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Friday, 13 October 2017

The Hunter V - Skulls of the Fallen



The Hunter

Chapter Navigation
  I: Descent
  II: A Matter of Runes
  III: Tombs
  IV: Night's Bridge
  V: Skulls of the Fallen <<
  VI: Vhoggli's Transgressions (upcoming)
  VII: In the Darkness (upcoming)
  VIII: The Price of Discovery (upcoming)
  IX: Escape (upcoming)



V
Skulls of the Fallen


  It only took a few moments for Isilda to get her feet under her once more. Tyverus had attempted to help her to her feet, but she waved him away. She understood that how badly she now felt, having endured what she had previously, he must be suffering far worse. She felt like something had tried to peel away her body from her soul.

  "Any ideas on what in Gehemol that was?" Tyverus' voice was a little shaky as he pushed his blood-matted hair away from his eyes. "Perhaps Bhergom might know, given how arrogant he's been lately." He turned his head to glare at the old oracle who had to push against a nearby rock to get to his feet.

  Bhergom remained silent except for a extenuated groan. He avoided eye contact from Tyverus as well as Isilda. His confidence was shaken and he knew the two younger members of the party had seen his cowardice on full display.

  "That was entirely beyond what I've experienced before." Isilda's voice cracked in her throat. "I can barely see with all this blood in my face. Are you faring any better, Tyverus." Isilda groped in front of her until she grabbed the young knight by his scabbard and then lifted her hands to his arm.

  "Yes, I suppose I'm used to blood and gore in my eyes." Tyverus leaned forward to try and see beneath Isilda's matted bangs. "Also, I have far shorter hair. My skein is empty, though." He patted at his belt feeling a light water-skin against his armored thigh. "There is water below, I'll quickly fetch some for the lot of us. Do you have your footing?"

  "Yes, I can manage." Isilda gave a sheepish grin and let go of Tyverus' arm. She leaned forward, making out hazy shapes of the ground before her and walked away. She didn't bother approaching Bhergom as he had lost her respect due to his previous actions.

  She held one hand out in front of her as she walked forward in a half-crouch. Her free hand wiped away the coagulating blood on her forehead and around her eyes. The first stings were beginning to go away, but the clumps of blood around her eyes made it hard to focus. The blood in her hair wasn't going away without any water.

  Ahead was a small boulder that she could sit on as she regained her strength, and in front of that was a rectangular altar of some kind. She reached the boulder within a few footsteps and she lifted herself onto the flatest surface she could. The prickles in her arms were still going strong and the muscles in her body were continuing their screams from their earlier strain.

  "If it was a trap, it wouldn't do to have all of us stuck in it." Bhergom didn't even bother to apologize for his behavior. "It was a dangerous gamble." The old oracle continued his lumbering walk towards where Isilda sat. She lifted herself on her hands to turn away from him. "It was something I had to think about. I had to weight the consequences."

  Isilda have a belabored sigh, but otherwise remained quiet. She slowly turned her head away with each step Bhergom took towards her. If the old man wanted her forgiveness, which she knew he did, she was going to make him work for it.

  "What would you have me say?" Bhergom reached the stone altar and groaned as he pressed his backside against the edge for support. He lifted a hand toward Isilda in supplication.

  "I would expect an apology." Isilda cut in harshly. She turned her head to look at her teacher but had to turn her head at an angle. A large clump of drying blood covered his face in her sight. She tried to pick it away. "Well, for starters, at least."

  "I'm sorry." Bhergom's hand was still held forward with his wrist exposed. Isilda couldn't see his face beneath the blood and her matted hair so it was hard to know if he meant it or not. "You are my student and it is part of my duty to watch out for your well-being."

  Isilda have a cruel laugh and shook her head. She managed to free a large clump from her left eye. She began to bunch up the robes of her hood around her chin to wipe at her cheeks.

  "I seek forgiveness." Bhergom pulled his hand back to steady himself on the altar. "I'll do better with the rest of this expedition." The old oracle leaned back against the cool stone and stretched while looking up at the glowing silver-blue crystals above. "I don't know what it is about this place. I don't feel my usual self. I'd say there is a presence here, but I can't feel anything."

  "Perhaps the source is whatever tried to rip our energies from our bodies? No, I don't think so. It has to be something else." Isilda took the bait at talking about another subject. She wanted to put the past behind them and keep focused on why the four party-members where here. "Tyverus and I were conversing about that particular thing while you were fighting with Vhoggli."

  "What exactly would that be?" Bhergom tugged on his sleeves to pull a small bit of blood from his forehead. He had obviously fared far better than Isilda and Tyverus. "The source of our strange behaviors, the source of our energies being ripped away, or the source of this strange fog over my abilities."

  "Our abilities, Bhergom." Despite Isilda's compromised sight, she could still see the old oracle be taken aback by her using his given name. He knew she wasn't calling him by his title and it hurt his ego. "I know the crystals above are responsible for the pull of our energy. Perhaps they are an ancient artifact that is attuned to pull far greater reserves of energy than we currently have within us." She began to probe at the side of her right eye. "I don't believe the crystals would affect our behavior or cloud our abilities of Haeth."

  "Perhaps Vhoggli is up to something." Bhergom scratched loudly at the stubble on his face. "I never trusted that little runt. Who knows what evil things he picked up from Toulam's old books."

  "Vhoggli is an asset to us. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him." Isilda gave a cough and let her head droop for a moment. She didn't need to see to know that Bhergom had rolled his eyes at her statement.

  "Then, perhaps it's the boy. Maybe he knows far more arts than simple light tricks. He might be a saboteur from Morrthault City. You know how those members of the Order of Lanterns hate our order." Bhergom lifted himself to his feet once more and cracked his neck to the side. "I doubt very much that the legends of the Mad Oracle are true. Perhaps it is he who would pretend to be her."

  "You're stretching believability." Isilda raised her right arm on her knee and let her head drop to her upturned wrist. "How do we know you aren't a saboteur, hmm? A cowardly one at that."

  "Well, speak a demon's name and he will appear." Bhergom openly ignored Isilda's last statement and took two steps forward.

  "Vhoggli?" Isilda lifted herself from the boulder and turned towards where her teacher was facing.

  "No, not that rapscallion. The other one." Bhergom grumbled and walked away from the altar and back towards the bridge.

  "It's ice water, but it will get that blood out of your eyes and hair." Tyverus gave a chuckle as he approached. Isilda took a few steps forward, almost stumbling over a crack in the floor. He caught her with his hand and helped steady her. "The stream runs right under the bridge. Northward it goes on for sometime, well into a dark area. Southward it seems to break off into two sources."

  Tyverus lifted his water-skin and began lightly pouring the chilled water on Isilda's face. She lifted her hands to keep some of it at her chin and rub away the remaining bits of blood from her eyes with her wet fingers. The water had a sharp cold to it, but despite that, it was soothing against her skin.

  "You've got a nasty clump in your eyelash." Tyverus lifted his free hand to lightly pull some dried blood from her eye. Isilda looked up at him and pursed her lips at being groomed by someone else. "Sorry, it just looked pretty big and uncomfortable."

  "Thank you." Isilda went back to splashing and rubbing away the blood. "I think I can handle my face, just fine." She began to comb the blood out of the fine strands of her blonde hair.

  "From what I can see, you've almost got all of it." Tyverus gave another chuckle and continued to pour the last bits of the water. "Good thing, too. I know you're going to want to see what's behind you when you're done."

  "What's that?" Isilda continued to greedily splash the water on her face while rubbing the last bits from her forehead.

  "Was Vhoggli down there near the water?" Bhergom interrupted the two and began to walk back towards Isilda from the bridge. He had his arms folded behind him and his face was in a scowl.

  "No, Master." Tyverus turned away for a moment to answer Bhergom and then went back to dripping the last bits of water on Isilda's head. "I lost track of him when you did. I didn't see him down near the water, or any wet tracks on any of the shores I could see."

  Bhergom gave a grumble and began to walk past the young knight and the young oracle. He stopped for a moment to look down the incline that Tyverus had climbed a few moments before. He looked back skeptically at Tyverus and then wandered off.

  "What's his problem?" Tyverus turned his eyes back to Isilda who was wiping the moisture from her face with her sleeve. The water-skin was empty and he idly tied it back onto his belt with one hand.

  "He's trying to cover for his own cowardice with strictness. He won't get the thought out of his mind that Vhoggli has betrayed us somehow." Isilda finished patting her face with the sleeve of her robes. All down her front, and across both sleeves were wet blood stains. "Now what is it you wanted me to see?" Isilda winked some moisture out of her eyes and looked up to Tyverus while smiling.

  "It's a little hard to miss." Tyverus smiled and pushed by her. He walked forward and held his arms wide at his sides. "If you three came here to find artifacts, I think you just hit the mother-load."

  "What?" Isilda turned on her heels to look back at Tyverus. She could see him with his back towards her, still with his arms held wide. She pushed beside him to see what was in front of him. She blinked the last bits of moisture from her eyes.

  Before them both was an immense wall that trailed from the edge of perception on one end to the other. Where Isilda had earlier been sitting was a set of small boulders around a stone altar in an alcove of the wall. Along the wall were innumerable indents about a yard in height and a yard in width. In each of these smaller alcoves was a single skull. Flowing from the left to the right seemed to be the passage of time, as the left-most alcoves held nothing but dust or bone fragments, while the right-most seemed to have more intact skulls inside.

  "What in Tolesh's Light..." Isilda let her voice trail off as she took a few steps toward the wall. "There are thousands of them."

  "Tens of thousands, or even more. Entire scores of the dead." Tyverus gave a laugh that was half-filled with fear. "Are these the people that died in the city ruins above?"

  Isilda continued to walk forward in a haze, her head lifted up slowly as her eyes trailed along the many skulls in the wall horiziontally and then trailed upwards into the dark that the glowing crystals could not reach. "No, there's no way." She stopped at the edge of the wall and let her fingers reach out towards one of the small niches. She pulled back sharply.

  "Well, you said these were the catacombs beneath-" Tyverus stopped and lifted an eyebrow while thinking. "What was the name of the place?"

  "The city of Neshran. The first city of the Oracles, long ago." Isilda let her hands glide over the stone as she began to walk parallel to the wall, making her way towards the alcove and altar in the center.

  "Yeah, Neshran. If these are the catacombs, then wouldn't it make sense for all these skulls to be those who were buried here?" Tyverus began to walk after Isilda, keeping just an arm's length behind her.

  "Neshran was destroyed thousands of years ago, Tyverus. None of these skulls should be preserved at all. Not even fragments or dust should remain. The world has been through so much since that time. The destruction of Oerstav Caelii, the Cataclysm-" Isilda's voice trailed off again.

  "So these skulls are more recent?" Tyverus stopped and scraped an errant foot in a wide circle on the stone floor. "So, those are the older ones." Tyverus pointed far to his left. "And these are the more recent ones." Tyverus pointed to the far right. "Some of those down there look pretty new." He began to wander off in that direction.

  Isilda stopped in the alcove and moved behind the altar. In this recess of the rock wall, only five skulls remained in one large niche. All five of these skulls were coated and sealed in some silver-and-green-like metal. She let her fingers run across the stone that they rested upon and feeling the ancient remains of what might have been cloth.

  "I believe these five were the first." Isilda stopped and began to look at the skulls before her. Each was pristine in their metal seal. Jagged runes were scratched into each skull's forehead with force enough to gouge the strong metal. "These are the most important."

  "Well, I found the newest." Tyverus came back and stood beside Isilda. He offered up a skull in his hands while smiling. "Looks like it was taken quite savagely, too." He rolled the skull in his hands, showing bits of decaying sinew holding the jaw in place, and a rattling bit of spine held at the neck by mummified muscle.

  Isilda turned her head toward Tyverus and shot him a glare. "These are the remains of the dead. They aren't toys." She grabbed the skull from Tyverus and began to run her fingers over it. "Given the curvature of the forehead and shape of the jaw, I think it was a woman. This-" She leaned forward to survey the skull in her hands. "Given the look of what's left of the tissue near the neck, I think this is only about two decades old, maybe a few years less."

  "Well, that's far more recent than when Neshran fell, right?" Tyverus scratched at the back of his head and gave a sheepish smile. "So, who is storing a bunch of people's heads in an old catacomb?"

  "Put this back." Isilda handed the skull back to Tyverus. "Carefully. These are the last remains of who knows how many people. Let this poor woman find some rest."

  Tyverus gave a nod and exaggeratedly held the skull in front of him in both hands. He pivoted his head forward, and began to exaggeratedly walk back to where he had stolen the skull. Isilda turned away and back to the alcove.

  "As I was saying-" Isilda increased her volume and went back to staring intendedly at the metal-clad skulls in the alcove before her. "These have to be the oldest and the most prized."

  Isilda reached out her fingers towards one of the left-most skulls on the shelf. She pulled her fingers back, afraid to touch them. She swallowed hard and reached out once more to let her fingers lightly glide over the forehead of the one she focused on.

  "How's that?" Tyverus bellowed from dozens of yards further down the wall, in the dark.

  "There are runes scratched into these skulls." Isilda slowly lifted the skull and took a single step back from the alcove. "These are-" She took another stride backward into the light to see better. "These are ancient Morthavi runes."

  "What, like the ones on that runestone earlier on?" Tyverus continued to bellow but his voice was broken by the clanging of his armor as he began his walk back to Isilda.

  "Yes." Isilda rubbed some of the dust and frost from the metal to look at the runes better. "These runes are truly ancient in one of the first languages of humanity." She blinked hard and began to chew at her bottom lip. "I can barely make them out and there's only four runes scratched into this one."

  "Well, you know some Morthavi, right. Try sounding it out." Tyverus took one last step and slide in behind Isilda. He leaned forward over her shoulder to see the skull she held up in the light.

  "This one is Ameath." Isilda pressed her thumb over the left-most rune on the skull. She shifted her thumb right-ward to the next. "This one is Dhottan." She pivoted her right thumb to the next. "This one isn't a central rune, it's more of a sounding rune."

  "Sounding rune?" Tyverus blinked and gave a snort of confusion. "You mean there are more than just like Hoelatha? The 'anhks,' 'bhers,' and 'caels.'"

  "Morthavi has a lot more than just the few we use now. It was an elegant and complex language. Many scholars believe it to be the very language of magick itself." Isilda turned her head to stare intently at Tyverus. "The incantations you use for your elemental rotes are bastardizations of this language."

  "Okay, okay." Tyverus rolled his eyes and then looked back to Isilda. "But what sound do these last two make?"

  Isilda turned back to the skull. She pressed her thumb in tightly to the runes. "This is a slightly modified one. The tanztur at the top going from the left aspkan to the right drahm-" She stopped for a moment and let her tongue flick across her lips. "I'd say it would be something like 'maen' or 'may-en.'"

  "Okay, and the last one?" Tyverus reached out his hand and pressed his thumb above the last rune. "I don't know what a drahm is, but what is this one?"

  "This is more complex." Isilda bit her lip and furrowed her brow. "I'd say it as either 'thrayn' or 'thraya.'"

  "Okay." Tyverus squeezed in behind Isilda and pressed her back against his body. He reached another hand over her and pointed at the first two runes with his index finger and thumb of his left hand. "So, you said these two were central runes. So they'd have common definitions, right?"

  Isilda moved her shoulders and hips to get closer to Tyverus. "Yes. I'm guessing, if the last two runes are a name, then these would be-" Isilda fluttered her eyes for a moment and leaned her head back against Tyverus' chest. "Dearest daughter."

  "So, it would be, 'My dearest daughter, Maen-thrayn?" Tyverus gave a sharp breath in and let Isilda push her head further into his chest.

  "No. 'Thrayn' would be masculine. I think her name would be Maen-thraya, or Maen-thrai." Isilda opened her eyes to look up at Tyverus from beneath his chin. She gave a genuine smile after licking her lips for a brief moment.

  "Well, there we go." Tyverus slowly took hold of the skull from Isilda's grip and pulled backwards. He swiveled from behind her and began walking towards the alcove to put the skull back on its shelf. "See, I can help. I may not be an Oracle, or know anything about these runes, but I can still help."

  Isilda took a step toward Tyverus and took a sharp breath in to say something but wasn't able to even start. A smile remained on her face and one of her hands outreached. Tyverus took a step to close the distance.

  "Where in Gehemol is that little shit!" Bhergom roared and neared towards Isilda in an almost-run. "Did either of you see that beast scurry by here?!"

  "No-" Tyverus immediately dropped his hands to his sides and stared over to Bhergom with confusion across his face. "No one other than yourself came near us. What happened?"

  "He stole it!" Bhergom's face went red with rage. "I told you he couldn't be trusted. I told you!" Bhergom clenched his hands into fists at his side and began marching towards Isilda. "Were you in on this, too?"

  Tyverus jumped between the old oracle and Isilda. He lifted one of his hands up as a barrier between himself and Bhergom's wrath. Bhergom leaned past the young knight to stare daggers at Isilda.

  "I have no idea what you're talking about?" Isilda took a step back with genuine concern and fear spreading across her face. "What was stolen?"

  "One of the most powerful artifacts in the world, you dumb twit!" Berghom raised one of his hands and pressed past Tyverus.

  "Whoa, now." Tyverus grabbed Bhergom by the wrist and pushed his armored body in front of the old man again. The young knight's gloved fingers flowed over the old oracles hand while his other hand grabbed the man's elbow at the joint. Within a second, Tyverus had Bhergom in a painful arm lock and pulled him back two steps.

  "I don't know what you're talking about. I was here with Tyverus examining the skulls." Isilda looked from Tyverus to Bhergom. She took a step forward with her arms out, wanting to reassure her teacher. She looked to Tyverus who shook his head at the idea. She stepped back.

  "You-" Bhergom began to start and then tried to pull his arm free from Tyverus' hold. As he did so, the knight clamped down harder into the lock, making the old man wince in pain. "Both of you are responsible for this!"

  "Calm down, or I will make you calm down." Tyverus' voice was firm and he neared his face to that of Bhergom's. Isilda soon noticed first the first time how much taller the knight was to her teacher. "How about you show us what happened, before you jump to any conclusions?"

  Bhergom stared rage up at Tyverus. The knight seemed entirely unphased by the naked emotion while remaining in his element. "Show us, now, or I'll break your arm."

  "Fine!" Bhergom gave a hard shrug, but Tyverus didn't let go. "I'll show you both your guilt!" Bhergom looked over to Isilda and then back to Tyverus. "Let go of my damned arm!"

  With a quick and fluid motion, Tyverus let go of Bhergom's arm and raised both of his hands up in front of him with open palms. "Okay, then. Go."

  Isilda stormed after Bhergom and then stepped in front of him. "Show us what happened, before you try to hurt one of us, and yourself, in your impotent rage."

  Bhergom stormed after Isilda, still as red-faced as he had been before. He swallowed hard while shaking his head in defiance of Isilda and Tyverus' innocence. Rage was still boiling in his veins.

  Tyverus took a moment to gather his thoughts and his breath. He had come very close to breaking the old man's arm to protect Isilda. He honestly didn't know what was going on, what this powerful artifact might have been, or why these damned catacombs were so important to these two oracles. He doubted that Vhoggli had done anything wrong, but with a few steps after Bhergom and Isilda, he would soon find out.


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 V: Night's BridgeEpisode I: MilestonesVI: Vhoggli's Transgressions


Saturday, 7 October 2017

The Hunter IV - Night's Bridge



The Hunter

Chapter Navigation
  I: Descent
  II: A Matter of Runes
  III: Tombs
  IV: Night's Bridge <<
  V: Skulls of the Fallen
  VI: Vhoggli's Transgressions (upcoming)
  VII: In the Darkness (upcoming)
  VIII: The Price of Discovery (upcoming)
  IX: Escape (upcoming)



IV
Night's Bridge


  "There you are." The scathing voice of Vhoggli echoed throughout the blackness of the next chamber. "Took you long enough to get down to me, and here I thought you actually wanted to explore this ruin."

  The chamber was completely dark and it was uncertain where in the area Vhoggli had perched himself. The echoes of his voice seemed to increase with volume as it bounced off of the space around him and into a cacophonous whirlwind. Only he had the strange ability of vision in such a place and he was taking full advantage of it to teach Bhergom a lesson as he emerged from the tunnel and into the dark reaches.

  "Where are you, scoundrel? This isn't the time for games." Bhergom's patience with the little gremlin-of-a-man was running out. He felt powerless in the dark while the other seemed to be taunting him. "Reveal what you've found and cease being a cryptic fool."

  The soft pattering of Isilda's footsteps neared in behind Bhergom and gave him a bit more courage in the shadows. Immediately behind both of them echoed the heavy and metallic clangs of Tyverus. Bhergom openly let his contempt for the knight out in a snarl hidden by the dark.

  "Young lad, now would be another opportune time for your little cantrip, don't you think?" Bhergom emphasized the last three words as if they were their own statement. He could feel Isilda raise up a hand to clamp down on his shoulder. He first took this as a sign of reassurance, yet his familiarity with her eroded that feeling away quickly. It was her silent way of saying, "Stop bullying the poor boy."

  Bhergom gave a grunt and took a few defiant steps forward while the young knight pooled his energies to summon another orb of glowing plasma. He didn't understand why Tyverus couldn't keep the cantrip going constantly. He knew the lad had to focus his energies to keep the light going, and he hoped he would keep that up. That is, keep his focus on the one useful thing he could provide, rather than continually flirting with his pupil.

  Light soon erupted into the cavern and was quickly drowned out by darkness. The glowing orb that Tyverus called forth seemed like a guttering candle in the shear immensity of the cavern the four now stood inside of. The knight groaned for a moment trying to summon more energy into the sphere, yet the darkness here seemed hungry.

  "Something doesn't feel right." Tyverus muttered to himself as he continued to focus his energies into the slowly growing orb in his hand. He tried to let the sphere fly out of his hand, but it felt like if he let it too far from his person, it might dissipate at any moment. "I've never experienced anything like this."

  "It's probably just the size of the room, young lad. It is quite large." Bhergom took a few more steps forward to marvel at the sheer size of this subterranean cavern he now stood within. The walls that he could see stretched upward almost a hundred feet and the width of the area was far larger than he could ascertain with his eyes. "Such a marvel."

  The sound of icy water could be heard trickling and slushing below them. From what Bhergom could see, the three of them were standing on a shelf that gave way to a natural bridge of rock that spanned some dark reach ahead. On the topmost of that bridge stood the crouched form of Vhoggli, staring at him with those same glimmering eyes that unnerved him so much.

  "Well, what is the delay?" Vhoggli remained on his perch at the edge of the rock-bridge and gloated openly at Bhergom. Despite the words ushering from his lips the strange fellow held a unnaturally long smile across his face. The fang-filled mouth seemed to split his lemon-shaped head in half. "I have such things to show you, but here you are doddling like a trembling and scared child."

  Bhergom stormed forward and took his first footsteps upon the bridge. His patience was now completely eroded. The light behind him continued to flicker and he soon stepped heedlessly beyond the limitations of the light and into a strange land of silhouettes and shaking outlines.

  "Do you not feel that?" Tyverus spoke idly to Isilda while still concentrating on his cantrip. He reached his free hand to grab hold of his other wrist. The hand holding the light seemed to be growing heavier with each moment.

  "I honestly can't feel a thing. Well, not much anyway. I can sense your energy and the strain you are under." Isilda stopped for a moment and stared from Tyverus to her mentor approaching Vhoggli on the bridge. Her face narrowed with concern as a realization flashed into her mind. "Actually, I've been blissfully separated from my advanced senses since we stepped into this place."

  "And doesn't that seem a little odd to you?" Tyverus continued to grip his hand with strained force. He took a step forward into the cavern and with that single motion felt even more of a draw from his energy.

  "Not really." Isilda's look of concern quickly faded into a smile. "It's oddly comforting." She put a hand on Tyverus' straining arm. "Perhaps this is what more mundane people get to experience, a sense of serene detachment. Anyway, enough about this, Vhoggli has something to show us." She let her hand linger for a moment and then pulled away with a flourish of her fingertips running down his arm.

  Tyverus remained fixed on the spot and began to worry about what this strange effect might mean. Isilda seemed far more flighty than she had been traveling to this place. Tyverus began to question in his mind, should not an oracle be concerned about being separated from their higher arts while in such a ominous and possibly dangerous place. As his mind got pulled into this quandary, he could feel the control over his light fading and had to refocus.

  "It would be good to have some light further ahead, so that we might actually be able to see what this little beast wishes us to find." Bhergom was growing more irrate with each step towards the grinning gargoyle ahead of him. He was nearing into the shadow far beyond the range of the light behind him.

  Tyverus soon followed after Isilda with his eyes focused on his hand and the globe of light in his grasp. Each step caused the light to flicker and fade momentarily. Prickles of pain were beginning to gnaw at his skin as he continued to have to put all of his essential energies into the cantrip. He hadn't felt this fatigued by spell-work since his certamen training. Of course, at that time he was funneling devastating spells at another knight-in-training.

  Isilda and Tyverus soon caught up to Bhergom who was within arm's distance of Vhoggli on the bridge. As the light from Tyverus' hand moved, the walls of the cavern faded away into darkness. All that seemed to exist in this area were their figures on the rock bridge and the sounds of water streaming an uncertain depth below.

  "Good, you're on your way. Follow me if you dare." Vhoggli gave out a cackle after his words and bounded off into the shadows. He first scurried on all fours and then seemed to leap near the threshold of the light into the darkness beyond. His final words echoed out from the depths. "Don't be frightened."

  Berghom stood at the apex of the rock bridge with his hands in fists at his sides. His face was growing flush with rage-filled blood. He took two more steps and stared forward into the darkness beyond the bridge. Isilda narrowed in behind him and stopped at his side.

  "Don't let him get your goat. He's been helpful thus far." Isilda bit her bottom lip while she paused for a moment. "I know you didn't like Toulam commanding you to bring him, but the Grandmaster no doubt wanted to provide us with help."

  Bhergom turned on his heels with his mouth open to yell into his student's face. He caught himself as he drew in a breath and immediately calmed. He could see the concern for him on her face and that was enough to snap him out of his earlier rage.

  "I'm sorry. I don't know what is coming over me. The further we get into this place and the more that bastard taunts me, the more I-" Bhergom stopped and began to smooth the front of his robes with his hands while gathering some composure. "This is very strange."

  "This is all very strange." Tyverus was two steps behind Isilda and continued to stare down at his hand. "Both of you are acting very oddly. I'm quite sure this place is causing it."

  "Hah!" Bhergom gave out a derisive laugh. "It's a simple set of catacombs young man. I didn't think a knight as yourself would be so easy to startle yourself at shadows and tombs!" He could feel his earlier anger boiling up once again and tried to keep it at bay with false joviality.

  "Both of you seem blind to whatever is going on." Tyverus passed by both of the oracles to aim his hand like a lantern before them. He continued slowly stepping forth into the darkness and over the apex of the bridge. He lifted his head slightly to look back at Bhergom. "This isn't natural, and has nothing do with fear."

  With one last step forward from Tyverus he stopped and could feel the drain on his energy grow to an unbearable level. He dropped to his knees, barely able to keep his left hand holding the light straight in front of him. He gave out a groan that turned into a scream.

  "Tyverus! What is it?" Isilda rushed in and dropped to her knees beside the young knight.

  Tyverus remained still, with every muscle in his body flexing and contorting rapidly. Small pricks of blood boiled out of the exposed skin of his forearms and neck. The hair on his face seemed to wave around as if on a shifting breeze that did not exist. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he continued to try and wrest hold of his voice from a scream.

  Isilda turned her eyes from Tyverus' face and arms to that of his hand being projected out in front of him. The orb of plasma in his palm danced wildly, growing in size and then shrinking. The colors changed from the earlier hues of orange and purple to that of brilliant greens and searing reds. Tendrils of errant energy seemed to splay out from the light like a growing, sentient fog.

  Bhergom ran forward and stopped in behind the knight as he finally got control over his voice and kept it low into a groan. He was fighting his own body and his own energies inside of himself. The old oracle wished he could help but didn't know how.

  "I-" Tyverus stammered out some words. "I can't control my own-" Blood sweat began to bead and drip from his brown hair and onto this face. "I can't stop it!"

  Isilda kept her eyes on the growing tendrils of plasma that streamed out of his hand. The energy was alight and spreading out further like some kind of eldritch thing. The light provided from the energy began to slowly light up the whole cavern and set the shadows into a dizzying dance.

  "He-" Tyverus gave out a small scream and then regained control over his voice. "Help me!"

  Isilda felt hypnotized by the brilliant display of dancing energy spilling out of Tyverus. She had to shake her head and pull her consciousness back to the moment. She turned her gaze from the energy to the young knight's pain-filled face beside her. She reached out her hands and grabbed hold of Tyverus' arms. She let her right hand seize onto his right wrist while she moved her left to cover the top part of the orb of light still blazing in his left.

  For the first time since entering this strange place, she could finally reach out with her abilities and focus her own energy. She began to call upon her Haeth arts to both heal Tyverus' body and revitalize his energies. Within a matter of moments she began to feel the drain on her as well.

  The light in Tyverus' hand seemed to grow and take on a bluish color as her energy spilled into his. She began to feel the prickles on her arms as her muscles began to strain. She grit her teeth together and pulled deeper from within her to keep the energy going between her and the knight.

  Bhergom took a step back from the display in front of him. He didn't want to admit that the beast-man might be correct, but he was growing frightened with each moment. In his many years as an oracle of the Authrakallin, he had never seen such a thing befall anyone. Whatever was pulling at the young knight and his student was truly hungry for energy.

  "Bherg-" Isilda's voice began to strain as well. Her eyes were filling with tears as she continued to try and choke back a scream building up in her throat. "Bhergom! Help us!" She soon gave in and let out a shrill scream that reverberated throughout the cavern.

  Cowardice began to pull at Bhergom. His thoughts froze for a moment as he saw both of the two in front of him strained in unbearable pain. He was afraid that whatever else was beyond would pull him and devour his energy as well. He wanted to step away from the display and run headlong back into the dark.

  "Hah! We see your true colors at last." Vhoggli's taunting voice echoed in the darkness beyond. "You asked him to bring the light, you fool. You are responsible for this. Step forward and accept your fate." The voice seemed to surround and pass through Bhergom.

  "For the last time! Shut your gods-damned mouth!" Bhergom shouted over the screaming of his student and the young knight in front of him. "Damn you, you beast!"

  Vhoggli's laugh echoed once more through the darkness beyond and then seemed to slink away into silence. Bhergom took a step forward and with rage boiling up from within him he grabbed hold of both Tyverus' and Isilda's shoulders. He began to pour his own energies into them.

  The display of energy grew all the more, now taking on a silvery hue. The tendrils furthest from the bridge began to fold in on themselves while reaching out to random points in the darkness. The prickles took hold over Bhergom's body and he could feel his aged limbs convulsing. He strained his legs to keep standing and began to pour from the depths of his power.

  With a brilliant flash the three bodies were thrown backwards across the bridge. The energy before them alight like slowly moving lightning across the entire cavern. Silver bolts of light seared through the air towards crystals mounted near the top of the cavern. The light continued to burn and crackle until the last drops of energy were sucked up by the hungry crystalline fixtures.

  The light emitted from these crystals ebbed for a moment and then roared to life from within. The entire cavern lit with a bluish-silver light. The full immensity of the area was laid bare at last. The rock-bridge, the icy river below, the full banks, and the wall of skulls adorning the far wall.

  Bhergom lifted himself slowly to from being on his back. He pushed himself with a groan onto his side and then into a crouch on his knees. He reached out a hand to help Isilda up. Her face was covered in blood-matted hair. Her errant blonde locks peeking from her hood and over her face had been turned a copper.

  Bhergom turned to look at the young knight who had already managed to swivel his legs and push himself back up into a crouch. All three of them looked like the very life of them had been drained out. Tyverus looked the worst for wear as he used his gloved hands to wipe the rivulets of blood from his eyes.

  Tyverus gave a sardonic laugh and then stared directly into Bhergom's eyes. "Like I said, this is all very strange."


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Previous Section Table of ContentsNext Section
III: TombsEpisode I: MilestonesV: Skulls of the Fallen

The Hunter III - Tombs



The Hunter

Chapter Navigation
  I: Descent
  II: A Matter of Runes
  III: Tombs <<
  IV: Night's Bridge
  V: Skulls of the Fallen
  VI: Vhoggli's Transgressions (upcoming)
  VII: In the Darkness (upcoming)
  VIII: The Price of Discovery (upcoming)
  IX: Escape (upcoming)



III
Tombs


  "There you are you damned scoundrel!" Bhergom's voice erupted forth and sent the large chamber ahead of him into a cacophonous whirl of echoes and vibrations. "Are you trying to steal some treasures before we can keep up?"

  The squat and shadowed man turned his head slightly at Bhergom as the larger and more robust oracle fully entered the chamber. His eyes glinted the same pale green in the darkness ahead and a flash of slick, yellowed teeth came from his wide mouth as he began to hiss with contempt. Vhoggli's hands were clamped onto a rectangular slab rock ahead of him. He had lifted himself the scant few feet of height he could muster, standing on his very toes, and was interrupted from peering into whatever existed inside.

  The room was much darker than the previous and was only lit with diffused, silvery light trickling in from a raised tunnel in the wall of the far end. Huge pillars of ice served as a glittering and semi-transparent natural portcullis at the mouth of that elevated tunnel. The room was much colder than the others the expedition had entered and there was no presence of water anywhere in the room, however some dancing light -- shining off of water somewhere beyond --made its way through the tunnel above and was reflected upon the ceiling of the chamber.

  "I have no interest in treasures or trinkets, you old fool." Vhoggli's voice was more of a growl than his earlier chirps. "You know I'm here on a mission from Grandmaster Toulam, as much as yourself." The wide head of the man-creature turned back to the slab of rock and with a protracted grunt, he tried to lift himself up and over the edge.

  "What is it that you've found there?" Bhergom crossed his arms and took a few steps further into the room. He could hear the soft footsteps of Isilda entering in behind him and the large clamoring of Tyverus immediately behind her.

  "Given the dimensions and workmanship, I would believe it to be a sarcophagus." Vhoggli raised himself into a perch on the edge of the slab and then hopped inside the confines. "Quite weathered and long open to the elements." The squat man's scraggle-topped head peeked over the rim and a bony hand covered in leather rags for a glove pointed further into the darkness. "I believe those stones over there to be the lid. They are shattered, no doubt due to some severe force, and given their age have crumbled significantly."

  "Well look at you, pretending to know what you do not." Bhergom took a few more steps towards the sarcophagus and turned on his heels once he was certain that both of his companions were behind him. He saw Isilda taking in the details of the room, and the armored silhouette of Tyverus behind her. "It would do to have some light in here, young man, don't you think?"

  Tyverus immediately snapped to attention, passing by Isilda and catching up to the side of Bhergom. The knight gave a nod and opened his left palm. Wisps of energy streamed toward his palm, spinning into a sphere that soon flickered with plasma flame. The orb in his hand was much larger and brighter than his previous one. He used his concentration to lift the light up from his hand and keep it floating near the middle of the room.

  "Much better, you are proving to be a useful lad, more and more." Bhergom crossed the rest of the chamber to stand over the stone sarcophagus. "It would seem our pustulant, resident sage on all things has mentioned that the lid has been broken." Bhergom raised his eyes from the stone to see Vhoggli crawling out of the sarcophagus on the other end and then scurrying into the dark recesses at the edge of the room. "Isilda, come here. What do you make of this?"

  Isilda made her way over to the sarcophagus and bent her path to pass within an arm's distance of Tyverus. The knight looked to her and then quickly back to the flame he concentrated upon. She let her hand linger once again, and he followed after her. Once she got to the edge of the stone her forehead began to furrow in consternation.

  "Vhoggli was correct." Her focus was now consumed by the stone slab that raised up to her waist. She leaned forward and began to run her hands across the stonework. "The remains of the lid are strewn about the other end of the room, yes, and this stone is quite exquisite."

  Bhergom leaned in on the opposite side. "How so?" He took a few steps to his right and looked disdainfully at the bits of weathered stone chunks around him. "The remnants of the lid are scattered all over. Surely if a graverobber got this far, they'd merely shove the lid off of thing. It should mostly be intact; maybe just a few cracks."

  "Yes, graverobbers would likely crack the lid while it was still sealed, or find some method of pushing it off, causing it to impact the ground and crack as well. Yet..." Isilda's voice trailed off as she ran her fingers over the stone some more. She lowered into a crouch to see the edge of the stone at eye-level. "You see these here. These weather marks? And these cracks in the foundation of the stone?" She looked up to smile at Bhergom. "This sarcophagus was sealed quite well."

  "Well, yes. Trapped air beneath heavy stone would do that. Once a body begins to decompose, the flora growing within would eat up all the oxygen, creating a sort of vacuum." Bhergom began to trail off as he quizzically looked over to Isilda. He hoped his words could cover for his confusion at her fascinated reaction.

  "Yes, you're correct, in most instances that is what happens. There are instances where improperly treated bodies can burst due to gases, yet they've never been severe enough to cause damage to their confines. Hmm, it wasn't merely a natural vacuum that kept this lid on." Isilda lifted the trailing edge of her robes and took a step into the stone. She straddled the edge for a moment and pointed to the rock. "You see these grooves? Truly magnificent workmanship. They're weathered down due to all the water and ice in here, but these ribs fixed the lid directly to the foundation. There must have been small wooden slats placed every few inches or so, as well as some resin, creating a natural seal and method of forcing out the air inside." Isilda looked behind her to give a wide-eyed smile back to Tyverus. "Whatever body was inside, didn't have a chance to grow any flora that might create a natural vacuum or cause any gases. The body would have been perfectly preserved."

  "Truly?" Bhergom scratched at the stubbled edge of his chin and leaned to look inside the sarcophagus once more. "Such a shame nothing is left. No doubt that graverobbers took the corpse and whatever else was sealed inside." The old oracle gave a harumph and kicked at one of the heavy chunks of stone near his feet. "The lid would have been sturdy. How in the world would they have gotten it off?"

  "They didn't, you old fool." The voice of Vhoggli echoed throughout the room from some dark place that no one could see. "As the young lass mentioned, the lid was broken into chunks and the foundation has cracks in it. The force came from inside the sarcophagus." A growling hiss and wail reverberated in the room as the man-creature simulated an explosion with his voice.

  "Surely not!" Bhergom stood and looked around the room in an effort to find the source of the ominous echoes. He took a few steps towards some nearby stalagmites and peered around them hoping to find Vhoggli squatted there. He didn't find him and marched back towards the center of the chamber.

  "He's right, Master Bhergom." Tyverus' voice was broken and distracted. He was leaning in beside Isilda to examine the stone foundation. While Isilda was fully inside the sarcophagus and busy running her hands along the right angle edges at the bottom, the large knight was focused on several indentations in the rim's edge. The blue eyes of the knight flashed up to Bhergom and then back to what his gloved hands had seized upon.

  "What is it, lad?" Bhergom crossed the chamber to get in beside the knight who took a step back to make room.

  "Do you see these scrapes along the rim?" Tyverus kept his left hand aloft, but pointed with his right. "They seem to start within the sarcophagus and get deeper and harder as they come up to where the lid would have been. From there I believe the lid was shattered due to some extreme force on its inside edges." Tyverus gave a sideways glance to Isilda who nodded up to him. "Once broken and the shards of rock blasted about this chamber, the same claw-like marks continue around the rim's edge. To here, on the outside, these deep gouges. They look like claw marks actually breaking into the rock, possibly to lift itself up."

  "Are you telling me they kept a beast inside this?" Bhergom scratched at his neck and his brown eyes squinted harshly while trying to make sense of this information. "Why would the ancients bother to try and trap a beast in such a place? Would not the vacuum that Isilda mentioned suffocate such a creature?"

  "I don't think it was a beast." Tyverus' words were curt and dry. "The indents on the outside, well Master..." Tyverus made a claw out of his right hand and placed it to the side of the stone. His gloved fingertips entered into the holes in the rock. "If this were a beast, not only can it survive a vacuum, shatter stone, but it also has the hands of a human."

  Bhergom took two steps back from the sarcophagus while shaking his head profusely. "You're mistaken. I've heard of great feats of strength, but shattering a seven-inch-thick slab of rock while confined is too much. Let alone the ability to break a vacuum, or survive one for any length of time..." Bhergom's voice trailed off as he looked away.

  "Tyverus is correct." Isilda stood up and began to clap the dust and dirt from her hands. "Someone or some-thing was trapped and sealed inside this tomb. Sometime in the last thousand years or so, it erupted forth. Who knows how long it was trapped inside. The weathering on the rubble and inside the sarcophagus places it to about a thousand years. Maybe a few centuries more."

  "Do you think it was a Thaekkuz?" Tyverus looked over to Isilda and held her eyes for a moment. The young oracle broke contact and shook her head.

  "No, but if it was, it's an entirely different kind than any I have heard of in lore. Revenants that return to their bodies from the hells of Gehemol usually aren't nearly as strong as this." Isilda lifted herself over the edge of the sarcophagus while Tyverus quickly reached out his free hand to help her the rest of the way. "Thaekkuz are notoriously strong, and they don't seem to need air or rest like the living." She pursed her lips once her feet hit the ground. "No, if it was a Thaekkuz it would still be inside the sealed tomb, scrabbling at the stone for all eternity. They're strong, but not that strong."

  "Then what in Tolesh's Light do you think it is?!" Bhergom's voice was getting frantic as he began to pace about the chamber. It seemed to be more than an unresolved conundrum that was pulling at his nerves. Perhaps a gnawing fear was growing at him that whatever foul thing this was, it might still be in the catacombs somewhere.

  Bhergom, Isilda, and Tyverus remained quiet in the room for several moments. The reflected light from beyond continued to shimmer and dance on the ceiling. Tyverus' orb of light continued to shine and waver among hidden breezes near the ceiling. A growing sense of worry seemed to pass from the old oracle to his apprentice and then over to the knight as each looked at each other.

  "It was Merithault." The voice of Vhoggli was distant and echoed throughout the halls and chambers of the catacombs. "This is her domain, and that was her resting place."

  The words stirred Bhergom into a silent rage as he bit his lip and turned red. Isilda looked at her teacher, her blue eyes growing wide, and then over to Tyverus. Tyverus stood silent with his arms crossed and a gloved finger pressing beneath his bottom lip. His gaze was cast downward in heavy contemplation, but a twinge of worry showed through his features.

  Isilda knew the dangers that Vhoggli's words presented. From what she had seen thus far of this accursed place, she fully believed that the legends of the mad oracle might be true. She could see and feel through her sympathetic energies that Bhergom was afraid of this. He was stubborn and did not want to give into superstition and conjecture, but the evidence was mounting that something unnatural had transpired here. She gave an inward chuckle at Tyverus, as she could feel that he was blissfully unaware of the dangers they had just walked into. He was cautious and on edge, she could feel his awareness reaching out, but his mind was filled with worries about tactics and defensive strategies more than unholy horrors from ancient times.

  "I know the old and clueless one doesn't believe me, despite the evidence." Vhoggli's voice continued to echo as it got even more distant. "Perhaps you all should follow me and see this for yourself. I believe what I have just found proves it once and for all."

  Isilda looked back to Bhergom to see him clench his fists at his sides. He rolled his brown eyes and stomped through the chamber to head in Vhoggli's direction. She watched him move into the darkness and disappear. She stood for a moment until she felt Tyverus' armored form behind her, pressing in on her back.

  He raised an arm around her shoulders and with a wave of his uplifted hand, the plasma fire returned to his palm. The orb grew small and the light in the room diminished to a wane glow. He gave her a soft push and together they stepped forward. Isilda careened her neck to give one last look at the sarcophagus at the center of the chamber. From there she and the knight stepped from the room and into the new catacombs beyond.


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The Hunter II - A Matter of Runes



The Hunter

Chapter Navigation
  I: Descent
  II: A Matter of Runes <<
  III: Tombs
  IV: Night's Bridge
  V: Skulls of the Fallen
  VI: Vhoggli's Transgressions (upcoming)
  VII: In the Darkness (upcoming)
  VIII: The Price of Discovery (upcoming)
  IX: Escape (upcoming)



II
A Matter of Runes


  At the entrance to the chamber, when Isilda turned to seek out the towering presence of her mentor ahead, Tyverus took advantage and pressed in to Isilda's back while placing a gloved hand on her shoulder. He wasn't quite sure of this familiar action given the shyness and quietness she had toward him earlier when they were making camp on the surface. Feeling the warmth of her and the delicate flesh of her exposed shoulder through his leather glove made his heart skip a beat. The moment lingered and his nerves soothed as he saw her turn her head to smile at him in the dancing light. She lifted her shoulder to bring his hand close to her cheek and then relaxed.

  "Well, look at that!" The booming voice of Bhergom cut through the moment and the darkened silence like a hot knife. Both Tyverus and Isilda jumped and separated thinking the words concerned their actions. The large man continued on without heed. "Perhaps something did survive all these ravaging centuries, after all!"

  Isilda took a few hurried steps forward into the chamber to see what her mentor had discovered. As she took her steps, she let her left arm linger behind her, as if to summon Tyverus to follow. The knight followed after, keeping within an arm's distance just in case Bhergom or, worse yet, Vhoggli might have noticed their earlier moment.

  Ahead, Bhergom had bent forward with his hands on his knees to look at some dark set of rock at the far edge of the chamber. There was not enough light to allow anyone to see what was on the rock, but what little the old oracle could see in the shifting and reflecting light was enough to intrigue him. Vhoggli, despite his uncanny ability to see in the dark, was not assisting Bhergom, but was rather preoccupied with a small entrance at the far end of the room. A hole in the rock that looked like an ancient doorway. A doorway that held the stout man's attention and filled what could be seen of his face with erratic twitches of fear and desire.

  "Isilda, come. Look at this. Somehow this section of rock has lasted the erosion of water and ice. I do believe these to be old Hoelatha runes." Bhergom waved one of his hands beside his head, yet remained with his eyes firmly fixed on the rock. "I can barely make any of this out in this damned wane light. I really don't want to have to break out the torches..."

  Isilda took up position beside her mentor and leaned further toward the rock. She reached out her right hand from beneath her long sleeve to feel the cold stone. She let her slender fingers run over some of the chiseled and eroded figures for a moment before turning her head to look at her mentor.

  "I believe these are..." She took a steep breath and then held it for a moment. She quickly bit her lip with excitement. "No, this can't be."

  "What in Tolesh's Light is it? What do you feel?" Bhergom's voice pitched with his questions. He lowered himself to one knee and pressed one of his large hands over her own.

  "I think these runes are Morthavi, not Hoelatha." Isilda pulled her hand away and began feeling more of the rock with her fingers.

  "Absurd! There is absolutely no way that any Morthavi runes could have survived this long. Old Hoelatha, perhaps. Are you sure about what your senses tell you? Some of the runes may be similar-"

  Isilda cut off her mentor in mid-lecture. "What I feel right here with my fingers is the old Morthavi rune, 'Khasus.' It's unmistakable. It's crude, but I can feel it."

  "I know just the trick to fix this situation." Tyverus' voice cut through the moment. Both Isilda and Bhergom looked away from the stone and back at Tyverus to be momentarily blinded by an immense flash of orange light. Both lifted their arms up to shield themselves from the brilliance.

  "You damned fool! I said no torches!" Bhergom's voice raised from a growl to a yell at the imprudence of the knight. Isilda raised to her feet, still attempting to shield her eyes from the light and walked towards Tyverus.

  "As you said, Master Bhergom, 'no torches.' I simply remembered an old cantrip from my survival training. I feel foolish that I didn't bother to use it earlier." Tyverus held a small, glowing orb of orange and purple plasma in his gloved hand. The light had blinded him as well, so he began to close his fingers over the orb so as to drown out some of it's severity.

  "I'm not concerned with the problems of light, you grunt. I'm concerned with the heat and the smoke. The heat will melt the roof and the smoke may overwhelm us." Bhergom had gotten to his feet and took a large swipe at Tyverus with a muscled arm. Tyverus dodged the arm deftly while still holding the orb of plasma in his fingers.

  "You needn't be concerned with either, Master. The energy of this light is fueled not with combustion, but with the essence of my being." Tyverus stopped for a moment and shrugged while dodging another swipe from the old oracle. "Well, not just my essence, but rather that of my mantle and wards as well. I can't take all the credit." He gave a grin.

  Isilda closed in to Tyverus and took his hand in her's. At this, Bhergom stopped his outbursts and stared at the young knight through squinted eyes and a furrowed brow. Tyverus opened his hand allowing Isilda access to the plasma orb dancing and whirling around. She lifted a free hand, closing her other fingers and pointing her index finger towards the light. She took a moment to fix her shinging green eyes on Tyverus' shimmering blue, as if to silently ask for permission. She poked at the orb once and withdrew her finger quickly, as if anticipating a burn.

  "It's not hot, really." Tyverus continued to smile through his words. He reached out with his free hand to take Isilda's in it and both approached the dancing orb of light. He held her finger in the plasma for a moment and then allowed her to pull back slowly.

  "Tyverus is correct. I don't feel any heat from this flame. A very unique cantrip." Isilda took a breath in with her eyes wide and gave a sideways smile to the knight.

  "Something that goes beyond what even codgy, old Grandmaster Toulam is capable of..." Bhergom gave a snort of dismissal at Tyverus' ability. "A flame without heat. Wholly unnatural and possibly breaks a dozen laws of the arcane arts." The old oracle rolled his brown eyes and tugged on his long sleeves nervously. "I'll take it, though." Bhergom turned to kneel down before the rock once more, but turned his eyes back up to Tyverus for his last words. "No more sudden and helpful tricks without my say so."

  Tyverus gave a nod and a step forward. He remained silent while standing between the two oracles as they returned to their studies. He focused the orb in his fingers to cast illumination on the dark rocks before them.

  "Well, then." Isilda cracked her jaw between the words and gave a sideways look to her mentor. "I suppose both of us were correct after all."

  "You're right, but this doesn't make any sense. I rather be proven wrong than be confounded." Bhergom let his left hand slide over the surface of the rock as if trying to swipe away the information before him. "The mixture of Old Hoelatha and Morthavi runes can't be like this."

  "Pardon the ignorance, Master, but I don't quite get the issue with this simple rock." Tyverus kept his glowing hand aloft but lowered himself down to a crouching position to see the inscriptions before him easier. "Obviously the worn runes were here from the time when the city of Neshran still stood. Although they're worn, they were precisely carved. I can only make out a few of the words and none of the grammar in them. Yet, surely, the newer marks were made hastily and quite recently."

  Bhergom gave a sharp snort and pivoted on his knee to look Tyverus directly in the eye. "That's precisely the problem, lad." The old oracle got up his feet and began wiping some of the water and grime from his trailing robes. "The newer runes are an older dialect than the worn ones." He gave a long sigh. "Although crudely done, the runes and contexts used would be dated to the height of the Third Age."

  "Third Age?" Tyverus scrunched up his face and leaned closer to Isilda who kept her eyes trained on the stone. "I'm not familiar with ages of cultures in my history. During my training we were given important historical events and dates according to the Ahn Scroll of Years."

  Isilda didn't take her eyes off the stone while responding to the young knight. "These older runes were from the time of Neshran and would be about five-or-six thousand years old. Although they are in good condition, they show their wear to be about that old." Isilda pulled Tyverus' hand that held the light closer to the rock and pointed with her index finger at the newer runes. "These ones seem to be carved anytime in the last year to several decades. The edges are still sharp. Yet, the language and wordings used on these haven't been written or spoken by a living soul in over eighteen-or-twenty thousand years."

  Tyverus pulled his hand back a bit and gave a nervous chuckle. "You're joking. Simply finding something older than a few centuries in a place like this is remarkable enough. I can understand the rarity of finding something a few thousand years old here, okay. But, you're talking about a language that is older than recorded history. Not even sages-"

  "Precisely, lad." Bhergom began pacing back and forth in the centre of the chamber. He lifted his fingers to his scruffy chin several times and fidgeted with the length of his sleeves. "Only the eldest and most experienced members of my order even understand a handful of Morthavi runes. Young Isilda, here, was brought with me because of her exceptional understanding of ancient languages and even she can barely read it!"

  Isilda looked over her shoulder back to Bhergom and then looked over to Tyverus. She gave a sheepish smile and shrugged her shoulders at her mentor's words. She accepted her own ignorance, which seemed to make Tyverus even more enamored with her for her humility.

  "You know what problem this presents." Bhergom stopped in mid-stride and stared harshly at Isilda. "You know what Master Illena said before we left Alsira Thaenat."

  Isilda gave a nod and pursed her lips. She looked from her feet back up to Tyverus, seeing in his face a puzzled expression. "Dictates from the Grand Circle given to us before we left, are to report any ruins, artifacts or scrolls that utilize the Morthavi language. We were here for a simple expedition at the request of our Grandmaster, Toulam. This..." Isilda gave a long sigh and looked back to the harshly chiseled runes while lightly letting her fingers glide over them once again. "This will slow our work down considerably."

  "It will." Bhergom's voice boomed throughout the chamber and reverberated through the passages beyond. "Only if we stop what we're doing and report it immediately. As we were informed to do." One of his bushy, gray eyebrows shot up and the corner of his mouth pulled into a grin. "However, I do believe we only casually glanced at it, as of now, and we didn't realize what we found. We best busy ourselves with looking at more of these ancient catacombs." Bhergom cleared his throat. "That is, unless our Guardian Knight and enforcer of the Morrthault Laws, here, would say otherwise."

  Tyverus got back to his feet and closed his hand with the orb in it to quell the non-burning flame. He gave a half-hearted laugh and turned to see Isilda's wide eyes looking up to him in the dim, icy light. "You're right, Master. I simply saw a stone with some old runes on it. I don't understand the significance of it or what language it was in. We best continue our explorations. At your discretion of course."

  Bhergom smiled and nodded to the Tyverus. "Good. Now, where did that little monster, Vhoggli, get to." The larger and older man took some steps back to check the passageway they earlier descended and to look into the darkness of the off-shoot passage nearby.

  "I believe he was over here looking at an old doorway, Master." Tyverus held out a hand to help Isilda up and both looked over to the doorway nearby them. "Perhaps he got bored of old stones and continued onward, in this direction."

  Bhergom stormed back into the chamber and leaned on the cracked stone frame of the ruined doorway. He stuck his head through and then momentarily pulled back to stare at Tyverus and then Isilda, directly. "You're correct. I can smell his overbearing musk from here. Beyond this doorway is a sloping passage and light coming in from another chamber below." Once his words were out he stormed through and disappeared from view.

  Isilda grabbed Tyverus' hand in hers and marched for the doorway after her mentor. Tyverus went along with her, but hesitated at the doorway and let her hand slip forward into the dark passage beyond. He stood in the threshold and held hold of a stone that may once have held a door hinge many millennia ago. He looked back into the chamber towards the enigmatic stone and then to the passage entrance they had entered from.

  Something didn't feel right to him and it manifested as a nauseated feeling in his gut. He had only ever had such a severe feeling as this once when he was sent to Fort Haalgen near the Star-shatter Peaks. It was his first assignment and had almost been his last. He felt it right before his regiment was ambushed by the abominations of the Hzvennith Phall -- the Disciples of the Mad Forge. He had lost many friends in the bloody days and nights that followed. He had earned many scars, three metal ribs, and two advanced wards to assist in keeping him alive.

  Surely, a simple expedition to a superstition-haunted land wasn't going to be the same as the Battle of Wounded Wolves with all its savagery and carnage. He tried to steel his nerves with courage and with a dash of rationality. After all, he was in the company of two esteemed oracles of the Authrakallin. They were known for their divinatory abilities, their caution, and their removal from worldly affairs. There would be no mad berserkers armed with ancient weapons built into their very flesh, here in this place. Surely, most of all, the beautiful Isilda, with her strange abilities of divination, would let him know if anything untoward would happen and he would handle it as he was trained to.

  Tyverus steeled his nerves while forcing a smile and took his first step into the darkness beyond. The thought of Isilda calmed him. In this place, with the history surrounding them, she seemed happy and at peace. This was enough for him to find peace in this strange place as well.


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Previous Section Table of ContentsNext Section
I: DescentEpisode I: MilestonesIII: Tombs


The Hunter I - Descent



The Hunter

Chapter Navigation
  I: Descent <<
  II: A Matter of Runes
  III: Tombs
  IV: Night's Bridge
  V: Skulls of the Fallen
  VI: Vhoggli's Transgressions (upcoming)
  VII: In the Darkness (upcoming)
  VIII: The Price of Discovery (upcoming)
  IX: Escape (upcoming)



I
Descent


  A frigid cloud of mist flowed over the sloping floors of the descending passageway as silvery light cut its way through the ice-filled fractures in the ceiling. The light that had made its way through the rock and ice, to become trapped deep in this subterranean realm, reflected in distorted shapes off of the pools of water below. This realm being a winding maze of dripping water and shifting light that gathered in the myriad tunnels and chambers below.

  Shifting forms made from shadow coalesced out of the deeper darkness to flit between the swaths of shimmering light. Many of these forms took momentary shelter behind some of the ancient stalagmites before scattering away to other recesses and niches beyond. The dance of light and shadow continued on, as it always had, given life from the dripping and flowing waters that wound their way throughout the passageways.

  This entire realm was bathed in an eerie silence as it had remained removed from the rest of the world and entirely forgotten by those who still lived upon the surface. It had been left undisturbed save for the occasional groan of rock, the slow shattering of ice, or the soft dripping of water into the many pools and flowing rivers that cut through the floors. This darkened labyrinth sat untouched and untraveled by mortals for millennia.

  All things, however, from the entropic decay of the world to the ancient peace of icy caves have their end and the silence of these forgotten chambers had found its own finality. An eruption made its way through the tunnels followed by a wave of cold air, sending the mists and shadows into a whirling frenzy. The energy of this wave shattered some of the more fragile icicles that had held or dripped along the walls and ceilings for untold centuries.

  As the fresh air swept its way through the tunnels once more a new source of light at the mouth of the central passage erupted forth. Behind this light came the thunderous echo of mortal voices as life now returned to these sunken halls and burial chambers. It remained to be seen if this renewed life would be tolerated or quelled. If these interlopers into this forgotten world would be welcomed by the slumbering inhabitants of these deep and dark places, or if the ancient silence would stir forth to consume them.

  "Truly remarkable gifts you have Tyverus." A wizened and gravely male voice echoed down the central passage. "It would have taken us days to cut through the ice using traditional means." The voice drifted into contemplation for a few moments and then returned with a renewed sense of focus. "I must admit, that I was hesitant to bring a knight on this expedition. I thought your ilk as hollow-minded and rough-mannered soldiers."

  The older male voice gave out a resounding laugh that sounded like yet another burst of thunder. "I'm glad to be proven wrong." The voice was followed by a tall and broad silhouette that stood before the new light at the mouth of the descending passage.

  "Bhergom, really?" A softer and younger female voice interjected behind the older male. "Would not a bit of decorum, or at least thanks, be in order for the man who just helped us considerably?" The lighter female voice echoed forth and seemed to resonate with the ice in the caverns.

  "No, it's fine. Really." Another male voice, less gravely and haughty than the first, echoed throughout the tunnels below. "Isilda, I know my reputation with oracles and scholars like yourselves. I am simply glad to be of service to your expedition." The voice softened and lowered its volume for its remaining words. "Before I took up the mantle and wards of the Guardian Knights, I was drawn to the ancient mystique and wisdom of your path, Master Bhergom."

  "You mean, that of the oracles?" Bhergom gave a breathy chortle and then paused. His large frame eclipsed the light at the mouth of the passage as he pressed forward. He held both sides of the tunnel entrance in his arms and then slowly turned on his heels, letting his right hand fall to his side. "You do have gifts, young man. I do appreciate those gifts, but they are very different than the Haeth arts that we use." Bhergom's voice trailed off into contemplation once more.

  "He doesn't think you're sophisticated enough." A new male voice cut in. This voice was deep and low, with a strange accent that set the vowels into a set of trill-like chirps like spring-time birds. "Don't take it hard, lad. You're good enough for the dirty work, like me, but not much else." A phlegm-ridden combination of a laugh and cough followed the man's words.

  "Vhoggli, seriously. That's not what Bhergom meant." Isilda's voice set the sunken realm of ice and stone into a harmonious vibration once more.

  More shadows began to pile into the mouth of the passageway, causing sharp beams of light to cut through their gaps. The harsh contrast of light gave more furtive movement to the shadows that lurked and scurried all the more. It seemed as if the shadows were feeding off the new energy given from these still-living interlopers.

  Somewhere, far off, a deep rumbling made its way through the chambers to dwarf out the echoes of voices for a few moments. The rumbling thunder caused by a chunk of ice or rock breaking free from its moorings to fall toward some uncertain depth. As the rumbles ceased, the voices returned with their earlier life.

  "Well, here we are at last. It's hard to think that before the Cataclysm and before the devastation that tore this land apart, this was the very birthplace of our order." Bhergom mused to himself as his large form pressed downward into the darkened and jagged tunnel before him. He pushed on the sides of the ice-encrusted walls with his broad hands to keep sturdy. "I'm glad some of these passages survived all the upheaval that ravaged the surface."

  "Do you think these are the old catacombs? The ones that existed beneath the city of Neshran; those that are mentioned in the old records back home in Alsira Thaenat?" Isilda pressed in behind the taller and older man. The silhouette of her form was slender, smaller, and partially obfuscated by draping robes. Her voice was frantic with awe and speculation.

  "Perhaps so, those few of the catacomb passages and burial chambers that still survive. Although, I highly doubt we'll find any bones or crypts in this area." Bhergom stopped in his tracks to kick a row of sharp icicles clinging to a niche in the rock near his leg. "The shifting ice flows would have destroyed almost everything over the last few millennia. Still, we're here to look, just in case anything survived."

  Next, the small and stout shadow of Vhoggli pressed into the passageway behind Isilda's slight frame. Vhoggli's form gave a sharp elbow to the tall, high-collared, and well-armored form of Tyverus still partially obscured by the silvery light beyond. Tyverus took a moment at the lack of decorum of the small fellow and then, shaking off his wounded pride, took up the rear of the expedition. Slowly, the four forms pressed forward and downward into the dark.

  "You know what they say about these lands so close to Gehemol..." Vhoggli's voice drifted off. The purpose of such was to add a rhetorical effect more than to wait for any sort of reply from a member of the group. "Do I even have to speak the beast's name?" Another phlegm-filled laugh bubbled up.

  "No, you needn't. I would prefer to keep superstition to a minimum. Our journey is dangerous enough. Thank you very much, Vhoggli." Bhergom's voice was filled with disdain and impatience.

  "I understand the purpose of avoiding superstition, Master Bhergom, but if there is a beast in these tunnels, I best be aware of it." Tyverus had just taken Vhoggli's bait as he pressed in at the rear of the party. "You stated that there is the chance of danger here, which is why I joined you. What beasts are we speaking of, exactly?"

  "Not a beast." Isilda's words twinkled on the ice once again as she spoke over Bhergom's grumbles. "Well, not as quite. Old legends from before the Cataclysm speak of a woman who once lived in these lands. A woman who was an oracle, much like Master Bhergom and myself. A woman who, in a sense, became a beast." Isilda stopped moving to look over the low and scraggled head of Vhoggli and up to Tyverus. "Legends of our order, going back all the way to the days of Vhaltenesh, mention her. It is said she still haunts these lands and it was in her god-like fits of rage and anguish that she tore this land apart."

  Tyverus gave a chuckle at the incredulity of Isilda's words. "Surely, not even an oracle has such power. Your kind are far too subtle with your arts. Those of the Guardian Knights, some of the most legendary, have capabilities that could level entire cities or towns, yes, but not an entire island."

  "You'd be mistaken, young lad." Bhergom had grumbled and restrained himself from talking on the matter, but the knight's assumptions had eroded his restraint. "She was not a member of the Authrakallin. She was, should she ever have existed, an exemplar of what we should never become. She is why our Haeth arts are so subtle. She was from a time before, when oracles were far more..." Bhergom took a deep breath. "Direct." Bhergom slowed his pace over a large step in the floor of the tunnel and turned his head to look over his shoulder at Tyverus for a moment.

  "She sold her very soul to some dark god from beyond. She was given powers that humanity was never meant to earn. She killed the first oracles; then she destroyed this island; now she hunts the oracles again." Vhoggli's voice was flat and his words were curt as he gave a push to the side of Isilda and pressed in behind Bhergom. "Well, some say she only hunts those of her blood; those cursed to be witchlings; those with blood-red hair."

  "Well, then." Tyverus slapped his gloved hands together causing a crack of thunder to echo through the caverns. "Good thing that none of us have red hair. Good thing, as well, that I'm not an oracle." He gave a sly chuckle at his own words and waited for Isilda to turn her head to glare at him.

  "Enough talk about old legends told by reactionary and senile oracles. We have enough dangers here and enough difficulty on this expedition. We don't need to be jumping at shadows and muttering about monsters." Bhergom's voice was loud and low as he pressed forward even harder while kicking at some more icicles in front of him. "Vhoggli, part of why we brought you with us is in the power of your eyes. Use them and not your wretched mouth. Is that a chamber ahead and off to the right?"

  The shadowed and stout form of Vhoggli pressed in beside that of Bhergom's towering frame. A glint of two gray-green orbs flashed in the dim, reflected light from the water at their feet. A wide mouth opened in a grin filled with far too many tiny and sharp teeth to seem fully human. The smaller man couldn't press ahead of Bhergom, being burdened with too many packs strapped to his back, and the broadness of the old oracle taking up most of the passage.

  "Yes, that's a chamber ahead. Off to the right. This passage continues slightly to the left, steeper down, but we'll need the torches for that." Vhoggli's voice was filled with a morbid sense of glee. He began to lick his thick, frog-like lips while inching forward to impatiently press into the back of Bhergom.

  "Good, we'll check this chamber first. I want to use as much of the natural light as we can before we start burning torches. Who knows if the heat might melt the ice and cause a cave-in." Bhergom kept his footing despite the small man eagerly riding his heels. He swept forward in one fluid motion and into the chamber ahead.

  Each of the party continued after, with Vhoggli on Bhergom's heels until he found enough room to squeeze forward into the chamber while Isilda and Tyverus kept looking at each other expectantly. All of them, save for Vhoggli, seemed hesitant and exceedingly cautious.


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These energies are wiped away every week, so sustained energies on this ritual would be most appreciated.
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 Table of ContentsNext Section
 Episode I: MilestonesII: A Matter of Runes