Entry 29 Part 1: Riloth the 19th the 24th
I need something to take my mind off the hunger. I went outside and tried to catch something to eat, but quickly gave up. This, I suppose, is as good a time as any to continue my tale of Edgewater.
Illunia 21 - Hardune Fortress
We left off with a dedicated Daulf running up the stairs ahead of the group. After the brief respite, Bearskin moved to his feet with great effort. Trish looked pale but was able to keep up after Daulf's healing.
Daulf didn't wait for us to scout ahead, ascending the tiny dwarven stairs three at a time and we kept pace behind him. As we neared the top, the stink of rotting dead replaced the musty stench of the ocean and the light from below grew faint. I cast Glow, and an orb of light appeared in my cupped hand, casting vertical bands of illumination through the gaps in my fingers and revealing only the stairs before us. The room atop the stairs was pitch black.
Roland whispered from behind us, "It's a large empty room with a gate on the right. The far side has a raised dais with a door atop it. There are bodies all over the floor and something large sits in the center of the room. Whatever was in there has been removed. I think the far room has the controls. It matches Deshiv's description."
"Cast Light," came Daulf’s cold voice from the darkness, taking no care to whisper.
Letting my Glow vanish, I cast Light anchored to Daulf, and it appeared just above his head. Bright white light flooded the room for thirty feet in all directions, revealing the grisly scene. The bodies of dead dwarves lay in neat rows covering the floor—in an almost respectful manner. They wore simple tunics, and bore no visible wounds, likely the victims of the fortress’ defenses. The light revealed the walls, clearly for the first time, and they too were covered in thin etched runes—though I didn’t notice them at the time, only now in this recollection.
We made our way across the room, through the field of the dead. Our circle of light revealed the large object to be the corpse of a giant scaled beast; the scales shone a brilliant gold in the magical light.
The sight broke Daulf from his cold trance. "Dead dragon," he said, voice tinged with awe.
The corpse was small for a dragon, which was quite large for anything else. Its unmoving form rose to near Bearskin's height. As my light revealed more of the beast, I saw a gash running along its flank, from where its neck met its body to its hind leg. We all paused, in awe at the sight of a creature of myth lying dead before us. No one spoke. Daulf broke first and approached the slain creature—unconcerned that the killer might still be present—and gingerly laid his hand upon the wound.
"The forces of men lost a mighty al—" the dragon rose to its feet and let out a roar as he touched it, cutting off what he had to say.
The roar sounded wrong, like a dragon’s attempt to reproduce the howl of a hound. Not the great roar of legends. Daulf jumped back and drew his sword as he raised his shield to guard, but the dragon only turned to him. I could see that one of the dragon’s eyes had been replaced with a brown stone, while the other stared lifelessly ahead. The dragon stood to its full height, reaching almost twenty feet up. Its wings hung limply at its side, robbing it of some of the majesty it had in life.
Around us, the slain dwarves rose to their feet, silent save for the shuffling of uncoordinated limbs. We closed into a circle, and I picked up a discarded shield at my feet. The undead creatures made no move to attack. They watched us, each of them with a sphere of pitted and cracked marble in place of an eye.
I had read about the undead, but never seen them. The Late Midlothian Empire used them extensively, turning their defeated enemies into fodder, but with the fall of the Empire and the Flood, the methods of their creation were lost—lost to the surface that is.
A shrill laugh echoed manically, through the hall, "I'm not sure what you foolish adventurers came here to accomplish, but I assure you, everyone you might be trying to save is quite dead. But worry not, it was not for nothing. I'll enjoy adding one of the Mistress’s thugs to my collection."
While the voice spoke, Daulf's eyes took on the blue glow as he scanned the room behind my Light’s reach. "There’s a redcap upon the dais at the end of this floor," he said in a low whisper.
The undead dwarves closed in. They bore no weapons and moved in an awkward and jerky manner—like puppets on strings in the hands of children—but clumsy or not, they still outnumbered us greatly.
"Retreat to the stairs!" Bearskin commanded us, his tattoos once more taking on their red glow.
He charged the undead between us and the stairs, clearing a path with one swipe of his mighty weapon. The undead flew across the room, and we took the opportunity to run through the gap to make a stand at the hall’s narrow entrance.
The undead that had been thrown by the attack rose silently and continued their advance, undeterred by their now broken bodies. They shambled and crawled towards us, rejoining the others in their mindless procession. The faint silhouette of the dragon in the back stood awkwardly on its hind legs, and once more let out its strange howl.
Bearskin looked from us to the dragon and said, "Hold here," and—weapon held before him—plowed through the advancing undead. They bit and clawed at him as he passed, but tooth and nail found no purchase on the giant man’s tough hide. The dragon reached for Bearskin with its talons, but Bearskin leaped over the claw and climbed up the arm of the great unliving beast, using his strange powers to climb without purchase. Our flight left the dragon in the darkness and only the faint glow of Bearskin’s tattoos were visible, now high up on the dragon's back. I could hear his grunts and the beats of his weapon as he battled the monster.
With any capacity to plan, the undead would have quickly defeated us, but they only reached and clawed mindlessly at their prey. I helped hold the line against the monsters, gripping my shield in both hands and kicking any back that tried to claw below it. Daulf fared better, and was able to block with his shield arm and still make the occasional slash at a grasping hand. Trish and Roland stood behind us, stabbing and cutting at any that made it into their deadly reach. The dwarves ignored our attacks, endlessly pressing on despite the wounds they took in the process, clawing and biting silently in the dark.
When it seemed like we had reached an equilibrium, the voice filled the room once more, "Stop damaging my dragon! Do you know how hard that was to create!?"
Green mist began to coalesce, and Roland stowed his swords and drew his bow from his back, shooting an arrow in the same motion he drew it. The arrow flew into the dark.
"Flood!" cursed the same voice once more echoing magically through the room, and the mist dissipated—but only for a moment. Soon it returned, and with it came a wretched odor.
"Hold your breath!" came Daulf’s command.
I complied, but at the same time began to reach for the Font of Air. A shove from the undead knocked me to the ground, interrupting my spell and forcing out my held breath. The mist was all around us, and I could just make out Roland taking up my shield and filling the gap as my vision became obscured by the fog.
Landing knocked the air from my lungs, and I took a breath out of reflex, only to cough it back up along with what little air I still had. I pulled my shirt to my face as I gasped for breath through the fabric. Filtered slightly, I was able to keep the breath in, but then the retching began. I collapsed forward on all fours, my body trying to rid my stomach of its contents in response to the foul odor that occupied my lungs. Distantly, I was aware of the surrounding battle and that I needed to do something. In between gasps and heaves, I couldn't focus on the Font. Desperately, I tried to cast my mind to that other place fully, to escape my surroundings and exist only in the Arcane Realm and focus on the Font of Air. I reached closer and closer, but each time my body shuddered, and I fell further away.
Through my pain and effort, I heard Roland let out a curse, and he too began to cough and heave.
I blocked out my perception of the world and threw the full force of my Will into reaching the Arcane Realm. My awareness of my body—and time—disappeared, and I was standing outside the Font of Air. My hand entered the Font, and I burned my Will as I shaped it to fit my needs. After a moment—or an eternity, time is strange there—I succeeded, and awareness of my body returned along with a Gale. More time had passed than I’d thought, for Trish too was standing over a downed Roland filling the gap with her long knives.
The mist began to dissipate as my wind blew up the stairs and into the room, and another curse rang out through the room in the Forsaken tongue.
Trish stood over Roland, bleeding from a dozen different bites. Motionless dwarves lay at her feet. She gasped for a breath when the air was clear. "Cut off their heads or damage those stones!"
Daulf was faring better in his chain mail, with only a few visible wounds. He was succeeding in keeping the undead at bay, but a pile of writhing, limbless dwarves were biting at his feet.
Trish covered Roland and me while we rose. She drove a knife into the eyes of the dwarves as they closed in, dropping them.
Shards of ice flew over the remaining undead. One struck me in the shoulder and I let out a cry of pain. The wound was bitterly cold, and I could feel my flesh freezing before I was able to knock the shard free. The pain caused me to lose focus on my spell, and the wind ceased.
Despite the hail of ice, we were now on the offensive and Roland and Trish pushed forward. Daulf began to behead those attacking him and I joined in as well after picking up a short sword from the ground. Together we thinned the horde as we advanced. My strikes failed to leave decisive blows, but when my blade lodged into the dead, I cast Shock, the cantrip for the Font of Lightning, and let its power flow through the blade and into my foe. The cantrip caused the undead to twitch and lose their tentative grasp of coordination, providing my companions the opportunity to dispatch them.
The sound of Bearskin's struggle with the dragon continued as Daulf beheaded the last of the undead. By then I was exhausted, gasping for breath and clutching my injured shoulder, which was turning black with frostbite, the shield hung limply at my side. My companions weren't doing much better. Roland drew his bow and his aim wavered as he shot past the dragon at some unseen target. His shot disrupted chanting I hadn’t been aware of until it had stopped, and with another curse a wall of fire filled the room between the dais and the dragon.
Backlit by the flames, we watched as Bearskin battled the undead dragon. The pair had done a number on each other. Swaths of scales were missing from the dragon’s hide, its left fore-claw was absent, and the side of its head with the real eye was gone, but still it fought. Bearskin leaped off the dragon’s back in response to the flames, and the dragon sat bathing in them unharmed. His tattoos still glowed, but he was covered in wounds he seemed oblivious to.
The dragon let out a wheezing howl and charged at us; Bearskin and Daulf ran to meet it while Roland loosed arrow after arrow at the stone set in its eye. Right before the two warriors met the undead beast, an arrow landed true, hitting the stone eye. The dragon faltered and fell to its knee, sliding on the stone. Its tail whipped around and intercepted Bearskin, throwing him across the room, where he slammed into the wall with a bone shattering crunch. The red light of his tattoos went out.
Daulf reached the dragon as it recovered. The dragon grabbed for him with its remaining claw. Dropping his shield, Daulf raised his sword in a two handed swing and made an overhand cut at the incoming attack. Before impact, his sword began to glow with golden light, and when steel met scale, the scale dissolved to black ash which floated away in a cloud. Daulf ran through the dragon's claw as if it were not there. Robbed of its remaining limb, the wyrm fell to the ground, where Daulf was ready to meet it. He severed its head from its serpentine neck with another glowing swing of his sword. The body turned to ash, and that ash too dissolved into nothingness, but Daulf did not stop.
His hands moved in a familiar gesture, and he continued his mad dash into the wall of fire. Where he met the flames, they parted, and he ran through them unharmed, leaving an opening through which we could see a redcap frantically gesturing the workings of a spell. While Daulf was only feet away, the redcap completed his magical gestures and punctuated the spell with a rude one. The foulmouthed mage vanished in a flash of light, the wall of fire disappearing with him.
"Trish! The ruby! Come on!" Daulf ordered.
Trish broke from her trance and ran through the darkness towards the light above Daulf. Together they entered the door atop the dais.
I used the last of my Will to summon a Light above me and ran to check on Bearskin. With the rush of battle past, I became aware of my Will drain induced headache. Bearskin lay motionless and breathing shallowly in the same state from our first meeting.
Walking towards him, my body alerted me to more injuries I had no recollection of receiving; multiple bites on my legs and knife slashes in my arms all competed with my frostbitten arm to force me to collapse.
I heard the grinding of stone on stone reverberate through the fortress. The ground shook and rushing water roared distantly.
We did it!
Lying on the ground, hurting and exhausted, my last thought before sleep took me.
Some time later I woke, still hurting from my wounds, but with the pain in my arm gone. In a panic, I reached for my shoulder, grasping to see if my arm was still there. It was, and after a moment, I thought to try to move it and relaxed in relief when it worked.
Misreading my intent, Daulf said, "I'm sorry, but that's all I had left in me after the battle."
"Thank you, no it’s not that. I thought I had lost the arm, but I can’t even feel the twinge of a wound." I reassured him.
I was still where I had passed out, but now covered with a blanket. There was a fire going nearby, providing some small bit of light. I summoned a Light over myself, revealing Trish, Roland and Bearskin still asleep nearby. From my Will, I judged I had slept at least eight hours.
Daulf came close and proceeded to heal the rest of my wounds. The healing felt itchy, but in a good way. Like when you have a bug bite and scratching it feels good that you can’t stop until it's a bleeding sore. Except the healing left me with perfect, unmarred skin, instead of a nasty scab and a scolding from my mother. Imagine that, but over your whole leg.
"A common response," he said with a chuckle. "The others told me to wake them when you were ready. We need to go through the room. As soon as Bearskin wakes we must be prepared to leave. The water rose to the top step of this floor, but it started to drain a few hours ago."
Roland and Trish were both awake when we went to get them, light sleepers it seemed. In my brief experience, trying to wake Bearskin was futile, but still we tried. Slaps and cold water to the face did nothing, so we went to inspect the room without him, throwing some more furniture into the fire to keep it going in our absence.
The door was still open, and Daulf stopped us before the threshold. "There were no traps before when we activated the defense, but Deshiv’s gems are now empty of whatever protection they may have given. If I say run, run. If I say duck, duck."
His eyes began to glow, and he stepped into the room.
"Come in. It looks clear, for now."
The room was simple, yet impressive all the same. The walls were unadorned, but the marble swirls were in brilliant colors I did not know could exist in stone. The patterns evoked the same awe one experienced when witnessing a beautiful sunset, or the majesty of standing atop a cliff overlooking a great valley.
Set into the far wall was a bookshelf stripped of its contents. The wall to the right had a dwarven sized bed that the redcap had turned into some filthy facsimile of a nest. The stench of the room was only marginally better than that of the warren below. A table lay next to the bed, atop it the only books remaining in the room. One lay open next to a bowl of the same brown stones I’d seen in the undead dragon’s head. Everything else in the room was taken, destroyed, or defaced. A broken statue of Torc and a half melted shield symbolizing Bild once dominated the space opposite the bed, but now lay destroyed and vandalized on the floor.
I looked through the journal on the table. It described the methods the redcap used to raise the dead, but not in enough detail for anyone to recreate. It listed ghastly, inhumane experiments on the living and the dead. The last entry was from the eleventh. He had raised the dwarves using soul stones he'd brought with him from duergar "volunteers." He was unable to create stones from the dead dwarves, but it seemed like he expected that and had come prepared.
According to the notes, the stones he brought appeared brittle and weak from both their method of creation and the willingness of the originators. He used them, in some unspecified way, to raise their bodies as undead monsters slaved to his Will. The poor quality of stone resulted in the undead's lack of coordination and inability to use weapons against us.
There were pages on the dragon. No matter what he tried, he could not summon a soul stone from its corpse. At first he thought dragons required a different method, but eventually concluded that it was "gone." He was quite angry about that, and most of the pages laid out his unhappiness in creative and colorful ways. In the end, he resorted to using a "perfect" soul stone from a "loyal and willing" subject. Despite his disappointment, he seemed proud of the achievement.
When I was done reading the journal, I looked at Daulf, "Can I burn this?"
He gave me a nod, and handed me a book. "I found this on the table, it did not belong to the redcap. I think you might find it useful."
The book in my hand was a large, simple tome. It was a plain book, the only ornamentation being a scaled pattern stamped into the leather and a sigil or crest represented by a circular disc surrounded by three interlocking rings.