"So, what do you make of it?"
Corundar grinned at Azure's question. "Given enough time, just about anything. You have a particular shape in mind?"
The Lord of Earth might have been joking, but he was also perfectly serious. His power over earth and stone meant the basalt tower in the distance could, given time to shape it, be turned into almost anything by the massive warrior. That, however, was not the point of the sea elven monk's question.
Corundar nodded. "I know what you meant. As far as I can tell, it's a sentinel post. See how it sits on the highest rise, with all its main windows and vantage points positioned to watch the valley. The lack of disturbed ground means it has probably never been sieged, at least not for long, and the only approach is probably heavily guarded by weapons ports on the upper floors."
Azure blinked at him and chuckled.
"What's so funny, blue?"
"Nothing. I was only asking if you thought the tower might have the next monolith in it. All the energies seem to point this way."
Corundar laughed and shrugged. "No clue. But I can tell you this. Whatever's in there is there to stay. They are serious about defense. That place is going to be nothing but pain. Mark my words, fishie. Nothing. But. Pain."
An hour later, they were all in the tower. The front gate had been unlocked.
Azure grinned at Corundar, who looked down at his feet with a low growl. "Okay. So I was wrong. You live a hundred years, it's bound to happen once."
"Actually," whispered Nyx. She was in full gemstone armor, so her voice sounded like the hollow hiss of an opening grave. "this place was easy to enter because everything here is dead." She gestured and the shadows nearest to her pulled back like a curtain, revealing more than a dozen humanoid skeletons, a pile of mostly disassembled bones.
Akasha recoiled. "They are stacked like firewood. What happened here?"
"I can watch the destruction that took place here, see what occurred to these doomed folk."
"Then do it, and be quick if you can. I can feel the powers of death in this place." Akasha looked almost ill, as if just touching the floor was nauseating. Given her power over Life, it likely was.
Nyx hovered over the bones, the shadows she'd just parted now forming a column of power to hold her aloft. Her black masked face tilted back, her long mane of night gray flowing across her back and mingling with the shades at her feet. The others stood still, knowing better than to disturb her when she was doing this. When she was literally communing with Death itself.
It took nearly an hour, with everyone but Faile utterly motionless. The Lady of the Winds was outside, still resting in their makeshift camp. She'd not regained consciousness since she spoke her few words to Byrne earlier, but she was recovering well. That thought alone kept Byrne, normally the worst of the group at keeping put, calm enough to stay where she was.
Eventually, Nyx landed and in her wake, the bones crumbled to gray powder, ashes ghosting across the desolate floor of their tower tomb.
"As I feared, the next gatestone is here. It appeared in the basement of this place, where the tower's node of power rested. When the Maimed Lord came for it, his forces sacked the fortress from the air and from below. The defenders never stood a chance."
Azure shivered despite his usual implacable calm. He'd seen firsthand what Vecna's minions could do, and the dark relish even his so-called "mindless" undead took in the tearing of the living limb from limb. "The gatestone." He took another breath, calming down. "Is it... is it still here?"
Nyx nodded. "I can feel it. It is still in the basement, surrounded by the dead. The people of this tower tried to make a stand down there to stop Vecna's forces. It did not succeed."
Byrne finally found her voice again. "But if the Lord of Secrets won, why is the gatestone still here?"
Before anyone else could answer, the tower above them exploded in an inferno of rock and magma. Rising over what remained of the building, a colossal beast of crimson hue and burning breath reared back, exposing the armored rider on its back.
"Why, Lady Pyre? Because traps need bait!"
As the knight spoke, he drawn his sword and made a gesture with his empty, gauntleted hand. Dozens of flagstones around the Elementals shattered upwards, turning to rubble as a swarm of the restless dead rose up to surround them. Their empty eyes glimmered with malice, an evil dread reflected a thousandfold in the gaze of the dragon high above.
Corundar drew his mammoth blade and pulled the others into a defensive ring with him as its breaking point.
"Damn... I hate it when I'm right."