“There were five gods afoot in Raban the night I was born,” Qovakrisstia Darkhair bitched as they walked down the country lane. “Five! Not one has seen fit to bless me today. If it can go wrong, it has!”
Arbiddance licked at the strands of his mustache to keep from saying something he would probably regret later. He paused, counted to five, and spoke, “finding this place is enough. Once there, we'll make our own luck for awhile. If any of your gods want to smile on us, then I'll gladly take what they hand down. Otherwise...”
He froze as he saw the lanky fighting man ahead stop in his tracks. Hern was not massive, but tall and deceptively strong for his lean frame, and he was frozen like a cat. The swordsman glanced up the road as if trying to focus in on an old friend. He then swiftly turned and mouthed “patrol.”
The word was enough to send the three diving into the thick brush alongside the road and burrowing into the moss. Within a minute, the sound of hoof beats became apparent, and within five minutes a mounted patrol of soldiers casually rode by. The crest of Balisire's three talons raking downward very visible on their helmets. With the passage of another five minutes, Hern scooted forward to make sure the soldiers were out of sight.
“This is why we didn't ride horses,” he hissed at Qova.
Within another two hours, the three stood at the base of Breakharrow Hill. Arbiddance wondered exactly where on the hill's face the legendary sorcerer Breeh had been accidentally impaled by the local simpleton with a pitchfork.
“So...” Qova murmured.
“So. The story is that the local militia cut down some goblins about one hundred yards from here down the road. One goblin escaped, and a few of the lads chased him to this point where he disappeared,” Hern removed his helmet and scratched his head. “Not to be thrown off, they beat the bushes here along the base and found a cave entrance that wasn't exactly a cave entrance. One of those things you could walk by and never notice with a few decades of growth in front of it.
“Well, no one had a torch, but they made one out of a branch and took a look...”
“How did they light the torch?” Qova interrupted.
Hern didn't look at her, but Arbiddance got the impression the warrior was suddenly judging the height of the sheer face on the hill's south side.
“Magic,” he replied. “They used magic. Or a tinderbox, more likely. I guess. I don't know. I don't care. These strapping examples of fine country life saw that a shaft descended down into the hill for much further than their light source allowed. They went down a piece until the shaft emptied into a small room... a room with three iron doors. No goblin, but plenty of tracks. The boys tried one door, couldn't get it open and decided they were in over their heads. So they left.”
Hern looked up and down the road. “So the obviously smarter of the bunch goes to the local tavern where the boasting begins about how many goblins they killed. He lets lose with the story of the shaft here in the hill. Of course, no one believed him since he was a known blow hard, but this one guy in the corner took it all in and later found me.”
“The Grinning Prince?” Arbiddance asked.
“Well, he prefers his own name, but yeah,” Hern smirked.
“I hope you didn't pay a lot for this information,” Qova scowled. “Or at least we can recoup the costs of coming here and sleeping in that fleatrap inn.”
All three stood there gazing at the hill for a few seconds. Hern added “did I mention the arch?”
“No, you didn't mention that detail, Hern,” Arbiddance quickly replied. “Do so now.”
“A large arch right before the room... a grinning female face, with a tear in one eye and a star in the other, was carved into the keystone,” Hern said.
“The Mother Gate,” Qova said. “This is Doomwatch.”
“It's a long way from Doomwatch or the Mother Gate,” Arbiddance said quietly. “Probably more like a satellite construction. It may not even lead to main thing at all.”
Hern turned and looked the older man in the eye and pointed at him. “Every single ruined complex in this countryside ultimately leads to Doomwatch,” Hern answered. “This one will too.”
The three climbed closer to the hillside and searched the brush. Within ten minutes, Hern found where the militia boys had trampled down some weeds and followed the trail to a large clump of brush covering over a square hole in the side of the hill. All three gazed down into the slanting shaft, looked at each other, and uncovered their amulets of light.
To be continued...