Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Winterhaven (Rock & Roll) Parts 1 - 3

The hike to Winterhaven was a relatively short one, only three to four hours on foot. After Alassë told us her story, she became lost in her own thoughts, worrying about her friend, Bolgar. Sariel was quiet as well, looking ahead as we walked, a slight smile on her face as if there was some amusing inside joke she was privately enjoying. Lotheryn was her usual quiet self, taking in everything around us, and, as always, looking far more comfortable now that we were out in Nature and not in the middle of a town. Anca led the group forward, silently of course, managing to ensure that Lotheryn was never more than a quick leap away should she need him. I assigned myself as rearguard, trusting Anca to lead us well and keep us from walking into danger. I would make sure nothing was following us. Lotheryn had keen enough ears to detect any traps, but I didn’t know about our two new companions. Better safe than sorry.

Despite that precaution, it was a beautiful day, and I was just appreciating the silent peacefulness when Anca stopped and gave a deep-throated growl. Lotheryn motioned me forward and pointed at the path. As far as I could see, there were small tracks of clawed feet. The trails crossed and crisscrossed so many times as to render pointless an attempt to track any of them. I recognized the tracks immediately.

“Kobolds, and a heck of a lot of them,” I said, looking at the others. Lotheryn nodded and Sariel never changed her bemused expression (this was starting to get on my nerves a little bit, but I did my best not to let it show). Alassë, however, looked confused.

“Kobolds? I have heard of these creatures, but never encountered them before. What are they?” she asked.

“Nasty overgrown rodents basically. They like harassing innocent people, stealing goods from travelers, that sort of thing. It seems that they’ve taken up residence near Winterhaven. I wouldn’t be too worried. They’re not especially bright, but they will defend their territory to the death if they feel threatened. The group of us should be able to handle any of them we see.” This seemed to satisfy the cleric, but I turned away so she wouldn’t see that there were a couple things I hid from her. Number one, I was sure Lotheryn, Anca, and I could handle a small pack of the critters, but I had no idea of Sariel or Alassë’s abilities. The cleric had a deadly-looking morningstar slung at her waist while the avenger’s falchion was more than capable of dealing lethal damage. But the size of the weapon was irrelevant if the person wielding it had no clue what they were doing. I had seen that lesson learned too many times by people who were denied a chance to rectify the problem. If a fight came, I hoped those two could handle themselves because I wasn’t about to spend the whole time making sure they were okay.

The second thing I was worried about was Alassë’s friend. Kobolds could be dangerous if you met a large number of them or if you were traveling alone. The creatures had no reason to take prisoners, and generally preferred simply to kill and eat anyone who stumbled into them at unawares. Bolgar was traveling alone and was now missing. I’m no detective, but the circumstantial evidence in this case was not promising.

“Garl won’t let us be taken by these creatures before we’ve had a chance to complete our mission.” Sariel offered nonchalantly. “Let’s keep going and see what happens.”

I have to admit that I admired her confidence. It was a bit cockier than I was comfortable with, but the eladrin didn’t seem to be careless. She was secure in whatever it was her god had told her. My god, meanwhile, has been leading me around on a wild goose chase for the last 30 years to find a random group of orcs and my sister. You’ll forgive me if I don’t instinctively trust divinely-inspired “visions.”

Anyway, I just shrugged, “Like I said, I think we could handle them. There’s no sense in staying here. Let’s keep moving…but I would get your weapons out just in case.” Confidence was one thing, but I wasn’t about to be caught walking into a nest of kobolds without getting at least one shot off.

Two minutes later, I got my opportunity. We rounded a bend in the path and there were 6 of them, snarling and looking ready to eat the first thing that came within chewing distance. The kobolds were ready for us. Two of them saw us and immediately threw their spears in our direction. We managed to dodge out of the way, unharmed.

Lotheryn was the first to spring into action. With a cold gleam in her eye, she summoned a fire under one of the larger kobolds, burning him badly and completely consuming his smaller companion. Later it would occur to me that this was our first real battle since the druid witnessed the destruction of her Grove. In our previous adventures, Lotheryn was so focused on helping others in battle that she would often go entire fights without directly attacking an enemy. It appeared that those days were over. She still made sure she was available to provide aid should someone require it, but she had developed a hard, deadly edge. Just as she had tapped into forces of Nature to prolong life, she now used that power to destroy her adversaries. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

To my left, I saw Sariel standing perfectly still, eyes closed, that same bemused smile on her lips. In the heat of battle, everything slows down; it seemed like the avenger stood there, motionless, for minutes. In reality, it was probably only a second before she opened her eyes and stared directly at one of the kobolds across the road. She muttered something under her breath and sprinted gracefully toward her new nemesis, brandishing her falchion and making quick work of the unsuspecting beast.

Anca had also charged left, and occupied the attention of the two other kobolds standing there. I was impressed as he deftly wielded a heavy warhammer in one arm with a large wooden shield strapped to the other.

I remember when he obtained both items. Before I went to see about getting a new flail, I asked Anca if he wanted to come and look at some weapons for his own use. He still possessed many wolf-like properties, but he no longer had the weapons-grade claws or fangs that made him dangerous in his previous form. Anca shook his head and uttered something to Lotheryn in the lupine tongue.

The druid smiled, a rare occurrence the first few weeks after her tragedy, and translated, “Anca says that Nature will provide what he needs. He does not need the work of men or metal.” Anca looked at me pointedly and then walked into the woods. He returned less than an hour later with the hammer and shield, formed out of the wood of an alder tree. In a display of trust, he handed them to me to inspect. Though made of wood, both items were as hard as steel and perfectly crafted. I handed them back to the shifter and watched as he placed the hammer into our campfire. To my astonishment, it did not burn.

Until now, I had never seen him use either of the implements, but he swung the hammer with precision, and the shield seemed almost an extension of his arm as he blocked the kobolds’ blows. The warden was an even more impressive fighter now than he had been as a wolf.

Alassë seemed a tad unsure of herself at first, but threw herself into melee combat with one of the kobolds as soon as a spear hurtled by, inches from her face. I could hear her pray as she fought with her morningstar, beseeching Torm to grant us favor over these enemies of the law.

I fired a couple of arrows at the creatures, but the fight was over almost as soon as it had begun. We had a couple of scrapes and bruises to show for our battle, but nothing serious. I was pleased with the way things went. Certainly if we traveled together for very long we would see tougher fights than this, but it was a good start.

We arrived in Winterhaven with no further incident. My first suggestion (for obvious reasons) was to find the local tavern. It’s important, for, you know, fact-finding missions, and stuff. Also, there’s ale.

When we located the tavern on the first floor of Wrafton's Inn, we went inside and made ourselves comfortable. The innkeeper came over and introduced herself as Sylvana Wrafton. She seemed friendly enough, but was clearly troubled. Other than one boisterous man with a small crowd around him, there were only a few scattered patrons.

“What can I do for you folks?" Wrafton asked. "You’re not from here, are ya? Don’t recuhnize you ‘tall. Been tough times for us recently, what with the kobold problem. Traders and visitors stayin’ mostly away. But I don’t mean ta bore y'all with that talk.”

“Oh we know all about the kobold problem,” I said. “We subtracted 6 from your problem on our way in. But I gather the problem is a tad bigger than that.” The innkeeper grunted in agreement. I continued, “We are actually here looking for a friend of ours. Do you know a dwarf named Bolgar? He came through the town a couple weeks ago and has since gone missing. Any idea where we might be able to find him?”

Sylvana looked thoughtful for a minute. “Name sounds familiar, but can’t say I know where he went. If anyone knows, it’s Eilian over there. He knows everyone.” She pointed to the large man who was currently passing for the inn’s entertainment.

I thanked the innkeeper and told my companions to wait while I went to talk to Eilian. He shook my hand as if we were old friends. When I asked about Bolgar, he knew immediately who I was talking about.

“Yes, yes, I remember your friend. Came through a couple of weeks ago, eh? Yes, he approached me for some information. He was looking for Valthrun, the resident scholar round these parts.” Eilian turned and pointed at a small, bespectacled man sitting by himself in a corner, sipping a hot drink and reading. “He wanted to know about some dragon burial grounds or some such thing. Apparently the dwarf got the information he was looking for because I saw him leaving the city to the southwest, loaded down with digging equipment.”

The man grew somber all of a sudden, “If he’s missing, I hope he hasn’t run into those dirty kobolds. They’ve been terrorizing this place too long. I know this town could use any help it can get with those things. Lord Padraig is tearing his hair out.”

I talked to him for awhile longer, bought him a beer for his troubles and then wandered over to Valthrun, who basically confirmed the Eilian's story. He mentioned that Bolgar was convinced there was a dragon burial site with some sort of treasure to the southeast of town. Valthrun had heard rumors of such a thing, but they were vague and unsubstantiated. The scholar was polite, but appeared more interested in his book than my queries. I returned to my companions.

I related all I had learned to Sariel, Anca, Alassë, and Lotheryn. We decided that it would be a good idea to speak with this Lord Padraig and find out more about the kobold problem. It seemed his problem and ours might be linked.

As we walked to his offices, I could tell there was something bothering Lotheryn.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing really,” the druid responded. “I just noticed an elf sitting alone in the tavern. He looked upset so I went to see if I could find out what was wrong. He cursed at me and told me to mind my own business. He was the surliest elf I have ever encountered. It just bothers me that in these hard times even people who seem like friends become enemies.”

“Well, if we see him again, I’ll give him something to be surly about.” I promised her, subtly puffing out my chest and flexing my arms. She smiled at me and seemed to cheer up a bit. That’s right. I’m smooth.

Anyway, we arrived shortly at Padraig’s manor. The guards out front stopped us and asked if we had an appointment. I lied and told them yes. I don’t have time for bureaucratic nonsense. Luckily for me, they didn’t bother verifying my claim and they let us in.

Padraig was a short, fat balding man with an expression on his face that seemed to indicate he had been losing even more hair lately. This kobold problem was weighing on his mind, and he told us as much. Loudly, I might add.

“I’m so glad you adventurers are here! We need people like you. I never thought that disbanding the militia would have such dire consequences! We have no one to fight this menace and the city is losing money daily! This city is the jewel of the region! Winterhaven has always been a trend setter, you know. But with the local trade market floundering, I don’t know what to do!” He said this all while pacing back and forth about 73 times in front of his desk.

I felt bad for this man, mainly because it was obvious the town was suffering from the kobold attacks, but also because he was clearly suffering from delusion. “The jewel of the region?” Maybe in the same way a dirt clod would be considered the jewel of a mudpit. Winterhaven was not much to look at and at its best moments would not rival any of the large urban centers in the south or the west. But I didn’t tell him as much. Instead I asked him for a minute so I could confer briefly with my companions.

“Well, what do you think? Should we offer to help?” I asked.

Sariel spoke up immediately in that blunt, confident way of hers. “Yes, it is right that we do so. People here are downcast and joyless. Something must be done.”

Alassë agreed. “And we may find Bolgar by investigating these kobolds. Torm does not want this injustice to continue.”

Lotheryn agreed, "We should help stop the suffering." Anca looked at me silently but did not seem to disagree. He would follow his ward wherever she went. I turned back to Padraig.

“Alright, Mayor Padraig…”

“LORD Padraig, if you please,” he interrupted.

I rolled my eyes. “Lord Padraig, excuse my mistake. We will help you with your kobold problem as it appears solving your problem may solve ours.” I considered briefly asking him for some sort of compensation for our services, but that felt wrong to me. The citizens of this town needed help, not blackmail. I also thought that any promise this guy made probably wasn’t worth the contents of his privy.

The man thanked us profusely, drew us a map for the presumed location of the kobold’s lair, and sent us on our way. Even though the map advised us to go straight west, we went southwest first, hoping to find some sign of Bolgar. It was mid-afternoon at that point, but we wanted to get started immediately.

We were making good time when we stumbled across another group of the rodent-like creatures. There were several more of them this time, and these were better armed than the other kobolds we had dispatched. One of them seemed to be the leader of the group and immediately began casting all sorts of nasty spells at us.

Maybe it was because we were tired from the long day, or maybe it was because of our lack of experience fighting beside each other, but we had all sorts of trouble during the battle. The caster gave us fits, hitting us with fireballs and then darting behind trees. Lotheryn tried desperately to freeze him in place but couldn’t hit the agile beast. Anca had his hands full with two of the bigger kobolds. I shot arrow after arrow to no avail. At one point, I tried summoning my lance of faith, the cleric spell Bolgar had taught me. It shot out of my hand and hit nothing. I went back to my bow, but my aim was so bad, at one point I simply dropped it on the ground in frustration, took out my flail and short sword, and charged after anything that moved. Unfortunately, when I caught up with something, it turned around and gave me a few pike thrusts to the torso. Alassë and I were both bleeding profusely from multiple wounds by the time Lotheryn and Sariel chased down the last kobold and slew it.

As I sat there, bleeding, sore, and exhausted, I wondered (not for the last time, I’m sure) what the heck I was doing. Here I was, traveling with three women, two of whom I’d known for less than a day, and a wolf-elf thing who couldn’t speak. I was dealing with phony “lords” and fighting kobolds. Meanwhile, my sister might be out there somewhere. The orcs who destroyed my family might be destroying others. I was a ranger. I shouldn’t be here. I should be moving silently through forests, tracking my enemies, hunting alone…

“Are you hurt badly?” Lotheryn’s soft voice and gentle touch at my shoulder roused me from my self-pity. “Here, let me tend to that.”

I sighed as she dressed my numerous wounds. There were advantages to not being alone, I suppose. I looked around at the remnants of our battle. Dead kobolds lay strewn about. Anca was standing at the edge of the clearing, yellow eyes alert for more foes. Alassë was dressing her own wounds and appeared to be examining something with Sariel. They were discussing the item when Lotheryn finished her treatment. We sauntered over.

Alassë held out a scuffed bronze medallion with a strange symbol on it. “Sariel found this on the kobold caster,” she said. “The symbol you see is the symbol of Orcus, the god of undeath. Why would a kobold have it?” She asked, puzzled.

“I have no idea,” I admitted. “These kobolds probably picked it up off of some curio merchant they waylaid on the road. Strange.” To be honest, I was too tired to care at the moment. I said, “Let’s move down the path a little ways and set up camp. It’s getting late.”

We found a suitable place and made camp. Lotheryn summoned some wood sprites to hide the camp from anything that might wish to disturb us. Still, when Sariel asked everyone to play some sort of strange gnomish truth or lie game, I offered to stand watch. I wasn’t in the mood for games, and it didn’t seem like anyone else was either. The eladrin just shrugged and reclined against a tree, promising that we’d play some other time. I couldn’t wait.

As I paced around the camp, my thoughts went back to my current situation. Why WAS I here? I had traveled with Lotheryn and Anca for quite awhile now, and was growing accustomed to their company. It was a strange thing – wandering alone for so long had made me so used to being my own master that it had taken two years to even start thinking that I was part of a team. But did I like being part of a team? Yes and no.

I considered my day. It had been one of THOSE days. Almost every arrow I shot missed its target. Even when I tried my little cleric trick it had fizzled out to no effect. If I had been by myself, I never would have been in that situation. I could blend in so well with my surroundings that I could always put myself in strategically advantageous positions. And if things went wrong, I knew ways to extricate myself safely and become virtually untraceable. With company like this, that wasn’t an option. The cleric was a nice enough woman, but she made enough noise to wake the dead. The avenger was certainly skilled in battle, but she was convinced her god would guarantee her success, and that made her a little less cautious than I was comfortable with. Even Lotheryn was different than the woman who I had first met two years ago. At least the group was fine with me being the de facto leader. Lotheryn and I had a mutual understanding about our roles in the party, so I wasn’t worried about that, but if one of these holier-than-thou women started preaching at me all the time, things were going to get awkward.

These thoughts raced around in my head during my two-hour watch shift. At the end, I finally settled on something. The bottom line was that I wanted to do good in this world and I wanted there to be some semblance of justice. I didn’t always agree with my companions on how justice needed to be implemented and maintained, but as long as we had that same basic goal, I was content traveling with these people. I would not, however, let the group affect who I was. I was a ranger and I would use my skills and my training to the best of my ability, whether everyone agreed with my methods or not. To be effective, I had to be more than just a blunt instrument of war – that was for other people. I had to be quick on my feet and quick with my mind, using stealth as an asset. If I fought the way I knew best, it would be better for the group in the long run, right? So why would I try to do anything else? This conclusion satisfied me enough to where my mind could have some peace. Just then Anca shambled up, ready to relieve me from my watch. I fell asleep almost immediately.

The night passed uneventfully. I woke before anyone else feeling refreshed and in a much better mood. I hunted a boar, and fried up some ham. I enjoyed it, but I got the sense that everyone else was merely being polite when they said they liked it. Sariel’s thinly-veiled grimace told me all I needed to know. This was the problem traveling with women. If it was men, they would have just come out and told me they hated my cooking. At least Anca appreciated the boar – he ate more helpings than I did.

Our hike continued. Before long, we found ourselves on the edge of a large dug-out pit. There was a path leading down and a lot of activity going on in the center. I could make out a number of scabbily dressed humans with picks and shovels digging around a large dragon skeleton. Bolgar had been right. There WAS a burial ground.

The humans weren’t the only ones there, though. Directing the activity was a large humanoid, a sort of half dragon, half man - a dragonborn. There were two more standing guard on the path leading down to the pit. They were large beasts, each wielding a heavy, wicked-looking axe. I was motioning everyone back into the cover of the trees when the pit boss looked up and saw us.

“You there!” he said in a raspy voice, “Come on down! You should see this! We are about to unearth something fantastic!”

We moved hesitantly to the edge of the pit. The guards didn’t move a muscle. The boss continued to beckon us. I called back, “Where is Bolgar? We were told we would find him here!”

The boss answered, “He is helping us! He must have just stepped out for a minute. He will be back shortly. Come on down and see what he has helped us find!”

Somewhere at the back of my mind, something was bothering me. I just couldn’t place it. Lotheryn turned to me and whispered, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I looked at everyone else. “I don’t feel great about it either, but what choice do we have? Bolgar could be down there somewhere, and there’s a chance these things are actually friendly. I say we go.”

For the first time, Sariel looked unsure of herself. There was a brief moment when that familiar smile left her face. But she regained her composure enough to grin and say, “Garl will grant me joy in all I do. Let’s go.” Alassë agreed. Lotheryn shook her head and turned away, but mumbled that she would go as well. Anca’s yellow eyes gleamed with danger. It wasn't exactly unanimous, but the choice had been made.

We started down the path. About a third of the way down, Lotheryn’s suspicions were confirmed. The pit boss screeched, “GET THEM!” and the guards charged. It was then that I noticed a fourth dragonborn making his way towards us around the outside of the pit. After all that thinking I did last night, the first chance I got and I mistrusted my instincts. Life was never that simple.

The two guards bullrushed Alassë, catching her offguard. She fell to one knee, bravely trying to fight them off. Sariel joined the fray, parrying with her falchion. Anca charged in as well, trying to distract the dragonborn from the fallen cleric. I looked around for Lotheryn, only to see a wolf leap into the scrum, biting at the guards. I still couldn't get used to that.

I stepped back and started firing volleys just as the pit boss got involved. He moved towards us and began hitting Anca with arcane blasts. I noticed the human excavators had picked up their tools and were running toward us as well, making sure to steer clear of the digging area. I tried to keep one eye on the fourth dragonborn, still making its way around the pit. I heard Alassë cry out in pain as one of the guards connected with a mighty swing of his axe. She called out to Torm before falling unconscious. Torm either wasn’t paying attention or this was one of those “trust me” moments that Ehlonna had made me so familiar with. Gods were funny that way. I yelled to Lotheryn who was already morphing back into an elf and trying to twist her way through the fracas to the cleric’s fallen body.

Sariel and Anca managed to bring down one of the guards just as the pit boss and his human lackeys joined our little tea party. I put my bow away and unsheathed my flail and shortsword. I needed to give Lotheryn room to work on Alassë.

“Hey ugly!” I shouted at the pit boss. “You got anything better than those lame balls of light you were tossing over here?”

The dragonborn screamed at me and rushed over. Well, that should give Lotheryn enough time to stabilize the cleric. I just hoped I could back up my words and handle this dragon-thing. The fight went on for some time before I finally landed a solid blow on the boss. Without a sound, he disappeared. By now the other dragonborn were dead, and only several of the human diggers remained. I took a second to catch my breath and then addressed the humans.

“Your masters are dead. We have no grudge with you. Leave now and we’ll spare your lives.” For once I was tired of fighting. I’d be more than happy if these dirty rabble rousers just turned tail and ran…

Except all these guys could do was grip their picks and shovels tighter and point behind me, muttering something about a dragon. I turned, seeing nothing.

Frustrated, I started again, “Listen! Did you hear what I said? You can go free! Get out…” I was cut off by a shriek as the boss reappeared, wielding his giant axe and looking ready to relieve my neck from having to carry my head around. Anca jumped past me, intercepting him and tearing into the dragonborn with unmitigated fury. Sariel and I flanked the boss and soon we finished him off, along with the humans who declined to take my invitation to keep their lives. Lotheryn was finally able to get Alassë back on her feet. The half elf was clearly shaken, but she appeared to be okay. She gave a prayer of thanks to Torm as we made our way down to the burial site. Her weariness left her when she noticed her mentor, Bolgar, bound in a dark corner of the pit. She ran over, untied him, and embraced him.

“Alassë!" Bolgar exclaimed as he was set free. "Torm has certainly blessed me! I should have known this venture would be trouble.” Bolgar held Alassë by the shoulders and gave her a smile. Then he turned to the rest of us. “Thank you all. I cannot say that enough.” He noticed Lotheryn and I. “This IS a small land, is it not? If you are here, then your little run in with the dragon must have gone well. Taran, do you still have the faith to summon that divine lance I showed you?”

“It comes and goes, but I’m still working on it,” I said, not wishing to get into a theological discussion at this juncture. I changed the subject. “Let’s see what it is these dragon-guys were so worked up about.”

We found the object they had been excavating and pulled it out of the hole. It was…a mirror. A mirror? All that for a lousy looking glass? There was nothing especially interesting about the mirror, other than that it was in pristine condition. I would have expected a mirror buried in an ancient grave to be at least a little dirty, but this thing was clean as a whistle. Other than that, no one could discover anything unusual or magical about it. I knew that it couldn't have been just an ordinary mirror, otherwise why would a bunch of dragonborn be so interested in it? I surely didn't know, but I had an idea about who might be able to help us find out.

“I know someone who can help us figure out what this mirror is. Valthrun. Bolgar needs to get back to town anyway, and we could certainly use a good night’s sleep. Why don’t we head back to town, rest up, ask the scholar about the mirror and get started on the kobold problem tomorrow?” I asked, hopefully. The plan met unanimous approval.

Before we left, we searched the bodies of the dragonborn for any clue as to why they might have been interested in the site. We didn’t find anything of that nature, but the leader did have a fancy looking necklace. Sariel identified it as a magical necklace of protection. Judging from the last couple battles it seemed like Alassë could use all the protection she could get. We gave the necklace to her.

When we got back to town, Bolgar took his leave, thanking us once again and explaining that he had to get home to his wife. He embraced Alassë and we watched him make his way out of town. We stopped at the tavern and found the scholar sitting at the same table we’d left him, nose still buried in a book. Unfortunately, Lord Padraig happened to be there as well.

“Ladies, gentlemen. I gather from your presence here that you’ve solved the kobold issue?” He asked, expectantly.

I turned to my female companions who were staring in every direction but at me or Padraig. Anca appeared uninterested in the whole thing. I was on my own for this one. I cleared my throat and tried to explain, “Well, we WERE on our way, but we got sidetracked by some evil dragonborn southwest of here. You’ll be happy to know that your dragonborn problem has been solved, and our friend Bolgar has been found…”

The man flew into a rage, “Bolgar? Dragonborn?!? I’ll be HAPPY when my townspeople can travel without fear of attack from kobolds!” he yelled. He collected himself somwhat before continuing. “I don’t know why you are back," he said between clenched teeth, "but you’d best get out there soon and do what you promised. People are dying!” With that, Lord Padraig stormed out of the tavern.

“That went well,” I muttered. I turned back to my companions, all of whom were looking rather sheepish. I sighed, “Let’s go talk to Valthrun and then get some rest.”

To our chagrin, Valthrun wasn’t much help. He promised to do some research for us while we took care of the kobold business, but he had no idea of the mirror’s origins. In the meantime, we would have to carry around a mirror wherever we went. It’s a good thing mirrors are so useful when trying to exterminate kobolds…

Padraig’s impatience notwithstanding, we spent the night at the inn, easing our aches and pains from the last battle. Before setting out in the morning, we stopped by the local adventuring provisioner, Bairwin's Grand Shoppe. I was in the process of talking Bairwin Wildarson, the owner of the establishment, down from his ridiculous 50 gold asking price for health potions when our surly elf friend walked in.

Bairwin looked unhappy at his new customer and mumbled something about "that damned Ninaran", but didn’t say anything aloud as the elf wandered around the store, muttering to himself and glancing at us angrily from time to time. I kept a not-so-subtle eye on him while I continued my negotiations. When I saw him push Lotheryn roughly out of his way, I lost my temper.

“Anca, if you would kindly escort this Ninaran off the premises…” I said roughly. I looked at the shifter who growled in reply and seemed more than happy to oblige.

The elf just glared at me and started to object, “What gives you the right…” but he was cut off as Anca bodily lifted him and tossed him out the front door. The owner seemed relieved and was finally convinced to lower his prices a bit. We got our potions and left the town, this time following the map Padraig had given us.

We traveled for half the day before we heard familiar sounds of snarling and other kobold-ish noises coming from a stand of trees in front of us. As we moved closer, we looked through the trees and saw roughly a dozen kobolds milling about on both sides of a shallow river just on the other side of the trees. I held up my hand and backed the group out of earshot. It was a miracle the kobolds weren’t already alerted to our presence, and I wasn't going to blow that now.

“There are 12 kobolds in the clearing up ahead," I whispered. "They don’t know we’re here. Most of them appear to be small minions, although there are a couple that might give us more trouble. There’s one right inside those trees, standing in some kind of runed circle. I can sneak close enough to get a point blank shot at him. Stay back for now, but be ready to join the fight once you hear the thing scream in pain.”

Lotheryn nodded, but Alassë shook her head. “We should come with you,” she said. "We will help."

Sariel concurred, “I was a thief in my former life, I could sneak up there as well.”

I shook my head firmly. I was NOT backing down from my instincts on this one. “Look,” I said, “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the more people who come with me, the better chance they’ll hear us. Also, I can use my bow to take a shot. You both will have to charge in, which will set the whole place moving. Let me do this. Alone.” I was adamant. I could tell that neither the cleric nor the avenger agreed with my decision, but I didn’t care. My bowmanship may have been downright terrible lately, but here was my chance to do more in battle than simply provide a distraction. Before they could offer another protest, I crept off toward the trees.

My years of training and experience took over. I knew exactly where to step, exactly when to move. Before I knew it, I was crouched behind a large bush, an arrow nocked, and the bow bent to my cheekbone. I released and the arrow struck true, burying itself in the torso of the nearest kobold. The creature shrieked and began clamoring for help. In the blink of an eye, the eladrin was next to me. Sariel sprang into the middle of the kobolds, slashing the wounded one with her falchion. In another second, though, she was surrounded by 7 of the beasts, all threatening her with spears. She closed her eyes for a split second, and when she opened them, she appeared to single out one of the creatures, muttering a prayer under her breath as she prepared to strike. (I made a mental note to ask about this later.) As skilled as the avenger was, I didn’t see any way she was going to get out of this unscathed. Alassë was still making her way through the trees. Anca was trying to head off another kobold that had come around the trees and begun tossing poisonous goo at us. I was fumbling with my quiver, trying to prepare another shot.

Suddenly, with a burst of flame, all of the kobolds surrounding Sariel were incinerated. Lotheryn had wiped out half the group with one spell. I glanced over at the druid, but she was already moving to help Anca. Other than some trouble pinning down the goo-hurler, we handled the rest of the kobolds without issue. The last one living made a break for a nearby waterfall, yelling for aid. My arrow brought him down before a second cry could escape his lips. We waited in silence, anticipating the reinforcements that would be coming. After several minutes, we knew that we had escaped further confrontation for the moment.

We took a quick break to gather ourselves before searching the area. There wasn’t anything of value in the clearing, but the dying kobold had inadvertently shown us where we needed to go. I pointed out a faint path leading behind the waterfall.

I walked over to Sariel who was calmly cleaning her falchion. She greeted me with a smile. “A boring affair,” she said jokingly, referring to our skirmish. “Over much too quickly for my tastes. I barely got to do anything!”

“Well, you almost PERMANENTLY didn’t get to do anything," I pointed out. "Those kobolds had you pinned down pretty well,”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly. Garl Glittergold isn’t through with me yet. And Lotheryn saw to it that it stayed that way.”

I shrugged. Finally I got to my main query. “Why is it that you close your eyes before engaging?” I asked. “It seems as if you single out one specific target every time.”

The eladrin grew as serious as I’ve ever seen her. “I do not expect you to understand, but I will explain briefly. Garl, in his divine wisdom, grants me my fighting abilities. Therefore, before I use those abilities, I thank Garl for his blessing and look to him for guidance. In response, Garl points out a single enemy to kill. I then swear an oath to destroy that enemy. My oath can only be fulfilled when the enemy is dead or when Garl instructs me to let it go. I cannot focus on anything else until either of those happens,” the avenger said. She then stood up, strapped her falchion on her back and looked at me. “I know you have conflicted feelings about my devotion to my god. And I understand why you feel that way. But ask yourself, do you question your god because she doesn’t speak to you? Or is it that you don’t hear your god speak because you’re too busy questioning her?” Sariel smiled wryly at me and then walked back to where the others were resting.

I thought about her statement for all of a half second before I put it in the back of my mind. It was an interesting premise, but I had more urgent matters to consider. Like the upcoming battle we were surely going to find once we got behind that waterfall. I walked over to the group and looked at each of my fellow adventurers. Despite my worries, it was a good group. I was confident we could handle whatever awaited us.

Without a word, we turned and headed down the dark path behind the waterfall, into the heart of the kobold’s stronghold.

1 comment:

Lotheryn said...

Bravo! Easy, fun reading. Thanks!