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Into the Lair of the Beast
Edwin Ralderry did not like this plan. He did not like it at all.
Not that he was afraid – Edwin was a templar, one of the holy warriors of the Empire that
had sworn to protect it against whatever evil might attempt to befall it. His sanctified morning star,
his shining chainmail, and, more importantly, his unshakeable faith in the benevolent and righteous
goddess Kira gave him more than enough confidence to face any challenge the dark powers could
throw against him. The many notches on his weapon were a testament to this. Truly, Edwin
Ralderry was no coward.
But this did not mean that Edwin was particularly fond of this specific plan.
When he was asked to lead a small group into a mineshaft whose miners supposedly had
unwittingly broken into the realm of what the heretics call an Underlord, the templar immediately
accepted the task before him, seeing it as an important and holy duty to scout out this entrance into
the underworld so that his brothers-in-arms might follow and bring an end to the activities of the
aberration that lurked below.
His enthusiasm went into sharp decline as his officers declared that his “group” would only
consist of three other people: Two dwarves, one a local miner that had offered to act as their guide;
the other one a permanently drunk firebreather. Additionally, a single priestess of Kira was there to
aid him, but although he welcomed the thought of having a skilled healer behind his back, her
nervousness as they began to descend down the mine made it obvious that her days as a novice were
still recent.
With a group like this, they might as well have sent him down on his own.
Edwin let out an annoyed grunt and swallowed his anger. The Empire was fighting on too
many fronts as if its lords could send entire battalions of warriors into mines and caves to
investigate what could ultimately turn out to be nothing more than the overactive imagination of a
superstitious peasant. But if the miners had indeed tunneled into a dungeon, there was a more than
fair chance that they would run into the minions of its owner – drooling chunders, crazed human
cultists, or even a fully-grown augre. Seeing how he was the only experienced fighter in the group,
Edwin did not hope to meet either of them.
Before they had made their way underground, the templar had explained that they would
only explore the now-revealed tunnels until they could see evidence for the presence of a dungeon
connected to it, at which point they would immediately move back to the surface and alert the local
commander. Fortunately for them, it usually was not difficult to distinguish a natural cavern from a
proper dungeon – perverse and horrifying as the minds of the Underlords were, their idea of
architecture wasn't that much different from those living above. Thick walls of brick and stone
marked the borders of their realm, and the corridors of their dungeons ironically enough were often

well-lit by all sorts of lamps, torches, and braziers.
For the time being, however, no such sight presented itself to the scouting group. They had
left the wooden support beams of the man-made shafts behind them; now moving through what
appeared to be a natural cave network of no small size.
Despite of his initial annoyance about having to drag along a civilian, Edwin now was happy
to have Gamlick in his group, as the seemingly infinite supply of torches the dwarven miner could
produce were the only light source in these depths, and his experience with the underground proved
to be invaluable when it came to their navigation in the ramified tunnels and caverns. The other
dwarf, Warrick, was less helpful. The templar had heard about the famed firebreathers, but at the
present, he merely feared that the drunk dwarf would promptly fall down the first ravine they came
across. At least the priestess of the group, which he came to know as Sister Hanna, had managed to
calm her mind and kept herself busy by reciting one quiet prayer after another.
--They had spend a considerable amount of time wandering through the damp passages when Edwin
saw it. With a hissed command, he urged his followers to extinguish their torches. And indeed, there
was a dimmed red light shining from behind the next bend in the tunnel they were following,
flickering and unsteady. Now concentrated on the section ahead, the templar also noticed a faint
smell of what he presumed to be sulfur from the same direction.
»'tis da thing we're lookin' for?«, whispered Warrick, the slur in his voice making it difficult
to keep the former down.
»Maybe it is, maybe it is not. Only one way to find out.«, the templar replied.
Without giving the others a chance to complain, he slowly began to move towards the bend,
doing his best to limit the noise produced by the links of his chain mail. Both the light and the smell
intensified, and small but regular hissing sounds now joined them. Edwin fully expected to see the
dungeon entrance any second now, its mighty doors already opened to unleash a horde of
nightmarish fiends upon him.
He found nothing of the like, though this didn't mean the were no changes to be seen – the
tunnel still was roughly circular with many uneven surfaces, as one would expect from a natural
underground space, but whereas their surroundings previously largely consisted of little more than
hardened earth, the area before him had a much more bizarre design – its floor was covered with
dark stones that were bordered by a layer of elongated, fang-like rocks seemingly growing from the
walls of the tunnel. Equally sharp stalagmites sprung from the ground here and there. It was as if
this passage was just waiting to eat anyone daring to pass through it.

But was this a part of the dungeon they were looking for? Edwin had been and fought inside
more than one, but had never seen something quite like this – the rooms and corridors dug by the
diminutive workers of the Underlords had been straight and square, and although their minions
were abominable, the structures inside might as well have been built by humans – pig farms and
taverns, dormitories and training rooms. Even the blood-filled halls in which their cultists
performed their unholy rituals still followed some degree of conventional architecture.
This passage, on the other hand, had nothing of this. It clearly was not man-made, and it also
defied the style Edwin had seen in the fortress-like homes of the Underlords. As his mind was still
racing to find an answer as to who or what was behind this place, the rest of his group had
positioned behind him.
»By Kira, what is . . . this?!«, Hanna gasped, whatever determination her prayers had built
up in her rapidly draining from her face.
»Cer'ainly doesn't loo' nice.«, Warrick answered before letting out a burp that would have
made a chunder proud. Unlike the priestess, he did not appear overly terrified, but clearly enough
was not pleased by what he saw.
Edwin shared this sentiment, and a good part of him screamed that he should go back to the
surface and return with reinforcements. Yet at the same time, his task down here was to find a
dungeon, and as disturbing as the area in front of him looked like, he also was almost certain that
this was no ordinary part of a dungeon. It simply did not fit.
He quickly turned to the miner of the group: »Master Gamlick, you have spent the better
part of your lifetime underground. Do you think there's a natural explanation for the … unusual …
shape of this tunnel?«
The dwarf nervously shifted his weight from one foot to another. »Well, if ye consider the
red light and the smell of sulfur.....«
»Yes?«
»Well, it's probably some kind of volcanic rock, or so me old pop would've said. Both the
light an' the smell probably come from a nearby magma vent. As does the heat.«
Edwin suddenly noticed that the dwarf was right. The sulfuric stench had temporarily
overpowered his other senses, but the wet, cold air of the caverns they had passed through became
warmer and drier with every step he took towards the spiked tunnel. The walls themselves seemed
to sweat where the two different sections met.
»So, you do think this is a naturally made path?«
»Uhh....I dunno. I mean, it could be, but then again I've never...«
The templar did not allow him to finish the sentence. »Fair enough. We will carry on, then.«
He knew that Gamlick had no bloody idea of how a dungeon looked like because he had never been

in one. But at the same time, he had no intention to run back to the surface with his tail stuck
between his legs, just because of what could just be a geological freak show. Again, he gave his
followers no further time to let doubt or fear poison their minds, and marched boldly onwards, right
into what still had some resemblance to the maw of an enormous beast.
--Edwin's hope that only a short section of the way ahead would retain the eerie appearance of its
beginning were utterly in vain. They had spent nearly an hour venturing through what revealed
itself to be a labyrinthine net of intertwined paths full of sharp corners and dead ends, making it
difficult for them to keep track of where they were. But for all the confusion it caused, the chaotic
design of the area only strengthened his belief that this could not be part of a dungeon. Even the
slaves of the dark powers would find this area too difficult to move through.
At this point, the templar was less worried about some malevolent dark lord that might be
looking down on them, and more about getting lost in this thrice-damned maze. He was about to tell
the others to stop, hoping that they could reorient themselves during a short break, but as he passed
beyond one last sharp bend in the tunnel, he froze where he stood.
Before his eyes, the passage grew into a room of enormous proportions. Its ground still
consisted of the same black stones they had walked on since they had entered the labyrinth, but the
similarities ended there. The walls here were no longer asymmetrical, but formed a perfect
rectangle; with malignant demonic faces made from indescribable rock covering every last inch of
them. But these grimaces were nothing to massive monument that throned in the center of the room
- a veritable monolith in the shape of a many-horned beast. It's wide-open maws emitted a constant
source of fire, as if the horrifying sculpture was a gateway directly linking to the deepest pits of the
underworld.
A gateway.
»I think we have found what we were looking for«, Edwin said, using every fiber of his will
to suppress the stress in his voice. Yes, they had found what they were looking for. As a matter of
fact, they had been inside of it all along.
»So what do we do, now? Can we go now?«
The horror the young priestess had displayed as they had entered the tunnel now disfigured
her face even more, and she was pallid like an ivory statue.
»What we were supposed to do. We return to the surface, report to the Lord-Commander,
and wait until our reinforcements arrive.«
»»If ye look aroun'«, the firebreather slurred, »you'll find that we're all alone 'ere. Whatever
ish livin' down 'ere ish not at 'ome.«.

»Your point being, Warrick?« He did not know what crazed idea was hatching inside of the
dwarf's mind, but Edwin did not like it. It was bad enough that he had to tolerate the constant smell
of booze that was surrounding him like a swarm of invisible flies, but he would not risk his life, let
alone that of the others, on the philosophy of a professional alcoholic.
»Well, I says, I do, that we smash that ugly fing up there to pieces, an' then we go home.
Migh' as well make the job jus' a tad easier for when we come back«. Warrick grinned broadly,
probably in the firm belief that he had just demonstrated his tactical genius.
»Have you lost your mind?«, the templar shouted. »Even if whatever …fiends … the foe
breeds down here currently are away, any attack would immediately draw its attention to us! We are
lucky that we have not been spotted ye-«.
Gamlick suddenly planted himself right between the two quarreling men.
»I hate ta interrupt, but do ye hear that noise? 'cause I can hear it, and I dunno like the sound
of it at all«.
Edwin and Warrick instantly fell into silence, fully aware that a larger problem than their
personal dispute could be lurking around the next corner. The templar closed his eyes and listened
into the red light of the tunnel from which they had entered the room.
The sound was faint, distant. In his mind, its almost metallic scraping noise formed the
image of a dagger whose blade repeatedly fell down on a stone floor, but the rhythm of it was to
fast; and he could have sworn that there were several of such blades striking down in nearly the
same tact. He fully understood why Gamlick did not like the sound.
What he liked even less was that the sound became louder with every passing second.
»Defensive formation!«, Edwin shouted, as he already imbued his weapon with holy light.
»Gamlick and Garrick, stand beside me! Sister Hanna, remain behind us and protect us with your
magic! Let us drive these hellspawn back to their infernal masters«
No sooner than he had spoken these words and the others had taken their positions, an entire
barrage of hissing growls could be heard from the tunnel that was the room's only entrance, and
three creatures appeared inside of it. Edwin's brain strained to understand their form – it was as if
some perverse god had fused together parts from various bugs, spiders, and scorpions into one
massive insect. Their six legs carried a cylindrical body whose back was crowned by an assortment
of upright chitinous plates and two upper extremities that ended in immensely sharp-looking claws.
Ravenous hunger screamed from the two small eyes in what probably was their face, and gooey
saliva trickled down from their clicking mandibles.
It only took a few seconds for the templar's brain to process this image – seconds which the
beasts used to close the gap between them and their prey. The templar raised his shield just in time
to deflect the body of one of the creatures, which had lunged at him with one big leap. The impact

sent him staggering backwards, but he luckily managed to catch himself, using the brief moment for
which the beast's own attack had stunned it to crash his mace down on it. Chitinous plates cracked
as if he was trying to open the shell of a monstrous lobster, but the beast was still alive; making a
jump backwards and now moving in rapid half-circles around him as it searched for a weakness in
his defense.
To his right, Warrick fared much better than the alcohol level in his blood should allow him
to. His stumbling movements apparently confused the spider-thing that was trying to kill him. As it
tried to jump at him, the firebreather performed one fluid motion that would have looked clumsy in
a different context, but nonetheless resulted in him nonchalantly sidestepping the attack and hacking
off one of the beast's claws with his axe in the process. It let out a sharp hissing sound, as ooze-like
blood shot from the severed appendage.
Gamlick, being a mere miner, was less fortunate in his battle. Armed with little more than a
pickaxe, his role in the morbid dance between the two of them was largely limited to him backing
away from the monster; a strategy that was less than successful, as several deep cuts on his exposed
arms implied. The priestess behind him did her best to aid him by shielding the dwarf in protective
magic and smiting the creature with holy light, but both did very little to deter it from its attack. If
anything, they contributed to its frenzy.
For a brief moment, it seemed as if the insectoid fiend had to begun to move backwards ever
so slowly, but then it launched itself against the miner like a murderous bolt of lightning, knocking
him over and pinning him to the ground by ramming its two claws into his shoulders. The panicked
scream which the dwarf let out was cut short after a mere second, as its mandibles began to
systematically eviscerate his exposed throat. It seemed to ignore the waves upon waves of holy
light that Hanna cast down it, and which drew dark burn marks onto its shell – it was to busy with
biting, and tearing, and feeding. When it finally let go of Gamlick, only a thin patch of skin still
connected the miner's head to the rest of his body.
Edwin saw all of this from the corner of his eyes, but with another of the hellish creatures
still trying to find a way behind his shield, there was absolutely nothing he could do to help his
companion. With him dead, and the priestess being absolutely no match for their foes in melée, they
were at a serious disadvantage. It would take a miracle to get them out of here alive.
The miracle came, but not quite as he had imagined it.
»Oy, templar, I think I gotta...«, the firebreather let out as he parried a blow with his axe and
stabbed his attacker in the eye with the torch in his other hand.
»You've got to what?« screamed Edwin, all while trying to keep the now two attackers at
bay that were preparing to bite his face off.
»I gotta burp!«

»You WHAT?!«
»Get behind me, ye stupid lummox!«
What followed next happened very quickly. Inspired by some sudden onset of divine
inspiration, the templar fell back, placing himself next to Hanna and behind Warrick, so that the
dwarf now was alone with three hungry aberrations in front of him.
The firebreather pulled the plug from the keg he still was carrying under his arm, raised it,
and drank two or three jugs from the potent liquor inside. His meaty cheeks almost filled to the
point of bursting, he lowered the keg and raised the torch in front of his face.
And then he burped.
With a roar that made the walls of the chamber itself shake, Warrick unleashed a mix of
digestive gas and high-proof dwarven ale into the torch. Upon contact, it immediately transformed
into a violent jet of flame that filled the entire room with bright light and enveloped the fiendish
creatures.
Their bloodthirsty hisses turned into pained shrieks as the attackers were boiled alive in their
own shells. Weird sizzling sounds could be heard as small cavities under their carapaces popped
open from the stress of expanding air. Even some of their legs were torn off by the sheer brutality of
the firestorm.
The templar and the priestess were blinded by the intense light of the flame and instinctively
forced their eyes shut. When they dared to open them again, they could see how two of the beasts
fled through the tunnel entrance, still alive, but visibly injured from the attack. The third attacker
had collapsed before them, its blackened body emitting small clouds of smoke.
»That was...impressive« Hanna whispered. She could not remove her eyes from the
flambéed carcass to their feet.
»Well, they ain't callin' us firebreathers for nothin', dear.«
»With all due respect for your talents, master Warrick«, Edwin began, » I fear this is hardly
the right time for idle talk. We need to leave, and we need to so quickly. Even if those abominations
were just a random patrol, we can be certain that the dark ruler of this domain now knows of our
presence.«
»An' what about Gamlick? Do ye just wanna leave his body down here as a feast for these
buggers? 'tis hardly a worthy end for a good dwarf.«
Although (or maybe because) he knew that the lord of this dungeon could do significantly
worse things with a corpse other than using it as fodder, the warrior-cleric understood Warrick's
complaint. Few deserved such a fate, and the miner decidedly was not amongst them. Still, unless
they all wanted to join him, they would have to get moving.
»When we get back to the surface, I will personally lead an entire army of my brother-

templars into this pit and avenge the miner's death tenfold, firebreather. I would be honored to know
you at my side during the purge.«
The hint of a smile could be seen under Warrick's booze-covered beard.
»Sounds like a plan, human.«
--Just as Edwin had feared, finding a way out of the maze was notably more difficult than entering it.
He had tried to create a mental map of its many twisted passages before they stumbled into the
larger chamber, but the sudden attack by the insect-beasts had effectively erased what little sense of
orientation he had managed to establish. His initial impression of the labyrinth's entrance as the
maw of a large beast returned to his mind. It had swallowed them whole and, apparently, was not
willed to regurgitate them again.
That they were on the run did not help. Whenever they slowed down, Edwin thought he
could hear the scraping noise of insectoid limbs over rock somewhere in the distance. Whenever
they gained speed, the number of the sharp stalagmites in the tunnel began to multiply, forcing them
to fall into a slow trot.
Just as they yet again had left an entire field of the sharp-tipped rocks behind them, another
sound joined the crescendo of their and their stalkers' footsteps. Though he was unable to identify it
at first, he soon recognized it as the flapping of wings that displaced the bitter air in the tunnel.
He instantly feared that a large swarm of bats would soon be all over them, bringing their
escape to a grinding standstill and allowing the predators following their trail to catch up to them.
Fortunately, his inner voice of reason quickly reminded him that even bats did not live this far
underground.
Edwin almost would have laughed at his own foolishness. There he was, chased by the most
monstrous beasts the underworld had to offer, and he was worried about flying rats that did not even
live in these layers of the earth.
Then he realized two things: Firstly, that there indeed were not bats in this labyrinth.
Secondly, that this didn't mean there couldn't be entirely different flying things inside of it.
He promptly doubled his speed and told his companions to do likewise, all in the faint hope
of increasing the distance between them and the fluttering sound. It was a naive thought – they
could run all they want, but whereas the flying thing behind them only needed to evade the larger
rocks that filled the tunnel, the feet of the humans and the dwarf constantly had to avoid protruding
rocks and others debris.
To emphasize this problem, the templar promptly tripped – a fall that saved his life, for

where his head had been just a second before, a needle-like, bony spine had bored into the solid
rock wall of the tunnel; still slightly shaking as if it was just a dart hitting its respective board.
Much as he tried, his collision with the ground had driven all air from the templar's lungs,
and he could not scream a warning to his comrades. Not that he needed to – a shrill screech
thundered from the tunnel behind them, loud enough to stop Hanna and Warrick dead in their
tracks.
Before their minds could even fully process what was happening, the distorted shape of an
airborne creature soared past the group; somehow not touching any of them despite of its enormous
size. All Edwin could make out in the split-second it had needed to to disappear in the damp red
light of the tunnel in front of them was a pair of leathery wings fused to a smaller body, dragging an
elongated and spike-tipped tail behind it.
As the creature was gone, the firebreather let out an annoyed grunt. »Bah, what's next? A
six-headed red badger with tentacles fer arms that can spit fire? Or mebbe a dire hamster that
swallows ye whole if it gets ye? «
»Do not give them ideas, dwarf. I dare not to imagine what kind of infernal, flesh-twisting
magic they must have used to shape these creatures, but there is no place for them under Kira's
light.« The response of the priestess was but a sharp whisper, yet the tone in her voice now lacked
any of the fear it previously was soaked in. Instead, righteous fury glimmered in her eyes. The death
of the miner, perhaps the first one she had ever witnessed in such a form, had changed her.
Yet Edwin barely noticed any of this. He was listening to the sound made by the wings of
the creature that had just attacked them. Sounds that, just a moment ago, seemed to be moving away
from them. Sounds that, now, had changed direction.
»Ready yourselves, it's coming back!«
His warning was not without good reason. He barely had enough time to lift his shield
before the beast's bone-chilling screech filled the tunnel again, and it took all of the templar's
willpower to prevent him from simply dropping his weapon and shield so that he might cover his
ears.
It was close now. The time around Edwin seemed to freeze as years of combat experience
began to take control over his body. He could see the front of the creature now, but it did little to
lessen the disgust that had welled up in him when he had first seen it. Lacking any eyes, the
creature's face was dominated by two large nostrils and a grinning mouth. It was especially the
latter that disturbed him, for where he had expected rows upon rows of sharp fangs, the teeth of the
beast seemed eerily human.
In one fluid motion, the tail of the flying aberration shot forward like a well-handled whip
and launched another deadly spine at them. Aimed at Warrick's bare chest and traveling at


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