Save for the odd foodstuff or discarded newspaper...this place was surprisingly tidy. For a moment his mind flashed back to those weeks and years past, eeking out a living on the old island - the Bad Isle; being forced to hide, the hours spent talking to his own illusions and yet always having to rationalize the fact that he had been, well & truly, Alone. In the absence of civilization, he'd been forced to make his own, to establish order wherever and (usually quite frequently) whenever he could within the confines of his humble underground abode. Perhaps . . .
. . . Then, just as fleetingly as it'd come, the memory was gone - he had a job to do.
Three chests stood out to him near the backmost clump of thick, almost petrified-looking leaves that made up the rear "wall" of the room. Of them, two were plain, mirthless and unpleasant to look over...only the third and final caught his significant attention. As he drew closer, Rainbow could more easily tell that it wasn't just the relative shadow secluding this pedestalled centerpiece - no, no this was something far more special. Its finely carved timbers were coated a glossy black, secluded yet alluring, as if it had been hidden solely to be viewed and admired.
"How's the view up there, ey lad?", came the pleasantly worried tamber from down outside. Rainbow ignored him, a soft smile creeping over his face as he placed his hands on the lid and pryed.
...Wait. . .what . . . ?
He was . . . Stuck? A surprised Rablin flinched and tugged back, wincing in pain at a feeling like he had nearly just torn off his own palms. He tried sliding them, peeling them, rotating them off the pitch black lid, all to no avail. He tried to panick, yet his strength suddenly began to fail him. He stooped, them crumpled, then grovelled beneath a deep, exhausting weariness that slowly injected itself into him from the magic placed on the chest. It was all so soon, so fast, so unexpected - and before he knew it, even kneeling proved too difficult a position to maintain.
Reality morphed and twisted into unreality, the room became dim and hazy - some force slammed into his back, then rolled across his shoulders, before reversing across his back again as he faintly recognized the feeling of fullblown collapse. Of body, of heart...of mind...all failed him. The world became nothing but a blur, and in his final moments he could only understand two things:
His hands were free.
And He was laughing...or. . .wait . . . w h o . . .
Unintelligible, yet audible; Discordant yet coherent.
Then Darkness Came...And All Was Still.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A relaxed, calloused and bare foot tread softly past the unconscious body below. With measured steps, it carefully followed the lead of the inquisitive cane that guided it, tapping along until it was brought to a halt by the object of its desire. Slowly, tentatively, a weary hand stretched out toward the glossy black - for a moment it seemed to hesitate...
...and then with sudden defiance, pressed firmly down on the lid, and pryed.
It opened without issue - much to the devious glee of the hand's owner. The gnome beamed, briefly nodding his head in gratitude to the unfortunate pawn sprawled beneath the shadow of the tripped chest: "My thanks, two-eyed and yet oh-so-blind; perhaps I'll repay the favor someday"
He reached inside, gently creeping fingers along the velvet interior until...yes, there. A swell of deep, cold-blooded joy surged through him - after 20 years of anger, hardship, and regret, regret at being so powerless for having trusted those around him; after all these years, having trusted in the incredible foolishness of another, having undergone the hardship of making it through his forested exile, having fostered that untapped rage into mad joy and one singular goal...they were one once again.
He felt, whole running his fingers across the five black opal rings, their polished surfaces sending chills down his spine at the possibilities to come. Dreams of unbridled hate, Dreams of revenge, Dreams of unending suffering for those treacherous few who took these, his hand, and his eyes to boot? Dreams, No Longer.
Throwing aside the cane with a sharp disgust, the old gnome greedily scooped the rings into the palm of his wrinkled and veined hands. Slowly, coldly, he counted off the names of the ring leaders, one last time to the timing of each ring being slipped onto its appropriate finger. Even after all these years, they seemed to fit perfectly, as if they too had been waiting, biding their time for this very day:
Boss "Fire Eater" Kelregor.
Boss Mequet "The Gentle".
Boss Gala "Red Wood".
"The Voice Of The People", Mother Darmae "The Pure" of Thorn City.
. . .
Liz, "The Leech", Lackadaisical.
Rage like a poison coursed through his veigns at that final name. The first of the traitors...the last who would suffer The Serpent's bite. Disgusting little thief, that...That..."thing" of a v i l e little being.
He reached back again to close the lid, yet his fingers stopped just under its lip. Strange, carved remarks scrawled along the inside, surely unseen to all but himself and their creator:
"For Mother & Father - a gift from Boss Scer'Pi'Kenes. For all eternity."
Scer'Pi'Kenes couldn't...help but smile at that. In a twisted, brutal sort of way.
20 years, it really had felt like an eternity...but That Time was almost up.
Slapping the lid closed and concentrating on the power of the rings, the gnome groaned at the pain of his body fusing with the grain of the wood, of the magical energy that wove its way across his body, until the whole of his resembled the very tree he stood within. Then another grunt of pain, and slowly, excruciatingly, he began to sink, the very fibers of his being morphing with that of the floor. He sunk ankle height, then knee height, then to his waist, to his shoulders, and finally into the black below as he began the arduous process of the druidic art of elemental transit. A single phrase echoed on his mind amidst the pain:
"Rose Palace. Rose Palace. Darmae. Be So!"