Wine bottle in one hand, sword in the other, Prince Velwrith Silverwind fought through the brambles surrounding the secret path. Patiently he moved slowly into the oversized root crown of The Tree of Stars. It was just an enormous tree as far as he cared, but his teacher had much bigger plans for it.
After a few moments of hacking and squeezing, the way yielded to a small hollow, sheltering an ornate stone archway framing a sparkling glass depiction of the night sky. In the center of the glimmering masterpiece was an opening, a large doorway blocked by a larger carved stone.
The prince sheathed his sword, closed his eyes, and put the bottle to his lips. Then, by memory, he approached, raising his freed hand above his head. With a thought, the quartz ring on his finger flared brightly, radiating white-hot sunlight.
After a while, the ancient structure shook and groaned loudly. A rancid sweetness filled the grove growing in intensity as the door descended.
Velwrith, distracted by his drink, let the spell continue. Intent on finishing the bottle before entering the sacred site, he allowed the ring to warm until the metal of the bindings turned red, and the quartz gemstone burst with a loud pop. The brilliant light vanished, but the heavy stone door remained wide.
Dropping the empty bottle, Velwrith walked inside. Entering quickly, he did not think to place the ornate steel prop in the doorway, even though he knew it had been there for every one of his previous visits.
The prince was in the Crypt of Kings; a place he had visited many times already. These hallowed walls protected the eternal rest of the fallen heroes and leaders of the elven peoples. But, something was different this time, and he couldn't quite tell what. So, determined to get to the bottom of things, he set about exploring.
He started at the tomb of his father, Davorta Silverwind. In the past, it would usually be his only stop. Looking through the glass at the perfectly straight long blond hair, tall, lean figure, and impeccable face made him wince. It was like looking in a mirror.
He had to turn away, blind for several minutes before the turbulent well within him calmed. Then, finally, he found himself marching towards the other side of the catacombs with hot wet cheeks and a booming stride.
Next, he found himself in the expansive main shrine. A large yellow, red, and orange tile mosaic of the sun covered the floor, arms of light braiding together as they reached outward. The heavy door that allowed him entry had risen nearly two feet.
Regardless he was drawn straight ahead at the tomb of the Lightbringer, each successive hero resting through the next doorways. Coffins lined up to allow visitors to look at the fallen heroes, from the third to the twelfth.
"That isn't right..." he said to the motes of dust bounding away from him, overwhelmed with a feeling of being out of place…
Approaching briskly, he counted again. To his amazement, he had been correct the first time.
His former swordmaster, the Lightbringer Quel'Oura Moonspring, was resting snugly in a glass box of her own; a medley of fresh-looking cuts littered her lanky bronze form. A single scratch to her cheek broke the golden sun that encompassed the right side of her face. The symbol of the Lightbringer, a champion for the goddess of light.
Removing his helm, he wiped his face and let his long pointed ears bob freely. Then, walking through the chamber, he glanced at the other eight bodies. He counted five men, one from each elven culture, one who was an ordinary human, and three women, two being Valdrathy elves, and the other being dwarven.
Growing tired of watching the dead rest, he turned his attention back to the entry chamber and the next blaring obstacle, a rising massive limestone door that he had forgotten to jam.
He judged that the lack of cobwebs and overall state of cleanliness meant the door had last opened recently and thus wouldn't do so again for another year.
He scoured every single inch of the doorway itself as the rest of the day came and went. He puzzled out that the door contained at least twenty different wards, but not what they could do. Then, finally, he learned that the glass was indestructible with a desperate but of his scabbard.
Failing to find any handle or method on the doorway itself, he spent the night on the floor curled under his cloak. When he awoke the morning of his second day, he thought, "Perhaps direct force did not open the door…."
Further scouring the room brought Velwrith to the altar. It was a three-foot black marble pedestal with a smoky crystal visor wrapped around the top. Embedded in the center was a clear glass orb.
Velwrith pondered the mystery of the thing for three days. All the while, he was wracked by waves of exhaustion due to lack of food, water, and proper rest. Then, finally, chance gave away the last hint he needed.
The sun, or so he guessed, passed over the doorway for just a second. In that time, those sharp elf eyes of his witnessed something miraculous.
The stained glass panes decorating the door focused a small light beam into the orb on the podium. While that happened, from the base of the monolith, two perfectly aligned beams of thin white light shot into a groove under the doorframe.
Considering his fortune, the prince of Aldrey placed his hands upon the orb and focused on a simple spell. Sparkling motes of light gathered around him, and he moved them through his hands. White luminosity emanated from his palms and into the crystal. Two powerful lasers struck the base of the doorframe.
Producing light of this intensity would have been difficult in good health. Somehow Velwrith, weakened as he was, kept on long past the onset of stinging bubbling mana burn. Instead, he was pouring his every focus on powering whatever spell or function lay beyond.
Soon the air in the tomb became hot, and the stone underfoot began roaring. A great series of crunches and screeches roared from every possible direction. But still, Velwrith kept shining. Then, at last, the door began to lower.
As he stood transfixed by the slowly opening door, a small bullet of golden light shot up from the orb. It struck him cleanly in the face, directly on his left eye.
In a flash, it was over. He collapsed to the floor. Searing hot pain covered the side of his face in fine lines. His cries for help were incoherent wails of agony.
Then, as two winged figures appeared in the doorway, he fainted from pain, thirst, exhaustion, and the furnace heat he had created.
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