Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vlad and the Portal Under the Stars

For years, people had been asked why old Matopher wasn’t dead yet. His diet consisted mainly of hard cider. He’d lost most of his teeth and his body had been wasting away. One night when it looked like his time had finally come, he gathered his brood and told them a story about the standing stones on the plain south of the trading post.

No, this had nothing to do with the White Queen. This was before he found out anything about the White Queen. This was about the night a doorway appeared beneath the central standing stone. He stared at the door for hours and then opened it into what appeared to be a treasure vault. In the dim light of his torch, everything sparkled and shone—including the spears that were hurled at him from out of the darkness. He’d often wondered, what if he had been braver, what if he had been stronger, what if he had been better armed. . .

Most of his children shook their heads and told grandpa to calm down. But Vlad and Mihir listened, especially when Matopher told them he’d been watching the stars, and they were edging closer to the same configuration that night in the spring of his youth . . .

Vlad and Mihir listened to their dying grandfather’s story and decided to seek out the adventure he described. They camped out by the standing stones for a couple nights, waiting impatiently for the proper alignment of the stars. When the portal appeared, they entered what seemed to be a tomb, rife with magical traps to ward off grave-robbers. After taking a few knocks and jabs, the cousins stopped to collect a suit of the fine, black-lacquered scale mail that Matopher had spoken of. Vlad judged it to be functionally inferior to his own plate mail, but he assisted Mihir in putting it on. Passing from chamber to another, they encountered a giant, horned snake, which first spoke to them before attacking. They fought back, but were confounded by the serpent’s tough scales, barely wounding the monsters while they were jabbed again and again by quick jabs of its long fangs. Mihir battered it with the magic staff he’d taken from Lareth. The staff shattered with an explosion, throwing the snake against the opposite wall. Though battered and stunned, when it coiled up to resume its attack, the two cousins fled for their lives. They led the snake in a chase through the tomb, and into a two-story hall dominated by a fire-shooting statue. Dollops of flaming oil slipped off Mihir’s new armor and onto the stone floor, arresting the snake. A second burst of oil hit the snake and it was consumed by the fire. After a rest, Vlad and Mihir decided that they would continue to explore the tomb.

In another, dimly glowing chamber, they encountered a half-dozen living statue, fashioned of transparent crystal. They gathered around Mihir, seemingly fascinated by the torch he was carrying. Holding the torch out from his body, Mihir led the crystal people out of the chamber, with Vlad following behind. They descended into the lower level of the tomb, and here discovered a much larger group of living statues, these made of clay, and much more martial in temperament. Their leader stood up from his throne and seemed to order an attack—the statues raised their spears and marched toward the intruders. Mihir tossed his torch toward the clay soldiers. The crystal people, chasing the light, met the brunt of the clay soldiers attack. Vlad raised his crossbow and shot a crossbow bolt at the clay king. His second shot misfired. Mihir recommended retreated. Although the crystal people’s powerful fists were capable of shattering a clay soldier with a single blow, they were being overwhelmed by numbers. Also, there was the issue of light . . .

Vlad and Mihir fumbled their way through the long passage to the stairs. As they climbed the stairs, they heard the clay soldiers marching behind them. At the top of the stairs, Vlad and Mihir paused in the dimly-glowing room where they’d met the crystal people and lit another torch. As the clay soldiers people reached the stop of the stairs, Vlad and Mihir once again took to flight, this time heading for exit from the tomb. They didn’t look back until they were once again outside, their lungs stinging with the chilly night air. The stars had changed and the portal was gone-- once again the standing stones framed only the Alyan night sky. They had recovered little treasure, only the strange suit of black armor that proved to their grandfather he hadn’t been dreaming when he first saw it fifty years before.

(Grandpa Matopher, by the way, was out of bed, and getting around as healthy as an old drunk could be.)

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