Book Two: The Lone and Level Land
CHAPTER FIVE:
Less than a League Above a Lake

Berrona Umbersularday

An account by Arek

Out of Cauldron (and into the Frying Pan)

Turning the last corner leading to Uncle Ogre’s Monocle, Arek thought he had succeeded in not bringing too much attention to himself. Unity was easy enough to conceal with a few strips of leather, but Uncle Ulgar’s newly restored shield was another matter, especially since Arek was also carrying his older shield back to the Inn. A heavily armoured dwarf with a shiny large metal shield was a peculiar sight, even in a city of considerable size. But Cauldron was still busy in this late evening and Arek managed to steer clear of all of the numerous watchmen. Many were talking about the explosion that had occurred the previous night in the wealthy district of the city, causing serious structural damage to House Golgadin. Some mentioned the awakening of a long forgotten monster, others whispered of an attack by the dark elves. If only you knew what an unexpected group of beings was behind it all! Arek thought, smiling to himself.

As he neared the inn, Arek heard the soft rustling of the airship behind and above the main building. Crossing into the courtyard, he saw the dangling ladder and notice how most of the yard was flooded or covered with fresh mud. The material of the ladder itself was drenched and Arek had to concentrate so as not to fall as he climbed back up into the Daisy Cutter. As he neared the top of the ladder, the airship started moving. “Wait, by Moradin! I’m not in yet!” Arek yelled to the opening as he shifted his weight, clutching the rungs tightly.

The Daisy Cutter was rising quickly over Cauldron, heading towards Lake Dakar. Arek slowly climbed the ladder when he was suddenly grabbed by a pair of rough mechanical hands and lifted, only to be thrown unceremoniously onto the airship’s deck. “By the Gods, what is the hurry? Do you not usually check if someone is on the ladder before setting off? Do you not usually raise the ladder?” Arek muttered to the gnomish crewmen who lifted him up.

As he raised his head and adjusted his helmet, Arek sniffed the air, wrinkled his nose at the foul smell and saw that Dragona, Thalazzar’s unsavoury kobold “companion” lay unconscious on the floor. As Arek stood up, he saw the clockwork that grabbed him from the ladder. He had expected Auger, Sparks Kantakerin’s first mate. Calibre now stood before him. With a series of clicking sounds, Calibre bent forward to Arek’s height and said “Dwarvish fighter-priest, we must talk.”

* * *

After finding out about the return of Calibre and his friend’s desperate situation in the elemental plane of water, Arek was worried, deeply worried. Calibre explained that he had brought Sparks back along with the kobold and had to go back to help the others. The Daisy Cutter was flying to Lake Dakar to prepare for the opening of the portal to the plane of water. Better to have huge amounts of water flowing into the lake than on the rooftops of houses. Arek could not refute the logic but that did not lessen his feelings of helplessness.

His friends were in mortal danger and Calibre refused to allow him to follow. Should anything happen to Calibre, he would never see his companions again. The clockwork reopened the portal and a huge spray of water gushed over the side of the ship. And then Calibre was gone. The flood of water stopped as quickly as it had started, but a small jet, about the size of a melon, remained. All one could hear was the wind blowing through the rigging of the airship. Arek might have to wait hours, days perhaps, as he recalled that time flowed differently across the planes.

Arek did not have to wait long. The portal materialized a few moments later and the dwarf felt his spirit soar as Nimbus deftly tumbled through the portal and unto the deck as gracefully as a swan landing on a placid lake. Moments later, Tiberio followed suit, landing hard, falling head over feet, and yelling something about tentacles. Arek could not understand what the young bard was talking about when suddenly two huge grey tentacles, covered with aquatic debris and several large suckers burst through the portal and flayed about, knocking over several crewmembers caught by surprise.

One of the tentacles latched itself around the guardrail and Arek suddenly felt the Daisy Cutter shudder as it seemed to have been stopped in mid-air. Arek pulled out Unity and hesitated for a second, not knowing which to strike. While one tentacle was tightly lashed to the airship, the other seemed to be feeling its way and attacking any living thing in its path. “The one clinging to the ship!” Nimbus cried. “Get that one!” he again said to Arek, pointing to the one nearest him. Arek heaved Unity and struck at the tentacle. Despite the relic’s strength, it took several blows to sever the tentacle. Just as Arek was about to cry out to Moradin in victory, several other tentacles escaped from the portal, some attacking the crew and companions, others again getting hold of the airship, trying to tear it apart.

Gradually, the other companions came through the portal. First, Frankie, looking wet, tired, and miserable, then the clockwork Ts’Elf dragging a barely conscious Thalazzar. The half-elf Rin followed suit. The reunited group quickly found its rhythm and attacked the other tentacles, but more kept coming. Calibre, if you do not come back soon, there will not be a ship to return to! Arek thought as he saw the tentacles tearing parts of the deck.

Finally, Calibre burst back through the portal. The portal closed immediately behind him and the several remaining tentacles fell limply to the floor and splashed into the lake, cleanly cut off by the closing portal. The Daisy Cutter jerked violently after being released by the tentacles, the momentum sending the companions and crewmembers flying in many directions. Arek managed to grab unto the railing and saw that Nimbus simply quickly moved his feet to keep his balance, unaffected by the violent motion. If Arek had not been so scared, he might have laughed out loud.

* * *

The Daisy Cutter neared the Wall of Righteous late in the afternoon. The sun was almost behind the range of mountains that the Wall seemed to be a part of. Arek leaned over the railing and squinted, trying to get a more precise view of the gargantuan structure.

Arek had learned much of his architectural knowledge from Uncle Ulgar when they were touring the Clan’s defences. Clan Dakar’s small fortifications and underground networks seemed insignificant compared to what Arek was now witnessing. He now understood the awe and fear the Wall instilled to those who had seen it and told the tale back in Riot’s Gate. No mortal being could have built this. It would have taken centuries with hundred of thousands of Giants doing backbreaking work, Arek thought. By Moradin, could this be the work of the One?

Arek trembled and he was not sure if it was because of the sudden chill of the wind or because he had doubts that even Moradin could muster the strength to build such a structure. The Daisy Cutter turned and struck a course parallel to the Wall and Arek could see that it stretched beyond the horizon.

At its highest, the Wall was roughly 400m high and it appeared to be at least several hundred meters thick. Even from this vantage point, Arek could not see across the Wall. Imagine the foundations to support such a wall? How far they must reach under the mountains? How will we get to the other side? The wall had no features. Its jet-black stone contrasted with the orange, yellow, and gold of the sky as the sun was setting.

It was both a remarkable and terrifying sight, which Arek would not soon forget.

* * *

As Arek was cautiously looking for signs of an ambush, Nimbus appeared further ahead in the ravine the group was following up to the abandoned mine entrance. He quickly reached his companions and explained to the group what he had seen. The entrance to the abandoned mine seemed well guarded. Nimbus had seen several human guards, at least two in watchtowers with heavy crossbows, and what appeared to be one giant creature. Arek consulted with Tiberio, Nimbus, and Frankie.

House Golgadin was clearly protecting this smuggling route but perhaps this was normal and the group could use what had happened in Cauldron to its advantage. A plan was quickly established.

The group of companions were to present itself as an additional security detail, explaining to those at the mine what had happened in Cauldron. If the word had not gotten to this remote place quickly, they might have a chance to enter the complex without a fight.

* * *

A huge boulder landed next to Swampjaw and Tiberio, crashing down the slope and into the ravine. Well, so much for a subtle entrance, Arek thought. He and his friends were in the thick of it again.

Nimbus was ahead distracting the watchmen in their towers as only he knew how. The rest were fighting a crazed human able to sustain a huge amount of blows. Arek recognized him from House Golgadin but never expected him to be so resistant. The man’s unnatural gaze convinced Arek that he was under some sort of magical or artificial frenzy.

As Rin, Ts’Elf and Arek finally dispatched the first wave of attackers, the boulders hurled by the giant were still flying. You are next, aberration! Arek kneeled to Moradin and sang a prayer in celestial. He was calling on Moradin to send him and his companions aid to distract the foul creature. Arek tightened his grip on Unity and finished his low-pitched prayer. A few moments later, he saw them. Three winged creatures flying out of the late afternoon sun, diving straight for the giant with their outstretched forelegs. Hippogriffs! You are most generous Soul Forger. Thank You.

The creatures flew around the giant, never seriously wounding the monster but providing time for Arek and the others to move in. Ts’Elf was already near the giant, waiting for his time to strike, when Arek noticed the stench. He knew this odour and concentrated for a few moments. He was certain. The giant was undead.

Not hesitating, Arek took Unity and called on Moradin to banish this creature from Sentar. Arek felt something different from the last time he had tried to turn creatures in Mastof’s lair. Arek felt the phylactery his had friends had brought back from the plane of water give off energy, giving strength to his thoughts and prayers. Arek felt Moradin’s light flow through him as he yelled: “MORADIN! Be gone foul creature of evil. These souls are protected by the Hammer and Anvil!”

The giant stopped for an instant his brawl with the hippogriffs and stared at Arek. His lifeless eyes blinked and he turned, moaning loudly, towards the forest. He barrelled through the trees, the winged creatures following.

Arek was breathing heavily, flushed by the power of his deity coursing through him. He still felt the heat of the amulet. Arek raised his head and saw the giant climbing quickly the closest hill, running away from the mine entrance. They had done it. The guards were not a menace anymore and they could enter the subterranean passage that would lead them to the Monotheocrate Order. Yet something kept pulling at Arek. He could not stop thinking about the fleeing undead giant.

There were trade routes along the Wall. The giant would soon stop running and he would strike at the closest living targets. Arek could not let that happen. He felt the same as when he and his group of companions had been confronted with the Devourer of Souls. That delay had cost them several days in their quest to catch up with Tallim, yet they had done the Federation and Sentar great service.

Arek looked at his other companions. With Rin and Ts’Elf, the group had newfound strength. Tiberio was singing less and fighting more, something Arek approved of. Yes, they can manage for a few hours. I must wipe out that evil before I go further. If the Masked Wizard chooses me as an example for the others, so be it. We are nearly in the Order. He must know that.

Pulling his shield back on, Arek quickly explained to Nimbus and Tiberio that he will join them after he finished the undead creature. Of the group, only he could afford to trek on his own underground. “By Moradin’ Grace, I will meet up with you shortly.” And with that, Arek went into the surrounding forest, following the direction were he had last seen the celestial creatures, swerving and diving upon their vile prey.

Next!
Two Paths Meet in the Great Below

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