A Dark God Arises

Through the Earth

Songbird slowly sank beneath the surface of the river and accelerated downstream while the occupants settled themselves in for the ride. Bast, Gwyn, and Fiona quietly discussed what may have happened to Nephelle and the others. Xnkxkxkkxkx quietly brooded over the armies of Trynal and the Catafracts of Althair laying waste to his city, and {pirate} wondered if the cleric was true to his word. Rothelar had emersed himself into the magic of the boat and could see through the water as if Songbird’s hull were his own eyes.

Suddenly the boat lurched to a stop, throwing Rothelar through the air and into a low beam. Once the startled cries settled down, everyone heard the sound of claws scraping against the outside of the ship. We are under attack, Songbird telepathed to Rothelar, who asked, “By what?”

The walls to the sides seemed to be torn apart as holes appeared, though no water flowed inside. Through these portholes, they could see vaguely humanoid shapes pounding at the ship. Two rock-arms had emerged from the riverbed and were holding the ship fast. Songbird explained, If we can break free from the one holding us, I can dive into the rock below. A compartment opened up that was filled with potions of water breathing. Rothelar, Bast, and Fiona all grabbed a bottle and drank the bitter potion.

Songbird crafted an exit for them and they left to fight the water elementals. As they emerged from the ship, the elementals lashed out at them, attempting to bash their skulls against Songbird’s hull. Rothelar was able to dodge the attack, but both Fiona and Bast felt bones crack under the force of the blow. Bast pulled a healing potion out and pressed it firmly against her lips, sucking down the concoction. She flung the empty bottle away and it slowly sank to the bottom of the river. She braced herself against the hull and pushed off, dagger in hand. The elemental she was aiming at easily moved around her fluidly with almost mocking grace.

Rothelar bubbled out a Healing Word and Fiona shimmered for a second as her bones knitted together and her bleeding stopped. He then cast a mental projection of a massive shark in the river, which frightened away two of the water elementals and the earth elemental holding onto Songbird. Now that it was free, they hurried back into the boat, and Rothelar ordered it to dive deep.

They all felt the boat lurch a bit then experienced a sinking feeling. Looking out the portholes, the murky water turned to black stone. Feeling more confident in his mastery over the ship, Rothelar turned the entire hull transparent. They were surprised a moment later to see a faint glow through the rock behind them. The glow grew brighter, and they could make out more elementals chasing them.

I am able to deploy side canons to fend them off, but someone must control them, and I need your full attention to navigate through the earth. Rothelar nodded grimly, and two canons morphed into existence. Fiona and Bast ran to the controls and inserted their arms as the three magma elementals reached the ship and struck it with molten fists.

Bast confidently aimed and fired at one of the elementals, a bolt of magical energy striking it in the chest. Fiona wasn’t as accustomed to the controls and her shot went wide. His eyes closed in concentration, Rothelar saw an underground river ahead and a dark cavern to the left. He steered the boat into the river and steam erupted behind them as the hot magma met cold water.

Not being able to see their targets caused both Fiona and Bast to miss their next shot. They desperately waited for the canons to recharge when they suddenly felt weightless. Looking behind them, they could make out the top of a waterfall rapidly disappearing out of sight. Their arms anchoring them to the ship, they watched the Spider King and the pirate flounder through the air. Rothelar’s eyes were wide open as he saw worked stone balconies fly past them. He caught sight of the undergound lake split seconds before they splashed into it. The concussive force knocked them all to the front of Songbird.

Gwyn would swear later that she heard the elementals behind them rumble, “Canonball!!” as they too fell into the lake. The elementals, cooled by the water, dropped like stones and smashed into Songbird. Bast crawled back to her canon and fired, hitting one of them in the face with the magical blast and knocking it away from the ship. Rothelar stumbled to his feet, bracing himself against the hull and maneuvered the ship so the canons would have a better angle. Aided by this, Fiona fired a clean shot at the elemental behind them and it shattered into a thousand pieces, each finding their way to the bottom of the lake. Bast took aim at another elemental and the blast hit it in the shoulder, twisting it back.

Rothelar shot the boat ahead, and the damaged elemental swung back to the ship with a closed fist. The blow rocked the boat and faint cracks appeared. Rothelar slowed down and gave the others a chance to take aim. The other elemental formed a rocky wedge of its hand and took slammed it into one of the cracks. Rothelar felt the increased stress of the ship and sweat broke out on his forehead. Both Fiona and Bast fired at the same elemental and the twin blasts of energy tore it apart.

The last elemental reared back for another blow, but Rothelar forced Songbird ahead, causing the elemental to miss. It dodged the next blasts of the canons and slammed into the back of the boat. Panicked by the sound of water rushing in, Rothelar yelled, “Just kill the damn thing!”

Fiona hit it low while Bast hit it high and the last elemental fell away, sinking lifelessly into the depths below. Rothelar brought the boat to the surface and directed it toward the stone harbor. Songbird informed him it required two hours to repair itself. They stepped from the boat to the stone dock and heard the ivory painfully retracting back into place, stopping the leaks and sealing the cracks. As the boat healed itself, it gave off a white glow, illuminating a forgotten city. While the city was large enough to house thousands of people, they couldn’t hear or see anyone.

Rothelar and the others took stock of their injuries, and the cleric spent a half hour placing his hands on each of them, healing their wounds. When he was done, they decided that Xckckckckck, {pirate}, and Gwyn would stay at the boat while Rothelar, Bast, and Fiona would explore the city. Able to see in the dark, Bast took the lead, while Rothelar followed, casting light from his staff for himself and Fiona.

They stopped at the edge of the dusty remains of a dead drwarven city and judged it to be about fifty miles from Cyntyr. No one knew how deep below the surface they had traveled. Bast wondered aloud what this city was, so Fiona pulled out her lyre and began playing. She wove a tale about an ancient dwarven kingdom to the north known as the Moor Holds. The kingdom covered a much larger area then, and this city they were crouched in was likely to be a satellite city or even a main hub of commerce. It had probably been built during the age when the dwarves drove the Var to the surface of the world, tens of thousands of years past. As her tale came to a close, she whispered that all dwarven holds were built around a temple vault where city records and treasure was kept.

She stopped playing and Bast encouraged them to seek out the temple vault. Everyone else agreed, and Fiona led the way unerringly to the center of the city. They saw crystals set into sconces every twenty feet or so, but whatever magic that once lit them was long gone.

The temple was a short, stocky building, only a couple stories tall. Strewn throughout the hall leading to the entrance were countless dead bodies. It seemed that in the past there was numerous attempts to breach the temple, but the safeguards had kept them at bay. Bodies had been sheared in half by blood-coated blades protruding from the floor whilst others were still stuck to large spiked balls hanging by chains from the ceiling.

They carefully made their way through the carnage, grateful that all the traps had been triggered long before they arrived. As soon as they stepped foot through the door, their hearts sank for the temple had obviously been looted long before they arrived. There were shelves designed to hold books and scrolls; all were empty. Mere scraps of parchment littered the floor and the dust was several inches thick. At the far end of the room was a staircase leading to an upper level, and a ruddy glow shown down. Every once in a while a shadow flitted across the staircase, and they could hear some quiet murmering sounding like someone was muttering to himself. There was also a scuttling sound coming through the ceiling overhead.

Waving the others back, Bast silently swept her way up the stairs and peered into the lit room. The first thing that caught her pantheran attention was several large undead rats, each the size of a large housecat. The muttering was coming from a dwarf wearing rotted clothing. He was gesturing wildly before a large red crystal set in the floor in the center of the room. He spun around with a particularly wild motion and she saw desicated flesh barely attached to a bony frame. The undead dwarf was performing some sort of incantation, and runes, carvings, and glyphs covered the floor around the crystal. The crystal pulsed with an unnatural light.

She watched, fascinated, as the dwarf continued his chant, an angry expression on his rotted face. A spider crawled out from his beard and into a hole in his cheek’s flesh. He was obviously failing at casting the spell he was attempting, but she kept catching glimpses of a dwarvish face in the crystal. She crept down the stairs to the others and shared what she had seen and quietly repeated a phrase the dwarf kept saying. Fiona, though fluent in dwarvish could only make out one word in the phrase, Mogdraal which meant Lord of Fire.

At some point while they whispered back and forth, the muttering stopped. They realized this a moment before rats come pouring down the stairs, followed by the mummified dwarf. He shouted at them, “You shall not have my god! He’s my god! Go find your own!”

Even though she had just seen him moments earlier, the sight of the dwarf running down the stairs and the putrescence and unholy aura emanating from him frightened her to her bones. She had the sensation that he had reached out and caressed her with his rot-covered fingers. Horrified, she pointed her crossbow at his face and pulled the trigger. The bolt shot from the bow and stuck deeply in his cheekbone. Dust poured from the wound, and he reached up and dislodged the bolt, the spider impaled on its tip. The dwarf looked up from the bolt to see a wave of blue energy explode from Rothelar, and half of the undead rats turned to dust before his eyes. The wave of energy struck him and he fought against the Turn Undead spell. He cocked his head and cackled, pointing the arrow toward the ceiling, “My god is right up there! Soon you will know his power!” then he muttered partly to himself, “…if I can ever get him out…”

His thought was interrupted by a dagger being thrust deep into his chest. Confused, he looked down at the hilt and up at Fiona who wielded it. In the background, his remaining pets had attacked Rothelar, pulling him to the ground and tearing at his robes. The dwarf sneered at Fiona who seemed unfazed by the horrific sight then slapped her, leaving bits of decayed flesh on her cheek. His follow-through was halted by another crossbow bolt piercing his face. Bast’s triumphant yowl was halted when he caught her gaze. His attention was diverted though as one of the undead rats crumpled to dust at a blow from the cleric’s mace. He cackled again as his last pet sunk its teeth deep into the cleric’s shoulder.

The gnome stabbed him again, and he spun toward the irritating woman who was trying to steal his god. He stabbed her in the neck with the crossbow bolt and placed his other hand on the top of her head. He pushed out a wave of necrotic energy into her, and her eyes widened at the sensation. He stared at her, surprised at her resilience to his mummy rot. Another crossbow bolt snapped his head around and he yanked it out, screaming, “Mogdraal is mine! Do you hear me? MINE!!!”

In a seemingly coordinated attack, Rothelar spun free from the dire-rat and smashed Doomblight into the mummy’s chest. The dwarf stumbled back and Fiona stabbed her dagger through his eye, the tip of the blade scratching at the back of his skull. The dwarf dissolved to dust, a perplexed and angry expression on his face.

The rat tried to attack Rothelar, but he kicked it up in the air and batted it away with Doomblight. As it struck the far wall, it too turned to dust and the three of them were alone in the temple.

They made their way upstairs and found the room filled with piles of gold, silver, and gems. In one corner was a black velvet mask encrusted with gems, but their attention was solely on the red glowing crystal in the center of the room. Bast walked up to it and tapped on it. A dwarven face comes to the surface and they hear a voice rumble thoughtfully, “You are not that annoying undead gnat that has been bothering me for the past 300 years.”

Bast answered, “Nope – we have slain him to prevent him from bothering you any further.”

The dwarf inclined his head, “You have done me a great boon in saving me from his incessant prattling. What would you as in return from the Lord of Fire?”

“We know we are nowhere near your greatness or your omnipotence, but a small token of your power would be appreciated…say a portable flame tool of some sort would be greatly beneficial in our quest.”

“Very well. You are blessed by Mogdraal and have some power over fire. Do you seek to free me? Or at least a portion of my essence?”

Bast grinned at her new abilities and answered, “Sure!”

“The cleric is an unholy vessel for me for he is dedicated to another god. But the gnome would be perfect, for she is of my bloodline.”

Fiona cried out in protest, “No! My soul would be gone!”

Mogdraal replied, “Just a piece of it….a piece large enough to hold me. Is that what you wish, dwarf-kin?”

Fiona asked, “If that happens, will you help us find our princess?”

“I seek not your princess, but to walk once more among the realm of the living.”

Fiona acquiesced and all of the light of the crystal ascended to the top point. The light was incredibly bright and just when it seemed it couldn’t get any brighter, it speared toward Fiona, piercing her heart. She felt it stop for a moment and a portion of her soul is completely obliterated as Mogdraal entered her. When she opened her eyes, everything suddenly seemed brighter and she recognized the magical properties of the dagger she was carrying. She also felt fire-aspected power radiate through her entire being.

The temple around them began rumbling, and Fiona heard Mogdraal speak in her mind, “Go, my invested. You must flee!”

Fiona hollered to the others as she raced for the stairs, “Let’s get the heck out of here, guys!” Bast and Rothelar trotted after her. When the exited the temple, they caught sight of movement. A massive wave of rock was washing toward them. Mogdraal whispered, “He has summoned more of his kin.” Fiona looked closer and realized it was not a wave of rock, but a horde of undead rats racing their direction. Her small legs pumped furiously and she stayed ahead of the others all the way to the boat.

At Rothelar’s command, a hole opened for them in Songbird’s hull, and they jumped through. The hull sealed behind them just as the first rats reached them. The sound of tiny claws scratching furiously at the ivory was like chalk on a chalkboard. Songbird had finished its repairs and carried them away through water and earth to their rendezvous point.

Off in the distance, Cyntyr burned, and they watched, wondering if their friends were still alive.

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