here unable to spend it! Damn!" The big man was livid.
"Who comes to steal the soul of my beloved?" The voice was thick and slow soured honey.
"What?" The two thieves looked at the frozen figure above, then each other.
"Who comes to steal the wealth of fools that I have gathered?" The voice was in their heads, not their ears. They looked up at the robed figure atop its tall throne. It hadn't moved. Rozak had had enough. He launched himself at the square black column in an attempt to climb to the top. His grip squealed as he slid back down to its base. "Get us out of here old one and maybe I'll only cut you in two, rather than quarters!" the frustrated Northman yelled. The room fell silent except for the echo of his threats.
The echo became a sinister laughter that resonated in their heads. Rozak cringed; Tarajel tried to cover her ears without losing her the grip of her sword. The floating jewel throbbed with light, illuminating the room, tendrils of blue and white lightning coursing down the monument then arching into pools of treasure.
The echoing laughter grew louder as the adventurers backed away towards the steps. The room shuddered as though it were alive with revulsion. Everywhere that the thin streams of maleficent light touched the treasure it began to swirl in small whirlpools, like eddies along some gold and silver river. Then from each of the spinning pools something began to rise.
Tarnished sword blades, spearheads on long wooden lances and the caps of rusted helms began to appear from beneath the ensorcelled hoard. The remains of long dead warriors arose, clenching their ancient weapons; soldiers once sent to deliver the treasures gathered here as tribute and payment by the Kings of the South to release the life-giving storms their lands and peoples so badly needed, now trapped here as unwilling guardians of a mad sorcerer's vengeance. Eyeless sockets stared out from half-fleshed skulls as skeletal arms raised weapons in horrible challenge, beating sword against shield.
Rozak leapt at the unnatural foes without hesitation. His broad blade sliced through the closest creature's half exposed shoulder blade to the waist of its tattered leather breeches in a two-handed stroke. He planted his foot on its cleaved ribcage, pulling his sword free from the thing's pelvis where it lodged. To the Northman's right a helmeted skeleton carrying a scimitar lunged at him. There was a flash of steel and the thing's skull fell. Tarajel had joined the battle.
Again and again the two thieves swung their blades in a dance of speed and steel, cleaving mummified flesh and bone, scattering ancient bronze and tattered leather. The necromantic warriors were slow and ponderous in their attack, but they kept coming. As soon as their half-decayed limbs, torsos and heads fell to the treasure filled floor, they would slowly sink down into it disappearing for a moment only to rise again a moment later. Both Rozak and Tarajel had destroyed the same poor creatures several times with still more rising all around the chamber floor. The two joined back-to-back in an attempt to fend off the surrounding horde of lumbering death. Through it all the Dark Mage's insane laughter throbbed in their heads.
"Enough!" shouted Tarajel as her sword cut down through a bony arm holding a bronze tipped spear. Kicking aside its owner and catching the weapon in her free hand, she left her partner, parried aside several more strokes then took careful aim at the robed figure up on the dais. She hurled the spear with all the force she could muster, sending it straight to where she hoped its cold heart beat. Just as the speeding tip was about to strike its target, a flash of lightning lashed out from the levitating jewel, grabbing the shaft and turning it to flames. The spearhead fell harmlessly as red glowing embers drifted down.
The she-thief screamed in anger and slashed recklessly at more of her undead foes, knowing she only was hastening their return as she did.
"Damn the Jewel! Damn the treasure!" she spat as she cut and parried her reanimated rivals. The madness of certain defeat was taking hold. "Get out of my head, you bastard!" she screamed as her sword swung again and again.
Rozak kicked aside one of the creatures and it scattered into several more sending them backwards. He had an idea. He pulled his makeshift cloak loose and began swinging it above his head, cording it like a loose piece of thick rope. A dull blade edge bit down across his back, but he paid it no attention. As one of the creatures lunged towards him he knocked its battleaxe from its mummified hand, grabbed the thing by its vertebrae and spun an end of the bound cloth around its neck. Sheathing his own sword, he reached down and grabbed the battleaxe by the handle before it disappeared into the sea of treasure. For an instant there was a tug as if unseen hands below were themselves trying to retrieve the weapon. He kicked aside another creature that he noted wore the same type of tortoiseshell cuirass that Tarajel owned. Wading through the coins and gems in a long circular stride, parrying sulking blows as they came, he managed to bind some of the walking dead warriors together.
He glanced across the chamber at his enraged partner. She hadn't even noticed his actions. He left her at her horrid work. He strode towards the black obelisk at the center of the chamber, swinging the stolen battleaxe as he went. Reaching the base of the monument, he raised the double-edged weapon and struck at it like a woodsman would a tree. He closed his eyes with each blow as shards of milky black obsidian were sent flying, some of them lodging in his flesh.
"No!" screamed the cold voice in his head as he pounded over and over again at the obelisk.
The Storm Jewel itself retaliated, sending thin bolts of frozen energy down towards the monument's assailant. The shock stunned Rozak to the glittering floor, his axe falling away. But it was too late.
Smoke rising from his singed hair and flesh, Rozak rose. He'd done enough damage. He could clearly see the lateral fracture he'd made in the trunk of the obelisk. As dozens of undead converged on him, and Tarajel cutting down the creatures like a she-demon unleashed, the Northman shoved with all his might against the half-shattered base of the monument. A sudden wave of cold washed over him as he pushed, but he did not stop.
"No!" the voice screamed again.
The great black spike toppled back, slamming against the high obsidian throne of the Dark Mage, it too shattering and collapsing to the floor in an earsplitting crash.
Instantly the weapons and armament of the undead horde fell to the floor of the chamber, their half-decayed bodies becoming clouds of dust, drifting downward like puffs of heavy smoke.
Tarajel swung her blade at the dirty air before her, then stopped, her chest heaving in exhaustion.
Rozak looked up at the Storm Jewel as it hung in the charged air above him. It pulsed brightly for a second then fell. The room exploded in a blast of freezing white light.
"Rozak, look," said Tarajel, pointing to a powder covered hillside. Dozens of warriors, clad in the ancient armor of the ancient Southern Kingdoms stood there. Higher up the hill the figure of a woman clad in gray furs, her beauty shining, even at a distance. She was caught in the embrace of a white robed man, his frame and face not unlike that of the awe-struck Northman. As the warriors raised their weapons in salute a gust of wind blew a curtain of snow across them. When it had passed, all were gone.
Rozak recognized their location. It was the edge of the clearing where they had fallen into the earth below. Heaps of stone, dirt and timber filled the gap now, as if some great giant had shoveled the forest into it.
"It would take years and hundreds of men digging night and day to reach it, Rozak," Tarajel counseled. "And you couldn't be certain it was still there."
"I know, woman," he answered solemnly.
As he stood, he noticed a shifting heaviness in his boots. He almost fell over as he tugged one off. A handful of gold and silver coins fell into the snow. Tarajel found the same.
Rozak smiled and flicked a goldpiece at his newfound friend. At least he believed she was his friend.
"Make you a deal, Northman," Tarajel said. "Get us out of these woods and back to the Inn of a Thousand Charms, and I'll buy you a mug of ale. After that, we head south to check on those rains. What say you to that, Rozak, Bringer of Storms?"
Click for the Part One
Table of Contents
The Storm in the Jewel is copyright Martin E. Stephenson. 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