Lights in the Darkness

Stithwulf: The Cultists' Dungeon

I grew up in the Mornlands. Father was a trader, and we spent a fair piece of my childhood traveling up and down the River Hellfor. We always stayed away from the Great Marsh though, and we never plied the Morn Sound or the seas beyond. Father always said the Marsh was cursed. Something about a Sunken City, and ancient heresy. Maker knows, I should’ve listened, and stayed away from the Marsh.

After Father died, I made my way as I could. As it turned out, I was a fair hand with a blade and a bow, and I inherited some of Father’s talent for negotiating. I made my way, first as a mercenary, then as an adventurer, for some time. I took a job here, followed a lead there. The whole time though—my whole life, really—I watched darkness creep ever more into the Mornlands. Into my home. I finally decided to do something about it. I was in a tavern when a well-armed man walked in and started looking for “Brave souls, with strong arms and stout hearts!” Hah. I recognized another money-hungry adventurer when I saw him. I didn’t begrudge him his sales pitch, but I didn’t pay it much mind either. That is, until I heard him mention the Sunken City. My ears perked up; I listened a while more, and eventually struck up a conversation with him. Not too long after that, I was signed onto Red’s Raiders, and on a barge headed down the River Hellfor.

We all went—more the fools, us—and used the standing stone in the middle of town. The good news was, we survived the standing stone, and found ourselves where we thought we wanted to be: in the Sunken City. The bad news was, we couldn’t find our way back. After more twists and turns than I can count or remember, we found our way out from underground, only to see we were on an island somewhere in the middle of a swamp—probably the Great Marsh, but we couldn’t be certain. Eventually, another party, larger than our own, landed on the island. After a brief parley, we agreed to work together: We would support each other, split the loot and hopefully a few heretic skulls, and head back to civilization, such as it is, together. They had boats, and said they had enough room to transport us all back. We set camp for the night, preparing to delve back into the ruins in the morning.

Morning never came for most of us. The other party turned out to be occultists of some kind, operating out of a cave complex within the swamp. They killed everyone save Aart and me while our party slept. Only keen hearing and a quick tongue let me wake up and convince them we cared more about money than the Maker, leading them to spare us. The Maker will forgive us this transgression, I am sure… as long as we extract a blood price from the apostates for it.

At any event, the occultists believed my show, and let Aart and me live and work among them for a week or two. Eventually though, my devotion to the Maker could not be hidden, and they stripped me of my belongings, bound me, and imprisoned me somewhere in a cave complex. Aart, Maker bless his black heart, stayed loyal to me, and suffered the same fate. They set the living dead to watch us, rotting corpses with eyeless sight, while the living taunted us. I expected we were bound for torture and execution, if not worse, until one of the cultists ran into the room with a message. “Adventurers have landed on our island” he said, or something like that. The apparent leader was pleased. He used chalk to draw Aart and me into a rough square in the corner of the room, set the dead outside the square, and instructed them to kill us if we left it. He then left, taking the remaining cultists from the room with him. I think I heard others running as well, leaving the cave complex with them, but I cannot be certain.

We waited. What else could we do? There were six of the dead, only two of us, and us without our arms or armor. They left us to wait in the dark, but I know the dead kept their watch; they did not stir around us. Eventually, about an hour after they left, maybe less, the some of the cultists returned. A handful came back to the room where we were held, and brought blessed light with them. A dark cave with the dead is no place for the living. I noticed, though, that I didn’t hear nearly as many returning as I thought left. Perhaps the adventuring party triumphed against the cult? Perhaps the other cultists are outside, looting the corpses of the adventurers? Or perhaps the caves are playing tricks on my ears, and my sense of those going and coming is simply wrong? Only time will tell.

Now, if only I could reach my arms and armor…


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