- Entire civilizations dwell beneath the surface of West Kruna, among the caverns and tunnels that thread the land.
Subterranean Depths is the seventh questing area in the game and becomes available when all sub-quests and boss encounters have been completed on at least normal difficulty in Bludheim.
|Oroc Death Chamber | Rockrage Caverns | Gorehand Tunnels | Mad Mage's Sanctum | Dragon's Lair|
|Title||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6||Level 7|
|Underground Avenger |
(Complete Subterranean Depths on Nightmare difficulty.)
|Magma Horror Essence||Used to summon Magma Horror Raid||Subterranean Depths quest bosses|
|Aquamarine Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Quest Boss - Wexxa the Worm-Tamer|
|Jasper Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Magma Horror (Raid)|
|Moonstone Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Quest Boss - Maraak the Impaler|
|Jade Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Quest Boss - Erakka-Sak|
|Amethyst Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Quest Boss - Guilbert the Mad|
|Citrine Human-Oroc Treaty||Used to craft Blood and Crystal||Quest Boss - Bellarius the Guardian|
|Crystal Gazer||30||25||36||Subterranean Depths|
|Ancient Dwarven Helm||60||70||78||70||Increases Energy by 3 and Stamina by 1||Quest boss - Maraak the Impaler|
|Ancient Dwarven Breastplate||60||70||78||70||Increases Energy by 3 and Stamina by 1||Quest boss - Bellarius the Guardian|
|Ancient Dwarven Gauntlets||60||70||78||70||Increases Energy by 3 and Stamina by 1||Quest boss - Erakka-Sak|
|Ancient Dwarven Legplates||60||70||78||70||Increases Energy by 3 and Stamina by 1||Quest Boss - Wexxa the Worm-Tamer|
|Ancient Dwarven Greaves||60||70||78||70||Increases Energy by 3 and Stamina by 1||Quest boss - Guilbert the Mad|
|Obsidian Chopper||17||12||20||Bazaar when Subterranean Depths is unlocked|
|Lava Lamp||30||30||38||40||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Salamander Hide Helm||62||58||77||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Salamander Hide Corselet||62||58||77||Obtained from Subterranean Depths Raids and Slaughterers Six, Lunatics, Felindis & Shaoquin, and Agony Guild Raids|
|Salamander Hide Gloves||62||58||77||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths and raids|
|Salamander Hide Breeches||62||58||77||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Salamander Hide Boots||62||58||77||Subterranean Depths Bazaar, quests, quest help rewards|
|Glowstone Band||68||68||85||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Thud Beast||99||99||124||Thud!: Chance for bonus damage||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Gibbo the Confused||85||85||106||Ponderous Thoughts: Chance to halve all experience gained||Bazaar: Subterranean Depths 350k|
|Goblin Scout||30||15||34||Subterranean Depths|
|Oroc Warband||Oroc Warband: Chance for bonus damage when Vakshara, Nazula or Oroc Wreckers are in Legion||Bazaar - Subterranean Depths|
|Brown Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
|Grey Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
|Green Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
|Blue Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
|Purple Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
|Orange Oroc Crystal||Craft x2 Stat Points||Subterranean Depths raids, quests, help requests and gifting|
Wexxa and Guilbert also drop a mount named Jappa
|"A dragon's greatest weapon isn’t his breath. Nor is it his teeth or his claws."
Your companions glance at you, and at one another. They don't seem to know what to make of this. When you told them that Solus had something to say, they didn't take you seriously. Medea rolled her eyes and muttered something about the puerile nature of human humor. Roland offered you a flask of strong liquor, as if lunacy could be expelled as easily as sobriety. Now they've been listening to his voice for a few minutes, and their bemused reaction is somewhat comforting. If they're hearing him as well, that means you aren't insane. Or at least no more than you were beforehand.
"First you don't talk at all," says Roland, filling the silence, "and now you're yapping like a regular sage. What have you been eating?"
"My mother's eyeball," the blue drake replies.
"Dragons do talk, of course," Lucian Says. "We all heard Kalaxia talk. And Tiresias once composed an entire philosophical treatise in the common tongue. Though he had to ask a human to write it down, since he lacked digits suitable for wielding a quill. But normally they gain the ability later, as they age. That rather unusual dietary article must have quickened the process somehow."
"More than that. I've seen... glimpses. Of things that have been, and others that have yet to pass. A sliver of Kalaxia's far-sight is mine"
"What if we ate the other eye?" you ask. "Could we become seers as well?"
Medea's harp screeches, and your companions stare at you.
"You lack draconic blood," Solus replies. "It would do nothing for you."
"What were you saying?" Marcus asks. "Before we started talking about the benefits of eating eyeballs, I mean. A dragon's greatest weapon..."
"Time. Time is the advantage my kind has over its rivals. Only the demons, elementals, and the most powerful of the undead may rival us when it comes to enduring the centuries." His orange eyes turn to Medea. the firelight flickering across their surfaces as if twin flames dwelled within their depths. "When my mother's mind touched my own, I saw into the past - to another time when she fought the armies of man."
"You saw the great dragon war?" The tune which comes from her harp is filled with wonder, and causes vistas of ancient glory to play across your mind.
"Only flashes of image, bursts of sound and smell. I saw without understanding. Sing of it for me, that I may know more."
A smile crosses the bard's face, and you read both pleasure and pride at the thought that her songs will teach one of the ancient draconic race. But it only lingers for a moment. Then her expression shifts into one of solemnity, as the opening chords twirl through the air like dancing spirits.
In the battle Medea's song is rousing, but never distracting. It urges and inspires, but never consumes your senses. Such is the role of a bard in the fray. Yet away from the clash of steel, when tales may be woven for their own sake, things are different. At such times the power of her harp and voice may be unleashed to full measure. So as she sings of that ancient time, of events you once though mythical, your senses are drawn into the tapestry of sound and song. Images spin before you, as sure they did when you gazed upon the visions within Kalaxia's mind.
There are drakes outlined against starry skies, casting ominous shadows over the cities and fields. You see homes burning, men, women, and children immolated by the flames gushing from monstrous maws. The time of the wyrm has come, and it seems as if the civilizations of man must surely buckle and collapse beneath the weight of their fury.
But the dragons have underestimated their foes. For it is an age not only of monster, but of hero. In these days demi-gods walk the face of Tor'gyyl, mighty warriors whose like the world will never witness again. Fear and horror are eclipsed, and your heart thrills as you see the armies of the humanoid races strike back against their enemies.
The air is dense with arrows, glowing shafts shooting into the heavens at an impossible speed – continuing to fly long after they should have faltered and fallen. They seem as if they could reach the moon. But instead they stop as they find a reptilian body in their path. A scaly hide is pierced in dozens of places. Leathery wings are torn like parchment. An elven woman looks on with a grim smile as the dragon falls from the sky, peppered by a hundred shafts from her single bow.
In another part of the field you see warriors charging, hurling themselves upon a wyrm, spears and swords thrusting in search of vulnerable places between the armored scales. The dragon rages, vicious teeth and wicked claws rending flesh and bone – leaving the ground awash with gore, littered with severed body parts. Dozens perish beneath his onslaught, and the other warriors fall back in terror – animal fear overcoming martial valor. Then a huge figure in a bear-skin cloak shoves his way through the massed ranks. He roars a challenge, slams a ham-like fist against his broad chest, and leaps at the beast. His powerful fingers crack its scales as though they were made of eggshells, sinking into the soft flesh beneath. The man roars, braces his powerful arms, and with one mighty wrench tears the monster’s head from its neck.
A dozen such scenes take place before your vision. But at last the fighting is over, and images of battle give way to glorious celebrations beneath a shining sun. That picture fills your mind for some moments, until you realize that Medea’s song has ended, and allow your eyes to focus on reality once more.
“Thank you.” Solus opens his eyes, and they seem brighter than before.
The elven bard gives a slight bow of her head.
“I understand some of my visions now. After the war you thought my kind slaughtered or driven from this land.”
“Yes,” Lucian replies. “The annals and chronicles from that age tell of a few wyrms who withdrew to their mountain lairs after the final battle. But they were hunted down and slain within months. Others, those who had fought for man, left West Kruna behind – knowing that humans would always view them with suspicion and trepidation. If any of the others lived, they were thought to have done the same, and sought sanctuary across the oceans.”
“Perhaps some did. But there were those who remained, who refused to be driven from this land they had sought to conquer. Erebus and Kalaxia were among them. They chose to make use of their greatest weapon. Time. My mother had seen the future – she knew that the age of men such as Terracles would pass, and that millennia later the humanoid races would be easier prey. So they made their preparations, and then slept.”
“They went underground, didn’t they?” you ask. “The cavern I saw when I touched your minds – that was somewhere beneath West Kruna.”
“That’s how their armies appeared all over the kingdom,” says Marcus. “We wondered how some of them could have made it so far inland before being spotted.”
“A good plan,” Roland muses. “Sleep for a few thousand years, let everyone forget about you, then attack when no one expects it.”
“It was,” replies Solus. “But something went wrong. They had planned to wake at the time of Kalaxia’s vision – when she saw a blue drake leading the Frost Wyrm Nords to victory. Instead they were awoken early.”
“I don’t understand,” says Aesa. “Kalaxia was leading the Frost Wyrm Nords, just like their prophecy said. It was the right time – except that we came and put an end to it.”
“No…” Solus pauses. His flickering orange eyes meet yours, and he seems to be considering something. Then he looks back to the shaman. “The time she foresaw was centuries in the future. She went to her death without understanding that.”
“You said they were awoken,” Medea says. “Not awoke, but were awoken.”
“Yes. Something… someone… ended their slumber before its time. But I don’t know who or what that was. Those events lie in the darkness that surrounds my visions like a dark sea. But one thing is clear in them. There’s something important in the caverns where I was conceived, where Erebus and Kalaxia slept their long sleep. Something which will help determine the outcome of this war. And I can lead us there.”
Discussion and argument rage long into the night. Your companions are understandable dubious about ignoring the orders you were given – to deal with the Frost Wyrms, then return south for further instructions. And the very idea of chasing a dragon’s visions in to the bowels of Tor’gyyl, when there’s a war to be fought on its surface, seems insane. But you believe in Solus, and your companions are swayed by your determination. Their faith in you is powerful. Even Aesa, who has known you for but a short time, understands that there’s something about you – that where you walk, things happen.
You wait until the morning to put the matter to the troops. Warriors celebrating a fresh victory, filled with euphoria and intoxicating spirits, would likely agree to an assault to the gates of hell. It wouldn’t have been fair to take advantage of that. But it makes no difference. When you reveal you intentions in the hardening light of a new day, everyone clamors to join you.
A long trek through the snows takes you back to Malovar River, broken only long enough to gather the dead comrades you were forced to leave on the way. You expect to make camp on the riverbank, so your troops might rest before beginning the arduous task of freeing the ships from the ice that holds them in place. Perhaps Kalaxia’s death broke the back of whatever sorcery was at work.
Solus and the other flying mounts in your retinue begin to ferry people across the vessels, that they might lower the boats and spare your forces a swim through the broad stretch of bone-chilling water.
Soon you’re sailing along the river once more, this time voyaging south towards more familiar lands and more temperate climes.
“Gods!” Aesa spits, and glances down with an expression of disfavor as the greedy dry earth consumes the moisture. “How do you southlanders endure such places?”
“By not wearing fur cloaks,” you reply.
The shaman glares at you for a moment. Then she sighs, and unfastens the heavy blue garment from around her neck – revealing pale shoulders that will no doubt burn in the unaccustomed warmth of the sun.
The steppes of Caelnarn fill your vision, a sickly yellow mantle of arid grass that stretches towards the horizon in all directions. A few patches of rock are all that break the monotonous expanse, the only paltry landmarks you can see for miles around.
The river long since disappeared behind you, carrying the ships and their crews on the remainder of the journey home. The captain in charge of the vessels seemed dubious at leaving you in Caelnarn, but as part of the king’s navy he had his orders to follow. He promised to see that the bodies in the holds were taken care of, and asked if he should bear any message to the military officials at port. You accepted the former service with gratitude, and declined the latter. You have no idea if this strange mission will prove fruitful, and until you know for certain you feel no pressing urge to tell the king’s men that you’re chasing after something your dragon saw in a vision.
As if in response to your thoughts, a distant speck appears in the sky.
“He’s coming back,” Medea says. Her harp trills in anticipation.
Solus draws closer, descending towards you with ponderous flaps of his blue wings. A few moments later he touches down on the dry grass.
“It’s there,” he says. “Where I’ll be told it is.”
“Where you told us it is you mean?” says Lucian.
“That as well,” he replies. “Come.”
The ground becomes harder and rockier underfoot as you follow Solus, the grass yielding more and more to the stones and boulders that rise up from the earth and pierce its yellow hide.
“Kurgans,” says Roland, gesturing to a mound of earth capped with a rough mass of stone. “Burial mounds. Supposed to be named after some killer who filled a good many of them with his blade.”
You nod, noticing for the first time that the natural outcroppings of rock are interspersed with these manmade sepulchral monuments. Time has worn away whatever artistry they may once have possessed, leaving them little different from those which were shaped by nature alone.
Solus stops in the midst of the rocks and kurgans, in front of a small hillock. Hardy shrubs and grass grow on much of its surface, and it’s only as you draw close that you discern the rock beneath the layer of dirt and scrubby vegetation.
“Here” The drake sits back on his haunches, and gestures with his snout. “This is one of the entrances to the caverns and tunnels that thread the land. The nearest one to our goal, I believe.”
You approach the overgrown rock face, and press your gauntleted hand against its surface. It feels solid enough. You run your hands along it, feeling for some gap in the rock. Roland begins to do the same, his expert touch probing for hidden secrets, as he must have done in countless caves and dungeons during his younger days.
“If there’s a door here,” he says, “it doesn’t look like it’s been opened in years. The plants haven’t been disturbed.”
“No…” Solus replies. “It’s strange. I expected it to have been used by some of our enemies when they began their attack on the surface.”
“Are you sure this is the right place?” you ask.
“Yes. Why it’s gone unopened I cannot say, but it will open to us now.” He turns his head, and looks back to the assembled troops.
They’re looking on in anticipation. After all the strange things they’ve seen marching at your side, you doubt any of them expects this latest adventure to come to naught. They all expect something to happen, as do you.
“Some of you took shields from the Frost Wyrm Nords we slew,” Solus says. “Bring one forward.”
There’s something of a commotion, as several men and women try to push their way through the ranks – eager to render this service. The first one to break free from the press and scurry into the open is a goblin – clutching one of the shields to his chest. It looks too big for him to actually use it comfortably in battle, so you suspect he simply snagged it as a trophy.
He runs towards you, and offers the shield in his outstretched hands.
“Put it on the rock,” Solus says.
The goblin nods, and taps the shield against the grassy stone as if he’s cracking an egg. Then he leaps back, as a thin, vertical beam of golden light flashes along the center of the rock face. There’s a grinding noise, and a slab of stone swings inwards on either side – revealing a cave. Its floor slopes downwards, disappearing into black depths.
“My touch would have opened it,” says Solus. His voice is soft and low, as though he’s talking to you alone, or perhaps even to himself. “But I was curious about the shield. The other one will open it, but I wondered if it was the images or the substance which held the power.”
You wait for him to elaborate, but instead he simply pads into the cave, gesturing for you to follow with a flick of his long head.
Oroc Death Chamber
|Your path winds deep into the bones of Tor'gyyl, curving and descending from the maw of the hidden cave. The stone passage is tall and broad, big enough for a full-grown drake to slither through. The dragons or their minions did their job well. If such underground routes truly thread the ground beneath West Kruna, it's no wonder armies were able to march across the kingdom unnoticed.
Strange breeds of glowing lichen sprawl across stretches of the rock walls, throbbing in reds, blues, purples, and greens. Patches of crystal sprout from other places, and these too cast an eldritch, multicolored light over their surroundings. You wonder if the crystals infused the lichen with their luminosity, or perhaps something from the lichen seeped into the crystals. But such things are beyond your understanding, and you put them from your mind. Instead you simply accept the welcome light, which allows your mages to conserve their power instead of expending it to illuminate every step of your way.
Though it seems as if the descent will continue forever, until you reach whatever mysteries lie at the world's heart, the path eventually levels off. It widens into an even larger passage that stretches off into the distance.
You turn, and see a ﬁgure in red plate armor slipping away from the main body of the troops. With steps that are somehow soundless in spite of the hard ground, he darts into the blackness -- towards part of the tunnel wall without lichen or crystals to chase away the shadows, outside the globes of arcane light summoned by your spellcasters.
"Bring some light here," comes the voice from his silhouette.
You gesture, and one of the mages does as bidden. He moves towards the vampire, a ball of pure brightness dancing around his shoulders. The pool of light spills towards the edge of the passage, chasing away the darkness. In a moment it reveals the vampire once more. He's pointing at something on the wall. A second later the light reaches it, illuminating the rock, and you see what caught his attention.
Carved in relief upon the cavern wall, standing the height of a man, is the image of a dragon. The rock must have been shaped and smoothed by skilled hands. The beast is as detailed and elegant as a heraldic symbol upon a nobleman's shield. Its stance too is reminiscent of such creatures. It stands side-on, one of its front legs raised as though reaching out to grasp something.
"A warning sign?" you say. "Here be dragons?"
"No," replies the vampire. "The dragons’ minions fashioned this, in honor of their masters."
"How can you tell?" Marcus asks.
"Blood. Human blood was splashed on this sculpture." The vampire leans towards the stone image, and sniffs like a noble experiencing the aroma of a fine wine. "Dwarf as well. It's faint, ancient. But long ago offerings were made here."
More such sculptures are unveiled as you continue down the tunnel, one of your light-bearing mages walking close by each wall so as to reveal those left in blackness by the crystals and lichen. Some are almost identical to the first one you encountered. Others are more elaborate, showing dragons devouring humans, or destroying castles. Could savage beastmen truly have carved such works of art, you muse, or did the dragons once have more sophisticated allies?
Then something more interesting appears, and banishes such idle contemplations. The advancing rightness unveils a large gap in the rock up ahead, and pours into it to reveal it as the opening of another passage. It's much narrower and lower than the one you've been following, too small to admit a full-sized drake. But its dimensions are clearly those of a tunnel made by a humanoid, not a hole burrowed by a rock worm or other subterranean animal.
"The stone dragons lead this way,“ Medea says.
A twang from her harp somehow directs your attention further down the main passage -- as effectively as if the sound were a pointing finger. Sure enough, in the red glow from a patch of lichen you can just about make out the edges of another sculpted drake.
"Yes," says Solus. "The main passage should lead us towards our goal. But that other path... I've seen it... We... But why would we?“
He growls in frustration.
"What-" you begin. But before you can ask him what he means, he's already charging down the main tunnel.
For a brief moment you glance round, and meet the gazes of your companions. Then, as one, you run after him. There's a din of pounding food falls, as everyone else follows.
The passage curves ahead of you. Thus you hear Solus' hiss of anger before you round the turning and see him -- and the cause of his displeasure. You all come to a halt behind him.
"So..." says Lucian. "One mystery is elucidated at least."
Rock ﬁlls the tunnel from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Rough, irregular boulders and stones are wedged against each other, forming a densely packed mass. Crystals are growing from the rubble, and patches of lichen have claimed other rocks as their own. So that's why the dragons didn't use this route to the surface.
"Looks like it caved in centuries ago," you say.
"Then we came all this way for nothing." Medea's harp gives a long warble that reminds you of a sigh.
"This makes no sense!" Solus groans. "This passage was... will be... How could it? If it's clear then, it should be..."
Again your gaze meets those of your companions, and you read the same look of concern on each face. Solus' voice is so very different from Kalaxia's, and yet the same despair that you heard in hers now coats his. It's the anguish of a seer whose visions appear jumbled, distorted -- perhaps thwarted. His mother possessed far-sight for untold centuries, yet it ultimately seemed to overwhelm her. And for Solus the power is newly gained...
You step towards him, and rest your hand against the side of his neck. His muscles are tense, strained -- like steel beneath your touch. But you can feel them relaxing in response to your closeness, your support.
"It's okay," you tell him. "We can go back the way we came, and return to the surface. We-"
"No." Solus turns his head and faces you. His eyes are big and bright, blazing in the multihued light from crystals and lichen. But his voice is calm now, again filled with the sedate sagacity it possessed before. "The other passage. We take the other passage. This realm is threaded with tunnels and chambers. We find another route to our goal."
There's a pointed cough from your companions, along with what sounds like all the skepticism in creation concentrated into a single strum of a harp's strings. How does she do that?
"Maybe we should make camp for a little while," you say. "A short rest might-"
"I was confused for a moment. When I saw the side passage, I knew I had seen us taking it. But it made no sense. This passage should have led us directly to the lair. The way will be open for..." He trails off, and gives a sigh so deep his flanks shudder. "It seems that your paths must be different."
"There's no harm in some of us scouting the other tunnel," says Roland, breaking the awkward silence that follows Solus' cryptic pronouncement. "These dragon carvings show he was right about this place, at least. If there's something important down here, it's worth a little exploring."
The others nod, apparently satisfied with the suggestion. So you return to where the second passage branched off, and issue instructions. You decide to leave your commanders with the bulk of your troops, taking only Solus and a small force with you. There's no sense in squeezing your entire host through the narrow, winding passage until you know it's a path worth taking.
And hopefully while they remain behind your closest companions will be able to reassure those of your followers who may be feeling a creeping unease after witnessing Solus' confusing behavior.
"Have you seen what we'll come across?" you whisper.
The question has been niggling at your mind for some time now, but you didn't wish to ask it in front of your companions -- and risk making them even more perturbed. Now you and Solus are a short way ahead of the others, and hopefully out of earshot.
"Perhaps," he replies. His voice is equally suppressed, carrying no further than it has to. "What I've seen is a muddle, glimmers in the darkness. And it's all jumbled with what I'll be told so many years from now."
"No. You don't."
You're pondering his words, wondering what to say in response, when the snaking tunnel turns for perhaps the dozenth time since you entered it, and presents you with a more immediate problem.
Like the larger passageway, this too has come to a stop -- its mouth choked with rubble. You look to Solus, expecting another outburst of anger. But no words come from him. Instead, he presses his head against the rocks that block your path.
The troops appear behind you, take in the scene, and look to you for guidance. But there's nothing you can say to them. Solus' actions, until of late so in line with yours as a matter of course, are as mysterious and troubling to you as they must be to them. There's a long, disquieting silence. When Solus breaks it, his voice calm, his words stripped of the enigma which enveloped them before, you let out a grateful breath you didn't even realize you'd been holding.
"The blockage here is much more recent," he says. "And it doesn't go as far. I can break through it."
He shuffles backwards, and you move aside to give him space. Then he tenses, drawing his weight back onto his hind legs. With something between a human grunt and a draconic roar, he lunges - rising up and reaching out with his forelegs. There's a great grinding of rock that makes you wince as it reverberates across the confines of the tunnel. It's as though the stones are protesting at being dislodged from their place of rest. But they give way before the drake's powerful bulk, and light washes over you from beyond. Solus plunges through the gap, knocking more of the loose rocks aside. You follow in his wake, your comrades close behind.
The Oroc Prisoner
|You emerge into a large cavern, its walls adorned with gleaming crystal of many colors. It's as though the chamber was fashioned from a great gemstone, cut by a jeweler's hand. But it isn't the beauty of those surroundings that draws your eye. For you're not alone. Scattered around the cavern, gazing at you in evident surprise, are a number of orocs. As absurd as it is, your first thought is that their variously colored crystalline bone protrusions look rather splendid against the crystal backdrop if their environment. Your second thought is to wonder what in the name of all the gods you've burst in on.
Pools of thick, bubbling orange liquid are sunk into portions of the rock floor, tainting the air with their sulfurous sent. They remind you of the substance that threaded the bodies of the demons you fought in Ryndor. Even from this distance you feel the heat radiating from them. A cage hangs above one of those burning pools, light glimmering from its multifaceted crystal bars. It's suspended from a chain which passes through a loop in the cavern ceiling, the other end wound around a winch that stands fastened to the ground nearby. In the cage stands an orange-skinned oroc, his flesh not unlike the magma in hue. He stares at you with an expressionless face, as though unfazed by the doom which seethes below his feet. Each of the other pools has a cage submerged in it, only the topmost portion of their bars visible above the bubbling mass. If there was any possible doubt about the purpose of the contraption the oroc's imprisoned in, those dispel it.
The orocs are still staring, silent and motionless. And who could blame them? Having a dragon crash through the wall of their torture and execution chamber must be something of a unique experience. It's Solus who breaks the silence.
"That oroc," he says, gesturing to the one in the cage with a flick of his snout. "I've seen him. He has to live."
"Oh..." is all you can manage.
You weren't sure how the situation could become more awkward than it already was, but that's done it. The last you heard, the largest of the oroc clans had pledged to fight the dragons, and sent their warriors to join the fray. If these ones are among their number, you've just violated an ally's domain, and certainly have no right to free their captive, convict, or whatever he is.
Fortunately the decision is taken from your hands. One of the orocs screams something in his own language. and they break into a charge.
You yell for one of you comrades to run back and alert the others. On the opposite side of the cavern you see an oroc disappearing through a doorway -- no doubt intending to do the same. Who knows how many more enemies he'll bring down upon you.
But sufficient for the moment are the evils thereof. You draw your weapon, and run to meet their charge -- Solus at your side.
Heave or Hurtle
|An oroc collapses before you, his crystal scraping against the hard rock as his limbs thrash in one last, defiant effort. His flesh was tough, his crystal protrusions able to parry sharp steel. But you've battled countless men and monsters, and finding a creature's weak spots is second nature to you now.
You're about to aid some of your comrades, when you see one of the orocs backing away from the melee. He turns his back on his allies, leaving them to their fate, and runs towards the edge of the bubbling pool beneath the prisoner's cage. Whether it's out of a desperate desire that the captive die this day, or else because he understood Solus' words and wishes to thwart you, his intention is clear. He reaches out towards the wince that controls the cage.
Solus leaps at him, smashing him aside, bearing him to the ground under his bulk, pinning him against the rock. But even as the oroc falls, you see that he's clutching something in his hand.
The chain begins to spin, as it unravels from the winch.
Solus turns from the downed oroc, and looks back at the contraption. But the oroc grabs him around the neck, yanking at him, goring the drake's scaly hide with his crystal protrusions, struggling to hold him in place.
Seems like it's up to you...
You lunge at the winch, your weapon falling from your hand and clattering against the cavern floor, and grab hold of the length of chain that rises from it. As you struggle to avoid being yanked off your feet by the weight of the oroc and his cage, you realize that you didn't really think this through.
Oroc and a Hot Place
|You brace your feet agains the winch, straining and struggling to hold the chain in place. It feels as if your arms are being wrenched from their sockets, as is your braced legs will snap like twigs.
Then Solus' head appears in front of you, his jaws clamping around the chain. A scaly blue foot slams down on the winch, pinning the rest of it in place and preventing it from unraveling.
Almost groaning with relief, you let go of the chain, and totter away from the winch. It's while you're trying to shake the feeling back into your limbs that you see the crystal-studded mass of an oroc hurtling towards you, his shoulder lowered as he prepares to barge you into the magma.
|The oroc's startled face flashes past your vision as he flies over you, his momentum and the boot planted into his gut hurling him through the air as you fall onto your back. In the frozen moment of triumph that exists between the successful execution of a move and the inevitable destruction of your opponent, it occurs to you that this kind of situation is why master-at-arms almost always include grappling in their curriculums.
Your reveling in your triumph when you hear the shout, words that grind together like lumps of stone.
"No! That one has the key!"
You scramble up into a crouch, and spin around to see the oroc plunge towards the orange pool. As if to mock you, a crystal key twinkled on his belt as he lands in the viscous magma. He screams for a split-second, before his face disappears into its surface.
You grab your fallen weapon as the oroc's body slowly sinks into the burning orange sludge. You're only going to have one chance at this...
Hurling yourself prone, ignoring the burning heat that rises up from the pool and claws at your face, you thrust the blade towards the disappearing corpse. The tip clips into the crystal hoop at the end of the key with a soft scraping clink, and a twitch of your arm hooks it free.
You get to your feet, and allow the key to drop from the end of your weapon. It lands in your palm, and you're filled with such overwhelming smugness that you consider taking a bow. But instead you turn to the end of the cavern, the side facing your impromptu doorway, where more orocs are thundering into the chamber.
"The key! Give it to me!" the imprisoned oroc growls, his words grating against each other in his gravelly voice. He reaches a hand through the bars of the cage, beckoning to you.
You toss the key to him, and see his fingers close around it. Then you join your companions, and hurl yourself towards your new foes.
Boss: Maraak the Impaler
|Roland looks surprised. But his twin swords appear in his hands, raised and ready. The others draw their weapons as well, and begin to move round the oroc - flanking him in case he attacks. He ignores them, his attention ﬁxed on the grizzled adventurer. You dart over, moving between the two of them.
"Do I know you?" Roland asks. His voice is calm, though tinged with confusion.
"You pretend you don't remember me?" says Raknur. His words are grinding together again, as though his fury is butchering his diction. His orange blade rises up, and cuts at the air in a gesture of frustration.
A dozen weapons are raised in response, and the hands of some of the mages begin to glow with arcane energy. A rune shimmers above Aesa's ﬁngers, and Medea's tune shifts to one pregnant with martial anticipation.
"Wait!" you cry, signaling for them to stand down.
"Who is this oroc?" Medea asks, the question accentuated by an interrogative ﬂutter from her harp.
"His name's Raknur. We saved him from one of these cages. He said he could lead us to-"
"Nemler's dungeon!" Roland's voice conveys the unmistakable sound of epiphany.
You glance at him, and see the recognition that's dawned across his face. Even Raknur seems taken by the sincerity of his tone and expression. The orange sword lowers in his hand, and when he next speaks his words are clearer, each one more carefully formed.
"Are you so old that you've forgotten your enemies?" he asks.
"All you orocs look the same to me," Roland replies. "Apart from your colors, I mean. And I've met other orange ones over the years."
"You cheated me of my prize."
"No, I outsmarted you." The adventurer laughs, and the oroc's eyes blaze in response. "You're still angry about a contest you lost twenty years ago?"
"The sword was mine. None of the others could stand against me. I would have had it if you hadn't deceived me with a child's trick."
"If it was a child's trick, what does that make you for falling for it?"
You look around at the rest of your companions, who seem equally confused by this exchange. Even the chords plucked on Medea's harp sound befuddled, a jumble of melodious notes struggling against one another.
Raknur looks at you for the ﬁrst time since he fastened his gaze on Roland. Some of the anger has left his face, and his crystal-studded features shift awkwardly -- as if he realizes just how bizarre is behavior must seem to you.
"I'm sorry, draken-kasan. But many years ago I swore before the gods, upon the crystals of my ancestors, that if I ever met this man again only one of us would live."
You sigh, and look to Roland for advice. He shrugs.
"Is there some reason why we can't simply slay the oroc?" Medea asks. But her music is soft, already anticipating the answer.
"Yes," says Solus. "He knows the path to the lair. He's the one who guides us there."
"I pledged to guide you, and if I live I shall. But first I must kill him."
"That's not going to happen," you say. "If I have to, I'll cut you down myself."
"So be it. But I cannot help you. If you prevent me from fulfilling my oath, from doing what honor demands, I shall not guide you. My people shall not admit you through our caverns. You will never find what you seek."
Silence fills the chamber, a multitude of tongues held still in anticipation. All eyes are on you, waiting to hear how you'll solve this problem -- as you've solved so many others in the past. But you're at a loss. You gaze at Roland, hoping that the adventurer can offer a solution.
"You're prepared to die here, and maybe even help the dragons in the war, because of this?" the adventurer asks.
He flicks his right wrist upwards, indicating the blade he holds there. You stare at the weapon, though you've seen it countless times. It seems no different from the one he holds in his other hand. But the oroc's eyes shine like magma as he beholds it.
"That's it?" he asks. His voice is calmer now, as though the very sight of the sword is soothing to him. "So you took it to wield?"
"It's served me well for two decades. Tasted everything from kobold to dragon in my hand."
"I thought you a wretched hireling like many of the others, ready to trade the weapon to an unworthy noble in exchange or gold." Raknur nods, as though in approval. "But perhaps you're a warrior after all."
Hope surges in your breast. Perhaps this matter can be settled peacefully after all. You note that Medea's playing one of her subtle, soft tunes - like the one she used to quell the angry mob in Fallows. Marcus has lowered his weapon, and with an inconspicuous signal is instructing the others to do the same.
"Then we may fight as two warriors. Let death fall upon the weaker, and the sword go to the stronger."
"Orocs..." Medea mouths, rolling her eyes.
You sigh, and nod to her. You feel like you're dealing with a child. An oroc pursuing a matter of honor is as single-minded as a ghoul chewing on a succulent kidney.
"You already have a weapon," says Roland. His tone is patient, as though the oroc standing in front of him hasn't just spoken of killing him. "A fine one, if I'm any judge of crystal blades. One more suited to your hand than a human weapon."
Raknur holds up his orange sword, turning the blade side-on as if to display it to Roland in all its glory.
"This blade has no equal," he agrees. "But that makes no difference. I must have that sword, and I must take your life, or else perish. My oath demands it."
"Sorry to interrupt..."
All gazes, even those of Roland and Raknur, are transferred to the speaker - a scout standing near the cavern entrance. He seems taken aback by the sudden attention, and halts as if he's struck an invisible wall.
"...but there are more orocs not far from here, heading this way."
"Then we haven't any more time to waste," says Medea. "We need to move on, or go back and return to the surface."
"We have to find the lair," says Solus. "A great deal depends on it. Of this I'm certain."
"I'll make you a deal, oroc," says Roland. "Take us to where we want to go. Once we're there, the two of us can fight. And I promise that none of my friends will interfere.“
"Will you honor his words, draken-kasan? Would you allow me to slay him and return to my clan with my prize?"
"He will," says Roland. And all you can do is nod.
"Then follow me."
|You step through the archway at Raknur's side, trying to push the predicament from your mind. You'll have to deal with it later, but for now you need to focus on the task at hand.
The tunnel you find yourself in snakes off in a single direction, its only apparent purpose being to provide access to the death chamber. You wind your way around a corner, emerging into a long, straight passage. At the far end, where it meets the opening of what looks like another cavern, stand three orocs.
The orocs yell something in their native language as they catch sight of you, and start charging. Then they stumble to a sudden stop. More of your companions have rounded the corner behind you. The orocs turn and run in the opposite direction, again screaming in their craggy, grinding tongue. Apparently the three of them are unwilling to fight an army on their own.
You break into a run as well, rushing in pursuit of the fleeing orocs. If the alarm hasn't gone any further yet, bringing them down might buy you valuable time. But they're too far ahead. You catch only glimpses of them as they round each corner in front of you, until you reach the entrance to a huge cavern. Then you see them in plain sight, bathed in a soft glow from the large crystals that stud the chamber's walls, running towards a multicolored expanse of rock that a second glance reveals to be a large oroc force.
You come to a stop. You're no Red Prince, or other such master general, but something's wrong here. A smaller force preparing to face a larger force should have met you in the narrower confines of the tunnel, where your numbers could be neutralized. Instead they're massing across a large, open cavern. "Be careful," says Raknur, who has also halted at the cavern's entrance. "This is one of their nexus chambers."
He indicates the mouths of the numerous other tunnels you can see branching off from it.
"Magical traps help protect these places, so that their defenders may stand against a more numerous foe. When my clan attacked such a chamber in the past, we found the rock turn to enveloping sludge beneath our feet. Crystals set into the cavern floor exploded -- jagged shards ripping into our flesh."
You nod, and call for a careful advance as the rest of your companions mass behind you.
You step into the cavern, wary eyes probing your environment as you move towards the enemy. The orocs remain where they are, apparently content for you to come to them. That seems to lend credence to Raknur's concern. But the ground continues to feel solid enough underfoot, meeting your boot each time with a comforting, immovable resistance. And though you cast a suspicious glance at the crystals in the walls, they're at quite a distance. Unless their explosions are tremendous indeed, you doubt the shards would reach you with sufficient force to inflict much damage.
As you continue to advance, your gaze drifts upwards. The roof of the cavern is covered with stalactites. They look like stone daggers...
The thought strikes you a moment before you hear the chanting. You look across at the gathered enemy force, and see an oroc female whose magenta crystals glow with the unmistakable throb of eldritch power.
You yell for your companions to watch out, as the stalactites begin to fall.
|You dive aside, hitting the rock floor and breaking into a clumsy roll that sends a shudder of pain through your bones. A great stone spike crashes on the ground where you stood a moment ago, its point piercing the cavern floor, leaving it vertical for a moment before it topples with an even louder crash.
The cavern is filled with the sounds of smashing stone and the cries of those facing the rocky bombardment. Some of your companions are rushing forward, and as you look on a goblin is obliterated as she runs right beneath one of the falling stalactites.
"Stop!" you yell, trying to make yourself heard.
There's a blast of sound from nearby. Medea's at your side. She catches your gaze, and you nod.
This time the word echoes across the cavern, enveloped in music that conveys more of your meaning and intention than a mere word ever could.
Your companions respond, and stop running.
As you anticipated, the stalactites keep falling ahead of you -- across the great expanse of the cavern. The spell set them falling in sequence. But the place you're standing is safe -- those here have already fallen. The trap is designed to bombard a charging enemy, or one sent into a blundering run by panic. Discipline, a slower, more careful advance, thwarts it.
Your companions form up into their battle lines, and begin to march towards the orocs with quick but steady strides.
As you draw nearer to your foes, Marcus calls out -- signaling to your ranged troops. Missiles, both mundane and arcane, start to fly. Arrows and spells rain down around the orocs. It's then that the enemy finally makes their move. They scream a tumultuous war cry, and charge -- rushing at you with no semblance of order, no attempt at a formation.
"Something's wrong," says Roland.
He's right. Unless they're insane, or bloodlust has overcome their sense, a smaller group of fighters shouldn't be making a disorganized charge at orderly ranks of warriors.
The ground trembles. You see the glowing oroc ahead of you once more, the crystals on her body now a bright cyan. Then a wall of crystal the exact same color erupts from the cavern floor, hiding her from sight.
Another emerges to your left, breaking through the ground between you and Roland. You see the adventurer leap aside to avoid it as it rises, and a flash of orange as Raknur clambers over the cyan barrier to join him. A moment later both are separated from you. You hope the oroc's not about to do anything stupid...
Your companions cry out as the crystals rise around them, cutting them off from one another, blocking their path. But there are no cries of pain. This trap isn't designed to harm you, to inflict carnage as the stalactites were intended to do. Stepping aside as they emerge from the ground is child's play. It's here to break up your formations, to make your numbers less effective.
Orocs appear in front of you, emerging from behind a wall of the crystalline labyrinth.
Might and Magic
|The clamor of battle fills your ears, resonating through the crystals and reverberating throughout the cavern. It's only when a blue snout enters the corner of your vision that you notice Solus has landed beside you.
The drake beckons for you to get on his back, and as you glance upwards you realize that the crystals don't extend all the way to the chamber's ceiling.
You leap into the saddle, and let him fly you above the fray. The view from above is remarkable, as you see the maze in all its glory. But your eyes are drawn to the glowing oroc female who stands at its edge, alongside a handful of warriors who remained outside of the rising crystal walls.
Solus swoops down towards her, weaving through the air as crystal spears fly towards you from her bodyguards' hands. He growls as one scars his side, but continues his descent.
He hits the ground with a thud, landing right on top of the oroc warriors. You leap from his back, leaving him to deal with them.
The spellcaster's hands glow yellow as you lunge at her, the aura around her left arm coalescing into a shield that blocks your attack. A long crystal blade appears in her other hand.
Scholar! Lava! Hot!
|The oroc woman opens her mouth in a cry of pain as you drive the tip of your blade into her abdomen. There's a soft grinding, the metal scraping and biting against whatever orocs have by way of a digestive system.
Her lips part even wider, and the grinding becomes more brutal and pronounced, as you twist the blade. Her cry gives way to a deep groan. You pull your weapon from her gut, and drive it into her gawping mouth. There's a crunch as it meets her spinal column. Her eyes darken as she falls.
There's an immense rumbling noise, as the crystal walls slowly retract back into the cavern floor, inch by inch. Roland and Raknur appear from around one of the descending walls.
The oroc sees your relief, and grins.
"I had to make sure he lived, draken-kasan. One cannot duel a dead man."
"Tell that to our vampires," Roland replies.
"More of them," says Solus.
You follow his gaze, and see orocs emerging from one of the tunnels at the other end of the chamber, gathering beside a great pile of boulders.
"Hurlers," says Raknur.
As if on cue, a boulder flies through the air. The throw is almost unbelievable -- a rock bigger than any a human could even lift flying further than most men could hurl one a quarter of the size. It comes down with a crash a dozen yards in front of you, bounces, and lands several feet away. The oroc who threw it makes an obscene gesture, taunting you with the knowledge of what will happen when you're inside his range.
"We need to get past them," Raknur says. "That passage we must take is on that side of the cavern."
The crystal walls continue to grind their way back into the rock. When your companions have gathered, you could charge the hurlers. But there are many of them now, and their boulders would do a lot of damage.
"That wall behind them... The pumice is bulging."
You turn, and see that Lucian has appeared at your shoulder.
"I suspect that there's magma behind it."
Your lips twitch into a smile as you understand his meaning.
"If I break it, they get bathed in lava," you say.
"Actually," he replies, "since we're underground it's not lava. It's always called-"
But you're already dashing over to Aesa, stopping only to snatch a rock from the ground.
"Like with the snowballs," you say.
She nods her understanding, and traces a rune in the air. The rock glows in your hand.
Solus is already behind you when you turn round. You climb onto his back once more, and he leaps into the air.
The orocs fling boulders as you soar and swoop across the cavern, gauntleted fingers wrapped around the glowing stone. You duck just in time to prevent one of them from crushing your skull.
You draw your hand back as you come in range, taking aim at the bulging pumice.
|Raknur calls out in the harsh, grinding, grating language of the orocs. Shapes emerge from the shadows in response to his call, and crystal-studded bodies come into the light radiating around you -- thrown by a mage's conjured sphere.
The orocs approach, casting wary glances at you and your companions -- and at the massed ranks of troops further behind.
One of them, a burly warrior with purple crystals across his muscular frame, and a similarly colored axe in each hand, barks out angry-sounding words at Raknur. He doesn't seem impressed to find an army of surface-dwellers brought to the threshold of his clan's homeland.
Raknur answers him, and the two go back and forth in their strange tongue. Though the words themselves are inscrutable, you notice that the harshness begins to leave the other oroc's voice. Then something like awe spreads across his face. He gazes at you, and his eyes are wide.
"Erraka-Sak?" he says, looking back at Raknur. His intonation speaks volumes even across the barrier of language.
The exchange continues for a few moments. After that, the oroc with the purple crystals runs off down the wide passage in front of you. The others drift back into the shadow, with obvious reluctance in their steps. Sentry duty seems to have little appeal to them, compared with the dramatic events of which they've just heard.
"Come, draken-kasan," Raknur says. "He will make sure that we're expected, and our way unopposed.“
You follow the tunnel taken by the other oroc. After some distance it narrows, part of its mouth on either side blocked by thick clumps of crystal that force your troops to thin their line. Beyond this bottleneck you ﬁnd yourself in along, high cavern. More crystals are clustered in the rocks around you, these ones emitting a bright light that illuminates the ground level of the chamber. Higher up, where a stone gallery seems to run along its entire length, all is shadow.
"A killing ground," Raknur explains. "If enemies were to come this way, our boulders would smash their skulls from the darkness, as they stood exposed in the light."
You pass through a few similar chambers, your eyes noting the various defensive measures Raknur's clan have established against the other denizens of the underground realm, your mind imagining the carnage which could be wrought upon an invading force. But at last you emerge into a vast cavern, and gaze upon an oroc settlement for the ﬁrst time.
High above you, so far as to make the place seem more agoraphobic than claustrophobic, the ceiling shines like the noonday sky. You realize that it must be covered with crystals, like those you can see nearer at hand. But the distance renders them into a single unbroken expanse of glorious brightness.
Great plateaus of rock have been carved into the walls of the chamber, though whether by nature's hand or the tireless labor of orocs you cannot tell. On these are stone and crystal structures, in the same riot of colors you've witnessed during your travels -- but now arranged into patterns and lends, to decorate the dwellings they adorn.
On the expansive cavern ﬂoor are larger structures, some towering like the mansions, temples, and castles of a human city. A group of them are arranged around the edges of a big open space, Which you take to be the equivalent of town square. Countless orocs are standing around these buildings, staring at you and your followers, speaking to each other in their harsh language. They remain at a distance, as if they too are merely part of the environment to be gazed upon and marveled at.
Medea's harp produces a soft but sweeping score, whispering her wonder. Your other companions gaze around the chamber, their glances drinking in the spectacular tableau. Raknur smiles, evidently pleased by the impression his home has created.
A large group of orocs files out of one of the biggest buildings, at the far end of the square. At their head is a tall male, his body covered with crystals in every imaginable color. You've never seen a member of his race with more than one crystal color before, and you wonder if it's natural or else fabricated through some artistry or sorcery. As he approaches, the orocs in the square retreating to a respectful distance to allow him and his retinue clear passage, you see that the crystals atop his head aren't part of his body. They're some kind of adornment, like a high priest's headdress or else a ruler's crown.
Raknur steps towards the imposing oroc, indicating for you to follow. In a moment you're standing before him, staring up into a face bearing a grim and dignified expression that seems so incongruous from amid the colorful crystals that surround it.
He meets your gaze for a few moments, but remains silent and impassive. Then he looks to Raknur, and you try not to show your surprise at being snubbed. The manners and customs of oroc rulers are unknown to you, and perhaps this is one of their ways.
The multicolored oroc speaks in a rumbling voice, as though an earthquake trembles inside his mouth, the words which emerge merely debris hurled forth. For a moment you think he's speaking in his own tongue. It's only after several seconds that you realize the words are in the common tongue – just distorted by his strange accent and unusual cadence. You ﬁnd yourself hoping that you haven't already missed anything important. Then you realize that you're missing more of his words while pondering that question, and pay attention instead.
"...the Erraka-Sak and Maraak?"
"The first destroyed, the second slain," replies Raknur.
"You have done this for us?" the multicolored oroc asks, finally turning to you. "Our enemies have been broken, left weak so that we might slaughter them and grind their crystal into the rock, by your hand?"
"Well, it was... That is, my companions..." you trail off, as you remember that the orocs aren't fond of modesty. And it occurs to you that you'll never get a chance to brag like this on the surface, without enduring disapproving glances or being told to shut up. Might as well make the most of it... "You speak the truth, noble oroc. By my hand and blade, many enemies were hurled screaming into... into the black depths. Maraak trembled at my gaze, and only escaped my wrath by succumbing to death. Then the Erakka-Sak was shattered beneath my mighty blows."
You feel quite pleased with yourself as the oroc ruler nods in approval, and do your best to ignore the mocking trill of harp music that comes from behind you.
The chieftain's hospitality is lavish, if somewhat perturbing. You and your commanders are ushered into a chamber within his home, onto crystalline seats which weren't designed with the comfort of human buttocks in mind. Trays laden with oroc foodstuffs are laid before you, and out of politeness you attempt to pick from those which look least likely to break your teeth or lacerate your intestines. In a ﬂash of inspiration you request that some of the food be taken from the table and carried into the square where your troops are camped, so that they may partake of the dubious banquet -- and thus reduce your own portion. But to your dismay, the chieftain tells you that food has already been sent to them.
"So, draken-kasan..." he says, turning round just in time to catch you surreptitiously sniffing something that looks like a small cake, and wrinkling your nose at the whiff of brimstone which rewards your curiosity.
You smile, place it in your mouth, and try to swallow it down in spite of your body's fervent desire to spit it back out.
"...what boon may I grant you? What reward may I give to one who has so aided my clan?"
"Nuh..." With a heroic effort you choke down the cake, and blink back the tears which rush to your eyes. "...no reward is necessary. We are glad to have aided you."
"Nonsense!" he says, slamming his ﬁst against the thick marble slab that forms your table. "Perhaps your army needs supplies, to sustain you on your campaign in our realm?"
You try to conceal the look of pure horror which threatens to spread across your face. Oroc rations would most likely make your troops pray for death. Then something occurs to you.
"There is one thing..."
You explain about Raknur, and the duel he intends to ﬁght with Roland. When you ﬁnish, the chieftain makes a low rumbling sound which you understand to be a sigh.
"Ah, draken-kasan... You ask the one thing I cannot grant. Ask for wealth, and I will heap it upon you. Ask for weapons, and you shall have the ﬁnest we have to offer. But I cannot command one of my warriors to break such an oath. To do so would be to ask him to endure dishonor, and to heap his dishonor upon my head in turn."
You feared that he would say something of the kind, but you had to try.
"I would ask something of you, chieftain."
The two of you turn, as Solus' pads over. The king looks to you, as if unsure of what to do or say.
"If it wasn't for Solus, we would never have come here," you say.
The chieftain nods, and looks back at the blue wyrm.
"Very well. Ask, draken, and it will be yours."
"In time you will conquer your enemies, now that their greatest warrior and most powerful weapon are no more. You will slay them, and take their caverns."
"You speak well, draken. That is what will happen."
"When that place is yours, you'll come across the passage my friend spoke of before. The one carved with images of my kind. I want you to clear the passage, and break through the rubble that blocks it."
The chieftain's brow furrows in surprise, and there's a brief grinding noise as the colorful crystals there scrape against each other.
"From what your kasan said, clearing the tunnel would be an arduous task. It would be far quicker to follow Raknur, and finish your journey by the route he knows of."
"It isn't for us."
The chieftain looks at you once more, but you have no explanation to give. "Very well," he says. "But what you ask of us may be long in the coming. First we must vanquish our enemies. And if the tunnel is truly choked with rock, clearing it will be slow."
"You have over two centuries in which to do it," Solus replies.
Your eyes open, and there's a moment's confusion as you wonder where you are. Then memory forces its way through grogginess, and you remember.
You sit up, wincing as your body whines at you for the suffering it's been forced to endure. If an oroc chair is uncomfortable for a human, an oroc bed is an implement of torture. You gaze out of the window, but that reveals nothing. No sunlight penetrates into these depths, and the gleaming crystals out there shine regardless of the hour. Then you remember the stone, and look to the other side of the room.
The stone, placed there as a courtesy by the chieftain‘s servants, glows a deep purple. It's early in the morning, well before the time you had arranged to rise. You sigh, the gesture making your body twinge again. You'd thought of sleeping on the ﬂoor instead, but feared that the servants might find you like that in the morning, and think you were insulting their master's hospitality.
You get up from the slab, and stretch your protesting limbs. A dark mass moves slightly in the comer of the room, and two orange slits blink from sleepy eyes. Solus looks at you, then at the time-marking stone. He grunts, gives a soft murmur of disapproval, and settles down again.
You dress, and make your way through the building. Servants are at work in some of the chambers and corridors. And when you come out into the town square, you see other orocs around the vast cavern -- flying their trades and living their lives. In this subterranean realm, notions of night and day mean little. But a polite sphere of tranquility has been left around the square, where most of your troops sleep in accordance with surface hours.
A few are awake, perhaps keeping sentry duty out of habit, or else finding it difficult to fall asleep in these strange surroundings. They're talking in small groups, or else engaged in the various frivolous pastimes soldiers have devised to while away the hours when they're not marching or fighting. You exchange a few words with some of them, and give your wholehearted agreement when they moan about last night's meal. But after a while you wander off, deciding to walk off your aches and pains.
You saunter aimlessly through the cavern, nodding a greeting to the orocs you pass. Some of them simply stare at you in curiosity, but others return the gesture and even give you a few words of praise or thanks. After a few minutes strolling own the haphazard streets and alleyways, weaving between the buildings that sprawl across the floor oft the immense cavern, you come to a square surrounded by a low wall of red crystal. Within its confines orocs are sparring with one another, either locked in unarmed combat or else fencing with what look to be training weapons.
At the far end you see an oroc with orange flesh and crystals, and after a moment's cautious indecision you decide to approach him. If it's not Raknur, you can always pretend you were admiring his martial prowess...
As it happens, your oroc recognition skills serve you well. Raknur turns round as you draw near, and nods to you. As his powerful body shifts aside, it reveals a small, chubby orange form, with little nubs of crystals on his shoulders. It occurs to you that this is the first oroc child you've seen. The boy's swinging a rough stone weapon through the air, repeating the same stroke again and again.
"Jurgash..." Raknur says. The boy stops in mid-stroke, and turns to him.
"This is the draken-kasan."
The boy looks up at you with solemn eyes that seem softer than Raknur's, as though an ember smolders within them instead of a ﬁre.
"My father says you're a good warrior," the boy says. "He says you've killed drakeni."
"I had some help," you reply, somehow not feeling the urge to brag before a child as you did be ore the chieftain.
"Will you watch me train?" he asks.
His father gives you an apologetic smile.
"Of course," you reply.
And so for a while you watch the boy swinging his weapon, carrying out a series of routines to occasional words of praise or admonition from his father. The boy is skilled for a child. His strokes are swift and elegant, and his arms seem tireless as the wield the training sword. You see the look of pride on Raknur's face, the tentflemess which softens its hard lines, and muse over his strange determination to revenge himself upon Roland. Little as you know the oroc, such bitterness over a lost weapon is strange in one who seems so stoic and disciplined.
When Jurgash has ﬁnished his exercises, the three of you make your way through the streets together, towards where your troops are camped. Raknur is silent, but his son bombards you with questions about the battles you've fought, and the enemies you've slain. You answer them as best you can, trying to satisfy his curiosity without delving into matters of bloodshed and slaughter with one so young.
More of your troops are awake now, breakfasting and preparing for the coming march. As you enter the square, you come face to face with Roland -- who appears to be reluctantly accepting a box of sweetmeats from an oroc woman. She must have heard that he was the one who struck the killing blow against the Erakka-Sak, and wishes to demonstrate her gratitude. She looks on expectantly as Roland slowly lifts a Piece of bright red material from the box, and places it in his mouth. He smiles, and mutters words of appreciation until she turns away. Then he grimaces.
"I suppose these might come in useful," he says. "If I need to entertain an oroc, or poison anyone else."
Roland glances at Raknur and Jurgash. The awkwardness of the situation strikes you like a mace. Your life as a farmhand instilled little of the finer details of etiquette in you. But you doubt even the best-bred nobles would know how to properly introduce a man to a child whose father he's supposed to duel to the death. For better or worse, the boy takes the matter out of your hands.
"You're the sword-taker," he says.
Roland looks at Raknur, then back at the boy.
"That's not what I usually go by."
"I've heard my father speak that name many times. It's because of you that-"
"Enough, Jurgash." Raknur doesn't raise his voice, but there's a finality in his tone which silences the boy.
Whether out of good fortune or tact, Marcus takes that moment to call out to Roland, asking him to come and help with something. The adventurer nods to father and son, then takes his leave. You do the same, deciding to eat with your troops and make your final preparations before the chieftain can inflict another meal on you.
Later that morning you see Raknur crouch beside his son, and make his farewell. Both their gazes rest on Roland, and you wonder what words are passing between them. Then the oroc takes his place at the head of the line, alongside a contingent of warriors the chieftain as sent to aid you, and leads the way to the passage that will take you towards your goal.
|"From here we must be vigilant," says Raknur.
Ahead of you, carved into the rock with rough, crude strokes, are a series of lines that form a poorly shaped, four-fingered hand. The previous night, when the orange oroc outlined the route you would take, he warned that you'd have to pass through the dominion of the Gorehands - a tribe of savage goblins.
"Green trash," one of the World Menders said, when you asked if they had heard of the Gorehand tribe. "Kill everything, eat anything. Even other goblins.
The gaping tunnel, the rock around its mouth scarred with the tribal carving, is large and gloomy. A few patches of lichen radiate a dull light, as though halfheartedly. All else is blackness. You'll have to rely on your mages for illumination.
"The goblins' spies and sentries will have become aware of your march long ago," Raknur says. "if they have the courage to face so large a force, it will through ambush."
The thought crosses your mind of sending scouts into the tunnel. But it's a single large passage which stretches in front of you. Your comrades would be exposed and vulnerable, certain to be slaughtered if they came upon any goblins. So you hold your tongue. That proves unnecessary, however. Some of the undead, felpuur, and goblins - those beings able to see in near total darkness - come to the front of the line in their own accord, and volunteer for the task.
You give your consent, and the band disappears into the blackness of the tunnel. You hear no signs of combat, and after some minutes their shapes reemerge from the shadows.
"No traps," says one of the goblins. "No sign of enemies."
"But we did see a raised metal barrier," adds a vampire. "Like a portcullis. It looked thick and strong, and the mechanisms on the other side. If it were brought down, it would seal off the tunnel from this end."
"That wasn't here when I last passes through these tunnels," muses Raknur, "though much time has passes since then. But I've seen such devices before, which goblins cower behind when strong enemies approach. Their nature is craven."
One of the goblin scouts fixes a disapproving glare on the oroc, but she says nothing.
"We should move quickly," says Roland. "Before they decide to lower that gate."
You give the order to move out, adopting a quick pace. Why the goblins haven't already dropped the barrier is a mystery, and you're filled with wary suspicion. But you can't risk your way being barred.
The barrier comes in sight, a great slab of metal that disappears into a groove in the roof of the tunnel, thick spikes descending from it like teeth from a monster's maw. It's then that you hear the sound of stone grinding against stone. For a moment you think that the barrier is moving, that the noise heralds its descent. But it's coming from the sides of the tunnel.
"From the walls!" cries Marcus. "They're coming from the walls!"
As soon as the words reach your ears, a large patch of dark red lichen shudders on the wall to your right. A second later it falls aside, along with a slab of rock - revealing the bright eyes and wicked weapons of a pack of goblins. cunning...
Your green-skinned foes swarm towards you, murderous sneers on their vicious faces.
Shadow of the Bats
|Your blade is red, a pile of butchered corpses at you feet. The goblins fought with animal ferocity, but their attack broke against your skilled, well-armed force like waves crashing against immovable rocks.
You look back towards the tunnel entrance, and see a few pockets of fighting where your comrades are converging on the remaining goblins, slaughtering them. You're about to lend your aid when a piercing screech cuts through the air.
The noise is like a spike driven into your head, straight through your brain. It's so disorienting, so unsettling, that you almost drop your weapon and cover your ears out of instinct. But you fight off the urge, and force your mind to focus on the important question: What's making that noise?
A cacophonous sound reaches your ears, forming an ominous accompaniment to the hideous screeching. It brings to mind images of thick leather aprons being shaken. you look up, as a black cloud flaps and surges beneath the edge of the raised barrier. It's as if the darkness itself has sprouted wings to come for you. But even before the shapes become distinct in the light from your mage's spells, memories of the flight atop Fallow's wall flit across your mind.
As the giant bats descend towards you, red eyes and sharp fangs shining, you see the goblins atop their backs - spears in their hands.
|The battle is hellish, a whirling mass of leathering wings, biting fangs, savage green faces, and jabbing spears. But your troops keep together, not allowing their formation to be broken by even such disconcerting combat. Steel weapons slash into pteropine flesh, goblins are skewered from their backs as they come in reach, or else shot in mid-air and sent screaming to the ground below.
In the midst of this chaos, the din of metal scraping against stone joins the medley of screeches, shouts, and harp music. The barrier is shuddering as it falls in place, preparing to bar your progress - to place your goal beyond your reach.
You parry a goblin's spear that lunges for your throat, not even bothering to return the blow. Instead you run, making for the diminishing space beneath the descending metal.
In the corners of your vision you see some of your companions. Roland's swords gleam to your left, Raknur's orange crystals shine to your right. You fell the closeness of others behind. They have the same idea. some of you have to get through to the other side, to where the mechanism is.
But the barrier's almost at the ground now, so low that the other side is lost to sight. You dive for the elusive, disappearing gap.
|In the slow second between hitting the ground and rolling, you almost feel the metal pressing down on you, the spikes piercing you - smashing your body, crushing your bones. Then you're on the other side, rising to your feet as the barrier thuds into place, your companions doing the same around you. Several of you made it through before the passage was sealed against you.
Embedded in the ground near the tunnel wall is a wheel, four sturdy metal spokes emerging from it. Its purpose is clear. It resembles the devices used to raise or lower portcullises. A group of goblins stand beside it, horrified looks on their faces. Their work is done, but their lives are forfeit. The nearest of your companions descend upon them, and in a moment the goblin's butchered bodies lie on the ground - their blood and gore splashed across wheel and rock alike.
The victorious warriors are at the wheel even before the superfluous order leaves your lips. They begin to strain and struggle against the spokes. Through whatever science lies in its construction, the barrier is evidently easier to drop than to lift.
As if the universe wishes to turn an inconvenience into a disaster, the din of pounding footfalls comes from further along the tunnel, a moment later accompanied by a roar of anger and bloodlust. Reinforcements are approaching
"Get ready!" yells Roland.
A green-skinned horde emerges from the darkness, spears flying through the air before them. You dart aside, just in time to send one of the weapons scraping off your flank instead of landing square on. More missiles clatter around you, and your hear a cry of pain as another finds its mark.
To your left Roland and Raknur are driven away from you as they move to escape the projectiles. To your right one of the women working the wheel staggers, as a rock crashes against the side of her helmet.
"Protect them" you yell, running over to the wheel.
Those near you do the same, forming a guard around your comrades at the spokes. If the barrier remains in place, it's only a matter of time until you're overwhelmed.
You have time for one glance towards Raknur and Roland standing shoulder to shoulder on the other side of the tunnel. Then the green tide is upon you, hiding them from sight.
Boss: Wexxa the Worm-Tamer
Mad Mage's Sanctum
|You march for uneventful hours, passing through tunnel after tunnel, cavern upon cavern. A few packs of vengeful Gorehand goblins hurl themselves at you from ambush, but they achieve nothing other than to alleviate the monotony for the few minutes it takes to slaughter them.
Labyrinthine passages are no impediment to Raknur. Though he told you that it's been many years since he journeyed here, his memory seems unerring. Routes twist and turn, until you imagine the subterranean networks as being a writhing mass of vipers, their coils entangled and intertwined. But each time he picks is way without a second thought, taking you deeper and deeper into the rock.
The peaceful journey is welcome enough, for you have no desire to see your companions endure more hardships than they must. But at the same time it allows you to feel the full weight of your troubles. Two thoughts vie for dominance within your mind. The first concerns Roland and Raknur. The oroc is adamant that the two of them fight to the death once you reach the path to the dragons' lair. Though he's come to respect the adventurer, his resolve seems unshaken. And or your part, you and Roland vowed to accept his terms. Even if you were willing to betray Raknur, and prevent him from carrying out his designs, Roland would never allow it. Like the oroc, he too has his honor to consider.
If this were not enough, your mind turns to thoughts of what might await you when you come to your destination. For all Solus' bizarre behavior since you left Nordent, you don't doubt him when he says that there's something important at the end of your journey. And if so, there's likely to be danger. You've seen enough of the world since you left your little town to know that nothing is ever simple, or without cost. You don't expect to simply stray upon a dragon's hoard, and cart immense riches or fabulous artifacts back to the surface.
Encaged by your contemplations, you don't even notice that Raknur has stopped until you almost bump into him.
He gestures at an opening in the wall before him. It's a rough, narrow archway in the rock that looks like it's been carved out by time and nature rather than fashioned as a portal by one of the subterranean races. But as you step towards it, and look into the darkness beyond, you can just perceive the outlines of a dragon set in stone on the distant wall opposite. A faint purple glow from a nearby patch of lichen throbs on its snout and raised claws.
"What lies beyond, I cannot say. It was not far from this entrance that my quarry breathed his last. But I've done as you asked of me."
There's a sudden tension in the air, and you detect a subtle, nervous shifting in both Raknur's orocs and your companions. Roland moves to the front of the line, ready for what will come next.
"There is something I would ask of you, draken-kasan. And of you, sword-taker."
You feel the breath tighten in your throat. If Raknur has changed his mind...
"I have enjoyed fighting by your side," he continues. "And my clan‘s warriors share your struggle against the drakeni. So I would like to continue with you until your quest here in the rock is completed. If dangers await you in the passage beyond, I wish to share them with you. Our duel can wait until this is done."
You exhale, the breath emerging as almost a sigh. But you nod, glad to put things off for the present at least.
"We'd be glad to have you with us," Roland says.
The tension is alleviated for the moment, and your comrades turn to the matter at hand. Your path lies down the tunnel in front of you, but the gap is too narrow for Solus and some of your larger followers. So with brawn and magic your companions begin to smash a larger opening in the rock.
When at last it's done, and Solus is able to pad comfortably through the space that now gapes in the passage wall, you continue your journey towards whatever lies beyond.
Though the passage extends both to your left and to your right, those of your companions with a better sense of direction assure you that the left path would take you to the blockage you encountered yesterday. Wherever this tunnel ultimately leads, it's to the right.
Your minds, hearts, and Medea's melody filled with the thrill of anticipation, you follow the wide passage. As before, crystal and lichen light parts of the rock. And your mages' light does the rest. Carving after carving are revealed, a series of images carve by worshipful hands, showing dragons posed in a regal fashion, or else depicted waging war on the surface world.
Expectation builds with each footstep, and at every turning you prepare to be confronted by the opening of the dragons' lair. Your heartbeat seems to quicken in your chest, and the tension among your companions is now almost palpable.
After several minutes of this, you round a corner and find yourself face to face with a wall of bright purple crystal. A single glance tells you that it's not natural. Long talons of the substance extend upwards and downwards alternately, pressed close together -- not leaving a sliver of a gap between them. They resemble a bestial mouth full of vicious fangs, or else interlocked fingers.
Solus walks towards the purple barrier.
"It must be a final layer of protection," he says, "like that which sealed the entrance on the surface. My touch will open it."
Behind you your commanders issue their commands. Weapons are drawn from sheaths, and your companions move into combat formations -- ready for whatever might be revealed when the obstacle is removed.
Solus stretches out a blue foot, and presses it against the crystal surface. You feel your hand tighten around the grip of your weapon. A long, drawn-out moment crawls by. But the barrier doesn't move.
He draws back his leg, then thrusts it forward again. It hits the purple crystal with a dull thud. Still nothing. The drake hisses.
"Perhaps it does have to be an image after all," he says. "Someone bring a Frost Wyrm Shield."
There's a commotion in the ranks, as once again several people jostle their way to the front. This time the one who emerges first is a young woman -- one of the town guards who followed you from Burden's Rest. The shield is on her arm, taken for use in battle. Her gaze meets yours, and she beams with a smile of victory. Then she almost seems to skip her way to the barrier beside Solus. There she leans against the barrier, shield-ﬁrst -- as though she intends to force it aside by brute force.
Again your hand tightens on your weapon, and your companions tense in preparation for battle. Medea's harp sings a long, deep note. But once again nothing happens. The barrier remains motionless.
"I don't understand," says Solus, after a moment's silence. "The magic here is different from that we encountered on the surface."
"Perhaps my touch will prove more effective, draken."
Raknur strides towards the purple barrier. He stops in front of it and drops into a low stance, his orange sword drawn back in readiness. He yells as he lunges, a furious syllable of pure violence. Orange crystal strikes purple. But the barrier doesn't yield. When the oroc lowers his weapon, the same blade you saw cleave through rock and crystal when he dispatched Maraak, there isn't even the faintest scratch upon the violet surface.
"No crystal should be able to resist this sword," he says,glaring at the barrier as though its very existence offends him. "Whatever hand it was fashioned by, it does not belong here in the rock."
Solus turns around, facing you and then your companions.
"Who's the most powerful magic-user here?“ he asks.
You wince at the question -- one which you know he would never been so tactless to ask were he not agitated by the situation at hand.
"We have many capable casters," Medea says. A soothing tune drifts from her harp, and her voice is surprisingly soft - more like when she sings, rather than the sarcastic tone you'd have expected her to use. "I'm sure any of them could aid you."
Solus bows his head, seeming to appreciate his blunder.
"I wish to know more about the magic contained within these crystals," he says.
Roland and Marcus stand the troops down. No sense in having them arranged in battle order, their weapons at the ready, and wasting their energy. Meanwhile Medea picks out one of the mages, along with a druid, and sends them over to the purple wall.
You look on with interest as the casters mutter their incantations, make passes with their hands, and touch the crystals. You've often found spellcasting to be rather theatric. After a few minutes they confer in quiet voices, and approach Solus - who has been watching them with an intent stare in his orange eyes.
"The magic is human,“ says the mage, one hand stroking the long white beard which you're certain so many wizards cultivate for conformity's sake alone.
The druid, a half-elf woman, nods in agreement.
"Human?" Solus asks, his surprise evident. "You're sure?"
"The essence of human energy radiates from it," the druid says.
"Whoever he was-" the mage says.
"Or she..." interjects the druid.
"Or she..." says the mage, with a roll of his eyes, "...he was powerful. Equal to an archmage at least."
"Can you break his spell?" you ask.
"No. Without knowing the details of its casting, I couldn't unravel it."
You look to the druid, but she simply shrugs. Such things are beyond her remit.
Solus gives a low growl, and turns to you. But before he can speak, Aesa moves forward.
"Let me try, southlander. We have hardier magic in the north."
She strides towards the purple crystals, and traces her fingers through the air in front of it. A rune comes to life in incandescent light as she ﬁnishes its outline, and ﬂoats shimmering in the air. She moves her hand through the adjacent space, making the outline of another shape. A second later this too emerges from nothingness, and hovers next to the first. Three more runes, each one more complex than the last, come into being in turn. Then Aesa steps beck, raises the palm of her hand to the level her lips, and seems to blow a kiss at her magical creations.
The runes swirl, forming a dancing circle of eldritch symbols. They rotate in front of the purple crystal, gaining speed with each passing second, the air around them crackling with magical energy. All your gazes fasten on them - some of the troops coming closer to observe the strange spectacle.
After a few seconds they're spinning so fast that they're an indecipherable blur -- a continuous wheel of blazing‘ white light. Then there's a flash, and they're gone. It's only as you blink that you see the trail of burned afterimages leading to the left hand wall of the tunnel.
"You missed," says Medea, her music dazed and befuddled as her eyes open and close in slow, ponderous blinks.
"I don't-" Aesa breaks off, staring at the rock where her magic disappeared.
A white glow, the same color as the departed runes, spreads across the rock wall, lengthening and widening until it creates a large archway. When the glow vanishes, there's empty space left behind in its wake. The rock that was there is gone, as though it was gobbled up by the shaman's magic.
The mage is the first to speak.
"Ah..." He strokes his beard once more, his other hand wagging its index finger as though elucidating a point of arcane scholarship before his apprentices. "Your runes weren't powerful enough to remove the crystal barrier, but found another magical seal they could dispel. Fascinating."
Solus moves to the new opening in the thick rock wall, and stares into it. You join him, gazing into the chamber that now stands unveiled beyond the deep archway. Its interior is brightly lit, so permeated with light that you almost expect to see a window open to blazing sunlight. In this illumination you see markings across the walls. You step into the gap, to get a closer look -- casting a wary glance in each direction as you scan for danger. The room is empty, though another doorway leads from it -- and your hand clenches around your weapon in expectation of a threat coming through that portal.
But when violence comes, it comes from behind.
The impact follows the words so closely that you're sparawling on the stone floor before they register in your mind. A grinding noise chases that in turn, adding to your disorientation.
You look back towards the doorway, and see Solus. Behind him, blocking the entrance are more of the purple talons.
"I'm sorry," he says. "But there wasn't time to pull you out - so I went through before it closed."
There's a thumping noise from the other side of the crystal. You scramble to your feet, and move over to it.
"Can't even scratch it!" comes a voice from beyond the barrier. It's muffled, but you recognize it as Roland's.
"We're, okay," you yell. "We're not hurt."
"We can't break the crystal," says Medea. Somehow her voice is clear and loud, as though it's pierced through the purple wall. "We'll have to break our way through the rock."
"Wait," you reply. "there's another doorway here. There might be another way out."
You turn around, and see that Solus is by one of the walls - his orange eyes fixed on the carvings there. It's in that moment that you notice he isn't casting a shadow. You look down, and see that no dark doppelganger extends from you either. Whatever arcane illumination is present in the chamber is invisible. There's no glowing orb of light, like those created by your mages. But it's powerful and permeating.
"We should-" you begin, already moving towards the other doorway, drawing your weapon as you go.
"No." His blue head turns slightly towards you as he speaks, but his gaze remains fastens on the wall. "These images are important. They contain knowledge."
You pay attention to the rough carvings for the first time since you entered the chamber, the pictures and words that cover the rock on all four sides. And you realize that they weren't carved with a chisel or other such implement. The lines look like they've been burned into the rock.
"We must understand them," he continues. "The gaps in our knowledge must be filled."
You think of remonstrating with him, but your curiosity is aroused now. You stare at the crude images, the jumbled words, and try and decipher their meaning.
Crazy to the Marrow
|The images were drawn with little artistry. You're sure the pictures you made in the dirt as a child were better. It takes you a few moments to realize that certain parts are meant to represent human figures, rather than trees or other such things.
But the words are those of an educated man. Some of the longer ones you're unable to recognize without help from Solus. For a moment you wonder where the drake learned to read. But the mysteries of his mind seem endless, and you have more immediate matters to deal with.
The sentences are strange and haphazard, sometimes ending abruptly only to continue on an opposite wall. It soon becomes clear that the writer possessed more intelligence than sanity.
But between your human and draconic brains, meaning begins to emerge from the tangled mesh of seemingly inscrutable information. And Solus was right. Your breath catches in your throat as you understand the import of what's laid out on the walls around you.
The carvings were made by a mage, and with that knowledge it occurs to you that the lines are the right breadth to have been inscribed by a burning fingertip. They tell of how he went into the subterranean realm in search of a powerful artifact - either a wand or a spoon, based on his crude drawing.
In searching for the wand or spoon, he sensed a source of great power deep within the bowels of Tor'gyyl. The words "Here be dragons! are burned into the rock close by this revelation, underlined several times. One of the pictures, those one clearer than the others - as though the mage labored over it - shows what transpired. A robed figure, clearly the mage himself, is standing on a ledge of rock. Before him is the face of a dragon. And somehow, as primitive as the art before you is, you recognize the visage of Erebus.
After this are a series of angry scrawls, both literary and pictographic. They express great displeasure at the wyrms, in everything from childish insults to a cutting limerick. One of the images appears to show the same robed figure running from a vaguely cow-shaped dragon, a torrent of flame or vomit spewing from the creature's mouth and landing close behind him.
"That's why the dragons woke before the time Kalaxia saw," says Solus. "The mage thought he could bind them to his will, and use them to rule the kingdom."
"It doesn't take a seer to know who we're likely to find through that door."
"No. We must be careful."
You follow the archway down a small tunnel, which turns to give access to another small cavern. Skeletons litter the floor of this chamber, goblin by the look of them. In the opposite wall is the opening to another tunnel. This one disappears into a bend as well, concealing its destination.
Something to your right catches your eye. you see a single word engraved there, in the same burned lines. it reads: 'Funnybones!'
You sigh in weary acceptance when the skeletons begin to move.
Dark Arts and Crafts
|You look up from the shattered pieces of your skeletal adversary, in time to see Solus crushing another's skull in his powerful jaws. The creature collapses into a pile of loose, clattering bones - the magic sustaining it broken. The drake spits out a mouthful of bone fragments, a momentary expression of distaste on his reptilian face.
Leaving the messy ossuary behind, the two of you follow the tunnel. Once more a new chamber is revealed when you round its bend. the stench of rotting vegetation assaults you as you approach, heralding what you'll find there.
Heaps of colored lichen in various stages of decomposition are strewn about the room. On the wall to your right, the word 'Materials!' is burned into the rock. A longer message is burned opposite you, next to yet another tunnel. It reads, 'Here's one i made earlier!' An arrow shape extends from this pronouncement, pointing downwards to a pile of lichen that must be fresh. It's still glowing.
You're more exasperated than surprised when that pile begins to move, and rises up on two multicolored, glowing legs.
|"A lichen golem?" you ask, rubbing traces of the creature from your blade.
"This is the man who sought to wake sleeping dragons," Solus replies. "If his sanity were placed in a thimble, it's likely that enough room would remain for a finger."
You enter the next tunnel, wondering how many of these deranged chambers the two of you will have to fight your way through. But as you round the bend, you realize that this is probably the last. The arch in the rock opposite you, this one taller and broader than the others, opens into a large cavern instead of another tunnel. Beyond it you see an expanse of stone floor leading to the distant wall beyond.
The chamber before you is empty. No trace of bones or lichen adorn the floor. This makes you suspicious. You glance around, not seeing any writing carved into the walls.
"Above us," Solus says.
Sure enough, you gaze at the roof of the cavern and see words seared into the rock: 'I see you! Now you see you!'
You take a wary step into the room, Solus close beside you. As soon as your boot hits the ground, two forms appear on the opposite side of the chamber - a human and a drake.
"Us?" you and your doppelganger ask at the same time.
"It would appear so," real Solus and fake Solus reply.
Your counterparts approach, a familiar weapon in your double's hand, Solus' simulacrum in a low crouch as though ready to pounce.
Boss: Guilbert the Mad
|The air is full of expletives, curses, and other invectives. Your companions now know the genesis of the war, or at least its timing. It fell upon them and theirs because of the actions of a single human. As you'd have expected,
they're less than pleased. The thought of one man bringing about such evil fills them with fury. From the words they utter and exclaim, the many gruesome tortures and executions they describe, the mage was fortunate to die in the magma instead of falling into their hands.
As you rest against the passage wall, recovering your energy, Lucian and some of the casters are in the first of the mad mage's chambers - eagerly learning all they can from his scrawls upon the wall. No doubt the annals of history will be grateful for what they may now be able to add to it. You're just glad for an excuse to rest a little longer.
But at last scholarship is satisfied, and it's time to move on.
Weapons are drawn as you proceed down the tunnel, eyes alert. Your goal is near at hand, and danger is sure to be as well. Even when the passage ends with a barrier once more, it only fuels your anticipation, raises the tension to new heights. For this barrier is of stone, smoothed through what must have been many months of painstaking labor. And its visage is shaped into the image of a great wyrm.
As with some of the carvings you saw earlier, both in this passage and at the start of your subterranean odyssey, the dragon stands in profile -- like a heraldic beast. Its jaws are open, though whether it's issuing edicts, roaring a challenge, or preparing to breathe flame you cannot tell. One of its forelegs is raised in the air, as though reaching out for something not rendered upon the stone. The craftsmanship is magnificent, a thousand times greater than that employed to create the mere echoes of the piece you encountered before. It's a beautiful sculpture, though made in honor of your foes, a work of love created by beings that have only ever shown you hate and rage.
"This obstacle..." says Solus, with satisfaction, "...this obstacle will open to me."
A scaly blue foot presses against the stone. And the barrier parts in two. A hitherto invisible join along its center gives way, and two huge slabs open inwards like the doors to a keep.
|Images of wyrms fill you mind. scaly beasts like those you've already fought or perhaps more fearsome still. You envision piles of gold beneath their reptilian bulk, as in the pages of children's fables -- hoards of endless wealth and marvelous treasures that will be yours for the taking. But when the stone stings open, it reveals something rather different.
"A kobold village?" says Marcus. His voice incredulous, echoing your own thoughts.
The tableau is surreal. The murderous creatures that fell upon you and your fellow townspeople in Burden's Rest are arrayed before you, staring at you in confusion. And your confusion is surely equal to theirs. Some are standing in a field of bulbous mushrooms, crude farming implements clutched in their hands. On one side of the cavern is a murky lake, and the kobolds on its shore are grasping fishing poles. All around you are the trappings of civilization, illuminated by a bright but gentle glow of the variously shaped and colored fungi creeping along the rock walls or growing upon the cavern floor.
On the surface kobolds were rare sights, before the war began and they attacked in full force as part of the dragons' army. They were vicious scavengers, ready to murder unwary villagers who strayed into the dark and isolated placed where they prowled, and loot their corpses. Sometimes their warrens would be discovered by a patrol of guardsmen, and they would be dug out and executed. You'd never imagined them living like this.
One of the creatures scurries over. He has designs painted on his green hide, and beaded necklaces around his throat. Some kind of shaman or overseer, perhaps. He's unarmed, and in your curiosity you hold up your hand to prevent one of the archers from picking him off.
"Master? What does this mean?" the creature asks. His words are halting, but the common tongue he speaks is clear. He looks at Solus as he talks, evidently addressing the wyrm.
Realization comes to you. If news has come back to this place of the events on the surface, it hasn't included you and Solus. To this kobold, dragons are masters, and he doesn't understand why one would bring such a band of warriors to their lair.
Your lips widen into a grim smile. Epiphany comes to the kobold in the form of your blade, cleaving through his neck.
Hisses and shouts echo around the cavern as you charge.
Behind you Marcus and Roland are yelling commands, sending the troops to their targets. But your target was picked the moment you laid eyes on it. You run towards the field of mushrooms. Time to see how their farmhands like it...
Forkfull of Memories
|Bodies litter the dirt, strewn among the mushrooms. Farm tools lie discarded or broken amidst the carnage. Retribution has fallen upon the creatures whose kith and kin wrought such devastation on the face of West Kruna.
You look up from your handiwork, and see more kobolds emerging from the gaps in the cavern wall. These are armed and armored, ready for battle. But so are your companions. Medea's song rises across the entire battle, a loud, crashing incitement to violence. Dozens of cries from humans, elves, orocs, goblins, and others besides meld in the air -- a unified cry of anger and exhilaration from races glorying in the invasion of their enemies' land.
One of the newcomers emerges from an opening in the rock at the edge of the mushroom field. He surveys the dead at your feet, and his burning eyes meet yours. This one is bigger than the others, more powerfully built. He's the spitting image of the chieftain you slew at the start of your adventures.
An impulse strikes you as he advances across the field, his machaira in his hand. You look down, and your heart soars as you see an unbroken pitchfork. You sheathe your weapon, and retrieve the implement from the ground.
The sent of excrement wafts up from the prongs, making your nose wrinkle in disgust. But it's not like you're going to stab yourself with it...
The kobold looks taken aback, and you suppose that from his point of view your actions must seem the choicest fruit of lunacy.
"You had to be there," you say, as you stride to meet him.
|"A pitchfork, draken-kasan?"
"It's a long story," you reply, smiling slightly at the dubious look on the oroc's orange face.
You look across the cavern, and see that your companions are reddening the ground, slaughtering their foes with such ferocity that the kobolds' settlement resembles an abattoir.
You're about to join them when a strange noise comes from behind.
"Brekekekex, koax, koax!"
Frog-like creatures are clambering from the lake, coral weapons in their hands, ribbiting their absurd war cry. You'd wondered if you would ever see these enemies again, after you slew those that attacked Fallows from its sewers.
You and Raknur charge as one to meet them, Aesa and the other nearby warriors converging on the lake to help destroy these amphibian foes.
|The frog-people fare no better than their saurian allies. Their attack serves only to splatter a second shade of blood upon your weapons and armor.
But the bestiary of the day's kills isn't yet complete. On the opposite side of the chamber, where a tunnel leads deeper into the dragons', your comrades are forming a battle line. Those of you by the lake run to join them.
You approach just as a small force of beastmen comes bellowing and roaring from the tunnel, crashing against your companions' formation. Before you can even make your way to the front, it's over. For all their ferocity, a handful of the monsters are powerless against you.
"Is that the best they can muster?" asks Marcus.
"Most of their kind are likely on the surface," replies Lucian, "waging war."
"Then they're going to regret that," growls Roland.
The scholar's words are born out as you follow the tunnel, and come to another large chamber. Clustered around huts of bone and hide are beastmen... No, not men... Beastwomen? It occurs to you that you've never seen females of the species before. So it's in places like this that they remained, while their males attacked West Kruna.
Around these bestial females are smaller, creatures, their young. All of them clutch weapons in their hands, fear and bloodlust mingling on their faces.
"Your... your orders?" Marcus asks.
You understand his reticence. To a man like Marcus, an honorable and dutiful guard captain, trained to be as chivalrous as any knight, what must come next is unsettling. But you were trained as a farmhand. You know how to eradicate weeds and pests with a ruthless hand.
Boss: Bellarius the Guardian
Burden's Rest |
Faedark Valley |
The Last Titan |