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Letter #18: Vitriol

Dear Maria,

Shaken by the peculiar customs these goblins hold and by the vile words spat at us by this Iglot fellow – though Adrik, our translator, took the brunt of them – we continued to ascend this great structure. Gudael and Leith questioned why we had not simply killed them?

I like not to speak of ill sentiments towards those I care for or like, but I had thought the noble race of elves were above the repulsive thoughts of those like our fathers; for it was a slim shred of mercy that spared my brother and I; yet those of ignorant and naïve obedience suffered for the actions of a man who died behind closed doors. I suppose Gudael’s upbringing in the family of Ivran’s right hand man means she may hold beliefs that are not fair or respectable, but Leith? The only place I can think to pinpoint the origin of these thoughts would be in the ever-strengthening presence of that entity, Tozan, over the young wood-elf.

To the question that was above, Adrik and I answered that they were defenceless goblin, naked, trapped within a cage, and had obviously been tortured by their own, and so would be unjust to slay them in cold blood – not to mention some were pregnant. Leith also noted that he was tapped of vaporization spells, though I added that perhaps that should not be the sole reason why we spared their lives; that it was for our own later convenience not to kill them rather than it be too cruel and reprehensible. Brixton snapped us from our discussion of morality and directed us to move silently. It was at this inopportune moment that Adrik’s helmet clattered to the ground and began tumbling down the steps, until it stopped, nestled itself between some overgrown roots some half-way down and the dwarf rushed to fetch it.

As Mister Fogdar re-joined the group, we crested the top of these stairs and then started to descended down into the jagged and rocky core. An arrow whistled passed Gudael and another ricocheted off Adrik’s helm, which he had just replaced atop his head. Our most holy cleric threw forth a sacred flame into hole.

Around corners of stone and stalagmites of rubbled pillars peered two-dozen gleaming eyes, some the light was able to find a form for – hunched and leering, poised with crooked bow in hand – others belonged to those too far into the depths to spy. Just as that divine glimmer dispersed beyond sight, two more projectiles came flying fast towards us, but both clattered off the stone work – one from a pillar and another at our feet, two steps below their mark. There was a fifth twang of a short-bow but instantly after was heard the yelp and cursing of a goblin.

Yet another flew fast at Brixton, missing the half-elf but thudding against the dwarf’s firm form. In retaliation, Leith sent two blasts of energy into the depths, Adrik himself heaved a javelin down into that hole, but the clatter of iron against stone proved it had missed its mark. At the closest grouping of shifting eyes, I drove an ice-knife, hearing the successive explosion of cold and with it the grunts of goblins.

Two goblins rushed at Adrik, but the dwarf was able to parry both shallow swing with a tight pivot of his shield. Another arrow volley came raining from the darkness, like a swarm of bats, all skidding against the masonry while Brixton loosened an arrow back, and the squelch of flesh relayed unto the half-elf he had found his quarry.

The triumphant sight of Gudael’s spectral blade roared to life beside an armoured goblin – who wore tatters of leather that would have been unremarkable had our high-elf friend not spotted the elven engravings across the tanned hide. The sword struck the goblin, wrenching his chest upwards and clear of cover for Gudael’s mace, as it came down with a sickening crunch of its skull. A goblin was incinerated by Leith, and Adrik, in some half-hearted dance, cleared two more, before three surrendered – having witnessed one of their ally’s throats be slashed agape by Brixton’s twin blades.

Now, beyond these three unarmed goblins, we saw that not only did these Ostorian passages go much further back, but also that a chasm – not dissimilar to the one under Vain Gate – fell away into an abyss of darkness. I cautiously approached the yielding creatures, readying a spell should they take our mercy for granted. Two did. One threw a dagger at Brixton, catching the rogue in the side, and a second broke for an unsanctimonious retreated further into the subterranean halls. Spells and arrows flew fast at the offending two, but it was Brixton and Adrik who sent them plummeting into the chasm. The third stood perfectly still, and complied when we asked them to remain silent.

Again, Gudael and Leith seemed unmoved by this goblin’s pleas to be spared. Adrik and I reminded them that it was unarmed and, if we were so against possibly giving away our position to flanking forces, we should go back and slaughter the defenceless and beaten mothers. Brixton, while I don’t think disagreeing with Leith or Gudael, scolded the young wood-elf for his cold-heartedness. The two elves reluctantly gave the fate of this lone and harmless goblin into our hands. We, using as clear gestures as we could, told him to scurry off somewhere – which he did with much enthusiasm. And then more arrows came.

We took cover, some of us behind a pillar utterly turned to rubble, and some behind one powerfully tall column that showed signs of chips and cracks, but nothing of the instability the other had clearly suffered.

As Adrik, in undercommon, requested cessation of hostilities, we heard commands in their native tongue before calling something back to us. According to Adrik, this commander too spoke undercommon, and they were arranging a parlay betwixt us and the goblin king, Ogkar Devok. A battalion of goblins came scurrying up to us, demanding our weapons from us. No one but Adrik seemed comfortable with that clause, yet we all trusted the negotiatory skills of Mister Fogdar and so complied. However, I decided to hang onto my wand, for emergency’s sake. I let it drop within my sleeve and pulled from it a conjured dagger, which I gladly handed over to them – for these one had not seen me utilize my skills and likely took me for just another plump tag-along – not that they’d be entirely incorrect.

We were led safely around the chasm. Faded tiles of great sizes leaned precariously over the edge, and scatterings of aged mortar and dust fell from the ledge with each hollow wind that blew from without, or at every footstep that dared to venture too close. The giants’ passageway turned into a massive repository – though millennia ago it would have had another purpose, for it had other Ostorian ruins within – the goblins chose as their campsite, claiming more of these forgotten remnants as their own.

Great bonfires, over which meat curing and hide tanning were taking place, lay scattered about the echoing room. Huts of all sizes covered the floor like a patch of mushrooms. All the goblins wore about their mouths a reddish hue; on some hung whips from their hips, on others were scars from what looked like savage beatings from the aforementioned weapon. Off to the side, a goblin shaman stirred a large cauldron – large for even us – that bubbled and boiled on its own without aid of fire, and betrayed itself as the same crimson hue as what painted the maws of these goblins.

In the centre of it all stood a throne, beyond the size of man or even some giants. A mighty Ostorian it must have been that sat upon this stone dais. Sitting, not on the throne seat itself, but a few steps down, was this goblin king, Ogkar Devok. He was yelling, pointing violently at some bowed and kneeling wretch before he exclaimed in common – perhaps for our benefit, in order to show his “true” power – ‘exhile!’ and the goblin was dragged away.

We were introduced in their tongue and, in broken common, King Ogkar greeted us. He asked what our business was. Adrik, quite plainly, offered an alliance. In return for being left alone and not killed – as well as Adrik’s own share of the stolen gold – the goblins would cease their raids and take-care of our ship, The Little Empress; otherwise, they faced an inevitable extermination. It took some sliver-tongued elocution from Adrik and Brixton – both handled their impatience well, especially when it came to Ogkar offering to buy some of us – but the deal was brokered and they would partner with the “future king of Sidarhael”.

s a sign of good faith, Adrik gave to Ogkar, one-hundred gold pieces. The king, like some cast-awayed sailor who has not seen fresh food nor clean water in weeks, staggered toward the scattered coinage. His eyes darted from glint to glint, his mouth twitched and slathered, and his miserly fingers pried the gold pieces from the frigid ground.

It was the shaman, their ‘booyagh’, Maglu’glot that welcomed us over to his cauldron to sup on his concoctions. Only Adrik was brave enough to indulge in the soup, and felt exhilarated. This booyagh asked him who he truly was – no doubt curious why a humanoid seemed so interested in striking up a bargain with these subterranean people. Adrik revealed that he was ‘a father who’s tired of killing’. The first revelation struck as all. The way Adrik talked it seemed that he had always wished to be, but was never afforded the opportunity to become, a father. This makes me have my suspicion of his question he put to me some time ago on what being a father was like. As I said, I have my theories but I shan’t put anything down concretely, only that I have them and will query further.

Adrik partook in more of the goblins’ remedies and started talking to us, unprompted, about seemingly random things. What we quickly realised was that he had followed a line of conversation directly linked to what we had just been thinking – the dwarf now had the power to read minds, or at least our most surface of thoughts. I was excited, intrigued, and a little bothered – as my brain has been assailed by many mind-readers in the last few weeks that I’d quite like it if they stopped.

During all this, Leith sulked, as he tends to do in certain scenarios that he is not entirely comfortable with, and Gudael seemed puzzled by the form of civilization around her, and made some comment on whether goblins ‘harvest skin or not’ – which I believe is yet another superstition taught to her by her incredibly sheltered family. It is odd that both of us should be raised in relatively noble families, yet she be hidden from the realities of the world, whilst I bore witness to the most horrific actions mortals can conceive of.

I was hit by inspiration and asked Adrik if he could tell me what Tupp, my cuddly, badger companion was thinking. Holding him aloft, I gave Adrik clear view of the pudgy little creature, and he replied that Tupp was happy being lazy and not being asked to do much, but that he was unsure of this booyagh fellow.

A wave of darkness washed over us, and I could feel nets and ropes battling to restrain me. I heard the others struggle against it too, and I, with an unknown strength within me, tore them from my fleshy form, and dashed backwards. My vision returned to me at once, and before me was a globe of the blackest oblivion still enclosing my friends – for all a knew, they were all still in there, resisting the bindings of the goblins.

I ran around the globe as far as I could, still I could not see the king nor his shaman, but Brixton skidded to a stop just before teetering over the lip of the chasm. Several goblin guards, who were inactive, stood about the empty and colossal throne. Pre-empting a rush of their jagged blades, I sent a dart of ice hurtling towards them, encasing their whole number in the torrential blizzard that ensued, causing them to drop dead. As Brixton dashed for his weapons – and Leith called to Gudael in their shared blindness – Adrik emerged from the darkness, and slipped from the edge, falling into the crevasse.

I sprinted as swiftly as my corpulent form would allow and dove off the ledge. I swiped for even just a thread or chain-link of the dwarf’s clothing, found his hand, and stepped in a thunderous blast from our fatal plummet – which caused goblins on the fringes of the drop to fall in and send a rumble echoing down into the deep – safely to the base of the carved, stone throne. The globe of shadow faded and a wall of dust fell from the flank of the throne.

The others convened together, collecting their weapons, accepting Adrik’s apologies – which I did not think was necessary, for he at least tried to do the right thing – but I took a look at the flat slab at the back of the giant steps, upon which the throne sat. There was a thin line where the main body of the stone and, what looked like an inserted rectangle, met. It was a door. A secret Ostorian door that Ogkar and Maglu-glot had evidently escaped through.

Goblins were cowering in their homes. It was evident that these goblins meant us, personally, no harm. It was the deceitful king and his corrupt shaman that had deployed their reprehensible plot against us, despite our good will and trust. They we left alone, even letting out more goblins from their cages. Adrik let these decisions be made by my hand. I fear the dwarf’s failure in turning the foul leadership of the goblins away from their vile plans have affected him. I must needs have a talk with him, for even a man of such infinit caring needs a kind word.

We allowed ourselves a brief rest – mainly for the others; I was primed and ready yet tapped of any abilities that I could not again use until I indulged in a more lethargic repose – and we set off once sufficiently happy.

A combined effort between Brixton, Adrik, and myself opened the Ostorian door and we delved down into the well-carved hallway. The wailing of wind screamed far below, the rustle of dust and loose stone that fell from the ceiling above, or that ever-present feeling of something waiting to crawl over one’s shoulder. The dark, lightless passage was unnerving, without the sheer grandeur of this megalithic corridor that amplified all that disquieted us.

As we descended down this steep corridor, Brixton felt something shift underfoot, and we watched as he stumbled, caught himself with his own foot, then pushed back into us, just in time for a large, greatsword blade to come swinging fast past and, as like a great pendulum, continued to weave back and forth between the walls. Aware now of the illusive traps that may now lay before us, we continued more cautiously, and each made a daring leap through the slashing steel. Adrik, either misjudged the timing of the blade or tripped just before making his dive through the trap, was caught in the shoulder by it. Luckily his armour sustained much of the force, and to save on spells – which all but Leith were running low on now – I handed Adrik one of the healing potions Lord Hasildril had gifted unto us.

We dove deeper and deeper. Coming to what seemed like the end of the Ostorian carved passage. To the side we noticed a smaller, more poorly crafted entrance, and suspected that some later group had continued the giants’ work – likely the goblins or their predecessors. I could not tell if the others were fighting off some smothering, claustrophobic fears but I felt not-uncomfortable in these ancient bowels. While the air was stale and cold, the embrace of the stone against my shoulders filled me with a sensation I have altogether missed; one of safety. Perhaps I should shun all my learned ways and turn wild like the goblins.

This led us to an atrium, covered in crude goblin arts and crafts, that forked to tunnels to the left and right – the latter of which had another chasm that severed the path to it. Seeing it as the safer route, we took the left tunnel. Here returned the masonry of the Ostorians, for we hauled ourselves up the immense stone steps, and above us the well-formed rock ceiling seemed to sag, as if carrying a great burden – which it most certainly did, shouldering the weight of miles of earth upon its back.

Brixton, part way along, discovered a thin line of wire, pulled taught so that it did not waver or dance, only remain invisible in the dim light, half-a-foot above the floor. Each of us warily stepped over it. Before us opened up another chamber, this one far larger than any we had seen on this isle. It reminded me of that great tomb in which the vizier’s funerary vessel had been constructed in. In rows, leaning against the growing walls or standing erect and unaided, dozens and dozens of giant-sized sarcophagi filled this room. We did not inspect whether they were currently in use or not, as we were taken by the blanket of dust that covered our way ahead.

For – though it had seemed like it had remained untouched since it was sealed thousands of years ago – a thick, slinking path carved through it and, in the dust that had remained behind in that corridor of movement, was what looked like the slightest imprint of scales. We moved tentatively, progressing down a flight of steps that then immediately climbed up once more, like a reversed pyramid.

The pathway narrowed and, on either side, where there was once wall, now only a dark void gaped at us hungrily. What may have once been water that flowed like a canal on either side now just gave away to a ravenous abyss. And from far ahead of us, came hissing and slithering.

From the edge of our vision, a large, coiling mass writhed towards us. It’s pointed, wormlike head split into four, twisting and probing tentacles and a hooked beak protruded from the blossoming horror that appeared to be its maw. Its tentacles, dripping with dewy moisture, sent my mind flashing back forty or so years to that beach upon the shores of Vanderhold; and there I witnessed yet again that abomination resting on the shelled stones of the coast. I was able to keep myself composed as much as I could. In a fit of stress, I discharged a beam of ice at the creature, encasing its lower portion in that familiar ball of snow-storm I so often conjure.

Adrik, enlarging to match the creature’s bulk, struck at the beast, driving the head of his warhammer into the soft underbelly of the creature, yet its malleable hide appeared to have protected it somewhat from the blow. The tentacles pummeled down on the dwarf, but wrapped themselves around his shield. Swinging from the side, the tail bowled at Adrik, but the dwarf cleared it with a jump, and once more caught the beak against his shield as it bore down on him once more. A singular runic chain-link sparkled on Adrik’s chest and the creature halted, dazed and confused. This was the same rune he had used on myself in the Vaingatian Ostorian ruins; he had charmed the beast. Gudael summoned her spectral longsword and lunged it forward, but it gleamed of its leathery hide. Leith let off a bolt of fire, singeing the top right portion of the monster’s tendril lips whilst Brixton loosened a bow into its fleshy side.

I fired off a bolt of flame myself, striking it right in the beak. Dropping his ineffective hammer, Adrik unsheathed from his belt his two handaxes and began hacking at it, one slice gleaming off the scales, but the other took a sizable chunk from the thing’s mass. At this, it woke from its conscious slumber but could do nothing while it still recovered from the shock of our attacks. Gudael misty-stepped to the thing, trying to land atop its head but could not do so steadily, and so landed down upon her feet, yet still tried to clobber the thing with her mace, yet that too failed against the monster. Leith sent a second bolt of fire and scorched its side and Brixton’s arrow flew wide, and a final fire bolt from me caused it to go careening off the edge of our path.

Brixton stumbled over to Gudael, saying something to her, but I could not make it out; I was too busy recovering from the horror that had just affronted us. I bent my head between my knees and breathed, fighting the urge to retch. I felt the warming hand of Adrik upon my back, giving me words of praise and comfort. This did a lot to wane my distress.

I shall end this here. Adrik and Brixton had agreed that this being as an alpha grick – thanks to the knowledge of these two delvers of the deep and knowers of the unknown – but even as I try to describe in as a little detail of its horrendous nature as possible, I can only do so much to once more resist that same sickness that came over me then. Those memories from long ago, those haunting-

I have never been a religious man, Maria. Not that I disbelieve in the gods, but have never found myself able to pray or give myself to them with the same devotion Gudael or Leith give unto their respective deities. Yet, if you find solace in prayer, then please, if you can, pray not for me but for my dreams. Pray that my nightmares may supress for just some time after this plunge into yet another Underdarkian ruin.

All the good wishes and thoughts I can spare,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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