In the Glass Works Beneath the Monastery
Guttering torchlight cast dancing on the walls of the narrow, winding stairwell as Aerex Matare and Vorodon carefully descended into the tunnels. Beneath the charnel house that had been a place of worship, they quested, vainly hoping to find survivors of Alzamus’ incomprehensible vendetta against the innocent monks that had dwelt there.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the torchlight revealed a shadowy corridor with barrels neatly stored to one side. Darker areas on the floor revealed where several containers had apparently been recently removed. Something nagged at the back of the Inspector’s mind: Something was wrong here. Instinctively he froze, gesturing to the clumsily shambling warrior behind him to wait while he examined the hallway opening ahead of them.
It took only a few seconds for the cautious investigator to realize what was bothering him. The barrels had been recently moved, the layer of dust that covered them disturbed by handprints and wiped away in spots. The barrels had been moved, but why?
Scanning the area carefully, Aerex was able to make out a dark wire stretching across the hallway, nearly invisible in the shadowy illumination. Tracing its path with nearly inexhaustible patience, he found that it vanished into a crack in one of the aged columns supporting the tunnel. At the top of the column, his trained eyes made out how the roof supports had been tampered with. The barrels forced anyone in the hallway to pass directly beneath the trapped ceiling.
“What do we got here?” he whispered. “The guy that done this job didn’t care about details. He counted on shadows to keep anyone from noticing the way the roof was weakened. Sloppy work.” Finding a few chips of stone and a bent nail on the floor nearby, Aerex carefully jammed them into the cracked support, then cut the trip wire. “There,” he whispered. “That oughtta’ take care of THAT trap!”
Past the corridor, a large room waited, partitioned off by a curtain of patched leather. A chill breeze whispered to them as they took in the vast chamber. The room was dominated by a cluster of massive kilns, each beehive-shaped structure feeding into a large central chimney of stained and discolored brickwork. Large cauldrons of strangely glazed ceramic were placed near the kilns’ small openings, each filled with the cracked remains of the molten glass that had once served the monastery’s artisans. Racks of odd glassblowing tools had been knocked about the room, their careful symmetry destroyed by whatever battle had occurred within the chamber. Dark stains of pooled blood and shattered fragments of glass told the lost monks’ tale: A desperate stand against a foe as implacable as it was unexpected, the massive power of the stone giant crushing all that stood before it.
To one side of the workroom, a vaulted chamber awaited the pair. Within, wooden shelves held dozens of intricate works of the glassblowers’ art. Near the center of the small chamber, a glass statue stood upon a pedestal of black marble, the name “Jon Tamalare” engraved upon the base.
“That’ll keep,” commented Aerex, and they explored further.
Reaching the far end of the chamber of kilns, Vorodon suddenly lunged forward, lifting a metal object from where it lay next to a pool of dried blood. It was the head of a battle axe, its haft shattered, the metal strips that once protected the wood now bent by some massive blow. Rust-filled glyphs were visible on the poorly-maintained weapon, glyphs Vorodon recognized: The sign of the Ducal Guard, the unit that he and Bross had once served in. “Bross keep axe. Favorite, but for he no never clean good.” He muttered, a quiet anger rising in him.
A trail of blood led from the axe to a stout door on one side of the chamber, its iron-shod oak locked securely. Two blows from his axe were all it took to destroy the portal’s iron lock and the massive warrior kicked the door open. A small storeroom was revealed, where a flabby and disheveled man blinked dazedly in the sudden torchlight. Drawing his torn velvet robes around himself, the man began to bluster and rant. “What is THIS? Has that maniac found some new minions to torment me further? He will pay for this mistreatment! You will see; Professor Agaroy Zelmundt is no one to trifle with! I am well known in Jantir! The Empire will not stand for its citizens…”
The pedant’s ravings were cut short as Vorodon, spotting a huddled form within the chamber, coldly shoved him into the wall. “Vorodon no want know. Move!” Behind the pompous scholar, a bulky form lay huddled in one corner of the room. Vorodon recognized his old friend Bross, lying in a pool of dried blood. The Volgottir’s mottled skin was pale and waxen, his arm bent at a strange angle.
The professor stood there dumbly as Vorodon gently touched his friend’s brow. With a care that belied his massive, clumsy strength, he pulled a bit of fabric from his pouch, the gift of Maegla. His massive fingers gently tied the favor to his friend’s blood-encrusted wrist. The dead half-ogre had been struck by one of the stone giant’s missiles; jagged bone protruded from his shattered arm. Vorodon could see how the artery had been severed. Apparently, Bross had been too injured to stop the bleeding. Looking at the professor, he could see that the man was uninjured. “You Immerial Dignittery Bross es’corrt?”
“Yes… I was with him,” the scholar answered truculently.
“Dignittery know lot? Rofess’r?” the massive warrior asked as he rose menacingly and stepped slowly toward the man.
“I fail to see why I should answer the questions of…” the professor began, but was cut short by Vorodon’s hand clamping onto his windpipe.
“Dignittery know Tornikett? Know helf friend? Know stof blooding?” the Volgottir growled, his muscles bulging as he lifted the pedant off the ground by the throat, his vision colored with fury. The useless Imperial! He could have saved Bross’ life if he’d tried!
“Vorodon! Stop it! He was in the dark! Let him go!” Aerex interjected, grabbing the massive warrior’s arm. “He couldn’t see!”
As his friend’s objections sank in, he slowly released the pompous scholar’s throat. The man stumbled back, hoarsely objecting. “Keep away from me, you monster!” Waving his arms wildly, the man gestured to Aerex. “You saw him attack me! Keep that thing away from me.”
Despite his intervention to save the man, Aerex could tell that the storeroom shouldn’t have been entirely dark. Light from the workroom’s fires would have come in under the door, providing some dim illumination. Despite his misgivings, Aerex couldn’t let Vorodon just murder the man like that. It wouldn’t be right.
Sensing that the irate academic was about to launch another tirade, Aerex spoke quickly to head him off. “Professor, the wizard’s dead. We was looking for Bross, the guard that was escorting you. Vorodon here’s an old friend of his. You’d oughtta come upstairs with us; I think one of the guys with us is a friend of yours.”
They headed back toward the stairway as Vorodon began to smash the other doors in the area. Several monks trapped within staggered into the torchlight, pale and shaken, but Vorodon hardly cared. As his axe tirelessly demolished the stout portals, his mind was elsewhere.
Vorodon would soon return to Ganse.