As The Dwarf Tunnels
12/02/2012 in Warhammer Fantasy
“Can we not just go around?” Cal asked irritably from his seat on the boulder, leaning back on his elbows as he stared wearily at Rognus’ helmeted head, the dwarf ignoring his companion’s tone with ease born of long acquaintance.
“No,” Rognus replied. ”We go as the dwarf tunnels.” He adjusted the fastening of Neckbiter’s holster, settling the rune-inscribed battleaxe more comfortably against his back.
“What?” Cal scratched his beard irritably. Though he could not wait to arrive in Bierdorf and wash the past fortnight’s grime and travel from his weary body, he would rather add a few days to their journey and avoid facing the thing that waited ahead.
Straightening his domed helm, Rognus pointed towards the obstacle. “Straight. We go straight, longshanks. Now, get up.”
Cal groaned in protest, but he stood and walked over to join Rognus in spite of his complaining, shouldering his heavy pack as he did so.
The pair of adventurers looked at the obstruction that stood in their path, each silently contemplating the judgement of their respective pantheon of deities.
The forest before them was old, the trees that formed its border broad of trunk and sparse of foliage, their aged bark black and pitted with creeping rot. An air of foreboding encompassed the woodland, such as hung over a battlefield before the start of conflict, when both armies regarded each other. The only sound was that of the wall of gnarled bark and dried leaves groaning as a sudden wind snatched at the forest. The breeze also tugged at the long braids of Rognus’ beard as he stood facing the ancient woodland, Cal at his side, the young human’s uneasy stance the opposite of the dwarf’s impassive one.
A lone crow cawed gloomily from somewhere within the forest’s depths, further adding to the ominous tone
“Balls,” muttered Cal, breaking the adventurers mutual silence. “Well, shall we get it over with then?”
With a replying grunt, Rognus stepped forwards and entered the forest, keeping his hands close to the throwing axes sheathed on his thighs, leading a grumbling Cal into the shadowy depths of the aged woodland.
Cal followed his companion, knowing by its heavy weight against his right hip that his repeater pistol was within reach from a quick draw, and that the sabre on his other hip could be in hand in a heartbeat. But even the firearm and blade strapped to his waist were not enough reassurance to banish the feeling of dread he felt as they walked amongst the creaking trees.
There were webs everywhere. They billowed like tattered sails from rotting branches, tangling round the infected tree trunks like ghostly wedding veils.
Cal pulled at some of the sticky mesh that had ensnared his pack, cursing as it wrapped even tighter in spite of, or as a result of, his actions. His knees sank with an ugly slurp into the damp ground with each tug. “Balls to this accursed place,” he muttered, tugging at the knot of webbing. “It’s like it doesn’t want us to leave.”
Rognus ended his companion’s struggles with his hunting knife, cutting through the web with ease. “This smells like elven trickery to me,” he remarked, stowing his dagger. “Some sort of snare to dissuade us from advancing.”
“Well, it’s working on me,” remarked Cal, shouldering his pack again with a grunt. “Let’s turn back.”
“No, longshanks,” said Rognus firmly. “We go straight, as the tunnels of Karak Gorrach cut through the roots of the Black Mountains.” Without waiting for an affirmation, the dwarf walked on.
Mouthing a “Balls to your Karak Gorrach” to the back of his companion’s head, Cal followed Rognus further into the forest’s depths, which grew more and more boggy and web-entangled with each step.
“Can you smell that, laddie?” Rognus enquired of Cal, suddenly stopping dead and raising his sensitive nose to sniff the cold air.
Cal had to struggle to not fall over the dwarf, hopping to the side to avoid colliding with Rognus, the motion landing him thigh-deep in a thorn bush. Muttering a string of colourful insults that questioned the marital status of his companion’s mother, he extracted himself from the bush’s prickly depths.
“Smell what, stumpy?” Cal asked irritably, checking his leggings for tears caused by his unwanted close encounter. His inspection finished, he looked over at Rognus.
The dwarf had not moved since his abrupt halt, save to raise his bearded face
“It smells like blood, smoke and death,” Rognus replied, turning his head to locate the source of the coppery scent. Finding it, his nostrils flaring, he headed into a thicket studded with barbed thorns and rotten berries, paying little heed to the vicious barbs that tore at his face and bare arms. “Come, longshanks,” he said, as he was lost from view within the foliage. “We must investigate.”
“So, when I want to deviate from ‘going straight as the dwarf tunnels,” muttered Cal, following Rognus gingerly into the thorny undergrowth,” It’s a ‘No, laddie,’ but when HE wants to-” His grumbles were cut short by a snarled “Quiet” from Rognus somewhere within the thicket ahead, and the young human fell silent.
Cal emerged from the thorny undergrowth, bleeding from a multitude of scratches, at the top of a rise, and found Rognus on his belly staring into the hollow below.
“Get down, fool,” the dwarf hissed. “There is trouble ahead.”
Cal reluctantly lay down beside Rognus, slipping the heavy pack from his back and placed it in the same cold mud he found himself resting in. Muttering, he looked down into the sludge-sided depression. What he found there wedged a familiar cold knot of fear in his guts.
In the middle of the muddy clearing, a smoking bonfire was belching foul-smelling smoke into the air, the snap of burning fat popping sharply as the flames cooked the body of a wood elf spitted above the fire. The corpse spun slowly under the vile ministrations of a cackling forest goblin, one of the scores of the loathsome creatures to be found in the hollow.
Many of the small greenskins were dancing around the roaring bonfire, the bird skulls and feathers tied to their filthy rags flapping against their skinny bodies as they cavorted, chanting in their foul tongue.
“What are they doing?” Cal murmured, watching in disgust as the goblins danced awkwardly in the thick mud.
“It matters not,” replied Rognus, who got to his feet, reaching up to strap his helm firmly in place.
Cal had seen that ritual many a time, and each time it meant he was certainly going to get hurt. Sighing, he stood up and drew his sabre and pistol in unenthusiastic readiness.
Ignoring his companion’s apathy, Rognus stepped over the edge of the rise, and, using balance honed by scaling the sides of the Black Mountains as a beardling, slid down the muddy side of the hollow towards the bonfire and the unsuspecting goblins.
Cal followed with less grace, sinking to his knees and getting sucked into the sludge. It was his oaths that drew the attention of the cavorting greenskins, who turned to find a dwarf charging at them.
Darting forwards with speed belying his stature, Rognus drew his throwing axes, the weapons smoothly leaving their oiled holsters and flying towards the goblins with unnerving precision. Two of the greenskins fell, the inscribed hilts of Rognus’ axes jutting from the ruin of their ugly faces.
Roused, the remaining goblins swarmed towards the two adventurers, who responded to the enemy with differing reactions.
Cal shrieked in terror and struggled against the sucking mud, raising his pistol with a shaking hand to fire at the oncoming horde. He scored several hits amongst them, dropping those goblins he shot with luck more then judgement. Whooping at the accidental triumph, Cal pulled himself free, but stayed away from the fight proper. He knew from past experience that he would only be a hindrance to Rognus.
Reaching over his shoulder, Rognus pulled Neckbiter clear of its holster and brought it to bear. “Gorrach! Gorrach!” he bellowed as he swung the huge axe to meet a leaping goblin, a champion if the creature’s collection of skull adornments were anything to go by. The blow caught it in the chest, hewing through muscle and grimy flesh with ease and cutting it in two.
The remaining goblins provided little resistance to Rognus’ axe work, the dwarf dealing swift death to the vile creatures with Neckbiter, as Cal helped by keeping well away from Rognus and his lethal weapon, calling words of encouragement that the dwarf ignored.
Pulling his axe from the corpse of his final kill, Rognus turned to his companion, a look of bliss on his bearded face. Before the dwarf could speak, the groaning of wood being stressed to breaking point caused both Rognus and Cal to look to the far side of the muddy hollow.
Trees were parted by long powerful legs, their trunks creaking and splintering under the assault as the owner of the chitinous limbs pulling its way into the clearing.
“Shallya’s bountiful bosom!” swore Cal at the hideous sight that was slowly emerging from the forest depths
A giant spider entered the clearing, the goblin sat upon the horse-sized arachnid grasping a long black staff capped by a horned beastman skull in one bony hand. The greenskin glowered from under a headdress of crow feathers and twined human hair at Cal and Rognus, then jabbed its knees against the thick hide of its stead.
The huge spider responded by scuttling forwards, mandibles twitching as it headed towards the adventurers, the multitude of black eyes that studded its head staring unblinking at its prey.
“Next time,” Rognus said calmly over his shoulder to Cal, “We go around.” Raising Neckbiter, he readied himself for battle, as his human companion sent a string of foul curses at his back in response.