The Memoirs of Father Shiron

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Part 8 - Bone of Contention

The party continued on down the passage, ever sloping downwards, ever the same height and width.  They followed it for perhaps a mile, delving deeper into the earth.  At last the monotony of the tunnel was replaced as the walls on each side suddenly gave way to reveal a large chamber.  Only when the entire party was inside and clear of the passage did their torches barely light up the whole space.  Even so, the ceiling could not be seen, so high was it.
        Keeping each other in sight, the party spread out to search the chamber, which echoed eerily with the clinking of their armour and weapons.  The chamber was roughly square and the walls on were bare, devoid of any mark or sign, naked, nude or however you prefer to describe it.  They didn't even have any wallpaper on them.  The floor was dusty but scratch marks and footprints could be seen disturbing it.
        There was something visible under the dust, markings on the floor just visible.  The party kicked away some of the dust.  It looked like some sort of mosaic.  They cleared the area to see all of it.  It looked to all present rather like a horoscope chart; circular in shape with twelve symbols arranged around it's edge in a regular pattern.  However none of the symbols resembled any of the known zodiac.
        "These look like magical glyphs to me," stated Feanar studying them.
        The pattern in the middle of the mosaic had been destroyed.  What looked like a large scorch mark covered it and trails of ash emanated out from it in all directions.  Paying more attention now they noticed that all the walls had dark discolourations at their centres and any previous markings or patterns had been erased.
        "Over here," called Presto leaning over something in the far corner of the chamber.  It was a skeleton slumped with it's back against the wall, fully armoured with a rusty sword and cracked shield at it's side.  It was burnt and blackened.  It looked like the person had been burnt alive.
      "There's three more over there," observed Shiron as the party examined the charred remains.
        "Looks to me like a fireball has gone off in here," said Feanar.  "And that means a reasonably competent mage, at least 5th level.
        "It seems to radiate from the centre of the mosaic," added Falamir helpfully.
        "Oh, you think?"  asked Erendil sarcastically.
        Falamir stuck his tongue out at him and Erendil smirked.  "Could be a coincidence but I doubt it," he added.
        "The mosaic itself could be the source,  triggered by something,"  said Feanar thinking out loud. "Either that or whoever cast it centered it on the mosaic to make it look that way, for added effect."
        "That wouldn't surprise me," said Dick.  "We all know MUs are a load of posers don't we."  The two exchanged hard Paddington stares.
        "May I suggest we get out of here pronto in case we set it off ourselves?"  suggested Presto helpfully who was himself already heading for the far side of the chamber quite swiftly.
        As if the thought just occurred to them as one, they all beat a hasty retreat and followed him as quickly as possible, carefully avoiding the centre of the floor design.  On the far side the chamber was sealed by a large wooden door on three heavy metal hinges.  The door was scorched as well but not badly.  Without further ado Dick lowered his right shoulder and barged at it.
        There was a resounding 'BOOM!' and everybody dived to the floor covering their heads.  After a few moments they looked out from behind their shields to discover with relief that they hadn't been burnt to a crisp.
        "What on earth's the matter with you lot?"  asked Dick in an annoyed manner looking down at them curled up at his feet.  "It was the door banging against the wall, it must open inwards.
        "Oh, that's Ok then," answered Presto in a nervous, relieved sort of way.  They all got up and looked a bit sheepish.  Dick got hold of the big metal ring handle and gave it a good tug.  The heavy door swung open, screaming loudly on its rusty hinges and again they all dived for cover.
        "Oh for pity's sake, pull yourselves together the lot of you!" scorned Dick, rolling his eyes.
        They all got up again and a couple of them laughed nervously in a very forced and unconvincing way.

The open door led them out into another passage that turned sharp left and down again.  This passage was a bit smaller than the previous one, only allowing them to walk comfortably two abreast.  Dick led together with Erendil, behind them were Shiron and Feanar with Presto and Falamir bringing up the rear.  In cramped quarters this is how they preferred to walk; fighters guarding front and back with the more vulnerable party members, cleric and mage, in the middle.
        They soon passed through this passage into a slightly wider one but which made them slightly feel uneasy.  The walls were glowing.  A faint amber light seemed to be emanating from the very stone itself.  The glow gave a false sense of warmth and homeliness which was slightly unsettling in these surroundings.
        "Weird."  said Falamir.
        "Groovy."  said Feanar.
        The party put out their torches to save them and continued on using the natural light of the passage.  Unlike the previous passages it was not straight but wandered around,  bending like a river meandering across a plain.  With their view ahead drastically reduced, Dick and Erendil had to be continually alert to see what was ahead.  As they rounded a bend and approached what looked like the entrance to another chamber they heard a rattling noise, rather like a bunch of dry wooden sticks clacking together.
        Dick and Erendil reached the opening and came to an immediate halt.
        "Oh dear," said Erendil.
        Shiron and Feanar had not really been paying attention and they bumped into the front pair.  
        "Oops, sorry,"  offered Feanar.
        "Be quiet," whispered Dick.
        Shiron peered between Dick and Erendil.  "Ah.  This looks like a job for me,"  he said with some confidence.
        Falamir jostled for a view so he could see what was going on.  "Holy bones Batman," he said in a scared jokey sort of way.
        Standing before them some twenty or so yards away were three skeletons.  These skeletons were not charred like the others, neither were they propped up or supported in any way.  They were standing up all by themselves and even more disquietingly each one was carrying a short sword at the ready.  They were just standing there watching them, blank expressions on their skulls, lifeless empty eye sockets trained on them.
        The skeletons each took a step forward and produced the rattling sound again as their bones clacked together.
        "They're alive," exclaimed Falamir with wide eyes.  "It's just like in Jason and the Argonauts."
        "Not alive,"  answered Erendil over his shoulder without taking his eyes off the skeletons.  "Undead.  They are animated by an evil power who they in turn serve without question."
        "But unlike Jason, our party has a cleric," answered Shiron who squeezed to the front between Dick and Erendil and took a step forward.  The three skeletons also took a hesitant step forward, then another.  The middle skeleton turned it's head to the side and it's bone lower jaw moved as if speaking.  It turned back to face Shiron and there was more rattling from further away in the gloom.  Several more skeletons appeared and formed up behind the first three.
        "Oh no.  How many of them are there now?"  asked Falamir obviously now getting fairly concerned.
        "I count nine," answered Dick.
        Shiron took another couple of steady paces forward from the party.  The nine skeletons were swaying slightly as they stood facing him, swords raised.
        "What's he doing?  Aren't we going to help him?" asked Falamir.
        "Not yet." answered Feanar quietly from beside him.  "This will be a test for him, to see whether he's got what it takes.  We'll see if he's got it in him to use his powers and prove his worth to the party.  if he gets into trouble then we will help."
        "But......." Falamir spluttered.
        Feanar put his hand on Falamir's shoulder.  "Just watch."
        The tense scene was bathed in the strange amber glow from the walls which made it seem all the more surreal.  The lead skeletons took another two rattling paces forward, their swords raised menacingly.  Shiron, standing tall, gaze fixed forward, stood his ground.  He dipped his head and closed his eyes for a moment as if gathering his thoughts.  Then, raising his head again he opened his eyes and a changed, determined expression was on his face.  His eyes bore into the skeletons facing him.  He raised his right arm slowly in front of him so it was outstretched to the front and turned his hand upwards so the palm faced the skeletons, fingers together.  All was silent except for the clacking of the skeletons' bony limbs as they swayed closer.
       "Halt.!"
        Falamir jumped as Shiron's sharp command resounded through the chamber.  Falamir's blood was pumping in his ears.  What was his friend doing?  Was he mad?
        The skeletons halted their shaky advance.
        "I command you to be gone!"  boomed Shiron who's voice was amplified by the confines of the chamber.  "Creatures of the underworld.  Abominations of the living.  Go!  Go back to your dark places and leave us in peace."
        The middle skeleton gave Shiron what could only be described as a defiant expression.  It mouthed a silent command and all nine advanced a step and looked as if they were about to charge.  They were now only about 10 yards away.
        "They're not taking any notice of him Feanar.  They'll be on him any moment,"  Falamir said with a shaky voice.
        "Just wait.  He hasn't played his trump card yet," Feanar replied with a knowing smile.
        Just then Shiron breathed in deep, thrust out his chest and drew himself up to his full height.  He seemed to grow before Falamir's eyes, the eerie light adding to the effect.
       "Foul beasts," he roared.  "By the power invested in me by my Almighty God, I command you to Go! Now!"  Shiron bellowed the words 'Go Now' and they reverberated around the chamber with such power that they even made the watching party members wince.  As the echo died, Shiron turned his head to the right so the holy symbol dangling from his left ear became visible to the skeletons.  The eerie glow caught it's shiny surface and made it flash and sparkle as if it had a life of it's own.  Beams of reflected light shot out from the crucifix and showered across the bleached bones of the skeletons like lasers.

In a room far, far way, polyhedral dice rolled across a table top and came to rest.

As one, all nine skeletons let out an unholy shriek that even Dick had to put his hands over his ears to block out.  They all dropped their weapons with a clang and clattered off into the darkness beyond as fast as their bony legs would carry them.
        Shiron visibly relaxed.  He had done it.  He had proved not only to the rest of the party but to himself as well that he had what it took.  He had tapped the holy powers within him and knew that he could call upon them again whenever there was need.  He allowed himself a self satisfied contented smile and turned to face the others.  "We won't be seeing them again any time soon,"  he said.
        Erendil stepped forward and slapped him on the back in congratulation.  "Well done lad," he said in respectful acknowledgement.
        "Hear hear," agreed Dick who cheerfully slapped him even harder.
        "Much impressed," enthused Feanar.  "Much impressed."  The entire party congratulated him on his handiwork as he beamed with pride.
        "I suppose you could say I just lost my virginity," joked Shiron.
        "Welcome to AD&D," said Erendil.  "You may now truly call yourself a cleric."
        "How did you do that?" asked Falamir almost with breathless hero worship.
        "Just a trick of the trade."  answered Shiron modestly but a knowing grin spread rapidly across his face.
        "Wow!" was all Falamir could manage.
        Let's push on shall we?" said Erendil  "Relight your torches and stay on your guard.  The orange glow ends just up ahead and there's no telling what else is lurking down here."
        "Comforting isn't he?" whinged Presto, not the bravest of elves.
        They resumed their trek but before they had gone more than a few paces Presto said, "Hang on lads, how about a search before we leave.  I feel lucky."
        "Good idea," replied Dick.  "Skellies are usually set to guard something.  Let's see if there's anything worth grabbing.  Spread out everyone."
        A search yielded 350 silver pieces and 200 gold pieces piled underneath old rags and debris.  Also a number of short swords and shields, most in quite reasonable condition.  Shiron and Falamir both took a shield each and Presto, Erendil and Falamir each took the best sword they could find.  They divided the cash as best they could and agreed to share out any spoils equally at the end of the adventure.

They left the glowing cavern into another dark tunnel, again with rough hewn walls and a smooth concreted floor.  This one was wide and so they walked in a loose group in no particular order.  They were in good spirits and so they talked and joked as they went.  Shiron 'turning' the skeletons and the racket they made running off meant there was no point in being stealthy for the moment.  The adventure was going well, they were enjoying it.

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Here endeth Part 8.
Don't miss the next episode 'First Blood'
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Copyright John Angus Walker 1986, 2003.  All right reserved.