Shyan removed her gloves, and led the group across the split pikes as though they were water spiders. Her exposed flesh caught splinters. She winced at the pain sinking under her fingernails but kept her strength enough to cross.
Fassn was next, and he crawled, muttering under his breath, his face flush with the effort of supporting his body weight. Cang followed, and had some difficulty with the exercise, given his diminished wingspan, but by the end showed none of the sweat or heavy breathing of his companion. Finally, Abianarin followed. Her passage was most unusual of all: when she crossed, her form became smoky, indistinct. Her friends squinted at her, and before they knew it, she stood beside them on the other end of the pit.
“With my share,” Fassn said, panting, “I’m gonna retire.”
The dry sound of cracking wood filled the chamber, as Abianarin’s humming grew in pitch and volume. Soon, before the wide eyes of her companions, the poles’ spiked points split into a Y shape, with grinding protestations from the ancient wood. When Abia let her humming fade, the spiked poles, once fit for a palisade, resembled small, flat platforms. Splinters were all that remained of the split points.
Dusting herself off, Abianarin gestured to the pit.
“Foul sorcery,” Fassn muttered.
“Let us see your Ajralan do this,” she said, with a smile of satisfaction.
“So we’re to crawl across on hands and knees?” Shyan asked.
“What is next is up to you,” Abia said.
“Simple,” Cang said. “Climb down, chop up the poles, and repurpose them, alongside a coil of rope, into a serviceable, if humble, rope ladder.”
“Sure, and let every creeping thing in this place know we’re here, while we’re hacking away?” Fassn kicked some rubble into the pit and winced.
“You’d prefer to leap?”
Fassn blanched. “We could just go, you know, the other way?”
“Wanna meet those creeping things, do you?”
“No creeping things,” Abianarin said. She sat cross-legged at the lip, and began to hum a quiet, looping tune.
Fassn let out a little shriek and jumped back as the floor collapsed. “Old Ajralan, save us,” he murmured.
“This place appears to be full of traps for the unsuspecting,” Cang said.
“Luckily, that excludes us,” Shyan replied. She got to her knees to peer over the lip. The spikes were expertly carved from thick tree trunks, and a few were stained a rusty brown. They appeared old but entirely functional, as the ribcage attested.
Abianarin looked to Cang. “You not climb down, rummage corpse?”
He grimaced. “No plans to do so, thank you, Abia. Why, do you suspect there might be something valuable down there?”
“No, but you often do.”
“Forget all that,” Shyan said. She cocked her head to better read the distance across the chasm. “How are we going to pass?”
In the dome, Cang was first to spot the unusual indentations in the floor. The rippled concrete ended in a suspicious line, and the floor beyond was speckled with dust. He threw a look to Shyan, who signalled a halt. Cang inspected the edge, and tossed a handful of stones onto the dust. Nothing happened. Scowling, he unbuckled his warhammer, and with a cry, smashed it before him. Instantly, the floor gave way, crumbling easily beneath the weight of the hammer. Below, a half-dozen sharpened spikes stood straight up. Impaled upon one, at the filthy bottom, was the dry-rotted ribcage of a humanoid.
“Real nice, Cang,” Fassn calls. Cang sheepishly returns to the group, striding slowly with his head down, hands thrust into his pockets.
“Might have overestimated that one,” he says when he rejoins them. He holds up a few pebbles which Fassn greedily snatches.
“Creature guard dome?” Abia asks.
“Or something inside, maybe,” Shyan says. “Some light, Fassn?”
Fassn whispers an invocation and a boon of light is granted. He follows its shimmering glow, his companions by his side, into the gloomy murk of the dome.
Abianarin holds a hand up, her palm an implacable wall. The woman’s pyre, now a mighty blaze, blackening the gate of the dome, bursts with grey and green before it’s suddenly extinguished.
The woman bears pointed teeth and snarls at the group, darts at them with unnatural speed.
Shyan gets her shield in front of the form but the feral woman knocks her aside.
Abia splits a moment in time, and manages to get her staff under the woman’s feet, tripping her. She pins the creature’s neck with her boot.