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living a life of darkness
Her feet deftly navigated the underbrush following the whispers of an ancient trail revealed by the slivered moon sitting high in the sky . Dressed in her dark leathers, she melded with the forest skirting the ruins, searching them for any signs of movement. She paused behind a tree, her hand scrapping against the bark as she glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes peered out from the cowl, hiding her raven black hair that was pasted against her pale skin with sweat.
She preferred to work in the dark, alone. Self-reliance was something her mother ingrained in her early on. She held fast by the tree, listening, waiting. The forest stood in silence, spooked by her presence. She looked to the ruins again, but they stood abandoned, its stone crumbling back into the ground from which it had once risen. In its glory days, the castle was a gathering place for the Empyrean Order in its holy war that washed across these lands. Now it was simply another forgotten place, only known in the faded pages of forgotten books.
Stepping into the ruins, the moon fell behind the clouds, cloaking them in darkness. Igniting a torch, she passed through the gates glimpsing a decaying fresco on the wall depicting an army of serpents behind a paladin clad in ceremonial armor who was casting a burst of radiant grace from his sword cleansing the land. That failed war had plunged the lands into chaos.
She crept deeper into the ruin, her eyes and ears on constant vigil. The roof had fallen and the walls had crumbled, littering the ground with its century’s long demise, but climbing through the rubble she finally saw it. Ahead, a small tower stood still reaching for the sky, a darkened archway at its base.
She crossed the grounds, stepping through the archway into the small circular room of the tower, where a dull metallic glint from the floor reflected the torchlight. A smile creased her face as she recited the words from the book.
“In the Gilded Tower lays the door to the most treasured remains of the Order.”
She strained against the door, but it wouldn’t budge. It was rusted shut, stoically guarding the way, but she came prepared. Taking a bottle from her knapsack, she poured its contents around the edge of the door. The liquid fizzed with a noxious gas, but once it dissipated, the metal door screeched as she lifted it revealing an inky blackness below.
Kicking her torch down, she watched it crash to the ground with a splash of sparks revealing a stone floor, but not much else. Grasping the edge of the stone, she dropped in, landing softly, retrieving the sputtering torch.
She stood in a stone chamber with three darkened passageways, jumping into a defensive crouch as the trapdoor above slammed shut, surprising her. She chuckled, whomever they were, they didn’t know she wasn’t a simple thief to be locked away with their treasured remains. Her purpose was more sinister.
Turning back, she searched for clues. The pages of the books only told of the hidden trapdoor in the tower. Nothing of the design of what lay below and this place differed from the ruins above. It was cleared of rubble and the floor swept clean. It was maintained. She studied each passageway, to see the same fastidiousness with two of them, but not the third. The third was littered with rubble.
Door hinges squealed, echoing from the other passages and she reflexively smothered her torch, returning the room to shadow. Leaning her ear toward the other passages, something shuffled and scraped along the floor. They were coming.
So, she did what she always did. She made the choice to survive and sprang headlong into the unknown. The image of the passage ahead of her was still fresh in her mind and she reached for the wall, running her fingers along it to gauge her progress. Her footsteps were purposeful, landing with little noise as she inched forward, hoping this was the way to her.
“You sshould not be down the Queen’ss hall.” A dull hissing said from behind.
She smiled, the slurred words confirming the pages from the books, and she sprang forward with renewed vigor as she slammed into a wooden door. Her hand scrabbled for the handle, pushing hard as it creaked open just far enough for her to squeeze through and close it behind her. Leaning back, she reignited her torch, illuminating the room. The hissing voices called out again, getting closer.
She smiled, looking across the room to see the skeletal remains of a female locked in iron chains, her arms outstretched, reaching for a stone pot just out of reach. She scrambled across the room, looking into the pot and smiled. Picking it up, the subtle pulse of it warmed her heart. This is why she’d come, why’d she’d spent all these years in libraries, reading and searching. It all came down to this moment.
Reaching out, she gently placed it inside the chest of the skeleton. At first nothing happened, but then a sooty smoke poured from the heart engulfing the skeleton. As it cleared, a young woman stepped from the smoke, tearing the chains from the wall.
“Follow me.” She said smiling, then exploded forward, smashing through the door. The sound of things discarded, rubble displaced and then the thunderous metallic sound of the trapdoor being torn from its hinges echoed through the crypt.
Back in the prison cell, her torch sputtered as the dust settled. She stepped through the broken door to see a pair of obsidian eyes the size of saucers staring at her, its snakelike body was broken and cast against the wall.
“You fool. You’ve releassed the Lich Queen Rocabarra.” It hissed, barely clinging to life as she passed by.
Kneeling, she peered out from her dark cowl. “Yeah, I know. I’m her daughter.”
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