Trust No Weavers of the Dark Arts

The Secret Library

The square room before the barbarians offers a few comfortable-looking chairs and divans, although dust and perhaps even a little mildew covers them. There are tables holding unlit lamps, a large glass hooka pipe. Paintings hang on the north and south walls with calm, pastoral scenes. Someone has even built a large recessed bookcase into the western wall, but a glass panel flush with the wall prevents access. Above the shelf, a row of colored square pegs fit into small holes. Pol starts forward eagerly, after jumping a bit when the door slid into the floor. Wolfgar snags him by his collar. "Ease up, young warrior," the older man says.

View
Pyre of the Damned
Return to the Ruins

The day dawns like the previous, gray and threatening to rain, but as the sun rises, the gloom seems to dissipate and the sunlight breaks through as the barbarians finish their breakfast and prepare for another excursion to the pit.

The boy, Pol, finishes collecting wood and takes up his shield, girds himself with his sword belt and prepares to set off with the men. Drusilla looks at him askance, but says nothing.

The trio heads into the forest without much fuss. The day is surprisingly bright and warm after having been so miserable. Wolfgar hums to himself as he walks. Pol hops over fallen logs. Kel, as stoic as ever, glowers a little less. 

The smell of smoke comes as the trio gets into the thinner parts of the forest, closer to the ruins. The barbarians are immediately wary, and Pol falls in behind them. When they come to the edge of the wood they can see the mound of the hill and a great plume of smoke rising near where their camp had been.

Kel sniffs the air, trying to determine the nature of the fire’s fuel.he smoke is acrid, and recalls burning hair and cooking meat and fat.

Wolfgar keeps pace with the younger barbarian and they make their way in a zig-zig pattern through the tall grass at the base of the hill. Kel glances back only once, to see Pol crouched behind a tree.

As they get closer to the hill, the barbarians can hear the sounds of wild chanting, incantations or prayers they cannot be certain, but it sends a chill down Kel’s spine, and with a glance at Wolfgar’s grim mask, he knows he is not alone in his sudden dread. As they reach the crest, they are careful to take cover behind the blocks of stone and debris that litter the hillside. The wind blows the smoke south, and lessens the awful stench a bit.

Kel leans his head around the stone block he’s crouched behind, and sees hellish figures dancing before a raised platform, piled with wood and other flammable debris, drenched in flames that roar and flail at the sky. Amidst the flames, he can see the hissing, popping figures of corpses, in a ritualistic repose atop the platform. They appear to be seated, backs together. As he watches the pyramid of bodies collapses, eliciting an even greater howl from the hellish figures, dressed in dark robes. One, who wears no robes but leather breeches, is stripped to the waist, revealing skin the color of lamb’s wool, painted a deep crimson that, in any less light, would appear black.

Both barbarians remain unseen amidst the roar of the fire and fury of the ceremony.

Kel’s sharp eyes dart back and forth, seeking a path to the dungeon entrance that does not pass too close to the unholy revelry.Pol moves quickly, head bent low to keep his profile as close to the horizontal plane of the grass as possible. He quickly reaches the entrance to the pit. The barbarians meet the boy there without any trouble, the beasts too caught up in their ritual to notice them flitting about the stones. Together the little party descends to the landing. The stairs are covered in old gore, and it looks as if the bodies have been removed, dragged to the surface for the dark ritual they observed.Kel waits for Pol to light a torch, then steps to the first dimly lit stair downward, leading to the west.

As they descend, Pol’s light reveals a skeleton sprawled at the bottom of the stairs. Weapons already drawn, the party moves slowly into the chamber the stairs end in. They are in a hall that runs north and south, the walls adorned with painted frescoes of humans riding, running along with, or chasing horses. A few ride winged horses high in the sky. There is a corridor heading further to the west, another to the southeast, and a door to the south.Keeping an eye out for movement down any of the dark hallways, Kel turns his attention to the door.

Kel presses his ear against the door, but hears no sound coming from the other side. He tries the handle and finds the door stuck. With a shove, the door opens, and Kel looks in on the room with the dim blue light where days before he had beheld the beast in the tube. That beast is gone now, and only the smell of rotting meat assails his nostrils.

Beside the way they came before (where the mountain lion bodies are moldering), ther are two doors in the room with the strange glass tube – one to the south, the other to the south east.

Kel paces warily about the room looking for hidden dangers, ending his circuit at the central tube and peering inside.It appears that no matter what angle Kel looks through the tube at, he can’t see below the floor. While he’s busy looking around the tube, a mountain lion kitten trots into the room, mewling.

The cries of the kitten ring loud in Kel’s ears, mirroring the forlorn sounds that had greeted the hunting party on its last return to Caer Callan. And much like those few crying survivors, it appears that this kitten is destined to soon rejoin its lost kin.

“Poor beast. It would be a mercy to spare it any further starvation.” With that grim statement, Kel begins to advance toward the kitten.

Kel’s blade is quick, and he cleans the blood from the steel with a rag. Wolfgar leans against the tube. “I hope being in the service of the Goddess makes all our battle so simple,” he says. Pol toys with a loose stone he’s found in the wall. with a tweak, a section of the wall disappears into the floor.Kel’s head snaps around, and he growls, “Tell one of us before you go touching things, boy.” Blade at the ready, he examines this new exit from the room.

 

 

View
The Gray Day

The day is cold and the world wet.  Pol awakens first, stretches and scouts hungrily amongthe packs for trail rations before sitting down to polish his shield and sword. He hums a tune to himself while he works.

Drusilla rises soon after, leaving the temple to scour the area for firewood. Wolfgar wakes in the meantime, and he too sets about caring for his gear. His whetstone hones the blade of his fine blade to a razor sharpness. Wolfgar looks up as Drusilla comes in with the firewood. "Do you want to go back to town, or head back to that pit?" he asks.

Recalling his dream and Drusilla’s vision, Kel muses, “You and I could use a day to recover from our battles. Perhaps we should help Drusilla find this other temple that she is supposed to restore.” Turning to her, he continues, “Do you have any idea where we should begin?”

“The lady instructs me all night in how to serve, but she cannot tell me where,” Drusilla says. She shakes her head. “Leave me a blade, and when you head into town, get some decent cooking equipment. I swear, you men would eat meat raw or merely warm your broth over a fire before you would consider cooking. And leave the boy, I want someone to talk to while you two are away. Firewood won’t be collecting itself.” Pol visibly deflates, but a look from Wolfgar and he sets his shield gingerly against the wall heads out to do his chores.

The two men bundle up the equipment they’ve taken, leaving the beasts’ tattered armor to be put to other uses. They have a bundle of swords and the giant axe, and together they set off towards town.

The forest is quiet on their walk, which is a slight bit longer than from the ruins themselves. The men walk without speaking, but there is a renewed bounce to their step. The long journey, the endless searching, the horrors of the pit, of the beastly men, and now they have Drusilla back. It is good knowing that all has not been for naught.

The town is as drab looking as the sky. Wolfgar heads to the inn where they stayed the night previously to retrieve his things from the room they rented for the week. Then the barbarians head for the smithy. Aesa, a stout, good-natured woman, wipes the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm. “I’d not thought to see you boys come back so soon or at all,” she says.

Kel grimaces as he responds, “You were nearly right about that. But return we have, and we have coin and trade with which to do business.”

Aesa looks over the knicked blades of scimitars and short swords, but it’s the big axe that catches her eye. “That is a biggun, by Vune. I didn’t know they were made so large.”

Kel asks her is she has any finely crafted weapons. “I like the look of your friend’s broadsword. The stuff I make and sell is sturdy, but it’s not art like that. I can do a lot better than the curved bit of scrap you got tucked in your belt, though.” She produces a cutlass, and offers it as straight trade for the lot of used equipment. Kel asks her for a bundle of arrows, and she hems and haws a bit, but offeres them as a part of the trade as well. Aesa asks Kel to try and get her better than scrap metal in the future.

Across town at the Sage’s house, the assistant claims that his master is resting and is not to be disturbed. He offers to take the tattered page and give it to the Master Sage when he awakens, if that would please the barbarians.

Kel reluctantly agrees to leave the parchment with the assistant, asking if the sage has made any further progress with the research that they commissioned.

“It has only been a few days. I doubt the Master’s letter has even arrived at its destination, let alone been answered. I will leave word at the tavern when there is news,” the assistant takes the page and shuts the door with a click.

The temple seems to shine, even in the dull light. They meet a young novice inside who doesn’t know anything of Glarias, but takes them to Father Tipple. The man is much different now than the last time they met him. He is sober and serious, and is seated behind a desk rifling through his papers. He looks up, and smiles warmly, “Gentlemen, what can I do for you?”

Kel lays out what he knows of Glarias, and asks if the priest can elaborate. “I know nothing of the name, but I’m not from here originally. Give me a few days to look through the records here in the temple and I’ll get back to you.”

They share a few minutes more together, Father Tipple mentioning how well their wounds are healing. On the street, the two barbarians head for the edge of town, and the woods beyond, before Wolfgar smacks his forehead, says, “Cooking gear!” The two turn about and head to the general goods store where Wolfgar buys two pots and a griddle for 6 silver. The duo then heads back into the wilderness, their needs in town satisfied.

Walking into the forest in the afternoon light brings Kel’s dream back to him. He shares the details with Wolfgar as they travel, asking him not to worry Drusilla or Pol with such evil portents. “It seems that I was too hasty when I said that these creatures’ gods had abandoned them. I fear that we have drawn the attention of a very powerful being. We cannot let our guard down.”

Wolfgar nods gravely at Kel’s ill portent. They walk silently through the forest, and the growing gloom of the evening. When they arrive at the temple grounds, they are welcomed by a warm fire and Drusilla’s admiration for her new cookware. Night tucks in close about the temple, but the impending doom that’s been pressing on Kel’s mind all day eases a bit as he and his friends tell stories about the fire.

Wolfgar insists on the first watch, and Pol the second. “I’m old enough to gather firewood and slay beasts – I can pull my weight in this as well,” he says with defiant thrust of his head. Wolfgar smiles, but nods seriously to the youth, says: “Of course, lad. Best get to sleep – you’ll need it for the morrow.”

 

 

View
Awakening

Kel awakens with a start, his body drenched in a cold sweat. The embers of the fire are dying, and Wolfgar crouches close by, stoking he flames with a bit of firewood collected from the grounds. Kel sits up, his head pounding with the dimming roar of groaning fatigue.

To his left, laid out amongst the loot they were able to gather, is Pol, snoring the sleep of the truly carefree. Kel marvels at the child's resilience for a moment before he notices Drusilla sitting up. 

She looks at him and a fond smile returns to her face, the scar there pulling her mouth slightly, making it look more like a smirk, but Kel knows that face, remembers her smile, and despite her ability to put drink away as good as any man twice her size, her manner was often as gentle as her hands were tending wounds he'd recieve working or hunting. "I knew you'd find us. I told the others that you would find us," she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Wolfgar rises from the fire and hurries over to Drusilla, asks her if she was drugged, or other wise hurt. "Aside from my scars, I am unhurt. The sleep came on as we passed through the forest. I had a strange dream, of a long hallway, and a woman who said she knew you," she says looking at Kel. "She told me that I must help her, she said that by righting the temple, we could hurry the rescue of the rest of our village."

"This is one of her temples, Drusilla," Wolfgar says quietly, now simply holding the woman.

"She didn't say where it was, but I get the feeling that this isn't the one I'm to restore," she says. "I guess I could get this one looking a little better while we're here, though. No harm in that." They laugh quietly together. 

Kel quickly decides to keep his dream to himself for now, hoping to preserve the smiles of his companions as long as possible. “By Bori’s keen eye, I thought not to ever see you again. Your father will be overjoyed to know that you are safe.” To Drusilla’s wondering gaze, he continues, “He and five other hunters joined us in the search. I know not where they are now, but last we saw them, they were well.”

Despite his good news, a deep sadness wells up in the young woman. “His joy will be short-lived, I fear. Mother did not… she took a blow to the head, and…” She sobs, and Kel curses himself silently even as Wolfgar pulls her into a tighter embrace. Kel grits out, “We will avenge her tenfold. I promise.”

Kel takes watch in the temple so Wolfgar can get some sleep. The big man slumps onto the floor and is immediately asleep. Drusilla lays down, but her eyes remain open for a time before she too falls asleep. The night passes quietly, and sometime in the night, Kel notices that the rain has let up. He watches as the first gray light of day fills in the shadows of the temple complex, and the forest beyond with their true shape.

 

View
What Kel Dreamed
Nightmare in a Holy Place

Smoke from the clay chimneys of the village guide them home from the hunt. For a long time there was only the smell of the forest, the loam and the smell of decaying pine needles beneath their feet, the elk carcass carried trussed btween two long poles, and they can almost guide themselves with their eyes closed.

The afternoon light is warm and dull, and their spears will need sharpening, but the hunt wnet very well. This being his first, he was the one expected to make the first thrust, and the final; to commend the spirit of the animal to the Old Mother, as well as making an offering to Bori, thanking him for good fortune on the hunt.  He had done well, and Wolfgar had clapped him on the shoulder with enthusiasm when all the work was done and congratulated him on attaining maturity. The other men offered their congratulations, but Wolfgar had been his mentor, and he had been Wolfgar's first pupil. This was the proudest moment of his life. His heart swelled with longing for the faces of the men he had not seen for so long, many of whom he would not see until he was laid in the ground himself. 

He looked up at the sky and saw the winking eyes of the moon, three-quarters full, sailing across the blue sky, following the sun too soon across the sky. The sky was clear, and he could have stayed in that moment for a long time.

His reverie was cut short by building stormclouds that approached at a sprint across the sky. He could see the tumbling and crashing on themselves and his heart sank – this was not how he remembered it. The men went on, even Wolfgar, but he stopped to look, could see the spark of lightning from within, the dull pulse of thunder, distant but still threatening. He called to the others, but they didn't respond. He called louder thinking they had not heard him, but they went on, just as he remembered them doing so long ago. The storm always closing, he ran to them and tried to shake them, but they moved jovially, inexorably on, and he could do nothing to bring them out of his memory into life so he could warn them. He was nearly beside himself.

The storm did not bring rain. His memory slowed to a crawl of images, but he and the boiling clouds moved normally. As they approached, the clouds seemed to be taking a shape. The slice of the moon expanded, tried to fill the coming night, but the clouds moved in front and obscurred it with a rumble of thunder. The features of a face took shape in the electric display, cruel features lit internally by lightning. When the mouth opened wind rushed out, and thunder followed, and he felt himself pinned to the earth with a force he could not overpower. He looked up, his eyes watering in the gusts, his head ringing from the thunder rolling voer him, but he saw another mouth open on the shelf that held the face, and this mouth shone the immense power of the lightning, and added itself to the wind and thunder. Another mouth opened, and this brought a torrent of rain and sleet, and another mouth opened, and crows sallied forth in a great black funnel.

The last mouth opened, and above the rushing wind, the torrent of rain, the impossible quaking of the thunder, and the immense noise of the crows' wings beating the sky- above all that, a voice so resonant and full, a sound out of nightmare, human words formed on an inhuman tongue. 

It spoke only to him: "Your sanctuary will not hold."

View
The Rescue

Wolfgar tells the boy to stay put and moves quickly, glittering blade out and ready for trouble. He curses Kel for a fool, running off into the wilderness, but he is a young man, full of life, piss and vinegar, and shit.  He makes sure that Kel's pursuers don't give up and return, and then he ducks down into the stairwell.

He doesn't dare light a torch, and he moves slowly as his eyes adjust. The gray light from the rainy afternoon seeps into the hole Wolfgar descends. He is alone. He hears very little ahead of him, but this doesn't make him less cautious. He knows the enemy is somewhere below. Kel said there was a hostage, and for Wolfgar, that's all he needs to know – no human should be left to the depredations of these beasts. He thinks back to the shackles in the training room, covered in human blood . He shudders and grips his sword tightly.

When the light from the staircase helps him no more, the weathered man sets about lighting a torch. He is on the landing where they slew the pit's first opposition to their descent. He grits his teeth as he sets flint to tinder and sparks the torch to life, working quickly, methodically, not wanting to leave himself exposed for longer than he has to. He should have brought the boy to hold the torch. He curses. He thought only to protect the boy, but what good is he doing leaving him above where all sort of beast can encounter and slay him out of hand? 

Wolfgar turns, his torch lit, to return and get the boy, when he hears an angry yelp from below. Wolfgar turns again. "The boy will have to wait," he says to himself.

He descends through the field of gore to the corridor the barbarians have come to know well. The scent of the dead flesh is almost overwhelming, and the weathered man does his best not to gag picking his way down the stairs. Rats have been gnawing the corpses, whole hordes of them by the looks of some. 

When he gets to the corridor he moves as quickly as possible while making little noise, scanning rooms for the beasts and their prey. He comes last to the door of the temple Kel desecrated in a rage. Wolfgar remembers the earthquake well, and what spirits must have been angered by the sacrilege comitted to the altar. Wolfgar is sure that whatever god the temple had been dedicated to, the sacrilege comitted on the altar was far worse than whatever Kel did to it.

Angry voices come from within. They are speaking orc, but too fast for Wolfgar to catch more than a general anger, first at the ones who chased after Kel, and then, about the state of the temple. He hears no human voice, but that's just as well. 

Wolfgar kicks the door open, "Aye, dread beasts, I've come to sing the song of your death!" The two beastial men stand awestruck for only a moment – Wolfgar doesn't see any hostage as he charges the nearest of the beast men. 

Wolfgar's blade is turned by the curved blade of the foe he charges, closest, but not the one who had shouted. Wolfgar begins to sing, as the beast he attacked counters, forcing the barbarian to throw himself out of the way of the skilled chop of his enemy's blade. The second beast man, bigger, wearing more armor, has a look Wolfgar almost recognizes. It attacks, but Wolfgar is able to parry this blow.

Feeling over matched, the barbarian flails at his attackers with sword and flaming torch, hoping to hold one off until he can slay its companion.  The torch is knocked aside by the first beastman – Inviting Wolfgar's blade to bite deep into the neck of the beast, who drops gurgling to the floor holding it's ruined throat.

The second beast, wearing pacthed together chainmail, swings, but the sight and sound of its dying compatriot has shaken him and his swing is easily parried by Wolfgar's torch as he swings around to confront the last beast-man. He brings the torch into the creature's face, the heat and flame singeing the bristles on its face, causing it to reel back from the barbarian, who chops through the thigh of the beast as it leans away from him, his blow cutting through muscle and bone, dropping the creature to the floor in a spout of black blood.

It writhes for a moment before exhaling with its last breath: "Ashgrab."

Kel hustles back through the damp forest. The dense forest thins as he approaches the ruin, and when he emerges from the woods beneath the mound of the hill, gazing up through the miserable drizzle, he sees Pol standing on one of the fallen pillars. The boy spots the barbarian, and he points his arm towards the staircase. He scrambles down from his perch and quickly catches up with Kel. The two reach the stairway as Wolfgar emerges from the darkness smeared with gore, carrying the young woman Kel saw being carried beneath. Her head dangles over Wolfgar’s arm, and his face is creased with worry. “It’s Drusilla,” he says. “She’s been drugged, I don’t know with what.”

Kel’s mind whirls – in the two years since Caer Callan was razed and his people taken, this is the first member of his village he’s seen. Tears form in the eyes of the normally stoic young barbarian as his exhaustion from the day’s events mingles with the emotion of this moment. He is loathe to admit, even to himself, that a large part of him expected his blood oath to end with his death. He had not allowed himself to hope that he might ever actually see any of his old friends again.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Kel reassures Wolfgar, “I once saw Drusilla drink Oskar under the table at winter festival. I would give her fair odds against any poison. Still, we had best get her out of this rain.” Kel’s recent experience in the forest returns to the forefront of his mind. “There is a place where we can take shelter not far from here. It is a holy place, and I believe the beastmen fear it. We may wish to consider relocating our entire camp there.”

Wolfgar rests the young woman against one of the pillars while he and Kel break camp. The day grows dark early, the twilight a deeper gray than that of noon. Color seems to have leeched from the world.

Pol sits next to the unconscious woman. His fingers trace the hashwork of scars that run across her upper arms, and neck where it is visible under the too-thin shirt of patchwork hides. Her face bears a scar that runs down the side of her face and throat like the skin was cut away and and laid atop the naked muscle to reattach itself irregularly.

Wolfgar hands the child a pack to carry, shoulders his own burden and hefts the too-little weight of the woman, bearing her through the gloom of the night, his face set in a grim mask. Kel follows, and night settles over the hellish ruins.

In the forest the fading light is nearly gone. Kel walks beside his oath-brother in silence for a time before Wolfgar speaks: “She was going to be a sacrifice on that altar you ruined.” Kel nods and says nothing.

After a while the gates appear, the wall of the temple complex a deeper darkness than the canopy overhead. Kel walks through the gate without a thought, but Wolfgar pauses before the rusted gate, letting Pol struggle through the gate with the loot scavenged from the dead of the ruin. When Kel turns, Wolfgar beckons him closer.

“Before we go further, there is something you should know. The last of the beasts I slew in the temple had a familiar look. It was the one we saw leading that first group of beasts, the one who alerted the others, and never fought – the one with the big hammer.” Kel nods (hopefully remembering). “When he’d been done for, before his cursed spirit fled from him, he named the man we seek, and used his last breath to do so. We knew he was here, and that these terrible creatures were his subjects, but Kel, that one said his cursed name like a prayer.”

Kel snorts in disdain. “So these creatures have given up the worship of their own dark gods for another, who is not a god? It is no wonder that they are so easy to slay. Their gods have abandoned them.”

Wolfgar shrugs, and together the oath-brothers enter the courtyard of the abandoned temple. Pol is standing just inside the double metal doors that had been locked when Kel was here before. The boy holds the torch aloft, illuminating frescoes and a dry pool in a large chamber.

Kel searches the the grounds while  Wolfgar follows Pol and makes a bed for Drusilla, still not stirring. Pol sets about stringing his cans before doorways and across the lip of the pool. Wolfgar elects to take first watch, advising that they can explore the complex in the morning when they’ve rested a bit. Kel resists the notion, but not for long.

 

View
The Approaching Storm
Lightning (Thunder)

The other two stair cases descend to the east and west, and the unexplored hall to the north beckons as always. Kel peers into the darkness of the stairwells, trying in vain to make out the shapes of whatever lies beyond. “The sage seemed to think that there was more down here than just the lower levels of the old fortress. If there is much ground to cover, we would be ill-advised to strike out blindly. Let us continue our search from where we left off two days ago.”

The barbarian turns to Pol and continues, “If you see anything that looks threatening, get between us. I do not wish to lop off your head by mistake in the heat of battle.” The barbarians descend into the stinking hall, still reeking of sweat and urine, but now also mixed with the smell of rotting corpses. As the torchlight peels back the darkness at the bottom of the stairs, a sea of rats disperses, but grudgingly, from the gnawed bodies slain days prior.

The barbarians move cautiously to the door they had previously trapped.The door and latch appear to have been melted by the heat of the rod, and stooping to sniff the slagged metal, Kel recognizes acrid alchemical scents. Standing in the doorway, Kel, holding Pol by the shoulders just before him, the boy holding the torch out, sees a room in disarray, but not destroyed.The furnishings are of better quality than they've seen, though all soiled and ruined.

Another room adjoins this, and appears to be where the inhabitants slept. Disheveled beds and piled garbage are the features of the second room, though Pol’s sharp eyes detect a small locked box under one of the bunks. The key found on the dead crossbowman opens the box. Inside are a patched pair of breeches, a brush, a piece of blank parchment, a hunk of chalk, an excellent set of lock picks in a leather case, a healer's kit, and a small yellow agate wrapped in an old rag.

Back in the hallway, approaching the room where the pig men emerged but never engaged the barbarians, the hallway is lined with what looks to be a film of oil, congealed almost into a paste. Their room has five crude beds, and on closer inspection, a few bags of moldy bread and some rotting, unidentifiable meat. Returning to the hallway, Kel and Wolfgar look at one another and at the goop on the floor and know that it didn’t come from anything that was originally in this hallway.

The small party crosses the hallway and listens at the battered wood of the last door, and after hearing nothing, Kel lifts the latch and swings the door open. Within the walls of this oddly-shaped room are partially covered in tattered red and black curtains. Kel sees an archway leading south despite it being half-covered by one of these curtains. The vaulted ceiling above is painted black. Spattered bloodstains cover the floor, particularly around a plain stone altar resting in front of the deep eastern recess. The place stinks of murder and pain, as well as the musk of some angry beast.

His brows knotted in righteous fury, Kel springs into the room without caution and rushes toward the evil altar. Summoning every ounce of his strength, he growls low and feral as his body slams into the stone slab with a reverberating thud.

The altar doesn’t budge from the force of the Kel’s impact. Kel turns to his axe and begin frantically chopping at it, screaming and frothing (Kel is effectively raging). Wolfgar and Pol stand dumbfounded in the doorway.

Kel’s axe strike repeatedly at the stained surface of the altar, the blade striking sparks, but doing no damage to the stone. Kel rears up and with both hands brings the axe down in the most powerful blow he can manage with his muscular frame, the blade of the axe chipping off a small chunk of the altar. Almost immediately the room begins to shake, as if the architecture itself is furious and only barely restraining itself. Stunned by this reaction, Kel regains himself. Dark curtains, hung across the back of the room are rent by the quaking, black paint flakes off the ceiling and drops to the floor as the sound of the ceiling cracking splits the grim, fetid air in this ugly temple.

Wolfgar orders the boy to stay still and marches resolutely across the quaking floor to get grab his young friend, agog amidst the chaos. Wolfgar’s big hands clasp Kel tightly by the shoulder and drags him stumbling from the room.

The shaking subsides gradually when Kel crosses the temple’s threshold. Pol looks up, his face glowing with admiration, beneath the hand covering his mouth to keep the awful reek of rotting flesh from his nostrils. “Adventure,” he crows.

As the shaking stops, Kel regains his senses. Peering into the room, he can see that the chipped paint of the ceiling has uncovered a far older fresco of what looks like stars. Through the rent curtain is also a faded fresco that looks like figures amidst trees.

Wolfgar gazes amazedly, says: “What was this place?”

After sweeping a puzzled gaze across the old artwork, Kel steps cautiously back into the room. He turns toward the others and muses, “Perhaps the vision I told you of is related to this place.” Replacing his axe at his belt, he approaches the altar with measured gait. Putting his hunters’ training to use, he begins a careful study of the altar and the alcove behind it.

Wolfgar snorts, says, “What would a goddess want with your scrawny bones?” He leans against the wall inside the door, his drawn sword held loosely in his massive hand.

Kel finds little of interest about the altar, but with one glance behind the curtains, he reaches up and heaves down the whole contraption holding them up. On the wall before him is a woodland scene, complete with dancing fey creatures from legend cavorting is soft gray light. He turns to Wolfgar with a grimace, says, “Perhaps she wants me to drive the evil from her sacred places.”

Pol, wandering about the room, his head tilted crazily to gaze at the ceiling, young eyes squinting near closed, gasps. “There, where the paints rubbed off from the shakes, can you see it? There’s a moon up there!” He runs to Wolfgar and carefully points out the dim shape nearly missed beneath black paint.

“Moon goddess, you said?” Wolfgar asks Kel, who nods. “Then I guess we’re at her service,” Wolfgar says with a sigh.

Kel shakes his head, as if clearing it. “Would that we could spend more time here, but the evils lurking within this place will not cleanse themselves. We must press onward.” Suddenly, he cocks his head to the side, a pondering look in his eyes, before striding purposefully to the rear of the chamber. There, he begins tapping the stone with the hilt of his dagger, listening intently.

Kel returns to his companions. “This way leads back where we have already been.” With one last glance around the desecrated chapel, he exits back into the main hall. “Follow closely, Pol.”

Up the narrow steps of the landing to a wide doorway the small party goes. Kel listens carefully, his back pressed to the stone, straining to hear – but hears nothing but the crackling torch Pol holds fifteen feet away or so. He looks at Wolfgar, who shrugs.

Kel ducks around the corner, and is greeted by a dark room. After a several heartbeats Pol pushes up behind the barbarian, and his torch throws some illumination on rubble, old barrels and casks, rotted wooden crates, and other debris clog the area. Cobwebs fill the corners. The air is dank. Recalling his earlier experience with a similar room, Kel says, “Spread out and look for any hidden dangers, but don’t touch anything.”

Aside from the debris scattered about the room, their appears to be nothing even of interest on the lower level ofthis room. The stairs lead up to what appears to have been the wine storage – old wooden racks have rotten or been smashed. Kel and Pol looks through the ruin and come up with a wine bottle each, and Kel finds a yellowed sheet of paper, looking as though it has been torn from a book of some sort.

The three of you gather in front of the door, the barbarians in front, Pol just behind, peering eagerly around the barbarians’ legs. Kel listens carefully at the door and hears a faint rustling, like a broom swept across a stone floor. Wolfgar points to the top of the door, which has a wide hole worn between the top of the door and the stonework of the archway. “Guano,” he says quietly. and Kel nods.

Turning away from the door, Kel studies the parchment in his hands by the light of Pol’s torch. He turns it this way and that, then sighs in disgust. “I do not know many of these words, but it seems that there is some dangerous totem hidden in one of the ruined towers above us, or there was at one time.” The barbarian glances at Pol. “Can you read, child?”

Pol glances nervously at the page, says: “My mum was teaching me my letters before she died. After that I was apprenticed to the Mill in town, and they don’t care much if a boy can read, only cipher a little.” He looks at the paper and takes it furtively, “Let me see what I can sound out.” He reads haltingly from the page, sounding out vowel sounds and hard consonants. (He can barely read, and the Barbarians eventually get the gist of the note.)

The kid is sweating by the time he’s done, and he sinks to the floor with a sign of relief when Kel tells him to quit. He looks at the space between his feet, says, “Isn’t that a pull ring?”

Rising quickly, the boy scampers behind Wolfgar, who carefully tests the handle, revealing a passage and ladder leading down into darkness.

Kel pulls out one of the spare torches, lights it from Pol’s, and drops it into the darkness below. The torch drops into another stone hallway, that appears to end in the ladder and trapdoor the barbarians have discovered. The light illuminates nothing but stone and dust, and doesn’t appear to excite any hidden beasties.

Kel climbs swiftly down the ladder, and lifts the torch from the floor. The void pushes back against the light, the hallway dissolves into the inky darkness ahead. Wolfgar climbs down, followed by Pol, and together again, the party discusses their next move.

With his torch held low to the ground, Kel searches the dust for any signs of recent passage.Unable to discover anything, Kel extinguishes his torch and stows it. “I see no sign of passage here. I do not think that the creatures we fought above know of that trap door. Shall we see what lies ahead?”

Inching ahead, Kel eventually comes to a bend in the stonework. Pol moving up from behind illuminating a far wall. When Kel peers down the turn in the passage, he see a room up ahead about twenty feet. In that room stir dark figures moving about in dim torchlight, but clearly monstrous beast like they had fought above.

As he watches, Kel can see several of the smaller figures begin sparring. Kel takes a quick headcount of the figures he can see – 7 figures total, three probably medium sized, and four smaller figures.

Wolfgar sidles up to Kel and cups his ear and cocks his head to better hear talking, odd grunts and snorts communicating over the clangor of the sparring figures. He turns to Kel, whispering: “They’re scared to go up, I think. They keep talking about the ‘butchers’ who slew the chief.”

Pol has his makeshift dirk out, and is thrusting it at his own shadow a little down the hallway. The two barbarians turn to look at him with some irritation. He looks at them and looks ready to shout, but two fierce, silent shushes keep the boys exclamation to a hoarse whisper of: “Adventure!”

Kel scowls at Pol’s outburst. After a moment, however, his face softens. “Why not have a little adventure?” he whispers, unslinging the bow from his shoulder. He takes careful aim at one of the smaller creatures and lets fly.The arrow zips down the dim hallway into the poorly lit room. Kel doesn’t see the impact, but he hears it, and also the sound of the beast collapsing to the floor with a grunt. He knocks another arrow.

Kel sights the other sparring partner, looses, and lands the hit, the silhouette collapsing with a stifled scream and a thump.

Wolfgar steps up next to his friend, his blade free. “Why don’t you shoot the big shadows,” he suggests, before turning to Pol. “Stand absolutely still, boy. We’re working,” he commands the suddenly crestfallen child.

Kel laughs, “If I don’t let the big ones get to us, this fight will be no fun at all.”

One of the small shadows that wasn’t sparring launches a sling stone that bounces crazily off the ceiling. Another tosses a javelin that Wolfgar is barely able to escape, the sharp tip grazing his armor without drawing blood.

The other, larger creatures rush forward, their voices growling with unhinged menace, their features dark and malicious.

Kel fires an arrow directly into the face of the closest marauder, taking him in the throat and dropping him as the gurgles his own blood and dies. Kel Drops his bow and readies his axe., and Wolfgar steadies himself for the assault of the hulking figures closing rapidly with him.

Another sling stone arcs out of the dark, thumping Kel on the chest uselessly. A second javelin grazes Wolfgar, but does little more than scratch his weathered skin. “Missiles!” Wolfgar snorts in disgust.

But then the hulking shadows are upon them. Wolfgar slices deftly in the dim light, and the howling creature is suddenly concerned only with holding in his bowels as black blood and shit spill onto the floor. The second beast swings mightily for Kel, who parries with the haft of his axe. The blade of the beast’s curved sword cuts cleanly through the haft just below the axe head, leaving Kel holding just the club sized handle for a weapon.

Kel Looks at his shattered weapon for n instant before turning on his attacker with a wild look and the bunching of muscles that indicate his murderous intent. He swings the haft of the axe like a club, but the beast deflects it easily. WWolfgar jabs with his blade, black from the blood of its comrade, but this too is parried.The slinger charges, brandishing a small spear. He jabs at Wolfgar’s neck, cutting the huge man’s shoulder with the nicked edge of the spearhead.The beast before Kel strikes a furious blow that Kel cannot avoid, the sword cutting a ragged gash in the young barbarian’s arm .

Kel Looks at his shattered weapon for an instant before drawing his dagger with a wild look and the bunching of muscles that indicate his murderous intent. He swings the haft of the axe like a club, but the beast deflects it easily. The dagger comes under the parry, but the best sucks in his belly and arches his back and dodges the slice of the blade. Kel bluffs past the beast’s guard with a jab, and then cuts up with the end of his axe handle, catching the beast under the chin, shattering it’s jaw, and dropping it unconcious to the floor.

The javelin thrower throws his last missile, merely infuriating Wolfgar further, before fleeing for the closed door at the back of the stone room.

His chest heaving, Kel glares at his ruined axe before throwing the haft to the ground. He sheathes his dagger, then picks up one of the fallen scimitars, giving it a few experimental swings. Nodding in satisfaction, he reaches into his pack to retrieve a healing draught. “Well, Pol, what do you think of adventure now?”
 
The draught is thick as molasses and, spread on Kel’s wound, leaves the area tingling. Kel wraps the salved area with a bandage, and feels much better.

Pol bounds up, his attitude much improved. He slides around the barbarians patching up their hurts to the beast laying unconscious and spread-eagle on the flagstones. The boy pounces with his shiv, driving the tip of his knife up under the shattered jaw and into the brain. Black blood oozes out over the boy’s hands, and he looks up at the startled barbarians with a wide grin on his face. He slides the blade out and wipes it on the outermost sweater, and returns his knife triumphantly to his belt.

“I like it just fine,” he says with a barely contained giggle.

Kel shakes his head in bewilderment and grunts something unintelligible. Shrugging, he tells the boy, “Well, make yourself useful then, and help us search these things for valuables.”

The party moves into the room stripping the dead of their possessions and piling them in the middle of the room. The work is barely underway when the door in the south wall opens and three pig-men bustle through, followed by a large shirtless man, his face a mask of pustules, and the biggest axe kel has seen in his life held over one shoulder. Behind the axe man comes a fourth goblin – the runner from moments before.

Wolfgar draws his sword and takes a step towards the new foes, but a raised hand from the axe man stops him. He grunts something guttural, and motions at Kel. Wolfgar looks at the young barbarian, says: “He wants you, lad. One on one, to the death.”

The pig-men fan out across the room, but their weapons are sheathed. Wolfgar grabs Pol and drags him back.

The axe man steps into the middle of the room, takes his axe in both hands and waits, making chicken noises.
 
Grasping his new scimitar in both hands, Kel closes with his foe. A deep growl resonates from his chest, but his motions are quick and precise with no energy wasted. Suddenly, the barbarian ducks into his opponent’s blind spot and swings mightily upward.Suddenly the barbarian ducks into his opponent’s blind spot and swings mightily upward. The pustule-faced axe man is too slow for the swift grace of the barbarian’s attack, and the scimitar cuts deeply into the flank and ribcage of the hideous man. Kel release the hilt of the scimitar, and the axe man crumbles to his knees, before falling over on his horrible face, dead. Once the axe man falls there is a moment of tense consideration before everyone else goes for their weapon. Wolfgar closes the gap between himself and one of the pig-men and cuts it in half even as its hand moves to the hilt of his sword.Caution forgotten in the heat of battle, Kel bellows a victory cry. Muscles rippling beneath his skin, he lifts his fallen foe’s enormous axe over his head and hurls it at the nearest pig-man.

Despite the distance and ungainly heft of the axe, Kel manages a decent throw at the pig-man chosen as his target. However, the small beastman sidesteps the massive missile, but only just.

The two pig-men close with Kel, swinging wildly, as Kel ducks and dodges deftly. The second pig-man’s swing is so wild that Kel is able to counter with a haymaker, but his punch misses the wildly bucking beast thing.

The last goblin closes with Wolfgar, visibly gibbering and apparently in tears, hacking half-heartedly at the weathered barbarian, who merely stands aside. He jabs with his sword, and though it tries to avoid the tip of the blade, Wolfgar catches it between a rib and his blade slides right through the creature’s black heart. It dies with a sob on its lips.

Somewhat more clear-headed with death closing in from two sides, Kel dances back out of reach of the pig-men’s weapons, then stoops to wrench the scimitar from the corpse of his first attacker.

Kel wrenches the scimitar from the dead man, prepares for an attacker to advance – he swings as a pig-man steps up, his attack dodged by the snub-snouted half-man. The other beast steps up, and both swing, but Kel, cool headed, is able to get away from their nicking blades.

Wolfgar kicks the dead body off his blade and advances across the room, and his blade jabs at one of Kel’s attackers, who is able to turn the blade rather easily, as Wolfgar’s strike was rather straightforward.

Wolfgar chops clumsily with his shimmering blade and misses, and the pig-man swings ably, but is deftly parried by the barbarian.

Kel draws his dagger and swings both of his blades at the hated foe – who manages to dodge easily both ferocious attacks. Wolfgar jabs again, lancing his blade through the flank of the beast, it crying out in pain and sliding to its knees on the flagstones already slick with blood.

Sheathing his weapons, Kel turns his gaze to the corpse of the large man that challenged him.Kel looks over the body, which, laying on his face, reveals that the pustules were also on the axe man’s back. He’s naked to the waist, and doesnt appear to have much of anything on his person. Scattered about on the mats are other weapons, not used in the fight and carelessly strewn about

Sum total cash from all of the bodies is 25 silver.

Wolfgar hefts the axe man’s great axe, what looks to be a custom made affair from the adequate tooling to the obviously amatuer grade handle. The thing is overall pretty solidly built. Wolfgar tosses it to Kel, says “You want this.”
 
Kel tosses the axe back. “Quick strikes are more to my liking. This is too heavy to be of real use to me.” With that, he strides to the open door and surveys the other room.

Weapons and armor cast haphazardly about fill a chamber of stark stone. A woven mat covers about half of the floor, stained with blood spatters and dried gore. Hanging lamps provide greasy smoke and a foul odor as well as dim light. A large keg rests upon a chair in the corner. Ancient, rusty manacles hang here and there on the walls. The place reeks of sweat, urine, and blood. Pol comes behind Kel, and slips past him and grabs up a real set of padded armor. He begins to strip out of his sweaters and place this, more effective armor on his thing frame. He also grabs up a short sword from the floor, and discards his makeshift shank. A light wooden shield is leaned against a wall, and he tosses the crate lid he’s been using as a shield for this new, sturdier shield.

“What else do we want to do in here, fellows?” he asks brightly. Despite the stink and the gore, the kid still has a huge grin on his face.

There is another door in the south wall of this room, as well.

Wordlessly, Kel moves to inspect the manacles. Nodding to himself, he then sniffs at the contents of the keg.The keg is about a third full with what smells like grain liquor. The manacles have blood on them, some of it recent. Kel and Wolfgar both agree that the blood isn’t from one of these black blooded beasts, or even one like them. Both believe the blood to be human. Neither wants to discuss to whom it might belong.After Kel and Wolfgar finish their short conversation, Kel stalks toward the remaining door, a grim set to his jaw. He then listens carefully for a moment.

Kel listens intently for a moment, and hearing nothing, opens the door, Wolfgar and Pol close behind him as he steps into this new room.

The room is dimly illuminated, and Kel immediately smells beasts – the scent strong enough that the room could be a den. The room itself is a odd nexus of corridors.

Motioning Wolfgar to the right, Kel moves to the left side of the room and begins a circuit of it, peering down each corridor he passes.Kel and Wolfgar moving carefully, are able to sight what appear to be mountain lions, two of them, prowling about in the room ahead of them. They appear agitated, pacing about the room, snarling and hissing towards the barbarians they can plainly see.

Kel prepares himself in the archway for the onslaught of the felines. Agitated beyond caution they rush the barbarian whose swing is mighty but the cat’s lithe dodge evades the whistling blade easily. The mountain lion turns it’s dodge into a blindingly quick snap of powerful jaws. The second cat’s lunge is clumsy, and prompts a stinging riposte from the barbarian.

Wolfgar rushes up to the wounded beast and swings mightily, but nearly trips over the fury of his attack, yet he speedily recovers.

Noting the quickness of the beasts, Kel shortens the strokes of his scimitar, controlling the battle fury.

Kel eases off the fury a bit, and his two handed strike is skillful, but the mountain lion is more agile than the whirring blade.

The big cat twists about and tries to grip Kel’s arm, but he is able to lunge away just in time. The second cat turns on Wolfgar, but the elder barbarian steps aside and chops with his blade, stabbing between shoulder blade and ribs of his feline attackerand follows through with a killing stroke that takes the beast’s head clean off. Wolfgar roars in triumph, his face, chest and arm covered in steaming gore.Not to be outdone, Kel brings his axe overhead and chops at the remaining cat.Kel chops with the scimitar – and slices deep into the leg of the beast risen to paw at the young barbarian.

The remaining mountain lion reels back in pain with a roar, but returns to strike at Kel. The beast comes with fangs and claws, but the wily youth is able to avoid the claws and fangs.

Wolfgar steps up and hacks into the underbelly of the beast with an underhanded, upswinging chop of his broadsword.

The wounded beast snarls viciously at the barbarians. Kel swings, but the wild creature dances aside, shying away from the blow enough for the blade to miss. In that moment, as Kel recovers, the beast strikes and the steely thews of the barbarian’s leg, tearing flesh.Wolfgar’s blade misses its mark, and the beast dodges Kel’s blade. The wounded beast makes a desperate lunge for Kel, griping his wounded arm in its mouth. The overwhelming pain, coupled with the sudden weight of the big cat knocks Kel back, as he is unable to fend off the rapacious beast. Wolfgar tries to pull the beast off of his friend, punching with one hand as he pulls the beast free with the other. Exhausted, the beast succumbs to Wolfgar’s blows, the blood loss, and drops unconscious to the flagstones, slick with fresh blood.
 
In the sudden quiet following the scrape, as the roar of battle dims in their ears, both men and the boy hear the sound of mewling coming from the room ahead. Reeling from exhaustion and blood loss, Kel nevertheless brings his weapon to the ready.
 
He looks sidelong at Wolfgar, ascertaining that most of the blood covering the other barbarian is not his own. Then he calls over his shoulder, “Pol! The light!”

Pol’s light, brought up to the junction of the complex casts light brighter light into the central room. In the far corner, Kel’s sharp eyes detect movement. His blade readied, he steps up in front of Pol. As he’s about to charge, a mountain lion kitten saunters into the light – followed by a second, who promptly tackles the first.

The mountain lion kittens appear too young to have been weaned. Kel and Wolfgar look at each other and then at Pol. The boy gets defensive after a moment. “What?” he says. “I hate cats.”

The kittens have scampered down the hallway in the direction the light is coming from. Kel and Wolfgar follow slowly, rounding the corner to find the dim light filling an odd-shaped chamber. In the middle of it, floating over a dark pit, the barbarians see a gray-brown creature of unique and bizarre appearance. Spherical, it sports a massive central eye, with a number of eyes on long stalks on top, and long tendrils dangling from beneath it. The whole being stretches approximately five feet across. It glares at the men as they peer in.

Kel stands and stares openmouthed at the monstrosity before him. After a moment, he collects himself and turns to hiss at Pol, “Get back, boy.” Facing back front, he whispers to Wolfgar, “What is that thing?”

The creature does make a threatening move, lunging after a fashion at the barbarians. However, the beast appears to hit some invisible barrier, and as the barbarians jump at it’s aggressive move, it looks like it laughs uproariously, but neither man can hear a sound coming from the great thing.

The kittens below the floating eye-beast play on, unperturbed.

Kel shakes his head in bewilderment. “Yet more strangeness, eh? Enough of this. Perhaps it is time that we finished here for the day.”Exiting the way they came, the weary barbarians and the rambunctious youth stride through the gore in the main hallway and the stairwell to return to their camp. However, as they emerge into the noonday light, both Wolfgar and Kel hear the clanking weapons and kit of a patrol speaking in inhuman tongues.Kel puts his finger to his lips, then motions in a direction leading away from both the patrol and the camp. Without waiting for confirmation from the others, he begins to slip from cracked boulder to broken column, keeping his head down.The smhe small group skirts the boulders and pillars, scuttling from one to another until the sound of alien voices diminishes. Looking over his shoulder, for just an instant, Kel glimpses the party of hulking beasts, and thrown over the shoulder oer of the trailing member of that group, a woman. The wind whistles, and the rain threatens to pick up.Kel hisses, “Hold. The creatures have a hostage.” After briefly testing the wind with a finger, he continues, “I will draw off as many of them as possible. Make your move as soon as they are separated.” With that, he scrambles to a higher vantage point and looses an arrow at the lead beast-man.

By the time Kel reaches his vantage point, the first beast-man has entered the stairwell. A light drizzle begins to fall as Kel knocks his last arrow, takes aim and fires at the second creature, who looks like it’s pulling its hideous face into an even more hideous mask. He dances back ond forth from foot to foot like a comic jester might.

Kel’s arrow tears out the creature’s neck and ends its comic dance. Whatever jest it played at dies gurgling in it’s ruined throat, grim claws trying vainly to stem the tide of black blood welling over its clenched fingers. The party of beastly foes immediately halts and hunkers down. Kel, standing atop the hill is clearly silhouetted against the sky. He raises his bow and with a cry rushes down the hill at an angle from the foes he hopes to draw off.

With a roar four of the beasts charge after him, their leader vainly calling them back, it grasping the beast-man with the woman flung over its shoulder to keep him from chasing too. Wolfgar watches that pair and their hostage continue into the darkness, and rises to follow.

Kel runs down off the hill and into the forest, his pursuers not too far behind. The beast-men are strong and tireless, and the parties whip through the wilderness, Kel hoping to lose them in the undergrowth eventually. The beast-men seem to have other ideas, and looks as though they have no intention of flagging soon.

As Kel vaults a fallen tree, he notices that the woods here appear older and more wild than other woodlands he’s seen in the area, woods where the townsfolk have thinned them out for firewood or building material. Though mid-day, the storm clouds, misty rain and the denser foliage have significantly reduced the light. Kel, buying time for his friend to free the hostage he spied, begins to feel as though he were in a forbidden, secret part of the forest. Wispy tendrils of fog begin to wend their way around the roots and trunks of the trees, insinuating themselves in the branches of the low shrubs and ground cover.

Ahead, a vine covered wall about three foot high, seems to emerge from the foliage like an illusion. A rusted old gate stands wide, and Kel makes for it, figuring to lose his pursuers by vaulting the wall from somewhere inside, if there are no buildings to hide from them in. He passes the gate and takes a handful of astounded strides within the confines of the wall before he stops. Kel stands on a shoreline tossed with broken boulders the size of houses. A cold wind blows off a sea thick with spray and salt. The sun overhead makes the water sparkle brilliantly all the way to the horizon as a woman in a diaphanous ivory dress approaches Kel, nimbly and quickly navigating the jagged rocks. She reaches him even before he expects, stopping just out of arm’s reach. Her slender face, her green eyes, and her auburn hair make her a striking vision, but it is what she holds in her lithe hand that makes her truly remarkable. By all appearances, she has plucked a star down from the darkening, twilight sky and now holds it out to Kel.

The woman smiles gently: “I serve the Lady of whom you speak, but there is no need to kneel before me. Please rise,” she gestures and Kel does as he is bidden. “I am Giamisa, and I offer you a gift of knowledge and vision – both of which are blessings from the one to whom you wish to bow.” Kel looks closely at her hand, at the star he thought she held, and sees a tiny glowing orb.Kel tentatively reaches out and grasps the orb as gently as possible, afraid of breaking the miniature ball.

As Kel touches it, the glowing sphere feels warm to his touch and makes his skin tingle. Giamisa says, “The past shapes the present as well as the future. Learn from those who have come before.”

The sound of barking brings Kel gently back to the world. His eyes are still locked on his fingertips where he had held the orb – his skin still tingles – but his hand is empty. He looks towards the commotion and sees one of the creatures he was leading off at the edge of the gate, afraid to come further. It beckons him out and growls a challenge, but the barbarian just looks at him blankly for a moment. Impatient and a little frightened the creature vanishes into the undergrowth.

Coming fully awake Kel looks about him – three of his pursuers lie dead at his feet. His hand holds his scimitar, covered in their black ichor. Kel stands in the courtyard of a ruined temple – but he sees as easily as if it were fresh, the faded image of a crescent moon above a ruined doorway.

After wiping the gore from his blade, Kel returns it to his belt. He then busies himself with removing the corpses from this holy place, first stripping them of anything valuable.

The temple is built in a wide crescent that runs from where each gate is hinged, ringing the courtyard in which Kel stands. It looks as though tall spires grew from the widest part of the ruin, but those have collapsed. There is no trace o fire or look as though there was any real disturbance here. The ruin looks like the progression of time without the benefit or humans keeping up with the maintenance.

In what Kel assumes is the main portion of the temple, wide iron double doors are locked. He tries to force them open, but has no luck. There are other doors, but they too are similarly locked.

The courtyard free of beastly interlopers once more, Kel sets about regaining his bearings. This temple intrigues him, but it must wait. For now, he will return to the other ruins, committing the route to memory for a time yet to come.

 

View
Succor for the Searchers
First interlude

Kel looks up at a knock on the shattered frame of the door. He sees a human face peering in with shock at the carnage and destruction. “Hallo, there,” says the man conversationally, “do you need a, a hand?”

Several expressions war for control of Kel’s face, and confusion wins out. “Who – no, that will wait. Have you any skill with herbs, friend? My companion and I are sorely wounded, and I fear he might not last much longer.” He winces as the adrenaline in his system begins to subside and the pain of his wounds begins to take on new dimensions.

The man steps into the room, dressed in what looks like new leather jerkin and cap, the clothes beneath well tailored, with an arming sword riding his hip and hunting bow and quiver draped almost casually over his shoulder. His face is broad but unremarkable. The man looks about the room sheepishly, “And which of these,” he motions to the strewn and obviously dead figures, “is, uh, your friend?“

Kel moves wearily to Wolfgar’s side and tosses aside the useless table, revealing the ugly headwound leaking blood from the tall forehead of the barbarian. “Ah,” says the man. His wound looks deep.” He moves closer to examine the deep cut, and kneeling, probes the depth. “It doesn’t feel as though his skull has caved, but only by the barest of margins. I can suture the wound, but he’ll need a healer’s art, and that’s beyond my skill.”

He wipes his hand carefully on a silk kerchief and stands, offering the same hand to Kel for a friendly shake. “Evinarus,” he says cheerfully.

Finding that he already likes this strange little man, Kel grips the offered hand in his own massive paw. Gasping slightly as the motion of the handshake opens one of his wounds, he introduces himself and Wolfgar. “Do what you can for him then. If you can keep him from dying until we reach the village, I am sure we can find a healer.”

While Evinarus begins his work, Kel begins searching the corpses for anything that might be worth trading for services rendered. He gathers the tulwar, the various clubs and javelins, a crossbow, and one of the most beautiful and well balanced broadswords he has ever seen; though most is too small or too poorly made to be of much use, he gathers useful looking armor, including a scale corselet from the corpse of the beast with the fine broadsword, and a few leather and quilted jerkins. The acid splashed and arrow punctured body who had previously wielded the crossbow carries a bag heavy with silver and copper pieces, as well as a small key on a piece of twine about its neck. The other bodies give up a small amount of coin.

Once all of the loot has been collected from this room, Kel gazes at the blood spattered pile. Evinarus whistles as he bends over the now groaning Wolfgar, working deftly with his long fingers. Aside from the whistling dandy, the room is eerily silent; stepping to the ruined door, Kel finds the hallway much the same: nothing appears to stir in the slaughter soaked hall.

After a few moments, Evinarus rises from his labor and wipes his hands clean and stows his sewing kit. “It’ll be getting late,” he says, “if we’re to get back, we ought not get caught in the woods after dark.” He wafts a hand in Wolfgar’s direction, “This one won’t be walking, we’re going to have to rig something to carry him, unless you want to let him ride piggyback.”

Suddenly wanting very much to be rid of this place, at least for a little while, Kel wordlessly kneels beside Wolfgar. Grunting under the strain, he lifts the big man across his shoulders, then struggles to his feet. Gasping slightly as newly formed scabs crack and bleed, Kel nevertheless begins striding confidently forward. “He has carried me many times. I can carry him this once.”

Kel emerges from the ruin of the barracks into the hallway, Evinarus following behind with a bundle of loot wrapped in a fetid sheet under one arm, and holding up a torch with the other. The hallway glistens with a slick wetness that comes from no creature’s spilled vital fluid, and the smell of ozone is thick. The stairway is thick with congealed blood and limbless bodies. A rough path appears to have been cleared through the carnage. The eerie silence lasts until the trio emerges into the light of the early afternoon. The woods lead off to the north, and civilization, and together the barbarians and the dandy make their way into the wilderness.

Kel is very quiet on the hike through the woodlands, lost in his own thoughts. What manner of vision had come upon him during the battle? Had he seen a goddess, or had some other entity taken an interest in him? Whoever she is, she wants him for some purpose. What could it be? Glancing at his new travelling companion, more practical questions swarm through the barbarian’s brain. Who is this Evinarus? How had he come to be at the fortress? For that matter, how had he dispatched or chased off the creatures in the hall without gaining so much as a scratch? Kel begins to suspect that some sort of magic was involved, and the thought makes him wonder if he has trusted this fellow too quickly. At length, Kel snaps from his reverie and turns to Evinarus. “I am grateful for your assistance, friend. Do you hail from the village?”

“No, no, friend, I hail from a city far to the south, a sprawling place beside the wide blue waters of the opulent sea.” The reedy man clutches the stinking sheet with its gory prizes closer as the unwieldy bundle begins to slip away from him. “Cassiopei is the name of my home,” he adds, stopping to adjust his load. Kel walks on, and the small fop hurries to catch up.

“I wonder if I might ask you of your home, wanderer, where it is, and whom you’ve left behind to wonder how you fare in the world?”

Kel stares straight ahead as he talks. “My village was called Caer Callan. It lay many days to the north, on the shores of crystal clear Loch Callan. The lake and surrounding woods were bountiful, and the laughter of children filled the air…” The barest hint of a sob catches in the barbarian’s throat before he angrily continues, “There is naught left there now but ash and scorched earth. All of the menfolk except for those few of us who were away hunting were slaughtered by the evil creatures that even now lair in the ruins behind us. The women and children were taken; they languish in that dank fortress, being used for the gods only know what evil purpose by that foul wizard.” Completely overcome by his emotions, Kel falls silent again.

Evinarus is quiet for a long time. The sounds of the forest and the afternoon light fill he forest with the colors of autumn, leaves turning gold, amber and earth-tones as the wind stirs them gently. They crest a rise and see the smoke from cookfires and hearths in the rising beyond a few distant hills.

“Brindenford is a nice place. Not quite as bustling a place as Cassiopei, but the people are kind at least. I can sing for my supper, and a bed too, which is nice since I have little coin much of the time.”

Startled out of his dark thoughts, Kel turns a bemused gaze at Evinarus. “What is it that brings you so far from your home?”

“My father is a rich merchant in Cassiopei, an importer of goods from beyond arid Orad. My brother, Fervinious, younger than me by just a few years, was chosen to inherit everything on my father’s retirement (or death, which will be more likely, the old bastard.)” Evinarus shifts his load again. “I’ve traveled ever since my father chose his successor. He had always insisted that his children should be fluent in music and art, better to round out the best qualities of a business man, to hone the senses when looking or a good investment. When I set off as a vagabond, singing and playing where I wandered, that must have angered him for sure.” He laughs, but there is no hard or bitter edge to it. “What I understand now, and failed to understand before, is this: that it’s better to live well with less, than to have more and live like a slave to your possessions. That’s something neither my father nor my brother ever understood.”

The town has hove into view as Evinarus speaks, and together, the trio wends through the slick mud of the thoroughfare and ends up before the door of an inn. A sign above the door labels the big, well built, three story building as “The Lost Shepherd”, and Evinarus holds open the door for the barbarians to pass. The warm smell of cooking meat, the clink of crockery and silverware, and the hubbub of voices comes from within.

Adjusting Wolfgar’s weight so that a passing glance might mistake him for a drunk leaning on his companion’s shoulder, Kel enters the busy establishment. He and his mentor are covered in too much drying blood, their own and that of others, to truly pull off the ruse, but there is no sense in making themselves too easy a target. As he passes the threshold, Kel’s eyes are already searching the crowd for the innkeeper. He wishes to spend as little time in this packed common room as possible.

Leaning against Kel, Wolfgar begins to come to, groaning in pain and confusion. Kel comforts the big man, and stumble with him through the crowded common room to the bar, where a short, wide set man, his black hair only just starting to gray, is tending bar. He smiles, revealing a gold tooth in his wide smile. As Kel approaches the bar, the man turns to him, and his friendly expression doesn’t change at all, as if the sight of two blood spattered, near dead men approaching the bar were an every day occurrence.

“Silver for a room, mate. Same for a plate, and half a silver for a pint of Brindenford’s finest, of which we have plenty. What’ll it be?” He slaps the towel draped over his shoulder on the counter and looks eager to serve. Kel turns to ask Evinarus what he plans to do for the evening, but set by Kel’s feet is the grimy sheet, with no sign of the fop. He turns back to the bartender and orders.

Kel fumbles in his pouch, eventually drawing out the coins to pay for a room and a meal and slapping them on the bar. As the coins disappear, he asks, “Where do I find the nearest healer, good man?”

The bartender wipes up a spill with his towel, says: “Looks like the healer’s headed over for a refill right now.” He nods, indicating a middle aged man weaving though the crowd dressed in faded robes, of white and blue. In one of the man’s hand is an empty wineglass, in the other, an empty carafe. As he staggers up to the bar, the bartender says, “Another tall one for ye, Father Tipple,” as he take the empty carafe from the drunk priest, who offers a drunken salute as the short man disappears towards the cellar for another bottle of vino.

Father Tipple drums his hands absently on the bar, and it takes him a moment in the hubbub of the tavern to notice the gory warriors standing next to him. “Oh, children,” he exclaims, dancing back from the bar on unsteady feet. He regains his composure and comes close, laying a hand on both Kel and Wolfgar, his tone very serious, says: “You’ll give an old man a heart attack, sneaking up on him like specters from beyond the grave.”

The sutures in Wolfgar’s forehead begin to bleed a little as he groggily raises an eyebrow, and seeing this, Father Tipple reaches for the bartender’s rag and dabs at the blood. “Come sit down and we’ll take a look at you,” his eyes run over both of the battered men hunched against the bar. “Both of you,” he adds.

Though the shock of seeing the barbarians appears to have jolted the priest into something resembling sobriety, Kel is pensive as he and Wolfgar follow the man. He resigns himself to accepting the drunkard’s care, however, recalling the ugliness that can result from an untreated wound. Hoping to engage this Tipple’s mind even more in his task, the big man asks, “What payment do you require for your services, Father?”

“Vune does not accept payments, only donations,” the priest says, his tone bordering on petulant, until he chuckles a little and continues: “though the bigger the donation the better looking your scars will be.”

Kel nods understandingly and, as they sit, removes his and Wolfgar’s coin pouches from their belts. Placing them on the table before him, he portions coins from one into the other until he is satisfied with the amount. Pulling the drawstrings tightly closed, he returns one pouch to his belt and tosses the other to Father Tipple, before whom it lands with a satisfying clank.The drunk priest’s hands produce grim looking tools from the folds of his robe, and begin working quickly and skillfully to seal up the wounds of both warriors. He clucks a little when he sees the poorly sutured gash in Wolfgar’s forehead, removes the clumsy sutures and replaces them. Only after both barbarians have been seen to does he even look at the money left for him on the table. He thanks both men with a gesture of finality that even the uncouth barbarians understand and they rise from the table to eat and drink a bit before bed.

The barbarians settle into trenchers of roasted meat and steamed vegetables, Kel eating the lion’s share, while Wolfgar manages to eat a bit himself.

“So a man appeared just as you ended the fight, and you let him stitch me up? This man you’d never met before?” Wolfgar asks, incredulous. “Not only that,” he continues, his voice sounding smaller than normal, “but you used him as a mule to carry back all of the things we scavenged?” Kel nods. “Then where is he, boy? Did you get hit on the head too?”

Keen eyes search the faces in the pub, but find none familiar, save the priest who is asleep at his table, head resting on his arms. Wolfgar slaps at the tabletop with his enormous hand, says, “I’ve had enough for one day, I’m going to bed.” Wolfgar troops up the stairs, dragging the loot behind him.

Kel goes up to the bar for another mug of ale. It has been a long day. As the bartender draws his drink, Kel looks down the bar, and is surprised to see Evinarus hunched over a strange looking brew. Only it looks as though he’s aged some, his hair is longer and their are crows feet around his eyes and mouth. Drunk, he seems to harbor a deep sadness that permeates not only his face, but the area surrounding him at the bar. Kel recognizes his equipment, but it’s seen the kind of wear and tear that he appears to have suffered.

Kel moves down the bar and takes up an empty stool next to the fop. “Evinarus, here you are, I’ve been looking for you!” Kel sits and slaps his friend on the back, “Don’t you want to be paid for services rendered this afternoon? Ho, ho, Wolfgar will be glad to know that I didn’t dream you up in a fugue state. I guess I’m glad too.” He laughs.

Evinarus turns his sour face toward the barbarian. “Evinarus is my name, friend, but I’ve been in this pub all day. I’ve never seen you or your friend, and although I’ll take your money, I rendered no service to you or your friend,” he says and turns back to his drink.

Stunned, Kel says, “That’s impossible, you helped us out of that hellish pit, you carried the gear we took from the dead, and stitched my friend’s head wound closed. It was you, it had to be!”

“That pit,” Evinarus says without turning from his cup, his voice choked with bitterness, “took both my father and brother, the beasts who lived there stole them from a caravan, and I came to find them, alive or dead. I went down into that pit and found my father’s body, half eaten by those beasts. I found my brother, too, and freed him. Only he wasn’t my brother, but another of those monsters, and they’d stolen his face somehow, and they’d tortured him for information so that their deception would be harder to detect.” His sentence ended in a sob, and it took him a minute to continue, and Kel flags the bartender to refresh the man’s drink.

“It worked, too, for a little while. We were almost out when their was an ambush, more of the foul things rushed us from a side passage. Their spears slew what I thought was my brother, but he changed, and I swear, I saw this with my own eyes, he almost melted into this gray shape, this other foul creature. I knew then what had happened, and I ran for my life.” Evinarus looks up as the bartender sets his new drink before him, then looks over at Kel, “They knew plenty about me, and made up the rest I’m sure. From the look on your face, I’d say they know plenty about you now, too.”

Kel looks confused, almost frightened, by this revelation. “But… why would these foul creatures save me and my companion from almost certain death? Why would they allow us to return here to regain our strength? That makes no sense, man.” Suddenly, the barbarian looks sick. “If what you say is true, is the creature with your face still here?”

“If it came in with you, then there’s no telling who it might be. Hell, there’s no guarantee that you would know if he were to stand right next to you. If I were you, I’d lock my door up extra tight tonight.”

Kel makes it up to his room, finds Wolfgar snoring soundly in his bed. Kel locks the door to his room and drags a chair from the small desk over and wedges it beneath the door handle before sinking down onto his own bed and falling fast asleep.

The next morning, Kel awakens to the wound of Wolfgar cleaning their captured gear. The scale corselet is in good condition, as are the leather and quilted jerkins. Wolfgar pulls one of the leather jerkins from the pile and starts cleaning it, removing old blood and grime. He already has the masterwork broadsword laying alongside him on the bed. Kel retells Evinarus’ tale from the night before.

“So it can look like anyone? Does it sound like them too?” he asks, but Kel shakes his head. “I don’t know, Wolfgar,” he says.

Together, the barbarians make their way down the stairs from their room, carrying their loot. The bartender is a young, harried looking woman, not unattractive, who, when asked, gives the duo directions to the smithy and to Fascher’s Supply. She eyes the blood spattered barbarians, and especially the nicked and chipped tulwar carried across Kel’s back, with suspicion.

The morning dawns gray and cool, and wispy stands of mist snake through the streets and about the sandaled feet of the barbarians. The shopkeep pays half price for the corselet, the quilted jerkins for a few silver apiece. Everything else beside the tulwar sells for half price, the tulwar for a third. Loot sold, the barbarians return to the tavern for a hot meal, eating stew and gulping ale. After sating themselves, the barbarians ask the harried bartender about the sheriff. She directs them to the Gathering Hall, where all the functionaries of the town are headquartered, though she says that the Sheriff is commonly out of town “on patrol.”

The two make their way to the Gathering Hall, which lies in the middle of the town. The central market square, anchored by the Hall, is filled with farmers selling what little produce they can spare , merchants hawking paltry wares, and townsfolk going to and fro on their daily errands as quickly as they can. The building itself is both tall and long, and though it looks like it has been painted and otherwise freshened recently, the building looks old, sagging in places and almost ragged in others.

Upon entering, the barbarians find most of the local constabulary cloistered around a big table playing cards. They look up suspiciously at the filthy duo, but turn back to their game after a few more seconds of surly glances.

The Sheriff, evident by his confident gait and obvious charisma, steps out of what appears to be the Mayor’s office, a smile on his lips, the scar on his jaw stretching with his winning smirk. He catches sight of the barbarians and approaches, giving his deputies and other constables a dirty look. When he’s close enough, he extends a hand in friendly greeting: “Sheriff Erro Mansan.” Wolfgar takes the offered hand first, and then Kel. “What can I do for you, gentlemen?” he says.

Kel gets down to the business, telling the story of the shape-changer. When he’s done, the Sheriff’s jovial look has turned considerably gloomier. “There’s been a lot of bad news and rumors of the same lately. I’ll keep an eye out, but I don’t want to alarm the people of the village unnecessarily. Don’t you alarm them unnecessarily either, if you please.” He thanks both of the men sincerely and returns to his office, closing the door behind him. The constables play on.

Exiting the Gathering Hall, Kel spies a house on the edge of the square, a newer building, that has a sandwich board out front advertising the services of a master sage. Kel beckons to his friend and they make their way across the square.

En route, the two men are accosted by a beggar child, dressed in formerly sturdy coveralls that have been worn thin by time and the elements, and look a bit too small for the child, a young boy with piercing blue eyes. “Misters, if you could spare a coin, any coin, this one would be grateful,” he says, his hands held outstretched and cupped together, “Really any coin at all.”

Wolfgar sinks down on his haunches and asks the child’s name. “Pol,” says the child. Wolfgar fishes for his coin purse and drops a few copper in the lad’s hand, much to the child’s delight. “Oh, you are right masters, you are, the both of you! Thank you, sirs!” and the child darts off around a corner and is gone from sight.

Pushing open the door to the Sage’s house, a bell gently rings overhead. A small man emerges from behind a desk, his fingers ink stained and his glasses slightly askew. The every wall of the house has a floor to ceiling bookshelf overflowing with dusty tomes and scrolls, and piles of the same make walking a bit of an adventure, pilgrims in a strange land of vertical pillars and huge dunes made of rolled paper.

“Welcome to the offices of Master Sage Felstor Knoveli. My name is Gildern, what can I do for you today?” says the small man brightly. Kel asks to see the Sage,and the man, ostensibly his assistant, says, “Before I can take you back, first we should discuss his rates. Master Knoveli charges a base rate of 50 silver per hour, for questions he can answer immediately and anything he can look up quickly. Any further required research and the master requires 100 silver a day, plus expenses.” The little man trails off and looks at the two expectantly, rocking up on his toes a little as he does so, clasping his hands before him (like a used car salesman).

A voice calls from the second floor: “Gildern! Times are hard enough without you driving off potential customers with our regular rates. Bring them up and we’ll see what we can do for them!” and Gildern, scolded ushers the two barbarians up the stairs (and around piled manuscripts and loose papers) to the door of a small study. He beckons them to enter.

The barbarians come within, the room packed with texts, and lit with several oil lamps givingthe room a soft golden sheen. They immediately notice the writing desk and the thin man bent over it, quill in hand. “One moment, please take a seat,” he says. The barbarians look about but see no chairs, until of course Kel recognizes a stool weighed down with a pile of books and papers, and setting those gingerly on the thick rugs that cover the floor of the room, rests himself. Wolfgar does the same and sits on and ottoman he’s cleared of papers. The bent man’s hairis white and square cut. His form is almost gaunt and his skin is the color of his hair. where it can be seen protruding like sticks from a fine silk robes.

After a moment, the man turns. “Felstor Knoveli, Master Sage” he says. “You may address me as ‘Master Sage.’” Kel and Wolfgar both introduce themselves, but the man does not appear to care about these formalities and would like to get back to his work. His smile is thin, as appears is his patience. “Please,” he says, “what can I help you with?”

Kel begins by asking about the ruins. “Ah, yes, the Fallen Keep, but even that is a misnomer – there is much below the keep that has very little to do with the structure above it, at least that’s what my records show. You’re in luck, and not in this instance – The Keep is the reason that I’m here in Brindenford, as it is a keen interest to me, however, very little is known about it, and especially what might lie beneath it, or even why exactly it was razed.” Kel relates to him their adventure so far within what Felstor explains must be a lower level of the old fortress. “So some part of it still stands, and nearly intact, you say! Well, this is heartening, indeed, except for the part about being filled with murderous beasts.” Kel offers to bring back anything that might be of interest to the old man, and the man beams. “I’d have to give you a discount on your next visit as well, then,” he says.

Kel next asks about shape shifters, and the sage shakes his head, “I’m not one for collecting monstrous lore, my interests lie in archeological endeavors, but I can send some mail off to a colleague of mine or more information if you desire.” Kel relates to him his own experience with the shape shifter, and the sage blanches even paler. “That’s awful, young man.” Kel asks him if he might discern a reason for the shape shifter’s rescue, “Beast with a heart of gold?” he shrugs. “Could have been pumping you for information it could use to trick others. In that instance you might have been worth more alive than dead. That’s just a guess, mind you.”

Kel gives the Sage a description of the woman from his vision next and asks who she might be. “Well, in centuries past, there was a cult to a minor goddess of the moon, Glarias, whose cult is mostly extinct now. There are supposedly shrines to her littered about the countryside, but they’re overgrown or desecrated by the beasts like those that have taken control of the ruins. As to why you might have been contacted, I have no idea. I could look a little more deeply, if you wish.”

Grumbling a bit over the high price of the sage’s services, but not enough to give offense, Kel dumps most of the coins from his purse onto a clear spot on the desk. “We will return when we have found something to show you.” As the duo rises to leave, the sage tells them to check back in a few days for any new information he might have unveiled. After this, the barbarians find their own way out.

As they leave the dwelling, Kel turns to Wolfgar, says: “I have very little coin remaining. If we are to buy any salves from the temple, I am afraid that payment must come from you.” Wolfgar points to the stone dome of the temple of Vune rising just off the main square, and the two make their way like others in the street, in a hurry and without making much eye contact with others. The temple is white marble with columns supporting the dome, and the inner sanctum is lit with braziers of coal, keeping the interior warm. The sky has become cloudy while the barbarians chatted with the master sage, and the pleasant afternoon has turned chill.

Within they find a helpful novice, who offers to sell them healing draughts and poultices, and Wolfgar turns over the contents of his coin purse, keeping the copper for himself, but the rest he offers for services and as additional thanks for the priest stitching him up the night before. “Vune be praised,” says the novice brightly, giving the weathered man a wink that sets him to smiling.

Anxious to be off Kel insists that they be off before the storm hits. Both men put on their leather jerkins and adjust their weapons for easy access. They’re stopped in the street by the boy Wolfgar paid the copper penny to earlier. He is dressed in several layers of clothing, mostly thick, dirty sweaters, with an adult coat tossed over the top and dragging behind him. On his head is a battered copper pot, and in his one hand is a homemade shank the length of a poniard, and in the other is the lid of a crate decorated with the chalk of a skull. Athwart the path of the barbarians he stands.

“I am Pol, a brave adventurer, and I wish to join your adventuring band,” he says, his falsetto sounding very serious.

Kel looks askance at the child but mutters out of the side of his mouth to Wolfgar, “I would wager that he follows us on his own if we turn him away outright. Besides, another set of hands, however small, could be of use at the campsite. We can send him back to town in the morning, when he has tired of ‘adventure.’” Finally speaking loudly enough for the boy to hear, he continues, “Well, Pol, we have two rules in this ‘band’: do anything either of us tells you without question or complaint, and do not take more than your fair share at mealtimes. Follow these rules, and you may join us. What do you say to that?” Despite himself, for the first time in years, a smile that has no hints of pain or malice in it breaks through Kel’s sour demeanor as he talks to the eager beggar.

“Certainly, fellows. Now, to adventure!”

The trees seem to hold their breath, and when a breeze picks up, it’s like a collected gasp amidst a gathered crowd. Together the trio sets out into the woods, pulling cloaks close about them as a chill wind picks up ahead of the storm. The forest, which had looked so lovely the previous afternoon, is shorn by the wind, and leaves twist and fall in droves before the adventurers.

They make their way quickly through the woods, and aren’t slowed by the child who isto hustling harder than he has probably hustled in his whole life, but whom manages to keep pace with the fit pair. The ruins rise from the dome of a hill, a dome they know full well to be hollow and filled with death. Kel shudders at the sight of those fallen stones, worn smooth by wind and rain, and mutters a prayer to Bori, the god of his people, that he keep those taken safe within that hellish catacomb.

Camp is erected under an overhang made of leaning marble, and dry wood gathered for a cook fire. The boy sets about making the site his own, and rigs elaborate traps with cans and string around the perimeter of the campsite. “No one will sneak up on us tonight!” he crows. Kel elects to take watch, as a precaution, and Wolfgar readily agrees.

View
The Searchers Descend
Area 1 and Surroundings

An ancient hall of mortared stone stretches before the barbarians, littered with small bits of rotten, splintered wood and grimy tatters of cloth. Wolfgar’s dim torch reveals a number of wooden doors, all closed. The stench of urine and sweat is palpable. Kel eases his heaving chest as the battle frenzy fades, and takes in his surroundings. His keen eyes not ascertaining an immediate threat, the young barbarian stoops and begins to rifle through the possessions of the dead beast things, bodies and bit of bodies cooling in the black pudding of their thickening blood. Kel chortles mirthlessly as he strips a usable cloak from a corpse. After all, there’s no need for vengeance to be profitless.

All told, Kel’s quick and decidedly messy search turns up 15 coppe pieces of various denominations, six pieces of silver, as well as a pile of weapons and ruined clothing. Of the weapons, only a rusty poniard and a battered cutlass appear to be of any value, and only the short cloak appears to have susvived in any usable capacity, is is mostly free of the stinking black blood congealing now on the steps.

Kel’s keen eyes notice a catgut string, and the many small bells that hang from it, strung from one side of the corridor to the other. He splits the “valuables” into piles, and points the alarm out to Wolfgar, saying, “With guards and wards such as these the wizard seeks to keep us from him? Let us teach him the true meaning of fear, my brother.

“First, let’s check these doors so that we leave no evil behind us to catch us unawares later.” and without waiting for a reply, he strides quickly to the closest door and presses his ear against it. Hearing nothing, he takes a few steps back and slams himself into the door, nearly taking it off the hinges as he burst through the old wood and into the room beyond.

The room smells of mold and rot and the dust kicked up by Kel’s dramatic entrance. It is very dark until Wolfgar comes to the door with the torch, illuminating a room filled with old crates and barrels and apparently untouched for some time. The older barbarian does not look amused, saying sternly, “Why are you making such a racket? Do you think we’re alone in these dark tunnels? You didn’t even try to open the door.”

Kel shakes the dust from his long, squarecut mane, and with a humorless laugh, responds, “And if the room had been full of crossbowmen instead of these,” and he lets his axe drop through the brittle old wood of a crate, a cloud of particles rising from the ruin. “What then? A fine target I would have made struggling with an old door latch.” Kel starts coughing, and once he starts it’s hard for him to catch his breath. “You are welcome o the next door if your prefer,” he manages to wheeze.

Kel backs away from the crates, still coughing. He seems to recover for a moment, but can’t seem to catch his breath for the coughing. Wolfgar, from the doorway, looks alarmed, says, “Some foul spirit has a hold on you, Kel.” Kel’s stomach begins to cramp, and he crawls on his hands and knees to the wall. “By Bori, I’ve been poisoned,” he gasps before vomiting. After a moment, gasping and still clutching at his roiling stomach, Kel struggles to his feet. Throwing a disgusted glance in the direction of the broken crate, he leans against the wall until his stomach stops churning. Once it no longer hurts to breathe, he spits, “Our enemy is a coward indeed to leave behind all of these traps and alarms instead of facing us himself.”

Wolfgar steps in the room and closes what’s left of the door as best he can. He turns to Kel, his face a weathered mask of concern, “Can you Continue, Kel, or should we rest until you’ve recovered?” Kel opens his mouth to speak, but resurgent cramps grip his belly and he falls and writhes silently on the flagstones. His face ashen with pain, Kel nevertheless waves Wolfgar away from him and struggles to his feet, one hand pressed against the cold stone wall. He places one shaky foot in front of another and moves slowly, deeper into the gloom. “Let us take a moment to ensure that no more nasty surprises await us in this storeroom,” he finishes with a cringe, his stomach twinging. “I believe I’ll be able to move on after that.”

Wolfgar strides ahead, broadsword ready and gleaming in the torchlight. “Stay where you are and rest easy. I’ll scout the room,” he says, histone conveying a soft edge rarely present when he speaks. He returns after a few minutes. “Stores, mostly useless, but I think we might find something of use in two closets on the far wall,” he says, “but there’s no other way in or out except through your broken door.” He snorts. “I think most of the crates and barrels are suspect out here, but when you’re ready you can better investigate if they carry the poison. You always have had a keener eye that way.”

His color returning, Kel pushes himself into an upright stance and nods, satisfied that his legs will hold his weight. Not yet trusting his stomach contents to remain where they should, he begins slowly pacing the great storeroom, his head turning to each new pile with interest. He examines each container, finding clusters and tracings of the poisonous mold, but his careful search reveals nothing of use.

“Let’s try these closets,” Kel says, striding with increasing confidence across the dusky stone chamber to the first closet door. He examines it quickly, and finding no mold, tries the handle. The door appears to be stuck. Kel braces himself and pulls, and the door bends but doesn’t give. Wolfgar lends a hand, using the flat of the recovered pigman’s cutlass to pry the swollen door just above the rusted lock. With a groan from door, lock, both give way. Not wanting to waste time, Kel moves to the second door, taking the rusty handle in his big fist. His muscles surge, his face becomes a mask of effort, and the door comes away in a shower of wet splinters and the squeal of metal dragging across stone.

Kel and Wolfgar take their time exploring the contents of both small closets. In the first they find nothing (but also no mold). The second closet contains a number of old wooden boxes of miscellaneous dry goods, including a small box containing six fire-kindling tindertwigs, a one-foot-long, gold tipped iron rod, and a second crate that contains two small flasks of acid. Kel takes the gold tipped iron rod from Wolfgar, who looks at it, bewildered, says, “For this bauble I suffered so?” He shrugs and slips it into his sack with the rest of the loot, and turns to Wolfgar.

As the barbarians exit the storeroom, stepping gingerly through the ruined door, they can hear the sounds of muffled voices, arguing heatedly through the door they though to try next. Wolfgar cocks his head, listening intently, holding a hand up to silence his young companion. “Orc,” he says with distaste. “They’re calling for arms, I think, or they’re arguing if they should or not. I’m not sure.”

Kel reaches a hand for the door handle, but Wolfgar waves him away. Thinking quickly, Kel removes the gold tipped iron rod from his sack and wedges it between the handle and the frame of the door, hoping to stall those within, or give some warning before they emerged from the room intent on battle. Kel turns to Wolfgar, his face a picture of smug satisfaction, whispers: “that will keep those creatures occupied for some time. Let us move on.”

Together the barbarians move down the hall, carefully stepping over the catgut string-and-bells alarm. The closest of the doors on the right side of the hall appears old and worn, but still used. Tracks in the dust and grime indicate the passage of creatures to and from the doorway, but when he presses his ear to the door Kel hears nothing.

“Those others won’t debate for long, lad,” Wolfgar says, his weathered face squinting into the shadows of the hallway cast by his flickering torch, his blade held tightly in his other hand, ready for any sudden appearance of evil. Nodding in agreement, Kel pushes the door open. “With luck, I barred that door well enough to give us some time to find our path forward.”

“Shall we try the other side?” he says.

As the barbarians exit the storeroom, stepping gingerly through the ruined door, they can hear the sounds of muffled voices, arguing heatedly through the door they though to try next. Wolfgar cocks his head, listening intently, holding a hand up to silence his young companion. “Orc,” he says with distaste. “They’re calling for arms, I think, or they’re arguing if they should or not. I’m not sure.”

Kel reaches a hand for the door handle, but Wolfgar waves him away. Thinking quickly, Kel removes the gold tipped iron rod from his sack and wedges it between the handle and the frame of the door, hoping to stall those within, or give some warning before they emerged from the room intent on battle. Kel turns to Wolfgar, his face a picture of smug satisfaction, whispers: “that will keep those creatures occupied for some time. Let us move on.”

Together the barbarians move down the hall, carefully stepping over the catgut string-and-bells alarm. The closest of the doors on the right side of the hall appears old and worn, but still used. Tracks in the dust and grime indicate the passage of creatures to and from the doorway, but when he presses his ear to the door Kel hears nothing.

“Those others won’t debate for long, lad,” Wolfgar says, his weathered face squinting into the shadows of the hallway cast by his flickering torch, his blade held tightly in his other hand, ready for any sudden appearance of evil. Nodding in agreement, Kel pushes the door open. “With luck, I barred that door well enough to give us some time to find our path forward.”

The room before Kel is roughly square, and 20 feet on a side. Eight crude beds topped with rotting straw mattresses line the far wall. The two barbarians step inside, and Wolfgar closes the door behind them. Kel makes a quick circuit of the room, overturning bunks and mattresses. Under bunk is a hunting bow and nine arrows, under another he finds a handful of copper pennies.

Wolfgar stands uneasily beside the closed door: “This must be where those dead ones slept.” Kel hands the pennies to Wolfgar, then tests the pull on the bow. “If you’re right, they no longer need these.” Slinging the bow over one shoulder and sliding the arrows into his sack, Kel pulls open the door. Ears alert for the sounds of his makeshift barricade failing, he strides acorss the hall to the opposite door.

He presses his ear to the door, but hearing nothing, tosses open the door. Before him is a torchlit room, much like the one he just left, except that this room is occupied. Two hairy man-things tower over him, and beyond them two small, rat faced creatures wearing cowls brandish clubs, and beyond these, three pig men, one wearing a necklace of claws and teeth, who screeches shrilly: “Attack!”

From the direction of the barricaded door, a light springs into existence.

Kel roars unintelligibly as the foul beasts approach and settles into a combat stance before the doorway, trying to forget the pains still shooting through his abdomen. One of the giant men swings his big hammer, which Kel deftly ducks, and connects solidly with the frame of the door, splintering the wood of the frame where Kel’s head would have been with his mighty strike. The other huge man tosses his javelin, and though Kel moves to evade, the jevelin grazes his flank, drawing blood. Having thrown his javelin, the big man grabs his hammer from where it’s been leaned against the wall for easy access.

Kel steps to the right of the doorway. One of the pig men tosses a javelin at the distant Wolfgar, just emerging from th doorway across the hall. The missile hits the hulking man who has only just hefted his big hammer, striking him at the base of the neck, the bronze head of the spear piercing and severingthe spinal cord of the beastly thing’s ally.

Wolfgar hustles across the hallway, blade ready, and takes up a position opposite of Kel. Looking over his shoulder, the weathered barbarian turns to his young friend, says: “There’s a light beaming from that door, lad. That bar won’t hold for long against magic, and then those other beasties’ll be on us.” He laughs, “We’re in it thick now!” and begins to sing the death song of his enemies.

Enraged, the hairy man Kel dodged barges into the doorway and ou into the hall. Wolfgar and Kel both strike as he emerges, Kel’s axe chopping deep into the giant man’s thigh, breaking bone, collapsing him to one good knee, while Wolfgar’s sword plunges under one hairy arm to pierce the man’s black and twisted heart. The two rat things, seeing an opportunity rush through the doorway and over their dying comrade to take up positions behindKel as both barbarians recover from their killing strikes. The rat men jab with their spears, but Kel turns one and dodges another without much trouble.

Turning, the younger barbarian raises his axe and swings with such tremendous force, that as his axe descends, almost unhindered, through the first rat man’s ribcage, the blade whips into the other rat faced beast, cleaving both beast and spear in two surprised pieces.

The pig man who inadvertently killed its comrade with the errant javelin rushes into the hallway, past the singing barbarian and ducks his whistling blade, striking wildly at Wolfgar, who dodges quite easily. The two other pig men follow the first and join in a circle, a mad game of whack a mole playing out as they swing wildly for the barbarian, who dodges, until the pig man with the necklace of teeth, striking from the doorway like an imp from hell, scores a bruising hit on Wolfgar’s leg.

Kel swings his axe at the necklace wearing pig man, taking its head off cleanly at the shoulders. Kel’s strike is powerful enough to kill the pig man next to the now decapitated and spurting torso, but a skillful, desperate parry allows the creature to evade the blow. However, Wolfgar takes the opportunity to strike at the piug thing’s vitals while distracted. As it turns Kel’s axe, Wolfgar steps up and neatly disembowels the creature, hot entrails and a gout black blood spilling onto the worn flagstones. The first pig man’s club is batted aside easily. Kel shouts over the din, “That looked like a nasty blow, by Bori. We had best finish these quickly!”

At that moment, several things happen at once: the barred door burst open, and hulking greenskins spill into the hallway, and the door just above the one the barbarians are battling before opens and several more pig men, these looking battered and with a mish-mash of weapons are forced into the hallway, goaded by the sound of shouts behind them.

Kel absorbs the new situation quickly, puts his back to the wall, and calls out, “We will be better able to defend ourselves on the other side of this door,” but the greenskins charge before the weathered barbarian can respond.

The first, glittereing broadsword blazing in the torchlight, snout curled into a snarling, sputtering roar, dashes across the the debris littered floor of the hallway, his blade makes a clumsy slash as he closes with Wolfgar, and unprepared for the ferocity of the attack, doesn’t do enough to dodge the clumsy blow and cuts deep into his shoulder and leaves the barbarian gasping.

The second new attacker, a heavily muscled, hairy female, comes running, swinging a club that looks like it was a beam in a past life. She doesn’t charge so much as walk quickly and powerfully forward, swinging with all of her considerable might when within striking distance, though clumsily, and Wolfgar is able to easily sidestep the blow, his eyes still on the glittering blade of the orc who nearly slew him.

The next new attacker brandishes a great, two-handed tulwar, and wades into combat with the saunter of a brutal slayer. The great blade is nicked and chipped in a dozen places, and dried blood stains t he dull stell black. Wolfgar sees death glowering out of the black eyes of the big green creature, as with a mighty, two-handed swing, that brutal blade descends on nothing but the dank air of the passageway, the swing so wild that Wolfgar only had to lean to one side to avoid the death foretold. Sparks fly from the floor where the massive blade strikes stone, a newly minted chip in the blade glinting in the shorn steel.

Two other attackers linger in the hallway before the unbarred door – a tall figure clad in leather armor, aiming a crossbow at the wild melee; the other is a figure familiar to Kel: it was with the party of pig men who assaulted them on the stair only moments before, the green-skinned killer with the big hammer who seems to want to see how the battle plays out before he enjoins the fight. Wolfgar hollers, bringing Kel back from a sudden chill run down his spine, “Retreat sounds like the best option, boy, lead on!”

The tulwar descends again as both barbarians duck through the doorway and into the room beyond, the huge blade missing Kel by a hairsbreadth. Behind them, there is a loud bang followed closely by terrified screams. The first pig man, emboldened by the fact that he alone remains alive of all those who began the fight less than a minute ago, steps up with his misshapen club and strikes Kel in the solar plexus, intendingto stun, but only leaving a bloody welt onthe muscular chest of the young barbarian, who strike with sudden fury at the beast who landed such a stinging blow, the blade of the axe slicing off the cap of the pig man’s skull in a neat, nearly surgical, cut. the dark eyes, black and squinting, widen, and the porcine corpse drops to its knees and then flat on what’s left of its face.

Thinking quickly, Kel drops his axe and slams the heavy door shut in the face of the battle hungry warriors. Wolfgar, limping, drags a chair over and wedges it tightly under the handle of the door. Heavy thumps and unintelligable cursing comes from the other side of the door. Wit hthe heavy door between him and the screams of his enemies, the patter of his life’s blood hitting the floor rings loud in Kel’s ears. He gasps, “We are at death’s door brother. There are too many of them. Bori knows how we will fulfill our oath now.”

Wearily, Wolfgar shakes his head, “What can we do, trapped in here like rats? We must think! What have we between us that might foil these foul spawn?” Kel looks about the room, at the beds, the table with the scattered remains of a card game splayed on the stained and becrumbed surface and the floor. He replies, “We have the bow, and the javelins, those flasks of acid. If we prepare the battlefield and Bori smiles upon us, that may be enough.”

Quickly they build a barricade from the table against the far opposite wall from the door with which to fire on entering foes, and use all of the other furniture to create obstacles to prevent any straight path to their flimsy cover. Wolfgar gathers up the javelin he can find, twisting the light spear from the spine of the hairy man’s corpse. He then tears a strip of ratty cloth from one of the old straw mattresses and uses the dirty cloth to tie the two acid flasks together. The older barbarian translates what he can understand of the orc being shouted beyond the door as commands to bash the door open, and then finally to destroy it. The last command is followed by a shout of alarm drowned out by another loud bang, this one muffled by the closed door.

When the tip of the tulwar appears as the door is getting hacked to bits, the duo take cover behind their overturned table, Kel knocking back an arrow, and Wolfgar crouched beside him with the bundle of acid flasks. The blade of the tulwar is making short work of the door, and in the missing shards of door Kel can see furious movement and exertion, he can feel the pull of emotion, the headlong fury of the warrior tryingto breakdown the door and slay all within, and the temptation to fury within his wounded body is great. Wolfgar says something, but Kel is no longer listening. He feels a prescence, and when he looks over his shoulder, a long hallway has appeared in the wall, seemingly sprung from nowhere. He feels called down that corridor, and so he goes.

It is not a long walk, and he finds himself in a before a pool in a great room with vaulted ceilings he cannot see in the dark. Only the pool and its surrounding are lit. On the edge of the pool a fair young woman sits. She beckons Kel closer, and he approaches, kneeling next to her as she offers him a seat.

“Kel, son of Harun, so brave and strong,” her lyrical voice floats like notes from a windchime, “do not be in such a hurry to fulfill your vengeance on the one who slew your family. The fate of that one approaches, and so he will live a while longer.” She places a beautiful glowing ivory hand over Kel’s big rough fingers. “Do not tempt the Spinners to change what has been written for you by tempting Death. There are greater things laid out before you than the justice you seek.”

Kel feels a hand grip his shoulder and when he turns to look, he is still before the barricade, Wolfgar angrily shaking him, says, “Get ready, you earsling! You won’t get a second chance!” as the door collapses under the final blow of the tulwar and the swordsman, the club wielding female and the crossbowman come into the room and the warren of bunks and chairs, each howling an oath for blood that requires no translation.

Kel looses his arrow as the twisted spawn rush through the shattered door, and sailing sharp and true, the head of the arrow punches deep in the leather clad shoulder of the tusked boar-man, followed by a spurt of dark blood and the pained cry of the beast, who staggers but does not fall. Wolfgar hurls the twin flasks of acid, hoping to hit as many of the beasts as he can with the corrosive liquid. His timing is perfect, and as the crossbowman charges across the threshold it’s met with the fragile skin of the flasks, and is bathed in their contents, splashing those around it with the caustic solution, including the beast with Kel’s arrow in his shoulder, who succumbs to the pain of this new affront and drops screaming to the ground.

Kel knocks another arrow and looses before his foes can respond, and this shaft pierces the heart of the crossbowman, who dies with a scream on his lips. Wolfgar tosses one of his javelins a the female degenerate, but his aim is wide, or this time fate had other plans, and the creature escapes harm.

The beast with the tulwar enters the fray, running along the paths created by the barbarians to funnel and confound their foes, but even still it is able to get up close to their barricade. The degenerate vaults the piled debris and swings her repurposed club at the weathered barbarian, connecting solidly with Wolfgar’s forehead. He crumples to the floor.

Seeing his friend fall overwhelms Kel’s self-control. His bow slips from numb fingers as he claws for his axe. Raising the gleaming edge above his head with a snarl, he attacks his foes. His hungry axe descends into the beast readying its tulwar, the keen axehead severing its head and upraised arm, the huge body and huge sword clatter to the ground in a spout of gore. Kel’s axe continues it’s murderous arc, such is his fury, biting deep into the flank of the rwisted female who downed his companion. The twisted woman howls in pain and fear, her resolve crumbling now that the simple beast is alone and badly hurt. She turns to flee, but Kel in his rage kicks over the table barricade and drives the head of his axe through the thick spine of the degenerate, knocking her prone.

Kel advances to where the degenerate is feebly attempting to crawl away. He raises and sandaled foot and stomps down on her head again and again until there is nothing but a bloody mashed mess.

(Please put your actions in the comments and I'll add to the narrative once those actions have been resolved. Out-of Character comments should be left in parenthesis, IC typed as normal.)

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On the Precipice of Unending Darkness
Entrance

Wolfgar and Kel stand amidst ruins of an old keep. The people of Brindenford would hardly speak its name, only pointed to the forested hills with a shudder. Neither barbarian had trouble locating the hillside decorated with the fallen walls and building foundations of squared stone, the ashes of timbers, tapestries, furniture, and most likely the dead, all that remains of things consumed in those distant flames.

A search of the keep's grounds uncovers a staircase descending into the bowels of the hillside, the passageway open wide as if screaming for help rooting out the evil that resides within like a malignant growth. Wolfgar lights his torch, and the flames flicker to life and dance like living things. A foul stench surges from the stairway, the smell of sweat and urine mixed with the sweet smell of rot.

Kel peers into the darkness below, his face setting deeper into its usual scowl. “The wizard has gone to ground in a place as foul as his heart. When we are finished here, let no stone stand atop another.” With a final unintelligible snarl, he raises his axe to the ready and descends the stairs.

Leading the way, Kel and Wolfgar descend the flight of worn steps to a small landing, from the gloom, illuminated poorly by Wolfgar's torch, three sets of stairs lead further down to the north, and the the east and west. The eastern and western staircases descend into inky darkness, but the staircase to the north descends to a dim, flickering light.

Dropping into a wary crouch, Kel scans his surroundings, all of his senses alert to danger. He has never hunted underground before, but he trusts that the princiles are much the same as hunting in the dark woods of his homeland. As his eyes adjust to the inky gloom, the shadowy dimensions of the stonework about them flicker faintly in the torchlight, Kel sees the light in the northern staircase suddenly shift, bobbing closer, and the sound of small, high-pitched voices rises from the stinking corridor. The hair on the back of Kel's neck stands on end, for whatever approaches speaks no human language.

Wolfgar places his enormous hand on Kel's shoulder, his weathered face showing concern without fear. "Kel," he says in a low tone, "will we fight whatever dark beasts come?" He slowly draws his broadsword, preparing for trouble. "If we fight, we must find a better position," he adds.

As Kel rises to his feet, he whispers back, “I will hold to my oath, brother, whatever may rise from the shadows to stand against us.” He moves swiftly to stand to one side of the opening into the north stair, his jaw working as if he were chewing gristle. He motions for Wolfgar to take up a flanking position, raises his axe in both hands, and prepares to bring it down on the skull of the first creature to appear.

The voices at the bottom of the stairs are silenced by a throaty roar. Heavily accented common wafts up along with the stench, familiar words hissed by a mouth uncomfortable forming the syllables: “Fools, light, ahead!” the skittering speech changes pitch and turns to low growls.

Wolfgar looks at his torch sheepishly, and props it upright against the rough stone wall behind him. He tightens his grip on his broadsword and mouths “No going back now,” to Kel across the expanse of the doorway. Kel grips his axe even tighter, his knuckles whitening under the strain. Every muscle in his body quivers in anticipation of the blood that will soon be spilled.


Unable to restrain his hunger for battle, Kel steals a glance around the corner of the stair to see a small, hunched creature in rudimentary clothing and bearing a rusty poniard, looking back down the hallway towards what appear to be compatriots, though all Kel can see are the feet and shadows of the creatures now aware of Kel and Wolfgar’s presence. Looks to be a half dozen assorted creatures, most having feet like the shriveled looking fellow, who takes a halting step up the stairs as Kel ducks back into the doorway. It will take this inhuman beast a few seconds to get near the top of the stairs. Kel and Wolfgar can both hear his heavy breathing – it is fast and shallow, with just a hint of a gibbering sob underneath. Wolfgar smirks and readies for his attack, sword held low and in both hands for a powerful, piercing thrust.

The creature climbs the stair slowly, terrified snorts escaping with each shallow breath, each step bringing it closer to doom, and the little beast is well aware of it. As he mounts the top stair, Wolfgar moves silently from the shadows, backlit by the torch leaned against the wall. The pig-faced beast lets out a terrified squeal. Kel, white knuckled with the anticipation of the strike, swings mightily, sacrificing some of his precision for tremendous power, but in his hurry and excitement, the swing of his axe goes wide, gouging the stone floor in a shower of sparks, the blade passing the nearly stunned creature in a harmless blur.

Kel curses his ill-timed strike, but brings his axe around in a devastating upward arc. The grotesque creature turns and shrinks back from the whistling blade in time to avoid it's deadly arc, but in so doing leaves itself open to Wolfgar, whose blade tears through the tissue and bone of the thing's neck in a welling of black blood. With a twist of the blade, the head comes free from the twisted body, and both land with wet plops and the clatter of the pig man's rusty poniard on the flagstones. Wolfgar kicks the head down the stairs hoping to scare off the others waiting below.

Kel watches the head bounce down the stairs, his breathing heavy from his massive, yet fruitless, swings. Blood sprays from the head as it bounces one, twice, three times, and lands after a final bounce under the booted foot of a much larger, well-muscled greenskinned man-thing. Tusks protrude from its great square jaw, and its body is covered in an amalgamation of leather and chainmail, seemingly cobbled together. Their eyes lock for a moment before the other half dozen pigmen race up the stairs, eager to confront their comrade's slayer, screaming for revenge.

Wolfgar step down from the bloody mess at the top of the stairs, and readies his blade for the maddened assailants. Kel closes ranks with his friend and waits for the stinking creatures to close the distance, crowing, "Come and meet your doom, things of evil!"

Having mounted the stairs in a frothing madness, harsh battle cries ringing out against the cold stone of the stairway, the sight of Wolfgar standing to meet their charge causes their charge to surge, the cries to become deafening, and even the sight of a second, obviously seasoned man standing shoulder to shoulder with their friend's killer does nothing to detract from their zeal for Wolfgar's blood.

As they close to within arms reach, both men spring into action like coiled springs released to do their deadly work, the clangor of weapons and bodies crunching together in the chaos of devil tongues and slick blood. Wolfgar strikes, but his blade is turned aside at the last moment as those pig eyes widen, the realization that the hated foe is no mere farmer but a trained warrior dawning brightly as the beast man reels back from the force of the barbarian's blow.

The feeble counterattacks of the pig men are swept aside. Wolfgar slashes the belly of his monstrous opponent, spilling its guts and a torrent of black blood. The creature clutches its ruin and sinks to the floor screaming. Kel swings his axe in both hands, his fury dwindling to frustration at his inability to strike home. His powerful blow is turned aside, and he pulls his dagger from his belt.

Despite the deaths of their compatriots, the pig men press their attack, rushing over the wounded to attack Wolfgar, who barely has time to dodge the ferocious blow, and Kel too must scurry to evade a too close call. Armed now with dagger and axe, Kel begins the sacred dance of battle, becoming a whirlwind of steel. Misjudging the room he has to work with though, Kel's axe bang uselessly against the wall and throws off his dagger attack, both missing wildly. Lucky to be on his feet, Kel is able to dodge the counterattack of his now smirking foe.

Wolfgar strike back at the creature trying to impale him, and lances it's black heart. With a twist he pulls the blade of his broadsword free and waits for the next attacker to climb the mound of dead piled before him. "Any time you'd care to slay a foe, boy," he says through gritted teeth. He begins to chant the death song of these foes, his deep voice booming in the stairway, calling on Bori, the war god of his people, to accept these trophies into his drinking hall in the gray afterlife. The next foe struggling over the piled dead  looks up in time to meet the edge of Wolfgar's sword as it passes cleanly through head, neck and breastbone. Wolfgar kicks the offending creatures body off his blade and steps over the pile of dead and down the stairs to better confront the remaining foes.

Realizing that the sacred dance was not meant for such close quarters, Kel continues his attack with sharper, more precise strikes, and these turn his opponents to hash. His axe crumpling the skull of the pig man who'd been frustrating his progress with its stubborn refusal to die. Pausing less than a heartbeat, Kel steps over his dead foe's destroyed corpse and slashes the next beast across the throat, his dagger cutting through flesh and bone and nearly decpaitating the thing with the force of his blow.

The lone remaining pig man decides that revenge is the least of its concerns and decides to run, throwing down the torch, hoping that the near total darkness will allow it to escape, as indeed it does, disappearing into the gloom. Wolfgar retrieves and stokes the fire on the fallen torch, wipes his blade clean on the tattered remains of the pig men and retrieves his torch from the top of the stairs and hands it to Kel, who extinguishes it.


(Please put your actions in the comments and I'll add to the narrative once those actions have been resolved. OOC comments should be left in parenthesis, IC typed as normal.)

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