Journal of a Paladin
Episode XVIII: the Dungeoneers
By Matthew R. Fleming
A.K.A. the Cheddar Paladin
Entry #19 The Fourth of December in the Year Sixteen Hundred and Ninety-seven
Dewium, Jordanello, and myself rode out to the site of the investigation the following day. Dew brought along two of his clockwork knights, his toolkit, including a massive wrench, and also his lute. It was larger than a normal lute and was painted an inky black. He managed to fix six strings to it, all of which are bolted to the neck. He tunes the instrument with the wrench. On the soundboard, or rather built within the soundboard, one can see another system of small cogs, presumably worked throughout the belly of the instrument. Dew says that the mechanical aspect of his lute is used to amplify the sound it produces. Hed have to tell you how it works; I honestly couldnt put it to words if I tried.
Jordan and I were lightly armed. I had my Smiley Shield as I came to address it and a standard rapier, and I was protected by a leather cuirass. Jordan wore the same under his poncho, and he was armed with an iron quarterstaff and a small survival dagger.
We arrived at the base of Katah Mountain, after which Winguards palatial Katah Tower is named. Its the tallest mountain in the kingdom and it is located in the Medguard area, a few miles away from the town. Upon arrival, we met the men in charge of the investigation, a Doctor Truman Kyle and the town adventurer Mr. Stanley York.
Dr. Kyle seemed rather young for his credentials, but he proved himself to be a capable investigator, equipped with a magnifying glass and a notebook. According to him, hed been solving mysteries in the Medguard area with his trusty feline familiar, Leathers, for several years while he earned his title as a doctor. It was unclear what exactly he was a doctor of, but who could really argue with him about it? It was unfortunate that his cat, Leathers, had passed away a few months prior to the current investigation. Apparently they made an effective crime fighting duo.
Stanley York, or Sir Stanley as he preferred, was no knight in shining armor. Im positive he wasnt a knight at all, but he didnt even seem like a proper adventurer either. He wasnt armored, he was just very large, with powerful arms which he used to hoist a gigantic axe on one of his shoulders. He could give even Sir Cary, an actual knight of similar stature, a run for his money. His experience in adventuring was limited to the tall tales he told of mountain trolls hed slain while hunting, of which he had no proof. You gotta BURN a troll when ya kill it or else itll just get back up! hed say. Whatever his status, he was of good humor and confidence, and that was a comfort.
The evidence collected thusfar was that a group of researchers and miners were collecting samples of the mountain for alchemic study or possibly precious metals/stones. All of the other mountains in the area were filled with ore and it was suggested that Katah had its fair share as well. However, the mountain was left alone for many centuries due to it being a place of local history and a landmark. Though, during these cynical times, those in power make decisions that are less than respectful to history and lore. Hence, the mountain was being prepped for digging.
Each day, the team would return to town at sunset. But one day, no one came back down from the mountain. The residents presumed the team set up camp to make travel easier. Then, a week passed and still no sign. Surely they would have returned for supplies, but none of them showed.
Dr. Kyle was commissioned for investigation. He climbed the trail to the base of the mountain where the team was digging. He found their supplies outside of a cave mouth, untouched for what appeared to be a week or so, rotting, naturally. Truman had no intention of going into the cave alone, and he also made the decision to ask for help from Winguard. It was then that word was sent to Winguard for assistance, and there we came to be.
Though it didnt seem like a big deal, going into an unexplored cave made me nervous. This was my first official adventure and, despite my skill, I was unsure of myself. I had to mentally picture the professor in my head giving me advice. Listen, kiddo, it might be scary the first time, but you have to shake that feeling off. This line of work is not gonna be pretty and its not easy; dont say I didnt warn ya. But you absolutely have to get past that. Once youre comfortable in this new setting, its all downhill from there. I kept repeating to myself,
remember your training, remember your training, remember your training
I whispered as my eyes, at their most alert, darted back and forth.
Jordan seemed fine. Always so cool, and focused like it was nothing, complaining about the little things like they were more important. It was comforting. Dew just seemed to be having a hard enough time lugging all of the heavy equipment around. Though the cart carrying the knights was on wheels, the terrain was terrible, rocky, and dirty.
Dr. Kyle had a torch in one hand and his magnifying glass in the other. He was looking for anything and everything. If it could be a clue, hed find it. Whenever wed find a fork in the cavern, Truman would observe the area and point us in the right direction.
Stanley York walked around with a big axe.
Finally, Dr. Kyle stopped in his tracks. Uh, guys, he said in a voice as such to prepare us for bad news, I just thought of something. I dont think youre going to like it very much.
Yes? I asked with little appreciation for the suspense.
Well, he said, have any of you seen any cave animals? Any bugs or small creatures? I mean, since weve been in here, we havent seen any signs of life except for what I think are the miners tracks.
I havent seen anything, I said.
If I had seen something, I probably would have killed it! said Sir Stanley with a hearty laugh at what I assumed was probably a truth.
Yeah, thats probably not a good thing, understated Dr. Kyle, We should probably be alot quieter.
With a new feeling of dread washed over us, we continued deeper into the tunnel. It wasnt long before we finally found something concrete. Unfortunately, it was a body, clothes tattered and blooded, slumped against a cave wall. Dr. Kyle checked him. He wasnt rotten, and he seemed to be merely unconscious. Stanley wasted no time in rudely rousing him awake. Dr. Kyle then asked him some questions. It seemed that he was the only survivor of whatever transpired. The story went thusly:
Somewhat further in the cave is a large chamber the team discovered that must have been undisturbed for generations. The architecture of the chamber appeared to be of the Cho race. Remarkably, the cave walls in that part of the tunnel appear to be solid adamantium. In the center of the chamber was a circular platform, resembling a tall stage. He estimated it was maybe 10 yards in diameter and 20 feet thick, 15 of which was wedged into the ground, making the structure some kind of giant plug in the earth. Surrounding the plug was a sort of ceremonial arrangement of lanterns, spaced maybe 10 feet apart from each other. At the front of the structure, between two of these lanterns, was a fixture holding a red colored, solid adamantium staff, about two meters long, its ends plated in gold. It hung from its fixture, one end of it also submerged in the ground. It was upon removing this staff for study that things went wrong.
According to the half-dead researcher, one of the other researchers took the staff out of the ground and removed it from its fixture. As soon as the staff became completely revealed, all of the lanterns surrounding the plug went out. The ground began to shake, so, fearing a cave in, the researcher began running out of the chamber. He remembered being struck in the back and then flying into one of the cave walls, hard. He regained some consciousness and, hearing the deathly screams of his comrades, he managed to crawl out of the chamber, back into the tunnels. Over the course of a week, he had crawled maybe 150 yards up the tunnel from the entrance to the chamber. He had no idea what exactly killed the other team members, but since that night, hes heard deep noises coming back from the cavern, louder than the wind, and rhythmic.
He pleaded that we didnt proceed further, but the investigation was not over. We gave him some food, and then Dewium wound up one of the clockwork knights, and waited with the researcher and the second metal man in reserve. The rest of us continued into the passage. Seeing the knight in action was an interesting spectacle. It constantly moved forward, but it knew when to turn. I wondered how effective it would be in combat by just moving forward. Also, how would it know the difference between friend and foe? It pointed its lance ahead as we moved on.
Following the trail of dried blood left by the researcher, we eventually found ourselves at the entrance to the chamber. Large chunks of raw adamantium burst through the rock walls of the enormous chamber. Far above us, the mountain opened up to the sky and moonlight shined through, reflecting beautifully off the metal coated walls. The air was cold, odd for late spring.
Bodies and blood and rubble were scattered all throughout the chamber. The described plug was nowhere to be seen, but Dr. Kyle deduced that most of the rubble was presumably pieces of the thick stone plug, shattered. Whatever could be strong enough to break it would most certainly be a terrible thing to face. Fortunately, it did not appear to be present. Or perhaps that was not such a good thing.
While the beast was seemingly gone, we decided to make the most of its absence and searched the room for any more information. Dr. Kyle started by lighting the lanterns that remained standing with his torch. He found the crimson staff that the researcher described and advised that none of us touch it for now. Jordan seemed to appreciate the weapon, looking at his own quarterstaff with little enthusiasm after seeing the lighter, stronger alternative. The metal man patrolled the room in a constant circle pattern, avoiding debris. Sir Stanley observed the adamantium walls of the chamber and contemplated how many credits he could get for one armload of the metal.
My own findings were of some importance. Directly behind the hole in the ground that once housed the giant plug was a structure in the rock that appeared to be a door. I recognized some symbols from the scrolls the professor showed me so I was positive that whatever this place was, it was constructed by the Cho. I called Truman over to get his opinion. We decided that it was probably best not to open it, for it may be a seal to something similar or worse than what killed the research team.
Minutes passed as our group found nothing of great importance. We searched the corpses for identification or notes on their expedition. Some of us took to their coin purses as well. I suppose there was no helping that. We had almost decided to pack things up until tomorrow morning, when a cloud found its way in front of the moon, dimming the light in the cavern.
A loud bellow filled the chamber, and without any other warning, the chamber was filled with a large snakelike reptile, most of its body hidden within the chasm in the center of the room. This was the beast that destroyed the research team! It was certainly powerful enough to break through the solid stone plug. I could see blood stained on its many sharp teeth.
It appeared to be a dragon of folklore, however impossible that seemed considering theyve been extinct for centuries. Its large, reptilian eyeballs glowed amber around its narrow, red pupils. Its forehead was adorned with large blue and red feathers. On either side of its head was its horns, though they werent hard and boney like most depictions of dragons, they were long, prehensile tendrils, fluctuating in an almost dance-like motion. Similar to its horns were smaller, equally prehensile feelers protruding from just above its lips, much like a catfish. From its sides came comparably thin looking arms, each equipped with three clawed digits at their ends, with which the beast was holding itself above the pit.
Sir Stanley readied his axe with a confident, wild look in his eyes. He charged at the creature, screaming a barbaric yell. He leaped at it, aiming for the beasts neck. Before he could come close enough to take a swing, in one lighting fast motion, the creature reared back, and then came right for Sir Stanley, mouth-first and wide open. It drove its muzzle right through the air where Stanley was jumping and right into one of the walls. In an instant, the man-bear that was Stanley York ceased to exist.
Needless to say, Jordanello, Truman, and I ran and hid the best we could and watched while the metal man went into attack mode. It faced the enemy, and using some kind of internal spring method, leapt at it, with its lance pointed for an exposed length of underbelly. The mechanical warrior bounced back in recoil off of what seemed to be indestructible skin. Though, the monster felt it, and withdrew its head from the wall, Sir Stanleys fresh blood painting the impact zone, and it screeched in some semblance of pain. Showing no human fear, the clockwork knight repeated the action, over and over again until the monster refused to take any more punishment and grabbed the warrior with one of its massive tendrils. It threw the knight against the adamantium wall, causing the metal warrior to shatter into many pieces. For a moment, the knight attempted to uselessly jab its lance forward, until it stopped ticking.
Fearing there was no way to sneak past the undefeated beast, the three of us decided to make way for the door I had discovered earlier. We moved the door enough so we could fit in one at a time, and just as the monster noticed us, we shoved the heavy door back into a sealed position, and felt the walls shake as the dragon collided with the other side.