In the darkness
“Normally we wouldn't call out the Swords.” Brok spun the haft of his pickaxe around in a nervous gesture. “We can deal with the draugrspawn ourselves. But there's something in that mine... it's not spawn, it's not dwarvish.”
The figure in front of him nodded, his expression calm. His apparent tranquillity was not shared by Brok, who had a mine shaft that was nearly a week behind schedule now blocked off behind some hastily erected barricades of old ale barrels and mine carts. So far on this shift the other side had been quiet, though – and he shuddered – that was unlikely to last once the barricade was torn down. And it would have to be torn down, if the Swords were to cleanse it properly.
“Anyway,” he carried on hastily, aware of a raised eyebrow from the Sword-captain in front of him that indicated he'd been wool-gathering, “It all started about twelve shifts ago – that's four days in case you didn't know-”
“I am aware,” the Sword-captain says calmly.
“Er... so at first it was just knockings. Sounds you couldn't pin down. Then Hengi disappeared while exploring Shaft 6, and then he came back... and there were others with him, more rotted, and they took down Bjorn and Horst Hammerhand before we could get them all. But the noises didn't stop, see, and more kept disappearing... so we put the work on hold, got the heavy mining equipment and went down to clear the lower shafts.”
The dwarf in front of him nods, aware as Brok was that 'heavy mining equipment' was the euphemism in Tol Dirim for the spiked bucklers, crossbows and short swords miners occasionally had to resort to in order to deal with draugrspawn infestations.
“Well, we went down there, and at first it was fine. We found a bit they'd gotten in through in Shaft 7, looks like there was a pocket from an old shaft that must have got closed years ago.”
“It was,” came a comment from one of the paladins behind the captain, one of nine identical dwarves in the laquered black armour and red-orange tabards of the Burning Brand. From their voice this one was a woman, though there was little to otherwise indicate such. “There was a mining accident in 222 AE, and the shaft was closed. Efforts were made to retrieve the bodies but not all were found.”
“We were told that this seam was safe,” Brok said angrily. “I shall be making a complaint to the Imperial Governor...”
“The clan heads responsible have already been chastised,” the captain replied calmly. “Please continue.”
Brok did, still fuming internally and now wanting to just get this over with. “We cleared out the 'spawn with no losses and only a few serious injuries, but when we reached the junction we saw something... foul. Un-dwarven. It ripped three of my miners apart before we could even move, and tore off Hilda's arm. We got her back, but she died five shifts ago. After that all we could do was block off the lower levels and keep them back until, well, you could arrive.” He looked up at the captain, not pleadingly but close.
The captain gave a brief nod of acknowledgement. “We shall purge your mine of draugr, Foreman Brok. With fire and blade.”
Brok bowed and hastily stepped aside into an alcove. Around him the miners scattered as the captain barked an order and the paladins formed up, kicking and hacking at the barricade until there was nothing left but splinters.
Beyond, something stirred in the gloom. The corpse of Horst Hammerhand looked up and groaned, black ichor leaking from his eyes and mouth, his skin grey as stone. “Please... help...”
The captain unslung his poleaxe, raising his voice. “Veruk zharr!” We are the fire!
The voices behind him answered in a clash of steel. “Veruk baruk!” We are the blade!
“Veruk hraka-karuk!” We are the heart of the mountain!
“Veruk zhaar, veruk baruk, veruk hraka-karuk!”
As their axes burned with gold-orange fire, the paladins marched forward and the shadows fled before them.