by Roy M. Mikesell
The trail that the hunter had been following ended at the mouth of a cave. A big, hungry looking entrance that led to the fabled Caves of Infinity. Was the quarry so foolish to believe a simple cave system would allow the target to elude his hunter? The hunter snorted in derision. He prided himself upon his professional reputation and would track the target to the floor of Hades to obtain the item he was employed to recover. Legends concerning the fae nature of the caverns be damned.
The man did a quick inventory before entering the underworld. A tunic of sea green and stout leather breaches of black dyed leather protected him from the elements. A scale hauberk of fine Kovan steel protected the hunter from harm and steel greaves of Kovan manufacture protected his legs. Steel reinforced leather gauntlets hung from his belt. A great cloak of black leather was held in place by a clasp of red gold set into the likeness of a grinning , horned skull. A fine embroidered weapon belt of leather held both sabre and a great war knife from far off Godelios, the blade a good 20” long and slightly curved.
The hunter himself stood a respectable six feet in height. Long wavy brown hair hung past his shoulders and eyes the color of amber flamed like two miniature suns held captive by a long narrow face that hinted at Elven ancestry. A weather beaten countenance took stock of the suns position, noting that it was still mid-morning. The hunter adjusted the sling-bag that held his provisions and decided that a drink was in order. After a long pull on his water skin, the hunter approached the entrance to the unknown. The hunter noted that the entrance was narrow and irregular in shape. A dampness permeated the air and a sense of destiny crossed the man’s mind as he descended into the darkness.
The cave entrance was the beginning of a great tunnel that winded down into the depths, like the throat of a great serpent. After some time, the boon of Elven vision became useless and hence the hunter retrieved a small stick like object from his bag. A quick striking of the tip of the stick against the wall of the cave produced a quality of illumination that rivaled a torch without the smoke.
The hunter followed the tunnel until sometime later a fork in the passage presented itself. After a careful search of the surroundings, the hunter discovered a thin wisp of cloth clinging just inside the new passageway. The target must have ripped his cloak in flight from the hunter. The man followed the new route with caution, ever wary of ambush. The tunnel did not differ from the last one and for a time the hunter followed a path down into the belly of the mountain.
A rumbling in the hunters belly alerts him that it is now late afternoon. The trail that carried the man for hours continues on without much variation or excitement. A rustle of stone off to his left alerts the hunter that he is no longer alone. Without a thought, the hunters gleaming sabre was in hand and years of experience set the hunter moving, starting a crab wise movement to the right to bring light upon the visitor.
The warm light revealed several rocks of various sizes moving toward the hunter. Keen eyes noted that the rocks had legs and cruel mandibles that dripped a vile fluid. Krag spiders! In but a eye blink, the lead spider jumped straight toward the hunter. A mere heartbeat later the horrid thing was impaled upon the hunters blade and the war knife of Godelios transfixed a second in a bloody embrace. The throw that killed the thing a dazzling display of speed and coordination. As the hunter seeks to pull his sabre free of the first corpse, the remaining spider launches itself with deadly intent. Releasing the immobilized blade, the hunter feels the spider glance off his scale hauberk, leaving a trail of deadly venom upon his armor. Turning to face the creature, the hunter lashes out with his right hand as the spider flies by. A splash of gore drenches his face and several legs are severed as the hidden claw blades in the hunters gauntlet are employed. The hunter notices that the spider cannot stand, having lost the legs of it’s right side. As it tries to seek escape, the hunter lets the spider taste the steel of his sabre. With contempt, the hunter then kicks the corpse into a fine paste.
The hunter’s eyes burned with rage. He had been lulled into a sense of complacency by the monotonous journey thus far. However, death’s dark hand had been ever watchful, awaiting that careless moment to reclaim the hunter’s soul. The hunter would not let his guard down a second time.
The tunnel continued to descend into the stygian abyss. Twisting and turning through the passage, the hunter noted moisture in increasing regularity. After sometime, the sound of water echoed from somewhere not too distant.
In mere moments, the hunter’s war knife was drawn, the passage being too narrow to employ the long blade of the sabre. Water meant life, and life meant danger, thus the hunter approached the sounds with utmost stealth. The light stick was cased, the hunter using the faint light given off by phosphorescent fungi that had increased with every step toward the sound of rushing water.
Creeping along like a living shadow, the hunter came to a small rise in the passage that opened into a immense cavern aglow with the reds and greens of glowing fungi that enveloped a great body of water. This underground lake flowed to an opening in the far cavern wall and the echoes of falling water indicated a waterfall. Great mineral covered stalactites grew from the ceiling like strands of a giant’s hair. The floor seemed to sprout javelins of stone giving the hunter the impression of entering a giant mouth of granite.
The hunter noted that the only exit out of the cavern would be via the waterfall. Evidently, the lake was fed by underground sources. The sight of a reclining figure idly drinking from a great flask of leather brought a grin of elation to the face of the hunter. Not more than 300 cubits separated him from the target of this hunt. The target, a tall, slim man almost to the point of cadaverousness enjoyed a drink of fine Cadenbrean wine brewed by the famous Purple Monks. The targets was attired in a tunic of yellow silk and hose a deep magenta. A cloak of green velvet lay around his shoulders and a amulet fashioned into the likeness of a huge eye of black diamond hung from a silveel chain of exquisite workmanship. Long tapered ears and a ivory complexion left no doubt that the target was Elven. Hair the color of molten gold mane and his face and violet eyes of intense color radiated from the target’s face. Although no weapons were visible, the hunter knew that the target was dangerous nonetheless.
Perhaps one hundred cubits were traversed before a booming voice of unearthly origin screamed a warning. Cursing, the hunter leapt from concealment and rushed the target. Carefully capping his flask, the target addressed the hunter.” AH, so the Society has sent the famed Telwyn Hades to retrieve the Eye of Fezlagorman Fell”. The hunters response was to draw steel. In a voice full of malice, the hunter said” Give me the Eye Kestrel, and I shall let you live”. The target shook his head sadly “ alas Telwyn, I cannot do as you ask”. “ I shall delve into the depths of the Eye and learn it’s secrets”. Telwyn slowed to a walk as he closed the distance to Kestrel. The hunter’s voice was edged in steel.” You know my reputation Kestrel, I will not hesitate to kill you”. The elf nodded his head in understanding. Then a mocking smile came to his lips and he taunted Tewlwyn “what would the family think of you if I’m slain”? Telwyn gave a short laugh, “tis true the uncle of my uncles uncle, kin you are although distant”. “ The family never took much note of me anyway”. The elf smiled with mirth “of course not, you’re a half-breed bastard that will soon be nothing but so much dust, while we continue on”. “ How can an immortal care about the life of flies”.
With astounding speed, Telwyn let fly his warkinfe of Godelia and watched as it passed straight though the elf. Realization hit the hunter like cold steel, he had been talking to an illusion. As Telwyn took note of where Kestrel was really standing, the elf pointed at Telwyn, one hand covering the Eye. Cold fingers of bone closed upon the throat of the hunter. The shock of the hands icy touch knocked the wind from Telwyns lungs. Fingers of inhuman strength began chokeing the life from the hunter. As the lights began to fade, Telwyn focused all his remaining willpower in breaking the enchantment. A flash of inspiration entered his dying mind. Fezlagorman Fell was an illusionist of the highest caliber. Thus, the hands of bone faded into oblivion as Telwyn realized he was under attack by illusion. However, burns created by frostbite revealed that some of the illusion was quite real.
Gasping for breath, Telwyn noted that Kestrel was at the bank of the lake, glowing fungi turning his visage into a grotesque image of colors. The elf turned and smiled to Telwyn” good bye my thrice removed nephew, may hell find a place for your soul”. At that, the gaunt elf dove into the rushing waters and was swept out and away from Telwyn.
A great rage had consumed the one called Telwyn Hades. Removing the hauberk of scale mail and greaves of steel, dropping the sling-bag and sabre, Telwyn dove after Kestrel, often called the snake, with his great war knife secured to his belt.
The rushing water was cool and the current strong and within moments Telwyn was carried beyond the cavern and pulled along a winding passageway of darkness. The sound of the waterfall grew loud in Telwyn’s ears and moments later he was falling without any warning. The plunge over the subterranean falls was like being some morsel of food flowing down the gullet of a huge beast. Telwyn felt that time lost all meaning as the hunter fell into infinity.
Sometime later, Telwyn found himself washed upon a rocky shore. More precisely, a small sandy cave aglow with fungi. The pool that the hunter was half submerged in was no more than twenty cubits across. There were no signs of a waterfall. The cave had one exit that was a swirl with tiny ghost lights, much like the glow bugs back home.
Taking stock, Telwyn had the war knife strapped to his belt and a small pouch of coin worn around his neck. After a intensive search of the cave, Telwyn resigned himself to walking through the ghost lights. With resolve, the hunter walked through the lights and felt that all three dimensions had merged together as one chaotic maelstrom. A moment later he was somewhere else.
Telwyn found himself on his knees, a great series of basalt menhirs surrounds a clearing that borders the most enormous trees that Telwyn has ever seen. At the edges of the clearing, tents and pavilions of every hue stand in a carnival like atmosphere. A large tent flying a banner draws Telwyn’s attention. A squad of armed men approach Telwyn from the same direction as the large pavilion. The hunter presents a gesture of peace to the men. From their midst, a bored looking official addresses the newcomer.
“Greetings, traveler, the entry tax is one once of silver”. The hunter with a puzzled look on his face asks” entry to where”? At this remark, the official smiles” the most wondrous realm of Arduin”. The hunter is confused. He replies “does this land of Arduin lie south of Umpoola or perhaps across the Hungry Sea in fabled Telmoria”?
“Nay. “ replies the official. With a look of understanding, the official states “I know of no lands with such outlandish names”. “Perhaps I can clear your confusion, good sir”.” You have arrived into our realm through what we call nexus gates”
Understanding lights on Telwyn’s face. ”Then I am no longer on Urgoth”.
“That is correct” replies the offcial”.
The hunter, with concern on his face asks the official “did a tall, well dressed elf pass through this same gate”? “Aye, three days ago”.
“The chap was jolly fun, playing at the bones for a day, spending freely to acquire goods of local manufacture”.
Telwyn frowns” that is bad news”.
The official now wore the confused look.” Why would such a noble fellow be bad news”.
Telwyn pauses for a moment to clear his throat and says “that fellow is a ruthless killer and thief of a powerful artifact”.
The official suddenly looked worried, perhaps wondering if he can hide the mistake he made.” Indeed, that is bad news”.
With a smile on his face, Telwyn replies “how much is your entry tax”?
“One ounce of silver” “ and your name sir”?
“Telwyn Hades, please allow your men a drink with the change”.
The official beams “ you are most generous” .” What profession do you practice”?
Telwyn answers with confidence. ”Manhunter”.
The official raises his arms wide and proclaims “Welcome Telwyn Hades the Manhunter to the Kingdom of Arduin.”
Thus, Telwyn embarks on a new adventure to track the renegade elf, Kestrel through a strange land.