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> Chronicles > Book 4 – Part 5

Book 4 – Part 5 – Attack on Dolnogg

  • Contents (1)
    • Chapter 12: Ganglati and Kyran
    • Chapter 13: Attack on Dolnogg
    • Chapter 14: Beneath the Well

See also: Adventure Log > Session 19, 2016-09-02


Chapter 12: Ganglati and Kyran

During the cold night, Kyran found it nearly impossible to sleep. He tossed and turned fitfully as his mind stirred in anticipation of the coming day’s battle: to defeat the orks at Dolnogg and rescue Lady Leka. Yet it was not fear of combat that kept him awake. On the contrary, he relished the thought of devastating his foes, utilizing his unique blend of sword and sorcery. No, there was something else that troubled his mind. An odd sense of foreboding that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. A vague presentiment that something unfortunate might happen. Something out of his control.

Kyran actually felt relief when Glenlivet roused him for his shift on guard duty. As he quietly took his post on watch, he noticed that after Dodge and Glenlivet shoved themselves into their bedrolls, they both fell quickly into a deep sleep, Dodge snoring like a bull. They had no trouble sleeping, Kyran reflected with a slight tinge of envy, but this type of situation was simple for them. His two childhood friends were born warriors. It was not only in their blood, inherited from their fathers, but they were raised since childhood to know battle, so this way of life now came natural to them, whereas Kyran had to learn the ways of sorcery, in addition to combat. And they could also take comfort that they were watched over by their battle gods, Odin for Dodge, Heimdall for Glenlivet, while Kyran had no such luxury. Though Kyran tried to follow the example of his dear friend Yriadel and he gave occasional devotion to Freyja, he sensed that the goddess was befittingly oblivious of him. Instead, the only attention he garnered was from some pathetic, enigmatic voice who served a mysterious, unidentified benefactor.

As the winter air started to permeate his cloak and gradually numb his tired limbs, Kyran’s thoughts revolved back to that obscure foreboding he experienced earlier in the night. Before his mind could contemplate the matter much further, his ruminations were interrupted by a faint voice that loomed mysteriously from the black of night. “Greetings, Kyran Son of Grimr.”

Kyran recognized the voice instantly. It was that same tired, lazy voice that he had heard a handful of times before, normally only while in a dream state. It was a voice he had not heard, gratefully, since he left Ullester over three weeks ago.

“Hmm. It has been quite a journey trying to keep up with you,” the voice continued languidly. “But I don’t mind, at least I have seen a few interesting things along the way.”

There was no mistaking that paltry vocalization, almost too weak to hear. And it contained that unmistakable, dull demeanor and that pretentious attitude. It was just so annoying.

“I confess, I really like this cold, damp weather they have up here,” the boring voice went on, so monotonously that Kyran could not tell if the statement was actual truth or a failed attempt at sarcasm.

Then Kyran realized something was different this time. He was not asleep! (But of course – he was on guard duty!) Nor was he paralyzed. He tried to look around and found that his motion was not inhibited. He lifted his hand, just to see if he could, and looked on with surprise as he clenched his fingers into a fist.

“Yes, demon-spawn, you are awake,” the voice confirmed for him arrogantly. “Don’t act so surprised.”

Kyran looked around, almost frantically, hoping to finally catch a glimpse of this irritating individual that had been haunting him of late. At first he saw nothing out of the ordinary, then he looked again. There in the chill fog, sitting perched on a rotting log, sat a sickly looking black cat. An ordinary, mangy furred, domestic cat.

The cat blinked at Kyran, then nonchalantly looked away as he spoke again. “Careful what you say now, my mournful magus, lest you offend someone. I’ll bet I can guess what you are thinking. Oh… you were expecting a magnificent ram, or a majestic hound, or perhaps a glistening black raven. Well, I daresay, my master does not go for that sort of notion, so I have chosen this pitiful shape.”

Kyran was struck with a sudden epiphany. This cat clearly resembled the one he had noticed a couple times in Ullester. Once in front of Sidenhus, when Grúmi Halftroll kicked at it, another time in an alley between Kleinberg Glaswerks and Danforth Street. And perhaps even a third time in the alley behind Porky’s Potluck, after he and Lee rescued a barmaid from a lecherous drunkard. Though in that instance he never actually saw the creature, but heard only a voice, which he now realized belonged to Ganglati. This whole revelation came to Kyran in a flash, and he was not amused.

Feigning composure he did not quite feel, Kyran displayed a wry smile. “I have seen you before, in Ullester, and I suspected it was no coincidence. Had I known for sure I might have considered acquiring a pet dog.” He glanced around, always alert in a hostile environment, then Kyran continued. "I would not say that I expected magnificence, but seeing you as a common pet is unforeseen. I am, however, confused as to why this encounter is different than the times before. Why have you not snuck into my dreams and held me captive? Why do you appear now while I am awake? What new messages and riddles, Ganglati, do you bring from your master? What more do you have to say to convince me to align with the one you serve?”

Though Kyran’s attitude grew more and more agitated as he stacked up his questions, Ganglati just yawned and twitched his tail, obviously not intimidated. “Slow down. So many questions. I told you I would be watching, and my master as well, and I must say…” Ganglati paused, then turned his face to look straight at Kyran with his glowing green eyes, “we are very pleased with you.”

Kyran stood speechless.

Ganglati licked absent-mindedly at a bare patch in the scraggly fur of his left shoulder. “Hmm. Back when your group ambushed those Reavers on the trail through Ericon… and they meekly surrendered. Oh the way you stabbed that wounded blackamoor in the back to intimidate the rest of their group – it scared the living shit out of them – so that friend of yours could interrogate them more effectively. ‘Lee Alfsaw’ he calls himself these days while he tries to blend in with you Angarians. I like him. He loves to carve up a defenseless captive, doesn’t he?” Ganglati paused to watch a wood ant poke out from behind some loose bark then skitter back to its hiding spot in the soft wood. “Anyway, you left those corsairs behind on that trail, bound up like lambs to a slaughter. Slowly, painfully, bleeding to death. To die so ignominiously, that is what my master loves.”

A wolf howled far off in the distance and the sound echoed into the nearby valley. Ganglati closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the sound, enjoying the woeful wail. He opened his eyes, squinted at Kyran with a bland expression and continued with the ‘accolades’. “Oh, and your teamster friends, those two from the convoy that you decided to leave behind in that cage.”

Kyran was troubled by that incident and failed to hide his discomfort at the reminder. Ganglati mistook the look of unease for confusion and explained further. “You know, that annoying little halfling who always wore that gray cloak with the badger fur, and his tall friend with the blue cloak lined with azure-winged magpie feathers. Actually, those two were warriors. They probably deserved to die a noble death with a weapon in their hand so that Odin might claim them for his corpse hall in Valhalla. But no. You left them behind, imprisoned, so they might freeze to death, or die of starvation or disease. Fabulous.”

Ganglati rose, stretched his front claws outward and scratched a bit at the log. “Sadly,” he continued, “I was unable to linger and witness their fate. I hope they were not sacrificed to that grotesque god worshipped by those ugly orks.” The fur along his spine bristled as he mentioned Gruumsh, the One-Eyed God.

“Yes, oh sorrowful sorcerer, these are the deeds that my master admires. Continue this course and my master will be revealed to you much sooner than I had predicted.” He twitched his nose as if the air carried an unpleasant odor. “You are certainly exceeding my low expectations. So, as a reward: on the morrow I shall empower some of your magic for you. When the time is right you will feel your power increase.”

Many thoughts raced through Kyran’s mind. The Reavers are criminals. They deserved whatever they got. They slaughtered Lord Austalf, Forwost Steigler, and most of the caravan. They took Lady Leka for who knows what grisly intentions. They attacked us. If they died, so be it. The path they chose was their own. I care little for their ultimate fate. But the others… Digby and Mordo… helpess… silently pleading to us… No! I cannot let that distract from our purpose! Yes, they deserved better, but had we attempted to free them, we most certainly would have lost our chance to free Lady Leka. She was under our guard.

Kyran continued to sift through his troubled thoughts, desperately trying to keep his composure. What manner of deity would take pleasure in the seemingly sinister deeds of others? By embracing my arcane heritage, I already walk on the edge. If I follow one such as this, will I relinquish the humanity I have worked to cling to? I feel trapped… We face a perilous task in rescuing Lady Leka and, perhaps, a peerie fae. The offer of aid at this time is tempting. If, however, I accept, what life will I lead? If I reject…

Kyran stood straight, faced Ganglati squarely, and replied, “If you choose to aid me, that is your choice.”

“Meh,” Ganglati responded indifferently. “The gift is paltry compared to what shall be granted after my master is revealed to you and receives your eiðr.” The cat yawned, peered distractedly into the dark fog, then continued speaking apathetically. “An abundance of wealth and power will be yours to command,” he recited as if reading from a note, almost sarcastically. Then he turned his green eyes upon Kyran once again and spoke more seriously. “Though Rauðr-bana may reject you, you shall cast it aside nonetheless, no longer a boon.”

Another wolf howled in the night, this time from a different direction, perhaps in answer to the first. Ganglati turned his head as if he could see the maker of that distant sound. As ridiculous as that idea seemed, Kyran felt compelled to look in the same direction and also turned his head. When he looked back to the log the mangy cat was gone.

Kyran stared at the empty log for a few moments before he turned his attention back to the dark, cool night and his duties, grimly wondering what the future held for him.

~ ~ ~

Even before the eastern sky began to lighten, the seven adventurers roused themselves quietly to prepare for the day. Their first goal was to discuss a plan for infiltrating Dolnogg Fortress. They gathered, huddled in their cloaks for warmth, not daring to risk a fire that might betray their proximity to the orks.

Though Kyran joined with the others, Yriadel noticed immediately that his mind was distant. “You look worse than your usual self,” she chided.

“Well thanks,” Kyran sneered, resenting her light attitude.

“You had another dream, didn’t you?” she asked accusingly, fists on hips. Kyran looked at her with surprise. “Come on, out with it,” she demanded, “you know you can’t hide your emotions from me. Let us know what is going on, in case it may have some impact on our plans for today. Sometimes the gods give us omens through our dreams.”

Kyran related every detail about the night’s encounter, especially the fact that Ganglati actually appeared in person, not as a vision in a dream. When he finished, Yriadel’s angelic face wrinkled with worry. “Fascinating. I recognize those esoteric words,” she said soberly. “They are Ancient Theodish, the tongue of the gods whom I serve. ‘Eiðr’ means ‘oath’ and ‘Rauðr-bana’ translates to ‘Red-death’, which I presume is a reference to your sword. And now, armed with this new revelation, if I follow the same line of reasoning, I suspect I may know the identity of the master for whom Ganglati serves.”

She took a slow deep breath as she considered her next words. “In Ancient Theodish, the name ‘Ganglati’ loosely translates to ‘lazy walker,’ a fit description for the mannerisms of this Ganglati that has been tormenting Kyran. Also, this creature is undernourished and sickly and its fur is diseased with mange. We know also that Ganglati seemed pleased that we left Digby and Mordo to… ‘die of starvation or disease.’ These clues cannot be mere coincidence, and together they reinforce my suspicion. They describe one of the beings that I studied during my training as a priestess. I deduce that Ganglati is a servant… of Hel.”

The truth landed on Kyran like a ton of rocks. His head spun and he barely heard Yriadel’s words as she explained to the group what she knew about the goddess Hel. Her name meant “hidden” and she ruled over Helheim, the underworld where the dead dwelt. She was one of the three children of Loki and the giant Angrboða: the great wolf Fenrir; the world serpent Jörmungandr; and herself, a giantess. In her realm she possessed great mansions with high walls and immense gates, a hall called Éljúðnir, a dish called “Hunger,” and a knife called “Famine." It was Odin who had bestowed upon Hel authority over all those who died of sickness or old age. In appearance she was half black and half white, and furthermore was downcast and gloomy.

Though Kyran only half heard what Yriadel was saying (he already knew these legends anyway) his mind snapped back to attention when he heard the word ‘gloomy.’ He remembered dismally how Glanglati often used that word as a byname for him. “The clues seem so obvious now, why had I not discovered this before?” Kyran grumbled in frustration.

“Perhaps Ganglati clouded your mind? Kept the answers ‘hidden’,” Yriadel suggested.

“What is to be my fate?” Kyran asked rhetorically.

“What does he mean, ‘my fate?’ Aiden asked.

Somberly, Yriadel explained. “Deep under the earth, where Jörmungandr the serpent gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, there are three spinners, three women who make our fate. We like to believe we make choices, but in truth our lives are in the fingers of the spinners. They make our lives, and destiny is everything. We know that, and even followers of other gods know it, though we like to pretend otherwise. ‘Wyrd bið ful aræd’, we Angarians say, ‘fate is inexorable’, and everything ends in tears.” (2)

“Inexorable?” Aiden questioned.

“Cruel and inescapable,” she answered politely. “When the spinners have decided our fates, we can do nothing to stop it. Even when the outcome of a battle is already determined, it is our task as a hero to fight well, to earn our reputation as a great warrior. For all men die, but fame lasts forever.”

Chapter 13: Attack on Dolnogg

Invasion Plan

The discussion about Hel was interrupted when Magna announced an important development. As he spied upon the fortress in the growing light, he witnessed the March Outlaws and Ubert’s Reavers pack up their belongings and leave Dolnogg. All the humans exited through the gate then headed east from the direction they had come. There was no sign of Lady Leka among the departing group, so Magna assumed she was still within the tower, for whatever reason, held prisoner by the orks.

Yriadel marveled at the prowess of Magna. She had not even noticed that he had disappeared briefly from their small group to spy upon Dolnogg, and might not have even noticed his return had he not interrupted them with his news. Over the last year, and especially during the journey through Ericon Forest and Groes Bryniau, he had improved his skills remarkably as a ranger.

Emboldened by the reduced number of enemies, the Seven revisited plans for gaining entry to Dolnogg. Some of them had already debated plans the night before, so Aiden summarized what they had so far. “Yriadel will go to the front gate, use her Enthrall spell upon the guards, then use her Glitterdust to blind them, then Kyran will use his Knock spell to force the gate open.”

“If Yriadel casts Glitterdust on the gatehouse, will it cover everyone within?” Kyran questioned, always attentive to details.

“No, it will only cover targets within one level,” Yriadel answered. “If I cast it on the archer up top, it will not cover the guards within the gatehouse.”

“Well that’s not going to do any good,” said Dodge. “We need to blind all of them. What about your Pyrotechnics scroll, Kyran?”

“Wait, here is another thought,” Yriadel interrupted excitedly before Kyran could answer. “What if I started from the trees in the west, the side opposite the gate, and used my Enthrall spell to gain their attention?” Then she began to doubt her own idea, as she started to see the potential problems. “But that is only going to get that one archer on the west wall. The only way this power is going to help is if that archer shouts to the others to join him, and we cannot expect him to do that.”

“There is one guy on top of the keep right? He can probably see in every direction,” Dodge added.

Yriadel nodded, though she now disliked her own plan. “So, it’s an idea. It’s an adequate plan, but I do not know if it is the best plan.”

“We’ve got to get in that front gate, though. It’s not going to get the guards away from the front gate to get it open,” Dodge added, contributing to her doubt.

“Kyran’s Knock scroll?” suggested Aiden skeptically. “If that does not work, then Dodge and I can smash the gate down.”

They all paused for a moment in thought.

“Does anybody have invisibility?” Yriadel asked. “Lee?” she said, looking pointedly at the rogue.

“No.” Lee confessed. “I had a potion once, but I used it down in the Sunken Citadel, when we fought against Baeloch the Outcast, that mad druid. I still remember being invisible and sneaking around,” he reminisced quietly.

“What about your Chime of Opening?” she asked, trying to keep him focused.

“It uses magical vibrations to open things,” Lee explained, snapping back to attention. “It causes locks, lids, doors, valves and portals to open. Though it functions against normal bars, shackles and bolts, it will probably not work on a large gate with a big bar that literally has to be lifted off with great strength.”

“I can cast a Command spell,” Yriadel volunteered, returning herself to the center of attention. “I could attempt this spell on one of the guards, but there is one catch. The victim has to be able to understand what I say, and the command must be one word. If I say ‘open’ …”

“Aye, what is he going to open?” Dodge wondered.

“Right, the command does not state exactly what to open. He might just stand there and open his trousers. What is the chance that he is going to guess correctly that I mean ‘open the gate’?” she punctuated doubtfully. She shook her head at yet another plan full of holes. “Another idea that we can go back to is, I can cast Charm on one of the guards, then use sign language to imply ‘open the gate and let me in.’ I could approach the gate alone to allay suspicion. Once I am in, you warriors can run down the trail and try to make a —“

“But you can charm only one person, right?” Aiden interrupted worriedly.

“Yes.”

“I mean, there are at least two or three orks at the front gate.”

“Right.”

“And we don’t know what’s right behind the gate, either,” Kyran added, also concerned about any such plan where Yriadel would be facing the enemy on her own.

“Just throwing it out there,” Yriadel stated, pouting a little because the men were so reluctant to let her face danger.

A thought popped into Lee’s head. “We will have the copper dragon summoned ahead of time, right?” he asked.

“We haven’t agreed to do that, but…” Yriadel answered, her voice implying it was not the worst idea so far.

“Well if we did,” Lee went on with his train of thought, “then we could have it come in to the fortress when you go in. You see?”

“So… fly in…?” Yriadel questioned, not following Lee’s point.

“If the dragon flies in, what is it going to do? Fly around?” Glenlivet asked derisively, also not seeing the direction of Lee’s idea.

“If Yriadel goes in and all the orks see her, they might attack her,” Lee explained. “The dragon could help defend her if that happens.”

“Why would they attack me? I’m just a little girl!” she protested, still a little sullen about the rejection of her ‘lone entry’ idea.

Aiden observed that the discussion was starting to stall so he tried once again to sum up the plan they had put together so far. However, he appeared to have missed a few details. “So about the time Yriadel is done using her Enthrall, the Knock spell goes off, and she can blow the whistle, then the dragon is extra.”

“No, we were talking about me using Charm on one of the guards to have them open the gate,” Yriadel corrected him.

“Yes, yes, I got all that, we —“

“You know what,” Yriadel interrupted Aiden energetically, “why not let me try it? If it doesn’t work, I will leave. Then we can let Kyran try the Knock spell.”

“Try that, then try the Enthrall,” agreed Aiden. “If that fails, then Knock it.”

“Just have the dragon fly in there and open the gate,” Dodge joked.

There was laughter as everyone pictured a little copper dragon, no larger than a cat, trying all by itself to lift a huge wooden bar off the gate.

“Except that is going to draw all the orks toward the gate,” added Glenlivet, actually considering the idea.

“We don’t want any guards at the gate, regardless,” instructed Lee.

Yriadel resumed the topic more earnestly. “Regarding the Command spell. One of my options for a one word command is ‘approach.’ Basically saying ‘come here.’ So the victim in the gatehouse would have to go down and open the gate.”

“He might jump straight down,” Magna suggested, hinting that no male could resist or delay a request from her to “come here.”

“Yes, he might jump right out the opening,” she agreed thoughtfully, innocently missing the innuendo. She continued to think aloud, “the subject of the magic will move toward me as quickly and directly as possible…”

“And again, the subject has to understand the word,” said Kyran, ever mindful of the precise details.

“Usually about one in three orks speak Westrian,” Lee contributed. He was the most knowledgeable linguist of the group. “So one of the orks will probably hear the Command and respond to it.”

“Yes, but I have to cast it on a specific target and I don’t speak Ork.”

“So I think we should go back to the idea of using Charm,” said Kyran.

“Yes, with a Charm I could use vague sign language. The ork would consider me as his best friend and think to himself, ‘my friend is down there.’ I will wave and signal to him to open the gate and let me in. And the ork will think, ‘I am going to let my good friend inside for a visit,’ so he will then go down the stairs and open the gate.”

“Once again, allow me to imagine potential pitfalls,” said Kyran. “What if one of the other orks says ‘hey, what the fuck are you doing?’ while your ‘good friend’ ork is opening the gate?”

“Mm-hm, yes, it could happen,” Yriadel admitted calmly. “So let me try it!” she declared abruptly. Her brown eyes were bright with enthusiasm. “The worst case scenario: I run like blazes; we come back later with a Knock spell.”

“Yes, worth a try,” said Lee, finally convinced.

“Once you all see the gate open, run down the trail and join me. I have my spear,” she added defiantly. “I will stab the son of a bitch and I will keep the gate open. I will blow the whistle and the dragon will help me.”

“Can we cover that ground fast enough?” Dodge wondered.

“You will have to,” Yriadel answered soberly.

“Guess I will just sit back and let you guys take care of this,” Lee murmured, remembering that his plan called for him to enter the fortress via a side wall, not the front gate where the action would be.

“So as soon as you get the gate open, we are going to run,” Dodge said to Yriadel, repeating the plan. “How high up is the archer on top of the gatehouse?” he asked, thinking of more details as he imagined the scenario unfolding.

“Twenty feet,” Magna answered.

“And the range of your Charm spell?”

“Around twenty-five feet. So I will need to come right to the base of the gate.”

“Which one will you charm?” asked Kyran.

“I will have to decide at the time,” she answered. “Maybe only one will address me.”

“Pick the cutest one,” quipped Lee. Everyone laughed at the irony of jest. There was no such thing as a “cute” ork.

Dodge turned to Lee, still mapping out the entirety of the plan. “So are you going to be off to one side or toward the back? Then once we get in the gate – and the fighting starts – you are going to climb over the wall?”

“Yes, I will get into position within the trees and watch, but I will not approach until I hear the signal.” Lee turned to Aiden. “Aiden, I think you are going with them right, you are not going with me?”

“Yes,” Aiden confirmed.

“He wants to go through the front gate,” commented Magna, perhaps a subtle mock upon Lee and his covert tactics.

“He just wants to kill orks,” Lee agreed cheerfully, affably ignoring the insult.

“I want to get to Lady Leka,” added Aiden, reinforcing Magna’s comment, but seemingly contradicting Lee’s. His statement hung in the air, open to interpretation. Did he aim to be the heroic rescuer to the noblewoman? Or did he have other designs on the attractive young lady?

Yriadel interrupted that particular exchange, and rejoined Dodge’s examination of Lee’s plan. “So you are going to be near a side wall?” she asked Lee.

“Yes, along a side. I intend to stay as close to the front gate as possible, in case I cannot get over the wall, then I can still run to the gate. Once the fighting commences, I will begin my plan to gain access to the fortress. I would try to use stealth but I have seen no place of cover.”

“Carry a bush in front of you,” Dodge joked. Everyone laughed at the absurdity.

“They are orks!” Lee concurred, playing along.

“Hey, you know, ‘nobody can see me, I’m hiding’,” Dodge said, imitating an anonymous rogue. (3)

“It is so crazy, it just might work,” Yriadel teased Lee with a smile.

“You need a shrubbery,” added Magna, prolonging the nonsense.

Still grinning, but returning to serious discussion of the plan, Lee continued. “My hope will be that the distraction at the gate will allow me to climb the wall before I am discovered.”

“When I blow the whistle, that will be the signal.” To emphasize her point, Yriadel held out Tultambë, her dragon-shaped, copper whistle.

“I will be listening.”

“When will you whistle for the dragon?” Dodge asked, combing his fingers through his beard pensively.

“When the attack begins,” she answered stiffly.

“After you get the gate open?” Lee inquired.

“Right.”

Kyran expanded her answer. “Once the gate is open, she will summon the dragon and we will charge the gate.”

“So you are relying on me and the dragon to keep the gate open until you arrive,” she reminded them.

“Until Dodge can get there and block the gate open,” Lee pronounced firmly, injecting confidence into the plan.

“Once we see the gate start to open, we will charge and she will summon the dragon,” Kyran rephrased.

“No,” Yriadel countered sharply, unintentionally embarrassing Kyran. “The plan will be: When I get the gate open, you wait until I signal.” She gripped Tultambë to enforce her case. “When I signal, that is when you charge the gate.” She looked at them sternly to be sure they understood, to which they all nodded in confirmation.

Abruptly she remembered that she would be all alone at the gate and a new idea entered her mind. “Hmm. Maybe I could be somebody with a pet bear?” she volunteered, winking at Magna.

“A most exceptional idea,” Lee agreed.

“We have not come up with that idea yet,” she said.

“Wrong!” Kyran erupted, perhaps trying to soothe his earlier embarrassment. “Somebody did come up with that idea.”

Magna added unassumingly, “Yes. They were talking about a circus bear earlier.”

“Oh, I apologize,” Yriadel said, hoping to quell any possible insult to Magna and his recent Hamrammr condition. “Well, there is also the idea that as a group, we walk right up to the gate together, where I use my Charm and request they ‘open the gate’.”

“That is not a bad idea,” said Lee.

“The only problem is with Magna and I,” objected Glenlivet. “Those orks are going to see two half-elves…” He didn’t bother to finish his sentence. Everyone knew the contentious attitude that the sight of two elf-bloods would provoke from the orks.

“Very well. Except for the two half-elves,” she revised.

Dodge extended her idea. “Yes! We bluff them and say ‘we are mercenaries looking for work.’ It worked well against that troop of orks we encountered earlier.”

“Hmm, yes,” Yriadel concurred, then added whimsically, “except there need be only one half-elf. Magna can be a bear.”

“Aye, he can be a bear,” Dodge agreed with a cheerful grin, then slapped Magna on the shoulder, “and she could ride him!”

“A bear and a horse,” Yriadel said. “We have to do something with Shadowmist too, so we may as well have two animals.”

“We can be a band of mercenaries,” Dodge continued, building on the story they were inventing.

“The only problem, Magna, is you will have none of your weapons when you get into the fort,” Lee advised the ranger.

“They could be on Shadowmist,” said Magna.

“He will not need weapons when he is a bear,” said Yriadel.

“Well, I mean, in case he decides he needs them…” Lee conceded. “Does it take a while to change back?”

“I have not completely mastered control of changing,” answered Magna. “I just don’t like cathmawrs, because when you look up, they drop on you,” he added contritely, alluding to the incident where he was attacked so swiftly by a pouncing cathmawr he had no time to change into a bear. (4)

“I think I like the idea of me being alongside Yriadel,” Magna stated proudly, “in case she needs help keeping the door open while we wait for you humans to arrive.”

“Wait,” Yriadel warned. “Imagine these scenes. If I walk down to the gate – alone, a small maiden – the guard should underestimate me and say ‘there is no risk from one lone girl, open the gate and let her into the fort.’ But if I walk down with a bear, the guard might be amazed and in his excitement will alarm others to come look upon us.”

“A bear… and a group of armed men coming in, too,” Lee emphasized.

“Actually, I am thinking, this might seem less ridiculous…” Yriadel declared. “What if a simple group of warriors approach the gate? What was just here last night? What just left this morning? A group of human warriors, right?”

“You are right,” Lee said, impressed by her inference. “And every time we have encountered a group of orks, they didn’t attack us!”

“So that part of the plan should work,” she said, nodding at Lee with her pleasant smile, “but the problem is still getting them to let us in.”

“Right,” said Dodge pointedly. This was the matter he had been wanting to dig into. “Now, if you can charm a guard while we are at the gate…” He paused, then noticed everyone’s attention was now drawn from Yriadel to him, so he continued outlining his plan. “The guard will be asking us ‘who goes there? why are you here?’ You see? We will already be engaged in conversation with them. We shall say ‘we are mercenaries looking for work,’ and during this time Yriadel can cast Charm upon one of them. In fact, our ruse might even work so well no magic will be needed.”

“Aptly stated, Dodge,” Yriadel complimented. “What we have come up with here are six different plans we think will work, twelve plans we know will not work. Lets pick one.”

Encouraged by Yriadel’s praise, Dodge asserted himself further. “I say we just go down there like a band of mercenaries looking for hire and talk our way in. If that plan goes to shit, we can use the Knock spell and force our way in. In either case, for Lee, the whistle is still the signal.” They all nodded in agreement. “The only detail left is Glen and Magna.”

“I shall cover myself with my cloak,” Glenlivet proposed.

“What if you went with Lee?” Yriadel asked.

“I am not a very good climber. I might hamper Lee’s efforts to surmount the palisade wall.”

“Very well,” she acceded. “For this plan though, I definitely advise that our half-elves do not approach until after we begin the battle.”

“You could ride Shadowmist,” Aiden offered to Yriadel, “in case you need to make a swift get-away.”

She bristled at that suggestion, but curbed her reaction by way of a logical counterpoint. “At this point we would be better off leaving Shadowmist disguised as a pack animal, instead of a warhorse.”

“All agreed, the plan is set,” stated Lee.

“We all approach the gate,” started Kyran.

“Except for the two half-elves!” interrupted Dodge.

“All but the two elf scum,” Kyran amended, mimicking what an ork might say, and everyone laughed at his mischief.

“I concur,” Lee added.

Enjoying the friendly repartee among the seven, Kyran laughed aloud, finally putting the disturbing events of the previous evening out of his mind. “So, all but the two half-elves and Lee will approach the gate,” he continued. “Yriadel will attempt to charm one of the guards —”

“No,” interrupted Dodge, “first we say we are mercenaries. They may accept that ploy and let us right in.”

Yriadel expanded on Dodge’s statement. “We will try to talk our way in first. The guard may not speak Westrian so we may have to wait until an interpreter arrives. Once we face a guard we can talk to, if necessary, I can Charm him.

“Acknowledged,” said Kyran. “First we will talk our way in. If that does not work, then Yriadel will Charm. If that does not work, then I will use my Knock scroll. Once we are through the gate, Yriadel will blow the whistle, and that will signal Glen, Magna and Lee.”

“Orks die!” shouted Aiden, then everyone hurried themselves with preparation for the attack.

~ ~ ~

While the men checked their weapons and armor, Yriadel sang a song as she meticulously unraveled the braids which bound her hair.

Weary wanderers marching on and on
What I used to be now seems so long gone
Whether it’s right or it’s wrong

Cry havoc heathens, no quarter for the other
Valhalla, here comes another fallen brother

This day will be my renown
In death I will go down
And we charge across the field
Though the resistance is strong
This is where I belong
For my fate has long been sealed

In the thick of it comes our time to die
They have come for us, see them fly up high
Look at me choosers of the slain (5)

Dodge, Glenlivet, Kyran and Magna were deeply moved and inspired by the song. It was a thinly veiled prayer to Freyja and her Valkyries. Even Aiden, who pledged faith in the old gods of Prettonia, and Lee, who had yet to reveal a belief in any gods, were both touched by her voice. When the song was finished, they silently left the camp and descended the hill toward the path below. Lee separated, creeping off on his own, as his plan was to sneak into Dolnogg by climbing over the northern wall, while the main group attempted to enter, forcibly or otherwise, through the main gate.

Infiltration

Before leaving the cover of the trees, the group stopped briefly. Yriadel cast a spell in preparation for their plan for her to charm an ork guard. She held an eagle feather up to the sky and spoke softly, “Freyja Ørnen Prakt .” The rising sun filtered through the leaves of the trees and lit upon her golden hair as it fluttered in the cold breeze. Yriadel was already a “head-turner” on an average day, but as the spell took effect the men found they could not take their eyes off of her. She seemed even more poised and striking than ever. Surely, neither man nor ork could resist her feminine wiles on this day.

Modestly unaware of the impact of the spell on her companions, Yriadel casually extracted some dried blossoms of a bird cherry tree from a small pouch and delicately tucked the sprigs into the waves of her hair. Then she noticed the stares. “Well, what are you dumbles gawking at? Let’s go rescue Lady Leka,” she chastised them teasingly. She snatched Shadowmist’s reins from Aiden’s inert hands and led the warhorse into the pathway. Dodge, Kyran and Aiden blinked and shook their heads in an attempt to free themselves from the enchantment, then obediently followed her down the road, quickening their steps in an almost pathetic race to catch up to her. Glenlivet and Magna remained concealed by the trees, as ordained by their plan, and watched Yriadel with sincere admiration as she led the others toward Dolnogg.

There were three orks at the gate and they immediately noticed the group of humans walking through the mist toward their fort. Two orks were within the small gatehouse above the gate, poking their ugly faces through small openings in the wall, while another, an archer, stood alone atop the gatehouse. As Yriadel approached, the light of the morning sun reflected against her glittering hair. The ork archer lifted a hand to shield his eyes against the glare.

Yriadel walked right up to the gate as the orks looked down upon her. “Good morning, orks of Tuq Ash’lur. I am Yriadel Yngvarsdottir of Willowdale, from the lands of Angaria. These are my men. Go and tell your master, we are mercenaries seeking work. We have vast experience killing Prettons.”

The ork on the right grunted, then answered in a gruff tone. “We don’t need any.”

It was not the response Yriadel wanted, nor expected, but she was in no mood for further banter. Now she knew exactly which of the orks spoke Westrian, so she wasted no time and decided to cast her Charm spell upon him. “Freyja Sjarmen ,” she said, concentrating her sacred energy upon the surly ork. Though she glowed with magic, the orks were unable to notice, as they were already dazzled by the sunlight in her hair.

“Nuq?” said the ork as the magic took hold of him. He now recognized Yriadel as his trusted friend and ally, and he sincerely wanted to know what she had to say.

“Please, good sir. Open the gate and let us in, so we may talk to your leader.”

“Chong!” answered the ork. Then remembering to speak Westrian he said, “Great! I be right down!” His head disappeared from the opening and Yriadel could hear his footsteps on the wooden floor as he hurried across the gatehouse.

“Los!” shouted the other ork, but he made no other move. The archer up top obediently stood his post.

Seconds later, Yriadel heard the scrape of a wooden bar being lifted from the other side of the gate. The gate swung inward on its rickety hinges and a large, ugly ork appeared in the gateway. He displayed a wide smile full of jagged, yellow teeth and fangs. “Pe’el,” he said, beckoning her with a bow and a wave of his arm. Yriadel stepped obligingly through the gate and Shadowmist dutifully followed. The ork tried to walk along beside her, still smiling as he enjoyed this visit from his “trusted friend,” but Shadowmist bared his teeth and snorted to keep the smelly ork at a distance.

As they entered the fortress grounds, the ork slowed, wrinkled his brow in confusion and scratched his scruffy neck. Yriadel was confident the ork accepted her presence, but she guessed he was now beginning to consider the three human warriors who followed her. “Come along. Everything is fine,” she assured the ork soothingly, leading him farther away from the gate with her alluring smile, while still holding the reins of Shadowmist.

This bought enough time for Dodge, Kyran and Aiden to walk all the way through the gate. Dodge trailed and lingered by the gate, intent on keeping it open until Glenlivet and Magna could join them. Casually, they surveyed the confines and counted only four ork warriors scattered about the fortress grounds. These were in addition to those at the gatehouse and the archers posted on the walls or on the keep. Although they were clearly being observed by the orks, the inhabitants did not initially appear to be alarmed. After all, by all appearances, they had been admitted legitimately and were under escort.

Yriadel casually grasped Tultambë in her hand, which hung on a leather thong about her slender neck. The ork watched her in amusement as she took a deep breath, lifted Tultambë to her soft lips, and blew into the copper whistle. No longer amused, the ork clasped his hands on his ears as the shrill sound filled the confines of the fortress.

The signal had been issued and mayhem was about to be unleashed upon the unwitting orks at Dolnogg.

Battle at Dolnogg

The whistle was not just a signal. It was also a magical item which summoned a small copper dragon to do the bidding of its summoner. Yriadel saw the ork archer on the north wall of the palisade, where she knew Lee Alfsaw would be trying to gain entry, so she willed the dragon to appear in that area and attack that sentry. Next she shouted a prayer to her goddess, “Freyja Velsigne ,” she cried, and a golden light glimmered around her slight figure, then spread to her companions: Dodge, Kyran, Aiden, even Shadowmist; as they all became blessed with the benevolent power of Freyja.

Kyran followed the same cue and also cast a spell. “Kavvála Aspida ,” he whispered, while waving his hand in front of him in a circular motion. A black aura surrounded him for an instant, imperceptible to anyone without second sight, then it turned invisible, becoming a powerful force to shield him from enemies.

While spells were being cast, Dodge and Aiden were looking into the fortress grounds and selecting their victims. Two orks stood together near the south wall and two more were standing outside the northeast area of the keep. Dodge and Aiden both charged into battle: Dodge to the south and Aiden to the northeast.

Aiden unlatched his shoulder clasp to let his cloak fall away. He sprinted so fast toward the keep that he was four paces away before the discarded cloak touched the ground. Though the air was winter cold, Aiden came prepared for his own particular style of combat and was naked above the waist. His muscular chest and arms, covered with the decorative ink so common among his people, were on full display to intimidate the orks.

These orks had slain many Prettons from the Kambrian Kingdoms, but they had never faced a Pretton from Krictland before. They hastily prepared for defense and counterattack, hoisting shield and weapon, but otherwise they were practically dumbfounded into inaction. Not only was this Krict who rushed toward them unarmored, he wielded no weapon!

Three full strides away from the orks, Aiden launched himself into the air. Parallel to the ground, he slammed feet first into the shield of the first ork. The force behind the kick, combined with the full weight of Aiden’s leaping body, slammed the shield back into the ork’s face, crushing his nose like a squashed tomato and splattering blood in all directions. In the same leaping motion, even before his feet landed adroitly on the ground, Aiden cuffed a solid fist to the side of his enemy’s head.

The second ork threw his javelin, but Aiden, already balanced on steady feet, evaded the missile. The first ork – on very unsteady feet, vision spinning from his head wound – feebly swung his falchion in a wide arc which Aiden easily avoided.

Aiden probably could have taken down the first ork with one more jab, but he was enjoying the fight too much and arrogantly chose to prolong it. Instead, he stepped around the staggered ork and closed on the second, pounding him with a flurry attack. A few blows thudded against the ork’s shield, but one blow clubbed the ork in the face, rocking his head backwards.

The orks attempted to fight back, but they were still so flummoxed by the lightning speed of Aiden’s attack that their desperate falchion swings cut only empty air. Collecting himself just enough, the first ork stepped to maneuver behind Aiden. Both orks, misguided by the false impression they were now in flanking positions on Aiden, raised their falchions to strike.

Yet somehow it was as if Aiden had lured the orks to exactly where he wanted them. He spun and delivered a back kick to the second ork, the heel of his foot crushing a jaw. In the same instant he delivered a knife hand strike to the throat of the first ork. Both orks crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

While Aiden was dismantling two opponents, Dodge was engaging his two foes. Dodge had moved swiftly to close in, raising his battle-axe as he trotted forward threateningly. The nearest ork had no chance. Though the ork lifted his shield in defense, Dodge slammed his two-handed axe down and shattered the shield into a shower of splinters. The axe-head followed clean through the remains of the shield and hit the unfortunate ork right in the head, splitting his skull in two. As Dodge tugged his axe from the skull of the dead ork, the other crouched defensively, shocked at the speed and brutality he had just witnessed. Bravely, he stepped forward and swung his falchion, but failed to pierce Dodge’s metal breastplate armor.

The ork archers within the fortress recovered from their initial surprise and began launching arrows. The one on the keep shouted an alarm to his comrades within the keep as he targeted Dodge. The archer on the south wall also aimed at Dodge. The distance was close and Dodge was an easy target, being so large in stature. Both archers aimed true and the arrows each struck Dodge but failed to penetrate his armor. The archer atop the gatehouse aimed downward at Kyran and loosed his arrow, but it bounced harmlessly off Kyran’s invisible shield.

Then, from somewhere within the keep, through an opening in the structure’s south wall, a malignant spell was cast upon Dodge. For a split second Dodge became unnaturally frightened and had an urge to flee from the battle and the fortress, but through extreme willpower he resisted the magic and stayed his ground, though he was still severly shaken. He tried valiantly to fight off the effects of the spell while maintaining his battle with the ork he faced. Dodge swung his axe but the blade glanced awkwardly off the rim of the ork’s shield. On his follow-through, Dodge tripped and his elbow banged against the metal boss in the center of the ork’s shield. His arm went numb. His hand lost all strength and the grip on his axe slipped away. Despite being reduced to only one hand on his axe, arrows thudding into his armor, and simultaneously unnerved by a powerful magic spell, Dodge bravely repelled his opponent, refusing to falter.

Meanwhile, outside the fortress, Glenlivet, Magna and Lee Alfsaw all reacted when they heard the signal.

Glenlivet and Magna had been waiting just off the road leading down to the gate, concealed behind a small stand of trees. As soon as they heard the whistle from Yriadel they jumped into the road and began sprinting down the slope toward the gates of Dolnogg.

“Let’s go feed the ravens,” Glenlivet growled ominously.

As Magna ran alongside, he grinned at Glenlivet’s words. After living among the Angarians for over a year, Magna had learned some things about their way of life and their gods. Glenlivet’s statement was a common tribute to Odin, the god of war and death, among other things. To “feed the ravens” meant he would slay many enemies and leave their corpses for the ravens to feed upon. Ravens were Odin’s birds.

Glenlivet and Magna ran through the open gate, arriving just as Yriadel had completed her spell of blessing, and just as Dodge and Aiden had sprinted away deeper into the fortress grounds. They saw one ork standing near Yriadel. Though the ork’s hand gripped the hilt of his falchion, he appeared to be confused as to what action to take.

But the ork, upon seeing two half-elves come running through his gate, both brandishing weapons, realized what a terrible mistake he had made by admitting Yriadel and her companions. He became angry with himself and everyone around him. He was a subchief, the leader of his squad, and he had just been made into a fool for which he would surely be executed by his warchief. Knowing he had nothing to lose, he met the charge of Glenlivet at full speed. He swung his falchion, which Glenlivet parried with his scimitar. The ork’s blade skipped off Dragon-Bane and thudded harmlessly into Glenlivet’s leather armor.

The second ork guard within the gatehouse had been holding his post. But when he saw elf-bloods running in, and realized the fortress was under attack, he rushed down the stairs to engage the enemy. In a cowardly act, he decided to attack the little blonde girl first, assuming she would be a weak opponent, so he rushed toward Yriadel. However, he had underestimated Shadowmist, thinking him to be a mere packhorse, and as he ran past the well-trained warhorse, Shadowmist sought to protect Yriadel, reared up and clobbered the ork with his hooves.

As the craven ork stumbled and screamed, and tried desperately to avoid getting stomped by Shadowmist, Yriadel took advantage of his imbalance and slugged him with her Morningstar. Proud to be protecting one of his companions, Shadowmist continued to bite and stomp at the ork. Harassed from many angles, the ork was helpless against the combined onslaught. Yriadel struck the ork again, this time upon the head, and he fell senseless to the ground.

Glenlivet, while continuing to parry against his adversary, slammed the gate closed to prevent any escapes. He even lifted the bar and dropped it into place while the ork subchief pursued him ineffectively. Glenlivet danced nimbly to avoid another strike from the ork subchief. Then he spun in a tight circle and swept his scimitar behind the ork, slashing a deep wound through armor, skin and guts. The ork stopped, surprised at the mortal wound he had just been dealt from such a small opponent. But he refused to surrender and fought on. He knew death was imminent, whether delivered now, by this white elf-blood, or later, from his warchief. In the end, as it turned out, it was neither. For Shadowmist charged at the ork and literally bit his face off, spraying blood and bits of skin all over Glenlivet. As Glenlivet jogged off to find another opponent, Shadowmist pounded the dead ork into mush with his hooves.

Kyran had witnessed the onset of the harmful magic from which Dodge suffered against. He judged that the source of the spell originated from within the keep. There was smoke drifting up through a chimney, so Kyran deduced there was a fire within the building. He snatched his Pyrotechnic scroll from his belt and unrolled it just enough to read the final etchings near its bottom edge. He read aloud the key phrase then directed the magic through an unshuttered opening in the wall, inside and to the fire. As a result of the spell, a stream of black smoke billowed out from the fire, forming a choking cloud that spread and enveloped the space within, soon spilling out of all the keep’s openings. With satisfaction, Kyran heard uncomfortable shouts and uncontrollable gagging and coughing from within.

Seconds later, several orks came bustling out of the keep through the crumbled southwest section. Some were still gagging and coughing, but all were looking for a fight. One ork was exceptionaly large and the others followed him. He wore studded leather armor, held a heavy wooden shield in one hand and wielded a shiny falchion in the other. Around his neck he wore a gold chain with silver trinkets hanging from it, marking him as a warchief. He looked upon the annihilated corpse at Dodge’s feet and the other ork trying to survive against Dodge’s onslaught, then he led his warriors toward that contest.

Then unexpectedly, Kyran saw another ork jump through an opening in the southeast corner of the keep; the same location where Kyran had sensed the earlier magic spell. The ork grunted praise to Gruumsh as he picked himself up off the ground. He wore leather armor and held a heavy wooden shield in his left harm. With his right hand he hoisted a large morningstar toward the sky and shouted an appeal to Gruumsh. This was the ork shaman.

Kyran knew just what he needed to do. “Kavvála Kapsálisma ,” he shouted, aiming his hand at the ork. A beam of black fire seared through the air toward the shaman. Kyran’s aim was perfect. The ray hit the ork shaman directly on the left chest. His whole upper torso exploded in a fountain of blood, bone and black flame. His head detached completely from his body and flew up against the wall. The black energy of Kyran’s magic sizzled about the corpse, which subsequently burst into flames.

Kyran relished the feeling of power that flowed through him as he commanded and unleashed it to conquer his enemy. Later though, he would harbor mixed feelings as he contemplated his fate and came to realize that the power within that spell was not entirely his own. He sensed that the potency of the black flame had been increased somehow by Ganglati, even if only a little.

Magna, positioned near Kyran, make a quick analysis of the battle to decide who was in most need of support. When he saw the group of orks emerge from the smoking keep and start heading toward Dodge, his decision became obvious. Yet what was not so obvious was the method he chose. Rather than aim his bow at the enemy, or charge into them with his sword, instead he unfastened his sword belt, removed his bow and quiver, and tossed them into a pile near the palisade wall. Then he willed himself to transform into a bear. As he changed shape and increased in size, his armor and clothing separated at the seams and dropped to the ground. Now fully transformed, he emitted a ferocious growl and charged into the fray on all fours.

While all this transpired, the ork archers continued to harry Dodge and Kyran with arrows, though none caused any serious wounds.

Meanwhile, when the copper dragon summoned by Yriadel had appeared in the sky, it was about 30 feet up and halfway between Yriadel and the northern wall. It had glanced at the ork archer guarding that wall, then dove toward him, planning to expel acid breath upon the ork. The archer saw the dragon diving and took aim with his bow at the swiftly moving target. The dragon spit its acid, narrowly missing the ork. Acid hissed and bubbled as it splashed against the wood of the palisade and against the ork’s leather armor. The arrow left the ork’s bow and whizzed past the sleek dragon, barely hampering its flight.

The little dragon landed upon the archer, biting and clawing at him, rending his arms. The ork dropped his bow, screaching in pain, then snatched the falchion from his shoulder scabbard, but he could do nothing more with the weapon than just fend off the animal attack. They struggled savagely against each other, but the copper dragon was drawing blood and gradually winning the battle.

Yriadel’s plan to use the dragon for distraction on the north wall worked perfectly. Lee Alfsaw had been waiting in concealment, just past the tree line north of the fortress, and when he had heard the whistle he immediately broke from cover and ran toward the wall. He had crossed the distance in seconds, then began a swift climb up the earthen embankment. An average warrior in mail, carrying weapon and shield, would take quite a while to ascend the barrier, but Lee wore leather armor that was supple and silent, and allowed him to run at full speed. Upon reaching the top of the eight foot embankment, he deftly leaped up to grab the top of the five foot high palisade wall then expertly clambored over, dropping onto the defenders’ walkway.

Where Lee landed was only a few paces from the fracas between the ork archer and the little copper dragon. He started to move in that direction, intent on assisting Yriadel’s dragon, but an ork archer on the west wall spotted Lee and fired his bow at his back. The arrow glanced off Lee’s shoulder. Needless to say, Lee had to change his plan, and turned around to face the other ork archer.

In the fortress grounds, the ork warchief, flanked by four beefy warriors, sped toward Dodge. They converged on him just as Magna arrived at his side. The warchief confronted Dodge forthwith, slamming his shield into Dodge to earn his undivided attention, while the other four commenced to surround the two. A couple more ork warriors also emerged from the smoky keep and were also swiftly closing in. Dodge resisted the wallop and appreciated the fact he was now being challenged by an ork warchief. He also took stock of the additional ork warriors and he anticipated great glory in this battle. To respond to the new challenge, a trance-like fury possessed him and he exploded with berserker rage. He kicked the original ork warrior in the gut, confidently dismissing him, then turned toward the warchief, an adversary more worthy of his attention. The warchief quickly regretted his brash strategy, for not only was he now facing a berserker, but he was also being attacked by Magna the Bear, who was biting and clawing at him ferociously.

Glenlivet ran swiftly into the crowded fray to assist Dodge and Magna. With one swing of Dragon-Bane he disemboweled the ork that Dodge had just kicked away. But as one ork fell, another took its place. Unfortunately for Glenlivet, the ork that stepped up to him was another sub-chief; and an experienced one who possessed superior skills. Amazingly, he matched Glenlivet’s great speed and sliced his falchion through cloak and armor to expose skin and blood from Glenlivet’s right shoulder.

Yriadel saw that her three friends were outnumbered and about to get outflanked. She sensed that Dodge was weakening, in spite of his berserker rage. She had an idea that might force the warchief to surrender, and she reasoned that if she was successful, then the other ork warriors might follow suit. She held her falcon holy symbol up high and shouted “FLEE!” at the ork warchief, casting her Command spell upon him. Luckily, the ork understood the Westrian word, and the magic took hold.

The ork warchief did not understand why he suddenly felt an indomitable compulsion to obey the command he heard, but nonetheless he did the unthinkable and fled from the combat. As he made his hasty retreat, Magna reached out with a claw and opened a ragged gash on the ork’s leg. The ork limped away disgracefully, his blood pooling into his boot. Two of his warriors retreated with him, though they were puzzled by the action, but the others continued to fight on against Dodge and Magna. One ork even managed to cut through Magna’s thick fur hide and thus opened a small wound on Magna’s right front leg.

Dodge was still unable to shake the effects of the spell that had been cast upon him, even though the berserker rage was fully upon him. Some of the numbness in his right arm subsided and the strength began to return. He regripped his axe with both hands now and swung hard at an ork warrior, but his aim failed and he missed poorly, almost tripping over himself.

Misfortune seemed to flow from Dodge to Magna as well. Though Magna continued to maul his enemy, one of the claws of his right paw stuck in the ork’s armor and was ripped from the socket as he recoiled. Blood gushed forth as Magna growled in pain.

Aiden had been moving southward and now joined the battle, skillfully attacking one of the ork warriors with his flurry of blow. The odds were beginning to grow more even.

Kyran saw that the odds were beginning to balance out in the melee, so he decided to begin eliminating the archers. He grabbed a wand from his belt and pointed it at the archer on the gatehouse, then sent missiles of black magic to strike the ork, spoiling the archer’s aim. That archer, and the one on the south wall, both having witnessed their warchief retreating, decided to flee. They slipped over the palisade walls to escape.

Glenlivet stepped toward his next opponent. He whirled and swung low. His scimitar struck the ork’s thigh and opened a painful gash. This might have taken down a normal ork warrior, but as luck would have it, Glenlivet was facing an ork sub-chief, and this one was mightier than the rest. The ork subchief withstood the injury and refused to fall, continuing to swing and parry against Glenlivet.

One of the other ork warriors also fought on valiantly. He cut into Dodge’s leg and nearly hamstrung him. Dodge was barely standing now. His weakening state and his unsteady balance was clearly visible to his friends now.

Kyran picked up on Yriadel’s plan, which had been successful to a point, but he knew the warchief would probably recover from the magic Command and quickly rejoin the battle. So Kyran took the plan one step further and chose to rain stone upon the warchief’s head. His eyes turned black on black as he concentrated on the focus point. “Kavvála Pétra Klísi ,” he chanted, and gravel materialized in the sky to fall upon the warchief and his two cohorts. Kyran savored the surge of magic power: the size of the gravel seemed larger, and the damage more severe, than any time before he had used this spell. Then once again he realized the boost was probably a result Ganglati’s intervention.

Yriadel wanted to neutralize the threat from the archer on top of the keep. She knew it would take too long for someone to climb and fight their way up there. She pointed her falcon holy symbol at the ork and prayed “Freyja Glita Støv .” Her spell caused gold dust particles to suddenly appear all around the ork archer, falling from the sky and covering him completely, its brilliance blinding his eyes.

Victory

The ork warchief, his ears ringing from the rocks and gravel that had just pounded on his head, was deeply dismayed. He recognized the disorganized state of his warriors and that half his archers had either fled or been disabled. He recognized defeat. He dropped his shield with a thud. “Mev!” he ordered his troops with a bellow as he sheathed his weapon. “We surrender,” he added in Westrian. His ork warriors obeyed the command to stop and stepped backwards defensively. Once they were convinced their enemy would not press forward, they sheathed their weapons.

Though still in a rage, Dodge felt a small bit of relief when he saw the enemy back away. He was both physically distressed from the battle and mentally stressed from the shaman’s malicious magic. He was probably seconds away from falling in defeat. It seemed the gods were toying with him today, and he did not like it. “Give us your prisoners and we will let you live,” he angrily commanded the ork warchief.

The warchief must have been intimidated by Dodge, but he hid it well. Though embarrassed that he had to surrender, he felt respect for the berserker and his companions who had defeated his troop of orks so soundly and so quickly. He tried his best to sound dignified as he answered Dodge. “We are outmatched. We surrender. You can have our prisoners.” Then he nervously started moving out of the field of rocky debris, stumbling over the loose rocks.

Over on the north wall, still unaware of what was transpiring within the fortress grounds, two duels continued. One was between the copper dragon and the ork archer. The little dragon inhaled to breathe more acid on the ork, but instead he accidentally sneezed, which dazed him for a second.

“Ha!” shouted the ork, pleased by the dragon’s mishap. He took full advantage of the opening and hacked quickly with his falchion, finally wounding the dragon.

The dragon did not appreciate the ork’s humor and fought back bitterly. He dove to the side of the ork’s head, bit his ear and ripped it away. The ork was so shocked he lost his balance and fell right off the palisade, landing with a sick thud that broke his neck. The dragon hovered in the air and looked down and spit remnants of ear upon his deceased victim. “Ha!” he laughed in revenge.

The other duel was between Lee and the ork archer from the west wall. The ork had closed the distance to Lee and used his larger size to his advantage, slamming into Lee, knocking him into the wall and almost back over the side. Lee was winded from the slam, but he managed to counter with a quick swing of his blade. It drew blood, but it was only a minor wound. The ork reared back to deliver a killing blow that Lee, still breathless, would probably not be able to block. Then the ork heard a command to stop shouted at him. He held his swing, though he thought for a second to kill anyway, then he heard the order repeated and backed away. Now both the ork and Lee realized they heard no sounds of combat from the grounds of the fortress, and they recognized the battle had ended. Then Lee heard Kyran shout “Lee, they surrendered.” The ork looked disgusted – he had missed his chance for a kill – and dropped his weapon. Lee jabbed his sword toward the direction of the steps, motioning for his enemy to go first, then he followed him down into the fortress.

After all the orks surrendered, Aiden ran into the keep to search for Lady Leka, Magna headed for the palisade wall, and Yriadel and Kyran joined with Dodge and Glenlivet to handle the prisoners.

Magna knew he was of no use interrogating the prisoners since he could not talk while in his bear form, and he reasoned that Aiden could handle the search for Lady Leka, so he assumed a different task. He was mindful of the archers that had escaped over the wall and wondered if they had run away or were waiting in ambush. He tromped over to the stairs and clambored up to the wall of the palisade. He looked over the top edge of the wall, but saw no sign of any ork archers. He looked out as far as he could see, then throughout the fortress, and everything looked secure.

Yriadel perceived how weak Dodge was, though he hid it from the orks. She knew she had to help him fast, before his rage subsided, or he would collapse from his wounds. She needed Dodge to maintain a semblance of strength, in order to hold the victory and negotiate the surrender, for they were still outnumbered by the orks and had not yet found Lady Leka. She rushed up to him and sang praises to her goddess. “Freyja Helbrede ,” she chanted. “Hail to Freyja the Warrior Woman, Who rides with Valkyries, White-armored, Chooser of the Slain.” She lifted her holy symbol high in the air and a golden aura enveloped her, then spread out to cover Dodge and Glenlivet, strengthening their limbs and healing their injuries. Now they would face the ork warchief.

Aiden had wasted no time looking for Lady Leka. He was concerned for her safety and wanted urgently to search the keep. He expected her to be inside, hopefully unharmed. He ran through the crumbled opening at the keep’s southwest corner and into its smoke-filled interior. The thick black smoke immediately overwhelmed him and he began choking and coughing. He could see nothing and his eyes watered from the stinging pain. Then he heard the unmistakable sounds of humans coughing. “Leka! Leka!” he shouted into the smoke.

“Who is there?” a hoarse female voice responded.

“Aiden!” he answered, quite relieved as he recognized the sound of Leka’s voice. “We are here to rescue you. The enemy is defeated.”

“That is wonderful,” Leka answered, sounding surprisingly bitter. “I am chained to the wall.”

“I am coming!” he announced optimistically. Though the smoke was slowly dissipating, Aiden could still see nothing but blackness. He estimated Leka’s voice was coming from the northwest end of the keep so he stumbled in that direction. He tripped over a few items but luckily never fell. He could tell by the heat that there was a fire in the center of the keep so he was able to avoid stepping into it. Soon, Aiden located the young girl, and indeed she was chained to the wall by her left foot. But he was elated to discover that she was otherwise unharmed. There were two other figures sitting on the ground nearby, both human men. They were not chained, but they were both frightened of the battle, and were overcome with choking and coughing. Aiden and the three were too asphyxiated to talk to each other, but he pushed the two men toward the exit, then while the smoke was clearing he inspected the chain and the lock. He made a passing attempt to pick the lock but got nowhere with that. Next he tried to pry the chain off the wall, but it was built too stoutly and would not release.

Meanwhile, Dodge, though still fuming with rage, was able to calm himself enough to speak to the warchief. “What is your name?” he demanded.

The warchief stopped in front of Dodge and penitently managed half a bow. “Noh’yas Qurgh T’ugriq-puqlod,” he said in his native language, then in Westrian, “I am Warchief Qurgh T’ugriq-son.” He pointed over at the charred remains of his shaman, the corpse still burning with a sour odor. “You killed our shaman, Jejha’ghit,” he said with reverence. He gave a sideways glance at Kyran, then looked upon Yriadel with awed respect. He was clearly impressed that Dodge had two “shamans” in his war party, and reckoned that was why his warriors had been defeated so proficiently.

“Your men fought bravely,” Dodge complimented, attempting to soothe the warchief’s humiliation.

“As did you,” Qurgh reciprocated, nodding his head in respect toward the group, just as Kyran walked up to join Dodge, Glenlivet and Yriadel.

“That is why we will alow you to live if you give us the prisoners,” Dodge offered. “You are brave fighters.”

“You can have prisoners. We not paid enough to die for them.”

Just then they saw two coughing men blunder out of the keep and they heard Aiden yell from within, “I need a key to unlock Lady Leka!”

“I have key,” Qurgh volunteered. He lifted a metal ring from his belt and held it out.

Lee snatched it and headed into the keep to help Aiden.

“Who are those two men?” Kyran inquired.

Qurgh glanced at the two coughing men, then answered. “Young one hired by Warlord Grahmr as translator. Old one prisoner they tortured and now tired of.”

Glenlivet marched arrogantly up to Warchief Qurgh T’ugriq-son. “Do you know who I am?” he challenged.

“No,” Qurgh answered brusquely, not even trying to hide his disgust of the elf-blood.

“Die you chalk-faced goon,” Lee clowned toward Glenlivet. He had just strolled up to join the group, his sword abent-mindedly poking his ork prisoner, when he witnessed the exchange between Glenlivet and Qurgh.

“Didn’t think so,” Glenlivet answered Qurgh dismissively, ignoring Lee. Then he laughed as if to hide his embarrassment. Perhaps a little too prideful, he haughtily hoped his fame might have reached all they way to Dolnogg by now.

“That best you got?” Qurgh snarled at Glenlivet.

“I am the White Dragon, bitch.” Glenlivet countered, then walked away satisfied. He was confident Qurgh would be his bitch if they ever dueled.

Warchief Qurgh had a quizzical look on his face, wondering if he should know the White Dragon. Then he noticed his ork warriors laughing at something on top of the keep. Everyone looked up and saw a little copper dragon perched on the ledge of the keep. It was laughing hysterically at the ork archer who was fumbling around blindly and still glowing with gold sparkles. Everyone found the site to be quite humorous. Yriadel’s Glitterdust spell wore off shortly, the sparkles subsided and the ork’s eyesight returned, and the little dragon disappeared. The ork archer subsequently tossed his weapons to the ground and climbed down to join the group of prisoners.

~ ~ ~

Magna the Bear remained watchful on the palisade wall while Yriadel moved about and tended to everyone’s wounds. The remainder tied up all the ork captives, then gathered all the ork’s weapons and shields into one pile. There were 11 prisoners and among them were 5 wounded and 2 unconscious. There were 6 dead and 2 missing.

As Warchief Qurgh was being bound up he said, “you won fort, we will surrender it to you.”

“No, you are not leaving,” Glenlivet answered tersely.

“You can stay here,” Dodge added. “We’re gonna leave, very shortly.”

Once their surroundings were secured, the rescuers concentrated their attention on Lady Leka. Although they were all relieved to have finally recovered her, they avoided making a spectacle about it. After all, she had been kidnapped (and her father murdered!) while under the group’s professed protection.

They observed that the once naïve and sheltered daughter of Lord Austalf Vikna had changed significantly since her abduction from Vokhund. The young maiden with fine brown hair, who was always so reserved and soft-spoken, now stood steely-eyed and defiant. Long gone was her fine dress and ermine-lined cloak she wore when they had last seen her. Lady Leka was now dressed in well-worn, patchwork leather armor, evidently scavenged from a variety sources and pieced together from scraps. Yriadel checked on her and confirmed that, although she had endured quite a traumatic journey, she had not been injured or molested.

“You have our sincerest apology for the tribulation you have suffered, my Lady, and we will do everything we can to give you restitution,” Yriadel professed.

Lady Leka gave a hardened reply. “My desire is to return to Kantor. I will force my family to enact revenge upon the perpetrators of my father’s murder and my abduction.” By all rights, she should have been very angry, she might have complained or accused, but she seemed virtually emotionless.

A young man stepped forward, one of two men who had been released from the keep by Aiden. He was clothed in fine and colorful silks and had a tuft of yellow hair tied in a tight ball on top of his head. He carried a decorative short sword and a backpack. The man was conspicuously out of place in this setting, and the rescuers regarded him skeptically.

“Me naim is Guto,” he introduced himself, bowing his head courteously.

Glenlivet stood and approached the newcomer. “I am Glenlivet.”

“Wha’ t’ ‘ell is guin on?” Guto inquired affably.

“Who the hell are you?” Glenlivet demanded irritably.

“Oim Guto froom Guwenta,” he restated, taking a half step backward, surprised at Glenlivet’s aggressively interrogative attitude.

Though the man spoke fluent Westrian, his accent demonstrated that he was a Pretton from the local Kambrian Kingdoms, yet his fine outfit contradicted that conclusion. Glenlivet knew that the orks had been exterminating the local Prettons and this one was apparently neither a victim nor a prisoner of the orks. And he carried a weapon; though it appeared to be more ornamental than functional. Glenlivet was justifiably suspicious.

“Oi an’ me coosin, ‘en Gethin, coom froom a loong lion o’ translat’rs an’ marchants workin’ in th’ Kambrian Kingdoms an’ beyond,” Guto expounded. “Oi ‘appened ter be in Juyntia when th’ March Ootlaws arrived wi’ Lady Leka. Warloot Grahmr retained me sorvices ter ‘elp in th’ translations an’ transactions atwixt ‘imself, Klaus, an’ Lady Leka. Personally, oi dent care ter be involved in th’ matter, boo’ oi knoo o’ th’ Vikna fam’ly an’ oi thoot tha’ if oi could be in part respoonsible fer ’er bostin return, oi moit gain a fruitful tradin’ agreement in Kantoor.”

“It is true,” stated Lady Leka in Guto’s defense. “Whatever his motives, he has taken good care of me. He provided food to me when my captors would not, and he loaned me his bedroll to keep me warm. I don’t think that I would have survived this calamity without him.”

Though Glenlivet was appeased by her testimony, he refrained from conceding his dominance. “We might let you live,” he said to Guto menacingly.

“Thank ya. I mean neya ‘arm. I oonly wanna ‘elp,” he said submissively.

“Have you seen a peerie fae?” Kyran asked.

“Neya, I ‘av noot,” Guto answered apologetically.

“I have,” Lady Leka stated dispassionately.

“Do you know where it is?” Kyran asked excitedly.

“I do not know. I just know that a couple of orks brought one back in a cage. They were teasing the poor little creature. One ork seemed to have challenged the other and they took the fae out of the cage. It escaped and flew into the well.” She pointed to the well in the fortress yard. They glanced over at the well and noticed the old man lingering by its low wall, babbling incoherently in a low voice.

“What do you know about the old man?” Aiden asked Lady Leka.

“All I know is that his name is Gorteyrn,” Lady Leka answered. “He is a spavined idiot. I assume he is Kambrian.” She added that last point in a manner that implied she held the opinion that all Kambrians were idiots.

“’e’s a madman!” Guto proclaimed. “Warloot Grahmr told me Gorteyrn was amoong a force what stole into th’ fortress o’ th March Ootlaws, a place they call Merchold. A loong batt’l occurred, an’ th’ March Ootlaws chased th’ survivors across Groes Bryniau and slaught’red or captured all o’ them. This ‘un was broot ‘ere by soom members o’ th’ March Ootlaws, an’ then enthusiastically tortured.”

Aiden approached Gorteyrn. He had paid no attention to him before, when they were within the keep, and would have observed nothing anyway through the dark smoke. Now he witnessed that the old man was nearly naked, wearing only the remains of a ragged tunic, yet seemed oblivious to the cold. He had scraggly gray hair and a kinky beard.

Aiden touched Gorteyrn’s arm to gain his attention. In reaction, Gorteyrn turned around and Aiden almost jumped; Gorteyrn was horrifying to behold! His face was burned and scarred and his eyes had been gouged out. Appalled, Aiden backed away as the wretched man reached toward him, and Aiden saw that the ends of Gorteyrn’s fingers had been cruelly chopped off. Gorteyrn stood there in blind confusion, blabbering incomprehensibly, then Aiden noticed that the poor man’s tongue had been split.

The old man wandered aimlessly for a moment, then found his way back to the well. He continued to babble, occasionally emitting a random yell. He was obviously very mad.

Lee’s acute ear for linguistics was able to comprehend two words that were mumbled repeatedly: Merchold and Cwellenath. Merchold they had just learned about, as Guto previously mentioned it was the name for the stronghold of the March Outlaws. Of the word Cwellenath, they knew nothing.

“I wonder who that man was,” Yriadel mulled openly.

Kyran supposed that Warlord Grahmr had feared Gorteyrn as a wizard, and thus had split his tongue and removed his fingertips, thereby preventing the old man from casting spells. He shuddered to think of such a cruel fate, and silently kept his horrifying suspicion to himself. To be deprived of the ability to release ones inner magic would be a worse punishment than merely being blinded.

“I’m not sure how significant this is, but look on his back,” Lady Leka suggested.

Aiden complied and observed a tattoo upon the man’s naked upper back. The tattoo was of two quarter moons facing each other.

“I have seen that mark before,” Lee declared, “on the corpse I found at the outlaw campsite in the woods across the river from Vokhund. The man’s name was Markus and he was killed by the one called Tindle, both members of Ubert’s Reavers. While I had been secretly observing their camp, I witnessed as Tindle slew him with his axe as, apparently, Markus was attempting to kill Lady Leka. I overhead Tindle say to Klaus that he had never trusted the ‘newcomer’.”

“Why would one of Ubert’s Reavers try to kill Lady Leka, when their plan was to sell her for ransom?” Yriadel asked.

Lee shrugged, then looked at Lady Leka.

She appeared to be in deep thought. “I remember…” she began, trying to put the pieces together in her mind, “…before we left Kantor, my father had become very intense and his thoughts were guarded. I realized how unusual it was that we left home so abruptly, but I never asked why. I loved and respected my father. I would never question him. Is it possible that someone was trying to kill him? — or me!? — and this someone was Ubert the Pirate?”

“Lady,” Aiden addressed her somberly. “Your father’s last thoughts and words were of you only,” he said comfortingly, “but among his belongings I found this.” He withdrew a small, folded piece of parchment from a pouch on his hip and presented it to Lady Leka. But Aiden withheld the important detail that Lord Austalf had stored the note alongside his signet ring, and though he had presented the ring to Aiden for safe keeping, he apparently had not intended for Aiden to find the note. When Aiden had asked about the meaning of the note, Lord Austalf had replied something vague, like ‘the greedy man could not wait one settling moon for his gold.’

Lady Leka read the short note out loud with literary precision. “A. Our failed communication of late has left me little choice, either return to me what is mine or I shall have my Klaus settle the account permanently. U.” Impassively, she handed the parchment back to Aiden, who took it and waited patiently for a response. After a few seconds, she finally responded to Aiden’s expectant glare. “Well, it is possible that ‘A’ is Austalf and ‘U’ is Ubert,” she acknowledged. “And Klaus is the leader of the group who kidnapped me. By the way, I learned during my captivity that Ubert’s Reavers had joined with Warlord Grahmr and the March Outlaws only a few days before their attack on Vokhund.”

She folded her arms as if warding off a chill. “It is most disturbing to think that Ubert, a well known pirate, would send a threatening message to my father. Perhaps that explains why he took me away from Kantor, but it does not answer the questions: why did the one named Markus want to kill me; and do the similar tattoos imply a connection between he and Gorteyrn. Regardless, we will likely get no answers from that madman.” She nodded toward Gorteyrn who was now seated on the ground beside the well, murmuring dementedly.

Chapter 14: Beneath the Well

Dodge finally had enough discussion about assassination intrigue so he changed the subject to an additional impending rescue, coincidentally linked to the well at which they were now gazing. “We need to check the well and see if we can find Penarddyn.”

“Very well,” agreed Kyran. “Yriadel, the fae seemed to respond to you, not to me,” he suggested, implying that she should lead the search.

“We don’t want you going down there,” Dodge objected.

“Good call,” agreed Glenlivet. “Besides, she might be hiding.”

“We can call her name,” Dodge said. “Tell her we are here to rescue her, that her sisters sent us to save her.”

They all agreed to that idea, led Gorteyrn away from the well, then began calling for Penarddyn. After a few tries with no response, they lowered a torch and looked down into the well to discover there was an opening below, as they had come to suspect.

Glenlivet volunteered to go down first. As he was lowered into the well shaft, the tight confines opened to a wide, dark space from which he swung freely. He heard the sound of pebbles plunking into the water below, as a moist, steamy, air engulfed him and his flickering light. Below his dangling feet was a mire of steamy, slimy water reeking with the fetid odor of stagnation. Nearby were four large columns that stretched up to the ceiling, which was crisscrossed with sagging wooden beams reaching out to moldy and timeworn walls. Around the columns, protruding from the blanket of ichor and muck like tiny islands, were several small mounds of rubble covered with patches of large mushrooms and vines. Below his feet, a low semicircle of small, cut stones rose out of the water. The stones were probably the top of an old, underground well, Glenlivet surmised, so he decided not to drop straight down. Instead he swung side to side a few times and dropped down with a small splash outside the ring. The water was about 2 feet deep.
Lee Alfsaw descended next and joined Glenlivet in the knee deep water. A warm draft flowed upwards, carrying wisps of steam with it. As their bodies slowly warmed to the confines beneath the earth, their hair tingled and their eyes tried desperately to pierce the threatening gloom. There was a constant dripping as the moisture clinging to the walls plunked into the water.

As their eyes adjusted in the flickering light, they estimated the bounds of the chamber to be about 70 feet by 70 feet, and the ceiling about 14 feet high. The walls were bricked and plastered. Empty sconces were mounted on the walls about every 20 feet. In the middle of the west wall was a broad opening with a vaulted ceiling. To the north, a small wooden door stood half open. In the east wall there were three narrow openings.

Carefully, they creeped closer to the columns near the center of the chamber. Though their feet moved over a solid surface, it was strewn with the detritus of the ages, making movement precarious and difficult. Green slimy tendrils stuck to their legs and clothing as they sloshed through the shallow, thick water.

Banked up against and around the columns were heaps of dirt, rubble and other debris. Covering these heaps were large, broad bloomed, red mushrooms and white flowering vines gathered in patches, as if for protection from the surrounding gloom. The columns and debris piles surrounded a massive staircase. Its steps were wide and low, constructed of rough-hewn stone piled without aid of chinking or mortar. The steps were covered with fallen rock, the ceiling having collapsed long ago.

They shuffled their way past the columns and toward the half open door in the north wall, thinking perhaps a frightened peerie fae might go there to hide from orks.

Beyond the north door was a narrow corbeled passage with crumbling plaster walls that stretched into darkness. A sconce hung crookedly on the wall to the left. As Lee and Glenlivet moved forward through the passage, the water became more shallow and a flagstoned floor became discernable. Ahead, the shadows danced and moved against the invading light.

The corridor emptied into a chamber dominated by a marble statue of a gnarled and knuckled winged beast. It was perched upon a red pedestal sitting in a pool of shimmering, crystalline water. The room had a higher ceiling than the passage. Several emaciated rats scurried about the room, disappearing underneath two doorways on the opposite side of the room.

The small, rectangular pool was surrounded by a red–tiled lip. The water was clear and clean, and peering into it revealed glimmering jewels resting on a bed of gold and platinum coins. This was just too good to be true, they both thought to themselves. The nodded to each other in silent agreement: further investigation would have to wait until later; their immediate mission was to find and rescue Penarddyn.

Lee led Glenlivet through the doorway on the left. Beyond was a small musty chamber. A table, upturned and missing two legs, with its underside facing the door, lay at the far end of the room. On the floor to the right, refuse, rat scat, small pieces of rotted wood, and insect husks littered the floor. From a hook in the ceiling, a large black iron chandelier hung precariously by a length of rusty chain. To the left, on the adjacent wall, was a wheel mechanism with a coil of chain wrapped about it. There were three metal loops attached to one of the beams in the ceiling. The loops ran in a line from the chandelier to the wheel mechanism.

Across the room was a small, closed wooden door, loosely banded with metal straps. A rough shaped metal ring in its center acted as a handle. The door’s bottom was ragged, with nearly a hands–width of space between it and the floor.

As Lee and Glenlivet entered the chamber, several large rats scurried from behind the table to escape through the gap beneath the door.

Glenlivet pulled open the small door, then passed through it into a squat room with a low ceiling. At the far end was the shattered and rotted remnants of a bed. A dilapidated armoire filled the wall to its side. From the ceiling clung a bizarre arrangement: a series of small and large gears attached to a metal ball from which extruded four thin blades of wood. A series of metal rings attached to the ceiling led from the contraption to a narrow opening in the wall.

Glenlivet entered the room for a closer look. The old dilapidated chest sat askew from the wall, leaning precariously into the room. The doors were ajar, and from within reeked the acrid smell of urine and feces. He saw no sign of a fairy though, so the two returned to the room with the pool, then onward through the doorway on the right.

The hallway curved east and opened into a large, reddish colored, round room with a conical ceiling. The room was half submerged in brownish water. The visible portion of the floor had an engraving etched into it. Though half of the engraving was beneath the water, the other portion seemed to be a circle set within a circle, the interior of which was engraved with contorted, bright red glyphs. About the wall, in concentric circles, were many hundreds of small hand–sized niches, many of which contained eerie, ceramic figurines. Across the room was a broad copper door braced by thick iron bands.

The etchings in the floor appeared to glow red, though there was nothing in the grooves. Lee’s linguistic talents were of no use decyphering the glyphs. Between the two, they decided there was more mystery and danger to exploring this area than just the two of them could undertake, so they returned to the surface and recounted to their friends what they had explored so far.

To be continued…



Footnotes:
1. Adapted from: Davis Chenault, Under Dark and Misty Ground: Dzeebagd, (Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, 2007).
2. Wyrd bið ful aræd {weerd bith fool ah-RAD}, Angarian: “Fate remains wholly inexorable”; “The Wanderer,” Exeter Book, (c600).
3. How Not To Be Seen, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Season 2, Episode 11, (BBC, 1970).
4. “when you look up, they drop on you”; A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1928).
5. Heri Joensen, “Another Fallen Brother,” Tyr – Valkyrja, (Agoura Hills, CA: Metal Blade Records, 2013).


B04P05

By-Tor Brigade Legacy VykingValor