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  1. #51
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    The wide base of the tower was rounded, built from huge stone blocks that showed a small amount of weathering from their exposure to the winds atop the bluff that Winterhaven was built on. Moss and thin vines grasped the sides of the tall structure in places, but it was apparent that someone occasionally tried to clear off the vegetation, even if it was a half-hearted effort. Once inside the heavy double-doors, they had been presented with a typical entry room, with several small tables, a worn, but well-made floor rug, and various bookshelves, all filled with row upon row of matching bindings of various red and blue shades, most slightly muted with dust. A set of narrow stairs climbed away to their left, curving sharply to the right in order to follow the curvature of the structure. Following the instructions that had been left for them by the owner of the tower, they began to ascend the tower stairs.

    At the landings for the second and third floors, they only found sturdy double doors between them and what was presumably an unused floor, judging by the dust gathered on the handles and on the floor, save footprints leading up to the next floor. An acrid bite of incense assaulted Omar’s nose as he reached the landing for the fourth floor, where the stairs stopped leading up. Another pair of doors, identical to the previous two, except for showing obvious regular use, thudded heavily as the dwarf pounded on them with his gloved fist three times.

    Immediately the click of a latch reported from the other side and the left door swung inward spilling a combination of day and candlelight into the stairwell. A middle aged human wearing a simple brown robe with no decoration finished a deliberate sweep of his hand in the direction the door had opened, and then purposefully moved his hand through the air in the other direction, and the second door swung open with an equaled steady gait. As the man finished his second arcane motion and the doors were both wide open, a second figure was visible.

    There was no mistaking which of the two was Vrax. Compared to the man who was presumably Valthrun, the wizard’s garb was extravagant. The rich fabric was the same dark crimson hue as pooling blood, contained in the gold piping that traced the edges of the robe and coalesced into fighting dragons. As he turned on the stool where he sat, the silvery image of the dragon sire, Bahamut, flittered across the back of his robe before they caught Vrax’s visage.

    Omar had seen many dragonborn during his travels, and held them in fair regard as a race. They were dependable, honorable, and had an integrity that dwarves could easily respect. From the stare he noticed from the halfling, neither of them had been prepared for exactly what Daichot meant when he said runt. While the draconian wizard was straightening his posture as a toothy crease parted his face, it was already apparent that there was effort involved, and he was using the haft of a spear he leaned on the support him. All dragonborn had leathery skin and clustered scales, much like other races had body hair. But Vrax’s flesh and scales were pale by comparison to most of his race. Rather than a rich brown or vivid red, his skin looked more like a fine layer of chalk scattered over earth. Both caught themselves gawking at the mage, but Daichot had already strode heavily into the room to greet his old friend.

    “Vrax!” he exclaimed as his heavy boots impacted the wooden floors, and his companions fell into the room behind him.

    The dragonborn gripped his spear with white-knuckled determination as he willed his legs to support the weight of his torso, half-rising to his feet before the tiefling clasped his outstretched arm and yanked him to a full stand and pumped his clasped forearm heartily.

    “How are you, old devil?” the dragonmage rasped.

    Daichot smiled broadly at him, only emphasizing his features more, and the crease in Vrax’s face deepened, accompanied by a weak chuckle that ended in a small fit of coughing.

    “I see that your mastery of the arcane has done little for your back.” The warlord spoke to Vrax in a critical tone, but he smiled as he did so. It wasn’t clear if he was ridiculing the wizard or teasing as he added, “Perhaps you should have been learning to do a push up instead of hurling fireballs, no?”

    Vrax nodded his head in agreement. “I tried to join the city guard when I heard you left, but they told me I wasn’t nearly stupid enough to take your place.”

    Daichot laughed hoarsely at the insult, and the others relaxed as they recognized friendly banter, as opposed to hostilities rising. The warlord held onto Vrax’s arm as the wizard lowered himself back to his seat, then Daichot spread his reach out behind him to introduce the others.

    “Let me present to you Omar Irontoe,” Omar bowed, “and Percy Padfoot!”

    Percy nodded slightly, “Hey.”

    “Percy the Dragonslayer, by the news I’ve heard…” added Vrax.

    The halfling immediately perked up. “That’s correct! Wow, I’m famous!”

    “Yes…” said Vrax softly, “Everyone in Fallcrest knows of you by now.”

    Percy stalled at the compliment, and a look of alarm flashing across his face for a moment, which didn’t escape Omar. “Ye look startled, lad—thought ye’d be glad ta be known ta all!” The dwarf clapped him roughly on the back as he laughed hard at the idea of Percy being embarrassed by the attention, while the halfling gulped down the sudden realization, thankful his face was misinterpreted.

    “Yeah,” he chuckled with passing conviction, “I guess I’m just not used to it, yet.” He changed the subject abruptly, “So I guess you’re Valthrun?”

    The older man nodded as he rose from his chair. “Valthrun the Prescient, by the town records; I serve in an advisory capacity to the guardians of Winterhaven, and do what I can to read portents of danger as they approach. Please, come and sit at my table. I have some simple snacks prepared here, as Vrax and I have been discussing dark matters that abound in these lands.”

    Valthrun sat back down lightly and waited for the others to join them. Daichot quickly pulled out a stool from beneath the heavy table and sat next to Vrax, while Omar and Percy set to the left of them, all facing Valthrun across the long planks. He was wearing a brown robe with no adornments, held by a single strip of stiff brown cloth that was functioning as a belt. A plain wooden staff, decorated with some rough carving work at one end was leaning against the table next to him, but using the judge of his well-trimmed mustache and beard, flecked throughout with grey, he did not need the implement to walk. His eyes held a spark that many adventurers had, but were supported by bags of skin long since worn out from squinting at obscure script and scrawled runes on parchment.

    Valthrun pursed his lips and pressed the palms of his hands together as he thought back to the conversation Vrax was having with him, and decided where to resume. Daichot spoke first, however.

    “Where is Douven Staul?”

    Omar noted a flicker of something in the dragonborn’s eyes, as their gazes met for a moment. Vrax answered as the twinkle disappeared. “I do not know. I have a clumsy map that the old man at the inn drew for me, but it is south, past the graveyard, deep into the forest.”

    “I heard you wiped out a kobold warband on the way here, why didn’t you go find the guy?”

    Vrax nodded, “Yes, but that battle was out of necessity. Defending myself on a traveled road is different than going into the deep dark places of the world looking for danger.” Vrax held up his thin hand, one slender finger ending in a talon extended to emphasize he wasn’t finished speaking. “Of course, had you not returned in the next hour, I was going to try, anyway.”

    The tiefling looked grim. “What do you know already?”

    “Only what Valthrun and the other townsfolk have shared. He was staying at the Wrafton for the last two weeks, heading south with two diggers each morning. From what tales I’ve heard from the innkeeper, he claimed to have found the burial site of a dragon, and hasn’t been heard from since.”

    Daichot’s shoulders slumped a little. “How long ago was that?”

    Vrax shrugged, “If their recollection is correct, the last time they saw him was four days ago. He sent a message via ritual to me the day before that, from what Valthrun tells me.”

    The older human nodded in agreement. “Yes, I attached a brief message from Douven five days ago by sparrow, to the Emerald Tower in Fallcrest, the same day I sent the call to arms to deal with the kobolds on the Lord Warden’s behalf. We’ve reasoned that either Douven has fallen upon trouble, or else he’s found buried treasure and hasn’t returned for fear of leading others back to it.”

    It was plain that Vrax was only entertaining that idea as an option to the alternative, and Daichot did not need long to reach the same feelings on the matter. “Then it’s settled, we’ll head south and find him, Vrax.”

    “I dinnae mean ta butt me head inna ye’re dealin’s with yer kin, Daichot… but… what about the note we found?”

    Daichot felt an urge of protest thump in his chest for a moment but knew that Omar was right. Valthrun seemed immediately interested.

    “Note, you say? From where—the kobolds?”

    “Aye,” was all that Omar offered, as Percy produced the folded note from his pouch and handed it to the sage.

    Valthrun held the note some distance from his face and scanned the dirty scrap of parchment for several long seconds. His eyes lazily drifted down the page, quickly taking in the contents of the letter, and then he set the document on the table, and pushed it towards Vrax, who picked it up and read it quickly, much faster than the human had.

    “Who is Irontooth?”

    “Tha biggest goblin you ever seen.” Said Omar, “Plus tha leader o’ them kobolds ‘at we found. So if’n I read that right, an’ I think I did… ye got ye at least one spy.”

    “Spy?” asked Valthrun incredulously, “a spy for whom?”

    “Our best guess,” offered Daichot, “is an Orcus cult, and specifically someone named Kalarel.”

    “Orcus!? Well there hasn’t been any cult of the sort in this area for several decades...” he drifted off, “But there have been omens pointing to something dark on the horizon.”

    “I don’t think it’s that far off anymore, mister.” Said the halfling flatly.

    “The lad’s right, them kobolds was werkin’ fer sum’un else.” Added Omar.

    “The ritual mentioned in this letter, foretells something ominous that has lay dormant within striking distance of Winterhaven for a century.”

    “The keep?” asked Vrax.

    “Yes. I fear that dark place has returned to haunt us. I have felt the dark touch of the place for some time, but I hoped that my premonitions were only one possible future.”

    “Do you think someone is trying to undo the seal, then?”

    “Why else would a cult of Orcus be operating in the area, or need spies in the town and kobolds to occupy any meddlers? I fear that what is coming to pass is tr—“

    “Stop!” Daichot exclaimed as he pounded his fist loudly onto the table. “Some of us were busy obtaining that note from a goblin bent on cleaving us in half. What keep?”

    Vrax calmly turned to the agitated tiefling who he had known for several years, and calmly answered him. “The Keep on the Shadowfell, Daichot. It would appear that someone, most likely named Kalarel, is trying to open a rift to the Shadowrealm.”
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

 

  • #52
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    “So was that Valthrun guy exaggerating maybe just a little?” Percy asked aloud as they made their way along the overgrown King’s Road, leading them northward away from Winterhaven. “A horde of the most vile and merciless undead you could imagine will spill into this world, and…” the hafling quoted the prophet mockingly, pausing before the finish to take a breath for his big finish, “CONSUME the land!” His arms were raised over his head with stubby digits curled into finger-talons to accentuate his ridicule.

    “In truth,” Vrax replied, several paces behind the rogue, breathing heavily but making a decent effort to conceal the fatigue he was feeling, “the old sage was being rather conservative with his estimated result.” Percy looked at him with a smirk and raised eyebrow, obviously doubting the substance of the dragonborn’s claim. “The Keep did not just guard a rift between this world and the realm of shadow. No, the portal that was sealed below the fortress led into the heart of Orcus’s domain! While such a meager gate is unlikely to draw the demon lord’s attention directly, were it to be opened, it would only be a matter of time before he used the gateway to enter this world, and that would quite simply be the end of things, for us, anyway.”

    “Do ye not think the gods would oppose tha lord o’ the undead?” asked Omar. He was leading the front of their march, as usual, with unwavering dwarven strides.

    “The First Dragon would,” added Daichot, “I’m sure of that.”

    “As am I, brother,” replied Vrax, genuinely, “but the war between those beings would destroy these lands, and all around them—so the result is the same.”

    “Well if this damned portal is so dangerous, why don’t they guard it? I thought the keep is abandoned!” Percy felt the obviousness of his question shouldn’t need to be pointed out.

    “The legends behind the keep and why it was abandoned are shrouded in mystery, Percy.” Daichot, who had an interest in the history of the land, knew much of the landmarks in the Nentil Valley. “A hundred years ago, during the fall of the Nerath empire, the keep was one of the last bastions of that age to fall.”

    “Daichot is correct,” Vrax assured them, “but in my time talking with Valthrun, I did learn some things about the keep, a little more recent than Kran’s History of the Valley, which was until now the accepted authority on the events of this land.”

    Daichot looked intrigued at the mention of the history, and Percy smiled at one of his favorite past times. “Sounds like a story is coming…” he hoped out loud.

    Vrax smiled, the same odd toothy crease in his snout they had seen in the tower. “A hundred years ago was the last time the keep was occupied; that much is correct. The garrison stationed there was a troop of knights led by a paladin of the Platinum Dragon; his name was Sir Keegan.” The wizard drew a ragged gulp of air as he tried to talk and walk at the same time, an activity that was proving more taxing than most might have anticipated.

    “Centuries before they guarded the keep, the rift was opened once before, and a terrible battle of blood and shadow erupted across the Nentir for months. Finally, at a significant cost of family and fortune, the lords of the Nerathian Empire succeeded in driving what foul spawn came through the portal back into the shadow world, and sealed the gate behind them. So many wizards were lost during that time, they built a temple around the gate dedicated to controlling it, so that the younger wizards that would take their places as they moved on to their next destinies could keep the portal closed.”

    “Why not destroy it?” asked the halfling.

    “They didn’t know what would happen, so they thought it best to just keep it from opening again.”

    “I can relate. Sometimes it’s better to just know how the trap on a wizards trea… err… door… works, rather than try to disarm it…”

    Vrax shook his head and continued, “So for two centuries various lords saw to the maintenance and occupation of the keep, until the mantle of leadership was passed on to Sir Keegan.”

    “Ah get tha feelin’ that this Keegan fella’ is the flaw in tha plan…” Omar mused.

    “That’s correct, good dwarf. But no one knows why. The legend is that almost a hundred years ago, one night the paladin went mad, and began to slaughter everyone inside the keep, starting with his wife and son.”

    “Ouch.” Said Percy. “That’s cold.”

    “As to what happened then is where the texts that Valthrun had varied in speculation. Some believe that the mighty paladin was eventually defeated by his officers. One scroll I read suggested that Sir Keegan was never slain, but only forced into the catacombs beneath the keep, closer to the portal, where his insanity claimed him and carried his soul into the Undeath.”

    “A ghost?” said Percy incredulously.

    “As it were, yes.”

    “Pshaw!” he exclaimed. “Woooo! Careful guys, there’s a big bad ghost in there!”

    Vrax shrugged. “Yes, the events are unlikely, but I can assure you that the rift itself is very real. Already I can feel the taint of that corrupted place altering the air.”

    Omar sniffed audibly as he walked, and muttered something about mages that was lost on the breeze.

    “After we see to this cult, we’ll go and find Douven, I promise, Vrax.”

    The wizard nodded, but was busy leaning on his spear as he brought up the back of their swift march. His story of the keep had taken a lot of the wind out of him. “Father… would have wanted us… to stop the more serious threat.”

    “I agree,” said Daichot, and it had been he that suggested they deal with the keep first, after they learned of the grave danger the cult represented.

    “Hold.” Exclaimed Omar softly, crouching his short, stocky frame low to the ground. The others fell silent and crouched among the overgrown foliage of the road as Percy slipped up to the front of the line to see what Omar had spotted.

    Rising out of the trees and bushes packed into the east face of the hillside to their right, the moonlight reflected vividly off white and grey blocks of stone that had tumbled in on themselves. The massive pile of rocks were covered with creeping vines, mosses, and sapling trees sprang through the cracks in the stone, seeking to reach up to the sky with their young limbs. Percy crept a few paces ahead and slipped into the brush, disappearing as the others expected to see movement in the grass and cover, but instead everything was still.

    Two minutes passed before Percy emerged from another tangle of leafy branches that were fighting to touch the ground. As he slinked back over to them, Percy gave his report.

    “When he said an earthquake brought it down, he wasn’t kidding. But there’s a pathway cleared through the rubble—I’m guessing by the goblins that elf lady told us about, by the tracks going down there.”

    “Down where?”

    “Into the basement, I guess. The walls and towers are ruined, but I saw a faint light down the steps. I couldn’t see anything though; the stairs go down too far. I think Vrax might be right about that portal though, I can feel it, too.”

    “You can?” asked Daichot, waiting for the punch line.

    “Yeah, listen,” Percy turned his head to listen to the forest, as the others started to pay attention to the ambient noise around them, or lack thereof. “Nothing, right?” Percy wasn’t smiling—he seemed rather alert and cautious at the moment. “No bugs, birds, or rodents. That’s not natural.”

    “Aye, is kinda weird bein’ so silent.” Omar pulled out his pouch of chewing tobacco and tore a hunk of the wad off with his teeth, and began to work the plug into his cheek. He chewed on the tacky wad of leaves for a moment before spitting a glob of brown juice onto the path and wiping his short beard, which had recently gotten a second braid, which had the tiny, cracked earring of an Orcus ram’s head he had pulled out of Irontooth’s ear woven into the hair, upside down to insult the symbol. “We just go in an’ kill ‘em? Or some’un got a better idea?”

    Percy turned to speak, but Vrax answered first.

    “We will cleanse this place in the testing fires of the Elemental Chaos, from which all things were created; woe is to them that stand in our path…” The wizard accentuated his point as a ball of living flame sprang to life in the palm of his opened hand, set like a flaming diamond amid the claws on his fingertips.

    “Wow. I was gonna say there’s treasure to be found, but that sounded a lot cooler.” Admitted Percy.
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

  • #53
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    Hope folks are still enjoying the story, updates should stay pretty regular for a little while. Time to start getting into the nitty gritty of the keep itself now!

    ---------------

    Omar scrutinized the stone work that formed the walls of the stairs they were slowly marching down. The blocks were fit well, but the mortar was powdery and ancient. The stone was a darker variety of granite, mixed with sandstone, both of which were commonly found in the area. Interspersed through the rubble above, they had found many worn effigies of Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, and god of justice. As they came closer to the approaching landing that was now visible to them, a rotting smell of decay wafted up the descending corridor, and made his nose wrinkle.

    Glancing to his left he could see the odor had reached Daichot as well, who was making a sour face, but did not speak. He shared a look with the dwarf, silently agreeing that the pungent stench was not natural rot, and they resumed their careful descent into the lower levels of the keep. Percy was behind Omar, a few feet up the stairs from him, holding his wicked magical dagger in a reversed grip in his left hand, with his hand crossbow loaded and ready in his right. He was scanning over the dwarf’s head into the chamber that was becoming visible as they got lower, when Vrax sputtered and coughed audibly, a sound that shattered the air and rolled down the corridor with a reverberation that shook their bones in the comparative silence.

    Percy looked at the others with disbelief at the futility of trying to remain quiet, as Daichot and Omar looked back at the hunched wizard, favoring his spear for support and burying his face into the arm of his robe as he tried to recover from the wracking cough that grabbed at his lungs. As the dragonborn tried to hold his breath, involuntary spasms in his chest continued to shake his form, but he managed to stifle the sound to no more the his muffled, labored breaths.

    Knowing there was nothing else they could do about the situation, Omar shook his head once and resumed descending the steps, carefully putting one foot before the other. Soon, his heavy leather boots came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, as they all took in the entry chamber before them.

    The ceiling was roughly ten feet above them, fairly standard for human structures of the time. The floors were originally well-fit stone tiles, but several of the pieces were cracked or all together shattered now, revealing dark earth beneath them. Four wide columns of sandstone extended from their simply-chiseled bases up to the ceiling, devoid of frivolities, spaced evenly about the chamber in a square. Two torches burned silently across the room on the southern wall, illuminating the chamber in a steady orange glow. From the north end of the room where Omar stood before the others, the west and east walls were fifteen paces to each side, and it was nearly thirty to the other end of the chamber. Passages led out of the chamber opposite the stairs, in the south, west, and eastern walls. The light from outside reflected off of the stairs loosely, but did little to illuminate the room beyond the small torches nestled in sconces on the walls.

    Omar and Daichot both held their weapons ready, ready to spring into action, as Percy suddenly shouted out. “Goblin!” he cried and leaped from his position on the stairs over the dwarf, landing in a low crouch on the balls of his feet and triggering his crossbow at the creature. The bolt flew wide as the goblin that was creeping up the south passage wielding a serrated spear ducked reflexively. Percy rolled to his left and pressed his back into the pillar northwest of the room’s center as the goblin shrieked something in it’s own language and jabbed its spear towards Omar in a challenge.

    “He’s sounding an alarm, that means intruders!” Warned the halfling to the others.

    “Not fer long he ain’t!” roared Omar as he charged across the room. With heavy stomps of his boots the dwarf raced across the room as fast as his legs would afford his heavy frame. He drew back his hammer behind him, preparing to cave in the goblin’s skull with one mighty sweep of the bludgeon but halfway across the room, a hollow snap reported to the stamp of his boot, rather then the reassuring thud of solid stone.

    With a flurry of dust and metal, the dwarf vanished into a collapsing frame of thin wooden boards supporting a taut, stone-painted canvas. As the camouflage over the pit spanning the center of the room between the pillars gave way, the dwarf careened heels over head into the yawning mouth of the trap and crashed loudly at the bottom of the short drop.

    Before Daichot could react the goblin hurled his spear across the room, narrowly missing the warlord as he ducked under the missile and charged around the west side of the pillars, stealing a glance down into the pit at the dwarf. Omar was righting himself as quickly as he could, but the floor of the pit seemed to be crawling. Unable to see more as he passed, the tiefling swept his greataxe around in a whistling strike at the goblin warrior, but the foul creature sprang away from the titanic strike, avoiding the deathblow by inches as the weapon flashed with yellow fury against the stone walls of the keep. The warlord swapped his grip on the weapon immediately, so that he was ready to strike back the other direction, as a silvery bolt of force streaked past him and clipped the goblin across the shoulder. Vrax quickly moved up to the first pillar the warlord had ran past and checked on the dwarf, simultaneously tapping into the fires of Chaos as his hands began to waver with heat and his robes fluttered in a self-created breeze.

    Omar quickly shook the fog out of his head from the fall down to the earthen floor ten feet below the floor, partially from having the thick skull of a dwarf, but mostly from the pain of the hundreds of rats that were swarming over his body. Several of them bit him on his hands and face painfully, and he swept them away with his shield arm while crashing his hammer into a pile of them. Three rats were smashed beyond recognizable form from the impact, but a dozen more piled over the carcasses clinging to his arms. Fighting to get to his feet the dwarf slammed himself into the wall to dislodge more of the starving rodents, only to feel another painful bite lance through the thick leather of his boots.

    “Ach! ‘At’s me toe ye blasted vermin!” he cried, “Stop ye’re squirmin’ ye bastard rats! Oi! Let go o’ me finger!”

    Percy decided the Omar would survive the ordeal and turned his attention to the west, down the side passage, luckily in time to see another goblin creeping towards the edge of the room, spear ready to throw. “Vrax! Another one!” he yelled out in alarm, and quickly loosed his crossbow the beast. The bolt clipped the creature in the arm right as it threw the spear, and the weapon flew off it’s mark, nicking the dragonborn across the shoulder.

    “Thank you, Percy, that might have killed—“

    “Thank me later! Kill them back!” interrupted the halfling, springing to his feet as he sank another bolt into his crossbow and ran down the south passage after the pursuing warlord.

    Vrax unleashed another missile of arcane force at the new assailant to the west, and the air warbled in protest as the silvery splash of magic caught the creature in the stomach, knocking it backwards awkwardly as it clutched as the bolt in its arm. The goblin shrieked in alarm, then retreated down the corridor, turning right to the south, and vanishing around a corner. Seeing Daichot at the end of the southern tunnel, the warlord had chased the first goblin into another chamber, and fallen to the left, at least one crossbow bolt protruding from his shoulder. Fearing that his mighty friend had been overcome, Vrax ran as fast as he could manage to the south, leaving Omar by himself in the pit.

    As the dwarf managed to hoist himself up the last few feet of the rough wall, he found himself hanging onto the very edge of the pit, looking at the steps leading back up to the light of day, but didn’t see anyone. The sound of battle was faint, some distance off now.

    “Now where in blazes did ye all go!?”
    Last edited by Xorn; Wednesday, 30th July, 2008 at 01:35 AM.
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

  • #54
    I'm still enjoying this Xorn. Your descriptions are well-done, and the character development awesome. I feel like I'm really getting to know these guys.

  • #55

    Well done

    I am really enjoying the story and I agree with other posters about character development. Great job!

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    Woops!

    Woops! Sorry everyone, I forgot my USB drive this morning that I keep my story backed up on, so I didn't do any writing today at work, and I'm currently watching every episode of BSG from season 1 to 4 with the extras, so I doubt I'll write anything tonight. The fight continues tomorrow!
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

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    Kind of a double-dose today, had some free time before lunch...

    ---------------

    Daichot’s vision was tunneled and dizzy as he slammed into the corner of the room. The narrow fletching of the crossbow bolt protruding from his ribs caught the lower frame of his vision, and he felt the stone behind him scraping against the scale plates of his armor. He could see the two goblins that had ambushed him as he entered the chamber both leveling their crossbows at him again from across the room.

    Somehow the goblin he had chased this direction has managed to turn so abruptly that Daichot had been unable to match his turn and overshot him. While the sheen of blood on the metal of his greataxe reminded that he had caught the beast as he careened past, the two goblins hunkered down behind the beds in this sleeping chamber were about to make sure it didn’t do anymore damage.

    A fog was muffling his thoughts from obeying his instincts, which were to roll, put his arms up, anything to avoid the incoming attack, but instead he just felt his eyes getting heavy. An impossible distance away, he could see a small figure—not a goblin, but the same height—running towards him. That goblin he had been chasing was in the way, but the little figure somersaulted past the green-skinned warrior as it fell over for no apparent reason. A realization that the cloaked figure was Percy was one of the last things he remembered as the halfling ran into the room and the sound of crossbow strings cut the air as the weight of his eyelids was just too much to bear.

    “Yipe!” hollered Percy as he slipped in a puddle of blood that was trailing away from the goblin he had just hamstrung. A pair of goblins, hiding behind wooden cots littered with mud and straw opened fire on him with crossbows. Through sheer luck, both of the bolts whistled past his chest as his lost footing actually caused him to duck out of the way.

    The halfling slid the last few paces to Daichot’s stunned mass, crashing into the warlord heavily and grabbing hold of the tiefling’s armor to regain his footing. Both of the sharpshooters were reloading frantically as a blast of fire exploded into the room from the north, and the screams of the crippled goblin dying intermingled with a furious dragon screech from the wizard that walked past him, oblivious to the flames.

    Percy smacked the warlord across the face as hard as he could muster, and fired his hand crossbow across the room, the quarrel lodging into the firing lever of the crossbow one of them was holding. “Wow, lucky shot!” he exclaimed and yanked back on the chestplate of the tiefling, jostling him roughly. “Wake up, dammit!”

    Daichot groggily opened his eyes, and Percy backhanded him again, “You’re not down yet! Get in there and fight!”

    The fog began to retreat from his vision as his heartbeat quickened, and Daichot started take in the room. The chamber was about the same size as the entry to the north, but littered with debris and clutter. In the northeast corner there were two beds, which were currently obscuring his view of two goblins, one aiming his crossbow at them, and the other frantically trying to load the weapon. On the west end of the room there was a large set of double doors set back from the chamber by a short hallway, and on his immediate right was a small wooden door, which Percy’s cloak was pinned to by two crossbow quarrels.

    The rogue noticed his cloak was caught at the same moment that the tielfling did, as the gap beneath the door darkened with the shadow of legs standing on the other side.

    “Oh… balls.” Percy muttered with a resigned sigh.

    The door swept open, away from them into the other room, and Percy was yanked off of his feet again as one of the goblin’s behind the bed fired his crossbow, the bolt passing through the space Percy had just been standing and skittering off the wall harmlessly. The goblin standing in the doorway hoisted his spear back, ready to thrust it into the helpless rogue, as Daichot quickly rose to his feet and caught the shaft of the weapon as it thrust downward.

    The goblin gritted his teeth as he tried to free the weapon from Daichot’s iron grip and realized too late that he should have been running. Realizing his axe was still lying on the ground behind him, with a roar of unchallenged anger the warlord forcefully ripped the arrow protruding from his ribs out, and jammed the bloody implement into the goblin’s shoulder. The hapless beast squealed in horrified pain as it let go of the spear and scrambled backward into the storeroom the door opened into.

    As Daichot turned to check on the halfling, he had already shed his cloak and was leaping over the nearest bed, a dagger flashing in each hand as he passed another torch sputtering in the aftermath of Vrax unleashing a missile of force into the other hiding goblin. Hearing the clank of Omar’s armor quickly coming down the hall, Daichot twirled his newly acquired spear in his grip and gave chase into the storeroom.

    The goblin that he had thrust the bolt into had rounded the corner and was fleeing back to the north, towards a still swaying curtain that blocked off the view of the passage beyond. Not willing to risk losing sight of the beast, Daichot hurled the weapon at the short form with all of his might. The tip of the spear passed through the center of the goblins back with barely an interruption to its momentum, bursting out of the creature’s chest and into the heavy canvas of the curtain. Tangled and pinned to the heavy curtain, the goblin’s slumping body arced into the air before twirling about lazily at the top of the swing, then crashed back down into the wall. As blood poured from the terrible hole in its body, the goblin’s lifeless body hung limply from the curtain.

    Percy tackled the goblin whose crossbow was disabled and the two of them disappeared on the far side of the stinking cot. A guttural and horrified scream was abruptly cut short with a slick and wet slicing sound, and the halfling rose from behind the bed, wiping a splatter of dark blood from his cheek and looking for the last goblin.

    Vrax, unable to keep up with the fleeing creature, gave up and extended his right arm out towards the thing, his hand curled into a contortion of significant meaning in the arcane circles. A slithering whisper escaped his lips, in a language unknown to those untrained in the power words of the world, and even to another wizard, mostly gibberish intended to conceal the true sounds of power that would invoke and control the elemental tempest that lurked within this world. One word was very clear to any that studied arcane though, one word that Vrax was most familiar with. Fire.

    The corner of the room before the stone doors exploded in a cataclysm of flame. No inch was left untouched by the hungry wizardfire which was unleashed, and as the goblin screamed with throat-tearing agony, it only gave the flames a new surface to burn, hungrily devouring its lungs. Then the fire was gone as quickly as it had been summoned, as the wizard reigned in the power he was tapping, lest it break free, and continue to feed. Patches of natural fire had sprang from the arcane source, and left that corner of the room covered with scorched stone and sizzling fragments of wood or smoldering parchment.

    As the goblin fell to the floor, it’s flesh crisped and black, popping and blistering in the stillness of the chamber, Omar finally got past the wizard, who was quietly admiring the death throes of his victim. Raising his hammer quickly, he dashed the thing’s brains across the floor, and looked back to see Daichot retrieving his axe as Percy wiped his blades free of gore on the corpse of a goblin.

    “Did any get away?”

    ***************

    “You’ve uh… got a… you have a… thing…”

    Omar watched Percy half-indicating there was something on his back as he kept trying to look over his right shoulder to see what the halfling was trying to point out. He half suspected this was some kind of prank, and his annoyance was growing.

    “Blasted halfling! Jus’ get it, then!”

    Percy made an ugly face as he reached out and gingerly plucked at a rat tail protruding from the shoulder joint of the dwarf’s armor. Pulling on it like a prissy little girl picking up a worm, the tail popped free with a wet slurp and oozing pus. Percy felt his lunch offer to vacate his stomach and choked down the urge as he stamped his feet at the grotesque image.

    “Oh gods! It came off! No way man, I am not touching that!”

    “What in blazes is on me back, ye daft fool!?” Omar flexed his arm about producing crunching and dribbling sounds from the joint as the corpse of the tiny vermin crackled and compressed in its final resting place.

    “It’s a big, nasty rat!” exclaimed Percy. “Oh quit moving, it’s just getting sloppier!” The halfling finally worked up the nerve to grab hold of the back half of the bloody lump and pull it free, quickly dropping the body to the floor as it thumped with a splatter of blood and breaking, hairy pustules. “By Avandra’s grace, that’s just gross.”

    Vrax chuckled at the scene as he and the halfling resumed checking the bodies and inspecting the chambers they had been fighting in. Daichot was looking through the supplies in the storeroom when Omar entered the chamber to check on him.

    “Are ye alright, lad? I thought ye was in worse shape a’fore I see ya now.”

    Daichot nodded, wrinkling his nose as his eyes watered from the smell of a cask he had unstopped. “I’m fine. Just dazed for a moment.”

    “Ahm not sayin’ I dinnae believe ya, Daichot, but ‘ats yer blood on yer armor. A lot of it.” Omar pointed to the sheen of gleaming red that stained the left side of his ribs, where he had violently pulled the bolt free.

    “I can’t explain it, Omar. I thought I was finished, but the skin is barely broken. I don’t know if I just got the wind knocked out of me, or if the gods have blessed me, but I’m fine now.” Daichot was not moving like someone that had just had a quarrel jammed into his chest.

    “I think ‘at’s truer than you know, lad. Ye’ve got the gift o’ healin’ in ye. Dinnae know how ye come to do it, but we’ve all been walkin’ away from injury we shouldnae have.” Omar patted his leg, where a week ago he thought a drake had nearly bit his leg in two. “I think ye’re the reason, lad.”

    Daichot thought about what the dwarf had suggested, and couldn’t find fault in his conclusions. “I don’t disagree with you, Omar. Perhaps it’s the will of the First Dragon.”

    Omar smiled and coughed as he realized how bad the room smelled. “Oof. Lad, ifn’ there’s treasure here, they can damn well keep it.”

    “Hey, hey,” interrupted Percy, “let’s not be hasty. There’s no treasure that can’t benefit from a little tender love and care.”

    Daichot lobbed a hunk of moldy, rotten cheese at the rogue, who ducked out of the way as it splattered across the wall. Percy couldn’t pinch his nose quickly enough to escape the terrible smell.

    “Okay, except maybe the treasure in this room. Gods that smells bad!” All of them retreated out of the room back into the smoldering, scorched bedchamber.

    “So which way now?” asked Omar. “The passage west out of tha entryway looks ta be the most used. Percy found muddy footprints down tha east hall—“

    “Goblin footprints, by my guess.” Percy added.

    “Right. And ‘en we have these doors.” They were all looking at the heavy stone double doors, still warm from the wizard’s fireblast. “Can’t tell how much ‘ey used ‘em from all the debris,” the dwarf faced the wizard, “not that I’m complainin’, mind ya.”

    “Can you sense the portal still?” asked Daichot.

    Vrax shook his head. “No. Rather, I can feel the presence of the portal, but I can’t sense a direction.”

    “Well, was the portal here before the keep was?”

    “Yes, it was discovered long before the keep was built.”

    Daichot thought about the options for a moment. “Well, if there’s muddy footprints, maybe their trying to dig it up. Earthquake might have blocked off the portal.”

    Omar nodded. “Seems like a good chance.”

    “East we go then…” added Vrax.

    ****************
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

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    A rhythmic sound of tools striking packed earth trickled up the corridor to the adventurers as they descended the steps they found past the east door. The soft light from the end of Vrax’s spear, conjured with just a flick of his wrist, was giving way to gentle shadows as the stonework became increasingly caked with muddy tracks heading both directions. A flickering light ahead of them and the commotion they could hear suggested there was definitely someone or something in the chamber. South of the wall they were huddled against quietly, another passage branched off, where the air was cooler, and stank with the sickly-sweet smell of decay and old mud. Oddly, no tracks came out of that chamber, and the walls were not formed by masonry centuries before, but natural rock formations, the only sign of tools being used on them was the hewn stairs descending into the darkness. As Percy knelt down close to the descent and listened intently, he felt confident he had heard everything he was going to.

    Huddling close to the others, he spoke in a whisper. “Okay, I just hear some rats sqeaking that way,” he pointed to the rocky staircase to the south, before directing his attention to the east again and continuing. “That way, I hear goblins, digging for something.”

    “Could you understand them?”

    “No,” he shook his head, “but they sounded like they might be arguing, from the tone of their voices. So which way do we go? I think we could slip down the stairs here and they’d never know we were here.”

    “’At’s true enough,” added Omar, “but I don’t reckon any of ‘em use ‘em stairs much. All the commotion is in there.” He inclined his chin towards the sound of tools being used to accentuate his point.

    They were both looking at Daichot, who at some point in their travels, had began making decisions when they came to them. “Don’t suppose you can feel a direction for the portal now, Vrax?”

    The dragonborn started to answer when a convulsing urge to cough struck him. Wincing at the coming sound, Percy closed his eyes and braced for the echo, but it never came. Risking a peek he saw the wizard had buried his face in his robes and his shoulders shook as he fought the urge to cough. Finally regaining his composure, but unwilling to risk testing his voice, he just shook his head from side to side quickly.

    “Well, then I’m inclined to agree. If they’re trying to get to the portal, I would think there would be a lot of traffic coming and going, and the sounds are that way.” The warlord rose to standing, towering over the others, and gripped his axe tightly.

    “Should I scout ahead?” asked the halfling.

    Daichot considered for a moment and agreed with a nod. “If you can do so discreetly, just an idea of what’s in there.”

    Percy nodded in understanding and loaded his crossbow quietly before creeping up to the edge of the corridor they were in, which opened up into the chamber where they could all hear the clang and clunk of tools now. The rogue peeked his head into the room for a few seconds, then he leaned back into the cover of the hall. He smiled and reached across his chest with his left hand, holding his dagger sideways with three fingers extended, indicating his count.

    Omar nodded and Daichot relayed the number to Vrax, and motioned for the wizard to stay behind him as they breached the room. Omar and Daichot were five paces from the corner when they noticed Percy was taking aim around the corner.

    “Percy!” Daichot rasped as in a whisper as loud as he dared, “Wait!”

    The halfling glanced back at him with a mischievous grin and mouthed the word, Relax. He then looked back around the corner and as the tiny twing of his hand crossbow was not followed by a cry of pain, they didn’t need his explanation that came forthright.

    “Balls! I missed!” his look of disappointment was marred by the fact that he seemed to be enjoying himself at the same time, and suddenly the nasal cry of an angry goblin preceded a trio of arrows skittering off the corner in into the wall opposite the rogue.

    “Eep!” he squealed and rushed into the room, already stuffing another bolt into his weapon.

    “Damned be All, Percy, ye daft ijit!” Omar stomped into the chamber past the rogue quickly catching sight of his assailants across a sea of excavated chamber.

    The original flooring of the room, which looked to be the same granite and sandstone mixture they had seen throughout the lower level, was missing throughout at least two-thirds of the room, quite obviously being excavated by the trio of goblins who were all frantically reloading crossbows as fast as they could. Throughout the room, pillars of earth still covered by the original flooring showed where the goblins had decided not to dig yet, for whatever reason. Long planks of wood were precariously spanning each of the mini-plateaus and a ladder was visible across the chamber that one of the goblins was abruptly kicking over now, to keep any pursuers from climbing up to his lone perch against the north wall. Spotting a ramp on the eastern side of the entry plateau, Omar ran down the steep grade as fast as he could, trying to find a way over to the goblins that didn’t involve balance beams.

    Daichot bellowed out a warcry as he charged in on Omar’s heels, following him down the ramp. “Percy! On me, now!” he commanded, as the halfling dove across the first plank and loosed another arrow at the goblin that had just kicked the ladder away from his plateau. The bolt struck the creature in the belly, driving a gasp of wind from the thing and staggering it, but the wound wasn’t enough to bring it down.

    Vrax took up a position at the corner of the entryway where the walls would provide him some cover, and directed a silvery bolt of magic to streak across the room and strike the wounded goblin with unerring accuracy, and the beast slammed into the wall, but stayed standing.

    The warlord and fighter reached the bottom of the ramp about ten paces apart, skidding to a stop as they both encountered new enemies they weren’t expecting. As Omar braced for the coming impact and set his shield before him, he heard Percy cry out a warning.

    “Guard drakes! Two of them!”

    “We see them, you half-wit thief!” roared Daichot, “No thanks to you!”

    Both of the warriors saw the drakes charging at them in time to defend themselves, Daichot catching the enormous, tooth-filled mouth of the guard animal with the haft of his axe, sliding backwards in the dirt from the force. The tiefling torqued the weapon around as he drove forward with his strong legs, and yanked the drake about him as it clamped onto his weapon. Carried by the heavy momentum of its off-balance charge, the guard drake was helpless to resist the maneuvering, and the two switched places as it painfully released the axe as the bladed counterswung back into its side.

    “Percy! Down here! Now!” Daichot yelled as he caught a glimpse of one of the goblins aiming for him.

    Omar was unable to give his attention to the warlord and rogue as the drake that was after him crashed into the large dragonscale he interposed between them, driving his warhammer up beneath the shield and crushing the thing’s hip with a distinctive pop crack in the hip joint. The drake quickly favored the meaty limb as it shrieked a howling protest at the dwarf.

    “Help Omar, Percy, I will attend to Daichot.” Vrax was standing at the ledge above the tiefling, who quickly adapted to the new assistance and ducked aside as the drake leaped at him, flying over his body as the warlord rolled back towards the ramp and left the drake to rise before one of the goblins that was closing for a better shot and to goad the drake into pressing the attack.

    The detonation of the air about the two attackers was not only loud, it was forceful. A ripple of stinging hot air burst out from where the drake and goblin were engulfed by the fiery blast the dragonborn unleashed, causing Percy to reflexively shield his face even from his safe position upon his plateau. While still engulfed by the initial blast fire that the wizard had assaulted them with, Vrax opened his mouth at an angle that looked painful to Daichot and vomited forth a gout of angry orange flame, and extended his hands out with his thumbs interlocked, adding an expanding sheet of magical fire shooting across the hapless pair amidst the blaze. As the torrent of hungry fire groaned in a menacing desire for more flesh, the silhouettes of those caught in the inferno crumpled to the smoking floor of the cavern.

    A crossbow quarrel, fired from the secluded goblin atop his plateau on the north wall, struck the wizard solidly in the left side, and the mage crumpled to the ground in pain, ceasing the onslaught of his fire spells. Vrax desperately pulled himself over the lip of the tiles down onto the steep ramp, where he landed heavily and slid down to Daichot’s feet.

    Percy jumped down from his own plateau to land on top of the drake that was trying to find a piece of the dwarf to bite that wasn’t made of metal, driving his dagger deep into skull of the creature, and they both toppled to the ground abruptly as Omar shouldered past the beast before it was even dead to give chase to the middle goblin who had been taking pot shots at the dwarf from the cover of the earth pillars.

    As Daichot ran through the dying flames without noticing the heat, he saw Omar emerging from the other side and the goblin frantically trying to find a place to run. Before the green humanoid could change direction, the warlord’s axe was sweeping towards it, but instead of cleaving the goblin in two, the head of the weapon sank deep into a pillar to his left, and the nimble creature dug its feet in and sprang away from the new attacker. Omar’s warhammer swept over its head as it ducked under him and ran north, towards the back of the chamber, to another ladder they could now see from the middle of the room.

    The badly wounded goblin who was alone on his perch had spotted the wizard casting another spell, and aimed for the dragonborn, but felt another missile slam into his chest, looking down slowly at the small bolt that was protruding from his heart, freeing a geyser of blood that sprayed away from his chest in spurts towards the halfling that was rounding a column of earth on the east side of the room.

    Vrax completed his spell, and hurled the hungry globe of wizard’s fire that was floating above him with deadly accuracy. The burning orb careened narrowly over the dwarf and crashed into the fleeing goblin fully, consuming the form as curdling screams of panic and agony faded and finally gave way to the wanton, destructive crackling of the living fire that obeyed the wizard’s command. Seeing that the room was clear of enemies, he dismissed the globe of fiery death with a thought, and the room followed the hiss of its disappearance into a muted silence.

    Daichot initially meant to scold the halfling for his poor scouting, and poorer tactics, but saw the rogue had paid the price for his eagerness to attack by the two bolt protruding from his right leg. His armor had stopped them from being lethal, but he was wounded badly enough that he didn’t need to be berated as well. On top of that, Daichot wasn’t sure that he would have objected to Percy attacking from surprise to begin with—and rather just insist he was more accurate.

    Omar was panting from his fight with the drake, and from the look of the corpses he had dealt with the larger of the two, but did not look worse for wear. The fighter’s plate armor was streaked with dark blood, still hot enough to steam in the cool air of the excavated chamber and he leaned against one of the earth columns trying to slow his breathing. He afforded a nod to the warlord to assure him he was all right, just tired and sore.

    Vrax on the other hand was gurgling and coughing up gouts of blood as he inspected the wound he had taken from the bolt. The missile had not hit anything vital, but the wizard’s usually pale pallor was more akin to a corpse now. Daichot looked grimly at his old friend. But Vrax waved his look of concern away.

    “It’s not bad, brother.” As if his body could protest his claims, Vrax coughed up a splatter of blood that drew a shared glance between the dwarf and halfling, neither sure of what to do about it.

    “Vrax…” Daichot began, ready to suggest the wizard return home.

    “You don’t know me that well, Daichot.” The wizard gulped in air as he recovered from the fit of bloody coughs. “This is normal,” he slumped back against the wall, almost too tired to hold himself upright, “when I exert my powers that much. It’s just been awhile since I pushed my limits. I’ll be fine.”

    Daichot didn’t argue with the wizard, and tended to the quarrel that was protruding from his own leg, stopped by his armor, but painfully piercing the flesh of this thigh as he moved. Yanking the missile free of his armor, he chucked the wooden bolt to the ground and spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m really getting sick of these little cowards!”

    “No offense meant, I’m sure,” said Percy, pulling free one of the bolts he had fired and inspecting if it could be reused.

    Daichot sighed heavily as he looked over at the halfling, and Omar chuckled painfully against the bruises from his fall. He didn’t answer as he started to look about the room.

    “We need to rest. Do we leave and come back, or maintain a vigil here?”

    ***************
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

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    My work schedule has been playing havoc with my ability to get an hour or three free to write that my brain isn't frazzled. Quick update today, and tomorrow I'll get a longer addition.
    ===============

    “None have escaped us yet,” Daichot thought aloud, “so the rest of the goblins in this place probably don’t know we’re here.”

    “That’s true,” agreed Vrax, as he dropped his satchel to the floor and sat down on it heavily, groaning slightly as his knees voiced their opinion of the strain. “Of course we don’t know how long these goblins were here.” He motioned towards the corpses, one of which was still smoldering from the onslaught of wizard fire he had unleashed. “One must assume that eventually, these goblins will rest, and others will replace them, or at the least, they might be missed.”

    “They’re workin’ through the day, I wager.” Added Omar.

    Percy looked at the dwarf in amazement. Omar was holding a handful of crumbled earth in his palm, sifting through the clay-rich matter absently. “You can tell all that from the dirt!?”

    Omar looked at his hand and dropped the clump abruptly. “No, ‘course not. But I know goblins. An’ these goblins was either stayin’ up real late, or they’re tha day crew. It’s midday, an’ mos’ goblins’re active at night.” The dwarf wore a plain expression, as though he was making normal conversation.

    “So you think we’d be safe to rest here?”

    “Safe!?” Omar smiled, his bold teeth appearing from within his bushy beard. “Nay, not safe, but we don’ have time ta go back ta town, an’ if’n we’re gonna rest outside, we might aswell rest in ‘ere.”

    “Alright then, let’s decide who will keep watch, and try to get some rest. Percy?”

    The halfling was crouched down on the balls of his feet in the corner of the room, looking over the corpses of the dead, answered without looking up. “Yes, I’ll take first watch. You might want to have a look at this before you get too comfortable, though.”

    Daichot walked over and looked at what the halfling had found. The glimmer of precious metals sparkled in the halfling’s palm. “That looks valuable.”

    “Yes. Obviously it’s a symbol of Bahamut. This is an early piece, from one of the Moldenoir guild. I’d say it was made during the last century of the Nerathian Age from the styling, and probably worth a few years of steak dinners! I know a fence that could move this within a week, if you’re interested.”

    All three of his companions were trying to blink away their slack jaws, and Percy felt their gazes on him.

    “What?”

    ***************
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
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    The soft, magical light from Vrax’s staff-spear cast crawling shadows across the entry chamber as the illumination filtered through the thick columns around the exposed pit. There were no rats in the pit now, as they had apparently either managed to climb out, or tunneled their way to escape. Omar spit into the hole, nodding with satisfaction at the wet plop the echoed from the floor ten feet below.

    “So it looks like tha goblins haven’t come ta check on their guards, yet.” Omar pointed down the south hall to a corpse that was still slumped against the wall.

    Daichot nodded in agreement with the assessment, and they headed towards the west passage, where Omar had felt there was the most traffic among the exits from the first chamber they had fought in. A soft flame lit the hallway which stretched ahead of them for thirty paces before sharply turning north, set into a sconce at the halfway point. As they got closer, it appeared that the flame was coming from a torch, but there was no sputter or crackle from the flame.

    “Everburning,” explained Vrax as if it were simply a matter of fact. He passed his clawed hand through the flames without hesitation as he continued. “No heat, doesn’t burn anything, never goes out.”

    “Does it really burn forever?” asked Percy.

    “Well, for all intents and purposes, yes. It will burn for the rest of our lifetimes, unless dispelled.”

    “Well,” suggested the halfing, “in that case I think we should take it.”

    “But I can already summon a light with a simple cantrip, little one.”

    “Yeah, but ya see, I kind of have a knack for getting… separated… sometimes.”

    Daichot pulled the magical torch out of the sconce and handed it to the halfling abruptly. “Both of you, be quiet.”

    Percy glared at the tiefling, who was already moving after Omar with long strides, his armor creaking and scraping lightly. The rogue rolled his eyes at the wizard, who looked like he was grinning at him, if Percy was judging his draconian expressions correctly.

    “Us be quiet!?” he whispered. “Those two sound like a marching army!”

    Vrax started to chuckle, but the attempt became a true effort as he stifled a fit of coughing into his arm, finally recovering with a rasping gulp of air. Percy slapped his forehead in disbelief at the motley band of klutzes he had fallen into league with. “My mother would be so embarrassed if they knew I was trusting my life to you guys…”

    As the halfling reached the turn in the passageway, he saw Omar and Daichot trying to creep into a small chamber of worked stone blocks, just like the hall and previous chambers. There was a worn wooden door both in the west and north walls, and a larger set of double doors to the east, plus the corridor leading away to the south that they entered from. Omar was waving Percy over to the door as quietly as he could manage. As the halfling slipped up to stand beside Omar at the north end of the chamber, Omar whispered quietly in his face, and the pungent smell of chewed tobacco leaves made his stomach turn over. A shiver ran down his spine as he fought off an image of Omar drinking from a spittoon.

    “Dangit, Percy! Listen. What are you doing?”

    Without opening his eyes, Percy held a finger to his lips, both to silence the dwarf, and to stifle his urge to throw up. Regaining control of himself quickly, he tried to remember what message that breath had carried. Listen! That was it; they needed him to listen at the door. Concentrating on the noises around him, the rogue could hear feint voices from the north. The others had probably heard it as well, but the door looked to be thick oak boards that fit the frame tightly, and presumably didn’t allow much sound through them. He pulled his cowl back far enough to expose his right ear and pressed it softly against the cool surface of the portal, closing his eyes and concentrating.

    Omar watched patiently as the halfling leaned against the door, and felt his heart skip a beat as his eyes snapped open abruptly, and the halfing yanked his dagger from the sheath on his thigh, holding it in a backwards grip, and point his hand crossbow at the ceiling with his left hand. Omar quickly nodded his head to the door, imploring what the halfling heard.

    Percy shrugged with a growing smile. “Dunno. Sounds like some kind of mating thing,” he snickered with a juvenile mirth, barely restraining himself from a fit of laughter. The rogue pressed himself into the corner next to the door and waved his dagger forward, inviting Omar to lead the charge.

    Looking back once to ensure the warlord and wizard were ready, as they nodded to him the dwarf strode heavily into the door, leading his approach with his shield, and crashing into the door with enough force to shudder the frame as the iron hinges squealed to comply with the swinging planks. By the time the door opened wide enough to smack into the interior wall, the dwarf had already sprinted into the middle of the room, identifying targets as he flashed his gaze across the room.

    There was a large table with chains attached to winches at either side right in the center of the thirty by thirty foot room; a rack, stained from use. A wide corridor was yawning in the west wall, dimly lit by a torch at the end of the thirty foot passage, and lined with barred cells. To the right of the groaning door was a large iron box shaped like a humanoid, which was leaned against the wall and open, lined on the inside with foot-long spikes—an iron maiden. At the southeast corner was a ten foot square cage made from metal poles set into the floor and ceiling, and tables bearing various stained and vicious looking implements were against the northeast corner. Four goblins spun about in surprise as the fighter charged into the chamber, and Omar raced right past the first goblin near the iron maiden as he focused on the largest humanoid in the room, a hobgoblin at best guess.

    “Percy! That one’s yers!” he roared as he passed the first goblin, and saw two goblins to the left of the big hobgoblin staring at him in panic and surprise. Omar jumped as high as he could, attempting to land on top of the rack table, but quickly realized his jump was going to fall short and held his shield up to absorb most of the impact as he bashed heavily into the oak table, jostling the huge contraption.

    The rogue sprang into the room easily, quickly identifying the one Omar had tasked him with, and released his crossbow at the beast, but the bolt missed the goblin narrowly, slamming into the table next to Omar with a dull thunk.

    “Watch it, ye blasted pest!”

    “My bad!” called Percy, as Daichot stomped into the doorway and found his targets, opting to flank the goblin Percy had attacked from another angle, leaving it nowhere to flee. Before he could swing, the north end of the room exploded with a ferocious and howling burst of flame, and Vrax watched the results of his spell from the doorway. One of the goblins left of the bigger hobgoblin was singed, but the blast had missed its intended target.

    Quickly the goblins reacted, two of them readying their spears they were carrying, the same jagged tipped weapons they had seen earlier, while the other two both dashed for the tables, where they retrieved crossbows and quickly loaded them.

    “Charge them!” Roared Daichot, “do not give them space!” The warlord rammed the haft of his axe into the goblin between he and Percy as he ducked just in time to avoid a crossbow missile that careened off the wall in the southwest corner. Another missile clanked off of the dwarf’s shield as he rounded the table, trying to close with the hobgoblin that was retrieving something from the floor.

    As the goblin between the rogue and warlord assessed the situation, he decided the smaller halfling, who was off-balance after his clumsy crossbow attack, would be easier to get past than the raging tielfling behind him. Thrusting his spear at the short humanoid, he grinned wickedly as the cloaked halfling meekly held up his dagger to try to fend off his spear. Somehow the tip of the weapon missed the stumbling target though, and the off-balance dagger waving turned into a feinting jab that lodged under his armpit.

    A cry of agony escaped his grisly lips as the halfling twisted the dagger and leveraged him forward, and the goblin spun desperately around the rogue, trying to free his body from the cruel weapon. As if meaning to oblige him, his attacker suddenly yanked the blade free and left the goblin to stumble backwards, smashing painfully into the spikes of the iron maiden that his thrashing had carried him into. A horrified expression took his eyes as he felt the points jabbing into his back, as the halfling grinned at him, the bloody steel of his blade dripping down the small hand that was resting on the lid of the torture device.

    “Percy the Dragonslayer. That’s who just killed you.”

    The door slammed shut, but did little to stifle the gurgling screams inside.

    Omar shoulderblocked one of the crossbow wielding goblins into the corner, foiling its attempt to load the weapon, before bringing his hammer sweeping towards the hobgoblin. The tall humanoid was heavy with a combination and muscle and bulk, and wore a bloodstained apron over dark red leather armor, and a hood which covered his face. Rough leather gloves creaked absently as a smoldering steel poker sprang to life in his grip from a firepit glowing orange with hot coals set into the floor of the torture chamber.

    Omar’s hammer rang loudly as the haft of the weapon struck the glowing steel rod, and the two of them pushed mightily in a test of strength, both trying to shove the other off balance.

    “I will skin you alive, dwarf!” rumbled the torturer in a deep voice, a remarkably clean Common tongue.

    “Ye can try,” was all that Omar offered as he shoved the hobgoblin back successfully and rapidly brought his hammer crashing back into the knee of his adversary. The crunch of the joint was satisfying as Omar twisted the rebounding weapon in the air and readied to strike the falling hobgoblin, but somehow it managed to stay standing, favoring the other leg badly. “Blast ye big bastard! Fall!”

    Percy dashed across the room as he saw a flash of bright light lance away from the wizard, slamming into the crossbowman in the far corner of the room, past Omar, then strode into the room and unleashed another blast of force, pirouetting the goblin about as it slammed against the wall. Movement down a hallway that extended to the west of the room caught his attention, and he saw a waving hand emerging from the cells that appeared to be closed. Pushing the detail to the back of his mind, Percy ducked quickly as Daichot completed a raging swing of his greataxe overhead, smashing the weapon into the table in the northeast corner as the goblin he was aiming for ducked and ran into the open cell in the south corner of the room.

    Feeling the rush of blood thundering in his temples, the warlord jerked the weapon free of the table and charged after the goblin, into the cell, clipping the humanoid across the arm as he entered, and the beast slipped through the bars, which were just wide enough for the goblin. Its left arm hanging limply to the side, a rivulet of blood streaming off of the elbow, the goblin sneered as it slammed the cage door shut on the warlord. Daichot had already figured out the goblin’s plan, but it was too late to stop the door. It wasn’t too late, however, to take one more swing.

    The head of the great weapon caught the goblin just above the left ear, and with a horrendous sound of cleaving bone and intestine, the goblin fell into two separate halves, a gory pool of viscera splashing across the stone floor.

    Vrax shifted to his right, in front of the iron maiden, unleashing another bolt of force at the goblin he was dueling from range, and the arcane missile exploded violently into the creature, blowing its head clean from its body. Hearing the gurgling, panicked screams of the goblin trying to free himself from the iron maiden, the dragonborn wizard pulled the lid open, hearing the sucking wounds clinging to the spikes as a pool of blood rushed out of the device. He growled viciously into the maiden, then slammed the door shut again. A cold silence claimed the torturous box, and the hobgoblin was left facing Omar and Percy, alone.

    The crippled torturer tried to feint towards the halfling, but they set upon the tall goblinoid with ruthless efficiency. Omar’s hammer crashed into the hobgoblin’s thigh, then Percy’s dagger stabbed into his back, before the fighter caved in the hobgoblin’s skull with another blow, and Percy slit open the falling hobgoblin’s throat. As the heavy creature toppled to the ground dead, the stink of its arm, cooking in the firepit, prompted Omar to kick the limb out of the coals as he checked that the room was clear.

    “You know that was my kill, right?”

    “Nae laddie, that one was due to me hammer.”

    ***************
    "We all take our risks, here in the dungeon." --Bargle

    Xorne's Story Hour - Watch For Falling Meteors
    Currently adventuring in Keep on the Shadowfell

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