In which a swim turns to darkness then light…
When Tryn and I landed at the bottom of the khavitvasserbahn, my armor hung with the weight of water, chill, and duty. Dwarves are not much made for swimming, no matter how many times water is encountered in our mining operations. But I needed to join the small one. It took a moment for me to be ready for battle.
And battle it was. In the center, a large cage filled with children. Opposite of the cavern the large double doors and the rest of our party. On either side of the cage, rows of disciples. And last, with his back turned to me, closest to me, and holding a large book while chanting, the archmage was engaged in whatever ritual would bring the Kurztharki.
No, not last. There is some large creature constructed from body parts, metal, bones, and wire. And he seems to be the main guardian. But he is facing the group entering the double doors. Tryn has big wisdom in her small size. I nodded to her and we started to attack from our back entrance.
Tryn was first to the archmage and used her sneak attack to inflict good wounds. Then suddenly, there was a flash of fire and Tryn was passing me screaming, covering her eyes, surrounded by flames. She disappeared in a cloud of steam in the pool of water.
I was already moving toward the archmage. I swung true and connected with both my battleaxe and warhammer. The blows I dealt would have felled any creature.
I took the opportunity to run to the cage and look at the children. I found Halaur along with about 8 others. I called to her, but she did not respond. More, the children all looked distressed, scratching at their own faces, muttering, spitting, and their eyes were wild. Ach Moradin! Vas ad deladar dey unschuldigen?
Then heat from behind and flames around me, on me. I tried and failed at quenching these thaukflammen. Sounds – metal on metal, metal on flesh, yelling, groaning, crashing, childlike screams. Confusion of direction. Small hands at my face, my feet, inside my armor, my legs, my chest, scratching, biting, abrasive pain, pain, pain.
Voices. My voice and my husband’s voice. The last conversation we had – an argument.
“Vestra, you must leave this foolish adventure to younger fools.”
“Husband, Taerinr, you knew who I was when you met me. When our parents arranged our meeting. I was in town two days before leaving again.”
“But I believed you when you said we’d make a life together.”
“Yes, a life together for these 50 years. A life with family and friends. And me training the young warriors in town. My battleaxe is always sharp, my warhammer always perfectly balanced.”
“Ach, khuzessd! If you leave me…”
“What? What threat will convince me not to go after Halaur?”
Halaur… halaur … halaur …
Halaur! Her face in mine, smiling. “Auntie?” She’s real, she’s here. I pressed her to my breast and struggled to rise. I called out to all the children, “To me! To me!” I gathered them in the alcove where Tryn and I had landed in the pool. I pushed them behind me and looked to see the battle was largely won.
Glowing on the floor turned to glowing mist all around. The air was an impenetrable fog, luminescent, solid but not solid. A metallic haze, like the quicksilver my sister’s second son had shown me once. I stood there with Tryn, Allara, Niva, Cragsbeard, BRND. All of us sharing the same awed confused look. No, not all. Allara looks positively serene, happy even. I touched BRND, “Is this real? Or am I still in darkness and dreaming this place?” BRND patted my arm reassuringly. It did little to assuage me, especially when Cragbeard’s eyes met mine.
An older man in fine robes came toward us. “Well,” he said, “This is most unexpected.”