Dry Bones

Dry Bones

A Story by david_shultz

-Draft. Comments Appreciated-

Dry Bones

Dry air scratched his throat. Corrinth doubled over coughing, lowering his torch; its rays brightened the floor of the tomb: cracked slabs of stone, misaligned and tilted in the earth, coated in sediment a finger width deep.

"You okay?" Eirluandil stopped to face Corrinth.

"It's the dust," Corrinth answered, voice raspy. His coughing fit continued. Abrasive particles swirled in the air around them, white specks in the torchlight.

"You need some water?" Kimbra asked.

"Good idea," Corrinth said between coughs. His hands searched the folds of his top. "Thought I had some."

"Take mine." Kimbra thrust the rawhide flask in his direction.

Corrinth took the flask and raised it above his head. A stream of water dripped into his waiting mouth. He swallowed, ran his tongue over his lips. "Thanks." Corrinth held the flask to Kimbra. She took it, pocketed it.

"Let's go," Eirluandil said. "We're so close I can taste it." Eirluandil sought a priceless treasure in the ancient tomb: the elixir of immorality, sealed in a vault below -or so the legends said.

The three explorers continued into the depths: the knight Eirluandil Highwind, his ornate, intricately etched armor sparkling in the flickering light of the torch, leaving no doubt to his noble background; Kimbra Hamon, Eirluandil's squire, who lacked noble parentage, and was garbed only in the plain brown cloths of a lowborn, but whose bravery and combat prowess had impressed Eirluandil; Corrinth Darkhood, a guide and tracker Eirluandil had hired for the present excursion, whose clothes were dyed in splotches of green and brown, and tied at all the joints with string.
They had left the daylight far behind, crossing many twists, bends, and junctures through the labrynthian structure. Though they were far below the surface, brown roots emerged through cracks in the stone, stretching down from the forest above to criss-cross along the roof and walls. Nature was reclaiming this long abandoned place.

"What exactly are you looking for?" Corrinth asked, stepping over a large broken slab that poked up from the floor.

"I'll know it when I see it," Eirluandil said.

Stones skittered underfoot, rolling and bouncing along the floor, which inclined towards the depths.

"I think you're wasting your time," Corrinth said.

"Oh yea?" Kimbra said. "And why's that?"

"These old temples have been abandoned for at least a thousand years."

"Two," Eirluandil said. "Two thousand."

"Everything's been taken from 'em already." Corrinth brushed aside a web. The strands disintegrated and fell away. "Centuries of looting. You're not gonna find anything."

"You've been to all the temples?" Kimbra asked.

"I know 'em all," Corrinth answered. "So do all the trackers -we use 'em as landmarks. You can still follow the old trails." He stopped and held his torch forward. The tunnel split in three directions. "Which way?"

Eirluandil nodded to the rightmost tunnel, with a steep downward slope. He stepped ahead of the others, carefully descending the incline.

"Okay." Corrinth shrugged and followed. "Anyway," he continued. "It's not like these places are big secrets. It's prob'ly been hundreds of years since looters cleared 'em out."

"Not this one," Eirluandil said.

"What's so special about this one?"

Eirluandil turned to look Corrinth in the eye. "What do you know about the temples?"

"The wood elves built 'em," he answered.

"The elves built the temples to focus their rituals," Eirluandil said. "They were masters of magic."

"I know that," Corrinth said.

"They created spells the way artists create paintings," Eirluandil continued. "These temples were the canvasses." They stepped into an open chamber, breathing in the stale air. Their torchlight barely penetrated the blackness on the other side. A large stone altar was centered in the chamber.

"This temple was built by a sorcerer called Xen'Qairn." Eirluandil walked towards the altar. "He was working on his masterpiece -an elixir to grant immortality." He stopped beside the altar, resting his hand on the stone surface. A pile of aged bones were strewn across the top.

"Animal bones." Corrinth picked up a long slender bone, browned and decaying with age, turning it over in his hand. "Looks like maybe deer."

"Blood sacrifices," Eirluandil said. "Qairn worked with dark magic."

Corrinth raised an eyebrow. "The wood elves worshipped nature -they didn't use dark magic."

"No." Eirluandil shook his head. "But Qairn did." He stepped around the altar and cast his light across the chamber. A small opening was visible on the far wall: a crack not much larger than Eirluandil. He walked towards it. "Let's go."

Corrinth and Kimbra followed behind.

"So that's why this temple is different?" Corrinth asked. "The blood magic?"

"That's one of the reasons." Eirluandil nodded.

"That doesn't explain why you think you're gonna find somethin' no one else has."

They reached the opening on the far wall. Eirluandil turned sideways to fit, squeezing into the crevice. His armor scraped against the sides. "I hope I don't get stuck."

Kimbra slipped in, side stepping behind Eirluandil.

Corrinth trailed at the rear. "Well?" he asked, peering over Kimbra.

The heat of the torches was magnified inside the narrow passage. Rough stone walls glowed orange and yellow from the flames.

"Qairn's experiments were a violation of the wood elves principles," Eirluandil said. "So they punished him to death. According to legend-" Eirluandil stopped, his armor grinding into a tight spot. He grunted, plate metal screeching against stone as he forced himself further along. "According to legend," Eirluandil continued, "he was locked inside this temple to die along with his dark magic."

Eirluandil emerged from the other end of the passage, which led to a small rectangular chamber with no other openings. He stepped forward to examine the stone walls. Kimbra slipped out from the crevice, followed by Corrinth.

"What did I tell you?" Corrinth shook his head. "A dead end."

"What does that look like to you?" Eirluandil lifted his torch towards the wall. With his other hand, he brushed a layer of dust from the stone, uncovering markings etched across.

"Elvish." Kimbra said. "Runic elvish."

Eirluandil looked over his shoulder to Corrinth. "The elves thought Qairn's magic was evil -a power no one should possess." He faced the wall, tracing his fingers across writing on the surface. "What would you do if someone created something that no one should possess?"

"I don't know," Corrinth said. "Destroy it, I guess."

"And if you can't destroy it safely?" Eirluandil glanced back at Corrinth.

Corrinth shrugged.

"You lock it away," Eirluandil said. "You seal it up. You put a warning." He nodded towards the script on the wall. "And you hope no one opens it."

Eirluandil reached into a pouch hanging at his belt. He pulled out a small blue object: perfectly spherical, smaller than a fist. He held it up, the light of his torch illuminating its glassy surface. Corrinth stared at the smooth, icy ball. Streams of shifting blue swirled within the crystalline orb, like it contained a stormy ocean.

Corrinth was transfixed by the marble of colour. "What's that?" he asked, resisting an urge to reach up and touch the object.

"The key." Eirluandil tossed the sphere towards the wall.

Corrinth watched with wide eyes as the orb struck against the stone, exploding into a cool mist that sprayed across their faces. The wall glowed white, then disintegrated into a pile of sand, spilling over their feet. They saw a wide entrance to a hidden chamber.

"Careful now." Eirluandil stepped across the pile of sand, loose grains spilling from his greaves. "We can't be sure they haven't left anything else to keep us out."

"Like what?"

"No way of knowing," Eirluandil said. "Maybe golems."

"Golems?" Corrinth drew a dagger from his belt.

Kimbra unsheathed her sword.
The three of them pressed forward, descending a wide set of three steps that led into the adjoining chamber.

The room was tall and wide, and continued far into the distance, past the light of their torches: a hallway fit for giants. Stone totems lined the side walls: sharp, angular designs from base to top, comprising a series of geometric panes along their length, each flat surface etched with elvish symbols of power.

The trio walked along a depression set in the center of the hall, wide enough for them to walk abreast with space for several more. The totems towered overhead on both sides, atop the raised outer edges of the hall.

"So what're you hopin' to find?" Corrinth asked.

Eirluandil's eyes fixed straight ahead. "Look." He motioned with a tilt of his chin, and thrust his torch forward, illuminating the far edge of the hall.

Against the wall was a large throne carved from rock, set high on a raised platform. A stone stairwell led up from the hall to the platform: a dozen steps with no handrail. An ancient skeleton sat motionless on the throne, chained by the ankles and wrists. The bones, brown and caked with dust, had largely fallen out of place, toppling to rest misaligned on the seat of the throne and its base, though their former arrangement remained evident. The forearms were laid across the stone armrests. The skull, balanced atop the ribs, had fallen into the crook of the backrest and tilted downwards, appearing almost to peer down the stairs with its empty sockets. Rusted links of the four chains extended to the sides of the throne, where they were bolted in place by thick metal spikes.

Eirluandil stopped at the base of the staircase. The skeleton seemed to move as torchlight danced across its bones. Something glinted near its right hand: an object resting on the arm rest.

Corrinth stopped by Eirluandil's side, staring up at the sitting bones. "So that must be-"

"-Xen'Qairn," Eirluandil interrupted. "Right where they left him."

"This is where they killed him?" Corrinth asked.

"Killed him?" Eirluandil looked at Corrinth. "They didn't kill him."

"But you said-"

"-I said they sentenced him to die with his magic. They locked him there," Eirluandil nodded towards the throne, "and sealed him inside."

Corrinth stared up at the skeleton with wide eyes. "What a way to go."

"How long do you think it took him to die?" Kimbra asked.

"No more than four days." Eirluandil started up the steps. "Maybe five. He would've died of thirst."

The bones rattled. Eirluandil froze midstep, halfway up the stairs. Kimbra took a combat stance, swordhand outstretched. Corrinth stepped back, holding his dagger protectively forward, eyes tracking the skeleton.

Metal chain links clinked as the legs and arms of the skeleton quivered in place. The bones shifted in place, tilting and reorienting, assembling together. The jawbone levitated from the seat, taking its place under the skull, which floated now over the ribs. The skeleton began to stand, but, held in place by the chains, fell back into place. It leaned forwards in its throne and craned its skull towards them. The jaw swiveled open, unleashing a terrifying sound -an unearthly, moaning wail- and a rush of cold air that blew over their faces.
The noise ceased, and the skeleton leaned back into its seat with a groan.

Eirluandil took a deep breath, then walked slowly up the steps. He reached the upper platform, stopping two paces from the skeleton. Its ribs floated rhythmically. On the armrest, finger bones wrapped tightly around a glass vial. Eirluandil reached towards the item.

The skeleton jerked suddenly, snapping the vial away; black liquid sloshed within. The skeleton lurched forward in the throne, its jaw opening. "Who are you?" It spoke with an eerie, supernatural voice that resonated through the tomb and sent chills through their bodies. The hair on Eirluandil's arm stood on end.

"I am Eirluandil Highwind," he said. "And you are Xen'Qairn, I presume."

The skeleton tilted its skull and froze for a moment. It looked down at itself. "I. Am. Dry. Bones." It spoke in slow, stilted words, each syllable punctuated by clicks of jawbone against skull. The skeleton looked up at Eirluandil. "Yes. I am dry bones."

"I'm here for the elixir." Eirluandil advanced a step.

Dry Bones looked down at the vial clutched in his own skeletal fist. "You want this?"

"Yes." Eirluandil extended his hand with upturned palm. "Give it to me."

The bony finger segments wrapped tightly around the vial. "No." Dry Bones jerked its hand back, rattling the chain on its wrist.

"What good is it to you?" Eirluandil asked.

"No good." Dry Bones' skull lifted up from his ribs, floating towards Eirluandil's face, close enough to bite him. "But so what?"

Eirluandil drew back from the hovering skull. "Will you trade for it?"

"Trade?" Dry Bones' skull drifted back towards his ribs, slowly turning as it moved through the air. "What could you possibly offer me?" The spinning skull finished three revolutions as it returned to rest above the ribcage. "Unless-"

"Yes?" Eirluandil asked.

"Do you have... water?" He drew out the last word slowly.

"As a matter of fact," Eirluandil pulled a hide flask up from his belt, "I do."

Dry Bones thrust his arm forward, grasping in the air. "Give me the water!" dry bones screamed. "I am so thirsty!" Chain links clinked together and bones clattered as the skeleton flailed in the iron restraints.

"The elixir first." Eirluandil dangled the flask at arms length.

"Fine!" Dry Bones brought his other arm forward. "Here it is!"

Eirluandil snatched the vial from the skeletal hand.

"The water!" Dry Bones screamed. "The water!"

"Here." Eirluandil tossed the flask to Dry Bones' lap.

Eirluandil lifted the vial to eye level. It was filled halfway with a pitch black liquid, like tar, and sealed with a cork. "This is it."

"That's what you came for?" Corrinth asked.

"The elixir of eternal life." Eirluandil stared at the vial. "Wars have been fought for far less. Kings will drop to their knees and beg for a single drop." He set his torch down. With his free hand, he removed the cork on the vial.

"You're not going to use it, are you?" Kimbra asked, rapidly ascending the rest of the stairs.

"Why not?" Eirluandil looked towards her.

"Why not?" Kimbra's brow shot upwards. "Are you kidding?" She threw her hand towards Dry Bones, who struggled with the rawhide flask at his lap, bones twisting and turning in place within the restraints. "Look what it did to him!"

"The elixir didn't do that to him," Eirluandil said. "That was his punishment from the elves. I don't plan on getting locked in here." He brought the open vial to his lips and tilted it slowly. Kimbra watched with wide eyes as the viscous black liquid oozed down the length of the vial, reaching Eirluandil's mouth.

"How does it taste?" Corrinth asked.

Eirluandil righted the vial. "Tastes like," he ran his tongue over his lips, "nothing." He recorked it. A thin gray line circled the vial above the tar, where the liquid had lowered.

The frantic scratching of Dry Bones ceased. "Help me," he pleaded from his throne. "Help me drink the water."

Kimbra walked towards Dry Bones, sheathing her sword. She picked up the flask.

Dry Bones tilted back his skull. "I'm so thirsty." his jaw opened wide.

Kimbra uncapped the flask. She turned it over, spilling its contents into the skeleton's waiting maw. A steady stream of water poured down, splashing between bones and pooling on the seat of the throne. Kimbra held the flask as the stream became a trickle, then droplets. She shook it, releasing the last drops.

Dry Bones lowered his skull. "What?" He looked down at himself, a puddle under his bones. "It does nothing!" he screamed. "I'm still thirsty!" His voice grew louder, an almost deafening boom. A strong, swirling wind rose up around him.

"Let's go!" Eirluandil shouted over the sound of rushing wind. He hurried down the steps, and Kimbra followed.

Dry Bones' wailing intensified, no longer words, but a supernaturally loud shrieking. A raging whirlwind encompassed the throne, blasting air through the chamber, whipping dust and sand across their faces.

The trio raced across the length of the hall and into the adjoining chamber. As they squeezed through the narrow passage, Dry Bones' scream continued behind them. They sped back the way they had come, climbing the incline of the many twisting passageways. The horrible wailing seemed to follow them, echoing from below. They neared the surface and the light of day became visible around the bend. From the depths of the cavern, Dry Bones' scream now sounded like whistling wind tracing its way through the ancient temple.

They emerged from the temple into the bright light of day. A cloud of dust spilled from the stone entrance way, pulled along by their wake as they rushed out.

Eirluandil took a deep breath. He doubled over with a cough.

"You okay?" Corrinth asked.

"It's the dust." Eirluandil said, clearing his throat.

"Here." Kimbra extended her flask towards Eirluandil.

"Thanks." Eirluandil took the flask. "I could use a drink."

© 2014 david_shultz

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Shelved in 3 Libraries
Added on June 28, 2014
Last Updated on June 28, 2014
Tags: fantasy, adventure, battle, death, magic, swords, sorcery, skeleton, horror, monster, tomb, explorers, quest