Ish's Dungeon World

running from the iron guards
by Wade Danyo


Chapter Two

TWANG! An arrow flew from the manhole above, narrowly whizzing passed Hector’s ear.

In the fraction of a moment that the team had to consider their next course of action, a rubbery barbed tentacle flashed from the open grate in the floor, wrapped itself around Mouse’s face, and swallowed her into the darkness below. Ovid began speaking the words of a spell, but before he could finish, he too was wrenched through the hole by the alien beast.

“Thresher guide us!” bellowed the paladin as he looked to the enemy known above and the enemy unknown below. Bobben’a’nuk’duk, too impatient to wait for the guidance of a distant deity, had already jumped into the darkness, axe in hand. Mab, who by now had transformed into an unassuming cave bat, followed suit. Shortly thereafter, deflecting and dodging a hail of arrows from above, the rest of the party, for whatever reason, decided to trust the judgement of the barbarian.

Pendrell’s torch extinguished as they all landed with a splash into a deep body of water, and in the darkness, the heavily armored Frytox and Ulric made it their first order of business to promptly begin sinking. Armor was shed, rope was thrown, knots were tied, and lungs were filled with water as the overpowering current threatened to tear the adventurers apart. In the end, half of the group (Fry, Ulric, Pendrell, and Hector) found themselves clinging desperately to a rough, cavernous wall. The rest of the party was no where to be found.

The bewildered group was still panting and coughing up water when four ropes fell from the hole in the ceiling, each one bearing a harnessed huntsman of the Iron Guard. One bore the torch while the other three knocked arrows and scanned the cavern for their quarry. Their eyes fell upon the huddled mass of soaking adventurers, and as arrows loosed, Hector raised the magical stick he had retrieved from the ratlings and shouted “Boom!”.

The torch flew one way, the torchbearer another, and the boom stick crumbled to dust, its magical energy spent in one final flourish of power. In the darkness, the waterlogged party surrendered themselves to the current and escaped the clutches of the Iron Guard once more.

It wasn’t long before they were carried to a large open cavern where the current gave way to a craggy underground swamp. In the distance, they saw a faint torch light, and Hector, scanning the ground for tracks, found evidence of both ratlings and humanoids. After some deliberation, they decided to approach the light cautiously, but their stealth was quickly impeded by Pendrell clumsily tripping over something laying in the ground. Investigating the source of his fall, he found it to be none other than the Book of Cryptic Answers, though Ovid, the book’s bearer, was nowhere in sight.

About this time, Ulric felt a sharp point in the back of his neck. An elven voice threatened from the shadows, “Keep low your arms and speak your business or this arrow will pierce your throat.” It didn’t take much for Pendrell’s silver tongue to win his elven brother’s trust before the less civilized members of the group did something stupid, and soon they were all walking amicably towards the torch light. The elf, Halvath, introduced the party to his mistress, Elyssia Quickwind, and the band of humans, elves, and halflings he traveled with. “My lady,” Halvath began. “I overheard these travelers speaking of a strange book.”

The group made a quick camp and shared stories. Elyssia explained that she was chief of the Order of the Eagle, one circle of the Druids whose main charge for the past few centuries was to watch for a magical book known as the Tome of Infinite Lore. It is said that this book contains the answer to how the apocalypse will begin, and the Order has been charged with finding the tome so that they might prevent the end of the world.

Elyssia went on to share that through consultation with many sages and other sources of lore, she has concluded that the book was originally commissioned by the great great great great great great great great grandfather of Lord Farquat, and that the tome likely has been kept within the family for ages. Her band has come here, to Farquat’s underground aqueducts, in order to cause chaos for Farquat so that he might spread his resources thin and thus lower his guard to some extent. Elyssia explained that the aqueducts are powered by two elementals, one of fire and one of water, who remain trapped against their will. The druids hope that they can free the elementals, doing right by nature and causing Farquat trouble in the process.

It didn’t take much for Elyssia to conclude that the book the party held was none other than the book that her order has been searching for, but she accepted graciously their unwillingness to relinquish it. After some negotiation, Pendrell confided to her that if she could prove her intentions honorable, good, and just, then he would allow her to look into the book for the answers she sought.

Elyssia accepted this offer, and as a first step suggested that the party might join the druids in their current quest to free the elementals. The druids would take care of the water elemental, the adventurers the fire, and they would all regroup in the southern quadrant of the aqueducts, where the ratling presence seemed diminished for some reason. The party accepted, and the two forces departed, hoping to meet again soon.

Ulric, Pendrell, Frytox, and Hector ascended a ladder leading back to the upper level of the aqueducts. Hector’s ranger ears picked up the sound of discussion from around a corner, and he crept stealthily forward to eavesdrop. Two voices—one deep and mighty, the other raspy and sinister—exchanged words.

“You say they have something Farquat wants?” scratches the raspy voice.

“Yes. A book. Do with the interlopers what you wish, but the book is for Farquat.”’

“As Farquat commands. My rats know these tunnels like the back of their mangy paws, we’ll have the intruders in our grasp readily. It is simply a matter of sealing the main gates so that they are stuck in one quadrant, and then your Iron Guard can surround them without issue.”

“Very good. Let us start, then, with this gate.”

Ulric’s eyes dashed to Frytox. “We know that voice,” the paladin whispered. “Commander Hans of the Iron Guard. Farquat only sends him forth on missions of the utmost importance.”

“They’re sealing the gate.” Hector replied. “We must act now.”

“Hans!” cried Ulric, grasping his flail and charging for battle, Frytox following his lead.

“Ulric, you will suffer a traitor’s death,” returned the commander, readying his sword for the charge.

Chapter One
Between a rock and a hard place


The shrill cry of the ratlings echoed throughout the cavernous underground aqueducts as hordes of the beasts swarmed upon the party from above, below, and all around. Tattered rags, razor claws, and hungry fangs crawled along the walls and swam through the water, covering nearly every inch of visible ground.

The party’s most battle hardened members soon found themselves overtaken by the swarm. Hector was pinned beneath a pack of them, struggling for freedom as his faithful hound, Achilles, picked at a rat here and there. Ulric, the paladin, after valiantly sending many of his foes to be judged by the mighty Thresher, god of wheat and combat, soon found himself disarmed. Ratlings crawled all over him, scratching here and biting there while Frytox, in a failed attempt to free the holy knight from his predicament, got his signature claws stuck within the scales of Ulric’s armor. He too was now swarming with frenzied rat men.

That was when the real threat emerged. One ratling, armed with a crafted wooden stick, peered from around a corner, pointed its wand at Ovid, the wizard, and shouted “Boom!” An explosive magical force blasted through the air. The shot went wide, though, and did little more than send a few chunks of the wall flying about. The other ratlings, however, seemed stirred to even greater servile fear in the presence of their swarm boss and began to fight with all the more vigor.

It wasn’t long before Mouse found herself all alone, her light halfling figure driven far down a side corridor by the gnashing horde. Mab went to the aid of her sister halfling, transforming slowly into a vicious bear before proceeding to maul her way through the horde of rats. There were too many of them, though, and the Druid was forced to return to her normal form before she could reach the stranded Mouse.

Pendrell, seeing the rogue’s plight, leapt daringly across the stream that separated the party. His feet barely met the other side, though, and he was forced to drop the torch in order to land steadily. As the burning stick splashed in the water, the battlefield went dark, and for a few brief moments the rat men had the upper hand. Pendrell, sensing the morale of his allies slackening, lifted their hearts with a fair elven battle hymn.

In the darkness, teeth gnashed and explosions rang out, all the while, the party’s resources and well-being dwindled. The swarm seemed endless. For every one that was slain, two more crawled forth from the depths of the aqueducts.

Strange arcane words drifted slowly through the shadows as the caverns became once more illuminated. As Ovid finished his spell of light, he drew forth the Book of Cryptic Answers and began turning its pages, asking “How can we defeat the rat men?” The book answered with a single word, “Fetch”. Hearing this, Mouse, who had just given herself some room by setting a few ratlings aflame with some well timed flint and steel, shouted “The Boom Stick!”

Just about now, Hector had finally wrestled himself free and cut down enough ratlings to rejoin the party. He rounded the corner, narrowly dodged another blast from the swarm boss, and returned fire with an arrow that flew true. The swarm boss grasped his hand in pain as the Boom Stick rattled to the ground and an order barked from the mouth of the ranger: “Achilles, fetch!”

In no time the faithful hound had retrieved the wand and placed it into the hands of his master. The swarm look dismayed. Without the fear of the Boom Stick to whip them into submission, their natural cowardly instincts took over, and soon they were squealing away in terror.

The party had little time to revel in their victory, however. Within moments, the nearby stream began without clear reason to boil and churn, filling the caverns with such steam and unbearable heat that the group was forced to flee the area. They may well have been steamed alive were it not for Mouse’s keen senses detecting a secret chamber.

The group now found themselves in a pleasantly cool, if not slightly cramped, room. A single grate lay in the center of the floor and a ladder extended upward into the darkness. As Hector searched around for tracks, Mouse whispered “We’re not alone”. Her trained ears heard faint, hidden breathing up the ladder. Ulric and Frytox, ever ready to do battle, quickly ascended, and everyone could now hear their hidden guest retreating up the ladder.

At the top was a manhole of sorts which gave access to a lightly wooded grotto above the caverns. Here, the group met their supposed foe, Bobben’en’ookduk, a barbaric looking fellow who, having no satchel in which to carry his possessions, seemed to simply wear everything that he owned upon his body. A bit of parley and a warm blanket made a friend of the barbarian, and the group settled down to camp for the night with a tentative new member. Racing questions disturbed their slumber and few of them slept restfully that night. Who were those rat men? Did they work for Lord Farquat? Why does he pursue the Book so relentlessly? Why haven’t we just given it back?

The morning came too soon as a horn blared throughout the forest. “I know that sound well,” declared Ulric, his eyes darting to Frytox, who returned a knowing nod. “Tis the rally call of the Iron Guard of Farquat. They’ll be upon us in minutes.” As the group clamored about for their gear, an arrow whizzed passed the barbarian’s ear. Bobben’en’ookduk met eyes with the lightly armored enemy scout and advanced with slow deliberation, battle axe in hand. Another arrow flew, this time striking the warrior in the chest, though if it caused him even the slightest discomfort he showed it not. Eyes red with battle lust, the barbarian’s pace quickened like the sudden surge of the rip tide, and before the archer could knock another arrow, his head was separated from his body by at least a stone’s throw in a messy display of bloodletting that left the berserker painted head to toe.

In the meantime, a well-meant but mispronounced spell of Ovid’s drew unwelcome attention to the band. His magic missiles failed to fire, and instead the wizard found himself uncontrollably spewing forth a rather impressive fireworks display. In moments, the mounted knights of the Iron Guard had zeroed in on their location and had them surrounded.

It was clear that the battle could not be won, and so the party retreated back into the caverns below, Ulric, Frytox, and Bobben’en’ookduk holding back the enemy as best they could to secure the retreat of their allies. Battered, bloodied, and barely rested, the group found themselves once again crammed into the tiny secret chamber. As they readied themselves to defend against the pursuit of the Iron Guard above, Mouse pointed out that the grate, which had previously rested sturdily closed in the center of the room, was now open. An exhausted sigh escaped from everyone in the group, unanimously declaring their general fed-up-edness with being caught between a rock and a hard place.


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