06:27 – 06:40 – The group pick their way along the corridor, past the smoking, hissing corpses of the 'forged, and find themselves looking down into a scorched, smoke-filled space – once the shaft that lead up to the hidden door in Balskus' forge. The air is sharp with sulphur and spend fire, though a fitful breeze can be felt moaning from the previously sealed lower reaches of the shaft, and the group discuss who shall go down and check things out. In the end it is decided that Jaeger, being the most able to climb proficiently shall go ahead and check out the area.
Wrapping himself in rope, the assassin abseils down the soot blackened throat of the tunnel. Soon he finds himself stood on a jagged spur of stone, which juts from the ruined base of the shaft. Beneath it is darkness, though his keen hearing allows him to hear the soft lapping of a large body of water far below, and he feels cool, damp air, sluggishly pushing into the sharp, dry atmosphere of the shaft. Hooking a loop of rope around the spur, Jaeger drops into the darkness below, and finds himself in a vast cavern. There is no solid ground visible below, only black, clear water. Grigori's enchanted lamp is sent down, and as its pale golden light floods in to the darkness, the dimensions of the chamber are outlined in shadow.
It is vast, roughly 40' across, and to the northeast can be seen a low stone tunnel, who's walls weep moisture, and are webbed with rust coloured lichens. There are no other exits apparent.
Clambering back up, the assassin gives his report, and the rest of the party begin their decent.
06:41 – 06:53 – One by one the group drop into the icy water, the cool air a blessing after the volcanic heat and choking dry of the blasted area above. Treading water, Grigori allows his senses to reach out, and immediately becomes aware of a subtle current tugging at his feet. He mentions this to the others, and they all agree that it will be worth checking it out – after the priest enacts a ritual to allow them to breathe underwater.
Swimming over to the beach of slimy stone in the northeast, the group wait whilst Grigori enacts his spell. As he chants, his voice echoing strangely as the air thickens with gathering magic, they each feel an unpleasant energy crawling through their chests; a pressure that stings with transmuting energy. Each one tries to calm their anxiety as the ritual reaches its conclusion, and try not to focus on the priest who's eyes have rolled into his head, and who's voice now crackles with alien inflection and unnatural rhythm.
There is a punch of energy in each adventurer's chest, and Grigori, in a reedy voice, tells them all that the ritual is compete – for an hour, they shall be able to breathe water as easily as they breathe air.
06:54 – 06:58 – The group enter the water, but it takes some time for them to override their instinctive fear of drowning and to allow the cold fluid to flow into their lungs. Even then, they feel strange, forcing the viscous (when compared to air) substance in and out of their chests, and breathing becomes a real effort.
06:59 – 07:43 – As a group, using the sullen glow of Grigori's lamp as a beacon, the group swim down into the black depths of the lake, following the subtle pull of the current. After a few moments they find themselves in a narrow natural tunnel of bare black rock, devoid of any kind of life. In the confines of the tunnel the current increases, and the group are able to move with speed along it. However, like many things in life that are dangerous, they do not realise that there is no going back until it is too late, for the current, amplified by the narrow tunnel and enhanced by the pull of gravity, is too strong for even Shnecke to fight against.
As one, with a sense of genuine, animal panic, the group realise that they are helplessly being drawn into unknown depths.
How long the journey goes on for the group cannot say. It seems to be an eternity of panicked thrashing, vain twisting and fruitless screaming. As they go, the water begins to heat up; going from icy cold to so hot that it is barely tolerable. Now fearing they will be parboiled, the group enter another desperate phase of fighting the currents, only to be defeated yet again.
Eventually, they give in, silently consigning themselves to whatever fate awaits – whether it be drowning or boiling in this black, subaquatic realm or another grim destiny below...
07:44 – The current picks up speed, and the group begin to fight again with the last of their fear sapped energy, sensing something is different. Suddenly they are flying through the air, the world spinning crazily, before slapping into thick, glutinous water; stinking richly of rotten eggs and gelid with bacterial growth.
Although most of the group are too discombobulated to take in any details in their brief flight, Grigori manages to take in his surroundings. He can see that the pond they are falling towards sits against one wall of a large cavern of red, black and brown flowstone, lit by several clumps of 6' high mushrooms and a few stumpy clusters of sulphurous crystals that grow along a 10' high ridge. The ridge is joined to a beach of sorts by a thin path of flowstone, and ends a few feet away from a wretched, steam shrouded beach, where the viscous waters of the pond meet the tainted flowstone.
And the cavern is far from empty.
At the edge of the pond, apparently using filters to remove the thick organic slime from the water they are collecting, are a ragtag band of downcast, wretchedly thin humanoids – gorgryn, gorashym and four dundiir of curious appearance; pale skinned, black of hair and bright blue of eye. Three of these are moderately well built, though lack of food has seen them waste away somewhat, and the lash has left vivid red scars across their backs. The fourth is covered in tattoos – painstakingly penned lines and swirls of neat, tiny, dorinate runes. All these individuals are bound by heavy black shackles both at wrist and ankle.
Watching over these poor souls are two dundiir of quite a different cut; vicious looking, grey skinned, emaciated wretches, with pale hair and beards that look more like cobwebs. They sneer with undisguised glee at their charges efforts, and are clad in fine scale armour. Each carries an ornamented hammer of hefty size, decorated with dorinate runes and stylized dundiir war masks, as well as a thick metal shield; spiked and plated with skull-like glyphs wrought from sheets of metal. Grigori realises that these brutes are Dwaerdorin – the legendary dark dundiir – vicious and cruel creatures who follow the tenets of “the kin”; renegade gods cast out from the circle of the “hearth gods” - those worshipped by most dundiir.
However, it is the furtive movement further back in the gloom of the cavern that fills the cleric with dread as he smashes into the thick, stinking broth, for it is a graceful flow of deadly shadows – shadows that he knows can only be the forms of one of the deep realms most legendary and dreaded races – the fallen ones, the dark aelwyn – the dwaer'syth.
07:44 – 07:55 – Dizzy from their tumbling ride, the sudden relief that they are not going to be drowned or boiled, and from simple lack of normal breathing material, the group are at a huge disadvantage against a cavern full of nightmarishly lethal opponents, and Grigori fights madly to find the surface and to warn them of the doom that even now must be moving to take them. He thrashes madly, unsure of which way is up, and it seems to take him forever to get his bearings. However, as he breaks free of the surface he is amazed to see that the shackled dundiir – who he realises must be daelndorin (near mythical “deep dundiir” - distant cousins to both the dwaerdorin and dundorin who are supposedly in decline after embarking on a self imposed exile to the depths following a religious falling out with their “soft” “surface” kin long and long ago) – have charged the nearest dwaerdorin, using their shackles as deadly weapons, whilst the other slaves scatter to the far reaches of the cavern, wailing and gibbering in fear.
“DWAER'SYTH!” bellows the priest, coughing up the last water in his lungs and shaking ropes of stinking, greenish slime from his face, “FURTHER BACK! FALLEN ONES!!!”
For a moment it is as if a thunderbolt has struck the party, for the dreaded dwaer'syth are known to all – though they are simply called the dwaer by the Ulnyrr. They are legends born of nightmare – merciless, beautiful beings without pity, kindness or anything other than unending self interest and cruelty. To hear that they now face such things seems to be a catastrophe beyond imagining. However, the inertia of battle leaves them little time to dwell, for things are moving fasttowards bloodshed.
A tiny crossbow quarrel, oozing with a fuming black fluid cracks off the shackles of one of the daelndorin as he charges towards the hidden dark ones (the dwaer'syth – little more than furtive pools of shadow at this range – have taken up defensive positions behind the mushrooms at the top of the flowstone rise). The same dark aelwyn is killed a moment later when a bolt of ringing steel punches through his eye, lodging firmly in his brain – courtesy of the dripping assassin's own crossbow.
The nearest of the dwaerdorin finds itself hopping back from the howling swings of the Ulnyrr, and receives a deep dent in its shield as the barbarian lands a solid blow. Its companion, who is half way down the path leading from the upper tier of the cavern to the beach, is punched firmly by the rune covered daelndorin, and then gets smashed in the head by the warlord as he charges in to aid the shackled dundiir. Winded it enacts some kind of mind magic and disappears from vision, though a leaden feeling deep in his mind makes the warlord realise that it is using some kind of mind trick to appear not be there.
A deep roar resonates through the chamber as the first dwaerdorin, slashed by the fiery blades of the swordmage and harried by the fists of another of the daelndorin, calls upon its own internal energies to imbue itself with power; swelling in size and growing to giant proportions. It bellows a challenge, and lands a blow on Shnecke that sends him reeling back towards the oily waters, his eyes bloodshot as the hammer blow pops blood vessels.
A blast of lightning erupts amongst the dark dundiir, though it seems to hurt no one, followed shortly after by horrified screams of agony as Seren hurls a hissing sphere of algid power at one of the dwaer'syth – a graceful male with ebony skin, red eyes and a long pony tail of white hair, dressed in form fitting black chain armour of almost painful beauty and quality - a leader of sorts it seems. The sphere hits him in his face and erupts with all the savage power the drakven can summon, tearing his face almost off his skull and encasing him in a prison of crystallized water vapour and his own frozen entrails. Seren follows this with a burst of frozen force which opens even more serious wounds up on the frozen dwaer'syth, and slashes deep channels of glinting bloody ice into another soldier.
Corposant suddenly snarls and crawls across the Ulnyrr's axe as the rune covered daelndorin shouts out a spell in a harsh and growling dialect of dundorin. Instinctively he flinches from what he sees as an attack. However, after a shocked moment, the northerner realises that rather than hurting him, the lightning that clothes his blade will make his next strike all the more lethal – a shame then that it misses so badly that Shnecke leaves himself open to his enemies attacks for a deadly moment!
The battle becomes a vicious slog; the dwaerdorin holding the front ranks whilst the dwaer'syth – enigmatic and deadly shadows, with their ebon flesh, flowing cloaks of dark gossamer, slender thorn swords and poisoned quarrels – hang back, firing their hand held crossbows at whoever they deign a threat, striking at vulnerable areas and filling the group with hypnotic poisons. However, the group give as good as they get, kept alive once again by the clerics chants and life giving fields of healing light, and the blades, spells and poisons of the party, not to mention the grim anger and determination of the daelndorin, win through.
By the time the second dwaerdorin – who after re-appearing and taking several heavy hits has also filled himself with psionic might and turned into a giant – is taken down, all but one of the rune-scribed daelndorin's brothers have been slain; one by the blade of a dwaer'syth soldier, the other by the mangling hammer of one of the dark dundiir. Varracuda has also taken a serious blow to the head; a dwaer'syth crossbow bolt embedded up to the fletchings in his jaw, and Seren is fighting against the soporific effects of the fallen one's poisons. However, the battle is clearly turning in the parties favour, and several of the dwaer'syth flee, slipping out of the cavern along a tunnel of weeping flowstone at the back.
The remaining enemy however commit fully to the battle, their pride and inability to believe that these unexpected foes and supposedly broken slaves could do anything to kill them, driving them on. Two of the dwaer'syth conjure spheres of absolute darkness with a thought, the barbarian's swearing giving his position away to everyone outside the sphere enveloping him. Able to see within their own darkness, the dark ones attack with gusto, sliding their fine bladed swords into their enemies with gleeful precision; landing blows that deal significant harm and which sap their targets (Varracuda and Shnecke mostly) ability to strike back. The last of the rune-scribed daelndorin's allies is slain; a dwaer'syth blade finding his throat as he parries a poison laden bolt with his shackles, and the group respond with fury, another dark one perishing - flanked and hunted by the vengeful tattooed daelndorin and the shadow wreathed assassin.
By this point only two soldier's remain. The others have either fled or lie in broken stillness amongst the sulphurous crystals and oozing growths of this stinking, sweltering cavern. One is surrounded at the entrance to the corridor that leads from here; the assassin in front (having strode through the shadows to block his escape), the warlord and swordmage behind and to his left. His darkness has been partly dispelled by a field of blinding glassy light conjured by the sorceress, and he squints in the unnatural glow, vulnerable to the seeking blades and incantations of his foes. He manages to land several blows against the closing net of foes before he is taken down, his eyes going wide and pale in shock as the warlord's runic hammer hits his face with enough force to split his skull and to eject his mangled brains from the ruin of his temple in a gelatinous mass of orange and red meat.
The final enemy still battles the increasingly furious barbarian and the cleric by the waters edge, and although he manages to hold off their attacks, and to weather the endless stream of agonising spells being hurled by the drakven (who has remained in the waters through the entire skirmish), he is clearly tiring. The barbarian opens his shoulder with a savage blow, and he is disoriented by a word of power uttered by the priest. He parries another monumental blow from the barbarian, and with sweat pouring over his face, endures another withering burst of flame sent by Seren. However, as the warriors free now to join in after the death of the other soldier close in, he realises that he is doomed – not that he gives in. He doubles his efforts, his blades ringing off those of the barbarian and finding flesh as often as not. Teeth gritted, he tries to move towards escape. However, his valiant last stand is brought to a sudden end when Varracuda, calling on energies unfamiliar to him, unleashes a whip of shrieking lightning at him, the arcane electricity earthing through the dark one in a burst of sparks and white fire, stopping his heart and sending him crashing, lifeless, to the floor, bitter smoke rising from between the links in his fine, dark mail.
07:56 – 07:58 - Gasping as the cumulative efforts of their day hit home, the group sink to their knees and gulp in the bitter air. Each is more tired than they can ever remember being, and as the shock of the violence they have endured in the last two hours sinks into them like a poison, they begin to shake, teeth chattering.
The daelndorin snaps his shackles with grunt, and begins to whisper resonant words of power. There is a flash of magic, and he is clothed in heavy robes of dark metal woven wool, a rune covered shield of thick metal on one arm, a rune hammer wreathed in a shifting nimbus of light like those of the aurora the hand of the other. He quickly moves to his fallen friends, and over each mumbles a prayer.
“We must rest.” growls the assassin, leaning heavily on the wall, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Do we even have time?” Asks Seren, slogging to the shores of the pond.
“We don't have a choice.” comes the reply, “We cannot face another battle in this state.”
Emmiven shifts his form to become a daelndorin, and in doing so gains an understanding of their language. Moving towards the rune-scribed, he bows his head, and speaking – haltingly at first, but then with more confidence – introduces himself and the group. A little shocked at the shapeshifter's talent, the daelndorin quickly gathers himself and introduces himself as Skurgolde (Pronounced: Sh – KURG – old).
“We are doomed.” he says quietly, “for Sarion will be here soon with all his soldiers, and he will not be pleased.”
Relaying his words to the group, Grigori asks, “Who is this Sarion? A dwaer'syth?”
Skurgolde nods. “He is a mercenary from the dark city of Zhydraethe, and leader of this war band. He is...”
A sullen red light begins to gather in the corridor leading from the cavern, and Jaeger moves to the side of its exit. The rest of the party wearily move into position, ready to face the next enemies to throw themselves on their blades and into their spells, Skurgolde moving to stand with them.
“He is terrible indeed. We are doomed.”
07:59 – 08:10 – When he comes, he comes with a small army of dwaer'syth, heavily armoured gorashym brutes, and robed and mumbling dwaerdorin. He is the epitome of the fallen one lord; handsome in a cruel and unnaturally perfect manner, dressed in barbed and bladed plate so black that light striking it is swallowed and split into negative spectra of warped and impossible colours. A cloak spun of darkness and magic sweeps from his bladed spalders, and his silver hair – worn long enough to sit on – is bound by tiny ties of silver and dundiir hide. A longsword of dark black metal, etched with runes that seem to shift and which hurt to look at too long, its handle crafted from a jewel encrusted femur, rests at his hip, and an exquisite hand crossbow, fitted with a magazine for swift and sustained firing, hangs across from it. He carries himself with the arrogant self assurance of one who is beyond harm, and when he speaks, he does so with a clear, whip crack voice that seethes with evil.
He also speaks fluent Tradespeak – or at least, some spell of translation allows him to.
The group feel their mouths go dry, and a rank adrenaline sweat sweeps across them in a prickling wave as their exhausted bodies prepare for what they know will be their last battle.
The noble, this Sarion, is clapping sarcastically – a slow clap of scornful mockery. However, as he spots the corpses of his soldiers lying around he stops, and with a cold, empty smile, he inclines his head to the group and says, “I am Sarion, and whilst a battle here would no doubt be an excellent diversion for me and my chosen, it would ultimately see me facing more expense in lost soldiers, resources and healing unguents. I can tell from your accents that you are from the human city of Irin, or at least, somewhere close by, and in truth I think you could be of use to me.”
His cold smile, thin and as unpleasant as a poisoned knife in the ribs widens.
“I offer you a place to rest, and then, we should talk.”
And with that he turns round, his personal guard – robed in darkness and toxic magic – appearing from the air around the party, weapons of power raised, their faces hidden behind skull like masks of carved onyx. They gesture that the group should follow, and reluctantly willing to take whatever chance they can to survive this day, they do.