Chapter Twenty-Two - The Key Stones

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MALIN STUDIED THE DARK OPENING ahead of him wondering if he should press on alone or wait for the others. He decided he would push on. Time was of the essence and any delay in finding the artifact would allow the daemon that was tracking them to draw closer. It was a powerful foe, and should it attack them, he was not sure they would be able to stop it.

Earlier he and Cadoc had made the arduous climb up to the narrow ledge shown to them by Altard's magic. By the light of one of Cadoc's Elven lamps they soon discovered the fissure and the cave beyond.

The cave in which Lachlan Torqe had decided to see out the remainder of his days. Choosing to guard the Key Stones, the powerful magic that had long ago sealed away the Chained in their underground lair.

Kindling and torches were found and lit, showing them the decaying bones of a small army of warriors, mercenaries, and vagabonds. All apparently had fallen in various attempts to wrest the artifact away from Lachlan Torqe. A quick look assured them that none of the bodies belonged to the Elven hero. At the rear of the cave, they found a partly hidden passageway. Malin told Cadoc to wait and summon the others while he explored further.

Malin moved through the passage and into a second larger cavern. He found more torches set at intervals along the walls and lit them has he passed. Using the rough steps that had been hewn into the cave wall he made his way down to the floor of the chamber.

Now he paused and took a deep breath.

It was then that he heard it. Someone or something was calling to him.

— You are here —

He looked around unsure if the words were actually spoken out loud or just inside his head.

He could not see anyone.

'Who is there?' he asked a hint of nervousness in his voice.

— I have waited a long time for your arrival, Malin Thrax —

'Who is there?' Malin asked again. 'How do you know of me?'

— I know many things, Malin. You have always been destined to come to this place and release me from my burden —

'How could you possibly know that?' Malin queried. 'It was only several days ago that I knew of the quest myself.'

— Come inside, I will explain all —

Cautiously the Elven Captain thrust the torch into the blackness before him and followed its light inside. The winding passageway was a tight squeeze even for him. It had been widened by hand in places to allow easier access. A series of steps cut into the floor eventually led him down into a third cavern.

— Welcome, Malin Thrax —

Malin stepped forward his torch making little headway against the darkness. Suddenly a strange crimson glow filled the chamber. Light flared from a chain of natural hollows that ringed the cave walls. Each spiralled upwards, pulsing slowly, banishing the shadows back to the farthest reaches of the chamber. They cast their flickering light across a forest of spikes and columns, rocky deposits that had formed over the passage of time.

He looked about expecting to see a mysterious figure waiting to greet him. But he appeared to be alone.

Malin moved down the last of the steps and onto a circular platform. On the far side a small raised dais had been carved out of the rock and on it sat a stone pedestal. He could see something set on top, a multifaceted stone that glinted in the crimson light.

The Key Stone?

Malin started walking towards it feeling the ground crunch beneath his boots. He looked down. Pieces of bone littered the floor, radiating out from the dais in all directions. He looked closer and could see shredded armour and clothing mixed with the shattered remains.

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