THE HUNTERS - INTERLUDE ONE
"The Well and the Key"
(Mark begins writing)
Above and beyond the terror, the dark atmosphere, the pain of wounds, the loss of comrads, and the mystery of what must come next...the smell of death and decay overwhelmed everything the small party of adventures was experiencing. The chamber with the well had smelled dank and rotten in the first place, but with the stabbing, piercing, smashing, and tearing open of the zombie bodies...the true smell of death had flooded the room and the connected side chambers.
Squee felt strange. He felt a rush, and fear, and disgust, and wonder...and most of all he felt something he rarely felt easily. He felt entertained. He stifled a chuckle that rose in his throat. This was the life for him. Not tinkering with gears and sprockets. Not sitting behind a desk, repairing the crude workings of men. Not making jewelry for other people to wear. Town life was no life at all. While direct combat was not really his thing, Squee loved the sounds and sights of conflict and the rush he had felt over the past few days. Fire, arguments, magic, crowds, parties, and facing down both giant spiders and these horrible undead (thankfully from a moderate distance) was the true highight of his life thus far. Squee clutched his small crossbow close to his chest, and did a poor job of disguising the smile that kept creeping onto his face. Then a bit of fear crept up on him and made his mouth dry. "This probably isn't the proper environment for snakes...yes...yes...any snakes down here are likely long dead." But somehow he didn't feel particulary comforted.
Giovanni cleaned the thick black blood from his shield with scraps of clothing he found in one of the side chambers. He still questioned the motives and purity of most of his companions, but adventuring with them had brought him many advantages. He had gained resources, information, and an active cause in just a few days. He was that much closer to truly starting down the road he had long sought. This world must be purified. Justice would prevail. The Great Temple of the Purified would triumph in the end. And Giovanni would play his holy role in bringing this future to be...no matter what the struggles...no matter what the cause. "Yes," he thought. "This rowdy band will play a major role in helping me bring about the Great Purification...whether they realize it now or not."
Valendil tended to his own wounds. That snarling undead cur had certainly gotten a jump on him. Why had the human zombies moved so slowly, but this dog had been so quick? Luckily the town guards of the City of Order had lent a hand...and one of them his life...to help him defeat the evil that had poured from the room behind him. Valendil took stock of his fellow adventurers. "Most humans waste their short lives in tedium and toil. But, these men...like other men I have known...take everything life has to offer, and then they ask for more." Valendil was not particularly fond of mankind. As an elf of Shimera, he saw most of them as dirty, and stupid, and short-sighted in almost everything they did. Valendil kept the average human of Kempin at a distance, for the most part. But, the adventurers, the soldiers, the ones who took chances and made things happen. These were men he would not push quite so far away. Perhaps these men he traveled with were worth of at least his respect, if not his trust.
Moriarty stared at the unopened double doors before them. Behind them lie fame, and possibly riches beyond imagining. He felt a pride welling up in himself, unlike the pride he had felt before. How many times had Moriatry taken the credit for other men's deeds? How many times had he spun tales that made him the hero of other men's adventures. But today...in just a few days time he had flung himself into a burning building, faced down giant spiders, and met an undead threat face to face. Today, he was truly brave, and the hero of a story just waiting to be told in the taverns of town square of the City of Order. Moriarty shook his head, as if to clear cobwebs. No...no. Fame is fame, and fame is earned whether truthfully or by wile. A live coward is better than a dead hero. Moriarty refocused himself on what lies ahead. Adventure...riches...fame. It would all be his.
Amadius was sitting with his back to the south wall, with a view of the entire room, the well, the other adventurers, and the unopened doors on the north wall. He wondered if these were men he could trust. They had not let him down yet, and his wealth had increased in his short time with the group. If only his childhood friends could see him now. He was a man with a holy charge to hunt down criminals. A holy charge bestowed by the great Law Keeper himself. There were coins and gems in his purse, plenty of food in his pack, and in just a few hours he had helped kill some of the most horrible monsters he could even imagine. Things were good. But, based on a lifetime of experience well beyond his years, Amadius knew that luck waxes and wanes. As good as things got, lean times were always right around the corner. Amadius allowed himself a few minutes with his eyes closed, resting his mind. Were these men he could trust? Time would tell.
This was the quiet that comes after the wrath of the storm. A time for contemplation and though. But all that ended rather quickly, when a moaning wind began to rise from the well at the center of the room. The air spun and writhed, picking up dust, bits of wood, and torn fabric in an area extending out about 5 feet in every direction from the lip of the well. Everyone was on their feet. Those close to the well were backing away slowly, blades and hammers slipped from their sheaths and crossbow bolts slipped into place on their bows. And then as quickly as it rose, the wind whipped down into the mouth of the well and receded into the distance.
(Moriarty begins writing)
Moriarty was the first to speak. "We could use Squee again to go down that well, he seems pretty good in a pinch." Moriarty spun around toward the gnomed and leaned over to put their faces at nearly equal level. "Hey Squee! Ready for to do some more exploring?" Pointing down the well, Moriary smiled. "I don't think a giant spider would even fit in that hole. Maybe an owlbear or a giant snake...or a spider the size of a dog. But there certainly won't be any pony-sized spiders down there."
Squee visibly gulped a little, and stepped backwards. "Yeah, yeah...urmm... are you sure that's a good idea?"
Valandil stepped forward and put a hand on Squee's shoulder. "We'll lower you on a rope, and cover you with missle fire. Anything messes with you on the way down, and we'll pull you up quickly, killing anything that follows you."
Squee looked up into the elvan face, attempting to measure his sincerity. "Okay, let's do this thing." A few knots later, and Giovani and Moriarty were lowering Squee down the well like a sack of apples, bobbling and listing about. Amadius and Valandil had their crowbow and bow ready to go, and pointed down the well on either side. Amadius was fairly impressed with how the small gnome was able to maintain his dignity while being lowered down a dark hole on the end of a rope.
At a depth of about 20 feet, Squee began to yell. "PULL ME UP...PULL ME UP! tHE WIND IS WHIPPING UP AGAIN!" Giovanni and Moriarty begain pulling long draws upon the rope, whisking Squee up the hole as fast as they could. Gust of wind rose up out of the well, and began tearing at everyone's clothing and whipping at their hair and faces. Squee reached the top of the well and began climing out, but the wind was pulling at him, and slipped and began to fall backwards. CRACK! Moriarty's whip locked itself around Squee's torso, and held him in place long enough for the others to pull him from the well and scramble away from the wind torn well.
After a few minutes the wind retreated down the hole again, and the members of the small band struggled to catch their breath. That's when Squee finally spoke. "There's a key at the bottom of that well...a shiny black key. It was almost within my reach, and then I felt something watching me...and the winds began to whip up. I couldn't get the damned thing."
(Valandil Begins Writing)
Stunned by almost losing their gnome to forces unknown, unnatural. Valandil had not fully recovered from the horrific visage that was the undead. This place is strange and seemingly corrupt by something even greater than necromancy. Still unsure of his new companions and their intentions, Valandil is cautiously watching their motives trying to determine why exactly they were brought together and for what purpose did their acquaintance bring them together? Still untrusting, knowing that some of the companions motives seem strange and not all that pure, even his own seem to be swayed by this group of brigands.
Then as the wind retreated down the well an eerie, stench of rotting flesh began to fill the room. It wasn't poisonous but very unpleasant, maybe there are more undead behind the doorway at the opposite side of the room? This dungeon is quiet, too quiet... thought Moriarty, surely someone or something is watching us. The companions tend to their wounds and start a small fire for warmth but also to see if the unholy wind, that nearly captured Squee, attempts to reenter the room. Its been a while since the companions have had anything to eat though Amadius, as he began to prepare some food. Squee, stands up at the sight of food and walks towards Amadius, "finally time to eat" exclaims Squee. As the group begins to gather and sit by the fire they hear a thunderous rumble overhead, perhaps a storm?
All of a sudden a gust of wind blows through the cavern and vanquishes their fire....In the darkness they begin to hear whispers from the well, could the key be talking, is there something further down the well? Giovanni lights a torch and the noises seem to disappear....
(VenKat Begins Writing)
A light appeared above the well just as the group had started to feel their way around in the darkness. Preparing for whatever horror was next to come. The soft clicking of boots on stone saw them wheel their heads in unison to see Venkat striding to the edge of the well. Peering over the wizard said, “What did you find down there? If we’re to discovery why Njal was killed our answer will be down there.”
Moriarty sputtered, “What…what do you mean. The Kobalds came from down there not those murderous clansmen.”
Venkat shot an annoyed look over his shoulder. “You do realize that those two things are connected…don’t you?”
(Mark Begins Writing)
Moriarty had a bit of a scowl on his face, straightened himself, and walked to within about 5 feet of Venkat. "Where the name of Kempin have you been? We were waiting for you at the Wilding Bar, and you never showed. We faced the Burners at Njal's home...no Venkat. And we've been having to deal with that dirty stinking lackey of yours, Tenkle, for days now. Where have you been hiding yourself?"
Venkat turned away from Moriary with a wry smile on his face, and began to circle the well, looking into its dark depths. Then he shot a look at Moriarty...then Amadius, and then each member of the group in turn before answering. "I called you to the Wilding Bar because I had heard word of violence planned against wise old Njal. I full intended to meet you there, for in confronting the threat...we had much to gain."
There was a long pause then, as Venkat put his hands on the rim of the stone well, and looked deeply into it. "But, the best laid plans and all that. I had important information to gather, and I was...unfortunately delayed. It appears you handled yourselves well, and I doubt my involvement could have produced results more positive than you've already earned. Impressive. The townspeople are already telling tells. How you massacred two dozen kobolds in the City Square. How you battled the Burners, and nearly saved Njal. And the spiders...well, shit...people love to tell tales about giant spiders. Bone-chilling isn't it? The people of Order are already calling you 'the Hunters.' And the 'Vengeful Hands of the Law Keeper.' Advantages to be gained, indeed."Squeedlbrock piped up at this point. "But where were you?"Venkat refused to pry his gaze away from the deep darkness of the well. But, he answered in a low voice. "Well, someone needed to find out why the Sunkar Clan and the Vincent Clan would be so bold? Who they were working with? What they hoped to gain by making themselves a pariah in the only real world they really know? Some are meant to do the heavy lifting, and some are meant to do the deep thinking, eh?" Venkat shot a quick glance at Squee and then began digging round in a large sachel hanging at his side.
Venkat pulled a strange metallic rock and some string from his bag, tying one end of the string around the rock. "Did you see any exits down there, Squee?" Gone was the mysterious tone, and a tone of comradship and cooperation had taken its place. Squee shook his head no. "None at all, Squee?"
Squee walked over to the well, and stood next to Venkat. "No. No exits. Just a sandy bottom, and that horrible black key."
Venkat reached for Giovanni's torch, and gave him a nod. Giovanni handed it over and came to join them looking down into the well. Venkat dropped the torch into the well, and it landed on the sandy bottom below sending up some sparks. But the wind did not rise. The light of the torch showed the ornate black key sitting in the sand. Venkat lowered the metallic rock on the string into the well, and led it carefully to land upon the center of the key with a clinking sound. He reeled in the string cautiously, and the key rose with it...as though the metallic rock and the key were attached. In less than a minute, Venkat was holding the black key in his hands, and the group gathered around to examine it.
The key did not appear to have been forged by any means known to any of them present. It had an organic quality to both its form and surface, that made it seem more like it was grown...than formed by the metal arts. Symbols marked its surface here and there, and the parts of the key that were meant to operate the tumblers of whatever dark lock fit this key, were ornate and bizzare in their design.Moriarty shook his head. "I'm not sure I want to find the door or lock this goes to."Valandil smiled. "No one makes a key like this, unless something very special and very interesting needs to be kept safe."Venkat looked grim. "Or something very dangerous needs to be kept contained." Almost in unison, the each member of the group turned his head and looked toward the unopened doors in the North wall of the room. They were wooden, bound with metal, and swollen with moisture.Amadius said in a low voice, "There's no lock in those doors."
Squee was feeling both a sense of dread and excitement at the same time, but tried to make his voice sound calm. "Then the lock or doors this key fits certainly lie beyond..."
(Squee Begins Writing)
Squee glanced around the room at his new found comrades at arms. He couldn't believe his good luck at falling in with a group of people that actually led to such an amazing adventure. They even let him go down that well! He had hoped when he left home to gain some excitement and new experiences, but Giant Spiders! Squee grinned to himself with delight. On the other hand he still couldn't shake the strange feeling that some of his new friends were keeping secrets, some more dangerous than others. And none more so than the mysterious Venkat. He was ready to embrace the unknown but usually found that if someone had something to hide, it was not because he had done "too many" nice things, or that he just like puppies. There was nothing more dangerous than the people you may need to trust withholding information from you. He knew everyone had their reasons for going on this adventure, he just hoped everyone else's reasons didn't get in the way of his fun. Shaking his head and awakening from his reverie he took advantage of everyone's distracted musing about the big door to sneak up behind Giovanni and squirt a little water from his skin onto the back his pants. No harm in lightening the mood a little, right?
(Mark writes again)
After a bit, the group's nerves settled and the finished up warming some food and tea and filling their bellies. The smoke from the fire was drawn from the room, and out the south doors. This was the way the party can entered the underground, and Squee pictured the smoke of the fire and the smell of their food rising from the hole in the field in the City of Order. "I wonder what Sgt. Thomas Johns thinks of all the smoke we're sending his way?"
Venkat smiled. "He's probably taking every available sign he receieves as a sign of our demise, I imagine."
Valandil felt the walls closing in on him a bit and then, with an effort, quelled his natural adversion to being underground. "What if he blows the hole shut, and we can't get out of this place? Perhaps we shouldn't dwell on the thought, but it is one that keeps coming to mind anyway."
Moriarty had a thoughtful look on his face, and was looking this way and that around the room. "Well, these rooms are stone-block construction and much nicer than that crawl-hole we initially came through. I'd say we entered through an unintentional backdoor to this place...not the front door. If the way we came in becomes unpassable, then we'll just have to force our way through to the other way out. After all, that draft has to be coming form somewhere."
Amadius was examining the unopened doors on the north side of the room. "The draft definitely comes from beyond these doors. You can feeling rushing through the cracks and small holes in both the doors, but also the stonework of the wall."
Giovanni had a grim look on his face. "I don't like the feel of this place...and that key is clearly a work of great darkness and evil. I can't imagine going any direction other than at our enemy. The evil and filth that seeks to despoil our world. We'll struggle and maim, and find our freedom by slaying all that stand between us and the bright pure sunshine."
Venkat kicked at the remaining coals, squelching what was left of their fire. "Let's gather up our gear. It appears we have some work to do...and it lies behind those damned doors."
This interlude is immediately followed by our February 8, 2015 game called, "Deep in the Dark."
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