There was a rumble from the back of the cave, and a dark mist rolled from it. “Oh, crap.” Lourek’s voice echoed into the cave. “What’s worse? The orcs, or an area that Darkfall is pushing through?” As he finished speaking a thick smell of death reached everyone’s noses. “Also, I can’t close the door now it’s open. The lever was rotten and now it’s disintegrated.”
Lukren, Sorley, and Ember stared in Lourek’s direction. Then the stench of Darkfall wafted over them again and they almost lost their lunches.
“The hell is that smell?” Helena looked around the room weakly. “Can’t a girl faint in peace?”
Lourek walked back into view. “Sorry, found a passageway, but it was sealed. There aren’t any markings or anything so how was I supposed to know Darkfall was leaking through?”
Sitting up weakly Helena tried to inch toward the wall.
“Here, let me help.” Sorley offered his hand to her.
The arm that reached out was the one covered in the outlines of scales. It seemed to not be affected by her weakness as Helena gripped Sorley’s forearm. “Thanks. I might have a hard time walking.”
Ember pawed lightly at Helena’s bad leg causing Helena to whimper lightly. “Yeah. If you’re going to insist on walking it’s going to be very bad for you.”
“I’ll just lean on Sorley then. I’m sure the dwarves are stronger, but I’m a little too tall for them to be of assistance.” Helena looked around the cave. “I don’t see any sticks useful as a crutch. That would be the most ideal.”
“So, which way are we going?” Lukren poked his head outside. “If we stay here that orc can find us, but it’s a whiteout outside and a death-land inside.”
“All for going out and dying in a whiteout?” Lourek asked.
“Well, we can’t see out there,” Helena replied from leaning against the wall, “but I don’t much like the idea of walking through Darkfall.”
Sorley sighed, pacing the room. “Well, she’s right. We can’t see out there. Lukren is also right. We can’t stay here. I don’t like it, but we may need to go through the passageway.”
“What? Are you sure about that?” Ember asked. “We don’t know what’s in there.” Ember sat curled near Helena.
Lourek turned back towards the passageway. “Look. It was sealed to keep it from spreading, but I think the only problem right now is the smell. We shouldn’t have any resistance from walking through there, though it won’t be pleasant by any meaning of the word.
Cursing in Gaelic Sorley stopped pacing and started gathering up his small pack. “Well, let’s go then.”
– – –
Lourek was in the lead with Lukren in the back as Sorley supported Helena. Ember was acting as a scout, a small torch in her mouth, walking just out of sight of the torch Helena was holding.
“I told you grabbing those torches was a good thing.”
“Well, at the time it didn’t make sense. We can see in the dark!”
“Would you two stop bickering?” Helena stopped walking, making Sorley off-balance and they both fell. “Oof. Sorry.”
“Ow. A little warning next time?” Sorley carefully got up and grabbed the torch. He handed it to Lourek before helping Helena back to her feet. “That torch could’ve been a big problem. Maybe you should hold onto it.”
“Yeah, good idea.”
Ember’s snout appeared at the edge of the torchlight. “Are you okay? I thought I heard someone fall.”
“We’re fine. Just getting a little annoyed by the dwarf brothers.” Helena was leaning against the passageway, resting.
“We aren’t brothers!” both of the dwarves said in tandem.
“No, just twins.” Sorley took his pack off and started digging through it.
“Why would you think that?” Lukren asked, also taking off his pack and setting it down.
“Really? Lourek and Lukren? That sounds like someone wasn’t expecting twins and the best they could come up at that moment was a slightly different name. If you were expecting twins you would have very different names prepared, I would hope.” Sorley pulled a small object wrapped in a leaf from his pack. “I wish I could’ve gotten my whole backpack from the camp, but I guess this will have to do.” He unwrapped the leaf revealing a small loaf of blue bread. “This is something my mom called heaven’s bread. I think it’s because it matches the sky. Eating a bite of it feels like a full meal, but the taste is rather bland. Here.” He broke off a small piece and handed it to Helena. “You guys too.” He handed out pieces to the dwarves and a tiny piece to Ember, then broke off a piece for himself and ate it. It was a little difficult to keep it down with the stench, but he managed it.
Helena ate the small piece of the bread and felt full. “Well, it works, but you’re right. It is rather bland.”
Sorley rewrapped the loaf and pulled another small leaf-wrapped item from the pack. He held it near Helena and it did nothing. “Hmm…maybe the other one?” He rummaged through his pack.
“What is he looking for?” Helena asked Ember.
Ember leaned her head in close to Sorley’s pack and sniffed. “I think he has a medicine for you, or at least he thinks he does.”
“Aha!” Sorley pulled out a different leaf-wrapped item, this time the leaf was blue. “Let’s try this one.” He held the leaf near Helena again and it unwrapped itself to reveal a small wafer. “Here, eat this. It’s easier with water, so here.” He handed her the wafer and a waterskin.
The wafer sat in Helena’s hand. “This is supposed to do what, exactly?”
“Speed up your healing. Chew it then was it down with the water. Then I need to check your wound.”
Looking somewhat skeptical Helena shrugged and ate.
Sorley pulled the remainder of his tunic from his pack and searched for the same type of poultice that he had used on the wound before. He couldn’t find it. “Oh, I guess we’ll just do a cleaning and fresh cloth. I don’t have another poultice for you. I’ll have to look for ingredients to replenish my supply next time I have a chance.”
Helena slowly slid down the side of the passageway to a sitting position. “Alright. Do what you have to, doc.”
Sorley took the waterskin back from Helena. “This will definitely sting.” He unwrapped the old bandage, quickly removed the old poultice press and rinsed the wound out.
A dwarven hand reached out to cover Helena’s mouth and keep her from screaming. “Careful. We don’t know what creatures may be in this passage.”
“Almost done.” Sorley carefully ripped two strips from his tunic. He quickly wrapped them both around Helena’s leg. “There. That will feel a little tight, but it will keep the wound from getting anything in it.”
Slowly Helena tried to get up by herself. Sorley reached a hand out to steady her. “Wait, I want to try by myself.”
“Careful,” Ember commented, “don’t want to aggravate the wound.”
With her hand against the wall the whole time she was able to stand and put some weight on her leg. “Well, it’s better than before.”
“Good, let’s get moving.”
– – –
The next few hours were uneventful, and Sorley was hoping that they were reaching the end of the tunnel when they came upon a small cavern. In the center of the cavern was a small pedestal. Behind the pedestal was a large, black, vertical tear in the air. It wasn’t connected to anything physical and it appeared that the stench of death was radiating from it.
Carefully approaching the pedestal Ember leaned up against it to see if there was any writing or symbols on it.
“Ember, be careful! You don’t know what that is!” Sorley wanted to rush forward, but he was still providing support for Helena.
“I am, I am!” Ember looked at the top of the short pedestal and read from it. “It says ‘if you can read this then the Urn of Ashes has been stolen. Replace the Urn of Ashes to mend the rend.’ Well, it rhymed at the end.” She plodded back to Sorley and his companions. “What do you think?”
“I think we can’t do anything now. We don’t have this Urn of Ashes and we have no idea where it is.” Sorley paused, looking at his companions. “What do you think?”
Helena looked at the rend, tears coming to her eyes. “I vow to return with the Urn of Ashes. When this war with the orcs is over I will find it and bring it here.”
Sorley nodded. “I vow the same. Though this war may take a while. Remember what I told you of my vision?”
“Yes, the one where you passed out in the cave and woke up in the Feylands?” Helena was still staring at the pedestal. “That’s why I will wait until this war is over to search for the Urn of Ashes. If there was no threat of invasion I would go searching for it now.”
“As would I.” Sorley motioned with his free hand toward the continuation of the tunnel. “For now, we should move ahead.”
As Helena stared at the rend in the fabric of Domhan she saw something coming out of the tear. “We need to move. Now!”
Ember glanced where Helena was looking and saw a flame and flashes of bone. “Yeah, let’s go!”
Helena and Sorley made the best time they could with the dwarves following behind and Ember ahead, watching that the path was clear. Once they felt they were a safe distance away they stopped to rest.
“Did anybody get a good look at that thing?” Sorley got out between pants. “It almost looked like a floating skull to me.”
“It was, and it was on fire too,” Helena said from her position slumped against the wall. “What was that thing?” She dropped into a sitting position.
Sorley grabbed his father’s grimoire from the side of his pack. “Well, maybe there’s a reference to it in here.” He began flipping through the pages. “Hmm. It’d be under undead if it was a skull.” He hummed a few notes of a tune as he started to skim the book.
Helena began to hum along then caught herself. “Sorry, my mom used to hum that to me.” She paused. “You know, before.”
Ember carefully crawled into Helena’s lap and curled up. “You don’t have to stop. I want to hear the rest of it. Sorley only knows that verse.”
Smiling Helena started humming the song from the beginning.
It wasn’t until near the end that Sorley found the entry. “Here it is. It’s called a Flame Skull. Not very original name, but fairly descriptive. The description given says ‘a floating skull covered in fire. The easiest way to defeat it is to catch it unawares and douse it in holy water. If you can’t do so you should run before it burns you to ashes with its flame breath.’ Well, I’m glad we ran.”
“Yeah.” Lukren stood up. “I’m going to check ahead for a little bit. Here, Lourek, hold onto the torch.” He started walking in the direction they were headed. “I’ll be back in about five minutes. If I’m gone for ten then try to find me.”
“That’s a bad idea, brother.”
“Don’t call me brother!”
“Sorry, just wanted to check you were in your right mind, Flaskheart.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just don’t die back here, Lourek.” Lukren put a hand on his weapon as he moved forward into the darkness.