Scales Of War
To Sedric it appeared to him that the dwarf searching with him was completely focused on the task he had been given, however the sound of his continuous griping certainly seemed to put this theory to the test. “How do we even know it’s still down here? We’ve been looking for hours and we’ve nothin’ to show for it but sore back and grime up to our waists! I say we should call it a day and head back.”
Sedric certainly had to agree that their search had thus far been fruitless. But he had a job to do and he meant to see that it was done correctly.
“The records say that it’s down here somewhere in the archives. Now stop yer grumbling ‘fore I add tired ears to my list of woes. And a sore backside to yours.” Seeing that his companion, a dour and gruff individual whose name was Torwig, had taken to poking at small piles of trash which littered the corners of the chamber they were currently searching he snapped at him again. “Are ye daft? It certainly would nae fit under a small mound o’ trash now would it? Use yer head…and help me get this door open.”
They were currently far below Overlook, and had been searching chamber after chamber for hours. Sedric knew the city was old, but he had been unaware of how extensive the tunneling beneath it had become. Even for dwarves it seemed excessive. It was especially frustrating when given the task that had been handed to him and his men. He had likened it to finding a needle in a haystack, but the council had insisted, so he had split his men into search parties and sent them into the catacombs with instructions on what to look for.
Torwig ceased his idle swatting at the refuse and stomped over to lend his aid to Sedric. “Do you honestly believe what they told you? That war is coming to Overlook? I know the city’s seemed on edge lately… but war? And this…thing…we’re lookin’ for. You think it’s really ‘better than a hundred soldiers?’ What could be so powerful? It better not be some crazy magic…that’s all I’m sayin’. I won’t be holdin’ no cursed magic item, even if it does exist!”
“I don’t know what to believe…and I don’t care. They gave us a job to do and I mean to see it done. Now grab hold o’ me belt and keep an eye out while I open this door. I do nae want to fall in like I did last time.” The door in question was set into a small alcove in the wall of the underground chamber. Made of the same stone that surrounded it, the door fit rather snugly and there were no markings upon it to indicate what would lie behind it. Torwig dutifully wrapped his think hand around the back of Sedric’s belt. Sedric put his shoulder to the door in front of him and began to push.
— Though it was dark he could hear faint scrapings and muffled sounds somewhere in the distance. While rare, he had heard similar sounds during his long time spent down here isolation. None of the sounds, however, had ever amounted to anything more than that. He had not seen a single living person for a long, long time. While he was aware of the sounds, he paid them no special heed. He did not move.
— Sedric was growing more willing to call the search off with every moment. While he was not typically bothered by the darkness or confined spaces, some of the places they had found themselves were very old and had either partially collapsed over the years, or had been constructed by beings even smaller than modern day dwarves. He had the feeling that several of these tunnels were indeed not of dwarven construction at all. From behind him a sudden outburst alerted him to Torwig’s presence nearby.
“Ow! Dammit! Who built these tunnels? Elves?! Even goblin tunnels are not THIS poorly made! Sedric! How much longer do ye intend to keep us down here on this fool’s errand anyhow?”
“I do nae know. To be honest…I am near to done with bein’ down ‘ere m’self.” Sedric heaved a deep sigh and stopped walking. “I tell ye what Tor. I’m done with this search. Let’s head back and find the others. We’ll have to tell the council it’s nae down ‘ere. A mistake in the records…aye that sounds abou’ right. Probably the truth at any rate.”
Sedric spun on his heels with the intention of heading back the way he had come, but as he turned he could see that something had grabbed Torwig’s attention. The grumbling dwarf had stopped in his tracks and was looking off to his right.
“Look there Sedric! Against that wall, behind that rubble. It looks like there might be a door we missed.” As Sedric turned his gaze to the place his companion had indicated he did notice that there was indeed the outline of a door, largely hidden by a slew of rocks and stone which had fallen in front of it, probably from due to an earthquake many years ago. Sighing once again he trudged over to get a better look at the door itself. Something he saw immediately caught his attention. Unlike many of the doors and vaults down here in the catacombs, this door was locked.
— The muffled sounds had grown closer and then stopped for a few minutes. Now they began again, though they were now far clearer. It sounded to him as though someone was moving large pieces of stone or rock and it continued for some time. Then the sound of several low thuds as something struck something else very solid nearby. Once again aware of the sounds, they carried no special meaning for him. He remained unmoving even as a sharp crack reverberated inside of his chamber and dim light spilled through cracks in the door which had began to open in front of him.
— “Moradin’s Hammer! Is that it? Hold that lantern up higher ye daft fool!”
Sedric could barely believe what he was looking at. He had admitted to himself that the council was most likely grasping at straws. He thought that anything which had been left down here so long ago was either long gone, no longer of any practical use…or a lie in the first place. But what he saw before him was certainly putting all of his theories to the test.
Torwig was relieved to notice that Sedric seemed to be having the same problem he was…keeping a steady hand on his lantern while he studied the thing before them. It looked to be a statue, but if the orders they had been given were correct it was actually much, much more.
It was seated on the floor before them, but even sitting down it was nearly as tall as them. While dwarves are usually a stout folk (some as wide across as they are tall), the thing in front of them looked to be even wider across the shoulders. It was roughly humanoid in shape, but it lacked distinct features, particularly in the area of the face. It was as though someone had set out to make a statue of a very large human, gotten as far as shaping it into form, carving the legs, arms, and body…and then given up. In fact as Sedric looked closer he could see that the rest of the statue was actually much more detailed than he had originally thought. Blowing some of the accumulated dust and dirt off of it, he could see that rather than being blocky, it seemed to have musculature and even carvings which ran over the majority of its form.
In contrast to the delicate workmanship shown elsewhere, the head of the statue looked more like a mask…or a helmet. Rather than typical sockets, eye slits were carved into the face of the thing, and it had no mouth that Sedric could see. Instead, vertical slits had been carved into the area where a mouth should have been, almost like an armored helmet. A large stone looked to be embedded in the center of the forehead. He reached up and began to wipe the dust off of the head of the statue and got the scare of his lifetime.
The voice was deep and boomed throughout the small chamber.
Sedric tumbled back from the statue, falling to his backside and scrambling away from the voice which had emanated from within. Torwig took several steps backwards and seemed ready to bolt from the chamber, but managed to maintain a hold on both his composure and his lantern…for the moment.
As several seconds went by, the eye slits on the statue began to glow softly. The glow was red…and seemed to pulse gently.
Torwig glanced at Sedric and stammered, “Th-th-the instructions! Did you bring them?! Quickly boss!”
Sedric fumbled in his belt pouch for what felt like ages before his fingers found the scrap of paper he had been handed by the council member that morning. He pulled it out and tried to find his voice.
“Uh…I be…um…I mean…er…”
The dust coating the statue began to vibrate and cascade off its surface as the statue began moving. It was slow, seemingly flexing its “muscles” and stretching as it began to stand up. The head swiveled downward as if it was looking at Sedric, who was furiously kicking his legs and trying to shuffle backwards away from them thing.
The statue stepped forward, still moving slowly and deliberately. Sedric focused harder than he could remember ever having to in the past.
“Wait! Er…don’t ye be smashin’ me! Er…the…the code! Is’ righ’ ere! Ep..epsilon…er…what’s this word?! Dammit…” He was sweating profusely and could feel the presence of the statue above him looming closer. “Epsilon Delta!” he burst out, turning his head away so as not to see his impending doom as it took him from this world.
The statue stopped moving and the eyes stopped their gentle pulsing, changing from the red they had been into a deep green. It straightened up and stepped back to the center of the room. Once again its voice filled the room.
“IDENTIFICATION ACCEPTED. CURRENT ORDERS…GUARD DUTY. NEW ORDERS?”
Sedric took his beard in his shaky hands and mopped his brow. As unsure as he had been that the rest of this crazy plan would work, he was even more uncertain about what followed. He looked at the paper in his hand waited for his heart to return to its normal pace before continuing.
“Orders…new orders.” The eyes of the statue remained staring at him for a few seconds. He continued. “Identify.”
The creature immediately began speaking.
“INDENTIFICATION. DESIGNATION IS…EPSILON DELTA ONE EIGHT SEVEN. UNIT CLASSIFICATION…REAPER. LAST ACTIVATION…UNKNOWN.” Sedric thought that it may have paused before giving this final answer but he couldn’t be certain.
“Er…good. Good lad.” He licked his lips and ran his fingers through his beard. Clearly he was nervous. “Moradin protect me…I hope ye do nae take this the wrong way. Prepare to receive new orders.”
“PREVIOUS ORDERS…RESCINDED. PREPARED TO RECEIVE NEW ORDERS.”
Sedric furrowed his brow as he tried to make out the words on the scrap of paper he still held in his hand. As he read them out loud the eyes of the creature began to alternate, flashing quickly green, then red, then green again. “New orders. Access code is…er…Epsilon… Delta…seven eight one. Diamond. Tree. Tower. Scorpion.”
The creature seemed to hesitate, its eyes still flashing. “CODE RECEIVED. CODE INCOMPLETE. PASSWORD REQUIRED.”
Sedric held his breath and closed the piece of paper in his palm. Closing his eyes he breathed out the final part of his instructions.
The creature shuddered. The flashing in its eyes continued for a few moments before suddenly going dark completely. As it stood there motionless and silent Sedric began to frown. Then the eye slits began to glow once more, only this time they were filled with a deep blue light. The creature moved its head slowly, looking around the room before taking in the two dwarves standing before it. It leaned forward slowly and Sedric would have sworn that it was trying to look him in the eyes. It spoke once again, though this time the voice was still deep, but no longer booming at him and echoing through the entire room. If anything it now seemed…unsure.