It's been two weeks, and for that I apologize, but last week got away from me and every time I sat down to write, I either ended up doing 10 other things, or I stared at the screen for about 20 minutes before moving on to something else.
Anyway, back to the story: When last we left, Barbaro had just told Efraim the reason for sending him to Bellisaria, he had to retrieve an item called Vanya's Clock, an essential component for traveling through time, which is what Barbaro was planning on doing in order to stop the Immortals Rad and Ixiom from destroying Alphatia in AC 1010. The current year is AC 1012.
Efraim stepped over the dead body of the jaguar he had just killed and continued to move slowly through the field. Ahead of him the field began to rise, and the surrounding forest began to close in. Just a few yards before the treeline, there was a large Tulip tree by a doorway dug into the hillside. There was no door, and the entrance appeared to be man made.
"This has all kinds of bad written all over it," said Efraim to Barbaro via the magical connection Barbaro had opened.
"Would you like some help?" asked Barbaro. "I can't do much from here but I might be able to summon something and teleport it to you. I'm afraid going myself will attract too much attention."
"Not yet," said Efraim. "I'm afraid throwing a lot of powerful magic around might trigger something. Keep an eye on me, though. Don't break the connection."
Efraim moved past the tree, and looked the entrance over. Pulling a lens out of one of his pockets, he fit it over his eye and looked around again. Grunting in satisfaction, he put the lens away and slowly moved into the cave entrance.
The light from outside only came in a few feet, and Efraim reached into a different pocket and pulled out a small bag. Opening it, a light shown from inside, and he pulled out a small, copper coin that was the source of the illumination.
"Your spell never ended, Barbaro," Efraim said. "This is one of the most useful items you ever made for me."
"The spell is designed to be permanent," said Barbaro, "I'm surprised more people don't have and use little trinkets like this instead of lighting torches that just burn out and can start fires if you don't look where you're waving the thing."
"Exactly," said Efraim, placing the coin in a headband and sliding it on top of his head. "And now both my hands are free."
Efraim resumed his slow exploration of the corridor, which was barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast, and just barely taller than his lean frame. The corridor definitely had been worked, but not finished as their were ax marks and some timber supports along the sides. Wary of a trap that might collapse the ceiling on him, Efraim pulled his lens and peered around the area again.
"Mechanical traps won't show up on that lens," said Barbaro.
"I'm aware of that," said Efraim. "That's why I wanted to make sure there weren't any magical ones first."
Efraim shuffled forward slowly, testing the surface, and tapping the sides of the corridor occasionally. Just when he thought he was making too much noise, he heard shuffling from down the corridor. By now, he was about 50 feet into the hillside, and the daylight behind him was just a backdrop, meaning his illuminated coin was the sole source of light now.
He didn't have to wait long as a figure shambled into his light. Clearly dead, it continued to move haltingly, it's dead eyes staring and vacant. It's death wound, a nasty gash along the throat, evidence it did not die a natural death. Efraim didn't waste any time, stepping forward and slashing at the thing's head. His blade cut right through the rotting flesh, decapitating the walking corpse, which collapsed in a heap beside him and no longer attempted to move.
The head bounced a few feet away, and Efraim gave it a good look to make sure it wouldn't try and bite him as he moved past. For the moment, it appeared dead for good.
"That wasn't a ghoul," remarked Barbaro.
"Most people don't know the difference between a ghoul, a zombie, or other kind of walking corpse," said Efraim. "So here's hoping they continue to be wrong about ghouls in my favor."
Moving forward again, Efraim saw the corridor come to an end, and a large door blocking further progress. The door appeared to be made of solid granite, with a handle made of bronze affixed to the right side. There was no window on the door, but there was an hourglass about a foot long carved into the door at eye level.
In front of the door was another corpse, but this corpse seemed truly dead, and appeared to have been there for quite some time as there was no smell, and what flesh remained appeared to be no thicker than parchment. Efraim nudged it with his boot, sword raised in case he needed it, but nothing happened.
Bending closer and pulling out his lens, Efraim examined the body, which appeared to be male, dressed in leather armor that had not begun to rot. A crossbow bolt of some kind was sticking out of the body's midsection, but a quick glance around the door showed no crossbow, or an apparent culprit for the murder.
Efraim pocketed his lens again, grabbed the body, and began to move it. That's when he heard a *click.* Calling on his enhanced reflexes, Efraim dropped straight back and went into a roll as a crossbow bolt shot from the left side, barely missing him as he tumbled out of the way.
Efraim did not have any time to recover as another bolt shot out from the right, almost as if it knew where he was, and he dropped to the floor to avoid being hit. Springing back to his feet, he flicked his wrist, turning his sword to deflect a third bolt and then dodging to his right to avoid a fourth bolt.
Efraim dropped to a three-point stance, sword held in front of him, waiting for a fifth bolt, but the attack had ceased for the moment. "Did you see where they came from?"
"Yes," said Barbaro. "The pressure plate you activated tripped a magical defense system, which is probably why your lens didn't pick it up. It flared to life after the first bolt flew."
"Don't trip the pressure plate again."
Smirking, Efraim again approached the door, careful to avoid the pressure plate. However, the conundrum he now faced was the body still mostly was on the plate, and he would have to move it again, assuming he got the door open.
Efraim stared at the door, willing it to give up its secrets. Reaching into another pouch, Efraim produced a small red gem. Holding it between his finger and thumb, he snapped it loose and it hit the floor, spinning. As it moved, it began to pick up speed, it's small facets reflecting the light of his coin all over the room.
Efraim sheathed his sword, laid down, and then pulled the corpse on top of him, rolling into a defensive position as he did so. Crossbow bolts flew from both walls, the door, and a spear flew down from the ceiling, chasing the lights reflected by the gem. One bolt thunked into the corpse on top of him, but in a few moments, all was quiet again.
"How did you know that would work?" asked Barbaro.
"If whatever was tracking me was going by motion, I figured the gem's movement and trick of the light would confuse it. I wasn't wrong," said Efraim as he regained his feet. "Now, about this door"
To be Continued . . . .