Mesteno's Adventures

(Just as a note: This is a collaboration between myself and a friend of mine. The paragraphs run long due to this and goes by way of Mesteno (my friend’s writing) then Mikhail (myself). Or rather….My part is to, obviously, mark what is going on in this little story between the two of us. Think of my end as a D.M. of sorts, if you will. Thusly explaining the format oddity, and the change of style between the writings.)

Sky overhead a uniform, slate grey, clouds massed so thickly they seemed to form one, thick sheet hanging low overhead and with the wind a low roar in his ears, Mesteno had abandoned the typically lazy Sunday that he and most of Rhy’Din led in favor of indulging in the kind of knife-edge, reckless heroics he most enjoyed. Chin dipped to tuck close to his clavicle, he’d narrowed his eyes against the rain until lashes were zip-lock wetted and his clothes clung soggily to the narrow angles of his sinewy frame. The air was cold enough that it felt like he was breathing daggers into his lungs every time he stole a breath, but the discomfort was worth it. The cave wasn’t far off now. He was clad in a bizarre mix of modern and ancient armor, Dyneema beneath scuffed leather, not an inch of skin left bare below the jaw, and the weight of the metal guarding shins and joints slowed until he was tempted to shed it as he walked like pieces of glinting insect carapace. That would’ve been even more foolhardy though, not knowing what lay within. Destination finally reached, he stopped half in and half out of the cave mouth to catch his breath and shake the water from his head like a bedraggled mutt.

The cave mouth gave little comfort away from the howling, angry weather. Even less from the deepened chill that emanated from deep within the darkness that cloaked what lies ahead. The gathered rain water ran rivers over the face of the mountains, one of which fed directly under the boots worn by the young Sadist. The water echoed off of the rough shod rock at either side of the entrance, bouncing against all sides to only add to the confusion of any that dared enter. There was little else to hear at this point and time, though in the distance at an angle that suggested the path within the cave dipped belowground, there would be a faint, gray-green light hinting at the structure of the cave walls. The ceiling was too far above head to be seen, either at the mouth of the cave or where the light seemed to beckon. The map given unto Mesteno began here and would lead him in the direction of that very light ahead.

Smearing the water from his eyes on the backs of gloved knuckles, he waited for his sight to adjust to the change in light patiently. Gloom posed little problem for someone whose night vision was as enhanced as the necromancer’s, the nocturnal gleam of some feral, hunters eyes mirrored in his own as he considered the light ahead. Not a welcoming light to be sure, and the cacophony of the incessantly moving water put him ill at ease. How was he supposed to hear anything sidling close under all that racket? Even beneath the gloves he wore, his fingers were faintly numbed, and having pulled one off with his teeth, he breathed warmly over them to try and restore a little function. The scroll tube fastened to the heavy, leather belt at his waist had kept the map safe on his trek there, but the moment he unfurled it to check his direction it was getting dripped on, and he hunched over it protectively, trying to memorize as best he could. Steel grated softly against the housing of a scabbard as he drew a favored blade free, and finally moved inside, muscles tense with keen anticipation, long strides covering ground rapidly.

Ambient light glimmered from the continuing streams of drops and leaks that the ceiling of the cave provided. Near toward the entrance whence the light came, there seemed to be a curtain of brackish water that had seeped through the bowels of mountain itself. As the young Sadist prowled deeper within the first cavern, the bone chilling water that kept it’s rush of river-like qualities inched slowly up calves. Though it would go no deeper, here, then his knees it would only give a hint of what was to come deeper within the maze. At the mouth of the tunnel, past the falling curtain of water tainted by centuries of death and decay, the light gleamed only a hint brighter than before. The angle steepened further down, a near twenty degree difference before the bend cut off any further view. There would only be thirty feet to travel until Mesteno found the leveled area where the tunnel curved, though the river of brackish water rolled as if it covered a plane of rock that would have it closer to a rapids of sorts. His sensitive hearing would do no good here, the only thing to be heard would be the sounds of the water’s reverberating echo from the surrounding rock and his breathing.

“Because hiding the damn thing in a dry cave would’ve been far too easy,” he muttered, fighting off the shivering that seemed determined to set in, and the way his teeth came close to chattering to add to the noise. Like there needed to be any more of it! His boots were just a touch higher than the knee, sleek as wet tar molded to the contours of muscle and buckled tight, so thankfully, for now his feet stayed dry despite the height of the water he was forced to wade through. He wouldn’t have been surprised if there was something unpleasant in that which’d seeped through the rocky ceiling, and he was tempted to reach towards the low hanging spike of a stalactite to draw a few drops away and taste it. He wouldn’t be happy if later on he found he was wading through a progressively more acidic downpour as he had in one particularly nasty mine a couple of years prior. Following the curve of the tunnel, he paused to get his bearings before putting the scroll away safely. He was going to need his hands free for this, or end up falling. Knife clenched between teeth, he sought out places to grip on the slippery walls and edged into the downward angled flow of water, doing his best to stay upright despite the tug of it at his feet.

Come now. Would The Eldest disappoint his young Sadist in providing such ease in acquiring his target? That would simply not do. As steps were taken along the tunnel through the rapids, there would be more than one stone that would turn in protest to the soles of Mesteno’s boots put upon them. Though there would be nothing but the young man and the water within the tunnel, that for now would be enough to keep the Sadist alert, oui? Once he found the bend, he would be able to see the remaining portion of the tunnel before him. A lesser degree of an angle for the remaining thirty feet to yet another opening; the light that had gleamed temptingly from the entrance grew brighter along the way. Obviously an opening, yet nothing but the water rushing into a pool of sorts could be seen from where the Sadist would be able to spy it from the corner. The sounds from the cavern beyond blended in a harmony of a water’s symphony; effectively cutting off anything else that may or may not lie below the tumultuous waters ahead.

Of course not! But if he came down with pneumonia, he was going to blame Mikhail next time he saw the Carpathian. And perhaps sneeze on him by way of payback. What was a little shared snot between teacher and student after all? His ankle turned painfully on the unsteady ground hidden by the water at least twice, but it was brief discomfort, and well worth its duration. The prize was a tempting one, but if he were to be honest, the challenge of getting to it and not getting dead in the process was just as worth the trip. Narrowing his eyes, suspicious of the light as it grew brighter, he thought to check the walls for moss – some were phosphorescent after all – but there could just as easily have been an opening in the roof of the cave…why greenish light though? Proceeding more cautiously when he saw the pool ahead, he slipped into the opening but stayed by its perimeter instead of trudging directly through the middle. Squid monster, anyone?

He may blame Mikhail all he likes, the shared…snot…idea will not be tolerated however. Once the Sadist found the next cavern’s opening the sight of a wide, monmouth cave would be seen. Phosphorescent moss did indeed grow thick along the ragged cave walls, giving off the greenish cast of light. The Sadist, at the opening of the cave itself, found a lip to stand upon while the waters barraged the backs of his knees in protest of him in it’s path to the pool before him. Slices of rock jutted from the rolling surface of water that remained as black as pitch even with the natural lighting provided. Upon each lie remnants of over half the Dwarven populace that once called the citadel that Mikhail took for himself home. Piles of broken, discarded, bones half-hazard made monuments to their glory; more of which would be found along the bottom of the pool of water once the young man started its crossing. Twenty feet beyond where Mesteno stood taking stock the waters calmed into a mirror-like surface, reflecting the light and the moss that made it with few ripples to interrupt Mother Nature’s beauty. This cave system was one of the few natural orifices within the mountains. Though there were kilometers of caves, oui, that the Dwarves had carved out of the heart of them; this was not one of them. Beyond the cavern, in the murky darkness where the greenish cast bled into shadows, there would be yet another lip of stone. This particular piece out of the way of the water below, and dry enough to be considered moist instead of what Mesteno trudged through prior. Marked upon the map as the direction to head after finding this cavern.

It was habit to test where he could. To make sure that if there was death near, no matter how old, it was not tangled in any magic he might be able to diffuse before chaos erupted around him. He’d studied the map enough at home, and heeded the warnings he’d been given about how many men should attempt the trek with, and going solo where he should have had at least one companion toiling at his side meant that he couldn’t afford to be quite so bold and reckless as normal. Taking the knife from between his teeth, metallic taste left on the flat of his tongue, he set off across the chamber having assured himself that the corpses were harmless, and stayed where possible, on the ledges jutting just above the water, maneuvering his way steadily towards the drier end of the cave the map seemed to suggest he head for, he paused here and there, tomb scavenger, to check the dwarven bodies for any interesting relics he might pilfer on the way!

The century old death that clung to this cavern remained untouched, untainted by magic. It had simply been the depository for what had not been put into use in The Halls of the Dead above. Men, women, children, the elderly; those that had been deemed worthless had been discarded here. There were a few torsos that may provide trinkets such as jewels, gems; Mikhail had had no need of them. There had not been one body left intact. Each pile of bones gave evidence of the horrors each individual may have encountered when limbs had been ripped asunder. There would be nothing left behind that may contain a magic taint, however. It would only satisfy the greed, not the greed for magic items. The lip across the cavern led to a small alcove of sorts; here the rock face changed. Where nature carved out the cave beyond it (so far seemingly empty but for the Dwarven remains) the alcove’s walls were smooth. Polished, almost, and set far enough apart that Mesteno would not be able to touch one wall, and any other. The walls rose a good fifteen feet above his head, small lips jutting out from each would provide hand-holds. There had been no natural transition point from the cavern beyond and what lies ahead, so the Sadist may very well feel the taint of Gregori’s talents upon the stone here. Mikhail’s brother had provided this alcove for Mesteno to use to allow him to continue on in his quest. The sounds of the water, here, grew less in volume; what blended with it could very well pass as an occasional shuffling. A sound that could be missed due to it’s inconsistency. As the young man would make his way through the alcove, the greenish cast of light would fade as well to return to the darkness that he first walked into.

It was not necessarily riches he searched for. Artifacts however, anything from old arrow and spearheads to more mundane items that he could stow away were of more interest, though he was careful not to fill his pockets with anything heavy enough to prove a burden. He was already heavier than he’d like to be beneath the weight of the body armor, and doubted his speed would live up to what he expected of it. The change in the nature of the walls was enough to have him pause, backlit by the ersatz illumination afforded by the moss growing on the cave walls so that he seemed limned at the edges as he ran a palm over the smoother stone. Initially dubious of the too-obvious handholds, it was only when he detected Gregori had been in the area that he chose to use them, and hefted himself, scrabbling when numb-fingers refused cooperation higher, a sigh of relief clouding the air ahead of him as the din of flowing water became less headache inducing. He was more comfortable in the gloom than he had been in that eerie light.

The air, here, would change as well. From the dank dampness of the water below to something tainted with the freshness of the storm over the landscape above. Indicative of an opening somewhere that would lead to the rock, the slight breeze that carried the rain to the Sadist would be tainted by not only rot, but fresh death. The chill lessened here as well; left behind at the base of the alcove. Once Mesteno peeked over the rim where alcove met a floor he would be greeted by the sight of a large, half-eaten and half-decayed bull skull. The portion of bone that gleamed faint in the ambient lighting proved something rather large caused its death; there was a large, circular hole with several fingers of cracks that had pieces break off when the act occurred. One eye rolled partially under a rotted lid, the other side of the bull’s face had been ripped away. What lay beyond that sight seemed to be not made by Nature’s hands, but rather by Dwarven. Tiled marble, broken and fractured, made up the flooring beyond the lip of the hole where the alcove had been made. Where the cavern that had been left behind seemed large enough on it’s own, this particular area made it seem more of a butler’s pantry in size. Large marble columns lined the circumference of the walls of this Hall, hewn rock made into scrolls of designs that would make any king proud to call his own. Rotted, forgotten, and forlorn torches rested within rotted cast iron braces that had been bolted into the marble; scattered along the marble flooring lie a few that gave up the ghost of trying to remain upright and had dropped to a rest below. There would be more debris; rotted, torn corpses of cows, deer, moose mingled with the remains of long dead hominids. Indistinct in the mass, Mesteno would have to approach and examine to find out the species involved in the ‘decorations’ provided. Several doors framed by more scrollwork lie at the other side of this Hall; four to be exact. There had been a hint in the map, should Mesteno brave the crossing of this Hall and what considered it home. Each door had a puzzle to solve. Only one led to where the young Sadist needed to be. The remaining doors led only to a certain, and decidedly distasteful death. Which door he needed? Not provided to him.

The smell of death from above had him lifting a forearm cautiously over the edge to brace himself by, steadying his position with the toe of one boot wedged into a crack in the wall as he peered up over the edge to see where the stink was emanating from. Necromancer or not, it wasn’t a scent he found appealing, and he pulled the high collar of his old Syndicate issued BDUs up over his nose to dampen it before hauling himself over, balancing rather precariously on the balls of his feet, barely an inch from the edge he’d just crawled over, he swept a sharp look over the collection of stinking cadavers, and abruptly decided he was in something’s lader. Gregori chose a great route for him to take! Now he just needed to work out what the hell he was supposed to be breakfast for before it found him. Picking his way carefully over unstable bones and putrefied flesh, he found a clear(ish) patch of marble tile to stand upon, and turned in a slow circle to examine the doors, the designs etched into the rock surrounding them, and kept a sharp ear out for sounds of movement. He had no sixth sense that told him when he was being stalked, his one big weakness, so it made sense to be extra cautious as he finally moved to the nearest door to examine it closely, moving on to the next to try and discern any obvious differences, and even pressing his ear up to it to try and hear beyond.

The Hall was at least eighty feet by one hundred, with a doorway at the east end that had long ago lost the doors to keep it closed. Quite large, an entire regiment of an army could stand shoulder to shoulder and still not find the sides. Tall enough to have three men stand on each other’s shoulders, what lay beyond it would be obscured in darkness as much as the Hall’s ceiling. At each door would be a thick silence; whatever lay behind would only be awakened upon the door’s unlocking. A trigger response, if you will. One door held a collection of silver dials; engraved in Dwarven script along each outer rim. There would be three on each dial. The second door seemed to have a pattern of markings burned into the old, warped wood. A visual puzzle box to solve before what was behind it could be found. The third sported an engraving. A pictograph of sorts, the scene involved three masks. Each slightly different than the next. The first seemed almost oriental in design, a demon mask with several different styles of horns protruding from the top and sides. The second mask was made in the shape of a Drow, the hair splayed around it in a wild design as if the wind took strands in the fit of a storm. The third mask Mesteno would know well; the Mask of Death. The inscription carved into the wood below the three was in a language the Sadist would know as well: Latin. The fourth door seemed to have something close to a sundial embedded into it’s weary looking wood. A numbers puzzle, a visual puzzle, a word puzzle, and a sequential puzzle for him to choose from. While Mesteno examined each, the sounds he had caught before would be heard again-this time in full. The ‘shuffling’ was in fact a rush of air being pulled out of the Hall into the wide doorway and the area beyond it. The strength of the pull would even have strands of copper shift in it’s wake; the rushing release of the air came with a heavy, thick stench of sulfur to add to the purification and rot within the massive Hall.

Mesteno was damned awful at puzzles, so it was only natural that he was keenest to examine the Latin script where he found it beneath the masks. At least he’d have some idea of what to do there! Still, it was hard to do any thoroughly with the distraction of noise and…was that sulfur? For a moment he thought that one of the fresher corpses might have been bloated with gas and leaked something unpleasant, but the shift of air persuaded him otherwise, had him turning about with one hand fumbling for the hilt of his blade again. As cautious as he’d been until now, the signs suggested it had all been premature until now. Moving away from the door to give himself room to maneuver should he be attacked, he failed to spot the slick bone his foot stepped down upon, and it splintered noisily enough to echo about the enormous chamber. Left him frozen on the spot like a rabbit caught in the glare of a car’s headlights, waiting for whatever the hell it was moving around to emerge.

The script that Mesteno examined would read thusly: “Where one resides in darkness, the other lies in wait. The one that rules all must come full circle to release the binds that chain him.” Each mask upon the door above the carving seemed to have a thin circular mark around them. The rushing of air ceased to have the deathly silence return to fill the Hall, until the echo of the shattering bone bounced from the Hall, down through the large doorway and beyond. The sound that emitted form the depths of darkness shook the very flooring below the Sadist’s feet; rattling several small piles of bones while the torches started a cacophony of rattling within their rotted iron cages. It seemed, at the very least, to be an awakening growling that had the sounds of razor sharp weaponry within it to rip over marble like chalk on a blackboard to one’s ears. Motion in the darkness begun, the size of what lay behind it would put many things within RhyDin to shame. The young Sadist may want to reconsider standing his ground-for now.

“Sanctus futue,” he cursed, when the shape within the space through the doorway began to resolve itself. Large indeed. And if it was eating cows and other things of similar size, he didn’t doubt that he’d be nothing more than a low calorie appetizer. Definitely not something he wanted to tackle single-handedly, scrambling around over dead things. Reluctantly, he turned his back on the approaching monstrosity, and back to the riddle that faced him. The other doors were forgotten about for now. There was no point in attempting them when he hadn’t a clue how to proceed. The Latin lured him, naturally. “The one that rules all?” sotto voce, as if keeping quiet and still instead of being loud and flustered would encourage the cave’s inhabitant to take its time. Shadows were aplenty in the chamber, and without realizing it, he’d set them to churning like restless waters, sliding out of position to lie low on the floor around his boots and partially obscure him from sight. Here’s hoping the dragon had weak eyesight! Instinct drew him to the mask resembling death. Full circle? He tried turning it three hundred and sixty degrees. So far as he was concerned, death was a much more powerful thing than drows or demons.

The sounds beyond the darkness grew in intensity, motion of an enormous mass brought the marble a low vibration each time it was made. As the Sadist put his hand to the Death mask to start the attempt to turn it, another harsh draw of air was made. Pulling strands of copper as well as some of the decayed parts to roll across the floor. The moment of silence between the drawing of air and its release would gift Mesteno with the sound of heavy tumblers groaning in protest as the mask was turned. Thick, harsh sounds of cast iron meeting and bouncing off one another until the final position of the mask brought the heavy clank of the locking mechanism to be undone. Not more than a heartbeat later came the rush of air back into the hall with a violent, ear-splitting, bestial roar. A sound to solidify the previous on the size possibility of what had given it. Repercussion tremors heralded the thing’s path into the massive hallway beyond the equally massive doorway at the east end of the Hall. The door, now unlocked, would spring forward an inch or two to allow fingers to take hold and pull it open for a possible escape route-or certain death.

His breath caught in his throat as he heard the tumblers moving, and he was sure his heart skipped a beat, somewhere amidst the onset of noise from the beast behind him and the rattle and clatter of bone and torches jolted from position through vibration. He expected at any moment, for the skin of his back to sizzle and the blood and gold hair plastered wetly to his back to go up in the flames it resembled. Instead there was salvation least that was what he hoped lay on the other side, and with a victorious smile baring the bright gleam of his teeth, exhilaration riding the adrenaline through his blood vessels, he curled his fingers into the gap revealed, hauled the door further open viciously, and dove through into whatever lay beyond, slithering and skittering on the blood slick floor with the shadows chasing his heels. The thing wouldn’t be able to follow him, but the smell of sulfur had hinted at its nature, and that was enough for him to try and pull the door closed again behind him.

Even as the door protested upon the hinges with a harsh sound of grating metal, the darkness in the doorway split to reveal a head the size of a large wagon. Gleaming crimson scale rolled over thickly muscled skull, malevolent gold screamed deathly intent as the Red searched the Hall for what it scented; fresh meat. Upon spying the possible tidbit escaping, the massive maw opened for a scream even as more of the slithering frame crawled out of the hallway. With wings plastered to it’s broad frame, the head now free to move about, it paused there to draw in more air. With the viper-like motion of it’s snake like neck, the volume of flames that spouted from the open maw engulfed the entire side of the Hall where the doors interrupted marble. With the slam of the door closing behind the Sadist, the ward over it would prohibit the incineration of wood. It would not prohibit the concussion of the force put behind the spewing of flames that could very well send the young man flailing deeper into the wide hall and toward the hewn steps meters down. The protest of the bestial scream beyond at realizing it’s prey escaped shook the very foundation of the Hall itself.

“Shi—!” The word cut off before the finishing consonant, because indeed the force of the blast of flame impacting with the other side of the door sent him flying. Lightweight as he was, it never took much to unbalance him as it was, and he went over backwards, nearly turning head over heels, and had he not been wearing so many layers, the friction burn would have scraped his back raw. He stopped on the edge of the steps, a palm braced back against the top one to stall his descent, because damn it, he was not going to go falling down them. When he was sure he wasn’t going to slide, he took a moment to sprawl, eyes on the ceiling above his head while he caught his breath, and then rolling to view the hall upside down. So far it seemed he’d picked the right door, but just because the place hadn’t spawned something huge and hungry to attack him yet, it didn’t mean it was safe to stay put there on the floor long.

Though the door did indeed protect the Sadist from the Red’s wrath, there was something else it did that may not please the young man. With the concussion of the blast to the frame, the heavy sounds of iron clanging told the story of the locking mechanism re-aligning itself. Now locked, Mesteno will be forced to find another way out of the area. Had the door remained unlocked, that would not have been an issue; however, there was only one side to unlock this door-and the young man was currently on the wrong side of it. The hallway and stairwell remained in pitch darkness, the few torches that still remained in their rotted iron moldings had been neglected for centuries. As the stairs descended, the darkness thickened even as the air turned chill once more. Otherwise, there was nothing beyond the unpleasant sounds of the Red beyond the doorway to welcome Mesteno to the next portion of his adventure.

He really didn’t mind that the door was locked. All the better for keeping the Red behind it. He’d rather spend a few days wandering around searching for an exit than he would take that route without back-up. Curling his spine to sit up with a grunt of effort, he turned around to face the right way down the stairs, and darkness or not, his eyesight allowed for him to get a good monochrome impression of what lay before him. There would be no tripping forwards sit up with a grunt of effort, he turned around to face the right way down the stairs, and darkness or not, his eyesight allowed for him to get a good monochrome impression of what lay before him. There would be no tripping forwards down the flight, however long it was, and he gladly descended down into the chill, never mind that it set his muscles to trembling again and had him clenching his teeth against it. With the map so frequently pondered at home, he tried to visualize it as he walked, predicting which way the hall might bend.

The stairwell simply goes straight down at a relatively gentle angle. There was nothing to give the young man a sense of dread so far; seemingly innocent it would come across. As Mesteno made his way down the hewn marble steps, the moisture in the air seemed to thicken with the dip of temperature. Twenty meters down the way, a sound would start to be noticed. A dry, crackling, almost popping sound that came to the right and behind him. Another soon joined with the first, in front and to the left of Mesteno. Yet another further down the stairwell, this one again to the right. If the Sadist examines where the sound came from either before or behind him, he would notice the rough stone wall changing. A blackening started to gather, thicken, and the dry sounds shifted more toward a moist bubbling even as fingers of the blackened color stretched out from the writhing mass that started to gather. As the mass grew, the sound volume grew with it. From the first-the mass behind Mesteno-the gathered tar-like substance started to form a shape. The shape of half a head as it stretched out from the middle to twist and writhe into being. As the area where the mouth would normally be opened in a silent scream, one length of the writhing mass stretched to begin the form of a hand. Reaching, wanting, greedy for the blood and flesh just out of its reach.

If he’d had a wolf’s ears they’d have been twitching madly at the sudden collection of sounds. Nothing he was familiar with and could identify, but in some strange way that made him all the more eager to find out what the hell it was! Nothing good of course. Caves like these wouldn’t have anything helpful in it, but he really didn’t care. Rather than have the first one pick him off from behind, he stopped, waiting for it to catch up while the ones ahead closed the distance from further away. A second later and he decided to backtrack, drawing the knife he’d pulled earlier along with a sword hung at an angle against his hip. It was the same he’d used years ago when the ceremony for Shiloh had required he fend off the ‘Others’ for the duration of Mikhail’s work, the weight of it comfortable and familiar in his hand. The moment he made out the shape of the writhing mass emerging from the wall, he lunged out to strike at the reaching hand, the razor-edge of the blade cutting swift…though he wasn’t at all sure it would sever as he’d intended.

Soon enough, the shoulders and upper torso bled out of the writhing mass to converge into a humanistic form. Both arms reached for the Sadist, the misshapen head turned in his direction still with the silent scream marking its ruined face. Mesteno may be appreciative of the fact that it would seem whatever this was, was kept to the wall via the lower portion of the torso-like mass. As the first finalized the evolution, the rest further down the stairwell continued their gathering. As the blade found sustenance, a sickly wet sound of the blade ripping through it was given to the Sadist. Sprays of tar-like globs scattered down the stair and wall beyond, the figure arching in seeming pain at the near severing of the appendage. It would give a lunge for the young man after, though stuck to the wall the reach of arms would be put to the test in the attempt. If Mesteno timed his steps correctly, using his agility, he may just be able to circumvent the demonic masses and get to the bottom of the steps and to the wrought iron gate below. It may be safer and quicker than outright slash and hack, though less gratifying. The hand beyond where the blade had embedded into the thick, gooey tar dangled dangerously at the wrist from the blade; though soon there would be strips stretching out from either side of the ‘wound’ to reach toward the other side in an attempt at reattaching it to the appendage.

“Huh…” The sound was more a curious one than a disgruntled one, as he watched the threads from one side of the damaged limb reaching to try and…he could only think ‘re-glue’ the nearly severed hand to it. To stall it, Mesteno took both blades to it this time, blades singing as they clove the air on their path to the strange, gelatinous thing. Neck and second arm the targets this time, more goop sent splattering against the opposite wall of the stairwell, and confident that it’d buy him some time at least, he went loping down the steps as fast as the body armor and aching joints chilled bone deep would allow. He didn’t bother to waste energy trying to mute his passage, because the things seemed to know he was there already, and when he came upon them, he ducked and wove past reaching arms, but couldn’t resist aiming one particularly vicious slash at one of the silent, gaping mouths that looked so twisted in agony. He couldn’t help but wonder if they’d once been human; naive young man hadn’t got to the point of being able to recognize demons yet.

The blows would not kill, there was very little that could kill such a creature, but it would send it into a fit of agonizing flailing that would allow for Mesteno’s un-hindered passing. Violent flailing the Sadist would leave in his wake from each of the masses along the way. Each, as well, would give the lunge in the attempt to grasp a hold of the young man to devour him; stopped in their tracks by the slash of the blade. Silent screams, silent agony, slowly one by one they would twist further upon themselves to seep back into the stone from whence they came. It would seem as soon as Mesteno was out of range, they would no longer be active. The gate at the landing was a weary, worn out and rusted thing of wrought iron. Held to it’s frame by chains just as ancient, with a padlock of sorts keeping it closed and firm against the right side of the ironwork that held the gate in place. It would be a simple thing, oui, to pick such a lock?

Locks were often more deadly than they looked. Any skilled thief knew that, after a few years in the business. Examining it carefully without touching, he searched for any slight indentations visible on the surface, any pits or scarring that might suggest something unpleasant had sprayed out of it upon other attempts to open it without the proper key. He’d known some to contain reservoirs of acids, others to fire darts and some…well some just triggered something else off altogether, unexpected and nowhere near. Pulling back on the glove he’d worn earlier steel plated along jointed sections (more a gauntlet really) he used the slender tip of the knife (after wiping demon goop off it and onto one of the steps) to press back the wards inside until he heard each one click…and upon attempting the last one, pulled back as far as he could, face turned away. He heard, rather than felt the ‘ping!’ of the dart as it flicked out to try and impale his hand, because it deflected harmlessly off the armor to fall upon the floor at his feet. “Mikhail,” murmured, amused tone, perhaps a little disappointed, “you could’ve given me something harder than that.”

The only markings upon the lock itself were from use of a key, and a possible lock-pick or two. It was an artifact from the days when the Dwarves still held control over the Citadel; Dwarven made, with the insignia of the artisan still upon it. Mesteno would feel the bond between them thicken, the amusement given to him flooded along that path as the words whispered within his mind. “Ah, petit; I thought you might enjoy an old-fashioned artifact such as this. Tsk, to be disappointed in the reminder of the days of yore.” Mikhail released the bond so that the Sadist could continue without interruptions. As the lock sprung it’s ‘trap’, it was now harmless. Once removed along with the chain, he could open the wrought iron gate with a scream of metallic protest. Beyond lay a circular chamber tiled in marble as the Hall above where the Red resided. Two doors of oak, one of the same wrought iron that the gate sported. It would not be difficult to discern which to choose; the chamber beyond the iron gated door held an obelisk of sorts. Carved of marble made into various faces of various stages of agony, more wrought iron topped it in a finger-like configuration that held an oblong globe. Within the globe, and the viscous fluid within it, rested a blade.

The Carpathian’s interruption left him laughing, the warm roll of it echoing back up the narrow stairway he’d come barreling down, and he pulled both lock and chain from the door still wearing a grin, letting both drop at his feet with the poisoned dart, the chain snaking over the toe of a filthy boot. He wasn’t relishing the clean up when he got home! Pressing onwards, he found himself within the circular chamber, and strolled about it in an almost leisurely fashion, in no hurry to leave the caves, despite the occasional throb of bruises and stiff muscles as he explored. Coming at length to wrought iron gate, he pressed through and into the chamber holding the obelisk. Agonized faces made him wonder if they really were carved, or if in fact they were other adventurers having come this far and met some horrible end after managing to avoid the charming dragon and the gelatinous fiends in the stairwell. “Bad luck,” he commiserated with one of them, giving the top of one head a pat before turning his attention to the globe. Wary, he inched nearer, just to make sure it was the partner to the blade he’d been given.

Bad luck indeed. With the pat of Mesteno’s hand to the top head, there was a harsh jerk of motion from the obelisk itself. The grind of gears echoed from below the marble flooring, growling out a symphonic harmony of ancient metal long in disuse. With each circle that finished, the obelisk lifted away from the floor inch by inch. Slowly moving globe, fluid, and the blade that was indeed the match to the one Mesteno had been given out of reach. Upon the fourth rotation, another clank of metal joined in with the grinding gears; a sound that alerted the young man to the fact that the floor below him started to drop portions of it into a hole that had no discernable bottom.

Well that was just typical! He couldn’t help the slack-jawed indignance from dropping his mouth wide open as the obelisk began to turn. He wrenched his hand back, half-expecting another of the bubbling, open mouthed creatures to come clawing at him out of it, but soon realized he was being taunted instead. To get that close and then have it rise out of reach. His slew of Latin cursing came to an abrupt stop as the second mechanism began to whir, and rather that wait around to see what was happening, he latched onto one of the carved heads lower down the obelisk, using it to haul himself high enough to grab at the globe containing his prize. Nope, not letting it get away! Of course when he had the damn thing at last, tucked to his side, there was the issue of getting down, because the patch of floor he’d been standing on seemed to have vanished, and he was left dangling from awkwardly shaped, smooth marble, watching as more of the floor dropped from view. “Crap.” He was always so eloquent.

Moments into the obelisk’s rotation, there was yet another grinding drop of metal. The flooring below Mesteno not only dropped portions in increments of three in a seemingly random pattern, it started a counter-clockwise rotation as the obelisk continued its rise. Had the globe not been taken, it would soon find itself ground into nothing atop of the marble and the Sadist would find himself in the midst of an acidic downpour as if the Heavens opened it’s wrath upon him. The grinding above the Sadist grew in volume and violence once the wrought iron ‘fingers’ that had held the globe in place found the ceiling. Twisting while warping into a mangled mess of metal against the stone above even as more portions of the flooring below dropped out of sight. Time your footsteps exact, Mesteno, or you may end up following the floor to whatever lies beneath.

And here Mesteno had almost been disappointed. Tsk.

Mesteno hadn’t got the best balance in the world. In fact it was something he’d had to practice hard to develop to the point of acceptable, so the idea of dropping onto one of the rotating pieces of flooring beneath him seemed near suicidal. Yet what choice did he have? Staying where he was, clinging like lichen to the side of the obelisk was probably going to get him mangled on the ceiling. He found himself laughing all over again at the absurdity of the situation, on a giddy high from a mix of exhilaration, determination and yes, fear. Because this was not something he had any confidence in. Taking a deep breath, he counted to three…and dropped. It was pure luck, rather than any careful timing that had him land one foot, an arm stretched out for balance while the other resolutely kept the globe trapped against his ribs. Constant motion had him wobbling unsteadily, but staying put on his perch wasn’t an option with the constant disappearance of more floor sections. It was a comically (not at all graceful or heroic looking) leap, gazelle style that brought him to the next section of flooring, but his heel slipped on landing, and he was lucky to end up sat with his legs dangling over the side, head spinning.

As more portions of the flooring dropped, more portions of the obelisk shattered into oblivion, raining bits and pieces along with marble dust into the air. The grinding sounds both above and below grew in intensity as the rotations continued. The portion of flooring that Mesteno had leaped from dropped, as did a portion at either side of where he landed. Swiss cheese, the flooring now resembled; with more dropping at a faster pace by the minute. He may not wish to linger too long-head spin or no.

He’d no intention of hanging around any longer than necessary, particularly since it was unnerving him to the point of giving an alarmed yelp as the section beside him plummeted into nothingness. Why did he get the feeling that Mikhail was probably watching all this from somewhere, giving himself a stitch from laughing so much. The thought left him with a grim smile, and then he was up again, wobbling with each leap that brought him closer to the exit, not daring to lift an arm to shield himself so that splinters of cracked marble fell unchecked and lacerated his cheek and the bridge of his nose. Dust in one eye, to make it all worse! The last leap brought him at last to the wrought iron gate, and with solid ground ahead, he tossed the orb ahead of him into the chamber beyond and threw himself after it. He landed draped half on and half off the ground, lower body dangling rag-dollish over the edge as he struggled to haul himself up.

Once the Sadist found his way to the circular chamber, all rotations within the room behind him stopped. Ground to a halt with a screaming protest of metal and marble. Now, Mesteno had two doors to choose from; both worn and weary looking oak surrounded by more of the same. Nondescript, each in every way. When Mesteno tried either door, the left would be locked though the right would not be. Considering his path behind him is now no longer available, he now faces a choice of picking the one lock and risking what lies behind it or take the unlocked door.

Scrambling up and over the lip of stone, ribs aching, winded from the impact, he sneered derisively at himself for the way his legs protested at getting him upright again, and went shuffling towards the smashed remains of the globe with a gauntleted hand clasping his side. He was probably black and blue beneath the armor! Noting the way the floor had been eaten away around the freed blade, he was careful to nudge it away from the liquid with the tip of a boot, which sizzled ominously for a moment before quieting. “Got you, y’little bastard,” he grinned, panting open-mouthed goldfish style before considering the doors ahead. Mikhail would be expecting him to pick the locked one of course, because Mesteno was of a mind that nothing would come easily….but perhaps on this occasion the Carpathian had wanted to teach him a lesson about predictability? He took a chance and went for the unlocked way, bracing himself for whatever lay beyond.

What sort of adventure would it be if Mesteno did not have black and blue trophies to take home with him? Consider the lesson taught. Once the door was opened, there would be yet another staircase revealed. Though, on the door on the staircase side there would be a parchment impaled by a small, slender, delicate blade. A note. The elegant script was distinct, and only Mikhail’s. Written in Latin for the young man once he came upon it to read. “Mon ami, well done. Beyond is a familiar place, one that you have visited before. Enjoy. Je t’adore, Mikhail.” Mesteno, once he undertook the steps, would find himself at the beginning of a forty-five minute climb. Absolute silence rang loud in his ears as the air slowly shifted temperature yet again. Near the half-hour mark, a hint of rain could be caught upon it. The door at the top of the stairwell he would recognize as one of the Halls’ own. Beyond lies yet another circular chamber, empty but for an alter in the middle of the tiled flooring. Desecrated years prior by Mikhail’s own demand upon a Dwarven God, it was bereft of any markings of blood and gore that had once tainted it. The door at the other side led to the maze of halls that the wild Others roamed; a place Mesteno had indeed visited previously. Mesteno would face a choice. Face the wild Others, or make his way over the balcony of one of the hallways that were carved out of the mountain itself and make his way down the face of the mountain. From here, Mesteno’s path is his own. Though Mikhail may have suggested that he choose the face of the mountain rather than slaughter his way through the wild Others deeper into the Halls of the Dead itself and find himself lost within the maze until he starved.

Tearing the note from the door with a weary yank, he cracked a crooked smile as he read over the familiar handwriting. Wherever the Carpathian was, he’d be able to sense the lazy satisfaction that came at the end of the escapade. He set off up the stairs – changed his mind and went back to steal the blade the note had been stuck to the door with (why waste it, after all!?) and made the trek up and into the lower chambers of the Halls. Tempting as it was to go tangle with the others, this was an occasion where he’d have to agree with the Eldest. It wasn’t long before he was heading down the mountainside, trudging wearily, but with a distinctly self-satisfied smile. Even if he was getting rained on.


He needed a bath in any case.

Alcohol first!

He just wants to brag, that is all.

Mesteno's Adventures


Nada, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

A story written by myself and a friend of mine; involving Mesteno (which has been posted in my artwork within here) and Mikhail’s cave system within the Halls of the Dead.


work all blade

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