By Brian Flood
Chapter 61 - The Battle of the Troll Cave (T)
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late Night, 23rd Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
“Are your people ready?” growls the hobgoblin captain Naghaz to his shorter cousin, Hurkul.
“Yes!” the goblin chief spits back, the barely-restrained distain clearly apparent in his voice. “And I know the plan,” he continues without being asked.
“My people attack the intruders using the troll's door. We rush them as they sleep. Our spears and Darzhag,” the goblin nods to the large saddled worg that lies in the corner of the cave, “kill many before they wake. The rest run scared into the valley.”
“Where my soldiers will meet them with blade and bow,” Naghaz finishes. “We are set, then. Two of my soldiers and I will accompany you,” the hobgoblin adds. “That way, you will have our strong sword arms to aid you should you need them.” Or to prod you in the back should you cower , the larger humanoid thinks to himself.
Shortly thereafter, the combined party of goblins and hobgoblins – numbering over a dozen warriors – begins to sortie out from the living warrens and into the outer tunnels of the goblin cave complex. As the last warrior to leave the large goblin common area, Naghaz scoops up the parchment map from the table and sticks it into the leather jerkin he wears beneath his hauberk of banded mail armor.
* * * * *
Sticking to the schedule that Amiel spelled out before the sunset, the second group of guards wakes the third and final shift. Mumbling their wishes for an eventless night, three of the middle watch companions head for their sleeping places. Only Malk remains to pull the last shift with Velgardrin, Serethaniel, and Declan. For his part, Seth feels much better than he has for some time. Although still seriously wounded, the elf has regained much of his color. Once Velgardrin has received his next battery of blessings, he will almost surely recover completely.
While the elf and the humans move to positions where they can best react to an attack, Velgardrin moves to a position near the cave mouth. Placing his axe and shield near him within easy reach, the dwarf closes eyes and begins to murmur praises to Clangeddin as he asks for the battle god's blessings.
Meanwhile, those coming off of guard shift settle down for a few hours of sleep. But soon after Kerielle closes her eyes, she wakes up. Pausing for a moment in the darkness to get her bearings and let her eyes shift into the spectrum of darksight, the elven archer strains to discern what it was that woke her.
Then she hears it again – an almost imperceptible sound of iron grating on stone. She reaches out and places her hand on one of the pitons that were used to wedge shut the one-way stone door. After a few heartbeats, the piton shudders… as if someone, or some thing , is trying to force open the door but is being stymied by the pitons.
* * * * *
“What is it?” Naghaz demands.
“The door!” Hurkul replies from the saddle on the back of his pet worg. “It won't open!”
Naghaz roars in anger and frustration. “Change of plans! Everyone out the cave! We all attack from the cave entrance. Goblins in the front, hobgoblins follow and support. Leave no one alive!”
A chorus of inhuman cries of rage and excitement fill the air as the residents of the cave complex rush to the exit, eager to destroy the intruders that have so interrupted their existence.
* * * * *
Judging that all her companions are too far away to warn without giving herself away to the intruders, Kerielle decides that awakening them is worth sacrificing the possible element of surprise. After all, they will need to provide light to have any chance of fighting off the interlopers.
“Ware the door! Intruders!” she shouts in alarm, attempting to warn the guards and waken the sleepers. Then, rolling to a kneeling position she takes up her mighty elven bow, and begins hunting for her quiver.
Amiel's eyes fly open and the ranger comes to one knee, her sword in her left hand. She maintains contact with the northern wall with her right to make sure that she is facing the cave mouth.
“Malk! Magic! LIGHT the entrance!” Amiel orders. Her voice booms from the north wall of the cave.
Malk, already awake for guard duty and situated near the pool, takes action. His voice begins a musical chant as his fingers form around the sling bullet that he holds in this hand. With his foot, the bard feels for the lie of his sword, having laid the weapon on the cave floor earlier with its point directed toward the cave entrance.
Thinking Amiel has misunderstood her shout, Kerielle quickly adds, “No! The secret door! South!” Finding her quiver, the elf swiftly slips it over her shoulder, rises to a standing position and begins to backs away from the stone door to provide the space to use her bow.
Velgardrin hollering voice echoes the archer's correction even as she moves backward. “Not the entrance! The door!” His prayers interrupted, the dwarf reaches for his axe and shield.
Amiel comes to her feet, continuing to bark instructions. “Alain, Helios: Watch the door ! Declan, we need light here!” The ranger feels someone – perhaps Declan – brush past her in the darkness, headed for the sleeping chamber.
Meanwhile, the remaining members of the Company of the Silver Claw come to full attentiveness as sleeping eyes open and blankets are thrown back. Weapons in hand, the other adventurers begin to come to their feet.
“Where's the enemy?” sounds Helios' voice in the darkness.
As if in answer to the paladin's question, light bursts forth from the bullet in Malk's hand. With an underhand toss, the bard casts the glowing object at the cave entrance and then stoops to pick up his sword. The magical light almost completely fills the pool chamber, revealing the dispositions of Serethaniel, Velgardrin, Malk and Amiel. But the light's position also leaves the entire sleeping chamber – and the secret door – veiled in darkness.
“ Light now, Dec!” Amiel shouts.
In the darkness of the back room, Declan works quickly to rectify the situation. With a gentle nudge to move Kerielle away from his sleeping spot – and his gear – the mage reaches down to retrieve the items he so carefully arranged before falling asleep. His hands close on the torch as well as his flint and steel. A few seconds later, as Nathan's voice mutters an incantation in preparation for the coming fight, the torch flares to life and illuminates the sleeping chamber – ruining Kerielle's darksight in the process.
But no movement seems evident from the secret door. The company pauses for a few heartbeats to get their bearings, catch their breath, and determine the most likely source of danger. Then Seth's voice sounds from his guard post near the cave entrance.
“Something is coming!” the elf shouts in warning. An instant later, a wolf's howl cuts through the night's silence like a cold knife through unsuspecting flesh.
* * * * *
Naghaz winces and growls in frustration as Hurkul's pet worg ruins the element of surprise. Hells-damned mangy mutt , the burly warrior chief thinks to himself.
As the band of goblins sprints by the hobgoblin guard post, Naghaz gestures with his arm toward his four soldiers. Follow me . Its ranks swelling, the rolling tide of goblins and hobgoblins races though the night, headed toward the now-backlit wall of brush that marks the entrance to the troll cave.
* * * * *
“If the door opens, Nathan, sleep em!” snaps Amiel. “Helios, Alain: forward!” she adds, gesturing for the two warriors to move closer to the entrance and away from the back door. The ranger glances at Kerielle, notes her readiness with that bow, but says nothing about the archer having to move.
Helios sniffs the air warily and cocks his ears, sensing that something is wrong. “Hold the entrance, you others!” With that, he crouches into a battle stance, muscles tensed and ready to spring. The paladin advances towards the secret door and puts his back against the wall, ready to surprise anyone who opens the door.
“Malk, Alain: switch places,” barks Velgardrin. From behind the dwarf, Alain moves forward to take up a position on the dwarf's shield side.
Across the pool from the dwarf and warrior, Seth – now feeling conscious of his less-than-fully-capable condition, backs away from the cave entrance, stepping carefully onto the western portion of the catwalk that rings the pool. Even as the elf moves back from the entrance, Malk moves toward it. Assessing that the magically endowed bullet may have been a mistake, the bard bends over to pick up the glowing object.
Back in the troll cave, Kerielle is unsure now from whence the danger comes. She decides to reposition herself so as to be able to cover both avenues of attack. She moves swiftly to a central position, and covers the cave entrance, reasoning that the door will provide audible warning if it should open.
Declan glances at the positions of the others as he bolts toward the troll's pile of flotsam and jetsam with his torch in one hand and the quarterstaff carried in the other. Reaching the heap of debris, he jams the torch stick-end first into the pile using the rubbish as a sort of natural torch holder. Behind him, Nathan – the party's other mage – stands positioned prepared to hurl a magical bolt at the first sign of intruders that emerge from the secret door.
Helios still senses something is wrong and his forehead furrows in concentration, eyes glazed as if looking into an unseen realm in the direction of the cave entrance. His right gauntlet, woven with an intricate design, emits a faint glow.
Nearby to the paladin, with no threat yet evident from the door, Declan scans the portal briefly before darting back to his backpack. He reaches inside to retrieve a second, yet unlit, torch from within its depths.
Meanwhile at the cave entrance, Velgardrin barks “Give me oil!” just as Malk slips the glowing bullet into a belt pouch. In an instant, the entire pool chamber – and those in it – is plunged into utter darkness.
In the next heartbeat, a cacophony of inhuman voices sounds from the direction of the cave entrance, which is now lost from sight with the extinguishing of Malk's light source. It is followed by the sound of violent thrashing, as if numerous beings are trying to force their way through the brush wall. Apparently, Seth's hearing and intuition were accurate. The company has several unwanted – and unfriendly – visitors.
Even as the crashing ensues, Helios begins to feel a dull throbbing in his temples. There is evil here – and it is getting closer , the paladin thinks to himself, his hand still outstretched in the direction of the cave entrance.
* * * * *
The light coming from the cave is extinguished just as the first of the goblin horde reaches the brush wall. Excellent , thinks Naghaz, now our warriors have the advantage . And thus it is so as the leading goblins struggle through the thick brush and into the cave beyond, uttering their unique yet bizarre battle cry.
* * * * *
Bree-Yark! Once again, that incomprehensible word or phrase reverberates in the caves as goblins begin to surge through the brush wall, spilling into the darkened pool chamber, and headed directly at Malk and Alain who stand in their path, effectively blind to the oncoming danger.
“BREE-YARK!” Kerielle roars back in frustration, adding a pithy curse in her native tongue. Not liking having such a short field of vision now that the light has been extinguished, she backs up a little to give herself a little more time if – or when – she is rushed. She continues to cover the farthest extent of her field of vision.
“LIGHT, MALK!” Amiel demands urgently, trying – but not succeeding – to keep the frustration from her voice. She also flashes Helios an irritated look, and shakes her head at him as if to say, What in Talos' name are you skulking THERE for?
“Evil comes from the north!” Helios exclaims.
The paladin is suddenly torn with indecision. On the one hand, he should be in the front line battling against the incoming evil; but his companions are all in front of him and he does not yet know if anything is coming behind. Breaking out of his reverie, he decides to turn towards the door to try to sense any enemies coming from the rear, believing that the information is worth his absence in the front line for a few more moments.
Declan realizes that those watching the cave entrance will be in trouble quickly. He reacts by sprinting the few feet between his backpack and the burning torch with his unlit torch in his right hand and the quarterstaff in the left. Pausing only long enough to light the second torch from the first, he then hustles into the pool chamber, brushing past Kerielle and then kneeling down.
Meanwhile, at the front of the cave, Malk quickly pulls out the glowing bullet and drops it at his feet, bringing light to the pool chamber once again.
And the bard is just in time. Because in the next instant, the jabbering outside the cave grows to a crescendo as a frenzied horde of goblins begins to burst through the brush wall and straight at Malk and Alain.
Parrying with his sword, Malk backs up onto the catwalk to be in front of Seth, trying to offer him some protection. Alain relies on the training his uncle gave him. Beginning one of his many attack routines, he thrusts with his rapier and slashes with his dagger. From his flank, Velgardrin also weighs into the fight with his axe despite being visually impaired by the sudden reappearance of the light source after his eyes had shifted into the darksight spectrum.
But the seemingly possessed goblins are simply too many. Despite the best efforts of the three adventurers at the cave entrance, the sheer number of attacking humanoids soon pulls down the bard and the warrior.
And then the situation worsens even still. With a guttural sound that is half-growl, half-roar, a large wolf begins to force its way through the brush wall. From behind the animal come unintelligible shouts or commands from someone – or something – else.
* * * * *
“Into the cave!” Naghaz shouts to Hurkul as the goblin's canine mount struggles to breach the heavy foliage that covers the entrance to the intruders' holdout. Then he barks orders to his own contingent of warriors.
“Press forward!” The hobgoblin does not fail to take not of the sudden reappearance of light emanating from the cave. Magic , he thinks to himself with a shudder.
* * * * *
Amiel notes the muddy floor to her front. If the goblins try and rush her they'll have to contend with the slippery footing. Can goblins swim? Can wolves swim?
Holding her sword in her right hand, she glances back at Nathan and gestures him to come forward to a spot directly behind her. “Area spells to their rear!” she reminds both mages, hoping to land a few magical blows on their commanders that seem to be calling the shots from outside the cave.
The cave then sounds with the shouts and cries of other adventurers.
“South is clear of evil!” shouts Helios from the sleeping chamber.
“Declan, STAY DOWN!” Kerielle then roars, as she begins loosing shafts into the surging ranks of the enemy, first taking aim at the goblins holding down her companions.
Then there is that dog , thinks Amiel to herself. It needs stopping before it gets to Alain's or Malk's nicely-presented throats .
The ranger chooses instead to focus on the business at hand. Returning her left hand to the sword's grip, she steps forward to engage the goblins that swarm over Alain.
On his back upon the cave floor, Alain twists and turns under the weight of his attackers, stabbing with his dagger and punching out with the hilt of his sword. Next to him, Malk sets about those goblins nearest him with his sword, slashing to clear a space to allow him to regain his feet. Seth and Velgardrin weigh in to the fray from the flanks to help free Malk and Alain, respectively.
Horrified at the sight of the company's front line falling under the weight of the goblin charge, Declan elects to do the only thing he knows will help – even though the party's choice of ground has left him almost no room with which to work his magic. He lays the staff in his left hand onto the ground and gently tosses the torch in his right hand toward the bushes at the entrance. The burning brand hits the cave wall near the entrance but lands just behind the goblins that are swarming over Malk and Alain.
Meanwhile, back in the sleeping chamber, Nathan takes a few steps forward. Then he begins to weave his hands and chant in an arcane tongue.
Helios sees Nathan casting a spell and, not wishing to be sent to sleep again, the paladin exercises some caution. He approaches the enemy without being too close and to give the mage a clear shot.
Nathan completes his incantations and points toward the goblins just inside the cave entrance. Instantly, nearly half a dozen of the frenzied attackers fall into a slumber, several of them dropping directly on top of the supine Alain and Malk.
Unfortunately, the Company is not yet out of danger. The wolf finally breaks free of the bushes and enters the cave. As it does so, it reveals it is not alone. A spear-wielding goblin sits atop a saddle on the beast's broad back.
The large wolf's forward progress brings into close proximity of the torch that Declan tossed only seconds earlier. With a terrified yelp, it turns from the fire source and leaps away in the clearest direction – right over Alain's fallen form, smashing into Amiel.
The ranger manages to bring her sword around in the instant before the collision, inflicting a rather gruesome wound to the animal. But the force of the impact of beast and rider knocks her flat onto her own backside.
In the wolf's wake, two more combatants enter the cave. They are not goblins. Rather, they are larger, hulking humanoids – a few inches taller than even Alain. Both are dressed in mail and each is armed with a long pole-axe.
“Hobgoblins!” announces Velgardin, continuing his efforts to hew Alain free of his attackers.
“Again!” Nathan shouts before returning to his incantations.
The hobgoblin nearest to Malk and Seth uses its long pole-axe to reach out over Malk's continuing struggles and stab at Seth. The elf is unable to reach the foe with only his swords, nor is he able to safely attack the goblin still engaged with Malk without risk of further injury to himself from the hobgoblin's weapon. And so he is resigned to defensive maneuvers using both of his flashing blades, hoping that he is at least preventing the humanoid from attacking Malk.
Declan feels ecstatic with the lay of his thrown torch. He disregards the closer threat of the goblinoid wolf-rider, trusting to Amiel, Helios and Kerielle. Instead, he grabs the strands of the Weave. Using his hands to manipulate the magic while shaping it to his will with unintelligible arcane words, he calls forth to the flaming brand. Suddenly, the torch flares brightly, producing flaming darts of fire that pelt all of those with a few paces.
Goblins and hobgoblins scream in surprise, pain, and anger as the fiery missiles strike home. But despite its ability to disperse harm to several enemies, the spell has two unavoidable consequences. First, as a result of their new wounds, those goblins that were put to sleep by Nathan's earlier enchantment begin to wake. Second, the darts know neither friend nor foe; thus, some also slam into Malk and Alain, further harming the imperiled adventurers.
Seeing the party's predicament, Nathan incants a second sleep spell, again targeting the rear ranks of the enemy. Within moments, all the goblins at the cave entrance – save one that is struggling with Malk – collapse once more into a deep slumber.
His injuries worsened by the burst of fire, Malk thrusts desperately at the lone goblin that still threatens him. The short blade ends the life of his wounded adversary, leaving the bard buried under a press of dead and sleeping humanoids.
Meanwhile, Kerielle is torn. Should she protect Amiel – now down, and in danger from the wolf – or seek to slow the advance of these new, dangerous assailants? Deciding that Amiel is in the worst danger at present, but without a clear shot at the wolf, she turns her attention to hobgoblins and the wolf's rider as she begins to loose another volley of her deadly arrows.
With the wolf now focused on her own nicely presented neck, Amiel repeatedly smashes the pommel of her sword up at the animal's leering maw. Less teeth to bite me with! she thinks.
“Come on, Claws!” she yells, trying to exhort her companions, even as she rolls about beneath the wolf's paws.
Alain, also on his back, manages to push aside the dead and sleeping goblins bodies and come to a sitting position. His rapier is too slow, however, to block the thrust of a hobgoblin poleaxe that catches him in the shoulder.
Helios eagerly enters the fray with grim determination, in the knowledge that his companions are in grave danger and he has done nothing to help so far. Deflecting the rider's spear-thrust with his shield, the paladin swings at the savage beast's head and scores a glancing blow.
On the wolf's flank, Velgardrin finds himself with no goblins to fight, and is unable to engage the hobgoblins at the entrance without stepping on or over Alain. And so the dwarf wields his axe's blade against the wolf, wounding the creature and eliciting a howl of pain.
An instant later, one of Kerielle's arrows slams into the wolf rider. The large goblin hollers something in its unintelligible tongue but manages to stay in its saddle.
Almost unnoticed by most of the combatants, the brush wall begins to smolder from the effects Declan's dazzling display of fiery magic.
* * * * *
Naghaz hears Hurkul's cry for help and pauses for a moment as the brush wall – or what remains of it after the forcible passage of over a dozen denizens – begins to burn. But the sounds of combat just beyond the smoldering flames have an emboldening affect on the hobgoblin captain.
“Press forward,” he barks, intending his order to both the four warriors formed behind him and to those already in the intruders' hold.
* * * * *
“By Tyr! Attack the HOBGOBLINS!” Amiel yells, praying that Nathan's second sleep spell will not be wasted. Trust Declan to set try and set the damned vale alight, the ranger reflects wryly.
Reaching again for his magical knowledge, Nathan summons a dart of energy that streaks unerringly at the wounded hobgoblin threatening Alain. In its wake a second magical bolt, this one from Declan, also hits home and slays the hulking foe.
Kerielle judges that Amiel's assessment of the threat is accurate and gladly obeys the ranger's command. Focusing all of her anger into her mighty bow, the archer reaches for an arrow with a wordless snarl on her lips as she prepares to unleash a storm of green-feathered shafts upon the hobgoblins.
At the cave entrance, Malk collapses, apparently lifeless, beneath the goblinoid bodies. Doing his best to ignore the pain of the fire magic, he relaxes his body in feigned death. At the same time, Seth begins to inch backward on the ledge, hoping to draw the pole-axe-armed hobgoblin forward onto the treacherous walkway that rings the pool.
Malk lies still and uses the goblin bodies as a shield. When the hobgoblin passes over him to attack Seth, he thrusts upwards at the unprotected underbelly of the enemy. Slightly wounded but startled, the humanoid glances down at his attacker.
In doing so, it adjusts its head just enough that Kerielle's shaft, already streaking across the pool at its neck, instead takes it through the eye. The result is the same – it drops dead, adding to the mound of bodies that nearly smother the unfortunate bard.
Shaking off the fiery explosions and the wound from the now-slain hobgoblin, Alain grimaces and struggles to his feet. He regains his fighting stance just as more hobgoblins pour through the smoldering remains of the brush wall.
The first of the new arrivals is a sight to behold. Clad in a hauberk of banded mail armor, and clenching a broad sword and a morning star, the big brute strides directly at Alain without hesitation or any sign of fear. Alain thrusts his rapier forward, trying to preempt his opponent's onslaught. But the pain of his wounds affects the warrior's skills and his blade slides harmlessly off the hobgoblin captain's breastplate.
Behind Alain, Velgardrin and Helios continue their efforts to assist the beleaguered Amiel. Hollering a dwarven battle cry, Velgardrin brings his axe down on the huge wolf's back, severing its spine.
As the beast falls lifelessly on top of Amiel, its momentum pitches the goblin rider forward from his saddle. Helios' blade meets the airborne humanoid and cleanly severs its head from its body in mid-flight. The decapitated and helmeted skull rolls to a stop at Nathan's feet as the mage steps forward, spells expended but with staff in hand, to aid in the melee.
Amiel struggles to free herself from the weight of the dead wolf. The ranger succeeds in adjusting the carcass sufficiently for her to come to one knee and survey the chaos that swirls within the troll's lair.
Back in the pool chamber, another of Kerielle's shafts strikes down one of the arriving hobgoblin reinforcements. Unfortunately for Malk, the beast is just stepping over the pile of bodies under which he lies. The bard finds himself pinned and unable to move.
With a few feet of the trapped rogue, Alain finds himself hard pressed against his adversary. He uses his stylish off-hand dagger to parry a swipe of the hobgoblin's sword and then twists his body to avoid a smashing blow from its spiked morning star.
But the Cormyrian warrior's enfeebled counter strike once again fails to penetrate the large humanoid's protective armor. The hulking bellows in defiance at Alain's efforts and barks a curt order to his fellows.
* * * * *
Naghaz observes Hurkul's demise with little sadness. Their task is done , he thinks to himself. Beyond the wounded and weakened human that he faces, he can see four or five other intruders. Only two of them wield swords, and almost all of them appear injured. We can finish this, now .
“Forward, kill them all!” he shouts to his surviving warriors before redoubling his efforts to crush the human that bars his path.
* * * * *
“Alain, fall back!” Amiel calls out to the wounded warrior.
“Seth, Malk!” she screams as she stands, sword up and behind her head in her right hand. Its point is directed at the hobgoblin captain's brutish face. She extends her left hand at the warrior, palm up, and solemnly gestures ‘ come hither .'
Seeing Alain still in danger, Declan reaches for the weave and sends another bolt of magic shooting from his fingers into the hobgoblin captain.
Alain hears Amiel's cry, but with his back to the ranger, he cannot see the beckoning gesture that she makes to intimidating hobgoblin. Nonetheless, with a pained look in his eye, the warrior leverages Declan's magical missile as covering fire and grudgingly backs away from the fight, slipping through the ranks of adventurers to a place in the rear.
Helios watches Alain withdraw against the armored foe. And with Amiel out of danger, the paladin feels the urge to rush to his companions' aid in a fit of righteous battle frenzy. With any luck, this will buy Alain time to retreat , he thinks, his mind strangely calm in the midst of the heat of battle . I can't let him die while I stood around doing nothing .
“Prepare to meet Torm's sword!” he bellows as he launches himself forward.
But Amiel is steadfast in her determination. While the ranger allows Alain to pass back through her position, she does not give way to let anyone to her rear come forward. Behind her, Helios growls in frustration at his inability to smite the oncoming foe.
“Amiel – let me past so I can rid us of this evil!” he hollers beseechingly.
Meanwhile, Kerielle finds that her line of fire to the hobgoblin captain is blocked by Amiel, Helios, and the others. Cursing under her breath, the archer swiftly and deftly slips past Declan and onto the slippery catwalk around the troll's pool. Finding the best footing she can, she sights on the hobgoblin threatening Malk.
“Your heart is mine, ruch !” she cries, loosing her first shaft.
Pinned and hidden beneath the press of goblinkind and unable to rejoin the fight, Malk releases his sword. The bard curses quietly and mutters under his breath, hoping to remain unnoticed.
On the other side of the pool, the hobgoblin captain accepts Amiel's offer of personal combat and steps forward. In so doing, he exposes his flank to Velgardrin, and the dwarf does not waste the opportunity to strike at one of his ancestral foes.
The burly humanoid bellows in rage as the Velgardrin's axe bites deep into his flank, but he does not relent in his advance on Amiel. Despite his grievous wounds, he brings both sword and morning star into play. Amiel echoes the hobgoblin's scream of pain as his morning star smashes into her shoulder, almost causing her to lose her grip on her sword.
But the ranger uses her free hand to reinforce her grip on the weapon and returns the hobgoblin's attack with an overhead blow of her own. Her attack catches her adversary before he can bring execute a proper defense. The large blade of her hand-and-a-half sword smashes into the hobgoblin's helm and cleaves downward through it and into the thick skull beneath which erupts in a gruesome spray of gore.
“A fine blow, galan Amiel!” cries Kerielle in approval.
To the slain captain's rear, another hobgoblin falls victim to one of Kerielle's arrows and collapses to the cave floor. Two more of the enemy – silhouetted at the cave entrance by the burning remains of the protective brush wall – pause to reconsider their next moves.
Which is just as well for Kerielle. The elven archer swallows grimly with the knowledge that not only does Amiel block her aim, but also that the arrow she has nocked is the last of the quiver-full she took from her sleeping place.
Bloody wound forgotten, Amiel revels the glory of battle. “Helios, Vel, Kerielle – slay them!” she roars, brandishing her gory blade at the remaining hobgoblins …and let slip the dogs of war...
“…But NO pursuit!” she adds. “Nathan, Alain – get rope to bind the goblins. Bane's balls, Seth! FREE MALK!”
With an arrogant flick of his eyes as if to say, “That's what I'm trying to do,” Helios surges forwards once more over Amiel and the pile of gore and bone at her feet. His face is set in a look of iron-hard resolve stemming from an unwavering desire to rid the world of the evil he senses. Velgardrin follows in the paladin's wake to guard his flank.
Kerielle considers her own position. With but one shaft left, she must make it count. Arrow on string, she waits, hoping that one of the foes will come into her line of fire – as they must, to attack anyone but Amiel.
At the very least, she thinks, I can provide cover for Malk to rise, and Serethaniel to assist him .
But the hobgoblins at the cave entrance are not stupid. They see their leader – and their fellows – slain, and the goblin contingent destroyed as well. Before any of the Company can react, the spear-wielding warrior at the fore begins to back out of the cave and away from the exit, causing the archer behind him to do the same .
Serethaniel cannot agree more with Amiel's suggestion to help Malk, now that the threat is gone. With a flourishing display of dexterity, the former gladiator returns his blades to their scabbards at his hip as he prepares to move forward from his position on the slippery walkway to assist the bard.
Declan saves his last spell in light of the new circumstances. He picks up his quarterstaff and moves in a low crouch out of Kerielle's field of fire.
Once out of the archer's line of sight, he fully extends his frame and hustles toward the door in the south. At the door he leans his quarterstaff against the wall and begins guard duty there, prepared to fry anyone coming through the stone portal.
With the hobgoblins withdrawing and with fellow adventurers blocking any chance of a shot at the cave entrance in any event, Kerielle breathes a sigh of relief. The archer releases the tension on her bow and slips back around into the sleeping chamber where she heads toward her gear and spare quiver.
Taking a moment's breather, Alain leans against the wall and tries to catch his breath. Trying to control the pain, the warrior mentally prepares himself for another round of fighting.
“Velgardrin, I could use your help,” he announces.
Meanwhile, Nathan begins to look for the rope to tie up the sleeping goblins. “If they leave, I think we should make a run for it as soon as possible,” he says quietly to Amiel as he retrieves the rope-and-pot dredging tools from where they lay near Amiel's feet.
Standing at the cave entrance, his enemies retreating and his adrenaline pumping, Helios feels the urge to pursue his foe. But the paladin tempers his exuberance with caution and obeys Amiel's orders. Annoyed with the fact that his prey is escaping, he consoles himself with the fact that he would not be able to see outside in the dark wood line in any event.
“Kerielle, fancy some target practice?” he hollers across the cave. With that, he turns his attention to Malk, still trapped beneath the fallen bodies of the goblins, and starts to try and free the poor bard.
Serenthaniel steps forward to help the paladin. But the elf's foot suddenly slips on the treacherous walkway. Before he can catch his balance, Seth falls into the murky waters of the pool with a splash and a terrified scream. Swimming was never a part of his gladiatorial instruction.
Amiel sees Seth go in and immediately perceives his mortal danger. “They'll awaken!” Amiel cries as a reminder to Nathan and Alain. The ranger then drives her sword into the soft mud by the pool.
“Snuff the fire!” she yells to Helios and Velgardrin.
Velgardrin glances from the flailing elf to the cave entrance and back again. “Bring me mirn pack!” the dwarf barks to those standing in the sleeping chamber.
“I'd take yer pack, too,” Declan suggest to Kerielle before the archer leaves. He continues to guard the stone portal to the Company's rear while Amiel sorts out the tangle of bodies at the mouth of the cave.
But the archer has other ideas. Barely pausing to scoop up her quiver and sling it on her hip, Kerielle turns and heads for the cave entrance. With Seth in the pool, the goblins stirring, the fire, and the possibility of further attacks, there is plenty she is needed for there.
“The pot! Wet the brush!” the archer calls as she runs.
“Someone help Seth!” Helios cries, hoping that the gladiator can stay afloat a while longer.
Then, wanting to free the Malk before the goblins awake, or a hobgoblin stabs him in the back, the paladin drops is sword and shield to allow him more hands to move bloody bodies in an attempt to find the bard buried somewhere beneath. He adds a hobgoblin corpse to the one he already tossed to the cave mouth and then reinforces it with a slain goblin. As the pile of bodies lessen above the trapped bard, Malk feels for his sword and works to push himself free.
For his part, Nathan remains focuses on the task given to him and Alain by Amiel. Working quickly, he steps toward the nearest sleeping goblin, which lies at Velgardrin's feet. The mage pulls a dagger from a wrist bracer and cuts a length of hemp rope from the rope-and-pot dredging contraption.
Amiel's attention goes back to Seth. Why can't any of these mighty warriors swim? the ranger wonders as she steels herself and then drops back into the pool, leather jerkin and all. Behind her, worry written on all his features, Alain rushes to the pool side to offer what help he may.
Coming back to the water's surface, Amiel swims the few feet to Seth. Positioning herself so that she is behind the panicky elf, she puts an arm around his neck. Then, she kicks her legs even harder as she strains to keep both her mouth and the elf's above the water.
“I have you. Don't struggle,” the ranger says to Seth. Then she kicks as hard as she can, thrusting herself and the elf backward, toward the cave floor.
Slipping his weapons into their sheaths, Alain waits in a crouch by the edge of the pool. Making encouraging motions with his hands, he calls, “Straight back towards me, Amiel.”
For his part, Nathan continues tying up one of the sleeping goblins. Holding her bow in one hand, Kerielle takes up the discarded dredging pot – still attached to the rope – with the other. Stooping to the pool edge, she drops the pot into the water and watches it fill.
As she waits, Velgardrin storms past her with a grunt. The dwarf runs the short distance back to the sleeping chamber to wear his pack lies on the floor. Nearby to that spot, Declan listens to the sounds of his comrades as they go about their tasks. Not able to contribute directly to their work, he continues to watch the cave's stone portal.
Meanwhile, Malk pushes other goblin bodies aside with his free hand until he can rise to his feet. He points with his sword to the long poleaxes at his feet and calls across to the other Claws. “Perhaps we can use these long weapons?”
Helios sends silent thanks to Torm that the bard is unharmed and now capable of freeing himself. Feeling exposed at the caves mouth, he picks up his precious weapon and shield in case evil decides to darken his door again. He turns back to the cave entrance and examines the blade for any damage. He notes that it remains smeared with the blood and gore of his enemies.
It is then that the paladin – and Malk behind him – notices that the sleeping goblins at the cave entrance are beginning to stir. Apparently, Nathan's enchantment has run its course.
Helios turns his attention to the goblin at his feet and wipes his sword on its tunic. Pointing the end of the clean blade at the goblin's throat, the honorable paladin demands his enemy's surrender. He is just about to launch into an eloquent tirade when he remembers that the creature in front of him is a goblin, not a fallen knight.
He sighs, shrugs his shoulders, and barks, “Bree-yark!” in a menacing tone, hoping that the sharp, cold steel will get the message across. The short humanoid freezes in place, its eyes wide and staring at the paladin. Nathan draws his dagger and takes a similar course with one of the goblins near to him.
But Malk has not the patience for parley or surrender. Lifting his hand, the bard quickly raps the nearest waking goblin over the head with the pommel of his sword.
“Night, night,” he grins as the creature falls back into unconsciousness.
Across the pool from the paladin and the bard, and fully aware of how dangerous a full-blown fire could be in the Claws' current situation, Kerielle hastens to hurl her potful of water on the smoldering brush, aiming at the base of the flames. The water puts out most of the flames, but some remain – now accompanied by a greater amount of smoke.
“Knock them out! Tie them!” she cries to her companions, as she moves back to the pool to refill her pot.
Alain quickly glances up at the elven archer. “Kerielle, help guard the entry,” he barks before turning back to help Amiel with Serethaniel.
“Vel, Seth still needs healing,” Amiel grunts as she shoves Seth from the pool and into Alain's arms.
The dwarven priest has other ideas, apparently. His pack over his arm, he sprints from the sleeping chamber and through the pool room.
“Clangeddin's alagh fer ther Claws!” Velgardrin cries as he crashes through the smoke from the still-smoldering brush and rushes out into the outdoors beyond. In his wake, weaponless and on its hand and knees, follows one of the goblins – the only one of its kin not slain, bound, captured, or knocked unconscious in the grand battle.
“Tiamat's Tits!” Amiel snarls at the dwarf's behavior. “Everyone stay put!” she shouts as she reaches for Alain's grip to be pulled out of the pool.
Clearly unhappy about the whole situation, but not having any rope at hand, Helios decides to copy Malk's idea. He gestures at the goblin and then in direction of the cave wall. The goblin's head follows the direction Helios points to – and in so doing, it fails to see the mailed gauntlet rapidly approaching the back of its head.
“Silly misguided creature,” Helios mutters under his breath as the creature drops unconscious to the cave floor.
Malk stoops and hefts the pole-arm at his feet. He swings the business end out past Helios towards the cave entrance. Coughing and spluttering in the smoke, he mutters, “Smoke cannot be good for our health.”
Kerielle glances at the cave entrance, but she judges that Helios and Malk should be more than capable of holding it for the moment. “The fire!” she cries stubbornly, indicating the threat with a nod of her head. Then refilling her pot, she tosses another dose of water past Nathan and onto the smoldering remains of the brush wall. The fire dies with a final, resistant hiss.Shaking his head at the crazy dwarf's actions, Alain extends his hand and helps pull Amiel out of the pool. The warrior pulls the ranger out from the murky and toward him where they both collapse in a panting heap on the cave floor.
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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