Lia had gathered the others by the time Adran rejoined them. Peering into the strange, fungal garden, Malark was tense and edgy. Bouncing from foot to foot, swinging the long blade he wielded in carless, loose swipes. Seraphina was measuring arrows from one of the barrels in the room, and stuffing some into her quiver. Erky looked peaked, nervousness in his face, posture and manners. Lia flicked small motes of flame onto anything that could burn, setting the place alight.
“On?” Adran spoke the question they all had.
“I think we have to.” Seraphina spoke after a long pause. “No place down here to rest up. The goblins are back up top, and their master is somewhere down here.”
“And so far, no sign of this wild man. The druid. Or wizard.” Lia looked around as she spoke. Barrels, furs, a small chest, every flammable object cracked with yellow flames. “Or whatever he is.”
“Malark?” Adran was watching the big man pace.
“Find bad man. Kill bad man. Leave this place.”
“Erky?” Adran looked down at the tiny halfling.
“Oh, um Mr. Elf, I don’t…” He stammered.
“Just stay close. Hide if you need to. It is far too dangerous to just leave you here.”
“We’ll protect you. You’ll see.” Seraphina smiled her kind, warm smile.
Erky blushed, and looked away, “Hide. Yes, I can do that” he murmured.
“One more door.” Adran looked towards the stout door.
“Or a bunch” Lia snickered and winked, leaving the now-smoky cave for the musty air of the garden.
“Erky, might you do the honors?” Seraphina nocked an arrow and nodded towards the closed door. “Stay back, let us fight.”
Slipping one of his daggers into his worn belt, Erky grabbed the handle and looked back at the others. Pulling with all his might he tugged the door open.
Malark rushed ahead of the others, blocking any shots the archers might have. Shrugging, Adran raced after the impatient, angry warrior.
They found themselves in a long, columned chamber. Ten tall, carved columns supported a vaulted ceiling. Three aged, wooden doors lined each of the long walls. Debris and supplies littered the open area. There were distinct paths worn in the debris and rubble on the floor, connecting all of the doors. A faint hammering sound came from one of the doors, though it was too indistinct to tell from which door.
Lia had an eyebrow cocked; her eyes fixed on Adran. When he muttered “More doors” she blew a kiss and laughed out “told you.”
“Be wary. Too many doors.” Adran slung his bow and drew his sword. He pulled a small twist of thorny vine from a pouch on his belt, holding it like a tiny whip. He nodded towards the closest door, crouching in readiness. Seraphina stood next to him, bowstring taut, fingers at her cheek.
Erky tugged on the door, pulling it open on oiled hinges with barely a whisper, revealing a square room beyond. Rough pallets covered in furs and dirty blankets lay strewn across the room. Two of the pallets were occupied by snoring goblins, deep asleep.
Adran held his finger to his lips, motioning with his head to Erky to close the door.
“Why not kill?” Malark’s eyes were blazing, anger and restrained action making him more dangerous than ever.
“We don’t kill sleeping enemies.”
“Elf not kill them. Malark kill them all.”
“Easy, my friend,” Adran rested his hand on Malark’s sword hilt. “There is no honor in slaying a sleeping enemy.”
“Elf wake greenskins. Then Malark kill them.”
Adran pulled a piton from his pack, and slipped it under the door, wedging it tight. “Not now. Maybe, maybe they wake and come at us. Then I’ll slay them with you. With honor. Your brothers taught you honor?”
The huge man looked away; eyes misty for the briefest of moments. “Yes. Honor. Not fight fair, fight to win. Fight with honor.”
“There will be more goblins, I am sure of it. Come, let’s find them.”
Moving across the hall, Erky was ready when Malark and Adran nodded. The door swung open spilling out a strong scent of sourness. Fermenting fruit. Vinegar. Stacked barrels and several vats filled the room. Two goblins were naked in a large vat, arm in arm, stomping away. Wet squelches and splashes accompanied each of their steps. Fully absorbed in their stomping, they barely noticed the open door.
Finally looking at the elf and the man crowding the door, they gave no response. Neither was armed, though a pile of clothing and a pile of weapons lay close at hand.
“Wait, my big friend. Let them decide.” Adran held his hand close to his cheek, an arrow drawn. Calling back to Seraphina, he added “tell them to surrender. To go up and wait with the rest of their clan. Flee, or we cut them down.”
Seraphina repeated the command, her soft voice croaking and grating in the goblinoid tongue. Neither responded, so she repeated her words. Then spoke soft and low, “I don’t think they have any intention of leaving.”
One of the shifty gobbos gave a furtive glance at the pile of weapons, his muscles tensing slightly. Malark caught the intention, hurling an axe in a swift, underhanded motion. Splitting the gobbo’s face, the axe buried deep in the creature’s skull. The other dove from the vat, arms scrambling for a weapon. Adran led his movement, a soft “tsk” of disdain for their choice as the arrow sailed true, spearing the skinny beast, and knocking it aside. Malark was moving before the goblin stopped sliding, slicing down in a sweeping overhand sword stroke, cleaving the goblin in two.
“Find bad greenskins.” He spit on the dead creature and turned to stalk out of the room.
Adran rummaged through the pile of clothing and equipment, fishing a few coins from the pile. Rejoining the others he spoke, “We gave them a chance, Malark, and that is honor.”
Lia and Seraphina were already at the next door, listening for signs of danger. Erky movement was slow, his fear and discomfort evident to the rest of the small party. He stopped, looking at the other doors in the long hallway.
“What if, and begging yer pardon, but what if one of these rooms is just full of goblins? Or worse.”
Seraphina turned, and gave him a broad, kind smile. “Then we let Mr. Malark really go. Point him at the goblin crowd, and turn him loose. You’ll see, you’ll be fine, just fine. Can you open this door? Someone is inside, and it’s not the bad man.”
Erky looked up at Malark, sizing him up. Sighing, he moved to open the door, mumbling “Wasn’t meant for this.”
Drawing her bow, Seraphina nodded. When Erky pulled the door open, the two ladies stepped into the opening, arrow and bolt searching for targets. The square room was similar in dimensions to the others they had searched in this hall. Torches hung from the walls. Sputtering flames cast light across several tables and benches. Shelves were crowded with jars and loose papers. “Right” was all Lia said as they both saw a pair of goblins looking at a huge rat tied to the heaviest bench. Looking up when the door swung open, one of the goblins screamed, his face in an ugly snarl. Both drew daggers and crouched, snarling and spitting.
Arrow and bolt were flying without another word. Both goblins dove aside, avoiding the deadly projectiles. Lia set her crossbow down and drew a dagger with one hand while snapping her fingers on the other. Flames flared across her fingertips. Seraphina drew another arrow, letting it fly before the goblin could even register its flight, The deadly arrowhead buried deep in the goblin’s shoulder, causing it to wail in pain. The other charged Lia, dagger slicing from side to side. Blocking one thrust with her own blade, she tossed fire into the creature’s face, blinding it and charring its skin. Seraphina stepped up, swinging her bow with both hands, smacking her foe in the face, snapping his head back. She kicked it, boot connecting in the tender bits, causing another yelp of pain before she drew another arrow, stabbing it in the eye, killing it. Lia dodged a dagger slash, then stabbed the blind goblin in the throat, black-green blood spilling across her hand. Slicing the dagger to one side, she parted its neck, dropping her foe.
Scanning for more threats, the two approached the bench. A huge, bloated rat was tied down. Rough, woody protrusions covered its body. Growing everywhere, one massive growth covered its face, eyes hidden behind the gnarled tumor. It wailed and gnashed its teeth, struggling at the bonds holding it tight. Lia looked at Seraphina for just a second before plunging her blade into the struggling creature. With a hissing gasp, it expired, sagging under the weight of the many tumor-like growths.
“Adran?” Lia’s face was a grimace of disgust, “come look at this. It’s…. Actually, I don’t know what it is.”
Seraphina was looking around. Several jars held similar woody growths suspended in liquid. A few pieces of material had been carved off the rat and were lying next to open jars. Sniffing one, she looked back at Lia, “Some sort of alcohol.” She noticed a crystal vial, a carved stopper in place, on a table in the rear of the room. She moved to pick it up. Holding it up, she looked at the swirling contents. Shrugging, she tucked it into a pouch. Turning, she saw Adran looking at the dear rat in disgust.
“Dagger, please?” he absently reached for Lia’s dagger before poking and prodding the dead creature. “Curious. I’ve seen creatures spout growths similar to these. Though they are usually fleshy, not so…”
“Tree like?” Lia asked. Watching the blade tip poke at the tumors.
“Something like that.”
“Erky mentioned a tree. Do you think this is related?”
“Possibly. The tree had a name, though I do not recall hearing it before. Have you?”
“Sorry, you are the nature guy. Trees are trees to me.”
“You may want to keep that opinion to yourself should you ever encounter a treant. Your opinion, and your strange fascination with fire should not be shared with woodland denizens.”
“Treant?” Lia cocked her head, lips pursed, “is that one of those talking trees Granma‘am was always talking about?”
“Talking tree?” Adran made a clicking tsk sound before replying. “And never, ever, refer to a treant as a ‘talking tree’, that might very well be your last utterance, friend. Treants are the wisest and most powerful of the Sylvan spirits that walk Faerûn. And some of the oldest living creatures. Was your grandsire of Pure birth?”
“Pure birth.” Lia’s eyes flashed purple, fire playing across her fingertips. Growling her reply “MY birth was pure. You pure birthed Tel’Quessircan go Karshoj ardahlominak.” The last vocals were guttural and harsh. Venom dripping from every syllable. Her hands turned to flame that she flung at the dead rat before stalking off, muttering more deep, guttural words.
“What in Yondalla’s name did you say to her?” Seraphina had been searching the various shelves and tables while the other two spoke.
“I…” Adran held his tongue for a moment. “I think I might have offended her. I meant no disrespect.”
“Might have? Mr. Elf, have you never seen an offended woman? Of any race? You most definitely offended Ms. Lia. Deeply. I have no idea what she said, but I sure know what she meant.”
“I…” Adran started to speak, then held his tongue. Watching the flames consume the dead, bloated rat, he sheathed his sword and rushed out of the room.
Lia stormed out, scooping up her crossbow and drawing the string back before looking at Malark with her dangerous, violet eyes. “You, next room, now. I want to kill the elf, but a goblin will have to do.” Laying a bolt in place she stomped across the hall.
Malark smiled, a real smile, wolf-like and predatory. Thinking to himself, “This one Malark like. Angry. Hate greenskins.” Following close on her determined steps.
The hammering noise was coming from behind the door they approached. Lia didn’t even look to see if Malark followed, ripping the door open and shouldering her crossbow in one swift movement. Letting the bolt fly, she reached her hand out, flames flashing from fingertips and screaming in anger “Aaaarrrrghhhh!!!!”
Malark was looking over her shoulder as both bolt and flame hit a pair of goblins hammering on a dented breastplate. Before he could react, two bolts of brilliant electricity arced from Lia’s outstretched hand, blasting the injured goblins across the room. Electricity sparked and danced across every metallic object in the room, metal glowing red hot with the surge of power. The stink of ozone poured out; the very air ripped apart.
“Not leave anything for Malark to kill,” the big man sadly moped, staring at the damage inside.
Lia glared up at him. Eyes still violet, flames forming in her free hand.
“Just say.” Malark shrugged and smiled his weird grimace-smile. “Kill them good. Dead dead goblins.”
Lia, closed her fist, the flame wreathing her hand, then sighed, letting the flame flicker out. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“Lose control?” Adran called from across the room. “Your power isn’t hereditary, is it? It’s the stuff of chaos, wild and unpredictable. You never asked for this. Did you?”
“NO!” Lia screamed across the hall, “I NEVER wanted any of this!” Her hands were wreathed in flames and she began to float, inching off the ground. “I didn’t mean to kill them. I didn’t ask for these… powers.” She was shaking, through from anger or fear or something else the others could not tell. “It happened. I couldn’t control it. And then they were gone.” She let out a sob, the flames winking out, then fell into a heap on the floor.
Seraphina looked at Adran, then rushed to Lia’s side, kneeling over her, arms encircling the sobbing woman. Her face close to Lia’s she whispered and soothed.
Malark looked embarrassed, unsure of what to do. He looked at the two women, then at Adran. Shrugging his shoulders he murmured under his breath, “Kill greenskins. Make Malark happy.” Before heading to another door. Adran put out his hand to stop him, then sighed, also unsure of what to do.
Erky had backed off when Lia first stormed across the hall. He was peering from behind a column, nervous and fearful.
Malark ripped open another door and disappeared for a few minutes. Adran watched the two others for a long minute, then followed the big man into a room full of barrels and crates. Malark was smashing arrows and javelins, breaking handfuls of them over his knee. “No greenskins. None left for Malark to smash. Only…” crack, more arrows broke, “break things. Hate goblins. Kill them all.”
Adran backed out of the room, content to let the man burn off steam while Lia and Seraphina were still huddled on the floor. He walked over and picked up her discarded crossbow, sitting down and holding it in his lap. His head was down, looking at a crack in the stone, wondering if he could make this right, and mend the unintended slight.
He sat and thought, his mind going over their exchange and he reaction. Elves and their half-blood kin had always had their issues. True, many elves took human lovers freely, and reveled in their offspring. Others took an indifferent approach, to each their own, as the saying went. Some, however, took offense at the mixing of Tel’Quessir blood with any other. To those few, a half-blood was an abomination. Adran had never had any distinct feelings about the issue, and surely, he never saw those of mixed ancestry as bad. Lia, though, she must have been an outcast in her own family. When her powers manifest, something tragic had happened. Something she was blamed for. A deep hurt, scars leaving their mark on her soul and psyche. Looking up, he saw Lia sitting up. Seraphina still knelt next to her; their hands clasped. He sighed, whispering a brief prayer to Mielikki, Lady of the Forest, before speaking.
“I meant no disrespect, Lady Lia. I merely inquired about your grandsire, since treants have retreated from contact these last centuries. And even when they were close, the deigned to speak mostly with those of pure Tel’Quessir birth. The Gods know why, or how they even tell. To all our friends here, you are of pure elven blood. I wasn’t sure myself, until…”.
Seraphina interrupted, “Until he misspoke Lady Lia. Right Mr. Elf, until you misspoke?”
Adran nodded, a solemn look on his face. “Until I offended you. I misspoke, I meant nothing by it. I only inquired.”
Wiping tears from her cheeks, Lia glared at Adran. “Granma’am hated me from my birth. Father tried to force her to treat me the same as the others. She never did. The only time I didn’t feel willfully excluded was when she spoke of the Elder Years, and of our history. Too proud to admit that her history was my history, those were only times she didn’t shoo me away. I heard father call her an Eldreth Veluuthran once, though he never explained what that was. She hated me, and banished me once they were gone. If I find her, I will kill her.” Her eyes flashed violet again, deep purple and specked with orange.
Adran whispered a low oath when Lia said ‘Eldreth Veluuthra’. Waiting for her to finish, he nodded. “If she was, she was of a despicable sect of supremacists devoted to driving all humans from Faerûn. The Eldreth Veluuthra were a hateful, shameful sect. Their acts were always in secret, and always ended in death.”
“They ‘were’? Are they gone?” Lia sat straighter. Eyes slowly fading from violet to brown.
“Maybe. Maybe not. They never held much sway. War with all humans was unwinnable. After the Retreat, they made a few more attempts at power, but have been quiet, at least along the Sword Coast.”
“They hate their own kin, because of our human blood.”
“I have no idea, mi’ lady. I know of them; I never knew any personally. I swear, by Corellon’s Ire, I meant no offense.”
Lia sneered at the elf, then climbed to her feet. “Sure, you didn’t. No one ever does. Give me my crossbow.” Snatching it from his hands, she stalked off, back towards the fungal garden.
Seraphina looked between Lia and Adran, not sure what to do. She was biting her lip, and looked like she might cry.
Erky was still hiding behind the column, looking very eager to be anywhere else.
I commissioned art for three of the four characters, and here they are! Hope you like a first view of Malark, Lia, and Seraphina.