Last Stand of the Dorinthians

Deuce Traveler

The trip was uneventful, but difficult, as the party and their gnome companions had to trail blaze across uneven land. The ground began to become hilly after the third day, and a rain came down causing some of the already wet land to become marshy. The group trudged along, completely frustrated by their slow progress, when a piercing scream shattered the stillness.

One of the gnomes on the flanks had a snake-like, gray tendril wrapped around his neck. He gave one more shout, but the tendril yanked him into a pool of dirty water. The liquid writhed unnaturally, and before anyone could react, the gnome's screams and thrashings stopped and his skin began to dissolve to the bone. The liquid pool then moved towards the party.

Tendrils, Pool, Flesh dissolving...

"For the all consuming fires! What's that?!"

Alexander looked around for a fallen branch or a stone, anything which could serve as a weapon; the way in which the gnome's flesh was dissolved didn't suggest that his "fangs" would remain usable after hitting it. He did see some large branches from dead trees that could be ripped off and used as either batons or spears.

Meanwhile, Silas choked down rising nausea as he saw the gnome's flesh stripped from his body. " 'Ware, my friends!" he called out, pointing towards the small pool. Seeing Alexander casting about for a weapon he yelled, "Alexander!" Silas tossed his quarterstaff to the warrior and, keeping well away from the pool, drew a torch from his pack and began to light it. I hope fire is effective against this abomination.

Alexander turned to face the... creature... caustic pond... whatever it was... and when it came near enough, the half orc struck at it.

"Prepare to retreat! I'm not sure if we can harm this!"

(Player's Question to DM: Does the "thing" leave a trail of dissolved stone? grass?...DM's answer: Why yes it does!) :)

Everyone stoof back as Alexander attacked the creature. He struck true, but his staff dissolved as soon as he made contact, although the force of the blow seemed to have angered it. The creature struck at Alexander with a tendril, but the half-orc nimbly danced aside.

"Let us not bother with this distraction," the nimble elf priest suggested. "Surely we can out pace it?"

Damn it!... Lucky it didn't get my flesh.

Holding the churned piece of wood Alexander started a cautious retreat, trying to evade the creature.

"I don't like leaving it able to make its way into some unsuspecting village but I fear that we have little that we can do against it. Does anyone know what that thing is?" Silas also retreat alongside Alexander, grasping the lit torch as if it were a weapon.

"Run!" Shouted Phly Loughphray. The group of adventurers and gnomes decided this was an excellent idea.

After exhausting themselves, they left the creature behind and out of sight. Thankfully no one got stuck in the mud. It took two more miserable, rainy days for everyone to reach Loughphray Burrows, the underground settlement of the gnomes. The people there seemed happy to see help arrive, although they sometimes threw a wary glance in Rix's direction.

Rix scowled, although he appraised the fortifications with a deprecating eye. Gnomes always lacked something when it came to their defenses. When given wary and unapproving looks, the kobold gave an air of utter disdain and reproach for the gnomes, as if they were below him, passing them by as if they were nonexistant.

The gnomes had dug a series of living areas inside the hills, although barracks and towers were manned outside the settlements. Some of the towers seemed quickly patched up, as if damaged before. Alexander had some trouble fitting into the tunnels, but otherwise managed himself well. After a day of rest, Silas was given a new quarterstaff that a gnome craftsman helped create from the abjurer's specifications.

Indifferent about where his quest has taken him this time, Alexander looked at the patched up towers with a critical eye... Death traps for the defenders. When he was informed that the barracks and living quarters are inside the hills, he struggled to contain a caustic critique: The kobolds could break in wherever they please within the complex through tunneling.

The party received a briefing from Harindan Loughphray, the clan leader of the hills. "Thank you for coming, adventurers. I've been told about your talents from Phly. Recently we've suffered badly from several attacks from goblins and kobolds. The kobold attacks have been the toughest, and we've suffered some horrible damage to our defenses. I doubt we can take another one or two assaults. I am hoping that we can go on the offensive using you as our shock troops. The two threats are coming from the Hound Totem clan of goblins southeast of here, and the kobold tribes to the southwest. The goblins have a population of a few hundred people, but we recently discovered the headquarters of their shaman who is uniting them. He has done so by finding a valuable totem staff, which is an important symbol of clan leadership and an item from the Hound Totem clan's mythology. Kill the shaman, or steal his totem staff, and the goblins will fall into chaos. Or we hope, anyway. We will pay 100gp to each of you if you present us with either the shaman's head or his totem staff. Also, the goblins have been getting new equipment lately. Find out who their supplier is and bring back proof, and we'll throw in an extra 50gp each."

"The kobolds are a greater mystery to us. We have always fought with the Lizard Scale, Hill Delver, and Two Horned tribes. Now a fourth tribe has appeared and quickly dominated the other three. This group is called the Dragon Eye tribe, and has somehow dominated its neighbors to the point that they are willing to conduct suicidal attacks against us. We know we have wiped out a huge number of Lizard Scale, Hill Delver, and Two Horned kobolds, but they keep coming and we are nearly exhausted. Kobolds are not insane, so we do not understand why they would be willing to kill themselves in futile mass assaults in order to destroy us. Find out what is going and try to break the control of the Dragon Eye tribe. We do not know their base of operations, but we know they are somewhere to the southwest. The kobolds still number close to a thousand, while we are down to a population of six hundred. Stop these kobold attacks and be rewarded with 200gp each."

"So gentlemen. Where will you go first?"

Rix thought of what he knew about the various kobold tribes. He knew that the kobolds met in the abandoned town were refugees from the Lizard Scale tribe, although they fled the area due to an attack of goblins. They did not mention other kobolds, and the rogue did not ask for more information before he left them. The Lizard Scale tribe was the stronger of the tribes in this area, followed by the Hill Delver tribe and the Two Horned tribe. Rix had never heard of the Dragon Eye tribe before, so they were probably from somewhere further west and beyond the hills.

After the day of rest, during the briefing by Harindan Loughphray, Rix listened at the tales of the goblin tribes creating problems for the gnomes. Better than for the kobolds. Although the information that the various kobold tribes were being forced under the heel of this Dragon Eye tribe caused him to listen more closely. It was rare for his kin to hurl themselves without avail at gnomes. They preferred ambush and hit-and-run tactics to destroy the morale of their enemies. Although, now that he thought about it, this endless assault method had a sort of demoralizing effect nonetheless.

"Have you been expanding your paltry little hill into the lands of the goblins or my kin? That would certainly invite enmity from both, particularly goblins, they are brutish territorial creatures without a sense of proper community."

The gnome leader ignored his tone and answered, "There are always skirmishes between the kobolds, goblins, and us. Occasionally it breaks out into a larger conflict, but this is different somehow. The kobolds and goblins became united at about the same time and avoided attacks against each other, concentrating solely on us. It is very unusual for kobolds and goblins to avoid combat against one another, but perhaps they've reached an agreement of sorts."

Shaman's head... Totem staff... Dragon Eye chieftan's head...

"So... should we cut the goblin's head before they rise? Or should we stop the flow of kobold attacks before they wipe out the community?"
Alexander asksed the clan leader. Kobolds and goblins won't remain united for long, if the kobolds are weakened, the goblins migh jump at their throat... Once the strongest wolf is wounded, the others will prey on him, growing reckless in their attack. "Kobolds should be our priority."

"By the way... just in case: we are not cannon fodder"

Silas gathered the party in the corner of the meeting room and conferred with his companions. "It seems to me that with more solid information concerning the goblins we should begin there, even though the kobolds seem the greater threat. I hesitate to go stumbling about the woods and hills where the kobolds are known to roam with little information to direct our steps to the lair of the Dragon Eye tribe. Though if the gnomes cannot survive another wave of attacks from the kobolds..." With a shrug Silas trailed off as he realized he was beginning to argue for both sides. "What say you, Rix?"

"Silas has it correct, the goblins are what we know about. If we can cut off the head of the goblin tribes, they will collapse upon themselves. Then, I can meet with the kobolds and we'll see where that goes." Rix glared at the gnome, the disdain for him and his kin easily apparent.

"I guess we shouldn't let a minor threat grow..." Alexander didn't look happy at the turn of events, fighting two fronts isn't something he was used to.

He turned to the gnome, "Can the community stand another kobold attack while we are working on the goblin tribes?"

"We can try and probably have a better chance," was the answer. "The kobolds have been attempting assaults on our outer defenses ever since we've flooded some of their tunnels they had been digging in order to get to us. Ironically, they've had more success this way after we drowned out many of their diggers. On the other hand, we lost so many of our own men after the kobolds collapsed a tunnel on us trying to do the same that defense is just about all we can handle right now."

I'm not sure to like it but... The one last resource would be collapsing all the tunnels to the surface until the threat is gone, making breath-grates at hidden locations at the surface.

Alexander thought quietly, pondering upon who knew what... waiting for someone to propose a better (and not that risky) alternative...

Once the prey refuges in its hole, the only exit are the wolf's jaws...

"It seems we are mostly in agreement then." Silas glanced over at the two elves to see if they had anything to add. "And rested. Are we ready to set out?"

The party was in agreement and headed off, successfully following the map given to them by the gnomes. It took two uneventful days of following a small creek in the hills before a valley opened up below, showing a large wooden stockade, which was the headquarters of the goblin shaman. The stockade had nine different buildings, and a two-level wooden structure standing in the center. It was still a quarter of a mile away from the party's position, and the party members could see humanoid activity on the 15-foot walls watching for signs of approaching danger. There also did not appear to be any vegetation around the walls that they might use for cover. It would be difficult to find a way inside without the adventurers being caught.

The stockade looked well built, and the keener eyes had doubts that it was goblin in origin, but this was still the place indicated by the gnome map.

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Deuce Traveler

Chapter 2- Illusions

"Approaching during the day would be foolish at best, although at night we'd would still have to be cautious once we get closer. Goblins can see in the dark up to a certain point." Rix hunched down, making him no higher than most of the taller folks' shins.

"We have little resources at our disposal for this venture," Rix clicked his nails once, what could be taken as a scowl on his face. "A fire might draw their attention to one side, then we could scale the opposite wall. Fifteen feet is not so high with the knotted-rope and a grappling hook." The dragonkin nodded towards Alexander's pack which had both of those mentioned tools.

"I imagine the central building is where the shaman houses himself as well. We might as well set up camp on this ridge for a short time, watch their activities and remain out of sight. The more we know, the better, we're already at quite the disadvantage."

"Your strategem is sound Rix," Kel said amicably as he settled unto to the ground to watch the camp.

"Rix and I should move first in case any guard stays in spite of the fire. We'd bring him down, and then the rest of you can get up there so that we may continue into the building," Alexander shifted his weight from one foot to another and reluctantly added: "A neat plan indeed Rix"

"We must find somewhere to remain until darkness falls..." Alexander started scanning the terrain, searching for any covered place before the barren land besides the goblin fortress. And he added a thought that had been floationg on his mind, "...depending on the numbers of guards we observe in the meantime, our plans might change. We might have better luck waiting for someone to enter the stronghold, or, however improbable, the shaman to come out of it."

Silas nodded. "A fair plan, indeed. Though my vision at night is highly impaired I think I can manage. Now about this fire. Are we setting it away from the stockade with the hopes they will send someone out to investigate? Or are we attempting to set the stockade itself afire?"

"It will be difficult to set the wall on fire. Perhaps if we can observe a while longer we may notice a weakness we have not yet. Alexander, perhaps we should scout around to view it from different angles, since it may reveal something we've missed."

The party spent the rest of the day observing, and into an uneventful night. The adventurers weren't impressed by the goblins' sense of watch duty. They switched guards on the ramparts every four hours, but the guards on the wall tended to relieve themselves whenever they felt like, not always waiting for their replacements. During the late afternoon a contingent of six goblins went out on a feeble patrol and came back an hour later. There didn't seem to be a password to enter, and the double doors were opened when they were sighted returning. Overall, it seemed they had less of a sense of the military than what their well-designed fort would indicate.

"Well that tells a story eh? But can we use any of the story to our advantage?" Kel mused as the evening darkened. "Discounting their ability to see in the dark, is there any reason why we shouldn't move out tonight? If we're going to use fire as our cover could Rix perhaps sneak around to the other side of the fort, light something on fire and distract them while the rest of us get over the wall?"

The party estimated the size of the structure and realized that the stockade was roughly circular, and nearly 250 feet in diameter. The goblins used a minimum amount of torch light inside the fort and along the top of the outer wall.

Alexander nodded at Kel's words after this observation. "We could move in tonight, but where should we create the distraction?" Alexander let his words hang in the air a couple of seconds and added: "Rix is right, scouting the walls is necessary before we do anything. Aside from finding possible weaknessess on the walls we coud eliminate some guards without rising the alarm with a fire, and therefore not have all the fortress awake."

"Do any of you have oil? That would be the easiest way to secure a fire, otherwise we would need torches and something easily flammable, dry brush for instance." Rix nodded towards the half-orc, "Why don't the three of you scrounge up some dry brush that we can move easily, tie it together if you have to. So we can set the fire up swiftly. A few lit torches into dry brush placed near that section," the kobold gestured towards the eastern side of the stockade, "should stir up enough of a fire to give us a chance to climb the western side. For now, that's the idea, although Alexander and I will scout out the surroundings and see if there's a better location."

During scouting, Rix and Alexander discovered that there were several spots, from all directions of the fort, where they could light a fire that would be somewhat contained. Anywhere outside these spots would likely start a fire that would burn through the rest of the surrounding forest. The closest area of concealment was on the western side of the stockade, where shrubs and trees were only 30 feet away. The doors to the stockade were on the northern side.

When Alexander returned from scouting he informed the others of what had been discovered. "The western side will provide cover from where we can make a rush to the wall, then Rix should set afire some bushes by the western side... combined with green leaves, we want plenty of smoke so that they notice the fire"

Then he commented to Rix: "After litting the fire the safest would be for you to make it to the western wall by the fortress' south."


"Once we are done with the shaman we shouldn't have trouble escaping... right?"
The party looked hopeful, but none answered his question.

When night fell Rix lit a fire more than 100 feet from the eastern side of the stockade. The kobold ran back as fast as he could, heading towards where the party had gathered. It took about five or six minutes for the fire to really take hold, causing a shout from the goblins on watch.

The goblins on the western side moved to check out the distraction, allowing Alexander to rush forward with his grapple and rope, catch hold of the top of the wall, and climb up. He peered over the top and noticed that the immediate area was clear of goblins, then signaled the rest to come up. Rix got back just as Silas made it over the top, and climbed the rope behind the abjurer.

The party was now on the top of the defensive wall. A ladder and a half-dozen buildings could be seen below, the largest lying in the center. They counted around 20 visible goblins, which were either opposite of the group or heading to the eastern wall to view the glowing flames.

Silas quickly scanned the interior of the stockade looking for a good hiding place and a location to retreat to and make a stand if that should become necessary. He moved to the ladder, but saw movement.

Rix smiled, stupid goblins, easy enough so far. In a sibilant whisper, "That way," pointing out the ladder, "the quicker we get this over with, the better."

Silas held Rix back with a hand gesture, as two goblins walked by the bottom of the ladder and towards where their comrades were gathering to watch the fire. After they disappeared around a building, Alexander and Rix climbed down the ladder followed by the rest of the party. They headed towards the central buidling, and hid in the shadows created by its side and near the side of another structure. The building had double doors on the first floor, but no windows. It was rectangular in shape, although a balcony hovered on the second floor, hanging over the front doors. This was likely used by the shaman to make announcements to the troops when assembled.

Silas stayed close to the wall and did his best to blend within its shadow. He pointed up at the balcony. "Think we can get up there?"

At Silas' words Alexander grinned and pulled out the grappling hook again, looking out for any goblin movement. As none was noticed, Alexander swung his rope and grapple, successfully connecting with the balcony. He went up first, followed by the rest of the group. It got pretty crowded by the time that Silas pulled up the rear. A pair of doors were accessible from the balcony, leading into the second floor.

Silas returned Alexander's grin and crouched out of the way of the door to give Rix free access to it. He glanced out over the stockade, keeping an eye on the goblins gazing out at the fire.

Rix fished out a slender set of lockpicks from his pack and examined the door, checking for traps. Finding none, he opened the doors to reveal a meeting room. A simple, but large chair rested in front of the party, dominating a rectangular table and seven, smaller chairs. The room was 30 feet long, by 20 feet wide. Doors led to the south, east, and west.

Kel carefully moved into the room and, now that he was inside and the moonlight couldn't give him away, drew his long sword, "Huntress guide my steps tonight, let the hunt be swift and deadly." he intoned quietly in a rich sing-song voice.

Rix moved to investigate one of the doors, while Kel strode boldly beside him, standing ready to gaurd him from any attack.

"Which door?" Alexander unsheathed his scimitar quietly as he entered the room, and froze still for a moment to listen...Trying to hear where the goblins might be.

Silas gripped his staff and stepped into the room. He began to review words of divine power, just in case they stumbled into combat.

Rix combed the room over with his trained eye... suredly the largest chair was where the shaman would sit during council. The three doors were of interest however.

Although Rix and Alexander heard nothing from the other two doors, they detected the sound of quick shuffling and muffled talk from the door to the east (left side from those entering from the balcony). It sounded like a few people moving around, although they couldn't discern what was being said.

There was nothing else found in the room. Although, it was observed that the door to the west was closer to the balcony than the door to the east.

Alexander moved his head towards towards Rix to be certain that he caught the sound proceding from the eastern door, and added in hushed tones: "See if that one is his room" -he motioned with his scimitar to the western door- "I'll keep guarding the other door."

He motioned for the others to be ready to defend either of the doors.

Rix nodded to Alexander, checked the other door over with trained ease, then opened the lock with ease and found the room empty. He motioned for the rest of the party to follow him inside. The room was similar in dimensions to the last one, 20 feet wide east to west, while 30 feet wide north to south. A small, plain bed lied in the southwest corner. A tall, thin closet lied open against the east wall, although it was currently open and empty. The blankets on the bed were thrown to the side, and a dirty nightshirt lied on the floor. A cabinet had several drawers open, as if someone went through their clothes quickly. It looked like someone left in a hurry.

Kel moved back into the chamber with the three doors, his long sword held loosely in his hand. Going to the door that Alexander had been about to crack open, he waited alongside Alexander while the kobold did his thing.

In a hush, raspy voice Alexander asked, "Ready to take our chances?" He motioned towards the door the shuffling came from, "Or should we lure them here?".

As Kel opened his mouth to debate whether or not to enter the other room, the eastern door opened, and a humanoid with the head of a hyena poked its head into the room. Upon seeing the party he growled something, threw open the door, and moved to attack, followed by two other dog-headed creatures. The first one wielded a battle-axe, while its two comrades moved to attack with clubs.

Rix dodged under the table, hoping to put good cover between himself and the hyena-like creatures and hoping that they would focus on the tall folk.

Silas took a step back from the creatures and casted shield.

Alexander nimbly dodged two of the creatures, the one with the battle-axe missing the half-orc and lodging itself into and through the room's table, causing Rix's eyes to widen in surprise. The hyena-headed being ripped the axe out of the surface and turned to meet Alexander's counter-attack, but too late...

Alexander drove his scimitar deep into his enemy's chest with deadly strength and precision, causing the humanoid to cough a stream of blood and fall dead. Alexander took the brunt of a savage club attack, but was immediately healed by a quick-thinking Kel.

Swiftly removing the scimitar from under the hyena-man's ribs, while he ignored the one in front of him, Alexander turned to the gnoll who just hit him, both stabbing under its ribs and slashing at its shoulder.

"Capture the other one!" He yelled.

Alexander killed the second creature before it moved to strike at him. The third and final hyena-faced creature backed off from the party and moved out of the room and into the balcony. Silas fired a crossbow bolt, but missed it as the bolt soared over the creature's head and past the balcony. Kel also missed with the flat of his longsword, as the creature ran past his position by the doors to the outside. Rix fired his own weapon, striking it on the shoulder. It snarled, dropped its club, and leapt off the balcony to land below.

Alexander dropped his scimitar and made haste to the balcony while taking his longbow into his hands. Alexander notched an arrow and let fly, hitting the enemy in between its shoulder blades. The creature fell to its knees and died from its wounds.

The party's adrenaline began to dissipate. But they had a problem. There were two dead hyena-headed creatures in the room, and one below the balcony. Also, a large gash was visible in the wooden table of the room they were standing in. And they didn't know how much longer the fire would distract the goblins...

Deuce Traveler

Chapter 2- Illusions (and introducing Dartis!)

Silas followed after Alexander and quickly secured his weapon. "Alexander, your rope..." He motioned towards the edge of the balcony and the dog-headed creature below. "We need to get that body up here to hide it. And quickly!" He looked back to the room to see if the sounds of their combat attracted other attention.

"Search for something that could be the Shaman's Staff," added Alexander as he lodged the grapple into the balcony to descend for the corpse.

Alexander climbed down into the courtyard and tied the body quickly to the end of the rope. Before climbing back up, he tossed the creature's club to the balcony, which was caught by Silas. He climbed up, and with the help of Silas, began to haul up the corpse with the creaking cord. The corpse was almost to the top when a small group of goblins in leather armor and carrying swords walked underneath the balcony. Silas and Alexander silently held the rope, sweat beading on their foreheads from the exertion of holding the body steady and quiet. Finally, the group continued on and around the building, causing the duo to breathe easier and pull the body the rest of the way up. The half-orc wiped a drop of sweat from his forehead. "That was a close one..."

Silas and Alexander checked the new room to the east while Rix checked the west room once more. The eastern room was 30 feet north to south, and 20 feet east to west. Three floor mats lied close to the southern wall. A small desk was in the southwest corner, but held nothing of interest except for some parchment and writing utensils. Silas took a moment to relax and sigh with relief at avoiding detection by the goblins. While continuing his search, Silas did notice a letter written in a foreign language and pocketed it for later study. If only I had a moment to examine it with my magics it may reveal some important information. He sighs wistfully then glances over at Alexander. "Find anything?"

"Found nothing, What about you? If the dogs were searching for the staff we should have waited for them to face the goblins and cover us... too late for that."

Silas tugged the letter from where he had tucked it. "A letter. I should be able to decipher it when I have a few minutes in a safe place. Unless you can read it...? Silas held the letter out for Alexander's inspection. At Alexander's comments Silas shrugged. "Maybe they were working with the goblins. The shaman may have used them to hold onto his position and power." He shrugged again.

Meanwhile, on searching the western room again, Rix discovered a large sack underneath the bed, which wasn't explored before. A quick search of the cabinet revealed mostly old clothes, but Rix also found a plain amber stone (worth about 10 gp). Rix moved to check on Alexander and Silas, a smile on his face as he happily noticed that he could hear coins clinking inside the sack. But then his ears detected someone talking and approaching from outside the southern door.

Rix froze, "Silence!" His whisper was more a command. He drew his crossbow, pointing it towards the southern door. "Someone is coming. Alexander, flank the door," he whispered again. He fell back to a concealed location, his crossbow ready to fire.

Silas quickly stuffed the letter into his tunic and grasped his quarterstaff with both hands preparing for battle. Silas then moved to the side of the door opposite of Alexander.

Kel hid in the room with the bed, while Silas and Alexander flanked either side of the door. Rix watched from his hidden spot as the door opened and five goblins entered ahead of a sixth wearing shamanic clothing and carrying a primitively decorated staff.

As the first two goblins entered Alexander yelled "Now!" Unfortunately, the half-orc lost his grip on his scimitar, which took off like a thrown projectile and nearly slashed a gash into Silas. The abjurer was unaffected by the close call, and promptly smashed in the head of the closest goblin.

Rix fired at a startled goblin and caught him just under the jaw, felling him. From his prone position he coolly loaded another bolt.

The shamanic goblin took a step back and ordered his three remaining guards to push forward as he raised his staff and points it towards the party.

Loading another bolt, Rix aimed at the shaman, hoping that his companions could deal with the lead goblins easily enough.

Silas gritted his teeth as he realized Alexander's misfortune and his close call, and swung again.

Alexander, unable to help the humor of the ridiculous situation, half-smiled and shooted out to Silas a "Sorry!" Thanks, you dog headed bastard, he thought as he retrieved the battleaxe he had taken from the dead gnoll.

Rix fired his crossbow bolt, but missed the goblin shaman. The humanoid makes a grotesque smirk, pointed his staff at Rix and said "Diraak". Suddenly the room was pitched in a darkness so thick that it partially blinded even those that could normally see without light.

Silas swung his staff blindly, connecting with something hard that caused him to loose his grip and drop his weapon. Alexander thrusts in the direction of where the nearest goblin was last and was answered by a shrill shriek and a cry in an unknown language. He dropped the corpse off his punch dagger, but suddenly gasped in pain as a blade glanced off his ribs.

Kel whispered a pray to The Huntress, also known as the Rider, a glow of light then forming around his body, dispelling the darkness.

Rix had helf his action, but with the room lit fired once more and dropped another goblin.

One goblin stood left, looking as if he was about to run. However, the goblin shaman was no longer visible in the doorway, although you the hard steps of boots fleeing downstairs were heard.

Rix darted out onto the balcony, reloading his crossbow and keeping his head down, "I'll see if I can cut off an escape this way, maybe run him down."

"Vermin!" Alexander spitted out as he, ignoring both the remaining goblin and the wound on his flesh, took up the chase down the stairs, ready to fall onto the shaman.

Silas shot Kel a grin in thanks for the light, then turned towards the sole remaining goblin. His eyes flicked to Kel and back to the goblin as he said, "You're in for it now, my little friend." Though he was still grinning, his eyes were cold. Knowing Kel could deal with the goblin quickly Silas reached down to scoop up his staff.

The lone goblin seemed to understand Silas' words and turns to run, but not before the blade of Kel pierced it through the back.

The abjurer then ran down the stairs, following Alexander. He was shocked to see Alexander a good distance away and so separated from the party. The half-orc was already down the stairs and running towards the goblin shaman and a several panicked goblins, while the shaman was desperately trying to open the front doors to the building.

Seeing the danger. the shaman yelled a command to the group of five confused goblins. They didn't have time to draw weapons when the half-orc began to attempt to run by them. In desperation, they leapt at Alexander, frantically clawing at his limbs and back in an effort to stop his charge, but with a roar the half-orc ignores them, slamming into the elder goblin's back.

The doors to the outside courtyard exploded open, six goblins and an enraged half-orc sprawling across the earth outside. A scimitar landed blade-down into the earth within arms reach of Alexander as he drug himself up. Alexander looked up to see Kel waving to him from the balcony, just as Rix fired a crossbow, catching the goblin shaman with a deep wound into his back, and interrupting another darkness spell from his staff.

Alexander was now among a group of enemies, alone it would seem, except for an abjurer bearing down on the backs of the recovering goblins.

Silas: If we don't end this quickly the whole camp will be roused and we'll be done for... (DM's note: Yep!)

In a fury, Silas rushed down the stairs and charged towards the goblins hoping to take advantage of their disarray. He brandished his quarterstaff and swung at the first goblin he came to. Meanwhile, Kel took a chance and leapt down, taking damage but not breaking any bones.

Huntress... Grant me the strength and the swiftness needed for what lies ahead... Alexander stood up, grasping the scimitar to help himself, ready to face off whatever came his way... be it goblins or be it death. This is the only chance we have, as soon as we get it, we get out.

Rix calmly reloaded his crossbow, took aim at the shaman and loosened another bolt which missed.

The shaman saw Rix loading another bolt and pointed his staff upwards at the same time. "Diraak." Everthing around Rix became as dark as night, limiting his ability to see. Rix fired once more at the last known location of the goblin before navigating blindly through the room and towards the stairs.

As the shaman cast his spell, and Rix disappeared in a globe of magical darkness. Alexander watched the shaman's triumphant sneer disappear as a bolt flew downwards and struck the goblin in the shoulder. Two goblins missed the half-orc as he charged forward, although a third's blow glanced off a shoulder.

Silas was also struck with a weak slice, and Kel took a slash across an arm.

Silas swung desperately at his attacker, felling him. Kel did the same, his swing killing his opponent.

The goblin shaman noticed that Alexander was almost upon him, but only had time to shriek in fear as the half-orc sliced off his right hand with his punch dagger, then nearly cleaved his torso in two with his scimitar with two critically amazing hits. As the goblin shaman fell, so did his staff. The remaining goblins stared at it greedily as they moved to claim the symbolic item for theirselves.

Kel recited a prayer (the spell bless) to the Huntress as he moved.

Though Silas was focused on the combat around him, a small portion of his mind seized upon the words of the fallen goblin shaman. Diraak. Diraak. I wonder what language that is? Silas moved in Alexander's wake, ready to strike any nearby goblin a hefty clout from his quarterstaff. "The staff. The staff... muttered Silas under his breath.

Alexander freed his left hand to reach out for the staff. Jaws clenched, biting hard to drive off the pain, Alexander started a cautious retreat towards the fortress' wall.
Not wanting to waste his diminished strength, he shifted to a defensive position, knocking blades off their path to his flesh and growling low. As he moved, he yelled out "Retreat!"

Kel attacked the nearest goblin, injuring it. With a grunt, the elf avoided the goblin's counter-swing and joined Alexander in flight.

Silas swung at the goblin that was attacking Alexander, felling it with a sickening strike to the neck from his quarterstaff.

Suddenly the party felt energized and hopeful as Rix also appeared, and shooting another crossbow bolt, connecting with and dropping another goblin.

Alexander led the party to the closest portion of the wall, which happened to be next to the main doors. The large doors of the stockade looked heavy, but could be opened with a strong push. Unfortunately, a large wooden beam hung across the back of the doors, making it impossible to open without lifting it off its metal hangers. As the party struggled to lift the beam off, a horn was blown from where they had just retreated, most likely from the injured gobling they had left.

A large group of enraged goblins appeared and poured towards the party, funneled between two long, wooden buildings. With a strong heave from Kel and Alexander, the wooden beam was finally removed. The party struggled to push open the main doors, which inched slowly open as the mob approached...

Seeing the goblin horde bearing down on them Silas, with renewed vigor, threw his weight and strength into opening the stockade gates. As soon as it was wide enough to slip through he said, "Go! Go!" then slipped through himself. He made a dash for the cover of the treeline.

Looking over his shoulder, Alexander sighed. He would have wanted nothing more than showing to those cowardly vermin the power of a servant of the Huntress... but it is to no avail... Sometimes my desires go against her words... Wounded as he was, and holding what he was holding, he couldn't afford a savage death in a retributive blaze.

Good night then.

Alexander hastily ran for the shield of the green wilderness.

The party flew into the woods, small parties of goblins in pursuit. After an hour of running combat, they were able to successfully lose their pursuers along with a trail of bleeding goblins. Another hour went by, and the group began to feel safe, taking a moment to rest at the banks of a swiftly flowing creek that was 20 feet wide and near some tall trees. They believed there may be a safer place to cross further north, but there the current looked dangerously strong. As they drank from the waters they heard the sound of hounds barking in the distance. Worgs, Alexander realized.

At the first bark, Alexander rises with a sudden move and stood still for a pair of seconds... reminiscent of an animal who feels some alteration in the environment. "Lupines possessed by evil spirits... and goblins that ride them."

"They might sound as if they are far in the distance, but they have demons of wind on their legs..." Alexander starts retrieving the two coils of rope he had, removing the grapple from the one tied to it, along with his bow...

"Evil spirits?" Silas shook his head wearily, his energy drained from the last few hours. "What do you suggest we do?"

"They are corrupted hunters..." Alexander affixed firmly the end of one of the coils of rope to an arrow with some leather cords. "So maybe they dare cross the creek," he set the arrow on his bow, pulled with great strenght, and shot at the trunk of one of the trees on the next shore. "But only once they know were we crossed it... and what kind of madman would swim with this current?".

Holding the rope with one hand, he tied the other end onto a harness around his chest. "No one will swim. I'll cross once all others have crossed, helped by your pull." He returned the grapple and the other rope to the backpack, as well as put the bow to its place.

"Can't best their flesh, so best their cunning... or you are dead," All the while, Kel and Rix cleaned the sorrounding area, erasing as much of trail the party had left here.

As he remembered the beastial creatures from when the orcs and their goblins destroyed his tribe, a raven grin spread across Rix's face. Should he see one, he would have been more than happy to plant a few bolts into one.

"Once you have the rope affixed, I may be the swiftest to go across. I may not even need to swim, but just scale across the rope." He secured his gear tightly, lashing his weapons closely to his pack.

The kobold went across first, then ensured the rope was secured properly on the other side. It began to come loose after Silas came across, but with Rix's help the rope is tied
strongly against the middle of a large tree. The rest of the group came across afterwards, Alexander guarding the rear. The party fled further up a nearby hill, stopping in time to look down and see a couple of worgs with goblin riders sniffing at the bank they had just left. With another howl the worgs are led by their riders in a fruitless search for a way to cross. Happily, the party was able to continue, and arrived at the gnome hills without further incident and collect their reward.

A few other Dorinthians had made a home out of one of the chambers inside the gnome tunnels. Baron Dartis Kalnian, an experienced warrior and member of Dorinth's royal family, stepped from the cavern the Dorinthian volunteers made into their home and asked to be able add his combat expertise to the group.

The goblin totem staff was supposed to be a goblin artifact capable of causing the sun to disappear, earthquakes to be felt, and death magic to destroy its enemies. As Horacios
Tanastigan, the gnomish expert on enchantments, discovered, the staff's magic was actually a fake. A wand of darkness was hidden in the shaft of a normal staff and was
activated with a command word. It was suggested that the staff was a faked copy of a possibly existent artifact and that the wand simulated one of the legendary items' effects. This allowed the shaman to claim leadership of the tribes. Horacios' chuckle disappeared as he explains these facts and seems to be disturbed by what they mean. He expressed a doubt that a goblin shaman could have created such a thing. Horacios handed the wand back to Alexander, then threw the now-worthless staff away.

Next stop: Kobolds!


First Post

I've read a few posts and it looks like a good story. I hope you don't mind if I pick up a few spoilers along the way, I'll try not to use any ooc knowlege in character.
It's funny, and it explains a lot about the current party's affection for the elves, but I didn't know that Kel had actually been a member of the party. I guess that makes Barok's attitude all the more jarring :p. I also wasn't aware that the party had started out as entirely non-human and that the campaign which turned out to be about a war of liberation for a human nation from human enemies had started out so differently (Though I guess it still runs circles around the main problem, probably since the main enemies are too tough to deal with for now). That changes my perspective on the game a little and makes it all the more interesting.
Anyway... Good work. Keep it up. I'll be reading (If you let me ;))

Deuce Traveler

You are free to read all you want and make posts, as are others. The past clues are important to the overall story, and I don't think Barok would have been completely oblivious to those events since he has been travelling with the group for some time now. And yes, we went from an entirely non-human party trying to save the humans to an almost entirely human party now. Quite some changes. Not all those humans, interestingly enough, are Dorinthians, however.

Deuce Traveler

The first move that Alexander made when he arrived was to find out if some kobold movements against the gnomes were perceived, but he heard no further news from Dartis, who was among the initial welcomers.

The young man who approached the group upon their return had all the look of the aristocracy of Dorinthia. The tall bearing and look of confidence was often manifested as arrogance. But the man moved with a subtle grace and fluidity, perhaps indicitive of many ball-room dances.

However, as he talked the party could see that he was no foppish court dandy. His armor was sweat-stained and riven in several places. The ease of his movements were due to years in the saddle. A well worn bow lied across his back and a decorated, but well used sword hung at his belt. No, this was not some sycophant of the king, but a member of the nobility that had maintained the tradition of mounted might that had kept Dorinthia strong for many years.

As he continued his discussion, a genuine smile was on his lips and he extended his hand several times in greeting to each party member, only to lower it when greeted by simple nods. The smile never left though.

"Greetings. Baron Dorin has asked me to join you in doing what we can to continue the fight. I am Baron Dartis Kalnian. The title still comes new to my tongue. I am the last of my house it seems." He said this as the smile faded from his face. "So, until my lands are no longer under the shadow of Tallione, please call me Dartis. Now I have a bow and a sword and wish to use them in defense of my home land in whatever mannner I may. To what end are we to put them?"

Kel greeted Dartis Kalnian with indifference Why am I doing this? He thought to himself as introductions were made. Huntress guide my steps. I hope that I am interpreting your wishes correcty. Without a word, the elf moved towards the back of the group, then disappeared to go meditate.

Alexander nodded at the aristocratic human, and drily said. "Welcome." He didn't really know what to think about the young man for the time being. Two weeks ago he'd have been outright hostile to him... but after meeting his current companions, and Syra. Well, times had changed him.

"Well met, Dartis Kalnian. I am Silas Eyrstan." Silas continued to talk with Dartis, and specifically asked him about his military service and revealed to him that he served in a unit at the Last Stand. However, the difference in social class kept Silas from becoming too chatty or familiar until he got to know him better.

"Well met, countryman. I served mostly on the southern border with Tallione for much of the past few years. I too was at the Last Stand, and my commander sent me back to Faircreek with the warning. It was thus that I lost my horse. But come, tell me more of your service."

Silas seemed pleased at Baron Dartis Kalnian's interest in his past duties. "Lord Kalnian, I served as adjunct to Sir Martin, connected to the Dorinthian Foot." His face took a grim cast. "Sir Martin, gods rest his soul, sent me with missives back towards Baron Dorin's command tent just before the lines broke." He met Dartis' eye and added, "We were among the lucky ones that day, it seems, though it was some time after your message was delivered before I was able to make my way back to Fair Creek."

Rix glanced up at the aristocrat, Sniveling money-grubbers, he thought. He'd been in a bad mood (although who could tell the difference) ever since they returned. The incursion on the goblin camp had been primarily successful, his plan had gone off soundly and he had put down more than his fair share of the runt-faced creatures. However, he missed Danica. Although he was warming up to the half-orc, particularly now that the other stuffy one (Alexander's paladin sister) was no longer around. Imagine that. I'm warming up to being party to a half-orc companion. He hated orcs, although this one was different.

However, returning to the gnomish enclave had left Rix rife with internal strife. He was helping gnomes! They might as well burn in the pits of the Dragon's gut for what he wished, although the current crises possibly had created some internal strife that he might be able to play up and use to help plunge the race into chaos. The thought tickled him.

He faced back to the aristocrat. "I am Vaerixsjach, do your best to leave me be human." He turned away from this noble born warrior, the thought of noble blood all too painful for the orphaned dragonkin at the moment. He had been noble blooded among his people and now was treated no better than a dog by most.

Moving away at a quick pace, the kobold disappeared into the gnomish community, his hand constantly upon his blade. He hated this place, he hated gnomes, and now he was supposed to seek out the source of their kobold trouble and stop it. How he wanted these kobolds to overrun this hovel.

When he thought he was alone, Rix found in the sack he had taken from the goblins 35 platinum pieces, 12 gold pieces, a dull iron ring that might have been worth a gold piece, and a scroll that looked to have magical writing on it.

Silas sighed and frowned as he watched Rix quickly disappear. I do not know how to relate to that kobold. His frowns deepened as he considered his own thoughts. Perhaps if I started thinking of him as Rix first rather than 'that kobold'... His musings interupted by the arrival of a group of gnomes with an offer of free adventuring geer, and Silas looked over the items and contented himself with refilling the supplies of bolts and travel rations he carried.

Dartis turned to Silas as Rix walked away. "Pleasant little fellow isn't he," he asked Silas with a droll smile. "Of course, he maybe upset and rightfully so at his current situation, but tell me how does a kobold come to be working with Dorinthians, for the cause of the gnomes? That is a riddle that I suppose would explain his sour mood. Though I must confess that I have dealt with few enough kobold to not assume that they are all that grumpy."

Dartis gladly picked through the gnome's extra equipment. "I lost all I had at Kelnar, save what I wore." He picked out a human-sized buckler, a chain shirt, a dagger, and a water skin and some rations, and after a long search of looking for arrows asked Silas, "Is there somewhere to buy equipment that is not in this pile? There is no pack in my size and I would like more arrows."

Silas looked thoughtful for a moment. "I can't rightly say why Rix is working on behalf of the Dorinthians. When the Baron sent out the call for aid he arrived. He has not got on well with the gnomes, though. Truth be told I worry about us heading into kobold territory with Rix."

"The nearest place I know of to purchase equipment is in the new community founded by the Fair Creek refugees, several days travel away. Perhaps the gnomes would be able to find you some equipment that isn't included amongst that offered to us."

"These could be useful..." said Alexander as he picked up a pair of daggers, slashing the air, and testing the grip of their handle before storing them; one in his boot and the other at the belt at his back.

"Rix?" Alexander turned around. "Just keep your eyes on him." The half-orc stopped a second, likely considering his words before adding, "He's proven of high value for Fair Creek... And that's what interests him, how much they are disposed to pay for him."

Father Ravil suggested I should let him be when I presented him my doubts... I'm doubting less, am I getting my sense of smell dulled? Or did I catch a wrong scent about Rix the first time?

"Who knows what's breeding in his skull... know that he is a crafty lizardkin, he is."

Then he departed, coincidentially the same way Rix did. He followed the kobold's trail, but didn't try to make his presence hidden. He planned to join the kobold and ask if he wouldn't want to profit from the gnomes' offered free equipment.

Rix realized Alexander was trailing him and spun around, looking the half-orc in the eye from his four-foot stature. "Don't follow me, I've got business to attend to and I don't need your eyes crawling on me the entire time. Go play with the elf or the Baron, or maybe send up a few prayers to the Huntress. Maybe she'll save these obnoxious big-nosed rats." He gestured around at the gnomish community and stormed away, obviously upset and wanting to be alone.

He's still Rix... this night... I'll let him be.

Meanwhile, Dartis managed to find a pack that would actually fit him and a few more arrows at a local gnome merchant. Aside from that he spent the next two days conversing with Kel, Alexander and Silas about their last excursion. Besides that, he did as any soldier does between the fighting and tried to catch up on sleeping on eating.

During the same days, Alexander contemplated his previous actions. This time I was more in tune with the Huntress' way... as were my companions... we are learning to work as a pack... When he got a chance, he told Horacius, "Hum... there were some gnolls along with th goblins in the camp..."

He also sought out Harindan Loughphray, going up to him along with the rest of the party and among other things, chiming in with a warning. "I fear alliances between gnolls and goblins... possibly started by the dog-headed ones uniting the tribes... but I know that is difficult to belive. Do you know of any gnoll tribes near this area?"

Both elder gnomes looked concerned when Alexander reported the news. Haracios avoided the topic and shrugged it off, however. Harindan said, "Yes, we have been worried that our recent troubles might have been caused by a third party. We didn't want to believe it, however. It may be that some mercenaries have been hired by this new threat, since normally gnolls can be found more to the east. Please let us know if you find anything else."

(DM's note: At about this time I asked the party why they didn't use the wand of darkness to aid their earlier escape. The response was basically, whoops...)

Immediately upon getting his own moment of privacy, Silas ducked into an out of the way corner and cast his Comprehend Languages spell and read the letter that he took from the table in the goblin stockade.
Shaman Gaaz,

I demand that you step up your attacks on our enemies. Your hesitation only allows the gnomes to regroup and to enlist outside aid, which has now happened just as I had divined. My envoys will stay with you and observe your preparations for battle. If any harm comes to them I will hold you responsible. Remember, I put you into power with my gifts. I can remove you.

Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh
Silas quickly moved to rejoin his companions as they discussed the success of their mission and related information regarding the goblins and their non-goblin allies.

Alexander and Silas located one another, and the half-orc reminded the human abjurer about the letter. "Will you work now in deciphering the paper you found in the fortress?"

Grinning at the timing, the abjurer answered, "Ah, I have already done so! And to prove it, I shall immediately explain what I have discovered." Silas then related the contents of the letter to Alexander. Silas frowned and gave Alexander a sidelong glance. "Perhaps you should have those cuts looked at. Goblins are filthy creatures and you wouldn't want the wounds to become infected."

He's right. For the first time Alexander spoke out loud what he'd otherwise kept to himself. He nodded affirmatively at Silas' words and added "Forgetting pain, any pain, should never happen... we must get used to pain, but never forget. So commands us the Huntress..."

"I'll ask Kel for some help in that matter,"
the towering half-orc moved to leave, answering to Silas' concern. "After seeing to my scratches I'll join you and Rix for a meal." Half smiling once again, "and we can invite the new one, whoever he is."

Alexander went in search of Kel, who had tended him previously in battle... and saved his life. Finding him, the two believers in the Huntress gave greetings.

After a brief inspection, Kel healed Alexander. "I hear you speaking in reverant terms about a Huntress," the elf mentioned pointedly. "Tell me of her. Who is this person?" He asked as his healing magic infused the half orc. It can't be The Huntress, he thought to himself. Surely she is not worshipped by those with orc blood, as they are anathema to her."

Alexander looked at the elf and smiled... warmly for the first time... This smiling is getting to be a habit "Thanks for the mending. The Huntress, The Lady of the Lake who gives guidance through the eternal cycle; she who took me under her wing and taught me to survive," Alexander stood up from his seat before the fire. "She who presents everyone with the world and allows them to thread their own path." "She who sees as enemies the corruptors of the eternal cycle and desecrators of the shrine of Seven Trees, and who will be hunted and brought down by her wrath!" Noting that he was getting enthusiastic... but not caring "Artemis' wolves' breath on their neck while they are face down on the ground will be the last thing they feel..."

"...I'm one of her wolves... that's why I joined the Dorinthians."

And he stood there, waiting for Kel's reaction. The elf recognized that the half-orc belonged to a rare sect of the Huntress' faith that worshipped a goddess called Artemis, but still considered the Huntress, the Rider, the Lady of the Lake, and Artemis to be facets of the same being. The large majority of believers worshipped the Rider as the same as the Hunter or Huntress, depending upon preference of gender of the mysterious hooded god. Alexander's sect, however, was considered blasphemous by some. The two men conversed more for quite some time.

Later at a dinner he prepared, Silas shared his suspicions and related the contents of the letter with his companions, showing it to whomever wished to see it. He glanced at Rix, somewhat worried about how the kobold would handle the information. Well, his opinion of gnomes could hardly get much lower, thought Silas.

"At this moment, however, the threat seems to be from kobolds." Silas scowls. "And unless the gnomes have received better information in our absence we have only a general direction of their lairs to go on. And a gnomish name connected to the goblins we just raided, 'Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh', I think it's pronounced." The party members were quite uncomfortable with the implications of the letter, but decided to keep the information to themselves rather than share it with the gnomes, and to look out for further clues. (DM: Saw what?! Boggled...)

After two days of uneventful relaxation, the party felt once again healthy enough to take to the road. Harindan Loughphray greeted Alexander at first, "Alexander, good to see you looking well again. We still have received no word about the current state of your people, but I did send Phly as a messenger to describe your adventures, and your amazing infiltration in order to recover the totem staff. If your team is ready, I will begin."

"Thankfully you brought back the totem staff and we've noticed a lack of coordinated effort by the goblins to our southeast. Unfortunately, we still have not discovered who has been supplying them. But, we have found something that has truly disturbed us. Our scouts have located the tunnels that are being used as the headquarters of the kobold forces. What's truly odd, is the behavior of the kobolds that were observed from a distance. First, there seems to be a number of kobold tribes working together in that area. Kobolds from opposing tribes normally have trouble cooperating if not feeling outright hostility for one another. Second, the kobolds seemed well disciplined, standing like rocks while at guard posts. Whatever charismatic leader was able to unite these tribes and train these kobolds must be a power that is a great threat to us. The Dragon Eye tribe is definitely keeping the others in line. For 100gp each, find out how they are influencing the other kobolds and shut down their operation for another 100gp each."

Rix meanwhile, sought to acquire a set of masterwork thieves tools and resell his older ones. He also sought to see if he could find some time to get the iron ring and scroll magically examined. Spending a good amount of time each day exploring the tunnels and community, Rix kept the gnomish name on the parchment Silas translated in mind while he explored, but he found no trace of a Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh in the settlement.

Besides that, he was mostly absent in the two days of rest at the Loughphray tunnels, and what others did see of him was a mixture of anger and sulking. The normally fast quips and jabs were missing and a sullen quiet hung over him. The whole business was getting to the dragonkin, and being around the eon old nemesis of his race did not make it much better. "We'll see," he would sometimes mutter The world would be a better place if we just let them overrun your sniveling hovel.

Rix was frustrated in his initial attempts to find a smith willing to work for a kobold, and he began to truly hate having to reside with the gnomes who treated him with contempt. Giving up, Rix moved to have his items identified, but ran into the same problem with Horacios' apprentices, and the kobold did his best to avoid Horacios himself. Rix was busy cursing under his breath when he noticed a gnome behind him.

"Ungrateful wretches," Horacios said under his breath. "Well come on, let's get those items of yours checked." The gnome's manner was curious. He did not try to avoid Rix or attempt a weak smile for the kobold's benefit like most of his kinsmen did. As the gnome placed the ring and scroll on his work table, he almost seemed to forget Rix's presence until he began speaking to him absent-mindedly, explaining the magic he was employing. His manner showed an acceptance of Rix so complete and natural that it took the kobold by surprise. "Hmmm... I'm afraid the ring is non-magical, although the scroll seems to radiate a faint aura. The writing of the scroll itself is an animal trance spell, and may come in handy, although you might want to consider selling it instead. I didn't have to use a spell to identify the items, so this time its no charge. In the future, however, such magic can cast over 100gp." He warned, handing the kobold back the items.

For some reason Rix felt compelled to tell him of his troubles with the smith. After a thoughtful moment Horacios nodded and had the kobold follow him to the closest smith with talent, then chastised him. "Now Burelianieos, don't make me tell your aunt how you treat guests. This young man here has come to give our people some aid, and I don't want you cheating him or wasting his time. And remember your son is one of my apprentices, and I may just forget that next time he forgets to collect his components like he should." After his conversation he looked back at Rix and said, "There. Burelianieos will have your tools ready in no time and will pay the 75gp and your old tools. Let me know if he acts less than honorably in the future. I wouldn't make excuses for the rest of my kin, but they are a bit shaken of late. Less knowledgable people think they can look at evil and know it. They'd be surprised what faces evil men really wear. It may even wear the face of a man you once thought your friend." With that, Horacios walked away to go back to his work.

Stunned by the openness and honesty of Horacios, Rix let the whole situation unfold as if in a daze. He could barely mumble a thanks before the gnome walked off to his work. It had been surreal for the dragonkin. His coin purse lighter, but his mind heavy with an odd feeling, one which he couldn't fully identify, he returned to his companions. The iron ring around one finger, an odd reminder of this occurence.

(DM's Note: This was a hint that Horacios might be a good source to find out what happened in regards to the gnome, Astraughlay Kondeeistreigh. The 'evil may even wear the face of a man you once thought your friend' was as direct a hint as I wanted to go. Horacios had not thought that his former ally and illusionist had fallen so far into insanity to be involved with the goblin and kobold attacks. The letter Silas had would have made him realize some of what was going on and given the party some important hints. But alas, those hints never came out in time.)

Silas spent his last amount of free time around for meal times in the evening and gladly chatting with his companions. Otherwise, he spent his time sequestered in the gnome's library making scrolls and wishing that the gnomes had bigger geese...

The half-orc ranger, Alexander, passed the days in quiet meditation, spending as much time as possible outside the cramped gnomish tunnels. He went on "scouting trips" to familiarize himself with the sorroundings and have a breath or two - the problem was not so much the size of the tunnels as the constant large numbers of people that gave him the feeling of confinement.

From sunrise to sunset he walked outdoors, even spending a restless night hunting under the moon, trying to feel rather than to know the place. And reinforcing his link with the wild, which had been weakened in the last day.

The gnomes have directions given to the party and a rough sketch of the hills the kobolds are living inside. Dartis and Alexander come to the realization that the kobold base is nearly two days travel from the gnomish tunnels by foot.

Next: The party moves out.

Deuce Traveler

The troll...

The party moved out. The first day was uneventful, although the party encountered the beginnings of a dark marsh. As they continued on in the morning of the second day, the party does its best to follow a swamp trail through the marsh. Silas happened to walk slightly off the path for a moment, when suddenly he was sucked up to his crotch in mud. His alarm increased as he noticed that his body continued to be slowly sucked under. Frantically, he noted that there were no shrubs or trees around in which to hold onto. Instinctively, Dartis moved forward to grab Silas' arms, but was stopped by Alexander, who knew that Dartis might get himself sucked under, especially in his armor, if he was not careful.

Kel was thinking about his talk with Alexander, and their discussing of the Huntress and the wilderness. His mind was also on Rix. He was concerned at how the mission might affect the young kobold. After all, their lives may depend on how he carried himself during the pending encounters.

(DM's Note: This was actually a post by the player of Kel a minute before mine, and he totally missed Silas falling into the marsh... so I had a little fun with him a number of hours later and with my next post...)

As Kel daydreamed about his recent experiences, he failed to notice Silas' plight and also fell into the muck, being pulled down to his waist because of his heavier load.

"Damn it!" exclaimed Alexander as he went for the rope he had in the backpack. He handed one extreme to Dartis while holding to the other -given that the rope is so long, they used both extremes. "You pull out Silas!" he said as he threw part of the coil to the elf-in-the-muck.

Dartis took the other end of the rope from Alexander. He gathered a few coils up to give it some weight and tossed them to Silas. "Grab the rope, and stop struggling!" He called out to Silas.

Both Silas and Kel tied the parts of the rope under their arms as Dartis and Alexander pull hard. Kel came out immediately, although Dartis had to give the rope a couple of tugs before Silas was freed. The two adventurers had barely enough time to give thanks, when a repugnant smell reached their noses.

Rix warned the party, as he could see two reptilian figures more than a 100 feet away, off the path and in the deeper part of the swamp. From the smell, all of the party knew that they must be troglodytes. They didn't approach, but instead kept their distance. It was obvious this marsh was going to be dangerous to traverse without a plan.

"Alexander, do you have a bow? I know I could hit them from here. The question is would we bring down more of them onto us by doing so. But then I doubt they are just there to watch us. Perhaps we should continue on while keeping an eye on those two and expecting an attack," offered Dartis.

Unable to really help drag the two larger companions to safety, Rix sat back on his haunches with his crossbow drawn in case the new dangers took advantage of the situation. He warned his companions to be wary, "We don't want to start a fight if we don't have to. As you've just seen, this swamp is dangerous enough without us fighting a running battle against an enemy that knows it and will use it to their advantage. I'd also recommend walking single file for now, the person in front checking the ground with a pole so this doesn't happen again."

Taking Rix's suggestion, the party continued to move through the marsh, single-file. Alexander led, driving a stick in the ground as he used his survival skill to bring the group safely out.

The pair of troglodytes stayed their distance until the party came out of the dangerous terrain. Then they approached, hands up in a manner of peace. The stench was horrible, but the group stood their ground until they were near enough to speak in a hissing, gutteral language that all but one of the party was unable to understand.

Rix answered them in their own language, causing the lizard-like men to nod in approval. They then bent down and undid a wrapped, dirty blanket one of them had hung on his back. Unfurling the blanket, the creatures showed a small piece of pottery with something foul inside, some well-picked mandrake root, and 3 strange, green crystals that looked somehow artificial.

Rix and them began to barter. At one point the party swore one of the troglodytes said the words 'rations' and 'alcohol' in common before continuing.

Silas watched as Rix spoke with the troglodytes. He peered at the crystals from a distance, not wanting to antagonize the troglodytes by appearing too interested in their possessions. Whispering to Alexander and Dartis, Silas said, "Thank you for pulling me out of the muck."

In draconic, the smaller troglodyte said to Rix, "We see your group are not so foolish at to fall prey to the swamps. If so, we would have killed you. Instead, you have earned our respect and may barter with us." He removed the blanket from his back and showed his wares.

"This jar contains poison that will weaken your enemy if your weapon cuts him while coated with this. The mandrake root is good if you have an alchemist or herbalist. We do not know what the crystals are for. We removed them from the back of the head of others of your kind." By 'your kind', Rix knew he meant kobolds. "Sometimes we attack their guard posts and take them as trophies. Sometimes they bleed us instead," he says. "We respect them. They do not know fear."

"We will trade now. We want pink skin food, or what they call 'rations', or anything that they know as 'alcohol' which helps make us brave. We trade for anything else of value to warriors."

Rix nodded at the troglodytes, things were going well on their journey so far. Speaking to them in the same sibilant tongue, although his accent was quite different from their hissing, he seemed to be asking some questions of the green crystals.

In draconic: "We are most pleased for your respect, these lands are yours and it would be unkind of us to trespass without your permission." He inclined his head in a gesture of respect to the troglodytes and swept an arm to emphasize the dangerous swamps around them. Continuing, "You said those were found in the back of the heads of those of my own kind? Did you see my kind do anything with them? Do you know much of the place of my kind? Or if there were others not of my kind with them?"

Beckoning Alexander over to kneel by the items so that he can talk quietly to him in common, Rix said "They are willing to barter for rations and alcohol, do we have much to spare. They have encountered my kin and have retrieved those," he gestured towards the crystals, "from the back of their heads, a disturbing thought. The jar is a sort of weakening poison, and the mandrake root would prove valuable to an herbalist. Plus, the information they have may be of most use to us. It would be wise to trade with them."

Alexander shook his head. "We're tight on rations... but we could dare spare some and try to sustain ourselves on what the sorroundings have to offer." The stench, overpowering, made Alexander take a step back. "Besides, I'm not sure if we want any of these... although the poison could prove of use for your bolts," again the stench waded in and Alexander stood and stepped back again, looking at Rix, waiting for an answer.

The troglodyte shrugged and answered Rix's question in draconic. "Perhaps your kin who had these were not in their right mind. They would stand and fight, though it was obvious they would lose. Sometimes during an ambush we will slay five or six of them at a time. Normally there is a kobold without one of these in his head. He will always run," he said as he spit in disgust. "The others will fight to protect him until death. It is very strange, and not normal from kobolds. They act more like troglodytes protecting a chief, and we honor them for their courage."

After he finished with Rix he looked at the others and chuckled at their discomfort. In broken common he said, "Ration... one... for theeses," he said pointing to the crystals. "Ration... one for theeses" he said again, pointing at the clutch of herbs. "Ration... twos for these," he said, pointing at the jar.

Kel stood on impassively, watching the exchange and wiping mud from his clothing and equipment. "If we get stuck for food, the Huntress will provide," he said deferently.

"I have rations to spare, if that's the problem," said Silas. "And I'm willing to trade them if you think we can use those items." Silas smiled. "And if you think it is a fair exchange, Rix. I've no alcohol to trade, though."

"I too have a few days rations to spare as well to toss in for the trade" added Dartis.

"Very well, let's see, I figure three rations would cover one of the crystals and the jar, unless someone wants to play doctor with the herb." Rix took the rations from his companions and spoke to the troglodytes in draconic again.

Rix in draconic:"We would take one of the crystals and the jar in exchange for three rations. We thank you for your words and your respect. And I thank you for their discomfort, it amuses me. One last question honorable ones, how much longer does this swamp last in the direction we are going?"

The party made their exchange, receiving a jar with some foul smelling poison (enough for 10 applications), and the three crystals. The troglodytes indicated that they were now just out of the swamp and only about three or four hours to the hills the kobolds were using as their home. Before they left, the troglodytes said something to Rix in their language, than said in broken common, "Kill coward kobold... others stop fight..."

Curious creatures these troglodytes... not the smartest, but seem halfway between worthy opponents and stubborn suicides.

In draconinc: The troglodyte said to Rix, "The kobolds always work in teams of five or six. Kill the more active one... the one that will try to run away. If you do so, the rest will stop fighting. Sometimes the cowardly kobold of the group will be in hiding."

The party continued walking to the southwest, following the directions given. After three hours the land became flatter, punctuated by a large hill in the distance that Kel noticed first and brought to everyone's attention. There were trees near the base of the hill, but not enough to easily sneak up to the door the party could see buried into the side of the hill, halfway up its surface. Five kobolds stood unmoving by the entrance, their spears at the ready.

While trying to distinguish anything more of the entrance from their current position, Alexander asked, "What do you say Rix? Will they attack you on sight?"

"I don't know, but I suspect they are not wholly under their own control. Silas, can you examine one of these crystals and see if it is magical? Now, if I were to hide somewhere around that hill, where would it be..." His question seemed rhetorical, but he scanned the hill closely.

"Certainly, Rix," said Silas as he took one of the crystals from the kobold. He examined it without magical enhancement first. "You have reason to believe they might be magical in nature?" Silas then casted his detect magic spell and examined the crystal.

The magic he discovered was strange. There was a faint tint of necromancy and divination, but combined with a faint, but stronger enchantment aura. The three types of magic were rarely found together. Not only that, but the enchantment magic seemed to be active while the necromancy and divination magic seemed to be stored, as if for future use.

Also, studying the pattern of magic, Silas felt that the crystal seemed to have been enchanted by two different casters, or perhaps it would be better to say different styles. The necromancy and divination magic seemed to have been placed by someone with greater talent than the enchantment magic. The enchantment magic seemed to have been cast in a chaotic, almost illogical manner.

Silas' gaze unfocused as he examined the crystal. After several long seconds he frowned but continued to peer at the crystal. After half a minute or so he blinked several times as if refocusing his eyes and quietly said, "They are magical. It is a faint radiance, as if it is not very strong. But it seems rather unusual and is something outside of my experience." Silas tucked the crystal into his pack. "I'll keep this one and examine it more fully when I have better resources at my disposal."

At the same time, Kel noticed something special about the items. As Silas worked his magic on the crystals, the elf admired their workmanship. He thought only elves could cut crystal like this. The priest wondered for now about their origin.

Rix nodded at Silas, "Good to know, I figured as much. The troglodytes said that the ones that fought fanatically had these implanted in the back of their heads, while the one that was more active did not. The ones that were more active seemed to be protected by the fanatic ones, letting them make their escape if possible. I believe some sort of magical control was in order, these crystals could be the focus or conduit by which the active ones would control the others." He thought for a moment, clicking two claws together slowly.

"Remember that there is this new Dragon Eye tribe which has somehow exerted incredible dominance over the other tribes, perhaps this is part of their method."

"The troglodytes said that they move in groups of five or six with one sort of leader. The leader will often be in hiding or attempt to flee while the others fight to the death, kill the leader and the others will stop fighting."

As Rix asked the questions to himself, the adventurers noticed only two places near the entrance to the inside of the hill that would give a good vantage point and could hide a kobold. One, a ring of rocks that were about waste-high to a human above the entrance, 10 feet further up the hill. And two, some tall brush just east of the entrance.

He checked his crossbow, "Now on to more pressing matters. There are two spots which I believe our controller could be hiding, I do not relish killing my own kin, but I despise the thought that they are being manipulated against their will even more. There and there," he said pointing out the ring of stones and the tall-brush. "I say we approach from the east, seeing if we can flush out the enemy from the brush if he is there, then proceed quickly to the stone ring. If the controller is there, we have not only taken the fight out of the others, but also secured the defensive high ground."

Silas looked thoughtful and nodded as Rix spoke. "Ah, that fits with what I did manage to discover about the magic of the crystals. Enchantment magic, which is used in persuasion magics such as charms was predominant..." He looked like he would continue but Rix spoke about the immediate threat. Silas shrugged. "I'm no tactician but your plan sounds good to me."

Alexander absorbed the information delivered by Rix and summarized, "Find the leader of this guard group, kill him."

"Òr we could wait until we see movement... a guard shift will occur eventually, then we won't have to search for the leader... controller..."

Kel watched the kobolds carefully, when an opportunity arose for his input he added, "Those gems are exquisite workmanship, almost as good as what an elf could produce. They're definitely not something produced by kobolds, no offence intended friend Rix but the workmanship is almost perfect."

Falling profitless on his ears, Kel's words rose the question, "What are you suggesting?" Elves dominating kobolds?

"Vaerixsjach, how close together do your people usually place exits from their dwellings and mines? If we could come from the side of the hill, say on each side, without fear that another exit was too close by, we could assail both potential hiding places at once. And should the controller be secreted behind the door, we will have a better opportunity of attacking the controlled kobolds from each side."

As the adventurers discussed a possible plan of attack, a guard shift did occur. The party noticed two groups of kobolds walk out of the door in the hill. Each group had six kobolds, but only one of these six walked around normally while the others behaved as if mechanical constructs. The first group took over for the team the party was observing, the normal-looking kobold taking over for another that was resting inside the tall ring of stones.

The other squad went up and barely over the hill crest. They must have relieved another team, since another group promptly became visible and came back down, entering the hill from the entrance the adventurers were monitoring.

"So there are two groups..."

"Indeed, two groups. One just over the hill. And with no cover there seems little chance of gaining surprise. Although if we came around the east side and tried to take out the kobold in the ring of stones, that would at least leave us just the one group to deal with. Another option is to get him to show his head and try to pick him off from here, that would allow us the chance to charge up the hill and gain the door or the other group without challenge," suggests Dartis.

"We don't want to get caught between the ones inside and the ones over the hill..."

"The less ruckus we make the less chance we have of alerting the second group to our arrival. If we move as silently and swiftly as possible to take the ring of stones we will be in a defensible position to scout over the hill to locate the other group. If half of us approaches from the east and the other from the west, we can pinch the controller between us and quickly put him down before a strong defense can be mustered." Rix clicked his claws together once again, "Then we can deal with the ones over the hill."

Alexander and Rix took the hill from the eastern side, while Silas, Kel, and Dartis came in from the west.

Almost instantly, the plan began to fall apart. Silas was spotted coming from the west, and three of the kobolds immediately charged the party. Rix accidently stepped into a small hole that was hidden by the grass and cried out in alarm, as he nearly twisted his ankle. The cry is heard by the kobold in the rocks as Rix regained his balance and pulled his leg out. The two remaining sentinels headed to attack Rix and Alexander while the sixth kobold jumped from the circle of rocks and made a run for the door. Rix fired his crossbow, killing the kobold before he made it. As soon as his dying cry was finished, the other kobolds ceased attacking, and stood listlessly, gazing ahead at empty space with lifeless eyes.

"Really a pathetic proverb you big people have, but cut the head off the snake and the body follows." Reloading his crossbow the kobold shook off the slight pain in his ankle and waved the others forward. "Alexander, scout over the hill and see what the other group is up to."

As Alexander looked up the hill, he gave a shout of warning. Five more kobolds were running down the hill, spears at the ready.

"Well, nevermind then." Rix ducked low and attempted to circle around to the other side of the hill to see if he could locate the controller, although remaining hidden for the moment so that the five crazed kobolds focused on the others rather than himself. That would work just fine for the rogue, too.

Silas had just enough time to unsling his crossbow, load, and fire, missing the lead kobold with his shot. Dartis fired two shots, the second arrow flying true and taking down the nearest kobold. Kel and Alexander charged, their blades each taking down another kobold. The two remaining creatures struck at the men, the first missing Alexander, but the second slashing Kel along his back.

Dartis fired another two arrows, killing the kobold attacking Alexander, but missing the remaining one, which was instead dispatched by Alexander.

Just when the last kobold fell, Rix ran around the base of the hill, barely noticing a kobold desperately running into a door on the other side of the mound. Before the creature could open the door, Rix struck the kobold with a crossbow bolt, catching him by surprise and finishing him off.

He ran up to the dying creature, who stared up at his fellow kobold and expired. Rix noticed a glowing, clay bracelet on his enemy's wrist. As the kobold gave a death rattle, the aura around the bracelet pulsed and faded.

On the front of the hill, Silas examined the kobolds that were still standing. He noticed that they looked normal. They were breathing fine, they seemed to be warm to the touch. For all intents and purposes they were normal kobolds, except that it seemed as if there was no intelligence in the eyes. On the back of their skulls could be seen the base of a green, crystal rod.

"Well what do we do with them. I don't want to have to re-awaken just as we're trying to leave. What say you Silas, are these things even alive anymore? What if we try and prey those crystals out?" Suggested Dartis as he walked up the hill. He put his bow away and drew his sword and made sure his buckler was secure in preparation for going in the door.

"Aye let's pull out one of the stones and see what happens," Kel said. "Anyone got a knife I can use?"

Dartis pulled out one of his daggers and handed it to Kel.

With a nod of thanks, Kel accepted the proferred dagger. Carefully using the tip of the dagger Kel attempted to pry loose one of the stones. "Someone had better hold the little bugger, just in case this upsets him."

As Kel worked with the blade it quickly became apparent that the crystal had become part of the kobold's skull. To remove it would cause much of the head and brain to come with the crystal. Interestingly enough, when Kel dug with the dagger, the kobold did not even flinch, although a good amount of blood flowed from the small cut that was made.

"This settles it, with external "help" the Dragon Eye has been transforming their kin into sucide troops..." Alexander wiped clean his blades before moving besides the front door and trying to catch some sounds from the inside.

"Should we finish them? Or try to find a way to restore them?" Of which the chance of possibility I doubt seriously.

"I doubt they could ever be normal again or even survive on their own. It might be a mercy to just kill them."

The party took time to examine the doors. The first door, which the patrols of kobolds used to come in and out, looked well-maintained. The ground in front of it was barren from frequent passage.

The second door, which the last kobold tried to escape into, looked dirty on the surface, as if it hadn't been opened in awhile. Grass grew underneath the door. The party also wondered why the kobolds didn't use it to switch patrols.

Rix growled menacingly at the travesty inflicted upon his kin. He picked up the bracelet that was on the controller's wrist, searching the body of that one and the prior one as well for anything else that might be important.

"Silas, examine this." He thrusted the bracelet towards the human. "Leave them, I doubt they'll be much trouble now." He stalked towards the unused door and checked it for traps and if it was locked, although he didn't open it yet.

A quick search of the zombie-like kobolds revealed nothing except for a shortspear with each. The two controller kobolds had the features of the Dragon Eye tribe of kobolds while the others were from various other groups. Both of the Dragon Eye kobolds had a small short sword on their bodies, as well as 3sp each. They also had a clay bracelet, and the party collected one like Rix found on the other Dragon Eye kobold.

Rix found no traps on the door. Meanwhile, Silas recognized that the bracelets were magical, but it was something he had never seen before, and the abjurer was unsure how they were able to make the clay magical, or if the clay had special properties in itself. Basically, he was thoroughly confused. (DM's Note: Silas rolled a '1' for his check, though he was able to take another look later)

Silas looked in bafflement at the bracelets. "These are odd. I'll need more leisure to study these than we have at the moment." He tucked the bracelet into his pack next to the crystal, making sure that it was well padded so that it wouldn't get broken. "Do you think every kobold in this lair not of the Dragon Eye clan has been forced into this..." Silas shrugged unable to find a word to describe what had been done to the kobolds.

"Perhaps we should capture one of the controller kobolds, or a kobold that isn't being magically compelled, and question him as to where we can find the Dragon Eye lair. I find it more likely that we'll get answers to the gnomes' problems there rather than in one of these subjugated lairs."

Rix nodded. "Let's try this door first, if it is unused we may be able to move in without their awareness." He checked the lock, picked it, and then opened it, revealing a room 30 feet west to east and 40 feet north to south (the party came in from the south). The room was empty and the floor covered with grime, although the floor had a trail of a dried, sticky substance leading from a door to the north and ending at the door the group just entered. A metal bar barracaded the door across from the adventurers. There were no other visible exits.

Kel quickly drew his bow and nocked an arorw, and stepped silently into the room, stopping just inside the door and moving aside so the others could enter. He trained his arrow on the door on the far side of the room and awaited Rix's pleasure.

Seeing Kel draw his bow, Dartis looked at his sword, and sheathed it. Drawing his more familiar bow as well, he left the buckler in place. He too nocked and arrow and drew the bowstring to his cheek.

Silas gripped his staff and moved inside with the others. His brow knitted in thought as he saw the dried stuff on the floor. With a glance to the door that led deeper into the lair, Silas knelt to investigate the substance thinking it might be blood. It was.

Rix crept slowly forward, probing each step lightly, trained eyes darting left and right, ceiling and floor. He advanced upon the barracaded door, ever wary of traps, particularly so here, as he knew his kin well. The barracade is on this side, keeping something in, not us out.

Rix discovered a trap close to the front of the door. It was set under a fragile floor tile, which was meant to break if a heavy weight was pressed on top of it, like from a humanoid. A tanglefoot bag would then activate and wrap the victim in order to disable him. There were also indications that an alarm would have sounded. Rix was able to remove the tanglefoot bag, but was unable to deactivate what he believed to be an alarm. Instead, he has the party avoid the spot as they walk by.

(DM's Note: Darn Ferrix (player of Rix) and his sense of knowing where to look for kobold traps! "They'll never think of checking the ground before the door...")

Finding no traps on the door, Rix had Dartis and Alexander remove the heavy bar from the door, picked the lock, and opened it for the party.

The smell of death wafted upwards, almost causing the party to gag. A large number of small, gnawed bones were strewn throughout the tunnel now visible before the group. It descended in a gentle slope downward with a 10 foot wide passage. As the party noticed claw marks marring the other side of the door that Rix had just opened, the adventurers hear a growl in the distance. It would seem that whatever had been barred in before was now aware of your presence.

Alexander also drew his bow and knocked an arrow... moved foward and peered intently into the darkness, ready to loose the arrow onto whatever came up the slope.

A lanky, tall creature ran at the group from the hallway, but arrows from Dartis, Alexander, and Kel all impacted the creature. With a howl, it ran backwards and then out of sight, but not before the adventurers watched as it tore an arrow from its shoulder and the wounds visibly heal. It was a troll.

Rix darted back towards the exit. He'd rather not tangle with such a nasty creature. "Quick, the door."

"No, forward. Unless we wish to find another entrance. We saw the other group exit here, it must lead further in," advised a frustrated Dartis.

"Unless there is a secret entrance in here somewhere," Kel said, his eyes sweeping the walls of the room. "Let's barricade the door, have a look around and then, if we don't find another entrance, try this way again?" They promptly shut the door and barred it again.

"I think it may be more prudent to leave the door open with you, Alexander and I guarding it with drawn bows as our cleaver little friend Rix, looks for any other doors. I would want to se any danger coming and drive it away rather than have it sneak up and waiting for us unawares." said Dartis drawing another arrow.

"Let us be ready to face the beast, but if possible, lets not face it."

"I'm not going back in there, get yourself eaten human." Rix's voice snarled, "No kobolds came in or out this way. They seemed to only be guarding it. Back the other way." Stupid human.

Rix made sure that his companions were between him and the troll, even though the door was barred closed again.

"I take it then there are no other doors in this room, Rix?" Alexander asked, without turning his head to look back at the kobold. "I bet the controller was planning to unleash his pet on us."

While Dartis and Alexander covered the door with their bows, the rest of the party looked for a hidden door. Nothing was found for a few tense minutes, until Rix found a secret door on the western wall that Silas had previously missed. Despite his skill and expertise in such things, even the kobold had nearly missed it. The hidden door was only found after Rix removed a loose stone and found a rusted handle in a compartment. Twisting it, a 5 foot section of the wall opened like a large door, revealing a ladder that led down a musty-smelling chute far into the darkness below. On the wall was an old, crude painting of a large hill underneath the moon, a symbol of the Hill Delver clan of kobolds.

(DM's Note: The party played this round very intelligently. In my notes, the kobolds were using this entrance until a troll showed up and started snacking on them. They were able to lure it into the tunnel, then sealed it inside, hoping to starve it. The characters at this point were only level 2 and didn't want to tangle with the creature. As you will see, the troll would play a larger role in the game.)

Next: The kobold tunnels.

Deuce Traveler

Alexander let out a small bit of a laugh and barred the door back.

"Are you planning to go first Rix? Mabye with the controller's clothing?" An old trick always works, that's why it's old

Kel moved over to the hole in the floor and looked down, hoping that the little bit of light that spilled in from outside would help him see better.

"I'll follow you down Rix," the elf said while looking the kobold in the eye and raising a finger to his lips. "We'll go quiet like eh? You first, me following a handful of heartbeats later, and then the more cumbersome of our number following a half a minute behind?"

Meanwhile, a loud banging and shrieking could be heard on the other side of the door, as the troll attempted to unsuccessfully force the barred door open. With a shrug in, Rix went in first, followed by Kel and the others. The rungs of the ladder were rusty and creaked with the weight of their bodies as they descended.

Rix, Kel, and Alexander were able to see slightly better in the near darkness. It took a couple of minutes for them to fully descend, but they could not measure the distance accurately since their vision was of limited range. Meanwhile, their human companions grumbled as they attempted to climb down safely, but the demi-humans aided them when they reached the bottom.

The room was 30 feet wide by 60 feet long, and revealed several pillars decorated with the kobold motifs of the Hill Delver clan. A low basin filled with a dark, runny liquid sat in the center, and was decorated with the image of a long, skinny dragon eating its tail. A passage extended to the north.

Kel slid his bow from his back and quickly nocked an arrow. "It's too dark down here for most of us," he whispered. "We're going to need some light."

Silas shrugged off his pack and by feel removed the torch that he had strapped to the outside of it. Again by feel, he reached into his belt pouch for his flint and steel. Alexander helped him to light the torch.

Dartis and Silas now saw what they had before missed. Also, with the torch everyone could see that the liquid was water that had stagnated.

Alexander poked deeper into the basin with his scimitar, making sure there was nothing there. Then he added, "Let us get moving." He started a stealth approach towards the northern passage.

Rix led the way in the shadowy edge of the torchlight, his darkvision giving him a bit of an edge compared to most of his companions. His thoughts lingered on the image of the dragon eating its own tail, trying to place its significance.

As the kobold examined the dragon before moving on, Silas came up next to him and realized that the symbol of a dragon eating its own tail was an ancient symbol of rebirth after death, though kept his thoughts to himself.

Rix took down one more floor trap as the party travelled down the 70 foot long corridor. The next room was 50 feet by 50 feet squared with four large pillars. Twenty-one stone slabs were arrayed in a north to south direction, 10 on the east side of the room, with 10 more on the west side. Half of these stone slabs had the mummified remains of various kobolds, each dressed in the once-fine rainments of kobold dignitaries. The larger slab in the center was bare, but had an etching of a kobold scratched on its surface. Rix saw that below the carving, in draconic letters, was written: The First.

Just north of the central slab was a tall, marble staircase that disappeared into the darkness above. Another tunnel led northwards.

Suddenly, a pair of red, giant lips appeared above the characters. First in common, than in elven, dwarven, orc and various other languages it spit and hissed, "Invaders! Robbers! The children of the dragon will slay you all!" It continued in other, various languages and dialects, most unknown to the party, and likely repeating the same message. When it was done screaming, it disappeared.

Rix, however, heard something different. In draconic he heard the lips say, "Welcome child of the dragon. Pay homage to Krystoryniaxast, the First of the Hill Delvers, but do not tarry. The dead deserve their rest."

At the words of the faceless lips, Alexander stepped -almost jumped- forth, his eyes darting from one shadow to another, and his blades ready to strike. Even his nose tried to catch clue of any presence apart from their own.

Silas also jumped when the arcane voice began its ranting then smiled grimly. "If we hadn't been discovered before we certainly are now."

The party went to a ready state, looking around for signs of danger. It was Kel who found the many carcasses of large rats stacked in the far corner of the room. They were covered in webs, and looked drained and left to dry out.

As Kel examined the carcasses, he heard the faint chittering of a creature or creatures high above him beyond the torchlight.

DM's Note: Kel's player failed to respond in time, unfortunately for the other players.

"Well, not many children of the dragon 'round here..." Alexander said while he examined the kobold remains. "At least not likely to slay us..."

The kobold hissed harshly at his companions, "Touch nothing." Rix approached the central dais, with its empty slab, and knelt before it in reverence. Mouthing words in his own tongue.

[Rix spoke in draconic]"Pray dear Krystoryniaxast, First of the Hill Dwellers, the dragon blesses your memory in hopes that you have passed on to great Kurtulmak's mines. Your kin, my kin, are enslaved beneath the yoke of foul magics, made mindless and driven to thoughtless slaughter. These others aid me to free them so that the mines of the Hill Dwellers will hum again in your name."

Rising from in front of the slab Rix gestured to his companions, "Leave these dead kin to rest, and let us move on." He moved towards the stairs, expecting the others to follow.

DM's Note: The magic mouth warned of death, but there was only a trap on the tomb of the kobold chief and some great treasure inside that was missed.

Dartis elbowed Alexander, and with a big grin said, "Ah I see, kobolds are decended from rats. Explains quite a bit."

At Dartis' words the half-orc showed a big smile... and contained his laughther, waiting for Rix to slaughter the unsuspecting human with poison-dripping insults...
Alexander, instead of paying heed to Rix's movement, moves up to the north passage to investigate.

Vaerixsjach smirked at Dartis' attempt at humor, "The human apparently has half-a-wit about him. Better than the rest of you."

As the party enjoyed a much deserved laugh, Kel saw something moving towards them from the darkness above. He yelled a warning as two large webs descended upon the party, wrapping them all in the sticky substance, except for Kel who was able to press against the wall in time to avoid the attack.

Rix was able to slip free of the strands, slipping past gaps in the webbing. Alexander, Dartis, and Silas were stuck, however, despite their attempts to break the material.

From the darkness the adventurers saw two large spiders descending from the darkness on web lines, while at the same time the sound of a swarm of smaller spiders reached their ears. A sick feeling hit them as they saw a swarm on either side of the party begin to crawl down the eastern and western walls. Kel was almost close enough to touch the western-most swarm, as he was against that wall near the dried rat husks.

Alexander at first thought of waiting for the vermin where he was and set himself in defensive stance. But when the swarm came out he had a change of mind and hastily started pulling and hacking away at the sticky substance.

Rix backed up the stairs a bit more to give himself cover and put himself in hiding. Aiming his crossbow, he fired at one of the bigger spiders.

Dartis cursed the spiders and tried to draw a dagger and cut through the sticky webs surrounding him. "Burn this damn stuff off us if needed Silas."

Silas struggled ineffectually against the webs. As the spiders got closer his struggling became more frantic, and those looking at him saw panic edging in on the wizard. Dartis' words penetrated his fear, however.

Rix took a shot from underneath the stairs, surprising one of the spiders, which squealed angrily as a bolt buried deep inside of it. Dartis took out a dagger and made some small progress cutting the strands, but it was not enough to free him. Kel scrambled away from the the spider swarm and got closer to Alexander, walking slowly to avoid the webbing on the ground. He swung his blade at the spider Rix harmed, hurting it again.

In retaliation the spider fired another stream of webbing, sticking Kel to the stone slab behind him just as the first spider swarm flowed over him, biting him with dozens of tiny fangs and unsuccessfully attempting to inflict the priest with poison. The situation nauseated Kel, who could do nothing else the next few seconds but retch in disgust.

The next spider attacked the stuck Alexander, biting deeply into his shoulder, and coursing poison into his veins. Instead of weakening the half-orc, it seemed to strengthen him. With a warcry, Alexander ripped out of the webbing around him, although his wild swing missed his opponent. DM's Note: Rolled a natural 20 for Alexander's save.

Rix was attacked by the second spider swarm, which swarmed over the legs and waist of the kobold. The creatures bit into him, causing the rogue to yell in pain and surprise.

Silas saw the predicament of his companions and lit the webbing around himself, Dartis, and Kel. It freed the trio, and burned away a portion of the swarm on Kel, but caused damage to the adventurers themselves.

"My thanks Silas!" Shouted Dartis, shaking off the sting of the burns. He was freed of the webbing and a little pain was worth that. "Silas, see if you can drive back the smaller spiders with the flames," he shouted as he drew his sword and attacked the spider attacking Kel.

Grimacing at the bite, Alexander slowly moved towards the stairs to gain higher ground, defensively trying to keep at bay the spiders at all times with wide slashes than to hurt them. Seeing the spiders crowding around Rix, Alexander kicked away from him one of the larger spider's legs and asked out "Do we have any other torches?"

Silas nodded grimly at Dartis' shouted thanks. His staff clattered to the floor of the room as he freed his right hand for spell-casting in case the situation became any more dire and he jabbed at the swarm around Kel with the flaming torch held in his left. "Kel! Break free of the spiders if you can!"

Rix rolled out of the swarm, kicking and pulling at the remaining spiders clinging to his body and stomping in an attempt to crush them on the ground.

Despite fighting defensively, Alexander made contact against the injured large spider, severing its closest leg. It screamed in pain and attacked again, but missed the half-orc.

There were too many spiders around Kel to burn away with his torch, so Silas had to cast a burning hands spell, destroying the remnants of the swarm and causing the rest on Kel to scatter and flee, although the elf was also hurt.

While his back was turned, the other large spider attacked Silas, biting deeply into his shoulder and poisoning the abjurer. Silas turned a shade white as poison entered his system and sapped his strength.

Dartis then attacked the spider that bit Silas, slicing a gash across its body with his sword.

The swarm that Rix escaped flooded over Alexander and bit on his legs. A wave of naseau washed over Alexander, causing him to be unable to move or fight for the next few seconds.

Putting a good bit of distance between himself and the swarm of spiders swarming the half-orc, Rix reloaded his crossbow and fired it at one of the larger spiders while cursing his companions for sticking around. "I told you we should have moved on faster." DM's note: Rix thought that this was part of the tomb's traps. It wasn't. The spiders had moved in there on their own throughout the ages and fed on vermin.

"Damn!" yelled a sick Alexander while he himself feebly swatted with the flat of his blade at his legs, stripping away some of his own skin, but also some of the arachnids at the same time.

Rix fired his bow at the creature near Silas, hitting it squarely and causing blood to splurt upwards. The spider has no time to react before the injured mage did. In anger, Silas stumbled past the spider that had attacked him while on the way towards the stairs and swung upwards with his torch at the creature, both clubbing the spider and setting it on fire. It screamed and attempted to flee, but made it only several feet more before dying.

Dartis moved forward to protect Alexander, slashing the spider in front of him and wounding it. It returned the attack, but missed the nimble human. Kel casted a spell of healing on Alexander, but took damage as the creatures swarmed over his arm. Although Alexander was restored, Kel became nauseous again.

Rix fired another bolt the next round, but missed the remaining large creature. Alexander recovered, and with a roar stomped his feet and swung his sword at the spider swarm around him. In his rage, he scattered enough of them to render the swarm useless.

The last spider attacked Dartis, but missed, only to have the fighter's own swing connect and bury deeply into it. Silas flanked the beast and connected, also wounding it. In panic, the creature attempted to flee, but Dartis wounded it critically, splitting a part of its body in half while Kel buried his own blade deep into the shrieking mass.

The battle was mercifully over.

Rix stomped a stray spider with the butt of his crossbow, "Next time listen when I say we shouldn't stick around." He berated the others. "Now, can someone see to these bites, as they've nearly torn half my scales off. The nasty little things."

Ignoring Rix, Silas spit to clear an acrid taste from his mouth then reached around with fingers under the armor on his shoulder. Withdrawing them, all can see his fingers are covered in blood and a foul smelling liquid. "It might be wise for us to retreat to a place of safety." He wiped his hand on the corner of his cloak.

The party backed into the previous room, hid and closed up the exit once more, and camped near the stone basin, spending the next twelve hours resting and allowing Kel to perform his healing magics. They took turns guarding each other, and the time passed peacefully, giving them time to talk and rest. The party members also found some unburned torches in sconces in the pillars and lit each as they needed them. These torches were unfortunately bolted to their hangers, although they could have been removed with effort.

Rix spent his time thinking about the message he had heard before, remembering that the First correlated to the first kobold founder of the Hill Delver clan. He was a famous trickster, much respected by other enemy kobold tribes. They were unique among kobolds as having stronger tendencies of dragon worship, and believed such creatures held the key to long, if not eternal, life. Some kobold priests even believed that kobolds that had proven themselves could become dragons in later lives. In this manner, some stranger sects regarded the kobold as the second highest stage of reincarnation and the dragon as the ultimate stage. In this weaker shell and life they would learn cunning before becoming dragon eggs.

Alexander broke the kobold's recollections. "Now they know we attacked... but they don't know we are here." Or at least I hope so. A pair of seconds of silence went by. "We might still have the surprise factor..."

Alexander's words sunk in. The floor did look dusty and unused, as if no one had come here in months, if not years. The party began to doubt that the kobolds now in charge of the hill knew of the existence of these crypts.

Alexander thanked Kel for the mending of the flesh, and added something with a genuine inquiring tone "But... how did you come in communion with Artemis? Aren't elves politicians and soldiers?"

During their convalesence, Kel spoke to Alexander about the Huntress he worshipped. "The God I worship is not the same as yours, although perhaps she just wears many masks?" He speculated on this a moment. "Not all elves emerse themselves in words and platitudes, since some of us still revere the old ways and the Huntress is an ancient God, though truth be told, not many of our kind still worship her."

DM's Note: The elves refused to believe it, but long ago, humans brought the worship of the Rider to them after the god revealed himself in a battle of humans and elves versus a combined orc horde. The humans saw the Rider in his male aspect of a hooded, but masculine hunter. The elves and orcs perceived the Rider as female, although the large hunting clothes and hood render the gender of the god as unknowable.

"Well, should we continue?" Kel queried the rest of the group once everyone was well enough to proceed. "It seems as though we are safe from kobold attack down here but other fell things reside in the darkness."

Deuce Traveler

After a good rest, the party carried on into the room with the large, stone staircase and the mummified kobold corpses. The burnt and hacked spider corpses still littered the floor. Right when Rix, who was taking the lead, stepped into the room, a familiar pair of lips appeared.

"Invaders! Robbers! The children of the dragon will slay you all!" It again repeated its hesterical message in the same order as before. It seemed not to recognize the party.

"Might I recommend that we don't wait for spiders to come crawling down on us again this time?" Rix jibed at his companions. With his wounds healed he was back to his wise-cracking, sardonic self.

Kel scampered through the room, his eyes scanning the ceiling and walls and watchful for any sign of movement.

Alexander answered as he was disposed to carry on: "Then better take the lead, I'm not enthusiastic about being peppered with kobold bolts." Alexander examined closely the blood-filled carvings on the blade strapped to his wrist. "I want to get done with the mission and move against the previous owner of this." He was silent for a pair of seconds. "I can but hope that these strange magics have their origin in the invaders... as well as controlling bodies who should be resting, they might be the source of this magical control."Will we need to make any more of this errands before earning enough trust?... as soon as this finishes, I'll propose scouting of enemy-taken territory. DM's Note: Alexander's dialogue might be confusing, but the character had been intending on visiting the Tallione Imperials who were responsible for wiping out a wooded sanctuary he had frequented. He did recover a portion of a Tallione blade that he had tied to his wrist and used as a punch dagger as a reminder of the slaughter he had seen.

Rix took the lead as the party moved up the stairs from the room with the dead spiders. The party travelled for a short time, finally reaching the web covered ceiling. Silas used a new torch to burn them away before the party reached the last steps, which were just below the ceiling. A close inspection revealed a hidden passageway above them.

The kobold checked for traps, then opened the passage. The ceiling slid to the side, but several boxes that were stacked on top of them fall through the opening, almost crushing the nimble Rix. The rest of the party also avoided being hit by the tumbling boxes. The party members watched in surprise as these crates fell into the darkness below, and announced their stop at the bottom with the loud splinterings of wood. (DM's Note: Rix made his reflex save, the other adventurers made easier reflex saves, then the kobolds in the other parts of the fortress failed their listen checks to hear the crates crash nearby. Just damn.)

The sounds echoed through the halls, but no one came to investigate. After a few tense moments, the party moved through the opening, finding themselves in a small storage room. It was a 15 foot by 15 foot area. A wooden door was to the east, which Rix searched for traps. He found none. After Rix did his work, Alexander neared the door and stuck his ear to its surface and listened.

Meanwhile, Rix poked around the storage room, examining the various boxes and their contents.

Rix rummaged quietly through the crates. They held equipment, and Rix was lucky enough to find the following:

3x Torches
1x Mirror
100x crossbow bolts
4x light crossbows
25x small traveler outfits
2x Rope (50 ft)
1x Grapple
And a small bag of silver coins (estimating 500 silver)

Alexander heard another door open in the distance and the shuffling of at least five creatures, in his trained estimation. They did not come closer to the door, however, nor did they speak. After a moment, Alexander could hear someone humming a strange tune, as if the person were lost in thought.

"Probably we have another squad behind this door, the place this door takes us to is another room so there should be no problem if we be swift." He then stepped back from the door, asked Rix if he found anything useful, and added, "If you went there first... without us..."

Kel shouldered his bow and swiftly drew his longsword "Well, I for one am sick and tired of scuttling through the shadows and filth down here, the elf said, his voice steady. "Let us sally forth and get to the bottom of this mystery"

Silas opened the door for his sharp shooters, Dartis and Rix. Inside they saw a kobold in light robes humming a tune and holding a crystal over a small plate of burning coals, which provided enough light for Dartis to fire, as Silas and his torch were behind the door. Five other kobolds stood and looked aimlessly into the space ahead of them. Rix's crossbow bolt slammed into the creature, along with one of Dartis' two fired arrows. With a grunt, the robed kobold fell, twitched and died, the crystal in his hand falling to the table with a clink. Alexander and Kel charged inside, but no further action was needed. The other five kobolds stood unmoving.

Inside the room was a large central workbench that the robed kobold was using. Several tools laid about, and Silas' recognized enough of them to realize that they would be valuable to a mage seeking to develop his own magical items. At a casual glance, Silas saw equipment that could be used to make potions, scrolls, and wondrous items. He valued them at 500gp. The crystal that fell was unlike the ones that the party had gotten from the troglodytes and otherwise found. It was clear in appearance.

A logbook was also found on the workbench. Quickly flipping through it, Alexander saw that the first half was written in gnomish and the rest in kobold. A strange-looking chair and several crystals were drawn roughly in the book.

The chair shown in the logbook was also visible in the far corner of the 30 foot by 50 foot room. It was a smooth chair made of petrified wood. Kel recognized the chair as made from special silvan wood that has been petrified over time. A bar extended from the back of the chair, and on the top of the bar was a hollowed dome that rested over the chair and had a crystal-shaped hole on the top. Several straps and clamps had been added to the chair's arms and where a person's legs would lie. A chill ran through the adventurers as they recognized the chair from their dreams...

The image fades, then a new one takes its place. A strange, hairless humanoid creature holds a struggling kobold in its arms, then straps the the smaller creature to a chair with a strange helmet-like contraption. The device is lowered onto the kobold's head, and you feel your blood run cold as the creature's struggling grows weaker, then stops, the intelligence in its eyes disappearing as its pupils turn white and mindless.

After looking at the book, which Alexander promptly handed to Rix, the half-orc said "Part of it is written in kobold..." He ignored the fallen body and the still-standing kobolds. He retrieved the battleaxe he had taken from the gnoll at the goblin fort, held it two-handed, and approached the chair. No one stopped him. Once he was in front of it he calmly declared, "This is not meant to be." Shaking his head for a moment, he then brought down the axe heavily -almost savagely- upon the helmet-like contraption... his face an expression of dead-seriousness.

Rix had just enough time to flip through the journal and realize that the second part was written by a kobold shaman, when he was jolted from his examination by the jarring sound of an axe meeting stone.

Alexander attacked the chair with his weapon, his muscles straining with anger and rage as the axe laid deep gashes into the petrified wood. The ringing of the sound was nearly unbearable as it bounced off the walls of the room. The helmet-dome portion of the chair took the brunt of the half-orc's strength, bending slightly and cracking along the extended bar.

A greenish glow appeared around the chair and helmet, and ancient runes became visible. They were a form of sylvan, so old that even Kel did not recognize the majority of the words. Two words were recognizable by him, however: 'revered' and 'knowledge'. He shuddered when he realized how old this civilization that created this item must have been.
The hairs on the elf's magically sensitive body began to stand on end as the air crackled.

With one last grunt, Alexander struck a final blow, rending the bar from the chair. Another strike caused the fallen dome to crack. Instead of stopping the build-up of energy, the chair glowed brighter and the energy in the room stronger so that the others noticed the building charge.

As the party stared in amazement they heard a gasp of terror by the far door and noticed a kobold observing them. Before they could react, the creature began to shout a warning and shut the door as he fled.

Deliver us from evil.[/blue]

Rix gaped at Alexander, "Fool.. you think we'll be able to find out what powers lie within that when it lies in splinters! Creating a racket, you've called the entirety of them down upon us." He stuffed the book aside into his pack along with a few of the other items he had picked up in the store room. Rix grabbed the coins, the mirror, restocked his bolts from the store room, and grabbed the crystal that the kobold dropped as well as the book.

Dartis raced to the door to fling it open, bow in hand.

"Would it have told us anything else than what we already knew?" Alexander regretted the noise, but I had to do it. The half-orc slowly unsheathed his scimitar as the increasing unholy glow bathed the room.

"We don't know the complex, we can ambush groups exiting the complex if needed... but if we want to stand a chance we must retreat now!"

Dartis opened the door, concentrated, and fired his bow at a group of kobolds outside. A smile of triumph spread across his face, which was soon replaced with a look of worry. In a hurry, he closed the door. At first he was unsure which of the fleeing six kobolds was the controller, but he took his best guess by aiming at the one that looked more animated. He fired his arrow and his aim was true, slamming into the back of the kobold and bringing him down. Dartis' smiled as he realized he took down the right one, since the other five either collapsed or stood unmoving. The smile disappeared, however, when he saw a crowd of a dozen or more kobolds streaming from down the long corridor towards the party, their masters hiding behind the bodies of their slaves.

"Bar the door," Rix snapped. "We go out the way we came." Crouching quickly next to the dead robed kobold, he ruffled through his robes for any items, hidden or otherwise.

Dartis and Rix held the door closed with their shoulders as Alexander and Kel grabbed some crates and attempted to block the door. From the sounds of things, a large group of kobolds were scratching and pushing against the barriers. Things weren't looking so good inside the room, either. A bolt of energy arced like green electricity, nearly striking Silas who was busily stuffing away the crafting tools for his own use.

Silas grabbed for the most valuable of the items first. As the bolt sizzled past, he turned and made for the door back through the storeroom and out the trapdoor, not wishing to tempt the fates with a longer stay.

Rix had taken time to rifle through the corpse of the kobold shaman on the floor. With a quick search of the robed kobold, Rix had just enough time to find a well-crafted dagger, a smooth amber stone, and another clear crystal. He also found a bracelet similar to the one found on some of the other kobold controllers.

The other party members squeezed into the storage room as a number of mindless kobolds were able to open the door slowly, inch by inch.

Seeing Rix scavenging the bodies, Alexander moved next to the kobold and exclaimed -somehow exasperated- "Haste!" Then he grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him along.

As the party began to go down the hatch, the kobolds outside came through the door. Alexander took the rear, but had no chance to act as arcs of energy moved from the damaged chair and struck the creatures, killing those in the lead. With a grimace, Alexander closed the secret hatch as he descended.

The party travelled down the stairs, through the crypts, and to the metal rungs leading to the room with the door that was barring the troll. Silas dropped his second torch onto the ground by the bottom rung as he climbed. Dartis led the party upwards. After a long while he reached the top rung, and the fighter opened the secret hatch. He was shocked to find five kobolds struggling to remove the bar to the tunnel with the troll, guided by the nervous commands of a sixth kobold. He scrambled to stop them, followed by the rest of the party.

"Capture the controller!" barked Silas as he stepped forward, fingers of his right hand splayed before him. Intoning words of arcane power he gestured and pointed towards the kobolds struggling with the bar.

Dartis successfully tackled the kobold controller, followed by Rix, who unsuccessfully tried to remove the bracelet from the controller's arm. Silas came out next and lit two of the mindless kobolds on fire, but they were able to remove the bar as Kel and Alexander came out of the tunnels last.

There was an inhuman shriek of laughter as the door was pushed open. The troll burst forth and ran amock, slaying the kobold nearest to the door. Uncontrolled, the other kobolds stood unmoving in front of the monster, acting as a defensive, unwitting line of meat in between the party and the creature.

The rest of the kobolds will arrive in just seconds! Alexander rushed off to open the door leading to the outside, and stood beside it while waiting for his companions to exit the chamber, keeping his gaze fixed on the troll rending kobold corpses. He kept his scimitar unsheathed.

Dartis dragged the controller kobold with him toward the door. "Everyone out," he shouted to his comrades. Then to the kobold struggling in his arms.
"If you have any wish to stay alive you will order those others to attack the troll."

"By the twisted rune of Ithul!" cursed Silas. Holding the torch ahead of him like a shield, Silas backed quickly away from the troll. He followed after Alexander and Dartis to the exit of the kobold lair.

Rix hustled away from the troll. "Take him. We'll need some answers." He got in the lead and then called back towards Dartis, who was struggling with the controller. He thought for a moment, remembering the controlling bracelet in his pack, retrieved it, then slipped it on. This is going horribly, its all the half-brained orc's fault. Destroying that chair, ridiculous. Righteousness my scaly... His thoughts trailed off in a series of blood curdling curses directed at his idiot companion, the troll, the brainless kobolds, and the whole situation.

The first step is complete, now chaos should ensue in the herd... When they all came through, the half-orc closed the door and prayed for the kobolds to arrive soon enough to the room so as to get the precious time needed to escape into a hiding place. "The Huntress will provide somewhere we can take cover... and plan the next move."

Meanwhile, the kobold Dartis had wrapped in his arms nodded in agreement as he pulled him away, and said in bad common "I want live!" The remaining kobolds made futile attempts to kill the troll, but at least they were slowing him down. The troll didn't seem to mind, and bit deeply into the shoulder of another mindless creature, raining blood over itself. DM's Note: Rix thought that he might be able to control the kobold drones, but each bracelet was attuned to one controller. It was the controller in Dartis' arms that caused them to fight the troll.

Rix attempted to control the kobolds with the bracelet, but there didn't seem to be magic in it, as if the power had died with its owner.

Alexander led the charge to the surface. As the party burst forth from the door, they surprised three small groups of kobold drones and their controllers.

The first group was 30 feet in front of the door. The second group was slightly to the right and 10 feet away. The third group was more to the left and 25 feet away. All three controllers looked astonished to see the adventurers coming out at the speed they were.

Alexander continued leading the charge! "Fall back behind me!" Exclaimed Alexander as he launched himself over the nearest startled kobold. Let the troll meet the kobolds running after us...

Silas cursed again, though with a bit more volume this time. He flung the torch down behind him. Gripping his staff in both hands, he followed in Alexander's wake.

Rix darted after the others, crossbow in hand. "I'd rather rely on my own wits than some vague goddess," he snapped at Alexander as they made their way onto the surface.

Rix fired his bolt first, killing the farthest controller. Silas broke ranks and attacked the nearest kobold with his staff, injuring him severely. Kel assisted, also breaking rank and striking the injured controller down with his blade. Finally, Alexander charged forward and swung his weapons with such force that the kobold controller he targeted was split in half.

The party seemed to be home free. They had a prisoner, and the only threats around them were the fifteen mindless kobolds milling about aimlessly, and the victorious roar of a slaughtering troll deep in the tunnel behind the group. It would seem that the trap meant for the party was about to be sprung on the pursuing kobold tribe.

Next: The gnomes are under attack!

Deuce Traveler

"It would not be wise to loiter around here." Silas motioned back towards the kobold lair. "Especially now that that thing has been set loose." He looked briefly at Rix then shifted his gaze to Alexander. "Can you find us a place of safety where we might question the captured kobold?"

"Before we leave, let us end these abominations, both so that they may not be used against us or our allies, but also as an act of mercy. Rix and I will proceed down the hill, while you fulfill your duty. The troll will be quite happy with his other prey, but do not tarry," said Dratis as he carried off the small reptilian in his arms.

Alexander nodded gravely at Dratis' words. "You speak truth," but looked at Rix for agreement for whether to proceed or not onto the gruesome duty. In the half-orc's eyes they were Rix's kin, and thus, Rix should be the one to free them.

"The troll will end their empty lives. Move." Rix snapped. death was a part of life for a kobold, their stifled souls would be reincarnated into the next hatching.

After Rix said what he had to say, the party heard the growling of an approaching troll behind them. They decided that it was best to quickly move, and left the hill by heading straight out and circling its base. They found concealment in some nearby trees.

As the party was led into the surrounding trees with their struggling kobold in tow, the group heard another monstrous giggle, and turned to see the troll gleefully slaying the mindless kobolds around it. It got inventive, taking the time to slash or dismember the creatures without killing them. Suddenly, a large squad of kobolds came from the other side of the hill and surrounded the troll. The ensuing battle became fierce, but the troll still seemed to have the advantage. Instead of watching the result of the conflict, the party decided to leave. Rix gritted his teeth against the thought of the troll and the mindless kobolds, be reborn into the great mines, the treachery of your own kind against you will show them the greatest of wraths.

They got as far as the swamp, and were discussing how best to cross it, when Dartis detected a familiar, pungent odor. Two recognizeable troglodytes approached, their hands open and away from their weapons in a gesture of peace. The smaller one spoke in broken common, "You return...and with kobold. This one respects has for you. We help you cross our home for price. Perhaps we buy kobold from you. Makes good slave."

Alexander imitated the Troglodytes' gesture: "Well met, hunters."

"We have a need to speak with it first," Kel said in answer to the troglodyte's proposal. "But I think we may be able to strike some kind of deal," the elf said, looking at his friends for agreement. DM's Note: I was surprised to see the elf hint that he might sell the kobold...

The troglodytes smiled to Kel agreeably. "If trouble, we can help make talk. If not kobold slave, we will take five sparkly stones from kobold heads, or 10 gp."

Rix spoke to the lizardmen in draconic, "Give us a moment." Rix then turned back towards the kobold and Dartis, who was tugging him along. "Hold him tight."

[In draconic]"What is your name and your tribe?" he asked calmly.

Alexander turned to the others while Rix questioned the kobold: "We have enough evidence and we can return." His words were dry and matter-o-factly. So that I can finally meet the defilers! "There are greater missions ahead." We can't keep being pest control for gnomes...

The prisoner responded to Rix. "My name is Sylesreastris of the DragonEye clan. What do you want, cousin who is slave to these big ones?"

"Who do you think leads the big ones around by their noses?" Vaerixsjach smirked, "I think Kurtulmak will have a nice place for you in the weasel den once I've finished with you. Who leads your pathetic excuse for a scaled clan?"

Alexander was waiting quietly as the two scaled ones exchanged words. In between, he asked the troglodytes if anything strange had happened of late in the sorroundings, something like the dead rising or other weird occurences.

The troglodyte nodded at Alexander. "Many kobolds pass around swamp to north. Carried many spears. Were too many to hunt. That strange."

Suddenly, the kobold in custody spit on Rix's feet and began to talk angrily in another language.

To Rix in draconic: "You consort with these things and you consider me a betrayer," Sylesreastris asked. "Our leader, Kazsinastrayas, has told us about you. The cousin who walks with the tall ones. Tell me, is it true cousin, how you side with the gnomes against my own DragonEye tribe? And you say you lead this band? Such a betrayal cuts even more deeply. You consider the DragonEyes to be traitors of the faith, but we simply found a way to unite our warring groups. Seperate we were weak. And then when we had captured our enemies we united them in our cause and were stronger for it until you showed. Have you forgotten all your ways, cousin? Have you forgotten that the world goes to the quick and to the cunning? You smell like a human and you talk like one. I condemn you to our lord's justice, betrayer. I will become an dragon egg. Perhaps in the next life some human god may take pity on you and make you a halfling."

[Rix in Draconic]"So, weasel, I think I'll call you weasel. Fitting isn't it? As for me, I side with no one, I have endured where one such as you would die groveling like the dog you are. About the gnomes, I would be happy to see the gnomes wiped out. I'm surprised they have withstood this long. Their defenses are paltry, yet your so-called unity cannot do what I will do myself. You believe you have a unity, what you have is an empty shell ready to crack. Perhaps your pathetic leader failed to study the basics of a proper mine, perhaps he is just a fool. It matters not."

Vaerixsjach drew his dagger, testing the point with the tip of a finger. "Sharp isn't it. I guess you know very little of our own faith, as you failed to recognize one of the chosen. A weasel like yourself would not recognize a dragonwrought." He smirked.

"It would please you that I sent you to your next life? That you had the chance to be reborn, but I don't think that would be fitting punishment just yet. I think you'll live a long and pathetic life. As a slave, like the mindlessness you have inflicted upon my kin, for they are no longer yours, that will be your calling till the end of your days. However, I would not see it fit to let you live with the pleasure of thinking yourself worthy of the heritage of a dragon."

Rix in Common: "We will sell this one to you, make sure that he lives a long and pathetic life. However, first he will be marked. Dartis, hold him tight. Someone, get me a lit torch."

Silas listened to Rix with a scowl upon his face. He didn't understand what was initially being said, but he understood the tone and he didn't like it though he hoped it would get them the information that they needed. When Rix switched to common he frowned. "I will not condone selling this creature into slavery. Despite its crimes, we do not have the right to enslave it, nor to torture it." Silas glanced to Dartis, Alexander, and Kel hoping to receive some support from them. DM's Note: Up until this point I was wondering if the good-aligned characters were going to take a hit to their alignment.

"What did it say about those who've organized the kobolds and used this vile method of control?"

Alexander took out his scimitar and rested it on his other arm, looking intently at the kobold. Without averting his gaze from him he asked, "Yes, what did he say about the crystals?"

Dartis tightened his grip on the kobold but took a step back from Rix. "Silas is quite correct here. Dorinthians do not condone slavery and are not slavers as are the our enemies. And torture will never be tolerated in my presence, ever. I would sooner set this thing free than allow you to mercilessly carve him up. Nor will we relinquish him to the dwellers of this swamp to slave away for a few weeks to only be eaten later. This will not occur. Dorinthia may be lost or nearly so, but its ideals are not." said Dartis fiercely.

"While I would not see him tortured I have no qualms with him serving a sentence with these," Kel said, flicking a finger at the pair of troglodytes. "The Huntress knows it is more than he deserves."

"Well spoken, Lord Kalnian," murmured Silas. And that is why we have nobles, he thought. "Depending on the information you've gained, Rix, we may not need to cross the swamp yet. We've destroyed the artifact that they were using but I fear that was but one of the subjugated kobold clans, not the Dragon Eye kobolds. Those are the ones we need to find. If this one," said Silas motioning at the captive kobold, "can tell us where to find them it would aid our mission immensely. If he cannot, or will not, aid us then our choices are two: either blindly press forward, which I like not, or return to the gnomes to report what we have discovered thus far."

"These are my kin who have been subjected to this, I am no Dorinthian and I care not for the paltry noble ideals of your people. Not that your noble ideals hold much sway either, I doubt any of you have seen how your noble brethren treat those held in jails or they believe to be inhuman or less than them." Rix scowled.

"This one will be given treatment deserving of a traitor to his race. It is not torture, it is an eye for an eye. He will live as if he were one of those whose cunning he has stolen, serving without choice. You advise putting my kin to the death in the name of mercy, yet you somehow believe this ones life is worth saving. He will not be tortured, but marked in much the same way you mark your own criminals, with a brand to name him a traitor."

The dragonkin bared his teeth at the witless humans, "What would you do with him? Bring him back to the accursed gnomes? Kill him in the name of mercy? Leave him to return and report to his traitorous kin?" The dragonkin's tone was sharp and berating.

"He will serve his time with the troglodytes, for to pass him on to the next life would be to great a generosity for the travesty he has inflicted. If you wish to know anything of the Dragon Eye tribe, you will do as I say, or you will stumble along as blind as you are now."

"You won't have him serve with his life Rix." Alexander was unmoving, his scimitar still resting on his left arm. "You may mark him. You may leave him to die. You may slit his throat." Alexander shook his head gravely. "You may not enslave him. Not as he enslaved his kin. Not as Tallionines enslaved free men."

Silas' eyes narrowed and his lips tightened into a thin line. He would justify his actions, explain his beliefs, but he knew the kobold held everything in ill regard except himself and wouldn't listen anyway. "It is the Dorinthian way, Rix, no other. If that means that we must stumble about blindly then so be it."

One of the troglodytes shrugged in boredom at Silas' reaction. "We take you for gold if not the kobold. Makes no difference us. Although kobolds good to eat. Even DragonEye kobold like this one."

The kobold underneath Dartis' arms said something sharp to Rix, which causes the troglodytes to chuckle in amusement. To Rix in Draconic: "I thought you said you were in charge of these tall ones, cousin. Who is in charge of who, here?" The kobold prisoner asked with a smirk.

Kel took a slow step backwards, away from the argument, careful to hold his hands away from his weapons, "Time wastes, decide his fate and be done with it." His eyes swept the area for a stone or a log that he could sit upon while he waited.

"Fools. He will be marked and left as a traitor in these swamps. But only after we get what we need out of him."

[Rix in draconic]"Where is this despicable Kazsinastrayas and the lair of your traitorous tribe? As it seems they consort with gnomes, oh... you didn't realize that bit... doesn't matter, you'll be dead soon enough so long as you tell me what I need to know."

To the troglodytes in draconic "We will see about an arrangement for this one. Perhaps he'll disappear in the night into your domain, I doubt you'll have much trouble picking him up."

Alexander was satisfied by Rix's supposed change in attitude (he didn't know draconic), but the tone in which he concluded "Good, I won't have to behead him then" could have been well in search of comedy or dead serious, it was hard to tell which. He finally sheathed his scimitar and retreated to wait while Rix interrogated the rat.

The kobold prisoner snickered and switches to common. "This one wants to know where my tribe is quartered. You just came from there. This our new home, and was taken from Hill Delvers. They now serve us. As for our commander, he now gone to deal with enemies of our ally. Our ally is a gnome, yes, but he sees error of his ways. He helps DragonEye tribe grow strong. Our enemies soon not a problem. Gnome mage brings kobolds and goblins together for last fight against his old home."

"Serves the gnomes right." Rix spit on the ground, "Now, will someone get me a torch so when I mark this one as a traitor so he doesn't bleed to death."

Alexander came back at the mention of goblins and mighty alliances, and asked in a casual tome to Rix: "Did we conserve the head of the goblin shaman?"
"Let us get done with this." And warn the gnomes of the lizard in gnome body so that they deal with it, all this stinks... treason abounds.

Silas cursed quietly at the information imparted by the kobold. "Then we'll need to warn the gnomes quickly." Looking Rix in the eye he said, "Seems I left my torch back at the kobold lair." He then turned to the troglodytes. "What price for passage across your swamp?"

The troglodyte pondered for a moment and then said, "We takes 20 golds for passage or something of equal value." The creature looked one more time at the prisoner.

Silas fished in his pouch for 20 gold and paid the troglodytes. "Shall we go, my friends?"

"I'm ready to go as soon as you lot resolve your issues," Kel quipped as he walked casually towards Silas.

"Solved, or not, we must go."

The troglodytes took the 20gp from Silas and led the party of adventurers through the swamp. A steady rain came from the west and dampened both the adventurers' clothes and their spirits as the mud got deeper and the going harder. It took some hours to make it through. When they did make it out of the marsh as the rain slows to a trinkle, night had gathered. The guides were true to their word, and they gave a nod in salute as they disappeared back into the swamp.

Exhausted, the party considered resting before pushing on to the lands of the gnomes, despite the danger that the prisoner insisted was heading the gnomes' way.

With exhaustion sapping his strength Silas said, "I think we should rest. Pushing on in this state..." He shook his head. "It's too dangerous; especially with night coming on."

The group settled down to rest. Each group member took a different shift and Dartis tied the kobold prisoner up near a tree while he took the first watch. The night went uneventfully and the group slept until Rix took the last shift. Shortly before dawn the party woke up to painful screams deep in the swamp. As the party grabbed their weapons and prepared for an attack they noticed that Rix wasn't to be found in the camp. Soon they heard a whistling tune as Rix emerged from the muddy ground, his hands by his side, and a pleased look on his face. It appeared that the kobold prisoner was gone...

Alexander spit, all this really disgusted him. He would have preferred to cleanly slice the head from the body of the kobold, but it was Rix's realm. Leaving a wounded wolf behind on purpose... The half-orc shook his head. "Moving." Ravil was right, this scoundrel is testing me.

"Who's making breakfast?" Rix grinned, markedly amused at his companions.

Silas pulled a hard, dry biscuit from his store of rations and tossed it to Rix. "Consider it made." Rapidly packing up his gear and strapping his bedroll to the bottom of his pack he said, "Let's move on. We can eat on the trail." Keeping his face carefully blank he asked Rix, "Did you kill him?"

When Silas asked him his question, Rix cocked his head to the side, "who?"

"I could stand to sit and eat breakfast, the trail is still going to be there. Maybe not the gnomes, but no real loss." He tossed the dry biscuit back, sitting down he opened up some of his own rations.

"We are moving, Rix" Alexander said... his patience with the kobold was growing thin. "We have no time to waste, even more, we will have to march at higher speed, we don't want to arrive at the gnome's place in midbattle." He packed and prepared to go.

Silas sighed, realizing he would not get any information out of the wily kobold rogue. He shrugged his pack up onto his back and grabbed for the biscuit when Rix tossed it back. Looking at Alexander he said, "I'm ready." Breaking off a piece of the biscuit, he popped it into his mouth and moved to follow Alexander.

The party moved on, though some of its members glanced at Rix in suspicion or disgust. They travelled for a few more hours when Kel noticed a wisp of smoke in the direction of the gnome lands. Hurrying, the party travelled another hour before the inescapable smell of smoke reached their noses.

Walking over the final hill, the party saw the Laughphray Hills on fire, its defensive towers aflame or destroyed. Several siege engines laid still on the field, surrounded by the bodies of goblins, gnolls, and kobolds. The doors to the gnome home had been broken down and a recently dug tunnel opening covered with canvas could be seen between two large tents. This was likely dug by kobold sappers.

Three entrances into the hills could be seen from the vantage point, although there were likely others. The left entrance was closer to the residential areas of the gnome caves, while the right entrance was nearer the administrative. Both entrances had been burst open. The kobold tunnel was a third, new entrance, but where it led to was unknown. The adventurers could hear the sounds of battle raging somewhere deep in the earth.

Next: Saving the gnomes...

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