The Prince of the Rose
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Abandoned Guthard temple, Thangdaemon Forest, Andor.

Approaching the slab, Aaron reached out with the palm of his hand. He could feel the Eldritch pulsing off of the stone. He reached out with his senses trying to determine the warding and was knocked back on his behind by the force of the wards' discharge of energy.

Aaron gathered himself and stood up. Smiling at the women, who were gawking at him, he dusted off his cloak and approached the stone slab cautiously. He searched the slab for any obvious method to open or move it. His search turned up empty, there was no seam, no trip, and no mechanism to open or move the slab. Aaron stepped back to get a better overall view of the front side of the mini temple.

"Look around and see if any of you can discern a way into the temple," Aaron directed the others. "Do not touch the stone slab. I am fairly sure that it is warded."

"Watching you get knocked backward removed any doubt in my mind," Tanith chuckled, teasing him.

"Red Rose, what can you tell me about the wards on the stone slab?" Aaron placed his hand on his sword's hilt.

"The runes were placed by a Runesword, My Lord," Red Rose replied. "The wards are Lord Deathbringer's."

"Red Rose says that the runes were made by Deathbringer. We are definitely at the right place."

"What does that mean?" Aaron inquired of his sword. "Can you cleave the warding?"

"Yes, My Lord, I can," Red Rose replied. "I do not believe you will wish to do so, though. The wards were designed to allow passage. You just need to determine how best to do that."

"Red Rose says that the wards can be defeated," Aaron called out. "We just need to figure it out."

"There is some type of a hole here in the side of the altar," Dana called out, kneeling in front of the altar.

Aaron turned to where Dana was kneeling and inspected the strange looking hole in the stone slab of the altar. The hole was oblong and was aligned parallel to the altar. Something went into the hole, but what Aaron did not know.

"Aaron, look at this writing above the hole," Dana pointed to the writing.

"Tanith, can you translate this?" Aaron asked Tanith as she approached and kneeled next to them.

"If you so dare, insert your hand and be judged," Tanith read the ancient script. "If you are found worthy you will be marked and then be able to pass."

"I do not think I like the sound of that," Dana replied and then gasped as Aaron removed his bracer, glove and turned the signet ring around and then inserted his left hand into the hole past his wrist.

The 'Goodness' associated with his left arm when he grasped the 'rod of light' had long since vanished, one of the side effects of his immersion in the pool of Eldritch. There was still the scar above his elbow, but the skin had started to tan and he wore the sleeve glove more because he was accustomed to it than anything else.

Pain exploded into Aaron's consciousness but he held his hand fast. A burning sensation started at his wrist and travelled up and down the arm. Finally the pain stopped and Aaron, despite almost hyperventilating from the pain slowly withdrew his hand from the hole. Turning his hand over Dana gasped again at the symbol of crossed roses branded into the palm side of his wrist.

The skin around the brand was bright red and the sickly smell of burnt flesh wafted around them. Tanith reached over and gently touched the palm of his hand, causing the redness to fade revealing a perfect branding of crossed roses in black and red. The color was interesting because it should not be there with a burn. The symbol on his wrist matched the symbol on the slab.

The Black Guard banged their shields with the pommels of their swords in tribute to their prince and then faded into the gloom of the shadows. They would answer the call if their prince had need.

"I guess I passed the judgment," Aaron remarked as he picked up his items and stowed them within his cloak.

"If that was passing I hate to see if you had failed," Kalliste remarked with a grin.

"Oh, had I failed there would have been nothing to see, including nothing of me," Aaron replied, turning his ring right side up. "Now that I am marked, let us see if I can pass."

Aaron slowly approached the stone slab and reached out with his left hand. As his hand reached the slab it shimmered and faded away revealing a set of stairs leading down to the left. He replaced his sleeve glove and the bracers before drawing Black Rose and slowly descended the stairs.

The stairs stopped at a small landing ten feet below the top of the main temple. There were two sets of stairs leading down from the landing in opposite directions. The landing was crowded with the four of them standing there. Aaron created a small silver glowing energy ball to light his way.

"Tanith, you and Dana go down that side," Aaron pointed to his left, "and Kalliste and I will take the other stairs. Dana, take the dogs with you."

Tanith nodded and after creating her own bobbing ball of silvery light she and Dana, with the dogs in the lead, disappeared down the stairs, with the glow from the light marking their passage.

Aaron and Kalliste started down their side. At the bottom of the stairs was a hall that continued on away from them. Aaron could see doors halfway down on both sides and another door at the end of the hall.

The door on the right opened to a storeroom. The room had an old musty smell and needed to be aired out before they entered. There were old moldy bags of grain split open from rot or rodent stacked along the back wall. The smell of rodent feces and urine permeated the air, causing Kalliste to cough. Backing out of the room and closing the door they turned and crossed to the door on the opposite side of the hall.

Aaron swung the door opened and paused to allow fresh air to clear the stale smell of the room. Another storeroom with casks lining the back and side walls two deep and two high. Wine probably, Aaron thought and then closed the door. They continued down the hall and stopped at the door at the end.

Aaron opened the door and allowed the musty smell to dissipate before entering another storeroom filled with dried fruits, vegetables and meats. All of the dried goods had long since spoiled with mold so Aaron closed the door to stop the smell from escaping. This side was a dead end and he wondered how the others fared. They turned and started back toward the stairs when he felt Dana's need.

"Aaron! Help!" he heard Dana scream in his head and then nothing!

Grabbing Kalliste by the arm he commanded Black Rose to take them to his mates.

Tanith created a small light ball and she and Dana started down the stairs. Ten feet down the stairs ended at a small landing and a second set of stairs continued down in the reverse direction. Taking the second stairs deposited them in a small alcove perpendicular to a hallway going both directions. After looking both ways Tanith shrugged at Dana and took the left-hand hall.

The left hand hallway had two doors evenly spaced on the wall before turning 90 degrees to the right. Tanith opened the first door revealing large clay jars about three feet high and sealed in wax. There must have been ten or twelve of the jars in the room. Tanith also felt an uneasiness about the room, and remarked as such to Dana. Even the dogs were reacting negatively toward the room.

"Let us leave then," Dana responded with a shiver. "If you feel uneasy it must be bad. Even the dogs do not like it in here."

They backed out of the room into the hall and closed the door. Tanith added an Eldritch seal on the door and turned away toward the next room. If something unnatural was in that room Tanith wanted to make sure it stayed there.

Dana cautiously opened this door and felt the shiver of someone walking across her grave. She drew her sword and moved into the room following the door to the right and saw Tanith do the same to the left.

"Come in dearies," a voice cackled as a shape began to materialize in the room.

Dana felt the door behind her try to close and she pressed back trying to keep it open. The dogs were growling as they advanced on the materializing shape.

"Et!" Tanith commanded, trying to bind the shape before it finished materializing.

"Careem!" the cackling voice countered. "Ooh, a word game. I just love word games. Himith!"

"Unhimith!" Tantih countered as well.

"Cauth!" Dana commanded and fired blue balls of Eldritch at the shape.

"Ooh, a Witch!" the cackling voice sing-songed as the entity finished materializing in the room, batting the balls aside.

She was a hideous old hag with stringy, dirty, brown hair. Her clothes were rotted, moldy, rags. Her diseased flesh hung loosely from her thin frame. Oozing boils and pus filled pocks covered her exposed flesh. The smell of death and decay preceded her. Despite all that the crone was powerful, Dana could feel the waves of Eldritch emanating from her. The crone wove her hands in an intricate pattern and the dogs stopped, frozen in place.

"Together, Dana!" Tanith called out and attacked the hag with twin beams of silver Eldritch.

Dana, hearing the attack plan from Tanith struck out with blue balls of Eldritch in quick succession.

The hag was powerful; she defended Dana's attack with her right hand and Tanith's with her left. The hag was defending both attacks with ease, all the while cackling with glee to some private joke, either that or she was just insane.

Tanith dropped one of her power beams and shifted to silvery lightning trying to overpower the hag's defenses, but the hag contained the lightning as well. It seemed to Tanith that either the hag knew their strategy before they did or she was so powerful that she could turn aside the combined attacks of a Wyrm and a Tarran Witch. That just did not seem probable so what was it? Something tickled her memory and she tried to retrieve it and bring it forward. It took a few moments before her memory surfaced and she remembered a being with this type of power.

"Dana, hold your attack," Tanith called out stopping her own. "Release your power."

When Tanith told her to disengage Dana initially thought that Tanith was suicidal. That hag was too powerful to let it get the upper hand. But she complied with her wishes, though she kept her powers at the ready just in case.

"Well, now that is just no fun!" the hag stopped cackling when all of its power bled off.

"I name you, Imp," Tanith commanded, drawing runes of power in the air. "Show your true self."

The hag shrieked in frustration as she spun around and shrank down revealing a little person, about two feet tall, dark skin and brown hair. A member of the race of fairy (or fey as they would rather be called.) He was dressed in forest green shirt and brown trousers in a camouflaged pattern with a felt hat with a camouflaged feather. The being was holding a small glaive, well, not so small for him. A really short sword belted at his hip. On his back was a little camouflaged rucksack.

"A brownie?" Dana exclaimed in shock.

"Not just, a brownie, Madam," the brownie replied in a self-indignant huff. "A Warrior Brownie, and a scout to boot."

"MacDougal, at your service," the brownie bowed with a flourish. "Now, what are you doing here on sacred grounds?"

"Searching," Tanith replied. "How about you, what are you doing here?"

"My responsibilities, Madam," Macdougal replied and then put his fingers into his mouth and whistled. "You are trespassing."

Dana felt a slight tremor and then in the distance she heard whistling. Many mouths whistling the same tune over and over. The whistling was getting louder as if whoever was whistling was fast approaching.

Authors note: The tune being whistled is The Colonel Bogey March. Better known as the tune whistled in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Two columns of Warrior Brownies dressed in their forest fatigues faded into view marching through the wall swinging their arms to the tune they were whistling. The columns split and angled out, stopping on either side of the Dana and Tanith.

"First Squad, left oblique," a brownie called out as first squad turned in toward Dana.

"Second Squad, right oblique," the brownie commanded as second squad turned in toward Tanith.

"Weapons ready!"

"Hoo-aah!" the warriors responded, stepping back and dropping the blades of their glaives to the ready position.

Dana looked at Tanith who shrugged back. They were surrounded by a platoon of armed brownies some two feet tall. It would be almost comical except for the fact that those glaives were sharp and nasty looking.

"Mac-Dou-gal, re-port!" the same warrior commanded, obviously their leader.

"Sah! Yes sah!" MacDougal replied crisply and then came to attention performed an about face, stamped his feet with a little hop and saluted the leader palm forward. "Lieutenant, I was scouting the area as required when I was attacked without provocation by these two interlopers. I was in my guise when the attack occurred. The one on the right is a Tarran Witch; the other is unknown but powerful. I sensed no mark on either and summoned the platoon."

"Left-tenant? What is a left-tenant?" Dana turned to Tanith, who shrugged not knowing an answer.

They turned back toward the lieutenant when he addressed them.

"Madams, you are trespassing on sacred grounds as I am sure MacDougal has already informed you," the Lieutenant explained. "The punishment is death. Do you have anything to say for yourselves before I pass judgment?"

Dana was concerned. The fact that MacDougal, as he called himself, had defended himself so effectively against the both of them spoke of the power the brownies had, or more correctly the ability to use their opponents power against them. Now they were faced by not just one, but 13 of the warriors. They needed help and now.

"Aaron, help!" Dana called out to their mate through their mental bond.

Aaron and Kalliste appeared in the hall outside of the room where Dana and Tanith were surrounded. Aaron drew Red Rose and stepped into the room. He saw his mates being held at glaive point by two foot tall brownies. The look on Dana's face told him everything he needed to know: They were in danger and it did not matter that the danger was small. He was about to attack first and ask questions later when the group of brownies brought their weapons up.

"First Platoon, A-Ten-Hut," a brownie called out and the two lines brought their feet together and raised their glaives up and stamped the hafts to the stone.

"Your Highness, long we have waited for this day," the same brownie stepped forward toward Aaron and stamped his feet with a little hop, saluting with his right hand, palm forward. "I am Lieutenant MacRyan, at your service. Might we see your mark please?"

Aaron looked at the wee folk, a military troop? He looked to Tanith who shrugged with a lopsided grin and then back at the lieutenant who stood waiting. Aaron sheathed his swords and removed his ring, the bracer and finally the sleeve glove. He turned his hand palm up revealing the crossed roses branding.

"Yes, quite," Lieutenant MacRyan remarked and then turned to his men. "At ease."

"Your Highness, we have waited a long time to see that mark," MacRyan smiled. "I am guessing that you search for something?"

"Yes, we do," Aaron replied putting back on his things. "You know where it is then?"

"Quite. I will dispatch MacDougal to show you," MacRyan turned to his platoon. "Mac-Dou-Gal, front and cen-ter!"

"Sah! Yes sah!" MacDougal replied and stepped forward, performing the stamp, hop, and salute with palm forward.

"Provide escort services for His Highness," MacRyan ordered. "Show them the door to the throne. After which, return to your duties."

"Sah! Yes sah!" MacDougal saluted and performed an about face toward Aaron. "Your Highness, I am at your service."

"If there is nothing further, Your Highness?" MacRyan cocked his head.

"No, nothing else, Lieutenant," Aaron replied trying to keep a straight face. "Thank you for the escort."

Lieutenant MacRyan saluted and performed an about face. "First squad right oblique! Second squad left oblique! Platoon about face! Shoulder arms! Forward, March!"

The unit performed the maneuvers crisply and when the moved forward they started whistling their matching tune and passed through the wall disappearing. The music could be heard for several more moments before fading away.

"Your Highness, if you would please follow me," MacDougal saluted again and after releasing the dogs marched out the door.

Aaron turned and followed the brownie. Dana and Tanith shrugged at each other and then followed Aaron. They picked up Kalliste in the hall and followed the brownie around the corner and then around the corner again where he stopped in the middle of the hall facing the outside wall.

"This is as far as I may go, Your Highness," MacDougal announced, pointing at the wall. "Your way is through here."

He reached out and touched the wall and two silver lines appeared and ran off in opposite directions revealing the outline of two large curved doors with intricately wrought rose vines ending in twin circles where knobs should be. MacDougal stepped back and bowed before Aaron.

"The rest is up to you, Your Highness," MacDougal saluted again and marched off into the opposite wall fading from view. They could hear his whistling fade away as well.

"Warrior Brownies?" Aaron could no longer hold his laughter.

"Aaron, do not be quick to judge," Tanith admonished him. "I had forgotten all about them since I was in hibernation for so long. In their heyday they were a terror to whomever they faced in combat. Ask Dana if you do not believe me. They can use their enemy's power against them. We were in real trouble before you arrived."

"I believe you," Aaron replied sobering under Dana's stare. "More so since my ancestor commissioned them to guard the throne. He must have respected their abilities to do so."

Aaron reached out and touched one of the knobs and the outline of the doors briefly flared before they slowly swung inward.

Aaron stepped into the room and immediately noticed the red hue everywhere. The room was probably twenty feet square and right in the middle was a throne carved out of a giant rose colored ruby: the Rose Throne!

The throne was three feet high at the seat and another six feet high to the top of the large wing back. The seat was three feet across with large arms on either side. The back was carved in the shape of overlapping petals and had two large roses carved into the upper corners of the wings. The arms were carved in the shape of petals that curled under in a scroll like design. The entire throne was carved with running vines of wild roses. The throne generated its own internal light, highlighting the asterism, or star quality, within the large back.

Aaron approached the throne and drew Black Rose as a way of introductions.

"It is not sentient in that way, My Lord," the sword explained. "It is more empathic and that might not be quite right either. You do not need me, it knows your claim is just. Sit, My Lord, it awaits you."

Aaron sheathed his sword and reverently walked up to the throne, turned and gently sat down. Tanith and Dana watched their mate's antics with a bemused look on their faces

There was no booming pronouncement, no thunder nor lightning, no fanfare whatsoever, just a calm realization that everything was finally alright with the world. Aaron felt at home sitting on the throne. He was not even astonished when the Black Guard appeared on either side of the throne in a protective stance. While Aaron was revealing in the joy of the throne his mates were walking around it admiring its esthetic beauty.

"Aaron, come look at this," Tanith pointed at the back of the throne.

Aaron reluctantly got up and walked around the back. In the center of the throne back was a carving of crossed roses, one red and one black. The interesting part however, was the silver rose carved above the crossed blooms. All three stems of the carving intersected, as if the silver rose was coming out of the crossed stems of the black and red roses.

"Black Rose, what is this carving?" Aaron placed his hand on the pommel of his sword as he studied the design.

"It depicts a possibility, My Lord," Black Rose replied. "We can be combined to form another."

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