The Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye
Bree stood alongside Santon, Fudin and Nes before a crumbling, ancient temple. They had left Sarenrae’s Monastery at dawn, traveled for over two hours along the old, abandoned trade roads skirting Kelmarane, forded their way through a swift flowing river, and finally arrived before the old shrine.
Harsh winds whispered through the badlands around them. Their cruel touch had long since withered all but the hardiest of desert life. Dust and bits of debris danced across the ground, carried by the scorching breeze. It scratched roughly at Bree’s tender skin. Ahead, the ruins of ancient walls, nearly twenty paces high were flanked by two towering statues, their features sand-blasted into anonymity.
They approached the walls cautiously. Bree pulled up to the statues, rubbing her hands along their worn surface. They were crumbling, but still stood strong. She couldn’t tell who they depicted. The battered, limestone walls were uneven and bumpy. They had obviously once held carvings and friezes, but the scouring desert wind had taken their toll. Bree couldn’t identify a single image. To her left, Nes reached out to one of the pillars.
“This structure is ancient,” he mouthed in awe. “Centuries old, at least.”
Beyond the walls a gaping doorway led into a forest of stone pillars, mostly buried beneath stone and debris. It was a roofless, colonnaded hall. The temple interior. Two rectangular depressions ran across the rubble-strewn floor. They were choked with thorny, desert weeds but looked like they might have once held water.
A breeze drifted lazily past Bree, carrying the pungent stench of decay. She drew Tempest from its sheath at her hip, causing the oppressive heat to lighten slightly. A voice called out across the chamber, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere, all at once. It spoke in a language Bree did not understand.
They waited, eyeing every crumbling pillar with suspicion.
“Bathe thy feet in the sacred waters,” Nes repeated aloud. He began moving his hands in a series of gestures, and then spoke, “Halavim hanavim habiqavim. Kaleem iban halkwan!” His eyes took on a white glow and he looked around. He smiled. “The voice is but an illusory spell, meant to give direction to the visitors of the shine. There is also traces of faint conjuration magic from the fountainheads near the dry pools and… something else.” He frowned as he moved forward to a large stone that was rather free of dust.
“Careful, brother.” Fudin warned, following a step behind him.
Nes reached down, behind the stone and pulled out a strangely shaped hunk of gold. “These treasures are recent.” He paused, stood and looked around once more. “I see no other magic nearby. The smell is real. Something lurks nearby.” His eyes dimmed and ceased their magical glowing. He crouched down once more, removing a pile of tarnished silver coins, an intricate bronze scarab pin, which he fastened onto his elaborate robes and a copper mask carved in the image of the holy symbol of Nethys, the same god that Father Zastoran worshipped.
Nes held the mask in his hands thoughtfully. A wide smile spread across his face. “I believe we stand in the Refuge of the All-Seeing Eye.”
Bree frowned. “The what?”
“It is an ancient temple. Lost centuries ago. No one knows its exact location, only that it lies somewhere within the Uwaga Highlands. It was built by reclusive priests of Nethys in a place where the ‘Breath of Nethys’ was said to seep from the ground, inspiring all who drew near with visions from the god of magic himself. There, the priests studied the dualistic nature of magic, devoting half of the temple to magic’s protective and creative aspects, and the other half to its destructive aspect. It was also said to be home to the Nethysian Seers, priests who had unlocked such deep, inner truths about the nature of magic that they had gone mad. Their knowledge drove them to insanity.”
“This place is likely very dangerous, my brother.”
Nes smiled. “It is full of magic, Fudin. Of course it is dangerous.”
Santon turned to an opening in the wall. “How about we worry less about the purpose of this place, and more about the smell. Let us find its source before whatever caused it, finds us.”
Bree nodded. “Agreed.”
Reluctantly, Fudin followed, an excited Nes directly behind him.
Bree and Santon crept forward, sniffing at the air, following the stench of rotting flesh through a maze of pillars and around a corner, into a large, open room nearly thirty paces across and twenty wide. The corpse of a small, strange human-like creature, with monstrous facial features and long, tentacle-like clawed arms lay in the corner, with its insides torn out.
Bree gagged at the stench it gave off. It smelt as if its insides had been infected with some kind of rot, before they even began to decay.
Something shifted in the debris to her right and four massive spiders, each slightly bigger than a man, leapt out from behind the pile of rocks. Santon pushed Bree out of the way of the spiders, landing on the rough ground with her. He stood immediately and helped her to her feet.
The spiders stood between Bree and Santon, and Nes and Fudin, separating them into two groups. Two of the spiders scurried forward, towards Bree and Santon, while the other two turned on the brothers.
Bree slashed at the nearest spider with Tempest, striking the hairy arachnid in one of its thick, segmented legs while Santon swung his heavy broadsword at its partner. The spiders scuttled around them, eyeing them with their large eyes, and clacking their mandibles. A slimy, foul smelling substance dripped from their fangs.
A spider lunged forward, towards Bree. She twisted her body out of the way, ducking under its poisonous fangs. She slashed out at it with her scimitar, this time slicing the rest of the way through its thick, hairy leg. It let out a kind of hissing sound, and bit at her again. She threw herself to the side. The fangs scraped against her chain shirt, leaving a slick, green trail along its surface.
“Broken tankard!” she cursed, throwing herself to the side of another bite. She neared the far wall now and was running short on room. She held her copper tankard in one hand, and Tempest in the other.
“Come on!” she cried, drawing the spider in again, praying to Cayden Cailean for luck.
This time she dove over the spider, causing it to creep slightly up the wall to avoid crashing into it. She ran up alongside the spider, driving her glimmering blade into its soft abdomen. The spider screamed and she ripped her blade to the side, tearing it open and causing its inside to pour out onto the ground below it. It shuddered and fell to the ground.
Bree wiped her gore encrusted blade off on the spiders hairy hide and turned, just in time to see Santon chop the second spider in half with a great heave of his sword.
Across the room, Fudin punched and kicked a spider mercilessly, diving over it, sliding under it, and tumbling around it to dodge the spiders dripping fangs. Nes poured flames from his hands, roasting the second spider alive in a towering cylinder of brilliant, orange fire. It screamed and Bree ran forward, aiming to help Fudin. She made it no more than twenty paces before Fudin leapt atop the spider and breathed a line of crackling electricity directly into its face. As it fell, he rode its quivering, lifeless body to the ground. He stepped off of it as if there were nothing strange about the encounter. As if he rode giant, vicious spiders daily.
Nes smiled, snuffing the flames with a motion. He rearranged his robes and turned, nodding at Bree.
“Well?” he said impatiently. “What keeps you? Let us be off.”