By Scott Kujawa
Date: 11th day of the 2nd tenday of Mirtul in the year 1375 - The Year of Risen Elfkin
Time: Early Morning to Evening
Location: Wilds outside of the mercenary settlement on the way to Shadowdale.
Weather: Temperate and raining.
Caer checked the camp before she prayed to Mielikki after she ate her dawnfry.
Ragnar woke early the next morning and after he said his prayers to Milil and Sune he shaved away the few fuzz on his cheeks and took a sparing breakfast. Once he had eaten, he checked on Luie, telling the halfling's unconscious form, “You need to wake up now, it's your turn to take care of cooking supper today."
Auy woke shortly after first light and she slipped out of the bedroll. She dressed in her normal outfit before she checked on the halfling. "Ah, it seems I am not the first up and over to check on the little one, how does he look?"
Luie woke and disorientation set in as he began to roll onto his side, smacking his nose on a piece of plank and the brief pain washing away any fatigue.
“Ouch,” Luie mouthed. He took a moment to asset the situation and the noise issuing from his stomach could have woke the dead and some of the undead. He also had the incredible urge to water the shrubs in the worst possible way. As he saw the members in the wagon, he barraged them with questions. “Is it eveningfast? Why the concerned looks? Why am I in the wagon? Ragnar did you bring something for me to chew on?“ He crinkled his nose. “What is that smell... lavender... never mind.” Luie rummaged through his back pack and pulled out his hand ax.
"It’s dawnfry. We're afraid you'll eat the wagon. We guessed that you'd prefer it instead of being tied to a horse, and I'm afraid not, but you can always use the axe handle," Ragnar calmly replied to the halfling's barrage of questions. He winked at Auy, "I'd say he looks like most halflings - small, not pretty, but not as ugly as a goblin."
Auy laughed. "Well, I've met a few handsome goblins in my travels, but aye, they are not as ugly as those normal midgets you have to put down. And it seems he has managed to recover well enough from his wound, I almost think he forgot about it! He is talking normally, so it seems all is fine!”
“It’s this nose. No one likes the nose because it’s too small and pointed.” He rubbed it some more. “I think I fixed the pointed part. The axe is just in case I meet a critter while outside taking care of things. Well, if you can excuse me, I need to go. When you need to go you got to go, so I might as well go. Or we can all float off this wagon together if you want to wait a moment? And I missed eveningfast? No wonder I am starving."
"Well hurry up then. I don't want to wear my good clothes during this guard trip. And your nose is rather pointed, isn't it? Are you absolutely sure that you don’t have any gnomes in the family?" Ragnar told Luie as the bard reached out a hand to give the hin some help getting out of the wagon.
Luie accepted Ragnar’s help and the halfling’s free hand gripped Auy’s knee to hold himself steady. “I am orphan,” he said. “Come to think of it, everyone at the monastery were orphans.” He gave a quick tug and stood between the two.
Caerlin came around the end of the wagon with a smile. "Ah Luie my friend, I’m glad to hear you that you are up and about this day, I was worried." She offered him a hand to get down out of the wagon.
He waved at her. “No worries. Hey Caerlin guess what? I’m finally taller than you!” He took her hand as he hopped to the ground and instead of hitting the ground he latched onto her midriff. He gave her a brief squeeze before he finally landed on the ground. “Thanks for the help down. I did not mean to cause everyone concern,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear. “And I do not mean to be rude but, I need to go put out a small campfire, no make that a forest fire.” He paused for a breath. “And no priestess! I do not need help with that duty!”
Caerlin returned the hug, and she started to chuckle at Luie's words. "Aye, for a moment there you were taller."
Luie ran off into the wilds, swinging the ax at his side. Caerlin watched him run off and she turned to the others. "Well, I think that if we want any dawnfry, we should get it before he does."
”Aw,” Ragnar moaned. ”No hugs for the bard?”
Caerlin looked up at Ragnar and she continued to chuckle. "Well, you are up there, so with me down here, it does make it hard." She winked at him before she wandered off towards the fire.
Ragnar jumped off the back of the wagon and offered Auy his arms to help her down.
The priestess of Sharess smiled down at the bard. "Oh, for me?" she took his hand and accepted the help. "Why thank you, I think that is the first time anyone has actually done that for me." She kissed the bard on the cheek before she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug that she held for a moment before she let go and winked at him.
After she smiled, she turned and swayed amongst the wagons and members of the company to find some entertainment or trouble to get into. Ragnar picked up his flute and he sent an appreciative whistle after her.
Addoc took a step back as the halfling rushed past. "Mind you rush back as well, lad," he rumbled.
The hin heeded the large Gondsman advice. "I will Addoc," he yelled as he scampered past.
As Ragnar watched the wagons throughout the day, he continued to make friends with the other members of the Red Shields and the caravan leader. He did his best to find out what they felt about the Zhentarim and like most of the company, they hated the Zhentarim.
Addoc spent the morning helping check the wagons for needed repairs and he helped repair the few splintered axles and warped wheels. After that was done, he spent the rest of the day riding with the cooks' wagon and he made conversation with Mrilinia, the female, and Eldarin, the male.
Towards late midday, they remaining members of the Red Shields that were with the wagons were asked to go investigate a large mound of brown and red dirt and rock that was a hundred feet to the north.
Glad for a change in the routine, Ragnar urged his horse on, riding to within three or four feet of the mound. He rode around it to make sure that there wasn't anything suspicious about it and the only thing that might be suspicious was the tall obelisk at the top of it.
For his part, Addoc remained astride his horse and he scaned the area for attack, ambush, or anything out of the ordinary. As the rain streamed unchecked down his dour face, he was beginning to like the countryside less and less.
Ragnar decided that the mound seemed safe and he dismounted and climbed up it to inspect the obelisk. Once he got to the top, he saw that the obelisk rose sixty feet towards the sky and written up and down and on four sides of the grey and red stone obelisk are runes and pictographs. He couldn’t read the runes but some of the pictographs show the sun, storm clouds, a female in anguish as a plant grows into her head, some snake-like creatures fighting humans, and other scenes.
Auy slipped up behind Ragnar and poked him with a finger on each side. "Boo!" She giggled from behind him. "So, I see there are some interesting markings on this big long obelisk,” she purred as she moved from behind him to inspect the stone obelisk.
Ragnar swung round, clapping a hand to the hilt of his cutlass. "Oh... it's you Auy." He gave her a sheepish grin. "Do you see anything that makes sense to you on it? That picture of the woman is disturbing to say the least."
"Aye, it’s just me, were you hoping it was someone else?" the priestess questioned with a coy smile before she turned to look up and down the odd structure. "You are correct, that picture is a bit... odd and disturbing." The female continued to look at the structure, runes, and pictographs but she isn’t sure what they represent nor what the runes say.
“I’m not hoping for anyone in particular, really. I just didn’t notice you coming.” Ragnar scratched his head and studied the obelisk’s pictures a bit closer. “Hmm... I’m in no way sure of this, and I may very well be more wrong than I was when I told Erlyra Drenor that her father wouldn’t be back for another hour, but... I think the pictures could be depictions of deific events and the history of Faerûn and you know,” he paused and made a kind of “big-area-of-nondescript-form” gesture, “the planes.
“You wouldn’t know if anyone on the caravan is good at drawing? I can probably describe the pictures pretty well from memory if I study them for a bit longer, but the runes will be harder. And a drawing would still be more exact than my memory."
"The planes?” Her eyes lit up with interest as she scooted over to the bard and she got right next to him and looked at where he was looking. She did notice the pictograph of what looked like a feline battling darkness while a full moon looked down on the two. Auy also saw another pictograph that she thought might be the inside circle of Sigil. "Someone good at drawing? Well, let me think for a moment. Will this rain ever quit? Oh! I know, Thethtos! A cute human that wiggles his fingers and uses the Weave! He is good at drawing! I know this because he's done a few portraits of me and others. Look at that!" she said as she poked the bard again as she pointed at the image of the feline that is fighting and the image of the possible inside circle of Sigil. "You might be right, that feline, if I am correct, is a very good goddess," she cooed as she pushed against the bard. "The circle might be a very nice city to visit, though I wonder what event it is tied too? I need to make sure we get those two pictographs.”
"Um... Like I said, I'm not really sure. I was thinking that perhaps we should ask him if he could copy the runes and pictographs so we can show it to someone that is more knowledgeable than us. I do hate unsolved mysteries." Ragnar looked up at the skies and muttered darkly at the rain falling in his eyes. "Not as much as I hate getting soaked to the bone, though, of course."
"Eh, this rain is a bit much. I normally like it, but enough is enough already! You mean to tell me that you don't like playing in the rain?" Auy asked as she wondered why Talos was tormenting them with all this rain.
"Well, it's preferable to swimming in the Waterdeep harbor or going for a miles-long race in the blistering sun, but yes, it is getting to be a mite much. Perhaps we should go look for your artist?" Ragnar stroked some heavy, wet hair out of the front of his eyes. "And a good hat."
"Aye, let’s find him."
To the south, they could see Luie and Caerlin ride into camp and they stopped to converse with the caravan master. The priestess turned and started to walk back towards her horse. Ragnar hurriedly got on his horse, riding the short distance back to the camp.
* * * * *
Luie finished with his business in the scrub and then went for dawnfry. After a quick meal, he chose to follow Caerlin from the camp because out of the entire group she might find something interesting. Luie took his makeshift belt with sling bullets attached to it. He placed some dirt and leaves inside the pouch and then tied the bag off tight so it will reduce the chance of the bullets ‘clinking’ together and the hand axe is tucked behind his back within the belt.
As he walked, he took local samples of the plant life and he added it to his outfit. Long-grass was entwined in his black hair, dirt smeared his face, and twigs stuck out from various parts of his body until he resembled a walking bush more than a small halfling.
Caerlin left by herself again as she scouted while the other scout moved amongst the wagons and outwards, since he is testing the young scout and trusting that she can spot trouble. The only thing Caerlin spotted this day is a ruined cabin that still has wisps of smoke coming from its burned walls. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the walking bush/halfling as he followed her.
Caer slowly and cautiously started to approach the cabin and as she walked, she pulled an arrow from her quiver and knocked it while she kept watch around her. So far, all she could see was Luie trying to blend into the grasslands. She carefully circled the cabin at a distance, looking to see if there are any survivors or attackers. She saw booted tracks leading southwest and five bodies within. Two are adult humans and the other three are human children of various ages from toddler to adolescence. From the looks of the items in the cabin, the two adults were hunters and trappers, since she can see pelts from different animals, traps, bows, skinning knives, and other items to work the pelts.
Luie saw the burned cabin and the small shrub paused in the tall grass. His eyes focused on Caerlin and once she started to notch her arrow, he began to move. He squatted down and he slowly placed a hand on the hilt of his ax. He watched her for a bit and then let his eyes unfocused from her. Eventually she came to a halt after circling the smoking ruin.
“All clear,” He breathed.
Caerlin stopped at what's left of the wooden door, and she waited for the walking shrub to catch up. She hung her head and said a short prayer to Mielikki, Myrkul, and Bhaal for the family, the dead, and the death.
When Luie arrived, she looked at him with tears in her eyes. "What kind of man would kill small ones?" She shook her head, and looked around for some kind of digging tools. "Let's at least bury them as best we can, then mayhap we can get Addoc or Auy to finish their last rites properly. Then, I think we should get help to find out who did this, and why....I won't be able to follow the tracks very well yet."
He stayed silent because he had no answer. He waited for her to recover as he studied the inside and the five charred remains were difficult to see because everything inside was covered in soot and ash. He nodded in agreement before he entered the burnt cabin.
“I will retrieve the bodies that are scattered through the cabin and bring them out to a clear spot,” he talked as he walked to the remains. “Was the door barred from the outside? I couldn’t tell, but it looks like it was shattered from outside. I am about to start and whatever you do cover your mouth with a cloth to breath. Do not use your nose.” He chose to lift the largest one first. “If you want to start a shallow pit, take my ax. Churn Chauntea and remove her skin.”
Caer nodded and she started to look through her backpack for a cloth. Once she found one, she tied it around her face and used Luie’s axe to clear spot under a tree. After she got the hole dug, she helpped Luie.
"We need to be careful that we don't mess up the tracks as well. And we should get back to the caravan and let Jelitha and the others know, so they can be on their guard."
Once they finished about an hour later, Caerlin looked around and up at the sky before she breathed a shuddering sigh. She stepped away from the hole and did a quick search to see if there is anything that might point to who did this and why. All she saw were the tracks of booted feet that headed southwest and she thought they were made by humans. Furthermore, she saw that most of the tracks led away from the cabin, but one set, which is older, led towards the cabin.
Caer stepped into the cabin, and looked around for anything that might be out of the ordinary. She noticed, in the corner, half-buried under some pelts and furniture that fell over, a wooden hatch that probably led under the cabin. After a few moments, she stepped outside and turned to Luie. “Hey Luie, come help me with this hatch I found,” she called to him as he finished covering the grave.
Caerlin and Luie returned to the cabin and she carefully started to move the debris from on top of the hatch. He ambled over to her while putting his wet hair into a topknot. He helped her with the heavier pieces and after about a half-hour of work, it was cleared.
"Is it a root cellar?" he asked as he knelt next to the hatch. "If so, how come no one went into it to hide?"
"I don't know, unless they didn't have time?" Caer looked around the hatch to make sure that she has everything cleared. Once she saw that it wasn’t blocked, she checked for traps. As far as she can tell, it had no traps nor was it locked. She started to rummage in her pack for a torch as she asked, "Shall we open it, and see what's inside?"
"I thought you would never ask." He motioned her back as he proceeded to lift the hatch. "That’s the only true way to disarm a trap," he chuckled.
Caerlin gave Luie a smile as she took a step back and finished retrieving the torch from her pack. She lit it once she made sure that she was far enough away so that she wouldn’t set his disguise on fire. "Let's see what we can find."
A set of wooden stairs led downward for about thirty feet and the side walls, that look to be about six to eight feet wide, have been dug and chipped out of the soil and stone. A tunnel leads north and it disappears into the darkness since the light of the torch can’t reach much further from where the two kneel around the hatch. Caerlin and Luie only smelled the wet earth from where they are standing in the cabin. All they heard was a low mummering clanking that vibrated through their bones but they can’t tell where it originates because it fills the whole tunnel and back towards the dark part that their torch doesn’t light.
Caerlin stood up, put her backpack back on, adjusted her buckler and bow, put the torch in her left hand, and then turned to Luie. "Let's go. Do you think we should shut the hatch after we go down, or should we try and fix it so that it can't be shut on us?"
Luie started to remove twigs and leaves. “We should shut the hatch behind us. If someone follows us it might be possible for us to hear that hatch open again. I will go in front with the torch; you stay at the edge of the torch’s rear light. If something comes out to eat me, I suggest you shoot it. I can fight one handed.” He looked down at his shirt. “This is ruined.” He retired the shirt down to the ground revealing dazzling tattoos across the front of his body.
She saw green fields of clovers covering his stomach and a small white rabbit rested within the fields. Rising above the field tattoo is a fiery bird. Its tail feathers flame out, highlighting the rabbit. The bird’s wings outstretch upwards from his ribs ending at the tip of his nipples. A long flame covered neck snaked it way up from the center and between his chest, coming to a finish at a triangular head screeching silently skyward.
“Torch?” he asked.
Caer handed Luie the torch. "Nice tattoo, a phoenix?" she asked with a smile. "What do you think that noise could be?" She looked back down the hatch, "Do you think a bow will do any good? I was thinking that my sword would work as well." She looked back at Luie with a smile.
He accepted the torch with his right hand. “Aye, a phoenix is the actual name. I always referred to it as a firebird. As for the noise," he tilted his head toward the dark tunnel, straining his ears. “I am not sure. What I do know is you are very proficient with a bow; but, a sword could do wonders down there too.”
Caerlin shrugged, and pulled the bow off her shoulder. She nocked an arrow, and carefully followed Luie, pulling the hatch shut behind her.
"And don't forget," he said once he was half way down, "if all else fails... fire burns. Fire burns good." He play acted petting the torch as he finished climbing down.
Once down the ladder, they saw that the tunnel extended forty feet ahead before it turned to the left. He placed his left hand against the wall trying to get a sense of rhythm from the vibration and it flowed through the wall and deeper into his bones. "Giant clockwork?" he asked.
Caer quietly chuckled. "A clockwork? Why would there be one here?" She began to doubt the sanity of Luie and her coming down here.
He led the way up the tunnel and they made their way over the small pieces of rock that littered the tunnel. Every so often some loose soil and rock fell from the ceiling because of the strong vibrations but the tunnel seems well braced and secure with wooden supports even though the dirt and rock was damp or leaking water because of the runoff from the rain.
Looking down the left tunnel, which extended for twenty feet but was the same six foot width, they saw that it ended at a grey stone door that was closed. A large image of a gear could be seen in the center of door and ever so often it looked like it rotated to the right but that wasn’t what is causing the vibrations.
Caer stopped at the turn. "Mayhap we should return and get the Gondsman?" she quietly asked Luie. She warily watched the door, and the image on it as the image continued to rotate.
Luie’s head bobbed up and down in agreement before he turned towards her. “Let’s cover the hatch once we exit, and find me a new shirt.”
"I have one of my blue shirts ones in my pack but it probably will be too big, but you are welcome to wear it," Caerlin quietly told him as she started to back away towards the hatch.
"It is not a kilt, but it works for me. Besides I always liked the color blue." He followed her back towards the ladder.
Caer put the arrow back in her quiver, slung her bow back over her shoulder, and carefully started up the ladder. When she reached the hatch, she listened to see if she heard anything coming from above. Once she realize it was clear, she pushed the hatch open and climbed out. Once Luie is out, she carefully lowered it back down, and started to cover it. When they finished, she started to rummage in her pack for her shirt and once she found it, she handed it to Luie. "Here you go."
The halfling put on the shirt that was really to large for him and it draped around most of his body. “I feel like a drained blueberry or,” he flapped his arms up and down, letting the loose sleeves snap in the rain, “a bird! Caw! Caw!” After a brief giggle, he tied the shirt off in the appropriate places to make a better fit. He picked up the sputtering torch and doused it in the nearest water puddle. “I’m set. Let’s make some tracks.”
Caerlin and Luie rode back and stopped before Jelitha, who was looking north towards a large mound of dirt. Caerlin looked towards the mound, and watched the three members of her Company ride closer.
* * * * *
“Wow. That has to be the second biggest ant hill I ever seen,” Luie leaned over towards Jelitha, “Has the mound always been on this route?”
Caer arched an eyebrow at Luie. "Only the second largest?" As Auy, Ragnar, and Addoc rode up, the two that went to scout rode into camp Caerlin waited for Luie to answer her question. The female scout turned to Jelitha and started to tell the caravan master about the cabin and what the two members of the Wyrm’s have found.
“Nay, that’s new as far as I recall. Most interesting,” Jelitha remarked. “If all of you wish to take leave from guard duty, you can return to the cabin or the obelisk and research or explore them.”
"I suppose it would be a teeny bit more important to find out what killed those people in the cabin, right? There could be brigands laying in wait for a caravan to pass by, for instance." Ragnar grinned. "I guess Auy will be happy to hear she gets to take a ride again."
The priestess gave the mouthy male a good elbow to the ribs. "That depends on whom I'll be riding." She paused as she turned and looked up and down the caravan to find the mage. "Riding with, that is."
"Ow," said Ragnar before he rubbed at his side.
"Aye," Addoc rumbled. "There's nought I can do standin' out here criticizin' someone's art, but someone ought to do somethin' t'try and find a little justice for folk killed in their own home."
Once she spotted the mage at the second wagon, Auy sauntered off towards the mage as her rain soaked dress moved with her steps. Auy stopped behind the mage and gave him a hug. As he turned around and smiled at her with warmth and interest, she said, "Well met, I was wondering if you could make some of your lovely drawings? Of course, it'll probably have to wait till this rain has passed, unless you can manage paint while you are wet.”
“Magic, my dear Auy, can do wonders. Now, my little kitten, what do you want me to draw?”
Auy nudged against him in response to being called kitten. "Oh, just some drawings if you have the time. There are some nice pictographs of deity encounters, planar places, and such not to far from here. It was Ragnar's idea for some one to draw them but I just supplied him with a name of someone who could draw them. Speaking of which, if it his idea, why did I end up tracking you down?" Auy shrugged as the wizard laughed. "I guess he thought that it might be better coming from me or something."
“Is that so kitten? I think you just wanted me to draw you some more. However, I’ll go look at these things and it looks as if the other members of your unit are waiting for you, so go with them, kitten.”
Auy glanced back at her companions as she rubbed against the mage as the mage smiled. "I guess so, besides, if I went with you I doubt any drawing would get done... at least any drawings of the pictographs.” She smiled and kissed the mage as he chuckled at her before she joined her companions.
“Go then, as I said you have my permission to decide to explore one or both places,” the caravan master said to those that stood near her.
The bard set off to collect his crossbow and some dried meat in case he'd get hungry. As he gathered his items, he thought about Luie and with a sigh, he gathered some more dried meat for when Luie would get hungry.
Luie moved away and he gathered his gear before he headed north to go look at the mound. As he gazed up at the very tall, for a halfling, obelisk, he saw that some of the images looked a little weathered but most of them were still preserved and easy to see.
Seeing that the others were leaving, the halfling quickly ran down the mound and jumped into the saddle behind Caerlin. After a bit, Caerlin half-turned to Luie. "I don't know Luie. First I find a lone woman on the plains, then a burnt cabin, and now a mysterious obelisk that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. I'm not sure I like all this mystery that seems to be happening." She seemed to be deep in thought as they continued towards the cabin.
Luie arched an eyebrow. “A lone woman on the plains? Did she have a pet rothe next to her? There might be a connection to the old obelisk and the burnt cabin. I wonder what is behind the door? Do you think it could be a monkey? A clockwork monkey built by an ancient race of mad Lantanese gnomes? Do you think the caravan will be safe without us? Is time for second dawnfry yet?”
"No, she didn't have a pet rothe. She said she was listening to the whispers of Akadi." Caerlin turned to him again, "An old obelisk? Jelitha said it was new on the route as far as she could tell. Are you sure you're not a gnome? You sure seem to have this thing about clockworks lately." She grinned at him. "I hope that the caravan will be okay, they have the other guards as well as Miesker, but we should probably be quick about this side trip." Caerlin started to chuckle a bit. "And I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you are hungry again, after being unconscious for two days."
After a bit of riding, they arrived back at the cabin.
Upon spotting the cabin, Ragnar stood up in his stirrups and scanned the area for any suspicious signs that might be there. "So, what do we do now? Make the graves deeper, or is there something in the cabin that should be looked into first? The corpses after all, hopefully, won't rise up and walk away."
The giant human motioned towards the cabin with a wave of his hand. "You all start searching around there and I'll do my best to make sure these folk's rest won't be disturbed." Addoc slipped from his horse and he began gathering large rocks from the plain to pile on top of the graves.
Caer slipped off her horse and she looked around and at the wet ground to make sure that nothing has been disturbed since she and Luie left. As far as she can tell there are no new tracks and the cabin and the inside looks the same. She helped Addoc cover the graves and as they worked she said, "Luie and I found a hatch that goes under the cabin. Once we opened the the hatch, we could hear and feel a vibration as we walked down the stairs and the hall. At the end of the hall, there was a closed grey stone door, which has an image of a large gear on it. As we watched, the gear turned to the right, but the vibrations aren't coming from it. We thought that you might be interested in it, and I'll admit that thoughts of self-preservation came to me as we watched the gear turn." She smiled after she finished.
The giant paused for a long moment, idly shifting a large rock between his hands as his scarred face crinkled in thought. "Hrm," he hrmmed, finally placing the stone on top of one of the graves. "If it's been turnin' this long, it'll turn a bit longer until we finish this task."
When the graves had been had been covered sufficiently to protect from the depredations of wild animals, Addoc retrieved his hammer from his horse and stood at the head of the graves, holding the heavy weapon over his head.
"Wonderbringer, you know I've no tongue for this sort of talk, but if you'll hear the words of one of yer own..." The Gondsman glanced about, looking slightly embarrassed. "We know naught about these folk, but if you'd give them a moment t' warm themselves by yer forge and make sure their knives are sharp as they make their way t' wherever they'r goin' from here... I... um... well, you'd have my thanks..."
The giant paused for a moment of thought, then brought the hammer down on the ground with a huge thud - once, twice, thrice. He nodded, satisfied, and before he could turn back to the group, he saw the dirt shift for a moment into the figure of a gear before the soil returned to normal.
He turned back to the group, still looking self-conscious. "So... shall we be about looking at yer door, then?"
Caerlin smiled at Addoc. "Thank you Addoc, I'm sure that your words were heard, and are appreciated." She pointed at the tracks of the booted feet, which are slowly fading due to the rain, that headed to the southwest. "I have a feeling that these probably belong to whomever did this.” She shook her head and droplets of water splashed from her wet hair. "I really don't understand why a person would kill children."
Auy nodded and smiled. "Aye, Caerlin is right and you are not alone because I have no gift for those words either. But, on the bright side, they have gone on to the realms of their deities and they are enjoying a different sort of life." Auy frowned at the rest of Caerlin's words that involved the killing children and the priestess of the cat goddess bit back a comment about what sort of beings would do that. She felt that there was no reason to bring up discussions about those kinds of beings though since she sensed that her companions were already saddened enough and it would distract them from the search to come.
At Auy's frown Caerlin nodded. "Aye, Luie and I found the remains of two adults, and three children." The scout took a deep breath. "One was just a babe and she was probably just learning to walk."
"Oh that is a horrible thing, at least the adults had had some chance to enjoy life and the pleasures it can bring, but the little ones..." Auy trailed off. "Well, all we can hope is that they are enjoying their afterlife.”
The scout turned and led the others into the cabin, and she began to uncover the hatch. Ragnar silently waited behind her and Auy joined them a moment later. Caerlin listened to see if she can feel/hear the vibrations that were present earlier and once the hatch was opened, they could be heard and felt by everyone.
Caer began to rummage in her backpack, and a few moments later she pulled out a torch and lit it. "Are we ready?" she asked as she looked at the others before she unsheathed her longsword. "And Luie, please don't ruin my shirt. Until we get to Shadowdale, that one and this one are all I have." She winked and gave him a small smile.
The priestess coughed suddenly as she over heard what Caerlin said and Auy smiled a small impish smile. She drew out her claws and equipped them, just incase she needed to move into battle with some awful creature.
“What? I can’t hear you because of all this noise,” he said with a mischievous smile. “I can take the torch and the lead to the door.”
Caer chuckled and handed Luie the torch. She put her sword away, and pulled her bow off her shoulder instead. "After you then."
Luie climbed down the ladder first and the others followed. As they looked around, they saw that the side walls, that are about six to eight feet wide, have been dug and chipped out of the soil and stone. A tunnel led north and it disappears into the darkness since the light of the torch can’t reach much further from where everyone stood. Everyone smelled wet earth and a low murmuring clanking vibrated through their bones and through the walls.
The hin took the lead as he said, and he followed the tunnel until they came to the door that Caerlin mentioned. They saw that the door was a grey stone and it was closed. A large image of a gear could be seen in the center and ever so often the gear rotated to the right but its rotations isn’t what is causing the vibrations and whatever is causing them, lies behind the door.
"So... I guess this is where you show us what you can do Addoc?" Ragnar said. He pointed at the door with his cutlass. "I'd investigate the door myself, but the last time I tried that Caerlin nearly got her shirt ruined by the dart that hit her."
The Gondsman harrumphed and edged past the rest of the group to get close to the door. "Traps and such aren't really in my line, lad, but I'll give it an eye and see if there's aught I can tell you 'bout it."
Addoc checked the door closely and as he did he compared the gear in it to the one that is on his holy symbol. He thought that they are connected, but at the same time there are slight differences in the teeth of the gears. He didn’t believe the door was trapped and he thought, possibly, that if the gear was turned the opposite direction it is turning, it might release the mechanism that kept the door shut. He listened to the vibrations to see if they resemble anything he's been close to during his time with the priesthood.
The giant tapped on the surface of the door with one huge finger. "I think there's a great engine past this door, unless I miss my guess. There sounds like some type of golem that might be Gondwork or the like. Gears against gears, hammer against metal..." He studied the door for a moment longer before he reached out to grasp the gear. "Ready yourselves, and we'll see what's beyond..." he rumbled over the noise as he turned it counter-clock wise.
Auy watched the giant with interest because she was surprised at how the large man tended to the small gears so tenderly and easily. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be! I've never seen or heard so many gears before and this place just feels odd to me." She looked back the way they came as she waited for the giant to open the door so that they can see what lies behind it.
Luie’s voice piped up right next to Addoc. “Right behind you. Give me a moment after the door opens and then I can be right ahead of you too. Of course the torch could be a problem.”
On hearing the large man’s words, Ragnar quickly took several steps back from the door, covering behind Caerlin. “Sorry, but I’ve a very sensitive constitution,” he whispered into her ear. “Let’s hope that Gond or Lady Luck stays with us.”
Caer looked over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow. "Delicate constitution, eh?" She pulled an arrow out of her quiver, and got ready as she whispered a quick prayer to both Mielikki and Tymora.
Luie flashed a grin to the bard. “Tymora is always with us Ragnar. And if your constitution is really that sensitive can I eat the rest of your rations?” He grinned at Caerlin and she shook her head as she replied, “I still think you are a gnome.”
"Don’t forget Luie’s large nose, Caerlin. And no you can't have my rations, besides, 'twasn't me that passed out from a little insect bite. I can hold the torch, though,” the bard remarked.
Seeing that his companions were, hopefully, done discussing things with each other, Addoc finished turning the gear. With a tug on a different part of the door that was shaped like a long gear, he pulled it open. Pale golden light cracked, and then spread, across the entrance as he did and he felt that the door opened with ease. Looking into the room everyone of the Unit could see a room inside of what looked to be what they thought of a large forge. Small to large beings that are square, circle, triangular, and other shapes could be seen moving around a large pool of liquid. Rising from the liquid, they saw an even larger being made out of the quicksilver that filled the pool. It looked vaguely humanoid and the moving creatures around it built and repaired different machines and themselves and the whole forge is what is causing the droning vibration.
"Sparks of the Great Forge," Addoc muttered. "This is a queer thing to find in a man's root cellar."
Luie let out a low whistle. "Yes Addoc, very strange indeed."
"Bhaal's Bristling Britches!” Ragnar exclaimed, his mouth wide open. “This makes the interior of Old Xoblob’s seem perfectly normal.” He looked more closely at the room and they realized it was circular and there were at least four more rooms off of it. "So, what do you think that thing in the pool is?"
The hin passed the torch to Ragnar. “Is it a threat? Are any of these a threat? I don’t think they are aware of us yet.”
Caer watched with amazement at the goings on in the room before she looked at Luie. "I'm very glad that we went and got Addoc before we opened the door." She watched for a bit more and then asked the Gondsman, "What exactly is going on in there Addoc? And are these things a threat to us? It seems that the family was more than just the trappers they first appeared to be."
Auyaeu blinked as she stared and watched everything that goes in the room with amazement. "Yeah, I can't say this is anything I'd expect to find in a root cellar. Well at least not a cellar in this place."
The priestess turned to the giant to see his reaction. "Do you have any idea what this place is for or what some of those things are?”
Addoc isn’t sure how to answer Caerlin’s questions since he has never heard of this place nor does he know a thing about it. Auy has a long forgotten memory surface and she said, “What are these things doing here? I've seen these things before and they are a race of beings called modrons. That silver thing is named Primus and it has something to do with them, though I'm not sure what. The modrones are they sphere shaped things with a single eye, wings, and two arms and legs. The duodrones are the square shaped things with the legs and arms. They are so organized it makes my head hurt and they have laws about laws about laws and more laws telling you about those laws. I remember why I had buried the memory of these things because they march across the planes for some unknown reason. If I remember right, their plane is Mechanus, which is filled with gears and metal creatures and it is a very ordered place.”
“That sounds a bit like the clerks at the palace in Waterdeep. Do you have any idea what they might be doing here, and if they could be responsible for the dead people?" Ragnar asked as he looked at the strange beings with a befuddled expression.
“Are we even sure where here is? It would not be the first time we’ve stepped through a portal. And the footprints Caerlin found were humanoid.” Luie watched the beings perform their tasks.
"This is all beyond me, lad," the Gondsman said with a shake his head. "...but I've a feeling that there's only one way to suss this out."
The Unit of the Silver Wyrms noticed that some of the strange metal constructs have started to realize that the five mortals are seeing into wherever this is but the constructs aren’t showing any hostile actions and the humanoid-like quicksilver being continued to shift and flow inside of the pool as it towered over the room.
The giant took a step forward away from the pack and as he did, he felt a slight resistance in front of him for a moment before it went away. "Ho, there, Servants of the Great Machine! We come here with no malice towards ye. D'ye say the same?"
“Well that is one way to find out if they are friendly.” Luie joined Addoc and he to felt the slight resistance and the hin stopped when he stood next to Addoc and he prepared himself for anything.
“The Great Machine, is that some kind of god to these creatures, Auy?” Ragnar whispered to the priestess.
"Not that I know of but it might be. I don’t know much more then I what I said earlier and what I do know, I learned from listening to tales. That name might be another name for Primus but I’m not sure. I'm not even sure that Primus is important, but his name sounds like it is.”
The three that were still standing in the doorway saw a handful of the metal creatures turn towards Addoc and Luie. The large quicksilver being shifted a little so that it looked at the human and halfling and a sibilant voice filled the room. “No malice towards you human and halfling. Welcome to the hall of Primus. Not many find their way here and surprised that you found a portal to my inner chamber. Where do you hail from?”
The priestess stayed near the back but she shifted her clothing a bit so that her faction and holy symbols could be seen. The first caused some whispers from the metal creatures and their buzzing language could be heard as they talked amongst themselves.
Auy smiled as she saw the stir her movement caused and she waved at some of the little metal beings as they discussed her symbol in their strange language. Her movement caused their discussion to increase for a few moments.
Ragnar stepped forward to address the being and he to felt the slight resistance that soon passed. "We're caravan-guards from the settlement of the Red Shields. You have our thanks for the welcome. Um... are you Primus, or is that someone else? And where exactly is here? All we did was walk through a door in a cabin in the wilderness between Phlan and Zhentil Keep."
Caer relaxed a bit and put the arrow back in her quiver. She leaned against the wall of the tunnel, glanced down the passageway behind the group, and very quietly mumbled something in Elven.
“So all of you hail from Faerun and many planar travelers have come from those lands. Aye, I am Primus.” The large being paused for a moment as the creatures passed in their speech before it continued. “You must have used a portal that the Artificers created and it hasn’t been used in many decades.”
The priestess of Sharess listened to Primus and she was surprised that it didn't speak up when she went on and on about the modrons and Primus. However, the men seem to be doing a fine job so far and she already spouted off enough when they first walked into the room.
"Artificers, sir?" the giant rumbled. "We're tryin' to find out about the deaths of some folk who lived above this portal, and they hardly seemed the sort of folk who you might set t'guard such a gate, much less create one..."
“I know nothing of these people that live above the gate that led to this realm on the outer planes. The Artificers, I believe that the people of Faerun know them as the Imaskari.”
Most of the Companions have no idea what this strange humanoid being is talking about but Caerlin has a dim, a very dim, extremely dim, recollection of the female mage mentioning that name in relation to a passage in a tome that some of the members of the Unit found in Phlan. Ithyria was going to research the tome some more, but she was sent off to Baldur’s Gate before she could and Caerlin hoped that the tome was still in the rooms back at the settlement.
Addoc nodded, even though he had no idea what Primus had mentioned. He took a step back towards the door without taking his eyes off the silvery figure. "Well, then, great sir, I thank ye for your knowledge, and apologize for our intrudin' on yer work. Is there aught we can do t'keep folk from bargin' in that door uninvited... again?"
“Lock it as it was probably locked before you opened it.”
Caer started from her thoughts. "Wait Sir... er, Primus... er", She wasn’t sure how to address this being. "If this portal hasn't been used in decades, would you have an idea of why it was so easy for us to find it? I mean, the hatch in the cabin above wasn't hidden, and neither was the door that Addoc opened. There shouldn't have any reason for it not to be opened before." She looked away and said under her breath, "Unless no one else was as curious about it as we were...."
“I’d have to say, human, that no one figured out how to open it or the magic kept it sealed and one of you learned how to unlock it. From what you told me, it sounds like it was buried and most likely forgotten except for whoever lived in the cabin.”
"I'm guessing that those people living there were something other than they'd seem if we'd met them alive, then," Ragnar said. "And since the good Primus here doesn't seem to know who they or their assailants were, perhaps we should see if we can follow those tracks?"
“The rain has been falling long enough that I don’t think the tracks survived.” Luie went back to watching the wondrous beings going about their daily routine.
Addoc raised his hammer. "Our thanks to ye, great sir, for yer forebearance, and our apologies for interruptin' yer work. With yer permission, we'll be takin' our leave from ye now."
“Aye, well part and I’d welcome you to this part of Mechanus another time for information and knowledge of Faerun.”
* * * * *
Auy listened to Ragnar as she thought about some things. She glanced around at the metal room and the gears that were rotating and at the metal creatures before she moved over towards one and leaned down, causing to stare at her. She started to speak a deep, but heavenly, language that contained some strong tones and heavy timbers like breath through wind instruments. The modron blinked for a moment before it answered her in the same language.
While she has the attention of one of the modrons, she inquired about the march they do across the planes because the cleric doubted that she'll have another chance to find out what that is all about. Auy also inquired about her faction and if the modron knew any information about its members. Another answer came from the creature in that same language and this time the reply was a little longer.
* * * * *
After the Company stepped out of the tunnel and back into the mostly burnt cabin, they saw Aris standing within and looking outside, they saw that it was late afternoon. This human mage has been seen around the tower of the settlement and he is traveling with the caravan. As usual, since this Unit seems to be where all the members are given a trial period, he has been assigned to the Unit of the Silver Wyrms by the Commander.
The Unit consisted of Ragnar, a half-sun elven bard. Luie, a halfling monk. Auyaeu, a priestess of Sharess. Addoc, a human priest of Gond, and Caerlin a human scout/archer.
For his part, Addoc took just enough steps to clear the tunnel after he resealed the portal before he sank down with his back against part of the ruined wall, his big knees framing a pale face. "Zeldan's Pavestones!" he spat, rubbing the back of his head with one big hand. "This may be too much for me."
Luie popped out of the hatch. “I never thought that Auy would hit on one those square things. I figured she would go for something more human...” His green eyes squinted at Aris. “This is interesting. Who are you again? All of us have seen you before, but I forgot who you were.” The halfling stood to the side to allow the others passage while he knocked some imaginary dirt from his way too big blue shirt.
From the other side of the hatch everyone heard the priestess sneeze before she looked around and climbed out. "Oh, was someone sent to check on us?" She blinked as she looked at Aris and she realized he was another member of the Company that doesn’t come to her for pleasure. "Were we gone that long?" the tall, thin, and attractive priestess asked as she smiled.
Caerlin climbed out of the hatch, and once everyone was clear, she shut it. "Well met Aris." She nodded to the mage, "So we have another member of our group?" She looked at Luie and Ragnar with a smile, "It seems that the Commander hopes that eventually we will find companions that will stay around for a while." She walked over to Addoc and sat near the Gondsman. "Aye, that was more than I could ever understand. But Addoc, this will be quite the report for you to give to other Gondsmen." Caerlin looked over at Auy and asked, "What were you saying to the machine? Did it give you any information useful to us?"
The priestess of Sharess glanced over at Caerlin. "Oh, nay, nothing useful to us and barely anything useful to me." She sighed lightly. "The little one didn't have much useful information or I was asking the wrong questions or phrasing them poorly. It’s been a few summers since I last interacted with something that orderly. Though, it was entertaining to do so! The next time I’ll have to stay longer but I did not want to get split from you, and everyone seemed to be rushing to get back to Faerun, which I can understand because planar travel is not for everyone.”
The giant human frowned. "Oh, aye," he rumbled, marking the air with an imaginary feather pen. ""To the Grand Artificer - Today I stepped through a doorway to another plane, spoke like a clothhead to its leader, and nearly soiled myself. How've ye been? Addoc Gondsmith""
"I wouldn't use that word Addoc," Ragnar told the priest as the bard grinned. "Although references to other more wooden materials certainly spring to mind. Of course, I can't say I was much more eloquent either. Master Luko would have had me perform scale-practices the whole night if he'd heard my stuttering."
Caer smiled at Addoc. "Bah, you did just fine in my opinion. I wasn't even going to talk to it, until I spouted off the nonsense about the door." She shrugged. "I didn't even cross the threshold, so if you were on another plane, you are one up on me. And, you can tell them that you have a personal invitation from Primus," Caerlin frowned and looked confused, "to come back at any time and talk about Faerun. That in and of itself should be worth something!"
Auy slipped up next to the giant and she got on the very tips of her toes and gave the big man a kiss on the cheek. "You did fine, the first encounter with something from another plane is amazing and confusing," she whispered before she slipped back onto her feet. "Besides, had you been too much of a clothheaded clueless, I think Primus would have been far less friendly and welcoming!"
Luie tapped Ragnar on his leg. “I would not write any ballads about this planar trip for a few months. The family that was protecting this secret paid for it with their lives. And whoever did this will be back and then they will be looking for the key.” Luie climbed onto Caerlins’s horse, “And one more thing, why do I have the incredible urge to change my name to start with the letter A?”
"As some of you might know, my name is Aris Wands. I’m an abjurer out of Waterdeep and if you are wondering what brought me here so far from home they are adventure, thirst for glory, and why not," he made a slight grin, "power. But enough about me, I’m pleased to meet you. No, I wasn't sent here to check on you and as you all know, the Commander sent me here to join you, which I hope would be a great honor."
Auy chuckled. "Aye, you have been assigned to the rotating group and our members change more often than the wind changes directions. So, it tis a great honor!" She furrowed her brow for a moment. "Well, it’s not that rotating members are a bad thing.” Her eyes sparkled playfully up at the Art wielder from Waterdeep. "Oh, and it’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m a priestess of Sharess and my name is Auyeau or Auy and I travel for the sake of traveling and seeing new things, new races, new sensations, and other things that might cross my path."
Addoc waved absently to Aris from his seat on the ground, but his gaze was still fixed on some point on the horizon.
The bard took in the words of the mage, and then let out a groan as he reached a hand down to help the huge Gondsman rise. “Beshaba! I can’t get away from those Siamorphe-addled nobles even when I’ve put half of Faerûn betwixt myself and ‘Old Splendors.’ We’ll be lucky if he knows how to tie his own bootlaces.” Ragnar grunted before he reached out a hand to Aris, “I’m Ragnar Braelithar of Dock Ward, but don’t get any ideas about lording it over me, we’re far from anywhere your family-name might count for much.”
After they finished their introductions again, since many members of this Unit have come and gone, the six of them started to return to the caravan.
As they rode, Aris asked, "So, what exactly did you find in the cabin?"
"A door," Ragnar answered, "and some weird quicksilver-looking creature and some talking gears. I'm sure Auy can fill in the details for you."
"I heard that all of you traveled to Mechanus? Interesting." With a pondering look on Aris’s face, he added, "Please priestess, tell me more. Ragnar, don’t worry, I do not look down upon you. I am proud of being a member of the Wands family, but that doesn't give me the right to patronize people and all of you are my equals."
"What more can I tell you? It was interesting and words won't do it justice especially if you have never had the joy of traveling to another plane. This one was very orderly and it contains gears, beings of metal, golems, and other constructs." She glanced over at the giant and then back to the new member. "But like I said, mainly you have to see it to believe it and now that we know where it is, we can go back whenever we want as long as the portal is freely accessible and stable.”
Aris smiled. "Actually I’ve had the joy of traveling to some of the planes but not to Mechanus. I will surely seek more knowledge about it in my studies and if it’s not to much to ask, I’d be grateful if you could tell me the whole tale about finding the portal and stepping through it and then returning."
Once they returned to the caravan and they picketed the horses they headed off in different directions.
Luie wandered off towards a small hill and he spent some time alone there before he returned to the camp.
Awhile later, Addoc walked towards the small fire that was started for the members of the Wyrms and he was carrying a pot and a few pans, a small satchel, and a larger satchel. The Gondsman sat on a stump after he covered the bottom of one of the pans with some oil. After he got some beef sausage cooking in the pan, he started to cook, in the pot, some corn, carrots, onions, and beans. He watched the vegetables and he tossed in some fresh chives and garlic before adding a touch of salt. When the sausage was finished cooking, he cut them in half and added them to the vegetables. Addoc finished off the meal by baking some black bread that was flat and round.
Auy shook off her wet hair like a cat would try to shake off water while she looked around and watched Addoc before she took the plate he offered her. "Sharess’s Fur, I know I said I enjoyed water and the rain but there is a limit. The rain has done its job so it should be gone but it looks like Talos wants to continue to drown us" she muttered. "It’s almost time to get out of the rain for a bit." She turned to look at the noble from Waterdeep. "So, how are you adjusting to the changes of the fare that Waterdeep has to the fare you find on the road?"
Aris looked at the sky and then set his eyes on Auy. "Aye, the rain is unfortunate, but it will pass, maybe. As for the fare, it isn't really a delicacy but it isn't bad either." He laughed and added, "I guess it will do."
After eating heartily of the meal, Caer turned to Addoc and smiled at him. "Thank you Addoc, that was a very good meal."
Still quiet after his few steps out of Faerun's dimension, Addoc accepted the praise with a nod and a quick half-smile. Seeing that everyone had finished their meal, Caerlin helped Addoc clean the dishes and utensils before they packed them back into the sacks that were then given back to the supply wagon.
Later, they went to sleep.
The content of Champions of the Silver Wyrm is the property and copyright of Scott Kujawa and is not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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