The bird landed gracefully atop a large rock. Its head tilted slightly to the side, taking in its surroundings. It sat atop a large hill. The Widow's Veil Mountains loomed imposingly over the western horizon and rolling foothills stretched out into the east. It was early in the afternoon, though dark clouds sat heavily in the sky. A cool breeze swept over the hills. It raced smoothly in and out of the many valleys, gliding through the tall green grass before winding briskly up into higher ground.
From just out of view, there was a deep curse. The bird took a few small steps forward on its rock, peering curiously in the direction of the noise. There was another curse as a large creature stalked up the side of the hill. The bird had never seen anything quite like it before, and certainly not as large. The beast stood nearly as tall as many of the small trees, which rose above the dense grass.
It had a long, weathered looking face. Deep creases lined its prominent brow and a full head of dirty brown hair fell down its head past its thick beard and onto its shoulders. It surveyed the area for a moment, its cold, grey eyes coming to a rest on the bird. It snarled and looked to a small patch of white looking goo splattered about its right shoulder. The creature's gaze shifted back to the bird. It did not look happy.
Burgen Bralund growled and cursed viciously at the bird as it flew away, soaring far out of his reach. He hated birds, especially that one. He gave the mess on his shoulder another disgusted look and did his best to wipe it off. His heavy leather tunic had seen better days, but it would survive.
Burgen did not much care for traveling. He had a nice, comfortable home and was perfectly content to stay in it. Only on rare occasions did he venture far from his own territory, but this was one of those occasions.
It had been a long journey, but he was almost there. The half-giant had left his quiet life in the east what felt like ages ago, in search something very special. An ore so pristine whatever object was forged of its matter would never break. Supposedly. Of course, back then he had not known the only place to find it was deep in the caverns under a mountain range lands away from his own. But now, here he was, staring up at the Widow's Veil.
The half-giant frowned. The tough straps of his traveling pack wore heavily against his shoulders. He leaned on the aged stave held firmly in his right hand, its wood was strong and thick, and supported his great weight without protest.
Burgen looked back over his shoulder. He had descended from his mountain home, into the highlands and through the northern plains. The plains had taken a long while to cross but as far as Burgen was concerned, had been the most pleasant part of the journey. After the plains, he arrived in Rindol Field. That had been significantly less pleasant. The Halflings as a whole, were entirely too happy, Burgen had quickly concluded. He was very pleased to leave the uppity small people behind him.
He had met a few dwarves before and much preferred their company. So he was optimistic about arriving at his destination of Bordinar's Cleft. At least as optimistic as Burgen was capable of being.
The half-giant's foot slipped out from under him as he descended the steep hill, sending several loose rocks tumbling down in front of him. He caught himself amidst a wave of curses just in time to keep from falling.
"I hate hills," Burgen muttered dourly.
For several more hours, the half-giant trudged through the high grass in silence, occasionally interrupted by brief fits of violent shouting as errant birds ventured too close overhead for his liking. In the fading light, he could just make out the silhouette of a watch tower on a far away hill. The heavy blanket of clouds obscured the stars, making night travel near impossible.
Burgen scowled upwards and cursed the sky. "I hate clouds," he growled. He had hoped to reach Bordinar's Cleft sometime the following day, but now that would never happen. He would need to find a suitable place to make camp soon.
Burgen shot a caustic look back towards the watch tower. He had had more than his share of company in the past few days, and had no desire to walk all the way to the tower just for more. Besides, there would almost certainly be a Halfling there.
As the ominous peaks of the Widow's Veil drew nearer and nearer, the hills began to level. Burgen found the ground he was walking upon becoming much more even and flat. He did not particularly want to sleep unguarded in a completely open area, especially near the base of mountains that were home to creatures quite fond of finding lone travelers asleep. While he was more than capable of handling himself should trouble happen to find him, he would greatly prefer to just avoid it altogether - a fact that trouble often seemed to take personally.
After a few moments of squinting about in the darkness, he found a suitable spot. Two fairly large trees had sprung from the ground next to each other. Their trunks had grown together, entwining with one another to create an arching natural wall. Burgen sat down against them, shielding himself from some of the wind.
Several small holes had been dug in and around the base of the trees. Whatever animals lived inside of them would have to share their home for tonight. The half-giant set his club-like walking stick against the entangled trunks and removed his traveling pack. He stretched for a moment and then set his head down on a soft tuft of grass.
No sooner had Burgen closed his eyes than did the wind abruptly change temperature. He felt a cold, wet drop, land on his nose. The half-giant opened a single eye and peered threateningly up at the sky. He barely had time to let out an indignant curse before a thunderous clap of lightning cracked through the clouds. The chilling sheet of rain that immediately followed soaked him almost instantly. It was going to be a long night.
He awoke sometime in the early morning. The wet grass glistened as rays of sunlight streaked out from over the hills. The rain had stopped, as had the wind for the most part, and the clouds had begun to move on. Burgen groaned wearily and opened his eyes. He was still wet, very wet. His long hair was matted across his face and drops of water fell from his beard onto his soaked tunic. Both feet lay firmly planted in a large puddle of soppy mud, which seemed to have crawled up his legs all the way to his waist during his sleep.
He pushed the hair out of his eyes and slowly stood up, muttering, taking in his surroundings. He was almost at the base of the Widow's Veil, and could see a deep crease in the mountain side that seemed to lead inward, which meant Bordinar's Cleft was no more than a few hours away. Burgen looked down at his dripping, mud covered pants and swore. He wished he would have known that last night.
Grumbling, he snatched his traveling pack off the ground and slung it over his shoulder. The wet leather slapped loudly as it hit his back. He ignored the water dripping from the pack, grabbed his staff and once more started off towards the cleft.
"No, no, you're doing it all wrong!" Rungit yelled. His scraggly black beard twitched slightly. The dwarf was not pleased. He glared at his brother and business partner with impatient, grey eyes. "That is not how I showed you."
The other dwarf tossed his mining pick to the ground indignantly. "I'm doing it exactly how you showed me. Maybe you just did it wrong to begin with."
Rungit glowered angrily at that. "Farnus...," he growled back through clenched teeth, "You are worthless. Completely worthless. You are the reason we're stuck doing this to begin with. If I hadn't promised to watch after you, I'd be off trading exotic goods with elves right now, not stuck here still splitting rocks."
Farnus clenched his hand into a fist and shook it at Rungit. Like his brother, he had dark black hair and a dirty, unkempt beard. Both dwarves wore patched trousers and smudged workman's smocks over their tunics, which fit snugly on their considerable bellies.
It was early in the morning, and the blanket of dark clouds that had showered rain all over the surrounding countryside the previous night was slowly fading from view, though the ground around them was still wet and very muddy.
They stood in the center of a small valley just outside Bordinar's Cleft. Next to them, a group of large rocks sat complacently around a shadowy opening in the earth. The cave's entrance was quite tall but just wide enough for them to fit through with their equipment on.
"You're the one who borrowed all that money," Farnus accused bitterly, "I could have told you from the beginning your stupid caravan scheme would never have worked. In fact, I did tell you."
The other dwarf kicked at the pick on the ground with a heavy leather boot. "Blast it all! You know just as well as I that wasn't my fault. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Excuses are nice, but they don't really help us out now do they?"
Rungit leveled his gaze at his brother and frowned. "Then pick that back up and start digging."
"Dig here?" Farnus barked back, sweeping his arm over their surroundings in a wide stroke, "We will never find anything here. You don't know the first thing about mining."
"Well neither do you, and I say we will find something. Besides, it isn't as if you have any better ideas, is it?"
"Any idea would be better than this."
Just then, the two dwarves heard something from behind the rocks. They both stopped their bickering abruptly and stared in the direction of the noise.
Farnus shot his brother a worried look. "It couldn't be them already?" he whispered.
"They said we had another week," Rungit responded quietly, "it can't be."
They leaned in closer, listening. The noise sounded wet, heavy thumps followed closely by loud squishes. It continued at regular intervals for several seconds, and then stopped. A deep voice took its place, the voice did not sound happy. It cursed at something momentarily and then trailed off in a fit of muttering. Farnus held his breath as he quietly knelt down to retrieve the mining pick at his feet. It was not much, but it was the only defense they had.
Then, from around the rocks the source of the noise trudged into view. It towered over the dwarves, standing over twice as high as either of them and carried a giant, gnarled looking club which it appeared to be using as a walking stick. It's long, stringy brown hair was matted across its worn face. It was covered to the waist in mud and dripping wet.
Rungit looked up to the stranger. "Hello there," he called out nervously.
Burgen glared down at the two dwarves in front of him. He had been walking all morning and after a long night of cold rain, was still very tired. He eyed the mining pick in Rungit's hand. Burgen did not want to have to go into the dwarven city unless he absolutely had to. He hated cities. One dwarf was as good as any other, he figured.
"Are you miners?" he asked bluntly.
Rungit looked confused for a moment, then glanced to the pick and quickly back up to Burgen. "Why yes, yes we are." he replied uneasily. "We don't see your kind around here too often."
"Are you for hire?"
The dwarf's eyes lit up and a broad grin spread across his dirty face. "Absolutely, my friend," he said smoothly, "And as luck would have it, we are the best miners in all of the Widow's Veil. Nowhere will you find two as skilled as us."
"But-" Farnus began to protest, but was quickly shushed by his brother.
"My name is Rungit and this is my esteemed colleague Farnus," he said gesturing towards the other dwarf. "What may we call you?"
Burgen narrowed his eyes down at the dwarf in front of him. He hated smooth talkers. "How about boss?" he said.
"Very well then, boss," Rungit replied with a smile. "How then, can we help you?"
The half giant set his club down on the ground and swung his traveling pack off from around his shoulders. Drops of water still fell from its wet corners. He rummaged through the pack for a moment, and then emerged with a large piece of folded, stained parchment. He wrung the wet paper out for a second and then un-crumpled it. A large, detailed map of the region had been drawn onto one side. He knelt down next to the dwarf.
"I need cobalt. The only place to find pure veins is right here," Burgen said, pointing to a small mark on the map. "Do you know where that is?"
Rungit studied the parchment intently for a moment, scratching at his dark beard. Then his face sank. "As a matter of fact I do," he said, his voice ripe with disappointment. Farnus silently crept up behind his brother and peered over his shoulder at the map. His eyes widened in surprise when he spotted where the mark lay.
"Good." Burgen replied, ignoring the dwarves' obvious despair. "How quickly can you get me there?"
"It is about a day's journey away, but its not that easy I'm afraid." Rungit explained.
"Why is that?"
"I hate to be the one to tell you this, boss," Farnus spoke up. "But nobody goes there. It is far too dangerous. All sorts of unpleasant creatures live there."
The half-giant frowned and looked back down to his map. "Do you know anywhere else to find pure cobalt then?" he asked, with a somewhat annoyed expression.
The two dwarves looked at each other for a moment, and then shook their heads. "I'm afraid not," Farnus said.
"Do you know of anyone who does?"
"Unfortunately no," Rungit replied nervously, "That really isn't the sort of thing one tends to share with a lot of people."
Burgen's frowned deepened. He narrowed his eyes down at the two dwarves, as if considering something. After a moment, he set the map aside and reached back into his pack, pulling out a large pouch. Its top was tied in a tight knot, but it appeared to be very full. He muttered something under his breath and tossed it towards the dwarves.
As soon as the pouch had left the half-giant's hand, Rungit recognized the unmistakable jingling of coins from inside. He snatched it from the air and eagerly untied the knot, Farnus peering in over his shoulder. As he looked inside the pouch, his eyes widened. He looked back to his brother, who was staring mouth agape at the large golden coins that were nearly spilling out of the top.
"And another one just like it after I get when I need." Burgen stated flatly, "You worry about getting me the cobalt and I will worry about everything else." He gave his club a suggestive look.
"Would you be so kind as to give us a brief moment to discuss this?" Rungit asked politely, managing to wrestle his eyes away from the coins.
"Make it quick. I want to get moving."
"Of course," the dwarf replied. He turned back to Farnus. "I told you it would all work out. This would actually be enough to pay them off and then some," he whispered excitedly.
"Are you mad?" Farnus shot back quietly, "All the gold in the world won't do us any good if we get killed."
"And what do you think is going to happen to us if we don't get this gold?" he replied sharply.
"I don't like it." Farnus muttered.
Rungit growled. "We don't have any other options"
Farnus threw his hands up in the air. "But we aren't even miners!" "We've got all the tools, how hard can it be?" He turned back to the half giant and spread his arms warmly, smiling up at him. "It's a deal, boss."
Rungit scratched at his dirty beard and eyed the map worriedly. His brother stood next to him, a confused expression on his face. They stood in a steep, sloping ridge of large boulders deep within the Widow's Veil peaks. It had been three days since the half-giant had hired them as guides to the cobalt deposit, and for those three days they had marched continually south... for the most part, at least. Burgen had taken the delays in stride, but appeared to be quickly losing his patience.
All around them jagged mountains sprang from the earth, towering up into the sky. Rungit turned the map a bit, examining it.
"This map can't be accurate," he muttered under his breath.
Farnus pointed towards one particularly distinctively shaped peak. "That sort of looks like it," he observed.
Rungit shook his head. "It can't be."
"Are you two nearly finished?" Burgen called out from several dozen paces back. "There are only a few hours of daylight left. If we're as close as you say I'd like to keep moving." There was a challenging tone to the half-giant's voice.
"Just another minute," Rungit shouted back, a nervous smile on his face, "And we'll be off."
Farnus gulped. "Do you think he knows we're lost?"
"If he isn't beginning to suspect it, he will soon."
"Maybe we should leave tonight while he's asleep," the dwarf offered.
"And go where? Back to Bordinar's? I think he'd probably look there." Rungit responded sourly, "Besides, this is the only way we'll get the money. You have seen how tightly he holds that pack when he sleeps. There is no way we could get it without waking him up."
"Well how much farther south are we going to go?" Farnus asked seriously, "You realize we're dangerously close to the dead's territory."
"Of course I realize that, do you think I am an idiot? We haven't seen any yet though, and so long as we stay on the eastern side of the mountains we should be fine."
Farnus narrowed his eyes. "I think this is a bad."
The other dwarf was about to respond, but was interrupted as Burgen trudged over from where he had been sitting. "Time to go," he stated.
"Yes, of course." Rungit said, smiling at the half-giant. "My associate and I were just discussing how to best avoid any unwanted meetings with the dead."
"They're on the other side of the mountains, right?" Burgen asked simply.
"You are correct, boss." Farnus chimed in.
"And the cobalt is on this side, right?"
The dwarves nodded.
"Then what is there to discuss?" Burgen was beginning to doubt the wisdom of hiring the first two dwarves he had found. It was too late to change his mind now though. They had said it would take only a day to reach the caverns in which the cobalt deposit lay. That had been three days ago. If he did not know any better, he would think the dwarves had gotten themselves lost.
Rungit grinned a bit sheepishly and clapped his hands together. "Right you are, boss. We are just a bit overly cautious sometimes, our one failing. Let's go."
Burgen surveyed the mountains all around him, peering out into the grey sky. "How much farther are the caverns?"
The dwarves exchanged a doubtful look.
"We're getting very close, boss," Rungit assured the half-giant, "Don't worry."
About midway through the next day, the half-giant did in fact begin to worry. Only Burgen had a tendency to worry aloud, very vulgarly at times. His violent outbursts, in turn, worried the dwarves.
"You are lost." Burgen accused the two, his voice ripe with disgust. "Are you sure you aren't Halflings?"
Rungit glanced uneasily at their surroundings. They stood in a place very similar looking to the one in which they had rested yesterday. In fact, everything looked much the same as it had before. The dwarf was sure they had traveled a good distance but could not tell the difference between one mountain and the next.
He held up his hands defensively as the half-giant stalked towards him. "Lost may not quite be the right word, boss," he said, "We did get a little off track, but we are well on our way to the cavern now. I assure you."
"That's what you said two days ago," Burgen growled through clenched teeth. He towered over the dwarf, glowering down at him angrily.
"The Widow's Veil are tricky mountains to try and find your way through," Rungit began to explain. But he was cut short by a frantic cry from his brother.
"There!" Farnus yelled, pointing up at a steep ledge.
Burgen pulled his gaze away from the dwarf and looked. "What?"
"That crack! It's an entrance to a cavern!" he said excitedly.
The half-giant squinted and gazed critically at the spot to where Farnus was pointing. Rungit clasped his hands together and grinned broadly.
"Well then," he said, "that must be it."
Burgen glared back down at the dwarf. "For your sake, it had better be."
"It's not even that far," Farnus said cheerfully.
The half-giant rubbed his eyes wearily with one large, calloused hand and shook his head. "It is much farther than it looks."
Rungit eyed the ledge upon which the crack rested appraisingly. "We can get there by nightfall," he declared confidently.
Burgen was not convinced. "If we're lucky," he said as they began to make their way towards the crack. He had his doubt this was even the right cavern, but decided if they got up on that ledge and it turned out to be the wrong spot he could always just throw the dwarves off it. He caught himself grinning at that prospect.
"I knew we were getting close." Rungit said pleasantly, "This is the spot, I can feel it." He noticed the half-giant's expression. "See," he observed, "You're cheering up already."
"I'm thinking about what I am going to do to you if this isn't the right cavern." Burgen replied dryly. The dwarves' smiles faded quite abruptly.
It soon grew dark. Moonlight illuminated the Widow's Veil with an almost eerie glow. The peaks were oddly silent, not a solitary bird or animal could be heard calling out in the distance. It did not appear to upset Burgen in the least, but the dwarves had a very worried expression about them as they pressed on into the brisk night.
Several hours of rigid hiking later, they stood at the base of the ledge. It was elevated a goodly distance off the ground. The edge jutted out from the mountainside several feet out of the reach of the half-giant.
Farnus eyed the ledge with a bit of trepidation. "This probably is not the best time to bring this up, but I am not a very strong climber."
"I'll go up and lower a rope," Burgen said. He set his club down against the rocks. "Hold onto that for me."
For someone of the half-giant's stature, the climb was not exceptionally difficult. He struggled to find a grip a few times but within a couple of minutes, he had pulled himself up onto the ledge.
There was not a lot of room to maneuver. He carefully knelt down and removed his traveling pack. As he began to pull out a portion of rope, he heard something from inside the crack. He gazed intently into the darkness, trying to identify the source of the noise.
"Is everything all right up there?" Rungit called out from down below.
Burgen looked back down at the dwarves. He could barely see them in the moonlight. "One second," he said, "I thought I heard something."
He turned back towards the entrance to the cave and flinched back involuntarily, sending several small bits of rock tumbling off the side of the ledge. He was staring directly into the points of a half dozen spears. Behind them, angry eyes glared out at him from the darkness. He cursed.
Burgen eyed the spearheads cautiously. There were six, to be exact, all of which were leveled directly at his head. They appeared to be metal, but whoever made them had certainly not taken their time. The crude tips were bound haphazardly to the shafts with dirty leather straps and appeared ready to fall off at any moment.
The half-giant slowly eased himself up off his knees and stood towering over the outthrust spears. He raised a curious eyebrow and tried to peer into the shadowy cave. The creatures wielding the spears slowly emerged from the darkness into the moonlight. They did not look much better than their weapons. They were small ... very small. Their wiry, rust-colored bodies were hunched forward over the spears they clutched tightly in their thin, sinewy hands. The creatures sneered at Burgen with narrow, beady eyes and slowly advanced. The half-giant cursed under his breath. They were kobolds. He hated kobolds.
One of them took a small step forward. It had odd-colored markings on its face-the leader perhaps. It growled fiercely at Burgen, keeping its spear pointed neatly at his midsection. "Drop your treasure!" it demanded.
Burgen instinctively reached for his club, but came up empty. He had left it below with the dwarves. His patience exhausted, he muttered under his breath and glared down at the kobolds. They suddenly appeared to be much less sure of themselves.
"You're joking, right?" he asked flatly.
The marked kobold looked back to its comrades, the sharp-toothed grin fading from its face and replaced with a look of confusion.
"Drop your treasure," it demanded again, but this time with a slight hesitation.
Burgen folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. "Absolutely not," he said. "Why don't you drop your treasure?"
The kobolds exchanged uneasy glances. They seemed to be struggling with the question of who outnumbered whom.
"What's going on up there, boss?" Rungit yelled from down below. "I hear talking."
One of the kobolds risked a quick peak off the side of the ledge at the dwarves on the ground. That was all the time Burgen needed. In one smooth motion, he snatched the creature's crude spear from its grasp and thumped it painfully in the stomach with his boot, sending the kobold sprawling backward into the cave.
After a brief moment of surprise, the others charged at the half-giant. He turned the spears aside easily, managing to break one in the process.
"Nothing really," Burgen called out, kicking another kobold out of his way. "Just dealing with some of the locals."
"Do you want our help, boss?" Farnus shouted up, as one of the creatures jumped onto the half-giant's back and began to climb toward his head.
Burgen reached around and grabbed the kobold off his back. "Sure," he yelled dryly as he swung the flailing creature at one of the others. He let go just before impact and watched as they both sailed screaming over the ledge. The hapless kobolds hit the ground below with a heavy thud.
The half-giant could not help but grin at the dwarves' startled exclamations as the two kobolds came raining down upon them. They were quickly followed by a third, and a fourth, as one by one Burgen booted the creatures off the ledge until just he and the leader remained.
The half-giant glowered down at the terrified kobold before him. It still held its spear defensively, although did not seem to be overly sure of its usefulness at this point.
"That was brilliant," Burgen observed bitingly.
"This not your land!" the kobold spat furiously. "What you want with Rogg land?"
"Rogg land?" The half-giant could hear the dwarves below cursing as they pulled the other kobolds off the rocks while they tried to frantically climb back up. "What is that?"
"This Rogg land!" the kobold stomped. "Rogg!" he cried out.
"Rogg!" the kobolds below echoed.
Burgen blinked and rubbed his temples with one large hand. "Look, I don't want your land. I'm looking for cobalt. Do you know what that is?"
The creature's face contorted into a twisted, toothy grin as it smirked in understanding. "You want the blue stone," it said. "You won't find."
"Unless you want me to burn Rogg land to the ground," he leaned in close to the kobold, "you had better hope I do."
"You will die. Blue stone in death land!"
Burgen hated kobolds. How they were able to continue to survive despite being so remarkably stupid was, to him, a miracle of nature. "Death land?" he asked, unimpressed.
"The blue stone deep in tunnels. But it not alone. Death lives in tunnels too."
"That would probably be why you call it death land, wouldn't it?" Burgen said dryly. "What is your name?"
The kobold puffed up its chest, in a vain attempt to look menacing. "I Granog, King of Rogg land." The half-giant rolled his eyes.
"Granog, I'll make you a deal," he said reaching into his traveling pack. His hand emerged with a small bag bound tightly at the top. The kobold's ears perked up at the unmistakable jingling of coins from inside. "I was going to give this to the dwarves down there, but they're idiots. If you can show me to the blue stone, it's yours."
With that, Burgen opened the top of the bag and held it low enough for Granog to see. The kobold's eyes widened as he gazed greedily at the gold coins. After a moment, he peered back up at the half-giant.
"Granog will show you the blue stone," he said slyly, "But no tricks!"
Convincing the two dwarves and the kobolds not to kill each other was no small feat. To be quite honest, Burgen really didn't care one way or the other but insisted, quite vehemently, that they wait until after he'd gotten the cobalt to see who could kill whom first. It was not an entirely popular decision, but arguing with the disgruntled half-giant was an even less popular choice.
It had taken far too long for Burgen's liking to get the rest of the kobolds and dwarven brothers back up onto the ledge. The half-giant lowered his rope for them to scurry up, but it took several minutes for the creatures to figure out that going up the rope all at once was not conducive to a successful climb.
Once they were all crowded against the cave entrance on the ledge, Burgen looked down amongst the chattering group at his feet. "Be quiet," he ordered.
"Sorry about that boss," Rungit replied, looking up at him. "It's just that these kobolds are pretty stupid. I was trying to ask them how far in the cobalt is but they keep babbling some nonsense about haunted tunnels."
"Typical kobolds," Farnus said, shaking his head, "Afraid of everything."
Granog scowled at the dwarf and shook his spear. "Granog afraid of nothing!" he growled viciously. The dwarves snickered to one another, looking quite smug. At that, the kobold became enraged and lunged outwards at the brothers violently.
Burgen sighed as he reached down, catching the kobold by the back of his neck mid attack. He gave the dwarves a withering look. "You can be replaced," he said before turning back towards the cave. He gave Granog a light toss towards the entrance. The kobold landed precariously on his feet and stumbled into the cave. "Lets go," Burgen ordered impatiently.
"Our apologies, boss," Rungit said as the trekked into the darkness. "It won't happen again."
"It had better not," the half giant replied. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the tunnel. They paused for a moment as Rungit and Farnus each lit a torch, illuminating the inside of the cavern. The ground beneath him sloped downward, and large stalactites hung from the cave's ceiling. Burgen had to hunch over to avoid running into them. It suddenly occurred to him that the kobolds could fit a great many places that he could not.
"Granog," he said after several minutes of descending into the mountain. The kobold leader held up his hand, and the rest of the creatures stopped. He looked back towards the half-giant.
"How big is the area the cobalt is located in?"
Granog gave Burgen a confused look.
"Will I be able to fit?" he said, a tad embarrassed.
The kobold gave him an appraising look, and seemed to be thinking deeply for a few moments before finally shrugging. "Could be yes, could be no." he said.
"That helps," Burgen replied dryly.
He continued to march through the caves, listening to the dwarves bickering with each other for what seemed like an eternity. Several times, the tunnel narrowed and shrank, often to the point where Burgen was forced to crawl on his hands and knees before then opening up again into wide and spacious caverns.
"For someplace that is supposed to be haunted, this is actually quite nice," Rungit observed while they passed through one such cavern.
"How much farther is it, Granog?" Burgen asked.
"Close," the kobold hissed, "very close."
At the edge of the cavern, three tunnels split off into different directions. Two of the tunnels were quite large. The half-giant would have no problem walking upright through them. The third, however, was significantly smaller. Burgen eyed it dubiously.
"It's that one isn't it?" he asked, pointing towards the small tunnel.
Granog nodded his head and started for it, the other kobolds following closely behind their leader. Just before entering, Granog turned back, his large eyes narrowing into a cautious squint. "Blue stone lies through here," he said and pointed towards the half-giant. "You go first."
Burgen knelt down and peered into the hole in the wall. He wasn't even sure he'd be able to fit all the way through. Cursing under his breath he lowered himself to the cavern floor and began to slide into the tunnel, holding his large club out in front of him.
"Don't worry boss," Rungit said in a comforting tone, "We're right behind you."
Burgen wondered silently if he could kick the dwarf from where he lay. He muttered to himself has he continued to inch he way into the tunnel. It seemed to be getting narrower and tighter the farther he went in. He removed his traveling pack, pushing it in front of him yet his back still scraped against the rock above. He couldn't see anything. The dwarves had the torches behind him and his large form was blocking the light from seeping through. With a grunt, he tried to pull himself farther into the tunnel. He did not budge.
He grumbled and tried again, this time harder. His shoulders rubbed painfully against the hard rocks around him, but again, he did not move. He cursed. He was stuck.
"You all right up there, boss?" he heard Rungit call out from behind him.
He gritted his teeth. "I'm stuck," he called back. He thought he heard laughing, he wasn't sure from whom.
"Do you want us to push?" Farnus asked.
Burgen exhaled slowly, letting all the air drain from his lungs. There was no way he was going to let them push. With a dreadful resolve, he took hold of the wall in front of him and pulled forward with all his strength. He felt the rough fabric of his tunic begin to tear away as he slowly slid forward until finally he felt openness.
He rubbed his shoulders as he dragged himself out of the tunnel and stood up in the cavern. Thin bits of light shone from out from the tunnel behind him, illuminating slivers of the cave. He could not see much, but it looked to be quite large.
One by one, the kobolds followed by the two dwarves emerged next to him. They slid through the small opening with ease and dusted themselves off as they took in their new surroundings. As the dwarves emerged from the tunnels the light from their torches poured into the cave.
They stood in a large cavern, probably the biggest they had been in yet. All over the walls small tunnels twisted off and ran deeper into the mountains. Some were large enough for the half-giant to fit through, but most were not. It was impossible to tell how far they went or if they even lead anywhere at all.
Granog looked around cautiously. "The blue stone be here," he said.
Burgen peered into the cavern. "I don't see anything."
Granog raced over to one of the holes, it led straight down into the ground. He pointed at it. "Here," he said, keeping his voice low.
The half-giant looked down at the hole. It was much too small for him to go in. "You weren't sure if I'd be able to fit in that? How much farther is it?"
The kobolds looked about the caves nervously. "Not so loud!" Granog warned. "They will hear you."
Burgen scowled down at the kobold. He did not have the patience for this. The two dwarves walked over and began to examine the hole. Farnus leaned over carefully, and flicked his torch forward sharply, sending several burning bits of reed falling down into the darkness.
After a moment, the dwarf's face brightened. "I can see the bottom," he said cheerfully.
"Good," the half-giant responded. He handed Rungit his traveling pack, "Fill this. And be quick about it."
"Sure thing, boss," the dwarf replied. After securing their rope to a large rock, the dwarves began to lower themselves in to the hole and out of sight. A few moments later, the rope stopped moving and the half-giant heard Rungit's excited voice echo up through the tunnel. "The little beast was right. It's everywhere down here. We'll get to work right away, boss."
Just then, Burgen heard a low moan from behind him. He looked back over his shoulder towards the kobolds. They stood huddled together, chattering fearfully in their native tongue to one another. "Was that one of you?" the half-giant asked.
"Granog told you!" he whispered harshly, "They will hear!"
The kobold looked as if it were about to say something else, but was cut short by another moan. The group took one look into the darkness behind them and then dashed back towards the tunnel they'd come from. Burgen started to protest, but realized he didn't really need them anymore anyway. If they wanted to leave, let them leave. One less thing he had to worry about.
The loud clanging of the dwarves' tools echoed up through the hole and into the cavern. Burgen turned around to peer back down at them when he heard the sound again. He looked up in the direction it came from. Towards the back of the cavern, he thought he saw movement in one of the shadowy tunnels. He snatched up the remaining torch, tightened his grip on his club and took a step forward to investigate.
Whatever it was in the shadows continued to stagger forward. It let out low, prolonged moans until it finally emerged into the light. Burgen narrowed his eyes at the creature standing across the cavern floor. It appeared to be human, or at least had been human at one point. Now strips of flesh hung off its body. Its eyes were sunken back into its head and most of the skin on its face appeared to have rotted away. It shuffled forward, keeping its dead eyes locked coldly on the half-giant. This must have been what Granog was talking about. He was not terribly surprised. They were near the border of the dead territory, after all.
Burgen shrugged and stalked towards the creature, readying his club. As he came near, it reeled back, as to attack him but with one quick, mighty strike the half-giant sent the ghoul crashing broken into the ground. Burgen glared down at the jumbled mess of flesh and bones before him and grinned. He had rather enjoyed that.
Then he heard more shuffling - this time from the opposite end of the cavern. He whirled around to see three more shapes emerging from the tunnels. He stomped over and quickly dispatched them in much the same fashion.
As he finished crushing the third walking corpse against the hard rocks he saw more shuffling out of the tunnels directly in front of him. Ten, maybe a dozen emerged into the light out of the large holes in the wall. They all staggered towards him, the same dead looks on their faces.
"How much more time are you going to need?" he shouted out to the dwarves.
"We're working as fast as we can boss," came Rungit's reply. "What's the rush?"
Burgen smashed the skull of one of the dead with a powerful blow from his club. "Just try to quicken it up a little," he said, whirling around to meet another of the ghouls. For several minutes Burgen fought the small crowd of dead, brutally crushing each of them into the hard, rocky floor until their disfigured corpses scattered about the ground were all that remained.
He panted and wiped a bit of sweat from his brow. That had actually been sort of fun. Burgen's amusement was short lived, however, as soon more of the dead began to stagger out of the tunnels. Lots more. Dozens of figures lurched forward now, streaming into the cavern from out of the darkness.
Burgen cursed and looked down into the dwarves' hole. "That cobalt had better be pristine," he shouted. Muttering, he set the torch down on the cavern floor, gripped his club tightly in both hands and waited. "I hate zombies."
(( To Add: Image excerpt of Lore ))