Out of Bondage

Most of the group was clustered in waist-deep water staring at the runic carvings on the monstrous spikes dotting the obviously fabricated wall nestled deep in the subterranean cavern, trying to decide on a course of action. Luck and Urgral stood guarding the preceding chamber, where the elemental earth was piled near two carts attached to a goat and a donkey. Another goat was tethered to the goat-pulled cart in the room.

Dremnin, the girl still perched on his back, stood consoling Fafnir, who’d fallen into despair. Vridich continued to inspect the runes closely, and the others clustered around closely, shivering in the cold water.

Urgral thought he heard noise from deeper in the mines, so he moved to the western entry and waited, straining with all his senses. Moments later, he motioned for Luck to take up post at the south entry. Luck moved to the door, taking up a hidden spot beside the doorway. Now they could both hear the sounds of bare feet slapping hard against the corridor floors, and hard breathing. And farther back from that, quick shuffling and inhuman moans and snarls. Luck had salvaged a shortsword from the slavemaster’s corpse, and he now held it ready, with the flaming brand in his other hand.

Suulin had been working the upper mines when a foul wind had extinguished all light sources. Though she couldn’t see in the unlit passages, the sounds that reached her indicated that malevolent creatures were stalking her. She’d felt her way through passages, trying to work her way around them and back to the surface. But the only ways not teeming with those things led down into the deepest parts of the mineworks. By the time she reached the lowest levels, she was certain that at least three, maybe four creatures had scented her and were shuffling more quickly toward her – tracking her by her scent. She broke into a dead run, heedless of the damage to her arms and feet. One reached her, so close, and she spun and lashed out with a fist, terror fueling her strength. She felt something snap and give way under her fist, fleshy and yet leathery too. Whatever she connected with, she bought herself a bit more time as she heard the creature bounce off the passage wall and fall to the ground.

On she ran, and now she could make out flickering light ahead, and the shadows moved in such a way that she knew it was a torch being held by someone or something. Still she raced toward the light, more of the creatures hot on her heels. As she burst into the chamber, she threw a wild punch. Luck narrowly dodged it, seeing it was a wild-eyed human woman. Understanding she was being pursued, he stepped up to the path of the creatures behind her. In the light of his firebrand, he could see two Ork guards, dead with rictus masks stretched across their features. Wonderful, he thought – more Cadaver Men. They were on him in seconds, tearing at him with foul taloned fingers. As he began his dance, Urgral charged in, burying his pick-axe in the back of one of the undead guards. He struck it with such force that it was knocked from its feet, but it immedately set to shrieking and it began to frenzy. As Luck and Urgral cut one down, another frenzied undead came gurgling down the hall into the fray, entirely missing its lower jaw.

Ardor and Vridich stepped into the chamber just as another undead loped in and attacked Urgral from behind. Ardor skidded a spare pick-axe across the floor to Suulin, and they all set to hacking the Cadaver Men apart. Urgral dealt devastating blows, but was overcome by the berserk fury of the undead he’d maddened moments before. He went down hard, moments from bleeding out. Ardor and Suulin pressed forward and the T’skrang stood over the Dwarf, defending him from further attack. Between the two swordsmen, the Troubadour, and the Nethermancer’s sorcerous assaults, they made short work of the undead.

Fearing further attacks, everyone blocked the two corridors with the wagons and piled corpses against them. Vridich revealed his skills as a physician by reviving the Dwarf and cleaning his wounds. Things had settled down. A fire was built, the goats were slaughtered, and mutton was cooked. All ate thier fill with red meat – something none had had since becoming enslaved. Better rested and satiated, they began discussing escape. The T’skrang showed how to waterproof the book in fat wrapped in goatskin. While this was done, Dremnin coaxed Fafnir into telling his tale. Suulin did as well.

The old Dwarf related how he fell into slavery voluntarily, as he’d been tracking the very book Vridich held for years. He claimed to be a scholar of Throal’s Great Library who’d made it his life’s work to study the Book of Tomorrow. He further claimed he knew every passage of the book’s writings. He did not elaborate on the significance of this book. But the fact that he’d braved enslavement to find it spoke volumes.

Vridich ministered to the others with wounds while they rigged a pack to carry as much elemental earth as possible. They well knew its value and hoped to make use of it if they could escape. Luck gathered a 100 foot length of rope left in the the ore loading chamber. It was Dremnin who first noticed the absence of the young girl. They all set about searching for her, and within moments found themselves clustered around the slowly moving whirlpool, chest-deep water thick with brown silts, the flames from their torches licking the low and uneven cavern ceiling. Dremnin didn’t hesitate, diving into the freezing black waters.

He very nearly balked in the watery underground darkness, but dim light pushed him onward. He squeezed through an opening into a larger cavern lit by phosphorescent fishes. Ahead of him was the girl. She was convulsing and Dremnin knew she was drowning even as with powerful strokes he closed the distance. He considered turning back, but knew he didn’t have enough air to make it back. There was still the pull of a current, pulling him down. He noticed another cave entrance at the bottom of this cavern, so he steeled himself and kept going. His lungs were burning and he fought the urge to inhale. The girl ceased her struggling and Dremnin fought his own despair. He pushed further with numbed muscles.

Meanwhile, back by the whirlpool, the others argued about what to do. Ardor indicated if anyone could find a way through, it was he. He vowed to find the path and the young man and the girl. Luck tied one end of the rope to the T’skrang’s waist and the other end to a stalagmite near the whirlpool’s edge. With that, Ardor dived in.

The lizard man propeled himself with powerful thrusts of his tail. While he’d never been cave diving, he was happier than he’d been since becoming a slave. He could explore on the breath he had for many long minutes. But he knew the Scout and little girl were doomed without him. As he moved into the wondrous cavern lit blue by the numerous cave fish, he caught sight of Dremnin dragging the girl further downward. He knew Dremnin was following the current, and was impressed the young man had made it this far. He caught up to him as the two entered the next cavern. More of the phosphorescent fish were here, and the far walls could not be seen in the gloom. Above was the quicksilver signs of air. Dremnin bee-lined for it, Ardor helping him push the girl upward.

Lungs bursting, Dremnin broke water and gulped in lungfuls of air. While he recovered, the T’skrang quietly broke surface and explored the surroundings. All around were the smoothed stones of a well or pool, carved by Namegivers and in the center of this pool was a large pedestal, topped by a stone figure of some kind. The two heaved the girl up over the lip, then Ardor helped Dremnin over the low wall. Then he himself climbed out as well. If not for the urgency of the drowned girl, he might have stayed in.

Both set to, trying to revive the girl. Initial efforts met with failure, but Dremnin, having been around water all his life, remembered how to resuscitate the girl, and they soon had her vomiting water and coughing. Both breathed a sigh of relief. Ardor had never seen a drowning among T’skrang, and the sight shook him.

While the Scout covered the shivering girl with his own body to warm her, Ardor looked around the room, a glowing fish in either hand. This was a temple or shrine of some kind. By the qquickly dimming light, he could make out the statue’s form. It was a female Dwarf, gesturing a motherly invitation. Dremnin called from the dark.

“Ardor, do you feel… healed? My own wounds have mended. And I recover my body warmth faster than I thought possible.”

Ardor admitted that he also felt refreshed, warm, and whole again. He felt strong!

A long hall led out of the room, but his vision quickly dimmed as the fish he held dulled. He tossed both back into the waters, to see them immediately shine brightly.

“Garlen…” his whisper echoed into the darkness. “Passions be blessed.”

After gaining assurance from the Scout that he and the girl would be safe for the moment, he untied the rope from his waist and re-tied to an abuttment on the pool. Once secured, he dived in and swam like an eel back to the others. He guided each in turn to the pool. Each remarked that they too felt refreshed and warm within minutes of entering the shrine.

They all spoke in hushed tones. This place held equal parts warmth and protective comfort, as though the Passion herself guarded their rest. But also a sense of sorrowful abandonment. No sounds other than lapping water and their own breathing broke the stillness of this… tomb.

It was Luck who spoke first. “We should explore. We can’t stay here forever. We need food and better weapons. I’ll not be made a slave again,” he said flatly. Ardor moved to flank him as they made their way down a long carved corridor.

“Dwarven construction,” grunted Urgral.

They opened into a huge vaulted chamber, long with thick pillar suspending the ceiling. They appeared carved from the rock, but cunningly so. Past the first pillar was a massive statue of a thickly muscled Dwarf, towering in the chamber and pointing down the long vault into the gloom. Thick dust carpeted to floor, carved into beautiful tiles. Suulin explored an antechamber and came back with soft priestly vestments, tinderboxes, and a lantern. She quickly lit it as the fishes’ light began to fail again. She led them into the chamber and they all dressed and lit lanterns and torches.

Stepping back into the vault, they saw that the ceiling was covered in frescos and bas relief carvings. The same Dwarf appeard in different scenes, and the T’skrang read snatches of the same epic poem on the pillars in Throalic heiroglyph.

“Derin’s Dirge,” he exclaimed. “This is the life’s tale of ”/campaigns/heroesunchained/characters/derin-kuyu" class=“wiki-content-link”>Derin Kuyu, a Dwarven thane and great hero. And this," he spread his arms, “must be the kaer he built.”

“Tomb is more like it,” Suulin muttered.

Exploring the end of the hall, Vridich, Ardor and Urgral found a raised dias with red carpeting up to a massive sarcophagus. It was solid stone, with bas relief carvings covering every square inch. This is what the statue was point at.

Deciding they shouldn’t disturb anything, they still wondered at the dust and emptiness. Where were the people of this kaer? They continued exploring chambers past the questor chambers. Thoroughfares, markets, animal pens – all were abandoned long ago. It was then that the Scout noticed large prints in the dust.

“These prints are not like those of any beast that I’ve ever since or heard of,” he whispered. He examined the prints, wider than his forearm.

“No beast.. But there are things not of this world… things from beyond the stars,” Urgral muttered as he wiped his hand through the print. There were more beyond. The group decided to turn back, choosing a different path. Urgral was last, hefting his pick-axe, his eyes blazing. But then he too followed. Something, a sound, maybe nothing. There was a deep growl, or maybe a shift of the rock somewhere out there in the dark. It was almost beyond hearing. Or maybe it was nothing.

The group came into a large communal living area and re-outfitted, finding more serviceable clothing and other useful items. Still no weapons and no armor, so they continued on. A tension had slowly stolen over them. A fear of what had so emptied this kaer. A fear that it might still be here, roaming the hallways of this empty city.

They found they’d doubled back into the Hall of Kuyu, as it appeared to be Named. Suulin found a small alcove, filled with candles and containing a stonework box, lidded and locked. She began wresting the lock quietly.

Vridich and Dremnin once again approached the sarcophagus. This time, they decided to see if the ancient thane had been buried with weapons, armor, anything to defend themselves with. Urgral tore the lid off, and it clattered loudly behind the tomb.

Immediately, a bestial roar issued from the direction they’d come. It was filled with fury, or hunger, or both. And it was hard to tell how distant it might be.

The others rushed up, and they immediately set to looking for anything valuable. Aside from a bronze-banded mummy, the sarcophagus held many items – a footman’s shield with a hammer emblazoned on it, a set of Dwarf-sized chainmail, a matching goggle helm with a ridge of inch-long spikes, a hammer, a shortsword, a dagger, many gold coins, and much more. Vridich noticed under the head of the corpse, a multi-colored coin. Orichalcum! He quickly snatched it and secreted it away. After they stepped away hefting weapons and donning armor, Dremnin took a closer look. He found a secret panel at the bottom of the sarcophagus. When pressed a stone tray extended. The inside was lined in velvet, but oddly it held battered tools. The tools of a mason. Dremnin carefully gathered them and put them in a newly found pack.

Together, they moved into a passageway on the other side of the Hall of Kuyu, trying to put distance between themselves and whatever monster lurked in this city.

Out of Bondage

Heroes Unchained Asaraludu