Knightfall's World of Kulan: Tales of the Companions Story Hour (Final Update: Sep 20, 2014)


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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The Battle Continues:

Dabuk hears the roar in his ears as the flind’s great club arcs down towards his father. He tries to break through the encircling group of gnolls without success.

“Stay with Bactra, son!” Garth grasps his sword and rolls just past the flinds reach. “He needs your help more than I do.”

Garth steadies himself for the flind’s next blow. Holding his wounded chest with one hand and his sword with the other. The flind snarls swinging his club again. Garth ducks the blow his breath ragged. His wound is worse than he had first though but a quick prayer to Larea heals the worst of the damage.

“I’m not as easy prey as you would like to believe, dog-head.” Garth smiles as the flind snarls in anger.

“We shall see, puny human,” the flind lashes out with its fist catching Garth off guard. Garth tumbles to the ground once again holding his shoulder.

“Ok, no more banter,” he should know better, he thinks to himself.


* * *


“Dabuk, I can’t take much more of this.” Bactra is bleeding from several deep wounds.

Bactra hadn’t been able to cast any more spells after his initial magic missile. Every time he tried a gnoll would move in and disrupt his concentration. His right arm hangs limp to one side, as he fights with his dagger.

“Hang on, cousin.” Dabuk skewers another gnoll, as he takes a slash across the chest from a grazing hit from another of the humanoids. “I’m with you.”

Back to back the two fight on. Dabuk can hear his cousin’s breathing. It isn’t good.


* * *


“Mesik, stay with me,” Thessa stands over her fearful friend. “I should be able to dispel the effect.”

Mesik is too afraid too speak. The fear is unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He worries that his lord, Hades, will think less of him for his cowardly heart. How could the god not? Mesik had always been a coward, he saw that now. He didn’t deserve his life or his Lord’s blessing. He should run away and hide. Thessa would be better off without him.

Then she was by his side her hand on his shoulder. Divine words spill from her lips and Mesik finds his strength of will returning. The cloud of fear over his eyes lifts and he realizes his thoughts had not been his own.

“Thanks Thessa,” Mesik’s face turns grim and he knows his Lord is with him. “Now I must send these creatures to meet my Lord Hades. May his mercy be more than mine.”

Mesik raises Sheao just as one of the gnolls charges towards him. He waits until the last possible moment before tumbling pass the charging beast, standing behind it, and thrusting the magical blade through the gnoll’s back.

“Feeling better, I see.” Thessa slams her walking stick into one of the humanoid’s knees.

“Much,” Mesik sidesteps another gnoll, trips the creature, and jumps on its back.

Thessa watches as Mesik thrusts Sheao into its ribs, while crushing its neck with his knee. She wonders how Mesik keeps his morale compass, while doing the things he does. She hasn’t the time to contemplate it further as two more gnolls rush at them.

“I hope Bactra and Dabuk are all right.” Mesik looks past the two charging gnolls in the direction he last saw his two friends. He sees only the darkness. “Damn it, where are Kellin and Hugh? We really could use their help.”

“We can’t worry about that right now,” Thessa ducks past the lead gnoll’s battleaxe, hitting it with her staff where it hurts the most.

The gnoll bends over in pain and Thessa proceeds to crush its skull with her staff. She watches Mesik toss a dagger into the other gnoll’s throat. It falls down dead with a gurgle. She looks down at the dead gnoll at her feet and then at the gnoll Mesik had just killed.

Perhaps she was being too judgmental about his morals.

“Thessa, behind you!” The little gnome priestess feels the battleaxe dig into her back before she can react to Mesik’s warning.

“Oh dear,” Thessa fell to her knees grasping for her holy symbol. She began to pray to Baervan for his healing touch. She could feel the gnolls wrap its hand around her flowing hair, as blood began to spill from her lips. “Baervan, heal me.”

“Thessa!” Mesik reached for his other dagger, as the gnoll pulled Thessa’s head back raising its battleaxe to decapitate the gnome priestess.

Mesik’s dagger would not come out of its sheath. The gnoll laughs wickedly as it brings down its battleaxe.

“No!” Mesik’s eyes swell with tears, as he watches his friend face death without him. “Lord Hades, protect her!”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The Battle Ends:

Garth knew he couldn’t take much more. The flind had quickly trapped the ranger away from his traveling companions near the edge of the light from the fire. The flind blocked most so that Garth had to fight blind for the most part.

The veteran ranger had faced worse odd than one flind and survived but the flind had gotten luck with its first few blows. Blood ran down Garth’s forehead, where the beast had connected with his club, and into his eyes. The blow had only grazed him, which Garth had thanked Larea for. He had gotten lucky.

Garth knew he needed to catch a break but luck seemed to be against him as the flind punched him in face snapping his head back. Garth forgot where he was and who he was for a few seconds. He barely tumbled out of the way as the flind brought down his great club for the killing blow.

“Damn you human,” the flind was still trying to goad Garth into losing his wits. “Stand and fight, you cowardly insect!”

Garth responded with his sword, cutting a deep gash through the flind’s left thigh. The flind snarled gnashing its teeth. It swung its great club again barely missing the ranger’s head. Then it howled. Garth felt his resolve dim for a moment but didn’t succumb to the fear.

Another howl answered it and Garth wondered if there was another flind out there. Instead, a huge longsword flew over his head spiraling towards the flind. The beast didn’t see the sword coming. It ran right through the creature’s chest. The beast looked at the sword protruding in front of his eyes, confused. Blood began to seep from the wound, as the flind fell to its knees.

Garth knew the blade. He strode up to the flind and kicked the pommel of the sword as hard as he could. The beast tried to roar but simply spit up blood, as the sword passed through its vital organs. Garth then drove his own sword into the creature’s throat.

“Sorry, we’re late,” Kellin walked out of the shadows behind Garth. “We were unavoidably detained.”

“Where’s Hougwarth?” Garth noticed the vonakyndra wasn’t with the ogre man.

“He went to help the others,” Kellin walked up to the flind and pulled his sword free. “Nasty, dog-heads. They’re everywhere tonight.”

Garth moved back towards the fire looking for Bactra and Dabuk. There wasn’t any sign of them or Thessa and Mesik.

“Damn it, where are they?” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement of worry.


* * *


Thessa felt the touch off her god’s healing power just as the gnoll’s battleaxe came down towards her. She still wasn’t strong enough to move and was sure that she would be meeting Baervan soon. She heard Mesik out but couldn’t make out the words. Then blood splashed all around her. It smelled horrible and definitely wasn’t hers.

“Who-“, Thessa croaked out the words just as Mesik shouted out again. This time she understood.

“Hougwarth, you’re timing couldn’t be better.”

“Thank you, Baervan. Thank you, Hugh.” Thessa spoke the words then proceeded to pass out.


* * *


Hougwarth saw the gnoll about to behead his little friend. That would just not do! He steadied himself, rushed the creature and beheaded it with one stroke. The creature’s battleaxe fell to the ground, as blood spurted out of its severed neck all over Hougwarth’s sword and Thessa’s back and head.

He cleaned his blade, threw the dead gnoll to one side and kneeled down next to Thessa. She had passed out but most of her wounds seemed to be healing themselves. No doubt the work of the gods, he thought.

“Mesik, are you hurt,” Hougwarth looked his small halfling friend with concern.

“Only my pride,” Mesik still felt a little guilty about succumbing to the flind’s fearful howl. “How is she?”

Mesik knelt down next to Thessa. The concern in his eyes spoke of his admiration for her. He cradled her head like a newborn.

“Here, pour this down her throat,” Hougwarth passed a small vial of healing elixir to Mesik as he stood looking for the others. “Stay with her, my friend. I must find and help the others.”

“Garth was fighting a flind and the last time I saw Dabuk and Bactra, they were surrounded.” Mesik’s face betrayed his emotions.

“I will find them, Mesik. Can you handle carrying Thessa to the fire?”

“No worries,” Mesik poured the elixir down Thessa’s throat. “How fast will this work?”

“It’s a natural remedy, not magical. It will help her heal but she’ll need rest. Wait before you move her. In fact, unless something threatens you, don’t move her for at least 5 minutes.

Hougwarth left Thessa in Mesik’s tender care, striding towards the fire.


* * *


“Anything?” Garth was getting worried. He and Kellin hadn’t encountered any of the others.

“Nothing,” Kellin strode back into the light of the campfire from the direction Dabuk and Bactra had disappeared. “Wait what’s that?

Kellin and Garth whipped around, their blades ready, as Hougwarth came into the light.

“Hugh,” Garth was glad to see the vonakyndra in good health. “Did you find any of the others?”

“Aye,” Hougwarth pointed back in the direction he came. “Mesik and Thessa are over there. She’s hurt and unconscious but it looks as though she called upon her god’s blessing before she passed out. The wounds were healing themselves. I had Mesik give her a special healing elixir. It isn’t magical but it should help. Mesik seemed dispirited but he appears to be fine.”

“Damn,” Garth sighed. “I had a feeling he would get down on himself after what happened.”

“What happened?” Hougwarth asked the question on both his and Kellin’s mind.

“Never mind, we’ll talk about it with him later. Right now we need to find Dabuk and Bactra. They’re out there, fighting alone.”

“Well, let’s go find them. My eyes can see well beyond a human’s eyes can, as well as an elf’s. Bring a torch though. I can’t see in total darkness.”

“I will go and stay with Mesik and Thessa. They might need protection. There are a lot of gnolls roaming about tonight.”

“Aye, but that too is a story for later.” Hougwarth walked to the edge of the firelight in the direction Garth pointed. The two quickly disappeared into the darkness.

Kellin watched them go then wandered off towards Thessa and Mesik, his darkvision leading the way.


* * *


Bactra and Dabuk had been holding back the gnolls by a thread. Dabuk was able to pass a curing potion to his cousin, which Bactra had somehow downed during the fight. Still, both were battered and bruised.

Bactra had finally gotten off a color spray spell, which had knocked three of the gnolls unconscious. This had allowed him the time to back up Dabuk with an ice knife spell. The gnolls had given Bactra a wider berth after that, fearing his magic.

“I think they’re scared of you, cousin.” Dabuk slashed down another as it came in close to swing its battleaxe. “You got anything else in that arsenal of yours?”

“Not really,” the two spoke in elven, hoping none of the gnolls could understand them. “I have two left but I don’t think read magic and detect magic are going to do us any good.”

“Why in Hades’ Underrealm did you memorize those!” Dabuk took his frustration out on another gnoll that got to close.

“You’ll pay for that, you elven cur,” the beast snarled back at him.

“Ah go bury a bone, dog-head,” Dabuk easily dodged the gnoll’s battleaxe.

“Good one,” Bactra felt his strength coming back, as the potion mixed deeper with his blood. He smacked a gnoll in the face with the butt of his dagger. The beast howled kicking at the elven mage. The attack was clumsy and even Bactra dodged it with ease.

“I thought so,” Dabuk thrust his sword into the gnolls head. “Hey, did you notice there are a lot less of them?”

“Yep,” Bactra held his dagger out waiting for the gnolls to attack.

It never came.

Bactra was amazed as the gnoll in front of him began to shake in fear a back away from him. He noticed several others do the same.

“What the-?” Bactra smiled as he heard a familiar laugh.


* * *


Garth and Hougwarth quickly tracked down the two cousins. They had wandered well beyond a human’s need for light but were still close enough to see in the shadowy darkness. Garth had felt useless when Kellin had disappeared to look for the duo.

He was slightly behind and to one side of Hugh when the vonakyndra stopped in his tracks and laughed.

“Hugh,” it was Dabuk’s voice. “Am I glad to see you!”

Garth ran up next to the giant just in time to see several gnolls run off into the darkness as fast as they could. The one’s closest to he and Hugh turned and shrieked in fear.

“A ghost man! Run! Run for your lives!” The gnoll tired to retreat but Dabuk cut it down.

“What the-,” Garth looked on in confused stupor. He’d never seen gnolls retreat from anything when they had superior numbers.

“Ha, ha, ha!” Hougwarth was the only one who seemed to get the joke.

“Hugh, where have you been?” Bactra walks over using hi staff to lean on. He’s more tired than hurt. “We were getting worried.”

“It’s a long story lad. Best told around the fire. Do you need help, friend?”

“I be fine once I’ve sat down and tend to my bruises.”

Bactra watched as Dabuk and Garth clasped arms in a surprising show of affection. Then they parted as quickly as they had shared the Ranger’s Greeting. He noted that Dabuk was bleeding badly from several wounds yet still looked strong enough to walk on his own. Sometimes he wished he had studied the Warrior Arts with his cousin. Nah, he liked magic too much.

“And what was that about you being a ghost?” Dabuk had never seen such strange behavior from gnolls.

“Gnolls are a superstitious lot. There are many tales about my people. Most are fanciful but some are true enough to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies.”

“You’ll have to tell us some of them.” Bactra walked with Hougwarth as they led the way back towards the campfire. “And I’m sure Jeddar would love to hear them.”

“I’m sure he would.”

The four companions slowly made their way back to the campfire. Mesik, Thessa, and Kellin were already there when they arrived.

“How is she?” Garth noticed that Thessa was still unconscious.

“Better,” Mesik was watching over her like she was made of crystal. “She woke up for a bit then went back to sleep. Her breathing is good and most of her wounds have healed.”

“Good, now everyone sit down so I can decide who needs healing. No exceptions.”

The companions gathered around the fire praying that nothing else disturbed them this night.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The camp at dawn:
The companions remained restless for the remainder of the night. They tried to sleep in shifts but all were so concerned for Thessa’s safety that no one felt rested when the dawn broke. Most of the evening they talked about what had happened to Hugh and Kellin, as well as trying to convince Mesik it wasn’t his fault that he’d lost his nerve.

“Magical fear can strip away a person’s resolve, Mesik.” Bactra poked the fire’s smoldering embers just as the sun began to rise above the horizon.

“Yes, but it wasn’t you who succumbed to it last night.” Mesik sat next to Thessa, stroking her hair.

Thessa had healed enough to take a watch shift but the group had decided to let her sleep. She had taken an awful wound. All of them had come to think of her as family.

“Bactra and Dabuk have a natural resistance to most types of fear. They are not the best people to compare yourself to Mesik. I, on the other hand, do not have their ability. The fear from that flind’s roar almost took me last night and I have succumbed to fear in the past.”

“Really,” Mesik was surprised to hear Garth talk so openly about being afraid. It wasn’t like him at all. “How do you get over it?”

“That is something that I cannot answer.” Garth put the last of the gathered wood on the fire. “I never got over it.”

“Great,” Mesik laid down next to Thessa, throwing his blanket half over her. “I’m going to try and get some sleep.”

The others remained quiet for nearly an hour. The silence finally sent Mesik off to sleep. Bactra wished he could understand what Mesik was going through. Of course, he understood the magical nature of fear effects but had never experienced it himself. As a forest elf, he was nearly immune to such things.

His instructors had told him that elves only succumb to the fear of powerful dragons and ogre scions. He hadn’t felt anything when the flind roared. Dabuk on the other hand, had wavered for only a moment before shrugging of the effect. Half-elves didn’t have a full elves full immunity.

“So, Hugh.” Dabuk had not accepted Kellin’s version of what had delayed the two. “Tell me again why you two were so late.”

“We’ve been over this.” Kellin was losing his patience.

“I didn’t ask you,” Dabuk stared Hougwarth down looking for the giant man’s true feelings on the subject. He didn’t even glance in Kellin’s direction.

“You shouldn’t doubt Kellin so much, friend Dabuk.” Hugh looked back at the ranger without any hidden emotions. “It happened as he said.”

“Tell me again anyway.” Dabuk was insistent.

“Go ahead, Hugh.” Garth stood up and walked away from the campfire.”

“Yes, he isn’t going to let it go until you tell him your version.” Bactra lied down on the grass next to the fire. If he had been a human, he would have drifted off to sleep. Instead he closed his eyes and waited for Hugh to begin.

“Well, as you know, after we split up, Kellin and I went upstream to look for a safe place to cross. It wasn’t easy finding a isolated location that was shallow enough for both of us. We came across two places that were safe enough for Kellin but I wouldn’t have made it.

I tried to get Kellin to cross at the second one and come here to meet you all. I tried to convince him that I’d catch up with you all later but he wouldn’t leave me by myself. Eventually, after searching most of the first day, we found a safe place to cross. It was easy going, although the water was very cold.”

“Almost unnaturally so,” Kellin was lying on his back, warming his toes near the fire.

“Aye, we talked about it on the other side of the bank. Here, maybe this will help”

Hugh began scrawling a rough diagram into the dirt by the fire. Dabuk knelt down next to the giant man’s left knee to get a better look at the diagram. Soon Kellin was staring over Hugh’s drawing and Garth watched from the other side of the fire, while Bactra rolled over so he could see from the opposite side of where Dabuk was kneeling down.

The diagram showed the river, a corpse of trees, and several large mounds. Dabuk was sure they represented hills.

“We started to cross here. The current was still very fast so we ended up a little downstream, here.” Hugh scrawled X’s in the two locations. “Right near the corpse of trees. They were in the direction we were going so we decided to cut through them. They didn’t seem very dense so we figured there would be lots of room for both of us to maneuver in case anything attacked us.

Like Kellin said, the river had been exceedingly cold, unnatural. We decided to camp in the woods and start a fire to warm ourselves. It was near dusk of the first night.”

“That’s when the ice trolls attacked.” Kellin rubbed his shoulder where it he still felt the chill.

“Aye,” Hugh motioned for Garth to throw more wood on the fire.


* * *


The ice troll attack (days earlier):
“Hugh,” Kellin stood up his sword out ready. “Do you feel it? It’s getting colder.”

“Aye,” the giant man was still wring the cold water out of his long hair. “It feels like it’s dropped nearly 10 degrees.”

“I think we have company,” Kellin could see his breath, as the temperature around them continued to drop.

“Ice troll!” Hugh reached for his sword, which was already covered in hoarfrost. “Behind you, Kellin.”

“Damn it,” Kellin moved to one side as the lumbering, ice-like creature came out of the dark. He cut down the creature but it was soon moving again as it regenerated. “I wish they smelled bad like normal trolls. I would have noticed them sooner.”

“Aye,” Hugh brought his sword up though the ribs of the other beast attacking from the other side of the camp. “Careful, my friend. They’re trying to flank us.”

The creature howled, backing up.

“Stand back to back, as close to the fire as possible. Try to grab a burning log; I’m going to try and reach my pack.”

“How’s that going to help us?” Hugh took a swing at the ice troll as the beast reached to take the vonakyndra’s sword away. The blade bit into the creatures frozen hide and it snarled as it backed away again. Hugh reached down and grabbed one of the fiery logs.

“Oil,” Kellin grabbed and reached into his pack. He brought out two vials. Once he smashed over his sword, instantly covering in the slick substance. He held the second vial in his other hand, dropping his pack. “On the count of three, toss the log at the ice troll in front of you.”

“I get it,” Hugh readied himself.

“One,” Kellin moved his sword over the fire.

The ice troll lying in front of the ogre began to stand. The creature was still trying to find it’s bearing snarling in broken giantish.

“Two.” Kellin ignored the creature’s mutterings, concentrating on his plan.

Hugh tightened his grip on the log, as the fingers of his other hand began to go numb from the magical cold the creatures were emitting. He prayed to Corellon that he wouldn’t drop his sword.

“Three!” Kellin lit his sword, peered over his shoulder for the location of the other ice troll, and tossed the vial of oil over his head in an arc.

“Take this, you frozen abomination!” Hugh tossed the lit log like a hand axe. He watched as it spun through the air hitting the ice troll in the face just as the vial came down at the creature’s feet.

The torch blinded the ice troll, then fell to the ground onto the oil. Flames began roaring up around the creature’s legs and it howled in it’s blinded rage.

Kellin brought his sword, now aflame, down on the head of the creature in front of him. The ice troll howled in pain, as the fire melted away the monster’s icy protective layer. Kellin brought the sword down again and again, hacking off the beast’s head.

“That’s got to hurt,” Hugh watched in morbid fascination as the oil-driven fire began consuming the other ice troll. “Should we put him out of his misery, Kellin?”

“Nay, let it burn. Otherwise it will just regenerate.” Kellin plunged his sword into the other ice troll a few more times until he was sure that it would stay on fire. “Just make sure the fire doesn’t spread to the trees. We don’t want the locate treant to come hunting for our heads.”

The other ice troll fell to the ground over the burning oil. It quickly burst into flames in front of them. Hugh kicked dirt onto the fire as it spread out from the burning corpse. They soon had to start emptying their waterskins in order to keep the blaze under control.

“That was close,” Hugh was tired; his boots were singed as well as his fingers.

“Aye,” Kellin poured water over himself to make sure he wasn’t smoldering anywhere. “We should bring more water from the river, just to be sure.”

The two giant men lumbered off to the river to gather more water and clean the burnt flesh off their hides.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The camp, early morning:
“Sounds like you two had quite the adventure.” Garth watched as Hougwarth scrubbed away the drawing with his boot.

“It was a long night.” Kellin looked towards the rising sun. “We weren’t sure if there were more of them. The cold continued to cling to the copse for hours.”

“Aye, plus one of the ice trolls started regenerating. We cut it up it and burnt it a second time.” Hougwarth was warming his hands over the fire. The chill had gotten deep into him. He’d need a nice warm bath in a hot spring or something before his temperature would return to normal.

“So that’s it,” Dabuk was still suspicious. “You aren’t telling us everything, Hugh. I can feel it.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to suffer.” Hougwarth looked the ranger dead in the eye. “I made a promise to Kellin.”

Dabuk wondered what their secret could be. He looked at Kellin and them back at Hougwarth. Neither of them said anything else on the matter.


* * *


Late morning, breaking camp:
“It’s not much farther. Perhaps and three days until we reach this city.” Garth looked at the rough map he had of the region. It wasn’t much and was almost 50 years old but it would have to do.

“It feels like forever since we left the Knotwood.” Mesik was tired and sore. He was picking rocks out his shoes.

“I know what you mean.” Bactra felt so far from home. It was the same feeling he’d had when they’d traveled south through the Great Expanse. “Being away from my kin leaves me with an odd feeling. I was so mad when they took away the spear we found, but I guess, in hindsight, it was for the best.”

“Less talk, more packing.” Dabuk was eager to move on. Unlike his cousin he didn’t get homesick. Sure he missed seeing his grandfather but this mission wouldn’t last forever. “I want to get moving in less than an hour. Father?”

“Agreed.” Garth looked up from his map in the direction he believed this Onaway was. His eyes caught a glimpse of something coming towards them. “Now what?”

“Garth, what is it.” Kellin looked in the direction that his friend was staring. His height gave him the advantage of seeing more detail. “A rider.”

“Only one?” Thessa couldn’t see anything.

“Just what we don’t need,” Mesik finished tying up his boots. “More trouble.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist, Mesik.” Hougwarth stood next to Kellin as the rider came closer.

The horse was moving quickly but not so much so that it would tire. The rider was indeed alone and this made Garth wonder if caution wasn’t the best course of action. The horse came to a stop roughly 10 feet from them, it’s rider staring at them intently.

“Wow,” Bactra whispered the words hoping only he would hear.

The rider was a beauty, to say the least, and elven as well. Dabuk noticed that his cousin was staring so he poked him in the ribs. Still he was just as impressed. Not by her beauty but by her pose. She sat a top the horse, as regal as a queen would. She was draped in white silk from head to toe but held herself as a warrior would.

“I am Avaniia. Who are you? Why are you in this region?” Her voice was lilting and Bactra felt his heart skip a beat.

“I am Garth Tigerstorm, Justiciar of the Eastern Shores, my companions – my son, Dabuk, his cousin, Bactra Redwind. The hairfoot Mesik Tindertwig and his good friend Thessa Simmial from the Heverkent Forest in the Far South.”

“You are a long way from home, little gnome.” Avaniia steadied her horse as it jittered under her. Dabuk could feel its nervousness. He was immediately suspicious of her sincerity.

“I go where Baervan guides me, dear lady.” Thessa oozed charm and was in her element.

“And the two giants, are they your servants?” She glared at the ogre with disdain.

“I am no one’s servant, miss.” The elf’s words cut Kellin deep. “I am Kellin One-Eye.”

“Really, never heard of you.” She seemed put off by the ogre man’s words.

Garth could tell she was lying. She’d heard of him before or was hiding something.

“And this is Hougwarth Medinton, a vonakyndra from the Great Forest.” Kellin introduce the giant man whose friendship he’d come to value as much as anyone he’d known.

“Amazing,” Avaniia stared at Hougwarth with fascination. “Here I thought your people were extinct. No offense, of course.”

“None taken, dear lady.” Hugh was clueless. He didn’t realize he was being insulted.

Garth and Bactra looked at each other. They knew what the other was thinking. She would bring them nothing but trouble.

“Not to be rude, but you still haven’t told me why you’ve traveled here. There are better places for a journey. The Wild Plains are not to be traveled lightly.”

“We’re traveling to a city called Onaway. Have you heard of it?” Bactra spoke without thinking, blinded by her beauty. He was almost smitten in his eagerness to speak with her.

“Yes, but I advise not going there during the night. The archers on its wall shoot first, bury the bodies later.” She seemed intent on discouraging them. “Best to wait outside the city until daybreak.”

“We have no choice in the matter. The king of Thallin has sent us to find this city of Onaway and seek an audience with its ruler.” Garth pushed Bactra back staring sternly at the elven women. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so. Have you ever been to Avion City? That is where I come from and where I am going.” She was trying to play him.

“No, I haven’t.” Garth’s eyes were daggers in hers. “Have a nice trip home, Lady Avaniia.” He made sure she knew the conversation was over.

She reined her horse and rode off towards the southwest. Garth held up his hand for silence until he was sure she was gone.

“You were a little rude, uncle.” Bactra felt like part of his heart was missing.

“She’s trouble, cousin.” Dabuk stepped up next to his father. “Father did the right thing. I don’t trust her.”

“Neither do I.” Garth was sure it had been her. But how could it be?

“Aye,” Kellin nodded in agreement. “Cold as ice that woman be.”

“Like I said before. Just what we don’t need,” Mesik sighed. “More trouble.”

Bactra saw their scowling faces. He didn’t see it. She had been lovely. He looked at Hougwarth.

“Don’t ask me,” the giant man shrugged. “I thought she was delightful.”

“We go to Onaway,” Garth walked toward Hindle and the other mounts. “As fast as we can. If we’re lucky, we’ll be there in a day and a half.”

“It won’t be soon enough, Garth. She’ll be back.” Kellin gathered his gear.

“I know.” Garth started strapping on Hindle’s saddle.

“I don’t get it.” Bactra felt confused. “Who is she?”

“The Foulsoul.” Dabuk replied.

Bactra felt a chill in his bones, remembering Burnholm.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The Wild Plains, nearing Onaway:
“We must stop!” Dabuk rode next to his father’s roan grabbing the Justiciar’s arm. “The ponies are going to die if we don’t.”

“Damn it,” Garth looked at his son seeing a look that told him that the other riders would stop with or without him. “We would have made it before nightfall.”

He reined in his powerful warhorse. Hindle was stronger than your average warhorse and wasn’t overtly tired yet. But Garth knew his son was right. He still didn’t like it, knowing that the Foulsoul was out there, stalking them.

“We will stop here for the night.” Dabuk barked out to the others who were trailing the two rangers. “Bactra, Mesik, you’re with me. We need to get the animals fed and cleaned as quickly as possible.”

“I’ll do mine, Mesik’s, and Thessa’s,” Bactra pulled up next to his cousin’s larger horse. “You do Hindle and your own.”

The elven wizard dismounted quickly waving Mesik and Thessa over to him as they dismount. Dabuk quickly begin to remove his horse’s saddle, knowing Hindle will be fine for a while but that his horse won’t.

He keeps an eye on Bactra to make sure he’s handling the other mounts properly. He’ll double-check his cousin’s work to make sure the animals are fine. Not because he doesn’t trust Bactra, but because it is a good habit to have. One he learned from his father and grandfather. He knows his father will double-check his work as well.

Garth turns to the two giant men after they’ve caught their breath. “Gather as much firewood, grass, or anything else you can find that will burn.”

“Aye,” Kellin was tired but both he and Hougwarth were fairing better than the mounts. “We’ll find what we can.”

“And quickly, my friend.” Garth began studying the region, trying to judge the best spot for a defendable camp. “Mesik, help scout out the area. We need something defendable. Don’t worry about covertness.”

“Got it,” Mesik hands his mount over to Bactra.

“Thessa, stay close to Dabuk and Bactra.” Garth motions towards his son and nephew as he and Mesik walk off to scout the area.

“I’ll do better than that, I’ll help with the mounts.” Thessa soothes the tired ponies with few words and some humming.

All take to their tasks seriously and with haste. Garth watches as the sun begins to dip below the horizon.

“She’s out there. I can feel it.”

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

The Foulsoul and her minions:
The sun slowly sinks beyond the horizon, minutes stretch into hours. The group sits around a large fire, their backs to the flame. All are transfixed on the darkness beyond the firelight. The mounts are tied to a makeshift post, within the light’s radius but not so close as to make them uncomfortable. Garth checks on them every hour including the darkness beyond them. Dabuk prowls the camp from one side to the other.

“Ok, you are making me nervous.” Bactra stared at his cousin as he paced. “There isn’t anything out there.”

“Quiet.” Garth strode back towards the fire pointing at Bactra. “No arguments.”

Bactra sighed. It had been over three hours and still this vile enemy had not appeared. Bactra didn’t have any doubt about the elven woman’s identity but he refused to let her intimidate him. If she attacked alone, they would outnumber her seven to one. No matter how powerful this Foulsoul really was, she couldn’t possibly hope to stand against that many at once.

“I smell something.” Dabuk quickly unsheathed his sword. “Something familiar but different.”

Dabuk looked at Kellin then his father.

“I smell them too.” Kellin stands up not believing his senses. “What they are doing on land I do not know.”

“What is it?” Mesik had been sitting with Sheao laid on top of his knees. He stood holding the large knife in both hands.

“Merrow.”

“Damn it!” Garth swore.

“No, what I smell are ogres.” Dabuk was sure he smelled ogres beyond Kellin’s less offensive stench. “I’m positive.”

“Merrow are ogres, son.” Garth reached for one of his torches lit it and threw it out towards the darkness. “Aquatic ogres.”

“Aquatic ogres!” Dabuk knew the beasts lived almost everywhere but under the sea. It was almost too much to bear. His quest to wipe out the beasts just became larger than he ever imagined.

More torches were lit and thrown out towards the darkness. They had torn up the earth, cleared away the foliage, and cut a small firebreak around the camp. Light and shadow danced around the edge of the camp.

Then they came into view, over a dozen of them. They stood around the camp in a circle. Half their numbers were ogres, as well as the merrow.

“I told you there were ogres. Those other things are merrow, huh?”

“Indeed they are, whelp.” Avaniia came into view riding atop her steed. Gone were the trapping of nobility and beauty. Now she was dressed in black from head to toe. She wore padded armor dyed black. The symbol they’d seen stained on the wood in blood, at Burnholm, hung from a pendent around her neck. Her horse appeared sinister now, draped in blackened chain barding.

“The Foulsoul, I presume?” Garth snarled at the evil witch.

“You know my reputation, Justiciar. I too remember the name Tigerstorm. How is your father, well I presume?” Her words were envenomed silk.

“I will not play this game with you, witch.” Garth raised his sword urging her to attack. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Patience Justiciar, you will have the chance to prove yourself against the beasts.”

“It’s you I want, I don’t know how you resurrected yourself but I’m going to send you to your final judgement.”

“You don’t know the opposition you face.” Avaniia turned her mount away from the camp looking in the direction of Onaway. “A pity you didn’t make it to the city before nightfall. You could have witnessed its destruction firsthand.”

“We’re not impressed with your self-indulgent speech, witch.” Dabuk would have charged the first ogre he’d seen if not for his cousin’s calming hand on his shoulder.

“Ah, but you see, I could not have laid siege to Onaway with an army of ogres and giants successfully if, say, a group of travelers gave away the location of my forces to the city’s populace.”

“Would that include the ogres that killed the citizens of a small village southeast of here.” Mesik watched the witch, as a merrow hissed at him.

“You’ll have to be more specific than that.”

“Your evil heart will soon cease beating for your crimes!” Garth was livid.

“I don’t think so, you and traitor there might be a match for me on more even terms.” Avaniia sniffed in disdain at Kellin. “But the odds are hardly in your favor.”

“I am not a traitor to my friends and loved ones.” Kellin growls as he unsheathes his sword. “I do not serve Vaprak or your evil kind.”

The banter ends violently as the ogres and merrow attack. The heroes move to meet them. Avaniia laughs as Garth’s sword impacts a wall of force separating her from the erupting melee.

“NO,” is all Garth can yell before the Foulsoul turns her steed riding off into the night towards Onaway, while the ogres and merrow, on the other side of the magical wall, attack en masse.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

Versus the minions (part 1):
“She’s getting away,” Garth spits as he ducks a swinging club aimed for his head. “Damn wizards!”

“Hey!” Bactra looks hurt, but with a touch of elven sarcasm.

“You know what I mean!” Garth’s sword slashes out at a merrow that comes to close. The beast hisses striking out with its vicious claws, cutting the Justiciar’s face and neck. “Damn, I hate merrow!”

The heroes quickly find themselves caught with no where to turn but against more of the ogre-kin. Only the presence of Kellin and Hougwarth holds the tide back.

“There’s too many.” Mesik hisses quietly to Thessa. “We really should try to break though and retreat.”

“You know he won’t.” Thessa tries to see Dabuk through the legs of Hugh standing near her. She can only see the giant man’s blade slash down across the knees of a fallen ogre.

“Dabuk, look out!” Garth’s warning comes a moment too late. Several ogres pull the half-elven ranger away from the rest of the group.

“Dabuk!” Only Bactra’s eyes find his cousin in the dim light. He pours all his magical power into his next attack. One of the ogres feels the burning of an acid arrow penetrate his back.

The beast howls.

Then the companions all watch helplessly, as the ogres pound Dabuk into the ground with their great clubs.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont)

Versus the minions (part 2):
“We have to help him!” Bactra felt like his heart was dying. Dabuk was as close as family could be.

“We must defend ourselves first,” the words felt hollow to the Justiciar. “If more of us fall then all will be lost, including Dabuk. Magic may yet save his life.”

Garth watched as the two ogres stood over his son’s body. He wanted nothing more than to gut those two beasts. However, the foul merrow in front of him was determined to block his path. He lunged forward burying his sword up to its hilt.

“You don’t understand, you weren’t there!” Bactra looked at Mesik then back towards his fallen cousin. “We have to heal him before his soul passes on.”

“What are you blabbering about.” Garth knew watching his son die would be a hard lesson, but he knew several clerics and druids who could bring his son back. He’d have to abandon the mission, of course, but hopefully Carl would understand.

“It was years ago.” Mesik ran as he spoke. “Shortly after we first met Dvalin and Jeddar.”

The halfling dived under the legs of an ogre, coming up on his feet behind the beast. Sheao came loose from his scabbard slicing in a backward arc through the tendons of the ogre’s legs. The beast grunted trying to kick out at the small hairfoot. He fell to the ground instead, his hamstrings severed.

Bactra cast ice knife just in time to skewer the arm of an approaching merrow. “We took the oath with Mesik. All of us.”

“What oath are you-,” then it hit Garth in the heart. They had sworn their lives to the judgement of Hade’s Underrealm. “Damn, why didn’t he tell me this. Why didn’t you!”

Garth slashed out with his sword slicing off the head of the hamstrung ogre. He stood over Mesik, rage in his eyes.

“It was an oath amongst friends,” Mesik sidestepped a club blow. “It wasn’t meant for you or Carl to know.”

“What is this oath?” Hougwarth puts his knee into the back of an ogre grappling with Kellin. The beast’s spine makes a satisfying crunch.

“If he truly dies, he cannot be resurrected.” Mesik looked to Thessa. “You must come with me, now!”

Thessa reached out grabbing Mesik’s hand. Bactra follows behind as they approach the fallen ranger’s body and the two ogres guarding their kill. Garth can do nothing but pray as an ogre and merrow move to flank him.

* * *
 
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Knightfall

World of Kulan DM
The Alliance (cont.)

Versus the minions (part 3):
Thessa didn’t like their chances, a gnome and a halfling versus two ogres, with bloodlust in their souls. No, not good odds at all. Mesik on the other hand knew they could win. Big brutes like these never took him seriously. And besides, he was fighting for the life of his best friend.

“Thessa, stay with me and don’t spare the rod.” Mesik charged the two beasts, Sheao flashing in his hands.

The gnomish priestess summoned her courage and mace, charging forward with the halfling. He had been the first of them she’d met that day on Baervan’s Hill, but the others were just as much her comrades, no, her friends now.

The ogres couldn’t mask their confusion at seeing these little ones running towards them. Surely they should be fleeing. They hesitated.

Mesik did not.

He leapt at the chest of one of the brutes, driving his friend’s gift into the beast’s stomach. He refused to let go as the ogre began thrashing about howling in pain. Sheao had penetrated the beast’s stomach all the way up to the hilt. The beast’s thrashing twisted the blade in Mesik’s hand, slicing through skin and innards. Soon Mesik was covered in ogre ichor.

Thessa did not leap at the other ogre, who stood dumbfounded by his companion’s wound. The little gnome priestess swung her mace as hard as she could, breaking the beast’s knee with a resounding crunch. The beast’s eyes bulged out, as he swung his club at the small one who had hurt him. The weight of the swing and the damage to his knee ruined his aim. He barked in discomfort, as the small one’s weapon hit the back of his ankle on the other leg. He stumbled forward, collapsing onto his knees.

“Thessa, get to Dabuk. I’ll handle these two,” Mesik’s eyes told his friend that time was running short. “Go now!”

Without a word, Thessa ran towards Dabuk’s battered body. She began to pray to Baervan for the strength to save his life.

“Give me back my blade, you brute.” Mesik pulled with all his might, using his knees for leverage against the ogre’s stomach.

The beast had dropped its club and was trying to grab a hold of the halfling’s struggling, ichor slick form. Its breathing grew still and it began to fall forward, with Mesik under it.

“Well, this won’t do.” Mesik pulled one last time on Sheao and was happy to hear it slide out of the monster’s gut. The halfling rogue dropped to the ground and rolled out of the way just before the beast hit the ground. “That was too close.”

“Kill you,” Mesik felt a large fist slam into his back. The other brute was still down on his knees but its great reach meant it could attack Mesik just fine.

“I don’t think so, the blow had been glancing. “It is you who will be rotting soon.”

Mesik turned to face the brute. He ducked another punch, tumbled past the beast, and proceeded to drive Sheao into the ogre’s buttocks from behind. The beast howled.

He pulled Sheao free, tumbled away again before the beast could land another punch, and checked to see if Thessa had reached Bactra yet. He was happy to see both her and Bactra knelling over the fallen ranger. Mesik hadn’t even noticed Bactra go past him. Not that he blamed the elven lad for stay out of close quarter melee with two ogres. That was not Bactra’s style.

Mesik’s attention came back to the attacking ogre just in time to cut a deep gash on the beast’s fist as it swung at him again. The ogre hissed at him.

Then there was a flash of metal and the ogre’s head left its body. Mesik watched as Hougwarth kicked over the corpse, bent over, and wiped his blade on the grass.

“I was just about to do that,” Mesik nodded to the fallen beast.

“Yes, but my way was quicker.” Hugh was bleeding from several wounds but looked as though he’d survive. “Besides, I need the practice.”

Mesik would have laughed if his mind hadn’t been on Dabuk the whole time. He and Hougwarth looked toward the fallen ranger. The other had already gathered around, too see if Thessa’s healing magic had been in time.

Mesik could only hope, as he ran towards his fallen guild brother.

* * *
 
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