Part 27 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion
The Crimson Eagle, Next Morning
Marwyn stirred from his rest, returning to consciousness peacefully. From the window he could see it was still dark out, he must have awoken early. It was strange, he had worried about sleeping too much because of the late night, but his respite must have been more restful than usual. To his continued surprise, Vargard had already risen and left from the bed across the room from him. The warrior must not get more than six hours of sleep each night at best, but he seemed no worse the wear for it.
From the silence downstairs, he guessed he was too early for breakfast, so he simply took a seat by the room’s window and gazed outside. It admittedly wasn’t a good view, the opening looking over solely the street below, and the adjacent building.
“Marwyn, are you awake?” a voice asks him.
“Yes?” he answers aloud. There was no response. Eventually, he realizes that the voice had contacted him mentally, and that his ring was slightly warm. “Yes,” he replies, this time directing the thought mentally into the gold band.
“Forget about me so soon?” the voice teases.
“No, I just forgot about the ring.”
“Mind elsewhere, Marwyn? I’d hate to think I’d interrupted something interesting.”
“No Mev, of course not,” Marwyn reassures hastily, “I was just a little groggy.”
“Make it to Sharn ok?” Mevalyn asks, voice becoming more serious.
“Yeah, a few days ago. Already had our first job too.”
“Found a necromancer in ancient goblin ruins,” Marwyn reports proudly, “And I got a pretty nice rapier out of the deal.”
“What’s it do?”
“Dunno,” Marwyn answers honestly, “Haven’t had the chance to find out. Something weird happened before I got it though. Hey,” he says, in realization, “You might actually be able to help me with that.”
“Oh?” Mevalyn’s voice asks.
“I was playing my lute, healing someone,” he explains, “When I got this sudden clarity. Never happened before, but I was able to pull off one hell of a shot afterwards.”
“Sounds like you were in quite a scuffle,” Mevalyn observes, “But Marwyn, surely you’ve… no,” she cuts herself off, “No you wouldn’t. Sometimes I forget just how self-taught you are.”
“What do you mean?”
“All bards can do that, Marwyn,” the elf says, “Usually it’s one of the first things taught. At least that’s how we did it in Cyre. We… used to do it.”
“What is it?” Marwyn asks hurriedly, trying to change topic.
“It’s an ability tied to your music. There are others like them, though I haven’t mastered any yet. Basically, your music inspires you, or others,” she adds, “which improves further performance. In either combat or… other pursuits. It doesn’t last long, but as you no doubt felt, it’s potent.”
“You can do this?”
“Easily, as you should be able to do, with practice. Eventually, you can inspire multiple people with one performance.”
“Oh!” Marwyn cuts in, remembering, “I have been practicing. I learned invisibility on the way here.”
“That’s good!” Mevalyn compliments, “To be honest, I have been lax lately in my studies. It snowed again yesterday, can you believe that?”
“How bad was it?” Marwyn asks, worried.
“Not too bad. It’s all gone now, but I hate the cold. I’m thinking of wintering in the south if it gets too bad. Maybe I’ll visit you in Sharn?”
“Is it safe for you to come back to Breland?”
“It should be,” Mevalyn acknowledges, “Though I’ll be safe. Promise me you will be too.”
“I promise, Mev,” Marwyn says, “Sun’s coming up. I was going to try start learning another spell today.”
“Well, good luck Marwyn. I… should warn you that we can’t retain infinite spells. I’d be careful with your choice.”
“I’ll try to be. I’m glad you contacted me Mev, but I should go.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Mevalyn asks ambiguously.
“I’m… not sure?” Marwyn responds, unsure.
“I love you, husband,” Mevalyn prods.
“Oh! You too Mev,” Marwyn says quickly, embarrassed. She doesn’t say anything else, and he feels it best to leave it at that.
After checking in with Vargard below, Marwyn finds another day free to himself. Returning to the Everbright district, he resolves to ignore any distractions and find a spell he could work with. After an hour’s wandering and asking directions, he finally enters the store of one Cel’jarek Mungst.
The store was of moderate size, the entryway placed strategically along one of Everbright’s main thoroughfares. Such was it that the store had a modest crowd of all kinds, and a queue before the clerk. Ignoring the wands and enchanted artifacts that lined the shelves towards the front, Marwyn turned instead to a series of bookcases. Tomes of all sizes and languages were shelved, in no apparent order. Occasionally, the line of book spines was broken by a glass display case, containing what must be extremely valuable magical secrets. Finally, the bard finds a slim book wrapped in auburn leather, a long, stylized white feather adorning the spine. The front cover, in both common and runic, state boldly that it contains instructions that will enable a competent caster to wield the feather fall spell.
A tight leather band forces the book closed, preventing a casual read before purchase. Still, the store seemed reputable, and Marwyn doubted he was buying an empty book.
“Feather Fall: a Primer,” the clerk reads aloud, taking the book from Marwyn, “Is that all?”
“Yes,” Marwyn nods.
“Are you interested in purchasing any primers on cantrips, first? You can return any tome so long as the seal hasn’t been broken,” the clerk bargains, noting with some concern Marwyn’s age.
“Here,” the clerk says, placing the feather fall book further down the counter, “Take a look, and let me know when you’re ready.” She then returns to her station, to help the next customer.
The clerk had cleverly placed Marwyn’s purchase next to a catalogue on cantrips. Unfamiliar with the term, he reads the first page. Cantrips, according to the manual, were the simplest of functional spells, and everyone who called themselves a mage should have a few at their disposal. Skipping the sales pitch, Marwyn looks for the section for casters of his breed.
He was surprised to find a few attack spells among the list, but he disregarded them. He felt he had enough already, and none really grabbed his attention. A few of the utility spells did, but checking his purse, Marwyn realized he was running low on funds. Forcing himself to pick the two he liked the most, Marwyn returned to the queue and waited to return to the front of the line.
Morgrave University, That Afternoon
Shakris sighs heavily, collapsing into one of the seats of Langhorn’s new office. The professor, for his part, looked exhausted as well, leaning his head on one hand at his desk. The woman was about to speak when there was a knock on the just closed door.
“For Sovereign’s Sake, if they want us to sit in on another class…” Shakris starts.
“Ms. Valderis, please,” Langhorn groans, “I know it’s trying but we should try and maintain composure.”
“I came here to study alongside you Professor, not to exchange countless pleasantries with arrogant snobs content on resting on their academic laurels.”
“Shakris, just let me handle this first,” the professor asks, heading to the door. He opens it to find a young looking elf, dressed in workman’s clothing. “How can I help you?”
“Professor Perin,” the man answers, extending a hand, “I heard you were recent arrivals from Aundair. I know the council likes to send people on whirlwind tours when they first arrived, I imagine you’ve had quite the day.”
“Oh yes,” Langhorn replies, “You could say that. I must say you are rather different than most we have met today, however.”
“I’m a more practical elf,” Perin answers proudly, “My area of research requires more… down to earth attire than what is normally seen in a classroom,” he says, and, upon seeing Shakris, adds, “I admire your protégé’s choice of garb, not something I wouldn’t wear in the field, with appropriate adjustments, of course.”
“Shakris Valderis,” Shakris replies, nodding respectfully at Perin.
“What can we do for you?” Langhorn asks.
“It’s more what I can do for you,” Perin answers enigmatically. “I’m sure you have your own research to get to, but your initiation into Morgrave isn’t entirely over yet, I’m afraid.”
“What else do we have to do?” Shakris asks indignantly.
“Not to worry, Ms. Valderis,” Perin says calmly, knowing her disrespect wasn’t meant towards him, “While such trials normally last a few weeks. Typically, you’d be expected to assist another with their research before being given full access to the university’s resources. My project, for example, is in need of a couple clear heads. However, I can promise it’ll be far more interesting than arcane theory. Shouldn’t be more than a week before this phase is complete, and you’ll be on your way to your own studies.”
“It certainly sounds interesting,” Langhorn comments, “Though I of course could not accept without some inkling as to what we would be doing.”
“Ah yes, of course!” Perin says, slapping his forehead, “I have led an archeological dig into the Cogs, which has just unearthed an ancient ruins. We’re still in the process of exploring it, but what we’ve found so far is very promising!”
“Is it safe?” Langhorn asks.
“The parts we have explored,” Perin nods, “Had some problems, a few workers unfortunately perished, but those areas you will be working with are safe. Others… not so much. We’re considering our options for those, but you will not have to worry. I will, of course, be close by while you are down there.”
“Well, that certainly sounds like a break from the monotony,” Langhorn says, warming to the idea. “What do you think, Shakris?”
“So long as we actually get to do something, I’m fine with anything Professor,” Shakris agrees, relieved. “When do we start?”
“A few days. I’ll tell the council you’ve started immediately, of course,” Perin reassures, “But you look as if you need a break.”
“That we may do,” Langhorn chuckles, “I’ll await further word from you then.”
“Good to meet you, Professor Langhorn,” Perin says in parting, “I can certainly say that it will be a pleasure to work with you.”
“As with you,” Langhorn replies, closing the door behind the departing elf.
The Crimson Eagle, Next Day
Marwyn had spent the rest of yesterday, and most of today focused on the feather fall spell. He had initially thumbed through the other spells which he had purchased, prestidigitation and dancing lights, but decided to try and finish his study on the first. He was finding it more difficult than his time with invisibility, however. The primer was separated into multiple steps, and though he had progressed through the first few with ease, the latter were causing the most difficulty.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t muster the strength required for the spell, nor that the incantations were too complex. It was hard to describe, a barrier that he had never run into before. He’d never really understood where his arcane talent came from, not instinctively, and this was making it hard to diagnose the issue. He was running into some limit on his power, and pushing the boundaries was proving harder than he’d imagined.
Frustrated from repeated failure, he sends for Lesani.
“Marwyn?” she responds.
“I can’t do it, Les,” Marwyn responds, “I haven’t managed to cast it once ever since I started.”
“Cast what, Marwyn?”
“Feather fall,” he answers, “I bought it yesterday.”
“Some patience may be required, Marwyn,” Lesani cautions, “All casters are limited in their repertoire. You may need to become more experienced before you can handle another spell.”
“Ok,” Marwyn responds, chastised. “Have you heard from Var?”
“Not since this morning, no.”
“Oh,” Marwyn acknowledges. They had eaten breakfast together, but after that Marwyn had sequestered himself in his room. “So, no job?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Lesani says, “I know Jor is ready and willing, as am I.”
“Yeah, me too,” Marwyn agrees, “But having a break’s nice too.”
“Yes it is,” Vargard says, entering the room suddenly, “Talking to Les?”
“Yeah,” Marwyn nods, surprised at the warrior’s sudden entrance, “He’s here, Les.”
“Ah, tell him I will be away until late tonight,” she replies, and Marwyn echoes the message.
“Any luck?” Vargard asks while Marwyn cuts the connection, noting the spell book lying open on Marwyn’s bed.
“No,” Marwyn shakes his head solemnly, “Les said I need to get better first.”
“That’s a shame. I got another offer today,” Vargard says, switching topics, “It’s… the same employer as last time, Marwyn. We’ll be going back to those ruins. Think you can handle that?”
“I… y..yes, Var,” Marwyn answers shakily, trying to put on a brave face.
“Good. They’ve told me they secured the shaft so it’ll be less precarious. They’ve apparently run into more of those hobgoblin wights, and want to be their vanguard while they explore the rest of the place.”
“We start tomorrow?” Marwyn asks.
“Yeah, and depending how big the damn place is we could be there a while. They’re providing tents, so bring all your gear.”
“Should I tell Les or…”
“I’ve got it Marwyn,” Vargard says, “Just make sure you’re ready.”
Khybersef is the shortest day on Eberron, heralding the true beginning of winter. There are those who believe this day to be cursed, the bounds between the middle dragon and the dragon below at their weakest. Many folk tales abound of dark happenings on this day, though most outside of the church of the Silver Flame believe it to have no significance beyond the cosmological.
It was on this day that Marwyn, and the rest of The Split Falchion, descended into the Cogs once more. They had left early, or so it had seemed due to the late rising of the sun. The commute was similar to the one they had encountered before, though there were fewer workers on the elevator when it descended. The underbelly of Sharn was as hot as ever, though, despite the encroaching winter.
The worker camp was still up when they arrived, though it was practically a ghost town. “I guess we’re just supposed to… go to the ruins?” Jorduna thinks aloud.
“Hey!” Vargard yells. A few weary heads poke out of tent flaps, glaring at the newcomers. Someone in workman’s clothes, an elf, comes running out of the tunnel to Shaft B.
“So… huh, so sorry,” the elf pants, catching his breath, “Eh, step out for a moment… I’m Professor Perin.”
“Professor?” Jorduna asks, eyebrow raised.
“Yes, I’m a bit more… down to earth than most of my… peers,” he answers, taking in deep breaths, “That was a joke,” he adds, seeing no reaction to the pun.
“Courier said you needed help exploring the ruins,” Vargard says dryly.
“Yes!” Perin answers enthusiastically, “But we should discuss this in the ritual chamber. Follow me.”
The elf led them into the tunnel, and to the top of Shaft B. With some relief, Marwyn sees that the railing had been reinforced since he had last been there. The passages had also been generously lit with torches, though the light still did not reach the bottom of the shaft. Not that the bard was intent on seeing that, of course.
Entering the breach in the ruins, it’s clear that workmen had also cleared the ash from the halls. With some surprise, Vargard sees the Way Ward he had placed just inside the breach still active. “I though these burned out after a day,” he says, “Didn’t see any of the others on the way here.”
“A day?” Perin says, confused, “No. We removed the ones before here, of course. Not entirely sure why you felt it was necessary to map the route here.”
“Map?” Vargard asks.
“Yes… that is what the Way Wards are for,” the professor explains, “This should have been explained to you before.”
“I thought there was something suspicious about them,” Lesani comments, “We were told they were merely a means to mark the path back to the camp.”
“Oh,” Perin says in understanding, “I’m afraid the reputation of others might have made my man less trusting of you. He must have thought it’d be simpler to deceive you.”
“Well that’s just great. Where is the guy?” Jorduna asks, annoyed.
“He’s… dead, unfortunately,” Perin answers softly, “One of those we lost to the undead after you cleaned up. Part of why we’re hiring you again.”
“What’s the other part?” Vargard asks, the group coming to the ritual chamber.
“You didn’t attempt to pillage this artifact. Though its purpose is rather dark, I admit, it is of great value,” Perin explains, indicating the four purple crystals and the table centered between them. Several people were milling about in the chamber. Two, Marwyn recognized.
“Professor Langhorn?” Lesani asks, surprised to see a familiar face.
“These are the mercenaries you hired, Perin?” Langhorn asks, mirroring Lesani’s expression. Shakris too was surprised, but she didn’t show it as much, focused as she was with one of the crystals.
“Yes. You know each other?” Perin replies.
“They accompanied us on our journey here,” Langhorn explains, “Pleasant travel companions, at least. I am pleasantly startled to see you four again. Well, best get back to it,” he says, turning back to the crystal Shakris was examining, “I’m sure Perin will want to show you the ropes.”
“Seems fate may be at work here, today of all days,” Perin comments wryly, addressing The Split Falchion, “Yes, as I was saying, the Way Wards allow us to map these ruins in real time. They do also serve as a guide back to the hub,” he adds, “Though that isn’t why we use them. Do you still have some from your last time down here?”
“A few,” Vargard nods. He’d given several sheets to Lesani per her request, though he still had almost a ream.
“Good. Here is the master map,” Perin says, walking over to a collapsible table. On top was a mostly blank parchment, several rectangular outlines the only writing which adorns it. An X was marked on the furthest room out.
“We ran into trouble here,” Perin continues, tapping the room with the X, “A pressure plate caused several hobgoblin defenders to rise and attack us.”
“What were you looking for?” Lesani asks.
“Nothing specific, really,” Perin admits, “This find is already monumental, worth years of study. Just imagine what else could be down here.”
“What if we find anything we’d want to use?” Jorduna asks.
“You mean… well, your contract is somewhat lenient in that regard,” Perin says carefully, “Though within reason. You are also expected to turn in any artifacts of historical value, regardless of monetary worth.”
“Like this?” Vargard asks, withdrawing the amulet they had recovered from their last delving.
“Y..Yes!” Perin exclaims, excitedly taking it, “Where… where did you find this?”
“Down the other way,” Vargard answers, “Hidden in a wall.”
“Do you recognize this symbol?”
“No?” Vargard says.
“Neither do I!” Perin exclaims, “And I’m well versed in Dhakaani symbology. An excellent start for today. If you don’t mind, I’m going to catalogue this. You can get started.”
“Do you know how many undead are ahead?”
“Four attacked the group,” Perin answers distractedly, “They didn’t seem to want to leave the room, so we’re safe here. Oh, I almost forgot,” he says, running back to the map, “Place the Way Wards at intersections and new rooms. If you get into trouble, you can signal though one, and we’ll see it here. Any other questions?”
“Not that I can think of,” Vargard answers. Neither did his companions.
“Good. When you clear that room, make sure to remove the alert from the ward so we know it’s safe again.” Perin leaves, laying the amulet out on another table.
“Var, are we certain we trust that… odd elf?” Lesani whispers, “Morgrave does have a somewhat infamous reputation for ancient artifacts going missing.”
“Not our problem, Les,” Vargard answers, “Though it sounds like we’re in for a fight already. Everyone ready?”
The rest answer positively, and they check the weapons before heading out.
From the map in the ritual chamber, Marwyn saw that they’d have to cross through two rooms before reaching the dangerous one. The first had a large stone table in the center, with only one other doorway to move through. The next was practically barren, two other paths branching from it. Vargard had called stealth maneuvers the moment they entered, and in the quiet, the four could hear sounds coming from the next room.
“Hey, think the kid can hit me up with invisibility?” Jorduna whispers, “I could scout the room pretty easily.”
“Good idea,” Vargard returns, “You up for it Marwyn?”
“Yeah, sure,” the bard answers, “But you can’t attack without revealing yourself Jor.”
“I know how invisibility works, kid,” she shoots back, “Don’t you worry.”
Marwyn was briefly worried he would be unable to cast the spell, given his recent failures with feather fall. It came effortlessly, however, and he inwardly sighted with relief. It was disconcerting, seeing the hobgoblin disappear. She was good enough not to make too much noise, and Marwyn’s ears weren’t sharp enough to track her.
There were a few minutes of silence before the hobgoblin’s voice reappears. To her credit, Jorduna had returned to the same position she had left from, lessening the surprise of her sudden return. “Perin was right, four of them. Same heavy-armored bastards we ran into before. You know Var,” she says conspiratorially, “I’m pretty sure I could take one out before you engage. How many times can you do this, kid? This is kinda fun.”
“Dunno,” Marwyn answers, “I don’t really want to find out either.”
“Sounds good, Jor,” Vargard agrees, “The rest of us will wait just outside, and move in on your go.”
“Got it,” Jorduna answers, and assumedly moves to get into position. The rest move slowly to the doorway of the target room. Marwyn sees four dark shapes milling around, the poor lighting not allowing for a better view of them. They were of similar build to the warriors he had faced earlier.
A red triangle was flashing on one of the walls, assumedly the Way Ward. In the bursts of light, Marwyn could also make out several shapes on the ground. They weren’t moving.
“Les, Marwyn, try and focus down one at a time,” Vargard says, voice barely audible, “Hopefully Jor is careful in her choice. I’m going to toss a sunrod as soon as she opens up.”
There was a pause which seemed to stretch on forever, before finally, there was a loud shout. “Now, Var!” Jorduna yells, as she all but decapitates one of the hobgoblins with a wicked blade.
The warrior quickly cracks a sunrod, and throws it in the middle of the room. The new light seems to blind the undead, in addition to revealing the now decloaked Jorduna. He quickly assesses the situation, and charges at one of the remaining wights.
Marwyn too read the room, as he steps through the door. Jorduna had taken out the hobgoblin farthest from them, leaving three between her and her companions. He didn’t like the look of that, but trusted her decision. He briefly acknowledged that the sunrod only illuminated the center of the room, and didn’t cover the sides, but this wasn’t his primary concern.
He launches an arrow at the one Vargard was directly engaging, the middle of the three undead. Lesani, too, focuses her magics on the same one. Separated from its allies, the defenses of his target seemed compromised, and Marwyn’s arrow finds good purchase.
Marwyn’s mental celebrations were cut short, however, when a new enemy charges from the darkness of one of the room’s corners. He, the closest of The Split Falchion, was its target. The sword leaves a long gash on one of his arms, the bard unable to defend himself in surprise. “Var, I’ve got one here!” Marwyn yells.
“Can’t help you!” the warrior shouts back, the three other wights closing together to improve their defenses. Jorduna’s flanking position was allowing her to deal terrible damage to the exposed back, but neither could disengage. “Les, you’ll have to help him!”
“On it!” the warlock answers, shooting off a brightly colored bolt, “Marwyn, it is momentarily stunned,” she says quickly, “Your rapier!”
Marwyn’s opponent is dazed as the bolt hits it, and the bard takes the chance to sling the bow over his shoulder, and unsheathe his rapier. Thinking quickly, he also takes out a crossbow to occupy his other hand. The wight resumes its assault shortly after, lashing out again at Marwyn. Hampered by its shield, Marwyn was able to side step the blow. He fires his loaded crossbow first, trying to catch it off guard. It works, the offhand crossbow forcing the hobgoblin to shift its shield to the left to block the bolt. As it does, Marwyn sticks the rapier into an opening, striking true.
The moment he does, he hears something unexpected. A stanza from a tune he didn’t recognized seemed to fill the air briefly. In the heat of the battle, however, Marwyn ignores it, not wanting to be distracted.
Not having mastered reloading a crossbow one-handed, the weapon now lies useless in his hand. Having not practiced in melee in quite some time either, his parries were clumsy. He takes another gash, this time taking it to the chest. Fortunately, he was able to divert enough of the blow so that it didn’t hit anything vital, but he still gasped with the pain.
Marwyn drops the crossbow, awkwardly wielding the rapier with both hands. “Jump back!” Lesani yells, and Marwyn sensed a surge of magic behind him. He quickly backpedals, at the same time evading a thrust from the hobgoblin.
A red bolt hits the enemy dead center, and the magic splashes where it makes contact. The ancient flesh of the undead catches fire where it lands, casting a flickering shadow behind the wight. “Woah!” Marwyn shouts.
“You are not the only one who has improved their talents!” Lesani yells back, satisfied with the spell’s successful casting. While it was on fire, the wight seemed to ignore the pain as it renewed its assault on Marwyn. He was fortunate enough to deflect another blow, but couldn’t get an opening to push back.
Even with Lesani’s help, the melee was still one-sided. The ancient hobgoblin’s experience proved better than the bard’s, and Marwyn takes several more injuries. The most critical was a deep cut to his left shoulder, which made his arm go almost limp. The strength in his dominant hand was about to wane, when Vargard suddenly tackles the hobgoblin from the side. With him pinning the wight down, Jorduna swiftly finishes the last opponent.
“You said there was four, Jor,” Vargard says, rushing to support Marwyn as the bard nearly collapses from his injuries.
“There was!” she protests, “It must have come from somewhere else!” she hands the warrior a healing potion, which Vargard administers to Marwyn.
His more serious injuries repair slightly, giving him enough fortitude to bear his own weight. “Thanks,” he says weakly.
“Need another?” Vargard asks.
“No, I can… take it from here,” the bard says, sitting against a wall and taking out his lute. “Anyone else…”
“Take care of yourself first,” Vargard orders. He then addresses Lesani, “That was a new trick.”
“One I have been working on for some time,” Lesani replies, “It is usually more effective against groups, but I felt the situation warranted it.”
“That it did,” Vargard agrees. He walks over to the flashing red Way Ward. “Uh… let’s see…” he mumbles to himself, trying to figure it out. “Ah, here we go,” he says, after disabling the alert on the ward. “Jor, anything on the bodies?”
“Just rusted gear, nothing special,” the rogue, who had been searching the felled undead, responds.
All turn when they hear noise coming from the way they came in. Weapons are prepared, safe for Marwyn, who was still singing his flesh back into shape.
“Who goes there?” Vargard challenges.
“Woah woah! Just us!” a man in working clothes answers, slowly moving into the doorframe with arms raised. “Saw you clear the alert.”
“Perin didn’t tell us about this,” Vargard argues.
“Probably forgot. Look, we’re just here to get torches up and to… to uh… remove the bodies,” the man, now flanked by others in similar garb, says, looking at the fallen workers.
“Alright, just try not to set anything else off,” Vargard warns.
“Think they came from here,” Jorduna reports, from one of the sides, “Hidden passage, I’ll need some help.”
“Where?” Vargard asks, moving over.
“There’s a seam right… here,” she says, “I think we can force it.”
“Hey, you guys should be ready to run if something comes out of here,” Vargard warns, and the workers look nervously as the two open the passage. The stone wall resists their efforts at first, but eventually the two are able to move a section aside to reveal a narrow passage. Fortunately, nothing comes through. A level was on the other side, presumably used to open the passage.
Marwyn had recovered by this point, thin scars the only marks that remained. They would be gone soon as well, though it would take a little more time.
“We’ll explore down here for a little,” Vargard says to the workers, “Marwyn, you good to go?”
“Yeah,” the bard nods, picking up the crossbow he had cast aside earlier.
“Stay close,” Vargard orders, stepping through the threshold. The other three followed, Marwyn taking up the back.
The path proved to be short, leading to a small chamber. Five alcoves, similar to the ones from the armory, were built into the walls. A weapon rack was placed next to each, though all were empty. No other paths seemed to branch off from this point, so Vargard merely placed a Way Ward, and started walking back to the other room.
Now that they weren’t in battle, the four took a moment to observe the room the skirmish had occurred in more closely. Statues lined the sides, each in different poses of battle. These would probably be objects of study for Perin and his associates, but they were of little value concern for the mercenaries. There were two doorways in the room, not counting the secret passage, leaving one pathway forwards.
“Think we should backtrack, or keep going?” Vargard asks the group in general.
“Might as well press on,” Jorduna argues, “If they’ve set up defenses here, there probably won’t be anything for the next few rooms. Or this whole section could be booby trapped,” she adds, backpedaling slightly.
“We should be wary of such hidden rooms throughout our exploration,” Lesani points out, “I would imagine there are others like them scattered about.”
“I can’t imagine spending centuries in that small room,” Marwyn comments, as they head for the next doorway, “Must have been boring.”
“I imagine they spent most of the time resting, Marwyn,” Lesani says, “Intelligent undead are a common sight to run into, though I imagine they have a state similar to our sleep.”
“It was supposedly a great honor to be chosen as an honor guard,” Jorduna says, “Though anyone who tried something like that with me wouldn’t be left with enough to raise.”
“Let’s cut the chatter,” Vargard cautions, as they enter the next hallway. It was dark, but he had retrieved his sunrod.
“Might it be best for Jorduna and I to lead, with that extinguished?” Lesani suggests. The suggestion confused Marwyn, until he remembered that they could see in the dark, to an extent.
“I’d rather not be blind, Les,” Vargard responds softly, as they walk down the hall, “And I’m not too keen on sending one of you ahead anyways.”
“I hear water,” Jorduna whispers, ears perking up.
“How much?” Vargard asks, unable to pick up the sounds.
“Small stream, maybe a hundred feet ahead. Probably coming from the next room. Fountain maybe?”
“Should I invisible Jor so she can scout?” Marwyn asks.
“I’d rather save that for when we know there are enemies,” Vargard answers, “We’ll rely on normal stealth.”
Crouching in two stacks of two by the next door, the only entrance they had seen in this hallways, The Split Falchion glances into the next room. Vargard had temporarily sheathed the sunrod to allow Jorduna and Lesani the chance to glance in without alerting anyone inside. With the report of no hostiles, Vargard brings the sunrod back out. He places a Way Ward on the inside wall of the room, and then turns to inspect the rest of the space.
A large fountain sits in the middle, water still trickling down from an upper spout. The pool of water inside was dirty, however, marred by dirt and infested with what looked like a bloodfly nest. The remains of several stone tables were scattered about, age having broken some of them. The walls were adorned with carvings, remains of paint still present in small patches. Two other doors branches off, though it appears one of the passageways had collapsed, stone blocking the hallway.
“Let’s wait for the workers to catch up,” Vargard says, resting on one of the more stable stone benches.
“No traps at least,” Jorduna says, having taken a precursory look around for pressure plates or trip wires.
Marwyn joined Vargard, sitting across from him. He pulled out his lute, and just as he was about to strike the first chord, a strange melody fills his head. It takes him a moment to place it, halfway into playing it.
“Something wrong?” Vargard asks, as Marwyn stops playing after the first stanza.
“No, I just don’t know anymore,” Marwyn replies. “Les, I think I found out what this rapier does.”
“Oh?” the elf responds, over from inspecting the carvings.
“It sings,” Marwyn says, “I put a hit on that hobgoblin, and I only just remembered… I heard something when it happened.”
“Play that again,” Jorduna says suddenly, listening intently.
“O..ok,” Marwyn replies, unnerved by Jorduna’s sudden interest in his playing. He repeats the stanza again, and this time the hobgoblin hums along, after a few beats. Everyone stares at her, such… tenderness from the hobgoblin was unheard of. She keeps it up after he finished playing, continuing the song. “You know it?” he asks, when she finished.
“Haven’t heard that in a long time, kid,” Jorduna responds softly, “Nice to see you’re learning good music for a change.”
“What’s it called?”
“I don’t know. It was… something I heard when I was a kid,” the rogue reminisces, “Old lullaby,” she adds.
“I can learn the rest if you…” Marwyn starts, but cuts himself off when he sees the workers from the previous room arrive.
“All clear?” the leader asks, and Vargard nods. “Ack, bloodflies,” he complains, seeing the fountain, “We’ll have to drain it.”
“We’re moving on,” Vargard says, “There’s a blocked passage over there, we’re heading down the other path.”
“Gotcha,” the lead worker acknowledges. His men had begun placing torches around the room, while he looked distastefully at the pool. “Switch the alert on and off if you find something interesting, otherwise we’ll look at unblocking it.”
“I assume you have a way of contacting Perin?” Vargard asks, remembering that he had the map.
“Yeah,” the worker nods, “University got real invested in this place once we found it. Gotta stone.” He holds up a sending stone to the warrior.
“Good. Send a runner if he needs anything,” Vargard suggests.
“Will do,” the workman says, and adds “Never thanked you for taking out those bastards. Had a friend that was killed.”
“Don’t mention it,” Vargard says, leading his group out.
“I can see a door ahead,” Jorduna says, as they continue on, “No other passages.” Soon, the sunrod illuminated the indicated door, the only other one they had seen to survive the passages of time since the reinforced door guarding the armory. “Let me have a look at it.”
“Go ahead, Jor,” Vargard agrees. He steps to the side to allow the hobgoblin though, and she inspects the handle carefully.
“Not locked,” she whispers, “I don’t hear anything behind it. Wood’s barely holding itself together, I doubt there’s any trap mechanisms in it that I couldn’t see.”
“Open it carefully,” Vargard orders, unsheathing his sword. She does so, allowing those behind to see into the room.
Bunks were placed throughout the room in regular, barracks like fashion. Doors were placed on either end of the long walkway between the two sets of bunks. Scraps of delicate cloth were all that remained of what once must have been beds, and with general surprise, the group notices ancient corpses in most of the beds. It was clear that these were not of the same caliber as those that had attacked them recently, most were naught but bone.
“Leaving behind guardians is one matter,” Lesani comments, after this had been made clear, “But this is… something else. These people died in their beds, I wonder why no one took care of the bodies.”
“That’s for Perin to find out,” Vargard says, applying a Way Ward to one of the inner walls. “I… don’t think we need search the bodies.”
“Yeah…” Jorduna agrees, for once not liking the thought of looting something.
“See any other secret passages, Jor?”
“What?” Jorduna asks, startled, “Oh, I’ll get looking.”
The hobgoblin does a careful search of the room, though she avoids getting too close to one of the beds. Eventually, she reports, “Nothing boss, it’s just a bunkroom.”
“Guess we move on,” Vargard says, moving to the next door. The rest follow, also trying to keep their distance from the corpses to each side. They were sure that none would try to attack them, but the scene was slightly disturbing even so. It was with mutual relief that they opened the far door, and continued further into the complex.
The next hallway bent to the left slightly, turning them back towards the direction of the ritual chamber. It appeared that this region of the ruins was compact, for as they turned, there was again only one, large doorway leading to another room. “Var!” Jorduna whispers sharply, “More of them ahead.”
“How many?” he asks, stopping and shielding the sunrod.
“Can’t tell from here, too dark,” she says, peering into the empty space, “Gonna need another hit of invisibility.”
“Just make sure you don’t miss one,” Marwyn gripes, casting the spell with a low monotone.
“Lightning doesn’t strike twice, kid,” the stealthed hobgoblin replies, before moving into the room.
“Actually, it can,” Lesani converses, as the others waited a good distance from the room ahead.
“We’ll be more careful, Marwyn,” Vargard reassures, “I’d never have left you purposely exposed like that.”
“I know,” Marwyn says. He stops for a moment, and then continues, “You know, when it first charged at me, I really though Cletus would help. I don’t know why, I mean, I know he’s gone, but I…”
“It’s ok, Marwyn,” Vargard says, “I sometimes expect to find the bastard sitting next to me in the inn.”
“He think he prided himself in getting the drop on you,” Lesani says, with a bittersweet smile on her face, “We all still miss him, Marwyn.”
“Think we’ll ever find someone to replace him?” Marwyn asks.
“Replace? Never,” Vargard replies, but sighs and says, “Though another man might be needed. It’s hard to find someone to trust in a business like this. Hell, I wouldn’t hire me.”
“But you hired me pretty quickly,” Marwyn protests.
“Marwyn,” Vargard says, thinking about his next words carefully, “You… didn’t look like the kind who would readily deceive people.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Jorduna suddenly enters the conversation, startling the others.
“Jor! How long were you there?” Vargard asks roughly.
“Just got back,” she says, no hint of teasing in her voice, “We’re in for a rough one.”
“8, Var, and some have bows. Thankfully there wasn’t any casters that I could see, and I looked closely,” she reassures, “Six swordsmen and two archers in total. They’re still in those wall-things, so we’ll have surprise with us. I don’t think I can mess with their weapons without awakening them though.”
“What kind of room is this?” Vargard says, more to himself in frustration.
“Training room, looks like,” the hobgoblin answers, “Large open space in the center, weapon racks along the walls. All ruined, of course, besides the undead’s weapons.”
“Should we perhaps try coming back later, with reinforcements?” Lesani asks.
“No,” Vargard shakes his head, “We can take them, so long as we’re careful. Jor, where are the archers posted?”
“One on either end. I could take out the far one while you focus down the closer.”
“I don’t like where that puts you, Jor,” Vargard says.
“I can get back to you before they fully awaken,” she argues, “And I’d rather not have to deal with arrows to my back.”
“Fair,” Vargard compromises, “Though we should try and stop them from joining ranks, they seem more effective like that. Marwyn, Les, anything you can do?”
“Not really,” Marwyn says.
“How close would you say the alcoves are?” Lesani asks the space where Jorduna presumably was.
“Dunno. 20 or 30 feet?”
“Hmm.” Lesani ponders for a moment, everyone else looking at her, “There’s another spell I have been working on.”
“You holding out on us, Les?” Vargard asks, surprised.
“Not exactly, Var, we never had opportunity to make use of it,” the warlock replies, “I can stun multiple of the warriors as the move to engage us, though we cannot in turn engage them without breaking the enchantment. The alcoves are too far away to hit them from surprise, so it will have to wait until after we begin.”
“Taking half the enemies out of the fight sounds like something we could have used before, Les.”
“I…” she splutters, then admits, “I have not fully mastered the spell. It will be hit or miss, Var. I cannot guarantee all of them will be stunned. I… did not want to bring it up before because…”
“I don’t care Les,” Vargard says forcefully, though he still keeps the volume low, “If we have an option, I want to know about it.”
“I… apologize Var,” Lesani replies, surprised by the warrior’s sudden anger.
“Jor, take out the far archer and rejoin with us. We’ll take out the other on your go,” Vargard orders, “Les… just do it when you get the chance.”
They moved out, taking great care to not prematurely awake the defenders. The room was indeed open, as Jorduna had reported, with a high ceiling. Several occupied recesses lined the side walls, a bow hanging alongside the closest one to the right. There was about 20 feet separating the center of the room from the group, and Marwyn was grateful for the space. He couldn’t see all the way down the hall, neither could Lesani, but he could see to the second enemy.
Vargard stood ahead of Lesani and Marwyn, as they prepared an attack against the resting archer. Thinking ahead, he also places a Way Ward next to the doorway, and triggers the alert.
There was a short click on Vargard’s sending stone, indication that the hobgoblin was ready. He sends another through, and whispers to the others, “Now.”
Marwyn’s first arrow was off, clattering off the back of the recess harmlessly, waking the sleeping wight. The second arrow, better aimed, stunned the defender. Unable to reach its weapons in time, it folds under the combined might of Marwyn and Lesani. As it falls, they see Jorduna running back across the hall. The other defenders were also awaking, reaching for shields and longswords that had been placed beside them in their long rest. The rogue tosses a knife or two at each as she ran, but they were largely ineffective.
“Les,” Vargard says out of the corner of his mouth, as the six remaining wights closed behind Jorduna, “Now might be a good time.”
“They need to be closer,” she protests, “Almost… almost…”
Marwyn was raining arrows on the closest one when the elf released the built up energy, focused on the five that had come from the latter part of the room. The bard has to look away when a sudden, bright ball of light surrounds the undead, different color patterns radiating beguilingly from it. When it disappears, it leaves four of the opponents dazed, stopped in their tracks.
“Do not target them!” Lesani yells, “They will reawaken!”
“How long does it last?” Vargard asks, moving to engage the one that had resisted the spell.
“A minute, no more,” Lesani replies, directing a spell at the other active opponent. With its shield, the hobgoblin wight was resisting Marwyn’s arrows to a degree, and was quickly closing on the four. Jorduna, now visible, stands in its way with knives in either hand.
“Hyah!” a triumphant yell from Vargard emanates throughout the room, as his blade cleaves almost entirely through his opponent. The wight had decayed more than its fellows, and wasn’t able to raise its shield in time to block a massive, overhanded strike from Vargard. Undeath was still keeping it alive from the normally mortal wound, but it would soon fall from repeated attacks.
The other was proving to be tougher, matching Jorduna and ignoring the majority of Marwyn and Lesani’s attacks. “Need some help here!” she yells, as she just barely ducks away from a longsword cut.
“Shift left!” Vargard yells, as he approaches from her right. Working in tandem, they quickly flank the opponent. The wight makes the mistake of turning to face Vargard, leaving its back open to the knives of the rogue.
Still it held on. As Marwyn gets a better look at his target, and as combat clears dust from the armor, he realizes that it was different from the others. Briefly focusing on the armor, he senses some kind of enchantment, tying it to its master’s companions.
Lesani, quicker on the draw, shouts, “Var, we cannot defeat it without first destroying the others!”
“What?!” he yells, blocking a sword stroke with his shield.
“The armor! It is receiving power from the others, greatly boosting its defenses.”
“Take them down one at a time!” he orders, “Jor, go with them, I’ll keep it busy.” His opponent, not understanding the tongue with which Vargard spoke, but acknowledging the realization, taunts him in the goblin tongue.
“Var, he said…” Jorduna starts.
“I don’t need to know!” Vargard yells, “Get moving!”
“Yeah boss!” she obeys, running over to the four stunned wights, “Wait for me to hit one!”
Marwyn barely manages to catch his bowstring as Jorduna warns him off. Lesani too holds the arcane charge she had been building up, allowing the rogue first strike. Helpless though the enemy was, Jorduna doesn’t manage to instantly fell it. The strike shakes the wight from its stupor, but follow up attacks from all three send it to eternal rest. Another is dispatched similarly, divine power living its shell. However, the other two wights suddenly strike out at Jorduna’s exposed back, spell binding them ending.
“Jor!” Marwyn yells, seeing the hobgoblin forced to one knee under the twin blows. He quickly fires off another shot, and then charges in with his rapier, picking up a shield from one of the fallen. The bard was unexperienced with its use, though the concept was simple enough. Lesani, meanwhile, had dragged the unconscious rogue away, and was forcing a healing potion down her throat.
Forced to focus solely on parrying and blocking, Marwyn danced with his two opponents, trying to prevent them from flanking him. He quickly glances over at Vargard, and sees that the warrior had been keeping even with his opponent.
One of the wights opposing him gets stuck suddenly, foot caught in a crack in the floor. Marwyn takes the opportunity to strike out, landing a blow on the wight. The other quickly covers for its ally, but in the moment, Marwyn again hears music surround him again. It was a continuation of the lullaby Jorduna had hummed earlier, but he ignored it.
Jorduna returns to the melee, still bleeding from two gashes on her back, but capable of fighting. Together, she and Marwyn were able to match the two undead, and Lesani pushed the tide of battle in their favor. Though his actions were meant more to enable the rogue’s critical attacks, he still manages to land enough strikes to hear the rest of the song, as well as the beginning of another he didn’t recognize.
Working in tandem, the three bring down most of the remaining defenders. Marwyn senses the arcane binds to the last undead hobgoblin fade, the enchantment on its armor breaking.
“Vargard, it is now vulnerable!” Lesani yells, “We are coming to assist.”
“No need,” the warrior shouts back, “This bastard’s mine!” He savagely bashes his opponent with his shield, in a display of raw force that stunned the wight, completely unprepared for the show of force. In a series of short strokes, Vargard quickly shreds the shield arm of his opponent. From there, it is a matter of ease to finish the remaining opponent.
Jorduna collapses with it, the adrenaline that had kept her going wearing out. Marwyn quickly brings out his lute, attending to her without prompt.
“She going to be ok?” Vargard asks, walking over. He had wounds of his own, but none that needed immediate attention.
“’Course I am,” Jorduna says weakly, “Cheap bastards…”
“Les, how did we not see that enchantment before?” he asks, turning to the warlock.
“It is a… curious enchantment, Var,” she explains, crouching down besides the fallen foe, “It did not activate until provoked. Before then, it was… yes, divinely powered. I would surmise that the armor was created at the same time this warrior was immortalized, along with its compatriots.”
“Nasty trick,” Vargard comments, “All for a sparring room?”
“It appears so,” Lesani agrees.
“Sure you’re ok Jor?” Vargard asks, as he helps the hobgoblin to her feet.
“Yeah boss,” she nods, wounds mostly healed, “All in a day’s work.”
Vargard sighs, and says, “I’d almost call it a day if it didn’t look like we were circling back around. Oh, almost forgot,” he says to himself, as he disables the alert on the Way Ward. “They’ll probably send a runner, best wait for a few minutes.” The others, exhausted from the battle, agree wholeheartedly.
Slow footsteps become audible from the hallway outside, one person approaching. The newly-appointed foreman walks in, clothes caked in sweat. “Heard the alert was disabled. Had some trouble?” he asks, noting light wounds on most of the mercenaries.
“Taken care of,” Vargard nods, “How goes the blocked passage?”
“We’ve got spades going at it,” the foreman confirms, “Doesn’t look like a major obstruction, we were about through when I got word to check in with… *boom*” a loud noise suddenly cuts him off, and the ground shakes from what appears to have been a distant explosion that knocked everyone onto their feet. Fortunately, the room they were in didn’t seem to suffer any damage, structure holding.
“What was that?” Vargard asks, as the five pick themselves up off the floor.
“I have to get back! Something’s gone wrong, the complex may be destabilizing. Get back to Perin!”
“Let’s go!” Vargard yells, leading his men through the far door, which should take them back to the ritual chamber. “If any come at us, just ignore them,” he adds, passing through the doorway.
His words were pointless, however, as all that stood in their way was a hallway, leading back to the room just before their first encounter. Turning right, they ran back to the ritual chamber.
“What was that?” Professor Perin asks worriedly, “I saw your alert.”
“That was something different,” Vargard answers, “There was an explosion in the fountain room.”
“How…” Perin starts, but is cut off by his sending stone. “What!?”
“Perin,” the voice of the foreman comes through, “Two men are down. My workers made it through the rubble, but there was a blasted explosive rune covering the door behind it.”
“No,” the foreman answers, “Everyone caught in the blast died. Fortunately it didn’t damage the walls, though we aren’t going any further.”
“Understandable. Withdraw, we’re done for the day.”
“Roger,” the foreman says.
Langhorn and his apprentice were still in the room as well, though before they are able to speak, Perin continues, “Well, let’s get a move on.”
“What?” Langhorn asks, “I thought this area was safe.”
“It is,” Perin reassures, “We’re going to that room they just unearthed.”
“What?!” Langhorn protests, “And walk into another explosive rune?”
“_The Split Falchion_ will clear it first, of course,” Perin clarifies, “I’m certain you are more capable of disabling traps.”
“Yeah,” Vargard agrees, “But why the rush?”
“Whatever was through that door was valuable enough to protect with an extremely volatile spell. I want to see this for myself. Come on!” he prods, ushering everyone deeper into the ruins. They passed the departing workmen, who were carrying their fallen along with their tools. The foreman raised an eyebrow at Vargard, but didn’t comment.
“Bloodflies,” Perin curses, as they enter the fountain room. The insects had been disturbed by the presence of the workers, and then again by the explosion, and were flying around the room. “I thought Marcus was going to drain that.”
“I’d imagine the explosion interrupted him,” Vargard points out, swatting one away.
“Yes. If you’d be so kind as to clear the room, Mr. Garodin,” Perin asks anxiously, clearly itching to explore himself.
“Doubt there are any enemies,” Vargard comments, “Jor, take a look, and be careful.”
“On it,” the hobgoblin says, and carefully steps over piles of rubble that hadn’t fully been cleared from the hallway. After a few minutes, she returns, an odd look on her face.
“What is it?” Vargard asks, noting this.
“Var… you won’t believe it,” Jorduna replies.
“Is it safe?” Perin questions.
“You’ll have to see for yourself,” Jorduna answers, gesturing to the dark room ahead.
Continued in Part 28, Lore of the Dragons – An Ancient Warning