Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chapter 5. Apr 30, 2005.

Back at our usual inn, Taliesin had received word from his uncle Elÿas, who invited us to meet him in Hammersdale as soon as possible. The letter clearly suggested that Elÿas had stumbled across something, which would be of interest to us, and so we departed at once and with speed, taking heed of his warnings about large groups of orcs and ogres rumoured to roam free in the mountains. We arrived to Hammersdale a few days later, our journey free of incidents. Upon our arrival to the village we were promptly introduced to Vorona Tristani, a stranger who came from lands far beyond these. Many questions naturally arose, however, Elÿas vouched for him unfalteringly, and that was good enough for everyone.

Over lunch, the sage began to explain how a group of dwarven prospectors had recently come to him for council. The prospectors, ten in all, had unknowingly uncovered something they deemed to be a large tomb or mausoleum while searching for precious metals. Inquisitive as they were, they had broken down the entrance to investigate, however, they had not delved far into the structure before being attacked by strange shadow creatures, forcing them to withdraw. One of their numbers severely wounded, they had returned to Kundrukar for healing and for equipment. With them the dwarves had brought a single stone brazier, they had been able to recover from floor of the tomb, and which was now in Elÿas care. Upon closer inspection, Taliesin and his uncle agreed that the brazier was probably more than 1000 years old and probably of human make. The latter was particularly surprising, since the area north of the mountains was supposed to be devoid of human settlements 1000 years ago.

Since the dwarves had already departed without us and against Elÿas’ counselling there was no time to waste, and we immediately set out after them with Vorona joining our ranks. On the way to the tomb a pair of owl bears momentarily delayed us, though fortunately we all withdrew from this dangerous fight relatively unscathed.

On the last night before reaching the entrance, we were alarmed by unnatural sounds in the forest. As the sounds came closer, we discovered that is was six dwarven zombies, heavily mutilated and unmistakably carrying the symbol of Khundrukar. Undoubtedly the remains of the prospectors, Taliesin called upon the power of Sehanine Moonbow and put them to rest. The following morning we carefully followed the zombies’ trails and approached the tomb. The broken down entrance proved to be guarded by a two-headed giant, an ettin. Next to it there was a large pile of orc and dwarven cadavers, obviously the fallen of a recent battle. The ettin was not too bright, yet Vorona’s attempt to bluff him failed, as he turned out to have a taste for elf flesh and a hungry stomach! We slew the ettin with some difficulty thus saving Taliesin from becoming the ettin’s lunch! A closer inspection of the bodies disclosed that the orcs were all wearing similar tattoos or symbols: two curved daggers arranged like a yin-and-yang image. Perhaps the symbol of another organization like the Black Hand? Unknowingly we passed the broken door and embraced the darkness to seek for answers…

A long, sparsely lit corridor led into the mountainside. Just before a perpendicular intersection, a fresh orc cadaver was found protruding from a pit trap. To the left and right there were inscribed doors. Further along the corridor, sounds of working reached us. And then - all of a sudden - we were under attack! Three shadowy doglike beings, identified by Taliesin as shadow mastiffs, charged us from within the darkness. Tripping us with their powerful bites, these tomb guardians caused us deep wounds. Weakened as we were from the battle, we therefore withdrew for the night to heal.

The next day we entered again. Nothing seemed to have changed, so we turned left at the intersection, where first Luke and then Taliesin examined the door. As Luke investigated the door, he set off a lightning trap, the brunt of which hurt many of us. Using magic the inscription on the door read:

To the Darkness
Your Spirits are Offered

Behind the door, another corridor led to an old armory. Behind a secret and trapped door (which Luke this time expertly disarmed), we discovered the skeletal remains of a long deceased adventurer. His fingers were still clutching a magic staff and a book, which crumbled as Taliesin tried to examine it. Only a single page, a letter, was left to read. It was his dying words! The letter mentioned the tomb, the shadow mastiffs as well as two names Amran and Panhar, fellows of the writer who had perished while searching the tomb. In a small chest we further found some valuables. Heading back to the intersection, we turned our attention to the right door. Taliesin was too late in deciphering the warning on the door, thus we walked right into five undead shadows waiting in the room behind it. Calling again upon the power of the Luminous Cloud, four of the five shadows were kept at bay by the half-elf, while the last of the shadows fled before Vorona’s axe. A quick search of the room, though, revealed nothing and so we left quickly before the shadows could return.

Continuing down the main corridor, we passed another three orc corpses, all wearing the curved dagger tattoos, undoubtedly victims of the shadow mastiffs. Also the banging became louder. Soon we could also hear strong orcish voices. In the great hall opening before us, a large group of orcs, twenty or so, were trying to break down a huge double door, leading further into the vault. Their attention was fixed on the door, allowing us easily to sneak quite close just in the right time to see the portal finally giving way. The orcs swarmed into the large room behind it, where a great podium was rising from the floor. As the first orcs entered, the room lit up, and it seemed that they were engaged by some unseen foe, perhaps more shadows? Suddenly a female elf clad in fine metal armor appeared out of nowhere. The elf sent a ball of fire erupting into the room, killings the front orcs and their attackers alike. Then, turning to the orc leader, the elf discovered us! Surprisingly, she did not seem too alarmed by our presence, though, and merely entered the room, leaving her orc allies to deal with us. Fighting our way through their ranks, we set out after her.

It was immediately obvious that the elf had prior knowledge of the place, because she knew how to transform the podium into a stairway leading not up but down into a natural cave. In the far end of the cave there was a pyramid structure, and that was where she was heading. Unable to stop her from entering we waited outside the pyramid to see her emerge again, carrying something in a sash. Evidently, the elf had found what she was looking for, because she largely ignored us, her mind only set on getting clean away with her prize. We were again unable to stop her. Before she could weave a Fly spell and vanish from our sights, however, Vorona cut her sash with a well-directed cut, spilling her stash of coins and jewels on the floor. In the midst there was also a rod and a book marked with an elven symbol.

Still trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle we had gotten ourselves into, we entered the pyramid. Inside there was a sarcophagus marked by the elf symbol Cython (the same as on the book), a broken chest and a pedestal with the imprint of a book. The sarcophagus had a magic radiance and both Anarion and Taliesin insisted that it be left unopened. With no further ado we left the tomb altogether and headed back to Hammersdale to examine the found items closer and to inform the dwarves of the demise of their brethren. Upon exiting the tomb we discovered that the body of the orc leader was missing!

By immediate inspection, the writings in the Cython book seemed to be complete nonsense. Examining it closer, however, Elÿas and Taliesin concluded that it was written in “trionic”, i.e. the book was actually one of three, where every third line would be found in each book. In other words, the first line would be written in the first book, the second line in the second book and the third line in the third book and so on. Obviously, one would have to have all three books to read the text. The elf symbol on the front of the first part in our possession, Cython, represents knowledge, wisdom and learning, perhaps a clue to the content of the book? Or to its author? As far as Taliesin could remember, an elf wizard who used the Cython symbol as his own is buried under the “academy” (library) in his village in Angharradhi. Maybe his tomb could be the next clue?!

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