[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapter 11

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[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapter 11

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 11 – The old dwarven ravine
Buldr held up the torch. At regular intervals there were brackets on the walls, in which there were still torches.
“Strange, if this access is supposed to not be used for a long time,” Goren said.
“I guess that happens on the order of the king, if he changes his mind,” Buldr growled. “Or maybe there’re still some things down here that the people shouldn’t know about. But now let’s just go ahead with our torch, because it’ll soon be brighter.”
“Brighter?” Starshine asked in amazement. “How?”
“You’ll see. Come.”
The tunnel was battered, but it looked solid, well built. “If it was human, everything would probably have collapsed long ago, but dwarves have been building for many centuries,” the red-bearded dwarf noticed from the front.
“Didn’t you say that everything is not always the best here?” Goren gave back benevolently.
“Poo!” Buldr waved it off.
The path went deeper into the mountain; however, it didn’t get wetter, but drier and even a little warmer.
Finally, Starshine understood what Buldr had meant by ‘brighter’ when the fellows stepped out into a large hall. In fact, thin rays of light fell from the rock ceiling onto the floor and bathed the artificially expanded cave in a diffuse, matte light.
“Is it everywhere like this?” Starhine asked in amazement.
“Nearly,” Buldr replied. “Light and air, and under the mountain. Did you think our ravines were primitive?”
Goren walked along the pillars, the last remnants of the original cave that had been carefully hewn into the rock, while the rest was removed. The pillar showed patterns in the rock, which differed depending on which direction he was going. “It’s a diagram,” he recognized. “The access to the ravines are marked here. Each has its own pattern: here a diamond, there a circle with a dot in the middle...”
“Everything well structured,” Buldr noticed. “Not everyone has a map on paper like we have. Provided it serves us something.” He pulled a case out of his pouch, took a few rolls of paper from it, and smoothed making rustle them. Starshine and Goren stood by his side and tried to compare the markings there with which on the pillars.
“What’s the ravine we’re looking for?” Starshine wanted to know.
Buldr indicated a point that was farthest away. “This is the oldest. I know, normally you had to assume that the deeper you go, the younger you get, but supposedly Niethalf personally hit this original ravine with just one finger. And it’s so deep in the mountain that it’s out of reach of enemies. Starting from there, the dwarves worked closer and closer to Windholme.”
“One can also exaggerate,” Goren murmured.
“Those were different times, Goren,” Buldr said. “We were once the rulers, but then you came. We had to hide for a long time before we could grow up to new size. Today one would of course proceed differently.”
“How long has itn’t been used?” Starshine asked.
“Oh, very long, yet since the War of the Six Races, about six hundred years. The distance was of course too far.” Buldr ran a finger along the map. “There is a direct access – but unfortunately it won’t seem so direct to us today. The map is three hundred years old, and a lot of new tunnels have been added.”
“A labyrinth?”
“Yes. It will not be easy to decide.”
Goren leaned low over the map and frowned. “What is the mark on the ravine?”
“I don’t know, there probably weren’t any back then,” Buldr admitted.
Starshine shook her head. “Were there no newer maps?”
“It was the best I could find,” Buldr retorted. “There are of course newer maps, but recorded other ravines. Here, look.” He put some maps on top of each other. “Aldridge and I thought that if we put all the maps on top of each other, we would have the complete system.”
Starshine held the maps up to the light. “I understand what you mean. They all have different scales and are only approximate. The dwarves didn’t want to make it too easy if the maps fell into their hands. And nowadays you can’t do it yourself. Well, then at least let’s choose the direction.” Buldr nodded. “I go ahead. Be vigilant. I don’t know if Aldridge was right to warn us, but we should be careful.”
Goren wanted to follow him, but Starshine stopped him. Her touch on his arm flowed through him with warm, and as always, he felt a strange tingling.
“You know what the meaning of a labyrinth is?” she said softly.
“To drive us astray,” he answered.
“No, that’s a maze,” she corrected him. “In it many paths led to the goal. However, only one in the labyrinth. All other paths only pretend to continue, but they end in nothing. So be careful: nothing is what it seems. From now on you must not trust anyone anymore and not what you see. Let your instincts guide you. It would be even better to let the magic lead you, but you refuse that.”
“I’ll not give Malacay an opportunity to wake up anymore,” he said firmly. “There must be other ways than just magic. We can see from the Circle Mages where this is going, and Malacay has started with this madness.”
“You’re a fool, Goren Wind-Whisperer,” she hissed, then hurried after Buldr, who was impatiently waiting at a crossroads at the end of the hall.

As Buldr had predicted, many paths were blocked because they were buried by a rock slide, or they were closed by hand. These were mostly the approaches to the former ravines.
“Are there any mines which you operate?” Goren asked once.
“Of course,” Buldr replied. “But not here. Large mines where we dig ore, and forges powered by volcanic embers. We continue to produce armours and weapons, precious and expensive, the best in the world. I don’t know that ravines, if you want to know, young friend, because I’m a seafarer and warrior. Only initiates know about it.”
More and more paths branched off. Some of them could still be identified on the old maps and found their way somewhat; still, as long as the directions for the column pattern were given.
But finally the fellows reached the older areas, where the information became more and more sparse. The aisles became lower and narrower; the halls were less voluminous, but much simpler, without rock carvings and pillars. Everything was kept functional; a sign of an era with long wars in which there was no time for gimmicks. They discovered old deposits of ore and waste and deep pits into which rusted chains hung that had once transported tons of rock upwards. They found rifts from which steam and heat came from low-lying lava flows that had been rolling through the mountains for thousands of years. There were also huge old forges full of coal dust from past centuries. Also ancient rock dwellings, in which the dwarves had tried to settle down to some extent comfortably. The walls were charred black by the fire, and there were leftovers everywhere – broken clay dishes, half-rotted skins, broken knife blades, ropes and much more. The ray of sunshine falling through porous and perforated rocks became sparse, the light worse and worse. In the meantime Starshine and Goren had to ignite their torches.
They had paused several times to eat a little and sleep. None of them still had the sense of time. They didn’t know if it was day or night, outside.
And this silence. Nothing moved here, no breath of air, there didn’t even seem to be any small animals. When the fellows talked, it was with an involuntarily muffled voice. But the further they got, the less they talked; the eternal rock walls, the darkness and the cool, heavy air visibly depressed them.
But Buldr was confident that they were still on the right track. They had already caught a couple of dead ends that had forced them to turn back, but the direction was steadily pointing deeper and deeper into the mountain. The maps hardly provided any more information, because apparently closed passages were no longer recorded and the number of branches no longer matched.
“It can’t be far anymore,” Buldr finally claimed with a confident tone in the voice. “Soon we have reached the ravine and then all we have to do is look for the armour.”
“We hope so,” Goren murmured and rubbed his arms. He had been chilling a lot for some time now, and he felt as though his life was being sucked out. He longed for wide open land and sky and above all for the sun. He was tired of walking around in this oppressive narrowness, and the cold penetrated his bones. Moreover, the bulky shield was quite a hindrance. Starshine was lighter, smaller and petiter as he was; she could slip anywhere.
But she, too, shrugged her shoulders. “Buldr, I think we are no longer alone,” she said softly. “For some time now I have heard hissing and whispering and stepping. Then a scratch and scrapes.”
Goren nodded in agreement. He too had long felt that they had woken up some beings from their slumber. Probably by the smell they brought with them, by falling bread crumbs and more like that. They left traces.
“Yes,” Buldr grumbled. “There are also natural hollows here, and I hear water in various places. It’s probably animals that have sensed our scent.”
“Then we should hurry up,” Goren said and yawned. “But... don't be angry with me... I have to sleep a little beforehand, I can’t open my eyes anymore...”

Goren dreamed of the desert, of hideous creatures that the sand gave birth to there. He saw a great darkness coming over the whole world, and an ash rain fell on the earth. From a rock in the middle of the desert, shining like a beacon, huge dark shadows poured out, their armoured claws stretched out for him...
The young Shaikan awoke suddenly, as if someone had kicked him – inside against the wall of his skull. He felt cold sweat on his face and body and he was freezing. But it wasn’t alone; on his chest was an indescribable creature like he had never seen before. It was gray and pockmarked, the head was just a mouth with long pointed fangs. It crouched on two legs and two thin arms were folded in front of the bird-like breast. There was a rattling noise as if it was gasping for breath. And every time it breathed in, the feeling overcame, as if his breath had been sucked out. He felt increasingly heavy and weak. At the same time he felt a paralyzing pressure on the chest; his heart ached and something lurking in his mind stirred in his sleep.
No, he thought. No... no... let me go...
The being came closer and closer with its mouth. Saliva dripped down, leaving sticky marks on his leather doublet. Goren had no doubt that it would soon bite, tear his throat and drink his blood. As soon as there wasn’t enough life left in him to move at all.
No, he repeated. He felt the dark inside him become more energetic, demanding and urging. With a simple protective spell he could probably banish the being. But then... was it worth the high price? There was no other way...
Focus. Goren tried to detach and move his hand. There was nothing left except the hand he wanted to lead to his belt, where Malacay’s ritual dagger was. The mighty weapon could probably break through the protective spell woven into it. That was better than doing it himself... even though everything in him urged, demanded, shook. Finally, let me go, open yourself...
To Goren seemed like an eternity, but only a few heartbeats had passed. His mother Derata had taught him what it meant to put the will above everything else, to detach and to focus on one goal only, even if the body became weaker and maybe even died. However, one single quick action was able to end this balancing act, the enforcement of the will, the defense, and thus lead to the rescue.
Goren jerked the dagger from his belt and thrust it into the skinny chest of the being as hard as he could, and hurled it away.
The beast, or whatever it was, let out a shrill scream as it flew through the air. It bounced on the wall and fell to the ground, where it screeched and twitched. Billows of smoke rose and Goren saw, full of disgust, as it sagged more and more as if his bones were turning to water, and finally it melted with a last whimper into a stinking, steaming puddle.
Goren scrambled to his feet and staggered over to Buldr and Starshine, who also lay in a deep slumber, but their tormentors had already fled. Goren heard their angry whistles as they ran away through narrow rock rifts. Soon the two of them came to and looked around in confusion.
“What happened?” Starshine asked. “We were just talking...”
“They put us to sleep,” Goren explained and pointed to the slimy remains of the being. “Very insidious, none of us noticed, and suddenly we were passed out. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch your two.”
“Then we better make it quick to get away, because surely there’re more,” Buldr said and got up in a hurry.
The three hurried down a passage that they had previously chosen. The silence was now over, they heard shrill screams behind them. That spurred them on to run even faster.
The passage ended in a large, dark cave, which was only faintly lit by mica. A large number of passages branched off here; further passages were on the walls, to follow almost up to the ceiling.
But there was still something else here: runes, chiseled onto stalactites that had grown from the ground, filled with diamond dust that shimmered from ancient times. And stone faces with edged jewel eyes that glittered when you approached them. Ancient witnesses that were still there despite so much destruction.
“That’s it,” Buldr said devoutly. “This is the original part where it all started. One of these aisles has to go to the old ravine, where Glamrig once forged the great Armour by order of Niethalf. Goren, I believe more than ever that we’ll find the Silverflame here! This place is sublime, can you feel it? A keeper of past arts that one distant day will announce the dwarven knowledge again.”
Starshine, who had looked around a little, suddenly hurried back to Buldr, jerked the torch out of his hand and hurled it against a wall with a magical spell that Goren didn’t understand.
The torch struck the rock, and Goren saw a bracket flash, still holding a torch at the entrance, probably for centuries. As if the closing of the ravine wasn’t intended forever, but only for a certain time.
There was a dazzling lightning, then the old torch lit up, and now the lightning leapt over it, racing at high speed along the walls and ledges, around the cave, snatched all the torches from their slumber and ignited them.
Goren pressed his hands to his ears when at the same time shrill, bloodcurdling screams resound, and then he saw them coming from everywhere; they swung down from the ceiling, streamed out of holes.
“Demon spawn!” Starshine shouted. “Buldr, this place is cursed, not sublime!”
Goren swallowed dryly. The demon spawn was the vanguard of the red creatures from the depth. He hoped that their masters wouldn’t follow them. He drew his sword, Buldr his axe, while the winged horde screamed at them and attacked from all sides. Their leather wings whipped through the air, they snapped at them with long fangs and punched their claws in their clothes. The menfolk took Starshine in the middle and fought back to back. Wherever sword and axe met, the creatures shrieked and died shrugging, but this only made the others angrier.
“The light startled them,” Starshine blurted out. “Maybe the whole ravine is filled of demons!”
Goren wielded the sword with both hands, described a wide arc, and then struck up or down, depending on where the damon spawn was trying to dodge. Corrosive, sulfur-smelling blood spattered on all sides, and soon the bodies of the dead piled up, but the onslaught never stopped.
The smell of blood spread in the yellow vapor of the cave, drifted away in stinking clouds through the passages and lured again the other, eyeless beings who had previously sucked the vitality out of the fellows. In blind bloodlust they chased into the cave and attacked the carcasses. Some jumped into the air and snapped for the creatures flying by, however couldn’t pull them to the ground, but were carried away.
“We should flee!” Goren exclaimed as he dealt deadly blows. “As long as they still fall on top of each other!”
“The middle passage!” Buldr cried. “Go, Starshine, you first! Run!”
The dark elf obeyed and soon disappeared into the aisle.
“Now you!” Buldr demanded to Goren.
“But –”
“This is my kingdom, Goren! Go!”
Goren ran towards the aisle. “Hurry up, Buldr, more or them are coming!” he shouted.
“I know, don’t worry about me! We meet at the end of the passage!”
Goren kept running and called for Starshine. He felt burning pain on his left shoulder and front of his chest where the spawn had injured him. He was bleeding, but he couldn’t take care of that now.
“Starshine! Answer me, at last!”
She couldn’t be so far ahead! She had to hear him, why didn’t she answer? Worry drove him on. He could only hope that Buldr would follow soon.
The passage gradually broadened, illuminated by a diffuse light that seemed to come from nowhere. Goren slowed down when he saw the many writing symbols and marks on the walls. He felt as if the floor beneath him was softer and more flexible, and as if fog was arisen. The air grew thicker and heavier, but also warmer.
Goren stumbled in pacing and looked around. He must have taken the wrong turn, otherwise it wasn’t possible, because there was still no trace of Starshine.
The passage was now several men long and wide, and the smell of sulfur penetrated again in Goren’s nose, with a noxious smell of decay that was nauseating. He went on, turning alternately to each side, the sword firmly in both hands. It crunched under his boots as he stepped on bare, ancient bones, cracked with age. Mica glittered on the walls, mist swirled through shining air.
Eventually, Goren was standing in a hollow, into which light shone from outside, or from wherever, because it was blue-diffuse, pale and frail. There was a huge pile of bones here, and the stench was almost unbearable. Goren wanted to retreat slowly when he noticed movement in the bones.
They pushed together, put in the right places and connected as if moved by magic. Finally, a huge horn-reinforced skull, with teeth as long as Goren’s hand, thrust onto the vertebrae. Thereupon the heaped bones started to straighten up.
“Boneterror,” Goren whispered. “Millennia ago, they were the most powerful hunters of their time, until humans, like so many others, had exterminated them. But during the wars, the necromancers had resorted to them, collected the petrified bones everywhere, and awakened them to gruesome life on the continent and the islands.”
This Boneterror here must have survived not only all wars, but also the necromancer who awakened it. Who knows how long he has lived down here, waiting for victims to satisfy his bloodlust and greed for murder, even though it was only bones, held together by unholy life.
The Boneterror moved on two legs; his long tail clattered as he restlessly pointed it out – and struck. It was at least twice the size of Goren. A growl came from his empty chest, and a terrifying light glowed in the hollow of his eyes.
Goren backed away. When the beast jumped at him, he dived to the side and struck with all his strength, but this was completely without effect. The Boneterror didn’t even seem to feel the hit, while Goren almost tore the sword out of his hands.
Not with the sword, he thought. This is pure magic. He started to run when the Boneterror roared at him from the wide open mouth and then attacked him again. Goren knew that he didn’t have many options. The beast was very fast, and Goren was able to save himself repeatedly, but it was getting closer every time. He gritted his teeth in pain as he twisted his injured shoulder to loosen the dragon shield. Finally, it was loosened so much that he could reach for the shield and turn it towards himself.
Now or never, he thought, whirling around and keeping the shield in front of him.
The Boneterror didn’t slow down, and Goren fell to the ground under the impact. The large shield covered his head and upper body protectively, and Goren heard the clattering of bones and a rattling noise, then briefly went black in front of his eyes.

When Goren came to, there were bones scattered all around him. The strange light had gone out, and only the glimmer spread a faint glow. Goren sat up confused. Had he dreamed everything? What had happened to him?
He rubbed his neck, got up, put the shield on his back and stumbled, the sword in his hand, all the way back. There was a dull throb in his head, and he still couldn’t think clearly.
Then he noticed that he was in another passage that was smaller than the previous one and almost dark. When was it turned? How did he get here? Confused, he went on clueless; he didn’t know what else to do. Goren had no orientation at all and didn’t know in which direction he should look for his fellows. In between he stopped and listened, but heard nothing. Neither by any creatures, nor by Buldr or Starshine.
Then it grew brighter again, and the passage opened to the next hollow, and there stood Starshine, surrounded by the light as a halo. He couldn’t see her face, but he could see the familiar, graceful outline of her petite body.
“Starshine...” he whispered. “Finally...”
He sheathed the sword and went up to her. She turned to him and whispered. “I killed...” Her voice sounded like a distant breath.
Goren was so relieved to see her well that he closed her in his arms.
So close... he had never been to her. He felt the warm and softness of her body and breathed in her scent of black lilies. She sensed so wonderful, and he wished he could always hold her in his arms, feel her very close to him. Involuntarily he tilted his head towards her and she looked up at him, still kept... the next moment he was lying on the floor, and Starshine had grabbed his twisted arm and squeezed. The pain brought Goren back to reality. He blinked in confusion. The light had gone out and he saw torchlight and shadows instead. The floor below was hard, smooth, and covered in dust.
“What...” he started and stared into the purple almond eyes of the dark elf.
“You’ll never learn it, blockhead,” Starshine hissed disapprovingly. “No distraction! Everyone had been able to kill you now, as dream-caught as you stumble through the place.”
“But it’s you...” he objected quietly.
“Are you sure?” she retorted. “You still haven’t understood what I’m constantly trying to make clear to you.”
He stayed silent. She let him loose and walked across the hall to the next aisle without saying another word.
“And you lied, Starshine,” he whispered to himself. “I felt and recognized your heartbeat. It struck in the same rhythm as mine.”
“Come on!” she called. “Buldr found the ravine!”

“Well, finally!” Buldr shouted when Goren arrived with Starshine. “Where did you find him?”
“He stumbled across the path completely confused and didn’t even recognize me,” Starshine replied. “I first had to bring him back through pain.”
The dwarf stared at Goren. “What happened?”
“I... I don’t know,” the young Shaikan replied in distraught. “There were demons... and a Boneterror...”
Starshine and Buldr looked at each other.
“But you must have seen them!” Goren cried. “It started with these eyeless monsters that sucked our strength during our sleep...” He shook his head. “I’m sure I didn’t dream.” He groped for his shoulder, found the tear in his clothes and felt the pain. “I’m wounded...”
Starshine examined the wound on the shoulder, then on the chest. “Yes, something must have happened, Buldr. These wounds are fresh.” She thought about. “We all must have been caught in a spell, but somehow Goren drawn everything on himself while we went on without a remembrance.” She looked at Gor. “I told you, yes, it’s a labyrinth. Sometimes you move inside, sometimes outside.”
“Then I dreamed?”
“No, it was all real – but a magic. Thank you! We could all lost ourselves here.”
“I don’t understand a word,” Buldr rumbled. “But let’s go that now. Look here, Goren, this is the entrance to the ravine!”
Goren looked at a heavy wrought-iron gate in the rock, which was secured with powerful chains that could have bound a giant.

“How should we ever get the chains open?” Goren asked discouraged. “Can you do it with your axe or are they magically secured?”
Buldr grinned. “It’s not necessary at all, Goren. Dwarves were not dwarves if they didn’t leave themselves open a loophole. It’s thinked for deterring tall people.”
“Or even more as an incentive to suspect great treasures behind it,” Starshine noticed. “Dwarves are incomprehensible to me.”
“That's why you, dark ones, never managed to conquer us,” Buldr replied cheerfully. “Come, you two. Now it’ll soon become clear whether Aldridge was just an inventor of stories or he really studied the old archive thoroughly.”
“So there is a side entrance?” Goren guessed.
Buldr nodded. “Totally right. If I’m lucky one of the keys that we found on the maps’ case fits. And if not, I’ll try my axe.”
However, Buldr had imagined it easier. It may be that dwarves always kept a back door open, but this had to be found first. Buldr became increasingly impatient when he found no sign of a side entrance. He felt the rocks, hammered them with his fists and cursed loudly. Finally, Goren and Starshine also took part, felt every inch of the rock next to and even above the gate. Then they broadened the search.
At some point Buldr gave up, crouched on a boulder and leaned down on his axe. “I don’t understand it. Maybe we should have taken a stoneshaper with us.”
Starshine was listening. “Stoneshaper?”
“Yes, these are the people who drive into the mountains and work on the rocks. You have already been able to admire their art of carving. What amazes you about it?”
“The word.”
The dark elf went to the gate again, closed her eyes and felt the rocks. “I think we were just looking for the wrong one. And your remark about the key distracted us. Now I should act contrary to my advice.”
Buldr stared at Goren. “I don’t know, lately I’m feeling more and more that the girl and I don’t speak the same language. Again I don’t understand a single word.”
Goren raised his hand; he watched Starshine as she stroked the stone with delicate fingers and carefully followed every indentation or elevation. “I think I know what she’s getting at,” he finally whispered. “We’re looking for a proper door. At least for a lock.”
Finally Buldr was dawning. He stood up.
Starshine forced herself halfway into a narrow crack and felt around with her arm.
Suddenly there was a soft click, and then a rock slipped noisily to the side.
“Phenomenal!” Buldr trudged towards Starshine, clasped her face in both hands and pressed a hearty, smacking kiss on one cheek, then the other. She was so surprised that she didn’t move. “You’re simply great, Starshine! I almost thought you had dwarven blood in your veins!” He happily went through the low passage that was just right for a dwarf.
“That was the greatest compliment he could give you,” Goren grinned, who was amused by the still speechless Starshine. He winked at her and then crawled after Buldr, almost on all fours.

The old ravine was enormous; a whole mountain seemed to have been hollowed out. It spanned at least eight floors. Daylight fell through artificial chimneys and natural rifts. Many hewn steps, but also wooden ladders, stone catwalks and suspension bridges, in multiple branches and disorienting amount, kept all connections largely quick. Goren was speechless, staring at the countless mine tunnels that had been cut into the rock. Old wagons, pushed thousands of times on squeaky wheels – stood or lay around half-disintegrated, overburden dumps were found as well as deep pits, some of which were filled with water. Black charred foundry and huge chimneys with huge bellows that could only be moved by stressed donkeys or oxen. Collecting tank, holders, hooks for weapons and armour were still present, as were the chains and anchorages up to half a mile long for heavy loads. On one side, on the third and fourth floors, were rock dwellings, and above that lay further workshops for the refining process of precious metals and for the production of ornaments and jewellery.
If one wanted to take a closer look at everything, days passed, Goren guessed in astonishment. He had never seen anything like it; how impressive the ravine must have looked when everything was still in operation! An image from ancient times was created before Goren’s mental eye; he saw fire in the forges, glowing metal that flowed into molds in the foundries, and hundreds of dwarves with soot-blacked faces who, wearing only leather aprons, worked hard in the crippling heat. He saw wagons full of ores that were pushed out of the depths of the tunnels, sorted and forwarded. He saw small, sturdy donkeys and oxen that tirelessly turned the wheel of the forges; goldsmiths who leaned over extremely fine gold plates to craft them into fine women’s jewellery with artful hands.
“Where should we look for the armour?” Starshine asked in the enchanted moment, in which Goren and Buldr remained in childlike wonder for that distant old world.
The two men slowly regained consciousness and remembered why they were here. They looked around, searching, and Buldr had to admit that he had imagined it would be easier. He hadn’t thought the old ravine would be as big as a hollowed-out mountain.
They had no choice but to split up and hope for a lucky coincidence that would lead them in the right direction.

Goren was certain that the armour, if anything, could only be in a hidden room, which access might be as hidden as the side entrance to the ravine. There were not so many possibilities, at least on the lowest level; so this secret chamber had to be deeper in the mountain.
“Buldr, is there such a thing as a ceremony room in which Niethalf was worshipped?” he turned to the dwarf. “And what happened to the dwarves who died here?”
Buldr scratched his beard. “I’m sure that something like this can be found here. And there is probably also a crypt for high-ranking warriors, if not for thanes and kings, because this is an appropriate place to be buried.”
“And where would your people create such a space?”
Buldr considered it. “As close to the light as possible,” he finally said, pointing up. “The top floor would be most suitable to rest undisturbed; the dead are far enough away from everything and sunk in darkness, and still there.”
Goren nodded. “We should search up there.”
While Buldr and Goren preferred to take a safe detour via stone steps, Starshine climbed steep, shaky wooden ladders and dared to look at brittle-looking suspension bridges.
It was an arduous way up, but finally they reached the last floor and entered a passage that went out of the ravine – and led deeper into the mountain. The air up here was much fresher and warmer than the one below, and the broad daylight was comforting for Goren. Out there land and sky seemed to be within reach.
Buldr pointed to rune symbols carved into the rock walls. “We’re on the right path. These symbols contain blessings to accompany the dead on their last journey. And here, see the handprints of the bereaved. I guessed that some heroes must be buried here.”
They no longer needed torches to follow the path. The floor was almost sandy here, and the yellowish rock was more porous than the hard rocks below. After several bends, they reached the anteroom with a number of aisles, in the middle of which stood an altar. Brackets, holes and nails on the walls showed that the room must once have been adorned with gold and jewellery. The exhibits of the deceased had taken place here, and probably also the honors of the gods and their most powerful servants.
Starshine, which had preceded them, came back from a corridor and reported: “Stone coffins line up with stone coffins, some with statues on them or covered with runes.”
One after the other they walked through all of the vaults. Some grave slabs were embedded in the side walls. Those burial chambers were reserved for the high-ranking dwarves, where, as Starshine had described, stone coffins were lined up.
Goren was primarily looking for hidden room. Finally, he stopped in front of a wall and looked at it ruminantly. “What's behind it?”
Buldr stood next to him. “How do you think there’s something behind it?”
“I don’t know, this rock piece somehow doesn’t fit here,” Goren replied. “I imagine that the burial chambers are all approximately the same size, but this one is smaller.”
“There’re only three coffins.”
“Exactly. In the others up to ten have found space, although not all are occupied. All walls show some traces of processing or use, but this one... looks newer and seems to have been put together from several pieces that were broken out elsewhere. Look, there are fine crevices.” He traced the edges with his fingers, from which fine dust trickled. Then he drew his sword and tapped the rock with its hilt.
“Indeed, it sounds hollow,” Starshine agreed with him. “But I can’t find any mechanism, everything is completely smooth here.”
“We have to push it open,” Goren explained.
“But who should have built the wall here? And how?” Buldr asked in astonishment. “Especially – why?”
“If you want to find out, you should help me,” Goren urged him. “You always brag about your dwarven strong, now you can prove it.”
Starshine tested the crevices again, checked the curves and notches, tapped them with the knife handle. “I think you should try here. This piece connects directly to the chamber wall. Of course, it can also happen that the whole side collapses.”
Goren took off his shield, cape, doublet and shirt. “Come on, Buldr, let’s not linger. Maybe we can somehow move it.”
The dwarf did the same, and they braced themselves against the rock piece. Their muscles tensed and stood out tremendously as they pressed against it with all their strength. Soon sweat broke out and ran down the chest in streams as they pressed and pushed with distorted faces.
“Don't let up!” Starshine spurred them on.
Suddenly there was a sharp jerk, and then the rock tipped back. Buldr and Goren made sure they got away when the whole construction rumbled together in a dust explosion. When the dust settled, a cavity was actually visible behind it; there was the rest of the original burial chamber, still wrapped in darkness.
“It’s about time!” A voice came out of the chamber.
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