This was a tough scene to cut, because it was cathartic to me to write it, but it was also too much of an exposition dump. Vaulen gets a spot to shine here, giving us much more of his backstory. This far into Quantum Quest, we didn’t really get a good grasp of it, so losing this hurt, but it still exists in this form for superfans like you!
Bonus Extended Scene
Vaulen Lightfoot – Memories of Sadness and Rage
Devaniel hesitated for a moment, but he worked his magic, pulling away Vaulen’s bindings and discarding them to the aether.
Freed of his restraints, Vaulen fell to the ground, weary and contrite. He rested his brow on the heels of his hands, wondering how he could let things go so far.
For some time, there was only silence, except for the consistent sound of the rain dripping from the dwarf’s hair and clothes.
Recognizing the internalized pain, Devaniel stepped backward, leaning against his staff and the wall behind him. Worried as he was for Nyrshia, he knew they needed to take a breather.
“Are you okay, Vaulen?” the dwarf heard. He didn’t lift his gaze from the floor, even as he saw Urrabar’s boots come into view. “It’s all right you know. None of us is hurt, and we know it’s not your fault.”
Vaulen shook his head. “Actually, it is. The room must have felt this…this anger beneath everything. It didn’t take hold of ye or the elf. It got its grasp on me. I always have it there, waiting just beneath the surface.”
“We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” Devaniel said. “Your pain belongs to you, and if you’re not ready to share…”
“It belonged to me and me alone up until now,” Vaulen replied. “If this blasted place can reach into the very heart of ye, I owe it to the pair of ye to tell ye the truth.”
He paused to catch his breath and steady himself, and in that moment of silence, he saw Urrabar place his helmet on the ground, just beside him. Vaulen looked up to thank his companion, though he was almost unable to meet his gaze. But when the dwarf caught sight of him, he couldn’t resist a quick glance.
Urrabar stood there, his hat in his hands, a sympathetic look on his face. But it was the shiny surface of his head that had caught Vaulen’s attention.
“Yer bald!” the dwarf said.
Crossing his arms over his chest, the gnome scoffed. “Why do you think I wear the hat?” He brought out one of his hands a second later, rolling it forward to urge Vaulen on. “Get on with it. Tell your story.”
Vaulen stared for a moment more before shaking his head. “I…uh… Well, all right, I…” He closed his eyes, realizing that the truth he planned to speak was deeply personal, but integral to reveal to his allies in order to keep them safe.
He took a deep breath and peered at his friends, one after the other.
“When I was a wee lad back home, I lost me da,” he said, the recollection somber but without any weakness. “I must have been ten or so. It was just me and my ma for a while, living among the clan, in the same home me da had carved out of the stone for us.
“It wasn’t just the two of us for long, though,” he went on. “She was young though—had only had the one child—and was a beauty akin to an angel. A’course she woulda found someone again, but she found her way to a dwarf who had lost his lady the same way we had lost my papa. Strange and unforeseen. Rorig,” he said, almost unable to get through the name without drawing his lips back into a snarl as he spoke it.
“Things were all right for a while. He seemed to really care for her. Rorig was a lumberer, and after a day’s hard work, he always brought her home a flower he found on his journey. She always made sure that there was food on the table whenever breakfast or supper came. They knew that neither was each other’s first choice, but they were determined to make the best of their second chance.
“But things changed,” Vaulen continued. “It was like the mask was falling off him. In the first few years, I don’t ever remember him having a pint of ale—not exactly something the dwarves shy away from, as I’m sure ye know. Still, before it was expected of me ta drink the stuff on me own, he had barrels of the stuff in the home, almost overnight. I’d have taken him at his worst on those days than at his best in the months and years to come.” The dwarf looked off with a vacant stare into the room the spectral swords had been in, though they had long before withdrawn to their spots alongside the doorway.
Shaking his head to pull himself back toward the present, Vaulen interlaced his fingers as if in prayer. “It started off innocently enough, but it was plenty irritating. He would come home, more axe than handle, tottering this way and that until he fell doon to whatever place made him happy. And then the singing. By gods the singing. He would start as soon as the first mug hit his lips and wouldn’t stop until he’d fallen off—and then some! The bastard sang in his sleep. I was certain all the other members of the clan would come and give him a proper thrashing, but it never happened.
“Me ma had family who were keen to the situation. Things started off all right with them too, but as he carried on, they began to give up on him. He hunted with a few of me uncles, and early on, they’d even spent a week or so in a lodge up in the mountains, but when he started acting a fool, they went up without a mention to him, which seemed to set him off even more.
“It grew to a point where he wouldn’t even try to hide it. He wouldn’t force himself to go to work and pretend he could stand steady all day. I think maybe once or twice he may have felled a tree the wrong way and almost… He may have almost killed someone. And I think they telled him, ‘don’t even bother coming in till ye shake off whatever it is that’s got hold of ye.”
Vaulen clenched his fingers into tight fists as his story continued. “I think forcing him to stay home and think about his failings made things worse. Me ma would already be off and about, working at the mill to keep the clan fed and happy. I had started apprenticing with an armorer.” He smiled, having fonder recollections of his master than his stepfather. “He always wanted me in a little later. I think he just wanted a few hours where I wasn’t asking a thousand questions or foulin’ up a patch job.” He shook his head and waved his hands, trying to keep things on track.
“I remember one morning,” he said, pressing out his jaw as he recalled every nasty memory. “I was setting myself something to eat. It was one of those quiet days when you could hear the kinds of animals outside you don’t hear among all the bustle. Well, we had this sticky cupboard door in the kitchen—howled like a banshee on good days. Me hands are full, and I tap it to go back into place, and it pops as it swings onto its hinge. I didn’t think much of it. But the hinge couldn’t hold, and all of a sudden it falls and smashes to the table beneath it. You would have thought we were at war.
“I didn’t even know he was on his way, stomping forth like a crash of rhinotaurs,” Vaulen said with a shake of his head. “The noise was still fresh in my ears, and when I turned about, I was shocked straight to see him there. He didn’t ask nothin’. He didn’t give me any stern lectures. He just grabbed hold of me and lifted.”
Devaniel spotted the look in his friend’s eyes, and he impulsively reached for his staff. The anger wasn’t forced upon him by the room’s darkness though. Vaulen waved his hand, letting his companions know that, though they were painful memories, he was in control of his emotions.
“Rorig was tall—for a dwarf,” he specified. “Bastard was bound to be something that needed muscles, but I think he was a bit top-heavy to be a good fighter, so he went logging instead. Anyway, he’s strong as an ox and then some. He gets his hands on the collar of me shirt, and me fresh little beard,” Vaulen said, tugging a little higher up on the length of beard he had grown since then. “And when he lifts me off the ground, his fists are practically in me throat. I don’t remember what he said—he had to have said something—but it’s like I see it as though I was somebody else, watching. I don’t see him, or the anger on his face. I see myself, flailing in the air, scared of what’s about to happen. And I don’t remember being on the ground a moment later, or him walking away. That first time is all a blur. But just like with his drinking, things got worse, and they started to happen more often.
“He started slapping me around,” Vaulen hung his head, ashamed he hadn’t done anything to stop it, even as young and scared as he was. “First it was when me ma wasn’t in sight of it. And then he started to do it almost to spite her, I’m sure. Eventually I began to tolerate that it was me and not her that was getting this side of him. But she started to see it too, a’course. And he grew worse and worse. I didn’t see it at the time, but she was a lost soul amongst it all too. How could she have allowed him into our lives? And why couldn’t she bring herself to do anything about it? Shame and regret had us both trapped in our own home with this bastard, and there was nothing we could do about it.
“And then, he started pushing her around.
“I remember one day; she was going off to visit distant family in a different hall. If she couldn’t rely on the other dwarves of our clan, she’d at least find some respite farther away, at least for a little while. I think a part of me wondered if she’d ever come back. She asked me to come with her, but it had come out of nowhere that she’d decided to run off. My master at the blacksmith was preparing for a big project, and I didn’t want to let him down, but I think more of me just wanted to be stubborn. I wasn’t going to be kicked out of me own home. It was mine long afore it was his, and I was sick of it.
“I was never going to be as tall or as broad as him. I was never going to be as strong as him. But I could be better. I could be braver—I could walk into my house with my head held high.”
Vaulen sighed, recalling his failures. “That day when I came home, he was there waiting for me, or anyone else who would dare to come in through the front door. He was seated at the table, looking right up at me, with a hunter’s crossbow in his hands. I’m sure of it, if he had been a bit soberer, and a better shot, I might not be here today. But I wasn’t brave or even stoic. I ran like a dog with my tail atween me legs. And with no other member of the clan sticking up for us, I felt like I had nowhere to go. I remember sleeping out in the wilderness that night, just a small little hammer at my side if anything crawled up on me. And I didn’t have a blanket or a pillow… I just curled up where I was and hoped for night to pass quickly.”
“The next morning, I went home again, and I crept inside, hoping to whatever gods’d listen that he’d finally passed out. He wasn’t at the table, and neither was the crossbow. I just crawled into bed, trying to get some proper sleep.”
“Later that day, he went off to the mead hall, neither of us crossing paths. Other dwarves made their way to me home though, and word quickly spread. Someone had gone by me uncles’ home and shot a trio of bolts at it—with one even tearing past the door. I had wee cousins in there.”
“By that point, I didn’t care who knew it. I was going to kill the bastard. Oh, I wouldn’t have been able to do it fairly, I was sure. I was still a runt, and it seemed that all the ale had only cast a bigger mountain out of him. All I needed was one more push, and I’d beat him to bloody hell with my hammer while he slept.
“Before I could, Ma told him to gather up his things and get out. He griped and groaned, went from telling her he owned her to begging for forgiveness, swearing up and down that he would do better—he promised he would stop his drinking. And he did, for a while.”
Vaulen swept the strands of his hair from his face, pausing for a moment as he realized how dry they’d become. He knew that he had been talking for some time, yet Devaniel and Urrabar seemed engaged still. The dwarf nodded to them, knowing they needed to hear how his tale ended.
“There was something about it. It was as though the excess time he hadn’t taken a swig of an ale had made him an even more pleasant person than he was when he’d first come into our lives. But the first time he took a drink again, he was a worse monster than any time I’d ever seen him.
“One night, while Ma was gone, doing something or another, he came shuffling into the house, demanding to know where she was. I had no idea, and I tried to tell him. And then I tried to walk out of the house, and he shoved me back. He looked right at me and told me there were some things I needed to know.
“The first,” Vaulen said, “was that I needed to know how to protect myself. He had a knife in his boot, and he knelt down to grab it, and I felt my hand land on my mallet. He was up a second later, holding the blade to my throat, unsteady with the ale flowing through him. He wobbled enough to draw blood, but for some reason, he didn’t use it on me. Rorig handed it over to me, so that I could protect myself.
“The second thing I needed to know was to always demand respect. I thought he was toying with me then, seeing how I would react while he demeaned me and threatened me at the end of a blade. ‘Do you know who the last people to disrespect me was?’ he asked. ‘Your uncles,’ he said. He’d found out about them going hunting without him. And there, right in front of me, with no remorse or regret, he told me the truth about what he’d done. It was him that fired the crossbow, and he admitted it right to me. He’d shot at their house with his friend Liam, and together, the two of them took the crossbow and threw it in the nearest river. He wanted me to come at him with the knife, I know it. And a part of me wanted to more than anything.
“Before I could muster up the courage to do anything, he started to tell me about the third thing. Without any warning, he plucked his belt off, and dropped his trousers, confusing the hell out of me. But he pointed at his thigh, and a wide scar that was there. I needed to know that if someone doesn’t respect you, they have to pay. And the person who put that scar there was the last person who disrespected him. I never knew for sure, but I suspected since that night that his deceased wife had died because of him. With everything else that he was confessing to me, it felt as though he didn’t care if I knew about it or not. And knowing that was how he felt, I was certain one of us was going to die.
“‘I know where Ma is’, I said. ‘She’s planning on leaving you, and she’s talking to the fella who plans on taking your spot.’ All at once, it was like a fire burned in his eyes, and the fire burned out at the same time. He demanded to know who, and I swore up and down that I didn’t know—but I did know where he lived, out in the wilderness. So off we went, into the darkness, just he and I, with a hammer and a knife at the ready.
“I had us walking for what felt like hours, just trying to figure out how I was going to do it. And with him sobering up with every step, I knew I had to think faster than I did. As I played out every scenario in my head, over and over again, I had enough. I turned about, the knife in my hand, and stared right at him. He laughed at me, saying I would never dare to do anything. And I might not have—not for me. But if he’d have made me ma a prisoner, I could never have forgiven myself.
“I so desperately wanted to lunge forward. But doubt and fear held my hand, and he seemed to tower taller and taller with every passing second. And as he sobered and steadied, he grew louder, threatening me and anyone I knew. Tears in my eyes, I was ready.
“But I…I never got my chance,” Vaulen said, tilting his head as he recalled that fateful night. “A loud roar echoed out into the night, and it didn’t belong to either of us. I stepped back in horror when I saw it, and he turned about, and almost right away, it was as though he had never taken a sip of ale at all. A bear that towered over both of us snarled and threatened, and somehow, I was more scared than I had been the moment before. I was frozen solid, but Rorig tried to run. One slap of the bear’s club-sized paw was all it took to send him flying to ground, terrible gashes in his clothes and his flesh. He screamed out in terror and in pain, but a moment later, the bear was on top of him, crushing him under its weight as it tore into him. In what felt like seconds, Rorig was gone—no longer a threat to me or my mother.”
Vaulen shook his head, still confused about the distant memories. “I thought I was next, certainly, but the bear didn’t seem to care about me. Still, I couldn’t run or even sneak away. I just watched as the fellow I had planned on killing bled out on the ground, an animal feasting on his innards. For whatever reason, the bear didn’t finish him off—he was dead, certainly, but the bear didn’t bring his corpse back to its den or anything. And it knew I was still there, too. It just looked at me, almost with purpose and understanding, and it turned about and headed off to wherever it came from. Part of me thinks it was my da, coming to me when I needed him most. A’course, another part of me thinks it was just a mama bear trying to protect her cubs.
“Either way, I sat there for some time—I don’t even remember how I ended up on the ground,” Vaulen looked about, then. “It was just like this: dark, unsettling even though there was some relief found. As much as I was glad to be alive, I was lost with him dead on the ground. And not because I cared for him—it was because I couldn’t be the one who put him in his place. I had all this rage bubbling up inside me for years really. And to not have anywhere to put it felt terrifying.
“Over the years, there’s been a few times where I’ve felt my rage spilling out. Sometimes it’s when tragedy strikes, and I’m pulled back to those feelings of weakness and helplessness and abandonment. Sometimes I just can’t take it anymore.
“It was like that before I came here,” Vaulen said. “And I know, with all the terrible ways this place gets into your head, it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into the darker parts of me, waking them up and making me do things I don’t want to do.”
Urrabar bowed his head, his knit cap still in his hands as he considered what Vaulen had endured—both in the dungeon, and in the life he had beforehand. There were questions he wanted to ask, but he thought better of it, knowing that the journey ahead meant keeping their focus on the dangers they faced then, and not those distant memories.
“You didn’t hold me accountable for what happened when you first found me,” Devaniel said then. With a new voice entering the room after so long, it felt as though the weight of the air inside it had shifted somewhat. Vaulen looked up to his friend, who offered him a nod of support. “I had done far worse to you, and you’ve never for a second held me in contempt. Why would we hold you to anything worse? You may have shadows that live inside of you—we all do. But the dungeon’s power doesn’t come from awakening the darkness in us. It comes from where it can latch onto what doubts we have and make us second-guess our own quality. You’ve done nothing worthy of shame here, Vaulen. I don’t fear you or your inner anger anymore than I did before we entered this room.”
“He’s right,” Urrabar offered. “We don’t have anything against you. We’ve never seen the shadowy part of you except when it was necessary.”
“Well, it’s still there,” Vaulen admitted. “But I will say thatall my adrenaline is gone from me right now. I haven’t felt this fatigued since I found myself in this place. And a little rage might have been a plenty good thing against that beastie in there,” he said, pointing to the door to the death knight’s tomb.
“Well, you did just endure a monsoon, as well,” Devaniel countered.
Vaulen snickered. “Aye. That I did.”
“Come on,” the druid bade as he climbed to his feet. “I’m sure that after he throws us all around for a few minutes, you’ll find enough rage to help us out once more.”
As his companions shook out a bit of their fatigue, Vaulen rose as well. Caught somewhere between compunction and catharsis, he still didn’t have the strength he felt in him before they had entered the chamber. But with compassionate allies at his side, he knew he could find it again.
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