The sensation of traversing the portal was not unlike that which I had felt as I fell into the sky out of the haunted forge, but it was over in a moment.
We were at the edge of a similar stony dwarven chamber to the one we had left, but this one was larger and ringed by stone portals, perhaps a dozen in all. A star-shaped frame of enormous coppery nodes, larger than those which had operated the single portal we had just traversed, hung from the high stone ceiling. It seemed this was a hub of sorts for a network of the portals.
Scattered about were broken stone workbenches, shattered fragments of elaborate glass tubing, rotted barrels and steel pipes long since gone to rust. Deep grooves in the ground indicated some kind of carts or barrows had traversed along carefully cut lines running between portals this way and that. Perhaps it was a magical echo, or perhaps merely a flight of fancy, but in my mind’s eye I saw a bustling hub of dwarfs going to and fro through portals glowing with the solid blueish light I associated with the runic magic I had seen from time to time in the West. I knew the sickly green light of the portal we had come through was unnatural. Something about it screamed out the debasement of goblins and hobgoblins turning dwarven craft against its proper use.
Ashirk stepped forward, and the light of the portal behind us ceased, plunging the room into what at first was darkness - but soon came to be the same gloom I had been used to throughout the caverns. Glowing fungi again lit the way as the assassin stepped not towards one of the stone portals, but towards a crudely dug hole that seemed to have been smashed into the fine-cut stone. I followed close behind, and soon enough, brighter flickering lights were visible at the end of this dank, filthy earthen tunnel.
There was someone milling about and muttering in the chamber we were approaching. I could not make out words, but a constant babble of agitation as bottles clinked and some kind of wet slapping sound, like the shaping of clay, seemed to accompany the complaints.
We drew closer, and there was a sudden stop, as though the creature in the chamber had frozen. I heard breathing, but Ashirk did not seem perturbed.
“Oi!” exclaimed a vicious goblinoid voice, as yet invisible in the green glow coming from the rounded hole that led to the room beyond. Just as the entryway to this passage, it was a shattered hole in a wall built of solid dwarven stonework. It felt not unlike something a beast or even vermin would dig out. This creature was squatting in the empty glories of a bygone age, showing little regard for them. But when did greenskins show regard for anything?
“Don’t come no closer!” called the voice, and Ashirk paused just at the edge of the glowing light. “Or you’ll get it!”
Haltingly, Ashirk called out.
“I come from above. I bring a slave. We must bargain.”
“Ashirk, you sneaky git! Ain’t no fooling me… I feel it in me bones. You’re nasty, you’re here with nasty notions, and your little dog too,” called back the goblin. I could only barely make out his meaning by Ashirk’s mental connection. Whatever brutal greenskin tongue he spoke in was vicious and sharply accented, well beyond any I had heard thus far.
Ashirk rolled his eyes and stepped forward into the ruined entrance, whereupon a great spectral green hand snatched him up into the light. I heard a sickening crunch within, and felt a body blow as though Ashirk had been smashed against a wall. He was still gripped tightly in the enormous hand. What was this creature?
“Alright… try me, doggy… just try me…”
I could tell this was going to hurt, but I could hardly turn back.
The instant I stepped into the glow of the entrance a blinding flash overwhelmed my senses. I was struck upside the head by what I assume was another spectral green fist. It dissolved into tattered, ghostly chains and bindings that covered my body, limbs and face. I could hardly breathe, but the force did not relent - dragging me up and over into a terrible upright wooden table, whose physical bonds and bindings immediately lashed into life, tightly cutting through the spectral restraints and fixing me in place across the wrists, ankles, chest and forehead. I felt waves of awful itching as terrible magical eyes squinted at me, glaring from within an awful distorted crescent moon, from within the face of a huge and terrible wolf, from -
A diminutive, dark-green-skinned goblin, wearing a vast black cloak and gripping a staff tipped with the wings of what appeared to be a - bat?
I realised with some horror that they were the rotting wings of an actual bat, nailed in place crudely through its small torso.
This twisted shaman had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and glowing red eyes peering from beneath a peaked black hood almost as tall again as he was. His chin and nose were curved toward one another in an awful, hooked symmetry, and his tightly drawn gaze glared out from a face regarding me with utmost hatred and suspicion.
“You useless git, Ashirk! You want me dead? Do it yourself!”