Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Tale: Treasure Hunters

© Gaumé 2014 to Present

by Kit Gaumé 2014
Te'ir Huud—H'aret, O'ctal: Lirotrodk Misery Mound

A lone man clutching a bundle to his chest gasped in the chilling misty air, "It's colder than a coffin's lid in winter! Brrrr, this cold is turning my veins to slush. Just keep moving, don't think about freezing feet—just move, I can make it if I just keep moving."

The stumbling figure thought of other troubling things instead. The weather is even worse than that time at the Red Ice mine on Ja’ogan’s Peak. How does that hallucinogenic ice do it? Jelink sure found out the hard way, something treacherous grabbed my friend's mind. Why did he jump off the Mogintinee Bridge into the raging river a thousand spans down?
Why? Because I took a bite of that Zcho filled ice and it did nothing to me, I laughed and dared him to try it too—because I'm a fool. The hardest day of my life telling Jelink's sister he was never coming back home. Why think about that now? I can't bring him back, I need to focus. Stay sharp!

The weary Dennyn man shook the distressing thoughts from his tired mind and marched
onward—one foot forward then the next. After many more steps, he tripped and almost dropped
to his knees. The traveler steadied himself somehow but was still swaying in the
wind as he began moving forward again. Rey'ard started to blackout while stumbling ahead, this
time weaving dangerously close to a long drop-off. He came around before he could harm himself.

Struggling back from the haze clouding his mind was fatiguing, but any misstep would be fatal here.
Rey'ard suddenly exclaimed out loud to himself, there was no one else close enough to hear
at the moment, “I could sure use a hot Chalonta Pepper Ale right now.
A whole barrel of it if you please! For all my frozen friends and me! Hahaha..ha."

All he had was a few more swallows of brackish water, carried in a musty old leather water bag
under his thick green Idirian wool shirt. He wore it there to keep the precious liquid from freezing
solid. The loud rattle of cold air going in and out of his fatigued lungs formed icy layers that
coated the tired man’s dark bushy eyebrows and the ragged beard.
Each breath was survival; each pounding heartbeat another victory. Rey'ard walked onward, it was all he could do.

Sweat that trickled down under his wool hood would freeze as it plodded its way down his straining face. Every once in a while, he could hear the grunts and wails from the awful pursuers following
his dangerous escape path. The thought of what followed him gave him a new awareness of his plight
and unlocked some hidden energy reserve stored in his ache filled body.

His legs were tired, but they took longer strides. His throbbing arms clutched the precious cargo
to his chest tighter. The wearied Dennyn willed his spent body to move forward.
He knew he was close to the Withering Peaks now, and it gave him some mental endurance.
I can make it, he thought. If I just push harder, I will make it to the boundary and freedom!

His ability to shift form into a swift Eagatta, a large hawk-like bird, would save him.
All he had to do was leap from the steep cliffs.
If he could jump far enough out, he would cross the boundary and fly, if not—he would plummet thousands of arms spans to his death. Six treads in an arm-span, either way, it was
a long way down. Whatever happened after he made the jump would separate him
from these foul creatures that were pursuing him. He had to keep on, each step taunting his willpower.

The treacherous trail ran along the top of a steep icy ridge that fell hundreds of spans on either side.
The freezing wind pummeled the struggling man, making each step more perilous.
One misstep in his worn-out boots and no one would ever find him again, not even these hideous hunters. Rey’ard took a quick look back behind him now, squinting at his back trail through iron-flecked eyes. He almost tumbled over the edge from the shock of seeing these wretched creatures so close. They were gaining ground again. The soulless did not get tired or feel the cold wind. They just
kept lurching forward in that awkward gait, always moving.

The zombie-like creatures were madness. They were beyond horror. They had also been
Rey’ard’s companions and friends, just five days before. A simple task of bringing a strange chest filled with old Reliqs to the treasure hunter’s stronghold of Harvest Haven had turned into a living death sentence for everyone but him—so far.

Some time back, Yor’del, the leader of the hodgepodge group of treasure hunters,
had bargained for a torn silvery paper sheet in a small market stall that sold black market items.
The rare find matched another paper sheet he had collected decades earlier in his life. The ripped paper was the missing part of a unique puzzle. On one side of the thin, slippery paper was a
map of a Misery Mound. On the backside was a pictogram symbol for Eternal Death upon anyone that dared disturb the hidden objects. Yor’del spent months finding a counterspell and other items that could remove the dreaded curse. He knew it was a Missery Mound, and magic should not work there, but he also knew there were ways to do the impossible. When he had what he needed, he journeyed into the Lirotrodk Misery Mound alone. After more than twelve trips exploring, he finally found the treasure on the map. When he located the gruesome crypt, he knew he was close. After digging through many layers of rotting decay in the crumbling rock building,
he found a stone stairwell entrance with Dierkasid elf warnings chiseled into the rock. The treasure hunter ignored the signs and kept on. Hours later he discovered an old heavy metal chest in a partially collapsed tunnel underneath all the dilapidated buildings that had once stood here.

A large trunk lid glistened like a beacon in the strange pale light that filtered in from a small opening in the high ceiling above, Yor'del knew his long search was over.
Most of the chest lay beneath a large mound of Dierkasid elf bones, femurs, skulls, crushed rib cages, and various other boney parts. Skeleton parts protruded here and there. The layer of bones was over three feet thick in some places. The worms that had eaten the elven flesh had also burrowed into the yellowish bones. Thankfully, the wiggly critters were long since gone from the grisly grave as well.
Each step he took crunched eerily and unnerved the old treasure hunter. Carefully, He exposed the sides of the large container, without ever touching it. Yor'del pulled out four small leather pouches and untied the drawstrings. A skull rolling from the heap and hitting the side of the chest about made Yor'dels heart explode. After calming himself, he proceeded carefully.

The first pouch had a bluish sand material; he poured this on the top of the chest until the dust began to spill over the edge. It was a neutralizer and traced the tendrils of magic that flickered here and there. It was a  counterspell created to convince the curse on the chest that it was not under attack. If the Treasure Hunter was going to die, this was when it would happen. The blue sands shifted here and there but then became still.

He then poured a green powder entirely around the chest with nervous hands. The green sand began to shift as if under some large magnet. A rectangular green shape surrounded the chest marking where the curse began. The nervous man then painstakingly cleared out a foot wide border around the treasure container all the way to the stone floor, careful not to encroach or touch the magical edge.

When he was satisfied that he had it right, he grabbed the third pouch. This strange small bag contained a pinch of white glowing crystals, a finely crushed Jewel dragon crystal called TeJhari Stone. These precious, gleaming specks enabled magic even here in a Misery Mound. The cost had been staggering, but the treasure would yield a great bounty. Yor'del poured this on top of the chest. He waited several minutes, wiping perspiration from his brow every few seconds to see what happened. There was one more step.

The fourth bag contained rune sand. Yor'del had to draw an intricate design around the chest, then activate the spell. Yor'del carefully drew the strange symbols at certain intervals completely around the metallic box. The sand was a sooty black, and the smell made the treasure seeker queasy. When he was satisfied, everything was just right, he lit a candle and then spoke four words of power. The four Elven words basically meant, 'Keep death at bay.' The white crystals began to glow, and the black sands began to change from black to pure white. It happened quickly. The Treasure Hunter waited, nervously watching the white crystals on the chest. They flared and began to burn until nothing was left but ash. He then waited an hour, before actually touching the chest with his hands. The man breathed a sigh of relief when nothing happened, "It worked! The counterspell worked!!" The treasure hunter muttered a heartfelt thanks to Stella and began examining the mysterious chest.

Unfortunately, the container was too massive to carry out by himself, and he could not figure out how to open the intricate lock that secured the lid either. Yor'del did everything correctly, but sometimes that is not enough.

Unknown to the man, a small spell was activated, and slowly, a message began to form, it would take a while, but the owner of the chest would be notified. When word reached the Klaw Kah Tah, he smiled and informed his henchman that they needed to go to a Misery Mound boundary and wait for his command, he was not worried about the one that dared touch his property, if that one persisted he would die like many others before. In fact, this treasure hunter intrigued the powerful magic wielder. He wanted to see how far this miscreant could get, it was good to have magic challenged, so you didn't take things for granted.

Yor'del was happy though, he had solved a complex puzzle, and now he was close. The mysterious contents would have to stay hidden until he got help. The old treasure hunter believed this to be a simple task for his trusted friends, and the reward would be beyond anything they had scored before. Get there and back within ten or twelve days easy! From the writings on the map, he believed it to be Reliquii books. A real treasure trove of knowledge to those that appreciated these sort of things.
These tidbits from the First Race could be traded to the Orakann, ‘Evers, or others interested in
Reliquii artifacts—the bidding would be ridiculously high.

After several weeks of gathering the talented people he needed, Yor’del headed back. No matter how a person tries to contain a secret, it seems to wander to the strangest places. Some in high positions realized that something dangerous was discovered, and a Raen'jir team was assembled to follow the treasure hunters.

The journey into the Misery Mound was made quickly, the treasure hunters made great time traveling, only stopping to eat cold rations, and they slept on the ground without creating a camp. When they arrived, the skilled lockpicker, Chafriin, deciphered the lock maze within two hours.
He was brilliant at lock works and puzzles. The wiry old man usually told barmaid jokes as he worked, but the bones he was kneeling on seemed to take the humor out of the man. The lid was opened, and inside was a book. The treasure was what the leader of this expedition guessed, strange paper or parchment of some kind all bound together in a beautiful tome. The writing though was none Yor’del had ever seen and none he could recognize. The words were not in the Reliquii language he had expected; it was something else entirely. He was literate in over twenty languages used in Te'ir Huud and elsewhere. The tome was old, and in a priceless ornate Reliq binder that held everything together, and that alone gave the strange book excellent value. It was a priceless treasure even if the words were not as valuable.

Even though they had unlocked the large lid, a chain of lightweight metal held the precious book in place. Nothing they tried could free it. The chain came through the bottom of the box and fastened to the ground below. On the other end, the links were attached to the Reliq binder by a round disk in
some way that even Chafriin could not dislodge.

They would have to free the Reliq treasure another way to be able to take it. Rey’ard’s oldest cousin,
on his mother’s side, made mundane potions that worked in a Misery Mound, kemicols the brilliant man called them. He had brought an assortment of them with him, just in case.
Firlig had said that “it would take a particular type of robust acid for that kind of metal.” He whispered something else to himself, “Kho Shad chain. Super lightweight, and virtually unbreakable. 
Nasty type of metal for sure, you can't hammer it or hurt it with blows!” He had been right.
No hammer blow or chop of the ax could scratch or damage the chain. Firlig dug through a collection of bottles in his dark leather case and pulled out a brown bottle filled with metallic-looking liquid.
The smell was harsh and unpleasant. The man carefully put a couple of drops of the potent liquid on the chain, it hissed and bubbled like some dragon spit on fake gold coins. It ate the gleaming metal links like termites through Honey Wood.

As soon as the acid melted the link, a flash of darkness flared around the tightly packed group.
Something from a nightmare began attacking the treasure hunters.
Spore-like nodules of putrid bubbles erupted from the bone-covered ground.
A stench worse than three-day rotted corpses assaulted their senses. Yor'del kept screaming,
"This should not be happening! I used a counterspell. This can't be. By the two suns, we are doomed!" He gurgled for a moment, then fell down into the rising black mist. Rey’ard was standing on the top edge of the metal chest when the deadly curse was released. He was holding the rest of the chain out of the way for his cousin as he worked. Surprisingly, the giant book was not heavy when it sprang free of the broken chain.
Everyone standing on the bony debris was screaming. The ghastly blackness that was attacking
Rey’ard’s doomed friends, was almost unbearable to watch, but he had nowhere to go, and his eyes would not close. Rey’ard did not know what to do! He balanced on the edge of the box, petrified and was screaming from the depths of his own soul at the carnage he witnessed. His battered cousin was still fighting the cursed black fog, swearing and berating the toxic smoke like it could hear his voice. He faced the ceiling above pleading to any immortal that might listen to help.
His eyes got large, and he turned to Rey’ard and yelled something to him, somehow still fighting the unbearable agony that racked his own dying body. He pointed upwards yelling,
“Rungs! Rungs above you, lad! Rey, escape, leave us while you can, dear cousin—run!”
His cousin and closest friend fell into the thick darkness waving his large knife, still trying to slay the black fog with the edge of his blade. Holding the cursed book, Rey’ard looked up and saw the gleaming rungs mounted in the hard rock. There were dozens of the metal grips, they led out of the death chamber up into a chimney-like hole. Tying the chain around his waist hurriedly, he leaped up, barely reaching the nearest handhold and hung on. From this perch, he saw the black mist devour his comrades and turn them into bubbling yuck and then into dark, misshapen forms. Rey'ard viewed all this gruesomeness transfixed. He was in shock! He was a frozen statue held by fear. His sweaty hands gripped the rungs, but his fingers were slipping. The man's survival instinct finally kicked in—almost too late. Hand-over-hand, he trudged across the ceiling like a drunken acrobat. He climbed as death itself was coming for him. He struggled frantically for the faint starlight above him. The edge of the exit hole was like a warm embrace, but the blood-curdling sound of what used to be his cousin’s reassuring voice sent him scurrying up like his flesh was on fire.

Rey’ard had been running for his life for over five days now. The two suns, were still high in the sky today, but no warmth seemed to trickle down from the giant orbs. The exhausted Dennyn could finally see the peak he was escaping to and hope-filled him with renewed stamina. He was almost there, less than one thousand arm spans, he guessed. He would make it! The trail went down into a small bowl-shaped clearing, then it traversed over several small rises, and then he would be at his final destination and freedom from this ghastly place.

A firm hand grabbed the fleeing man’s pant leg and pulled him to the ground hard. 
A stern feminine voice said urgently, “Get down! They are watching for you!” The cursed cargo flew from his weak grasp and skittered across the bowl-like terrain and stopped without falling over the icy edge. Rey'ard pulled his long knife and started to counterattack, but it was—a Raen’jir?! She was close to his own age he guessed and not some soulless monstrosity, thank the two suns.

Nimbly, the ambusher quickly jumped up onto the icy trail and crawled to the priceless bundle, then crawled back to Rey’ard. The leather hood of her coat could not hide the thick yellow hair that framed her attractive face, and her amber eyes blazed an iron-will. The woman was made of steel. She rolled over and squatted low, then motioned the tired man to follow her. Rey'ard started to protest but was cut off by the fierce woman’s reply, “It is a death trap, Dennyn! Those creatures push you Shif'tyr, in the only direction they know you must go. Others are waiting for you at that peak. People that no sane person would want to meet. You will never make the boundary that way! I can lead us out of this Misery Mound another way. Follow or stay … your choice! I have some biscuits that will give you energy, eat quickly. I have water to wash it down, hurry."
The Dennyn man devoured two biscuits and took a long drink from her water bag, then nodded his head in thanks.
"We must leave now, follow me!"

Trust was hard to give when you were exhausted, but the man agreed and then followed the quick-moving rescuer eagerly. She moved with uncanny ability and deftness across the steep and icy terrain. Over the edge, she went, like a squirrel over a tree branch, and he followed her! It was a terrifyingly narrow path to be on. Any misstep would lead to a never-ending drop. Rey’ard just had to keep up somehow and mimic her steps. Do not look down into the dizzying depths below, only the path, he told himself. After several agonizing minutes, they came to another trail. It seemed expansive after the one they had just come down. It was only a narrow animal path hugging the rock face and seemed carved into the sides of the mountain itself. The fearless guide stopped and faced her unwilling follower, then spoke quietly, “This is an old loup-garou smuggler trail. When we cross the boundary shortly, there is an open Skraen to the right, hidden by a large yellow rock formation, it leads into a water-filled dark tunnel. The floor is a stream that leads through a waterfall. To escape requires running into the waterfall and jumping up to a ledge on the left immediately, a trail will take us to another Skraen to where friends are waiting. If you don't make the ledge, you will be sucked down a hole. You can survive the hole, but it is risky, it is not meant for air breathers. Unless you can Shift into a fish or sea creature form. Can you?” The worn-out man shook his bearded face forlornly, “No,” he said almost apologetically. “No, I can't. I use bird forms that fly only.” She talked over his reply, “You can Shift at the boundary into whatever form you need to get you out of here, or you can go through the Skraen with me. But you will not be taking that awful book with you. That information in the wrong hands can get many killed. Even in the right hands, it could be disastrous because of the tainted knowledge it contains! Was there anything else besides this book? Think! It's important!” The man straightened and stood his ground, “I don't remember anything else there, except a curse. I lost many friends and my dear cousin, Firlig. They all died recovering this, this foul treasure. A De'thyr’s magic did this horrible thing to my friends. How it happened in a Misery Mound, I do not know, but it happened. I swear it happened—on all the bones of my forefathers, I swear it.

This Reliq treasure will help my kin! My glynn needs many things. We are desperately in need of supplies, Raen'jir! It has been very tough the last several years—we need this cursed book to survive!”

The woman seemed much older than she did a few moments ago, “I don't have time to argue with you, honorable Urii Gon. We need to keep moving! We are not out of danger, by any means. Just so you know, I am the last member of the Raen’jir Team that was sent in to find you and these awful writings. We have both lost people close to us. I am only here because the Gli’myr stepped in front of a deadly trap to save me, everyone else died! I did not see it. She was my best friend and my only sister, and she died for my horrible mistake. So listen carefully, Dennyn. The original owner of that foulness you're holding is looking for his book—that you, treasure hunter, have so brazenly taken! Know this, he is close by—and we will be fortunate to see the two suns set tonight if we don’t move quickly.” Rey’ard was confused, “This is an old Reliq book that my friend found. The original owner has to be long dead, Raen'jir! No one can be alive that long!” The blonde looked sad, her eyes became sorrowful as she shook her head back and forth,
“I wish it were true, treasure hunter. But that monster is still among us, and he cares for nothing
but his own power! He cares nothing for life, yours or mine or anyone else's.”

The trail they were standing on shielded them from the freezing winds above, and the
Dennyn seemed to thaw out considerably. His numb fingers started to feel the pinpricks of
warmth, and the ice on his face was melting. He was the only survivor of eight treasure hunters
that started out on this gruesome task. He was not about to just give this stranger the
valuable book.

A sudden noise came from the ridge above them; ice, small rocks, and
pebbles showered the two as they stood there. Instantly, the woman pushed Rey’ard hard against
the mountain as a body came crashing onto the narrow trail and landed where they had been.
The body was still moving and groaning somehow, even though it had taken a crushing fall.
The woman muttered something strange, “Kholdzol?” then grabbed a cord from her coat
pocket and wrapped it around the creature's throat, and then pulled it over to the edge. She
yanked hard and then kicked the barely moving atrocity over the abyss. It made no sounds as it fell.
It had been his cousin Firlig! His grotesque smashed face was etched into his mind now, forever.
How had they all been changed? He bristled with anger, then felt suddenly ill. It made him lose his small lunch of biscuits, and the tart berries and yellow leaves eaten earlier in the day. The fruity bile stained the snowy trail like a monument.

More rocks and ice began to fall. The tired man's guide shouted, “Follow me if you want to
live Shif'tyr!” They ran as more living dead hit the narrow trail behind them. The hunted pair moved
toward the only place they would have a chance. They ran for the boundary, and it was close.
They ran, oblivious of the drop-off just inches away, their feet pounded the trail to
escape what followed. The path widened ahead, some stubble of greenery began appearing—they ran. Bare trees and shrubberies appeared, and they ran on. Ice turned to water on the ground,
and they fled, even though their throats thirsted for moisture, but they did not stop. The air began to
change. The smell of fragrant flowers and fresh air seeped into their awareness. They were very
close to the boundary now! The Blades of Essences started swirling in the Dennyn’s mind.
Shimmering, reassuring orange auras started filling his tired body and mind with energizing magic.
He was across the beautiful boundary again! The Shi'ftyr was in his element now!

The cursed bundle seemed to come alive as well, though. Multiple hues of wretched dark light
began to form. A powerful force exploded from the clutched package and knocked Rey’ard and
the woman to the ground painfully. It took several moments to recover, and they both marveled
that they still lived. The stunned and now bleeding treasure hunter and Raen’jir made eye contact,
and an understanding took place between them. Their relentless hunters now knew precisely
where this awful treasure was—and the exact location of them!

The Raen'jir recovered first. A bright purple aura filled her, and a thick, voluminous mist of power wrapped her body. She was an incredibly gifted Thre'shyr, Rey’rd realized. The tireless rescuer opened a Thre’sh and pushed the barely standing treasure hunter through the pulsating circles.
She yelled with encouragement, "They will help you, do not be afraid!”
The Raen'jir then closed the pulsating circles before he could protest.

The woman opened a new ringlet of pulsing power, a doorway but minuscule. Glaring light and extreme heat tried to force its way through the tiny pulsating opening. The Raen’jir proclaimed loudly, “They can kick me out, I don't care! This knowledge is too dangerous!” She picked up the chain and flung the foul bundle through the small opening, the heat burning her arms severely before
she could finally close the doorway again.

Then she ran to a cluster of giant yellow rocks, and on through the Skraen into a dark tunnel, just as an angry commanding voice ordered, “Stop that Raen'jir or so help me you waste of vermin flesh, you will feel my wrath for eternity!” Worried Skargs, rough-looking men in black leather jackets, blue-winged humanoids with spiked tails, and an angry yellow-haired man in a tacky sequin-covered blue suit came running down the lonely trail. They all went through the Skraen after the fleeing Raen'jir, and without hesitation ran through the waterfall. The henchmen and Skargs died quickly. They weren't prepared for the sudden drop into the watery depths. Even the yellow-haired man almost didn't react in time. He came back through the waterfall of death, blubbering and howling like a raving lunatic. The man called Bryllin MacGregor screamed, “I want my notes you Mho Biis Hag! I will find your worthless skin, and make you wish you had no bones! I know you live, woman! If I cannot have you, I will find your family and your pathetic friends! They will suffer—oh you will all suffer! Aaaaaaaaaagh!"

The End

Mythlande Tale - Written by HIM
Head Imagination Miscreant,
Kit Gaumé
©Kit Gaumé 2014 to Present