Echoes of Invasion: Closing Time | Scene 15

Jedeth leads the way onward, heading to the cavernous room in which the necromancer pursuing Gweddry’s forces marshalled his troops. Tric does his best to keep his companions quiet since their route follows the path of whoever else is down here. When they get to a bend just before their destination, he peers cautiously around it first. The tunnel opens up into an expansive chamber. The ceiling is quite high, and there are ruined remains of some sort of fortification from long ago. There is a human here, one who looks vaguely familiar. Tric recognizes him as one of Heppa’s dueling partners and waves his cousin forward for a look. 

“Oh! Hail, Ulf!” Heppa calls out, striding into the chamber when she sees who it is. On their way to the Tent of Light, he did tell her that he is an archaeologist, so it makes sense that here he is in a ruined space, torch jammed in a crevice, pickaxe swinging. “It’s me, Hepalonia,” she adds, in case he does not remember her, “from the duel.”

At the sound of her voice, Ulf looks up and casually slings the pick up onto his shoulder. “Oh! Hepalonia! Yes of course I remember you,” he says smoothly. “How’s your wrist doing?”

“It’s doing much better. Thank you for asking. You wouldn’t even know I’d hurt it,” Heppa replies. She has fallen out of a tree since they crossed blades, suffering more damage by far. The bruised wrist is a distant memory, even though it was just a few days ago.

“So what brings you down here?” Ulf asks. “And with company?” he adds, as Tric and Jedeth also step into the chamber. 

“Probably the same thing as you,” Heppa replies. She introduces her cousin and their guide to him and informs them that he is an archaeologist. Ulf doffs his cap in greeting.

“So archaeology is different from mining?” Tric asks the man with the pickaxe.

“Miners are looking for things that will become treasures,” Ulf answers. “Archaeologists are looking for treasures that have been lost.” Tric comments on the likelihood of the pick smashing through things of value, and Ulf welcomes him to suggest alternate approaches to the leverage it provides. 

“Well…” Heppa begins, thinking magic might help.

“Actually, maybe,” Tric agrees. He looks around the room, hoping to find in the natural features of the cave some evidence of where the fighting might have happened. But the battle was so long ago. Tracks would not remain, nor is there soil particularly enriched by fallen corpses. Here and there are large bones, the size of which are actually a little unnerving. Trolls, perhaps, Tric thinks.

“So, you have a casual interest in archaeology, Heppa?” Ulf asks, as Tric begins pacing around, looking the space over. Heppa tells Ulf that they are looking for artifacts for her father to study. It did not come up in their previous conversation because they were more focused on her injury. “Interesting, interesting…” Ulf murmurs. “Anything in particular that brought you down here?”

Heppa indicates that they are following reports of a long ago battle, including information on where Gweddry found his amulet. “It was reportedly in the room up the way, the one with that unfortunate soul. I wonder if he was undead when they fought him…”

“I don’t think there was any fighting in that direction,” Jedeth inserts. “We were being pursued from back here.”

“Maybe a troll killed him then,” Heppa suggests.

“Or could have just been a run in with a certain group of folks,” Tric throws in. Who knows how long criminals have been transporting dishonorable smashing weapons through these tunnels? “I take it there was nothing else of interest in there?” Tric asks Ulf. “You left some tracks.”

Ulf admits that he examined that area, following up on rumors that valuable items had been found around there. “You never know,” he says optimistically. “There was the possibility others might have fallen there and been covered up over the years.” Since it is now abundantly clear that they are here for the same purpose, he broaches the topic of how to proceed. “I suppose I have no particular claim to this area…”

“Nor does anyone else. Except perhaps the trolls that may or may not live down here,” Tric says. “I think if they exercise their claim, we can… leave.”

“I’m not worried about trolls. There are dwarves who live down here also,” Ulf observes. These are the caves that eventually lead to Untdunben, after all.

When asked what specifically he is looking for, Ulf tells the elves he has buyers interested in memorabilia of the wars that took place around here. They all agree to work together until they have found two items of interest, one for each party, and the elves grant Ulf first choice since he was here first. He resumes his pick work, while they set their packs down out of the way. The archaeologist’s current working hypothesis is that defeated combatants would have fallen to the ground and then later gotten covered by dirt or collapsed rocks. Tric sees nothing to recommend one location over another, so he joins Ulf and begins moving large rocks aside.  

Heppa looks around the area, muttering to herself as she tries to decide what she can attempt magically. After a bit, she announces, “I think I can do something to magically soften the ground. Probably it would be best to stand back.” She clarifies then that she will be working on the whole room at once, so everyone moves over to the entrance they came in by. Even in caves like this, there are plants somewhere, and she reaches out to them, hoping she can get some roots or fungal filaments to vibrate in a way that loosens up the floor. She can feel the plant matter, but she has perhaps bit off more than she could chew with this attempt. Trying to get them to respond is tiring, and the creepy atmosphere down here does not help, either. “That did not work. I’m sorry,” Heppa finally concludes. “Phew! I’m going to need a second.” Jedeth offers her a sandwich, and Tric takes one, too.

“Well, trusty pick!” Ulf declares. He starts to head back to where he was already working, but Heppa suggests they might try a more focused approach. This was, after all, the site of a battle. They should look at where troops would likely have been placed. Combat would have occurred around defensive positions, for example. 

Jedeth walks around the chamber with Heppa, torch held aloft. There are features in the room that remind her of a discussion with Glammur about dwarvish battle tactics. If she looks at the room with an eye to how dwarves would fight, she can narrow down the artifact search. “Here!” Heppa directs Ulf and Tric after a bit. “This seems like a good spot for someone of dwarvish size to hunker down. Based on my understanding of dwarvish tactics, this is the best place to dig.”

They cram their torches into nearby cracks and set to work. Ulf swings his pick, loosening up rocks. The elves move them out the way, and he slowly creates a pit around himself. As they all work, Ulf asks them about what sorts of artifacts they have recovered in their travels. They tell him about the shield, halberd, and staff they found in a swampy battlefield, but Heppa admits they have not been at this for very long. Ulf asks for more details on the staff, and she describes its creepy skull decoration and the rune crystal inside. 

“That sounds like the staff of a necromancer, or a lich, even,” Ulf tells her.

Heppa admits that she did not spend much time examining the staff but that the rune itself was aspected towards ice. The staff might have just looked creepy, rather than been actually attuned to necromancy. When he inquires about what markets they sell to, Heppa clarifies that her father keeps the artifacts to study.

“It’s a scholarly interest and one that can help protect our forest,” Tric adds. “So you primarily find these things to sell them?”

“I’m currently working on behalf of a group based out of Carcyn recovering artifacts of interest to them,” Ulf shares. 

That place name is meaningless to Tric, and he is getting weary of all this rock-moving. He tries to help the time pass more quickly with an engaging story, improvising a tale about a famous dwarvish miner. His precise pickwork enabled him to extract pure veins of silver without disturbing the stone around them. While other dwarves might swing too hard or dig too deep, this dwarf always worked his pick just right. Tric ties the beats of his story to the swing of Ulf’s pick, its cadence lending power to his blows. It is like Glammur suggested; there really is something magical about what they can do with their voices, what vigor it can give someone, how it can animate them.

Finally, Ulf’s pick scrapes stones away from some fallen warriors. The others watch from the main level of the chamber, Ulf now several feet farther down in the pit. He sets aside his pick and kneels down, pushing aside debris. When he stands, there is a staff in his left hand and a rod in his right. There are bows too, but they are in other hands that are not his.