Entry 28: Riloth the 19th the 24th
I will never get used to my awareness ending and waking up in my bed. Last night, I closed my eyes in a muddy hole, to let my body rest, if not my mind, and this morning I woke up in my warm cozy bed with a whole different host of pains. I went through the motions of getting ready and refined my plan in my mind as I walked.
I tasked Simon with the same orders as before, and set off once he’d gathered them. I ate my kidneys on the way to save time, and had an early lunch on the way. At the turn off, I brought with me only the essentials, my satchel with you and my spare potions of clarity, a single water skin, a single crossbow bolt, my crossbow, and my sword. Leaving behind the lunch bag, extra water skins, and quiver, I made much better time running through the woods. On top of that, I’d learned another trick—Mage Armor. The spell that saved me from attacks, worked wonderfully at pushing branches aside as I ran through them. The branches and leaves still hit me, but they slid off finding no purchase on my clothes and weapons. In order to conserve Will, I still wielded my father’s sword to cut a path,, but the effectiveness of the spell put a huge grin on my face.
I can get used to this.
At the campsite, I applied the venom using some sticks topped with little balls of cotton Levar had provided. I’d asked for an applicator for the venom and he’d pulled these out, warning me not to stick them too far into my ear, lest I damage them permanently. The man is a font of knowledge, but never volunteers critical information unless asked. I suspect there is just always so much going on in his head that he needs direction to see the details relevant to the moment.
Setting off into the woods—without a swollen, itchy finger—I made it to the clearing at a record pace. I downed the last of my water skin, and spent a little time recovering before beginning my assault. The sun was high in the sky, and I was feeling the heat despite the forest’s shade. Once rested, I armed the crossbow, and ran for the gate.
In reviewing my plan, I had decided on a better opening assault. The thralls had not reacted quickly to the crossbow’s attack, and I could take advantage of that surprise. At the rubble, I rested the crossbow on a crook, and set up my shot. Once happy that the weapon was stable, I sent my mind to the Arcane Realm and channeled as much power as I could into a Firebolt. The ball of flame started as a marble, and grew as I channeled more power into it. From marble, to apple, to melon, it grew, until I had to hold my arm out to my side to avoid burning myself with it. By then, the orb of fire swirled chaotically, flames licking wildly in all directions. When the strain became too much to contain, I threw the Firebolt at the ogre and dove to the crossbow without waiting to see if I hit.
In my haste, I knocked the crossbow off target and had to realign my shot. I watched as the massive Firebolt covered the distance and saw the ogres begin to turn towards it when it struck. The spell clipped the nearest ogre, barely hitting, but exploded into a cloud of flame that consumed it and obscured my view of the one behind it. Before the explosion, I’d managed to realign my shot, and I loosed blindly into the flames. Gerald and the knight shielded their eyes at the fire, but were not left unscathed.
I didn’t wait to see if my shot hit and ran for the trees. Just as before, the harpy flew from her tower and came for me. Not waiting for her to get in range, I fired a Lightning Bolt towards her in the air. The lightning dissipated before it reached her but she aborted her dive and circled above out of range. I ran towards the trees, and halfway there risked a glance behind. The ogre I’d struck with my Firebolt was clambering after me, weeping burns covering the upper half of its body, Gerald and the Knight followed close behind him. The second ogre was nowhere to be seen.
I needed to take out the harpy, and hopefully free Gerald and the knight of her control, but she circled just out of range of Lightning Bolt and I knew I couldn’t hit her with Firebolt. I reviewed my options in my head, but they all seemed poor.
The ogre was gaining, and I had to make a decision. I sent my mind into the Arcane Realm, without a spell in mind—generally a bad idea—and found myself outside the Font of Air. Seeing the Font, I remembered the experience of casting Gale the day before and did something else foolish. I began to cast Slow Fall, forming the shape of the spell in my mind, but as I formed it, I searched for that lever in the unknowable tangle of power. As the spell formed, I targeted the harpy, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. I pushed more power into the casting, deforming the shape of the spell dangerously, making it channel the power of the Font in self-harming unknowable ways, but just as the spell was about to fail, sending uncontrolled power through my body, the new power coalesced into the familiar lever I’d discovered in Gale.
My awareness returning to the world fully, only a fraction of a second had passed, and I unleashed my spell upon the harpy. I watched as her wings folded from their wide span into an invented V, as the wind turned against her. She fell from the sky like a rock, accelerating to the earth with unnatural speed as the spell—which normally followed the target gently to the ground—drove her ever faster. She hit the earth with such force her body disappeared into the low grass surrounding the fort.
The ogre and men paused in shock at the sight, and the ogre bellowed out a shout of rage. His shout at the sky turned into a charge as he ran straight for me. I began to cast a Lightning Bolt, but found I didn’t have the Will in me to do it and fumbled for a potion, knowing I had no time.
With the potion at my lips, and the ogre a few paces away, the burned behemoth took a halting step, and then another, before collapsing in the dirt face first, an arrow sticking up straight from the back of its skull. Behind the ogre, Gerald stood, bow held at arm's length, and right hand still by his cheek. The knight had begun to cover the distance between the man and the ogre, but had halted when it fell.
Unsure what to do, I waved.
Gerald waved back and yelled something I couldn’t hear. I shook my head, pointing to my ears and mimed covering them.
I walked towards the men, and they spoke to me more, with wide grins on their faces. I can’t read lips, but I assume they were thanking me.
Once more I pointed to my ears and this time said, “I can’t hear you. Beatrice sent me to find you. There’s a horse and cart tied up on the road where you turn off for your camp.”
Tears welled up in Gerald’s eye at the mention of his wife, and he embraced me in a hug. I stiffened, enduring it and lamenting my lack of Clean—he smelled terrible.
When Gerald had finished, the knight approached me and bowed, then grasped my hand in a firm handshake and said something that had the feel of an oath, but again, I couldn’t hear and I don’t think they understood this. I smiled and nodded, and waited for them to finish.
When I didn’t respond, they stood for a moment, and then—very awkwardly—waved and headed towards the forest.
Once alone, I headed into the fortress. The second ogre lay dead, my bolt having struck him in the ribs. Looking around, the grounds of the courtyard were sparse; free of anything you’d expect in a fortress aside from debris. Plants grew from every crack in the massive stone bricks. In the center of the clearing stood a small building with a disproportionately large gate set in it which took up the entire wall. Each corner of the fort had a tower, and each tower had a door at its base, but the doors were smaller than expected, being built by and for dwarves. I explored each of the towers, finding nothing of note. The harpy’s nest was disgusting. I struggled to comprehend how anything with intelligence could live in such filth. They may once have been beautiful
Stop showing me doodles when I write words.
They may have once been beautiful creatures of song and myth, but now they are just monsters, somewhere between beast and man. Closer to a pigeon than a man if the bathroom situation in her nest was any indication.
The large gate in the center structure had a typical dwarven design, with two doors, each five feet wide and eight tall. Simple and effective, but masterfully wrought. No frills, only pure function, but that had an aesthetic all its own. Made of stone, they had a simple pair of pull bars, which looked far too small for a door of its mass. The pull bars were a bright white-silver metal, somehow still free of rust after all these years—if a little dulled by the elements. The stone of the gate was nearly seamless with the wall around it. If not for the bars, I may have never noticed the gate at all.
The pull bars stirred my memory, and I ran back to the rubble to recover the crossbow. Someone—probably the ogre—had stepped on it during the battle and the bow had broken off the stock, but the metal bow was all I needed. I brought the metal band to the door and compared the metals. I tried casting Buff, the cantrip form of Mend from the Font of Persona, but the handle had been left idle too long for the spell to have any effect. A mundane polish of the metal with my shirt did the trick and revealed the metal of the handle to match that of the crossbow.
So it is a dwarven metal. I’ll need to tell Hilroy after all this is over.
I tossed the weapon aside, and resumed my study of the structure. The door bore an inscribed message four feet from the ground—Dwarf eye level. The inscription read "Enter all who are welcome. Beware all who are not." in Torcish, Rilith, and Waasian.
Assuming it was a riddle, I sat pondering it for some time. I’d had the opportunity to read very few dwarven texts during my previous life of study, but I recalled them well enough to know this was not an allusion to any of them.
After twenty minutes of contemplation, with ideas ranging from speaking aloud the traditional Torcish phrase for "Thank you" to trying to walk through the door as if it was not there—some of which I tried—I decided to try opening it. The door warned about entering, so touching it would likely not cause harm. The dwarves were precise and literal people when it came to their writing. I grabbed the comically undersized handle and pulled. The door shifted at my touch but stopped after only a fraction of an inch.
Well, I’m not dead, so I might as well try some of the other ideas.
Running through my ideas back to back none seemed to be the key. I tried saying "Thank you," "I am welcome," and asking for permission to enter in a dozen different fashions. Attempting to walk through the door didn't work either. Eventually, I resorted to looking for a hidden lock mechanism and it was then that I discovered the "secret’.
The door, so precisely cut and hung on its hinges, sat but a mere fraction of an inch above the stones of the courtyard—a courtyard that decades of plant growth had warped. The door was stuck on the now uneven ground. It took some work with my sword but I was eventually able to clear the path of the door enough to allow me to squeeze in. I held the sword up in my hands and inspected it.
Here I have a rare and powerful artifact that I’ve been tasked with hiding, and I’ve used it as a shovel, machete, and hedge trimmer.
The blade stood unmarred from my abuse, so I didn’t feel too bad and turned back to the door. I didn’t know what had been the key to open it, but there it was, open and waiting. Maybe it was no longer locked, or maybe I guessed correctly. The precision of the door leads me to believe it wouldn’t have budged that fraction of an inch if I had not been welcome on my first attempt.
Through the door, the room was dark, the day’s sun only penetrating a few paces. I took a potion of clarity before going further, and cast Light anchored to myself. The glowing orb appeared above my head, and lit the passage. A small landing lay beyond the door and stairs led into the depths. Runes covered the wall. Examining them closer revealed an intricate pattern that seemed familiar. To be sure, I closed my eyes, and focused, entering my mental vault. Since closing my bridge, it had been becoming quicker—though I don’t know if the act of closing the bridge or my practice was the source of the ease. In my vault, I summoned each of my spell templates to hand, one by one examining them until I’d found what I was looking for. In the center of the construct for the Light spell, lay the symbol for the Font of Light. I left my vault, and looked once more at the runes.
These must be some sort of light rune.
I examined the runes with my Will sight, but they bore the same gray cast as the rest of the inanimate world. A horizontal line passed through the symbol for the Font, and segmented waves followed them. Angled lines intercepted the horizontal at regular intervals, and from these came “S” shaped lines topped with circles. I wanted to stay and study them, but resisted, knowing I could redraw these with your help if need be.
I continued down the stairs, not counting at the time, but now recall that there had been exactly two hundred, each step an awkward four-inch drop that must have been ideal for a dwarf, but not for me. My light revealed that the stairs only filled half the tunnel, and a flat ramp took up the left side. Runes covered this ramp as well though I could not identify any of them.
The stairs ended and the path continued through a long tunnel the same width of the stairs, which in turn matched the width of the gate. The tunnel ended forty paces in, and itself was lined with more of the plain precisely cut stone doors; these sized for individuals and not gates.
I explored the military outpost—that's what it appeared to be after a quick look around. It had a barracks with fifty beds, each cut directly into the stone wall, with blankets and bedding which had surprisingly not rotted away. The beds were all still neatly made. This place must have been abandoned in a hurry despite the made beds. The center of the barracks was filled with tables, which were covered with meals long decayed to unidentifiable grime. Other tables had games of chance laid out on them as if their players had thrown down their hands and left mid-game—though there was no coin or chips for betting. Maybe dwarves don't gamble, or they took the time to collect it when they fled? Each bed had a small chest at its base as well, but I didn't try to unlock them.
Next to the barracks lay an armory, with racks upon racks of armor, weapons, and other assorted gear for war; all of it sized for dwarves. Many of the racks stood empty, but the room held far more equipment than the barracks' fifty men would need. A heavy layer of dust covered the gear like everything else in this place, but there was not a speck of rust to be seen. To my untrained eye, each piece looked very plain, in the dwarven style, but even I could tell that each one was a masterwork by surface standards.
The lack of rust alone proved these were of the same metal as the crossbow and handle, and I didn’t waste time inspecting them further after a quick examination with Will sight revealed nothing new. The rumors of a dwarven steel impervious to rust seemed to be true. I hadn't believed it, but not only could they do it, they must have been producing it in enormous quantities as far back as when this fortress was lost to time.
How old is this place? Why would they keep this from the surface? They would make a fortune if they sold it to us.
I walked the racks, admiring the unimaginable wealth this room represented. Not only were the weapons made of this new steel, they all bore runes etched into their surfaces.
If I ever escape these resets, I will be rich.
The next rooms were across the entry hall. The first one I entered, the one nearest to the stairs on the other side, was some sort of recreation dining combination room. Long stone tables filled the hall and at the end sat a collection of upholstered couches that looked very uncomfortable. It seemed that even the dwarves and all their master craftsmanship could not match the comfort of a halfling-designed couch. Honestly, it didn’t even feel like they tried.
A book lay on one of the couches, its title obscured beyond recognition. I cast Mend on it, but like with the handle, the object had sat idle for far too long and restoring faded ink or inscriptions in leatherwork was far beyond the spell’s capabilities. I flipped through it for anything of note. There were a few sections of interest about the creation of the gods and Kaltis. I'd read the elven account of the world's creation in my studies, but I'd never come across the dwarves’. No one has, no human at least. I suspect I can transcribe and translate it into your pages using your enhanced memory after having read them. When I have the time I will try, if it works like my other recollections I will only have one chance to relive it and I don’t want to be interrupted
The next room was a wonder. Clearly a kitchen from the pots, pans, and other cooking paraphernalia, but if those were gone I’d have never guessed. The walls were lined with cupboards and counters covered with strange devices. One-pot topped counter was crisscrossed with a lattice of metal grates and had pipes running below them. Another appeared to be an oven from the baking pans inside it—this one too lined with pipes. In either device I saw nowhere that wood or charcoal could be placed to operate them. The pipes must provide heat somehow, but I didn't see any runes on them. In all the pots and pans sat the residue of long since rotted food, abandoned while being prepared.
One item in the room did have runes. In the back of the kitchen stood another stone door, but instead of being plain, runes covered this one. Runes, it seems, are the closest thing to artistic flourishes the dwarves add to their works. Opening the door revealed a large pantry lined with shelves. Had I opened it a few hundred years ago, I would have vomited once more, but luckily for me, the food had long decayed to an unidentifiable black grime. The same runes from the door lined the walls, floor, and ceiling of this room as well. I don’t know their exact function, but I can guess their purpose. The room must have been used to preserve food, but whatever powered the runes had long run dry.
Did these runes chill the room, or possibly preserve the food through some other more clever means. The application of the runes is ingenious in itself, so I would not be surprised if their function was some further wonder.
I studied the runes for some time, trying to identify a familiar Font, but came up empty and moved on.
The kitchen also had an entire wall dedicated to kegs of ale, spirits, and wine. Little is known about dwarven culture, but the one feature known to all is their love of strong drink. Strong and likely poisonous as I now know from first hand experience. Looking at the racks of alcohol made my head hurt once more. I dared not risk opening those, even without the risk of rot. I know some spirits get better with age, but there can be too much of a good thing.
The last room in the outpost was a bath laundry combination. The room had a large open pool four feet deep and tubs with drying racks around the walls. Cut into the walls were small cubbies that may have been latrines. I hoped for the late occupants of this fort that those holes led deep deep underground. The water was long gone, but pipes that could have been used to fill the pool and tubs still lined the wall. There were no runes there aside from the illumination ones that were present throughout the complex. Thinking of it now, those runes are strange. I strongly suspect they emit light, but along each wall are also mounted oil lamps. These lamps themselves were a marvel, like all the dwarven devices, for they had no oil pot below them, only another pipe like in the kitchen.
After exploring the entire complex I returned to the dining room with the couches. I tried to make myself comfortable, but settled for just being off the ground. Even accounting for their age and the fact they were designed for occupants half my height, they were like bricks made from fabric. Laying on the "couch," I read through the nameless book while waiting for the reset, and trying to forget about the hunger that was starting to set in. After finishing the book I started this entry.
I had only packed lunch. Maybe subconsciously I hadn’t believed I’d succeed. More likely I just didn’t want to deal with carrying it.