He felt sick to his stomach and his head ached. Talberth opened his eyes but everything around him was dark. "No light..." he said aloud and that was wrong. His hands felt at his chest and touched the metal of his amulet. There should have been light, his talisman would glow till the life of its enchanter ceased and Talberth had enchanted it himself. "What..." he began to say and pulled at the amulet, the chain dug into his neck and he tried to rise. Talberth's head smacked against a frame of wood, a dusty piece of cloth slapped him in the face. He coughed. "Blehhh!" Talberth spat out a mouthful of the dust, it dried his tongue and went up his nose. He let the amulet go and tore at the cloth; it broke apart in his hands like leaves dried in the sun.
Light appeared; first a ragged line where the cloth began to split and as he clenched his hands a gap showed but he still was in the dark. Talberth was head and shoulders beneath an ancient bench. He had to wriggle free, bracing his hands against the wooden frame and crushing more of the decaying cloth, he pushed. There was something wrapped within that felt like the branch of a tree, but it moved even as his fingers came in contact. A shower of dusty fragments rained down on his face, Talberth brought up his arm to hide his eyes; he turned his head away and rolled.
He heard a scratching on the tiled floor. Near to his head he saw a pair of bony feet, they were specked with black, pieces of the cloth that hadn't dropped away or were caught in the nooks of the skeletal feet. The feet shifted, Talberth looked up, he followed the legs to the hollow frame, the empty cage of its chest, a grinning skull looked back from dark pits where its eyes had been. The skeleton had no flesh; no lungs to pump the air, no vocal cords to make the noise, no tongue to form the words, but it spoke, or tried to. "Zzzziiii Vvvviiizzz Ppppaaazzzz..." hissed out like air escaping from the bellows at a forge.
"Yiii!!!" Talberth squeaked. He squirmed away on his elbows and kicked with his heels, a man's length back and he banged against a wall.
"Pppaaazzz!, Pppaaazzz!" the skeleton clacked toward him, it's claw-like hands outstretched. Shadows danced behind it, the light from Talberth's amulet throwing them against the far wall. From out of these shadows came more and more of the skeletons; a half dozen behind the first, another half-dozen behind these others.
Talberth pulled a dagger from his belt and slashed at a bony hand. The blade notched the arm, carved out a divot, but the hand had him by his wrist. The mage stood and shook the skeleton, he lifted it from the tiles but he could not break its grip. The groaning voice was in his ear, the creature held one wrist in either hand; strong as a full fleshed man it had him fast; it's long strong teeth near to his face. Talberth was on his feet and bashed the skeleton against the wall. He slammed it again and one hand came free. Before it could catch his wrist Talberth grabbed and caught the clawed hand still holding him. With two hands he swung it round and brought it against a wall hard enough to break its collarbone.
Hands caught Talberth by the neck, wrapped around his arms and dragged him away. The tall, thin mage screamed and kicked with his feet. He struggled in the skeletons' grasp as they took him from the room and through a hidden panel that opened in the wall far opposite the door. With its arm hanging loose the first skeleton still held Talberth's wrist in its other hand. "Zzziii Vvviiizzz Pppaaazzz." it hissed into his face.
* * *
"Telenstil! Telenstil!" Harold shouted across the pillared hall. His voice echoed from the vaulting roof and broke the silence that held the room in its embrace. The halfling was startled by the sound of his own cries coming back to him so he called no more. His footsteps and Little Rat's were all that he heard at first after the echoes died, but when he was halfway across the room the sound of voices talking in earnest reached his ears. Harold could hear the clear tones of Telenstil's elven throat and Ivo's deep bass replies so typical of a gnome. There was another elven voice, Ghibelline no doubt and the grumble of the ranger. As he neared the entrance to the hall Harold could see them now. A magic light had been lit; one of the wizards had enchanted the end of a torch and placed it in the outstretched hand of the golem carved into an ogre's shape. They stood around the stone creature looking much as they had when Harold had left them to follow Talberth.
The warrior elf Ghibelline faced the others, his arms rising with the volume of his words. Telenstil saw the thief and his shadow, he said something that Harold could not hear, which silenced Ghibelline, and waved. Harold waved back and hurried to reach the wizard and the others.
"...you have a quest, but..." Ghibelline was saying before Harold interrupted him.
"Telenstil!" Harold shouted in a hoarse whisper. "Telenstil." he said again after clearing his throat. "Talberth's gone. There was a magic trap, I told him not to go ahead..."
"Take me to this place," Telenstil said firmly and shook his head. Talberth had been his apprentice, but to the seemingly ageless elf it had been only a short time ago that Talberth had left his tutelage. In Telenstil's mind the young mage appeared as the gangly youth whose academic skills were matched only by his hunger to learn.
"Telenstil," said Ivo, "I will go. Magic tricks and traps are part of my craft as you know."
"Talberth is my responsibility," objected the elf.
"This quest is your responsibility, you were just saying as much to Ghibelline," Ivo told him. "You command the golem, your powers are more direct, mine are better suited to this."
"I'll go," offered the ranger.
"Yes," said Telenstil, "I would feel better knowing that a strong arm and able sword went along."
"Follow me, it's down the side passage we found, it's quite a ways," said Harold.
"Then we'd better get started," said Ivo.
"Take the light," said Telenstil. "You will need it for Harald."
"You humans..." Harold said under his breath.
"Halflings..." Harald answered him.
"You have good ears," the halfling said, surprised that the ranger had heard him.
"Return in an hour," cautioned Telenstil.
"If we can," said Harold.
"We will be back in an hour or send someone back," said Ivo. "I will make sure that we do not get in over our heads."
The ranger looked at the old gnome standing by the young scrawny orc and the halfling and smiled, then laughed.