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Into the Darkness
The darkness was washed with a sinuous red light. Two braziers at the bottom of the stairway were slowly flickering, their coals an unnatural hue. Avery had always felt the Blood Dungeon had been aptly named, but he could see the hesitation, no, he corrected himself, the revulsion in his mens’ eyes. They’d but barely trespassed into its depths and already the sounds and smells of death and decay were overpowering.

     Something shifted in the air to his left and he turned to greet his scout.

     “Sir,” the whisper came. Avery nodded. He had sent two of his best trackers ahead. Like everyone else, they went without light, and were to remain undetected. One had already returned, verifying reports of a small shaft extending deeper into the dungeon. It wasn’t large enough for a person, but it carried sounds and voices from below – the very cause of their presence now.

     “Did you find anything?”

     The man spoke quickly: “Yes, past the main corridor and around the bend, to the right, hidden door set in the wall. Trapped, I believe.”

     Avery was evaluating his condition while listening; he needed every one of his people if they were really facing Followers.

     “Excellent – what are we looking at?”

     “Two imps, both near each other, and a balron beyond the target. No elementals.”

     Avery noticed something strange about the scout’s feet and squinted, trying to catch the light. The cloth wrapped around the man’s boots were soaked in something dark and viscuous. A shudder was already racing down his frame before he consciously recognized it as blood.

     “Aptly named, indeed.”


     Avery didn’t believe in luck, but it had taken them less than an hour to remove the traps set around the hidden door. Their goal was reaching their target undetected, but the very nature of the place made it impossible to cover their tracks. Even the monsters wandering the depths left trails where they tread through the red pools covering the smooth pavers.

     Such tracks they followed now, with four sets of distinct footprints leading through twisted passages. All along they had heard an indistinct chanting, a verse or poem that had grown louder as they silently approached.

     The scouts froze before turning a bend. Avery moved quickly, hitting the ground softly, and his men followed. Hand signals were exchanged. Long corridor – lighted room – three people. He returned his own: Two columns – slide along the walls – wait for signal.

     Now they moved without hesitation. Their dark clothes blended with the stone and they stared across at each other to avoid being blinded by the brightness from the room. Finally they were close enough that the voices carried meaning.

“We are Eored”

“We abitan Geweorc”


     Avery motioned them to halt outside the doorway. He peered into the room, a sparse cavern with bricked walls and a table at the center. Three figures, each wearing a black robe of rough wool, were seated around the table chanting their mantra. None were directly facing the doorway, and they seemed intent on their ritual.

“Ac Agiefan Idel”

“Frith Naman Mid Lif”


     He raised his hand; a dozen more tensed around hilts and cranks. The table held some object in the center he couldn’t make out. Avery thought he could see the makes of tinkers’ tools scattered around as well, but he’d know soon enough.

“To Sculan Na Ilca Eft”


     His hand dropped. No one spoke - they rushed forward in double file and moved along the walls. The moment they were through the door flames were rushing from the robed ones’ hands, but the maelstrom of spellcasting was over as quickly as it had begun.

     Avery leaned his own prisoner back, her legs pinned on the ground by his knee and a sword at the woman’s throat. Two crossbows were trained on her, and the scene was repeated for each of the others.

     “Secure this room. Bind them and put them in the corner.” He pushed her forward and stood, wiping his hands on his doublet. They felt greasy, he knew they weren’t really, but he wiped them a few more times as discretely as possible while striding over to the table.

     The tools turned out to be just that, finely made as they were. A jeweler’s kit was there as well, and a few scattered pieces of blackrock. Was it the book they’d been so intent on? He sat down and began paging through it. Whatever it was written in was foreign to him, but there were a few diagrams and a list of names at the end. He tapped one of the pictures, a wand, considering it.

     “Sir!” a man shouted it so unexpectedly that he reflexively snapped the book shut.

     “Sir! The prisoners!” Avery was already halfway across the room. He kneeled in front of the woman he’d captured only minutes earlier. Her mouth was open, her tongue rolled back, purple and black.

     “Poison.” Curses filled the air, “They’re dead."

     A soft voice intoned, “We are nothing, and to nothing we shall return.”

     Crossbows swung around to bear on the young soldier standing on the far side of the room. Avery turned slowly, he suddenly felt tired, weighed down, dread and anger forming a cold fire deep in his stomach.

     The soldier looked on serenely, watching Avery as he rose. Something was clutched in his hand. A wand? He tried to remember his name, one of the younger boys, came from Luna, or was it Trinsic? City of Paladins. Didn’t matter. Avery met his gaze.

     “You can’t escape, Brian.” He tucked the book into his pocket.

     “Neither can you.”

     A moment passed. Another.

     One of his men shifted uncertainly.

     Brian’s lips parted and his eyes darted towards his hand. Sudden recognition shot through Avery’s eyes.

     “Fire!” His command reverberated with a symphony of tightly wound springs being loosed in harmony. Crossbow bolts cut through the room in black streaks and Brian flew backwards, crashing into the far wall. Avery could already tell, incredibly, that he was still alive. The wand was rising, shaking, even as one of the swordsmen bore down on the traitor.

     “Everyone, out!” Some of them instantly obeyed, rushing to the entrance, some hesitated, and one was too intent on his target to hear. A lash of energy leapt from the wand to the blackrock on the table, even as the sword came down. The room exploded in a flare of white light.

     The shockwave blew Avery and some of the stragglers through the doorway and into the corridor. He instinctively surveyed their condition: a little more than half of them had made it. The room beyond was flames, gouts of it rushing from the walls. He saw the small book lying to the side, half of it burning, and quickly batted it out. A deep rumbling began filling the hallway, moving from left to right - then it was all around them.

     Blackrock.

     Flames erupted from the room but they were already running, following the trails and footprints they’d so painstakingly traced before. It took less than a minute to reach the hidden entrance and burst into the upper level of the dungeon. Molten fire spilled from fountains and flames shot through cracks in the floor as a rushing sound filled the brightened depths behind them.

     The horror of the place was lost on Avery, his only goal was the stairway he knew was only a short while ahead. The stagnant air began moving against him, rushing into the inferno he knew was coming. He hit the stairs, the light above blinding him and he barely avoided a fatal misstep. He could feel the heat on his back and the coolness on his face as he broke into the daylight and dove to the side of the entrance.

     A stream of flame poured out from the entrance and then, with a roaring crash, rolled back inwards. Most of them had, thankfully, made it through their last, mad sprint. Dutifully, one of the bowmen was standing guard already over the makeshift camp as they caught their breaths.

     Avery sat against the rough stone of the mountainside and flipped open the badly damaged book, he returned to the last page and its partial list of names.

     “Erik, Sara, Richard, and Brian,” He said the names slowly, deliberately on the latter. They were amongst the first. He shut the book and closed his eyes.

     Names. At least I have names. 

Published: May 2007
Please Note: Some dates are estimates as exact dates were unavailable.
Ultima Online ESRB Rating
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