The only other exit from the chamber was a stone door, which opened on to a corridor. Mik advanced cautiously along this passage, prodding the floor with a spear, but the way was safe and presently the party entered a room containing a sturdy table and no other exits. The floor bore scratch marks, suggesting that the table could be slid, although no amount of shoving would budge it. Graven peered closer, and in the torchlight he read the marks: I end the race. I am the beginning of the end, the start of eternity and the end of space. There are two of me in heaven and one in hell. I am in water, fire, sunshine and darkness. I am the beginning of earth and the end of life. “Again, easy. The letter ‘E’”, said Naivara with confidence, and traced the answer with her finger on the table surface. Sure enough the table rolled aside noisily, revealing stairs leading down. The party entered the gloomy hole, coughing in the stale air. As the last member passed through the table rolled back into place, though there seemed to be a release lever just inside the opening.
The steps led to a branching passage, one fork ending in stone double doors. Mik, tiring of the cautious approach, kicked one open. A strong, earthy scent of damp and rot drifted out of the cavern beyond. Thick carpets of fungi covered the walls, floor and ceiling, glowing with a soft bluish light. A large fissure, wide enough for a person to climb into, split the middle of the floor. Ku-ki’cha concentrated and sent his perception into the room, above the crack. It looked about thirty feet deep, with rough, powdery sides – Doubtless difficult to climb – he thought, and a bottom covered with loose earth, more fungi, and a mixture of human and hejkin bones. He reported his findings and added, “One last thing. Some of the large mushroom stalks are human shaped. I do not think we should go in unless we have to.” Just then Naivara gasped and swayed. “Aramil! I see him!” “Well he’s not in there,” said Maro firmly, and the group closed the door and moved off to investigate the other fork.
This, too, ended in a sealed door, which resisted all attempts at opening. “Look at this”, said Naivara, pointing at the wall near the door. A box-shaped cavity had been cut into the wall. Points of light were set into the faces of each of the box’s sides, and each corner of the cavity was bisected by a carved slot that ran right to the back of the hollow. “It’s another riddle – there’s an inscription: A final test to gain entrance to what you seek. What can be moved through many courses while applying on it no forces?” This caused a considerable amount of head-scratching, and eventually they tried pushing sword-blades into the slots. Nothing happened at first, but when four blades were inserted, there was a click and the sealed door opened. “Shadows. That’s what we had to do – make shadows”, said Maropona. Mik snorted. “I prefer other ways of solving problems with swords."
The room beyond was dominated by a large pit from which a flickering purple light emanated. Several fountains, in the shape of dragon heads, stood about, supplied with water from some underground source. Beyond the pit stood what was plainly a sacrificial slab, slimy with congealed blood, and shining with the same purple radiance that they had come to recognise as defiling magic. Maro felt his insides turn over and felt the taste of vomit in his throat. “Should… destroy this place”, he muttered. Mik and Ku-ki’cha stepped inside, and as they did so a huge snakelike creature, its head wreathed in what seemed to be a miniature sandstorm, rose from the pit and bared its fangs. “Silk wyrm!” called the monk, “Big one!” In several places round the pit the air coalesced into several wraithlike wisps that began moving silently towards the intruders.
- View of the pit and the altar
The wyrm fixed Mik with its terrible stare and he reeled back a little, one hand to his head, then the ghost-forms were around him and his fighting instincts kicked in. He cut through one and landed a good blow on the wyrm’s body. It reared back and sprayed him with thick immobilising strands that burned where they touched his skin. Maro and Graven hastened forward. The warden smote the ground and a thunderclap blasted three wisp-things around Mik into oblivion. Graven’s spirit companion swirled around the trapped gladiator like a friendly mist, and gave him strength. From the door, Naivara sent forth a pulse of mental energy that drove into the silk wyrm’s mind like a hot knife. For her part, Althaea sang an odd, droning song that jumped between pitches and seemed to unsettle and distress the serpent. The silk wyrm thrust its head close to Maro and he stared deep into its eyes. Against his will he felt himself stumble towards the pit, but just at the edge he regained his self-control and stood firm. Ku-ki’cha moved himself between the wyrm and two of the wisps and launched a furious flurry of strikes that eliminated the lesser enemies and grievously injured the serpent. It turned its head and covered him with sticky, clinging filament. With two of the party unable to move, Althaea drew her sword and ran forward, driving the poison-laced blade into the wyrm, only to have its jaws snap around her and slam her to the ground, unconscious. Its teeth stayed locked in place as it drew sustenance from the bard’s body, then the beast’s eyes then turned on Ku-ki’cha, and despite his struggles forced him to the pit’s edge and over the side.
- The Crown Wyrm Area
Maro landed a strike, then somehow faded from view and sheltered behind one of the fountains. Graven’s familiar hovered over Mik, then disappeared over the lip of the pit down to the fallen Ku-ki’cha, healing them both. Mik returned to the fight, only to be downed again by the wyrm. As it began feeding, the thri-kreen sprang out of the pit with a tremendous leap and landed a powerful strike on the wyrm. Maro ran from behind the fountain and joined the attack, forcing the creature over the pit’s edge. Too late, it tried to unfold its wings but instead crashed to the bottom. Graven prayed to the spirits of Athas for help and knew he had been answered when he saw Althaea stumbling to her feet. She dropped to one knee at the pit’s edge and trilled a single, piercing note. The silk wyrm raised itself briefly then collapsed again, dead. The bard noticed that the little sandstorm around the wyrm’s head had changed into a small, shining object. Using her telekinesis, she plucked it from the bottom of the pit and lifted it into her hand. It was a circlet of gold, perhaps part of a larger item, but still wearable. As she touched it she heard a voice: I am troubled, what it I never find my creator? Her companions crowded around, curious. Althaea held up the circlet and proclaimed, “I believe we have found the part of the Crown of Dust, the legendary artifact of the sorcerer-lich Ul-athra.”