The party rested at length to recover their strength and to prepare for the next push into the caverns. The cave mouth that Ku’ki-cha had run towards opened into a rectangular chamber cut into the rock, with two large recesses cut into the south wall. Naivara peered through into the gloom and her keen eyes made out a pair of what she guessed to be sarcophagi in each alcove. However, the chamber was dominated by a solid carved block of obsidian which stood square in the middle of the rubble-strewn floor.
The psion took a deep breath and stepped inside. As she did so the sound of a woman weeping was heard, and ghostly shapes began to flit around the room, their pale faces contorted in raging grief. One of the shapes was a woman, and it was she from whom the wailing came. Two more seemed to be male youths. Wil followed Naivara and as he did so one of the boy-ghosts swooped at him, brushing Wil and sending a deep chill through his body. Graven commanded his companion spirit to attack as more spirits appeared around the black pillar.
The room echoed to the sound of the supernatural weeping. It was as if a choking miasma of festering rage and hatred had enveloped the companions, and it sapped their will as they fought. Graven dismissed one wraithlike form with a simple conjuring of winter, while Ku-ki’cha’s psi-focused blows destroyed three more. Althaea tried to grab one of the wispy ghosts, failed, then tossed a rock at one experimentally; it passed straight through the spectre without harming it. Stick to what you know best, she thought, unslinging her lute and preparing a song of mockery to challenge their foes. Wil engaged the woman-ghost with fierce psi-charged sword blows and he noticed the thri-kreen slump to the ground, overcome by the grief-wail. I swear that bloody insect spends more time on its back than it does fighting, he thought, Up to me to take care of business – again. But he too felt his strength draining from the ghost’s evil magic.
Ku-ki’cha revived to see Althaea bending over him, lute in hand. He was a little puzzled to find himself some distance from where he had fallen, but guessed he had the bard to thank for that, as well as his new-found strength. “Once again, thank you…” he began, but Althaea cut in, “No time for that – back to the fight, soldier!” The thri-kreen scrambled to his feet and hurled himself into the fray. “Keep away from the obelisk!” he heard someone shout. It seemed that while the three spirits that had originally appeared were being reinforced by smaller, wispy forms that came from the obelisk whenever a party member came close by it. Once the companions realised this and began to keep their distance from the black pillar, they were able to concentrate on the more powerful enemies. After a while Wil and Graven saw the two boy-ghosts evaporate under their attacks, then they joined forces with the thri-kreen to finish off the wailing woman.
Taking care to give the obelisk a wide berth, the party explored the burial chamber. The four sarcophagi were broken and had long since been looted, and after a while the five adventurers stood inspecting the eastern wall. Part of this seemed to be a solid block of obsidian, possibly a door, although no sign of handle or lock was visible even to a close search. It was not possible to touch the actual surface of the rock, as some unseen power seemed to condense the air about an inch above it into a solid, impenetrable barrier. Rhotan Var, accompanied by a few drivers, came to join the group. He seemed excited. “I’m sure this is a door, perhaps to the vault itself! Can’t one of you open it?” Naivara and Althaea exchanged glances and grinned, having just had the same idea. “Shall we?” asked the bard. “Much easier to open from the inside, no doubt,” answered the other. As one, they seemed to shimmer and fade from view… then abruptly they reappeared, stumbling backwards from the black wall as if they had walked into it unawares. “Well, it seems someone thought of that too; we can’t fey step through that door,” remarked Althaea, rubbing her nose ruefully.
But then Naivara stretched forth her mind, probing. “Well, it’s magical – no surprise there,” she said at length. “There’s some kind of mechanism inside if we can get at it.” “Let’s see if I can move it,” murmured Althaea, as she too concentrated on the blank, black wall. “Yes, I feel it… cogs and wheels, like a lock… if I turn this, and I pull… that out, then..”
Though no noise was heard, a fissure, stretching from floor to ceiling, appeared in the wall, and the barrier split gradually in two and moved back slightly, then sank into slots in the floor. A collective gasp of surprise and wonder went up. “What about traps?” said Wil, excited despite himself. “I couldn’t sense anything – perhaps the door was the only barrier needed,” replied the bard. Beyond lay a short corridor and a large room, dimly lit, with alcoves along the walls containing what seemed to be armed and armoured figures. Here and there, light reflected off shining objects scattered across the floor of the room. Though they could not make out much detail, those present felt a rush of excitement, followed closely by unease as they also spotted a ragged, skeletal form standing upright in the midst of the treasure hoard. Though it was silent, there was an air of long-nurtured anger about it that caused everyone to hesitate. Thieves… murderers… do you think that because he is dead, you will take Darom Madar’s treasures for your own?
Althaea found her voice. “Great Lord Madar,” she began, bowing low, “We are no thieves – see, here is your House’s token” – she held up the ring with the Madar symbol – “we come to restore House Madar to it’s rightful glory!” Liars! Thieves! Death take you all! rasped the late Lord Madar. All the company reeled as they were hit by a wave of psi-energy. Rhotan Var hastened back out of harm’s way. Ku-ki’cha heard a cold voice in his head, commanding him. Well then, good and faithful servant, it mocked, do your duty and slay these thieves who would rob your lord. No, thought the monk, I won’t, you can’t make me -. But even as he struggled to resist, it was as if his mind was filled with a gathering darkness and what little will he had left dwindled to a point of light, then went out.
Althaea was caught quite unawares when the thri-kreen turned on her abruptly and swept her legs from under her, slamming her to the ground. Naivara meanwhile had fixed her attention on a huge lump of what seemed to be solid gold and was mind-lifting it into the air, hoping to drop it on Madar. It fell, but only the corner struck the wight and it rushed at them, enraged, bursting through the gathered adventurers into the larger chamber. Wil pelted after Madar, slicing powerfully and landing some telling blows. The wight disappeared and Wil paused, uncertain as to what to do. There was a shriek and he saw Naivara struggling in Madar’s icy grasp. She slumped, senseless, and Madar dropped her and turned his attention to the bard, releasing Ku-ki’cha from his control. Obey, commanded the voice in Althaea’s head. “No!” she cried aloud. “Yes,” Wil said dully, succumbing to the wight’s control. Ku-ki’cha hurled himself after Madar, then staggered as Wil dealt him a grievous blow. Fortunately Wil recovered himself and clove the wight’s skull with a mighty stroke, then watched with satisfaction as the body fell and dissolved into nothing.