By Brian Flood
Chapter 43 - The Second Descent
Along the Dusk Road
North of Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Late-Afternoon, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The sun has set even lower by the time that Corax returns to meet the party at the first hole. Working quickly, the rogue ties one end of Lucas' rope to the horn of his horse's saddle. Then, he hands the free end to Dolak.
Once more, the dwarf ties a loop around his waist. Signaling to Corax that he his ready, the dwarf moves to the rim of the hole.
Glancing below, Dolak sees that the hole drops some ten to fifteen feet straight down. At the bottom of the vertical shaft, a horizontal tunnel - barely one dwarf-height high - leads off to the south.
Corax leads his horse backward, removing the slack from the rope. Dolak then backs over the edge of the hole, his feet braced against its earthen side. At the dwarf's nod, Corax slowly walks Doom forward, allowing Dolak a controlled descent into the shaft.
When the dwarf's feet hit the floor of the shaft, he signals his arrival to Lucas. Then, Dolak looks warily down the southern tunnel. After a few heartbeats, he looks back up to the red-robed mage and the other adventurers who stand around the edge of the shaft.
"This 'ere tunnel links wit' the others," he reports. "There's a four-way intersection 'o tunnels about fifteen 'r so feet t' the south. This tunnel goes fer ano'er two score 'r so feet and then there's ano'er tunnel to the west. This 'n keeps goin', as well."
When the others relay Dolak's information to him, Corax suggests a solution to the present problem. "Lucas," the rogue begins, "might I recommend a slight change to the procedures you directed in the house. I propose that I stay on the surface to watch for threats to both you and Tomar that may arrive while you others are below. With Darius' permission, Soft Fang could stay with me to aid in the watch for danger. That would also allow me to better control Doom while the rest of you descend and then later when you return to this hole. I will leave the rope tied to Doom's saddle. When you all have descended, simply leave your end of the rope and go on to explore the tunnels.
"Night will soon be upon us," he continues. "As Dolak mentioned, that may not matter to those who go below. However, the night may indeed bring those who would threaten Tomar and his cargo. So what say you all? Is my plan workable? If so, I would urge that we proceed so as to bring this investigation to a close." Finished with his rather lengthy recommendation, the rogue pauses to catch his breath and listen to the others' responses.
Cy responds, "Sounds good to me - as long as you remember my prior stipulations. Mainly that I don't know what I will be doing unless we are attacked from the rear. I can't attack through the parth either with swords or sling. You guys are too big."
From the tunnel below, Dolak's voice responds to Cyzicus' concerns. "I dinna think any o' us will be able to attack o'er the rest. The tunnels 'r barely o'er a dwarf-height high 'n wide. We'll 'ave to be movin' in single file - most 'o you will 'ave to bend o'er at the waist just to get though 'ere! Dinna worry tho' - I'll be at the front with me axe. I'll do me best to keep the critters back from the rest 'o ya!"
"Now," the dwarf finishes, "are the rest 'o ya gonna git down 'ere or am I gonna be doin' all the critter bashin' myself?"
"This raises another question," Cy says in response. "Why are we getting in your way? You say we won't be able to help and it will be tight quarters. So why are we crowding you?"
"Yer right," replies Dolak from his location below, "only one 'o us will be able to fight the critter if'n we meet it in one 'o these tunnels. I guess I just like an audience to me head bashin'!" the dwarf says with a grin.
"I do not like the thought of burrowing underground, my domain is the forest and plains," says Darius. "Corax, Soft Fang and I will remain with you and guard the parties back and protect Master Tomar's wagon if need be."
Corax nods. "I see. I welcome your company. And the rest of you - Lucas, Cyzicus, Kjira, Alani - I wish you well in your exploration." Glancing up at the setting sun, the rogue adds, "Add I urge you to reorganize yourselves quickly so that you may complete your scouting trip and rejoin us."
"They're correct about guarding Tomar," Alani says. "That is after all what we're being paid to do. Let's just see if we can find the human scent that Soft-Fang smelt and retrieve them IF whoever it is, IS still alive. Other than that, we have no business being down there."
Glancing around the group, her almond shaped eyes contemplative, she says, "I'd say Dolak and Cyzicus are the best warriors amongst us. They should take up positions at each ends of the marching line, at the van and the rear. Both should carry torches. The rest of us will form in between them, evenly spaced in single file. I'll follow Dolak, with Lucas mapping our progress behind me, and Kjira astern of him. I'm advising single file as I don't believe that we're going to have space to swing a weapon in the narrow tunnels if we're abreast. Similarly, I feel that we have to protect our rear as we don't rightly know which direction an attack will come from. Lucas? Whaddaya think?"
Corax clears his throat. "Alani," he begins, somewhat hesitantly, "far be it from me to offer criticism, but what about that lamp?" he asks. He points toward the burning lamp that Darius still carries in his hand. "Are we to use that to mark the entrance?"
Kjira moves herself into the position outlined by Alani and waits for the others to follow suit.
"I agree we have no real business being down there except for trying to locate any living persons," asserts the lady mage, "and we should get to it promptly. I'll carry a lamp or torch as needed - nothing I can cast will do much against one of those creatures should we run into another one "
"My pleasure," says Darius as he hands the burning lamp over to Kjira. The lady mage nods in wordless thanks.
After hearing all the debate and discussion on the tunneling plan, the red-robed mage nods to Alani's suggestion. "Yes. Your plan is sound. I say let's get a move on and get this done as fast as we can so we can get back to Tomar. I will mark each intersection with a different rune and place each respective mark on the map as well." With that said Lucas moves to aid in the lowering of Alani - the next person to enter the tunnel.
While Darius and Soft Fang stand watch, Corax carefully coaxes Doom into lowering the remainder of the tunnel exploration party into the hole. After Alani descends, Lucas is the next to grab the rope. Soon after, Kjira follows her fellow mage. Last to be lowered into the tunnel system below is Cyzicus.
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