Out of the Cauldron Part I By: Jeremy Wininger

Inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and R.A. Salvatore, I invite you to come visit the fantasy world of Esyr-Tyrum.  Come and hear tales of roguish heroes, strange creatures, and wizards wielding magic.   

 

Out of the Cauldron and Into the Fire

An Esyr-Tyrum Story

The Lair of Dru’M’Bar Part 1

By Jeremy Wininger

 

Now

Devon sat in the wicker chair and awaited his doom.  With a metal cage surrounding him, he leaned against the right arm of the chair; his left leg draped over the other arm, with a brazen cockiness that few in his position would feel.  The crowd’s roar was deafening in the brightly lit ruins.  The noon day sun served to knock a bit of the late autumn chill from Devon.  His lean, muscular frame was lightly clothed, but his traveling cloak had been taken from him along with most of his possessions.  It seemed to be common practice for the guards to leave each prisoner with only their breeches and tunics.  

From his position, Devon could see that there was a line of cages just like his.  All of them were mounted on litters and being dragged toward the pit.  It was customary for all those convicted of a crime here in Gran Kael to be banished to the pit of Dru’M’Bar.  Dru’M’Bar was the dark god that the Bandit King and his followers worshipped, something old and evil that lived under the once wonderous city of Gran Kael.  Now, Gran Kael was in ruins and only those with nowhere else to go stayed within its crumbling walls.  

It looked like it would be a while before Devon’s cage reached the entrance to the pit.  The guards were making a show of forcing each prisoner from his cage, cracking whips and thrusting spears.  Forcing the condemned to walk the downward spiraling ledge of the pit, to eventually be a sacrifice for their dark god.  Devon settled back in his seat and closed his eyes.  He had some time and, despite the outward appearance of a handsome rogue, Devon’s true strength was his keen and quick mind.  He began reflecting over the last few days of his life and how he had earned a wicker throne at the pit…

 

 

Then

The looming ruins of Gran Kael stood over Devon like a reaper ready to sow.  In the dim dusk light, nothing looked so haunted and sinister as the city that the gods forgot.  The hushed tones of its inhabitants carried on the wind.  Not even the thugs and vagabonds that had sworn fealty to the Bandit King dared speak too loudly, lest they stir up some phantom of the past.  Drawing his hooded cloak around his shoulders to fend off the night chill, Devon lightly stepped into the dark city.  

Devon had never been to Gran Kael before, but he had prepared for his trip here.  Moving with quiet purpose, he followed the directions he had memorized to an old tavern called Kael’s Tankard.  Devon had heard that it was one of the few buildings left mostly intact in this cursed place.  Named for the former patron god of Gran Kael, Kael’s Tankard was a grand three-story establishment that had, in the past, held many of the city’s biggest social events.  As Devon came around the last turn in the road, he could see that the buildings former glory had since changed to that of a casino and brothel.  He also saw that Kael’s Tankard was in the ideal spot he’d heard.  Now, if all his information turned out this reliable, he would be a very happy man.

Stepping into the Tankard, Devon’s nose was hit with a foul and familiar stench.  Orcs.  Not many of them, but mixed in with the human clientele were perhaps a half dozen of the burly creatures.  Devon truly hated orcs.  Like the ravagers and scum that joined under the Bandit King after the fall of Gran Kael, the orcs were a blight on the land.  But their cruelty and savageness pushed them to perform atrocities that rare humans would do.  Devon had seen too many villages and families destroyed by the orcs to have anything but animosity towards the low thinking beasts.  

Using the last few silvers that had survived Devon’s journey, he paid for one of the nicest rooms, with a north facing window.  He managed to get to his room without too much unwanted attention.  He dropped his pack and then his cloak onto the bed.  Then he looked out his window.  There, he spotted his next goal.  Once, the building across a small courtyard had been the largest temple to Kael in all of Esyr-Tyrum.  Now, the building was partially collapsed, but the portion of the building that remained standing was occupied by some of the Bandit King’s highest-ranking subordinates.  

The object he’d come for would, hopefully, still lie within its walls.  It was still early evening, so Devon would rest and watch before making his move.  He slept lightly enough until an hour or two after midnight.  He then moved to the window and watched.  He would try and make his move just a couple of hours before dawn.  Normally, he would rather wait and watch the building for several days to learn all of the guard’s patterns, but he had used up the last of his money on this room.  It was the ideal spot to observe from, but it came with the disadvantage of only giving him a couple of hours to watch.  His other option would be to do it from the street, but he had heard too many stories of the homeless being conscripted into the Bandit King’s army to want to risk that route.  

Now

Devon came out of his reverie as the last remaining cage was pulled out from in front of him and one of the guards began to read the charges against him.

“And this one!  ‘e tried to break into the royal barracks!” The crowed let out a rehearsed jeer, just as they had after the reading of each prisoners’ charges.  “’e attempted to murder one of ‘is majesty’s elite guard!”  Another round of jeering came from the entertained crowd.  “And ‘e attempted to steal the royal crown of the Bandit King ‘imself!”  The crowd actually roared at that one.  Devon’s mouth turned up into a half-smile, as the crowd’s fervor washed around him.  “For these crimes ‘e shall be sent to the pit as a waiting sacrifice to Dru’M’Bar at the time of our dark lord’s choosing!”

Throughout all of this, Devon forced his muscles to stay relaxed and trusted in his reflexes.  Going into the pit was happening no matter what he did, but if he could keep from being wounded on his way in, that would increase his chances for survival greatly.  He had seen this play out several times in the last few minutes.  Four guards surrounded his caged chair.  Three were in front and one behind.  The first guard opened the door.

“Get inna pit, you trash!” he slurred, somewhat drunkenly.  

Devon’s muscles tensed all at once, and he lunged forward, avoiding the spear that had been thrust by the guard behind him.  Surprise was etched on the face of the guard that had opened the door; most prisoners were not so keen on going into the pit and had to be motivated.  Devon bowled the guard over, slamming his left shoulder into the man’s ample gut.  The second guard that was manning the front of the cage brandished a whip and sent it out to crack.  The intent was to drive Devon closer to the pit, but Devon was faster than the guard was prepared for.  He stepped into the cracking whip, got passed its snapping tip, and, his left-hand flashing with speed and dexterity, grabbed the whip at its mid length.  He pulled the whip hard and the guard stumbled forward, maintaining his grip on the handle.  He stepped right into Devon’s right elbow, the guards nose crunching audibly.  The guard fell back into a sitting position, and Devon took off at a run toward the pit, whip in hand.  Passing by the third of the front guards, Devon sent his right hand out in a flash and neatly plucked the dagger from the guard’s belt.  

By the time the guards had retrieved crossbows and began to fire them, Devon had made it some distance on the spiraling trail.  The guards lacked the skill to score any hits, and it was only a matter of time before Devon had made it into the cover of the protective caves at the bottom of the pit.  

Then

After donning his cloak and taking a few pieces of equipment from his pack, Devon moved out into the pre-dawn morning.  Moving lightly and avoiding the notice of others, he approached the ruined temple.  Coming to the ruined side of the southern end of the building, Devon’s finger tips and toes of his boots quickly found their way up to a partial opening.   Once, this had been part of a corridor, but the cataclysm that had claimed most of the city had left this part of the building open to the elements.  Since that time, the Bandit King’s men had built a wooden wall with a poorly constructed window.  Devon easily slipped through the opening.  

In the dimly lit hall, he guessed his bearings from the stories he had been told and went to what he hoped would still be considered the forbidden part of the temple.  Using his earlier observations of the patrol, Devon estimated where he thought most of the guards were.  He knew this would be more luck than skill, since it was impossible for him to know what their interior patrol route was like.  His best hope was the fact that he was sure most of the patrols were currently outside the building.  

Devon made his way through the desecrated temple.  Any symbols of Kael’s warrior religion were now gone.   His directions had been good, but not perfect.  He had to back track several times. Twice, he was forced to circumvent patrols.  His practiced and quiet steps took him silently to his destination.  At the end of this corridor was a broken door.  It’s metal-reinforced frame had been knocked in.  There were many scorch marks and blood stains on the floor and remnants of the door.   A half-smile formed on Devon’s lips, as he stepped forward.

“Hey!  What do you think you’re doing here?” The gruff voice caused Devon to spin on the balls of his feet and drop into a defensive crouch.  The guard was alone; that was good.  The guard was also almost a foot taller than Devon and easily had him outweighed by a hundred pounds; that was bad.

Devon, without giving a response, darted forward closing the distance between himself and the guard.  The guard reared back his weapon, the long metal haft of a war axe that had long since lost its blades, and prepared a swing that would cave in Devon’s skull.  At the last moment, Devon quickly whipped a dagger from his belt.  Throwing his shoulders back, he turned his forward momentum into a slide.  The axe haft swung harmlessly over Devon’s head.  As Devon hit the floor, sliding foot first between the guard’s legs, he drove the dagger through the top of the guard’s left foot.  Strengthened by adrenaline, his blow drove the dagger blade all the way through and into the wooden floor below the guard’s foot.  Devon released the blade and rolled back onto his feet behind the guard.  In shock and pain, the guard started to double over, but, quick as a thought, Devon shot his hand between the guard’s legs and grabbed the other end of his axe haft.  Pulling the haft between the guard’s legs, he lifted as hard and fast as he could.  The blow to the man’s groin drove the breath from the guard and stifled any scream that might have been forthcoming.  The guard dropped to one knee, gasping in pain.  Devon stepped back around to the front of the guard and, with a stiff kick, drove his heel into the guard’s temple.

As the guard fell to the floor, Devon finally answered his question, “Getting the treasure, of course.”  Devon’s half-smile finally faded, as he stepped forward to examine the door way.  The marks and stains were obvious signs of sprung traps.  Looking down the corridor, he could see the signs of more traps having been sprung by intruders.  This went along with the information Devon had been given.  A combination of wards, glyphs, and traps protected the most sacred section of the temple from invaders and thieves.  Devon’s half-smile returned.  The defenses wouldn’t stop this thief.  He had been given the details about this section of the temple by one of the high priests of Kael.  Devon stepped forward into the corridor.

Now

Devon hit the first of the tunnels at the bottom of the pit at a dead sprint.  Anxious to avoid a lucky shot from a crossbow, he almost didn’t spot the group of thugs about 20 feet into the tunnel.  There were four of them surrounding a smaller man.  The smaller man’s back was against one of the cavern walls.  Devon slowed to a walk and stuck to the other side of the cavern, trying to avoid trouble.  Criminals were banished to the caves of the pit so they could be hunted by Dru’M’Bar.  Some of those banished could feasibly survive for some time, provided they were ruthless enough to put their fellow prisoners between them and the dark god.  It was best for Devon’s plans if he could avoid getting entangled in any of the local politics.  Besides, to Devon’s way of thinking, it was very unlikely that any down here were worthy of mercy.

“Dats right! Keep walkin’ new blood!” one of the thugs said over his shoulder, grinning with too few teeth.  “Ain’t no heroes down here!”

“We all must do what our hearts instruct,” the soft voice came from the smaller man.  It was heavily accented.  Someone from the south.  Collistan or maybe Marjobia?  Devon stopped in his tracks.  That wasn’t the kind of plea he had expected to hear down in the pit.  He could ignore evil men, but there was too much hope in that simple statement for Devon to keep blinders on his conscience.  

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Devon turned about and began walking back toward the group.

“I said-“

“No.  You stop talking before your foul breath forces the rest of your few remaining teeth to flee.”  Devon said, quickly and dismissively to the large brute.  He turned his attention back to the smaller man.

“It is said by my people that every man must decide where he will lay his head when the sun sets and decide what dreams Niebendar will send,” the southerner calmly replied.  Blood was on his forehead from a small cut.  It looked like they had only started to rough him up.  

Recovering from his initial shock and Devon’s insult, the brute turned fully to him.  “No one talks to-“, before he could finish his sentence, Devon spun tightly to build up speed and flung his left fist, which held the dagger, into the brutes mouth.  The pommel of the dagger caused a veritable explosion of teeth and blood, and sent the brute flying to the ground unconscious.  

“I tried to warn you,” Devon’s comment came out reproachful.  “You probably have hardly any teeth now”.  Of the three remaining men, one immediately fled down the tunnel, the other two moved for Devon.  With his right-hand, Devon snapped out the whip.  It wrapped around the ankles of the first thug.  Devon pulled with considerable force, causing the thug to fall to the ground.  This gave Devon precious seconds, as the other thug swung a short wooden club at Devon’s shoulder.  Faster than the thug expected, Devon stepped into the swing and slashed out with the dagger.  It bit deeply into the thug’s forearm and caused him to drop his club.  

As Devon dealt with the clubman, the southerner moved quickly over to the first thug, who was untangling himself.  Wanting to avoid any more conflict than was necessary, the southerner threw his right-hand out, palm first, about six inches away from the thug’s face.  A string of words quickly flowed from the southerner’s lips, and a small, but very hot, flash of fire erupted into the thug’s face.  The southerner’s face went pallid, as the magic used up a great deal of his remaining strength.  

Recognizing their dire situation, both of the remaining thugs fled down the tunnel after their fleeing comrade.  Devon cleaned off his dagger on the tunic of the unconscious leader and began checking his pockets for anything useful.  “That saying about Niebendar that you just spoke of, it doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?” Devon commented to the Southerner without looking.

“The saying does lose its poetic appeal when translated to the Northern tongue.  Are you robbing that man?”, the southerner’s accent not masking the surprise and weariness in his question.

“Nope.  We had a fight.  I’m pretty sure that if he had been able to lay me out like this, I would be dead now.  Despite that fact, I’m letting him live.  The only thing I take in return for his life is the option of seeing if he has anything useful that I can take with me.” Devon’s usual half-smile was on his face as he explained this. 

“I see…  My name is Ralgum, and it would seem you have me in your debt in a similar way.  I would now most likely be dead or on my way to die, if not for your intervention.”  Ralgum bowed as he said this.  

“Okay, Ralgum, I’m called Devon.  Got anything that could prove useful?”, Devon said, with some humor in his voice.  

“Not as such, but perhaps we could form an alliance.  I have only been in the pit for a day, myself, but it does not seem to be the kind of place you can survive on your own.”

“You’re a wizard?”

“I am learning.”

“It looked like that spell almost put you down.  Are you okay?”

“Without a focus of some sort and having barely eaten the last day, magic can be somewhat… taxing.”

“Alright, let’s move further into the tunnels and try to avoid contact with these guys for a while, and we can discuss this alliance you want to make.” Devon stood and began moving down a different tunnel than the thugs from before.

After walking a few moments, Devon broke the silence, “So what did you do to end up down here?”

“I came hoping to document some record of Gran Kael’s former glory.  I hoped to, perhaps, even find some books or other artifacts.  Instead, I find that the city has been overrun by brigands.  I decided to try and liberate some of the artifacts from the Bandit King’s fort…  It was very foolish of me.”

“So, you got caught, huh?”

“Yes, I was caught.  Caught and brought here to this gods forsaken place.  So, what did you get caught doing?”  Ralgum almost barked the word ‘caught’, as if the word offended him in its simplicity.  

Devon’s smile broke out in full onto his face. “Oh, I didn’t get caught; I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Then

Devon followed the priest’s instructions.  Dozens of men must have lost their lives trying to make it past all of the traps.  They were intricate, well hidden, and, in many cases, magical.  Devon was proficient in the spotting and avoidance of traps, and he knew that, if not for his information, he would have been killed several times over already.  Finally, he reached his destination, a door that had not been approached in the last 15 years, since the fall of the city.  Carefully, he pulled from the pouch on his belt a small jar of paint and a small artist’s brush.  He spent the next half hour locating the glyphs that warded the door and painting into them the symbols that would nullify them.  

Once that task was completed, he pulled out his lock picks and began the work on opening the door.  Unfortunately, the old priest had not made it from the city with a key in his possession.  The lock was truly magnificent and took Devon longer than he expected to open with his expert fingers.  Once in the room, he proceeded to look about in wonder at the treasures that had been left behind: swords of the highest quality, hilts studded with jewels, pieces of armor that would cost as much as a farm house and the land it was on, and books that had been so well cared for, they still remained on the shelves in good condition.  As much as it pained him, Devon knew that he could only take two objects from the room.  One object that he had come for and one that he hadn’t.  

He followed his instructions to a certain tome.  He opened it and located the page he needed.  With great care, he tore out the selected page.  He carefully folded the sheet as small as was possible.  Then, out of his pouch he pulled a small thin piece of leather.  Very carefully, he wrapped it around the folded page.  He then took one of the candles he had lit, as he entered the dark chamber, and, with great care, poured the white wax in a thin even coating over the leather, making a water proof seal.  He left the wax packet on a desk to dry and looked about the room for the other object he would take.  After a few moments of consideration, he chose a crown.  It wasn’t ostentatious, but looked like it belonged to a king.  The crown of a warrior king.  He casually slipped it onto his own head.  Then, he picked the packet up.  It was dry.  He popped it into his mouth and tucked it comfortably into one cheek.  

He made his way back to where he first entered the trapped treasury wing.  His old friend with the hole in his foot was still there, either unconscious or dead, Devon wasn’t sure.  He didn’t waste much consideration on the bandit.  No good men worked for the Bandit King.  Instead, he focused on the eight other guards that were inspecting the scene.  Devon threw up his hands in surrender.

Now

“You’re here on purpose!?” Ralgum stopped walking to stare, slack jawed, at Devon.  “You’re currently in the lair of an evil god that will eventually consume you, if disease or our fellow inmates don’t kill you first, and you expect me to believe that this is on purpose?”, Ralgum’s tone remained even, but the shock in it was evident.

“Dru’M’Bar is no god.  Plus, I know how to beat him,” Devon’s half-smile returned. “Stick with me Ra, and we are going to be rich men.”

“You’re insane.  I should have known; only a madman would risk his life to save a stranger, in the lair of a dark god.” Ralgum maintained his even tones, despite the fact that his eyes were staring widely at Devon.

Long ago, Devon had learned to listen to his instincts.  They rarely led him down the wrong path.  Right now, they were telling him that Ralgum could be trusted.  Devon stuck his fingers into his mouth and pulled out the wax packet.  As he began tearing it open, he explained, “A couple of years back, I met a priest that had escaped Gran Kael during the cataclysm.  He had been running from different people that wanted to know the secret of how to get into the temple’s treasury.  I helped him, took care of him in his last years like he was my own father.  To repay that, he told me many of his secrets.  Two of them are important now.  First, Dru’M’Bar is no god.  He was a servant of Kael, that was corrupted and driven insane during the fall.  Second, the location of this.” Devon unfolded the paper and let Ralgum look at it.

On one side, there was a map.  A map of the tunnels they now stood in.  On the other side was a prayer or chant of some kind.  

“What is this?”

“The priest, Kent, told me that his one regret about Dru’M’Bar was that he was sure that, if he could have recovered this litany and read it to the wretch, it would have helped the creature.  He thought that it might bring him back to the light.  This map leads to the true treasury of Gran Kael.  Unbeknownst to everyone, Dru’M’Bar has made the largest vault in the country his lair!” Devon’s full grin was back again.  

“I was right; you’re insane,” Ralgum said, nonplussed.  

“Ra, my friend, stick with me.  Not only are we getting out of this pit, but we’re going to walk away with more wealth than you could imagine!” Devon’s grin persisted.  

Finally, Ralgum looked away from Devon, to the paper, then back to Devon.  “I must be just as crazy as you.”  He handed Devon the paper.  “Lead the way.” 

Devon and Ra turned and walked further into the gathering gloom, further toward glory, and further toward Dru’M’Bar.

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