Darkness enveloped Sarid. It was not just dark though. It was black everywhere. Sarid lifted her hand to inches from her face and could not see it. Laughter came from somewhere. Sarid spun around willing her eyes to see the other person in the room with her. Am I in a room? She could still see nothing. A rattling sound came from nearby. Where am I? Sarid began to feel panic. She could not remember how she got here or where here was. A scraping shuffle sound to her right made her turn and extend her hands. Her fingers pressed through a film that oozed across her palms. A sucking pop sound came as Sarid jerked her hands back. A putrid smell assaulted her nose. The laughter came again. Sarid's heart raced. She wanted to run but where. The rattling scraping sound surrounded her.
"Stop" Sarid yelled. At least it is what she wanted to yell, but no sound came. The beating of her heart was slamming like drums in her ears.
Thin sharp objects scratched and cut her flesh. Her arms, back, legs, and chest all seared with pain. What is happening to me? Another sound came to her from the distance. It was her name. She turned to it hoping it was not here to hurt her more.
"Sarid, are you alright?" Rishk asked.
Sarid sat upright in her bed gasping. She was hot and sweating although she had obviously lain down to sleep without any clothes on. Her pulse raced. It was a dream but it felt so real. It took her a minute to gather herself. Her heart was still thumping in her ears and she looked around her room trying to get her bearings. Sarid's eyes scanned the room several times and came back to rest on Rishk as if it was the first time she had seen him. He was half leaning in the door and had probably not moved since he had come in and spoke.
"You did not come back to feast with us for the afternoon. Are you alright?" he repeated.
She heard his words and easily remembered she had no lunch. Her stomach growled loud enough she thought Rishk had to hear it. She had completed her prayers and studies with Tristen and then came straight to her room. Sarid shook her head trying to clear it. She looked again at Rishk and thought he genuinely looked concerned as he stood there staring at her. The concern quickly moved into a smirk as he moved from looking at her eyes to looking over her naked body. Sarid wiped the sweat from her forehead with her hand.
"Men." Sarid quipped. "You are less concerned about my well being as you are getting another look at me without clothes. Do you not have any shame?"
Rishk shrugged as Sarid rolled to the edge of her bed and stood up. Her clothes made little piles from the door to the bed as she had stripped them and then fell exhausted on the bed. She leaned over at the waist and picked up her undershirt and undershorts. She stood back up and noticed Rishk was still standing half in the door half out watching her.
"Felling shame requires a conscious." He said smiling. "You are a strikingly beautiful woman." Rishk eyes again slowly moved across her body and came to stop at her eyes.
Sarid cocked her left hip and placed her hand on it. Her right hand holding her under garments went behind her back giving Rishk an unobstructed view of her body. He raised his eyebrows. Sarid took slow swaying steps until she was a couple of feet from Rishk. He had not moved from leaning in the door. Sarid moved her left hand up her hip, across her tight stomach, and cupped her left breast. Rishk's eyes were wide with the vision. Her hand lingered for a moment on her breast and she smiled. Sarid moved her left arm forward and motioned with one finger for Rishk to come closer. Rishk grinned nodding and began to push the door open.
Sarid's left hand shot out, grabbed the door and flung it open. In a flash she slid forward and planted her knee into Rishk's groin. His face contorted and a basket fell from the hand he had in the hall. Sarid kicked Rishk in the stomach shoving him into the outside wall. Tears welled in his eyes and he slid down the wall to curl in a ball. He lay there on the floor rolling back and forth one hand on his groin the other holding his stomach. Sarid stood in the hall and picked up the basket full of food.
"I do not care what your conscious says but you will treat me with respect. I am not some harlot you lay with for a copper. By the way, I could smell the food and I appreciate you bringing it but it does not give you free reign of my room nor me. Nod if you understand." Sarid remarked.
Rishk started to make a retching sound and clung to his stomach. He nodded emphatically.
Sarid looked down the hall and saw Dramin with a look of disgust on his face. She snorted, spun on her heel, and walked into her room. She slammed the door behind her.
Sarid shook her head and set the basket on her desk. She pulled her undergarments on and drew on her camel hair robe. She checked her pocket for the six-sided dice her father had given her. It was still there. Sarid pulled it out and crossed her legs as she sat on the floor. Sarid turned to the door where she could hear movement and voices in the hall. Then she heard another retching sound. Sarid thought to herself, Serves him right.
She looked back to the dice. Sarid closed her eyes and began shaking the dice in her hand.
"Tymora, I ask that you continue to grant me your blessings and give me insight into the oncoming hours as I walk with this motley group."
The dice dropped from her hand, bounced twice, and stopped. The face of the dice showed five marks like a claw. She involuntarily scratched her arm where she had been cut in the dream.
"It looks like I will be healing as well as fighting," Sarid said to the empty room.
Sarid scooped up the die and slid it into the pocket in her robe. The odor of the food coming from the basket made her stomach growl again. Walking over she opened the basket and started to unwrap the tied bundles. A large piece of spiced pheasant, a hunk of cheese, and half a loaf of bread were the contents of the basket. Sarid grabbed the skin of water she kept next to the bed and pulled the stool up to the desk. After a blessing over the food she began devouring it all.
Several minutes later, a light knock came from the door. Sarid did not answer it. Her teeth were tearing the soft, moist, pheasant meat from the bone. She chewed and swallowed. The food was filling the void in her stomach and was making her feel more alert. Sarid looked up to the door. There was no other noise coming from the other side since the knock. She shook her head. Regret came to surface as Sarid felt she may have dealt with Rishk too harshly. She broke a bit of cheese from the hunk and then tore off a portion of bread. Pressing the cheese into the bread she popped it into her mouth and stood and walked to the door. She finished chewing, swallowed and opened the door.
"Well met" Farit said with a slight bow of his head.
Sarid stepped out into the hall and looked right and left and then back to Farit.
"Rishk?" she asked.
"And you are here because?"
"We are leaving to go to the scorpion burrow."
"Now?" she asked.
"There is a store down from our inn that sells book and tomes."
"Marcia's shop. She is extremely intelligent." Sarid interrupted.
"I agree. I was surprised to see a River Gnome here and we immediately spent half an hour just talking about her. Then I remembered I wanted to research scorpions and learned they are nocturnal hunters. That means they…"
Sarid interrupted again, "…are night hunters. Pass the lesson and get to the point. I want to finish my food while it is warm."
Farit's face showed his frustration. Sarid did not know if it was because he was being interrupted or he did not get a chance to show his knowledge. At this point she was hungry and she did not care.
"We discussed it when I got back and we think we should go now. It will put us at the burrow after dark with less scorpions"
Sarid thought to herself I bet Rishk worked that conversation into them thinking they wanted to go now.
"Have you prepared your divine spells?" Farit asked.
"I have prayed with the head of my order before crashing in here, exhausted."
"Good, then lets go. We are hoping to catch the blue scorpion alone." Farit said as he turned and started to walk away.
"I said I am going to finish my dinner. You can all sit and wait for ten more minutes. I am not going to be any good while I am hungry." Sarid said.
"I will tell everyone you will be outside in five minutes." Farit sighed.
She did not bother to close the door as she turned and walked back to her meal. Sarid thought she would show Farit and the rest. She was torn between finishing her meal at her leisure or running down there and telling them to jump into Nessus. Shaking her head, she settled on filling her mouth with the last of the pheasant she could rip from the bone. The leftover bread and cheese went into a pouch at her waist. Chewing hastily she turned around. She scanned the room for anything else she needed. She grabbed the water skin and tied it to her belt. She would stop at the armory and see what Kirin recommended for this outing. Her dream and the divination from her dice made her believe she would be more hands-on this trip.
A dead healer cannot heal her team, Sarid thought to herself.
Suddenly energized from the nap, the food, and the adrenaline, Sarid ran down the hall to the small armory of the temple. When Tryston had set up this temple she used her own funds to equip a modest armory. She knew not everyone in the temple would come here with enough gold to buy his or her own equipment. As part of their studies everyone trained with different weapons and armor. Kirin, Tryston's battle master, graded each person and worked with the individual to pick a weapon and armor that fit best. When heading out from the temple a cleric could come see Kirin and borrow equipment from the armory until they were able to equip themselves. Sarid came to a stop at the open door of the armory, breathing heavy. She took a moment to calm herself before she stepped inside.
The room was rectangular with a massive table in the center, which could have seated twenty people if it had chairs. The room was immaculate and every tool and object was set precisely in its place. The long wall opposite the door was lined with 2 racks with several maces, morning stars, crossbows, and short spears. There was even a long sword and a war hammer. The short wall to the right of the door held racks and shelves with oils, rags, boxes, and tools. The long wall to the left of the door had pegs on the walls with different sized shields hung at all heights. Here and there around the room were different types of armor. They were set on wire frame stands displaying the armor, as it would rest on an individual. The far left wall had a small door that lead to Kirin's room. The table in the center had pieces of armor in various stages of assembly and a couple of weapons that shown with a fresh cleaning and shine of oil. Kirin was standing at the table stitching a piece of leather.
"Well meet, Kirin" Sarid said still huffing from the run. Kirin was a human male around six feet tall, light skin, well muscled and lean with salt and pepper shoulder length hair and beard. He was wearing a light brown tunic and dark breeches. Sarid approximated his age at around 40 years. She knew he had seen many adventures from the wisdom of his teachings but he never talked about any of them.
"Well meet to you. What can I do for you?"
"I am with a group heading into the desert for a scorpion burrow. I believe I will need more than healing for them."
"I believe you should always be armed for adventure, Sarid." He said with a chuckle. He turned to face the racks of weapons and looked back and forth. He picked up a mace and hefted it in his right hand. He pulled it to his chest and then in a swift movement struck it out forward and then swung it to the left. He sat it on the table. He then moved along several armor sets touching pieces and looking back to Sarid. He stopped at a set with a blackened leather vest. Kirin rubbed the leather with his hand and slid it up from the stand. Kirin moved around the table and held it out to Sarid.
"Put the armor on under your robe. It is too dark for the desert but it is lightweight and will fit you."
Sarid undid her belt with her pouches, dropped her robe, and took the armor from Kirin. The buckles on the side were unlatched and she slid it over her head easily. She started to pull the side straps through the buckles on one side and then the other.
Kirin grabbed both sides of the shoulders and pulled and shifted it around. He shook his head to himself and tightened the straps at the shoulder. Sarid lifted her arms out to the sides as Kirin twisted the body of the armor at her sides. He nodded and smiled to her.
"Good. Good. If you like this armor, I can add some cloth padding under the shoulders to make it fit better. Take this mace. It is lighter than the morning star we practiced with the other day." He did not immediately release the mace when she grabbed it.
He looked at her with a half a smile on his face and gave a playful tug back on the mace.
"Sarid, you are a good student but close combat is not your best skill. You are to be swift and sure but not to be in front of the battle."
Sarid understood and nodded. Kirin released the mace and Sarid hefted it in her hand nodding again.
"May Tymora's laughter fill your mind," Kirin said winking at her.
Sarid picked up her robes and pulled them together over the armor. Her cloth robes always felt right. She knew she would need to take stronger armor as she learned how to move and fight in it but she did not like how it pinched and constricted. Sarid pulled the belt together, checked her pouches, and checked the pockets in her robes. She then held the mace in her right hand and looked back to Kirin.
"And may her smile fill your heart" Sarid replied and then she turned and ran out the door to the front of the temple.
"To be young again," Kirin said while shaking his head aloud to the empty room.
The trip out to the burrow took longer than the trip the day before. Everything looked different in the dark and some of the dunes had shifted from the winds of the day. The Lady's Providence temple back in Wurgym had just rang 24 bells when the group finally laid eyes on the burrow.
"We could have been here an hour earlier if we would not have waited on her," Akara complained loudly.
"Enough" Rishk hissed, looking sharply at Akara.
Rishk looked back at the burrow and quietly said to himself, "I need her."
Rishk surveyed the scene below. "No guards patrolling like before."
"I would surmise that the blue does not hunt. With us killing the three hopefully the other four are out hunting and we can find the blue inside by itself." Farit said thoughtfully.
"Let's go then." Akara said pulling his sword from the scabbard at his side and walking down the dune.
Farit and Sarid followed behind Akara. Sarid turned and looked at Rishk who was still crouching on the dune looking at the burrow. He saw her looking at him and stood and started walking behind them.
Akara had bought new studded leather armor to replace the ripped piece. It did not look brand new but Sarid could tell from the way he was strutting forward that he was proud of his new acquisition. Akara walked right up to the opening and peered inside. Rishk grabbed him from the side and turned him away. As Rishk had grabbed him though Akara had lashed out with his sword as he spun. Rishk narrowly moved back far enough to prevent the slash to his face.
Rishk's hands came up. "Whoa. Let's have a plan."
Akara looked at Rishk his sword still pointing out. "Don't grab me while I am entering battle."
Rishk rolled his eyes. "We don't know if the burrow is filled with scorpions or even if anyone is home. I can hide and scout the burrow and come back and let you all know."
Sarid looked at Farit with a quizzical glance. Farit shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
Akara looked over his shoulder into the dark burrow and looked back at Rishk. He pointed the sword toward the entrance. "Make it quick. I thirst for the chaos of conflict."
"There is something wrong with you." Rishk said. Akara grunted.
"Give me a couple before you let him charge in." Rishk said to Sarid and Farit.
"No promises", admitted Farit as the three turned to look at Akara who was taking some practice swings in the air and grinning.
Rishk pulled his hood over his head and pulled the cloth at his neck up to cover his face. He walked to the edge of the entrance and slowly disappeared inside.
"Let's move against the wall in case any of the hunting scorpions return." Farit mentioned.
"I would welcome the action. I feel my blood pumping in my ears. I need the release of death at my feet." Akara said.
"Rishk is right you are damaged in the head" Sarid remarked.
Akara jumped over to her with his sword up. Sarid reflexively moved the mace up to block a strike that did not come. Farit was reaching out at Akara.
"I tolerate that from Rishk but I will not take it from a high and mighty priest." Akara said and turned his back on her and walked to the side of the entrance.
Farit touched Sarid's arm. "It's okay. You said what I was thinking as well. His reaction is unwarranted. I am beginning to think his personality runs contrary to our group. Come on let's get against the wall and out of sight."
They both moved to stand behind Akara. He sneered at Sarid and then turned back to the entrance. He hunched his back and held his sword up ready to pounce.
Sarid was not sure how much time had passed but was just starting to think Akara was showing incredible restraint when a shriek came from inside the burrow. Without hesitation or encouragement, Akara ran inside.
Sarid and Farit followed with a little more caution. The burrow entrance was roughly cut with rocks and loose sand. It seemed smaller than what Sarid what have thought possible for the scorpions to move through. She could have stood on Farit's shoulders and touched the ceiling. Nothing jumped out at them as they slowly rounded the corner that opened into a larger central chamber. There in the center though was Akara charging at the huge blue scorpion. The scorpion was slashing and grabbing at a pile of rocks near an ornate smooth column. It was searching with its claws behind the column and grabbing and throwing rocks.
Rishk must be pinned down, Sarid thought.
Akara had just reached the scorpion and struck with a hard sideways cut at the tail. The sword dug deep and gore slid from the gash. The scorpion screeched and reeled back into Akara. Akara took the hit and landed on his back. He then rolled to the left and came up with his sword point high.
Sarid said a prayer to Tymora and began to move forward looking for an opening for her and her mace.
Farit pulled a sparrow feather from a pouch with his left hand and green gland from a different pouch with his right. He then crushed the green gland between his right finger and thumb and pulled it down the feather.
"Venenum Sagitta" came the words from Farit that ignited the magic and sped a green bolt from his hands. It hammered into the side of the blue scorpion with a wet thud splashing green across the blue plates.
The scorpion hissed and jerked. It slammed its pincers down and screeched in pain as it pulled its tail over it's back. Blood poured from the cut Akara had given it. The scorpion surveyed the three adventurers and charged Akara.
Akara moved in with his sword high over his head. The scorpion struck out with it's right pincer to cut him in half. Akara dropped to his right knee and tucked and rolled in toward the scorpion. Akara swung up with the sword and sliced off a mandible. It opened its mouth and spewed a green liquid onto Akara.
It burned his eyes and mouth. He felt his body convulse and he vomited. The scorpion had moved back and using its left claw knocked Akara to the ground. It brought both claws over Akara, as Akara stabbed out at the empty space blinded from the bile.
Sarid swung with all of her might at the cut Akara had left in the tail. The mace head smashed the edge and tore meat. The scorpion spun on her and Sarid ran.
"Ignis Turrim" Farit intoned and a column of fire came down over the scorpion. Its mottled blue chitin smoldered and smoked as the fire roared around it. The scorpion drove forward through the fire and slammed into one of the many ornate columns. The column snapped at the bottom and crashed to a side. The ceiling cracked and chunks began to fall. Sarid turned and for the first time saw there were more of the columns spread around the cavern. Two had already fallen into rubble and rock. The other column in the center of the cavern had severe damage from the scorpions. Everything seemed to stop as the center column twisted and cracked all over. Then it all fell down beside itself. The ceiling trembled again and blocks of rock fell. A crash came at the bend that led out of the chasm to the desert. Sand poured through the cracks and holes there and quickly the only way out was shut off. The cavern became dark except for the light of the slowly extinguishing fires left from Farit's spell.
"Here, Sarid, this way!" Rishk yelled surprising her. It shook her from her contemplation of the columns and the room. She snapped around to face his voice. She could barely see him standing atop of pile of broken rocks, behind him was wall with clearly cut block. He ducked down and she did not take the time to investigate it. She ran and scrambled up the rocks and dropped behind to see Rishk.
"Where have you been?" She asked.
"Not now. I found an escape for us."
She looked at the wall and saw a door that was swung open to a hallway beyond. She turned to look back at Rishk but he was not there. She climbed up the rocks and saw Rishk at Farit's side pointing back at her. Farit took off at a run and Sarid started gesturing for him to come on.
Akara flushed his eyes again with his water flask. His vision was clearing but he knew it was too late. The poison was affecting him and he felt weakened. With his eyes open though he was ready to get back in the fight. He rubbed his eyes and looked out just as the scorpion burst into flame and then ran into the column holding up the cavern. Akara squinted at the sudden flash. Small rocks and pieces rained down on him. They were falling all over and sand was coming in. In the blurry vision he saw Sarid jump over a pile of rocks. Then he saw Rishk helping Farit.
"The strong help themselves." Akara said aloud to himself.
Akara saw his sword lying on the ground and scooped it up and ran towards the outcropping of rock he saw Sarid fall behind.
Rishk came up beside Akara, "I found a way out of here"
"We need to finish that scorpion." Akara said running beside Rishk.
"We will. We need to regroup and rest a couple. Follow me." Rishk said as he scrambled up over the rocks.
Akara mounted the rocks. A sudden twinge coursed through him as the poison surged and Akara fell forward tumbling down the rocks into Farit below.
Sarid came over and laid hands on Akara. He shoved at her from the ground were he lay and then passed out. Sarid pulled her symbol of Tymora from under her armor. She prayed and felt the Smiling Lady's power. First she drove the poison from Akara and then cast healing energy into him. Akara's pinched face lessened and relaxed. He did not immediately wake up.
"What now?" Farit panted, clearly winded from the sprint.
"I think we go out the back way and come back refreshed and finish the scorpion. It can't get out and the others can't get in." Rishk said.
"How fast do you expect this to happen? They can dig hence this burrow." Sarid said.
Rishk did not answer and slowly climbed up the rocks stopping short of the top. He peered over the edge.
"It doesn't matter now because either it escaped or it is buried in the rubble." Rishk said down to the others. " We need to find a way out. That hall seems as good as any." Rishk slid back down the pile.
Sarid looked back at the hallway. It was evident the scorpions did not make it. The block was cut in exact rectangles and was not the same color rock of the cave. Sarid walked over and touched the open stone door. She brushed her hand down it and felt the edges of something like marks that had been filled with dirt of time. Sarid dug at the marks with her finger pushing the dirt out. It was a harshly cut rune into the stone door and was obviously not done by the people who carved the door and wall. It was one word written in dwarvish, "death".
"This is not a way out", Sarid said solemnly looking back to Rishk.
"Perhaps we can ascertain where the scorpion went. It may have another way out of the burrow." Farit mused.
"That ceiling is unstable and could come down on us at any minute. The scorpion is injured and probably stronger and meaner than when we got here. If it is alive it is cornered and tending to its wounds. We need to find a secure place to recharge. Then we can look at slowly testing the area and looking for the blue scorpion." Rishk said as he leaned down and shook Akara.
"He needs to sleep" Sarid remarked incredulously.
Rishk immediately shot her a nasty look, took a breath and then said, "If he sleeps here he dies here. We need a safer place."
Sarid looked at Farit. She did not know what to say. She felt like the tunnel was a not the right move but she could not explain why. Sarid looked into the black hallway and back to Farit.
The blue scorpion suddenly loomed at the top of the rock pile above them. It was burned and smoking in places. The blue plates on one side had a nasty green coloration and it trickled blood from its severed mandible. Even though the muscle and tendons had been ripped from the joint in its tail, the barbed stinger was held above the head dripping poison. It shrieked.
"MOVE", Farit yelled as he ran into the hallway.
Sarid leaned down and grabbed Akara's armor by the shoulders and pulled. He did not budge.
Rishk scrambled up the rocks towards the scorpion. It flung its pincer to the side knocking Rishk back down the embankment of broken rocks. Rishk pulled a dagger from his belt. He looked at Sarid as she kept yanking at Akara. She had made very little progress towards the open doorway.
The scorpion shrieked again but it was pausing at the top. It was as if it was not sure how to come down this side of the rubble. It was the pause Rishk needed as he opened a pouch at his back and pulled a small vial from it. Rishk popped the cork from the top and poured the black liquid down the blade. He coated both sides as he kept turning it under the vial. With the vial empty he threw it at the scorpion. It harmlessly bounced from the plates of chitin but it was enough movement that the scorpion positioned itself towards Rishk. It opened its mouth and shrieked again. Rishk threw the dagger. It flipped end over end throwing some of the thick liquid from its point until it rammed itself in the creature's maw.
The scorpion coughed acid. It shook and twisted and then fell off the backside of the pile.
Rishk ran over and grabbed a piece of Akara's armor with Sarid and they both pulled him through the doorway and into the dark hallway. Rishk dropped Akara and ran past Sarid to the door. He grabbed the door and pulled it closed sealing them in the darkness.