Chapter 21: From Flames to Fire
It took them well over an hour to break through every hut in the village of yak folk to check for slaves or hidden enemies. They dragged out a few masters and had them chained, and found dozens of cages of dwarves, elves, humans and gnomes, all captured and stripped of clothing. The flames from the great hut brought down several more buildings, but they managed to escape the fire and get the freed prisoners onto the deck of the airship. They offered food, water and clothing to the naked survivors, and found that most had travelled the area when they were brought in by the yak folk, drugged and enslaved.
Finally, they instructed Marteen that they would sleep that evening on the airship, then search for the iron slag mines. It was then that he could take the freed slaves to the nearest town and leave them with a few day’s rations.
The entrance to the mines was not difficult to find. They travelled east beyond the village for less than a mile following the river and found a waterwheel where the water folded into the mountain. There was a large opening next to it with a platform and a large pully system. As the waterwheel moved, so did the platform. It shifted downwards into a dark shaft.
“That’s our route,” Kilian said, leaning over the edge so the upward draft tousled his hair.
Opal swallowed nervously and Hiccup’s eyes went crossed. The squirrel atop the goblin’s staff remained stiff and unmoving.
When the platform reached back to the top, they stepped onto it and waited patiently as it moved deeper into the mountain. It stopped at several levels, but by their guesses, Duke Zolto and the magical conch would be at the deepest one.
They reached a landing with a stretching hallway lined by torches. They had a moment’s debate before all hopping off and tentatively moving down the path, eyes and ears strained for movement. They continued down the path for a minute before they heard the clatter of metal scraping metal. They had come to a widening in the hallway to a large open cavern. They ducked to the walls as they peeked in. Around the outer edge of the chamber was an iron track and small wagons travelling along it. On one side, the wagons were full of molten metal and disappeared into a far wall. On the other side, they returned empty. There was a ledge diving down into further darkness and hanging suspended several floors above this one hanged a massive metallic suit with a roughly humanoid shape. In the middle of its forehead rested a red ruby, and in its hand was grasped a sword. It was unmoving. Lifeless, and hanging from chains. It was built to the torso, the legs still missing.
“Thia,” Roon hissed, reaching to open their bag of holding, “use the adamantium staff.”
Thia looked at him, her eyes alight as she grabbed the staff and held it up. Her eyes glowed softly. “It’s made of adamantium,” she whispered.
“The vonendod,” Kilian said in awe. “The weapon they’ve been building.”
“Can we destroy it?” Roon whispered.
“Can we steal it?” Evelyn asked.
Kilian looked away from the massive hanging structure. “First, Duke Zolto and the conch. Then we can worry about this.”
“There’s another room up ahead,” Thia pointed out, returning the staff to their bag. “I’ll duck in and see if there’s anyone in it.”
The elf crept away, and they all waited with bated breath. She returned from the other chamber a minute later. “Orcs and a fire giant working on the metal in there.”
“Any other exits?” Opal asked.
She shook her head.
“Let’s keep looking.”
They continued back down the hallway and took another, and then another, all the while keeping track of the turns they took. Several times Thia sent her fey owl ahead to scout the halls. Some were lit with torches and others were dark. They finally hit a stone room with a giant-sized curling staircase leading up and down. Thia’s owl told them there were two fire giants in the floor above, neither of which looked like a Duke. They decided to travel down.
The smell grew fouler as they descended, as was to be expected with so many creatures living underground with very few ways for the air to escape. They continued down without torches as quietly as they could, and only stopped in their tracks when Flint stepped on a rat.
The horrible screeching from the diseased little creature echoed up and down the stone stairs, and it only took a moment for them to hear the resounding booms of footsteps coming in their direction.
“Hide!” Roon said.
They scrambled up the stairs, but it was too late. Two large hands slammed into the doorway and an ugly ogre face appeared and roared. Its breath was horrid, but more horrid were the two proceeding ogres, and the fire giants that followed.
“Finally!” Flint declared happily. “One for the songs!” The bard began casting his spells, a song growing out of the magic he weaved.
They all flew into their fighting stances, surprised at how familiar they were with fighting alongside one another after so many months together. Evelyn’s arms bled and her swords glowed with black and green energy. Roon’s spiritual weapon flew as he sent bolstering blessings to his fighting friends. Kilian flew up like a storm and hit the creatures with lightning and thunder. Opal transformed into a rhinoceros and charged in the fray. Flint sent spells into the minds of the beasts and sent them fighting against each other, and while they were distracted, he shot them in the eyes with crossbow bolts. Thia shot acid and missiles and cut with her glowing sword. Hiccup, as usual, made incredible explosions of fire with his staff as his squirrel ran off into the darkness to hide.
When the giants and ogres were obliterated within minutes by the small band of adventurers, Roon and Flint went through their group and cast healing spells. They were just cleaning up the blood left on their hands and faces when a booming voice came from below.
“WHAT’S GOING ON UP THERE?”
They all breathed sharply and got to their feet.