“Show the way,” Igdalmar Am demanded in the blunt manner that he spoke in. Bleeder added his agreement, but pointed out that he nonetheless did not like his leader’s decision all that much. Upon him shoving his sword back into his chest, however, Snipes granted him a sly look and a comment.
“You know, you could use, I don’t know, a scabbard instead of mistreating your corpse. Just a thought.”
“Of course,” Snipes agreed to Igdalmar Am then, underlining his response with a dastardly chuckle, “only, we must find one of the many secret entrances first. So far, I have only learned of two entryways, though Morwenth knows there must be dozens if not more. One is in the Necropolis, and the other in the Depths; there is a place they call the Source, and it doubles as an entrance to the Cistern. Wish I knew why they hid them so well. Regardless, just... follow the lead, hehehe.”
With that, the dubious marksman turned to depart eastwards, urging the others to follow him. His eyes were set on the great, orange glow that was their aim, where the sacred Morwenth Tree burned since a century, set ablaze by Lord Elizier, the man they now set out to kill. To that day, none knew why he did it; his undead hordes and god-like powers had been rivaled by none, so if just to set an example, it had been fairly redundant and cruel beyond words. After the treacherous destruction of the Depths, the Obsidian Guard had sworn to drive out the merciless conqueror, for they wanted to preserve order and peace in Velerath, and in such a city there was no room for bloodthirsty warlords such as Elizier. Their numbers were few, but they fought like many, yet even their supreme strength and skill could not overcome the endless hordes of soulless Undead at Elizier’s command, and their ancient armors could not protect them from the hungering, eternal flames that danced around his fingers. With the Obsidian Guard defeated – largely destroyed and scattered, and only a handful remaining trapped in the Necropolis aside their leader – most of the living humans in Velerath chose to flee. The incineration of their former home was a symbol enough to them that they were no longer welcome there, and was an omen to the fate of all men; that Morwenth was dying, and that soon, they would not be welcome anywhere in the world, for a place as dark and dead as Morwenth could only sustain those that were dark and dead themselves. Little did the Undead know that they too would fade in time.
“Ahh, sod off, what do ye want from me?” the watchman moaned from his seat when Caitir proposed to give him some company. Wretched mortal, the liberties they took! Just pestering an old guard like him with their mundane banter. He had better things to do! Like keeping watch that none too fishy entered the gates here, and that he remained nicely put. He simply had no time to care for some stray meatbag like her. In spite of this, the woman continued being a pest, asking him about the prisoner he was tasked to guard – more than that, which he had, in fact, tricked into the cell and locked up in the first place all by himself! That was a long time ago, though.
“’E’s crazy, is what. Ye heard him well enough, shouting like a beast. Is a danger to anyone, really. Best not mess with ‘im. Is an Undead like me, so he’ll be around for a good few years, he will. Now would ye shove off already? Toss yerself into the Depths already or something,” he rambled on, somewhat torn between wanting to get rid of the annoying human and telling her what he knows. It was quite a tale! How some poor sod had baited the big fellow into the cell in the tower, only to have it locked behind him. He was glad to have been the one with the key, and not the one who got locked up with that thing. Where only was the key nowadays? As much as Caitir looked for it, it was not to be seen on the brittle soldier’s person.
“He’s lying!” the monstrous voice boomed from within its cell amongst repeated thuds of something heavy beating against the unrelenting stone wall, “Open the blasted prison before I do go insane! I once fought to protect your kind, mortal!”
Deep beneath the Necropolis, underneath a complex of winding, dusty, catacombs whose webbed tunnels housed more bodies than anyone could count, there lay a grand antechamber, the walls of which were covered in rows upon rows of torches that blackened the walls and ceiling which were made of polished slate. Each stone torch was shaped in the likeness of a human hand, with the flame burning in the open palm where a pile of flammable cloth drenched in oil lay. Undead drones – wretched creatures with the intellect of a rug – scuttled about the hall, replacing extinguished torches on a constant basis, for there were hundreds, and every minute a dozen or so went out again. A single, wide tunnel lead into the chamber on one side, itself coming from the rest of the catacombs and eventually leading back up into the citadel part of the Necropolis. Three ballistae were set up facing the corridor, each with two operators at the ready and a dozen marksmen with crossbows on standby. Additionally, there were about thirty close combat warriors – armed with swords, shields, pikes, axes, whatever they could get their hands on – lumbering about the room, minding their business. Some of them even knew sorcery. In the middle of the room, there was a circular hole in the floor that lead into a dirt-filled pit. Puzzling to the unaware observer, this opening contained the hulking golem that had made its appearance on the surface that night. Opposite of the tunnel, an enormous gate was carved into the slate wall, even larger than the main gate of the Necropolis, easily reaching between twenty and thirty meters in height. The images of soldiers were chiseled out of the surface; each about the size of a hand, there were thousands of them. In the center of the gate, split in half by the slit between the two wings, a tree shaped like a man, whose crown was the bough, extended its arms and shone rays of what could have been sunlight in a circle around itself, bathing the army in its glory. At the foot of the titanic gate, the Vanguard kept watch, ever dauntless. Though bereft of his shield, he remained steadfast with his halberd. An undead emissary hurried into the antechamber, avoiding all the warriors and drones on his way, until reaching the Vanguard himself.
“Forgive the disturbance milord, but I bring news from above,” he rasped at the gold-clad knight.
“There’s a silly Undead who says there’s going to be intruders from the Cistern. I don’t think it’s true, but we’re relocating forces there anyway, just in case.”
“I see; very well, tell them to go on. I will be there shortly.”
“Yes, milord,” the emissary obliged and scuttled off into the darkness.
Must be the fools I met on the surface. Poor wretches; they must have been gripped by the same madness that had taken the warrior I fought with before. Lord Elizier was right; the lantern should be destroyed before it causes more harm. What feverish promises it whispers into their ears, I shall never know.
Moments later, higher up in the catacombs, Doll was already in the chamber where the Cistern’s waters flowed in. It was a square room that was largely taken up by an ancient pool, where only a narrow walkway went through the center from the doorway. The pool’s water flowed out of the area through canals on the ground where they extended through the catacombs like pulsating veins into some other place. A circular grate in the wall opposite of the entrance, large enough to fit an upright man, was framed by the gilded shape of a lion from whose roaring mouth the Cistern’s waters flowed. Feathered wings of gold, six of them in total, extended from the lion’s head, covering a large portion of the wall behind them. On the walls to the left and right, three identical statues sat in half circular niches on each side, depicting thin gargoyles with long, narrow vases from which they poured a never ending stream of water. The physical texture of the stone creatures’ bodies was bark like, and almost made them look like humanoid, winged trees. Unlike the rest of the catacombs and, by extension, the rest of the Necropolis, this room was covered by a thick growth of plants; brushes, grasses, moss, mushrooms and other vine growths sprouted from every nook and cranny and engulfed the various statues as well, making the place feel awfully alive, and making the overall atmosphere very damp. The same marvelous plant growth could also be observed in the catacomb corridors, wherever the waters from this place flowed, while the waterless passageways were gray and lifeless.
Accompanying her was a squad of ten, eight front line warriors and two with heavy crossbows. By the looks of them, they were not amongst the highest ranking or important individuals in Elizier’s forces, but they would be outnumbering the invaders regardless. The warriors, dull Undead that they were, idled in the chamber, waiting for something to happen. Some inspected the disturbing statues, others gazed into the greenish waters of the enchanted pool whose surface cast a wavelike, bluish reflection onto the entire room, almost as if an unseen light source glowed from the bottom of the pond. The blue glow contrasted sharply with the biting orange of the torches that the Ashen guardsmen brought with them. Moments went by until, eventually, the silence (apart for a dull splashing from the pond and the waterfalls which flowed from the lion’s mouth and the vases) was broken by heavy, iron footfalls approaching the pool chamber from the depths of the catacombs. Sure enough, it was the Vanguard, accompanied by two Undead clad in tattered crimson robes, each bearing a large, two handed torch made of stone. The tip was shaped like a flower that bloomed into a bright inferno. Their bright flames reflected on the Vanguard’s golden armor, making him shine like a dull star as he entered the sacred chamber. His minions scuttled out of the way and made room for their superior as he walked in direction of, and planted himself in front of the strange Doll. While he was less massive than he used to be, now that he no longer had his towering shield, he still was an imposing warrior.
“I have seen thee before, scythe-bearer,” he commented, slightly lowering himself to put their faces on an even level, “thou sayest that the Undead outside – those that did battle with the golem – plan to attempt overthrowing the Lord? A pity it must come to this, it truly is. I shall destroy the lantern next chance I get, to be sure. T’is no good, but at least thou didst manage to save thineself. So what of thee? Wilst thou do combat as well?”