The Dungeon Realm, part 1: The Shadow of the Mountain

Right, so, before we jump in headfirst, allow me to provide a bit of context.
(I’ll provide a glossary once all parts of the Dungeon Realm have been posted.)

The Cast:

Landred Vhael
: The current leader of the Iron Hand, who reunited the group after twenty years for the purpose of finding his father, Kaiden Vhael. Trained in both the martial and the arcane arts. He wields a sword and a crystal-studded gauntlet which serves as a focus for his magic. A calculating man with a great deal of confidence in his abilities.

Loriann Ophidia: One half of the elven Serpent Sisters. Loriann was a noted ranger twenty years ago. However, her encounter with the demon known as the Telerian Prince caused her to turn to divine magic for aid. She is now a priestess, serving Dumah, the god of light and silence, and the inveterate foe of all dark powers. Reserved, perceptive, strong-willed.

Vindrianna Ophidia: The other Serpent Sister. Vindrianna’s encounter with the Telerian Prince changed her as much as her sister. But while Loriann turned to the gods, Vindrianna turned to devils for greater power, believing that the way to defeat darkness was to use it against itself. She learned the art of warlocks and witches, gaining power through pacts with higher powers. Shy, but given to impulsive action and has a surprisingly short fuse.

Gallian Frey: A wizard of the renowned Blue Pilgrims.  After defeating the Telerian Prince, Gallian returned to Ruhnd to further his studies. As a Blue Pilgrim, he is devoted to uncovering every mystery of magic and studies every school of magic to its furthest extent. While he is not as advanced as other more specialized wizards, his versatility makes him more powerful than most. Intelligent and blessed with natural scholarly curiosity.

Giermund Red Tiger: A famous barbarian warrior of the Red Tiger Tribe. Giermund made his name as a bogatyr in the years following the fall of the Telerian Prince, hunting monsters for coin and fame. At the news that Kaiden Vhael had gone missing, he leapt at the chance to find his old friend again. Fierce, strong, honest and straightforward.

The Story So Far:

After defeating the Banished King’s Cult of the Eyeless, the Iron Hand continues their journey northward, in search of the place where they once defeated the Telerian Prince. They believe the place of their greatest triumph is where their old ally Kaiden Vhael disappeared. Landred believes the wreck of the demon passing weakened the barriers of the physical world, and may well unlock the path to a realm where the gods hold dominion. This, in truth, is his goal, for he believes that his father has gone in search of magic known as Unlight – and has lost his life in the process.

Teleros was a grey and bloated land, a festering wound on the neck of the continent, a gash of bleak grey upon the otherwise verdant and lush lands of Estoria. Yet it was contained, they knew – contained by the strength of the Iron Hand, the brave five who cut down the demon prince before his power was full-grown upon Amarith.

And yet, the four who walked into this place as veterans and conquerors looked upon it as strangers and they exchanged fearful gazes with each other, none of them knowing why what they were seeing was here, trying to see in each others’ faces whether or not they were being deceived by some cruel illusion.

It was Landred, on the back of his destrier, who turned to them in confusion, and pointed at the looming spire before them.

‘No one ever told me there was a mountain here.’

And indeed, a crooked claw of rock jutted up from the earth. They had seen it from a distance and had made towards it, certain that it must be a confluence of magic or some illusion woven from the remains of the spells that had boiled in this place.

Now they approached it and they saw that it was no illusion.

There was indeed magic here, but the path they rode, the mountain before them was as real as anything.

‘Is this the work of the Banished King, again?’ Lori wondered. ‘Another vision of a twisted reality?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Gallian replied. ‘Now that I have seen his magic, I can feel his signature, and I would know if we are seeing something of his making.’ He looked up at the crooked mountain, looming thousands of feet above them, and he shivered at something dark and half-remembered.

‘This is something different.’

‘I was led to believe that this would be a crater,’ said Landred. He paused, sensing the twisting pull of the arcane energies in the air.

‘And… do you feel that? I feel like my eyes are being pulled somewhere, as though I’m being-‘

‘Drawn,’ Vindri finished. ‘Something is pulling us. Calling to us.’

She murmured under her breath. ‘I’ve felt this before.’

Landred turned an inquisitive gaze to her, but she looked away from him.

Gallian grimaced, pulling his horse up.

‘I don’t like this. We all saw what happened that day, didn’t we?’

Giermund nodded grimly, but Landred looked askance at Gallian, who sighed.

‘We all did our part to put the beast down, and it was your father who struck the final blow. Even as the monster fell, something emerged, shedding the husk of the demon. It was a frail, small thing, silver and white, wreathed in the moonlight.’ Gallian shook his head. ‘I couldn’t be certain of what I was seeing back then. But he gave your father something. A crystal, burgeoning with power, some kind of energy I’ve never sensed before.’

Landred nodded, thinking of the crystal back home.

‘The light was filled with whispers and it spoke of something yet to come.’

‘Your father said that this place, while dead, was not finished with him, with the legend of the Telerian Prince,’ said Lori. Her finger touched her lips; she seemed lost in her memories. ‘I didn’t understand what he meant. We were all just…’

‘Tired,’ Giermund sighed.

‘After the Telerian Prince fell, we had to shut the gate,’ Lori went on. ‘I always wondered if there was more to the story. After everything, it felt like we did so little to achieve victory. We all wondered, for a long time, if it was the end.’

‘We dared to hope,’ said Gallian. ‘But here we are, twenty years later. Looking up at a mountain where there shouldn’t be one.’

Then, suddenly, his look of awe and fear faded away to sheer delight.

‘Fascinating!’ he said, turning to the others. ‘Does anyone else feel that?’

‘You mean that shiver running up and down my spine whenever I look at the thing?’ Lori asked, making a face.

‘Exactly!Gallian pulled a notebook and a piece of charcoal out, quickly scribbling notes. ‘Extrasensory perception as a result of what I can assume is material conceptualization of magical ruin. We each imagined this event as a turning point in our lives as something large that defined us. I wonder, if, instead, we did not define it?’ He mused, for a moment, then scratched out his note. ‘No, no, that’s preposterous. Yet this sensation, of being pulled to a specific point, it must be examined. We will explore, but first, I must gauge everyone’s reflexive opinion…’ He turned to Giermund.

‘Do you feel anything?’ he inquired of the barbarian.

Giermund grunted.

‘A bit. Heat on my knuckles. And sweat on my brow.’

‘Interesting, interesting,’ said Gallian, taking down more notes. He mused out loud.

‘Of course, the barbarian tribes worship the wild gods, and have an instinctual affinity for the magic of the land. Giermund, of the Red Tiger Tribe,’ he went on muttering several other things that were indistinct.

Landred raised an eyebrow at Gallian as the wizard walked off, talking to himself and scribbling feverishly in his book.

‘He’s always like that,’ said Lori. ‘But the fact is that this is wrong. All wrong. There was a crater here,’ she said, looking at the ground before her, where the roots of the mountain lay.

‘A blackened scorch march in the world,’ said Giermund, looking up at the forbidding peak. ‘It is all that remained of that battle.’

‘The voices began for me that day,’ said Vindri. ‘Voices that never stopped whispering. Begging me to come back. I wonder if-‘

She never finished that thought, shaking her head, lacking answers.

Landred looked up at the mountain. It extended two miles upwards, a crooked, jutting pillar of rock that burst through from below, like a giant beast had tried to fight its way out from the depths, its claw breaking off, piercing the flesh of the world. And this feeling – of being pulled, of being… directed. He did not care for it. But he also found that he couldn’t ignore it.

He knew, somehow, that this wasn’t the work of the Banished King.

If nothing else, it felt blunter. More brutal and visceral. Like the work of an imitator, or a servant without the master’s subtle touch.

The rest of the Iron Hand – barring Gallian – felt that this was a twisted remnant of their battle with the ancient demon – perhaps the sight of this mountain made them feel fear, that their fight remained unfinished.

Gallian, the universalist, found something puzzling, found something enormous and unknown, and for the scholar, there was nothing more exciting than this.

Landred, too, found this exciting, but for another reason entirely.

This is something new. I haven’t seen this before, in my dreams, in my memories, in my past lives.

Perhaps I can truly break the wheel of fate.

The sense of being pulled became somewhat more insistent, and Landred did not resist.

He turned away from the Iron Hand and followed the feeling, no longer trying to hide the look of eagerness that now spread across his face.

‘Landred?’ Lori called after him. ‘It’s probably a trap.’

Landred turned and grinned at her.

‘It’s almost definitely a trap!’ he exclaimed.

She raised her eyebrows.

‘Whoever’s waiting for us is at the other end of this tug we’re all feeling. Which is something of a coincidence.’

‘A coincidence?’ Vindri asked.

‘Yes,’ said Landred, smiling. ‘You see, I have this sudden urge to stab someone!’

Vindri and Lori exchanged startled looks, then burst out laughing.

‘Well said!’ said Giermund, clapping Landred on the back. ‘No matter the foe, we shall strike them down, you and I. Let magic rest awhile; we shall speak with steel and fists!’

‘It’s like it was twenty years ago, all over again,’ said Lori, sighing, but still smiling.

‘Your father rushed headfirst into things too, with Giermund right behind.’

‘And we killed everything that crossed us!’ said Giermund, laughing.

Gallian returned to them, looking a little winded.

‘There is a cave a few hundred feet from here,’ he said, gesturing to an outcropping nearby. ‘It seems that the sensation originates from within the cave. But I have detected another, powerful enchantment within, roiling beneath the waves of magic emanating from this place.’

‘Deadly?’ asked Landred.

‘Not at all,’ said Gallian. ‘The opposite in fact. The magic within that cave seems conducive to prolonging the life of whatever resides within, along with something more definable. I sensed Chamdar’s Collapsed Fortress within.’

‘So there is a hollowed-out space within the cavern that makes it larger than the outside.’

Gallian nodded approvingly. ‘The enchantment is particularly powerful. It might be the size of a small town.’

‘Sounds like something’s definitely waiting for us,’ said Landred.

‘Well, let’s go in and meet it, then,’ said Lori.

And so, with Gallian leading them, they made their way to the cavern.

Something occurred to Landred, then, and he wondered why he hadn’t asked before.

‘Where did the Telerian Prince come from?’ he asked.

For a moment, no one answered. Then Gallian turned an incredulous eye to him.

‘From…hell. We assume.’

‘Assume?’ Landred asked, and now it was his turn to be incredulous. ‘I thought the Blue Pilgrims prided themselves on questioning everything.’

Gallian sighed heavily.

‘The answer’s in the title – the Telerian Prince. Though people have taken to calling this small region “Teleros”, the truth is that Teleros is the uppermost layer of the black abyss. Teleros is an oceanic region of hell, and the castle of the Telerian King is an underwater palace. The Prince seemed to bear features of that marine life – seemingly a twisted version of the mer-men of Thalassa, which-‘

‘-Correct me if I’m wrong,’ Landred interjected before Gallian went on a tangent about the civilizations of the merfolk in Amarith. ‘but Teleros is often purported to have a planar gate, right? One that permits… passage… to the depths of hell?’

‘Yes, but the form of that gate is indiscernible,’ said Gallian. ‘And mutable. It could be anything.’

‘Yes,’ said Landred, looking up at the mountain. ‘Anything.’
An idea was brewing in his mind, but he wouldn’t give voice to it – not now. His father didn’t tell him everything about the journey – and that omission told him enough about his father to know that he wasn’t the sort to return to the site of a victory for sentimental reasons. There was something here.

Your father is gone, seeking Unlight.

‘Gallian,’ Landred said, drawing the wizard’s gaze. ‘What can you tell me about unlight? Is it something you’ve heard of before?’

‘Well, that is an old term,’ said Gallian. He pursed his lips for a moment before continuing.

‘It’s an ancient kind of magic, supposedly created by one of the first sentient races of the world – a people called the Jorog. There have been stone etchings of the magic, though it remains unclear what form it took.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Landred.

‘Well, the etchings and their translations make it very confusing,’ said Gallian, pulling out another notebook from his pockets. He paged through it until he found what he was looking for.

‘Ah, right, I made a note of it when I encountered the texts in my studies. Yes. The spells of Unlight were undoubtedly conjurations, which means that the forms they took and their applications could be infinitely diverse.’ he sighed. ‘Divining a conjuration spell’s nature is hard work unless it is known or witnessed. A wizard today would be unable to-‘

He noticed Landred’s brow twitch, then returned to the topic with a wave of his hand.

‘The etchings recorded two images – that of a wave of energy, and a spider. It was hard to make it out if both were manifestations of the arcane forces of Unlight, or if the spider is some component of the spells of Unlight. However,’ he paged through the old notebook, ‘the spider seems to be an important motif in the magic of the Jorog.’

He shrugged. ‘Perhaps spiders were sacred to them. We know so little about them. Scholars have called them the shadow civilization, or the buried people – every record of them, sparse though they are, have been found in caves, or excavated.’

Now he turned a curious gaze at Landred. ‘But why the interest in Unlight?’

‘The reason I resolved to search for my father. I heard he was gone, seeking this magic. Travelling to the Boundary of the Writhing Deity.’

Gallian nodded.

‘And here we are.’

Lori shook her head.
‘Now that I think about it, I wonder why the Telerian Prince emerged when he did. He might have bided his time, drawing power before coming to the world.’ She shivered. ‘We would have been killed if that were the case.’

‘Something drove him out,’ Vindri guessed, and everyone knew that this was the likely truth.

Perhaps the Prince had been bested in battle beforehand, driven to the surface world by something far more powerful.

Landred mused what might be strong enough to best an archdemon. The possible answers were not encouraging.

The same thought seemed to occur to Gallian. He did not look happy.

…to be continued…

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