Grasp of the Emerald Claw. Part IX

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For long moments we simply watched the glowing throne preparing ourselves for what came next but , as the seconds rolled by, it became apparent that that no new danger was going to reveal itself.

We began to discuss our next move. We all felt that the throne was the key by which The Emerald Claw hoped to unleash this “Ancient Evil” they desired to control but how the throne did that, and indeed the nature of the evil itself, eluded us.

Vorj studied the throne carefully for a few seconds and announced that, in his opinion, it was a form of magical observatory; all you had to do was sit on the throne and name a celestial body and it would be shown to you. The edge of the pedestal on which the throne rested was engraved with runes representing the many constellations of the night sky. It occurred to me that “Professor Eugene” seemed to have been studying these runes very closely when we had found her. I put forward the idea that perhaps touching the symbols that represented the six constellations that my new friends had found marked on the two ziggurats would have some effect. Altera warned me against simply touching the throne. The advice seemed sound so I picked up one of the swords of our fallen enemies and, from what I hoped was a safe distance, threw it onto the throne. There was a clatter of metal on stone but no other reaction; it seemed safe enough. I quickly went around the disk, finding and tracing with my finger the six constellations. To my great surprise nothing happened.

Aaron decided that it was safe to mount the dais and sit in the throne itself…

Before I continue my narrative I hope you will indulge me a moment. After the battle Aaron had told us of the terrible mummy’s curse that he now suffered under. His wounds would not heal, either by normal means or magic. This alone seemed cause for concern as we were all certain that there was more battle to come but there was worse. Every day his stamina would diminish until finally death took him and he crumbled to dust. Of our party only Aaron’s divine power was great enough to cast the spell that would rid himself of the curse and he planned to do that the next day. The danger was that, as he could not be healed, if Aaron was knocked unconscious he would be doomed. Yet despite the terrible fate that awaited him Aaron refused to be cowed and faced it not only bravely but with a smile. I doubted I would have such courage if I was in his position and my respect for the priest grew considerably.

So, to return to my story, Aaron settled himself in the throne. The chair was so vast it made him look like a child playing at being a grown-up. His first intention was to look at the six constellations engraved on the dais. It soon became clear that this was impossible as several of them were behind the throne and therefore out of sight. His second plan was to call the six constellations to mind but, after a few moments of silence, he declared that doing so had achieved nothing.

Our determination to learn the secret of the throne was only increased when the first of a series of violent tremors shook the giant temple. Instinctively we all felt that time was running short and we needed to stop whatever The Emerald Claw had set into motion but at the same time we were running out of ideas. I am sorry, and a little ashamed, to say that it was about now that a certain amount of desperation gripped myself and my companions. If we could not crack the secret of the Throne we would find someone who could. We set off on a rather hasty and disorganized search of the sections of the temple we had not explored.

As we hurriedly checked corridors and rooms for some clue as to how to proceed the Temple was rocked by more tremors. Our search was far from systematic and we crossed and re-crossed our own trail several times. Early on we found a large stone door with an impressively large keyhole. The door proved impossible for us to open with brute force and, as none of us knew anything about locks, we were forced to leave it unopened.

We found a room that The Emerald Claw had used to store artifacts that they had looted from The Temple during their explorations. There were also two objects in the room that were clearly not local and must have been brought by The Emerald Claw. The first was an empty sarcophagus. It was sized for someone human and its decorations were clearly different in design from the giant-made artifacts around us. I can only speculate that it was the “bed” of Arkaban. The second item was a truck. It had a lock but, luckily for us, the key was still in it. Opening the chest we found it to be lined in velvet and had a series of padded depressions in it. In each depression was a bottle. We unsealed one and found it to be full of blood. While unpleasant and disturbing I could not see how it helped us with our search and the bottles, as well as all the artifacts, were left behind.

Such was our mounting desperation that we attempted to explore one of the towering pylons that flanked the Throne. Almost immediately we were set upon by three spiders each the size of a fully grown man. For all their size and fearsome appearance we dispatched them readily enough but we could tell that they were only the first of dozens and dozens that infested the vast, web-filled space of the pylon. Not wanting to face them all we retreated back down to the level of the Throne.

By now the tremors seemed to have subsided but somehow that did not put our minds at easy. Rather I had the feeling that things were slipping away from us.

Aaron took charge of the situation and decided that the locked chamber must hold some answer for us if only we could get in. We had found several caches of supplies left by The Emerald Claw during our search so we went back to them to see if we could find tools for breaking down the door. Frustratingly we found nothing useful but then Aaron had an idea; earlier in their explorations my companions had found a group of Emerald Claw soldiers using an arrangement of blocks, tackles and pulleys to force open another door. Quickly we headed down to a section of The Temple that was new to me and retrieved the equipment.

Returning to the locked room we had found we began to reassemble the pulleys as best we could anchoring it to the stone door. Once everything was in place we began to pull. It took every ounce of strength we had, magnified through the pulleys, but we were successful in pulling the stone door free of its frame.

With some difficult we managed to lever the heavy, stone door out of the way to reveal a dark portal. Vorj brought his glowing staff forward in the hope of illuminating the room beyond but it’s radiance drew some decidedly malign attention and out of the darkness rushed an animated skeleton of gigantic proportions wielding a an equally huge axe.

Before the undead guard could reach us it was hit full in the chest by a Scotching Ray thrown by Vorj. A fraction of a second later Altera pounced, delivering two powerful blows with her longsword. The attacks had taken their toll on the skeleton but its unearthly vigor was far from spent and began trading blows with Altera. I doubt that any one, or even a pair of us, would have been a match for the massive skeletal warrior but we had it outnumbered six to one. With spells and blades we kept the pressure on the skeleton returning ever attack it made four fold until it was reduced to a pile of broken bones.

When the dust had finally settled we were able to get our first good view of the chamber the skeleton had been guarding. To our left were two smaller (by the scale of that massive temple) doors. The furthest one was ajar and the nearer wide open to reveal a small, featureless chamber. Judging by its angle of attack the skeleton had come from this nearer chamber. Concerned that the far door would also hold a skeletal guardian we carefully approached it and peered inside. The chamber beyond was small and featureless, barren except for a pile of bones long since fallen to dust and the rusted remains of a gigantic axe. It appeared that we had been lucky and that time had defeated the second guardian long before we arrived.

Feeling safer we turned our attention to the main chamber. What soon drew our attention was the vast and colorful mosaic that covered the floor. It was at least forty feet square and was clearly a rather stylized representation of the Giant Temple in which we currently stood. The temple was depicted from the side and was detailed enough that we could recognize certain features. What drew our attention was a large craven that was shown as being directly beneath the temple in which stood a huge and sinister figure. I cannot imagine that there was one amongst us who did not take this to be the “ancient evil” that the Emerald Claw sort to harness. I had special cause to look closer but I could see nothing that suggested The Eye to me. This was both a relief and frustrating; even if my new comrades and I were successful here it seemed that my own quest was far from over.

Further study of the mosaic seemed to reveal no way to get into or out of the subterranean chamber. No secret staircase or hidden shaft. It appeared that it could only be accessed by magic. Surely the Throne had to be the key. I looked for the Throne’s image on the mosaic and found it just where it should be on the roof. In the picture there were six lines emanating from The Throne and ascending to the heavens. It was then, as the saying goes, the penny dropped. I am sure that you had divined the secret of the Throne long before now but only then did I realize the simple truth. Vorj had almost told us the answer without realizing it. I quickly ushered the others back to the Throne outlining my plan as I did. I would sit in the Throne and ask it to show me the six constellations.

Confidently I mounted the dais and climbed up into the throne. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. No sooner had I sat down when I heard a terrible, inhuman voice ringing in my head. “Xulu is whole. Xulu has a body” it announced. I am not ashamed so say that the voice was so sudden, so dripping with evil intent that I almost threw myself out of the Throne. Once I had regained my mental equilibrium I proceeded with my plan. I called out to the Throne to show me The Scorpion’s Tail. No sooner had I said it when I was suddenly aware of a cluster of points of light in the sky. Encouraged by my success I suggested that my comrades join me on the Throne, there was after all plenty of room.

River’s End, Garrick’s Eye, Monkey’s Paw, Unicorn’s Hoof and Io’s Twinkle; one after another I named the constellations and one by one they became visible in the sky. As soon as the last constellation was named we suddenly found ourselves somewhere else.

The Chamber we found ourselves in was huge. We were not at ground level but about halfway up on a shelf or ledge of sorts. Before us were a set of broad stairs, each step at least ten feet high, down to the ground. As series of columns ran from floor to ceiling and at their center stood a war-forged like none I had ever seen before. The being, it could only by Xulu, was a giant standing thirty feet tall and from the seams on his armored body emanated a reddish/yellowish light like volcanic magma. Curiously Zulu was connected to the columns around him by numerous flexible tubes, maybe fifty in total, which seemed to plug into his back. Instinctively I had the notion that these tubes were feeding life into him in a twisted parody of the umbilical that connected an unborn child to its mother.

In the air about this malign colossus hung five strangely shaped pieces of metal that gave of fans of prismatic light. Later my companions explained to me that these were the artifacts that the Emerald Claw had stolen from their patron plus the fourth, and final stolen, Schema.

Xulu was such a commanding presence that it was easy to miss the crushed and lifeless body that lay at “his” feet (as a war-forged Zulu was genderless but his manner was distinctly male). It appeared that Professor Eugen, or rather Garrow the Changing, had found his great evil but discovered to his cost that it was too great for him to control.

The whole, strange scene, was so phantasmagorical that for a few seconds I felt that I was in some kind of disturbing dream but then Zulu spoke again. “I am complete.” his proclaimed in the same thundering, imperious voice I had heard when I had sat upon the Throne “Xulu is whole and now Zulu has a body”. At the sound of the voice Muroni almost feinted in terror but it had almost the exact opposite effect on Aaron who leveled his crossbow at one of the schemas and fired.

The bolt flew true and shattered the intricate piece of metal into a thousand shards. I feared it would be too little, too late; after they had already served their purpose in forging Xulu a physical form. Indeed the only real effect it had was to enrage Xulu who, carried on his gigantic legs, started up the stairs with murder in his glowing eyes.

The battle that ensued was the most taxing that I had ever faced. Xulu’s armored body was incredibly durable and attack after attack broke against its surface; most ineffectively. For his part, despite his size, Zulu attacked with incredible speed and precision and his blows were almost impossible to deflect or dodge. And the battle was not simply limited to a physical confrontation. The power of Xulu’s force-of-will was as great, if not greater, then his physical strength and we had to fight to keep our wits intact. None of us were completely immune, myself included, and from time to time I say my companions briefly paralyzed with fear or flailing around at imaginary enemies.

We all fought, even Muroni waded in with her dragon-headed mace.

Aaron and Vorj quickly used up what magical power they had left and began taking desperate shots with their crossbow.

Toryil, disorientated by the mind bending effects of Xulu’s willpower, took himself out of the fight as he ran heedlessly off the edge of the stairs but he recovered enough to begin the painful climb back up.

For my part I focused every ounce of Ki I had into my limbs, forcing myself to attack faster and harder than I ever had. I swapped between the bindingly quick foot work of the Hyakuretsukyaku technique and the hammering punches of the Seichusen Godanzuki. Most were ineffective but a precious few penetrated the armor.

I doubt we would have prevailed without Altera. Of all of us she seemed most resistant to the Xulu’s mental attacks and, with her great strength, she drove her long-sword home again and again and it was Altera who delivered the final, fatal blow that defeated our foe.

The battle over we all felt exhausted. Most of us, including myself, had suffered at Xulu’s hands. Aaron clambered down the stairs and retrieved the three remaining Schemas and the pattern disk. Of more concern to me was how we could return to the surface as I could not see any way out or another Throne anywhere.

With a certain degree of desperation we searched around for some hidden way out but to no avail. We tried reciting the list of constellations in various orders but that proved to have no effect either. Once again it was Aaron who led the way when he announced loudly that he wanted to leave and, in a flash, he was gone. We all did likewise and found ourselves back in the sun-light and fresh air upon the Titan’s Throne.

This, I think, brings me to the end of my tale to a close but there is an epilogue of sorts I would add. I returned with my new companions to Storm Haven on The Marlow, a boat that they had hired for the expedition. On the morning of the second day of our journey Aaron had cast the spell to cure himself of Arkaban’s deadly curse.

It took us about four days to reach Storm Reach I was taken by surprise when Muroni left us. I had assumed that she was an integral, if rather passive, member of the group. She announced that she served “a great dragon” and thanked my companions for letting her witness great and terrible events unfold. Muroni went on to say that my fellows had earned the dragon’s notice and it was her hope that we would one day meet again. With that she cheerfully slipped off into the busting streets of Storm Reach and was lost to view.

As for myself I was honored to have played a part, however small, in stopping The Emerald Claw unleashing a terrible enemy upon the world. Yet at the same time it appeared clear that my own quest was not finished. I had seen no evidence that The Eye had been in The Giant’s Temple I knew in my heart that elsewhere The Emerald Claw and their kind were still searching for it, seeking to unlock its forbidden power. My task was far from over.