Small Beginnings - Final Update 6/18/04, ITEOTWAWKI, AIFF!

Enk&D'Shai

First Post
The Next installment, part 74

I think they’re on to us!

Who?

You know. Them.

No I don’t know. What are you talking about?

The invisible forces determined to keep us from posting to our story hour.

The what?

You know, the sinister beings that keep casting confusions and slow spells at us to make it for us harder to post.

You've been wearing your tinfoil hat again, haven't you?

Yes, but that’s not important right now. We finally made our saving throw and we are ready to post.

That's the most riduclous thing I've ever heard.

Then how do you explain the long delay for a new post?

...

Well?

Sinister invisible beings and failed saving throws?

That’s what I thought. Tip O the day: Always have your story straight before dealing with the public. Right, Enk?

Shut up and pass me the aluminum foil.

*****

“I don’t think this is working, Ander,” Theo whispered as he leaned toward the young woodsman. Ander nodded almost imperceptibly and cocked his head to one side, drawing the priests’ gaze a dozen paces away to where Aurora, Meepo, and Pack anxiously waited. Nearby, three heavily armed guards examined the forged documents that had been the center piece of the friends’ brilliant escape plan. Behind the arguing dwarves, a group of seven adults and two dozen children huddled in a squat torchlit cage barely a plow row wide. Theo took a moment to search for familiar faces lit by firelight: Rel, Dawn, Dun, Potter, Wire, Ashie, and no sign of the others. Theo scowled and sighed. At least all the children made it. The rest look like they’re from the tribes. Behind the cage, he could see Ashrem’s ghostly silhouette as the scout moved through the shadows, ready to attack if negotiations went sour.

“Those papers have gotten us this far. It’ll work one more time.” Ander replied in a voice so quiet Theo had to strain to hear it. “They look like their just being careful. No need to worry.” The woodsman’s white knuckles, wrapped tightly around his staff, belied the confidence of his words.

Theo gave a quiet huff in half hearted agreement and looked back over to the pens. The loosely ensconced torches cast a ominous glow over the scene, and Theo watched for a moment as one of the guards studiously scoured over the document, pointing a squat and grubby finger first at one place, and then another, while the dwarves jabbered amongst themselves. Just when it seemed that a decision had finally been made, Theo groaned inwardly as the trio of guards flipped the document over and began arguing again. “Spear and hammer! They had it upside down?” he rumbled in frustration, a bit more loudly than he had meant. Six heads turned his way for an overlong heartbeat, until Meepo barked at the dwarves in their strange language and pointed back at the parchment, which sparked a new round of arguments. Aurora held the priest’s gaze for a moment as she shrugged her shoulders.

Suddenly Meepo stomped his feet and slapped his tail against the ground, and then drew himself up in as dignified a manner as Theo supposed the dragon keeper was capable. The kobold let a hand drop to his makeshift belt and loincloth, and withdrew a battered roll of parchment. He unfurled it and presented it to the dwarves, whose eyes widened in understanding as they nodded gravely and gave a little nod to Aurora. Then they raced to the cage as if the demon itself was behind them and began ushering out the prisoners within, pausing only to shackle them together before presenting their leader chain to the girl. After a heartbeat’s hesitation, she took the thin chain and led the chain gang away.

One by one, the priest’s friends fell in beside the line of prisoners until Theo was left alone looking down at a single piece of forgotten parchment: a stick figure portrait of the demon, curved horns and all, presenting a line of humans to a fire-breathing angel with long red hair.


***


“No I’m not kidding,” Theo huffed as he crested the rise, his legs aching from the unyielding pace Ashrem set as he scouted the way back up the city hill, and his arms burning from the whimpering child he cradled.

“I can’t believe it,” grunted Ander, straining under the weight of the girl hanging from his neck. “Stick people. Why did we even bother with the other ones?”

Pack piped up from behind the woodsman, where he helped another child along as quickly as he could, looking like Worm when he walked Father Lion home after a night of too heavy drinking. “If it makes you feel better, Ander, I think they couldn’t read. I think they recognized the seal, but I think they just didn’t understand what they were supposed to do, and I think they were too proud to admit it, and…”

“I get it, Pack!” the woodman snapped as his pace faltered for a moment. Theo slowed, allowing the sweating and red faced young man to come even with the priest.

“Ander, pass her to me. I need to even out my load or I’ll be spending more time balancing myself than walking.”

“No, I….” Ander began, shaking his head, but Theo narrowed his eyes in disapproval. I know how much you’re hurt, lad. Don’t make me have to tell the lass. “…Thanks. I need to make sure we’re not being followed anyway.”

The older man shifted his current charge to accept the second and his shoulders groaned in protest. Still, he thought, better to have a pair of tired shoulders than a lad who worked himself to death. Then, after a moment spent settling the children and catching his breath, he pushed on, plodding forward like an old plow horse, and humming an old cadence to himself. He quickly left Ander, breathing shallowly and gently holding his ribs, behind.

He had just hit his marching rhythm when the trumpeted alarms rang throughout the caverns.

“They must have found him!” Ander yelled. “Ashrem, get us out of here! Make sure everyone stays together, and help the children! Pick them up and carry them if you have to! Now move!”

Instantly, Theo saw the chains holding the prisoners together grow taught as Ashrem set a blistering pace timed to a fast moving ditty vocalized by the ever helpful Pack. Even Theo felt invigorated and managed to keep pace with the group, but the priest knew that it would only be a matter of time before they were overrun by dwarves, kobolds, and their ant-like steeds.

Pack’s song repeated three times before the thundering beat of mounted riders echoed throughout the cavern drowning out the bard. “We’ll have to fight,” he thundered, “and hope for the best!”

“No, you have to get them out.” Ander’s voice seemed distant despite the fact that the woodsman loped alongside the priest and a quick glance told the healer that the boy’s wounds were worse than even the priest thought. The warrior would soon be unable to run at all. Theo nodded, knowing full well what the young man’s intentions were and wishing that it could be him instead. “Zuras watch over you lad.”

The woodsman only nodded quickly and slowed his pace, pulling his sword as he dropped from the old man’s view.

“..and pray for us.”


***


Ander let the tip of his newly looted sword, fresh from the demon’s hoard, sink easily into the gravel beside the lit torch he had fixed there. When he let it go it wobbled slightly, a match for the woodsman himself who likewise swayed in a nonexistent breeze. The young man shook his head and took a deep breath only to be rewarded with a searing, stabbing pain in his chest, as if invisible fey creatures skewered him with red hot spears. The pain shocked him for a moment, and cleared his head.

The sword still swayed even after Ander did not, as if in anticipation of the coming fight. Patience. First we have to slow them down. With practiced ease the woodsman drew and slung his bow, taking extra care to fluff his arrows: Just like shooting birds in flight

The ash bow had never felt heavier in his hands, yet at the same time it had never felt more comfortable as he drew and nocked his first arrow, sighting down his bracered arm at the wall of light he had created with torches set at regular intervals. A calm settled over him as the first of the riders emerged from the shadows and time seemed to slow for the lone warrior as he loosed his first arrow. Birds in flight… The shaft flew true, catapulting the unsuspecting dwarven rider from its centaur-ant mount, but Ander was oblivious to the effect as he mechanically drew and fired.

Arrow after arrow found its mark, but still the riders charged forward and when the cavern itself trembled with the thundering horde Ander tossed aside the bow. As the shadow of the charging lead rider fell over him, the woodsman snatched his sword from its earthen sheath and twisted aside, dodging the hurtling spear and cleaving through its owner. Other riders rushed by the lone ranger, making for the sounds of the escaped slaves, but Ander’s reflexes proved equal to the task as his blade drew blood and ichor from riders and mounts as each pair darted past.

Too late he realized his mistake, as a spear caught in his shoulder, wheeling him around and showing him just how effectively the riders’ steeds had encircled him. The armored ants slashed and clawed at the warrior, reminding him that the underground mounts showed as much cunning as their riders.

The woodsman left a wide trail of his own blood as he broke through an opening and leapt atop a clear outcropping of stone jutting from the wall. For a moment the creatures balked, I might just get out of this alive after al...

The javelin, thrown from the one of the still approaching second wave, pierced his chest with a thump and Ander stared in disbelief at the wooden stake protruding from his leather jerkin before he slumped against the uneven cavern wall. His sword slipped feebly from his grasp, landing on the smooth top of the stone with a ringing sound, and glanced over the battlefield. Six, I got six. Not enough. Need one more.

With a grunt Ander rose and drew his long knife, summoning the last of his strength for one final stand and one sliver more of hope for those he protected. With a wild howl fit for a raging wolf, he leapt at the nearest dwarf, One more!

The ranger sailed through the air, only to see his target’s head disappear in a flash of violet as two dragon headed missiles removed it from his body. At the same time, the rider’s mount squealed and clutched its face, a crossbow bolt protruding from its eye. Ander landed with a thud on the unforgiving ground and gasped in pain as his ribs shifted.

Suddenly Ashrem’s black form was amidst the enemy slashing wildly at anything that ventured near the wounded woodsman. A slender hand pulled Ander backwards as its matching extremity loosed another volley of dragon missles.

“We came here together! We leave here together!” Aurora said before conjuring a sphere of violet flame that rolled into the confused tangle of insects and dwarves, allowing Ashrem to retreat to the relative safety of the companions and drag Ander away from the tumult of dwarves, ants, and fire.

“She’s right lad, you don’t get to play dead hero today!” Ander looked up weakly at the old priest, who smiled grimly down upon the younger man. “At least, not alone,” he continued, more quietly. “Now look sharp – they’re regrouping for a charge!”

“Not if I can help it,” said Aurora, and Ander watched as she sent her purple flame rolling across their forming line.”

“That’s right!” Pack said, coming from seemingly out of nowhere to stand next to the still prone woodsman. “Not if we can help it! Don’t worry, Ander we’re going to get you out of here,” said Pack, stepping between the woodsman and the enemy with a look of growing concern in his eyes, “Just don’t do something silly in the meantime, like bleed to death.”

“I’ll try not too.”

“Here they come,” thundered Theo. From behind Pack, Ander could see that the riders had formed a small line and had stepped up to charge.

The woodsman struggled to his feet and stepped into the gap next to Pack. “This is it, isn’t it?” Pack said.

“Aye, it is.” Theo rumbled.

“On three, we countercharge,” Ander said. “One, Two…”

Ander was knocked from his feet from behind, as a wave of oversized rats poured past the friends. At their head, astride a gargantuan mole, rode Balsag. The bugbear and his rodent force smashed into the enemy, scattering the demon’s minions like twigs in a brisk wind.

“Dead men don’t pay debts!” the bugbear cried. “I thought you might need additional help! With additional fees of course! Now let’s finish this thing so I can get my gold!”

“You heard him,” Theo rumbled, “let’s finish it!”

Ander, broken, beaten, bleeding, yet for the first time hopeful, tried to stand, found he did not have the strength, and fell into darkness.


*****

Next time:

Is this the end of Small Beginnings?
 
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Dungannon

First Post
Theo took a moment to search for familiar faces lit by firelight: Rel, Dawn, Dun, Potter, Wire, Ashie, and no sign of the others.
Woohoo!! I made it into a storyhour! :) Although, I can't help but notice the absence of Hulk. Are you two sure that was wise?
 

HULK

First Post
HULK like way fighting described.

HULK thought Ander going to die.

HULK not trust bugbear.

Dungannon--HULK already in story hour as WORM.
Enk&DShai can't use HULK because of fancy legal words.

HULK make present for 'fraidy deadwire.
 


Catch up time

Enk&D'Shai,

It is has been about 26 months, give or take a week or two. I apologise for being away for so long (university was a little more involving than expected). However, I'm back.

I'm going to catch up with this story hour and start posting relevant material, rather than this drivel that you're reading. I've avoided scanning through the many pages, though I see that the half-orc has become a star. Good, always thought he had a bucket-load of potential even from the little intro bit that I read.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hi, and now I'm reading again.

Spider_Jerusalem

plus... Ice, Luck and Honour is coming back (which is why I'm back on here, other than to read everyone else's stories and poach ideas).
 

Rel

Liquid Awesome
Firstly, I'm very sorry it has taken me so long to check in and read this update. I went on vacation around the time it was posted and I've been playing catch-up with work ever since I got back. But it was well worth the wait.

I appreciate the cameo and the battle scene with Ander was intense. I really did think it was curtains for him with the way you built it up. And great job bringing Balsag and the rat-horde in. Once again you take the material from the module and run with it. Kudos.

And I'm totally with you on the "Invisible forces that conspire to prevent story hour updating". I'm hoping to change that tomorrow though.

Thanks again for another excellent update.
 

dshai527

First Post
Spider! Good to have ya back. Been awhile. Hope you like what you missed otherwise we'll have to do it over again til we get it right. Dammit.

Rel, I hope your vacation was relaxing and fun. More relaxing though, unless it was supposed to be the fun kind, or if you don't find relaxing fun.

Well the invisible forces have struck again. Since they could not beat me with the lawn demons they went microscopic on me and attacked my sinuses. I have been laid up for a few, but we are puttin the polish on the last post and should have it up by the weekend. Just hold on til then.

Quote from my wife on how to deal with evil villains in real life."Just walk up to him and say 'Roll Initiative' and then punch him in the face!" Man, I love her.
 

LiVeWiRe

ENergetic Comm. Supporter
Welcome back Spider! Think that's almost it from the 'old' gang...except for Black Bard?

Thanks for the cameo--and for it being Hulkless. :)

I too thought it was the end of Ander and all the talk about the "end of small beginnings" really got me thinking that it could be the end for one or more of the heroes. But, thankfully that wasn't the case!

Looking forward to the next update! Get well soon Dshai!

-LW
 

Badger

First Post
Well, I don't know if I qualified as an official one of the gang, but I did manage to win some dice...:)

Glad to see the story back, as well as the vanguard responding once more.

*reattaches lurking device*
 

LiVeWiRe

ENergetic Comm. Supporter
Badger said:
Well, I don't know if I qualified as an official one of the gang, but I did manage to win some dice...:)

Glad to see the story back, as well as the vanguard responding once more.

*reattaches lurking device*

Badger,

Yep, you're an "official one of the gang"...glad to see you back! :)

-LW
 

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