Derek Hexflame and the Thirteenth Key – Part 5
Derek Hexflame and the Thirteenth Key
– Part 5 – Read Part 4
“Well, if they didn’t know we were here before…” Derek said, walking into the dismal, fetid Sunken City.
“You are nothing if not subtle, boss… I’m pretty sure they heard that in Mooshu.”
“So what are the odds he put his strongest construct right here at the entrance?” Derek asked, peering around a stone corner carefully.
“About the same odds as us winning the lottery.” Fred said, his tongue darting quickly in and out, sensing the area around them. “And boss – we don’t play the lottery…”
Derek and Fred slipped silently through the deserted streets of Sunken City, a foggy, dimly lit cavern in which Grubb and his minions were imprisoned years before. The place was a maze of crumbled stone towers and twisted, nightmarish trees, while an unearthly wind howled through the cavern in a chorus of moans that made Derek’s hair stand on end.
“Cheerful place.” Fred said in a dry whisper. “I can’t wait to see what they put on the tourism brochures.”
“Shhh.” Derek hissed between gritted teeth. “We’ve got company.”
Around the corner a trio of ghostly figures stood in a semi-circle, guarding the road to a tall tower that appeared somewhat less dilapidated than the buildings around it. The shades floated a foot above the ground and shimmered with a blue-purple glow that seemed to radiate pure malice.
“Death guardians, and not the cheap ones.” Derek said. “Now we know what Harold is doing here.”
“You think this is him?” Fred asked, once again perched on Derek’s shoulder.
“Yeah, Harold always did keep the best cards and constructs for himself. I suspected it with the hydra, but these three… bad mojo, I can feel it.”
“We can take ‘em.” Fred said, puffing out his scaly chest.
“Sure, we could take them, but they’d beat us half to death and everyone in Sunken City would know were were here. I think it’s time for the subtle approach.”
“Um, boss, you don’t HAVE a subtle approach.” Fred said, nervously shifting his feet.
“Well, sort of subtle… Trust me, I saw this in a movie once.” Derek said, and he started moving his hands through the air, his eyes closed in concentration. Trails of red-orange energy began to flow from his fingertips as he murmured a complex chant.
“Why do I get more nervous every time you say ‘trust me’? And what’s a ‘movie’?” Fred said, flying a few feet back from his master.
On the street in front of the shades, a lone fire cat appeared, flicking it’s flame-covered tail high in the air and walking back and forth. Fred looked at Derek, who was still deep in concentration, his hands shaking and small beads of sweat appearing on his forehead. As expected, the shades headed right for the fire cat construct, with dark bolts of magic shooting from their shrouded hands.
As soon as the shades got within striking distance of the fire cat, Derek slammed his hands shut, making Fred jump a foot in the air. The ground turned molten, glowing a bright firey orange, and a single fin, as tall as the shades, passed through it as if something huge was swimming just below the surface. A huge mouth erupted from the molten earth, right underneath the shades, and then massive red jaws slammed shut around them, sinking back into the lava. The shades were nowhere to be found.
“What was that??” Fred asked, staring at the empty street. Derek shook his head a few times and ran his hand through his sweat-matted hair.
“A new modificaiton to the lava shark spell, I’ve been tinkering with it a little in my spare time.” Derek said, then shook his head. “It takes a lot of mana, though, and only works that well on incorporeal beings. If Grubb had more solid constructs out here, it wouldn’t have worked.”
“Good to know. Now what – just go ahead and knock on the door?” Fred asked, flapping around Derek.
“In a manner of speaking…” Derek said, and headed toward the tall center tower at the end of the narrow road. “But first, let’s see just what we’re up against.”
“You would think there would be more guards, more constructs.” Fred said, flapping nervously.
“Yes, I would think that..” Derek said, slipping ahead slowly, alert to anything. “This isn’t making sense – those shades were powerful, but not boss level – Grubb couldn’t have thought they were enough to keep us out…”
“Maybe he’s not trying to keep ‘us’ out, boss…” said Fred quietly. “We still don’t know if anyone knows we’re coming. The Gobbler, the Hydra, those Shades – they could have been general ‘keep out’ signs, to keep the random passerby from stumbling upon his nefarious schemes.”
“I know, that’s what worries me. I think I’m starting to understand what’s happening, but if I’m right something still doesn’t fit. It’s like there’s a piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and that one piece is what makes the picture make sense…” Derek said, carefully walking towards Grubb’s tower. “We need to find that piece of the puzzle, Fred. Let’s hope it’s in that tower.”
“And let’s hope that tower isn’t a trap…” Fred added, flapping beside Derek.
“And what do you think the odds of that are, old friend?” Derek said with an uncomfortable smile. “Since breakfast today, what hasn’t been a trap?”
Fred sighed. “Well aren’t we mister sunshine.” Fred said quietly, puffing a smoke ring at Derek. “So let’s get it over with, then…”
The tower loomed above them both, the massive wooden door looking ancient, battered, and charred in some places. Derek focused energy into his rings, and a glittering blue-silver shield surrounded him, a mystical shield effective against all but the strongest magics. He gripped an onyx want in his right hand and pushed the huge door open on creaking iron hinges, crouching low as he peered into the gloom.
“How many Fred?” Derek asked, his eyes not yet adjusted to the gloom.
“We should get out of here, Derek…” Fred whispered nervously. “Something’s wrong.”
“What? How many?” Derek asked, moving slowly forward. “Too many?”
“None… Derek, stop, there’s nobody in there…” Fred shouted, but it was too late. As soon as Derek crossed the threshold of the tower, a lot of things happened very fast. There was a rushing of wind and the ground began to shake. Derek’s shield was stripped away by the bitter, howling wind, and the tower began to shake violently, then began to crumble.
“Fred, get out!” Derek shouted and pointed his wand, hitting Fred with a gust of wind that pushed him out of the tower just as the great stone blocks began to fall all around him.
Once the earthquake spell subsided Fred flew around the piles of rubble that were all that remained of Grubb’s tower. The dragon called out for Derek, coughing as he flew through the dust and debris, looking for any sign of his master. As the dust settled, Fred saw a glimmer of red and gold and orange and darted to the place, seeing Derek laying on the ground, eyes closed, surrounded by huge stones and rubble.
“Boss!” he cried, landing on Derek’s chest and trying to wake him. “Boss?” he said, shaking Derek gently.
Derek Hexflame didn’t move…