Into the Magical Underground

Redeemers of Agasteel: Raising Bards Part 3

We continue on our adventure to the east, and again, several days pass before we run into anything. Iaon spots an encampment up the side of a mountain of three pale goblins huddled around a fire.

“That’s weird,” he says. “Pale goblins live underground. Why are they out here?”

“Don’t care,” says Dad. “I need to kill something after snake bites.”

The rage unfolded on her face, and she leaped from the cart sprinting toward them.  I sigh.

“Well, so much for peaceful conversation. If they’re up here, they’ve got to be afraid of something below.”

Randal slapped the reigns and the rest of us sprinted in Dad’s direction. A chorus of goblin shrieks echo ahead. When we reach her, Dad growls with her maul above her head. Blood drips from the maul down her arms with a single goblin in a bloody heap at her feet. Seven more goblins pour out of a nearby cave.

Iaon takes shots from behind us. Mom and Gunnloda run in with their maces swinging. I slip a dagger from my shoulder compartment and whip it toward the nearest goblin. It sinks through his eye and he falls over, still. Randal stands on top of the cart, clears his voice and bellows out a song.

“Dad came in like a wrecking balllllllll… Crushing goblins with her maulllllllllllll!”

A red glow engulfs Dad and she roars, her muscles rippling under a layer of sweat.

Randal switches to “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” and another goblin drops to the ground.

Two giant, pale creatures storm out of the cave with clubs raised. I can’t tell if they’re giants or ogres or something else, but I can tell they’re mad. Dad and Cain aim for the same giant. Cain gets a quick stab with his dagger into the giant’s ankle. Dad, empowered by Randal’s song, swings her maul and it collides with the giants head, spinning him around. The giant spots Cain and swings his foot, but he’s so disoriented from Dad’s  maul that he’s disoriented.

I sink another dagger into another goblin. Iaon sits at a distance and fires shot after shot into the cluster of goblins. Chathi, Gunnloda, and Mom team up on the second giant, and he’s down within a minute. The two remaining goblins watch their large friend fall and flee toward the cave. Dad takes one out with an easy swing of her maul, and Cain leaps onto the other, sinking his dagger deep into its neck.

The clanking of sheathing weapons follows with the silence of post-battle and the smell of death. Dad’s rage subsides and wears a triumphant smile on her face.

I lead the charge with Cain into the cave. Three pale goblins are sitting beside a large pool talking among themselves. I don’t want another bloodbath like outside, so I sing a few bars of Garnet’s Lullaby to charm one for questioning. It backfires, and the two are spooked by the ghostly melody and take off toward an adjacent room. Mom tries to keep them them in the room with a loud thunderclap in front of them. I jam my hands over my ears, bracing against the nearby rock in case it the whole cave crumbles. The goblin pair jump out of their skins and sprint the opposite direction down along a corridor that leads off to a ravine. Six more sprint from that adjacent room and follow the pair. They don’t notice us in the shadows.

“I wonder what’s in that room they left,” Cain hisses in the darkness.

Nobody disagrees with that plan of action, and we file into the room. The pungent smell of fish guts and death fills my nose, and I clasp a hand over my mouth.

“Hey, there’s something on the floor here.” Randal bends low and grabs it. “Looks like one of those goblins dropped it. Want another dagger, Anna?”

“I don’t have any room for another one,” I reply.

The others gather around to look at it. I’m staying back. This smell is awful.

“That’s a skinning knife,” Iaon observes, taking it from Randal and turning it over in his hands.

“Well, ranger boy, it’s your then.” Randal said, wiping his hands together. “Now, let’s go back the other way. This smell is unfathomable. My good looks can’t be tainted by this stench.”

“Wait,” Iaon says. “There’s something else here.” He points to a corner of the room, and sure enough, there’s a door. We file through and take another corridor down until we come to a small cliff-side. There’s large trees growing from them. I eye them suspiciously. The pricker bush octopus is still fresh in my mind.

“Should we follow the goblins down the path or… you know.” Iaon asks, leaning over the edge for a closer look at the bottom. “It’s not too far down, but I mean, I wouldn’t recommend jumping.”

There’s a magical static in the air. I swallow hard. Mom roots around in his bag and pulls out a grappling hook. “Who’s got strength left after tha fight to throw this,” he grumbles.

“I’ll do it.” Gunnloda takes the grappling hook, whirls it around her head and throws it into the closest tree. It swings around three times before the claw sinks into the bark. Gunnloda gives it a few tugs. It’s solid.

“I’m going first,” I say, shoving Cain out of the way.

“Fine.” he says. “I think I’ll go back out and watch over the cart anyway, so no one steals it on us in the night.”

“That’s a good idea.”

I slide down the rope with the grace of a ballet dancer and the silence of a thief. My feet hit the ground, and I jump. I expect a soft thud onto rock, but instead, it’s springy like mulch. Half-dead leaves litter the ground under my feet and my pulse quickens.

The others hit the ground beside me one after the other. Iaon hangs out on the rope halfway up to give us cover. The rest of us stand together and look around. The magical static is heavier down here with luminescent dust particles and ghost-like glowing wildlife. It’s nature but unnatural. I eye Dad with an uneasy look, and she nods. Nearby, there’s a stone building with shrubs growing around it. We debate for a moment about taking shelter inside for the night.

Gunnloda calls to a passing fawn and the young animal stops in her tracks, staring.

“None of us are here to harm you,” Gunnloda says. “We are passing travelers and we have questions.”

The fawn takes a few steps closer.

“Is there anything here we should be afraid of? Is there anything here you are afraid of?”

The fawn blinks and looks over its shoulder.

“She’s showing me pale, grayish skin… I think the goblins eat these poor creatures. Are they close?”

She shakes her head.

“What about this building? Anything in there?”

Gunnloda stares at the quiet animal for a moment.

“It doesn’t appear to be anything of consequence to her in there. But that doesn’t mean we won’t find anything useful for ourselves. Thank you, young one, for your help.”

The deer nods and continues on. I hurry up the steps to get as far away from the nature as I can. The others follow and we go in. Dad freezes in her tracks at the doorway. Inside is a shrine with a bowl of shriveled fruit on the alter.

“No. Don’t like this.” Dad says. “Smells like wizard magic. I go hide in bush outside.”

“And that nature isn’t weird to you?” I respond. “We almost got killed by an octopus plant, in case you forgot.”

“I can strangle creature. I can’t strangle magic.”

Dad goes back down the steps. Inside, Gunnloda runs her hands along the walls and Chathi prays at the alter with her hands on the table.

“This stone isn’t Dwarven built,” Gunnloda says. “There’s no seams. It’s cut from a single block.”

“And this shrine,” Chathi responds, turning around. “It’s tainted with dark magic. By that.” She points at the bowl of shriveled fruit. “I’m pretty sure this fruit came off of whatever tree that way.”

I exchange disgusted glances with Randall and Mom. Mom approaches the alter with his glowing mace. “I’m going to cleanse this place. I’m not sleeping in dark magic.”

He raises it in the air and speaks prayers. Light radiates around the fruit for a moment and its gone. When Mom finishes, he grabs the bowl of fruit and dumps it into a spare bag.

“Oh,” he says. “There’s a tablet under here. Not sure what it says though.”

He hands the tablet to Randal and throws the bag out a window.

Randal looks it over. “Anna, come here. I’m gonna need your help.”

“What is it?” I ask, moving closer to look.

“It’s Elvish. Or at least a dialect of it.”

“Yeah, weird. I haven’t seen this one before, I don’t think.”

Everyone else is watching us pour over this tablet. I hit a word I recognize, and the breath stops in my chest.

“Randal…” I breathe, unable to find anymore words.

“Yeah, I see it, too.” His eyes are still on the tablet with mine.

“What? What is it?” Mom asks.

We raise our heads at the same time, exchange a worried glance, and turn to everyone.

“We can’t read it, but we know the root language,” I say.

They look on with anticipation.

I swallow. Randal answers instead. “It’s Abyssal.”

The color drains out of Mom’s face.

“We need to go. Now.” He says.

Nobody offers a rebuttal. We leave, grabbing Dad from her cozy spot under a bush. I throw caution to the wind, scrambling up the rope as fast as I can. Everyone else follows suit. Nobody exchanges words or glances until we’re out of the cave and back at the cart. I notice a portion of the tablet sticking out of Randal’s pack.

“You took it with you?” I asked.

“I’m sure we can find someone who can tell us what it says.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

We journey ten days back to Orm and nobody dares speak of the tablet the rest of the way.

 

Start from Part 1.

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