By: EM Malachi
There was a ruby for each drop of Wolfgang’s blood.
The wealthy and powerful of Akalabeth had always prized rubies. It was custom at a king’s funeral for mourners to place a ruby on the casket. Some in the pile were brilliant lozenge cuts, fit for jewelry and crowns; others were raw and unpolished, directly from the mines. As both a great mage and a benevolent ruler, Wolfgang had been much respected, and even those of humble means wished to pay homage to their king.
Most of the bereaved were silent, but a few whispered worries about the Lost King. Wolfgang’s eldest had joined the hunting party to capture Mondain, and none from that group had returned. With one heir missing and the other a killer, who would rule Akalabeth? The remaining line of succession, all distant cousins, stood solemnly in a row before the casket.
Near sunset, just as the doors of the great cathedral were closing, a beggar in tattered rags slipped inside. The guards grabbed at the intruder. Without slowing, it dislocated an arm and continued toward the casket. The rags fell away to reveal a twisted corpse. The ghoul did not add a ruby to the pile, but instead a small talisman made from bone and nox crystal. The remains of an eye scrutinized the heirs before its mangled mouth spoke in a rasping voice, “Mondain will allow no obstacles to his claim to Sosaria.”
Although the guards quickly killed the abomination, its words held true. Within a month of Wolfgang’s interment, the rest of his bloodline joined him, struck down by a strange pox. Their leprous corpses were sealed in Wolfgang’s crypt, and no ruler has since sat on the throne of Akalabeth.
Dupre discarded the ruins of his shield. Minax’s corsair had been almost successful in the ambush, but Dupre had parried the lethal slash in time. When it became a fair fight, the corsair had fled. The paladin had not pursued. Being harried by Minax’s agent confirmed that the Seer’s predictions were correct, and Dupre was close to his destination.
He soon came to a narrow cleft in the rock, barely enough for him in his armor. Entering alone was a risk, but he was honor bound to complete his quest. As Dupre moved deeper into the cave, the rough stone gave way to polished carvings. The torch light flickered across the murals, causing the figures to move through their stories:
A great wizard-king holding high a large gem and destroying an army of daemons.
The king standing between his two sons, one with a sword and the other a staff.
The king lying dead, while his younger son stands over him with the gem.
At the end of the corridor, Dupre came to a great door inlaid with obsidian runes. The paladin ran his hand across the runes, slowly reading them in the dim light:
“Here lie forever the Lost Kings of Akalabeth. Weep for those who disturb their rest.”