“Maybe we will find more friends outside!”
“Wow, this place is massive.”
“Whoa, what is this place?”
The deadpan voice crunches in. “As I said, safe outside.”
Five adventurers stare in awe at the sight before them, the great city of Ketchka Tsendsi.
The city is housed in a great cavern. Many enormous square pillars reach up to the high roof, every bit as high as the ceiling of the maze from which the unwitting explorers have just departed. A door opens in one of the pillars and a tall yellow dwarf stops short in the entryway, staring at the ragged group. Behind him, dwarves of equally jaundiced tint slurp noisily at tankards, their armor clinking and swords laid to rest against table legs. There is a tavern housed inside the pillar. A sign above his head is written in a foreign language. The man stares at you as if he had seen a demon, or perhaps a god.
After a moment, the tall dwarf slams the wooden door as he turns to walk down the street, nearly colliding with a preteen boy. Swears echo after the yellow skinned child as he runs to you and gasps out a message “Potukem elrum awula a nona teg drum.”
Five pairs of battle-hardened eyes stare openly, joined by numerous civilians of minute and greater size.
The young dwarf perches nervously in the street, shuffling from one foot to another as he mouths the words to some foreign song, an absent habit of self-comfort. His eyes shift from one person to another, flitting around him as he assesses the adventurers and takes in the increasing nervousness of the townsfolk.
Guns are holstered as steel gray meets with dark brown irises. The menacing gaze flits around as words bubble from the mouth of a wintery elf who stands behind the hardened gunslinger. “It says something about… A king. Maybe a queen. Also a home or city” The cheerful elf waves eagerly at the boy, a grin eclipsing her face.
Journer Ironskin leans down, his wooden frame towering over the boy. His rough voice grates out words for hello in four languages, but he is met with naught but a blank stare, and a few bewildered blinks of dark brown eyes.
Ivaz the Ironsighted tries another language, “What is this place?”
Jastra Srinshee chimes in, having understood bits of the language. “Sign is some garble about an axe. I know this language from this! At least some of it!” Ivaz is not the talkative sort, having lived by the gun rather than the word for many years.
The wooden construct shelters a catlike woman in his arms. Gently placing her upon the res stone road, he taps his own chest. “Journer.”
Watching Jourer carefully, the boy perks up for a moment. “Oh!” He leans down and scrapes a pinch of dust from the dull-wine street
Ignoring the failed attempts at introductions, Jastra holds forth a map. “Some crazy man on the street gave it to me one day in a city.”
“Jastra have map of this place? Why wait for boy then?” The plant-fleshed man gets straight to the point.
Examination of the map reveals that the writing on the map matches that of the great pillars in which buildings of Ketchka Tsendsi appear to be housed.
The boy chants something and waves his hands around in front of his mouth
Jastra’s observations gush out as the boy raised his hands, waving them in front of his mouth as he chants. “I don’t think it’s of here. But the language is the same!”
A young voice interjects, now speaking a familiar language, “Hi, I’m Dorian.”
“Hi I’m Jastra!”
Only the wooden ranger seems truly thrown off by this turn. “Boy speak our language now?”
“What spell is that?” Ivaz’s eyes light with curiosity.
“I am apprentice to the court wizard. You should understand me now.”
“Hello Dorian” Journer adjusts, his voice holding a smile as it often does when not laced with incomprehension.
“Hello! My name’s Alyrae!”
“Where are we and how do we get out?” The straightforward gunslinger returns to the main point and his companion retrieves his feline burden.
The elf dismisses Ivaz with one frost-touched hand, finishing introductions. “That’s Ivaz and he’s a big softy once you get to know ‘im! And the cat is Spell. She’s taking a nap.”
Ivaz The Ironsighted looks back, “How do you know if I’m a big softy? You haven’t gotten to know me.”
“I know these things.” A pale blue eye winks.
“Hello, Jastra, Spell, Ivaz, and Alyrae!” Dorian suddenly seems to notice his surroundings. Looking around, he announces “The king wishes to see you now.”
An expected glance moves around the group as Journer voices his typical confusion, “What is a king?”
Dorian seems curious. “Follow me to the keep. King’s orders.”
Ivaz takes his hat off and nods, “Lead the way.”
“You must have heard of the great Ketchkan king before.” He seems astounded as he turns and walks down the street.
“I have never heard of anything such as a king before.”
“Looks like you’re about to find out! We have no idea where we are!” The ever-cheery elf guffaws.
Alyrae explains more calmly, “We literally just woke up here.”
The unlikely procession scuffles down the streets under the disbelieving gazes of the townspeople. Jaundiced dwarves stare and tiny, half-sized dwarves scurry away. The stares seem disproportionate to the oddity of a small group of travelers.
Jastra waves and smiles at the gawking merchants and residents, while their host nods to a passing guard, receiving only a shocked stare in turn.
“I dont sleep.” Journer explains in contradiction to Alyrae’s statement.
“He was a present.” The ice-elf’s cheekbones turn up as her eyes crinkle, watching the stares and listening to the whispers of the commoners.
“I thought this was the present, how am I a present?” Journer’s confusion never ceases. Perhaps he did not know, in fact, that the box he had arrived in was wrapped just as his new companion indicated, bright and inviting until he emerged from it.
The ironsighted gunslinger puts his hat back on and his collar up, trying to not be noticed.
The death-loving elf observes a squabble between two beggar, palming them each a gold coin as she slips around them ad continues down the street. A noble lady screams and runs into a pillar. The philanthropist watches her enter the building, her gaze turning up to the carving embedded in the rock of the tall stone support. A universal symbol of death meets her eyes as Alyrae skirts past her.
Her joyous whisper trickles into the bard’s ears “Remind me to come back to that place.” A young girl stares openmouthed as the party passes in various degrees of puzzlement and excitement at the locals’ reactions.
The parade reaches the end of the road as scarlet rock races beneath rich purple carpet, ascending four side steps and pushing the carpet up above it.
A rumbling fills the air as the stone wall before them creaks open, splitting the cavern open and lending the thought that its contents could simply leak out the side were it not for those four important steps. Feet tapped up them as Dorian danced to the top, humming again beneath his breath.
Gleefully steps tip-toed behind him.
“Young boy standing there, you want to follow?”
Ivaz laughs dryly, “Have we a choice?”
Yet more heavy feet shuffled upward, Ivaz’s hand in a pocket, readied on his weapon as the others follow.
“Come on! I’ll announce you to the king.”
Jastra elbows her bardic friend “If they find us this facinating then wait till they hear your stories!”
As the companions enter, preceded by the curious boy, they observe common folk sitting in the great entrance hall, eating and chatting as they help themselves to the feast laid out before them.
Ivaz the Ironsighted ‘s face screws up ever so slightly, “I don’t like this place.”
“Why?” Journer wonders at the fighter’s reticence.
“Maybe he doesn’t like small people.” The witty remark giggles out of the eladrin’s throat as Ivaz glances quickly towards the constructed man.
A dwarven man sits upon a central throne, his deep yellow skin with light hair bleached white by age. His nose turns slightly to the side, as if it had once been broken, as a frown mars his countenance. A stocky woman sits on a second throne beside him, the slight upward turn of her mouth revealing a kindly disposition. A third throne on his other side sits empty.
To the elderly man’s right, standing beside the throne, is a tiny dwarf with pale skin, his graying hair almost hidden by a hood.
Each wanderer greets their hosts in their own fashion. Jastra bows extravagantly, the lavender of her skin intensified by the violet carpet beneath her. Ivaz removes his hat, pounding a fist to his chest, and receiving a nod from the king.
Journer fails entirely to greet the king upon his throne, instead watching Jastra’s bow, examining her feet to see why she is looking at them.
Alyrae bows, the elegant young bard observing the others keenly. She notes the three carvings of pickaxes on each of the raised platforms that house the three thrones, her gaze traveling up the two staircases that hug the square walls and land on a balcony that stretches behind the thrones.
“This is King Owren m-ruh Ekrilkarp.” The light young voice introduces them. “The court wizard, Dwarf Deepwarder, Queen Tamlyn m-ruh Sringkond, and the king’s champion, Gabriel.”
Metallic eyes light up as they shift to the champion, “How did he earn a title?”
The king makes a demand of the visitors, his words echoing in the chamber before reaching uncomprehending guests.
Jastra holds a straight face, listening intently in an effort to translate. “Said something about a place. All I got from it sadly.”
“Always nice, never start fights.” Journer’s mantra just barely reaches the ears of those closest to him. The strange words are carefully ignored.
“He wants to know why you are here.” Dorian serves as translator.
“I don’t think any of us know why! We just are!”
Ivaz suggests, “Ask him about the maze.”
“I have no tongue.” Another whisper escapes Journer as he places their cat-companion on the floor, stepping closer to the king.
The uncertain arrivals try to describe their situation, as the court wizard yells at his apprentice to translate. After a few minutes, the king speaks, translated by his harassed wizard-in-training. “He wants to know about the undead.”
Fear suddenly enters into the boy’s expression, eyes bursting open as a though comes to him. “You didn’t bring them, did you?”
“Undead?” The ranger boldly continues, determined to figure out the situation.
A snarky remark overlaps Journer’s continued speech. “They’re dead.”
“You mean rotting things?”
“No no no they are rotting properly!”
“Zombies, yeah!” Dorian chimes into the back-and-forth of the bubbly elf and struggling contruct.
Alyrae maintains her dignity as she attempts to explain that the zombies were killed, accented by Jastra’s miming and Journer’s simple speech.
The attempts at miming become even more graphic when Dorian asks for proof. His master grows ever-paler as he listens to the gory descriptions.
The queen becomes increasingly irritated until Dorian interhects “Uh, you haven’t got any proof you didn’t kill them, so…I mean bring them, uh…” He fidgets nervously until the court wizard, Rowan Deepwarder, speaks up in an authoritative voice.
The boy’s expression changes to one of relief as he whispers to the newcomers, “The wizard vouched for you! He was watching the maze.”
Before they are able to respond, everyone hears the telltale rumbling of the gate behind them. Stone cracks open under their gaze, revealing the glint of swords and the rattle of steel on the other side of the impenetrable rock.
For more about these heroes, check out the earlier articles in the series:
Prologue: The Heroes of Ketchka Tsendsi
1: The Maze of Ketcha Tsendsi
2: Safe Outside the Maze