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Entry 25 Part 2: Riloth the 19th the 22nd

Illunia 21 - Hardune Fortress

Trish looked around expectantly in the wake of her question. Roland hopped off his wagon and began inspecting the cliff face.

"We need to find a crag along the cliff wall. The holy man said there’d be a cave," he said as he searched.

Daulf helped Bearskin out of his covering and secured his own missing armor. Once free, Bearskin took a few hand axes from the cart he was lying in and stuck them in his belt. I followed his lead and grabbed a short sword for myself, not that I knew how to wield it.

"I found it!" came Roland’s whisper from the mountain face. His head poked out from behind a boulder. "Bearskin, you’re going to need to squeeze."

Trish and I went first. The crag was well hidden and was only visible as an opening from up close. It led to a narrow passage, six feet high and two feet wide. The confines forced me to walk sideways to make it through comfortably. After I’d walked a dozen feet, the scant light from the opening disappeared when Bearskin’s massive frame filled the entrance. I cast Glow, and summoned a brilliant white ball of light in my hand, which revealed Bearskin squeezing through on his side—headfirst. Too tall to walk sideways, and stooping over would make him too wide, the noble warrior was forced to crawl on his side. With one arm below him, and another gripping the rocks above, he inched forward like an insect crawling on a wall.

I kept in front of him, illuminating the tunnel and helping him find hand holds. After twenty paces, the crag opened up into a cave and Bearskin was finally able to stand. To my surprise, his skin was unharmed from the constant scratching of the jagged rocks. The rocks had cut me, and I hadn’t been hugging them.

Trailing behind Bearskin, Daulf came out of the crag, dragging Bearskin's weapon along the ground behind him. Daulf himself barely fit. Luckily, he hadn't donned his full plate from our first encounter for this endeavor.

Daulf distributed torches and said, "Theral, conserve your Will, only cast Glow for now. Everyone else, light one of these."

They each took a torch and turned to me expectantly. Trish pantomimed feeling her jacket as if looking for a flint—which I was sure she had on her somewhere. With an exaggerated sigh, I produced a flame in my hand and lit them each in turn.

Once they were lit, Daulf went on. "I reckon we have no more than two hours left. Deshiv said there’d be a rune etched into the door where we could place the gemstone, but that it wouldn’t otherwise be distinguishable as a door. When we get to the end of this tunnel, spread out and look, but stay in sight of each other."

The cave widened and the ground rose as we explored. The path of the cave snaked as it climbed. We traveled through the dark, hundreds of feet, winding back and forth, always upward. Thankfully it was clear of rubble. By the end, we must have ascended close to fifty feet. When the incline leveled out, the cave opened up further to a large cavern. My light was inadequate to reveal the ceiling, making it at least thirty feet high.

Silently, we spread out and looked for the marks along the wall. The cavern was nearly a perfect circle, and it was Trish who found the rune on the wall opposite the entrance. Hidden amongst natural cracks in the wall, the rune was a mess of swirling lines, reminiscent of a spellform. Rubbing the carving with her hand, she found the socket for the gemstone.

She moved to place the green stone when Bearskin grabbed her hand and whispered, "Stop. We need a plan. If enemies are behind the door, we must be ready to kill quickly."

Trish handed him the gem and pulled out two throwing knives, saying, "Right, sorry. I got ahead of myself. I'm not used to teamwork—or plans."

"It is alright. I am," he said. My light revealed the amusement on Bearskin’s face as he laid out a plan. "Roland, you shoot any who run. If none run, shoot the farthest. Daulf and I hold the front line and advance. Trish, look for opportunities to take out those with ranged weapons or stop flankers. Theral, stay in back, support as you see fit. Be silent."

Thanks Bearskin, I was hoping for a little more direction.

Once everyone was ready, we extinguished our lights, and Bearskin touched the gemstone to the runes. With the deep bass rumbling of stone grating on stone, a line of light appeared in the center of the wall, revealing a dimly lit room. When the door was only a hand span open, Roland shot an arrow into the gap and a gurgling gasp came through the crack. In just a second more, the door was open fully, revealing the small room. A round table filled it, and around that sat six redcaps—one of them clawing futility at the arrow sticking from its neck.

The other five lost a critical moment looking from their dying friend to us. In that second, four more were killed: Trish threw a knife, hitting the second-furthest gnome in the eye, Roland shot an arrow through the heart of the one to the left of his first target, Daulf stepped into the room and decapitated the nearest gnome with a quick swing of his long sword, and Bearskin, wielding a small ax in each hand, brought one down on the head of the closest to him. Bearskin’s strength was terrifying to behold. The small hatchet cracked the skull in two and continued down into the redcap’s body.

The last redcap vanished with a gesture of his hands, but his footsteps could be heard scrabbling through the room. Daulf pulled an ax off of Bearskin’s belt and threw it into the now empty room. The ax stopped in midair, and the gnome reappeared with it sticking from his back. Daulf turned to the group, his eyes glowing with a faint blue light.

"Good job, stay quiet," he said.

Trish moved into the room and rifled through the bodies of the dead. Roland ran to the door and put his ear to it. It was a solid slab of stone, a shade lighter than that of the walls. With the brief skirmish ended, I had time to take in the room. A briny stench of the ocean permeated the room, now mixed with the iron stink of the gnomes’ blood. Debris lay along the edges of the room where the walls met the ground: sand, broken bits of wood and other unidentifiable refuse. The blood spattered chips and coins of some Forsaken game of chance covered the table.

Hearing nothing through the stone door, Roland moved to recover his arrows from the two gnomes he’d slain. He cast one aside, finding the head missing. After Daulf handed back Bearskin his ax and everyone cleaned their weapons on the dead, we gathered around the door to the room.

"Good," Bearskin said, looking us over.

Roland pushed the large stone door, it opened smoothly thanks to some wonder of gnomish engineering and dwarven construction, and peeked an eye out.

"Clear," he whispered back.

He threw the door open, and we all filed out. Outside our small room was a wide hallway, the ground and walls smooth, unbroken stone like the room we’d just left, the only adornment being the natural marble pattern of the rock. The hallway extended over a hundred feet and was lit dimly by torches set in improvised sconces. To the right, three more doors lined the hall, two on the right and one on the left wall. To the left, it deadened with an opening on the right.

Trish motioned for us to wait and ran over to scout around the corner, her steps silent on the stone as she carefully avoided the debris.

After a peek around the corner she came back and said, "Stairs down. No door."

Bearskin considered and spoke slowly, "We should clear this area. We must hurry. We hope no one follows. Not the best choice, but the only choice."

We went to the next door in the hall. Daulf tried unsuccessfully to move with stealth, but the clank and rattle of his chainmail and pauldrons didn't allow it. Thankfully, the thick stone doors made it unlikely we would be heard.

In the same configuration as before, Bearskin opened the door. An overwhelming odor assaulted us when it opened. Everyone save for Bearskin recoiled and covered their noses.

Trish began to dry heave before Bearskin pushed the door shut and said, "Found the latrine."

In the brief moment the door was open, I saw within a statue depicting Torc, in his representation as a stone sphere. The room had been a shrine to the Jailor of Faust and the Forsaken were clearly not fans.

The next door on that same wall had served as quarters for six small people, likely our victims. The smell was better than the previous room, but only just.

The last door opened into a small room that barely fit Bearskin. The wall in the room was covered in a network of runes. From Deshiv's description, this was one of the defense control runes, able to flood the floor below us, but not the one that could restart the river. We debated using it, but we didn't know if it would work, or if it would exhaust its 'imbuement.’

Once more, Trish ran ahead to look down the hallway and see what lay beyond the turn. Roland covered her with his drawn bow.

Trish motioned for us to approach. "There's a stairwell, fifty feet up to a landing. I didn’t go up. Wait here and I will scout ahead."

We waited as she ran up the stairs, as silent as ever. The stairs were ten feet across, and sized comfortably for a dwarf, which was a height decidedly uncomfortable for a human. No torches were lit in this hall, and Trish disappeared into the darkness as she went.

After a few minutes, I began to grow worried. I was about to ask if we should follow her, when she reappeared from the shadows, as silently as she had disappeared.

"There are Forsaken up there working on some sort of project. There are dozens of these stone statues, and they are just speaking gibberish at them. My Torcish is passable, but nothing they said made any sense. I counted two redcaps, three duergar, one orc and an ogre. It's all one long hall up there. No way to sneak past them."

Everyone looked to Bearskin, who had taken the reins as the self-appointed tactician.

After thinking briefly, he said, "Trish will impersonate a cultist and say they need help downstairs. We will stand out of sight and ambush when they come. On my mark, we attack. If they do not come, we charge."

We all agreed and made our way to the top of the stairs.

At the top, I heard the Torcish nonsense Trish mentioned. "Rock water gopher. Rock water worm. Rock gopher worm."

It continued, with different iterations of the same words, as if reading from a list.

Trish took a moment, altering her demeanor subtly to once again mimic the cultists before heading around the corner.

I heard her voice shout down the large room in the Forsaken language, "I was sent to fetch you lot. They need your help downstairs."

A shrill redcap voice called back, "What are you doing up here? The humans were supposed to wait outside."

"I’m sorry,” she said, defensively, choosing not to double down on the subservience. “I'm just doing what I was told. I delivered my message, my job’s done. You be the one who disobeyed orders."

"Krit and Crool," the redcap cursed in Forsaken. There are a lot of curses in Forsaken, each apparently rich with nuance, but my father never bothered to teach me their meanings—which left a sizable gap in my comprehension of the language. "Let’s go and see what this talk is all about."

The gibberish phrases stopped and the sound of footsteps came down the hall. We had no place to hide, so Bearskin and Daulf hugged the wall by the corner, while Trish, Roland, and I stood behind them at the ready.

When the voices drew close, Bearskin waved us into motion and threw himself around the corner, this time his massive toothed club drawn and swinging before he could even see a foe. Daulf charged behind him, and together they blocked the hall, giving the rest of us a safe pocket from which we could attack. We ran to join them and saw the first duergar victim of Bearskin’s swing lying limp against the wall. Above him dripped a bloody stain from the impact. The ogre and a duergar led the procession and, a few yards back came the two gnomes. Further back, and in no rush to get to Trish’s mysterious task, lingered the remaining two duergar and the orc.

At his companion’s death, the ogre bellowed a guttural scream and charged at Bearskin while he recovered from his swing. The two behemoths were of a height. They grappled and fought, blocking half the hallway. Daulf filled the gap between the wrestling foes and the wall, just in time to intercept a shard of ice with his shield. The shard shattered on the wood with the sound of breaking glass, and fragments exploded across the hall. One struck my cheek and I felt the flesh of my skin freeze around it. I’d little experience with ice magic, and hadn't truly known how cold the projectiles were, believing the danger to be in the spike. Had that bolt impaled a person, I imagine their blood would freeze around it causing far more damage than a mundane cut.

Images of my parents' final moments flashed through my mind in the midst of the battle, my musings on the spell ripping the scab off the poorly healed wound of their deaths.

While I stood overtaken by grief, the redcap that had cast the Ice Bolt prepared another, behind him the orc fled for help and the duergar advanced.

Roland let loose an arrow at the fleeing orc. The projectile burned to a puff of ash as it got close, flames wreathing the orc’s body. The bright light of the flames broke me from my memories and I cast a Lightning Bolt at the orc, just before he left my spell's range. The blue-white bolt illuminated the entire hall and was deafening as its crack echoed off of the stone walls. The lightning hit the orc, and he fell to the ground, convulsing as the magic snaked around his body before fading. Roland’s next arrow hit the prone form in the back, this time sinking in deep.

While Roland and I were taking care of the runner, Daulf held back the duergar who had advanced. With his magical shield active, the redcap’s next ice attacks shattered before him. The duergar had drawn axes and were looking for an opening in Daulf’s guard, but he never gave them one. He remained on the defense, parrying and blocking all their blows, while allowing Trish to throw knives at the lightly armored enemies. In the chaos, none of her strikes were killing blows, but each knife found a home in flesh and the floor was turning black with the blood of the duergar.

Bearskin was locked in combat with the ogre. The behemoths grappled and clawed at each other’s necks, the ogre biting at Bearskin and Bearskin pummeling it in the chest with repeated punches and knees. Both seemed impervious to each other’s attacks. When Bearskin removed a hand from his foe to reach for an ax, the ogre took advantage of the opening to push him back. Bearskin stumbled and fell to the ground, and the duergar filled the gap, closing in around Daulf.

Roland shot the redcap before it could complete a spell. His first arrow took the Forsaken gnome in the shoulder. The redcap let out a curse and the magic disappeared from its hand. Instead, the redcap summoned a hazy shield before him, obscuring him in a gray semi-transparent bubble. Roland’s next arrow glanced off the bubble. I stood watching, unsure where to help.

Lighting Bolt had worked on the last shield so I began building the construct once more. Before I could complete the spell, Bearskin let out a scream and jumped to his feet. His tattoos, once black, now glowed with faint red light. He charged at the ogre, leading with his shoulder, and pinned the monster to the wall. The ogre hit the wall with a bone cracking crunch and blood geysered from his mouth. Coated in the blood of his enemy, Bearskin lifted the ogre over his head—as easily as I would a small child—and threw it a dozen feet down the hall, where it popped the protective bubble and crushed the redcap wizard.

Tattoos still glowing, Bearskin kicked the nearest duergar facing Daulf with inhuman force. The kick landed in the duergar’s side, breaking his ribs with an audible crack and sending him flying into his ally. The two duergar collided and they both fell to the ground in a heap. Daulf took advantage of the sudden turn in battle and ended the life of the prone duergar with a quick stab to the chest.

When the last foe had died, Bearskin took off down the hall toward the next stairwell. We followed, but he easily outpaced us. Trish stayed behind to look over the bodies of our slain foes.

Daulf approached me, "Are you alright son? You look a bit shaken."

Am I okay? I think I am, but if I'm not, I'm not going to tell him.

"I’m fine. I think. This is just not how I expected the day to go."

Good job. That's a mostly true statement.

He gave a small chuckle, "Ha, neither did I. Well you are doing well. Not everyone is suited for a life of combat, but I sense you have a good head for it. I’m glad you chose to come along."

The narrow hallway we fought in opened up to a massive chamber. Twenty stone golems lined the walls, and in the center more still sat in unfinished states along with massive blocks of marble and granite in varying states of completion. The golems, it seemed, were chiseled from a solid block of stone. One golem in the construction area looked complete, with runes lightly etched over its body, and a circular socket cut into the stone of its chest that I did not notice on any of the other golems. Whatever was to go there, the dwarven crafter never had the opportunity to finish his creation.

While I was marveling at the golems, the rest of the group spread out looking for other enemies that might be on the floor. Bearskin came back from the stairs, no longer glowing.

"There is no one at the foot of the stairs. I did not want to waste my Bond. Good job everyone. Trish, please scout ahead if everyone is done down here."

"Sure thing Big Guy," Trish said cautiously, looking at the blood covered giant in a new light.

Trish ran up the stairs, silently as before, and this time I was only a little worried when she finally returned.

"There is a whole room of sleeping dark elves up there," she reported. "I didn’t go far, but no one seemed to be on watch. If Roland and I go alone, we might be able to take care of these guys before they become a problem."

Bearskin gave a grunt of approval, "Good idea, we will wait on the stairs in case of trouble."

Roland and Trish disappeared around the corner, long daggers drawn. I waited a minute before peeking my head into the room. It had the same footprint as the previous floor, a large chamber with the control room being the only door. The wreckage of furnishings were piled in the nearest corner, making it impossible to tell what had once been here. Sleeping dark elves covered the floor; each wrapped in nothing more than a blanket on the stone ground. I counted twenty in total spread out every few yards, illuminated by glowing stones strewn around the campsite. In the far corner was a single-occupied cot and writing table amidst all those sleeping on the ground.

My two companions carried out their grim task with cruel efficiency. Each would approach a sleeping elf at their target's—victim's—head, and in a single quick motion they covered the mouth of the victim while simultaneously shoving a dagger into their skull. Few victims even twitched. I couldn't see what caused it, but when only ten remained, something woke Trish’s target. Her stab missed, only glancing his face. He let out a muffled scream through her hand.

The rest of the party broke from our position and ran to their aid. I watched, as if in slow motion, as the awoken target grabbed a dagger and drove it into Trish’s side. She recoiled back from the elf, taking the dagger with her, just as Roland shot the still prone enemy in the chest. The remaining nine elves were now awake and scrambling for their weapons. By the time they rose to their feet with weapons drawn, Bearskin was upon them. In the large room, he was able to make full use of his weapon’s reach as he swung it in a great arc. One dark elf tried to block, only for his sword to be driven into his own body along with Bearskin’s club. The blades cut deep and he cleaved through the elf's body with a wet tearing sound. The weapon continued its swing towards the other elves.

They jumped out of Bearskin’s reach and drew knives. Before they could throw them, I summoned a Gale between Bearskin and the elves, blowing across their weapons flight paths. While not enough to disrupt a person’s balance, it succeeded in ruining their aim. Only two of the seven knives hit their target, and Bearskin brushed them off—literally removing them from his flesh with a casual flick.

Daulf and I continued to close the gap while Bearskin occupied the elves. Roland took advantage of Bearskin's presence to retreat to Trish and tend to her side.

Without warning, gray mist poured out of the slain elves and converged on Bearskin, heedless of my Gale which should have whisked away any gas. The mist coalesced into a wraith, fully subsuming Bearskin. He clawed and attacked the shadow enveloping him, but his attack proved futile. With each moment, his movements became more slow and sluggish, and he fell to his knees. By then Daulf and I had reached him and stood a step away from the smoke, unsure what to do.

It was then I noticed the dark elf from the cot. She'd risen at the scream and immediately begun to cast the spell that now held Bearskin. She stood with eyes closed in concentration and wore a bone white robe which seemed to glow in contrast to her dull soot-black skin which seemed to drink in the light from the glowing stones. I reached for the Font of Fire and threw a Firebolt at the Blessed of Erebog—for she could be nothing other than a priestess of the god of death. The bolt burst into a flower of flames inches from her face and flowed harmlessly around her. While I attacked, Daulf defended me, working to keep the remaining seven elves at bay. The dark elves moved to encircle us, but gave the wraith a wide berth.

I ran to Trish, relieving Roland to fight, and held my hand tight to the wound at her side as it continued to pump blood. Reaching out to the Font of Fire, I summoned a small flame to my palm and whispered, "Sorry!" as I pressed it into the wound, cauterizing it.

She let out a gasp and managed to give a nod of appreciation.

Down on his knees, Bearskin let out a shout, and his tattoos once more began to glow. The wraith enveloped him still, yet he stood. Whatever it drained from him was countered by his magic. He swung his sword at the now nearby elves, though they stood back from the wraith cloaked man, his reach with his weapon was great and he broke two more with his blow. His swings did not have the supernatural strength of his kick from before, but Bearskin's natural power bordered on the unnatural.

Daulf once more took advantage of Bearskin’s spectacle and cut down another elf by bashing her sword away with his shield and closing in for a thrust to the neck. The elf collapsed in a rapidly growing pool of blood and Daulf advanced on the remaining five who were once more retreating from Bearskin.

Freed from tending Trish, Roland unleashed a barrage of arrows on the death priest. Her shield was far less effective against Roland's arrows than it was against my magic, but it protected her all the same. His first arrow was sent wide, but subsequent shots inched closer to hitting their target. Finally one struck home, the shield burst in a haze of smoke and the priest fell clutching her chest.

The wraith vanished with her collapse and Bearskin was free from its leeching embrace. The elves were not equipped for this sort of fight; they were no match for Daulf's armor or Bearskin's power with their short swords and knives. Together Daulf and Bearskin charged the remaining five elves and made short work of them with Roland's support.

When the last elf was slain, Daulf ran to Trish's side. He touched the wound, and, noticing my work, said, "Good job, you may have saved her life."

His hand began to glow as the puncture on Trish's side knitted itself back together and the burned skin healed. The charred part fell away to be replaced with new skin, pale and pink. He looked up from her, and for the first time noticed my ice scarred face. I'd forgotten about the strange stinging numbness in my face, but with a touch of his finger Daulf healed me of it.

"Thank you," I said, to which he only nodded.

Roland went around the room, retrieving his arrows, and performing Trish's self-assigned task of searching the dead. Bearskin walked towards a wall, and as the glow faded from his tattooed flesh, so too did his strength as he collapsed to the ground. Daulf tended to him next, patching up the small knife wounds that covered his body.

Laying on the ground, Bearskin asked, "How much time do we have?"

"I'd be shocked if we had more than an hour," Daulf replied.

Bearskin propped himself up against the wall, his face looking pained. "I have one battle left in me. One more Bond, but after, I will be useless. Even now, I can barely stand. I fear that foul spirit took too much from my clan."

“Can anyone read Forsaken?" came Roland's shout from across the room. He stood over the writing table reading something in his hand.

“I can,” I said as I went to his side and asked, "What is it?"

He handed me a stack of papers which I sorted through quickly. Most seemed to be journal entries or the religious rambles of the priestess we’d just slain, amongst the stack sat a letter.

I read the note out loud, translating as I read.

“Mistress, we have the children, they have been sent through the "Kituh" to the outpost, per your orders. Our assault on the local town will begin shortly after I send this missive to you. After we have captured the town, we will send their children on as well. Signed Tiniav, High Priestess of Erebog.”

At the mention of children, I stumbled in my speaking, and Roland’s face hardened.

When I’d finished, Roland yelled across the room, "Bearskin, tell us when you are ready, we need to destroy these monsters."

When Daulf returned from tending to Trish, I handed him the note. As he read it, his face became set, cold rage visible in his eyes.

"Let's go." He moved up the stairs without a glance to see if we followed.

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TK523

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Bio: Aim for perfection, but don't try too hard.

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