Keys of Binding, Part Seven - Scorpio
Sophia woke her friends and told them of her strange contact with Manzio.
“I’m worried about him,” said Tector with a frown. “Where is he?”
“His family villa was in Naples,” Storm responded.
“We should write down that name, Justus,” suggested Tector. Storm did so.
“It was horrible,” reflected Sophia. “I sensed Manzio was in a dreamscape. The house was full of blood.”
“We have not heard from Myrddin either,” worried Tector. “We should try to contact him, make sure he is ok.”
“I think he should be fine,” Sophia replied. “He understands the dangers.”
Nevertheless, the companions agreed to try and make contact. They linked hands, focused their minds, and as their Solstice Stones glowed they felt a connection with the mind of the druid.
“Did you make it back safely? What should we do?” they asked.
They felt, rather than heard, Myrddin’s reply. “Yes, I am in Uaine Dachaig. You must recover the final Key. I will see you in a few days.”
Relieved to know that their mentor was safe, the companions turned their attention to their quest. Remembering their previous ideas, Sophia and Storm each took one of the Keys in the group’s possession and tried to activate their magic, using those Keys to sense the final one. Sophia felt a slight, almost magnetic pull toward the north, an attraction to something, which she believed must be the final Key.
Storm found Mara and explained that they were leaving to find the last Key. “Dolgrim and Tinuviel know the Catacombs best,” she reminded him. “Why don’t you speak to them?”
They gathered in the common room, and Sophia shared out most of her food among the Twisted. “Thank you, my child,” smiled Mara. “You are kind as well as beautiful.”
Dolgrim grunted. “Mara said you wanted to talk.”
Storm nodded. “We have been tasked with finding the final Key of Binding. We have used the magic of the two Keys we already have, and have sensed that it is somewhere in the Catacombs, to the north of here.”
Dolgrim thought for a moment. “Aye. There is a section of the Catacombs, to the north of here, that my stone sense cannot penetrate. I reckon the walls are lined with steel. That might be the place.”
Storm thanked the danagrim, and Tinuviel offered to lead them there, an offer the friends gratefully accepted. They quickly gathered their things and followed the elven scout through the dark passageways of the Catacombs, standing a few moments later before a pair of steel double doors. Inscribed in italic letters were two words, one on each door: Carpe Diem
Storm, having studied for years with Lector Joseph, immediately recalled that this was a Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the day’. With no handle or keyhole apparent, the dragonborn stepped back a few paces and hurled a lightning orb at the doors. As it impacted, the steel surface exploded with lightning, filling the corridor. Fortunately Storm and his friends were just beyond the affected area, but it gave them quite a shock.
With Sophia and Tector grumbling at him to be careful, Storm took his Key of Binding and pressed it against the steel doors. Electricity surged through the Key and into his hand, blasting him backward and off his feet.
While Tector helped his injured friend to stand, Sophia extended her senses beyond the doors. Exploring the chambers beyond, she could sense no minds, no consciousness, nobody in there.
She explained this to her friends. “Probably a construct in there,” grimaced Storm, still wincing from the pain in his hand.
The sorcerer turned his attention to the doors once again, and his senses confirmed what he had already discovered: that they were trapped with lightning, which would discharge into anyone trying to open the doors by physical means. He also sensed that the magic of the doors was connected in some way with daylight.
Connecting this with the words on the door, Storm stepped back. “Carpe Diem!” he exclaimed. Nothing happened.
Storm explained what he had sensed to his friends, and Tector immediately suggested that his power to call upon the Blessing of the Lord might help. Sophia agreed, and Tector uttered a prayer, the familiar bright golden glow quickly emanating from his body and filling the corridor. The warm light healed the worst of Storm’s lightning injuries, and the doors began to glow. The companions were forced to shield their eyes as the light shining from the doors became blinding in intensity, before the glow faded and the doors slowly creaked open. Ancient, dry air, undisturbed for hundreds of years, wafted over them.
Storm turned, giving the thumbs up to Tinuviel, who stood watch at the crossroads further down the corridor, before leading the companions through the doors. The chamber beyond was a large, square space with a marble floor. The walls and ceiling appeared to be made of solid steel. Toward the back of the chamber, on opposite sides, two openings seemed to lead to passageways beyond.
Sensing electrical power coursing through the place, Storm cast a lightning orb at the far wall. Immediately a bolt of lightning blasted back, striking Storm and Tector full on and injuring them both!
Tector and Sophia had no time to berate their friend, however, as they heard a staccato clattering of metal on marble and a huge metallic scorpion entered the chamber through the opening on the right. Its flexible tail reared ten feet above its back, tensing in readiness, and before the companions could react it flickered with electricity, sending a bolt of lightning crackling toward them.
Storm and Tector both managed to throw themselves aside and escape the worst of the bolt, but Storm was very badly affected by the cumulative effect of the two big shocks he had received, and could barely stand. “Sophia, I need healing,” he groaned to the enchantress, who had avoided injury so far by standing outside the chamber!
She rushed in, pouring her healing into the dragonborn, who stood tall and unleashed a huge gout of freezing breath on the advancing scorpion. [20!] As the frost rimed its claws, he followed up by unleashing ice javelins on the construct. Two missed, and their icy shrapnel bounced harmlessly off its steel hide, with the one that hit only leaving a slight dent.
Tector summoned frost from his solstice armour onto his greataxe and charged forward, tearing a rent in the scorpion’s side. Electricity discharged from the wound, crackling back up his arm and shocking him. The scorpion’s stinger stabbed down at him, but he managed to dodge aside, before executing a stunning defensive move to avoid both its lightning-wreathed claws. [rolling a 19 and 20!]
Then something strange happened. The companions felt dizzy and slightly nauseous for a second, and were reminded of the feeling of travelling between standing stones, particularly when they journeyed in time to Ben Nevis. Suddenly Tector found the stinger stabbing down at him once more, but again he managed to dodge aside.
Storm, suspecting that his lightning powers would heal, rather than harm, the scorpion, conjured his whirlwind in an attempt to damage it. The huge metal creature was unaffected, but Tector was caught up by the tempest and slammed into the steel ceiling before crashing back down to the marble floor, winded and distinctly unimpressed! Struggling to his feet, the Dragonknight called the radiance of God onto his axe blade, biting deeply into the metallic skin of the scorpion’s side. Anticipating the reactive discharge of lightning from the wound, he pulled his axe away in the nick of time.
Sophia fired an arrow which bounced harmlessly off the scorpion’s carapace, while its stinger finally struck Tector, stabbing through his armour, jolting him and injecting a shocking poison into his veins. He was tough enough to resist the worst of its effects, and executed another stunning defensive move to parry both of its pincers.
Storm backed away from the fight, taking a defensive posture and wracking his brain for a way to affect the construct without using his lightning powers. Tector activated his Brooch of Mithras, grateful for the slow pulse of healing magic trickling into his body, before striking a brutal blow which opened a large rent in one of the scorpion’s claws. Meanwhile, Sophia focused on the magic powering the construct, trying to dispel the enchantments upon it. The lightning wreathing its stinger and claws flickered for a second . . . and then failed, blinking out!
Again the companions felt a strange lurch and shift around them, as the scorpion blurred and suddenly disappeared! Unsure how to proceed, they pressed on, walking through the opening the scorpion had originally entered through, and moving into another empty chamber with a marble floor and steel walls. As they passed through it, Tector was blasted by a lightning bolt that erupted from the wall to his left. Gritting his teeth, he pressed on, peering into the next chamber. In the centre stood the scorpion, wreathed in lightning once again.
The construct seemed to sense the big warrior and turned, scuttling rapidly across the marble floor to attack. Its stinger struck home, stabbing and shocking Tector. He pushed on, ignoring the poison coursing through his veins and the agony of his wounds. He managed to parry one of the scorpion’s pincers, but the other snapped down on his leg, lighting discharging into him. The shock left him reeling. Close to collapse, the Dragonknight steadied himself and felt the touch of God on his brow, chasing away some of the pain wracking his body. Momentarily refreshed, he conjured a net of ice from the gauntlets of his armour and hurled it at the scorpion, entangling both its pincers.
With Storm holding back, frustrated at being unable to affect the construct, Sophia called on her sorcery once again, this time attempting to put their foe to sleep. It did not have a consciousness that she could connect with, but she sensed that it had a single overriding purpose – to keep the Key safe! With this insight she was able to interfere with the magic that gave it focus, distracting it and making it easier for her companions to affect it and to avoid its attacks.
With its pincers still entangled by Tector’s frostnet, the scorpion’s stinger plunged down again, but the Dragonknight smashed its aside. Finally coming up with a plan, Storm formed a wall of ice behind the construct and with great skill was able to angle it so that it toppled onto its back, smashing a great dent in its steel carapace. Tector pressed the advantage, triggering a surge of adrenaline from his Brooch of Mithras and channelling this into a huge overhead blow that smashed a great hole in the body of the scorpion behind its head. [46 damage with a critical made short work of even the Scorpio’s 10 DR!]
Sophia tried another charm, which failed, as did Storm’s attempt to use his North Wind as a weapon to attack the scorpion. Its pincers continued to strain against Tector’s net of ice, and the Dragonknight dodged the stinger, stepping to one side and cleaving another rent in the construct’s side. Its movements faltered, and the flicker of its lightning began to fade. Sophia fired an arrow, invoking the piercing power of her bow and watching with satisfaction as it pierced her target’s metal shell.
As the construct continued to struggle, the bitter cold of Tector’s frostnet seemed to grow in intensity, causing the joints in its pincers to seize up. The big warrior stepped inside a weak stab from its stinger, bringing his axe down in another huge overhand blow which took the scorpion square in the middle of its back. Its legs gave way and it collapsed to the floor with a terrible crash. Sophia loosed a final arrow, piercing one of the construct’s glowing lightning eyes. The electricity wreathing its pincers and stinger flickered and failed, and its prehensile tail went limp, crashing to the floor with a clang.
The companions cautiously lowered their guard, stepping forward to examine the silent ruin of the steel scorpion. There was a faint click and a panel in the top of its head slid back. Sophia moved forward, and peered inside. Within lay a small chamber, lined with blue silk, containing a large mithril key with a head in the shape of a crescent moon. The enchantress smiled, lifting the final Key of Binding from its resting place. She immediately sensed its power, intuitively feeling that it had the ability to change the passage of time for a moment, allowing its wielder to take an additional action at a critical time.
Storm examined the still steel carapace of the construct, trying to locate the source of its lightning. He sensed that there was no power left within the broken shell, but could feel lighting flowing through the walls of the chamber, and deduced that this had sustained the scorpion throughout the centuries since its creation.
Tector, who was badly wounded, took a moment to utter a prayer and heal himself, and they turned to leave the chamber, Sophia still clutching the prized Key in her hand.