I have divided this into two parts as it's rather a long chapter.
The Wolves continued their search after the disappearance of the Guardians. They were all subdued. They found it difficult to believe that Sillaran had created the undead warriors. The whole idea was anathema to them, as it would be to most right thinking people at that time.
‘I can’t believe Sillaran were evil,’ Thadora mused. ‘All th’ stories ’bout ’im an’ Sauvern said ’ow good they was.’
‘Maybe they thought differently then,’ Carthinal replied.
Asphodel then spoke in a quiet, thoughtful voice. ‘Sometimes, good people do evil things, and sometimes evil people do good things. Equally, good can sometimes masquerade as evil just as evil often masquerades as good. I think this is what is happening here, evil being used to further the cause of good, just as at the temple in Hambara, good is being used for evil purposes.’
The others did not fully understand her thoughts, but all of them decided to keep it to think about later.
Soon they came to a clearing in the wood. In the centre of the clearing were three grassy mounds. Two smaller ones stood on each side, with a larger one in the centre. Each of the smaller ones was about seven feet high in the centre, and circular. They estimated that they were about forty feet in diameter. The centre mound was much larger. It was twelve feet high and fifty feet in width, but instead of being round, it was about one hundred feet long as far as they could estimate. They walked all round the three mounds to see if they could find an entrance to any of them, to no avail.
‘Well, what now? We’ve not got the tools to dig our way in,’ said Carthinal, sitting down on a fallen log and scratching his head.
‘There must be a way in somewhere. According to the prophesies the Sword would be needed again,’ said Basalt. ‘I can’t believe that Sillaran would not put a door or at least some easy way in since he obviously knew of the prophecies.’
‘That would make it too easy for tomb robbers, in spite of the Guardians,’ put in Asphodel, sinking down beside Carthinal.
The half elf jumped up, startling her. ‘That’s it!’ he exclaimed. ‘A door, but hidden or disguised.’ He hit his head with the heel of his hand in exasperation. ‘I should have thought of that straight away. Come on Asphodel,’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘We’re going secret door hunting.’
The others looked at them.
‘We c’n all ’elp, right?’ said Thadora. ‘I know elvenkind ’ave much better sight, an’ an almost uncanny feelin’ f’r these things, but even you c’n miss things sometimes. We might just find somethin’ you didn’t notice.’
Eventually, Wolf found three hidden doors. They were cleverly disguised with soil and vegetation, but they were there. They decided to search the largest tomb first, as it seemed the most obvious one to hold the body of a king. They scraped the soil away to reveal a wooden door.
‘Don’t open th’ door yet, let me check ter make sure there’s no soddin’ traps on it,’ said Thadora.
‘It’d be a pity if we got bleedin’ killed just opening th’ door.’ She examined the door and lock carefully and then declared it safe. ‘But there’re traps I’ve not seen before, an’ this is very old, so there’s p’rhaps traps folk ’ave forgotten, so we should still be careful,’ she added cautiously.
Fero volunteered to open the door. He approached it with caution, and standing to one side, he flipped the door open with his sword. The group stood for a few minutes, and then they cautiously entered the large tomb.
All drew weapons instinctively as they passed through the door. Once they were inside, they realised they needed some light. Thadora slipped out, gathered some dead branches from among the trees, and returned for Carthinal to light them with his useful little cantrip. It took a while for one of the branches to begin to burn, but eventually they had some light. A passage stretched out before them. On each side and at the end were doors. They opened the door on the left, having first had Thadora check there were no traps. This she did and then Fero opened it in the same manner as he had opened the main door. When they peered in, they saw a coffin. In one corner some weapons and armour lay piled up. There was a shield, chain mail and helmet, also a sword in its scabbard and a crossbow and bolts. They walked over to the coffin. On it they saw the words,
Faithful beyond death.”
‘One of the guardians I suppose,’ whispered Kimi. If she had been asked, she would not have been able to say why she whispered, but it seemed wrong to break the silence of this place.
They pressed on and entered the door on the right. There, they found similar weapons and armour, and a coffin bearing the same words, but the name of Lanroc. Another of the guardians it seemed.
Full of anticipation, they went to the final door. It opened readily, and there they found a third coffin and more armour and weapons, but instead of crossbow and bolts, they found a longbow and arrows. They cautiously and reverently approached the coffin, certain that Sauvern, the great King lay here. As they read the inscription their faces fell for it said,
Captain and Friend
He was loyal enough to guard his king
even beyond the grave.
He went to his fate willingly and with joy.”
‘It look like only Guardians here,’ said Davrael. ‘Sillaron want hide body, he put in one of smaller tombs maybe?’
‘Suppose ’e were so keen ter ’ide it ’e put a bloody false inscription on th’ coffin?’ Thadora responded.
‘No,’ replied Fero, ‘I don’t think he’d do that. Remember there were prophecies about the Sword being needed again.’
‘I think Fero’s right,’ Carthinal said decisively. ‘Let’s go search the other tombs.’
They went through the same procedure again. Again they had the same results. One of the smaller tombs held five coffins and the other four. The only difference was a hand written, very faded inscription on one saying,
“Stranger. if you have got this far, you are the prophesied ones
and our task is finished.
We no longer need our armour or weapons.
Take whatever you need with our blessing
Bry, the youngest guardian.”
There were a number of arrows that they decided would be very useful and Fero and Randa examined some longbows that they stated were very well made. These they appropriated in place of their own. It felt wrong doing so, but in view of the inscription they felt they were permitted. The crossbow mechanisms had corroded and they were useless, so they only took bolts for Bas’s cross bow. The rest of the weapons and armour were rusty and useless.
After Asphodel had said a prayer over the remains of the guardians, as they all felt right and proper now they were truly at rest, they left the tombs.
Once outside, the little company sat down on the grass to discuss their next move.
‘This just ’as ter be th’ right place, right?’ sighed Thadora. ‘Lake, Guardians, tombs, even a nymph, but where’s the main soddin’ tomb? Sillaron ’as ’ idden it a little too well if yer ask me. I c’n see no sign of any other burial mounds.’
They sat for a time in silence, each trying to puzzle out the mystery. Then Asphodel got to her feet. ‘Secret doors and hidden passages again. Sillaron hid his journal in a secret room, the doors to the tombs were hidden and so he probably did the same here with Sauvern’s body. Come on Carthinal, elf blood is the best for seeing secret doors. Let’s go look,’ and with that, she strode back towards the middle tomb.
‘I’ll come too,’ called Thadora, ‘It’s an occupational requirement of thieves. Findin’ ’idden things, that is’
‘And me,’ said Basalt. ‘We dwarves know stones and can sometimes spot things, especially in stonework.’
Eventually, all eight went to look again, and Basalt suddenly noticed the slight gap in the slabs on the floor, and the hollow sound his feet made as he walked over it. The gap was so small that they could barely discerne it. Even Carthinal and Asphodel with their superior eyesight had not noticed it. It was just in front of the coffin in the furthest room of the large barrow. Asphodel quickly found the lever that opened it and when she pressed it. A grinding noise sounded and the floor opened. One of the slabs tilted until it formed an angle and fitted into a slope leading downwards. Stale air wafted up from below.
‘We’d better give it some minutes to clear that air and for it to be replaced by some fresh stuff or we could just about suffocate,’ the dwarf advised.
‘Then let’s go eat while that’s ’appenin’,’ Thadora suggested as her tummy rumbled. ‘I’m so bloody well starvin’, I don’t know about the rest of you.’
Everyone thought this a good idea, so they exited the tomb once more.
A half-hour later they passed through the now familiar passage and stood at the top of the slope. Fero drew his sword. ‘I’ll go first,’ he stated. ‘I can be quiet and stealthy.’
‘I’ll come too,’ said Thadora. ‘I’ll check there’s no more traps, see. I c’n be quiet and stealthy too, Fero,’ she said to the ranger who looked as though he wanted to stop her.
‘I know, Red Cub,’ he replied, ‘but it maybe dangerous. We’ve no idea what’s down there.’
‘Poof! Th’ ’ole mission’s bleedin’ dangerous, and what if you stumble across a trap unknowing and get bloody well frazzled?’
So the two went quietly ahead. Halfway down they stopped and beckoned to the others that it was safe and they followed, weapons at the ready. They continued in this mode, Thadora and Fero going ahead and making sure no danger lurked ahead and the others followed until they reached the bottom. Here the slope levelled out and they found themselves on the banks of an underground river. The surface steamed gently, like a pot on the coals, giving the air a misty and mysterious air.
‘This must be the river that feeds the lake,’ whispered Fero.
They continued along the banks of the river until they saw the wall ahead drop down to only a few inches above the water. The river rushed out from under the wall at such a rate as to make it impossible for anyone to attempt to go through to any caverns that may exist beyond. It seemed they had come to another full stop. They peered around them.
‘Do you think the river has risen since the tombs were made?’ asked Kimi. ‘If so, it seems we are truly stuck, unless we swim through the water, on the off-chance that it comes out.’
‘No way!’ exclaimed Basalt, with feeling. ‘I’ll climb mountains and get nearly frozen to death in the snow, pass through lava tubes of a volcano, obviously only dormant, even face undead warriors, but never, never will I voluntarily attempt to drown myself in an underground river on the off-chance that I’ll find air before I die.’ He folded his arms over his chest and planted his feet firmly on the ground as though he expected them to drag him into the water at any minute.
Then Thadora called out, ‘We may not ’ave to, silly bugger. I c’n see a dark patch up there, which is p’raps an entrance ter another passage.’ She turned to Carthinal. ‘’Old up th’ torch so I c’n see better.’
It was still inconclusive, so Thadora volunteered to climb up to see.
‘Be careful, Red Cub. That wall looks difficult,’ warned Carthinal.
‘Oh, th’ climb’s easy enough,’ she scoffed. ‘Plenty o’ ’and and foot ’olds. Much easier than scalin’ th’ wall of a bleedin’ ’ouse.’
The others looked a little uneasy at the reminder of her profession, but Thadora did not notice as she had already climbed part way up the wall.
The climb was about fifteen feet. Once there, Thadora disappeared, and then her face reappeared and she waved and called down that she could see another passage, as she had thought, going off at an angle of about twenty degrees from the direction of the current passage. This made it just to the south of west, and probably into the hill behind the tombs.
The others were too busy watching Thadora to notice the river until it was nearly too late. A sudden sound, made them turn as a large shape rose up from the centre of the water. They saw a warty creature with large bulbous eyes and a formidable mouth, which it opened and flashed out a long tongue like a frog or toad. Asphodel just noticed it in time to throw herself onto the ground and roll off to one side, or she would certainly have been caught. The creature withdrew its tongue, and readied itself for another try.
Davrael and Kimi notched arrows to their short bows and let fly, but the arrows skidded off the thick skin of the creature. A bolt from Basalt’s crossbow followed their arrows. To their surprise, Fero and Basalt’s shots stuck.
‘Well, I’ll be a hobgoblin’s breakfast!’ exclaimed Bas. ‘These arrows and bolts are truly good.’
Davrael and Kimi found their arrows were no use at all against the monster. Carthinal sent a couple of his small energy bolts against it, and they managed to do some further damage. The creature roared in pain, but readied itself for another attack. This time, it aimed for Fero, whom it obviously saw as one of its main tormentors. Fero had to take evasive action then and missed his shot, but the tongue also missed him by a hair’s breadth. Carthinal used the staff to fire off the silvery bolts of energy, and to his surprise it released six of them. Then, as the monster shot its tongue out again, this time at Carthinal, a knife came flying over their heads, turning in the air to embed itself firmly in the toad-like creature’s eye. With another roar, it slipped beneath the surface of the water, which turned a pinkish colour.
From above, they heard an expletive. ‘Shit! That were a good throwin’ knife wasted,’ Thadora called as she scrambled down the wall. ‘I ’ope your ass is worth a good knife, mage.’
‘What, in all seven hells was that thing?’ said Davrael, leaning against the rough wall of the cavern and breathing hard, ‘and what it do in here? If no us, what it eat?’
He looked surprised as the others laughed.
‘Your Grosmerian is improving, Davrael,’ pointed out Fero, ‘If you are now beginning to swear in the language.’
‘I learn from best,’ he replied, smiling. ‘I listen Red Cub there and learn. But I not like that thing in water.’
‘“That Thing,” Davrael, may have come in as a youngster. Maybe it has a tadpole stage, like true frogs and toads,’ Randa said thoughtfully. ‘As to what it eats, who knows? Fish can probably swim in here from outside, and maybe the odd aquatic mammal. Maybe there are fish living in these caves. I’ve heard of such things. They are white and have no eyes, as it’s so dark that eyes would be useless. There may even be another exit from the tunnel Thadora’s found and things come in and fall down here.’
‘Have you seen that thing in your father’s books, Randa?’ Kimi enquired of the other girl.
‘No, Kimi, never. I’ve no more idea than you as to what it was. I just hope it has no friends around.’
At that thought, they all turned once more to the river, but there were no further signs of life.
‘Well so much for the idea of going down the river then. Good job we didn’t decide to do that. I’ll go with Thadora’s idea any day,’ said Basalt.
‘You wouldn’t want to go up the river if there was nothing worse than a friendly otter,’ teased Fero, his black eyes twinkling in the light from the torch he carried.
Bas replied with a ‘Humph!’