Dendric could not remember how far he had fallen, or how long he had been unconscious. When the floor disappeared, he and Veasson had plunged into blackness so complete that it had been hard to focus on anything else. Remember the thief Dendric quickly tried to rise to his feet, but one leg had fallen asleep and the other ached terribly.
“Veasson?” he asked the darkness, his throat sore from breathing in the crypt-floor’s dust. “Veasson, where are you?”
A moan only several feet to his left greeted the fighter’s words.
Dendric dragged himself to where he had heard the sound, hands searching in the pitch-darkness, until they found what felt like the rogue’s shoulder. “Veasson, are you okay? Can you stand?”
“I . . . yeah. I think so. I think . . . my arm! My arm is broken! Damn that elf to the Hells!” The thief groaned some more, but then seemed to shake himself from the pain. “My bag—it fell with me. Broke most of my fall well enough . . . along with my back . . . but there’s more torches and flint. Dagger’s on my waist . . . think I’ll get that, though.”
Dendric found the bag and began searching through it, drawing out whatever felt remotely like a torch until finding the sharp edge of the flint-shard. Veasson passed his dagger to him, and Dendric struck it and found in the flash of light what he was looking for. Several moments later light was being thrown onto the far walls of the chamber, and the two could finally see where their fall had taken them. Dendric immediately counted himself and Veasson lucky for their minimal damage from the drop.
The tall ceiling was easily thirty-five feet above them, and the stone floor where they had fallen was almost completely barren. However, huge skeletons—those of ten to twelve-foot-tall trolls—were all arranged so as to appear scrambling away from the exact center of the chamber. When Dendric aimed the torches light there, what he saw made his sweat run cold.
One large coffin was set on a mound of troll bones, its material of dark wood inlaid with silver and embedded with glittering rubies of various sizes. Otherwise, however, it was largely undecorated.
Veasson, after pushing himself with one arm into a sitting position, gave another whistle when he saw the coffin that much matched the one when they had first entered. The rogue seemed not to care, however, and there was no creaking of bone that may signal the troll remains’ awakening.
“By Lady Lissanda,” Dendric breathed, who rarely evoked the name of his deity. He struck another torch to life and handed it to Veasson, then began to move gingerly towards the coffin. Veasson made a move to stop his friend, but winced in pain and drew back before the fighter had even noticed. As he approached he could feel a presence around him getting stronger—a thrumming sensation of power that was there and yet not. When he was finally standing beside the tomb, his torch fluttered, sputtered, and then died out altogether.
The fighter turned around, hand going for the battleaxe that was no longer on his belt, and was suddenly face-to-face with an ethereal, softly glowing, pearly-white and middle-aged man. He donned battle-worn plate-mail and was resting against the hilt of a large greatsword whose tip was somehow supporting the weight that he put on it. A large hole just above his heart marked where a vicious killing blow had struck.
“Redorand . . .” the fighter whispered, for he could easily recognize the poise of the man as one who commanded respect and obedience in war and out.
“Indeed, Dendric,” the spirit’s voice spoke, and though the words were clearly audible it was as though they were echoing down a large tunnel. “I’ve watched your progress through my crypt, and am impressed by your skill . . . yet, of course, your motivation leaves something to be desired.”
Dendric could hardly tell that he was shivering, but the close proximity to the spirit made him feel as though his blood was icing over in his veins. “The . . . the . . .”
“Yes, the Helm. Many before you have sought its power, but only I have truly ever been able to control it—or else, think that I’ve controlled it.” Redorand turned around and began to walk from Dendric, and he could feel his nerves returning as the spirit retreated. When Redorand began to talk once more, his voice seemed thick with regret. “The Helm is not what most people would believe—it is not a simple magical item, but a cursed thing with an insidious intelligence all its own; an artifact of immense influence. I know not what the thing desires, but it led me to my final battle against the Green Fens trolls. It made me think I was invincible. It must not find a hold on the surface again!”
Dendric’s brow furrowed as listened to the apparition. What he was saying did not match what he had heard in legends about the Helm of Redorand; the magical helmet that granted supernatural ability on the battlefield. Redorand made it seem much more evil in its intentions. “If you were watching us . . . then why not tell us sooner? Tell me sooner? An item with intelligence? I would want no possession of such a thing! It’s an abomination of magic!”
“It must be destroyed before it leads legions more to a grisly fate.”
“Couldn’t you? If you’re a ghost, don’t you have the power to take it to—”
Redorand’s laughter washed hauntingly over Dendric, and he fell silent. “You’re a smart man, Dendric, but I’m afraid that is beyond my power. The Helm binds me, for I was the last to . . . to . . .”
The spirit’s words tapered off, and a look of sudden confusion was evident as it spun back around to face the fighter. Dendric was fearful—did he do something? Was the ghost going to blame him for something and attack? He could not fight such a being on a normal basis, let alone without a weapon and with Veasson wounded beyond combat capabilities.
“What is it?” he asked cautiously, trying to brace himself on the wall of the elegant coffin behind him.
“I was the last to wear the Helm, and therefore it bound me in life and in death. I could not leave this room. However, now, I feel that the connection is no more. I am free to go on my way, yet I feel a certain debt to you as well. Or possibly pity. Perhaps even a desire to ensure that I remain the only dead human in this chamber.” The spirit floated over to Veasson, who tried to push himself away but only made his arm hurt all the worse and nearly collapsed. Redorand paid no heed, however, and reached down with a single hand that phased through the thief’s shoulder. He kept it there for a moment, Veasson yelling out with pain, but when he drew it back the thief was suddenly moving the limb as though nothing had happened.
“My arm! You’ve healed my arm!” cried Veasson with astonishment.
The spirit gestured, motioning for the thief to stand and for Dendric to come forward. After grabbing their items they did so, and Redorand’s ghost was smiling at them. He put out his hands once more, resting one on both of their shoulders, and closed his wispy-white eyelids. When Dendric looked down at his own body his heart nearly stopped—both he and Veasson had become like Redorand, their forms pearly-white and ghostly. He felt weightless, much like when Rissien had cast the spell on him to float down the entrance.
Redorand began to pull them upwards, and both the humans’ feet left the ground without effort. They floated slowly up through the chamber, their own luminescence lighting the way. When they passed through the solid rock ceiling, it was the strangest sensation that Dendric had ever felt; as though drifting through a thick wall of water. When the three finally broke the surface of the floor, what they saw was shocking.