The Earth-Fire Forge – The Foundry
From the Private Annals of the Church of Pelor.
Transcribed by Beltak, Scribe to His Radiant Servant, Tremak the Plush.
The 14th Day of Ches in the Year of the Sudden Journey.
Still the story of the Isle of the Mists continues, though whether I will be able to complete the tale tonight I do not know. The adventuurous pair, Khalin and Tradden, had found a chamber below the ruin of the Tower of the Mists, and had descended into the soot-laden area. However, a strange creature greeted them – one that didn’t appear to be too friendly!
The strange creature’s insectoid legs carried it’s bulk quickly across the chamber, soot floating up into the air, its feelers, once twitching, now laid back against its body. The charge carried it straight towards Khalin and it opened its maw in anticipation, catching the dwarf by surprise and biting down at his waist. As the creature’s fangs bit down and through Khalin’s armour, the pair heard a most unusual sound, as the metal pieces on the scale mail creaked and groaned. When the creature withdrew, Khalin glanced down for a moment, and saw rings of rust extending from the puncture marks in the metal. Then the pain hit him – a great roar of fire in his side as the monster let go, as blood oozed out of the wound.
The creature’s feelers shivered along the length of it’s body and it eyed the dwarf’s mail with glinting black eyes.
Tradden reacted quickest, and brought bot of his sword’s to bear, trying to cut the creature’s legs from under it with his frost longsword. He felt his sword hit with a crunching blow, but to his horror he heard the same creaking and popping sound, and the frost blade began to speckle with orange dots.
Khalin bellowed loudly, the pain in his side was intense, but he brought up his hammer and shield and grimaced at the creature in a heroic effort. Thinking more about his fellow than himself, he raised his shield once more to defend his comrade, and then warlord unleashed another blood-curdling roar as he struck back at the beast.
The warhammer crashed into the beast’s strange hide with a crunch, splitting the carapace, and yellow and orange flames danced down Khalin’s arms and covered it with seething fire. It’s feelers twitched wildly and an eerie shriek came from it’s mouth.
The strike was true and the beast recoiled for a moment. In his haze of pain, Khalin quickly realised this creature seemed to be something from the tales of the old dwarven miners – a creature that lived deep in the mountains and consumed metal itself, rusting it first to help digest it – a Rust Monster. With ore and metal plentiful in mines, the creatures were drawn to the dug shafts to feed, but there was nothing much left in here – surely it would be after whatever contained the greatest degree of metal. Unfortunately, this would be the armour tightly strapped to Khalin’s body.
He weighed up the situation in an instant, then, as befit his headstrong instincts, hurled his hefty metal hammer over and past the beast in the hope the metal-craving monster would follow it. The hammer crashed into the table, sending clouds of soot into the air.
The creature seemed hurt and injured by the attacks, but also seemed determined to continue with its lust for the metal on Khalin’s armour, regardless of the hammer thrown above its head. It didn’t even seem to have noticed the weapon’s flight.
With a lurch towards Khalin’s now empty hand, the creature mauled his arm, tearing through his armour, and leaving concentric circles of rust spreading from the punctures, interweaved with dwarven blood.
The creature seemed to have forgotten all about the warrior Tradden in it’s lust for the dwarven mail, and as it reared up to snap at Khalin’s arm it presented an easy target for Tradden to attack. The young fighter struck down with his sword, slicing into the creature’s back and spilling some of its blood.
Tradden then went into a flurry of blades, trying to get the thing off his friend, but the rusting effect seemed to have dulled his blade’s keen edge as many of the blows simply slid of its platelike exterior.
As Tradden attacked, Khalin bellowed a string of colourful dwarven expletives. There seemed to be little left of the dwarf’s armour, and his hammer now lay yards away. It had been an audacious gamble, but one that reminded Khalin why he wasn’t a betting man. Perhaps only moments from losing consciousness, and perhaps even his life, the dwarf drew his dagger and hacked at the face and mandibles of the rust monster, but to no effect – his skill with the dagger not matching that of his hammer.
The rust monster, oblivious to Khalin’s pain opened its jaws wide once more to satiate its appetite on the dwarf’s armour. The jaws snapped through the metal, spilling scales over the floor, and as the pieces fell into the soot so did Khalin, the blood loss to much to take.
As the creature pounced onto the spilled metal, Tradden struck as hard as he could, slicing through the back of the creature’s neck, and, with a satisfying squelch, parted the head from the body.
Sheathing his swords, Tradden rushed over to his fallen companion, kicking the head of the creature with his leather boot into the darkness around the edge of the chamber.
His friend was in a bad way – he needed the attentions of either a priest or an apothecary that was for sure, but right now he needed first aid. The young fighter rolled up his sleeves, tried to remember all he could about his rudimentary healing training as well as dwarven anatomy. Diving into his pack he grabbed what clean water, alcohol, and bandages he could find and quickly stopped the blood flow, binding the nasty wounds on Khalin’s waist and arms as well as he could. The dwarf was still in bad shape, and would probably scold him for wasting good wine, but at least he was stable for now.
Tradden sat back and collected his thoughts – Khalin was now breathing, although uneasily, with a coarse wheezing sound, and the young fighter guessed that he would live. Moving him wasn’t much of an option at the moment, it might just repoen the bandages that he’d applied. Best to rest for a while, assuming this place was safe.
Tradden stood up, picked up the torch still smouldering on the floor, and had a tentative look around. He wanted to establish whether there was any likely remaining danger from other creatures. With a good look round Tradden determined that there were no creatures on, under, or beside things in the room. He also looked to whether there were any other entry or exit points from this chamber, or just the one they had used to come down, but here didn’t appear to be any other exits or entrances to the room.
Content that the immediate danger was over, Tradden went over to the table. He methodically and carefully picked up each item and placed them on the floor to one side, as close to how they had been laid out as he could. He then took his time dragging the table to the entrance way where they had come in, and tipped it on its end, pushing it to barricade the bottom of the stairs as best he could. It wouldn’t stop anything determined, but it would at least stop anything, or anyone, sneaking in or surprising them. He didn’t intend to sleep for the next few hours, so he would be ready.
That done, he spent the following hours investigating the chamber and tending to Khalin. Thankfully, the dwarf didn’t seem to be getting any worse, and there was no sign of fever or infection. He was just sleeping very, very soundly. The young fighter actually cheered up when the warlord started snoring loudly, as he took this as a good sign.
Between tending to his friend from time to time, Tradden managed to investigate a fair portion of the chamber.
He started with the light, intrigued with how the chamber was lit. Inspecting the alcoves he noticed that the flames that gave the chamber it’s eerie glow seemed to exist with no fuel, and weren’t hot. In fact, they didn’t give off any heat at all, Tradden being able to pass his hand through the flame at will.
Then he moved onto the piles of garbage on the floor – he figured it was the remains of the bizarre creature’s previous mealtimes. It clearly had a fancy for metals, but perhaps it had left non-metal items that might be of some worth? He had heard, for instance, of various types of armour that were not metal, but were just as strong. Books and parchments might also be mixed up in the detritus – he had time to make a thorough search, as distasteful as it may be.
There were no books or parchments in the garbage, although after a while Tradden stood back a distance from the pile and puzzled over how it was such a neat shape of a pile. Much of the leather or other materials was well preserved and would be quite serviceable if used for the right purpose.
He then took a look at the items that he had removed from the table that he had used as an impromptu barricade for the door. They appeared instantly odd to him. Many were pieces of metal, which were a big surprise to the young fighter considering the creature that had been loose in the chamber. Most were unfathomable, although perhaps Khalin with his tinkering background, or more definitely Caldring might shed some light on them. One item did catch Tradden’s eye, however, was a chain shirt, sparkling even in the soft glow. He had never seen such workmanship.
He continued to ponder the conundrum of why the strange creature had not eaten the metal items from the table as he moved across to the bookcase to inspect the contents. Most of the books appeared to be in excellent condition, strangely preserved, although a lot of them made no sense to the young fighter. Many contained diagrams, which helped somewhat, depicting construction of armour or weaponry, or at least that’s what Tradden assumed. Alas, none of them were treatises on martial prowess. The contents of the books were probably best left to Kireth to decipher.
He collected up as many pieces of Khalin’s armour as he could, as well as his dagger and hammer. Ensuring that no pieces touched any unnaffected bits of his own metal possessions, he took off his cloak and made a make-shift bag to keep them all in. Hopefully, Caldring could do something with them, but the young fighter feared the armour would be too far gone.
Finally, he went over to the strange gate-looking thing. He had been putting this off as it gave him the creeps, but he forced himself to have a look. The gate was the warmest place within the room and appeared to be a single sheet of metal (again confusing the youth) about ten feet wide and stretching almost the way up to the ceiling. Soot was heavier around the base of the gate and almost obscured a large lever to the left hand side. Tradden baulked from pulling it at this point, however tempting it was.
Eventually, he rested, had lunch and waited to see if Khalin was going to wake. He hoped he would, if for no other reason he didn’t fancy dragging the heavy fellow up the stairs, onto the boat and rowing back with no assistance.
After what seemed an eternity in the dim light, Khalin awoke with a snort. The dwarf padded his chest in panic for a moment, and then relaxed, taking his time to come round properly, and listened to Tradden’s recount of the battle and his subsequent exploration. After a few minutes he slowly got himself to his feet, if somewhat unsteadily, and waved away any offers of assistance from Tradden. Stubbornly ignoring the pain and the dizziness, the dwarf too began to poke around the room.
Khalin inspected the carcass of the beast. He showed it grudging respect – an impressive beast, a fellow subterranean dweller and appreciator of fine metals that it was. He had heard a couple of tales handed down over generations from some of the miners at Kel-Morndin about monsters similar to these. He’d thought they were scare-stories to keep the miners focused and concentration on what they were doing rather than true stories, but here was one such monster that fitted the bill. In the stories they were called rust monsters, and came hunting for metal to eat, somehow rusting it on touch to more easily digest the metal. The stories also told that if such a beast ate metal that had been imbued with magical power it may leave some of this power in the form of a special dust in its stomach for quite some time.
Khalin headed over to the table to inspect the various items there. Most were not that unusual to Khalin, he’d seen many similar trinkets in his past crafting life. A lot of the items were apprentice pieces for a smith – a jeweller by the looks of the style and shape of them, and a good one at that, although the pieces were mainly unfinished and basically worhtless. The metals were light and obviously some form of alloy, but Khalin was unsure of what sort. One piece did catch his eye, however, more for it’s unusual shape than anything else. The piece was made up of exceptionally thin wires of metal that to Khalin’s surprise were extremely strong and rigid. These wires, twelve in all, formed the outline of a block, each wire representing an edge of the block. The block was about two feet wide, by one foot high, and one foot deep. Excellent craftsmanship, but an unusual shape.
He then turned his attention to the rows of books, muttering uder his breath about finding maps. Many of the tomes were as Tradden had explained – techniques for crafting various pieces of armour, weaponry, or jewellery. To his dismay Khalin didn’t find any maps of the region, but did find one parchment with a map of the local area and numerous ink marks and lines. Khalin showed the parchment to Tradden, and between the pair they decided it appeared to be some form of tactical plan for the defence of the area – lines had been added for a defensive wall stretching from gorge wall to gorge wall and arrows and detail had been added to show to flow of combat troops. However, to what battle or when was not revealed. Khalin picked two or three of the tomes he thought best that Kireth may want to examine and put them to one side.
The dwarf inspected the fine armour that Tradden had found with an artisan’s eye, checking its workmanship and potential effectiveness, as well as sizing up which of the two of them it might best fit. The mail was a little tight around the sides for the dwarf, obviously meant for someone a little thinner. It didn’t appear to be fully finished, perhaps another prentice piece, but it was the construction that somehow worried the dwarf, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. He had never seen anything like it – the delicacy and finesse of the chain links were incredible and way beyond any artisan he had ever encountered. There was something about the piece that he didn’t like, though, something gnawing at the back of his mind as though the workmanship shouldn’t be possible in this world. He set the mail back down on the table and shuddered visibly.
Tradden geared up for the trip back to the boat whilst Khalin did his own inspections of the various contents of the chamber. As he did so, his gaze kept being drawn back to the lever next to the strange gate. The young fighter was also much heartened to see Khalin not only back on his feet, but excited about the contents of the room. He had grinned to himself as the dwarf flicked through some of the books, murmuring to himself about maps!
In short order the two started to plan their journey back and what would be taken, their packs and makeshift sacks filling up with the things they had agreed to take back with them, always mindful that the boat was only going to take so much!
The warlord quickly brought Tradden up to speed on the rumours of old regarding rust monsters and the potential gift that may lie inside. The dwarf rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully, trying to work out quite the best way to approach the problem, given the rusting effect that had manifested itself earlier – not to mention where the beast’s stomach or stomachs might be.
Khalin’s best guess was that the stomach would be where it would be expected to be on a normal mammal. He also assumed that now the creature was dead, that it’s rusting effects would probably no longer take effect. He uttered a soft plea to Moradin and then went to work slicing the belly of the beast open with his dagger. Putrid smells wafted into the room from the creature’s guts, and Tradden went quite pale, retiring to the far side of the room, by the gate and lever, muttering about checking something out. Khalin finished his work, with gore and ichor up to his elbows and finally sliced open the stomach.
To his disappointment the stomach was empty – no wonder the beast had been so ravenous to attack the dwarf so fiercely. Khalin’s brow creased into a now all-too-familiar scowl at the lack of treasure within the rust monster – his latest dream of gold popped. Still, it took a lot to keep the gregarious warlord’s spirit down, and presently, having wiped the goo and gore from his limbs, he rose and joined Tradden by the lever.
After a few moments, and some heated discussions, agreement was made for Tradden to pull the lever to see what would happen. The young fighter closed his eyes and pulled back on the metal.
As the lever clicked into place there was a satisfying clunk and then the grate of metal on metal echoed around the chamber, despite the dampening effect of the soot. A billow of soot puffed into the room from the far side of the gate from the lever and the pair could see the gate visibly moving sideways across the room on some form of inset rail.
The pair readied their weapons and fell into a martial stance, ready for whatever was behind the gate.
The gate inched inexorably across and both of the heroes could already feel the heat begin to rise in the chamber.
The pair edged across the room trying to get a better look at was was beyond the gate. They were greeted by a ruddy glow and a lot of heat. In the corner of the small annexe, seemingly clear of soot, Khalin spotted an anvil and a whole host of tools, gleaming in the flickering glow. As the gate moved fully across it seemed obvious to the dwarf – this was a forge! Not just any forge, but one powered by an earth-fire from deep below the tower.
Such incredible heat would be able to melt and mould and work so many metals, but what manner of man or beast would be able to work so close to such a fire?
At the back of the annexe was a huge fire grate with a number of shelves, troughs, levers and wheels. It seemed alive with the flickering glow, subdued by the grate. Khalin surmised that the right combination of the levers and wheels would release the full potential of the earth fire.
Khalin shuddered – one wrong move or turn of a wheel could spell disaster for them, and he motioned to Tradden to close the gate.
Tradden simply nodded, not fully understanding what was going on, but understanding enough that to make some form of mistake here could be fatal. He licked his lips and wiped the sweat from his brow, before pulling the lever the other way.
The pair only relaxed once the gate was fully back in place.
With all haste the pair started to ensure they’d gathered what they had found. Selected tomes from the bookcase were put into sacks alongside the strange chain mail wrapped in some of the larger pieces of leather from the rubbish pile. The parchment map was rolled and wrapped in some of the softer, more supple, leather from the rubbish pile and added to the sack. Tradden handed a sack containing the remains of Khalin’s armour to the dwarf, almost apologetically.
Khalin safely stowed some of the prentice pieces, including the odd wired one, into a further sack and then the pair looked at each other, before removing the table from in front of the door and headed back out into the fresh air above.
The journey back to Blackengorge was uneventful, if long. Heaving the sacks back to town took longer than the pair thought, and it was beyond dusk when they arrived at the gates.
With some intrigued looks from the guards they were ushered in and set straight to The Bronze Lion to share their bounty.