“The elephant is…dead?” gulped Arsha.
“By multiple claws, teeth, and giant scorpion stinger wounds,” confirmed Aldarval. “The distinct warped soul signature confirms Revenant activity.”
“That’s no coincidence. There must be Manticore Revenants.”
“We’re moving out now. Arsha, prepare your team.”
“Aye, Admiral.” The call ended and Arsha left her ready room. “We’re moving out,” she announced to the crew. “Have the infiltration team ready on my command. Nazay, take us up.”
“Aye, aye!” confirmed Nazay. Shalvey then got a signal.
“Captain, Merrim’s hailing all ships,” she reported.
“Merrim?” asked Arsha.
“She says she has information that can help the infiltration team.”
“Can it wait? We’re about to launch.”
“She claims it’s vital information that can’t wait.” Arsha sighed. She really didn’t have time for this.
“…Make sure the channel is secure, get the infiltration team to the conference room, and have Aldarval listen in on this.
Arsha’s infiltration team consisted of herself, her lovers, Orthena, Delselii, Bashoon, and Patrica. Merri was on screen as she explained what she learned. “It turns out,” she began, “the Manticores were the ones who gave the Sphinxes’ ancestors the designs on the barrier at the behest of King Velkor’s advisor, Overseer Toonsar Lortem. He used the barrier for his own ends in an attempt to satisfy some twisted debt. The more immediate way is to find the key to lower the barrier.”
“And that’s where we come in?” asked Malnar.
“From what I’ve heard from my spies,” continued Merrim, “there are six trials that you must pass, trials of physical strength and impeccable intellect. The Manticores were the original masters of riddles before they passed it onto the Sphinxes.”
“…Can we even afford to go through the trials right now?” sighed Gorfanth. “We may have an impressive fleet, but what if the trials turn this whole thing into a siege? We don’t exactly have the manpower OR firepower to make such a thing possible.”
“The other option is to kill King Velkor and that would enrage the Manticores something fierce. I don’t know about you, but I DON’T want to start a relationship with Manticores on that note if we’re trying to get them away from Oyed’s influence.”
“And it would keep the Sphinxes trapped in the barrier or kill them if we use the wrong key,” sighed Arsha. “Looks like we have no choice. We HAVE to complete the trials. All right, thanks for the information. We’ll do what we can. Arsha out.” The call ended and Arsha received a message saying that Aldarval heard the whole thing and authorized the completion of the trials.
“Dammit, this ain’t gonna be smooth,” grumbled Patrica.
“Understatement of the millennium,” replied Malnar. “Oyed could get wise really easy!”
“We don’t have that many options,” remarked Lardeth.
“What’s our move here?” Bashoon asked Arsha.
“We enter the Manticore kingdom as planned, but we try to assure them that we come in peace and declare our intentions to pass the trials.”
“Because a foreign power entering a kingdom while its forces are sieging said kingdom is SO peaceful,” snarked Foresna.
“Do we really have much choice?” asked Delselii.
“Not really,” replied Arsha.
“All ships ready,” reported Denstra as the fleet hovered over the sands where the Manticore Kingdom dwelt underneath.
“Admiral, my people are MOST excited to begin,” called Reb.
“Then let’s do so,” declared Aldarval. “I’m transmitting the different coordinates. Fire on them at my command.”
“Here we go,” muttered Arsha as she and her team entered a cave. They arrived at what looked like the end of the cave and were confused. “That…that doesn’t…”
“It might be a concealed entrance,” remarked Orthena. “We need to tap around.”
“You and I might have a better chance at finding the right sound,” mused Bashoon.
“Everyone, find the entrance,” ordered Arsha. “We’re on the clock.” Everyone tapped the rocks and felt around for any hidden levers. Orthena then stopped as her hand felt something. She lowered her hand near the floor and felt a breeze coming from behind the wall.
“…Bashoon, come here for a minute,” she called. Bashoon headed over to her. “Put your ear to the wall.” Bashoon did so and Orthena tapped it. Bashoon’s eyes went wide.
“That’s a hollow echo if I ever heard one!” she called. “There’s a way in behind this wall!” Everyone heard her and joined her and Orthena in locating an opening mechanism. Delselii then felt his hand sink slightly into the wall and part of the wall slid aside to reveal a tunnel.
“Good work, you three!” praised Arsha. “Now, let’s…!”
“NOT ONE STEP FURTHER!” roared a voice from inside the tunnel. Everyone drew their wands and waited intently. After a few seconds, Bashoon’s ears flicked.
“Someone’s coming!” she warned. “Someone with four feet and said feet covered in something soft!”
“A Manticore guard?” guessed Falnii.
“Most likely.” Bashoon’s confirmation was made more solid as a male Manticore with a lightly-colored mane stepped towards them.
“I am the Mouth of Velkor!” he introduced himself. “I am his emissary, his ambassador, and his means of communication with the outside world! Through my words, you will know my King’s intent! Why are you here?”
“Sir,” began Arsha, “my team and I heard rumors that your people have six trials which will determine whether or not those that take them can be trusted both in body and mind.”
“Such rumors are true. You wish to take them? If Oyed himself could not pass them, what hope do YOU have?”
“We wish to show you that Oyed’s plans will only lead to ruin.”
“There are ships bombarding the circumference of our kingdom!”
“Only so we may prove ourselves with no interruption from Oyed’s forces.” The Manticore snarled at Arsha’s counterargument.
“You consider your actions appropriate to treating with us?! Know this, we EAT those who are unworthy of our trust!”
“And you trust someone who has not passed the trials?”
“Be warned! Oyed has power beyond your capabilities!”
“Our decision is made! Lead us to the trials! We will pass them and prove we are worthier allies than Oyed and his followers!”
“…Very well, you may take them. Ordinarily, only one would take all six, but I will allow you to send one per trial. However, once that person has completed the trial, they will not take another!”
“We’ll accept this.”
“Then follow me!” The Manticore then turned and led them into the tunnel. As they walked, the secret door shut behind them. “There are three trials of various aspects of strength and three of intellectual pursuits. Choose your people wisely. There will be no do-overs. Fail even one trial, we will kill you.”
“…No pressure,” muttered Foresna.