The group of heroes walked behind the bald man, who carried the unconscious body of his companion over his shoulders. He walked at the head of the group, never stopping to rest or to decide which way to go… he knew the path and followed it. The new arrivals soon came to understand that they were definitely no longer in Kaer Derin Kuyu. A blasted, desolite landscape passed before their eyes as they moved through long stretches of black cave tunnels, then they briefly emerge to see a vast chasm above and below them stretching into the distance. The bald man said nothing, but led them without pause across what appeared to be a rickety foot bridge that swayed and creaked as each member of the group passed over.
As they passed through the next set of cave tunnels, silence reined supreme, until at last they emerged into what seemed to be an inhabited set of caves. To their left and right, they could just sense the presence of other individuals standing in the shadows, as though afraid to emerge to face or challenge the newcomers. Ahead of them in the distance they could hear the sound of a hammer repeatedly striking metal. The bald man finally stopped in one large chamber in the cave, where small clusters of others stood watching the new arrivals. "As he put his companion down on the floor, the bald man said flatly, “Wait here and I will get our leader. He will know what to do.” Then he left the party and walked in a determined manner off into another tunnel.
The group of heroes was left to stand; no one spoke with them for the longest time, so Dremnin sat down to make himself more comfortable while he waited. At last the bald man returned, accompanied by a large, heavily muscled dwarf waeing a smith’s apron and bearing the scars and soot of one accustomed to the forge. As Dremnin stood up, the dwarf walked up to and first looked at Urgral, who stood in full chair armor and spiked helm. The big dwarf stared into Urgral’s eyes for a moment, then said finally, “You are not of my line. Yet you wear the armor of my grandfather. How did you come by it?” Fearing that he might be persecuted for wearing the armor, Urgral stammered out an answer, something to the effect that he had acquired it in the Kaer due to a great and urgent need of armor and weapons to stave off a Horror. This seemed to satisfy the big smith, and he replied, “If it serves you well, then keep it with my blessing.”
After taking a quick look at the group, the big dwarf said, “I am Thorin Kuyu, the leader of these people and grandson of Derin Kuyu. You have come to this place to end your days with us, it seems, for this place is the abode of all those who entered from the Kaer. We who are here are descendents of the original inhabitants of Kaer Derin Kuyu. Over the centuries, those of us who are not marked became fewer and fewer, as the servants of an evil and twisted Nethermancer carried off all whom they could find, especially our children.” Thorin pasued and said, “Bring food and drink for these Name Givers. Please sit and refresh yourselves, and I will tell you our tale.”
The group of heroes sat down and were brought food and drink; simple fare but most welcome since their goatmeat meal was consumed back in the mines. They listened as Thorin continued. “The inhabitants of Kaer Derin Kuyu contained Name Givers of many types, with various skills and vocations. They lived safe in the Kaer, until the actions of one whose lust for power knew no bounds. A young woman named Selenys wated to become a Nethermancer, but with none of them in the Kaer, she chose to initiate herself into their mysteries. In so doing, we believe she made a pact with a Horror whom I will not name, gaining power for herself, but also allowing that same Horror to gain access to the sanctity of the Kaer. Once inside the wards, the Nethermancer and her Horror ally created a monstrous construct, a minion for the Horror that went through the Kaer and consumed all those with whom it came into contact. Once consumed, the people wound up here inside Seleyns’ realm. Thus you also followed that same path, though several centuries after the first of us entered here.”
Thorin paused at this point and took a sip of water from a drinking horn before continuing with a grim smile. “But you see, those who make pacts with a Horror cannot expect such an agreement to be honored as they wish. And so it was with Selenys, whom the Horror altered into a hideous creature, then left her to rule this nether-realm. She sits in her lair, surrounded by those she has corrupted, while the Horror thrives off the pain, suffering and anguish of those trapped within. For none of those who enetered here, or were subsequently born here, have ever left. Their spirits remain with us, damned to live out eternity and feed the Horror with their dispair.” With these words, the group of heroes looked around them, but saw no spirits lurking. “Do not worry”, Thorin continued, “they will show themselves to you soon enough, and you can even talk with them. It is part of their fate to remain among the living and add their despair to ours as we try to survive and keep the tainted, twisted warriors of Selenys at bay.”
Dremnin heard the despair in Thorin’s voice, and saw it reflected in the faces of those present. Filled with the fires of hope granted by Floranuus, he said to Thorin, “You can’t just give up all hope, for surely there is a way to victory.” The smith looked back at Dremnin and responded, “There is perhaps a way, but we have little metal here for the making of metal armor, so all we can find goes mostly into making weapons for self-defense. We could muster an attack as a diversion for her minions, to allow you and your fellows to attack Selenys. We would probably die in the process, but that must be our fate.” This fatalism stirred Dremnin to speak, and he looked over at Ardor for support, then said, “But surely we have been sent here for a purpose. If no one has arrived in centuries, and then we six arrive anew, don’t you see? This is a sign… a sign of hope for you and the beings who remain. Do not speak of dying on a pyre as you fight, but rather fill your spirits with the hope of an exit from this place along with the destruction of Selenys.”
Thorin paused to consider Dremnin’s words, and said, “Yes, you may be right. I have even been working for years on fashioning a suit of armor… for whom I have no idea, but if it fits one of you, I give it to you that you may better succeed in your task.” With a smile, Dremnin offered, “Well, Master Thorin, if the armor actually fits one of us, then surely you must see that you have not been abandoned by the Passions, but instead have been preparing the way for your deliverance from this unholy place. Years of work… preparing for the armor of freedom to be worn by someone yet to come… someone who may now be sitting among us.” Dremnin looked for any sign of hope to be rekindled in the dwarven smith, and was rewarded by a smile. “Perhaps you speak truly… I will think on this.” The smith arose from his seat among the newcomers and said, “Please rest and refresh yourselves from your journey and your battle. I must go and think.” And with that, the master smith walked into a tunnel and was gone.
The possibilities of help now seemed greater, and there was even the chance to work with the spirits to learn and advance their adept circles in this place. With full bellies and quenched thirsts, the heroes were given a place to rest… the future held many secrets to learn.
Dremnin, Scout Adept
(To Be Continued…)