Cantercon, followed by the charmed fighting-woman, explored the corridor. At a door on the left, the corridor turned right. Thrace stood guard while the conjurer put an ear to the door.
He whispered to Thrace, “Berserkers,” and pulled a purse from his belt.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to hire them,” he said and knocked on the door.
A brief scuffling from the room beyond stopped in silence. Then a gruff voice said, “Who’s there?”
“Cantercon. I have a proposition for you.”
The door opened. Three men, armored in leather, swords drawn, stood in the doorway.
The conjurer held forth the purse. “One hundred gold coins and half any treasure found for you if you kill things for us.”
Broad smiles spread across battle-hardened faces.
The tall, armored woman let out a breath. Her sturdy frame relaxed. The magic-user studied her expression.
“What’s your name, fighting-woman?”
Her eyes didn’t narrow; her brow remained uncreased. By these signs, he knew the spell he cast on entering had been successful. It made her predisposed to friendliness toward him.
“Thrace,” he repeated, trying the name on her. He admired how she held herself, straight and confident. “Call me Cantercon. I search these rooms for a book. I invite you to join me.”
“How do you know there’s nothing under the statue, Cantercon?”
“Nothing of value,” he said. “The runes on the pedestal indicate it represents the wizard Ardendred Faerthoht, Doommaker, builder of this elaborate complex. In the early phases of construction, he hid great treasures beneath representations of himself.”
“All his wealth secured, in later phases he hid deadly traps instead.”
Her eyes shifted to the pedestal beneath the stone-robed figure. Cantercon pointed behind to the archway with the monster-head keystone. Its one eye stared down at them. “Faerthoht favored the cyclops motif in later phases.”
The conjurer allowed a moment for his new friend to assimilate the information.
“Come.” Motioning for her to follow, he stepped toward the corridor beyond the statue. “We’ll divide treasure evenly.”
Out for his evening walk in the garden, Warsgar encounters Roger l'Escargot...
Out for his evening walk in the garden, Roger encounters Warsgar the Hero.
Holding a lantern to light the way, Thrace descended the pitted granite steps into the dungeon. Where the stairs opened into the entry chamber, she looked up to see a man in conjurer's robes peering at a sculpted archway that led into a corridor exit to the right. The conjurer let out a gasp and fled into another corridor further along the wall on the same side.
“Run away, magic-user,” she called after him, “before I put a quarrel in your mouth!”
Readying the crossbow, she muttered under her breath, “A curse on the class,” and stepped forward to see what the conjurer had been looking at. The carved head of a cyclops stared down at her from the keystone, its wide mouth full of sharp teeth, its one eye large and lidless. In the eye, Thrace saw the flash of an image. An inert body bathed in blood, its eyes–her own eyes–staring into the void. A cold chill ran from the base of her spine up the back of her neck.
The fighting-woman shook her head to clear her mind of the image, but she couldn't shake the cold that now invested her bones.
On the opposite side of the chamber, between two archways that mirrored those on this side, stood a statue upon a squat pedestal. Approaching, she saw that it was of a man. The head, smashed on one side, faced forward. The shoulders were raised but the arms had been broken off. It was dressed in a long loose garment of stone that flowed around its feet. Engraved runes on the pedestal were partially effaced.
Shivering from the cold, Thrace examined the floor around the pedestal for indication that it had been moved. Seeing none, she set down the lantern and slung the crossbow over a shoulder.
“There is nothing of value beneath the statue,” came a smooth voice from behind her.
She jerked around to see the speaker. The conjurer reentered the chamber by the corridor beneath the cyclops head. Hands open, palms up, he spread his arms as in warm greeting.
The image of her blood-bathed body flashed again in her mind, then faded, as the cold left her bones. The idea occurred to her that perhaps this magic-user was different...
A fighting-woman who recently left the war on the northern frontier, “because my captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users,” she says. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”
A dungeon is a subterranean labyrinth, usually beneath a castle or some ancient ruin. Within its dark chambers, ferocious monsters guard lost treasures. Brave or foolish persons, called adventurers, enter such dungeons seeking fortune and fame.
“You deserted the cause of Law?”
“My captains were all scoundrels and cowards and conspired with magic-users.” The swordswoman was looking him square in the eye. “I'm going to gain experience and treasure to recruit and equip my own company. Then I'll return to fight Chaos.”
There, Edric thought, was his opening. Treasure is what he wanted her to find.
I, Cadolo, scribe of the Court at Donjonwold,
Do hereby transcribe from the expedition log of Haearnblaidd's Brigade
Into the ducal archives events that occurred in the spring of the year of the Weasel,
Month of the Beetle, on the south-western frontier of the realm.
Long reign to the House of Heryrod on World's Henge.
Quadrus, warrior commander, led Haearnblaidd's Brigade
Across the river Farby, risen under rain.
He was met by dervishes who follow the Six Winds,
Fighting monks, ferocity inspired by faith in the directions of their Hexad.
The matriarch expected gifts according to custom.
Quadrus gave none, cocky and practical.
For naught but all would have satisfied the chieftess,
Mounted at the head of a host of four figures, bowmen and lancers.
With strategist's eye the matriarch considered the breadth and depth of the Brigade,
Then withdrew, and her mounted men with her.
The sticks of the forest turned to serpents, fangs dripping bile.
Quadrus survived attempted poisoning.
In the Walking Woods, Quadrus discovered ruins.
Crumbling walls around empty places, age-old notions
Of forts and magazines, of homes and prisons.
Haearnblaidd's Brigade passed unmolested.
According to lore, peril haunts such places.
Any order of monster creeps behind toppled pillars.
Collapsing stone and guileful denizens trap trespassers.
In the empty places, unguarded treasure awaits beyond loneliness and insanity.
Sudden growls and claws flashing from behind,
Turning about, the right column morphed into a skirmish front.
A tiger-man stood down the line, felling men and horses to a figure's count.
Quadrus advanced and the lycanthrope retreated, a female and a dozen cubs fled with carcasses.
Out of the forest on high ground, Quadrus looked east
Upon the Griffon Plains and the Tuile Gorm, the Blue Flood.
Joined downstream by the White to make the Great River,
River of legend, river of myth, bridged by the Greater Race.
Across a grassy knoll, a wave on the Griffon Plains,
Tufts of trees about, leafy and bright green,
Rode Haearnblaidd's Brigade, proud men in the service of Heryrod,
Attacked by troglodytes – Men in animal hides, flailing cudgels,
Threw themselves against brutal mounts, falling to strikes by sword and iron hoof.
Only women and whelps and old men remained
In their caves, a conquered people now subject to the Duke
By letter of marque, the clan of Bolt's Massacre.