D. J. Scott
[Last Update: June 28th, 2018]




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D. Jon Scott’s WebsiteArtFiction ► Fantasy
D. J. Scott
Part II: Diegesis

Chapter III: “Artifice”

13th Month, 19th Night, 4,632nd Year
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]


Lodin and Gail stood before the towering crypt, jaws dropped in utter dismay. The structure was at three stories tall and of typical gothic architecture, yet augmented with lavish columns on either side of the large, vaulted entrance. The mausoleum appeared ancient and worn, its bricks fracturing as if the building itself were growing furrowed with antiquity. The only part of the soaring sepulcher, which seemed to have escaped the ravages of the ages, was the large stained-glass window just above the doorway. It contained the of crimson, burgundy, claret, maroon, lavender, plum, amethyst, wine, and lilac; the colors shining so brilliantly it was as if the ornate window were being illuminated from within the building itself.

“I think we should probably go inside,” suggested Gail.

“That doesn’t sound like such a good idea,” said Lodin, “Why would Jadia run from us? None of this makes any sense.”

“I, I know,” responded Gail, her hand shaking slightly as she tightened her grip on the lantern she’d been carrying, “but, maybe it is Jadia and something’s wrong with her? Shouldn’t we at least try to help her?”

Lodin nodded in agreement, carefully sheathing his longsword. He walked up to the imposing double-doors at the mausoleum’s entrance and placed his hand on the smooth, bronze surface. Neither Lodin nor Gail could see any sort of a pull that might open the ancient tomb, and consequently had no idea how they might enter the structure.

“How the hell did Jadia get in here?” Lodin growled, beginning to choke from the musty, rancid fog once again enveloping he and Gail.

As Lodin continued to study the enormous metal doors with his outstretched hand, he felt something odd. There was a weak point toward the joint between the two doors, which felt almost gelatinous as he pressed on it. He slid his hand over to the crack itself, and was taken aback when his hand slipped straight through the bronze itself, not unlike a stone plunging into a pond. As the metal rippled around his arm, Lodin found himself worrying.

“That’s not right! We just saw this door open a moment ago… how can it be liquid now?” remarked Gail.

“We were just in the middle of a battle between living human corpses and carrion eating ghouls, and you’re worrying about a door?”

“Well, it just doesn’t seem right…” explained Gail, narrowing her eyes and pouting her lips in a perplexed fashion.

“No, you’re duly concerned,” the paladin agreed, swirling his hand around in the fluid portion of the doors.

“Well, if that’s the only way in,” said Gail, pushing Lodin aside.

Gail treaded directly into the doorway, passing through the massive bronze obstructs as though they were completely incorporeal. The material waved and rippled for a moment in her wake, as Lodin jumped in behind her.

The room was incomprehensibly dark; Gail’s lantern failed to illuminate more than a few yards in any direction. Strangely, this same lantern had fully illuminated what Gail would’ve guessed to be similarly sized room in soft, orange light not more than an hour and a half prior. Gail held the lantern up to determine whether or not it was dying down, but of course, it was burning as intensely as it had been an hour ago.

Lodin and Gail wandered forward cautiously; unaware of what might have been bound within the mausoleum’s bulwarks. The air was so chillingly silent that their footsteps seemed to echo throughout the expansive crypt’s main chamber. Up ahead, Gail was able to make out in the permeating darkness what looked to be a doorway. With each step Lodin and Gail took, the small, arcing aperture of the mausoleum’s inner stall became ever more visible.

The hairs on the back of Lodin and Gail’s necks grew rigid as they neared the arching doorway. Lodin drew his longsword warily in anticipation of what may lie ahead. Lodin stopped Gail by placing a hand on her shoulder, careful not to startle her, and slowly took the lantern from her as he stepped ahead, longsword drawn. Gail followed closely behind, afraid that if she spoke she might alert some sort of hideous monster to their presence. So for now, both she and Lodin remained as silent as was within their ability.

Once upon the archway, Lodin and Gail were able to make out some fairly unusual engravings etched into the large granite bricks comprising the wall and doorway. The engravings were ornate, intricately carved with a very palpable attention to detail. Yet, oddly enough, they didn’t seem to be symbols of any kind, as would’ve otherwise been evident by such careful artisanship; they appeared instead to be letters of an unknown ancient alphabet, as if representative of some ancient and obscure written tongue. Lodin held the lantern up to the wall in an attempt to decipher the curious alphabet, but to no avail - and in all truth, he hadn’t the time to study it in any detail. Rather, Lodin simply dangled his hand behind him as Gail reached forward to grasp it, and lead the excessively full-busted young maiden through the doorway.

Suddenly, as Lodin and Gail traveled forward, a redheaded woman with an uncanny resemblance to Gail came into the lantern’s radiance. There stood Jadia; completely motionless excepting the occasional blink and the rhythmic oscillation of her radically oversized bosoms with each eerily steady breath she took. Lodin and Gail gasped with surprise, taken aback slightly by how quickly Jadia came into the light. Lodin felt his heart trying to push itself into his throat, and Gail felt as though she’d nearly jumped out of her boots.

“Jadia! Thank Gods you’re all right! Why did you run from us?” exclaimed Gail, her words echoing through the mausoleum’s mystifying corridors.

As the relieved breaths of those very words flowed from Gail’s lips, Jadia began to transform. Her hair turned from a flaming red to raven black. Her freckles faded away completely, as her skin grew pale and ghostlike. Her eyes mutated from emerald green to golden yellow. Her brow became mottled and wrinkly. Her breasts diminished to less than half of their previous size - although they remained still a great deal larger than what would be considered ‘normal‘. Her waist expanded to a width more fitting of an ordinary yet slender human female, as opposed to the exceptional narrowness of Jadia’s nymph-like torso. Finally, her clothes transformed into a single, decorative silk cloak with silver-weaved trims around collar, the cuffs, and from the collar down the hemline.

“Shit,” stated Lodin, bluntly, “I should’ve known.”

“What is it?” Gail squeaked.

“A vampyress. We’ve played right into her trap” the paladin replied.

The otherwise beautiful yet wrinkle-browed vampyress smiled at Lodin and his lady thief companion, flaunting her stiletto fangs, “You speak as though I should’ve had difficulty luring you into my artifice. How little you know my kind. We are the Kindred, and you mortals are nothing more than fodder. Our kind is the supreme race, as you have proven here tonight. How easy it was to tempt your feeble, mortal minds. Our kind is the predator, and your kind is the prey. And now I shall feast upon you, and devour every last drop of your blood. And your corpses shall be possessed by Demons, and rise from death as Vampyres just as the body that I inhabit now. Thus is the curse and privilege of the undead…”

“Blah, blah, blah…” said Gail, “you’d think a ‘superior’ being wouldn’t feel the need to blather on so doggedly about being superior.”

In one swift motion, Gail reached beside her and pulled Lodin’s longsword from its sheath, swiped at the pretentious vampyress and sliced through her neck, severing her head cleanly from her body as she turned to ashes and vanished into oblivion.

Lodin remained silent, stunned by the nonchalant manner in which Gail had slain the vampyress. He gawked at the site, holding the lantern at his side as Gail handed him his longsword. His astonishment went beyond words; it had only been earlier the same evening that Gail was paralyzed by fear at the sight of a zombie.

“Don’t look so surprised, Lodin. After being attacked by an army of Zombies, one Vampyre just isn’t so scary,” Gail assured the paladin with a poised smile.

“That was truly commendable slaying, Gail” Lodin praised.

Gail smiled genially at Lodin as he, still somewhat stunned by the thief’s valiant display, sheathed his longsword and politely returned the lantern to Gail.

“Thank you,” replied Gail, her face bathed in an air of unbridled conceit, complete with a smug yet mannerly smile and a high held chin.

The lantern’s light began to dim just slightly.

Gail removed her backpack one strap at a time, sliding it off her dainty, feminine shoulders and setting it carefully on the floor as she placed the lantern beside it. Crouched in front of the lighting device, she reached beside her and unbuckled her bag, once again fishing out the canister of oil stored within it. She hastily unscrewed the cap at the base of the lamp as well as the cap at the mouth of the oil canister, and poured the oil into the lantern.

Lodin heard a subtle clatter coming from, as far as he could tell, the third story of the crypt. The sound managed to draw Gail’s attention as well; she listened intently as she rose to her feet, tossing her backpack over one shoulder while holding the lantern in her other hand. She tilted her head slightly, shifting the lamp to her other hand as she pulled the other, dangling strap of the bag over her bare shoulder. Lodin readied his longsword as the knocking of footsteps above them grew louder with each passing moment. Soon, the noise had reached what Lodin and Gail guessed was the second floor, and still descending as the footsteps from the third floor continued. There couldn’t have been less than two-dozen individuals, all of them making their way down stairs.

Suddenly, the room was bathed with a gentle, ocher light. Various brightly burning torches became visible in each of the two main rooms of the sepulcher’s main floor, illuminating the greatly aged crypt. The rooms were rectangular in shape, adjoining to form an almost perfect square. The torches numbered one on either side of the doorway and on both sides of the adjoining wall, two on each of the shorter walls, and three on each of the larger walls; making a total of eighteen fiery torches filling the room with an worrisomely comforting radiance.

More disturbing still was the contents of the two rooms; not only were there half a dozen caskets in either room, but the mausoleum walls were covered in ornately decorated compartments that were quite obviously constructed for the storage of human remains. Lodin and Gail couldn’t help but feel intimidated by the sheer number of burial chambers set within the walls, and the dozen sarcophagi within the rooms themselves; it was as if death himself were enveloping the two hostages, swallowing them up as the footsteps grew closer with each passing moment.

Gail couldn’t help but take notice of Lodin’s fretful veneer, seeing him begin to sweat as his hand struggled to subdue its own trembling long enough to tighten its grip on the longsword it possessed. “Let me guess, more vampyres?” asked Gail, her voice quivering and her mind-bogglingly picturesque little body shivering with irrepressible horror as she grappled to cross her arms in front of her heaving chest.

Lodin swallowed hard and his breathing became increasingly strenuous as he slowly choked out his response, “A lot of them.”

Lodin took Gail by the hand and turned to run, as the lids which sat atop the sarcophagi suddenly started to shift themselves away from their caskets, grinding loudly as the creatures within the ancient coffins stretched out their shriveled arms, reaching for freedom. Long, spindly, bony arms were flaying from every coffin in the room before them as lids began falling from the caskets in the room behind them.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Gail pleaded, “Now!”

Lodin ran toward the doorway through which they’d entered the mausoleum, towing Gail behind him as the arms flailing from the coffins swiped at the paladin and his tormentingly salacious thief companion. They ran quickly to the doorway, slamming into it with an echoing “thud”. Both Lodin and Gail fell back onto the ground, staring at the doors in front of them that had become solid again just as mysteriously as it had become fluid moments before.

“What the…?” Lodin murmured, looking to Gail, who appeared to be just as confused as he was.

Gail looked behind her and began to scream hysterically as Vampyres started pouring into the two rooms - some from the coffins on the main floor, others apparently from the floors above. Lodin stood to his feet, pulling Gail up beside him, and turned to face the Vampyres as he and Gail braced for the attack, leaning against the massive bronze doors.

Suddenly Lodin and Gail were pulled through the doorway, catching their balance as they were somehow accelerated, thrown outside.

“How…” Gail began to ask.

“Who cares? Run!” Lodin commanded, sprinting away from the mausoleum as rapidly as he could, with Gail in tow.

They ran as fast as they possibly could, through row after row of headstones. They kept running until their hearts were pounding so hard they felt as if their chests would burst inside themselves. Their legs grew sore, and numb. They throats ran dry. Running more slowly now, they began to trip and stumble, struggling to keep their balance. They ran until it seemed as though they’d put a mile between themselves and the mausoleum behind them.

Lodin and Gail were startled by a shrill ‘crash’ behind them, prompting them to stop dead in their tracks. Their hearts pounding in unison, they nervously looked behind them, swallowing hard as a thick, black swarm poured out of the mausoleum where the massive stained-glass window once was. Gail and Lodin simply stood, their legs paralyzed with fear as they gazed with horror at the cloud of bats flocking toward them.

Gail shivered a bit. She’d always liked bats, finding them to be curious, entertaining creatures not unlike rodents or very small monkeys. Yet, even as much as Gail enjoyed watching vast colonies of bats take to the sky at sunset as a child, she knew this was very different. She knew that these bats weren’t bats at all - as did Lodin. Although, Gail found herself wanting to believe that the tiny bird-like creatures had just been scared by the vampyress within the mausoleum, because to believe they actually were vampyres was to almost assuredly admit defeat. ‘There must be dozens of them; at least a hundred or so’ Gail thought, watching the cloud draw nearer.

In only a moment’s time, Lodin and Gail found themselves enveloped by the thick dark cloud of the living undead. The creatures beat their wings, swarming around the chesty thief and her paladin friend. Gail threw her arms around Lodin, holding on to him with all the strength she could muster from her tired arms. She clenched her eyes shut, cringing as if she knew these would be her last moments. Lodin simply held her tightly against himself with his free arm, clumsily swiping at the bats with his longsword. Her ear pressed against the Aradian knight’s breast, Gail could feel the beat of his heart as she began to weep.

Lodin stared ahead, his eyes cutting through the confusion of the violent mass before him only to see one of the bats transforming itself into its ‘human’ form. It slowly metamorphosed into a tall, dark-haired man with pale skin, bloody red eyes, and a wrinkled brow. The Vampyre that was now standing within the confusion of the cloud of bats began making its way toward Lodin and the terrified young woman whom he embraced. The thing wore a long black cape with a tall moat collar, a red silk, ruffled shirt and black trousers. It opened its mouth and bore its long hideous fangs, hissing like an asp as it closed in on its victims. It wasn’t long before Lodin noticed that the other bats were following suit, all mutating into their so-called ‘human forms’, male and female alike. The males all wore flowing black capes and had blood-red eyes. The females wore long black dresses and had golden yellow eyes. All had ghostly pale skin, pointed ears and wrinkled brows. All hissed menacingly as they closed in around the paladin and the thief.

Soon the vampyres were upon them, pawing at them, attempting to pull them away from each other. Gail sobbed as she grappled to hold on to her knight, as one of the vampyres attempted to pry Lodin’s longsword out of his hand. Suddenly, the Vampyre struggling with Lodin was mysteriously pulled away. In his shock, Lodin lost his hold on Gail as a female vampyre pulled her away. The vampyress held Gail around the waist, pulled her head back by the hair, threw her head back and prepared to bite down on Gail’s supple young neck. Yet, mysteriously, that vampyre was also suddenly ripped away. Gail fell to the ground as Lodin started to hack away at the mod of undead monsters.

The paladin saw something moving through the crowd. Suddenly it became clear why the vampyress they first encountered had to use a guise to lure them into the mausoleum, and why the vampyres here were being ripped away.

“Ghouls!” shouted Lodin, “we’re saved! Vampyres are just moving corpses, like zombies! The ghouls are eating the vampyres!”

An army of Ghouls flooded into the vampyric horde, devouring them with an insatiable fervor. Every so often, a Ghoul would accidentally pull a Vampyres head off, causing the creature to disappear in a cloud of dust. Ghoul after ghoul pushed its way into the mayhem, and the vampyres tried with all that was in them to fight back, but the Ghouls were too strong for them. At one point, a vampyre even tried to drink from one of the Ghoul’s necks, but found itself choking on the inhuman blood.

The Vampyres were starting to scatter as the screeching pack of Ghouls continued to devour the undead coven. It was then that the chanting began. Louder it grew with each passing moment, drawing ever closer as Vampyre and Ghoul alike were distracted from their battle.

Lodin continued to hack away at the Vampyres, aided by the hunger of the Ghouls, when he heard the sounds. He lowered his weapon and stared into the mist. Gail came beside him, holding on to his arm as the Vampyres and Ghouls stood by their sides, awaiting what was to come from the murky cemetery air.

“Brains!” the creatures chanted, hidden beyond a veil of fog.

The Ghouls twitched their ears and nostril lobes, as the Vampyres grew fearful. Terror blanketed each and every monster at the side of Lodin and Gail, and all stood in anticipation of what was about to emerge from the mist.

“Lodin…” Gail whimpered.

A drove of zombies dashed out of the haze, colliding with the Vampyres and Ghouls as Lodin managed to fight off each monster that came too close to he and Gail. Once he saw an opening, he held Gail by the hand and made a run for it.

Gail looked behind her as Lodin pulled her away, staring into the battle raging on behind them. Zombies were biting into the heads of the Vampyres and the Ghouls, devouring their brains. The Ghouls were eating the dead, rotting flesh of the Vampyres and Zombies. The Vampyres appeared helpless in the three-way slaughter. Their numbers diminished until finally Gail witnessed the last of the Vampyres being eaten by a Ghoul before the battle scene seemed to disappear behind the fog as she and Lodin darted away toward the woods from which they’d entered the cemetery.

It wasn’t long until Lodin reached the fence, slumping over the iron bars to catch his breath. Gail did the same, letting go of Lodin’s hand.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Gail breathed.

“I’ve seen worse,” replied Lodin, hopping over the fence with a strained grunt.

Gail climbed over as well, falling into Lodin’s arms. They didn’t say a word, but instead just panted as they marched their tired bodies back into the woods.

The woods were so dark it was nearly impossible to see. They simply walked in a straight line, relying on memory to find their way through the bleak woodland in the middle of the city.

“Where’d my lantern go?” said Gail, finally breaking the silence.

“Um, I think you dropped it somewhere back into the cemetery…” said Lodin, casually looking over his shoulder, “…do you still have the oil?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because,” explained Lodin, “I have a lantern in my backpack. I just haven’t been able to use it since I ran out of oil last night.”

“You know it’s odd,” Gail began, dropping slightly behind Lodin in order to get into his backpack, “I walked through these woods earlier today, when the sun was still out, and no matter what direction I took it just led right back out into the town through the other side. I don’t know how we even found that cemetery to begin with, to be honest,” she continued, pulling the lantern out of Lodin’s pack, “it’s like it didn’t even exist until tonight.”

“Well,” said Lodin, “I’d imagine a cemetery as old as that one would’ve learned how to hide itself during the day.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Not at all. Believe me Gail; I’ve seen much stranger things. Maybe the cemetery isn’t actually a part of the city. Maybe it’s some kind of undead realm, and the gateway into it just happens to be in these woods. And maybe, just maybe, the gateway is only open at night.” Lodin hypothesized.

“I don’t really believe in other realms or anything though,” confessed Gail.

“I do. Where do you think peoples’ spirits go when they die? Where do you think Mortifer resides? Or Lucifer, Diana, and Aradia?”

“Well, I’m not talking about the afterlife. I definitely believe in an afterlife … but don’t you think the idea of gateways to other realms here on Gaia is sort of … weird?” the thief asked.

“This coming from a girl who just a few minutes ago witnessed a pack of Ghouls, an army of Zombies, and a coven of Vampyres wage a brutal war on each other, in the middle of a cemetery that doesn’t appear to exist during the day…”

“Okay, okay, I see your point. Hold on a minute, will you?”

Lodin stopped as Gail set the lantern she’d taken from his backpack on the ground, taking off her backpack and setting it down along side of it. She knelt down, reached into her pack, pulling out a canister of oil, as well as her flint and steel. She quickly refueled the lantern, and used her flint and steel to light the wick. Gail then closed up the lantern and stood straight up, slinging her backpack over one shoulder.

“Much better!” she exclaimed, seeing the lantern’s light cast on the trees around them as she began walking again, “I don’t know why this thing won’t stay lit.”

Lodin walked beside her, “So, how exactly did you and Jadia meet?”

“Well,” said Gail, “it was about a year ago, in Candleton. We just sort of ran into each other. We knew we had to be related; it’s sort of obvious since we both look just exactly alike. Well, save for our hair and eye color, and the fact that Jadia has freckles.”

“Don’t forget the ears.” Lodin reminded.

“True, Jadia’s ears aren’t pointed like mine, since she‘s a purebred human and all. Still, you must admit how remarkable the similarity is considering we had different fathers, and fathers of different races at that. Jadia and I traveled together for a few months, until I decided to go my separate way.”

“Did you ever get the chance to meet Llara Harnram, Rylen Llyraeus, or William Huxley?” queried Lodin.

Gail thought for a moment, “Yes, actually. Oh! Now I know where I recognize your name! They all talked about you, quite often come to think of it. Didn’t you used to be involved with some devout Wiccan girl who wanted to become an Aradian priestess?”

“Yes, Alyssandra. Alyssandra Foxley. Though actually she’s made it to the first degree of the priesthood, so she’s a full-fledged Witch now, and my fiancé as well.”

This took Gail off guard. ‘Fiancé?’ she thought, disappointed at the prospect that Lodin was spoken for. True she had only just met him a few hours ago, but her infatuation with him was growing by the moment. He was a paladin, which meant that he must be a brave, virtuous, honorable person. Not to mention the fact that he was a stunningly handsome specimen of a man, with the sort of masculine beauty that could make a woman’s loins quiver and reduce her to her knees at a mere glance.

“So, she was already a Witch when you left for Necropolis, right?”

“Well, yes.” answered Lodin.

“Then why didn’t she just order you not to go along?”

“Well, I was under orders from the elders of my camp…”

“But doesn’t the word of a priestess supercede those orders?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Seems to me,” said Gail, with a sorrowful bow of her head, “if she truly cared for you, she would have prevented you from accompanying your paladin camp on such a dangerous mission.”

Lodin’s head hung off his shoulders, his heart visibly breaking for brief moment as Gail’s words sunk in. The Aradian knight knew deep down that Alyssandra was aware of how much becoming a paladin had meant to him, and that she wouldn’t have dreamt of interfering with his duties, no matter how dangerous those duties might have been -- though Lodin couldn’t deny that Gail’s words made some sense.

“I’m sorry,” Gail offered compassionately. Although a part of her surely wanted Lodin to have his doubts, she couldn’t help but feel horrible for what she’d just done to him, whether it had been intentional or not.

“What’s that?” asked Lodin, tapping Gail on the shoulder.

Gail stopped, “How should I know?”

Just off the trail, sunken back into the trees just enough to be overlooked if Lodin hadn’t happened to have looked over in its direction as they walked by, was a small stone building with a large iron door nestled within the forest. Lodin sheathed his longsword and began to walk toward it.

“Don’t go in there! Are you mad or something?”

“I think it’s important that we have a look. I’m not sure why, it just is.” answered Lodin.

Gail followed him off the trail and back into the trees, stopping next to him at the front of the stone building.

“It looks like a crypt. Probably more Vampyres.” said Gail, looking around anxiously as her shaky hand lifted the lantern.

“I don’t think so. We would’ve been intercepted before we ever made it to the cemetery.” replied Lodin, placing his hand on the iron vault’s handle.

“Lodin, please, I really don’t like this. I have a really bad feeling. Can we just keep going?” Gail shifted her weight, cocking her hips to one side and resting her free hand on her bulbous buttock.

The paladin opened the vault, pulling the door back to the outside. He examined the interior of the door, finding what looked to be a steel crossbar. Lodin smiled.

“Ha! We can use this crypt, or whatever it is, for shelter. I knew there was some reason it seemed so important to look here,” explained Lodin, “but we should check it out first to make sure it’s all clear.”

“I think we shouldn’t. You can if you want.” replied the picturesque young thief.

“Fine, hand me the lantern,” said Lodin.

Gail looked around, “Okay, okay, I’ll come down there with you.”

“Well, hand me the lantern anyway, unless you want lead…” Lodin instructed.

Gail handed the lantern to Lodin with a huff.

“Thank you.” said Lodin, shining the lantern into the crypt, revealing a long, dark stairwell.

Lodin took a step inside, followed by another. Gail followed closely behind, biting her lip nervously as they traversed the descending tunnel together. The sounds of deep, echoing bellows were faintly audible, growing louder as Lodin and Gail crept down the corridor. The air smelled stale and somewhat rancid, though not nearly so much as the fog they’d encountered in the cemetery. The blocks in the corridor walls were coated with dust, crumbling from centuries of disrepair. The bellows were growing louder, seeming more like deep, roaring moans with each passing moment. Lodin and Gail listened intently as they traveled further into the crypt; the bellows slowly turning into the horrendous moans of tortures unknown.

“I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I don’t like this…” Gail whispered repeatedly under her breath.

“It’s okay,” said Lodin, nearly as alarmed by Gail’s chanting as he was by the bellowing agonies echoing through the passageway.

I don’t know why I agreed to this. I knew it was a bad idea, but I had to let you drag me down here…”

“Gail, it’s okay, really. Nothing we could encounter down here could possibly be as horrible as what we encountered in the cemetery. We’ll be fine.”

The bellows grew louder, more agonizing. Screaming now, drowning out the moans. Screams of unfathomable suffering. Screams of men, women, children, even infants violated their ears as Lodin and Gail continued their descent. If the screaming weren’t horrifying enough alone, they were soon accompanied by the hideous laughter of unknown creatures; wails of delight, hysterical, high-pitched howls, and screeches of beings basking in the sounds of agony and suffering.

“Lodin, I really think we should turn around now.” Gail whimpered.

“Do you really want to have your back turned to whatever’s down there?” replied Lodin.

“Well no, but…we haven’t been noticed.”

“For all we know. Besides, we’re nearing the bottom now.” Lodin walked down the last few steps and onto the crypt floor, with Gail not more than a step behind him, only to find that they both now stood in a small room, standing before a large, blank stone wall.

“Those sounds, they’re louder now.” said Gail, slightly confused.

Lodin scratched the back of his head, equally perplexed by this turn of events; “This isn’t as strange as that door in the cemetery, but I have to admit I’m somewhat at a loss here. Do you think those sounds could be coming from the other side of the wall?”

“I don’t want to find out. Can we go?” urged Gail.

Suddenly, the blocks of the stone wall before them began to fade away, becoming transparent, revealing what was trapped within the wall. As the blocks faded away completely, the wall became a mass of bones and carcasses, with skulls set within it, some chattering, some moaning, and some laughing. It was clear now that the wall itself was the source of the unusual sounds they’d been hearing. The wall swelled and billowed, as skeletal arms and legs began flailing out from the wall’s surface.

“Stay back!” Lodin shouted, attempting to be heard over the now deafening cries of the wall as he pushed Gail behind him; “I’ve heard of these! They’re called living walls! They’re formed when someone has been tortured and entombed within a wall, and the trapped spirit gets all pissed off and evil! The spirit awakens any dead nearby and draws them into the wall, absorbing carcass after carcass and soul after soul until it becomes a mass of carcasses and angry spirits! It even assimilates weapons!”

Lodin drew his longsword, preparing himself for the living wall’s inevitable attack, “It’ll try to kill us and absorb us into itself! If it doesn’t do that, it will attract zombies, vampyres, wights, ghosts, wraiths, anything undead to kill us, and we’ll still be absorbed into the wall!”

“We should run!” screamed Gail.

“No! These things have to be destroyed! It’s the only way to free the trapped souls!” yelled Lodin, “Here! Take the lantern!”

Gail grabbed the lantern from Lodin’s hand. The light began to flicker and strobe as Lodin assaulted the wall with his longsword. Skeleton arms were reaching out, attempting to grab at Lodin as he hacked away at the living wall. Lodin jumped back beside Gail as the wall began to brandish swords, knives, daggers, flails, shields, and maces that seemed to have appeared from within the wall itself. The wailing and laughter continued as Lodin’s sword clashed with the weapons being wielded by the living wall. He hacked at bony arms possessing the weapons, cutting them away and forcing the wall to drop its armaments one by one.

As the weapons began falling to the ground, Gail set the lantern carefully on one of the steps of the stairwell behind them as it continued to strobe, and made a dash toward the fallen weapons. She managed to procure for herself a steel longsword, similar to Lodin’s, as well as a small, convex buckler-shield with a center spike before rolling away to dodge a strike by one of the remaining skeletal arms still brandishing a sword.

Lodin continued his attack on the wall, hacking away at it as though his longsword were a machete. Gail joined him, striking and slashing at the unholy abomination. As the two worked together, they began cutting back the wall, shattering bones as the skulls wailed and moaned, dodging lunges by skeletal torsos. Bones began flying, their shards strewn about the floor of the tiny crypt.

They kept chopping at the wall, fighting it back further with each passing moment until finally, they saw a light coming from the other side.

The living wall finally crumbled, leaving rusted weapons and pieces of bone in its place. On the other side was a large room, lit by what looked to be hundreds of candles; their light reflecting brilliantly from man-sized piles of gold coins, gold bars, and gemstones. Treasure was piled on top of tables, spilling over onto the floor. Necklaces, chalices, decorative weapons, and statues filled the room. It was a remarkable sight.

Gail’s jaw went slack, as she followed Lodin into the room in a daze. As they ambled over the mound of debris, Lodin bent over and pulled a sheath from a suit of armor that laid half-buried in the rubble, and handed it to Gail.

“Here, for your new sword.” he said with a smile.

Gail shook her head, forcing herself to snap out of the trance the sight of all that gold had put her in. “Oh, thank you,” she said.

Suddenly, a dark vapor materialized before Lodin and Gail, condensing into a shadowy mass, and taking form. The smoky, shadowy form took the shape of a cloaked figure.

The figure reached its decayed, skeletal hands up and pulled the cloak’s hood down, revealing the creature’s head to be nothing more than a skull.

“Who dareth to disturb the tomb of Rha Kai Tan?” spewed the creature.

“Who’s asking?” replied Gail.

“I am the Crypt Keeper who guards the tomb of Rha Kai Tan. Who dareth to disturb his tomb?”

“Kha Lo Din, of the Knights of Aradia, and of the kingdom of Béowyn, son of Kha Ri Oric and Crystane Din…” said Lodin, elbowing Gail.

“Huh? Oh... and I’m Abigail Renee Rowan, of the Taillion Thieves’ Guild, and of the kingdom of Faelore, daughter of Aramyn Haran and Larissa Rowan,” chimed the young thief.

“Hast thou, paladin, not come to desecrate the tomb of the greatest blackguard to ever live? And hast thou, thief, not come to plunder his riches?”

“No,” they answered in unison, shaking their heads.

“Ye speaketh filthy lies! ‘Tis only to destroy and pillage a paladin and thief would invade this tomb! ‘Tis surely lies you doth speak from thy putrid lips, for ye could not be here for another purpose!”

Lodin struck at the crypt keeper with his sword, slicing it straight through the center. The robe flew across the room as the bones fell to the floor. He then stomped on the crypt keeper’s skull, shattering it under his leather boot to ensure its death.

“So,” said Lodin, sheathing his longsword, “what’s say we have a look around?”

“Sounds good to me!” replied Gail, sheathing her longsword with a satisfied giggle.

Gail walked to the nearest table, marveling at the richness of the bounty before her. ‘This is amazing!’ she thought, running her fingers through the pile of gold coins. She stopped, unbuckled the enarms of her shield, letting it fall to the floor, and slid her backpack off her shoulders, catching one of the straps in her hand. She tossed the backpack atop the table, unbuckled it, and began to rummage through the golden plethora in search of particularly spectacular finds.

“It just occurred to me,” began Lodin, browsing the other side of the room with his hands behind his back, “if this is the tomb of Rha Kai Tan, where’s his sarcophagus?

“Who cares? Who the hell is Rha Kai Tan, anyway?”

“Kaitan was the most powerful blackguard in all of Gaia’s history. He founded the Order of Blackguards, and died in the year sixteen twenty-four of the seventh era.” explained Lodin.

“Wait, so you’re telling me that there were no blackguards until three thousand years ago?”

“No, there were blackguards, but no Order. Before Kaitan came along, the only blackguards were paladins who betrayed their vows to Aradia and pledged allegiance to Mortifer. They weren’t even called blackguards yet; instead, they were called ‘Mortiferean knights’ or ‘Mortiferean paladins’, and the like. They sometimes formed small bands, but there wasn’t any real unity among the different bands. Rha Kai Tan changed all of that, brought them all together and formed the Order of Blackguards. Every paladin neophyte learns about Kaitan before becoming an actual paladin, since the Order is now our most dire adversary.”

Gail continued to scrounge through the gold and jewels on the table in front of her, eventually coming upon a very expensive-looking platinum chain link necklace with a fist-sized diamond pendant. She decided she’d better take it, and so proceeded to put it on. It fit snugly around her neck, as though it were meant to be worn as a choker. She reckoned that Rha Kai Tan must have had an exceptionally small neck.

“Aren’t you going to take anything?” she asked.

Lodin turned around to face her, “I don’t have much need for treasure. I’ll probably just grab a few gold pieces on the way out.”

“Suit yourself,” replied Gail, placing a platinum, jewel-encrusted goblet into her backpack, followed by a golden chalice with a ruby-studded brim, as well as a few gold, silver, and platinum necklaces.

Gail found several nearly fist-sized diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, and even an alexandrite or two, which she eagerly placed inside her rucksack with great delight. She then proceeded to examine a pile of coin purses that sat on the table, some containing nothing but gold coins, others containing nothing but platinum pieces, and a few containing bronze, silver, brass, and electrum coins. She didn’t even bother to count as she greedily tossed an armful of the pouches into her worn knapsack. Gail then noticed a couple of small satchels laying on the table, so she quickly loaded one with gold coins, as well as a few silver, platinum, and electrum pieces, and set it beside her pack.

Meanwhile, Lodin paced back and forth near the far wall of the crypt, examining some of the golden statues. One statue was a life-sized, eerily realistic winged gynogryphon; another appeared to be a small dragon, with each horn, claw, fold, and scale given extraordinary attention to detail. Another stature looked basically human in shape, but was utterly featureless. Around the statue’s neck hung an amulet, a slightly larger than fist-sized, obsidian-looking stone attached to a platinum chain.

“You said earlier that you only heard rumors that Kyra was still alive. From what I remember, talking to Jadia, and from my conversations with Larissa and Isaac, she hasn’t been seen since she was eight. I take it that you and Jadia never found her?”

Gail frowned, “No, we keep hearing these rumors that someone who looks just like us has been seen here or there. We’ve been assuming it was Kyra. How many women could there be who look like us?”

“Good point.” said Lodin, “So if you only met Jadia less than a year ago, that means you’ve never even seen Kyra...”

“No, all I really know about her is what Jadia’s told me,” answered Gail.

Lodin kept his eyes fixed on the amulet that hung from the statue’s neck, mesmerized at its glimmer. Feeling compelled, he reached up and removed the talisman from the statue, slipping it over his own head. He looked down at it, admiring its beauty; satisfied in his find.

Suddenly, the room began to rumble.

“Shit!” Gail squealed, closing up her backpack, tossing it around her back as she slipped her arms through the straps.

Gail threw the satchel over her head, picked up her shield and ran for the exit, Lodin closely following. Leaping over the pile of rubble where the living wall once stood, Gail grabbed the lantern and began running up the stairs with Lodin not more than a beat behind.

They ran up the stairs as the light from behind them grew dim and disappeared with a loud crash. The tomb was beginning to cave in. They ran as quickly as they could, the tunnel collapsing in on itself just behind them. No sooner did they exit the ancient building than it completely sank into the ground, trees falling on top of it, burying it almost completely.