By Brian Flood
Chapter 53 - Into the Fire
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Afternoon, 21st Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Barely preceded by a growling roar, a monstrous creature rushes from the darkness of the western corridor, charging directly at Alain. The towering beast is a full three heads taller than the Cormyrian warrior – the mass of tangled, filthy hair on the top of its head nearly scrapes the cavern roof. Black, sunken eyes glare balefully from a mottled gray face that is nearly the color of the surrounding cave walls. Long, lanky legs propel its thin body and its equally gangly arms end in long and wicked claws.
Alain’s blades dart out but fail to penetrate the rough, grayish hide of the creature as it looms over him. He then ducks one swing but a second vicious claw catches him on his left shoulder. The heavy powerful blow smashes the warrior to the cavern floor and sends his elegant dagger spinning from his numbed fingers. Alain next howls in agony as the beast whiplashes forward at the waist and uses its powerful jaws to tear through chain mail and rip a hunk of tender flesh from his abdomen.
Kerielle screams in defiance as she looses her first arrow. She reaches back for a second missile even as the first punches into the creature’s midsection – grimly returning in kind the wound the beast inflicted on Alain. Her follow up shot misses completely and flies from the lantern’s light into the western passageway.
Meanwhile in the southeastern chamber, Amiel and the others jerk their heads at the commotion from coming from the north. Then the ranger catches movement out of the corner of her eye from the direction of her feet. Glancing down, she sees that the goblins are regaining consciousness.
Amiel looks to Helios. “Go!” she barks.
Then she adds, “Declan, Malk – hogtie ‘em!” as the rope falls from her hand and she reaches out for her fallen sword.
With a quick nod to Amiel, Helios deftly passes his sword over to his right hand and moves to aid his companions at a brisk but controlled pace. “Hold on, aid is coming!” the paladin cries as he exits the room and strides back toward the four-way intersection.
Behind the paladin, Amiel retrieves her sword and smiles grimly at its deadly balanced weight in her hand. Gripping her weapon with deadly intent, the ranger follows in Helios’ wake.
Elsewhere in the southeastern chamber, Declan sets down his lantern and Malk moves back toward the goblins in response to the ranger’s instructions. The mage reaches for the rope and the bard arrives on the scene just as the goblins start to come to their knees.
Meanwhile, seeing Alain fall, Velgardrin immediately reacts without waiting for orders. In his accented Common, the dwarf yells, “Troll! Attackern it!”
He draws his axe from his belt and advances toward the battle at the intersection shouting, “Alain down!” as he goes.
Still trapped on the other side of the portcullis, Seth catches his breath. “I smell troll! Once more!” he implores his companions, gripping the bars again.
Nathan glances in the direction the dwarf ran off, but elects to continue with the attempts to free Seth, the noise of battle behind him adding urgency to the task. Never a strong man, Nathan’s arms shake with the effort, but the combined labors of the mage and elf are simply not sufficient to cause the heavy barrier to budge.
Concurrently, at the scene of the battle for the four-way intersection, Kerielle briefly considers fleeing back to the relative safety of the group by the portcullis. She has just witnessed Alain – a far better warrior than her in close quarters combat – get demolished by this new foe, and she has no doubt that her fate will be ugly if it closes with her.
She realizes, however, that to do so would be to abandon Alain to his fate. Smiling grimly to herself, she recalls telling Amiel that she wanted to prove herself – to save the life of one of the Claws. It seems Rillifane – the elven god of woodlands and nature – has granted her request.
“Help us, now!” she screams to her companions.
Summoning her courage, the archer fights down the cowardly impulse and stands firm – foolhardy though it may be. She sights, draws and begins to loose arrows in rapid succession, trying desperately to distract the creature from Alain – and to drop it before it can reach her.
The elf’s first arrow takes the creature in the leg, eliciting a howl of pain. It fixes its menacing gaze on Kerielle, recognizing the archer as the cause of its wounds. In so doing, it fails to notice Alain, driven by pain and rage, come to one knee near its feet.
Kerielle does notice the warrior, however, and adjusts her point of aim higher to avoid hitting her companion. Unfortunately, she overcompensates and her second missile misses its mark.
Howling with fury, the towering monstrosity begins charging toward the elf. Alain lunges upward as the creature passes, plunging his rapier into its midsection. Kerielle looses another arrow in near-panicked desperation but the hurried shot flies wide again.
Not more than a second later, the creature is upon the archer. Kerielle ducks and dodges the creature’s claws but is not fast enough to avoid its jaws. The elf screams as the creature’s inhumanly strong bite tears into the shoulder of the arm holding her bow, ripping tendons and shredding tissue. The finely crafted elven weapon drops from her hand. A heartbeat later, her vision fades to black as she slips into shock-induced unconsciousness.
Amiel, Helios, and Velgardrin come upon the blood-smeared four-way intersection just as Kerielle’s limp form joins her fallen weapon on the cavern floor amid a growing pool of blood. Further to the west, Alain is on one knee and clearly in tremendous pain.
The warriors are taken somewhat aback by the tall, hideous creature – a troll, according to the assessments of Velgardrin and Serethaniel – that looms over the fallen elf, crimson and gore splashed across its face and claws. Helios, the first of the three to three to arrive, comes to a halt on the monster’s flank and his eyes narrow as he assesses his foe.
Meanwhile, in the southeastern chamber, the tightly clustered goblins begin to reach for their spears. They stop, however, when they feel the sharp edge of an object dragged across the backs of their leather jerkins.
“Don’t even think about it,” Malk growls from behind the kneeling humanoids, his short sword held ready to thrust. Declan nods a wordless thanks to the bard as he begins to measure several arm-lengths of rope from the coil in his hands.
* * * * *
“Vel, heal Kerielle!” Amiel shouts. Then the ranger charges at the monster.
“No Vel – attack that thing!” shouts Alain in contradiction to Amiel’s orders.
Seeing that two comrades are already down in two attacks, Velgardrin does not stop to aid Kerielle. Instead, he hollers in dwarvish, “Wurgym samman corlar! Alagh Clangeddin!” as he also charges in to attack.
On the other side of the portcullis, Seth is heartened by the efforts of his companions to free him from his prison, and thus the warrior elf is able to experience a calmer approach to his dilemma. He picks up the flint and steel as well as the torch to produce light for himself, while moving closer to Nathan.
“Help me to help them,” the elf states in friendly but hasty measures.
But Nathan is not listening. Declaring his efforts fruitless, the mage turns and prepares a spell. He reaches into his pouch for the components and begins to mutter the words of power. A few seconds later, a small glowing green dart flies from his pointed finger to strike the troll in its shoulder.
Amiel and Velgardrin wade into the fight in the wake of Nathan’s magical projectile. First the ranger’s sword and then the dwarf’s battle-axe merely glance harmlessly from the creature’s grey, mottled, and leathery skin. Both warriors notice that chips of some sort seem to fly through the air from where the weapons strike the troll.
Helios looks up at the huge creature in astonishment as his companions’ combined assaults fail to harm it. His hesitation lasts but for a moment, though, as his warrior training takes over when the troll lashes out at him. The paladin grunts as a blow takes him in the arm but he manages to intercept the rest of the monster’s attacks with his shield.
Then, with an almighty war cry, Helios counterattacks. “For Torm and Cormyr!” the devout knight shouts as he strikes fearlessly despite his rather fearful wounds, believing in his own power and that of his god. Unfortunately, his blow also fails to do the monster harm but does elicit a miniature shower of curious gray-colored flakes.
Out of the fight for the moment, Alain grits his teeth in grim determination. Rising up from one knee to stand tall, the proud Cormyrian warrior reaches down and draws a parrying dagger.
Meanwhile, in the southeastern chamber, Malk continues to hold his sword near the necks of the four subdued goblins as he forces them to crowd closely together. Declan then begins to use Amiel’s silken rope to bind the small creatures into one tight mass.
* * * * *
“Troll filth!” Velgardrin yells, “Declan, Nathan, magerc now!”
Declan and Malk hear the dwarf scream. Continuing to hold the rapt attention of his increasingly captive audience with the point of his sword, the bard mutters under his breath, “For the love of Milil – what now?”
Still standing near the portcullis, Nathan responds to the dwarf’s cry by beginning to cast the last spell in his inventory. Behind him, on the other side of the heavy barrier, Seth strikes flint to steel in an attempt to light his torch.
As the elf continues his efforts, another enchanted dart flies from Nathan’s finger. The missile flies over Velgardrin’s shoulder to strike the beast in the head, eliciting a roar of pain from the beast.
“Wurgym norogh!” Velgardrin continues his verbal tirade, this time in dwarvish once more. The priest grips his shield even more firmly as he sheathes his axe.
On the troll’s other flank, Alain elects to ignore his grievous wounds for the moment. The usually reserved warrior casts aside any pretense of caution and wades into battle. He attacks with every once of effort he had, his rapier and dagger flashing in the lantern light before plunging deep into the monster’s side.
On Alain’s right, Helios winces in pain but grits his teeth and ignores it, realizing that he must destroy this creature soon or the party is lost. Praying to his God to grant him the strength to help his companions or to protect his soul should he fail, the brave paladin executes his best sword maneuvers in a flurry of steel.
“Die by the sword of Torm!” the knight cries. Despite his prayers, he once again fails to penetrate the creature’s thick hide.
Growling with inhuman rage, the troll lashes out at its attackers with claws and teeth. Velgardrin ducks under a swing from the creature’s lanky arm but Helios and Amiel and not so lucky. Helios’ helmed head rocks backward under a massive blow, sending the paladin unconscious to the cavern floor. A few heartbeats later, Amiel falls victim to the creature’s grinding jaws and she goes down as well, leaving only Velgardrin and Alain to deal with the critically wounded but still dangerous monster.
Meanwhile, Seth has succeeded in lighting the torch. The elf’s eyes begin to shift back into a normal spectrum as the torch illuminates the eastern corridor.
The light of the torch throws the panic of darkness into the shadowed recesses of the dead-end cavern. Thoughts of escape are supplanted by vivid memories of trolls battled under a grey, wet sky.
“Magerc now,” Velgardrin hollers, “before it heals!”
Keeping his eyes on the beast and his shield interposed as much as possible, the priest reaches down to touch Kerielle’s still form. In dwarvish, he seeks to channel Clangeddin’s healing powers to the elf and save her.
On the other side of the troll and spurred on by the sight of his friends falling, Alain redoubles his efforts, his darting blades moving even faster. His rapier plunges deep into the monster’s gut and the warrior withdraws it quickly as the beast joins the motionless forms of Kerielle, Helios, and Amiel upon the cavern floor.
The warm silvery manifestation of Clangeddin’s presence flows from Velgardrin’s hand and into Kerielle’s still form. The dwarf sighs in relief as the elf’s breathing becomes steady, albeit shallow. He glances up just in time to see Alain stab the fallen troll through the neck.
Back at the portcullis, Serethaniel stretches out his arm sticking the torch through one of the narrow square-shaped openings between the barrier’s cross-pieces. “Nathan!” the elf commands, “If you’ve lamp oil, throw it on the beast and strike it with this torch!”
Seth continues to hold the torch hanging out of the portcullis. He awaits Nathan’s decision while also finding himself transfixed by the conflict in front of him and impressed by his companions’ fighting prowess.
Breathing heavily, Alain looks over his shoulder with a quizzical look at the elf. “Why would we do such a thing?” The big warrior staggers back a half step uses the fingertips that hold his dagger to feel the rip in his chain mail.
Also hearing the elf’s cry Nathan quickly reaches into his backpack for the lantern oil. As quickly as he can he opens the flask and then turns to grab the offered torch before moving toward the felled monster.
Meanwhile, Velgardrin steps to Amiel and touches her as he once again channels Clangeddin’s healing. “Where be Declan?” he asks as the ranger’s condition stabilizes and the threat of her death is lifted.
Without waiting for an answer, the alaghar next steps to Helios and also touches him to stabilize his wounds. Clangeddin Silverbeard’s power flows through the sturdy dwarf and into the fallen paladin.
Seeing all the fuss over the dead monster, Alain eyes the evil thing, half expecting it to jump back to life. Some of the shock finally wears off the Cormyrian, and he realizes that he is standing in the middle of the room his back unguarded. Moving slowly, he moves over to the cave wall, and leans back against it, all the while keeping his eye on the fallen creature.
Velgardrin speaks after he heals Helios. “Troll be healern! Burn ert!”
“Only fire can truly damage a troll!” Seth calls out, adding further clarify to the dwarf’s exclamation. The elf’s hands grip the metal of the portcullis with the urgency of the situation. “It is healing every second that we tarry! Hurry, Nathan!”
In response, Nathan walks quickly to where the troll lies surrounded Velgardrin, Alain and the unconscious forms of Amiel, Helios, and Kerielle. The mage pours the uncorked flask of lantern oil over the monster’s body, being careful not to let the flammable liquid splash the nearby allies.
Meanwhile, in the southeastern chamber, Declan completes his binding of the four captured goblins. The mage and Malk, the bard, then briefly consider their situation and their next moves.
“Declan, I was concentrating on holding these ‘gentlemen’ still. Where are the rest now?” asks Malk, looking back into the light. So doing, the bard can see Nathan and Alain flanking a massive but prone form. On the ground near his companions’ feet are the bodies of Amiel and Kerielle.
“Check our’n room – ‘ware trouble,” Declan tells Malk with a nod toward the corridor that leads south from the guardroom. Then the mage grabs Amiel’s rucksack and his relatively frail form is instantly burdened by the additional weight. Staggering under his load, Declan tries to run back toward the rest of the company.
Back at four-way intersection, Velgardrin calls out, “Declan?”
Then the dwarf growls to Nathan and Alain, “Move therm before burnern.” He drops his healing bag, readies his axe, and heads purposefully toward the southeast passageway. He soon sees the encumbered Declan heading toward the intersection.
In the priest’s wake, Nathan estimates that his companions are well back from the creature. He carefully applies his torch to the carcass and quickly stepping back as the thin sheen of lamp oil on the creature’s body ignites with only the faintest flicker of flame rather than an outright conflagration.
Alain stands fixated by the feeble flames that dance over the troll. Realizing that this strange creature may not really be dead, the wounded warrior leans forward, holding his weapons at the ready.
From the other side of portcullis, Serethaniel also sees the weak glimmer of the flames. Although the darkness resulting from Nathan’s departure with his torch raises alarms for the former gladiator, this time he is more able to stem his fears. He tries to raise the portcullis again, not truly expecting any results – nor does his attempt gain any ground.
“Declan!” the elf calls harshly as the fiery spell caster passes the portcullis. “Have you command of any fire spells? If so, use them on that felled beast!”
Seeing the flames sputtering weakly on the body of the troll, Nathan bends and starts to fan them, hoping that the creature will finally catch fire properly and be consumed. He has some success and the flames spread slightly but the motionless body continues to show surprising resistance to flammability.
Nearby, Alain pulls himself together and looks over to the young mage. “Nathan, go get the cart. Velgardrin and I will try and free the elf. Then we’ll gather everyone up and get out of here.” Shaking the cobwebs from his head, the big warrior stands away from the wall.
But Velgardrin has other priorities on his mind – and other requests of the Nathan. “My bag please,” the priest says, referring to the healer’s bag he earlier dropped where Nathan now stands. As he speaks, the dwarf heads toward Alain, working his way around the other adventurers, conscious and otherwise.
Declan continues to half-run, half-stagger toward the cluster of activity around the troll. He steps over the bodies of Helios and Amiel before stopping and setting down the pack he carries in his hand. “Move th’ paladin,” the mage says curtly, his eyes narrowing as he does some mental calculations.
Meanwhile in the southeastern chamber, Malk chooses to ignore Declan’s earlier instructions and instead prods the tied mass of goblinity with his sword. “Up you get,” he growls, indicating his wishes with a wave of his sword. This is not time to separate off, he thinks to himself as the four goblins stagger to their feet, severely hindered in doing so by their back-to-back-bound disposition.
* * * * *
Hearing the dwarf's words, and disregarding Alain’s conflicting instructions for the moment, Nathan stops tending the flames and picks up the bag with his free hand. He moves towards Velgardrin and offers the bag to him.
Velgardrin steps closer to Alain. “I be tryern ter banderge yer, erf yer waits,” he tells the warrior as he reaches for the healer’s bag. For his part, Alain dutifully remains in place.
Declan ignores everything else occurring around him except to say, “No magic ‘til Helios moves.”
Then, the mage reaches into the pack he brought with him and retrieves a flask of oil. Transfixed by the flames that dance over the troll’s body, Declan pours even more lamp oil on the conflagration. The fiery mage’s eyes widen and a wry grin spreads over his face as the fire grows in intensity.
Meanwhile, Seth remains trapped behind the portcullis. The elf pauses to gather his belongings – as well as his wits – together, convinced that he will be set free in a matter of moments.
* * * * *
Back at the four-way intersection, Alain lifts his arms out of the way and gives the dwarven cleric room to work. “Nathan, go get the cart. Declan, save your magic – keep using the oil. Vel, go ahead and bandage me.”
Nathan hands the healer’s bag to Velgardrin. The dwarf takes the bag and begins to examine Alain’s wound.
Nathan takes the opportunity to answer Alain. “’Tis a bit risky heading off alone for the cart – I have no means to defend myself now. And who knows what lurks in the shadows. Those goblin creatures may be heading back here with friends even now.” That said, the mage moves off to retrieve the equipment that he abandoned in the heat of the moment.
Concurrently, Declan reaches into the pack at his feet and retrieves another flask of lamp oil. The fire reflects eerie shadows across his face as he pours the flammable liquid on the growing fire that is consuming the troll. Then he does it again, and again – until finally four empty flasks of oil litter the ground at his feet and the troll’s body is almost completely engulfed in hungry flames.
The fiery mage leaves behind the pack and then heads back toward the southeastern chamber wearing a satiated look upon his face. He has not gone far before Malk appears in the flickering light cast by the fiercely flaming troll and the discarded hooded lantern nearby. The bard uses his short sword to prod before him the group of four goblins. The short creatures are bound with their backs all facing one another – causing them to resemble an awkward, eight-legged, four-sided entity. And they move just as awkwardly as they appear as they struggle to coordinate their strides.
Velgardrin continues tending to Alain’s wound. As he finishes, he suggests, “Ther bars need ter lift.”
Grunting as Velgardrin tightens up the last of the bandages, Alain looks around through the growing pall of smoke originating from the burning troll and takes stock of everything – and everyone – that is left. “Declan, stay here and guard our friends. Everyone else, let’s go free Seth.” Motioning the others forward, Alain moves toward the trapped elf.
The other members of the company – or at least those that are capable – move to follow the warrior. Declan returns from the southeastern chamber carrying his staff and the bulls-eye lantern. He takes up a position allowing him to shine the lamp’s powerful beam on the captive goblins while at the same time illuminating the portcullis. Nathan, Malk, and Velgardrin take up places on the west side of the portcullis, and tuck their weapons away as they prepare to lift the gate. On the east side of the heavy gate, Serethaniel is more than ready to lend his strength to the effort.
Unnoticed by the adventurers as they move to help free the trapped elf, their three fallen companions – Helios, Amiel, and Kerielle – begin to stir. Slowly, eyelids flutter open to see and mouths open to breathe in gulps of air – only to be greeted by a thickening veil of pungent smoke laced with the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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