Author's note: two weeks without a post is inexcusable. I've been busy with real life events, but I'll try to make a habit of posting once a day or so from now on.
Qova checked the skin color of her ward and then looked into his eyes.
"Bringing you back from the brink is getting to be a habit," she scowled. "One day... one day there will be nothing I can do."
Hern shifted in his bed and shot what he thought was a disarming grin. "Well, somebody has to take on the big beasts."
Qova scowled again and rose from the edge of the bed. "You rest for the remainder of the day. Magic only goes so far. There are aspects to the human body that require time to heal. Doomwatch will wait."
"So," Hern rose in his bed a little. "You think it's Doomwatch too?"
"Count on it," the Prince cooed from the open doorway. "Arbiddance and I made a cursory examination of the chamber that housed the golem. Empty, but the golem's nape was marked with this." He sauntered in and produced a rubbing with a unique symbol:
Hern gazed at the symbol. "Means nothing to me."
"I recognize it," Qova spoke up. "That's not a good sign."
Hern gazed at both. "Okay, why not?"
"It means," Arbiddance interjected as he walked in, "the golem was created by one of the most enigmatic individuals to ever roam the March. Semaj Ekad Ralc. The Dread Khan of Ajidika himself." Arbiddance took the rubbing and gazed at it thoughtfully. "Lightning strikes the hillside."
Hern managed a puzzled look. "Isn't he the one who got himself thrown into Doomwatch on purpose and then wound up running the place for two decades or so? People had to pay him a toll to get out and so on."
"The same," Arbiddance answered. "And if he was creating and stationing golems here, then we're somehow closer to the Mother Gate than we thought... and I don't see how... or his underground empire extended further than anyone knew."
"I'd rather not run into another of those golems for awhile yet," the Prince said. "Given what you know, what else do you think we can expect?"
The wizard shrugged. "Semaj Ralc was a mystery even to those who dealt with him on a regular basis. His agenda was his own; the best guess I've ever heard was that he intended to transform the nature of Doomwatch from prison to a proving ground for the strongest and best. The Taloned Dukes have always used it for a oubliette of sorts. Perhaps the Khan saw potential in the place and wanted to raise a personal force of the best of the best. I favor that theory myself, though it doesn't fully explain why he ultimately left the place on his own." Arbiddance sat down at the table and rubbed his chin. "I'd say the golem was designed less as a guardian and more for weeding out the weaker explorers who might get in. If that's the case, expect tests, I'd say."
"I'm going to make a suggestion here," Qova broke in. "We're fine for swords and magic. It's stealth we lack; we need a professional who understands underground labyrinths, traps and other fun things you find in places like that. It's time we brought in a thief."
The Prince laughed as he spoke. "You bring on in, and you guarantee every cutpurse and mongrel in the region will be trying to get in there. I'm under the impression this entrance needs to be kept secret."
"Well," she replied, "I've been looking into that, and sent word to Falang. He might be able to recommend someone already in his employ... for a bigger cut of the treasure, of course."
"Of course," Hern snorted. "I'll admit, if someone hadn't stepped on that trigger, I'd be in a lot better shape right now. It's not a bad idea."
Arbiddance looked at the Prince, who merely shrugged. "Okay then... provided his Lordship has the kind of thief who, once bought, stays bought."