“Enough!” The Atakaskin forgot the split in his side. He brought the hammer across his body aiming for the wraith’s broadsword. In an explosion of sparks, the sword shattered.
The wraith flew back. For more than a minute, it simply hovered facing Solomon as if it was studying him.
The Atakaskin warrior returned its death stare. “Well, you worthless bit of spell craft!? Shall you flee or will you dissipate into the cursed speech that brought you into existence?”
The robe opened and flew at Solomon. The warrior brought the wedge part of his hammer into the robe and it tore cleanly through. Solomon’s counter didn’t seem to bother the phantom. Invisible hands, more than two, began pummeling Solomon. They were powerful blows some striking his open side with other forces closing around his neck. It felt like a vice.
“Aaakkk, no, I will not die!”
Solomon dropped his hammer and tried to protect his side and free his neck. The robe’s hood wrapped about his face taking his sight. The magical weave too tight for even air to penetrate. The Atakaskin went to one knee then two.
With the last of his breath, Solomon blew a palentite plume into the robe around his face. There was a screech and the spirit withdrew. The flames from Solomon’s attack ate away at the robe. It fell to the ground in an attempt to put itself out. Solomon chuckled and spit another several times. Each small fireball turned the enchanted robe further into ash.
The liquid palentite in the flask acted just as the other. Solomon felt his body grow and burn hotter. The gap in his side closed. He was able to ingest the palentite and release even more of the mineral’s locked powers. He would be a giant even amongst his own people!
The next tunnel seemed smaller than the others. Solomon almost needed to bend completely over the make it through. When he reached the other side, the Atakaskin flexed his body releasing enough heat and light to ignite the palentite in the walls.
On the far side of the cavern sat two stone posts, one upheld another silver flask on the other sat a hodge in a green forest robe. Its head was bowed and it took no notice of the giant warrior.
Solomon squinted and looked at the hodge in surprise. It looked only half as large as Grim and Gesper and yet Solomon knew it was his new size that caused the hodge to appear so small. It was surprising.
“Little friend, I have come for additional Rift Tonic, the treasure of my people. You will fetch the flask for me and take me to Rift Well where I will make myself invincible.”
The hodge looked up. He had been cradling a silver bow. “Such arrogance! It is the scourge of your race. You are indeed stronger than any who have come before but your fate will be the same.”
With that, the hodge came to its feet and shot three arrows that flew across the cavern like darts. Each buried its tip into Solomon’s body.
Solomon looked down and saw the imbedded arrows. They looked like slivers. He could barely feel them!
“If deadly creatures and magic beings cannot stop me, a hodge stands no chance.”
The warrior took a massive breath and spewed flames throughout the far half of the chamber. Any living thing left on the ground would be completely consumed.
When Solomon looked for the hodge’s charred remains, he found the miserable being clinging to a cleft in the cavern wall. Its green robe singed. It was struggling to breath.
Solomon walked over and plucked the hodge off the wall with one hand and took the third flask with the other. He drank while the hodge launched a second volley of arrows into the Atakaskin’s neck.
The shafts burned way from Solomon’s body as he expanded again. He was now almost three times his original size. If he so desired, he could leap and touch the chamber’s high vaulted ceiling.
The hodge shouldered his bow but did not relent. “I may be undone but you will not succeed!”
Solomon laughed again shaking the very bedrock with its strength. “Why forfeit your life little one? Show me the well that filled these flasks and I will reward your courage and good sense.”
The hodge pointed a quartz claw at Solomon’s face. “My name is Riven. Set me down and we can negotiate.”
Solomon waited for all the palentite flames to die back before setting the hodge on the stone floor. The smaller creature yelped and jumped because the floor was still extremely hot. Riven leaped away from the pedestals and back to the tunnel from which Solomon had emerged.
“Will you promise me money and servants of my own?”
The Atakaskin couldn’t help but laugh. “Whatever your desire is I will grant but only if I gaze upon the Well’s liquid light before I loose my patience.”
Riven motioned for Solomon to follow before scampering into the tunnel.
Solomon had crouch completely to move back through the third tunnel. His shoulders were so wide they left streaks of charred stone. Once through, he straightened and looked around for Riven. He found the hodge standing in the next tunnel’s entryway waving to him.
The hodge gave Solomon another defiant look. “Thank you for returning Grim and Gesper to us. They never belonged in the servitude of Atakaskin barbarians anyway. They are actually at Rift’s Well now. By the way, it isn’t in this temple at all.”
“What! Those miserable slaves have reached the Well before me?!” Solomon’s body flared with anger. “You should not think to taunt me! Your position to bargain is fragile.”
Without another word, Riven disappeared into the tunnel.
Solomon bent toward the tunnel and realized immediately that he could barely fit through. Riven appeared briefly on the other side then the hodge disappeared to one side. He was playing a game; one Solomon would end at the next opportunity.
The warrior went to his hands and knees and pulled his body through. His size had indeed become too large to be reasonable. Water could quench the palentite and was normally a poison to an Atakaskin. In this case, he would need it to bring his power to a more manageable size.
Riven was already gone when Solomon squeezed into the first chamber. The rockshells were still flung about only they now appeared small and completely harmless. Solomon had finally stopped growing but he was too wide to fit through the original archway.
Solomon went to his knees. “Riven, fetch me water so that I may quench the Tonic a bit.”
From somewhere in the shrine, he heard the hodge respond. “I think not! Die like the rest of your headstrong race! I leave you now to the trap and the magic of the temple.”
Solomon let a roar escape. He was trapped but his would not be the fate of those who had come before him. He reared up and smashed his fists into the rock around the tunnel. Huge boulders were broken away in handfuls.
“The fools will not escape! No amount of stone can contain me! I will drop their bodies into the flaming pit of my open maw!”
With another cry that could be heard throughout the underworld, Solomon pushed both fists through the chamber’s wall and into the shrine proper. Fueled by the magic of Rift’s Tonic, Solomon leapt to his feet his burning eyes scanning for the hodges.
He failed to see or avoid the baseless pillar he had earlier marked as a trap. Solomon marched through the magic column, smashed it, and brought down a cascade of twelve-foot long iron spikes.
Days later, Riven would return. He was the trap’s keeper and grudge-holder. The curse that cleaned the Utapan of life would also repair the stone. The greatest tribute to Atakaskin might and their most sought after treasure forever used against them.
The hodge’s dim, opal eyes were framed with delight.