By Brian Flood
Chapter 42 - The First Descent
Along the Dusk Road
North of Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Late-Afternoon, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The Iron Wolf Company proceeds to investigate the remaining buildings around the small farmhouse. Using the same technique implemented for the farmhouse, Alani first listens at the door to the structure and then Dolak charges in, his axe held at the ready.
In the large, wooden barn, they find all of stalls to be empty. Even the hayloft, which is partially filled with hay, yields no clues as to the whereabouts of Simon's parents.
The outbuilding at the end of the trail turns out to be filled with various farming implements. Their age and functionality vary; some are old and broken, others appear to be fairly new.
The search of the buildings ends with the small outhouse located between the pigsty and the chicken coop. Wincing from the stench, Dolak looks down the privvy, letting his eyes adjust to the infrared spectrum. Pulling his head back from the hole, he reports that the wastepit appears to be about fifteen to twenty feet deep. Two tunnels lead off from the bottom of the hole; one heads south, the other southwest.
"Well, Darius muses, "we either head back to the first hole and go down it, first taking Simon back to the wagon, or head back to Master Tomar's wagon and leave for our next stop. Since Simon has been in the loft for several days by himself " Darius pauses to let his meaning sink in to the other party members, "perhaps we should leave."
Lucas listens to Darius and thinks a few seconds before addressing the group. "I think we should first take Simon over to Master Tomar's wagon and let him know what's happened; then, return to the farmhouse and check the cellar. If the underground tunnel connects to the cellar, then we should check what we can to see if we can find any of Simon's family. I do believe that your wolf has scented humans underground right Darius? What do the rest of you think?"
Alani's head nods in agreement, "The reason I was so eager to get down the hole was because of what Soft Fang's nose picked up - to see if anyone was still alive down there. But get Simon to Tomar first."
Dolak nods his head, "I'm fer takin' the lad back to Master Tomar, and then goin' below to have a look about. Darkness or not, we should get down there as soon as possible."
The other party members murmur their assent to the suggestion to take Simon back to the wagon. The company of adventurers retraces its steps back to the small trail and then follows it out to the trade road. They then move the score and a half or so yards to where Tomar and Ori wait with their wagon and the adventurers' mounts and pack animals.
"Well, well," Tomar says when he sees the boy that accompanies his employees. "What have we here? And who would you be, lad?"
Simon looks from the party members to the merchant. "I am Simon, good sir," he says, "and these people rescued me!"
"I see," Tomar says kindly as he nods in understanding. "And will you be joining us now?" the merchant asks, moving his eyes from the boy to the adventurers - the real targets of his question.
Cyzicus takes Simon to his pony and introduces them, then reaches into his saddlebags and removes his jerkin of boiled leather to present to Simon. "Now this is not to encourage you," the halfling cautions, "but these are dangerous times," he says with a wink.
"Yes, Master Tomar," Darius replies to the wagon master as Cyzicus is busy with the boy. "Simon will be coming with us for a while. Please watch him now while the rest of us finish checking out the farm."
"This is yer caravan, and I believe yer choice, Master Tomar," adds Dolak. "We need t' have a look round below first. There's a chance he may not be needin' t' travel with us. Perhaps he's got clan nearby, too. I dinna think we can leave him here alone, though."
Tomar's face is the image of confusion. "Where are the boy's parents - or clan, as you called them? Are they somewhere on the farm?"
Dolak answers Tomar, saying, "We didna find his parents here." The dwarf looks at the boy and then back at Tomar. "You saw the critter we fought earlier."
He gives Tomar a look like he wants to say more, but not right now. Then, the dwarf half gestures at Simon with his head. "We be needin' t' get below soon, just in case."
Having fitted Simon into the leather jerkin, Cy returns the boy to Master Tomar, saying, "Now, you stay and mind Master Tomar until we return."
"Thank you, Master Cyzicus!" the boy replies exitedly.
Turning to Simon, Dolak asks, "Simon, d' ya have aunts, uncles, grandparents, or other clan nearby?"
Simon shakes his head dejectedly. "Uh-uh. Papa n' Mama said they settled this land for their own; I ain't ever seen any other relatives."
After watching the debate on Simon's kin, Lucas responds, "All the more reason we should search for Simon's folks as Dolak suggested. Master Tomar, please watch after Simon while we try and locate his folks and siblings...it seems they may have been taken underground." Tomar nods his assent at the mage's suggestion.
Looking to the others for any further comments of suggestions before continuing, Lucas adds, "I say we head back to the farmhouse first and check the cellar to see if it links up with any tunnels. If not, then back to the first hole that Alani wanted to scout. We shall use the same marching order as before."
"Here, here!" seconds Cyzicus.
"Right, Lucas" replies Darius. <Right side> the druid growls to Soft Fang. He and the wolf then start back along the trail to the first hole in the ground.
The other adventurers fall into their places and the party moves back onto the farmstead. Using the small trail, they proceed back to the farmhouse. Entering through the front door to the sod-and-stone structure, the companions pause while Dolak kneels to look down the hole once more.
"Just like it was, th' first time," the dwarf announces. "The ladder leads down 'bout two and a half dwarf-heights. At its base, there looks t' be a tunnel leadin' off t' the east. The floor seems t' drop off a bit just east o' the ladder, as well." Dolak then pauses to hear the others' suggestions as to how to proceed.
Lucas thinks a moment on Dolak's remarks of what he sees below before speaking. "It seems that Dolak has us all at an advantage of sorts since he is more familiar with working underground. Do any of you besides Dolak know anything about moving underground? If not, I propose that we modify our marching order while moving underground and use this experience as a learning opportunity for our group."
The mage waits momentarily for any responses before continuing, "It seems that us humans will need a light source to see underground, so that means Kjira, Darius and myself are at a disadvantage.
"I propose that Dolak go down first and check out the cellar. Corax should be next so he can assist Dolak and perhaps fight over him if need be in a tight position. Next shall follow Alani, Darius, Kjira and myself. I think Cyzicus should bring up the rear.
"One of us humans should carry a light source. My thoughts are that perhaps either Darius or Kjira would be a good choice. Do either of you two have a light source? By keeping the light source behind most of those who can see in the dark, we may keep some edge should a situation arise."
After pausing a second to catch his breath, the red robed mage continues, "I will do the mapping once we get underway as I have paper and quill. I also have chalk so that we can mark the way as we go. I will mark each intersection with a unique mark so that we know that we can keep track on the map where we are and tell if we intersect a familiar tunnel section later that may cross our path.
"I propose we keep taking a left turn should we meet a fork and once we exhaust that path then we can backtrack and continue down another avenue. If it seems we are travelling to far or heading downward too much, then we can stop and discuss our options. I shall keep my darts at a ready should combat occur, but can be ready quickly to aid in sorcerous backup should the need arise.
"Darius," the mage continues, addressing the druid, "once we get under way we may call upon your wolf's keen sense of smell to lead us where he smells humans...hopefully alive." With that said, Lucas waits upon the response of his fellow party members.
"I do not carry torches or other light source," Darius answers, "but we might make one from household items if no other has any. The new marching order is good with me, and I'll ask Soft Fang to scent out humans once below. The first direction should be back towards the hole in the entry path as that is where he got a good smell," the druid asserts. "Oh, and I'll hold the torch; you and Kjira have spells that are more offensive in nature than mine."
"I 'ave a lantern in me pack," Dolak announces. "An' I'd be 'appy to lend it to ya, druid." The dwarf rummages in his pack for a few moments and then extracts a hooded lantern and two flasks of lamp oil. He hands the items to Darius.
"Each o' these flasks 'll keep er burnin fer 'bout two 'ours," the dwarf explains. "That should last us fer the time we're down there," he estimates.
"As fer yer plan Lucas," the dwarf continues, "I think it be sound enough fer you surface folks. I'd warn ya that ya might need a diff'ernt markin' system fer these tunnels. Likely, they're dirt and soil - not the blessed stone o' the earth. Yer chalk might not work as well fer markin' as it would on stone."
Darius takes the lamp and asks, "Flint and steel?"
When the dwarf hands it over, Darius lights the lamp and holds it. "Ready, let's go," he announces.
"I've a lantern as well, I think"" Kjira says, fumbling through her own pack. A bit dismayed, she pulls her head up a moment later, however. "Perhaps not. I've got plenty of lantern wicking and candles if we need 'em however."
"Also some chalk," she adds to Lucas. "In case you run out."
"But that aside," Kjira continues, "are we sure we should be doing this? Master Tomar didn't hire us to chase giant bugs...it's one thing to eliminate them when attacked, but quite another to go searching for them."
"In any case, we should make quick work of this project if we venture down below - I don't think it wise to leave the wagons and our employer undefended after dark for long," she finishes.
Lucas turns to Kjira to address her concern. "I hope we don't take too long, but our intent is to hopefully rescue Simon's parents so we don't have to uproot him from the only home he knows."
Turning back to address Dolak, the mage continues by saying, "I will try the chalk at first. If it does not work well due to a lack of sufficient rock, then I will scribe a quick but different rune into the earth at each fork so that we can keep track of the forks. The mark will be made in the same place near where the floor meets the wall on a corner."
Seeing that all have made preparations to descend into the cellar and tunnels below, Lucas nods for Dolak to begin the underground foray.
The dwarf nods, grips his axe firmly in one hand, and then reaches out to grab the ladder rungs with the other. With a grunt, he swings his legs onto the ladder and prepares to go down.
Without warning, the ladder and dwarf tumble from sight, plunging straight down into the hole.
"Kruk!" is all Dolak manages to say before he falls the fifteen feet to the bottom of the tunnel. The armored dwarf lands with a CRUNCH of iron, bone, and flesh. Cursing violently, his pride even more damaged than his minor injuries, he stands and looks back up to the hole in the floor of the house, above.
"I'm alright!" he announces, a bit chagrined. "Looks t' be a tunnel system burrowed under the cellar o' the house. There was neigh but a bit of dirt and roots holdin' the ladder upright. Give me a bit t' git me bearings!"
The dwarf wanders from sight momentarily, headed eastward. A few heartbeats later, he returns to stand under the hole.
"Looks t' be a cellar - er what's left o' it - t' the east. A newer tunnel system 'as undermined 'bout half of it, though. The tunnels 'r about ten feet 'r so under the surface; they look t' be just o'er a dwarf-height high and about as wide. The collapsed floor 'o the cellar makes the survivin' part inta a step, if ya can picture that."
"Lookin' t' the west," he reports, "this here tunnel runs at least a score 'o yards, and more. There's three branches from it; there's a north-south tunnel 'bout five paces away and a 'nother one - this one 'eaded south, I make it - 'bout five dwarf-heights past that 'n.
"Under the cellar," he continues, "is another set o' tunnels. This 'ere east-west tunnel ends under the cellar but it branches t' the nor' west n' t' the south. The nor' western branch goes fer a score and more yards; the southern fork goes on fer 'bout half a dozen dwarf-heights and then dead-ends."
Glancing down as the ladder, which lies on the tunnel floor beneath is feet, the dwarf curses and then gazes back up. "I dinna think that the ladder 'll reach to the top - it's designed fer the cellar. This here tunnel system is a little o'er a dwarf-height further down. How 'r you all gonna git down 'ere? And just how do ya plan on gittin' that wolf to git down 'ere to 'elp?"
Alani, hands on her knees, looks down into the hole. Her face is a mask of concern. To Dolak's question she mutters, "Rope anyone?"
Then, returning her attention to the dwarf, she whispers softy, "Dolak, try to be quiet! Your voice will carry in the tunnels."
In response to Alani's question, Cy shrugs his shoulders, saying, "Not I, says the Halfling."
"I have none also," says Darius. "There is no way Soft Fang is making down this hole. Perhaps one of the others would be easier?"
"I've got a coil of rope," Kjira pipes up, "though it may be a bit charred from the other day. I think it's still sturdy enough for use. Someone will have to run back to my mule to get it, though. It's in one of the saddlebags or baskets."
"I also have no rope," Corax adds. "However, I am willing to go back to Kjira's mule to fetch hers. What say you, Alani? Lucas? Do either of you have rope or should I retrieve Kjira's?"
Alani shakes her head at Corax's inquiry.
Lucas chuckles at the dwarf's plight. "Aye, I have some rope."
The mage pulls on his quick release straps on his pack and it falls from his back and into his hand. Lowering it to the ground, he quickly rummages through his pack and removes a long strand of silk rope.
"I say we might wanna just pull Dolak back up and let's us move to the tunnel outside that we can enter from the ground instead of dropping into the cellar and then into the tunnel here. What do you all think?"
Lucas lowers one end of the rope to Dolak and gestures for the others to aid him in pulling the dwarf back up.
The dwarf retrieves the offered rope and loops it around his waist. He ties a rather simple knot in it and then signals that he is ready.
Corax, Darius, and the others near the hole grasp their end tightly in their hands and slowly begin to tug. After a commendable effort, they manage to haul the armored dwarf back up into the main room of the small farmhouse.
Dolak unties the knot around his waist and Corax volunteers to stow the rope back in Lucas pack. As they work, the mage sketches some notations on a piece of paper, scribing the description of the tunnels that Dolak earlier described.
Dolak nods in affirmation at Lucas rendering of the tunnel system. Then the dwarf asks, "Now wot are we t' do? Judgin' by the way that critter burst from th' ground 'afore, and from wot Darius told us 'o the 'ole he looked down, I'm ta thinkin' we'll have just as much o' a problem gittin' inta any o' the other 'oles."
Corax speaks up. "Perhaps only some of us could down into the tunnels," he suggests. The others could hold the rope and allow us ease of descent. It would also give us a way out. Or," he offers, "if we could find someway to anchor the rope, more of us could descend - we would not need as many of us to assist hauling us up from below."
Lucas pauses for a moment to think. Then he says, "Corax, you have a horse, correct?"
The rogue nods slowly. Then his eyes widen as he anticipates Lucas' suggestion.
"We could use the horse to hold the rope as we descend. Of course! I will go now and get Doom - where will you be?" Corax asks.
"At the first hole," Lucas replies. "We will meet you there."
Corax nods and exits the house, returning along the path to retrieve his horse. The remaining party members also leave the house and its cellar behind and retrace their footsteps to the nearby hole in the path.
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