The wind whipped through the sparse alpines, carrying the sounds of hard labor upon its back. The normal serenity of the majestic mountain range buckled under the sweat and determination of the twelve man team. The men worked tirelessly on a patch of gently sloping rock with pickaxes and shovels piercing the thick skin of the earth. Motivating them was Thedon and Lukas, a pair of cruel taskmasters ready to chase off the idea of loafing with a crack of their whips. Four guardsmen patrolled the perimeter of the dig site in shifts, their sharp senses directed at the surrounding rock and brush.
The Dhugdhurn mountains were known to be infested with beasts, natural and, if the stories are to be believed, unnatural in origin. It was the refuge for a number of goblinoid tribes, fleeing the human scourges after the Horn God war. So far, there had been no sight or sound of any of these threats. This only made the tension greater for everyone.
It was a warm spring day despite the cool wind blowing across the range. The blaze of the afternoon sun felt good on Morris’s face. He looked over the dig site from a large jutting rock and yawned deeply. He remembered briefly the excitement he felt on his first mining survey and how gradually the excitement drained away over the past ten years.
He knew his work was important and served a higher purpose. They were employed by one of the bigger mining companies of Salex. A successful survey of a new vein of ore would determine whether hundreds of migrant workers had work for the upcoming season. Not to mention the nice bonus he received; yet he still felt as something was missing from his life.
His gaze drifted East, following the skyline the Dhugdhurn mountains made across the clear blue sky until it was abruptly severed by an enormous wall of grey mist. It was known as the Grey Wall and not much was known about it except that it predated all known history. It stretched North and South farther than anyone was brave enough to explore creating an unnatural border along the Eastern side of the continent.
This was the closest his work had ever brought him to the wall. He stood paralyzed by its unique beauty and the excitement of the unknown. It wasn’t often that surveys went this high into the mountains. Normally, the ores they were searching for were found deeper and lower in the mountain. However, more and more surveys have been finding large ore veins higher in elevation and closer to the surface the closer they moved toward the Grey Wall. This phenomenon baffled scholars and sages for decades.
“They say it’s because these peaks were not always here – they were created by a great upheaval,” Morris called down to the rest of his survey team. He imagined the great cataclysm as he overlooked the vista.
Down below, Landon nudged one of his colleagues. “They also say that the closer you get to the wall, the worse the smell of death and decay. And that if you stare into it deep enough you can see the faces of dead loved ones. But most of'em are crazy loons.”
“And here I was thinking that smell was ol’ Thedon there.” Rogen said a little louder than he expected.
Laughter erupted from the three remaining surveyors as they walked to the lunch tent. A couple of the laborers chuckled as well but were silenced quickly by scowls from Thedon and his brutal partner.
Morris looked down to Landon and his crew, shaking his head with a smirk. Landon, whom he had known since childhood, was always quick to dismiss the words and visions of sages and scholars. Morris could not fault him, it was the main reason he had requested Landon for the trip. Morris needed someone to ground him from his flights of fancy and he trusted no one more than Landon.
Morris knew not to take what he had read or heard during his youth as nothing more than legend and myth; yet seeing the Grey Wall, even at this distance, excited his sense of exploration and adventure.
So what of it that no one who has ever breached the Grey Wall has never come back? What if paradise lies beyond and they simply did not want to leave? Morris climbed down from the rock before pulling his leather gloves off to adjust his jerkin and apron and stole one last long look at the long wall of grey. It has to exist for a reason. Morris joined his colleagues who were finishing lunch despite the hysterics Landon had put them in. Morris smiled. He would let them have their fun for now.
The sun crawled to midday before the surveying team finally had enough rock samples to begin work. Immediately they became all business with their tools of trade. Landon and Rogen used compasses to triangulate their position, comparing their findings to the land charter given to them by headquarters. The charter ensured their work would not be hindered by land disputes between other mining companies. Competition was high for quality veins and disputes often turned deadly while waiting for the High Courts to pass judgment.
Morris took the remaining teammates and set upon the loads of rocks freed from the earth by the labor team testing them for the metals they searched for and the purity of the vein. Morris focused on his work and if not for the call from Thedon walking quickly towards him, he would have surely missed the commotion happening amongst the laborers. The look on the taskmasters face did not sit well with Morris. Concerned, Morris pulled himself from his alchemical lab and jogged to meet the taskmaster, who was now wheezing and wiping the sweat from his brow.
“What’s wrong, Thedon? What has all the men riled up?” He stared past the taskmaster, searching for something to cool his worry.
“The men - They found something in the earth. You should come see, Mr. Morris.” Thedon blustered nearly out of breath from the short trot.
Morris followed Thedon back to the dig site. He tried to keep himself calm, “Its probably a large vein. That always gets them going.” When he arrived, he staggered backwards, his imagination sparked alive as the other surveyors crowded around him. Landon gasped and it was then that Morris knew he was not dreaming.
The object in the earth, partially uncovered, was definitely not a vein of ore. It appeared to be some sort of worked stone or metal and large. The image generated hundreds of theories within his mind’s eye.
Eyes wild with excitement, Morris grinned, “Dig it up.”
Morris divided the laborers into shifts so they could dig through the rest of the day and through the night. With a little coaxing, a couple of his colleagues volunteered to help dig as well.
Landon pulled Morris aside, “Morris, have you gone mad? We should report this to Salex headquarters.”
“No, we report this and some scholar from Olycor will swoop in and take all the credit for the find.” Morris pulled away from Landon and stared deeply at the object which by then was beginning to take on more of a rectangular shape. “Like an altar or sarcophagus,” Morris imagined.
“Look at it, Landon. This is old – I mean really old. Look at the designs and the way it’s shaped. I wonder what it’s made of.” Morris reached out to touch it and suddenly pulled away, “We should run some tests.” Morris was a mile a minute and was already on this way to the work tent before Landon could give a retort. Landon did not like the way this was progressing.
Morris finished gathering his supplies and was heading out of the work tent when he spotted Landon entering the main surveyor tent. He desperately wanted to work on the object, but he was suspicious of the way Landon had been acting earlier. Morris moved towards the tent, “What are you up to, Landon.”
Pulling back the tent flap he saw Landon and immediately understood. His friend finished whispering to a wooden token shaped like a bird and tossed it into the air. Magically, it transformed to a living version of visage and fluttered south.
Morris felt as if his heart was trampled on, “I know you are trying to protect me, Landon. This is not Waysfair or Tenton - this is real. It’s not junk like all the others. You’ve got to know that. Why are you not supporting me on this?”
Landon’s face twisted with rage, “Support you, Morris? Do you remember how many times have I had to pull your head out of a pool of your own depression-induced-drinking-binge vomit? How many lies have I told? How many excuses I have given to cover for your ass after you crawl into that dark hole of yours after another failed ‘adventure’?” Landon pounded his fist on a nearby table. “When are you going to accept that you are a surveyor? Just as your father was and just as his father was before him? A surveyor and that’s all!” Morris clinched his fists, seething with anger but Landon continued, “Kaeruna help him, the Sisters have bewitched another poor soul with the will’o’wisps of fortune and fame.”
“I should have never asked you along, Landon. You are through here. This is my dig and I want you out. Pack your things, you leave in the morning.” Morris said bitterly as he marched out of the tent and back to the dig site.
The laborers now had the entire top and first foot of the sides uncovered. It stretched ten feet long with intricate designs and hieroglyphs etched into the stone and metal. Stone-like vines swirl across the top and sides like a real vine would creep up a tree trunk. Morris stood amazed at the level of detail and bizarreness of the hieroglyphs. He was sure given enough time he could decipher the story it was attempting to tell him. Time, however, was not something he had a lot of at the moment so he had to work fast. He dismissed the laborers for the night and set up his lab upon the top of the container. He quickly arranged his tools and was soon lost in documenting his findings.
“Damn you, Landon. Damn you all. They don’t realize what you are to me,” Morris traced the top designs with his hand sliding it down the side closest to him circling a spiral design of stone vines.
Suddenly, the design clicked and Morris quickly pulled his hand away, examining it. Blood trickled down his palm, “Cael take me. It’s trapped.” He took a step back to grab a bit cloth to bind his wound when the spiral design lashed out encircling his leg tightly. Morris attempted to cry out in hopes of alerting the evening watch. He was promptly silenced when another stone vine wrapped around his waist and throat crushing the air from his lungs. Morris struggled for freedom and air. Fear grappled him as tightly as the vines did, slowly devouring his sanity. The container’s designs began to glow a deep green, slowly melting away leaving exposed what appeared to be a humanoid made of the same material as the container itself. Morris could feel the vines tighten and tear into his flesh with razor sharp thorns, draining his life’s blood. The vines absorbed the flow of blood, strengthening the green glow of the shifting container.
As his life ebbed away he watched the glow of the container feed the glow that was now emitting from the humanoid. He thought he heard the clang of the watch bell as the humanoid sat up and stretched its body of living wood and metal. As his vision blurred and he slumped to ground, he thought he made out Landon brandishing his sword charging the thing he awakened.
Thought and fantasy began to blur together for Morris as he prayed, “Always the valiant one, Landon. A true friend to the end. Kaeruna protect us – forgive me for what I have wrought.”
Slowly the world faded to darkness.