"Open Door, Closed Invitation"
The Shadow Geyser, Part 3
by Edward Bolme
Read Part 2 "How to Win a Contest Without Really Trying"

The semi-final rounds of the contest were just about to begin. Magi from the various regions gathered around, watching intently, speculating on the match-ups, hoping their favorites would prove victorious. Tempers flared from time to time, especially among the delegation from Cald, but Orwin and Motash ensured that no 'impromptu contests' erupted between the factions... although it must be said that no one interfered when the Calders got into a fracas amongst themselves over a match that should have been won.

No, it was much easier just to run for cover.

Sperri, acting as Orwin's aide, rolled the final pairings randomly, closely watched by representatives of the other factions (although it was not at all clear whether the male representatives even noticed the die rolls). She wrote the pairings down in her elegant handwriting and handed the sheet to Orwin. He looked them over, opened his mouth, and said--

"They've gone and done it! They've gone in!"

"Poad!" barked Orwin. "How dare you interrupt?!?"

Poad collapsed on his backside, not at all chastised, but very out of breath. "Evu... and Tryn..." he panted, "they entered... the geyser!"

There was a very brief second or two of silence as Orwin blinked and turned calmly around. Orwin broke the stunned silence first.

"WHAAAAAAATT?!?" he said.

Chaos erupted among the crowd. Barak forced his way through to the front of the crowd and yelled, "You did this on purpose! You put on this whole show while your people snuck off and--"

"Don't you dare accuse me," bellowed Orwin, moving nose to nose with Barak. "I didn't even have to invite you firebrands in the first place!" He turned on his heel and stormed out of the tournament area. "Come, Poad!" he bellowed, grabbing the hapless innkeeper by the collar and dragging him along behind.

The crowd of former spectators and contestants followed along in Orwin's wake as he stomped in as direct a line as possible toward the shadow geyser. Rumors and grumbling roiled behind the Naroomese Elder, but he, with a full head of steam, heard nothing.

When they arrived at the geyser, it had already grown. Great scythe-bladed thorns erupted from the gnarled brambles that wreathed the geyser. There was a single break in the encircling barrier, and what looked to be an entrance within. An unhealthy glowing light within dazzled the onlookers, illuminating the column of darkness with sickening sparkles as the corruption streamed into the sky. Things seemed to move within, reflecting strobing beams coruscating all over the clearing.

"I saw it," said Poad, brushing the dirt and leaves from his britches. "I saw Tryn get Evu to leave the contest, so I followed them. They came here, and as they approached, that doorway opened up. It was like the geyser expected them, even wanted them to come in. I saw Evu and Tryn go inside, they went before I could stop them. I tried to call a warning..."

"Look!" said Orwin. "The doorway is shrinking!" He lunged forward to the opening, stood in the center, and, mumbling a quick spell, raised his hands to try to keep the doorway from sealing shut again. Immediately he felt a jarring blast of cold energy, like a bolt of ice lightning had just struck him. It blasted through his feet and out his arms, and flung him skyward from the doorway. He landed, pale and shivering, at Poad's feet.

"Ohhhkayyy," said Poad. "Let's not touch the doorway."

He looked up and saw a group of Magi lunging for the entrance to the shadow geyser before it sealed shut.


Read Part 4 "And in that Deep, Dark Place..."

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