By mid-day the group had shrunk to a mere membership of three, bloodstained, tattered, and injured fellows. What can be said of the others are secrets held by the dungeon and conspired between the survivors of it’s endless corridors, and unremitting horrors. Such records shall not be recorded here, as the deeds and failures of men make for poor legend and besmirch the reputation of would-be kings.
Weary, starving, and with little torch left, the party wondered the benighted halls of the dungeons, as if in panic their pace never slower than a rushed walk, the group bypassed many doors, seeking as it seemed some way out in desperation, silently pleading with the gods they had forsaken since childhood beseeching for redemption.
Yet their deeds seemed to have damned them, and so their sole logic in navigation became to take every passage to the right, as Gaston would repeat stamping forward in a blind stare ‘right is always right’
THE ROOM OF WORMS
At one point the group then, happened upon a gothic door, of oak and black iron hinge. Loden in his inspection discovered the words “beware the drums” cut into the frame, finding no fault with the door, he yielded to a position granting anyone who would, to open the door and proceed. Jergo stepping forward unlatched the catch and inched the door open peering in, his vision apt to the darkness revealed a room of tossed sacks and broken containers of mold ridden grains and other foodstocks, upon which writhed a half dozen huge wriggling centipedes, their many legs twitching and stepping in a fluid pattern of horrific beauty. Quickly the sensitive beasts perceived their onlookers and sought them for their warm flesh. Centipedes a yard long, slithered across wall and ceiling falling upon the flailing terrified party. Fangs sunk into flesh, and iron into worm. The aftermath saw the party triumphant, though nursing, numb limbs and throbbing heads.
After a failed ransacking of the room for loot, two of the robbers lost iron weapons to a clever cloud of chaos magic, that consumed a hammer and spear in corrosive rust. Gaston unwittingly touching a sacred object released a contemptuous whirl of wailing spirits who tossed him in the air as they howled in their final exodus from this plane.
The noises, attracted others too, a staunch lizardman attempted to dismember Gaston with an axe of sharpened bone, however in a lucky swing of the sword the robber beheaded the beast, and claimed the hideous blade.
THE TERRIBLE SHADE And then it came at first its voice approaching echoing across the chambers a moaning threat “GET OUT” the voice came and with it the presence of evil, even the room changed to a horrible chill, the breath of the men frosting as it left their mouths, hair raising, and skin pimpling like goose hide.
A moments hesitation was answered by the unforgiving clutch of a being preternaturally black. Darker than the absence of light around it, man like, but featureless, faceless and full of hate. The specter grabbed the hobbit at the arm and clasped him in a grip like two glaciers opposing direction, the half man nearly died as all strength flowed from his body like a sieve into the dark creature that held him.
Gaston had already made his departure, and Loden behind him, the two galloping away in fright the creature took flight after them, though Gaston knew he only had to outrun the smaller man, and thought nothing of anyone but himself. As the terrible shade gave chase, Jergo ran deeper into the uncharted dungeon, fleeing for safety.
THE WAY OUT?Whether the horrified looters realized it or not, the spirit dispersed into the thin air unwitnessed, perhaps satisfied with the retreat, or incapable of pursuit any further. Gaston and Loden had discovered a stair ascending, and with unimaginable appreciation ascended
the steps into a wonderful sight, beyond a room of barrels, a garden could be seen, what luck! ~or so they thought…
THE WATERY GRAVE Jergo on the other hand had scampered down one of the unlit halls, fortunate in his ability to see without light. In his haste however, he ran into a puddle, or what appeared to be a puddle, but was in all actuality a deep pool of brackish water, where he thudded into something that had made this pool a watery grave.
Jergo immediately clamored out of the pool in fright, and leaned against the cold wall despairing. His grandfather had beckoned him to become an alchemist and advised against leaving the village. How much he had been right, Jergo lamented. Nothing had changed with the pool, jergo’s curiosity grew, he had always been driven by his wonder. What had been in the pool?
He returned to the side and carefully looked beneath the surface, there in a depth no more than 6’ was a Dwarven knight wearing the metal shards that had been designed to save his life had instead assuredly caused his death in the pool. Jergo knew the armor was valuable, he wondered if it could be enough to provide a means to return him to his home, and the alchemical studies of his grandfather.
Fate provided the clue, Jergo reached into his pocket and retrieved a small potion gifted to him on the day of his departure from the village. Drinking the liquid, he felt his strength return, though it would only be temporary, the hobbit acted quickly. Pulling the rope from his pack he entered the pool and fastened it to the knight. His heart was racing, he could feel his strength exceeding even its normal range. Jergo whispered a quiet thanks to his studious grandfather for the potion, and hoisted the dwarf from his grave.
With a prayer for the departed, and thanks to the gods, Jergo claimed the suit of metal, piece by piece, weighing it in his hands, it was certainly lighter than any metal he had known, easily light enough to maneuver in but sure enough to defend against blade as it was to drown. He made a promise to himself to be careful of that…
LOOTING ON THE GO Gaston and Loden had consigned their little friend to the same fate that they had seen so many of their other companions meet. And shared no words of worry or concern between themselves as to his safety or rescue. No, the garden lay ahead with the light of day upon it. Loden stopped staring at the barrels, ‘what do you think might be in there?’ he quizzed his strong companion. ‘treasure’ came the reply. And the two set to smashing the contents, together they found two arcane scrolls that bared images of fire and brimstone, …and a ring bearing an arcane inscription… Loden had always had a way with words, a natural understanding that pertained to deciphering unknown symbols. Such talents had earned him many bruises from jealous bullies of his youth. Though he could not read the inscription, he knew stories of magic rings, and knew this had to be one. He placed it on his finger and the two headed for the garden.
THE GARDEN Grinning to the two thieves entered the garden, their smirks quickly turned to foul frowns, no sun, or sky or even breeze was in this place. Instead an unearthly light had been permanently made manifest upon a ceiling of stone, the men realized the garden was but a room that mocked the outside, a room that had two exits…
They ventured across the garden, lichens, and small plants grew upon boulders placed around a gravel path leading through the center of the garden room.
As the two reached the center the boulders suddenly shifted, grinding upon themselves in a terrifying sound of stone against stone, facial features shifting into place, angry, and full of primordial strength. The boulders moved with terrifying grace and speed for their size and unimaginable weight. Both men attempted to dive out of the path of a falling limb of solid stone, neither succeeded. Loden caught a blow that drove him into the path deep enough that he joined the loose gravel around him, and knew no more. Gaston was caught with a swinging blow that drove him back the way he came with a force that spun his mind and drove him into the darkness.
He awoke who knows how many minutes later, having been knocked into the room of barrels. Every part of him throbbed intensely, and he could barely move. The boulders had settled back into the earth of the garden as though they had resumed their seats and were awaiting some event that may one day come many millenniums from now. Their features had smoothed, and they looked as normal as they had before they revealed their incredible power.
In his frazzled haze between life and death, Gaston drew a long rope from his leather pack and with bloodied hands fastened the end into a lasso. He would not dare tread deeper into the dungeon, or return to the garden but at least he could try and pull Loden from the garden of horror. He cast the rope missing and near missing with his trembled throws, until finally the loop fell round the backpack Loden held on his back, and with all his remaining strength pulled the man from the room, and rolled him over. Loden had lost luck in the eyes of the gods that day, however he still breathed…
ESCAPE FROM THE GARDEN His senses returning from what was becoming a never ending sleep, Loden fingered the mysterious ring, smearing his blood from its golden rim, and laying upon the ground studied the inscription upon it as the two waited to die as though abandoned by the gods in this cursed place.
In a wearied voice Loden murmured “I believe this ring might just be our way out.” Gaston excited and exasperated at the same time, helped his companion to his feet and said “well then, make it get us out of here then!”
Loden forced his mind into reaches heretofore unknown to his life, as though tapping into some past life, his fervent thoughts flew deeper and deeper in concentration upon the symbols of the ring.
“You long to escape. For home you yearn. All that you seek IS the RING OF RETURN!”
At that very moment Loden’s became overwhelmed with a splitting migraine, the ring took on the force of the four winds, and began forcing his arm about the room like a kite string aloft in a storm. Loden began to wince and then wail in a fit of panic, surprise, and pain…
Gaston drew back in horror, frightened by the exhaltation and impending doom of the damned man that stood before him!
The ring demanded control, or would force it upon its possessor, it became heavy and powerful, as the unseen winds began to focus themselves not in alternate directions but upon the poor lads hand itself, Loden mustered every ounce of remaining strength in a courageous attempt to point the hand away from Gaston and towards a wall.
A beam of fire and light shot from the ring, incinerating the wall in growing oval of flame that expanded from floor to ceiling. The winds lessened as the flames shrank and dimmed from orange to blue green faerie fire, and dissipated upon the surface leaving a watery mirror upon the wall that projected the frightened images of the men back upon themselves.
With nothing to lose and thoughts of the Keep on the Borderlands in their minds, Loden and then Gaston cautiously stepped towards the mirror, and then through it and found themselves tossed and senseless beneath the low bough of a ancient pine laden in January snow, and just beyond the serpentine path to the Keep on the Borderlands…