Thursday, March 28, 2013
(After playing Adam Frager’s Dungeons and Dragons scenario “Fight for the Fallen Keep” Friday (March 22) with Aaron, Josh Smith, and Jeff Laforest from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at CaesarCon 2013)
A story of Gruff Gusslegut: Dwarf Ranger
Brycewater was a decent-sized city on the edge of Lake Koran. It was known for its fishing, had fertile soil, and excelled in the crafts and arts. We had paid for a week’s stay at the local inn and enjoyed our stay there to that point.
We had come to the city in our travels and were staying at the Broken Buckle Inn. It was a fine establishment and stood three stories tall, built of cobblestone with louvered cedar shutters and a three-flued chimney running up the back. Large fieldstones encased the double doors as well as the windows flanking the doorway. A wooden plank sign roughly three feet high and two feet wide read “Broken Buckle Inn” above a crude painted leather boot with a broken buckle upon it. The common area was very large and run by Ted Rosenhall, the innkeeper, who stood about six feet tall with shoulder-length hair pulled tight into a pony tail.
I’m Gruff Gusslegut, dwarf ranger. I liked the forest more than the mine and carried a battleaxe and a bow. I also took less care of my beard than some other dwarves. Or so it appeared. Actually, my beard was perfect for the wilderness. I even had a few bird’s nests built into it, though there were no birds. Might have been an egg though. Sometimes I found them there.
With me was Jakob Rocksmasher, a priest of Kord, and the token human of the party. He tended to beat his religion into those he was trying to convert. He was also a klutz and always tripping over his own feet. Faldrial Moonshiver, a half-elven thief of no little repute, was also part of the group. He thought he was better looking than he was and had long, chestnut brown hair. It was perfect without a strand out of place. He carried a rapier and a hand crossbow – the weapons of the pansy. Finally, there was the halfling mage (or so he claimed) Tweedle T’Dum. We had never seen him actually cast a spell. He wore a pointed hat and carried a quarterstaff with a knob on the end, proving he was a wizard. At least to some.
There had been rumors of increased banditry and robbery on the local highways. Trade into and out of the city was nearly at a standstill, though the morale of the people still seemed high. The independent city was still doing well but many worried that without trade, residents would leave and the economy would be damaged as well. Not much was known about the attacks as, to that date, there had been no survivors. Those who had investigated the scenes of the attacks believed it to be the work of orcs.
On that third morning, the conversations in the common room seemed a bit livelier and there was a general excitement about the city. Town criers called out that the magistrate, John Armshed, had declared a quest to local heroes and mercenaries to aid their country and reclaim the nearby keep of Fort Senkin. All those interested were to join a town gathering in two days in front of the town hall. Fliers and signs were posted at every cross street as well as every mercantile shop and front door.
We decided we’d try to help so I bought a small cask of ale and strapped it to my back. Jakob got some money from all of us to buy a magical healing wand in anticipation of injuries.
We spent the next two days gathering information in the city. We learned that the keep lay about three day’s walk north and stood atop a large plateau with little or no cover. Approaching the keep would be very dangerous if the guard posts were manned as the enemy had a vantage point. We also learned that there were abandoned mines under the keep, but they were filled with monsters and giant spiders. That incensed me as I loathed the horrid beasts.
We learned that Lord Senkin was a great adventurer and had performed great deeds throughout the lands. He was said to have done everything from slaying dragons to running around with gnomes bent on burning down taverns. They said he even knew a minotaur and others who comprised a diverse group and ventured far and wide. However, it was said that many scholars believed the stories of Lord Senkin to be false or misleading. Until his later years, many stories about his adventures didn’t hold up. Locations never existed or were ever heard of. It was like he came from another world.
We also learned that a man named Perry Faustburg might have information. He was one of the last guards at Fort Senkin and was working repairing weapons. Faldrial suggested we go to the local smithy.
“Why?” I asked. “Do we need some armor?”
“He was the last known guard,” Faldrial said. “He’s going to know more about the castle than anybody else.”
“Oh. So he’ll have plans.”
“Possibly. And he can tell you all about the spiders, too.”
“I friggin’ hate spiders!”
We spent a half day looking around the city before we found the man. The Clank and Bang Smithy had a stone front with a central chimney. Anvils flanked either side of the forge in the back and several men with worn aprons moved about the place. They were too busy to speak to us but I stopped one of the apprentices and he pointed out Perry Faustburg in the back. He was an old man, at least 65, his white hair pulled back into a ponytail. His beard was long and pointed. He looked up from the sword he was repairing.
“I assume you’re here because of the keep?” he asked.
“Yes, we are,” Faldrial said.
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything!” I said.
“Everything you know,” Faldrial said.
“What about the spiders?”
“I hate spiders.”
“There are no spiders I know about at the keep,” Faustburg said.
“We were told there were big spiders,” Jakob said. “The size of cattle and they only ate dogs and small children.”
“I didn’t hear that,” I muttered.
“You must be drinking the ale down at that one place,” Faustburg said. “It affects your mind from what I understand.”
“No,” Jakob said.
“We just want to know what you know about the keep,” I said. “There’s a meeting tomorrow.”
“Keep Senkin, as you probably know by now, was run by a man named Lord Senkin,” Faustburg said. “He was a great man. A very caring man. Everybody there I worked with always considered him a little off. He seemed–”
“He like little boys?” I asked.
“He like little girls?” Jakob asked.
“Could be,” Faustburg said. “I don’t know. I didn’t know the man that well. Nobody ever knew anything of his past. It was like he came out of nowhere. Nobody knew his parents or his towns. He would talk about places, but nobody knew of them. Either they were far away or he was just making them up. He kept referring to a place called Argana, but nobody ever knew if it was a region, a country, a city. Nobody ever knew.”
“Sounds made up,” I said.
“That’s what a lot of people thought,” Faustburg said.
Once Faustburg started talking, he wouldn’t shut up. He told us that Lord Senkin had once vanquished 50 kobolds all by himself. He also related that Senkin was looking for something called the Domav Stone, but never said much more about it.
As he seemed rather verbose, I invited him back to the Broken Buckle to have a meal with us, wet his whistle with beer, and tell us more. He was happy to comply and we talked to him for a long time about the place and about Lord Senkin. One very useful piece of information was that a coal shaft ran from the cellars of the keep down into the mines below. The coal was gathered and burned to keep the keep heated. He also said there was an entrance to what he called the Coughing Mines in one of the nearby hillsides. He even drew us a map that showed the entrance to the Coughing Mines.
After he left, we discussed how best to approach the keep.
* * *
In the center of town was the town square. A beautiful park stood there, surrounded by a red brick road. Tall prestigious homes and businesses circled the park. In the center sat a large fountain depicting scholars holding books and scrolls while pointing to the heavens. On the north end was a five-story building with multiple wings and balconies, all made of stone and brick. Tall, graceful towers flanked the entrance to the front of the building and were capped with copper roofs. Ivy climbed up the side of the building.
We arrived close to noon to find a large crowd. An older man with peppered black hair and a mustache walked out onto one of the balconies on the town hall. He wore a fine suede jacket that went to his knees. The rest of his attire was very clean and well kept and he had a lot of silver buttons.
He cleared his throat and the crowd quieted down.
“I have called this gathering, as you all well know by now, to help take back Fort Senkin,” he said. “It has recently come to my attention that many of the local bandit attacks have been traced back to the keep. I know many of you wish I would have acted earlier to put an end to these attacks, but I wasn’t willing to put the safety of the city at risk by thinning our already short supply of militia and guards. It’s also because of this that I’m putting out a request to any and all capable heroes, adventurers, and mercenaries for their assistance. We don’t know all the details yet, but many, if not all of the attacks have come from orcs. We’ve also received word that Fort Senkin is now crawling with the hideous creatures. It doesn’t take an enlightened magus to figure out that this is where the attacks are stemming from and, by ridding the fort of the orcs, it will make this county and city ever safe.
“For those of you brave enough to take back the keep, you will not only be rewarded one thousand gold pieces, but also given the title to the keep. Those of you interested, please see me in my office in an hour. Thank you.”
People in the crowd were calling out questions but the man merely turned and disappeared back into the town hall.
Jakob and I pushed our way through the crowd to the town hall, the others following behind.
“I assume you’re interested in taking back the keep?” Mayor John Armshed asked us.
“Yes,” Jakob said.
“And killing spiders,” I added.
“Very well,” the mayor replied. “I’m very much in need of your assistance. Like I said, I can’t spare the guards to try to take back the keep. I’m just afraid that with all the bandit attacks, there could be more of them lurking out there.”
He told us that Fort Senkin fell 15 year ago. The place sat dormant and unoccupied for many of those years. Only recently was there any activity. The elderly Lord Senkin himself disappeared without warning, vanishing. Shortly after that, the fort was deserted. Nobody knew where he had disappeared.
“I have a loyal and local scout,” the mayor said. “His name is Saul DeTarka. He recently tracked the orcs from an attack on a caravan to the keep. Even though the caravan was well-armed, because many of the bandit attacks had been well-known of by that point, all were lost and no bodies were found.”
After searching the debris of the caravan, the scout had found something. The mayor took out a stout and sturdy battle axe with dwarven runes on the blade. The handle was made of stone and set below it was a dull piece of obsidian. I could see a name on the side of the battle axe.
“It says Laddiger!” I said.
I looked at Tweedle, the smartest in our group.
“Who’s Laddiger?” I asked him.
He usually knew such things.
“He’s the god of the duergar,” Jakob said.
“Duergar!?!” I said. “Oh.”
“Those are your people.”
“Well, it’s been nice working with you,” I said to the rest of the group.
“They’re your people, but–”
“They’re not my people!”
“They’re like the bad–”
“Duergar aren’t my people!”
“You’re a dwarf, aren’t you?”
“Duergar ain’t dwarves!”
“You’re a dwarf.”
“And they’re dwarves.”
“No, they’re not!”
“They’re evil dwarves.”
“Duergar are these ... vermin that ... they just look like dwarves. Uh ... I think they can turn invisible at will. We’re going to have to buy some flour.”
“Can you turn invisible at will?”
“No! Can you.”
“Yes, I can.”
“Do it right now.”
“What’s that over there?”
He pointed over my shoulder but I didn’t look away from the man.
“You can’t bluff me,” I said.
“Look, it’s a duergar!” Jakob said, still pointing.
“Entertaining,” the mayor said, obviously not entertained. “I got word early this morning that another attack was on the north road, roughly 20 miles from the city. I sent DeTarka to investigate. There’s no telling when he’ll be back. As of now, that’s all I know. I suggest you ask around the city. There are still those who used to serve Lord Senkin that may know more about the keep.”
“Yeah, we already talked to everybody,” I said. “Everybody.”
“If you were to spare guards, how many guards could you spare?” Tweedle asked.
“Yeah, like for a distraction?” I asked. “Four?”
“I’m not going to risk any of my men’s lives for going foolishly at the keep,” the mayor said.
“Not foolishly,” Tweedle said.
“What if we just send them towards the keep, not to it?” I asked.
“I’m not sure what plan you might have, but once you see where the keep is located, you won’t be able to get close,” he said.
“Do you know what times the attacks happen?” Faldrial asked.
“It’s at night,” the mayor said. “It’s always at night or dusk or early morning.”
“That sounds like duergar,” I muttered. “They don’t like the light.”
“Or dwarves,” Jakob said.
I glared at him.
“No,” I said.
“Or orcs,” he went on.
“Maybe,” I said. “Or goblins.”
Tweedle started to mention the secret entrance to the keep but I shushed him, whispering to him that we didn’t know if we could trust the mayor. I asked to look at the axe and saw that it was fairly well made. It was dull and simple, like duergar weapons tended to be. It had a decent balance.
We were escorted out of the mayor’s office and the town hall. I again suggested buying some flour as I thought duergar could turn invisible.
“Okay wizard, here’s a question,” I said to Tweedle.
“No,” he replied.
“How did you know what I’m going to ask?”
“Well then how can you answer?”
“Because I’m pretty sure that’s the answer, but go ahead. You can still ask.”
“Okay, I’ll ask. You know about invisible stuff?”
“Uh ... I ... a little bit.”
“So, if somebody’s invisible and they’re standing in water, does the water ... does it leave it a hole?”
He didn’t think it would. He thought it would look like the water was running through.
“Are you afraid of invisible spiders?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Wait, spiders can be invisible too?” Jakob asked.
We agreed to meet back in the town square in an hour. Faldrial talked of getting in with a caravan and I told him to investigate it. I purchased five one-pound bags of flour and a horse, though no tack and saddle. Jakob arrived with horses and a wagon. While I was shopping, I heard the orcs at the fort had a powerful warlock that could turn living flesh into ash. That was why no bodies had ever been recovered after the attacks.
“That’s your job,” I said to Tweedle. “Warlock’s your job.”
“My job?” he said.
“You’re a wizard, you fight the warlock,” I said. “Challenge him to a magical duel.”
“It’s a lot easier if he sees you first, though.”
“Because he’ll ... like my beard?”
“On fire and then I can kill him.”
“Not light it, like it! Shut up!”
“Light it on fire.”
We had also heard of a bandit group called the Legion of Green, whose members dressed as orcs to frighten their victims. They hauled said victims away to devour them, being freakish and primitive people who practiced cannibalism and human sacrifice.
It looked like it would only be a day and a half ride to the keep. We set off that afternoon and made what progress we could before nightfall.
* * *
We found the cave entrance the next afternoon. A large an ominous hole choked with weeds sat at the base of a large hill. A riverbed lay not far from the mine and nearby, barely visible, were the remnants of an old mining community, burnt to the ground. Foundations stuck up to and fro, lining the weedy, broken paths and roads. Nearly buried near the cave entrance was a rail line, now rusty with age.
We had seen Fort Senkin in the distance. It encompassed almost the entire plateau on which it stood. The path up to the keep was narrow and crossed a small, stone bridge near the walls. The portcullis was down. At each corner of the keep were large towers where we could make out the tops of siege equipment. A small trickle of smoke rose up from the structure. In the center of the place was the tall keep itself. The stonework looked loose, pitted, and worn. Several windows were built into the walls and there was a small balcony at the top.
We hid the horses and wagon in a nearby copse of trees that offered good shelter. Then we cleared away the weeds, cobwebs, and vines from the cave entrance and saw nothing but blackness within. As the wind picked up, we could hear the sounds of water dropping far away. It sounded like an old man coughing. Jakob thought he actually heard an old man coughing.
We entered the cave, Faldrial lighting a hooded lantern. I led the way. The floor was lined with track that led to three open tunnels. Two more had collapsed on either side. Track led into the tunnels that left the hub. In the tunnel to the left, I found barely visible tracks of some kind. I told the others. After some discussion, Tweedle headed into the right tunnel and we all followed. It went several hundred feet, the track giving out about halfway, where the tunnel turned into a natural cave until it came to the side of a deep ravine. I dropped a rock in and guessed that it fell about 100 feet.
“I don’t think this is the way,” I said. “And I don’t have any rope, so we’re going to have to head back.”
“Well, I have rope,” Tweedle said. “I have fifty foot. Unfortunately, that’s not going to make it down.”
“Let’s go back and try another tunnel first.”
“Before we start climbing, let’s try another tunnel.”
“I’m not much of a climber,” Jakob said.
“Yeah, exactly, c’mon, let’s go,” I said.
I headed back down the tunnel. The others followed.
“You know what it seems like to me?” Jakob said. “It seems like to me this was a way in but somebody did something to make sure that no one would get in.”
“You have the most vast imagination of any man I’ve ever met,” I grumbled.
“You’re welcome. Let’s go.”
When we got back, we headed left. We went about 90 feet, following the rail line, before the tunnel came to a four-way intersection. The track went each direction. To the left, the tunnel immediately opened into a large room. Straight ahead and to the right, it went as far as I could see.
I motioned for Faldrial to put the hood on his lantern.
“Hold on,” I said. “Wait here.”
I crept to the edge of the room and looked in. It was about sixty feet deep and forty feet wide. There were multiple wooden bins held together by rusty iron bands. Most of them looked empty but some held debris. There was sign of coal in some of the bins as well. There was no movement.
“Clear,” I whispered.
Light appeared behind me and I carefully entered the room. Tweedle picked up a chunk of coal from a bin near the entrance as I continued into the room. There was a cry and a dark, crusty brown dog-headed thing popped up out of one of the bins. Several other heads popped up as well. There were horns on the things’ heads and they had glowing red eyes.
“Kobolds!” I said.
They glared at me.
“You kobolds want to make some money?” I said.
The kobold started to lunge out of the box and I stumbled back and fired two arrows into the room. One of Tweedle’s sling bullets struck a kobold near the front of the pack, hitting it in the head. It fell back into the bin. Faldrial’s hand crossbow bolt hit one of the kobolds in the room and it fell with a scream.
The creatures tumbled out of the bins and rushed us.
“C’mon you damned spider-lovers!” I shouted.
Two of them rushed me, their short spears glancing off my armor. Two others used the bins for cover as they approached us. Then Jakob ran into the room, moving between a couple kobolds.
“Glory to Kord!” he yelled.
The morning star came down hard on the ground next to the kobold.
I dropped my bow, drew my battle axe, and cleaved one of the kobolds facing me in half. I swung my axe around my head after the kill, splashing everyone in the area with kobold blood. A kobold popped his head out to look and was struck in the face by one of Tweedle’s sling bullets. It went down without a sound. Another kobold tried to stab me again but I easily dodged the blow. They tried to flank Jakob and another hand crossbow bolt flew into the room. Jakob easily blocked another of the kobolds with his shield and then ran between a pair of them. He tapped his morning star almost gently on another kobold’s head. The creature fell to the floor.
Seeing him subdue his enemy, I turned my axe sideways and tried to knock out the kobold I faced but the creature leapt out of the way. Tweedle kicked a crate. Faldrial slipped around the side of the room and then ran through the last kobold with his rapier.
We looted the dead bodies. The bins were empty except for some raw ore. I tied up the unconscious kobold, first tying his hands, then his feet, and then wrapping the rest of Tweedle’s 50 feet of rope around the creature until I had used it all. Jakob used his healing wand on it and it awoke. It struggled against the bonds and I slapped it in the face.
“Stop struggling,” I growled. “You speak common?”
He looked at me blankly. I asked he spoke dwarvish but the blank look didn’t leave his face. I grabbed him by the throat.
“Speak common!” I shouted at the terrified creature.
He shrieked something in some tongue I didn’t understand. I put him down.
“Shut up,” I said to the beast. “One yip for yes and two yips for no.”
He continued to shriek and squeal.
“That’s way too many,” I said.
“I don’t understand what he’s saying,” Jakob said.
“I can’t under understand him either.”
“Maybe we should just kill him now.”
Then Faldrial said something in a hissing language that bore a resemblance to what the kobold was still shrieking.
“You speak gibberish?” Jakob said.
“I do,” Faldrial said. “Fluently.”
He talked to the kobold and told us that he’d asked it if there were any other humanoids in the mines. I told him to ask if there were any spiders down there. The kobold nodded frantically. I glared at him.
“It’s going to be bad for you from now on,” Faldrial said to me.
“No it’s not,” I said. “I love killing spiders.”
“I know you love killing spiders but apparently we’ve got a lot of them.”
“Ask him if knows the way up to the keep.”
He spoke to the kobold and the creature asked him some question in return. I shook him.
“You’re sounding evasive to me!” I shouted in the creature’s face.
Faldrial spoke at length to the kobold.
“What are you telling this guy?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“Possibly getting him to help us,” Faldrial said.
“All right, that’s fine with me,” I said. “I got nothing against kobolds.”
Faldrial also told us that if the creature acted funny to just chop him in half.
“Shall I do it right now?” Jakob said. “He’s acting funny right now.”
The kobold said something to Faldrial.
“What’d he say?” I asked.
“What’d he say?” Jakob said.
“He’s going to offer to be our guide,” Faldrial told us.
“Does he know the way up to the keep?” I asked.
“He says he knows his way through the mine.”
“Does he know his way to the entrance up to the keep? Because if he doesn’t, there’s no reason to drag him along.”
“Do you think he’s lying?” Jakob asked.
Faldrial talked to the creature and told us that he didn’t know how to get into the keep, but could take us as far as where the spiders laired. I told him to ask the kobold if other kobolds lived in the place.
“Lots,” he translated.
“He’s lying,” I said.
“I think there’s some, but not a lot.”
“But he could lead us past the other kobolds to the spider area. He thinks.”
“That’s what he’s telling us.”
“Yes. That’s basically what he’s saying.”
“Fair enough. Hopefully that’s the right way. Ask him if anyone in his tribe can lead us up to the keep.”
He spoke to the kobold again and then told us none of the kobolds went past the spider room. I started unwrapping the rope from around it and then untied the creature’s feet. I tied his hands behind his back as Faldrial spoke to it in his own language again. He told us that the kobold still claimed he didn’t know of any way into the keep. I told the half-elf to warn the kobold that if shouted out or warned anyone of our approach that he would be instantly killed, but if he cooperated with us, we’d let him go. He translated my threat and told us that the kobold agreed.
The kobold led us out of the room and straight on through the intersection, where the tunnel began to head downwards. He took us through another intersection with a cave-in to the left and caves to the right. Some 50 feet after the second intersection, still following the rail line, the corridor opened into a huge room. The kobold stopped before we reached the entrance and said something quietly in his language.
“Ask him what’s here,” I said. “Is this the spiders, here?”
“He says he goes no further,” Faldrial said. “We’re where the spiders start.”
I started to untie the kobold.
“Tell him to tell his people that if they leave us alone, we’ll leave them alone,” I said. “Live and let live.”
“We should knock him out and throw him in the middle of the room and see if spiders eat him,” Jakob said.
“That seems kind of ... evil,” I muttered. “And awful.”
The kobold, now untied, ran away. I suggested getting some of the kobold bodies. After discussing it for a few moments, Jakob objecting that the spiders wanted blood and I noting that two were killed by blunt sling bullets, I went back to the room with the kobold bodies and retrieved the two corpses that Tweedle had killed. Tweedle asked for a torch and I gave him one. Jakob chanted and his morning star glowed.
“That’s magic,” I said.
“This is what magic looks like,” Jakob said to Tweedle.
The room beyond looked like a staging area. A track ran through it as far as we could see in the dark. A tunnel lay to the right and another tunnel lay further down the left wall. On the track were a half dozen mine carts, some tipped on their side and others upright, waiting for their next load. Wooden bins were scattered around the room. The ceiling was out of sight though I could make out stalactites there. I could hear water dripping all around. Spider webs hung down from the ceiling and tatters of the webs clung to the walls.
“I’ll scout ahead,” I whispered. “Cover me.”
I moved into the room, which proved to be only about 80 feet deep, and I saw nothing in the mine carts or the bins. However, shadows moved in the webs above.
“Spiders! Let’s get ‘em!” I said.
I headed for the opposite wall and thought I heard Jakob say “Where’s he going?” somewhere behind me. Then the spiders started to swing down on their webs. There were at least four of the things, each of them the size of a man.
Faldrial drew his hand crossbow and aimed at the things. Tweedle took out his sling and swung it around his head. He let fly, striking one of the spiders. Then he backed up to the entrance of the room. I shot the same spider twice, putting two shafts into it, but it continued to descend, blood dripping from its wounds.
“These things are tough!” I called out.
Jakob chanted and I felt suddenly blessed by his presence. The spiders dropped lightly to the ground and rushed towards us with that awful, eight-legged gait the nasties had. Faldrial shot the one filled with arrows as it approached him and it slowed to a crawl. Someone mumbled and two blue, magical missiles flew across the room and struck one of the spiders. I stopped and looked around.
“Was that the halfling?” I said. “Did we miss it? Son of a–!”
I fired two arrows at the spider that had been struck by the magic missiles, both of them sinking into the flesh of the beast. It slowed and stumbled as I backed away. Jakob slammed his morning star into the same spider, crushing its skull, while Faldrial closed his lantern, dropped his crossbow, and moved towards him.
“Come on!” I yelled at the spiders.
They did so, crossing the room. Two of them tried to bite Jakob but he blocked the horrid beasts and they did not injure him. I was not so lucky, however. The spider bit my left arm and I felt the terrible poison course through my veins. I felt terribly weak.
“Buggery stupid buggers!” I shrieked.
“Are you okay?” Jakob called to me.
“Spiders!” I shouted. “Why did it have to be spiders!?!”
Another sling bullet struck the spider that was still latched onto my arm. It fell off me and was badly injured, almost swaying on its eight legs. I dropped my bow and drew the battle axe from my back, then brought it down, but the spider skittered aside. Jakob was swinging wildly at the spiders around him.
Faldrial moved around the edge of the battle and flanked one of the spiders he fought. He skewered it, burying his rapier deep in the beast. The spider turned on the half-elf and bit him, blood and black venom spewing from the wound. Faldrial went pale and sagged. Another spider tried to bite Jakob but the man used his shield expertly. The last creature tried to bite me and sagged, dropping to the ground, its legs curling up underneath it.
“I hate you!” I bellowed.
Another sling bullet slammed into the spider that was fighting Jakob. I moved to stand by him and cut the spider he faced with my battle axe. Jakob turned to the spider that was trying to kill Faldrial. He slammed his glowing morning star down on the creature, cracking its thorax. Faldrial stabbed ineffectively and did a back flip away. The spider turned from him and bit Jakob, who stumbled back, visible sagging. The other spider bit me, tearing at the flesh of my chest and ripping through my leather armor.
“Damn you, spiders!” I cried. “This is why I hate you!”
Another glowing pair of magical missiles struck the spider that had just bit me. A leg flew off and the thing dropped the floor, dead. I glanced behind me and saw smoke coming off Tweedle’s finger.
“Yes!” I said. “I saw it!”
“What’d you see?” Jakob said.
“Never mind. It’s okay.”
“I didn’t see nothing!”
I moved to the last spider and brought my battle axe down upon it, killing it. I followed up the kill by swinging my axe over my head once again.
We tended to our wounds and tried to clean them of the spider venom. Tweedle retrieved his torch while I got arrows out of the dead spiders.
“I feel like crap,” I said, slumping against the wall.
“This armor is so heavy,” Jakob said.
He suggested going somewhere to rest. I disagreed, noting that we’d just gotten there and we had to press on.
“Okay, have fun,” he said.
“What?” I said. “Just stay in the back.”
Tweedle was, meanwhile, examining the spiders. Jakob used his wand to heal those of us who were injured and Tweedle asked if there was any way to get the poison from the spiders.
“Well,” I said, “your typical spider has a venom sack. It’s located just inside the mouth at the top in the back. Giant spiders – regular spiders it’s different. They’re notoriously difficult to remove. You got a dagger?”
He didn’t. While Jakob talked about getting rest and using his magic to restore everyone to their full strength, I crossed the room and briefly looked down the corridor opposite the one we’d come in. A passageway continued on into the darkness, going gradually upward as far as I could see.
I went back to the room where we’d killed the kobolds and brought back one of the short spears, breaking the head off and making a small dagger. I was able to remove the venom sacks from two of the spiders. I told Tweedle that the poison would have to be injected somehow.
We discussed what to do. I pointed out that if the orcs were nighttime raiders, they would find our camp if we camped outside. If we camped in the mines, we’d have to deal with the kobolds. I didn’t think we’d explored enough to set up a base camp in the caves yet. Jakob was of the opinion that we should camp in the room where we’d killed the kobolds. Faldrial thought we should push through, as did I. I noted that if it looked like the odds would be too steep, we could fall back to the mines.
In the end, we decided to at least scout ahead. I went down the dark corridor as quietly as I could. It went to about 100 yards before the rail came to an end in a larger room, the rough walls being replaced with flagstone and cobble. A single mine cart sat at the end of the track near a ramp. A small pile of coal sat near the ramp, the rest of the floor caked with black powder. On either side were dumbwaiters with two more in front of me. To the far right was a set of steps going up. There were a lot of boot prints in the coal dust.
I went back and told them I’d found the shaft that led up to the keep but that someone had been there.
We discussed when we should strike and the general consensus was to wait until nightfall in the hopes that most of the orcs and their warlock would go out to raid the countryside. I suggested we move to the end of the corridor and examine the shaft and the basement. We listened up the stairwell but I couldn’t hear anything. Faldrial said he could hear voices and movement up above somewhere. He suggested he scout ahead.
“If only there was some way of making you invisible,” I muttered. Then I turned to the human. “Jakob, that’s what I meant to tell you. That I saw something earlier.”
“You did?” he replied.
“In battle. When I said ‘I saw it.’ And you said ‘What?’ And I said ‘I’ll tell you later.’ I’m telling you now.”
“What was it?”
“It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I think the halfling actually cast a spell and I think I saw it.”
“I saw smoke coming out of his finger.”
Tweedle asked what we’d do if we had invisibility and I told him that if Faldrial was invisible, he could scout around above and get numbers of the enemy and figure out where they were.
“Hey look, an orc,” Tweedle suddenly said, pointing.
Jakob and I looked and I heard someone speak some strange words. When I turned around, Faldrial was gone and Tweedle was smiling.
“Where’d Faldrial go?” he asked.
“Did he skulk away?” Jakob asked.
Tweedle told us he’d cast a spell on the half-elf to turn him invisible so he could scout above.
Faldrial returned a short time later to tell us that the cellars above had orc cooks. He noted that dumbwaiters went up into those cellars and the orcs above were tenderizing meat. He said it appeared that they were actually eating the dead from the caravans.
I suggested the possibility of using lamp oil as the poison but it was pointed out that they orcs would taste it – it would taste horrible. My suggestion of adding a lot of pepper wasn’t taken very well.
We ended up going back to the room where we’d killed the kobolds and resting long enough for the spell casters to regain their spells. We figured after we had done so, it would be late enough that the orcs might be out raiding.
* * *
Faldrial crept up the steps ahead of us. He signaled us to come forward and, once we were at the top of the steps, we peeked over. Five orc cooks were in the room.
Faldrial rushed into the room and ran through the nearest orc. I shot two arrows into the room, dispatching two more of them.
“If you surrender, you will not be killed,” I said quietly in orc.
Then Tweedle shot one of them with his sling.
“Warning shot,” I muttered in orc. “That was just a warning shot.”
Jakob charged into the room and smashed the skull of another of the orcs. Then he finished off the last orc.
We had killed all of them without making a racket.
Faldrial peeked through the double doors on one wall and told us there were six orcs and three duergar within. The other set of double doors on the same wall led to the same room. Another door had a plate that read “Armory.” Faldrial said it looked like it was filled with various goods that had probably come from the various attacks on caravans. Two doors led into a storage room filled with more goods. Sleeping in the corner was a bald dwarf with gray skin and a raggedy beard. We killed him handily. Other doors opened into a hallway.
We found our way to a garden, passing various bedrooms. Three small doors that led to garderobes. Archways opened into some kind of sitting room. We dispatched the orcs in the bedrooms and the orcs and duergar in the sitting room.
From there, we went up the main hallway to the large double doors at the top. They opened into a large room with a fireplace, desk, and chairs. Further into the room were a balcony and a chest. A wall split the room in two and stepping around the corner was another gray dwarf. He glared at us and readied his battle axe.
“He’s mine,” I said.
Two magic missiles flew between Jakob and Iand struck the duergar. We both looked over our shoulders but Tweedle just shrugged at us.
“Was that you?” Jakob asked him.
The halfling shrugged again.
“That’s weird,” Jakob said.
The duergar muttered something in dwarvish. It sounded like “Arise my followers.” Then he vanished.
“Flour! Flour!” I shouted.
Two nearby doors opened and two men came out. They were obviously dead and looked as if they’d started rotting.
“Do your job, cleric!” I said.
Faldrial moved around one of the things and it struck him a blow to the arm. The thief ran the thing through but it did not fall.
“Get the flour out!” I yelled.
I dropped my bow and pulled the axe from my back. I swung widely and missed the horrible creature nearest to me.
Then Jakob raised his holy symbol and flexed his muscles at the creatures. That was all he did. Just looked buff. It must have been too much for them, however, because the skin melted from their bones and the things literally fell apart.
Tweedle stepped forward, said a few words, and suddenly a colorful spray of light burst from his fingers and filled the air in front of him.
“What the hell was that?” Jakob asked.
“Nothing,” Tweedle said.
“Sleep,” I heard a dwarven voice say from the far end of the room.
“I’m not tired ... you douche,” I said.
Then I heard someone running across the room, probably around the wall that cut the room in two. Jakob flung a bag of flour into the area and it burst open on the balcony, pretty far from where the duergar should have been. However, it was apparently right on target. The flour coated the duergar and Tweedle cast another magic missile spell, the bolts striking him. He stumbled and then glared at us just before he grew to over eight feet tall. He swung at Faldrial, who stood nearby, but missed, and then backed up onto the balcony. The half-elf tried to stab the creature ineffectually.
With a roar, I rushed across the room and ran into the giant duergar, trying unsuccessfully to push him off the balcony. Jakob cast another spell and then Tweedle cast another magic missile at the creature. The bolts struck him in the face and he fell over the balcony to his death.
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