I realized much too late that a newcomer to my blog will have trouble figuring out what order to read these stories. From here out there will chapters along with titles. Hope you enjoy this installment.
Hours later the party ate a small meal and readied themselves for more exploring. Cinching her bedroll tight, Seraphina shouldered her pack and picked up her bow. She watched Erky swipe left and right with his dagger, mimicking Adran’s blade strokes. Malark was already pulling the wedged pitons from one of the doors. They had decided to leave one door blocked, and figured the door with the trap was the better bet. Any attempt to batter the door should trigger the trap and at least injure their enemies.
Lia was pacing. Nervous energy building in her. She was tossing a ball of flame from hand to hand, her eyes intense and focused on something far away. When Malark freed the last wedge, she went straight to the door, opening it. Adran started to say something, then shrugged and followed her. The others followed them into a large, columned chamber. Torches were lit on a number of sconces hanging from the columns. A haze of smoke hung in the long room. Flitting from column to column, they advanced to the far door. Four other doors led off this large chamber. Lia was leading the way, determinedly heading to the far door. Pressing her ear to the door, she stepped back almost immediately.
“Noise. Lots of noise. Voices. Banging. That room is full.”
Looking at the three closest doors, Adran pointed to his right. “Always go right.”
“Why?” Seraphina looked perplexed.
“So, you go in a circle instead of wandering.”
“We’ve gone left plenty.”
“Maybe. I feel like right is the way to go.”
“Malark?” Seraphina looked up the human.
“Go straight. Find more gobbos. Malark fight.”
“Ok, fair point. Lia?”
“Nothing here. She was listening at the door Adran pointed at. “That door,” pointing at the noisy door “doesn’t feel right. There is too much noise there. Try here.” This time she waited for the others. Repeating their earlier entries. She pulled the door open, letting Adran and Seraphina scan, then rush in. Malark followed, Erky close behind the big man. Lia scattered a few of the caltrops she scavenged the day before. Smiling to herself, she flung a bolt of flame to the far door, setting the wood alight before closing this door behind her.
Adran checked right again, realizing the short tunnel led back to the columned chamber. The only other way led deeper into the fortress.
“Going left, I see.” Seraphina pointed out.
“Right goes in a circle. Now we know.” Adran peered around the corner, then waved them on.
Pausing at another door, Adran listened then motioned for Lia. “Come listen. Is the same chamber as before?”
Lia pressed her ear to the door, and nodding after a moment. “Yes. Busy place. A communal room?”
Adran shrugged. “Possibly. Goblin tribes aren’t all warriors.” He pointed to another door at the end of the passage. “Forward?”
Malark answered for them all, moving to open the door. He frowned, then flexed, swinging his sword from side to side. “Sore.” He murmured. Looking back at the others, he nodded and pulled the door open, rushing in.
A wide, circular chamber surrounded a circular, low wall. The wall surrounded an opening that looked every bit like a large well. Sickly white and grey vines spill over the wall, a dim violet light shining from the dark chasm. Torches hung on the walls, casting more light in the open space.
Two hobgoblins in chainmail stood off to one side, surprised by the party’s entrance. Another hobgoblin in chainmail was leaning on a spear next to a much larger hobgoblin sitting on a crude throne, his feet up on a black iron chest. The leader hobgoblin worn ornate armor, fitted pieces worked in a curious shape. Next to the throne was a scraggly bush growing in a stone pot. A goblin sat cross-legged next to the pot, a feathered shaft laying across its lap. Its eyes were closed, though their lips were moving, as if speaking to someone.
The larger hobgoblin’s skin was darker red-orange than the others. Deeper creases and various scars covered his face. Seeing the party enter, he pointed and shouted in Goblin. Those that didn’t understand Goblin got his point. His three guards all drew swords and howled.
Malark charged the closest foe. He was raging in anger, bellowing insults and threats. Bashing his shield into one of the hobgoblins he knocked his foe to the ground, then turned and began to duel with the other. Swords clanging, the foes circled and feinted, breathing curses and testing each other.
Adran shot an arrow at the guard near the war boss. The guard deflected the arrow with a snarl, moving to protect his leader. Seraphina shot an arrow as well, her shot skipping off its shoulder guard. Adran tossed his bow aside, drawing his sword. Seraphina drew and nocked another arrow.
Lia moved to help Malark, shooting the prone hobgoblin in the thigh with her crossbow, catching it under its’ chain armor. Slinging the crossbow, she began to swirl her hands, flames licking across her fingertips.
Malark’s foe mock fled, stepping back rapidly before charging and swinging her sword wildly. Malark deflected the blow, and slashed a deep cut across the hobgoblin’s arm in return. The prone foe scrambled backwards, away from Lia, trying to regain his footing, grabbing the wall of the well to pull himself up.
The last guard charged Adran; sword held high. He slashed and parried in a frenzy, only managing a slight cut on Adran. Grinning a wicked smile, he growled out “Elf flesh for dinner!”
Shouldering his way past the guard, the leader howled a challenge to the elf. Adran finally recognized the Hucrele crest worked into the chest pieces. A large signet ring glinted on the leader’s hand as he flashed his blade down. Barely blocking the stroke, Adran grunted with the effort.
Seraphina loosed one more arrow before drawing her blades. The arrow flew straight and true, her target was distracted watching his leader duel Adran. Catching him in the eye, the arrow pierced deep, killing it outright. Snarling at the halfling, the leader drew his sword back, readying a crushing blow. Adran slipped his own sword low, then up in a blinding fast stoke. His blade cut through a weak point, slashing the leader. He howled something that sounded like a command after feeling the blade’s bite.
Malark shield bashed his foe’s sword aside, slashing his sword down in a fierce stroke, parting chain and burying the blade deep in the hobgoblin’s chest. Backing away from the blade, the hobgoblin stumbled when her feet met the well wall. Malark sensed her peril, and rushed in, shield up, knocking her over the wall and into the well.
Lia flung a bolt of flame at her foe, scorching his skin, but not wounding him. Her eyes flashed violet, burgeoning power building in her. She danced back, watching her foe ready a charge. He bellowed, then sprinted at her. Swinging his sword, his charge was reckless, footing unsure. He stumbled when he swung, missing Lia entirely. She used his misfortune to cast another fire bolt, this time catching him in the face, burning and nearly blinding him. Her mouth was curled in a cruel smile as she blasted him again, killing the beast.
Adran and the leader were clashing blades, trading light cuts, but neither able to gain an advantage. Slipping in with nimble quickness, Seraphina slashed her twin blades in a flurry of strokes before darting away. Blood ran from the multitude of cuts she gave the hobgoblin leader. Worried now, he shouted something in Goblin again, looking briefly at the seated goblin. Backing up, he yelled louder, seeming to head for another door.
“Parley!” He finally shouted. “Parley!” He was reaching for a pouch at his belt, pulling a small vial of red liquid from within.
Adran lowered his sword slightly and Seraphina dropped her guard. Lia’s fingers were glimmering, wreathed in flames. Only Malark reacted to the call for parley, hurling a javelin that skewed the leader in the throat. Dropping the vial and his sword, he grabbed at the wound, pulling the javelin free, gurgling and coughing blood. The ‘shrub’ in the pot leapt free, hissing and slashing, charging at Adran. Lia casually flicked her fingers and blasted the shrub, causing it to burst into flames. Adran smashed the flaming bush aside, the creature falling to the ground and burning into ash.
All four were breathing hard, the fury of the fight catching up. The seated goblin opened her eyes as the hobgoblin leader fell to his knees. Pointing a finger at the leader, she spoke a few words and a mote of black energy flew from her fingertip to pierce the hobgoblin chief. His life force spent; he fell over without a sound.
“Bad man. Very bad.” Spoke the goblin as she got to her feet. “No fight with you,” she added, bowing low.
Malark rose to his full height, fury still in his eyes. Adran raised a hand, “Peace, brother warrior. Perchance we can negotiate a peace between these goblins and the kobolds.”
Growling, Malark stared at the elf. Flexing, he glanced at the goblin, then back at Adran. “Kill. Them. All.” His voice was low, dangerous and vengeful.
“Stay your sword. For now. Please?” Seraphina had her hand resting on the big human’s sword grip. “We aren’t finished here. We can’t fight them all.” She winked, and whispered “Not yet.” Lowering his sword, Malark finally nodded.
Turning to the goblin, Seraphina pointed her sword. “No fight with you, IF,” she emphasized, “If you cease your attacks on the kobolds. They have as much right as you to exist.”
The goblin sighed, looking at each of the four adventurers before responding. “If we stop our war with the kobolds, you leave my tribe in peace?”
Stepping in front of Malark, Seraphina answered. “We will. But, if we find out you have broken our peace, my big friend will kill you all.”
Bowing low, the goblin backed away, gripping the door handle before adding, “It will be so” and disappearing into a dimly lit chamber.
Adran moved to the fallen hobgoblin. Slipping the ring off his finger, he rummaged through the dead chief’s pouches. Shaking the fallen potion, he took a drink and recapped it. “Finish this, Malark, you need your strength still.”
Malark caught the tossed vial, opened it and drained it. “Finish all this. We go down.”
Nodding, Adran was looking at a black iron key. He knelt in front of the chest and unlocked it carefully, flipping the lid back revealed a stash of gold coins. “Fill your purse with this Lady Seraphina. This will keep us all fed and housed.” He dipped his hands in the coins, lifting them and letting them clatter down.
Lia was moving from body to body. Lifting a few coins from each. “Not likely these two bought this jewelry” she snickered and she held up a set of moonstone earrings and matching necklace. “Fancy jewels for hobgoblins.” Pocketing the jewels, she began cutting the leather straps of the hobgoblin’s chain shirts. “No sense leaving easy pickings for whoever comes next.”
Malark was looking down into the well pit. His face softly lit with the phosphorescent glow of the fungi growing up the pit walls. Violet light cast his face into harsh relief. His gaze was distant, eyes misty. Muscles rippled under his scarred skin, nervous energy building. He didn’t move until Seraphina touched his arm lightly. He jumped, startled and breaking his distant thoughts.
“Beggin’ your pardon Mr. Malark, but we are ready.”
He looked down at Seraphina, and smiled his scowl-grin. “Ready. Malark ready.”
“So creepy” she murmured to herself, shaking her head and smiling in amusement at his strange customs.
All four stood side by side, looking into the gaping well. The fungi lit the walls, stretching down fifty feet or more. The bottom was lit by the same strange fungi, deep shadows hiding any detail. Listening carefully, they heard nothing but the soft sigh of a gentle breeze. Cool and damp, the air moved in a whisper.
“More than dungeons down there” Seraphina said, her voice soft and matter-of-fact.
“Oh?” Lia replied
“The wind. Must be caves down there. Big ones that open into the Underdark, and probably other places, too. Living underground and all.” Seraphina blushed, shrugging in modesty.
Malark reached his hand to Seraphina. “Carry little friend. Ride Malark.”
Seraphina smiled and grabbed his huge forearm with both hands, letting him sling her up to sit atop his pack. Grabbing hold of the thick straps, she giggled. “Tallest one now!”
Malark barely let her get settled before throwing his leg over the edge and beginning to climb down. The others quickly followed. All save Erky, the travel-worn halfling. He looked over the wall, into the dark, then back at the door leading to his former goblin captors. Several glances back and forth steeled his resolve. He had a chance with his new friends. He had none with the goblins. Grasping handfuls of fungi tendrils, he hoisted himself over the lip and began following the rest of the small party down.
The well shaft opened into a large square chamber. Ropes of fungi dangled from the ceiling to the floor of the forty-foot-high chamber. The climbers let themselves down the thick, twisted fungal vines until they stood in a forest of mushrooms, fungi, and blighted, pale plants. Two hunched figures tended this underground garden.
They seemed unfazed by the climbers. Until they stood in the fungal garden. When they set foot in the damp soil, the two figures turned baleful eyes on the five newcomers. Looking up caused ragged hoods to slip off weathered, ancient skulls. Raising garden tools as weapons, the skeletal gardeners charged the party.
Distracted by the skeletons, they almost didn’t notice a pair of twisted blights creeping through the fungal garden.
“More bush things!” Seraphina warned. Lia was already holding a ball of flame in each hand, and was the first to react. She hurled a small ball of eldritch fire at one of the evil blights. Her aim was true, causing the living shrub to catch fire, its dried form flickering and dancing as fire consumed it.
Malark and Adran dueled with the skeletons. Swords clashed with tools, shattering the wooden shafts, before cutting into bone. Malark shield-blocked a weak slash before disarming the skeleton, his blade smashing bone apart. Clawing at Malark, the skeleton was relentless. Hacking it apart, the barbarian cut and smashed until bones piled at his feet.
Adran took a shallow cut from the rusty shovel his foe swung with both hands. Missing a return strike, he parried another attack, then swept his blade low, knocking the skeleton off its feet. Stomping down on the shovel, Adran struck a killing blow, crushing its skull into shards.
The last blight circled the party, feinting in, then withdrawing into the violet-hued shadows. Seraphina drew and fired a quick shot, just missing the vile bush-thing. Lia was holding a ball of flame still, watching for other threats in the large chamber. Erky held the borrowed goblin sword upright, more like a hammer or mace than a blade. He made exaggerated swings at the blight, slashing down then bringing the jagged blade up into a guard position.
Lia watched the other two finish off the skeletons, then flung her flames at the last enemy. The blight ducked the flash of fire, a patch of huge mushrooms bursting apart in flame and heat, steaming rising in the cool cave air. With only the sound of creaking twigs to mark its movement, the blight hurled itself at Lia. Attempting to sidestep the attack she stumbled over a low patch of toadstools, pitching over. Seraphina was ready with another arrow, her aim true. The arrow ripped through the blight, ending its violent attack.
Gathering to check one another, they shared their observations of the chamber. Descending on the tangled vines had taken much of their concentration. To one side, a natural cavern opened off the square room. A pair of doors indicated further passages.
“That door first?” Seraphina pointed with an arrow at a corner door, opposite the cave.
“Malark stepped on the remaining skull, smashing it into bone shards, before striding off across the chamber. Smashing aside mushrooms and pale plants with every step. The others ran to catch up. Malark was in a mood to fight, his anger and rage barely contained. He reached the door, ahead of everyone else, and barely paused before wrenching it open and stalking into the gloom beyond.
“He’s gonna get killed,” Seraphina murmured to herself, running to catch up.
The passed through a narrow tunnel, maybe ten feet wide. It ran for some forty-five feet before opening into a long, jagged cleft in the rick. The floor of the cleft was several feet below the tunnel floor. Malark stopped at the edge. Peering into the darkness, he slipped of his pack, rummaging for a torch. Seraphina stepped around him, looking in both directions, then across the cleft.
“Look Malark,” she pointed. “The tunnel seems to continue over there. It’s like a giant axe split the ground.”
Striking flint on steel, Malark lit a torch then held it high, the flicker of light casting deep shadows across the cleft.
“Whoa. Look at those holes!” Seraphina jumped down, and knelt next to a round hole seemingly melted in the solid rock floor of the cleft. She ran her fingers along the edge. “It’s so smooth.” Studying the dusty floor of the ragged cleft, she traced a curving line. Following it further with her eyes, she looked up at Malark. “I don’t like snakes much” she said softly. “ ‘specially not big snakes.”
“Snakes?” Lia was standing on the cleft lip looking around Malark and down at Seraphina. “What kind of snakes?”
“Pretty big snakes” Seraphina told her, backing towards the lip. Slipping her bow over her head, she clambered back up to the tunnel floor. “Ten feet or more” she added, slipping behind Lia.
“Don’t hide behind me!” the sorcerer stammered, “I hate snakes!” Her voice had taken a shrill, pitched tone. “Let’s go back. Away from here.”
“Seems deserted anyway”, Seraphina murmured. Looking up at Malark she added “No gobbos back there, Mr. Malark. They must be the other way.”
“Are you sure?” Adran had caught up. “We don’t want to leave enemies behind us.
“Pretty sure Mr. Adran. Didn’t see any tracks in the dust.”
Malark didn’t wait for anyone to make a decision. He stomped off, back towards the garden chamber, torch held high.
“Probably shouldn’t let him get too far ahead” Seraphina was off before waiting for a reply. She passed Erky who was still heading towards the cleft in the tunnel.
“Beggin’ yer pardon ma’am, but weren’t we going that way?” he pointed. She didn’t even pause.
“Nope. We are following Mr. Malark.”
The others had to work to catch up with the angry brute. He was entering the cavern across the chamber before they could catch him. Seraphina saw him hurl his torch into a larger cave deeper inside the rock and begin to swing his sword. Sighing, she sprinted after him.
Malark kicked a huge rat aside and charged a hulking, fur-covered beast. His foe was swing a crude morning star, a spiked ball on a heavy shaft. It was bellowing and huffing at Malark. Another rat charged out of the dark at Seraphina. She stabbed and slashed, mortally wounding the creature. The other snarled, looking between Malark and Seraphina. Before it could decide who to attack an arrow flashed by Seraphina, tearing through the rat, flipping it over with the force of impact.
Malark was swinging his sword with both hands, brutal, crushing strokes smashing into the other creature’s weapon. One. Two. Three. Devastating blows that knocked spikes off the head, then knocked the weapon from its’ hands. Unarmed, Malark made a back-stroke slash, before a last stroke dug deep into the creature’s neck. Blood spewed from the deep wound, flowing across the blade before he drew it free, the pull of sharpened steel opening the wound even more.
Malark spit in the face of the dying beast, then punched, the blow knocking it backwards. He was huffing with the effort of the fight. Blood spattered across his face. He looked down at the dying creature, then back at the others. “Big greenskin.” He stalked off to pick up his torch.
Lia and Adran quickly searched the area while Erky and Seraphina stood guard at the cave entrance. Adding a few coins to their pouches before they both ended up at the back of the cave.
“Look here” Lia called to the elf. “A tunnel.”
Adran joined her, peering into the dark. “Curves too fast, I can’t see anything.”
“Should we?” Lia motioned slightly towards the tunnel.
“There is a slight breeze from there. Cooler air. I bet it goes deep, very deep.”
Lia sniffed, looking into the blackness. “I don’t smell goblins. It smells of rock and earth.”
Adran sighed. “So many doors, and tunnels, and caves.”
Lia laughed softly. “Opening doors and wandering in the dark isn’t for full-bloods?”
“Not for me, at least.” he replied. “Appears to be a pretty narrow tunnel to be used much. What do you think?”
“I think we needed to find more stuff for him to kill.” Lia was looking at Malark while he broke several spears and arrows he had found. “And soon.”
“Go through that other door?” Adran looked back into the dark. “Now we have two possible threats behind us.”
“And a definite threat ahead of us. Can you handle a druid?”
“Yes?” Adran didn’t meet Lia’s gaze.
“If you can’t, should we just leave now? We have one ring. That would be a fair pay for some tough work.”
Adran didn’t reply. He chewed his lip, and looked from the tunnel to the rest of the party.
Lia held up her hands and made a face. “I mean, you’re a druid. And I have a few spells still. Beyond this.” She flicked her fingers and tossed a bolt of flame down the tunnel. “Two casters against one. Not terrible odds.”
“No, not terrible.” Adran finally nodded. “Through the door? All or nothing, we find and defeat this druid, or we run.”
“Better run faster than me, pure blood.”
Adran watched the little fire burn out before following his pyromaniac companion.