Just as Kireth completed his arcane mutterings an arm suddenly appeared from within the wall and wrapped itself around Tradden’s head, the palm of the hand covering his eyes. Another arm from the wall appeared on the other side of the young fighter, grabbing him tightly, the hand holding a small blade.
For a moment time seemed to stand still — Tradden unable to move and the others staring blankly with shock.
Tradden couldn’t see what was happening and had a terrible sense of vertigo as he was pulled backwards where a solid wall should have been. His head swam as a rough voice, somewhere near his shoulder, whispered to him.
‘Drop the sword, longshanks, I’ve a knife in your ribs!’
Behind him, moving very slowly away, with arms slightly raised offering peace, was a scruffy-looking dwarf — a living one, rather than undead this time — unclothed apart from rags of leather britches, makeshift bandages, and covered in blood. There were signs of blood slowly seeping through the dwarf’s fingers.
‘Rhasgar told me to get away if I could — I sort of have a habit of being able to do that — and then find a way to help them all. The hobgoblins down there aren’t the most organised I’ve seen, and I managed to slip away into the darkness. I followed them a bit further and there's something going on down there, something I don’t like the look of, even further below. I couldn’t follow them far, but they were being led on. The place stank of death, or worse, and I swear I could hear chanting. I managed to sneak back up here to gather my strength before I work out what to do next — I’d spotted the door when they led us through here past some of their “guardians”. Then you lot arrived. It seems my luck is in for once.’
‘You,’ suggested the dwarf, looking at Tradden, ‘you said you were Tradden Deepingwald, right? Thanks for the first aid. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the rest of your names, I was in quite a bit of pain! I’m Rangrim, Rangrim Ironnose of Fallcrest. From Hightown, if you were wondering,’ he added with a wink.
It was Zero that broke the short silence following Rangrim getting to his feet. The dwarf was stretching his arms out, trying to work out where the stiffness and pain still lay. It was the tattoos on the dwarf’s arms, half hidden by the bandages, that had caught the rogue’s eye.
‘Say, what are those markings on your arms?’ inquired Zero politely. ‘They sort of look like writing.’
Rangrim looked up at Zero, catching him with his steely-eyed stare. Zero felt a flash of defiance, and didn’t back down, returning the stare as best he could. ‘They’re reminders,’ offered Rangrim, any sense of prior jolity lost.
‘Reminders for what?’ pressed Zero, his curiosity outweighing his caution.
Rangrim continued to stare at the rogue, sizing him up, gauging his qualities. He scanned Zero’s clothes and armour, the weapons at his belt and thigh, the hooded cloak, and the way he sat in the shadows with his back to the wall, alert and watching all of this time. ‘Have you ever been caught, rogue,’ Rangrim stressed the last syllable, ‘when out and about, “minding your own business”?’
‘I’ll take that as a no,’ stated Rangrim, cutting through the uneasy silence. ‘Well, I did — and now I have these to remind me not to get caught again. Something I don’t intend on doing.’