Private Tales Return to Bhatairk

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Hath Charosh

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"A machine...machinumum...machi..."

Hath gave up. He spared her a sideways glance. When an orc was on edge they looked for the danger and trusted their tribe. This time he was looking to gauge the danger from her reaction.

It eased his worries to see that some of the lines of tension had been smoothed out of her face. Scabhair had been walking on a broken ankle, but their kind was too Hardy to fuss over such a thing. It was the fear he had heard in her voice that had brought him a measure of distress.

"I will watch for danger, see if I can feel the air move," he said. He wasn't going to be much help in her scholarly pursuits. He would sooner have seen the back of this place. Being underground was oppressive but the weight was not so great upon his chest. It was the shadows and darkness that he feared, but only because he had now seen true horrors in the night.

"There must be a way out. I hope it is not beneath us," he said as he walked to the edge of the water.
 
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Scabhair

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The scholar in question cast her silver eyes about the cavern once again, angry that she hadn’t thought to grab her rucksack off Ino’s saddle before running into the burning city. There were so many runes, symbols, glyphs, and pictograms to commit to paper. Now she could only squint and hope to remember enough to decipher them once they got out.

If they got out.

The sobering thought grounded her once more in the cold reality of their situation. Scabhair licked her dry lips and nodded at Hath. “I will go inspect the pendulum,” she replied, gesturing to the mechanism on the other end of the hall. “It could be the answer as to how all of these lamps are still working.”

Perhaps, if the spirits smiled upon them, even provide them a hint as to the way forward.

“I suggest…” She faltered, closing her eyes. If she allowed fear to find any purchase in her heart, this place would surely become their tomb.

And an orc was meant to go in a pyre, not under the pressing weight of the earth.

Scabhair squared her shoulders.

“I suggest you check whether the lake is inhabited by any animals. Just in case.”
 
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Hath Charosh

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That suggestion didn't require the scholar's eye. Even if Inodeirr had manged to drag a crocodile from the savanna waters, he knew that creatures lurked in there that even the great Gathamhr would not try and tackle. Fetching water in the savanna was a slow and careful business.

He had already established that the ground above water didn't lead anywhere. He could not see quite to the other side of the chamber, so he held onto some hope that there would be a corridor leading further from this place, this shine to the long deceased. If it was a dead end, then he knew they would be returning to the absolute darkness and fumbling for another way out.

"I will check it," he said firmly. Time was against them. The best way to soothe her fears was to get this task done and be away from this place. Hath had to wonder if her curiosity would let her return to this place to study if they found a way out of it.

"The water is clear," he observed. The otherworldly lights beneath the surface allowed him to see some of the broken structures that had been submerged. Hath stayed very still at the water's edge. He could see no logical reason for a great beast to be hiding here for something to pass by above the surface. Hath held onto that hope too.

He saw movement. He remained quite still and watched. The hunter barely moved a muscle. Finally enough movement that his eyes could latch on to the dark form and follow it.

"Small eels," he grumbled as he laid down his axe and took off his boots. "I am hoping that is all."

"Fuck," he swore as he stepped into the waters.
 
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Scabhair

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In the empty cavern, their steps and words carried heavy and loud even when they were yards apart. It was uncanny – for a brief, unfocused moment, Scabhair had even thought Hath had followed behind her, so close echoed his rough voice.

Her hairs stood on end as she clambered across the chamber. The wrecked joint didn’t help, pulsing and swollen, but when there were no other options, an orc simply willed their goals into being. She nearly lost her footing twice whilst climbing over the fallen blocks of an ancient statue; the first time when her purchase crumbled under her boot; the second when she foolishly thought to turn a patch of moss into a handhold.

Despite the setbacks, Scabhair made it across, following the hewn slabs of white rock that made up the risen floor. It was a strange quirk of architecture, and even as she raked her brain for old lessons, its purpose stumped her.

Her silver eyes settled on the pendulum then. Perhaps this room was intended for some sort of… ritual?

The thought ill-settled in her gut, like a cut of meat left out in the sun for too long. As she watched the great axe swing back and forth, Scy counted the duration of its trajectory under her breath.

It was no great surprise that it was, indeed, perfectly constant.

Looking up from the blade that still seemed unduly sharp, the orc directed her gaze to the long slot in the ceiling where the lever disappeared back into that thick darkness. Without banishing those thick shadows, she had no hope of glimpsing what mechanism breathed life into this strange feat of engineering.

The back and forth of the pendulum was broken by an irregular splash of water. She turned just in time to watch Hath slip into the back lake, disturbing its smooth surface on the far end of the cavern.

Hoping that he was right and the water wasn’t inhabited by anything save the eels, Scabhair continued past the construct and towards the apse at the very end of the long hall. The ring of green lanterns terminated shortly before its entrance.

Whatever lay beyond remained shrouded in darkness.
 
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Hath Charosh

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Hath's gaze was drawn upwards from the depths to the pendulum as well. It drew to mind stories of dwarven traps laid down to protect their precious metals. Their kind was infinitely paranoid in protecting the gems and metals they mined. Magpies with the shiny things they drew out of the shadows.

If they hadn't crossed any traps in the corridors, he saw no reason there would be any here. Instead his thoughts returned to the waters and what they held.

He assumed there were stairs somewhere, but the footing he had fell away into the water within a step. It was better to get submerged and deal with the shock of the cold quickly anyway. As soon as he was swimming the temperature was out of his mind.

Tired as he was, he picked a route that took him past the statues so that he could catch his breath. He reached the first and held onto its rough surface. It was well preserved, no wind or sand to wear it down. It had a humanoid face, but there was not enough detail to tell if it was intended to be human, dwarf or elf.

Looking down, he could see the jade light of one of the lamps flickering. His feet were dark silhouettes against it. He was tempted to dive, to see what the light revealed, but he had a clear goal in mind. Hath continued swimming the perimeter of the chamber, looking for a way out. At the level of the water's surface it was not looking promising.
 
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Scabhair

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The apse and its shadows were all too full of her deep-seated fears, and so Scabhair lingered like a summer child on the edge of the green light. Her eyes were drawn again to the shadow of her companion slicing through the water, maneuvering past the remains of the statues in search of something, anything.

Her heart squeezed in her chest. They had to find a way out. She closed her eyes and practiced her deep, slow breath. Just as she’d been taught by her mother, and her mother by her grandmother before her. It was a matter of life and death for the rites of the river, but her heretical streak had made use of the technique before every major exam at the college as well.

It had never failed her before, and it did not now.

When Scabhair opened her eyes again, there was a resolute line to her jaw. She steeled herself and strode forward, wincing through each step that sent throbbing pain through her wretched ankle.

As her eyes adjusted to the ambient light, the shroud of darkness gave way, relinquishing small details in the stone surface. While the edges of the alcove were decorated with the patterns she’d noted throughout the chamber, its central surface was left bare. It didn’t appear eroded by time or mechanism either; a simple wall of cut and polished stone, untouched save for three long rectangular hollows arranged in a triangle above a singular rhombic opening reinforced by notched brass.

Machinery. Control machinery, if Scabhair were pressed to put a purpose to it.

She tamped down the curious urge to brush her hand against the levers inset into the notches, careful not to disturb its balance. As she squinted and leaned further in, she noticed the faded inscriptions beneath each of the controls. Not that it helped – she could decipher a bit of south-eastern dwarwish of the early Belgarad era, given enough time, patience, and resources.

This… this was something completely different, and gnawed away by time besides.

Scabhair bit her lip in thought, the oppressive earth around her forgotten as she squatted to inspect the brass inlet in the wall. The metal matched that of the pendulum behind her, though there was more of the creeping blue patina in its decorative notches than on the moving mechanism. But there were more

She growled, moving to the side and waiting for the brief flashes of light as the pendulum passed to the side. It was hard to tell, but there seemed to be a helical groove that started at half the depth of the opening and rifled evenly to the very bottom. Two thin rods of a different metal jutted out from the circular end, discoloured in places for reasons she couldn’t discern.

“Hath,” she called out, for the first time raising her voice since they had descended into the earth. “Come here.”
 
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Hath Charosh

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It made much more noise to leave the water than it had to slip in. Water churned off his large form as he pulled himself out. If there was a way out in that direction then it was below the surface. Hath would need to reach another level of desperation before he went diving into the darkness to find another way out.

As he stepped away he felt a cold hand of fear on his shoulder. He turned sharply back towards the water, but the surface was once again calm. His imagination wasn't a fanciful thing, it was evolved to help him picture very real and plausible dangers like a crocodile leaping up to drag him back into a river.

Hath padded across he same route she had taken, dripping dry. A quiet patter to the rhythmic hiss of the pendulum striking water.

At least there was water now and a little light. It was warm enough that they wouldn't freeze. Hath knew he could go a long time without food. Pressing on back into the darkness after finding light was going to be difficult.

"What is it?" he asked, frowning in deep suspicion at the arrangement she had found.
 
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Scabhair

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“I don’t know,” she admitted, brows still knotted in thought. “I can… guess, but anything we touch here might pose us a risk of unknown proportions.”

What were the alternatives, however? Wander back and into the pitch black; wander forward and into the pitch black again. What remained of the dwarvish civilisation that used to inhabit these halls might as well have been a labyrinth for the pair of orcs exploring it millennia later. There were no maps, no diagrams, and the few inscriptions were no more useful than the rest of the decoration.

“The pendulum is still operating,” Scabhair assured them both aloud. “So it would stand to reason that the rest of the mechanism would work as well.”

If the two were connected, of course. Maybe the pendulum, too, was just another piece of opulent ornamentation; the same way the mages of Elbion spent uncounted hours and monies to enchant the college with otherworldly illusions of grandeur.

Squaring her shoulders, the half-orc stood to full height and brushed a few wayward droplets from Hath’s strong brow. “Go stand against the back wall, please,” she flattened her palm against his chest before giving him a light push in the right direction. “I will try one of the levers.”

And the whole thing could collapse.

She ran her fingers along the deep scar across her breast as she pondered the three choices before her. They looked the same. None were visibly broken. There was no way to know. Spirits, she hated uncertainty.

Her claws scraped along the raised scar tissue, and Scabhair let out a low hiss as she caught herself. Enough of this. She stepped forward and pulled the middle lever.

.
.
.

A rumble echoed through the chamber, so deep she could feel it in her bones.

Dust began to fall from the ceiling, filling the air with dust.

The ground shook under their feet; the water in the pool began to bubble and slop over the sides as the noise got deeper and stronger and—

pop

One of the ruined statues cracked in half and plummeted into the unlit depths of the pool. With the obstruction gone, the tiled wall behind it began to inch apart, like the maw of a great beast slowly yawing open. She stared, barely breathing, as water began to drain from the pool through the stone valve.

And then she heard it – the peals of a great waterfall thundering into a lake, just beyond the wall.
 
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Hath Charosh

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Hath looked to the pendulum as she explained. He gaze meandered to the stone above them. Hath found that his imagination could not stretch to any possibility for a mechanism that it could be a part of. That seemed to fall short of Scabhair being able to a least make some educated guesses.

She gave him an affection - by orcish standards - shove and he stepped away. Hath was not certain what he could do from the far wall, but he trusted her.

As the room shook around them he realised he might have been sent away for his own safety. Scabhair had possibly decided that if this were to go wrong then it would be better if only one of them was buried in her mistake.

Instinctively, he dropped his weight as the statue fell. He bared his tusks at unknown danger and braced himself.

He was slow to stand upright, to stand as tall as he could to try and see what had been done. The water continued draining, forming a curved V shape as it dipped into the drainage point.

"Is that...all it will do?" he asked. She would not know, but he asked anyway as he started to approach the wall.
 
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Scabhair

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They were still alive and breathing. Scabhair closed her eyes and thanked the spirits for their favour.

“I can hear a waterfall on the other side of this wall,” she said from her end of the room, motioning behind the control mechanisms. “And I couldn’t before.”

The sound was deep, thus the water must have been falling from a great height. The reverberation implied a chamber of stunning proportions. Natural? Dwarf-made? She glanced back to the untouched levers; to the strange opening that almost seemed like it was… missing something.

Her shoulders sloped with a sigh. “I took an elective on old Belgarad legends in my third year. A few of them mentioned old dwarven clans in the north who supposedly built their cities by mastering waters. They were… well, they were stories.”

She smiled briefly at Hath before looking back at the gap in the wall. The water level had almost reached it, and the pendulum was now slicing through empty air. “Not like ours. They described places and things, not people. And they said…” Scabhair paused, worrying her lower fang in thought. “You have seen the water mills humans build? To turn grain into flour? Well, these dwarves in the north were said to have scaled up that principle to support entire cities.”

Like all good dwarven legends, these too took place in the Age of Wonders, of course. Scabhair could hardly fault them, though – good orcish legends were just as likely to date to the Age of Uroghosh.

“I… think this might be one of them.” There was a tiny spark of curiosity in her silver eyes as she looked at Hath now, her mouth just shy of a smile. “We should try the rest.”

There was no way to see to the bottom of the pool, but the first valve had drained a good volume of the water. If logic held – and these were dwarves, so there was no reason to suspect otherwise – the other two levers would likely finish the job.

And beyond that?

Well, Scabhair could hardly believe the sentiment occurring anywhere underground, but she was… excited.
 
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Hath Charosh

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Hath did not know what an elective was, but he assumed it involved learning. The humans were strange about the passing down of knowledge. Orcs passed down stories to all who would listen, humans reserved it for those they deemed worthy.

His imagination didn extend to picturing the scale of he dwarven architecture and machinery that surrounded them. There had to be moving parts behind these walls and all around them.

"This place has been left for a very long time. You will change this machine and maybe no one will ever come back to set it to the way it was before," Hath said.

Hath didn't know if the other levers would get them out, or if they would simply satisfy Scabhair's curiosity. He was willing to find out either way.

"Go ahead," he said, waving at the other levers. She could have the honours. "We should try and remember the path out, so you can return."

That would be a battle. Her curiosity matched against her fear of the deep.
 
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Scabhair

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His quiet, unconditional support steeled her more than he could ever know. His very presence helped ward off the encroaching dread that pressed down with the weight and musk of the earth. Scabhair exhaled and approached the alcove again. Nothing had changed within the opening, affirming her suspicions that a component of the mechanism was missing. A key of some sort, perhaps? Speculation was of little use, however – nothing in the room appeared even remotely the right shape and make to slot into the inlet.

She squared her shoulders, pulled the remaining two levers, and immediately hugged the nearest wall.

The rumbling was less terrifying this time, though it was hard to tell whether it was because she knew what to expect or because whatever gears moved this mechanism were loosened now after that first level. Whatever the reason, the second and third valve opened much more smoothly, and the remaining water began to drain from the pool with that same thundering sound.

She stood in silence, watching the process as dust snowed from the cracks in the ceiling, painting streaks of grey in her hair. When the torrential pour quieted down again, Scabhair gingerly advanced to the edge of the empty pool and peered down. The strange green light of the lanterns could only reach so far, but…

“What is that?” Not for the first time, she wished she had the eyesight of a gathamhr in the dark. “I thought… I thought I saw something glimmer down there,” she said as she inched closer to Hath, gaze wandering over the shapeless shadows at the bottom of the pool.
 
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Hath Charosh

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For a god few seconds Hath was quite certain that her curiosity had killed them. For Hath, knowing that it was coming was even worse. He braced against the wall and snarled at the sounds that came from all around them.

Hath was still damp from wading through the pools. The dust that fell clung uncomfortably to his skin and couldn't be brushed away easily.

He started to relax as Scabhair approached. There were no more noises in the dark that triggered his instincts. He wasn't made for living around machines. Unnatural sounds in he dark were typically creatures that could eat orcs.

"I can't see," he admitted, tilting his head from side to side. "That was all the levers will do?" he asked. Hath couldn't see how deep the waters were below so started to feel for a way down.