The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 5

Dark Under was created when the skravyn were sealed in the tunnels of Nevre. Dark magics seeped out from the sealed portal and creatures in the tunnel were twisted by it. The survivors of Dark Under speak of a darkness darker than black and an oppressive dread. They also say that if you turn around then you may yet survive.

Though most creatures from Dark Under stay below the ground some of them have been seen above the surface. The noxious flyers periodically fly out in small numbers, and every hundred years or so a flight of hundreds razes the surrounding landscape. Gaseous tendrils, gas sacs with tentacles that range from small floating balls to giant lumbering bags of flesh that can no longer float have been known to terrorize small towns. Skittering creepers have replaced many large insects on the surface of Nevre.

In the deeps of the Forest of the Elves, where not even the elves go, the skittering creepers have taken a niche as the apex predator. Every few decades the elves have to push them back or risk the forest being overtaken. The skittering creepers that still live in Dark Under are much more fearsome than their surface brethren. Few have escaped alive from encountering these roaming packs.

– Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, The Scholar

The Commander led his legion of clockwork minions into the Dark Under. They entered just south of The Fount of The Gods. The tunnel lead to a dwarven citadel, now destroyed and overrun. When the clockwork army arrived at the citadel The Commander walked to a group of dwarves to confer with them.

“So, what are you planning to do with these strange clockwork things?” The lead dwarf stepped forward.

“They are going to help us take back your kingdom from the Dark Under. I told you I had an army.” The Commander motioned towards the tens of thousands of three foot tall clockwork foot soldiers. “They may be small, but there are more than enough of them to take care of dark creatures. We also have a large reinforcement pool that will send in more every day after we begin fighting. Don’t worry, we will rid the realm of the Dark Under scourge.”

One of the dwarves spoke up. “I think we should just take back a few cities to start. We don’t want to cause a mass exodus of creatures. They’ll wreak havoc on our surface dwelling brethren.”

The lead dwarf turned back to the speaker. “That sounds like a small price to pay brother.” He turned back to The Commander. “We shall bring the rest of our clan as promised. What I don’t understand is what exactly you are getting out of this deal. We seem to be getting the best out of this, and most other gods seem to ask much out of a deal.”

“I did tell you that I’m keeping any metal that I find in the tunnels…other than structural metal. I don’t want the tunnels collapsing on my clockwork automatons…or your men.” The Commander turned his back on the dwarves. “Also, I will be getting one hundredth of the metal you mine as tribute. Surely you knew about that.”

“That I did, but it will take us a while to get mining again.” The Commander didn’t seem to respond to this so the dwarf turned back to his men. “Yordut, you’re our fastest scout. Go tell the army that The Commander is commencing attack.”

One of the dwarves pushed out from the group and started moving against the flow of the clockwork soldiers. He quickly disappeared from view.

The first automatons to enter Dark Under lit a few torches, and continued on. The inky darkness was thick as smoke around them, but they didn’t notice. The first creature they encountered was a skittering creeper, a small one, and they dispatched it easily. Shortly afterwards there was a pack of sleeping noxious flyers that felt the sting of metal arrows. Then, the first gaseous tendrils appeared. The smaller ones were able to zip around and avoid the arrows for a time, but they too fell to arrows. A pack of skittering creepers put up a fight, but the metal army triumphed with few losses.

The automatons had barely entered Dark Under. The creatures that they had encountered so far were those that had been seen on the surface.

The zarxii were once humans. Over time they were twisted by the dark magics of Dark Under and were turned into the fascinating creatures that they are.

The zarxii have their own legends about creatures, but they never shared those legends with outsiders. From what I’ve been able to research, not even the gods know these stories. I believe The Scholar has some lore, but I’ve been unable to trade for it at the time of this work. Perhaps I will find something worthy of that information in the future.

Other races born of Dark Under include Salamen and Skravyn (for their form was forever changed during their imprisonment).

– Excerpt from the writings of Jergolt, the Scholar

 

 

The dwarves split into groups of five and started to take side passages as the clockwork army continued down the large passages. Though few of them had been underground before in their lives they felt more at home here than on the surface.

“Well, let’s do this.” Barbog turned down a side tunnel and motioned to the rest of his group to follow. “Gerval, bring me the lantern. It’s bloody dark in here.”

Gerval moved through the other three dwarves and handed the lantern to Barbog. “This is a strange darkness. I’ve never seen anything this dark before.” He pulled a dirk from his side and made a cutting motion in the air. The darkness appeared to have been cut and then flowed back. “The air is no thicker than before, but the darkness almost seems like a fog.”

Verto pulled out his own dirk and cut the air in the same way. “Odd, if I didn’t know any better I’d say that it’s a physical incarnation of dark magic energy.”

“It is, the dark magics are so powerful down here. It’s getting thicker all the time.” Nargit, the group’s mage started to cast a spell.

“Whoa,” Jangov exclaimed. “Don’t cast anything in here, it might backfire!”

A soft glow of light appeared on Nargit’s fingertips. “Relax, it’s just a spell of light. I want to see if it pushes back the darkness at all.” The thick darkness did seem to back away from the magical light, but then a strange screeching noise came from further down the passage. “Better put out the spell. I think I might’ve drawn some attention to us.”

“I told you that was a bad idea.” Jangov unsheathed the katana from his side and held it at the ready.

“Let’s investigate. That’s what we’re here for.” Barbog started forward again towards the screeching sound. “Ready your weapons.” He handed the lantern to Gerval and pulled two short swords from his back. “We’re going to see what else lives here in the dark.”

The group of dwarves moved forward, the inky texture of darkness filling the black once again. They moved like this for a while until they reached a cavern. It was difficult to tell how big it was with the thick darkness. The dwarves had a sense that this cavern was bigger than any that they had seen on their way there.

“Looks like we stumbled upon a main cavern. There’s probably multiple entrances to this place. Verto, go alert the clockwork soldiers. The taller ones are more likely to understand you than the short ones. Tell one of them if you can.” Verto moved back the way they had come, and paused only long enough to light a torch on the lantern that Gerval was holding.

Barbog, Gerval, Jangov, and Nargit started forward into the cavern. Barbog with his two short swords, Gerval with his dirk, Jangov with his claymore, and Nargit with his quarterstaff. They had no idea what lay ahead of them in the darkness, but they couldn’t afford to wait. The two of them that had a hand free lit torches from the lantern in Gerval’s hand, and lifted them high.

A sudden movement in front of the dwarves caught their attention. A large, twenty foot long salamander-like creature made its way into the light. It had no eyes, and its skin was translucent. It stood five feet tall from foot to the top of its head. What made it more than a simple cave salamander was the number of legs, and the spines along its back. At the tip of the tail was four horn-like spikes. Its six legs allowed it to lift up the front third of its body and use its front legs as arms. The two front legs had sharp claws on them, unlike the other legs.

The dwarves stood there, frozen by the sight of the strange creature. The creature opened its mouth and emitted the screeching noise that they had heard earlier.

Nargit put the quarterstaff in its place on his back and started to cast a spell. The creature immediately turned towards him and moved forward. This jolted the other three dwarves out of their stupor and they too sprung into action.

Verto heard the screams of his companions’ deaths behind him, but continued forward. He knew he could not aid his companions and that the best course of action was to send reinforcements, even if that meant abandoning them. But no, he wasn’t abandoning them. He was following the last order given by Barbog. Getting reinforcements to kill whatever had killed them would be the best way to avenge them. He couldn’t do that alone. He needed the clockwork soldiers and more dwarves to accomplish that, and that is what he would do.

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