Friday, December 12, 2008

Adventure 6: The end of the road

Odo had his warhammer back, and now he had his home back as well. After we had finished off the necromancer and his cronies, Odo asked us all to stay with him and celebrate.

“Uhh, Odo, I hate to interrupt your dance of joy, but this place is a dump. It’s uninhabitable,” I said, gesturing to the piles of bones and rubble around me.

Odo shook his bearded head. “That’s just not true…”

“You’re right, actually, I admit I was quite happy to interrupt your dance of joy,” which I thought looked like it could have passed as a mating ritual for a blind gnoll, had that blind gnoll been trying to mate with a rhinocerous. “The point remains, though, that it’s going to be awhile before this place smells like anything other than barbecued evil.”

Odo, clearly in a good mood, just laughed. “You have not seen what dwarves can do in only a small amount of time. You see, I was so confident in your abilities that I told my clan to follow several days behind me. They should be arriving shortly. This will be home again in no time. Besides, you are all heroes now to my people. They will want to honor you with lavish gifts. Further back I noticed the door to a secret hoard of our finest treasures that was sealed by dwarven runes and was not touched by the necromancer. You will all be rewarded generously as I promised.”

None of us could really argue with that, so we decided to stay, and even Lotheryn and Ieuan lightened somewhat in their attitude toward our dwarven friend.

Odo was as good as his word. His clan showed up two days later and had the place fit for a king in slightly less than a month. We grew to like the dwarf – it seems that dwarves are gruff only to outsiders, and then only because dwarves have little respect for those who do not share their work ethic. Once you have earned their respect and trust, they become a different people entirely. We spent most days working alongside Odo’s people and most nights feasting in the main hall, which was the first area to be restored to its former glory.

The only interruption to our mirth was an unfortunate incident with our simple-minded barbarian. Malak, it seems, had become quite smitten with Odo’s oldest daughter, Grunda. Dinner soon became an awkward affair as Malak, in all his subtlety, insisted on sitting next to Grunda and wooing her with all his might. Mostly this consisted of spilling his food on her lap, but she seemed to enjoy the advances. Odo was still so content with having his kingdom restored that he either didn’t notice or passed it off as innocent flirting.

I will never forget, however, the night Odo found Malak, umm, “demonstrating his skill with a broadsword” while “sparring” with Grunda (those unskilled in the euphemistic arts will be slightly confused, but I do not wish this narrative to become inappropriate). As I mentioned previously, I have seen dwarves in battle, filled with fury at their enemies, bellowing war-cries as they fought passionately. I realized, as I was awoken by what I thought was an earthquake, that I had never seen dwarves REALLY mad. I have now. It took me, Bolt, and four dwarven men to restrain Odo from destroying Malak on the spot. When we finally got Malak away from the enraged dwarf, the barbarian seemed confused.

“Why is the dwarf angry? I didn’t do anything bad.”

“Uhh Malak,” Bolt tried to explain, “As much as Odo is happy that we helped him get his home back, I don’t think his daughter was included in the reward. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he wasn’t planning on having a human as a son-in-law, or grandson for that matter. I would leave now, before he tries to fight you again.”

I agreed. “Odo’s not going to let this go. You need to get out of here. NOW,” I said emphatically.

Malak may not be the sharpest sword on the rack, but he is certainly proud, and he knew when his honor was being questioned. He looked at both of us with a mixture of anger and sadness. Without a word, he turned and left.

Right then, Moonglum appeared from around the corner, sleepily rubbing his eyes.

“What’s going on, amigos?”

We explained to him that Malak had been caught with Odo’s daughter.

The gnome looked confused. “Daughter? Odo doesn’t have a daught…” And then it dawned on him. “That was a woman?!? Holy bearded dwarves, Batman!” I wasn’t familiar with the expression, but I caught the basic gist, and shushed him before he got the rest of us in trouble.

When Malak didn’t return, we went to his quarters and observed that all of his gear was gone. The barbarian had simply left. No goodbye, no forwarding address, nothing. Our fellowship had lost its biggest member, and arguably its best fighter. The six of us who remained were gloomy at having lost our companion, but we didn’t have any time to dwell on it. Before we could discuss whether or not we wanted to go after him, we felt a rumble in the earth.

What is Odo pissed about now, I thought. Just then two dwarves came rushing into the room, summoning us to the dwarf chieftain’s chambers. Something was up.

When we got there, Odo was clearly still angry, but now something else had earned his wrath.

“I have a new mission for you adventurers,” he began in a voice that barely held back his rage. “Since your friend has decided to disregard the laws of my house and the basic principles of honor, I will give you the chance to earn your pardon.”

Bolt began to object, but Odo silenced him with a look that could have melted stone. “He was YOUR COMPANION. You may not have committed the act, but he was partly your responsibility. Here is your opportunity to atone for that.

“I have suspected for several weeks that there is still some evil lurking in the depths of this mine. It has now been confirmed. The evil still inhabits the lower tunnels and there is only one way to rid ourselves of it. A matriarch of our people was entombed long ago with a sacred jewel that has the power to ward off this evil for good. Apparently my forebears were unable to get to the tomb when this evil first appeared. We must go down and recover this jewel. We leave immediately – I would send you alone, but I am the only one who knows the proper words to activate the stone’s power.”

As Odo donned his armor, Lotheryn pulled me aside. “We don’t have to answer to this dwarf. What Malak did was unfortunate, but he is asking too much. We should just go; it’s obvious our welcome is worn out, and it’s a welcome I didn’t really desire in the first place.”

Iuean nodded in agreement. “I thought maybe these dwarves would be different, but clearly they are not. I’m with Lotheryn. Leave Odo to get his own jewel.”

I sighed. “I happen to agree with you, but we can’t leave. If we tried to leave now, we’d have to fight our way out of this place, and I will not kill innocent dwarves because of a questionable decision made by their leader. If we help him do this, we can leave without issue. I don’t like the situation any more than you, but our hands are tied.”

Both of the elven women gave me an icy stare and turned away, but they followed when we began to make our way down to the lower mines. We took a long passageway down only to find ourselves at a dead end. Odo touched a place in the stone and a section of the wall rolled back. We walked through the opening to the smell of death and decay. I smelled something else.

“Orcs.” I muttered under my breath as I took Narqualme in my hands. There was going to be killing before we got out of this place.

As we walked forward, we heard the distinct grunting of orcs to both sides of us. Five shapes materialized out of the darkness.

“Let’s buck these fools,” Bolt said as he unsheathed his sword and charged into battle. Not wanting to be outdone, I charged in next to him, swinging my flail at any orc that moved. I felt almost detached from my body as I dropped one foul beast after another. We moved steadily through the mines; more and more orcs came at us. I vaguely recall seeing Amaryllis moving in and out of the shadows while the wizard and the sorcerer lit the cave with their magic missiles. But I was alone in my own personal mission of death. Nothing phased me as I slew orc after orc. My grim determination to eliminate every single one was the only thing that mattered.

I have no idea how long this lasted before I was jerked back to reality by Lotheryn’s hand on my shoulder. She looked frightened by what she saw in my face.

“You can stop – the orcs are all dead. We found the tomb.”

I looked around at the pile of bodies surrounding me. I hadn’t realized I had killed that many. A dead orc is a good orc, I always say, but I did not enjoy being so out of control of my own actions. It frightened me somewhat.

The inward contemplation was put aside as Odo removed the lid of the tomb and reached in. He produced a magnificent red pendant that gleamed with its own light in the inky blackness of the mine. He began chanting dwarven verse in a deep, guttural voice, concentrating on the pendant. Before he could finish his cantation, the mine rumbled and out of the gloom shambled the evil being that inhabited the place; a hideous, scaly beast with a snout like a beak and a powerful tail. It pounded the ground with its forelegs and knocked us all to floor, interrupting Odo’s spell.

He yelled in frustration, “A bulette! We must kill the beast so I can finish my spell of warding!” He shouted something else in dwarven and charged at the monster.

Bolt looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. “This don’t look like any burlesque I’ve ever seen, but whatever. I’ll just add this to my trophy case of butt ugly beasts I’ve bucked.” Bolt sprinted in to join. Amaryllis was already there, as she somersaulted past the beast’s head, brandishing her short sword. I started to follow.

Just then we saw several more orcs rush in from our flank, heading straight for Lotheryn. I quickly changed direction to intercept them.

“I can handle these guys,” I shouted to the druid. “Go make sure Bolt and Amaryllis are alright!”
She nodded and shouted back, “I’ll have Anca give you a hand.” The wolf pounced from behind me, grappling with the orc to my right, his large claws rending the orc's leather armor.

It was then I noticed that Ieuan and Moonglum hadn’t joined the fight. We could certainly use some of those handy magic missiles, I thought to myself, as I took a swing with Narqualme. After landing a solid blow that temporarily dazed my opponent, I hazarded a quick glance behind me to see what was going on.

Moonglum was yelling at Ieuan and gesturing wildly at the bulette. Ieuan was arguing with the gnome about something, but suddenly stopped and looked at the ground. When she looked up, she had her necklace in her hand and a tear streaming down her cheek. Moonglum had turned toward us and was moving his hands and muttering, preparing to cast a spell. Understanding dawned on me too late.

“NOOOOOOOOO!” I yelled, loud enough to make Bolt turn. The bulette saw its opportunity and hit him across the chest at the same time multiple fireballs exploded around us.

Having some forewarning of what was coming, I was able to avoid the greater part of the blast, but Bolt was not so lucky. As the smoke cleared, I saw him lying there, unconscious. The orcs had been blown away by the fire, so I rushed in to intercept the bulette before it could stomp on the paladin and crush him. At that moment Amaryllis landed a blow on its flank, distracting the creature enough to allow me time to get in the fight. Lotheryn rushed in and healed Bolt enough to get him on his feet. Bolt stepped back to drink a potion when I heard Moonglum cackle with glee.

“THAR SHE BLOWS!!!” he yelled as another fireball exploded around us. The gnome had gone insane. Bolt fell unconscious again, barely breathing. Ieuan had sunk to her knees, tears streaming down her face as she breathed the word “no” over and over again. As Lotheryn tended to Bolt, I turned back to the bulette in time to see it burrow underground, heavily wounded from the beating it had taken. It surfaced in front of Moonglum, who was paying no attention; he was too impressed with his own magical prowess to care. Odo reacted quickly for a man his size, charging over to give it one last blow from his hammer. The beast’s skull crunched as it sunk to the ground, dead before it could take a bite out of the gnome.

Ieuan was now sobbing uncontrollably, her head buried in her hands. Lotheryn was shouting Bolt’s name, trying to revive him. Odo had retrieved the jewel and begun chanting again. All I saw or heard was Moonglum - bouncing around like a child and laughing wildly.

I ran to him in a blind rage and grabbed the small man to lift him to my eye level, pinning him against the cavern wall. He still had a mirthful gleam in his eye, but the strength of my grip and ferocity of my voice seemed to bring him mostly back to his wits.

“I’ve put up with your eccentricities, gnome, but now I am done with you. You nearly killed us! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?” My heart was pounding in my chest. It took all my willpower to keep myself from pummeling this over-sized lawn decoration into oblivion.

“Taran.” I heard behind me. I turned around. Bolt was on his feet, but his face was burned so badly I could barely recognize him. “Put him down. The thing is dead. That’s all that matters. Let him go.”

I turned back and glared at the gnome one more time before I unceremoniously dumped him on the ground. Lotheryn was doing her best to comfort Ieuan, who had stopped crying but was now staring sullenly at the floor, unable to look anyone in the eye. Odo finally finished his chant and seemed satisfied with the results. He guided our weary group back to the upper levels of the mine.

I didn’t say another word to anyone as I left the group to wash the blood off of myself and to get some much needed sleep. I didn’t trust myself to speak, afraid I would unleash my fury on the gnome again. My last thought before sleep took me was that our fellowship was broken.

In the morning I woke and gathered my things to leave. I had no desire to remain in Odo’s caverns any longer. The vision of those fireballs exploding was playing continuously through my head. On my way out, I saw Odo, who informed me that all of us were fully pardoned and that I was welcome to a week’s worth of provisions. It was a nice gesture, but I heard no friendship or gratitude in his voice - it was apparent that we had indeed worn out our welcome. After gathering provisions, I made my way to the main gates. Just in front of them I saw Lotheryn and Bolt. Each had their gear packed and appeared ready to leave. Lotheryn had been crying.

As I approached she handed me a note. It read:

I have decided to leave. I cannot explain why I did what I did. The horror of my actions has not left my mind and I fear it will not for as long as I stay with you. It will haunt me. I am deeply sorry. Please know that you have been great friends. Goodbye.

“So I guess this is it,” Bolt said after a lengthy silence. It wasn’t a question. “Amaryllis has decided to stay and help teach the dwarven children, which good ol’ Odo said was fine, as his clan could use such people to help them rebuild their kingdom. I have no idea where the gnome is; I haven’t seen him since we got back last night. As for myself, I need to be with my people. There may be other threats out there, and the Kingdom needs me. I am its rightful ruler.”

I gave him the half-hug, half-handshake that seemed to be the way his people embraced. “It was a pleasure fighting beside you, my friend. If you ever need a good ranger…”

“I won’t be sending for YOU! I’ll send for someone who can actually use a bow.” He said with a grin.

“Yeah, well, you’ll need someone to carry you around when you get knocked unconscious,” I threw right back. I didn’t always see eye to eye with the paladin, but he was a great ally and a great man. I would miss his companionship. “Go with Ehlonna.”

“Only if She can keep up with me,” he said, as he turned away. His long, quick strides soon took him over a hill and out of sight.

I turned back to Lotheryn. “What are your plans?”

Lotheryn looked uncomfortable. “I am not sure. I have not unearthed any sign of terellor or the druid who gave us the prophecy. Thus far I have been a failure to my Grove. I cannot go back to them empty-handed. I suppose I must resume my search. I know of a city north of here where there lives a renowned herbalist. That is as good a place to start as any.” She paused and looked at me. I could see the sadness in her eyes. “But it will certainly be different, traveling alone after so long. What about you?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I must resume my search as well. There are obviously orcs in this region, as we found out during our lovely spelunking expedition. I will find their clan’s settlement and see if I can find any information about my sister. If not, I will move on to another region. It has been thirty years since Aralee was taken, but I will not give up. Ehlonna will guide me to her. As much as it pains me, I must persist.” The words felt wrong, even as I said them, as if Ehlonna was letting me know that She did not appreciate my putting words in her mouth. I shook off the feeling, annoyed with myself for being reluctant to say goodbye.

Lotheryn just nodded slowly. We embraced, said farewell, and left in different directions without saying anything more. Within an hour, I came upon signs of a small orc raiding party climbing into the foothills. My instincts as a ranger kicked in without hesitation: I determined that four orcs had passed through roughly 3 days earlier, going southeast at a leisurely clip. One orc was injured and another looked to be larger than the others, possibly as a result of having some troll blood in his lineage. They were most likely armed to the teeth and undoubtedly knew the area much better than I. I grew uneasy looking at those tracks as I realized what I had to do.

I turned around and headed straight north, hoping I would be able to catch up with Lotheryn by nightfall. Ehlonna had made my path clear.


Moonglum said...

Holy crap this is long. I'm going to have to hold off and read this when it isn't already past midnight.

Taran said...

Sorry, I told you it was epic. It was seven pages worth of a Word document.

Taran said...

In light of recent events, I'm not sure my epic blog post is going to generate quite the emotion I was hoping it would. Such is the way of things I guess.

Moonglum said...

Well, I finally read it. I liked the ending, though you're right, it would have been better if I had read it a couple of days ago. =) The fireballs were all Iuean's idea. Oh, and did Malak take a couple of hairs from Grunda's beard, you know, to remember her by?

Taran said...

Were the fireballs Ieuan's idea? It seemed like you were egging her on, at least. Oh well, revisionist history strikes again.

I'm thinking about doing a Malak story just for fun, and it will probably involve beard pulling.