Posted on October 26, 2013 by Flames
In the land of Eranon, the Reach is a desolate place where people journey to forget who they are. Now, a menace rises from this wasteland, and he is hunting for someone. To keep the madman and his chaos behind the Reach, four adventurers with haunted pasts must rise to the challenge. But how can failed heroes bring hope to others when they doubt themselves?
Originally published in 2006 as a tie-in novel to the Chronicles of Ramlar role playing game, Into the Reach is now re-released in a newly edited e-book edition.
Flames Rising is pleased to present the first chapter of this new edition by Alana Abbott.
Into the Reach (Revised Edition) Chapter One
The Black Death, Dalaghost Swamp
Tunir, Second Week of Eldune, 4624
A small point of light descended slowly from the ceiling, piercing the darkness of the vast cavern. The light moved erratically: down an inch, then stopping, then down another inch. After more than twenty minutes of fitful descent, the light finally stopped, still several feet off the ground. Then it flared, revealing a lantern at the waist of a grey-clad figure. Only the slightest tremor played through the rope emerging from a hole in the cavern’s ceiling. The rope descended from what had probably once been a mining shaft, long before the dragon claimed this area as its lair.
The flame within the lantern offered precious little light, brightening only a small area, but hints of golden statuettes and bejeweled furniture sparkled at the edge of the shadows. The cavern extended far beyond the pool of light, its rough earthen ceiling and walls lost in darkness. Below the dangling light sat a large cabinet, probably originally built by giants, made of the finest of lumber harvested from the Brightwood. The veins of the wood still glimmered with the lifeblood of the tree, giving the appearance that trails of gold ran throughout, heightening the splendor of its intricate carvings.
The grey-clad figure dangled with her feet inches above the ground, over the wires and caltrops surrounding the Brightwood cabinet. The informant, insane though he seemed, described the cabinet and warned of the traps too, waving his stump of an arm in front of him as he spoke to accentuate his point.
Tejarkn grunted from above as the rope stretched taut, and Nara glanced up with worry at her friend. Even in the meager light her lantern offered, she could see her dwarven friend’s squat form, corded muscles bunched with exertion, his face red beneath his bushy Kasmarkn beard, eyes hidden by the steel of his helmet. Despite the effort, Tejarkn offered a quick nod, and she turned her attention to the task at hand.
The carvings on the Brightwood panels depicted the exploits of a hero Nara didn’t recognize, and only a small lock decorated the cabinet, built into the door in a way that would make it difficult for a suspicious owner to trap. Difficult, she suspected, was not the same as impossible. She wouldn’t trust her life that odds were in her favor. She ran a gloved hand along the door and down to the handle, the light in her other hand following the path of her fingers. There, in the lock, she saw a brief glint, the tip of a needle.
She silently pulled a cloth from her tool belt, covering the bit of the lock where the needle would strike. With a flick of her wrist, her lock pick slid from its wrist-sheath into her hand. Working the lock pick under the cloth, she heard a tell-tale click: the lock was now broken. The pressure under the rag meant the needle had released. Removing the rag carefully, she slowly opened the door.
A gleaming helm rested in a place of honor on the highest shelf of the cabinet: the helmet of Rotur, which belonged to Tejarkn’s great-grandfather. The helm sat upon piles of Kasmarkn gold. Nara’s mouth twisted into a half-smile, and she reached forward, brushing her fingers along the shelf holding the helmet, careful to touch neither the gold nor the helmet itself. She immediately saw wires stretched beneath the helm and within the gold piles.
Nara pulled herself to the back of the cabinet, where she could see wires passing through the wood. She traced the thin metal wires until she could identify the pattern. It was more complicated than the last. She felt a drop of sweat form on her brow, then slide down the side of her face and onto her neck. A voice from above made her stomach twitch, although her practiced nerves allowed her to remain perfectly still.
“Any… time… now…” Tejarkn muttered. Nara focused again on the wire trap, repeating silent prayers over and over in her head, a mantra to keep her focused. Her lips moved silently as her fingers did their delicate work, never putting too much pressure on one wire but managing to find the weakest among them. She twisted the thin wire sharply.
The wires went lax. A bolt fell from its hiding place among the wires into her hand. Nara sighed a long and careful breath, then opened a bag hanging at her belt, tucking away the bolt. The helmet would go in first, followed by the gold, which would more than cover her expenses for this quest. She placed both hands on the helmet, sliding it ever so slowly from its resting place.
As it reached the edge of the shelf, the blaring of horns and the loud clanging of bells exploded around the cavern. The treasure room flooded with floating blue lights, reflecting off the mountains of treasures hidden in the shadows. Cursing, Nara grabbed the helmet quickly, sliding all the coin and gems on the shelf into her bag as Tejarkn strained to pull her up.
After quickly closing the bag and extinguishing the lantern, she hauled herself up as well, hand over hand, climbing the rope at nearly the same speed she walked. Reaching the tunnel above, she pulled herself up with the aid of Tejarkn’s thick, strong arm.
“Did you get it?” Tejarkn asked, as Nara came to her feet.
Nara nodded and turned toward their point of entry. The legendary traps that kept adventurous souls away from the Black Death’s infamous lair would soon spring to life, and she didn’t want to be here when they did. She repeated a different prayer with each graceful footfall of escape.
Unfortunately, the Alari were not listening to Nara’s prayers. The tunnel shook, pitching Nara into a wall. Tejarkn’s stout dwarven frame kept him upright, and he pulled her ahead; she leaned on her friend as they stumbled forward. She found her footing as she adjusted to the new tempo of the ground. When they came to an intersection, Tejarkn started to the left. Nara pulled him down the right tunnel as the spikes she noticed earlier shot from the ground. Tejarkn paled.
Nara bit her lip in frustration as they ran. Success was so close, but again her inexperience with magic led to failure. This time, she had no one to come to her rescue. She prayed this time Tejarkn would not suffer the consequences of her flaws.
Tejarkn seemed to sense this as he hurried behind her. “Not your fault,” he grunted between short breaths. “My quest. Not yours.”
His words of comfort fell short of their goal. Nara nearly slipped as the floor moved under her again, but she sidestepped onto solid ground, rushing through the maze their informant mapped for them many months before. So much planning, so many months of preparation—all would be wasted if they didn’t escape. She took a quick right, then another left, finally seeing the long stretch that led to the exit. The path was uphill but straight, and she quickened her pace to a panicked sprint. They might make it after all.
She stopped running when she heard the tunnel collapse behind her. Her labored breathing was nearly as loud as Tejarkn’s agonized cry. Though time seemed to move at normal speed, her mind seemed slow, unable to comprehend what happened. Ignoring the danger of another collapse, she rushed back to his side. His small form was half-buried under the weight of a pile of heavy rocks, and small holes opened to the sunlight in the ceiling above him. She knelt beside her friend, unwilling to allow this to have happened, praying to the Alari to rewrite history, to put her under the rock instead of her dwarven friend.
She took his hand, and he rolled his head toward her, loosening his helmet enough so that it popped off and clanked to the side. A large gash split his forehead, red and wet in the dim light surrounding them. “Stay with me, my friend,” she said, releasing his hand to pry at the rubble, but he grabbed her arm, his fingers tighter and stronger than they should have been.
“Go,” he commanded, the same strength in his voice that she felt in his hand. His eyes were clear, and his voice brooked no argument. “The dragon will be back soon, and I’ll not have us both caught. Take my grandfather’s helmet. Take it back to my daughter.”
She shook her head and appraised the collapse, refusing to admit her friend was already doomed. “I will not abandon you. It is not my way.”
His fingers stayed clenched around her wrist. “By Hur, girl, make it your way! I am already gone.”
When she looked into his eyes again, her resolve shattered. He embraced this death, and the earth would take him back to his god. She nodded as he released her. Solemnly, she bowed to the dwarf from her kneeling position, touching her forehead to the ground before him, her hands together in prayer that his god would find him.
“Nara, go,” Tejarkn commanded again. She took a quick moment to kiss his forehead in farewell, feeling the warmth of his blood on her lips. The light of the surface welcomed Nara, but mocked her as well. As she fled, she heard Tejarkn’s death song rise from his throat and echo, resonating in the stone. It pierced her heart with a coldness and sharpness no steel could have.
* * * * *
Into the Reach (Revised Edition) is available now at DriveThruFiction.com.
This excerpt was provided by and is being published with express permission from the author, Alana Abbott.