Hogar’s Journal (Translated from Giant)
Year 781 of the founding of the City
12th Day of Meloramensis – Part II
We stepped through the door into a brightly lit stone corridor. After following it for a short while we reached a heavy black wooden door. At the door’s centre was an iron knocker shaped as the snarling face of a minotaur. As we passed through the stone of the corridor changed from dull damp grey into deep, shining obsidian. So dark was the stone that it absorbed the light of the guttering torches and spat it back as bright points of brilliant light that twinkled from the shadows as stars upon the great vault over the earth.
The obsidian corridor was wider than that previously, it turned away to our right and sported two doors that opened onto the wall facing us. The smaller of the two was directly opposite us with more substantial double doors a little way to the right. Both sets were made from the same black wood as the one we had passed through and sported the visage of the same angry minotaur. Further to the right was an open plan area with a large communal dining table inside. Bones of suspicious size and origin lay scattered about the table top. The double doors hung open to reveal a pregnant gloom. The faintest of red glows struggled and strained to send its light into the corridor to mingle with the starlight of the torches. Eligos whispered that she could hear voices coming from the gloom beyond, I couldn’t hear any.
I crept forwards into the corridor with the intention of scouting what was beyond the open doors. As I stepped out into the corridor vertigo swept over me. My eyes, despite being in a cramped corridor no more than a few feet wider and taller than I, perceived the breadth of the heavens spread before and behind me in all directions, a dizzying experience indeed. After a breath I gathered myself and pressed on towards the double doors.
As I crossed the centre of the corridor, exposed and alone, vulnerable as a babe before the sandman, a great roar boomed from the chamber at the end of the corridor. It was answered by a sharp crack, like that of a whip, from the darkness beyond the double doors. The rotten egg smell of brimstone suddenly filled the corridor and was followed by another boom. This time the noise signalled some sort of explosion from the darkness. The explosion threw the doors back on their hinges to slam shut. Such was its force though, that the door frame was not enough to halt their progress. The doors, accompanied by fragments of masonry, centuries old mortar and iron fittings, flew past my nose, far too close for comfort, to shatter upon the black wall on the opposite side of the corridor.
I staggered backwards, caught unawares by the force of the blast. Quickly I regained my balance and resumed my creep towards the strewn rubble that had once been doors. I reached the edge of the now rough opening and peered in. Braziers crackled in the four corners of a medium sized room, casting an orange glow into the centre where there crouched a large hairy creature that was breathing heavily and noisily. Steam rose in fragile tendrils from its shoulders as the hulking beast slowly rose from a crouched position. It was covered head to toe in thick matted brown fur. Twice my height it had a jet black, squashed face. The dark disc of its face was penetrated only twice by tiny pricks of red light, its eyes. Vicious horns curled down either side of its head; starting at the temples they wound behind its ears, narrowing all the while, before curving under its jaw-line to protrude as wicked points either side of its chin. It turned to gaze around the room, head twitching from side to side to take in its surroundings. It was clearly struggling to understand exactly where it was. As it turned around to take in its surroundings I immediately recognised it as a balgura. These demons are well known to the Praetorium and don't often exist on this plane of their own volition. Something powerful had summoned it.
From my hiding place in the corridor it hadn't noticed me. I took advantage of this situation by quietly knocking an arrow, drawing and loosing it at the demon's heart. The arrow struck true and the balgura unleashed a blood curdling scream at the ceiling. I sent another two arrows to follow the first and both struck home. Black blood dripping from its chests and the corner of its mouth, the creature looked down at the arrows in surprise. Slowly he raised his black horned head to lock his red glowing eyes onto mine. His lips curled back to reveal two neat rows of needle sharp teeth which parted to bellow a challenge at me. Suddenly three fire demons leap out of the braziers to stand behind the hulking balgura demon, all of them gazing menacingly towards me.
Outnumbered and alone I decided that discretion is the better part of valour and backed into the corridor towards the support of the others. Fire demons are fast though and they caught up very quickly to engulf me in searing flames. Eligos and Minron rushed to my aid. Both of them charged at the fire demons and knocked one over. The balgura was not far behind his friends though. He ran out of the ruined doors and straight into me slashing all the while with his claws. Battered and bleeding I backed further away to try and find some breathing space. I ducked behind Vic and Rodney who joined the fray by standing in the corridor and hurling magical projectiles over the heads of Minron and Eligos into our foes.
As I bent double and sucked air into my protesting lungs I became aware of a commotion in the corridor behind me. Suddenly a snorting squealing boar burst through the entrance and into the corridor. Astride the back of this porcine apparition was the whooping, wheeling form of Glen, at that moment surely the happiest dwarf in all of creation. He bounced and flailed down the corridor like a rag doll tied to the back of a bucking bronco, his red hair and beard trailing behind him and his axe swishing around his head.
The cavalry smashed into the balgura and his fiery friends at full tilt, sending the demons crashing to the ground and scattering them in all directions. As the demons hit the floor a gnoll appeared from the dining room grasping a book and waving a flail around.
“Get up, get up. Kill them all!” He shouted holding the battered leather bound tome out in front of him and gesturing at the demons. “Obey your master, kill them!”
The demons sprang to their feet and swarmed in amongst us converging on me and engulfing me in flames once more. Minron again sprang to my aid sweeping his sword over my head and into two of the demons. As his blade passed over my head I could feel the burns on my flesh healing at his command. The demons were not as fortunate as one fell lifelessly to the floor. Eligos wasted no time in joining in. Turning into a fearsome ram she charged into one of the remaining fire demons, knocking it over. Seemingly taking inspiration from the tiefling Rodney raised his arms high. A ghostly figure lurched forth from within the mages body; quickly it coalesced into the likeness of a charging ram’s head and smashed into the other fire demon, sending him to join his companion sprawled upon the floor.
In the meantime the balgura demon had regained his footing. Glen backed Sid into the corridor before charging at the massive demon again. This time the demon was ready for him and stopped the boar’s charge by grasping his tusks and using his momentum to smash him into the wall. He them grabbed the dazed Glen by the throat and slammed him head-first into the ceiling. A dwarf is a tough nut to crack through. He lashed out with his Ugrosh from within the demon’s grip to slash its arm. The balgura yelped with surprise and dropped the dwarf to the ground. This was all the opening that Rodney needed. He summoned a ball of magical energy that sped towards the hapless creature and struck it cleanly in the chest. The demon had barely had an opportunity to register surprise before it dropped down dead.
Vicrael dispatched the remaining two fire demons which left the six of us in the corridor facing off against the now lone gnoll. The creature shifted nervously from foot to foot looking for an escape.
“You are defeated and cannot escape.” Vic said striding through us to face the gnoll alone. “You cannot summon more demons before we strike you down and I do not fancy your chances of defeating us alone.”
“Vic.” I interjected. “What are you doing?”
He waved me away and took another step towards the creature, palms raised out in front of him in a gesture of supplication. “Your book is one of the artefacts we are searching for. Give it to me and we will take you back to the Seven Pillared Hall.
“Vic!” I hissed. “This is madness, he’s a dangerous fanatic. Get away from him”. He silenced me with a look and continued slowly moving towards the creature.
“You will have to face the justice of the mages but if you help us I will speak on your behalf. You may have a future yet, if you help us.” Vic moved closer still and stretched out his hand as if to receive the book. The gnoll’s fear was still apparent and he started retreating back into the dining area. Vic took a couple of quicker steps towards him to try and cut him off. Before anyone knew what was happening a flick of the gnoll’s wrist sent his spiked flail towards Vic's face. Fortunately for him the old Elf's reflexes were up to the task and he was able to duck under the attack. My reflexes are not too bad either and before the gnoll could set himself for another attack he received an arrow to the throat, bringing an end to his mischief.
“Orcus' teeth! What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?” I shouted at Vic.
“I thought I could reason with it.” He replied absently, gazing down at the fallen beast.
“Your thought process could do with an overhaul.” I snapped at him. “You seem to be doing your level best to get yourself killed lately. Snap out of it!”
I turned and stalked away towards the entrance. As I rounded the corner I came face to face with another gnoll, no doubt coming to see what all the commotion was about. For a couple of seconds we just stood there face to face, both too surprised to act. Then Vic's voice sounded out as he hurried after me.
“Hogar I'm sorry. There are things going on that you can’t unders....” He stopped short as he noticed the gnoll. The arrival of a second enemy was enough to spring the creature from our reverie; he turned tail and sprinted away down the corridor.
“Hey, stop!” Vic shouted after the creature before haring off after it.
“Vic!” I shouted. “Don't go without the rest of us.” I called for the others to follow as, with a sigh, I set off after them.
I chased Vicrael' around several corners into an increasing gloom. Despite his exalted age the half-elf still had a turn of speed about him and was getting ever further away, his calls echoing after his quarry. Eventually the wall mounted torches ran out and I was pitched into darkness. I could hear footsteps ahead and followed them through a door and into a smell that hit me like it was a solid thing. It was as though Belor himself has voided his bowels, before keeling over dead and decomposing for a few lifetimes. As I wretched at the smell I noticed a half lit room to my right with rotten straw strewn about the floor. In the doorway I could see the silhouette of Vic bent over and heaving at the vile stink. I was about to call to him when he straightened and strode off into the room.
“I have you now.” He said into the darkness. “Come and face m....” He jerked backwards suddenly and toppled to the floor before he could finish his sentence. The shaft of an arrow protruded from the centre of his chest where it had surely struck his heart. As Vic hit the ground canine howls and yelps filled the chamber. From the shadows a pack of hyenas emerged to attack. They fell upon the motionless Vic, fighting amongst themselves to savage the helpless warlock from head to toe. Lumps of flesh were torn from his face, arms and torso in a feeding frenzy.
Madness gripped me as I drew a shaft from my quiver and with a mindless yowl shot it into the mass of hyenas. Shaft after shaft flew into the morass and one after another the dogs fell to the ground with a yelp. They were slow to notice the new threat that I posed and many of their number had died before the majority turned their attention on me. Despite the advantage of surprise I knew instantly that I was doomed. There were just too many of them for me to kill before they took me down.
I continued to shoot defiantly and wait for the end. Just as I thought it must come a brown and ginger blur swept past my right shoulder and barrelled into the pack. It was Glen, still mounted on Sid. His Ugrosh clove through the massed hounds, sending them flying in all directions. He was quickly joined by Eligos and Minron. Bolts of fire and ice shooting into the wolves from behind me signalled that Rodney was here too. Together we made short work of the remaining pack and the gnoll that had lured Vic after him. Minron and I rushed to Vic’s side. Minron inspected the damage done to him whilst I was at a complete loss. After patting Vic’s shoulder ineffectually for a few seconds and squeezing his hand I turned to the Minotaur.
“Can you do anything?” He shook his head sadly in response. “There is no life here. He is the Raven Queen’s now.”
I stood up and moved away from Vic’s corpse, anger and sorrow vying within me for supremacy. I could hear Miron behind me muttering incantations to the Raven Queen, commending Vic’s soul to her. Glen retrieved a shroud from his pack and gently laid it over the body.
“He was a strange one.” He commented matter-of-factly. “As elves usually are but a fine warrior.”
“He was an idiot.” I snapped, almost shouting. “And he has been for some time.” I added in a more measured tone. “But he hasn’t always been. He was great once. He made me the soldier I am. Many are the foes who have rued the day of his birth. Our brothers in the Praetorium will mourn his passing.”
“He saved me from a life as a savage beast.” Minron said in his deep rumble. “He deserved better than to die at the hands of a mangy man-dog.” He fixed my eyes with his own. “We will save these humans, slaughter those who took them and pass the Platinum Dragon’s trial to avenge him.” I nodded.
“We have a mask to find.” I said. “Let’s go and find it.”