Serendark: The Yarrow Maiden

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Asmodeus, Dec 12, 2012.

  1. Chapter One
    The Salamander Gate

    Torrim Harmalk toppled against the wall, sliding down it and coming to a seat on the cold stone. His armour and backpack made a thunk that echoed through the spiral stairwell, as did the clatter of his axe dropping beside him. He was gasping for breath and bleeding - a contradictory loss and gain of what he needed.

    The others were around him, likewise catching their breaths and licking their wounds. And overhead was only the roaring chatter of the Kobold, fading as the Salamander Gate closed overhead. The valley clearing they had come through was now overrun with soldiers from the surface camps, but none would be making a pursuit this day. Like cool lava the bedrock, soil and stone blocks rolled back as quickly as they had parted, bound with roots as they sealed the stairway in darkness.

    Everything became a palette of grey and black, the Dwarf's darkvision compensating. Then a torch was struck and light returned to their enclosed world.

    And with it came memories...

    "You whoreson pox-shitting lizard!"

    The first arrow had pierced his forearm, just beneath the elbow, and though he had snapped it off the arrow was still embedded. Kobold weaponry - small, crude and vexing. He wouldn't be able to swing his axe without worsening the damage. It was this that enraged Torrim - not just the humiliation of taking an arrow the moment he arrived at the valley's edge. But being denied a chance to wield his war axe... that was unforgivable.

    As Torrim charged towards the lake, he left behind his allies engaging the spearmen. In doing so his back was turned to the exploits of the Halfling Rogue Beligzbuss Longbothem II. Accounts would vary afterwards, (from Biggs' hyperbole, Tristan's tales and Torrim's disbelief), but no fewer than three Kobold met their ends that day on the Halfling's blade. With Tristan and Nior giving distraction, Biggs had been able to flank the trio of Kobold and deliver crippling sneak attacks, finding weakspots with his native dagger. The tactic, cruel and devastating, belied the bumbling nature the Halfling portrayed. Torrim had always thought Biggs a chattering fool, good only for kicking like a yapping dog. But this... this was impressive...

    Yet Torrim Harmalk thought nothing of this as he hurled himself through the air in a running leap at the archers beyond the lake. His rage, however, gave false account of his nimbleness, and with a roar the Dwarf came crashing down into the fast-flowing river. Cursing and thrashing, his weight pulled him under...

    "Halfling!" Torrim yelled - the first word to break the breathy silence in which the adventurers huddled in the sealed stairway. He locked eyes with Biggs, who seemed to have had his own run-in with the water, and there was a pause. A pause in which Torrim's eyes softened slightly... the only mark of some fledgling, newfound respect. He held his uninjured arm out. "My axe!"

    <img src= align="left" width="300" style="padding:5px">"Get me my axe while you're over there!" Torrim shouted as Biggs went leaping onto the eastern bank - completing with a flourish what Torrim had failed. The Halfling had been shadowing the Dwarf, trying to throw rope to him, but after Torrim had yelled some abuse Biggs had resumed more important actions. As Torrim drove the holy sword of Pelor into the island mound, Biggs hurried to do likewise on the shore. The first two beams of golden light shot towards the place where the Salamander Gate would open, and as golden warmth bathed him, Torrim plunged back into the water and swam quickly to the west.

    He could see Tristan up ahead. The bard was exhibiting his usual behaviour - namely attempting to do things he was not skilled at doing. A typical human. He had just given up hacking at the vines of the Assassin plant, his efforts upstaged by Nior as they had been by Biggs earlier, and was now attempting to climb the western cliffs, unaided by climbing gear. Torrim almost laughed, but feared swallowing more water. As he reached the shore he felt static in the air - the telltale discharge of magic, then saw Tristan go running from the cliffs in terror. Wisps of black smoke trailed around his head. The bard had been cursed by fear magic from above.

    It was not Tristan's day.

    Torrim hoped the bard would be more useful in the trials ahead.

    Getting ashore, the Dwarf saw Nior hacking through the Assassin plant and rallying with Tristan. "That's the spirit, lads!" he shouted, before turning his sights on the southern ruin. "You call that stone! I've seen better craftmanship on a goblin's arse!" Then, with a scream, the Dwarf began a headlong charge towards the crumbling walls.

    "Next time bring a grappling hook!" Torrim snapped at Tristan in the stairwell darkness, his hand still extended towards Biggs. "Or better still, crawl back to the surface and get mine!"

    The Dwarf was harsher than he should have been. Tristan had done his best, but in the end it had fallen to Torrim to scale the cliffs. Now there were Kobold arrows in his arm and back and rope-burns on his hands from where he had abseiled down during the escape. His beautiful silk rope and grappling hook had been left behind - plunder for the Kobold rats - and Torrim's skill at climbing would be inhibited for the rest of the dungeon.

    He almost regretted his words on seeing the acid burns that marred Tristan's arms and chest. The bard had taken the full brunt of the Shaman's magic. He had tried...

    ...but Torrim had loved that rope...

    Torrim was covered in old dust - the remains of root-crumbled masonry that clung to his sodden clothes. He had barged through the first of the walls encircling the fourth mound, but the second was proving troublesome.

    With a blaze of arcane fire, the Wizard Searoth was beside him. The Elf had been happily looting the dead and letting his feathered rat do all the work, till the sound of Kobold reinforcements had convinced him to give a damn about the task at hand. Searoth's selfishness was going to be a problem - of that Torrim was sure - but at least he was an effective killer.

    And Elves were always good for a laugh.

    And laugh is what Torrim did, heartily and gleefully, as the Wizard threw his fire spell against the second wall. "Hurr hurr! Trust an Elf to try and set fire to a brick wall!"

    Searoth might have retorted - might have shot back some death threat or semantic squabble, which he was fond of doing - but seemed more than a little distracted by the fight to save his own hide. The Elf tossed Torrim his own Holy Sword before turning and leaving through the breach in the first wall.

    And it wasn't long before there was another charge of magic, accompanied by the howl of a Shaman falling dead from the cliffs.

    Good at killing; not so good at breaking down walls.

    Torrim chuckled again and threw his body through the second wall, demolishing it in a wave of dust.

    Feeling a little sorry for how hard he had yelled at Tristan, the Dwarf turned his glare on Searoth, who was wringing water from his robe. His understanding of tactical retreats seemed as impaired as his stonecunning. "And you... You best be sharing that gold, Elf!"

    There was a squawk as the Familair, Caracktacus, swooped from the steps above and came to settle on Searoth's shoulder. Torrim swatted as it passed overhead. "We fought hard for it while you and your bird were looting bodies!"

    Now was as good a time as any to berate him. Searoth seemed half-exhausted, his strength sapped by the river. He would need time to rest... and that was time enough to face the consequences of his actions.

    Whatever Searoth lacked in altruism was made up for by the sheer heroics of their fifth member.

    As Torrim reached the top of the cliffs, ready to drive the final holy sword into place, he glanced down to witness his allies defending the stairway. The armoured cleric, Nior, had moved ahead to the riverbank and was drawing the Kobold arrows. Strike after strike came against his armour, but with steel and magic he weathered the hail.

    Nior was buying time for the others. Already covered in sap from the Assassin Vines he had cleaved through, now he was matching it with blood.

    Impressive indeed.

    It was a comfort to Torrim, to know that the priest would stay up here as long as he... that Nior would not desert an ally in need. As arrow after arrow slammed against the Cleric's armour, Torrim grunted and got to his feet, drawing the final holy sword and preparing to rappel back to safety as the Salamander Gate opened with a quake of thunder.

    Another wave of pain washed over Torrim and he dropped down on the steps, sitting to catch his breath. Nior was above him, watching the stairway re-seal. There was still a sheen on his armour - a faint glow of magic that would soon be gone. Perhaps it would be best to press on, before the spell wore off, or perhaps wiser to rest and heal up in this stairwell.

    Ancestors knew what further perils lay ahead...

    "Well, Lad, I guess your god smiled on us. Best see who needs healing. But don't be wasting those spells of yours."

    With a grunt the Dwarf reached over his own shoulder and pulled the second arrow out of his back.

    "Don't worry about me," Torrim grunted as he tossed the head aside. "It'll take more than Kobold twigs to bring down the Son of Harmalk."

  2. A suit of platemail is no idle trinket. In Gavrilale, where Darius once knew home, the finest champions of the king were entrusted alone with such works. Men of great standing, or men who had proven hard to kill, were granted hallowed time with the artificers and armoursmiths. For in a world where Pelor, Deity of Protection, reigned supreme in the pantheon, the construction of the perfect platemail was a chore of religious austerity.

    So when Darius found this particular suit in a shark pool trap in the depths of Helswane Dungeon, it was both reminder of his modest standing and assurance that someone greater than he had come to perish. And now that very symbol, as much as the metal, was draped like old bones across his frame. A covering of greatness, memory upon memory, old wounds forgotten but in scratches. Every dungeoneer was a dungeon.

    So as the paladin stood in the spiral stairway of the Salamander Gate, it was with the knowledge that the armour's former owner had died a little more this day. The old shark-tooth gouges were overwritten with the scratch and dent of Kobold arrows, and the once brilliant sheen was lost to lake-water and vine-slime. The rocks above them were rolling back across the opening. Soil and roots were moving, sentient-like, to block out the sun and the squawk of pursuing Kobold. And as darkness closed in Darius stood in his armour, each breath expanding and contracting the bloodied plates, and counted the arrow-strikes he had weathered. Twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight... truly the armour had been tested this day.

    Wait... twenty nine.

    Darius dropped his shield, the clatter of metal on stone echoing down the stairwell. Then, with that hand, he reached down and pulled the Kobold arrowhead that was lodged in his thigh. The cruel barb had punched between two of the worst-fitting plates. A little lower and it might have nicked the artery. He twisted it free with a fleck of blood, and as his adrenaline drained the pain came back...

    And with it came memories...

    "We must press the attack before more of them arrive! Go north - I'll take the ruins!"

    Darius charged westward, straight past the Priestess Vriona, and threw his weight against the wall of the ruined temple. There was a great thud and cracking sound, but the wall held, and the paladin came staggering backwards. Behind him his allies had dealt with most of the Kobold, including their meddlesome Shaman, and Vriona had been a stalwart healer to those in need.

    But it was strength more than magic that was required this day. The Salamander Gate, it seemed, was guarded by all manner of tasks in which the might of men would be tested. He thanked Pelor that the Barbarian was with them, and that he himself had kept his muscles fit during his time at Serendark. Only brute force would open the gate.

    Hurling himself a second time at the wall, Darius willed the root and mold-cracked stone to break. But again he was frustrated. Staggering a second time, he shot a glance to Vriona, who was nearby, moving along the same wall, perhaps afraid, perhaps helpless. He opened his mouth to give an order - to tell her to aid the others. But then the priestess broke into a sudden run and put her shoulder to the wall.

    There was a crack, the grating of stone on stone, then a great creaking sound as the weakspot imploded. Darius fell silent as the wall buckled and came crashing down in front of Vriona, issuing a cloud of dust and shedding light upon the holy mound inside.

    The gods use their servants in mysterious ways.

    Darius smiled at his own foolishness, and hurried through the dust-cloud. "Good work Vriona," he called whilst striding past the breach. "Now drive in your holy sword. I'll take the next one." Then, with a roar, the paladin broke into a run, his plate mail clanking as he plunged deep into the thorny ground around the next lock.

    No ally is more valuable than another. He thanked Pelor for this lesson.

    Removing his dented helm, the paladin smiled as the torches were lit and illumination returned to the stairwell. His first sight was of the Priestess Vriona, amongst her allies, quiet and attentive as always. He could not help but laugh as adrenaline left him. "Not a scratch on you, Sister."

    Truly, unlike the others, she had neither bled nor suffered the mercies of the lake. Her robe still shone a clean crimson. "You are a charmed healer for sure."

    The woman's eyes came inevitably to the blood-trail on Darius's thigh, but the paladin raised a hand in humility. "But a scratch. Please, spare your magics, Sister. We will need them for the trials ahead."

    "Kick your legs. Good. Now the arms. Fingers together, cup the palms. Stroke! Stroke!"

    "Take the breath through the nose, out through the mouth. Stay calm!"

    "Use the flow - the whirl is bankward. Ride it! Let the stream take you!"

    "There! Grab the reeds! Pull!"

    "ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT! SHUT UP!" yelled Garrick Proudfoot, a Halfling whose name had become self-fulfilling prophecy this day. With his feet away from dry land he had lost his pride and was now half-drowning in the valley lake. Only the barked advice of Darius and Vriona was keeping him from panicking. Cursing and coughing up water, the rogue pulled himself onto the east bank and collapsed amid the reeds.

    As Vriona watched from the south, Darius watched from the north. Behind him, light beams criss-crossed the valley from the first two Sacred Mounds. The others, by foul magic, had become nests of flailing vines. The air was pierced by the sounds of struggle and the distant commotion of the Kobold reserves. Yet for all the urgency Darius was powerless, his armour excluding him from the feats of swimming, leaping and climbing that were needed. Today was truly a lesson in humility. Vriona had toppled the wall... and now the fate of the third lock rested in the hands of a half-drowned criminal.

    "I never did like water," Garrick muttered as he emptied his lungs. "Just like my Great Uncle Selwich. He drowned in the bath tub, y'know. Terrible end for a mage."

    "The third sword, Garrick! Hurry!"

    "Yes, yes, in a minute." Almost lethargically, Garrick stumbled between the bodies of the two Kobold archers he had slain, pausing to yank his crossbow bolts from between their eyes. His aim had certainly improved since their time together in Helswane. "Ooh, this fella's got a money pouch."


    "I know, I know. Loot smarter, not faster." Garrick cut the pouch loose then continued on his spluttering advance towards the mound.

    The paladin shifted from foot to foot, watching helplessly as his other allies battled the vines or sought to cross the lake. With his platemail it would be suicide to try and aid them.

    "I'm telling you, Darius, the water gods have got it in for us. First those flooding tunnels; now this lake. Even that basilisk had sea-green eyes. That's the last thing I thought when it came out of that..."

    "HURRY, GARRICK!" Darius yelled.

    "Alright alright." The Halfling, using both hands, drove the Sword of Pelor into the heap of soil and another pulse of golden light lit up the valley. The beam cut over Darius's shoulder and fixed with the other shafts on a spot behind him. There was now no doubt of where the Salamander Gate would open.

    Only two locks to go.

    Dropping his shield, Darius started backtracking, gauging the jump across the lake. Truly he would fare no better than Garrick, but better to try than suffer this helplessness any longer. "Curse or no, Master Proudfoot, we must try..."

    "My Uncle said the same thing!" Garrick shouted from the opposite shore as he reloaded his crossbow. "Enjoy your swim, friend."

    Darius glared at Garrick, then broke into a sprint.

    "We must find you some better armour, Master Proudfoot" Darius spoke as he knelt to clap a hand on his friend's shoulder. Garrick was lying on the step above Vriona, groaning as he sought his breath. Five wounds had been dealt to the Halfling - four of them from the retreat to the stairwell, and he was sodden from lake water. Luckily the arrowheads had been removed and little motes of light danced around Garrick. He was practically glowing with the healing magic that Vriona had bestowed on him.

    But more was needed.

    "I'm not a small target... when Kobolds are shooting..." Garrick murmured, pulling himself slowly into a sitting position. He still had the Kobold's gold pouch clutched in his hand.

    "You did well. Here..." Darius pulled his backpack over and unhooked one of the bottles from it. "Drink this. We'll need your eyes in this dungeon." He handed over the healing potion then lit another torch to warm his friend.

    <img src= align="right" width="300" style="padding:10px">Darius thrashed and tumbled, trying to right himself as freezing water seeped between the armour plates. He had not expected to feel so heavy. His armour dragged him down, as if the very metal had swollen with water, and each breath brought ice into his lungs.

    He kept kicking, bringing his head above the water whenever possible. And with each attempt he could see Adon ahead of him, on the island. It was like the scene of some epic painting. The barbarian was in the midst of the Assassin Vine, stood atop the mound and wrestling with four of the accursed tentacles at once. His resilience was a testament to the Barbarian kin. At times he would be swallowed up entirely by the vines, slammed into the water, dragged across the rocks, flung in the air. But each time Adon held on, and each time he kept the constriction at bay.

    And never once did he let go of his sword.

    "Adon, you can't kill that thing!" Darius shouted between gulps of air. "Just plant the sword and get out of there!"

    One of the vines shot out towards the sound of the voice, plunging straight for Darius's heart. But at the last moment it reeled, squealing as Adon drove the holy sword through its fleshy mass and into the mound beneath. The fourth lock was opened, and no sooner had the Barbarian released the sword than the vines ensnared him again. Darius began paddling backwards, knowing that whatever help he could give would be fruitless to his ally.

    The Barbarian was wrestling with the contempt of nature made manifest. He was in his element. And would hold his own through thick and thin.

    Pressing the bottle into Garrick's hand, Darius looked up at the Barbarian stood over them all. Adon was breathing softly, letting his eyes adjust to the dungeon light, and his body now told the story of his struggles. Constriction marks, barb scratches, rock grazes, bruises and slime trails. Adon had wrestled the Assassin vine for almost three whole minutes - a task that would have killed a lesser man. And now he stood, neither injured nor exhausted.

    And in his backpack was an ornate shield, taken when he slew the Kobold Champion.

    Darius nodded to it and smiled to Adon. "That is Darkwood there, my friend. Lighter than any wood known to man. I think your arms have earned their reprieve."

    "Terisa! Hurry!"

    Darius stood at the opening mouth of the Salamander Gate, swaying as stone and soil parted around him. Garrick and Vriona had already rushed inside and were stumbling down the steps. The paladin clapped a hand on Adon's shoulder as he likewise rushed past, then shifted his feet as a rat scuttled through.

    Terisa's familiar - not waiting for its master.

    Anxiously, Darius looked to the western cliffs, and there amongst a backdrop of thrashing vines, Kobold arrows and golden light, he saw the mage Terisa emerge. She had lost her sickle, and by her pallor Darius could tell she had exhausted much of her magic in this fight. Spells too valuable to waste so early on. Perhaps if he had fought harder, Terisa's hand would not have been so forced.

    He shook the shame from his mind as another arrow whizzed past. "Swing down, Terisa!" he yelled, and in the next moment the girl seized Garrick's climbing rope and plunged off the edge, arrows flying around her. The fall yanked her body, but she dropped and rolled with dextrous precision, landing unharmed.

    They were almost free.

    Then Terisa turned and unhooked Garrick's climbing line with another tug.

    "No! Leave it!"

    An arrow thudded into Terisa's shoulder, making her slump against the cliff face. Darius's heart ached and he made to advance. But the girl was resilient. Coiling the rope she turned and ran, the arrow protruding from her back, and hurtled between the gauntlet or arrows and Kobold shouts. She reached him in seconds, and as one they turned and plunged down the steps into the darkness below. Terisa's steps were flawless in the gloom, her gait unbroken by the pain inflicted.

    Elven stubbornness.

    Darius had been shown greatness in the most unexpected places this day....

    As light returned, the exchange between Darius and Adon was cut short. They saw Terisa, who sat on a step lower down, her rat Barus perched on her knee. She was breathing heavily, and the Kobold arrow was still in her shoulder. It was not the only one. Blood was running steadily down her limbs and the Elf was pale. But she smiled all the same as her Barbarian brother came over and crouched beside her.

    Darius glanced to Vriona. "She will need your aid, Sister."

    He hoped the priestess had magic enough to refresh Terisa. For they would need the Sorceror's magics again before the day was out.

    And he prayed that the other group, in the next valley over, had fared a little better in their own attack.

  3. Torrim Harmalk toppled against the wall, sliding down it and coming to a seat on the cold stone. His armour and backpack made a thunk that echoed through the spiral stairwell, as did the clatter of his axe dropping beside him. He was gasping for breath and bleeding - a contradictory loss and gain of what he needed.

    He hated teleporting. And this dungeon seemed to swarm with teleporters. His only consolation was the icy chill of magic that accompanied the transfer. It went some way to relieving the infernal heat of that Fire Chamber where he had almost lost his life.

    And where Sarnock had lost his.

    The Kobold prisoner had given his life for them - to get them through to the final room. And he had known them for less than an hour. The thought weighed on Torrim's mind as he sat there, as heavy and dead as a body in a water tank. Of all the creatures in the known world, Torrim thought he understood Kobold the easiest, as cowardly and untrusting vermin of the deeper dark. But Sarnock had challenged every supposition of his race. This Kobold, imprisoned by his own kind for reasons never known, had acted with a grace, a trust, and a valour that could not be fathomed.

    Just like a Dwarf... leaving home... forsaking his ancestors... and serving a castle of absurd angels...

    The comparison brought a stabbing pang - a flicker in his stony heart. But Torrim pushed through it. Looking to his side, he saw Alys with Biggs. The Halfing was out cold, and the sorceress was lying him down as carefully as possible. Torrim rose and hurried down to them. "Damned fool will neh quit till 'e's burned 'imself alive!"

    Biggs was pale from dehydration and still charred from where he had set himself, a haycart, and a hungry-looking Worg aflame. And this was but one of the many half-brained ideas which the Halfling had inflicted on the party since their quest began. So it was with a mixture of intents that Torrim slapped his fellow adventurer's face a few times, before turning to Vriona.

    "Reckon he'll need yer aid, Lass."

    Vriona, their stalwart cleric, was busy standing up on the other side of a large wooden chest which she had dragged with her onto the glyph platform. It gave the Dwarf cause to smile. For the life of him he couldn't recall a time, in this dungeon, when Vriona had used her weapon, save for one swing at an undead in the riddle room.

    It was a testament to her tactical shrewdness. Most humans didn't know how to stay out of harm's way.

    Most Halflings, neither.

    Vriona could teach Biggs a thing or two in that regard.

    <img src= align=right width=25% style=padding:10px>As the Cleric came over, Torrim slapped Alys's shoulder and gestured for her to give the healer space. His hand came back wet. While Biggs had been seemingly immersed in fire Alys was the opposite. She had dived into the water tank to try and save Sarnock, but had been out of reach. Torrim wondered if this had shaken her. For sure he could read nothing on the Mage's face. And this was troubling in itself. Searoth and Terisa had both been teleported out of the dungeon after reporting signs of creeping madness. Tristan, the bard, had told Torrim of their complaints - of voices in the head, phantom shivers, sudden paranoia. Whatever evil permeated this Kobold lair, those of arcane sensitivity seemed to feel it first and foremost. He wondered if Alys was the same... if there was something whispering to her... eroding her mind.

    The Dwarf stumbled as sudden dizziness came over him. He was still exhausted from the heat. But his hand was caught, quickly, by Nior. The other Cleric had remained a pillar of strength through all of this, and even when Torrim had faltered in carrying the sacrificial cauldron Nior had helped him push through. As he steadied himself he gave the armoured human a smile. "Meh thanks, Lad. Yer bin a good rock taday."

    As good as the Barbarian Adon, and the Paladin Darius, who were, like Tristan and Garrick, now missing. Torrim wondered if they too had been recalled to Castle Serendark, or if they toiled elsewhere in the dungeon, facing their own challenges. He prayed that they were safe and that soon this would be over.

    If the words of the late Sarnock were to be believed (and right now, he had never been more inclined to trust the word of a Kobold), then the room beyond the Fire Chamber was the last and greatest sanctuary of the Kobold Leader. It was the realm of the dark shaman... and the temple of the dread Kragtar Vold.

    As Vriona saw to Biggs, Torrim stepped beyond Alys and Nior and peered down the stairway, mustering his strength for the final battle.