Day 187 – It has been over six months since we arrived at Mothruum Nogaak, the Mother Mountain. Now I, Rastrelig Bluntpike, son of Hemdath and Hetraegar, am the last survivor of our band. For weeks it was just Nerimora Ironcoat and I, having been the only two separated from the company when that damned portcullis fell. Last night she attacked me, shouting that I was an agent of the Evil in the Shadow and that I had led her astray. I had no choice. May the gods of fire and forge look into my heart and find that I speak the truth. I had no choice but to kill her before she killed me. I built her a cairn and said the words for the dead. That is more than I could do for the others.
When the portcullis fell those weeks ago, we cursed our luck for being separated from the company. We tried to lift it from both sides but had no success. And then the things came. We could only watch as they slayed every last one of us. Young Thasalda. The twins, Borundir and Thandlir. Even stout Fostrag Brickbeard was laid low in short order. Nerimora and I ran then, ran and hid like rats. Ran so long and far that eventually the sounds of the slaughter were lost to us. Until we were lost to us.
I know the things that slew my company are still out there. We released them with our hubris while searching this place, and now that they are free they will not stop until we all are dead. I still have some rations left. A bit of water. I must find the stairs out of this place to warn the people of the Iron Mountain before it is too late. I hope I can make it.
Day 188 – I awoke in the darkness, the sound of drums echoing madly through the corridors around me. The minions approach, and with them they bring only death. I do not know if it is day or night in this place but I can’t have slept for long. I gathered my meager supplies and ran, hoping that they weren’t flushing me out of my safe place into some sort of trap.
I ran for what felt like hours. I slipped on a bit of slick stone and slammed my knee into a corner. The sound of drums had faded by then and I decided to rest, but when I lit one of the small lamps I still have…gods. The slickness of the stones…
It was viscera. Blood and offal and bits of flesh. Every surface of the room was coated in it. I don’t know how I didn’t smell it first. I could not bury them. There was not enough to gather. I did my best to barricade all the doors to the place and said a prayer for them. I should not have closed my eyes.
The thing must have been hidden in a dark corner on the ceiling. No bigger than a child but with arms longer than my own and tipped with black claws. It dug these into my back as it jumped down from the ceiling, laughing and shrieking as it tried to rip the flesh from my bones. I ran backwards into a wall, smashing it between myself and the hewn stones. I pressed as hard as I could, pulled away for a moment, and smashed again. The screaming stopped but I did not. Not until I was sure the job was done.
The thing was small, as I said, and its face was like that of a child’s but with many shared features of a bat. Its eyes were too big – big as a tankard’s base – and so black they seemed like pools of shadow. I will never close my eyes again. Not until I am free of this place.
I have been walking, staring at the shadows that hound me. I feel I can hear the drums still but when I pause, more often than not, it is just my pulse pounding in my ears in the absolute silence of this place. I thought the hallway I found myself in after my flight from the chamber of gore was familiar but…it is odd. It slopes downward ever so slightly. I cannot remember anything like that in the research.
I feel like I am moving away from safety as I go deeper into this place. Perhaps I am. All I know is that going back the way I came is not an option and my only choice is to press on.
Day 189 – I am blind. Not literally – I can see in the dark enough to make out shapes and shades of gray. I should say: I am without light. I felt a breeze coming from a side corridor and thought it might be coming from the surface. What I found was a narrow, arched bridge spanning a quarter-mile ravine. The light from my little lamp did not reach the bottom but I could hear water. It also did not reach the roof of the place but I swear I could hear chittering in the darkness. Laughing.
Fool that I am, I headed across that bridge. I was almost to the other side when something behind me struck the bridge. What could have been so large to reach out of the depths and shatter stone like it was a dry twig? I ran then, and the bridge crumbled and cracked beneath my feet. I had no choice but to drop my lamp and leap for the far side.
And now I am without light. I am bruised. Hungry. Thirsty. I want nothing more than to keep walking but I must sleep. Against all sanity, I must sleep. I will find some small place to barricade myself in and pray that I may rest for a few hours. And I they find me, I pray they end it quickly.
Day 190 – I am alive yet. This place has been untouched for millennia in some ways and yet utterly destroyed in others. I found a swath of destroyed homes, their great stones rendered to nothing more than fist-sized rocks. Amazingly, in the middle of this destruction, a single home still stood. I wandered through it, seeing so many familiar things. A large stone chair smoothed by centuries of use. A hearth, long since cold, with a massive cauldron resting on a thick iron hook. I even found a diary left open on a writing desk.
The pages crumbled to dust when I touched them but, from what I could make out in the archaic, spidery script, the writer was upset his little girl brought home yet another stray animal. This one was some sort of platter-sized spider that the girl claimed followed her home. Despite everything, I smiled. Some things never change.
My luck continued, for in that place I found a small tin lamp. It is not designed to provide ample light – it is purely decorative. Each side is punched with an image of the gods. The Smith with his hammer and anvil. The Brewer with her endless keg. The Warrior with her twin shields. And the Seeker with his map.
I hope this is a sign that the gods are smiling on me but, as my father said, signs are for desperate fools and no one else. Well, father, I am desperate. And, gods help me, but I am a fool as well. This place strangles me. The weight of the mountain and the weight of eons and the weight of my task press down on me from all sides. Gods, please let this be a sign.
Day 191 – I decided to stay in this house for a while to rest my injuries. I know I am foolish to do so. With so few supplies, I have only so much time before my opportunity to search for salvation runs out. But I am tired. I found a bed slab, cleared off the dust, and slept – truly slept – for the first time in months. Yet I do not feel rested, for with sleep comes dreams.
In my dream a warrior stands atop a pillar of marble, shield in one hand and…something in her other hand. I cannot tell what it is but it shines like the sun and drives off the darkness. She shouts at the shadows, “By fire and forge, I seal thee! From home and hearth, I banish thee! With shield and spear, I slay thee!” The shadow shrinks from the light and from her, shrieking and cursing.
It was a good dream. I awoke feeling…lighter somehow. Hopeful. As much as it pained me to, I left that little home and continued on. It would have been easy to just sleep there in the darkness. To dream. To rest until…
I cannot let myself think that way. I must act as if there are footsteps right behind me, as if the underworld itself is coming after me, hungry and hopeful for me to give up.
I found a mosaic on one of the few standing walls in this place. It was badly damaged but the glass tiles still caught my meager light. It showed the gods forming the first dwarves. The Smith gave us the heat in our blood and the desire to create. The Brewer gave us families to protect and the desire to share joy with them. The Warrior gave us the means to protect ourselves and to rule justly. And the Seeker gave us…well, that part of the mosaic was missing, but I know the story well enough. The Seeker gave us the need to explore and the hope that the thing around the next corner would be better than what we had in front of us now. Seeker, be with me now in this place. Guide me home.
Day 192 – I should have listened to my niece, Vaestir. She’s only 11 but smart as a whip. A natural with the hammer and tongs, truth be told. Destined to the forge. On the day we set out, Vaestir begged me not to go. She said she had a bad dream of a demon under the mountains. She said she saw it sweeping over everything like a rockslide. I just patted her head and told her mother to cut back on the ghost stories. I told her that I would see her soon and that I’d have a special gift from the Mother Mountain for her if she was good while I was away.
Maybe she’s not destined for the forge. Maybe she’d be better off dedicated to holy diviners. Maybe I’d be better off if I listened to my niece more often.
A few hours after setting out, I found myself in a long corridor with incredibly detailed carving on the walls and ceilings. It was layer upon layer of intricate geometry, and every time I moved my lantern the shadows shifted the patters into a whole new configuration. I wish Skoggri could have seen it. I’ve no skill with art or carving, but Skoggri…she was something. Memory like a diamond. She’s the only one who could look at these carvings and figure out just how they worked and how to replicate them. Poor Skoggri.
The corridor ended in four stone doors. I pushed the first one open and saw…gods, how to describe it? It was dead, I think, at least it smelled that way. And it didn’t move. It had skin like a walrus, all slick and springy with inches of fat. Something had torn its belly open, pulled out all the guts, and arranged them in intricate swirls and patterns. Patterns that shifted differently every time I moved my lantern.
I lost what little breakfast I’d had that day and fled the place. What have we released here?
Day 193 – THE STAIRS! THE STAIRS! They don’t lead all the way up, but I found a massive set of stairs that rose hundreds of feet up the side of a great chasm and lead to another layer of this place we’d yet to explore! I know I am closer to the surface than I’ve been in months! I could dance and sing right now if I wasn’t so tired. I must continue looking. The next set of stairs must be close, after all. I mean, why would they separate them from one another?
But that is not the end of my luck, it would seem. This place…this entire level seems to be religious in nature. And completely intact. Vast, sturdy temples topped with domes so large they must’ve had their own weather when full of worshippers. Frescoes and mosaics made of the finest materials. I swear one of the mosaics had diamonds thick as my wrist set into the sky as stars.
I even heard a trickle of water and found a fountain filled with the coolest, crystal clear water you’d ever want. I drank so much I threw up, and then I drank again. I bathed in it, gods forgive me, but I did. I cleaned everything.
And then I saw something in the darkness. A thin, golden light seeping through a high window in a temple. I was nervous at first, but the beasts that hound me do not use or need light. The temple was beautiful but built more like a fort than a holy place, with thick walls, murder holes, arrow slits, etc. I climbed up one of the battlements until I found a stout stone door with light pooling out from under the door. It was barred but I wasn’t about to come this far without getting answers. Lucky for me, the wood behind the door was just a bit of dry rot after so many centuries and so one solid kick cleared my path.
The light that greeted me was so bright I had to shield my eyes from it. It was like a small sun. Like in my dream. I looked at it…it was a hammer. A hammer of pure light.
The hammer of the Smith. Gods…I had found it in this place. I know only a fool looks for signs, but what else could this be?! I picked it up and it felt…right. Like it had been waiting for me all this time. With it in my hands, I feel no fear. I know in my heart of hearts I will get out of this place. The gods have willed it.
Day 194 – I’ve been alone a week now, and yet I feel renewed by my turn of luck. I found another staircase! I’ve tucked the lantern away in my pack and now I use the light of the Hammer to guide me. Funny thing, though. On this new level there are a lot of bugs. The air feels wet and warm, and the smell of mud and compost fills my nostrils. The light of the Hammer attracts all sorts of vermin – moths, flies, roaches, etc. They bite and buzz but I do not care. I am headed home.
I swear I can hear the whispers of the shadows in the buzzing of the insects. They beg me to put the hammer down. To lie down on the soft earth to rest. Hah. They know I am bound to escape this place and now they try to tempt me.
I am no fool.
Day 195 – I am so thirsty and the buzzing is so loud. I drink from puddles but the thirst is endless. This hammer is so heavy. Cursed thing. And it doesn’t shine as brightly anymore. Truth be told, it looks like a candlestick. I feel like throwing it in a pile of filth and letting the bugs have it.
The bugs are under my clothes. I feel them crunch in and under my boots with every step. I think of the fountain but I will not go back. As much as I want to be clean again, I will not go back.
But I will rest. I’ve lost the hammer somewhere and I cannot see the shine. The water was so sweet in that fountain. And I am so thirsty now. I am glad I am not alone in this place. The bugs and the shadows all sing to me, and I am so tired. The gods…they will let me sleep for a bit. And when I wake up, I will find the candlestick and drink deep from the fountain. And the stairs will carry me up.