Book One: Ordered by Gods

Stumbling Into Depths
Cuthberta Clairefreeday

An Account by Arek

Hmmph! Magical boots? After facing that boar, a magical torch, lance or catapult would have been more useful, Arek thought as Domaldi handed him the pair of boots, one of several items Folha had offered to the party. “Well, my own boots are in poor shape and we have travelled many miles.” Arek said gratefully to the young paladin. Arek lifted the boots to better examine them and immediately noticed how light and soft the dark green leather felt. “Probably elven handywork. They seem a bit big.” As Arek sat down and pulled his boots off, he noticed runes embroidered in the boots with golden thread. “Hmmph! Too bi…” Arek was astonished as the boots that originally were a few sizes too big adjusted themselves to his short and thick dwarven feet. “By Moradin! Magical boots indeed!” Arek took a few steps and even hopped. Never had he felt so agile and light on his feet. Perhaps the boots were a blessing after all.

As the sun was dipping below the trees of the fetid swamp they had trudged through, Arek once again took in his new friends, scattered around the grove, Frankie again fussing over Calibre while others, such as the wizard and the monk were off meditating. Tiberio was again strumming lightly as Folha was sitting on a small rock before him, her small legs rocking to the bard’s musical tales. Friends? Yes, that is what they were now, much more than individuals bound by a dream. While Arek did not share the Paladin’s continuous zeal for righteous actions, he would do everything he could, with Moradin’s blessings, for any member of the group. More importantly, he was starting to believe that the others would do the same for him as well. This was new for Arek. He had known this type of kinship only in his clan and during his stay with the Claimers. He had known other races in Riot’s Gate and had made a few friends, mostly other priests. But he had never fought and bled for them. This strange band was slowly turning into a small clan for Arek and with that came loyalty.

As Arek finished packing his equipment for tomorrow’s travels, he looked at the cave that was to be their destination. Well, we are going underground. I should be more comfortable, not to mention useful, than on a ship! Just then, the light seemed to diminish abruptly and a chill wind blew on the grove. Arek looked over the flickering flames of their campfire. The wind seemed to be coming from the cave.

* * *

Hmmph! Giantish architecture. Big and clumsy. A waste of fine stone, Arek thought as the party followed the encline down to the underground complex’s first room. Looking at the mildewed walls and organic debris on the floor, Arek doubted they would find anything linked to their quest for Tallim here. Well at least Domaldi’s map has come in handy. The Bakare numbers on it matched the ones on the main gate. It did seem to be already open. Perhaps the previous party has already unlocked it. In any case, Frankie’s improvised keys would probably do the trick. Probably.

As Arek moved with Nimbus ahead to the other small encline leading to a lower level, he blinked a few times and switched his normal vision to darkvision. As he neared the bottom, he realized that he did not need to see what lay ahead as he heard water rushing. As usual the monk went quickly ahead, oblivious to the potential danger. There is a sight, Arek thought: Nimbus, glowing, in knee-deep water in a long-forgotten underground complex of evil. This adventure is getting stranger every day.

After the others slowly followed, the group turned right and cautiously entered a room filled with water, waist-high for Arek. Floating just ahead was what seemed to be a human corpse, face down in the water. Domaldi moved forward to inspect it and it suddenly moved.

* * *

“By Moradin! What are these vile blood-sucking creatures! Damn them and their creator,” Arek did not like the idea of pulling back from fighting what appeared to be an undead dwarf but fighting in the water was too much of a tactical disadvantage for the group. Arek pulled back as quickly as he could, Thalazzar and a few others having done so already. The group was in bad shape. Thalazzar and Domaldi had taken important damage in their previous encounter with the undead human and the water-born creature. Arek himself had been hit a few times, especially by those floating vampires. And now the undead dwarf was putting the group at peril. As part of a rushed plan, Frankie was in a precarious position atop Caliber trying to bait the undead dwarf. Well, at least these boots have me moving, Arek thought as he finally came into a dry spot were the party could fight with less of a disadvantage. The room appeared to be some sort of cloakroom or changing room for giants. Thalazzar was further back, his tall frame leaning on his new magical staff, clearly spent after his encounter with the water creature. Tiberio and Domaldi were ready. Arek stayed at the water’s edge with Nimbus. Even with Moradin’s help I cannot seem to turn this creature. Well, steel stone will have to do, Arek thought as he lifted Unity. Just then, the undead dwarf turned the corner, hesitated, turned his creamy white eyes towards the changing room and continued towards the party.

* * *

Arek fell to his knees, exhausted. He lay down on his bedroll and looked at the darkening sky. They were back in the grove. All in the party were wet, wounded and miserable. Thalazzar was resting. Good, Arek thought, the spellcaster needs his strength and we need his spells. Arek sat up and looked at the armor he had taken from the undead dwarf. After just a quick wipe with a small piece of cloth, the old metal was gleaming again, bouncing back light from the campfire Domaldi and Tiberio were lighting. Although he could not make out the fine dwarvish etchings, he immediately felt power emanating from the banded armor. Perhaps when the group reached a civilized town, he could pay someone to have it properly identified. A civilized town? We seem very far from any such place right now, Arek thought. Every one of his bones ached. He had never felt so tired. Sleep was coming fast. He lay back again on his bedroll. A few stars were starting to appear in a gap, just above the grove, through the ever present clouds that seemed to cling over the swamp. Well, at least here we can rest. Arek turned his head and looked towards the entrance of the cave once again. He thought of tomorrow and what it might bring as they would likely go back in again. “Moradin, we will again need your favour.” Arek felt his limbs getting heavier and heavier, his breathing regular. His last thought before giving in to sleep was of his light, dry, comfortable boots. Elves could make practical objects after all. And Arek smiled for the first time in many days.

Flames in the Darkness!
An Account by Thalazzar

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