The Four- Chapter Eight: The False King

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.

Courage Found

“Meepo not hiding. Meepo not a fighter like heroes.”

Looking towards the sound of the tiny voice, they saw Meepo peering around the far corner. He crept out, timid and shy, eyes glancing everywhere. “Heroes kill bad goblins. Save Meepo.”

He was still holding his dagger in an awkward, two-hand grip. They could see him trembling with fear.

“Stay close, Meepo, we will keep you safe.” Seraphina was looking at him with a kind smile.

He nodded, a hunched, fearful nod. He slowly walked closer, wary of the closed door. Then he stopped. Sniffing. His eyes teared up, and he began to shake.

“Meepo?” Seraphina climbed over the low wall, running over to the shaking kobold. “What is it?”

He pointed at the closed door. “Friends there. Smell friends.”

Looking at the door, then at Adran, she went to the door, listening. Shaking her head, she grabbed the handle. “Locked.”

“Try this.” Lia handed over the tarnished key. It turned in the lock, a soft click.

Adran and Lia were ready when she pulled the door open. Bow and crossbow. They stepped through the door, deadly arrowheads glinting in the light of a single torch lighting the next room.

A small cage held a captive halfling, barely big enough for the small man. He was wearing common clothes, dirty and disheveled. Three kobolds were bound hand and foot, tied to a ring set in the floor. They cowered and groveled when the three adventurers swept in.  Meepo was peeking in by the time they realized no goblins lurked in the chamber. He rushed to his friends, sawing at their bonds with his dull dagger. A yelp from one signaled his failings, and Seraphina pushed his hands away, drawing her own dagger and slicing the three kobolds free. The quartet bounded into the shadows, hiding in a corner and talking low. Growls and grunts. Meepo kept pointing at them and shaking his head.

“Excuse me, if you might?” The trapped halfling asked in a small voice. “Erky. Erky Timbers is my name. These goblins are marauders and bandits. Caught me traveling the Old Road some weeks ago. No one to ransom me to, so I think I’m bound for the pot.” He was sad and matter-of-fact. “If not for Yondalla’s grace, I’d already be dead.”  Seraphina strained at the bars.

“Call Malark, he can bend these open.”

Lia looked out the door and waved to Malark. In a minute he had bent the bars enough for Erky to slip free.

“Many thanks to you. I would repay you if I could, though,” he looked around, “I seem to be missing all my things.”

“Well, Mr. Timbers, we haven’t seen your things, though” Adran pulled a pair of daggers from his pack, “you might want some way to defend yourself.”

Taking the daggers, he feinted with them. Weak thrusts, his muscles tight from weeks in the cage. “Might not be much of a threat.” He was sad and wistful. “I’m not a real adventurer…”

“Still pays to be armed. These goblins aren’t real adventurers either.” Adran clapped the little man on the shoulder.

“A month you’ve been here?” Lia looked down at the bedraggled halfling.

“Aye, ma’am. At least. Sorta hard to keep track of time.”

“Might you have heard anything from the goblins? About the apples, or Belak?”

“Or another party of adventurers, a woman and two men. Or those little mean bushes. The pokey-slashy creatures.” Seraphina added.

“Oh, the goblins talk. Bragging mostly. Apples? Yes. The midsummer fruit is special. They say it restores vigor and health. The pale midwinter fruit steals the same. Always laughing and snickering about whoever eats that bad fruit. I think Belak is some sort of leader figure. He gives them the apples to sell, though I’m not sure why.  He lives down below and tends some sort of garden. The goblins call it the Twilight Grove. The apples grow on something called a Gulthius Tree. I’ve only heard a bit about it. Them goblins seem terrified of the tree.”

“Interesting. Tends a grove, you say?” Adran asked.

“That’s what the goblins say. Though how one might tend a grove underground, beyond mushrooms, I don’t know. What sort of tree grows beneath the earth?”

Adran looked pensive. Then asked, “Do the goblins say who this Belak is? His race or what he might be?”

“As far as I have gathered, he seems to be a wicked old human. A spellcaster, I think. And the pokey-slashy things Miss Seraphina referred to must be his twig blights. Nasty little creatures. Sometimes they come through here with the goblins. Like a living bush, but vicious and mean. Stabbed a poor kobold to death and drank its blood.” Erky looked sad, remembering the poor creature’s demise.

“And adventurers? Did any come through? Did you see any others?” Seraphina looked eager, the revelations clearing up some of the mysteries to this place.

“Aye, I did. Though I don’t think you can save them. The goblins captured them, keeping them here for a bit. Said their names were Talgren, Sharwyn and Sir Braford. Then they took them Belak, goblins said he wanted them.”

“At least we are on the right path.” Adran was frowning, looking off, lost in thought.

“Mr. Elf?” Meepo was standing tall. Dagger in hand. He looked up at Adran.

Nodding, Adran looked down.

“Meepo take friends home. Be brave like you, take them safe.”

Adran held out his hand, taking Meepo’s wrist in a warrior’s grip. “Well met, Meepo. Go. Take them home.” Meepo straightened his shoulders, looking braver than they had yet seen him. He nodded once, then growled to his friends and they all scampered away.

“That was good of you Mr. Adran.” Seraphina’s voice was trembling. “Everyone deserves a chance to be honored.”

“Aye Miss Seraphina, that they do.”

The four plus their new friend headed back over the low, mortared wall. Malark kicked a few blocks free, the shoddy workmanship crumbling under his blows. “Gobbos not build strong. Crush them all.” He was frowning. A new anger in his eyes.

Looking carefully, they noted another door nearly concealed in one wall. Two doors to check.

“Flip a halfling?” Lia casually asked, looking at both doors.

Erky looked terrified. Seraphina laughed. “She’s kidding. Right, Lia?”

Lia shrugged. Flicked a bit of flame off her fingertip and pointed at the concealed door.

Opening the door, they discovered a stockpile of rancid foodstuffs and vinegary goblin wine. Boxes, sacks, and kegs were stack along the walls in the is room. A clear path from the door they entered to another door passed between the piled supplies. Picking through the stash, Lia found a few flasks of oil, stuffing them in a pouch.

“Might come in handy. You know, for burning stuff.”

“Forward or through that other door?” Adran was listening at the door, leaning so his ear was against it.

“Nothing. All quiet through this door.” Slipping a small piton out, he wedged it under the door. “Delay them, at least. Back that way?” He slipped past the others, muttering. “A maze. Too many doors. Underground. I hate being underground.”

Seraphina hid a smile at his discomfort, then piped up. “If you think this is a maze, Mr. Adran, don’t visit a Hin burrow. All doors and passages and nooks. Not very tall, either.”

“Fair warning little friend. Here, though, every door is a danger. Too many doors.”

Malark was ready at the next door. He was frowning, still looking angry. The paleness was passing, his system dumping the toxins in the green smoke. “Find gobbos, Crush gobbos. Find lady’s people.” Nodding to them, he yanked the door wide. Adran and Seraphina rushed through, the tiny halfling seeming to melt through the space Adran occupied. Lia was next, crossbow in her hands. Malark nodded to Erky, motioning for him to go, and the tiny, gaunt halfling slunk into the next chamber.

Finding themselves in a long hall, with a door at the far end, and one nearly across from them, Seraphina smiled, nudging Adran with her bow.

“More doors.”

“Yes” he sighed. “More doors.”

Lia was listening at the closer door. Looking over her shoulder she whispered. “Voices. Two or three. Goblins. I think.”

“Mr. Timbers?” Adran’s voice was low. “Open the door, we’ll take them.”

The little halfling nodded, and grabbed the handle. Closing his eyes, he hauled the door open with all his strength.

Adran was through the door in a flash. Seraphina at his side. Lia stepped to the door, loosed a bolt, then ducked aside as Malark rushed through. All three goblins were bloodied before they knew they were under attack. Rolling across the ground, the largest of the three picked up a scimitar and growled at Seraphina, charging her. Malark roared, leaping to attack the nearest goblin. His sword swung in a crushing arc, barely missing the goblin as it scrambled away. The third goblin yanked Lia’s bolt from its thigh and ran to the far wall, slipping through a narrow gap and disappearing from sight.

Seraphina was down, wrestling with the goblin. It was trying to bash her in the head with the hilt of its blade, and she was desperate to avoid a blow. Both hands were holding its arm, straining to hold it off. Adran took two long steps, kicking the goblin in the ribs, sending the creature sprawling. Lia was in the chamber now, firing a bolt that merely nicked the goblin. Screaming in rage, it sprang towards Seraphina again. She had drawn her twin blades and was back on her feet. Deflecting the first blow, she stabbed it through the throat, her blade plunging deep. Sweeping the goblin blade aside, she stabbed her other blade into its chest, grunting as it slumped down, blades buried in its flesh.

Malark was parrying frantic sweeps of the last goblin’s blade. Metal clanged on metal, then he blocked a swing with his shield and swung his long sword in an upper-cutting sweep, slicing a deep gash in its chest. Screaming in rage and pain it ducked under his guard, slicing a cut in Malark’s thigh. He kneed the goblin, his blow striking a blow on the chin, knocking its head back. With a quick return stroke, he sliced it across the throat, killing it in an instant.

All four were huffing, trying to catch their breath from the furious fight. Malark laid his sword down and pressed the gash on his thigh, blood spilling through his fingers. Erky timidly entered the chamber, dagger in hand. Seeing Malark’s blood, he hurried over.

“I might not be much. But I can help with this.” He pushed Malark’s hand away, setting his own hand atop the wound. Closing his eyes, he whispered a prayer and began to chant. Looking down, Malark could feel the wound knit, the pain ebbing away. In seconds the wound was healed. Erky looked up. “Yondalla blesses.” Malark grimace-smiled in thanks, hand on the halfling’s shoulder.

“Care to do that again?” Seraphina coughed, holding her ribs. “Think that one cracked something when it tackled me.” She grimaced and coughed again.

Erky moved next to her, slipping his hand under hers. He smiled serenely, starting his prayer and closing his eyes. “You know Yondalla, my friend. She loves Her Hin children.” Murmuring, a faint glow appeared for a few moments, then faded away. “Better?”

Seraphina stretched, raising her arm above her head. “Much better.”

Adran was peering through the gap the lone survivor escaped through. Inhaling deep, he turned to the others. “I think this is a path to the surface. The air smells fresher. Too narrow for us. Either way, I don’t think that one is coming back for a while.”

Back in the passage, they approached the far door. Malark was ahead of the others, still on edge and looking to fight. Stepping in front of the door, he triggered a trap, the floor tilting to drop him into a hidden pit. He dropped his torch and shield, grabbing onto the lip of the pit, struggling to hang on. The grime and rubble were impossible to grip, and he dropped out of sight. The others rushed to pit, Seraphina pulling rope from her pack. The pit wasn’t deep, ten feet, maybe, Malark’s efforts keeping him from any real harm. He tossed his shield up, and picked up the flickering torch. Stooping into the corner, he held up something small and glittery. Pocketing the small bauble, he laid the torch aside and wrapped his arms in the rope. The others pulled, struggling to haul the big man out of the pit. Leaning and heaving, they finally managed to get him out.

“Many pits.” He looked apologetic. “Look for pits now.”

Adran nodded, clapping him on the shoulder. “A fine idea. You are heavy, friend. And lucky. These pits aren’t dangerous. Some are.”

Pulling another torch from his pack, Malark nodded. “Lucky.”

The trap slowly reset, the panel raising back into position, concealing the pit. A narrow ledge hugged one wall. Moving around the pit, Adran opened the door and stepped through, raising his bow. Seraphina and Malark followed close. Lia was watching the other doors, crossbow in one hand, flames flickering over fingertips on her other hand. Looking over her shoulder, she urged Erky.

“Go. I’ve got this.”

Waiting until he was safely around the trap, she glanced once more at the far doors, and hurried to catch the others.

Ancient, desiccated and decaying trophy mounts hang from the wall all around this large chamber.  Not just the typical trophies of huntsmen, at least one cow, a rat, and several grisly kobold heads hung amid the other more common trophies. Smashed furniture and cabinets attested to some rampage of destruction. Adran was looking at a huge spike hammered into the stone in the center of the room. A broken chain trailed away towards a half-circle wall and overturned altar. Patches of ice and frost coated walls and some of the floor. Lia turned slowly taking in the damage and the oddities hanging haphazardly on the walls.

Seraphine nudged a patch of ice with her toe. Mouth pursed; one eye half closed as she thought a moment. “Mr. Adran? What sort of dragon did the kobolds keep?”

“Why?” Adran turned to look at her.

“Ice? In here?”

Realization dawned on Adran. He drew his bow, hand to his cheek as he searched for threats. “Watch out! Dragon!”

From behind the upturned table came a low growl. Rising up on its hind legs, a small winged beast inhaled, then bellowed a spray of frost and ice. White scales, and long spikes covered the dragon. The torrent of cold caught most of them. Erky ducked and dove aside. Lia had barely walked in, still in the corner near the door.

She turned and spread her fingers, throwing a bolt of flame at the dragon. Malark took the icy blast, then rushed the dragon, sword flashing. Shaking off frost and ice, Adran and Seraphina both loosed arrows, then drew swords.

The dragon smashed the table, tail lashing and snapping its jaws. Malark bashed it in the face with his shield, slashing it with a brutal sword stroke. Sweeping him aside with a wing stoke, the dragon roared and swept forward. Striking out at the others with a tail sweep, Seraphina nimbly jumped the spike tail. Adran was not so lucky, his legs swept from under him. Lia shot flame again, flames burning the dragon and enraging it. It turned and inhaled, chest swelling. Lia ran, diving to slide across a patch of shiny ice in the instant the dragon belched another stormy blast of cold and ice.

Rising to attack the dragon, Seraphina slashed at the tail, ducking a return blow. Adran was slow to get up, hands on the flagstone floor, his breathing labored. Malark roared in defiance. Eyes flashing rage and anger. Running across the shattered table he launched himself at the dragon, battering it with shield and sword. It turned and twisted, trying to bite him. Shoving his shield into its mouth, he stabbed his sword deep, opening a wound gushing blood.

Rolling away, he came up on one knee, shield and sword raised. He roared at the dragon, challenging it. Taking a gasping breath, the wyrmling shook its head in spite, opening its mouth to spit ice again. Choking and gagging, a few wisps of frosty air were all it exhaled. Snarling, it rushed away, heading for the still open door. Erky squeaked in fear, curling into ball, the dragon bounding over him and away down the passage into the dark.

Malark started after the beast, muscles tense, his ire still up.

“Hold, friend!” gasped Seraphina. “It’s gone. Let it be.”

Adran was curled up, breathing hard. “It hurts. Oh, it hurts.” His face was blistered and frostbit. All of them gathered around him. Erky took a knee, soothing words as he took Adran’s face in his hands. “Shush now Mr. Elf. Yondalla will bless you.” Murmuring and chanting, a soft glow spread from his hands, the blisters and reddened skin healing before their gaze.

Erky slumped after finishing his chanting, his breathing coming in short gasps. “That’s all I have. I…” he inhaled, “I can’t help you anymore for a bit. Could use a sleep really.”

Lia was leaning over her crossbow, both hands drawing the heavy string back. “I think we all can use a rest. It’s been a long day. How long have we been after this?”

“Hours.” Adran was sitting up. Still looking weak, his face now bore little evidence of the dragon’s breath. He looked around. “Not the best place to spend a few hours, but maybe not the worst. I can’t imagine the goblins visit a loose dragon often. Wedge both doors shut and take a break. Eat something.” He closed his eyes, head down.

Lia laid her crossbow down. “Come help me Malark, let’s jam the doors shut.” They headed to the closer door, and began to work.

Seraphina helped Erky to his feet. “Come on, you can rest. We have plenty of food to share.” They moved away from the doors, towards the dragon’s hiding place. Unrolling her bedroll, she patted the floor. “Have a rest. Here.” She handed over some dried meat. “Eat.”

Adran slumped against the wall next to them. Seraphina was on her knees next to him. “That dragon got you good, didn’t she, Mr. Adran?” She touched his ribs gently. “I think you need a little more magic.” Whispering, she made several arcane symbols in the air, then lightly touched him, palms down. Murmuring, she pressed a little harder. “There, I think that should help.”

Taking a deep breath, Adran nodded. “Thank you, little friends. You both are wonders.” He relaxed finally, opening his pack and fishing out hardtack and a wineskin.

Lia and Malark finished with the doors. They piled some of the smashed wood, then built a little fire lay. Lia snapped her fingers, dropping a ball of flame into the wood, setting it alight. Crackling, the fire threw a friendly glow. Smoke wafter up, gently filling the chamber.

“Might not be able to keep it lit.” Adran was breaking the hardtack apart and eating small pieces.

Looking up at the smoke, Lia nodded. “Maybe not. But fire always helps. Even if for a bit.”

She set her crossbow down, and shrugged her pack off. Pulling an apple out she started eating. “I’ll take first watch. You all took the worst of that. Lucky me, I was barely in the room when you woke that thing up. Meepo’s buddy?”

Adran nodded. “Most likely. I do remember seeing some white scales when we first found him. Hopefully that is the only dragon down here.”

“That was just a baby dragon, huh, Mr. Adran?” Seraphina looked up. “It wasn’t very big, not like the things I’ve read about.”

“Yes, that was just a small one. A wyrmling they are often called. Still dangerous, but not nearly the threat they become.”

“Well,” she smiled, “I’ve seen a dragon, so there is that.”

Adran smiled, too. “Yes, yes you have.” Pulling his blanket around his shoulders, he laid down against the wall. “I think I will rest for a bit,” he murmured to no one.

Into the Wild

The sun was lighting the horizon when Adran walked into the barroom. A slight, mousy haired girl was curled up behind the bar. Nudging her with his foot, she sat up with a start. “Just resting my eyes Mister, I wasn’t sleeping!”

“Relax, child, I’m not the master of the house. I do require your services, though. Breakfast for four. Fried taters, I think you call them. And smoked meat. Bread. Preserves. Wine. Make it hearty, we have a journey ahead.”

Rubbing her eyes, the girl stood and nodded. “Right away Mister Elf.” And hurried into the kitchen.

By the time the four had gathered in the barroom, a hearty spread of sausages, fried potatoes, thick-cut bread and a jar of preserves covered the table. The sausages sizzled still, smoking and popping in the hot grease. The bread was steamy, fresh from the oven and heavily buttered. Malark and Seraphina didn’t wait for the others, sitting and grabbing food as soon as they sat down.

“Still hungry” Malark said in his usual soft murmur.

“Eat up, Malark. Fill your belly. I think we will be in the thick of it before the day is out.” Adran said as he dished potatoes and sausages onto a plate. Lia joined them. Yawning and stretching.

The quartet ate in silence, until all the food was gone. Sniffing at the wine, Malark sipped it tentatively, then drank deeply. “Not ale.” Was all he said.

“Not ale, no” Adran replied. “Wine. From grapes. Do you know what grapes are?”

Shaking his head, Malark drained his tankard, and filled it again.

“Where are you from, Malark?” Seraphina asked. “Surely not from anywhere near here.”

“Far. Three moons, four?” he held up fingers as he counted.

“Four months walk?”

His head bobbed in a yes-no motion, as if he was unsure.

“You walked for four moons? Four times Selûne was bright?” Adran asked, looking incredulous.

Say Loon?” Malark looked confused.

“Luna, The Great Night Eye. The White Disk. The Moon. The light in the dark night. Selûne.” Adran added.

“Yes. Sealune. The light in the dark. My brothers called it the True Sun. My brothers…” he stared into his goblet.

“Your brothers? Short, stout and loud? Long beards and short tempers?” asked Seraphina.

“You know Malark’s brothers!” he replied, louder than they had heard him yet.

“Not your brothers, but dwarves, I know dwarves. Your brothers are dwarves. I see it in your breeches, and your belts. And those axes you carry.”

“Went into a cave. Too dark for Malark.” he sadly shook his head. “Gone into the earth.”

“What about your family? Where are they?” asked Lia. “You truly are not a dwarf.”

Pulling his fur cloak back, Malark pointed at a tattoo of a wolf’s head. “Family.”

The other three looked at the tattoo, then each other. “Malark Wolf-born.” Adran finally said. “Your family are wolves?” All three looked with concern at their new friend.

Shrugging, Malark drained another goblet of wine. “Brothers told me wolf family not my real family. Only family Malark know.”

“Well, Malark, wherever you family is, may they hunt well while you are with us. For now, should we be off?”

The sun had yet to peak the sky when the small party stopped to look back towards the Blightwood from a small rise. Passing over this ridge would block their view of the forest, and the village beyond until their return.

“Last chance to turn back” Adran spoke softly, barely looking back. “Judging from this map it is four or five hours to the escarpment and our destination.

“I’m in this for the coin, and no heirs or rings, and we won’t get paid” replied Lia, flicking motes of flame off her fingertips.

“Malark go too.”

Seraphina looked back once more, then turned to look up at the tall elf. “Onward. Adventure lies in the unknown, and I’m looking for a bit of adventure.”

“You are a strange one, little friend. I thought your kind preferred a comfortable home and the company of kin to a life of adventure?” Adran looked down at the diminutive halfling with a slight smile.

“Aye. Most do. Me? There are adventures and dragons to see out there!” She spread her arms wide, beaming. “I want to see a dragon. I want to see what more is there beside pipe weed and long dinners.”

“A dragon? Truly you are a strange one.”

“Have you seen a dragon Mr. Adran?”

“Call me Adran, just Adran, little one. And I have, and far too close. It was a great green wyrm. Huge. Evil. It had laid claim to a swamp deep in the forest my clan called home. I was young. Too young to fight the wyrm. Many clansmen died in that fight…”

“Oh” Seraphina replied softly. “I didn’t mean no disrespect…”

“None taken. I think many desire to see the beasts of legend, without realizing the beasts are more than just legend. And most are really not our friends.” His fingers were stroking a golden trinket on a cord around his neck, and his gaze was far, far away. Finally, he turned to head northeast again, Adran sipped from a wineskin as he strode off.

The group was making good time across the land. Scrub bushes and long grass covered the low ridges and shallow vales. Off in the distance they frequently caught sight of small herds of sheep and cattle. There was a desolate openness. Lonely and vacant, the land was empty. At least by day.

“That I know Mr. Adran. Goblins grew thick in the woods back home. Thick as fleas on a barn dog. Sometimes they would boil out of the wood and pour across the valley. Burnin’ and lootin’. Stealin’ all they could carry. Anyone old enough to hold a spear would try and protect what we had. But there were so many of the them.” Seraphina’s eyes misted for the briefest of moments. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, them look up at Adran. “That’s when I decided. If I spent some time adventurin’ across the land, I’d be tough and smart by the time I got bored. Then I could hunt those goblins deep in their own wood. Keep my kin safe.”

“Tis a noble goal, my small friend. My clan spent their long years keeping our home free from such threats.”

“Is your home far away?”

“Aye, both are. One is far to the east, deep in the ancient forest of Cormanthor. Well, that was my home. Now? My clan dwells far across the western sea. In the land where only elves dwell.” Looking far off, Adran’s eyes lost focus again.

Whistling softly, Seraphina shook her head. “You don’t mean Evermeet, do you Mr. Adran?’

They all walked in silence. Malark and Lia were curiously silent as the tall elf and the short halfling conversed. Perhaps happy enough to listen to the conversation.

“Yes.” He finally said. “Evermeet.”

“Is it true what they say?”

“And what do they say?”

“That Evermeet disappeared from the world. And then returned again. How could a place disappear from the world?”

“Well, yes, that is true. At least partially. Evermeet was here, but not here. One could still pass to this world from wherever we were. And return.”

“You were there!” interrupted Seraphina. “You were there when it left?”

“I was. I happened in a twinkling of an eye. I was looking out of the ocean when it occurred. One instant I was gazing at the deep blue sea, and he next an infinite sea of stars was before me. The Gods were truly busy.” Adran laughed quietly. “To be here, and not here was quite a thing. But now? It is here. Mostly.”


“Evermeet has always been a place between worlds. And now even more so. The Feywild exists there now, as close as you and I. One needs only to wish it so, and you are there.”

“I was in the Feywild once.”


“I was, Mr. Adran. I feel asleep in the forest while I hunting mushrooms. When I woke, the moon was full and bright. Even though I knew the forest was not safe in the dark, I was not afraid, you know? Something in here, “she said as she tapped her breast, “something felt safe. A faerie ring was growing near, fresh and new. I felt drawn to it. And once I stepped inside, I knew I was not in my home wood. It was magical. Faeries and sprites and all the other wonderful creatures. Only one spoke to me. I hope to meet her again.”

Nodding to the halfling, Adran walked in silence for a time. “To enter the Feywild, you are marked. Always. For good or evil, that place marks you. You may yet see your friend again.”

The sun peaked in the sky, and was descending when they finally reached the escarpment that separated the great vale from the highlands and the distant hills. Following the Old Road north along the base of the steep cliffs, they began to climb through a deep cleft as the road twisted upwards.

“According to this map, at the second switch, there is a long rift gouged into the cliffs. Somewhere along there is a place marked as ‘the citadel’.” Adran studied the crude map as they hiked along the steep road.

“How can there be a citadel here?” Lia wondered. “Carved into the cliff maybe?”

“I spoke to a few others in town last night. Locally they call it ‘the sunken citadel’, claiming it was once a fortress guarding the road in some long, forgotten realm. And ages ago some cataclysm dragged the citadel deep underground.”

Lia shot a bolt of flame at a rabbit hunched along the broken road, catching it square and killing the small beast. “Sunken, eh? Sounds fun. Dinner tonight is rabbit, unless you all want more hardtack and dried meat.”

Malark barely spoke the whole day. He carried a large pack ladened with rations and equipment without complaint. Looking at the smoking rabbit, he finally spoke. “One rabbit?”

“No worries, my big friend, I’ll find more” winked Seraphina.

“Once we find the rift, we should set a camp. It is too late in the day to start” Adran looked ahead as he spoke. “This is it, the second switchback. Start looking friends, we need to find this rift or cleft.”

The party split up. Clambering over boulders and around tiny thickets. Wildlife scattered from tufts and tussocks clinging to the thin soil and rocks of the escarpment. The only sounds were the scrape of boot and on rock. Two footed and four footed. A shouted “I’ve found it!” broke the quiet.

Gathering back on the road, Lia was snapping tiny mote of fire into the air when the others arrived.

“Along the cliff, that narrow goat path” she pointed to a faint ledge along the cliff.

“Across the road and up a little is a small gully. Its dry now, probably a spring stream. Looks like a perfect place to spend the night.” Seraphina was carrying a pair of rabbits. “Full of rabbits, too” she added, smiling at Malark.

“Lead on” Adran waved up the slope to the tiny huntress, and they all fell in line.

Adran stamped out the small fire they had used to roast the trio of rabbits. After he scattered the ashes with his boot, he looked at the others, “No light. Anyone could see it for miles once it gets dark.” No one objected. All four were close in the narrow, shallow gully. Malark and Seraphina were stretched out on bedrolls. Lia sat in the crook of a low limb on a scraggly oak. All four had eaten their fill. Adran had conjured enough water to fill all their skins after dinner. Sated and satisfied, they relaxed in the waning light.

“We need to set a watch. These lands will be full of creatures after dark.” Adran added.

“I’ll take first watch” Lia offered.

“Wake Malark when his turn.”

Yawning, Seraphina closed her eyes. “Whenever. Just wake me when it’s my turn.”

Lia was still sitting in the tree when they came. Four stunted bushes. Or they looked like bushes. They rushed out of the dark and were on the three sleepers before she could react. Adran drew his sword and slashed one in two before it could strike him. Lia flicked flames at another. It caught and flared with fire, crackling and popping before crumpling into a heap of ash. The other two viciously poked and slashed at Seraphina and Malark. Sleep fled; their reactions slowed by drowsiness. Adran jumped up to kick one aside, a parry and slash from his sword ended its malevolent threat. Seraphina flung a dagger at the last of the creatures, missing it completely. Lia tossed another bolt of flame, setting the creature aflame before Malark stomped life out of it.

“Blights. Evil, vile creatures of malevolent origin. I think we’ve found our threat to these parts.” Adran was crouched over the remains of one of the bushes. “Hopefully that is the last of them tonight, are you ok?”

Malark looked over his injuries, small cuts and a couple tiny punctures. “Malark survive. Tiny cuts.”

Seraphina was binding a long slash on her arm. “I’ve had worse.”

“They were here before I could react” Lia mumbled. “Sorry.”

“No real harm was done. And you ended two of them.” Adran was looking at the moon. “Are you good to finish your watch?”

“Yeah. I can’t sleep right now anyway.” Lia slunk into the night, fingers snapping, tiny motes of flame dancing in her hand.

The other three laid down, waiting for sleep to come.

Its a slow burn. The pace will pick up, I promise.

BG out

*tavern pic off pintrest

*landscape pic by Brett Sayles