In idle hours Kokoz had tried to imagine what it was like to travel by ship. He had settled his mind on something further afield than the Lake of Mists and Veils or even Lake Encarthan to the south and after talking with his tribe’s elder, she had suggested the Steaming Sea around the Ironbound Archipelago. While the Ulfen locals might not take too well for a Kellid like himself travelling in their waters, it was only a mind exercise, something he never thought he’d actually have any reason to do.
So when the giant beast he was riding in headed off, it had a little sway to it that reminded of his imaginary trip. The Black Sovereign’s Witch had warned them that they might find it disconcerting, but his fellow tribesmen had mocked her warning once she had left. “Only a weak city dweller would be sickened by a little rocking!” “Does she think us babes, who retch at any discomfort?”
They had volunteered to be a part of this new military the Wtich had created, a new tribe she called the Heilige Cohort; their priest of Gorum had said that it meant ‘Saint’s assistants’ in some foreign tongue. He hadn’t cared what it meant if he’d be doing something more than continuing the age old tribal feuds. When one of them asked what lands this tribe would have, she shook her head, “this isn’t a tribe like you’re used to. Your lands will be all the lands of Numeria but none of them. You will all stand guard against all, be they enemies from across our borders or within them.”
Another asked how they would be remembered, as they ancestors were given sacred earth to rest in. “If you fall in the line of duty, your body can return to your tribe or we can bury you in a new barrow we are building outside of Starfall. As we are two people, it will be close to the city but not of the city.”
An unexpected jolt brought him back to the present, as the calm feminine voice of the beast spoke through small pitted plates beside each of their stations, “I apologize for the disturbance. We are not under attack. Please remain in your seats.” The station in which he sat reminded him of the work some of the non-migratory members of his tribe had crafted out of clay. It was like a slightly reclined chair had been pushed up through the skymetal floor, so that it draped over the chair like a rigid cloth, with a tough but giving cushion of some sort covering it. To the side was a small platform that had both the chair controls and the speaker disk. At a command, the chair could melt into the deck or it could recline into a kind of articulated bed. His personal belongings were stowed in a locker on the edge of the room alongside where their weapons were kept.
This hadn’t been the first time they had ridden in one of these skymetal beasts. As part of their training they had been on short forays across Sovereign’s Reach and once crossed into the Felldales, but had always returned to Starfall before sunset and never rode for more than an hour at a stretch. It was now pressing into two and his immediate superior, he was supposed to call her a sergeant but could only imagine her as a sub-chieftain, had said they’d be travelling for another four. Before he had joined the Heilige Cohort this would have been intolerable, to march until after sunset before setting camp was to invite bad luck, either in finding a bad site, stumbling in the dark, or getting separated. Now he knew some of the smaller metal beasts would travel ahead of their column and have their camp setup by the time he and his fellows disembarked.
“Could privates Banesk, Joram, and Nolesk please report to deck one for a briefing. That’s privates Banesk, Joram, and Nolesk to desk one,” the feminine voice said throughout the beast’s interior. Kokoz’s station was right beside the narrow stairs on the second of three decks and so he was about to ask Joram, a former tribesman of his, what it was all about, until he saw the man. Joram’s skin was pale and sweat was beading across his rough forehead, while his breathing seemed to be short and fast. He had been well, hale and jovial before they had left, so Kokoz instinctively recoiled to avoid whatever was plaguing his comrade. The other two men descended the ladder like stairs looking just as Joram did, which made Kokoz wonder if it was healthy to travel in these beasts until he heard a metallic voice, just on the edge of his hearing, from the deck below.
“You will be fine. Lie down on the beds. You will be fine. Close your eyes. You will be fine. The cushion will hold your head still. You will be fine. Try to sleep. You will be fine. If you feel like vomiting, please take the pill on your side table. You will be fine.” To Kokoz’s ears it sounded just like the medicine robot that had inspected them as they boarded the beast, always repeating itself. He fixed his eyes on the low ceiling above him. Had they succumbed to the beast’s rocking movement? If men like them could suffer, men he knew to be proud, fearless, and dependable, perhaps the Witch’s warning had not been misplaced.
His thoughts were once again interrupted by a voice from the pitted plate, but this time it was the chieftain, or as he tried to correct himself, lieutenant colonel, Danug, “Attention brothers, sisters. We have just received orders that we are to march with all haste to meet up with the Black Sovereign. I am giving permission for you to leave your stations by squad. In eight hours lights out and all quiet. For Numeria.”
“For Numeria,” the men and women of the Heilige Cohort responded throughout the convoy. It was a level statement, not one filled with the bravado of foreigners or the joy of some religious followers. It just was. Each of the Kellids knew their duty as well as a professional, for after they had scrabbled and scraped to survive there was no place for the distractions of exuberance.
As corporal Kokoz was left to wonder what change of events had led to this order, the collosal bulk of the VAU-4-UN Super Heavy Transport robot accelerated, its massive insectile legs lengthening their stride. Before it was the Annihilator robot XAU-4-UN-7, spearheading the formation. A dozen bulbous beetles being led and followed by a pair of scorpions, while flies swarmed overhead, except that these insects were all a uniform dull grey and towered over the local scrublands.
Blik’s journey through the tunnels outside Neathholm took her initially in a southerly direction before the quiet hallways opened into another roughly circular cavern. ‘The geology here is surprising. Perhaps these are bubbles of some sort? Remnants of some previous volcanic activity?’ she thought as she noted the signs of a recent scuffle. Only one body remained, a green mass of plant matter, with tendrils for multiple legs and arms, topped by a pore covered bowl. The basidirond was long dead, but Bliks still swung clear of its body, wary of its hallucinatory spores.
From here she took the north westerly passage as Sull’s map had indicated, finding a hastily erected rope bridge bridging a chasm a few minutes further along. Not wanting to test its quality, she floated over the narrow gap and just then came another tunnel change, this time cutting out from the previous tunnel to the north east. A few minutes in the walls grew damp and stalactites hung from the ceiling; their corresponding stalagmites were broken off at the base. Passing through this anomaly Bliks could hear voices ahead in the tunnel around the bend.
“Careful Dyra, careful. I think that one holds up this one.”
Something mumbled in response.
“I’m sorry, I’m just being cautious. Crel. Crel! How’re you holding out?”
Floating to the top of the tunnel, Bliks edged forward until she could see it expand into a larger conical chamber, its ceiling held up by a perimeter of natural columns. At its centre was the remnant of a crudely constructed tower, now barely more than a story high, its remaining floors strewn to the edge of the cavern. Beside the rubble were several figures, two who seemed to be carefully picking away at the shattered rocks, the rest looking keenly into the darkness. Their shared mismatching features marked them as mongrelmen.
Noting the similarity between the weapons Drago had shown her and what these guards carried, Bliks drifted to the floor and called out, “Friends! I come recently from Neathholm. Is there any way I can render aid? The tremors did this?”
The guards stiffened as they locked their differing eyes on Bliks. One of the two working at the pile of debris stood and stepped forward. “Who is it that says they are a friend of Neathholm?” he asked, his face a mix of scaled skin, elven eyes, a goat’s horn and a bat’s ear.
“My name is Bliksemani, and I come in great haste. Your chieftain, Sull, provided me with a map of these tunnels while your priest, Paesonius, provided me with his blessing.”
At the mention of the priest, the guards seemed to relax as their speaker rasped, “Well met, Bliksemani, my name is Lann, but I must ask your leave, as you can see, misfortune has befallen us.” Lann replied, turning back to the remains of the tower.
As she walked forward, the guards resolutely barred her path, but she was close enough to see that the debris had been cleared in one area, leaving only a massive slab. Several large snapped bones nearby seem to have failed in levering the slab out of the way, prompting Bliks to ask, “Is this Crel trapped under that slab? In the tower’s basement?”
Lann seemed surprised at hearing Crel’s name, but then quickly nodded, “Dyra and I weren’t here when the tremors collapsed the tower, but thank Benorus, Crel was down there when it did. You asked if you could render aid … perhaps you can help.” One of the guards looked to the authoritative Lann who smiled and waved Bliks forward. Seeing the slab up close she did some estimates of its size and set her pack down. When she opened it to retrieve the laser torch, the pack had magically shifted it to the top of its dimensional pocket, so she snatched it up and checked its charge level.
“May I?” Bliks asked, as she rose, addressing Dyra and resting a hand on the mongrelwoman’s shoulder. The woman turned to face Bliks and revealed why her voice was an incomprehensible mumbling; unlike other mongrelmen, her parts had fought with one another, leaving her mouth swollen and distended by tumours and scars. Still she gurgled something at Bliks, who nodded incomprehensibly, then stepped out of the wizard’s way. “You may want to shield your eyes,” she added as she fired up the cutting tool.
Its initial setting was merely a guide beam, harmlessly marking where it was focused. She adjusted it so that its focus would automatically shift as it cut through the rock, then held it up to the slab and started cutting. Seeing the slow progress after only a few minutes, Lann asked, “Your tool is truly remarkable, but our friend remains in peril and we must hurry to free him.”
Bliks shut the torch off and looked at Lann, silvery eyes meeting out of place elven ones. “I’m almost done. I don’t intend to cut the whole thing, just enough to reach inside.” She said then flicked the torch back on and continued cutting a hole into the rock. Lann’s pacing behind her didn’t disturb her as much as the unnatural glare reduction effect her cybernetic eyes did. The flare from the laser created a kind of halo, confusingly interpreted by her mind as being both bright and dark. But the work finished quickly and using a pair of powered grippers, she pulled the oval shaped core free. “Crel? Crel! My name is Bliksemani and I’m reaching my hand through the slab above you. Please reach out to me if you can.”
For some, the idea of blindly thrusting their hands into a dark hole was the thing of nightmares, but Bliks’ nightmares took a far more visceral form so this fear did not hold her back. Reaching first down to her elbow, she twisted her arm slightly and plunged it all the way down to her shoulder, her arm flailing in the unseen space below the slab. When she brushed a rough carapace, she grasped back at it, finding her palm being softly squeezed between what felt like a pincer. “Crel, hang on, I’m going to get you out of there.” She said before whispering the completion phrase for Dimension Door, vanishing from the top of the slab and reappearing a few feet back, her arm now to one side and the crab hobgoblin hybrid Crel lying beside her.
Dyra clapped as Lann gave out a rasping cheer. Crel nodded his feral head at Bliks and then rolled onto his back passing out. Helping her to her feet, Lann clapped Bliks on the back, “At least some of you uplanders aren’t half bad. Where did you get that magic item? We could make great use of such a thing in Neathholm.”
“Alas I do not have any to spare, and it relies upon a source of power that you would not be able to replenish.” Bliks said apologetically, “and it is not magic, just focused light, like how a lens …” she trailed off. Never having seen the sun or having the ability to make precision glass, her example would have been lost on the mongrelman. “Sull spoke of wanting to reconnect with the upland of Mendev. If things go well, I should be able to help your people in many ways.”
“He did?” Lann said after a pause, “uplanders have usually been trouble. Why would he want to risk our purity by helping them?”
Bliks gestured around the cavern. “The tremors you felt weren’t natural. Demons attacked the upland city of Kenabres and Sull wishes your people to rejoin the Crusade.”
When Lann smiled, his teeth were little more than hard ridges on his gums, giving Bliks a sense that he must find tough food difficult to eat. “Do you hear friends? Our chieftain again honours our ancestors! We will lay the demons low like they did. These are the days we were born for.” Lann said, rousing his compatriots in a mixed guttural shout. His expression suddenly changed from exaltation to concern as he looked back at Bliks, “forgive me, you said you were in great haste. What drives you?”
“I am looking for some lost uplanders in a shrine somewhere to the north east of here.” Bliks replied, glancing around at the various exits from the chamber. “Sull’s map wasn’t very clear beyond this point.”
Nodding in understanding, Lann said, “yes, this guard post is … was at the northern most edge of Neathholm’s territory, but I think I know of the place you seek. There is no direct path, but the shortest path is first to the south east, through the Hall of Ancestors, then north. It should take you a little over half an hour to walk.” He looked to the unconscious Crel, then to his companions, “I will show you the way.” Raising a hand to interrupt Bliks’ objection he continued, “while the path should be clear, I cannot have your aid go unanswered.”
Bliks considered the time she might lose in trying to ferry the mongrelman across future chasms or how to coordinate fighting with someone she just met, but then thought that there was no way of stopping him from following her without force. “Alright, but I will lead. If there are any demons loose in these tunnels your weapons will not suffice.”
The pair left the chamber as the remaining mongrelmen were fashioning a stretcher, Bliks once again lifting barely off the ground to float while appearing to walk along the tunnel. While the overall direction was south easterly, the path they took wound almost back upon itself in several places.
“So you say that the demons have returned?” Lann interrupted the silence.
Bliks looked back over her shoulder giving him a weary smile, “I think you misunderstood me, they never left, these tremors are just their most recent attack. While your ancestors drove them back, less than a decade later the demons struck back, pushing us out of the upland of Sarkoris entirely. Do you know of the upland West Sellen River?”
“It lies nearly above us, does it not?”
“Yes. Somewhat to the west. The fiends advance was only stopped by a great magical barrier formed by a series of artefacts called Wardstones. One of them was in the upland city of Kenabres.”
Lann was silent for another minute as they travelled but then spoke again, “You say was?”
“Yes, this seems to be the reason for their attack, destroying the Kenabres Wardstone. I’m sorry, but I don’t know more, I only arrived in Kenabres earlier today.”
“I see. Ah, here we are!” Lann said, raising his voice excitedly, “the Hall of Ancestors! Just down this shaft.”
Ahead of them the tunnel was interrupted by a sharp downturn. Looking over the lip, Bliks could see the bottom, dozens of yards away. And then she saw a faint flicker of orange.
“Would any of your people have come this way?” Bliks said in a now hushed voice.
Lann looked at her slightly surprised. “Ours was the closest guard post and we saw none go in this direction.”
“I’ll be right back,” Bliks said before she stepped over the lip to Lann’s astonished cry. Swiftly falling down the shaft she slowing her descent at the bottom until she once again floated above the stone floor. The orange flicker was unmistakable now ‘a campfire’, she thought, ‘could they have moved from the shrine?” Silently drifting around the corner, she saw a solitary sitting figure facing away from her. Enough of his profile showed solid dwarven features, rose red beard and unkempt hair.
“Master Dwarf!” Bliks called out as she approached, holding her hands low and wide.
“Gog’thath! I have not sent for you.” The dwarf replied gruffly, then jerked his head around, “You … crusader! You will not have my secrets!”
As he stood he turned, revealing his hands twisting in incantation to match an arcane phrase, just enough for Bliks to shield her eyes as the air around her became chocked with smoke and fire. “You have no authority over me! I will study what I will, including your death!” she could hear the dwarf shout above the roar of the flames.
While her cloak’s magic had protected her from breathing in the burning embers, she could still feel the sharp pain of seared flesh. Her eyes still closed she blindly reached into her component pouch for the slick metallic fibres while her other hand grabbed the first sphere she could find in her larger belt pouch. “I brook no time for your insanity, diabolist!” she shouted back, finishing her spell and suddenly feeling constrained and queasy.
An Antimagic Field was something she had first experienced near the end of her training. While the other candidates had not expressed even noticing that they had entered one, she immediately felt different. The ever present breeze stopped. Her hair fell, no longer lofted. The world got loud. The spell had cut her off from her heritage, even if only for a few minutes.
She had since cast it only in practise, having faced the casters of the Technic League with the strength of arms of her companions. But it never felt right. It was an aberration on reality. A void that pushed down without weight.
Nonetheless it cleared the Incendiary Cloud and she resolutely strode towards where she had last heard the dwarf yell at her. Dispelling the cloud as she passed through it, she took a quick survey of the battleground; another roughly circular chamber several dozen feet across with two exits opposite one another.
“You’ll have time for what I say you have time for!” the dwarf screamed, spittle streaming from his mouth. He made the gestures and said the words needed to complete a Mass Hold Person and then blinked when nothing happened. Bliks tiredly shook her head, primed the grenade, and threw it behind the stammering caster.
The blast threw him through the air, smashing into his grubby camp, sending his supplies across the floor. Scrambling to his feet, he snatched his crossbow from his back, turning it towards Bliks. She ran towards the dwarf, a hastily aimed bolt tearing through her robes. As she passed him, she drew a thin silvery hued blade, a chill air dripping down its blade. Under normal conditions his Mage Armour would have protected him from the siccatite dirk, but years of reflexes accustomed to that spell’s deflective qualities left the blade between his ribs.
Behind her she heard a scuffling thud followed quickly by Lann running into the chamber, drawing a pair of flint knives. The dwarf staggered back, clutching at the blade that continued to sap heat from his chest.
Grabbing another grenade, Bliks thumbed off the safety and shouted, “back!” causing Lann to skid to a halt. This one she rolled to the dwarf’s feet as she put distance between the two of them. When it detonated, there was a snap in the air, like a breaking twig, and a momentary purple glow. The diabolist collapsed in a heap.
With a thought she dismissed the Antimagic Field, and she could once again feel the air brush around her, a slightly painful relief against her burnt skin. Focusing her thoughts, the nanites in her blood reported a mild burn over all exposed skin; she set them to begin mending the damage.
“Was this who you sought?” he said, panting slightly from the hurried climb. Bliks looked at the still dwarf, shaking her head. Lann sheathed his knives and then pulled a small sack from his belt pouch. “You’ve been burned, let me …”
“Is that …” Bliks squinted, “a gland from an ant?”
“Yes! The seer Opoli harvests them for a healing salve. Please let me …”
“I appreciate the offer, but I’ll be fine.”
Lann looked at her doubtfully but put the ant gland back in his pouch. “This may sound unusual to an uplander, but may we, Neathholm, have the body?” Lann asked, gesturing towards the dwarf. He then looked sharply at Bliks, “we’re not cannibals! We would use it to feed our farms.”
“He’s not dead. Not yet at least.” Bliks replied, pulling another cream coloured Soft grenade from her satchel to replace the one she had just used. “He’ll be out for a while, but he seems to have been on the run from the Crusade … he might have some useful information. If nothing else, he’ll see justice. Could you help me strip him?”
They deprived the dwarf of his grimy outer garments leaving his dignity intact. Bliks carefully examined his equipment alongside his supplies, separating out the magically valuable from the mundane. Even with the minor damage her initial Concussion grenade had caused, Lann happily gathered up the supplies that did not interest Bliks. “Upland articles are not common, they will be a gift of prestige.”
First seeing to the wound her dagger had inflicted, she pulled one of the Androffan trauma packs from her pack, selecting a medium sized patch that, once placed against his bare skin, seemed to melt, forming a clear bandage without visible edges. Then to secure him, Bliks produced a small roll of what appeared to be red fabric. She wrapped the Ion Tape around the dwarves limbs and then across his face to both blind and gag him. “This will hold him?” Lann asked, easily tearing a wasted scrap.
Bliks smiled, producing a stubby metallic wand with a minute pair of prongs at one end. She pushed it into one of the strips then pressed a stud on one side. With a snap the fabric stiffened and contracted, looking more like leather. “Stronger than iron now.”
With a jerk, Lann tried pulling the material apart and matched Bliks’ smile with satisfaction. “Is this another magic item that isn’t magic? That egg you threw at him looked like no alchemical weapon I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes it is. Again, I’m sorry I have none to spare.”
“Long have we learned to live without the wonders available upland, but I suspect there are wonders Benorus gives only to us that you would marvel at.”
They dragged the dwarf between them on a simple travois made from Lann’s bone spears and the dwarf’s bedroll. Bliks tried to remember to construct a wand of Greater Floating Disk to help with mundane tasks like this. Once they exited the chamber where the dwarf had camped, Lann spoke with obvious pride, “the Hall of Ancestors!” Bliks looked around the room, noting the statues carved into the rough rock face, each appearing to wear a full suit of armour and holding a variety of weapons. “Paesonius has said that they are more than just carvings, but tombs, where Benorus accepted them into the earth. Few of us venture this far from Neathholm, but we do so occasionally in pilgrimage.”
The path north from the Hall of Ancestors was thankfully wide enough for their burden, but Bliks could sense a slight downwards slope aiding them. There were only a few turns and Lann remarked at a collapsed passage to one side of the main tunnel.
“Just ahead,” Lann said after they navigated another sharp turn in the tunnel. Bliks waved for them to put the travois down and then for Lann to wait as she floated silently away. The first sign of something unusual was the ceiling receding from the floor and then a great carving on the approaching wall of a junction. With a smile she quickly recognized that carving as a rough depiction of Torag’s great hammer, its head resting on the ground with its grip rising vertically like a pillar at the intersection. Not surprisingly, integrated into the design of the hammer’s head was a thin opening in the stone, low to the ground; a slit for a dwarven crossbowman. To the left of the end of the hammer’s head was a passage leading behind the carving.
As she approached, Bliks saw that the design she had seen face on had been mirrored on the wall of the tunnel to her right, with matching passage and crossbow slit. Together, seen from a point opposite the junction, it was a proper depiction of Torag’s holy symbol, and defenders could cover both passageways as well as having covered exits to sally forth from. The passage on the left seemed to be less precise than that on the right, ‘possibly a natural channel that inspired the overall design’ she thought.
“You’re out of your element, my floating friend!” a cheerful voice called out to her from behind. Spinning to find the source, she was met with a barely visible shape stepping out of the rock. “Although floating isn’t something I should be too critical of, considering,” the translucent dwarven figure continued, his ghostly feet uselessly scraping the floor.
“Now don’t get your hair in a twister! Name’s Hebumir Broadforge,” the ghost said with a bow, “and I hope your apparent appreciation of my work is genuine.”
“Master Dwarf?” Bliks said cautiously. Her experience with the undead, ghosts and haunts in particular, had been mixed, from the crusader reliving his suicide at Aldronard’s Grave to the vengeful first Black Sovereign under the Palace of Fallen Stars.
“Heh, can’t say that I’m either much anymore. Still, I can see one blessed by Torag, even if you’re not one of the faithful,” the dwarf replied, pulling at his immaterial beard, “so at least I don’t have to treat you like some of my other … guests,” he punctuated that remark by a nod down the tunnel that connected with the one Bliks had been on. Peering around the corner she saw the remains of two giant flies, killed fighting one another from what she could guess, their bodies just within her darkvision.
“A point of advice, my arcane friend, if you don’t have to, don’t possess vermin. Once you get over a certain number of eyes and legs, things get a bit … confusing. So, who are you my aerial ally? What brings an ‘uplander’ to Torag’s humble shrine?” Bliks couldn’t miss the obvious sarcasm Hebumir had used with the word uplander.
“In reverse order, I’m seeking the wife of an ally in Kenabres, and my name is Bliksemani Volgeling. You are … a rather unusual spirit. Most I’ve encountered are mad, frothing creatures, fixated on their death.”
“Well my dear, that’s a bit of a story. Shortly it’s that when I finished this place, there was no one to guard it. Couldn’t have that. But I was old and tired and couldn’t find any of my folk so I offered to protect it myself. Torag agreed and so, here, relatively, I am,” he replied, clapping his hands together, “and so are some others, perhaps the one you seek is amongst them? Follow me!”
Bliks hadn’t seen another creature do the same kind of walking floating motion that she routinely did and remarked that it was a bit unusual as the swinging of the legs didn’t match the movement of the body; it was like the ghost was skating or slipping across a slick surface, as each foot did not stay in place but were instead dragged along. She shrugged after considering this sight and then followed the ghostly dwarf through one of the sally ports.
Almost immediately she was forced to crouch down. As was typical of dwarven defensive construction, the ceilings were remarkably shallow, barely over four and a half feet high. A single dwarf could hold or block each passage relying on a heavy shield and spear to keep enemies at bay; there were even matching notches in the floor and ceiling to lock shield walls into. Beyond this singular tunnel a red light glowed.
“Archer! I have a guest, please don’t shoot her.”
The chamber they entered was roughly circular, but carved to be that way unlike the natural ones Bliks had seen earlier. At its centre was a small forge, the source of the red glow, flanked by two anvils and surrounded by benches. Torag was a more popular faith than Brigh, leading to a greater need for places for followers unskilled in smithing to have somewhere to sit during services, but the shrine was clearly a smithy first and a place for prayer second.
Facing the door was a battered woman cradling a shortbow with an arrow notched. She looked through the ghost of the dead priest at Bliks, her eyes suddenly starting to tear up.
“Who is it Anevia?” an elf in a patchwork furred vest leaning an ornate staff asked to the air, blank sockets where there had been eyes paralleling a magically healed scar across much of his upper face.
“Let me introduce lady Volegling,” the dwarf said with a touch of panache. “She said she’s looking for someone’s wife, and I can only presume that means she’s looking for you.”
Anevia let the bow drop from her hands as she shakily rose to her feet and hobbled over to Bliks, one of her legs healed but malformed by a break. She buried her tears in Bliks’ robes, mixing in a joyful laugh. As Bliks tried to comfort the brown haired woman, she took in the other survivors. The elf appeared to be attired as a wizard or sage and was overly tall even for his race. Nearby a stocky human lay curled near the forge, a faint snorting interrupting his sleep.
“You’re Irabeth’s wife I presume?” Bliks said at last, gently peeling the smiling woman away from her.
“Yes, yes! Anevia, and this is Aravshnial, a wizard from Blackwing,” Anevia replied, then added in a more hushed tone, “the sleeping man is Horgus Gwerm, a local noble and money lender,” then she looked at Bliks with sudden fear, “the Kite! It was destroyed! What has happened in Kenabres?”
“Yes indeed, what has happened in Kenabres? You must take us to the surface. I presume your group has strong, able warriors? Have you fought demons before?” Aravshinial asked, feeling his way towards where the two women stood.
“Why don’t you wake your friend and I can tell you all at once?” Bliks offered gesturing towards the sleeping Horgus.
Anevia looked at Bliks for a moment and quietly replied, “Never said he was my friend. A blustering, demanding, shallow man. Didn’t say he had any provisions until yesterday … slipped his mind he said. Made sense that Aravshnial thought he was in league with the demons.”
“Now do you have warriors or not? And in what are you particularly talented, Ms Volegging” the elf cut in again, the pace of his words now carrying an edge of impatience.
“It’s Volegling, and I know you want answers, but let me get the rest of my group here.”
“We’ve been waiting for rescue for three days. Three days! Surely Prelate Shappok would want to have my expertise in this crisis!”
Anevia stepped away from Bliks a she quickly wove a spell, ending with a peal of thunder, startling the sleeping man awake and sending the elf stumbling back onto a bench. Forcefully she said, “He’s dead. As are almost every major figure in Kenabres. The few survivors that we’ve seen say that the city was attacked by a horde of demons. I have seen its devastation first hand, it is as if the city has been carved up like a cake. The dead still lie in the streets, demons still roam, and there is suspicion and treachery enough to go around without a presumption of authority where none exists.”
“Now. I will get you out of here. All of you, but I need to fetch my guide.” She sighed, feeling the weight of the day, then trying a more consolatory tone, she added, “I’m sorry for losing my patience, but it has been a long, tiring day, and I am almost out of spells. Aravshinial, I’m sure you can appreciate the stress that makes you feel, almost powerless. And I can see that you’ve all been through a lot, but the crisis for Kenabres is not yet over. In the coming days we will all need to do what we can do to stop the expansion of the Worldwound, but for the moment I beg your patience.” And then she again lifted off the floor and flew back down the confining dwarven passages and out into the tunnel beyond Torag’s shrine.
Lann was still standing guard over the bound dwarf and let out a sigh of relief when he realized it was Bliks coming down the corridor. “I heard a great sound but didn’t want to leave our prisoner unattended. Is everything alright?” he asked once Bliks came to a stop.
“Yes, just needed to get a wizard to focus on his current situation, nothing to worry about,” Bliks replied, adding, “would you be interested in visiting the uplands?”
The mongrelman lifted his side of the travois but cocked his head towards Bliks, “why wouldn’t I be? If my tribe is to face the demons again, I will be happy to share our purity with you uplanders.” With that decided, they dragged the dwarf to the entrance of the shrine and then were forced to abandon the travois and manhandle him inside.
Standing up after propping the dwarf against the edge of the shrine, Bliks turned to see Anevia and Aravshinial sitting quietly on the benches while Horgus paced behind them, trying to brush the grime off of his fine clothes. When he turned to address Bliks, his voice caught in his throat as a gag, seeing the malformed shape of Lann. He quickly conformed himself and said in a confident tone, “Well, yes. You were saying something about getting us all out of here? I can assure you that once I’m returned to my estate, you will all, both, be well compensated.”
Bliks nodded and said, “if you can aid the survivors of Kenabres, that’s all I need for compensation. I’m certain the Black Sovereign of Numeria will also appreciate such generosity although it may be hard to tell.”
“The Black Sovereign of Numeria you say?” Aravshinial said, standing, “what is his interest in Kenabres?”
“You can ask him yourself, shortly my friend,” Bliks replied, resting a hand on the horribly disfigured elf’s shoulder, “but for now, I need you all to gather in a circle and hold hands. Lann, please bring the prisoner.”
As they stood together, Aravshinial suddenly added, “you’re not thinking of trying to Teleport us? You can’t seriously be considering trying to bring us all. It’s far too dangerous. Take the others and I will stay with this ‘diabolist’; you can come back for me when your spells are refreshed.”
“Lann, do you have any concerns?” Bliks asked the mongrelman across the circle.
Without hesitation he shook his head, “Fear would be a stain upon our purity, as would foolishness or blindness to risk.”
Bliks laughed, gripping Aravshinial’s shoulder ever tighter, “I think you have a lot to teach the uplanders when it comes to letting go of fanciful paranoia. Relax, you’re in good hands. I’ve done this at least … once before?”
The elf’s cry of dismay was hardly out of his mouth by the time they vanished.