|The Flower of Aurora|
|Series||Beyond the Veil by Enodoc|
|Previous||Cara, Undercroft, Kannat Raider|
|← Cara, Undercroft, Kannat Raider||Chapter Chronology||→|
The Flower of AuroraEdit
The undercroft was cold and damp. Stone steps descended into the darkness and a chilled wind swept up from below. Sam bounded down ahead of the King and Cara, sniffing the air and listening for any signs of danger. He stopped at the bottom of the steps and peered into the room ahead. A cluster of strange glowing lights hovered just below the ceiling in the middle of the room.
The King saw them as well.
"Jasper!" he whispered, "Fireball and Vortex please!"
The red and bronze Fireball gauntlet appeared alongside a cloudy grey and gold gauntlet, mist occasionally floating around its fingers.
The King held his hands together and slowly edged into the room, the growing Firestorm between his palms illuminating the stonework of the chamber. Suddenly, two of the glowing lights detached themselves from the cluster and plummeted towards the ground. Cara bounced forwards hoping to play with them, but Sam stood in her way and growled. She hissed back at him and tried to go around.
"No, Cara! Keep back!"
The wisps burrowed into the ground, which suddenly erupted as two shambling creatures pulled their way up into the room. Cara stumbled backwards and mewed in fear as Sam grabbed hold of the nearest hollow man's bony leg to stop it from getting closer to her. Three more wisps came floating down to the ground as the King threw his spell into the air.
In an instant, the air was on fire, and the five hollow men were picked up and spun around in the vortex. The force of the wind pulled them to pieces, and burning bones flew around the room. Cara cowered at the King's feet while Sam tried to catch one of the bones out of the firestorm. Slowly, the winds died down and the debris came to rest in a heap in the corner.
The King sat down beside Cara.
"Wisps are not playthings," he told her gently. "Each is a lost spirit, trying to protect its resting place, and they animate the bodies of the long dead in an attempt to drive off intruders."
Sam pottered over to them. Cara hissed.
"Now now, there's no need for that," the King said. "Sam was just trying to keep you away from the hollow men."
Cara cocked her head at them both, then got up and slinked off down the next corridor.
Sam looked up at the King.
"Well done, boy! I'm sure she'll come around eventually."
Sam barked in agreement.
They caught up with Cara as she was sneaking carefully down the dark hallway, ears flat against her head as though she was stalking some unfortunate prey. When they entered the next chamber, she stayed back as the King dispatched another wave of hollow men, and only ventured forward when the last one was reduced to a smouldering pile of bones. Ahead, at the far end of the chamber, stood a great stone door, firmly shut. Above it were three unlit braziers. The King fired a few fireballs at each of them, but to no avail.
"These obviously can't be lit directly," he told his companions. "Let's have a look around and see if we can find anything."
They began to explore the chamber. The King noticed more clusters of wisps in the high beams, but they didn't seem interested in the adventurers. Not yet, anyway, he thought.
Cara was exploring around the back of a large urn when she found a strange blue tile in the floor. She gingerly put a paw on it. One of the braziers above the door lit up.
Kaaca! she called.
The King came running over.
"Nice find! Let's see if we can locate two more of these."
No sooner had he said that, there came a Woof! from the other side of the room. Sam was sitting on another blue floor tile, and the second brazier above the door had sprung to life.
The King scoured the chamber for a third pressure plate while Cara and Sam sat patiently on the ones they had found. Eventually, he noticed a faint blue glow coming from behind a cluster of urns. He whipped out his rifle and shot them to pieces, clouds of ash and dust filling the air.
The third brazier above the door lit up and the great stone began to grind open. However, it only got part way when it stuttered, and ground to a halt. The braziers flickered and faltered, and the glow of the pressure plates faded. The King stood, perplexed, and looked around. Then he jumped up and down on the dull blue tile. Nothing happened. Sam pottered over to him, and Cara mewed into the darkness. The King went to investigate the door, hand over his sword hilt in case the wisps decided this would be an opportune moment to spring an ambush. When they didn't, he took a closer look at the stonework. It was one of those old Auroran doors set into a void in the wall, like those in the Veiled Path and Sandfall Palace. Nothing seemed to be jammed in it, and yet all of the mechanisms powering it had shut down. The only progress the door had made was to open a small gap in the bottom corner.
"That seems to be all we're getting for now," he told the others, "until we can work out how to relight the braziers and restore the power supply."
Cara looked up at him, and down at the gap in the door. Then she wriggled through the opening. Sam squeezed through after her.
"A nice idea, but it's too small for me to get through." The King knelt down by the door. Sam licked his nose through the gap. "Aww, good boy. I guess we'll just have to think of something else." Sam began to wriggle back through the gap under the door.
"Wait a minute!" the King exclaimed. "Where's Cara?"
Sam shuffled backwards again so the King could see through the hole. He put his hand under the door and summoned a fireball. The light fell onto the walls of the corridor and cobwebs cast eerie shadows across the floor. At the far reaches of the lit area, they could just make out the caracal slinking into the distance.
"Cara! Come back here!"
She turned to look towards him, ears flickering.
Coo! she said, and disappeared into the darkness.
"Well, okay then... I guess she's enjoying exploring too much to notice if we're with her or not. Stay with her, will you?"
He stroked Sam's head and the dog nuzzled into his arm.
"And don't let her get to you!"
With a last look back at the King, Sam bounded off after Cara.
The caracal peered expectantly into the darkness. She may have been startled by the hollow men, but now she was excited to discover what lay ahead in their adventure through the undercroft. The next time a hollow man turned up, she'd be ready. She'd show the King that she was helpful in a fight just like Sam. Now where were they?
Cara found herself in the middle of a large chamber, standing on a central section which was raised above a watery area far below. She turned to look for the King, but only Sam was behind her. She hissed instinctively, ears flat back against her head. Sam stood there unfazed, his tail slowly swinging back and forth. Cara stopped hissing and stared at him for a moment, then decided that he posed no threat.
Sam looked around the room. Now that Cara no longer seemed hostile towards him, he could focus on something more important; he needed to work out how to get the King through the door. There was no obvious exit to the chamber, other than the way they had come in, and the central section they were standing on was devoid of any distinguishing features. A few wisps hung in the eaves far above them, flickering menacingly. He pottered over to the edge and looked down at the water. A few alcoves were set into the wall on the outer side, at varying heights above the water's surface. One of them, low enough for the water to lap over its edge, had a glowing pressure plate within.
Sam barked with excitement. Cara peered over the edge beside him, then slinked back to the centre of the room. She didn't like deep water. Her canine companion however leapt straight in and made a beeline for the alcove. He jumped onto the pressure plate.
There was a grinding sound as the floor underneath Cara began to tremble. Sam was flipped out of the alcove by the pressure plate and dropped back into the water, as a great iron gate slammed down in front of him, sealing off the alcove. The entry passageway collapsed, leaving Cara stranded on the island in the middle. Water started gushing into the chamber from every alcove, and Sam floundered about trying to keep himself afloat. The water level rose until it was almost level with another alcove. Within, a floor tile popped up and began to glow.
As suddenly as it started, the grinding stopped and all incoming water ceased. Cara peered over the edge again, trembling like the floor had been. She saw the second glowing tile, and knew what was about to happen. Sam hesitated when he saw her, but they both understood that it needed to be done. Cara retreated to the middle of the island. Sam swam over to the alcove and leapt on the pressure plate. He was catapulted into the air, and the whole process started again.
The water seemed to rush in even faster this time. Bits of the central platform fell away into the froth, and Cara darted around trying to keep her balance on the remaining segments. Sam tried to stay near to the outer wall, where there was less of a current caused by the chaos around the chamber. They heard a clunk as a third pressure plate activated in a nearby alcove. By this time, the water had risen so far that it had almost reached the height of the central platform.
Cara remembered the time she was exploring the cave system beneath Falconscrag and first came across the underground lake; she was merely a cub at the time. She had been playing on the old Zoryan ruins when she had slipped, and fallen into the lake. She couldn't swim very well, and cried out in terror. One of the older caracals had heard her cries and had swum out to rescue her. Since then, she had stayed away from the lake, but had continued to improve her balance. Now she was surrounded by deep water again, and was doing her best to stay as far away from it as possible.
Sam jumped into the third alcove.
He was flipped clear across the room by the spring-loaded floor tile, and flew right over the top of Cara on the central platform. He landed with a great splash next to the opposite wall. Cara skittered about on the remaining section of the central platform as the rest of it fell away. As the water began to lap at her feet, the stone she was standing on turned blue.
Sam watched as Cara was thrown up into the air by the final pressure plate.
Yowwl! she cried. The dog paddled around to try and position himself near to where she would come back down.
Cara fell like a stone into the cold water, and flailed about, wildly. Then she felt a tug on the scruff of her neck. Sam was helping her to stay afloat.
* * *
The King sat in the previous room pondering over how he would get through the door. Suddenly, a cluster of wisps detached themselves from the group and plummeted to the ground. The King quickly backed up and drew his rifle. He fired at the hollow man as it crawled its way up from below, and succeeded in shooting its head off. However, it continued to advance as its comrades emerged from the ground. He holstered the rifle and drew his sword, cleaving through the collection of bones in front of him. Finally, he summoned a firestorm to finish off the stragglers.
After the battle, the King took a moment to think. What had caused the hollow men to attack at all? Usually there was some sort of trigger, but he hadn't been doing anything noteworthy. Then it hit him; where were Sam and Cara? Had they accidentally triggered some ancient defences? He hurried back to the door and tried to move it through sheer force of strength. It didn't budge.
* * *
Cara and Sam sat panting in the entry corridor, the water having risen enough for the setter to help the caracal to swim straight out of the chamber and back the way they had come. As the water lapped at their feet again, they glanced back into the chamber. The spring that had launched Cara into the air receded back into the floor, and the final piece of the central platform fell away into the dark waters.
Wooo-oooo! Wooo-oooo! Two flit switches shot out of the platform just before it disappeared, and darted past the companions towards the jammed door. One careened around the corridor and shot back into the chamber, coming to rest above where the platform had previously been. Sam and Cara stared at each other, then, together, chased after the other contraption, and back towards the King.
As he tried to force the door open for the umpteenth time, the King thought he heard something approaching from behind it. He glanced towards the gap and saw a peculiar red glow coming from the other side. He peered through the hole, and was almost hit in the face by a flit switch whizzing towards him. The switch came to rest beside him, where he loosed a small fireball at it. It chimed and disappeared into a slot above the door. Almost immediately, the room was once again bathed in the glow of lit braziers, and the door continued its opening path.
The door slid open and there behind it sat Sam and Cara, tails wagging and ears flickering.
"Oh ho! Well done you two!" cried the King, throwing his arms around them. Sam growled.
"Oh no, not this time..." warned the King. "We're busy." He threw a small purple bottle into the room behind him where a number of wisps had begun to accumulate. It shattered on the floor and six shadowy creatures appeared. They slashed the hollow men to bits with powerful claws, then disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"Now then, where were we?"
Arf! said Sam. Coo! said Cara. They led the King back to the watery chamber.
"Hmm, this appears to be a bit wet..." he pondered, "and with no obvious exit. But maybe that will help." He noticed a yellow flit switch in the middle of the room.
The shot hit home and the flit switch disappeared into an alcove high up in the opposite wall. There was a rumbling noise, and the whole room vibrated. Then, the water in the chamber began to recede. As the water level lowered, it uncovered a set of descending steps leading down from the entry passage across the chamber. The steps ended at a doorway far down the opposite wall. The door began to slide open, but as it did so, a number of wisps descended from above.
The King flung his Vortex gauntlet into the air.
"Jasper! Force Push please!"
He held the Guild Seal out flat and caught the falling gauntlet on it. There was a blue flash as it landed, and the grey and gold changed to green and bronze. He flipped it back into the air with the Guild Seal and caught it on his empty hand. Summoning his Will, he waited until the hollow men had pulled themselves out of the ground. Then, he punched the growing fireball he held in one hand into the force bubble forming in the other. There was a loud bang as the pressure was released, and a mass of burning bones flew off the steps into the water far below. One hollow man was knocked backward down the steps, where it was set upon by Sam and Cara and torn to pieces.
Beyond the door lay another dark corridor. As they proceeded down it, they were occasionally ambushed by hollow men, but they were swiftly dealt with. Behind a broken wall, the King came across a chest containing three health potions and a replacement for the Summon Creatures potion he had used earlier.
At the end of the corridor was another elaborate stone door, which slid open as they approached. Beyond, they could see a great chamber with an intricately designed sarcophagus resting on a plinth in the centre. Both the plinth and the sarcophagus were emblazoned with green and gold patterns.
"I think this is it!" the King cried excitedly. He glanced around the chamber. "I expect the seal is inside there..."
He approached the sarcophagus and readied his sword. As he began to push the lid, wisps flew in from all directions.
The King noticed the fire in the hollow men's empty eyes. These were ancient hollow men, the last line of defence in the undercroft against the tomb raiders who would steal their treasures. Cara leapt to attack one, but passed right through it.
"They're incorporeal!" cried the King. "We've got to lure them into the light!"
An eerie carving sat off to one side of the sarcophagus. As the hollow men drew nearer to it, a shaft of light fell upon it from a hole that was opening in the ceiling. The opening was clearly out in the desert somewhere, as a cascade of sand also began to pour into the chamber.
One of the ancient hollow men crossed the carving. There was a flash of fire as it corporealised, and the falling sand immediately filled up the spaces between its sinewy frame.
"Oh, that's new!" exclaimed the King. "Now he's a not-so-hollow man."
He drew his rifle and fired at the sand-filled hollow man. It was tougher than a normal hollow man, but after a few shots it exploded in a shower of sand. The King continued to lure the ancient hollow men into the light and defeat the sand-filled undead that were produced. Finally, he was just left with one large hollow man, dual-wielding a pair of swords he recognised from a drawing in the Temple as Flying Tigers.
"I don't remember hearing of dual-wielding Flying Tigers before..." the King wondered aloud.
The enormous hollow man breathed in — as much as it was possible for the unliving to breathe — and spewed out a load of wisps all around the chamber. The King summoned his Will and retreated to the carving on the ground. He needed to make sure they had all crossed it before he let his spell loose. He had to time it perfectly...
Time! That was what the King needed. As the hollow men closed in on him from all sides, he withdrew a small brown bottle from his bag. The bottle was shaped like a hourglass.
"Hold on!" he cried to Sam and Cara.
As the last hollow man crossed onto the carving — the closest was so near to the King he could touch it with his nose — he shattered the brown potion bottle at his feet. All at once, nothing happened. All across the room, nothing happened. Nothing was happening, everywhere. Nothing, except for a strange whooshing and ticking noise in Cara's ears. She shook her head to try and get rid of it, but it persisted. It seemed to be centred on where the King was standing. Cara noticed that the hollow men around him had all practically stopped moving.
The King ducked out from under the hollow men's outstretched arms and let off his spell. For some reason, his spells were never completely in sync with his Slow Time potion, so he watched from outside the carving as the spell expanded through them, pulling bones apart and setting the remains on fire.
The whooshing in Cara's ears intensified, and abruptly stopped. Bits of hollow men flew off in all directions as the flow of time returned to normal. The King summoned another huge ball of fire and flung it directly at the hollow man General who had one foot on the carving. He stuttered, then collapsed to the floor. Cara watched as an ethereal cloud appeared above his remains, and was sure she saw the outline of a skeletal face form within it. The defeated wisp roared with anger, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The King picked up the Flying Tigers, then returned to the sarcophagus and pushed the lid off. Inside, laid carefully on top of a casket, was the Flower of Aurora.