The soft blue light from the lantern bounced off the gray stonewalls. We walked about thirty feet or so on a downward slope. The air was damp and the aroma of unfamiliar plant life reached my acute sense of smell and the steady buzz of the electric current hummed in my ears. As we drew nearer to Lucy hidden garden, the bright blue glowing of the wall formed of pure electricity filled the walkway.
The corridor gave way to a small well-tended garden of mushrooms of various colors, softly glowing herbs, moss, and some strange looking flowers. Like Lucy said there was a small control box next to the center section of the shield. We cautiously approached the wall, being careful not to tread on any of the plant life.
I punched in the date of the day I arrived to take Lucy into my protection. I smiled as I punched the keys; Lucy was a bit more sentimental than I gave her credit, I thought. After punching in the code there was winding down sound and the center section of the wall faded away. On the other side of the wall there were old remnants of electrified remains.
“What manner of creature is that?” Tanis asked looking around.
We walked through the powered down wall. “Those remains over there appear to be dretch, Rat people. That big one over there is a troll and the rotted mangled ones are walkers.” I told her.
We walked onward and into another corridor. About halfway down the path the walls and the floor changed. The floor became an old worn cobblestone path. The walls became smooth polished stone with worn dwarven style knot work etched into it. Stone columns appeared every ten feet supporting the arched ceiling.
The tunnel gave way to and large open expanse, before us laid a vast cityscape of a ruined subterranean city. Above we could see the support structures in which Luimere was built upon. There were massive pillars stretching all the way up to a roof made of bronze and steel. An eerie luminescence shone over the whole place. Let the stories tell it the glow is an after effect from the tear to the Reflection.
“The fates bless us,” The automaton said.
“Welcome to the Undercity.” I said with false excitement, “OK, we have to move quickly and quietly. There are a number of things down here that can kill you. Let us hope my nose can find us a path out of here.”
Tanis readied a round in the rifle. “As you say.”
The Luimere we know as of today is not the original. About fifty years ago, there was a major accident at the then Magus College. From what the records told a novice attempted a summoning ritual well beyond his skill. The failure created a tear between our reality and what the scholars and priests refer to as the Reflection.
They say the Reflection is the spirit world, the place where our souls go and where the demons and immortals reside. Some of the more powerful Magus can actually venture to the Reflection. Why one would do that is anyone’s guess.
According to the records, the tear erupted from its place of origin, decimating the college and all those within. The blast continued and engulfed much of the city, nearly instantaneously leaving it in ruins. Some of the spirits and lesser demons escaped into our realm wreaking havoc and mayhem.
It was, in fact, the Founders that managed to fight back the demons and seal the tear between this world and the Reflection. Afterwards, no one wanted anything to do with the remains of the fallen city. The Founders used their wealth and knowledge to rebuild anew. They sank what was left of the old city and constructed Luimere on top of it. The massive power plant at the city’s center stands over the point of origin.
Some believe that all of the escaped spirits and demons were not quelled in the resolution of the event. Some say a few things still roam the lands outside the city, some say that they live in plain sight within Luimere and those that remember the city that once was, and say some of the creatures never left. That they roam in the eerie darkness, in the ruins of the shattered city, occasionally wandering up to cause chaos. Myths and hearsay, still my few adventures down there were not pleasant and I would never voluntarily wander down there.
“Have you been down here before?” Tanis asked in a hushed whisper.
“More than times than I’d like to recall.” I said moving onward.
“Most of the people living in the city above have completely forgotten that there is a ruined city beneath them. Bandits, thieves, smugglers and what we consider monsters have not.”
The damp moldy air made finding a way out difficult. As we walked I marveled, as had each time before, at how much of the ruins remained intact, many with their contents undisturbed. I had to rely on my nose to lead us through rubble filled streets. Several times I changed our direction as the scent of rotted flesh assaulted my nostrils. The most common creature you were likely to happen upon in Undercity was Walkers. Walkers are the reanimated remains of those who did not survive the tear in reality. Typically, they are dormant as long as you don’t get to close to them. Once they have your scent, however they tend to move with frightening speed.
I slid my goggles on and adjusted the lenses to the invisible detection setting. Immediately, I saw the images of specters. These were just shades though, not the crazed ghosts that would try to kill you. Various colors of reds, purples, blues and greens floated before me. I made it a point to walk away from the red and green auras, as they were poisonous. We proceeded onward in what I hoped was northern direction.
As we progress my ears twitched at a scraping sound amongst the rubble and ruins. I raised my hand to halt our advance and pressed my index finger to my lips. I briefly closed my eyes and listened intently on my surroundings. Heartbeats filled my ears, many heartbeats, too many for me to differentiate. I switched the lenses back to the clear setting.
We were surrounded and they were drawing nearer. I lifted Lucy and pulled back the hammer. I swore to myself, remembering that I had loaded the weapon with standard ammunition. Tanis seeing me prepare for an assault raised her rifle and surveyed the area. The attack for anyone that was not gifted with supernatural senses would have been fatal in a moment’s breath.
The first dretch burst out of the broken window to my right snarling, a gleaming dagger in its right hand. Just as quick, I aimed and fired Lucy, hitting the rat creature right in it’s snarling mouth. The dretch’s head exploded from its shoulders and its body reeled back the way it came. The sound of the gun echoed and reverberated through the ruined city.
More dretch came out of the ruins with charging advances. All were wearing crude armor and wielding weapons from ages past. The dretch stood between three and four feet tall. Their bodies were slightly hunched over, covered in fur. The rat like faces snarled in rage as they rushed toward us. Tanis fired her rifle with uncanny precision. Not a single bullet was wasted as each shot struck its target in a vital location.
I fired the remaining five rounds taking down more of the scavenging vermin. Tanis paused and generated her shield to give the rifle time to cool. I slammed the butt of the pistol on head of one dretch and punted another. The creature went flying through the air and slammed hard into several of its brethren. I quickly dropped the lantern and dumped the shells from Lucy’s wheel. I slammed the first speed loader I could grab into the gun. Five more precise shots rang through the air as Tanis took down more of the feral creatures.
I swooped down swiped up the lantern and aimed Lucy ahead of me. The vials of green liquid began to boil and the sigils on the wheel began to glow the familiar amber color. I pointed the gun at the converging mass and pulled the trigger. Lucy roared as a blaze of flame the size of a small car hurtled toward the unsuspecting rabble.
“This way!” I yelled and rushed through the opening the shot had made.
We ran hard into the unknown. The fireball had surprised the dretch, but the little rat-men had not been scared off. They pursued us, their numbers growing. I fired another round from Lucy’s enchanted barrel and Tanis repeatedly fired with the skill of a marksman. I feared we were getting lost in the labyrinth that once was a thriving city.
We ran onward; we turned right and then left. We rushed up a flight of stairs and hopped from rooftop to another. Then another, on the second leap the roof gave way. We fell in a sprawl and landed hard amongst broken wood and stone and maybe bone. I dropped the lantern and assisted Tanis to her feet. The dretch were still hot on our tail, three dropped in behind us blades bare.
The first swiped at me wildly. I parried the blade with Lucy’s barrel and kicked the rat creature squarely in the chest. The dretch went flying across the room; but didn’t land with the expected thud on the hardwood floor. It was more the muted sound of two bodies colliding. As Tanis and I fought off the other two rat-men several loud groans came from the dark side of the room. This noise was followed by a stomach-churning scream from the dretch I had punted there.
Glowing yellow eyes appeared within the darkness staring right at us. I swore and plowed a skull-cracking fist into the face of the dretch before me. I followed that motion with aiming Lucy at the dark side of the room. Another round of intense flame barked from the barrel of the gun and some ten walkers were consumed by the spell. I did not stay to watch the fireworks. Tanis had picked up the lantern and we burst through the half unhinged door and found ourselves back on the street face-to-face more dretch. I quickly fired another round at our pursuers and then ran in the opposite direction behind Tanis. The dretch scattered, but it was only a brief respite as the vile creature reappeared and continued their relentless pursuit.
After what felt like hours had passed, though I’m certain it were no more that ten or fifteen minutes, we found our backs to a hard stonewall. The dretch were closing in upon us. Tanis fired round after round. I had holstered Lucy after firing the sixth round and was fending off the attackers with an improvised club. I was tiring and I wasn’t sure on Tanis’s condition, though she looked to be in some kind of pain.
I could not believe that it was going to end that way. I felt a all too familiar rage swelling up within me. I was just on the verge of giving in and letting go of myself. I was moments away from letting the beast in to save us, when a sudden breeze whistled through the dark street. The sweet smell of a warm fall day in the countryside or in one of the druid maintained parks caressed my nose.
The dretch froze where they stood, their eyes grew wide. Vines and roots as thick as my thighs sprang forth from the ground beneath us. Violently they lashed out at the dretch and entangle them with the ferocity of a pit viper seizing its prey. The vines squeezed the life out of the entrapped dretch, chorused with the sound of breaking bones and cries of death. Those dretch that were not slain by the entangling roots retreated into the city faster than their pursuit of us had been.
“It is not wise to wander the streets of Undercity at night.” A husky female voice stated. “Or at all really.” The voice cackled.
I turned around to see a stout dwarf female in earth tone robes of cloth and leathers crouched on the stonewall. She had a round face typical of dwarfs and it was weathered with years. That of course meant she had to be nearly three hundred years of age. She had a smile on her face as she looked down at us.
“Well, are you just going stand there all night?” She asked.
My brain finally caught up to what was happening. The weathered dwarf reached out a wrinkled hand to assist us up the wall. The wall itself was about twelve feet in height made of coarse rough stone. I lifted Tanis up and with the assistance of the druid, she was up and over in moments. The druid reached down again to aid me.
“That is OK ma’am.” I told her.
I took a step back and in a single bound I cleared the wall. Much to my surprise I landed in a very well maintain patch of grass. The ground shuttered next to me and large vines sprouted up toward the top of the wall. At their apex the vines formed a small platform level in front of our savior. The elderly dwarf stepped on the platform and was slowly lowered to the ground.
Without a word she looked us both over. She paused briefly looking into my eyes. Unlike the majority of people that have stare directly at them, she did not turn away. She smiled and then turned toward the trees I had not noticed.
“Neither of you have been infected by the walkers or diseased by the Dretch. This way, you both look like you are in dire need of some rest. I am Pharmis by the way, though most around her call me Shaman.”
“Thank you.” Tanis and I said simultaneously.
“I am Marcus Moore and this is Tanis. It is a pleasure to meet you and thank you for saving us back there.”
“It’s not a problem, though is rare to see so many of the dretch about. I imagine it had to do with all the fire that was being thrown around.”
“Sorry for the disturbance, though I must admit I did not expect to see anyone else down here.”
“There are a few.”
We walked for a few minutes through a thick copse of trees. I was astonished that they somehow flourished in the darkness of Undercity. I started to ask Pharmis about them when we exited the trees to the sight of a small thriving village.
There were people of various races milling about. It appeared that our little altercation had stirred them all from their beds. Children ran around playing while the adults stood with concerned expressions. I could see many of them visibly relax once they caught sight of Pharmis. The village appeared to be no different that the small communities I had seen during my military days. There was a small herd of cattle, a pen of both chicken and hogs. There were at least fifteen buildings all constructed of wood and stone.
“Welcome to the Down Below.” She said then turned to the villagers. “It is all right, our new guests stumbled into Dretch territory. You all can return to your homes.”
Many of the townsfolk nodded silently and turned back toward their respective homes. There were others that remained as they were, watching us as we passed.
“Not what you expected to see was it?” Pharmis asked with a grandmotherly smile.
“Not at all.” I said. “I’ve been down here a few times not once did I see sign of anyone living here. Well, except for that necromancer a few years back. Crazy Magus, was kidnapping people off the street above and dragging them down his for experiments.”
“That was you that took down Barleycorn?” She asked. “Thank the earth mother for small blessings. Looks like I just repaid a debt owed.”
“What do you mean?”
“That Necromancer had his sights set on my sanctum. He was dissatisfied with all of the old corpses strewn about the fallen city. He wanted fresh bodies so before he started grabbing them from above he tried to take them from here. That foul man pulled the wool over my old eyes and convinced me to give him sanctuary in my town. He did not even wait a single evening before the first murder happened. Intoxicated with his own power he had underestimated mine. My sanctum expelled the foul man before he could do anymore harm.” She shook her head, shaking off the memory of the Necromancer. “Now follow me, I have spare rooms at my home.”
I marveled at the construction of the houses and buildings as we walked toward the Druid’s home. Each building featured cobblestone foundations that appeared to be remnants of the old city. The walls were made from logs stacked vertically. They must have a smith and a means to make glass as each home featured bronze framed windows.
We quietly followed Pharmis along the dirt paths between the fifteen or so homes. I gathered it had been quite some time since someone new had arrived there. I could see people peeking out of windows as we passed by. The few children that had not gone inside ran up to us and stared enamored by our presence.
I asked our rescuer, “How long have you all been down here?”
“Most of us since the tear. This was my grove in the old city. It was one of the few places untouched by the eruption. Many fled here during the catastrophe and did not leave when the remnants of the city was forcibly pushed underground. There are a few that managed to wander into the Undercity seeking escape or adventure. Both of which discover this is not a vacation getaway. There are worst things in the dark than the dretch and walkers.” Pharmis told us as we walked down the dirt path.
“I can imagine. Given the choice I would not have made the trip down here.”
“Then might I ask you, why you did ”
“In short, someone is using my blood to track me down.”
“Then you’re in luck aren’t you?”
I paused, “How’s that?”
“This grove is a druid’s sanctuary and is considered hallowed ground. You will be untraceable here.”
“Small blessings,” I said grateful of her hospitality.
Pharmis led us to a modest cottage that looked as ancient as the grove itself. The building was constructed of trees, not logs or planks, but literally trees that seem to have grown together to form her home. The place appeared to be two stories high and had a working fireplace. We were lead inside and were privy to a home unlike any other I had ever seen. Every bit of furniture was as if it was grown that way, not crafted.
The first floor was a large single room with a bubbling stew pot in the center of it. Along one wall was a large assortment of herbs hang drying or in jars and cups. The place was ruthless on my poor nose and tears reached the corners of my eyes. On a large table there were bottles, vials, beakers and tubing all joined together, a common site for an alchemy table even today.
Pharmis had what appeared to be an oaken couch with a soft looking moss for the cushions. There was also and rocking chair made in a similar fashion and curled up in its seat was a moss cat. A feline-like creature made completely of moss, ferns and brambles. To each side of the couch were shelves filled with books and scrolls.
“Please sit, I’ll fetch us some tea and you can tell me about your predicament.”
We took a seat on the natural couch. It was as comfy as it appeared and after a few minutes I was able to block out the aromas of Pharmis’s herbs. She returned to us with a tea and biscuits. The tea was warm, soothing and all of the pain and muscle strain of our retreat seem to fade away.
“Healing tea!” I exclaimed.
“What would you expect from an old druid?” Pharmis said with a smile. “Have a cookie as well. It will help with your breathing. I’m certain your sense of smell is wreaking havoc on you.”
“How did you? Oh what am I saying?”
“Right! Druid! And a mighty good one too.” She said with far more spunk than one would imagine from an elderly dwarf. “So whom did you piss off that they are going through the trouble of using necromancy to track you down?”
“A former client. I work as private investigator topside. The client thought it would be easier to kill me than pay me.”
“Interesting business practice. Makes me glad I chose to remain down here. Less complicated.” Pharmis turned toward Tanis. “You are awfully quiet, dearie. How did you get involved in all this?”
“I was the child’s caretaker. The person that attempted to kill Mr. Moore also wants me dead.”
“I see, well you are both welcome to stay here as long as you want. It is not the city above, but it is comfortable and for the most part safe.”
“Thank you, Pharmis. We just need a few hours. I have an important meeting that will potentially solve this problem.”
“Very well, I may have what I need here for a warding charm. That should make it so you can avoid detection by blood magic.” She rose to her feet; “I will work on it while you rest. Come now, I’ll take you the beds.”
Pharmis led us up a small set of natural wooden stairs. I found myself have to duck my head as the home was buil… No grown for a dwarf not a six-foot tall man. On the walls were paintings of various orchards and groves, each a masterpiece in their own right. The stairs ended at a small hallway that featured a pair of doors. Pharmis led us through the door on the right into a quaint room filled with two small cots and more books.
There was a single nightstand between them with a wooden lamp on top of it. Inside the lampshade was a floating glow stone of a soft amber color. I had to duck in order to avoid striking my head on the low ceiling.
“You all can rest up here. I’ll work on that little charm that should counter the dark magic with little trouble. If you need anything I’ll be downstairs.” The old druid told us.
“Thank you again, Pharmis,” I said, “We definitely owe you one.”
“Not at all, I’ve been taking strays since the tear decimated the original city. Besides, as I said you have already unknowingly aided me. Barleycorn made things more difficult than they already are down here. The walkers tend to stay where they rest and feed off the dretch and other denizens of the Undercity. That old fool was stirring them up and making them feral.”
Pharmis closed the door behind her as she left leaving Tanis and I alone in the small room. I unbuckled my gun belt and sat down on one of the cots. Tanis sat down across from me with a questioning expression on her face. I opened Lucy’s cylinder and shook out the empty shell casings. I stuffed them in my jacket pocket that I had just then realized had been torn, cut and ripped in several places.
“Problem, Tanis?” I asked without looking up. I proceeded to load standard ammunition.
“Can we trust this dwarf?”
“I don’t see where we really have a choice. We don’t know the way out. We don’t have near enough ammunition, even with that rifle. Typically, when not blinded by a woeful sob story or an extremely pretty face, I am a good just of character. Most good people have a certain scent about them. Pharmis has that scent.”
“After all we have been through, I am not sure I can be so trusting.”
“Then let me ask a question of you. Do you actually have to sleep?”
“Well... Ah. No, I go into a standby mode that allows me to recharge. I can run on a single charge for nearly a week.”
“Very well, then you can keep watch and I will get some much needed sleep. With some good will and fortune, Pharmis, will have a warded charm to stop the tracking spell and a safe way to the surface.”
“I can do that.” She said as she cocked another round into the chamber of the rifle and positioned herself with a clear view of the door.
I shook my head with a smile and removed my jacket and shoes. I gave Lucy a good wipe down before placing the pistol back in its holster. I sat the gun, belt and all, on the nightstand and curled my tall frame into the small cot. It did not take long for sleep to take me.
The dream that came with the darkness was unexpected. I was in forest on a chilled night. A light powder of fresh snow crunched softly under my paws. The night air smell wonderfully of late autumn near winter and the chilled frosted my breaths. The moon played peek-a-boo playfully through the trees overhead.
I walked around sniffing the air, the leaves and the snow. I was searching for something; I did not know what but the need to find it was equivalent to the need to eat. An insatiable hunger overwhelmed me, driving me onward. Suddenly, I jerked my snout hard to the left. It was there, the scent I sought after. I dashed toward my heart’s desire. The muscles of my four powerful legs rippling as my claws tore through the light snow, soggy dead leaves and hard dirt.
The rush of the run as exhilarating, refreshing and revitalizing, I’d never felt more alive, and then there were others running alongside me. Howls echoed through the trees and we all ran toward the scent. The trees opened to a clearing in the woods. Alone stood an ancient maple tree its leaves an array of red, amber, orange, yellow and brown.
At the foot of the tree was an enormous stag, near seven feet tall. It stood there barely moving, breathing heavy, the cold air frosting each breath. A thin trail of crimson blood ran down its light caramel colored hide. The smell of it overwhelmed my senses, driving my need to hunt, to kill. The others around me could feel it too, like a wave rolling over each of us.
We started to prowl forward, crouching low, surrounding the massive prey. The glint of moonlight flashed off of something shiny. I stopped in my tracks. The others continued moving forward. My keen eyes focused on the origin of the flash. I scanned the beautiful creature and there it was a small chain of silver. The chain was collared around the neck of the stag and around the tree.
Something was wrong my instincts were screaming with alarm. A monstrous fear coursed through my body. I tried to scream, “NO! WAIT! STOP! TRAP!”
Yet all that came out were snarls and growls. The pack descended upon the massive stag like a school of hungry piranhas. I heard the click of several hammers followed by the firing of many rifles. Time seemed to slow down and I witnessed the silver bullets tear through the fur-covered bodies of the pack. The pack went frantic and charged toward the attackers.
From the shadows men wearing long brown leather coats with gleaming silver buttons running down their fronts in parallel rows. On their shoulders and elbows was armor of silver-plating and they wore silver gauntlets on their fists. Strapped to their hips were flintlock pistols some still smoking. In each of their hands was a silver saber. The massacre continued, the pack fought back but the silver clad men were too well organized, too well trained.
I dashed back and forth, snapping at ankles and hamstrings. I dodged sword slashes and armored fists. The tide of silver did not falter, the attackers pressed harder. I tried to retreat, to return to the safety of the woods, but they had a few others and we were surrounded. The largest of the men stepped forward and looked down on us with cold dead-like eyes.
He was human with dark skin, almost true ebony; his eyes were the color of hazel. His face was broad with a thick heavy brow. He possessed four jagged scars that ran down the right side of his face and malice and hatred poured through his pores, like backwash oozing from a clogged sewer drain.
He drew a long sword made of silver from a scabbard on his hip. The blade shone brightly in the moonlight. I could see that the fuller of the blade was a blood red. He raised the blade to his shoulder and said. “The world shall be free of your kind, as you shall be free of this world.”