In the end, they decided to go ahead. All conjectures were ultimately no match against plain greed, and a dangerous dose of curiosity.
‘We go up,’ Max said, ‘Look sharp, and make haste.’
They climbed the stairs, going through numerous rooms and corridors. They did not dally long in any one place, though they passed many curious objects and works of exquisite art. The urgency in their hearts was only slightly less imperative than their need to complete the mission. If their certainty of Ishar’s presence was but a tad stronger, they would have fled.
But there was not a soul to confront them.
Several times, they got a scare from the many statues set beside certain doors. The ornaments were mistaken for armoured warriors more than once, so real did they seem.
Some levels higher, they came to a study and library of sorts. It had rows and rows of bookcases stuffed full of musty old tomes. Paplo lingered a while there, as his companions looked in at the adjoining rooms. When Wykka came to call him out, the youth thought he saw the former thief look up guiltily from one of the lecterns.
‘Did you find something?’ Wykka had asked.
‘Nothing,’ Paplo replied quickly, ushering his friend out. Wykka could not help feeling that Paplo was hiding something, but he was too anxious of finishing their business to inquire further.
They continued on.
‘Where’s that gawden Throne Room?’ Max grouched. ‘It can’t be so high up.’
‘Mayhaps we missed it downstairs,’ Eladred said. ‘I keep feeling that there are many more places to explore, below.’
‘It’s the Throne Room – it can’t be hidden in some obscure corner,’ Max said, ‘Anyway, we should continue upwards. If we still haven’t found it by the time we reach the top, we’ll search more thoroughly on the way back down.’
Finally, they came to double doors of silver and gold. It was etched with a beautiful pattern reminiscent of the sky and mountains, encrusted with precious stones. At either side were especially large statues of bronze, at least seven feet tall.
‘Treasure!!’ exclaimed Paplo, unsheathing his dagger.
‘Hold on!’ Max said, taking out his pole once more.
The doors slid open with only a gentle prod from the pole. Immediately, a grinding sound emitted from the statues. And then they began to move..
‘Holy Light of Rah!!’ Paplo swore.
Eladred loosed three arrows in succession. As always, the missiles struck with devastating force and accuracy. Against the metal bodies of the statues, they penetrated no more than an inch, and affected them not at all.
The two statues advanced with ponderous malediction, iron maces raised. A wave of fear assailed them.
Max howled a dwarven war cry and leaped in with his hammer. One of the statues struck him with its mace. The dwarf deftly caught it with his shield, but was nonetheless sent flying to the side wall.
Paplo threw his dagger at the statue, but it bounced off harmlessly. The other statue moved to flank him, mace angled to smash the youth to pulp. Wykka saw its intension, instinctively throwing his axe at its upraised arm. The axe flew true – its head jammed into the elbow joint, disabling that limb.
Seeing that, Eladred shouted, ‘These abominations are magickal constructs, and cannot be killed! Take off their limbs instead!’ The elf dropped his bow and drew his sword.
‘I see the Throne Room beyond the doors!’ Paplo cried, as he attacked his opponent’s kneecap with his axe.
Max recovered from his fall with a grunt. ‘Wykka! Get in there, and break off a piece of stone gargoyle! We’ll hold off these goons!’ the dwarf said, as he charged the statues again.
Eladred parried the statues’ blows as best as he could, while Paplo tried to chop off a leg. ‘Hurry! We may not be able to stop them for long! We’re getting out of here once we have the gargoyle – I don’t think these things can outrun us.’
‘I’m on my way!’ Wykka affirmed, dodging below a swipe from a statue, before speeding towards the doors.
The statue tried to go after the youth, but the concentrated attacks of Max, Eladerd and Paplo forced them to stay, or risk incapacitation.
to be continued…