Dark magics drifted visibly through the air of the crypt, tendrils of miasma grasping blindly for something they couldn’t quite locate. It was a vast space, its ornate design a reminder it wasn’t a crypt meant for burial so much as it was for ceremony. At the center of the domed chamber, above the surrounding floor, floated a fragmented dais.
Above the dais, as is the case with many such crypts, an Arch Lich hovered with a practiced indifference to his unspeakable, nearly unmatched power. In life he had been known as Karaxis Illwill, but upon completing his unholy transformation he took on the name Karaxis the Endless Dread.
Karaxis’s many followers bowed below, to the best of their ability as they were all tied up or shackled to one another. This was a somewhat new development, and the display of fealty to their master was all the clumsier because of it. He considered them for a moment before returning his attention to the two figures suspended in the air mere feet beyond the edge of his dais.
“When I had heard the Adventurer’s Guild had put a bounty out on my head, I had expected a little, oh, I don’t know,” Karaxis mused. “More impressive perhaps. A battalion of elite soldiers, perhaps. Or an entire army. Certainly not disgraced highborne royalty, a peasant orc, and…” Karaxis absentmindedly clicked a finger against his jawbone, the deep crimson flames in his eye sockets scanning the room.
“There was a third to your perilously stupid party, was there not?” Karaxis asked. “Well? Lightfoot?”
The highborne elf glowered. “Swiftstep. Monty Swiftstep. I’m no royalty, though, and you know that you damn stupid bag of bones. You holding up all right, Aranza?”
The orc suspended near Monty blinked several times, her forest green eyes focused again. “You say something, Mont?” she asked. “You know how I can’t stand rambled speeches.”
Archlich Karaxis leaned forward, his skull easily dwarfing both adventurers in size. “This doesn’t have to be slow and painful, you know,” Karaxis said. “I could kill you with as little effort as you might pick a pocket. You just need to tell me where your third is.”
Aranza sneered, her lower tusks jutting out. “The paladin? She clearly only cared for saving her own hide,” she spat. “Smug little dwarf with a messiah complex.”
“She got us this far,” Monty snapped back. Sweat trickled down his face, the light from Karaxis’ eyes casting sickly shadows on his fair, lavender colored skin. The long, jagged scar across Monty’s left eye looked darker despite the light being so close.
Aranza turned her head as far as she could, restrained by the miasma, to look Monty in the eye. The miasma loosened, allowing Aranza to move just enough.
“We would’ve never even known Miss Holier-than-Thou existed if you weren’t why we got caught!” Aranza yelled over the roar of Karaxis’ laughter.
Monty covered a gasp, eyes wide. “You blame me? Me?” he barked back. “If that isn’t the most heaping hill of horseshit I’ve ever heard in my life. If you had just let me kill the guards instead of knocking them out we would be free and rich. Think about that for a second.”
Karaxis continued to roar with laughter, the horrible sound reverberating throughout the crypt and echoing back in on itself creating a cacophonous din.
“As much as I love this, and I certainly do, I suppose I should just kill you both now,” Karaxis said with the plainness of someone suggesting they might take an afternoon nap. “Free up my afternoon to find and torture your friend into telling me what you three were doing here.” The flames in Karaxis’ eye sockets grew brighter, and terrible, ancient, best-forgotten words oozed from between the Archlich’s jagged fangs like great, glowing serpents ready to strike.
There was a great, resonating sound, impossible to miss even over the dread incantation. Karaxis hesitated, losing his place in the spell that was slowly sapping the life from Aranza and Monty. He started over, chanting faster to accelerate the spells.
Another sharp sound rang throughout the crypt, once again stealing Karaxis’ attention.
“What in the Hells is it now?” Karaxis demanded, looking towards the source of the noise.
The paladin stood at the top of the stairs, framed by a doorway of a once well-hidden door that lead farther into the crypt. A long, coal black braid hung to the left side of her face and her smirk tilted slightly to the right. The likeness of a solitary raven taking flight was the only identifying feature on her armor, standing out against the inner glow her silver plate armor seemed gave off.
“Glad you could join us,” Aranza said. “And right on time.”
“On time nothing,” Monty snipped back. “What took you so damn long, Tempy? It’s not like he had any look-outs left.” The paladin cringed at the nickname.
She raised her colossal warhammer high and brought it down against the floor hard enough that sparks and stone fragments issued forth from where the hammer struck.
“Excellent,” Karaxis said. “I can kill all three of you now and free up my schedule. And, I suppose, I could free up my acolytes. Who were careless enough that you managed to restrain them all.” Karaxis lacked the lungs needed to heave a proper sigh, but the noise he let loose was an impressive attempt nonetheless.
“You should reconsider,” the paladin commanded.
Karaxis cackled. “And why is that? Who dares tell me what I, Karaxis the Endless Dread, should do?”
“I am Temperance, Paladin of the House Ravencroft,” Temperance said. “Though that may mean little, I believe this will.” She glanced downwards, shifting her warhammer to position it over something. Karaxis followed Temperance’s gaze and gasped.
“My phylactery!” Karaxis howled. “How did you find it? And so quickly? I hid it using magics more complex and powerful than any mere mortal could possibly understand!”
Temperance shook her head. “This isn’t the part where you get to ask questions, I’m afraid,” she said. “First you need to listen.”
The archlich cocked its skull to the side. “Listen?” he asked. “To what, exactly?”
Temperance narrowed her eyes, lowering the warhammer’s head slowly and deliberately. The blessed metal making up the weapon caused sparks of fel magic to spark and hiss where it met the surface of the phylactery.
“The lady said it’s not the time for questions,” Aranza taunted. “You got dirt in your ears?”
“Fine,” Karaxis said. He waved a clawed hand through the air at Temperance. “You have my undivided attention.”
Temperance nodded. “Perfect,” she said. “I’m sure you’re wondering what we’re doing here. It’s a long tale, and it all began with those two would-be burglars and an attempt to rob the Adventurer’s Guild’s coffers.”
Monty cleared his throat loudly. “Maybe we could skip some of those details? Focus on the important parts?”
Karaxis raised a single, pointed finger and a haze of miasma clouded over Monty’s mouth. “Quiet,” he said. “Now I’m certainly curious as to how this tale plays out. Do go on. I do so hope there is danger and intrigue in this tale.”
“Thank you,” Temperance replied. “Now, where was I? Ah, yes. The night of the heist.”