As quickly as he could make his way through the cold pool, Dremnin waded back to the small ledge and dropped the girl off, telling her, “Stay here, little one. I’ll be back soon”. He rushed through the opening in the wall only to discover that whatever the threat had been, it had been handled by the rest of the group. As he emerged into the goat room, the elf looked around at him and Dremnin asked in a puzzled voice, “What?” With any threat now gone, the group used available beams and the carts to block the doors to the chamber to hopefully prevent any more Cadaver Men from getting through. Apparently, the dwarf that was fighting had received a bad beating and was severely hurt. But the tattooed elf apparently had healing knowledge and soon had the gruff dwarf back with them in consciousness.
In the time that passed, one of the goats was slaughtered for meat, and though it was simple fare, it might as well have been a banquet for royalty. None of them had tasted meat in months, and it tasted good. The hide was then used to wrap the precious book to protect it, and a small supply of elemental earth was gathered for use as currency later on. The human swordmaster even managed to rummage around and found a length of rope among the scattered debris. Suddenly, Dremnin noticed that the young girl was gone, he looked around quickly and determined that she was nowhere to be found. Calling her name into the darkness, he waded out through the cold water, followed by the rest of their group. As the light fell on the back wall of the second chamber, all that met the scout’s eyes was the slow, steady swirl of cold, black water. “She must have gone in by herself”, the scout said as he looked at his companions. “She’s in no shape to swim alone now”, he said anxiously to the T’skrang. “I’ve got to help her”, were his last words as he took a huge breath of air and immediately plunged into the pool… and disappeared from sight.
In the cold, clear waters of the pool, Dremnin quickly found the girl as she struggled downward. He had been raised to swim in the river waters of his happy home, taught to swim by his father almost as soon as he could crawl. His swimming skill was desperately needed this day, and he dove deeper into the watery cavern, reaching the girl just as she collapsed and began to convulse. He knew that she was drowning, and that time was of the essence, but he didn’t have enough air to get back the way he had come. Noting a possible way ahead of him, he grabbed the limp body of the young girl and swam with all his might. The demons of drowning began to rear up before his mind, and he fought the desperate urge to inhale. Then, above him, he saw a round shape with a rippling sheen that indicated the surface, illuminated by moving lights above. Between himself and that surface were many such brightly lighted moving objects. With all his remaining strength, Dremnin pulled for the surface. Suddenly he felt strong arms take hold of him, arms that carried him to clear air and life. He broke the surface and gasped for air, filling his lungs with clear, cold air. He looked over and saw the T’skrang beside him, and between great gulps of air he smiled and nodded his thanks.
When he had regained his composure, Dremnin said, “We need to get the girl up and over the lip of this wall", which was some three feet above them. Together, the two Name Givers pushed in unison to make it happen, and the two then joined the girl on a stone floor. Knowing that time was of the essence, Dremnin tried to recall his own experiences with people at Diamede who had drowned and then been saved. He began to try to pump the water from her lungs and breathe into her mouth the air that would bring her back to them. As he worked he began to utter a prayer to the Passion Floranuus, and the T’skrang suddenly held a light over him. It was one of the lights from the pool; a fish lit brightly as any lantern, providing them with the ability to see. As Dremnin worked on the girl, the T’skrang quickly joined in the prayer. They raised their voices together to ask that the child be granted life again, to receive victory for their efforts, and not be cheated at the moment of their deliverance from slavery. Suddenly, the girl began coughing out water, looked at Dremnin, and then promptly vomited. “Praise Floranuus!”, the two beings said jubilantly. “Thank you for this victory, Floranuus… thank you.”
“I am called Dremnin. What is your name, my friend?”, Dremnin asked the T’skrang deliverer. “Ardor", came the warm, melodious tones of a most welcome voice. “Thank you Ardor. She lives, and I believe the cold water may have helped us in her survival. But most certainly, we both owe you our lives.” There was no sound in the place where they found themselves; only a terrible silence and a feeling of sadness. The light showed the pool that they had come from was in fact a fountain or well of some sort, and in the center was a welcoming statue of a dwarven female. Suddenly, Dremnin noticed that his fatigue was gone, and he fell warm and filled with a sense of peace and well-being. He looked at the girl and saw color in her cheeks and a general appearance of health. “I feel strangely well, Ardor. Do you feel it too?” The T’skrang paused as he dipped one of the fish back in the pool, which he had learned refreshed its luminescence when it started to fade. “Indeed I do. Most strange, but even more welcome.” He paused and looked back at Dremnin and said, “I need to swim back to the others and help them find their way here. Will you be okay?”, Ardor asked as he prepared to plunge back into the pool. “Go and hurry back. We need to get everyone out of that mine before more Cadaver Men find them.” With that, Ardor nodded, handed Dremnin a lighted fish, and slipped effortlessly into the water.
Dremnin held the young girl close, giving her the warmth of his body. Her shivers subsided, and she began to breathe peacefully in the darkness. There was no sound for minutes, and suddenly there was the sound of the surface being broken as Ardor brought the first of their companions through to the pool of life and freedom. Ardor made several trips, each time returning with another gasping survivor. Praise the Passions that no one else needed the gift of new life that had been granted to the girl. A pull on his arm made Dremnin turn to face the girl, who looked questioningly at the scout’s face. She pointed her hand at herself and said, “Hannah”, in a sweet, soft voice. “I’m Dremnin”, the scout said and pointed at himself. “Father?”, the girl asked and pointed at Dremnin. The scout was not prepared for this question, and started to stammer an answer, but the girl set her face in an affirming look and said flatly, “father”. It was apparently settled, so Dremnin just smiled and accepted his newfound standing. He heard Ardor chuckle to himself as he heard the exchange, and Dremnin just turned to the T’skrang and shrugged with a smile.
With the entire group finally through the watery path, the elf used his magic to dry them all, and the magic of the place helped them all to be healed and refreshed. It was a good feeling to be both free and whole again, and the scout knew that all of the group shared in this feeling. With thanks to the Passions, Dremnin and Hannah followed the others as they moved off down a dark hallway carved into the living rock. After many yards, they came to a vast chamber that stretched in all directions. As the lights from the glowing fish fanned out into the chamber, they soon discovered Dwarven runes and frescos abounded here. At one end of the chamber they found a statute of a mighty, muscled dwarf pointing off into the inky blackness. The more adventurous of the group walked cautiously forward and illuminated more of the chamber, which Dremnin could feel was just ahead, out of the range of their light.
The leaders of the group quickly arrived at a raised daiz, with carpeted steps leading upwards to the platform’s end, which held a massive stone sarcophagus. They decided to leave it for the moment in order to seek clothing, food and weapons. Even Dremnin, who was not primarily a warrior, felt he would welcome even a rusty old sword to replace the clumsy pick axe he had dropped when he moved to save Hannah. The human woman returned from her own forays to reveal that she had found a room with priestly garments, and there was a move to secure each and every one of the group a warm robe to cover their meager slave rags.
Now covered like a party of unlikely priests, the group pressed on to explore the Kaer. A series of rooms both large and small followed, where they found the remains of a market and animal stalls, but no sign of inhabitants. The foods here had long since dried up and crumbled to dust, which made Dremnin believe that no one had been through here in hundreds of years. It was not a positive sign. Suddenly, one of the group called out that he had found a strange footprint in the dust on the floor. Dremnin looked at the footprint, which appeared to be reptilian in nature; a quadripedal beast of some sort which was unfamiliar to him. The prints were huge though, indicating a mighty beast of some sort had passed this way a long time ago. Perhaps this beast was the reason there were no inhabitants about the Kaer. The scout quietly advised the group that they should stay away from this side of the Kaer in the very likely event that the creature was still around a corner in the darkness.
Heeding Dremnin’s counsel, the group turned back to the west and soon found a chamber that had served as living quarters. With an eye to equiping themselves for a journey to freedom, the group scavenged among the belongings of inhabitants long since dead. Dremnin found two backpacks of some woven material and began to place useful objects inside. They also found regular clothes and quickly shed the priestly robes for sturdy garments that would serve them well. Dremnin kept the pack for Hannah deliberately light, as he didn’t want to burden her unnecessarily. “If you see anything you think we might need Hannah”, he said to her as they scavenged, “put it in your backpack”. A bullseye lantern was a great find, and there were metal flasks to hold extra oil. Now armed with clothing and non-edible equipment, the group had provided themselves with some of the means to survive. Yet they had no weapons, so some of the group decided to see if the sarcophagus held any means to defend themselves.
Hannah and Dremnin trailed the others as they left the living quarters and headed back into the chamber with the dwarven sarcophagus. While most of the group worked to open the burial point, Ardor, Dremnin and Hannah moved on to explore to the west, but a loud booming sound brought them back to see what had happened. The group had indeed opened the sarcophagus, but its lid had fallen uncontrolled to the chamber floor making the loud boom. A low growl rumbled through the Kaer, growing to a louder roar as well, heralding the awakening of whatever guarded this dead place. Dremnin looked at Ardor, and the two of them quickly joined the group opening the coffin. While the elf gathered gold, Ardor passed out various weapons and armor to those waiting behind. Dremnin was handed a shortsword and scabbard, which he immediately donned around his waist. As the group completed their removal of all the valuables from the dead dwarf’s coffin, Dremnin felt strongly that something had been missed. He moved to the open coffin and as he searched every inch of the interior, he said aloud to himself and the dwarven corpse before him, “You pardon, noble dwarf, for these actions upon you and your coffin, for we have real need of the things we have taken. Some evil stalks your former realm, and we must defend ourselves.”
In a few moments of time, Dremnin found what he was looking for: a pressure plate to a secret compartment. He triggered the switch and heard a click, which opened the compartment he sought. “Ah, here is what we might have left behind us”, Dremnin said to himself as he slid open a compartment with a velvet tray containing simple mason’s tools. It was as though these were more valuable that all the rest combined. With deft fingers, Dremnin carefully collected each item and wrapped them in the velvet tray lining, then placed them in his backpack for transport. At once, a feeling of fulfillment came over him, replacing the sense that something had been missed. He knew this was the correct thing to do.
With the treasures now completely removed from the dais, Dremnin and Hannah joined the others on the stone floor. They decided to avoid the beast’s haunts to the east and travel west to explore, as they still needed food to survive. The party moved off to the west, with Dremnin and Hannah following the rest.
To be continued…