Insects buzzing filled the air. The soft splash of water being disturbed as an unknown beast slid beneath the surface. Trees creaking as gentle breezes move the branches together. These sounds were all familiar to Tanlinn Blazebeard as he moved through the swamp. The dwarf stood a stout four feet tall, with bright, flaming red hair sticking out in wisps from under his hat. His beard was tightly braided into intricate knots, and his nose was a bulbous circle atop it. His clothing was simple and efficient. His pants were made of a sturdy hemp, his knee high leather boots thick and sturdy. Glittering chain mail peeked out from under a shirt covered with a multitude of pockets. The leather belt he wore also was covered in pouches and bags, along with a case for crossbow bolts and a shortsword. Across his back as slung a crossbow and a large pack that seemed almost overloaded with gear.
He paused in his slogging through the swamp and pulled out a small compass. Wiping condensation off of the lens, he set it down on a tree stump and pulled a map out of his bag. He looked at the compass, looked to the map and looked back to the compass before putting the map and compass away and continuing to trudge. "Swamps," he muttered to himself under his breath. "Always in a gods-forsaken swamp." Thinking back, he sorely regretted having the conversation that brought him to this particular swamp.
***************Back at the Dwarven capital of Duisberg, he had been drinking with a friend of his, Gimble Gemhoarder. The gnome was a magician and inventor of sorts, and was convinced he had found a job not even Tanlinn could complete. For years, the two had a friendly competition where Gimble found rare artifacts and Tanlinn would go find them. So far, Tanlinn had a perfect record. Not that it had been easy, but he had found every item of curiosity Gimble had brought to light.
"This time though...this time is different!" the gnome said with excitement. Pulling a large tome out of his bag, he opened it to a page showing a giant temple. Various large creatures with one eye were standing on the steps.
"So you found a picture of the ancient Cyclopean kingdom." Tanlinn said with a shrug. "We already know where that is, the swamps to the east."
Gimble grinned and turned the page. The picture showed a funeral ceremony of a Cyclops noble being placed into a crypt with mounds of treasure and a large gem the size of Tanlinn's fist hanging on his neck.
Tanlinn's eyes widened at the view of the gem and a large smile creased his face. "Now that is something worth finding!" he exclaimed before taking a large drink from his mug of ale.
Gimble laughed and nodded his head. "I knew you would like it, old friend. So, think you can find it?"
Tanlinn's smile dropped as he looked thoughtfully at the picture. The gem was tempting, but finding one random crypt to one cyclops noble would not be an easy task. Gimble, seeing him hesitate, rummaged through his pack and pulled out a map case. "There is a map I found with the book. It shows the city the tomb was in." He rolled the case across the table; it came to a gentle stop at Tanlinn's hands.
"That blasted gnome! That blasted gem! I'll kill him when I bring this one back," Tanlinn muttered as he ducked to avoid a low branch. A large lizard sunning on a nearby rock hissed at him as he walked by. Tanlinn hissed back. The path he was following to find the tomb had for the last mile or so had been nothing but mud and filthy water. Finally, he spotted a strip of land raised up from the waterline. With a cry of joy, he clambered on top and sat down on a stump. Looking around, Tanlinn scratched his head. "This should be close. According to my maps it should be around here somewhere."
Looking around the sodden landscape, Tanlinn felt discouraged. It had already been a week of searching with no success. However, looking off to his left, he saw some old bricks set into the earth. 'An old road! What luck!' the dwarf thought as he followed it through the trees. Soon, the bricks led to a large door that was sunk into the side of a small mound. Excitement building inside, the dwarf let out a restrained shout of triumph. He had found the tomb!
Finding the tomb was one thing; entering it was a whole other matter. With practiced care, Tanlinn approached the tomb door. He set his pack down and reached into his belt pocket. Pulling out a small bundle, he rolled it out next to the door and began searching. The door itself was amazing. Carved into it was artwork that dated thousands of years back. While nothing in the carvings indicated a specific personage, Tanlinn felt confident he had found his tomb. Gently probing the door with his tools, he slowly searched for any pressure plates or hidden hinges that would cause a trap to trigger.
His patience paid off, as his probe gently depressed and revealed a plate set into the floor. While opening the door wouldn't set off the trap, stepping onto the plate would. Carefully, he opened the door. Stone rumbled and groaned in protest to being opened after such a long time of neglect. As the door moved off of the pressure plate, it quietly rose up out of the ground. The trap was now set, if someone stepped on the plate the trap would go off. What would happen then...well, Tanlinn didn't really want to know.
Looking at the door frame, he saw there was a small trigger that depressed when the door was shut. With a smug grin, Tanlinn pressed the trigger down and jammed it shut. With no small amount of satisfaction, he saw the plate sink back into the ground. 'Simple and easy,' he thought as he began putting his tools away. Once he finished, he shouldered his pack again and headed down into the crypt. Thankfully, once he descended deep enough his dark vision enabled him to see without using a torch. Very useful when you want to keep a low profile in a tomb.
The steps from the entrance led down into a broad hallway. Tapestries hung from the ceiling, depicting heroic scenes from what Tanlinn could only assume was the Cyclops life. Featured prominently in most of those was the gem necklace. Tanlinn grinned and looked at the hallway. Four doors, two on each side, flanked the hallway and one large door sat at the end. Tanlinn cautiously approached, keeping an eye out for any more traps or dangers. Seeing nothing, he moved over to the first door on the left and opened it.
Inside, he saw rows of slaves lying mummified upon stone slabs. Grimacing, he closed the door and moved over to the other on the right hand side. Inside was a similar scene, more mummified slaves. His previous bad mood was returning, as inside each of the side rooms, his searches revealed nothing more then mummified slaves and servants. No gold, no treasures...nothing of value at all!
'Well, there is still the main room,' he thought with some optimism as he approached the main door. Carved into it was various hieroglyphs of the ancient Cyclopean language and frightening demon faces. Taking out his notebook, he transcribed the hieroglyphs and translated them roughly to say, "Beware intruder, or you shall join in the eternal service of Grom'shak the Mighty." Chuckling at the dire warning, he checked the door carefully for any traps.
Not finding anything, he opened the door. The low growl of the stone door scraping on the floor was the only thing to break the silence as he peered into the room. A perfectly preserved corpse lay on a ornately carved stone slab. Tanlinn marveled at the size of the creature. Easily it was twelve feet tall, and wide as two men. It was dressed in robes of nobility and around its neck was the gem Tanlinn had come in search of. Looking around the room, there was also sundry items lying about. A carved dire tiger, the skull of a dragon, a set of dice made from bone, a suit of full plate armor and an ornate great-sword: these all decorated the walls of the room.
His frustration at the lack of gold or loose gems was lessened somewhat by the thought of the gem at the throat of the dead Cyclops. He quietly approached the head of the corpse and reached out for the necklace. Swiftly, he pulled out his dagger and sliced the leather cord as he pulled the gem pendant to him. Chuckling to himself and pleased with his acquisition, he placed it into his bag and began to move to the door.
Just as he was about to open it, however, he heard movement behind him. Turning around, he saw the great eye in the middle of the cyclops' head open and staring at him. With a burning glow, the eye focused on the dwarf and let out a bellow of rage and anger, the air around him crackling with frost as an unnatural cold began to spread through the room. Tanlinn's heart stopped in fear as the undead monster sat up and began to move toward him.
With a horrifying lurch, the Cyclops moved its bulk off of the slab and towards Tanlinn, who gave a hoarse cry of terror, scurried out the door and slammed it shut. A wet, solid pounding began on the door almost as soon as Tanlinn leaned against it to keep it shut. His eyes darted about the hallway, desperately searching for something to wedge the door closed. Nothing was visible and Tanlinn was about to start running for the entrance when he heard a sound that chilled him to the bone. A long, loud bellow raged out of the undead Cyclops and was answered by a multitude of other voices in the adjoining rooms.
The air was swiftly becoming too cold to bear for Tanlinn. Frost was forming in his beard, and wisps of fog were floating on the ground from the sudden temperature change. His breath billowed in clouds before him as he tried to come up with a way to keep the door shut. Reaching into his pockets, he cried out in relief as he pulled free a small crowbar. Jamming it between the door and the floor, he took a few steps back.
The Cyclops pounded on the door. It rattled and scraped forward an inch, but the wedge held the door shut. The attack on the door continued with renewed vigor though, and Tanlinn could hear the side doors creaking open as the slaves and servants shambled forward on cloth-wrapped legs. Tanlinn knew he had only a short time to make it to the entrance and safety, so he ran for it as fast as he could. With screams of rage, the undead monsters stretched their hands out for him, eyes glowing with hatred and dark energy.
Just as Tanlinn reached the bottom of the steps, he heard a shuddering crash as the Cyclops burst through the stone doors. Bellowing in hatred, it took lumbering steps forward. Its arms swung before it, sweeping its minions out of the way as it moved towards him in a rapidly accelerating gait. Tanlinn took off up the stairs, panting for air as he reached the entrance. The heat of the day consumed him, causing his body to burn after the extreme cold of the tomb.
In a panic, Tanlinn could hear the monster moving up the stairs as rumbling footsteps drew nearer. Turning, he grabbed the door an tried to close it. It moved slightly, then was stopped by the jam he had placed in the trap mechanism. Tearing the jam out of the door, Tanlinn felt the ground beneath him rise and snap back down. The trap! He had forgotten about it and was standing on the plate as the trigger was released. The door way shook now with a more ominous force and Tanlinn was able to dive out of the way as the ceiling collapsed down the passageway. With a last barely audible roar, the undead horrors were crushed in the entrance stairway.
Lying on the ground, panting from his flight; Tanlinn let his head fall to the ground as he barked out hoarse laughter. Gasping for air, he lifted the gem above his head and smiled as he watched the sunlight play over the facets in the precious stone. Sitting up, he wrapped it in a cloth and placed it deep within his pack. It was time to leave this swamp and go home.
It was with no small ceremony and flourish that Tanlinn presented the gem to Gimble. The gnome's eyes widened and his mouth dropped at the sight of such a priceless treasure.
"You son of an orc! You really got it?" Gimble swore in awe as he took the gem out of the cloth and held it up to the light.
Tanlinn snatched it out of the gnomes hands and wrapped it quickly back into the cloth. With a snort he said, "Damn right I did. I'm the best damn explorer and treasure hunter this world has ever seen. I'd like to see anyone else do what I did and survive!"
Gimble nodded and said, "It seems you win again, Tanlinn. You are either the luckiest or bravest dwarf I've ever known." With a grin, the gnome pulled an ancient-looking leather book out of his bag and said, "But this time! This time, I've got one that is going to stump you for sure!"
Tanlinn just laughed as Gimble opened the book.
Artwork by Lady of Hats.