Rien couldn’t quite contain his excitement as the entrance to the tomb rolled open. “Yes.” He turned and kissed Rachel, who laughed.
She pointed. “Look.” She moved to glyphs carved into the rock. “We need to either leave the keystone where it is or put it here to keep the door open.”
“Move it there, to the inside.” Rien nodded. “In case we need it.”
Rachel obeyed. Fortunately, the door itself moved slowly. She had plenty of time to get the keystone into its new position. “Guess that’s why the idea was to have more than one.” Bast was looking around. “If anyone was here…”
“If anyone was here, they were stupid.” Rien smirked. Various treasures were visible in the room, prizes that would net the average raider considerable prestige.
“Maybe someone tried to get in, but couldn’t?” Rachel examined a ruby pin sitting on a pedestal. Rien picked it up, blew the dust from it, then placed it on her tunic before kissing her.
Bast and Maela were a little further in, examining the glyphs. “No.” Bast’s voice was quiet. “Someone was here. Look.” He pointed.
“Footsteps in the dust.” Maela nodded. “Not many, but…” She frowned. “They are old.”
“Who knows how old?” Bast bent to examine them. “If the chamber was sealed, they could have been made a decade ago.”
“Find the sword. It’s what matters.” Rien handed Rachel a lantern before moving further in. “It won’t be in the first chamber. We’re looking for his actual resting place.” He frowned. “No, this makes no sense.”
“If any of my brothers wanted what was in here and got the keystone before I did, all they had to to was take it to Mother.” Rien turned a slow circle. “So what would be the point of coming here in secret?”
“Unless…” Rachel hesitated.
“One of your brothers didn’t come back, Master Rien. Perhaps the one that came here is the one that…”
“Killed Jurgen.” Rien growled.
“The footprints don’t seem to leave this chamber, Rien.” Bast shook his head as he held up his lantern, then looked back toward Rien. “Whatever they wanted, it must have been in here.”
“Perhaps whoever entered…” Rachel tilted her head. “Did not expect the dragon to come?”
“That’s a good point, Lovely.” Rien followed her through a passage, letting Bast and Maela take the other one. “They wanted some prize, but the dragon threw their plans into chaos.” He chuckles. “That is the sort of thing dragons do.”
They were deep into the tunnel when Rachel spoke up. “Master Rien, there is the mural.” She pointed.
“Right, so now —” He took a step forward as the floor beneath her opened. “Rachel.” He dropped the lantern and just barely managed to catch her before she fell. The lantern rolled and hit part of the wall. A portcullis dropped from the ceiling, smashing the lantern and trapping them. The lantern sputtered and went out, leaving them in total darkness.
“Would you like me to yell for help?”
“Yes, Lovely.” Any other time he wouldn’t have minded holding Rachel tightly in the dark. “Yes, I would.”
“I see.” She raised her voice. “Help.”
“This is absolutely incredible.” Maela’s eyes practically shown as she examined the mural. “It’s like out of the stories.” She pointed. “Look, the mark on the floor.”
“Trap.” Bastien couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. He stepped over the marked area, then offered her a hand.
“None…” She hesitated. “Almost no one, has been here for a thousand years. Until us.” She giggled. “History waiting until we show up.”
“You’re having way more fun digging around a dusty old tomb than I would have expected.” He brushed dust away from another series of glyphs so she could read them.
“The best part of the training was learning to read. I couldn’t, until we were sold.” Maela leaned forward eagerly. “I remember thinking it looked like chickens had scratched on the paper and then it became words and stories. The days became easy because at night I could fade into the paper and go anywhere I could imagine.” She grabbed his hand and pressed his fingers into the markings in the stone. “A thousand years ago, someone carved these words. To talk to us, across the ages.” She ran her own hand down the markings. “Like we were their friends.”
“What are they saying?” He held up the lantern.
“They are warning us.” She moved her fingers under the runes. “Telling us not to make the same mistakes they did. That a dragon…” She frowned. “Cannot be ridden.” She chuckled. “I ride Master Rien all the time.”
Bastien winced. “Maela.”
Her laughter was warm, but it faded as she kept reading. “It cannot be tamed, cannot be mastered. It is not a toy or a weapon. It is not even real, but a manifestation of darkness and evil. Those who try to control it will be consumed by it, and the land will weep blood.” She tilted her head. “This next part is strange. It’s kind of hard to translate.”
“Try?” He juggled the lantern to get out ink and a scrap of parchment. “I’ll write it down.”
“Beneath fire the lamb will slay the dead and find the dreams. He will rise from the ashes and be claimed by the sea.” She moved her finger down. “The rock will cry out, begging mercy from the water. The measure of a man decided within the moment.” She moved down again. “The blade is bound by honor, not by chain. The fate of oath and crown are sealed together.” She moved to the last line, and her eyes widened slightly. “A dragon drowned by the breath of life. He speaks the truth, and thus they die.”
“That, uh…” Bastien looked down at the parchment as he wrote the last bit down. “I wonder what our friend was drinking when he wrote that?”
“I’m starting to suspect no one can hear us.” Rien growled. “What kinds of traps did you find in the books?”
“Ones like the one I nearly fell in. Spikes that fall from the ceiling. And monsters but —” They both froze at a scraping sound. “But we thought anything that had been put in here to — ” The sound came again. “Would have — ” It came again closer. “Died of old age long ago.”
“Lovely, I’m going to set you down on the floor. Stay low, with your back to the portcullis, and try not to move.” He let her go, and felt her obey. Then he drew his axe. “Remain very, very quiet.” He stepped away from her, hoping he didn’t fall into a pit trap, and readied his axe. “Who goes there?”
A low growling sound answered him. He tilted his head, turning toward it. No idea where it was safe to put his feet, no idea what he was facing, no way to see what he was facing, and no possible way to retreat. Rien smiled. This was going to be fun.
Jurgen had blindfolded him. As much his elder brother teasing him as it was an actually training exercise. The first few times he had managed to take his Jurgen, it had been by homing in on the sound of Jurgen laughing at his flailing about. Feel the air against your skin, trust your ears. His brother’s voice in his ears. Now move. He spun, and the axe connected, biting into whatever approached. It roared with pain and fury. He jerked to the side, felt something brush against his skin. There was the faint coppery smell of blood in the air, as much taste as scent.
A brush of flesh on stone, and he whirled again. The axe hit, but a glancing blow. Something struck him in the side, making him grunt in pain. If I’m touching you, you know where I am. He sent the butt end of the axe in a retaliatory blow. It struck, and he heard something thud against the wall. He brought the axe down again. The axe trembled in his hand. He yanked it free and brought it down a second time, and felt the resistance of flesh give way beneath the blade. There was a gurgling sound, and then whatever was on the other end went still.
Rien took a deep breath. “Rachel? Lovely?”
“I’m here.” He breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of her voice. “Is it safe?”
“I…” Rien shrugged. “Maybe?”
There was a spark as she struck a flint against her knife, and it lit the spilled oil from the lantern. It illuminated the hallway, and Rien took an involuntary step back. Rachel made a small squealing sound. “Master Rien?”
The thing he’d killed was a troll, but not a kind he’d ever seen before. It was covered in stark white fur, and it’s teeth longer than Rien’s hand. And it’s blood was… Trolls were supposed to have red blood. The stuff puddling beneath this creature was nearly black. He swallowed. “Lovely, maybe not…” She was already scrambling away from the spreading pool.
Rachel reached for one of the torches on the wall, but it fell apart in her hand. Quickly she tore a length from her skirt and wrapped it around the sheath from her dagger. Then she soaked it into the burning oil. “Okay.”
“Oh, that’s my clever girl.” He kissed her, then took her hand. “Alright, let’s find a way out of here before that burns out.”
“Master Rien?” Rachel shook her head as she followed him. “How did that get in here?”
“I…” Rien glanced over his shoulder. “Really am not sure I want to know.”
“Do you hate Master Rien?”
Bastien blinked, and turned toward Maela. “What?”
“When you call me names, you’re teasing. When you call him names, you’re not. At least, not all the way.” Maela shrugged a little. “Do you hate him?”
“I…” Bastien sighed. “Sometimes.” It was rather difficult to admit it was harder to hate Rien than it had been at first. The man was more childish than evil. He gestured to another marked section of floor, and they skirted around it. “Do you hate your father, for selling you and Rachel?”
“No.” Maela shook her head. “If he hadn’t, then the others would have gone hungry. And he promised to name the inn after us. ‘The Golden Sisters’.” She smiled. “I wish I could see it. Mother was going to hang lace curtains.”
“Is it…” He frowned. “Common, in Lethiun to…?”
“Most families have an extra to sell. Manisar coin spends good, and for many it’s a better life.” Maela shrugged. “Master Rien treats us well, and we don’t go hungry. Plus there is you, and we got to learn to read and play music and…” Her eyes widened, and she pointed. “And that.”
He looked in the direction she was pointing, and felt his jaw drop slightly. The statue was incredible, a dragon rampant, standing guard over a casket. It had been carved from volcanic glass, and the edges of the wings looked as sharp as knives. The entire thing was vaguely translucent. He wasn’t sure how such a thing could be made, let alone transported. “That’s…”
“A…” He turned toward her in confusion. “Problem?”
“Master Rien is going to want to take that home.”
“Yeah…” He let out a low whistle. “That’s going to be a problem.” He sighed. “We should probably figure out where he went, let him know we found the sword.” It was laying atop the casket. He walked over and picked it up. “Let’s go.”
“Why…” Rien took a deep breath. “Is a place that has been left sealed for a thousand years…” He hauled the axe out of the dead troll. “Full of monsters?”
“They aren’t alive.” Rachel’s voice came back. She was holding up yet another makeshift torch, and gesturing at markings on the walls.
“Lovely, I’ve killed seven of them.” He wiped the black blood off the axe.
“They were sealed by magic to serve as guardians.” Rachel nodded, then frowned. “And there were twelve of them.”
Another growling sound came from one of the nearby corridors. Rien exhaled. “This stopped being fun two trolls ago.”
“Maela…” Bastien looked around.
“Wasn’t there a arch here earlier?”
“The arch that lead back to the entrance.”
“Did the books say anything about disappearing arches?”
“So we’re lost.”
He sighed. “Has anything gone right this trip?”
“Well…” Maela shrugged before smiling at him. “At least we’re lost together?”
Bastien smiled at her. “Come on, let’s try this way.”
“Lovely, how many was that?”
“Twelve, Master Rien.”
“All twelve?” He looked around, then shrugged. “I’ll have to apologize to Bast for not leaving one for him.” He chuckled, then looked over at her. “Are you alright?”
She was staring at him, her expression full of awe. “That was amazing, Master Rien.” She gestured. “The way you…” She looked around. “The books say it takes at least five men to bring down a troll.”
“Well, Lovely, you can’t believe everything you read.” He gestured at the writing on the wall. “See if you can find us a way out of here, before you run out of skirt.” He chuckled. “Never thought I’d be glad you were wearing clothes.”
“We passed this way already.” Bast pointed. “Look, here’s the mark you made.”
“But we can’t have. We turned down the other corridor this time.” Maela made a vexed noise.
“Okay, if we turned…” He walked over to the dust covered wall and started trying to draw the map, then stopped. “Maela, if we came this way already…”
“Where are our footprints?” Maela immediately began looking at the ground.
“But that’s your name, signed on the…” He froze, then turned and walked forward to the archway. The dragon statue was there, along with the casket.
“Bast?” He turned toward her. Maela took a deep breath. “I have an idea, but if it doesn’t work I’m going to look really stupid and I need you to promise not to laugh.”
“You could never look stupid, Maela.”
She beamed at him. “Take my hand, and follow me.”
He took her hand, and squeezed it once. “Alright. Following you.”
Maela took a deep breath, and then walked straight toward the wall where the arch had once been. He started to pull her back, then caught himself and let her walk. Then his eyes widened as she passed through the wall. Only her hand remained, clinging to his. He smiled, then let her pull him through the illusion. On the other side, she was smiling. “The book said not to trust your eyes.”
“Oh you gorgeous genius.” Bast laughed. He squeezed her hand, and for a moment wished he was allowed to kiss her. “Let’s go find the others.”
“Okay so if that one…” Rachel stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth a little as she moved pieces on the mural. The expression looked utterly adorable. “There.”
From the corridor behind them, there was a faint rumbling sound. Rien looked out the door and saw the portcullis had lifted. “Lovely, when we get back to Darodelf I am going to dress you in the biggest ruby necklace in the Wild.” He caught her hand, and pulled her to him for a kiss. “And nothing else.” She giggled before returning the kiss. “Then I’m going to have you figure out what I pay Jochem and double it.”
He pulled her with him back the way they came. Light could be seen as her torch started to flicker once more, and instead of letting her relight it he just tugged her hand. Hopefully, Bast and Maela had found something on their side of the tomb.
Rien stepped out of the corridor and froze in his tracks. He stared in shock at the man standing there, a dozen other men behind him, all heavily armed.