The Provinces of Veterumterrum

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Chapter 6

The Jeweled Mountains

Baron Von Riker

As they neared the mountain the stars came out and filled the night sky. Riker remembered the night before and upon looking at the constellations he imagined the promise he had made to the Phoenix and a tingle buzzed up his spine into the base of his skull. Only when the felling subsided did he lean over to speak to Bomur whom rode next to him. “Are you a holy man?” Riker asked.

“I put holes in my enemies,” Bomur replied jokingly.

Riker stiffened. “Never mind,” he said then faced forward.

“I believe in the gods’ power,” Bomur followed. “But my brothers and I choose to take fate into our own hands.”

“How has that worked out for you?” Riker asked.

Bomur thought for a moment and said, “Whether things go well for us or not, we can at least have comfort knowing that there is no one to blame but ourselves.”

Riker smiled and said, “I suppose that is a comforting thought.”

A few minutes later the group entered the mountains from a graveled path that sloped upward into a gorge between two steep stone cliff faces. On the right of the gorge was a tall sparkling waterfall that fell into a flooded marsh below the sloped path. Jared and his warbound collected the sparkling water from the fall with glass bottles and their waterskins.

“Is there something important about the water here?” Riker asked.

Jared brought a glass of the water to Riker and said, “The waters from the mountain carries mineral deposits with it.”

“What is so interesting about these minerals?” Vylasgarden asked as she placed her clawed hand in the sparkling fall.

“It is said that the dwarves who mine these mountains drink and consume the mountain’s minerals. They believe it restores vitality during a long day of work,” Jared answered then took a long drink of the water.

“Fascinating,” Vylasgarden replied then took a taste the water for herself. Riker decided to try some as well and drank from his cupped hands. It was salty but not overbearingly so.

“They say that ‘salt and stone will make strong bone.’ At least, I think that is how that goes,” Durbal said packing his bottles away.

“The Jeweled Mountain must be a main attraction of the Zion Province then,” Riker considered.

“I have heard stories of travelers coming far and wide to collect and trade gems and minerals from the mountain dwarves. Unfortunately for the dwarves, trade outside the empire is forbidden. Since the start of the empire’s rain the clan in these mountains keep to themselves unless the empire require their skill,” Jared said after mounting his horse again.

“Where is the Clan?” Llorva asked.

“Perhaps inside or under the mountain. Few people are welcomed inside their walls. I am sure we will see signs of them as we travel through,” Jared replied.

Llorva

The group continued with only the moon’s light to guide their path. Jared’s statement about the dwarves had proven to be true. As the group wound up the path they noticed the collapsed and worn sculptures of dwarf folk and various animals. Most sculptures on the path were made of stone or granite, but others were found strategically placed high on the two cliff sides of the gorge where they looked down on the travelers. These mysterious statues were made of dark obsidian and their eyes were made of diamond.

Beautiful, Llorva thought. These great statues looked more stoic and well-kept. The crumbled statues looked older than the erect ones, like they were switched out for a better set. If she met any of the mountain dwarves, she would be sure to ask about the statues. After about another hour the group decided to stop and take their rest at the peak of a incline. They were several meters above the base of the mountain and the horses’ knees shook from fatigue. Ahead of them the path continued downward and forked under a left and right underpass. The left underpass circled and led further up the incline and the right continuing downward to the mountain’s opposite end.

“The right side is where we will go in the morning,” Jared said tying his horse’s lead rope to a pillar. Llorva studied the area around the party. It looked like a holy site some hundreds of years ago for clerics and their followers. Jared recognized Llorva’s curiosity and spoke to her. “Legend tells of the mountain dwarves worshiping their gods only at the peak of hills and mountains. It is their way of being as close to holliness as possible,” he said to her.

“What gods did the dwarves worship?” Vylasgarden asked.

“No one knows for sure,” Jared replied. “Like many of the old gods, they are forgotten in time.” As they all settled their belongings, Llorva noticed something catching the eye of one of Jared’s human brothers, Perry.

“Everyone. Come look,” he whispered. They all joined him and saw something strange a few meters down the declining path. It had looked like a free-floating ball of light and it sat there at the crossroad bobbing in place. At first sight, Llorva assumed it to be another pixie but this was different. This thing looked like a translucent ball of colorful smoke. She could not see a tiny person within it.

Surely this is the work of magic, Riker said aloud.

Riker then looked at Perry. He was perhaps the youngest of Jared’s warbound and therefore the youngest of their party. Llorva concluded that Perry was the least confident of the warbound; in fact, she had only paid attention to him in this moment because he never seemed as frightening as his brothers. In contrast, it was a true wonder why Jared chose Perry to be in his special warbound. “Perry, do you want to go check that out for us?” Riker asked him. Perry frozen in place. “Since you are a member of Jared’s legendary warbound, why don’t you go investigate what that is for all of us?”

A sound escaped Perry’s trembling mouth, “Uh…”

“Go on then, show the women how fearless you are,” Jared encouraged as he gave Perry a slap on his back. After one look at Llorva and Vylasgarden, Perry reluctantly agreed to investigate. Llorva rolled her eyes as Perry went and tucked behind some boulders. He peered from them and stealthily approached the bobbing ball of light. It certainly looked magical but Llorva could not figure it out.

Was it some mage’s illusion? Was it a creature? The closer Perry got to it, the more curious Llorva became. Perry then revealed himself in plain sight. The flickering ball of light startled then eagerly floated toward him. Perry flinched but the ball of light stopped inches away from his face and changed from blue to white light. Perry relaxed a bit and the ball of light flickered again and made strange sounds that sounded like muffled whispers.

Perry reached up and felt a warm sensation that radiated from the light’s core. The light made an echoing giggle and Perry smiled. He cupped the ball of light into his hands and carried it back to the group.

“Don’t tell me that the fuss was all over a wee firefly,” Bomur said as Perry approached with his hands cupped together.

“It’s not a firefly and whatever it is, it is alive,” Perry responded.

“You are saying the light is some kind of creature,” Riker accused.

“Look for yourself,” Perry said before opening his hands and revealed nothing.

“Is this a joke?” Jared growled.

Perry began to stammer. “I swear… It was here,” Perry insisted. Llorva noticed a white light appear behind Perry’s back and a faint giggle that none of them would make. Perry started to look under rocks and peaked behind pillars but the light did not reveal itself to him. All else saw that the creature was playing a game with him. Perry fell onto the ground in defeat and the ball of light hovered over his head like a halo.

“It would seem that our guest is a jester,” Jared said as everyone surrounded Perry and the light.

“What does it want Perry?” Riker commanded.

“I don’t think it wants anything,” Perry replied looking at the light above him. The light changed its color from white to bright green and it began making the strange echoing whispers again.

“That is a bit creepy,” Lemuel commented.

“What is it?” Llorva huffed.

“Perhaps a spirit of some kind,” Vylasgarden answered. They all turned toward her, eyes searching for an explanation. Then Riker stepped forward in front of the bobbing light and faced to the group.

“It’s the infamous mountain light of soul eating!” Riker exclaimed with a shocked face. Everyone gasped. Bomur and Jared grappled their weapons. Riker began laughing. “I’m just being facetious, I have no idea what this is,” he said then turned his attention back to the ball of light. He drew his rapier and pointed it at the ball of light. “Friend or foe?” he dramatically asked it.

“You are impossible,” Llorva said thowing a pebble at Riker’s head. The ball of light giggled then began to dance around Riker. Bobbing up and down as it orbited him.

“Is it attacking him?” Bomur asked in a state of confusion.

“I think it is friendly,” Jared answered putting his axe down. Riker sat on the ground and took out his lyre from his knapsack. The ball of light continued to dance but this time it danced around the group with each person. As everyone took a turn to dance with the light, Riker played his beautiful music. Eventually other balls of light emerged from the mountain’s crevices and joined the festivity as the group and the lights danced under the moonlight.

After some time, Riker stopped playing and asked the lights a question. “Can you all help us find the quickest way out of the mountain and to the Shinning City?” The first ball of light stopped its dancing then hovered in front of Riker. “Do you understand what I am saying?” Riker asked and the light made a strange noise. Riker could not decipher the light’s meaning but suddenly all the lights in the area suddenly vanished at once.

“Aww! You made them go away!” Bomur growled.

“Wait,” Perry announced. “There, look at the crossroad,” he said pointing in that direction. The lights reappeared in a row leading through the left underpass.

“Should we follow them?” Jared asked.

“We need to rest,” Llorva insisted.

“This may be our only chance to follow them,” Riker argued. “I think we should at least see where they lead us,” he said as he turned to Llorva. “I know we are tired but I think we should push forward just a little more.”

By now Llorva was too tired to argue. She considered Riker’s suggestion and a thought came to her, the lights may lead us to a dwarf settlement. At least there we shall have a roof over our heads. Llorva and Riker exchanged a nod. “What do you think Jared? Up for another bound?” Riker asked.

“We have been making good time thus far. Why not,” Jared countered. The group repacked their belongings and mounted their horses. As they followed the flickering lights into the night, the lights at the end of the line would vanish when the leading horse came close to it. Then it would reappear at the front of the line. At nearly an hour the line of lights had lead the group to a ledge on the opposite face of the mountain. Out in the distance and over the tree line the group could see a large city illuminated by thousands upon millions of touches and braziers.

“Is that it Jared?” Riker asked.

Jared gazed at the view and said, “Yes, that is it. The Shining City.”

“I have never seen such a large city,” Vylasgarden remarked.

“Let us continue. If we keep going into the night we should make it there by late morning,” Jared said taking the lead following the lights. The line of lights led them into a declining path back into the heart of the mountain and it gradually became increasingly steep as the slope fed into the mouth of a cave. “Carful. It gets quite steep at this point,” Jared called out behind him as his horse entered the cave. His voice echoed loudly amidst the cave’s stone walls and suddenly bats from the cave’s ceiling took flight, spooking the horses. The shift in their weight caused the gravel beneath their hooves to volley and one by one the horses slid down the slope, taking the group of travelers with them.

The horses whined in fear as the swarm of bats further disoriented anyone trying to gain control of their horses. Llorva lunged off her horse and tumbled down the graveled slope as bats collided into her face and body. The sloped ended at an edge at the back of the cave that dropped off into an abysmal trench. Llorva took her daggers and dug them into the gravel as her knees and boots dragged in the slope. She slowed soon enough to not fall but had to dodge four bodied that fell through and down the trench. Llorva scrambled in horror as she listened to the screams and horse whines that descended into the dark depth until the overwhelming sound of impalement filled her ears.

“Who? … Who??” Jared called out looking amongst the survivors.

Llorva saw Perry, Riker, Vylasgarden, but it was too dark to see the last three survivors.

“Who was it!?” Jared repeated but no one spoke; whether it was the sheer pain from their injuries or no one wanting to acknowledge that a couple of people had just died below them. Then came the moans. The haunting moans that came from the trench and swelled the cave. “We’re coming to get you!” Jared shouted down the trench. He could not see anything despite his desperation. All he could perceive were the moans of companions who will soon be dead. Jared looked up at Riker. “We need to find a way to get down there.” From the mouth of the cave came a swarm of the lights. They rushed over and into the trench. “Oh yes, please help us,” Jared cried out.

The lights illuminated the scene. It was horrific. There in the trench four meters below the ledge was Bomur, Ezekiel, and their horses impaled by blood soaked wooden pikes. Their bodies twitched and they moaned in agony. The lights swarmed them like flies on a rotting carcass. The men’s moans turned into screams as the swarmed lights became intently brighter. It was as if the lights were feasting on their pain. Every person on the ledge watched in terror. The horror then became interrupted when Jared is struck in the back with a wooden javelin. The remaining horses startled and reared as numerous javelins flew from all directions.

Baron Von Riker

“Move!” Riker yelled as everyone got to their feet. He quickly caught up to and mounted one of the three remaining horses that took off along the ledge into the cave’s depths. Ahead of him Llorva ran from the hail of javelins. Riker grabbed Llorva by the arm as the horse caught up past her. Vylasgarden was sprinting not far behind against the wall where the javelins were being thrown overhead. Jared, Perry, Lemuel, and Durbal fell behind on account for Jared’s injury. Vylasgarden kept running and she ran faster and faster as she felt the lingering doom behind her. For a moment, she looked back and saw the horde. A horde of goblins closing in on Jared and his brothers.

“Riker! Look,” Vylasgarden shouted. Riker looked over to Vylasgarden and followed her finger pointed back at the horde. He watched as Jared and his brothers struggled to keep up behind them.

“Keep going and stay with the horses,” he said into Llorva’s ear then dismounted and tumbled on the hard ground. He got to his feet and sprinted toward the oncoming horde. The goblins pounced on the larger halfblood orcs and humans. Their numbers overwhelmed the brothers as they were being dogpiled. The drawn blood seemed to have set the goblins into a crazed frenzy. Their small eyes widened and their twisted grins turned to drooling gapping maws. Balls of light surrounded the carnage, their maniacal giggling echoed in the chasm. Suddenly four green rays of energy sprung from Riker’s lyre as he strummed some distance away. The rays dodged goblins and washed over the warbound. Riker bagged his lute and jumped off a ledge and into the battle. He was armed with nothing other than his rapier and began dueling with the horde.

“RAHH!” Durbal roared as the magic surged within him. He, Perry, and Lemuel threw goblins left and right as Jared quickly recover from Javelin in his back. Then came a flurry of arrows making head shots. Vylasgarden appeared and fired as many as three arrows at a time into the horde. “Let’s go! I will cover you!” she cried. Riker and the warbound ran deeper into the cavern as Vylasgarden continued to empty her quiver into the oncoming horde. It is not long till she had used all her arrows. She retreated and caught up with the others. Riker and the warbound reached the end of the cave where Llorva had broken down the doors to an abandoned tunnel.

“She went this way,” Riker said running through the tunnel. The rest followed and soon they found two different paths at a crossroads, but only one of the paths featured the horses’ tracks.

“Go. Follow the horses. I will try to lead them in the other direction,” Riker said as he started banging on the wooden posts and a rusted beam. “Come and get me you rotbrains. I’m here!”

“What are you doing?” Vylasgarden shouted.

Riker looked at her and said, “Keep going and follow the tracks. I’m going to lead them this way.”

“Don’t get yourself killed Riker,” Vylasgarden said before she and the warbound took off to follow Llorva’s trail. The silhouettes and chatters of goblins approached as Riker mustered the fortitude to stand his ground. As soon as the horde revealed themselves, Riker sprinted down the second path. The path led him to a mining chamber with multiple exits. As he panicked deciding which exit to take, the goblins grew near. He then looked at his blue metal flute. It no longer had a vibrant luster to it, but instead there was a hint of florescent static that came from it.

I hope this works, he thought to himself as he reached for his lute and strummed a wave of energy toward the archway he came from. The thundering sound echoed and shook the chamber as the wave struck a wooden beam which crashed down just as goblins were running through. The entire passage rumbled as debris and shaft parts caved into and over the goblin horde. As the dust cleared Riker could hear the moaning and groaning of goblins still alive; and just when he thought it was over the goblins moans turned to screams when the lights repapered. Somewhere amongst the cave-in the lights congregated, creating a great luminescent halo that fed off the goblins’ suffering.

To Riker’s surprise a brutish figure had emerged from one of the other shafts and helped him to his feet. In the dark Riker could see that the individual was an older looking human who wore a short but thick beard and long straight hair. His face sloped and he hunched his shoulders. “Thank you,” Riker said to him.

“Do not thank yet,” The man said in a rough voice. He pulled Riker by the arm and they ran away down an exiting shaft.

“What is your name?” Riker asked him.

“Kruzco,” The man replied. He was much shorter than Riker, but much stockier than any other human Riker has ever seen before.

“I am Riker.”

“Hi,” Kruzco replied in a way that seemed to be more of a forced formality. Together they walked down a shaft to exit the mines.

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