“And where does this door lead?” Hadrax demanded.
“According to the locals, they lead into an abandoned mine,” Noraq replied, “the door was erected by a mage to keep soul eaters at bay.”
“And exactly what are these soul eaters?” Hadrax inquired.
“There are no written description of soul eaters, Sir,” Noraq replied, “Just contradictory vagaries.”
“Bah!” Hadrax waved off anything more. “Sounds like hallucinations from mine gases to me. Break the door down.”
Noraq waved to a soldier who held a war hammer. The soldier raised it and began pounding, futilely, upon the great iron door. After a few strikes, the hammer shattered as if made of glass…showering all with hot shards. The soldiers closest to the door screamed in agony as skin erupted into flame.
Zarange’s astral form appeared before all. Hadrax couldn’t help think how beautiful she was.
~If you truly want to gaze upon the horrors beyond this gate, then who am I to stop you?~ She asked, unconcerned. ~Though I sealed this mine to spare the inhabitants of this city from what lies beyond, now that you have banished the wise and benevolent rulers there is no need. I will let you find another way to keep the horror at bay.~
She vanished and the great iron door rusted away almost immediately. A foul air met the nostrils of all standing near the opening. Death lay beyond, and they knew it. All but Hadrax, who believed that riches beyond telling lay within.
“Send your men in to claim whatever lies within,” he commanded, “The city is ours.”
Noraq shuddered at his general’s callousness and lack of concern for human life, but still gave the order with a small prayer of protection to Duqal, his god of choice. The men cautiously entered the mine’s entrance, their torches held out before them as if to protect them from some nameless threat.
Sobahn had been put in charge of those who had been ordered to enter the mine. He was brave, but not crazy and this smacked of being crazy. Still, he had been ordered to take his men into the tunnels so he did so. He did not want to be called a coward or a deserter. He only hoped that he would get out of this alive.
He knew that this would likely be his last day alive, the rate things were going. The general had stayed at the entrance, his lieutenant had refused to personally enter the caverns, and he had been given command of a regiment of soldier who were probably going to their death. He’d heard the stories of what soul eaters did to their victims. He knew what awaited most, if not all, of his soldiers. Any lucky enough to make it out alive would never be the same.
Like his lieutenant, he knew that the gate that had just been removed had been there for a very good reason. He knew that the general’s decision had been unwise and brash; without rational judgment. The general wanted to find riches. He wanted to find certain tomes that had vanished. He wanted to find the old rulers of this city.
Sobahn knew that none of those things lay within the first half of the tunnels he was now in. Only death lay in the darkness beyond. Death and a terror beyond imagine. He only hoped that his death, and the death of his men, would be quick.
He took a deep breath, praying silently to every god he could think of, then slowly led his men deeper into the darkness. He sensed the presence of something somewhere just beyond the light of their torches. Something evil. Something without conscience.
“Not a sound,” he admonished in a whisper, “we should not allow whatever lies hidden to know of our presence.”
He knew his admonishment, no matter how well-intended, was for naught. They had already been sensed and whatever it was merely waited for them somewhere in the inky darkness beyond. They were as good as dead.
His first desire was to turn and run. Still, he moved on. Death awaited in both directions and he would rather die in the line of duty than on the point of his general’s sword. A wave of sorrow swept over him with a bout of nausea. He hated leading his men to their deaths, but he had his orders.
As they moved deeper into the caverns, he swept the walls with his eyes. Every so often, he would silently call the troop to a halt and inspect the walls more closely. He found no traces of ore or gems. Only smoothed surface, as if the mine was merely an illusion, a façade that hid a more complex use of the tunnels.
Definitely dwarvish work. The long entry tunnel was not mined. It was simply the way in. This meant that there would be no threat to the men until they reached the actual mine.
He breathed a sigh of relief and called a halt. He would send a report back to the surface. He pulled a piece of parchment and a writing quill and ink from his pack. Scratching out a note, he gave the ink enough time to dry and then rolled the parchment up. He called a soldier forward and handed the message to him.
“Take this back to those at the entrance,” he commanded, “then return to us. I will have need of you to run messages to the surface.”
The young man nodded, then vanished back the way the group had come. As they waited for him to return, Sobahn inspected the walls more closely. He smiled sadly. No minable ores.
His general was mad. The dwarves never made an entrance where minable ores could be found. Entrances were always at the opposite end of their mines from where gem lodes and metal ores could be found. The closer to the center of the mountain, the more one could find lodestone ores. The closer to the surface, the less usable ores.
But some men had no knowledge of metallurgy or mining. The nobilis had no real knowledge at all. They only knew how to wage war and indulge in their lotus. Pleasure by any means.
Zarange stood at her window. Hadrax had violated the gate sealing the mines of Korlabdis. Silly nobilis. Only death lay in those tunnels. All he would find was a nightmare that would continue to haunt him until he sealed the entrance back shut.
She shook her head. Soul eaters were no laughing matter. Keep the entrance to the infested cavern open and they soon devoured all that lived within their territory. They would even choose a host and spread beyond.
The fool, Hadrax, had no idea what he had done. From all appearances, he had no desire to know. His mind seemed to be on riches and discovery, not on wisdom or wariness. Soon, though, he would know what he had unleashed.