Al-Qarin: Into the Desert (3-1-24)

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Black Bard said:
Great update!!! I just wonder how those dwarves can stay in plate mail?
Don't they overheat ?? :p

It's a little cooler in the mountains, and tends to be a little more like a savannah around the foothills. Besides, they're 3.5 dwarves who, from what I can tell, can do everything except walk on water and cure lepers. And I'm pretty sure that at least a few of them can do that too. (The reason for my bitterness will probably be evident at a later date ;))

Black Bard said:
Let's start again with THE CHORUS!!!! It proved so annoying that EternalNewbie had to update!!! ;)

No, no. That's quite alright. Here's your update. Only 3 days after the last one too, can you tell I'm procrastinating from something? I had originally planned to break the posts at different points then I did, but I realized that would result in the posts being ten pages long. Rather than have it sit on my computer half finished for a month, I figured I'd post it anyhow. I think it works out okay.

One final note. This post hasn't been proofed by anybody yet. Shayla's in Europe and Galeman's in Halifax. Gorak's off doing whatever it is that Gorak does on a Saturday afternoon. Anyhow, there may be some grammatical errors etc, that I haven't caught, but as always I'm pretty sure it's factually accurate, more or less. Enjoy.

(PS. Ugh. I fixed a bunch of mistakes, but there's still probably a few more.)

* * * * * * * * * *​

Time seemed to slow down for Khalid. Both groups stood poised on the brink of terrible violence, facing each other over a hundred feet of dirt. Khalid noted each detail with peculiar clarity. The platemail, ornate and meticulously crafted, was emblazoned with a crest depicting two crossed hammers. The close faced helms, the huge metal shields and the ten-foot lances held at the ready; Khalid took in all of these things with a single glance. The mounts, heavily armored with thick plate barding, were undoubtedly the fattest horses Khalid had ever seen. He squinted into the gloom, and realized with a sense of growing incredulity that the Dwerro weren't riding horses, they were riding pigs. But not the tiny, squealing animals sold in the market. These were huge boars with thick, coarse hair and gleaming white tusks. Khalid shuddered at the thought of being run down by one of the disgusting beasts, it's stubby little hooves trampling over him, the gleam in its beady little eyes as it gored him with its thick tusks. The thought was almost too much to bear for Khalid, and he did the only thing he could. He panicked.

Everything erupted into motion. Khalid was suddenly aware that he was standing with his arm outstretched, his fingers still coated with fine white sand, as the last arcane syllable of his spell echoed off the cavern wall. The two riders in the center slumped over their saddle horns, while the remaining two warriors glanced at each other then spurred their mounts into a charge. Khalid, realizing that he had just made himself the prime target and lacking the protection of any of his defensive spells, turned with a shriek and fled back down the pass.

Shayla, possessed of a tranquility shown only in battle, calmly raised her crossbow and fitted it with a bolt. Dropping to one knee, she steadied it against her shoulder and drew a bead on one of the charging riders, confident that Gorak would deal with the other. As the rider thundered down on her, she exhaled slowly and fired, striking the Dwerro dead center in the chest. The force of the impact lifted the Dwerro out of his saddle and sent him tumbling backwards over the rump of his mount. Crashing heavily to the ground, the Dwerro rolled several feet, then lay in the center of the path unmoving.

Shayla's confidence was well placed as Gorak and Jalaal stepped forward to engage the other rider. As Gorak began to chant, the rider changed his course slightly and leveled his lance at him. Khalid winced in anticipation of the terrific impact, but it never came. The air around the boar thickened and seemed to solidify. The beast's legs locked and it skidded to an abrupt halt, sending the surprised Dwerro catapulting over the boar's head to land with a crash at Jalaal's feet. With a sickening thud, Jalaal brought his scimitar down on the back of the warrior's neck, sending a spray of blood onto the cavern wall.*

There was no time for Khalid to gather his scattered wits however, as the mounts of the two sleeping riders turned and began to amble back towards the fortifications that spanned the mountain pass further down the road. Edging carefully around the paralyzed boar, Khalid rejoined the others as Jalaal tightened his sword belt and fixed his pack. Spitting on his hands, Jalaal reached down and scooped up a handful of grit. "Follow me as quickly as you can, my friends," Jalaal said, as he wedged his fingers in a small crevice on the cliff face and began to scale the wall. "Somebody may have been watching."

Khalid was torn between watching Jalaal climb and the huge Dwerro fortification blocking the pass. Jalaal was moving with what seemed to Khalid to be agonizing slowness as he tested each hand and foothold carefully. After Jalaal had climbed about thirty feet, Khalid couldn't bear to watch anymore, and instead focused on the fortifications. His vigilance was unfortunately rewarded.

"Ah, yes, it would appear that they are sending more soldiers out." Khalid stammered as a huge door in the fortifications opened and more Dwerro emerged. "Yes, quite a few more."

Jalaal had finally reached the top, and hastily dropped down a knotted rope. "Quickly, the rope is secured. Come, come."

"Shayla," Gorak growled as he watched the gathering Dwerro. "You first, then Khalid. I'll go last."

Shayla, with a look of trepidation on her face, grabbed the rope and tried to lift herself off the ground. She climbed about five feet before, in her haste, she lost her grip and slid down the rope. With a cry of pain she dropped to the ground and looked at her hands, which were raw and bleeding. Gritting her teeth and ignoring the pain, she began to climb again, more slowly this time. She had gone half way up and was hanging about twenty feet off the ground when she stopped. Looking down, she cried, "I can't do it. I can't go any farther."**

Gorak was calm and reassuring. "Just go slow," he rumbled. "Take your time. You can make it."

Khalid however, was anything but. "Ah, hurry up, they're riding out of the gate."

Shayla finally made it to the top, and vanished into the crevice behind Jalaal. Khalid, with a strength born of fear, grabbed the rope hastily and began to haul himself up. Pausing only briefly to secure a better hold, he raced up the rope and squeezed past Jalaal into the darkness. As soon as he let go of the rope, Gorak grabbed it and began to climb hand over hand. Jalaal reached down and grabbed his arm as he reached the top, and dragged him inside. Pulling the rope up quickly, they moved into the cave led by the clear, unwavering light of Shayla's spell.

They began moving immediately, attempting to put as much distance between themselves and any potential pursuers as possible. Finally, after stumbling through the gloom for what seemed like an eternity to Khalid, Gorak called a halt and motioned them to silence. Creeping slowly back down the path, he listened closely for any sound of pursuit. Satisfied, he rejoined the others. "Don't seem like nobody followed us up here," he growled. "Near as I can tell anyhow."

"Do you think they saw where we went?" Shayla asked.

"Yup," Gorak replied. "They were pretty damn close by the time I got up the rope. It's not like they won't figure it out. This cave might be hard to see from the ground, but if they look, they'll find it."

"It is not all bad, my friends," Jalaal remarked. "The tunnels branch occasionally, further ahead. If we take care to conceal our passage, they could end up searching these caverns for weeks before they find us. I believe it will take us several more days to reach Malakai's operation, and there should be ample opportunity to evade any trailing Dwerro."

"Ah, indeed, but even if there is no pursuit, how, yes, how exactly are we going to get back out past all those soldiers?" Khalid asked. Bathed by the glow of Shayla's light, they looked at each other with grim expressions. Nobody had an answer.

* * * * * * * * * *​

Khalid breathed a sigh of relief as he climbed into the seemingly unbounded space of his spell. Two days beneath the earth was beginning to wear upon him. He wasn't sure that, without the refuge of his spell and the sense of openness it provided, he would have been able to retain his composure. Shayla too had become waspish of late, and although it was never mentioned, it was obviously that she too was beginning to feel the enormous weight of the mountain overhead settling down on her. Only Gorak seemed untroubled by the stone walls and darkness. He bore the confinement with the same stoic manner in which he handled everything else. Khalid lay back on his bedroll, and tried to forget what lay outside the small portal. To his eyes, it was pitch black, but he knew Gorak was still out there somewhere, scouting around. Khalid pounded the lumps out of his rucksack then slid it under his head as he lay back to wait.

A few minutes later, Gorak's head poked through the portal. "Jalaal," he growled. "C'mere and listen."

Jalaal rose and dropped out of the portal, back into the caves. In short order the two men returned. "I hear it too, my friend." Jalaal said as he helped Gorak into the extradimensional space.

"Ah, yes, hear what?" Khalid asked.

"The rhythmic sound of metal on stone, my friend. We are close now, very close." Jalaal replied.

"Maybe in the morning, I can send Emma out to take a look around." Shayla offered. At the mention of her name, Emma, Shayla's pet cat, perked up and mewed softly. Shayla had picked up the smoky grey feline in Shalazar, and Khalid had noticed the uncanny intelligence in her green-eyed stare. He had read about a peculiar ritual bonding between spellcasters and animals, but had never attempted it himself. For some reason, most animals disliked him.***

"That's assuming that it's not morning right now." Shayla continued as she glanced at Gorak. They had come to rely on Gorak's sense of timing, which was highly accurate even when he couldn't see the sun.

"Nah," he grunted. "We're keeping a pretty regular schedule. It's late evening right now. If we do a little scouting tomorrow, hit 'em around sunset if we need to, we can catch 'em on a shift change maybe."

"Ah, indeed. That sounds reasonable. I am not exactly prepared for a confrontation this evening. Tomorrow will be much more suitable. Yes, quite." Khalid added. He settled back into his bedroll and tried to get comfortable. The ground, if it could properly be called that, in the extradimensional space was neither too firm, nor too yielding. Khalid considered that aspect of his spell until finally he relaxed enough to drift into sleep.

It seemed like only minutes later when a noise woke him up. Khalid sat up and stared blearily at Gorak who was fully dressed and heading out of the portal. Not wanting to disturb the others, Khalid followed him out. Gorak, out of consideration for Khalid, had lit the lantern and was seated cross-legged a dozen feet from the suspended rope. "Ah, what time is it?" Khalid asked somewhat sleepily.

"Dawn." Gorak grunted. "I need to gather my strength for the coming day."

"Ah, indeed. But wouldn't it be safer, yes, safer to remain within extradimensional space," Khalid asked between yawns.

"It's no good." Gorak rumbled. "I need to feel the touch of the earth, to feel the ebb and flow of the life around me. In there, it's empty. I feel cut off."****

"Ah, I see. Yes, well the spell, I'm afraid, was designed without that consideration in mind. Wake me up when it's time to go."

Khalid managed a few more hours of sleep before Shayla woke him up. Khalid dropped out of his spell, and dismissed it with a thought. Reaching into Shayla's pack, he conjured an image of sambousik pastry, filled with nice tender lamb. He felt nothing. He then thought about flat bread and dried dates. Sighing heavily, he drew an oilskin cloth out of the magical backpack and unwrapped his breakfast.

"Quiet," Shayla muttered from where she was sitting a few feet away. "I'm trying to concentrate." After a few more minutes of silence, Shayla stood up. "The main tunnel keeps going." She began to gather up her gear. "We're going to have to start moving. I can't stay in touch with Emma if the range gets much greater."

They quickly made ready to travel and followed Shayla down the main tunnel. Absently shifting the lantern to his left hand, Khalid leaned in close to Gorak and asked, "Ah, Goblins, they have excellent sight in the dark, yes?" Gorak grunted in agreement. "Ah, well then isn't me carrying this lantern going to make me, ah, I mean us, a big target, and warn them of our approach?"

"It might," Gorak rumbled. "But there ain't much we can do about it. They may use torches for mining anyhow. Can't distinguish colors in the black. Makes it hard to do detailed work." He fell silent as Shayla shushed them yet again. All in all, Khalid thought she was playing up her role a bit.

They all stopped immediately however, when Shayla raised her hand. "The path splits where Emma is. There's a lot more noise, and a bit of light. The branch is the same size as the main path. There's some sort of metal running along the ground. Emma doesn't know what it's for. Do you want me to tell her to keep going, or to head down the side passage."

"Ah, let's perhaps bypass that area, until we have a better idea of what we're facing. Have her continue a bit further."

Shayla relayed the command to her familiar. "She's scared, but she's gonna to keep going." There was a pause as she communicated with Emma. "She still hasn't seen anything, but there's a smaller side passage, heads the same direction as the other, bigger tunnel. There's a lot of noise coming from that little passage."

"Let's try that then," Gorak rumbled. "We know there's a whole mess of goblins down here, and I'd rather not fight 'em all at once. We'll hit that small group, see if we can turn up some ore or better yet, some ingots. If not, we keep moving."

They moved forward quickly, lest the light betray their presence to the goblin. Despite the fact he was carrying the lantern, Khalid still managed to stumble over something on the floor. A glint of metal caught his eye, and looking down, he saw the metal Emma had described. "Ah, it looks like old rail lines, yes, for mining carts," he muttered to himself. The rails were rusted and bent, covered with dust and loose rock. Realizing that he was falling behind, Khalid hurried to catch up to the others.

As they approached the split in the tunnel, Khalid noted that the rails here were well maintained, and probably used in the mining operation. Motioning for silence, Gorak crept beyond the range of the light and moved towards the branching mineshaft. A few seconds later, he returned and waved them forward quickly. Khalid felt dreadfully exposed as they crept past the large tunnel and continued down the main path. Despite his concerns, no alarm was raised as they approached the small side passage.

With Gorak in the lead, they snuck down the side tunnel. Where the main route had been ten to fifteen feet wide, this passage narrowed down to the point where they had to walk in single file. Khalid was beginning to doubt the wisdom of the plan, when Gorak stopped and motioned for him to come forward. As Khalid pushed past Shayla he noticed a dim glow coming from a room up ahead. Peering around the corner he saw five goblins, each working in its own alcove in a larger room, chipping away at the stone walls. Glancing back at Gorak, who drew his cudgel and nodded, Khalid took a deep breath and launched into a spell.

Before the hapless goblins could react, three of them fell snoring to the cavern floor. Gorak came charging around the corner, past Khalid, his cudgel raised high. He caught a blow from a goblin mining pick on his shield, and caved in the creature's head with a crushing blow from his club. Shayla emerged from behind Khalid and flung two lancets of force, skewering the last goblin, who barely had time to gasp in pain before Jalaal disemboweled him with a quick slash of his scimitar.

Moving quickly, they finished off sleeping goblins, then paused to see if their foray had been detected. There was an instant of complete silence, as they held their breath and waited. Khalid exhaled in relief just as the sounds of frenzied activity echoed from further down the tunnel.

"That don't sound good," Gorak growled. "We'd better move now."

They left the small room and continued down the side passage, heading further away from the main tunnel. Gorak's shoulders banged and scraped against the rock walls, sending showers of dust and loose rock cascading to the floor. The path turned ahead, and continued back the way they had come, parallel to the main tunnel. It twisted again, and Gorak, followed closely by Jalaal vanished around the corner. Khalid, bringing up the rear with Shayla, cringed as he heard the sound of steel striking wood. He rounded the corner just in time to see Gorak, his shield raised, reel back from a powerful blow. Barring their path was a fat goblin, almost as tall as Gorak. His skin, unlike the smaller, orange goblins they had just overwhelmed, was ruddier, and tinged darker red. He was girded in a shining steel breastplate and flat topped helm with a thick nose guard that barely concealed his snarling features. Of more concern was the enormous two-handed sword he wielded with astonishing skill in the cramped confines.

The goblin had cunningly chosen to defend a bend in the passage, and Jalaal was forced to squeeze past Gorak to engage him. With Gorak still staggered by the first blow, the goblin lashed out and caught Jalaal in the face with the hilt of his sword, snapping his head back and bloodying his nose.

Khalid, knowing that there had to be more goblins close by, began to call for reinforcements, chanting quickly as he enacted a complex summoning ritual. Shayla, meanwhile, pushed past him and loosed a volley of spinning disks, slashing into the goblin's fat hide. With a curse, the goblin hacked at Gorak again, his blade skipping off Gorak's shield and striking him on the shoulder, splitting his leather armor. As Gorak attempted to defend himself, the goblin took the opportunity to step backwards out of Shayla's line of sight.

Khalid cursed silently as he realized that the goblin now occupied the only free space nearby to complete his summoning. He watched as Jalaal, his blade weaving defensively in front of him, lunged forward, only to be foiled by the goblin's thick steel breastplate. With no other alternative, Khalid completed his summoning spell, and directly in front of him a large mastiff coalesced out of the shadows. "Push forward," Khalid cried. "You've got to push forward so Shayla and I can get into the battle."

Jalaal and Gorak however, were faring poorly against the large goblin. Gorak, now badly wounded, managed to catch the goblin in the side, just past the edge of his breastplate, knocking the breath from his lungs. Jalaal however, could find no gaps in the goblin's defenses, and time and again the goblin's sword or armor turned his blade. Worse still, the short hacking blows of the goblin's blade were too much for Jalaal's elegant defense. Blood was streaming down his forearms from a multitude of cuts, and he was keeping one arm pressed close against his side to staunch the flow of blood from a vicious wound above his ribs. Nevertheless, Jalaal pressed forward and pushed past the goblin.

The goblin, unfazed, feinted at Gorak then spun around, leveling a vicious slash at Jalaal. There was a moment of shocked silence as Jalaal reeled back from the blow, then Shayla screamed as Jalaal's severed head rolled to a stop at her feet. His body, fountaining blood, dropped to its knees then pitched forward onto the cold stone floor of the cave.*****

Gorak, with a roar of rage, lunged forward and smashed his cudgel into the goblin's helm. Khalid's summoned hound, having a clear path, darted into the fray and began to savagely tear at the goblin's legs.

With a final curse, the goblin ducked a blow from Gorak, kicked the hound away and retreated down the corridor. Gorak, seething with rage, gave chase, with Shayla right behind him. Khalid, sparing only the briefest of glances for Jalaal, hurried to keep up. As he rounded the corner, he emerged into a much larger room. Evidence of heavy mining was everywhere, and the walls were streaked with veins of what Khalid presumed was adamantine. Of more immediate concern however, was the mining cart rumbling down the track, heading for the main passage. Four goblins were outside the cart itself, on a narrow platform, frantically working levers. More goblins were inside the cart, and the warrior they had blocked the tunnel caught up and leapt onto the back of the cart.

A few of the goblins had crossbows, and began to fire at Gorak, who ducked aside and kept running. Sparks exploded from the right wheels of the cart as the goblins on that side braked hard to make the turn into the main passage. The cart leaned sickeningly to one side, and the two right wheels lifted off the track. With a horrible metal screech the cart rounded the corner and crashed back down onto the track.

Gorak, realizing that the cart was gathering speed and would soon be moving too quickly to overtake, skidded to halt and shouted, "Shayla, gimme some light down there," as he began to cast a spell. Shayla, casting a hasty light spell, flung the small stone she had used as a focus as far down the path as she could. As Gorak completed his spell, his right hand burst into flame. When the cart passed through the radius of the light, Gorak flicked his hand and sent a tiny ball of fire streaking through the air.

The large red goblin, who had been shouting orders to the goblins in the front of the cart, turned and stared stupidly down at the smoking hole in his side. Then his eyes rolled back and he slumped forward. One of the goblins in the cart reached down and grabbed him, keeping him from falling off as they sped off into the darkness.

Cursing, Gorak moved to follow them as Khalid caught up. Still fuming, he growled, "We've gotta keep moving. Gotta catch up to them."

"Ah, Gorak, you're badly wounded. Shayla and I are no longer at full strength, and we're without…yes, ah, and we don't know what lies ahead."

Gritting his teeth, Gorak clenched his still flaming fist and snarled a curse into the darkness. "You're right," he growled. "We should go back, check out that room for ore, then get out of here."

They walked quickly back to where the goblins had been mining. Searching the area quickly, they recovered only a few pounds of ore. "Ah, it would appear that they loaded everything, yes, everything on that cart before they left." Khalid's tone was heavy with disappointment.

"There's hardly anything in the other room either," Gorak rumbled as he emerged from the smaller passage. Khalid noticed that Jalaal's scimitar was tucked in his belt. "C'mon, let's get out of here."

"What about…" Shayla couldn't bring herself to continue.

"He's dead, and he's too heavy to carry. I grabbed his sword, maybe he's got family or something we can give it to, but there ain't nothing more we can do. Not now. Let's go." Khalid knew Gorak well enough to know that he wasn't being callous, just pragmatic and that he didn't like the situation any better than Khalid or Shayla.

They traveled in silence, moving quickly through the tunnels back to where they had made camp the night before. Khalid kept the lantern carefully covered, providing only enough light to illuminate the floor directly in front of him. Once they had gone far enough down the tunnel to be sure that no one could track them easily, Khalid dropped the short piece of rope he wore around his waist onto the ground and cast his spell. The rope had barely finished rising into the air when Khalid grabbed it and clambered up into the extradimensional space. Throwing his pack to the quasi-substantial ground, he felt grief and no small measure of fear overtake him. They had lost a guide, a skilled warrior and more importantly, a friend in that battle, and had little if anything to show for it.

Shayla, her eyes shining with unshed tears, sat down heavily on the ground as Gorak entered the space and pulled the rope up behind him. No one said anything for a while, until finally Khalid found the voice to ask the question that foremost in all their minds, "Ah, so what do we do now?"

* * * * * * * * * *​

*This fight was actually a bit longer. Per Gorak, both he and Jalaal whacked at the dwerro a bit after he paralyzed the pig.

**Shayla failed a lot of climb checks here. I mean, a lot. I was pretty sure we were going to end up fighting a regiment of dwarves, but luckily, I only failed once, and not by enough to fall.

***I'm pretty sure I forgot to mention that Shayla picked up a familiar in Shalazar. Much like Sousee, Gorak's snake, Emma doesn't play that big of a role, most of the time and I kind of forget about them both.

****One of the few drawbacks to rope trick in this campaign, which is way too powerful in both my and Galeman's opinion. In future campaigns we'll either half the duration or swap it with leomunds tiny hut. However, this drawback becomes critical later on :D

*****Stupid critical hit with a two handed sword. Dropped him immediately to -10. We determined that if he had hit Gorak, he'd would have been at -8 or -9. The goblin did something like 25 pts of damage on that hit. Oh, incidentally, Shayla's shot in the first combat was a crit as well.
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EternalNewbie said:
This post hasn't been proofed by anybody yet. Shayla's in Europe and Galeman's in Halifax. Gorak's off doing whatever it is that Gorak does on a Saturday afternoon.

Gorak was rock-climbing on a Saturday afternoon and was being eaten alive by black-flies. It's funny how rarely those little pests are mentionned in adventures...well, unless they're stirges...

"Produce flame" became a favorite spell of mine after that adventure. You gotta love touch attacks. Especially when your Dex is 10!

Black Bard

First Post
Great, great update!!!
But I must say I'm sad... I really liked Jalaal, my friends...

And thanks, Taran, for the inside scoop!!! That way we don't annoy EternalNewbie so much with our pleas for update... :p

TaranTheWanderer said:
Since I have the inside scoop, I might as well inform everyone that EternalNewbie has almost got the next update done... No pressure ;)

Hrm. Maybe I should clarify a few things in Taran's post. What he means by 'inside scoop' is 'misinterpreted MSN message' and what he means by 'almost done' is 'just started'.

Actually it's a little further along then that. It'll probably be up by the end of the weekend. When Galeman gets back, I'll get him to post stats for Jalaal and Malakai in the rogues gallery, which has been neglected for far too long (my fault, I know).

Thanks for the posts guys, it's always nice to know that people are enjoying the story. To show my appreciation, here's an update.

I realize that it might be a little hard to follow my description of the goblin mines. I'll see if I can get Galeman to post some of the maps when he gets back.

Lastly, to give you an idea of where we are in the campaign, there are at least two more 'chapters' after the Mines of Malakai, that will probably end up being roughly the same length when written out. We're in the middle of the 6th 'chapter' now, with everything on hold as people have scattered to the far ends of the earth...

Anyhow, that's enough fluff for one day. Now on to what you came here for in the first place...

(PS. Hasn't been proofed, so it's subject to revision...)

* * * * * * * * * *​

"Ah, how many does that make?" Khalid asked wearily, as he shook out his bedroll on the muted grey floor of the extradimensional space.

"Twenty seven," Gorak grunted, wiping gore off his leather armor with a rag.

"Yes, quite," Khalid agreed. "How many did Jalaal say were in here?"

Gorak's brow furrowed as he tried to recall the conversation with Jalaal. Shayla, who had been sitting on the floor, absently stroking Emma, finally broke the silence. "I think he said two score, maybe more."*

"Ah, was that able combatants, or for, yes, the whole tribe in total?" Khalid pressed.

Shayla shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry Khalid, I don't remember." Shayla looked completely drained after the day's foray into the mines.

Khalid too, felt a deep exhaustion that seemed to penetrate him to the very bone. He sat back, propped himself up on his rucksack, closed his eyes, and replayed the events of the day in his mind. There hadn't really been any question as to their course of action after Jalaal died. Faced with the prospect of returning empty handed and battling their way out past alert Dwerro sentries, they had decided to remain in the caves and attempt to finish their task. Their only chance now was to inflict such dreadful losses upon the goblins that they would be forced to retreat or hole up, allowing the group to flee through the front exit of the mine, hopefully after they had recovered enough adamantium to satisfy Arbaq.

After recuperating from the prior day, they had set out at roughly the same time. Heading down the main passage, this time they opted to head straight to the larger room, in the hopes of surprising the goblin miners and blocking the cart's escape.

It was, as Khalid had guessed earlier, quite difficult to sneak up on the crafty goblins carrying a lantern and despite their best efforts, the goblins were waiting for them. As they hurried down the larger side passage, the alarm was raised. Khalid recalled with a shudder what the goblins had planned for them. As soon as the alarm had been raised, four goblins hopped on the mining cart, and had begun to feverishly work the levers that propelled it. In the narrow confines of the mining tunnel, there was no room to flee the cart and they would have been crushed against the walls or worse still, overrun by the cart entirely. Fortunately, the two in the front had succumbed to his magical slumber, while one in the rear had fallen to Shayla's magical darts. The lone remaining goblin, unable to propel the cart by himself, had fled shrieking into a side passage. After dispatching a few more goblins and finding no ore, refined or otherwise, they had departed, heading back for the main path.

The goblins however, had another surprise waiting for them. Where the passage met the main tunnel, several archers lay in wait armed not only with crossbows, but also with vials of naphtha that burst into flame upon contacting the air. Even so, they were no match for Gorak and Shayla. Between Shayla's lancets of force and Gorak's unerring aim with his conjured balls of fire, they had decimated the archers and drove them back. At the intersection, they met the commander of the ambush, another red skinned goblin who by some dweomer was clinging to the ceiling. Despite his concealment however, the goblin managed to strike only a glancing blow on Gorak. After suffering the effects of one of Shayla's spells, the goblin attempted to scuttle away along the ceiling. Gorak, with a plundered spear, neatly skewered the goblin, pinning it to the ceiling and then slamming it to the cavern floor. Fortunately, the vials of naphtha the goblin was carrying were well protected, and several now took the place of used potions on Khalid's belt. Shayla, after thoroughly cleaning it, had donned the red skinned goblin's bandolier, and carried the remaining vials of liquid flame.

Exhausted and wounded, the party had retreated back beyond the range of the goblin miners, but not before derailing the cart and rendering it inoperable. While Khalid had no illusions about the effect that would have on the mining operation, he reasoned that at the very least, it couldn't be used for any more attacks.

Khalid sighed and propped himself up on one elbow. "Ah, perhaps we should discuss our next move. Yes, quite."

Gorak, with a glance at Shayla who was curled up in a ball, sleeping soundly, shook his head. "Nah, it can wait until morning."

Morning came far too early for Khalid's liking. Roused from a pleasant dream featuring several of the more comely women of Arbaq's harem, Khalid groggily joined Shayla and Gorak in the tunnels and dismissed his spell. Splashing some water on his face, he wondered if he looked as haggard as they did.

"So, what's on the agenda for today?" Shayla mumbled around a mouthful of bread.

"Ah, yes, I was considering a few options. Thanks to Emma, we know that the main path continues on, fairly straight after the side passages until it reaches a fairly stout wooden door."

"There's a bit of a turn near the end," Shayla interrupted, "but for the most part, yes. There's also more passages that branch off, opposite the ones we've already been down."

"Yes, quite," Khalid continued. "Well, I was thinking that perhaps, yes, perhaps if we can make it past the goblins and reach the door, we can find a way to bar it. Then we can roam around the tunnels, making noise and ah, well, killing goblins. When they try to flee, they'll find the exit impassable, yes quite impassable and we can trap them in a dead end."

"How are we going to bar the door?" Shayla asked.

"I got a spell that'll help. I can warp the door, bend it so it's jammed against the frame. They'll have to hack it to pieces to get out." Gorak replied.

"Ah, excellent, yes, excellent. That should work nicely." Khalid said, feeling rather pleased with himself.

"There might be another way out of the mines." Shayla pointed out.

"Ah, indeed. Still, if they don't know that the door has been barred they will attempt to flee to the nearest exit. We should still be able to trap some of them. Yes, quite."

"I was thinking of something else too," Gorak rumbled. "We can maybe mine the ore ourselves, then at least all we'll have to do is figure a way outta here."

"Ah, Gorak, not to be overly critical but, ah, I know nothing of mining, and I don't exactly have the physique for it. Yes, quite."

"I know that," Gorak grunted. "I've got another spell. I can soften the earth around a vein. We can just dig it out with our hands if we need too, but there should be some goblin tools around."

"Indeed. That sounds much better then. Yes, quite." Khalid replied. "Ah, Let's block the door first, yes? That way, we'll either, ah, hear them chopping down the door, or if we're attacked, perhaps close off their avenue of escape."

"Right," Gorak agreed. "I'll prepare those spells." He paused for a second. "Those bastards are probably going to be a lot more organized today. We should probably come up with a signal or plan or something, that calls out the retreat."

"Yes, quite. I've been giving it some thought and ah, if it becomes necessary, Shayla can provide cover by shrouding us in mist. Yes, and then I will open a portal. If we're, ah, quick enough we should be able to vanish, without them knowing where we've gone. Yes, quite." Khalid glanced at the others.

"Sounds good to me," Shayla replied.

"Yup. It should work. Just be ready to move. Things could turn ugly pretty quick." Gorak rumbled. "Now leave me alone, I need to concentrate."

As Gorak resumed his meditation, Shayla and Khalid moved down the passage and talked idly for a while. They both carefully avoided mentioning Jalaal, or the upcoming day, instead reminiscing about pleasanter times and nicer places. Eventually however, the weight of the mountain overhead crushed their conversation, and they sat in silence until Gorak appeared. "I'm ready," he grunted. "Let's get moving."

They began the long trek back into the goblin mining complex, with Khalid carefully shielding the light. The pace was slow, hampered by the gloom and uneven terrain, but Khalid felt as they he was getting a feel for the path, having traveled it so many times in the past few days. They walked in silence, and Khalid strained to catch any sound that might indicate their presence was detected. Quite by accident the day before he had caught the ingenious goblins sending signals through the stone, by tapping it in rhythmic bursts. Today however, the caves were ominously quiet.

Gorak motioned for them to halt and Khalid covered the light. Creeping forward into the darkness, Gorak glanced around the corner of the intersection leading to the main mining area. Seeing nothing, he retrieved the others and they continued their agonizingly slow pace through the mines. They passed the smaller branch, and still there were no sign of the goblins. Khalid dared to let himself hope that their foray yesterday had soured the goblins hunger for conflict, as they moved into the most dangerous area of the mine. From Emma's scouting, they knew that there were no branches off the main tunnel as it approached a huge wooden door leading out of the mines. The tunnel twisted slightly, about thirty feet from the door, preventing a clear view down the passage. They all knew that if a goblin raiding party appeared from the tunnels behind them, they would be pinned against the door, and have to fight their way out. Worse still, until the door was blocked, they would most likely be attacked from both sides at once.

Khalid, his nerves frayed from days beneath the earth, couldn't take it any longer. "Ah, perhaps we should move quickly now and block the door," he hissed.

Gorak, nodding, picked up the pace as they rounded the small bend. Seeing nothing, he sprinted to the door, with Khalid and Shayla close behind. As Gorak began to chant, Shayla knelt down and picked up a small rock, ready to illuminate the passage if necessary. Khalid, carefully shielding the lantern, tried to make himself as small a target as possible and crouched down along the cave wall. Gorak finished his spell and touched one of the oaken planks of the huge iron bound door. Khalid, glancing over his shoulder, watched in amazement as the wooden door began to warp. There was a thin screech as the iron bands binding the planks buckled under the spell, and Shayla ducked as a bolt burst from the door and ricocheted down the tunnel. The doorframe splintered as the wood continued to twist and move. With a final groan, and shower of dust the door stopped moving.

There was complete silence for a moment, then the sound of panicked voices reached them from the other side of the door. One of the goblins on the other side rattled the small viewing slot in the door, but it too had warped by Gorak's spell. "There," Gorak grunted in satisfaction. "Nobody is getting through that door without chopping it down."

"That's great," Shayla said, scanning nervously down the tunnel, "now can we please get out of the dead end death trap?"

The group turned and hurried back down the main passage. Even after the disturbance, there was no sign of activity in the caves. Khalid was beginning to get worried again. Alternating between relief that they hadn't encountered anyone and panic that the goblins were closing in around them, Khalid felt as though he was going to fly apart. They turned down the smaller side passage and followed it past the place where Jalaal had fallen. His body had been removed, but in the flickering light of the lantern, Khalid could see the reddish brown stain on the floor and walls. With a shudder, he hurried after Gorak into the main room.

Khalid and Shayla took up defensive positions near the entrances while Gorak prowled around the room, searching for the best spot to target with his spell. "Gimme some light over here, Khalid," he growled. Khalid obligingly uncovered the lantern and shone it around the room. Nodding to himself, he picked a vein of ore that roped its way across the wall and up into the ceiling.

Khalid was only half watching as Gorak cast his spell, intent as he was on detecting any approaching goblins. As Gorak finished chanting, Khalid looked back over his shoulder. Gorak moved forward and tapped the rock wall with a goblin pick. "Ah, Gorak, did I miss something?" Khalid asked.

"No," Gorak growled, his expression darkening. "It didn't work."

"Ah, Gorak," Khalid began, "why…"

"I don't know why it didn't work, Khalid," Gorak snarled. "It just didn't."

"So what do we do now?" Shayla asked.

"I'm not sure," Gorak rumbled. "I guess…" he trailed off as a noise echoed down through the tunnels. They all strained to listen, as Khalid hid the light. From down the main passage, the panicked sound of a fist hammering on wood reached their ears. With a feral grin, Gorak turned to others. "I guess we go kill goblins."

They set off down the twisting, narrow passages, moving quickly to spring their trap. As Gorak rounded the last bend, he skidded to a halt. Khalid, in full stride had to twist aside to avoid crashing into him. Facing away from them, pounding frantically on the wooden door was a small, red skinned goblin draped in blood red robes that matched almost perfectly the tinge of his skin. Pouches and fetishes hung from belts and straps that crisscrossed the goblin's body. At the sound of their approach, the goblin slowly turned to face them. Gorak, with a curse whirled around and raised his shield, as Khalid and Shayla stood there, completely unnerved. Khalid felt a sickening fear seize him, as the look of panic slowly faded from the goblin's face to be replaced with a vicious, evil sneer. Then all hell descended upon them.**

* * * * * * * * * *​

*This sparked an argument between Galeman and I. I had originally asked how many goblins where in the caves, before we left Gem-Sharad I think, but somebody else interrupted and I never got an answer (it happens). My point was that Khalid wouldn't go in there without knowing how many opponents were in there, while his was that if it was so important I should have asked Jalaal while we still knew where his head was. Anyhow, Shayla was the only one to make the int check. Thus began our war of attrition. I remember the number 27 coming up, and the final total as well ;)

**Sigh. We really should have barred the door a day earlier, in retrospect.

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