“Then my Father died in vain…” said Grimcrag, sadly.
“Not quite so, my Lord,” said Short-arse finishing her tale, “I believe we have recovered the Star of the Dawn.”
“What!?” said Grimcrag in shock.
“What!?” said the others in unison.
“This spell talks of coating gems in coal,” said Short-arse, pointing out the relevant passage on the scroll they had found earlier, “and this “useless” lump of coal I believe to be such a gem. We found another note earlier from a vile Orc shaman we have been tracking that talked of a trade – your axe for the gem. I can only think that the Star of the Dawn would come close to rivalling the worth of that axe, My Lord, and that is why your Father came looking for both artifacts down here. To lose one was bad enough, but to lose both and his son…”
She looked up at her King in empathy, but there was something else there, as if something grander was troubling her.
“I must return with the Star at once,” Grimcrag said, “I can take you through the portal, but I warn you, the way back is different from the way you came. Come with me my brave rescuers, I should have you at my side on this most perilous of journeys!”
“Perilous, you say?” said Trogdar, “Just how perilous are we talking here?”
“Do you not know of Cockatrices and Dragons? Creatures that can turn you to stone or burn you to a crisp?”
There were general nods of agreement. “I think we’ve heard of those, yeah,” said Trogdar.
“What about this other door?” said Jandyr, pointing to the large door that had caught Trogdar unawares earlier.
“That? That is the way to the surface,” replied Grimcrag.
“Oh,” said Trogdar, “Well, we’ve not been up there in a while. Do you, errr, happen to know the magic word to open the lock?”
The Warriors bar Short-arse looked at Grimcrag in hope. Short-arse held her head in her hand and looked down at the ground.
“I mean, what if there’s a load of Orcs or Skaven ready to charge after you while you’re going home?” said Trogdar. The Wizard and Elf nodded in agreement.
“I see…” said Grimcrag. “Very well, you did rescue me, this is but a small favour you ask of me.” Grimcrag strode over to the door and spoke something in a guttural tongue which the others could not make out. The lock started to melt and fade into nothingness.
As the Warriors walked towards the door, Short-arse looked up at Grimcrag and mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’
“Wait,” commanded Grimcrag, “before you leave I offer you these.” He reached into his backpack and produced 4 potions. “These will restore your strength. You will need it, believe me.”
The Warriors looked at each other with concern.
“For the Wizard who I almost beheaded, I also offer this.” Grimcrag took one of the rings from his left index finger and handed it to the Wizard. “Point it not at your companions, but at a worthy adversary.”
The Wizard looked confused, but took the ring anyway.
“I go perhaps to my death, for it is an evil path I tread, and there are many leagues before I reach the comfort of daylight once more. Farewell! May we meet again someday under better circumstances!” With that he turned and walked through the wall.
“Likes the big speeches, doesn’t he?” said Trogdar. “How come you get the fancy jewellery?”
“Maybe he recognises my talents,” said the Wizard.
“He didn’t recognise me,” said Short-arse, turning and traipsing off through the now opened doorway.
The room beyond had a large fountain in the middle, water trickling and echoing around a vast narrow chamber. There were more statues in here, those of human militia, their faces twisted in contorted screams of terror. A cool breeze ran through the room, but the source could not be seen in the darkness.
“Creepy,” said Trogdar quietly, though his voice echoed throughout the chamber.
“I thought he said it led out?” asked Jandyr.
“He did,” replied Short-arse, though with a note of concern evident.
The Warriors searched the room for a while, examining the statues as they went, until eventually Trogdar held up the lantern at the far end of the hall.
“There’s a trapdoor up there,” he said.
“How do we get to it?” said Short-arse
“I dunno,” Trogdar replied, “Maybe we get someone to come to us. HEEEEEEEEEEEEELP!!!!”
There was a loud ‘Squawk’ and a rustling sound from above the fountain.
“What… the Hell… was that?” whispered Short-arse.
A gust of air blew the Warriors off their feet as a plume of blue and yellow feathers fell like a thunderbolt from the sky, stopping on top of the fountain. Two gigantic wings began to unfurl from the creature, and a hooked beak rose up in triumph as the monster Squawked again in triumph.
“What the Hell is that?” asked Short-arse again, running for cover behind the nearest statue.
“It’s a Cockatrice,” replied Jandyr, “Don’t let it catch your gaze, this is how Lord Grimcrag was turned to stone.”
The Cockatrice began turning its head this way and that, looking for prey. The Warriors took cover behind the nearest statues, hoping not to be seen.
“How do we fight this thing when we can’t look at it?” cried Trogdar.
“Like this,” said Jandyr, cocking an arrow and twisting round the statue, firing it at the creature’s neck before hiding again.
“Oh, brilliant,” said Trogdar, “Why didn’t I think of that? TROGDAAAAAAAAAAAAR!”
Trogdar charged out from behind the statue and jumped onto the back of the creature, using his bone sword to create purchase in the monster’s leathery hide. He stood on top of the sword, and began to smash his Hell Mace into the creature’s head, desperately trying to blind it.
“Freeze it, Wizard!” called Short-arse, deciding which axe she could throw at the creature. The Wizard had forsaken his book and was studying the ring that he had been gifted, running his finger around the jewel. As he did so, a bolt of lightning appeared across the surface of the black gem, and the Wizard could feel magic power began to build up.
“Uh oh,” he said, as he slipped the ring onto his finger, holding it away from him and at the Cockatrice. “Errrr, run!”
“What?” cried Trogdar.
A bolt of lightning flew from the ring, catching the creature in the chest. Static shockwaves could be seen bathing the Cockatrice in blue light as they coalesced around it, before finally the creature burst into flames.
Trogdar jumped from his vantage point on the Bone Sword into the fountain, smashing his head against the centre carving. Seconds later, the burning Cockatrice fell on top of him, great plumes of steam rising where the water doused the flaming carcass.
There was silence for a moment as the remaining Warriors walked over to the scene of devastation.
“Is it dead?” asked Short-arse.
“Is Trogdar?” asked Jandyr.
“My kill! My Gold!” said the Wizard, hurriedly bounding over to remove the Cockatrice’s head. As he did so, the Cockatrice suddenly lunged for the Wizard, catching his arm in its powerful beak, causing a spray of blood to spurt through the air and a scream to emanate from the Wizard.
Jandyr reacted fasted, his sword whipping like a snake uncoiling as it struck through the bird’s throat, releasing its grip on the hapless Wizard. “My Gold!” he said as he attempted to extricate the blade from the bird’s neck.
There was a mighty crash of water as Trogdar, covered in blood and burnt flesh emerged from beneath the Cockatrice, holding his broken sword high above his head, before bringing it down though the bird’s neck in one clean stroke.
The other Warriors looked into the face of the Barbarian, white-eyed and -teethed, the rest stained blood-red and black. “MY GOLD!” he said, a little too loudly.