The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)

Lazybones

Adventurer
Drowbane said:
"anarchic blade flaring with power as it opened terrible wounds in the bodies of the chaotic trolls"

Shouldn't that be "...axiomatic blade..."
Thanks, fixed that.

* * * * *

Chapter 144

BLOOD AND ASHES


Talen felt like his body was about to explode. The troll holding onto him continued to pound his arm into the boulder, but Talen stubbornly refused to relinquish his grip on his weapon. The other troll, the one whose arm he’d taken off, had gotten back up and apparently had decided to get into the game as well, picking up a rock and smashing it into Talen’s head. Even through his full helm, the blow sent a flare of bright lights dancing across his vision, and he tasted his own blood, warm and salty in his mouth.

A shadow fell over him, and suddenly the troll holding him was flung backward as a loud scream echoed through Talen’s battered senses. Blinking against the flashing lights that still threatened to blind him, he saw the troll battling a creature of wings and claws almost as big as it was. The other troll, the one that had bashed him with a rock, was reaching for a smaller form that Talen only belatedly recognized as Varo.

Talen tried to shout a warcry, but it only came out as a bloody hiss. He made his point, however, as he thrust the full length of Beatus Incendia into the troll’s body. The creature screamed and collapsed as the holy sword pierced it, and this time, it didn’t get up, at least not at once.

“Good timing,” Talen tried to say, but only gibberish came out. He would have fallen, but Varo held him up, leaning him against the boulder as he began casting a healing spell.

Allera tried to squirm free of the troll holding her, but its claw holding her leg may as well have been a steel cable for all her efforts. She was not frail by any means, but her leg was already growing numb, and she knew that it if the troll got a secure purchase with its other claw, it would tear her apart. She heard an angry trill from somewhere above, but she wasn’t entirely sure what Snaggletooth could do to help her; for all the dragon’s will and magic, it was still only a foot and a half long.

She caught sight of a shadow passing above her, and then something shot right past her head into the troll. The creature stiffened, and Allera felt its grasp loosen. The healer at once pulled herself up, to see Shay standing there, her sword buried into the monster’s throat.

“Thanks,” the healer said. But the scout had already drawn out her sword, and was rushing to the aid of the others.

Dar had been driven to the ground by his foe, but felt an incredible pressure as the troll bit down on his neck—thankfully protected by a gorget, or his story might have ended right there. Even as the curved metal plate began to buckle, Dar thrust Valor up blindly into the troll’s face. The creature screamed as the sword pierced its right eye, and it fell back off him. He rolled over to see another troll looming over him, but before either of them could strike, an arrow slammed hard into it, and it turned just in time for Shay to leap into it, burying her sword deep into its gut. The troll swatted her, but its movements were slow, and the scout rolled with the hit, coming up into a crouch a few feet away.

Baraka Suhn had come to aid of Travius, opening deep gashes in the troll’s legs with his sickles. The pair continued cutting the troll as it fell to the ground. Bullo was still locked in its embrace, the fighter no longer moving. Allera was there at once to help them roll the heavy monster off the fighter, whose limp body was soaked with blood. She reached in between the troll’s leathery arms and touched his neck, letting out a sigh of relief at the fluttering pulse she felt there. She immediately started casting a healing spell.

The only trolls left standing were the pair between Dar and Shay, both covered in grievous wounds. Varo’s summoned griffon was tearing apart another on the far side of the boulder mound, while Kalend applied oil from his flask to another that was just beginning to stir once more. Several other bodies were still moving.

“Commander, your sword!” Varo urged. “You can destroy them before they regenerate!”

Talen, still barely able to walk despite Varo’s healing, nodded and staggered over to the nearest body. With a roar he clove the troll’s skull with the burning sword, holding the blade in place until the troll’s flesh had melted away from the holy flame. Then he headed over to the next, stabbing it in the heart even as it tried to get back up.

Dar and Shay had already put down the last pair, and Shay was already getting oil out of her bag of holding, while Dar looked around for any that looked ready to get back up anytime soon. The fighter’s cloak and surcoat had been torn away from his body, leaving only dull metal caked with mud mixed with black troll blood.

From that point, it was just cleanup. The troll that Snaggletooth had befuddled with his breath weapon did not return; possibly it saw the smoke rising from the pyres of its brethren, and elected to avoid a similar fate.

“We would be wise not to linger here,” Varo said, as his summoned steed vanished back into the aether from which had appeared. The cleric had escaped serious damage in the melee, but that was more that could be said for most of his companions. Bullo had been brought to the very brink of death before Allera had yanked him back, and Talen and Dar might have joined him, but for the healer’s potent mass cure spell during the melee. The clerics assisted the healer in treating their wounds, using their innate abilities to conserve as much of the power in their wands as possible.

“Perhaps we should seek out another fortified place to rest, before proceeding,” Pella said. The archer had fired most of her shafts, but Shay had a few extra bundles in the bag of holding, enabling the armswoman to refresh her quiver during the lull.

Shay shook her head as she handed arrows to the archer. “That storm will hit within the hour, and it won’t be pleasant up here when it comes. And it will be that much harder to get down into the gorge with the rain and wind.”

Talen nodded. “Do what you need to do, but Shay’s right. We’re moving on.”

The companions cleaned their clothes and gear as best they could, and once the healers had finished their work, they gathered again at the edge of the cliff, leaving eight burning mounds pouring smoke into the dreary sky behind them.
 

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Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 145

INTO THE DARKNESS


After a last quick search to verify that there were no enemies in the immediate vicinity, the Camarians once again tackled the cliff descent. Shay and Baraka made their way back down to the overhang, followed by Varo. Earlier, just prior to the troll attack, the cleric had used a stone shape spell to create a series of protruding steps that descended from the edge of the overhang down to its base. From the bottom step, anyone could step out into the raging torrent that emerged from a wide opening in the base of the cliff.

Shay went down that slippery path first, hammering several more spikes into the cliff, and securing another guide rope. Baraka was already helping other members of the group down the cliff, as Shay handed the guide rope over to Varo.

“We will need to move quickly,” he told her. He slipped on the second step, but the guide rope held in its moorings, and he recovered after a few awkward moments. By the time he got to the bottom, his clothes were soaked with spray. He reached up, and touched his divine focus with one hand, tossing a pinch of dust into the torrent with the other.

The results of the spell were immediately obvious, as the water coming from the underground current rapidly lowered, until there was only a faint trickle pouring from the opening. It was a trivial matter to step into the tunnel, although he still had to be careful not to slip on the slick surface.

Shay joined him a moment later, and set another spike in the river passage, extending the guide rope down from above. She looked into the dark mouth of the tunnel that had been full of surging water just a few seconds ago.

“Impressive,” she said.

“Before the power of the gods, we men are insignificant creatures,” Varo said.

She raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard those words spoken in sermons from priests of the Father.”

Varo’s mouth twisted into what was not quite a smile. “Indeed.”

The scout turned to help those desending into the tunnel. The fighters, clad in heavy armor, had the most difficulty, but Shay and Baraka had done well with the ropes, and while several people lost their footing as Varo had, they did not lose anyone to the river. It took only about ten mintues for all of them to come together in the mouth of the river tunnel.

“How long will this last?” Talen asked Varo.

“Almost two hours,” Varo said. “But we still need to hasten. The river will back up at the end of the spell’s range, and the pressure will make things difficult when we need to transition to the path that Shay mentioned.”

“All right, let’s get moving. Shay, Baraka, you’re on point.”

They made their way down the tunnel. They came to the end of Varo’s spell after a few hundred feet, and true to the cleric’s words, a wall of water awaited them there. Varo cast a second control water spell, and once again the waters fell away to a mere trickle.

“I assume we just can’t do that until we get to the end,” Pella asked.

“If you have clerical powers that you have not thus far revealed, please do so now,” Varo said.

“The spell is a powerful one,” Serah explained. “Even a gifted cleric can only use it a few times per day, at most.”

“We’re coming up on where the trail begins,” Shay said. Shining the light of one of their everburning torches along the walls, she indicated where watermarks showed the usual level at which the river flowed. The tunnel was higher now, almost fifteen feet from the ground to the ceiling. The passage was nearly smooth except at the very top, any irregularities worn down by years of fast-flowing water.

By the time that their light indicated the end of the Varo’s second spell up ahead, there was an actual trail high along the side of the passage, a natural ledge formed just above the high-water mark, with only about four, maybe five feet of clearance between that and the roof.

“There’s more headroom further on,” Shay explained. “It’s a few miles to the great cavern, but the tunnel has six or seven feet of clearance for most of it.”

“Good, I’ve had enough with crawling,” Dar said.

“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Travius said, pointing at the wall of water that blocked the passage. “How are we supposed to get through that?”

“Once the spell is released, the water will quickly return to its usual level,” Varo said. “That is why we should not dally; the longer we wait, the longer we will be... discomfited.”

“Wait for what?” the legionary asked. But Shay and Baraka were already moving up to the ledge, the ranger boosting the lithe scout up into position. Shay was quick with her hammer and pitons, securing another rope from her bag of holding.

“All right, everyone up on the ledge,” Talen said. Those without armor helped boost those with it, and it took a good fifteen minutes of pushing and jostling, but eventually, they all made it into position.

“All that water’s going to wash us away,” Pella said, looking at the surge, held back by the invisible power of Varo’s magic.

“Just hold on, and it’ll be all right,” Shay said. She and Baraka were hammering multiple pitons, all that they had left, and securing several heavy ropes to multiple anchors.

“I am not a very good swimmer, either,” Serah said, a hint of panic edging her voice as she stared at the wall of water.

“Remain calm, and the flood will pass,” Varo said, coming down the line, touching each of them, infusing them with the power of water breathing. “By the power of Dagos, you will be able to breathe the water as if it were air.”

“Wonderful, this again,” Dar said, but he didn’t flinch from the cleric’s touch, and he took the rope that Shay offered him, coiling it around his bracer. His other hand was wrapped tightly around the hilt of Valor.

“Secure everything not waterproof in one of the oilcloth wraps,” Talen said, as he doublechecked the fastenings of his own pack. A lot of their delicate supplies were in Shay’s magical bag of holding, and the scout carefully wrapped that in a lined but otherwise mundane leather container before securing it tightly to her belt.

“Is everyone all right?” Shay asked. She had taken a position in the front, where she could look back and verify that everyone was secure and connected by at least two of the safety ropes. She had tested each of the pitons herself, and gave the one nearest her one last tug before she nodded at Talen.

The knight, in turn, looked to Varo, who had already turned to the edge of the ledge. He stretched out his hand, closed his eyes, and made a subtle gesture.

The flood began at the bottom, blasting forward in a violent white surge. The noise was deafening in the tight confines of the tunnel. It continued as the water level rose in the tunnel they had just traversed, as more water swept back into the tunnel.

“Oh, damn!” Serah shrieked, as the top of the frozen wall gave way, and engulfed them all in a violent surge of bracingly cold water.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Great reading, I'm wondering which side of the 'gobo' battle they will encounter... assuming any resistance has survived this long.

You certainly do have a much wider selection to feast upon this time... I'm sure you'll sate the hunger that is Rappan Athuk sooner than later =0}
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 146

THE GREAT CAVERN


“Nothing’s ever easy,” Dar muttered, ducking to avoid a stone formation that jutted out over the trail. The only answer he got was a sneeze from Serah, who continued to shiver despite the heat from the torch—a real torch, taken from Shay’s bag of holding—that she held almost in front of her face.

“We need to find someplace to rest soon, and have a real fire,” Allera said quietly to Talen, her short hair still slick against her face with damp. “That water wasn’t quite freezing, but it wasn’t far from it, either. I can treat someone who comes down with cold sickness, but it will be far better if we can avoid that.”

“As soon as we’re away from the river,” the commander said. His clothes were soaked too, and he looked as miserable as any of them, but there was also an iron determination shining in his eyes.

It had taken about ten minutes for the river’s initial surge to decline back down to its usual level, a time that felt much, much longer for those immersed in the flood. Two of their pitons had come loose, but thanks to Shay’s backups, none of them had lost their grip. They had not escaped completely unscathed; Travius lost his quiver, and the seal of Serah’s backpack had been less than perfect, leaving her extra clothes and other gear completely sodden. As soon as they could move they could, pausing only once, at a slightly wider space along the river ledge. There they stopped to wring out their clothes, while Shay prepared hot coffee for all of them using the portable charcoal stove stored in her magical sack. They had all huddled around the stove, soaking up what heat they could, but Serah was not the only one who still shivered as they set out again.

“It’s our best chance of catching the followers of Orcus off-guard,” Talen went on, almost to himself. “They’d be watching the mausoleum, and I’d take a soaking over going back through the Well.”

Allera nodded. “We’ll make it through,” she said. A tiny draconic sneeze from the empty air above Allera’s shoulder indicated that Snaggletooth was not happy about the situation either.

A light flickered from up ahead. “That’s Shay’s signal,” Talen said. “Let’s get moving.”

They could see the end of the river tunnel ahead even before they saw the scout; Shay and Baraka had withdrawn to a nook in the side of the passage about fifty feet from the opening, where they were talking in low voices.

“I assume this is it?” Talen asked. They couldn’t see anything except a black opening where the tunnel ended, but there was a sublte change in the air pressure and the background noises of the tunnel, and a vague sense that the area up ahead was much, much bigger than the river passage.

Shay nodded. “Unfortunately, we’re on the wrong side of the river; the goblin mines are clustered along the north face, here.” She took her dagger and began sketching a crude map in the muddy ground.

“Any bridges?” Pella asked.

“No. But we can probably find a place where we can rig up a crossing line; at most places the river’s only about fifty feet wide, and it’s not really that deep. The source is up here,” she said, drawing a connecting line up to the wall of the cavern she’s sketched earlier. “It flows into a lake a few hundred feet across here. This branch,” she said, indicating the river flowing beside them, “is one of two that come off that lake; there’s another that goes over to the west, it dumps into a much, much bigger lake in the middle of the cavern, that one’s a half a mile long, at least.”

“Gods, how big is this place?” Kalend asked.

“It’s huge, believe me,” Shay said. “I walked a lot of it, and it goes on for a very long ways.”

“We’ll want to start at the goblin mines,” Talen said. “But first, we’d better get dried out, and warmed up.”

“We’re going to get wet again crossing the river,” Shay pointed out. “May as well get it over with.”

Talen looked over at Allera, then at Serah. The cleric shivered, but said, “I’m all right, commander.”

“All right,” he said. “You know the terrain, Shay; we’ll follow your lead.”

“Don’t worry, priestess,” Dar said. “Smashing a few gobos will warm you right up.”

Rolling her eyes, Shay stood and led them out of the tunnel in the cavern.

It was impossible to truly discern the size of the cavern, once they had left the confines of the river tunnel behind. Their light sources formed bubbles of illumination around them that failed to reach the ceiling high above, or any but the nearest walls. Ahead of them, a massive spire of stone rose up into the darkness, a column whose farthest extent they could not even determine. The place was not silent; many subtle sounds filled the cavern, most of them distorted by echoes and distance until their source was a complete mystery. Fungi grew in a number of places, but Shay warned them against messing with strange growths, a lesson that those who had already experienced Rappan Athuk knew all too well to heed.

“Is that a light, to the south?” the sharp-eyed Kalend asked, once they had all left the tunnel.

“There are a few forests of fungi in this place, and they include varieties that are phosphorescent,” Shay said.

“Fosfa—what?” Bullo asked.

“It means that they glow, idiot,” Travius said, elbowing his companion as he passed.

“Quiet,” Talen said.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about being loud, commander,” Dar said. “It’s not like every creature within a mile can’t see our light sources, anyway.”

“Actually, many creatures that live underground have poor vision,” Baraka said. “In the darkness, sound and smell are far more useful senses.”

“Either way, if they want trouble, they’ll find us. That’s how it works, down here.”

“Cheerful,” Pella said, scanning the darkness, a fresh string fitted to her bow.

They followed Shay’s lead as the scout took them deeper into the canyon along the bank of the river. The ground was soggy and slick with mud for several hundred feet beyond the tunnel mouth, but once they had reached the extent of the river’s backup the soil became rough and sandy. They passed the footings of the huge column on their left, the river bending almost to the base of that steep ascent.

They trudged onward for several hundred feet more, before Shay called a stop. The river ran through a smooth channel here, maybe four feet below the bank. There was a cluster of boulders here, none of them larger than a man. Shay gave one a push, and nodded to herself.

“How are you planning on getting across?” Serah asked.

“I’ll jump,” Shay said.

“But that has to be fifty feet across!” the cleric exclaimed. Shay only winked, and took out a coil of rope, uncoiling it as she handed one end to Baraka. She tucked her everburning torch into a pouch, the illusory flame dying as she covered it.

As the others watched, the scout took a running start toward the river. At the edge of the bank, she leapt, surging high into the air, bolstered by the power of her magical boots.

“She’s not going to make it,” Bullo said. And in fact Shay plunged into the river a good twenty feet short of the far side, disappearing with barely a ripple in the water. Baraka, holding onto the rope, continued to play out the length.

A few seconds later, the scout reappeared, springing from the water only about ten feet downstream from where she’d hit. She found a suitable anchor for the rope after just a few moments, and as Baraka secured his end, she drew it taut.

“End over end,” the ranger said. “The current’s not that strong here; the river’s wider and slower than in the tunnel. You’ll get a little wet, but just hang on, and keep moving, and you’ll be fine.”

“I’ve had more gods-damned baths today than I’ve had all year,” Bullo complained.

“A fact for which our companions are considerably grateful, no doubt,” Travius interjected.

Pella had already started across the rope, and made it to the far side without incident. “Ah, see, not so bad,” Travius said. “Are you going to let a girl show you up, legionary?”

Bullo replied with something that made Allera flush. But the legionary crossed without any trouble, followed by Travius, Kalend, Varo, and Allera.

“You’re up, cleric,” Dar said. “You can leave your pack, I’ll bring it.”

Serah nodded, removing her extra burdens and heading out into the river. The river was only too deep to wade in the center, but the rope was set high enough to easily keep her chest, head, and arms out of the water. She wasn’t as strong as the fighters, but neither was she weighed down by as much metal. She grunted as she pulled herself forward, and let out a small smile of triumph as she felt hard stone under her feet again.

Unfortunately, even as she stood something slammed into her legs, and she fell with a loud splash back into the deep channel of the river, the current quickly dragging her downstream. She tried desperately to swim, but even as she flailed in the current, she was dragged under, leaving behind swirls of red blood that quickly vanished in the dark waters.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 147

A TASTY TIDBIT


Even as Serah yelled and tumbled back into the river, her companions were quick to act. Shay was off and sprinting down the far bank before the current had carried her fifteen feet. As the cleric was dragged underwater by her still unidentified adversary, the scout leapt again, flying like a knife through the air before she hit the water about five feet ahead of where Serah had disappeared. On the far bank, Baraka, Talen, and Dar likewise ran back along the route they had just hiked, while the rest of the company hurried after Shay on the other side.

Talen shucked his shield and looked ready to jump in himself, but Dar grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said. “With all that plate, you’ll sink like a rock.”

“Let go of me,” Talen said, his voice dangerous as he hand dropped to the hilt of his magical sword.

“Fine, but don’t expect me to jump in after you,” Dar said. He released Talen, but as the knight turned back to the river, Shay’s head appeared near the far bank, followed a moment later by the still-struggling form of Serah. The scout dragged herself and the cleric into the shallows, where the legionaries quickly pulled them out of the water. Serah’s left leg was oozing blood from a series of nasty-looking gashes, but the cleric was conscious, and was able to help Allera as the healer examined the wounds.

“What happened?” Talen yelled across the river.

“Some kind of giant fish,” Shay replied. “I stabbed it and it broke away, but it may come back.”

“You could have mentioned giant killer fish before we took this little swim,” Travius said.

“I did not encounter any last time,” Shay said, looking up at him. “Can you make it across?” she yelled over at Talen.

“I’ll be damned if a fish is going to make a snack out of me,” Dar said, as they returned to the rope. The fighter was the first to tackle the rope, while the others shone their lights on the water, or trained loaded bows in waiting for signs of the creature’s return. But Dar made it over without incident, and Talen and Baraka were both able to follow without being attacked. Baraka rigged the rope so that they could tug it free once he’d crossed, enabling them to recover it. They had brought a lot of rope with them, but a good percentage of that was still rigged up on the cliffs in the river gorge, awaiting their return.

“Well, if the goblins don’t know we’re coming after all that, then they’re deaf and blind both,” Kalend said, once they’d gathered together again on the far bank of the river.

“Who cares,” Dar said. “If they want to play, we’ll show them a few dances, eh Bullo?”

“Right, sir,” the legionary chortled, as he tested the edge of his axe.

“Whose idea was it to bring three more of him?” Allera said quietly, as an aside to Talen.

“They know how to fight. We’ll need them, where we’re going,” Talen replied, shaking out some of the water soaking his cloak. It was a useless gesture, for the most part. “All right, let’s get moving,” he told them, gesturing again for Shay and Baraka to take the lead. But as Dar and the legionaries passed, he said, “Remember, we’re not looking for a fight if we can avoid it. If the goblins know of a back way into Rappan Athuk, we’re far better off getting them to share that information with it, then having to fight our way through them.”

“You worry too much, commander,” Dar said, with a grin. “Gobbos or priests, either way, we’re ready to kick some ass.”

The cavern wall loomed ahead of them, a vast shadow at the edges of their light sources. Shay signaled back for them to wait, while she and Baraka stealthily approached to scout out the area.

“It’s quiet, too quiet,” Allera said softly. “If they’re mining, shouldn’t we hear the sounds of picks and shovels?”

“Maybe they heard us coming, and are readying a reception,” Pella said.

“Quiet,” Talen said. “Shay’s coming back.”

The scout returned with a dark look on her face. “The place is deserted,” she told them. “We found several mine shafts... they look like they were cleared out in a hurry.”

“They probably heard us coming, and cleared out,” Dar said. “Can’t blame them, really; gobbos aren’t much for a fair fight.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Shay said. “From the traces, it looks like they pulled out a few days ago, maybe.”

The scout glanced back over her shoulder, a troubled look on her face.

“What is it, Shay?” Talen asked.

“I don’t know. But I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Over here!” Baraka called, directing them to a sheltered area surrounded by a partial ring of stalagmites not far from the mine traces.

The place had been a camp of sorts; they could see some old wooden crates, a few ragged bedrolls, and other assorted trash. A small, narrow wheelbarrow lay on its side nearby, its basket staved in.

“There was a battle here,” the ranger said, as the others joined him. He pointed out several spots where bloodstains marked the ground, or were splattered on the rock formations.

“Who attacked them?”

The ranger frowned. “Not sure. Never seen tracks like these...”

“Colonel,” Kalend said. The rogue held up something he’d found; it was a goblin shortsword, or what was left of it; the blade had been sheared off a few inches above the hilt.

Dar took the blade. “Cut clean through.”

“No bodies,” Travius noted.

“They might have been carried off,” Pella said. “Or if the goblins won, maybe they took their dead with them.”

“Spread out, take a look around,” Talen said. “But everyone stay within line of sight. Whatever attacked them may still be in the neighborhood. Shay, Baraka, see if you can find some more tracks.”

“What about the mine?” Varo asked. “There may be enough room inside for a sheltered campsite.”

“As soon as we’ve cleared the area,” Talen said. “I want to know what happened here.”

Shay headed to the north, with Dar and Bullo close at hand, while Baraka headed south, back in the direction of the river, in the company of Pella, Travius, and Kalend. Talen and Varo remained near the goblin camp and the adjacent mine trailings, looking around more closely, while Allera stayed to check on Serah, who all but collapsed onto the ground, leaning against a convenient stalagmite for support. The healer drew out her waterskin, and mixed herbs into a cup for the cleric to drink.

“We will need to rest soon,” Varo said to Talen. “The priestess is the worst off, but the others only manage to hide their weariness.”

“What about you, Varo? Do you get tired?”

The cleric looked at the knight with eyes that shone faintly with the reflected glow of his everburning torch. “I require rest to recover my spells.”

Talen looked at him for a long moment, then started to turn away. To his surprise, Varo spoke to him again.

“But if your question was intended in a more philosophical bent, knight of Camar... then the answer is yes. I am tired indeed. We are all going to be tired, tired of body and soul alike, before this is done.”

Talen opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted as Baraka and Shay both returned to report. Varo turned away, but remained close enough to hear their conversation.

“We found goblin tracks in both directions,” Shay said. “It looks like there has been a fair amount of traffic in this area. In particular, there are trails that look like they were made by more of those little wheelbarrows leading both north and south from here.”

“Any clue as to where the goblin city is located?”

“Based on the footprints we saw near the wheel tracks, those going north were deeper, while those heading south were more shallow.”

Talen nodded. “So loaded carts go north, and the empty ones came back. All right. What about whatever attacked the goblins?”

Baraka and Shay shared a quick but meaningful look. “The most recent tracks were pretty jumbled,” the scout said. “It looks like the goblins fled in almost every direction. We found tracks obviously made by skeletons, bootprints from both small and human-sized creatures, and... something else.”

“Something else?”

“I’m not sure. We found some traces that looked almost like tracks left by a snake, but somehow... wrong; it didn’t move like any snake I’d ever seen.”

“Whatever it was, it was big,” Baraka said.

“Good work,” Talen said. “See if you can...”

The knight was interrupted by a cry of alarm to the south. “Giant bugs!” came Travius’s yell, accompanied by the thrum of Pella’s bow, and a high-pitched chittering noise that echoed off the cavern wall, followed almost immediately by cries of pain.
 

Firedancer

First Post
Are people still thinking there's a traitor?

Serah; her weakness is just an act to seem all innocent and no threat. Plus, if she really is scared the priests of Orcus could do worse than offering her "protection".

Lazybones, I really enjoyed the fight with the Corpse Gatherer, and now want to use one!
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Firedancer said:
Lazybones, I really enjoyed the fight with the Corpse Gatherer, and now want to use one!
Glad you enjoyed it. When I went digging around for a high-CR undead to throw at the defenders at Aldenford, that one really jumped out at me. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 148

THEM!


Kalend had been cautiously examining a narrow crevice in the wall of the cavern when an ant the size of a wolfhound leaned over an overhanging shelf about ten feet above and looked down at him.

The rogue’s startled cry as he fell back was echoed a moment later by Travius, who’d headed a short distance further along the base of the cliff. “Giant bugs!” the legionary shouted, falling back with about a half-dozen giant ants in pursuit. The ants were rapidly closing the distance, led by four big ones that were almost six feet long from the tips of their mandibles to the hooked stings that protruded from their abdomens.

Kalend opened his mouth to shout a warning, but his attention was drawn back around as the ant that had surprised him earlier leaned out far over the edge of the shelf and skittered down, the steep angle giving it little difficulty. Looking up above it, Kalend saw several others descending from higher up the cliff, clinging to the sheer surface with ease, moving as fast as a man at a brisk walk.

Seeing that he could not get away before the first ant reached him, he drew his sword and took up a defensive stance. But as the ant surged forward, an arrow flashed past him, burying itself to the feathers square in the center of the ant’s probing jaws. The creature was knocked back by the force of the impact, and fell to the ground, dying.

“Fall back!” Pella yelled to him, fitting another shaft to her bow. She shifted targets to the ants rushing at Travius, but before she could fire, the nearest soldier ant lunged forward and seized the fleeing man’s leg in its jaws. Travius yelled in pain as the powerful pincer clamped down hard on his limb, but as the ant thrust its abdomen forward he was able to tear free before it could deliver a painful sting.

The delay, however, gave the other ants time to reach him. The fighter darted back to a jutting boulder that barely came up to his waist, scant cover indeed, but all that was readily available as he drew both of his swords and met the onrushing surge. He hit the first ant in the jaws as it tried to seize him, deflecting its rush enough to avoid being hit. The second snapped its jaws into his torso, but his armor held, and it could not get a decent grip before he yanked himself free, smashing his other sword into the side of its head. The blow carved off its left antenna, and seemed to disorient it for a moment.

The two ants provided a sort of shield for the fighter, but as the others swarmed past him, several turned to come up on him from behind.

Kalend was a fast runner, but the ants were even faster, rapidly closing the distance once they’d reached the bottom of the cliff and could move over relatively flat ground. The rogue glanced over his shoulder to see a half-dozen of the vermin surging toward him.

A loud cry directly above startled him, and nearly caused him to lose his footing. Shay’s leap carried her over the rogue to land directly on top of the first ant, her sword thrust before her like a spear. Her weight and momentum drove the keen elvish steel right through the ant, impaling it. The other ants were quick to turn and attack, but the scout dodged their efforts to grab her, leaping onto one ant, and rushing down its body before springing off into a defensive stance behind it.

The ants started to turn to follow, but then Baraka barreled into them, his sickles flashing. A quick swipe separated the head of one from its body, but even as the ant collapsed he was cutting the second with his off-hand. The alchemical silver weapon snagged the ant in the head, but the ant continued to struggle, biting the ranger in the arm.

Pella continued a slow, measured retreat as she continued to fire, giving ground as she maintained her barrage of arrows. Her magical arrows, augmented by the power of her mighty bow, punched deep into ant bodies, killing with a single shot more often than not. She took down one of the ants flanking Travius, but then had to defend herself, as five worker ants led by another soldier bypassed the surrounded warrior and came rushing toward her. Even in the face of that onrushing surge she did not hurry her retreat, taking step after step as she fitted arrow after arrow to her string.

And then they were on top of her, and she dropped the bow, sliding her sword from its scabbard in a single motion.

Bright light flared around her, and then Talen was there, striking with Beatus Incendia. He clove the soldier ant in two with a single swing, parrying an attack from the adjacent worker with his shield. One of the other ants managed to grab onto Pella’s hip with its pincers, but the injury was not serious, and she kept her footing as she pounded the ant with her sword.

Varo, Serah, and Allera had hurried south after Talen to the scene of the battle, but it looked as though the situation was well in hand. The ants had attacked across a broad front, but Talen and Pella had secured the right, while Baraka, Shay, and Kalend were hacking the workers on the left to pieces. The only Camarian still outnumbered was Travius, but the warrior was holding his own against the soldier ants attacking him, and had even managed to kill two of them with heavy strikes from his twin Legion shortswords. He favored his left side slightly where one of the ants had managed to sting him, but otherwise was not seriously hurt.

“Travius needs help,” Allera said. “Serah, stay here with Varo,” she said, rushing forward. But a loud clanking announced that Dar and Bullo, rushing from the north, had arrived to join the battle, and they ran past Varo and Serah, their weapons at the ready.

“Shouldn’t we help them?” Serah said to Varo. The cleric still looked very pale, but she held her light mace tightly.

“There is little we can do here save get in the way,” Varo said. “The warriors will...”

He trailed off, frowning.

“What is it?” Serah asked.

“Do you hear that?”

The cleric of the Father looked around, but the noise of the battle with the ants drowned out any of the ambient sounds of the cavern. “I don’t...” But then she trailed off, as she felt a rumbling through her feet, a faint tremor that passed through the stone of the cavern itself.

Varo grabbed her arm and dragged her forward. “Look out!”

The two staggered ahead just as the cavern wall behind the goblin camp exploded outward in a shower of stone dust and debris. A huge creature strode forward out of the wreckage, an insectoid humanoid monster with long, incredibly muscled arms that dangled down to its ankles. Its body was covered with an armored carpace covered in gray dust, and mandibles that made the ants’ jaws look harmless by comparison clenched as it came toward them.

Serah let out a surprised scream as the umber hulk lunged at her. Behind it, a second creature emerged from the tunnel, its alien eyes fixing on Licinius Varo.
 


Richard Rawen

First Post
Ghostknight said:
MuHAHAHA- sometimes being the coward at the back of the pack has its drawbacks! :lol:

I don't think I'd call Varo a coward, given his history. He's aware that Serah is not going to contribute much to the battle, and he himself has no interest in joining a fight that the warriors are capable of handling. His spells are going to be needed a lot more in the coming fight for sure!
 


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