Devryn - Chapter 14 "The Bridges We Build"

Devryn - "The Bridges We Build"

We looked down on the entry gate to the massive stone bridge.  The twin spires reached skyward with its thoroughfare pinned between, spanning across the deep gorge to another pair marking its completion on the other side.  Time had not crippled this edifice, only blotched the surface in ochre stains.  A testament to the long-forgotten craftsmen. 

The Fates smiled on us this day, as it seemed only restless soldiers hid among the patches of stone and trees along the road that led up to its arcades.  Could count no more than eight on random mounds, sprawled out under makeshift lean-tos.

I sighed in exasperation as I rested my chin on my hands, scanning to be sure the she-elf had not found her way here.  Persistent.

“We can take those guys.  No problem,” Seth turned to look at me, his sunburned nose and cheeks a bright pink.

“But do we want to?  Leaving bodies?”

“Dump them below.”

I peered out, “Probably should not let anyone think we passed through here.  Keep them guessing.”  Caution should temper this decision.  The Graud Vuasari Bridge makes a reliable choke point, and would let my pursuers mark my westerly progress.  The Vuasari River cut through the steppes, traveling north and south when this far north.  The stubborn river lacked that temerity to dry up, years of fashioning a rocky canyon to mark its dominance.

A climb down echoed in my head as not the worst idea.  But it would be the swim across that would most likely kill us, though.  A plunge in its fast-moving waters, pressing you against the jagged walls on either side, if not grinding you to meal on the rocks below.

“What do we do?” Seth whispered.

I shook my head, “You know they can’t hear you at this distance?”

Raina clicked her tongue, “We can’t go around.  A day, at least, either way”.

She was right.  There were fording points about a day north and a highly patrolled bridge by Prince Messra’s soldiers almost two days south.  The canyon did have safer areas to swim, where Vuasari’s rapids were lessened between the wider gaps.

“I’m a bit hungry and would like a warm bed.  Or, at least something over my head for a night.”  I added.  “Inna Bogarta is long-days walk west of here, with some manors along the way.  Plenty of opportunities to rest and mend”

Looking at Seth’s face, beyond his reddened cheeks, his features had dulled and grown a bit pasty.  The constant exposure to the steppe marred his jovial visage.  He could prance about all he wanted but death comes in all forms.

“We could wait them out,” Seth offered.

Raina looked to the scene and back again.  “They are all positioned off the bridge.  We could skirt the canyon and get behind them.  They should be expecting… you to come up on them from that direction,” nodding to the road.  “We should wait for dark to cross.”

I looked at her, a moment too long, “Hmm… okay.”

Seth smiled one of those teeth-filled smiles.  I’m starting to not like that smile.

With that, we each found spots under the stunted trees, a poor attempt to get out of the sun while staying warm from the frosty air.  The others lounged, sleeping when they could, as we waited for nightfall.  As inconspicuous as I could make it, I began examining the tattoos.  They were all over my body… arms, legs, feet.

Getting curious, meatbag?  I could feel a sharp nail prick my foot as I looked at a swirling set of lines that ran along the inside of my foot.

Pulling on the boot, I felt you were near.

Yeah, meatbag should.  I couldn’t see him but furrows in the sand showed clawed feet next to my leg.

Where have you been?

Around, he purred with an odd, guttural hum.

Molesting things, I imagine.

I could almost hear his lips curl into a grin.

Please, explain to me what is going on.

You are being hunted by an angry elf…

Look, you flying piece of..., my anger rose and I could see a retreat in the sand.  With this! I said in a huff, lifting my jerkin a little to expose the intricate lines and swirls of blue.

Master, I am not.  But what I have seen, you are marked by the Trebeche an’ Winsunik circle of affirmation.

The swirl?  The first tattoo?

Yes.  It opens your… The imp passed, no word for your tongue… but, maybe a gate or door, I think.

I sat there soaking it in.  The cool wind made my exposed arms rise in goosepimples.

The pointy ear, she go to do something.  Bam!  She, like… sucked in.  Never seen that before.  The imp kicking a loose stone only echoed the nonchalance in his tone with the last statement.  You might die.  A chuckle fluttered in my mind and I heard its wings flap and he left me to my thoughts.

*   *   *   *

Night fell.  The evening calls from the tiny steppe birds quieted and left a calm among the sandy dunes.

I dozed in and out.  Flashes of the elf mage writhing in pain waking me twice.  The creature’s words still hung in my brain, she was sucked in.  They could not seem more truer based on the dried husk that was left behind.

Seth alerted me that they were ready to go.  I joined them as they found our previous vantage point, looking out onto the bridge.  One moon sat low in the sky leaving everything in a near-inky blackness.  My vision battled between my normal sight and perceiving everything in muted grays, depending on where the light touched.  A throb began to pulse behind my eyes.  Not used to this.

“No campsite,” Seth said.

“A sign they are waiting for something… or somebody,” I added.

We climbed down and stalked over to the edge of the gorge.  Every step made with caution as the sand seemed tense and ready to betray us at any moment. 

Hushed voices picked up in volume as we drew closer to the road.  A lookout position on top of a neighboring mound alerted us to our nearing the mouth.  Seth led the way, often melting into the deep shadows and brush.  Raina next, her footfalls also demonstrated her talent to be quiet when she wanted.  I could not keep their pace as my boots seemed to scream in my ears, like an ox dancing on a wood floor. 

The stone pillars of the bridge came into the sight in the gloom, promising our finish to this game.  Seth climbed down into the gorge, briefly disappearing in its maw, and then back into view as he scaled the side of a bridge support. 

Raina took the safer route of edging over the bridge’s sidewall, swinging her feet over on her belly.  As I stepped up to mimic her maneuver, the palm of my left hand began to itch.  The pinch of small needles prickling my flesh would not stop.  I swung over, looking as Seth skirted the wall, heading away, with Raina in tow.  To his right, I made out a small urn sitting in the middle of the bridge, blanked in the blackness, but gray to my eyes.


“Tssss…  Seth,” I risked a hard whisper.  He kept moving.  Keeping low, I hurried to catch up.

“Seth, stop…”  I watched as the seal along the urn’s cap turned bright red, then a vivid yellow.  A fiery eruption burst forth.  Seth slammed into the stone, collapsing to the ground.  Raina, from the force, was flung upward and over the low wall, her hands desperately grabbing for a purchase.

I rushed over, locking my hands on her wrists as she dangled above the hidden abyss below.  Her eyes pled to mine in fear, don’t let go.

With a heave, I pulled with everything I had.  Her light frame came freely, her legs lifting over and scrambling to stand.

When she stood safe, it was too late for me to hear the scuffing of boots on the bridge to realize the full threat.  I turned to see men running up, bows drawn. 

I flung my jacket free, ready to pull my blade.  An arrow loosed.  It found my upper chest.  Pain washed over me, and with all the momentum and movement, my hip rolled against the wall, and over I went.

Devryn – Interlude 2 "Reverence"

Devryn – "Reverence"

I stood next to my father; his stern look held forward.  He smelled of incense and campfire smoke from the brief night’s rest before our early morning arrival.  His worn, leather glove engulfed my eight-summer hand with a gentle firmness I was not often afforded.  We stood quiet as the service to honor the passing of Matron Enbeyi settled into a lull after the string of mourning hymns.  The low hum of the hilltop breeze filled the spaces between us.

The mass of attendees was the largest I had seen for a final turn of the wheel gathering, if not ever.  Word must have spread among the nearby troupes, and then even further.  So many strangers, but yet acting as if a familial bond existed with their words and embraces.

Seviyorn, a troupe elder, chose a distant set of hills in the Banthatalik Plains for the site.  Among the violet-grass sea, a wagon wheel half-buried in a bed of pink and white wildflowers marked her passing so the gods could not ignore her memory.

The service came to an end with the murmur of voices whispering in unison their private memories of her.  I watched my father’s mouth move to quieted words as he shared his.  The heralding wind carried them off to the underworld, to the Valdayian Lands, the place of unparalleled beauty that awaits our return.

Enbeyi’s oldest daughter stood to the front in a crimson and yellow dress, her hair pinned up with silver needles and flowing ribbons entwining her two loose tresses.  Father said they were a traditional family, and her daughter was to adopt Enbeyi’s name.  The Perussians believed in the longevity of a family’s fortune can be gifted to them by the Fates, knowing that the thread cannot be cut if the name remains.  I could never take my father’s name; how could I ever be like my father...

“We give praise to the Fates,

Atashey for balancing the scales of duty.

Weh for the gifts bestowed with the soul-bound thread.

Datena for the eternal winds that carry their whims.

Laffandey for the hands that weave the quilt of life.

Woovorne for the reflection of ourselves and our family.

Curchuriv for the inspiration that fills our hearts.

Sessudrey for the prudence to cut what must end.”

Devryn - Chapter 13 "Let Them Rest"

Devryn - "Let Them Rest"

One of the advantages to traveling across the Restorae Steppes was the lay of the land.  Consistent stretches of passable trails when wanting to avoid anyone on the main road.  And right now, I felt the need to hide from the world.

I watched Seth have one of his odd episodes, attempting to break the monotony.  In the soldier’s uniform he liberated from the camp, Seth skipped between steps, poorly whistling a quick-paced tune.  If memory served, it’s sounded similar to “The Ferryman’s Wife”.  I heard it plenty of times on the road as a child, a reminder of a distant past.  Perussians enjoyed filling their evenings with song and dance when on those never-ending roads, and a way to share and teach our traditions.  At this point of my life, I could believe Seth more a Perussian in blood than I.

Next to Seth walked the stranger, since an introduction was not forthcoming.  Her dark hair laid in waves down her shoulders, the soft hiss of her supple leathers in rhythm with her pace.  I hadn’t quite got a read on her, but she was quick with a blade and buckler combo.  Only spared words were shared between anyone after our hasty exit.  Exhaustion held our tongues to this point since after walking through the night, putting distance from the camp… and that crazed spell-slinging elf. 

“You sure you know what you are doing?” Seth spun on the ball of his foot in the sand to look back at me.

Our course remained steadily westward, towards Inna Bogarta.  I used a trick I learned when crossing here a few times before to make sure that was the case.  Take a landmark and make it your guide.  At night, find north and pick one of the brighter stars as a marker, keeping it resting on your right shoulder.  Clouds can make that difficult, but the Fates blessed us with a clear sky last night.

 “Yes.  Navigating this barren rock pile is simple enough… if you know how to look.”

The packed sand continued to crunch under foot as we made our way.  Looking north, I could not see the actual road but knew it lie not far off, maybe over a mile.  The land laid flat enough to get a decent line-of-sight at larger distances, but the numerous sand and briar mounds fashioned a maze-like underworld.  Only the peaks sat visible, a sea of drab browns and greens, a desolate sea rimmed with rock-faced mountains.

Earlier this morning, before the sun rose, I began to feel a pinch in my left hip.  When I had the chance, I checked the spot for a wound or bruising during a brief pause.  The ache, just above my beltline, felt warm to the touch and pressing on it was slightly annoying.  It also marked the location of a tattoo, a black-inked lizard spiraling inward with its tail spinning outward.

Behind a nearby mound, the remnants of a covered wagon came into view.  Perussians must have either passed through or camped here at some point.  The back end and top were missing, leaving short strips of iron, used to reinforce the frame, pointed skyward.  The cart’s body sat on two pillars of gathered stones, wheels removed on either side.  The once colorful exterior stripped of its painted menagerie from the wind-blown sand and time.

“One of your people?  Someone you know?”  Seth looked over while thumbing the decrepit wagon.

“Yes, Seth.  All Perussians know one another.”

Seth’s mouth broadened into a wide grin, teeth whiter than you would expect of a Tressian city-dweller.

“I’ll remember this when we get to Inna Bogarta,” I chided back.

 “Well, it’s time for a break,” the stranger’s sharp words gave no room to disagree.  Seth shrugged his shoulders and backed into a seated position on a mound.

Suddenly feeling the exhaustion leach into my legs, I sat with a low moan.  Since the fight and fleeing, everything passed quickly in succession, leaving my recollection a blur.  An uncomfortable knot in my stomach left me feeling uneasy about everything that happened.

I centered myself and played out everything again in my mind, only pausing and replaying the parts I felt needing further attention.  Tressian soldiers, for whatever reason, camped at the surface entrance to an underground city.  To add, a pair of elven mages aiding in their endeavor to explore the city.  Or, could be the other way around.  I could not recall a house emblem or a tattoo.  Maybe rogue mages?

“Seth, do you know why the prince’s soldiers were camped there?”

Seth dropped his gaze to his dark-haired friend, who in turn looked up at him.  “Lookin’ for something is what I heard.  Those hairy monster were making it tough, though.”

His friend’s stare returned to me, looking for a reaction or something.  Or, something more.  For the first time, I got a chance to take in the ill-disposed lady’s details.  Her hair framed a face darkened by the sun but still softer than I would imagine.  No notable age lines to guess an age and her hazel eyes betrayed her Tressian heritage.  Her leathers fitted her body proportionally, definitely fashioned for her frame.  Wealthy or a prized soldier?   

Seth continued, “You find anything interesting?  Lovely jacket and blade you got there.”

“Thanks,” I grabbed at the lapel.  “Just some left behind junk.”  Never for being one to show proper grace, “What’s your name?” looking to her steely eyes.  “We haven’t been introduced.”  I tried to give a pleasant smile.  “How do you two know each other?”

Seth laughed awkwardly as she answered, “Raina.  From years back in Trevista.  We grew up on the same streets.”  Her voice, finally not in a commanding tone, sounded lighter but still firm.

“That must have been a treat.  I barely know him and have almost died… too many times.  Has he always been this way?”


My sore spot jolted me with a tweak.  Standing up, I lifted my shirt.

“So, I don’t remember you having all those tattoos, Devryn,” Seth’s eyebrow raised in inquiry.

“No, you shouldn’t.  Not even sure where to begin… or how.”

Raina pointed at the sore spot, “I’ve seen that before.  They use those on messengers.”  Her serious tone did nothing to help.

“The ladies use those to insure messengers pass along their reports.  I understand they are deadly if you don’t...”  She looked away, “If you believe what those snake-tongued harpies want you to believe.”

“I wasn’t given any message.”

“No doubt,” she retorted.  “It’s magic.  You have to be in front the person the message is meant for.  Then you gab whatever they wanted you to say, not remembering a thing afterwards.”

Wanting to change the subject, “Where did you learn to fight?”

She looked up from her hands as they tore a leaf along the center seam, “Trained in Prince Mesra’s army.”

“They are quite adept at swordplay, I see.  And hire rogue mages?”

“I guess.  And you?  Where did you learn?”

“My father,” I lied.  Might as well, since she probably was.

Seth broke in, “What happened to Tae?  He in the camp?”

“He should be.  We came in pretending to be messengers and they sent us off to check in.”  I left out the incident during the night with the company.  Tae-gron took a hard hit, but he should heal up fine after the earthen channeler’s attention.

“So, you were down there?” Seth asked with a bit of excitement.  “See anything?  Find anything?”  His glib tongue said more to his true nature.

 Looking past her, I noticed a wagon wheel half-buried in the sand.  Getting up and walking over, legs a little wobbly, two more at the base of the next mound.  The rotted wood arced upward, iron tacks and pitted bands with a coat of rust.  A prickly bush with delicate yellow flowers, swaying in the cool breeze, contrasted the grim significance of the wheel.

“Woah, weird,” Seth exclaimed as he went to pass.

I shot out my arm, “You shouldn’t step further.  These are grave markings.”

Seth stopped.

“My people use the wheels to honor the dead.  To also symbolize the turning from this world to the next, the underworld.  And, said to be bad luck to step on.  The Fates do not take kindly on those who tread on their memory.”  A pause.  “Something like that…,” I added, smiling to Seth to lighten the mood. 

Raina, now standing to the other side, placed her hand on my shoulder.

Devryn - Chapter 12 "A Desperate Escape"

Devryn - "A Desperate Escape"

I awoke to a shiver rippling through my stiff body.  The cold had leached into my body while I slept.  A respite from my continuous exertion over the last few days, but the comfort of a bed continues to elude me. 

The quiet reigned supreme in my tunnel that overlooked the chamber of discarded bones.  My little companion was near but not visible.  Slowly rolling over and pushing myself to my knees, I worked through my complaining muscles, stretching and pushing on the rough walls to get the blood flowing. 

I took a minute to relax, allowing my breath to become shallow, listening for any nearby threats.  The process shifted into an almost overwhelming uneasiness.  The notion of emptiness under the tons of rock filled me with a dread of becoming one of the many unnamed dead below, with no need to shove dirt over my nibbled-on corpse. 

I picked up my newly-acquired sword and stepped to the edge of the opening.  The floor below still sent my mind reeling, surveying the area littered with human remains… from what I could tell.  Those soldiers were right to fear what lived down here.  This ancient city was crawling with some vile creatures.

I made my way back to the stairs.  Simple enough.  I took my time, stopping to check for any activity.  Out and back up to the fortified landing, the wooden defenses remained empty of guards.  Torches led up the next set of stairs, and into a small room with two outlets, and beyond.  More arrows drawn with chalk on the walls and floor led me to a vaulted hall, pillars lining the expanse, sunlight as a backdrop on the far end, opening onto the Restorae plains. 

Skirting the wall, towards the exit, the imp glided down from over my head to land on the ground.  Its claws scratched on the surface, the body shifting forward to peer ahead.

“Hmmm.  No apes for you to hide from.”

“Yeah, probably still down there,” looking back over my shoulder, “fighting off those brutes.”

“Bahito’ikins.  The pointy prudes call them that.  ‘Skin eaters’ be the words.”  His ridged eyebrow raised in amusement.


He smiled at that.

I realized he was not speaking in my head, but with his throaty, high-pitched voice.  He looked forward and skittered across the stone in a smooth, graceful movement, his wings folded up and his tail raised in a poised ‘s’ shape.  Then, he vanished.  Still a dick, though.

We crossed into the early morning light, reds and oranges fading into the blues painted across the sky.  Fresh air.  A warming breeze.  My body absorbed the renewed day on the steppes.  I grabbed onto the little pleasure, hoping to fuel what came next.

With a quick huff of breath, I jogged in a westward direction, attempting to keep a low profile.  Dune to dune, the process a back and forth effort, cracked sand crunching under my boots.  It seemed both a blur of movement and slow-going through the repetitive landscape.  The uneven field afforded piles of discarded masonry from old buildings and clusters of bramble trees and thorny bushes to hide my progress. 

My growing ease ended with a twirled whistle to my right. 

“We have movement to my left!” shouted a sentry from a raised position.  The call was answered with other perimeter guards and signaling hoots.

Rounding my next bend, a pair of soldiers slid down the side of a mound, attempting to block my path.  I gripped down on the tattered leather and aged wood of the sword and rushed them as they descended. 

Reaching the first, his sword and hand shifted at his sides, keeping balance as he slid with the sand, with no time for a defensive posture.  I lunged in, my blade riding up his left thigh into the groin.  Then, using the abrupt stopping of my blade, my free hand closed around the wrist of his weapon hand, and wheeled my short blade around to come down where his neck and shoulder met.  A spray of blood and a shriek signified the end of his fight.

The other scout landed in a wedge between another mound, watching as his comrade crumpled to the ground in a heap.  He stood there in shock, a boy’s face wide and frozen.  I looked straight into his widening eyes, a smile growing across my face.  Yes, just enough to unsettle him more.  A shift and step forward into his guard, I slammed the pommel into his temple, knocking him into a dazed sprawl at my feet.

Moving off, I sped past a crumbled threshold and down what may have been a street at one time.  The sound of hooves nearing surpassed the pounding of my boots on the packed sand and dirt.

Two Tressian lancers skirted some brambles, to pull up on me from a side footpath.  Both were clothed and armored in a faded lavender livery, chain shirts clinking from the jaunting stop.

“Drop the sword and surrender yourself.”

When confronted with a moment that gives you an opportunity to say something clever, even though it might get you killed, only comes so often.  Unfortunately, all I did was shake my head and shrug my shoulders.

As fast as a wink, my little bastard of a friend materialized into existence in the face of the mouthy rider’s horse.  In response, the horse reared up while trying to prance backwards.  The awkward maneuver sent the horse and rider in a twisting fall. 

The other lancer’s horse pulled at the reins, fidgeting away from the commotion.  The rider kicked the horse forward, securing his short lance in the crook of his arm. 

I scrambled up the nearby mound, gaining some height and maneuvering behind a bramble tree for cover.

He rode past, unable to drive his lance home.  The rider led the braided mare around a section of collapsed stones to make a return pass, the wooded beaded mane waving about and ears prickling with anticipation.  I waited as he approached in long strides.  Raising myself onto my higher foot, moving me away from the lance’s tip, I swung with all the force I could muster at the lancer’s head.  The blade struck the coif covering the neck.  Not expecting the blade to cut clean through, heading flipping off the shoulders, I tumbled headlong and slid down the mound.  The loosed horse carried the slumped body into the steppe.

I jumped up and sprinted past the downed rider, the horse no longer in sight.  His body was in full convulsions, eyes and mouth wide, and bloody foam spilling out.  The imp sat on his chest, his barbed tail tapping the dying man’s nose playfully.

Glancing at the bloodied blade, I saw nothing to show the metal was stressed from the hefty blow.  More than just a well-crafted weapon.  Rounding a group of trees and a low wall, four soldiers turned to look at me as I interrupted their discussion.  The first raised his hands to his lips, giving out a loud, piercing whistle.  The two closest soldiers dashed forward, drawing their Tressian short blades.  The last unshouldered his bow and knocked an arrow.

I closed the distance on the charging men, using them to shield me from the archer.  A lanky man, stubble shadowing his chin, reached me first.  With reckless abandon, he swung a wide strike.  I stepped to the side, my sword taking the blow.  With a sure base on my back foot, I kicked with the front, more pushing him off balance and away.

An arrow whizzed by my waist.

The second Tressian stopped to gain position.  His pause allowing the first to recover.  Damn.

The whistler reached into a thicket of branches next to him, pulling out a double-bladed glaive.  He spun it up to rest on his shoulder, walking forward with a confident swagger. 

He stopped halfway, looking over my shoulder with astonishment washing over his features.

Crunch… crunch…  A Raven-haired woman dashed in, crashing a buckler into the side of the tall soldier’s knee.  The joint moved in an awkward direction, contorting his leg and body.  He screamed from the overwhelming pain.  He was done soldiering for a while.

I sprung at the other, causing him to jump back.  I used his withdrawal to charge the bigger threat.

Another arrow passed inches from my head.  Using my peripheral, I watched as the archer drew back again.  Then, the archer’s neck sprayed out a gout of blood as an arrow protruded from the side.  He stood there as blood bubbled from between his lips.

The glaive-wielder crouched low, waiting for me to step into his range.  He wore the same lavender colors with added yellow adornments, marking him as having rank.  The Tres pushed in, bringing the blade down, arcing for my leg.  I retreated, still gauging my distance.  His swing continued into a follow-through slice with the other end, cutting through the air as he spun the shaft with some quick handwork.  That put me into a full defense, catching the heavy blade in mid-strike.  The force and his smooth movement displayed competence with the weapon.  We exchanged swings, mostly to avoid each other.

An arrow pinned to the ground near his foot.  Following back to its origin, Seth stood atop a pile of rubble, still dressed as a soldier.  He gave a quick waive of recognition.

The soldier’s next spinning attack came fast and hard.  I parried and dodged, being pushed back towards the flurry between the last soldier and the leather-clad woman.  The next attack across the front swung inches from my chest and I used its ferocity, taking my short blade and instead of a full parry, I pushed with his momentum.  His forward foot stepped wide, almost causing him to lose his balance.  Closing in, I grabbed at his wrist, just missing but gripping his hand.  I brought my blade high and away, taking him under the ear and jaw.  The man quickly pressed his hand to his neck, blood seeping from the wound, glaive falling free. 

Devryn - Chapter 11 "What Awaits in the Darkness"

Devryn - "What Awaits in the Darkness"

The Perussians have a singular word for those moments when your life is given to the Fates, ef-fa-timat.  My father’s death was my first.  Twelve at the time, I found myself abandoned in the city of Ardal, capital to the elven empire.  Our small troupe disbanded the week before, leaving me to find my way on the unkind streets of the massive urban sprawl. 

The night in the Lamb’s Slaughter Tap House in Ebold’s Way was the second.  The hustle went sideways, but I survived… sorta.  If the loss of my father sent me into the Four Winds reeling, this moment sent me to the gates of the underworld.  I spent a few months in an elven prison for that indiscretion before being transported to the Illuminated Three Peaks.  There, I met the relentless taskmaster who made me the man I am today.  I can still hear that elven bastard’s vile words during that first meet.  “I’ll break your spirit, boy.  I will make you mine.”  He wasn’t wrong.

I wanted to believe this moment was different than those.  But by all accounts, that weightless feeling of spinning on that unhindered breeze filled my belly.

Moments of reflection can be so insightful.

The quiet returned.  In one hand I held a bloody blade.  The other, a thick, vellum scroll with a silk ribbon wrapped around the middle, which quaked with an unfamiliar energy.  While in the Illuminated Peaks, I learned to hunt mages.  They subjected me to a number of trials that exposed me to various forms of magic.  This was easily beyond anything those spell-slingers threw at me.  Staring at the stone wall, I forced my thoughts to clear, remembering my training to reverberate through my core.  Intent and focus were everything. 

You found yourself a treasure, did you?

My unwanted companion sat on an empty shelf eyeing the scroll.  “What do make of this,” lifting it slightly, but not offering.

If I were to call you a pebble, it is a boulder… no, a mountain.  The imp climbed up the bookcase to the next shelf, sliding a thin, decrepit book out of its way.

Ignoring his cryptic words, I walked the edge of the room, probing for any reasonable exit while grabbing at the remaining glass cases, looking for anything to improve my situation.  Climbing out through the ceiling was not an option and no doors along the walls to this dismal study stood apparent.  Inside one case lay a gathered garment of a dark cloth, a deep gray, with white threading knotted along the edges of a high collar.  Freeing the thickly woven pile of the brass-framed cover, a quick flick, and it opened into a longcoat.  Pulling the sturdy fabric on, my hands patted its length to expel the ever-present dust and flatten the aged creases.  I opened the front to discover a pocket on each side.  Sliding the scroll into the top, releasing it from my grasp, it disappeared into the cloth.  Frantic, my hands felt no shape or weight in the coat.  Reaching back in, I found my searching fingers curling around the scroll, pulling it free of the coat. 

Magic.  I’m kinda tired of having my world upended by this shit.

I returned the scroll to the pocket to continue my search, looking at the imp as I did so, waiting for any reaction.  Nothing.

Glancing down, the lower foot of the bookcase was made into a cabinet with narrow, iron-barred windows.  I opened the delicate swing-latch and shattered glass dribbled out onto the floor, followed by the collapsing of a decayed wooden self.  On the left side, a slight grove in the stone, a slender space about four feet in height, between the tall bookcase and a section of lined, shallow cubbies.  A false door?

I ran my fingers along the void, feeling for anything that would help.  At waist level, my fingertips disappeared into the rock, passing an illusory surface.  Pressing further, I pressed a release and the hidden door jerked slightly free.  Seeing a lip, I pulled the squat door open to reveal a short hallway.  The imp jumped down to land on my shoulder, peering in with me.

At the opposite end, another groove framed the edge of a hidden door with a steel cylinder to the right.  I slowly made my way to the button, checking to be sure nothing unusual about this corridor and pressed the cold projection.  A suppressed click and my escape was evident.  On the other side, another passage.  The hall extended in either direction, my sight showing no end to either after about thirty feet. 

 “You brought me down here.  Which way?”

With a snap of its wings, the imp launched into the air, off my shoulder, to cling to the far wall.  Its head swung back and forth, pausing briefly to consider.  With a toothy grin, it shrugged its shoulders with indifference.

“Great.  Left it is.”

I paced my steps out, pausing after twenty to listen.  At a corner or intersection, I waited a bit longer, hoping for any clues or potential threats.  My nefarious companion kept oddly silent as we trekked on.  Sometimes he glided back and forth or rested on my shoulder.  Other times, he remained invisible… but I sensed his nearby presence. 

Reaching a third intersection, my patience paid off.  Faint voices echoed from the left corridor.  I waited to see if they were drawing near but it was impossible to tell.  Steeping as lightly as possible, I crept that direction.  A left curve and another intersection.  Just before the split though, a hole about three feet high led into the right wall, carved into the rock.  I pressed on and found two more before the passage opened into an enormous chamber.  The voices rang clearer here. 

The ceiling disappeared into the darkness above with the ground ahead stepping up to a raised platform.  The climb blocked my vision of the whole room.  A set of wide stairs gave reasonable access while the platform stretched into either direction, out of sight.  Stepping onto the base step, the voices carried from ahead.  Staying low, I crawled up the steps on hands and knees, to rest on the edge at the top.

I peeked over the lip of the stone rise, torches moved between rock formations and sections of strung-up canvas.  Soldiers stood around talking in small groups, one such group around a large table.  The scene erupted into a frenzy as high-pitched squeals called from the darkness.  Short, figures deftly sprinted in from the left, crashing into the unprepared quarry. 

The groups melded into a spiraling melee of blades and claws.  The creatures pounced and grappled the soldiers, digging into the soft spots.  At the table, one soldier barked out orders, but the battle was beyond his control at this point. 

My chance had come.  Keeping low, I shuffled to the right, using anything I could for cover as I climbed over and skirted the light.  The distant wall was lit by a pair of torches, marking a passageway out.  After a quick glance to the center of the chamber to be sure all was clear, I sprinted to the exit.

The passage immediately dipped downward as I jogged its length.  A chalked arrow pointed to the left at the first intersection.  As you wish. 

After passing two alcoves, a right turn ended at the base of stairs leading up.  I bounded up taking two steps at a time, I quickly passed through two landing alcoves, slowing to catch my breath.  The second had three short burrows splitting off, similar to the ones before.  Continuing on, the next landing gave me pause.  Torches revealed a larger alcove with a wooden barricade blocking my immediate access.  No one was presently manning the post but I heard steps rushing down the stairs that entered the room at the back.

Not good.  I sped down to the last alcove.  The thumping of boots grew louder.  Damn this day and these holes. 

I looked around for the imp, he remained unseen.  Pointing the sword forward, I squatted down and crawled my way into the closest hole.  This one was a bit roomy, so that was a win.  After about five minutes, my journey ended in a drop-off.  The burrow looked down onto an enormous cavern.  A dim, pale yellow glow emitted from patches of fungus to show the floor was littered with bone.  That win was short-lived.