Expedition into the Valley
”So, you are sure this will work?”
“If our understanding about the Shades is correct.”
Gladeck studied his new axe. Arcane Runes sparkled on the steel, and the prayers on the handle were beautifully carved. It was the most beautiful weapon he had ever laid his hands upon.
“Tell me, Dagvar, what exactly do these Runes say? I never was very good with these things,” he remarked while he slid his thumb on the blade, drawing a little blood.
“They are a new combination of Runes. There is a little fire and a little light for the whole steel, and of course strength for the handle and sharpness for the blade,” Dagvar answered while closing the box in which he delivered the new weapon.
Gladeck tested the weight of the weapon. It was tailor made for him and was crafted by a smith of his own choosing.
“No rust protection?”
“Our materials for Runing are limited, so we couldn’t fit every little thing in. You’re going to have to keep good care of it by hand.”
Gladeck nodded and swung the axe around a few times. It was lighter than it looked.
“I think I can manage that. I assume it doesn’t have a name yet?”
Dagvar nodded. “As I said, limited supplies. Some traditions needed to be put aside for practicality.”
Gladeck took a deep look at his weapon, which would hopefully be able to deal with the new threats the Valley posed. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, they may finally progress towards the home of their ancestors.
“I think I will call it Mlada, then,” he said and placed it within its sheath. Dagvar chuckled.
“Always one for the old legends. I see some things never change.”
Gladeck turned to look at Dagvar and smiled.
“Aye, that they do not. It has been good to see you; it has been ages since the last time. But now, I really must go to the meeting if we are to leave tomorrow. We will meet again after I return. May your ancestors walk with you, friend.”
“Always so sure of yourself. A good trait in these trying times. Good luck on the expedition and may your ancestors walk with you.”
With that Gladeck and Dagvar clasped hands, bowed, and parted ways.
It was the morning of the day of departure, and Gladeck eyed the dwarves chosen for the expedition. There were ten of them: nine very capable fighters and one scholar. The scholar was of clan Enzgrym, but the other were Dozmar folk who had trained for this for the last ten years. Everyone had been equipped with new, Runed, weapons made specifically for them. A few had bows for hunting. All were armored with chainmail and helmet. Years of research and work was about to see fruition, and Gladeck was certain that this crew was up to the task.
Gladeck looked to the three clan leaders who watched him inspect the crew and bowed at the Johtab, Dwodraeck Enzgrym.
“We are ready to leave on command, Johtab. All is accounted for.”
Dwodraeck smiled. “Fifteen years since we last made progress. And now, we have taken the next step towards Ak’ Baungr. The spirits of all our ancestors smile today.”
One of the other clan leaders, Hjältmer of Dozmar, stepped towards Gladeck and gave him a friendly slap on the back. “If only I could order you to step down and take your place. But duty keeps me here at home and not risking my life in search of old legends. I wish you the best of luck, and may your ancestors walk with you.”
The last leader, Gymral of Guntzgam, eyed the expedition with a frown. “Do not break those weapons. New ones will cost you.” Dwodraeck looked back at Gymral with a question on his face but decided not to say anything and turned back around.
“If you truly have everything accounted for, then you have my blessing to leave. Stay safe, sons of Baungrvuor, and may all your ancestors walk with you.”
Gladeck bowed deeply, and then turned to his men. “You heard him, it is time we finally march! To Ak’ Baungr!”
The others echoed his war cry: “To Ak’ Baungr!”, lifting their Runed weapons in the air. They shined brightly in the morning sun, promising victory and glory. Then the expeditionary group took for the docks, singing songs of old legends.
There was a slight thud as a boat hit the bank of the river. Soon there was another one, and a third. Eleven dwarves hopped out of the boats and pulled them some distance inland where they took the gear stored within. Food, weapons, torches, shovels, picks, books, bedrolls. After everyone had their own supplies ready to go, Gladeck took the group for a last briefing.
“Our first stop will be the big stone our scouts found some years ago. They said it resonated with energy, but couldn’t take a closer look since it swarmed with Shades. We will test our new weapons there, and if successful, make camp for few days to let our learned one here study it deeper. Then we will either go further or go back to report findings if major enough. If we march with good pace, we should be there before nightfall.”
The group then began their march into the Valley Forest, with Gladeck in the lead and the scholar Nuvrael in the middle, protected by the rest. The forest was imposing, tall trees with branches as thick as a small dwarf that went on for, as far as they knew, forever. The march was in a quick but careful pace. Everyone looked at every nook and dark spot very intently, ready for an ambush. Even though there was still sunlight, the ancient forest gave enough cover for Shades to attack at any moment. The youngest and most devout of them, Ygvil, mumbled silent prayers for strength and courage. Otherwise it was silent.
They were lucky though, as the journey was uneventful. The last rays of the sun made their way through the leaves as the expedition came upon a large stone protruding out of the ground. The stone was as tall as a tree and of unnatural shape. It was in the middle of a small clearing in the woods atop a hill. It was a strange sight, as the bedrock was deep beneath the soil in these parts. And although only one of them had any magical training, everyone could feel that this was no ordinary stone. It was as if it had a connection straight to the core of the earth itself. The air tingled with power. If you listened intently, you could hear a low thrumming sound. Everyone stood still, taking in the raw magical energy in the air. Gladeck broke the silence.
“Kheluth, Erimmen and Nassumin secure our flanks. The rest dig us a camp for the night. Be vigilant. Nuvrael, get to work.”
The crew sprang into action and started digging a small hole to sleep in. A fire was lit, and food roasted. Nuvrael immediately took to studying the stone, Gladeck beside him. The expedition leader was the first to speak.
“What is this thing? A conduit? An obelisk?”
“I have never even heard of something this powerful simply existing in the wild. It also looks to be made of a different stone than the bedrock around here. It must have been placed here by someone. The work of our ancestors, perhaps? Take a few steps back, I will try and touch it. Anything could happen.”
Nuvrael lifted his hand, and Gladeck was about to protest. But they were both cut short by a shout piercing the cool night air.
“Shades! To the west!”
The silence of the forest was all the sudden replaced with abrupt cacophony. Shovels and picks hitting the ground, weapons taken out of their sheaths, furious war cries and the ethereal hissing of the Shades. Sounds of metal clinking as everyone ran towards the sound of fighting. Claws screeched on metal. The slight crackle of the fire as it lit the skirmish with dancing light. The Shades were almost invisible in the darkness, only their eyes shining a gloomy light. There were three of them, the most usual demons seen in the Valley. This time, though, the dwarves had a way to fight back. The darkness made it difficult to even hit the Shades, but with such advantage in numbers a blow finally made purchase. There was a bright flash of light as the Runed axe made contact, and a terrifying, unnatural scream echoed through the forest. Unlike usually, the axe did not simply slide through the Shade. Instead it bounced off it, leaving a burning, shining mark that quickly spread across the whole body of the shade, engulfing it in ethereal flame. The other two shades screamed as well and retreated quickly into the forest, melding with the darkness. The dwarves had to shield their eyes from the bright light emanating from their victory. It was as if it was midday again. The Shade kept howling this unnatural scream which seemed to last forever. Then as suddenly as it started it ended. The light went out and the screaming stopped, and where there just moments ago was a demon there was now nothing. Silence pierced the forest once more.
“So, they do work”, said Kheluth, breaking the silence. “Who landed the blow?”
Morgren lifted his axe in the air. “It was me.”
“The Destroyer of the first Shade, Mogren. Your ancestors are surely proud.”
Mogren looked at the spot where the shade burned. There was no sign of anything on the ground or even in the air.
“It didn’t feel as glorious as I thought it would. It was almost too easy.”
“Aye, I did not expect them to do… well, that,” Gladeck said. “Come, show me your axe. Did the runes get damaged?”
Mogren turned to look at his axe. The runes were dim, and the blade looked like it had been used to cut stone.
“What in the ancestors name…?”
“That doesn’t bode well. The Runing needs improvements. Seems like our understanding was not perfect, just as we thought,” Nuvrael remarked as he sheathed his own blade. “I say we camp only for the one night. This is progress enough already, pointless risking more if our weapons are one-use.”
Gladeck nodded. “I agree. Let us hope the Shades do not return this night. Maybe they got spooked by their first loss.”
Nassumin let out a chuckle. “Do those things look like they can get spooked?”
“Well, they did seem to run with their tail between their legs for now at least. Continue with the digging, lets try and get some sleep tonight. And Nuvrael, no touching the stone. Understood?”
“How am I to…?”
“No. Touching. Get digging.”
The rest of the night was uneventful. The next morning came, and the crew started to pack their gear. Mogren took a sad look at his weapon before packing it but noticed something peculiar.
“Hey, Nuvrael, come look at this!”
Nuvrael rushed to Mogren, who showed him the axe.
“What is the matter?”
“The Runes, Nuvrael. They’re back!”
The Runing on the weapon once more gleamed like they were brand new. The blade itself was still in terrible condition. Nuvrael was flabbergasted.
“I have never seen such a thing! Runing being energized by itself? The stone!”
Nuvrael took his own blade from its sheath and saw the shining runes, like they were just made.
“This is incredible. We need to bring more people to this stone. An outpost. It needs to be studied intently.”
“Then let’s get marching, so we may be home before nightfall,” said Gladeck who appeared from their sleeping hole. “I think we have learned more in these two days than we have in the last fifteen years!”
The expedition gathered itself and their meagre belongings, and started their march back home.