‘I stood at the cliff’s edge and stared into the dark abyss below, and the abyss stared back.’
Nay! That delusional, nihilistic philosophy has always seemed to me paradoxical and just plain pessimistic and silly. Besides, I knew what stared back and we made it bleed. It was time for someone to meet mother Muerath.
“Arien, come over here,” I said. “You can make things light up, right? Light this rock and toss it over the edge.”
We watched the glowing stone gradually disappear as it fell into the darkness below, hoping to get a glimpse of the retreating beast. But we saw nothing. Yet, below and to our left, we noticed something odd about the shadows along the cliff walls. Arien threw another glowing stone towards the oddity and it disappeared into darkness far earlier than it should have. After a couple more experiments, we deduced that the beast had cast a darkness spell along the cliff wall, most likely in an attempt to conceal its retreat.
Arien and I flung magical and unholy energies down into that darkness, thinking that perhaps the beast was hiding in it, hanging onto the cliff wall.
“Stop,” Varen said. “That’s a darkness spell. He doesn’t need to be in it for it to work. You’re just wasting your time.”
“So, you’re saying it’s safe down there?” Nolofinwe asked.
“Right, right,” I said. “Then down we go. Nolo, take these and let’s climb down.”
“That’s not exactly what I…” Varen tried to say, but he had already convinced us.
I tossed Nolo a couple of pitons and he quickly tied his rope to them and nailed them to the ground. I had Arien cast her light magic on my amulet and then climbed down first, followed by Arien and then Nolo. Varen stayed above to keep watch.
I submerged into the magical darkness; the only sense I could rely upon was touch and sound, and I heard only myself and my companions struggling as we climbed. I felt my way along the wall and discovered an opening. Unfortunately, as I crawled into it, the darkness spell continued into the tunnel. I had enough room to stand. Unsheathing my flail, I slowly walked forward, feeling the wall next to me as a guide and pulling the rope along in the hopes that Arien and Nolo could find the tunnel.
I stopped myself after several yards – the pungent stench of rotten flesh, dry decay, and imminent death ahead forced me to take pause. Something was off, and I was right about that. Huge pinchers snapped at me in the dark and pushed me back into the wall. I quickly summoned my spectral scythe and swung my flail, hitting nothing but air.
“Nolo!” I heard Arien say, “I think Craven’s in trouble."
Then I heard a familiar incantation and the darkness disappeared – Nolo had once again dispelled it.
It took a second for my eyes to adjust from dark to light and, with the help of my glowing amulet, I found myself standing at the opening of a chamber. At the far end was a large pile of gore with bodily limbs, bones, and gnawed up flesh. Separate from the pile was another body; a body freshly killed. But that wasn’t what I was concerned about – it was the huge beast roaring in my face which held my immediate intention.
“Varen!” Nolo shouted. “Get down here, now!”
My flail and spectral scythe slashed at the beast’s limbs and clashed and blurred against each other. I would not be able to hold the beast long by myself. I needed my companions.
Arien and Nolo had rushed to the entrance.
“Roman! No!” I heard Arien scream.
Arien’s cry distracted me and one of the beast’s arms hit me in the head. I was stunned. The beast took that opportunity to move away and hurry toward an opening to a tunnel on the other side of the chamber. It was near death and knew it. It was trying to run and live, but death had other plans.
Suddenly, I heard a limerick:
“I know a druid named Nolofinwe
Who gets his magic from the fey
He can turn into animals
Or throw fire and make his enemies flammable
All while his allies dive into the fray.”
It was Varen’s voice.
Nolofinwe, with the laughter of inspiration, released a volley of flaming bolts from his hands and struck the beast in the back, forcing it to kneel down in pain. It gave me enough time to brush off my own injury and rush forward.
I leapt up, with flail to strike down, and spoke the words of my mother: “La mort te consommé.” Thunder echoed in the chamber. The essence of death channeled through my body, onto my weapon, into the beast – for a brief moment, I felt my mother’s presence.
The beast howled in pain.
Then I heard another limerick:
“There once was a half-elf named Arien
As beautiful as the fair Maid Marian
She slings spells from her jewel
Makes her enemies drool
All to avenge her barbarian.”
“Not my Roman!” I heard Arien yell. She hurled a magical bubble of acid and struck the beast in the chest. Again, it howled, but it didn’t die.
The beast looked at me and raised an arm to strike, but slowly its arm melted off along with other limbs. Arien’s spell had done the trick and sent the beast to death’s arms.
“Excellent work!” I cheered to Arien, but my congratulation was short lived.
Arien rushed to the body that was separated from the pile and knelt. It was truly maimed and mutilated, almost beyond recognition, but Arien knew who it was. She wailed and moaned in anguish and despair; she had found her Roman.
“Oh god, not Roman,” Nolo whispered as he knelt beside Arien.
I noticed in the corner of my eye that Varen stood by the pile of decay, causally searching through the rotten flesh. I began to wonder about the relationship dynamics of these people.
I stood by Arien and Nolo and allowed them a moment of grief. I knew that if Arien was to believe me and trust in me, I had to help her find peace in her lover’s death, and perhaps a new beginning. What I had in mind was no easy task and very dangerous.
“Arien,” I said, bringing her back from her despair. “I am truly sorry for your loss. This was not how I thought it’d end. I wanted you to find your Roman, alive and well. I wanted the two of you to come with me and get out of this… But sadly… I’m sorry. You need to mourn and grieve, and that takes time. But if you trust me, just a little, allow me to help you in that grieving process. I can bring him back, if you want, but only for a moment, and the two of you can say goodbye.”
“What? You can do that?” Nolo asked.
I simply nodded.
“Bring him back,” Arien begged. “Bring back my Roman.”
“What I’ll attempt to do is a bit tricky. Normally, this incantation wouldn’t work this way. But I’m gonna alter it a bit, at the risk of myself. What I am doing is no small feat, and I’m not even sure if it will work. I can’t do it like this every time, in fact, I’ve never done it like this before. And if it does, then I shall be breaking a lot of rules. But I know Muerath will allow this, it’s important for you, Arien. Now I need the two of you to step away while I prepare.”
Arien and Nolo stepped away. I carefully used Roman’s own blood to draw a circle around his remains. With my own blood, I drew eldritch symbols and runes outside the circle. I stood before the body, bowed my head, held my amulet, and spoke the words of my mother. I drew upon a source of power most would not be able to fathom, and I pushed forward. The incantation needed more. I didn’t simply knock on Death’s door to ask questions; I broke it open and wanted a soul on the other side to step through. I knew I wasn’t truly ready for such things, but I had to risk it for Arien to trust and believe in me.
The symbols burst into purple flames and the circle of blood swirled like a tiny river. My eyes rolled behind my head. I felt my body grow rigid and stiff, and my mouth dried– it was getting more difficult to speak. Blood oozed from the pores on my forehead and out of my nose. I heard the sound of crashing waves on a sea shore and smelled blood mingled with sea water. Then a rushing wind passed through my body and soul and into Roman’s mutilated corpse.
“Roman?” I hesitantly whispered.
The lips of the corpse moved and grunted.
“Roman,” I continued. “I have summoned you back. There is someone that needed to speak with you.”
“Piss off,” Roman replied.
“Roman?” Arien said as she walked to the body, passing through the blood circle.
“Arin?” Roman replied.
“Oh Roman!” Arien knelt down, sobbing and caressing the bloody head. “Oh Roman! My Roman.”
“Arin, you’re alive.”
“Then the others got away too?”
“Yes. Everyone is safe.”
“Roman, I’m so frightened,” Arien cried.
“Do not fear for me, Arin. I sail with my mother on the seas of blood and it is good. The winds are strong and I am at peace.”
“I don’t think I can go on without you.”
“Oh Roman, please don’t leave me. I don’t know what to do.”
“Arin, you are strong. I have seen the horizon and you must live. You must leave Xymor.”
“Oh Roman, I love you.”
“I love you and always will. I will be watching and waiting; and one day, we will sail together. Goodbye, Arin.”