The Dead Marshes (Part 1)

Morgrim Redsbeard landed heavily on the well packed and dry earth of the hidden tunnel. The loud clanking of his movements down the ladder echoed then faded. His small dark eyes glanced around and he listened closely.  He heard nothing and saw only the two tall dirt walls on either side of him and the entrance ahead of him. Morgrim was surprised to see that the tunnel was about twenty foot tall and seemed deep enough to continue out of his sight reach.

His free hand tugged gently at his long dark red wiry beard, which his ancestors had been named after and so had become highly recognisable by other mountain dwarf clans, as he began to think. In his other hand, his fingers had loosened slightly on the leather bound grip of his large warhammer, which was resting on his amour plated shoulder. A soft padding and swishing sound from behind drew his attention and he glanced over his shoulder to see one companions coming down the wooden ladder.

Morgrim shuffled to the side and his right foot tapped against something. He looked down and saw at his feet a soft yellow light pulsing along the keen blade of an elf dagger. He picked it up and handed it back to the female half-elf, Cerseia, as she joined him. She quickly took it from him and studied the area.

‘This would explain it,’ Cerseia muttered.

Morgrim eyed her warily and watched her approach the entrance to the tunnel. She stopped short and held out the dagger to cast more light down the passage way. It didn’t reach very far, but the half-elf like the dwarf was able to see further with her eyes then the lit up dagger went. Upon wondering about this, Morgrim called the divine light back to his hand and cast them into darkness for a few moments. However, it didn’t make a difference and they couldn’t see much further down the tunnel then before.

‘What’s happening?’ a loud voice yelled from above.

Morgrim cast the light on his shield, illuminating the tunnel once again as he and Cerseia went to the bottom of the ladder and looked up into the three faces of their other companions, which were two dragonborn sisters, Katliana and Konniana, and a male mountain dwarf, Grubgubber, Grub to his friends, who was possibly a distant cousin of Morgrim’s on his mother’s side.

‘Nothing,’ Morgrim called back, ‘There’s a long tunnel down here.’

‘It must be how they are transporting the treasure,’ Cerseia added.

‘What do you want to do?’ the same voice asked and Morgrim saw that it belong to the female dragonborn paladin, Katliana.

‘We must find out where it leads,’ Cerseia answered, ‘and who is behind all of this.’

‘I really don’t like that idea!’ Grub yelled down, ‘have you ever fought in tunnel before elf? We should stay here and refortify this area for the coming attack.’

The smell of death trailed after his words and reminded Morgrim of the fight that had taken place in the warehouse above them mere minutes ago. He and some of the others had been suspicious of the innkeeper, a foul-mouthed and stinking half-orc, when they had first arrived and asked for rooms for the night. He had turned them away, but Cerseia had charmed him into letting them stay and sharing a single room. As soon as they had settled for the night, they had been disturbed by shouting voices and the sounds of a scuffle.

Morgrim recalled the heated debate amongst them upon hearing the noise. However, it had quickly been decided that someone should go and take a look. Cerseia and Konniana, the dragonborn rogue, had sneaked out and discovered that the innkeeper was having an argument with a group of humans. They as, Konniana had described, seemed to be guarding a dilapidated building far beyond the stables. She had tried to get a closely look and had spotted what seemed to be stacks of crates inside, but then the innkeeper had seen her and she and Cerseia had rushed back to get the others.

From there everything had happened too fast and they had had no choice but to kill the innkeeper and his human guards or else they would have been dead themselves. They had investigated the crates afterwards and found them full of treasures. Thus, confirming some of the information they had received in a letter upon accepting the quest.

‘What else did that note say?’ Morgrim grumbled to himself coming out of the memory.

‘Pardon?’ Cerseia asked in a low voice.

He shook his head and turned his face up towards the trap door, ‘come down. We need to go through the tunnel. It is big enough to fight in,’ he added.

He moved away and stepped towards the entrance was more. Cerseia came to his side and they set off at a normal pass. Behind them they heard first Katliana then Konniana come down the ladder. They landed just as heavily as Morgrim had done. Grub, growling and muttering, followed after them, having first shut the trapdoor. They quickly fell into line behind the others and made their way through the tunnel.

‘I still say we’d have been better staying up top,’ Grub spoke out a few moments later.

‘Perhaps, but we could have been waiting a long time,’ Morgrim responded.

Cerseia nodded, ‘it is still a good few hours before the hour of the wolf. That’s what the letter said, remember? Stay in your room at the hour of the wolf. They must remove the treasure and take it along here at that time so nobody will hear them. Look!’ she stopped and pointed to some footprints on the ground.

The group came to a halt and all eyes went to the floor. The footprints were not human as they looked too small and animal like. Beside them were some bigger and deeper footprints. Also, there were lines were the crates had dragged along.

‘What do you make of these? Morgrim asked Konniana and he shone the light from his shield further on the floor and followed the footprints along.

She shrugged her blue scaly shoulders, ‘They have a big creature doing most of the work? But, there’s no wheel tracks, so they must carry everything.’

‘At least we now know what’s been happening to all the treasure that’s being stolen from the nearby villages and towns,’ Cerseia cut in.

‘But where is it ending up and who is actually behind it,’ Morgrim added on.

‘Surely, the innkeeper’s be doing it!’ Katliana cried out, ‘And he’s had some goblins or something moving the treasure to a safer location so that he wouldn’t have been found out.’

‘I don’t know, this plan seems too good for a half-orc,’ Morgrim explained, ‘maybe he’s been working under someone else?’

‘Let’s go on and find out. This tunnel has to lead somewhere,’ Cerseia chimed in.

They started walking again with Morgrim leading the way. Cerseia was close behind him, the dragonborns stayed in the middle and Grub, still muttering to himself, was rear guard. The tunnel stretched tall and wide, like the throat of some chaotic beast, though it seemed to be a long way down to its stomach. They walked for a good amount of time without saying anything, the only sounds coming from their foot falls, rustling of clothes, clanking of amour and weapons. Each had fallen deep into their own thoughts and even Grub had stopped talking to himself.

From out of nowhere, Grub called out, ‘My donkey! I’ve left him behind!’

‘It doesn’t matter, you can get him later,’ Cerseia hissed back.

Morgrim slowed his steps, but didn’t stop, ‘she’s right. We all have to go back to get our things. Don’t worry about it for now.’

‘Is this tunnel ever going to end? Katliana questioned.

‘I have no idea,’ came Morgrim’s weighted reply.

Konniana sniffed the air, ‘I can’t tell.’

Morgrim picked up his pace again, though this time he hurried a little bit more. His shield still lit up the way, as if guiding them onwards. He became aware of Cerseia matching his strides and sticking close to his side. If pride hadn’t have got to him, Morgrim would have asked the half-elf to go ahead of him. She was much quieter and stealthier then he could ever be- full amour or not- and if there was anything coming towards them inside the tunnel or waiting at the exit, then she could warn them.

He opened his mouth to perhaps suggest something along the lines of this to Cerseia, but quickly closed it again as he saw what was up ahead. He and Cerseia entered the massive circler room together. Four iron brackets with un-light torches were spaced out along the now stone walls and there seemed to be no way out.

To Be Continued……