"What is this place?" Hem muttered as he gazed at his surroundings.
It's been a while since Lev and the others passed through the gate and after a long walk, they found a large space filled with ruins covered in vines.
Orva answered him with an excited grin. "It seems to be some kind of temple, fascinating. How is all of this underground?"
The darg, Shahn, replied. "Must've been dragged down because of an earthquake. You can't believe the amount of structures that can survive those if they're well-built. What I found more fascinating is how there're plants littering the place. We're still underground!"
"I believe it's because of that." Lev points at a giant blue ball of energy resembling the one on the sixth floor. "And considering the place we're in, how everything isn't buried under an endless amount of dirt, and the fake sun, I highly doubt this is the result of an earthquake and not intentionally built this way."
"Oh, another fake sun… can't believe there’s another one of those. The one on the sixth floor was already a surprise."
"Well, you're used to there being a big ball of light over your head." remarked a gaunt greyborn as he gazed at the blue ball.
Orva took a deep breath, “This source must be a similar mana source to the one we found back in the sixth. I’m sure of it!”, she cheered.
“Keep it down, a light source also means that there’s a high concentration of Haze nearby and we all know what that means…”, the darg said, glaring at Orva. If she were any louder, a pack of hiveling scouts would’ve noticed their party and quickly alerted the rest of the hive. Uncharted grounds and a hiveling army are a deadly combination for sure. It’s a wonder for her how as a bogey how she forgot about that part.
Orva gazed back at her feet “Right, Hivelings…”
“Actually,” Lev said, “I don’t think there are any Hivelings near this temple. If there were, there would’ve been nothing left, not even ruins. The hivelings make up their nests by chewing down rock and other hard materials, not to mention the lack of tunnels.”
The group, with the exception of the other bogeys, looked at Lev with doubt in their eyes but that doubt quickly faded away as they saw the expression on Lev’s face.
“Seems like you know more than us, haha!”, Shahn howled.
“Hey! Now you’re the one making noise!”, Orva snarled.
"So what do we do now?" Asked Hem as he knelt near the remains of a fallen statue of what seemed to be a warrior.
Lev recognized that it was one of the armoured giants that guarded Ainshart's hall. A killig, a black warrior born from the depths of genetic manipulation.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the beings and Ainshart made this, Lev thought as he looked at the magnificent intricate designs of the few intact pillars still holding their ground in the patches of hardened dirt and stone. The vines had overtaken most of the area and the temple ruins seemed to be a layered mixture of what looked like marble and some form of shining stone, mashed together into one unique hybrid. Lev couldn’t remember any nearby vein of these shining stones, and certainly not a marble one.
Seems like they transported these from another place, Looks like Ainshart’s realm not only stretched far, but sure had the necessary infrastructure, Lev concluded, as he couldn’t imagine bogeys and other goblinoid species working together to achieve such a daunting task.
They continued making their way through the various once illustrious but now decrepit remains towards what seemed like the centre of the temple ruins.
The centre revealed several destroyed pure marble statues. After taking in the mystical sight of these giant statues, Lev noticed that there were two statues still intact in the centre. They were protected by what looked like a barrier of some sort.
Lev immediately recognised who the statues represented. They were of Ainshart and, behind him, the Being.
Near Ainshart was a smaller feminine statue with some form of writing carved on the platform near its feet. Its head and arms are destroyed with Ainshart's statue holding a severed hand.
“What does it say?” Lev asked.
“How should I know.” Hemgall shrugged.
“Should be ancient Ainshartian… Anyone here studied it?” Orva replied.
The Deka chuckled. “Ainshartian? Really? Does everything here have Ainshart in its name?”
Shahn shook his head “I don’t think so. Only the local goblin tribes are obsessed with him.” He turned to Rapha “Do you know anything?”
“I’m not from around here. Where I’m from, we have our own heroes, villains and tales.”
Vyrga rubbed his forehead and sighed “Simpletons. It says ‘the whore who sold her people for the affection of a monster.’”
An empty platform lay to the left of the three statues, and according to Vyrga, the words "Our hero. He who cleansed us from the sins of his father.” were carved on its surface.
Looks like Ainshart wasn't as liked as everyone thought, and not a very liked dad, Lev concluded.
What… happened? a familiar voice emanated from within Lev.
I felt… your soul… being pulled by something… golden hand.
Gherm’s soul was still a mess of incoherent thoughts, but Lev could make out what he was asking.
I met him, Gherm, one of Ainshart’s most loyal guides.
Long story short, powerful beings that supposedly helped Ainshart achieve the success he did.
How… did you escape?, doubt presented itself within Gherm’s shattered pattern. It was as if Lev had just told him the impossible.
He wanted something from me and I agreed to give it to him. In return, he gave me something… else.
What? Did… you... give?
Nothing actually. Only agreed that one day I’ll gain the power to achieve his and my goals.
Why…, Lev felt Gherm’s anger intensifying.
Gherm clearly didn't like what he heard but Lev felt relieved that the being doesn't know that Gherm still exists. Who knows what it could have done to him and Gherm.
Lev smiled. I don’t know why you’re this bothered by it. We can use this to our advantage, as long as it doesn’t know that you’re still with me, we can deceive it.
It won’t. I’ll make sure it’ll be the opposite.
“What are you thinking about”, Hem asked, bringing Lev back into reality. Lev felt Gherm fading back into his subconsciousness as he regained his senses.
“Nothing important,” Lev replied.
“Anyways,” Hem continued, “what do you think of this place? It’s weird, isn’t it… Ruins in the cavern aren’t new but ruins this deep into it and this advanced, now that’s something worth investigating. Maybe we could find something worthwhile.”
Lev closed his eyes, “I think we should continue this later Hem, we need to get out of here first. There may be creatures worse than hivelings and waiting for us to falter. Especially things like that abomination we fought earlier.”
Hem looked around and shook his head “Yeah… Looks like everyone’s already searching for loot. Can’t blame them though. Normally I’d say you’re right but we do need to find some supplies, especially spare weapons since stone weapons tend to chip and copper ones aren’t that sturdy either.”
Lev sighed. “Fine.”
Lev walked towards the outer ruins, whilst most of the others focused their search efforts in the centre where most of the ruined statues were located.
Lev's choice may have been a good one. Shortly after arriving at his search spot,
among the remains of a ruined building, a foreign object glimmered within the shadows, revealing its potential worth.
Lev approached the object and inspected it briefly. A familiarity struck him immediately as he recognized the crude design of a rudimentary firearm.
A musket, what's this weapon doing in a place like this? It looks similar to a matchlock but there's no sign of damage caused by black powder usage and it’s made from bronze instead of steel… weird...
The matchlock had a tube extending out of the handle and leading towards another item. It looked like a container of some sort.
They must've been using another technique in order to propel the projectile, interesting…
Upon closer inspection, however, Lev's excitement dwindled as he saw countless holes scattered around the green rust-covered hinges and most of the metalwork. It wouldn't be of any use for Lev to bring it along. The weapon would be a health hazard on its own, exploding in the user's face upon firing.
Lev decides to regroup with the others and leaves the rusted ancient weapon behind.
Once he regrouped with the others, Lev sighed. "I found nothing. What about you guys?"
Shahn grinned “While I found some gold coins with that bastard's head engraved on all of them.”
“A rusty bronze sword and three spears,” Hemgall replied.
Vyrga raised a rusted bronze sword. “This, along with some gold and silver coins.”
Rapha shook her head, "I can’t search in my condition and it looks like the coins are the only thing here worth searching for."
Orva laughed while holding onto bundles of leathery books and scrolls. “Maybe for you, but for me this place is a treasure trove. Sigils, ancient runes, books, and scrolls!”
Vyrga glanced at her. “But you can’t read the old language.”
“You can and I’m sure we can agree on a deal, and if I can’t convince you, surely I can find someone who would. Oh, I also found this awesome staff.” Orva turned around, showing a golden staff covered in runes.
Lev facepalmed “You do realize that you've just made yourself a target.”
“Hah, let’s see anyone trying to rob me. You all need me if you want some magical support. Can you handle another abomination without me?”
“With torches? Yes.” Vyrga replied with a smirk plastered on his face.
Orva shot a fiery glare at him. “Well, then kill me and see how you fare with just torches. Just know I won’t go down easily if you try.”
Lev clapped. “More importantly, has anyone found an exit yet?”
Vyrga nodded. “We did.”
“You mean he did,” Hemgall interjected as he pointed towards the gaunt greyborn.
“Yeah, I did. Thanks for mentioning it.”.
"In that case, now…" Rapha continued, "let's get out of here!"
Lev and the others nodded in agreement and they walked further ahead.
"There, can you see it?" Vyrga said as he pointed at a gap between a giant banner behind the statues with Ainshart's blazon on it.
"There's something in there, a way out of here if we're lucky enough."
They made their way through the gap and a metal door became visible in the distance.
Hemgall walked towards the door, trying to force it open but alas, it didn't give in.
Lev took in his surroundings "There must be another way of opening it. Look for some kind of switch."
Soon enough, they found one, hidden near yet another destroyed statue with half of its face missing. It vaguely resembled the figure the being Lev met, a guide of Ainshart but something was off. It had a different type of mask and an inscription had been made near the statue. Lev didn’t need Vyrga’s help with translating as the letters were carved out clear enough for Lev to recognize the name “Kram”.
Vyrga leaned closer towards the inscription.
“Kram, wretched player of flesh, bone, and stone.”, Vyrga translated.
That bastard must’ve killed thousands, Lev thought as he glanced back at the broken statue, its face resembling that of a crow’s.
The door slowly opens a little but halts abruptly.
"Looks like it's jammed," Shahn said whilst looking for any debris causing the malfunction.
Hemgall approaches the door, using one of his rusted bronze spears to pry it further open.
"Looks like my newly acquired gear comes in handy after all!"
The door flung wide open and they exited the ruins, only to find themselves going upwards towards a bright light in the distance.
Lev covered his sensitive eyes as the sun glared down upon them with its golden rays.
In front of them was an abandoned city.
Orva whistled “an abandoned temple, now an abandoned city. Guess our adventure isn't over yet.”
Rapha muttered “The jagged rocks…”
Lev turned towards her “What?”
“My people call that place the jagged rocks. It’s halfway between my people’s home and Jiira territory...”
Orva laughed again “Like I said, our adventure isn't over yet.”
"Far from over! Haha, fuck..." Hemgall said as he took the first steps towards the city.
"He sure is an avid adventurer," Vyrga remarked, causing Hemgall to growl at his poor attempt at making a joke.
Lev sighed “What are we gonna do now?”
With the ruins behind them and the other expedition parties scattered around the various floors, the party slowly starts making their way towards the city.