The cold winter was shunted out by Trade Gate, and after a harrowing day of being hunted by journalists, Jett and gang finally settled back at the Battled Stein. The common room was mostly empty, but as they began to make for a table, Kenus, the innkeeper, motioned them to a back room where they usually had their meals. The wooden door creaked open, and the warmth of the small fireplace flowed out in soothing embraces. At the table sat Capt. Carnot, his beard damp with beer and his face flushed red. He was wearing just a simple shirt and pants, nothing to speak of his station.
“There you are!” He burped. “Kenus and I were worried that the Zil hounds finally got you.”
“Captain,” Sidnar said and sat down with the others across the table.
“Grugnir’s Bottoms! Why those eyes?” The dwarf leaned forward to the group. “Fear that I might take a bite out of you?”
The door opened again, and Kenus returned with a large iron pot filled with lamb stew. The heady aroma of herbs and meat juices filled the air in a delicious fog.
“He’s been wanting to talk to you since this midnoon,” the dwarf set down the stone bowls and cutlery, her movements pained with rheumatism. “Never seen the boy wanting to talk this much ever since…”
Kenus covered her mouth and muttered a soft curse to herself. She then looked up. “It’s not my place to say.” She retrieved her tray and limped to the door. “Lamb Goulash, proper Mror Hold style. You’ll love it.” And with a wink, she left the room.
The night wore on, and the lights grew dim. The group talked about what they knew, what happened at the monastery, and Carnot talked about himself, about the town. Just as Cynthia was getting a little tired and bored of the garrulous dwarf, the captain bent down to retrieve a fork clumsily. As the sleeve stretched a little, she caught a glimpse of a strange green tattoo on the captain’s left forearm. Nay, it wasn’t so much of a tattoo than a scar.
Back in Ronston, she had seen similar tattoos on the barbarians that raided the nearby area. They were said to have been made by gouging out lines in the skins. Whilst most of those that she had seen were motifs of demonic faces or swords, Capt. Carnot’s mark was a thin green filigree that traced around his forearm. The attention to detail and the skill of the tattooist was commendable.
“Anyway,” Carnot’s voice went soft and quiet, a grin on his face. It was then that Cynthia realized how late it was. It must have been past midnight. “Ashton from Forgetemple kept saying great things about you all.”
“If you believe it,” Jett said.
“And believe I do! That laddo is not one for telling me o’ Lunther’s hogwash.” Jett merely shrugged.
“And I believe you can help me with a little problem as well.” The captain set his tankard down. And all the sudden, he starting singing a song. It was strange, Cynthia had to admit, hearing a coarse, gruff voice singing what could only be a lullaby. Still, the singing was heavy with reminiscence and longing.
“An old song my Da sung to me as a kid,” the dwarf said, nudging the start of a tear away.
“And that is related to us…?” Jett sat back in his chair.
The captain rolled up his sleeve, revealing the virescent tattoo. In the shadows, the tattoo-scar seemed almost glowing.
“That’s a magic tattoo isn’t it?” Sidnar sat up and leaned forwards.
“Aye, a little heirloom of me family.” The dwarf touched it softly.
“A Warden’s Mark,” Cynthia breathed.
“Pardon me asking, but that’s a druidic mark. An odd thing to see on a watch captain of Hammerfast,” said Sidnar.
“Indeed,” the dwarf nodded. “That’s a long story, but it’s because of this, I can’t ask anyone of this favor. Anyone but you.”
“You see, ‘bout two years ago, I was entrusted the care of this particular gem, the blackest obsidian I have ever seen. It seemed to drink in all light and, well, it seemed to want me to hold it. Of ‘cos! Narry a Proudbeard be out o’ ‘is noggings to do something that stupid. I daren’t touch it. I didn’t feel too comfortable keeping it around, so I left it in its box in the Iron Tomb.”
“But you see, it was two weeks ago. We received a notice that that blasted bellows of a Carrick Stol and Delores might be lurking around. And then Hunus, the Tomb Ward baker saw the Iron Tomb’s thrown open even though everyone knew it was locked by us Ironhands. That fool went to investigate but saw nothing amiss, and then he came to us.” Carnot shook his head.
“So I launched an official investigation. I went to check the gem, but it wasn’t in the box. Now,” Carnot rubbed the tattoo again. “A dwarf has his secrets, and sometimes those secrets are not for others who want to live a normal life to know.”
“You think that gem is the gem in your story about stealing children’s soul?” Sidnar asked.
“Well, bummer me Grungnir, but no. I don’t expect a lullaby to be real. But I wasn’t taught that song and given that gem without, well, reason.” Cynthia saw Janna gave Jett a glance and there seemed to be a kind of understanding between the genasi twins.
Jett leaned forward. “Where I came from, there is a similar story. An entire village of people was sacrificed to make a black gem. We call it the Laktar Hë, the soul gem. There was then a group of heroes who used the gem to seal something like a rift or a portal. The villagers were never restored.”
“I would like to see this Iron Tomb, and if possible, investigate it,” the genasi added.
Carnot nodded. “The best time to get into the Iron Tomb unseen is a watch passed midnight. The patrols have just passed it and there won’t be anyone around to see us going in there.”
“You seem very familiar with going into the Tomb.”
A mischievous grin crossed the captain’s face. “As a kid, I always wanted to meet the legendary Paladins of Moradin, so I found ways to sneak in. As an adult, well,” he winked. “A dwarf has his secrets.”
“I don’t like this place,” Jett said.
“I agree.” Janna said quietly in her breathless voice. “Who would really want to live in a graveyard… with ghosts”
“Dwarves take great pride in their heritage and their ancestors.” Sidnar nodded.
“I mean this place,” Jett grumbled, pointing to the tomb beside them. The squat granite building and the small courtyard around it was encrusted in a thick layer of ice. The cindersoul genasi edged away from the wispy white tendrils of cold snaking out from gates of the Ice Tomb. “Of all places to meet…” Jett added.
“He comes,” Aramil said and dislodged himself from the shadows.
“So what’s this deal with the Iron Tomb?”
“It’s supposed to be the resting place of eight legendary paladins of Onatar,” Sidnar said. “It is said that the eight heroes will raise again when Hammerfast is attacked by evil forces.”
Jett muttered. “I hope they find tonight a good time to wake up.”
As the group approached the low gates to the tomb, Carnot stopped. “The Tomb is open…”
“I’ll scout it,” Aramil said, stepping over the low hedge and crossing to the back. As the eladrin left, Jett and the others drew their weapons.
“There’s definitely something inside.” The priest said.
“Yea, the dead. Or the once dead.” Jett looked at Sidnar. “Lets just hope they are the sleepy ones.”
Janna watched in growing horror as a swarm of rotted hands crawled all over Jett. And still, her brother had not so much as uttered a sound. Instead, he turned towards them stiffly, eyes wide, his sword outstretched. Cynthia snarled.
A whip of sooty fire cracked out from the genasi’s sword and exploded next to Sidnar, searing the priest and Janna.
“Jett! What in Xanthus!” the windsoul genasi flung a ball of pressured air into the swarm of rotting hands. The resultant blast threw those handlings all over the entrance of the Iron Tomb.
Once more fire exploded on the group. Jett’s fire. And then, a howl boiled from within the genasi’s throat, bursting out into a great roar as he threw off the handling swarm and kicked open the other door. He stood panting, his sight burned on the object sitting on the lid of a stone sarcophagus. Even without much light, the blue iron jar gleam with an evil light, the brain in the viscous, florescent green fluid seemed to be bubbling in malicious laughter. Even now, he could feel its sickening fingers in his head. For a moment there, he linked memories with the brain:
A tall, slender figure, womanly, her hands gently touching the jar. The tomb was dark and she wore a veil, but a thought snagged his mind. A single name: Delores.
He blinked the vision away. The brain sat there before him, comfortable in its jar.
“You die now,” the genasi growled.
Delores. Theis. Delores. Theis. Delores. Theis.
The names kept repeating in her head as she felt its pudgy, slimy fingers groped deeper into her mind. She screamed soundlessly, but there was nothing she could do. The tomb began to grow darker, and she couldn’t even retch from the revolting stench of the rotting skin that was engulfing her. She felt the sticky wetness of the horrid thing as it sought to envelope her more. And then it shuddered.
With a disgusting sucking sound, the skin flopped away from her like a discarded garment. Janna sank to her knees, her frail frame heaving with every breath. She glanced over to her right. There, on a sculpted figure of a reclining dwarf, glowed the broken remnants of the jar. The brain was speared on a broken glass fragment.
“I never felt so… defiled,” the genasi coughed.
“Seems like our friend left us a parting gift. Antwa, you okay?” The cindersoul genasi said and knelt beside his sister.
“It would seem so. Captain,” Sidnar turned towards the Captain.”You sealed off this place after the break-in two weeks ago?”
“Aye, that I did. And none of this stuff was here.”
“Delores then,” Aramil said.
“Emerald Claw huh…” the priest mused, and looked back to the tomb. In the light of the sunrod, the damage to the Iron Tomb was clear. The carefully carved stone statues reclining on each sarcophagus were all broken in some way. Some lids seemed to have moved and the occupants actually risen in protection of the tomb. But foul magic had hampered them and now, those very corpses lay in a broken mess. “Emerald Claw,” Sidnar repeated under his breath.
It took them awhile, but the dragonmark was quite sufficient to convince them. The caravan was slated to leave the next week, and he had secured a contract for the group to be the security detail for the caravan.
“The Matron is Selora ir’Methas. The caravan consists of her goods and some cargo for Dangrast Industries,” the man flipped through the documents at his desk. “There will be some others, her personal guards I believe, for the trip. But apparently she doesn’t mind having more people securing her trip through the Talenta Plains.”
Aramil d’Orien scowled at the map in his hand. “This isn’t a prescribed route.”
“Indeed no. But she’s paid us for the deviation fees and we have word that there will be a House Ghallanda inn stopping in our route. It seems quite fair. Besides,” the man adjusted his glasses. “Mid-winter, not many of the halflings’ pets want to come out to play.”
“I believe so.”
“The head of caravan?”
“Hmmm,” more pages flipped. “A new lass from Vulyar’s post. Irae. Track record of four. Two incidents, but class delta. Well, even if there would be a class beta incident, you’re with them.”
“We all understand, but well, to be honest, you’re probably one of the last few who are licensed to deal directly with a class alpha incident.”
Aramil cocked his eye. “What of the others?”
“The Swiftblade regiment? I… Weren’t they nearly decimated during the Mourning?”
What? What in Khyber happened? Aramil swallowed a breath and calmed himself.
“So it’s next Zol1.”
“Indeed. Plains Square. Departure by Plains Gate.”
“Alright. Inform Irae that my company will be there.”
“Understood sir. Have a good day.” Aramil turned. “Oh and Aramil sir,” the man added. “Take care.”
The eladrin nodded and exited the Orien outpost.
Plains Square was less chaotic than Gate Square. But it was still Market day, and a plethora of colourful stalls flourished along the sides of a granite fountain in the middle of the square. To the western end, a convoy was getting ready to depart. There were three wagons and an expensive looking carriage. Aramil managed to steal a glimpse at Selora Methas before she disappeared in her carriage. But it was her personal bodyguard that he was more interested in. A rather short man with a shadow of stubble across his chin. He was bald and he wore rather loose winter coats despite in full knowledge that they will be going through the middle of the Talenta Plains in mid-winter.
“Sir Naïlo?” A young girl’s voice. He turned. Before him, a shapely girl, possibly in her early twenties, her auburn hair tied up neatly in a bun to the side of her head. Quite pleasant looking he thought to himself.
“I’m Irae, and I’ll be leading this caravan. I’m happy to be able to work with you sir.”
“If it’s possible, I would like to talk to you more… about the Blades.”
“I’m sure we can find the time,” Aramil replied. “In the meanwhile, I do have some matters to attend to before we leave.”
“Of course,” the girl blushed. “I shan’t tarry you much longer. We leave in a watch.”
“To the journeys ahead,” the girl smiled.
“To the journeys ahead,” the eladrin replied and went to the back of the caravan where the rest of the company waited.
Before too long, there came from the front of the caravan, three short blasts from a Turiril horn. The wagons squeak to life and slowly, the caravan wheeled out of Plains Square and into the shadow of Plains Gate. Before them spread the barren vastness that is Talenta Plains in midwinter.
Related Links and Notes
- Seal Wardens
- Iron Tomb
- Carnot Proudbeard
- Carrick Stol
- Selora ir’Methas
- Tarrus Markus
- Emerald Claw
- House Orien
- House Ghallanda
1 Zol: Tuesday