Adventures of the Cursed Eight 1.3

More D&D goodness! Two more members join the party…

The story continues from where it left off in the Adventures of the Cursed Eight: 1.2

1.3 The Quest

As she was ushered into the impressive main hall of the Imperial Headquarters, Kathra Dankil looked around in curious fascination at the odd group standing around her.

She had been accompanied to the center of a great hall in the heart of St. Vornias’ Keep. To her left were two of most dissimilar elves she had ever seen. The farthest from her was dressed in dark clothes and carried herself hesitantly, as if she was not used to being at the center of attention. A lock of rebellious pink hair protruded from under a heavy hood. Her companion was dressed in furs and leathers, a barbaric nomad of the plains who appeared utterly unmoved and even a tad annoyed at her current predicament.

On her right side, there was a gnome. Obviously a traveler and a forest dweller, he seemed oddly serene despite the fact that he was surrounded by people almost three times his size. The only things he seemed to be interested in were his hands, which he kept staring at wonderingly. The last member of their motley crew was a stocky dwarven soldier. Although she was a dwarf herself, Kathra was unfamiliar with the symbols on his armor; she deduced that he probably hailed from the Halls of Argathod. He had a stern look to his face, but behind it, she could see something else; a deep wound in his soul, not yet healed. He carried a massive iron maul, a wicked object that had seen much conflict and reeked of death and destruction. She shivered slightly.

Kathra herself seemed to be completely out of place in these surroundings: she was a hill dwarf, garbed in the simple clothes of a hill druid. Compared to her eccentric companions she seemed to blend discreetly into her surroundings. She had traveled far from her home in the west on a personal journey to aid the creatures of Syrros, whatever they may be. Her calling had brought her to the Keep on the eve of battle. Therefore, she had offered her services as a healer and for three days, she had toiled without respite to save the bodies and spirits of the wounded soldiers that were wheeled into the infirmary. Through her tireless efforts, she had gained no small measure of respect with the local garrison of Imperial troops. It was for this reason that she had been surprised when soldiers had come to summon her to see Major “Iron-Fist” Zigarn.

She looked around.

The great hall was a simple square; behind them, she felt the natural aura of the great oak doors they had walked through seconds earlier. At the far end of the hall was a roaring fireplace that warmed the cold room considerably. Many stories above her head, she could see walkways crisscrossing under the great wooden beams that supported the roof. Here and there, light filtered in through stained-glass windows casting odd colors on to the stone floor.

However, the atmosphere was not at all welcoming. Lining the walls were thirty Imperial guards in full uniform, their backs rigid as planks, their weapons held in unyielding grips.

On the far right side of the hall, a door opened and the guards parted to admit two imposing figures.

The first was Zigarn, commander of the Keep and of the Imperial Infantry. He was a large dwarf with long red hair and a beard, both neatly combed and meticulously braided with steel links. He was currently dressed in his ceremonial armor and although it was not as massive as the one worn by the Argathodian dwarf, it was nonetheless an imposing sight. It was covered in gold leaf that had been worked to represent the myth of the foundation of the Empire: Jaresh Detorak, the Unifier, striding amongst the many peoples of Dersorrah, making the broken kingdoms whole again. Above him, shining gloriously on the center of the breastplate was the Ice Shard, the Imperial coat of arms.

The second person to enter was dressed in more somber clothes. Her long midnight blue cloak marked her as an Imperial Scout and the darker bands on her shoulder as a major. The one exceptional element about her was that she was a drow, one of the deep-dwelling dark-skinned elves. This elusive race was seldom seen on the surface and entertained strained relations with the rest of the inhabitants of Syrros.

Particularly their surface-dwelling cousins.

As the drow’s gaze scanned the room, her dark eyes rested on the two elves. Her face maintained an utterly neutral expression, but Kathra was sure she had seen a spasm of disgust cross her features.

“This must be the infamous Major Nisthian, leader of the Scouts,” the dwarf druid thought to herself. What little she knew of the elusive commander of the Empire’s most elite division of infiltrators was the stuff of legend. She was reputed to be a deadly warrior, who could easily pass through enemy lines like a specter.

The two high-ranking officials sat down behind a large table and Zigarn began rifling through a stack of scrolls. For some moments, nothing -save for the soft rustling of hands through paper- broke the uncomfortable silence.

Finally, the Major looked up and an annoyed expression twisted his face into a sour scowl.

“Let’s get this over with, shall we?” his gruff voice echoed out in the wide space.

“You are all misfits: vagrants, pacifists, criminals and worse.” The last word was accompanied by a disdainful glare that he seemed to address to the dwarf to Kathra’s left.

“How and why you found your way to this Keep is none of my concern; the less I know about you the better. The reason why I have had you brought here is that the Imperial Army is moving out. As such, most of our forces have already departed for the new battlefront and only a handful remain to tidy the Keep. Of course, that’s exactly when the blasted undead decided to start HAVIN’ A JOLLY OLD TIME OF IT!” His last words were yelled, spittle spattering the floor in front of him.

He took a moment to recompose himself.

“Due to the fact that I have no more men at my disposal, I have decide to enlist your sorry hides to solve the problem. You will be taken to the Temple, where Father Silin will guide you to the entrance of the catacombs. You will descend, stop whatever is making the deceased restless and return. Do this, and I will let you leave this Keep, free and with your crimes expunged. If you fail, don’t bother coming back.”

Silence greeted these words, as the unlikely party looked at each other dubiously.

“When did the dead begin to rise?” asked the hooded elf quietly.

Zigarn looked down at one of the scrolls in front of him, then up at the pink-haired thief.

“Shainarra Liadon, is it? A little far from Dereillon aren’t we?” he sneered. “To answer your question, the undead creatures began emerging from the sacred crypt one day after the battle started. Thankfully, we still had enough soldiers to push them back. After we did, Father Silin enchanted the doorway with a sigil of Gerotil. None of those buggers have come up since, but they prevent the priests from accessing the hallowed burials.”

Shainarra turned her head to look at the drow.

“Will that unholy bitch be accompanying us?” she spat.

Kathra cringed.

Major Nisthian rose and glared in the direction of the mocking elf rogue.

“I have other business to attend to. A pity; I would have enjoyed seeing the angry spirits rips your flesh from your bones.” In a flash, she had vaulted the table and standing mere inches from Shainarra.

“And had they been unable to finish tearing you limb from limb,” she hissed menacingly, “I would have gladly done it for them, thief.”

“That’s quite enough Major!” exclaimed Zigarn, more than a little unnerved. The drow regained her seat, grinning coolly back at the two elves.

“Now, if everybody had finished playing around, I suggest you get to it! Guards, escort them to th-“

“Lemme go, Lemme go! I’ll bite your buggering ear off! Leggo you fat bastard!”

The yell had come from the behind them; a loud commotion rang out as soldiers shouted out to one another in panic. Seconds later, the doors burst open and five guards marched through, carrying between them a small struggling figure.

“I’ll kill you all! You’re nothing but a bunch of latrine-headed dingle berries!”

Siloqui snorted slightly, as barely contained laughter threatened to burst from her shaking form.

“What in the name of our good Emperor is all this?!” cried a very red-faced Zigarn

“Sorry for the interruption Major, but we found this half-orc child and his wolf by the Naughty Nymph, stealing apples from a vendor. Initially we tried to have him return the apples and let him off with a warning, him being a child and all…”

Zigarn began to tap his foot impatiently and the soldier quickly resumed his tale. “But he attacked us sir, and incapacitated three men before we could tie him down.”

The half-orc in question glowered between the five armored men holding him to the floor. Kathra noted that he truly appeared to be a child of no more than ten winters; but although he was small in stature his bulging muscles and barbaric outfit betrayed a formidable strength, born of his natural heritage and a hard existence. Other than the distinctive tusks he had inherited, the child had bright red hair and wild eyes. On his back, he carried a massive great axe.

Suddenly the drow lifted her head and stared past the struggling mass to the doorway. Almost instinctively, all eyes seemed to follow her piercing gaze.

Standing in under the arch was a massive wolf. It was clear by the color of its pelt and the size of its feet that it was still a pup, barely three years old. In size however, it already surpassed even the largest of the scraggly wolves that haunted the plains of Sheltoth.

“Dire wolf,” whispered Siloqui in admiration.

The wolf looked at the assembled party and uncaringly trotted over to his tied-up half-orc companion, who was still hurling insults left and right, his eyes tinged red with rage. Without so much as a worried twinge, the great animal sat back on its haunches and gave his companion a big face-drenching lick.

The boy was instantly fell silent, a look of baffled confusing playing across his features.

Major Zigarn, now a little confused himself, rose and walked around the table. Hesitantly he stooped down until he was face to face with the boy. The young dire wolf let out a low growl, but thought better of it when confronted with the Major’s steely glare.

“What are your names, half-orc?”

The boy looked up disdainfully.

“I am Grell, and the rabid beast that will soon tear your heart out is Bane! We are barbarians! From the North!” the boy stated proudly.

Zigarn looked at Bane, who at present appeared to be incredibly fascinated with catching his tail.

“I’m sure that is the case,” he muttered wearily as he rose back up from his leaning position. “Fine, you will also join this merry band of thieves and outcasts. Take them to the Temple!” he ordered. He didn’t wait for any further comments, but just picked up the scrolls on the table and left the room. The ranger followed quietly in his footsteps.

“Well, this ought to be fun,” muttered Thorin, as he shouldered his pack and battle-hammer. “Temple, what Temple?” jabbered Grell excitedly, the tough-guy act immediately forgotten at the promise of adventure. “Can I smash stuff?”

The story continues in the Adventures of the Cursed Eight: 1.4

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