This story is about the Explorer's League excavations of Uldaman, and the disasterous events that followed. It's seen through Aldraen Miller's eyes.
The blazing sun was almost at top of the sky, eternaly watching. The rays shone over the reddish dust of the Badlands below. But what happened above the surface wasn't important, but what was going on under the mountains.
The sound of pickaxes against stone echoed down the halls. The sound blended with the roar of the desert wind from the outside. A tall man entered the underground passage, walking down the path deeper in. He was wearing a light set of brown leather clothing, not too thick for the desert climate.
As the man walked on down the rocky tunnel, he couldn't but to stop for a moment to take in the importance of what was happening around him. Groups of dwarven miners were furiously working their way through the solid mountain to unveil what beautiful past lay hidden inside. The huge underground complex, having been named Uldaman after a series of deciphered texts found in the area, held something huge. It had been discovered through sheer luck during a close-by excavation, and the Explorer's League had quickly realised the weight of the discovery and sent a large crew to delve deeper. Over a period of only a few weeks, a system of tunnels and underground excavations had been built and unearthed the incredible complex that lay hidden under the rocks. Soon they would penetrate that which seemed to be the last barriers between the expedition and the discovery of the century, and enter the sealed halls.
The man strolling down the tunnel, named Aldraen, stopped and took a deep breath of the dusty air. It was the type of air that had been standing still for ages, untouched and unmoved, blended with the scent of gunpowder from recent blastings. The air had the same feel that the outside air had, that dry sting in the throat only the Badlands carried. The smell of excitement lay in the air, as if the feelings everyone in the team of diggers, explorers, geologists and other crewmembers from the Explorer's League had permeated the air as well. Aldraen enjoyed it. A breath of this kind of air could match the freshest breath from the most stunning forest mornings, in Aldraen's opinion. It was the scent of promise.
Aldraen broke out of his thoughts. He continued the walk through the carved-out tunnels, making his way past the excavators, explorers at work and occasional mountaineer troops. The long halls were lit-up by lanterns brought in by the crew, bringing light into the darkness of the underground. Only a few corners remained unlit in the powerful beams from the gnomish-dwarven spotlights. The excavations of the natural caves and dug-out tunnels between them were going good. Scaffoldings were in place to make sure the walls were stable, and there were many large wooden poles that had been put up in different strategic places to compensate for the digging. Ropes had been set up at spots for security reasons and to mark places where attention would be focused later.
After five minutes of walking down the halls, he heard a familiar voice ahead of him and spotted the crafy overseer of the operations, Aldroch Stonefist. The dwarf wore leather armor with light plate armor above and had a miner's helmets on. Though he was part of the Stonefist clan, he had the nickname Stonehead, which he aquired after surviving an especially large stone to the head after an explosives accident once.
"Oh, yeh've decided te show yer lazy face, eh?" Aldroch yelled over the racket at Aldraen when he walked over, folding his arms in played anger.
"Oh, come on. I had been up and going for two days straight, I deserve the rest. How long have you been sleeping then, Droch?" Aldraen answered, giving the dwarf a hearty handshake.
"None, mate. Been drivin' the diggers through the night when yeh were slacking." Aldroch replied, a joking smile forming on the face.
"Pah", Aldraen answered. "You dwarves must be closer relatives to rocks than to other two-legged creatures, and thus you need as little sleep. Anyway, has there been any progress around the area?"
"Quite a good bit, we have some new theories about tha head building, we're testing some new things to find a way in." the dwarf answered. "Ye can take a look at it afterwards. But first, I'm gonna check on tha blast area in tha North Common Hall. Them geologists think we're gonna score jackpot there, they think there is a large chamber on the other side of the walls. Might be an alternative way into tha heart of the place, if we strike gold. Care te follow?"
Aldraen hesitated for a second, much more wanting to go join the others in trying to break open the biggest obstacle left. But an alternative path into the most important part of Uldaman, or at least more opportunites, was alluring as well. He settled for coming with Aldroch to watch the fireworks. Explosions were, after all, always as interesting to watch.
"Sure, I'll come. But don't drag it out, you know I want to press on. It's staggering to imagine what the inside of the true complex would look like."
They started walking towards the North Common Hall, further down into the earth.
"Have the other explorers had any breakthroughs when I've been asleep? Like with the statues you unearthed?" Aldraen asked.
"Nothin' yet. Though those two large behemoths are interesting, I find the collection of dwarf statues much more interestin'. They look almost alive, in a freaking-out way." Aldroch responded.
Those finds were the most interesting ones. The Explorer's League had found ancient urns, tablets, scrolls and things carrying runic signs and what appeared to be text, written in the same runic alphabet. But when they had breached the first gate at Dig One and could enter the main complex itself, they found several incredible dwarven statues in some kind of white stone. They had also got their hands on a pair of lumbering guardian statues. These hadn't even been placed in ways that seemed them intended as decorations. There had been one very special statue actually sitting down against a wall, all alone. But whatever purpose the stone masterworks filled, the best explorers available were working at it.
Aldraen followed his overseer friend as they walked down the dusty halls and narrow tunnels to the blast site. The room was built in the same way as the other excavated parts of the complex was, with a very high ceiling made out of black stone, square tiles in in the color of sand and olive green covering the floor. There were large pillars standing in systematic patterns along the hall. The architecture was so different from any buildings Aldraen had ever seen, and it always captivated him. The room was filled with excited dwarves, being diggers, pyrotechnicians, archeologists (as Aldraen himself) and a small force of mountaineer guards. Everybody were standing by for the blast and to be the first to enter the soon new accesible area.
Aldroch went over to talk to the chief geologist, asking for information and different data on the wall structure and such. Meanwhile, Aldraen went over to the wall that was going to be blasted open. There was a large crack through the otherwise beautiful stone walls, leaving a huge scar from the ground up to the roof where the tough, red Badlands mountain looked in. The geologist experts believed that there was another chamber behind it, and thus they were going to blast it open. Around the crack they had stacked lots of dynamite, TNT and different kind of volatile and and amazingly dangerous explosives. There had been severals large blasts around the complex before, but this one was off the scale.
"Are you sure about this, Droch?" Aldraen yelled over to his friend to make himself heard over the many voices.
"Ald, I've been blasting stuff since long before you were born. This is the only way through this Light-damn rock", Aldroch told him as he came over to inspect the explosives one last time. "Come, let's step back and let the experts do their magic"
"All clear outa tha area!" Droch shouted with his thundering voice to get everyone to cover.
Aldraen did as he was asked and went over to the barricades that had been fixed to protect against the blast and flying rocks. Seating himself at the side of a pair of junior diggers, he made sure to have the best position possible. Aldroch joined in behind a pair of large, heavy barrels at the left. After the rest of the people had taken cover, Aldroch motioned for a pyrotechnician to go ahead. The appearently seasoned dwarf walked up to the heap of explosives, set a lockwire and then ran back to safety.
"Fire in the hole!" the dwarf yelled when he ducked down behind the barricade.
The blast came moments later. The igniting charge set off the larger ones, creating an explosion large enough to rock the very core of the mountain and sending vibrations through the floor. The thundering crash resounded through the halls and tunnels, echoing and making it seem the blast still hung in the air. A large cloud of dust swirled up at the shockwave that luckily didnt affect those behind the barricades. The dust and sand cloud obscured the sight for everyone and it was as if a very dense fog had rolled in.
When the dust had began to settle and the shaking had receded, the crew came up again and a group of explorers took the lead in order to venture inside the hole. A couple of dwarves started applauding and another pair cheered. The explosion had blown apart a large bit of the wall, spreadingchunks of it and the ceiling around the area. The hole itself seemed pitch black from a distance, not affected much by the lanterns of the room. They were all swaying wildy from side to side after the shockwave.
"Wow." was all Aldraen could say to Aldroch as the ringing in his ears started to die down.
Another sound was taking the place of the ringing instead. A low rumbling sound along with sounds that were familiar to screeching of some kind. It sent shivers down the spine. Aldraen turned over to look at the newly blown way into the hidden chamber, bewildered. The front group had stopped at the edge, holding up torches and lamps to try and see into the blackness.
"What is that sound?" Aldroch asked into the air, echoing Aldraen's thoughts.
It didnt take long to find out. All of a sudden, a large, grey mass of what seemed like thinly furred, ape-like creatures burst out of the dark, screeching like mad. They were hunched over in their style of running, almost on all four. Aldraen's eyes widened in shock as what seemed and endless stream of berserking beasts charged and overtook the small party sent in to check the breach. The front team didn't stand a chance, taken by surprise, it only took a moment before they were covered in rampaging fiends.
"We're under attack! Boys, get in here!" Aldroch yelled to call for additional mountaineer support as he grabbed Aldraen by the arm, bringin him back to life. "Ye are no soldier, get out of here!", he told him.
Aldroch grabbed hold of the axe he had hanging at the waist and jumped into the fray to aid the others. Aldraen joined in with the diggers who didnt stay to fight, heading for the way out as the vicious foes were temporarily held up by the dwarven fighters.
The sound of calamity resounded in the hall as Aldraen ran for the way out. He only got a few yards before he suddenly was as something pounced him from behind, getting thrown at the hard stone floor and had his breath knocked out. The assaulter clawed furiously with sharp claws at its prey's back and shoulders. Aldraen rolled out of instinct to try and shrug off whatever had attacked him, and then hit with the elbow at the direction of it. A crunch of bones breaking and a high squeel of pain was heard, as the creature was hit in what felt like its face and jumped off him.
Aldraen staggered back up on his feet, trying to make it out with his lungs aching. He armed himself with a discarded mining pick from the floor. It would slow him down, by he couldnt afford having to face a foe blocking the path if unarmed. From the corner of his eye he saw a second one of the beasts rushing at him with swinging arms. Now getting a closer look on one of the foes for a second, he could see it was barrel-chested, with an oversized head with very large teeth and long arms that probably could reach the ankles. All this Aldraen took in in a split second, before he almost instinctivly launched a backhand strike with his weapon, aiming to strike his foe in the lung. Any warrior would have seen it coming, but the creature was obviously too stupid and ran straight into it. The sharp end went into the side of the beast with a squishing sound, delivering a most probably fatal wound and casting it aside because of the force of the blow. But as the foe fell, Aldraen was too late to notice a third foe coming at him from his right. It jumped at him, armed with a fist-sized rock, aiming a strike at the head being before there was any time to react. All Aldraen heard was a loud crack and the world exploded into white.
After what seemed like an instant, but likely was several minutes, he opened came back to his senses and opened heavy eyes. The world was blurry and the head pounded as if laid on an anvil and being hit on by one of the muscular dwarven blacksmiths.. The sounds of battle still rung in the air but seemed more distant. A dwarven face looked down on him.
"Get back on yer feet!", the dwarf told him. "I'm not gonna carry ye."
Aldraen shook his head to clear it, but quickly regreted it as the the thundering headache intensified. A he managed to get back up on his feet, he saw somebody had dragged him out of the danger for the time being. He was close to the excavation center and quite close to the surface.
"Thae mountaineers are keepin' them back, but not for long. Get back up and come!", the dwarf said while motioning for Aldraen to run.
Aldraen got on his feet again, feeling at the back of his head and noticing he was bleeding. From further down the tunnel he could hear the sound of armor being battered and the enraged screechings of the creatures. A dwarf man yelled the order to pull back and get all explorer crews evacuated.
He started running back up the tunnel as a number of retreating mountaineers came into sight back the bends. Sounds of what fiends were advancing came closer with echoes magnifying it. The muscles burned as he sprinted to reach what hopefully would be safety.
The desert had never felt so welcoming as when Aldraen finally made it out. The bright sunlight blinded him for a moment before he regained vision and saw a small company of mediumly armored mountaineers, those who had stayed outside Uldaman to keep the site safe from outside dangers. They had taken protective position around the cave entrance, and now two of them rushed forward to help Aldraen get behind their line and check if he was injured. He assured them he badly hurt and tried to convince the dwarf who seemed to be in charge of the force to let the troops advance into Uldaman to push the creatures back. He was turned down with the explanation that the riflemen easily could blast the enemies in a deadly crossfire out here in the open, but would be useless in the narrow underground tunnels.
Realising the truth in the captain's words, Aldraen sat down on a rock further back, panting and feeling helpless at the situation and for his collegues still inside.
"There's nothing ye can do. Let us take care of this", the captain said. "The others are over there" he continued, pointing over at a tent at the side of a large rock.
Aldraen's first thought was to head over and see if any of those he knew had made it, but instead stayed right behind mountaineer lines to help in any way possible.
Moments later, the screeches of the creatures grew louder as they approached. The mountaineers' grips on their axes and hammers tightened and the riflemen at the back of the force readied their guns. Aldraen felt a rising fear inside the chest.
As the cacafony reached its crescendo, the horde of grey fur and limbs appeared in the tunnelway. But just before the order to fire was given, the frontmost creatures screamed in confusion and pain as they were struck by the light of the sun, and fled back into their sanctuary. The ones behind followed suit and the wave retreated back into the darkness again.
"What in the name of the Light was that?", Aldraen asked breathlessly to a mountaineer at his left side.
"I have no idea. We've awoken something that shoulda been left alone", the dwarf answered.
Aldraen swallowed hard as he looked back into the darkness.
"What have we started?" he thought.