Artwork: Tunnel of Wealth by Patrik Hjelm

 

While taking some time to compose themselves and get a grip on the fact that they were still indeed alive, the party had made swift friends with a paladin of the sword, Tiberius. A brick wall of a man, honorable to a fault. He had been the one to pull Lisbeth from the tomb, a manticore paladin grabbing Corbin and Eitger himself tending to his son, Crysx.

Corbin covertly checked his satchel with one hand while talking. He verified that all the gems he had collected were there, one of them feeling warm to the touch. The wish gem, he thought to himself, intrigued by the magical secrets its creator knew. Having tuned out of the conversation quite a few minutes ago to retreat into the depths of his own mind, Corbin blurted out, “We have to go back in there. There was a paladin that referenced a tunnel that took us to the room with the golem and elementals. We need to be taken there immediately.”

There was a moment of steely silence among the honorable band run ragged. All eyes were on Corbin. The image of the gargoyle statue haunted Corbin’s mind as he patiently awaited an answer.

Tiberius spoke, “The Order of the Sword took the same entrance, I could be your guide. You are still too weak and can’t go alone.”

The group erupted into an argument. Everybody shouting all at once some with vigor, others with anger. Eitger put a hand up and everyone was silenced.

“I’m not sure why you would wish to return but you are bound by no oath to us. Do as you will, we will try to find a way back to the mainland in the meantime. If we find a way before you return, we will wait approximately one day. After that, you are on your own.” Eitger looked at his son, as if awaiting for him to change his mind. The moment did not come.

With a sigh of relief, Tiberius turns to the party and points off into a direction, prompting them to walk. Buffeting wind coming off the ocean reminded them that the forest was indeed preferable. As the trees closed in around them, Crysx looked over his shoulder to glimpse at his father. He stood there as the paladins bustled around him to tend to the wounded. A small sense of sadness hung in the air, but was quickly interrupted by Lisbeth.

“What exactly are we going back for again?”

Corbin sighed, “The gargoyle statue. That riddle is eating at my mind like a rabid dog, I have to figure it out.”

Though not a hundred percent satisfied with the answer, Lisbeth kept quiet. What else were they to do? There was no obvious way off the island and a good walk may help clear their heads now that they found who they set out for. Arriving at the mouth of the cave, it became apparent that it was much less a cave and more a tunnel. Its gaping maw staring at them from the ground, tapering down into the deep and dark.

“It’s a stroke of luck you guys found this lead to the tomb. This thing could have gone anywhere,” Crysx said, staring into the unknown.

Tiberius started lowering himself down into it, “When the desperation sets in, you’ll take the first thing you can find really. Plus, we found some tracks leading right up to this entrance.”

Crysx chewed on that for a second but Corbin’s mind was better at puzzle solving, “We followed a bunch of footprints to a completely different entrance. The Order of the Manticore said they used this tunnel as well. Strange.”

Tiberius agreed as Corbin lit the top of his staff to be able to see better. Crysx’s axe was ablaze with a magical flame that crackled and spat, as if harboring a hatred for the darkness. Interested in how this was formed, Corbin started analyzing the walls. They had a strange ribbed pattern, almost as if this was dug rather than naturally eroded by water. Eventually, Crysx stubbed his toe on something and cried out. Immediately dismissing it as a rock, he continued on but Corbin took a second to look.

It was quite clearly not a rock. Dark purple in color, a perfectly symmetrical shape and clearly heavy since it didn’t move when kicked. It shined slightly in Corbin’s light, almost as if it was enameled.

“Purple worm… We should continue with extreme caution,” Corbin said grimly, looking up at his companions. Crysx looked up at the ceiling and walls of this cylindrical tunnel. Lisbeth furrowed her brow before simply walking off rather briskly.

“We’re on a time budget here, I like biology as much as anyone else but we have to get this done. You wanted to do this, remember?” Lisbeth was a little frustrated with Corbin’s infatuation with the tunnel and was ready to continue.

Eventually they found the room where they had first run into the Order of the Manticore. From there it was almost trivial to find the gargoyle room.

Together they analyzed the riddle again:

“Power can be found in unlikely places”

“Power sometimes blinds the mighty”

“The mighty sometimes wield no power”

 

Thinking hard as to what that might mean, he instinctively placed a gem in one of the hands. It  seemed odd how perfectly it fit, but nothing happened. He removed it and thought some more before placing the red gem in the arm that said “The mighty sometimes wield no power” and just like that, the stone hand closed and crushed it into dust. Feeling utterly defeated for a moment, it clicked in his head that the location in which the gems were found was crucial. The orange wish gem was placed in “Power can be found in unlikely places” and the two parts that made a complete blue gem in the final spot. They were all crushed but after that nothing happened.

Lisbeth looked at the arm laid in front of the gargoyle, “Although it’s not attached, I wonder if it still functions. Kind of strange that it has no writing.”

“Hold on a moment,” Crysx said, walking over. He took out his water skin and poured some on the arm before scrubbing it lightly with his hand. It revealed a riddle, caked with dirt.

“Look for your prize”

“Well what the hell does that mean?” Crysx thought aloud.

Corbin shushed him, frustrated. All three of them looked at Corbin while he thought. He picked up the arm to look at it more closely and realized the hand shimmered for a moment. Poking his fingers into the palm of the hand, he could feel something. He plucked something out of its place and tried to look at it, but nothing was in his hand. It felt like it was the roughly the same shape and size as the other, now destroyed, gems. He placed it up to his eye and could see that there was a doorway behind the statue.

“An invisible gem that cuts through illusions… Interesting,” Corbin mumbled to himself. He walked forward and, to the others, disappeared into the wall.

Stunned for a moment that he figured it out, they soon followed…

 

Stay metal \m/