Carefully and quietly, Trog and I slink down the spiraling staircase of the town crypt. My eyesight serves me well enough navigating the stairs, but when we reach the bottom, the murk creeps in close enough that I can no longer see the floor beneath me. Even the most acute vision would fail in the complete absence of light.
From the faint differences in shade that I can make out, we seem to be traveling down a hallway now. With my next step forward, I sense that I have entered a space that is wider than before. I glance back briefly and see the vague silhouette of my friend, a short distance behind. I extend an arm forward, getting a brief flash of vertigo as I am unable to see it in front of me. I summon my energy to call for a burst of light. A small, luminous sphere coalesces above my palm, and a chill travels up my body as my surroundings are dimly illuminated.
The room is filled with wooden caskets, strewn about the floor or leaning against the walls. This brief impression is all that I get before the light fades and blackness swallows up the room again. “What does it look like in there?” I hear my comrade ask from behind. I fail to come up with a decent response.
Steeling myself, I shuffle forward, feeling for a casket that I saw nearby. After I find it, I once again summon my strength, this time praying for a light hot enough to start fire. I can sense the power collecting, see the glow, feel the heat- and then, sparks. A weak flame catches on the corner of the casket, spreading across ever so slowly.
I stand, entranced by the flickering glow that illuminates the coffins- although as far as I can tell, they remain unchanged from before. I can hear Trog approaching from behind. He snaps off a spike of wood from the burning casket, wrapping some spare cloth around it to create a makeshift torch. He leads through the maze of coffins toward the hallway on the opposite side, which is still shrouded in blackness…
We explore the crypt. It is more expansive than I would have guessed. The next room contains several preserved bodies set upon elevated stone platforms- an honorific burial, it appears. Beyond that the accommodations become much less extravagant- rotting corpses lay piled in the dirt, with the room’s crumbling stone pillars looming overhead. Given the town’s declining economy, I would guess that these are some of the more recent occupants.
Eventually we find our way to a small back room, with a single gravestone in the center. Water drips down from the walls, and sure enough we find patches of lichen growing on and around the grave. We both lean down to pick some up, but as we do, a loud crash echoes through the place; like stone grinding against stone. My partner and I both jolt upright. The noise was distant, but nevertheless deeply worrisome. After packing up our harvest, we carefully- even more so than before- creep back through the tomb. Nothing has moved, to my eyes, although the noise had seemed farther away than all of this anyway.
After another tense trek past the bodies, we reach the entrance to the mausoleum- and it becomes obvious what we had heard. The heavy stone doors are now shut, and they only open inward- meaning they can only be opened from outside. Trog and I share a nervous glance. Upon approaching the thing, we can hear muffled voices from the other side, although the words are completely lost through the thick stone.
After agreeing that it might be in our best interest to remain silent, Trog suggests that perhaps I could melt through the door with my acid. I give him a nod, then kneel down and begin to call the stuff up from my chest. It flows up my throat and rolls off of my tongue, creating a soft hissing noise as it contacts the stone. This will be slow going, but it will work, eventually…
I finally manage to burn all the way through, and through the small eyehole I can see the town’s magistrate- the man who had been delivering a speech in the town hall- and the nurse conversing with each other. Puzzled, I step back to allow Trog to see. They seem to be arguing about what kind of food supplies they should be prioritizing for the village. Suddenly, the magistrate notices the hole, and steps forward brandishing a crossbow. “What?! How did you… Just- just stay in there, and nobody has to get hurt.”
After a brief verbal exchange, it becomes obvious that the two had intentionally trapped us in here, intending to sell us back to the goblins in exchange for much-needed supplies and food. The human girl’s ailment was nothing more than an upset stomach, and the need for lichen was a lie to lure us down here. A party of slavers was apparently already on their way, having been alerted by smoke signals from town. Trog begins to make an argument for our lives, but nothing seems to convince the magistrate. Meanwhile I start to employ by acid breath yet again, this time aiming to create handholds in the doors to allow us to pull them open from inside.
After completing my work, I stand up and take a few deep breaths. I have never had to channel that power for so long. It has left me drained to the core, although my link with the gods remains strong as ever. I give Trog a nod, gesturing to the rough handholds. His case with the town leaders has long since gone cold. We take position behind each door, and with a final affirmative glance, heave with all our might.
Our desperate strength serves us well, as the doors swing open in a manner of moments, giving us the upper hand. Trog charges forward in an attempt to disarm the magistrate, but the man keeps a firm grip on his crossbow. As they grapple with each other, I summon a blast of light with the same intent, but the magistrate dodges backward. Angered, he fires a bolt at Trog, which lodges solidly into his chest with a thump. He stumbles backwards a distance, but quickly regains his poise, grumbling under his breath. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
In the brief moment of stillness, I call out to the magistrate, urging him to stay his hand and hear our plea. He shakes his head solemnly while loading another bolt into his crossbow. Trog suddenly dashes towards the unarmed nurse, easily grabbing her and threatening her with his cutlass. Flustered, the magistrate hesitantly switches aim between the two of us. I extend an open palm towards him and begin to speak.
“We understand the plight of your village, magistrate, but we will not be slaves again.” His arms cradle his weapon shakily as he replies, “And we will not starve to death in the desert!” I take a few steps towards him. “If you must attack us now, then do it, and we shall strike you down where you stand. But if you allow us to be, we will do everything in our power to help your village and its people.”
The man hesitates for a moment before responding, “What can you do to help us?! What we need is food, and the only way to get it is by trading with the goblins!” I lower my arm. “What you need is to escape this place.” A brief pause. “I am guided by the great dragon Bahamut. He grants me my powers. If you allow him, he will lead your people to safety, away from this desolate place.”
The magistrate seems to consider this for a moment. Turning to Trog, he yells, “If you mean no harm, then let her go!” He does so, and the distressed woman stumbles to the side of her colleague. Looking back to me, the magistrate asks, “Do you really think it would work?” I nod firmly, and he says, “You will need to convince the people.” I reply, “I can.” And after a long silence, he finally, slowly turns back toward the town. “Come with me.”
He guides us into the tavern and has us stand before an audience of townsfolk. He explains the situation to them, passionately as he did before, but also as before the crowd is skeptical. He turns to us and says, “Show them! Show them your powers!” I call out to Bahamut. If this is right, then he will attest that it is. Whatever happens, it is by his design.
A soft glow begins to coalesce in front of me. The audience turns my way. A moment later, a mighty bolt of lightning crashes through the ceiling with an ear-splitting crack, leaving charred splinters of wood raining down in its wake. Everyone becomes frozen in shock, then their eyes turn back to me. In the utter silence after the explosion, a single, unequivocal word escapes my lips: “Exodus.”
I turn to leave as the stunned faces search for an explanation. The magistrate continues his appeal, this time with ears perked all around. I go outside to stand on the small rise of the town’s fountain, and think to myself while staring into the distance… majestically. I’ve just created quite an image for myself in the eyes of these people, and it would be no good to ruin it now, yes?
The question arises, Do I really deserve this position? Of course not. I have just acted as best I could to preserve my own life, and perhaps those of the citizens as well- and evidently my decision has been blessed by Bahamut, so now there is only one path to follow.
I tell the people that Bahamut will guide us to safety. What choice do I have? Although his power swells within me, I have no more knowledge of the great dragon’s intentions than they do. He very well may wish us all to perish in the wastes.
At one time I believed that my actions were directly sanctioned by Bahamut, and I perceive his presence no differently now than I did before. Why is it that I feel so hesitant? I receive no direction, no confirmation, and yet my decisions always seem to turn out for the better. And so I wander into the desert with dozens of innocents behind me. Why do I do this? Why east?
Some will die, that much is obvious. Perhaps many will die. Perhaps I will stand at the end of a long line of famished corpses before finally collapsing into the sand myself, if such is the will of the gods.
None can stop the will of the gods.