A Price to Be Paid
Another teleport, another new land. Or an old land, in Lenona’s case. It had been almost a full year since she’d been in Sesbritch. What she hadn’t expected was to recognise the familiar scent
of the city, of all things. Her family being from Underfall, she hadn’t grown up in the capital, but she had been trained there. Even by night, the smell of sea, refuse, spices and forges lingered in a pungent mixture which brought her back to those years.
What Underfall smelled like, she didn’t remember anymore, and she never intended to find out. What she did remember were the looks from the people, the whispers about Uncle Lennard, and about who else in the family may have been in cahoots with him. Her mother had been a nervous wreck by the time they moved to Sesbritch.
Passing familiar sights, taverns and landmarks, Lenona passed under the shadow of Shorttown, a quarter built on one of the city's two great hills. Having an address there had once distinguished the rich from the poor, but the person she was going to visit had chosen to instead live by the port with the rest of the rabble. When she saw the Altosian Atarite temple, which had once been a notorious orphanage, Lenona knew she’d at last arrived at her destination. She knocked on a familiar oaken door across the street from the temple and checked her surroundings. She was unaccustomed to being alone, since she had teamed up with the others. Even Robin was quiet right now, busy as he was with his own task. The others had spread around the city to look into the various people listed on Arnam’s mysterious list; a presumed kill list. Lenona was the only one who had been given another task.
She was looking for backup.
“Do you have any idea what hour it is?” A deep voice complained on the other side of the door. “This had better be pretty damned impor-”
“Brokk, it’s me, Lenona”, she called out urgently, cutting him off. “Let me in, this is more than important.”
She prepared herself for an incoming bear hug, and her old mentor did not disappoint her. Closing the door, he ushered her in before looking her up and down. “It has to be pretty desperate if you’re here for me. What do you need?” He asked, sounding disappointed by her urgency.
When she had started training under him, Brokk had been in the peak of his years. To this day, she rarely saw anyone more physically imposing than him, even among the big sorts of folk. With a shorter lifespan than a human, the aged gladiator had by now turned wrinkly, his skin growing dry spots here and there. Still as hairless as an egg, she imagined that if he did let hair grow on himself, it would be ashy grey by now. Yet, despite all of that, he had lost almost none of his impressive musculature, and his hands had been steady and firm when he’d held her.
Lenona looked around the modest-sized house, trying to determine if Irisi was home. “Get geared up and call any powerful allies you can get right this moment. We have reason to think someone’s making a move on the Drujjail. They’re targeting Brotherhood people as we speak.” She barged past him to help start laying out his gear, so as to speed up the process.
“The Drujjail?” Brokk sounded mildly dubious as she rummaged through his wardrobe, but nonetheless followed her into the small armory at the back of the hallway. “Is it some new cult? Are they trying to see Ahriman’s plan through? Who else have you called for? Did you send word to Voytek?”
“We don’t know who to trust yet. The Silver Protocol... “ Lenona cut herself off. Better not go into all that. “We came with a few allies. The only reason I came to you is because we’re already in Sesbritch. We figured it’s better to just bring you to Voytek than inform him out of the blue. I haven’t seen him since I was eleven, he wouldn’t know me.” She only faintly recalled the half-elf gladiator who had once taught her own master the secrets of arms and combat. Burly for one of his kind, but with an unremarkable face, he had been appointed as leader of the Brotherhood after the Rising Fire rebellion, and had remained busy in that role ever since.
“And who’s we
, anyway?” Brokk asked while starting to assemble his armour from the various bits. Lenona rushed over to help him put it on. She’d been a page, once.
“Me and a few buddies. Robin and four others. You know the type: weirdos of all kinds, all with their own quirks.” Despite the urgent situation, it felt comforting to talk with Brokk. “There’s some kind of big plot going on. Mennas’ death was the first big event, and I suspect this is going to be the second.”
Brokk muttered a hasty thank-you for her assistance. In a few minutes they had him in full armour. Acting as his squire, Lenona had helped him into his gear many times before. Adjusting the familiar straps took her straight back to simpler times. Lenona snatched the nightcap off his head as he leaned back against the wall, activating a hidden switch which popped open a compartment containing an elaborately carved wooden spear.
“Angvicide”, Lenona said in a hushed tone. “I thought you’d have returned it by now.” Brokk took the weapon, testing its weight before giving a pleased nod. He said nothing, but started for the front door.
"Never thought I'd have to use it again." Brokk's brow furrowed with concern. "But there's always another monster, isn't there. Human or otherwise."
"And Irisi?" Lenona wondered aloud as they headed for the door - the Shae would be another legendary addition to the team right now.
"Off on another mission. Trying to break some ancient royal Keshanite curse linked to the Shadow Realm. Unlike me, she hasn't really aged a day." Brokk said without even trying to hide the sadness in his voice. No doubt sadness for Irisi, rather than for himself. Lenona lived in fear of the day that Brokk passed from old age, and Irisi no doubt lived with the same dread. Yet Time was one enemy that no ranseur could do anything about.
"The others are waiting by the statue of Redwind." Lenona said as they shut the door behind them. They had taken hooded cloaks, to hide their faces. Sometimes the simplest things made a great deal of difference. The faint sound of drizzling rain was starting around them, making the cloaks all the more useful. She smiled up as Brokk as they set off. "I still have that doll of you, you know. The one you gave me in Underfall when we first met."
“You do?” He sounded delighted. “Did you make it into the Silver Protocol yet?”
She cringed a little. “I’m out of tries for that. I’m better off freelance anyway.” He frowned. This is why she didn’t visit often. “I don’t mean for good. I’m sure I’ll figure something out eventually. And if there’s any luck, Robin can join me at it, whatever it is.”
His frown merely deepened, but he dropped the topic.Where are you?
Robin suddenly called across their telepathic connection. This is getting serious. The names on the list. The ones in Sesbritch are all turning up dead. As soon as Arnam lost the list, it looks like they really did get to work.We'll be at the statue in ten minutes
, Lenona answered, hoping he could not sense her panic. They knew each other well enough by now that Robin would probably notice no matter how much she tried to hide it.
When Brokk and Lenona finally arrived at the main square, they spotted a dwarf, a kobold and a human who were worryingly unmistakable even under their own set of cloaks. They were standing beneath the granite statue of Redwind, whose arm pointed west towards Gnomeland in eternal warning. Many a Lord Protector had been elected thanks to speeches made before Redwind's unblinking gaze. When Lenona had first come to Sesbritch, the statue had been worn and faded, but Brokk had restored it during his one-term stint as Lord Protector. He’d even had Redwind's haircut changed. The Mayor hadn’t much liked Brokk overstepping his jurisdiction.
By now, the rain was getting stronger. The others were huddled underneath Redwind’s stony cloak to stay dry. When they reached the group, Brokk bellowed in a voice that likely woke the people in the nearest buildings. “Robin, good to see you!” The mul reached and ruffled the wererat’s hair, before noticing TumTum beside Ulias. “A kobold! Though a rather large one I must say. Useful in any party, whatever the size."
She gave him a tense smile before looking down an alley and explaining: “We’re still waiting for Pike, Ter and the Atarites.” They’d all been quite surprised when the Raven Prince sent the sorcerer and two of his finest paladins with them. The sorcerer was invaluable since he could teleport them close to the Drujjail from Sesbritch. They had come to Sesbritch because Brokk was here, and a few names on the list happened to be located in the capital.
“Of the names on the list, Helzena Highfont was dead in her bed when we got there. Poor lass was a bard. Looks like they broke her lute to taunt her before they did the deed.” Ulias remarked, shaking his head, eyes grave with concern.
“Oh no”, Lenona felt her stomach plummet. “It really is a hit list, then?”
“Yes”, Robin said, his voice trembling slightly. “Helzena was still alive when Scried just over an hour ago, so the Chess Club are currently in the active duty of taking them out. This priest Armen was likewise missing from the rectory when we checked there.”
“The Drujjail key… what happened to it, Brokk?” TumTum asked urgently. “Where is it?”
Brokk hesitated, looking around at the empty, lantern lit nighttime streets around them. “It… we let the Brotherhood take care of it at first.” He hastened to continue when he saw the panic on their faces: “But later on, when Hechin founded the Silver Protocol, they agreed to take care of it, to distance it from Talland. And considering the resources they have...”
Robin was looking at his feet. Lenona could guess why. Unlike Robin, she was no member of the Protocol. Yet she knew that at this point, the rest of the party didn’t have much faith in the Protocol after it overthrew Richard and kidnapped TomTom. Those who claimed to be the most Holy usually had their own agenda. She couldn’t really blame her companions for feeling that way, and hoped they could discuss it later. Unfortunately, the matter was already relevant again. “It’s better to be safe than sorry”, she said before anyone else could start anything. “Let’s not take the safety of that key for granted. And, for all we know, these people have some other way of bypassing the jail.”
Her fiancé was about to say something defensive, only to be cut off by TumTum, who seemed to be looking the mul up and down. "We've met before, Brokk."
Brokk furrowed his brow characteristically, water dripping down his hood as his memory worked overtime to recognise the human-sized kobold. "I am sorry if I forgot your name. There are so many to keep up with these days."
"I'm Richard's daughter." There was a hint of accusation in her words, as if she blamed what the Silver Protocol had done on the whole Rising Fire. Maybe she even blamed Mennas for getting himself killed, and kicking this whole series of events into motion. “I suppose I was much smaller when he adopted me, during your travels.”
"I heard what happened." Brokk said. Despite appearances his brow could furrow no farther, but his face still managed to communicate the effect. "I'm sorry. I don't believe that Richard or TomTom killed Mennas, despite what everyone is saying. Despite TomTom's confession."
TumTum looked somehow surprised. "Good." she replied, shakily. "It's a setup. It has to be."
"We'll have to talk about that later." Lenona cut through the tension, to bring their attention towards the group approaching them from the other end of the square, their hoods up to try to stay dry. It was the remainder of the party. Pike was at the lead, testily flicking his newly grown right hand back and forth, probably unused to the sensation of it. The Raven Prince had offered him a regeneration spell in Mullhaven before teleporting here.
Flanking Pike, Ter Kingsgrace was accompanied by the most recent additions to the group - the two Atarite paladins and the Raven Prince's own chancellor, the sorcerer Galien Guilamier. The paladins, of course, looked like no such thing thanks to their own disguises. Yet even from afar, they radiated authority and purpose. Brokk nodded at the newcomers and gave them a hearty salute, a fist over chest, grunting in greeting.
“It seems that Sir Michél
had tripped and broken his neck while getting out of his bed”, Pike rasped, his voice full of tension which the joking tone failed to hide. “It’s definitely a kill list.” The proclamation was barely audible over the sound of rain on the roof tiles up above.
“We came to the same conclusion”, TumTum agreed dryly. “We need to get going. For all we know, the prison is already under attack.” She turned to Galien Guilamier, Garrel’s Ifrit sorcerer. “If you will, please, Chancellor.”
The red-skinned gnome nodded his head wordlessly. “One of our Scry targets from earlier was outside this prison facility when we saw her, yes? That’ll let me use lower spell slots, thankfully. I’ve got a bad feeling about this trip. Gather up, everyone.”
Yet even as they gathered together, the two paladins exchanged looks before focusing their eyes on Brokk.
"You are one of us, are you not?" One of them asked.
"I keep the Faith. I knew Altos and Charlie well." Brokk confirmed, a sorrow entering his voice when he added: “Before one died and the other one lost himself.”
"It is an honour, my lord." the other paladin stated with evident pride, ignoring the last part. "To stand in the city of the First Temple, with one of the first converts to the Faith Reborn, and one who was a friend to Altos, the Father."
"The First Temple?" Brokk's forehead collapsed into a crease of thoughtful wrinkles. "Oh, the orphanage..." Then he looked to Lenona with concern on his face as the last of the group stood within sufficient distance of the chancellor.
Lenona met Brokk's concerned gaze as they huddled closer to the mage. “I’m sorry we had to meet again under these conditions. I wish we had more time to catch up.”
The former gladiator hoisted his long spear over his shoulder and gave her a tight little smile. “That’s all right, Lenona. This almost feels just like old times.” The droplets from each of their hoods fell down at a steady pace, like two veils made of pearls, suspended between their faces.
Yet even as he talked with some nostalgia of the past, Lenona saw the haunted look behind those gentle eyes. Whatever had happened at that last battle, beyond the edge of the world - those who had fought Ahriman had never talked about what they had seen. They had been unable to put it into words - but it was visible nonetheless. Some things one could bury, but could never be forgotten.
The Drujjail had been nothing more than a dank cave twenty years ago - an archaeological site at best, lost off the beaten path, known only to occultists and the notorious daemon cult that had nearly hijacked Talland. Though it had been Ahriman, not Druj, to challenge the Rising Fire in the end, it had all started here, in a way. It had become well known enough that Terrence Kingsgrace felt like he had been here before, even though he had never visited the site. Along with the rest of the companions and their allies, he arrived with a flash. He did not see any sign of the Drujjail itself, however.
It was late at night, maybe some four hours until sunrise, and the rain here in the countryside was downright pouring. There was no moonlight, and no sight of the stars. Only the light of their hooded lanterns, and the casters’ spells, provided any illumination of their surroundings.
"The jail is shielded, of course." Guilamier remarked as he turned to peer at the dark moors around them. Terrence felt distinctly uncomfortable around the Ifrit. He doubted that his companions, with the exception of Pike, had heard of Guilamier; but Terrence had reason to know. Mennas had kept a paranoid list of every current and former Warden left alive, and this so-called "Chancellor" had his beginnings as a sorcerer of Mindforge in Gnomeland. As a member of the Wardens, he had laid an ambush for Mennas and had attempted to take his life, twenty long years ago. The plot foiled, and with nowhere left to go, Guilamier had evidently found escape and a new beginning through the messianic promises of freedom and anarchy sung by Charlie Blackbird. With a wry smile, Terrence could not help but take note of Guilamier's extravagant silken robes, now pledged in service to a would-be Emperor. There was little hint of humility in him now, had there ever been any.
Finding themselves upon a battered road at night, looking ahead offered few clues that they were headed in the right direction. The increasingly sodden path wound its way between the rolling hills, out of sight. The paladins by his side exchanged glances. Chancellor Guilamier
sniffed proudly. "This is the best I could do: our scrying showed a woman on patrol on this road, so it provides a location I have seen, and can teleport to. The facility itself is shielded, of course.”
It was Brokk who dropped one knee into the mud, grabbing a fistful of grass. He kneaded the grass in his hand and sniffed it. Then he looked to Lenona and smiled broadly. There was a look of relief on her face. "You found the way?"
"No." Brokk stated, forehead creasing, as if surprised. "But the scent is refreshing. It's good to be in the countryside again. Nature. Freedom. The sound of rain. Anyway, the Drujjail is that way. Everybody knows that. No need to sniff like a hound to find out."
After a very brief awkward silence, Brokk hefted his ranseur over his shoulder and set off down the road, tailed by the rest of the party. Their footsteps made wet plopping sounds on the path, and occasionally someone would almost slip. Once or twice, Ter heard the distant rumble of thunder. Thankfully far away.
“See that inn in the distance?” Brokk suddenly called out over the rainfall. He was pointing to the side, at some distant, yet bright lights, in the opposite direction than their destination. “That’s where we first met Conrad Colorado. It was the night before we arrived in Sesbritch. We were slaves on the run, and only managed to sneak in with the help of Thorton Weiss. Atar bless, it feels like…” He drifted off, catching all the impatient glares from the others. In the dark of the late night, it was impossible to tell if he was blushing.
Terrence Kingsgrace had respect for his adoptive father’s former allies, but the sight of the formidable Brokk of Braveport filled him with a slight discomfort. With Richard Cipher, he knew where he stood. But what about this Brokk? In Ter’s childhood, when he’d first met the Rising Fire as a street urchin in Keshan, Brokk had been quiet and withdrawn. He had dedicated his attention to winning fights and keeping peace in the party, rarely seeming to take initiative in group decisions. Ter had always been left with the impression that the huge man was little more than muscle, and yet over the years he’d heard stories about the passion with which Brokk had acted during the rebellion in Talland. These two images had never really fit together in his mind.
The Drujjail appeared a few hundred yards up ahead, barely visible in the rain. The hills under which the gate had once been located had been quarried open, and a stone fort built around it instead. Some of the lights behind windows were visible from this distance, though little more than faint squares against the pitch-black sky. Several large signs were posted on the side of the path, warning people that the property was magically protected, and that the Brotherhood was legally empowered by the Republic of Talland to detain any trespassers. An alarm had probably already gone off inside the Gate Keep to notify the Brotherhood about the party approaching from the front. It was a good thing that they had come as friends, rather than foes.
As the dark shape of the building began to loom ahead of them, a magically enhanced voice called out: “Stop! Stand in place and identify yourselves!”
Robin stepped forward, holding forth a gleaming silver insignia. “My name is Robin of Orsad, I work for the Silver Protocol! I was posted in this facility once. Me and my allies have reason to believe the Drujjail is under threat!” It felt strange to hear him raise his voice so much, with how quiet he usually was. He was probably eager to be indoors, away from the storm.
Brokk lumbered past Robin, his voice booming even louder: “I am Brokk of Braveport. You should know that I am one of the founders of the Brotherhood. And Voytek
was my teacher. What the kid said is true: Let us in.”
“Stay in place”, the voice of the guard on duty responded, sounding uncertain.
A full minute, perhaps two, passed. The group shuffled around impatiently, but no one stepped closer. Ter couldn’t help but offer: “At least this means the gate isn’t in imminent danger.”
Pike (who’d been rubbing his wrist testily) opened his mouth for some witty retort, only to be cut off by the sound of the guard’s voice booming at them: “Lord Brokk, please come closer so we can identify you.”
The old man strode ahead. He was twisting his ankle a little when he walked, Ter now noticed. It seemed he had joint pains. As gnomes tended to say: age does not come alone
A small hatch was opened for someone to talk to the mul, though he had to crouch down as it was only chest-height for him. Pike sensed a faint tingle of a spell being cast. The hatch closed, Brokk stepped back, and the smaller entrance in the gate opened up to let him in. He gestured for the others to come as well. They were more than eager to comply.
Brokk was embracing a man who matched all the descriptions from the stories, and was therefore undoubtedly his old mentor, Voytek. The half-elf looked weathered and just as worn out as the mul did, but his eyes were just as sharp, and he looked at ease in his mithral armour. Around them was a wide entrance hall, carved in simple, straight stone angles and with no ornaments in view. There were simple pinewood carvings of the Four Gods, Atar, and Solarin, at the left side wall, and a passage from the logbook of the Gnomish captain who had written down about the folly of the native Tallishmen and their profane ritual was carved opposite of those. The floor had simple brown carpets and the doors were made of oak. Aside from that, everything was plain stone. No doubt Voytek’s own choice, when he’d had the fort constructed.
A group of five brethren stood in wait at the entrance, between the newcomers and their leader. They looked at Ter and the others with some suspicion. Ter made sure to not hide his sword as he closed the door behind himself, kicking mud off his boots, hoping his socks weren’t as drenched as they felt.
“The names on the list. They were your brethren. All of them. A whole bunch of names. My friends here checked on some of them in Sesbritch, and many of them have gone missing or were found dead.” Brokk sounded more than a bit confused himself as he was explaining it to Voytek. He looked over at the others for help, causing Pike and TumTum to move closer to tag in.
Ter turned over to the ones looking at him: “Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary about today?” He asked them urgently, shaking mud off his cloak.
A woman with the slit nose of a former convict shared a look briefly with a particularly tall halfling standing beside her, and hesitantly responded: “We caught people lurking up in the hills behind the castle about half an hour ago. They got taken in.”
Ter's stomach felt queasy. “I’m glad we got here as soon as we did, even though sooner might have been better”, he muttered. The woman gave him a look which indicated she was done talking, so everyone fell quiet again. The storm was still raging outside, and none of the visitors were particularly comfortable in their wet clothes.
After about five minutes of talks between Brokk, TumTum, Pike and Voytek, an accord was reached. “We welcome your assistance, though you’ll have to give a full debriefing of how you came across this intel after the alarm has passed”, the commander spoke to the lot of them. “I am Voytek, son of Vimtek, Captain Commander of the Brotherhood. Since Brokk vouches for you, you are welcome in the Gate Keep.”
A brief round of introductions followed. The three agents of the Raven Prince used their real names, but their leader merely described them as having gotten involved in the situation because “things got out of hand in our city, and we could not let such evil go unopposed when we heard the full story”.
Not wanting them to go down that rabbit hole, Ter hastily asked: “Can we get a look at these prisoners you’ve taken? In case we recognise our enemies among them.”
“I doubt you will. They were local rabble, starting adventurers by their own word”, the captain said dismissively. “We’ll turn them in tomo-”
“Captain!” A voice spoke from a doorway. “Thorander returned from his patrol. No signs of more enemies lurking about.”
“Het took his damned time”, the half-elf acknowledged the report, and dismissed that subordinate with a nod before turning back to Ter: “I’ll take you there myself. I didn’t get to see these people either, yet. But mind yourselves. It’ll be cramped if everyone piles in!”
After a brief negotiation Ter, Brokk and TumTum went along with the captain, to make sure they’d recognise these people if possible. The other visitors stayed behind and eagerly accepted the offer of towels and a hearth to warm themselves at. No one had been asked to relinquish their weapons. “I’ve worked with apprentice adventurers in Sesbritch”, Brokk explained, while ducking his head under a door frame behind the others. “If they truly are that type, I might know them.”
“Do you think that the Chess Club would let themselves get captured on purpose?” TumTum asked with some anxiety, glancing at Ter over her shoulder.
“I don’t know them any more than you do. But it’s better safe than sorry”, he muttered. “If it’s Arnam, or the orc, or a black-haired elf, be ready to run for help.” Voytek gave them a glance as well, and touched the long mace on his belt consciously.
“Wait, Arnam?” Brokk asked. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”
“Yes”, TumTum said bitterly. “It seems that after the humiliation Mennas and Dakara gave him, he’s turned to vengeance. We don’t know who his allies are, but, well, it doesn’t seem he’s the brains of the operation.”
A slight pause while the captain opened the door leading to the dungeons, lighting a lantern before mounting the stairs beyond. Suddenly, Brokk sighed. “I pity him.”
“Pity? He’s an accomplice to the deaths of thousands!” Ter said, taken aback by the statement.
“He… he was a pathetic man. A man driven by a sense of worthlessness and a desperate need to leave some kind of mark in this world.” Brokk’s boots thumped loudly on the stairs as they descended, drowning out any sounds the others were making. “Or maybe I’m just imagining it, because that’s the thing I see in most of the young people who abandon their livelihoods and come to me, wanting to make a name for themselves. Slay beasts, save people, and maybe find a place out there, where they’ll be accepted and celebrated.” He sighed.
TumTum and Ter’s eyes met behind the mul’s back. Each of them had a suspicion about who Brokk was really thinking about. Voytek called out: “They’re right behind this door.” He stood with the keys in his hand, “Are you sure you want to see them, if they might be dangerous?”
Ter loosened his sword in its scabbard, and saw the other two feeling the weights of their polearms. The man nodded before opening the door, leading them into the dungeon.
“Please! We didn’t mean to intrude! They told us there’s hobgoblins in the hills!” The voice was coming from a young man in mud-stained leather armour, who was pressed against the bars of the jail cell. Behind him were four others: one more human, one gnome, an elf and a dwarfess. Ter blinked his eyes as Voytek lifted a lantern to cast its light at the group, who recoiled from the brightness.
None of them looked in the least bit familiar.
“Were they searched for magic items and dispelled?” TumTum asked the half-elf, walking around the cell, just out of arm’s reach, inspecting the prisoners.
“Yes. That’s basic protocol. They surrendered as soon as my people turned up, and were more than eager to give up their weapons. Suspiciously eager, in fact. My men assure they were triple-checked to make sure they weren’t changelings, or some kind of mules bringing in danger. With the missing brethren, we can’t afford the teleports to take them into a town right now”, Voytek explained.
The dwarf stepped forward from among the prisoners, blinking her bloodshot eyes. “We got hired just two days ago, out of Faespring. This is just our second quest ever! The woman told us that there’s hobbos in the hills above the keep, trying to tunnel their way in and steal things! We were supposed to go there tomorrow evening. But then, earlier tonight, the woman came to our tavern room, in the tavern just down the road, and said that they’re up there right now - the hobgoblins - and we need to go up to the hills immediately! We thought she worked for the Brotherhood! We didn’t know!”
It sounded like a genuine plea. Before anyone else could say anything, Brokk announced: “They’re genuine.” The others looked at him, surprised. “I’ve never met them, but I… I can tell. It’s just a diversion. They were just hired to draw the Brotherhood’s attention away.”
“From what?” Asked his wizened mentor, lifting the lantern to get yet another suspicion look in. “So far they’ve been little more than a nuisance, nothing else has happened.”
A sharp, high-pitched curse word in Orcish shot through the space, startling Ter. “That means the diversion’s worked”, TumTum hissed and turned around, dashing for the door. Brokk was the first to follow up behind her, his long legs helping him keep up as they vanished up the stairs. Ter and Voytek hastened after them at a slower pace, shouting for them to wait up.
When they caught up, TumTum and Brokk were standing in the corridor at the top of the stairs, waiting impatiently. Brokk had his hand on the woman’s shoulder, probably to ease her anxiety.
“Which way is the-” She started, only to be cut off by a sharp, loud siren, which emanated through the whole keep. Without a word, Voytek started down the corridor, toward the sound, proving to be very fast for his age.
Later on, Ter would remember very little about the frantic minute spent dashing through the uniform grey tunnels toward that sound. Turns left and right, hurried steps, loud panting. The constant blare of that siren, growing closer and closer.
Then they reached a decorated door, with a gilded lock on it. It was wide open, revealing a chamber beyond. Had he had more time to appreciate it, Ter could have reflected on the sudden amount of ornamentation at this point, but instead he and the others ran past the ostentatious doorway, which kept letting out the blare of the alarm.
It was the only entrance into the chamber where the Gate stood, and the door had been enchanted to let out the sound any time it was opened, so that no one could access this place without everyone in the keep knowing.
There was someone standing by the Gate. They were holding a round object in their hand, holding it up to a slot in the ancient stone. They were saying something. Others were rushing at them, weapons drawn. Ter couldn’t hear any of it, the siren drowning all sound.
The key - an amulet - found its way into the slot.
A blinding light shot out, and Ter felt a force
hit him from the front, strong enough to stop his advance. He brought up his shield to protect himself, but it felt as if something was pushing into the flat surface, an invisible stream.
“CLOSE IT!” Voytek shouted amongst the din, just barely audible.
There was a loud crack. Ter raised his eyes, and he saw one half of the ancient stone gateway break in two, the stone slab folding outward as a deep, dark fissure appeared in the middle. A dark silhouette had reached the person by the gate, weapon sinking into their body, but both of them were hit by the halved stone, sent flying across the light-flooded room.
And just like that, the blinding light vanished. The blare of the siren still filled the air, briefly cut up by the huge boom of the immensely heavy pieces of stone hitting the walls and floor.
A creature moved through the entrance created by the wrecked doorway. It stood at least nine feet tall, each of its three horns looking like they might scrape the ceiling of the hall as it moved. A long mane of tangled, bone-white hair hung behind it, tufts falling off when it moved, like cobwebs shaking off a disturbed relic. From twenty strides away Ter could not see its face properly, but he could feel
its eyes scanning through the room. In a move as swift as a viper biting its prey, the entity snapped a hand up. A beam fired from its palm, striking the thick, painted oak doors of the chamber, disintegrating one. The siren went out.
“TALLISHMEN, I HAVE HEARD YOUR SUMMONS”, it blared in a voice that was as smooth as it was heavy with the weight of a thousand legends. "THE PRICE SHALL AT LAST BE PAID!"