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Into The Caves


        How in the name of Tehsh did I get stuck with this group?” groaned Saykoo to
herself, picking her way through the shattered slate of the cave floor.  The lithe assassin looked at her travel companions.  The street orphan would perhaps be the most helpful, but she was certain that he had lifted her coin purse in town, and Saykoo was far from the forgiving type.  The other two were unarmed but for walking sticks.  One, idealistic and fresh from the Academy of Illusions in Ir Alatha, had his face wrapped in strips of linen.  Behind him tottered the old prophet, the skull of some unknown bird atop his head, muttering something to himself about “the procoming.”  This job would be easier working, as she usually did, alone.  Clearing a few Shakhaarya from the island’s cave system hardly required the fine-tuned skill and stealth of a seasoned assassin, but it would be a perfect chance to try out a new poison.  She had even sold a vial to the orphan for his arrows on the ship ride in, mixed at quarter strength and twice the price of course.  Still, the others would be fine as bait for the Shakhaarya who had been terrorizing the sailors using the island as a stopover on cargo routes from Aefina.

Rounding a corner, a crumbling statue of Tehsh, Aygeema of the life cycle and Saykoo’s patron god, rose from the spiraled base of a decrepit shrine.  The room smelled of mold, stale urine, and rotten flesh.  Ahead, three figures hunched over a carcass, a blackened boot protruding at an odd angle.  They turned quickly with a snarl, blood and saliva dripping from their snouts and claws.

  Saykoo spun into the shadows, wondering if it made any difference with the creature’s large eyes.  Two of the orphan’s thick arrows lodged in the forehead of the closest, while Saykoo’s jagged kalis dagger flashed across the

second’s throat, severing the artery.  The remaining Shakhaar leapt towards her, its long bony claws raking her shoulder.  “Behind us!” yelled the illusionist, whipping back toward the passage they had just come from, fifteen or more Shakhaarya clamoring through.  Saykoo knew at once they had fallen into an ambush, with the creatures probably following them from the start.  “Noisy amateurs” muttered the assassin under her breath, dodging the slavering bite of the beast while burying her dagger into its ribs.

Suddenly, the statue comes to life, its terrifying visage screaming at the

incoming pack.  Spiraling skulls and hands reach from its mouth towards the passage, instantly causing the shakhaarya to recoil.  Hands held in the channeling position, the illusionist smiles to himself and nods at the old man.  Half-wondering if he is doing it himself or is possessed by the will of his god, the ancient prophet screams a dooming curse and hurls his now radiant staff at the cave ceiling.  The rocks splinter on impact, raining boulders on the creatures near the front and sealing off the rest.    “Perhaps they are not as useless as I thought”, Saykoo notes, dragging the now mutilated bodies as a warning around the shrine.  “But I am still getting that coin purse back...”