Baltrog emerged from his trance to find that Grimestoke was standing beside him, literally jumping up and down in excitement.
“Grimestoke,” said Baltrog. “What ever has you so excited.”
“I have them,” piped the gnome. “The dwarf and Yolanthe! They’re in the trap outside the door!”
Baltrog looked pleased. “Well done,” he said. “Shall we go take a look?”
The gnome led the way to the door of the study. He opened it with his elaborate key. On the other side of the door there were a few feet of floor then the shaft with Baltrog and Yolanthe had fallen into.
“One second,” said Grimestoke. He touched a spot on the doorframe. It made a clicking sound. “The fire trap,” he explained.
“Better safe than sorry,” said Baltrog.
The two stepped forward and looked over the edge of the shaft. Below them they could see the floor of the shaft, strewn with rushes. But there were no unconscious bodies lying on the floor. Instead there were two large stone blocks that had been pried from the wall of the shaft where the gas vent had been.
“It’s not possible,” said the gnome. He grabbed a candle from the wall and held it over the shaft to provide more illumination. There were no bodies to be seen.
“Where does that hole lead?” asked Baltrog, his voice unnaturally calm.
“Into a chamber beside my work area,” said Grimestoke. “That’s where I make the gas.”
“And, if I recall correctly,” said Baltrog calmly, “The weapons.”
The blood rushed from the gnome’s face.
“I think,” said Baltrog calmly, “That you should sound the alarm and recapture these people. Don’t you?”
The gnome nodded his head and began to fiddle with the door lock. Something made a clicking noise and the trap door slowly shut with the sound of grinding stone. As soon as it was in place the gnome started down the stairs.
“And Grimey,” said Baltrog before the gnome disappeared. “I’m not happy.”
The gnome’s face became even paler.
“Get ready,” said Yolanthe.
Voltag had made short work of the cheap mortar holding the block below the gas vent and they had squeezed through the opening he made when the block was pried loose. They landed in a small room cluttered with broken glass vials, metal tubing, and beakers of strangely coloured liquids. A halfling lay dead on the floor, Yolanthe’s arrow in his eye. Now they stood beside the door to the chamber, preparing to kick it down. Voltag had his axe ready and Yolanthe had an arrow cocked.
“Right,” said Voltag. “Me first, you shoot over my head.”
He kicked the door in and jumped into the room. It was a large laboratory filled with beakers, vials, books, astrolabs, dried animal parts, strange stones, brightly coloured powders, and countless machines. But there was no one guarding it.
“Empty,” said Voltag.
“Grimestoke is very protective of work,” said Yolanthe. “Look for anything we can use.”
They began to ransack the room. Voltag took special care to knock over and break as many machines as he could.
“Weapons,” said Yolanthe. She had opened a large storage cabinet to find it filled with strange weapons. Her attention was immediately drawn to the arrows. There were dozens of them, all different, all unusual in some way or another. Some had strange fletching made of bizarre materials or attached to the arrow shaft in unusual patterns. Other had strange points, some large and apparently made of crystal, others made of metal, still others of materials Yolanthe did not recognize. Rather than try to sort through them she took them all.
Voltag stood beside her. “Anything I can use?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Yolanthe replied. They scanned the racks of odd weapons. There were spears, maces, swords, halberds, chain whips, and weapons that did not have names. Most of them were covered in complex machinery, gears and levers that served functions that neither of them could guess. Voltag focused on a small collection of battle axes.
“Bunch of silly toys,” he sneered.
“Maybe,” said Yolanthe. “But I recognize this.”
She held up a glass vial of a blue liquid. It had a stopper with a long stem on its underside that dipped into the liquid.
“Dab this on the blade of you axe,” she said. “But don’t get any on your hands.”
“Will it hurt the metal?” Voltag asked.
“No. It will just make it pretty.”
As Voltag gingerly wiped the blue liquid on the curved blade of his axe, Yolanthe continued to search the laboratory. She found and pocketed a set of keys, a scroll with a map on it, and a sheaf of notes that had the word “Important!” written on the top page.
There were running footsteps outside the laboratory’s main door.
“They’re here,” said Voltag, putting away the vial and hefting his axe.
“Right,” said Yolanthe, nocking the first arrow she drew from her quiver, one of Grimestoke’s strange creations.
“Do we wait for them to come in, or do we go after them?” asked the dwarf.
“Let’s wait,” replied Yolanthe.
The running footsteps of at least six people came to a stop just beyond the heavy wooden door. Voltag and Yolanthe could hear a whispered conference on the other side.
“I’m getting bored,” growled Voltag.
As if in response to his comment, the door began to open slowly. Before it was more than a few inches open, Yolanthe let the arrow fly. It streaked across the laboratory, through the narrow crack of the open door and into the hallway beyond where it exploded. The blast blew the door inward off its hinges and sent slivers of wood and laboratory equipment throughout the room. Yolanthe ducked behind a table while Voltag threw himself to the floor.
When the dust and smoke had settled the two fighters climbed to their feet and assessed the damage. The explosive arrow had killed everyone in the hallway. Body parts were scattered on the floor and blood covered the wall. The laboratory was totally destroyed. What was left of the door had crashed into the far wall of the room.
“Not bad,” admitted Voltag.
“Next time I’ll use a big one,” said Yolanthe.
Without another word they ran from the laboratory, stepping over the mounds of leaking flesh that had once been guards, and turned left down the corridor.
“Do you know your way?” asked Voltag as they ran.
“We’re headed for the dungeon,” said Yolanthe. “Beyond that there’s a staircase. There will be guards.”
“Right,” said Voltag. “I lead.”
The dwarf jogged ahead of the half-elf. He held his axe in both hands, horizontal across his chest, the blade pointed down so that it acted as a shield across his upper body. Its effectiveness was proven as soon as he rounded the first corner for an orc stepped out and jabbed at his chest with a halberd. The weapon broke against the heavy metal of the axe blade. Before the orc could understand what had happened the axe swung up through his neck. Voltag ran on without missing a stride but Yolanthe had to jump over the orc’s head, the face of which registered profound surprise.
The corridor ahead of them had two doors set into the right-side wall and a door of iron bars at the end.
“Straight ahead,” said Yolanthe, feet behind the dwarf.
The dwarf barreled past the first closed door on his right without a second glance. But as Yolanthe passed the door it swung open and an orc guard lurched out of it. Yolanthe heard the door open behind her. She jumped lightly in the air, spinning around. Before she had turned 180 degrees she had nocked an arrow in her bow. When she reached 180 degrees she let the arrow fly into the throat of the heavily armed orc. When she landed she was again facing forward and running behind the dwarf. She had not lost any distance.
The next door in the corridor burst open before either of the fighters reached it. An orc and some unrecognizable humanoid creature jumped into the hallway and stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the way. Both were armed with spears that they held defensively directed at the charging escapees. Both wore heavy breastplates and helmets.
“Right,” shouted Voltag over his shoulder.
“Left,” replied Yolanthe.
The dwarf was almost on the spear point of the monster on the right side of the corridor when he swung his axe, the blade held broadside, against the spear forcing it against the wall of the corridor. Voltag used the momentum to spin around while dropping to his haunches. His axe swung in a vicious arc through the legs of the monster. Voltag, his momentum slowed a bit, jumped up and unto the upper body of the creature. It fell off its severed legs onto its back where it thrashed in agony as it bled to death. The two legs continued to stand in the corridor.
The other creature was so astounded by the fate of its colleague that it turned its head to gape, allowing Yolanthe a clear shot through the lattice work on the side of its helmet. The half-elf ranger put an arrow through its ear with such force that it came part way out of the other. The creature died so quickly that it did not fall until Yolanthe had run past it.
Voltag ran to the door of iron bars and shook it.
“It’s locked,” he said.
“Try the axe,” Yolanthe said. “Get it up to speed.”
Casting her a suspicious glance, Voltag began to swing his axe in front of him in a figure-eight pattern. Just when it got fast enough to begin to whistle, the blue liquid that he had smeared on the blade began to leave trails of blue flame in the air.
“By Moradin’s eye teeth,” said the dwarf behind a swirling knot of blue light.
“Now try the bars,” said Yolanthe.
Voltag stepped forward, gingerly bringing the speeding blade into contact with the iron bars. He braced himself for the impact of steel hitting iron, but instead found himself stepping back as the irons bars tumbled into bits at his feet.
He slowed the axe down to a stop and looked at the door. The axe blade had cut through the bars as though they were paper. A large figure-eight shaped hole was neatly cut into them.
“Not a bad trick,” admitted Voltag.
“We’ll talk about it later,” said Yolanthe. She jumped ahead of the amazed dwarf, through the hole in the bars, and into Grimestoke’s torture chamber.
It was a large room with a dozen cells opening into it. Each of the cells was behind an iron bar door. The central room was dominated by instruments of torture. There were racks, iron maidens, thumbscrews, various hammers, tongs, and knives. There was also a large incredibly complicated machine that neither Voltag nor Yolanthe recognized. The cells all contained filthy heaps of hay and small bowls of water.
Voltag and Yolanthe spun in the direction of the sound. It had come from one of the cells. They could see no one.
“Help,”came the weak voice again.
Their weapons ready, the dwarf and half-elf approached one of the cells. Lying in a nest of hay was a small man, a halfling. His clothes were rags and his slight frame so emaciated that he appeared more bones than flesh. His body was covered in wounds, many of them leaking fluids. One leg and one arm were bent at impossible angles. He weakly raised his head as the two approached.
“Help me,” he said.
Yolanthe began to search the room for keys while Voltag spoke to the man. “Who are you?” he asked.
The question seemed to confuse the man. Finally he answered, “My name is Carl. I can’t remember the rest.”
“Why are you here?” asked the dwarf.
“I came from Seatorn. A diplomat,” said the halfling, waving his hand weakly.
Yolanthe appeared with a large key. She opened the cell door and knelt down beside the halfling. “What happened to you?” she asked.
“Torture,” said the little man. “He tortured me. All the others are dead.” He waved at the empty cells. “He used that machine.”
Voltag and Yolanthe followed his gaze to the complicated machine that stood in one corner of the dungeon. It seemed to be a combination of a rack, iron maiden, and press.
“Can we help you?” asked the dwarf.
The little man whispered something.
“Louder, man,” said Voltag.
The little man gestured for the dwarf to bring his ear closer. Voltag bent down and listened, then stood up, grim-faced.
“What does he want?” asked Yolanthe.
“He wants me to kill him,” said the dwarf.
Voltag and Yolanthe looked at each other. She nodded yes.
“I’ve never killed a helpless man,” said Voltag. “My clan does not allow it.”
“Please,” gasped Carl.
Voltag turned towards the wall. When he turned around again his face was betrayed no emotion, though his eyes were unnaturally bright.
“Don’t watch,” he said to Yolanthe.
She walked to the far end of the dungeon and studied the bars of one of the cages. She heard the dwarf whisper something. Then she heard the blade of his axe sweep through the air.
A few seconds later Voltag spoke. “Do the machine,” he said.
Yolanthe turned around to see the dwarf standing by the door leading out of the dungeon. He was gripping the handle of his axe so tightly that his knuckles were white. His eyes, almost invisible beneath his beard and eyebrows, shone with a dark intensity that Yolanthe found frightening.
She pulled one of Grimestoke’s more elaborate arrows from her quiver and fired it at the machine. The arrowhead shattered on contact, spraying a liquid over the machine. No sooner did the liquid touch the metal that it began to rust and crumble. As the dwarf and half-elf watched, the machine began to fall apart. Within minutes it was a pile of red dust and metal flakes on the dungeon floor.
“Is this the way?” asked Voltag, jerking his head at the doorway he stood beside.
“Yes,” she said. “It leads up to the main entry hall. There’s a door there to the main hall. Most of the rest of the building branches off from the hall.”
“Will he be there?” asked the dwarf.
“He must be,” she replied.
“Don’t get in front of me,” said Voltag.
The dwarf began to breath deeply. Soon his entire body was rocking with the force of the breaths. Just when Yolanthe thought he might pass out from hyperventilating the dwarf raised his axe above his head and roared. The sound was part war cry, part animal howl. She could not imagine how the small man made such a loud noise. Yolanthe was about to put her hands over her ears when the noise stopped. Before she could gather her breath the dwarf was charging up the stairs.