Al-Qarin: Into the Desert (11-12-23)

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Well, I'm back. Thanks for your patience although, I suppose I didn't leave you much choice in the matter...The good news is, that while I was gone, I managed to write up another update (it's amazing what being trapped in a little cell, without cable, the internet and only accounting textbooks to read will do for your creativity), but since I wrote it without the benefit of a computer, I have to type it all out. Considering my handwriting, the transcription will probably take me just as long as writing it out in the first place.

Anyhow, the jist of this rather pointless post is that you can expect an update by the end of the weekend.

As promised. I realize that some of the description of the mines is still confusing, so I'll try to explain it a little better at the end of the post. I'm still working on getting a map posted for it, but honestly, I'm pretty lazy, so unless somebody else *coughGalemancough* does it, it could be a while...

* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid held his breath as the seconds passed with agonizing slowness. Although he was on another plane of existence, the open portal meant that mere inches were all that separated him from the goblin Malakai.

Gorak slowly crept closer to the gate, his cudgel raised to bludgeon Malakai if he attempted to enter. All three were frozen there, waiting for something to happen. Malakai squinted as Shayla's fog dispersed and illumination from a discarded light spell filled the tunnel. But still he did not move.

Finally, when Khalid felt as though he could stand it no more, Malakai drew a long, wickedly curved dagger from the filthy loincloth that was barely visible beneath his enormous stomach. Gorak tensed up and placed a second hand on his club. Malakai, however, did something completely unexpected. With a quick jerk, he slashed the rope. Quick as Gorak's snake Sousee, Khalid snatched up the remaining length of rope and sealed the portal. Although he could no longer hear him, Khalid saw Malakai curse in frustration before he picked up the glowing stone and plunged the cave into darkness.

Both Khalid and Gorak breathed a heavy sigh of relief as they slumped down. Too tired to even stand, Gorak crawled over to Shayla and placed his hands over her wounds. She came awake with a gasp of pain as Gorak finished his spell, instinctively scrambling away from him against the boundary of the pocket dimension. As the confusion slowly left her eyes, she leaned forward and grabbed Gorak in a fierce hug.

When Shayla finally regained her composure, Khalid cleared his throat. "Ah, Gorak, perhaps you should take a look outside, since you're the only one that can see. Yes, quite."

Gorak moved back towards the portal and glanced around. "Swarming with goblins," he grunted. "Maybe we'd better take stock and see what we've got left. We're gonna have to fight our way out of here."

The pile that accumulated in front of them as they divested themselves of various weapons and items was depressingly small. "Ah, yes, I've used most of my scrolls," Khalid said as he gestured at the empty loops on his belt, "and ah, most, yes, most of my healing salves as well. I have few offensive spells left to, ah, make matters worse. Yes, quite."

Gorak grunted in agreement. "Me either. Got these healing scrolls we lifted from the cleric in Shalazar, and one more healing spell. Might as well use 'em up now so we're in some sort of state to fight."

Khalid noted as the thick vellum scroll burned away into ash that Gorak was kind enough to use the cleric's magic, which seemed considerably less painful, on Shayla. As he finished, Shayla spoke up. "Well, I've still got most of my power left, since I didn't get a chance to do much before," her voice hitched a little, then she continued, "before I was mauled."

Gorak squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "Alright," he growled, "let's redistribute these potions. Gimme those weaker salves, and you two take the ones I made, just in case."

Khalid slid a vial into one of the holders on his belt. "Ah, so are we going to attempt to break out now?" he asked hesitantly.

Gorak absently scratched at his scalp as he considered their options. "There's a lot of them out there right now, and that big bastard might still be around. I don't think there's any way they can block up the tunnel in the next few hours, so lets give things a chance to settle down."

Khalid and Shayla nodded in agreement, and settled down to rest. The next thing Khalid knew, Gorak was shaking him awake.

"Ah, what?" Khalid asked blearily, as he tried to shake the fog from his mind." "What's going on?"

"It's been a coupla hours. There's only two of them out there than I can see," he replied. Then he stood up and stretched his arms over his head, as if he were trying to touch the upper boundaries of the spell. "Say, how big is this thing?" he asked.

"Ah, why do you ask?" Khalid responded as he shook Shayla awake and began to buckle on the large belt that held his potions and spell components.

"I've got a few tricks left," Gorak growled. "Is it big enough to hold a horse?"

"Ah, yes, quite, although it may be a bit, yes, a bit crowded."

Gorak nodded. "We just about ready?" he grunted.

"One second," Shayla replied. Chanting quickly she tossed a glowing caliph to Khalid. "Okay, let's do this."

"Gimme some room." Gorak said as he waved them back. "Khalid, remember, we've gotta keep 'em off Shayla while she blasts a path through them. Stay close and keep moving forward."

Khalid swallowed nervously as he cocked his crossbow with shaking hands. As Gorak began to chant in his thick guttural voice, Khalid loosened the strap that bound his small dagger in its sheath. Kneeling down, he grasped the rope and prepared to open the portal.

As Gorak finished his spell, the air in the center of the room shimmered and a large beast appeared. It had the thick, powerful body of a horse but its feet and head were those of a giant eagle. Khalid had never seen a hippogriff before, although he knew that sometimes they were brought into the arena in Gem-Sharad, and he studied the animal closely as it shook its ruffled mane and flexed its wings.

"Alright," Gorak grunted. "Open the gate."

Khalid tossed the rope through, then was brushed aside as the hippogriff lunged forward, dropping out of the portal right on top of a hapless guard. The giant beast pinned the unfortunate goblin to the ground with one huge talon and closed its beaked maw on his head with a sickening crunch.

Shayla, without waiting for Gorak or Khalid, followed the hippogriff out of the extradimensional space. Seeing another guard, she began to chant immediately as Gorak and Khalid dropped to the ground. The goblin, his eyes wide with fear, turned to hammer on the large wooden door, then staggered forward as Shayla's lancets of force struck him in the back and burst through his chest, sending a spray of blood across the wooden planks. The goblins thick fingernails dug deep scratches into the wood as he slowly slid to the ground in a lifeless heap.

Khalid whirled around, searching for the next threat. Surprisingly, the tunnel was empty. Gorak, with a silent command, sent the hippogriff ranging ahead of them. Unable to fly in the tight confines of the mine, the creature bounded down the hallway with a strange hopping gait. With a jerk of his head, Gorak indicated that they should follow. Not needing any encouragement, Khalid hurried after him as they fled into the darkness, and the dubious safety of the deep mines.

* * * * * * * * * *​

For the third time in as many days, the question "Now what?" echoed through the tiny pocket dimension. This time Shayla posed it as she shrugged off her pack and sat down.

Gorak, who was stretched out on the floor, propped himself up on his elbows. "I say we take the fight to Malakai. Kick down his door and cause a little havoc."

"That's your answer for everything." Shayla countered, in mock disgust. "If it was up to you, there wouldn't be a door left standing from here to Shalazar." She flashed him one of her sunburst smiles that was returned with a toothy grin.

Against his better instincts, Khalid was forced to agree. "Ah, I think that perhaps, yes, perhaps that is the best course of action."

Shayla and Gorak both turned and looked at Khalid, surprise plainly evident on their faces. "Ah, well, it would be unexpected," Khalid continued, somewhat defensively. "They are not likely, yes, not likely at all to venture out here any more, after, ah, the losses they've suffered. If we were to hit them within the confines of their own sanctuary, we may break their nerve and cause them to flee. Yes, quite."

Gorak nodded. "I can open that door as easy as I jammed it shut. We can do a little hit and run, get out before Malakai shows up. If we hafta square off against him again, I wanna be fully prepared."

"Yes, quite," Khalid agreed. "It might even be better if we hide within, yes, within the goblin complex itself."

"Malakai knows how we got away last time," Shayla pointed out.

"Yes, quite. But ah, presuming that you incinerated their only witch doctor, as long as we are out of sight, he may not be able to locate us."

"Risky," Gorak grunted. "But I like it."

"You would," Shayla shot back, "but I'm not convinced. We'll see how things go."


* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid kept the light carefully hidden as they crept through the darkness. The caves were ominously quiet and all three were alert for any sign of ambush. As they approached the bend in the tunnel, just before the wooden door, Shayla held up her hand. "Emma says it's clear the rest of the way to the door."

Gorak nodded and moved forward, abandoning stealth for speed. He glanced back over his shoulder and growled, "Get ready."

Khalid tensed up. He was certain that there would be guards on the other side of the door, and it was his responsibility to deal with them. As Gorak began to chant, his rough voice shockingly loud in the silence of the mines, Khalid reached into a pouch at his waist and drew out a tiny pinch of pure white sand.

Gorak finished his spell and touched the wooden door. As the planks shriveled beneath his touch, he leaned back and shattered the door with a powerful kick, sending splintered wood spinning into the tunnel beyond.

Khalid leaned past him, spotting two surprised goblins tossing dice behind an enormous ballista that was cocked, loaded and pointed straight at Gorak. The two guards scrambled to their feet as Khalid launched into his spell, fervently hoping it would affect both goblins. He breathed a sigh of relief as they both toppled over.

Shayla moved quickly into the tunnel beyond the door, her crossbow at the ready as she scanned for more goblins. Gorak stepped in behind her and sent the snoring guards into oblivion with two quick swings of his club.

The air in this part of the mining complex was considerably warmer, a product of the smelting operation, Khalid suspected. From further down the tunnels echoed the sounds of industry, which seemed to have covered their initial assault. Gorak crept forward with Shayla in tow, while Khalid paused to disarm the ballista. The siege weapon had been mounted on wheels and placed upon the rails that lined the floor, allowing the cunning goblins to move it easily through the complex. Fearful that they would face it again, Khalid unloaded it but couldn't figure any way to cut the huge cable without risking life or limb. Frustrated, he simply gathered up the bolts and brought them with him to where Shayla and Gorak had stopped, at an intersection further down the tunnel.

Gorak was pressed up against the left side of the tunnel, laying flat on his stomach. Slowly he inched forward, peering around the corner down the side passage. Seeing nothing, he waved Khalid and Shayla past the intersection, then clambered to his feet and followed.

The tunnel branched again to the right another twenty feet down the central path. This time Gorak turned down the passage. He stopped abruptly ten feet down the tunnel with a sharp intake of breath. Khalid, following close behind, almost gagged as an overpowering stench of decay washed over him. Gorak motioned to Khalid to shine the light down the passage. Covering his nose with the sleeve of his robe, Khalid allowed a stream of light to squeeze from the coin enclosed in his fist and swept it down the hallway. The first thing he noticed were the rusty bars that blocked the tunnel, bound by a large iron lock. Within the cell were piles of refuse and a rotting corpse. Chained to the far wall was another body, which Khalid mistook for a corpse until it opened its eyes. Filthy rags barely covered the poor unfortunate's emaciated form. Thick grey hair, matted with filth completely covered the man's face.

As Shayla moved up beside Khalid, with her hand firmly pressed over her nose, her eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed. She turned to Khalid and Gorak and mouthed the word, "Dwerro."

Khalid nodded, then hesitated only briefly before drawing out his waterskin and tossing it at the Dwerro's feet. Gorak placed a hand on his shoulder and then threw in a package of trail rations before moving back down the passage with Shayla. Khalid turned to leave, then stopped. Slowly drawing out his small dagger from its sheath, he tossed it hilt first to the Dwerro. Although he wasn't sure the Dwerro could understand him, or indeed, was still sane, he whispered, "Ah, we will return for you, yes, if we can." He thought the Dwerro nodded once, but in the failing light, he may have just slumped down into unconsciousness.

Khalid rejoined Gorak and Shayla at the end of the side passage and whispered, "Ah, perhaps we should head back, explore that other branch and ensure, yes, ensure that there aren't more behind us."

Gorak nodded and they backtracked down the main passage. As they turned the corner into the first passage, their luck finally ran out. Standing in the middle of the passage were two surprised looking goblins in full armor.

Shayla reacted without hesitation, flinging out a handful of glowing discs with a flick of her wrist and an arcane word. As one of the guards raised his arms to protect his fact, a glittering disc took off his hand at the wrist, even as another buried itself in his throat. With a gurgling sigh, the goblin toppled to the ground. The disc however merely grazed the other guard as he flinched aside. With a shriek, the goblin turned and fled back down the tunnel.

Gorak sprinted after him, scooping up the dead goblin's spear on the way past. Reversing it in his hand, he rounded the corner into a tunnel that paralleled the main passage. With a roar, he drew back and hurled the spear, impaling the fleeing goblin.

Shayla, right on his heels, entered the passage and turned the opposite way, facing back deeper into the mines. Dropping to a knee she fired her crossbow, killing one of a pair of goblins guarding a small wooden door. As Khalid came around the corner, the other goblin dove for cover into a small side chamber. Confident he could deal with one lone goblin, Khalid moved past Shayla and said, "Ah, follow Gorak."*

Shayla, a bolt gripped in her teeth, nodded as she cocked her crossbow with a quick jerk and then sprinted after the rampaging half-orc. Khalid's confidence vanished abruptly however, as a bolt skipped off the stone inches from his face when he peered around the corner into the tiny guardroom. The goblin had taken cover behind an overturned table and was frantically reloading his crossbow. Khalid drew back to prepare a spell, then suddenly thought of a better idea. Drawing a glass vial from his belt, he leaned around the corner and flicked the vial not at the goblin, but at the ceiling above him. The vial shattered and a deluge of liquid flame poured down upon the hapless goblin. Thick black smoke billowed out of the room, followed by the shrieks of the unfortunate goblin, which thankfully ended quickly.

Khalid turned to see Gorak and Shayla jogging back down the tunnel. "We'd better get moving," Gorak growled between labored breaths. "It sounds like they're getting organized." Khalid drew back the heavy deadbolt that barred the door. As he opened it, Gorak grabbed his shoulder. "Wait," he growled. "Let's set up in there." He indicated the smoke filled guardroom with a jerk of his head.

Khalid hesitated for only a second before following Shayla and Gorak into the room. Stepping over the charred remains of the goblin, Khalid opened the extradimensional space and climbed in. He exhaled slowly as Gorak and Shayla entered, relaxing somewhat as the imminent threat was lifted. Still grinning, Gorak dumped his pack on the ground and rumbled, "That went well."

"Ah, yes, quite." Khalid agreed. "Exactly as planned. What did you find further down the tunnel?"

"Warrens," Gorak grunted. "Fulla women and goblin spawn. No more guards, but it sounded like there were still a bunch of 'em further in."

"How many more soldiers do you think they can send at us?" Shayla asked.

Gorak shrugged. "Hard to say. Not many if Jalaal's numbers were right. Either way, we'll find out soon enough."

"Indeed," Khalid thought to himself as he curled up in his bedroll. Although he fell asleep relatively quickly, images of countless goblin hordes all thirsting for his blood, haunted his dreams until Gorak nudged him awake.

Khalid sat upright, unsure of where he was for a moment. The pale grey luminance quickly brought him back to reality. He was about to ask what was for breakfast, when Gorak's grim expression chased away all hints of mirth. With an uneasy feeling, he asked instead, "Ah, how long has it been?"

"Six," Gorak grunted, "maybe seven hours. You'd better take a look at this. Shayla, gimme some light."

Shayla, who was already awake and armed, cast the simple cantrip and wordlessly handed Gorak a glowing coin. Squeezing it tightly in his fist, Gorak nudged the rope out of the portal with the toe of his boot, opening the gate. He thrust his hand through the portal and allowed a thin stream of light to illuminate the floor. Shayla, leaning forward in curiosity uttered a startled gasp, and Khalid felt an icy fear seize his heart as he considered the terrible implication of what lay below. Scrawled on the floor in drying blood were five simple words: I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.**

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Okay, so basically the first part of the goblin complex is like an H with the two wooden doors at the bottom. There are two parallel passages that lead in from the actual mines. When I mention a 'smaller wooden door' it's pretty much level with the big double doors we smashed down. The right side of the H is the main passage, and the dwerro's cell is off of it. The middle - is where we ran into the guards. Further up the left side were a bunch of goblin warrens, and a few other surprises. Further up the right side...well, that's where all the fun happens later ;). At the end of the post, we're camped out in a small guard room at the bottom of the left passage. Heh I don't know if that clarified anything, or just made it worse...

**This was a good plan right up until the point it wasn't. It's also a prime example of what happens when you have 3 weeks in between games. We completely forgot that Malakai could track us by scent in wolf form. Add that to the fact he knew how we escaped and the plan was doomed from the start...

***Lastly, we did realize that Malakai wasn't exactly an ordinary goblin, but I failed *yet* another knowledge planes check. As a player, I had a fairly good idea of what he was, thanks to a penchant for R.A. Salvatore novels in the bygone days of my youth...Still, since I haven't looked at the 3.5 MM entry in any detail, I still have no idea what all he's capable of...
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