CHAPTER 06: DEEP
The passageway was dark, but it was of his Goddess, Sheeva. She had led Buster to this underground path. That didn’t mean he enjoyed wandering through shoulder-tight halls with stagnant air. He didn’t care for it, which made him far from an average dwarf. More than a score of times did he grumble strings of curses so foul he’d never have even spoken them before another.
A sphere of light floated alongside him, a spell granted by Sheeva. The light hovered as he pushed along, and it was only strong enough to illuminate ten paces ahead.
A Belltower dwarf, Buster never admitted his fears to anyone, one being claustrophobia, a second? The dark—how he loathed the dark! Although natural, it might contain any horror! And the tertiary fear, which he abhorred the most; spiders. He hated the blasted things. Eight hairy legs, huge many eyes and swollen-looking buttocks; a nightmare in every facet.
As luck had it, Buster walked straight through a section of thick, sticky webbing. Oh, how he screamed and flailed. The light sphere, on level with his head, danced, casting shadows of his own limbs, which by chance appeared to be the limbs of huge spiders. Poor Buster ran as fast as possible, which only took him right through another set of webs. Anxiety controlled his every movement, and he didn’t stop—he refused to until every spider scurried off, and he didn’t understand zero arachnids were on him. Just when poor Buster thought he’d pass out from the screaming, and having forgotten to breathe, the floor opened beneath him and there was just air. A whole new level of screaming echoed through the underground cavern as he tumbled into the unknown deep.
Gonzeelda leaned against a dirt wall. Her fellow-orc companions were hard at work, trying to disable the arcane wards, and with each a ticking bomb, it was only a matter of time. Once one exploded, they’d each go. The orcs poked at the closest ward with broken pieces of wood. Every time a stick even came close, they’d cried in terror and jump away, akin to children running from ocean waves—pure cowardice.
She watched in amusement the first four or five times. They’d activate she knew, but she realized as it reached the twentieth time of poking, diving, and screaming, the idiots couldn’t even set off an explosion right. Need she do everything herself? No, she’d just help them.
“Torchwood!” She stomped her foot.
Both orcs leaped out of their skins at the name of that most fearful god. The pair freaked, and dove into each other’s arms. Their sticks fell and bounced onto the rune they had harassed. The red archaic symbol turned from a dark stain to a glowing red. Gonzeelda wasted no time ducking behind a shelf. Budge and Weiggs screeched as the rune activated. The air sucked into the chamber’s center and there came a series of explosions, shaking the underground room. In various places large mounds of dirt fell from the ceiling. The room itself stayed intact.
Gonzeelda choked on the smoke and found it hard to breathe as the heavy clouds floated up out of the snow-surrounded hole. The heat of the flames receded, and she dared to look out from her hiding place. She expected to find piles of dust where her orcs had been, and she might’ve had an annoyance in her veins—but how hard might it be to find more man-slaves? If she wanted stupid ones, she’d have to travel back to the mountains to the north where the orcs thrived. To her great surprise she did not have to worry long, for she found her minions curled up cradling one another.
They had gotten lucky and the stone table fell over, covering them from the massive explosions. Their clothes and skin covered in black soot, brows burned off, they were alive and not so injured.
Gonzeelda chuckled as she stood and walked to them. She put her foot on Budge’s shoulder and shoved hard.
He grunted. “Hold on, I dead.”
The mistress orc placed her hand over her face and sighed. Did she want more orc mates? If only Torchwood didn’t forbid mating with other races, she’d find herself a good gnome even. Better than the smelly dwarves or the fragile Elves. For the time being, she found herself stuck with the stupid duo.
With a swift and heavy kick to Budge’s side, he rolled over grunting in pain. He blinked and looked at his mistress. She glared at him and kicked his shoulder, forcing him to stand.
Weiggs sat on his own. “I alive?”
Gonzeelda responded by planting her foot in his face. He fell back, grabbing his broken and bleeding nose.
With the morons dealt with, she approached the section where the runes were. Not a single one still existed in this section of the laboratory. The scythe she sought now lay on the ground at her feet.
She dropped to one knee and reached for the shaft of the weapon, but hesitated. Was the weapon itself warded? Should she have an idiot retrieve it? No—that risk was folly. What if its power bonded with the fools? They’d never use it right. Such magical bonds existed.
The orc mistress winced, preparing for a mental attack and grabbed the weapon. Something invaded her mind, but not a psychic blast of pain. Her mind instead lit up within her skull, allowing images to overtake her every thought. Magical gear—alchemical wonders! Spells and rituals and even how to create her own homunculi akin to the one she sought. Oh yes, the power to create was at her fingertips! The weapon, this scythe—it contained everything!
Gonzeelda stood, holding the scythe beside her. To onlookers, her eyes glowed golden, with a living energy. Electricity crackled around each of her fingers. She looked over Weiggs and Budge and saw their burns, and cuts—even Weiggs’s broken nose. She could fix it with ease. With the wave of her hand two ethereal darts appeared in the air, each being little more than blue-ish outlines.
Both orcs squealed and tried to avoid the attack, but they could not. The bolts shot right into the pair and disappeared. They whimpered and sat straight. Weiggs held his bleeding snout, but comforting warmth flowed through his veins. The broken cartilage snapped back into place; a strange, but not painful feeling. Then the pain was just gone. His Mistress had cast a spell on him with divine magic!
Weiggs fell before her and kissed Gonzeelda’s feet, hitting one toe at a time. “You a god!”
She shivered at the gross saliva sloshing her toes. “Get up, idiot!”
“Embrace me with your heals!”
“Torchwood, what have I done?”
Budge stood, looking from Weiggs to his mistress. He to understood the scenario somewhat better.
“Get him away from me!” Gonzeelda pointed at the groveling orc.
“Right away! Weiggs, dummy! Stop or she hurt you!” He pulled his overweight friend to his feet.
The lady orc looked. “Now how to get out of here…?”
She looked up into the shaft through which they’d fallen. Loose dirt still fell from it. There’d be no escape that way. A smile crossed her plump lips. She then focused her mind into the well of information within her scythe. She knew how to fix their current problem too. Gonzeelda walked to a nearby wall and tapped the scythe in three distinct, triangular points. The dirt wall crumbled around her feet.
A face splitting grin grew on her lips. “Oh, yes. There are many more secrets down here.”
The blue bearded dwarf landed with a great thud. With no sense of direction, the shadows spun around him. Grateful to be alive, he had escaped the eight-legged pests.
“By the Abyssal Bat Maws!” Buster rubbed his balding head. “That was quite a tumble, it was!”
Buster sat up and examined his surroundings. His light sphere still floated next to him. He smiled at that much. At least the Goddess still imparted him with a fraction of power.
“Now where the hairy fungi am I?”
There was no sign of stairs. He stood in the center of a circular room. Around him were seven statues arranged in the middle of the chamber; each carved in the likeness of dragons. Seven different breeds. Buster peered at the nearest one, curious. Was this a puzzle? This statue had curved horns, with a yellow color. The dwarf touched it with his stubby fingers and his mouth fell agape. It wasn’t painted yellow, it was pure topaz! He searched the memories of his long life. Yes, he had seen something similar in the tomes of Sheeva when he was young. But what did it mean? Buster turned to another statue; this one made of ruby. Walking the full circle, he found seven different gem forged statures, one for each color of the rainbow.
“What be all this then?” The dwarf noticed a word written on the floor before each statue; each etched in the Dwarven script, but they made little sense. It read, “Apotheosis.”
He knew what the word meant, to ascend to divinity. What did the dragons mean?
Somewhere across the cavern came a voice; a woman. The accent was rough; that of a filthy orc. While Buster’s instincts called for him to run in and smash her face with his beloved Hellsmasher Hammer, his curiosity held him back. So, with the flick of his wrist he shut off the light spell and backed into a corner, hiding behind a dragon statue.
“I don’t care if you’re scared of spiders, Budge! Get your arse moving!” Gonzeelda growled and punched the back of her minion’s head.
“Ouch!” He rushed ahead, gripping his conjured torch. Weiggs followed with his summoned crossbow drawn and held out before him ready to fire. The gorgeous orc stepped with poise behind the two ugly men. She still carried her scythe and let its bottom touch the ground every few feet, each time creating a spray of sparks.
Gonzeelda peered along the hallway they walked. Several doorways lined each side, holding untold secrets, so many she felt as if her head may burst. Once outside the tunnels, her mind should be at ease.
Buster listened to the heavy boot steps of the two orc men and the footfalls of the woman, who prodded the others. She was walking light—barefoot. Who were they and what were they going in Sheeva’s sacred tunnels?
“Mistress, do you know where we go?” Weiggs shoulder’s slumped. “Feet ache!”
“If my Beauty is correct,” Gonzeelda referred to her new weapon, “This path will lead us out of here.”
“Good. I no like spiders.” Budge stalked the hall.
He held his torch in each doorway as he went. The rooms filled with things beyond his comprehension. A few glowed, others were round, and many were sharp; most were plain and boring crates.
Budge carried his torch into a new room and this one piqued his interest. Not because of the wondrous dragon statues, but because a heavy looking boot appeared from behind one. He smiled wide; he needed a new boot. Maybe two!
The orc took one step and Gonzeelda grabbed him by his filthy collar. “Keep moving! The Homunculus will only get farther away!”
The male didn’t want to argue with her, not with her new toy. He understood his head might prove as target practice if he contested her lead.
“Uh, okay.” He continued his shuffle, bouncing along the hall from door to door.
That had been far too close. If he hadn’t snuffed out the Divine Glow, they might’ve entered the chamber. Buster was always up for a brawl with green uglies. But he was on a mission. If the orcs knew the way, they’d be useful. He’d have to keep them alive. So, he crept out into the hall and watched the trio. One was tall and scrawny—an easy kill. Another was short and wide—a bigger target. But the third was a curvaceous woman. She showed such skin, he blushed. Was she an orc or an elf? She had been speaking one of the filthy vermin’s language. But no, he saw her skin now, it was green, the telltale sign of any humanoid being of orc or goblin blood, and she was far too delicate to be of the uglier goblin breed. They were much, much worse.
Buster walked up to another doorway and sighed in silence. He wanted to figure out the riddle, but he’d have to come back later. He loved riddles; with help from Sheeva.
Every three steps the orcs took, Buster jumped to the next doorway. He was quick to glance in each before the light faded. There were enough mundane weapons and armor to give to a militia if not an entire army. The orcs didn’t care in the slightest. What was the point? The female looked deadly enough. That wasn’t taking into consideration her scythe; embedded with terrible magic. He made a note to watch out for that one.
For a time, they traveled this way. It was a test of endurance. He followed them up stairs and steep ramps, across an old rope bridge that swung with each step, and over a bridge that underneath was a bottomless cavern. When he came to an underground lake he stopped. Buster searched, but the torchlight vanished, only leaving a few patches of phosphorous mushrooms giving off any hint of light.
The murky water was still. Buster, being a dwarf, could not stand water. He knew orcs looked at the liquid as if it were a sin to touch or drink. So, the filthy creatures hadn’t crossed the lake. So that could only mean… Buster drew his hammer and swung a mighty swing in the same action. A stalagmite beside him exploded into dust. Everything became silent again, and he felt a fool. He had been too hasty to suspect the orcs had outsmarted him. In the distance, he heard the orcs grunting and a new torch sprung to life dozens of feet away. They had walked around the lake. How could he have been so stupid? Buster did the only thing he could, he ran; faster than he thought his stubby dwarf legs might carry him.