A Dark, Dank Kaer

By: J. Anne Mauck

(Originally appeared in EDL 2-10)

The kaer was, of course, abandoned by the people of Ganart, long ago when they began to rebuild in the new outside world. The old troubadour told me that all we needed to do was retrieve the medicine bowl at the altar and return it in one piece. Others in the market had told me the place was haunted by restless spirits. Still others had said I would die or be marked. No one with any brains had ever gone in there after the people had moved.

I looked to my partner, Arin. "You ready?"

Arin nodded, gripping his sword and, I'm sure, going over his spells.

"Hey," I said quietly. "It's not going to be as bad as they said. They were just trying to scare us." I hoped that was as true as I had made it sound.

Side by side, as always, we walked into the kaer. As a precaution, Arin cast flame weapon on a dagger to use as a torch. My superior vision would have sufficed, for a while, if he had shared it.

There was nothing to be seen, however. The shadows ate our light. What we could see seemed in good repair, and nothing appeared to have been left behind. The layout was exactly as the old troubadour had said. The stairs were directly in front of us.

The only sounds I could hear were the ones I was making. Even Arin, with his huge stone build, moved more quietly than I. It's just the mystique of the place, I'd never been inside a kaer before. I just hoped this wouldn't be the only one.

"Well, at least the stairs aren't so narrow that we have to choose who goes first," Arin said quietly, trying to hold back a chuckle.

"It'd be you first anyway, brother," I said, laying my hand on his arm.

"Don't start that now, Mira. Though you mean it as an endearment, I would hope you consider me closer than a brother. Please, my pretty little elfling, we have a job to do." He covered my hand with his for a moment before removing it. "Fear not, together we are strong."

With a little additional prodding, I was ready to go down the stairs. While there had been some light before, down below there was nothing. Not the darkness of the forest on a moonless night, but the kind of darkness you expect will consume you at death.

There were fourteen steps, I made note in case I lost my nerve and wanted to run. I would never intentionally leave Arin behind, but if I ran, he would follow. The descent was near torturous, pausing on each step as we did.

Once at the bottom, I realized the stairs had curved. No light at all from above reached us. "Maybe we need another light?"

Arin nodded and gestured toward my sword. The added flame brightened the immediate area, but there was still a pool of darkness in the center of the room.

"Puzzling," he said.

Puzzling, indeed. Not quite the word I would have chosen, but it takes quite a bit more to rattle Arin.

With a glance, we separated, following the wall, trying to determine the edge of the darkness. After no more than six steps, something dark fluttered over my head. With a strangled shriek, I ducked.

Arin rushed to my side. "I saw it," he said. "It's just a bat."

"Sure, and it's just a bowl."

He put his arm around my shoulders. "We should walk around the edge together."

I straightened up and willed my heart to slow some. "No, I can do this." I smiled. "It was just a bat, right?"

"Perhaps we should try to light the way." Arin tossed his burning dagger out into the darkness. I followed its progress until its soft landing. It burned for a moment and faded away, eaten by the darkness. I exhaled slowly. "Give me your sword."

I handed it to him and he knelt on the edge of the step. The center floor of the chamber had been dug out -- this was the edge of the darkness. As Arin lowered my sword over the pit, the blackness began to sparkle. I rubbed my eyes, but it didn't change. He reached his free hand down. I closed my eyes when it began to disappear, but he only chuckled.

"Relax, Mira. It's black sand." He stood up and returned my sword. "Let's grab the bowl and be done with this."

Once we returned the bowl, there was much laughter, mostly at our expense. As the townspeople drew lots to see who would return the bowl to the kaer, we realized we'd been had. Talking to some children, including the old troubadour's granddaughter, we learned that they send adventurers new to town on this 'initiation' hunt as often as possible. But only once was something ever in there to hunt them back. But since I'm not a troubadour, I'll leave that tale to someone else...