Chapter 6 - Gee, That Giant Centipede Hanging On The Wall Above Our Heads Looks Heavy…

The party searched for the cave opening that Lithira had described. As they did, Urol explained the history, “During the Olman rule of this island, the city of Thanaclan was merely the largest of many architectural achievements. The Olmans built countless other structures – temples, fortresses, statues and even several smaller towns. Apparently, one of these structures that has survived to this day is this tunnel that runs through the roots of these mountains.”

Saris actually seemed interested, “Aren’t these Olmans also the people who built that lost city we scoped out back on the main land? Tomo-wack-a-mole or something?”

“Tomoachan,” Urol corrected with an accent on the last syllable that sounded like he was trying to hock up a loogie, “Yes, you are quite correct. The Olman culture spread well into the mainland jungle. They had some ship-building skill – probably longboats. Anyway, I would expect we will see many ruins like Tomoachan, the encampment we just left where Lithira’s people live, and this tunnel we are seeking.”

The battle with the velociraptors had taken up the early hours of the morning, and it was about midday of their third day on the island when the cave was finally discovered.

“I was thinking that maybe we should wait before we go in,” Ornrik suggested. “I’m almost completely out of spells …”

Urol interrupted by way of adding, “…and I’ve gone through my most powerful spells. No more lightning from me today.”

“Maybe we should wait until morning before we set off into the cavern?” Ornrik speculated.

“No,” Viselys was vehement, “Lavinia already has nearly a week’s head start on us. We can’t wait. We’ll be okay. We’ll make do.”

They determined their marching order. Saris drew his sword glowing with a magical flame. Viselys did likewise, “I guess I might as well make use of this before I have it repaired. I still wish I knew how this happened.” With their lighting sources ready, they entered.

The tunnel was evidently worked up to about the hundred-meter mark and then became rough-hewn; clearly natural.

Skald slowed slightly in his walk, falling a bit behind. He looked back, and around, as if searching or listening for something. Ornrik noticed and slowed up, too. “What is it lad?”

“I’m not sure,” Skald replied tentatively, “Maybe nothing. I’ve just got … a bad feeling. Maybe it’s just my typical optimism. It’s probably nothing.” But Ornrik wasn’t so sure.

Urol was the slowest member of the party, owing entirely to his diminutive stature, but the walk was much easier than the heavy jungle had been. They covered about three miles in about an hour and a half. It was at about this time that many of them heard the low rumble of tumbling rocks behind them, but there was no immediate source of the noise.

“Did you hear that?” Urol said, a bit louder than a whisper.

“I did,” Avner said with a slight nervous edge.

“What?” Viselys asked, not hearing anything.

“It sounded like falling rocks,” Saris shared, “Sort of a low rumble.”

“If this cavern is unstable, we better hustle,” Viselys stated. “Move out. Quick time.”

“Wait, I’m not sure that’s the best course of action,” Ornrik stated, “First, I can tell you with certainty that this cavern is not unstable. There may have been a rock slide on the outside of the mountain, possibly at the entrance, but these walls and ceiling are sound. Also, I had a dream last night. It may be connected to the one Skald had, and I don’t know for certain if either of them are truly prophetic, but if either or both of them were, then being rash isn’t the best course of action. I think we should…”

“We can discuss this after we’re out of the caverns,” Viselys stated. With that, he increased his pace. Everyone else kept up easily, and Urol almost had to run.

Ornrik came to a dead stop, and he grabbed Skald by the elbow and motioned him to the cavern wall, “You thought you heard – or saw, or “felt” – something back there, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, and after the sound of falling rocks, I think we’re being watched or followed.” Skald's face looked grim.

“My thoughts exactly,” Ornrik frowned. “Let’s hold here for a little while. Stay close to the wall and try not to be seen. If anything comes this way, we’ll see it first.” He made the “shh” sign, with one finger over his lips. Then he cast a summoning spell. An owl appeared and somehow Ornrik communicated for the owl to scout back into the tunnel and report back if it found anything. By the time the spell’s duration had expired, the owl had not returned. This told Ornrik that either the owl hadn’t found anything, or that something had found it.

Meanwhile, Viselys noticed that Skald and Ornrik were missing, “What happened to Skald and Ornrik?” he asked the group. Everyone looked around dumbly, not having noticed them gone until now. “Blast it! Saris, you and Diamondback take the others on ahead. I’m going back to look for them and we’ll catch up.”

Viselys crept back for about five minutes until he was sure he had passed the point where he had last remembered seeing Skald and Ornrik. As he walked, he searched the floor for fissures or some other obstacle that might have swallowed up his companions. Eventually, however, he knew that he had to turn back, though he continued to search in case he had missed something. This time he caught sight of Skald near the wall. Then he saw Ornrik next to him. “What are you two doing?” he hissed angrily.

Ornrik held his finger up to his mouth and pointed back towards the entrance.

“What? I don’t understand, “Viselys said a bit louder than before.

Ornrik’s eyes went wide and he shook his hands in what he thought was a clear indication to stifle. Then he repeated the “quiet, back there” signing.

Viselys just rolled his eyes, “Look, I don’t know what you’re going on about, but we need to get back to the group.”

Ornrik stood up with a huff. He was clearly frustrated, “Look, you brainless child, Skald and I thought we heard something. We thought we were being followed, and perhaps trapped in here by an intentional rock-slide. We were going to wait here and see what, if anything, was following us.” He wasn’t bothering to be quite now, clearly assuming that any chance at subterfuge had been irrevocable lost.

“And what were you going to do if you found something? You’d be here all alone.”

“Hey!” Skald retorted, defensively, “I’m here.”

“Okay, almost alone,” Viselys amended.

This caused Skald’s jaw to drop with incredulity, “Hey, I’ve held my own pretty good with my bow!”

“Yeah,” Viselys retorted, “That was an impressive bull’s eye on that foot of yours.”

“That’s completely uncalled for,” Ornrik defended Skald.

“Fine, stay here if you want,” Viselys said and headed off at a jog in the direction the others had gone. Ornrik was clearly burning with rage, but he followed, as did Skald.

After another hour and a half of travel, the tunnel began to appear smoother and evidence of ancient artisanship became apparent again. The tunnel finally opened up into a large chamber shrouded in darkness. A small, stagnant fountain lay directly opposite the entrance, while a stone throne sat on a dais at the far end of the room. There was a humanoid ribcage pinned to the throne by an ancient spear while all around it lay the remainder of the poor soul’s bones. In the opposite wall midway between the fountain and the throne was a large set of approximately 20’ steps leading from the chamber.

“This chamber was once used to allow guests to refresh themselves after the long walk through the tunnel,” Urol whispered in an almost reverent tone.

“We should wait here for the others,” Saris suggested. “Don’t touch anything.”

“Not a problem,” Avner said, lowering himself to the ground. "I’m gonna take a nap. Wake me when Mr. Large and In Charge returns.” Then after he’d gotten settled, he spoke again, “You know, Van Skye, at least we know who’s really in charge, right?” Saris wasn’t exactly sure if Avner meant that he thought he, himself, was in charge, or that he meant Saris, but figured either way it was best to just agree.

It was about twenty minutes before Viselys arrived, slightly out of breath. “So, did you find Ornrik and Skald?” Saris asked him. Viselys just rolled his eyes and waved his hand in a gesture that communicated, ‘Yes, I did, and I don’t want to talk about it.’

Ornrik and Skald arrived shortly after. “Where have you two been?” Saris almost shouted. Ornrik tried to explain, but all Saris needed to hear was that Ornrik had decided on his own to hang back, “Don’t you EVER do something like that again without telling anyone! We were worried sick!”

“Yes, mother,” Skald said with a wry grin as he moved past them into the cavern.

“I tried to tell you,” Ornrik defended himself, “but SOMEBODY didn’t want to listen.”

“Look, I don’t know who’s in charge here,” Skald said, holding his hands up in a sign of surrender, “but I can tell you it’s not me.”

Viselys became defensive, “I’d like to think that we all share in the …”

“NOT ME!” Skald reiterated with greater emphasis, his hands held higher.

Avner lifted his head, “Huh? Oh, time to move out?” He got up and started pulling his pack together.

Saris just shook his head and moved towards the throne on the dais. He examined the scene. The rib cage was clearly all that was left intact by the spear attack that had killed this fellow. Then he noticed a crude necklace on the throne partially covered by dust and bone fragments. “Hey, Urol, what do you make of this?” He pointed directly to the necklace.

The gnome dashed towards him, struggling with the steps due to his height. He reached out and took the necklace before Saris could stop him. “Hmm, there’s no writing on the metal pieces. Could have been ceremonial.” He rubbed one of the plates on his vest and examined the yellow shine it exposed, “Well, I can tell you that that’s gold.”

Meanwhile, Ornrik examined the fountain. In the fountain sat stagnant water. The surface of the water was about four feet down from the rim of the fountain, but it was hard to tell how deep it went. Ornrik did a thorough search and discovered something at the bottom of the water – it looked like a red rod. He cast his Mage’s Hand to try to recover the object, but it was too heavy – more than five pounds. So he used the spell to tie a rope around the object and then pulled it up the natural way. Holding it in his hand, he realized that it was stone and probably about eight pounds. It was handcrafted, but it’s purpose didn’t seem obvious. “Hey, Urol, what do you make of this?”

Urol took the rod from Ornrik and handed him the necklace. “Well, this is curious. I don’t think it’s a weapon handle. Olmans used wood for the shafts of spears, axes and other tools.

Ornrik gripped his monocle with the orbital muscles of his right eye. “It’s not magical. Could it be part of a mechanism of some kind, like a key or lever?”

Urol considered the possibility, “I’ve read something about rudimentary devices being used by Olmans on vault doors. Hardly locks by modern standards. I suppose this might be a lever for such a devise. If that’s what this is, then I guess you could call it a key.”

Ornrik nodded trading objects back with Urol, “the necklace isn’t magic either, but it’s probably worth about 500 gold pieces just for material value.” Then, almost as an afterthought, Ornrik said, “Oh, the spear IS magical. Low level improved accuracy.”

Saris stared examining the throne area for some place to put the stone rod, but nothing presented itself. “Say, Urol, what do you think the story is with the dead guy and the spear? Do you think it was a battle?”

Urol scratched his head, “I’ve been wondering about that since I got here. That seems really unlikely. The person who would occupy this seat was a ceremonial guard. Something like a boarder patrol, or safety monitor.” He looked more closely at the bones and the spear, “See how high the ribcage is in reference to the seat? This guard wasn’t sleeping on the job – he was sitting straight. And these ribs don’t show a bunch of nicks that would be evidence of a protracted battle. This was a clean kill – one shot.” He turned and looked at the chamber, “The victim would have seen his attacker coming, so if he perceived a treat, he wouldn’t have been sitting down. No, either he knew his attacker, or simply wasn’t expecting to be attacked.”

“Well, whatever happened, it happened hundreds of years ago,” Viselys said. “Let’s move on.

As Saris grasped the spear, the ribcage clattered and fell apart, turning to dust by the time it hit the seat.

The stairs ended at a broad platform overlooking a wide chasm. Two primitive stone statues flanked the balcony, their impressive countenances caked with mildew. The chasm itself dropped away into a black gulf of swirling water. Two bridges spanned the chasm, exiting the room through separate double doors on the opposite side.

“What do you think, Urol? Olman warriors?

Urol examined the statues, “That’s exactly what these are, very good.” Then he looked a little closer and his brow knit together, “This is odd. The mildew makes it hard to see, but you can still tell that these statues are badly damaged. It’s as if someone was hacking at them with a big axe.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Saris said, thoughtfully.

“No, it doesn’t,” Urol replied. “Based on the thickness of the mildew, I would estimate the age of these marks to be comparable to the bygone guard back there – at roughly the end of the Olman civilization.”

Viselys began across one of the bridges, but Ornrik called after him, “Wait! We should really be sure of our surroundings before we blunder forward.” Viselys looked back and then defiantly continued walking, with Diamondback close behind. Suddenly he became acutely aware of the sound of something scratching its way down the wall behind him. He looked up and was horrified to see an enormous centipede. This was probably the largest creature he’d ever seen in his life – larger than the Tyrannosaurus that they killed on the beach.

Unfortunately, Diamondback was closer to the wall than Viselys and the centipede grabbed her in its strong mandibles. Poison shot through her system, and she felt like she was losing control of her muscles. It’s grip was vice like and it began to carry her up the wall.

Everyone knew that they couldn’t let it get away. If it got out of their reach, they would have no way of reaching it and rescuing Diamondback. Skald, Viselys, Saris and even Avner unleashed a flurry of attacks. Urol summoned a giant beetle that sprayed acid, but to no effect. As the creature turned and began to retreat, the attacks continued in earnest. This time the beetle's acid sprayed over the centipede burning into it, though luckily missing Diamondback. Viselys swung repeatedly with his Vicious Greatsword, doing damage to himself in the process. Ornrik released a volley of Magic Missiles and the centipede was spent. It’s gargantuan weight fell away from the wall and plummeted towards it’s attackers. Diamondback fell, too, but she hit the ground rolling and dashed for safety. Everyone dove for cover, but not everyone made it…

The summoned giant bombardier beetle was crushed like a normal beetle under ones heel. It’s acid sizzled under the carcass of the centipede. When the smoke cleared, Viselys was not accounted for. He, too, was trapped beneath the carcass.

But his companions did not have time to hack their way to him, as the centipede’s mate came in search of its own meal – and it intended that meal to be Avner. Avner was hurt and held fast in the mandibles, but the poison seemed to have no effect on him. Since its victim did not seem to have lost any of its fight, the centipede did not immediately try to take him back to its lair. It probably planned another dose of poison. It would not get that chance, however, as the combined attacks of the surviving heroes fought more savagely then before. Soon the second centipede fell, too – but this time the party knew what to expect and were well clear by the time it hit the ledge. This second gargantuan corpse didn’t land quite as solidly on the platform as its predecessor did, and slipped off plummeting into the waters below.

Diamondback was inconsolable as she tried vainly to pull the hulking body off of Viselys. The others cut through the body with their swords to discover Viselys' gore covered body beneath. Diamondback fell on him in tears, and Saris had to physically restrain her so Ornrik could apply enough healing to stabilize him. As Viselys' eyes opened, Ornrik said, “See, lass? The lad is going to be fine.” This invoked even greater sobs from Diamondback, though she ran to hide her emotions.

Saris and Ornrik dragged Viselys back into the throne chamber, and Ornrik and Urol began tending the wounded, especially Viselys, who was completely silent throughout the process.

“So,” Ornrik said to him as he bandaged, “did we learn anything?” Viselys did not respond, which was fine since it was a rhetorical question anyway. Still, Ornrik continued, “ ‘We should proceeded with caution,’ I said. So what did you do? You blatantly set off on your own out of defiance. What did it get ye? And leading the young lass around like that? For shame! You almost got here killed, too. I mean, it’s one thing to get yourself killed, but she follows you like a wee puppy. If you had lept off that bridge, I’ve no doubt she’d have broke the water a half second after you. It’s pride, lad. That’s what it is. And you know what they say about pride – ‘Pride goeth before a fall.”

“Yeah, but I never thought they were referring to a falling giant centipede,” Urol chuckled. When nobody else laughed, he just got quite.

“Look at these wounds,” Ornrik continued. “These are a day old at least. So you want to explain why you aren’t getting healed when the rest are? Hmm? Like I said; pride. You don’t care much for me, so you don’t want to give me the satisfaction. So who are you hurting that way? Me?” The dwarf examined Viselys’ face for a reaction, “Yea, it sounds kinda foolish when ya put it that ways, doesn’t it?”

By this point, Ornrik had done all he could, physically, for Viselys. He sat down and looked intently at Viselys, who didn’t want to meet his gaze. Ornrik spoke nonetheless, “Listen, lad, I may not have been adventuring any longer than you have, but I sure have been living a lot longer. You pick up some things in 200 years. When I have something to say, you’d do well to listen a bit. If I say ‘Hold up, I think we’re being followed,’ or ‘I think we should proceed with caution,’ it’s usually because I know something, and that knowledge could save your life.”

From the other end of the cavern, somewhere down the passage, the echoes of sobbing could be heard, but nobody was in a hurry to go address it.

“I think we should rest here for the night,” Viselys said to the group.

Ornrik was getting up and moving away, “Gee, ya think?” he mumbled to himself.

Continue to Chapter 7...

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