Gateway To The Spider

Arthus and Velenia had been back in Cheydinhal for only a few days when it was time for them to depart. This time, however, both he and Velenia were called to meet with Galen. Arthus could not help but feel as though he was finally fully accepted as a Seeker rather than just an apprentice.

“Welcome! Welcome! It’s wonderful to see you both again!” Galen greeted them with his usual enthusiasm. He motioned for them to sit down at the table where wine was already poured.

“Well, ordinarily I would like to enjoy a good meal and some first hand accounts of your marvelous exploits, but I’m afraid we have to get right to business.”

Arthus and Velenia looked at each other and then back to Galen. “You almost sound serious! Should we be afraid?” Arthus asked with a smile.

“No, no, no… well, yes… definitely.” Said Galen.

Again the two Seekers looked at each other.

Galen stood up and opened a small box that was in the center of the table. He removed a small round stone and placed it on the table where it pulsed with a dull purple light.

“There, no one will be able to overhear our conversation now.”

“What’s going on?” Asked Velenia with a more serious tone in her voice.

“This comes straight from David. He wanted you two specifically for this, and he doesn’t want it discussed with anyone, not even the other Seekers, understood?”

Arthus and Velenia looked at him in disbelief, but each agreed that they would not discuss this with anyone else.

“David has picked up on a strange energy in the weave, even he hasn’t been able to identify it, but it has him concerned. As usual you’ll have to do some hunting for whatever it is, but he was able to glean that it is here in Cyrodil.”

“Does he know where? Tomb, vault, ruins, under the King’s pillow, what?” Arthus’ curiosity was already peaked. Anything that got David worked up had to be worth a little trouble.

“Not exactly, but he drew me a crude map. After you get to your destination you are to destroy this, clear?” Answered Galen waving a small scroll.

“Clear.” They answered in unison.

Galen handed the scroll to Velenia and she looked at Arthus as she opened it. The looked at the small map that indicated Cheydinhal, the Wall, and an “X.” At the bottom were the only words on the paper “Gateway” and “Underdark.”

“Are you kidding?” Said a somewhat shocked Velenia.

Galen shook his head grimly.

Velenia lobbied Galen to let them bring in some “outside help” a few hired swords to deal with whatever they might run into.

Galen looked sympathetic but replied that he had made the same plea on their behalf to David and was told in no uncertain terms that She and Arthus were the only ones to be involved in this, period.

“Well, that settles that.” Said Arthus trying to lighten the mood. “Seriously, is it really the Underdark?” Arthus asked not wanting to seem totally ignorant of something that was obviously important.

Galen shrugged. “Could be, it’s damn near impossible to tell until you get there! Could just be some ruins buried by time, could be… well you know.”

“Not to be abrupt, but time is of the essence here.” Galen continued. “David doesn’t want to risk the Council finding out about this.”

Arthus and Velenia looked at each other again.

“No, no, no… I mean anyone else.” Galen quickly recanted. “He doesn’t want to take the chance that it could fall into outside hands, that’s all.”

As they left Galen’s manor Arthus looked at Velenia and quipped “So why do we do this again?”

“I have no idea.”

They spent several days traveling on foot and keeping to the wilderness until they were where the map approximated their destination. It took some searching, but eventually the found a small tunnel inside a cave. I didn’t look like anything, but there was no mistaking the sense that there was something down below.

Velenia withdrew for a few moments, concentrated, and whispered a few words. As she did they each felt the kiss of mystic energy and they were ready to make their descent.

Squeezing through the tunnel much of the way, Arthus led them down until he spotted a small landing beneath them. He got to the opening of the tunnel and set himself for the short drop. He took a deep breath and pushed himself out. Rolling as he hit the ground, Arthus sprung up and had his blade ready by the time he was on his feet.

Velenia floated down just behind him and landed with her usual grace.

“Show off.” He said over his shoulder.

The landing was only about ten feet by ten feet, but it led out to another tunnel. They continued following their only route heading further in and down until finally they decided to take a rest. It had been at least a few hours of climbing and clumsy spelunking their way onward and both of them needed a break and some food. If either one had been a tracker they would have noticed that the path they were on was traveled occasionally by whatever waited beyond, but they went on unaware.

“So what do you know about the Underdark?” Asked Velenia as she set out some Elven waybread.

“Nothing really.” Replied Arthus. “I was hoping you would fill me in as we go.”

“Well, to be honest, I only know the rumors myself. I’ve never been into the place.” Confessed Velenia.

“So start with the rumors!” Arthus replied.

“Well, it starts like lots of others. Does the Underdark even exist?” Velenia looked at Arthus who was already captivated by the story. “I for one believe that it does. I’ve heard too many accounts to think that it is just a ghost story.”

Arthus handed her the waterskin and Velenia continued.

“My master in the Order would tell me of the Drow, our twisted cousins who sold their souls en masse for the promise of great power. The stories of how they turned their backs on our ways and descended to the Underdark to claim dominion there are warnings to us all.”

“Sold their souls… to who?” Arthus had to know.

“The Demon Queen of Spiders… I will not speak her name.” Velenia answered with a note of finality in her voice.

Arthus nodded contritely.

“So what should we expect down here?” He asked hoping to continue the story by nudging it back toward business.

“Who can say? If this actually is an entrance to the Underdark then all bets are off. Supposedly, as we get deeper in it becomes worse. The Upper Dark, as it’s called, is mostly unintelligent predators and vermin. Maybe a random patrol from below, but not much to worry about.”

Arthus nodded. “What if this, whatever it is, takes us further down?”

“That’s where we could be in trouble. The deeper we go, the further we get into Drow territory, not to mention the Illithids, minor demons, and undead.”

Arthus smiled broadly and said “And you wanted to bring help… coward!”

Velenia punched him and they both had a good laugh.

“Worse than that, there are no known maps of any reliability, so we’ll be completely on our own.” She continued.

“Luckily we have a few tricks up our sleeves!” Arthus responded fixing his bracers.

Velenia raised an eyebrow and flashed a mischievous smile.

They finished their meal and packed up their gear, being careful not to leave any trace of their passing.

As they moved through the winding tunnels, Arthus took the lead given his knack to avoid danger at the last moment. Sure enough, there were several well concealed traps set throughout the maze of passages. Arthus wondered to himself if they were set to catch some of the exotic wildlife down here or if they were set as mantraps.

Either way his diligence allowed Velenia to concentrate on whatever arcane energies she could pick up on. Unfortunately, they had no idea what they were looking for, not even an idea of what type of item or items it might be. This meant the search could take a great deal of time, but hopefully Velenia could at least pick up on some strong magical vibrations to guide them in the right direction. Otherwise they could wander these tunnels forever without success.

The tunnels seemed to stretch out and wind around without end. Hours passed, they stopped to eat again, and more hours came and went, when suddenly they both said “Over there!”

Arthus had spotted some changes in the stone and dirt, and Velenia had picked up on “something” in the weave. They made their way into a small dead end and Arthus began feeling around the wall of the tunnel.

Velenia spoke a few words and some glyphs began to glow softly. Arthus studied them recalling some of his lessons with Velenia, and looked back over his shoulder at her. “Someone doesn’t want us in here!” He said with a smile.

“Want some help with that?” Velenia asked pointing toward a complicated rune.

“Shut up.” Arthus studied the runes for a minute and began speaking a few slow words.

Moments later the glow faded from each of the glyphs and the wall began to slide.

“Not bad, not bad.” Said Velenia with a smile as Arthus stood in the new opening with his arms folded.

It was still pitch black, and there was no glow from the phosphorescent fungus that they had been seeing in the tunnels so far. Velenia waved her hand again making sure that her darkvision spell would continue.

To their surprise, beyond the concealed door was a stairway leading down. On either side of the stairs was a statue of an odd looking Elf holding a bow. Arthus held his hand out to warn Velenia back. He approached one of the statues cautiously. Arthus picked up a stone and tossed it between the two figures and junped back a step as dark purple and black energy arced back and forth wildly between the two statues.

He turned to Velenia and flared his eyes. She looked shocked yet impressed.

Arthus studied the base of the statue and found a way to disable the magic temporarily. He did so and the proceeded down.

“I guess there was something to the old ghost stories after all.” He said creeping down the long staircase.

Velenia patted him on the shoulder.

They continued down the stairs for almost a half hour. They finally ended at a natural cavern opening.

There was no question about it now, once they stepped through the opening they were in Drow territory, they were in the Underdark.

Their attitude’s both immediately changed. Arthus fixed his hair back under his bandana and Velenia drew her swords. It was time to get down to business.

They crept through stone passageways carved from dark gray stone. There were no fixtures, no torch brackets, sconces, nothing. If not for Velenia’s magic Arthus would be completely blind.

They passed through small rooms carved into the rock-face on occasion, but had yet to find any signs of life inhabiting this place. After about a half hour they each caught faint sounds coming from a corridor on their right. Arthus crept low down the hall that ended abruptly at a steep staircase.

Velenia caught up with him as he studied the vast underground landscape stretching out in front of them. It was like looking at a whole world beneath the world they knew. Even Velenia who was considerably more traveled having seen much of the main continent, as well as a great deal of what was buried beneath, was amazed.

Arthus pointed out to what looked like a forest of huge stalagmites and stalactites. They could make out the tops of what looked like manmade towers and spires peeking through.

“What do you think?” He asked.

Velenia concentrated again and after several minutes replied “There is a lot of magic there, most of it dark. There is something else though. Something I can’t get a fix on…”

Her voice trailed off as she opened her almond shaped eyes.

“Is that a lead or a guess?” Asked Arthus already stating down the stairs. “Both.” She replied as she joined him.

As they reached the bottom of the huge cavern they realized that it would take some time for them to reach the city in the distance. The chances of being spotted by a patrol, assuming they hadn’t been already, were very good. Velenia waved her hand and they both vanished from sight.

“This will keep them from spotting us… as long as they don’t get too close.” She said.

Arthus replied “I think I like this!”

They picked up the pace and made their way around the cavern perimeter. They figured it would take them a few hours to cover the distance, a small price to pay to avoid any Drow archers.

About two hours in, the stalagmites were coming into sharp focus and their size was truly awesome. Many stretched fifty or sixty feet up into the air. Arthus stopped for a moment to admire them and could hear Velenia stop beside him. It was still odd to be looking where she was standing and seeing only the landscape. He found that his mind’s eye would play tricks on him superimposing his memory of her where she should be.

All it took was that momentary lapse in concentration for Arthus to find himself knocked to the ground as an enormous spider had descended from the cavern roof and nearly crushed him when it landed.

He rolled out from underneath before the poisonous stinger could sting him and kipped up to his feet. He saw Velenia lunge low slicing outward with both blades and taking he two front legs off of a second giant spider. Unfortunately they were both quite visible now, and if any patrols were nearby they would be in for a rough time.

Arthus dove forward as the spider turned its massive body to face him. He rolled under and came out on the other side of the creature. He slashed up with his new saber and opened a long gash in the side of the spider. The thing broke into spasms as it tried to move but Arthus pressed the attack. Keeping the creature flanked Arthus avoided any more mortal danger and sliced the spider numerous times until it collapsed on the cavern floor.

Arthus spun quickly to see Velenia fending off yet a third spider that had her backing up. He quickly drew three slender throwing knives and sent them sailing towards the side of the creature. All three plunged deep into the thin chitinous body causing the spider to rear up giving Velenia the advantage. She finished off the last of them and they quickly withdrew to the shadow of the cavern wall.

“What took you so long?” She asked with a thin smile.

“That wasn’t easy, lady!” He answered holding up a knife dripping with green ichor.

They regrouped and prepared to continue on. Velenia once again spoke the language of the arcane and they each vanished.

It didn’t take long for the tedium of their approach to weigh on them both, but as they came upon the huge stalagmites they were each thankful that their brief skirmish hadn’t given them away.

Of course their relatively easy advance still didn’t have them inside the city. Arthus scouted through the bizarre underground forest and studied the wall of the city. The city itself seemed to be washed in shadow and Arthus felt a chill in his spine. He could tell the whole place reeked of magic, dark magic.

Arthus could make out the guards patrolling the parapets at different levels of the city. The portcullis to the main entrance was raised, but the city was anything but welcoming. Arthus figured their best bet would be to find another way inside the walls, but none were evident at this distance.

Arthus turned to go back for Velenia when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. The keystones of the main archway were carved with something. He knew he couldn’t make it out this far away, but squinted and focused his eyes on one of them. He stumbled back a step and shook his head as his back hit a stalagmite. Whatever the carving was it was bad news for them. Arthus was sure that those wouldn’t be the only wards on the exterior walls, but certainly there was a way to defeat them. The words
Videnn ulu l' Valsharess echoed in the back of him mind.

Suddenly, Arthus had a brief moment of confusion and instinctively positioned himself in the shadows of the rock formations. He wasn’t sure if he heard something, or smelled something, or what, but he knew he wasn’t alone. Peeking around the edge of the stalagmite he caught the trail of a cloak moving away from him.

Somehow he wasn’t spotted, but he couldn’t risk letting whoever this was get the drop on Velenia. Arthus slinked after the figure as it moved silently through the rough terrain. His first instinct was to run him through the back quickly, but as he committed to his approach he suddenly changed his mind, drew his sword up high, and leapt up. He caught the man perfectly on his way down, driving the pommel of his sword into the base of his skull.

He dropped awkwardly with a gurgling cough, and all was silent. Arthus whirled around to see who else was there, but he was alone. He was sure this was a mistake since a one-man patrol made little sense, but here he was.

Arthus turned him over and studied the face of the first Drow Elf he had ever seen. First impressions aside, Arthus knew he could not delay. He noticed the brooch on his deep gray cloak, it was a fine silver spider web with a crest in the center. He knew nothing of Drow heraldry, but he was certain that he didn’t just waylay a peasant.

“This can’t be good.” He muttered to himself.

He snatched up the cloak and clasped it around his neck. He disarmed the Drow, dragged his body to a particularly dark recess in the stone, and hogtied, blindfolded, and gagged him. He then took the confiscated weapons and buried them behind a random stalagmite. Arthus knew that they would be long gone before the Drow was able to free himself, so the extra effort was certainly worth it.

He looked toward the city gates, and then back where Velenia was waiting for him. Finally as he began walking toward the city he realized that wherever this Drow came from, it wasn’t the main gate. This was encouraging, but he still had to find the entrance his victim did use, and the idea of scrutinizing every inch of the city walls was not appealing.

Arthus’ eyes drifted up to a bowman some twenty feet above the ground. He would be lucky to survive long enough to get to the wall, let alone search it. He pulled the hood of the cloak over his head and set off for who knows what sort of trouble.

Arthus kept to the shadows and made his way around to the east wall of the city. From his observation of the guards this seemed to be the safest way to close in on the wall, and it seemed to pay off. Working his way along the smooth gray stone he hoped that the entrance wasn’t too far off as the walls extended for what looked like at least a mile.

After about ten minutes of creeping along the wall he felt a curious sensation. After trying to figure it out for a moment he realized that the Drow brooch was vibrating ever so softly.

Arthus ran his hands up and down the wall and his fingers barely discovered a seam in the mortar. He stood upright, drew a knife in his strong hand, and pushed with the other.

He was looking at a corridor of the same gray stone with several pale green globes sitting on brackets on the walls. He could see an archway at the end of the corridor, but could make out little else. His gut told him that this was the place they were looking for. He decided that this would be a good time to fetch Velenia. Though the allure of the unknown ahead was pulling at him he couldn’t deny her the excitement either. Of course, she would kill him if he did anyway so the decision was easy.

Arthus returned to where Velenia was hiding and slid out from behind a stalagmite with hardly a sound. Velenia jumped up and went for her blades. Arthus flourished his new cloak and smiled.

“You’re an ass.” She said flatly sheathing her swords with unusual force.

Arthus shrugged and explained the attire as well as his discovery of a hidden entryway into the city. Velenia’s face visibly changed at the mention of the Drow, and seemed happy that Arthus was able to ambush one so easily.

Velenia studied the Drow’s brooch and concluded that it was a symbol of office, but its more interesting properties allowed the wearer to detect and bypass very specific magical barriers. It would likely be very useful to them inside the Drow city.

Arthus unpinned the brooch and tossed the cloak in a deep puddle of water nearby. He would need the brooch, but wearing the cloak sent shivers up his spine. With Velenia the cloak was no longer necessary, and with that she once again ensorcelled them both and they were on their way.

Once again they continued cautiously despite their concealment. They closed on the city walls and headed toward the secret entrance Arthus had discovered. Once inside Velenia confirmed that they were definitely on to something. Now they just had to figure out what.

The glowing orbs cast the tall thin hallway in a pale green light that was as eerie as it was unpleasant. They crept slowly with Arthus out in front by a few steps to spot any traps the Drow might have waiting for intruders.

They turned the corner at the far end and could hear the muffled sounds of city life on the other side of the wall. Ahead was an archway with stairs leading up and down. As Arthus approached, the stolen brooch once again hummed softly and allowed them to pass into the stairway.

Shockingly, once they passed through the archway, they could hear voices above and below and footsteps descending the stairs. They quickened their pace down the stairs and moved to the side of the next landing.

Three figures passed speaking in a language Arthus could not understand. It had some similarities to the Elven tongue, but it was rougher and uglier. It made Arthus think of rotten fruit.

The men passed and continued further down where they joined a conversation below. The two groups seemed to be in disagreement about something, and the argument went on for several minutes before steel was drawn. The others must have conceded the point to whomever pulled the weapon, as all was quiet afterward. They waited quietly as they heard the men moving away.

When they could no longer hear anyone below, Arthus broke the silence. “What do you suppose that was all about?” He whispered.

“Petty squabbling.” Velenia answered with a note of disgust in her voice. “I think we should follow them down though.”

Arthus moved past her back into the stairway and lightly stepped down the stairs. They didn’t come to another landing for some time, and when they did it led to a long hallway with an iron door at the far end.

Arthus moved close enough to see the runes marked on the door. He got a bit of the same feeling that he experienced so long ago in the cult lair under the D’Argo tomb. He knew instinctively that whatever they were looking for was beyond that door. Velenia confirmed his suspicions whispering “I can sense something… it’s down below us, I know it. I don’t understand all of the interference in the weave…”

Arthus leaned forward and felt the Drow brooch humming in his hand. He quietly moved up on the door and listened for anything behind it. Convinced it was safe, Arthus pulled out his lock picks and began working on the lock. He quickly realized there was something besides a few tumblers barring his passage. He replaced the lock picks and concentrated on the words he had heard Velenia use to disarm magical barriers. A moment later he felt a small rush of air in front of him, and he opened the door.

Arthus could feel Velenia’s breath on his neck as she moved close to whisper “How did you…?”

“I learned from the best!” He responded with an unseen smile. He reached back and felt for Velenia’s arm and walked her through the door. Arthus carefully reset the lock as he closed the door behind them.

They stood at the edge of a round room set with a dozen plush velvet chairs in a circle around an onyx spider set in the floor. The spider was roughly ten feet by ten feet and had eight smooth blood red stones set for eyes. Around the walls hung numerous portraits of Drow “heroes” in various ostentatious poses. Arthus felt like they could see him standing there and wanted nothing more than to leave the chamber.

The only problem was that there were no apparent exits.

Arthus circled the room searching for any hidden passageways, but could find nothing. Standing across the room from Velenia he put his hands on his hips and grumbled “Shit.”

“What?” Velenia asked inquiring about the thought behind the curse.

“The damn spider…” He answered looking down at the elaborate stonework in the center of the room.

“Shit.” She responded flatly.

Arthus snorted with laughter the way he always did when Velenia uttered such a word. For some reason it was always absurdly adorable coming from her lips, even in a place like this.

“Come on, and watch your language!” He scolded, waving her on to the center of the room.

The walked to the middle of the spider’s body, and Arthus clasped the Drow brooch in his hand. The eyes of the giant spider glowed a fierce red, and Arthus felt uneasy. The room faded and was soon gone.

Arthus’ sight faded back in slowly to the sound of shocked voices and he realized that Velenia’s enchantments had been cast off.

Arthus threw Velenia aside as a cloaked Drow uttered a foul curse that sent a sickly green bolt of energy straight into Atrthus’ chest. He doubled over in pain and was writhing on the floor as three other Drow charged them.

Velenia let out a vicious yell as she drew her blades. Spinning to face the charging Drow as each blade quivered with arcane energy. Bluish-white energy erupted forth crashing into the chest of two Drow knocking them off their feet and leaving them twitching on the floor.

Arthus tripped the third charging Drow as it pulled a kris shortsword from underneath his cloak. The stumble gave Arthus the chance to recover and get to his feet, shaky as he was.

Arhus squared to face the sword wielding guard when Velenia shouted “Duck!” He instinctively dropped into a split bringing up his saber to block the incoming blade of the Drow. A bolt of energy sailed over his head toward Velenia, and she spun with a flourish, deflecting the spell with her shortsword.

Arthus sprung up kicking the Drow under his chin as he did a back flip over the ray of Velenia’s counterspell. Arthus rushed the stunned Drow and slipped low and sliced open his hamstring. The Drow dropped to one knee and Arthus finished him off. Turning to face the Drow wizard, he saw Velenia’s eyes flare as she summoned another bolt of eldritch energy. This one hit the enemy caster squarely and sent him reeling backwards. He crashed to the ground and Arthus was on him before he could right himself.

Velenia spoke with a touch of disgust in her voice as she interrogated the Drow mage. All he said was “If we cannot have the secret, no one can…”

He expired moments later despite Velenia’s demand for an explanation.

Arthus took his foot off of the deceased Drow’s chest and looked at Velenia. She slapped him and yelled “Just what do you think you were doing?!? You could have been killed!”

“Wha- I’m fine… and you’re welcome!” Arthus shot back.

Velenia examined the scorch marks on Arthus’ chest and neck. “This could have been a lot worse! He was no amateur.”

“You had him measured pretty well though.” Arthus said smiling. Velenia simply raised an eyebrow as if to say “And don’t you forget it.”

Arthus scanned the room they were in, and got a peculiar feeling. “This way.” He said with a certainty that he couldn’t really explain.

Velenia followed without question, and they slowly proceeded down a sloping natural tunnel. There was more pale green light at the bottom, but they didn’t hear anything so they continued on.

The entrance to the room was rough-cut from the earth, and the stonework beyond was peculiar to say the least. The bricks and mortar were a deep charcoal color with sparkling flecks, and each had a faint aura of magic about it according to Velenia. The curious thing was that it wasn’t Drow magic, and more than that Velenia could not truly identify the weave at all.

Arthus looked over his shoulder at Velenia while she studied the stonework. He was immediately drawn to a glistening pool at the far end. It was only about a foot deep, but the black liquid inside made it impossible to see the bottom.

“Look at this.” He called to Velenia.

She looked quizzically at him and said “I get the same sense I got from the stones, but I can’t say what it is.”

Arthus passed his hand over the opaque black liquid and closed his eyes as he tried to convince himself it was going to be all right. They couldn’t detect anything inside the pool, and both he and Velenia knew that there was any number of horrible things that could happen, but Arthus was certain there was something in the pool, even if there was no way to perceive it.

He looked over his shoulder at Velenia who stood vigilantly watching to make sure there were no surprises, and Arthus rolled up his sleeve and plunged his hand in. There was an odd stinging sensation all over his hand and arm, it wasn’t exactly painful, but it was scary to say the least. Moving his hand around he was sure he was past the bottom of the pool but he still couldn’t feel anything. Velenia’s mouth dropped open for a second in fear but she composed herself quickly.

After several minutes of fishing around in the strange liquid, Velenia cleared her throat and whispered: “I don’t mean to rush you, but I think we’re about to get some company.”

Shit.

For a moment Arthus moved his arm around wildly hoping to stumble on to something, but he quickly realized he was getting nowhere and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the nothingness of the pool. Soon his head was completely submerged and the outside world was gone.

The sting of the liquid began to overwhelm him, and he wasn’t sure he could continue the search. Then he heard a strange sound. His mind burned with an alien voice that was like nothing he had ever heard before. He couldn’t understand any of it, and even worse he couldn’t figure out whether it was pleased or angered at him. Arthus simply thought to himself “I want to know.” Without warning his hand brushed against something. Arthus grabbed it and pulled himself out of the pool.

He was holding what looked like a polished stone tablet about the size of a large book. He turned and shouted “Got it!”

Velenia grabbed him by the waist just as several figures ran into the room. The pair smiled, Velenia whispered a quick word and they were gone with only the fading curses of their assailant’s to bid them farewell.

They reappeared about a half mile outside of Cheydinhal and picked a spot under a tree to examine the item before turning it over to Galen. What Arthus thought was one tablet were actually several thin tablets that seemed to fit together in a perfect stack. It wasn’t until now that Arthus realized he wasn’t the slightest bit wet. That fact sent a cold chill up his spine. He shook it off for the time and continued with the tablets.

The face of each was blank as he separated them so he concentrated on the top most piece, taking care to keep them in order. Velenia tried a few incantations to coax out the properties of their bounty, but despite her considerable knowledge nothing was revealed.

Arthus studied the face of the tablet trying to remember the odd presence he felt in the “void” of the strange pool. He replayed those moments over and over in his mind when a sudden flash on the tablet took him by surprise.

The flash was only a fraction of a second, and if he hadn’t been intensely studying the object Arthus would have dismissed it as the sunlight playing on the polished surface. However, as soon as it passed Arthus found himself slumping backwards as his eyes rolled back.

He was caught somewhere between unconsciousness and a waking dream. He was recalling odd fragments of information but didn’t know how he was doing it. Names that he did not know, places that he had never heard of, images of horrifying creatures, and explanations of things he would never have thought to inquire about.

Arthus’ eyes cracked open as Velenia knelt over him gently slapping his face.

“Arthus! What happened?” She exclaimed.

“I… I don’t know… ungh…”

Arthus sat up and gathered himself.

“When I was searching the pool I heard a voice…” Arthus hesitated to continue but he knew if he could tell anyone it would be Velenia. “A voice in my head.”

Velenia looked intrigued which was a bit surprising as Arthus was sure that hearing voices wouldn’t go over well with anyone.

Encouraged by Velenia’s understanding he continued. “I have no idea what it was trying to say, but it seemed to give me the tablets after I assured it I wasn’t planning anything sinister.” He smiled at Velenia and went on. “Just now I saw the tablet flash and it seemed to give me knowledge of some things I didn’t know at all before.”

Arthus ran his hand along the tablet and stowed it in his pack.

“I’m not sure, but I think some of the things it showed my are from other places. Places I’ve never even heard of.”

Velenia wondered aloud if that was just the tip of the iceberg and Arthus responded with a look that said he was certain of it.

“We should get this to Galen.” Velenia fixed Arthus with a concerned look as he nodded looking a bit disoriented.

As they crossed the gates into Cheydinhal they each nodded at guards who eyed them up and down. Arthus couldn’t help but lament the fact that he wouldn’t be able to stay much longer as he would need to be getting back to Whitehaven.

They took the back alleys back to Galen’s manor and entered through the back kitchen. The pair moved quickly through the main floor of the house and up the center staircase.
The door at the far end opened as they approached and closed swiftly behind them.

The room was bathed in the familiar soft purple glow that they had seen the last time they were in Galen’s study. Also on the table were a small wooden basin filled with water and three crystal wine goblets.

Galen hopped up from his chair with his arms stretched wide. “You made it! Ha, ha, ha! I knew you wouldn’t die down there!”

Arhus and Velenia traded glares.

“You have it then?” Galen asked beside himself with excitement.

“Arthus placed the tablets on the table and picked up two wine glasses, handing one to Velenia. Galen quickly reached for his as Arthus and Velenia clinked the glasses together and drank a toast to themselves.

“Well deserved! You can’t imagine how proud I am! I told David you were the ones for this job… and, of course, he was sure of it!”

Galen gushed for some time as Arthus amused Velenia by over dramatizing his responses. As the joke was starting to run stale, a slight ripple in the water basin caught Velenia’s attention. She nudged Arthus who peered in unabashed.

“Are we ready, Galen?” A voice issued forth from the water and moments later David Talbot could be seen looking up at them.

“Yes, yes, quite ready David! Did I tell you these two were one of a kind?”

The pair looked quizzically at each other.

“Yes, you were right Galen. You two did an excellent job.” Replied David.

“Now, unfortunately, I must cut this conversation short. You all must understand that this entire expedition must stay between the four of us. When I learn more I will be in contact.”

With that David’s image disappeared. The three looked at each other and Arthus spoke up. “Well, that was cryptic.”

Velenia snorted just the slightest bit and Arthus felt his heart burning in his chest. The three laughed and enjoyed several bottles of wine before it was time for the pair to depart.”

Galen implored them to stay, but they both wanted to take advantage of the next few weeks before they had to go their separate ways. Galen pouted a bit but raised his glass to them as they stood up from the table.

Arthus nodded and looked to Velenia. Again she took his waist and uttered a few arcane phrases and they were gone.

This time they popped back into reality in the rose garden behind her family’s manor house. The sound of birds and the fragrant smell of the flowers was a wonderful welcome. They walked around the gardens for a while and sat on a small wooden bench under an oak tree.

Over the next few weeks they spent many days and nights on the same bench talking, reminiscing, and joking. It was astounding to Arthus how easy it was to wile away the hours with Velenia considering all the differences between them. In the end they were kindred spirits and he couldn’t imagine a better fate for himself.

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