Dremnin knew that his friend Skram had wanted to approach the smith, Thorin, about making a tail mace from the old dagger the human had taken from the Kaer. In addition, if the mood was right, Dremnin also wanted to speak with him about the history and origins of the ancient weapons they will be using to fight Selenys. If time permitted, he’d also get Thorin to place the runes for blood and honor on the weapon Dremnin would wield.
The scout was up early, as usual, and approached Skram’s bedroll to ask if he wanted to go along to see the smith. “Hey Skram”, he said as he approached, “I’m thinking of going to see Master Thorin today. Want to come along?”
“Uhhhhh” came the sound from the waking T’skrang. “You, Dremnin, must be the earliest riser of the followers of Florannus, but yes I do wish to go with you.” Skram rose, brushed the dust from himself and gathered his items. Looking over Dremnin with now awake eyes, he said to Dremnin, “You look like a true man of war now, with your new armor, sword, and shield. Do you know what way we are going?”
Dremnin smiled at his friend and said, “Thanks Skram, I enjoy rising early.” He watched as the T’skrang got himself ready and nodded at his comment. “Even though I’m no warrior, after running around half-naked while fleeing from the mines, I can tell you this feels much better to me.” As the two stood together, Dremnin said, “I think Thorin’s probably at his forge, but we’ll be able to hear him before we see him if that’s true. We can ask Derryg, their war leader, where to find him at this time of the morning. Bring your dagger and come on”, he added, and the two set off to see if they could find the smith.
Ardor and Dremnin left the small antechamber that Thorin had commanded be set aside for them. It apparently had been in use long ago when the settlement had been much larger, but didn’t appear to have been used for anything in many years.
They found Derryg in the communal cavern, inspecting weapons lined in a rack. Several other Namegivers were strapping on crude leather armor, presumably preparing for a raid. As the human and T’skrang approached, Derryg turned. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to seeing a T’skrang, Ardor. Your people have existed only in our legends for as long as any of us can remember,” he commented. “And you, lad,” he addressed Dremnin, “I didn’t believe you’d return to us.” He shook his head. “It’s as though you know these caves better than any of us.”
As Dremnin and Skram walked into the armory and heard the war leader’s words, Dremnin returned the war leader’s words with a firm handclasp and a jovial, “Hail and well met, Derryg. I thank you for your words of concern. But I am a scout, and it is my very nature to be able to find my way where others might fail. I am a beginner in that path, but I have had good teachers.”
As he looked at the other Name Givers arming themselves, Dremnin asked Derryg, “As we go to battle the evil one here, I would like to ask to be issued a longsword as a primary weapon. Have you an extra blade for me? We also need to speak with Master Thorin for a task. Is he about anywhere?”
“He prays to the Passions at the shrine,” stated Derryg flatly. “That way,” he pointed to a dimly-lit passage carved in the rock. “As for weapons, take what you can use. We’ve more weapons than able fighters these days.”
“Thank you Derryg”, the scout said to the war master, and nodded to Skram. He walked down the line of weapons in the racks and tried to use his new evaluation talent to identify and try out the best melee weapons available. He looked first to see if there were any Scythan axes available among the weapon’s choices, as he would much rather use one of these than a longsword. The mareka, as the axes were known, sometimes had a small hook or spike on the oppostite side of the blade, which could be used for climbing holds. Dremnin looked closely to see if any of these axes were available for use while Skram spoke with Derryg.
While Dremnin walked the weapons racks, Skram continued to speak with Derryg. “I will do my best to show you the best of my people while I am here in your home”, said Skram with a slight bow. “I will try to share some more stories about my people at the next gathering. I saw how much your people enjoyed a good story last night.” Skram gave a big cheesy smile and asked, “Derryg, what inspires your people? What is it that makes them happy or motivated? It would do us well to stir them before the big fight.”
As Skram considered the war leader’s statements, he wrinkled his brow a bit in thought and then asked, “Derryg what did you mean when you said to Dremnin that you did not believe that he would return to you?”
“Few who venture alone into the deep caverns are seen again. My father talked of an old Ork who used to live alone down there, but I don’t know if they were just tales. " Derryg continued, scratching his chin whiskers, “Until you came, we’d largely given up hope over ever getting out. Men refused to father children, not wanting their offspring growing to understand this wretched condition.” He looked thoughtful. “Until you arrived. You wouldn’t see it, but it’s as if everyone is allowing themselves to believe again. Locost’s hairy balls, maybe I even believe it.” He shook himself. “I’ve got a raid to lead, and men to see safely home.” Derryg jerked a thumb down that corridor. “You’ll find Thorin there.” Before turning toward his men, his gaze and voice hardened. “These are good men and women. They don’t deserve more deception and misery. Deliver us from this place, and you’ll earn the gratitude of everyone here. Betray us, and I’ll gut you myself.” His last words were delivered not as a threat, but a flat promise. Without waiting for a response, he motioned for his men to follow, and out the door they loped, clad for battle.
Meanwhile, over at the weapons racks, Dremnin had spotted the weapon he sought among all the swords. A mareka showed itself in one of the racks and the scout walked over to it, then pulled it from its resting place. Trying the grip and swinging it to feel the balance, Dremnin tried to evaluate it. The axe was unlike anything Dremnin had ever seen. It had a utilitarian design that made it immediately apparent that the back of the axehead could be used as a grip/pick – a useful climbing aid. It lacked the Dwarf habit of runic ornamentation, but so did all of Thorin’s work. His weapons, armor, and other metalwork were elegant in their simplicity and usefulness. With a smile of satisfaction now on his face, Dremnin walked back to Skram and watched curiously as the war party left the chamber.
“Do they need any help”, he asked his T’skrang companion, “or are we free to seek out Master Thorin?” “No, I don’t think they wanted our help in their raid.” said Skram. “We are to head down that tunnel.” Dremnin smiled and shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Well, all right. I wanted to ask Derryg about the scouting mission we talked about, but I guess that will have to wait. Lead on and let’s see if we can find Master Thorin.” Thus the duo headed off to find the dwarven smith in the hall of the Passions.
The passage led to a domed cavern that descended to a still pool, reflective from phosphorescent mushrooms. Below the glassy surface, large glowing fish like those below Garlen’s sanctum lazily coasted about. At the bank knelt Thorin, who turned to regard them as they entered.
“Good morrow to you,” he said, breaking his reverie. “You’re welcome to join me. I can’t say if the Passions can hear us in this hell, but this place is as serene as my folk have found living in these caves. Now that you’ve come, I fancy that maybe they can.”
Dremnin walked in behind Skram, smiled and nodded at the smith, saying, “Good morrow to you, Master Thorin.” The scout walked up to the pool and knelt down near Thorin, gazing at the glowing fish in the quiet pool. “The fish here appear to be the same as those we saw in the Temple of Garlen.” He looked over at Thorin and continued quietly, “It seems to be a thread of hope from the Passions, and but convinces me of our future success.” The scout bowed his head and offered a prayer of thanks to Garlen for the peace of the pool, and then one to Floranuus to guide them on the path to victory. He allowed the serenity of the pool to clear his mind of the oppressive hell they found themselves in, and felt the peace infuse his being.
Skram gave a nod to Thorin and walked quietly to the pool. He stood beside the placid water and looked upon his reflection. It was the first time he had taken the time to look at himself after escaping the mines. He was no longer the shelling of his youth. He allowed Flourannus and the other passions to show him what he had become. The toned strong muscles of his arms shone clear against the fine cloak of red. He stood tall and confident in himself and his new friends. He could feel the pride in his deeds and actions. Skram removed one of his silver arm bands and knelt and offered prayers for victory in the coming battle and to help to save the people trapped here. As an offering he slipped the arm band in the water slow and steady, so as to not cause any ripples in the water. When it was below the surface he let go of it and watched it sink to the bottom. The tail dancer then dipped his hand in to the water and wiped his hand down his face in a manner of cleansing. With this action completed, he stood and looked at Thorin, saying “Thank you for that quiet moment. I am sure that the passions can hear us from this place.”
“Dremnin and I have some favors to ask of you”, he continued. “I have a knife and a dagger and I need to know if that is enough metal to make a mace head to attach to the end of my tail. If that is possible and you are willing I would like to talk to you while you work. We need to learn more about this realm and what is in it.” The human scout completed his own devotions and listened as Skram made his request of the master smith.
Thorin’s grizzled face split in a huge grin. “It pleases me that your request is within my power to grant.” He stood and walked to Ardor. “May I see your stock?” Ardor and Dremnin handed over the two blades. Thorin inspected each in turn, the smile never leaving his face. “Amazing… though these may not be the work of Derin, they were most certainly made by smiths he trained. The lines… the faint hammer patterns here…”, he said then looked up. “Forgive me my musings – this is like finding an heirloom. If it were not for our current circumstances, or the availability of steel so poor, I’d pay you a handsome price for these. But our need is dire, and I can do no less than help you in any way I can. I’ll start immediately. Follow me to the forge.” Blades in hand, Thorin set off down the passage.
Dremnin grinned at Skram as the three beings arose and headed for Thorin’s forge. As they walked along, the scout mused, “You know, this cavern is very much like all name givers in a way. Each being has both good and evil inside him or her; the amount displayed of each type depends on the individual. Just look at the cavern with the gazing pool; even in the midst of a hellish realm, there exists a quiet, peaceful place where name givers may worship the Passions.”
As the trio made their way through the caverns, the T’skrang decided to try and speak with the master smith about another matter of keen interest. “Thorin, maybe while we walk you could tell us about some other items we found on our way here”, Skram said hopefully. He reached behind him and took the large hammer off his back. “Do you know anything about this?", Skram asked as he handed over the hammer.
Thorin hesitated before taking the weapon. He hefted it wonderingly, then he spoke almost in a hush. “This is the great hammer of my forefathers. Derin last wielded it in the final days of the scourge before the Kaer was sealed. When he died it was buried with him rather than pass on to my father. My father was a humble Dwarf and did not see fit to walk in my grandsire’s footsteps. The story goes that this Hammer was the masterwork of Aron Kuyu, and predated both Scytha and Throal many ages ago.”
Ardor could see in Thorin’s eyes the intense struggle as he looked away and handed it back to the T’skrang. “My father told me many tales of our ancestors. Some were hard to believe, such as this – but here it is. It is obvious that the hammer has many secrets to unlock.”
Thorin took a deep breath as they reached his smithy. Like Thorin himself and all his creations, it was of efficient design and filled with tools, implements, broken weapons and those in various stages of repair. Laid upon the far wall was a full suit of dark metal plate armor. No other armors were visible aside from piles of tanned hides in process of being worked into protection. A young Dwarf was busying himself with inspecting tools in the sweltering room. Upon seeing his master, he immediately brought over a leather apron and toolbelt.
“Thank you, Ferdan.” He turned back to the newcomers. “The hammer is a symbol representing my family, our patron Passion, and everything I stand for. With one stroke, to build.” His eyes hardened. “With the next, to destroy.” He took the knife and dagger and laid them in the forge. Ferdan manned the bellows and stoked the forge to brilliant life.
Dremnin watched in facination as the smith responded to Skram, and as he began to heat the blades on the forge. After a while in thought as his eyes reflected the sparks of the firey forge, he decided to ask, “Have you made all the weapons and armor we have seen here, Master Thorin, or did some come with your people when they came to this realm? It occurs to me that if you have all the weapons here, that any opposition we face will be limited in the arms and armor available to them.” He looked from the smith to Skram as he asked and waited for a reply.
“Everything you see here, and everything our little tribe has and uses”, Thorin said, “was forged by me. Some of the steel came from weapons our fathers broke in their first fights against the Horror-maddened people here, those that were turned. Most of the rest came from what impure metals we could glean from this barren place.”
“But our enemies have little need of weapons. The Horror has twisted their hands into claws, their teeth to fangs. Those few that hold weapons carry what they took from the tribe during raids against us.”
Dremnin nodded with a solumn face as he listened to Thorin’s response. He pulled his new primary weapon from his back and hefted the Scythan Axe in his hand, to show Thorin his find from the weapons racks. “Then this mareka is your handiwork?”, he asked the smith.
“It is”, Thorin confirmed as he saw it. “I forged it from the broken remnant of a mareka brought from the kaer. Its a distinctly Dwarf design. I’m surprised you chose to carry one.”
Dremnin smiled at Thorin’s comment and replied, “I find it an eminently practical weapon, with the ability to cut my enemies and also to assist me if I need to climb.” The scout paused for a moment to think, then asked, “Master Thorin, while I proudly carry your handicraft into battle against the forces of evil, I also carry the short sword and shield of your grandfather into that same battle. I would ask you, as a boon, to tell me what you can about them and the being who forged them. There is, and can be, no better source than yourself, master smith.”
INSERT DIALOGUE HERE LATER…
Dremnin looked at Skram and then to Thorin, saying, "Master Thorin, if we are to battle this evil effectively, we need to know what you can tell us about the Nethermancer and her minions. We fought a group of these, as you know, but are these the typical forces she has available to her? What will we face when we come to her lair?”
“The forces arrayed against us are many. But they also lack discipline. They are our lost brothers and sisters. And before you ask – no, we’ve never found a way to bring a person back that has been… infected by her. As for Selenys herself, she was twisted long ago. I can only imagine that she has gained strength over time. But no one who has breached the stronghold has ever returned to tell of it. It may be that the Horror itself resides there, that perhaps Selenys died long ago." Thorin trailed off as two could see him reliving memories the Dwarf had probably stuffed away.
“Wishful thinking, I say. She’s there, directing the hive like a twisted queen bee. Snuff her out, and the rest will wither. They’ll be aimless, methinks. Perhaps they’ll even come back to us. More likely, it all comes crumbling down. This whole realm collapses without her to anchor it, and we all wink out of existence.”
Dremnin listened to Thorin as he stated their situation. The smith’s explanation made sense of Derryg’s action when they had finished the combat. He’d executed those who were unconscious, and now Dremnin knew why. “I think we can rule out the Horror from her location, as we heard it in the Kaer when we were there”, the scout said quietly. “If she serves as a hive mind for the corrupted ones, I think you may be right, that you kill the queen and the hive dies.”
“Sounds grim, I know. But better that than eternal suffering. My father is here, somewhere. I speak with him infrequently. The past brings him sorrow and regret and pain. It brings me pain to know they are restless. End it, I say. It’s what’s best.” He nodded to himself with resolve and something like finality. It was obvious he’d steeled himself and his flock for the worst long ago.”
Still lost in his thoughts, Dremnin barely heard Thorin whisper to himself, “I neither hope nor do I fear.”
When the smith was done, the scout closed his eyes and reached out into the caverns, trying to use his adept abilities to locate Selenys’ nest, the paths into it, and to see if he could determine if there were any surprises awaiting them.
Skram had taken in everything that he heard, and the grim reality of the situation was very heavy. One thought kept him from falling to despair, Florannus was with them, he could feel it. Victory would come to them, but there would be a dear price for it. “Thorin I do not wish to sell the lives of you and your people cheaply”, Skram said with a serious tone. "I would feel better knowing that the distraction you want to cause with your attack will have some chance to keep you alive and or take many of the enemy with you. Can we set up some kind of trap or choke point to make sure that you have the greatest advantage possible?”, Skram asked the smith. “Also can you tell us of any of the other creature or horrors that we may run in to and if there is anything that we need to know to kill them?”
From his place of contemplation, Dremnin heard the words of his friend and felt he was exactly on the mark with his statements. In a moment, he returned completely to the discussion, having failed to locate a way.
Thorin spoke as the metal took shape under the workings of his hammer and tongs. Between the movements of his thickly corded arms and Ferdan’s assistance in the smithy, there was an air of practical efficiency. “We stay below the line of the chasm – the sky above churns with krillra. Those giant flying worms will drag a full-grown Ork over the chasm and drop him, only to dive into the deeps later to feast on the corpse. Vicious blighters.” Thorin turned his head and spat.
“But the only known entrance to Selenys’ stronghold is topside, at the other end of the chasm. Even if you work your way through the tunnels, taking care to avoid the higher bridges, and manage to make it to the other end without encountering patrols of the Horror-touched, it’s topside from there.” Thorin paused to quench his work in a stone vat of viscous oil near the forge.
While he held the steel in the oil and waited for it to cool, he turned to Dremnin and Ardor and continued. “And assuming you aren’t devoured and shit over a cliff by the krillra, and make it to the stronghold, there’s Selenys’ horde to deal with. Encountering a single one of them alerts them all to our presence. It enforces my belief that they have a hive-mind mentality.” Thorin pulled out the piece and inspected it before passing it to his apprentice. Ferdan cleaned it carefully with a rag and presented it to his master. Thorin tossed it to Ardor. “I can further shape the cap, but it should fit your tail. If you approve, I’ll begin work on the mace head.”
While Ardor checked the fitting, Thorin leaned on his bench and combed through his soot-streaked beard with blackened fingers. “We’ve used hit and run tactics as long as I can remember. My father tried an assault on the stronghold before I was full-grown. Our tribe was over twice the size it is now.” He let the implication sink in. "It was folly, but I don’t fault him. It was desperation that drove him. I have no illusions, and neither do Derryg or the rest of our family. We’ll die to the last man, woman, and child to be free of this hell.”
“I’ll rely on Derryg for the tactics, but I see the tribe arming en masse, finding and engaging one of their scouting parties, and drawing them to a choke point that we can defend. If they fall back, we continue to aggravate them and draw them back to defensible points. Their hive mind should draw a bulk of them, which we’ll attempt to destroy, or repel if we can’t overcome them.”
He stood straight and stepped closer, his hard eyes glinting. “Then there’s you fellows. You’re my shaved knuckle.” He chuckled grimly. “If we can pave the way for you to get to the other end and then topside, think you can make the half-mile of open ground to the keep?”
His brow furrowed. “This assumes you came unnoticed. That Selenys is unaware of your presence and my intent.” His frown deepened. “If she is, this won’t work. And I won’t throw your lives away like that…”
Dremnin looked at Thorin as he mentioned the flying worms, then turned to Skram and said, “This just keeps getting better and better.” Then he turned back to Thorin and said, “I hope they are hive-minded, as you have suggested, master smith, as it would make it easier to draw them into a major battle.” When Thorin mentioned his father, and his assault on the stronghold, the scout had a thought to share. “Would it be possible”, he posed as he looked back and forth between Thorin and Skram, “to ask your father’s shade for details on the defenses of the stronghold?”
After trying on his tail mace, the satisfied tail dancer turned back to Thorin. “The fit is perfect”, Skram said with a smile. He tossed the metal sleeve back to Thorin and continued, “I’m glad to hear that you have the same idea that we do about drawing the enemy away and using the tunnels to your advantage. You do remember that there was one of the tainted that escaped the combat where we saved your man. I do not know if she will know that we are new to this realm by that or if the horror will tell her itself. I do know from what you have told me that I am the first T’skrang here. So I’m sure that she at least knows that I have come here. I do not know if that will change our plans at all”, Skram said with a stern look.
“Granted then, that she knows we’re here”, Dremnin offered as he nodded in agreement. “But unless she has a means of spying on this tribe, she won’t know our plans. Given your ability to engage in hit and run tactics, it seems that possibility is nil.” The scout thought for a moment, then said, “Do her people run the gauntlet with the worms above to go to her stronghold? Or do they simply operate in the caverns here?”
Thorin pondered a bit before responding to Dremnin. “I can’t really say. We’ve never seen them topside because we don’t go there. We’ve only encountered them in the caverns or when crossing the bridgeworks.”
After a moment, he continued with Dremnin, saying, “I’ve asked often enough, believe me. It’s the one topic the old shade has never talked about. The last time I pressed, he disappeared for over a year. But if, as you believe, Selenys is aware of your presence, we must act quickly if we have any hope of succeeding in this plan. We can try again. Perhaps you can help me convince him to speak.”
“We’ll do our best to be persuasive, Master Thorin”, Dremnin said and looked to Skram for agreement. “When and where do you wish to try? After you get cleaned up?”
Drennin and Skram