Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
The first thing that crossed Enroth’s mind as he descended the steps down into the ruin was, why the hell am I getting ordered around? He looked at the Elf’s braided hair swinging in front of him, the thought of at least having two people in front of him to block whatever lurked in the depths comforted him little. He clutched his dagger tightly. More important than safety was why he was going down in the first place, he is a strategist, and a noble, not a fighter. This unruly group lacked structure, and his mind raced as to how he could reign in these misfits. They need a leader and he would deliver he told himself as he was lead down into these ruins, by the very same mercenary hired to protect him.
A wave of nausea rushed over him, breaking his train of thought. Something was wrong with this place he shouldn’t be down here, none of them should be. He wished he had offered to stand guard outside with the Beastkin and the archer. This better be worth it.
“Are you sure about this?” he shouted in the direction of Cynric.
“No!” returned Cynric. Sighing the Duke dared a glance at the very agitated Elf in front of him. Her face was a calm mask but if looks could kill then there would be a genocide. He did not envy the outlaw. If this little venture into the ruin turned out to be a waste of time and a breaking of elf law… He had a few ideas as to what would happen.
They had stopped descending, the stairwell led into a room, and it was pitch black. Before he could command their next course of action, Triss illuminated the room with an orb of light. The room was made of a smooth stone, it spread wide but the roof hung low forcing the tall spindly Enroth to duck down a bit.
“Spacious.” He remarked trying to alleviate some of the tension in the air. He got no response.
The room was empty, nothing lay on the floor except a layer of undisturbed dust. He felt his nose itch and attempted a sneeze but nothing came, leaving him uncomfortable. A small wooden door which looked to lead to a cellar of some sort, sat across the room. Crossing over to it Cynric lightly knocked on the door. Nothing happened, he vowed that he heard Triss’s brow furrow.
“What are you doing?” Triss asked trying to keep her anger in check.
The outlaw began to feel up the door, he ran his hands over the wood testing every inch of the hardwood.
“Traps.” He said curtly, the word alone gave enough reason for the others to take several paces back.
After a full minute of him checking for trap, he stepped aside and sent a foot flying into the door. It swung open and a mace on a chain swung down from above swinging into empty space. He grinned at the other two as if expecting some sort of praise.
“So why we down here?” Triss asked bluntly. About time someone asked, Enroth thought.
“Look, Triss there is definitely something down here, it may be treasure or it may be some ancient evil. That’s not the point just learn you can trust my gut as I do. It has saved me many times in the past.” He said.
“Now I trust it less.” She muttered upon hearing this.
“Let’s just get this over with.” Enroth grunted.
Cynric turned and shot a questioning look at his employer, “What are you doing down here boss?”
Triss also glanced at him questioning his presence, “He makes a fair point. Enroth what are you doing down here? You can neither fight nor navigate ruins.”
Obviously stunned by the question that he was asking himself moments ago, he looked around the room frantically as if looking for an answer. “I…I…” sweat formed on his brow as he drastically searched for a viable response. “I am down here to make sure you two don’t fight. And to make sure you don’t break something of significance.”
“Okay then, valuable artefact confiscation.” Cynric grinned in response, “You’re a man after my own heart Boss.”
They started into the next room. As the light orb lit up their surroundings they found it was not a room but a tunnel or shaft of some sort. It diverged into two paths and a foul smell wafted from one, the other a light breeze blew. The three decided that Cynric was to inspect the foul smelling tunnel and Enroth and Triss to inspect the one, which would most likely led to where they saw that chimney aboveground. The outlaw begrudgingly put together a few torches using a few sticks, strips of his soiled clothes, and his treasured booze. On lighting, the flames glowed a pale green colour. Which was mostly likely due to the Benrir’s gunk from earlier which still lingered on his clothes.
“I told you this wouldn’t be pointless.” He said a little too light-heartedly. “Who knows where these paths go.”
“We haven’t found anything yet.” Growled Triss, her tone could stop a demon in its tracks.
“Have some optimism long ears!” Cynric called from inside his tunnel, already too deep to hear her respond.
She snarled something incomprehensible, and started down the opposite tunnel brushing past the Duke. Annoyed that once again he was the one being led around, started after her. The tunnel was long and he lost track of how long they had being walking. They passed several doors which revealed nothing but more empty chambers and dust. Enroth could almost sense her anger steadily climb as they passed empty room after empty room. They continued onward for around twenty minutes or so without incident, not including passing by several chimney’s which served as ventilation. The shafts provided no light, Triss couldn’t manipulate light if there was none around them. She had to forcefully generate it herself which took its toll, the forced light radiated a deep crimson and moved as if alive. Enroth and the drained Elf pressed onwards, passing by decrepit crests and sombre reminders of the once great nation. Triss would have found this place fascinating if the majority of her energy was not spent creating light.
Slowly she began to feel less strained and manipulating light became easier, this however did not put her at ease. Where there is light there are people. Enroth pointed ahead, an ominous blue glow emanated from a doorway. Inside revealed an ante-chamber which led to a massive atrium. The walls were a smooth marble, they would have once been a deep ashen colour as this stone was cut from a volcano. Decaying banners hung around the room, and a throne could be seen on the far back wall. In the centre of the room stood a pedestal, erected on it was a warped crystal like curio. At first glance it seemed to be a crystallised hourglass but at closer inspection… It was unexplainable, with every glance a rush of fear, disgust, compassion and pride rushed over the two. Whatever it was it didn’t want them looking at it. Triss ushered him back into the ante-chamber.
“What the hell is that thing?” Enroth said wheezing heavily. The curio had knocked the wind out of him with its very presence.
“You’re the damn historian why don’t you tell me!” She steadied her breaths carefully and dared a glance back at the curio. She shuddered at the sight of it, queasiness rushed over her. Everything in her body was telling her to look away… but she couldn’t, she gazed at it completely enraptured with its grandeur and completely disgusted by its twisted shape. A firm hand pulled her away from its view and she slowly came back to her senses.
“Wha… no. Why?” she spluttered.
“We got company!” He hissed through his teeth. Muffled voices could be heard just around the corner, and the faint orange glow of torchlight cast shadows in the tunnel. Enroth’s grip tightened around his dagger as he waited for something to cross through the doorway.
A hooded figure passed through first, its face was shrouded in darkness. He tackled the first cultist to the ground, stabbing it through the chest. It dissipated leaving nothing but a marked dark robe behind. The second one turned to see Enroth finishing of its comrade, before it could react a bolt of powerful blue light blew a hole through its chest. It fell backwards turning to dust before it hit the ground. A third cultist saw the carnage and ran.
He nodded to Triss and she sent a bolt flying into the cultists back, it tumbled over at the impact and they heard a sharp hiss of breath. The two approached the cultist, it was bleeding. Enroth rushed to its side and pulled the hood back revealing the face of a young woman, she looked to be in her late twenties and her short black hair was matted with blood.
“Hey this one didn’t disappear.” Triss pointed out.
“Yeah I know.” Enroth grunted while leaning the cultist against a wall. “Now see what you can do about this.” He gestured to the hole in her back. Triss shot a questioning look at him but did it anyway. The flesh around the gaping wound began to distort as she held her hands over it, slowly the wound stitched itself together and all that was left was a scar. Wiping sweat of her brow she used manipulation of nature to keep whoever this cultist was unconscious.
“Interrogation of course, but not here.”
They used the robes of the other cultists to restrain the living one, they started back to the stairwell eager to get away from the blue curio and out of these tunnels. They walked with the cultist over their shoulders, a silence fell over them but Triss could almost hear Enroth’s mind tick, he was eager to finally get some answers. They smelt it before they saw it, the other tunnel. The sick smell of rot wafted from down there and they wondered if they would ever see Cynric again.
Triss saw the dull pale green glow approaching from ahead. Triss sighed, the thought of coming to terms with that idiot was unpleasant. The outlaw awaited them at the stairwell he was grinning madly, he held a box in his hands.
‘What did I tell you!” he said, upon seeing the cultist prisoner his smile faded, “What’s with the mong?”
“This one didn’t turn to dust. Now give us a hand!” Enroth barked, straining from the weight of the cultist.
Aboveground they all sat around a campfire that Wroteger and Declan had prepared. A pot bubbled over the fire. Enroth loomed over the cultist as if searching the creases in her face for answers. When she finally opened her eyes she immediately recoiled and tried to stand but found she was tied to a stump.
“Where am I?!” she asked through panicked breaths.
“A long way from home, Mong.” Cynric responded from across the fire, he was sitting upon the box he had found and was swallowing down stew.
Wroteger grabbed the cultist by the collar and held her up to his face. He growled and his eyes were glazed with hate, “What are you cultists doing.”
“Easy Wroteger, let me handle this.” Enroth said calmly, “Listen ma’am we would like a little bit of information on this organisation you seem to be a part off.”
She looked from one to the other and slowly the panic on her face melted away, she smirked haughtily, “Like I would know, I’m just an initiate.”
“That’s not an answer!” bellowed Wroteger, he was inches away from her face and he stared her down cruelly.
“Please, we implore you tell us-” Enroth said before been cut off.
She chuckled softly, “I know what you two are doing.” She nodded to the Beastkin. “This big one, Wroteger was it? You use him to scare me and you remain civil, making me more willing to open up to you.”
Wroteger backed up, “I’m not one for a battle of wits.” He said his voice returning to the soft but firm tone it usually was.
“Tell us anything. It is of no loss to you.”
“Bargaining now, huh.” She rolled her eyes and turned to the elf. “I assume it was you who put that hole in my back.”
“No need to thank me.” She mumbled.
“What about that one over there, the archer?” she nodded her head in the direction of Declan, who was just returning with more firewood.
“What about him?” Triss said an edge to her voice.
A slight smirk formed at the corner of the cultist lips, “Oh nothing…” she said.
Enroth getting tired of this, pressed on, trying to get any information out of the cultist. Eventually she grew tired of toying with the party and gave in. “So you’re telling me that this… Cult wishes to grant power to humans, as the inevitability of war between other races would wipe us out?”
“That’s the basic rundown yeah, now can you get these things off me.” She said gesturing her bound hands.
Enroth shook his head, “We can’t trust you.” She remained unfazed, expecting that to be the case. “Who leads the cult?” she just shrugged nonchalantly and stared at the glowing embers.
“More importantly what are you guys called?” Cynric added, “And what’s your name for that matter.”
“Why do you care?” she spat, eyeing the outlaw.
“Let me rephrase. Do want to be called mong or not.” He responded harshly.
She sighed and mumbled something softly, He walked right up and put his ear close to her mouth. “What was that!?”
She leant forward and clamped down on his ear with her teeth. He yelped and jumped back, his face red. “The names Giada, now fuck off.”
Cynric backed away muttering curses under his breath. “What is the name, if you don’t mind me asking?” Declan asked watching the captive.
“No clue archer.” Giada responded truthfully.
Wroteger watched them silently, he looked from face to face analysing them closely. He did this too often, his time as campaigner had taught him that life is cheap. Looking around their meagre camp he noticed something. “We have no horses.”
“We know Wroteger, not many of us adventurers can ride.” Triss said. Declan nodded in agreement.
He turned to Cynric and got similar response. “So what, we just march to Kranduim?” he asked not really expecting an answer.
“Yes we march. I can ride but we can’t afford horses anyway.” Enroth added.
Cynric grinned and tapped the box he was sitting on. “Not anymore, killed 2 Shamblers and one other… thing, for this beauty.”
“Anything good?” Declan spoke up.
He opened the box up revealing a small fortune of coin and gems. A shortsword nestled at the base of the box, tossing the sword to Enroth his eyes gleamed. “Hey boss, this is fitting for a noble.” The sword was a good balance and as he tested it in his hands the duke soon became accustomed to the blade. It shone a beautiful bluish steel colour and when struck it rung harmoniously, assuring the quality.
“Nice sword.” Added Giada from her spot tied to a stump.
“Hey Giada want some booze?” Cynric offered.
“I just near bit your ear off and your offering me booze?” she shook her head condescendingly and chuckled. “Sure why not.”
She took a swig, with the help of Cynric and spat most of the foul stuff back out. However she eventually grew accustomed to the taste of cheap liquor and sat there drinking silently with the outlaw.
Triss and Declan leant on each other’s and stared at the stars. Wroteger sat staring into the glowing embers, brooding. And Enroth wondered how his brother the king faired in these dire times.
The great hall stretched a long ways, banners of each clan hung on each of their respected pedestals all facing the centre. On the centre pedestal stood a Beastkin of the feline clan, wearing a grey robe without ornate decoration, a ceremonial truncheon hung at her hip. Scribes on her left and right relayed messages and requests from the clans and there was a constant drawl of many voices throughout the room. Estret Magistrate of the Beastkin tribes, watched them squabble with each other. Whether it was old blood feuds or simple disagreements they could never really make a sound decision.
“Magistrate, the clan of bird wishes to know what you suggest we do regarding the attack on Bazinet.”
“Magistrate, the clan of Bull, Wolf, and Feline wishes to know as well.”
Magistrate, Magistrate, Magistrate. That’s all she could hear. She rubbed at her temples trying to think of the perfect answer, one that would provide an answer and not create a rift between clans. Nothing came.
She at last spoke up, “Enough!” Her voice wielded the authority to silence everyone in the hall. “Bickering will get us nowhere. Relay the facts to me again.”
A scribe on her right stated re-explaining the fate of Bazinet, His husky voice barely reaching her cluttered thoughts. Beastkin from across all the clans were present at the attack, unified under an unknown banner. She could hardly believe it, not many things could unite Beastkin. As a race they were far too different from each other, If something or someone could then it would be a major threat.
“I see.” She said nodding solemnly. “Have we not heard from Ogmund and the humans?”
Several in the room gasped, others stared fiercely at the Magistrate. It was forbidden that Beastkin nobility speak of the human ruler so personally. Estret swore under her breath and felt the eyes of every clan chieftain bore into her. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and her feline ears twitched, waiting for something to happen.
Finally a scribe said, “We have heard nothing from the humans, Magistrate. Some believe they wait for us to make a move.”
A Bull clan head warrior yelled above the many voices. “Magistrate, I suggest we take the initiative. We could use this chaos as an incentive to invade.” Several other Beastkin from other tribes grunted in agreement.
The representative of the shaman’s guild cut him off, “War is not a good idea, and there may be third party involved.” This received aggravated insults from the fighters.
Estret ignored it all and just managed to keep herself together, a breakdown at this point would be disastrous. Her eyes widened as a thought crossed her mind, “What about Enroth, he has aided us many times. What does he say of the attack?” she said a little too eagerly.
The room was silent except for the faint scribbling of ink on paper. A scribe turned to the Magistrate, “Magistrate, have you not heard. Enroth the saviour of Bal-Urpesh was last seen at Bazinet.” She slumped back into her chair in disbelief, the master strategist and a hero of two nations could be in danger and she had no idea.
Estret mustered her courage and swallowed down her pain. “Send a search party to the ruins of Bazinet, see if our trackers can find signs of him.”
“But Magistrate, I think-” A chieftain began to protest.
“Do not start anything with the humans, search for Enroth… or his remains. And find everything and anything you can about this group that used Beastkin under my jurisdiction to stage the attack.” She ordered, desperately trying not to crack. She watched as several messengers rushed out of the hall and the groups of nobility began to leave. What the hell are you doing Enroth? Please don’t be dead.