log in or register to remove this ad

 

The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)

Lazybones

Explorer
Glad to have you on board once again, wolff.

I'm being sent to a conference tomorrow for work; I'll post the next update on Saturday when I get back.

* * * * *


Chapter 11

FLIGHT


“It’s still coming,” Varo said, glancing back over his shoulder.

“Damn it, those doors barely even slowed it,” Dar said. He looked slightly winded, but was far better off than Tiros, who had slumped against the wall, his body heaving as he fought for breath.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Navev said. He started for the corridor on the far side of the intersection, but Dar cut him off.

“Idiot! Where do you think you’re going? Have you forgotten the bars, and the crusher trap in the mausoleum?”

“Maybe the trap has reset by now.”

“If you want to take the chance of being caught in a dead-end, with that thing filling the entire passage behind you, go right ahead. We haven’t gone this way yet,” Dar said, indicating the passage that branched off to the right. There might be another way out, or at least some way to slow that thing’s pursuit.”

“Are you all right?” Varo asked Tiros, but the marshal shook off his offered arm, and straightened. He looked pale.

“Let’s go.”

They made their way down the rough passage, bypassing a few side branches that quickly narrowed into impassable slits. They didn’t have to go far, however, before the main corridor opened onto another chamber. This one was also nearly barren, with only a large wooden coffin lying against the far wall. Some more narrow cracks were evident along the walls, but the only real exit was another passage mouth in the far wall. They quickly moved in that direction, but as their light reached the dark opening, it revealed a pile of rubble—a total collapse.

“Dead end,” Dar said, grasping his dagger tightly.

“What... what are we going to do?” Navev said. “That thing will be on us in a few seconds! There’s no place else to go! What do we do?”

“We sell our lives as dearly as we can, boy,” Dar said, smiling grimly as he drew out his second dagger, and tested the weights of both by flipping them over, letting the hilts slap into his palms.

“Maybe we can get around it,” Tiros said, looking around the room.

“To what end?” Dar replied. “We can’t keep running. We’re faster than that thing, but look at us... we’re beat, and we won’t be able to go much longer without a rest.”

“I would have thought that you, at least, would have offered a more tenacious resistance.”

“Look, marshal,” Dar began, his voice growing more angry.

“Gentlemen,” Varo said, from the entry, where he’d lingered back. “If we are to have a plan, I suggest we implement it now. I can hear the creature approaching.”

Tiros looked at Dar, who crossed his arms. “Well, marshal? You’re supposed to be the strategic genius.”

Tiros scanned the room. “Navev,” he said. “Stand by the left wall. I want you to draw the creature with your blasts. Keep it near the wall.”

“What? I’m not going to be a sacrificial...”

“We’ll all get out of this alive, if we work together,” Tiros interjected. “Dar. You and Varo, take up a heavy rock or two from that rubble, as heavy as you can carry and still move fast.”

“What will that accomplish?” Dar asked. “Throwing rocks isn’t going to faze that thing.”

But Varo had divined the marshal’s purpose. “The pit?”

Tiros nodded. “It probably won’t stop it, but it may give us enough time to get away. I’ll try to keep it distracted. Navev, once it comes halfway across the room, run behind that coffin, and around to the others. Dar and Varo will be slowed, but they should have a chance to get a slight lead if we can delay it for a few moments. And once we’re ahead of it again, we should be able to outdistance it.”

Navev still looked uncertain, but Tiros said, “Can you do this, warlock? Our lives depend on it.”

Navev nodded, but his hands were still shaking as he took up the position ordered by Tiros. Varo and Dar were already gathering their stones, and Tiros paused to pick up a handful of fist-sized rocks of his own.

The dung monster rolled into view, its amorphous form making a sick slurping sound as it moved across the floor. The stench came with it, a rolling wave that instantly fouled the air in the chamber. It hesitated a fraction of a second in the entry, before it started sliding toward Tiros.

“Now!” the marshal shouted.

Navev’s eyes glowed a bright crimson as he started hitting the monster with eldritch blasts. The other three held their position near the rubble pile, and the monster shifted and started moving toward the warlock, along the wall.

“Draw him...” Tiros said. “Keep it up,” he added, as the warlock fell back, hitting the dung monster several more times. The blasts seemed to have an effect, or at least they left a visible mark, but the creature seemed to heal the damage almost at once.

“Now!” Tiros said. Dar and Varo darted past, staying close to the opposite wall. The monster started to move toward them, but Tiros hit the creature with a thrown rock, and Navev blasted it again, drawing its attention back.

“Circle around!” Tiros said to Navev. The warlock fled, narrowly avoiding a prodding pseudopod that swept through the air in his wake. Tiros was ready at the coffin, and as the monster surged forward he upended the rotting wood object into its path. The coffin slowed it barely a second, but it was enough for the warlock and marshal to break free, and keep running toward the exit, the monster in close pursuit.

They had barely made it back to the entry intersection before they caught up to Dar and Varo. The fighter was struggling with the weight of a stone that had to weigh over a hundred pounds. “I assume it’s coming?” the cleric asked.

“Oh, we got its attention,” Tiros said. He sent Navev up to clear the way, while he himself brought up the rear, conscious of the sucking sound that was growing louder in the corridor behind them.

They made their way back through the complex of rooms. “Hey, warlock, remember to step over that broken step!” Dar shouted ahead. But they made their way without difficulty back to the edge of the pit. Navev and Tiros helped the others with their burdens, easing around the perimeter of the pit.

“Here it comes!” Varo yelled, gesturing with his torch.

The dung monster surged forward, slow but certain in the determination of its approach. Bits of stone and wood clung to it, detritus picked up in its pursuit but not yet absorbed. It came straight at them, and as it had before, it spread its body around the edges of the pit. As its weight triggered the trap door mechanism, the central mass of its body sagged downward for a moment, but the adhesive properties of its hide allowed it to continue to move forward.

“Now!”

Dar and Varo hurled their boulders square into the center of the creature. The sudden boost of weight caused the center of the creature to sag into the mouth of the pit, stretching out the edges that still clung tenaciously to the edges. For a heartbeat the four men held a collective breath, but then with a “plop” sound the dung monster tore free, and plummeted into the pit.

“The lid!” Tiros urged, but Dar was already moving. He had unslung his sword belt, and dropped to the ground, using the loop of the belt to catch the edge of the pit’s lid. With Varo helping, he pulled the lid up, using the trap’s natural counterweight to help him draw the heavy mechanism shut.

“That won’t stop it,” Varo said.

“No,” Tiros said. “But it might give us a few seconds.” He indicated the one remaining passage, the broad corridor that stretched out to the south. Leaving the pit, the companions hurried in that direction, moving deeper into Rappan Athuk.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Richard Rawen

First Post
man o man... I cannot imagine how tense a group of players would be in that situation... truly desperate! Great writing LB, have fun at your conference and hurry back :)

Has anyone played this mod? How did you handle this ridiculously difficult encounter?
 
Last edited:

Rabelais

First Post
Great Googly Moogly. That's the most Ewwww...

Great Job LB :)

BTW It took about 3 weeks of reading to catch up to Shackled City... I'm glad I caught this one pretty much at the beginning.

My take on Alignments?

Tiros LN or even LG
Dar Neutral
Navev NE
Varo LE
Mad Elf N

Give or take a step or two. :)
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Richard Rawen said:
man o man... I cannot imagine how tense a group of players would be in that situation... truly desperate! Great writing LB, have fun at your conference and hurry back :)
Just got back! Lots of history goodness at the conference; who knows, some of it may even make it into the story. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 12

RATS!


The Doomed Bastards followed the hallway for about a hundred feet, before the worked tunnel gave way to a rougher, uncut corridor tight enough to force them to walk single-file. Dar, rearmed with Tiros’s old longsword and Varo’s heavy shield, took the lead. There were more than a few concerned glances over shoulders, back into the darkness behind them. Each of the four were all too aware that if this corridor reached a dead end, they might find themselves confronting the dung monster again, this time with no hope for escape.

But after another sixty feet or so, the corridor opened onto a much larger cavern. This one was several times larger than any of the rooms they had encountered thus far, its far side beyond the range of the feeble light cast by their torches. There was a breeze here, a constant rush of air that made the flames of their brands dance and weave. In addition to the noise of the wind, there was another sound, which Varo identified as made by fast-moving water.

“Some sort of underground river, perhaps,” Tiros said, as he warily cast his torch around, trying to get a better view.

As he shone the light to the right, it revealed a low wall formed of a mound of stone rubble that blocked the mouth of a passage to the west. A loud squeaking noise came from that direction, and as the globe of light extended out over the barrier, it revealed the shadowy outline of a humanoid figure, which appeared to be swinging a weapon wildly around it. The squeaks intensified, making it pretty clear what the individual was struggling against.

“Help me!” came a woman’s voice. “The rats... they’re everywhere!” To punctuate her statement, she let out a sudden cry of pain, and the shadow-figure staggered forward, toward the far edge of the mound.

Tiros at once summoned Valor, and rushed forward. Varo and Dar exchanged a look, and followed. Bringing up the rear again was Navev, who looked about nervously, as if expecting an attack at any moment, from any direction. Given their experience in Rappan Athuk thus far, his sentiments did not seem entirely inappropriate.

As Tiros came forward—keeping a close eye out for any snares or traps—the light of the torch cast the scene in more detailed relief. The shadowy figure was revealed to be a human woman of savage aspect, her dirty brown hair falling about her face and shoulders in a tangled mess. She was clad in a tattered tunic further marred by rips and dark stains, although the rapier she bore looked functional enough. She was surrounded by a ring of dire rats, over a dozen of them, which pressed in at her, dodging her clumsy swings and nipping at her heels.

She looked up and saw Tiros approaching. “Help me!” she urged again, just as a rat leapt onto her leg and latched its teeth onto her garment. The woman let out a shriek and fell back over the far lip of the barrier, falling out of sight. The rats, rather than turn toward the new threat, followed after her.

Tiros reached the edge of the mound, and started up, Valor shining brightly with a blue tinge in the reflected light of his torch. Rocks clattered at his steps, but the marshal determinedly made his way forward, his magical sword at the ready.

Dar and Varo came up behind him. Dar started after Tiros, but Varo forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. “It’s a trap,” the cleric said.

“You think?” the fighter said, his voice dripping sarcasm.

Tiros had reached the top of the rubble heap. He, too, had obviously sensed something wrong, for instead of rushing forward he paused. The squeaking had grown eerily quiet.

For a heartbeat, an eerie and utter silence fell over the cavern, save for the quiet rushing of water behind them.

Then Tiros cried out and staggered back. An arrow had blossomed from his shoulder, piercing his breastplate. At the same moment, a small object came hurtling down from above, landing atop the rubble heap a few feet from where the marshal stood. As it struck, the thing exploded, releasing a cloud of fine dust that swirled in the air around Tiros, obscuring him momentarily from view.

The dust quickly dissipated in the cavern breeze, but its effects were immediately obvious. Tiros, already in distress from the arrow jutting from his shoulder, staggered back, his body wracked by a fit of desperate coughing. The marshal’s movements caused him to lose his footing, and he slipped over the edge of the wall, landing hard on his back to slide down to where Varo and Dar had fallen back, wary of whatever toxin was in the packet of dust. Valor likewise clattered down the stone heap, coming to a rest a few feet away. The marshal’s torch remained near the top of the mound where it had fallen, its flame guttering weakly.

The squeaking return, redoubled now in intensity—and growing rapidly closer.

“Damn it, I hate it when I’m right,” Dar said. “Get him up!” he said to Varo, tucking his sword into the crook of his shield arm, and reaching down to help the injured marshal to his feet. But Tiros’s coughing had worsened, and he couldn’t even stand under his own power. Varo took his weight on him, lifting the old warrior’s arm across his shoulders and dragging him back toward the cavern entrance.

An arrow knifed down from above and beyond the wall, narrowly missing Dar’s face and clipping the inside of his shield as he started to turn back. The archer that had shot Tiros apparently had a perch somewhere high above, which meant that their position was even more tenuous than it had first seemed. Or rather, make that archers, he amended, as a second shot whistled past him, missing his head by a scant few inches. As he brought his shield back around, the fighter dropped his sword, which clattered loudly on the stone at his feet.

“Damn it all...” he said. His mood darkened yet further as he looked up to see a horde of giant rats, lots of giant rats, crest the top of the mound and come surging down toward him.
 


Lazybones

Explorer
Mimic said:
Excellent writing as always LB, I was kind of bummed about Ukas, I liked that half-orc.
Yeah, well, I wouldn't get too attached to any of the characters in this story. :]

* * * * *

Chapter 13

JARVIK’S GIFT


A blue flash caught the fighter’s eye. Action preceded thought, and before he could consider it, he’d reached down and grabbed the marshal’s sword. As with the first time he had grasped Valor, in the battle against the gargoyles in the graveyard above, he felt a cold chill pass into him from the blade, as if the sword was somehow taking a part of him as a price for using it. But there was no time to consider the matter further, as the rats swarmed over him.

The sword was perfectly balanced, and it cut through the rats like a hot knife through butter. The first rat that leapt at him was cut in two, and he continued the sweep into a second, severing its spine and knocking it roughly to the ground. But the other rats took advantage of their comrades’ sacrifice to come at the fighter from all directions. Dar felt pain explode in his legs as several bites tore through the fabric of his trousers and the old leather of his boots. A few rats tried to jump onto his back, and only a quick spin kept them from getting a hold that might have proven disastrous. Individually, the rats were not too tough, but the damned things weighed almost fifty pounds. Dar knew that if he slipped and lost his footing, the rats would tear him to pieces in a matter of seconds.

Stabbing another rat to death, he pushed his way through the ring and ran after the others. He staggered and almost went down as a rat dug its teeth painfully into the back of his left ankle, narrowly missing his Achilles’ tendon. He kicked out reflexively, and the rat went flying. The others continued to harry him as he rushed after Varo. He saw Navev, surrounded by a nimbus of pale red light, blasting rats as they rushed at him. Apparently he wasn’t the only one in trouble; for some odd reason the thought gave him a moment’s pleasure.

Something heavy latched onto his tunic from behind, and again he had to stop and fight for his life as the rats surged at him again. He swung around, ignoring the one dangling from his back as he carved up another pair trying to make mincemeat out of his ankles. He’d left bloody footprints behind him, he saw, and for a moment he wondered just how much blood he had left to ooze out on the stones of Rappan Athuk.

Varo had managed to get Tiros into the relative shelter of the entry corridor. The marshal was still hacking weakly, and his lips were stained bright with blood. Varo tried to prop him up against the wall, but as he tried to call his magic, a dark form came rushing out of the shadows behind him. It slammed into Varo; the cleric’s torchlight glinted for a moment on steel, and then the cleric cried out and fell forward to the ground. Tiros, unable to do anything to help him, slumped against the wall, splattering droplets of blood upon the stone as he continued to hack up bloody bits of lung.

Dar saw the new enemy strike down Varo, too late to intervene. The thing had the features and ragged fur of a giant rat, but it was humanoid, armed with a rapier and a malicious intelligence that shone in its eyes as it lifted its weapon to finish the injured cleric.

Before he could strike, Navev blasted the wererat from point-blank range. The creature snarled and lunged at the warlock with surprising speed. Navev tried to retreat, but he couldn’t get more than a few feet before the creature thrust the tip of his rapier through the links of Navev’s chain shirt. The warlock yelled in pain and staggered back, just in time for three dire rats to leap onto him.

The wererat sensed Dar coming and spun to face him. The wererat was quick, but not quick enough to avoid a sweep of Valor that cut a shallow gash across its furry chest. The blow would have killed a normal man, but the wererat only twisted its rodent’s lips into a mockery of a smile.

“You cannot hurt me, weak little man. I will make a present of your head to Fiilaar... she hates you humans, above all things.”

“I’ll give her a gift,” Dar snarled, swinging his sword in another attack that the wererat nimbly dodged. The creature’s counter drove a hot wedge of pain into the fighter’s side as a few inches of steel pierced a weak spot in his armor.

The wererat suddenly stiffened and let out an angry shriek. Dar looked down and saw Varo lying on the ground, his hand clasped tight around the wererat’s ankle. Jagged rents had opened in the creature’s leg as the cleric’s inflict spell had run its course. The wererat, snarling, kicked the cleric in the face, and Varo released his grip, rolling back.

Dar felt another bite tear into his calf muscle, but by this point the pain was almost lost in the wild rush of the battle surge. He knew it would hurt plenty once the battle was over, assuming he survived. The rats behind him were a worry; Varo had proven that the creature could be hurt, but it had also proven that it was a skilled fighter.

But then a loud whistle pierced the cavern. Almost immediately, the rats disengaged and fell back in the direction of the stone barrier. The wererat’s expression turned to one of surprise, a look that quickly turned to an angry snarl.

“Looks like your buddies have left you to rot,” Dar said. Always one to take advantage of a sudden turn in the fortunes of battle, he lifted his sword and lunged forward to strike.

But the wererat moved even faster. It darted inside his reach, and snapped its huge jaws around the wrist of Dar’s swordarm. Dar was wearing a bracer, but despite that he felt a crushing pain as the creature bit down hard.

For a few seconds the two struggled, Dar trying to pull his hand free, the wererat tightening its grip. It thrust its rapier at the fighter’s belly, but this time the stroke was turned by the curving plate of Dar’s armor. With his shield just a hindrance now in such close quarters, the fighter hurled it off his left arm.

A red light flared around the wererat’s shoulders, and it staggered into Dar. The creature did not release its grip, but Dar opened his hand, letting Valor drop. The sword did not fall far. The mercenary caught the hilt in his other hand, and immediately drove it deep into the wererat’s chest.

The creature’s grip finally eased, and it stared into Dar’s eyes with a look of surprise. It tried to say something, but it was clearly dying, and whatever last words it may have had ended up as a soft hiss as it collapsed on its back, kicked a few times, and then fell still.

Dar looked down at the body, and then at his injured arm. The bracer was dented, and there was blood, a fair amount of it, that ran down his arm onto his hand.

“Damn it, that’s all I need,” he said. Realizing that he was standing out in the open, the fighter quickly stepped forward into the shelter of the corridor, out of the line of fire of the wererat’s friends over by the barrier. Varo was already on his feet again, and his wounds were already closing as he channeled healing power into himself. Then he turned to Tiros, who was barely clinging to the stone wall, still coughing weakly. Bright red blood ran in a slick down the stone, and likewise covered the marshal’s jaw and the front of his tunic.

“Anything you can do for him?” Dar asked, as he glanced cautiously out into the chamber. There were no other signs of pursuit, but he knew that the rats and their masters were still out there. He glanced at the body of the wererat, and was surprised to see that the corpse had been replaced by that of a small, dark-skinned man, naked save for a scrap of dirty tunic and a belt that supported a small pouch and the scabbard for his rapier.

“The fit will have to run its course; my arts cannot counteract the effects of that dust,” Varo explained.

“Will he live?”

“Possibly.”

Dar turned to see Navev, looking pale. His tunic was streaked with blood from several rat bites, and he was favoring his side where the wererat had stabbed him.

“Saw you got a few of the bastards,” Dar said. “We might find a use for you yet, wizard.”

“What do we do now?” Navev asked. Varo took out his healing wand, and attended to their injuries, touching the glowing blue head of the device to their various wounds.

“Well, unless you want to go back and tussle with that fecal monstrosity again, I suggest we find a way to get past those rats,” Varo suggested.

“They’ve got a fortified position,” Dar said. “In case you didn’t notice, those arrows came from above the barrier; it looks like they have a commanding view over most of the damned cavern. And our general’s busy coughing up his lungs over there.”

“I noticed,” Varo said. “It looked like there were two, maybe three archers. And the woman, of course.”

“Yeah, I haven’t forgotten her,” Dar said. The marshal’s sword didn’t quite fit into his scabbard, so he leaned it against the adjacent wall. As soon as he released it, he felt the warm surge of life energy flow back into him again.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, that blade doesn’t agree with me for some reason.”

“I am not surprised. It is an axiomatic weapon.”

“A what?”

“It is aligned to Law. Created to destroy chaos.”

“Great,” Dar said to Varo. “Well, he can have it back, when he can stand, anyway.”

“Guys,” Navev interjected, softly.

The cleric looked critically at the fighter’s arm. “The wererat bit you?”

Dar nodded. “Yeah, I know, just what I need, right now.”

“The full moon was a few days ago, so we have some time. Assuming that you contracted the disease, I may be able to treat it, given a divine focus and the time to replenish my spells.”

“Well, assuming I’ll survive the hour, we’ve got more pressing problems.”

“Guys,” Navev repeated.

Varo finished healing Dar’s wounds, and looked down at his wand. “Depleted,” he said. “I have the other, but once that one is finished, we will be in a... situation.”

“As opposed to what we’re in now?”

“Guys!”

“What?” Dar asked.

The warlock looked a little frantic. “Do you hear that?”

They quieted and looked around. Dar poked his head back out into the cavern, but the rats were being quiet, for now. The sound of the underground river was still there, but there was something else, a squishing sound that was all too familiar.

And it was coming from the corridor behind them.

And getting louder.

“The dung monster,” Varo said, his words a pronunciation of dread.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Not knowing what to say is new to me. I'll simply write that at the end of this post all I could do is slowly shake my head and think: 'They need Arun.
 

Aramis Simara

First Post
It's Wednesday where is my update!!!!!!! (pounds fist on desk). Sorry LB must be the addiction talking. :uhoh:

Since we're on the subject where's the update? :heh:
 

HugeOgre

First Post
IIRC good ol LB doesnt have access to the forums at work, and of course we all want to encourage LB to be a good upstanding person and work during work hours anyway (erm, right?)

Hes also a west coastie, which means that us poor slobs east of him have to wait EVEN later in our day to read his posts. Its one of the reasons I try not to read/think about it until the following day. Obviously, I failed today. lol
 

Lazybones

Explorer
HugeOgre said:
IIRC good ol LB doesnt have access to the forums at work, and of course we all want to encourage LB to be a good upstanding person and work during work hours anyway (erm, right?)

Hes also a west coastie, which means that us poor slobs east of him have to wait EVEN later in our day to read his posts. Its one of the reasons I try not to read/think about it until the following day. Obviously, I failed today. lol

All true, all true! Blasted Websense! I generally try to post as soon as I get home on "posting days", usually around 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

On the plus side, the story is REALLY rocketing along. I'm way ahead at the moment, so no shortage of posts to come for at least the near future. Who knows, if the stuff keeps pouring out of my keyboard the way it has been lately, I may eventually even go to M-F updates.

* * * * *

Chapter 14

REMATCH


“We’re trapped between them!” Navev exclaimed.

“Yeah, we know that,” Dar said, picking up Valor and straightening. “I guess we do this the hard way, then.”

Tiros turned away from the wall, wheezing. He looked like death, with pale skin and blood caking his jaw. “Need... distraction...”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to work here, marshal,” Dar said. “Those rats have the exit covered, and I don’t think that the dung monster is going to want to chat.”

Tiros shook his head. “Enemy... of... enemy...”

Varo nodded. “Wait... I think I see what he has in mind. I think there was a flask of lamp oil in one of the packs...” He slung off his burden and hastily dug through it.

“Hurry, I can smell it!” Navev said.

“I don’t know what you have in mind, marshal, but this is going to be really grim,” Dar said. Tiros didn’t respond, but he managed to stand, still clinging to the bloody wall. He didn’t ask for his sword back, but instead drew his dagger. He looked as though he would collapse at any moment.

Varo found what he was looking for in Navev’s pack; a clay jug that smelled of oil. He opened the flask, and looked around for a moment before pointing at the dead wererat. “Drag him over here,” he said to Dar.

“Something tells me I’m not going to like this,” the fighter said, darting out into the open for a moment and seizing the dead man by his ankle. No arrows shot out at him, and a few seconds later he had the wererat’s corpse in the shelter of the corridor mouth.

Varo poured the oil liberally over the man’s back, soaking his ragged shirt. Almost off-handedly, Dar plucked the man’s purse from his belt. “Now what?” he asked.

“The archers appear to be placed in cave mouths a good ten or more feet off the floor of the main cavern,” Varo said. “But they are all on the far side of the barrier, in the passage. That means that they have a limited field of view of the far side of the cavern.”

“Yeah, but they got a nice clean line of fire for everything up to that point,” Dar said.

“That, my friend, is where you come in.”

“I knew I wasn’t going to like this.”

Navev, who had been positioned deeper in the corridor, came back to them in a rush. “It’s here... it’s coming, I can see it!”

Ten seconds later, the companions burst out into the cavern. Dar carried the dead wererat on his shoulder, the creature’s back alive with flames. A greasy plume of gray smoke trailed behind him, sick with the stench of burning flesh. The fighter ran toward the stone barrier with his passenger.

Arrows erupted from the tunnel, where dark forms could just be seen on ledges high above the ground. One stabbed into the center of the wererat’s back, while a second grazed Dar’s helmet, causing the fighter to stagger and nearly lose his momentum.

From behind the warrior, an eldritch blast from Navev shot up into the passage. They couldn’t see if it scored a hit, but it certainly drew a response, as an arrow came streaking out toward the warlock. The missile came dead-on toward the center of Navev’s chest, but at the last instant the arrow impacted the shifting red aura that surrounded him, and glanced aside as if it had hit a steel shield.

Varo and Tiros, the latter keeping up through pure will alone, rushed across the room, using the fighter’s charge as a distraction. The marshal carried Valor again, and he seemed to draw some strength from the weapon’s blue shine. Navev was only a few steps behind. Another arrow missed him outright, and he hurled another bolt of energy before he joined the cleric and marshal in the cover offered by the far wall of the corridor, out of the line of sight of the archers in the passageway.

Dar ran forward to the edge of the mound of rubble. With a loud cry he hurled the burning corpse of the wererat forward onto the berm. He staggered back, a few licks of flame clinging to his arms and shoulders, the left side of his face stained with soot. He saw his sword where he’d dropped it earlier, and picked it up just in time to see a familiar sight: the giant rats, surging down toward him.

This time, Dar didn’t stick around; he turned and ran toward the others. His luck finally broke, however, when an arrow slammed into his left leg with enough force to penetrate the limb fully, the bloody head jutting from the far side of the limb.

“Son of a bitch!” the fighter exclaimed, limping toward where the others waited. Navev spotted the archer, a wererat in hybrid form leaning out from a ledge just inside the mouth of the passage. The warlock fired a blast at him, catching the archer by surprise. The bolt of energy caught it just below its right knee, and knocked it off balance. The creature let out a cry as it toppled forward, and fell out of sight to the ground beyond the stone barrier.

The dire rats, meanwhile, charged down the rampart and in pursuit of Dar, moving far faster than the critically injured fighter.

And then, the dung monster appeared.

The massive blob of taint swept forward over the stone into the chamber. It immediately turned to its right, absorbing the corpses of the nearest slain rats as it came. The dead bodies formed a trail that led right toward the mound of stones, where the body of the wererat continued to burn.

“There...” Tiros said, pointing. From the light of Varo’s torch they could now see the stream that bisected the chamber, running swiftly from their right to left, emerging from a dark opening and vanishing through another in the far wall. The stream was only about ten feet across, but in their current condition, it looked like a lot farther.

Dar was still coming toward them, hacking rats as he came. The dung monster was halfway to the barrier, and drawing closer. There were no more wererats visible, although none of them could see what was going on in the passageway from their current vantage.

“We’ve got to get across,” Tiros said.

“We’ve got to help Dar,” the cleric said. He lifted his mace and ran forward, smashing one of the rats clinging to the fighter’s legs. Dar, his face a mask of agony, lifted his sword to kill another, but the rats suddenly broke and fled, screeching as they sped out of the vicinity of the approaching dung monster.

“They’ve got the right idea,” Dar gasped, as Varo helped him to where the others waited on the edge of the stream.

“You’ll never make it like this,” Varo said, laying him down. “This will hurt.”

The fighter gasped as the cleric straightened his wounded leg. “Why must you always... belabor... the obvious.” He clenched his jaw, but still let out a cry of pain as Varo grabbed both ends of the arrow, snapped off the end, and pulled it through the wound. He immediately followed with a cure moderate wounds that closed the wound and restored some color to the fighter’s cheeks. “That’s the last of my higher-order spells,” he announced. “Best to avoid getting seriously injured.”

“Words of wisdom,” Dar said. The dung monster had reached the barrier, and surged up it, enveloping the smoking form of the dead wererat. “Time’s up. If we give it a choice, it’ll go for the easy prey.”

Without further discussion, the companions waded into the stream. The current was strong, pulling at them, but the bracing chill of the water shocked them into an added burst of vigor. They made their way across—all save Navev, who started to falter, dragged down by the current. The warlock was shunted toward the far exit despite his frantic struggles, and his story would have likely ended there, had not Dar rushed along the far bank and seized his tunic before he could disappear from view.

“There’s not time for a pleasure swim, wizard,” he said, dragging the soaked man onto the shore.

The companions gathered, and looked around. This side of the cavern was smaller than the far side, but it still extended for a good fifty or so feet back from the stream’s edge. There were no obvious exits, except for a few small tunnel openings too small to accommodate them. They gave those obvious rat-holes a careful look, but nothing stirred to threaten them.

“The dung monster’s gone across the barrier,” Varo noted.

“I hope it enjoys rat,” Dar muttered.

The companions were exhausted, but they knew that this position was too exposed to risk rest. They drank from the stream and washed the blood and filth from their garments. Tiros collapsed on the ground and did not stir.

“He’s been poisoned, badly,” Varo said to Dar. “Both from the arrow he took, and the effects of that dust.”

“Can you help him, like you helped me before?”

“Yes, but I need to rest first, and regain my spells.”

“Well, I don’t think this is...”

“There!” Navev said, pointing. They all turned to see the dung monster, returning across the barrier. The stone rise gave it no hindrance whatsoever. It came down to the bank of the stream, absorbing the last few rat corpses. The companions drew back, ready to flee again. But the monster merely hesitated a moment at the edge of the water, then turned and headed back to the corridor toward its lair.

“You were right, marshal,” Dar said. “It won’t cross running water.”

“It may just be sated,” Tiros said. “I wouldn’t wager on it being incapable of surmounting that obstacle as well; if nothing else it could climb the walls and get across that way.”

“The rats may be back at any moment,” Varo said. “We should see if we can get past, while they are still at bay.”

Working together, the four men made their way back across the stream. They carefully approached the stone rampart, but there was no sign of the wererats. They crossed over, eyes on the empty ledges above. The passageway beyond led to a set of broad stone steps that led downward into darkness.

Beaten, battered, and blooded, the Doomed Bastards moved down to the second level of the dungeons of Rappan Athuk.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
I hope that cleric finds a focus SOON or you won't have to worry about multiple updates per week - they'll all be dead!

Funny thing is, I think this is the first time I've ever rooted for a cleric of an evil god...
A great nail-biter you've got goin here LB, thanks for sharing the creativity!
 

wolff96

First Post
Richard Rawen said:
I hope that cleric finds a focus SOON or you won't have to worry about multiple updates per week - they'll all be dead!

Funny thing is, I think this is the first time I've ever rooted for a cleric of an evil god...
A great nail-biter you've got goin here LB, thanks for sharing the creativity!

I just had to kick in here and agree. First time I've ever rooted for the cleric of an evil god.

This story hour kicks, LB. I love the current crew -- though I'll miss that half-orc -- and I really like the marshal's tactical genius. There's something really visceral and tough about this story hour that I really like. So far, this is shaping up to be my favorite of your story hours yet!

Although you still have that anti-caster bias. Cleric with no divine focus and a Warlock? Ouch.
 

HugeOgre

First Post
I believe Id be carving a focus out of bone or something... I agree, without one, these guys really are the "Doomed Bastards"
 

Tonks

First Post
I am thinking that even a crude sketch on a rock with some blood would be enough to get the ball rolling with the focus, but it is strange to know that while none of the guys are good they are far better than what is down in the dungeon.

Great writing as always, and I can't wait to see what the second lvl has in store for them. Maybe some better weapons?
 


Lazybones

Explorer
Rabelais said:
Somehow, the fact that they're less likeable makes them more... I dunno... Likeable?

More HUMAN anyway :)
I think there's always been strong support for the "bad" guys here in the SH forum. After all, Benzan had a considerable fan base in my original Travels through the Wild West story. And characters like Wulf, Capellan's Kull Redfist, (contact)'s Lucius, and Blackdirge's various demonic protagonists have all been big hits here in the SH forum.

I'm really enjoying writing these characters; working with shadowy personalities often stirs up a lot of interesting interactions. Of course, there will be a lot of surprises in store as well.

Speaking of which...

* * * * *


Chapter 15

THE MAD GUARD


Keeping an eye out for pursuit from the wererats and their minions, or from the dung monster, the companions moved deeper into the dungeon.

The stairs opened onto a long chamber from which numerous doors offered exit. Tiros had lit another pair of torches from Varo’s expiring brand, but they had gotten wet during their brief immersion in the stream, and they cast a smoky, fitful light.

This level had its own distinct odor as well. “Smells like piss and smoke,” Dar said, as they moved fully into the room, looking around for anything of interest. Other than the four doors, there place seemed utterly empty.

“We need to find a secure place to rest and recover our strength,” Tiros said.

“Well, pick a door,” Dar said. “One’s as bad as the next, like as not.”

“Let us go this way,” Varo suggested, leading them to the right, where a short corridor heading off the room ended in a door.

“Why that way?” Navev asked.

Varo shrugged. “They say that if you ever find yourself lost in a maze, just place your hand on the wall to your right, and keep bearing right when confronted with a choice, and you’ll find your way out.”

“I don’t know if this place follows any of the usual rules,” Dar said. But he followed the others as they made their way to the door. The door was similar to those they’d already encountered, if in slightly better condition. Varo listened at the portal for a moment, then nodded to Dar.

The door opened onto a corridor that ran perpendicular to the one they’d been following. Navev turned to the right, but Varo forestalled him with a raised hand.

“Do you hear that?” the cleric whispered. The sound was faint, coming from the left passage.

“It sounds like breaking sticks,” Tiros said. “Or bones, maybe.”

“We’d better check it out,” Dar said. “Whatever it is, I don’t like the thought of it coming up on us from behind.”

They moved cautiously down the left passage, Dar in the lead, followed by Varo and Tiros, with Navev bringing up the rear. After they’d gone about twenty feet or so, they could see that the passage opened onto a larger chamber ahead, at the edges of their torchlight. The sounds had stopped, and the smell of urine had grown noticeably stronger.

As they approached, they could see that the chamber appeared to be roughly T-shaped, with a slightly narrower alcove to the west. Their light revealed a great deal of assorted trash scattered about the place, mostly old bones and other bits of long-dead creatures. A heap of noisome matter formed a nest of sorts on the far side of the room to their left. As they entered, their attention was drawn to a long metal spike embedded in the wall, pointing out toward the middle of the room.

None of them spotted the figure lurking in the shadows to the left of the entry until the moment that it stepped into the light of their torches, and brought a massive club down squarely across Tiros’s back. The marshal was flung halfway across the room, and he landed in a limp heap, unmoving.

His attacker, a wild-looking man with bulging muscles, clad in a rancid tunic of old hides, screamed and leapt forward to do the same to the rest of them.

Dar dodged a wild swing, countering with a sweep of his sword that slashed through the hides protecting the man’s torso, opening a gash in his belly. The crazed attacker turned on the fighter with a wild fury, but before he could strike again, Varo reached in and touched him on the shoulder. A spray of blood accompanied the tearing of his flesh as the inflict light wounds spell worked its effect upon him. The barbarian spun around, smashing the end of his club into Varo’s face. The cleric staggered back, momentarily stunned by the sheer force of the impact. The man looked strong despite the insanity that shone in his eyes, but the reality of his prowess was even greater, each of his blows landing with the strength of a giant behind them.

Navev, faced with the full force of the man’s wild stare, stepped back and brought up his hands. In that moment, his eyes glowing red, his hands surrounded with a sheen of power, one could believe the charge of demon-worship levied against him by the mages of Camar. The barbarian took the eldritch blast straight to the chest, blasting a black mark in his hide armor, but he barely flinched.

For all his rage, however, the creature could not ignore Dar thrusting seven inches of cold steel into his back.

The barbarian screamed and tore free. Dar lifted his shield, ready for the inevitable counterattack, but the mad creature turned and fled to his nest in the back of the room. He crouched there, his hands lifted above his head, gibbering something incomprehensible at them.

“Such madness,” Varo said, shaking his head to clear it. He drew out his second healing wand, and rushed to the side of the unconscious marshal.

“Yeah, well, he’s going to have a much bigger problem in a few seconds,” Dar snarled, striding forward, his sword clenched tightly in his right hand. The barbarian cringed.

But just as Dar was approaching striking distance, the barbarian reached into the mess of its lair, and drew out a ceramic jar that he hurled into the center of the fighter’s breastplate.

Dar lifted his shield, too late, as a green ooze splattered over his armor. A gob of the stuff landed on his cheek, where its nature became immediately obvious.

“Green slime!” he yelled, staggering back. He dropped his sword and shield, and started trying to get out of his armor. As the slime began to eat away at the metal, he drew a dagger and scraped at the spot of the substance on his cheek, taking a good hunk of flesh off along with it.

The barbarian rose, lifting his club once more.

Another eldritch blast caught him along the side of his head, blackening the entire left side of his face. The barbarian lowered his head and charged.

Navev held his ground, and summoned his power once more. Red and black streaks flowed around his hands, coalescing into a point of energy cupped between his hands.

The barbarian and the warlock struck at the same time. Flows of energy slammed into the madman, drawing red streaks across his neck and jaw. He screamed, but the impact did not abate the force of his charge. He slammed into Navev, catching up the warlock like a child, driving him before him. There was no way for him to escape; he may as well have been strapped to a wagon rolling down a hill.

Until they hit the wall.

The spike hit Navev square in the middle of the back. It tore through his body, and a foot of bloody iron exploded out from the center of his chest. The barbarian’s momentum carried him forward, and he too was struck, the bloody tip catching him just below his left breast, driving between two ribs.

For a moment the two foes hung there, in a mock embrace. The barbarian reached up, slowly. He placed a bloody hand on the warlock’s face. He held it there, for a moment, and then pushed with the last fading remnant of his strength. Navev’s hand jerked back, and the barbarian fell from the spike, landing in a bloody heap on the floor.

Zafir Navev’s head lolled to the side. For an instant, his eyes fluttered. He looked down at the bloody ruin protruding from his chest.

And then he died.
 

Tonks

First Post
*jaw dropping*

Wow...wow...wow.

Two down...a half priest (until he gets a focus)...and if there are barbarians at the gate they are going to need some kind of arcane might.

Things do look dark for the bad "good" guys.
 

Fimmtiu

First Post
Well, on the plus side, at least the warlock's death gives LB an opening to introduce a non-gimpy arcane caster for once. ;)
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Ya know, my first impulse has been "you bastard" on several occassions now. Each time I've refrained, mindful of Eric's Grandma.
Then I realized, you really are a RBDM, so calling a spade a spade should be no problem.

You Bastard!

*shaking head* - Still. If I ever find myself back at GenCon, and If LB is running a game that year, and IF I can get into that game... I'll play a Cleric. =-)
 

Rabelais

First Post
So assuming that the party entered at noon... two of the party are dead before 2pm? Yikes.

I wonder where the elf got off to?
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top