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The Tale of Thunder - Chapter Three (Uprising of the Shadows - Part Four: Mazes of the Artifact)

Thunder Kayowen(Ryan Goodrich)
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Thunder took a step back from the four black men. The shadows cast by the setting sun nearly made them invisible. The only factor that gave their presence as well as location away were their glowing red eyes. Slowly they moved, their limbs flowing with serpentine grace, moving into a semicircle.

Retreat was definitely out. Thunder knew that with his injuries he could never outrun them. He couldn't fight them either though. Jus one of them had nearly killed him, and would have too had it stayed to deliver the final blow. Thunder hoped that the others weren't running into as much trouble as he was and were safely at the castle, if the castle even was safe.

One of the four creatures suddenly let out a moaning hiss. The other three replied with low hisses. The one who had first spoke suddenly charged Thunder.

Thunder had been well near a dozen yards away and was amazed at how fast it closed the distance. Thunder braced himself for the onslaught and raised his sword to block. As soon as the black man reached Thunder, he seemed to fade into the darkness. Thunder gaped a moment at the empty space in front of him where the creature had been moments before. Suddenly it hit him. Thunder spun in time to see the black man strike.

A foot that felt like steel suddenly slammed into his chin Thunder promptly felt the ground leave his feet. His vision seemed to haze over as he saw the sky overhead. A foot suddenly slammed into his stomach, smashing him into the ground so hard that Thunder blacked out.


A sudden stabbing pain made Thunder regain consciousness. Instead of looking up to a clear sky overhead, all he saw was dark stone. Thunder looked around. He was in a large chamber, lying on a stone altar. A sharp rock was sticking out of his shoulder blade, most likely the sharp pain that woke him.

He suddenly realized he wore no clothes with the exception of a loincloth. With a grunt of pain, he sat up. His side still stung from where he'd been hit, as did his chin.

Thunder hopped off the altar. The stone floor was cold beneath his feet, and his legs as well as lower back were stiff from laying on the altar. The air felt stale and humid, the thick layer of dust on the floor the room's only sign of age.

At the other end of the room was a single wooden door. Thunder started for the door. He needed for find the others and locate the relic they were supposed to be searching for. His bare feet left footprints in the dust and the sound of his feet clapping on the stone floor reverberated off the walls.

Thunder suddenly heard the barest sound of something scraping at a stone column to his right and reacted instantly. Thunder leapt forward, a shaped suddenly detaching itself from a column and landing where he had been moments before. It was a drow, covered in a cloak with its hood pulled up that strangely constantly changed colors, blending in with its surroundings. The drow threw off his cloak and darted for Thunder, a dagger in each hand.

Thunder dodged the first thrust and sucked his stomach in against the second, blade barely missing his skin. Thunder grabbed the drow's wrist with one hand and slammed his elbow straight down on his forearm. His attack was rewarded with the sound of bones cracking. Thunder then pulled the drow into him and kneed him in the gut. The drow grunted as the air left his lungs and he hunched forward. Thunder slammed one of his fists into the back of the drow's neck, knocking him to the ground.

Thunder grabbed the one dagger the drow had dropped. Thunder suddenly felt his legs get kicked out from under him and hit the ground, the dagger flying out of his grasp. Thunder rolled aside, the drow's dagger flashing where he had just been. Thunder grabbed the dagger and rolled over to face the drow before throwing the dagger. The drow only grunted when the dagger planted itself in his chest and lunged at Thunder again.

Thunder kicked up at the drow, his foot painfully slamming into the dagger hilt in the drow's chest. The drow soundlessly fell backwards onto the ground and ceased to move. Thunder got to his feet, his one foot that had hit the dagger hilt throbbing dully. The drow had only been armed with two daggers and a short sword. Thunder took the sword. He had never been much good with a dagger, so he preferred to use a sword.

Thunder opened the door, the hinges of it creaking with age. Outside the room was a hallway, empty and silent. The only lighting were sparse torches, one on either sides of the hall every fifty paces.

Remembering the color changing cloak, Thunder looked back into the room, but Thunder couldn't remember where and couldn't spare the time to search for it. Thunder stepped into the hall.

The hallway extended either ways, other corridors branching off from the one he was in all the way to the ends of the halls where they promptly ended or turned into a corner. Thunder listened intently for any sounds and heard nothing. He then started down one hallway. He continued down hallway after hallway occasionally turning left or right. This kept up until Thunder knew he was most certainly lost. Then he finally came upon a door.

Thunder carefully opened the door and was nearly blinded from the light. The sun shone brightly, nearly twice its height into the sky from the horizon. The sky was clear and the clean air refreshing. The strange thing was a large stone wall sat in front of him. Thunder stepped farther through the doorway and looked either ways. He saw similar walls, except that there were openings in which other walls could be seen. A maze.

Thunder suddenly realized the door behind him had disappeared.

'Bloody magic,' he thought to himself.

There was no use in trying to disable the spell that had hidden the door. There was nothing back through the door other than a series of corridors that lead nowhere. Thunder then headed into the maze, taking determined steps along the rocky ground.

A cold breeze swept past Thunder, making him shiver involuntarily. Thunder knew he was lost, but eventually he would find a way out, if the gods be willing. Thunder stopped short when he turned a corner. Two strange creatures were stooped over a rotting carcass, tearing hunks of flesh from it. They both had two legs with sharp, curved talons jutting out. They both didn't seem to have any arms, but they had strong tails and enormous red eyes. Their mouth stretched out shaped like a triangle with teeth that lined the insides. Their skin looked leathery, colored dark blue with black stripes across their spines.

The two beasts did not seem to notice Thunder through their meal. Thunder began to quickly and silently back up around a corner to get out of sight. One of the creatures' eyes suddenly stopped on him and the beast stopped eating, letting out a strange ear-piercing pig-like shriek. It suddenly charged Thunder, moving with incredible speed. The other one looked up and spotted him, letting out a shriek as well before attacking.

Thunder quickly decided that gawking was not a good idea. Thunder spun and sprinted as quickly as he could. He could tell the beasts were closing from how noisy their snarling was getting. Thunder darted around a corner that went off to the right and took another turn to the right. The monsters moved with lightning reflexes, darting along behind him.

Thunder lost track of what ways he when and for how long he ran, but he knew he was just barely ahead of the two things. Thunder took another turn and slid, vainly trying to stop his dead sprint on the rocky ground. He stood on the edge of a canyon which dropped several hundred feet before ending in a raging river. The other side of the canyon was easily half a mile off. The maze walls extended right up to the edge of the cliff edges and ran right along them. Thunder spun to see if he could quickly backtrack before the strange creatures caught up with him. As soon as he did so, the two creatures appeared from around the corner. So much for that idea.

The first of the two beasts raced up to Thunder, its enormous mouth opening even wider. Thunder rolled aside, swinging his short sword. The creature shrieked as his sword opened a large gnash in its side. It was then that Thunder realized how large these things were; it was easily two hand spans shorted than him and nearly ten hand spans long. Green blood began oozing out of its wound.

The dark blue monster spun on one of its feet and bent low, ramming Thunder's side, flinging him into the air. Panic build up inside Thunder as he saw the ground disappear beneath him to be replaced with the distant rocky grounds of the canyon floor. Thunder briefly wondered why the creature had thrown him off the ledge rather than devour him before realizing he had to do something if he wanted to survive this.

The wind roared through his ears as he fell faster and faster, his eyes beginning to water. Thunder then realized how close the cliff face was getting to him, a sure sign he was getting close to the bottom of the canyon. Thunder flung one arm out towards the cliff side. Hopefully he would grab something to slow his fall some.

What happened next, Thunder couldn't exactly remember, but something suddenly latched onto his wrist. As if by reflex, his hand grabbed a hold of what caught him and tightened. His fall suddenly halted and he heard a girl yelp in pain. Thunder's arm felt like it had been pulled out of joint. Thunder painfully raised his head to see what had grabbed his arm.

A girl's face stared down at him from over a ledge, both her arms grasping his one arm. She was extremely beautiful, her face smooth and elegant, her blue eye cold. She was wincing slightly from where she was laying, the top half of her torso the only part of her hanging over the ledge.

"Mind helping a little?" she grunted. "With a dislocated arm I won't be able to do everything."

Thunder kicked out with his feet, trying to find footholds so he could relieve the girl of some of his weight. His feet caught several rocks that jutted out from the cliff face and balanced himself. Thunder let go of the girl's hand with one of his hands and grabbed hold of the ledge the girl was hanging over with it. With the help of the girl, Thunder lifted himself up to the ledge. Once he was finally over the ledge, she released her grip on his arm.

A sharp stabbing pain shot up Thunder's arm. The girl rubbed her dislocated arm as well.

"Thank you, My Lady," Thunder bowed stiffly from where he sat. "I am indebted to you for your aid."

"Good," she replied. "You can work off some of that debt and relocate my arm."

Thunder scooted over to her and grabbed a hold of her hand and placed one of his feet below the armpit. Thunder gave a quick and sharp tug, a loud pop the only sign that her shoulder was popped back in place. Thunder then placed a hand on her shoulder that had been dislocated and worked some quick magic, healing the stretched muscles and relieving her of pain. The girl shivered slightly at that.

It was then Thunder got a good look at the girl. She wore soft leather calf-high boots and tight night-black pants. Her shirt had no sleeves and showed off her belly, hugging to her curves as well as showing off her chest. Her black hair was tied back in a series of intricate knots which formed into a ponytail. She looked to be carrying no weapons.

"Could you also help me with my arm?" Thunder asked politely when she made no move to ask if he needed any help.

"I guess I could," she shrugged and grabbed his arm, popping it back into place non-too gently.

"Again, thank you," Thunder said through gritted teeth. His arm still hurt, but not as bad as when it had been dislocated. "Excuse my asking, Milady, but what are you doing here?"

"You certainly seem to be a paladin with all those manners. Paladins sure do seem to be wearing interesting outfits these days," she mumbled, glancing at the single loincloth he wore. "Don't rightly know why I'm here. I joined a group of treasure hunters a few tendays ago. They came here in search of some magical items and got killed further in. Certainly knew I couldn't go any further on my own with all the traps and beasts were had been running into, so I turned around and have been hoping to backtrack out of here."

"You'll be hard-pressed," Thunder replied. "I just left a couple of creatures that bloody-well nearly killed me up there. Asides from that, there's the matter of finding your way through the maze and then finding your way out."

"You mean you're going in?" the girl's voice sounded disbelieving.

"I seek the artifacts your group may have been searching for."

"Artifacts? I never said we'd been looking for artifacts! Just items with magical enchantments. They never told me there were artifacts! Besides," the girl said. "You'll never make it on your own."

"We shall see," Thunder stood, reaching for his sword before he realized he'd lost it when he'd fallen. This might be a bit more difficult than he thought. "You go your way and I shall go mine. I have a quest to complete."

Thunder looked around. They were on an outcropping with a cave which disappeared into the cliff face. Thunder headed into the cave.

The girl's voice echoed after him. "It's your own grave you're digging! It's a wonder there's any bloody paladins these days with how ox-headed they are!"

"I'm glad you think of it that way," Thunder said sarcastically without looking back. "Enjoy the climb up."

Silence answered him. Suddenly the girl shouted, "Wait up, paladin!"

Thunder slowed to a stop and turned. The girl came trotting up to his side.

"I've reconsidered leaving on my own," she said. "I'm coming with you."

"Very well," Thunder tried not to smile. "If we are to travel together, it would help if we knew each other's names. I am Thunder Kayowen."

"Kessa. Kessa Lavinion."

"A pleasure to meet you, Kessa," Thunder said. "Would you care to lead the way since you've been down here before?"

"Haven't got much choice, have I?" Kessa grumbled and started into the depths of the tunnel. Thunder followed.


The Tale of Thunder: Chapter 3 - Uprising of the Shadows - Part 4 Mazes of the Artifact © Thunder Kayowen(Ryan Goodrich)

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