Dremnin had decided to replenish his store of Karma points before the group’s forthcoming confrontation with the Necromancer, Selenys, and he sought out someone from Thorin’s community who could lead him off into the depths of the caverns in order to conduct the Scout ritual. It turned out the bald man that the group had saved from death was named Derryg, and everyone the scout spoke with pointed to Derryg. Derryg was also Thorin’s war chief, and had commanded a small raiding party the day the group happened upon the melee. He agreed to help and then led Dremnin blindfolded through dark, dank tunnel passages, some of which required scrabbling up or down slippery rock faces. At one point, Dremnin could hear running water and felt spray against his skin as the sound intensified. It was still a shock, though, as his boots filled with water. The two men waded through thigh-deep icy-cold water and back out again, turning down yet another passageway. Dremnin felt the changes in the air, and the way their breathing echoed differently as some chambers narrowed or grew larger. There were also faint differences to the air quality as they moved away from the underground stream. Finally, his guide stopped in a large but quiet cavern, the rushing river a distant drone, and closer at hand came the occasional but regular sounds of water dripping from the cavern ceiling.
“I still don’t see why this was necessary, Dremnin,” opined Derryg. “This is how I replenish myself.” Dremnin stood still, listening to the sound of his heart’s thudding receding as his legs began warming again. The roughspun wool of his blindfold itched but Dremnin resisted the urge to pull it off.
“Our clansmen don’t wander this far, and for good reason”, said Derryg in a disapproving tone. “You get lost in these caves, and it might be another hundred years before anyone finds your bones.” Derryg shifted in place, his wet clothes dripping loudly against the stone underfoot. “If they ever do”, he added for emphasis. “There’s things worse than Half-men in the dark places of this realm.”
“I am a Scout, Derryg”, Dremnin replied with confidence. “Don’t fear for me – I’ll see you soon enough.” As Derryg turned, making sounds of disagreement, Dremnin added, “Oh, and don’t take the same way back, good man. Until you dry, your tracks will be too easy for me to follow.”
“Isn’t that the point, lad?”, replied the bald man incredulously as he picked his way back the way he came.
Dremnin waited until all signs of his guide had faded away, then squatted down and felt the ground until the wetness of their footprints re-oriented him. He gently brushed his hands against the outcroppings, walls, stalagmites and low-hanging stalactites as he tested the air and moved quickly and quietly through passageways on his way back to Thorin’s cavern settlement. He quickly crossed the freezing river, sure-footed now that he knew its lay. Resting briefly on the far side, though, he felt a faint breeze. An almost imperceptible disturbance in the air, as of someone quietly walking past him. Resisting the urge to lift the blindfold, he froze and extended his other senses as far as possible.
There – a faint rustle of clothing against skin? In his mind’s eye, he knew this sound, this feeling, carried him away from his destination. But it seemed a taunt, a challenge he had difficulty not accepting. He made his decision immediately, and abandoned his ritual. A new path opened its way before him, and he followed it happily. Dremnin lifted the blindfold; It had been for Derryg’s benefit anyway. His eyes attempted to adjust, but could draw no light in. He waved his hand in front of him but saw nothing. Still he found himself unafraid, and picked his way with great care toward a new adventure.
For three days he’d moved through the caves, careful not to disturb anything, making hardly a sound. He ate dried food from his pack and slept lightly. More than once he heard or smelled creatures in the caves, and he was careful to let them pass without revealing his presence. It had become clear that someone or something was leading him on a chase. Dremnin paused when he lost sign of his quarry, and eventually some slight impression was made, often at the periphery of his senses. Then he would continue. It was slow, but his sense of the caves continued to grow as he moved through them.
At times it seemed as though he might never return to Hannah or his comrades. He’d crawled through sightless cave channels, narrowing down to a crevasse lit by phosphorescent moss lining the walls. The air was damp and the walls slick, so Dremnin took longer than necessary as he inched his way along the tight passage, pushing his pack in front of him as he made slow progress. He worked carefully so as not to disturb the mosses that provided him the meager light.
After long minutes of this, the crevasse widened out into a cavern large enough that he could stand and stretch his aching muscles. A nearby burbling told him that running water was nearby. Some instinct had him grabbing a torch from its holster aside his pack. The heavy moisture of the air fought his efforts to light the torch, and for some time he struck his knife against his flint to get a spark to take purchase. He nurtured it with easy breaths until it sputtered to life.
The Scout’s eyes adjusted as the cave slowly illuminated. As he surveyed the cozy cavern, his immediate sense was one of intrusion. This had been someone’s home or sanctum. At the apex of the slightly convex floor in roughly the center of the room was a carefully crafted fire pit, complete with a covered iron pot. His gaze traveled on to the low ceiling where he saw the blackened stains of many old fires. Stacked off to one side were short cords of mossy wood and a pile of dead lichens. To the other side piled blankets were visible, and a hunched form against the wall. As the stepped closer, he saw the moldering bones of an Ork. Wisps of grayish beard told the Scout this Ork had reached a great age. Above the skeletal remains, Throalic hieroglyphs had been scratched into the wall.
Setting his torch down, Dremnin gathered enough to fuel a fire to warm the cave and ignited the fire with a bit less difficulty than he had his torch. The fire quickly warmed him and he no longer felt an intruder here.
He removed the pot’s lid and waited for it to heat well before fishing dried foodstuffs from his pack to make a proper meal. Taking his water skin, he went in search of water in the depths to the back of the cave. He found a healthy stream dropping from a crack above and arching over an outcropping before it disappeared down a natural drain. The drain provided the constant burbling noise.
Dremnin refilled his skin and returned to the pot to make himself a hot soup from the remains of his rations. As he stoked the fire to make his supper simmer, he gazed over at his quiet companion.
“Thank you for sharing your fire, good Ork. I reckon there are many tales you could have told me. It seems I shall have to settle for the one you left.” The soup had begun to bubble, so Dremnin scattered in a few herbs he’d gotten from Thorin’s folk. Immediately a savory smell permeated the little cave. “I wonder why you pulled me here,” he said as he pondered. For Dremnin knew this was no coincidence. This was the destination of the merry chase on which he’d been led.
After warming his insides with a cup of soup, he moved the pot from the coals and covered it. Then he took a branch from the fire and carried it over to the writing on the wall. It began:
I was Hrath Barad, the last Scout and uncorrupted Ork. I traveled every place, uncovered every cranny in this black realm, and found no escape. I know when life leaves me I will still not escape. This place of pitiable darkness and despair will be my tomb. But not forever. I know that one day a way will become clear, and our suffering will end. You who read this will find the way. As my dying act, I gift you with clear vision and a stout heart. When the moment comes, you will know it, and the path will be revealed to you.
Dremnin felt his heart race as he reached out and touched the glyphs representing the idea of clarity. The moment his fingertips brushed stone he felt bright power and purpose flood into him. Finding this place had woven new threads to his pattern. He felt a deepening of knowledge, of himself and of his Discipline. He knew beyond doubt that his blind journey here was a test devised for him by Hrath Barad. Beyond the old Ork’s silent tutelage, he’d sacrificed his last power to arm his unknown benefactor with the means to win a way clear, to freedom.
The human scout was touched by the old Ork’s words, and he dropped to his knees next to the body to pray. “Noble Floranuus, I am here with the remains of Hrath Barad, an honorable scout who has passed along clear knowledge to me that will enable us to leave this wretched domain. I lift up his name to you as a victorious name giver, a scout adept who has succeeded in his last act, and passed to me the means to find the path to freedom. Though separated by time, he and I share two things in common: our common bond as brother scouts, and our burning desire to be free again. He has helped the threads of my life grow. Let his spirit know that the sacrifice he made will bring us victory, and I give thanks for his gifts.”
With his prayer said, Dremnin got up and wiped the tears from his face, then took a seat by the cheerful fire. He ate his meal and rested, then with great care cleaned all signs of his passage and restored Hrath Barad’s last resting place as he had found it. “Rest easy and rest well, my friend", the human said. "Know that you are acknowledged and honored by Dremnin, a fellow scout.” The long journey back to Thorin’s encampment was then retraced with care, so as to leave no sign of his passage.
Dremnin, Scout Adept