Far from the city of Gravaad, separate from the beautiful green shores of Dodanjuka, and across the Dan’utto Sea laid the Outlands. This was a smaller continent that laid North East of the continent the Empire of Thorns was established upon.
The Outlands teemed with barbarian tribes of different species, and was filled with ferocious monsters which made it an incredibly dangerous location to try and settle. Long untouched by cultured civilizations, the dodeeja were the first to land and build the Deathcap Outpost. This became a port city, which specialized in export of mysterious herbs and slain monster parts, attracting strong warriors from all of the kingdoms in their lust for adventure and power.
Years after it became Port Deathcap, the Empire of Thorns moved North and built the Outpost of Zo’uddan. This outpost was to be where the strongest warriors from the military and the religious order were to congregate in an attempt to claim the lands for the Empire.
Following North from the stone and woodwork of the outpost palisade, the canopy of the forest trees casts a colorful light on the group of dodeeja below as they made their way through the untamed forest in Fall. The four of them traveled with little concern, trampling the leaves beneath them, and surrounding them with the noise of crunching dried foliage. Three of them wore very plain dark green cassocks, while the one at the front was more decorated; having armor fitted to key locations and intricate patterns drawn with symbols of his virtue, honor, and faith.
The male at the forefront of the group paused a moment and turned. His eyes narrowed slightly as he noted that one of their numbers was falling behind. He rested one of his hands upon the head of his flanged mace, while the other kept the cord of his sack secure over his left shoulder. Facing the male at the back, he took a stern tone. “We should be only a few hours out from our destination, so let us not tarry.”
Shuffling from the rear, the older dodeeja wiped his brow. “My apologies, High Inquisitor Isaad. I am not as young as I used to be.” He was more plump than the other three, but he had no weapons upon him, only a sizable backpack over his shoulders, and a plain brown book in his right hand.
“Good monk Heath, you did not have to come along,” Isaad retorted with authority. “I did not want to put your health at risk, as a teacher of the young.”
As the others stopped and waited, Heath came before them and breathed deeply before responding. “High Inquisitor, I may be old, but I stay faithful. The Grand Inquisitor saw some place in this for me.” He smiled politely in a way which reminded Isaad of his grandfather. “Don’t worry of me, High Inquisitor, and don’t worry about the children; we have Todozu taking care of them.”
Isaad raised a brow so high it almost upset his silver circlet. “The newest inquisitor stays behind so we may have you, monk?”
One of the other two, a male dodeeja of a near-black fur color interjected in the conversation. “The newest, and now the youngest, High Inquisitor. I don’t think she has any combat skills yet.” He smirked at the end of his statement as he winked at Heath.
Isaad shot him a glare so harsh it made him cringe. “Inquisitor Tayin, have you so quickly forgotten your own Trial of Fire? One cannot finish it without proving prowess in combat!”
The fourth member of the group interjected. Her voice was sweet and caring when she spoke with a soft tone. “Unless she has wits sharper than any knife… or hidden combat magic.” Whispee, the one to speak, was just relieved she was no longer the newest inquisitor.
Isaad took a long moment to point his glare at her, but she dismissed it with her smile. After a few moments of standing in silence, Heath hefted the backpack into a good position and stated; “I think I’m rested. Shall we continue?”
The High Inquisitor turned his back on the others and continued onwards. “Yes, let’s.” Isaad and the others knew the importance of reaching their destination by night-time. Dodeeja enjoyed the night more than the day, but so did most of the monsters on this continent.
As the sun slowly dipped below the edge of the horizon, Isaad and his group were coming upon a very old and forgotten place. It appeared to be the top of an old tower, where over-growth and misuse opened a doorway where there had once been a window. Pushing aside the browning ferns, he could see that half of the stone archways which made up the roof still held, giving them an open area to enter into. “We’ve made it,” he declared, turning to face the others.
Heath gave a deep sigh of relief as he turned towards the setting sun. “Just in time. Normally now would be the time to wake up, but I’m afraid I’ve become quite tired from this trip.” He set the pack down right outside of the entrance and dug into it for a pair of torches.
Tayin took a look inside of the opening and made an expression of disgust. “Yech! It’s over-grown, mossy, and who knows what diseases it’s cultivated.”
Isaad shoved Tayin roughly, forcing him into the opening. “You’re going in first.”
He stumbled, and caught himself on one of the old pillars extending to the roof. It groaned when he put his weight on it, and he didn’t hesitate to plant his feet and take his hand away. Eyeing the ceiling with a look of worry, he lowered his hand and brushed it on the side of his cassock. “Careful,” he warned the others without shifting his head, as he kept his eyes upwards, expecting the roof to start collapsing.
“Look for a way down,” Isaad ordered, then turned to the others. “We should get inside as soon as possible to avoid any unexpected company.” He held a hand out as Heath pulled flint from the backpack. “Don’t light the torches until we’re well inside.”
Heath and Tayin simultaneously replied with; “Yes, High Inquisitor.” This caused Heath to smile warmly, while Tayin turned and scowled, searching in the dark decrepit room for some form of passage. After pushing aside some loose dirt that weeds had sprung from, he found a wooden frame. Old wooden planks covered in moss made up a door that was reinforced by rusted steel. He turned back to the entrance and called out to the others. “I found a door, but I might need help lifting it!”
Isaad felt like he was working with children when it came to these two. Tayin was up until recently the youngest of the inquisitors. Meanwhile, Whispee had spent the last few years of her life training her magic prowess just so she could follow in her uncle Ruufus’ footsteps. He had the two of them, plus one elderly monk. It felt much more like a babysitting task, as opposed to a dangerous quest to retrieve an ancient and important artifact. His heavy boots sent small clouds of old dirt fleeting as he entered the decrepit ruin.
From Tayin’s point of view, Isaad’s muscular figure became silhouetted by the fading sunlight and cast a fearful presence, making him suddenly feel very small. As Isaad came closer and stood over the crouched Tayin, he spoke very directly. “You’re in my way…”
“Oh, uhm…” Tayin stumbled over his words, “yes, High Inquisitor.” He backed away as he rose quickly, easily scared from his position. Never having worked with Isaad before, he had no idea what he was capable of.
Isaad dismissively waved a hand as he hunched over at the side of the old door, and with all three of his companions watching, he drove his metal clawed gauntlet into the edge of the old door frame. Wood shards flew up from the impact as the steel layer bent inwards, flaking off rusted pieces of metal. Straightening up, the door came with his hand as the hinges groaned and squealed from the pressure before snapping abruptly. The entire frame leapt when it was loosened from the old hinges, and vibrated in his grasp. With a heavy thud, he smashed the end into the wall, and dropped the other end against a dug-in section of the floor so it could act as another support. Isaad straightened himself up and stood at the edge of the opening, looking down at the old staircase below as he took a deep breath and flexed his shoulders.
Tayin stared transfixed on the door in its new location. Without realizing it, he had backed himself into a dirty corner. He cringed in shock. Even Whispee, who had seen amazing feats of strength before, stared on with her mouth agape.
Heath broke the momentary silence by shuffling into the entrance of the tower, pulling the backpack, while holding the torches and flint. “Good job, High Inquisitor. That looks like it took nothing for you.” He came over and broke Tayin’s stare by putting a torch into his hands and smiling warmly. “For you, Inquisitor.”
Tayin took the torch and blurted loudly: “Thank Uzzadujoza!”
Whispee blinked and shook her head quickly as she followed the others into the tower. She shifted her eyes to Tayin. “Quiet. Who knows what monsters could be around.”
As Isaad began to descend the old stairway, Tayin mumbled to Whispee. “I no longer fear monsters.”
The ancient passageways had a haunting feel about them. Even as the torch shone its light upon the decrepit stone walls and the cracked floors, the darkness beyond sight sent chills up and down the spines of at least two members of the group.
Whispee trailed the group with Heath. She tried her best to not touch the dusty walls, and jumped now and then when a larger than average bug or arachnid made its way across her vision. “I wonder how all of this got underground,” she commented as they passed by a section of wall that held a window, but beyond it was a wall of dirt and clay.
“Nobody knows anymore,” Heath replied. For the past hour the old monk had been following behind Isaad, just outside of his tail’s length. He kept reading the words embroidered on the High Inquisitor’s cassock’s lining. The symbols were small, so making them out with his old eyes kept his mind occupied. “This castle was built before history records were kept. All we know is that the Grand Inquisitor sensed an important object of power here.”
Tayin stopped suddenly to sneeze. The light on his torch flickered from the sudden rush. Whispee immediately reacted by saying “Donji!”
With a nod and a sniffle, Taying replied “Ku. So, why is it that we are the ones who are here? If it’s important, why not all of the High Inquisitors?”
Noticing Tayin was no longer following at his side, Isaad stopped and turned. The torch in his hand added a fearful element to his already fierce gaze. “Because Grand Inquisitor Coldclaw commanded it be us. If you would like to disobey the Grand Inquisitor, then you may return on your own, Tayin, and I shall make sure to let him know.”
Tayin shook his head. “Sorry, High Inquisitor… the length of our expedition grows on me, and makes me think strange things.”
“I shall be sure to test you for madness when this is all over,” he said sternly as he turned to continue on. The group followed after him as he led them from the hallway and into a massive dining hall. Lifting his torch, he could see the shadows of cobwebs cast upon the walls. They were covering almost everything, from chairs and tables to the old silverware. It was here that he saw the bodies. There was a heap of decrepit and broken bones, corpses that were smashed through combat, or deteriorated from time. “Dodeeja,” he commented, recognizing the species the bones belonged to.
Heath shuffled past Isaad as he began to prattle off his knowledge. “Fascinating! If that’s so, then they could be from the ancient kingdom of the “Kaotu Kaoton To Dujindao.” This means that they could be a part of the first kingdom after we were saved by Uzzadujoza!” The old monk picked up a derelict cloak with a decorative pin and hand-sewn design upon it, excitedly lashing it through the air. Tayin and Whispee immediately covered their mouths and began to cough as dust exploded around them.
Isaad put a hand on his shoulder. “Heath, as much as I understand your enthusiasm, I think doing that inside is not the best idea.” Isaad handed him the personal sack he had been carrying. “Put it in here for now. I’ve eaten all there was in it, anyway.”
With a short bow and a warm smile, Heath accepted the bag. “Thank you High Inquisitor, you are certainly kind to your elders.” He just about cooed with excitement as he rolled the cloak up and stuffed it into the sack, adding the sack to his backpack.
Coming to the back of the hall, Isaad lifted the torch to reveal a heavy wooden door with an intricate design etched onto it. The design depicted a dodeeja with a large horn coming from his head, with an army of his kind surrounding him in praise. As his eyes scanned the door for a handle, he noticed his gauntlet giving off a very soft green light.
Lowering his torch, he turned to Tayin. “Inquisitor Tayin. Your expertise includes opening doors, so I want you to find a way to open this door.”
Audibly, Tayin gulped as he approached. “Y-yes High Inquisitor,” he stammered. He did not want to let down the most intimidating member of the order he had ever met in person, but he summarized in his head that if Isaad couldn’t spot the means to open it; what hope did he have? Whispee followed him up, and she held the torch as he started searching the door with both of his hands.
“Careful Tayin,” Heath mentioned, “the engraving on that door alone holds more history than you could imagine. If the order wants to clear this castle out when we are done, I’m sure they will want it without your claw-marks in it.”
Tayin continued to work, moving his lips with each word the monk said in imitation. Suddenly, his fingers grasped something that moved a little when he tested it. “Ah-hah!”
“You found it?” Whispee asked excitedly, switching the torch to her other hand as she leaned in closer.
As Tayin grinned with achievement, a click came from the latch of the old door, and it began to creak open. After a few inches, the door gave another click, snagging for a moment before continuing to open. A rumbling noise came from the ceiling, as a series of mechanical thumps sounded in the walls above them.
Isaad sighed and put his hand to his forehead as the other three began to panic. Whispee was the first to exclaim; “We’re going to be caved in on!”
Calmly, Isaad grabbed Tayin by the hood of his cassock, and turned him face to face. Glaring into his eyes, he grimly advised him; “Next time you open a door, be sure it is not trapped first.” As he finished his sentence, Tayin’s eyes grew wide with fear.
The rumbling ended when another heavy thump resounded from inside of the ceiling. Whispee calmed her panic slightly to announce; “High Inquisitor, I sense a strong gathering of magical energy.”
Isaad pushed Tayin from his hand and hastily proceeded through the open door. Peering inside, he saw a dirt-covered multi-sectioned stone dining table with a golden box resting in the center of it. The walls were made of a darker stone than the rest of the castle, and on the other three walls were stone faces with mouths wide open. Their eyes burned with deep purple fire, and streams of energy flowed from the mouths, seeping into old skeletal bodies which rested in stonework chairs. The dodeeja skeletons wore ornate steel armor, and each one was equipped with a different style of weaponry. One by one, their eyes lit up with the same dark purple fires as the ones which burned in the wall. As they did, the bodies began to move, grabbing their weapons and taking combat stances.
Heath watched with a grim expression as he recalled the texts he read to prepare him for this venture. “Eight great soldiers of Uzzadujoza pledged themselves to death and beyond to protect His greatest treasures. This must be what the scriptures mean! High Inquisitor, surely you’re not going to destroy them, are you?”
The skeletal warriors advanced, and the ones at the forefront emitted an unnatural hissing sound as their mouths hung open. Isaad drew his flanged mace and tightly griped the leather handle as he took a ready stance. “I don’t think they’re giving me a choice, monk!”
The first skeletal warrior leapt at Isaad, making a downward strike at him. He dodged and twisted sideways, then responded with his own horizontal strike at the skeleton’s torso. He was surprised at how powerfully the undead soldier responded as it bashed his mace away with its shield.
Tayin whipped out his short swords and prepared to assist Isaad, when Heath put himself in Tayin’s way. He flailed his arms frantically and pleaded with the inquisitors. “Please! You have no idea how much their armor would mean to us intact!”
A second strike came for Isaad’s shoulders, but a swift punch with his free hand’s gauntlet sent the blade to the ground, where he stood his weight on it. As he was about to take advantage of his disarmed opponent, a second skeleton struck out at him with an old spear. Isaad had to divert the momentum of his swing, and used his mace to parry the strike.
Tayin tried to move the portly old monk as he shouted, “it’ll mean nothing if we die here!”
Isaad caught one skeleton’s attempt to smash his face in with its shield, pushing it away forcefully with his free hand. With his other hand, he defended his side from another spear thrust, twisting the shaft up into the crook of his armpit. “There is no time for discussion!” Another undead charged at him, raising a large axe as it leapt at him. He met the axe by pulling the spear shaft into its path.
Heath turned in time to see the steel head of the axe snap the shaft of the spear into two pieces, one of them still under Isaad’s arm, and the other half still in the skeleton’s death grasp. Heath’s hands covered his eyes as he whined, “I submit!”
Isaad released the spear head from his armpit. He punched the axe-wielding skeleton in the skull with his free hand. Seeing it stagger, he spun around and roared as he grabbed the shield from the other skeleton. Pulling it out of the way, his mace found a clear path into its skull. His mace quickly bent through the ornate helmet, and the satisfaction of scattering bone fragments was accompanied by a once again inanimate skeletal corpse.
As Heath maneuvered out of the way, Whispee got a clear view of the room and begun to ready a spell. Her hands swirled in a spherical motion before her chest as light blue energy began to gather.
Tayin saw his opening and scrambled himself into the room. “Zhudoja!” As the chant left his mouth, his swords both began to glow red along the edges. He charged the larger axe-wielding skeleton, and made a scissor-swing with both blades, breaking through the undead warrior’s spinal column. As the torso fell, his eyes grew wide, and he made a leaping twist back, as a bolt of black and dark purple flame streaked past him. “Two archers and an undead mage at the back!” He shouted out, announcing it for the others.
Isaad threw up a part of the table and ducked down as two arrows came in his direction. They scraped off of the stone and found home in the far wall. He then kicked his armored boot out to deflect an incoming ball mace. Pushing off of the lifted portion of the stone table, he threw a shoulder into the skeleton’s torso and knocked it into the wall.
Tayin noticed the skeletal torso crawling after the sword that was knocked to the ground earlier. He took a step after it, but suddenly felt a blunt thrust in the side from the skeleton who was wielding a spear, now effectively working with a quarter staff. Tayin took the hard blow and stumbled into the side of the large door’s frame. As the skeleton advanced on him, he could also see another coming up with it. This one was priming a spiked ball flail above its head. “This is nuts,” Tayin shouted!
Isaad left his current quarry to ensure Tayin’s life as he leapt onto the tables and ran across. Jumping from the top he roared again as his mace slammed down into the skull of the staff-wielding skeleton, shattering it with the blow. He had to make a quick roll to the side, as the flail came diagonally in a swing at him. The ball of the weapon slammed into the stone wall, sending dust and small debris up in a cloud. The skeleton holding onto the shaft followed Isaad with its head and hissed in a sound like scraping shale.
Whispee’s eyes were filled with white energy, and her hair lifted slightly with an electrical charge. Static coiled around the sphere floating between her hands as her incanting came to an end. The skeletal mage, dressed in a flowing black cloak, raised a wand made of bone. The end of the wand was a circular cropping of finger bones, which began to burn with dark purple and black flame. Suddenly, the flames were extinguished, as Whispee’s lightning arc met them. The lightning immediately coiled down the wand and through the body of the mage. He let out an unearthly howl as the lightning incinerated his cloak and lit his frame with a bright flash. Then, with a thunderous boom, the incredible amount of static exploded, and his body scattered, flinging bits of the skeleton all over the small room.
The blast staggered both archers to the side, and disoriented Tayin from the sound, who ended up dropping his weapons. He was momentarily seeing double, but snapped out of it quickly when skeletal hands grabbed at his leather boots. In quick reaction he shouted “get off of me” and twisted, trying to kick the skeletal claws from his leg!
Isaad grappled with the skeleton before him and grabbed the chain of the flail. He twisted at it and got it out of the undead warrior’s grasp, but yelled in pain as he got bit hard in his upper right arm. Growling, he slammed the butt of the flail against the back of the creature’s neck until he heard it break. Then, dropping the flail, he wrenched the skull from his arm and crushed it in his metal gauntlet.
Tayin twisted on his leg and grabbed one of his blades, sweeping it down at the grappling skeleton. Severing the hand, he rolled himself out of the way as the undead warrior’s other arm slammed its sword into the floor. Tayin sprang to his feet, barely parrying a horizontal swing from an incoming ball mace. The flat of his blade clanged loudly as he pushed the mace shaft away, avoiding the spiked tip. “These weren’t rookie guardians,” Tayin commented, impressed with the skills of the undead.
Isaad’s eyes snapped to the archers in time to dodge away. One of the arrows caught him on the side of his arm, slicing it open just below the bite wound. Gritting his teeth, he crouched in place and grabbed the end of the spear he broke earlier. With a half-body twist, he hurled the end of the spear in a straight fling and made another jump up onto the table to follow. The spearhead found its mark, as it impaled one of the skeletons right through the skull. The creature staggered back and hit the wall from the impact.
Tayin parried another blow coming in at his side, and then had to roll out of the way of the next downward strike. He felt his heart racing and he was forgetting to breathe. Backing away from another swing at his head, he felt his back meet the edge of the doorway. The horrifying undead warrior hissed as it swung again. Tayin spun to the side and got out of the way as the mace crashed through the stone, sending a head-sized chunk of rock scattering across the main dining hall. His brain was locking up from fear, as he tried to find something he could do. Then, he saw the arc of electricity connect with the skeleton’s body. Tayin turned and ducked, covering his ears as another thunderous boom shook the ground, and rattled his insides. Bone fragments scattered against his back as he took a few rushed deep breaths.
Isaad charged across the table and met the other skeleton as it notched another arrow, crashing his mace into the side of its skull. He slammed it against the wall, smashing the skull between the mace head and the stone wall. With his other hand he reached out and grabbed the handle of the spear tip, and ripped the impaled head off of its spine, smashing it on the side of the table in anger.
Whispee’s eyes faded back to normal as she closed her hands, and the gathering of energy dissipated. The static energy went to her surroundings and left her hair disheveled. She pointed to the crawling torso and shouted out, “Tayin, be careful!”
Tayin couldn’t hear her. His mind and breathing needed time to recover, and it was deafening his system. Whispee tried calling again, but he still didn’t react to her.
Isaad ran around the table and dashed to Tayin’s side. The skeleton looked up at Isaad and raised the sword up to strike, but Isaad stomped on the skull with his heavy plate boot, shattering the bone and scattering it in shards.
Without a word, Isaad walked back out of the room and turned to Heath. “It is done. Perhaps some pieces of armor can be salvaged.”
Heath turned slowly and looked Isaad over. A look of concern painted his face as he approached. “High Inquisitor. Your arm! You’re hurt.”
Isaad nodded and said, “You’re right. The bite made swinging harder, but the cut is just that.” He assured Heath. “You can bandage me in a moment.”
Heath nodded lightly as he watched Isaad walk back into the room. Whispee went in beside him as the two of them approached the golden box. Isaad sighed heavily and said, “We have fought hard for this artifact. Let’s celebrate that we have passed Uzzadujoza’s test.”
As he opened the lid, he heard another click, and a small metal dart flew out of the cracked lid. It hit his steel chest-plate with a loud tink, and fell to the floor harmlessly. He exchanged a glance with Whispee, who put her arms up and shrugged gently. Turning back, he opened the golden box and took a look inside.