By Brian Flood
Chapter 56 - Knock, Knock
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late Night, 21st Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Velgardrin sits against the door that leads to the goblin chamber. It is slightly past the midpoint of the company's second watch shift. Nearby to the dwarf, both Seth and Nathan sleep soundly on the floor of the troll's former slumbering area. The three injured adventurers and the four captured goblins also in the room make for very tight quarters with little room to move or fight should it come to that.
That last realization is still on the dwarf's mind when he feels the door behind him start to move, pushing him slowly but inexorably forward into the small chamber.
“INTRUDERS! INTRUDERS! INTRUUUDERRRRRS!!!” Velgardrin yells as he braces himself and struggles to stand while holding the door for a little bit longer. With the harsh grating sound of stone on stone, the door continues to swing inward.
The deep rumble of Velgardrin's call rouses Seth from his sleep in fright and his warrior instinct clasps his mind as tightly as his right hand grabs the long sword lying next to him. Rising to one knee, his eyesight brings into focus the red-glowing forms of his comrades and the smaller forms of their captive goblins.
Blinking groggily as Velgardrin's alarm wrenches her from the grip of her fevered nightmares, Kerielle swiftly looks around to see what caused it. A jolt of fear and remembered pain lances through her as she sees the danger she is in. Moaning weakly, she comes to her knees, intending to pitifully crawl away from the new threat.
Malk springs awake. Grabbing the sword that he slept with, he rises on one knee and turns towards the sound of the stone grating and Velgardrin's warning shout.
Also rolling onto one knee, Alain whips out his rapier. Peering into the gloom, the warrior tries to get a glimpse of what is going on.
Declan groggily wakes himself from his blissful slumber. As soon as he is awake, he gropes in the dark for his lantern and then into a pouch on his belt for his flint and steel.
The grinding sound continues as the door finishes opening. Then single voice sounds from the goblin-infested complex beyond it.
“Bree-Yark?” Instantly, a cacophony of goblin voices erupts from the within the company's safe hold as the four captives respond simultaneously in an incomprehensible babble.
From where he kneels, Seth can see the heat signatures of three goblins standing in the guard room beyond the troll's sleeping chamber.
Seth stands, not sure whether the intruders are aware of his presence, and thus reasoning he has a moment to his credit in which to prepare a more defensive line. The gladiator deftly draws his small sword and takes several steps forward, bringing him in line with Velgardrin and the wounded Kerielle.
Helios' eyes open with a snap. His training takes over as he awakes, alert. He blinks several times to clear the grogginess of his head wound and then slowly gets to his feet.
Coming full awake, and becoming able to separate reality from nightmares of spear and pain, Kerielle takes stock of the situation. She grasps her bow, laid beside her sleeping place. Although she does not yet feel able to draw the string, she thinks perhaps she can bluff the goblins.
Taking a kneeling firing position and facing the door, the gathers herself and calls out commandingly, “Enter and your brethren die!” She then covers the goblin prisoner nearest the rock door, making a valiant effort to appear focused and deadly rather than weak and shaking.
In response, the two nearest goblins hurl spears into the company's midst. Seth cries out in pain as one of the missiles lodges in his leg.
Then, a beam of light comes from behind the three dark-sighted adventurers. They – and the goblins – wince in the new illumination, which also reveals the third goblin's gibberish-laden rapid retreat to the west and out of sight.
The bound goblins in the room with the adventurers seem to somehow increase the volume of their hooting and hollering. They struggle up to their eight legs, resembling a bizarre breed of spider.
“How many? Where?” asks Velgardrin in a whisper, but the uproarious noise of goblin voices drowns out his soft inquiry.
Helios struggles to his feet and places his hands against the door, intending to close it again to prevent the enemies from entering. “Push… the door… shut,” he shouts as he struggles. Unfortunately, in his weakened condition, he is unable to make any progress.
Other adventurers also react to the rapidly unfolding events. Coming around from his sleep, Nathan shakes his head as he hears sounds of battle. Getting to his feet, he starts to look around. Continuing to guard the group's rear flank at the main cave entrance, Alain holds his position and rises to his full height while drawing his main gauche.
Seth, meanwhile, takes a frozen moment to study the spear protruding crudely from his thigh. Anger takes hold and his eyes grow as bloody as the blossoming red stain on his trousers.
“Catch this, poxy whoreson!”
The elf grits his teeth as he changes his grip on his short sword and bringing it high above him, hurls it with spinning ferocity toward the foremost goblin. The weapon flies wide of its mark and sails into the guard room beyond. With his hand now empty, Seth pauses to avail himself of the offending spear and gripping it solidly, attempts to yank it free.
As the elf looks down to work on the spear, the goblins charge in, trying to take advantage of the warrior's disadvantage. The elf pulls the offending weapon free and looks up just in time to see the creatures' attacks.
A battle-axe comes into the melee, wielded by Velgardrin, causing one goblin to miss badly as it is distracted. The other creature, however, smashes a morning star into the side of Seth's chest, eliciting the sound of breaking bones. His bone-pierced lung rapidly filling with blood, the ex-gladiator collapses.
Seeing her fellow elf so grievously wounded, Kerielle is paralyzed with indecision. Her instincts scream at her to pull him to safety and tend to his wounds, but her rational mind tells her that in her weakened state, she is unlikely to be able to move him at all.
Sobbing with frustration at her powerlessness, Kerielle gives in to her fear. She slowly scrambles for cover behind the curve of the cavern wall. Behind the archer, Alain continues guarding the cave opening, glancing over his shoulder frequently to see what is going on.
At the same time, Malk lunges forward, grabbing for Seth's motionless body with his left hand. He pulls with the strength of utter need to drag him back from the front line, but the slightly-built bard is unable to move the fallen warrior across the stone floor of the cavern.
Seeing the nature of the threat, Nathan reaches for his spell components. Summoning to mind the appropriate incantation, he motions to fling a magic missile at the creature attacking Seth. When nothing happens, the young mage remembers that he expended his magical energies in the first fight and has not yet studied new spells.
And so Velgardrin faces off against the two foes without assistance. His shield intercepts the morning star of one goblin, but he is unable to avoid the other's attack and the dwarf roars in pain as the weapon smashes into his armored leg.
“Death calls you!” the growls the priest in heavily accented Common as he immediately counterattacks. The nimble goblin dodges the battle axe.
“Close… door!” the dwarf grunts as he continues to battle the squat humanoids.
Outside of the light of Declan's lantern, the captive goblins elect to take advantage of the company's distraction with their brothers. Slowly, the short humanoids wobble toward the open door and freedom.
“Malk! Declan! Aid me!” Velgardrin cries out, fully engaged with the two goblins.
Malk, realizing the futility of trying to move Seth, steps astride his prone body ready to defend him. He flashes his sword rapidly at the face of the attacker.
“Alain, help Seth and Vel!” Kerielle calls out urgently. Huddled safely behind the curve of the cavern wall, she looks desperately about for any way she can help her beleaguered comrades.
But Alain has other ideas. Seeing the flow of battle, the warrior moves into action.
“Kerielle, guard our backs.” Using his dancer's grace, the nimble warrior slips through his friends, a murderer's intent clearly writ on his face.
Meanwhile, Velgardrin is again struck by one of the goblins' weapons. The dwarf becomes desperate as his axe sweeps over a ducking foe.
Fortunately, Malk and Alain join the fight a moment later. Malk's short sword takes a goblin in the throat, slaying it. As the bard withdraws the weapon, Alain's slim rapier pierces the same humanoid's neck from the flank, producing a second fountain of bright red blood.
As the dead goblin falls to the floor, a flaming dart streaks from behind Malk, parallel to his waistline. It slams into the remaining enemy combatant's heart and strikes it down.
A few paces from the melee in the center of the chamber, the captive goblins appear in the area illuminated by Delcan's lantern. The four creatures demonstrate remarkable teamwork as they collectively shuffle toward the open exit door as fast as their bondage allows.
Dropping his sword to the side, Malk rapidly tries to locate and staunch Seth's wounds. The bard rolls the quickly deteriorating elf onto his side to prevent blood from the punctured lung from filling Seth's chest cavity.
At the far end of the chamber, the bound goblins hop and wiggle their way into the guard room beyond the secret door. Not thinking the escaping goblins are worth the danger of exposing himself to any unseen dangers lurking in the darkness, Alain holds himself back.
“If no one objects, I will close the door?” the big warrior announces.
But Velgardrin breathes heavily as he says, “Stop therm!... Close… ther… door. Put therm… around by ther pool.”
Desperately Malk works on Seth. He begins tearing strips of clothing from his cloak to stop the outward bleeding of the wounds and bind the stricken elf's chest.
Standing near to where the bard tends to the company's fallen comrade, Velgardin sighs in relief. He leans up against the door to close it but finds that his wounds have made him weaker. The door barely budges at his first attempts.
Meanwhile, Nathan moves around the dwarf, around the open door, and out into the guard room in pursuit of the goblin captives. He moves to block their way from further escaping. He prods at the bound quartet with his staff even as the humanoid furthest from him, but closest to the wall, head butts the stone surface in a bizarre display of apparent self-harm.
A moment later, there is a dull clunk as the counterweights to the door adjust. To Velgardrin, the door becomes suddenly lighter and it begins to swing inexorably closed, aided by the armored dwarf's weight.
On the far side of the heavy stone portal, the light from Declan's lamp turns narrower as the closing door blocks its beam. Nathan comes to the sudden dual realizations that he cannot herd the bound goblins back into the troll chamber before the door shuts… and that if the door shuts, he will be left alone in the darkened goblin tunnels.
Realizing that someone finally went after the captives, Velgardrin stops pushing the door and turns his attention to Seth, intending to try and stabilize the fallen elf. Behind him, the door continues swinging shut aided by counterweights.
“Stop! Nathan's outside!” Declan shouts. He rushes past the other adventurers and toward the door to provide light his fellow mage.
In the guard room beyond the closing door, Nathan decides that discretion is often the better part of valor. He runs toward the door, slipping past Declan just moments before the door closes with a resounding thud .
As silence falls across the troll's chambers, Velgardrin turns his attention to as he tries to stabilize the horribly wounded elf. Kerielle moves forward to assist in any way she is able. Several long minutes later, satisfied that the ex-gladiator will at least survive until morning, the dwarf collapses yet again into a half-seated position against the closed door.
Across the chamber, Kerielle also collapses back to the floor. “Perhaps we could spike that door closed?” she suggests before falling once again into an exhausted sleep.
“I'll take watch until daylight,” offers Malk. “Those of you injured should get what rest you can. As a group, we are in trouble and we will need to move before too long.”
Alain offers to keep the bard company until his own watch is over, and with that, the weary and wounded adventurers resume their rest as best they can. Soon, only Malk and Alain are awake and the only sounds are the sputtering of the bulls-eye lantern as Malk continually swings its beam back and forth between the cave entrance and the door that leads to the goblin lair.
* * * * *
The Goblin Tunnels, The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late Night , 21 st Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
A low warning growl wakes Hurkul from his slumber. The goblin chief lies upon a plush, plump mattress that is kept in pace by a delicately carved wooden bed frame. On the wall above the bed hangs a tapestry depicting an armored human woman locked in mortal combat with three large hairy goblinoids.
Opening one weary eye, Hurkul peers toward the door of his chamber. A large wolf lies across the floor in front of the door, his hackles rising. A moment later, an urgent knocks sounds on the wooden portal.
“Whooz dat?” grunts the burly goblin, angered by the interruption.
“Orgbuz!” shouts a goblin voice from the hallway beyond the door. “We have word from the scouting party!”
Hurkul frowns. With a grunted word and a gesture, he orders the wolf away from the door. “Enter!” he barks.
The door opens, revealing three large goblin bodyguards that stand in the hallway. The largest, Orgbuz, stands closest to his chief's chamber.
“Your highness, two of our scouts were killed – but one has returned. And four of the guards have escaped from the intruders. They say the invaders are holed up in the troll's chamber – but they are weakened and vulnerable!”
“How many were there?” demands Hurkul.
“Eight!” replies Orgbuz, holding out both hands with all ten fingers extended.
Hurkul frowns in disgust at his bodyguard. With warriors like these, it's only by the grace of Bargrivyek that we have survived this long , he thinks to himself.
“Well, if they are weak, then they will not threaten us!” pronounces the chief. “Reform some guard groups and reset the traps – soon they will tire of being bled drop by drop and they will retreat in dishonor!” Anyone who can slay a troll is more than a match for this band of mine , he adds silently.
“Where is the fighting spirit in that ?” shouts a voice from behind the guards.
Surprised, the two rearmost guards turn on their heels, bringing their spears to bear. A massive hobgoblin swats the weapons away without breaking stride and moves to stand in front of Hurkul, shoving Orgbuz rudely aside in the process.
“Hello, Naghaz,” Hurkul grunts. The hobgoblin arrival wastes no time in getting to his point.
“My people and I did not come here just to cower from every enemy in the valley!” he growls. “The robed ones may have driven us out of our ancestral home, but we will not grovel in the darkness out of weakness!
“Your escaped guards say the enemy is weak. You know that there is only one exit from inside the troll's chambers – and that leads to the outdoors. They cannot open the door leading to the tunnels – but we can. They are trapped.
“I say let us rally our forces. Let us slay these vermin and place their heads on spears to warn others that there is a price to pay for entering here!”
Hurkul glances toward Orgbuz and the other bodyguards. He sees that the hobgoblin's speech has inspired the trio.
And I would lose face if I refuse to fight the invaders , the goblin chief realizes. This one is cunning .
Directing his attention to Orgbuz, Hurkul barks orders. “Post guards in the chamber outside the troll's lair. Put hobgoblin archers in the bushes outside. Tell them to stay hidden, stay quiet. If the invaders try to break out, half the groups will delay the invaders and the other half will run back here to tell us.
Then Hurkul turns to the hobgoblin Naghaz. “The sun will rise soon; we fight better in the dark. Return here after first meal and we will lay our plans.“Before the sun rises again tomorrow, we will be victorious!” declares the goblin chief.
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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