Regulfa cursed in Gagok, a foulness that drove the half-dozen altered minions around him back several steps in fear, some of them rapidly aging, and one unfortunate slave became permanently blind upon hearing the Infernal Tongue.
The ancient and powerful wizard cursed again, in plain Common this time, and nearly swept the scrying-glass from its unnaturally carved pedestal in the centre of the Temple of Abohar.
He turned to the room’s other occupant and spat, “The glass is dark, Light curse them, they have prepared the Well with trappings of harmonic magicks, and I cannot get through. They have a wizard with them, one who could bring us down if we do not caution ourselves further against idiotic mistakes and slack discipline!” He broke down into phlegmy coughing, a hacking jag that left him purple-faced and gasping.
A tall man stepped down from one of the ossified reclining ramps that leaned grotesquely against the many pillars of bone that supported the great roof of the Temple and walked out of shadow to give the old wizard a reluctant arm.
The tall man was stunningly ugly, his face deformed in long and deep slices, the scars forming ridges in the flesh and the cuts had been stained black by the ichor of some running-dark beast. This garish striping was further enhanced with short, horizontal pins piercing the ridges in a ladder-like fashion. Upon the pins, at close view, were fine engravings written in the Unspeakable tongue, dread curses upon the enemies of the Blood Lord, Abohar of-the-Pits.
His clothes were simple and dreadful to gaze upon. The tanned hides of his enemies served as garments and were unadorned by symbol or ornament, and they had their own luminescence, a smeary half-light of greys and greens. Only a single long blade in a grey scabbard hung at his waist, the pommel large enough for a two-handed grip, but the blade no longer than a footman’s short sword. This was one of the igbuyuk, the joybanes, the masterwork swords of the Murder Lord’s elite warriors.
His feet were bare and wrapped in thick barbed wire, the wounds did not bleed but instead fed the spirit-imps that were ritualistically bound to the man’s cruelly-bound feet.
When he spoke it was with a measured pace, as if each word were being considered before being voiced. His timbre was even and low, not unpleasant to the ear, despite his frightening appearance. He said to Regulfa, “The only mistakes we have made here, magician, was involving outsiders in Temple business. You keep forgetting your place. You are not an equal here, nor will you ever be, you are g’ahb’ahk, outlande—“
A new voice broke in, powerful and commanding, “That is enough! Your sword is needed here, G’ulnaggh’k, not your miserable tongue! Do not forget that Master Regulfa is the reason we even know about the Well, and your insults only waste time when the enemy is in our midst!”
The new speaker strode into the centre of the chamber where the clouded scrying-glass swirled mutely and G’ulnaggh’k stepped back a respectful two paces and crossed his thumbs under his chin, his fingers splayed up and outwards, his head bowed and he dropped his arms and murmured, “Your will, Dread Flayer Valmock, of course.”
Valmock stared at him, his grotesquery even more pronounced than the arrogant young warrior before him. He said “Your apologies to Master Regulfa” and nodded at the wizard, now fully composed and his face a normal, healthy shade of green.
G’ulnaggh’k turned towards the wizened goblin spell-weaver and spoke through clenched teeth, his fury at this insult nearly consuming him, “Please forgive me, Honoured Master, for my loose tongue.”
At this the old wizard smiled and nodded and Valmock said, “It is forgotten. We have work to do.”
The Dread Flayer strode to the glass and started to ask Master Regulfa what he had seen when G’ulnaggh’k broke in rudely, saying “The glass is curtained or so says our wizard, it seems the enemy has sorcerers of their own.”
Valmock tipped an eyebrow at Master Regulfa who was lighting his pipe with a brand from the room’s massive fireplace. The old goblin muttered through the smoke, “Yes, yes, a wizard of some power, able to block my scrying attempts, but that does not indicate any real power, as this glass is flawed and has been for many centuries, but it is one of the last and we are lucky to have it, cracked or no. It may still be of some use to us, and I spent many hazardous weeks in the wilds procuring it, and I say the risk was worth it.”
He puffed hard for a moment or two, the pipe guttering, and then the coals leaped into heat, and he continued, punctuating each half-sentence with hard pulls on the grimy bone pipe.
“We have seen the enemy and we know his numbers if not his true disposition. They are a small band, three or four warriors led by the usual hero-for-hire type. There is a deluded one with them, one of the simpering cowards of Barlok, Lord of the Road. There is another with them, whose figure was blurred to the Sight. He must be the wizard who thwarts the glass. We will see more later, of that I am sure. The Well does have certain uses after all.”
Valmock allowed the old wizard a half-grin, his chiselled and pattern-stained teeth winking through his pale and pinned lips. He said, “This magic-user must be Guild-sent, to travel with such a pack of coin-bought scum. Or perhaps he has come at the will of the Silver City, the p’ahta’k warriors who ever wage war against our noble cause.”
G’ulnaggh’k interjected, “The paladins would never seek to destroy our temples so far from their homes, surely? We have not had ships from the realms in these waters for over a century! They must be mercenaries, nothing mo—-“
The young warrior’s words tapered off and died as Valmock glared at him, his eyes narrowing to slits of pure malice. G’ulnaggh’k swallowed hard and murmured “Forgive again my interruption, Dread Flayer.”
Valmock stared at him for a moment or two and then hissed, “You have been away from the Temple for too long, Slayer G’ulnaggh’k, and your manners have fled. If I hear your insolence again, I will drop you in the Stirge Pits myself! Do you understand?!”
G’ulnaggh’k whispered, “Your will, Dread Flayer.”
Master Regulfa chuckled through his pipe smoke and said, “The boy thinks that they are coin-swords and I am inclined to agree. The Silver City does not know of this place, or else we would be knee deep in Lightbringers as we speak! We must destroy these interlopers of course, but I wonder if they could still be of use to us. There is the matter of the Guardian, after all.”
Valmock stroked his savaged chin, fiddling with the razor wire that pierced his flesh in many places, as a stitched thread through cloth. He did this for many minutes, nodding to himself. Regulfa puffed and hummed and G’ulnaggh’k did nothing. He stood stock still, staring at the blood-encrusted floor and ticked off dozens of revenge scenarios that ended with the death of these two old fools and his own ascent to power.
Valmock left off from his musings and said, “The Guardian, yes. We still do not know its true nature, but no doubt it is formidable. The Black Hand of Takma were wise and clever. They would not leave the Dagger guarded by just any hell-spawn, no. This beast must be defeated by our minds as well as our weapons. Perhaps, Master Regulfa, you are correct. These intruders could be our weapons, while we stay here and use our minds.”
He turned to G’ulnaggh’k and said, “Alert your team. They are to pull out of the Well and take up blocking positions in ambush. After the intruders defeat the Guardian they can be disposed of at will. See to it.”
G’ulnaggh’k started to sputter. His men, his elite troops were to be used as mere watchers? They were the best of the best. Each had defeated a Silversword warrior of the City of Light in single combat and each could boast of having spent thirty days and thirty nights unarmed and unequipped in the Wilds of Aka-Na. This was an insult that could not, would not be forgiven nor forgotten. G’ulnaggh’k bowed and muttered, “Your will” and turned on his heel, rapidly stepping out of the Temple proper.
As the door boomed behind the young warrior, Master Regulfa chuckled again and said, “They are all like that, are they, Valmock? Insolent to the point of rebellion? I saw his fingers twitch for the sword at his hip. He wanted to kill you.”
Valmock himself now laughed. “Yes, but who doesn’t? Power is not taken easily in our faith, nor held onto for long if fear were not the primary tool. Young G’ulnaggh’k will do as he’s told and he will dream of revenge, but he will never again get close enough to harm me. Let us turn our thoughts to more pressing matters, now. I believe you said you had some plan to break the enchantments on the chamber that housed the Dagger of Akali?”
Master Regulfa nodded and pulled some rolled parchments from a bag that lay at the foot of the scrying-glass dais. He said, “Yes, as you can see, the chamber lies two levels below the Well and it is here that my research has gone cold. The records from the end of the Age of Darkness are mostly lost, as you well know, but from what I have been able to glean, there are powerful sigils guarding the door to the Dagger’s chamber. These were set in place after the Chaos Wars to protect the artefact against future need.”
Valmock nodded and said “Yes I remember seeing the war diaries of Lord K’aal’asha before I left Takma and there were some tantalizing references to the nature of these protections, but of course, I am no scholar and did not have time to study them fully.”
Regulfa was repacking his pipe from a worn and stained leather poke. The weed was a chocolate brown and smelled of earth and dung. As he tamped it down, he said, “I have not seen the diaries, of course, but I did find a reference to a protective sigil that was created by Lord K’aal’asha’s vizier, a magic-user of some power. This sigil seeks out that which the mind fears the most and creates a spectre that torments the afflicted until he either flees or drops dead from sheer terror.”
Valmock’s eyes gleamed at the mention of this and he said only “How deliciously horrible.”
Regulfa grunted in assent and continued, “Yes, quite effective too, from what I’ve read. But there is no way of knowing whether this sigil is part of the layers of protection on the Chamber. There is simply no way of knowing what is down there until we can actually see it for ourselves. But since we have decided that our … visitors … will be of some use, I have a plan. It is possible to cast a modified form of Wizard’s Eye on one of the group that will allow us to see what they see as they see it.”
Valmock again looked surprised. This old wizard was even more clever than he realized. He would have to be killed after this was all over, of course, and it was a pity to lose such knowledge, but the old goblin simply knew too much of their future plans and was too much of a threat. He covered his surprise by saying “That would be incredibly helpful, but won’t you have to actually go to the Well and get close enough?”
Regulfa grinned, his rotten teeth the same shade of green as his skin. “No. If I can get the glass to work again, I can cast the augury through it. Simple.”
Valmock nodded once and said, “Very well. Then let’s see if this glass of yours is cooperating again.” He lent a steadying arm to the old wizard and they slowly made their way across the Temple floor, to where the ancient scrying glass stood upon its dais.