Saturday, April 17, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Seven


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Seven

Snaptrap and Gurr led the heroes back to the Great Hall where they pointed out Razzam and Drang from the throng of some thirty kobolds. 
Sunthorn stepped into the cavern, unrolled the Scholar's scroll and recited the Magic Words printed upon it.  As he spoke them, each word on the scroll glowed and faded away, as though invoking the spell aloud burned the words from the page.  "Behold the truth!" he cried as sparks began to rain down in the Great Hall.
Just as when the Shaman cast it, the sparks gathered like fallen snow on the shoulders of the two phony kobolds.  The sparks burst into existence, and winked back out again, slowly burning away the magic of their disguise until two Hobgoblin-like Throghrin stood there instead of kobolds.
Razzam, unperturbed by this, pointed at the Elf with one clawed digit.  "Slay the surface-dwellers, or never see your kings again!"  As his command boomed through the cavern, the Kobolds turned to the intruders in the tunnel mouth and pulled forth their weapons.
With urgent impatience, Gladimenithas pushed Sunthorn aside and stepped forward.  His melodic voice issued a singsong string of Magic Words.  As he finished the incantation, he swept both arms out in a wide arc forming a pale blue crescent of glowing light that swept away from him like an ever-widening wave.  The wave swept throughout the cavern, and members of the kobold horde fell as they were overtaken by it.  When the magic wave hit and dissipated at the cavern walls, all the kobolds lay snoring on the cavern floor, in a magically induced slumber.
Drang roared in anger, his hands clawing at the empty air.  "Useless kobolds!"
Sunthorn raised one eyebrow.  "Impressive."
"I'm telling you, brother," Gladimenithas said as he tapped the side of his nose with one slender finger, "magic is the way to go!"
"Then let us bear the gift of magic!" Mediphon agreed as he held forth the Holy Sign of the Sun God.  "Let the blessing of the Sun God be upon us all!"  He uttered some Magic Words of his own and his Holy Sign glowed with a corona of white light.  A moment later, each member of his party likewise glowed with the divine magic.
Drang roared again as he grabbed his battle axe and swung it over his head.  "Die yoomins!" he shouted and charged.  Razzam seized his spiked mace and leapt down from his place atop the boulder and rushed to join his colleague's attack.                     
Gladimenithas stared at the onrushing Throghrin, his smug grin long gone and his eyes growing wide.  Without warning, he was thrust rudely aside as his fellow Elf, Sunthorn stepped in and raised his shield against Drang's descending axe blade.  The Throghrin pushed against the Elf's shield with such strength that Sunthorn's boots slid backwards on the rocky floor.
Sunthorn looked over his shoulder at his kinsman.  "Assistance would be most appreciated!"
"Oh, of course!" Gladimenithas agreed as he jumped to his feet and drew out his rapier.  With a gleeful laugh his rapier whipped about this way and that, inflicting small but quick scratches upon their monstrous enemy.  "What ho, you evil thing!  Come and get me if you can!"  Then he ran off for a far corner of the Great Hall with Drang chasing after him, his heavy axe held high, ready to strike.  Sunthorn lowered his shield, drew his sword and joined the chase.
"Come along, Gurr!  They will need us!" Snaptrap said as he and his sidekick chased after the Elves, with torches in hand.
Razzam still charged the tunnel.  Pamblyn and Mediphon stepped out to meet him.  Razzam's spiked mace lashed out at them in wide arcs.  It smashed down upon Pamblyn's shield, then swatted away the studded ball at the end of Mediphon's flail.  Distracted thus, he failed to see Elmore take up a position behind him.  Elmore's sword bit into the Throghrin's shoulder.
With a scream of pain, Razzam turned and slammed his spiked mace into the human warrior with all his strength.  Elmore fell to the ground, screaming in pain.  Razzam turned back, saw the incoming sword blade and jumped back.  Another swing of his mace and Pamblyn's sword was knocked from her hand. 
Before she could recover from the shock of losing her weapon, Razzam's free hand found her throat.  "Goodbye, yoomin!"
Pamblyn felt the odd sensation of her muscles drained of their strength.  Her body grew heavy, unresponsive to her commands.  She slumped on her feet, then fell to the floor amid the clatter of metal on rock.
"Die now!" Razzam said as he raised the mace.
Sunthorn's sword slashed across Drang's back.  With a howl, the Throghrin turned and swung his mighty axe.  The heavy blade, set in motion by such a strong arm was more than the Elf's shield could stand, and it shattered upon impact.  The beast-man raised the axe for a backswing when the rapier cut into his ribs.
Drang let loose a scream.  Instead of aiming for Sunthorn, his backhand swing knocked the flimsy rapier aside.  He lashed out with one clawed hand and seized the prancing Elf by the collar.  "You fall next, Elf!" Drang cried.  An instant later, Drang frowned at his own beefy hand at the Elf's neck.  He jerked his hand, shaking the slim Elf and grumbled, "Why don't you fall down?"
"Yes, that doesn't work on us," Gladimenithas said through a smile.  "Sorry, old thing!"
A sword-tip emerged from Drang's chest.  The Throghrin howled and let go of his quarry.  Upon his release, Gladimenithas plunged his rapier deep into the creature's chest.  The two Elves withdrew their weapons, and Drang tried to cry out in agony, but merely choked and fell over, the axe slipping from his hand.
"Hurry now, Gurr, before he regenerates!" Snaptrap barked.
Gurr produced a phial, pulled the stopper out with his teeth.  He poured the lantern oil onto Drang's body and Snaptrap pressed his torch against the fallen body until it caught aflame.
Razzam stood over Pamblyn's inert body, his spiked mace raised over his head. 
The clay pot flew out of the tunnel and smashed in his face, showering him in a thick viscous fluid.  Padrelle stepped out of the tunnel, a torch in one hand, a throwing dagger in the other.  "Elmore!" she cried, "Now's your chance!  Get him!"
Elmore had risen behind the Throghrin, his sword raised.  Though blinded by the oil, Razzam turned, swung his mace wildly, deflecting the Warrior's blows.  Padrelle threw her dagger, and it stuck in Razzam's shoulder, though he did not seem to notice.
But Mediphon seized this opportunity.  Inspired by the cryptic words he'd heard during his prayer to the Sun God, the Cleric crouched beside Pamblyn.  He recited the Magic Words to a Minor Healing spell until his hand began to glow with a luminescence of its own.  He reached out with his radiant hand and grabbed the warrior woman's arm.  The radiance ran from his hand with a bright burst and coursed through her body in the blink of an eye.
In fact, her eye did blink.  Her fingers convulsed into a fist, then stretched out again.  She looked up at the Cleric and smiled—she was no longer paralyzed!
Pamblyn grabbed her sword and climbed to her feet.
Razzam wiped the oil from his eyes with the back of one hand.  With a sneer, he swung his spiked mace, knocking Elmore to the floor again. 
"Bastard!" the Halfling cried as she ran up and lunged at the creature, fiery torch thrust before her like a knight's lance. 
Covered as he was in lantern oil, the fire spread quickly, engulfing him.  Razzam screamed with excruciating agony.  Dropping his spiked mace, he tried to swat the fire out with his bare hands, but it was no use.
With a battle cry that seemed to increase both her strength and resolve, Pamblyn brought her sword around in a wide downward arc.  The blade chopped deep into Razzam's neck, and his screaming stopped.  He dropped to his knees, pulling Pamblyn's arm down along with her sword, the blade wedged in his bones.  Gravity pulled against her strength as she swore at his corpse.  She lowered his body to the floor, placed one booted foot on his head and pulled her blade free.
"Victory is ours!" she declared, and the others cheered.
*   *
They had doubled back to the prison cavern, where the freed prisoners and the Arcanologists waited patiently.  Then Snaptrap and Gurr led the surface dwellers back to the mouth of the caves and removed the net that had blocked the exit to the forest.
"And what of my people?" the Kobold asked again as the Elven scholars and the human prisoners eagerly filed out into the afternoon forest.
            "I've told you!" Gladimenithas repeated.  "It was a simple spell to put them all to sleep.  It should wear off in another hour or so, and they will all be perfectly fine!"
"And just where will you be, if there is some problem with this?" Snaptrap asked, an accusing digit pointed at the Elf.
"There will be no difficulties, I swear it!" Gladimenithas told him.  "However, I must escort these Scholars back to the Greenwood, where they might organize a larger force for this expedition to the Temple of Magic."  Then he turned to Sunthorn.  "You and your friends would be a welcome addition to any such endeavor, by the way."
Sunthorn considered it for a fleeting moment.  "I don't know," he said at last.  "I must escort Pamblyn, Mediphon, and Padrelle back to the Aged Ranger."
"Yes!" the Halfling interjected.  "We must report to him of all that has transpired here!  Inform him of our success, and collect our reward!"
The Cleric looked at the Kobold with concern in his eyes.  "Have we succeeded?  We were meant to drive you kobolds away, so you could not pose a threat to the Kingdom.  I must admit, I haven't the heart to vanquish you, for I do not consider you a threat of your own volition.  But if the hobgoblins were to come and subjugate you once more, your people have proven they can be a considerable threat, indeed!"
"Bah!" Snaptrap dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand.  "We do not wish to be here.  I shall collect these stragglers into a pack, and plot to rescue our kings from the hobgoblins."  Then he looked up at the heroes with narrow eyes, as though measuring them up.  "In truth, you yoomins, and you Elfs…"
"And the Halfling!" Padrelle inserted.
"…have all proved better folk than it is our custom to believe," Snaptrap continued.  "In truth, I would welcome any assistance your people could offer against our common enemy, Ozbaddin."
Pamblyn looked at him with pride in her heart that powered a bittersweet smile.  "I promise you, Snaptrap, we will deliver your message to the King…"
"Yes, and I shall deliver it to the Elvenking!" Gladimenithas announced.  "I swear it!"
"…but I cannot promise you that he will send assistance," Pamblyn finished sadly.
Snaptrap's ears dropped with disappointment.  "No, I suppose not," he glumly agreed, "After all, we're only kobolds."
"Yes," Pamblyn admitted.  "And we are only human.  But I can promise you…that should my path cross yours again in the future, I will offer you whatever help I can."
The rest of the heroes agreed in turn.
The Kobold nodded.  "Then that shall have to do," he said.  "We part ways now as unlikely friends, waiting to see what the future brings to us.  Go now, back to your   peoples, and I shall go and tend to mine."  He answered their goodbyes with a wave and walked back into the caves, followed by Gurr.
The Heroes stepped out into the forest, where Gladimenithas and the scholars chose a path that would lead them back home.  Sunthorn led his friends in the opposite direction, to rendezvous with the Aged Ranger.  Elmore walked with them.
"So," the new Warrior asked, "what adventure is next?  Joining the Arcanologists in their search for the Temple?  Or assisting Snaptrap in rescuing the kobold kings from Ozbaddin?"
"It is a difficult choice," the Elf admitted as he marched through the woods.  "They both seem to be worthwhile adventures."
"Each with their own rewards!" Padrelle agreed.
"It will depend on the whims of our masters and the will of the Gods!" Mediphon said.
"Yes, we could end up on some other quest entirely," Pamblyn admitted.  Then she turned, looked at the freed prisoners they were leading through the forest, and back at Elmore.  "And what of you?  What will you do?"
"For now, my path lies parallel to yours!" Elmore said as he drew his sword.  "As I promised in the caves, I shall travel as a member of your party, and help in whatever manner I may!  Together we shall do good deeds and vanquish foes in the name of the King!  And for the glory of Haven Hills!"  He held the sword aloft as best he could, despite the pain in his arm.
The rest of the party groaned as they trudged through the forest.

The End

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Six


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Six

Snaptrap and Gurr led the way through the twisting tunnels.  Mediphon and Elmore followed close behind them, with Pamblyn and Sunthorn—still in kobold form—bringing up the rear.  The Shaman's workshop was a circular cavern some thirty feet in diameter with another tunnel across from them.  A small fire pit stood at the center, constructed of rocks capped with an iron grate that was in turn holding half a dozen mismatched simmering pots over the crackling fire.  The smoke drifted up to the high ceiling, where it escaped through some natural chimney hidden among the stalactites.
Ramshackle bookcases and makeshift tables were pressed against the uneven rocky walls.  They were populated with a haphazard array of books, boxes, stopped jars, clay pots, phials of glass and crystal.  Tables sported contraptions of pipe and tubing that allowed the liquids from different alembics to drip at various rates into a common gathering beaker.  An open jar of leafy twigs stood beside a crystal phial of shimmering pale powder.  A knife stood at an angle, its blade stabbed into the bloodstained tabletop beside a bowl of birds' feet.
"By the Bright Beams of the Sun!" Mediphon gasped as he stared in wide-eyed wonder at the elaborate set-up.
Elmore gestured to some shelves that held bottles and vials of colored liquids.  "Shouldn't we, you know, confiscate some of this stuff?  Some of these potions might come in handy.  You know, use their own plan against them, that sort of thing."
Pamblyn wiped her muzzle with the back of one hand.  "No," she said with conviction, "Smash it all!"  To emphasize her words, she swept her arms over the nearest tabletop, knocking over pipeworks and causing earthenware to demolish on the floor. 
With a shrug, Elmore drew his sword and with two sweeping arcs of his blade the vials shattered into fragments, their contents soaking the shelves and dripping to the floor. 
The others followed form, knocking over the fragile equipment, the containers of weird ingredients, and brewing concoctions.  It was a cacophony of thuds, clatters, and the shrieks of breaking glass.  It all stopped the instant Gurr cried out in alarm and all eyes flew to the humanoid shape leaning against the mouth of the tunnel.
Snaptrap gasped as Gurr jumped behind him to peer over his shoulder. 
"K-korzadub!" Elmore stammered.  His fear diminished somewhat and he frowned for a closer look.  "What is wrong with you?"
Korzadub lay heavily against the stone wall, one hand clutching a red stain on his yellow jerkin.  His face wore a deathly pallor and glistened with sweat.  He reached forward with one hand to seize a rocky outcropping and pulled himself along on unstable, shambling feet. 
Sunthorn cocked his head to one side.  "Extraordinary!"
"That's impossible!" Pamblyn exclaimed, "We killed you!"
Elmore stood behind a trembling blade.  "Perhaps the Shaman raised him from the dead!  Shamans can do that, right?"
The Cleric held his arms out wide, gesturing for the others to stay well back.  "I'll handle this!" he said as he pulled the Holy Sun Medallion from his neck.  Mediphon held the sign of his god before him and issued his command:  "Begone unholy thing!  Turn away and issue no harm to these living persons!"
Korzadub reared away, raising his arms to shield his ugly face.  Then, he slowly lowered his arms to reveal a sharp-toothed grin.  "Foolish Cleric!  Korzadub lives!"  The monstrous humanoid lashed out with both arms, knocking the Holy Sign from Mediphon's hands.  Before the Cleric could recover from his surprise, Korzadub grabbed him by the throat.  "But you will die!"
Mediphon felt the strength evaporate from his body.  His arms grew heavy, unresponsive to his will.  His legs lost the strength to keep him standing upright, and he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.
"Mediphon!" Sunthorn exclaimed.
"What is going on in…egad!  My workshop!"
Our heroes turned and saw the Shaman standing in their entrance tunnel, shocked stupefaction on his face.  A frown fell upon his brow and a sneer showed his sharp teeth just before he thrust one pudgy finger into the room and shouted, "Kill them all!"  At his command, eight kobold warriors charged past him, howling, weapons in hand.
Pamblyn dug her feet in, set to meet the charge.  Sunthorn adopted a ready stance by her side and was surprised when Snaptrap stepped up beside him.
The onrushing kobolds skidded to a halt, their howls abruptly cut short.  "What are you doing?" one asked them.  "Why would you protect these surface-dwellers?"
"They are not kobolds!" Horkrist shouted.  "Do not be fooled by their feeble trickery!  I shall show you!"  With a flourish, he waved his hands in the air, orchestrating the mystical gestures as he muttered the Magic Words.  As he finished his recital, he thrust one hand forward, palm out. 
A rain of sparks fell from the cavern ceiling, winking in and out of existence like fireflies.  These sparks flourished and multiplied around the two phony kobolds, though all others remained unaffected.  The sparks burned away their magical disguise and soon they were once again a Human woman and an Elf complete with their shields and armor.
Snaptrap slapped one hand against his forehead and staggered back.  "What?  How?  …Why?"  He was so shocked; he didn't realize that he had nearly backed into Korzadub, who reached forward with one deliberate hand.
"Lookout!" Sunthorn cried as he jumped between the two.  Korzadub pressed his hand against the Elf's chest, but nothing happened.  Sunthorn frowned down at the beast-man's hand, and pushed him away with his shield.  "Do not touch me, unclean thing!"
The kobold warriors gasped in shock and anger.  "That filthy hobgob tried to attack Snaptrap!  Get him boys!"  And as though of one mind, the kobolds charged once more.
Pamblyn seized the opportunity.  "Elmore!  With me!"  Then with a battle shout of her own that reverberated in the cavern, she ran straight for the Shaman.
Horkrist watched the kobolds charge with disapproving eyes.  "What are you…?"  Then the two human warriors ran at him with their swords at the ready.  He stumbled back into the tunnel, holding up his hands in a feeble attempt to keep them away.  "No!  N-no!  No-o-o-o!"  A few quick flashes of their blades and the Shaman fell to the floor just outside his workshop.
Sunthorn and the kobolds advanced on Korzadub.  The Hobgoblin backed away from the swords and clubs they swung at him.  Though the Hobgoblin deftly dodged most of the attacks, Sunthorn, with his long reach, managed a few gashes on him.  They were herding him back into the tunnel he'd entered by when suddenly his whole body jerked as he grunted in surprise.  Thrusting his chest forward, his face clouded over with uncertainty.  He opened his mouth, but only a raspy croak came out.
Then he fell face-first onto the cavern floor with an arrow protruding from his back.  Our heroes and their kobold allies all took a tentative step forward, each one bewildered by the same puzzle:  where had the arrow come from?
Another shape leapt out of the dark tunnel and they all jumped back as Padrelle landed behind the Hobgoblin's corpse and flung her dagger along with a cry for them to "Lookout!"
Her dagger flew straight and true, through the throng who all turned around just in time to see Horkrist, the Shaman, propped up on one arm with a wand in his hand and the Halfling's dagger stuck in his forehead.  Just as the image registered in their minds, the wand slipped from the Shaman's feeble fingers and once again he fell to the cave floor.
"Ha!" the Halfling exclaimed, "I knew you people couldn't get on without me!"  Her companions, happy to see her alive, surrounded her and bombarded her with congratulations and questions.  "How many times do I have to tell you people?  I am unkillable!  Besides, while you guys have been fooling around up here, I had to go save a bunch of Elves.  Hey Glad, c'mere and meet my friends!"
Gladimenithas entered the ruined workshop, leading his eight Arcanologists.  With a smirky grin, he threw his long golden locks over one shoulder and presented them with his best side.
"He's Glad-he-met-with-us," Padrelle said.
"Gladimenithas," he corrected.
Padrelle shrugged.  "Just call him 'Glad' for short.  And these guys are all that's left of an expedition to some long-lost temple.  They need our help getting out of the caves so they can go home."
"Oh, I say, excuse me!" one of the Arcanologists interjected.  "You do realize that there is a Throghrin lying on the floor here?"  He indicated Korzadub's corpse.
"A what?" Pamblyn asked.
"A Throghrin," the Scholar repeated.
"Is that some Elfy word for hobgoblin?" Elmore asked.       
"No, the Throghrin are a terrible perversion of nature.  A prime example of what magic can do when entrusted to the wrong hands," the Scholar told them.  "Some time ago, a wicked wizard used magic to combine a hobgoblin, a troll, and a ghoul.  The result is the creature you see before you:  it most resembles a hobgoblin—though not quite; it can regenerate like a troll—though at a much slower rate; and it possesses the paralyzing touch of an undead ghoul—though, like a ghoul's touch, we Elves are immune."  All his fellow Arcanologists and their protector beamed with pride at this announcement.
Sunthorn turned to Pamblyn, a triumphant smile advertising his newfound understanding.  "That's how Hal was still alive when we opened the cell!"
Pamblyn copied his grin and his excitement.  "And how Korzadub came back to life and got off of that spear!"
Padrelle held up one hand, then pointed at the dead Throghrin with the arrow in its back.  "Wait a minute, do you mean that if we just hang around here long enough, he's gonna come back to life?"
The Arcanologist shrugged.  "He might, Halfling, he might.  Their regeneration hasn't been properly studied, but it should work similarly to trolls.  Now a troll will regenerate unless its body is utterly destroyed."
"What do you mean utterly destroyed?" Elmore asked, "Like…how?"
"Oh well, uh, you could use a Disintegrate spell," the Scholar told them, "Or perhaps a Wish…"
"Our wizard is dead!" Pamblyn announced.
"And he wasn't that powerful when he as alive!" Padrelle chided as Gladimenithas glared at her with a sour grimace.
The Scholar scratched his pointed ear.  "You could throw acid on the body…"
"Acid!" Sunthorn cried, "This is the Shaman's workshop!  Everybody, look for some acid!"
"We just smashed everything in the room!" Elmore barked back, "If there was any acid in here, we already wasted it!"
Gladimenithas turned to the aging scholar.  "Is there no other way?"
"Well, you could just burn the body," the Arcanologist said.
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Pamblyn said as she walked up to the firepit.  She sheathed her sword; laid her shield on the floor.  Then, using her cloak as insulation,she grabbed the metal grate and lifted it up.  "Snaptrap, if you could, please?"
With a smile on his snout, the kobold reached in and grabbed a branch from the fire.  Padrelle produced a clay pot from beneath her cloak.  "Lantern oil," she said as she opened the cork and poured the contents over the Throghrin corpse.  Snaptrap lowered his burning branch and the fire quickly spread along the dead body.
"I'm sorry, but just what is going on here?" Gladimenithas asked.
"I'll tell you what's going on," the Cleric's voice drifted up from his inert body.  Elmore and Sunthorn rushed over and pulled him to his feet and held him up by the arms. 
"Are you all right?" Sunthorn asked him.
"Perfectly fine," the Holy Man replied.  "You know, it's the oddest sensation to be paralyzed.  You can hear.  You can see.  But no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot move your body!"  Then he turned and stared at some faraway spot of the floor as he remembered the vague clues the Sun God had given him. "They are like ghouls, but they are alive!"
Gladimenithas nodded with a wide grin.  "Fascinating!" he said in a polite but phony tone.  "Again, what is going on?"
"The Throghrin are using the Shaman's potions to turn themselves into Kobolds," Mediphon explained.  "So they can direct the Kobolds in their endeavor to turn these caves into a war base for Ozbaddin and his Hobgoblin army!"
"I see," Pamblyn said as she retrieved her shield from the floor.  "So to end this mess, we've got to get rid of the rest of the Throghrin."
"Yes," the Cleric agreed.  "There are two of them left:  Razzam and Drang."
"But what are we going to do about them?" Snaptrap asked.
"I'll tell you what we're going to do…" Pamblyn announced.

To Be Concluded...

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Five


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Five

Pamblyn looked down at her scaly, kobold claws with fascination as they wandered through the caverns.  "It's utterly amazing!  We look just like them!"
"Not quite," Sunthorn stated matter-of-factly.  "Look more closely and you will realize that our hides are a shade lighter than the kobolds we've thus far encountered."
"That shouldn't be a problem.  After all, Korzadub was a different color from the rest," Pamblyn insisted.
"Yes, but he wasn't really a kobold, either," the Elf pointed out.  Suddenly Sunthorn turned his eyes to the cavern before them, held up one scaly paw for quiet.  "Something's coming," he whispered.
A few brief breaths later, a pair of shapes emerged from a side tunnel.  Sunthorn instinctively raised his sword in attack as Pamblyn grabbed his arm.  The Elf looked at the pair of kobolds, wide-eyed with surprise and raising their clubs in self-defense.  
"No don't!" Pamblyn cried.  "It's all right!  They're just kobolds!  Like us!"
The Elf turned sharply, saw her canine face.  He offered a weak smile and apology to the two kobolds.
The kobolds lowered their clubs and grinned in relief.  One shook a clawed digit at them and said, "Whew…you scared the heck outta me!"
"Sorry about that," Pamblyn spoke up, "He's been on edge since we heard about the ambush on the surface-people."
"Yeah, that was some bad business," the kobold agreed.  Then he sniffed at them, snuffling at the air and learning their scent.  "You two smell…different.  You must be from some other pack."
"We are!" the Sunthorn ejected. 
The kobold shook his head and turned to his companion.  "I wonder how many packs these damn hobgoblins have under their thumbs."  His companion only shrugged in reply.  The kobold turned back to our heroes.  "Well, I am Snaptrap, and this is Gurr."
"I'm P-uh…" the Warrioress stammered, "I'm Padfoot!  This is, uh, Snaggle-horn."  The Elf turned to her with a curl on his lip and one dubious eyebrow raised.
"It is good we have found you," Snaptrap said, "Everyone is being summoned to the Great Hall.  I believe Razzam is going to address us.  Come along, we'd best see what it's all about." He turned and started down a cavern, waving for them to follow.
The Elf turned to warrior woman. "Snagglehorn?" he said with distaste.
She shrugged and said, "I wasn't prepared.  Come on, we'd better follow.  This is our chance to find out what's going on!" 
Following their impromptu kobold guides, Pamblyn and Sunthorn made their way through the tunnels.  Soon they were joined by a few more kobolds.  Then a few more.  Before they knew it, the tunnel opened into a wide torch-lit cavern. The floor was set in tiers, and ledges on the wall formed natural balconies for other tunnels.  There were kobolds packed on every surface, every ledge, all looking eagerly for Razzam and their new orders. There were easily a hundred kobolds crammed into the Great Hall, but surrounded thus, it felt like much more to our heroes.
Pamblyn shivered.
"Feeling nervous?" Sunthorn asked her.
"Remember," he said in a neutral tone, "they're just kobolds."
She shot him with a piercing glance as Snaptrap sidled up beside them.  "There's Razzam now," he said pointing to an orange-red kobold climbing up onto a boulder.  "Let's see what the little fink has to say."
Razzam stood atop the boulder, and looked over his audience.  "All right you mongrels, quiet down and listen up!  We've got a situation here!  As you have probably heard by now, yes it is true that some surface-dwelling scum have come into our caves!  But they are a bunch of idiots and are no match for kobold ingenuity!" He paused as the throng let loose a chorus of cheering howls. 
He soon continued.  "They are setting off our traps left and right, and they barely escaped an ambush orchestrated by Drang. I am proud to announce to you that some of them are dead!" He paused again, but there was no cheer this time.  "Some of them have been captured. However, some of them are still out there, wandering in our caves! A hunting pack was sent out, under Korzadub's command, to sniff them out.  But this group has not yet returned."
Pamblyn and Sunthorn exchanged grave expressions.
"These surface-dwellers must not be allowed to leave these caves alive!" Razzam announced. "If they somehow learned that we were preparing these caves as an outpost for the hobgoblin armies of Ozbaddin…and delivered this news to the yoomin King…then the Warlord's plans would be ruined! And I don't have to tell you what that would mean to the kobolds collected in this Great Hall today!"
A murmur rippled through the kobold audience.  It was apprehension.  A sort of muted horror none of them wanted to acknowledge.  A consent tempered by fear.
"But we're not going to let that happen, now are we?" Razzam asked the throng in the cavern.  "Because every last kobold stationed in these caves is going to drop what they are doing and join the search for the surface-dwellers!  Find them at once!  Kill them or cage them as you like! But ensure that they never leave these caves again!  Now go!"
The kobolds dispersed, slowly shuffling out of the Great Hall by nearly a dozen exits.  Pamblyn and Sunthorn rode the tide of outgoing kobolds and found themselves walking in a group that included Snaptrap and Gurr.  Those two kobolds turned down a side tunnel and Pamblyn followed, waving for Sunthorn to join her.
"So!" she whispered to him, "These kobolds are working for Ozbaddin!"
"Indeed," the Elf agreed.  "Apparently tasked with establishing a secret military base, which would give the hobgoblins the upper hand in their war on the humans."
"We must stop it!" Pamblyn declared.
"How?" Sunthorn asked.
Pamblyn scratched behind the horns on her head as she considered. "With the kobolds' help!"
"What?" the Elf was shocked.
"They seemed unwilling participants in the ordeal…" She looked at the two kobolds marching a few feet ahead of them in the tunnel.  "Snaptrap? What did you think of Razzam's news?  Exciting stuff, eh?"
"Razzam? Bah!" the dog-lizard spat.  "Razzam is a flea-bitten fink!  He loves the hobgoblins a little too much, I think!"
Sunthorn looked at his smiling companion with surprise in his eyes.  "And what of you, Gurr?"
Snaptrap waved the question away.  "Gurr cannot speak, but he and I are of like mind.  Isn't that right, Gurr?"
The silent kobold nodded as they continued down the tunnel.
"Well…what hold do the hobgoblins have on you?" Pamblyn asked.
The kobold stopped and turned to face them, hatred burning in his eyes.  "They have kidnapped our Kobold King! If we do not serve Ozbaddin, then our King will die by his order!"
"Why not revolt against the hobgoblins?  Save your King?" the Warrioress asked.
Gurr waved the insane idea away and Snaptrap chuckled humorlessly.  "There are but four hobgoblins here, and we cannot even stand up to them.  We are just kobolds."
"Only four!" Sunthorn exclaimed with wide eyes.  "There were at least a hundred kobolds in that cave back there.  You could defeat four hobgoblins quite easily!"
"No, no!" the kobold insisted.  "They are bigger, stronger, and they have magic!"
"I am surprised at you!  And you call yourself a kobold!" Pamblyn admonished.  "Kobolds are sly!  And cunning! Can you think of no way to defy the hobgoblins? To cause them aggravation and annoyance for how they subjugate you?"
Snaptrap snorted.  "The yoomins annoy them no end!"  His silent partner tapped his arm.  Gurr waved his scaly claws in a flurry of confusing gestures. Though meaning-less to our heroes, Snaptrap seemed to understand, and he smiled.  "Gurr says we ought to go and release the prisoners from the cage." 
The Elf clapped him on the shoulder.  "I think that would be a fine first step in the right direction."
                                                                   *  *  *
Padrelle picked her way through the tunnels, her glazed eyes and blank expression revealing her utter boredom to all but the dimmest of individuals.  Gladimenithas was right behind her, expounding his many accomplishments to her as the Arcanologists obediently followed them both.  The Halfling led the Elves from the lake cave into the tunnels used by the kobolds, and torches jammed into the wall at regular intervals lit their way.
"…despite being outnumbered, I single-handedly slew the entire gang of goblin raiders and retrieved the Silver Statue of the Tree Goddess," Gladimenithas prattled on.  "This is what caused the Elvenking to take notice of me, and thus was I chosen as part of the entourage for the expedition to the Temple of Magic, a-ha, a-haha!" 
His laugh sounded pretentious and phony to Padrelle's ears.  Then her keen eyes spotted the bodies up ahead.  "What's that?"  Before awaiting an answer, she rushed up the tunnel and found three dead kobolds sprawled across the cavern floor.
The Elves were soon by her side, frowning down at the carnage.  "Egad! Are these the kobolds you were going on about? Looks like someone's already dealt with the little monsters."
"Yeah," the Halfling automatically replied as she scanned the cavern for clues.  "Looks like my friends have been here. Now if we could just figure out which way they went…"  She continued up the cavern and soon found a side tunnel on her right.  Looking down the hall, she saw more bodies lying at the base of a Black Pillar.  "This way!"
The Elves followed her and saw three more dead kobolds littering the cave floor.  "This is definitely the handiwork of my friends!  They must still be alive!"
"Yes, but they may be wounded, look at this!" Gladimenithas gestured to a bloody spear sticking out of the rocky wall beside the Black Pillar.  "This trap obviously skewered somebody.  But whoever got caught in it got away."
Padrelle pursed her lips and "hmmed" as she looked over the bloody spear.  "We'd better find them, and fast!" she decided aloud.  "They're sure to need our help!"
*  *  *
Mediphon knelt in the cell and prayed quietly to his Sun God.  He prayed for guidance, for knowledge, and for a means of escape.  No new spells popped into his mind, courtesy of his deity, but he did not expect it.  He had not yet cast any of the spells he'd been gifted with, so he suspected he already had command of all the divine power he was capable of controlling.
He envisioned the statue from the Temple back in the capital city.  It was a regal figure, gold and resplendent, with a noble face under a headdress meant to evoke the sun itself.  A voice whispered to him.  It was a voice that should have been booming across the sunny countryside, but it whispered to him with calm serenity.  "Wisely use the gifts given unto thee, for they are my blessing upon thee and thine.  The lethargy of the living ghouls can be vanquished like a minor wound."
Mediphon didn't understand any of it.  Before he could humbly ask for clearer hints, he was interrupted when Haldraginor slapped him in the shoulder with a rough hand.  The Cleric looked up at him, and the Warrior nodded to the two short humanoids rushing up to the bars of the cell.
With a furtive glance over one shoulder, the kobold pulled out a ring of keys and thrust one into the lock.  The kobold pulled the lock away as the second one opened the door.  The kobold with the keys beckoned them to the open door.  "Mediphon!  Haldraginor!  Come on!  We've got to hurry!"
The two human prisoners got to their feet and took slow, furtive steps forward.  "You're right, we do!" Haldraginor agreed as he burst forward and grabbed the kobold by the neck. 
The second kobold grabbed the human's strong arm, vainly tried to pull his hands from his comrade's throat.  "Stop it, you fool!  You don't know what you're doing!"
Mediphon rushed forward, grabbed the second kobold by the shoulders and pulled him away from the murder.  Struggling in his grip, the kobold bit his hand and he let out a small yelp of pain.
Two more kobolds entered the cavern.  "What is all the noise in…Padfoot!" one kobold cried as he saw what was happening.  Then, overcome by some overpowering instinct atypical to his race, he pulled out his short sword and charged.  With a wordless battle shout he leapt upon the newly-freed prisoner.
"Snaptrap wait!" yelled the kobold in Mediphon's grasp.
Heedless of his fellow's panicked pleas, Snaptrap drove his blade into the attacking human's throat.  Haldraginor ceased his throttling of the little kobold.  He reared and bucked like a wild stallion, throwing Snaptrap to the cavern floor.  He gurgled, blood flowing from his mouth as well as the blade protruding from his neck.  The Warrior gave one last plaintive look at the Cleric, then his eyes rolled back into his head.  Bereft of life, he fell to the cavern floor with a thud. 
Thus died the Hero of Haven Hills.
Shocked by the animal savagery, Mediphon released his hold on his scaly, canine prisoner.  Likewise in shock, the kobold stood before him, staring down at the corpse with despondent eyes.
Snaptrap rushed forward with Gurr at his heels, pulled his sword from the neck of the dead body and turned to the human Cleric.  Suddenly, his rescued companion jumped between him and his intended target, one paw held out to him in a calming gesture as the other rubbed her sensitive throat.
"Wait a minute!" she croaked, "We're all on the same side!" 
"So you keep saying," Snaptrap barked in reply.  "But I do not think the yoomins know this."
She turned to the Cleric behind her.  "Mediphon, you idiot, it's us!  Pamblyn and Sunthorn!"
"Ye Gods!" Mediphon exclaimed as he looked from one to the other with wide-eyed surprise.  "What happened to you?  Did the Shaman do this to you?"
"Technically, we did it to ourselves," Sunthorn answered.
"Shaman?  What Shaman?" Pamblyn asked in a raspy voice.
"Horkrist," Snaptrap said between calming breaths.  With his narrowed eyes steadily fixed upon the human Cleric, he continued:  "He makes vile potions, but only gives them to their most loyal servants, like Razzam."
"Aha!" the Cleric exclaimed.  "I knew there was something wrong about those hobgoblins!  I knew the Shaman was behind it!"
Snaptrap turned to Gurr with a quizzical frown.  The silent kobold shrugged and Snaptrap turned back to the Holy Man.  "Foolish yoomin!  Razzam is a kobold!  He betrays his own kind for favors from those hobgoblin scum!"
Mediphon smiled and tried to wave away this misinformation.  "No, no, no!  Razzam is a hobgoblin…with a very sickly pallor.  And so too are Drang and Korzadub.  My theory is that the Shaman has been experimenting on them with his potions."
"No!" Snaptrap insisted.  "Those three bootlickers are considered lieutenants among us kobold slaves.  They are the only ones allowed to order around other kobolds!"
Sunthorn held up two scaly paws in a pragmatic gesture that interrupted the argument.  "I have a horrible suspicion that you are both correct in this.  We saw a kobold die, and upon his decease he turned into a sickly-looking hobgoblin like you describe," he said as he pointed at Mediphon.
"Yes," Pamblyn said, "It could be that the Shaman is making potions so his hobgoblins may impersonate kobolds."           
"Why would they do this?" Snaptrap asked.
Pamblyn shrugged.  "Perhaps they thought kobolds would take orders more easily from a kobold than from a hobgoblin."
Mediphon pulled thoughtfully at his blond mustache.  "Methinks a potion maker could be a dangerous thing.  There's no telling what other potions he's been making for his hobgoblin warriors."
"Yes," the transformed Elf agreed.  "We should seek out his workshop.  Destroy his store of potions, and his means to make more."
"I would be of little use in a battle," Mediphon glumly admitted.  "They took my equipment from me when they put me in the cage."
"Bah!" Snaptrap waved the frivolous concern away.  "All things taken from the prisoners is chucked yonder 'til someone finds a use for it."  He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder and Gurr pointed directly at an untidy pile of crates and gear.  The Holy Man went to reclaim his weapons and equipment.
"It would still be very dangerous even if we were at full strength," Pamblyn pointed out to them.  "As it stands, we've lost Gray Dan, Padrelle, and now Haldraginor!"
"Excuse me."  They all turned to the cell where a rugged young man in simple clothes stood in the doorway.  "I am strong and able-bodied.  If you would have me, I would proudly stand in the place of your fallen comrade.  It is the least I can do to repay my great debt to him."
The Elf raised one eyebrow.  "What debt do you owe this man?  Who are you?"
The prisoner stepped forward.  "He once saved my village from a dragon…"
"It was not a dragon!" Mediphon cried in despair.
A horrible thought suddenly occurred to Pamblyn and her canine features clouded over.  "Oh no.  You don't mean to say…that you're from…"
"That's right, I'm from Haven Hills!" the prisoner proudly declared, oblivious to the chorus of groans.  "My name is Elmore Armstrong and I would consider it an honor to replace this fallen hero, and to preserve the legacy of Haldraginor Hardhelm!"
The Cleric slapped his own forehead, then slowly dragged the hand down his face.  He took a deep breath of resignation and looked at his fellows.  "That's all well and good, but how will we ever find the Shaman's workshop?"
"We can take you straight there, of course!" Snaptrap announced.

To Be Continued...