The young dwarven sentry, fingers clenched tightly about the haft of his double-bladed dwarven axe, peered down the smooth-bored tunnel just outside of his city of Dwarvenhold. This was a simple routine check - nothing had walked these ancient corridors for hundreds of years save merchants, dwarves, and the occasional adventurer - yet he felt nervous.
He considered using the magic innate in his Patrolguard's Badge, summoning assistance or backup, but thought better of the idea. Better to dispel his fears alone then to be mocked at the tavern later tonight. Comforted by the thought of a mug of ale and a large-bosomed dwarven lass by his side at the end of the day, he strode forward confidently.
His beat ran only to the intersection of the smelty, which was soon reached. As he turned to complete his shift and head home, his eyes strayed across the opening to the Citadel. Thoughts came unbidden to his mind, stories and legends from his past. It was nothing but an abandoned city, they said, but not even the famed Dwarvenhold Warrior elites journeyed there. Pulling his cloak about him tightly, he attempted to dispel such gloomy thoughts, and continued towards the distant gates of Dwarvenhold, his thoughts on brighter topics. The sound of his own passage, mailed boots clanking on stone, his breath, even the sound of his own heartbeat, nearly hid the noise. Stopping suddenly, he heard it again. A rasping noise, dry and crumbling... from behind him. From the Citadel. Fear crawled in his gut, making for his throat, and he forced himself to breathe, peering towards the dark opening of the caves. His dwarven eyesight, well-attuned to the lightless atmosphere of the caverns, easily pierced the gloomy veil. Seeing nothing, he once again turned, resolving to ignore any more such noises.
The noises echoed suddenly, loudly, reverberating wildly off the tunnel walls. Turning, he nearly dropped his weapon. Oozing, rippling puddles pooled up from the floor, dripped from the ceiling, flowed from the opening of the ancient city. Constantly changing shape, their oily, slithering movement was centered on a growing pool of the puddles. Coalescing, they began to take form.
The sentry, duty forgotten and sense abandoned as reality seemed to twist in front of him, was rooted to the spot. His leaden muscles refused to respond. He could only gape as the mass rose, vaguely man-like, its features constantly shifting. Razor-like talons changed to bear-paws changed to human hands, all the inky-black of utter darkness. Slowly, two eyes opened - red, malevolent orbs, they were the only constant feature of the entire creature. And they were focused on the sentry.
Slowly, the creature moved forward, sometimes seeming to dissolve before once more coalescing in the same vague shape. The only thing never shifted once were those two burning embers.
Finally finding a shred of sanity amidst the horrors he was viewing, the young dwarf turned and pumped his legs wildly. Removing his Patrolman's Badge, he nearly dropped it in his wild run. He began tapping on it frantically, eyes darting about him, searching for the horror behind him. Nothing was there. He breathed deeply, and turned his head forward towards the nearing gates.
There, in front of him, was the creature. The dwarf gasped, and an oozing, groping tentacle of an appendage shot out of the chest of the creature, grasping his throat. The two hands, now with razor-like talons slashed at his chest, his legs and face, narrowly avoiding his most vital areas, leaving his neck untouched. Merciful blackness took the sentry as the creature began to feed.
The council of elder's had reconvened. King Zentarion at the head, they considered the latest news. Three weeks had passed since Fezden, a young sentry with high hopes, had disappeared. They had received a garbled, incomplete call for assistance, and the two guards who had responded to the call had found nothing. Then, last week, news had reached the council that an entire community of wandering gnome tinkers had been eradicated - man, woman and child. All that remained were their belongings, including gold. Bodies were gone, and traces or instances of blood were rare.
Now, the pair of sentries assigned to the Citadel-corridor, (the shift being doubled recently), reported that the gates to the smelty had been destroyed, and all inside had been slaughtered.
"I say it's the duergar! Those scum have finally decided to grow a backbone, and I saw we show them the error their ways!", the Master Butcher proclaimed in a loud voice. King Zentarion sighed.
"Please, revered Master, you know the duergar. They are barely capable of speech, let alone well-organized attacks! And I know of no duergar that would leave gold lying in open sight!"
With this, the council erupted into arguments and shouting. Suggestions ran from shutting the gates of Dwarvenhold and barring the Grey Vortex from use to mounting an armed attack against the duergar, to wild claims by the aging, (and some said senile), brewer that N'Kai was rising up for past crimes.
King Zentarion would not have usually been this worried - if it weren't for the oddities. For every death that had been reported, for every tragedy striking the dwarven city, fortune had smiled upon them in a different area. Their income had increased tenfold, and their last skirmish with goblins in Tharlodin's Vein had been a decisive win, securing ownership of the mines for decades to come. All this after a standstill for years, with each group holed up in their respective caves. Something was afoot here, and Zentarion knew that the Dwarves, perhaps the Goblins, Duergar and the rest of the area, were mere pawns.
Conversation ceased as the iron-bound, oaken doors swung open forcefully. A small figure in bloodstained white robes shambled forward, eyes closed. Three guards rushed in behind, diving for the figure, who turned and opened its mouth in a word-less scream. The three dwarven warrior elites fell, lifeless, to the ground. The robed figure turned once again to face the assembly. Zentarion uttered an astonished oath under his breath.... it was Fezden.
"Fezden! You've returned!" the Master Baker shouted, voice quavering despite his attempt to sound pleased.
The gathered council, confused at the recent events, their best person guards struck dead without battle, and a missing dwarf in bloodstained robes returning, seemingly, from the dead, had robbed them of words.
The figure raised a hand, wordlessly, and opened its eyes. The council gasped, and Mistress Prewitt, wife of the Master Jeweller, screamed and fainted. Where his eyes once were, empty sockets stared at them. Blood flowed in steady, crimson streams, like tears, streaking into Fezden's unkempt beard.
Crimson tears still flowing, he opened his mouth and spoke. His voice, sounding like Fezden's, yet somehow enriched with... wisdom... knowledge... sounded forth.
"You are witness to an astonishing event. The final Incarna has awakened. She has returned."
With that, sudden blackness, like a blanket, descended upon the group. Shouts of confusion rang out, and finally a cleric was brought forth to summon light.
Fezden was gone, as were the bodies of the dead warriors. Silence reigned as the members pondered the words.... a sudden peace had descended over them. The killings were over... Zentarion felt that with all of his soul... yet something felt... odd.
A sobbing rose from outside, their ragged cries drawing the council from their chamber. The sight astounded them - Devlin, the ancient dwarven adventurer, had lived for nearly six-hundred years in Dwarvenhold, as a guard, a merchant, and an adventurer. He had seen 5 kings come and go, three assassination attempts, 12 wars, and the fall of the Citadel, and through it all, he had been staunch and steadfast, calm in the face of battle, horror, and death. And he was now in the city square, sobbing like a child.
Zentarion rushed to his old friend, concerned. Devlin warded him off, wiping tears from his eyes. His voice thick with emotion, he turned to the assembled crowd - the Masters of Dwarvenhold.
"It has happened. Lord Tynian protect us." Devlin seemed hysterical.
"What has happened, old friend?", Zentarion was perplexed at what could affect Devlin so drastically. "She has returned.... she will destroy us all.... or she will save us. That's the point... you'll never know until it happens. She has returned! Awakened!" Devlin began rocking back and forth, hugging his knees to his chest, sitting on the ledge of the fountain.
"What has happened? Who has returned?" Zentarion was haunted by the sound of Fezden's voice saying those exact words... 'She has returned'.
Devlin looked up through tear-rimmed eyes. He staggered, shambling towards Zentarion, collapsing in his arms. As the ancient adventurer died, the last of his breed, he whispered a name in Zentarion's ear.
"Katrana.... the Wyld."
Hidden amongst the shadows, unnoticed by any, Fezden, the blind seer of the Wyld, nodded. All was in order. The Wyld was returning, and the world would never be the same.
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