As the elven Nethermancer placed his hands in the pool of blood and extended his Astral Sight, the entire pool came into vision. “It’s one huge mass of tainted blood”, the elf said as he winced from the blinding vision of power gone wrong, “but there’s something big in the center of the pool, and something smaller that is moving from the shore towards the center.” Having a good idea that at least one of these was the Horror that had emerged recently from Hannah, Dremnin had no idea what the other might be, except that it must be bad news.
“Anyone got a rope I can use?”, he asked the party, and the Troubador Suulin gave up her coil of rope to the Scout. Dremnin tied the line around himself and handed the other end to Skram, then set off along the rough stones of the wall around the pool and made his way over to the pillared entrance of the lair. He came down next to the cap of one Corinthian pillars and secured the rope, then slid down to stand on the smooth stone floor to stand guard while his compatriots came over to join him. Skram tied the rope off on the other end and asked who’d be first.
Urgral was the first to step up and make his way along the rope, benefitting from the additional stable movement allowed by the secured line. His climbing skills were put to good use and he climbed hand over hand to join Dremnin. Suddenly, when Urgral was about half way across, the blood pool began to roll with some sort of violent submerged activity. This added urgency to Urgral’s passage, yet Skram noted how slowly this method of crossing was so hje chose to simply dive in and use his powerful tail to swim the distance quickly. Vridich and Luck decided to wade across, and when Urgral was at last on the other side, Fafnir untied the line and took both Suulin and Hannah on his back, then walked them across while he pulled on the rope for added momentum to movement.
In the meantime, on the other side of the blood pool, Dremnin saw Skram and Vridich emerge from the liquid and make their way toward the lair proper with Urgral bringing up the rear. Ahead of them, Dremnin heard the sound of a wet pop, and out of the darkness emerged a running nightmare. A giant insectoid creature hurtled towards the Name-Givers, pausing to rear up to its full height and bellow a spell in rage. The three heroes in line abreast were all suddenly stricken with abject terror, and all three found themselves unable to take offensive action against the Horror. It was Vargaxes, the Horror that had conquered Kaer Derin Kuyu with the help of the treacherous Nethermancer Selenys. As the heroes fell back to the south to give way, the giant Horror rushed by them and dove headlong into the blood pool, whereupon the pool began to froth and boil in earnest. Blood sloshed from the pool in waves up into the mouth of the lair, causing a surge of blood up the channel in the floor.
With Vargaxes out of the way, Vridich ran forward into the next room with Dremnin, Urgral and Skram close behind. The room into which they entered contained a final formal blood pool into which the floor channel drained ,and standing over the pool was a statue of Vargaxes, poised in all its hideousness as though in mock heroic form. In front of the pool was a great tome resting on a table, and immediately a spectral figure of a beautiful woman appeared… the original form of the human female Nethermancer Selenys, who had sold out her own kind in her bid to grasp and hold power. Vridich then performed a ritual of unbinding to free the spirit of Selenys, which caused the spell tome to burst into flames. The ghostly figure of Selenys immediately disappeared, and the entire structure was pitched wildly about by severe earth tremors. Several of the heroes were shaken off their feet, including Dremnin, as the floor began to give way under the book and the columns in the hallway began to fall. Vridich chose that moment to close the great tome and see if he could salvage what remained of its ancient pages.
Still, there was no clear path out of the lair, and as the heroes moved back farther into the chambers to find a way out, Dremnin decided to use the gift of Hrath Barad to reveal the true exit from Selenys’ world. As he concentrated on his task, the power of the dead Ork scout flowed into him, and the human scout suddenly turned and ran back towards the main blood pool at the end of the columned corridor. As he arrived with Hannah at the edge of the pool, Dremnin noted that a battle of Titans had been going on under the bloody surface, and when combined with the eathquakes, almost all the blood had been spilled from the giant pool. What remained was the stinking, rapidly decomposing corpse of the slain Horror that had so recently emerged from Hannah, and a gigantic hairy spider. Of Vargaxes, there remained no trace, though no one doubted that he still lived.
At the bottom of the pool was a large boulder of obsidian, and using his spiritual knowledge from Hrath Barad, Dremnin knew without a doubt that this was the exit from Vargaxes’ Hellish Domain. The tools that Vridich has spoken of just before they crossed the large blood pool were the key to release from this hell, but someone had to have knowledge of the skills needed to use those tools effectively. As he considered his course of action, and the truth that none of his companions had the skills required, the spider began to move.
The giant spider approached Dremnin where he stood on the pool’s edge, and as the remainder of the group joined them the spider stopped and offered no threat. This, in fact, was the Nethermancer Selenys’ current form, with a face that somewhat resembled the former human beauty. Through Vridich as intermediary, she “asked” for the tools of the Thane Derin Kuyu, a group of ancient pattern items which Dremnin had found after a search of the Thane’s sarcophagus back in the Kaer. But Dremnin was not about to simply hand over these powerful ancient tools to a known betrayer. The spider reacted angrily when the scout refused to surrender the tools to her at once, but the scout had a question for their companion instead.
With his hand raised to ask for patience, Dremnin asked Vridich, “Where are Master Thorin and his people at this moment? Have they been able to make it across the plain to join us for the escape from this place? Please send your familiar to seek them out and bring them here.” But almost as though on cue, 30 feet up above them on the entry into the lower cavern where they stood, light suddenly shown down on the heroes and a battered and bloodied Thorin Kuyu stepped to the edge to look down upon them.
“Thorin Kuyu, praise be Floranuus, for the moment of your deliverance is at hand! Follow the little Krill Worm down through the cavern to join us and we will leave this place together.” Vridich quickly suggested to Selenys that she should move back into the lair to avoid being seen by Thorin and his people, as they would undoubtedly attack her on sight. Before she left, however, the elf asked her to give them the runic letters that needed to be carved into the obsidian rock at the bottom of the pool in order to open the way to free them all. This the spider did, scratching the necessary letters onto the stones of the floor before scuttling back out of view into the darkness of her former lair.
When Thorin and his people arrived at the now empty pool, with the ground still shuddering from the frequent aftershocks of the earth’s movements, the dwarven leader asked what had happened here. Skram used eloquent and carefully phrased statements to tell them that Selenys had been defeated, but that if they killed her before the passage was opened, that the realm would collapse in on them and none would escape. Dremnin produced the tools for Thorin, anf the smith said flatly, “I have endured the fact that you and your companions carry around the weapons and armor of my grandfather, and I have come to accept this as the way things are. But I cannot allow you to keep the tools of my grandfather if I open the way for you.” As the weapons smith stood and looked solemnly at Dremnin, the scout said with open sincerity, “Master Thorin, we appreciate the position you have taken regarding the weapons and armor of your grandfather, and we freely and willingly surrender all of the ancient tools of your grandfather to you. We can think of no one who deserves them more than you.” The scout handed Thorin the tools with a warm smile and stepped back to indicate the runes that needed to be carved.
It took a while, but the weapons smith worked steadily on the task, sending rock chips flying as he skillfully wrote out the required runes. When the deed was done, the way opened and the band of heroes allowed Thorin to lead his people out of Hell and back to Kaer Derin Kuyu. One by one they stepped into the black hole and disappeared, until the last of them left Vargaxes’ Domain. Suddenly, the giant spider came quickly out of the dark lairn as though making for the exit hole. However, the heroes immediately lined up to deny her passage, and Dremnin slipped Hannah down into the passageway, after which time he turned to stand with his fellows facing Selenys. Passage out of this realm was not to be for her, and one after another of the heroes departed, leaving Vridich to bring up the end. So it was that Selenys remained behind in her own private hell, lord and master of a corrupted land… alone.
Meanwhile, one after another Name-Giver stepped through the passage and found themselves in the water supply room of Kaer Derin Kuyu. Thorin and his people all stood shocked and silent in wonder at what had just happened, as though they had just awakened from a dream. The broken aquaducts of the Kaer spilled fresh water into a deep chasm that opened its yawning mouth in the floor, a legacy to Thorin and his people of how and where Vargaxes entered the Kaer. After a bath to clean themselves, with all marveling at the clean, fresh water, the small band of survivors moved up to re-inhabit the Kaer. After giving thanks for their deliverance in the Temple of Garlan, the newly restored community held a party and such revelry as had not been seen in that place for centuries. Hannah and Dremnin hugged each other, privately thanking the Passions for their deliverance from slavery, and in Hannah’s case, for deliverance from possession by a Horror as well. Floranuus must surely have smiled at them all.
Then one day later, after making a visit to his father’s chambers, Thorin approached the group of heroes to let them know how it was going to be. “At this time”, the dwarven leader said, “we have chosen to remain here in the Kaer to replenish our numbers and reestablish our lives in the world. You are most welcome to remain with us if you so choose, or to leave if you wish to return to the world. I have found the necessary magics in my father’s rooms that I believe will open the door to the Kaer, so you may leave when you wish. What is your decision?” The decision, of course, was to leave as soon as they had rested and healed. Thorin offered them food, drink and the best of everything the Kaer could provide them for the journey ahead. The group decided to leave the Kaer with half the gold coin they had found, to allow the new settlement to have some badly needed wealth.
While they waited, Suulin, Dremnin and Skram paid a visit to the Great Hall to examine the Dirge of Derin Kuyu and perhaps discover some necessary information on the weapons and armor they now carried. In the interim days that followed, Suulin used her Item History Talent to gleen additional information for Skram and Dremnin. And while the party gathered clothing and equipment in preparation to leave the Kaer, Dremnin used his Evaluation Talent to identify the best weapons and armor available to them from the arms room. When the day of de[parting arrived about a week later, the entire group was healed, well fed and superbly equipped to go forth as free men. They had entered Kaer Derin Kuyu as escaped slaves, and now left it as departing heroes. So it was with glad hearts that all of them stepped out the Kaer door as free men into the cold, crisp air of the mountains.
As the door closed and locked behind them, the group of adventurers stepped out into the snow and after only a few steps they saw a black bird on a ledge. Immediately the bird flew away from them, calling out loudly, “Slaves! Slaves!” Puzzled, the heroes followed the bird’s flight to the north and immediately saw a Theran airship come toward them, its deck filled with armed slavers, and a tall, haughty elf standing on a raised platform near the stern.
“Run for it”, someone shouted as Vridich bolted ahead of them to see if in that direction lay their escape. But even as he did so, the Theran slavers began to leap off the decks of their ship and glide to land in the snow. Most of them landed smoothly, though some landed roughly all the same. One who missed his footing and crashed down next to Skram lost his life as the T’skrang Taildancer brought his great hammer down to crush the human where he lay. As the group fled, Luck quickly chose a site for their defense across a small flowing stream ahead of them, and blows from Fafnir and Skram bloodied the attackers, while Arcane Mutterings from Suulin stopped three of the slavers dead in their tracks. As the Therans closed in for a mass attack, the group of adventurers formed a line behind the shallow creek.
At that moment, while the Theran troops gathered into a battle line on the cliff top and prepared to jump down on our heroes, the tall elven magician aboard the Theran ship caused the craft to maneuver so that its bow came to rest just above where the group had formed a line. The Theran magic user cast a spell at that point which appeared to be aimed at Vridich, and the elf uttered a simple verbal command to Vridich… “Come to me”.
But just then, before anyone had time to even think about what was happening with the Therans, a large, quick shadow passed over the ground, and when all looked up to see what was happening, the Troll sky raider ship banked and turned, disgorging its crew of Sky Raiders to fall upon all the Name-Givers maneuvering on the earth below. The situation had just become grim for everyone, both Theran and adventurers alike.
To be continued…
Dremnin, Scout Adept