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Dark Revelations...

by The Stalker

The cold winds of the Kerothar Mountains tore themselves against Kroth's face. He shivered slightly, but still found that odd familiar freedom in the feeling - as a dwarf he had always found the mountains enticing, even if they threatened his very life. He looked around at his companions and almost shook his head with frustration. An elf and three humans... how had he ever ended up with such a group of people? At first he had naturally thought that Litharial, the elf, would be the worst to be around, and he had almost departed the group when he had realised that he, Kroth, son of Groth, would have to travel with an elf... As time had passed, he had found, however, that the elf was the least annoying of his companions. He didn't really mind Amanara, the young human warrior, but she did have that submissive nature of Alphatian commoners that he so detested. It was almost worse than the smug, superior nature of Colmondes, their cleric and leader and so an aristocrat in these Alphatian lands. And then there was that youth of a wizard... a boy really - he couldn't be older than fourteen years or so if Kroth was any judge of human age, yet Amanara bowed to his every whim too, just because he could cast a few spells. Pathetic! What really annoyed him about the boy, though, was how he was so utterly blind to all this - he took it all for granted and didn't even realise that things should be different. The Alphatians sure were a strange people! Kroth wondered for a while why the dwarves had settled here some odd four decades or so ago, but then he already knew the answer; as much as he, or other dwarves for that matter, might have disliked the Alphatians, they did share the dwarves' love of beautiful craftsmanship...

They had come to these mountains in southern Frisland because Colmondes had been ordered here by his 'glorious order of Razud' to find a 'most valuable relic' - probably some worthless trinket! Still, they paid well, and since the dwarves of Stoutfellow hadn't extended their kingdom so far north, they were likely to find mostly orcs here. And Kroth didn't mind busting a few orcish heads for the gold. So far they had met mostly wolves and a single griffon who had been interested in their mounts, though.

"There it is", he heard Colmondes say. "There is the entrance". Before them were some old ruins of a temple or some such. As they walked near, though, Kroth heard the unmistakable war cry of orcs, and he pulled out his axe - time to earn his pay!

The battle was short but brutal, and the outcome was predictable. Soon after the orcs were dead. Apparently Colmondes had expected that because he never lifted a finger to help them, while Litharial, the elf, also seemed to think they weren't worth wasting spells on, since he merely shot a few arrows. One of the orcs almost got the drop on Amanara, though, when the 'mageling' as Kroth liked to call him as he knew that it annoyed Colmondes, used magic to make the wind topple the orc over... Though Kroth wouldn't admit it, he was slightly impressed - the boy was so young, yet he wielded such power? It made him wonder why he had even joined them in the first place. Amanara and Kroth himself had clearly joined for the pay, while Litharial had apparently joined just to hunt orcs and possibly find some magical treasure, and Colmondes had been ordered to by his superiors, which was probably why he had been in a bad mood throughout the trip. But the boy? He was a wizard, so he didn't need the money. That much was obvious, as he carried a Kihara, just as Colmondes did. And he was too young to hold grudges against orcs, Kroth thought. Then again, judging the ages of Alphatian humans could be deceptive; he knew that the Alphatians had spells that could alter their age, but he still couldn't imagine that anyone would choose to become quite that young, so he assumed that the boy really was as old as he seemed, which just made him reconsider his own question - why was the boy here? He hadn't really signed onto the group, just sort of started following them around, as far as he could tell. It was all most puzzling! His amazement only grew when the boy asked both him and Amanara if they were hurt, and then examined Amanara's wound and bound it... The boy sure was peculiar! At first Kroth had feared him, what with his odd tendency to suddenly show up where the others went... He had never seen the boy on a horse or other mount, so how did he travel? He had talked to Colmondes about it, but he had merely laughed at him.

As the 'mageling' had examined Amanara and talked briefly with Kroth, Colmondes had merely walked past them as if they weren't there and examined the ruins before them. After doing so for a while, he turned to Litharial: "A little crude but durable... I'd say third dynasty architecture, yes?". Kroth could barely contain his glee at the mistake - the Alphatians might be good spellcasters, but their superior attitude and arrogance often got the better of them when they faced a problem like this where their young ages, compared to dwarves and elves, really showed, and he loved the opportunity to point out Colmondes' mistake to him. Unfortunately, Litharial beat him to it: "Judging from the basic structures, yes, but if you examine these markings closely, you'll notice the forms associated with early fourth dynasty, like here! And while these symbols seem to be associated with Razud, you'll noticed that they've been disfigured rather than worn, so... Yes, over here you can see the rest, see? Hmmm, a horned skull. That seems to indicate worship of Alphaks - we had better be careful!" Though the elf had taken away Kroth's opportunity to annoy Colmondes, he had still proven his point quite clearly, and Kroth smiled as Colmondes walked onward as he dismissingly said, "Hrmph, yes maybe... Let's continue".

So they entered the ruins and saw the decay of the building. Very little was left, but Kroth still had to somehow admire the skill with which the Alphatians had built this place. It wasn't up to dwarven craftsmanship, obviously, but it was still sturdy and had withstood the passage of time well. If only the Alphatians didn't have such obsessive tendencies with appearances... As they walked further, he realised that the ruin was actually built into the very side of the mountain itself, and it soon became quite dark around them... Though Kroth could see the others in the dark, he didn't much like the idea of not being able to see the floor, and he began looking through his backpack as Colmondes uttered some peculiar words behind him. Suddenly there was a light as bright as daylight with them, and as Colmondes walked silently onwards as if he hadn't noticed it himself, the light seemed to follow him.

They walked for what seemed like hours in these dark corridors. At one point they found odd carvings on the walls, but they seemed incomprehensible, and later they found old, dried blood on the floor. At least that's what Kroth thought it was. As they walked further, they noticed the remains of presumably human victims on the walls. There were about twenty of them and Kroth didn't like to think of how these poor humans must have ended their days. As they looked, the corpses suddenly came to life and attacked them! Kroth's axe and the swords of both Amanara and Litharial weren't much use against these skeletons, and Kroth was a bit worried. Colmondes, however, merely held up his odd talisman and Kroth noticed that it had a strange symbol on it - it almost looked like a tree made of some sort of stone... Whatever it did, though, it worked quite well, because a good deal of the skeletons merely shattered apart when he did so... Still, with the reduced effectiveness of their weapons, it was a bit of a challenge for the others to fight the skeletons, except for Colmondes' mace, which worked just fine. The boy, however, seemed to have disappeared completely and was nowhere to be seen, Kroth noted. All of a sudden, a horrifying scream froze Kroth's blood to ice - the scream of an elf! He looked back to see Litharial struggle with some dark assailant in the rear of their group. The elf desperately tried to fight off his opponent with his sword, but it was no use - the creature suddenly gripped him firmly and pale as the elf might have been already, he became even more pale, indeed even older, as the creature held onto him. As it did, the elf's scream turned into an even more horrifying whimper as the expression on his face grew more distant and the life in his body seemed to dwindle, slowly drained from his very soul, or so it seemed to Kroth.

Though he didn't care much for elves, Kroth shuddered with disgust as the elf's lifeless body fell to the ground as if his very life had suddenly left it... Colmondes turned around to see what was going on. "Curses!", he shouted as he cast a spell at the dark creature. Though Litharial wasn't exactly a friend of Kroth's, he was still his companion and it was their duty to avenge him, so Kroth flung himself at the abomination as he cried, "Death to the dead!" Aided by Colmondes' spells, he was able to bring the human-shaped creature down, but he kept chopping at it until he was certain that all life, undead or otherwise, had left it! In the meantime, Amanara had disposed off the last of the skeletons, and Kroth rushed to Colmondes who was already examining Litharial's limp body.

"We must burn the corpse", he said coldly. Kroth was outraged, "What!!?? He was our companion! He might not have been my friend, or even yours, but we should at least show him some respect!" "Look!", Colmondes answered, "He was killed by a Wight! If we don't burn the body, he will rise as a Wight himself, if not some special elven variety of the creature. Do you want to face another of those creatures? What respect would we pay him if we allowed his body to suffer such a fate? He must be burned!" Kroth tingled with rage, but suddenly a voice behind him said, "He's right, you know...". He looked around - it was the mageling! Where had he come from? He hadn't been there during the battle, and Kroth suspected foul play, so he rushed to the boy and picked him up as he yelled into his face, "By Kagyar! Where were you during this battle? You seem to come and go at the most convenient times, and I find it suspicious how you follow us around!". The boy was clearly shocked, as he didn't even try to break free, but merely responded in a feeble voice, "I... I hid! I couldn't fight all those creatures... I was lucky they didn't find me!". Though the story could be true, Kroth wasn't convinced, but Colmondes interfered. "Have a care, dwarf. That's an aristocrat you're holding there! You're not in Stoutfellow now, you know. Let him go this instant, or you'll pay a high price for your insolence indeed! You'll be lucky if I don't just report you myself!" Kroth looked at Colmondes with both hatred and surprise, "How can you not be suspicious about him after he's followed us around like this and conveniently disappears when there is danger?". Colmondes' cold arrogance immediately resurfaced, and he smiled as he said, "Hah. There are things that are just beyond you, dwarf. Now let the boy go before I teach you some of them!". Kroth was uncertain of what to do, but it wasn't a good situation for him. Colmondes had made his position clear, and Amanara would blindly follow the two aristocrats. She might even attack him if he didn't.

Shortly after Colmondes, Amanara, and the boy came after him and the four of them continued quietly onward without uttering a word. They walked for a long time, passing many large rooms, corpses long dead, and strange symbols. They walked down several stairs, and made several decisions about which way to go when the corridor parted in several different directions. After continuing like this for a long time, they eventually came to a room with a door that was only slightly open so that they could not see what was inside. Colmondes motioned for them all to remain silent, then approach the room quietly with their weapons drawn. Then they rushed into the room!

The room was fairly large. It was clearly a library of some sort, but there were several items here, including weapons like swords or axes, chalices, candelabra, and other things on a large table in the far end of the room. Colmondes pointed to one of these and said, "That's what we're after!", but Kroth wasn't sure what he meant, exactly. Suddenly a voice said, "Sorry, but I'm afraid I'll take that!". The companions looked around and noticed a shadowy figure to the right of them. The figure looked at them so that they could see his face even underneath the hood - it was the aged face of a man! Calmly he said, "Sorry Colmondes, but I'm afraid I can't let you have that!"

Colmondes looked with surprise at the newcomer, "You!? What are you doing here?". "Oh, really, my dear Colmondes, you didn't expect I'd just let you claim your treasure that easily, did you? The item has many uses, you know, and I require it for my own studies. Now, I suggest you remove yourself and your, well, 'associates' before I become unfriendly!"

Kroth was surprised, "Who is this person Colmondes? And what is he doing here?", he said, but Colmondes didn't answer him. He just looked at the cloaked man with distrust as he said, "I won't just let you take that, you know! Attack him, or we won't be paid!". That was all he needed to tell Kroth, who jumped forward to strike at the opponent, as did Amanara. The man said with surprise as they jumped forward, "You would attack an aristocrat? How foolish of you! Surely you know that the penalty is death... Which I will happily provide for you!" Both Kroth and Amanara missed their attacks, though, and Colmondes tried to cast a spell, yet it seemed to have no effect. The cloaked man laughed, ""Foolish cleric. You think your pathetic powers can stop me? How amusing! Now watch how that spell is properly cast!"

As the dark figure began his words of foul magic, Kroth and Amanara tried to strike him again, but it was too late - Colmondes' face froze and he was suddenly completely motionless! Amanara and Kroth were striking at the wizard, and they knew that they landed good hits because he stumbled back. Suddenly, he sneered at Kroth and managed to say a few words before they could stop him, and Kroth found himself hurled through the air until he hit a hard surface and was nearly knocked unconscious... Until he realised just what he had hit. Colmondes! The cleric toppled over, and the stunned Kroth was too late to stop break his fall. The wizard grinned with glee, "Now, is that any way to treat your master? I always knew you rock-biters were clumsy, but really...". Colmondes wasn't Kroth's master and the remark made him blind with rage. He turned around and rushed at the wizard without thinking. Suddenly he found himself flying through the air again, but this time he hit something extremely sharp - a number of spikes at the other end of the room. He tore himself free, and rushed forward again, only to find that he moved with an odd, limp sensation in his body. It wasn't until then that he looked at his side and noticed the green fluid that also flowed from his wounds along with his blood - poison! He was stunned for a moment, and could only watch as the battle continued.

The mageling had cast a spell which had hurt the wizard, though not much. No, clearly the damage he took from Amanara was more serious, because he now focused on her, and suddenly he made a movement with his hand toward the young warrior as he spoke words of magic. Amanara stopped as if suspended in time, her face contorted with obvious agonising pain. Yet she didn't scream. She couldn't. There was nothing for her to scream with! As her companions looked on in horror, her face, her very body withered away and turned to dust before their eyes! Kroth looked on with cold sadness, but the youth was now suddenly very emotional, "NOOOOOOOO!!!!", he screamed as tears filled his eyes, and rage filled his body...

He rushed to the small pile of dust which was all that remained of the young warrior, and Kroth finally understood why the youth had followed them - how stupid he had been not to see it before! Why did he always forget that humans were so emotional and acted on those emotions at such an early age! This was even more true of Alphatians than most humans - the boy had followed them because he had been attracted to the young warrior! Kroth didn't find her very attractive - she was far too gentle and slender for that, far too elf-like. But, yes, a young human male would probably have found her very attractive, perhaps even without realising why himself. She was older than the boy, of course, but not by more than five to ten years at the most... And now she had been brutally murdered before their very eyes!

The boy was crushed and tears mixed with the dust in his hands. The cloaked wizard spoke again, and coldly stated, "Why do you cry, boy? She was just a commoner - she wasn't worthy of you. Any aristocrat would tell you that! She just didn't matter".

Kroth wanted to move, but he found that he couldn't - his body no longer obeyed his wishes, and he slowly fell to the floor with unreal movements... Colmondes was still motionless, but the boy stood and ran toward the wizard with sorrow and rage in his eyes. He struck at the wizard, who just held him, then threw him to the floor, as he said, "How pathetic! If you really like those worthless females so much, then go out and find another one - there are more than enough, you know. I'll take my prize and go now, though - be glad I don't press charges against you for attacking me. At least Colmondes was clever enough not to assault me with harmful magic or attacks. Pity really - I would have loved putting him before the courts.". With that, he took one of the objects from the far table, made a wave with his hand... and was gone!

After a few minutes, the boy came over to Kroth and looked at his wounds. He looked a little worried, but tried to smile and said, "Don't worry. Everything will be fine". It was obvious to Kroth that the boy was lying, yet he appreciated the sentiment that came with that lie, and he said, "I misjudged you, boy. You're all right. But don't lie to me - I know when I'm hurt. Tell me how bad it really is. And don't lie - you're not terribly good at it!". The boy looked saddened as he said, "The poison has entered your system, and it looks dangerous... I just don't have the skill required to treat it. But try not to worry. Colmondes should recover in a little while, and I think he has spells and knowledge that can help you...". The boy tried to smile despite the emotional turmoil he had gone through, and they just waited for Colmondes to come around again.

Eventually Colmondes began to move, and his expression changed into one of defeat. The boy ran to him, though. "You must help Kroth - he's been poisoned!" Colmondes just looked at him. "No!", he said, "We have failed, and I must return home now to report to my superiors before they find out - if I hurry I may still be able to protect my position." The boy was stunned with surprise... "What!? You can't just leave him here - he helped you! You hired him, and he needs only a few of your spells!" "He failed me! I don't pay for defeat, and he knew that when he signed on - I see no reason to help him. He's outside Stoutfellow now, and he has no more rights than any other commoner!", Colmondes stated coldly. The boy was furious! He struck at Colmondes and began casting a spell, but the cleric was quicker and cast a spell of his own which left the boy motionless. Then the cleric pulled something from within his Kihara, made a few gestures and said some strange words... and was gone!

Kroth could feel his life leaving his body as he lay on the cold marble floor, and it seemed like eternities before the boy could move again and rushed back to him. "Don't worry, I'll get you out of here...", he began, but the dwarf stopped him. "Don't be foolish. You'll never be able to bring me out of here in time, and you can't carry me anyway - you'll have to be careful just to get out of here yourself! But don't worry, it's not your fault. I'm old, and I know you're not to blame for any of this".

The boy seemed a little surprised. "I thought you didn't trust me", he said. The dwarf tried to smile, but it turned into a cough, "Nah, I was just spooked because you were following us around like that and I couldn't figure out why. Now I understand why, though, and I'm sorry for all the names I called you. You're okay by me... I'm sorry, but you never told me your name?"

"I'm... 'Stalker'", the boy said. "Just call me 'The Stalker'...". The old dwarf laughed at the feeble joke... then all went dark around him!