The Stone Dragon Series – Book 1, Chapter 7
Read by Chatull Aventari
Chapter Seven. Of Nine.
Near the tunnel that led to Kobold Quarters and the Mining Office was a crate of soaked torches. Zyrina lit one by striking her flint with steel, then passed it to Phlebus and lit another for Lucy to carry. She notched her bow and saw Torgin unlatch his war axe and take it in hand. From this point Phlebus led into the darkness of the shaft before them. Torgin followed Phlebus with his axe at the ready and Zyrina covered the back of the group, following Lucy.
After some time Phlebus whispered, “The Kobold quarters should be somewhere along here and to the left at the first fork we find, if the bulletin board is to be believed.”
He sounded unsure as he peered into the dark past the flickering of Phlebus’s torch.
“Why are you whispering?” Lucy whispered.
Torgin shushed her, “Shh. No talking.”
Lucy shrugged her shoulders and peered past the flickering light of her own torch and into the glow of light that Phlebus’s torch threw onto the walls of the passage ahead. Whatever the torches had been dipped in before the wax wafted by now and then, and it was not pleasant but preferable to the stench of kobolds. It was hard to miss. It took her much of her willpower not to wretch from the smell of them.
To distract herself, she began to search the tunnel for something interesting. It had been dug tall enough to walk upright; even Torgin ahead of her didn’t have to crouch and there was plenty of room above her head. She was relieved not to have to worry about hitting her head. She saw Torgin duck a few times but not as many times as she would expect in a tunnel dug by kobolds.
Lucy asked herself why the kobold had dug such tall tunnels for themselves then remembered not to ask anyone out loud just in time. Kobolds are not much different size than humans. There must be a reason the tunnels were tall and even thought she could not work out why they were, Lucy was thankful that she didn’t have to watch for things to bump into her head.
There were small rocks loose underfoot, too, and she stumbled once or twice on them before getting her footing.
“You alright?” Zryina whispered into Lucy’s ear while touching her arm.
Lucy nodded her head and gave a grateful smile over her shoulder. It was a matte black in the tunnel and she was thankful for her new friend’s presence here in the dark, guarding the rear. Feeling her touch made Lucy feel less alone in the dark. Even so, her torch lit the way well enough for her to make out spiders on the walls and ceiling who silently scurried out of sight. The tunnel was free from webbing and even though the sight of spiders did alarm Lucy, she knew they were far from being the biggest danger. The thought of liches wandering in the tunnels turned Lucy’s blood cold and she shivered. She could feel bumps forming on her arms and her hair stiffen on the back of her neck.
Those ancestors of the Dougan family who had risen in the form of liches were not to be taken lightly. They had already killed. As Phlebus had told them all earlier at the inn after he read aloud from one of the books borrowed from the Hall of Enquiry “The original Dougan in that family became a Dread Lord from the earliest records of the family line.” Dread Lords who decided to become liches were more powerful than anything Lucy ever wanted to face. They were the monsters in tales for children to frighten them out of dangerous places. “Beware the lich” was a common warning from mothers to their children where Lucy grew up. She shuddered a little as she walked on in silence.
After an eternity walking into the dark, they halted just outside of what looked like an entrance to a room, a round one. The dirt tunnel connected to a small rectangular doorway into the room, and it looked like the circular chamber inside was considerably older than the tunnel that led to it. It must have been built before The Fall in order for it to have been buried so deep underground. The marble room was empty except for four thrones at the opposite side, set facing the doorway.
“This is the kobold quarters,” Phlebus sounded relieved. “We should find some answers here.”
And with that he strode into the room confident the answers were just ahead. Farther back in the line Lucy heard muffled shouts as she waited her turn to get through the door after Torgin. The attack began without warning.
“Look out Lucy!” Torgin’s shouted warning came in the nick of time too.
Lucy didn’t see the several kobolds in the room until she ducked through the door. Upon hearing Torgin’s warning she quickly sidestepped behind one of the pillars that made a circle around the room and pressed herself against the smooth carved stone. There was a circle of pillars just inside the room supporting an open gallery circling the room. Kobolds were everywhere. These were not miners who attacked, at least not miners that Lucy had ever encountered before. One of the kobolds cast a spell that attempted to drain her reserves of focus. She could feel the tug on her energy reserves straining to leave her breast, but before the kobold spell found its mark, she countered with a shield of air thrown haphazardly around herself in a bright bubble. At the same time arrows started raining down from the gallery above.
The archers could not reach her behind the pillar and all the warriors were concerned with Torgin’s swinging axe. With a few moments to herself she began casting a spell that would help heal her friends using the moisture she could gather from the room. Soon a small shower blew through the room and fresh healing rain fell on each of their heads as they defended themselves from the kobold’s onslaught. As soon as that was established, she began gathering her focus again and to chant slowly. She started with Torgin and sent him a healing grace that would continue to heal him for almost half a minute then began recasting it to target each of her friends with the boost.
Torgin didn’t hesitate and within the blink of an eye had swung his axe around in a circle knocking down the nearest of the kobold warriors. The kobolds all turned to attack this massive whirling slicing danger. They began circling Torgin and concentrating their attack on him. Or what soon became their defence from him. Their superior numbers may have been more effective on a less experienced warrior but this time Torgin beat them back one by one, pounding the ground around him with his foot to send a ripple of force that damaged all the enemies around him. He could feel his sister’s healing spells strengthening him even as he dodged the blows from his attackers. Behind him lay a swath of mangled bodies as he moved around the room swinging, stomping, and shouting. A few escaped to the tunnels before anyone realized they were fleeing but most of the attackers were cut down by the fury of Torgin’s attack.
Moving silently and gracefully following Torgin around the room, Zyrina had concentrated on picking off the archers above whose arrows pestered Torgin as he fought. She shot with precise strikes as she darted out from behind the pillars to release her arrows then just as quick, she would dash back to safety behind the marble columns as she circled the room. Her aim was exact and soon the gallery above no longer sent arrows down toward Torgin. Phlebus caught a glimpse of Zyrina as she sprinted up the staircase with her bow at the ready. He assumed she was going to check for lurkers above.
Phlebus still stood just inside the entry behind another of the pillars near Lucy. He continued mouthing the words of power for various spells using the air around him to both weaken the attackers and strike them down, even when the ground trembled from Torgin’s pounding.
Though he was within range, Phlebus only swayed a little with the wave of energy that passed through him. He was not stunned nor frozen. His lightning could be seen, smelled, and heard as it rippled between attackers chaining them together for a blast of damage over and over. Electricity’s familiar sweet, pungent aroma wafted by, but did not unsettle him. He concentrated on attacking and disrupting the mages who were healing and protecting the others, and his spells did just that. With Torgin and Zyrina’s physical attacks and Phlebus’s psychic attacks the entire fight took barely a quarter of an hour.
Catching his breath once the skirmish finished, Torgin took a moment to look around the room as he came out of his battle trance. Roaring loudly with his head thrown back, he stood in the center of the room surrounded by dead Kobolds. Lucy and Phlebus were near the entry looking as if they had both been drained of some of their life force. Meanwhile Zyrina was still silently creeping around the gallery to see if any kobolds were hidden and after a thorough search, she flushed out just one other archer, who she dispatched without delay.
“What the Titans was that about?” Torgin wiped his face and spat out then began to clean some of the blood from his axe by wiping in on the clothing of one of the fallen. “What kind of miners are these anyway?”
“Is everyone alright?” Lucy interrupted Torgin to ask anxiously as soon as the fighting stopped.
There were nods all around the group. She could see a few cuts and scrapes, but no one had an arrow to remove or any gashes that required her immediate attention. Breathing a sigh of relief, she took a closer look at the fallen.
“What was that?” Phlebus wanted to know, too. “Did they think we were liches?”
“I don’t think so,” Lucy answered him as she inspected the bodies closest to her. “These aren’t miners. Look at their clothing, their weapons. These are warriors, mages, archers. This isn’t just a few, what are they doing here?”
Zyrina stood at the top of the staircase, “Better come up here, I found the mining office.” She called down to the others.
There were two sets of stairs that each circled the outside wall on opposite sides of the room and led up to the gallery. Up the stairs and inside the Dougan Family Silver Mining Office, which had a small arched entrance, everyone followed Zyrina in. She went to the farthest end of the room and began going through the cupboard. Phlebus went straight for the large wooden desk. In among the papers and debris there he spotted a note that had meaning. It had been left with other papers and things in the mess on the desktop.
“Listen,” he called out then read out loud to the others;
Dis note is for yer eyes only Jon.
We found something. Was deep down under. We tunnel deep. Deeper than before.
You go see. You find out. Go left and left to get to the place. Go down. You see.
Others know I been passing info to you. I do not think we meet again, Jon.
They coming to kill us all. They come from below. In deep tunnel. Go left, you will see.
[Here there is a large splatter of fresh blood and the rest of the note is illegible.]
You been good friend,
While Phlebus had been searching the desk, Torgin had been looking around the office. There were large samples of different kinds of stone blocks in one part; some of them were stones he had never seen before. It almost seemed like the stone was aware of him. It spooked him enough to move away to another area. He found the supply depot in another corner, and looked instead at supplies for mining; shovels, axes, and pails. But the most chilling thing in the room was a stone statue of a kobold with an expression of terror on its face. Torgin could not ignore it for long and found himself facing the statue for a long time before he spoke.
“Looks like he didn’t make it out.” Torgin patted the shoulder of the statue. “No wonder they attacked us without warning. They were already under attack from something else, all right.”
“Where’s Jon?” Lucy asked looking around.
“Not here,” Phlebus confirmed. “I wonder if he made it to his meeting before these kobolds were attacked or if he even saw this message.”
“Do you think Jon might have gone to find the something the kobolds found?”
“Yes, I do.” Phlebus spoke quietly. “And even if he didn’t, we are going to go find it ourselves. There is something down there that we need to see. We better be ready, there are probably more kobolds around, I saw several run out of the room while we were fighting.”
“And whatever attacked them is probably still around as well.” Zyrina added.
“Oh, great.” Lucy was packing up her herbs after having tended the last of the injuries while the others searched the room. “What now?”
Phlebus looked up again from the note he was rereading.
Zyrina grinned, “I think we go see what the kobolds found and dug up. Let’s see what spooked them so bad that they attacked us on sight.”
Phlebus nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”
Now rested, they each gathered their packs and bags which they had dropped at the entrance to the mining office. They filed out of the office and down the staircases, through the rotunda stepping over and around the bodies there. Zyrina bent and collected as many of her arrows as she could gather as they moved through the bodies and into the tunnel once again.
Lucy gathered the torches that had been flung when the fighting started and relit them from a torch on the wall. She handed Plebus one and kept one. Phlebus once again led the way with Torgin close behind. Lucy followed and Zyrina again guarded the rear as they moved quietly through the long passage. They found themselves far more alert than they had been while traipsing into the kobold quarter.
This time the slow walk through the dark tunnel felt even longer than the last eternity. When they found the juncture where a tunnel on the left went down, there was also an opening on the opposite side of the tunnel into a large cavern. Lucy had a peek inside.
“Um. You better come in here,” she called out to the others.
Inside the large cavern among the effects of miners who had abandoned their gear, axes, picks, pails, and a wagon to haul out the large stones that lay cut and ready to haul, Lucy had spied a corpse. He was quite old and wrinkled. She knew it hadn’t been long since he died because his lantern was still lit and the ink by the tipped over inkpot beside him was not dried out.
“Do you think this is Jon?” she asked, pointing to the corpse.
“Dunno yet, Lucy.” Zyrina knelt down to see if there was anything to identify the dead man. She found a scrap of paper tucked under his arm. “He’s still warm.”
“Not dead long then.” Phlebus clarified.
“Yes, it is him,” she smoothed the paper and brought it closer to Lucy’s torch to read out loud to the others who gathered around the fallen man, “I think this is his writing, listen.”
Last statement of Me, Jon The Caretaker
It was a trap!!
The Mining Foreman told me they dug deep an’ found some kinda treasure but it was a lie!! What they found were TROLLS!!…there was something else down there too. A little room I din’t have time to explore in when I was running from them trolls.
I ‘scaped back to this ol’ hotspring but a small pack of kobolds came running at me an’ injured me something fierce. They have went on full revolt now.
I leave anything I gots to Owain Byrd, my ol’ drinkin’ buddy.
they are coming….. I am too beaten and broken to continue…
“Well, I suspect he hasn’t been here all that long. It looks like he was just ahead of us.” Phlebus’s voice sounded sad and disappointed. “I wish we had gotten here in time to help him. I sure would have liked to know what he knew.”
“Phlebus, that’s callous.” Lucy scolded him.
“Ah, my apology Lucy. I wasn’t thinking of his family or friends, only my need. You are right.”
Torgin knelt a moment then spoke, “We are going down the tunnel, aren’t we?”
Phlebus nodded in the gloom but they all knew the answer.
“I wonder what’s in that room that Jon didn’t get to explore. Maybe that’s where the treasure is?” Zyrina speculated.
“I don’t know if it is treasure, Rina. It might be something else completely. The kobolds didn’t seem to know.”
Zyrina nodded and turned to leave.
“Hang on a minute,” Phlebus called out. He got himself ready to face yet another battle. “Trolls take some time to prepare for, don’t you think?”
Zyrina grinned, “Na, we have faced worse than a troll or two,” and she laughed. “Torgin’s digestion, for one.”
Laughing, Lucy clapped Torgin on the back, “There have been a few surprises already, like that sketchy meal at that inn just south of Midland. Remember? But trolls aren’t the worst thing in the world, especially with Torgin along.”
Torgin and Zyrina joined in the laughter and Phlebus broke down and joined in as well. It felt good to release some of the tension of the last few hours.
Lucy of course, had spread out a blanket and had a picnic set upon it by the time they finished laughing. “We aren’t going to battle trolls on an empty stomach.” She was firm and directed them all to the small wash basin she had set up for them, as well.
“How do you do that Lucy?” Zyrina wanted to know, choosing a sandwich.
“Practice.” Was all Lucy would say about that. “Eat. Eat! Eat!!”
Lucy was right, of course. They had no idea how much time had passed, and their hunger had built up. The sandwiches and fruit were a welcome break. It didn’t take long. Within moments of the last bit of remains of their picnic cleaned up and the basin packed again, Phlebus and the others were ready to carry on down the tunnel that they now knew ended in a battle with trolls, and possibly more kobolds if any had survived.