Cycles of Shadow

Into the Mine

Part 1

From the journal of Adrik Stoneskin – Caravan Guard Adventurer

I write this crouched on blood-drenched soil while the others sit off to one side while Kathra and Elrik administer some healing to the group. My axe is discarded on the ground nearby, my faith in it – once unshakable – now utterly lost. My uncle once said to me ‘a craftsman’s tools bear no blame for poor work’ but he quickly changed his tune when I knocked him unconscious. Poor tools bear ALL the blame for shoddy work, and my axe is evidently the worst tool of the lot. Anyway, I can see the others rousing, time is of the essence after all. We’re about to head into the mine which, I must say, doesn’t excite me as much as it perhaps should. I find myself dreading the appearance of another one of those – what did Ezekiel call it? – Displacer Beasts.

Speaking of Ezekiel, if he doesn’t stop calling me ‘Alrik’ he’s going to be taught the same lesson as my uncle.

*

The party stood amid the carnage of their last battle ready to enter the mine. Cael, ever-cautious, darted silently towards the entrance holding to his eye the gem Alan bestowed upon him to enhance his sight. After a moment’s observation he signalled to the party that the way appeared to be clear. Stepping past a derailed mine cart, the party followed the elf inside, abandoning attempts at stealth for the time being.

For several long minutes the party followed the tunnel deeper into the mine. Eventually they came upon what looked like a security checkpoint of some sort – a crudely assembled loose stone wall several feet in height behind which stood half a dozen of the shadow creatures the party fought outside the mine. Before the wall was a large pit with jagged rocks lining the bottom.

The party deliberated for several minutes over the best course of action. Cael suggested retrieving the fallen mine cart from outside and hiding someone inside, hopefully sending it across the breach to catch the shadow monsters by surprise. Adrik – still crestfallen over the previous fight – hastily volunteered.

*

From the journal of Adrik Stoneskin – Caravan Guard Adventurer

I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps I was still down about the fight against the tentacle-cat and was looking for a way to reaffirm my sense of worth. I don’t know. All I know is that as soon as the others bundled me into that cart I knew I had made a terrible mistake. But by that point of course, there was no way to back out and save face.

*

With the cart returned to its tracks, the party had to carefully control its descent into the depths of the mine, primarily to keep the noise to a minimum but also so that Cael could creep along behind it, completely hidden from view.

As the party neared the turn that brought them into view of the checkpoint they released the cart and allowed it to trundle along on its own. Cael was hard pressed to keep up until Ezekiel stepped in and used his magical abilities to apply the cart’s brakes bringing it to a screeching halt. One of the shadow creatures, its suspicions aroused, pulled from its pocket a handful of gems and hurled one at the cart.

Cael and Adrik watched the gem arc gracefully into the air and fall rapidly towards them, aimed directly for the cart. When it struck it exploded in an enormous ball of flame, scorching the hidden elf and the trapped dwarf. Adrik maintained his silence, gritting his teeth and holding in a yelp. Cael was not so fortunate, letting slip a screech of pain before silencing himself. With their cover blown, the rest of the party rushed into battle.

Before the others could react however, the rearmost enemies tossed balls of condensed shadow towards the smouldering cart, one striking metal and dissipating harmlessly, the other catching Cael in the head leaving flecks of shadowy material attacked to his face leaving his vision severely impaired. Arriving to the fight just in time to prevent worse tragedy from befalling the beleaguered Cael and the concealed dwarf, Rane folded space within the cavern, appearing on the other side of the pit amid the creatures. A burst of bright light flooded forth from his raised sword striking the surrounding enemies and drawing their attention.

With a furious cry Adrik tumbled out of the mine cart, stopping only for a moment to take in his surroundings before hurtling towards the pit. Driven by rage and humiliation the dwarf leapt into the air. He hurtled over the pit, hanging in the air for what seemed like an unnaturally long time before plummeting towards the ground. He only barely managed to catch on to a rocky spur near to where Rane stood, but was unable to pull himself up.

Seeing the trouble Rane and Adrik were about to find themselves in, Ezekiel fired his signature spell into the fray; a cloud of noxious gas that filled the cavern with a sickly haze. Meanwhile, responding to Cael’s cries for assistance, Elrik Dreyar – honoured Cleric of Bahamut – directed a wave of divine healing towards the wounded elf before offering up a prayer to his patron and blessing the party with unerring attacks. With her view of the creatures beyond the pit obscured by Ezekiel’s spell, Kathra contented herself with a cautious advance, awaiting an opening.

From the depths of the malodorous cloud emerged two creatures of shadow. They seemed to drink in the darkness around them and used it to extend their arms to an impossible length, striking at Rane and wounding him grievously before rebounding into Adrik’s defenceless form. Covered by this attack, two more of the creatures exploded into clouds of darkness and streaked across the pit, attacking each member of the party as they passed. Only Elrik, his devotion to Bahamut forming an almost tangible shield around him, was protected. For the others, Rane’s arcane magic shielded them from some of the attack, but Cael and Kathra were still badly wounded.

After finally recovering from a relentless assault, Cael Kennyr – peerless marksman – nocked two arrows and fired them at one of the coalescing shadow creature clouds. The monster uttered a shrill cry as the arrows pierced its insubstantial body trailing twin wisps of smoke in their wake.

At this point the creatures renewed their attack on Rane, striking mercilessly. One caught him in the head and used foul magics to alter the Swordmage’s perceptions so that he could no longer see his attacker. In retaliation Rane cast a vengeful flare from his sword, smiting the shadow creatures who recoiled in terror from his might. In order to buy himself some time to recover, Rane then dove into the pit, landing gracefully at the bottom.

With the way up now clear, Adrik pulled himself up onto the ledge, weathering the attacks of the shadow creatures. One looked ready to skewer the dwarf through the chest but Rane invoked his shielding magics and teleported the beast away before its attack could land. Regardless, another attack sliced across Adrik’s stomach opening a nasty wound. Noticing the creature at the bottom of the pit, Adrik uttered a wordless howl of savage fury and leapt off the ledge heedless of the danger. His landing was not as controlled as Rane’s, but his attack was nevertheless effective. The creature’s head was split open under the force of the attack, but tendrils of shadow extended from either side, knitting the wound shut.

Around the remains of the mine cart the rest of the party was struggling to defend themselves from their assailants. Ezekiel cast a ball of light at one, forcing it to manifest more strongly, weakening its form. From across the pit one of the creatures lashed out quicker than thought with its elastic arms, targeting Ezekiel. As fast as the creature was however, the wizard was faster. A luminescent shield of raw magical energy shimmered into being, thwarting the attack. Kathra focused on the battered and bloody Rane and Adrik, locked in battle in the pit. Her wave of healing washed over them, reinvigorating them. For this, Kathra was targeted by two of the shadow creatures, their arms forming into hideous clubs. Others struck out at Elrik, landing two solid hits despite Alan Costa’s attempts to hold them off.

With the party’s spirits faltering, Elrik sent up a fervent prayer to Bahamut for his assistance. In response, Cael’s bow began to glow with divine energy which condensed into a shell of thick dragonbone, augmenting the archer’s weapon. Eager to test out his god-empowered bow, Cael darted out of reach of the nearest creature’s furious attack and launched a single arrow into its corporeal form. The arrow flew true, briefly taking on the form of a majestic silver dragon as it pierced the monster’s head, ending its wretched life.

Desperate to enter the fray, one of the shadow creatures attempted to leap across the pit, however a last minute stumble sent it careening into the chasm, landing maladroitly beside Rane. Despite this, it still managed to draw shadows into itself and project them violently into the ground around it, blinding Rane and the nearby Adrik. Another creature then used a tendril of viscous shadow to choke Rane, holding him tightly in place.

The restraints shattered almost instantly however, as Rane’s implacable will proved anathema to the shadow creature. He was unable to press the advantage however, as his wounds forced him to hold back to regain his breath.

Kathra, seeing Rane still in trouble, stepped back and raised her holy symbol of Pelor, a small ceramic plate carved into the shape of the sun. From it burst a lance of whitest flame which crashed into one of the creatures and sent a wave of inspiration washing over Rane.

Ezekiel, having noticed that several of the shadow creatures were clustered together, created a roaring ball of fire and hurled it into their midst leaving devastation in its wake. Into this hellish scene strode Elrik, his mace alight with divine power. He smashed it into the nearest creature with a brutal upwards swing nearly taking its head off before directing the divine energy back towards himself in a flash of healing.

Invigorated by the rapidly turning tides of battle, Cael drew, nocked and fired an arrow in a single fluid motion, sending it into the creature targeting Elrik. With a pitiful screech the creature was slain. Not content with a single kill however, he pivoted, shouting at Kathra to shift out of the way before hitting the mine cart’s brake, sending it flying into the pit where it crushed an unfortunate shadow creature. Emboldened by his plan’s success, he then unleashed a hail of arrows at the nearest enemies. One creature was missed altogether but a single arrow guided by the gods themselves struck one of the shadow monsters between the eyes. It didn’t have time to utter a cry before it died.

Leaping out of the path of the falling mine cart, Rane unfortunately left himself open to attack from the last shadow creature remaining in the pit. It struck a vicious blow across his back, felling the Swordmage. Unwilling to be taken down in such a way however, Rane tapped into a font of heroic willpower, regaining his feet. Taking advantage of the monster’s confusion, Adrik swung his axe striking with the broad side and throwing the creature into the wall of the pit. The shadow creature, mewling wretchedly in pain, was then dispatched by a single arrow from Cael’s bow.

The final creature attempted a last-ditch attack against Elrik, utterly ignoring the furious attacks of Alan Costa, but Ezekiel smote it with a blast of light, staggering it and allowing the Cleric to charge in and kick the creature into the pit, killing it.

With the battle won the party wasted no time in searching the corpses of the fallen. The creature that had hurled the fire gem had a small pouch containing several other gems. Alan informed the party that they didn’t appear to be magical, and Rane added them to the party’s ever expanding bag of loot.

On the far side of the pit Adrik discovered a long, sturdy plank of wood which he quickly slid over the pit with the assistance of Rane and Ezekiel. The makeshift bridge allowed the rest of the party to cross the pit with ease.

*

From the journal of Adrik Stoneskin – Caravan Guard Adventurer

I hate this mine. I know dwarves are supposed to love them, love being underground, but there is a damn good reason I left home to become a caravan guard. Confined spaces – well they certainly don’t frighten me, if that’s what you’re thinking – I just don’t like them is all. Anyway, I can’t hear Ezekiel gloating about escaping that fight unharmed anymore so either someone has shut him up or we’re about to move on.

*

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