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The Caverns of Kildun Aalda--Chapter Ten--The Caverns of Kildun Aalda
The terrain was getting hillier than before. Following Sylvan’s directions, the group continued walking the rest of the day, taking small breaks to rest.
“George,” said Britt, “can you check out the area above the hill? We have to stop for the night.”
“Sure thing,” the thief said, running off.
Bard looked at the pinking of the sky as the sun started its descent in the west. It was going to be another beautiful night.
“I wonder how much longer we have to go,” Bard said to Britt.
“I am not sure,” the dwarf answered. “I wonder if Sylvan’s directions are reliable. At his age, his mind may have been going.”
“I think his mind was as sharp as the day he first drank the unicorn’s blood.”
“Hey!” George yelled. “I think we found it!”
The group ran up to George. He pointed ahead of him. About a mile in the distance stood a row of cliffs.
“I believe you are right, son,” Britt said.
“Look at that outcrop,” Johanna said. “It looks like a tower.”
“If this is the place,” said Eileena, “that was most likely used as a lookout.”
“There is too much vegetation to be certain,” said Britt. “Other than the tower, everything else is hidden”
“Do we go there now?” asked Balon.
“No,” said Britt. “We will camp for the night. If we leave early, we should find the entrance while it is still morning.”
“Be careful,” Johanna called to Balon. “I almost fell.”
“They were almost to the face of the cliff. The pathway was becoming more hazardous as stones broke under her feet.
Britt was the first one to reach the face of the cliff. “This is beautiful,” he said, as he ran his hand over the craggy black outcropping of slate. “I would love to mine this.”
“I think I found an entrance!” Balon yelled. Pushing aside the vines and vegetation, the explorers found an opening in the rock formation, large enough for humans to enter.
“Remember to be careful in here,” Britt said.
“You never know what might bite you in your rear end,” George quipped.
The group stepped into the entrance.
“This is like a courtyard,” Bard said looking around. He thought they would be in a cavern. However, once they got through the entrance, they were in sunlight once again.
“There is a door just ahead,” Eileena called. A wooden door was in the second rock wall.
“Have your torches ready.”
“Balon and George, make sure you stay in the middle of the formation.”
They reached the door.
“No traps,” George said after a quick, but thorough, examination.
The door opened easily.
“Wait!” said Johanna. “Look at the door!”
“I do not see anything wrong,” said Bard.
“Parts of the door have been chipped away.”
Britt looked at the door. “It looks like it has been forced open. Do not tell me that we are too late.”
“Maybe it was Sylvan,” said Balon. “He said that he tried to get the monsters to kill him.”
“True,” said Britt. “Carry on.”
They stepped through the door and found themselves in another courtyard. Three pairs of columns were spaced equally apart.
They passed the first two. There were no markings on them, nothing to indicate their purpose.
“Maybe they were used as guard posts,” Bard suggested.
“That is possible,” said Britt. He carefully checked one column. “Sometimes these have hidden doors on them. Yet, I do not see any on this one.”
They continued walking towards the final set of columns. All of a sudden two mouths appeared on this set.
“Who dares enter this place?” said the first mouth in a booming voice.
The second mouth spoke, “Who dares intrude upon the sanctuary of Stephan and Joban?”
The first mouth spoke again, “Only a group of foolish explorers.”
“Doomed to certain death!” finished the second mouth.
Then both mouths spoke at once, “Beware to any who pass here-the wrath of Stephan and Joban will be upon them!” Then both mouths laughed evilly and vanished from view.
“What a warm, hearty welcome,” George said, laughing, trying to imitate the mouths.
Just past the third set of columns were two steps made out of stone. They climbed them and continued up the corridor, George ran ahead to an intersecting one that ran east to west.
“George, you foolish boy! Do not go off by yourself!”
“We are not the first ones!” the thief yelled back.
The others ran up to him and saw a grisly scene.
“Careful now,” said Britt. “Whatever killed them may be nearby.”
Bard walked over to one body. Even though the body was stripped of armor, he was sure that this was a fighter like him. A broken sword, sheared off about six inches from the hilt, lay near the body.
Balon paled when he saw the second body. He and Johanna walked over to it. “Nobody I know, but still a bad way to die.” The human magic user was impaled against the wall, a sword thrust through his body and lodged in the wall. “Something powerful must have done this.” He pulled at the sword, “Somebody, help me remove this!” With effort, Bard and Britt were able to dislodge the sword from the wall and the dead magic user. His body crumpled to the floor.
“Well, this definitely is the place,” Britt said, as they stared at the blood-stained writing on the wall. It read “The Caverns of Kildun Aalda: The Home of Stephan and Joban.”
“There is a trail of blood,” George said, pointing. They followed the trail a short distance to the east. A dwarf fighter laid face down, his right hand still clutching his war hammer.
“It looks like he was wounded and crawled here to die,” Britt said. He stared at the body in silence, and then noticed another body in the shadows. “At least he did not die in vain.” Another creature lay dead, his head bashed in from the blow of a war hammer.
Bard walked over to its body and noticed that it was a human warrior wearing a coat of bear skins.
“Is it possible that he belonged to the others?”
“It is possible,” said the dwarf. “However, he looks like a bear rager. They are very powerful and are normally used as guards.”
“I have heard of them,” Johanna said. “Yet how can he fight against and defeat the warriors? I mean the dwarf and the fighter were wearing armor.”
“They fight with and uncontrollable rage. It is like they are not aware of their surroundings when they are in this rage. Their main goal when they are in the fury state is to destroy everything that gets in their way. In other words they fight with reckless abandon and disregard to even their own lives. The interesting thing is when two or more bear or wolf ragers go into this rage; they recognize each other as allies and will not attack each other. However, if one bear-rager is in the way, another may knock him down to get to his objective.” He looked closely at the body. “This one is related to the bear, hence the bearskins.”
“Do you mean that they are part animal?” Bard asked.
“No, most likely they were raised as bears when they were young children. As they grow they have the bear instincts inbreed in them. They are not bloodthirsty but the instilled endorphins and adrenaline causes them to fight with fierceness that many people fear them. “
“There is a wolf rager over here,” said Eileena. Another human, this one wearing wolf skins lay a few feet away. “It looks like he defended this place to the death.” She looked over this body. “I think this happened over a week ago; this body is starting to decomposed.”
George looked around. “Should we be worried about any more of these creatures attacking us?”
“No,” Britt said. “At least not in this area. Usually people who keep caverns like these, contains monsters in specific areas.”
Britt was silent for a moment. “We need to bury these bodies; we cannot just leave them to rot away. Even the ragers need a proper burial.”
“The thing about the wolf and bear imbedded ragers is that they can lead a normal life with humans. If have seen ones that have been found in the wilderness and after receiving proper care, nobody knows that this was once a wild man. They can be very gentle and mild-mannered.”
They were back outside, digging graves for the bodies. “You may be working next to one and may never know. Sometimes they are hired to do laborious work. With their power, they can move large objects easily; objects that are too heavy for ordinary human power. It is possible that Stephan and Joban used ragers for most of the manual labor in building their home. The funny thing about ragers is that they can go into a state of rage at any time. It seems that they can control their rage when they go into it and when they end their fury.”
“I heard that some ragers would rather scare away intruders rather than kill them,” Balon said.
“True they can control their rages to a point. Some of them do not want to kill. Such as a mother wolf protecting her pack, just sending a warning growl will turn the intruders. This type of rager may pick up a stone and throw it, not hitting the intruder, but giving his a choice to run or fight.
“I noticed that the warrior did not have any armor,” Bard said. “Do you think the rager did that?”
“It has been said that they can tear apart armor with their teeth. You should see the shield I had when I had an encounter with one. He bit it in half.”
“Wow,” said Bard with awe. “In a way I hope we do not run into one in the caverns.”
“True, it would be better if we fight one in the open. When they fight in closed places, such as in the caverns, they fight with such fierceness. It is as if they are cornered and the animal instinct overcomes them. Remember that wolves and bears do not like to be trapped. They will do anything to escape.”
Once again the adventurers stepped back through the entrance way. They had buried the bodies of the dwarf, fighter and magic-user. As for the bodies of two ragers, they were burned. “It was too late for them anyway,” Johanna said.
“Too late for what?” Bard asked.
She smiled secretly, “You will see.”
As they approached the third set of columns, the two mouths appeared and repeated their doomful warning.
“Oh, shut up!” George and Britt yelled at the same time.
“They were once again in the intersection where the bodies had been found
“There is a room over there,” said George.
“This must be the kitchen,” Britt said. They were standing in a large room.
“Oh boy, it stinks over here!” George exclaimed, holding his nose. He was standing by a table against a wall. There were opened containers scattered about. The contents were spilled on the tabletop. Food long unused, such as flour and wheat lay there with mold blanketing it. A single piece of cheese lay there, with a fuzzy green growth covering it.
“None of us are going to do any cooking in here,” said Britt, looking at the various utensils scattered about, “until this place is cleaned up.” He turned his head while talking and almost hit his head on a large cast iron kettle hanging from the ceiling by a thick chain.
George peeked into the kettle. “Empty!” he called.
“Look at this!” exclaimed George, pointing at two cooking pits. He jumped into one.
“You foolish boy!” yelled Britt. “What in the blazes do you think you are doing?”
George popped his head up. “They are big enough to cook a cow in!”
“I wonder if they still can be used,” said Johanna. “Once we get the room secured, we could cook in here.”
“It would be better than having to cook outside,” agreed Britt.
“We can try,” said Balon. There are enough ashes in the bottom. I wonder how the chimney is.” The magic-user looked at the pipe that led upwards from the pit. “I think something is blocking it.”
“Let me see,” said Britt. He put his hands on the pipe and shook it.
There was a scrambling noise and beady eyes peered down at the intruder daring to disturb in. With a leap, a giant rat sprung out of the pipe and landed on the dwarf. The rat was not as large as the ones Bard fought at the catacombs; however, this one was a big as Britt. Britt fell to the ground on his back with the large rat trying to bite into his neck. The only thing preventing him was Britt’s powerful arms pushing the gnashing teeth away.
“No! You will kill Britt!” George yelled as Balon was about to cast a spell at the rat. All around them rats were coming out of the shadows.
Grabbing his knife, George ran and jumped onto the rats back. Stabbing him between the shoulder blades, the knife buried into the rat's back. Angered, the rat whipped its tail around George’s neck and began constricting. Choking, George desperately tried to free the tail. His eyes bulged and he became limp.
Bard ran behind the rat and cut its tail off. Free from the trap, George fell lifeless to the ground. When the rat turned to gnash at Bad, he swung his sword and decapitated the creature. The he turned and killed a rat tat was rushing towards Johanna.
The rats, even though at first were twenty-four, were fewer. Since they are cowardly, several silently disappeared into the shadows. With Balon’s magic spells, Johanna smashing mast, Eileena’s arrows the remaining rats were killed within a minute. However, they did not have time to be jubilant. They turned a noticed a sad scene.
“Please, no!” said Johanna.
Britt was kneeling by George, sobbing.
“George! Please! You can get up. The rats are gone.”
There was no response from the thief. His body still lay there lifeless.
“George! Please, you can not die. We have been through too much together.” Britt cradled the lad and stroked his face. “You are very brave. I am proud of having you as a son.” He looked to the others. “Why isn’t he moving? Isn’t there any thing we can do?” Britt continued sobbing, rocking back and forth holding George. “He means too much to me! He is my son!”
Bard was the first one to reach the distraught dwarf. Looking at George’s pale face and blue lips, he knew it was too late. His windpipe was crushed. Or was it too late? Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him; he thought he saw a slight movement. Yes! There it was again. George was making a feeble attempt to take a gasp for breath. There was still a chance!
“Out of my way,” he said pushing Britt aside. Reaching into his bag he pulled out his healing potion. He tilted George’s head up and poured the potion down his throat.
Within seconds the crushed windpipe was healed and, after taking a few breaths, color came back into George’s face and his lips became a healthy red. He began to breathe easily. The thief opened his eyes and looked at Britt, grinning.
“My hero!” he said and kissed Bard on the mouth.
Wiping his mouth, Bard pretended to be angry. However, he was relieved that the potion had worked. The thief had grown on him; he was like a little brother.
The others gathered around George and hugged him. Britt looked at him and grunted, “Foolish boy; you are going to be the death of me yet.” Embracing George, he added, “You may be foolish, but you are also brave.”
“I think the rest of the rats are gone,” Eileena said.
Johanna walked over to the body of a rat and knelt next to it. She began meditating.
“What is she doing?” asked Britt. Why would she pray over something that almost killed George?
Eileena hushed him, saying, “You will see in a minute.”
Soon the rat came back to life. It was not living but was a ghostlike shell of its former self. It looked around, not with malice and menace, but rather with peacefulness and friendliness. Soon the other rats came back to life. They approached the first one and their bodies merged into its translucent one. The rat walked away.
Johanna explained, “This is one of the reasons why Britt wanted me to join them. I have a gift that can bring creatures back to this phase. However, it must be done within an hour of them being killed.”
Bard looked over at Britt, who was still talking with George. “I am just asking out of curiosity. Why would they need this gift?”
“The elders want to keep this place as authentic as possible. If people do tour here, they will have an idea of what needed to be done so they can be here. They will not have to fear the animated monsters; they will not harm them.
George and Britt were standing to the side, arguing. “We have to continue,” the thief reasoned. “We can not run because of a little fight.”
“I know,” said Britt. “I just do not want anything to happen to you.”
“We were just taken by surprise. We need to be a little more careful, that is all. You remember when we go on these missions, we always take a risk. Nothing in life is free.”
Britt was silent for a second. “You are right, George. We will continue.”
They walked to the room adjoining the kitchen.
“For two people who lived as recluses, they built this room as if they were planning to have a banquet.”
“Maybe they wanted people to think they had friends.”
“Maybe it was a cover-up,” said George.
“What in the blazes are you talking about?”
“Well, think about it. If people thought that Stephan and Joban were generous, throwing a grand party once in a while, their true motives are hidden.”
“That makes sense,” Britt grunted. “Or maybe the room was used for the people who helped build this home.”
“This is beautiful work,” Eileena said, running her hand over the maple surface of the table.
“I know which chairs the two sat in,” said George sitting in a walnut chair, with beautiful carvings. “Too bad I cannot pickpocket these; they are too heavy.”
A wooden mantle seven feet off the floor surrounded the room. Nothing, not even a trophy sat on top of the intricately carved woodwork.
Britt ran his fingers through the dust covering the table. “It is obvious this room has not been used in a while.”
“I wonder how many bedrooms are in here. I bet people would want to stay here for a vacation.”
George peered through the door at the south end of the dinging room. “Apparently Stephan and Joban liked to drink.
“This must be the lounge,” Britt said, looking at the earthenware tankard mugs hanging from the wall and a dry ale keg standing in the corner.
“It still smells like a brewery,” said Bart.
At the center of the lounge stood a carved statue of a full-sixed, nude woman. It was as if she was beckoning with arms out front in an inviting pose.
“A little vulgar,” said Balon, running his hand over the white marble. “However, it is a beautiful work or artistry.”
“Wow,” said George, "it has to be worth over 5,000 gold pieces.
“Too bad you were not stronger, George,” said Bard. “Even I can not budge this.”
“Look at the walls,” said Johanna. They looked. Each wall had a long wooden bench. Those sitting in the bench would face toward the center of the room and the statue.
“I wonder what the purpose is?” said Balon.
“Maybe it was the statue was of some type of goddess,” Johanna suggested. “They probably made sacrifices to it. Yet I do not see anything that would suggest such a thing,” she added looking around the room.
Britt sat down on one of the benches. “With the exception of the rats, I have seen no the sign of life. I wonder if we actually did get here to late.”
“I do not think so,” said George. The rooms are full of dust. There were only signs of the rats, no other footprints.”
“True,” said Britt. “I think we should go back outside and set up camp. We have not eaten since breakfast. Maybe we can discuss things on a full stomach.