Steel Dragon's "Tales of Orea" - Page 19
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    The company passed the next few days in more silence than not.

    They came upon the long stagnant lake. In the center was a small isle they recognized all too readily. Little more than a heap of rubble and severely overgrown ruins of a tower sat upon it. Even the wise-cracking dwarf rogue was overwhelmed with a bit of melancholy at the sight of the glorious tower in which they'd just spent, as best they could tell, ten days and the good times therein.

    Despite the lure of some small amount of cover for the night, the party opted not to figure out a way across nor dared to enter the black murky lake. Fear of more of the highly poisonous muck-vipers foremost int their minds.

    They encountered, again, a group of lizardmen who were a bit more engaging than the past groups had been. Bolstered, it was presumed, by a shaman and very large chief warrior among them. The party was successful in slaying a few and routing the rest. The reptilians seemed somewhat "forced" to be there and slowed by the chill that pervaded the air even in the daytime.

    Alaria had forgotten just how near and fast winter approached their Orea after so much time in the warm "summer night" realm.

    Another encounter at night with a pack of stirges again disgusted them. But injuries were minor and Haelan seemed more than capable, these days, of meeting whatever healing needs they might have.

    For Haelan, Buttercreamshadowfeet had proven to be significantly more vocal than he'd ever imagined. By the second day of their return, Haelan was more than happy to chat with the furry rodent, albeit in hushed tones, and more than once had to shush the ferret while he was doing his post at watch during the night.

    The ferret seemed much more active and talkative in the evening and early morning hours. During most afternoons and at the height of most nights, she disappeared among the brush or whined at the Hilltender that she wanted or needed a nap.

    On the second night of their return, with the expectation of arriving at the Gorathgraard "citadel", and presumably the treasures and perils thereof, most of the company's sleep was notably troubled.

    Haelan was, again, keeping his watch when some motion from around the smoldering campfire caught his attention. The halfling raised his mace and lowered it quickly to see the tall warrior's form of Braddok coming toward him.

    "Can't sleep?" Haelan asked softly. "It's not time for your watch yet."

    "Can't sleep." Braddok replied, matter-of-fact. The warrior crouched down beside the cleric, who had also sat after recognizing the muscled human. "Where's Buttercream?"

    "She's off...hunting I suppose. I pray thanks to Faerantha every evening for her boon. But I confess, I am happy for the quiet at times." Haelan smiled in reply. "Some hot chocolate?" the halfling offered as he pulled a small ceramic teapot out of the magical backpack Imgulg had prepared and gifted him. "Might help ya sleep. I fear the provisions of this pack will be exhausted by tomorrow." Haelan coaxed. "Might be the last batch in here." he added fishing out a small, perfectly daelvar-sized, mug.

    "No thanks, Haelan. I appreciate it though. You enjoy." Braddok replied. His appetite, for the most part, was not what it used to be before his..."raising." He seemed to require less to maintain his strength.

    "What do you think, my friend? Shall we see a dragon tomorrow?" the warrior offered quietly.

    "By the Hillmother, I hope NOT!" Haelan said a bit loudly and cringed at his unexpected noise.

    "As do I, Haelan. As do I. But what if we do?" Braddok asked, somewhat rhetorically. "I go over and over in my mind. Tactics, strategies, taking into our various and formidable abilities into account..." his gaze wandered up to the sky and the clouds that passed periodically before the waning silver and green moons. "It's all a folly, of sorts..."

    "A folly?! Then why not return to Bridgetower?...or Daenfrii or even Welford. We can winter in relative comfort and come back in the spring." Haelan offered. He felt a twinge of shame at what he was afraid might sound like cowardice to the great swordsman. But, he reasoned to himself, it was only practical.

    "Not in that way, I mean. We have the skills and power...I think. Alaria's mastery of her Art is formidable. Erevan is, of course, skilled...beyond even myself if you take into account his magic as well as his bow. you, my friend, you have surpassed any expectation I ever had of your divine might...even Festus and Duor are highly skilled in their chosen pursuits..." Braddok's voice, again faded if there was something he wasn't saying.

    "Braddok, are you concerned you are not up to the taste...or as 'powerful' as the rest of us? You are the most skilled of us all!" Haelan attempted to comfort the dark-haired man.

    Receiving no more response than a soft snort, the Hilltender continued. "You are, by far, the toughest among us. You lead us...well, I mean, we all have a say in what we do...but, after a fashion, since Alaria has stepped down, so to speak, you're our leader. What you say, particularly in battle, is unquestioned. You think more than you act...that, Braddok, that is a wisdom that benefits us all. Moreso than my own." Haelan smiled a slight, close-lipped smile at the warrior from Barforth.

    Bradok had been staring up at the sky through Haelan's vote of confidence and took a moment to look at and return the halfling's encouraging smile. His eyes returned to the sky.

    "I thank you, Haelan. I had no idea, when we met in Hawkview, we would find ourselves here...that I would have died...been reborn...faced trolls and ogres and evil wizards and wererats. Or..." the warrior now looked to the halfling with deathly serious eyes, "that I would and could count a little daelvar priest from the Free Hollows as one of my greatest friends and allies."

    "G'aaawn." blushed Haelan and smiled to himself.

    Then both adventurer's attention was caught by some motion, shuffling, among bushes and reeds near them. With trained grace and ease, both adventurers were on their feet, weapons at the ready. They, then, relaxed to see Buttercream's snout and head poke out from beneath some fronds.

    "Hide, Hilltender! Hide! A hawk is coming!"
    the ferret's voice sounded in Haelan's ears with hushed urgency.

    "A hawk?" Haelan said aloud.

    "What?!" Braddok responded.

    "A giant hawk. HUGE! Its clouding the stars. You should hide!" the ferret replied before again withdrawing and disappearing from view beneath the brush.

    Haelan's eyes went, wildly scanning, to the sky.

    Giant hawks were not something to be trifled with. They were something daelvar children learned to fear and avoid at all costs, easily scooped up to never be heard from again. In an instinctual panic, Haelan dove between the long legs of the Grinlian swordsman.

    "Wuh...?" Braddok said confused. "Haelan! What is it?!"

    "SHHHH! Buttercream says there's a giant hawk coming." Haelan whispered.

    "Giant hawk?" the swordsman's gaze again went to the sky.

    "Haelan, hawks don't hunt at ni-..." the warrior's voice stopped abruptly as even his human eyes widened.

    He could discern the long form moving across the sky, blotting out stars and crossing before the limited sliver of the greater moon.

    It had a long serpentine neck, a slight bulk of body from which two huge bat-like wings were silhouetted against the moonlight, and a long tapering tail with some kind of fin or bulge at the end. It passed over in an instant, completely silent, with a single beat of its wings is continued on, to the east, and was quickly out of sight.

    Haelan's eyes, similarly bulged from his head. "B-B-raddok? That wasn't a hawk, was it?"

    "No, friend Haelan. That was not a hawk." the swordsman replied deadpan.


    Haelan had opted to sleep, what little he could, with Buttercream, securely hidden among the brush. Braddok finished the night on his watch, none the worse for ware for having such limited sleep.

    The company was less than happy with the report from the halfling and swordsman in the morning.

    "Do we turn back?" Festus asked, with more than a little hope for an affirmative answer.

    "Turn back!? We've been trudging through this muck n' mire fer weeks! I'll have my beard dipped in caramel before I'd turn back one day...or less...away from a dragon's treasure." Duor argued.

    "It may not have been a dragon." Fen said stoically.

    Questioning looks from the others warranted further explanation from the druid.

    "There has not, to my knowledge, been any sitings of dragons anywhere around the Laklans that I can recall. Not by legend nor folklore, nor anything I was taught by the Ancient Holy Order." Fen defended his assertion.

    "Well, the druids don't know everything, now do they?" Duor argued again. "If Braddok...n' the hairfoot...says they saw a dragon, that's all the confirmation I need." Duor answered out of hand. "'Sides, seems a giant dragon with wings ought to be able to get wherever they want, right? Not to mention, we ain't in the Laklans, are we?"

    "Well, that can't be argued." Fen admitted. "However," the half-elf added, "we are close enough, I think, that some legend would have surfaced.

    "It would, also, not be beyond the realm of possibility for there to be a wyvern nest about. The peaks that surround Welford would be an ideal habitat...and I suspect, we are not so far afield from them to be outside of a wyvern's hunting grounds...Also, you said it moved with complete silence...and wyvern's are known to be remarkably stealthy in flight...They also are prone to hunt at night...both attributes like bats, if I recall my lessons correctly."

    Erevan carefully asked Braddok and Haelan to explain what they'd seen. How large it had been to their vision, the exact shape.

    Braddok traced the outline, as he well he could, in the morning chilled mud.

    Erevan studied it carefully. Looking occasionally to the sky where Braddok said it had passed before the moon. "A wyvern sounds like a distinct possibility." the elf finally concluded...though how he had come to such a conclusion was anyone's guess.

    "Fen, " questioned Alaria calmly (much preferring the option of one of the minor wyrms to their alleged quarry) "if you are correct, might a wyvern make a nest in the ruins we are seeking?"

    The red-haired druid rubbed the small strip of whiskers that went from his lower lip to his chin. "It might, Magess. I couldn't really say. But it there were some aerie high enough for it to take flight or gain some vantage point from which to launch might."

    "I'll take wyvern over dragon, any day." Festus said. Though, he silently admitted to himself, he'd never encountered a wyvern before and the only dragons he'd ever seen were the "good" kind that were viewed from afar high in the air, entering or leaving Daenfrii. But he'd never actually met one or seen one up close. "The ambassador of Wyr and tutor of the Dragonmage, Zhiranth, is purported to have some hidden grotto in the eastern reaches of Daenfrii's territory, but I've never dared to attempt to find it." he mentioned outloud without realizing that none of the other companions understood the relevance of such a statement.

    "Maybe he'll give us his gold, then? If'n we ask nice." Duor mocked.

    "Are we returning to Daenfrii, then?" Haelan asked innocently. Honestly confused and scared down to his toe-hairs of encountering any dragon or dragon-like creature on their current course.

    "NO we're not 'returning to Daenfrii', " Duor mocked some more, repeating Haelan's question in a whiny child-like voice.

    "Duor, that is uncalled for." Alaria now interjected, again calmly. She looked, somewhat unconsciously, to Braddok. She supposed and hoped the warrior would have some encouraging or important thing to note. Direction to give. Anything!

    "Indeed, the Hilltender does not deserve your mockery." Braddok began with a disapproving look to Duor. "We shall continue on, as we have planned. With care and caution. As we had planned. If that thing I saw turns out to be the dragon, proper...then we will leave this horrid place with all speed." the warrior proclaimed.

    "But..." Duor attempted to argue. Braddok cut him off.

    "If the creature turns out to be a wyvern...or not in the ruins of Nor Gorthok at all, we shall see an decide what to do from there. But, as Duor noted, we have come a very long way for this. I've never encountered one of the dragon-kin, nor do I confess I wish to. But to turn back the morning of achieving our goal would be beyond foolish." the swordsman concluded, adjusting his pack and weapons as he did so.

    "Agreed." Alaria and Erevan both said.

    THe company set out and before noon came to a slight rise in the landsdcape. When they reached the "top" they realized they stood upon a ridge. A huge, circular ridge that extended hundreds of feet across, in either direction. Within the circle of swampy ridge, at its center, a second entirely black and rocky ridge rose from the surrounding swamp. It looked like a small mountain had been just "plopped" into the middle of the swamp.

    Alaria gasped audibly.

    "What is it, Alaria." the warrior said quietly to her.

    Alaria stared at the next rocky ridge. She had seen it vision of her spell sleep. "I have seen this mountain before." the R'Hathi wizardess replied in a near-whisper.

    "You have?" Braddok knew better than to question a magic-user's visions. "Do you know...or remember...anything about it?"

    "Only that it filled me with a soul-wrenching despair and feeling of doom." Alaria replied.

    "Oh, well that's just peachy!" Duor said, having come up behind the two humans unnoticed. "Is there treasure in this doom or what?" the dwarf asked unabashedly.

    "I do not know, Duor." Alaria answered evenly, the impertinence of the dwarf's question missed by the magess as she was again consumed with the memory of the feelings from the image of her spell sleep. "But I am almost certain we shall find a dragon within...a great creature of impenetrable black...and...and something else...I don't quite recall..."

    "Back to Daenfrii then?" Haelan said, trying to muster as much lightheartedness through his quickly chilling blood as possible.

    "I'm afraid not, Haelan." Alaria said with sorrow in her voice. "Whatever lies within, I feel it is something we, now, must seek out. I fear the dark grip of the wicked Tresahd is somehow involved, as well...but I can't quite make it out..." Alaria was annoyed with herself, not being able to fully recall the images she had seen in her magic-induced coma, what seemed, so long ago.

    "Dragon treasure's within, I'll tell yeh that's wut!" Duor said happily and led the companions down the steep interior of the swampy slope. "And you, Festus m'boy, will be the most famous satyr in the known realms."

    The ranger smiled, sincerely, at the idea. His mind became filled with images of him lounging in fine pillows of satin, being hand-fed pasties by the barmaid, Amber, from the Wyvern's Wing inn. Maybe he'd buy the whole inn. What a den of debauchery he could have then, if he owned his whole own inn...or a manse! A mansion and estate would be better, maybe...the satyr's face shone with a devious smile as the possibilities of endless wealth played through his mind's eye.

    Duor turned his excitement to Braddok and continued, "We'll be wealthy men by the day's end, my treasure-hunting friend. Just like we said on the road from Hawkview" the dwarf smiled broadly and jabbed at Braddok's ribs as the warrior come up beside him.

    Braddok made no reply but grinned weakly at the dwarf's familiar comradery.

    "I'm gonna buy out that weasel's guild and live in luxury the rest o' me days. And YOU, my fine mercenary, you shall have all the wenches and ale you could hope for. 'Dwarf-lord of the Dusk', that's what they'll call me. We'll be the toast of Hawkview! Yessir, this is the mother-hoard. I can feel it in my beard." Duor was practically jubilant at the idea of their hoped-for wealth.

    Braddok, along with most of the other companions, did not share his exuberance, focused more, it seemed, on the whole potential for "doom" than "gold."

  2. #182
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    The party carefully made their way down the interior slope of the "ridge" they had climbed. The ridge was, it appeared, a huge crater in which, in the center of the "bowl", sat this harsh blackened crag of a mountain.

    The wicked swamp of the Feldmere, in the ages since Nor Gorthok's demise and the dread wyrm's Desaarthal's curse over the land, had encroached as far as it could...or dared? The trees, vines, brush and tall reeds and grasses climbed up the outer shell of the slope, over the top and down the interior until just after reaching the base.

    From the bottom of the outer crater "wall" across the base of the bowl up to the hardy rocky protuberance of the mountain in the middle was entirely barren save for the occasional stagnant pools and ponds, some rather large, of muck and mire where water had drained, naturally, to the lowest possible elevation. The entire span that lacked any sort of cover other than the odd clump of rocks, measured roughly 100 feet.

    The party, almost unanimously, decided to continue through the vegetation filled interior slope for the cover it would provide. It was hoped that by circumventing the mountain first, they might find/see some means of entering the rock, as opposed to wandering around the completely open base or wandering, without purpose and completely exposed, up its craggy slope.

    They passed a short way down through some very tall brush and grasses, and the odd copse of vine-laden trees before coming near to the bottom of the slope. They entered the fairly large span of mangroves that extended several hundreds of feet in either direction, arching about a third of the crater wall, that they could see.

    "Which way?" Alaria asked calmly, having collected herself in their descent from the top of the ridge.

    "When in doubt, always go left." Duor responded, as if this werre obvious fact.

    When he received questioning looks from Festus and Braddok, Duor replied, "Ol' dwarf proverb. 'Left's mine fer a find. Right's shaft fer the daft.'" This struck the dwarven rogue as the height of wisdom and was perplexed by his companions odd looks.

    With a few shrugs, the party proceeded to the left...which was more or less north-by-northeast on the slow arc of the crater's slope.

    The travel was slow and cautious. In several places, Festus apologetically reported there was no "solid ground" to cover and so they sludged through ankle-to-knee slimy water. The trees they moved through were ancient. Broken branches and long fallen trunks lined their way and impeded their progress on several occasions.

    Erevan, of course, had no trouble moving along and among the fallen branches and trees and easily leaped up upon the lower boughs of the still standing trees to make his way, nearly slimy water free.

    Buttercream, similarly, followed along and sometimes overtook the elf. Weaving in and out of sight to avoid the water at all costs. Haelan had tried to follow the ferret and elf on [what looked like] a "wide-enough" expanse of wood.

    A loud *SPLOOSH* and head-to-toe-hairs daevlar covered in wet mud and slime proved otherwise. So, with an apologetic chuckling Alaria cleansing him with a cantrip, Haelan resigned himself to sludging along with the others, up to his waist in the cold and decidedly uncomfortable water.

    Festus carefully led the way, with Braddok near his flank.

    The company came to a point and halted as Festus raised his hand in the signal to stop.

    "Do you see something ranger?" Braddok asked quietly.

    "Not 'see'. Hear." Festus whispered to the large swordsman. "Somethin's moving, not to far up front."

    Erevan crouched on the vine covered branch upon which he'd been traveling and peered through the woods before them, attempting to catch any sign that might have caused the satyr to stop.

    Alaria gripped her staff more tightly. She took in her companions. The ferret was, again, not with them. Fen, it seemed was edging toward the edge of the pond through which they moved. Preparing to meld into the nearest tree-trunk, Alaria guessed. The halfling was engrossed in whatever was above them. Nothing to worry about there, for sure, thought the magess. At the slightest glimpse of trouble, the daelvar was ever the first to raise an alarm.

    Haelan just looked around them, taking in the canopy of vines and drooping tree branches. Some of them as wide as his arm. There was the occasional purple bloom along their length. If it weren't for being up to his belt in swamp-slime, the Hilltender thought to himself, this might be a lovely place. Green and full, even so late in the season. Haelan wondered to himself what the vines with flowers were.

    And then, as had happened all too often for the cleric to like, the beautiful quickly revealed itself to be the deadly.

    Erevan was the first to raise an alarm as only his elvin reflexes allowed him to avoid the slithering closing of the vines around his ankles.

    "Tanglevine!" the elf shouted as he leaped up and back along the same bough. He swung, in vain, with his bow at another length of vine dropping...or deliberately reaching?...down to his new position. As soon as the bow touched the vine, it coiled about it to hold it in staunchly in place. Erevan tugged with all of his might to release his beloved weapon, but this only allowed other vines to come up and attempt to wrap around him. Again his elf senses and dexterity saved him a vegetative mummification.

    On the ground, the party did not fair as well.

    Blades ripped from scabbards and Braddok and Festus were able to easily sever the vines that dropped down and reached out from their resting bplace along the tree trunks.

    Alaria and Duor (whose normally admirable evasive talents were severely hampered knee deep in mud and muck) were immediately entrapped.

    Haelan was able to dip below one reaching tendril only to be grasped by another and unceremoniously yanked from the swamp floor by his right leg.

    Fen, exhibiting his deluded portion of elvish blood, also avoided the reaching vines. He swiped out with his leaf-tip spear head and severed the vines holding Duor. The dwarf dropped into the water, down on one knee.

    "I don't...feel so..." the dwarf said slowly. "Lil' woozy."

    Only Fen heard the dwarf and noted the slight palor to his normally swarthy complexion. The half-elf looked in surprise at the rest of the party.

    Haelan was already unconscious, dangling by a vine about ten feet off the ground. Other vines were quickly encircling the daelvar. His face had gone practically grey.

    Alaria swung, desperately, with her staff in the free arm that had yet to be tied. She recalled Fen's chastising of the use of lightning against the cursed shambling mound Inskuel and opted not to invoke any spark of power on these plants, as well.

    Unfortunately, the vines were yanking her from the swamp floor and her swing bounced off the vines unexpectedly and flew out of her grip. It slashed softly and disappeared into the murky water beneath her. She felt the peculiar sensation of "pins and needles" all up and down her arms. Her vision was getting cloudy...what was this sensation? She was so tired...

    "MY STAFF! Braddok!" Alaria's initial cry of panic for her treasured magic item faded as she attempted to continue speaking. As the volume of her voice receded, so too did the color from her face until the magess hung limp, unconscious, and very pale, held aloft about five feet off the swamp floor.

    Fen's green eyes widened in panic. These weren't 'tanglevines', the druid realized in horror. "VAMPIRE-VINES!" Fen shouted.

    "Vampires?!" Festus replied in obvious panic.

    "Vampires!...where?" Duor said groggily.

    "Vampire-vine!" Fen curtly said again. "Braddok, be ready to cut down Alaria and Haelan! We must get them down. NOW!" The warriors, including Erevan (who had also whipped out his blade and was easily slicing his way through the encroaching tendrils), turned and attempted to make their ways to their incapacitated companions.

    The cryptic language of the druids formed across Fen's lovely lips. He kept his voice low, as he was prone to do to spare his comrades the onslaught of his order's secret sacred tongue. On the final syllable, the druid raised his voice to a full shout and slammed the butt of his spear into the murky water around his feet.

    There was a momentary blinding flash of green light all around them and everything around them seemed twitch, then slow to slow motion and finally stop moving entirely. <druid spell: Hold Plants>

    Not questioning the druid's effect, Braddok immediately cut Alaria "down" and caught the unconscious woman in his thick muscled arms.

    Festus similarly tried to do the same to Haelan, easily using his goat-hindquarters to jump up to where the daelvar was almost entirely mummified in the vines. The satyr from Daenfrii, unfortunately, was not as adept or strong as the Grinlian swordsman and Haelan took his second "swamp bath" of the day. (At least, for this one, he was unconscious.)

    "Get them out of here! The enchantment will not hold long." the druid said, again in panic and moved to help Festus get the daelvar out of the muck as Erevan, similarly, attempted to get Duor to his feet.

    "Don't know...'fI can run..." Duor said, still groggy. "Somethin' in them"

    Braddok stopped, with Alaria in his arms and looked at the druid.

    "GO! Go! Get her out of here! Wait...HERE!" Fen said, the panic in his voice had not subsided though the immediate danger seemed to have passed. "You must administer this antitoxin as soon as you are clear of this place. Haelan has another draught of his own. you must give it to him as well. The poison excreted by the vine is very virulent and will continue to drain her strength until death takes hold. Duor, likely, needs some too."

    Braddok nodded, grim faced, and raced from the area of battle. He disappeared almost immediately into the brush and growth, out of view.

    "Cain'" the dwarf seemed to be arguing with the elf who was vainly tugging on the dwarf's arm.

    "Well that's just fine, since I am sure I can not lift you." Erevan replied, hoping the jab would incite the dwarf to action.

    "Damn right yeh cain't!...scrawny two-bit point-ear carryin' a dwarf...Pfft" Duor mumbled under his beard. But despite the lively retort, Duor was barely able to get to his feet.

    The vines around them began to stir. Just a twitch here and there.

    Fen knew his spell would not last much longer. "Kiili..." Fen began to say to his 'dear one.'

    "Ihn excyklik tambor!" Erevan intoned, while spreading his arms before him.

    Beneath the dwarf's feet, the amber disc of solid energy came into form.

    "Quickly, put Haelan here. I can get them both out." the elf said to the faltering druid and ranger who, between them, were hastily freeing the daelvar from his vine cocoon.

    They, more or less, tossed the halfling upon the disc before Erevan himself gracefully jumped on.

    "Are you sure you can carry all of that weight?" Fen questioned with concern.

    "I am not the apprentice I once was, killi." Erevan said with an uncharacteristic wink and grin. "Follow along as fast as you can."

    With that, the elf, groggy dwarf and unconscious halfling sped away with unexpected speed, leaving trails in the surface of the water as the energy disc skated over. In an instant, they too were lost among the brush.

    "Come Festus. Hurry!" Fen again commanded with urgency at the edge of the vampire-vine death trap.

    "Hang on! Alaria's staff is around here...someplace. She'll skin us alive if we leave it." the satyr protested. He was bent over, up to his elbows in swamp-muck, fishing around frantically.

    Fen's slightly slanted eyes again went to the vine canopy, now completely filled with the poisonous draining plants just a few feet above their heads.

    "The Balance forgive me." Fen muttered softly before shouuting, "--/!!-0//!" <druid spell: reversed Create Water>

    Festus covered his pointed ears, completely forgetting they were covered in muddy slimy water.

    "OY! Wudja do that..." the satyr's question did not need to be answered as, wherever Fen's outward facing palm pointed, an area of the murky water disappeared. He had, effectively "disintegrated" about a twenty foot stretch of the pool in which Festus stood.

    The staff became immediately visible and the satyr hastily grabbed it as he jumped almost the whole twenty feet to get beside the druid.

    As the druid and ranger turned and disappeared into the trees after the others, the vines again began to slowly slither and tentatively reach downward.

    Sensing its prey had somehow left the area, the 'vampire-vines' again wrapped themselves about branches and trunks and settled into the softly draping loops of normal swamp growth.

    A moment later, there was only the movement and noise was a soft "slurping" sound as the areas of dispersed water slowly filled back in with the surrounding muck and moisture.

  3. #183
    Steeliest of the dragons SILVER SUBSCRIBER
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    Fen n' Festus sittin'ina tree...

    The half-elf druid and satyr ranger raced through the growth and mire with remarkable, trained speed. After a few minutes, they exited the "woods" of the swamp at the edge of a broad clearing of tall grasses.

    They came to an abrupt halt as Buttercream appeared before them and stood, perpendicular to the two, in their way. She chittered and made a clicking sound over and over.

    Fen tried to move around the ferret. She moved to block him. Festus tried to get around her back end and Buttercream looped back around to block him.

    "What is it, Buttercream?! We must rejoin the others." Fen said with some annoyance.

    The ferret then looped back around to the druid and threw her forepaws upon his chest. The unexpected move knocked the half-elf onto his back within the reeds and tall grass. Again she was making a *click* sound and repeating it.

    The druid, in frustration, cast his order's sacred incantation to speak with animals. As the spell took effect, the half-elf's ears began to parse out the ferret's soft voice...

    "-zzzards...and they have them. Stay down!" the ferret was saying as she again applied her weight to half-elf who was attempting to rise.

    "What? Who has whom?" Fen said.

    "Oh! You've decided to listen now? Great. The lizards have them! The lizards with two-legs have the Hilltender. They're taking him away. Stay down. Stay quiet. They are leaving." Buttercream's soft feminine voice said to the druid.

    "What is she saying?" Festus said. He'd crouched down beside the ferret and half-elf, unsure of what was going on, but sensing the urgency (not to mention the unorthodox behavior) of the creature.

    "The lizardmen have Haelan." Fen translated. "What about the others?" Fen asked the ferret directly.

    "All of them. They took all of them. The wizard and the Hilltender were asleep. The dwarf was, of course, useless. The warrior and the elf couldn't fight them all. They were tending the wizard and the Hilltender. They're taking them away...but there are more. Close. Stay down. Stay quiet." Buttercream implored, turning to take a wiff of the air.

    "Bugger." Fen said aloud.

    "Whaaaat?!" Festus said in frustration.

    "Lizardmen have captured the rest of the group. Be still and quiet. She says there are more about." Fen hastily explained in a harsh whisper.

    "Bollux." the satyr muttered under his breath.

    "They're coming. Hide! Hide. Hide." Buttercream said and then slinked away, off of the druid and disappeared into the brush behind them.

    Festus also had heard the breaking of reeds as something...or some things...presumably lizardmen, were nearing their position.

    "We need to get out of here. They're heading this way...and getting close."

    "Be still." the druid said. He too now heard the hissing and tromping of large feet moving through the grasses.

    Naturally, the satyr didn't listen and poked his head, ever so cautiously, over the tops of the grass. The satyr's eyes nearly bulged out of his head to see a large muscled lizardman not ten feet from their position, and three more that he noted before the nearest creature turned and looked directly at him, its tongue flicking out into the air.

    A loud hiss-turned-roar went up by the nearest creature and it jabbed into the grasses in Festus' direction.

    "Think they've seen me." the satyr said with no hint of surprise or apology.

    The half-elf's eyes widened as the bone-tipped spear broke through the grass very near his face.

    "So much for hiding." said the half-elf, seeing no reason not to keep his voice down at this point. "RUN!"

    The druid grabbed the satyr by the shoulder and the two took off back into the wood they had just passed through.

    Hollow bellows of hissing went up behind them. No sooner had they re-entered the woods than the tromping of feet and the cracking and slashing sounds of breaking vegetation in a full out chase followed.

    A single bone tipped spear thunk into a tree as the satyr and druid passed. In their rush, Fen couldn't attempt to use his druidic training, nor Festus his ranger skill for that matter, to be delicate or quiet in their surroundings. They just ran. Rushed. A couple of attempts to evade the pursuers by changing direction were quickly proven futile.

    This was their swamp, Fen realized. They would not be avoided here. He grabbed the satyr's cloak to get his attention. Festus' face, when he turned, was a combination of shock, fear, and indignation. The satyr knew better than to say anything at this point but followed the druid's unspoken nod in a certain direction.

    The two took off. The pursuers were not far enough behind to not be heard, but were not seen.

    Festus prepared to leap over a vine-covered log when he was unexpected ripped back by the nape of his cloak and slammed, uncomfortably, with his back against a tree to the side of the path they'd been running down.

    "OOMPH! Hey!" was all the satyr ranger was able to get out before Fen threw himself up against the satyr and widely spread his grey-green druid's cloak over the two of them.

    "Wut're you..."Festus whispered into the druid's close neck.

    "Don't...breathe." Fen replied in a harsh whisper.

    The tromping got louder and louder. The hissing sounded as if it were upon their very heads. Then more trudging and splashing. The sound of claws over wood. More splashing. Then things got rather quiet. The soft "splsh" of legs moving slowly through water. More hissing.

    Then a noise....a rustling?...something like a creaking rope...

    Festus breathed as lightly as he could into the half-elf's chest. The half-elf, it seemed to the satyr's senses had completely stopped.

    Then loud hisses and splashing erupted somewhere to Festus' left. Much louder than it had been. Bellows and hisses noises of severe movement...but only a few moments....then all was silent.

    Slowly...almost imperceptibly slowly, Fen turned his head and backed away from the satyr and the tree. Festus had not noticed the druid turn his head, yet Fen was facing the direction of all of the noise.

    Fen took a step back, then two. Festus exhaled loudly. "Well we lost...them?"

    The ranger's statement/question trailed off from its originally intended lightheartedness as he followed the druid's gaze.

    Five practically grey lizardmen hung, in various stages of mummification by vines they came down and wrapped about the creatures in ever more number, were being slowly lifted off out of the swamp and into the canopy above.

    "Uhhhh..." Festus began not sure what to say before blurting loudly, "YOU, my good druid, are the MAN!...well, half-man, but still. That was fraggin' BRILLIANT!"

    "Be still." hissed the druid. "There may be more. But for now, let's go after the others." Fen said without concern or emotion and turned to return the way they'd come. His enchanted cloak flowing in colors of green and grey and brown, making him nearly invisible in the green and grey and brown terrain.

    "Right! time to rescue our fellows." Festus said a bit too cheerily.

    "And Festus...that had better have been your falchion's pommel I felt against my thigh." the druid said quietly.

    "Hey! A satyr's got needs, man. That's the most bodily contact I've had with somethin' not tryin' to kill us since...since before we left Bridgetower!" the satyr defended unapologetic. Then, more to himself than Fen he repeated, " does a satyr's got needs..."

    Again, the half-elf druid and all-too-satyr ranger made their way, more slowly and silently out of the swamp-wood.

  4. #184
    Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)

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    Great stuff, steeldragons! Thanks very much for keeping this story going, it's a great read!

  5. #185
    Steeliest of the dragons SILVER SUBSCRIBER
    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    In the Lizard's Den...

    It was no difficult thing for Festus to find where the company had been taken. The bodies of their companions...the large knees of Braddok and more delciate knees of Erevan pressing into the grasses...Duor's large heavy feet...and...Festus really couldn't tell how many lizardfolk tracks all over the area. The lizardmen and the dragging and their fellows was even easier.

    At the satyr's silent indication, the druid and ranger crouched low behind some wildly growing mulberry bushes. Before them was a large wide opening in the inner slope of the crater.

    Two lizardmen with spears and short bone daggers on their belts stood before the opening and periodically took a "sniff" at the air with their tongues.

    Fen worried for a moment at the reptilians' senses but hoped that the vegetation and the mud and sludge they were each half-covered in would mask their scents.

    Festus plopped down on his rump. He drew his short bow from the quiver and looked at Fen.

    The half-elf shook his head in a negative.

    "How do you presume we get in there then?" the satyr ranger whispered.

    "We wait." said the druid, simply. "Night will come and they will retire from the chill."

    "What about when the rest of their hunting party doesn't come back?" Festus asked with a shiver at the recent memory of the lizardmen hunters, gone grey, being lifted into the vampire-vine canopy.

    The druid had to give this some thought. What about that, indeed.

    "Ok." the druid finally conceded. "Be ready to move...follow a moment. Stay close. Be prepared to fight. I do not know how much more magic I can conduct without some rest. Perhaps we should move off and have a rest?" the half-elf questioned the satyr.

    "Don't the lizard folk eat just about anything with meat on its bones?" was Festus' simple reply. He put his bow back in the quiver and loosened the falchion and magical short sword he was fond of using, up close, in tandem.

    "Point taken." Fen nodded.

    The druid, who had resigned himself that these lizardmen, for whatever reason, where not as superstitious of his "green cloak" as those the party had initially encountered, began whispering his next enchantment. He waited a bit...the fading light of the cloud-strewn sky told him that evening was approaching.

    When Fen gaged the time of day to be right, he began to whisper his secret language. At the finish of his chant-like murmuring, he placed his hand upon the ground, reaching just beyond the bushes behind which he and Festus hid.

    As the dull grey of the day was turning to the dull-but-darker grey of evening, wisps of mist and fog began to appear from Fen's outstretched fingers.

    In short order, a thick fog was forming between the two companions and the lizard guards. <druid spell: Obscurement>

    "Let's go. Be close....and be silent!" Fen emphasized through a hissing whisper.

    The satyr followed the druid as close as he could, practically upon his back. They moved with singular silence and caution. Their steps leaving not the slightest trace of sound upon the ground.

    They entered the large cave opening and quickly moved away from it. They both had a modicum of vision in the near darkness and wove their way through a long corridor that wound down and to the right.

    They halted at a corner from which flickering golden light emanated. Fen pressed himself up against the wall, just at the corner, and, to Festus' sight disappeared. The druid cautiously bent his neck to look around the corner, secure in the knowledge that his druid's cloak was protecting him from any obvious observation.

    A moment later, Fen reappeared to Festus' vision.

    "Just torches." Fen said plainly. "No lizardmen in sight. But, as I've said, they abhor the normal reptiles do. Come....cautiously."

    The two made their way down the next corridor, which also sloped to the right. Even without Duor, they noticed how they were moving downward and, as best they could determine, were moving somewhere down beneath the barren stretch of the crater bowl.

    They easily slipped passed a lone sentry who seemed to be asleep at his post and continued on.

    Festus noted that both Braddok and Duor and Erevan seemed to be leaving tracks. This was noteworthy, at least to Fen, since Erevan generally did not leave any tracks whatsoever. If the elf's footprints were discernible to the ranger, Fen reasoned, 1) he was leaving them on purpose and, more importantly to the druid, 2) he was still alive.

    The two continued down long winding corridors, sporaticly lit with flaming torches set in sconces on the walls or in poles struck in the ground, fueled by skins that, they presumed held some kind of oil. <Author/DM's note: Like "tiki-torches", but "tiki-torches" have no reference point in Orea for the players.>


    Alaria slowly came to consciousness. Her shoulders were...cold? Her legs was on her knees. Her arms were behind her...wait!...her hands were bound?! Where was she?! Alaria's eyes opened, weakly, to take in the scene.

    She saw, with more than a little confusion, that she was on her knees, bound, with a pole at her back. Her cloak (which normally protected her shoulders when wearing her sleeveless gold traveling robe), she realized, was...missing? There was a single torch on a wall, to one side of her flickering intermittent light about the rest of the chamber.

    Haelan was across the way, bound to another pole with Duor on the other side/behind the daelvar. Both were, seemingly, unconscious. Why was Haelan naked from the waist up?

    They seemed to be in an earthen carved chamber. At one end there was a gate, of sorts, looking like a jail cell door at one end of the chamber.

    "Where? What?" Alaria said weakly. "Haelan? Duor?" she dared to whisper as loudly as she could...and still whisper.

    <translated from elvish>"Ah, you are awake. The moon-mother be praised. I had feared we might have lost you, magess." came Erevan's voice softly speaking the lyrical elvin tongue, behind her.

    Alaria was thoroughly confused until she felt the fingers of, presumably the elf, reaching to her own, bound around this pole.

    "Erevan?" Alaria said in surprise, turning to see the elf's silver grey locks and profile behind her, also on his knees.

    "Speak the elder tongue." Erevan whispered harshly. "The lizardmen do not understand it. And you can speak very low and I will hear." he added in elvish.

    "Where are we? What has happened? I don't...I don't recall." the magess said, desperately trying to remember her elf-tongue lessons through her groggy mind.

    "We've been taken by the lizardmen. We escaped the vines only to be captured. You and Haelan were unconscious. We had to give you and the daelvar the potion for neutralizing poison, at Fen's direction. They took us unawares. The satyr and Fen are still free...I think. At the least, they were not taken with us. They took Braddok away some time ago and have not returned with yet." Erevan explained as softly as he could.

    "Why are we still here? You and I, both, can break these bonds easily with the simplest magic." Alaria wondered. Though, in earnest, her mind was filling with concern for Braddok...something about Fen telling them how lizardmen eat anyone with meat on their bones.

    Then, Alaria remembered with horror, her staff had fallen into the mire! She didn't have her cloak. She looked down. Her pouches and satchel were gone! Where were her components? Her books?!

    "Erevan, do you have your grimoire?!" she asked in all but panic, forgettign to use the elvish tongue.

    "SSSSSilensssssse. No talksssss." came a growling reptilian humanoid form into the "outside" of the gateway. It...or he?...clacked its spear loudly on the bars of their prison door.

    A moment passed before the lizardman guard disappeared from view, but undoubtedly was just outside the door. Alaria now understood the need for quiet.

    "I do not, magess. We must rely on what we already know. We were brought before their...I don't know the word...'arabreostae' <the elvish term for a magic-worker> I suppose. They stripped us of all of our weapons, our magical items, even took Braddok's and Haelan's armor. Duor's and my leathers seemed to hold no interest for them." the elf again answered in the whispered elvin tongue.

    "'The term is 'shaman' for these beasts, I imagine....or 'witch-doctor.'" Alaria answered. This was bad, she thought. Very bad. And they'd taken Braddok? But the druid and the ranger were free still. That could bode well.

    "Where are we?" Alaria asked, her need for details seemed all the more important now.

    "In a prison...or holding cell of sorts. Far down into the lizardmen's lair. We were marched for some time." the elf paused, unsure if he should pass on the information he had to the woman.

    "They took Haelan and Duor first. I do not know what they did, but they look the worse for it." he finally said quietly.

    Alaria looked across at the dwarf and half-naked daelvar. Only now, in the flickering torchlight, she noticed the bruises and obvious scratches and cuts upon them.

    She also noted the third pole in the chamber, like the others, floor to ceiling, that held no one. A scrap of light blue fabric laid at its base.

    "Braddok has been gone, as best I can tell, an hour or so.
    " Erevan replied, lamentably. "Do you think, magess, that we can escape this place with our own magics? Once Haelan comes back to consciousness, I'm sure he might help.

    "I suspect, we are all to be eaten. I would rather not have that be our fate.
    " the elf concluded with a distinct and somewhat offputting, to Alaria, note of defeat in his tone.

    "I did not come, Erevan Ryvsorai Aiiniri, to the base of Nor Gorthok to be eaten!" Alaria hissed in reply. "Once Braddok is returned, we will be leaving this place." Alaria seethed with indignation.

    Taken like some slave by this bunch of animals! No R'Hathi would stand such an affront. And, Alaria resolved, she would not be the first. Her mind was fully stocked of incantations she would not forget, other than to release them upon her captors.

    Next time: Escape from the Lizard's Den...?

  6. #186
    Steeliest of the dragons SILVER SUBSCRIBER
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    Some time later, after Alaria's awakening, the gate to their pen opened and two lizrdmen entered, dragging a badly beaten Braddok between them.

    The warrior was not unconscious, as his looked through his left eye (the right being badly bruised and swollen shut) at Alaria and felt a pang of sorrow as the magess gasped at this appearance.

    "It's not as bad as it looks, magess. Do not worry." Braddok huffed through broken and swollen lips.

    "No talkssss!" said one of the reptilians dragging the swordsman and struck him, hard, in his back with the butt of the spear he carried in his free hand.

    After the two had retied Braddok to the last, unoccupied pole in the chamber, four more lizardmen entered.

    Two were obviously guards, armed with bone-tipped spears and what looked like some kind of claw or other bone-carved curved short swords hanging from the simple leather belts they wore around their midsection.

    It was then, Alaria noticed with some embarrassment, that they wore no loincloths or pants or anything below the waist, their heavy scaled skins being the only thing that somehow contained any organs of reproduction they might possess. Some corner of Alaria's mind realized the sense this made, allowing full range of movement to the three-to-four foot tails that swung and coiled behind each of them. They were broadly muscled and all stood as tall, if not a few inches taller, than Braddok, himself.

    The other two were different.

    One, obviously their leader, was larger than any of the others. Whether this indicated it was older, Alaria could not tell,, but it too was broadly muscled and wore a thick girdle of leather set with smoothly polished, multi-colored stones about his waist. A metal sword also hung from the bejeweled girdle. Upon one forearm and extended down over his naturally clawed hand was a monstrous gauntlet of steel that reflected the torchlight, ending in long curved metal claws over the hand. This lizardman, be he chieftain or warlord or just some captain, also wore a long heavy cloak of coarse fur.

    If this lizardman were not cause for enough concern by the companions, the other was a smaller, hunched figure. He wore a headdress that sported long curving horns and an array of multi-colored feathers. One of the feathers was obviously cracked/broken, hanging limply to the side.This lizardman's snout seemed a bit longer than the others, slight dropping at the end, and its scaley hide appeared almost "wrinkled" if such a thing were possible. Its belt was barely visible beneath the multitude of strips of leather with colored beads, various bones, skulls of small animals and birds, assorted pouches and various sized gourds. A long staff, similarly adorned with bits of feather, bone, tufts of fur and more than a couple of animal tails streamed off it. The various beads, bones and other accoutrements rattled and clinked with every movement it made.

    The obvious "shaman" picked a long gourd with a bulbous end from his belt and began to shake it. It rattled with some hidden beans or something. As the shaman began to hiss in a rhythmic fashion, dull grey smoke that stank of some unknown incense began to seep out of the gourd's head and encircle the room.

    Alaria wondered at the phenomenon and mentally disdained this monster's back-swamp spirit magic. She wondered if this was the time to mount their escape, but thought better to see what might happen.

    When the grey smoke had formed a ring about the perimeter of the chamber, the shaman turned to the large leader-looking lizardmen and bowed slightly.

    "You may ssspeak, my thief." the shaman said. To Alaria, and the others' surprise, they understood the reptilian, though wondered about this great, apparent warrior's title of "thief."

    "The prey are the onesss who have ssslain my people, yesss. The prey travel with treatherousss green-ed cloak-ed one. Where isss he? And where isss the sssatyr? I thall have jussssthissss." the 'thief' bellowed (Alaria now realized the creatures' lizard like snouts precluded the possibility of pronouncing certain sounds, like "ch.")

    Alaria looked at her other companions. Braddok seemed to have slipped into unconsciousness. The others were looking at her. Behind her, though she could not see, Erevan scowled at the reptilians in the doorway.

    "The prey will anssswer the thief!" the shaman shouted. "Or the prey diesss. Where isss the prey'sss othersss?"

    For this, the shaman received a sound blow across his shoulder from the "thief", presumably for interrupting.

    Alaria, it seemed, would be foisted into the role of spokesperson again. Better, she thought, to try to glean as much information as possible. More knowledge was, of course, always preferable to less.

    "We do not know." the R'Hathi said, raising herself as tall and proud looking as she could, on her knees with her hands tied to a pole behind her back. "Why have you brought us here?"

    "Why?! WHYYYY???!!!" the chieftain roared as it stomped toward the lady.

    Alaria feared the creature might bite her head off, quite literally as its face and flickered tongue came very near her own.

    "The prey sssslain my thampion, invade MY ssswamp and k-k-(the lizardman was making the unfamiliar "k" sound from back down in his throat)-kill my offsssspringsss and the prey wondersss WHY?!" the chief elaborated.

    Bollux, Alaria thought to herself. They were, obviously, on the wrong side of whatever law this chief's clan held...any law of any land, for that matter.

    "Our apologies, good chief of lizards. We were, but, protecting ourselves. We seek only to enter Nor Gorthok...the, uh, the mountain, here." dare she attempt to extrapolate...she dared, "Is it not the right of any creature of the swamp to protect itself?"

    "The prey issss not a k-k-kreature of the sssswamp. The prey thinkssss it k-k-lever?" he turned with a flourish of his great furred cloak and it more "banged" than washed over the magess' face. It seemed to reek, simultaneously, of all of the awful odors they had encountered throughout their time in the Feldmere. Alaria felt a wave of nausea.

    The shaman held out a book for the chief who all but ripped it out of the shaman's claws before turning to Alaria and shaking it at her.

    "The prey isss a sssss-ahman. We have ssseen the prey's magic books." he continued to rant.

    "The prey will return my ussss, yessss. And the prey will live here and makesss magicsss for usss." the chieftain said quietly.

    "I will do no such thing!" Alaria protested in indignation.

    Again the monstrous chieftain leaned in close to Alaria, "The prey willssss. It willssss. Or the prey doesss not all."

    The monster now walked away from Alaria and circled about the room, slowly, staring down each of the other companions in turn.

    "The prey likesss itsss...friennndsss, yesss? The prey will do thisss for usss or I killsss...and EATSSS...itsss friendsss. Yesss." the chieftain turned back to Alaria. The chief's eyes narrowed to almost imperceptible slits. If a lizard's eyes could be said to look conniving, these were. "We startsss with the elf-prey. Yesss." he said at least and raised his metal-clawed-gauntlet arm.

    Two of the lizardmen guards began to move toward Alaria and Erevan.

    The shaman frantically interrupted, again, knowing the possible risk, "My thief. The elfsss isss magicsss alssso." he held up the slimmer smaller bound book that contained Erevan's spells before continuing.

    "If the prey-sss-ahman doesss not make the magicsss, the elf-prey cansss....perhapssss." the shaman cowered slightly at the expected reprisal.

    The chieftain held up his gauntleted arm again and waved the guards back to their positions near the door.

    He turned and flicked his tongue down toward Haelan and Duor.

    "Then, perhapsss, we ssstartsss with a sssnack." the chief said.

    "Aw bugger." Duor said to the floor.

    "What?! No! No, Alaria! Tell him...I dunno, tell him something!" the daelvar priest practically cried in panic.

    "My good chief," Alaria began as he again waved the approaching guards off and looked sidelong at the wizard, "the daelvar is a priest of great power. You do not want to eat him. His goddess is powerful and would extract retribution."

    The lizard-chief looked at the magess now and then back at Haelan and back at Alaria with a look of clear disbelief.

    Alaria thought for a moment before continuing with an attempt at a ruse. She shook her head in the affirmative. "Yes. He is very powerful, this priest. Be nice to us and his goddess might return your sons with his help."

    Haelan stared agape in horror across the room at the wizardess.

    The chief seemed to think for a moment and then looked at his shaman. "Whatsss isss duh-hale-gar prrriesstsss?"

    The shaman silently nodded in the direction of the cleric. "The hairfootsss-prey, my thief. Worshipsss the ssspiritsss of prey."

    The shaman reached to his belt, behind him, and withdrew Haelan's pinecone-shape headed mace. "Isss that what thisss isss for?"

    "Yes!" Alaria said quickly.

    Haelan said nothing, still in utter shock at the magess' assertion. The raising of the dead was strictly against Faeranthean teachings...Hells, the cleric thought, he didn't even know if it was possible! He'd never heard of any Hillmother, let alone a Hilltender, attempting such a feat, let alone succeeding.

    "Then you, hairfootsss-prey, will bring our offspringsss back. Or we eatsss your friendsss." the chieftain said snidely to the daelvar.

    "My thief," the shaman again dared to interject, "the time comes when Hrrr'athssssaaaah demands tributessss." the shaman said looking at the bound companions. "Perhapsss the prey will sssserve and I can perform the ssssseremony you sssseek. Yesss?" the shaman concluded.

    Receiving no swat to his unseen ears, the shaman continued, hissing in malice toward Alaria. "We have ssspiritsss too."

    "Release us and we will do whatever we can to bring back your sons." Alaria quickly stated, understanding the shaman's motives most acutely.

    "Alaria!" Haelan objected before getting a swift "klok!" from the lizardman cheiftain. Thankfully, it was not the hand with the spikey clawed metal gauntlet.

    "The prey will bring usss the green-ed cloak-ed onesss and the sssatyr." he nodded at the guards.

    To everyone's surprise, a single guard came and began to untie Alaria.

    "My chief! The prey is a sss-ahmansss! Keep its handsss bound! Sssend the beard-prey." the shaman protested.

    The guard paused momentarily, concerned by the shaman's warning (and begin able to understand it in the magical zone of translation).

    The chief looked at Alaria calmly. "The prey will not do anything ssstupid, yesss? Itsss friends ssstay here. If the prey runsss or triesss treathery, itss friendsss die."

    Alaria understood all too well, but thought the opportunity was all too enticing to pass up. Besides, the magess lamentably reasoned, if they freed Duor instead, there was no guarantee the dwarf would return at all.

    "No, my chief." Alaria said, attempting to sound defeated. "Nothing stupid."

    "The prey will return with itsss othersss by next moonrise, or it will sssee itsss friendsss in our belliesss...And the other prey will not try anything ssstupid, as they love their femalesss. Yessss?"

    "Yes, my chief." Alaria repeated.

    "No tricks. We promise." Haelan piped up.

    "Yesss?" the cheiftain said menacingly to the others.

    Erevan and Duor nodded their heads in defeat.

    "Yessss." the chief smirked, if a lizard's face could be said to smirk.

    He left the chamber with another wave of his furred cloak, shouting hissing and rumbling orders from his belly. The shaman looked about the chamber to see his ring of magic smoke dissipating.

    The shaman bowed as the chief passed and when he'd exited, looked with malice at Alaria as she, stiffly, rose to her feet. The guard gripped her hard by the arm and began to walk her out. The shaman halted their exit and hissed something in the lizard folks' tonguey tongue. When the guard gave the shaman a question glance, he shook his rattle-gourd at the guard.

    The lizard-warrior conceded and left the two alone in the chamber.

    "No tricksss wisssard." the shaman said softly to Alaria, in Common!

    Alaria's surprised look garnered a nod and chuckling smirk from the aged lizardman.

    "Yesss. I know your k-k-ind. You do as the thief bids and you may yet live to leave thisss plassse. Perhapsss some of thessse prey alssso." he jerked his head in the direction of the other bound companions.

    "If you...treathery, to my lord Hrrr'athsssa will you all. I promissse. Yesss." the elderly lizardman finished.

    Before Alaria could reply, the shaman hissed another curt command and the guard returned and grabbed her again. She was half-led half-dragged through multiple corridors, passed several other lizardmen warriors and others that seemed to be unarmed. She even caught sight of a few younglings peeking around corners or out of archways in the earthern carved lair.

    After a time, they were moving through a long corridor, dotted with torches in the walls and stuck in the floor. Alaria mentally noted and recalled Fen's several assertions about the lizardmen and the cold.

    As they came around a bend, Alaria was met with a most unexpected sight.

    Next time..."In the Belly of the Beast"...or..."A Hrrr'athsssa by Any Other Name Twould Still Smell Like Swamp."

  7. #187
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    Alaria and her "escort" rounded the bend just in time to see Festus pulling his falchion out of the belly of a severely dead lizardman guard on the floor. The enchanted cloak of Fen waved about the druid, a bit behind the ranger. The half-elf's face was of one just caught with his breeches about his ankles.

    "Alaria!" the satyr said cheerfully. "Look Fen. That was easy!"

    "Festus? What are you..." Alaria didn't get to finish her question before her escort threw her, fairly easily, to the floor behind him and rushed forward with a snarling hiss, his spear ready to take on the interlopers.

    The satyr, naturally, took a ready stance with his two short blades before him. Fen leveled his spear in the lizard-guard's direction.

    "No! Stop! Don't hurt him." Alaria called in vain.

    Before the last words had passed her lips, the satyr was dodging and feinting around the lizardman's spear jabs. The ranger's own strikes missed and skated off of the lizardman's thick scaled hide.

    Fen rushed forward to help Alaria to her feet. "Where are the others? We should get out of here with all speed."

    "They are captured. There is too much to explain. Stop this! Festus, don't kill him!" Alaria called passed the druid, seeing Festus cut into the reptilians softer side.

    The satyr was distracted by this "command", "You want me to what?!"

    This momentary pause was all the lizardman needed to do a swift pivot on its feet to swipe the goat-legs rght out from under Festus with a solid swipe of its tail. The satyr landed heavily on his back, knocking the air from his lungs. Before Festus could react, a bone-tipped spear was at his throat.

    "No!" Alaria called. Before she knew what she was doing or saying, the words came to her mind and across her lips, practically unbidden, "Contro es amberall buul." <mage spell: Sleep> Alaria flung her arm out with a handful of dusty dirt from the passage floor.

    The lizardman looked at her curiously for a moment before slumping over in a blissful doze.

    Not since Alaria had completed her studies in Evaranthriine's Gorathgraard had she had much cause to use her magic. But the R'Hathi magess knew, she had not studied the Sleep incantation at the beginning of that day. She was thoroughly impressed with herself at this newfound mastery of the Mysteries...and the fact that she, apparently didn't "need" sand to pull it off.

    But she steeled her mind with trained ease, these things could be pondered at a later time in some more secure location.

    At her instruction, the satyr bound (and gagged) the large lizardman and, somewhat clumsily he and the half-elf dragged it to a nearby door that seemed to be a supply room of some sort, with shelves full of skins and barrels of some liquid and stacks of torches and assorted rags.

    Alaria filled in her would-be rescuers as they descended back into the creatures' lair.

    "so, let me get this straight, " Festus said quietly, "you told them Halean could raise the chief's dead son...that we killed yesterday...And now he wants you to bring us to them?...or they'll kill the others and or feed us all to some Hrangthing." This sounded, to the satyr, like a severely bad set of circumstances.

    Alaria simply nodded as she peerred cautiously around the passage down which she knew there to be several doorways.

    "And we're, exactly?" Fen asked tentatively.

    "We are going to do just as they ask." Alaria said plainly.

    The half-elf and satyr looked at each other. Their expressions, if they said anything, were that Alaria had clearly lost her mind.

    "But we're going to make a stop or two first." alaria said cryptically.

    Festus took the point and led them, caustiously down corridor after corridor, making turns where Alaria indicated. She continued explaining her plan in hushed tones.

    "There is a shaman here. They've taken all of our enchanted items, not to mention mine and Erevan's spellbooks. I am betting, the shaman has at least some of them. We must find him and retrieve as much of our equipment as possible. My spellbooks not least of all."

    They very carefully checked down various passages and behind certain doors, doing their utmost not to let their presence be known.

    "Then we must free the others...and we can't kill any more of them if it can be helped." Alaria concluded.

    That was enough for Festus, "OK! Now you've just lost it. Are you still poisoned or something?! These things want to EAT us!"

    "I've seen younglings here abouts, Festus. And other adults that are unarmed...their females, I suspect. We seem to have done more than enough damage to this... colony or whatever it is. Let's just get what's ours and get out of here.

    "As to what this 'Hr'athsa' is, I have no idea. But the way the shaman spoke of it, I suspect it is their god or some spirit kind of creature. We are in no shape to take on anything more than absolutely necessary!"

    That said, the very next door they check behind, the three adventurers were faced, eye-to-eye, several of the unarmed 'females' who immediately rose and hissed angrily at the interlopers. The three grown lizardfolk charged toward the door. Alaria noted a few young lizardfolk playing on the floor behind their watchers.

    Fen slammed the door shut and Alaria quickly placed her hands upon the shoddily crafted wooden door. Again, words came into her mind from her memory of the eariest spells in her book. A quick incantation later, the door jostled upon its hinges, causing Alaria to step back in alarm. But the door did not open. <mage spell: Hold Portal>

    "We must hurry." she said as the hissing and growling continued from behind the door.

    "They were holding us in a chamber down that way." Alaria said at a "T" in the passage down which they were rushing. Then took the opposite direction.

    "Uhhhh...Alaria...then why are we going this way?" Festus asked, confused.

    "Our magic, Festus!" Alaria said with some annoyance. What didn't the satyr understand about the importance of reclaiming her spellbooks?!

    The next chamber to their right also had a door, this one looking much more well made and sturdy.

    "Arkanavis." Alaria whispered under her breadth. She peered, very close to the door. There was...she was almost sure...magic on the other side of the door. "Here."

    Fen went to grab the door as Alaria noticed, backed away from the door, the invisible runes scribed and glowing along the bottom of the door.

    "NO! Wait!" Alaria said, a bit loudly in her surprise. But it was too late.

    There was the most momentary flash of light as Fen's hand touched the door handle before flames erupted with a soft *WHOOSH!* from the base of the door and filled the passageway in front of it and about ten feet of the corridor.

    Festus' uncanny reflexes and goat-legs jumped him back from the quick blast of heat and flames to escape unscathed.

    Fen's enchanted cloak helped to mute some of the elemental damage. He looked at Alaria with a bit of displeasure as the scent of burned hair filled the air. The druid's carrot-colored eyebrows and strip of a goatee were frizzled black and smoking.

    Alaria similarly was smoking from several locations. Her traveling robe was all but burned from her body (being, now, little more than a short skirt and bra.)

    "Nice look, Alaria." Festus jibbed with a chuckle. "You should show more skin more often."

    Alaria simply scowled at the ranger and indicated they all needed to enter the chamber.

    Sure enough, it looked (at least to Alaria) like the shaman's chambers. Thankfully, he was not there. But there was a long table strewn with beakers and bottles and jars and bowls holding all sorts of animal parts, bones and feathers carefully stacked and separated into piles. A set of shelves contained more jars and vials and animal parts. Also on the shelves were several rolls of parchment. The magess was sorry they had not the time to examine the spirit-man's 'magic', but time was of the essence.

    Sure enough, on a desk to the side were several of their items with a few scrolls beneath them. It seemed from Alaria's cursory examining of them, that the shaman was attempting to identify what the items present might do.

    Alaria immediately took and put on her bracelet of force-beads. She grabbed her deep blue cloak off of a peg on the wall. She handed off Haelan's small round shield and Duor's ethereal dagger off to the satyr.

    "Will these help?" Festus asked with a smile, picking up a seemingly plain backpack in each hand. They were the packs of holding the dwarf Imgulg had gifted to Haelan and Duor.

    "These too, it seems." Fen said from the long table of bottles and animal parts. He grabbed and stashed what seemed to be at least one of their neutralize poison and healing potions, two vials of the dark green water breathing potion. He was carefully surveying the contents of the other bottles and jars.

    Alaria moved into a recessed alcove behind a drape of drying herbs.

    "Oo. What's this one do, ya think?" Festus said about a bone bowl that contained a thick yellowed liquid.

    Before Fen or Alaria could say anything, the satyr downed the contents of the bowl.

    "Are you MAD!?" Fen said in alarm as the bone bowl dropped form the satyr's hand and the goat-man gagged several times.

    "Tastes like bile." he managed to choke out.

    "These are lizardmen, imbecile. It very likely might have been!" Fen chastised.

    Then Festus felt...odd...tingling like...and...well, odd.

    Alaria had located her satchel and quickly was stuffing what seemed to be both of her spellbooks and Erevan's slimmer smaller tome.

    "I don't see anything more of ours. Let's get out of here...FESTUS!" Alaria finished with alarm to see the satyr's skin had gone

    First, the ranger's shoulder muscle bulged out...impossibly, magically, large. Then one of his forearms. Then the other shoulder. His pectorals practically snapped the breastplate of leather off, but one of the straps held it in place...for a moment before that one, too, burst and the leather armor fell off of the ever increasing form. His biceps were creaking up in size, veins forming all across the exposed skin.

    "Manat's star!" Alaria breathed.

    "He drank something from the shaman's desk." Fen said as he backed away from the groaning and growling satyr as his legs burst in similar muscle and size and shoulders came very near the ceiling of the place.

    After a moment the transformation stopped and before them stood, at nearing nine feet tall, a giant orange Festus breathing heavily, loudly, and staring at his orange huge hands. The "full length" patchwork cloak in which the ranger traveled now hung, like a shawl, over his back.

    Alaria took a cautious step toward the 'creature' and said, very softly. "Festus?"

    The satyr's head turned toward the magess. His face had grown and morphed to a grotesque monstrous visage. His eyes were bulding and bloodshot. Alaria's soft word rang in his ears like a hundred cymbals.

    "This...I'm...this is...SO COOL!" Festus' voice boomed through the chamber.

    "Are you ok?" Fen said, again with concern.

    "I am...AWESOME!" again the voice boomed. Both the wizard and druid were sure just about everything in the lizardmen's den would have heard him. "Look at me! I'm HUGE! Let's kick some butt!" the satyr smiled a rather gross toothy smile at his companions.

    "Ok...Ok, Festus. Change of plans....still not killing if not absolutely necessary. But I think it might be a good time for a visit to the chieftain, now." Alaria said with a sly smile.

    "Magess?" Fen said, thoroughly not following.


    <translated from the Lizardman tongue>"My chief! My chief! An ogre has appeared in the lair! " cried a guard who entered the chieftain's audience chamber with three other guards quick on his heels. They closed and barred the double doors that led to the throne room.

    "What?! How?" answered chief Claws-in-Blood.

    "It has the prey-shaman with it and the green cloak! It is coming this way. the guard explained quickly as a thundrous boom pounded into the door.

    "How could she do that without her magic books?! You said she had no power!" Claws-in-Blood growled at the shaman beside him.

    The elderly lizard, Hisses-to-Spirits, cowered at his chief's raised clawed gauntlet raised arm and then took a step back, jostled from his feet by another thundering knock.

    The two lizardmen who were up upon a makeshift ladder attempting to hang a triangular shield emblazoned with a black split-tail hawk on the wall among the chief's other litany of trophies were similarly knocked down. One suffered the clanging of the shield upon its head.

    With a deafening boom, the doors flew off their hinges and the prey-shaman walked calmly into the throne room. The four present guardsmen took their positions, forming a line before their chief and the shaman, who was now half-hiding behind the chief's throne.

    Behind the prey-female, who was now covered in a cloak of dark blue and walked with a long staff that flickered with a ball of lightning, came a similarly cloaked in green, hooded prey who walked with a spear. Behind them both came a giant orange brute of a creature.

    It had horns upon its head and furry prey-like legs with great cloven feet.

    "FESTUS SMASH!" the great orange beast bellowed through the chamber.

    "Not yet, Festus." the prey-shaman said calmly before turning toward the chieftain and raising her voice in address.

    "My good chief. You desired for me to find and bring to you the greencloak and the satyr. Here I am. Our side of the bargain is fulfilled."

    The chief hissed and growled in obvious annoyance at the shaman and the shaman relayed what had been said...or so Alaria hoped.

    "Thisss isss no sssatyr. The prey-sssahman thinksss it k-k-..." Hisses-to-Spirits began to reply.

    "I AM 'clever', bone-man...and it's SHHHHA-man." Alaria replied with a good deal of enjoyment before mentally calling up a couple of her, few remaining, cantrips.

  8. #188
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    Ooh Alaria got easier magic now

    Festus' WIS score must be quite low to just drink something strange lol

  9. #189
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lwaxy View Post
    Ooh Alaria got easier magic now
    Yuppers. Standard-Orean-Houserule for mages. Spontaneous casting of cantrips occurs from day one. High Int. gets you bonus spells per day (a la clerics in 1e)...instilled practically immediately after my original group started 1e to offset the "one-and-done magic-user."

    AND, it makes flavor sense to me, that as mages gain experience and power, the spells they've been using for a long time become that "second nature" like cantrips always were [in Orea]. In essence, spontaneous casting is allowed for 2 levels below your highest casting spell level.

    SO, at 5th level (getting 3rd level spells for the first time) 1st level spells become spontaneously cast-able. Naturally, the mage may only spontaneously cast spells they know/have in their books (not ALL 1st level spells! hahaha) AND is still limited to their number of spells per day.

    At 7th level (if Alaria makes it that far ), when she would gain 4th level spells, her 1st and 2nd level spells will be able to be spontaneously chosen...and so on.

    Doesn't give 'em any more spells than they'd normally have, just allows a LOT more flexibility and creativity for the player.

    Of course, then the whole "Sorcerer revolution" came about and it seems not so special anymore. lol. But yes, mages in Orea could be considered, once they hit a certain level, to be "partial-spontaneous casters." [EDIT: Which goes to the reasoning that the "Sorcerer as a separate class" does not exist in Orea. All Orean wizards/mages eventually become partial Sorcerers (in the spontaneously casting class, sense.) /EDIT]

    Quote Originally Posted by Lwaxy View Post
    Festus' WIS score must be quite low to just drink something strange lol
    Honestly, I don't entirely recall, but I believe the player was just looking to "shake things up." hahaha. I guess being separated, held prisoner, mostly unarmed and low on magic in an enemy lair was just going "too smoothly" or something. lol.
    Last edited by steeldragons; Wednesday, 30th May, 2012 at 05:57 PM.

  10. #190
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    Alaria summoned to mind a couple of her few remaining cantrips, as she had done before other foes before. She caused the air to circle about her, rustling her cloak and hair, and flickers of violet flames to flare from her eyes.

    As Alaria was setting forth her "terms" for the company's release and demanding back Haelan's mace and holy symbol, Fen wandered over to the cowering lizardmen near the trophy wall. He took the swallowtail-hawk emblazoned shield and put it in the holding backpack he was toting.

    "I believe this belongs to us." the druid said dismissively and returned to Alaria's side. He crossed his arms and smirked a smug crooked grin as Alaria laid into the chief and shaman.

    "You WILL return our belongings and send us on our way..." Alaria continued.

    "Uh guys...", Festus said quietly behind them.

    "...and the hairfoot's mace and his goddess' holy symbol. They will avail you not..." the magess continued undeterred.

    "Guys?...Uh..." Festus murmured again.

    "We do not possess the means to return your lost warriors to you. But we are thoroughly sorry for the loss to you and your tribe..." the magess continued.

    "Alaria?" Fen said unsure where this line was going.

    "Guuuuys...problem..." Festus whispered again.

    "...but if you allow us to pass into the mountain unhindered, I swear we shall return with reparations for your loss..." Alaria continued.

    Fen wondered why the chief and shaman had begun to grin menacingly at them. Surely, these savages were terrified of the magess' ruse.

    "GUYS!" Festus yelled.

    "WHAT?!" Fen said in frustration before turning to see that Festus stood, his normal size, naked from the waist up (the satyr's sword belts had miraculously withstood the transformation into his huge form), as the last shades of orange disappeared from the goat-man's complextion. "...oh." the druid said quietly.

    The chief let out a terrible roar and the six lizardmen (four guards before the chief and the two near the trophy wall) charged at the satyr, magess and druid.

    Alaria, similarly made aware of Festus' return to his normal form, bolted for the double doors they had charged through a few moments before.

    As soon as the three were through, Alaria turned and began weaving one of her only remaining spells to, hopefully, slow down if not entirely stop their pursuit.

    "Arakness Aknis Arankinae!" <mage spell: Web> The whole of the doorway, and the front two lizardmen guards, was entirely encased in a veritably "wall" of iridescent webbing.

    The magess, druid and ranger raced down the corridors they had followed until they came to the turn off to descend to where the holding cell was with their companions.

    They came around the bend to see two, thoroughly slacking off lizardmen guards. The druid and ranger made short work of them while Alaria entered the pen (swatting the locked gate open with an electrical charge of her staff).

    "Alaria!" Haelan said gleefully. "Did you find them?"

    Alaria began untying Braddok and "threw" her final cantrip toward Erevan. The ropes binding the elf began to untie themselves as Festus and Fen entered and hastily began unbinding the dwarf and halfling.

    "Well great." Duor said as he rubbed his chafed wrists. "Now that the cavalry's here, wut're we doin'?"

    Festus withdrew the rogue's ethereal dagger from the holding pack and handed it to the dwarf. "Prolly gonna be needin' this, my friend. We're far from in the woods, yet." <Author's note: naturally, satyr's and other wildnerness creatures do not consider getting "out of the woods" to be the preferable place for safety.> He also withdrew Haelan's returning shield and handed it off to the cleric.

    The druid tossed Braddok one of the lizard-guards spears. Erevan had taken up the other and their odd serated bone-short swords. He tossed one of those to Braddok as well. Fen also, almost forgetting, pulled out the Grinlian swordsman's shield and gave that to him.

    As the party cautiously left the pen, the sounds of hissing and growling roars erupted throughout the corridor.

    "Which way?!" the half-naked and unarmed Haelan said with great concern.

    "Come on!" Festus said and began racing down the corridor, beyond the jail cell, that they had not explored.

    "Do yeh know where yer goin'?" Duor questioned as all of the companions raced as fast as they could.

    "Not a clue!" Festus answered with a smirk as he chose a side passage, at random and continued to race ahead.

    "A colony this large must have more than one point of exit." Braddok reasoned...hoping to himself that he was correct.

    "The warrior is correct. We just need to find it." Fen concurred.

    They came to a crossroads and Festus stood, perplexed. Neither way showed any signs of the flickering torches he'd more or less been following up to then.

    The sounds of pursuit were getting louder before Erevan's elvin senses came to the rescue. The slightest of cool air touched the elf's cheek and pointed ear in the direction of the leftside passage. The elf peered carefully down the passage and noted what none of the others possibly could, expect perhaps Duor, that the darkness at the edge of his vision took on the remotely lighter shade of darkness that was natural shadow as opposed to pure lightlessness.

    "This way. There's an exit up here around this bend." the elf said and without waiting for a consensus took off down the leftside passage. The other followed with all speed.

    Sure enough, the party raced around the passage bend and out a large opening before them. They all celebrated the fact they were outside before realizing they were inside a narrow (about 30 feet across) crevace of stone, not earth, lined on each side twenty foot high sheer walls of normal stone.

    The outdoor alley extended nearly 100 yards before them to a natural-looking opening in the base of the mountain that towered before them, as far as they could see. About half way down the alley was a crudely formed long stone table or altar. Upon the stone was a large sack.

    Erevan immediately recognized his bow and arrows sticking out of it and a sword hilt. It had to be the rest of their stuff!

    The party began moving forward toward the stone table when a loud *CLACK!* sounded behind them. They turned to see a wooden portcullis had dropped before the archway they'd just exited.

    Then the drums started.

    "Aw, bollux. Way to take the blade offa the anvil n' into the fire...stupid point-ear." the dwarf grumbled. With the fading day, the whole of the corridor was bathed in shadow, though there was still a slight glow in the sky. Duor wasted no time to make his way to one of the walls and crouch down in the first shadow he could find.

    "Hurry." Braddok commanded. "Get our things."

    The rest of the group, en masse, began again to race for the stone altar/table.

    Then a peculiar rhymic hissing intoned and their eyes went up to the rim of the stone alley.

    Lizardfolk were appeared at the edge, in ever increasing numbers. Some were armed, some not. Some beat on drums and the cacophony of voices continued to rise in a repetitive chant.

    "Oo-Hoo-hoo-<*thump*>Hrrrraaaaathsaaaa-Oo.<*thump*>Oo-Hoo-Hoo-Hrrraaaaathsaaaa-Oo <*thump*>"

    The chanting became louder as Haelan reached the table and large sack. The daelvar frantically searched through the contents, unconcerned about the weapons or their coins, gems and other trinkets. He pulled out one jacket of chainmail but it was too big to be his, he just tossed it back in the bag. Where was it?! the daelvar Hilltender thought in panic.

    "Oo-hoo-hoo<*thump*>Hrrraaaathsaaa-Oo.<*thump*>" the voices continued to intone until a single voice rose above the rest.

    "Hrrrathsaaa, lord of lizards, mighty sssshadowsss. Your peoplesss implore your prrresssensssse." cried Hisses-to-Spirits from a balcony about ten feet above the blocked archway. His arms were stretched high, one holding Haelan's mace, the other another rattle-gourd wrapped in feathers.

    "HEY! That's mine!" called Haelan up to the shaman. The lizard-spirit-man did not seem to hear.

    Then, as Braddok and Erevan, broken from their observations, reached the table and began to hastily grab whatever weapons they could.

    "To me, friends. Form up here, on me." Braddok commanded.

    What were they going to do? Alaria wondered in panic. "Braddok, I've all but exhausted mind and body today. I do not know how much more magic I can muster. I suspect Fen is similarly short on power. We MUST find some way out of here and someplace secure to recuperate." the magess whispered to the swordsman.

    "I fear you may have to wait a bit for that, magess." Braddok said stoically. Then he thought for a moment. He took in the lizardfolk around the edge of the crevace. None of them got any closerto the mountain than where the stone table sat in the alley below. Braddok looked to the large "circle" in the base of the mountain...50 yards away...with some luck, perhaps at least some of them could make it without spears in their backs.

    "On my mark, we make for the mountain. It might not let out anywhere, but the lizardfolk do not seme to get near it." the swordsman reasoned.

    Alaria turned to look at the mountain opening. Erevan also. It seemed like natural stone, but around the base looked odd. Like the stone had once been liquid and then solidified. Great drooping..."drops" for lack of a better term hung from the top of the roughly circular opening. Alaria was reminded of ice that had melted and then refrozen.

    "Lord Hrrrathsaaa, heed your peoplesss pleasss. We offer tributesss of great pleashhhhurrrre." the shaman called. From somewhere the party could not see a loud gong sounded.

    Alaria, still watching the opening and waiting for Braddok's "mark" gasped as two large narrow violet eyes began to glow from within the darkness at the end of the long stone alleyway.

    "HERE it is!" Haelan cried in happiness as he pulled the silver chain which held, at its end, the silver pinecone symbol of Faernatha. "Thank the Hillmother." he smiled before turning and taking in the whole situation. His eyes widened at the site of the balcony with the shaman, the great gauntlet-clawed chief behind him, the multitude of lizardfolks above their heads and, finally, turning toward the cave opening, the giant purple eyes that stared out, directly toward them.

    "Aw bullox." the daelvar said.

    "Oo-hoo-hoo-Hrrraaathsaaa-Oo." the congregated lizards intoned again as a ginat head exited the shadows of the cave.

    "Why do you call us, lizard-priest? Tributes, you say? So near the winter-sleep?" a curious voice bombed from the Common?!

    It was huge, gleaming black, and dragon-like. The two violet eyes glowed menacingly at the party as a long serpentine neck stretched forward. It had curved black horns, like a ram, to each side of its head. A clawed black leg appeared, then two...then two more directly behind it...

    "Ooooohoohoo!" the creature said when it saw the party. "PINK-flesh! Why didn't you say so!?"

    The head and eyes did not shift from the party as the legs climbed the left side of the cave-opening, then four, then six moving the body across the top of the cave and down the right side again. The body, also gleaming in black with the occasional band of violet scales kind of "cork-screwed" its way out of the cave.

    How many legs did this thing have? Alaria wondered. It was like no dragon she had ever seen a picture of. She'd counted eight and still the thing was not, entirely out of the cave and showed no signs of ending. It was, easily, from what she could see 40 feet long, and gods knew how much more of it was behind, still in the cave.

    The creature reared up so it's first four legs were off of the ground and "sat" rather like a rearing serpent with its four clawed "fore-arms" (?) clapping together like a child at Candlemas in...was it...glee?

    "Ooooohoohoohoo!" the creature seemed to be giggling.

    "Do you know..." the dragon-centipede-thing seemed now to be addressing the party, "how long it's been since you brought me pink-flesh, lizard-priest?"

    "Thisss prey hass done great wrongsss to your peoplesss, my lord. We givesss itsss gold and magicsss in tribute and beg you return our sssonsss to usss." the shaman replied, contritely.

    The creature seemed to wave off the shaman's statements. "Gold and magic, you say?"

    The creatures legs were pulled up close to its massive body and it "slithered" side to side, like a snake. In a blur it had raced passed the party's position on one side and coiled around them and the alter on the other. About a quarter of its full length towered over the speechless Stormriders.

    Alaria was striken, paralyzed in fear, with the image from her spell sleep. A giant shadow snake had enwrapped her...what was the rest? Had it changed to a gold dragon? Or had it been gold first and turned black? What was it about this instant...she knew...she knew SOMEthing...

    "Ooooohoohoohoo. Magics and gold." the creature said as one of its many many limbs picked up the sack and the rest of the party's things and passed it, limb to limb until the sack disappeared back into the cave. "You do know how I love treasure. Well done, lizard-priest."

    The shaman bowed and again stared with menace down at the party, awaiting the creature to take its first victim.

    "And soooo many to choooose from! Ooooohooohooohoo." the creature giggled again. "A feast of flavors you've brought me." It's face lowered and came near to Haelan. "And what is this lil' morsel?"

    "Morsel?! Not bloody likely!" Haelan said as the creature's snout got a bit close for comfort. "I'm a daelvar, thank you very much. A Hilltender at that! You'd best not eat me or my goddess will SMITE you!"

    The creature quickly reared back up and clapped its first four legs together again. "Oooohoohoo! And they talk! I can have company for weeks as I dine on one or two at a time! Excellent. EXCELLENT!" the entire length of the creature seemed to quiver with excitement.

    Its draconic head again lowered near to the company's level and it said quietly, "Do you know how long its been since I've had someone to talk to? Lizard-priest's the only one that speaks passable Common." The creatures eyes went to the shaman. "And as you can see, his speech is somewhat...impeded. It's always 'tribute this' and 'gimme that.' Oooohoohoo. This will be WONderful!"

    Bradok could hardly contain his awe of this snake-dragon-many-legged-chuckling-thing. Then Erevan nudged him in the side. He followed the elf's eyes to see a squat darkly cloaked figure edging its way toward the cave mouth. Duor! He was slinking away. He was almost there.

    "Can you detain this creature, killi?" Erevan whispered to Fen in elvish. "We must make for the cave."

    Fen nodded almost imperceptibly before the creature boomed.

    "OOOOHOOHOOHOOOOO! They speak many things?! What was that? Ooo, elvish I suppose." Hrrrathsssa said toward Erevan. His head turned toward Alaria, "Never much cared for elves, you know? Taste like march-deer meat. Aren't you a lovely little thing?"

    "My, my companions and I would love to keep you company...if we could just..." Alaria figured the talkative creature might enjoy being addressed by someone other than the shaman.

    "PLEASE! Please me by my correct name, if you please. I am Rach'sha...As you've no doubt noted, lovely little thing, the lizards have certain impediments." the creature responded.

    "Uh...well,, Rach'sha. I must all of my years of study I've never encountered a creature of your...umm...elegant and very efficient design before. What species of dragon are you?" Alaria said as calmly as her quivering insides could muster.

    "Dragon?!" Rach'sha recoiled. Its top/front two limbs pressed into its serpent-like neck, as if in offense.

    "Oooohoohoo. No. No no, my dear. I am what is called a Behir. Though I shall admit..." it leaned down very close to Alaria and proceeded in what Alaria presumed to be a whisper, though it was still quite loud, "...I am part dragon...on my mother's side." the creature winked at the magess.

    "Hrrrathsssa! Heed my pleasss and sssslay the prey that my thief'sss sssonsss be returned to usss, yesss?"

    "RoohooHOOD! I'm having a conversation, here, lizard-priest!" Rach'sha rebuked and again, in a flash, slithered and reared up before the balcony on which the shaman and chief stood.

    Both lizardmen recoiled in fear.

    This brought the behir entirely out of the cave, so that only its tail end still passed the stone table. Bradok silently nudged Alaria and Erevan and the company, or most of them, began to slowly make their way around the stone.

    "Ummm, Mister Rach'sha, sir?" Haelan called. "Could you get my mace from the shaman...uh...please. That's mine, there." the daelvar implored.

    All of the companions eyes went wide in disbelief. Fen even smacked his forward at the daelvar's completely awe-inspiring gall.

    "Huh? Your what?" The behir said in confusion.

    Haelan pointed with a broad smile toward the white mace with the pinecone shaped head.

    "This?" the behir said, apparently unsure. The things great clawed forearm snatched the pace from the shaman's grip. It looked like little more than a white match in the monster's claws. "This is yours?"

    "My lord!" Hisses-to-Spirits began in protest.

    "SILENCE!" the behir boomed. All of the lizardfolk cowered at the thundering sound. "If this belongs to the lil' morsel, than shouldn't it be in the sack with my tribute of their magics?" the behir growled as its face moved ever closer to the balcony.

    "Yesss. Yesss, my lord. But the prey sssaysss it needsss it to return the thampionsss to usss."

    "Here." Rach'sha casually tossed the mace down in the direction of the daelvar. "MY prey. MY tributes. Do not forget your place, lizard-priest." the behir growled.

    Haelan quickly scooped up the mace and smiled broadly at the rest of the group. "He's a bloody nice behir, whatever that is, isn't he? THANK YOU MIStER RACH'SHA!" the halfling priest called.

    "You see there," Rach'sha's two right "arms" indicated the halfling as he continued to address the shaman. "Manners. Is it really so hard?"

    "Haelan..." Braddok said in some exasperation. "MOVE!"

    The party took off toward the cave mouth.

    "My lord! Your prey!" the shaman protested.

    The behir turned lazily to watch the party running as fast as they could toward HIS cave.

    Behind them, they heard the behir's voice echoing through the alley of stone, "OOOOhoohoohoo! A hunt too! Pink flesh and HUNT? How FABulous!"

    "My lord, the thamptions." Hisses-to-spirits implored.

    "'The thampions. The thampions.' is that really all you can say?!" the behir argued.

    Now, the chief pushed passed the shaman, violently and began hissing and roaring indignantly at the behir.

    Reaching the edge of the cave, Alaria, Fen and Braddok turned to see the behir rear back from the balcony and take a deep inhale. There were folds of skin in its neck, below its jaw that expanded (like a pelican's pouch). The creature's draconic maw opened wide and a stream of orange liquid flew forth, bathing the lizardman chief.

    The powerful chieftain roared in pain and slumped down out of view as the stone balcony on which he and shaman stood seemed to melt and bubble wherever the orange liquid splattered.

    Alaria now realized why the stone about the cave face seemed to have been "melted." The creature breathed acid...of, apparently, an alarming causticity.

    Cries of panic went up among the assembled liardfolk as they all raced away from the edges of the ceremonial crevace.

    "Heed me, lizard priest, and heed it well " Rach'sha hissed behind closed sharp teeth, "MY power over the Lands of the Dead are a one-way door. Your champions are lost to you. GET OVER IT!"

    The shaman was too busy cowering and bowing to take note of the behir turning and clapping its front four legs together.

    "Now," said Rach'sha "a HUNT toooo?! Ooooohoohoohoo." The creature giggled as it slid, from side to side, approaching the cave mouth with incredible speed.

    Fen raised voice in the sacred tongue. Alaria and Braddok covered their ears from the assault.

    Roots and vines broke forth from the stone walls and ground and thoroughly entangled many of the behir's legs and much of its body.

    "Oooohoohoohoo! And magic too. This will be such FUN!" Rach'sha thundered through the alley as he seemed to easily snap one leg free then another...and another.

    "Come on!" Braddok said grabbing Fen and Alaria by their cloaks.

    Alaria turned, she plucked one of her two remaining beads from her bracelet. This had to work. It had to!

    The behir was free and again racing toward the cave.

    Alaria waited as long as she dared and threw the force bead to where the cave mouth arched from a side to the top.

    The bead burst with its amber light and knocked several of the rock "droplets" from their silent hanging place. Following that, the entire entrance began to rumble and rocks began crashing down all across the cave mouth.

    Alaria and Braddok and Fen could see, through the raining boulders that the behir had easily reared up some tens of feet from the cave mouth and wasn't struck by any of them.

    But when the rumbling stopped and the dust settled, the whole of the entrance, save a rather small space at the top, was thoroughly caved in.

    "Learn that from some kobolds did you?" Braddok smiled at the magess.

    Alaria chuckled out loud despite herself. The warrior's humor was returning and she found herself blushing and thoroughly exhilerated by their narrow escape from death. That was, of course, until a large draconic violet eye was seen in the small open space and she heard from the other side of the cave in.

    "Ooohoohoohoo! Well played, pink-flesh. Well played. I shall be along shortly. There is, of course, no escape from Nor Gorthok. We shall play again...very very soon."

    Then the swordsman, the magess and the druid heard a large intake of air and then a sizzling bubbling hissing sound on the other side of the rocks.

    "Let's go! Let's go!" Braddok said, snapping the druid and magess from their horrified distraction.

    The heroes raced after their fellows deeper down into the very large high arching cavern.

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