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The Mouth of the Sleeper
A Downward Spiral

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #06

Synopsis

1st Day of Tarsakh in the Year of the Sudden Journey
Battling at the summit of the white face adorned hill in the Coilwood, the heroes manage to overcome a force of orcs and the reappearance of strange black creatures. Exploring the domed chambers within they try to open a secret door, only to find that a statue does the work for them, revealing hungry ghouls!

For a chapter summary please see Chapter #10 Summary.

For an appendix detailing the locations of “The Mouth of the Sleeper” and a full map, please see Chapter #10 Appendix.

Cast List

Khalin Grundokri

7th Level Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere

7th Level Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward

7th Level Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit

7th Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Sunday 1st June 2014 and is expected to be completed by the end of Sunday 28th June 2014.

Players are expected to be able to post at least once a day.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin bent over double, his arm slung over the nearest chain as he tried to free his mind from the dizzying pain. Gradually his wits began to clear and he looked over his shoulder at the group and particularly at Beltak who appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks.

‘Five minutes,’ the dwarf wheezed. ‘Keep alert, we’ve made enough noise here for now.‘

He looked at the two doorways and his heart sank as he saw the portcullises in each of the archways.

‘At least they could have opened,’ he grumbled.

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The group had caught their breath, and Khalin was starting to feel himself again. The dwarf examined the portcullises.

‘Reinforcements could arrive any time. We need to find out what they’re hiding in this place, and quickly. Zero,’ he beckoned the rogue over, ‘any tricks to open these, or are we going to have to just…’ the dwarf paused, almost grimacing, ‘pull the chains?’

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‘Well,’ Zero said, patting the sturdy portcullis and examining the edges, ‘looks to me like there’s no way to reset the trap.’

He gripped the bars and tried to lift the gate; a rather half-hearted effort that still left him red in the face. ‘Looks like a job for you, fellas,’ he said, stepping aside obligingly.

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Tradden, now feeling only a little shaky after his recent exertions, took to the stage.

‘Please, please — allow me, ladies and gentleman,’ he said as he strode forwards, rolling up his sleeves.

Khalin’s eyes took to the heavens for the upteenth time. ‘Perhaps an attractive assistant is in order… but you only have me, lad!’

‘Why, thank you, my good dwarf — that should only make this easier!

With that, the dwarf and human got a good hold of the portcullis and heaved together, Khalin trying to support the weight whilst Tradden pushed upwards.

[Aid Another]

[Khalin Strength Check: 1d20+6: 16] - success!

[Tradden may add +2 to his Strength Check]

For a moment the gate started to rise — slowly but steadily.

[Tradden Strength Check: 1d20+7+2: 18] - failure!

For a moment it looked as though the sinew and muscle of man and dwarf would win out, but there was a sudden clang as the whole gate dropped back down, Tradden having lost his grip at a crucial moment.

The tall human took a moment to get his breath back, hands on knees. ‘No… good… too heavy.’

‘Aye, even after a long rest and all of us on it that might prove difficult — and we don’t have the luxury of such time anyway,’ Khalin added, brushing his hands together. ‘Kireth — any thoughts?’

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‘Plenty,’ responded the half-elf staring blankly at Tradden, ‘and yet regularly you still manage to utterly dumbfound me.’

Tradden, who was by now far too familiar with Kireth’s dry sarcasm, merely nodded in the direction of the portcullis. ‘Very well,’ sighed the mage as he walked over to examine it.

‘Well, clearly we are not lifting it, and breaking, though possible, will take too long. Hmm, yes, ok. Between it is.’

The mage moved behind Zero, knocking the rogue for a moment before patting him on the back, and then slowly wandered up towards the portcullis.

‘This may take a few minutes, please amuse yourselves,’ he uttered as he began to concentrate upon the iron bars.

[Shrink]

[Kireth Arcana Check: 1d20+12: 26] - success!

[Iron Portcullis shrinks to 25% of its original size for 12 hours]

[Zero loses 1 gemstone]

The rest of the group took a moment to sit and relax, breaking out some of the dried rations they had brought along with them over the Stonemarch. Kireth continued to concentrate upon the portcullis, tracing the bars with a sparkling powder, like tiny gemstones shimmering with the torchlight.

After a few minutes there was a soft groaning from the iron, a low vibrant sound, and dust began to fall from the ceiling above the bars. Unlike the deadfall in the forest, the transition between a large portcullis and a tiny one was instant and accompanied by the crack of stonework and a screech of iron. The iron clattered down onto the stone floor with a crash and as the dust settled, the way to the doors was clear.

The mage’s power was growing.

Kireth stood back and brushed his robes clear of the dust. ‘All yours,’ he stated.

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Zero patted the side of his pack for a couple of moments, a scowl passing his face briefly. He seemed as though he were about to say something, but thought better about it and simply strode forwards, passing Kireth with an arched eyebrow and questioning stare.

The doors in front of the rogue were much like the others they had seen so far through the chambers, large and foreboding, strong and solid. The stonework was carved well, if but simple, and the smooth surface at least gave Zero something to rest on whilst he listened for any noise beyond.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 23] - success!

The rogue kept his ear patiently against the stonework, his left hand raised outwards at Tradden, indicating for the young fighter to keep quiet. Tradden hadn’t said anything yet, but the rogue thought it wisest to stem the babble before it even started.

After a few moments he let his hand fall and straightened up, confident that there were no undue noises beyond the doorway. He then started to check the cracks of the door for any signs of tampering, traps, or unusual locks.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 29] - success!

Finding none, Zero let a smile cross his lips, and turned back towards the group. ‘Looks clear to me,’ he said, his smile disappearing as he remembered the sudden flood of rotting blood spraying over him from the chest in one of the previous rooms. He backed away a little. ‘Should open just fine,’ he said, moving behind Khalin and nodding the dwarf towards the doors. ‘Just fine.’

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‘Thank you both,’ said Khalin affably, his mood brightening as it looked like some genuine progress might be made. The dwarf was keen for the group to complete their business and be on their way before reinforcements arrived.

Wasting no more time the dwarf placed a strong hand on each door and pushed firmly. The entrance swung back revealing a stone passage bending down into darkness to the left a few feet ahead.

Nodding to the others as he unhooked Aecris once more, the warlord led the group forward, Tradden quickly dropping into step next, and Kireth and Zero falling in behind, with the weary Beltak at the rear.

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The steps were deep and spiralled around widdershins in a tight circle, making progress slow and careful.

Along the outer wall at regular intervals were small iron brackets at head height for the humans, presumably for torches, though none remained within the rusting holds.

Khalin counted the revolutions as they descended, trying to judge the depth and their location. After a couple of full turns he judged them to be about level with the bottom of the dome, on the floor where the other stairs to the south of the balcony had left, but there was no entrance, the steps continuing to stretch down into darkness.

[Zero Passive Perception: 21] - success!

As Khalin continued to wind himself down the steps Zero stopped after the second turn, sniffing the air, and then rubbing the smooth stone to his right.

‘Erm, there’s a door here,’ he suggested. ‘Cut into the stone, quite clever, really. Maybe it leads to the bottom of the dome?’

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There was no quick answer from the dwarf, so Zero slipped to the side and pressed his ear against the unseen door.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 18] - success!

He tried one ear, then the other, but couldn’t hear a thing from the other side.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11: 21] - success!

With a quick search of the cracks that he had seen in the stonework, ones that had betrayed the door’s existence, he confirmed that the door was clear.

‘Secret doors mean secrets,’ he smiled. ‘I like secrets.’

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Khalin’s instinct was that the secret door might not be of significance. But those same instincts had betrayed him with the chain above. Halting he saw the expectant look in Zero’s eyes.

‘Very well, let us see,’ the dwarf nodded, indicating with a gesture that the rogue should have a look.

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With a glint in his eye Zero turned back to the door and gave the wall a push. The surface gave way to a small portal, that perhaps Tradden may have to stoop through, as it silently slid open.

Beyond was a dark corridor, less than half a dozen feet wide, strands of tiny webs glistening in the torchlight from behind the rogue’s shoulder. Tiny spiders scuttled across the webs to escape the brightness.

Zero strained his eyes. ‘Hmm, it only seems to go a short way, I think. Ends in a wall.’

He turned back to the others. ‘I bet you five silver it ends in another secret,’ he winked.

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Khalin was still not convinced, but Zero wasn’t usually this enthusiastic about dark, cramped passages. With a half-frown the dwarf peered into the tunnel from beyond the rogue.

‘Hmm, would you like the honour then?’ he suggested, again indicating the entrance with a wave of his arm.

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A little of the smile eroded from Zero’s face as the rogue gulped softly and turned back to face the small tunnel. He shrugged his shoulders, though, straightened his back, and stepped into the passage.

Brushing the webs aside with care he slowly made his way towards the far wall, testing each footstep carefully and checking the walls and ceiling as he went. Within moments he was at the end and the rest of the group murmured amongst each other.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 18] - success!

Zero held a hand up to the others for silence and listened intently to the wall, a frown passng his face.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11: 28] - success!

A few taps on the stonework with a tool fished from one of his pockets and the smile returned to his face.

‘Secrets within secrets, eh?’ he whispered to himself before turning back to the others. ‘Looks like there’s a door. Shall we?’

Without waiting for the reply, Zero pushed against the stonework. With a short, low rumble the stones slid backwards, opening up into a dim chamber. The rogue peeked his head out and his smile disappeared.

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The chamber was not what Zero had expected. Secret doors usually led to exciting secrets, but this pair of portals appeared to lead to nothing other than some sort of abandoned storeroom.

A musty smell dominated the room, a mixture of disuse and rot and the cabbage-like aroma of cheap lamp oil. The dim flames of lamps cast shadows all around the room, some fifty feet across, dancing within the alcoves where the remains of several wooden constructions lay under films of dust.

Just in front of the rogue was the remains of a wooden ballista, its struts and stanchions slumped and loose, its ropes frayed and broken, and its iron braces rusted and dull.

Directly across from Zero were another pair of double stone doors, closed against whatever lay beyond.

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Khalin’s eyebrows rose in surprise as Zero pushed open the second secret doorway. Hurrying along the passage he beckoned Kireth and Tradden to follow.

‘Good work!’ he encouraged the rogue with a clap on the back as he emerged alongside the human, hoping his friend’s curiousity and boldness might be rewarded.

The contraptions within looked fascinating. As both an artisan and a soldier the dwarf regarded the machines with some interest.

[Khalin Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+5: 22] - success!

The contraptions were aged and broken, but were obviously once of sound construction and elegant design. Beams and levers were slotted together — where they were still whole — with carefully carved joints and reinforced with filagree iron. These were not rushed pieces, wooden trunks lashed together with hemp, they had been made with care, attention, and by craftsmen.

There were just over half a dozen, two of which appeared to be made to fire long bolts, perhaps even six feet in length, the others to catapult stones and rocks. None looked as though they could be fixed readily, although a craftsman could probably repair them given time.

Based upon the quality of the workmanship and their current state Khalin judged them to be a few centuries old — the wood itself gave most of that game away.

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Khalin quickly moved to explore the extents of the room, wondering whether the doors led back to the central chamber. He pondered whether there must be another way out if the machines were to be used effectively.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 16] - success!

The room was an odd shape, ideally suited to the size of the wooden machines, but would perhaps also have served as stables at one time, the alcoves large enough to house a horse or mount in some comfort.

All of the alcoves appeared to end in solid stone and the only exit other than the secret door they had come through was the pair of stone double doors.

The doors seemed similar to the others they had opened so far and judging by the size of this room would likely lead out to the bottom of the domed chamber from whence they had entered this maze in the first place.

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Zero jumped around the back of Khalin as the dwarf pondered the contraptions. The rogue had a smile back upon his lips and his step was light as he bounded towards the double doors.

With cat-like grace he paused just before the doors and chose one side seemingly at random, before pressing his ear to the stone.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 28] - success!

Raising an eyebrow to himself he began to examine the crack in the door and the smooth stone handles.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 19] - success!

He shrugged lazily back to the others, suggesting that there was nothing untoward with the doors. Tradden responded with a thrust of his sword, urging the rogue to go through.

Zero turned back to the doors and with a theatrical flourish pulled on the handles, opening both doors at once.

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A gust of brisk air whipped at the rogue’s cloak as the doors swung inwards allied with a flurry of snowflakes, large and radiant in the torchlight. Zero shivered involuntarily as he stared out into the gloom.

They were, as Khalin had surmised, at the bottom of the dome, underneath the “mouth” and the balcony circling above. Snow slowly fell through the gaping hole in the ceiling, whipped and thrown around by a chilling breeze that circled around the chamber.

Above the balcony the carvings could be seen in relief, some areas almost aglow with the lustrous black stone. Pinpricks of golden light reflected from the torches cast down from the top of the dome to reveal the tapestry of the stars, set in stone rather than the sky, the black void normally seen in the southern skies flecked with the golden light of a spiral. Zero shivered once more.

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The snows did not seem to be settling within the base of the dome, the flakes melting once they hit the stone floor. In amongst a few shards of white rubble the group saw the spikes, arranged in an eye from what they could remember from the balcony above, an orc still and lifeless at its centre, its blood still dripping into the channels that extended outwards at three points.

Khalin quickly strode further towards the centre of the chamber, surveying the exits. The balcony was at least a dozen feet above him, too high to grab and climb up, but there were a pair of open doors to the south and another pair, these closed, to the west.

The southern doors led to where Khalin guessed they had briefly descended before choosing the eastern passage above.

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With a silent gesture Khalin nodded Zero towards the open doors. The dwarf surmised that was where he had briefly descended to from the balcony, but wanted to make sure.

As the rogue stalked away, the warlord looked at the spikes and the swirling snow. Whether it wasn’t settling due to heat from below or just the warmer confines of the dome he could not tell. For certain it was not settling on the corpse at the centre of the spikes, the snow simply melting and joining with the drips of blood to run away into the channels towards the walls of the dome.

Slowly, he ushered the group towards the western doors.

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Zero made his way with care towards the open doors to the south. He did not take a torch, and needed his eyes to adjust to the gloom before he went too far.

Judging by the flakes of snow that had made it this far south and their melted remains he guessed the doors had been open for some time. Slipping through the crack without moving them he peered into the dark beyond.

Not far from the doors the corridor stopped at an intersection and Zero crept up one side and stuck his head around the corner briefly. Looking to the east he could just about make out the shape of a spiral stair heading upwards, probably to the balcony. Back to the west he could just about make out the rubble of a collapsed roof, the corridor blocked and impassible.

[Zero Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+4: 8] - failure!

He scratched his head for a moment and then made his way back to the group.

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With a brief look and shrug at the rest of the group as he reappeared, the rogue almost automatically headed to the closed doors. He was getting used to this ritual now; listen, prod and poke, open. It was getting difficult not to get too used to it, and start making mistakes. Like the chest in the rooms above with the blood. The dark and foul blood.

He shook the thought from his mind and pressed his ear against the doors.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 27] - success!

He was starting to get used to the silence behind the doors. However, he knew that he still had to be careful, and ran his fingers along the cracks and handles to be on the safe side.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 31] - success!

‘Clear!’ he whispered back to Khalin and the rest, and then turned to push open the doors.

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As the doors opened, Zero’s faint smile disappeared and was replaced by a grimace as the smell hit his nostrils. The stench of faeces and perhaps worse assaulted him and gradually wafted across to the others.

Waving his hand before his face he gestured back for Khalin to take a look, the dwarf perhaps more resilient to such odours in the rogue’s estimation.

Khalin moved forwards, wrinkling his nose and pushed the torch into the room.

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The torch flames danced about, the flame brightening a little as the dwarf held it into the chamber. The room was a mess, to say the least, yellowing straw and rotting evergreen boughs lay across the floor, interspersed with mounds of some creature’s deposits. The stink was intense, as though the room had been closed for a while, with nowhere for the smell to go.

Nothing moved inside and Khalin assumed the place had been empty for some time — the remains of what appeared to be stalls surrounded the room, perhaps once being a stable. The stench reminded him of the “stable” in the ruined keep, where the hobgoblins had kept their carrion crawlers that pulled their carts. They had fought one of the beasts and he had no compulsion to want to fight another.

Within the straw and mess upon the floor were plenty of bones, some looked like animal bones, but the warlord shuddered when he thought he spotted human ones too. He drew in a large breath from the dome-side of the doors and moved into the room a little more.

Quickly moving from stall to stall, carefully avoiding anything upon the floor, he scanned the room for exits, but found none.

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Khalin moved back out into the dome and pulled the doors shut once more. Glad to be back out in the fresher air he gulped a couple of breaths and then turned to the others.

‘Stables, I think,’ he uttered, ‘They look like the right size for horses, but I guess that something else has been in there for a while, a carrion crawler, perhaps?’

Tradden furrowed his brow, thinking. ‘How would they get it out, though?’

‘Perhaps that blocked tunnel back there,’ suggested Zero, thumbing his hand back towards the south, ‘used to lead out?’

Khalin grumbled into his beard. ‘Well, whatever used to be in there isn’t there any longer and there’s nothing else that way. Back the way we came and down?’

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For the first time in a while the group seemed unsure of which way to tread, so Khalin led the way back to the dome in silence, beckoning only with Aecris for the others to follow.

With a brief look at the darkness from the “mouth” up above he quickly crossed the chamber, taking care to avoid the carved channels once more. The others followed just as quietly, the march across the barren lands and the battle with the statue finally taking the toll on their energy.

Passing through the room with the wooden contraptions he slid through the secret door and into the tight passage, Zero close on his heels. At the junction with the stone staircase he pointed down with his craghammer.

‘Right, we go down next,’ he whispered to the others. ‘Zero, you lead the way again, my lad. Tradden, you watch our backs.’

Zero quickly checked his tools and weapons were safe and headed down into the gloom below.

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The stone staircase led the group around two and a half turns before spilling them out into short corridor, much like any of the other corridors. A couple of dozen feet in front of them was a junction, and Zero popped his head out briefly to look either way.

To the north was a faint glow of torchlight emanating from somewhere beyond a half opened door another couple of dozen feet away. To the south, just beyond the junction was a large black door, eerily familiar stone to that of the balcony carvings in what appeared to be another bas relief, unintelligible at this distance.

Khalin was about to instruct the rogue when Zero shushed him with a scowl.

‘Don’t you hear that?’ whispered the rogue, pointing towards the northern corridor.

Khalin shook his head and exchanged puzzling glances with Tradden, who was trying his best to peer over the dwarf’s shoulder.

‘The moans?’ Kireth said softly.

Zero nodded. ‘Sometimes there are moans, sometimes there is mumbling or chanting, or something. Sounds like its human, though,’ he continued, with a look of some relief.

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Tradden puffed out his cheeks, clearly exasperated and patience growing thin with the skulking around.

‘C’mon,’ he rasped, ‘let’s follow these noises then.’

Keeping his longsword drawn and his torch held high with his shortsword he headed north towards the open door, beckoning for the others to follow.

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The others followed quietly behind, the dwarf for once bringing up the rear at point, with Zero behind the young fighter, cocking his head and trying to make sense of the noises. Kireth appeared calm in the centre of the group, his face lost in the shadows of his cowl. Beltak looked glad for the light of Khalin’s torch at the rear, looking about and trying to hear the noises the others had heard.

Tradden only stopped at the open door for the briefest of moments, ducking his head around to check nothing was lurking behind before lithely stepping through the frame and moving further along the passage.

‘Junction,’ he whispered back. ‘I can hear the noises now, too. To our left I think — there’s a bit of light that way too.

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The group joined Tradden at the junction, looking left and right. There was indeed light coming from the west about thirty feet further on — the corridor opening up into some form of chamber.

The light was dim, but cast eerie shadows along the corridor, outlining a number of doors, each shut, on both the northern and southern sides.

To the east the corridor headed off into blackness.

‘Left it is, then,’ muttered Khalin quietly. ‘Careful of those doors, though. Zero, see if you can hear if there’s anything on the other side of them.

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The group edged towards the west, Zero leading the way once more. Keeping as quiet as he could he nudged up towards the closest door on the southern side of the corridor.

He was about to put his ear to the door before he realised there was a small barred window at a comfortable head height. Cautiously, he peered through, before calling Tradden across to throw some light through the bars.

As the flame lit up the inside of the room it became obvious quickly that it was some form of cell. The room was barely half-a-dozen feet across, and the same wide, with the remains of rusting manacles attached to the far wall and detritus upon the floor that made the rogue shiver.

‘Bones?’ whispered Tradden as the rogue backed away from the bars and the young fighter pushed in to look. ‘Right size to be human, as well, I reckon.‘

Tradden turned the handle of the door before Zero could stop him, but the door refused to budge.

‘Locked,’ he rasped.

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A loud, yet incoherent gargle came from the chamber beyond, tearing the pair’s eyes away from the cells and back to the softly lit chamber beyond.

‘Movement,’ Khalin murmured, noticing the shadows dance along the walls and a dark silhouette within the room writhe. He clutched Aecris tightly and edged aside the wall towards the opening.

Slowly making his way towards the opening the dwarf began to see shapes and forms settle into place as his keen eyes picked out features within the dim light.

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Past the cells in the corridor the route opened up into a large chamber, about the same size as the common room far above. Stunted black candles lined the edge of the room, quivering with a sickly light, throwing only just enough light for the warlord to see, despite his dwarven heritage.

Objects were only half-formed in the gloom, but Khalin’s stomach turned as he recognised the instruments of torture, quickly becoming a common yet unwanted occurance. However, it was the figure in the centre of the room that grasped the attention of all that looked.

Seated upon a short stool in the middle of the chamber was a bald man — probably a human — his back facing the door. Even in the dim light Khalin could see he was stripped to the waist, his back gleaming with a bloody mess of lacerations.

The man was rocking back and forth upon the chair, wordlessly babbling, his arms held limply by his side, caught by long chains stretching to the floor. In front of him stood some sort of lectern, bearing a large open book scrawled with messy writing.

Suddenly the moaning man shook his head vigorously, making Khalin and Zero jump, shaking from side to side as if denying something, before thrashing around and facing the group.

His face was a mess, covered in crusted cuts around the eye sockets, but the thing which ran a shiver down Zero’s back were the eyes — they were missing. His eyes had been torn out, leaving black pits that stared sightlessly.

The group exhaled a collective breath as the figure turned back around, seemingly as if he had not seen them at all.

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Khalin looked at the sorry figure with concern, but turned to Zero, lowering his voice. ‘We need to check whoever was tormenting this fellow is not nearby with a squad of goblins.’

He nodded at the perimeter before stepping forward, nevertheless out of the beleaguered man’s reach.

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‘That’s a good point,’ Zero muttered to himself. ‘Where are the exits?’ he added quizically.

Zero eventually turned his head slowly towards Khalin, his eyes still upon the figure in the room. He then nodded his head towards the room.

‘Go on, then. Don’t you want to go and talk to him?’ he whispered. ‘Looks like there’s no other way out from here.’

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Khalin glanced back towards Tradden. ‘Watch our backs,’ he hissed.

The dwarf then stepped tentatively forwards again, holding his torch high and clearing his throat.

The torch illuminated the room a little more and the warlord’s heart sank as he confirmed the instruments of torture and the cells lining the northern and southern walls.

On the far western wall was a large iron cage, devoid of a rotting corpse or bleached skeleton, but populated with half a dozen starved crows, their black eyes staring impassionately at the flames that Khalin held high. They made no noise, but watched intently.

Khalin hailed the fellow before him. ‘Easy! You’re amongst friends. What happened to you? Who is responsible for your torture?’

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For a moment the figure continued to babble, his voice rising and falling, until the group suddenly realised they were in silence. The figure stopped moving, the chains clanking loudly upon the stone floor as it went limp.

Slowly it turned around, its eyeless face seeking out the voice of Khalin.

It croaked back at the dwarf in a broken, but understandable common, ‘Who speaks?’ it asked, ‘Who stands before me?’

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‘I am Khalin…’ the dwarf stopped abruptly, once more wary of the stigma attached to his tarnished family name. ‘…Khalin of kel-Morndin,’ he finished. ‘Four companions are with me.’

The warlord glanced at the others, apparently happy to let them introduce themselves. ‘We are no friend of the orcs who dwell here, and I presume you aren’t either.’

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The withered man went quiet for a moment, his blackened pits fixed upon a point just above the warlord’s head. He sniffed, almost violently, jerking his head with each intake of air.

‘A dwarf. Not the last?’ he croaked mysteriously, his dark gaze dropping and levelling directly at Khalin.

He then took another sniff, followed by another, wheezing after each lungful. ‘And a warden, and perhaps a shadow and a light. And…’ a final sniff resulted in a violent wracking cough.

When the fit passed the man’s face looked at Khalin and the thin mouth tightened. ‘What is your purpose here, dwarf?’

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Khalin let the curious comment about “the last” pass for now.

‘We seek to rid this place of evil, lest it spread to the lands around.’ The dwarf pressed on, a little irked that the answers only seemed to be flowing one way. ‘I’ve given you my name, perhaps you’ll share yours? And I ask you again, who imprisoned you here?’

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The figure rattled its chains as it moved around on its stool, changing its position so that it sat away from the desk and book and more towards the group, still sniffing the air and cocking its head like a dog’s.

‘Name? Name?’ the rasping voice cried. ‘Yes, I suppose I have one, or had one once.’

‘Well, why don’t you share it with us while we get you free,’ replied the dwarf, nodding to Zero to help him with the poor fellow’s shackles.

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Zero tentatively moved forwards as Khalin nodded at him encouragingly. The rogue was unsure, holding out his hands in a conciliatory gesture at the man.

The figure began to mumble incoherently as Zero closed in and then began thrashing, pulling at its chains and starting a din. Zero leapt backwards, taken a little by surprise, as the man continued to spasm and yank at the chains, the rusting metal biting deep into his wrists.

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‘You’ll have to keep still a moment while we unchain you,’ implored Khalin, mildly amused as his comrade jumped back in alarm.

It took a few moments for the wretch to calm itself, the cries slowly turning to mumbles, and the effort of yanking on the chains subsiding into silence.

Khalin approached once more. ‘Hold still,’ the dwarf urged as he examined the chains.

‘So, you were about to tell us about your predicament?’ he prompted once more as the warlord beckoned Tradden to join him and help calm the figure.

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As the pair approached the man began to tense against the chains, sniffing the air where Tradden approached and then back towards Khalin. He then seemed to stop, locked rigid as if in pain before letting out a howl of equal measures of anguish and anger.

‘The last, the last!’ he screamed, ‘and Ayver’s ward.’

The chains started to strain and shriek against their metal pins in the floor.

‘I know you, you’re no friend to Skauril. You’re one of them! One of those the Sleeper told me!’

Seemingly with no thought to his own safety the figure began violently thrashing against the chains, cutting into his wrists as spittle flew from his lips.

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Khalin stopped once more, shocked by the display, but confident the chains would hold. He raised his voice. ‘So you know of Skauril? We thought him dead, and by Moradin’s beard we’ll see him so again!’

The warlord paused, waiting for the wretch to calm down once more before attempting to free him again. He beckoned a reluctant Zero forward to examine the shackles before continuing. ‘Why am I “the last”?’

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The figure did not begin to calm down this time, however, lurching from side to side until it managed to turn back towards the table. It pointed towards the bloody book in front of him. ‘In there, in there!’ it screamed as it tried to raise its hands towards its head.

Khalin turned to Kireth. ‘What do you think?’ He stepped towards the book to examine it with a nod to the mage.

As Khalin stepped forwards the man swivelled around quicker than the dwarf would have guessed. ‘In here, in here!’ it shouted as it tried helplessly to raise its arms to its head before its eye sockets exploded outwards in a shadow of blackness and two amorphous creature appeared before the group.

The things had black oily skin and long limbs below and oversized heads with snakelike black tongues. They moved forward in tandem as the man screamed once more.

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Scene
Completed

End

[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #08…]