“Okay, see, this, this isn’t a plan,” said Chael.
Mad Mesa was a wall. On one side were kobolds, badlands, and death. On the other side were friendly nomads and rolling, grassy hills. That’s the side they wanted to get to, but between them and that side was the mesa. They had decided they would be caught before they could get around it, they decided they would be killed before they could get over it, so now, in a misguided effort to find a way through it, they had allowed themselves to be shackled, ceremonially bathed, dressed in suspiciously clean robes, and marched with great fanfare down into the terrible depths of the kobold formicary. It wasn’t a plan, but it was their only option.
“It’s our only option,” said Mahani, being pushed along in front of Chael.
“Eight. That’s the eighth portcullis they’ve brought us through,” said Chael.
“I told you to stop counting those,” said Mahani.
“I can’t help it,” said Chael. “Look! Nine. Nine portcullises, now.” The portcullises annoyed Chael, because it was obvious they were just for show at this point. The kobold obsession with defence and intricate cruelties was so renown, their reputation so perfectly manicured, that Chael doubted anyone had attempted to enter the kobold capital on purpose in over a hundred years. Until today of course.
“It doesn’t matter anyway, right?”
“What doesn’t?” asked Chael, distracted by a smell.
“The portcullises. The gates. Everything we’ve come through. It doesn’t matter.”
“Because we’re gonna die here?” said Chael, trying not to figure out what the smell was.
“No, because we’re not coming back this way,” said Mahani through her teeth. “Right? You said you saw kobold tunnels coming out the other side of the mesa.”
“I said they looked like kobold tunnels. It was hard to get a close look since I was being dragged past in a cage,” said Chael, “But, yes, I’m pretty sure.”
“Well, then we just need to find those tunnels, right?” said Mahani.
“Right,” swallowed Chael, glancing at the maze of branching side-corridors and vestibules they were passing every couple yards, “Can’t be that hard.”
“Exactly. Can’t be that hard.” said Mahani, her voice shaking a little, “Just, you know, keep your eyes open.”
“No problem,” said Chael, catching a casual glimpse of something through a partially open door that aged them ten years.
The kobolds hadn’t blindfolded them, but Chael was starting to wish they had. It wasn’t just the portcullises. It wasn’t just the murderholes, or the pitfalls, the drawbridges or the increasingly complex corridor system. It was the ever-thickening volume of screams and squelching coming from behind nearly every door.
Chael was trying to be positive. Maybe torture wasn’t as bad as it sounded. They were probably making it worse in their head, right? It can’t be much worse than getting a tattoo. Think of the endorphins! Honestly, after spending the last few days in a cage, being stretched on a rack would probably feel amazing, at least for the first few seconds. And, who knows, it might be kind of neat to see their own organs up close. At least they would learn a lot about themselves in the process.
But no matter how positive and candy-store they tried to be, something about torture just filled them with anxiety. And something about being in an underground tunnel-network filled with torture chambers just kept making them think about torture. It was their blue lizard. And they couldn’t stop thinking about that lizard getting placed inside a tiny, lizard-sized iron maiden. If Chael couldn’t figure out a way out of these shackles, and out the other side of this formicary, then the only hope they had was that the kobolds would select them to be a trap tester instead of a torture dummy. Both would hurt, and both would kill them eventually, but at least being killed in a traproom suited them.
The group halted. They were in front of a large iron door. Chael had figured out early in their dungeoneering career that the larger the door was, the larger and more important the room behind it generally was. This door was larger than any they had passed so far, and was also located at the end of a corridor, meaning it was undoubtedly the most important room in the entire kobold complex. Just to undeline it, the door was guarded by two larger-than-normal kobolds, holding larger-than-normal weapons, wearing blacker-than-normal armor. The weird, albino shaman who lead them down here was speaking quietly with guards.
“What are they saying,” whispered Chael, straining to hear the kobolds speaking in a completely foreign language.
“Quiet, I’m trying to hear,” Mahani replied, “Something about what they are going to do with us.”
“Thanks for the summary, details would also be helpful,” whisper-yelled Chael from behind a curtain of sweat.
“Oh no,” said Mahani.
“What? What is it? Torture? It’s torture right?” Chael asked, looking around the room trying to plan an escape.
“They don’t want to torture you,” said Mahani, slowly.
“They want Glig to.”
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