Wednesday, February 19, 2014

[Raeslyn's Story] Side Story II: Down Where It's Dark and Deep

     In between my many tasks that I was running around doing in Gloamwood, Marshal Oakheart managed to squeeze in yet another perilous mission for me. Apparently this one was sanctioned by Cyril as well, so I was sort of press ganged into it, if you will. Note here, I did not go willingly! It's bad enough having to clear out the dark curses on Gloamwood, but to be sent down into some dark underbelly into the very heart of one of the largest goblin cities in these parts seemed foolhardy at best. Thank the divine, I wasn't going alone. They were sending a small party of the 8th Sanctuary Guard that was stationed with Oakheart at Gloamwood Pines. I'm not sure if I should feel insulted that they doubted my Ascended prowess that much, or relieved that I'd have allies to haul my ass out of danger if I ended up with more then I could handle. I was a rogue of rather significant skill, if I didn't say so myself, but I knew my limits.

     "Goblins tend to attack those that wander too near the Darkening Deeps, Raeslyn. Ambushes so close to our home and of this magnitude foreshadow an ominous tomorrow. I need you to lead a campaign against the goblin hoard before they engulf this forest in flames." Said Marshal Oakheart, looking very seriously down at me. Seriously, for a human he was crazy tall. I found myself idly wondering if I could take him in combat as he went on about how serious the goblin threat was to Glaomwood and Silverwood and how it was our duty as Guardians to protect the land and its citizens from threat. Yeah, yeah. It's not as if I haven't been told this before by like.....every Guardian officer I'd ever encountered. Ever. I sighed loudly, then cringed. Oops, that was kind of too much of a hint. I blinked sweetly and gave the Marshal an innocent smile to prove that I was a good lil Ascended paying proper attention to his speech. He huffed, not impressed, and continued.

    "Spiders may be the least of our concerns, Raeslyn. Sherriff Cosmin has reported that one of her Waykeepers spotted a distress flare from her outpost near the Deeps. This can't be good. She would appreciate it if you could check out what's going on there as well."

    "Yessir!" I said, trying very hard not to make it seem sarcastic or sharp. The marshal gave me another sharp glance. Likely he thought I was just some sassy kid that was given way too much power and whatever were the gods thinking bestowing such a powerful and majestic gift onto some lowly rogue like me. I shook my head, grinning, as I swaggered over to introduce myself to my three companions for the journey. Oh wait, make that four. A scrawny, pimply faced young man with a silly military haircut veritably ran into our group, looking flustered. "Sorry sirs, ma'am! I't left yet right? I tried to get here as fast as I could!" He was still stuffing his tunic into his breeches and trying to strap on vambraces at the same time. I folded my arms under my breasts and struck a nonchalant pose. The young man-boy really-flushed even deeper and ducked his head. An older, gruff looking man ruffled his hair fondly.

    "Greetings, Ascended." He said to me. "Sorry about this one here, he means well." He grinned at the red faced kid, then stuck his large, rough hand out for me to shake. I paused just long enough to seem disrespectful before shaking it reluctantly. "My name's Denard, this here's Hobbs and Rotherdan. He pointed to the kid and a willowy looking elf in turn. Then he grabbed a female dwarf in a bear hug and laughed. "And here's our lovely little cleric, to keep us from an early grave. Erinall. Dear, say hi." The dwarf muttered an arcane word and golden light surrounded her in a nimbus of shining magic. Denard gave an unmanly yelp and promptly dropped her. She rolled to the side, straightened up, and gave him a dark scowl, which he shrugged off. Obviously they worked with each other often for that kind of comradeship. I just hope this didn't go south. I'd hate to break up the family. And yes, I was mostly sincere about that! Will wonders never cease?

    "Well, you may or may not have heard of me yet, but I'm Raeslyn Windrose, your glorified Ascended pet!" I smirked and twirled my flame-touched daggers for effect. "You point, I kill. How's that sound?" I finished, and quirked a long eyebrow challengingly. Denard blinked, looking a little taken aback at my abrupt words, then he grinned and winked. "Sure thing love, sounds good! Just let us get outfitted in some proper spelunking gear and rustle up some grub, and we'll head for the Deeps pronto!" I found myself nodding. I rather found his way of talking refreshing. To the point, friendly, and straightforward. The others, taking cues from his words, immediately disbanded for whatever duties they were assigned to, and I settled myself on some nearby crate to hone my daggers and repair some tears in my leathers from my last encounter with "the enemy". As I worked on my mindless tasks, I listened in to the conversation going on around me with idly curiosity. Sometimes, you can pick up some pretty accurate information about a situation just by listening in to what the regular soldiers gossiped about when the officers weren't around.

     "Hey, did you hear about the trouble that Sanctum is having with the 12th guard lately?" One man in blue Guardian regalia exclaimed to his partner. They were standing idly by the Porticum that led out of Gloamwood Pines. I was quite pleased there was a Porticum here. That meant when I was finally done with this horrid business in this horridly depressing forest, I could just teleport myself back to heavenly Sanctum. I strained my keen elven hearing to hear more about this 12th guard. I think I'd vaguely heard something about them while I was in the capitol. Who was in command of that squadron.....what was his name again?

    "Marshal Kain sir!" Exclaimed the same man, stuttering in shock. Oh yeah, that's what his name was! Hey wait a sec....I wheeled around as a tall man in ceremonial armor strode through the fading magic of the Porticum where it had deposited him on the platform. He had a rather handsome, but stern face, the kind I suppose that young women would swoon over. Now I remember. There were plenty of things to say about Marshal Frederic Kain among the Sanctuary guards and the Guardians. He was pretty much a legendary figure alongside Cyril Kalmer during the civil war. His skill in battle and tactical intelligence was unmatched, or so it was told. Now literally burning with curiosity, I abandoned all pretense of minding my own business and stared openly as Marshal Kain strode right up to Marshal Oakheart as if he owned the place. Oakheart saw him coming and stiffened, his face taking on an irritated, frustrated expression that soldiers everywhere wore when they had to deal with unpleasant officers. This ought to be interesting, I thought amusedly.

     "So, what the soldiers are saying is true. You've moved the 8th Guard out of the town limits at the request of its people. Would you have the walls of Sanctum fall to ruin and be claimed by Regulos himself if this miserable peasantry asked it of you?!" Marshal Kain barked, taking an aggressive stance. I gasped, along with all the nearby soldiers. Some tensed, hands over their weapons and I wondered if an altercation was coming. We're hardly a threat to the Blood Storm if we're fighting amongst ourselves.

     Marshal Oakheart drew himself up, squaring his shoulders. He stood taller then Kain and was broader as well, and he used this to his advantage. Kain scowled darkly and stepped back grudgingly as his fellow officer bristled at him. "Marshal Frederic Kain-might I remind you that it is I who leads the 8th Sanctuary Guard, and not you? What you do with the 12th Guard soldiers under your command is your business, but you have no sway over me and mine."
    'Oh boy.' I thought, rather shocked. Marshal Oakheart has balls! Not many stood up to Kain and his temper, which was just as legendary as his actions. My eyes swung back and forth between the two men as they attacked each other with words. Finally, Kain gave a loud snort of disgust and departed a final warning. "So be it, Oakheart. Just you remember you said that when we cross paths again lest you end up between me and my destiny." He spun about and stomped back toward the Porticum, giving a particularly threatening glare at the woman stationed to run it. "Open the portal, I'm coming through!" He barked imperiously.

     Destiny? What on Telara did he mean by that, I wonder? It sounded rather...ominous. I made a mental note to keep an eye on the rumors and gossip around Kain. After all, he wouldn't be the first person to go down the wrong path while striving to bring victory to the light. I was brought out of my musings by the return of my party members, who were all staring curiously at the Porticum where Kain had just disappeared in a swirl of Air magic. I shrugged at their enquiring gazes. "Alright, we ready to kick some goblin butt?!" I shouted, holstering my daggers and putting my things back in their pouches. I also swiped up a few of the detonation charges that I had leftover from the brief time when my mind had been taken over by that Bhami woman who liked blowing things up. It was fascinating and all, but seemed a little too risky for long term use. Sorry lady, I added mentally as I scrambled off my crate and paced behind the guards.

     We made surprisingly good time leaving the Pines. The citizens of the town stared at us openly as we left, somewhat less hostile then the first time I entered. I only
 had a vague notion of where this "Darkening Deeps" was located, so willingly followed Denard as he led us to the opening. The exact entrance to the vast underground city was located at the bottom of a ravine that happened to be crawling with those filthy goblins. We carved a bloody path to the bottom, making short work of the vicious creatures with my mastery of the shadows and daggers and the soldiers' onslaught of swords and spells. Even the dwarf woman put up a good fight, hurling holy magic into their midst with furious determination, as if each goblin had personally offended her. Maybe they had. Healers took every death personally, as far as I knew, even those that happened elsewhere that they had no way of preventing. But then, healers always had the most stressful job, as far as I saw. Which is another reason why I preferred learning the art of assassination, shadow attacks, and stealth. Less worrying about your comrades that way since my fighting style relied on discrete, solo attacks.

    "Okay, once inside, stick together. Our goal is to discover what secrets the goblin alchemists have cooking up down there, as well as see if we can free our fellow comrades that were captured several days ago. Kill as many goblin leaders as we can, and for the Vigil's sake, don't get distracted and go haring off on your own. From what we've discovered, the Deeps are vast, and there is more down there then just the goblins to worry about." Denard gave us each a hard look, as if daring us to defy him. We all nodded obediently, even me. The last thing I want to do was end up dead at the bottom of a goblin city deep underground surrounded by those filthy things. I can just imagine what kind of horrors they would subject me to if they managed to catch me while I was vulnerable between life and death. I shuddered.

    "Remember, the main mission to figure out what the little beasts are up to. The Gedlo Priests worship Maelforge, the dragon of fire. They've grown increasingly powerful and we need to know why. Marshal Oakheart has sent plenty of soldiers into the Deeps to infiltrate their city, but none have returned yet. That is our second mission. We need to discover what's going on down there. Find the missing squad of crusaders as well as the source of the Gedlo Conclave's new power! Move out." He made a circling motion with his finger, the signal to move, and headed into the shadowy cave entrance that led to the goblin city. I felt a shiver of forboding wriggle down my spine as I passed the threshold. Very bad things were in the works in this city, I knew it. Call it a sixth sense gifted by the gods, or the instincts of a rogue, but this wasn't going to be some easy in and out mission. My throat suddenly felt dry. Inside the cave, the heat suddenly intensified a thousandfold, as if a giant furnace was being stoked down here. The walls loomed up on either side, dark and glistening with warm damp. I hated it already. I severely hated it, and I hated the fact that I felt forced once again to do something foolhardy and likely suicidal simply because there happened to be no one else suited for the job nearby. I cursed quietly to myself as I followed the short curly head of the healer just ahead of me. As one of the strongest members of our little party, I had been elected to take the rear guard, while Denard led.

     After about ten minutes of silent, cautious walking, the group suddenly stopped moving and I danced aside to avoid bowling over the dwarf. Sighing in irritation, I made my way to the front of the group. "What's wrong?" I hissed quietly, then I saw. The cave tunnel suddenly ended. I can't even describe what was in front of me. It was like....a giant underground city. I know that's what everyone was calling it, but somehow I wasn't expecting this. And it seemed for the most part natural. Except for the carved spiral steps that led downward into red shadows. The entire cave just opened up into a grand room. It was literally huge. I couldn't see the far wall across the way. Massive jagged spikes of dripping rock extended down from the ceiling, about half a mile above our heads, and hundreds of little glowing rocks twinkled from the city walls, natural lighting for the denizens. Well that explained their sensitivity to good old wholesome sunlight. If I ended up having nightmares of this place, I was totally blaming the Guardians as a whole.

    "Which way do we go?" I finally whispered when I'd gotten over my awe. Denard too was gazing around in a mix of awe and dismay. He shook his head in a dazed fashion before finally focusing on me and nodding firmly. With a more focused gaze, he assessed the gigantic cavern, looking for any hints of which way to go. Suddenly, he gasped and went white. I frowned and glanced in the direction he was looking, and felt my eyes glued to the horrific scene. Oh my gods.....

    There was a man tied to a tall statue of a red dragon in mid flight. The man was stripped naked except for his boots, which were standard issue Sanctuary Guard. Oh no. He was bleeding from a dozen places, and blood dripped from his mouth, but he was still awake and glaring defiantly at a large, heavily muscled goblin who was busily working at a crude stone altar nearby. Every so often, the goblin would glance at his captive and grin wickedly. Denard made an involuntary move forward, a sound of distress escaping his pale lips, and I quickly jerked him back, having to concentrate on putting some of my Ascended strength to prevent him from dragging me into the opening as well.

    "Wake up you fool!" I growled at him sharply, yanking him back with enough force to send us both stumbling. "That poor man is nothing more than a sacrifice to them. He's as good as dead already, look at him. If we go charging in there, we'll only end up in a similar situation. We can't afford to act emotionally." Denard turned and gave me an incredulous look, before he calmed and his shoulders slumped, mail clanking as he rested back on his heels, looking anguished. I fervently hoped he didn't know that poor sap personally.

    "What's going on?" Demanded the young kid...Hobbins? Hobbs? I don't remember what his name was. Denard turned, still looking shockingly pale, and scrubbed a hand across his face. "We're....we need to figure out a way to avoid the guards and get down below." He said, putting steel behind his words. He visibly straightened himself out, turning into a proper leader, and I felt relieved. "Rescue any men who aren't....who are still able to be rescued." He continued past a painful gulp, and I put a comforting hand on his arm. Now was not the time to be a jerk, I admonished myself. The others nodded in agreement, and Denard looked at me. "Raeslyn, you are our only rogue and the only one adept at moving unseen. Can you find us a way down to the floor of this ghastly place safely?" Finally, something worthy of my skill and time. I nodded firmly, pushing any doubts to the back of my mind to no doubt be picked at by the spirits that shared a metaphysical space with me. Thank goodness they were more of an energy then actual sentient entities otherwise I might go insane over even the idea of multiple beings crammed into my noggin.

     I stealthily snuck out of the shelter of the tunnel's shadows and crept along the cavern wall, keeping all my senses sharp and alert. I took my time, not wanting to make a foolish mistake that would cost us later. It did take some time and effort, but I finally found a far stairwell that appeared to not be as guarded or well used that seemed to lead all the way to the bottom floor. I didn't venture all the way down because I'd already spent a considerable time creeping through the shadows of the cavern and didn't want to be gone too long. As much as I trusted the men to guard my back and get us through this mission, I didn't trust their instinct to aid those in trouble to get them all killed or worse. And yes, not being killed immediately down here definitely counts as worse.

     When I met back up with my erstwhile companions, they were indeed eager to dash out and rescue all the poor unfortunate sou
ls trapped in this hellhole. I explained the route I'd chosen and Denard eagerly dashed ahead, happy to be doing something other then watch his poor fellow soldier be tortured slowly to death. I can't say I blame him.

     We reached the cavern floor without mishap thank the Vigil, and that's when our luck turned sour. A crazed goblin packing explosives who so kindly introduced himself as "Alchemist Braxtepel" or something like that, suddenly pounced on our group, attacking us at will and sic'ing his minions on us. Goblins crawled out of the woodwork to hurl themselves on our various shields, bows, spells and daggers. It was all we could do to keep them from doing serious harm, which wasn't helping us to kill that crazy alchemist guy, who kept bombarding us with heavy flaming projectiles amid fireballs and other crazy spells. I hate magic users. Finally, Denard broke free of the melee and engaged the mad alchemist in close combat. He was able to deal hefty blows, slicing right into the alchemist so severely that he was nearly cut in half on the first blow. Unfortunately, the goblin managed to get off some kind of cleave of his own, sending Denard sprawling on his side with a cry of pain. Immediately, the dwarf was at his side, murmuring quiet words of comfort amid a barrage of soothing healing spells that spilled over his form like water. After the first heart stopping moments in which I feared Denard was dead, I focused back on the goblin, who was still managing to wreak havoc with his spells even as he was obviously dying. Blood poured out of a massive stomach wound, even as I flung myself to the side to avoid a flaming ball of death to the face. The heat from the flames seared a few strands of my long hair, and even later, it refused to grow back. Whatever magic these goblins were meddling with, it was powerful stuff.

     When the fighting finally settled, the goblin alchemist...whatever the hell his name was...was lying dead in a large puddle of black blood, and Denard was also lying in a puddle of blood, but awake and mumbling about being fine, so the healer must have done her work. After she'd assured herself that Denard would live to see more of this oh so fascinating city, she went about the group, sending soothing mists of healing magic over the others. Cuts and bruises slowly disappeared, leaving phantom twinges and in a few cases, scars. She approached me to heal the burn along my cheek from a fireball gone astray as well as some slices along my ribcage, but I hastily danced out of reach.

    "No thanks, I'm good." I told her firmly. I didn't want magic near me if I could help it, even if it was beneficial. We took a short break to rest up, drink and eat, and discuss what to do next, but we knew that we had to hurry and finish our mission if we wanted any chance of successfully making it out of here alive. The longer we were in the city, the more goblins became aware of our presence, and the more I vividly pictured my lovely young body strapped naked to an altar to Maelforge. So not how I wanted my afternoon to go. Again, Denard sent me on ahead to scout. Mostly because I was getting antsy and I was the least injured of the party. I stepped past the fallen body of the alchemist goblin, sneering at his crude workshop and strange barrels of black powder, and headed deeper into the heart of the Deeps. Strangely, the ground sloped further downward and became somewhat more crude and rough, as if this was an even older passage. Not comforting. I wonder how long these goblins have been down here, plotting and waiting for their fiery master to awaken. I have to hand it to them, that's some dedication. Up ahead, the passage became strangely lighter. Not lighter in a chamber full of torches kind of way, but in a weird, blindingly bright white light kind of way. The hackles on my neck stood on end as I reached what appeared to be an ancient wooden door, bolted on this side. I inspected the bolt, determined I could easily pick it if needed, and reported back to Denard.
"Looks like a prison or dungeon door, you say?" Denard asked after I relayed the results of my scouting. I nodded thoughtfully, and wondered if I should voice my misgivings about going through it. The strange, bright white light that seemed to glow even through the door didn't bode well. But if it was a prison room, maybe we'd find the rest of the poor missing soldiers, or even Gloamwood civilians that had been missing. Only one way to find out.

    "This is a bad idea." Stated the spell caster in our group. I have no idea what kind of spell school he studied in, not that I really cared. Magic was magic, in my books. All of it was unnatural. Lookit me, getting set in my ways. I chuckled to myself, earning a set of bewildered and somewhat concerned looks from my party members. I waved at them. "So, are we going forward then" I asked, merely to get this party moving forward. Denard nodded, not looking very happy himself. This smelled bad, whichever way you looked at it. But there wasn't really any other option. This seemed to be the only actual way to go past the cavern, and we still needed to figure out what the Gedlo were up to down here. I moved to the front of the group and set to work on the door lock. Within moments, it sprang free, and I moved out of the way for Denard to open the heavy door. It creaked open with protest, and we all peered in like there was a rabid bear inside waiting to claw our faces off....which in hindsight wasn't far off the mark...

    Inside was a rather rough circular chamber. The source of the blinding white light was not really apparent, but originated in a spot in the center, where a small circle of pure concentrated white light lit up the stone floor. It was so white and pure...almost like moonlight. In fact, it almost seemed like if you listened hard enough, you could hear it singing. It was calling to me to come, bathe in the light. I shook off the feeling and saw the others being similarily affected. Focusing past the beam of dazzling light, I saw half a dozen wooden cages lining the wall of the cavern. To my shock, they were full of people. There was even a dragonian in one of the cages! Those wily creatures were so cagey. I'd heard rumors of them working with the Guardians and Defiant to bring about the destruction of Maelforge, their overlord in the plane of fire, but who knows with them. Two men in Sanctuary armor were standing, peering through the wooden bars at us with round us, while a short woman was waving her arms and shouting something at the dragonian. A lone man in the clothing worn by the people of Gloamwood was quietly sitting in the middle of a cage closest to us. We all glanced at each other and split up to let out the prisoners. I heard Hobbs threatening the dragonkin creature to behave, while the dwarf woman let out the two guardsman, who thanked her and clapped her on the back like old comrades. That left me with the odd loner guy. He was acting really strange. When I came close, he stared me down as if assessing me as a threat. For a half starved, tortured man in a cage in the belly of an underground city, he didn't look too scared or happy to be free. I unlocked the cage, and he kind of stared blindly at me. No wait, he was staring past me, at the moonlight.

    "Uh, you can go now." I said, gesturing impatiently. The dragonian glanced over and gave a strangled cry. "No, get away! Awaaaaay!!" He wailed in fear and blindly ran back down the passage we'd come from. I turned and quirked an eyebrow at my comrades, who shrugged. Rotherdan made a crazy motion around his head and rolled his eyes.

    "Do you have a name?" I asked the silent man who was still standing in front of me like a slack-jawed idiot. He blinked and turned slowly to look at me. I felt my eyes widen as I took in his. He didn't have ordinary eyes. The pupils were sort of vertical, and seemed to expand as they took in light. Very odd. I'd heard about strange experiments the goblins were doing, but I didn't know they were performing them on people! Yet one more reason not to get trapped down here. "Uh guys," I said, backing away slowly from the strange man. They came closer, curious. The man finally spoke, with a low deep voice that almost seemed to growl. "My name is ah....oh yes. It's Michael Bringhurst. I'm from Gloamwood Pines. Thank you for rescuing me. I'll just get my things over there in the corner..." He trailed off as he pointed to where indeed a pile of things were seen. No doubt the clothing, weaponry, and various items the prisoners had on them when captured. I nodded, albeit reluctantly. There was something definitely "wrong" about this guy. I didn't like it, and I found myself clutching my daggers as we all watched him go for his things. Halfway across the room, he stopped, and seemed to turn to the beam of light like a flower seeking the sun. Then with stumbling steps, as if in a trance, he walked toward it. Oh gods, this can't be good. I made a sort of half motion to stop him, then decided against it. I didn't want to be nearby in case it went south.

     Denard sort of hovered to my left, and we all held our breath. The second the man entered the moonlight, he stiffened and gave a loud gasp that turned into a gurgling scream. I wonder if he was dying. And then, horrifyingly, he began changing. Into a beast. Dark brownish black fur sprouted along his back and arms. A shaggy tail sprouted like a weed, and his hands mutated into paws. He wailed and screamed and we heard popping and snapping of bones. It seemed to go on for hours, but in fact it had to be mere minutes. We all stood, horrified, not sure what to do. I don't even think we could have helped anyway. And those claws look wicked sharp. They were as long as my daggers. Finally, his scream cut off and he stood. He was now some sort of.....mad, two legged wolf creature. He gave an unearthly howl that echoed and rebounded off the walls and had me rubbing my sensitive ears. Well, if the goblins didn't know we were here before, they did now. Suddenly, Michael sniffed the air. Gods, he was tall. He towered over the tallest elf I'd ever seen. With a suddenness that took my breath away, he spun around and stared right at us. Somewhere behind me, I could hear the other prisoners give cries of fright that trailed off as they too made a beeline for the exit. The wolf thing followed their movement with his eyes, then fixated back on us, clearly knowing we were the bigger threat that would have to be dealt with first.

    "Is he even still aware of being....a person?" Someone whispered to my left in horrified tones. I winced. I dearly hoped not. Whatever sanity might have survived that horrible transformation was no doubt being overridden by the beast's instincts. It hunched over and gave a low, menacing growl. "Brace yourselves." Denard said, and brought his silver-edged shield to bear. Wait...silver. Something niggled at my mind. The description of this beast matched something I'd once heard a long time ago, about some kind of feral half beast half man creature that was subject to the power of the moon and was deathly allergic to silver. A werewolf, wasn't it? I said as much to Denard, who eyed his shield with new light. We sort of hatched out a quick plan, and put it in motion as the beast rushed us. As it left the moonlight, it seemed to shrink somewhat and even stumbled, tripping over its large paws. I wonder if the moonlight lent it strength it wouldn't normally have, and shouted that to Denard so he would keep it out of the light. We all spread out and sort of danced away from the manic creature, which was so maddened that it didn't even have a strategy of any kind. It just sort of flung itself at whoever made the most noise, or happened to gain its attention the most. It ping-ponged between us, and so that way we avoided any major damage, until Denard was able to stun it with a shield slam to the face. It fell back, just shy of the moonlight, and we all fell on it with our weapons before it could recover. It may have been Michael Bringhurst at one point, but it was him no longer.

    When the deed was done and the beast had been slain, we all stood panting, and watched in horrified silence as the magic of the transformation melted away, revealing the poor, malnourished prisoner, bloody and dead, eyes wide in panic and agony. I felt slightly sick and turned away. Whatever magic was happening here, whatever horrid experiments the goblins were doing, it had to stop so that nothing like that could happen again. If an army of those things were bred, we'd be in serious trouble.

   The healer whispered a few words of mourning and passage to the Soulstream over the body, and we moved on, deeper into the bowels of the Deeps. We had to fight past a tunnel that was crawling with spiders. The webbed menaces had set quite the trap across the way, forcing us to waste precious hours cutting through the thick, tensile webbing and being assaulted by chittering arachnids at every turn.

    Eventually we came out into a positively ancient sewer system, which I assume must have been connected to the ruins of an old castle that overlooked the Deeps itself. The sewers stank of old death and rotting things in the dark, and strange glowing spirits prowled through the filthy water. We edged cautiously past the water elementals, who appeared maddened by the evil taint of the place, and found yet another closed and barred door. This one was newer made, and was hot to the touch. Metal bands on it were glowing with red heat. I couldn't get my hands on it to pick the lock due to the hot metal, but thankfully, it opened easily enough. Inside, we finally found what we were looking for. Three tall, robed Gedlo priests stood huddled around an altar engraved with dozens of motifs glorifying their god, Maelforge. They intoned ritual words in a strange, guttural language, and all stopped and turned as one when we entered.
     "Haha! You are too late, fools! You cannot stop the might of Maelforge. Soon he will overtake this world and all will burn in eternal flame!!" They cackled insanely, seeming to hover protectively about something that lay on the altar. I knew instinctively that the answer to our goblin problem lay there. We just needed to get past these three Geldo Priests. Without words, we attacked. What could we say that would have any meaning anyway? They were fanatical creatures born of fire, and would always serve Maelforge to the point of death. Best to slay them and try to figure out what damage they've done. My daggers were a blur of motion as I sliced and hacked and stabbed. Blow after blow, I lost myself to the rhythm of my attacks, like a whirlwind of death. I came to myself sometime later, with the council members dead at our feet. It was a joint effort to bring them down, but all three goblins sported grevious wounds from my daggers and many leaked the strange poisons I'd coated my blades with. The others were giving me reverent and awe-filled looks, as if seeing the Vigil incarnate, and I glared until they looked away. They went about their usual business of binding wounds, inspecting the bodies for information, and perhaps taking some trinkets and weapons that would be of use. I went straight for their obscene altar.

    To my utter horror, I found egg shells. Not just any egg shells, but those belonging to a dragon of fire. I've an inkling of what that meant, but I didn't even want to think about the implications of there being a fire dragon hatchling here, of all places. Of what this could mean for all Telara if it was allowed to live and grow. I clutched the shells and stowed them away in my pack before anyone else could see. Best that no one else saw what I suspected until I could inform Marshal Oakheart of my findings.

     The way back out of that hellhole of a city was a blur for me. I was lost in musings of what this could all mean. The experiments, the alchemy, the strange transformation of that man into a beast, the egg shells...dire things indeed were coming to Telara. As much as I wish I could just bury my head in the sand in Silverwood, I had a duty that I felt compelled to uphold. To my goddess, to Telara, and to those who called it home. These were dark times indeed.

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