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The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)

Richard Rawen

First Post
Yeah, I can just hear Dar's near hysterical laugh, "That was Fun!"

However, if Allera wasn't there when the endorphins and adreneline ran out... not so much fun.

Still, those four(five?) just got a nice boost of EXP . . . and now for the LOOT! ( I was so tempted to phat that lewt... but I overcame lol)

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Chapter 164


With the last dragon slain, the companions turned their attention to the dragon’s hoard. Just getting up into the nest proved challenging, and while there was an obvious quantity of treasure, most of it was buried within the mound of bones, and would require considerable effort to retrieve.

“I will scan for magic,” Varo said. “I do not believe that there are foes other than the dragons in this cavern, but we should not dally; the commander will be worried.”

“There’s a hell of a lot of silver in here,” Dar said, kicking through the heap of bones. His weight caused the nest to crunch loudly with every step, and he had to be cautious not to fall.

“There are eggs in here,” Allera said, bending down to examine an oblong orb roughly three feet long. One end of the egg was cracked, and a sick gray material was draining out of it down into the nest.

“Smash ‘em,” Dar said, bending down to examine something interesting.

Allera frowned, but Varo nodded in agreement. “They must be destroyed. Dragons are creatures of innate natures; they lack the redeemability of humankind. The shadow dragons are inherently evil, that is a simple fact.”

“It must be reassuring to have such certainty to guide you,” Allera said.

“What is, is,” Varo replied.

“If things cannot be changed, then why are you here, Varo?”

“Because not everything is certain, healer. Look at what you do... death is an inevitability for us mortals, is it not? And yet you struggle against it with more ferocity than anyone I have ever seen. Why do you fight so hard, if you know that ultimately you will be defeated?”

Allera’s frown deepened, and she looked away.

“What the hell is this?” Dar asked, dragging something out of the heap. His prize was a metal rod, set with protruding studs up its length, the whole topped with a large iron ball. As he lifted it, his hand closed on one of the studs.

The ball split open, and a gleaming steel blade sprung forth. At the same time, the shaft lengthened in his hand, rapidly growing until the whole device was roughly the size of a longspear.

“Whoa,” he said.

“It is a rod of lordly might,” Drakha said. The outsider looked at Varo. “And per the terms of our agreement, I claim it as my payment for services rendered.”

“What?” Dar asked, holding the spear a bit possessively.

Varo looked intently at the outsider, and nodded. “Give it to him, Dar.”

“Like hell! I haven’t even pushed the other buttons yet!”

The cleric was nonplussed. “Without Drakha’s aid, we would not have survived our first clash with the dragons.”

“Fine, give him your share then, this here rod is mine.”

“It is not wise to broach an agreement, human,” the outsider said. Chaos flashed in his eyes, and the bone pile under Dar’s feet shifted slightly.

“Dar, just give it to him,” Allera said. “We cannot afford elective battles, not now.”

“I don’t like being told what to do,” Dar said, his eyes narrow as he met Drakha’s stare full on.

“Very well,” the outsider said. “I will take an alternative prize back with me to Limbo, in exchange for the rod.”

Drakha turned, and pointed toward Kalend, who looked around in surprise, before turning suddenly pale.


Chapter 165


“Are you joking?” Dar said. If his stare had been sharp before, not it looked about ready to cut glass.

“That was not in our agreement,” Varo said.

“Our agreement is void, by the actions of your companion,” the outsider said, genially. “Let him decide, his treasure, or his man; I will take either.”

“We’re not going to give you one of our people,” Allera said, turning to Dar with an expression that betrayed the smallest hint of doubt.

Dar’s jaw tightened. He pressed the stud on the rod, and the device retracted back into its original form. He extended it silently toward the outsider.

Drakha came forward, the unsteady surface giving him no difficulty. As it came, its form began to subtly shift. Its human guise faded, replaced by a hideous visage that resembled nothing more than the face of a huge, bloated toad. As it took the rod from Dar’s hand, it smiled.

“If I ever see you again, creature, you will not be pleased.”

“I look forward to that meeting, human,” the slaad croaked. It drew the rod close in against its body, and dissolved into gray smoke. Within a few seconds, it was gone.

Kalend sat down on the bone heap, wiping his brow on a cloth. Varo was already digging through the treasure pile again, but he looked up as Dar came over to him.

“What I told that... thing, Varo, it applies to you as well, if you ever summon its like again.”

“Very well, Dar.”

Dar trudged off, and started digging again through the treasure, a good distance off.

They spent the better part of an hour searching through the debris. They found two more of the eggs, one crushed under the female dragon’s body, but the last fully intact. Allera did not say anything as Dar smashed it with his magical club. Varo’s detect magic spell revealed several interesting items, including a magical heavy shield of silvery steel, etched with the symbol of a pair of crossed bolts of jagged lightning, and an arcane scroll in a cracked leather tube. Among dozens of pieces of cheap and nearly valueless jewelry, they found a silver bracelet set with over a dozen tiny diamonds, and a platinum cup encrusted with rubies. They also found some mundane gear, likely the former possessions of past victims of the dragons, but none of it was superior to that which they already had. They also found as much gold and silver as they wanted to carry, so much so that even Dar ended up leaving the majority of it behind.

“We should have brought Shay’s magical sack,” he muttered, as they packed up and prepared to depart.

There were two other finds of note, and both came at the very last minute. Allera found a bright blue diamond wedged into a skull. She showed the stone to Varo, who nodded; the diamond was almost certainly sufficient for the casting of a raise dead spell.

The last item was found by Varo. The cleric had been distracted through most of the search, traveling back and forth over the huge nest, as if looking for something. Finally, he stopped right in front of the fallen dragon, and stared down at it.

The dragon looked smaller in death than it had in life. It was only barely larger than a horse, its body covered in blood and char. It was already beginning to stink.

Varo knelt in front of it, careful not to impale himself on jagged shards of bone. The brilliant light that still shone from his mace cast the details of its battered form in stark relief.

There... the light reflected on something just visible through a tear of the dragon’s wing. Varo crept over to it, lifting the dragon’s heavy wing to see what he’d found.

It was a dagger, an odd device made of a silvery metal that resembled mithral. It almost did not look like it had been designed as a weapon, with a wedge-shaped blade and a blocky, unwrapped handle. A yellow gemstone, a square of topaz, embedded in the hilt gleamed brightly in the light of Varo’s daylight spell.

His eyes wide, Varo took the dagger and carefully wrapped it in a torn sack before placing it in his magical haversack.

“We can return,” he told the others, who were already growing impatient with the search. Dar’s pack bulged, and a pair of small sacks likewise full of loot hung from one of the straps.

“The same way we came?” Kalend asked.

Varo nodded. “Concentrate on the wind walk; you will feel the power of the spell still potent in your mind. Let it transform you back into the misty form, and remain close to me.”

The companions did as the cleric bid, and in less than a minute they were speeding back toward the chasm, leaving the broken body of the dragon and the remnants of its hoard behind them as a marker of their passage.


Chapter 166


“What happened here?” Allera said quietly.

“It would appear that the cult of Orcus is extending its reach,” Varo replied.

The seven companions moved through the great cavern, which loomed sepulchral and empty round them, like a tomb. The place that had once been the central market of the goblin city of Grezneck was now a shattered marker of a great catastrophe.

“Violence was wrought here,” Shay said. It was obvious, even beyond the wreckage of market stalls and the broken bits of gear scattered about. This place just felt like suffering and destruction.

“There are no bodies,” Baraka noted. The ranger was still a little pale, but he held his bow tightly, an arrow held loose against the string. “Just like at the deserted guardpost at the city entrance; hints of struggle, but no remains.”

The companions kept close together as they pressed onward, deeper into the cavern. Varo’s daylight spell pushed back the darkness, but the reassuring warmth of the divine illumination did little to dispel the cold chill that each of them felt. Grezneck bore constant signs and reminders of the large population that had thrived here until recently, but in its current state, each of them could not help but feel like interlopers, intruding upon the uneasy rest of the dead.

Or, as it may be, the undead.

There was a small flutter of movement under an overturned booth as they walked past. Sword and arrows were turned upon the wreckage at once, but the source was revealed a moment later as a small, scrawny rat, which darted away, vanishing into a crack in the cavern wall.

“Well, at least something lives here,” Baraka said. The ranger shuddered, and stopped, rubbing his head.

“Are you all right?” Allera asked him. “We can stop to rest, if you need to.” While Allera had both healed him and purged his body with a restoration spell, the mountain ranger still showed the lingering effects of his injury. He’d fallen into a deep coma after Allera had stabilized him during the battle with the dragon, and no mere cure wounds spells had been able to improve his condition. Talen had looked to be facing a very difficult decision, when the ranger had suddenly woken shortly after the return of Varo and the others from their confrontation with the female dragon in its lair. He’d been dazed, with little memory of the battle, or for that matter anything that they’d done thus far in Rappan Athuk. But after some more healing Allera had pronounced him fit, and he accepted his weapons and his place in the van without complaint.

“Not here,” Talen said, but Baraka shook his head. “I am all right, healer,” he said, moving ahead to join Shay in scouting out their path.

“Which way?” Talen asked, turning to Varo.

The cleric focused on his active find the path spell. “There,” he said, pointing to the far side of the cavern.

“Let’s get moving then,” the knight said. “I don’t want to spend a minute longer in this place than is necessary.”

Varo’s directions led them to a pair of double doors, now hanging open, on the far side of the cavern. The doors accessed a broad tunnel, easily twenty feet wide, that continued deeper into the goblin city.

They moved quickly but cautiously, their own treads muffled on the worn stone. Their care was born in part of a renewed awareness of the challenges of Rappan Athuk, and in part from what had happened in their camp after the dragon hunters had returned from the shadow dragons’ nest. With two new bodies added to their tally, Allera had insisted on using the blue diamond she’d found to try to raise one of their fallen. Pella’s dismemberment placed her beyond that spell’s power, so she had attempted to bring back Bullo from beyond the veil.

The spell had failed; Allera had been unable to contact the legionary’s soul. Talen and Shay had looked up at Varo, who had not looked surprised at the result.

The corridor straightened and continued onward for as far as they could see with Varo’s light. “This must have been a main thoroughfare,” Kalend said. “It’s bigger than any goblin warren I’ve ever seen.”

“These are not typical goblins,” Talen said. He held Beatus Incendia bare in his hand, but the sword was inert; the knight had not called upon its holy flames.

“Damned gobbos can all go to the Pit,” Dar growled.

Up ahead, at the edge of their light, Shay gestured back to them. “Quiet,” Talen said to the others. “Varo, mask the light.”

The cleric nodded, covering the head of his mace with a sack. The brilliant illumination instantly faded to a weak aura that shone through the dense wool fibers, and the companions had to grasp onto the left wall to guide them while their eyes adjusted to the sudden change.

Shay came back to join them as they approached. “What is it?” Talen whispered.

“There’s a side tunnel to the left up ahead,” the scout reported. “I thought I heard something... might have been sounds of battle.”

Thought you heard?” Dar hissed.

Shay shot him a dark look, but Talen said, “All right, let’s check it out. But slowly, and as quietly as possible; we don’t know what’s out there.”

Quiet was a relative thing, with Dar and Talen clad in heavy armor, but they made their way up to the side passage that Shay had indicated without incident. The opening was far narrower than the main tunnel, and led into a tunnel that was utterly black. They stood there for a few moments, listening, but heard nothing but silence.

“I think you’re hearing things...” Dar began, but Shay cut him off with a raised hand. “Something’s coming,” she whispered.

Talen gestured to Varo, and the two of them moved to flank the opening. The cleric put his mace under his cloak, completely muting the light. Behind the knight, Dar drew Valor from its sheath, while the others prepared spells or missile weapons for battle.

They listened, but the darkness continued its silence unabated. Then, finally, they heard a faint sound, almost like a whisper. It could have been the soft sound of feet padding on bare stone... getting closer...

Shay prodded Talen, and the knight stepped into the opening, invoking the power of his sword as he did so. Behind him, Varo drew out his mace, and tore off the sack from its head, flooding the area with daylight.

The bright glow revealed a single goblin, who drew up in startlement, shielding its eyes in pain from the sudden intensity of light.

“All right, gobbo, on your knees, hands on your head,” Dar said, stepping into the tunnel opening, at the same time that Allera said, “It’s all right, we’re not here to hurt you.”

The goblin recovered surprisingly quickly. It darted forward, easily avoiding Dar’s clumsy grab, diving into a roll that took it past Talen before the knight could react.

“What the—” Dar exclaimed, spinning around in confusion before he located the rapidly-moving goblin. “Come back here, you little bastard!”

The goblin came up from its roll and sprang forward again, leaping past Allera and Shay. The scout was fast enough to get in an attack; she shot out a foot, trying to trip up the creature, but the goblin was able to shift and take the blow on its hip. It grunted, but did not stop.

Kalend had lifted his blow, but Serah stopped him. “No, hold your fire! We’re supposed to parlay with them...”

But it looked like the goblin was not interested in conversation, and as he made it past Shay, it looked like it was going to make a clean escape. But as it turned toward the tunnel that led back to the great market cavern, it had one more foe to get past; Licinius Varo.

Varo made no move to intercept the creature. He merely presented his divine focus, and invoked the power of Dagos.

The goblin froze and fell, paralyzed by a hold person spell.

“I would suggest that you secure it quickly; the spell will not hold it long,” Varo said.

Shay and Baraka moved to capture the goblin, but before they could bind it, a dark, nauseating storm of energy engulfed them.


Chapter 167


The power of the unholy blight seared all of them, and Talen and Shay were both staggered, voiding the contents of their stomachs onto the stone floor as the foul sickness of the spell seeped into their bodies.

Varo was the first to recover, as the blight faded. “There, down the side tunnel!” he warned, pointing with his mace.

Dar did not suffer the way that Talen and Shay had, but he still felt a foul, cloying thickness in the back of his throat as he turned back around. A small horde of undead came charging forward into the light, a mix of skeletons and ghouls, all of them only three feet tall. There was over a score of them altogether, and they came on in a full run, rapidly closing the distance between them and the companions.

“Bah, even as undead, they look weak,” Dar said.

Talen reseated his helmet and stepped forward to join Dar. The knight’s sword pulsed with holy flames, as eager as he was to destroy these undead abominations.

But before he could strike, Talen froze, overcome by a hold person spell from the still-unseen enemy cleric. Dar, sensing that something was wrong, glanced over at him. He tapped the knight’s shoulder with Valor, but Talen did not react.

“Wonderful,” he said, moving forward to take up a blocking position in front of the paralyzed knight.

Holy power flooded the tunnel as the clerics unleashed their power, the brilliant light of the Father underlaid by the violet pulses of the Dark Creeper. Serah’s turning disintegrated half a dozen skeletons in the front rank of the charging enemy force, and a pair of ghouls recoiled, overcome by the power of her god. A moment later four more ghouls suddenly froze, rebuked by Varo. A pair of arrows from Kalend and Baraka struck the next leading ghoul as it charged past its turned companions, the long shafts slamming deep into its chest just a few inches apart. The ghoul let out a hiss and collapsed.

That still left almost a dozen of the undead, a majority of them ghouls, which surged at Dar, claws extended. The fighter lifted his sword, ready to cut down the first wave.

But then Allera stepped forward, and unleashed a powerful surge of positive energy that filled the corridor. Undead, both skeletons and ghouls, just came apart as blue fire surrounded their bodies. Within a heartbeat, the only undead left standing were those that were fleeing, or were cowering under the effects of Varo’s rebuke.

“Overkill, I think,” Varo said. “But we must stop that enemy cleric, before he can secure aid.”

“I’ll get him,” Shay said, darting quickly down the corridor at a speed none of them could match.

“Shay... no...” Talen said, but his words were barely audible as he struggled against the evil cleric’s paralysis. Dar followed after the scout, almost casually decapitating one of the rebuked ghouls as he ran past them. The others followed behind, but Talen, finally able to move again, held up Serah and Kalend, who were bringing up the rear.

“Secure the prisoner, and watch our backs,” he said, gesturing to the goblin lying on the ground out in the main corridor. “I don’t like this...” Without waiting for a response, he hastened after the others.

Dar heard the sound of swords clanging before he saw the foe. The side tunnel opened onto a much larger cavern after less than a hundred feet, where the light from Varo’s spell only barely penetrated. Shay was engaged with three armored hobgoblins, clad in chain shirts and armed with longswords and shields. One of them was wounded, seriously by the way he favored his right side, but they had spread out to flank Shay, and as the fighter watched, she cried out and covered her eyes with her free hand.

“Ah! I cannot see!”

The hobgoblins immediately surged in to take advantage of their foe’s blindness, but Dar drew their attention with a loud battlecry that echoed through the cavern. One of the trio turned to face him, but it barely got its sword up before Dar swept Valor up in a stroke that came up under its shield, ripped deep into its body, and kept on going. The hobgoblin didn’t even cry out, it just tumbled to the ground, its spine severed neatly by the blow.

Looking around, he finally saw the cleric, a goblin clad in a black robe, standing a short distance off to the side. It was casting another spell, it looked like, but Dar’s attention was drawn to the two remaining hobgoblins, who left the blinded scout to face the greater threat posed by Dar. They paid for underestimating Shaylara, who used sound alone to guide a wild swing that caught one of the hobgoblins in the back of the leg. The creature, already wounded, staggered forward, right into a powerful swing of Valor that sheared its head from its shoulders.

The last hobgoblin hesitated just an instant, but even that slight moment of weakness cost it, as Dar slipped Valor past its guard, thrusting a foot of the axiomatic steel into its chest. Blood erupted from the wretched creature’s mouth, but somehow it managed to fight on, attacking Dar with a clumsy swing that he easily caught on the crossbar of his weapon.

But the cleric had put the delay to good use. An arrow from Baraka caught it in the shoulder, but it maintained its concentration, and completed a summoning spell. With a sudden whoosh of greasy black smoke and a whiff of brimstone, a howler materialized in front of it. The abyssal creature turned to the corridor entrance, where Allera and Varo had just arrived, the cleric’s light source blazing out to drive back the darkness of the cavern.

The creature let out a howl and immediately charged toward them.

The goblin cleric, clearly not liking the odds, turned and fled.

Varo pushed Allera behind him, taking the howler’s rush. It seized the cleric’s arm in its jaws, trying to wrestle him down, its spines scraping on his breastplate as it thrashed about. But Varo held his ground, and a moment later Talen and Baraka were there, the ranger drawing the monster’s attention with his sickles, just in time for Talen to deliver a devastating critical hit with Beatus Incendia, a crushing blow to the back of its neck that drove it to the ground, where it started to dissolve into nothing almost immediately.

The goblin cleric had gotten a good distance away, the darkness of the cavern swallowing it up as it fled. But a fluttering noise ahead of it warned it of another foe, a moment before a gust of sweet-smelling gas puffed into its face. Unfortunately for Snaggletooth, the cleric of Orcus had a very strong will, and it stabbed a hand blindly toward the noise of the little dragon’s wings. The goblin managed to just brush Snaggletooth’s tail as it tried to withdraw, enough of a contact to deliver an inflict critical wounds spell. The faerie dragon screeched in pain and flew back up into the dark vaults of the cavern interior.

Back at the tunnel mouth, Allera let out a sharp cry and clutched her head, feeling the pain of her companion through their telepathic link.

A loud clatter drew the cleric’s attention around before it could resume its flight. It lifted its morningstar to defend itself, but the armored human moved with deceptive speed, and the blue-tinged sword in its hand flashed in a brilliant and violent arc. They were on the farthest edge of Varo’s light, and Dar’s stroke was guided more by instinct than by deliberate intent, but it hit the goblin’s weapon arm, severing the limb at the elbow.

The goblin did not cry out or beg for mercy. Instead it countered with a touch attack, invoking the power of Orcus to deliver an inflict serious wounds. The spell hurt, but Dar barely flinched, lifting his sword in both hands and driving it down through the goblin’s skull, cleaving through its helm and finally wedging deep into its breastbone. Blood exploded out from the wound, as the shattered halves of its head flopped down onto its shoulders.

Dar was yanking his sword free from its body when Baraka, Serah, and Varo came up to join him. “I think that’s all of them,” the fighter said.

“Are you all right?” the priestess asked.

Dar grunted. “This prick got a good lick in, but it will take more than one of those damned touch-of-pain spells to bring me down.”

“What the colonel is saying, I believe, is that he would appreciate one of your healing spells, Serah,” Varo said. The cleric nodded, and came up to Dar, a bit tentatively.

“I will take a quick look around,” Baraka offered.

“I would recommend caution,” Varo said. “The two ghouls that Serah drove off may return, once her turning wears off.”

The ranger nodded, and trotted off across the cavern.

Varo looked at Dar. “I will attend to those that I rebuked, before they recover.”

Now that the battle was over they could see that the place was some sort of gathering area, with trash and other detritus littered all over to hint at the frequent use to which it had been put. Several large circles had been marked on the floor; hints of old blood staining the stone hinted at their use. Dar, who was no stranger to fighting rings, nodded to himself; this he understood.

He let out a breath as a warm glow of healing energy passed into him, easing the pain of his wounds. As it so often happened, he didn’t realize how much his injuries had hurt until they were gone. He nodded to Serah in thanks. “Let’s go see what the commander wants to do with this mess.”

They returned to the tunnel entrance, where Allera was holding Shay, both the healer’s hands on the sides of the scout’s head, her thumbs pressed gently against her eyelids. Talen was watching intently from a few paces away. Kalend was nearby, the captive goblin lying on the ground beside him, its hands and legs tightly bound.

“Do not move, this will just take a few seconds,” the healer was saying. She summoned her power, and her hands began to glow, the divine energies flowing into the scout. Once it was done, Allera drew back, and Shay blinked, letting out a sigh of relief.

“Damn, that is not something I want to repeat any time soon.”

“Let’s find a quiet place where we can talk to our prisoner,” Talen said.

“What about the bodies?” Dar asked.

Talen looked around, at the wreckage of yet another battle. Blood stained the ground in generous quantities around the hobgoblins that Dar had killed, and while the howler had disappeared, it had left a long slick of ugly ichor staining the floor where it had died. The stink of death hung in the air like a thick fog. “Leave them,” the knight finally said, his voice tired. “We don’t have the time or the means to clean all this up, and it’s not like they don’t already know we’re coming.”

Baraka returned, informing them that there was no sign of other threats in the cavern. “It looks like there’s a few exits from this place, but it was too dark to see clearly.”

Talen looked at Varo. “Our way lies in another direction,” the cleric said. “But it may be useful to hear what our guest has to say.”

“Back to the main tunnel,” the knight said.

Talen pulled aside Shay as the others retraced their steps back to where they had begun the encounter. “Damn it, Shay, you can’t just go charging off alone like that!” the knight said, not bothering to conceal his anger.

Shay’s voice remained level. “Varo warned of the goblin cleric. Standard protocol is to deal with enemy casters first in a battle, is it not?”

“Varo is not in command here.”

The scout lowered her voice. “Just answer me this, commander. If you had not been paralyzed, and you’d gotten the same warning, would you have charged down that tunnel to do what I did?”

Talen opened his mouth to speak, but he hesitated; Shay knew that he would have likely acted in exactly the same way, if it had come to risking his own life for the good of the group and the mission.

“I’m sorry, Talen,” she said. “But we’re here, in Rappan Athuk, and we have to face the reality of what that might mean.” She didn’t have to refer to Pella and the legionaries; Talen knew what she meant.

Talen couldn’t quite meet her gaze. The scout let out a sigh, and then headed after the others, leaving Talen alone in the cavern.

After a few seconds, Talen turned and followed her, a pure darkness settling again over the cavern as the light of Beatus Incendia disappeared with him back down the tunnel.


This has all been very excellent, Lazybones.

As an aside, I know Talen's sword is supposed to be:

Be-ah-tus Incendia

but I can't help but vocalize it as:

Beat-us Incendia

Just more fun that way.


Thanks, Koewn!

* * * * *

Chapter 168


“I remember you,” the goblin said.

They were back in the tunnel leading to the market cavern. Varo’s daylight spell had expired, leaving them with the weaker, more natural light cast from their various objects imbued with continual flame. Talen had set watched in both directions of the tunnel, with Baraka and Kalend close enough to call out if they spotted enemies. He had kept Shay back to translate, but it appeared as if that would be unnecessary, as the goblin spoke the common tongue.

“You were the leader of that group we met in the spider tunnels,” Allera said.

The goblin nodded. “You said then that you were enemies of the demon priests.”

“That is still the case,” Talen said.

“That priest, he was a gobbo too,” Dar said. “You guys have a little falling out?”

The goblin sighed and leaned back against the wall behind him. That was all he could do, with the ropes still wrapped around his legs and torso, and fastening his wrists behind his back.

“We were betrayed by the followers of the Demon. I was on patrol when they attacked. They took a number of patrols, and mining teams. We were taken to one of their temples, where most of my kin were turned into undead, creatures of shadow and darkness.”

The companions exchanged a look. “So that is where they have been getting their army,” Talen said.

“What of Grezneck?” Shay asked.

The goblin looked up at the scout. “I only learned of the fate of the city only after I escaped, and returned to Grezneck. I met up with a few survivors... I think they’re all dead now, but they told me what had happened. It was Tribitz, the high priest of Orcus. A ‘gobbo’, as you said, human. He and his fanatics struck at the height of a market gathering. They had a huge monster of stone, and demons, as well. The warriors tried to fight back, but they were heavily outclassed.”

“Not surprising,” Talen said, “Given what we’ve seen ourselves of the cult’s resources.”

“You said you were brought to one of their temples,” Varo said. “Can you find your way back there again?”

The goblin shuddered, and looked away. “No, never,” he said.

Allera knelt beside him, and cast a minor healing orison on him, easing his injuries. The goblin let out a small sigh. “What is your name?” she said.

“Filcher,” he replied. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Keep telling us what we want to hear, and you might just survive this meeting,” Dar said, looking menacing as he loomed over the creature, Valor balanced against his shoulder.

“Are there any more survivors still fighting?” Talen asked.

Filcher nodded. “From what I heard, the leader of the warriors, a powerful hobgoblin named Herzord, has holed up in the barracks with a considerable part of the garrison. I tried to get to him, but the clerics have a large force outside, blocking the only way in.

Dar looked at Talen. “Enemy of my enemy?”

“This is not our mission,” Varo reminded them. “We’re here to take out the temple.”

“We’ve taken losses,” Talen said, “And we’re not certain of what we’re up against. If we can help the goblins, maybe they can help us, in return.”

Dar leaned in closer to the knight. Quietly, he said, “I stand by what I said before. Goblins are not trustworthy, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one.”

Talen looked at him. “Not long ago, colonel, I would have said the same about you. I understand and agree with your caution, Dar, but we cannot afford to turn away any source of aid.”

“All right. It’s your call, commander, but I hope we’re not pulling our fat from the pan, and dumping it into the fire.”

Talen turned to their prisoner. “Filcher, if we cut you free, will you take us to the barracks?”

The goblin nodded. He shifted slightly, and to their surprise, he stood up, the ropes holding him falling away. The companions looked at him in surprise, and then Dar laughed. “I think I’m going to like you, gobbo,” he said.


Chapter 169


“Report,” the goblin priest commanded, his voice thick and nasaly.

“Zenek has not reported back yet,” the heavily armored hobgoblin replied. The creature was an imposing specimen, standing almost six and a half feet tall, more than double the height of the goblin cleric. He wore a suit of full plate armor and a heavy shield of plate steel, and the hilt of the longsword at his hip was worn from frequent use. Bloodstains both old and new decorated his attire.

The cleric viewed the hobgoblin with eyes that narrowed to slits. “I know that. What are you doing to find him, Purbok?”

“I have sent two teams of scouts to search the caves between here and the Great Market, honored Drezzned,” the hobgoblin said. “As you will recall, my primary orders were to ensure that Herzord and his heretics do not escape from their prison.” He met the cleric’s gaze squarely, and without fear; he too was favored, and while his command of the powers of the True God were not equal to Drezzned’s, he had twenty fanatic hobgoblin veterans at his command, dedicated both to Orcus and their leader, while Drezzned’s companions, which included a lesser priest, two score undead, and a vrock demon, had no such personal loyalty.

As if to remind him of that fact, the demon tittered noisily a few paces away, letting out a low screech that was just short of painful. Drezzned shot a nasty look at the creature and fumed, but he said nothing. He was distracted; Zenek’s sudden disappearance might be convenient for him, or it might be a sign that the lesser cleric had joined Jakthur’s faction, and was scheming to bring him into disfavor with lord Tribitz.

“Is there any word as to when we will strike against the heretics?” Purbok asked, with a glance at the demon. Drezzned suddenly rose; impertinence could be tolerated, to a degree, but this was a direct challenge to his authority! “We chosen of the True God will determine the time to strike, hobgoblin, not you!”

Purbok inclined his head in a gesture of deference, but he did not look cowed. Again, Drezzned fumed, and in his mind entertained various fantasies of inflicting unpleasant fates upon the hobgoblin.

“Send a messenger to Tribitz with word of Zenek’s disappearance,” the priest finally said. “Tell them to be wary, Purbok; there may yet be more... heretics... loose in Grezneck.”

Without acknowledging the command or the dig, Purbok turned and headed over to his men, who were arranged in a small camp further down the tunnel. Drezzned’s own forces were closer, near the barricade that sealed off the narrow passage that led off the tunnel into the barracks complex where the heretic forces of Herzord were trapped, isolated from the rest of Rappan Athuk. Unfortunately, the place was also damned near a fortress, its twisting entrance tunnels too narrow for most of the demons that the greater priests had at their call to enter. Under normal circumstances they could have teleported in, but the energies being wrought by the human priests as they meddled with the Sphere of Souls were interfering with that magic, even that of the demons that served at the right hand of the True God.

The goblin’s musings were interrupted by the vrock, which abruptly straightened and stared off down the tunnel in the direction of Grezneck. “What is it?” the cleric asked.

“Armored men approach,” the demon hissed.

Drezzned peered down the tunnel, but it twisted and bent along its length, and he could see nothing. “It may be Zenek and his guards, returning at last,” he said. But something tickled at the edges of his perceptions, putting the lie to the statement, and the vrock confirmed it, shaking its vulpine head.

“No. I can taste the sweet stench of human flesh upon the air. Enemies.” The vrock let out a loud screech that echoed through the tunnel. Invoking its abyssal powers, it infused itself with a flood of fell energy in preparation for battle.

Drezzned saw that his followers were stirring, and that Purok was likewise rallying his soldiers. The goblin felt a surge of exultation drive aside his earlier doubts and worries, and he gave himself over to the power of the True God, drawing the strength of his patron into his body, as he lifted his morningstar to bring death to the enemies of Orcus.


First Post
Oh dear, experienced Hobgoblin warriors, multiple Clerics of Orcus and a Vrock.

I think I can guess at the friday cliffhanger.

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