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The Mouth of the Sleeper
The Chained Eye

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #12

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 force open a secret door, and are besieged by a statue. Dusting themselves down they continue to explore further below and stumble upon a bloody figure. The eyeless figure seems to have more than thoughts in its head, spewing forth more black abominations but the heroes managed to overthrow them. Deciding to venture south, rather than risk the blade bridges they find to the east, the encounter a sprung trap, but the corpses of past victims appear to rise against them. After dispatching the hung victims and discovering parchment upon parchemnt, they return to the bridges and spring a trap, eventually overcoming a giant orb of a zombie with a missing eye.

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

8th Level Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere

8th Level Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward

8th Level Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit

8th Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Thursday 28th January 2016 and is expected to be completed by the end of Thursday 31st March 2016.

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

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

As the dust and noise finally died down, so too the two humans in the pit also lost the will to keep standing, and sank down into crumpled sitting positions.

Khalin, mindful that there was not a scratch on him, wisely said nothing at first, simply shaking off bits of undead orb from the finer detail of Aecris.

Similarly, Zero and Kireth, looking down from above, found there was nothing to say. The silence brought a chill, causing the half-elf and human to subconsciously snuggle slightly more into their hoods as they looked down into the pit.

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‘Alright,’ said Khalin, kindly, whilst stowing the hefty warhammer and replacing his shield onto his back. ‘We need to rest.’

Holding out a hand to Beltak, who shakily took it and got to his feet, murmuring some old prayer to Pelor under his breath, and then to Tradden, who rose more gingerly, but still quite stiffly, the warlord set out his plan.

‘Firstly, we get out of this pit.’ Hands on hips the dwarf looked up at the eastern side of the chamber. ‘Zero, perhaps you could check what’s through there? By Moradin, if there are any unfreindlies around they know we are here anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Who knows, there may be a roaring fire and a full larder that way…’

Realising the mirth was not striking a chord with anyone, Khalin quickly changed tone. ‘But be careful, Mr Uhlit, move like the ghost I know you can be.’

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‘I…’ exclaimed Zero, whirling his cloak around as he started to move off, stalking the edge of the pit, ‘…have no idea what you could be talking about.’

With that, the rogue feigned spitting on his hands and ungainly clambered over the edge of the pit. He swung a couple of times as though he were about to fall, and then slid down the side of the wall with a scrape and a cloud of dust, landing with a clump and an unsteady sway of his legs.

He frowned at Khalin then started to walk up the damaged blade, holding his arms out to balance himself, and nearly falling off the thing. Gradually walking and sliding up to the central column, he took the blade to the east, fortunately pointing near enough to the central archway to allow him access to the other pit.

‘I’ll just have to get across this bridge here,’ he called back to the others. With that, the rogue disappeared through the arch. Actually, Kireth noted that he didn’t disappear through the arch so much as he disappeared as soon as he hit the shadows cast by the wall. Impressive, although still ultimately parlour tricks compared to the power of real magic.

‘Shirak!’ the mage called as the rogue vanished and a spark of light softly illuminated the eastern chamber, just as it faded on Kireth’s staff. The light followed Zero away as the half-elf grew a wide smirk.

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‘Secondly,’ continued the warlord, ‘we head back the way we came and set up camp in the store area just above us. ‘Yes,’ he continued, heading off Tradden before the lad could even speak, ‘it isn’t as comfortable as the common area we found, but that is two levels up. The store area is dry, and we can make it comfortable enough. It also has two ways in and out, so we will not be cornered should anyone else be wandering around these halls. Perhaps Kireth can place one of those amazing wards on one side, making the guarding of the other side all that easier.’

The silence again suggested that no one was either minded, or in a position, to suggest otherwise.

‘Right, let’s get us all up — as soon as our favourite rogue comes back, we move out!’

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Zero sniffed with disgust at the softly glowing light attached to one of his bolts in his quiver, though looking at the shadows in front of him he was secretly glad for the company. He padded softly across the blade to the central column and made his way cautiously to its side. Grabbing the handles of the column he pushed firmly and was a little surprised how easily and quietly the blade swung around.

Whatever damage Kireth had made to the other bridge did not appear to have affected this one so much.

When the tip of the blade pointed directly east, Zero let go of the handles and slowly made his way towards the small opening in the far wall, following the opening around to the right towards the south and an open door.

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As he approached the entrance the rogue sniffed once, then twice. A mellow aroma of tobacco greeted his nose, drawing the hairs on his neck upright. Balancing on the end of the blade bridge he drew out his trusted hand crossbow and loaded the bolt that Kireth has enspelled.

Peering briefly down the sight he let the bolt go, and followed its glow into the room with his scouring eyes.

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The bolt clanked against stone after a bare few moments, tumbling to the ground in a cascade of light and shadow. The soft illumination outlined a circular domed chamber, dominated in the centre by a carving of a vast eye staring up from the floor from within the folds of eyelids in shining, black stone.

A chain from the ceiling stretched down to meet a stone orb, or at least half of one, perhaps meant to be the eye’s iris, nestled snugly within the eye. The chains connected to others in the domed roof and likely ran down through the walls to an array of winches and levers across the room, perhaps thirty feet away.

Pools of what Zero could only describe as black tar were spattered across the floor here and there, and it was in counting these that the rogue’s eyes finally spotted the body just beyond the eye, still and silent, prostate, it arms reaching out to the levers.

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Zero paused for a moment, still and silent. He watched the prostrate figure, looking for any signs of life, any movement, and to make sure it wasn’t going to leap up at him.

He calmed down a bit when he didn’t see anything untoward. Then he realised that he was now used to seeing dead bodies and not thinking that it was untoward. It sent a shiver down his spine.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he tip-toed over towards the body. He noticed smears of blood here and there on the stone floor, leading generally in the direction of the corpse, possibly where it had dragged itself to die.

He gave the stone eyeball a fairly wide berth and came around to the side of the body. It was human, at least he was sure of that, wearing adventuring gear as far as he could tell, with some still leather armour and bits of ring mail under a grey cloak. It was face down and one of its hands was still firmly clasped around one of the levers on the contraption against the wall.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+12: 22] - success!

Looking up at the chains that left the contraption Zero surmised that the levers controlled the eyeball, perhaps lifting it up. The stone thing was pretty big, so it probably needed some sort of pulley system. Khalin would likely know more on that score, so the rogue busied himself with kneeling down by the side of the corpse to see what had killed it, and to see if it had anything interesting upon its person.

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There was an element of suspicion in Zero’ mind that the whole thing was a trap, so he very carefully turned the body over. It was indeed human, a male, perhaps a bit older than Zero himself, dark hair with a tuft of stubble on his chin. There were multiple dark stains upon his front, cuts and slashes had tore into his armour, and likely he had died of his wounds. His free arm was covered with blood and that blackish, tobacco-perfumed tar.

A cursory search of the man’s main pockets revealed little of monetary value, much to Zero’s dismay, but did turn up a sealed letter; a dark black wax blob tying together a folded scrap of parchment. He quickly stowed this in the folds of his clothes for Kireth.

He stood up, ready to head back, noticing that there was a shortsword cast on the floor between the stone eyeball and the contraption, just out of reach of the corpse. This he left for now, and headed back to the blade bridge to inform the others.

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It was a simple matter to balance across the bridge back to the central pillar, and then turn it around to line up one of the blades with the central arch. Within moments he was back in the first pit area, stood in the arch, calling out to the others.

‘A chamber!’ he called. ‘Erm, a dead body and stuff. And an eye. But a stone one, not moving or anything. And what could be a letter or something.’

He held up the parchment, and looked to the others for the next move.

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Khalin the warlord stood. Simply stood. Tall (well…), proud, defiant. There was a look in his eyes.

Tradden saw it.

‘Ohhhh, no!’ expelled the human, rushing over to the dwarf, imploringly. ‘Come on!’ There were nearly tears of anger in the fighter’s eyes. ‘It can wait!’

Khalin remained calm. ‘Aye lad, it can. However, I balance assessing what’s in that room against the ease of which we can now move back and forwards through these pits.’ The small dart of the eyes of everyone in the area to Kireth was not lost on the mage.

‘Let’s use this broken blade to our advantage — with a bit of thought we can make it into a passable way up onto the edge of the middle section here. That will make it quick and easy to assess Zero’s new room. We might even find that to be a better place to rest.’

Tradden threw his hands into the air. ‘Great, just great…’ he mumbled.

‘Remember why we are here, lad, this is a mission of great import, with a lot of people…‘

Yes!’ retorted Tradden, picking up a chunk of magic-scarred masonry which had fallen into the pit and hurling it down at the base of the broken blade, to act as a step up to the makeshift, steep, ramp. ‘I get it…’

Atop the pedastal, Zero jumped back at the sudden movement at his feet as the blade quivered.

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The small dart of the eyes of everyone in the area to Kireth was not lost on the mage’? No, it certainly was not. The simpletons. There they gawp, judging him with their “…ooh, Kireth blew up the column, how this has inconvenienced us”. When, if they had half a brain, they should have marvelled at how his power was growing on an almost daily basis. Why, before this journey began he would have done well to knock over a man, but, now, a short time later, he is shattering stone and toppling towers with a word from his mouth.

And they “dart their eyes” in judgement. The rage at their ignorance was starting to grow, but Kireth calmed and controlled his hands which were practically shaking. No, perhaps it was better they were oblivious to this. Safer for them, easier for him.

He looked down at them in the pit and gave them his usual sarcastic nod and smile. He knew that they, by now, saw through that smile for what it was but he would continue to do it anyway, if only because it irritated Khalin. Sometimes it was the small things that kept him going.

‘Over there?’ he said pointing towards the eastern chamber. ‘Hmm, could be tricky.’

The mage traced something in the air, muttering words no other could understand.

[Dimension Door]

[Kireth teleports to within 10 squares]

Quickly an oval of smoke came into existence with its centre an absence of light. The mage stepped into the smoke, instantly re-appearing on the central column, under the arch, right next to a befuddled Zero.

‘Or not,’ he spoke casually without some much as a “dart of the eyes”. He plucked the parchment from the rogue’s outstretched fingers and nonchalently walked eastwards across the blade.

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Khalin tried to ignore Kireth as best he could and surveyed the broken blade. Zero was more agile than the dwarf, but it looked like with a bit of care it would be traversable by the group. The dwarf turned to Beltak. ‘Do you think you can make it up there?’ he asked gently, mindful that Beltak had taken a beating. The young scribe nodded — the Light of Pelor had already worked its wonders though, and he was looking a good deal better already.

Moving to Tradden next, the dwarf put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, acknowledging the young fighter’s disappointment and weariness. ‘We’ll have that rest,’ he added in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. With that Tradden raised his head and headed up the broken blade with an impressive litheness that gave no hint of his fatigue. Khalin motioned Beltak to go next. The scribe looked less confident, but nevertheless managed to negotiate the climb as Tradden proceeded to the archway above them where Zero still waited.

Khalin took one final look around the devastation, shaking his head, before following the others.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

It took a few moments for the group to work their way across the intact blades in the adjacent chamber. Kireth had fortunately waited, albeit somewhat impatiently, on the central pillar of the eastern blade bridge. It allowed them to take it in turns to cross, with Tradden rotating the blades back and forth from the middle, until they slowly but surely all made their way to the chamber Zero had surveyed.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘I didn’t touch anything,’ Zero offered as the others looked around the room, now illuminated with torchlight and the strong mage light from the tip of Kireth’s staff. ‘Then how did you come by this?’ asked Kireth, holding up the parchment the rogue had obviously pilfered from the body on the floor.

The rogue pouted in the entrance whilst the mage walked over to inspect the contraption at the far side of the room. Khalin also seemed to be studying the chainwork and the vast stone orb, leaving Beltak and Tradden to think of whether this was a good place to rest.

‘Defendable,’ offered Tradden, trying to sound serious and knowledgable. ‘One entrance to guard against, but that means only one exit. Smells a bit,‘ he continued, ‘Reminds me of The Fisher’s Prize down by the docks back in Deepingwald, or even The Bronze Lion back at Blackengorge, but a bit stronger.’

The young fighter picked his way over the receeding pools of tar and smears of blood. ‘We could surely do with a rest here, though,’ he said, almost pleadingly.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin looked back at the exhausted group and silently agreed with Tradden’s sentiments. ‘Let’s get rid of this body first,’ he began, and held his gaze at the young fighter until Tradden’s shoulders slumped and he came forwards to inspect the corpse.

‘Give me a hand here, Zero,’ he sighed, and hooked his arms underneath the corpse’s armpits.

Reluctantly Zero came forwards, holding the thing’s feet tentatively. ‘What are we going to do with it?’ the rogue asked. Tradden hadn’t thought this far. ‘Uhm, what about down the pit for now?’ he suggested, too tired to think of a better plan.

The pair heaved the body out of the room and dropped it into the pit, albeit as carefully as they could and then returned to the others.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Looks like a simple lever and pulley system to me, Kireth,’ stated Khalin to the mage as he examined the contraption against the wall. ‘The small levers here, the gears and chain, and the loop to the ceiling and down to the carving there,’ he continued, tracing the chains that spread up to the centre of the domed roof and then down through a loop in a crossbeam to the stone orb on the floor.

‘The right moves on the levers probably pull the stone up and down, maybe even move it about a bit,’ he finished, looking more at the crossbeam and some of the other levers.

Kireth nodded, having come to the same conclusion much earlier. ‘The interesting part will be what lies beneath,’ he sniffed, nudging the hilt of a discarded shortsword on the floor, probably once belonging to the corpse, to one side.

‘Stay your hand for now,’ Khalin suggested. ‘We need to rest.’

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Tradden perked up at the dwarf’s declaration, which made his friend smile briefly. ‘Before we unpack here though,’ continued Khalin, surveying the mess with a frown, ‘I’m going to check out the other two chambers we can get to from the blades. They might be in better shape for camp. Come on, lad, you can give me a hand with the mechanism.’ Tradden rolled his eyes for a time but nevertheless followed the dwarf.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

The dwarf and human briskly headed back to the intact blade bridge, Khalin in particular keen not to let Tradden and the others wait any longer than necessary for a proper rest.

Navigating to the southern chamber first, letting Tradden use his strength to swing the bridge around for him, Khalin paused as he reached the open door. A quick inspection and a nod to himself that the way was safe, he walked past the threshold in the hope of treasure inside.

The chamber itself was ancient, possibly it might not have been opened for centuries, judging by the dust and the age of the stone. At the centre was the remains of what appeared to once be a stone sarcophagus, a resting place for someone of importance. But the structure had been blown apart, exploded outwards by the looks of it. Khalin surmised that might have happened at the time the wraiths had rushed out to attack the party. A look around revealed nothing of great interest among the broken stone. And curiously no writings, if indeed this was a burial chamber.

Moving back across the blade bridges to the opposite room yielded the same results, a wrecked sarcophagus and little else.

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The duo returned to the others and reported their findings. ‘The other two rooms look less… messy,’ suggested Khalin, looking at the pools of goo with distaste once more. ‘Perhaps we would be more comfortable in one of those?’

‘We’ve camped in worse places,’ replied Tradden, already unpacking his bed roll.

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The warlord looked back at the young fighter. Tradden looked worn and tired, and needed to patch up the myriad of cuts and bruises on his face, let alone those that must cover his body. He sighed and threw his pack towards one of the walls in the room.

‘You’re right,’ he said, starting to loosen the straps on his shield. ‘We camp here, then. Find somewhere dry. I’ll take the first watch, Kireth you’re up next. Beltak, you take the last one so you get some good rest. Zero, Tradden, you decide between you who takes the graveyard shift.

Khalin began to unbuckle some the of the leather ties on his armour, stripping his torso of the well-forged dwarven mail, and seeing to his pack and bedroll. ‘It might be worth…’

‘…putting a ward across the entrance? Yes, I‘d already thought of that,’ interrupted Kireth. ‘My preparations are already underway.’

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The mage had, indeed, already started to move towards the entrance to the chamber, standing just beyond the door and staring to the west. He held something in his hands, his staff leaning against the walls of the corridor in a lonely stance. Blowing softly into his cupped palms a dark shadow began to grow.

[Ritual: Wyvern’s Watch]

[Arcana Check: 1d20+14: 27] - success!

[Perception Check for intruder to note Wyvern is 27]

The shadows bulged out of Kireth’s hands, spreading into the short corridor, stopping just before the entrance to the blade bridge. They coalesced at the entrance into a large form that neatly plugged the corridor; a winged two-legged dragon with a vicious barbed tail.

The mage whispered the names of his colleagues, instructing the shadowy beast to let them through without incident, yet bar all others. Pleased with the progress of the shadow Kireth whirled around, grabbed his staff, and made for the near side of the chamber to deposit his pack.

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‘I was going to put a trap on that door,’ offered Zero, who still hadn’t found anywhere comfortable to bed down. ‘You know, something that might explode or entrap an uninvited guest. But I guess if you need to pee during the night, well, it might be a little, uhm, inconvenient. Can’t have bits of you being blown off, can we, so I’ll just settle down instead.’

With that, the rogue finally found a stretch of stone floor that appeared the least uncomfortable and began to unfurl his bedroll.

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The group began to settle down as preparations for a rest took place. Beltak aided those with cuts and lesions, finding clean bandages from within his pack and dressing the deeper wounds.

Zero produced a small black kettle from seemingly nowhere and after a few minutes of struggling to find anything to produce a fire, Kireth sparked some into life with a wave of his hand. A skin of water and their last vegetables chopped up with a few herbs soon scared the smell of tobacco and blood from the chamber.

Tradden paced around the room, still too eager to settle down. He gravitated towards the contraption at the southern end of the chamber, placing his hands on the levers until a cough and stare from the mage made him retract his wandering arms. He contented himself with picking up the discarded shortsword, swinging it about for balance and then returning to his bedroll and safely storing Caldring’s armour.

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Soon after a broth had been had the group began to drift to their own bedrolls. Moments after, Zero was snoring and both Beltak and Tradden were quiet and still. Khalin sat opposite the door, his back to the small fire, Aecris beside him, waiting patiently for his watch to finish. Kireth sat upon his bedroll, an eldritch white light above his shoulder, and began to examine the parchment.

‘It is from Skauril,’ Kireth said. ‘But only from two days ago,’ he continued, his eyebrow raising out of sight of the dwarf. ‘The hand is shaky, but legible, and matches with those of the other documents we found in the common room upstairs. Intriguing.’

His hands ruffled the parchment and he began to read, just loud enough for Khalin to hear.

‘Khase, we are lied to. The portals lead not unto the Shadowfell for us to unleash the power of Orcus, but somewhere else entirely. I have been there and seen how the aberrations that dwell there covet our lands. The ancient sites must have been corrupted over the years. Do not open the portal. Not until we find a way to contain and sway those within. Even with my powers I barely escaped. However, if we can force them to be our servants we will be unstoppable. I will head to treat with Korosphlax and plan our next moves. I send Morvis with this message and to help bolster your defences — there is a group come to claim the portals for their own use and they must be stopped. They are led by a mage, overconfident in his powers. Destroy them, but keep the mage alive. Send him to Sunderpeak with Morvis when you are finished with him as he has items of mine that I would take back. Skauril’

‘Interesting,’ commented the mage after a pause, and then slid down into his bedroll, closing his eyes.

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Thoughts whirled around Khalin’s head as Kireth finished his monologue. ‘Skauril is alive?’ he whispered to himself, trying to fathom the ramifications.

The warlord contemplated this new information to the rhythmical snoring of the rogue, attempting to make sense of it all, and judge who “Khase” and “Morvis” were. He recalled that “Korosphlax” had been mentioned before, by one of the Talons he thought, one of a pair of dragons that lived somewhere out here in the Stonemarch. “Sunderpeak” too, rang a bell, though he could not remember just now where from.

Before he could remember, a bony hand gripped him on the shoulder, jolting him out of his thoughts with a start. It was only Kireth, though, come to relieve him of his watch.

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Once the dwarf had settled down, Kireth took to walking around the room, inspecting the contraption and figuring out how the levers worked. After a few minutes his ire was raised by the incessant noises from the rogue. Holding a hand over Zero’s mouth and nose for a few seconds seemed to stop the drones, but it was not for long. The rogue simply rolled to one side and the noises started again.

Kireth contemplated holding his hand there for a longer period, but the rogue was useful, in his own way, and so he resumed his walking, passing the time until his watch was over.

When he guessed his alloted time was up he kicked Zero a couple of times until the snoring stopped and the rogue’s eyes fluttered open. ‘Your turn,’ was all the mage said, looming over Zero’s prostrate body, before turning and heading to his own bedroll.

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Bleary eyed and thirsting for a full-bodied glass of wine, Zero tried to make himself as comfortable as he could near the fire. He wrapped himself in his bedroll and attempted to adjust his pack to make something cushioning to rest against.

The faint smell of tobacco, still lingering in the air, along with the waft of long-ago eaten broth and the warmth of the fire were comforting to someone so tired. So tired…

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Tradden woke with a start. A boar had been chasing him through the woods near Deepingwald. A large boar, dressed in a black costume with embroidered silver writing, with the head of an eagle. It snorted and grunted rhythmically, every second or two. A loud droning grunt, echoing around the wood. Echoing around this chamber. Coming from the prostrate rogue near the fire, asleep in his bedroll.

The young fighter jumped up, muscles and joints aching from the previous day’s assaults, but fresh and energised. He strode over to the rogue and shook him, but not roughly.

‘Oi, wake up, sleepy!’ he said. ‘Well watched.’

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Extended Rest
Completed

ER

Healing Surges and Hit Points

Healing Surges and Hit Points are regained.

[Khalin has 7 healing surges and is now on 61/61 hit points]

[Kireth has 8 healing surges and is now on 52/52 hit points]

[Tradden has 10 healing surges and is now on 70/70 hit points]

[Zero has 7 healing surges and is now on 60/60 hit points]

[Beltak has 7 healing surges and is now on 58/58 hit points]

Encounter and Daily Powers

All encounter and daily powers are recharged.

Milestones

Action Points reset to 1.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Despite his rough awakening, the rogue felt very refreshed. Rolling up his bedroll and trying to ignore the scowls of the others as they tended to their own packs and beds he got up and walked about for a stretch.

The chamber was not that big, however, so he headed behind the stone orb to get some respite from the black looks of the others. Standing in front of the contraption, however, had just had a sudden urge, a childish fascination on what would happen if he just pulled one of those levers.

There were four in front of him, straight black iron rods, tempting him. Counting them up and down for a moment he simply picked the first one, and gave it a swift thrust upwards.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

There was a sudden clank and whirl, as though chains were being dropped onto gears, and the chain leading up to the crossbeam towards the ceiling swayed for a moment and stretched taut.

The others looked up, some partially dressed in armour, others close to packing their belongings, but Zero seemed to be unaware of them now, fascinated by the contraption.

‘Wait!’ shouted Khalin and Kireth in unison.

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Zero’s fingers twitched. Levers were so neat. ‘What?’ he remarked to the others.

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Tradden, half his armour on, but with one arm other awkwardly stuck in the air as he tried to get the other half on him, took a pace forward, nervously. ‘Err… Z, maybe… leave the levers. For a moment…’

It was too late, however, the inquisitive hands of the rogue were already on the next lever, trying to push it up. It took a couple of seconds before Zero realised this lever went from left to right and he yanked it hard to one side.

There was a grating of stone on stone and chinks of iron links being rattled along the length of the chains as they grew taut once more. The crossbeam tried to move across to the left, but the stone orb in the floor held the chain back with a groan. With a snort Zero switched the lever to the other side, but the stone orb held fast.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘What are you doing, Zero?’ exclaimed the dwarf in surprise. ‘Hold!’ he continued, hoping the rogue would stay his hand before he and Kireth could get there. The mage was already moving towards the contraption, his scowl more pronounced than ever. Khalin quickly followed.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero moved along the row of levers, bypassing the one sticky and caked in slowly drying blood, to the end, and twitched his fingers in anticipation. Grasping it with both hands he made to pull the lever down.

‘Enough!’ barked Khalin, grabbing the rogue’s arms and moving them away from the mechanism. ‘Unless you want Kireth to boil you up in a fireball,‘ he scolded, nodding towards the encroaching mage. ‘We’ve no idea what these levers do,‘ the warlord continued.

There appeared to be genuine disappointment on the rogue’s face and Khalin immediately regretted speaking so harshly. ‘Don’t you find them fascinating, though?’ Zero chimed. ‘It would be neat to find out what they all do.‘

‘Indeed,’ mused Kireth, catching Khalin’s attention. ‘Indeed it would, but often you must study a thing before touching it to understand it properly. To understand its dangers and ensure that you are using it properly.‘

‘Or…’ started Zero, now that Khalin had turned to face the mage, ‘you could just speed the whole thing up by pulling the thing and seeing what happens. Might be more fun.‘

With that the rogue pulled down on the rightmost lever with a childish glee.

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There was a clank from somewhere inside the mechanism and the chain flexed briefly as though it had been hit by a hammer, sending a tremour along its length.

The others stiffened, but the rogue seemed to remain calm.

Khalin whirled back around with fury in his eyes and Kireth’s icy stare bore into the back of Zero’s skull, but it did not seem to affect Zero.

‘Levers are neat,’ he simply suggested. ‘One to engage the gears,‘ he said, pointing at the lever on the left. ‘One to move the crossbeam, and I assume the stone, to the left or right,’ he continued, pointing at the second. His attention skipped the bloody lever onto the one nearest his twitching fingers. ‘And a brake, to hold it in position.’

He looked wil mild distaste at the lever covered with bloodstains. ‘I assume that one moves that big stone up and down. Someone else can have a go at that one.’

Avoiding Kireth’s stare the rogue shuffled back over towards Tradden.

‘Sometimes it is better just to give things a push, rather than wait about and look at stuff,’ he whispered to the young fighter with a wink.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘By Moradin’s Beard,’ muttered the dwarf under his breath. ‘We need to find a damn tavern.’ He turned to Kireth. ‘What do you think? Shall we see what’s beneath that stone?’ he suggested, firmly in “anything for a quiet life” mode now.

‘Once we’ve got our armour on,’ he finished, scrambling for his mail.

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Tradden met Zero’s wink with a happy smile that did well to hide the nervousness behind it. Being down here must be getting to the rogue, he thought. Seemed a sensible conclusion — there was something unsettling about all the places they had been in, never mind this one. The books he had read about brave adventurers of years past didn’t mention this; the dank, the cold, the wet. They certainly didn’t talk about the worst bit, the almost ever-present foreboding feeling that chilled the bones in an way no physical discomfort possibly could.

Trying to shake off his morose mood (unusual in early-morning Tradden), he slipped back into his armour, checked all the strapping and fastenings, and then checked them all again, as Khalin had taught him. Whistling to himself as he did so, he remembered the sword he had found on the floor earlier, and so retrieved it to get a better look with a fresh pair of “morning” eyes.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 10] - failure!

Well, it was a sword. That was for sure. Made of metal. A short one, not unlike Tradden’s own. Quite sharp actually, so it had been maintained. There was dried tar on it, and bits of blood. Hard to tell exactly whose the blood was. The tar was a bit odd — it seemed to be the same as the tar all around the room.

‘Hey, this sword has tar on it… What’s with the tar anyway?’ he said quietly to the room at large, although no one paid him any notice. They were either still squabbling about levers or in communion with Pelor.

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Tradden waited a movement, but both a-squabbling and a-communion-ing still on-going, he instead ambled back out of the room, back to the pits, where he recalled they had dumped the body. When he reached the pit farthest from their makeshift camp he peered down.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 12] - failure!

The body was still there, which made Tradden sigh a relief. It sounded ridiculous to say, but walking dead were a really problem around these parts. Stood at the top of the pit, Tradden looked down. Yep, that was a dead body alright. There were cuts all over it (Tradden was somewhat a burgeoning self-taught expert in that kind of thing), as well as drying blood.

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It was hard for him to really say anything Zero hadn’t already mentioned. Human, a few years older than Tradden. One thing did stand out to the young fighter — the body had a scabbard fastened to its waist belt, and, yes, the sword he now had fit it nicely.

Cause of death? Yeah, all those cuts ought to do it.

[Tradden Heal Check: 1d20+11: 28] - success!

‘Hmm,’ said Tradden, reaching out but not quite touching one of the cuts. The various slashes across armour and flesh varied from six to twelve inches long, and looked to be from something something sharp, but not as precise as a sword blade or similar. They were rougher, more jagged and a bit larger as far as the cutting surface wass concerned. They also seemed mostly grouped as if in threes — maybe indicating something with three rough heavy blades. ‘Hmm.’ Or claws…

The human looked up at the broken blades above. No, they were not sharp enough, and would just bruise and crush. This he was sure of, and he winced despite himself as a shudder flashed through his abdomen as a phantom, shooting pain of recollection.

Tradden tried to think back to everything they had fought so far in this place, and nothing sprang to mind that would be a fit. ‘Ominous,’ he mumbled.

‘Hmm, hope you don’t mind if I take this. You don’t need it anymore, poor fella.’ With that, Tradden took the scabbard, fastened it to his own belt, sheathed the new sword and wandered back to the group.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Predictably enough, Beltak was still knelt in communion with Pelor, studiously avoiding the bickering of the other three over the levers.

‘Ahem!’ Tradden coughed as an interruption. ‘I think things just got even worse. Something tore up that chap who we found in here, and it wasn’t the blades or whatever this chain-thing is.’

A sudden, terrible thought struck him. Something about a person he had once stood up at a higher end bar in Charlotte’s Parade in Deepingwald. ‘By Correllon, could it be that Miranda Shallowfield followed us over from the Islands?’

This brought quiet from the trio of leverists. In a moment of complete unanimity, they all spoke at once.

‘Quiet, Tradden!’ echoed around the chamber in tri-stereo.

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Kireth turned back to Khalin with a scowl on his face. It wasn’t just enough that Zero had to play around with the levers, they had to have the bumbling fighter making inane suggestions and “jokes”.

‘As I was saying before we were rudely interrupted,’ the mage began with a nod towards Tradden, ‘this “bloody” lever moves the stone up and down. The body that Tradden has been pilfering from seems to have held onto this with its last breath. Either there’s something underneath that he wanted to seal off, or there’s a passageway under there that he was hoping to escape through.’

‘The parchment suggested another portal,’ he continued, ‘yet I do not believe this stone is it. There is no magic here, only crude engineering.’ To this Khalin nodded in agreement. ‘The pools of tar are much stranger, but perhaps could be what’s left of some creature that was attacking him, maybe even those black creatures we have seen before.’

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‘So you’re suggesting that he trapped some of these black things this side of the stone for some reason?’ asked Khalin.

‘Or he has trapped many more of them below, to stop them flooding upwards,’ replied the mage casually. ‘“Do not open the portal. Not until we find a way to contain and sway those within.” wrote Skauril on the parchment the body was holding. My guess would be that there is a portal below. And it may be open.’

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‘Another portal? And more black things?’ Zero stammered, slowly backing off. He raised his hands up as he continued to backpedal. ‘We could just leave now, you know. We could…’

There was a clank of iron as the rogue backed into the levers, pushing the bloody one upwards. Immediately there was a groan and the chink of loops of metal tightening and a whirr of a pulley being engaged. A grate of stone on stone echoed around the chamber as the stone orb began to rise from its socket.

‘Uh, oh, Z. Big mistake!’ shouted Tradden from the far side of the chamber. The others just stared incredulously at the rogue before Khalin jumped forwards to pull Zero off the lever. The straps of Zero’s scabbard and crossbow holster had gotten wrapped around the lever, however, and it was a few seconds before Khalin managed to pull back on the lever to stop the rise of the orb.

By the time the mechanism came to a rest the orb was swinging gracefully in the air a good four feet from the floor.

A gentle aroma of tobacco wafted up from the hole in the ground that it revealed.

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As the eyeball of stone swung softly above, now plucked from its socket, Khalin could see a dark recess in the stone floor. Shuffling closer it became obvious that the huge stone orb was a cap on a chute that lead downwards. Closing in, now more boldly, and thrusting a torch closer the dwarf could spy a a dark round shaft, perhaps half a dozen feet in a diameter leading down into darkness.

Inset into the stone of the shaft were a number of iron rungs, smooth and polished, glinting in the torchlight. They led into the blackness, way beyond the simple light of the torch.

Khalin peered back into the shaft, then turned to the others with a look of determination. ‘We need to know for sure if there is a portal down there or not. And there’s only one way to find out. Follow me.’ With that he clambered down into the shaft.

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‘If I’m descending to my doom, it would be nice to have some company along the way!’ called the warlord, as his voice echoed up from the shaft.

Khalin peered past his feet into the gloom, hoping his dwarvish eyesight would pierce the blackness.

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Now in full early-morning-annoyingly-motivated mode, Tradden was already tying one end of his rope around the lever console.

‘Right behind you, right guys?’

He hummed to himself as he worked, and as he did he couldn’t help but get a lung-full of the tobacco smell, wafting up from below.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 7] - critical failure!

Tradden was no smoker however, and even this small quantity just caused him to cough loudly, and any thoughts of trying to recognise it were quickly forgotten.

Testing the rope by giving it a hard pull, as was the fashion, the fighter started to descend lithely after the warlord.

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Zero looked at Kireth.

‘Well, shall we?’ he said, before slipping into the uninviting hole in the floor.

Descending rung after rung the rogue looked back up to see if the mage was following him, pausing a moment to stare at the underside of the huge stone orb that dangled precariously above them.

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Kireth sighed, gathering the hem of his robe carefully to avoid tripping on the ladder.

‘After you,’ Beltak offered, allowing the mage time to arrange his staff, affixing it to the leather straps of his pack.

As Kireth descended carefully, Beltak whispered a soft prayer to Pelor, and then followed the rest of the group down into the shaft.

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Khalin had been used to many of the tunnels and carved thoroughfares within the mines of kel-Morndin back on The Islands and descended the iron ladder swiftly and surely.

However, even for his attuned dwarven senses it was difficult to judge how far he had come — somewhere between fifty and hundred feet he estimated — before he spied a level floor beneath him in the flicker of the torchlight.

Stepping off the last rung of the ladder onto the stony floor was a relief on his muscles and limbs and he stretched out, moving away from the base of the ladder and pushing the torch up to get a good view of what lay ahead.

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Leading away from the bottom of the shaft was a tight tunnel, starting off towards the west but then swiftly winding its way around a long curve and out of sight. Perhaps only four or so feet wide, closer in than the corridors above, but much higher, at least a dozen feet.

Tentatively moving forwards, Khalin could sense the ground descending a little beneath his feet, a gentle slope downwards as he ventured towards the curve. He heard the huffs and puffs and clanks of steel of Tradden getting to the bottom of the shaft behind him, the sounds echoing down the vaulted tunnel.

The flickering light of Khalin’s torch reflected from the stone of the walls — a curious smooth, black substance, almost glowing by itself, reminicient of portions of the carvings from the dome where they had entered this structure, now far above.

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The temperature along the tunnel seemed to be fairly warm, with little breeze or current in the air the dwarf noted, only that faint odour of tobacco in the air.

The curve of the tunnel seemed to have flattened out as he continued his slow progress, and then turned the other way, the floor ascending slightly.

Looking back he couldn’t see the others, and decided to wait for a moment, noticing he’d probably come further out on his own than he had intended to. He couldn’t hear the others, either, unusual for such a close tunnel.

As he pondered where the others might be he was rudely pushed from behind as Tradden bumped into him, almost knocking the torch out of his hand.

‘Watch where you’re going!’ the dwarf grumbled. ‘And how did you get in front of me?’

Tradden looked back quizically at the warlord. ‘In front? I’ve just followed you up here,’ he stated. ‘The others are right behind.’

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The pair waited silently for a moment, waiting for the familiar sight of one of the other three to arrive around the corner.

‘They were only a few seconds behind me,’ Tradden reassured himself.

They were about to turn back when the portly figure of Zero rounded the corner, blowing hard. ‘Don’t go running off,’ the rogue scolded Tradden. ‘It’s taken ages for us to catch up.’

‘I didn’t…’ started Tradden, before Kireth and Beltak joined them, both looking as though they had enjoyed a swift route march.

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‘Right!’ interrupted Khalin sternly. ‘We stick together, always in sight of one another,’ he said. ‘There’s some trickery involved here, I’m sure.’

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Khalin stopped. A very definite “boots firmly on the ground, we are all stopping, you won”t get me to move” stop. His brow furrowed and a low growl emanated from somewhere under his helmet.

‘I don’t know what all this is about, but I am about done with nonsense of this sort!’

Handing Zero his torch and then fishing in his pack the warlord brought out his own coil of rope and passed the end to the over-burdened rogue.

‘I will go first, you all hold onto this, a pace or so between us. We move forward together. I will lead, Zero you next, then Beltak, Kireth and Tradden at the rear. Do not let go of the rope! Now, north!’

Within a few moments they were on the move again, proceeding at Khalin’s pace, one hand on the rope, the other hand invariably holding either a shield, weapon or staff. In terms of sound, the only thing which could be heard was their own footsteps, and an irregular mumbling from Khalin about no-one should muck about with space and time, no matter what. Light-wise, despite having two main sources of illumination in the form of Zero’s torch and Kireth’s staff, along with the gently glowing rock, the passageway still seemed eerily dark.

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The passageway wound itself around gently curving lines, often seeming to rise and at other times to fall slightly. One section of the wall appeared to look just like the other. The darkness seemed to suck the life out of the torch that Zero held, and even the magelight from Kireth’s staff appeared to be paler than usual.

It might have only been a few seconds, or perhaps it was a few minutes, Khalin finally spied an end to the passageway, perhaps a way out. The corridor ended abruptly, but the roof branched upwards — a pattern of iron bars set into the stone in front of them leading up as though a ladder. A helpful rope cascading down in front of the bars, just out of the dwarf’s reach, swung gently in the little breeze that there was.

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Khalin looked up, and then down at his feet. And then up again. Just behind him, Zero almost held out his hands to warm them — there was an almost palpable heat emanating from the warlord’s helmet.

‘Tradden,’ came the suspiciously calm, even-toned voice of the dwarf, ‘be a good lad and settle a bet I am having with myself. Nip up that and tell me what you see.‘

‘Erm, alright,’ uttered Tradden as he pushed past the others, snatching the torch from Zero as he did so. There was something in Khalin’s voice — an angry annoyance dancing around the edges — which didn’t bear messing with.

Actually the fighter found it easier to get started by using the iron rungs, doing his best with one free hand and one hand clutching the torch. By the time he was half way up he had already concluded two things: firstly, that he was glad he had brought the torch, as the way up was dark; and secondly that he knew exactly what he was going to find at the top. Still, he was on his way now.

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It took longer to climb up than it had to descend, and it was harder work as well. However, in short order the fighter clambered up to the very top. And stood, one hand on a hip, in the midst of the eyeball mechanism room that they had started in. He stood there for a moment. For effect. Not that anyone was watching, but it felt right.

Without a word, he descended back down again, this time using a combination of rungs and rope to ease his way down.

‘Cheers, Z,’ thanked Tradden as he passed the torch back to the only slightly miffed rogue. ‘Well,’ he continued, turning to the warlord, ‘I think you lost your bet.’

Without a word, the dwarf stalked off back in the other direction, pulling the group with him as he did so.

‘Wish I had brought some marshmellows,’ muttered Zero beneath his breath, just a few inches behind the warlord.

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The group followed after Khalin, the dwarf setting a stiff pace down the passageway, trying not to stop nor seemingly to take breath. Passing down the silent and twisting tunnel, with no end in sight to the darkness ahead was disconcerting, giving a sense of dislocation and weightlessness. The soft glow here and there emanating from the black walls only adding to the eerie feeling and the rise of hairs on the back of necks.

It seemed like an age before Khalin called a halt to the march, his keen eyes spotting an end to the tunnel. ‘Looks like there’s a doorway or something up there,’ the warlord stated. ‘Prepare yourselves.’

Cautiously plodding forwards the end of the tunnel came into torchlit sight. The end was rather abrupt, the dark stone blending into normal grey as a small winding staircase led up and out of view widdershins.

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‘How far do you think we’ve come?’ asked Beltak from the middle of the line.

‘At least a mile,’ groaned Zero. ‘And now we’ve got to climb again!’

‘No, it’s been about three,’ challenged Tradden. ‘We must have been going for at least an hour.’

‘One hundred,’ interrupted Kireth.

‘One hundred miles!’ scoffed Traddenwith a chuckle.

‘No, you fool,’ chided Kireth. ‘We have come a hundred paces. Unlike you, I can count and walk at the same time.’

‘Quiet!’ barked Khalin, still annoyed with himself for losing his sense of direction underground. ‘Let’s just see where this leads.’

With that, the dwarf began to wind up around the stairway, pulling the others behind him as the rope tightened.

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The stairs turned several times around to the widdershins, leaving the black stone far below. As Khalin climbed he felt refreshed, as though he had come out of a snooze or dream, or his head clearing from a bad dwarven cold.

The odour of tobacco grew stronger as they climbed, though never overpowering, its sickly sweet smell hanging in the air.

Before the group could get dizzy with the tight turns of the staircase an open arch before them led them into a small chamber, a dozen or so feet square. The chamber split at the far wall, two separate stairways leading up — shallower in incline than the spiral staircase — and away into darkness.

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The group paused for a moment in the small chamber, gathering their wits. Khalin, seemingly to be breathing heavily, nodded at Tradden a couple of times. It took the young fighter a few moments to realise he was been volunteered.

‘Aw, c’mon, Zero,’ Tradden finally sighed. He took the warlord’s torch and gently tossed it to the rogue. Holding his own aloft, he headed towards the leftmost of the two upward stairways.

‘Watch out for any traps, Z,’ he called as the rogue plodded over to the other stairway.

‘Watch yourself,’ retorted Zero, as even with the torch in hand he melted into the shadows of the stairway.

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Tradden hugged one side of the stairway, trying to stay as quiet as he could, looking out for anything suspicious in the stonework as he went.

[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+9: 26] - success!

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 24] - success!

The stone steps appeared solid enough to the young fighter as he followed the slight curve around to the right as the path ascended. He carefully placed his feet just in case, and eventually he came towards the end of the stairs, his head poking up into another, larger chamber, his eyes growing wide.

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Zero took a slightly more direct route than his partner, staying towards the centre of his stairway, as it curled around to the left and up. Stepping softly came second nature to him now, but he was alert enough to keep his eyes firmly concentrated on anything untoward.

[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+15: 31] - success!

[Zero Pereption Check: 1d20+12+2: 21] - success!

The rogue was up to the top of the stairs in double time, keeping the torch down low to avoid ruining his eyesight as he briefly scanned the chamber he entered. His eyeline was blocked to the left by a wall or something large made of stone, but in front of him, maybe only fifteen feet away, was a shadowy figure, its arms outstretched towards the ceiling. The rogue carefully placed the torch on the last step and drew his crossbow a quietly as he could.

A noise and light from behind whatever stone wall was to his left distracted him for a moment, until he realised it was Tradden coming up the other stair. The chamber flooded with a soft torchlight glow, and the rogue breathed another sigh, this time of relief, as he realised the figure in front of him was simply a statue.

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‘It seems clear,’ Tradden called down the stairs as he stepped out into the chamber. His nose wrinkled as the smell of tobacco irritated his senses. ‘A few statues, that’s all,’ he continued, noting the one before him, arms held aloft and the one behind.

‘You fine, Zero?‘ he called, tentatively, trying to peer around the stone block he assumed split the two staircases, moving out and around, stepping over the corpses strewn around the floor.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero’s relief had been short-lived. As he’d stowed his crossbow and picked up the torch from the floor the rogue had noticed the first of the bodies prostate on the floor. None of them were moving, and judging by the bloodstains and shredded armour, none of them would be moving any time soon.

Stepping forward slowly, Zero headed towards a small raised block, hoping to see Tradden and not be left alone in this place. Seeing the young fighter approaching brought some sense of calm back to the rogue.

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The others had followed Zero’s route up the stairs and came up and into the chamber, Kireth’s light spilling into even the darkest recesses. The statues, towards each corner of the square chamber, looked at first to be the most distinctive thing in the room, but lining the floor were a number of dead bodies, that held the attention somewhat.

Khalin managed to pry his eyes away from the bodies, looking for exits, but found none. The walls of the chamber were simply solid with stone, with no gaps nor doorways. The statues were tall, taller than a man, and with their arms outstretched almost reached the roof. The only other feature he spotted was a small stone block near to Zero, where a bundle of what appeared to be blood-stained rags sat.

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Beltak had been kneeling down by the nearest corpse as the others had found their bearings.

‘I think they’ve been dead for a while,’ the priest said calmly. ‘They’re cold and stiff.’

‘A dozen of them at least,’ offered Tradden over the scribe’s shoulder.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero paused by the small raised block as the others looked around the room. Atop the block was what appeared at first to be a bundle of clothes, badly stained with blood, but on closer inspection he thought might be part of a canvas sail or suchlike. It was very much out of place with the rest of the room.

As he leant over the rags to get a closer look he felt something splat over his shoulder and whirled around quickly. Kireth was stood behind him, looking at his shoulder, as the rogue felt a dampness seep through the cloth of his shoulder pad.

Slowly Kireth looked up, Zero following his gaze.

Above them, carved beautifully out of the same black stone in the tunnel below, was a huge face, mimicking the visage in the top of the hill where they had entered. One white above, this one black below. As the pair stared, a trickle of dark liquid began to collect along one of the stone eye sockets and dropped down like a tear.

Zero jumped out of the way and the drop splashed silently into the rags. The crimson colour and slight iron tang to complement the odour of tobacco gave the liquid away as blood.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Oh, boy,’ Zero whispered.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden was the first to move, carefully walking forward into the chamber, pacing around, looking at the bodies, trying to shake the confusion of the scene out of his mind. He rested his still-lit torch on the base of one of the statues as he did so, leaving his hands free to carry out the macabre job of checking over the prostate figures.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+6: 22] - success!

With a quick loop around the room he counted eleven bodies in all — mostly humans of various builds, but also two hobgoblins, dressed in rusting ring mail. Conversely, the majority of humans were armed, but only lightly armoured, a few scrips of dark leather, some with layers of hide over the top.

The only figure with any armour to write home about was one of the humans nearer to the rags that Zero and Kireth were now staring at — he wore a thick breastplate and there was a chunky-looking battleaxe not far from where he lay.

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Taking a step back the human placed his hands on his hips and tried to make sense of it. The bodies seemed to be positioned fairly even around the chamber. The eight lightly armoured humans were flanking either side of the four statues, with the human with the breastplate near the raised stone and bloody rags — the two hobgoblins either side of him.

‘Odd…’ he said, to no-one in particular. With Zero and Kireth concentrating on their own puzzle, the only audience were Khalin and Beltak. ‘Look,’ he pointed, ‘the men look like they were stood by the statues, and they look to have their weapons either drawn, or in the process of getting them out, like that guy there.’ As he pointed out the last corpse, the pattern of the wounds on his body suddenly struck a chord.

‘Erm, hey, remember that guy upstairs, who we found in the eyeball room? His wounds, the three raked marks type-things? That was what they looked like.’

Khalin growled as he noted all the humans shared that dubious honour. ‘Aye, lad, but not these three.’

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Tradden skipped over to the breastplated human and hobgoblins. ‘Yeah, the big guy looks like he used the axe to do away with the two hobgoblins,’ the fighter gesticulated to a spear through the man’s leg, ‘but not before one stuck him with this.’

His brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of it. ‘So, these three seem to have taken care of each other, but the other eight…’ he gestured around the room to the human bodies with the trio of wounds grouped on them, ‘…how did they end up dead, and by whom?’ He corrected himself ‘Or what?’

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Beltak was knelt down by one of the humans, and Tradden used the opportunity to tap into his knowledge.

‘What do you think, ’Tak? The bodies are cold, but the blood isn’t crusted up yet so this can’t have happened that long ago. Two days maybe?’

[Beltak Heal Check: 1d20+15: 33] - success!

‘Hmm,’ whispered the scribe. ‘Less. Maybe a day and a half?’

‘So,’ interjected Khalin, ‘about twelve hours before we made our way through the Coilwood and down through the mouth at the top of this structure.’

The dwarf absentmindedly scratched the top of his helmet, as if it were his head. ‘As you say, lad, it doesn’t make much sense.’

He called over to the mage and the rogue. ‘We are struggling to make sense of all this — anything there that explains what in Moradin’s name is going on here?’

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‘It is indeed a puzzling scene,’ agreed the mage. ‘A ritual of some sort gone terribly wrong perhaps? Skauril mentioned a “portal” in his writings — it may be connected to that. But, I am guessing just like you really.’

The mage moved towards the pile of cloth in the centre of the room, but the way that he moved had Zero a little worried, the half-elf seemed determined to investigate it but afraid of it in equal measure.

‘Something… er, odd?’ enquired the thief, but almost immediately regretted it, realising that rags being dripped upon by ever-flowing blood from an eye socket in the ceiling was pretty much the very definition of “odd”. He braced himself for the attack of sarcasm.

It didn’t come.

‘Odd? Yes, odd,’ the mage spoke aloud but clearly it was meant for himself as he carefully approached the cloth. His eyes never moving from them, not even to blink.

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Everyone had now turned to look the mage. They saw the look in his eyes.

‘Kireth,’ spoke Khalin, in not much more than a whisper, ‘what is it, man? What do you see?’

‘Power!’ replied the mage as he stopped short of the canvas. ‘More power than every single item or weapon we have amassed on our journey. Not if we piled it all together would it shine like this.’

These were not the words of a man greedy to get his hands on it. These were the words of warning of a man afraid of it. The words were not wasted on the group as they fell silent, looking at the pile.

‘Ooooo… kaay,’ said Tradden, finally breaking the silence.

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Kireth encroached no further, though, keeping a respectful, short distance. The glistening crimson of the cloth in front of him convulsed with a beat every time a drop fell from the relief above.

The mage appeared to be waiting, patiently for once, for someone else to make the next move.

Four beats. Five beats. Six beats…

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Unperturbed by the silence from the other members of the group, Tradden decided to take charge.

‘Right, well, nice that something finally goes our way. We came here to stop whatever the boy Skauril was doing, and here we are.’

He strode over to where his torch was balanced on one of the statue plinths and picked it up. He casually flipped it up into the air and caught it again in a needless show of flamboyance. The flare of additional orange and yellow shone off his grin as the flame carved itself in an arc through the air.

‘We trash the place, cause a cave in on every level and burn everything for good measure — that should do the trick!’

With that, he started to reach out the torch to the rags, clearly intent on a quick, fighter’s solution to the problem.

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Kireth took a large step back. ‘That’s not going to work!’ he stated.

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‘Ooookay,’ Zero murmured, taking a step back and readying his crossbow.

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‘Prepare yourselves!’ warned Khalin to the others, somewhat belatedly as he raised his warhammer in readiness for whatever mischief might appear next.

Tradden blinked at the warlord. The dwarf nodded back.

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The flame came down onto the soiled rags and flickered across the top of the red cloth menacingly.

Khalin went white and dropped his hammer. ‘Hold!’ he yelled in an almost panicked voice, and batted the burning brazier aside before it could ignite the cloth. The dwarf growled in pain. Tradden almost dropped the torch in shock and surprise.

As the dwarf grasped his singed hand in pain he turned to the human. ‘I just had an overwhelming feeling this cloth might be important. It might be what I’ve been searching for.’

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Tradden, frozen in his pose, looked incredulously at the dwarf.

‘You… have… been “searching”… for… some old cloth…?’ he enquired.

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Khalin sighed, he raised his head sheepishly towards Kireth. ‘I’m sorry for not listening to your warning, I think you’re right.’

Eyebrows rose at the dwarf’s contrition.

‘I thought I’d spoken about it, maybe I hadn’t, who knows with everything that’s gone on,’ the dwarf mumbled in an uncharacteristic fashion.

‘I had a dream, a vision, call it what you will. I was going to speak of it when we reached Winterhaven, but considering…’

His companions were rapt as the warlord continued.

‘There was a child, a baby, dead. Held in the arms of a dwarf. By the look of him an ancestor perhaps. He warned me it was a vision of what would have happened had we not followed orders. Back at the time of the great retreat I presume.’

‘He spoke of a flag, a standard. But then the girl we met, Iolanthe? She spoke of a standard too, as an offering the Severed Eye orcs were planning, somewhere here in the “mouth”. I was told in the vision to “Find the truth. Find the standard, find the last of the last!” The last words in the vision were…’ the dwarf’s brow furrowed as he searched for the memory.

‘“Hunt… the… shadowed… chain…”’ Well here we’ve seen a chain, and perhaps this is the standard that was offered?’

The others looked incredulous.

‘I must at least look,’ Khalin finished.

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Tradden didn’t move a fraction as he spoke. ‘Soooo, don’t… burn?’

The torch stayed ominously close to the folded material.

‘I think that’s what the man said,’ whispered Zero kindly, as he reached out, wrapping nimble fingers around Tradden’s wrist and lifting it and the torch well out of the way. The rogue then thought about what he had just said. ‘Dwarf…, of course, dwarf.’

There was then an awkward pause as nobody did anything. Cursing himself inwardly for basically seizing the floor, Zero continued. ‘Well, don’t keep us in suspense!’

His voice did not betray the sudden nervousness that had somehow consumed them all, but they all knew that their own inner feelings were mirrored by the rest of the members of the group.

Leather gloves squeaked slightly as hands closed on weapons, and more than one of them shifted from foot to foot.

Waiting.

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Checking that his friends were indeed ready for any mischief that might ensue, Khalin reached out gingerly to take the cloth. He raised it reverently before him and began to unravel the material.

It was heavier than the warlord thought it would be, even considering it was soaked in blood. The cloth looked to be in poor condition — ragged as the edges, perhaps even traces of scorch marks under the crimson stains.

As he folder back another layer of the cloth, something within slipped out and tumbled towards the floor.

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He only saw it from the corner of his eye, but Khalin swiftly threw out an arm to catch the mysterious object.

[Khalin Dexterity Check: 1d20+5: 6] - critical failure!

He missed his catch by a country mile, knocking the thing at its edge and sending it tumbling over and over towards the floor.

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With effortless assurance Zero’s hand appeared from nowhere to catch the falling object. One moment the rogue had not been there, the next he had caught the thing and was staring at it in his hand.

‘What is it?’ asked Tradden, the first to open his mouth.

Zero did not answer, though, his body stiffened and his face began to turn pale.

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The others turned to face the stationary rogue, whose eyes were transfixed on the object in his hand. It glinted in the witchlight of Kireth’s spell, reflections cast around around the chamber by its mirrored surface, streaked with smears of blood. A hand mirror, possibly even ornate, but hard to tell beneath the blood.

‘Oh, gods, that’s horrible!’ spluttered Zero, dropping the thing from his hand to the floor, luckily not smashing the fragile glass. The rogue remained pale, his chest heaving a bit, as though he were about to vomit.

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Khalin glanced down at the object, but before retrieving it asked the shocked rogue: ‘What did you see?’

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Zero finally caught his breath. ‘In the mirror,’ he began, still shaken, ‘I saw the reflection of the face above us. Something… something was bulging out of its mouth, like a membrane. Black… awful. It looked like something was going to come out of it. It looked like the portal under the keep.’

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Khalin peered back up at the face looming above the group…

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The group’s attention had been diverted by the crimson cloth before them and Khalin’s deliberate curiosity. As they all turned to look up to verify the rogue’s words they witnessed a violent explosion of shimmering black spew out of the mouth above them. Great lumps of darkness tore through a thick membrane that had been covering the orifice and splattered with sickening squelches onto the stone floor around and before them, some landing on the corpses by the statues.

Too stunned to move, they watched transfixed as the lumps moved, swiftly and surely. The ones already on the corpses seemed to seep into the bodies, the others heading towards unclaimed cadavers.

The largest of the lumps did not seek a corpse, however, raising itself up from the floor by the northern wall, taller than a man and with two extruded limbs ending in a vicious trio of black claws. It appeared to gesture with those limbs, raising upwards, and the bodies began to rise.

First to its feet was the warrior man with the spear through its leg, pulling the battleaxe up with it. When it opened its eyes all they could see were black orbs glaring back.

The scent of tobacco grew as the bodies closed in.

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Scene
Completed

End

[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #14…]